Corporate money drives voter ID, gun right laws
For most of the Republican primary season, the grip of the super PAC has been well-documented.
There are those who feel they are wrecking balls operating outside the candidates’ direct control, fueled by massive influxes of cash from a handful of wealthy patrons. Super Pacs such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in particular, have come under fire.
In April, pressured by watchdog groups, civil rights organizations and a growing national movement for accountable lawmaking, ALEC announced that it was disbanding the task force that has been responsible for advancing controversial voter ID and “Stand Your Ground” laws that particularly hurt people of color and the elderly.
“To simply say they are stopping non-economic work does not provide justice to the millions of Americas whose lives are impacted by these dangerous and discriminatory laws courtesy of ALEC and its corporate backers” said Rashard Robinson, executive director of the advocacy group ColorOfChange. “It’s clear that major corporations were in bed with an institution that has worked against basic American values such as the right to vote. Now that these companies are aware of what they’ve supported, what will they do about it? If ALEC’s corporate supporters will not hold the institution accountable for the damage it has caused nationwide, then the ColorOfChanng community will hold them accountable.”
ALEC, the shadowy corporate-funded proponent of so-called “model legislation” for passage by pliant state legislatures, announced that it would disband its “Public Safety and Elections” task force.
The task force has been the prime vehicle for proposing and advancing what critics describe as voter-suppression and anti-democratic initiatives — not just restrictive Voter ID laws but also plans to limit the ability of citizens to petition for referendums and constitutional changes that favor workers and communities.
The task force has also been the source of so-called “Castle Doctrine” in Pennsylvania and “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida, that limit the ability of police and prosecutors to pursue inquiries into shootings of unarmed individuals such as Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.
ALEC’s dramatic turn of events, has significant implications for state-based struggles over voting rights an election, as well as criminal justice policy. But it does not mean that ALEC will stop promoting one-size-fits-all “model legislation” at the state level.
Many believe super PACs will evolve into full-blown shadow campaigns, a transition that is already under way, with the super PACs supporting Republican candidates beginning to take on voter persuasion operations — like sending direct mail and making phone calls — that have traditionally been reserved for a campaign operation or party committee.
The phenomenon won’t be isolated on the right. President Barack Obama recently embraced the outside groups that he had rejected, saying that he would not unilaterally disarm. The president has dispatched one of his most trusted aides to run Priorities USA, the White House’s super PAC of choice.
The rise of the super PAC parallels a subtle but concerted effort by conservative groups to suppress the vote, which is disguised as efforts to defeat exceedingly rare voter fraud.
A 2011 study by New York University’s Brennan Center found that 14 Republican-dominated states have approved new legislation requiring higher standards for voter identification. The center estimates that five million people could find it more difficult to vote this year. In some 30 cases, state lawmakers received model “voter fraud” legislation from ALEC.
ALEC has received funding from Koch Industries, which is run by the conservative siblings of the same name who have reportedly pledged $60 million to defeat President Obama this fall. Given donation restrictions to campaigns, much of that money would have to go to super PACs.
The primary focus on voter suppression has been the overt actions by Republicans, either with restrictive new laws or in interfering with voters during an election. But last month, the Brennan Center for Justice looks at another, just as insidious but less direct form of voter suppression: big money corrupting politics.
They had the independent Opinion Research Corporation conduct a national survey for them during the month, asking 1,015 adults questions about Super PACs.
- 69% of respondents agreed that “new rules that let corporations, unions and people give unlimited money to Super PACs will lead to corruption.” Only 15% disagreed. Notably, 74% of Republicans and 73% of Democrats agreed with this statement.
- 73% of respondents agreed that “there would be less corruption if there were limits on how much could be given to Super PACs.” Only 14% disagreed. Here, 75% of Republicans and 78% of Democrats agreed.
- Only about 1 in 5 Americans agree that average voters have the same access to candidates (and influence on candidates) as big donors to Super PACs. Two-thirds of Americans disagree.
- Half of respondents — and 85% of those expressing an opinion — agreed that spending in this election is more likely to lead to corruption than in previous elections. Only 9% of respondents thought that, compared to previous elections, it was less likely that the money spent by political groups in this election will lead to corruption. Republicans (51%) and Democrats (54%) both agreed that spending in this election is more likely to lead to corruption.
- More than two-thirds of all respondents (68%) — including 71% of Democrats and Republicans — agreed that a company that spent $100,000 to help elect a member of Congress could successfully pressure him or her to change a vote on proposed legislation. Only one in five respondents disagreed.
- More than three-quarters of all respondents — 77% — agreed that members of Congress are more likely to act in the interest of a group that spent millions to elect them than to act in the public interest. Similar numbers of Republicans (81%) and Democrats (79%) agreed. Only 10% disagreed.
While the cynicism disgust about big money in politics might be bipartisan, the effects of it on the voting populace don’t appear to be: 26 percent of respondents said they were less likely to vote this year because of corruption in politics. But it gets worse:
- 34% of respondents with no more than a high school education, and 34% of those in households with an annual income less than $35,000, said they would be less likely to vote.
- 29% of African Americans and 34% of Hispanics said they were less likely to vote because of Super PAC influence.
- 41% of respondents – including 49% of those who have no more than a high school education and 48% of those with household incomes under $35,000 – believe that their votes don’t matter very much because big donors to Super PACs have so much more influence.
“Dozens of corporations are investing millions of dollars a year to write business-friendly legislation that is being made into law in statehouses coast to coast, with no regard for the public interest,” said Bob Edgar of Common Cause. “This is proof positive of the depth and scope of the corporate reach into our democratic processes.”
Zack Burgess is the enterprise writer for The Tribune. He is a freelance writer and editor who covers culture, politics and sports. He can be contacted at zackburgess.com.
