Food for Thought Re: Lenihan's Departure

Erie County Democratic Chairman Len Lenihan is leaving, and a reorganization meeting will take place in mid-September – shortly after the primaries – to elect his successor. 

Several candidates have come forward seeking that office, and I’ve already seen quite a few bitter, angry comments about them all from a variety of people. As if any of it matters. Really, as if any of it matters

Well, I should qualify that. If you rely on the party boss for your job, I suppose it matters. And smug Republicans should look around, because they’re no different on this point. Next GOP hack who tells me how bad Obamacare and socialism are while collecting a state check with state benefits and state pension will be invited to go expletive himself. 

But to average western New Yorkers, it has very little bearing on anything. Our byzantine election law and ballot-access systems will remain the same. The way in which candidates are selected will remain the same. There will continue to be dealmaking and secrecy and quids pro quo inherent in the job of party committee chair. The only difference will be whether the new chairman will be able to hand out enough gimmes to splinter factions to ensure more frequent loyalty.  And even on that point, an operative who is aligned with, or who appeases, a faction led by someone who actively supports Republicans or regressive homophobic Democrats is not a chairman Democrats should want. 

I’m absolutely not looking forward to the next few months, because there are a handful of important races for Democrats that can do without clumsy, hyper-nerdy gang warfare between party factions. But it would behoove the various faction partisans to set aside past hatreds and insults and select someone who can at least have a chance to unite the party, elect Democrats, and raise money to do so. 

Food for Thought Re: Lenihan’s Departure

Erie County Democratic Chairman Len Lenihan is leaving, and a reorganization meeting will take place in mid-September – shortly after the primaries – to elect his successor. 

Several candidates have come forward seeking that office, and I’ve already seen quite a few bitter, angry comments about them all from a variety of people. As if any of it matters. Really, as if any of it matters

Well, I should qualify that. If you rely on the party boss for your job, I suppose it matters. And smug Republicans should look around, because they’re no different on this point. Next GOP hack who tells me how bad Obamacare and socialism are while collecting a state check with state benefits and state pension will be invited to go expletive himself. 

But to average western New Yorkers, it has very little bearing on anything. Our byzantine election law and ballot-access systems will remain the same. The way in which candidates are selected will remain the same. There will continue to be dealmaking and secrecy and quids pro quo inherent in the job of party committee chair. The only difference will be whether the new chairman will be able to hand out enough gimmes to splinter factions to ensure more frequent loyalty.  And even on that point, an operative who is aligned with, or who appeases, a faction led by someone who actively supports Republicans or regressive homophobic Democrats is not a chairman Democrats should want. 

I’m absolutely not looking forward to the next few months, because there are a handful of important races for Democrats that can do without clumsy, hyper-nerdy gang warfare between party factions. But it would behoove the various faction partisans to set aside past hatreds and insults and select someone who can at least have a chance to unite the party, elect Democrats, and raise money to do so. 

Foolish Phobia Friday

Paranoid Parrot

1. Homophobia: From the Niagara Falls Reporter, as part of a story about why fighting is good for hockey

Ha ha! Gays! The ways in which the passage above is offensive are many, but to suggest that gays are not manly, or are emasculated; and to contrast the desirability of fighting versus homosexuality are idiotic and ignorant. Chances are, there are plenty of gay guys who could beat the living crap out of the author, so I fail to see the validity of the argument. 

Since that paper got a new publisher with a regressive attitude towards women and who expounds on “manliness”, this sort of thing is to be expected. 

2. Islamophobia: Member of Congress and renowned lunatic Michele Bachmann (R-Cloudcuckooland) refuses to be out-crazied by the likes of Allen West, so she had her own Joe McCarthy Moment this past week, “revealing” that the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated the highest levels of the federal government Islamo-Kenyan-Indonesian N0bama Administration. Actually, the term she used was downright pornographic, “deep penetration in the halls of our United States government”. When asked to clarify, she singled out Huma Abedin, who is the wife of disgraced Congressman Anthony Weiner and an aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Abedin also happens to be Muslim (married to a Jewish man, incidentally, thus proving that co-existence is possible). 

