Grover Norquist, Enemy of the State?

AlterNet [1] / By Thom Hartmann [2]  November 26, 2012

Excerpt

Is it possible that Grover Norquist, the multi-millionaire K-Street lobbyist long funded by billionaires, is an enemy of the state?…he has connived over the years to get hundreds of members of Congress to violate their own oath of office by pledging a higher oath to keep billionaires’ taxes low than their pledge to the Constitution itself….

And the Constitution, to which they take the Modern Oath, explicitly says that Congress has the explicit power to impose taxes, both to pay for our defense and to provide for the General Welfare of the nation…So, how is it possible that, when the Constitution explicitly says that one of the specific jobs of Congress is to “lay and collect taxes,” and the oath they take explicitly says that they take will do so “without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion,” that a member of Congress could possibly swear an oath to a multimillionaire K-Street lobbyist to refuse to perform one of their Constitutional duties?

…Is not a man who essentially uses threats – blackmail – that billionaire money will be used to politically destroy members of Congress who refuse to sign his pledge an enemy of the state itself – or at least an enemy of the very Constitution that lawmakers have sworn to uphold without mental reservation or evasion?

Grover Norquist has led hundreds of Republican lawmakers to the brink of treason, swearing to him that they will carry into office mental reservations about the taxation power the Constitution gives them.  It’s high time to de-throne Grover, and let Congress go back to doing its Constitutionally-mandated  job of taking care of the nation’s defense and general welfare, instead of just looking out for the nation’s defense contractors and cranky billionaires.

Full text

Is it possible that Grover Norquist, the multi-millionaire K-Street lobbyist long funded by billionaires, is an enemy of the state?

Pretty strong language, but consider that he has connived over the years to get hundreds of members of Congress to violate their own oath of office by pledging a higher oath to keep billionaires’ taxes low than their pledge to the Constitution itself. 

The requirement for Members of Congress to swear an oath to our country is in the Constitution itself, in Article Six:  “The Senators and Representatives … shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution…”

So, starting with the first Congress, in 1789, members were sworn in by saying, “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States.”

But during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln supported, and Congress passed on July 2nd, 1862, legislation requiring an oath that added that members of Congress had not previously engaged in any “criminal or disloyal conduct,” which would have included pledging loyalty to the Confederacy.  It was called the “Ironclad Test Oath,” and was designed to keep Confederate sympathizers out of Congress.  If a member swore it, and it was discovered he’d previously violated it by swearing an oath to the Confederacy, he would be prosecuted for perjury.

After the Civil War, that oath was replaced with one that didn’t specifically exclude former members of the Confederacy, but still required members to pledge an oath, first and foremost, to the Constitution.  Now called the “Modern Oath,” it was enacted in 1884 and is used to this day.  Its first sentence says:  “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion;…”

And the Constitution, to which they take the Modern Oath, explicitly says that Congress has the explicit power to impose taxes, both to pay for our defense and to provide for the General Welfare of the nation.  The very first sentence of Article One, Section Eight, says: “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States;…”

So, how is it possible that, when the Constitution explicitly says that one of the specific jobs of Congress is to “lay and collect taxes,” and the oath they take explicitly says that they take will do so “without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion,” that a member of Congress could possibly swear an oath to a multimillionaire K-Street lobbyist to refuse to perform one of their Constitutional duties?

And what sort of member of Congress would willingly swear an oath to a front man for a small group of billionaires, that that member of Congress would violate the oath he or she swore to follow the Constitution without “mental reservations” or “purpose of evasion”?  Is not a man who essentially uses threats – blackmail – that billionaire money will be used to politically destroy members of Congress who refuse to sign his pledge an enemy of the state itself – or at least an enemy of the very Constitution that lawmakers have sworn to upholdwithout mental reservation or evasion?

Grover Norquist has led hundreds of Republican lawmakers to the brink of treason, swearing to him that they will carry into office mental reservations about the taxation power the Constitution gives them.  It’s high time to de-throne Grover, and let Congress go back to doing its Constitutionally-mandated  job of taking care of the nation’s defense and general welfare, instead of just looking out for the nation’s defense contractors and cranky billionaires.

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/grover-norquist-enemy-state

Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/thom-hartmann
[3] http://www.alternet.org/tags/taxes-0
[4] http://www.alternet.org/tags/norquist
[5] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

Between Rock of Ages and a Hard Place

By NICHOLAS WADE, New York Times, November 26, 2012

It was the standard political interview, about ambition and the right size for government. Then came the curveball question to Senator Marco Rubio of Florida from Michael Hainey of GQ magazine: “How old do you think the earth is?”

Senator Rubio, a possible contender in the 2016 Republican presidential race, gave the following answer: “I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians.”

He went on: “At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created, and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says.

“Whether the earth was created in seven days, or seven actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.”

It may have been a mystery back in the 17th century, when Archbishop James Ussher calculated from the age of the patriarchs and other sources that Earth was created on Oct. 22, 4004 B.C. Today’s best estimate for the age of Earth, based on the radiometric dating of meteorites, is 4.54 billion years. The real mystery is how a highly intelligent politician got himself into the position of suggesting that the two estimates are of equal value, or that theologians are still the best interpreters of the physical world.

Catholics and Jews have always emphasized their priests’ interpretations of the Bible, not the text itself; Protestants, starting with Martin Luther, insisted the Bible was the literal truth and the sole dependable source of divine knowledge, a belief the Puritans implanted firmly in American soil. Then, in the 19th century, German textual critics like Julius Wellhausen showed that the Bible was not the inerrant product of divine inspiration but had been cobbled together by many hands whose editing was all too evident.

At that point most Protestants decided to join Catholics in interpreting the Bible metaphorically and avoiding embarrassing public spats with science. But after discussions in the early 20th century, the conservative wing of the Protestant movement elected to double down their bet and insist that every word in the Bible was true.

The inevitable clash with science, particularly in the teaching of evolution, has continued to this day. Militant atheists like the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins beat the believers about the head, accomplishing nothing; fundamentalist Christians naturally defend their religion and values to the hilt, whatever science may say.

A scientific statesman, if there were such a person, would try to defuse the situation by professing respect for all religions and making a grand yet also trivial concession about the status of evolution.

Like those electrons that can be waves or particles, evolution is both a theory and a fact. In historical terms, evolution has certainly occurred and no fact is better attested. But in terms of the intellectual structure of science, evolution is a theory; no one talks about Darwin’s “fact of evolution.”

Unlike a fact, a theory cannot be absolutely true. All scientific theories are subject to change and replacement, just as Newton’s theory of gravitation was replaced by Einstein’s. The theory of evolution, though it has no present rivals, is still under substantial construction.

Evolutionary biologists are furiously debating whether or not natural selection can operate on groups of individuals, as Darwin thought was likely but most modern evolutionists doubt. So which version of evolution is the true one?

By allowing that evolution is a theory, scientists would hand fundamentalists the fig leaf they need to insist, at least among themselves, that the majestic words of the first chapter of Genesis are literal, not metaphorical, truths. They in return should make no objection to the teaching of evolution in science classes as a theory, which indeed it is.

And rudderless politicians like Senator Rubio wouldn’t have to throw 15 back flips and a hissy fit when asked a simple question like how old is the earth.

Nicholas Wade, a longtime science writer for The New York Times, is the author of “The Faith Instinct,” about the evolutionary basis of religion.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/27/science/biblical-literalists-clash-with-science.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20121127

Grand Old Planet

By PAUL KRUGMAN, New York Times, November 22, 2012

Mini-excerpt

…the mod­ern G.O.P.’s atti­tude, not just toward biol­ogy, but toward every­thing: If evi­dence seems to con­tra­dict faith, sup­press the evi­dence. The most obvi­ous exam­ple other than evo­lu­tion is man-made cli­mate change…[they] are strongly inclined to reject any evi­dence con­tra­dict­ing their prior beliefs. Today’s Repub­li­cans cocoon them­selves in an alter­nate real­ity defined by Fox News, Rush Lim­baugh and The Wall Street Journal’s edi­to­r­ial page…[their] inabil­ity to deal with geo­log­i­cal evi­dence was symp­to­matic of a much broader prob­lem — one that may, in the end, set Amer­ica on a path of inex­orable decline…

Excerpt

…his [Senator Marco Rubio] inability to acknowledge scientific evidence speaks of the anti-rational mind-set that has taken over his political party….What was Mr. Rubio’s complaint about science teaching? That it might undermine children’s faith in what their parents told them to believe. And right there you have the modern G.O.P.’s attitude, not just toward biology, but toward everything: If evidence seems to contradict faith, suppress the evidence. The most obvious example other than evolution is man-made climate change. As the evidence for a warming planet becomes ever stronger — and ever scarier — the G.O.P. has buried deeper into denial, into assertions that the whole thing is a hoax concocted by a vast conspiracy of scientists. And this denial has been accompanied by frantic efforts to silence and punish anyone reporting the inconvenient facts…

What accounts for this pattern of denial? Earlier this year, the science writer Chris Mooney published “The Republican Brain,” … a survey of the now-extensive research linking political views to personality types. As Mr. Mooney showed, modern American conservatism is highly correlated with authoritarian inclinations — and authoritarians are strongly inclined to reject any evidence contradicting their prior beliefs. Today’s Republicans cocoon themselves in an alternate reality defined by Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, and only on rare occasions — like on election night — encounter any hint that what they believe might not be true.