It was a busy, newsworthy year, as 2012 presented a series of local stories that either put Philadelphia in the local spotlight or burnished the city’s reputation and stereotypes. From the fierce presidential campaign that transformed Philadelphia into a major operations base for Obama’s reelection, to the scandals that has enveloped the city’s police and traffic court department, there was no lack of compelling issues. Here’s a look at nine of 2012’s top stories:
When former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge signed the controversial Voter ID law last March, the governor couldn’t have foreseen the epic battle that would ensue, pitting proponents – mostly Republican politicians and their supporters, versus numerous grassroots organizations that viewed the new law as a GOP-orchestrated plot to subvert and suppress the vote – against one another in a series of tense lawsuits and counterclaims. Last October, Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson ruled the Voter ID law would not be enacted before the 2012 presidential election, in which President Barack Obama easily won re-election over challenger Mitt Romney.
Dr. William Hite Jr. arrives
The School District of Philadelphia searched for a superintendent ever since the embarrassing 2011 departure of former leader Dr. Arlene Ackerman. In comes Dr. Hite, who served as Superintendent of the Prince Georges County Public Schools system before taking the helm here. Hite becomes the first African-American male superintendent in the school district’s history, and is immediately confronted by a slew of pressing issues, none greater than defending and explaining to irate parents the validity of his proposal to close 37 public schools and convert the grades of several others as the district continues to look for way to balance its budget. Hite recently released those findings in the “Live, Learn and Teach in Philadelphia” proposal.
The idea to close dozens of public schools developed long before Hite’s arrival, however. The suggestions were first mentioned in the findings and suggestions included in the analysis by Boston Consulting Group of the district’s finances and operations. District Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen also alluded to those findings in district documents, including the Facilities Master Plan, the Five Year Blueprint for Transforming Public Schools, the Proposed Five-Year Fiscal Plan and FY 2012-2013 Budget. Originally, more than 40 schools were scheduled for closure.
Jay-Z’s ‘Made in America’ event
Rapper-turned-mogul/professional sports team owner Jay-Z continued his infatuation with Philadelphia when he was announced curator of the massive “Made in America” event in September. As curator, Jay-Z booked himself, along with Kanye West, Pearl Jam, Run DMC, Odd Future and Drake, Pusha T, Big Sean and Philly rappers Freeway, Chris and Neef and many other acts for the two-day bonanza, held on Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Mayor Michael Nutter joined Jay-Z in making the announcement, and along with the international attention, the city earned an estimated $500,000 for hosting the event.
Philadelphia cops arrested
Many now former Philadelphia police officers found themselves on the other side of the law, as 2012 witnessed the high-profile arrests of former officers, including the May 3 arrest of 37-year-old Anthony D. Dattilo for several charges, including indecent assault, aggravated indecent assault with a minor and illegal contact with a minor for allegedly having sex with a teenager in a Bensalem-area motel.
In March, former cop Aisha Pleasant was arrested by the Atlantic County, NJ Police Department for resisting arrest and aggravated assault on a policeman, and in May, Bridgette Paris, a 14-year department veteran, was arrested on several theft charges; interestingly, another former officer, Deborah Gore, was also arrested in May for stealing from Kohl’s.
In June, 23-year-old former officer Jonathan Garcia was arrested for allegedly selling heroin to an undercover agent while still in uniform.
In August, 42-year-old former officer John Hoesle for operating a multi-million dollar cable theft ring, while Keith Corley was arrested during the same month for rape, involuntary deviant sexual intercourse, sexual assault, indecent assault, indecent exposure and official oppression.
Andre Daniels, a 15-year veteran of the department, was arrested in September for illegally obtaining painkillers.
One of the more sensational arrests was that of 19-year veteran Lt. Jonathan Josey, who is shown on tape sucker-punching a woman during the Puerto Rican Day Parade.
Philadelphia Traffic Court scandals
The traffic court system suffered numerous black eyes in 2012 and became a symbol of East Coast graft when in September Assistant US attorney Paul Gray arrested Traffic Court Judge Robert Mulgrew, his wife Elizabeth, and Pennsylvania legislative aide Lorraine Dispaldo for a scheme that involved bilking money from Department of Community and Economic Development.
Traffic Court Judge Christine Solomon made national headlines in November when she confessed to knowing – and participating – in a long-running ticket-fixing scandal, going as far to admit to fixing tickets for at least two decades from her perch as democratic ward leader.
Traffic Court Judge Willie Singletary was removed from his chair last month for allegedly showing lewd pictures to a female court clerk; Singletary initially announced his resignation in March.
Philly murder rate
That six murders were committed on the first day of 2012 should have served to portend the bloodshed to come. Although the city’s murder/homicide count reached 329 as of Dec. 28 — which actually represents a 16 percent year-over-year drop from 2011 — the epidemic of young black men shooting and killing each other continues to manifest itself in the city’s most depressed neighborhoods, as data provided by the Philadelphia Police Department shows that minorities were responsible 66 percent of the homicides during a three-month sampling completed earlier this year.
New City Council members
A new generation of city council members was sworn in last year, including freshmen Kenyatta Johnson, Mark Squilla, Bobby Henon, Cindy Bass and David Oh – who became the first Asian-American elected to political office in Philadelphia.
New Attorney General Kathleen Kane
Tough-on-crime Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane shocked political watchers when she not only defeated former U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy in last November’s general election, but when she then went on to soundly beat republican challenger David J. Freed. Harris became the first woman to be elected Attorney General of Pennsylvania – and also became the first Democrat to win that office since it became an electable position in 1980.
Fox News, the unofficial arm of the Republican Party that claims to be fair and balanced, is conducting an all-out assault on President Obama, doing everything from letting Mitt Romney advisers masquerade as objective commentators to ignoring facts when a high-profile Obama critic or Fox News commentator makes unfounded charges.
MediaMatters.org, the watchdog group, has cataloged numerous instances of Fox’s one-sided and unethical behavior.