A writer for Salon summarized the six-degrees-of-terrorism in which Bachmann engages: 

As evidence, she pointed to Abedin’s late father, Professor Syed Z. Abedin, and a 2002 Brigham Young University Law Review article about his work. Bachmann points to a passage saying Abedin founded an organization that received the “quiet but active support” of the the former director of the Muslim World League, an international NGO that was tied to the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe in the 1970s through 1990s. So, to connect Abedin to the Muslim Brotherhood, you have to go through her dead father, to the organization he founded, to a man who allegedly supported it, to the organization that man used to lead, to Europe in the 1970s and 1990s, and finally to the Brotherhood.

Ms. Abedin’s office released this statement:

They are nothing but vicious and disgusting lies that have no place in reasonable political discourse. And anyone who traffics in them should be ashamed of themselves.

Finally, a homophobic nominally Christian woman from Minnesota is willing to stand up to the Islamic faith!  To his credit, Senator John McCain took the Senate floor to blast Bachmann, as everyone with a brain should. Always. About everything. 

3. Omniphobia: “traditional marriage” enthusiast and drug addict Rush Limbaugh claims that, “Bane”, the villain in the new Batman movie, was thusly named so that the Hollywood media elite (which is code, incidentally, for a different type of hatred) can equate Mitt Romney’s “Bain Capital” with evil, or something. Bane was actually created by comic book writers in 1993. So, you’d have to believe that it was a very prescient conspiracy, indeed. 

Send your suggestions to buffalopundit[at]gmail.com.

//

The Buffalo News in Transition

The Buffalo News

Photo by amstefano988 on Flickr

Margaret Sullivan, the Buffalo News’ editor-in-chief, announced on Monday that she would be leaving the News this summer to become the New York Times’ “public editor” – a position formerly known as “ombudsman”. I wish her well in her new position. 

It does, however, raise some questions about the News. The Buffalo News performs a valuable public service, and it’s Buffalo’s only daily newspaper.  What does a public editor do, exactly

“The role of the public editor is to represent readers and respond to their concerns, critique Times journalism and increase transparency and understanding about how the institution operates,” the media group said in a statement.

“With the vast changes in journalism in recent years, the new public editor will seek new avenues for that mission.”

Sullivan will continue to write a print column, “but she will focus on a more active online role: as the initiator, orchestrator and moderator of an ongoing conversation about The Times’s journalism,” the statement said.

That will include a blog and Web page on NYTimes.com, along with an active social media presence.

Given that New York is a three-daily-paper town, the residents of the city get choices in terms of the type of paper, coverage, and editorial voice they want. The Times transcends that, however. It’s the closest thing we have to a national daily paper of record. The Buffalo News is shrinking. It regularly trumpets that it remains “profitable”, but in the past 10 years or so, it’s lost an entire roster of talented writers, and its online efforts are sometimes successful, sometimes bizarre, and inexplicably unintegrated with the more youthful and vibrant Buffalo.com outlet.

To this day, Sullivan misapprehends what the Buffalo News is in this new media environment. The News is poised to erect a paywall because it believes that it is in the newspaper printing business rather than the journalism and information business. It will be charging 99 cents to obtain online something that costs 75 cents to buy in paper form; that’s 99 cents for something that’s free to distribute versus 75 cents for something that involves paper, ink, trucks, and a wide distribution network. That’s fewer eyeballs looking at the content, looking at the ads accompanying that content.

I don’t get it. The paywall, and its regressive, absurd pricing structure, further cleave the paper from the community it serves. No one wins – combat decreasing physical circulation by decreasing online circulation?  That’s the job qualification for a public editor? Chats that Sullivan has hosted at the Buffalo News’ website revealed nothing along the lines of a public editor role, merely defense for the alleged impartiality of certain columnists and coverage. 

We’re reminded that the News remains profitable; that Papa Buffett remains supportive. Profitability is maintained despite a drop in circulation, because veteran writers would rather take a buy-out than stick around. The News prints lots of things for a fee on their state-of-the-art machinery, including the New York Times.

