Monday, March 23, 2015

Last Call For Indiana Acting Like Kentucky

I know most of the time when it comes to politics here in the Tri-State I talk about Kentucky and Ohio, but every now and then Indiana catches some attention for doing something blockheaded, and today's Indiana House vote on a bill to enshrine discrimination into state law qualifies for sure.

The Indiana House of Representatives voted in favor of a controversial religious freedom bill Monday.

It’s a bill that opponents believe will lead to discrimination, but it’s also a bill that is supported by the governor and one that is now certain to become law.

That didn’t stop opponents from battling to the end.

Freedom Indiana, the organization that led the fight for gay marriage in this state, delivered thousands of letters to the office of House Speaker Brian Bosma in a final protest to the bill called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“We don’t want this bill,” said Katie Blair of Freedom Indiana. “It’s not necessary. It’s discriminatory and it makes our state look bad.”

And when the bill was called down for debate most of the discussion came from opponents who see it as a consolation prize for conservative organizations who lost the gay marriage fight.

Rep. Sue Errington (D-Muncie) said she heard from clergymen who are opposed.

“They see it as state sanctioned discrimination,” she said, “particularly against gays and lesbians.”

“This is a made up issue,” said Minority Leader Scott Pelath. “It’s an issue made up for the purpose of being able to go in front of a few Indiana citizens and thump your chests that you stood up for certain social causes.”

Supporters insist that the bill would merely guide judges when the rights of two or more people come into conflict.

“Nobody in this General Assembly is advocating a bill that would allow people to discriminate,” said Majority Leader Jud McMillin. “Everybody wants the opportunity for people to practice the rights that they’re supposed to have in this country. This bill does that

So if a person says "I refuse to serve you because you are gay and that's against my firmly held beliefs" (or black, or Jewish, or a Bengals fan) and tosses you out of their establishment, that's 100% OK according to Indiana Republicans.

But in a post-Hobby Lobby decision America, that passes for serious legal thinking.

Voter Suppression Now Official In Wisconsin

It's now tougher to register to vote and to vote in the Badger State after the Supreme Court passed on dealing with Wisconsin's Voter ID law, meaning permanently lower turnout, which is exactly what Republicans want.

The Supreme Court refused Monday to hear a major challenge to Wisconsin's voter ID law, delivering a victory to Republicans who favor tougher election laws. 
The decision is a setback for civil rights groups that contend the law could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of residents who lack proper ID — particularly racial minorities, seniors, students and people with disabilities. 
And it turns both sides' sights on Texas, where a similar statute is pending before a federal appeals court. Eventually, the justices are considered likely to resolve the festering issue. 
New election laws in both states, along with Ohio and North Carolina, forced the high court to settle last-minute disputes before the 2014 elections. The justices generally tried not to change procedures just as voters were set to go to the polls, but they did not rule on the broader issue: what types of state restrictions are constitutional. 
Wisconsin's law was passed in 2011 and used in low-turnout primaries before being blocked from further use by a state court. Last year, a federal district judge declared it unconstitutional because it disproportionately affected black and Hispanic residents. 
A three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision in September, in part because of last-minute changes made by state officials to ease the burden on those lacking proper ID. The full appeals court deadlocked 5-5 on the issue, leaving the panel's decision in place. But the Supreme Court blocked the law from taking effect in November. 
All four cases are part of a broader national challenge by groups aligned with Democrats and minorities against laws tightening voting procedures passed by Republican legislatures to combat alleged voter fraud.

If the Supremes punt on all four states, 2016 is going to be a lot harder for Democrats to prevail in. Republicans know it, because that's the goal: the fewer people vote, the better the GOP does. 2014 proved that beyond a doubt.

We're losing more and more rights to vote, and if the Supreme Court won't act on such blatant and obvious voter suppression against Democrats, then we're in a lot of trouble.

WaPo's Paul Waldman says the Supreme Court punt means it's time to change tactics:

It may be time for liberals to admit that, barring a significant change in the makeup of the Supreme Court, this just isn’t a battle they’re ever going to win
That doesn’t mean every challenge to a voter ID law should be dropped. Many of these cases are still important to pursue because the details vary from one state to another. Some laws are more restrictive than others, and it’s important for liberals to press the Court to clearly define what’s permissible and what isn’t. For instance, the Texas law (which is still working its way up to the Court) said that hunting licenses could be used as valid identification, but IDs issued by state universities couldn’t. Everyone understood why the Texas legislature wrote the law that way: hunters are more likely to be Republicans, while students are more likely to be Democrats. 
Even one or two of the conservative justices might find that requirement ridiculous and strike it down. There’s also the question of what states need to do to accommodate people who don’t drive and want to get whatever substitute ID is being provided. How much can the state charge? What about people who would need to travel long distances to get to a state office? What about older people who don’t have (or never had) a birth certificate? These are questions the Court will have to decide, and liberals should be there to make their case, in order to mitigate the harm done by these laws. 
But no one should fool themselves into thinking that this Court is ever going to rule that the basic requirement to present photo ID at the polls is unconstitutional.

That ship has officially sailed.  But the fight to make sure that all Americans have equal access to voter IDs is just getting started.

Race Together Comes Apart

Well this brand disaster of a plan lasted all of a week.

According to a recently released internal memo, Starbucks baristas will no longer write “Race Together” on customers’ cups starting Sunday.

Starbucks spokesman Jim Olson says the campaign to create discussion on diversity and racial inequality will continue without the handwritten messages, which are phasing out as originally planned.

The memo from CEO Howard Schultz says the cups were always “just the catalyst” for a broader conversation and the company will still hold forum discussions, co-produce special sections in USA TODAY and put more stores in minority communities as part of the Race Together initiative.

The initiative has been criticized as opportunistic and inappropriate, coming in the wake of racially charged events such as protests over police killings of black males.

Olson says the change is not a reaction to that pushback.

Sure it's not.  And I'm really Boudica, Queen of the Celts.

Look, this was a horrible idea to begin with, because the only thing worse than people refusing to have a real conversation on race is people having a forced, non-serious conversation about it generated by a coffee company.  It's great that Starbucks wants to be a good corporate citizen, but it was putting all the pressure on its baristas to do the work with little or no guidance, particularly when you sell a product in places where your customer base is mostly white.

There are some real things Starbucks could do, and it looks like according to the statement they plan to at least start on doing them, but #RaceTogether was a road paved with good intentions with only one possible destination.


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