Saturday, April 17, 2021
Are US corporations really taking a stand for voting rights? Activists welcome support in the battle against Republican voter suppression but wonder what such words are worth
Activists welcome support in the battle against Republican voter suppression but wonder what such words are worth
Despite a wave of public statements by corporations opposing legislation that would make it harder for people to vote, election reform advocates doubt American capitalism is really coming to the rescue of American democracy.
Activists are welcoming corporate involvement in the fight against bills introduced by Republicans in state legislatures across the US to erect barriers to voting that disproportionately affect people of color and other groups that often vote Democratic.
Hundreds of companies and business leaders lent their names this week to a two-page ad declaring “we must ensure the right to vote for all of us”, published in the country’s biggest papers.
The pursuit of lower taxes and lax regulations, meanwhile, has led corporations to continuously finance the Republican party’s most corrosive projects, from voter suppression to the takeover of the judiciary to the big election lie that led to the sacking of the Capitol in January, they say.
“Of course we welcome corporate support against outrageous voter suppression efforts by GOP state legislatures that make it harder for voters, particularly from communities of color and other historically marginalized communities, to vote,” said Ben Jealous, president of People For the American Way.
“That reaction is no doubt driven by their fears of losing business from their customers in the midst of heated public anger over such aggressive and targeted voter suppression, and we hope they will put their money where their mouth is and take real action to stop such proposals.”
Thenewspaper ad was organized by two African American business leaders – Kenneth Frazier, chief executive of Merck, and Kenneth Chenault, former head of American Express – who have said such bills are racially discriminatory, even as Republicans insist election security is their deepest concern.
The corporate decision to speak out created a rare moment of discombobulation for the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, who warned chief executives to “stay out of politics” before clarifying a day later, with no hint of self-consciousness: “I’m not talking about political contributions.”
But the surface friction between McConnell and his erstwhile patrons belies the mildness of most corporate criticism of anti-voter laws and obscures companies’ ambivalence when it comes to taking a stand on voting rights, activists said.
Large Georgia-based companies including AT&T, Delta Airlines and Coca-Cola did not voice concerns last month about legislation to restrict voting in the state until they came under public pressure. Their eventual statements were measured.
“We are working together with other businesses through groups like the Business Roundtable to support efforts to enhance every person’s ability to vote,” said AT&T’s chief executive, John Stankey. “In this way, the right knowledge and expertise can be applied to make a difference on this fundamental and critical issue.”
The same three companies declined to sign the ad published in the New York Times and Washington Post last week, referring media to their statements about Georgia, though similar high-profile clashes are playing out in Michigan, Arizona, Texas and elsewhere.
Walmart declined to sign the ad, with its chief executive, Doug McMillon, who chairs the Business Roundtable, telling employees: “We are not in the business of partisan politics.”
Walmart’s reticence was spotlighted by LaTosha Brown and Cliff Albright, co-founders of Black Voters Matter, in a statement that praised the newspaper ad as a “righteous decision to stand up to racism, disenfranchisement, and voter suppression” and criticized those who did not sign.
“They – and all of these other companies – continue to issue misleading statements that create a false equivalency between securing elections and attacking voting rights,” Black Voters Matter said. “These corporations are pandering to a big lie that is being used to justify voter suppression. That’spartisan.”
Michael Serazio, a professor of communications at Boston College, said corporations appeared to be taking a “proactive” approach on voting rights to protect their bottom lines.
“It does feel, on this one, that some of these companies are getting out ahead of a potential boycott from consumers, before the boycott around the laws was going to kick off,” Serazio said.
Corporations increasingly feel pressure from consumers and in some cases employees on social and political issues, Serazio said.
“Without question, the broader trend over the last decade has been corporations responding to a perceived or real sense that consumers want them to take a stand on political issues that they wouldn’t have done before.”
But corporations simultaneously shovel money into the coffers of the very politicians who engineer the policies the companies claim to detest.
A report this month by Public Citizen, a government watchdog, found corporations had given more than $50m in campaign donations in recent years to legislators who advanced anti-voter laws and promoted Donald Trump’s big election lie.
Josh Silver, director of Represent.us, a non-partisan elections reform group, said corporations have “an extraordinarily important role” to play in the struggle over voting rights and there was “cause for hope”.
“But it’s also practical for them,” Silver said. “They have to choose whether to side with an increasingly authoritarian [Republican party], or the majority of their workers and their consumers.
