Saturday, April 30, 2016

Sorry You Drug Me into This

When the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) was passed in 2010, the Obama administration succumbed to pressure from the pharmaceutical lobby and kowtowed to pressure to keep Americans from legally accessing foreign markets, notably Canada and Western Europe, for vastly less-expensive prescriptions. Same medicines, different prices. The misplaced rational was an inability to assure Americans of the quality of their international purchases, even though it would have been a short step for the government to certify the standards of many countries as compliant with U.S. standards.
As a result, Americans pay the highest prices for prescription pharmaceuticals of any developed country on earth, sometimes incredible multiples of what foreigners in developed nations pay for the same products (many of which are actually fabricated overseas). To make matters worse, the pharma lobby made sure that the Act did not allow the healthcare exchanges created under that statute to use their size and buying power to force the purveyors of prescription drugs to negotiate lower prices for their consumers. They had to pay the posted prices without question.
Everyone knows how absolutely inane this effective subsidy to the big pharmas is, and their profit margins speak for themselves. They cry that they need such outrageous mark-up to support research for new drugs flies in the face that everywhere else in the developed world, these providers are living quite comfortably with significantly lower price points. Further, there is little rational for the United States’ subsidizing the global research market, when we only represent 5% of the earth’s total population.
As Congress begins to address this slam to the average American consumer, it is equally clear that congress-people – with their campaign funding hands constantly out, a factor made so much worse by the Citizens United decision – remain a soft touch to the pharma lobby. And trust me, it’s not just Republican legislators who are slopping at the pharma campaign funding trough, even though the GOP position is to stop this effort dead in its tracks.
“A group of House Democrats is organizing an effort that could slow down an Obama administration plan to reduce drug prices, according to a letter obtained by The Huffington Post.
“The Department of Health and Human Services is working toward finalizing a new rule that would experiment with ending the financial incentive doctors have for prescribing some extremely expensive medications. The rule has been well-received among some patient advocates, but congressional Democrats have been largely silent, while the pharmaceutical industry and medical community have waged an aggressive campaign to stop it.
“The campaign is bearing fruit. The letter from House Democrats, according to Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), was made necessary because Big Pharma and oncologist lobbyists had pushed many Democrats to the brink of signing a much more aggressive Republican letter. The letter expresses concerns with the proposed rule, but doesn’t call for it to be withdrawn.
“‘Members are outlining their concerns, but this letter is in furtherance of getting an effective rule in place under the current timeline. This in no way is an effort to slow down or undermine the administration’ s efforts,’ Hammill told HuffPost after this story published.
“On [April 27th], Hammill said: ‘A number of members have expressed concern about the scope and size of this initiative while recognizing problems with current payment rules. Leader Pelosi hopes that CMS will continue to actively engage members and advocacy organizations as the particulars of this test are finalized.’… Hammill said Pelosi is urging members to sign the letter, which is being circulated by Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.).” Huffington Post, April 27th.
Feeling impending significant price increases for Obamacare policies plus the intended withdrawal by United Healthcare from the relevant exchanges, the administration needs to find someplace to reduce healthcare costs in not just the Affordable Care Act but in Medicaid and Medicare as well.
“The Medicare drugs proposal is part of a larger push by the White House to tackle prescription drug costs, which are rising rapidly even as costs in other parts of the health care system have grown more slowly in recent years. The administration is limited in what it can do to ameliorate drug spending without new legislation, but convened a forum at the White House in November to air the issue and has issued a slate of smaller reforms.” Huffington Post.
Republican efforts to repeal the entirety of the Affordable Care Act, rather than simply fix its obvious flaws, has played very nicely into the hands of the special interests who have benefited by carefully-crafted clauses allowing them to maximize their profits… like big pharma. Historically, every piece of seminal social legislation, from income taxes to Social Security, has gone through a process of fine-tuning amendments, but not the Affordable Care Act. However, since just about everything in this country has tilted towards the will of the power elite, the fundamental essence of a plutocracy, it does seem that the will of the majority of the American people is a secondary afterthought. And we wonder why populism in both parties has risen to the level we are witnessing today.
