Posted by Eric Byler · June 25, 2013 11:49 AM
· 12 reactions
Since the 2008 election, the Supreme Court has issued two mammoth decrees that impact our democracy. On Jan. 21, 2010, Citizens United radically expanded the influence of money on elections, and today's 5-4 decision to undermine The Voting Rights Act of 1965 will radically curtail the influence of People on elections.
The Moral Monday protests in North Carolina provide a glimpse of what could spread throughout the nation if lawmakers continue to follow the Supreme Court's agenda: less power for People, more power for profiteers.
Many are saying after today's ruling that the Civil Rights Movement must begin again. If so, it is already well under way down here.
My take: Five justices on the U.S. Supreme Court may think they are doing the Republican Party a favor with today's ruling that essentially neutralizes the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965. But, voter suppression and "Rebranding the Republican Party" are incompatible. It's an either/or situation, and, this ruling will make it so much more tempting for the GOP to pursue the former rather than the latter.
I share in common with "moderate Republicans" a view that the GOP urgently needs a long-term retooling in order to appeal to a 21st century electorate — an electorate that is already too diverse for the divide and conquer tactics of days gone by, and one that is increasingly connected to the Internet, and thus less susceptible to the high-dollar television and radio advertising that both parties rely upon today. Soon, if your party agenda represents the interests of your donors and not your constituents, no amount of race baiting, and, no amount of political advertising, not even 24/7 political advertising disguised as "news," will convince us otherwise.
But in the short term, voter suppression combined with big money can keep the Republican party competitive — if not at the national level, at the state and local level, and in the U.S. House of Representatives, whose districts are drawn by state governments. And herein lies the problem, too many politicians and paid consultants are involved in government primarily to enrich themselves. To do that, they need to be in power now. The long-term viability of the Republican party is not their problem, by then they will be lobbyists pulling down 7 figure salaries.
Take a look at the new voting laws being proposed by the North Carolina legislature, who, despite rapidly shifting demographics, have been afforded a "last stand" opportunity to warp the electoral process thanks to grotesque, race-based gerrymandering that packed African Americans, and the diverse communities in which they reside, into a minimum number of districts:
Laws that seek to limit voter participation have been found mostly in swing states (Virginia, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania) in recent years — spurred, many argue, by the election of Barack Obama in 2008. In many cases, these laws have helped the Republican party. They also helped Justice Roberts argue that it's no longer fair to apply the pre-clearence provision to states in the South, by and large, but not in the north.
The Republicans on the Supreme Court believe they are doing their party a favor by unleashing a deluge of laws that will impact voting rights and overwhelm the courts — especially since all such laws will have to go into effect first, and then be challenged after harm can be shown, rather than being blocked before they are implemented in jurisdictions covered under section 5.
Laws that limit minority voter participation will impact elections in the short term. But, while an aging, shrinking consumer base for Republican entertainment programs will be convinced that it is perfectly okay to disenfranchise minority communities in order to win elections, a growing majority of Americans know voter suppression when we see it. And, we don't like it.
The danger for the Republican party is that they will constantly find themselves grappling with potential voting restriction laws, not unlike the wave of anti-immigrant laws that followed what seemed like an anti-immigrant electioneering bonanza courtesy of Lou Dobbs, CNN, Fox News and others. Anti-immigrant electioneering backfired, and so will this.
The GOP cannot rebrand itself by putting yet another divisive issue front and center, and being forced by their base to take a backward-looking, racially insensitive stance. They can survive, and might even have some modest gains with this tactic during the next few years — when trimming off a percentage of the minority vote will still be enough thanks to the block vote of the Fox News audience (white, over 70). But how long can a voting block that is over 70 maintain its influence, with another crop of diverse, mixed race, and multi-cultural Americans turning 18 every year?
This might be a short term fix for the 2014 election. Voting restrictions will also help in Virginia in 2013. But the narrative that flows from on-going battles over voting rights will accelerate the speed at which Republicans lose the white, under-70 vote, starting with women and independents.
