The Right’s Dreams of American Apartheid

It’s tragic but not surprising that the election of the nation’s first black president would accelerate a racist, nationwide movement to disenfranchise people of color, the poor and the elderly. A new map of states with restrictive voting laws indicates the scope of the problem: racism is not restricted to the former Confederacy.

Many conservatives, including Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, argue that 1965’s historic Voting Rights Act is obsolete and in need of repeal. The opposite is the case. The VRA, which currently applies to a limited number of states, counties and townships, should be expanded to include all 50 states.

Conservative arguments for repeal are based in part on the election of Barack Obama. The New York Times 2008 election-night headline, “Obama Elected President as Racial Barrier Falls,” says it all. Charles P. Pierce chides Americans about their “post-racial” wishful hallucinations with his repeated sarcasm, “It’s Not About Race because It’s Never About Race.” By 2011, though, even the NYT’s was forced back up a bit on the wish, running a piece by Toure′ pleading for an end to claims of a “post-racial America.”

We are not a nation devoid of racial discrimination nor are we a nation where race does not matter. Race and racism are still critical factors in determining what happens and who gets ahead in America.

Todd Donovan’s intriguing 2010 study, “Obama and the White Vote,” shows that racial context influences voting behavior. Obama did less well in states with large African American populations, confirming the “racial threat” theory that says racist attitudes among whites grow as the population of people of color increases. Donovan concluded:

Race was clearly a factor in the 2008 presidential election. Independent of innuendo about Obama that was associated with his race, there are reasons to expect that some white voters might still find it difficult to support an African American candidate for president.

The right-wing voter suppression movement is not new, but it has picked up steam. Every honest, thinking person knows that so-called “voter ID” laws are intended to suppress the votes of blacks, Latinos, the elderly, the infirm, and young college students – all constituencies that historically favor Democratic candidates.

Continue reading “The Right’s Dreams of American Apartheid”

Why I Still Love Texas: Guy Clark and His Sidekicks

We went to hear legendary singer/songwriter Guy Clark at the wistfully named One World Theater in the hills west of Austin last night. Clark is ill and in pain, but “he’s still jumping off the garage.”  He walked out slowly with a cane and sat in a cushioned chair. Clark was joined by his longtime writing partner, Verlon Williams, who sings like the Southern cousin of Steve Goodman.

It was a small, quiet crowd in a small quiet venue. The pain got to Guy more than once and he forgot the lyrics to several songs. He’d mutter, “Shit,” or, “Y’all are being very sweet about this mess.” His wry humor was there, you bet. There was no nervousness in the audience, no impatience, no tension. Just sympathy for his pain and joy at his effort.

Anyway, he launched into “Desperados Waiting for a Train.” He got through the verse about “they called me sidekick,” then he stumbled. The words escaped him. A moment later, faster than a mad dog cyclone, the audience sang them for him like they’d planned it all along. Hell, they even sang a little harmony. They sounded reverent and heaven-bound, like the choir that sings with Alison Krauss on “Down to the River to Pray.” Here’s what they sang:

One day I looked up and he’s pushin’ eighty
He’s got brown tobacco stains all down his chin
Well to me he was a hero of this country
So why’s he all dressed up like them old men

And that’s why I still love Texas. Guy’s love of people with all their faults and beauty is there in his lyrics. He made it real tonight with his very presence. His fans love of his love for people was there when they stepped in to sing a song they knew so well because they’ve been waiting, too.

 

Immigrants, legal and otherwise, fuel Texas economy, job growth

The Washington Post cites several studies indicating that immigrants, both legal and illegal, account for a good bit of the job growth in Texas. Also, they put more into the state’s budget than is spent on services. So, immigration is a net gain all around.

This isn’t likely to change the minds of the bigots, though. They live in a zero sum universe. If someone of slightly different appearance is driving a nice car, they assume it’s a nice car that should be their own but isn’t because the undeserving person of slightly disappearance got it through theft or government hand-out.

