Thursday, July 21, 2016

Voting in Kansas?

As long as I count the votes, what are you
going to do about it?

Attributed to William Marcy Tweed

Kansas is back in the news, and the purpose of this column is to reassure Kansans that although he played a vital role as a member of the Republican Party Platform Committee, their Secretary of State, Kris Kobach, has not let the affairs of Kansas languish.

Mr. Kobach’s role on the Republican Platform Committee has been significant. One of his accomplishments was getting language inserted into the platform that addresses the border wall Donald Trump has proposed. The language that he caused to be inserted states that: “The border wall must cover the entirety of the southern border and must be sufficient to stop both vehicular and pedestrian traffic.” The Platform Committee also responded favorably to Mr. Kobach’s suggestion that the platform condemn the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court opinion legalizing gay marriage, a decision he called “obviously incorrect.” Mr. Kobach is a lawyer so he is in a good position to evaluate the correctness of decisions rendered by the country’s highest court.

Notwithstanding his involvement in convention activities, Mr. Kobach still had time to address critical issues in Kansas. The most critical issue confronting Kansans during the upcoming election season, as Kansans who follow such things know, is non-citizen-voter fraud and here, under Mr. Kobach’s guidance, is how it has been addressed.

On July 11, 2016, the Kansas Rules and Regulations Board approved a temporary regulation that pertains to Kansas citizens who register to vote at motor vehicle offices but do not bring with them proof of citizenship. The new rule is expected to impact roughly 17,000 voters who registered to vote at motor vehicle offices without providing proof of citizenship. Here is how that the new rule will work in practice.

When voters who registered to vote at motor vehicle offices without presenting proof of citizenship show up to vote, they will get the same ballot as everyone else, but it will be treated as “provisional” and, after the election, only votes on that ballot for federal races will be counted and votes for local races will not.

Mr. Kobach was not acting mindlessly in asking for this new regulation. The Kansas legislature had already enacted the Secure and Fair Elections law that imposes proof of citizenship requirements on Kansas voters who want to register to vote, but the law had already been successfully challenged in 2016 in both state and federal courts. In January, a District Court Judge in Shawnee County Kansas ruled that: “a person is either registered to vote or he or she is not. . . . [T]he right to vote, is not tied to the method of registration.”

In May, U.S District Judge, Julie Robinson, said that the Kansas Statute ran afoul of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) the aim of which is to make voter registration simple rather than difficult. She said that Kansas cannot require proof of citizenship in order for citizens to register to vote in federal elections. In her ruling, Judge Robinson observed that by having one kind of registration for federal elections and another for state elections, Kansas will have a two tiered election regime “that would create separate requirements for registering to vote for federal and state elections.” She observed that that” “is a problem of the State’s own making. If the State wishes to change its voter registration laws that directly contradict the provisions of the NVRA, it does so at its own risk. To the extent such laws are preempted by the NVRA, they may not apply to registration for federal elections.”

Although Mr. Kobach appealed both those rulings, he knew he had to do something before the 2016 elections took place since no appeal would be finally decided until after the elections. And that is why he found it necessary to persuade the Kansas Rules and Regulations Board to enact the regulations described above. The new regulations may not, however, be the panacea Mr. Kobach hoped. On July 19, 2016, the ACLU filed suit attacking the newly issued regulations claiming that they violate both state law and the state constitution. Its hope is to have the constitutionality of that regulation addressed by the court in advance of the upcoming elections.

It is easy to be critical of Mr. Kobach and attribute his persistence to a wish to suppress voter turnout. That would not be fair since his concern about non-citizens voting is not without justification. As Judge Robinson observed in her opinion, “There is evidence of only three instances where noncitizens actually voted in a federal election between 1995 and 2013” and, she further observed that during that same period about 14 non-citizens attempted to register. Only a partisan would deny that those examples justify Mr. Kobach’s attempts to protect the sanctity of the Kansas voting process by disenfranchising 17,000 Kansas citizens.


