Upgrade voting systems, restore Voting Right Act, and end voter suppression

From today’s USA Today:

In many ways, Election Day 2018 was a good one for American democracy. Millions of people turned out to vote. An unprecedented number of women are headed to Congress, including the first Native American women and the first Muslim-American women to serve on Capitol Hill. In Florida, voters restored voting rights to more than a million peoplewho had been disenfranchised for past felony convictions. In Michigan and Maryland, they approved same-day registration. In Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, and Utah, they said yes to fair legislative districts.

But at the same time, the election provided evidence of what many activists and experts have been saying for years: the machinery of our democracy needs serious maintenance. Together, aging infrastructure and resurgent voter suppression have jeopardized equal voting rights in the United States, turning what should be a source of national pride into cause for alarm.

The costs of poor preparation and outdated election equipment were plain to see. In downtown Atlanta, voters stood in line for more than three hours because only three voting machines had been sent to serve more than 3,000 people. In Richland County, South Carolina, voters reported that machines were changing their selections. Officials worked to address the issue, but the county elections director told the NAACP Legal Defense Fund that he only had one technician for every five polling sites. In Maryland, two precincts ran out of paper ballots; in Detroit and New York City, malfunctioning machines caused many voters to simply give up.

Read the complete article here.

Election Day: Trump and health care key issues in race for control of the House

From today’s Washington Post:

Voters who will decide control of the U.S. House said President Trump and health care were two of the most important factors as they chose their candidates in the midterm election, according to preliminary results from a Washington Post-Schar School survey of battleground districts.

Battleground district polls: What voters are thinking on Election Day VIEW GRAPHIC 

More than four in 10 who cast early or absentee ballots or voted early Tuesday mentioned Trump or health care as the most important or second-most important factor for their vote, the preliminary results showed. The economy and immigration were close behind, receiving mention from over 3 in 10 voters in the results.

Roughly 8 in 10 voters rated the economy positively, after months of job and wage growth, but even so, a small majority said they thought the country was headed in the wrong direction.

The poll was conducted Monday and Tuesday among voters across 69 competitive congressional districts.

As the first national election since Trump’s presidential upset in 2016, the midterms gave Democrats an opportunity to capi­tal­ize on his low, 40-percent approval rating, a restive national mood and frustration with one-party leadership in Washington under the GOP.

Read the complete article here.

New sexual assault allegations roil Kavanaugh SCOTUS nomination

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

Brett Kavanaugh’s embattled nomination for the Supreme Court faced further disarray Sunday night after an explosive new account emerged of alleged sexual misconduct when he was in college, putting the White House on the defensive and the judge’s confirmation in fresh doubt.

Scrambling to respond, the White House and Kavanaugh issued swift denials of the report. Some Republicans on Capitol Hill said they were shellshocked even as they blamed Democrats for what they described as a political takedown based on scurrilous allegations.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the panel would “attempt to evaluate these new claims” but did not publicly respond to a call by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the committee, to immediately postpone confirmation proceedings until the FBI could investigate.

The new allegations, reported by the New Yorker, date back to Kavanaugh’s freshman year at Yale University, when a classmate named Deborah Ramirez says Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at close range at a drunken dormitory party, forcing her to bat him away.

Read the complete article here.

Two-thirds of voters support tougher gun control after FL shooting massacre

From CNBC News:

American voters by a 2-to-1 margin favor tougher gun control rules following the massacre of 17 people at a Florida high school last week, according to a poll released Tuesday.

Sixty-six percent of voters support stricter gun laws, compared with 31 percent who do not, the Quinnipiac University poll found. Backing for tighter gun rules is higher than the polling institute has ever measured, and up from 47 percent as recently as December 2015.

Later Tuesday, Trump announced that he signed a memorandum recommending Attorney General Jeff Sessions ban so-called bump stocks or other devices that can make weapons automatic. A man who opened fire on a concert in Las Vegas last year, killing more than 50 people, used such a device. It is unclear whether the Justice Department will follow through on the action, or whether Congress plans to pass its own law banning the devices.

Gun laws could play a role in November’s congressional elections. Republicans, who have often cautioned against new gun regulations after mass shootings, will try to hold their edge in both chambers of Congress.
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  • Ninety-seven percent of voters back universal background checks, versus only 2 percent who do not, according to the Quinnipiac poll. The percentage of voters supporting the policy rose from 95 percent in December.
  • Sixty-seven percent of voters support a nationwide ban on assault weapons, versus 29 percent who oppose it, the survey found. In November, 65 percent of voters backed an assault weapons ban. Multiple mass shooters in recent years have used semiautomatic rifles like the AR-15.
  • In addition, 67 percent of respondents said it was too easy to buy a gun in the U.S., the poll said. Three percent responded that it was too difficult, while 25 percent said the difficulty of getting a gun is about right.

Read the complete article here.