And, no, it’s not symmetric. Liberals, being human, often give in to wishful thinking — but not in the same systematic, all-encompassing way….We are, after all, living in an era when science plays a crucial economic role…How are we going to stay competitive in biotechnology if biology classes avoid any material that might offend creationists?

And then there’s the matter of using evidence to shape economic policy. You may have read about the recent study from the Congressional Research Service finding no empirical support for the dogma that cutting taxes on the wealthy leads to higher economic growth. How did Republicans respond? By suppressing the report. On economics, as in hard science, modern conservatives don’t want to hear anything challenging their preconceptions — and they don’t want anyone else to hear about it, either.

…Rubio’…inability to deal with geological evidence was symptomatic of a much broader problem — one that may, in the end, set America on a path of inexorable decline.

Full text

Earlier this week, GQ magazine published an interview with Senator Marco Rubio, whom many consider a contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, in which Mr. Rubio was asked how old the earth is. After declaring “I’m not a scientist, man,” the senator went into desperate evasive action, ending with the declaration that “it’s one of the great mysteries.”

It’s funny stuff, and conservatives would like us to forget about it as soon as possible. Hey, they say, he was just pandering to likely voters in the 2016 Republican primaries — a claim that for some reason is supposed to comfort us.

But we shouldn’t let go that easily. Reading Mr. Rubio’s interview is like driving through a deeply eroded canyon; all at once, you can clearly see what lies below the superficial landscape. Like striated rock beds that speak of deep time, his inability to acknowledge scientific evidence speaks of the anti-rational mind-set that has taken over his political party.

By the way, that question didn’t come out of the blue. As speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, Mr. Rubio provided powerful aid to creationists trying to water down science education. In one interview, he compared the teaching of evolution to Communist indoctrination tactics — although he graciously added that “I’m not equating the evolution people with Fidel Castro.” Gee, thanks.

What was Mr. Rubio’s complaint about science teaching? That it might undermine children’s faith in what their parents told them to believe. And right there you have the modern G.O.P.’s attitude, not just toward biology, but toward everything: If evidence seems to contradict faith, suppress the evidence.

The most obvious example other than evolution is man-made climate change. As the evidence for a warming planet becomes ever stronger — and ever scarier — the G.O.P. has buried deeper into denial, into assertions that the whole thing is a hoax concocted by a vast conspiracy of scientists. And this denial has been accompanied by frantic efforts to silence and punish anyone reporting the inconvenient facts.

But the same phenomenon is visible in many other fields. The most recent demonstration came in the matter of election polls. Coming into the recent election, state-level polling clearly pointed to an Obama victory — yet more or less the whole Republican Party refused to acknowledge this reality. Instead, pundits and politicians alike fiercely denied the numbers and personally attacked anyone pointing out the obvious; the demonizing of The Times’s Nate Silver, in particular, was remarkable to behold.

What accounts for this pattern of denial? Earlier this year, the science writer Chris Mooney published “The Republican Brain,” which was not, as you might think, a partisan screed. It was, instead, a survey of the now-extensive research linking political views to personality types. As Mr. Mooney showed, modern American conservatism is highly correlated with authoritarian inclinations — and authoritarians are strongly inclined to reject any evidence contradicting their prior beliefs. Today’s Republicans cocoon themselves in an alternate reality defined by Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, and only on rare occasions — like on election night — encounter any hint that what they believe might not be true.

And, no, it’s not symmetric. Liberals, being human, often give in to wishful thinking — but not in the same systematic, all-encompassing way.

Coming back to the age of the earth: Does it matter? No, says Mr. Rubio, pronouncing it “a dispute amongst theologians” — what about the geologists? — that has “has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States.” But he couldn’t be more wrong.

We are, after all, living in an era when science plays a crucial economic role. How are we going to search effectively for natural resources if schools trying to teach modern geology must give equal time to claims that the world is only 6.000 years old? How are we going to stay competitive in biotechnology if biology classes avoid any material that might offend creationists?

And then there’s the matter of using evidence to shape economic policy. You may have read about the recent study from the Congressional Research Service finding no empirical support for the dogma that cutting taxes on the wealthy leads to higher economic growth. How did Republicans respond? By suppressing the report. On economics, as in hard science, modern conservatives don’t want to hear anything challenging their preconceptions — and they don’t want anyone else to hear about it, either.

So don’t shrug off Mr. Rubio’s awkward moment. His inability to deal with geological evidence was symptomatic of a much broader problem — one that may, in the end, set America on a path of inexorable decline.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/23/opinion/krugman-grand-old-planet.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20121123

The Obama Election: Lessons for a Political Movement

The Obama Election: Lessons for a Political Movement

By Harriet Fraad, Monday, 26 November 2012  Truthout | Op-Ed

Obama was elected to arrest US fascism, not because he can deliver hope, jobs, prosperity or a fulfilling life to the majority who elected him; but that majority can become a movement that will achieve those goals.

Obama has not delivered on the economic promises of hope and change he offered in 2008. He added a new conflict in Pakistan to the other two losing imperial wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that cause thousands of senseless deaths and create millions of enemies for America. Why did Obama win? What lessons are there for us to learn from his victory?

First, I want to offer some background information about the votes in this election. In times of economic and social pain, people tend to look for different and more extreme solutions to their problems. The social status quo in their nations fails to provide adequate jobs and decent lives. In nations like Greece, France and Spain, we are watching people polarize between the Left and the Right, between anti-capitalist socialism and fascism. (These nations have long had parties socialist in name only). The US does not have a viable Left. However we do have a Right fascistic movement with a particularly American program. Romney approached that program in the primaries. His vision was characterized by a politics for the top 20 percent that throws the rest of the American people under the bus.

The American fascistic tendency has a religious face. Those who are born again in Christ, evangelicals, Orthodox Jews, fundamentalists or Mormons are worth saving. Others are condemned. Like Hitler and Mussolini, the far right extols marriage between submissive women and dominant men who have numerous submissive children. The same, “traditional family” Hitler and Mussolini endorsed, is endorsed by many Mormons, evangelicals, Southern Baptists, fundamentalists, Orthodox Jews – especially Hasidim – and Catholics. Those who question hierarchical religion, such as spiritual progressives and non-believers, are condemned. Church state separation is damned. In the words of Jerry Falwell, “The Idea that religion and politics don’t mix was invented by the Devil to keep Christians from running their own country….”

Related features of a US fascistic agenda shared by other fascist movements and political parties are a mythical past of unmitigated American glory, homophobia, misogyny, extreme nationalism, anti-intellectualism and anti-multiculturalism. In a particularly strange manifestation, the US fascistic agenda includes hatred of immigrants in a nation of immigrants founded on ethnic cleansing of the only native people originally here. Throughout Romney’s campaign, there emerged occasional and powerful fascistic memes such as the violent reformulation of rape, the rejection of science – climate change and conception. These offer a retreat from frightening realities down a slippery slope toward imaginary pasts that were neither inclusive nor ideal. For most, Obama’s victory was built on uniting those constituencies who are condemned by the Right. It was that majority of Americans who voted to defeat a fascistic agenda. I believe they did so not because Obama will deliver the better lives his policies have thus far failed to deliver. Instead I believe that they voted for Obama to reject US fascism.

Pro-Obama constituencies are emblematic of a new America. Asians, Hispanics and African-Americans, referred to as “minorities,” are the actually the new majority. Most American children are what is called “minorities.”

The women who supported Obama were not part of the “gender gap” that was so widely reported. The majority of married women backed Romney. Romney garnered 53 percent of married women’s votes. It was unmarried women who strongly supported Obama. Fully 68 percent of unmarried women voted for Obama, as opposed to only 30 percent for Romney. Unmarried women supported Obama by a more than 2-to-1 ratio. For the first time in recorded US history, the majority of US women are single That is not only because women grow older and live longer than men. For the first time since the census began in 1880, the majority of women in what is referred to as prime fertility ages, 18 to 34 years old, are unmarried. These women voted against what was known as Romney’s “war on women.” Unmarried women are another majority that is largely unrecognized as a political force.

