Voter suppression is an ugly art form

Before the North Carolina General Assembly signed off on the Voter ID Law a couple of years ago, I wrote an email to members of the General Assembly. The thrust of my email is the law is unconstitutional and Jim Crow-like and should not be passed. I received a very ridiculing retort from a legislator who took offense that I dare use the term “Jim Crow-like” to describe the law. My response to him was much more straightforward – as a white man who used to be a Republican, you and I both know what this law is all about.

After its passing, Aasif Mandvi, as a member of Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show interviewed the Republican Party  precinct leader of Buncombe County which includes Asheville, NC. The GOP leader responded to questions in a comically racist manner then added the line defining what the law is all about. He said the law is designed to “kick the Democrats’ butts.” To some of his racist comments, Mandvi responded, “you do realize we can hear you?” The leader resigned the next day, with the State Republican leadership saying the Buncombe County leader’s remarks did not represent the party’s position. Based on my opinion, he resigned because he told the truth and it embarrassed the party (a link is below).

Last summer, to thwart off a negative court decision, the General Assembly softened the law trying to appease the judge. The leaders of the General Assembly recognized fully they had overplayed their hand. Yet, the unconstitutional elements remained. The appellate court ruling last week that the law is unconstitutional added some severe language to their ruling. The judges said the drafters “surgically” devised the features of the law to suppress votes of African-Americans by specifically focusing on racial voting data. The court even cited this interview as part of the evidence.

The General Assembly’s attorneys could not cite one example of voter fraud when asked in court, even though voter fraud is their stated reason for the law. Yet, while a miniscule amount of fraud might exist, per The Washington Post in an October 13, 2014 article called “The disconnect between voter ID laws and voter fraud,” most voting fraud occurs in the absentee ballots. However, most Voter ID laws, like the NC one, do not address this exposure. So, in my view, the only voter fraud occurred with the drafters of the Voter ID Law itself. And, when people focus only on the ID part of the law, that is only one part of the law that discriminates. The elimination of same day registration, fewer early voting days, fewer precincts for early voting and restrictions on students voting on campus all add up to voter suppression.

It took 100 years for African-American voters to be able to vote as promised following the Civil War. Jim Crow and voter suppression got in the way. After the Supreme Court foolishly decided certain aspects of the 1965 Voters Rights Act were no longer needed, these Voter ID laws were passed in multiple states using cookie cutter language. Four states just had their laws ruled unconstitutional, including North Carolina’s. It is time for we citizens to say enough to this General Assembly and stop using our tax dollars to pay for attorneys to allow discrimination.

http://www.businessinsider.com/daily-show-interview-don-yelton-racist-resign-2013-10

 

When comedy reports deeper stories – kudos to John Oliver

When my friends used to tell me they got their televised news from The Daily Show, I encouraged them to also look to good news sources to balance that out. Jon Stewart does a wonderful job of looking at the issues of the day and casting them in a funny light. Since hypocrisies abound, especially in politics, there is ample fodder to make fun of. But, at the end of the day, it is comedy, right? Maybe, not just comedy.

John Oliver, who hosted The Daily Show while Stewart was mentoring his Middle East counterpart, has a new show on Sunday evening called Last Week Tonight. I have seen every one of the thirteen episodes thus far and he is funny, but also very insightful with a journalistic bent. Jeffrey Brown of PBS Newshour did a piece on Oliver recently where Brown noted the compliments Oliver is getting on the investigative reporting which underlies his comedy. In other words, Oliver is reporting stories in the US and around the globe in a fairly robust manner and mocking the hypocrisies of leaders and public figures and highlighting the marginalization of others. He and his staff are doing their homework to get it right.

To give you a sense of what he is reporting and making fun of, here are a few examples:

– He noted how Uganda’s legislature passed a law that condemned LGBT behavior and created open season on gays, lesbians and transgender people. These people were being physically brutalized, fired from their jobs, and put in jail. It turns out an American evangelist helped sow the seeds fomenting laws to promote violence, actually speaking for five hours in front of their legislature. Plus, the Ugandan proponents were spreading vile misinformation to fan the flames. After this show went viral and the US condemned Uganda for these laws, they just last week said the laws were unconstitutional as a quorum was not present for the vote.

– He noted how the dietary supplement business has greased the skids to avoid being regulated over the years. They contribute heavily to two Senators (Orrin Hatch and Tom Harkins) campaigns, who jointly promoted legislation to protect this growing industry from FDA scrutiny. He also shows the hypocrisy of Dr. Oz who shamelessly plugs dietary supplements as “magical cures” and “miracle drugs” without the supporting science. He noted with Oz being a medical doctor, he is far worse than a regular salesperson as his credentials and passion validate the drugs. The story occurred when Oz was grilled by a Senate Committee back in June for this issue.

– He put the climate change debate in its proper proportions, when he invited two experts on his show and then stopped them and had 96 experts join the climate change is real and man-influenced side and 2 experts join the climate change denial expert. This provided a visual comparison of the argument for all to see, with 97% of scientists favoring one side and 3% favoring the other.

– He noted on his most recent show the troubling concept of “native advertising” in online and print publications where advertisement copy is presented and integrated into the news. He notes it is flagged, but the purpose is to mask the “flags” and make it look like an actual news story. He called several publications on the carpet for their move down this path, including Time Magazine and the New York Times. He noted the wrongheadedness of blending the two together, chastising those who said it would not make a difference. In short, of course it will.

Each of these stories is reported on in varying degrees in real news shows and Oliver is good to show footage of their coverage. Yet, given the nature of the show, he is able to dive further into the issues and note how the common person could look at this and say something is simply wrong. Again, I would ask that you pay attention to reputable news sources that are not spin doctored versions of the news and who disclose funding sources and potential conflicts of interest. Also, watch out for the native advertising.

But, Oliver’s show is worth the watch. You definitely will learn something you did not know before. You may want to avoid watching with young children, as he is not bashful.