When Wall Street Writes Its Own Rules, It’s An Age of Unprecedented Corruption

From today’s New York Times:

On July 25, 2013, a high-ranking federal law enforcement officer took a public stand against malfeasance on Wall Street. Preet Bharara, then the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, held a news conference to announce one of the largest Wall Street criminal cases the American justice system had ever seen.

Mr. Bharara’s office had just indicted the multibillion-dollar hedge fund firm SAC Capital Advisors, charging it with wire fraud and insider trading. Standing before a row of television cameras, Mr. Bharara described the case in momentous terms, saying that it involved illegal trading that was “substantial, pervasive and on a scale without precedent in the history of hedge funds.” His legal action that day, he assured the public, would send a strong message to the financial industry that cheating was not acceptable and that prosecutors and regulators would take swift action when behavior crossed the line.

Steven A. Cohen, the founder of SAC and one of the world’s wealthiest men, was never criminally charged, but his company would end up paying $1.8 billion in civil and criminal fines, one of the largest settlements of its kind. He denied any culpability, but his reputation was still badly — some might argue irreparably — damaged. Eight of his former employees were charged by the government, and six pleaded guilty (a few later had their convictions or guilty pleas dismissed). Mr. Cohen was required to shut his fund down and was prohibited from managing outside investors’ money until 2018.

Now, with the prohibition having expired in December, Mr. Cohen has been raising money from investors and is set to start a new hedge fund. He’ll find himself in an environment very different from the one he last operated in. His resurrection arrives as Wall Street regulation is under assault and financiers are directing tax policy and other aspects of the economy — often to the benefit of their own industry. Mr. Cohen is a powerful symbol of Wall Street’s resurgence under President Trump.

As the stock market lurched through its stomach-turning swings over the past week, it was hard not to worry that Wall Street could once again torpedo an otherwise healthy economy and to think about how little Mr. Trump and his Congress have done to prepare for such a possibility. Stock market turbulence typically prompts calls for smart and stringent financial regulation, which is not part of the Trump agenda. One of Mr. Trump’s first acts as president was to fire Mr. Bharara, who made prosecuting Wall Street crime one of his priorities. Mr. Trump has also given many gifts to people like Mr. Cohen.

Read the complete article here.

Thorny Logistics Of A Federal Shutdown and How It Affects Agency Employees

From National Public Radio:

Hundreds of thousands of federal employees will either be sent home or have been told to not show up to work at all on Monday, as furloughs due to the government shutdown that began Friday night start to affect workers around the country.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., gave a foreboding warning from the Senate floor on Sunday.

“The shutdown is going to get a lot worse tomorrow,” he warned. “A lot worse.”

Republicans are insisting the shutdown is less “weaponized” than the last time this happened, in 2013 under then-President Barack Obama, but it’s still sure to have a broad effect across the country and get worse the longer it goes.

“Essential services” will continue, and essential workers will remain on the job, albeit without pay.

But there will be a lot of federal workers — thousands — who will see a change.

Every federal agency has a specific contingency plan, in the case of a loss of funding, and you can look through them all here. In 2013, about 800,000 of the 2.1 million civilian federal employees were furloughed in 2013, according to The Washington Post.

Read the complete article here, including a list of different agencies and the affects the shutdown will have on employees and services.

Individual Mandate Now Gone, G.O.P. Targets the One for Employers

From the New York Times:

Having wiped out the requirement for people to have health insurance, Republicans in Congress are taking aim at a new target: the mandate in the Affordable Care Act that employers offer coverage to employees.

And many employers are cheering the effort.

While large companies have long offered health benefits, many have chafed at the detailed requirements under the health law, including its reporting rules, which they see as onerous and expensive. Now that relief has been extended to individuals, some companies believe they should be next in line.

The individual mandate and the employer mandate are “inextricably entwined,” said James A. Klein, the president of the American Benefits Council, an influential lobby for large companies like Dow Chemical, Microsoft and BP, the oil and gas producer.

“It is inequitable to leave the employer mandate in place when its purpose — to support the individual mandate — no longer exists,” Mr. Klein said. “We are urging Congress to repeal the employer mandate.”

Opposition to the employer mandate could increase as more employers are fined for not offering coverage or for not meeting federal standards for adequate, affordable coverage. Since October, the Internal Revenue Service has notified thousands of businesses that they owe money because they failed to offer coverage in 2015, when the mandate took effect.

Representatives Devin Nunes of California and Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania, both Republicans, recently introduced a bill, supported by party leaders, to suspend the mandate, canceling any penalties that would be imposed for any year from 2015 to 2018.

“The employer mandate is a job-killer, a wage-killer and a business-killer,” Mr. Kelly said.

But Tom Leibfried, a health care lobbyist at the A.F.L.-C.I.O., called the proposals to repeal or weaken the employer mandate “a very bad idea.”

“The Affordable Care Act was built on a framework of shared responsibility,” Mr. Leibfried said. “If you get rid of the employer mandate, you will see people lose coverage from their employers.”