“Fox News has repeatedly hosted advisers to presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney without disclosing that they are helping his campaign. Media Matters examined recent appearances by advisers John Bolton, Jay Sekulow and Walid Phares, who have all appeared on Fox News and criticized the Obama administration. Bolton and Phares are Fox News contributors, while Sekulow is a frequent Fox News guest,” the group stated.
“Bolton, a Romney foreign policy adviser, said on Fox News that Obama’s foreign policy is ‘confused and incoherent and incompetent’ and defended Romney’s foreign policy experience. Sekulow, a Romney legal adviser, has repeatedly appeared on Fox to attack the Obama administration on a variety of legal issues. And Phares, a member of Romney’s foreign policy and national security advisory team, has criticized the Obama administration’s handling of Syria and Afghanistan on Fox.”
Greta Van Susteren, host of “On the Record with Greta Van Susteren,” said on May 3: “One year after the killing of bin Laden, Republicans are blasting President Obama for spiking the football. And now, a veterans’ group is slamming the president for taking the credit instead of giving it to the special forces.”
She aired part of the ad and said, “What I take away from that ad is that the veterans are deeply disturbed — this group of veterans, maybe not all veterans, but this one — and they were saying that he was arrogant and taking credit, that he was not humble and had no humility …it’s very boorish to take credit away from those brave men … at the scene, who did actually execute this unbelievable killing of Osama bin Laden.”
Fox also allowed guests get away with a similar line of attack.
During the Fox News Special Report on May 3, guest host John Roberts announced that a group called Veterans for a Strong America had released an ad “accusing President Obama of spiking the football over Osama bin Laden.” Fox aired part of the ad that claimed “heroes don’t spike the football.”
Fox contributor and Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer said on the program: “It isn’t just that Obama has managed to turn a positive, something he did well, into a negative by attacking, using it as a partisan weapon which diminishes him, also it diminishes the solemnity of the event, which was a national event, and he used it, he appropriated it for himself. It is the narcissism, and that is the deeper issue here, how they quote Obama again and again, using the first personal pronoun in his announcement of the event. It’s all about me, I, commander-in-chief, I ordered, I did this. What about the guys out there who did it and who risked their lives?”
As Media Matters points out, the personal references by Obama were taken out of context and the president has often given credit to field operatives. In his May 2, 2011, announcement that Bin Laden had been killed, the president said, “A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.”
He also stated, “We give thanks for the men who carried out this operation, for they exemplify the professionalism, patriotism, and unparalleled courage of those who serve our country. And they are part of a generation that has borne the heaviest share of the burden since that September day.”
In a rare dissent from Fox News orthodoxy, host Megyn Kelly said in an interview with the founder of the veterans’ group, “He [Obama] did give thanks to the others, and of course had to mention the first person in discussing how things went down.”
Neither Kelly nor anyone else at Fox News disclosed that Joel Arends, whose group created the veterans’ ad, is a longtime Republican operative. He worked on the presidential campaigns of George W. Bush and John McCain and is chairman of the Lincoln County, S.D. Republican Party.
Fox News was created by Roger Ailes, a former media adviser to Richard Nixon, and other Republican figures. He supported the 1988 scheme to link Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis to Willie Horton, a Black convicted felon. Ailes told the New York Times, “The only question is whether we depict Willie Horton with a knife in his hand or without it.”
There is no question that Ailes’ network is using a knife this time — to stab Obama in the back. — (NNPA)
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA) and editorial director of Heart & Soul magazine. He is a keynote speaker, moderator and media coach. Curry can be reached through his website, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.
Poor could lose out in states that reject Medicaid expansion
Two weeks ago the Supreme Court of the United States voted 5-4 to uphold key parts of the Affordable Care Act — effectively codifying the most ambitious overhaul of the U.S. health care system since the introduction of Medicare, and sealing President Barack Obama’s legacy as the president who took on the insurance industry and brought American health care policy closer in line with that of the rest of the developed world.
While the achievement represents a groundbreaking shift in U.S. domestic policy, what impact, if any, it will have on the general election in November is still anybody’s guess.
Some say the decision is a slam dunk victory for the president. Writing for the Daily Beast, conservative commentator David Frum remarked: “[The] Supreme Court decision will make it a lot harder to elect Mitt Romney. President Obama has just been handed a fearsome election weapon.”
Still other pundits say the Romney campaign could parlay the court’s ruling that the mandate requiring most Americans to own health insurance is a tax into a win at the polls. The presumptive GOP nominee has already begun using that distinction to accuse the president of raising taxes on the middle class, and is likely to carry that message into November.
But according to Frum, even if the Republicans were to miraculously win both the presidency and a majority in the Senate, it is now highly unlikely they could undo the law before it goes into effect in 2014, when state exchanges are scheduled to be up and running. Last week House Republicans staged a largely ceremonial vote to repeal the ACA (their thirty-third since January 2011); but getting rid of the law in its entirety is not going to be easy. That means opponents will be forced to take a piecemeal approach against individual provisions, some of which — such as a prohibition on denying care based on preexisting conditions and coverage of children up to the age of 26 — are wildly popular with most Americans.
In other words, in one form or another, Obamacare is here to stay. But don’t make an appointment for a checkup just yet, especially if you count yourself among the millions of impoverished and working-class Americans for whom a visit with a doctor usually means a trip to the emergency room.
While much of the media frenzy leading up to the court’s decision was focused on the controversial mandate — which is designed to support the privatized part of Obamacare — at least half of the roughly 30 million uninsured people who were estimated to receive health coverage under the ACA were slated to get it through expanded Medicaid benefits. Under the proposed expansion, uninsured people who currently fall above their state’s Medicaid coverage threshold and up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level would be eligible for coverage under state assistance programs. This includes able-bodied men and women without children, most of whom are currently locked out of Medicaid benefits.
For most adult Pennsylvanians, the threshold for eligibility is 47 percent of FPL, according to the Pennsylvania Health Law Project.
The federal government has committed to picking up 100 percent of the tab for the expanded services through 2020, after which states will be required to fund just 10 percent. But here’s the rub: As originally written, the law would have guaranteed this coverage by requiring states to institute the expansion or risk losing all federal Medicaid funding.
