Way Cleared for More Voter Discrimination

supreme_court_us_2010This week the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a provision of the 1965 Voters Rights Act that required states with a history of racial discrimination to have the Department of Justice approve any changes to their voting laws before enacting them. The states affected included Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia, as well as other precincts.

Within hours of the decision six of these states were rushing to take advantage of the Supreme Court ruling. The first out of the gate was Texas.

TexasFlagLast year Texas put forward an extremely restrictive voter ID law that would have discriminated against many Black and Latino Americans. An estimated 800,000 voters would not have the necessary identification to vote, and it would be difficult for many of them to produce the required documents to obtain the voter IDs. The Justice Department blocked implementation of the law saying that it “would hinder minority turnout and impose “strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor.”

The federal court also blocked implementation of a new electoral map for Texas in which the judges found that “ ‘substantial surgery’ had been done to predominantly black districts cutting off representatives’ offices from their strongest fundraising bases.” This new electoral map had been drawn up in secret by white Republican members without notifying their Black and Latino counterparts, and then passed by the Republican majority in the state legislature.

AbbottX235_567B_7Within two hours of the Supreme Court decision, however, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced to the Dallas Morning News that]

With today’s decision, the state’s voter ID law will take effect immediately. Redistricting maps passed by the Legislature may also take effect without approval from the federal government.

Similar restrictive voter ID laws that had not received Justice Department clearance are now free to be implemented in Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, South Carolina, and Virginia, and plans are being made to rapidly move them forward.

It should be noted that in striking down this provision in the Voter Rights Act, the Supreme Court was not saying that racial discrimination is no longer a problem in America. Its ruling was rather that the list of precincts said in the Act to follow racist policies is now nearly five decades old and needs to be revisited. It is up to Congress to compose this list (just as it did back in 1965), and once done, those states affected will still need to receive Department of Justice approval for changes to their voting procedures.

However, with the present legislative impasse in Congress, it is extremely unlikely that bipartisan agreement will be found for approving a new list of affected precincts in this current session. In the meantime this part of the Voters Rights Act will remain set aside, and states will have a free hand to implement whatever discriminatory voter practices they choose.

Any action by Congress is not likely to take place until well after the 2014 midterm elections. By then the damage will have been done.


Strategies for … Job Creation?

melber-house-jobs1The Harper Conservatives in Canada and the Republican Party in the U.S. have more in common than I thought. Both say that job creation is their top priority. How do they each go about pursuing this goal?

By the end of May 2013 the Republican led House had held 183 votes on various bills. Precisely one of these had to do with job creation. Instead, the main focus was on attempting to repeal Obamacare (in whole or in part) 39 times and pushing through bills to severely limit women’s access to abortion. The anti-abortion bill passed by the House this week is clearly unconstitutional and will never become law. How this helps to further the Republicans’ “top priority” of creating more jobs is beyond me, and Americans have every right to ask if the planning and research put into these bills is effective use of their tax dollars.

In Canada the job creation strategy has been somewhat different. For those who follow Canadian politics the following graphic pretty well sums up the current strategy coming from the Prime Minister’s Office:

PMO Budget Paln

By the way, neither strategy is proving to be very successful. Perhaps it’s time for our governments to actually focus on job creation?

NSA Whistleblower Revealed

On Sunday The Guardian published an interview with Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who exposed the National Security Agency massive domestic surveillance program.

edward.snowden.thumbSnowden is a 29-year-old former technical assistant for the CIA. In 2007 he was posted to Geneva under diplomatic cover. He states,

Much of what I saw in Geneva really disillusioned me about how my government functions and what its impact is in the world. I realised that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good.

For the last four years Snowden has been working for the National Security Agency in Hawaii under various outside contractors. His position gave him high security access, and he finally decided he must expose the NSA’s massive surveillance program of the American public.

Three weeks ago he left Hawaii for Hong Kong where he remains in seclusion. There he met with the reporter from The Guardian. The Guardian has released Snowden’s identity at his own request.

In the interview, Snowden states,

My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.