And, based on the strategy we’ve seen executed by the Moral Monday movement in North Carolina, the voting rights narrative will flow “like a mighty stream.” Compare the crowds in the video at the top of this post to those you see in the first video we did about the Moral Monday movement for Story of America:
A movement is growing in North Carolina, and it's powered by People, not profiteers.
Below, we interview the attorney who led the defense of the Voting Rights Act before the Supreme Court earlier this year:
Our Founders envisioned a new world where the rights of individuals was respected and valued. At the time of the writing of the founding documents, our Declaration of Independence and Constitution including the Bill of Rights were written with thinking that was advanced for the average person of the time.
And we’ve grown to be a society that our Founders foresaw. We’ve also developed new conditions and challenges that are beyond the imagination of our Founders. If we were writing such documents today, what advanced thinking could we offer to grow into next? Are we brave enough to envision something new? And then go for it?
Are we a civil society or are we just a marketplace? The power of money-in-politics appears to be driving us toward the latter. Freedom has come to mean “my way” and justice is usurped with legal loopholes.
Is freedom a conversation? Does it have a context? Where is the line between the good of the individual and the good of society? Where do you see the juxtaposition?
Join us today for a rip-roaring good time with your favorite story and opinion.
Tonight on The Middle Ground, I look forward to taking your calls on the domestic spying issue. Unlike the TV writers at Fox News, I remember grappling with this when the president was white and Republican. I have respect for those who remained consistent on the issue, no matter what side they land on. And, I have to laugh at Sean Hannity and other partisan performers for doing an about face. But the fact that we debated this controversy many years ago doesn't mean we got it right the first time. So my question to you is, Did we?
Once again I'll depend on you to let me know what's happening outside of the Old South. Our latest Story of America video release comes from Montgomery, AL. Chief Kevin Murphy told Annabel Park that police work in Montgomery, AL had faced "a wall of mistrust" from the community they serve, namely the African American community, due to abuses of power before and during the civil rights movement. His apology to Civil Rights hero Rep. John Lewis may help to change that. Annabel Park has the interview with Chief Murphy and his African American colleague, Chief John Brown.
As the news media scrambles to dramatize the leaks coming about the government’s level of surveillance over citizens and foreigners on U.S. soil, we want to ask the question, where were you all when the Patriot Act was passed? Or when the provisions added to National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that allow detention of US Citizens without charge or counsel?
What’s the big story NOW? It’s been 11+ years since the Patriot Act and NDAA began the infringement on our privacy and civil liberties. Are we just waking up? Did a possible or perceived defection to China enrage us to the point where we may take action? Or are we too complacent and too afraid of terrorists? Personally, we’re more afraid of fascism.
Many have fought the Patriot Act since day one. Some of those people are on the Congressional committees that have oversight. Where was their support when it would have made a difference?
On Monday of this week, Eric Cantor was asked by Norah O’Donnell on CBS THIS MORNING if the surveillance under President Obama is worse than under President Bush, and his answer was “I don’t know”. To which Ms. O’Donnell replied, “why don’t you know?” This smacks of smoke and mirrors.
Is the NSA story really a story? Or is it more of the same? Is there something else you’d like to talk about? A penny for your thoughts? Please call in today with your story, your opinion. Of course, facts are more than welcome.
Last month, we started fundraising offering free Restaurant.com Gift Certificates equal to the amount you donated to fund FREE THE ELECTED. Many of you have asked, what are you doing with the money? The 535 Campaign, which envisions in-district voters in contact with every elected representative in the House and Senate needs up to $50,000 for online infrastructure. We are excited, but we are not waiting. We will work and recruit volunteers as we build. Thank you to everyone who is already participating.
Last month, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (I) introduced an amendment to the Agriculture Reform, Jobs and Food Act of 2013 (aka Farm Bill) that would allow states to require labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in our food. It failed in the Senate, 71-27 (2 not voting).