Here’s the story.

Here’s how WPost’s Ezra Klein summed it up:

So Texas, with its booming economy, may have more to benefit from with its large immigrant population, both illegal and illegal. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that all states would immediately benefit from a big influx of immigrant workers.

Aristotle and the Cyberpoke

photo: Willie Pipkin

I’m partial to the desert mountains of West Texas, but on my frequent visits out here I’m always surprised – and touched – by the strong spirit of friendship and community that marks the place.

“Friendship holds political communities together,” said Aristotle, and he was on to something. American political culture has deteriorated as the various perils of modernity weakened the role of friendship in our political life. It’s a weighty, complicated topic. I just don’t want to be friendly with Glenn Beck.

It seems appropriate to kick off the New Year with a reminder that “concord” – the word Aristotle used – is instrumental to a community’s pursuit of justice. The loss of some sense of reciprocity and mutual concern for others is a dangerous consequence of a political culture lost in myths of hyper-individuality and zero-sum thinking in which one’s gains seem to depend upon the losses of others.

Out here for a West Texas New Years with large groups of friends from all over America, I find a common understanding of our absolute dependence upon one another. And this is a place our myths tell is a veritable source of the independent rugged individualist.

There are some rugged folks, and they understand that concord doesn’t mean conformity. But by God if your truck breaks down, they’re there to help you, and they expect the same in return.

Continue reading “Aristotle and the Cyberpoke”

Contempt for Democracy: Attacks on Voting Rights

In Harris County (Houston), Texas, a tea party group called King Street Patriots is engaged in a systematic attack on voting rights. They are working dirty hand in dirty hand with a Republican County voter registrar to suppress the votes of those they believe unworthy, that is, those who might disagree with their own political choices.

Of course, they say they just want fair and open elections. “It’s really about truth,” says King Street founder Catherine Engelbrecht in an 8-minute video that includes doctored images and phony charges of “fraud” against…well, you only see pictures of African-Americans when fraud is discussed, so the implication is clear.

Maybe it was just coincidence that the warehouse containing all — all — of Houston’s voting machines burned down mysteriously just as King Street Patriots and their ally, Tax Assessor-Collector Leo Vasquez, went public with their fraud allegations. Whatever the case, the voter intimidation and suppression campaign is clearly part of a well-funded national effort to put barriers in the way of voters suspected of disagreeing with the perpetrators’ right-wing agenda.

The contempt for democracy demonstrated by partisans who think noting of violating the fellow citizens’ right to vote is staggering. Not only are election outcomes potentially altered, the health of civil society itself is altered.

I wrote that back in 2004 after surveying decades of GOP voter suppression campaigns for my book, The Politics of Deceit. Voter suppression is the most under-reported political scandal of my lifetime, and it pains me to admit that I under-reported it myself when I was a political writer for daily newspapers.

Journalists tend to shrug it off as a kind of prankish misdemeanor. But mail pieces like that one pictured above (read about it at Lone Star Project) are clearly intended to scare would-be voters into thinking any misstep will land them in jail. Mailers like this are now a common part of every election.

Continue reading “Contempt for Democracy: Attacks on Voting Rights”

Possible Arson and the Right’s Houston Voter Suppression Effort

A mysterious fire last Friday destroys all of the voting machines in Harris County (Houston), Texas. Arson investigators have not yet issued an opinion. Meanwhile, a well-funded right-wing group emerges in Houston and begins raising unfounded allegations of widespread voter fraud. A video on their website pictures only people of color when it talks of voter fraud. White people are shown talking patriotically about the need for a million vigilantes to suppress illegal votes.

In the video, an unidentified spokesman for “TrueTheVote” says, “If we lose Houston, we lose Texas. And guess what? If we lose Texas we lose the country.” The former Mayor of Houston, Democrat Bill White, is running against secessionist Republican Gov. Rick Perry this year. White’s counting on a big turnout in his home town. The fire and the voter suppression campaign guarantee a greatly diminished turnout.