According to estimates reported by the Urban Institute, 22.3 million people – or nearly half of all uninsured Americans — would be potentially eligible for Medicaid if all states fully implemented the ACA. Unfortunately, it’s looking more and more like that’s not going to happen.
A coalition of 26 states — including Pennsylvania — filed a lawsuit challenging the Medicaid provision on the grounds that forcing states to accept more federal dollars or risk losing those it already gets is unconstitutional. In a 5-4 vote the Supreme Court agreed, ruling that while expanding Medicaid is a legitimate use of federal power, forcing states to accept it by threatening their existing funding is not.
Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts explained: “Nothing in our opinion precludes Congress from offering funds under the Affordable Care Act to expand the availability of health care, and requiring that states accepting such funds comply with the conditions on their use. What Congress is not free to do is to penalize states that choose not to participate in that new program by taking away their existing Medicaid funding.”
Essentially the ruling gives states a backdoor out of a major provision of Obamacare, and to date six Republican governors — including New Jersey’s Chris Christie, who famously called the Medicaid provision “extortion” — have opted out. By some estimates, their decision could affect as many as 17 million of the poorest Americans, who would fail to benefit from a law designed specifically to protect them.
So far Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett has been tight-lipped about whether he plans to opt out, with spokesperson Kelli Roberts saying earlier this month that the administration “need[s] to take the time to review the decision and see what our options are.”
Given the Keystone State’s participation in the original suit, an opt-out is certainly not out of the realm of possibility. If the governor did choose to follow the lead of his counterparts in New Jersey, Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina, Wisconsin and Texas — all of whom have pledged to reject the Medicaid expansion — his decision could leave a majority of the estimated 680,000 Pennsylvanians who would be eligible for coverage under the provision without a leg to stand on.
That’s because roughly 60 percent of them earn less than 100 percent of the federal poverty threshold, according to the Urban Institute, which means they would not be eligible to receive subsidies for private insurance under a separate provision of the ACA.
But that’s not all who would suffer. In an effort to cut costs and create revenue for ACA implementation, the Obama administration cut a deal with hospitals to give up the bulk of the federal payments they currently receive to treat uninsured emergency room patients — known as disproportionate share hospital (DSH) payments. The expansion of Medicaid was designed to offset that loss by covering the lowest income uninsured.
“Hospitals agreed to give up this money on the theory that they would have more paying customers,” explained Ann Bacharach of the Pennsylvania Health Law Project. Bacharach says emergency health care facilities in Pennsylvania could lose 75 percent of DSH payments if the state opts out of the Medicaid provision.
“So I think you stand to jeopardize not only the health of individuals who have done nothing wrong beyond not earning enough money, but at the same time you’re putting the current health care system in jeopardy,” she said, echoing Families USA director Ron Pollack’s assertion that refusing to implement expanded Medicaid would be “fiscal malpractice.”
But Bacharach, for one, doesn’t think that will happen, and is banking on states to do the right thing — both politically and fiscally — when push comes to shove.
“It’s a political season, and what we hear from folks now may change after November,” she said. “I would be very surprised if Pennsylvania doesn’t take this up.”
Many speakers at this week’s Republican convention in Tampa have focused on the economy and unemployment as they sought to contrast the Mitt Romney–Paul Ryan GOP ticket with the record of President Barack Obama. But there is another battle under way that is receiving less attention but is at least equally import — the fight to appoint federal judges.
For several decades, Republicans have made judicial appointments a top priority. It is still a priority for the GOP and should be one for Democrats, especially because the 5-4 Supreme Court conservative majority could be widened or shifted in the other direction with the possible appointment of two justices over the next four years.
Both President Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney have made it clear they would appoint a different kind of judge to the federal bench.
So far, the Obama record on appointing judges is mixed.
Obama has appointed two Supreme Court justices — the same number Bill Clinton and George W. Bush each appointed over eight years. He appointed 30 appeals court judges, roughly the same number that Clinton and Bush averaged over a term. The real difference was at the district court level, where most cases are decided. Obama has appointed only 125 district judges, compared to 170 for Clinton and 162 for Bush at this point of their presidency.
Part of the problem was that Obama made judicial appointments a low priority as he tried to push his health reform initiative through Congress. Although he fell far behind Bush’s pace in his first year, he later accelerated the process but not fast enough to equal Bush. A second problem was GOP opposition to Obama’s nominees.
Even so, Obama did make significant changes.
The number of appeals court judges appointed by Democrats is now 49 percent, a 10 percent increase over when Bush left office. When Obama took office, judges appointed by Democrats dominated only one federal appeals circuit. Now, six of the 13 circuits are dominated by judges appointed by Democrats.
An Aug. 17 New York Times article on Obama’s judicial record observed: “… Mr. Obama has also largely shied away from nominating assertive liberals who might stand as ideological counterpoints to some of the assertive conservatives Mr. Bush named. Instead of prominent liberal academics whose scholarly writings and videotaped panel discussions would provide ammunition to conservatives, Mr. Obama gravitated toward litigators, prosecutors and sitting district judges and state judges, especially those who would diversify the bench.”
Many of those were met with Republican obstruction.
“The Republicans’ goal has been clear from the start — to keep as many seats as possible vacant for a future Republican president to fill with ultraconservative judges,” noted the Alliance for Justice, an association of more than 100 progressive organizations.
Obama’s goal of diversifying the federal bench has been complicated by the American Bar Association, a group of judicial professionals that vets candidates for federal judgeships.
The New York Times article stated, “Awkwardly, the American Bar Association’s judicial vetting committee later scuttled at least 14 finalists for nominations — nearly all women and minorities — by declaring them ‘not qualified.’”
In 2001, the George W. Bush administration announced that it would cease cooperating with the ABA in advance of judicial nominations, preferring to go with judges favored by the conservative Federalist Society. However, Obama has been unwilling to appoint judges not approved by the ABA.