Still another group that is unrecognized is non-believers. We have never had a US president or presidential candidate declaring himself a non-believer, even though non-believers constitute 20 percent of Americans. The Mormon religion captures only 2 percent of Americans. One in five Americans is a non-believer. Approximately 40 percent of US citizens state that they attend church. However, they do not. Because of the false impressions delivered by US media, the truth is actually distorted. In actuality, less than 20 percent of US citizens attend church. There are fewer people attending church than the number saying they are non-believers. Non-believers are off of our public radar even though they are growing as fundamentalists, evangelicals, established Christian denominations and Catholics are decreasing their numbers. Non-believers voted for Obama. Non-believers are fully 30 percent of young Americans under 34 years old. They, like unmarried women, are an unrecognized political force.

Young people are another Obama constituency. They have suffered terribly in the last four years, but three out of five of them voted for Obama. They too are a powerful and not yet organized constituency. They differ from older Americans in that a majority of young people from 18 to 29 prefer socialism to capitalism.

Gays are yet another constituency for Obama. It is estimated that one out of 10 US citizens is gay. An impressive 76 percent of gays voted for Obama.

Obama was elected as a way to hold back the tide of US fascism with its misogyny, nationalism, militarism, homophobia, anti-intellectualism, anti-multiculturalism, anti-labor, and religiosity. Obama cannot deliver hope, jobs, prosperity, or a fulfilling life to the majority who elected him. The past election cost more than $6 billion. Obama cannot desert his economic backers. He will not create the 22 million decently-paid jobs that would be the equivalent of the 11 million or more jobs FDR created during our last Depression. (Our population has doubled since the last Great Depression). FDR created those jobs because there was a mass Communist and Socialist movement that threatened the capitalist system by exposing capitalism as the source of the Great Depression. FDR raised taxes on the rich to 94 percent. Those taxes financed government jobs and programs. The mass US Communist and Socialist movements impelled many powerful capitalists to support radical changes that would stop the threat to the entire capitalist system.

It took approximately 50 years for the alliance of capitalist giants, anti-labor forces, racists, religious fundamentalists, and anti-civil rights, anti-women’s rights, anti-intellectuals, anti-multiculturalists and anti-gay rights groups to tear down the protective legislation that FDR and his government put in place.

This election showed that there is a basis for a powerful movement based on toleration of difference, economic rights and equality, full civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, multiculturalism, an educated population and church state separation. That coalition lives among the constituencies that prevented a fascistic agenda. It is that coalition that reelected a president who did not deliver his promises of peace or prosperity. At least he was not a fascist.

We can do better. It is time for the US to create a democratic and socialist movement for tolerance, separation of church and state, equal opportunity and full human recognition. This time we will not be fooled into enacting regulations to protect and support our vision, while leaving the majority of the wealth and with that wealth, the power, in the same capitalist hands that brought America down. That wealth must be used for the majority, the 80 percent who own only 11 percent of America’s wealth, while the top 20 percent own 89 percent of our wealth. The demographic of the movement we develop is right there in the election results. It is time to build a movement based on that strong coalition.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

 

http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/12852-the-obama-election-lessons-for-a-political-movement

The GOP’s Voter Suppression Strategy

The Nation [1] / By Ari Berman [2], November 26, 2012

The following article first appeared on the Nation.com [3].

In a little-noticed yet significant development on election day, Minnesota voters defeated a constitutional amendment that would have required them to present a government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot. It was the first time voters had rejected a voter ID ballot initiative in any state.

In May 2011, a poll showed that 80 percent of Minnesotans supported a photo ID law. “Nearly everyone in the state believed a photo ID was the most common-sense solution to the problem of voter fraud,” says Dan McGrath, executive director of Take Action Minnesota, a progressive coalition that led the campaign against the amendment. “We needed to reframe the issue. We decided to never say the word ‘fraud.’ Instead we would only talk about the cost, complications and consequences of the amendment.” According to the coalition, the photo ID law would have disenfranchised eligible voters (including members of the military and seniors) dumped an unfunded mandate on counties and imperiled same-day voter registration. On election day, 52 percent of Minnesotans opposed the amendment.

The amendment’s surprising defeat has ramifications beyond Minnesota. “There’s been an assumption of political will for restricting the right to vote,” says McGrath. “No, there’s not.” The amendment backfired on the GOP. “Voter ID did not drive the conservative base to turn out in the way that Republicans thought it would,” adds McGrath. “Instead, it actually inspired progressive voters, who felt under siege, to fight stronger and turn out in higher numbers.The minority vote nearly doubled in the state, compared with 2008. Minnesota was a microcosm of the national failure of the GOP’s voter suppression strategy.

After the 2010 election, in more than a dozen states Republicans passed voting restrictions aimed at reducing the turnout of Obama’s “coalition of the ascendant”—young voters, African-Americans and Hispanics. The strategy didn’t work as intended. Ten major restrictive voting laws were blocked in court over the past year, and turnout among young, black and Latino voters increased as a share of the electorate in 2012 compared with 2008. The youth vote rose from 18 to 19 percent, and the minority vote increased from 26 to 28 percent; both went heavily for Obama.

A backlash against voter suppression added to this increased youth and minority turnout. “When they went after big mama’s voting rights, they made all of us mad,” said the Rev. Tony Minor, Ohio coordinator of the African American Ministers Leadership Council. The black vote rose in Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia, while the Latino vote grew in Florida, Colorado and Nevada. “There were huge organizing efforts in the black, Hispanic and Asian communities, more than there would’ve been, as a direct result of the voter suppression efforts,” says Matt Barreto, co-founder of Latino Decisions, a Latino polling and research firm.

In late September, Project New America, a Denver center-left research group, tested more than thirty messages on “sporadic, less likely voters who lean Democratic” (which included young, black and Hispanic voters) to see what would motivate them to vote. “One of the most powerful messages across many different demographics was reminding people that their votes were important to counter the extremists who are kicking people off of voter rolls,” the group wrote in a post-election memo.

The increase in voter turnout among these key demographics, however, doesn’t mean that voter suppression laws did not have an impact or would not have decided the election outcome if the race had been closer. Court rulings and voter education efforts limited the damage but didn’t stop it. A flood of horror stories poured in during early voting and on election day: voters waiting in line for seven hours in Florida, wrongly turned away for lack of photo ID in Pennsylvania, improperly forced to cast provisional ballots in Ohio. The day after the election, 600,000 early votes and provisional ballots remained uncounted in Arizona, most of them in heavily Latino Maricopa County. According to Hart Research Associates, black and Hispanic voters were two to three times more likely than whites to wait more than thirty minutes to cast their ballot.

In-person early voting declined in Florida because of fewer early voting hours, compared with 2008. Florida voter registration dropped by 14 percent because of the twelve months in 2011–12 when the state shut down voter registration drives. The 1-866-Our-Vote hotline received more than 9,000 calls from Pennsylvanians on election day, many from voters wrongly told by poll workers that a photo ID was required in order to vote. Twice as many voters in Philadelphia as in 2008 had to cast provisional ballots because their names were missing from voter rolls. Of all the swing states, Pennsylvania had the sharpest drop in voter turnout, down by more than 7 percent from 2008, which could be attributable to confusion over its suspended voter ID law.

The 2012 election was a case study in how not to run an election. New voting restrictions and confusion over recent court decisions exacerbated problems lingering since 2000: broken voting machines, an antiquated voter registration system, ungodly lines, misinformed poll workers and partisan election officials.

Obama’s ad-lib on election night about long lines at the polls—“by the way, we have to fix that”—energized the movement for election reform. There are smart proposals in Congress, including the Voter Empowerment Act, but it’s unclear what the follow-through will be. The Help America Vote Act of 2002, a response to the 2000 fiasco in Florida, did little to remedy the nation’s election problems. For example, the US Election Assistance Commission, created by HAVA to help states run their elections, has no commissioners, executive director or general counsel, and hasn’t met publicly since 2011. Last year in Congress, Republicans tried to abolish the agency; Democrats have done little to resurrect it. Before Congress tries to pass sweeping election reform, it should take the baby step of getting an election commission back up and running.

Despite Romney’s defeat, GOP-controlled states appear likely to press ahead with new voting restrictions. In Florida, for instance, Governor Rick Scott put his secretary of state—who supported controversial voting restrictions and an ill-considered voter purge—in charge of determining what went wrong with the election. He should start by interviewing his boss. Until conservatives start courting the increasingly diverse electorate, voter suppression will continue to be the party’s main response to demographic change.

The GOP’s war on voting is far from dead. Just three days after the election, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a conservative challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which compels parts or all of sixteen states with a history of racial discrimination in voting to clear election-related rule changes with the federal government. The case will likely be heard early next year. Veteran Court watchers believe the five conservative justices are prepared to overturn Section 5, which Attorney General Eric Holder has called the “keystone of our voting rights.”