He acknowledges that he had “a very comfortable life” in Hawaii with a salary of around $200,000 a year. But he says,

I’m willing to sacrifice all of that because I can’t in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building.

Snowden adds, “I do not expect to see home again.”

The link to the interview is posted below.

Whistleblower Behind the NSA Surveillance Speaks Out – Full Interview – Edward Snowden – 6/9/13 – YouTube



Canada Shamed in Refusing to Sign UN Arms Treaty

Once again Stephen Harper’s government has embarrassed Canada on the international stage. In April Canada joined 153 other nations in voting to pass a comprehensive Arms Trade Treaty at the United Nations General Assembly.

Harper-ParliamentBut this week, as more than 65 countries around the world, including Canada’s major allies, formally signed on to this landmark agreement, Canada waffled and refused to present the treaty to the Canadian Parliament for signing. The Globe and Mail termed the decision “bizarre” as only Iran, Syria and North Korea – all human-rights pariahs – are on record as opposing the treaty.

The Arms Trade Treaty marks a significant achievement in international negotiations.

The treaty covers small arms and light weapons, missiles, tanks, combat vehicles, aircraft and warships. Most importantly, it prohibits the export of arms intended for use against children and civilians, in crimes against humanity and acts of genocide.

Canada was seen as dragging its feet throughout the treaty’s development. Back in 1997 Canada took a major leadership role in leading discussions to ban land mines, and was highly praised for its efforts. This time around it was the U.K., Mexico, Japan and Kenya that led the way. In late March when 32 countries formally backed Kenya’s initiative to bring the treaty to the UN General Assembly for a vote, Canada was conspicuous in its absence.

In the final vote, our diplomats supported the treaty, but Canada’s increasing reluctance to take leadership roles in these negotiations is a cause for concern and risks sabotaging its reputation as a champion of human rights.

Assault-Weapons-Flickr-Creative-Commons-ChayakThe Star even asks,

Has the Conservative government lost its moral compass? The Arms Trade Treaty is intended to curb the uncontrolled flow of weapons and ammunition to criminal regimes, terrorists and others who commit war crimes, terrorism, piracy, organized crime, atrocities and human rights abuses.

Why would Canada oppose such a treaty? Look to the gun lobby.

During the negotiation phase two years ago, Canada sought to have all sporting and hunting firearms explicitly excluded from the treaty. The Mexican delegation strongly objected, stating that, “in their experience, a great number of arms confiscated from its notorious gangs are sporting and hunting firearms that have been modified and transformed into assault weapons.”

Observers at the time stated that Canada’s insistence on this exclusion might derail the negotiations. Canada’s position attracted the scorn of countries like Nigeria, Brazil, Mexico and Australia, and under intense pressure Canada eventually dropped its request for the exclusion of civilian firearms. In its place, the Canadian delegation settled for a statement in the treaty’s preamble recognizing “the legitimate trade and lawful ownership, and use of certain of certain conventional arms for recreational, cultural, historical, and sporting activities, where such trade, ownership, and use are permitted and protected by law.”

Although Canada voted in favor of the treaty at the United Nations on April 2, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that his government would take its time in deciding whether to actually sign the treaty. When pressed in Parliament this week by New Democrat MP Paul Dewar to “sign the deal now,” Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said the government instead “will be consulting” with Canadians, the provinces, industry and others before making up its mind.

Why the hesitation to take a clear position and sign the treaty now? The treaty only applies to National Firearms Associnternational weapons trade. It does not apply to domestic gun sales or require control on guns used in Canada. Some gun owners, however, believe that it will, and gun organizations in Canada and in the U.S. have been stoking their fears.

In the United States, the National Rifle Association has been seeking “emergency donations” to stop the U.S. from ratifying the treaty. In Canada, the National Firearms Association argues it will be used as an excuse to establish a new gun registry.

Baird even suggested in the House of Commons that the opposition might want to use the treaty to revive the long-gun registry that the Conservatives killed and “bring [it] in through the back door.” But as The Star points out,

That makes no sense. The treaty focuses on cross-border weapons transfers. It doesn’t interfere with national sovereignty, legitimate arms sales or domestic gun laws.

