Who Lost North Korea

As South Korean spies ended weeks of speculation by revealing the mundane cause of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un’s recent absence from public view (ankle surgery), a much more ominous bit of news was simultaneously reported: North Korea has begun work on a submarine-based nuclear missile launching system. With present technology, North Korea may be able to strike Alaska, or perhaps Washington state. With sub-based missiles, they could potentially hit any city in the US. While this project will take years, the long-term prospects are chilling. And no matter how conservatives try to wriggle out from under the inescapable truth, blame for North Korea’s nuclearization falls squarely on the Bush Duh administration.

A little background info is crucial. There are just two paths to creating a nuclear fission weapon. One uses uranium, which involves a technologically complex enrichment process. The other uses plutonium, and is much quicker – if you have a ready supply of plutonium, which can be readily produced in certain kinds of nuclear reactors.

When Bill Clinton came to the White House in 1993 – fresh out of Little Rock, without a scintilla of foreign policy experience – he inherited a Korean peninsula already in nuclear crisis. Clinton competently negotiated a deal, and under the 1994 “Agreed Framework,” North Korea halted its uranium enrichment program, and also shut down its plutonium-producing nuclear plant – blocking both paths to nuclearization. In exchange, the US promised to build North Korea two new nuclear plants – of a kind that could not be harnessed to manufacture weapons – and to supply them with fuel oil in the interim. The Agreed Framework also put the US and North Korea on track for improved relations.

Fun fact: North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear reactor – source of its weapons-grade plutonium – was constructed on Ronald Reagan’s watch, during 1980-86.

Enter Bush Duh. Late in 2002, the US accused North Korea of violating the Agreed Framework by restarting its uranium enrichment program. Whether or not that’s true, in the 21 years since the Agreed Framework was signed, North Korea has never detonated a uranium-based nuclear weapon. What is true is that the US failed to follow through on its promises to build two new reactors and deliver fuel oil. The reactors were far behind schedule, and oil shipments were often delayed – all because conservatives in Congress opposed the agreement, and sought to sabotage it by withholding funding. This makes it particularly laughable for conservatives to blame North Korean nukes on Clinton, since they did everything they could to undermine his otherwise effective policies.

And so because of congressional conservatives, North Korea had legitimate gripes about the US failing to keep up its end of the bargain. With ham-handed diplomacy, Bush Duh so thoroughly alienated North Korea that they pulled out of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, restarted their Yongbyon reactor, and – while Bush Duh slept – they ran it for two years, producing enough plutonium to build several bombs. Duh dozed on as North Korea shut the reactor down, extracted the plutonium, and got to work. They successfully detonated their first nuclear weapon in late 2006 – during Duh’s 6th year in the White House.

Bush Duh followed up that 6 year snooze-a-thon with inaction in the face of North Korea’s missile tests, as the North worked on the development of a nuclear weapons delivery system to allow them to strike US allies, as well as the US mainland. He was, after all, quite busy in Iraq, confirming what UN inspectors said before the US invasion: that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. Duh!

Stealing Votes from Prisoners

With the midterm elections fast approaching, a little-known and unfortunate quirk in the American electoral system merits attention. It may surprise you to learn that prisoners are counted as residents of whatever town, county, and-or state in which they are imprisoned. And since most states do not permit prisoners to vote, counting prisoners in this way artificially inflates the voting power of people who happen to live close to prisons. Upon incarceration, an American adult isnt merely stripped of the right to vote – his vote is taken from him and given, collectively, to people who share the prison’s political subdivision.

This policy reduces the electoral representation of cities and sends it out to rural areas where large prisons are most commonly situated. In some cases, the residents of sparsely populated areas have double the voting power of other voters – courtesy of the incarcerated, who havent even necessarily been found guilty!

