Minnesota Republicans’ Efforts to Pass Voter ID Don’t Compute

Today, members of the Minnesota House will hear two controversial bills that could cost the state millions and hamper voter access in a state that is renowned for progressive election policy.

Minnesota has long boasted above-average voter turnout, thanks, in part, to a decades-old policy that permits eligible citizens to register and vote on Election Day with a zero-rate of voter fraud. Despite lacking evidence of pervasive voter impersonation issues (as well as lacking available funding), state lawmakers are intent on changing the rules governing Election Day Registration and adding a requirement for all voters to present photographic proof of identity before voting.

“An effective, full-scale voter ID program can easily end up costing state taxpayers $20 million or more – the three-year price tag officials estimated in 2010 for a program in Missouri,” wrote Chris Kromm of the Institute for Southern Studies. “For most states, such a costly program would be a suspect luxury in ordinary times; it’s nearly impossible to justify it in today’s economic crisis.”

Kromm’s article delves into the cost of implementation, education of poll workers and the public, and free ID for those who cannot afford it, all proposed in House bills 89 and 210.

“This proposal is simply an attempt to manipulate the voting process for political purposes to address an issue which is not a major problem in Minnesota,” editorialized the Willmar, Minn. publication,West Central Tribune last week. “Minnesota should be encouraging voters to participate in the voting process, not making it harder and more difficult to vote.”

The Tribune noted that one of the House bills’ supporters, Rep. Bruce “Vogel could not cite any voter problem in west central Minnesota in justifying his support for the bill” when it was introduced in late January. “Yet he claims that the significant cost of this proposed voter ID bill is justified.”

But, to “solve a minimal problem in Minnesota” for a price of $20 million, the Tribune says, “this bill proposal simply does not compute.”

The House Bill 210 would also put an end to “vouching” for your neighbor to prove their residency when registering to vote on Election Day, one of many ways Minnesotans are able to be part of the democratic process up until the day of an election.

“Minnesota’s inclusive election policies have helped to build a strong culture of civic participation across the state,” says Project Vote’s Jennifer Jacquot-Devries, a Minnesota resident. “Enacting the proposed photo ID bill will only make voting more difficult for the very citizens we should be working to engage and empower.”

 

Weekly Audit: Time to Audit the Fed

By Zach Carter, Media Consortium Blogger

Two key lawmakers on the House Financial Services Committee, Reps. Alan Grayson (D-FL) and Ron Paul (R-TX), are pushing to authorize a full, comprehensive audit of the Federal Reserve. The plan has sparked fury from both the Fed and the corporate banking industry, but the proposal is so appealing that the controversy is almost laughable.

The Federal Reserve is one of the most powerful economic institutions in the world, but most of its operations are conducted in total secrecy. The Fed's rescue activities have dwarfed the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, but without any public accounting. Some of these efforts may have been entirely appropriate, but we don't even know who the Fed is helping. That fact is a major barrier to establishing effective and fair economic policy.

As Glenn Greenwald observes for Salon:

"The Fed is a typical Washington institution that operates un-democratically and in virtually total secrecy, and a Congressionally-mandated audit that they (and much of the DC establishment) desperately oppose would be a serious step towards changing the dynamic of how things function. At the very least, it would provide an important template for defeating the interests which, in Washington, almost never lose."

Under the Grayson-Paul plan, which is offered as an amendment to the Financial Stability Improvement Act of 2009, the Government Accountability Office would be given the authority to audit all of the Federal Reserve's activities, just as it can audit other public programs and institutions.

Last week, the House Financial Services Committee approved the audit-the-fed bill, despite opposition from panel Chairman Barney Frank (D-MA), who tried to gut the plan. Even on the Financial Services Committee, where the banks concentrate their campaign contributions, Grayson was able to convince 14 other Democrats to stand up to the financial establishment.

The vote of approval scarcely registered on mainstream media's radar, and even then, the Grayson-Paul legislation was portrayed as an assault on the Fed's "political independence." As Dean Baker notes for Talking Points Memo, it's hard to see how a simple, public accounting can be construed as a political hit on the Fed's policy-making.

By setting interest rates, the Fed has enormous power to do almost anything under the economic sun, from fueling quick growth to destroying jobs. All of these powers have useful functions under the right circumstances, and we really don't want Congress to make decisions about the economy based on the interests of powerful lobby groups. The Grayson-Paul bill wouldn't do anything of the sort. As John Nichols explains for The Nation, audits of sensitive economic policy decisions would be subject to a six-month lag before they could be publicly released. If the Fed needs to act fast, Congress won't be able to get in its way. The public will eventually know how its own money is being spent, however, and learn how a public institution is conducting itself.