“This is not just altruism.”
“White nationalism is on the rise and worming itself into the Republican mainstream. The country is experiencing a “racial justice crisis,” as Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, told a virtual Howard University audience this week.
Yet, that’s not what’s dominating the front pages or cable news shows. Instead, the Biden administration is being subjected to “horse race” reporting that pays more attention to whether the president is winning or losing against Republican rivals on a range of issues — infrastructure, gun control, climate change, withdrawal from Afghanistan, you name it — than to the substance and merit of the issues themselves. Public life in Washington is once again being reduced to a competitive game between Democrats and Republicans — who’s ahead, who’s behind in the battle over who knows what.
However, some of today’s issues are more than passing fancies that grab public attention until the next big thing comes along. One that looms large with those of us deeply concerned about the health of our democracy: the Republican voter suppression crusade that will diminish access to the ballot for people of color.
It is an existential threat to an essential right of U.S. citizenship — the freedom to vote in open elections.
Staring us in the face are 361 restrictive bills by mostly Republican state legislatures across the country that, at bottom, aim to curb voter participation. The supposed rationale for the open assault on voting rights is the baseless charge of voter fraud and irregularities in the 2020 election leveled by the defeated president, Donald Trump, and echoed by his flock of followers.
The real motivation, however, was the historic turnout for that election, and the color of so many of the folks who got off their sofas and on their feet to cast ballots for Joe Biden and Kamala D. Harris. And who, in Georgia, went on to confound the pundits and flip the state — and the U.S. Senate — for the Democrats.
As the Rev. Jesse Jackson put it back in 1981 when confronted with resistance to court-ordered busing, “It ain’t the bus, it’s us.”
It was the sight of Blacks and other people of color standing in long lines to vote or leaving their homes to mail in ballots that prompted Republican statehouses to start cracking the whip on those uppity voters.
Anyone concerned about protecting what recently elected Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D-Ga.) calls “the infrastructure of our democracy” would do well to focus their gaze on history.
The 15th Amendment gave Black men the right to vote, leading to the election of many Black men to public offices in the 1870s in states of the Old Confederacy. Citizenship was no longer a distant dream.
That is, until the late 1870s, when it all fell apart. Southern states, freed from Reconstruction and federal oversight by the Compromise of 1877, passed Jim Crow laws — including such measures as the poll tax, grandfather clauses and allowing strong doses of violence and intimidation — to revive Black disenfranchisement by the beginning of the 20th century.
A trail of blood still stains the path from the Jim Crow era to the Voting Rights Act, which outlawed legal barriers at the state and local levels to voting by Blacks. But the struggle was worth the pain.
Eight days after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act on Aug. 6, 1965, federal voting examiners arrived in Selma, Ala., and registered 381 new Black voters — more than had managed to register in Selma’s county during the preceding 65 years. By November, the county had 8,000 new Black voters.
In Mississippi, the percentage of eligible Black voters registered rocketed from 7 percent in 1964 to 67 percent in 1969. The political landscape changed, too. In 1965, there were a total of 72 Black elected officials in the jurisdictions the act targeted for “special” oversight; nearly 10 years later, there were nearly 1,000.
But guess what? In 2013, the Supreme Court, with a majority of Republican-nominated justices, concluded that 48 years after passage of the Voting Rights Act, everything was just peachy keen down South, so there was no longer a need for Southern states to get federal preclearance to impose restrictions on voting. Within hours of the decision, states were off to the races with new Jim Crow-style voting restrictions. And the same thing is happening now in response to Democratic gains fueled by Black voters last year.
So that is really what’s at stake at this moment. Are we about to return to the days when White political leaders and election officials got away with depressing turnout by people they think of as enemies?
The For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act are designed to protect voting rights and bring equity and accountability to our system. Both bills, passed by the House and now pending in the Senate, face strong Republican opposition led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Horse-race reporting might be focused on who’s winning and losing in these early months of the Biden administration. But if Republicans win their voter suppression campaigns, the biggest loser of all will be American democracy.”
Friday, April 16, 2021
Thursday, April 15, 2021
“Yang’s position has put a target on his back, and as the race is beginning to heat up, he finds himself attacked on all sides
Two days before Andrew Yang announced he was running to be New York City’s next mayor, he made a remarkable admission.