This policy is worse than was the three-fifths compromise, itself a high-water mark for cynicism. While slavery was still legal in the US south, southerners wanted to have their pecan pie and eat it too. With respect to civil and political rights, they didnt want to regard blacks as human beings; but in order to gain more representation in Congress and more votes in the electoral college for presidential elections, southern politicians needed to maximize their headcount. And so for purposes of the US Census, if the South had its way, lawsy mercy, yes: blacks are people too!

North and South struck an unseemly compromise, which permanently mars the US Constitution: a slave was to be treated as three-fifths of a human being for purposes of apportionment. Of course slaves werent allowed to vote – the votes their bodies accrued went, perversely, to free white southern voters, who consequentially got 30% more Congressman and 30% more electors in the Electoral College.

Though their absolute numbers are smaller, US electoral practices with respect to prisoners are even more unjust. They are denied the right to vote in 48 of 50 states. (Maine and Vermont are the exceptions.) And yet they are counted as full-fledged residents of their place of incarceration Рliterally transferring their voting power, intact, to others. Since the federal prison system often shifts inmates across state lines, this practice serves to arbitrarily transfer voting power from states with high crime rates to states with large prison populations.

This practice isnt confined to the usual backward states. In New York City, prisoners incarcerated on Rikers Island are counted as residents of Astoria, inflating the voting power of that neighborhood’s residents on the City Council. Similar distortions are seen in municipal governing bodies all across New York State.

It was only recently that college students were finally treated as residents where they attend college, to allow them to participate in the politics of the place they spend most of their time. By a similar logic, prisoners who are allowed to vote should either be counted as residents of their place of incarceration, or of their last place residence. But for the 99% of US prisoners who are not allowed to vote, their voting power should not be arbitrarily bestowed on the people who happen to live near the prison. Instead, it should remain in the community where the prisoner last resided. Even better, if states insist on denying the right to vote to prisoners and felons, their representation should be accordingly diminished for purposes of federal elections.

 

Refs:

http://www.acslaw.org/acsblog/counting-on-prisoners-the-use-of-inmates-in-apportionment

http://www.prisonersofthecensus.org/faq.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/07/nyregion/07inmates.html?_r=3&

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-Fifths_Compromise

ACA – No Retreat

The average rust-, corn- or biblebelter never had a passport, and might regard as exotic travel a trip to another county’s fair. To them, Copenhagen is chewing tobacco, Dutch Masters are fancier tobacky, and Monte Carlo was the best durn Chevy ever built. The notion that America is just one among a growing number of rich, developed countries is at best an abstraction. And so when they’re told that, relative to the residents of other rich countries, Americans live shorter lives, American babies are less likely to survive infancy, and American children are less likely to see 1st grade, they become angry, confused and incredulous.

And then come the usual lame excuses. Americans are richer, have cheaper happy meals, and watch hours of TV on their ginormous flatscreens. And over in fascist Western Europe you cant buy a gun at a show, plug a pesky co-worker, and be home in time for dinner, y’all.

But as a matter of empirical fact, Americans are not particularly sedentary. And while they are fatter (and better armed!) than other westerners, neither diet nor guns adequately explain why Americans are so much more likely to die from the day they’re born till age 75, compared to people in other rich countries. The most comprehensive review to date significantly blames the US healthcare system itself for poor US health outcomes – while costing Americans double the OECD average in per capita healthcare expenditures.

Enter the Affordable Care Act, also known as the ACA, or Obamacare. The ACA has several policy objectives – chief among them are reducing the number of uninsured, and controlling the growth of healthcare costs. And contrary to misinformation passed on by conservatives at every opportunity, the ACA is proving to be a great success.

Rates of uninsured are dropping nationwide – fastest in states that have participated in expanded Medicaid, but rates are even dropping in those who opted out. Enrollment through the exchanges has exceeded its target, despite a sloppy rollout that cost HHS Secretary Sebelius her job. And, amazingly, the growth in healthcare costs has slowed to its lowest level since measurements were first taken in the 1960s, which is all the more remarkable given that the economy is still recovering from a sharp recession – a period during which health care costs have traditionally spiked.

