Friday, March 06, 2015

The Virginia GOP's Fight Against Democracy





Not only does the Virginia Republican Party support a theocracy of sorts - despite the prohibitions in the U.S. Constitution against an established religion - but it is increasingly anti-democratic as reflected by its efforts to disenfranchise as many voters as possible (minorities are the favorite target) and the efforts of the Christofascists/Tea Party elements to turn nominations into coronations by a select few who support the theocratic, anti-democracy agenda.  Sadly, in the highly gerrymandered districts pushed through by the Virginia GOP, the party extremists continue to win in elections.  In statewide contests, however, Virginia's changing demographics make victory for GOP candidates increasingly elusive.  The Virginia GOP's solution?  Double down and get even more extreme.  An editorial in the Washington Post looks at the phenomenon.  Here are highlights:

THE FIX was in from the start when Virginia Republicans picked their ticket for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general in 2013. 

Hard-line conservatives who control the state party apparatus decreed that the nominations would be determined not by primaries but by a convention, a mechanism well suited to limit the number of participants.

In the event, just 8,000 of the Republican faithful showed up — representing perhaps half of 1 percent of the party’s sympathizers in the state — and the right-wing ticket they picked was swept in the fall by the Democrats, who held much more widely attended nominating primaries.

Virginia has not elected a Republican to any statewide position since 2009, nor has it elected one to the U.S. Senate since 2002. 
 
That string of losses has coincided with venomous internecine divisions in the Republican ranks, in which hard-liners generally have prevailed by forcing nominating conventions, most of which have yielded hard-line candidates.

Rather than rethinking that losing strategy, Virginia’s conservative activists now seem inclined to double down on it. They are pressing for the GOP to hold a convention rather than a state-run primary to choose a presidential nominee in 2016.

That move would be designed to favor more ideological candidates, such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas or Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, and handicap more moderate candidates, such as former Florida governor Jeb Bush.

In addition to giving more extreme candidates a leg up, the effect would be undemocratic. Tens of thousands of moderate Republicans — the sort of voters who might go to the polls for a primary but are unlikely to travel dozens or hundreds of miles to a convention — would be excluded.

Tens of millions of Americans might not be committed to one party or the other, but surely most would favor more participatory elections and more moderate candidates. By pressing for a process that would produce neither, hard-line Republicans are pursuing a losing strategy — not just for themselves but also for voters.

Unfortunately, the Virginia GOP is becoming akin to a insane religious cult - something not surprising given the reality that The Family Foundation for all practical purposes authors GOP policies in Virginia.  Until the Christofascists' stranglehold on the Virginia GOP is broken, expect things to become progressively worse.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

More Thursday Male Beauty


Cities Are Reviving A Jim Crow-Era Tricks To Suppress Latino Votes

It is disheartening when one sees that the same inhumanity towards others who are different that was a hallmark of the both the Old South and the Jim Crow South remains alive and well, sometimes even in progressive states.  The goal, as has always been the case, is to keep power vested in whites and those who see themselves as "real Americans" even though the nation's Native Americans, the only real Americans were largely eradicated through a policy of genocide by those now claiming the real American mantle and their forebears.  A piece in Think Progress looks at how at large voting districts and gerrymandered districts and other ploys - things that Virginians excel at - are now being used to suppress the Hispanic vote (all of the cities in Hampton Roads utilize at large voting systems).  Here are highlights:
Yakima, WA is one-third Latino, but a Latino candidate has not been elected to the city council for almost 40 years. Santa Barbara, CA is 38 percent Latino, but only one Latino has been elected to its council in the last 10 years. And Pasadena, TX is 43 percent Hispanic, but the ethnic group is not even close to being proportionately represented in the city government. 

All three cities have been or are currently being sued for allegedly using discriminatory at-large voting systems, a voter dilution tactic that has been recently and frequently employed against Hispanic voters. In an at-large system, every city resident votes for each member of the governing body and the city does not divide voters into districts. 

As the Latino population grows across the country, cities have employed at-large voting to dilute the Latino vote and maintain white control of local governing bodies. Instead of allowing each district to elect its own representative, an at-large system means that unless Hispanic populations reach a majority in the entire city, they will have no influence in electing their local members of government. According to Fair Vote, at-large systems allow 50 percent of voters to control 100 percent of seats, typically resulting in racially homogeneous elected bodies. The tactic used to be popular in the South to discriminate against neighborhoods with large African American communities but is now targeting a new threat: Latinos.