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Wizard is Trump

I’m really a very good man; but I’m a very bad Wizard.
— L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

He couldn’t have known. He wrote it years before Donald Trump was born. But in writing he Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum was prescient. He wrote a story that foretold the rise and fall of Donald Trump. Of course, some will think it too soon to be certain of his fall, but that does not for a moment take away from the pleasure of that prospect nor does it make the tale less relevant.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz tells the story of Dorothy, a young girl who, together with her dog, Toto, lives in Kansas. When a tornado strikes her house, she and Toto are transported to to the land of Oz over which the Wizard rules. The story describes her travels through that country with Toto, and the friends she makes while wandering through the country side. In writing the book, Mr. Baum focused on three main characters who each had one of the characteristics that are found in the supporters of Donald Trump. (There are a number of other characters, such as the witches who represent the “Trumpettes,” the beautiful women who are seen standing behind Mr. Trump at his rallies with blank stares. Time and space prevent me from explaining their significance. We focus exclusively on the three main characters and, of course, the Wizard himself. It is impossible to know whether my interpretation is exactly what Mr. Baum intended but never mind-it is what he wrote.

Since Dorothy had not signed up for a trip to the land of Oz, one of the first things she did when she met someone who took pity on her plight, was to inquire how she could get back to Kansas. (This was long before Sam Brownback was that state’s Governor and her request was, therefore, completely understandable.) She was told that in order to return to Kansas she would have to go to the Emerald City over which the Wizard ruled and he could help her. The first character she encounters as she heads towards the Emerald City is the Tin Woodman.

The Tin Woodman has been unable to move because all his joints have rusted but, as luck would have it, he had an oil can and Dorothy was able to lubricate his joints. As soon as his jaw is freed, he tells her that he lacks a heart and would like to go with her to see the Wizard so that the Wizard can give him a heart. The Tin Woodman represents the Trump supporters who, having no hearts, support Mr. Trump even when he says that health care professionals who became infected treating ebola patients abroad, should not be permitted back into this country for treatment. As he explained, “People that go to far away places to help out are great-but must suffer the consequences.”

As the three companions continue, they encounter a scarecrow that Dorothy frees from the stake to which he was tied. The Scarecrow tells Dorothy that he doesn’t have a brain and would like to have one. He joins her entourage, hoping that the Wizard will be able to give him a brain. The Scarecrow represents the Trump supporters who, lacking brains, do not withdraw their support when Mr. Trump says one thing one day and the opposite thing the next day.

As Dorothy and her companions continue walking, they encounter the Cowardly Lion who tries to bite Toto. Dorothy slaps the Cowardly Lion and admonishes him. The Cowardly Lion admits that he is a coward and asks to join the entourage so that he can ask the Wizard to give him courage. The Cowardly Lion represents Trump supporters who, like their idol, are afraid of Muslims and Mexicans.

When the travelers get to the gates of the Emerald City they are told that before entering they must wear green goggles because the light in the city is so blinding. The real reason is to make the Emerald City appear to be green because, of course, the Emerald City is not, in fact, green. In that it represents the kinds of promises Mr. Trump makes that look wonderful when seen through his eyes and described by him, but are divorced from reality.

The Wizard tells the supplicants he will grant their wishes if they perform one task for him. hey complete the assigned task and return to the Wizard’s chambers. Upon entering, Toto knocks over the screen behind which the Wizard is sitting and the visitors see not an imposing wizard but a small, wizened man who describes himself as a humbug from Omaha who got to Oz quite by accident when a hot air balloon in which he was riding got off course. The knocked over screen represents the Trump tax returns behind which Mr. Trump hides his financial affairs which may well be quite different from what he has led everyone to believe.

Before leaving Oz to return to Omaha, the Wizard gave each of the supplicants what they wanted. The scarecrow received a new head and for brains it was filled with bran, pins, and needles. The Tin Woodman received a silk heart stuffed with saw dust and the Cowardly Lion was given a drink that the Wizard said was a potion of courage. Those are the sorts of rewards the entire United States will receive should Donald Trump and his head of hair become president. Or perhaps the voters will conclude that Donald Trump, like the Wizard, is in fact a humbug.


Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Corruption Olympic Games

I do plainly and ingenuously confess that I am guilty of corruption. . . .
— Francis Bacon, On being charged by Parliament with corruption in office.