What was surprising was the number of supporters of states rights and supporters of consumer information who voted AGAINST the bill. Included among the “nays” were Elizabeth Warren (MA-D), Sherrod Brown (OH-D), Al Franken (MN-D) and others.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT-I) said afterward that he would continue to push for Congress to make it clear that states may require the labels. The Vermont House passed a labeling bill in May, putting the state at the forefront of the effort. Similar legislation is pending this year in 26 other statehouses around the country. “The people of Vermont and the people of America have a right to know what's in the food that they eat,” Sanders said.
Was this amendment a poison pill? Would there have been enough opposition to labeling GMOs to sink food stamps? farm subsidies? job seeking programs? We don’t know. But the House of Representatives has approved an amendment (Steve King, R-IA) that reject states authority that may require GMO labeling. And what is the will of the people? Do you want to know what is in your food?
According to the Organic Consumers Association, Monsanto and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) have admitted privately that they've "lost the battle" to stop genetically engineered (GE) food labeling at the state level, now that states are aggressively moving forward on labeling laws. On May 14, Maine's House Ag Committee passed a GMO labeling law. On May 10, the Vermont House passed a labeling bill, 99-42, despite massive lobbying by Monsanto and threats to sue the state. And though Monsanto won a razor-thin victory (51 percent to 49 percent) in a costly, hard fought California GMO labeling ballot initiative last November, biotech and Big Food now realize that Washington State voters will likely pass I-522, an upcoming ballot initiative to label GE foods, on November 5. "If Monsanto can't stop states from passing laws, then the next step is a national preemptive measure," Cummins said. "And all signs point to just such a power grab."
This appears to be another showdown of money in politics trampling on states rights...and we’d love to hear your thoughts. Please share them with us on the show today...or in the comments below.
Posted by Eric Byler · June 06, 2013 11:09 AM
· 3 reactions
Coffee Party USA was among the many 501(c)(4) applicants that were subjected to additional IRS scrutiny since 2010 (we were one of the 202 in the blue portion of the pie chart).
Our application took about 18 months to complete. We filed our first Form 990 to the IRS as a “pending” organization with the help of an attorney. Thanks to highly qualified and highly motivated volunteers, we made it through the process with our tax-exempt status approved. We had been warned that it would be difficult, and that approval might not be granted. It was common knowledge that the IRS was swamped with applications at this time, and that in order to properly enforce the law, all potentially political organizations needed to be scrutinized.
Members of our Board of Directors, which is elected by our members, have expressed varying opinions on the controversy on our four, weekly radio shows. We decided to craft a statement as an organization after it was reported by The Atlanticthat our organization was on a list of groups selected for additional scrutiny but later approved.
We feel that the scrutiny we received was appropriate. We respect the rule of law, and we want the law to be applied fairly with equal protection for all Americans. The majority of our elected Board of Directors feel that additional scrutiny for overtly political groups would have been appropriate if it was applied uniformly. But, the majority of us feel that the use of keywords known to be popular with conservative groups was a form of profiling. The IRS has admitted that using this criteria was inappropriate. The fact that Coffee Party USA was also subjected to additional scrutiny does not change that fact.
During the process, the IRS asked us for our list of donors. This was our reply:
Almost all of our contributions are small donations from individuals. We have had 8738 contributors (including members) since inception; an average donation is $26. The largest contribution that we have ever had from an individual is $2100. We can provide the list of 8738 names, if necessary.
In the end, we were not required to furnish this list.
Since receiving our non-profit status, Coffee Party USA has kept its focus on three primary issues: campaign finance reform, Wall St. reform, and tax code reform, with a special focus on the issue of money in politics. We fight the corrupting influence of money in politics by informing the public about this issue, and by providing a model for social media information sharing that is already helping to counter the influence that money can buy.
In addition to our weekly radio shows, we manage a system of social media platforms that reach millions of people per week. We believe that the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision was a backlash against demographic shift and the advent of social media, the combination of which is transforming electoral politics. We feel that media products paid for by political special interests intentionally try to divide us. This is why we promote civility, trans-partisanship, and fact-based civic engagement. We regularly train everyday Americans in social media technology, and encourage citizens to produce and/or share as much media content as they consume. We feel that contributing to an informed and involved electorate, while seeking legal and legislative remedies to the corrupting influence of money in politics, is the best contribution we can make to our country.
