Study Finds Republican Voter Suppression Is Even More Effective Than You Think

For years, researchers warned that laws requiring voters to show certain forms of photo identification at the poll would discriminate against racial minorities and other groups. Now, the first study has been released showing that the proliferation of voter ID laws in recent years has indeed driven down minority voter turnout, and by a significant amount.

In a new paper entitled “Voter Identification Laws and the Suppression of Minority Votes”, researchers at the University of California, San Diego — Zoltan Hajnal, Nazita Lajevardi — and Bucknell University — Lindsay Nielson — used data from the annual Cooperative Congressional Election Study to compare states with strict voter ID laws to those that allow voters without photo ID to cast a ballot. They found a clear and significant dampening effect on minority turnout in strict voter ID states.

For example, the researchers found that in primary elections, “a strict ID law could be expected to depress Latino turnout by 9.3 points, Black turnout by 8.6 points, and Asian American turnout by 12.5 points.”

The impact of strict voter ID was also evident in general elections, where minority turnout plummeted in relation to the white vote. “For Latinos in the general election, the predicted gap more than doubles from 4.9 points in states without strict ID laws to 13.5 points in states with strict photo ID laws,” the study found. That gap increased by 2.2 points for African Americans and by 5 points for Asian Americans. The effect was even more pronounced in primary elections.

The study found that strict voter ID laws had little impact on younger voters as a whole, while there were “small indications” that poorer Americans were adversely impacted, though likely not to the same degree racial minorities were.

Given that minorities tend to vote overwhelmingly Democratic, researchers were left with little doubt that strict voter ID laws were hurting Democratic candidates.
In a key finding, the study showed that “Democratic turnout drops by an estimated 8.8 percentage points in general elections when strict photo identification laws are in place,” compared to just 3.6 percentage points for Republicans. Even worse for the left is the impact on the ideology of the electorate. “For strong liberals the estimated drop in turnout in strict photo identification states is an alarming 7.9 percentage points,” researchers found. “By contrast, strong conservatives actually vote at a slightly higher rate – 4.8 points – in strict ID states, all else equal.”

“Voter ID laws may represent one of the nation’s most important civil rights issues”, the paper concludes. ThinkProgress asked Hajnal to expand on what the researchers meant. “We’ve overcome and eradicated many of the egregious barriers to minority participation,” he said. “We’ve come a long way, but these kinds of laws represent another avenue through which minority voices can be muted.”

(Excerpted from Think Progress 2/2/16)

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Doomsday Clock Stays at Three Minutes to Midnight: At the ‘Brink’ of Man-Made Apocalypse

With “utter dismay,” the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced Tuesday that the symbolic Doomsday Clock will hold at three minutes to midnight—at the “brink” of man-made apocalypse—because world leaders have failed to take the necessary steps to protect citizens from the grave threats of nuclear war and runaway climate change.

“Three minutes (to midnight) is too close. Far too close,” reads the statement by the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board.

The decision not to move the hands of the Doomsday Clock “is not good news,” it continues, “but an expression of dismay that world leaders continue to fail to focus their efforts and the world’s attention on reducing the extreme danger posed by nuclear weapons and climate change. When we call these dangers existential, that is exactly what we mean: They threaten the very existence of civilization and therefore should be the first order of business for leaders who care about their constituents and their countries.”

The Bulletin’s Science and Security Board in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which includes 17 Nobel Laureates, ruled last year to move the clock forward from five minutes to midnight to three in response to the competing threats of “unchecked climate change, global nuclear weapons modernizations and outsized nuclear weapons arsenals.”

(Excerpted from Eco Watch 1/27/16)

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Indictment Deals Blow to G.O.P. Over Planned Parenthood Battle

A grand jury’s indictment on Monday of two abortion opponents who covertly recorded Planned Parenthood officials is the latest, most startling sign that a Republican campaign against the group has run into trouble.

In a dozen states including Texas, where the grand jury in Houston examined Planned Parenthood at the request of Republican officials but ended up indicting the opponents, various investigations have concluded without finding any wrongdoing by affiliates of the group. Eight states have declined to investigate since videos began surfacing in June alleging that Planned Parenthood illegally sells tissue from aborted fetuses.

Conservatives’ efforts to defund the group have since failed. Senate leaders increasingly fear that the fight threatens several Republican seats, and with them the party’s majority. Several congressional committees investigating the organization have yet to produce results.

Nonpartisan opinion polls suggest Republicans are right to be concerned.

A majority of Americans continue to support Planned Parenthood and its federal payments, which reimburse nearly 700 affiliates for providing reproductive care, preventive health services and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases to low-income Medicaid recipients. Payments for abortions, which are performed by a little more than half of Planned Parenthood centers, are prohibited by federal law except in cases of rape, incest and a pregnancy’s threat to a woman’s life.