Voter suppression attempts over the past two years prove that Section 5 is still needed. Of the nine states covered fully by it, six have passed new voting restrictions since 2010. “The states that passed discriminatory voting laws were disproportionately covered by Section 5,” says Wendy Weiser, director of the democracy program at the Brennan Center for Justice. The Justice Department successfully objected to restrictive voting laws in Florida, South Carolina and Texas under Section 5 this election cycle. And despite clear evidence of its necessity, the landmark act is under attack: it has been challenged more in the past two years than in the previous forty-five years combined, according to Columbia University Law School professor Nate Persily.

Only a Supreme Court divorced from reality—which this Court may well be—would review the record on voting rights since Congress overwhelmingly reauthorized the Voting Rights Act in 2006 and conclude that a key pillar of the law is no longer needed. If anything, Section 5 should be expanded to include states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. Losing Section 5 would greenlight the very kind of voter suppression that proved so unpopular in 2012.

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/gops-voter-suppression-strategy

Links:
[1] http://www.thenation.com
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/ari-berman-0
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[5] http://www.alternet.org/tags/election-0
[6] http://www.alternet.org/tags/gop
[7] http://www.alternet.org/tags/republicans-0
[8] http://www.alternet.org/tags/photo-id
[9] http://www.alternet.org/tags/minnesota
[10] http://www.alternet.org/tags/voter-id
[11] http://www.alternet.org/tags/voter-id-laws
[12] http://www.alternet.org/tags/voter-suppression
[13] http://www.alternet.org/tags/african-american-ministers-leadership-council
[14] http://www.alternet.org/tags/supreme-court
[15] http://www.alternet.org/tags/justice-department
[16] http://www.alternet.org/tags/voter-empowerment-act
[17] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

 

Stand Still For the Apocalypse

by Chris Hedges, November 26, 2012 by TruthDig.com

Humans must immediately implement a series of radical measures to halt carbon emissions or prepare for the collapse of entire ecosystems and the displacement, suffering and death of hundreds of millions of the globe’s inhabitants, according to a report commissioned by the World Bank. The continued failure to respond aggressively to climate change, the report warns, will mean that the planet will inevitably warm by at least 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century, ushering in an apocalypse.

The 84-page document,“Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must Be Avoided,” was written for the World Bank by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics and published last week. The picture it paints of a world convulsed by rising temperatures is a mixture of mass chaos, systems collapse and medical suffering like that of the worst of the Black Plague, which in the 14th century killed 30 to 60 percent of Europe’s population.

A planetwide temperature rise of 4 degrees C—and the report notes that the tepidness of the emission pledges and commitments of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will make such an increase almost inevitable—will cause a precipitous drop in crop yields, along with the loss of many fish species, resulting in widespread hunger and starvation. Hundreds of millions of people will be forced to abandon their homes in coastal areas and on islands that will be submerged as the sea rises. There will be an explosion in diseases such as malaria, cholera and dengue fever. Devastating heat waves and droughts, as well as floods, especially in the tropics, will render parts of the Earth uninhabitable. The rain forest covering the Amazon basin will disappear. Coral reefs will vanish. Numerous animal and plant species, many of which are vital to sustaining human populations, will become extinct. Monstrous storms will eradicate biodiversity, along with whole cities and communities. And as these extreme events begin to occur simultaneously in different regions of the world, the report finds, there will be “unprecedented stresses on human systems.” Global agricultural production will eventually not be able to compensate. Health and emergency systems, as well as institutions designed to maintain social cohesion and law and order, will crumble. The world’s poor, at first, will suffer the most. But we all will succumb in the end to the folly and hubris of the Industrial Age. And yet, we do nothing.
“It is useful to recall that a global mean temperature increase of 4°C approaches the difference between temperatures today and those of the last ice age, when much of central Europe and the northern United States were covered with kilometers of ice and global mean temperatures were about 4.5°C to 7°C lower,” the report reads. “And this magnitude of climate change—human induced—is occurring over a century, not millennia.”
The political and corporate elites in the industrialized world continue, in spite of overwhelming scientific data, to place short-term corporate profit and expediency before the protection of human life and the ecosystem. The fossil fuel industry is permitted to determine our relationship to the natural world, dooming future generations. Carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas, increased from its pre-industrial concentration of about 278 parts per million (ppm) to more than 391 ppm in September 2012, with the rate of rise now at 1.8 ppm per year. We have already passed the tipping point of 350 ppm; above that level, life as we have known it cannot be sustained. The CO2 concentration is higher now than at any time in the last 15 million years. The emissions of CO2, currently about 35 billion metric tons per year, are projected to climb to 41 billion metric tons per year by 2020.
Because about 90 percent of the excess heat trapped by the greenhouse effect since 1955 is momentarily in the oceans, we have begun a process that, even if we halted all carbon emissions today, will ensure rising sea levels and major climate disruptions, including the continued melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets as well as the acidification of the oceans. The report estimates that if warming accelerates toward 4 degrees Celsius, sea levels will rise 0.5 to 1 meter, possibly more, by 2100. Sea levels will increase several meters more in the coming centuries. If warming can be keep to 2 degrees or below, sea levels will still rise, by about 20 centimeters by 2100, and probably will continue to rise between 1.5 and 4 meters above present-day levels by the year 2300. Sea-level rise, the report concludes, is likely to be below 2 meters only if warming is kept to well below 1.5 degrees. The rise in sea levels will not be uniform. Coastal areas in tropical regions will be inundated by sea-level rises that are up to 20 percent higher than those in higher latitudes.
“In particular, the melting of the ice sheets will reduce the gravitational pull on the ocean toward the ice sheets and, as a consequence, ocean water will tend to gravitate toward the Equator,” the report reads. “Changes in wind and ocean currents due to global warming and other factors will also affect regional sea-level rise, as will patterns of ocean heat uptake and warming. Sea-level rise impacts are projected to be asymmetrical even within regions and countries. Of the impacts projected for 31 developing countries, only 10 cities account for two-thirds of the total exposure to extreme floods. Highly vulnerable cities are to be found in Mozambique, Madagascar, Mexico, Venezuela, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. For small island states and river delta regions, rising sea levels are likely to have far ranging adverse consequences, especially when combined with the projected increased intensity of tropical cyclones in many tropical regions, other extreme weather events, and climate change-induced effects on oceanic ecosystems (for example, loss of protective reefs due to temperature increases and ocean acidification).”
“By the time the concentration reaches around 550 ppm (corresponding to a warming of about 2.4°C in the 2060s), it is likely that coral reefs in many areas would start to dissolve,” the report reads. “The combination of thermally induced bleaching events, ocean acidification, and sea-level rise threatens large fractions of coral reefs even at 1.5°C global warming. The regional extinction of entire coral reef eco-systems, which could occur well before 4°C is reached, would have profound consequences for their dependent species and for the people who depend on them for food, income, tourism, and shoreline protection.” The report projects that the rates of change in ocean acidity over the next century will be “unparalleled in Earth’s history.”
The global production of maize and wheat has, because of rising temperatures, been in steady decline since the 1980s. But these crop declines will be vastly accelerated in the coming years, with rising temperatures resulting in widespread malnutrition and starvation. It will mean that the poor, and especially children, will endure chronic hunger and malnutrition. There will be an increase in a variety of deadly epidemic diseases. Persistent flooding will contaminate drinking water, spreading diarrheal and respiratory illnesses. The 2012 drought, which affected 80 percent of the agricultural land in the United States, will become the norm. Tropical South America, Central Africa and all tropical islands in the Pacific are, the report says, likely to regularly experience heat waves of unprecedented magnitude, making human life in these areas difficult if not impossible to sustain.
“In this new high-temperature climate regime, the coolest months are likely to be substantially warmer than the warmest months at the end of the 20th century,” the report reads. “In regions such as the Mediterranean, North Africa, the Middle East, and the Tibetan plateau, almost all summer months are likely to be warmer than the most extreme heat waves presently experienced. For example, the warmest July in the Mediterranean region could be 9°C warmer than today’s warmest July.” It notes that these changes “potentially exceed the adaptive capacities of many societies and natural systems.”
The stress and insecurity caused by the breakdown in the climate will, the report says, “have negative effects on psychological and mental health.” It will lead to an increase in “levels of conflict and violence.” These changes “will have ramifications for national identification and alter the dynamics of traditional cultures.”
The report calls on the leaders of the industrial world to immediately institute radical steps—including a halt to the dependence on fossil fuels—to keep the global temperature rise below 2 degrees C, although the report concedes that even an increase of less than 2 degrees would result in serious damage to the environment and human populations. Without a massive investment in green infrastructure that can adapt to the heat and other new extreme weather, and in the building of efficient public transportation networks and renewable energy systems to minimize carbon emissions, we will succumb to our own stupidity.
A failure to respond will assure an ecological nightmare that will most probably be accompanied by an economic, social and political breakdown. The human species, the report says, will cross “critical social system thresholds,” and “existing institutions that would have supported adaptation actions would likely become much less effective or even collapse.” The “stresses on human health, such as heat waves, malnutrition, and decreasing quality of drinking water due to seawater intrusion, have the potential to overburden health-care systems to a point where adaptation is no longer possible, and dislocation is forced.”
“There is also no certainty that adaptation to a 4°C world is possible,” it goes on. “A 4°C world is likely to be one in which communities, cities and countries would experience severe disruptions, damage, and dislocation, with many of these risks spread unequally. It is likely that the poor will suffer most and the global community could become more fractured, and unequal than today. The projected 4°C warming simply must not be allowed to occur—the heat must be turned down.”