It's a call-in show tonight on The Middle Ground. Annabel Park and I were filming until 3 am last night as 151 people were arrested while protesting the policies of the North Carolina General Assembly. And we've been filming every day since last week's show. So I need you to call in and tell me, and our Coffee Party Radio community, what the critical issues are this week — both in the corporate media presentations, and in reality. In return, we'll share with you "what the heck is going on in North Carolina."
Nancy Brown will join us once again to let you know what's happening in North Carolina. If you missed last week's show, you can meet Nancy in this video which shows her getting hauled off by police! (=
Lee Beaumont will join us once again to talk about Leeland's List, 50 basic questions about our world that he feels politicians should answer when competing for public office.
What domain of knowledge do we expect politicians to be familiar with? Politicians often launch into issues and take positions ahead of establishing a grounding in basic facts about our world. Also, politicians seem to adopt positions that seem based on contradictory facts. So perhaps we can help politicians put first things first by encouraging them to research some basic facts about the world we live in, and, make public their findings.
Below is a list of basic questions about our world that I propose politicians answer early in their campaigns. It samples a domain of basic knowledge on which I think it is reasonable to expect a policy-maker to be conversant.
Respondents are encouraged to consult any sources they believe to be reliable in answering these questions.
Last week we announced FREE THE ELECTED, a new focus for Coffee Party USA for the next 18 months that will encompass many projects and campaigns.
TODAY WE ARE ANNOUNCING OUR FIRST PROJECT: Follow the Money Act of 2013 - get it out of the Senate Finance Committee, on to the Senate floor, and passed into law!
What is the Follow the Money Act? “A bill to amend the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 and the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to require the disclosure of contributions and expenditures for independent Federal election-related activity, and for other purposes.”
Senator Wyden points to the need of the American people needing to know who is financing campaigns without having to be a detective and the responsibility of our campaign system to make it easy for people to know. Here is the official press release.
The League of Women Voters has led the charge of good government groups supporting the Follow the Money Act of 2013 in a joint letter to the Senate.
Business groups came out in force two weeks later, urging lawmakers to oppose or kill “Follow the Money Act of 2013.” The 170 groups, led by the US Chamber of Commerce said the condition for real-time reporting would be burdensome and create “significant barriers to a group’s ability to communicate with the public.”
Coffee Party USA knows that YOU have a stake and voice in this matter too.
Ask them to allow the bill to move out of committee for a vote and post any response you get in the comments below.Here is a listing of the Senate Finance Committee Members from the 113th Congress. Note it is the members in individual pictures below, not the group picture above.
And what actions would you add to this list? Let us know by calling in today or commenting here.
Last week, we started fundraising offering free Restaurant.com Gift Certificates equal to the amount you donated to fund FREE THE ELECTED. Many of you have asked, what are you doing with the money? The 535 Campaign, which envisions in-district voters in contact with every elected representative in the House and Senate needs up to $50,000 for online infrastructure. We are excited, but we are not waiting. We will work and recruit volunteers as we build. Thank you to everyone who is already participating.
In North Carolina, politicians are insulating themselves from the electoral process through a combination of gerrymandering (more grotesque and racially targeted than any place in the country) and restrictions on voting (more thorough and racially targeted than anything since the Jim Crow Era). There is growing public opposition, but on the soap operas most Americans think of as "news," there has been very little coverage.
Instead, our corporate media outlets been focused on nationwide controversies which have searved as an audio backdrop for our film production on the radio and on hotel room TV's.
The IRS scandal is of particular interest to me. For one thing, I am on the board of two tax-exempt non-profits that had to go through the same process of applying for tax-exempt status for work that involves politics. But more importantly, I believe that the unfair categorization employed by the IRS is illustrative of the very same Equal Protection issues that arise when politicians make laws abridging voting rights, or requiring immigration status checks of ethnic-looking people by police (our previous film).
Our special guests: Leeland Beaumont published a blog on our website today with 50 questions he'd like politicians to answer early in their campaigns. Nancy Brown was arrested recently in Raleigh, NC as part of a civil disobedience campaign.