Because California has a state voting rights law, it “facilitates this type of challenge,” said Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. As a result, he said we will see a lot of settlements and moves away from at-large systems in California.

Across the rest of the country, where voting rights laws may not be as strong, the only way to challenge at-large systems is by using Section 2 of the VRA [Voting Rights Act], a process that is “extremely time-consuming and expensive,” Saenz told ThinkProgress. As a result, a number of jurisdictions will attempt to get away with at-large systems without being challenged. 

Cities have historically used at-large districts to dilute the African American vote, McDonald said, and many still do. 

Beginning in 1986, a number of cases challenged at-large voting systems in Alabama over the course of a decade. A district court ultimately ruled that 200 jurisdictions were using the discriminatory voting system and required them to adopt new districting.

The problem seemed to have been solved in the South until the Supreme Court gutted the VRA in 2013, opening the door for Southern states to move forward with at-large voting districts. With growing immigrant and Hispanic populations, cities in Texas and other Southern states reverted to using discriminatory systems.

Cities that have gotten away with using at-large systems in the past may also be forced to change their systems as the Hispanic population grows and reaches a critical mass,  . . .

Alabama GOP Intoduces Bill to Allow Judges to Refuse to Marry Gays and Jews

The Christofascists and Republicans in Alabama continue to show their true colors and a bill has been introduced in the Alabama legislature which would allow state court judges to refuse to marry sames sex couples and Jews.  That's right, bigotry is truly alive and well  in Alabama and, candidly, one can only wonder when bills will be introduced to add blacks and Hispanics to the list.  I hate to say it, but the U.S. Supreme court needs to expedite its ruling striking down state bans and then, if states do not comply, Barack Obama needs to threaten to call out the National Guard as was done at the height of the desegregation battles.  The Raw Story looks at the bill backed by homophobes and anti-Semites.  Here are excerpts:
A Republican-led bill in Alabama’s state legislature could radically alter the institution of marriage for Alabamians.

The bill was written in reaction to a federal judge striking down the state’s same-sex marriage ban, and sponsors say ​it could clear up confusion and protect religious rights. But activists say the bill’s implications would reach far beyond the LGBT community, and claim it is little more than an attempt to ​remove rights under the guise of religious freedom.

The bill allows ministers and judges to opt out of performing or – critically – recognizing any marriage that defies their convictions. The bill, the Freedom of Religion in Marriage Protection Act, also allows religiously affiliated social organizations to deny service on the basis of religion, activists said.

Legal experts say religiously affiliated hospitals could refuse visits from a sick patient’s ​spouse, on the basis that their marriage defies their religious convictions.

Judges could refuse to grant a divorce if divorce was against their religious beliefs; a Catholic judge could refuse to marry a Hindu, Muslim or Jewish couple, Susan Watson, executive director with Alabama’s American Civil Liberties Union, said.

LGBT activists say the bill is little more than a veiled attempt to legalize discrimination. What’s more, activists said many are upset that the state continues to resist the right for same-sex couples to marry.

“We could be going back 50 years with this,” said [Equality Alabama board chair Ben] Cooper. “This affects all married individuals, not just those that are LGBT.”

The bill is expected to move through the house with little opposition. Hill vice-chairs the judiciary committee, where the bill is being debated Wednesday.

“The legal team is just working in a frenzy right now,” said Watson. “They were on calls last night, they were on calls this morning, they have a call at 3pm. They’re doing research.  “Let’s put it this way – we have a super-duper [Republican] majority here in Alabama,” she said. “It could easily be passed.”

379 Big Companies Urge SCOTUS to Strike Down Gay Marriage Bans


Arkansas has enacted and other states - many in the South - are considering bills that will legalize anti-gay discrimination and ban localities from enacting their own non-discrimination protections.  Among the disingenuous justifications for such bigotry are claims that non-discrimination laws are unwelcome by businesses and that uniform bigotry should prevail statewide.  The dishonesty of such claims is stunning.  First, a majority of Fortune 500 companies already have their own internal nondiscrimination policies that protect LGBT employees. Second, as evidenced by an amicus brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court today, literally hundreds of corporations are urging the Court to strike down state marriage bans so that marriage equality will be nationwide.  It's anti-gay bigotry that causes problems for these corporations in running their businesses, not LGBT equality.  Bloomberg.com has details on the amicus brief.  Here are highlights:
Large businesses from Main Street to Wall Street are urging the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down laws banning same-sex marriage.