Copyright © 2012 Truthdig, L.L.C.
Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com. Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.  His most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.
Article printed from www.CommonDreams.org
Source URL: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/11/26-0

Most American Voters Elected a Democratic House, But We Got a Tea Party Congress

by  MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT, November 26, 2012

BuzzFlash isn’t the first site to note that approximately 53,952,000 Democratic votes were cast for congressional representatives, while only about 53,403,000 votes were cast for House Republicans.  (Curiously enough that is about the same popular vote victory that Al Gore won in the 2000 election: 540,000 votes.)

Yet, the Boehner/Cantor Tea Party tilt remains in the House of Representatives.

As PolicyMic explains:

Republican gerrymandering of electoral districts isn’t as sexy to kick up a fuss about, nor does it make for as good memes, but it’s safe to say that elaborate redistricting helped the party to win their current House majority. And to win by redistricting, looks an awful lot like cheating. Professor Geoffrey Stone emphasized that:

“Although the Republicans won 55% of the House seats, they received less than half of the votes for members of the House of Representatives. Indeed, more than half-a-million more Americans voted for Democratic House candidates than for Republicans House candidates. There was no split-decision. The Democrats won both the presidential election and the House election. But the Republicans won 55% of the seats in the House.

This seems crazy. How could this be?

This answer lies in the 2010 election, in which Republicans won control of a substantial majority of state governments. They then used that power to re-draw congressional district lines in such a way as to maximize the Republican outcome in the 2012 House election.”

Take Pennsylvania, for instance, the Democrats received 2,710,827 votes for congressional candidates; the Republicans, 2,642,952.  Although it was a slim victory, the Dems won the popular vote in Pennsylvania as far as electing representatives to Congress.

Astonishingly, however, due to gerrymandering from the Tea Party tsunami election of 2010, which left the Pennsylvania legislature and governor in full control of the GOP, only 5 Democratic reps to Congress were elected in 2012, while the Republicans will send 13 reps to DC!

In Ohio, Secretary of State John Husted – who unrelentingly tried to suppress Democratic votes in the 2012 election – has denied he was proposing to change the allocation of electoral votes in the Buckeye State to winners of congressional districts.   (Only Nebraska and Maine currently employ such a presidential election system.) But you can’t blame him for launching such a partisan trial balloon, given that his allegiance is to the Republican Party, not the people of Ohio. Under such a system for Ohio in 2012, Romney would have been awarded 12 of the 18 electoral votes in the state (due once again to gerrymandering).

In summary, citizens of the United States elected a Democratic President and a Democratic Senate.  Minus the partisan tactic of gerrymandering, the American people also elected a Democratic House.

President Obama should remember this when he deals with the Tea Party tilt of the gerrymandered Republican House.  John Boehner does not represent the majority of the United States voters; he represents the pathology of a minority.

http://truth-out.org/buzzflash/commentary/item/17656-most-american-voters-elected-a-democratic-house-but-we-got-a-tea-party-congress

Conservatives’ Reality Problem

by Timothy B. Lee, Contributor, Forbes, November 9, 2012

Excerpt

…two decades ago, conservatives liked to argue that the ivory tower had put academics out of touch with reality, and that conservatism had reason and science on its side. The recent collapse of communism seemed to confirm this view. Today the tables have turned. While academia certainly still has pockets of out-of-touch leftists, there has been a much more dramatic decline in intellectual standards on the political right…years of conservatives demonizing pointy-headed academics, including scientists. On subjects like evolution, global warming, the biology of human conception, and even macroeconomics, conservatives have been increasingly bold about rejecting the consensus of scientific experts in favor of ideologically self-serving pronouncements.

George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq was a good example of the kind of damage that can be done when elected officials choose ideology over expertise. Bush didn’t just ignore the many experts who warned that invading Iraq was a bad idea. The ideologues were so convinced the war would go well that they massively underestimated the amount of preparation that would be required for the occupation to go reasonably smoothly. As a result, the aftermath of the war was much more chaotic than it would have been if experienced experts had been more involved in the planning process. Many more people died and much more property was destroyed than would have occurred with proper planning.

I think global warming is a more complex issue than some people on the left acknowledge. But rather than accepting the basic scientific reality of climate change and making the case that the costs of action outweigh the benefits, many conservatives have taken the cruder tack of simply attacking the entire enterprise of mainstream climate science as a hoax.

….Economists across the political spectrum agree that the government ought to take action counteract major aggregate demand shortfalls…But rather than engaging this debate, a growing number of conservatives have rejected the mainstream economic framework altogether…

The world is messy and complicated, and understanding it often requires years of study and a willingness to consider evidence objectively regardless of where it comes from. Yet the conservative movement has increasingly become a hostile place for people who think for themselves, no matter how deeply they understand their subjects.

While many aspects of public policy are the subject of genuine ideological disagreements, there are also many issues where experts really do know things the rest of the public does not. A party that systematically favors ideologically convenient arguments and marginalizes dissenting voices will inevitably make costly mistakes…We should all hope the conservative movement develops a greater respect for expertise in the meantime.

Full Text

In 1996, the physicist Alan Sokal wrote a nonsensical article called “Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity” and submitted it to the academic journal Social Text. To Sokal’s amusement, his satirical argument was accepted. Sokal’s goal, he wrote later, was to illustrate “an apparent decline in the standards of intellectual rigor in certain precincts of the American academic humanities.” Sokal, a self-described leftist, expressed concern that the politicization of science by left-wing academics was undermining the left’s ability to make convincing, scientifically-grounded arguments for progressive policies.

I thought of the Sokal incident yesterday when I read this article about the Mitt Romney campaign being blindsided by Tuesday’s election results. Obviously, a bit of wishful thinking is inevitable in a losing presidential campaign. But the degree of cocooning portrayed in that article is surprising. You’d expect at least some of Romney’s highly-paid advisors to be competent at their jobs.

Two decades ago, conservatives liked to argue that the ivory tower had put academics out of touch with reality, and that conservatism had reason and science on its side. The recent collapse of communism seemed to confirm this view. Today the tables have turned. While academia certainly still has pockets of out-of-touch leftists, there has been a much more dramatic decline in intellectual standards on the political right.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Team Romney’s polling cluelessness comes after years of conservatives demonizing pointy-headed academics, including scientists. On subjects like evolution, global warming, the biology of human conception, and even macroeconomics, conservatives have been increasingly bold about rejecting the consensus of scientific experts in favor of ideologically self-serving pronouncements. That attitude may have contributed to their loss of the White House in 2012. It will be much more costly for the country as a whole if it doesn’t change before the GOP next captures the White House.

George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq was a good example of the kind of damage that can be done when elected officials choose ideology over expertise. Bush didn’t just ignore the many experts who warned that invading Iraq was a bad idea. The ideologues were so convinced the war would go well that they massively underestimated the amount of preparation that would be required for the occupation to go reasonably smoothly. As a result, the aftermath of the war was much more chaotic than it would have been if experienced experts had been more involved in the planning process. Many more people died and much more property was destroyed than would have occurred with proper planning.

I think global warming is a more complex issue than some people on the left acknowledge. But rather than accepting the basic scientific reality of climate change and making the case that the costs of action outweigh the benefits, many conservatives have taken the cruder tack of simply attacking the entire enterprise of mainstream climate science as a hoax.

On macroeconomics, a broad spectrum of economists, ranging from John Maynard Keynes to Milton Friedman, supports the basic premise that recessions are caused by shortfalls in aggregate demand. Economists across the political spectrum agree that the government ought to take action counteract major aggregate demand shortfalls. There is, of course, a lot of disagreement about the details. Friedman argued that the Fed should be responsible for macroeconomic stabilization, while Keynes emphasized deficit spending.

But rather than engaging this debate, a growing number of conservatives have rejected the mainstream economic framework altogether, arguing—against the views of libertarian economists like Friedman and F.A. Hayek—that neither Congress nor the Fed has a responsibility to counteract sharp falls in nominal incomes.

