Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Pennsylvania Supreme Court has to grow a few

 Judge Haller says it's judicial restraint, a Court giving great deference to the state legislature, but to Buzz and me, it's a lack of chutzpah. C'mon call a spade a spade, or as we said in our last column, call a duck a duck.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court punted the Pennsylvania Voter ID law back to the Commonwealth Court. Justices Debra Todd and Seamus McCaffrey at least had the brass to call it like it is.  They would have thrown out the law for what it is --- a partisan political ploy to disenfranchise Democratic leaning voters.

McCaffrey was animated at the oral argument and was eloquent in his support of the right to vote by all citizens, regardless of the size of their wallet.

"I was elected by the people of our Commonwealth, by Republicans, Democrats, Independents and others, as was every single Justice on this esteemed Court," McCaffrey wrote.   "I cannot now be a party to the potential disenfranchisement of even one otherwise qualified elector, including potentially many elderly and possibly disabled veterans who fought for the rights of every American to exercise their fundamental American right to vote."

"While I have no argument with the requirement that all Pennsylvania voters, at some reasonable point in the future, will have to present photo identification before they may cast their ballots, it is clear to me the reason for the urgency of implementing Act 18 prior to the November 2012 election is purely political.  That has been made abundantly clear by the House Majority Leader.  I cannot in good conscience participate in a decision that so clearly has the effect of allowing politics to trump the solemn oath that I swore to uphold our Constitution.  That Constitution has made the right to vote a right verging on the sacred, and that right should never be trampled by partisan politics," McCaffrey concluded.

This law, like many of others passed by GOP controlled legislatures across the country, is a blatant attempt to stop Democratic leaning voters from voting.  IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH PROTECTING THE INTEGRITY OF ELECTIONS.  The Commonwealth admitted this when it stipulated that in person voter fraud doesn't exist, and they didn't see it occurring in the future.

Elections should be decided by a vigorous discussion of the ideas and getting as many voters as possible to the polls.  It should not be decided by keeping voters who disagree with you away from the polls.

We should make voting as easy as possible.  Instead of passing laws that restrict voting, the legislature should be passing laws that expand voting --- like early voting, same day registration, and other laws that increase voter participation.

Throughout our nation's history we have expanded the franchise to African-American citizens, to women, to 18 year olds.  Since when did it become the vogue to start restricting the franchise?  Perhaps when political consultants realized that certain groups can be kept away.

The right to vote is sacred.  It is our way to change the direction of the country, to change the laws, to make things better.  Let's stop playing games with the precious right for which so many of our forefathers gave their lives.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Pennsylvania Voter ID, will the GOP Justices give it a wink and a nod

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it could be a dragon doing a duck impersonation. Will the PA Supremes call a dragon a duck.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard arguments on the new Photo Voter ID law yesterday.  It is apparent that the three Democratic Justices (Seamus McCaffrey, Debra Todd, and Max Baer) all see the political motive behind this law. To paraphrase GOP House leader Mike Turzai, the new law will allow Romney to win Pennsylvania.

The question as we see it is whether the three GOP Justices (Ronald Castille, Michael Eakin, and Thomas Saylor) will see it that way, or will they hide behind the the technical and rigid preliminary injunction case law as Judge Robert Simpson did in the Commonwealth Court.

Buzz and I met with OVC legal expert former Judge Chamberlain Haller at his summer retreat in the Poconos. Haller had some interesting observations on the pending case before the PA Surpemes.

"I watched the argument on PCN yesterday and I saw a glimmer of hope for the opponents of this law," Haller said while enjoying an unfiltered Camel and contemplating his next chess move.  "Justice McCaffrey and Justice Todd were openly lobbying their Republican colleagues during the oral argument.  They kept saying, 'what's the rush?'  This was a clear indication that the Democratic Justices are offering a way out for their GOP colleagues."