In a friend-of-the-court brief expected to be filed on Thursday, hundreds of banks and other corporations argue that states that still prohibit gay unions “hamper employer efforts to recruit and retain the most talented workforce possible in those states.”

The justices will hear oral arguments on the push for marriage equality in late April. The court is expected to rule by late June.

Major companies and financial institutions previously have backed the campaign to recognize same-sex unions, so the brief isn’t a surprise. What’s impressive is that as of Wednesday night, 379 corporations and employer organizations had signed on to the amicus brief, representing industries from technology to financial services, transportation to consumer products, retail to restaurants to sports.

Among those that signed on: Aetna, Alcoa, Amazon.com, American Airlines, American Express, Apple, AT&T, Bank of America, Barclays, BlackRock, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Capital One, Cardinal Health, Chubb, Cigna, Cisco, Citigroup, Colgate-Palmolive, ConAgra, Corning, Credit Suisse Securities, CVS Health, Delta Air Lines, Deutsche Bank, Dow Chemical, EBay, Facebook, General Electric, General Mills, GlaxoSmithKline, Goldman Sachs, Google, Hartford Financial Services, Hilton, HSBC, Intuit, Johnson & Johnson, JPMorgan Chase, Kimberly-Clark, KPMG, Levi Strauss, Marriott, Marsh & McLennan, Massachusetts Mutual, McKinsey, Microsoft, MillerCoors, Morgan Stanley, Nationwide Mutual, the New England Patriots, New York Life, Nike, Northrop Grumman, Office Depot, Oracle, Orbitz, Pandora, PepsiCo, Pfizer, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Procter & Gamble, Prudential, Qualcomm, RBC Capital Markets, the San Francisco Giants, Staples, Symantec, the Tampa Bay Rays, Target, TD Bank, Twitter, UBS, United Airlines, Verizon, Walt Disney, Wells Fargo, and Zynga.
Written by the management-side employment law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, the amicus brief strikes a pragmatic tone. With 37 states allowing gay marriage and the rest banning it, employers face costly uncertainty and administrative complexities, the brief argues. “The burden imposed by inconsistent and discriminatory state laws of having to administer complicated schemes to account for differential treatment of similarly situated employees breeds unnecessary confusion, tension, and diminished employee morale.”
 As of this morning, business has cast its vote.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty


SCOTUS - How Obamacare’s fate will really be decided





Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in King v. Burwell, a suit brought by far right elements seeking yet again to sabotage the Affordable Health Care Act ("AHCA") and leave millions of Americans, including children, uninsured.  Naturally the opponents of AHCA have no proposed alternative plan and seemingly want those they see as "takers" left to die.  It's after all, the "Christian" thing to do if one is a far right Christofascist/Tea Party adherent. With the votes of Scalia, Thomas and Alito in the camp to destroy AHCA, the focus turns to Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy who will cast the deciding votes.  A piece in Salon looks at their dilemma.  Here are excerpts:

Oral arguments in King v. Burwell began and ended yesterday, and the Supreme Court will determine over the next few days whether the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance tax credits can be legally distributed in states that relied on the federal government to set up their insurance exchanges. The plaintiffs in this case argued vigorously that a hyper-literal interpretation of one short clause in the ACA should prevent those subsidies from going out, even though such an interpretation would put the law at war with itself and defeat its stated intention of making insurance affordable for all Americans.

The plaintiffs had sympathetic ears in at least two of the conservative justices: Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito. (Clarence Thomas, as is his custom, remained silent during the oral arguments, but his opinion of the ACA is no secret.) Scalia in particular was enthusiastic to see the law blown up from within, regardless of what Congress intended or what the rest of the law says.