Continue reading “Possible Arson and the Right’s Houston Voter Suppression Effort”

Bars for BP

As oil continues to gush out of the wellhead more than five thousand feet below the location where the Deepwater Horizon floating drilling platform exploded April 20th, the nation is working fervently to deal with the worst oil spill in US history. There are still many unknowns about the disaster, but some important details are being revealed; BP and Transocean Ltd. drastically underestimated the risk and consequences of an oil spill on the rig, BP chose profits over safety and did not install any remotely operated shut-off switch in case of disaster, the regulatory agency responsible for oversight failed in its job and BP has a history of breaking the law by failing to file and maintain crucial safety and engineering documents. The result is that eleven workers lost their lives, four were seriously injured and the Gulf of Mexico is now experiencing a devastating disaster that will impact the region for decades if not permanently.
Although BP and its partner Transocean Ltd. were drilling offshore of one of the richest marine fisheries on the continent and the source of employment for much of the residents of the Southern US, the oil companies did not see the risk of an oil spill to be of much consequence. In a report to the Minerals Management Service that oversees offshore drilling BP stated, “unlikely that an accidental surface or subsurface oil spill would occur from the proposed activities.” This despite multiple spills and fires specifically on the Deepwater Horizon. The Coast Guard had issued citations for those spills eighteen times in the short nine years the Deepwater Horizon was in operation and the drilling rig was involved in a 2008 incident where it almost sank. Clearly BP was irresponsibly cavalier about the operation of the Deepwater Horizon and the risk of a spill.
The consequences of this spill are made much greater because the complexity of the drilling location and the fact that BP chose not to install a remotely operated shutoff valve called a backup blowout preventer. The deadman switch system BP has stated had installed on the wellhead did not function properly. Without a backup system, the wellhead is spewing oil into the Gulf at an estimated rate of between 1,000 and 100,000,000 gallons of oil a day. Although backup blowout preventers are required by most countries that allow offshore oil drilling, was not installed on the Deepwater Horizon to keep costs down and profits high.
Backup blowout preventers are not required by the US because the the Minerals Management Service (MMS) is weak and has been systematically corrupted by the oil industry it is supposed to oversee. A 2008 investigation of the MMS Denver offices revealed the oil industry was in bed with the agency, literally. The report details drug fueled sex parties with extravagant gifts and tickets to sporting events and travel. Federal employees were improperly paid by oil companies and awarded themselves government contracts for hundreds of thousands of dollars. A 2006 investigation revealed that companies like BP that drill in the Gulf of Mexico negotiated leases that allow them to avoid paying billions of dollars in royalty payments and prevented the Interior Department from auditing them. The oversight of the oil and gas industry has been corrupted through industry efforts in the same way the mining industry has weakened their regulatory agencies. The results are the same; dead workers.
But in the Deepwater Horizon disaster, there is also a massive oil spill to contend with. According to a recent former BP employee and whistleblower, the Deepwater Horizon’s explosion isn’t the only BP deep water drilling operation that has significant issues. According to the whistleblower and the early results of the resulting investigations is a pattern of misconduct and illegal activity. If substantiated, the evidence will show BP has failed to maintain safety and engineering documents that are intended to provide a document trail for the proper construction, maintenance and operation of the BP Atlantis, the Deepwater Horizon’s sister rig. The result brings into question the construction of the well as well as the operation of the well and may have something to do with the explosion, sinking and oil spill we are now facing.
From one disaster I propose we look back to another disaster to structure our response. Although there are many important lessons to be learned from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill that still impacts Alaska, the disaster I am referring to is the January 21st, 2010 decision by the US Supreme court, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. This landmark ruling greatly expanding the definition and scope of corporate personhood effectively blurring the line between flesh and blood people and corporate entities. Since the Supreme Court has so narrowed the difference between a corporal person and a corporate person, I propose that our legal response should likewise be narrowed. If the difference between a person and a corporation is almost indiscernible, the corporate headquarters of BP, its refineries and its service stations across the country should be arrested and jailed for the deaths of the eleven workers and for the ongoing oil disaster.
The privilege of being a person in the United States comes with the responsibility of consequence when people break the law. When Major Nidal Malik Hasan was identified as the accused perpetrator in the 2009 shooting deaths of 13 people at Fort Hood Army Base, he was taken into custody where he remains awaiting trial. I see no reason to treat BP and its corporate business operations differently. Obviously the process of putting a service station, much less the hundreds of refineries and administrative building that make up corporate BP, behind bars in our already overcapacity prison system would be impossible. But why we can’t bring the bars to BP? In response to the disaster that is impacting the lives of the residents of the Gulf of Mexico as well as the lives of the families of those slain on the Deepwater Horizon, citizens should demand that their local District Attorneys arrest and take into custody the person responsible; corporate BP.
Deepwater Horizon on Fire
Deepwater Horizon on Fire

