At the first official Republican debate in Cleveland, 10 candidates talked about a lot of things, but Kay Steiger noted at ThinkProgress.org (8/7) what never came up. “Topics like ISIS, government surveillance, the various ways to roll back women’s reproductive rights, and even whether they’d received word from God took precedence over a lot of other issues that have been seizing the national conversation,” she wrote.

For example, despite the fact that candidates gathered on stage in Cleveland, Ohio, on the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act getting signed into law, there wasn’t a single question or candidate answer that referenced this historic advancement in voting rights or the fact that Chief Justice John Roberts gutted the law in 2013. Off the debate stage, Republicans have been fixated on the idea of voter fraud, a vanishingly small problem, and have used it to justify laws around the country that tighten restrictions on voters. Voter ID laws, a particularly popular tactic for Republicans, have been shown to disproportionately discriminate against voters of color and low-income voters. The debate also took place the same week a federal court ruled that Texas’ strict Voter ID law violated the Voting Rights Act.

Paid Family Leave also was ignored. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has expressed robust support for paid family leave, but the all-male primetime Republican debate panel didn’t mention the policy. The US remains the only developed economy that doesn’t require some form of paid maternity leave for new mothers. Three states have now taken up a model for paid family leave, and surveys show that not only do workers favor the policy, but the vast majority of employers say it has had a neutral or positive impact on their bottom lines.

Climate Change came up in the early debate with the seven candidates whose polling numbers weren’t high enough to get them into the main debate, but the subject didn’t surface with the top 10 candidates. Republican candidates have been reluctant to acknowledge that the Earth is warming at all, and when they do they’ll often say regulations to enforce carbon emission reductions are too onerous. Candidates also didn’t mention Obama’s ambitious Clean Power Plan, released that week, which seeks to significantly reduce US emissions from power plants.

College Cost And Student Debt has been discussed by candidates on the Democratic side, who have been talking about ways to make college more affordable. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said he wants to make college free by taxing Wall Street. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley released a “debt-free college” plan, and Hillary Clinton unveiled a $350 bln plan (8/10) that would enable more Americans to pay for college without becoming mired in debt. The only candidate on the Republican side who has addressed the issue very much is Marco Rubio, whose innovation on the issue of student debt is to get students to find a rich person to sponsor them through their higher education.

On Gun Violence, in a summer with several major mass shootings, including one in Charleston where nine members of a prominent African American church were killed by a shooter sympathetic to white supremacist groups, the debate over gun violence didn’t make the cut for issues to discuss with Republican candidates — not even to offer a full-throated defense of Second Amendment rights. Unlike in 2012, when a shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut launched an effort to enact moderate background check reforms, there have been very few pushes for gun control after the more recent mass shootings. Amy Schumer, the comedian whose movie drew a mass shooting in a Louisiana theater, held a press conference on the topic, but on the Republican side, efforts have been restricted to expanding the areas where guns can be carried, including pushes to arm service members at military recruitment centers.

Criminal Justice Reform is an issue gaining traction on the right, but its most prominent champion, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), didn’t mention it at the debate. Though the issue of police shootings briefly came up as a question to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, he largely dodged it. Black and Hispanic people are far more likely to be imprisoned for minor drug charges, despite the fact that rates of drug use are about the same among those populations as whites.

On Corporate Welfare, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee mentioned that, “Most of the income in this country is made by people at the top who get dividends and — and capital gains,” but there was little mention of the idea that corporations are getting huge benefits from the current system. Even the right-wing billionaire Koch brothers have come around on corporate welfare, saying that “Business leaders (must) recognize that their behavior is suicide.” This is perhaps because candidates are increasingly beholden to donors who have contributed at least a million dollars to their campaigns.

TRUMP UNBOWED. Donald Trump apparently survived the attempts by Fox News inquisitors to knock him off track in the first Republican presidential debate. An NBC News online poll (8/9) showed Trump still in first place with 23%—actually gaining a (statistically insignificant) point from before the debate. But the standings below Trump got shaken up in a big way, Chris Weigant wrote at HuffingtonPost.com (8/10).

Before the debates, Jeb Bush and Scott Walker were tied for second with 10% each. Tied for fourth were Ben Carson and Marco Rubio, each with 8%. Tied for sixth place were Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, both with 6%. None of the other candidates had even 5% support.

