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By Washington standards, the current government shutdown is an everyday disaster – of a kind we are gradually learning to expect whenever the Republican Party controls Congress. The impending breach of the nation’s credit, however, when those same Republicans refuse to raise the debt limit to cover the funds they have spent, threatens a singular catastrophe: unpredictable, global, yet entirely avoidable.

The blame for this disgrace seems to be apportioned properly by most Americans, according to the latest polling data. But the future of the country and the world may well rest on whether voters understand the roots of this crisis – in a party controlled by an extremist faction that is violating every public value that party has supposedly espoused for 30 years and more.

Republicans used to tell us, often with a self-righteous air, that they were the true upholders of constitutional order, the rule of law, fiscal probity, personal responsibility, majority rights, and market principles. In their unquenchable zeal to oppose President Obama and all his works, they have discarded every one of those ideals.

They have closed down the government, with all the costs and sorrows that has imposed on the American people, in order to save us all from the Affordable Care Act – a law duly passed under the Constitution and declared to be so by a majority of the Supreme Court, including its very conservative chief justice. (Following that decision, the Republicans spent the next year campaigning to defeat the president on a platform of repealing health care reform – and were soundly defeated by him instead.)

To measure just how grossly the current attempts to obstruct Obamacare violate their supposed devotion to “law and order,” just imagine the Republican reaction if House Democrats had shut down government to force George W. Bush to repeal his beloved tax cuts.

Such hypocrisy is business as usual. But what about the substance of the Republican complaint against health care reform? To anyone aware of the law’s historical context, the fanatical Republican opposition simply seems bizarre. Here, after all, is a market-based system, originally conceived and promoted at the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation as an alternative to Democratic plans for universal coverage. Its fundamental premises are individual responsibility and the power of competition to control costs and stop waste. Its first proven success occurred in a state governed by a Republican business executive — whom they later nominated for president.

Nevertheless, the Tea Party Republicans remain so determined to eradicate Obamacare that they are willing to jeopardize the economic recovery and the nation’s future prospects. They justify these outrages in the name of the budget, which they insist will be ruined by the costs of subsidizing health care for the country’s uninsured millions. But there is nothing fiscally responsible about shutting down government, an act that costs the U.S. economy at least $300 million each day – not including the additional burdens likely to arise from cancelled food inspections, disease monitoring, flu vaccinations, and weather reporting, to mention a few vital services that actually save enormous amounts of money and prevent untold suffering.

Should they continue to foment anarchy by causing a debt default, the ultimate costs are totally unpredictable – except that they will be very large. Even the threat of a shutdown in 2011 caused an immediate slowdown and an increase in unemployment. What will the real thing do? Nobody knows for certain, but the resulting market chaos and economic downturn will cause deeper fiscal problems as well as enormous public pain – at a time when deficits are falling faster than at any time in the past seven decades.

That is why the president and Senate Democrats are right to reject the House leadership’s demand for “negotiations.” Encouraging the destructive strategies of the extremists would convey precisely the wrong message to them and to the world. No doubt many Republicans, appalled at the shame that the Tea Party has brought upon their once Grand Old Party, are quietly applauding the president’s newfound firmness.

Photo: Talk Radio News Service via Flickr.com

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Eric Holder

The failure of major federal voting rights legislation in the Senate has left civil rights advocates saying they are determined to keep fighting—including by suing in battleground states. But the little bipartisan consensus that exists on election reform would, at best, lead to much narrower legislation that is unlikely to address state-level GOP efforts now targeting Democratic blocs.

“This is the loss of a battle, but it is not necessarily the loss of a war, and this war will go on,” Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general and Democrat, told MSNBC, saying that he and the Democratic Party will be suing in states where state constitutions protect voting rights. “This fight for voting rights and voter protection and for our democracy will continue.”

“The stakes are too important to give up now,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which for years has operated an Election Day hotline to help people vote. “Our country cannot claim to be free while allowing states to legislate away that freedom at will.”

In recent weeks, as it became clear that the Senate was not going to change its rules to allow the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to pass with a simple majority, there have been efforts by some lawmakers, election policy experts, and civil rights advocates to identify what election reforms could pass the Senate.

“There are several areas… where I think there could be bipartisan consensus,” said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, in a briefing on January 20. “These areas are all around those guardrails of democracy. They are all about ensuring that however the voters speak that their voice is heard… and cannot be subverted by anyone in the post-election process.”

Becker cited updating the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which addressed the process where state-based slates of presidential electors are accepted by Congress. (In recent weeks, new evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump’s supporters tried to present Congress with forged certificates as part of an effort to disrupt ratifying the results on January 6, 2021.) Updating that law could also include clarifying which state officials have final authority in elections and setting out clear timetables for challenging election results in federal court after Election Day.

Five centrist Washington-based think tanks issued a report on January 20, Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform, which suggested federal legislation could codify practices now used by nearly three-quarters of the states. Those include requiring voters to present ID, offering at least a week of early voting, allowing all voters to request a mailed-out ballot, and allowing states to start processing returned absentee ballots a week before Election Day.

But the report, which heavily drew on a task force of 29 state and local election officials from 20 states convened by Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center, was notable in what it did not include, such as restoring the major enforcement section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was removed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. It did not mention the Electoral Count Act nor growing threats to election officials from Trump supporters.

“This won’t satisfy all supporters of the Freedom to Vote Act, but this is a plausible & serious package of reforms to make elections more accessible and secure that could attract bipartisan support,” tweeted Charles Stewart III, a political scientist and director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. “A good starting point.”

The reason the centrist recommendations won’t satisfy civil rights advocates is that many of the most troubling developments since the 2020 election would likely remain.

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Politico Magazine published an article Thursday that perfectly embodies the failures of tabloid-style political journalism to address the fundamental dangers facing the country: “145 Things Donald Trump Did in His First Year as the Most Consequential Former President Ever.”

“In ways both absurd and serious, the 45th president refused to let go of the spotlight or his party and redefined what it means to be a former leader of the free world,” the article sub-headline states, sitting above a colorful image containing a photo of a smiling Trump and images that have defined his post-presidency, including his second impeachment, golf clubs, and a vaccination needle.

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