As oil continues to gush out of the wellhead more than five thousand feet below the location where the Deepwater Horizon floating drilling platform exploded April 20th, the nation is working fervently to deal with the worst oil spill in US history. There are still many unknowns about the disaster, but some important details are being revealed; BP and Transocean Ltd. drastically underestimated the risk and consequences of an oil spill on the rig, BP chose profits over safety and did not install any remotely operated shut-off switch in case of disaster, the regulatory agency responsible for oversight failed in its job and BP has a history of breaking the law by failing to file and maintain crucial safety and engineering documents. The result is that eleven workers lost their lives, four were seriously injured and the Gulf of Mexico is now experiencing a devastating disaster that will impact the region for decades if not permanently.

Although BP and its partner Transocean Ltd. were drilling offshore of one of the richest marine fisheries on the continent and the source of employment for much of the residents of the Southern US, the oil companies did not see the risk of an oil spill to be of much consequence. In a report to the Minerals Management Service that oversees offshore drilling BP stated, “unlikely that an accidental surface or subsurface oil spill would occur from the proposed activities.” This despite multiple spills and fires specifically on the Deepwater Horizon. The Coast Guard had issued citations for those spills eighteen times in the short nine years the Deepwater Horizon was in operation and the drilling rig was involved in a 2008 incident where it almost sank. Clearly BP was irresponsibly cavalier about the operation of the Deepwater Horizon and the risk of a spill.

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill
Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

The consequences of this spill are made much greater because the complexity of the drilling location and the fact that BP chose not to install a remotely operated shutoff valve called a backup blowout preventer. The deadman switch system BP has stated had installed on the wellhead did not function properly. Without a backup system, the wellhead is spewing oil into the Gulf at an estimated rate of between 5,000 and 1,100,000 gallons of oil a day. Although backup blowout preventers are required by most countries that allow offshore oil drilling, was not installed on the Deepwater Horizon to keep costs down and profits high.

Backup blowout preventers are not required by the US because the the Minerals Management Service is weak and has been systematically corrupted by the oil industry it is supposed to oversee. A 2008 investigation of the Minerals Management Service Denver offices revealed the oil industry was in bed with the agency, literally. The report details drug fueled sex parties with extravagant gifts and tickets to sporting events and travel. Federal employees were improperly paid by oil companies and awarded themselves government contracts for hundreds of thousands of dollars. A 2006 investigation revealed that companies like BP that drill in the Gulf of Mexico negotiated leases that allow them to avoid paying billions of dollars in royalty payments and prevented the Interior Department from auditing them. The oversight of the oil and gas industry has been corrupted through industry efforts in the same way the mining industry has weakened their regulatory agencies. The results are the same; dead workers.