The Globe and Mail speculates that Harper may  be stalling until after the Conservative Party’s convention in Calgary later this month. Gun owners make up a significant part of the party’s base, and Harper’s government is currently facing enough criticism without having his core membership turn against him over an issue like this.

The Globe also notes that the fight against the long-gun registry  provided a dependable “cash cow” for conservative fundraising in the past. Feigning opposition to this arms treaty to placate gun owners’ concerns could significantly add to the party’s coffers once again.

That thought is cynical to be sure, but past experience has shown that this Prime Minister carefully calculates his every move. In the meantime, he must also deal with how his waffling on this issue affects Canada’s international reputation. Others may not appreciate the subtleties of domestic Canadian politics and will judge Canada accordingly.

7 Reasons Why the GOP Doesn’t Appeal to Younger Voters

What is the future of the Republican Party? As was mentioned in yesterday’s post, the GOP has been trying to find improved ways of reaching out to voters who did not support them in the 2012 elections. One important segment that still needs to be captured is the youth vote.


On Monday the College Republican National Committee released a 95 page report entitled the Grand Old Party for a Brand New Generation that focuses on 18-29 year olds.

CRNC_logoThe report is based on two national surveys of 800 registered voters in this age group, and “six focus groups of young people, including Hispanics, Asian-Americans, single women, economically struggling men and aspiring entrepreneurs” who voted for President Barack Obama in key swing states in the 2012 election but were open to Republican ideals.

young-votersIt is said to be “far more candid than other post-mortems” of the 2012 election in dissecting Republican missteps that alienated younger voters in that election. And since it comes from the party’s own youth wing, it may present a rather ominous view of the party’s future.

Why doesn’t the Republican Party appeal to more younger voters? Here are seven reasons that this report uncovers:

1. Poor messaging on jobs and the economy

youth job lineupWhile the younger voting block supports an emphasis on jobs and the economy, they were put off by the way the GOP framed these issues in the last election campaign. For example,

Our focus on taxation and business issues has left many young voters thinking they will only reap the benefits of Republican policies if they become wealthy or rise to the top of a big business. We’ve become the party that will pat you on your back when you make it but won’t offer you a hand to help you get there.

2. Wrong priorities

US Navy Seabees train at Tarnak Weapons RangeThe focus groups characterize Republicans as being strong on defense but this is not necessarily a good thing, especially if spending on the military takes priority over spending on domestic programs. Most participants believe that money is being spent on the wrong things. Education deserves more, not less, funding and twice as many think “we should have a smaller defense budget and leaner military” as think the military should be larger.

While certainly wanting America to be able to defend itself and have a strong military, many questioned why the U.S. military budget was much greater than that of other countries.

The Republican emphasis on cutting taxes and reducing the size of government also seems misguided. Many want the government to provide a greater role in financing student loans, encouraging job creation, fixing the housing crisis, and addressing environmental concerns. When it comes to cutting taxes, 54% say that taxes should actually go up for the wealthy, while only 3% say  taxes should be cut.

3. Poor handling of health care

Obamacare-cartoonAlthough Republicans have repeatedly called for the repeal of Obamacare, 63% of the young voters surveyed prefer the Democrats’ handling of health care. Only 37% say that repealing Obamacare would make them better off.

Many of the young people in our focus groups note that they thought everyone in America should have access to health coverage. … Those with loved ones who had had trouble getting health care before were hopeful that the Affordable Care Act would make sure their family and friends would have access when they needed it.

4. Too much emphasis on entitlements

Social SecurityEntitlement reform is far less of a priority for these young voters than jobs and the economy. While 21% of respondents say that “fixing programs like Social Security and Medicare” is one of the two or three things they wish most political leaders would do, the report also states that

Many young people have already assumed these programs will go bankrupt before their retirement.

They are concerned about these long-term developments, but are focused on more immediate issues like repaying student loans, finding a good job and saving to purchase a home.