"Generally Courts like to decide cases on the narrowest grounds possible, especially in controversial cases.  The 'what's the rush?' strategy would allow the Courts to grant a preliminary injunction without reaching the merits of the law.  They could kick the can down the road a bit and see what happens with photo ID efforts over the next six months," Haller said.

This brought a smile to our faces.  There may be a middle ground which stops the disenfranchisement of thousands of Pennsylvania voters.  Hope springs eternal.

It is undisputed that in-person voter fraud simply does not exist  in Pennsylvania, or for that matter, anywhere in the United States.  Study after study has shown that you have a better chance of getting hit by lightning than someone voting in-person for someone else, and remember, that is the only thing that this new photo ID law is attempting to prevent.  

It won't stop absentee ballot fraud.  It won't stop voter registration fraud.  It won't stop election officials from tampering with election results.  And it won't stop the buying of votes.  The only thing it will stop is eligible voters without the proper ID from voting, and this includes many minority voters, many poor voters, and a whole bunch of older voters from casting ballots.

One of the major arguments that Buzz and I hear the most in support of a Photo ID requirement to vote goes like this:  "You need photo ID to buy beer, to cash a check, to buy Sudafed, or to get on an airplane."

Here's where that argument falls apart.  Underagers try to buy beer, criminals try to cash forged checks, Meth manufacturers try to buy Sudafed, and terrorists try to get on airplanes.  All of these actions have been documented time and time again.  That's why we require ID for these everyday interactions.  In-person voter fraud, on the other hand, is simply not a problem

A decision is expected within the next few weeks.  Let's hope the Court does the right thing and stops this clearly partisan and politically motivated law.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Bubba is back!

Bill Clinton stormed into Charlotte last night and brought down the house. He's back, and take it from Buzz and me, he's here to stay.

It was pure Bill Clinton --- dramatic, inspiring, persuasive, folksy, and of course, way longer than planned.  But, most importantly, it was directed to the middle of the electorate, a part of the electorate where Bill Clinton has always been effective in communicating his message.

He set the stage with one of the most memorable moments of his speech, he explained that the hyper-partisanship and personal attacks against him that plagued much of his Presidency, did not leave him bitter.  He said, "Though I often disagree with Republicans, I never learned to hate them the way the far right that now controls their party seems to hate President Obama and the Democrats."

Clinton's speech which lasted 48 minutes was the most effective defense and explanation of the Obama record.  Unlike New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's "me, me, and ME" speech at last weeks GOP convention, Clinton's speech was heavy on his party's nominee.  He brilliantly intertwined his legacy with the Presidency of Barack Obama, and then took on every major GOP argument and explained, in simple, folksy terms, why the GOP argument is wrong.

In a stern, but no means angry tone, Clinton said, "President Obama started with a much weaker economy than I did. No president— not me or any of my predecessors could have repaired all the damage in just four years."

He explained the Affordable Care Act in simple and effective terms, highlighting many of the Act's very popular parts. He explained the recovery act and how it truly helped the US avoid a Great Depression.  He explained the success of the auto bailout and the tragic consequences of letting "Detroit go bankrupt."

His systematic attack on the GOP arguments included this:  "Now, when Congressman Ryan looked into that TV camera and attacked President Obama’s Medicare savings as, quote, “the biggest, coldest power play,” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry... because that $716 billion is exactly to the dollar the same amount of Medicare savings that he has in his own budget!"

Then he went off script and gave perhaps the most memorable line of the speech.  "You got to give (Ryan) one thing: It takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did."

Clinton hit a home run and lived up to expectations.  He is Obama's greatest surrogate, and we will see a lot of him in the next 60 days.

Hillary 2016

Clinton is not just acting altruistically, although we don't doubt that he truly believes in most, if not all of the Obama agenda.  Clinton does have a selfish motive, too  --- Hillary 2016.

I am convinced, and Buzz's Univac 3000 bears me out on this, Hillary will run in 2016 regardless of who wins in 2012.

Bill wins no matter who wins in 2012.  If Obama wins, Bill will humbly take credit for making the difference.  If Obama losses, Bill can also humbly say that he gave it the old college try.