Post-debate, the only two first-tier candidates who held their position were Trump (in the lead) and Rubio (still tied for fourth). The closest to Trump’s post-debate 23% was Ted Cruz, moving up from a sixth-place to second place with 13%. Ben Carson also got a boost, moving up from fourth place to sole possession of third, with 11%. Behind these three were Carly Fiorina and Marco Rubio, both at 8% support. The two big losers were Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, who moved from being tied for second down to being tied for sixth, with only 7% support. That’s a pretty big drop for both of them, neither of whom can now claim to be even close to “frontrunner” status, Weigant noted.

Trump is still refusing to rule out an independent or third-party run for president if he doesn’t get the GOP nomination.

Some Republicans think the party could block Trump from running under “sore loser” statutes that prevent a candidate who loses in a party primary from running in the general election as the candidate of another party and/or as an independent, but Richard Winger, editor of Ballot Access News, said on MSNBC (8/11) courts have found that, in most states, the sore loser statutes don’t apply to presidential candidates because no person is defeated in any one state’s primary, but if Trump were serious about keeping the independent option open, he shouldn’t file in the Ohio, Texas and South Dakota primaries. As a practical matter, Winger said in an email, Trump could wait until April 2016 to decide whether to mount an independent campaign, just as John Anderson did in 1980, when he withdrew from the Republican race on April 24, 1980, and got on the ballot in all 51 jurisdictions in November.

DEMS SET 6 DEBATES. The first of six Democratic debates will be Oct. 13 in Nevada on CNN. Other debates are planned by the Democratic National Committee for Nov. 14 in Des Moines, Iowa (sponsored by CBS/KCCI and The Des Moines Register); Dec. 19 in Manchester, N.H. (ABC/WMUR); Jan. 17 in Charleston, S.C (NBC/Congressional Black Caucus Institute); and two scheduled for either February or March in Miami, Florida and Wisconsin, hosted by Univision/the Washington Post and PBS, respectively.

Candidates include former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb and former Rhode Island Sen. and Gov. Lincoln Chafee. Vice President Joe Biden also reportedly is weighing his options.

The Democratic National Committee said (8/6) that to qualify for a debate, candidates must get at least 1% in three credible national polls within the six weeks before the debate — a threshold that Politico noted could make Webb, Chafee and O’Malley’s camps nervous.

Campaigns started griping about the plan soon after the party committee announced it three months ago — the Sanders and O’Malley camps publicly said they wanted more than six debates, while Clinton’s team initially lobbied for even fewer, Politico noted.

NEW PROOF O’CARE IS WORKING. More than five years after President Obama signed his landmark Affordable Care Act, it’s becoming more difficult for critics to deny that it’s accomplishing many of its major goals, Tara Culp-Ressler noted at ThinkProgress.org (8/10).

Gallup released data finding that the states that embraced the ACA, also known as Obamacare, have seen the largest drops in the number of residents going without health care. Essentially, the 22 states that have worked to implement both major provisions of the law — including setting up a state-level insurance marketplace and expanding the eligibility requirements for Medicaid — have seen their uninsured rates drop by an average of 7.1 points, about two points more than the remaining states that have not taken both steps. In some states, the uninsured rate has declined by more than 10 percentage points.

In the first three months of 2016, the National Center for Health Statistics reported, 29 mln people were uninsured. That’s 15.8 mln less since the ACA was implemented in 2013.

States with the largest reductions in percentage of uninsured from 2013 to the first half of 2015, according to the Gallup survey, included Arkansas, down 13.4 points to 9.1%; Kentucky, down 11.4 points to 9%; Oregon, down 10.6 points to 8.8%; Rhode Island, down 10.6 points to 2.7%; Washington, down 10.4 points to 6.4%; California, down 9.8 points to 11.8%; West Virginia, down 9.3 points to 8.3%; Alaska, down 8.6 points to 10.3%; Mississippi, down 8.2% to 14.2%; and North Dakota, down 8.1 points to 6.9%.

Texas, where Republican officials have resisted the implementation of the ACA and refused to accept federal funds to expand Medicaid to cover the working poor, still has the largest percentage of uninsured residents by far, at 20.8%, down 6.2 points since 2013. Its neighbor, Arkansas, which also had more than 20% uninsured in 2013, now has 9% lacking insurance after it took the federal Medicaid expansion dollars.

Health-care researchers from Harvard University and CIty University of New York in January 2014 predicted that the refusal to expand Medicaid would resulted in up to 3,000 premature and avoidable deaths in Texas and 17,000 deaths nationwide.