Such a move could also increase costs for the federal government. Even though Congress has eliminated the penalties for people who go without insurance, millions of consumers are still eligible for financial aid in the form of tax credits to help them pay insurance premiums. These subsidies increase with the rapidly rising cost of insurance. If fewer people receive coverage from employers, more will qualify for subsidized coverage in the public marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act.

“The employer mandate holds down the cost of premium tax credits for the federal government,” said Catherine E. Livingston, a tax lawyer at the law firm Jones Day who was the health care counsel at the I.R.S. from 2010 to 2013. “Any employee who receives an offer of affordable coverage from an employer is not eligible for the tax credit. And the employer mandate provides a strong incentive for employers to offer affordable coverage.”

Read the complete article here.

In Cutting taxes, the Economic Odds and Historical Experience Are Against Trump

From today’s New York Times:

When President Trump adds his distinctive signature to the tax bill, he will also be making a huge bet that the Republican strategy of deep cuts for businesses and wealthy individuals will fuel extraordinary growth across the board.

Perhaps more than any other American political leader, Mr. Trump knows that long shots, like his own presidential bid, sometimes pay off. In that vein, he and congressional Republicans are arguing that their bitterly contested and expensive rewrite of the tax code will ultimately create more jobs and raise wages.

If they are proved correct, they will be repudiating not only historical experience, but most experts. From Congress’s own prognosticators to Wall Street’s virtuosos, scarcely any independent analyses project anything like the rosy forecasts offered by the president’s top economic advisers.

To Mr. Trump and his allies, the normal models just do not fully capture the high-octane “rocket fuel” embedded in the tax plan. Mr. Trump intuitively understands just how much attitudes and expectations can shape economic decisions.

With a businessman in the White House, Mr. Trump argues that companies, large and small, have a renewed faith in the economy. And the corporate tax cut, combined with the rollback in regulation, will prompt waves of new investment and hiring, as middle-class Americans liberally spend the extra money in their pockets.

Read the complete article here.

Al Franken will resign from Senate after more allegations of sexual improprieties

From today’s LA Times:

Al Franken announced Thursday he will resign his Senate seat, falling to a whirlwind of sexual misconduct allegations like those that have enmeshed other politicians, business leaders and media figures across the country in recent months.

The Minnesota Democrat, a second-term senator once seen as a potential presidential candidate in 2020 or beyond, earlier had said he would not leave office but would submit to a Senate ethics investigation into his behavior. He had acknowledged some misconduct, but denied other allegations.

His fate appeared sealed, however, on Wednesday, when more than half of Senate Democrats issued calls for his resignation in an uprising led by female senators. The choreographed move came as yet another woman came forward to accuse Franken of unwanted advances before he was elected to the Senate, and Senate Democratic leader Charles E. Schumer of New York privately met with Franken to tell him the time had come to quit.

Franken’s announcement marked the second departure this week of a once-heralded Democrat caught in unsavory accusations. On Tuesday, the senior member of the House, Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, quit after multiple complaints by aides that he had sexually harassed them.

The departure marks the end of the legislative career that began when Franken squeaked into office on an exceptionally narrow win, was reelected more easily and had emerged as a well-regarded member of the party’s growing liberal wing.

Franken’s resignation will not change the balance of power in the Senate, where Republicans hold the majority with 52 seats. Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, a fellow Democrat, will appoint a replacement to serve until a special election can be held in November 2018. The winner of that election will hold the seat until what would have been the end of Franken’s second term, in January 2021.

Read the entire article here.

Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) to resign amid many accusations of sexual harassment

From today’s LA Times:

Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives, resigned Tuesday after his support among fellow Democrats collapsed amid accusations of sexual harassment by several female employees.

Conyers endorsed his son, John Conyers III, in a rambling radio interview with Detroit host Mildred Gaddis.

“I am retiring today, and I want everyone to know how much I appreciate the support, incredible undiminished support I’ve received,” Conyers said.

Conyers’ use of the word “retiring” rather than “resigning” left some uncertainty over when he was vacating the congressional seat he has held since 1965. Later in the day, however, he sent a letter to congressional leaders saying he was stepping down “effective today.”

Conyers’ replacement will be chosen in a special election.

The Detroit-area seat is strongly Democratic, so Conyers’ departure will not affect the balance of power in the House. But it does set up a potential family fight: While the congressman endorsed his son to succeed him, a great-nephew, state Sen. Ian Conyers, has publicly said he intended to seek the seat.

The announcement by John Conyers came after House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), fellow Congressional Black Caucus leader Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and increasing numbers of House members urged him to quit as former aides offered detailed accounts of inappropriate sexual advances he had made over decades.

A longtime civil rights activist — the only remaining member of Congresswho was elected in the 1960s — Conyers is the highest-profile political figure to be forced from office in the midst of a national debate over sexual harassment that began weeks ago with accusations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein.

Conyers has continued to deny any wrongdoing, although on Nov. 26, he agreed to step down as the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee in what served as the first acknowledgment of his vulnerability.

Read the entire article here.