Under Trump Regime, Sweeping Shift on #VotingRights Undermines Democracy

From today’s New York Times:

A new voter ID law could shut out many Native Americans from the polls in North Dakota. A strict rule on the collection of absentee ballots in Arizona is being challenged as a form of voter suppression. And officials in Georgia are scrubbing voters from registration rolls if their details do not exactly match other records, a practice that voting rights groups say unfairly targets minority voters.

During the Obama administration, the Justice Department would often go to court to stop states from taking steps like those. But 18 months into President Trump’s term, there are signs of change: The department has launched no new efforts to roll back state restrictions on the ability to vote, and instead often sides with them.

Under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the department has filed legal briefs in support of states that are resisting court orders to rein in voter ID requirements, stop aggressive purges of voter rolls and redraw political boundaries that have unfairly diluted minority voting power — all practices that were opposed under President Obama’s attorneys general.

The Sessions department’s most prominent voting-rights lawsuit so far forced Kentucky state officials last month to step up the culling from registration rolls of voters who have moved.

In the national battle over voting rights, the fighting is done in court, state by state, over rules that can seem arcane but have the potential to sway the outcome of elections. The Justice Department’s recent actions point to a decided shift in policy at the federal level: toward an agenda embraced by conservatives who say they want to prevent voter fraud.

Read the complete article here.

Breaking News: Dick’s Sporting Goods To Stop Selling Assault-Style Weapons

From today’s New York Times:

One of the nation’s largest sports retailers, Dick’s Sporting Goods, said Wednesday morning it was immediately ending sales of all assault-style rifles in its stores.

The retailer also said that it would no longer sell high-capacity magazines and that it would not sell any gun to anyone under 21 years of age, regardless of local laws.

The announcement, made two weeks after the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that killed 17 students and staff members, is one of the strongest stances taken by corporate America in the national gun debate. It also carries symbolic weight, coming from a prominent national gun seller.

Late last week, after coming under attack on social media for their ties to the National Rifle Association, a number of major companies, including Hertz car rental, MetLife insurance and Delta Air Lines, publicly ended those relationships, issuing brief, carefully phrased statements.

But Edward Stack, the 63-year-old chief executive of Dick’s whose father founded the store in 1948, is deliberately steering his company directly into the storm, making clear that the company’s new policy was a direct response to the Florida shooting.

“When we saw what happened in Parkland, we were so disturbed and upset,” Mr. Stack said in an interview Tuesday evening. “We love these kids and their rallying cry, ‘enough is enough.’ It got to us.”

He added, “We’re going to take a stand and step up and tell people our view and, hopefully, bring people along into the conversation.”

Mr. Stack said he hoped that conversation would include politicians. As part of its stance, Dick’s is calling on elected officials to enact what it called “common sense gun reform’’ by passing laws to raise the minimum age to purchase guns to 21, to ban assault-type weapons and so-called bump stocks, and to conduct broader universal background checks that include mental-health information and previous interactions with law enforcement.

Read the complete article here.

Fake News, #Pizzagate, and the Ugly Turn to the Right after Trump

From today’s New York Times:

The North Carolina man who was arrested on Sunday for firing a rifle in a popular Washington pizzeria confirmed he was motivated by the storm of fake online news about a suspected child trafficking ringallegedly running out of the restaurant and led by Hillary Clinton.

Edgar M. Welch said in an arraignment released on Monday that he had read online that the Comet Ping Pong restaurant in Northwest Washington was “harboring child sex slaves, and he wanted to see for himself if they were there,” according to court documents.

Read the full article here.

Corporate leaders getting free legal pass on cleaning up financial crisis

From today’s New York Times Editorial Observer by Teresa Tritch:

In recent years, it has become increasingly clear that no prominent banker would be prosecuted for fraud in the run-up to the financial crisis. In the current issue of The New York Review of Books, Judge Jed Rakoff of the Federal District Court in Manhattan asks why.

The comforting answer — that no fraud was committed — is possible, but implausible. “While officials of the Department of Justice have been more circumspect in describing the roots of the financial crisis than have the various commissions of inquiry and other government agencies,” he wrote, “I have seen nothing to indicate their disagreement with the widespread conclusion that fraud at every level permeated the bubble in mortgage-backed securities.”

