Fear Tactics Used to Promote Voter Suppression in 2011

This week, newly elected Republicans took office in several states, many of whom have big plans for the future of voting rights. Unfortunately, as we blogged and reported last month, these changes have little to do with actually assessing and improving state of elections. In fact, many of these officials used anti-immigration and voter fraud fear tactics to win their seats, and now are threatening to restrict access to the ballot via legislation or state ballot before 2012 elections.

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Weekly Pulse: Egg Salad Surprise! Congress Votes to Clean Up Food Supply

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

It’s a Christmas-week miracle! The Senate, in a vote that astonished everyone, brought the Food Safety and Modernization Act back from the dead on Monday, as Siddhartha Mahanta reports in Mother Jones. The bill, which will enact tougher consumer protections against E. coli and other deadly contaminants in staples like eggs and peanut butter, died in the Senate last week when the omnibus spending bill it had been folded into kicked the bucket.

At Grist, Tom Philpott explains the initial demise, and the basis for the ultimate resurrection of the bill. The House passed the bill on Tuesday, having already passed it twice before.

President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law, which will usher in the first major overhaul of the country’s food safety system in more than 70 years. Food poisoning strikes 48 million Americans (1 in 6), lands 128,000 in the hospital, and kills 3,000 ever year, according to CDC figures released last week. Now that’s something to talk about with your relatives around the holiday dinner table.

Wisconsin clinic backs off 2nd trimester abortion care

A clinic in Wisconsin has reneged on its commitment to provide second trimester abortion care, as Judy Shackelford reports in The Progressive. Shackelford is outraged that the Madison Surgery Center walked back on its promise to patients. She knows first hand how important later term abortion access can be.

Shackelford found herself in need of a second trimester abortion when she developed a blood clot in her arm during her second, much-wanted pregnancy. She decided to terminate rather than risk leaving her 7-year-old son motherless. It was hard enough to find an abortion provider when she needed one, but if she needed the procedure today, she would have nowhere to turn.

Teen birth rate at record low

The birth rate for women ages 15-19 fell to 39.1 per 1000 between 2008 and 2009, the National Center for Health Statistics announced Tuesday. Many commentators, including Goddessjaz of feministing attribute the drop to the recession. The economy seems to be an important factor because birth rates dropped in all age groups, not just among teens.

Predictably, proponents of abstinence-only-until-hetero-marriage are trying to take credit for the falling birth rate. It’s not clear why they think ab-only is finally starting to work after years of unrelenting failure. Perhaps it was Bristol Palin’s electrifying performance on “Dancing With the Stars”?

Get the government out of my Medicare

We’ve become accustomed to the ironic spectacle of senior citizens on Medicare-funded scooters decrying the “government takeover of health care.” Medicare is wildly popular, even among those who decry “socialized medicine.” When the Affordable Care Act is finally implemented, it won’t feel like a government program, either. Paul Waldman of The American Prospect wonders if this “private sector” feel will undermine support for the program:

The Republican officials challenging the ACA in court have characterized its individual insurance mandate as an act of tyranny ranking somewhere between the Stalinist purges and Mao’s Cultural Revolution. But in the “government takeover” of health care (recently declared the 2010 “Lie of the Year” by the fact-checking site PolitiFact), Americans will continue to visit their private doctors to receive care paid for by their private insurance companies. The irony is that if the ACA actually were a “government takeover,” people would end up feeling much better about government’s involvement in health care. But since it maintains the private system, conservatives can continue to decry government health care safe in the knowledge that most people under 65 won’t know what they’re missing, or in another sense, what they’re getting.

If people don’t realize that they’re benefiting from government programs, they are less likely to support those programs. In an attempt to deflect Republican criticism, the Democrats assiduously scrubbed as much of the aura of government off of health reform as they could. This could prove to be a disastrously short-sighted strategy. If health reform works, the government won’t get the credit, but rest assured that if it fails, it will take the full measure of blame.

Funding for community health centers at risk

One of the lesser-known provisions of the Affordable Care Act was to expand the capacity of community health centers (CHCs) from 20 million to 40 million patients by 2015. This extra capacity will be key for absorbing the millions of previously uninsured Americans who are slated to get health insurance under the ACA.

CHCs have been praised by Democrats and Republicans as an affordable way to provide quality health care. However, state budget crises are threatening to derail the plan, as Dan Peterson reports for Change.org. States must contribute to the program in order to qualify for federal funding. However, state funding for CHCs has plummeted by 42% since 2007. So far this year, 23 states have cut funding for CHCs and eight have slashed their budgets by 20% or more.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Mulch: Climate Deniers Set to Freeze Progress in Congress

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

A chill is coming to Washington. A wave of climate change deniers were elected to office this week, and come January, we can expect a freeze in all reasonable and productive discussion about the fate of the planet.

Last year, the political discussion about climate change and carbon regulation was complicated and bogged down, but at least it was happening.

Who are the deniers?

Grist has pulled together a list of the climate deniers headed into power in the Senate. “Overall, the Senate next year will be more hostile to climate action than ever before,” the site’s staff says.

If these climate-denying legislators came from deeply red states, Tuesday’s results might not be so shocking. But many of them represent swing states, or states that might be red in presidential contests, but that have previously elected Democrats to Congress.

Farewell, moderation

These latter states include North Dakota, whose new senator, John Hoeven, made Grist’s list, and Indiana. Also on the list are Marco Rubio, from Florida, Kelly Ayotte, from New Hampshire, and Pat Toomey, from Pennsylvania.