Gallup’s new data isn’t the only measure of progress under the ACA. Perhaps most significantly, a paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association at the end of July concluded that Obamacare is successfully connecting more Americans to health services like doctors and medication. Researchers extrapolated survey data from more than 500,000 Americans and found that, since the health law took effect, more people say they have a primary care physician and fewer people say they’re struggling to afford their care.

“The ACA’s first two open enrollment periods were associated with significantly improved trends in self-reported coverage, access to primary care and medications, affordability, and health,” the researchers concluded — a point that directly contradicts Obamacare’s critics, who claimed that the law would actually reduce access to health care.

Another analysis released in August from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, meanwhile, found that Obamacare didn’t have an adverse effect on labor force participation or substantially increase the number of Americans working part-time jobs — which debunks the right-wing talking point that the law is a job killer.

The National Center for Health Statistics said that the proportion of the population without insurance had declined by five percentage points, to 9.2%, in the first quarter of this year, from 14.4% in 2013.

Among people age 18 to 64, the number who were uninsured dropped by about one-third, to 25.5 mln, in the first quarter of this year, from 39.6 mln in 2013. And among children under 18, the number of uninsured declined to 3.4 mln this year, from 4.8 mln in 2013.

Joan McCarter of DailyKos noted (8/12), that the biggest gains were for the poor and near poor. Nearly 40% of poor people lacked insurance in 2013 and that has dropped to 28%. Among those hovering just above the poverty line the rate dropped from 38.5% in 2013 to 23.8%. Had all the states expanded Medicaid, those numbers would be better. In states with the expansion, 10.6% of people age 18 to 64 were uninsured in the first quarter of this year, down from 18.4% in 2013. But in states without it, the uninsured rate is more than six points higher, at 16.8% now, down from 22.7% in 2013.

Other studies examining different aspects of the ACA have concluded that the law is helping to reduce hospital errors, to ensure Americans can pay their medical bills, and to maintain competition in the insurance market.

The data hasn’t stopped Republicans in the Senate from attempting to repeal Obamacare as recently as July, and the heated political debate surrounding health reform has shown no sign of cooling off even as the law’s policies have become entrenched. But it’s perhaps having a gradual impact on public opinion. Gallup also found that Americans’ attitudes about the law have become more positive in recent months.

CBO: ENDING SEQUESTER CUTS COULD CREATE 1.4M JOBS. Reversing sequestration spending caps could create as many as 1.4 mln jobs over the next two years, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reported (8/11) to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

Easing those budget cuts would lead to increased government spending, which in turn would lead to an increase in economic output and higher employment, the CBO said.

“Fully eliminating the reductions would allow for an increase in appropriations of $90 bln in 2016 and $91 bln in 2017,” CBO Director Keith Hall wrote in a letter to Sanders, who requested the report as ranking member of the Budget Committee.

If Congress reverses the limits in fiscal 2016, for example, the CBO said it could result in the full-time employment of as few as 200,000 more people or as many as 800,000 more people. If the same were done for fiscal 2017, the CBO said it could similarly add as few as 100,000 jobs or as many as 600,000 jobs.

The CBO said sequestration relief would also cause the gross domestic product to grow by as much as 0.6% in 2016 and as much as 0.4% in 2017.

Of course, Republicans show no signs of easing the sequester and instead threaten to shut down the government over Planned Parenthood funding.

By the way, a recent poll by the NBC News and the Wall Street Journal found that Planned Parenthood has a much higher favorability than any of the leading Republican candidates for president. PP was viewed 45% positive and 30% negative in the national poll (7/26-30), for a net favorability of 15 points. John Kasich and Marco Rubio were the only Republicans with net favorables of 5% and 1%, respectively, with net unfavorables ranging from 1% for Scott Walker, 16% for the GOP as a whole and 30% for Donald Trump.

Democrats also are less popular than Planned Parenthood, but they have defended the women’s health group from right-wing attacks. Bernie Sanders had a 5% net favorability while Democrats as a whole were even and Clinton had a negative 11%.

SANDERS’ RACIAL JUSTICE PLATFORM WINS PRAISE FROM BLACK ACTIVISTS. After activists from the Black Lives Matter movement disrupted speeches by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) at Netroots Nation in Phoenix in July and at a Social Security rally in Portland, Ore. (8/8), the progressive populist presidential candidate released a comprehensive racial justice platform and hired a young racial justice activist as his national press secretary.