Hillary has already said she will step down at the end of her four year tenure at the State Department.  She has been an unqualified success at State, and now she needs to start preparing for 2016.

Hillary will take it easy for a few months, and then expect to see her all over the country.  She won't be an official candidate until mid 2015, but she will be provided enthusiastic support for Democratic candidates everywhere.  Whether it's recording TV or radio spots, speaking at Jefferson-Jackson dinners, raising money, Hillary Clinton will be around every corner.  She will be the biggest cheerleader for any Democrat who wants her, and want her they will.

Stay tuned for a lot of Bill over the next few months, and then coming to political events everywhere, sometime next summer, Hillary Clinton.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Back in the 1980s

Buzz and I spent part of the Labor Day listening to historical speeches on the POTUS radio channel.  I won a 2 year subscription in a WNBA trivia contest (no purchase necessary.) We listened to a 1987 speech by President Ronald Reagan.  Reagan was touting 59 months of economic prosperity, so we decided to look back at some of the economic policies in place back in 1987 as compared to 2012.

Tax Rates

From 1982 to 1986, the highest marginal tax rate was 50 percent and 38.5 percent in 1987.  The capital gains tax rate was 20 percent from 1982 to 1985 and 28 percent from 1985 to 1990.

Republicans have fought tooth and nail to extend the Bush income tax cuts, especially when it came to the highest marginal rate.  They even went as far as voting against a bill in the United States Senate that extended all the tax cuts except the cut on the highest marginal rate.  (Bush's tax cuts reduced the highest marginal rate from 38.6 percent to 35.0 percent.)

The current highest marginal tax rate stands at 35.0 percent, and the capital gains tax rate is 15 percent and has not been about 16 percent since 2003.

Perhaps Republicans who worship everything Reagan should consider returning to the Reagan tax rates, particularly the capital gains rate, since after all, that's the tax that the job creators pay.

Welfare Queens

Reagan famously spoke of the "welfare queen."  He said, "(S)he has eighty names, thirty addresses, twelve Social Security cards and is collecting veteran's benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands. And she is collecting Social Security on her cards. She's got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income is over $150,000."

The welfare queen never really existed, a product of Reagan's speech writer's imagination, but welfare or public assistance was quite different in the Reagan years.  There was no work requirement, and there were no limits on the time a person could collect welfare.

All of this changed with the Welfare Reform Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996.   As Bill Clinton said the act "ended welfare as we know it."

The new law required persons to work after receiving two years of benefits and placed a five year lifetime limit on welfare benefits.  Despite Romney claims that President Barack Obama has gutted the work requirement, he hasn't.  So welfare today does have those restrictions from 1996.

Maybe nostalgic Republicans would like to go back to the Reagan era welfare for life with no work requirement.

Investment Banks

Until 1999, there was a clear dividing line between what banks could and couldn't do when it came to investments.  As a result of the excesses of the 1920, the federal government passed the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933.  This Act prohibited depository banks from gambling on investments in the stock market.

Glass-Steagall survived until 1999, when Congress decided there was no need to separate these banking practices.  Republican Senator Phil Gramm (TX) and Republican Representatives Jim Leach (IA) and Thomas Bliley (VA) sponsored legislation that tore down the barrier.  There was no longer a distinction between depository and investment banks.

Depository banks could now play the market, and play the market they did.  After 8 years of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley law, banks had invested in so many toxic and risky investments that they almost brought the world to economic disaster.  The situation was so dire that even President George W. Bush, a self-professed free market lover, pushed for an $800 billion bailout of the Wall Street banks.

Most of the economic woes we are still experiencing in 2012 can be traced back to the banking debacle of 2008.  Even Ronald Reagan realized that banks gambling in the stock market was not a good idea.

Back to the Future

So the next time someone tells you about the glory years of Ronald Reagan and his great economic recovery, tell them you agree that it was a great time --- higher taxes, particularly on investments, no limits on welfare, and highly regulated banks.