Brazil to the rescue! I am not referring to the Olympics which will, if successful, serve as a distraction from other world events that are singularly depressing. Brazil is riding to the rescue by reminding us that as corrupt as some leaders in our political system may be, Brazil beats us hands down. For being made aware of the difference, we are indebted to the year 2016 and three separate but equal, at least in some respects, events. The events described are not exclusive but merely representative. The first, and most recent, is brought to us by an old favorite, Wayne G. Hubbard of Alabama.

On June 9, 2016, Mr. Hubbard was the Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives. He attained that post when, in 2010, the Republicans took control of the Alabama House for the first time since Reconstruction. Following that triumph, Mr. Hubbard wrote a book entitled “Storming the Statehouse” in which he explained the Republican victory. That happened, he said, because: “Ethics was a subject that set Republicans apart from the Democrats.” The “setting apart” to which he was referring came about because prior to the election there had been a number of indictments and scandals involving Democrats. There had not, apparently, been similar events involving Republicans. Mr. Hubbard would eventually correct that. On June 10, 2016, Mr. Hubbard’s tenure as Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives came to an end. That was because on that day he was convicted of 12 felony ethics charges, a conviction that automatically caused his tenure as Speaker to come to an end. Instead of serving as Speaker of the House, he faces the possibility that he will serve up to 20 years in prison on each of the 12 criminal counts of which he was convicted. There is a bit of poetic justice in all this. The law that led to Mr. Hubbard’s conviction was passed by the Republicans when they took control of the House in 2010.

Mr. Hubbard is not the only state legislator who will look back on May 2016 as a particularly bad month. In New York State, Dean Skelos and Sheldon Silver both former New York legislators, found that to be a particularly bad month. Dean Skelos was the Republican majority leader of the New York State Senate. In December 2015 he was convicted of Federal corruption charges and on May 12, 2015, he was sentenced to five years in prison. He is no longer the Republican majority leader of the New York State Senate. Sheldon Silver was the Democratic Speaker of the New York State Assembly, and was convicted of, among other things, money laundering and extortion. Like Mr. Hubbard, the conviction cost him his seat in the Assembly. On May 3, 2016, Mr. Silver was sentenced to 12 years in prison. The good news to emerge from those examples is that there are good people available to replace the two former leaders who are not corrupt. For that, our friends in Brazil may well be envious.

On April 17, 2016, the Brazilian lower house of the Brazilian Congress overwhelmingly voted to impeach the president of the country, Dilma Rousseff. The impeachment proceedings were led by the President of the House, Eduardo Cunha. As he cast his vote in favor of impeaching President Rousseff, Mr. Cunha said: “God have pity on this nation.” God fell down on the job as far as Mr. Cunha was concerned. In early May, Mr. Cunha was ordered to step down from his post because he is charged with, among other things, having taken $40 million in bribes.

Following her impeachment, Ms. Roussseff stepped aside as president and was replaced by Michel Timer. On June 15, 2016, Brazil’s Supreme Court released testimony from a plea bargain that implicated Mr. Timer in a graft scandal that involved, among others, Petrobras, Brazil’s state oil company.

The lower house of the parliament has 513 deputies of which 367 voted for impeachment. According to a watchdog group in Brasilia, Congresso em Foco, more than 300 of the members of the lower house are under investigation for such things as corruption, fraud, or electoral crimes.

Mr. Cunha has been replaced as President of the lower house of Congress by Waldir Maranhão. Mr. Maranhão is also involved in the graft scheme pertaining to Petrobras. The president of the senate is Renan Calheiros. Tax evasion and receiving bribes are among the matters for which he is being investigated.

Brazil’s troubles help the United States in that it shows how things could be worse in Alabama and New York. There could be no one to replace the corrupt politicians who are heading off to jail. There is, of course, something positive that Brazil can look forward to. It can look forward to hosting the Olympics in August assuming construction of the needed facilities is completed and there is not too much adverse publicity from the polluted water in which some of the events will take place. Its political problems will not spoil the games for those in attendance-only for those who are citizens of that country.