Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Cruz Control

Texas Senator Ted Cruz is rallying the conservative base of the Republican Party with a simple message.  "A significant amount of Republicans assume, with an impasse, that President Obama will never ever give up his principles, so Republicans have to give up theirs," Cruz said Tuesday evening at a town hall meeting. "If you have an impasse, you know -- one side or the other has to blink. How do we win this fight? Don't blink."   But the ambitious Cruz knows better, and so do many in the Republican Party.  

The ever-cocksure Cruz has set his sites on defunding Obamacare at all costs.  "Under no circumstances will I vote for a continuing resolution that funds even one penny of Obamacare," Cruz said in his town hall remarks.  But a continuing resolution is necessary to provide funds for the federal government to operate.  If Congress fails to act in a timely manner it risks shutting down the government.

A growing number of leading Republicans are opposed to this strategy because they believe that the GOP will be blamed for the consequences.   "I think it's the dumbest idea I've ever heard of," Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., said last month.  "I'm for stopping Obamacare, but shutting down the government will not stop Obamacare," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told a Kentucky town hall meeting earlier this month.  And Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., commissioned a Congressional Research Service report that shows that the health care law would get its funding even if the rest of the government shuts down.

Former John McCain presidential campaign aide Nicolle Wallace said on MSNBC Wednesday,  “The reason we’re going to lose this debate about defunding Obamacare is because we don’t occupy the White House."  She added, “We don’t have the ability to pass laws and then sign them. The best way to win this fight is to elect a Republican president.”  Wallace also denounced Cruz for doing "a whole lot of fear mongering" and being "intellectually dishonest" when he was asked at a recent event about impeaching the president.  She said Cruz responded, "Because we don't have the votes (in Congress)."  Wallace bluntly corrected the senator, "The true answer, the intellectually honest answer: Because he’s not committed an impeachable offense."

Senator Cruz is on a crusade to become president.  He has deftly deflected criticism that he may not qualify because he was born in Canada.  Most constitutional scholars appear to agree he does in fact qualify because his mother is American, though it says nothing about persons with a dual citizenship.  Cruz said in a statement Monday,  "Now the Dallas Morning News says that I may technically have dual citizenship. Assuming that is true, then sure, I will renounce any Canadian citizenship. Nothing against Canada, but I'm an American by birth and as a U.S. Senator, I believe I should be only an American."  Ironically, President Obama's qualifications for office are still questioned by some who wrongly believe he was born in Kenya rather than Hawaii, even though his mother was American.   Perhaps leading "Birther" mogul Donald Trump should make a ruling? 

Bertrand Russell once wrote, "The trouble with the world is that the stupid are always cocksure and the intelligent are always filled with doubt. "  But Senator Cruz is not stupid, and he knows it.  He exudes self-confidence and swagger.  Famed Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz, who taught Cruz, told The Daily Caller this past May, “Without a doubt he is among the smartest students I’ve ever had… I’ve had great students but he has to be at the top of anyone’s short list, in terms of raw brain power.” 

Senator Cruz knows that if he can win over the conservative wing of his party with stirring speeches, he will be in a formidable position for the 2016 Republican presidential primaries.  This strategy may indeed secure him the nomination.  However, Cruz is smart enough to realize that he will have to move more to the center on health care, immigration, and social issues in order to attract the number of independent voters needed to win the White House.   No doubt, he will have no problem doing that. 

Conservatives, take off your blinders, and don't blink!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

North Carolina and Voter Suppression

What should a political party do when it is demographically challenged because its position on many important issues does not appeal to a majority of Blacks, Latinos, Asians and young voters?  The Republican Party's solution is to make voting less accessible to minority voters.   But this is a losing strategy for a party that has lost its way.

North Carolina Governor Patrick McCrory signed a so-called voting reform bill that imposes strict photo identification requirements on the state's 4.5 million voters, rolls back the early voting period and repeals one-stop registration during early voting.  The governor and the state's Republican controlled legislature have imposed a solution is search of a problem.  Nearly 7 million votes were cast in the state's 2012 general and two primary elections.  But only 121 alleged cases of voter fraud were referred to a district attorney's office, about 1/1000 of a percent of the total votes. 

North Carolina is the first state to change its voting laws following this past June's Supreme Court ruling that struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  That section gave the Justice Department the power to block changes in voting laws in states that had a history of discrimination.  The law will take effect in 2016, just in time for the presidential election.  The governor says 34 states now require some form of ID to vote. North Carolina would be the 20th state to require a photo ID.

Governor McCrory explained why he signed the law in a YouTube video.  "The integrity of our election process is vital to our Democracy, which is why I have signed today several common sense reforms into law, including voter ID," the governor said.  He pointed out that photo ID "has become a part of our everyday life", noting that one is needed to board an airplane, cash a check or to apply for government benefits.  He then said, "Many of those from the extreme left, who have been criticizing photo ID are using scare tactics." 