The conservative movement seems to have adopted the same attitude toward Nate Silver. The world is messy and complicated, and understanding it often requires years of study and a willingness to consider evidence objectively regardless of where it comes from. Yet the conservative movement has increasingly become a hostile place for people who think for themselves, no matter how deeply they understand their subjects.

While many aspects of public policy are the subject of genuine ideological disagreements, there are also many issues where experts really do know things the rest of the public does not. A party that systematically favors ideologically convenient arguments and marginalizes dissenting voices will inevitably make costly mistakes. Thankfully, in 2012 those mistakes merely helped Mitt Romney lose the White House. But sooner or later, a Republican is going to get elected president. We should all hope the conservative movement develops a greater respect for expertise in the meantime.

Timothy B. Lee writes about how technology shapes society

This article is available online at:
http://www.forbes.com/sites/timothylee/2012/11/09/conservatives-reality-problem/

10 Steps to Repair American Democracy

By Steven Hill,  Paradigm Publishers | Book Excerpt – posted on Alternet, November 24, 2012

10 Steps to Repair American Democracy.In this excerpt, Hill concludes his book by presenting two alternative futures: a dystopia of post-democracy, if the US continues along the current futile path; or a brighter future if fundamental reform is enacted, rescuing Americans from our nation’s downward trajectory.

Introduction:

In 2008, an economic crash of historic proportions shook the world. Without a politics that could rein in the economics, Wall Street honchos turned American banks and the financial system into their personal casinos that had to be bailed out by taxpayers. But that economic collapse was preceded by a long-standing political collapse. The U.S. political system had been captured by wealthy elites who gutted crucial regulations and oversight of the out-of-control financial system, and drained the wealth of the nation into fewer and fewer pockets. Today, American democracy finds itself plagued by out-of-control campaign spending, choiceless elections, paralyzed government, superficial debate, backward voter registration laws, a filibuster-gone-wild U.S. Senate, mindless media, untrustworthy voting equipment, even a partisan Supreme Court. In his new book, 10 Steps to Repair American Democracy: 2102 Election Edition, political reformer Steven Hill outlines a blueprint for renewing the American republic by enacting fundamental political and media reforms. In this excerpt, Hill concludes his book by presenting two alternative futures: a dystopia of post-democracy, if the U.S. continues along the current futile path; or a brighter future if fundamental reform is enacted, rescuing Americans from our nation’s downward trajectory.

 

Conclusion: Renewing the American Republic

 

A Tale of Two Futures

 

What will be the future of representative democracy in the United States? America is standing at a fork in the road, staring into the distance of an unknown landscape. Allow me to present two possible alternatives, a tale of two potential futures.

 

Imagine it is Election Day 2016. Imagine yet another presidential election boiling down to the same two battleground states—Ohio and Florida—that have tilted three of the last four elections, a not-unrealistic scenario, given current demographic trends. Candidates will spend most of their time in these two states and perhaps a handful of other swing states, ignoring all the others. Visits to our largest states (e.g., California, Texas, and New York) will include only select zip codes known as fund-raising mother lodes. The Florida and Ohio electorates will be sliced and diced into bite-sized targets of swing voters at which will be aimed carefully crafted campaign missiles. Ohioans and Floridians will be carpet bombed with television ads, most of them negative, while in the rest of the nation it will be all quiet on the electoral front.

 

In a close race, spoiler candidates still will threaten to wreck the majority mandate of the front-runners, perplexing voters with lesser-of-two-evils dilemmas and acting as a damper on new candidates and their ideas. All campaign spin and hype will be directed toward the narrowest slices of voters, either the partisan base or undecided swing voters, which will determine the winner. Consequently, the nation’s most important election will be dumbed down to a handful of parochial issues, and the voters who care about all the other concerns facing the nation will watch like spectators from the forty-second row.

 

In the run-up to this 2016 presidential election, unfortunately, we never did fix the problems with election administration and voting equipment, so out of 120 million voters nationwide, a change of only a few hundred votes in either Ohio or Florida— whether due to administrative miscue or fraud—could alter the outcome. Further complicating matters, with the numbers of minorities in the electorate rising every year, some conservative organizations have increased efforts to use various tricks to disenfranchise them. In 2015, a few states, including Florida, even tried passing English-language requirements for voters–and nearly succeeded. The roller coaster of the 2016 electoral season already has resulted in dozens of lawsuits across the nation, ensuring that no matter which side wins, the nation once again will lose. And the lawyers will get rich.

 

Not only that, even though all fifty states redrew their legislative districts following the 2010 census, congressional districts have continued their plummet into one-party fiefdoms. In the 2016 congressional elections, only 25 out of 435 district races will be even remotely competitive. To its credit, Congress finally passed a national law in 2013 outlawing partisan gerrymandering and mandating independent redistricting commissions in all states—yet it has had very little impact. Republican and Democratic voters have become so bunkered down into

 

their own red and blue regions that the line-drawing process mostly has become inconsequential. To counteract that, as well as the terrible Supreme Court decision Citizens United, reformers managed to pass Clean Money and full public-financing legislation in a dozen states by 2014, a tremendous accomplishment that has introduced some badly needed political debate into our brain-dead elections. Yet, with so many red and blue winner-take-all districts dominating the political landscape, that also has made little difference in terms of who gets elected or the policies they pass.

 

In round two of President Obama’s health-care reform, the House finally passed legislation to rein in health-care costs for all Americans via a joint public option-private sector effort, but 41 senators representing a mere 25 percent of the nation’s population were able to kill it by deploying the anti-majoritarian filibuster. The conservative senators from these low-population states were concerned about an expansion of big government, even though their own states are heavily subsidized by the federal government and by the blue states. In fact, they receive significantly more in federal tax dollars than they pay out, and twice the per capita federal dollars received by blue states California, New York, and Illinois.

 

Yet, despite all the partisan pyrotechnics and passion on both sides, hardly anyone will show up to vote on Election Day 2016. Disgusted by the lack of choices at the ballot box, the partisan sandbox play, the bland, uninformative media, and a government so out of touch with the concerns of average Americans, voters have continued their trend of staying home. The fact is, most voters no longer need to show up since most races are decided well in advance of Election Day, and so it’s not surprising that they don’t bother. Voter turnout for congressional races plunged to barely a quarter of eligible voters in 2014. In recent years, cities such as Dallas, Charlotte, Austin, New York, and Boston, among others, have seen voter turnout for mayoral elections in the single digits. In one recent mayoral race in Los Angeles, only 5 percent of eligible voters could be bothered to interrupt their busy Tuesday—a workday, after all—to cast a vote.

 

Some pundits have begun to wonder out loud on editorial pages and talking head shows whether elections even matter anymore. Not only has turnout continued to plunge, but certain cities in California canceled their elections because there were no candidates to compete against the safe-seat incumbents. In fact, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which has raised a public ruckus over the cost of elections where so few voters show up, has begun collecting signatures on a California initiative to pass a constitutional amendment to hold one election every eight years. In essence, the Howard Jarvisites are asking the few remaining voters to permanently cancel most elections and transmogrify the United States into a “ratification” democracy with occasional elections and referendums, more like the plutocratic Roman Republic than a participatory democratic republic. And polls show the ballot measure has a good chance of passing.

 

The onset of this post-democratic future has paved the way for the “Berlusconization” of American politics. Silvio Berlusconi is the Italian media magnate and political patriarch who managed to gobble up nearly all private media in Italy, then used that resource as a personal stepping-stone to political domination in Italy during the 1990s and 2000s. By 2016, the trajectory of America’s shattered democracy has moved us a giant step closer to a Berlusconi-type political figure lurking on the horizon: Sarah Palin, who was made the head of Fox Broadcasting Company after Rupert Murdoch got caught red-handed once again tapping into the voice mail boxes and e-mail accounts of prominent people as well as crime victims. After making a media alliance with Clear Channel, Palin has used her media empire to return to the spotlight and launch her late entry into the 2016 presidential campaign.

 

Palin is strongly playing the national security card, promising her supporters a “war to restore American global power.” Palin’s polling numbers have quickly surged into the high thirties, making her a front-runner, and combined with yet another independent presidential run by eighty-two-year-old Ralph Nader that threatens to split the center-left vote, all calculations about the race have been thrown into a tizzy.

 

Despite all the electoral fireworks, it is projected that America will be lucky if it can cajole even half of the electorate to turn out to vote for president. The rest of the world is greatly alarmed by this turn of events in the former global paragon of representative democracy and still heavily armed superpower, so France has introduced a United Nations resolution demanding that, if Americans are not going to turn out to vote for president, then the rest of the world should be allowed to because the occupier of the American presidency affects nations all over the world.