BP has Blood and Oil on its hands
BP has Blood and Oil on its hands

But in the Deepwater Horizon disaster, there is also a massive oil spill to contend with. According to a recent former BP employee and whistleblower, the Deepwater Horizon’s explosion isn’t the only BP deep water drilling operation that has significant issues. According to the whistleblower and the early results of the resulting investigations is a pattern of misconduct and illegal activity. If substantiated, the evidence will show BP has failed to maintain safety and engineering documents that are intended to provide a document trail for the proper construction, maintenance and operation of the BP Atlantis, the Deepwater Horizon’s sister rig. The result brings into question the construction of the well as well as the operation of the well and may have something to do with the explosion, sinking and oil spill we are now facing.

From one disaster I propose we look back to another disaster to structure our response. Although there are many important lessons to be learned from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill that still impacts Alaska, the disaster I am referring to is the January 21st, 2010 decision by the US Supreme court, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. This landmark ruling greatly expanding the definition and scope of corporate personhood effectively blurring the line between flesh and blood people and corporate entities. Since the Supreme Court has so narrowed the difference between a corporal person and a corporate person, I propose that our legal response should likewise be narrowed. If the difference between a person and a corporation is almost indiscernible, the corporate headquarters of BP, its refineries and its service stations across the country should be arrested and jailed for the deaths of the eleven workers and for the ongoing oil disaster.

The Corporate Flag
The Corporate Flag

The privilege of being a person in the United States comes with the responsibility of consequence when people break the law. When Major Nidal Malik Hasan was identified as the accused perpetrator and the sole person in the 2009 shooting deaths of 13 people at Fort Hood Army Base, he was taken into custody where he remains awaiting trial. I see no reason to treat BP and its corporate business operations differently. Obviously the process of putting a service station, much less the hundreds of refineries and administrative building that make up the corporate person of BP behind bars in our already overtaxed prison system would be impossible. But why we can’t bring the bars to BP? I am sure that bars can easily be affixed to the doors and windows of the buildings of BP rendering them incarcerated. In response to the disaster that is impacting the lives of the residents of the Gulf of Mexico as well as the lives of the families of those slain on the Deepwater Horizon, citizens should demand that their local District Attorneys arrest and take into custody the person responsible; corporate BP.

When Johnny Came Home

(Author’s note: The president is expanding American presence in Afghanistan.  The Iraq war does not appear to be ending any time soon, in spite of significant troop draw downs.  I voted for something else and I support neither conflict.  In 2003, when President Bush launched the Iraq war, I traveled the country for a book project and spoke to families that had lost a son, husband, brother, daughter, sister, or mother in the war.  And anyone that supports US involvement in either conflict ought to have similar conversations. If you support either war, and believe the sacrifice of someone else’s child is necessary to protect our country from a perceived peril, then you must also believe your child’s life can be utilized to the same ends.  But before you make such a choice, listen to the families that have suffered the worst kind of loss.  Six years ago this month, the Mata family of Pecos, Texas, buried their handsome hometown hero.  A month later, I met the family at a fund raising old timers’ baseball game.  The money was to be used to support the children of a soldier who was killed when Jessica Lynch’s support unit got lost in the Iraqi desert.  The tragedy of Johnny Mata, which follows below, ought to be remembered.  And remembered.  And remembered. – JM)


“Death ends a life, not a relationship.” – Robert Benchley

The little girl sat at the table with her face leaning close to a small piece of paper. Her dark, bobbed hair swung forward, slightly obscuring the soft curve of her cheeks. She did not notice her mother enter the room.

“What are you doing, mija?” her mother asked.

“I’m writing daddy a note.” She answered without looking up, her concentration focused on the careful shaping of words and letters.

“Oh, mija.”

Nancili Mata wanted to cry. Instead, she smiled, and did not let emotion take control of her. When she surrenders to her sadness, she does so in private.

“I have to be strong because if I’m not my little girl will see me, and then she’ll hurt more than I will,” she explained.

At age seven, Stephani Mata has the oversized, startled eyes of a child finding amazement in the mundane. A happiness moves across her round face, and it rarely disappears. She has figured out a way to deal with a sadness no child should ever have to confront.