A survey for The New York Times and CBS News this month showed that nearly six in 10 Americans say Planned Parenthood should receive federal funds. That finding was statistically unchanged from a similar survey in September, even as conservatives at the local, state and federal levels stoked outrage about the videos from a group called the Center for Medical Progress, founded by a 27-year-old Californian, David R. Daleiden, one of those indicted Monday.

The Times/CBS poll and others show that more people continue to hold favorable opinions than unfavorable ones about Planned Parenthood. One in five American women visits a Planned Parenthood center at least once in her lifetime, according to the organization, and the Guttmacher Institute, which researches reproduction issues, says three in 10 American women have had an abortion by age 45.

(Excerpted from New York Times 1/28/16)

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When facts are known, accusations against Planned Parenthood fall apart

Unlike a legion of politicians, a grand jury in Texas was compelled to rely on factual information as it considered whether Planned Parenthood had broken laws prohibiting making a profit from the sale of fetal tissue and fetal organs.

Planned Parenthood did nothing wrong, the jurors decided. But they indicted two persons involved in the production of deceptive videos that set off a wave of fury against the women’s health provider.

David R. Daleiden, 27, the director of the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress, and an employee, Sandra S. Merritt, 62, face felony charges of tampering with a governmental record. They are accused of making and presenting fake California driver’s licenses. Daleiden also faces a misdemeanor charge related to purchasing human organs.

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick had ordered the grand jury probe, seeking charges against Planned Parenthood after Daleiden’s group released doctored undercover video shot inside a Houston Planned Parenthood clinic.

The panel’s refusal to be swayed by emotion or politics is a reminder that an independent judicial process is one of our nation’s greatest assets.

That’s especially true in a time when too many politicians are willing to abandon restraint and fairness.

Daleiden’s videos, which purported to show Planned Parenthood employees engaged in the illegal sale of fetal tissue and body parts, have touched off multiple investigations. Republicans in the U.S. Congress and many state leaders have used them to demand that the women’s health provider be stripped of government funds, including reimbursement for care to Medicaid patients.

Investigations have found no evidence of wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood in at least 11 states, including Missouri and Kansas. But that hasn’t stopped the incendiary speech and actions.

Two weeks ago, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback declared in his State of the State speech that “Planned Parenthood’s trafficking of baby body parts is antithetical to our belief in human dignity.”

In Missouri, pressure from a politically motivated legislative investigation caused University of Missouri officials to revoke hospital privileges for a doctor who performed non-surgical abortions at Planned Parenthood’s Columbia clinic. Senate officials are threatening to hold two persons in contempt for refusing to testify at hearings.

Debunked accusations that Planned Parenthood harvests baby parts for sale continue to ring in both state Capitols. The officials repeating that fallacy are acting irresponsibly. A gunman who admitted killing three people at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic in November reportedly explained his actions to police by saying “No more baby parts.”

In response to the charges, Daleiden issued a statement saying his group follows all applicable laws and “uses the same undercover techniques as investigative journalists.”

Not true. The age of the Internet has stretched the definition of who exactly is a journalist. But credible news organizations rarely use undercover techniques. A long campaign of false pretenses, deceptive editing and other shady tactics used by Daleiden to deliberately mislead the public are out of bounds for reputable journalists.

So is breaking the law, if that’s what happened.

(EXcerpted from Kansas City Star 1/26/16)

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Panel OKs union paycheck proposal

Unions would need annual written permission from public workers for payroll deductions for union membership or political contributions under a bill endorsed Monday by a legislative committee.

On an 8-2 vote, members of the House Workforce Standards and Development Committee sent the so-called “paycheck protection” measure to the full House with no comment.

The looming debate comes a year after the Republican-controlled Legislature sent a “right to work” measure to Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s desk. The governor vetoed that plan, which would have prohibited requiring union membership as a condition of employment. The General Assembly failed to override his veto.

Nixon also vetoed a similar paycheck-related measure that was sent to him in 2013, raising questions of whether the latest GOP push to weaken labor unions will become a flash point heading into the 2016 election season.

State Rep. Holly Rehder’s legislation would only apply to public employees.

Opponents, who have dubbed the measure “paycheck deception,” say public employees can already opt out of paycheck deduction any time.

(Excerpted from St. Louis Post Dispatch 1/25/16)

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Gates Slams GOP Candidates’ Grasp of National Security

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates derided the Republican party’s candidates for an understanding of national security issues that “would embarrass a middle schooler,” the Guardian reports.

Said Gates: “People are out there making threats and promises that are totally unrealistic, totally unattainable. Either they really believe what they’re saying or they’re cynical and opportunistic and, in a way, you hope it’s the latter, because God forbid they actually believe some of the things that they’re saying.”

(Excerpted from Political Wire 1/26/16)

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Blunt backs gun bill that could complicate mental health push

Even as Congress moves forward on a bipartisan proposal to strengthen the nation’s mental health care system, Sen. Roy Blunt and other Republicans are backing controversial legislation that could make it easier for mentally impaired individuals to buy firearms.