I’m Peter Dekom, and either the playing field’s tilt will be leveled or we can watch this country self-destruct.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Put Your Feet up on the Ottoman and Set a Spell

The Ottoman Empire ruled most of the Islamic world for a very long time, from its capital, Istanbul (an alternative pronunciation of Constantinople), which it conquered in 1365. The Ottoman sultans began in a violent blaze of glory, guardians of most of the Sunni vision of Islam, in 1299. Eventually, they controlled a vast portion of the Balkans, the Middle East and the lands around the Mediterranean, as the above map of Ottoman holdings in 1609 (Wikipedia) illustrates. But lethargy, incompetence and corruption led to the Empire’s earning the epithet of the “Sick Man of Europe” in the latter part of the 19th century. Western nations – France and England at the fore – began controlling Ottoman territories in North Africa and the Middle East even before those areas were officially cleansed of their Ottoman status.
In an effort to rekindle Ottoman pride and control against a world of modern warfare, in the early 20th century, the Ottomans enlisted Germany to provide training and armaments for their hopelessly antiquated military. That fateful decision put the Empire on the losing side of World War I, as a treaty ally of Germany, leading to the rather dramatic collapse of the Ottomans in 1922. Old world values, a country that was literally governed in accordance with Islamic teachings, seemed out-of-place in a world where modernity and relevance trampled old-world Islamic values that had defined the Ottoman Empire. As the old Ottoman lands were carved up among the Western victors, all that was left to the Istanbul leaders was what we today call Turkey.
A new leadership, focused on modernity, stepped into the fray. Mustapha Kamal Atatürk “was a military officer during World War I. Following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, he led the Turkish National Movement in the Turkish War of Independence. Having established a provisional government in Ankara, he defeated the forces sent by the Allies, eventually leading to victory in the Turkish War of Independence. Atatürk then embarked upon a program of political, economic, and cultural reforms, seeking to transform the former Ottoman Empire into a modern and secular nation-state. Under his leadership, thousands of new schools were built, primary education was made free and compulsory, and women were given equal civil and political rights, while the burden of taxation on peasants was reduced. His government also carried out an extensive policy of Turkification. The principles of Atatürk's reforms, upon which modern Turkey was established, are referred to as Kemalism.” Wikipedia. Arabic script was replaced with a Latin alphabet.
But that was then. It’s no secret that there has been a global rise in political leaders from secular Muslim nations increasingly gravitating toward moving Islamic principles back into government, a very anti-Kemalism stance. We watched as the Muslim Brotherhood was swept into power over Egypt with the election of arch-Sunni fundamentalist, President Mohamed Morsi, who was quickly deposed and dispatched by the Egyptian military. In Turkey, however, the imposition of traditional Islamic values (mostly Sunni principles) into the body politic has been the long-standing policy of President Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling AK Party.
Turkey is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim, but a fifth of its 78 million people is estimated to be Alevi, which draws from Shi'a, Sufi and Anatolian folk traditions. Turkey is also home to about 100,000 Christians and 17,000 Jews… A Pew survey from 2013 showed 12 percent of Turks want Sharia, a legal framework regulated by the tenets of Islam, to be official law.” Reuters, April 26th. But Erdogan has plans to move away from secularism, and his efforts to inculcate these Sunni values into government are accompanied by efforts to solidify his personal power over Turkey.
Despite protests from urban young, Turkey has slowly veered right, embracing an increasingly traditional role for religion in government. The AK Party is now suggesting that perhaps that religious doctrine needs to be part of a new Turkish constitution, a fact rather openly stated by speaker of the Turkish Parliament. “Speaker Ismail Kahraman said late on [April 25th] that overwhelmingly Muslim Turkey needed a religious constitution, a proposal which contradicts the modern republic's founding principles. He later said his comments were ‘personal views’ and that the new constitution should guarantee religious freedoms…
“President Tayyip Erdogan and the ruling AK Party he founded, their roots in political Islam, have tried to restore the role of religion in public life. They have expanded religious education and allowed the head scarf, once banned from state offices, to be worn in colleges and parliament.