5. Problems with immigration policy

ImmigrationThe Millennial generation is more ethnically diverse than older generations, and the large number of non-white voters among today’s youth presents a significant challenge for the Republican Party. The CRNC report notes that,

The immigration debate may set up a ‘gateway issue.’ For voters who are undecided but have a connection to communities affected by immigration policy, the issue can certainly turn voters away.

Although some Republican lawmakers have taken the position that illegal immigrants should be barred from becoming American citizens, the policy position most favoured by these young voters is that “illegal immigrants should have a path to earn citizenship.” One respondent complained that

Republicans did not do an adequate job differentiating between legal immigrants, illegal immigrants who have committed no other crime, and those who are here illegally and break other laws.

6. Extreme positions on abortion and sexuality

woman_holding_stomach_shutterstockThe CRNC report notes that

the Republican Party has been painted — both by Democrats and by unhelpful voices in our own ranks — as holding the most extreme anti-abortion positions.

Yet millennials are much more moderate in their views. 48% of those surveyed say abortion should be legal “up to a certain point,” while only 14% think abortion should always be illegal.

gay-marriageThe report also notes that, “Perhaps no topic has gotten more attention with regards to the youth vote than the issue of gay marriage.” It reports,

young people are unlikely to view homosexuality as morally wrong, and they lean toward legal recognition of same-sex relationships.

In all, 44% of the young voters surveyed say that same-sex marriage should be legal across the country, while another 26% say that it should be up to states to decide how they wish to recognize or allow same-sex marriages.

Yet very few Republican lawmakers and political candidates have come out in favor of same-sex marriages. Since this issue is so divisive, a question was inserted in the survey to test the extent to which opposition to same-sex marriage constituted a “deal-breaker” for young voters. It was found that

about a quarter (26%) of young people say they’d probably or definitely not vote for a candidate who opposes gay marriage even if they were in agreement on many other issues.

7. General image problem

Democrat-Republican-LogoYoung voters are not greatly enamored with either political party. Nevertheless, while 41% of the respondents surveyed have a favorable view of the Democratic Party compared to 44% who view them unfavorably, only 33% have a positive view of the Republican Party compared to 53% with an unfavorable view.

When asked what words come to mind when younger voters hear the term “Democratic Party,” the most common answers are “tolerant,” “diverse” and “open-minded.”  When they are asked to say what words come to mind when they hear “Republican Party,” the words they choose most often are “closed-minded,” “racist,” “rigid” and “old-fashioned.”

When asked which words least describe the GOP, the words that surface are “open-minded,” “tolerant,” “caring” and “cooperative.” This points to an enormous image problem for the Republican Party. In the eyes of many young people the GOP possesses precisely the opposite qualities of the Democratic Party.

And what qualities do young people themselves identify as being of greatest value? When the respondents are asked to choose the word that best finishes the sentence, “I hope people see me as … ,” the word topping the list is “intelligent.” In a nod to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who warned against Republicans being seen as the “stupid party,” the report states,

For the GOP, being thought of as closed-minded is hardly a good thing. But if the GOP is thought of as the “stupid party,” it may as well be the kiss of death.

Overall, the report from the College Republican National Committee tries to set a positive tone, saying,

the Republican Party has won the youth vote before and absolutely can win it again. But this will not occur without significant work to repair the damage done to the Republican brand among this age group over the last decade.

vote-handsTo accomplish this goal the Republican Party will have to do more than just rebrand its current message. It will need to connect with young voters by addressing the issues that are of greatest importance to them. This means thoroughly reshaping the core policies of the Republican Party itself. The report concludes,

Economic growth and opportunity policies cannot just be about tax cuts and spending cuts. To win young voters, this agenda must include a range of policies, and they must also be about removing barriers to getting a good education, removing barriers to entrepreneurship, and addressing the challenges of our nation’s health care and immigration systems.

It is a daunting task. Will the older generation of Republican leaders heed the call of their younger members? The future of the party may well depend on it.

A Plan for Republican Renewal?

The Republican Party has moved so far to the political right that it is finds itself appealing to an increasingly narrow base of supporters in federal politics.