Blunt, R-Mo., says the bill would provide those who have recovered from mental illness a way to regain their Second Amendment rights. But gun-control advocates say it’s a dangerous proposal that could put guns in the wrong hands — and jeopardize the broader push for comprehensive mental health reform.

{The} bill also includes contentious provisions that would make it easier for mentally ill individuals to have their records removed from the federal background check system, which gun sellers use to determine whether someone is legally allowed to buy a firearm. Under current law, individuals are barred from buying a gun if they have been involuntarily committed to a psychiatric institution or if a court has deemed them mentally incompetent.

They can seek to have those restrictions lifted through a restoration process that varies from state to state. In Missouri, for example, individuals can petition a court to have their gun rights restored, and judges must grant such petitions if they determine the individual does not pose a danger to public safety and if restoring their gun rights is not contrary to the public interest.

Under Cornyn’s bill, federal law enforcement officials would be required to remove the records of mentally ill individuals from the background check system “upon being made aware” the person is no longer considered mentally incompetent or committed to a psychiatric hospital.

Gun-control advocates say Cornyn’s bill does not create an appeals process. Instead, they say, it would automatically restore of an individual’s gun rights — without any review. Joshua Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, said under Cornyn’s bill, someone who had been involuntarily committed to a psychiatric institution would be eligible to have a firearm as soon as the commitment order expired, which in some cases would be just days after they are released.

“You are creating blanket restoration … for people who could in fact be quite dangerous to themselves or others,” Horwitz said. His group has called on Congress and state legislatures to pass uniform standards that restore firearms rights to those barred because of mental illness — after a qualified clinician has evaluated that individual and can attest he is unlikely to relapse or pose a danger to himself or others.

A spokesman for Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said Cornyn’s bill could be a step in the wrong direction.

“If there’s a question about whether that bill would make it easier for someone with mental health problems to get a gun, Claire believes that’s something that needs to be fixed before the bill gets serious consideration,” said John LaBombard, her spokesman.

(Excerpyted from Springfield News-Leader 1/24/16)

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Bill requiring photo ID at the polls is a solution looking for a problem

If two Missouri House Republicans get their way, the scourge of voter fraud could soon be wiped out for good in Missouri. Those of us who have been outraged by massive election fraud and pushed aside at the polls by hordes of voter impersonators will finally be able to practice democracy in peace. Uh, just one question: Where, exactly, is this fraud occurring?

Mssrs. Dugger and Alferman can tell their constituents that they’ve cracked down on a problem that doesn’t exist. Meanwhile, real problems like poverty, education, road improvements, crime and unemployment persist.

Mr. Dugger’s bill, HJR 53, would ask voters in a statewide referendum whether federal or state-issued photo IDs should be required of registered voters when they show up at the polls. If the constitutional amendment is approved, a second bill by Mr. Alferman, HB 1631, would take effect, specifying which forms of government-issued photo ID are acceptable. Both bills received the House’s final vote of approval Thursday and now await Senate action. Republicans control both houses.

For the vast majority of the Missourians who actually bother to vote, these requirements probably seem shrug-worthy — a simple matter of pulling out the wallet and presenting a valid driver’s license. But there are tens of thousands of Missourians who have no car and no need of a driver’s license. They take the bus because that’s all they can afford.

For them, meeting the photo ID requirements is an enormous and costly hassle that could involve requesting hours off work to wait in line at the driver’s license bureau and devoting more time to assemble the necessary paperwork, such as an original Social Security card and birth certificate, to meet government requirements before an ID can be issued. It’s anything but simple. It’s a major hassle, and probably designed by Mssrs. Alferman and Dugger to be that way.

The effect is to limit voting access by thousands of elderly people, poor people and minorities, people who consistently vote Democratic. Make it such a hassle to vote, and they’ll stay home. Limit their numbers at the polls, and you make it that much harder for a Democrat to get elected. By some estimates, up to 200,000 Missouri voters could be disenfranchised by this bill.

The possibility (an unreal thing by definition) is real. The actuality of fraud by impersonation is 31 times out of a billion votes cast, according to an investigation by The Washington Post. Statistically: zero. The Missouri bill is about heading off fraud before it rears its ugly head.

The National Conference of State Legislatures says 36 states have passed some form of voter ID law, but that three states, including Missouri, have been unable to implement previous laws because of unfavorable court rulings challenging their constitutionality. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a photo ID law enacted in Texas in 2011. Of the nine states with strict photo ID requirements, all have Republican-majority legislatures.

(Excerpted from St. Louis Post Dispatch 1/24/16)

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Modern politicians, no matter how conservative, understand that public health is an essential government role. Right? No, wrong

In the modern world, much government spending goes to social insurance programs — things like Social Security, Medicare and so on, that are supposed to protect citizens from the misfortunes of life. Such spending is the subject of fierce political debate, and understandably so. Liberals want to help the poor and unlucky, conservatives want to let people keep their hard-earned income, and there’s no right answer to this debate, because it’s a question of values.