But Sullivan’s new job – why exactly doesn’t a one-paper town have an ombudsman? Isn’t the News’ duty to its readers somewhat higher, given that there is no print competition? Or is that duty alleviated because of occasional criticism or analysis from online competition like Artvoice, Buffalo Rising, or Investigative Post

After all, most people buy the News for the coupons. The coupons. Isn’t that a damning indictment? Doesn’t that discourage the talented writers who remain at the News, who have been recently placed in new, high-profile beats, or sent out to report on goings-on in suburban town halls, muscling in on the Bees’ turf? How long did Janice Okun stick around expounding on the relative pros and cons of booth dimensions? How many more times will Bob McCarthy repeat his patent bullshit about Chris Collins being scandal-free and fulfilling all the promises? How many more times will Donn Esmonde – nominally retired – write glowing profiles of the newest and best thing said or done by the Elmwood intelligentsia? 

It will be interesting to see how the Buffalo News changes after Sullivan’s departure. Change is inevitable because I don’t think the paywall is going to fix anything. I also believe that the News is in the business of journalism, not in the business of printing a paper. It should be spending money and using resources to create a 21st century newsroom and a product that is less reliant on coupons and gimmickry, and better integrates itself into the networks of people, groups, and neighborhoods that make up WNY. 

The internet shook the newspaper business to its core.  Very few, if any, papers, have adapted well to that shift to the new media landscape. Sullivan kept the paper afloat under monopolistic market conditions. Buffalo.com is unable to integrate with BuffaloNews.com – banner ads promote each in the other.  What is your opinion of the Buffalo News? Do you buy it? Subscribe? What reporters do you appreciate and follow? I enjoy the work of Tim Graham, Matt Spina, Denise Jewell Gee, Andrew Galarneau, Aaron Besecker, and Steve Watson, to name a few. 

You go to the Newseum in Washington, and you get the very real sense that it’s a museum honoring the relics of pre-internet news gathering and dissemination.  As people shift from paper to computer to tablets, the Buffalo News has been playing catch-up, oftentimes frustratingly so. We criticize the News because it’s the only game in town. Because it’s the only game in town, it has a duty to be better; more responsive, accessible, and transparent to the community it serves. 

Email: buffalopundit[at]gmail.com


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On the Long Walk

I’ve never served in the military. I’ve never really wanted to serve in the military. I often joked that my father’s compulsory service first to Comrade Tito’s Yugoslavia, and less than a decade later to the United States Army made up for my absence. What little I know of military service is superficial and abstract. As far as understanding what it means to serve in the military, much less be deployed to a faraway place to fight in a war – not a chance. I can’t fathom it, I can’t begin to pretend to know what it’s like. 

At times, I regret it. I talk a big game about the importance of public service and sacrifice. But what have I really done that’s important; to serve my country? Nothing. I’m a hypocrite, and a lazy one, to boot. 

When I say Brian Castner is a friend of mine, even that’s sort of pushing it, because I’ve inexplicably made little effort to build a regular, old-fashioned friendship. But we have a 21st century sort of friendship; I know him from our online existence, and I always respect his opinion – not just his rational, thoughtful center-right point of view, but his humor, his eloquence, and his persuasiveness. He’s one of the few commenters who regularly gets me re-thinking things.  Brian is someone with whom you can have a reasoned, intelligent, philosophical discussion over a few beers in a backyard.  That’s something of a rarity.

When writing for WNYMedia.net, I knew Brian had served overseas. I don’t recall when I first learned exactly what it was that he did, but it was a “holy shit” moment. When I learned that he was writing a book about his experiences, I thought that was cool. Now that it’s out, and it’s a big deal, I’m genuinely happy for him; sort of like he’s a kid I know from the WNYM neighborhood who made good. 

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=000000&IS2=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=buffalopundit-20&o=1&p=8&l=as4&m=amazon&f=ifr&ref=ss_til&asins=0385536208

Then I read the book.  