There is a down side to making safe judicial appointments, especially when conservatives are unabashed in their quest to remake the courts.
In a report on the last term of the Supreme Court titled, “The One-Percent Court,” the Alliance for Justice observed that in the landmark decision upholding the Affordable Care Act, Justices Elena Kagan, appointed by President Obama and Stephen Breyer, appointed by Bill Clinton, joined the five staunch conservatives on the court in holding that limits can be placed on Congress’ ability to address some national issues, including civil rights, under the commerce clause of the U.S. constitution.
Obama’s only bold move in this area was the nomination of Goodwin Liu, a liberal University of California-Berkeley law professor, to the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco. Senate Republicans blocked his appointment with a filibuster.
He briefly considered nominating another liberal, Pamela Karlan of Stanford University, but stayed with candidates that he believed would be more acceptable to Republicans.
The Times article stated, “While she said she was not disappointed, Ms. Karlan expressed worries that if Republicans nominated outspoken conservatives but Democrats did not nominate equally liberal ones, the center of mainstream legal debate would shift to the right.”
And that’s exactly what has happened.
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA) and editorial director of Heart & Soul magazine. He is a keynote speaker, moderator and media coach. Curry can be reached through his website, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.
GOP hopeful outlines tax plan for area tea party
Tax day this year has become a political event — with Mitt Romney visiting Philadelphia and Democrats urging him to release his tax returns, and speaking in support of the “Buffett Rule,” which would levy a minimum 30 percent income tax on incomes over $2 million.
“We want to emphasize today the importance of the Buffett Rule, and contrast that with the Romney approach to taxes — which is a continuation of this idea that the only people in the country who are making a positive contribution to the economy, and to society, are the very richest people,” said City Controller Alan Butkovitz, who, along with District Attorney Seth Williams, spoke at a small press event sponsored by Pennsylvania Democrats.
The two men spoke from Independence Mall just hours before Romney was scheduled to meet with tea party leaders from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware at a tickets only “tax summit” at the Franklin Institute.
Taxes are a hot-button issue in the presidential campaign.
President Barack Obama has been urging Congress to pass the Buffett Rule. Republicans in Congress seem poised to shoot down the measure, setting the stage for an election year showdown that both sides hope they can capitalize on.
The Senate was scheduled to vote on the Buffett Rule Monday. Democratic leaders in both houses said they would press Republicans on the issue bringing the Buffett Rule up for repeated votes.
Democrats think the Buffett Rule vote will underscore their commitment to economic fairness and GOP favoritism for the rich, a prominent election theme. Hammering at it lets Obama shine a spotlight on Romney, a former private equity executive who has a lower rate than most middle-class families’ pay.
The two presidential candidates have very different approaches to taxes.
In addition to raising taxes on the wealthy, the president wants to increase taxes on corporations that do business overseas and increase taxes on oil and gas corporations. According to the administration, the new revenue would be used to ease individual and corporate tax rates and pay down federal deficits.
Romney has said he would extend all of the Bush tax cuts, including those for the richest people, and cut other tax rates and eliminate estate taxes.
It’s a platform that has the support of the local tea party.
“The economic freedom of Americans continues to be under assault from the Obama Administration," said Teri Adams, president of the Independence Hall Tea Party Association. “Gov. Romney realizes that the tax burden must be reduced across the board, and that the economy must be given a chance to make a full recovery.”
Romney, with an income last year of $21 million, is among those would pay more taxes under the Buffett Rule. In his most recent returns, he paid just 13 percent in taxes, a rate far lower than most Americans.
Williams said he should release at least eight years of returns so voters could have some idea of how much or how little he’s paid.
“We need to know, as a presidential candidate, how he is taxed,” said Williams.”
The Buffett rule is supported by a majority of voters.
A recent Associated Press-GfK poll showed that nearly 2 in 3 favor a 30 percent tax for those making $1 million annually, including most Democrats and independents — and even 4 in 10 Republicans.
The debate over the Buffett Rule comes as Congress is set to consider a number of other tax bills.
On Thursday the House will vote on legislation providing a 20 percent tax deduction for businesses that employ fewer than 500 workers, which covers 99.9 percent of all companies. The proposal, sponsored by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., seems certain to pass, but fail in the Senate.
Those votes are set just as many Americans stare at their own tax returns. The Internal Revenue Service says that through April 6, it had received 99 million of 145 million expected returns. So far, 80 million refunds have been issued, averaging $2,794, down $101 from last year.
Colin Powell, retired four-star general and secretary of state in President George W. Bush’s administration, has for the second time endorsed President Barack Obama, sending shockwaves through the political landscape.
Powell officially announced his endorsement of Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday during a segment on "CBS This Morning."
After alluding to his support for Obama’s reelection, host Charlie Rose asked Powell directly if this was Powell’s way of saying he endorses the president.
“Yes, And let me say why. When he took over, the country was in very, very difficult straits; we were in one of the worst recessions we had seen in recent times, close to a depression. The fiscal system was collapsing. Wall Street was in chaos. We had 800,000 jobs lost in that first month of the Obama administration and unemployment would peak a few months later at 10 percent. So we were in real trouble,” said Powell, who also served as commander of the U.S. Armed Forces Command and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “The auto industry was collapsing. The housing industry was starting to collapse, and we were in very difficult straits. And I saw over the next several years stabilization come back in the financial community, housing is now starting to pick up after four years, it's starting to pick up. Consumer confidence is rising. So I think generally we've come out of the dive and we’re starting to gain altitude. It doesn't mean we are problem-solved; there are lots of problems still out there.
“The unemployment rate is too high. People are still hurting in housing. But I see that we are starting to rise up. I also saw the president get us out of one war, start to get us out of a second war and did not get us into any new wars,” Powell continued. “And finally, I think that the actions he's taken with respect to protecting us from terrorism have been very, very solid. And so I think we ought to keep on the track that we are on.”