There should, however, be much less debate about spending on what Econ 101 calls public goods — things that benefit everyone and can’t be provided by the private sector. Yes, we can differ over exactly how big a military we need or how dense and well-maintained the road network should be, but you wouldn’t expect controversy about spending enough to provide key public goods like basic education or safe drinking water.

Yet a funny thing has happened as hard-line conservatives have taken over many U.S. state governments. Or actually, it’s not funny at all. Not surprisingly, they have sought to cut social insurance spending on the poor. In fact, many state governments dislike spending on the poor so much that they are rejecting a Medicaid expansion that wouldn’t cost them anything, because it’s federally financed. But what we also see is extreme penny pinching on public goods.

It’s easy to come up with examples. Kansas, which made headlines with its failed strategy of cutting taxes in the expectation of an economic miracle, has tried to close the resulting budget gap largely with cuts in education. North Carolina has also imposed drastic cuts on schools. And in New Jersey, Chris Christie famously canceled a desperately needed rail tunnel under the Hudson.

So are we just talking about the effects of ideology? Didn’t Flint find itself in the cross hairs of austerity because it’s a poor, mostly African-American city? Yes, that’s definitely part of what happened — it would be hard to imagine something similar happening to Grosse Pointe.

But these really aren’t separate stories. What we see in Flint is an all too typically American situation of (literally) poisonous interaction between ideology and race, in which small-government extremists are empowered by the sense of too many voters that good government is simply a giveaway to Those People.

But you can’t understand what happened in Flint, and what will happen in many other places if current trends continue, without understanding the ideology that made the disaster possible.

(Excerpted from New York Times 1/25/16)

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Rowden Pulls an Eddie Haskell on Ethics Reform

Today, Rep. Caleb Rowden (R-Columbia) gave us his best Eddie Haskell impersonation as he testified before a committee on ethics reform. Rowden spoke on behalf of two of his ethics reform bills, trying hard to give the appearance of a champion for fairness and transparency.

It was classic Rowden: talk as if he were a bipartisan reformer, while still accepting meals and sports tickets. (He took home the award for most gifts in the Boone County delegation in 2013, and enjoyed lobbyist-paid trips to see the Cardinals and Mizzou Tigers in action.)

 (Excerpted from Progress Missouri 1/11/16)

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The Roberts Court finds a new way to stack the deck in favor of the rich

Just in time for the 2016 election, the Roberts Court has found yet another way to stack the deck in favor of the rich.

By all appearances at Monday’s argument, the five Republican-appointed justices are ready to upend a 40-year precedent guiding labor relations in favor of a new approach that will deplete public-sector unions’ finances and reduce their political clout. The case, from California, involves arcane issues of “agency fees” and member opt-outs, but make no mistake: This is about campaign finance, and, in particular, propping up the Republican Party.

Justice Stephen Breyer, one of the Democratic appointees, argued that there were good arguments on both sides of the case, but no compelling reason to “overrule a compromise that was worked out over 40 years and has lasted reasonably well.” Said Breyer: “I guess people could overrule our decisions just as easily. And you start overruling things, what happens to the country thinking of us as a kind of stability in a world that is tough because it changes a lot?”

The answer, of course, is Americans have already come to see the court as another political branch of government. Lawyer Michael Carvin, leading the anti-union side Monday, gave further justification for that impression. In front of the justices, he dismissed the notion “that anything could happen adversely” to unions as a result of the case. But then he went out to the Supreme Court plaza and, in front of a cheering crowd, told the truth: “It may limit their revenue somewhat, but of course they can compensate for that by being less involved in things like politics.”

And that’s exactly the goal.

The huge political consequences of the case were unstated in the chamber, but the argument was at times as partisan as a debate on the House floor. Carvin frequently interrupted and talked over the three female justices — classic “mansplaining,” as Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick observed from the press seats. Carvin referred to the other side’s argument as the “so-called opposition” and pronounced Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s surname as “Soto-my-ear.” At one point he quipped that he has a First Amendment right not to join the American Bar Association, “because virtually every word out of their mouth I disagree with.” Justice Samuel Alito guffawed.

The argument was mostly for show, because there was little doubt the 1977 Abood decision will go down. This will make it easier for public-sector workers who benefit from collective bargaining but who don’t want to be in unions to avoid paying fees to the union, even for nonpolitical functions. Union finances will be further drained at a time when labor is historically weak.

Carvin spent his morning affirming the conservative justices. To Antonin Scalia: “You’re a thousand percent right, Your Honor.” To Anthony Kennedy: “Exactly, Your Honor.” To Alito: “Your recollection of history is correct.”

And these conservative justices left no doubt where they stood. Chief Justice John Roberts dismissed as “really insignificant” the unions’ argument about free riders. Scalia informed the union’s lawyer that his argument “doesn’t mean anything to me.”

Breyer reminded his colleagues that when the court jettisons precedent, it’s usually to right an egregious or basic wrong, such as the Plessy v. Ferguson precedent justifying segregation. “I don’t see anything too basic in the lines you’re drawing,” he told Carvin.