“They are just so sweet when she writes them,” Nancili said. “They make me want to cry. But I don’t. I won’t let myself.”

The notes began appearing after the funeral out in Pecos. Nancili found them stuck to pictures of her husband, Johnny. In the hallway of their new home, or on shelves, anywhere there was a photo of Johnny Mata, a message from Stephani might be attached.
Continue reading “When Johnny Came Home”

Health Care Reform: It’s Our Turn, Texas!

To read the newly released Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) “Dear State Medicaid Director” letter re: New Option for Coverage of Individuals, click here.
health_care_reform1
“We just passed a law that doesn’t do much for rich people, but really helps poor people.” –Leonardo Cuello, National Health Law Program

Now that the Health Care Reform bill has been signed into law, it’s time for us to get busy advocating for state reform allowing for aspects of the federal bill to be implemented in Texas before 2014.

The federal bill includes Medicaid expansion, which will create coverage for 16 million people by 2019. This expansion signifies a radical conceptual shift from the current Medicaid system. In the current system, it’s not enough to be flat broke to receive Medicaid healthcare coverage. You have to be “broke plus” (i.e. broke plus pregnant, broke plus disabled, etc). This current system is based on the idea that only the “worthy poor” deserve health insurance. But beginning in 2014, there will be a mandatory “catch-all” category for everyone* who earns up to 133% of Federal Poverty Limits.

However, states have the option to implement a State Plan Amendment (SPA) that allows states to start buying these low income people into Medicaid earlier than 2014. Texas could potentially phase this plan in using a “lower income first” model. For example, depending on our budget, we could start with coverage for people who are at 75% or 100% of Federal Poverty Limits. In doing so, Texas would receive federal match money to cover people who wouldn’t ordinarily be covered.

Similarly, while the Health Care Reform ensures that pre-existing condition exclusions will be prohibited starting in 2014 (2010 for children) states may create a temporary high-risk pool for adults that will remain in effect until 2014.

Interested in putting together a coalition to help bring about these reforms here in the Lone Star state during the 82nd Legislative Session?

The National Health Law Program (NHeLP) suggests that organizations and individuals in Texas interested in pushing these state healthcare reforms come together, organize ourselves, and then contact NHeLP for more information and support on how to proceed.

*Does not include undocumented immigrants, as well as other groups who already have coverage such as Medicare enrollees, people over age 65, and mandatory coverage groups like pregnant women.

Some Notes On the Primary Election: Weak Tea

Levitt_Barney_BurntToastandWeakTea_web.U468a96fa79eb0While everyone’s talking about the extreme Right’s trashing of Kay Baily Hutchison and Rick Perry’s easy victory, other results seem to indicate the Tea Party is weak (if poisonous) tea indeed. Don’t get me wrong, I believe the Glenn Beck extremists remain one of the most unhinged and dangerous political phenomena of my lifetime. Consider for a moment that the black-shirted nutjobs that are the John Birch Society. They are back and part of mainstream Republican politics. Hell, they are not even the most extreme.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again:  the GOP consultants and lobbyists who empower these paranoid and dangerous extremists just to win elections (or, say, defeat health care reform) are cynical Dr. Frankensteins. I really wonder how they can explain it to their children.

In any case, voters kicked some of the extremists off the State Board of Education yesterday. Both Don McLeroy and Tincy Miller lost, and the Democrat who sometimes voted with the anti-science and anti-reason block didn’t even run. Tea Partiers didn’t succeed in any congressional challenges in the GOP primary, though they did defeat longtime East Texas Rep. Tommy Merritt and force another, Delwin Jones into a runoff.

The extremists did pad Perry’s margin of victory over Hutchison, but that’s about all. Hutchison ran a campaign just about as bad as oddball Democrat Farouk Shami, who got what, 13 percent of the vote? Perry’s been in office so long that just his appointees and their families and friends probably give him a healthy 20 percent head start! Continue reading “Some Notes On the Primary Election: Weak Tea”