The notion that a country can pay less for healthcare and get better health outcomes is not theoretical – it is demonstrable. Nearly every western country pulls off this feat vis-a-vis the US, year-in and year-out. The notion that public health insurers (like Medicare) can outperform private insurers is likewise not theoretical, but demonstrable, both between and within countries. Medicare beats Medicare Advantage. Other countries’ primarily public systems beat the US’ primarily private system.

The GOP has a good chance of taking control of the Senate in the coming midterm elections, and should that happen, we should expect to see yet more congressional attempts to repeal the ACA. But Americans should be steadfast in their support of the law – there can be no going back to the failed system of old.

Texas Needs UN Observers

A newly released UN report expresses concern over the high number of executions being carried out in Iraq. The report found implementation of the death penalty in Iraq to be particularly problematic because “many… convictions are based on questionable evidence and systemic failures in the administration of justice.”

You must be thinking – wow, the Iraqi Government must be offing folks left and right to be the target of this kind of UN criticism. After all, conditions in Iraq are dire. There’s a civil war, headed by an armed insurgency, now ongoing across much of the country. Terrorist bombings in Baghdad have become so commonplace that they frequently go unreported. So how many people has Iraq put to death so far in 2014? Answer: 60.

Hmmm. Iraq has a population of 33 million. Assuming Iraq continues on its execution-rampage, they will have put 80 people to death by year’s end, making for an execution rate of 2.4 per million. Texas, by comparison, has a population of 26 million, and has put 39 people to death so far this year, putting them on track for about 42 by year’s end. That gives Texas an execution rate of 1.6 per million. Not sure whether congratulations are due – Texas has managed to be only two-thirds as brutal to its peacetime population compared to wartime Iraq.

Iraq may be bad now, but it’s much improved much since when Saddam Hussein was in power. However you can say the same about Texas, which has also come a long way since the dark days of Governor Bush Duh, who in 1999 oversaw 98 executions for a population of 20 million, for an execution rate of nearly 5 per million, double that of present day Iraq. Bush Duh’s Texas had no civil war and no terrorist bombings – it was just folks killin’ folks, Texas style – with nary a UN monitor in sight.

As the UN report points out, the problem in Iraq isnt just the sheer number of executions – it’s the shoddy system of justice that produces them. The Texas comparison is here, again, unavoidable, where people are put to death without competent legal representation, and where many have been found to be innocent while on death row – others, after their execution has been carried out.

All modern, civilized people should oppose the death penalty under all circumstances. In fact, the reason why it’s virtually disappeared in the West is that it is inconsistent with all modern political ideologies – except fascism. The comparison with war-torn Iraq serves to show just how backwards are certain parts of the US, where an extraordinary degree of barbarism is brought into higher relief when it occurs in a relatively affluent, peacetime population – without enough of an outcry from human rights organizations, foreign or domestic.

 

 

 

 

Kansas Voodoo

Perhaps even conservatives can only be fooled so many times before they get wise. In Kansas, Democrat Paul Davis has pulled even with Republican incumbent Sam Brownback in the race for governor. Davis has even received the endorsement of numerous Republican officials across Kansas, who find Brownback’s dalliance with Voodoo Economics too spooky for their taste.

Credit for the term “Voodoo Economics” goes to George Bush. While he was competing for the 1980 GOP presidential nomination, he applied it to describe Ronald Reagan’s economic proposals, which relied on the notion that tax cuts pay for themselves. To George Bush, and to most of us, Reagan’s policies seemed like a crackpot idea at the time. Our experience over the past 30 years have borne out Bush’s skepticism.

Fiscally, the US never recovered from Reagan’s tax cuts. Deficits remained sky high for twelve years, right through the departure of his successor from the White House in 1993. That not-so-grand experiment only ended with Clinton’s tax increases, which, instead of bringing the disasters predicted by conservatives, delivered the longest economic expansion in US history, and replaced Reagan and Bush’s deficits with surpluses projected far into the future.