 

On Election Day 2016, America takes a big gulp and prepares for a grim outcome. There will be no winner in a country so bedeviled by bitter partisanship and antiquated political institutions and practices. The rest of the world can only watch and shake their heads in disbelief, a by now familiar posture toward the former leader of the Western world. This is the way American democracy will end, not with a bang but with a whimper.

 

***

 

Instead of a gloomy future of post-democracy, another future is possible— one of renewed democracy. Imagine a different election in 2016, one where all 220 million eligible voters, including the millions of minority, poor, and young voters, have been automatically registered to vote as a result of a federal law passed in 2014 enacting universal voter registration. Imagine that law also brought the United States into the ranks of other advanced democracies that have lifted all barriers to participation, including allowing residents of our nation’s capital, Washington DC, to elect congressional representation; enabling our poorest citizens to vote on equipment as good as that used in the wealthy county next door; and permitting prisoners to learn the good habits of citizenship, such as the basic act of voting, while incarcerated. This federal law enfranchising all these new voters amounted to the greatest civil rights advance since 1965 and dramatically changed the profile of the electorate.

 

Imagine that in 2014 Congress finally passed a law ensuring that voting equipment and election administration would be overseen by a national elections commission that rigorously tests and produces the best and most innovative voting equipment and election administrative practices, partnering with states, counties, and the private sector to ensure that every corner of America is technologically equipped and trained to count our ballots accurately and securely. Election officials are now trained and certified professionals, with expertise in computer technology, databases, the logistics of running elections, and public relations, instead of a hodgepodge of career bureaucrats with little more than on-the-job training.

 

By the 2016 presidential election, twenty-one states have signed treaties awarding all their state’s electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, enough that the election has become a de facto national direct election for president. Candidates no longer can confine their campaigns to a handful of battleground states, especially the bigger ones such as Ohio and Florida. Instead, the candidates crisscross the nation, ignoring practically no one, trying to pick up every single vote they can. In 2016 it’s going to be a close race, just as it has been in most presidential elections since 2000, and no one knows whether the decisive votes will come from Wyoming, North Dakota, Georgia, California, New York, or some other state. This in turn leads to a massive mobilization of voters, old and new, who suddenly aren’t being treated like spectators anymore or ignored because they happen to live in the wrong state.

 

These twenty-one states as well as several others also have decided to use ranked choice voting (RCV) to guarantee majority winners in their presidential, gubernatorial and other statewide races, so the presence of several independent and minor party candidates doesn’t split the vote or spoil the race; in fact, it injects new ideas and fresh faces that excite more voters. Suddenly voters can hear a range of candidates directly addressing their concerns. And by ranking the candidates 1, 2, 3, so that if their first choice can’t win, their vote goes to their second choice, they can vote for these candidates without shooting themselves in the foot and contributing to their least favorite candidate winning. The net effect of a national direct election for president, as well as using RCV in many states for other statewide races, is that voter turnout in the 2016 election is projected to surge across the nation to a phenomenal 77 percent of eligible voters, on a par with many other democracies and the highest turnout in more than 120 years.

 

But that’s not all. By 2016, imagine that nineteen states have scrapped their antiquated winner-take-all elections and adopted proportional representation for electing their state legislatures and congressional delegations. As a result, multiparty democracies have sprouted in all these states, giving voters a whole new range of independent candidates and political parties to choose from. In addition to Democrats and Republicans, a Libertarian Party, a Green Party, a Working Families Party, and a centrist Ross Perot–type New America Party are all vying for legislative seats. The candidates for the different parties receive public financing and free media time, so even the smaller parties have sufficient resources to reach voters with TV and radio ads about their platforms and policy proposals. The result is real free market competition in our elections, something America has never really seen before, and a political buzz across the landscape that would have made Alexis de Tocqueville gush with enthusiasm. For the first time in their lives, millions of American voters are no longer bunkered down in safe, one-party districts, and are hearing a genuine debate with a full range of policy choices. Voters feel more informed and more satisfied with their political options across the political spectrum. As a result, voter turnout for state and congressional elections has doubled in these nineteen states to an average of 75 percent of eligible voters, nearly as high as in many other nations.

 

A couple of years earlier, in 2014, the US Senate was finally recognized as an eighteenth-century anachronism, but political resistance from the low-population states benefiting most from this sclerotic, unrepresentative body meant that reform possibilities were limited. Nevertheless, the Twenty-Eighth Amendment to the Constitution was passed in 2015, greatly reducing the Senate’s powers, taking away its authority to confirm the Supreme Court and other presidential appointments, and transforming it into an upper chamber like that in other advanced democracies that can delay legislation initiated by the House but that cannot stop it or introduce its own legislation. This amendment also abolished anti-majoritarian practices like the filibuster.

 

With the Senate scaled back, other reforms are in the air, one of them leading to moves to overhaul the Supreme Court. Another constitutional amendment has been passed by Congress and sent to the states for ratification that will impose fifteen-year judicial term limits for Supreme Court justices as well as other federal judgeships, and a mandatory retirement age of seventy-five. If passed by three-fourths of the states, the Twenty-Ninth Amendment will ensure that the Supreme Court becomes, for the first time in decades, a balance of legal-political views that better reflects the views of most Americans.

 

With broader representation in Congress and many of the state legislatures—including perspectives from the right, left, and center— policy has adjusted to align more closely with the opinions of most Americans. Congress has passed sensible laws to regulate the corporate media, forcing Big Media to sign a legally binding charter with detailed requirements for how it will serve the public interest, including providing adequate election news coverage and free airtime for all candidates (that meet reasonable eligibility requirements). Cable companies have finally been brought to heel and made to serve the public interest, with a regulated pricing structure and cooperative agreements with cities and rural areas to bring high-speed Internet access to all citizens, even the poorest. Social media and networking via the Internet have become smoothly integrated into our politics and public discourse, allowing young people to gain a political foothold. The Fairness Doctrine has been restored, ensuring that all sides and opinions can be heard, reducing the inclination of Americans to bunker down in their own impoverished media ghettos.

 

Public broadcasting has been granted robust funding to nearly BBC-type levels via a small mandatory monthly fee paid by households instead of by congressional authorization, liberating it to put the “public” back into its broadcasting. Hard-hitting journalism and penetrating interviews of political leaders, like those seen on the BBC, Al Jazeera, Democracy Now!, and other media outlets, is making a tentative appearance in PBS and NPR broadcasts. Daily newspapers in under-served communities are being subsidized, resulting in a flowering of dailies. Newspapers are even incorporated into classrooms, getting high school students into the habit of reading the news. With more robust public and private media, including high-speed Internet and social media, the result has been a surge of interest and knowledge on the part of Americans in news and politics and an improvement in the quality of political discourse and citizenship, leading to new understanding and respect among Americans of differing viewpoints.

 

The cumulative effect of all these changes by Election Day 2016 is that, in so many ways, the winner-take-all mentality—the adversarial “if I win, you lose” mantra—has begun to transform. Whether it’s in the legislatures, the executive branch, the media, or the courts, a new form of consensual democracy is emerging where various points of view compete against each other in a more respectful manner, sometimes strongly disagreeing but no longer crossing the line between vigorous advocacy and bitter “win-at-all-costs” partisanship. In such a climate of multi-partisan collegiality, where minds can come together and share perspectives in order to craft compromises and solutions for the good of the nation, Congress is able to chart a legislative course for America’s future, including figuring out a plan to ensure that every American has health care, and a decent retirement too, using a mix of public-private partnerships.

 

With legislative chambers functioning more as pragmatic, deliberative, problem-solving bodies instead of mud-wrestling pits of partisan warfare, Americans no longer are so frustrated by paralyzed politics and stop looking to millionaire politicians or media moguls or poorly crafted voter initiatives to fix the mess. Government acquires a better reputation. Americans see that smart government—not big government or “chopped-to-the-bone” government—can assist them in living prosperous, healthy, and enjoyable lives without overly restricting their liberty or freedoms. Once again, America presents a more cooperative leadership on the global stage, much to the world’s relief. All this ushers in a new era of shared prosperity among all Americans, and the rising tide helps lift boats the world over.

 

This is one alternative future for the United States. Down this path lies a renewal of American democracy that will allow our nation to live up to the lofty rhetoric of our Founders’ homily: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…” A renewed democracy will create a nation that works for all of us instead of some of us.

 

But down another path—much like the current path, relying on antiquated institutions and practices—lies a downward spiral into post-democracy, a nightmarish future where political and economic cabals wielding ominous technology have hog-tied democracy, rolled back regulation, turned our economy into their own personal casino, and rendered our nation into one that works for only a handful of us instead of all of us. These are two very different alternative futures, founded on two very different philosophies regarding representative democracy: elite rule versus popular sovereignty. We are standing at a fork in the road, and the choice is ours.