The liberal justices did an effective job of tearing down the plaintiff’s arguments – Elana Kagan offered a great deconstruction of the petitioners’ case that put the plaintiff’s lawyer, Michael Carvin, in such an awkward spot that Alito had to come to his rescue. But what mattered most were the comments from the two justices broadly viewed as the “swing” votes in this case: Chief Justice John Roberts and Anthony Kennedy. Roberts didn’t say a whole lot and left people guessing as to what he’s thinking, but Kennedy was quite voluble, and what he said left liberals feeling confident and conservatives noticeably deflated.

For Kennedy, one the biggest issues confronting the justices in this case is state sovereignty. King v. Burwell does not pose a constitutional challenge to the Affordable Care Act, it simply seeks to have the text of the statue interpreted in a very narrow and outlandish way. Kennedy raised the possibility that interpreting the statute in accordance with the plaintiff’s argument would actually serve to create a constitutional crisis by coercing the states into acting to set up their own insurance exchanges.

Trying to figure out how the justices will rule based on their remarks during oral arguments is a dangerous pursuit, but if you’re looking for a basic lay of the land, it feels safe to say that there are three obvious votes against the Affordable Care Act (Scalia, Thomas, Alito), four obvious votes in favor (Kagan, Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor), and two question marks in Kennedy and Roberts. Bloomberg View columnist Noah Feldman made the interesting argument that Kennedy, in pursuing the federalism angle so enthusiastically, was actually pressuring Roberts to be the one to vote to in favor of the ACA. It was Roberts who used the coercion argument to defang the ACA’s Medicaid expansion back in 2012, and Kennedy may have been unsubtly reminding him that this is his principle to stand on.

That, of course, assumes that the conservative justices will care about principle more than they do about destroying the Affordable Care Act. Either way, we’re in the thoroughly depressing situation in which the health insurance of millions of Americans depends on whether Anthony Kennedy and John Roberts can work out amongst themselves who will be the one to “betray” conservatives by adhering to principle and common sense and voting to protect the Affordable Care Act.

AG Mark Herring: School Boards Can Add LGBT Protections

Mark Herring speaking at our home - October, 2013
Back in 2002, Jerry Kilgore (R), then the Virginia attorney general and one many whispered about as being a closeted gay, issued a formal opinion ruling that local school boards across Virginia, could not add non-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation.  Kilgore, always a shameless whore when it came to pandering to the Christofascists, basically said that LGBT students - and teachers - were fair game for harassment and abuse.  Now, Mark Herring, the current Virginia Attorney General, has issued an opinion that reverses Kilgore's batshitery, proving yet again that elections can indeed make a difference.  Here are highlights from the Washington Post:
Local school boards have the authority to include sexual orientation and gender identity in their anti-discrimination policies, Attorney General Mark R. Herring declared in an official opinion issued Wednesday.

“Every Virginian has the right to live, learn, and work without fear of discrimination,” Herring (D) said in a written statement. “That’s a Virginia value, and one that we must guard even more carefully when it comes to our children.

The opinion, which reverses one issued in 2002 by Jerry Kilgore (R), then the attorney general, is likely to further raise Herring’s profile on gay-rights issues and perhaps boost his prospects with Democratic primary voters if he runs for governor, as expected, in 2017. Herring was already a hero to gay-rights activists and a lightning rod for conservatives after refusing to defend the state’s ban on same-sex marriage last year.

While written more than a decade apart, Herring’s and Kilgore’s opinions were both triggered by the Fairfax County School Board. Back in 2002, the board sought Kilgore’s opinion as it considered providing protections concerning sexual orientation.

It was deterred by Kilgore’s response, which said the Fairfax officials did not have the legal authority under the Dillon rule to amend its policies concerning sexual orientation. The Dillon rule limits local government bodies from creating policies where a state statute does not exist.

In November, noting that in October the U.S. Supreme Court let stand rulings that allow gay marriage in Virginia, the Fairfax board approved a new nondiscrimination policy that included protections for sexual orientation.

“The Supreme Court of Virginia has been clear that our constitution allows school boards to regulate for the ‘safety and welfare’ of children, and the General Assembly has been clear that school boards shall ‘provide that public education be conducted in an atmosphere free of disruption and threat to persons or property and supportive of individual rights,’ ” Herring said in his statement. “The law and the precedents are clear.”

Herring’s opinion quickly drew rebukes from conservatives. State Sen. Richard H. Black (R-Loudoun) said Herring was catering to “radical elements” and had overstepped his authority.