Brian’s book is no memoir. It’s not some wartime biography that’s presented to you – the reader – in some neat, linear package. No, it’s decidedly nonlinear in its structure, sometimes jumping – paragraph to paragraph – between contemporaneous WNY and Kirkuk, Iraq. Brian uses it to illustrate the Crazy feeling he gets now – the one he salves with running and yoga. 

That nonlinear narrative is an incredible device because through it, Brian ever-so-subtly tries to get you to feel Crazy, too. 

I say it’s not a memoir, and it’s not. It’s partly a love letter. To his wife, to his brothers – fallen and not, to his children, but above all to his former self.  It’s also partly a requiem for what he lost in war. People die, yes – but they can die physically, and they can die psychically or emotionally. They can die immediately, or it can take years.  Brian examines all of this, and you understand that, like the shockwaves from a bomb blast, a single event can have myriad consequences – some direct, some ancillary.  Some immediate, some delayed.  Oftentimes, it’s wildly unpredictable.  Brian avers that the old him died in Iraq – and because the physicians and psychologists can test today-Brian versus then-Brian, you can’t really quantify or scientifically diagnose what that transformation is. 

Modern war, modern way of being injured, of dying. 

But the book isn’t necessarily about war in Iraq, although it’s partly set there. The war isn’t a character, either. Nor is the book about being an explosive ordinance disposal technician – although you learn something plenty about what that entails. It doesn’t take a position on the morality or propriety of that war, or any other war. Or war in general. ou go to Kirkuk, you do a job, you do it well, you don’t die, and you come home. Bullets, bureaucracy, and incompetence are overcome – in this instance – by training, preparedness, teamwork, and sheer luck. You’re left to consider for yourself what to think about it all.

When I read of Brian’s visit to an anti-war art installation, where the artist suggests that the soldier’s only moral choice is suicide, I recoiled. These guys just want to do dismantle bombs to keep people alive, for God’s sake! It’s dangerous enough as it is, how is it moral to recommend someone commit suicide rather than dismantle bombs? Being Crazy, Brian’s reaction to it was chilling. 

I finished the book early Monday morning, after staying up far too late Sunday trying to do just that. It’s an intimate glimpse into an injured brain, but a keen and observant mind.  You’ll know Brian, too; more than most people know about their closest friends. It challenges you to remember that the “troops” isn’t some monolith blindly shootin’ and winnin’. The “troops” is made up of flawed individuals who just want to get home in one piece, and that the risks that they take – albeit voluntarily – should not be considered lightly or lackadaisically. The risks that they take are immense, and they are not undertaken by supermen, but by regular men and women.  That when they come home – if they come home – the sacrifice doesn’t end when they reach American soil.  

For those who are lucky enough to make it home, they’re often not the same.  War breaks bodies, but it also crushes souls. 

On Wednesday evening at 7pm, Brian will be reading from his book at Talking Leaves at 3158 Main Street near UB South, and also signing copies. Go meet him. Go listen. 

Meta?

ICYMI, Dan Rather is reviewing HBO’s the Newsroom for Gawker

Among the issues dealt with in this episode: The fact that we journalists are reluctant to call lies… lies (and thus seldom if ever do.) How anchor persons deal, and don’t deal, with the celebrity aspects of their jobs. What an ego-centric job anchoring is. Office romances, especially among young staffers. And the dangers of going on the air in the early stages of big, breaking news with early reports and rumors, even when your competition is running hard with them; the gut-checks demanded by the pressure of such situations.

Things I especially liked (and know to be true based on my own experience): How a newsroom springs to life when a big breaking story hits. (The example they used is the Giffords shooting in Arizona.) How it’s nearly always true that some good reporter gets fixated on some “way out” story (The example for this is the “Big Foot” story that won’t die.) The sleepless nights of anchormen (and women), who, if they are any good, have more of them than most people—sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for trivial ones.