Carvin invoked Thomas Jefferson, saying the third president thought it “sinful and tyrannical” to require “people to give money which they don’t wish to give.”

It’s not known how Jefferson would have felt about public-sector unions. But what’s sinful and tyrannical is for billionaires to take over the electoral process and the government — and for the highest court in the land to take aim at the last remaining counterweight.

(Excerpted from Washington Post 1/11/16)

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For Missouri’s poor, things are getting even worse

The help that Missouri offers to its poor and working poor citizens, never very generous, this month began getting even more miserly. And next year threatens to be worse.

Thanks to a law passed by the Legislature last year, 2,766 Missouri families were cut from the federal-state Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program on Jan. 1. This affects about 9,500 people, 6,310 of whom are children and 3,400 of whom are under age 5.

Before passage of Senate Bill 24 last year, Missouri families could receive TANF benefits only for 60 months. Now the lifetime limit is 45 months. The families whacked from the rolls Jan. 1 already have exceeded 45 months. More will join them as months go on.

It’s not as though they were living high on the hog. The average TANF payment in the state has been roughly $228 a month since 1992, when that amount bought 33 percent more.

The Republicans who run the Legislature like to say the safety net shouldn’t be a hammock. But it shouldn’t be a slingshot, either. Two-thirds of those they just catapulted off the cliff are children; most of the adults affected already work part-time. A single mother of two is disqualified from TANF if she earns more than $846 a month.

Missourians who lose their jobs will now be able to collect unemployment compensation for only 13 weeks, down from 20 last year. Only North Carolina, at 12 weeks, now offers fewer weeks of unemployment compensation. The maximum unemployment check for a worker who loses a good-paying job is $320 a week. Nobody was getting rich off that one, either.

Can you find a good job in 13 weeks? The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that in December, the average duration of unemployment was 32.2 weeks. The median duration was 13 weeks. Last month, 19,000 Missourians filed initial claims for unemployment. Roughly half of them will still be out of work when their unemployment runs out.

How about food stamps? Missouri’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program pays the princely sum of $230 per family per month. Beginning this month, unemployed Missouri adults under age 50 will qualify for food stamps only for three months in every 36. The state’s Family Support Division estimates that 58,000 adults will lose benefits. Glenn Koenen, who chairs the hunger task force for Empower Missouri, says the actual number could be nearly twice that.

There’s a widespread myth, popular among Republican lawmakers, that there are vast numbers of able-bodied adults cheating the system. In reality, most of the able-bodied poor are trying to work, but can’t make ends meet. Nearly one in three poor Americans is a child. Half of all Americans will find themselves in poverty at some point in their lives.

The sum total of all this is truly shameful. Next year, when income tax cuts heavily geared toward the wealthy kick in, there will be less money available for all state needs. Well-connected people who’ve been granted tax credits are first in line. Education is already underfunded. Now highway interests are making goo-goo eyes at the general revenue fund, and concrete lobbyists make a lot of campaign donations.

The budget will have to balanced. If you don’t think it won’t be on the backs of the poor, you haven’t been paying attention.

(Excerpted from St. Louis Post Dispatch 1/11/16

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Missouri ranks poorly for ‘food insecurity

Missouri ranks sixth worst among U.S. states for food insecurity and second to last for hunger, according to a new report from Missouri Foundation for Health.

An individual was defined as food insecure if he or she answered yes to several questions, including, “I worry about whether our food would run out before we got money to buy more.”

Missouri’s first and fifth congressional districts had the highest food insecurity rates, at 25 percent and 18.3 percent, respectively.

The Missouri counties with the highest food insecurity rates, according to the report: City of St. Louis, Pemiscot, Mississippi, Dunklin, New Madrid, Reynolds, Jackson, Nodaway, Washington and Wright.

The report recommends, among other things, that policymakers build and improve retail food stores through the Healthy Food Financing Initiative; increase minimum wages for low-income workers; implement zoning and land use policies to designate areas for community gardens and farmers markets; and improve transportation and other environmental barriers that cut off access to food outlets.

(Excerpted from St. Louis Business Journal 1/11/16)

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Social Security in an Election Year

This election season offers an opportunity to reframe the debate over Social Security. It is necessary, of course, to ensure the program’s long-term health beyond 2034, when the system is projected to come up short. But this can’t be done by broadly cutting benefits. In fact, there’s mounting evidence that Social Security, which has become ever more important in retirement, needs to be expanded.

Currently, 36 percent of retirees rely on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their income; over all, 65 percent of retirees rely on it for more than half of their income. The average monthly benefit hovers around $1,300. Retirement security won’t be any better for those now in their 50s. The Government Accountability Officerecently found that 52 percent of American households with someone 55 or older have nothing saved for retirement and that only half of that 52 percent will get anything from a company pension. For those ages 55 to 64 with retirement savings, the median amount is barely in the six figures.

Younger workers are arguably worse off, because saving has become increasingly difficult, or impossible, in the face of stagnating wages, high debt, high rents and the lack of employer-provided retirement benefits. In 2013, 44 percent of workers on the lower half of the income scale had a retirement plan at work, down from 54 percent in 1995, according to data from the Federal Reserve.