And Chris Freund, spokesman for the Family Foundation of Virginia, said: “The attorney general has once again placed his desperate desire to be the Democrat nominee for governor over the longstanding policy and law of Virginia. In doing so he has put at risk the welfare of students who have deeply held religious beliefs about human sexuality that a teacher or administrator could deem ‘discriminatory’ and single out for punishment.”
Note the typical lies from The Family Foundation ("TFF").  The opinion and the Fairfax County policy in no way harms those with "deeply held religious beliefs" other than barring them from bully and abusing others.  Sadly, as is always the case with  TFF, they only care about the self-centered, modern day Pharisee crowd of Christofascist who make the strongest case of anyone in this state as to why a decent and more person should walk away from Christianity.  TFF and its followers remains a pestilence on Virginia.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

More Wednesday Male Beauty


The Feds vs. The Racists in Ferguson


In the wake of the murder of Michael Brown by a member of the Ferguson, Missouri police force, the Department of Justice has released a report summarizing the utterly devastating results of its investigation of the Ferguson Police Department.   Suffice it to say that racial discrimination is a huge problem and that the violation of citizens' - especially black citizens - constitutional rights was more or less the norm.   The findings are ugly, but I suspect that similar results would be produced if a similar investigation was conducted of many other police forces across America.   Moreover, the findings should be of little surprise when one of the national political parties engages in the use of "dog whistles" to stir white fear and resentment of blacks on a consistent basis.   A column in the New York Times looks at the report finding:  Here are highlights:
On Wednesday, the Department of Justice released the utterly devastating results of its investigation of the Ferguson Police Department.

The report contained charges that the Police Department and the municipal courts treated citizens less like constituents and more like a revenue stream, violating citizens’ constitutional rights in the process.

And it found that this burden was disproportionately borne by the black people in a town that is two-thirds black. This disproportionate weight is exacerbated when people are poor.
As the Justice Department report pointed out:
“Court practices exacerbate the harm of Ferguson’s unconstitutional police practices. They impose a particular hardship upon Ferguson’s most vulnerable residents, especially upon those living in or near poverty. Minor offenses can generate crippling debts, result in jail time because of an inability to pay, and result in the loss of a driver’s license, employment, or housing.”
The view that emerges from the Justice Department report is that citizens were not only paying a poverty tax, but a pigment tax as the local authorities sought to balance their budgets and pad their coffers on the backs of poor black people.

Perhaps most disturbing — and damning — is actual correspondence in the report where the authorities don’t even attempt to disguise their intent.
“In March 2010, for instance, the City Finance Director wrote to Chief [Thomas] Jackson that ‘unless ticket writing ramps up significantly before the end of the year, it will be hard to significantly raise collections next year. . . . Given that we are looking at a substantial sales tax shortfall, it’s not an insignificant issue.’ Similarly, in March 2013, the Finance Director wrote to the City Manager: ‘Court fees are anticipated to rise about 7.5%. I did ask the Chief if he thought the PD could deliver 10% increase. He indicated they could try.’”
Furthermore, the report made clear that “officer evaluations and promotions depend to an inordinate degree on ‘productivity,’ meaning the number of citations issued.”  The report read like one about a shakedown gang rather than about city officials.

And the racial disparities as charged by the Justice Department are unconscionable.  According to the report, “Ferguson’s approach to law enforcement both reflects and reinforces racial bias” and “there is evidence that this is due in part to intentional discrimination on the basis of race.”

Whatever one thinks about the case of the [Michael Brown] killing and how it was handled in the courts, it is clear that Brown’s death will not be in vain. It is clear that the frustration that poured out onto the streets of Ferguson was not without merit.

Once again, the oppression people feel as part of their lived experiences, and can share only by way of anecdote, is bolstered by data.

When people say “Black Lives Matter,” they’re not referring only to the lives lost, but also to those stunted and controlled by a system of power that sees them as pawns.
The cynic in me cannot help but wonder what percentage of the city officials and police officers engaging in these despicable conduct nonetheless go to church every Sunday and pat themselves on the back and congratulate themselves for their piety and godliness. It is with good reason that I no longer refer to myself as a Christian.  What moral and decent person would want to be associated with racists and bigots and hypocrites?