I recently wrote that "Rebranding the Republican party" and voter suppression are incompatible. Last year, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) seemed to agree. But this week he changed his mind about that to the surprise of many, including me.
In 2012, McDonnell was hounded by members of his party to sign a bill restricting the right to vote in a crucial election year. He did, but he also issued an executive order to protect citizens' right to vote by allowing other forms of identification, such as a utility bill, to be accepted. An estimated 870,000 Virginians do not have, and may not be able to afford the time and expense to acquire, a government-issued ID. McDonnell also ordered voter registration cards, which were also accepted at polling places in 2012, sent to every registered voter.
Republican lawmakers cried foul, and when the 2012 election produced zero cases of voter impersonation (success), but, a Barack Obama victory in the commonwealth (failure?), they passed a new bill to do away with the Governor's voter-protection measures.
Many expected McDonnell to veto the bill in order to uphold his authority and his legacy as governor, and, to position himself as a mainstream candidate, viable for higher office. Unfortunately, McDonnell has backed down, and on the last day he could have done so, signed the more restrictive voter ID bill into law.
In the face of a very expensive media campaign about voter fraud — which aired mostly on Fox News and other Republican media outlets starting in 2009 — majorities of respondents to polls say they support ID requirements to protect the integrity of our elections. But then we have the facts to deal with. For instance, the fact that there have been almost no documented cases of voter impersonation fraud, which is the only kind of fraud that voter ID laws could address. You are more likely to be struck by lightning than be a victim of voter-impersonation fraud. Meanwhile, the documented cases of actual voter fraud occur with absentee ballots, or in voter registration fraud such this case in Virginia in 2012. But bills that addressed real and actual problems with Virginia elections — such as long lines at the polls (see below) — could not make it through committees in the Republican-controlled General Assembly.
Reagan George, a Tea Party Republican and active proponent of voter ID laws in Virginia, acknowledged when we interviewed him that no actual cases of voter impersonation have been documented in Virginia. (If lawmakers asked for $2,000,000 of taxpayer money to address a problem, wouldn't you want to see at least one documented case of that problem before that money was spent? And that's just the price tag for the 2012 version of this law). But Mr. George said that voter-impersonation fraud might occur if we don't pass laws to prevent it: "My bank has never been robbed... does that mean the bank shouldn't have a vault?"
But that is assuming that stopping voter impersonation is the real intention. A more cynical intention might have to do with the fact that hundreds of thousands of American citizens and legal voters in Virginia, and millions across the United States, will have their voting rights systematically abridged by such restrictions, and, they are just the types of voters that Republicans would prefer to see discouraged enough that they might stay home. Consider this video about Augustine Carter, an 85-year-old woman who went through hell and high water in order to get a photo ID despite the fact that she had been voting in the United States for 60 years.
If the estimate of 870,000 Virginians lacking government-issued IDs is accurate, I doubt that many of them possess the determination that this woman did, hiring a genealogist and pulling census records from 1940 to prove her citizenship. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, lawmakers expect less than 5,000 people to obtain voter ID's in response to this law. Their expectation is my fear. Whatever the number is, most of these people will simply be removed from our democracy. Now that it is law, perhaps Ms. Carter's story will inspire a higher percentage of them to reacquire their right to vote. But if even one American citizen is disenfranchised to suit the electoral goals of a major political party, that is one citizen too many.
Story of America's interest in voting rights increased when Annabel Park and I witnessed and filmed the five-hour ordeal voters in Prince William County had to endure — as it happened, in the most heavily African American precinct in the most diverse district of one of Virginia's most diverse counties.
It's a shame that legislators in Virginia are so focused on fixing the non-existent, but thoroughly advertised "problem" of voter-impersonation fraud, but not preventing real and actual flaws in Virginia elections, like long lines at the polls. On the one hand, their action abridges the People's right to vote. On the other hand, their inaction abridges the People's right to vote. And in both cases, it's the same people who suffer, the same people who have always suffered when political outcome, not democratic principles, govern our approach to voting rights.