So why no high-level prosecutions? According to Judge Rakoff, evidence of fraud without prosecution of fraud indicates prosecutorial weaknesses.

This is not the first time Judge Rakoff has weighed in on the prosecutorial response to the financial crisis. In 2011, he rejected a settlement between Citigroup and the Securities and Exchange Commission because it did not require the bank to admit wrongdoing.

His insights on financial-crisis cases also apply to cases that have emerged since then, like JPMorgan Chase’s settlement with the government this week over the bank’s role in Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.

Under the deal, JPMorgan Chase, which served as Mr. Madoff’s primary bank for more than two decades, must pay a $1.7 billion penalty, essentially for turning a blind eye to Mr. Madoff’s fraud. It must also take steps to improve its anti-money-laundering controls. And it had to acknowledge, among other facts, that shortly before the fraud was revealed, the bank withdrew nearly $300 million of its money from Madoff-related funds.

By adhering to the settlement terms, the bank will avoid criminal indictment on two felony violations of the Bank Secrecy Act. No individuals were named or charged.

And that is the problem. Until relatively recently, it was rare for corporations to face criminal charges without the simultaneous prosecution of managers or executives. That changed over the past three decades, as prosecutors shifted their focus away from individuals and toward corporations, as if fault resides not in executives, but in corporate culture.

Read the entire article here.

Obama takes off the gloves on Republican Party’s economic policy

In a speech to journalists at the Associated Press (AP) President Obama roundly criticized the House Republican budget proposal and its economic presuppositions. The President wasted no time in taking off the gloves while talking to reporters, describing the budget proposal itself as a “Trojan Horse” and indicting its economic presuppositions as “thinly veiled Social Darwinism.” Both statements are basically true.

President Obama claims the budget proposal passed by Republicans is properly described as a “Trojan Horse.” The analogy is apt. In the Iliad the mythical horse represents a gift to the people of Troy from Agamemnon and his invading armies, but it actually provides cover for Odysseus and his warriors to pass unknowingly through the city’s gates and wait for the cover of night. The story is pretty much down hill from there, for both the Trojans and their fair city, as well as Odysseus, who gets lost for twenty years on his way home. The same can be said for the Republican offer on the table. We drank that Kool-Aid long ago with Reagan, Bush the Elder, and Bush the Younger. After decades of trying it their way we find ourselves worse off than before: more economic inequality, job insecurity, poverty, and homelessness in the wake of the housing bubble’s collapse. Common sense is that a budget crisis of this proportion cannot be resolved by slashing budgets alone, especially when those cuts affect all of us in terms of social services. That means not just less aid for those most in need, but fewer firemen, police officers, and public workers to keep our streets clean and safe. The budget gap is simply too big and requires something that should have been done long ago: a tax code that is really progressive and makes everyone pay their “fair” share. This means you, too, wealthy folks.

The President’s substantially correct indictment of the Republican Party’s economic presuppositions is also spot-on. Roughly, the phrase “Social Darwinism” was coined in the 1870’s to describe theories of society that emphasize the struggle for existence and the role of competition in weeding out inferior members of the species. In particular, the phrase applies to policies that rely on these notions for their justification, and at the expense of the least well off in society. What are the economic presuppositions of Republicans: no taxes, no regulation, dismantle social services, privatize everything, “let God sort them out” as they might say. After all, the core assumptions of their economic policy are often based on metaphors (“invisible hands,” “all boats lift with the rising tide,” “taxes hurt growth”), yadda yadda yadda.

Obama’s remarks reflect a fundamental truism of electoral politics made famous by a sign hanging in Gov. Bill Clinton’s campaign war office in 1992: “It’s the economy, stupid!” The same was true then, and now. Obama should keep the gloves off and keep pummeling the message home. America cannot settle for Mitt Romney and his tired and “time-tested-to-their-discredit” economic views. America is increasingly the land of prosperity for some; it needs to live up to its own self-image as a place where prosperity is possible for all.