The Bain of His Existence

The week just ended did not end well for Republican nominee Mitt Romney, who can’t give a straight answer regarding his tenure at Bain Capital in the late 90s and early aughts. It’s an important question not just because it goes to his credibility and ability or willingness to tell the truth, but because Bain was involved in outsourcing and other activities during that period that may not sit well with parts of the electorate, and Romney has denied responsibility for those decisions. 

But now that his back is in a corner, Romney is playing a very weak defense, claiming that the legitimate questions about his career are unfair personal attacks unbecoming a President. The Obama campaign reacted almost instantly to the suggestion with this: 

Not satisfied with that string of examples of Romney’s very real gutter politics, the Obama campaign followed up with what may very well be one of the hardest-hitting ads in recent memory. 

Amidst all this talk about Romney’s record at Bain Capital – a record that he uses as evidence of his “job creator” bona fides, (much like a certain former Erie County Executive is doing in NY-27) – is the fact that Romney will only agree to release his tax returns for 2010 and 2011. He will release no previous returns, nor will he release returns that would go to clear up the 1999 – 2002 Bain leadership question. 

Now that President Obama in April 2011 finally satisfied the birthers by asking Hawaii to release his long-form birth certificate, will we see similar calls from similar sources calling for Mitt Romney to release his tax returns? 

Taxes Are Bad! (Unless It's a Poll Tax)

Next up? Those pesky Child Labor Laws!

Just a few weeks ago, the vast majority of Americans were redirected to their dusty copies of the Constitution, and perhaps many of them felt compelled to re-read Article 1, Section 8, which enumerates the rights and powers of Congress.  Among its express powers is the power to levy taxes. 

As Chris Smith wrote in Thursday’s Morning Grumpy, there is a massive right-wing push to establish voter ID laws throughout the country, this despite the fact that actual, credible instances of voter fraud represented .000002% of all votes cast in 2011.  In Texas, it’s .0001% since 2002. If voter fraud was as prevalent as certain conservatives claim it to be, we’d retain the services of the UN or EU to monitor our elections for irregularities, like some third world kleptocracy with an disproportionately powerful, wealthy elite and massive income inequalit…. wait, what? 

In fact, the most visible forms of voter fraud have been perpetrated by idiot propagandists like James O’Keefe, who sends people to appear at polling places claiming to be someone they’re not and attempting to vote, to show how easy it is to commit voter fraud. You know, someone could prove how easy it is to blow up a bridge by blowing up a bridge, but that’d be silly and dangerous.

Our conservative-led march into some Dickensian fever-dream of an exploitative third world banana republic notwithstanding, the right to vote is basic and fundamental. It is a constitutional guarantee held by every law abiding citizen – you can only lose the right to vote in certain states, under certain circumstances involving the “law abiding” part.  And historically, our voting laws – indeed, in most cases our Constitution itself – have steadily and consistently expanded the people’s rights over the past 200+ years, to non-property holders, to naturalized citizens, to non-whites, to women, to people 18 and over, to DC residents, etc. 

In Republicanland, you need a photo ID to vote, but any idiot can walk into a Wal*Mart and buy an assault weapon. 

We’ve talked a lot throughout the health care debate about government mandates requiring people to engage in certain economic activity. While the Republican Party now vehemently opposes the insurance mandate it had valiantly championed at a time before President Obama moved to Washington, it is now instead championing a photo ID mandate for any eligible voter. 

The 24th Amendment to the Constitution reads, in relevant part: The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.”

That photo ID mandate doesn’t come particularly cheaply, nor is it carefully crafted to avoid constitutional harm or to fix a big public problem. The Texas law, for instance, was invalidated under the Voting Rights Act because it was discriminatory. It was found that as many as 1.4 MM registered Texas voters did not have photo ID, and the vast majority of them happened to be Hispanic or black.  According to Texas’ own numbers, a Hispanic voter is between 47 – 120% more likely to not have photo ID than a non-Hispanic voter.  