Despite these facts, nearly all Republican candidates have called for cuts to Social Security benefits.

Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio all favor cutting benefits by delaying the age for full benefits; the retirement age is already set to rise to 67 for people born in 1960 or later. They say a higher retirement age is needed to keep up with longer lives. But data show that life expectancy is growing faster among the wealthy than among the poor, and poor women are seeing life expectancy decline. So raising the retirement age across the board would hit lower-income workers the hardest.

Mr. Bush, Mr. Christie and Mr. Cruz have also endorsed reducing future cost-of-living adjustments in Social Security, even though there is no compelling evidence that the current adjustment is too high.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Cruz have said that Social Security payroll taxes should be diverted into new private accounts for employees, a reprise of President George W. Bush’s failed privatization attempt in 2005. Private accounts do not enhance retirement security. They divert money that would otherwise finance Social Security to Wall Street and shift the risk from government to individuals.

Donald Trump opposes benefit cuts, including a higher retirement age, but he has offered no meaningful ideas for reform.

The Democratic candidates have played defense and offense. They have opposed benefit cuts and privatization. They have proposed increasing the system’s revenues by raising the ceiling on the amount of wages, currently $118,500, that are subject to payroll taxes. That reform is overdue. If the wage ceiling had kept pace with the income gains of high earners over the decades, it would be about $250,000 today.

More important, they have stressed that an aim of reform is to bolster the system, not shrink it. Hillary Clinton would raise benefits for widows and for retirees who had long absences from the work force to care for relatives. Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley would increase benefits more broadly, especially for low-income recipients.

Ultimately, strengthening Social Security requires a growing and healthy economy. The Democratic candidates have credible ideas for creating jobs and raising wages that would revitalize the tax base for Social Security. Those and other sensible fixes, not deep and broad cutbacks, will ensure that the system continues to provide a basic level of guaranteed retirement income for all workers.

(Excerpted from New York Times 1/3/16)

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Republicans’ do-nothingness on guns

It is axiomatic that congressional Republicans will oppose anything smacking of “gun control,” which may as well be read as “ your mama.”

Thus, it comes as no surprise that President Obama’s announcement of executive actions to clarify and enhance federal gun laws prompted reflexive, hyperbolic responses from the right.

Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) said “Obama is obsessed with undermining the Second Amendment,” while Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) averred, “We don’t beat the bad guys by taking away our guns. W e beat the bad guys by using our guns.”

Spoken like a true Canadian-born Texan who has been busy burnishing his “outsider” Outdoor Guy image. What’s next? Cruz drinking the warm blood of a freshly slain (unarmed) beast?

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) criticized the president for a “dangerous level of executive overreach” and for circumventing congressional opposition — as though Congress has been working feverishly to reduce gun violence. Rather, Republicans focus their laser beams on Obama’s and the Democratic Party’s political motivations, shocking to none, and remind us that we already have enough gun laws.

This may well be true, but couldn’t we stand to tweak them a bit? Or, perhaps, enforce them? And isn’t it possible to reduce the number of guns in the wrong hands without surrendering our Second Amendment rights or invoking the slippery slope of government confiscation?

Of course it is — and we can.

Obama made an artful and poignant counterargument to the usual objections Tuesday during a news conference at the White House. He reminded those gathered, including many who have lost family members to gun violence, that other people also have rights — the right to peaceable assembly and the right to practice their religion without being shot.

In fairness to the gun lobby, which may not deserve such charity, one can understand reservations about limiting access to guns. What is less easily understood is the refusal of Republicans to take the reins of any given issue and do something constructive rather than invariably waiting to be forced into the ignoble position of “no.”

It is one thing to be in the pocket of the National Rifle Association. It is another to do nothing and then assume a superior posture of purposeful neglect, as though do-nothingness were a policy and smug intransigence a philosophy.

The steps Obama is trying to take won’t save every life, but they seem minimally intrusive and could have significant effects. Summarizing briefly, he’s clarifying existing law and more tightly defining “gun dealer” in order to impose broader background checks; upgrading technology for improved information-sharing and safer guns; increasing relevant workforces to speed up background checks; and closing loopholes that have allowed criminals to buy guns online and elsewhere with a separate set of rules. Or no rules.

(Excerpted from Parker Washington Post 1/5/16)

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How the Right Trounced Liberals in the States

Conservatives have mastered the art of cross-state policy advocacy, while liberal efforts have fizzled. Here’s what has to change.

Across much of America, conservatives can mount powerful state legislative campaigns through three well-funded networks that operate as complements to one another. Think tanks affiliated with the State Policy Network (SPN) spew out studies and prepare op-eds and legislative testimony. Paid state directors and staffers installed by Americans for Prosperity (AFP) sponsor bus tours, convene rallies and public forums, run radio and television ads, send mailers, and spur activists to contact legislators. And inside the legislatures themselves, many representatives and senators, especially Republicans, are members of ALEC, which invites them to serve alongside business lobbyists and right-wing advocacy groups on national task forces that prepare “model” bills that the legislators can advance at the state and local level, with assistance from ALEC staffers.

