Civic Engagement Category
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Friday, March 30th, 2012
VIDEO: Former Marine Tim Thompson is nervous about his first protest, but nevertheless confronts elections officials in Tennessee on Super Tuesday and refuses to show the required picture ID in order to vote. He has the proper ID, but sacrifices his ability to vote on behalf of thousands of low-income, older, and college-age citizens whose right to vote Thompson fought to protect as a Marine. He’s mad and tells a forceful story to his brother-in-law, filmmaker David Earnhardt, producer of “Uncounted.” For a status report about voter suppression legislation in North Carolina, click here for a one-page factsheet from Democracy North Carolina.
Monday, March 19th, 2012
Last week brought a flurry of reporting about the moral decay of America’s economic and political culture; the politics of greed is at the heart of the problem and the right target for the Occupy Movement and others. Somewhere in the 1980s, thanks to leadership at the top ranks of business and government, the transition accelerated from John F. Kennedy’s “ask not what your country can do for you” to the current mantra of “what’s in it for me.” As Robert Reich knows well, immorality started at the top and trickled down. He writes, “There is moral rot in America but it’s not found in the private behavior of ordinary people. It’s located in the public behavior of people who control our economy and are turning our democracy into a financial slush pump. It’s found in Wall Street fraud, exorbitant pay of top executives, financial conflicts of interest, insider trading, and the outright bribery of public officials through unlimited campaign donations.” Reich wants to focus for the moment on Republican co-conspirators of this sick selfishism, but a fuller analysis would bring in many Democrats as well; the politics of greed is now taken for granted as the way things are, the way to survive and prosper. An insider at Goldman Sachs wrote a revealing op-ed attacking his “morally bankrupt” company as he resigned last week. For a horrific tale of corporate greed and corruption closer to home, read Rolling Stone’s cover story about Charlotte-based Bank of America, “a bank too crooked to fail.” Writes Matt Taibbi: “The threat posed by Bank of America isn’t just financial – it’s a full-blown assault on the American dream. Where’s the incentive to play fair and do well, when what we see rewarded at the highest levels of society is failure, stupidity, incompetence and meanness?” No wonder people will call this the decade of madness.
Wednesday, March 7th, 2012
Advocates for requiring photo ID checks at the polls may delight in a news story breaking in Statesville, where a city council member is charged with voter fraud along with his sister and two of her family members. But all these voters cast ballots in their own names; requiring them to flash a photo document with their name would not have prevented the alleged cheating. So rather than help the ID advocates’ cause, this is another case that highlights how the proposed H-351 will not really address fraud. As editorials this week in Southern Pines and Winston-Salem newspapers make plain, the bill’s claim to “restore confidence in government” is bogus; it’s really about excluding honest people who the reigning political party doesn’t want to vote. Ironically, as a column about House Speaker Thom Tillis points out, his cozy relations with predatory lenders shows he has his own problems with accurate ID information and inspiring confidence in government. Should he, or the lenders, be investigated?
Friday, March 2nd, 2012
The impact of last year’s crop of voter suppression laws is showing up in various states in bizarre and disastrous ways. The Colbert Report profiles a Florida teacher charged with voter fraud for registering her students and failing to get the forms to the elections agency within 48 hours instead of the old 10-day deadline. Legislatures across the nation are back in session, debating a new round of wacko bills that should shame any real patriot. The extremist measures would be more laughable if they weren’t so frightening. In North Carolina, Rep. Stephen LaRoque of Kinston is pledging to introduce a bill, when the General Assembly convenes in May, that would give his county government authority to impose a photo ID restriction on local voters; such legislation would very likely be unconstitutional, but that doesn’t bother LaRoque who says the bill is needed to “prevent potential fraud.” He seems to miss the irony of fighting “corruption” while he is the target of corruption investigations. He also wants to prohibit the Kinston city council from having council members elected from districts; he doesn’t like who’s been winning. The Brennan Center for Justice has a new electronic newsletter that surveys the status of voter suppression initiatives state by state, as well as new reports on aspects of voter registration, election administration, and more.
Friday, February 24th, 2012
A quick look from the news: Here are two examples of splendid editorials from North Carolina papers – one from the Charlotte Observer about good ways to hold Super PACs accountable for their wacko ads, and one from the Winston-Salem Journal about the bad ways Speaker Thom Tillis’ behaves as a leader in government. And then Facing South provides a case study of Fox News’ dogged use of misinformation in “news” reporting for its political agenda – the story of zombie voters in South Carolina.