"In other words, this is about simple transparency, which everyone should favor," Nichols writes.

The White House and the Congressional Democratic leadership need to support a full and comprehensive audit of the Federal Reserve. It's an issue of basic democratic accountability. There is no good reason why economic policy should be conducted in secret.

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

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Weekly Audit: Unemployment Fueling Political Storm

By Zach Carter, Media Consortium Blogger

Unemployment figures in the U.S. are staggering: The official rate stands at 10.2%, the highest in 26 years. A broader measure that includes people who are involuntarily working part-time or who have given up looking for work is at 17.5%. That's a full-blown economic emergency.

But, as Joshua Holland explains for AlterNet, President Barack Obama's response to the unemployment crisis has not matched the urgency of his response to the crisis on Wall Street. This isn't just unfair, it's bad economics.

"It's important to understand that the economic crisis in which we find ourselves is not just a function of a shaky financial system but of a crash in consumption that's come along with the evaporation of $14 trillion worth of the wealth of American families," Holland writes.

Widespread joblessness can be every bit as damaging to the economic structure as a financial crisis. When people are out of work, they buckle down on household expenses. When several million people cut back at the same time, the economic machine grinds to a halt. If people are not buying and selling stuff, the economy isn't working.

As Mary Kane explains for The Washington Independent, about 40% of families don't have enough money to cover expenses through a three-month stretch of unemployment--even if one member of the household is receiving unemployment benefits. Kane highlights a Brandeis University study that reveals the haggard state of the American household and the unfair distribution of wealth along racial lines. A full 66% of African-American and Latino families can't afford three months without work. At a time when 5.6 million workers have been jobless for at least six months, the study highlights just how dire finances have become for many households.

GRITtv's Laura Flanders discusses potential labor market remedies with economist Dean Baker and The Nation's John Nichols. Baker suggests a work-share arrangement, in which employers cut back on their workers' hours to allow more people to work. To prevent losses for households, the government would step in and pay for the shortfall in hours. Employers would have more part-time jobs available, but the government would make sure everyone was paid as if they were working full-time. Baker also endorses a public jobs program, which he says could be especially useful in cities like Detroit and Cleveland that have been hit particularly hard by the economic downturn.

Nichols highlights the political consequences of failing to fix the unemployment mess. Unemployment directly affects the lives of voters. If widespread joblessness persists through November 2010, Democrats will net huge Congressional losses. If Obama thinks it's hard to garner bipartisan support for his legislative priorities now, imagine a few dozen more Republican obstructionists.

It's not that Obama failed to respond to the unemployment crisis. He did. That's what the stimulus package was all about. Today's 10.2% unemployment is a catastrophe, but it would be more like 12% without the stimulus package. But, given the seriousness of the issue, Obama is not giving unemployment enough attention.

In fact, Obama's economic priorities are a mirror-image of his campaign promises, as Robert Scheer argues in both a column for TruthDig and an interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! After talking tough about reining in recklessness on Wall Street and making the financial system more accountable, Obama has hired many of the very policy makers who pushed through the deregulatory agenda back in the 1990s. Top Obama administration officials like Larry Summers, Timothy Geithner, Gary Gensler and Neal Wolin helped make this mess in the first place.

"This is not a minor criticism," Scheer says. "I think the guy is betraying his own presidency."

Obama's timid efforts to rein in Wall Street and heal the ailing job market are setting the stage for a political disaster. If Obama and Congressional Democrats can't take strong action to fix the economy, they will find themselves with much narrower majorities next November. The economy, and the public institutions that support it, are supposed to work for everyone, not just the financial elite.

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

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Weekly Audit: Saying 'No' to Corporate America

By Zach Carter, Media Consortium Blogger

By proposing financial reforms that won't curb Wall Street excess, U.S. policymakers have offered an unacceptably weak response to our enormous financial crisis. If voters don't demand that their elected representatives help workers and consumers instead of simply boosting corporate profits, the economic downturn will last for several more years and leave the economy vulnerable to another bank-induced meltdown.

The banks have unbelievable lobbying clout. In an interview with Cenk Uyger of The Young Turks, Heather Booth,  executive director of Americans for Financial Reform, describes how one-sided the Wall Street reform fight has been. Despite broad public support for a fundamental financial overhaul, going up against the bank lobby is, as Booth describes, "a David and Goliath fight." It's basically Americans for Financial Reform against every major corporation in the U.S.