Perhaps most disheartening is the replacement of Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) with Senator-Elect Ron Johnson. Johnson is to the right of the independent-minded Feingold on a host of issues, but as Mother JonesAndy Kroll writes, “What landed Johnson in headlines earlier this year was his claim that climate change wasn’t created by humans but instead was the result of ’sunspot activity.’

The new climate “science”

Sunspot activity is just one explanation that newly elected Republicans have grabbed onto to explain the very real phenomenon of climate change. Care2’s Beth Buczynski has rounded up a few choice quotes from these new leaders:

“With the possible exception of Tiger Woods, nothing has had a worse year than global warming. We have discovered that a good portion of the science used to justify “climate change” was a hoax perpetrated by leftist ideologues with an agenda.” —Todd Young, new congressperson from Indiana

“There isn’t any real science to say we are altering the climate path of the earth.” —Roy Blunt, new senator from Missouri

There are more where these came from.

In denial

What does this shift mean? In short, that the United States and our environmental policies will be limping forward and falling behind the rest of the world as international communities try to deal with climate change. As Brian Merchant writes at AlterNet:

…the current crop of GOP politicians have adopted a somewhat united ideological front opposing not only climate legislation, but the general notion of climate science itself. Nowhere else in the world has a leading political party availed itself of a position so directly in opposition to science — indeed, today’s GOP is the only party in the world that incorporates climate change denial as part of its political platform.

On the domestic front, writes The Washington Independent’s Andrew Restuccia, that means that even unambitious legislation, like the renewable energy standard, stands little chance of passing. As it’s currently written, the renewable energy standard would require a certain percentage of the country’s electricity to come from renewable sources. In reality, it would not even push clean energy production to grow faster than market forces alone would. The main purpose of passing a standard would be to signal to clean energy investors that the government supports their work.

In other words, in the current legislative climate, our leaders wouldn’t even get behind legislation that is just a sign of support for clean energy and the jobs it would create.

Zombie Climategate

Instead, the House’s leadership plans on spending its time staging a show trial of climate science. The chief executor of this strategy will be Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who is set to become chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Change.org’s Jess Leber explains:

From his new position, the former car-alarm company owner plans to raise false alarm about climate conspiracy theories. As Nikki Gloudeman wrote, just a few weeks ago Issa vowed to make investigating “Climategate”—the climate pseudo-scandal that’s already died 1,000 deaths—a top oversight priority should he win the committee.

In theory, Issa would be investigating a series of emails, sent by British climate scientists. Climate skeptics argue the emails prove that scientists are falsifying evidence of climate change. Extensive investigations have already debunked those claims.

In short, environmental leader Bill McKibben had the right idea back in September. Anyone who’s interested in advocating for climate change action in this country would do well to stop trying to convince Congress to do its job. Our leaders won’t be listening.

The best path forward may be to start convincing the American people, in the hope that, two years from now, they’ll vote for candidates who have a clue.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Why Wisconsin Votes As It Does

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)

Wisconsin, the badger state, constitutes a perennial battleground state. Like many of its Midwestern neighbors, the state leans Democratic but remains readily willing to vote Republican. While voting for Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama by double-digit margins, the state also came within one percent – twice – of voting for Republican candidate George W. Bush.

These voting patterns have quite interesting historical roots. Indeed, they stretch back for more than a century.

To examine these roots, let’s first take a look at a map of German immigration patterns in 1890:

Map of German Immigrants is Wisconsin, 1890

This map, derived from the New York Times, graphs the percentage of German-born immigrants in each Wisconsin county from the 1890 census. There is a striking correlation between this map and Wisconsin in the 2004 presidential election:

Map of Wisconsin, 2004 Presidential Election

In that election, Senator John Kerry clung to Wisconsin by a razor-thin 0.4% margin, winning 49.7% of the vote to Mr. Bush’s 49.3%. As this map indicates, counties heavily settled by Germans form the Republican voting base which Mr. Bush relied upon. This pattern persists even more than a century after the height of German immigration.

It is also still quite powerful. Out of the twelve counties with greater than 20% German-born immigrants in 1890, only one (Milwaukee) voted for Mr. Kerry.

There are exceptions, of course – and German settlement patterns do not form the entire picture of Wisconsin’s electoral demography. Milwaukee, for instance, gave 61.7% of its vote to the Massachusetts senator, despite being composed of 38.9% German immigrants in 1890. This is due to its relatively high black population today and corresponding white flight, which depleted the city of its German-American population. Scandinavian settlement patterns in non-German rural Wisconsin, to use another example, account for their Democratic vote today (interestingly, rural Wisconsin constitutes one of the last Democratic bastions in rural America).

Nevertheless, the overall pattern is still quite striking. A more detailed look at Wisconsin in 2004 only strengthens the link:

Detailed Map of Wisconsin, 2004 Presidential Election

As is evident, the correlation between German immigration and Wisconsin’s electoral geography finds a resemblance in both degree and strength. The most Republican-voting regions, located along the southeastern portion of the state, also counted themselves highest in German immigrants in 1890.

Finally, this type of demographic analysis can be used to explain why states vote as they do in far more than just Wisconsin. From Democratic strongholds in former cotton-growing areas of the Deep South to South Dakota’s Native-American and Democratic-voting reservations, history offers a fascinating insight into contemporary politics.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

Wisconsin May Be First State to Enact Automatic Voter Registration Law

Cross-posted to Project Vote's blog, Voting Matters

A bill to automatically register voters when applying for a driver’s license was introduced to the Wisconsin Assembly yesterday. If passed, advocates in Wisconsin say the state would be the first to implement this streamlined procedure to make voter registration accurate and accessible under law.

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