Authoritarianism And The Nature Of Government: Voting Rights In North Carolina, Obama's Persecution Of Ed Snowden
Governments by nature tend towards the authoritarian. Even when a liberalish type, like Obama, is elected, its almost inevitable that when something like Ed Snowden happens, the government errs on the side of repression. All governments. European governments are either flipping out or feigning flipping out over Snowden's revelations that the U.S. was relentlessly spying on all of our allies all the time. But have any of these any governments agreed to give Snowden political refuse from the American gulag which is looking to devour him? Françoise Hollande, the Socialist president of France has threatened the U.S-E.U. trade agreement over U.S. spying but has he offered Snowden refuge? Non... although he did bar the plane of Bolivia's President from flying over French airspace yesterday when the CIA claimed Snowden was aboard. Neither has the country founded on the principles of Mahatma Gandhi offered refuge. Wikileaks applied for political asylum for Snowden in 21 countries. So far they've all said NO, including Ecuador, Russia, Poland and liberal democracies like Austria, Finland, India, Brazil, Ireland, Norway, and Spain. Let's see if Bolivia, Cuba, Iceland, Italy, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Venezuela or Switzerland comes through.
And then there's an even uglier kind of authoritarianism when we're not talking about liberals, but about conservatives. It seems that within moments of the very right wing, very partisan Supreme Court majority gutting the Voting Rights Act (because it had accomplished what it set out to do), right-wing state governments proved that it hadn't accomplished anything at all in their hearts; several moved swiftly and with determination to block minorities from being able to vote.
In order to fully understand what the five Republican appointees on the Supreme Court have been up to when they make decisions that affect our democracy, as they did last week on voting rights, you need to understand what the Republican Party has been up to.
The modern GOP is based on an unlikely coalition of wealthy business executives, small business owners, and struggling whites. Its durability depends on the latter two categories believing that the economic stresses they’ve experienced for decades have a lot to do with the government taking their money and giving it to the poor, who are disproportionately black and Latino.
The real reason small business owners and struggling whites haven’t done better is the same most of the rest of America hasn’t done better: Although the output of Americans has continued to rise, almost all the gains have gone to the very top.
Government is implicated, but not in the way wealthy Republicans want the other members of their coalition to believe. Laws that the GOP itself championed (too often with the complicity of some Democrats) have trammeled unions, invited outsourcing abroad, slashed taxes on the rich, encouraged takeovers, allowed monopolization, reduced the real median wage, and deregulated Wall Street.And no state has moved with greater malice towards implementing that Supreme Court's anti-democracy diktat than North Carolina. The right-wing GOP legislature and governor want to use the Supreme Court decision to disenfranchise young people, Hispanics, poor people and, most of all, African Americans. Still horrified that they have a Democratic senator and that Obama won in 2008, North Carolina Republicans are taking an ax to voting rights. They're instituting a voter ID law meant to discourage Democrats and they're ending Sunday voting, same day registration and early voting as much as they can get away with.
Four decades ago, the typical household’s income rose in tandem with output. But since the late 1970s, as these laws took hold, most Americans’ incomes have flattened. Had the real median household income continued to keep pace with economic growth it would now be almost $92,000 instead of $50,000.
Obviously, wealthy Republicans would rather other members of their coalition not know any of this-- including, especially, their role in making it happen. Their nightmare is small-business owners and struggling whites joining with the poor and the rest of the middle class to wrest economic power away. So they’ve created a convenient scapegoat in America’s minority underclass, along with a government that supposedly taxes hardworking whites to support them.
This is where the five Republican appointees to the Supreme Court have played, and continue to play, such an important role.
First, wealthy Republicans have to be able to spend as much money as possible to bribe lawmakers to do their bidding, tell their version of history, and promulgate several big lies (the poor are “takers not makers," government keeps them “dependent," the wealthy are “job-creators" so cutting their taxes creates more jobs, unions are bad, regulations reduce economic growth, and so on).
The five Republicans on the Supreme Court have obliged by eviscerating campaign finance laws. Their 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, along with the broad interpretations given it by several appellate judges (also Republican appointees), has opened the money floodgates.