Hispanics in Texas, who vote solidly Democratic, are not only more likely to lack ID compared to white voters, but will have a harder time obtaining the voter ID required by the state. There are DMV offices in only eighty-one of the state’s 254 counties. Not surprisingly, counties with a significant Hispanic population are less likely to have a DMV office, while Hispanic residents in such counties are twice as likely as whites to not have the right ID. Hispanics in Texas are also twice as likely as whites to not have a car. “During the legislative hearings, one senator stated that some voters in his district could have to travel up to 176 miles roundtrip in order to reach a driver’s license office,” wrote DOJ.

The law also places a significant burden on low-income residents. Texas is required to provide a free ID to voters, but an applicant must possess supporting documentation in order to qualify. “If a voter does not possess any of these documents, the least expensive option will be to spend $22 on a copy of the voter’s birth certificate,” DOJ noted. That expenditure can be rightly construed as a poll tax, which the Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibited.

So, in order to “fix” a non-existent voter fraud “problem”, the Republican Party is perfectly willing to mandate that people spend money to obtain an ID at some expense in order to exercise a fundamental civil right we call “casting a vote.” I don’t know what you call that, but I call it a “tax”. 

Poll taxes were part of the Jim Crow laws, designed to disenfranchise the poor and the Black. A Supreme Court ruling in 1937 held them to be constitutional, and several southern states charged certain portions of the population to exercise their right to vote. In 1964 poll taxes were banned by the 24th Amendment to the Constitution, and the Supreme Court extended that abolition to state elections in 1966.  Here is a chart of states requiring ID – some pass legal muster, others don’t. 

But let’s not play make-believe any more. The Republican proponents of these modern-day poll taxes are advocating for a regression back to Jim Crow. They are doing so by manufacturing a legal-sounding pretext of fraud, but the real purpose of these statutes and similar efforts in Florida to purge the voter registration rolls of supposed ineligible people (and getting it wrong), is to help Republicans and hurt Democrats. 

Not only is it a despicable display of anti-Americanism to impose an ID mandate and tax on the poor, the black, and the Hispanic to prevent them from voting Democratic, but it is a cynical admission that the Republican Party has shrunken into a regional, reactionary, theocratic party of the xenophobic and the rich. That the easiest way for them to obtain power is to cheat the system and prevent voters from reaching a ballot box. 

Where’s that posse of constitution-champions calling themselves the “tea party” now? 

Taxes Are Bad! (Unless It’s a Poll Tax)

Next up? Those pesky Child Labor Laws!

Just a few weeks ago, the vast majority of Americans were redirected to their dusty copies of the Constitution, and perhaps many of them felt compelled to re-read Article 1, Section 8, which enumerates the rights and powers of Congress.  Among its express powers is the power to levy taxes. 

As Chris Smith wrote in Thursday’s Morning Grumpy, there is a massive right-wing push to establish voter ID laws throughout the country, this despite the fact that actual, credible instances of voter fraud represented .000002% of all votes cast in 2011.  In Texas, it’s .0001% since 2002. If voter fraud was as prevalent as certain conservatives claim it to be, we’d retain the services of the UN or EU to monitor our elections for irregularities, like some third world kleptocracy with an disproportionately powerful, wealthy elite and massive income inequalit…. wait, what? 

In fact, the most visible forms of voter fraud have been perpetrated by idiot propagandists like James O’Keefe, who sends people to appear at polling places claiming to be someone they’re not and attempting to vote, to show how easy it is to commit voter fraud. You know, someone could prove how easy it is to blow up a bridge by blowing up a bridge, but that’d be silly and dangerous.

Our conservative-led march into some Dickensian fever-dream of an exploitative third world banana republic notwithstanding, the right to vote is basic and fundamental. It is a constitutional guarantee held by every law abiding citizen – you can only lose the right to vote in certain states, under certain circumstances involving the “law abiding” part.  And historically, our voting laws – indeed, in most cases our Constitution itself – have steadily and consistently expanded the people’s rights over the past 200+ years, to non-property holders, to naturalized citizens, to non-whites, to women, to people 18 and over, to DC residents, etc. 

In Republicanland, you need a photo ID to vote, but any idiot can walk into a Wal*Mart and buy an assault weapon. 