Monday, February 20th, 2012
NC House Speaker Thom Tillis deserves credit for his series of town hall meetings where he takes questions from the audience, including a sprinkling of dissenters. But his handlers apparently don’t want him exposed to an audience that is less overwhelmingly sympathetic to his message. Some voices are good, others are just not welcome, even in the People’s House. Tillis’ office was behind the order by police to remove a group of quiet demonstrators from the second floor of the General Assembly last Thursday; they invoked a little-known rule to achieve their censorship. But NC Policy Watch found this video to show that the rule was not used to kick out a similar crowd of Tea Party supporters on the second floor, talking with Speaker Tillis. Policy Watch calls it “Tillis’ double standard.” The News & Observer story about Thursday points out that a gaggle of Time Warner Cable executives were hovering around the Speaker’s office shortly before the demonstrators arrived, a normal sight. Voices of corporate special interests have long received favorable treatment in Raleigh. But that’s not to say we should not keep speaking up, organizing and demonstrating. An article in Yes! magazine, which highlights failed leadership from both Democrats and Republicans, profiles how broad-based grassroots action can beat the corporate giants: ““The government’s rejection of the AT&T/T-Mobile deal is an important reminder that the little guy can win in Washington.”
Thursday, February 16th, 2012
The NC General Assembly came back to town today, as demonstrators protested the leadership’s lousy record of out-of-control mischief and “madness against schools,” “madness against workers,” “madness against voting rights,” “madness for fracking,” etc. The Associated Press provides a good overview, and News 14 has this video of the demonstration. Protestors later went inside the General Assembly building to the second floor, where they lined up outside Speaker Thom Tillis’ office. The plan was to quietly show him the “madness” signs and let him know they were watching as he walked to the House Chamber to begin the special session. But the police intervened and, at the request of Tillis’ staff, they ordered the citizens of NC off the second floor. See the video of Adam Sotak, Democracy North Carolina’s organizing director, as he explains the protestors’ desire to see Tillis. Mark Binker of the Greensboro News & Record unearthed the obscure rule used to push people away. The over reaction seems to just confirm the “touch of madness” that has infected the Republican leadership.
Wednesday, February 15th, 2012
North Carolina’s election system is run by 100 county offices that oversee thousands of voting machines, train an army of poll workers, process millions of ballots, and solve a stream of problems that becomes a torrent on Election Day. It’s a system that needs regular maintenance tune ups, writes Damon Circosta of the NC Center for Voter Education. Without proper care, the system will suffer a breakdown – exactly when you need it most. Oddly enough, the new leaders in the General Assembly froze the federal grant money that counties have used for years to maintain their equipment, train workers, and open Early Voting sites. We wrote about the $4 million in frozen HAVA money a week ago, and newspapers from Wilmington to Asheville have joined the chorus of local election officials who say the money is needed and should be released. This kind of strange behavior is why citizens are protesting the “out-of-control” legislative leadership tomorrow, Feb. 16, when the General Assembly convenes for another special session. Be there yourself, check it out.
Tuesday, February 7th, 2012
A bipartisan group of election officials from more than 85 counties sent a letter to NC General Assembly leaders late last week, urging them to release $4 million designated for improving the administration of the 2012 elections. The funds come from the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002 and are in a NC bank account that has been used for years, but the General Assembly must appropriate an additional $660,000 to the State Board of Elections to meet federal guidelines before the final $4 million can be spent. Leaders in cash-strapped counties say they need the money to pay for voting machine maintenance fees, Early Voting sites, and poll-worker training. What are Republican legislative leaders thinking? Blocking access to $4 million for better election administration, while also trying to cut the Early Voting period and end Same-Day Registration, in a high-turnout presidential election year, with the added confusion of hundreds of new district lines and split precincts? Looks too much like partisan madness.
Wednesday, January 18th, 2012
A trio of small business federations today released a survey showing that two thirds of small business owners across the nation believe the Citizens United decision gives big corporations an unfair advantage over them. The Supreme Court decision from January 2010 allows businesses to spend unlimited amounts from their treasury to tell people how to vote. “America’s entrepreneurs feel corporations have an outsized role and say in politics to the detriment of the small business community,” said John Arensmeyer, founder and CEO of Small Business Majority. The Supreme Court’s narrow 5-to-4 majority said campaign spending doesn’t win corporations political friends, or intimidate their enemies, because it must be “independent” of the candidate and can not be given directly to the candidate’s campaign. “Small business owners aren’t stupid,” countered Melanie Collins, owner of Melanie’s Home Childcare in Falmouth, Maine. “We know who wins when corporate heavy hitters can spend all the money they want, as secretively as they want, to influence our country’s elections – and it’s not us.” The survey also shows that by a margin of 7-to-1, small business owners think money plays a negative role in politics.