“The AKP is pushing to replace the existing constitution, which dates back to the period after a 1980 military coup. As speaker, Kahraman is overseeing efforts to draft a new text… ‘For one thing, the new constitution should not have secularism,’ Kahraman said, according to videos of his speech published by Turkish media. ‘It needs to discuss religion ... It should not be irreligious, this new constitution, it should be a religious constitution.’” Reuters. Muslim values? Or Sunni Muslim values? Clearly the latter.
Why does this remotely matter? Because Turkey is both a NATO power and sits in one of the most strategic spots in the battle to contain the Islamic State (ISIS), an extreme Sunni force. Turkey represents one of the main gateways for desperate migrants leaving Syria for Europe and has a military that would be a necessary component in a ground war against ISIS. But with its military focused on eradicating Kurdish forces (separatists within Turkey) – who have been particularly effective against ISIS – and its movement towards Islamic (Sunni) law being layered into the Turkish constitution, it is clear that this predominantly Sunni country is pulling away from its adherence to Western values and alliances.
I’m Peter Dekom, and in what appears to be a greater and rising “war of civilizations” between fundamentalist/jihadist Islam and much of the rest of the world, American policy-makers are increasingly wondering on which side Turkey will really be.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Shame on What Matters to Too Many Voters

The canary in the coal mine is how the seemingly least relevant issue facing our nation is becoming the battleground, the litmus test, between liberals and conservatives all across states where there is a relatively even split between left and right. Gender requirements regarding the use of bathrooms open to the public. People running for office will win or lose votes depending on how they stand (sit?) on that singular issue, one that has no serious impact on macro-economic issues (unless your state is facing a boycott from one side or the other for your political choices), national security or general well-being.
But those economic boycotts are also ripping apart business communities, traditionally Republican but who are suffering the boycott losses rather directly, and values-oriented Evangelicals who cling to their anti-LGBT values with fierce tenacity, come hell (pun intended) or high water (sorry flood victims).
The April 25th New York Times provides this example from North Carolina, a state with equalized right and left factions that just passed a controversial statute requiring people to use public-access restrooms in accordance with their biological gender. “Parrish Clodfelter, a 79-year-old retiree who lives on a central North Carolina farm, professes opinions about transgender people that might get him fired if he worked for a multinational corporation, though for many here, they constitute simple country wisdom.
“‘A man wants to change to a woman, he’s got a mental problem,’ Mr. Clodfelter said on Wednesday over lunch at Spiro’s Family Restaurant, where posters by the door advertised classes on carrying concealed weapons and a ‘Hillbilly Sunday’ Pentecostal church service.
“But Mr. Clodfelter has a different kind of problem. As a longtime Republican, he wants to support Pat McCrory, North Carolina’s Republican governor, in his re-election bid. At the same time, he is worried about the boycotts and lost jobs resulting from the law the governor signed in March that limits transgender bathroom access and eliminates antidiscrimination protections for gay and transgender people.
“If the backlash continues, Mr. Clodfelter said, he will consider voting for Mr. McCrory’s Democratic opponent, Roy Cooper, who supports the law’s repeal... ‘I’m afraid if they don’t change it,’ he said, ‘it’ll hurt the state.’…
“Now the law, and the backlash against it, have introduced a different kind of volatile energy to state politics here, roiling a governor’s race that could be the nation’s most competitive. It is also affecting other crucial contests, including that of Senator Richard Burr, who hopes to fend off a vigorous Democratic challenge from Deborah K. Ross, a former State House member and former state director of the American Civil Liberties Union.