 

Like the rest of the world, the United States must adapt to profound political and economic changes that are sweeping the 21st century. Understandably, many people look at the political landscape today and throw up their hands, concluding things will never change. But how many Germans in 1980 thought the Berlin Wall would fall in less than ten years? I have spoken to many Germans who in 1988 did not imagine the Berlin Wall would fall less than a year later. How many people in the spring of 2008 thought the US and then the global economy would collapse in a matter of months? How many experts in December 2010 predicted that the self-immolation of a Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, who set himself on fire to protest the confiscation of his wares and the humiliation inflicted on him by a municipal official, would precipitate the remarkable chain of events known as the Arab Spring, which has led to the fall of dictators and unleashed a wave of political and economic reform across the Middle East? And how many anticipated the Occupy Wall Street movement that drew inspiration from the Arab Spring and spread throughout the United States in the fall of 2011?

 

The take-home lesson is that you never know at any given moment where you stand on the fault lines of history. Change proceeds very slowly, via inch-by-inch movements of the tectonic plates, until suddenly it is unleashed in an earthquake of unexpected proportions. A similar process of political evolution is occurring in the United States today.

 

Despite the seeming odds, we urgently need to press forward with efforts focused on adopting the reforms proposed in this book. Everybody can do a little, volunteering time and resources to the various organizations listed at the end of each chapter. One step at a time, we will transform the American political system, taking it out of the eighteenth-century museum in which it is stuck and transplanting it into the twenty-first century.

 

Steven Hill

 

Steven Hill is a political writer and former political reform director at the New America Foundation whose most recent books include Europe’s Promise: Why the European Way Is the Best Hope for an Insecure Age and “10 Steps to Repair American Democracy.” For more information and links to his articles and op-eds, visit www.Steven-Hill.com. Follow Hill on Twitter @StevenHill1776

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/12920-10-steps-to-repair-american-democracy

5 Crucial New Findings About Climate Change

AlterNet [1] / By Tara Lohan [2] November 21, 2012

This article was published in partnership with GlobalPossibilities.org [3].

This just in: The planet is screwed. Well, if you ask Bill McKibben [4] (and you should) we still have a fighting chance. But that’s only if we actually start fighting. This week proved a holiday downer with multiple reports coming in about how quickly we’re losing the battle to stave off the effects of catastrophic climate change. Here’s a quick recap:

1. UN Report: We’re Really Bad at Cutting Global Warming Emissions

It would be one things to say that we are working hard, but not quite hard enough to curb greenhouse gas emissions. But the sad fact is, we’re not really working on it at all in any meaningful way. Fiona Harvey reports [5] at the Guardian:

The world is straying further away from commitments to combat climate change, bringing the prospect of catastrophic global warming a step closer, a UN report said on Wednesday. …

The gap between what world governments have committed to by way of cuts in greenhouse gases and the cuts that scientists say are necessary has widened, but in order to stave off dangerous levels of global warming, it should have narrowed. There is now one-fifth more carbon in the atmosphere than there was in 2000, and there are few signs of global emissions falling, according to the new report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

This is incredibly troubling news and means our hope of staying near or below a global temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius — which scientists have deemed the upper level of preserving life as we know it on this planet — is quickly slipping out of reach.

2. World Meteorological Organization: Here’s How Bad We Are at Cutting Emissions

Just a day before the UN report, the World Meteorological Organization calculated [6] just how much greenhouse gases are actually in the atmosphere right now. Here’s what they found:

The amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a new record high in 2011, according to the World Meteorological Organization. Between 1990 and 2011 there was a 30% increase in radiative forcing – the warming effect on our climate – because of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other heat-trapping long-lived gases.

This doesn’t measure greenhouse gas emissions — like how much CO2 is released from things like burning fossil fuels — but indicates how much is left in the atmosphere after greenhouse gases are absorbed by sinks such as oceans and trees. Going forward, this is even more troubling as WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud explains [6]:

Until now, carbon sinks have absorbed nearly half of the carbon dioxide humans emitted in the atmosphere, but this will not necessarily continue in the future. We have already seen that the oceans are becoming more acidic as a result of the carbon dioxide uptake, with potential repercussions for the underwater food chain and coral reefs.

3. World Bank: We’re Headed to a Really Bad Place

The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics did a report on behalf of the World Bank and it concluded [7] that if we hit 4 degree Celsius warming things are going to get really bad: “extreme heat-waves, declining global food stocks, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and life-threatening sea level rise.” They also found that we are headed there if we don’t drastically change course.

According [7] to the World Bank, “The report says today’s climate could warm from the current global mean temperature of 0.8°C above pre-industrial levels, to as high as 4°C by 2100, even if countries fulfill current emissions-reduction pledges.”

As you remember from above, countries aren’t even hitting those pledges, so we’re woefully off-base.

4. Center for American Progress: We’re Especially Screwing Over the Poor and Middle-Class

The U.S. is getting hammered by extreme weather events. “Munich Re, the world’s largest reinsurance firm, found that North America is experiencing a tremendous rise in extreme weather disasters — a nearly fivefold increase over the past three decades,” reported [8] the Center for American Progress. And this is thanks to climate change.

Knowing this, CAP took a look at how climate-related disasters such as drought, wildfires, winter storms and tropical storms affected people living in the U.S. What they found [8] was, “Most of these extreme weather events typically harmed counties with household incomes below the U.S. median annual household income of $51,914”:

  • Floods damaged households in affected counties with average household incomes of $44,547 annually — 14 percent less than the U.S. median income
  • Drought and heat waves affected counties with households that earned an average of $49,340 annually — roughly 5 percent less than the U.S. median income
  • Wildfires, tornadoes, and severe thunderstorms devastated areas with households that earned an average of $50,352 annually — 3 percent less than the U.S. median income

As we know from Superstorm Sandy, the starkest contrasts between economic classes are often revealed in the aftereffects of disasters; those with fewer resources are often unable to flee areas ahead of coming disasters and poorer neighborhoods, including public housing complexes (as Steven Wishnia wrote for AlterNet [9]), are among the last to have services restored. Nowhere is this disparity more clear than the story of Anthony Narh [10], a parking attendent at a posh TriBeCa building in New York City (in the evacuation zone), who was called to work during the storm and drowned when the garage filled with water.

5. World Resources Institute: Blame King Coal (and Ourselves)

Here’s a basic fact: the biggest contributors to climate change are coal-fired power plants. So if we’re staring down the barrel of the climate change gun, what makes the most sense? Cut down on our coal burning, of course. But what are we planning to do? According to a new report [11]from the World Resources Institute, 1,199 new coal-burning power plants have been proposed across the world.

China ranks first in the world in coal production and consumption — by a great margin. The U.S. and India are second and third respectively, in both categories as well. When it comes to new capacity, India has the most number of proposed new projects at 455, while China is second in the number of projects (363) but tops the list in what the installed capacity would be. The U.S. is seventh in installed capacity with 36 new coal-burning power plants proposed.

Stephen Lacey writes for Climate Progress [12]:

The report outlines virtually every coal plant announced around the world. That does not necessarily mean that every one will get built. In the U.S., for example, it is highly unlikely that many — if any — new coal plants will move forward as cheap natural gas, growing renewables, and legal pressure from environmental groups trips up the pipeline. (Also, as Justin Guay of the Sierra Club points out in a piece today, local resistance in communities around the world is also hindering many of these projects).

But the tally is still staggering. If all these plants were built, they would amount to generation capacity four times greater than the entire U.S. coal fleet.

Time to get our heads out of the sand and get to work.

Editor’s Note: If you’re depressed by the conclusions from these new reports, read AlterNet’s interview with Osha Gray Davidson, author of a new book on Germany’s renewable energy revolution and what the U.S. can learn from it.

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/environment/5-crucial-new-findings-about-climate-change

Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/tara-lohan
[3] http://globalpossibilities.org/
[4] http://andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2012/11/ask-mckibben-anything-is-it-too-late-to-stop-climate-change.html
[5] http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/nov/21/slow-carbon-cuts-climate-change-un
[6] http://www.wmo.int/pages/mediacentre/press_releases/pr_965_en.html
[7] http://climatechange.worldbank.org/content/climate-change-report-warns-dramatically-warmer-world-century
[8] http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/green/report/2012/11/16/45135/heavy-weather-how-climate-destruction-harms-middle-and-lower-income-americans/
[9] http://www.alternet.org/environment/new-york-post-sandy-lesson-how-social-injustice-will-amplify-ravages-global-warming
[10] http://www.thenation.com/article/171228/called-work-during-superstorm-sandy-tribeca-parking-attendant-drowned
[11] http://pdf.wri.org/global_coal_risk_assessment.pdf
[12] http://thinkprogress.org/climate/issue/
[13] http://www.alternet.org/tags/climate-change
[14] http://www.alternet.org/tags/global-warming
[15] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B