Wednesday, January 11th, 2012
A press release today from Democracy North Carolina begins: Statements from election officials across the state provide new reasons for concern about the controversial district lines that zigzag through and split up hundreds of precincts to create the new district boundaries for state legislators and North Carolina’s 13 members of Congress. The election professionals are not taking sides on whether or not the new district maps discriminate against African Americans or give one political party an unfair advantage over the other. However, in affidavits filed with the Wake County Superior Court, the officials say the maps will confuse voters and poll workers, make elections harder and more expensive to administer, and even jeopardize the secrecy of the ballot for thousands of voters. The press release has links to the affidavits.
Tuesday, January 10th, 2012
Nonprofit groups, including Democracy North Carolina, are asking a three-judge panel to push back the 2012 election schedule while the judges consider the merits of their challenge to the Republican redistricting plans for General Assembly and Congressional districts in North Carolina. Rather than use the plans in a May primary that could be postponed, it’s better to decide if the plans are as obnoxious and unconstitutional as the nonprofits and a group of Democratic plaintiffs claim. The motion for a preliminary injunction was filed Friday and could be heard as early as this week when the judges convene on another aspect of the case. Our side – the plaintiffs challenging the plans – filed 380 pages of affidavits in support of the motion. Among the many reasons to overturn the plans, several county elections officials say the new plans slice up too many precincts with zigzagging district lines, putting voters in the same neighborhood in multiple varieties of different political districts. That will create confusion among voters and poll workers and elevate the risks of tainted elections that have to be rerun. Our affidavit provides loads of data to make the point, summarized briefly in a letter-to-the-editor about split precincts. One point in our affidavit not in the letter explains the threat to secret ballots from carving a little slice out of a precinct and placing it in a different political district (see paragraphs 35-36).
Thursday, January 5th, 2012
Gov. Perdue called the General Assembly back to town yesterday to give the legislature its constitutional opportunity to override her veto of the bill killing the Racial Justice Act. The state House couldn’t muster the votes to do that (at least 60% of those voting must approve), but rather than go home as promised in an agreement with Democrats, the Republican leadership then spent hours plotting a series of maneuvers to take up other bills vetoed by Perdue. At nearly 1 AM this morning, the House overrode her veto of a bill to strip the teachers’ association of its right to use the payroll check-off system to collect dues for the NCAE; state employees in SEANC were not targeted for similar action. Two Democrats joined the Republicans in the 69-45 vote, but one or both would not go along with override votes planned for the photo ID bill and a bill to authorize fracking in North Carolina – so the House finally adjourned until February 16. The surprises, broken promises, and outrage are captured in this reporting by Laura Leslie/WRAL and the video of a Democratic press conference around 1:30 AM.
Tuesday, December 27th, 2011
The US Justice Department refused to approve South Carolina’s strict photo ID requirement for voters, saying the evidence indicated that African Americans registered to vote in the state are 20% more likely not to have one of the required forms of ID than white voters. Federal approval or “pre-clearance” is required for election changes in South Carolina under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which Congress and President Bush renewed in 2006. Forty counties in North Carolina with a history of racial discrimination in elections are also covered by VRA’s pre-clearance provision; that means the harsh photo ID bill passed by Republicans but vetoed by Gov. Perdue would also need federal approval if the GOP ever succeeds in overcoming Perdue’s veto. In response to a public records request from Democracy North Carolina, the State Board of Elections matched its records with DMV records and initially found that about 1 million voters do not have a current driver’s license or state photo ID. After culling out near-matches and people who likely have moved, the number drops to about 460,000 – and African Americans are almost twice as likely as whites not to have the photo ID (12% of black voters lack the ID compared to nearly 7% of white voters). That’s a much greater racial disparity than found in South Carolina, which suggests the NC legislation would also run into trouble on pre-clearance. South Carolina officials say they will challenge the Justice Department’s action, no doubt attacking the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act itself and hoping the uber-biased majority on the current US Supreme Court will comply. The VRA has withstood repeated attack and gained bipartisan support over the years. Last week, a federal judge upheld the VRA’s pre-clearance provisions against a challenge from NC Rep. Stephen LaRoque and others in Kinston, North Carolina. That case could also be headed for the Supreme Court.
Thursday, December 15th, 2011
The “Art Pope Exposed” teach-in went off without a hitch on Tuesday, except for the traffic jams, video difficulties, and a few Popers in the audience (their camera seemed to work fine). More than 250 people (100 in person, the rest via web streaming) participated in the event that ended with a rump workshop about planning for actions in the Raleigh area, etc. We have the videos of each presentation here – beginning with a dissection of the Pope Empire by Chris Kromm of the Institute for Southern Studies (begins mid-stream), followed by in-depth descriptions by MaryBe McMillan of Pope’s hostility to basic economic fairness and Seth Keel on Pope’s attempt to gut public education in favor of a tiered system based on wealth and privilege. MaryBe ends with a call to action. You can find the petition she talks about here and the flyer here (for copies of the flyer to distribute send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org).
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