Year in and year out, this three-pronged approach ensures that a steady diet of conservative proposals is on the menu for legislative consideration and public discussion—and when political openings appear, dramatic policy changes can result. Michigan, for example, has long been a Democratic-leaning labor union stronghold, but right-to-work legislation designed to eviscerate union finances was enacted there in late 2012, after a lightning campaign that featured reports from the SPN-affiliated Mackinac Center for Public Policy, public rallies organized by AFP-Michigan, and legislative votes in part choreographed by ALEC members in key leadership posts.

Blocking bipartisan measures is also a troika specialty. For instance, federal subsidies to expand state Medicaid programs under the ACA are so generous that, even in divided or GOP-run states, many governors and some GOP legislators with ties to hospital associations and chambers of commerce have looked for ways to sign on. Yet even bipartisan efforts backed by business groups have been parried in many states.

Right and left in American politics tend to keep an eye on each other and respond when one side gains advantage. Fears of liberal advances motivated conservative leaders to form ALEC and SPN; AFP’s sponsors have vowed to push back against unions and Democrats. Liberals were mostly focused on Washington in the 1970s and ’80s, but some on the left did understand the need for more state-level capacity, only to struggle at marshaling adequate responses. Time and again, the same story has played out. Liberal entrepreneurs launched state-focused networks to much fanfare, only to see them fade away—and then the whole cycle started again.

We see five areas where (those) endeavoring to build liberal policy capacities in and across the states—might learn from conservative experiences. The trick is to look for the left’s own versions of clever innovations and organizational solutions discovered years ago by the right.

1. Establish meaningful membership, 2. Leverage networks and social ties within states, 3. Establish mechanisms for dealing with competing policy priorities, 4. Find better funding solutions, 5. View policy as a means to political goals

(Excerpted from Democracy Journal Winter 2016)

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The Oregon standoff and America’s double standards on race and religion

What do you think the response would be if a bunch of black people, filled with rage and armed to the teeth, took over a federal government installation and defied officials to kick them out? I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be wait-and-see.

Probably more like point-and-shoot.

Or what if the occupiers were Mexican American? They wouldn’t be described with the semi-legitimizing term “militia,” harking to the days of the patriots. And if the gun-toting citizens happened to be Muslim, heaven forbid, there would be wall-to-wall cable news coverage of the “terrorist assault.” I can hear Donald Trump braying for blood.

Not to worry, however, because the extremists who seized the remote Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Oregon on Saturday are white. As such, they are permitted to engage in a “standoff” with authorities who keep their distance lest there be needless loss of life.

The yahoos in Oregon are protesting the Bureau of Land Management’s policies, hardly a red-button issue for most Americans. The federal building they seized is in a wildlife refuge, which means that by definition it’s in the middle of nowhere; the nearest sizable city is Boise, Idaho, about 200 miles away. The protesters’ guns pose more of a threat to bears than people.

So no, I don’t think authorities have any immediate reason to blast their way into the woods with a column of armored vehicles. But I would argue there was no good reason to do so on the streets of Ferguson, Mo., either. Is the salient difference that the Oregon protesters are believed to be heavily armed? If so, what message does that send? Does somebody need to found a Minority Rifle Association so that communities of color are given similar deference?

What I want is that African Americans, Latino Americans, Muslim Americans and other “outsiders” be seen as the Americans we are. What I want is acknowledgment that we, too, have a stake in our democracy and its future course. What I want is the recognition that no one can “take back” the country — which happens to be led by its first African American president — because it belongs to me as much as to you.

These are not the sentiments we’re hearing in the presidential campaign, though — at least, not on the Republican side. Following Trump’s lead, candidates are competing to sound angrier and more embittered. That’s why I am so worried.

You’d think there might be at least a few prominent voices on the right expressing horror and outrage at the wrongful killing of a 12-year-old boy. You’d think that Republicans running for president might find the time to condemn the armed takeover of federal property by zealots. Yet all we hear is crickets chirping.

The GOP candidates have apparently concluded that voicing hope, embracing change and broadening our concept of the American mainstream constitute a losing strategy. They see Trump’s success and mimic him in fostering a sense of “beleaguered” us vs. “menacing” them. This may be an effective way to pursue the nomination, but it’s a terrible disservice to the country.

(Excerpted from Washington Post 1/4/16)

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FACT CHECK: Proposed voter ID measures wouldn’t have averted 16 cases of fraud

For nearly a decade, Missouri Republicans have pushed to require a photo I.D. to vote. Those efforts have all fallen short — either in the General Assembly, at the governor’s desk or in the courts. In the upcoming legislative session, lawmakers will try again.