Growth and Opportunity ReportAfter Mitt Romney’s defeat in the last presidential election, Party Chairman Reince Preibus and five other key GOP insiders put together a 100-page report encouraging the party to reexamine and redefine its message on social and fiscal issues. That report, labeled the Growth and Opportunity Project, opens with the recognition that

[T]he federal wing [of the Republican Party] is increasingly marginalizing itself, and unless changes are made it will be increasingly difficult for Republicans to win another presidential election in the near future.

The GOP has sometimes been criticized as being primarily a party of “old white men.” Part of the Growth and Opportunity report addresses the need for greater outreach to other important demographic groups including Hispanics, African-Americans, women and youth. Yet this outreach does not seem to be going all that well.

Numerous essays from liberal commentators and even Republican supporters themselves report that Republicans keep sabotaging their own efforts to rebrand their message to these groups. It is not uncommon to hear is said that

the GOP is still failing in its efforts to target and communicate with the voters whose policies it continues to alienate.

david frumDavid Frum is a well-known Canadian journalist who served in George W. Bush’s administration as the special assistant to the president for economic speechwriting in 2001-02. He wrote the first insider book about the Bush presidency, and is the author of many other books that have been highly praised in conservative circles.

Frum is concerned about the Republican Party’s ability to reform itself in a way that will make the party more attractive to a larger segment of the population. In an op-ed piece appearing yesterday in The Daily Beast, he set out a 5 point plan for Republican renewal that is both broad and practical. He says,

I note that the intellectual project of conservative reform remains still at very early days. Here are five essential tasks to commence before conservative reform truly rolls forward.

1) There remain too many taboos and shibboleths even among the conservative reformers. If the only policy tool you allow yourself to use is tax credits, your reform agenda will sputter into ineffectuality. Conservative reformers need to do a better job of starting with the problem and working forward, not starting with the answer and working backward.

republican-elephant2) Conservative reformers are understandably allergic to arguments about income inequality. The conservative project at its best has worked to raise the floor beneath the American middle class, not to lower the ceiling upon the middle class. But one of the lessons I think conservatives should take from the 2012 Romney defeat is that the increasing concentration of wealth in America has dangerous political and intellectual consequences. I’m not so worried that the oligarchs will pay for apologetics on their behalf. That’s politics as usual. I’m more concerned that so many people will identify themselves with the interests of oligarchy without being paid, without even being conscious that this is what they are doing. The whole immigration debate, for example, is premised on the assumption that the only interests that matter are the interests of the employers of labor.

3) Conservative reformers must not absent themselves from the environmental debate. Humanity’s impact on the climate – and how to address that impact – is our world’s largest long-term challenge. If conservatives refuse to acknowledge that challenge, they only guarantee that the challenge will be addressed in ways that ignore conservative insights and values.

4) Conservative reformers should make their peace with universal health coverage. It’s the law, and it won’t be repealed. Other countries have managed to control costs while covering everyone, and the US can too. A message of “protect Medicare, scrap Obamacare” reinforces the image of conservatism as nothing more than the class interest of the elderly.

5) I appreciate that conservative reformers must pay lip-service to shibboleths about Barack Obama being the worst president of all time, who won’t rest until he has snuffed out the remains of constitutional liberty, etc. etc. Dissent too much from party orthodoxy, and you find yourself outside the party altogether. Still … conservative reformers should admit, if only to themselves, the harm that has been done by the politics of total war [on Obama] over the past five years. Now Republicans are working themselves into a frenzy that will paralyze Congress for the next 18 months at least, and could well lead to an impeachment crisis. As it becomes clear that the IRS story is an agency scandal, not a White House scandal, conservative reformers need to be ready to do their part to apply the brakes and turn the steering wheel. There will be a Republican president again someday, and that president will need American political institutions to work. Republicans also lose as those institutions degenerate.

The challenge for Republicans will be to heed these suggestions and chart a new course. But will they do it?

Duffy’s Downfall

Yes, Canada has its political scandals too. You can always count on Rex Murphy to provide the definitive smack-down on the usual political hubris in Ottawa.