We’ve talked a lot throughout the health care debate about government mandates requiring people to engage in certain economic activity. While the Republican Party now vehemently opposes the insurance mandate it had valiantly championed at a time before President Obama moved to Washington, it is now instead championing a photo ID mandate for any eligible voter. 

The 24th Amendment to the Constitution reads, in relevant part: The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.”

That photo ID mandate doesn’t come particularly cheaply, nor is it carefully crafted to avoid constitutional harm or to fix a big public problem. The Texas law, for instance, was invalidated under the Voting Rights Act because it was discriminatory. It was found that as many as 1.4 MM registered Texas voters did not have photo ID, and the vast majority of them happened to be Hispanic or black.  According to Texas’ own numbers, a Hispanic voter is between 47 – 120% more likely to not have photo ID than a non-Hispanic voter.  

Hispanics in Texas, who vote solidly Democratic, are not only more likely to lack ID compared to white voters, but will have a harder time obtaining the voter ID required by the state. There are DMV offices in only eighty-one of the state’s 254 counties. Not surprisingly, counties with a significant Hispanic population are less likely to have a DMV office, while Hispanic residents in such counties are twice as likely as whites to not have the right ID. Hispanics in Texas are also twice as likely as whites to not have a car. “During the legislative hearings, one senator stated that some voters in his district could have to travel up to 176 miles roundtrip in order to reach a driver’s license office,” wrote DOJ.

The law also places a significant burden on low-income residents. Texas is required to provide a free ID to voters, but an applicant must possess supporting documentation in order to qualify. “If a voter does not possess any of these documents, the least expensive option will be to spend $22 on a copy of the voter’s birth certificate,” DOJ noted. That expenditure can be rightly construed as a poll tax, which the Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibited.

So, in order to “fix” a non-existent voter fraud “problem”, the Republican Party is perfectly willing to mandate that people spend money to obtain an ID at some expense in order to exercise a fundamental civil right we call “casting a vote.” I don’t know what you call that, but I call it a “tax”. 

Poll taxes were part of the Jim Crow laws, designed to disenfranchise the poor and the Black. A Supreme Court ruling in 1937 held them to be constitutional, and several southern states charged certain portions of the population to exercise their right to vote. In 1964 poll taxes were banned by the 24th Amendment to the Constitution, and the Supreme Court extended that abolition to state elections in 1966.  Here is a chart of states requiring ID – some pass legal muster, others don’t. 

But let’s not play make-believe any more. The Republican proponents of these modern-day poll taxes are advocating for a regression back to Jim Crow. They are doing so by manufacturing a legal-sounding pretext of fraud, but the real purpose of these statutes and similar efforts in Florida to purge the voter registration rolls of supposed ineligible people (and getting it wrong), is to help Republicans and hurt Democrats. 

Not only is it a despicable display of anti-Americanism to impose an ID mandate and tax on the poor, the black, and the Hispanic to prevent them from voting Democratic, but it is a cynical admission that the Republican Party has shrunken into a regional, reactionary, theocratic party of the xenophobic and the rich. That the easiest way for them to obtain power is to cheat the system and prevent voters from reaching a ballot box. 

Where’s that posse of constitution-champions calling themselves the “tea party” now? 

The One Thing Podcast on Trending Buffalo

By way of reminder, about twice per week – usually on Mondays and Wednesdays – Chris Smith and I meet up with Brad Riter to record a podcast for Brad’s new venture, Trending Buffalo.  It’s usually about 25 minutes long, and it’s almost always about “one thing”. If you’ve missed the last couple, they’re posted below, but you can subscribe to its feed using iTunes, and keep track of it here

Books: 7/12/12

[audio:http://www.trendingbuffalo.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/TBOneThing07-11-12.mp3]

Food: 7/10/12

[audio:http://www.trendingbuffalo.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/TBOneThing07-09-12.mp3]

Chris Collins: 7/5/12

[audio:http://www.trendingbuffalo.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/TBOneThing07-05-12.mp3]
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