From Newtown, CT, Darren Wagnerwill make his second appearance on The Middle Ground, and his first since he launched the Newton Action Alliance. He is a former Deputy Sheriff who has become a leading voice on the issue of gun violence after he and his family were shaken by the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre.
From the Selma, AL, Chellette Henderson is a retired aerospace executive who has returned to her childhood home after her husband and her mother passed away. Having participated in the famous voting rights marches in Selma 48 years ago, she is getting reacquainted with Alabama after raising a family, making her career, and helping to establish MLK Day, in Mesa, Arizona. We'll ask the two of them share their views on issues such as gun safety, voting rights, and how to overcome cultural division.
We'll also ask Darren and Chellette to comment on each other's work, and give us their advice on how to be an effective and active citizen. Speaking of which, we're starting an hour early and ending the show promptly at 8 pm so our listeners can participate with Annabel Park and the Big Apple Coffee Party in a strategy call for the "Don't Do Koch" initiative which kicks off April 1st, helping consumers identify which products in their supermarkets enrich partisan-extremist oil barons Charles and David Koch.
Partner Spotlight: Public Citizen’s Sharehoder Actions This Monday at 10 p.m. Eastern Call (646) 929-2495 to listen & hit  to speak Or listen online live or later
The first in our series of Coffee Party Partner Spotlights, we’ll be joined by Kelly Ngo -- Legislative Assistant with Public Citizen's Congress Watch. While many are attacking the problem of Big Money in politics by working to overcome the Citizen’s United decision, Kelly is helping to lead a series of actions by Public Citizen -- one of the Coffee Party’s affiliated organizations on the Grass Roots Task Force. Public Citizen is calling for Starbucks and other corporations to adopt shareholder resolutions calling on these companies to refrain from all election-related spending. Starbucks already has excellent disclosure policy, but investors and good governance groups want the company to go one step further and take a real stance against corporate money in elections.
You’ll not only learn about the actions themselves, but how you too can get involved in this crusade against special interest money, the shareholders they hurt, and how you could be a victim of this abuse and not even realize it. Join political activist and Coffee Party board member host Dan Aronson listen in here, or better yet, call (646) 929-2495. And when you do, remember to Press  for Democracy.
Three years ago, the Coffee Party leaped from a popular Facebook page to a national phenomenon with people getting together in coffee shops and community centers to engage in civil dialogue as fellow Americans, and work together to form a more perfect union. It made national news.
What does it take to create a truly inclusive and civil dialogue? The Owensboro, KY Coffee Party has been meeting every week for three years and their core team includes a Tea Party leader. We have a lot to learn from their experience. They will be calling in as a group at 3:30pm ET.
The Big Apple Coffee Party has been focused almost exclusively on the problem of money in politics. Their model of local organizing is effective and inspiring. Chuck Zlatkin will join us at 4:30pm ET to discuss their work including their new action, Don't Do Koch on April 1st.
I must admit that my blog writing this week was not as intellectually stimulating as others. In putting this show together I realized I could have done better.
What was missing was more solutions or technical explanations of the problems the nation confronts. All the resources for this type of information is on my site yet this week much of it went unused as I complained about the media coverage of the president, GOP hypocrisy and other stuff. I reread most of the blogs and while informative, they were a bit exploitative. Don’t get me wrong, I try to make my headlines interesting to get eyeballs, but usually try to ensure much more substance than I had this week.
I will be doing the show today from Lone Star College – Montgomery. Before the show I will be giving a talk on wealth and income inequality to a fairly conservative group. I will have my mixer and other radio equipment there to get started immediately afterwards. The show will a continuation of the topic.
The Keystone XL Pipeline approval process is a charade.
Our show on today will focus on the Keystone XL Pipeline as evidence of the corruption in our political system: campaign contributions are once again trumping the will of the people. Credo Action has gone to the mat on this one. (My post on their official comment page follows.) I hope YOU will call in on Thursday and tell us what you know about this project, the science and the politics in play as you see it.
***Just announced*** Author and former Exxon VP, J.D. Messinger will join the conversation today and share his insights from working within the energy industry and how he has changed his life since leaving Exxon.