As Covid-19 ravaged the city – more than 50,000 people have succumbed to the virus – the tech entrepreneur had left town, retreating to his second home north of New York.
“We live in a two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan,” Yang told an interviewer to explain his decision. “And so, like, can you imagine trying to have two kids on virtual school in a two-bedroom apartment, and then trying to do work yourself?”
Many New Yorkers couldn’t just imagine it, they had lived it – as Yang’s mayoral rivals were quick to point out. But if New York election watchers were expecting that moment to torpedo Yang’s campaign, they were wrong.
Despite a slew of other missteps – Yang’s ill-advised plan to crackdown on unlicensed street vendors, many of whom are impoverished immigrants, and his enthusiastic National Pet’s Day confession that he had given away his pet dog – Yang has led his Democratic competitors in polling since he announced his candidacy.
Yang’s name recognition has undoubtedly helped. The 46-year-old might have failed in his 2020 presidential bid, but along the way he became one of the most talked-about candidates, winning a diehard “Yang Gang” group of supporters through his effervescent personality and his bold commitment to a universal basic income, which would grant $1,000-a-month to US citizens.
A New Yorker who doesn’t keep a keen eye on local affairs is still likely to have heard of Yang, but might be less aware of rivals like Eric Adams, Scott Stringer, Maya Wiley and Dianne Morales, who have spent their careers working largely away from the headlines in local New York politics or activism.
Yang’s position as frontrunner has put a target on his back, even if “undecided” remains the number one choice for New Yorkers. With the first Democratic primary debates scheduled for 13 May, the race is beginning to heat up, and as New Yorkers begin to pay more attention, Yang has found himself attacked on all sides.
First Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president who is polling second, wrongly said Yang had “never held a job in his entire life” and accused him of abandoning New York City at “its darkest moment”. Yang’s campaign said Adams had “crossed a line with his false and reprehensible attacks”.
“We can’t have a leader who tweets first and thinks second,” Stringer, who has also criticized Yang’s transport ideas, said. He added: “Cracking down on street vendors is part of the criminalization of poverty.”
At times it has felt like open season on Yang, who has also been criticized by Maya Wiley, who if elected would be New York City’s first female mayor. “New York is not another startup where Andrew Yang can play with other people’s money and fail up,” Wiley said in a scathing statement.
Yang’s first start-up, which aimed to help celebrities give money to charity, failed, but his involvement with a testing preparation company called Manhattan GMAT was more successful, and made him a millionaire.
For all the mudslinging, Yang has plenty going for him. He’s the best known, and an affable, engaging campaigner with a knack for making headlines, even if sometimes for the wrong reasons. He has managed to engage New Yorkers where others have struggled, whether by releasing a campaign rap video – Yang does not rap in it – or pitching pie-in-the-sky ideas like building a casino on New York’s Governors Island, a concept explicitly barred by a federal deed.
He has plenty of money too, although the projected $6.5m he raised in the first two months of his campaign is less than the $8m Adams had on hand in mid-March. On Tuesday Politico reported that three political action committees – groups which support, but are officially unconnected to a politician’s campaign – were coalescing behind Yang, aiming to raise $6m for TV ads. At least one other committee has also started fundraising against Yang.
So can he win?
“My gut instinct is to say no,” John Mollenkopf, distinguished professor of political science at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, said. “He doesn’t really have much of a solid organic connection to constituencies in New York City. He may have a kind of name recognition, a public popularity, [he’s a] fun guy, [and] I think New Yorkers do like people who rock the boat, who are a little bit insouciant in the way they consider the political establishment.”
Mollenkopf added: “But that’s not the same thing as sufficiently deep political support to mobilize the kind of forces that are necessary to turn out a majority in a Democratic primary election.”
While Yang has dominated the headlines, other candidates have been gobbling up endorsements from key unions and progressive groups. On Wednesday the Working Families Party, a progressive party which endorses Democratic candidates, chose Stringer as its first choice, Dianne Morales as second choice, and Maya Wiley as third choice. Yang was not mentioned.
Wiley, who previously served as counsel to current mayor Bill de Blasio, also wonthe coveted endorsement of 1199SEIU, the union which represents New York City’s healthcare workers and comprises a majority of women of color. Adams has been endorsed by more than a dozen unions and organizations, as has Stringer.
If those groups can turn out members, it could spell trouble for Yang, who will be fearful of repeating his last election bid.