Second, wealthy Republicans want to quietly reduce the impact of any laws that might limit their profits, even though they may help struggling whites as consumers or employees. The easiest way to execute this delicate maneuver is to make it harder to sue under such laws.
Here, too, the five Republicans on the Court have been eager to oblige by tightening requirements for class actions and limiting standing to sue. In their recent Comcast Corp. v. Behrend decision, for example, they threw out $875 million in damages that a group of Philadelphia-area subscribers had sought from the cable giant, reasoning that the subscriber plaintiffs hadn’t proven they constituted a “class" for the purpose of a class action.
Third and finally, wealthy Republicans want to minimize the votes of poor and minority citizens – and further propagate the myth that these people are responsible for the economic problems of struggling whites – through state redistricting and gerrymandering, voter-identification requirements at polling stations, and the use of almost any pretext to purge minority voters from voting lists.
The five Republicans on the Court obliged last week by striking down a section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that sets the formula under which states with a long history of discrimination must ask the federal government or a judge for approval before changing their voting procedures.
The significance of Shelby County, Alabama vs. Holder was made plain Thursday when the Court effectively nullified two cases involving Texas voter laws by sending them back to lower courts to reconsider in light of Shelby. One was a voter identification requirement, enacted in 2011, that a federal judge had rejected on grounds that it imposed a disproportionate burden on lower-income people, many of whom are minorities. The other was a redistricting plan, also rejected by a federal court, in part because it would block minorities from gaining a majority vote in almost all districts.
But now both are effectively reinstated, as are the efforts of several other states to suppress votes.
Supreme Court justices are appointed for life in order to ensure their independence from politics. But when it comes to the core political strategy of the Republican Party, the five Republican appointees are, in effect, an extension of the GOP.
North Carolina NAACP President William J. Barber II, who has seen generations of black candidates elected thanks to the landmark civil rights-era law, objected to [state Senate Rules Committee Chairman Tom] Apodaca's dismissal of federal protections that had become part of the civil rights fabric of the South. "He refers to a law to undo 250 years of slavery and another 100 years or more of Jim Crow … as a headache," Barber said.Other Republican-controlled states, from Florida to Alaska aren't even waiting to see if North Carolina can get away with it. They're already moving the same direction. Texas Republicans are petrified of Hispanic voters turning their red bastion blue. So they're coming up with plans to keep them from voting, since they've already figured out that that is a better fit for the party base than trying to win them over to vote for Republicans.
Rosanell Eaton, 92, remembers the humiliation for blacks who sought to cast ballots in North Carolina before the Voting Rights Act. In 1939, she said, she hitched a mule to a wagon and rode to the courthouse in Franklin County, N.C., to register. Three white men, probably illiterate, demanded that she recite the preamble to the U.S. Constitution.
Eaton, the valedictorian at her rural high school, recited the preamble word for word.
"They were so ignorant they didn't know if I said it right or not-- but they registered me," she said.
Last week's Supreme Court decision "starts taking us right back to the old days," she said. "Now it's easier for these Republicans to do anything they want to us, without the controls we had."
The Voting Rights Act changed the South by expanding black voting and black officeholders. In 1965, the 11 Southern states of the Confederacy had three black state legislators. By 2009, the number was 321 of 628 nationwide, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
...The new moves by state officials to adopt ID requirements and other changes in the voting laws can have a critical impact on black voting strength, civil rights leaders say. Blacks represented 22% of North Carolina's registered voters in 2012 but accounted for 34% of voters without a driver's license or state-issued ID this year, according to Democracy North Carolina, a liberal advocacy group. The group says blacks in 2012 made up 29% of early voters and 34% of same-day registration voters.
Since taking control in North Carolina, Republicans have passed or proposed legislation that Democrats say discriminates against minorities. This month, Republicans repealed the Racial Justice Act, passed by a Democratic Legislature and governor. The act allowed death row inmates to be re-sentenced to life in prison without parole if they proved racial discrimination in jury selection or sentencing.
Ed Snowden: "In the end the Obama administration is not afraid of whistleblowers like me, Bradley Manning or Thomas Drake. We are stateless, imprisoned, or powerless. No, the Obama administration is afraid of you. It is afraid of an informed, angry public demanding the constitutional government it was promised-- and it should be."