The platform, which Alice Ollstein noted at ThinkProgress.org (8/10) has won praise from several prominent voices in the Black Lives Matter movement, focuses on different forms of violence against people of color in the United States: physical violence from law enforcement and extremist vigilantes, the political violence of voter suppression, the legal violence of the War on Drugs and mass incarceration, and the economic violence of crushing poverty. Sanders lays out several proposals to address each form of violence, from passing “ban the box” laws to prevent hiring discrimination against people with criminal records, to outlawing for-profit prisons, to restoring the gutted protections in the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

He also named Symone Sanders (no relation to the senator) as the campaign’s national press secretary. She serves as the national youth chair of the Coalition on Juvenile Justice and introduced the presidential contender at a rally in Seattle that drew 12,000 people (8/8) after two Black Lives Matter activists prevented him from speaking at a rally for Social Security and Medicare.

Though Sanders has been involved in civil rights work since his college days, he has come under pressure from black activists since launching his bid for president. Having represented the overwhelmingly white state of Vermont, Sanders has struggled to specifically address racial justice issues with the urgency the movement is demanding — an urgency fueled by the fact that an unarmed black person has been killed by police, on average, every nine days this year.

The new press secretary, who had been under consideration for the job for several weeks, told BuzzFeed that Sanders had already incorporated some of her suggestions on addressing racial issues into his campaign.

“One of my suggestions, he took it and ran with it on Meet the Press, is that racial inequality and economic inequality are parallel issues,” she said. “I [told him,] you know, economic equality is an issue. It’s something we need to address. But for some people it doesn’t matter how much money you make, it doesn’t matter where you went to school, it doesn’t matter what your parents do. It doesn’t matter that Sandra Bland had a job and was on her way to teach for her alma mater. It doesn’t matter. None of that matters.”

Sanders allowed Black Lives Matter activists to open his rally in Los Angeles that drew an estimated 27,500 people to Memorial Sports Arena (8/10).

Many Sanders supporters were suspicious that “Black Lives Matter” activists had shut down Sanders twice but hadn’t confronted Hillary Clinton, much less Republican candidates who represent actual white supremacists.

Black Lives Matter activists reportedly tried to confront Clinton at Keene, N.H., community event (8/11), but didn’t make it into the hall. Instead, Clinton met with them privately.

NURSES ENDORSE BERNIE. In a blow to presumed frontrunner Hillary Clinton, National Nurses United endorsed Bernie Sanders for president (8/10).

NNU, which represents 185,000 nurses, said Sanders’ policies “align with nurses from top to bottom.” Specifically, the group cited his support for the Affordable Care Act and Medicare, and his desire to fight climate change.

The endorsement is Sanders’ first from a national union, and while it’s not expected to bring in large amounts of cash to his campaign, Emily Atkin noted at ThinkProgress (8/11) that NNU has thousands of members in early primary states like New Hampshire and Iowa, and Sanders’ two biggest Democratic rivals — Clinton and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley — had also competed for the endorsement.

NNU spokesperson Martha Wallner said all three candidates had competed for the endorsement by filling out a seven-question survey about issues that aligned with NNU’s values — and only Sanders scored a 100%. O’Malley scored 86%, and Clinton scored just 43%, she said.

ThinkProgress reviewed a copy of each candidates’ answers to the survey, and the resulting scorecard created by the NNU Executive Council. Clinton answered “no commitment” on four out of seven issues. One of those was, of course, in response to whether she would oppose the Keystone XL pipeline. But Clinton would also not commit to supporting “a publicly administered, single-payer, universal healthcare system,” nor would she commit to supporting legislation to impose a 0.5% tax on Wall Street speculation. She also would not commit to publicly opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which nurses oppose because they say it allows pharmaceutical companies to block distribution of cheaper generic medications.

KEYSTONE XL BACKER MULLS NAFTA LAWSUIT. TransCanada Corp., the company behind the controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, is furtively planning its next steps—including suing the US government for damages under NAFTA—if President Obama rejects the permits that would allow construction of the project to move forward, the Canadian Press reported (8/10).

Sources told the wire service the company has become all but convinced a rejection is imminent based on signals the White House is sending publicly and privately. One possible response is a challenge under the North American Free Trade Agreement to recoup damages from the US government. Another is immediately re-filing a permit application with the US State Department before the 2016 presidential election in the hopes that a more industry-friendly administration would approve it.

ST. LOUIS COUNTY PUTS REPORTER ON TRIAL. Marty Baron is not having the greatest month, Charles P. Pierce notes at esquire.com (8/11). “First, the religious authoritarians in Iran put one of his reporters on trial. And now the secular authoritarians in St. Louis County have put another one of his reporters on trial.”