“Last week, Mr. Burr, who has defended the law, came under attack from Democrats who have leapt at the chance to transform a cultural issue into an economic one, as the state has suffered the retreat of protesting companies, including PayPal, which canceled a plan to bring more than 400 jobs to Charlotte. On Thursday, the N.B.A. commissioner, Adam Silver, said the league would move its 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte if the law were not changed.” McCrory’s popularity in the polls is slipping fast, but the Evangelicals are digging their heels in. That even GOP-frontrunner, Donald Trump, seems open to LGBTs is deeply troubling for these religious conservatives.
“Thus far, the uproar may be doing the most harm to Mr. McCrory, an affable former mayor of Charlotte who has struggled, since taking office in 2013, to maintain his reputation as a moderate in the face of a Republican-dominated legislature that is considerably more conservative than he is.
“An Elon University poll conducted from April 10 to 15 showed Mr. Cooper, the state’s longtime attorney general, leading Mr. McCrory 48 percent to 42 percent among registered voters. It was Mr. Cooper’s largest lead in the five polls that Elon has conducted in the last year.
‘‘But November is a long way off, and social issues reverberate in complex ways in a state that has a reputation for moderation but also produced Jesse Helms, the arch-conservative United States senator. Carter Wrenn, a longtime political strategist who worked with Mr. Helms, said Democrats had been winning arguments over the law of late. But he said Republicans would have time to make the case to voters that the law helps ensure privacy and security in public restrooms… ‘We’re not sure how this is all going to turn out,’ Mr. Wrenn said.
‘‘The issue is particularly troublesome for Mr. McCrory. Exit polls from 2012 show that he received the support of 49 percent of voters who described themselves as moderate and 19 percent of self-described liberals.
‘‘Mr. McCrory, 59, last week could barely contain his irritation that the law had taken center stage in the election, siphoning attention from his central message: that he has been a wise steward of the economy who had engineered what he and his team have branded the ‘Carolina Comeback.’
“This hornet’s nest, he argued, was first kicked not by him, but by the Democratic City Council in Charlotte, which passed a nondiscrimination ordinance in February allowing transgender people to use men’s or women’s bathrooms. Before it passed, he said, he emailed the Council to warn it that if it changed ‘basic restroom and locker room norms,’ he would be forced to support a state law overriding them.
“On [April 21st], he said he suspected that the entire matter had been orchestrated by Democrats and the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights group, to give Democrats an advantage in a tight governor’s race.” NY Times. But this consternation, easy to identify and clearly stated, is hardly the be-all-and-end-all issue for this election. The bigger issue is a perspective from social conservatives, white Protestant conservatives with traditional rural values, that demographic changes are forever altering their relevance, their basic values and position in the American body politic. It’s a whole lot more than bathroom choice.
Relying on voter ID laws that mostly exclude liberal voters, gerrymandering that marginalizes Democrats or enjoying the basic structure of our constitutional democracy that clearly favors states and rural populations over cities and urban power is slowly vaporizing under a tsunami of ethnic and minority growth and demographic dominance. The upcoming 2020 Census will probably confirm social conservatives’ worst fears, require a shift in congressional districts and represent the end of rural-values dominance in American politics forever.
What’s worse for social conservatives is the relative tolerance by Millennials for alternative lifestyles, who are vastly more likely to embrace the Democratic Party over the GOP alternatives. A 2014 Pew Study says it all: “Overall, Millennials (currently ages 18-33) are the most liberal age group. In our report on Political Polarization in the American Public, we used a scale based on 10 political values questions about the role of government, the environment, homosexuality and other issues to measure ideological consistency. This survey of more than 10,000 Americans finds that, on this scale, Millennials are considerably more liberal than other generations: About four-in-ten Millennials are mostly (28%) or consistently (13%) liberal in their views, compared with 15% who are mostly (12%) or consistently (3%) conservative (44% are ideologically mixed). Older generations are progressively more conservative.
“The relative liberalism of Millennials translates into a greater likelihood of affiliating with or leaning toward the Democratic Party compared with those in older generations. Today, about half of Millennials (50%) are Democrats or lean to the Democratic Party, while just 34% affiliate with or lean to the GOP. By comparison, Baby Boomers (those ages 50 to 68) lean slightly Democratic (46% Democratic/Democratic leaning, 42% Republican/Republican leaning), while those in the Silent generation (ages 69 to 86) are about evenly divided (47% Republican/Republican leaning, 44% Democratic/Democratic leaning).
