Happy Birthday 19th Amendment!
94 years ago today the number of eligible voters in the United States doubled. Happy Birthday 19th Amendment!
Previously posted at the Brennan Center.
It was a stormy night in Brooklyn when he walked into my local bar. The day had been stifling, and then the rain swept in. The lightning outside crackled.
Tom looked around nervously for a friendly face. He sat down next to me. He was a man in distress. Conflicted: happy but afraid. He knew his life had reached a critical pass. He needed to talk. He needed my help.
Tom isn’t his real name. I need to protect him. You see he’s a corporation.
Last week had started off with so much promise. Tom was so happy about the Supreme Court’s ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.
After smiling at the memory of last Monday’s decision, he began nervously taking long sips of an artisanal Brooklyn beer. Tom’s not used to talking about his emotions. But after Hobby Lobby, he felt a rush of feelings and hopes and dreams. He just needed someone to listen. And there I was.
The lights in the bar flickered as the storm intensified. Tom started telling me his story. He had been trying to talk to the CEO for a long time about what he felt, but the CEO wouldn’t pay attention. At first, Tom said that the CEO just waved his hand around his ear like he was trying to brush away a gnat. To be fair, Tom is a bit of a low talker. Still I had to admit that was pretty rude of the CEO.
Eventually, around 2010, the CEO started to listen. It was after Citizens United.
“You know I really never thought about your opinions much before,” Tom said the CEO told him. “You were just here to insulate me from personal liability and for the tax benefits. Your perpetual existence helps with investors. Plus deducting business expenses. That’s really nice. Did you know I used the corporate card yesterday to expense a really nice meal at Per Se? Have you had their Oysters and Pearls? Seriously who would have ever thought about combining tapioca and caviar? It’s so delicious. I was there with our new sales consultant, and she….”
Tom said he stopped listening then because, duh, he can’t eat, and he thought the CEO was just being mean to him again.
This week, Sam Alito gave him courage. He rushed into the CEO’s office with a copy of the Hobby Lobby decision. Tom’s eyes were gleaming with excitement as he told me about the moment he started quoting Sam to the CEO. The CEO stopped tapping on his iPad and looked straight at him.
“Look,” the CEO barked at Tom, “That company is owned by a few people. We’re publicly traded.”
Tom thought the CEO was just trying to put him off. “Sherman is a great guy,” Tom pleaded. He calls Hobby Lobby Sherman. “Even that mean lady”— he meant Ruth Bader Ginsburg—“gets that I’m the same as Sherman.”
The CEO leaned back in his chair and put his arms behind his head. “Why are you rattling on so much about Hillary Clinton and birth control?” the CEO asked him. “I mean I still get to vote. We gave Mitt a large contribution. Nice guy. Great golfer. Plus it’s not like I’m paying for my PA Meredith’s IUD out of my own pocket. And, Tom, come on. When we pay for Meredith’s health insurance, it’s a deductible business expense, just like that great dinner I had Monday at Le Bernardin.”
Tom looked at me with his big brown puppy dog eyes and sighed. “That’s my name on the corporate checks. Not his.” he said angrily. “And I don’t want to have anything to do with Meredith’s lady parts.”
But the CEO laid down the law. (Well not exactly “the law,” more like CEO law, which you really better not mess with—at least as long as the Board likes him). “We’re a bank for God’s sake. I’m getting tax and liability benefits for the Benjamins. That’s why they let me incorporate. Meredith’s bits don’t have anything to do with it.”
Tom was grasping his beer bottle tightly. I was worried it might break in his hand and wasn’t quite sure how I would give him first aid if he cut himself. He practically spat out his words: “He treats me like a dumb blonde. But does he know my ROE? Not to brag, but it’s well north of 25%. My gross margins are the best in the sector. Revenues and EPS are up for five years and counting.”
Now Tom had my attention. All his chatter about lady parts had sort of turned me off before. But I like it when my corporations talk sexy, like he was talking now. I like it when my corporations stick to the legal framework and advantages provided by my tax dollars to organize individuals, capital, and physical resources to bring me the goods and services I want and need in the most efficient manner possible and aren’t subverted to subsidize a CEO’s personal interests.
Tom was getting there. Plus I thought maybe he could teach me how to incorporate myself and then maybe the Supreme Court would take my feelings about reproductive rights seriously.
I turned away to order him another beer. But when I looked back all I saw was a pile of financial statements in a puddle of pale ale.
In both cases, the Court’s decisions may significantly alter the way we capture, store, and consume information (Aereo) and the extent to which we can expect privacy with regard to, or control, that information (Riley).
Both are central to our civil society. And oral arguments found the Justices stumbling about, grappling with what happens when the information society butts heads with the law. The questioning did not inspire confidence in the Court’s tech savvy. You definitely should not call them to fix your WiFi, but are they tech literate enough to get these cases right?