A court summons dated Aug. 6 — just under a year after Lowery’s arrest — was sent to Lowery, 25, ordering him to appear in a St. Louis County municipal court on Aug. 24, the *Post* reported. The summons notes that he could be arrested if he does not appear. “Charging a reporter with trespassing and interfering with a police officer when he was just doing his job is outrageous,” Martin Baron, executive editor of The Post, said in a statement Monday. “You’d have thought law enforcement authorities would have come to their senses about this incident. Wes Lowery should never have been arrested in the first place. That was an abuse of police authority.”

Lowery had been arrested along with Ryan Reilly, a reporter for HuffingtonPost.com, for not leaving a McDonald’s restaurant quickly enough after being ordered by a police officer. Reilly also is expecting a summons. Pierce noted, “Lowery is being inexcusably railroaded by a police culture and a judicial system that remains a stench in the nostrils of the world. Filing this just before the statute of limitations runs out? Really? It’s past time for the Department of Justice to step in and bust up this racket, especially now that the police culture and the judicial system seem to be up to their old tricks again. And, this time, they’ve brought in the pros from Crazytown.”

That is, “Oath Keepers,” a paramilitary organization some of whose members showed up with assault rifles, bulletproof vests and camouflage gear on the streets of Ferguson, which was under a state of emergency following demonstrations pegged to the anniversary of Michael Brown’s death. St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar described their presence as “both unnecessary and inflammatory.”

“In other words,” Pierce noted, “Wesley Lowery is going to court for sitting around with intent to report something, while a platoon of armed vigilante yahoos walk the streets as though they’re in Anbar Province and nobody can do anything about it except wring their hands and mumble about freedom. (Chief Belmar sounds like a pillar of Jell-O.) The market for kangaroo suits in St. Louis County must be booming.”

VOTER ID RESTRICTIONS MAY HAVE DECIDED TEXAS CONGRESSIONAL RACE. A Texas law requiring strict voter identification does far more to keep voters from casting a ballot than previously thought, according to a study conducted by researchers at Rice University and the University of Houston, Ian Milhouser reported at ThinkProgress.org (8/10).

Typically, analysts examining how voter ID laws affect turnout have honed in on voters who lack state-approved IDs as the obvious victims of such a law. The Rice/Houston study, however, reveals that these laws reach far beyond the universe of people without IDs. “[T]he most significant impact of the Texas voter photo ID law on voter participation,” at least within the congressional district examined by the study, “was to discourage turnout among registered voters who did indeed possess an approved form of photo ID, but through some combination of misunderstanding, doubt or lack of knowledge, believed that they did not possess the necessary photo identification.”

The study surveyed 400 registered voters who did not cast a ballot in the November 2014 election. All of these non-voters reside in Texas’s 23rd Congressional District — a district the researchers describe as “the only one of the state’s 36 U.S. House districts where both the Democratic Party and Republican Party candidates have a realistic chance of victory in November.” In 2014, Republican Will Hurd narrowly defeated Democratic incumbent Rep. Pete Gallego in the 23rd district.

Altogether, 12.8% of the non-voters surveyed in the study said that lack of identification was a reason why they did not vote in the 2014 election, and 5.8% said that this was the principal reason why they did not vote. Yet, despite the relatively high numbers of voters who cited lack of ID when asked why they did not cast a ballot, the researchers determined that only “2.7% of the respondents did not possess any of the seven valid forms of photo identification” and “only 1% did not possess a photo ID and agreed that a lack of this photo ID was a reason why they did not vote.”

At best, this suggests that more than half of the voters who did not cast a ballot because they believed they lacked the identification required to do so actually did have a valid form of ID.

The study also confirms many of Democrats’ worst fears about the potential impact of voter ID. According to the study, “five times as many non-voters who listed the photo ID law as the principal reason they did not participate would have voted for Gallego rather than for Hurd.” Though the researchers are unable to state with certainty whether the law changed the result of this election, they do conclude that the voter ID law “may have possibly cost [Gallego] the election.” Hurd defeated Gallego by just over 2,400 votes in 2014.

Although the voter ID law was in place for the 2014 election, it may not stay in effect in 2016. The 5th Circuit US Court of Appeals held (8/5) that Texas’s law violates the Voting Rights Act — although this decision is likely to be reviewed by a Supreme Court that has shown a great deal of skepticism towards voting rights claims in the past.

From The Progressive Populist, September 1, 2015


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