“But in addition to the generation’s Democratic tendency, Millennials who identify with the GOP are also less conservative than Republicans in other generations: Among the roughly one-third of Millennials who affiliate with or lean Republican, just 31% have a mix of political values that are right-of-center, while about half (51%) take a mix of liberal and conservative positions and 18% have consistently or mostly liberal views. Among all Republicans and Republican leaners, 53% have conservative views; in the two oldest generations, Silents and Boomers, about two-thirds are consistently or mostly conservative.” So much for the opinions of the generation rising to power.
The bigger and more interesting question we will face is the longer-term reaction of very well armed social conservatives who will be increasingly excluded from setting American policies and social vectors in the coming years. Will they let go and allow this transition to occur or will they dig in for what they see as a religious mandate? The Civil War was pretty much motivated by the same levels of passions and concerns… and we seem to be rising to the same issues (minus slavery) again.
I’m Peter Dekom, and if this entire nation cannot become “Americans” again, exactly what will become of this nation?

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Lying with Numbers – Advanced Course

How can you tell a politician is lying, goes the old joke? His/her lips are moving. Pinocchios are liberally being handed out daily in this fact-averse primary season. In recent blogs, we’ve seen how governments take credit for ‘growth’ – ‘growth’ that eschews obvious hard dollar costs like the exhaustion of natural resources, damage from natural disasters, tax costs of a failed criminal justice system, avoids monetary losses quantifying a contracting middle class and an increasingly impoverished lower class – by using “average” GDP income numbers to claim that their economic policies are actually working… when they are not.
Our entire corporate tax system is skewed in favor of skilled “accrual-based” economics that push taxable earnings forward so the government can feast on monies today that actually have not come in yet. The accrual system of accounting was designed to match manufacturing costs with the revenues that will come in when the goods so manufactured are sold, often in a subsequent year. In the simplest of terms, the expected revenues from future sales are brought back to the year of manufacturing to figure out what the profits will be… and then taxed before they are necessarily received.
Well and good in an earlier era where companies focused on a single line of business, did not have overseas operations, joint ventures, multiple lines of business, service income and lots of subsidiaries. That’s just not the real world today. And since accruing income generates great “earnings” reports, and since share prices are based in part on earnings, many companies don’t mind paying that extra current tax if they can jack up their share prices. In a strange way, the government is complicit in this fraudulent overstatement of value by insisting on the accrual system of accounting.
But to curb abuses and standardize financial statements in the U.S., the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) sets out rules (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles or GAAP, which may differ in different countries) for certified public accountants presenting certified financials, at least allowing apples-to-apples financial comparisons and analyses. They tell you how quickly you can write off expenses, when you can write them off, when to accrue income (and the limits to such accruals), how to treat income from joint ventures and subsidiary operations, etc., etc. The IRS and state tax statutes and regulations put hard boundaries on financial reporting, at least for tax purposes, and in theory, the federal Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) is supposed to regulate public corporate financial statements to protect the public from receiving misleading financial information. In theory.
The SEC requires GAAP accounting in public corporate statements and filings, but the Republican Congress, which has announced to the world that it opposes most forms of federal regulation (particularly in the financial and environmental sectors), has systematically cut the SEC’s budget in hopes that they can deregulate indirectly. The plan worked. So corporations are increasingly releasing financial reports that restate the company’s performance in more flattering terms… and intentionally avoid compliance with GAAP requirement… knowing that the odds of an SEC enforcement action are minimal. Simply, they have a proclivity to overstate earnings and understate costs. Last time companies played this flagrantly with numbers, the SEC reacted quickly and severely. Not happening today.
“Lynn E. Turner was the chief accountant of the S.E.C. during the late 1990s, a period when pro forma figures really started to bloom. New rules were put in place to combat the practice, he said in an interview, but the agency isn’t enforcing them.