In 2020 Yang became one of the most talked about figures in the Democratic presidential primary, but couldn’t translate that into votes. He finished a distant sixth in Iowa and an even more distant eighth in New Hampshire, before dropping out of the race.
In New York City mayoral elections, being the frontrunner can be a poisoned chalice. At this stage in 2013, De Blasio was far from being the favorite, while Michael Bloomberg came from behind to win in 2001.
To add to the uncertainty, this year the Democratic mayoral candidate will be selected by ranked choice voting for the first time, further muddying the waters. When the Democratic primary takes place on 22 June, Yang will hope to buck the previous trends.
“John Boehner first realized “the crazies” were taking over the Republican Party during the 2008 financial crisis, two years before the tea party wave made him speaker of the House and seven years before Donald Trump descended a golden escalator to run for president.
The moment of clarity came when 133 House Republicans voted down a $700 billion rescue package sought by President George W. Bush. To Boehner, then minority leader, these members seemed more worried about pleasing Fox News’s Sean Hannity than preventing another Great Depression. Four days later, after tanking markets wiped out trillions of dollars in wealth, Boehner twisted enough arms to pass the bailout, but 108 of his members still voted no.
“None of the so-called conservatives who were willing to blow up our economy ever paid any price,” Boehner laments in “On the House,” his memoir that published Tuesday. “It was a story I would see played out over and over again in the next few years.”
Boehner is correct, if not blameless, in his diagnosis of what caused the GOP to become unable to govern responsibly or effectively: The lack of meaningful consequences for political arsonists since 2008 has warped incentives for ambitious Republicans, radicalizing the party and paving the road that led to the attack against democracy itself on Jan. 6. “The legislative terrorism that I’d witnessed as Speaker had now encouraged actual terrorism,” Boehner writes.
Boehner calls Trump “a product of the chaos we’ve seen in our political process” since 2008, but he also admits he voted to reelect the former president last November because he liked his judicial nominees. He writes that he went along with shutting down the government in 2013, even though he knew the strategy to defund Obamacare was reckless and futile. “Sometimes you have to let people blow themselves up to make a point,” he explains. The former Ohio congressman concludes his book, written from retirement in Florida, by calling the failed insurrection “a wake-up call for a return to Republican sanity.”
Three months later, no one can argue that’s happened. Sen. Josh Hawley said he will “never apologize” for organizing efforts to reject Joe Biden’s electors, alongside Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), whom Boehner describes as “head lunatic.” Hawley’s move alienated mentors and early supporters, but he raised more than $3 million from 57,000 small-dollar donors in the three months after Jan. 6. The junior senator from Missouri now finds himself inundated with invitations to speak at Lincoln Day dinners.
And, entirely foreseeable, several corporations that suspended donations after Jan. 6 have resumed writing checks to lawmakers who voted against certifying Biden’s victory. JetBlue was first to back off, contributing to Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.), who is a member of the committee with jurisdiction over aviation.
Trump, a registered Democrat until 2009, hijacked the GOP five years ago. Republican leaders are terrified of the ex-president’s sway with the grass roots, but they also suffer from Stockholm syndrome. How else can you explain last weekend’s Republican National Committee gathering at Mar-a-Lago?
The former president, repeating false claims that he won in November and keeping the door open to running again in 2024, used his Saturday speech to again attack Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as a “dumb son of a bitch” for not trying to overturn the election. The minority leader holds Trump responsible for provoking Jan. 6, which McConnell called a “disgraceful dereliction of duty,” yet nevertheless voted to acquit him after his second impeachment trial. He declined to respond to Trump’s latest broadside. The same weekend, Sen. Rick Scott (Fla.), the National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman, presented Trump with a “Champion for Freedom” award, a prize created for their meeting.
While individual members have yet to pay a discernible price for playing these games, the antics have taken a toll on the party’s brand. Fresh Gallup pollingshows 49 percent of Americans identify with or lean toward Democrats, compared to 40 percent for Republicans. That’s the widest gap since 2012.
Boehner believes neither he nor former president Ronald Reagan could win as Republicans today. But there are no indications GOP leaders will listen to his calls for “sanity.” When someone with a sense of humor dropped off a signed copy of Boehner’s book at Cruz’s office, the Texan tweeted a picture of the gift in his fireplace. “The appropriate place,” Cruz wrote.