Jeanene’s Public Comment for Review on the Keystone XL (You can make yours here.)
The Keystone XL Pipeline approval process is a charade.
It is the current best example of how our elected are beholden to their campaign funders to the detriment of their voters.
Lobbyists and contractors are having more to say about what is and is not considered in this decision than is respectable or responsible. Just the appearance of impropriety should cause a government of the people to change course. I am sorry to say this does not appear to be happening.
From Credo Action “The president delivered inspiring rhetoric on climate action during his inaugural speech. But it is his decision on Keystone XL which will determine his legacy on climate. If approved, Keystone XL will be the Obama Tar Sands Pipeline and it will, as our own government's top climate scientist James Hansen has explained, mean "game over" for our fight to stop global warming.”
There is too much information that raises questions about how prudent this endeavor would be for the environment or the economy. This much doubt should result in a NO vote, rather than a hopeful and optimistic yes. We cannot afford for you to be wrong about this.
Credo went to the unusual step of emailing this to Debilyn two weeks ago:
Friend — This is not the usual CREDO email. With the release last Friday of the State Department's favorable environmental assessment of the Keystone XL pipeline, we thought long and hard about the right way to respond; to get President Obama's attention, and to convince him to change course and reject this catastrophic project.
Here's what we think is necessary to meet the moment: a pledge to resist Keystone XL and commit civil disobedience if necessary. It's a big ask. We hope you will read below and carefully consider what we are asking. We hope you will join us in signing the pledge to resist, and most of all we hope President Obama will reject Keystone XL, so that it will not be necessary to fulfill our pledge at all.
Thanks for your great passion and commitment in the face of this important fight. It is what has gotten us this far, and it is our greatest source of hope that we can win.
— Michael Kieschnick, Becky Bond, and the CREDO team
Coffee Party ON! Jeanene & Debilyn
P.S. Citizens United did NOT benefit Coffee Party USA. Our average contribution is $30-35. Please support this grassroots organization in our mission to Connect Communities to Reclaim our Government for the People by becoming a Member or making a donation. Thank you.
On the 10-year anniversary of our ill-fated invasion of Iraq, The Middle Ground opened with some technical difficulties, and then this eye-opening clip from my interview with Col. Larry Wilkerson, in which the former Chief of Staff under Secretary of State Colin Powell compares the Iraq War to the Vietnam War, having fought in one, and helped to bring about the other.
Our guest was author and peace activist David Swanson, whom Annabel and I filmed giving a speech last night, reflecting on the Iraq War and its place in history. I asked Swanson's take on "The Surge," which was and is clearly meant to make us feel like something of worth was salvaged in Iraq. This is a crucial piece of the puzzle for Iraq War apologists, and more important than I realized until I heard Swanson's admonition that lies about past wars make future wars more likely (Iran).
So you think you know how the government works, eh? How many times are you having a civil, fact-based, political discussion when someone says something that sets off the “I don’t think that’s right” buzzer in your head? Tonight we’ll give you the chance to prove it! Come test your knowledge of our system of government and the inner workings of Washington. Guest, Steve Bhaerman (a.k.a. Swami Beyondananda) is an internationally known author, humorist and workshop leader who was a social studies teacher a while back and will be helping out.
Whether calling in live or in the chat room, we’ll throw out questions covering everything from powers of each branch of government, how they are allowed to apply them, and what are their restrictions. Questions will range from simple to simply mind-bending.
Steve Bhaerman will also share his own journey into transpartisanship, his role as humorist and his political uncommentary, Notes From the Trail, where he offers a free e-book, Reuniting America.
Listen in here, or better yet, call in to challenge yourself at (646) 929-2495. And when you do, remember to Press  for Democracy.
We had a minor dustup on our Facebook page over comments by a South Carolina State Representative Kris Crawford (R), who complained earlier this year that, "It is good politics to oppose the black guy in the White House right now," and, over the decision of Egberto Willies, who is African American and Latino, to share these comments on our Facebook page.