“For example, Mr. Turner said, some companies appear to be violating the requirement that they present their non-GAAP numbers no more prominently in their filings than figures that follow accounting rules.
“‘They just need to go do an enforcement case,’ Mr. Turner said of the S.E.C. ‘They are almost creating a culture where it’s better to beg forgiveness than to ask for permission, and that’s always really bad.’
“As it happens, the commission is in the midst of reviewing its corporate disclosure requirements and considering ways to improve its rules ‘for the benefit of both companies and investors.’… This would seem to be a great opportunity to tackle the problem of fake figures. But such work does not appear to rank high on the S.E.C.’s agenda.
“Kara M. Stein, an S.E.C. commissioner, expressed concern about this in a public statement on April 13. Among the questions the S.E.C. was not asking, she said: ‘Should there be changes to our rules to address abuses in the presentation of supplemental non-GAAP disclosure, which may be misleading to investors?’
“With the presidential election looming, [Jack T. Ciesielski, publisher of The Analyst’s Accounting Observer] said it was unlikely that any meaningful rule changes on these types of disclosures would emerge anytime soon. That means investors will remain in the dark when companies don’t disclose the specifics on what they are deducting from their earnings or cash flow calculations.” Gretchen Morgenson writing for the New York Times, April 22nd.
But exactly how prevalent is this trend towards misreporting? “According to a recent study in The Analyst’s Accounting Observer, 90 percent of companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index reported non-GAAP results last year, up from 72 percent in 2009… Regulations still require corporations to report their financial results under accounting rules. But companies often steer investors instead to massaged calculations that produce a better outcome.
“I know, I know — eyes glaze over when the subject is accounting. But the gulf between reality and make-believe in these companies’ operations is so wide that it raises critical questions about whether investors truly understand the businesses they own.
“Among 380 companies that were in existence both last year and in 2009, the study showed, non-GAAP net income was up 6.6 percent in 2015 compared with the previous year… Under generally accepted accounting principles, net income at the same 380 companies in 2015 actually declined almost 11 percent from 2014.” NY Times. And exactly how are taxpayers and shareholders supposed to benefit, how is their government working for them by fostering honesty and transparency, from this complete failure to support the regulatory mandate of the SEC?
I’m Peter Dekom, and how comfortable do you feel living in a society where so many of the most relevant facts and statistics – numbers folks and the government use to create and implement policy and make decisions – are just plain fabricated?

Monday, April 25, 2016

Using Federal Regulatory Agencies to Deny Fair Voting

It’s one thing to embrace a campaign platform that maintains the government over-regulates our commercial activities, slashing regulatory budgets from environmental to financial agencies. It’s quite another to create agencies that are ostensibly charged with maintaining fairness and equality in accessing voting and the election process… but making sure that they support eliminating the less affluent (read: Democrats) and super-charging the impact of those who support the wealthy (read: Republicans).
We all know about the thrust of Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission (Supreme Court 2010), unleashing political fund-raising, proselytizing SuperPacs, allowing the wealthy to support any issue or candidate they wish without financial controls and limits as long as their efforts are not coordinated with or directed by candidates and that their donors are disclosed. Indeed, it is the F.E.C. that is the relevant watchdog agency, but it was purposely created to remain impotent and deadlocked between two equal factions: three GOP commissioners – who rather overtly have open hostility to any attempt to impose any meaningful limits on these contribution machines – and three Democrats – who think their mission is to enforce the law.
Even the Chair of the F.E.C., Ann M Ravel (Obama appointment), has railed at the gridlock and impotence of her agency, calling it publicly, “worse than dysfunctional.” The agency has failed to issue any meaningful rules on what constitutes sufficient legally-required “disclosure” of contributors (hence folks create companies that make the actual donations, which companies are disclosed, while those owning the companies often are cloaked in secrecy) and has refused to allow investigations and prosecutions of purported and illicit direct linkage, coordination and direction of SuperPac efforts by candidates themselves.