For his part, Boehner remains angry at Republicans who voted against the Troubled Asset Relief Program in 2008, which he calls “one of the more successful economic measures ever passed by Congress.” He notes that all the money spent was paid back, with interest, by the companies saved from collapse.
Rage Is the Only Language I Have Left Society has become horribly desensitized to police killings of Black men.
Society has become horribly desensitized to police killings of Black men.
“One of the first times I wrote about the police killing of an unarmed Black man was when Michael Brown was gunned down in the summer of 2014 in Ferguson, Mo. Brown was a Black teenager accused of an infraction in a convenience store just before his life was taken. Last summer, six years on, I wrote about George Floyd, a large Black man accused of an infraction in a convenience store, this time in Minneapolis.
Both men were killed in the street in broad daylight. Brown was shot. An officer knelt on Floyd’s neck. In both cases there were multiple community witnesses to the killings. In both cases there was a massive outcry. In both cases the men were accused of contributing to, or causing, their own deaths, in part because they had illegal drugs in their systems.
Between those two killings there has been a depressing number of others. In January of 2015, The Washington Post began maintaining a database of all known fatal shootings by the police in America. Every year, the police shot and killed roughly 1,000 people. But, as The Post points out, Black Americans are killed at a much higher rate than white Americans, and the data revealed that unarmed Black people account for about 40 percent of the unarmed Americans killed by the police, despite making up only about 13 percent of the American population.
Something is horrifyingly wrong. And yet, the killings keep happening. Brown and Floyd are not even the bookends. There were many before them, and there will be many after.
These killings often happen during the day and in public, not under the cover of night, tucked away in some back wood. And they are often caught on video. Tamir Rice was killed during the day. There was video. Walter Scott was killed during the day. There was video. Eric Garner was killed during the day. There was video.
Now there is another: Daunte Wright, shot and killed during the day in Brooklyn Center, Minn., not far from where Floyd was killed. There is video.
Very little has changed. The aftermath of these killings has become a pattern, a ritual, that produces its own normalizing and desensitizing effects. We can now anticipate the explosions of rage as well and the relative intransigence of the political system in response.
That is not to say that absolutely nothing has changed, but rather that the changes amount to tinkering, when in fact our whole system of policing must be re-evaluated and fundamentally altered.
That examination, oddly enough, starts with gun control. The police justify their militarization and armed-and-ready positioning, by correctly observing that they can be outgunned by a public with such easy access to guns, including military-style guns.
But once they are armed and anxious, they can be that way in all cases: against an armed suspect as well as one who is unarmed. To all interactions, they can bring personal biases, some of which they don’t even know they possess. And, in the blink of an eye, something tragic can be done, something that can’t be undone.
In addition, municipalities can deploy officers as a malicious arm of urban planning as well as a profit-generating enterprise. Police officers in gentrifying neighborhoods can make new arrivals feel safe by controlling and correcting existing residents. They can also be used to generate funds from fines to keep budgets in balance. All of this increases tense contacts between officers and citizens, so that even though only a tiny fraction lead to deaths, that fraction can still feel overwhelming.
It is all so perverse. And too often it is Black people, particularly Black men, who bear the brunt when all this pressure culminates in a killing.
So, it becomes hard to write about this in a newspaper because it is no longer new. The news of these killings is not that they are interruptions of the norm, but a manifestation of the norm.
There is no new angle. There is no new hot take. There is very little new to be revealed. These killings are not continuing to happen due to a lack of exposure, but in spite of it. Our systems of law enforcement, criminal justice and communal consciousness have adjusted themselves to a banal barbarism.
This has produced in me and many others an inextinguishable rage, a calcification of contempt. As for me, I no longer even attempt to manage or direct my rage. I simply sit with it, face it like an adversary staring across a campfire, waiting to see how I am moved to act, but not proscribing that action and definitely not allowing society’s idea of decorum to proscribe it.
A society that treats this much Black death at the hands of the state as collateral damage in a just war on crime has no decorum to project. That society is savage.
I am also no longer interested in talking about Black pain and Black trauma. (I am becoming ever more convinced that there is a prurient interest in gawking at Black suffering rather than a genuine desire to remedy it.) I now focus on my rage.
I’m sure that pain and trauma are present in me, but I’m choosing to subjugate their import. Rage has ascended to my position of primacy. America scoffed and was unmoved when, for years, we spoke out of our pain. So be it. Now, rage is the only language I have left.“