Powell also questioned the economic proposals put forth by Republican challenger and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, saying Romney’s plan essentially boils down to ‘Let's cut taxes and compensate for that with other things.’ But that compensation does not cover all of the cuts intended or the new expenses associated with defense.”
Powell reiterated his endorsement of Obama to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria.
While Democrats celebrated Powell’s endorsement – White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer said the president did not have previous knowledge of tit - GOP stalwarts weren’t so convinced of its impact.
“The endorsement came as no surprise, as Powell obviously endorsed then-Senator Barack Obama in 2007,” said Tribune correspondent and longtime Republican insider Robert Traynham. “Powell is a moderate Republican who has openly talked about the virtues of the Republican and Democratic parties. So this is not a surprise in any way, shape or form.
“Historically, endorsements really don’t matter that much, and usually do not sway voters one way or the other. It’s more symbolic than anything else,” Traynham continued. “This race is highly partisan, so I just don’t see it having an effect.”
Phone calls to former Pennsylvania Republican State Committee Chairwoman Renee Amoore, the Republican Party of Pennsylvania headquarters in Harrisburg and to Mitt Romney’s state campaign headquarters were unreturned as of Tribune press time.
According to conservative outlet Politico, Republican former White House challenger Sen. John McCain, blasted Powell’s endorsement. Powell endorsed Obama over McCain in 2008.
“All I can say is: General Powell, you disappoint us,” McCain said Thursday on Fox News radio, Politico reported. “And you have harmed your legacy even further by defending what is clearly been the most feckless foreign policy in my lifetime… I think one of the sad aspects of his career is going to the United Nations Security Council and telling them things about Iraq that were absolutely false.” Powell has since apologized for that ill-advised speech at the UN.
McCain wasn’t the only conservative disappointed by Powell’s endorsement.
“Saddened and disappointed,” former ambassador, consultant and Republican strategist Tom Korologos told Politico. “But not surprised.” Republican lobbyist and strategist Peter Madigan sounded a more neutral tone, saying that Powell was hung out by the Republican Party before.
“General Powell is a good man and has given great service to our country. He has decided that he will not be left on the sidelines in this campaign, and that he can help put Obama over the top. So we have ‘Meet the Press’ do a segment on the Colin Powell endorsement - by the way, this would not have been a segment had he come out for McCain,” Madigan wrote at Politico. “The last time General Powell stood up for something he was not totally sure about was going to Iraq. He got burned, set up, trusted the intelligence, but did what he thought was right.
“Colin Powell's standing as a general officer and great public servant will not be diminished or enhanced by this endorsement,” Madigan continued. “It's just kind of too bad he felt so compelled to get back in the game and make news that he got set up again – this time by the news media and the Obama campaign.”
Still, the endorsement of Powell – the first and only African American to serve as chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff and one of only several dozen servicemen to attain the rank of four-star general – can be seen as a boost to Obama’s military and foreign policy agendas.
Politico and The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Struggling to get out their message versus wall-to-wall coverage of Hurricane Isaac battering the Gulf Coast, the GOP took an unusual stab at something it doesn’t have much of these days: diversity.
An entire, abbreviated week of the Republican National Convention seemed as much about its star-studded line-up of speakers than the former Massachusetts governor it was set to nominate. As strange — for the GOP — was that the party typically maligned as an all-white country club appeared pressed to choreograph more color on the Tampa Bay convention stage than was present in the audience.
It was odd and somewhat sudden behavior for a party that watched its primary candidates alienate every demographic group from women to Latinos to African Americans. Republican candidates from former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich played with caustic messaging on the very edge of deep, itchy racial tensions. Others were accused of being just as blatant, whether it was Ron Paul’s history of racially-tinged newsletters in the ’90s, or Michelle Bachmann goofing up the history of slavery.
But, as the Republican primary came to its bloody end, and candidates entered into the general election phase, observers expected a moderation in tone and image from the GOP, in an attempt to soften both message and appearance before a wider swath of voters.
Since Mitt Romney became the nominee, that goal has become problematic for Republicans in an election that is increasingly defined by the subtext of race. Many observers suggest that the 2012 election has become just as racially charged as 2008, a time when mass euphoria and shock over the epic rise of the nation’s first Black president appeared to offer a healing salve for a notorious 400-year-old wound.
In what was supposed to be a “post-racial” electoral landscape, many now point to a string of statements, slights and unspeakable gaffes on both sides of the partisan aisle, from a Romney advisor in England on “special” Anglo relationships to Vice President Joe Biden’s “chains” comment. In recent weeks, accusations of racism flew angrily from side to side, with the Romney campaign releasing what was described after fact-checking as a baseless campaign ad charging that President Obama waived the work requirements for welfare recipients.
“While that charge may seem race-neutral, there is a long-standing and strong association in white Americans’ minds between welfare and ‘undeserving’ African Americans,” observes Brown University’s Michael Tester, who recently examined the racial impact of the ad in a ModelPolitics survey for pollster YouGov. “The results from our experiment suggest that ads like the one in this post may well contribute to the growing polarization of public opinion by racial attitudes beyond the voting booth in the age of Obama.”
Others point out that the overtly racial dialogue taking place is becoming a major distraction at a time when African Americans need both parties to seriously address problems such as high unemployment, foreclosures and crime. Republican strategist and CNN commentator Lenny McAllister, while in Tampa, called it “junk food journalism” during a brief exchange in which he described Black media coverage as too focused on trivial sideshows amid other, more important matters. Black unemployment is twice the national average at nearly 15 percent and the Black middle class has shrunk rapidly in the wake of the recession and budget cuts. And in cities with large Black populations such as Chicago, Philadelphia and Detroit, violent crime is on the rise with the Windy City reporting 9 homicides and 28 injuries in just one weekend.