Under Bush Duh, the US again endured the folly of Voodoo Economics. His tax cuts gave away the surplus to the very rich, and left the country’s fiscal health permanently compromised. The cure only came via Obama’s tax increases on the wealthy – and the sustained economic recovery that’s (again) happened with conservatives (again) predicting gloom and doom.

But these experiences werent enough to deter Kansas from embarking on the very same, failed supply-side Voodoo. Conservative Sam Brownback was elected governor in 2011, and in 2012 pushed through a massive tax cut, slashing the top income tax rate by 25%, and eliminating income taxes on small businesses entirely. Brownback was hoping for a little of that ol’ black magic: to see state tax revenue grow, even though almost all Kansans were going to be paying a lower tax rate.

For all its voodoo, Kansas is now in deep budgetary doo-doo – because Voodoo Economics has failed Kansas too. With tax receipts falling short of expenses by hundreds of millions of dollars, education, along with other government services have been slashed, and the state’s credit rating has been downgraded. And in addition to all that red ink, Kansas is adding jobs at a slower pace than the national average. With inept governance, deficits, and weak job growth, one might regard today’s Kansas as a time capsule of the Bush Duh years – from which even Kansas Republicans seem eager to escape.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Voter ID Laws: More Conservative Shenanigans

No sooner do conservatives come to power, but they begin chipping away at voting rights. What choice do they have, after all, given their lack of electoral support. Democrats consistently win more votes than Republicans in congressional elections – the Republican House majority is a creature of gerrymandered districts, and nothing more – it is not the result of greater popularity.

Preventing votes has long been a favorite conservative pastime, going back to Reconstruction, when black men had only recently secured the right to vote through the 15th amendment. The US South had a 100 year tradition of denying suffrage to blacks when the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965. That law created a special class of states, which were to be subject to special scrutiny because of their poor record of voting rights abuses.

In 2013, Chief Justice John Roberts and the Supreme Court’s four other conservatives decided that the South had grown up, and no longer needed special oversight to ensure that they would not mistreat minorities. In her dissent, Justice Ginsburg predicted that abuses would immediately resume. She thought the majority’s reasoning was foolish, and asserted that close scrutiny was precisely what kept miscreant states in line – that getting rid of “preclearance” (their special statutory regime) was akin to throwing away an umbrella in a thunderstorm because you werent getting wet.

As if it were a scripted comedy routine, Texas and Mississippi responded within hours by implementing voter ID laws that adversely impacted minority voting. In the year since that decision, voter ID laws have multiplied. And the Supreme Court has decided to leave the Texas law in place for the coming election.

Voter ID laws invariably function as a poll tax. Such laws take away your constitutional right to vote, and substitute it with a limited right, conditioned upon obtaining particular documents – a process that’s never free, and whose costs tend to be greater for the young, poor, elderly and minorities because they are less likely to have the needed documents readily at hand, and because they are more burdened by efforts to obtain them.

These laws are offered as a means of protecting society from the crime of voter impersonation. However numerous investigations have found that crime to occur so infrequently that it has virtually no chance of impacting an election, even if it were to somehow spike in frequency by a factor of one hundred! On the other hand, voter ID laws powerfully reduce the turnout of legitimate voters. It’s sort of like adopting a new police procedure to reduce homicides – which has the side-effect of killing one thousand people for every homicide it prevents.

And that is precisely why these laws exist, and why they are almost always passed by Republican legislatures and signed into effect by Republican governors. Voter ID laws serve no purpose other than to prevent the young, poor, elderly and minorities from voting – all of whom are more likely to vote democratic. You’d think these laws might set off conservative alarm bells, because they require ordinary citizens to obtain government-issued ID cards as a prerequisite to voting – conservatives, after all, are prone to whining and complaining about the threat posed by Big Government. But lacking any principles whatsoever, conservatives are content to expand government power whenever its convenient.