Booth notes that the Chamber of Commerce has vowed to spend $100 million on a campaign to defend the "so-called free enterprise system"--you know, the "free market"--in which corporate lobbyists spend millions of dollars to write the rules of the economic game. Just seven financial lobby groups have spent a massive $147 million peddling influence over the past two years.

In fact, as Janine Wedel observes for Salon, the U.S. economic system is starting to look an awful lot like the clannish systems of government that looted Eastern European countries in the early 1990s. Today, the public good takes a backseat to the narrow interests of powerful corporations.

With the Obama administration working with advisers from Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, we're not just watching Wall Street write its own regulations. We're watching the financial sector re-write the official role of the government in the economy. In this new role, the government's top priority is securing profits for corporate America.

"The intertwined coterie of financial and policy deciders in the United States is creating not only the financial architecture of the future, backed by the power and billions of the state, but, more generally, new relationships between the bureaucracy and the market," Wedel writes.

GRITtv's Laura Flanders echoes this theme in an interview with John Perkins, author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, and journalist Russ Baker. Lobbyists have so thoroughly hijacked the U.S. economy, Perkins argues, that the nation's government now resembles those of Latin American nations he worked with in the 1980s and 1990s.

"I don't think the U.S. president has much power these days, to be honest with you. . . . It's the big corporate executives who call the shots today, and let's face it, they financed Obama's campaign," Perkins says.

The very efforts the government deployed to save the financial system are being perverted to create another disaster. In a five-part interview with Paul Jay of The Real News, Jane D'Arista, an influential economist and author of The Evolution of U.S. Finance, explains how Wall Street destroyed itself over the past decade. By borrowing massive amounts of money, Wall Street was able to place bigger bets in the capital markets casino, resulting in huge profits when those bets paid off. But when the bets backfired, the losses were just as massive. Companies couldn't pay them off, so the government stepped in to support them.

One of those support mechanisms came from the Federal Reserve, which began making incredibly cheap loans to firms that engaged predominantly in speculative trading. The Fed used to lend exclusively to commercial banks, which used the money to make loans that helped grow the real economy. But now those loans are being used to support risky securities trading, so we're seeing big profits in the financial sector, without much help for workers and consumers. This is a major long-term problem--if the economy can't keep pace with the Wall Street casino, those speculative trades are going to backfire and we'll be right back to the chaos of September 2008, only with an even weaker economy.

All hope is not lost. As Perkins and Baker emphasize in their interview with Flanders, citizens have to demand corporate accountability and a government that actually serves the public good. For much of the past decade in Latin America, governments have been elected that stood up to major corporations and demanded that they stop pillaging their nation's resources at the people's expense.

In addition to demanding much stronger reforms for the financial sector, we have to demand that the government respond seriously to problems facing workers. With the unemployment rate at 10.2% and expected to go still higher, we need jobs. As Steve Benen notes for The Washington Monthly, Obama's economic stimulus package helped stave off total economic devastation. What we need now is another stimulus to get people back to work, not just slow the pace of job losses.

"A bold, ambitious jobs bill can make a huge difference--the stimulus got us out of the ditch, a new effort can get us going in the right direction again," Benen writes.

And the only argument against this plan is that we "can't afford it." That is--the government's fiscal deficit is too high, and we just can't spend money to help people in real economic trouble.

But as Christopher Hayes writes for The Nation, the deficit excuse is pretty pathetic. Economic stimulus bolsters economic growth, thus improving tax returns for the government in the future. And any spending on any project can be taken out of the budget from other measures. Hayes notes that our massive military spending is almost never included in discussions about "fiscal responsibility." If we were really worried about how much it would cost to fix the economy, we could stop spending so much money killing people.

"Fiscal conservatism and deficit concern is nearly always code speak in Washington for something else," Hayes writes. "Most often, when someone in Washington says they're concerned about the deficit, what they're really saying is, 'I would like to make sure we have a government that focuses maximally on blowing people up.'"

The government has to start saying 'no' to corporate America. Corporate profits are not the same thing as a strong economy. We need to demand an economic policy that answers to workers, not just bank balance sheets.

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

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An Economic Recovery for Everyone

Today, the public will get a look at how funds distributed through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 are being spent when the reports from agencies receiving these stimulus funds are released.

While many questions will surround the release of this information, it's likely that a critical part of this story will be lost unless we ask the right questions about this spending. Namely, is this stimulus really creating a recovery for everyone?

This is an important consideration given that many groups of Americans have consistently been left behind in ways that hard work and personal achievement alone cannot address. This was true even before the economic downturn began to affect everyone else, and it's likely that the crisis has further worsened gaps in income and assets that existed already.

To get an idea of what some Americans faced before the crisis, just look at 2007, the year before the crisis began affecting everyone:

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