“Let’s be honest here. If anyone on the right has a solution for Black people, and this is speaking as someone who isn’t some hardcore liberal, I haven’t seen evidence of it,” says HipHop Wired Senior Writer and NewsOne contributor D.L. Chandler. “I’ve yet to witness anyone during the RNC, replete with its fat cats and good old boys with plump wallets and plumper gullets, truly speak to the socio-economic woes of the lower-middle class and minority issues aside from Hispanics.”
“As of now, there’s no solid solution for the economic struggles of Blacks coming out the Romney–Ryan camp, and Obama’s re-election campaign has skirted the issue time and again.” adds Chandler. “All it does is add to the spinning wheel of media pull quotes, Web visits and blog hits. Nothing in the way of tangible solutions has been offered to the public.”
The polarizing temperature rose faster earlier in the Republican convention week when MSNBC host and Philly native Chris Matthews exploded on RNC Chair Reince Preibus, chiding him over Romney’s birther joke (“It just seems funny that the first joke he ever told in his life was about Obama’s birth certificate,” growled Matthews). When Preibus, clearly on the defensive, charged on about the president following European policies as a guide — injecting the “Obama-as-socialist” narrative — Matthews blasted back hard, “Where do you get this from? This is insane. [You’re] playing that race card again.”
Whether racially unhinged or not, events over the past week suggest a Republican party making slow pivots on the issue of race. Some experts suggest that the 2012 election could be the very last cycle that Republicans almost exclusively tailor their rhetoric and strategy for white voters, who constitute 74 percent of the larger electorate. In a recent and very revealing National Journal article by Ronald Brownstein, a GOP strategist is quoted as saying “[t]his is the last time anyone will try to do this,” a hint that this could be the end of the road for such gimmicks as Willie Horton ads and birtherism appeals to undereducated, working class white voters.
Former Congressional candidate, ShePAC board member and Gingrich staffer Princella Smith would take exception with that assessment. “The Republican Party is more diverse than the media and certain associations with an agenda have made it out to be,” said Smith when asked by the Tribune if a “tipping point” was taking place. “The people who spoke this week are all rising stars of the party, and they were all from diverse backgrounds.”
Using New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as a main attraction was clearly timed to boost the Republican state executive’s credentials for 2016 — but, it was also a very subtle pre-season attempt at showcasing a much more moderate GOP (thereby explaining the absence of tea party luminaries such as 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin).
Christie, notably tepid in one of the more important speeches of his political life, acknowledged such by offering the crowd what many panned as a vanilla opposite to the normally bullish Jersey governor. But, it would ensure that he didn’t arouse bad feelings back home in the Garden State as reports began surfacing that Newark Mayor Cory Booker was seriously contemplating a run for governor in 2013. And it cements warm feelings from independents and stray Democrats who would look at that tape during his planned presidential run in 2016.
It wasn’t just Christie, however. Despite the obvious lack of faces of color in the convention hall, party leaders seemed to make great pains toward rolling out a thick bench of Black and Latino political stars and new flavors. There was former Democratic Congressman Artur Davis, a 2008 Obama co-chair now turned Republican, promoting a new era sans his former political boss. Others included former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and New Mexico Governor Susanna Martinez, both giving stirring and personalized speeches; Florida Senator Marco Rubio, once floating at the top of Romney’s veep list, was still the keynote introducing the governor for his official nomination speech.
Still, critics like BET.com’s Jonathan Hicks express skepticism and disappointment. “There has been little from the Republican convention, or the Republican campaign that speaks to the issues of African Americans in terms of jobs, education or anything of true importance to their lives,” said Hicks. “To his credit, the president has unveiled some initiatives regarding those issues.
When pressed about the level of racial hubris on both sides of the aisle, Hicks was guarded. “Some if it is about political gain on the part of the Democrats, of course. But when you’re campaigning against a political party that is the champion of voter suppression, you have your hands full.”
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Michelle Obama rarely mentions Mitt Romney by name. But everything she says during this presidential campaign is meant to draw a contrast between her husband and his Republican challenger.
She implies that Romney, who had a privileged upbringing, can't relate when she tells middle-class voters that President Barack Obama understands their economic struggles because he has struggled too. And she suggests Romney would have other priorities when she says her husband's empathy will result in a second-term agenda focused squarely on middle-class economic security.
The first lady will make her case to millions of Americans on Tuesday when she headlines the first night of the Democratic Party's national convention, where two days later her husband will accept the party's presidential nomination for a second time. Her high-profile appearance underscores her key role in his re-election bid: chief defender of his character and leader in efforts to validate the direction he is taking the country.
"I am going to remind people about the values that drive my husband to do what he has done and what he is going to do for the next four years," Mrs. Obama said of her speech during an interview with SiriusXM radio host Joe Madison.
Once the reluctant political spouse, Mrs. Obama has embraced that mission to sell her husband anew throughout the summer while raising money for the campaign and speaking at rallies in battleground states.
These days, Mrs. Obama's speeches are peppered with references to the president's upbringing in Hawaii, where he was raised by a single mother and his grandparents. She talks about the student loans he took out to pay for college and the years it took to pay them back.
When Romney accused Obama of running a "campaign of hate," the first lady delivered Obama's strongest counterpoint — without mentioning the Republican candidate.
"We all know who my husband is, don't we? And we all know what he stands for," she said, standing alongside the president at a campaign rally in Iowa.
Key to Mrs. Obama's campaign strategy is maintaining her own personal appeal.
Anita McBride, who served as first lady Laura Bush's chief of staff, said that means staying away from the vitriol that has permeated the White House campaign.
"There are plenty of attack dogs in this campaign," McBride said. "She doesn't need to be one of them."
In many ways, the first lady's challenge Tuesday night will be more difficult than it was when she spoke at the 2008 Democratic convention. Back then, her mission was to vouch for her husband's personal qualities. This time around, she also has to persuade voters to stick with him amid high unemployment and sluggish economic growth.
Many Americans didn't know Mrs. Obama and some viewed her suspiciously before the 2008 convention. Republicans had questioned her patriotism throughout the campaign because she told voters during the primary that "for the first time in my adult lifetime, I'm really proud of my country."