A lot of people jumped down Rep. Crawford's throat, assuming that he was gloating about something that he was actually criticizing. Others attacked Egberto for quoting Crawford's words and then pivoting to make his own argument. "Why do you have to bring up the issue of race?" is a common complaint from our more conservative Facebook commenters.
I understand the frustration of conservatives who often feel — and often are — attacked as "racists" when the issues of race and politics intersect, which is often. Our arguments against backward economic policies and institutionalized racism need to go much deeper than name-calling if we wish them to have merit, and, they need to resist name-calling if we wish them to be received with open minds.
However, I commented on the page that:
I think that we all have to acknowledge a truth that is painfully obvious to people of color in America, especially African Americans and Latinos. America has suffered from the tradition of exploiting racism for political purposes. The result has been bad policy, and, bad relationships between races. Heavily financed exploitation of racial anxiety by political parties and media outlets that support political parties has prolonged racial division in America much longer than it would otherwise have lasted.
How does it work? It simply takes advantage of a vulnerability all human beings have. We are afraid of people who are different, and, sadly, we are prone to believe stereotypes and lies about people who are different if those lies are told to us by people who are "the same."
That is why it may have been good politics, in the short term, to make so many false claims about President Obama, and about the majority of Americans who voted for him in the past two elections, and about Blacks and Latinos as a proxy target for simple anxiety over demographic shift.
It is not reprehensible to have such anxiety. It is reprehensible to exploit it.
Annabel Park and I have been filming in Alabama, where a county government is challenging the Voting Rights Act, and in North Carolina where hyper-partisans at the state level are attempting to legislate an electoral advantage for Republicans by limiting the number of people of color who vote. North Carolina legislators justify radical changes to election law by exploiting our tendency to believe lies about people who appear to be different if the lies are spoken by people who appear to be the same. "Voter ID" laws, they tell the public, are needed because the President, and African Americans and Latinos, have been cheating or want to cheat at the polls — one explanation for disappointing results in the last two presidential elections.
It doesn't matter that none of this is true. What matters most in politics is what people can be made to believe, and the sad truth is that political operatives are having a field day right now exploiting our blind spots when it comes to race. Rep. Krawford is absolutely right about that.
Advocates of a "voter fraud" crackdown have not presented any evidence that voter impersonation exists, but the possibility that it could exist, they say, justifies the passing laws that would abridge the right to vote for hundreds of thousands of people who do not have drivers licenses or were born before the era of state-issued birth certificates.
Conversations in the Coffee Party are often complicated by the need to address short-term issues and long-term systemic reforms. Today on LUNCH WITH LOUDEN, Jeanene and Debilyn are tackling this head-on, as it relates to our freedom.
Why does anyone think that the trendy movement to attack women’s freedoms might not be a Coffee Party concern?
The systematically executed strategy to use women’s issues as symbols for everything wrong with America is one borne of the vilification of “social justice”, and ridiculous amounts of cash that buy, in turn, the gratitude and loyalty of those that believe that freedom is for the “righteous” and the rest of us must be controlled.
We must rebrand any challenge to liberty, whether access to medical science or the right to work for a living wage, as not pro-anything, but rather as anti-American. We must fight the short term fights in the state legislatures and halls of Congress; and we must fight the bigger fight to end the domination of our political process by those who can buy the game.
It’s about power. Collateral damage is acceptable. As we wade farther into the sequester and compromises are made, what will the collateral damage be?
Our own fears and insecurities about the economy and individual futures are incited by our leaders and media as they are more than happy to assign blame to the usual suspects; immigrants, minorities and women.
It seems trendy at the moment to declare ANY spending for individuals in need a “wasted dollar” even when that dollar may yield savings far into the future. Investing now for family planning, education and immigration reform could save billions for future generations.
Today, these issues are used as CASH COWS for special interest groups of all stripes. As each issue is being attacked and defended, we the people are expected to take sides and fight.
This is the bigger game. How do we change the game so we don’t have to fight the same fight, over and over again?
Join the conversation today on LUNCH WITH LOUDEN or listen later.