But the F.E.C. is not the only federal agency that is eroding the Congressional intent of insuring fair elections. The April 8th New York Times explains: “The federal Election Assistance Commission was formed after the disputed 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore and given an innocuous name and a seemingly inoffensive mission: to help state election officials make it easier to vote.
“In this ideologically riven election season, it turns out, that is not easy at all… The election commission is in federal court this month, essentially accused of trying to suppress voter turnout in this November’s election. The Justice Department, its nominal legal counsel, has declined to defend it. Its case instead is being pleaded by one of the nation’s leading advocates of voting restrictions. The agency’s chairman has disavowed its actions.
“The quarrel exemplifies how the mere act of voting has become enmeshed in volatile partisan politics. Seventeen states will impose new voting restrictions for November’s presidential election. Many are the object of disputes between those who say they are rooting out voter fraud and those who say the real goal is to keep Democratic-leaning voters from casting ballots.
“The lawsuit’s origin is straightforward. The agency’s executive director, Brian D. Newby, had been in his job less than three months in January when he unilaterally reversed a policy that the body’s commissioners, two Democrats and two Republicans, had endorsed since the agency’s creation in 2002: that people registering to vote need offer no proof, beyond swearing an oath, that they are American citizens.
“That decision gave Kansas, Georgia and Alabama officials a blessing to alter the federal voter registration applications handed out in motor vehicle offices and many other state agencies, replacing the oath with something stiffer: a demand for proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate.
“There was but one problem, critics say: Mr. Newby had no authority to make policy, a power reserved for the agency’s four commissioners… Mr. Newby calls his decision an administrative matter, not policy. He has said that he did not change the registration form, but merely its instructions, although federal administrative code calls the instructions part of the form.
“‘It wasn’t a ruling so much as a response to a request,’ he said. ‘I wasn’t looking at it through the lens of proof of citizenship. I was looking at it as state law that necessitated changes in the instructions.’
“Critics see something different… ‘It’s trench warfare in the battle of voter suppression,’ said Lloyd Leonard, the advocacy director of the League of Women Voters, the leader of the lawsuit against the commission.”
Add to this morass of voter manipulation the hideous practice of gerrymandering voters into irrelevance, where state legislatures draw congressional voting districts. For example, in highly illiberal Texas, the capital city of Austin is so far left that even New Yorkers blanch. But by corralling voters with carefully drawn districts (four of the five reach far, far into the rural hinterlands around Austin to envelop a majority of conservatives, so only one district reflects the Democratic character of the city), Austin sends four exceptionally conservative representatives to Washington (and one Dem) to represent a very liberal urban reality.
Not wanting to face the reality of demographically complex redistricting – a feat that courts are not well-structured to implement – even the Supreme Court has tried to sidestep challenges to gerrymandering, no matter how blatant and exclusionary the efforts might be. How these conservative incumbents will operate after the 2020 Census (which is the basis for how voting districts should be determined) will test the limits of their imagination… but if recent history is any indication, that won’t stop them. How will the courts respond when the unfairness screams at them?
In the end, we see a nation that has become a majority of minorities, a terrifying reality to the traditional white Christian (Protestant) rural values that still define a majority of state legislatures and governors. On a pure popular basis, these new members of the “majority of minorities” would simply overwhelm the traditionalists and so many of their values, from open acceptance of LGBT citizens and their right to pursue their own vision of life to gender pay equality or pro-choice values. Global warming would become a Congressional action point, and Wall Street would find lots of new strings attached.
But rural traditionalists and the big commercial interests that support their social causes to get lower taxes and less regulation can only maintain their restraints through making sure that voters who disagree with their values simply do not rise to a voting level to implement changes. But it is precisely this unlevel playing field, a game with lots of exclusionary rules, that is creating the polarization that is tearing this country apart. We must either learn to live together or watch America unravel.
I’m Peter Dekom, and perhaps those promulgating unfairness actually believe that the can contain the growing anger at the containment programs they are shoving on the growing majority of Americans.