The fact is that the law falls disproportionately on minorities, who tend to vote Democratic.  Half of the state's registered voters who lacked a photo ID in 2012 are registered Democrats, a third of whom are Black.   A large number of minorities vote early.  Under the new law, the days for early voting will be reduced from 17 to 10, even though 61% of the state's voters cast their ballots early in 2012.  

The American Civil Liberties Union announced joined two other groups in announcing they would file a suit against parts of the new law.   "Eliminating a huge part of early voting will cut off voting opportunities for hundreds of thousands of citizens. It will turn Election Day into a mess, shoving more voters into even longer lines," said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project. "Florida similarly eliminated a week of early voting before the 2012 election, and we all know how that turned out - voters standing in line for hours, some having to wait until after the President's acceptance speech to finally vote, and hundreds of thousands giving up in frustration. Those burdens fell disproportionately on African-American voters, and the same thing will happen in North Carolina."

In 2008, President Barack Obama carried North Carolina by a few thousand votes.  But the new law may make it harder for the Democratic presidential candidate to carry the state in 2012.  The party's likely standard bearer, Hillary Clinton, attacked the new North Carolina law Monday at the American Bar Association's annual conference.  Ms. Clinton said the bill "reads like the greatest hits of voter suppression." "In the weeks since the ruling, we've seen an unseemly rush by previously covered jurisdictions to enact or enforce laws that will make it harder for millions of our fellow Americans to vote," Clinton said.

Earlier this year, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus released an autopsy of the party's poor showing in the 2012 national election.  The report suggested that the party reach out to minority groups.  But Republican voter suppression tactics seem aimed at making it harder for minorities to vote.  However, these tactics will likely have the opposite effect in 2016 because they will certainly mobilize more minorities to vote and will turn off independent voters.

As Dale Ho, of the ACLU, said, "We should be making it easier for people to vote, not harder."  

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Bezos and The Washington Post

For journalists throughout America, The Washington Post is the second greatest monument in the nation's capital.  Its legacy of independence, public service, political and investigative reporting stands as a powerful beacon and inspiration for all who enter the craft.

The Graham family has had editorial leadership and control of the venerable newspaper for 80 years.  A commitment to aggressive, responsible and fair reporting has been a constant throughout their ownership.  The paper's code of ethics states, "We fully recognize that the power we have inherited as the dominant morning newspaper in the capital of the free world carries with it special responsibilities: to listen to the voiceless, to avoid any and all acts of arrogance, to face the public politely and candidly."

Legendary journalists have plied their trade under the paper's banner.  They include, Ben Bradlee, David Broder, Art Buchwald, Meg Greenfield, Mary McGrory, Shirley Povich, George Will, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward.  The paper has received 47 Pulitzer Prizes, including eight Pulitzer Prizes in 2008, the second largest number given to a newspaper in one year.

Perhaps the most significant time in the paper's history was the Watergate era, when the investigative reporting of Woodward and Bernstein, the tenacious editorial guidance of editor Ben Bradlee, and the unflinching leadership of Katherine Graham, the newspaper's publisher, combined to bring President Richard Nixon down.  "Deep Throat", who was Woodward and Bernstein's primary source, became a household name.   Their work was the inspiration for the movie All The President's Men

Katherine Graham was a remarkable figure in American publishing.  She expressed great anxiety when she officially took over as publisher of The Washington Post in 1979; after all, few women had run a newspaper.  Yet she won the admiration and respect of Washington's power brokers, and the loyalty of her own staff.  It was a family.  Ms. Graham also served as chairman of the board from 1973 to 1991.  And her son, Donald Graham, continued the paper's traditions after he replaced his mother as publisher in 1979, and as chief executive officer and chairman in the early 90's.    

So it is no wonder that news of the sale of The Washington Post came as a shock to reporters and editors at the paper.  But the company had been struggling for years with financial challenges brought on by declining subscriptions and increased competition.  Yet, the fact that the new owner, billionaire Jeff Bezos, who founded Amazon, bought the paper offered many staffers a sign of hope.   

Bezos is a brilliant Internet entrepreneur who revolutionized the book publishing industry.  At Amazon, he has continually emphasized what he calls his six core values: customer obsession, ownership, bias for action, frugality, high hiring bar and innovation.  It is unclear how some of these values will be applied to the Post, but Bezos would not make a $250 million purchase of a financially challenged company unless he had a plan. 

In a letter to the newspaper's employees, Bezos said, "The values of The Post do not need changing. The paper’s duty will remain to its readers and not to the private interests of its owners. We will continue to follow the truth wherever it leads, and we’ll work hard not to make mistakes."  But he did admit that, over time, there will be changes.  “The Internet is transforming almost every element of the news business: shortening news cycles, eroding long-reliable revenue sources, and enabling new kinds of competition, some of which bear little or no news-gathering costs,” he wrote.  

Innovation and tradition are often opposing forces.  The paper is at an important crossroads.  Should The Washington Post's legacy of investigative journalism, outstanding writing and reporting, and service to the public become the victim of "frugality" and "customer obsessions", the paper will precipitously decline.  On the other hand, should Bezos make this legacy his top priority, and preserve The Washington Post's editorial independence while expanding its readership on all platforms, all of America will benefit.