Their 2016 plan is a referendum on amending the Missouri Constitution to give the Secretary of State, whose office oversees elections, the power to require that would-be voters present government-issued photo identification. Along with the amendment, lawmakers are pushing a bill that would write photo ID requirements into law.

Both measures were pre-filed Dec. 1 by Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee’s Summit. Kraus has pushed similar measures in past legislative sessions, and next year he will be on the ballot for Secretary of State.

Speaking on the Aug. 30 episode of This Week in Missouri Politics, Kraus said: “There’s over 16 people in the state of Missouri who have been convicted of some type of voter fraud. That shows people in the state of Missouri are trying to cheat elections.”

The Secretary of State’s office runs an elections integrity unit whose job is to monitor irregularities. Laura Swinford, who was the Secretary of State’s spokeswoman until November, said that unit hasn’t handled any cases of voter impersonation fraud.

“We don’t have reported cases of voter fraud. We just don’t,” she said in October.

“The reality is there hasn’t been a documented case” of voter impersonation, said Stephanie Fleming, who replaced Swinford as the Secretary of State’s spokeswoman.

Kraus said Missouri needs a voter I.D. law because there have been more than 16 cases of “some type of voter fraud” in Missouri. That number isn’t wrong, but it doesn’t support Kraus’ assertion that photo identification would solve the problem — or that there is a problem of people impersonating voters.

(Excerpted from Columbia Missourian 1/4/16

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Privilege, Pathology and Power

Modern America is a society in which a growing share of income and wealth is concentrated in the hands of a small number of people, and these people have huge political influence — in the early stages of the 2016 presidential campaign, around half the contributions came from fewer than 200 wealthy families. The usual concern about this march toward oligarchy is that the interests and policy preferences of the very rich are quite different from those of the population at large, and that is surely the biggest problem.

But it’s also true that those empowered by money-driven politics include a disproportionate number of spoiled egomaniacs. Which brings me to the current election cycle.

The most obvious illustration of the point I’ve been making is the man now leading the Republican field. Donald Trump would probably have been a blowhard and a bully whatever his social station. But his billions have insulated him from the external checks that limit most people’s ability to act out their narcissistic tendencies; nobody has ever been in a position to tell him, “You’re fired!” And the result is the face you keep seeing on your TV.

But Mr. Trump isn’t the only awesomely self-centered billionaire playing an outsized role in the 2016 campaign.

There have been some interesting news reports lately about Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas gambling magnate. Mr. Adelson has been involved in some fairly complex court proceedings, which revolve around claims of misconduct in his operations in Macau, including links to organized crime and prostitution. Given his business, this may not be all that surprising. What was surprising was his behavior in court, where he refused to answer routine questions and argued with the judge, Elizabeth Gonzales. That, as she rightly pointed out, isn’t something witnesses get to do.

Then Mr. Adelson bought Nevada’s largest newspaper. As the sale was being finalized, reporters at the paper were told to drop everything and start monitoring all activity of three judges, including Ms. Gonzales. And while the paper never published any results from that investigation, an attack on Judge Gonzales, with what looks like a fictitious byline, did appear in a small Connecticut newspaper owned by one of Mr. Adelson’s associates.

O.K., but why do we care? Because Mr. Adelson’s political spending has made him a huge player in Republican politics — so much so that reporters routinely talk about the “Adelson primary,” in which candidates trek to Las Vegas to pay obeisance.

Are there other cases? Yes indeed, even if the egomania doesn’t rise to Adelson levels. I find myself thinking, for example, of the hedge-fund billionaire Paul Singer, another big power in the G.O.P., who published an investor’s letter declaring that inflation was running rampant — he could tell from the prices of Hamptons real estate and high-end art. Economists got some laughs out of the incident, but think of the self-absorption required to write something like that without realizing how it would sound to non-billionaires.

Just to be clear, the biggest reason to oppose the power of money in politics is the way it lets the wealthy rig the system and distort policy priorities. And the biggest reason billionaires hate Mr. Obama is what he did to their taxes, not their feelings. The fact that some of those buying influence are also horrible people is secondary.

But it’s not trivial. Oligarchy, rule by the few, also tends to become rule by the monstrously self-centered. Narcisstocracy? Jerkigarchy? Anyway, it’s an ugly spectacle, and it’s probably going to get even uglier over the course of the year ahead.

 

(Excerpted from New York Times 1/1/16)

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A Few Words from Boone County Democrats’ Father Peace & Good Will

Ahrens_FaXmas12-15I am Proud to Be a Democrat Because….

  • We accept and include people of differing ethnicities, races, genders, sexual orientations, and abilities.
  • We have a commitment to economic equality and opportunity for all citizens.
  • Our policies on Immigration and Criminal Justice are humane and forward-looking.
  • Our foreign policy seeks to negotiate peaceful solutions to world problems.
  • We respect the findings of science and recognize the danger, which its activities present to life on our planet.
  • Our accomplishments give us hope for a better nation and world in the years ahead.

In keeping with those principles, Boone County Democrats wish everyone the Best of the Holiday Spirit this Season and throughout the New Year!

 

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