Her convention speech sought to put those issues to rest. She declared "I love this country" and used personal stories about her marriage to assure voters they had nothing to fear about her and her husband's values.
Since moving into the White House, Mrs. Obama has focused on tackling childhood obesity and assisting military families. She's largely steered clear of her husband's political battles, at least in public.
But behind the scenes, she's a sounding board for her husband on pressing policy matters. She also has increasingly promoted his health care overhaul after it was upheld by the Supreme Court.
Aides say she will sprinkle her remarks Tuesday with a defense of the president's policies, including the health care law and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which was the first legislation Obama signed into law. The act makes it easier for women to sue for equal pay if they earn less than their male counterparts. Obama has made the law a key part of his election-year appeal to women, who could give him an edge over Romney in a tight race.
The first lady arrived in Charlotte on Monday and informally rehearsed at the Time Warner Cable Arena. She also taped interviews for entertainment programs that will air before her speech.
Mrs. Obama is staying in Charlotte during the three-day convention and will focus on shoring up support for her husband among key constituencies. She plans to speak to the party's African-American, Hispanic and women's caucuses and address a gay and lesbian luncheon. Along with the vice president's wife, Jill Biden, the first lady will also participate in an armed services event Thursday and put together care packages for U.S. troops serving overseas.
Mrs. Obama will join a crowd of up to 74,000 people at an outdoor football stadium on Thursday night when the president formally accepts the Democratic nomination. The first lady is not expected to have a speaking role that night, but she, and possibly her young daughters, will join the president on stage, leaving voters with fresh images of the photogenic family. -- (AP)
America tuned in recently for the ninth GOP presidential primary debate. With tea party favorites Chris Christie, Sarah Palin, Jeb Bush and Mitch Daniels (all current or former governors, by the way) opting to sit on the sidelines in the secret hopes that their real chance to win the White House will be in 2016, the overall field is in place.
In watching the ninth straight debate (yes, I am a dork and have watched every single one from beginning to end), I have come to the conclusion that the candidates have solidified their narratives — or niche — thus far in the debates. Before the most recent debate, I wrote down a few sentences predicting what they would say based on their previous debate performances. They reaffirmed their narratives during the recent debate, as predicted. Let me explain:
Michelle Bachmann —– as the only female in the race, she has consistently mentioned her background as a mother and wife. She believes that her gender and unique experiences endear her to what working families are going through as they navigate the tough economic reality that many families find themselves in. As a tax attorney, Bachmann has also positioned herself as the only candidate who understands the tax code and the need to simplify it. No matter what the question is, Bachmann goes back to her niche and answers with some type of response that includes being a mom, repealing “Obamacare” and simplifying the tax code. I’m not sure where Bachmann goes from here, but she’s defiantly made herself a household name.
Rick Santorum – the only Catholic in the race and the only candidate who champions himself as the “defender of the family.” Santorum, a father of seven children, consistently expresses his frustration during all of the debates that family values, i.e. traditional marriage and the need to outlaw abortion, are not debated. Santorum’s niche is that he’s the only champion who speaks up for the traditional family unit and is not afraid to challenge his fellow conservative presidential hopefuls for not speaking about the family. Although he denies this, my hunch is that Santorum is running for vice president. Vice presidential candidates typically make up a deficit that the nominee may have, and if Mitt Romney becomes the nominee; many social conservatives will demand that he put someone on the ticket who speaks to them. Santorum could be that very person.
Newt Gingrich – the former Speaker is arguably the smartest candidate in the field. His objective is very clear — during every debate he clarifies the moderator’s questions and he answers very substantively while praising the other candidates. Gingrich is the elder statesman in the room who sees potential in each of the candidates’ positions and is determined to bolster each of them, knowing full well that he is not going to be the nominee. His niche is that he making all of the other candidates become better candidates by leading the through his answers.
Rick Perry – To date, his debate performances have been lackluster. Governor Perry seems to be dazed and not substantive in responses to the questions being posed to him. He frequently mentions Texas in his answers and has yet to run a national campaign. He’s still learning the ropes on how to be a national candidate and has yet to find his niche.
Jon Huntsman – the former governor of Utah and ambassador to China is the only candidate who brings significant foreign policy experience to the race. During the debates he often speaks forcefully about the trade imbalance between the United States and China. Huntsman’s niche is that he is the only person who understands America’s foreign policy and is able to hit the ground running in repairing America’s image around the world. My hunch is that Huntsman is running to be on the short list for secretary of state.
Herman Cain – The follower of the pack has now become the leader of the pack. The former head of Godfather’s Pizza, former member of the Federal Reserve and cheerleader of his famed “9-9-9 Plan,” Cain’s niche is that he brings a strong business acumen to the office of the presidency. Cain is quick on sound bites and his true niche is that he answers every debate question with a plain common-sense response. The only caveat is that the economic problems we face are more complex that simple answers. His poll numbers will fall, and like Bachmann, I’m not sure we he goes from here.
Mitt Romney – Like Cain, the former governor of Massachusetts brings a strong business acumen to the race. Romney’s middle-of-the-road messaging campaign works perfectly for someone who is already the nominee. The reality is that he is not, and his niche appears to be that he is trying to convince Republican primary voters that he is the only person who can win a general race against the president. Throughout each of the debates, Romney appears to be steady, calm and substantive. Will his niche messaging work? We’ll know after Super Tuesday.
Ron Paul – The Texas Congressman is a true libertarian. He believes that anything government touches is bound to fail. He created this niche in 2008 when he first ran for president and that message continues to this day. His niche is the most narrow and simplistic. It wins him straw polls in contest after contest, but at the end of the day, it wins him nothing else.
So we now know the political playbook — each candidate has his or her recipe for victory. My political instincts still tell me that this is Romney’s race to lose. Super Tuesday will prove me right or completely wrong. Stay tuned.