 

 

 

 

How Jim Crow Holds Florida

In denying the right to vote to criminals, even after they have been released from prison, the US is an outlier with respect to much of the world. Let alone allowing ex-cons to vote, numerous countries permit inmates to vote from prison, including Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Serbia and Sweden. Among US states, only Maine and Vermont let everyone vote, including prisoners.

With America’s skyrocketing prison population, felony disenfranchisement affects an increasing fraction of the US population. While it denied suffrage to about 1 million Americans the in the early 70s, 3 million were disenfranchised by the mid-90s, and nearly 6 million are disenfranchised today. Across much of the south, upwards of 7% of the adult population cannot vote because of past convictions.

Relative to the irrevocable, lifetime disenfranchisement that the Constitution permits (for the moment), states are generally much more liberal about allowing convicted criminals to vote after they’ve completed their sentences, if not parole or probation. As usual, it’s regressive southern states who are the most unforgiving, with a few effectively disenfranchising convicted criminals forever.

Disenfranchisement disproportionately affects blacks. Across the country, about 8% of blacks, and some 13% of black men cannot vote – compared to about 2% of all other adults. Florida is the worst case of all. In 2011, its GOP governor gave the state the most extreme felony disenfranchisement law in the country. With just 6% of the US population, Florida is home to 25% of all of America’s disenfranchised. 20% of all blacks in Florida – and about 35% of all black men – cannot vote. One neednt wonder at the GOP’s zeal for felony disenfranchisement. In its absence, Florida would not be a swing state – it would be solidly democratic.

US AG Eric Holder has been pressing states to reform these outmoded laws – many of which date back to Reconstruction, a living remnant of the Jim Crow south, whose purpose was, then and now, to suppress the black vote. Felony disenfranchisement is an ugly anachronism, with no place in a modern law or governance.

 

Refs:

https://www.aclu.org/maps/map-state-criminal-disfranchisement-laws

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/eric-holder-makes-case-for-felons-to-get-voting-rights-back/2014/02/11/b0556492-932b-11e3-84e1-27626c5ef5fb_story.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Felony_disenfranchisement#Other_European_countries

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/wp/2014/02/12/how-felon-voting-policies-restrict-the-black-vote/

http://www.fairvote.org/research-and-analysis/voting-rights/felon-disenfranchisement/

http://www.demos.org/blog/2/13/14/racist-history-behind-felony-disenfranchisement-laws

http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2012/07/black-vote-felon-disenfranchisement-laws-florida

http://truth-out.org/buzzflash/commentary/felon-disenfranchisement-the-new-jim-crow/17952-felon-disenfranchisement-the-new-jim-crow

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reconstruction_Acts

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reconstruction_Amendments

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fifteenth_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourteenth_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution

The Constitutionality of Felony Disenfranchisement:

In the aftermath of the US Civil War, with southern states excluded from Congress and yet subject to military rule, northern states changed the Constitution to protect its citizens’ voting rights – somewhat. The 15th amendment, which became law in 1870, is short and simple:

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

18 months previously, northern states had ratified the 14th amendment. Section 2 is a fine bit of 19th century prose:

Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.

It sprawlingly ties together many areas of law, including apportionment, the legal status of “Indians”, federal and state elections, voting rights and criminal disenfranchisement. That’s a good thing, because it mutually binds, one to another, numerous rights, capacities and effects, forcing courts to interpret them with respect to one another. The bad of it is that it implicitly allows for the unfettered disenfranchisement of convicted criminals. The 15th amendment meanwhile only prevents states from denying the right to vote for 3 specific reasons – leaving other bases for disenfranchisement valid, including not just crime, but gender.

There is hope. See:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richardson_v._Ramirez

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hunter_v._Underwood

n.b. The Reconstruction amendments were drafted, voted up by 2/3 majorities in both houses, and passed on to the states for ratification while southern states had no representation in Congress, were yet subject to military rule, and were effectively territories – not states – governed from Washington, D.C. Their readmission to the Union – and with it, the restoration of their Congressional delegations – was conditioned on their ratification of the these amendments.