There’s been great sport in recent days tweaking the Justices for their lack of tech proficiency—or defending them. After all, the Chief Justice, the second youngest member of the Court, still writes his opinions in long hand. But he also seems to know what a Fitbit is!
Justice Scalia is positively baffled by some Internet behavior: “I don’t know why anyone would like to be ‘friended’ on the network. I mean, what kind of a narcissistic society is it that people want to put out there, This is my life, and this is what I did yesterday? I mean…good grief. Doesn’t that strike you as strange? I think it’s strange.”
….read the whole piece here where it was first published at the Brennan Center.
While voting rights battles rage on in states like Kansas, Arizona, Ohio, and Texas, voters enjoyed a recent string of victories in states across the country. In the past week, three courts halted restrictive photo ID bills and two state legislatures passed measures to make voter registration more accessible. Here are the details…
Millennials are undercutting their own influence on social policy.
Much has been made of the vaunted “youth vote” in the Obama era, of the surge in voters younger than 30 who’ve turned out — many for the first time, all defying expectations — in numbers crucial to influencing the last two presidential elections. But even during the 2012 election, younger voters in fact cast significantly fewer ballots than we might expect, given their share of the voting-eligible population.
Published at the Brennan Center
Sometime this month President Obama’s counselor, John Podesta, will deliver a report to the President on “Big Data.” The scope of the report is vast: how Big Data affects “the way we live and work” and “the relationship between government and citizens,” among other things.
Thus the White House begins its systematic look at “Big Data,” the stunningly enormous aggregation of bits and bytes about individuals that has grown exponentially during the information age.
In the months since Podesta launched the Big Data review—spurred in part by Edward Snowden’s revelations about the National Security Agency —a horde of industry, government, and public interest representatives have descended on the White House to have their say.
However, one group of Big Data users seem to have largely escaped attention. Yes, Google and Facebook have had their meeting with Obama.
But has Obama talked to Obama yet? Because he (and his campaign) have created one of the biggest data sets yet on the American voter. And how he, and indeed all politicians and political groups, use the data will have profound implications for the future of elections and our democracy….
continue reading here.
If you follow Electoral College politics closely (maybe in your spare time?), you’ll know that in presidential elections, we don’t actually practice one person, one vote. Given the way College votes are allocated amongst the states, it takes three times as many Floridians to get one Electoral College vote from that state than Wyomingans. (The population per college vote in Florida is 651,751 whereas it is 189,433 in Wyoming).
Yesterday, New York’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo, signed into law a bill that takes a step toward remedying the odd effects of the Electoral College on presidential elections. He signed a law that committed New York to the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. (I wrote about it here when the bill passed the legislature and was awaiting his signature.)
“By aligning the Electoral College with the voice of the nation’s voters,” Cuomo said in a statement issued after signing the law, “we are ensuring the equality of votes and encouraging candidates to appeal to voters in all states, instead of disproportionately focusing on early contests and swing states.”
It’ll be interesting to see if the college reform movement gains momentum from this victory. Oklahoma’s state Senate, incidentally, passed the measure earlier this year. But it looks like the House essentially killed the bill.
It’s easy to think of the Doom Loop of Oligarchy as driven by political spending. But it’s also driven, more mundanely, by political engagement. The more affluent you are, the more likely you are to do, well, anything related to American politics. That includes the most basic political act of all…
Ezra Klein’s new venture Vox launched this week, and it’s full of great and provocative articles. One of the first was a longish think piece from Klein on how politics makes us stupid.
There’s a simple theory underlying much of American politics. It sits hopefully at the base of almost every speech, every op-ed, every article, and every panel discussion. It courses through the Constitution and is a constant in President Obama’s most stirring addresses. It’s what we might call the More Information Hypothesis: the belief that many of our most bitter political battles are mere misunderstandings. The cause of these misunderstandings? Too little information — be it about climate change, or taxes, or Iraq, or the budget deficit. If only the citizenry were more informed, the thinking goes, then there wouldn’t be all this fighting….
But the More Information Hypothesis isn’t just wrong. It’s backwards. Cutting-edge research shows that the more information partisans get, the deeper their disagreements become.
You can read the whole piece here.
It’s a fascinating read and an odd way to launch a political/policy site that more than most is dedicated to More Information. But boy do I appreciate the point.
I think it also raises many, many questions that merit exploration. More information may not necessarily work by itself. But maybe it works in combination with other appeals and techniques. What are those other techniques? Which political topics rise to the “I won’t be swayed” level of tribal politics and which don’t? There are clearly some subjects that are amenable to rational, evidence-based decision making. What are those subjects and why are they still subject to information?
Do we need political truth and reconciliation commissions?
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