Abby Rapoport

Sharia Scare in Tennessee

(Courtesy of the Vanderbilt Alumni Association)
In Murfreesboro, Tennessee, just outside Nashville, the Muslim community won a hard-fought victory Wednesday. After a two-year legal battle that inflamed anti-Islamic sentiment across the state, a federal judge ruled that a new Islamic community center could get the permits necessary to open. Elsewhere in the state, however, Muslim residents got a cold reminder this week of just how much prejudice exists around them. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, a conservative Republican who's pro-life and anti-tax, is facing a chorus of angry voices from county Republican parties. It seems he's just not concerned enough about the threat of Sharia law. According to The Tennessean , Republicans in Stewart, Carroll, and Williamson counties passed resolutions criticizing Governor Haslam for hiring Samar Ali, a Tennessee native and Muslim American, as international director of the state's Department of Economic and Community Development. The Tennessean reports that six other counties have also adopted...

Can Rick Perry's Playbook Work in the Texas Senate Race?

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Texas Governor Rick Perry is famous for delivering negative ads that send his opponents' campaigns reeling; they tend to contain such wild, over-the-top accusations that responding to them is tricky business. In the 2002 gubernatorial race, when he was fending off Democratic billionaire Tony Sanchez, the governor pulled out a last-minute ad that basically accused the candidate of laundering money for drug cartels. In his latest battle for the Governor's Mansion, against Houston Mayor Bill White, Perry's team found a police officer's widow who said that White's "sanctuary city" policies led an undocumented worker to kill her husband. The Perry team has long been feared for such ads—and their devastating effect. Now that the Perry team is working Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst's runoff campaign for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Kay Bailey Hutchison, you might have thought similar ads would help bring down his novice Tea Party challenger, Ted Cruz. But after a couple of days...

Romney's Swing-State Dilemma

(Flickr / Gage Skidmore)
Before Mitt Romney's Bain Capital problems seized everyone's attention, we were hearing about a different political minefield the candidate had to maneuver: While his campaign is based largely on the country's economic woes, several GOP governors in swing states were claiming economic success and recovery. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker spent his recall campaign pointing to the state's recovery, while Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell launched his own ads showing his state's progress. Iowa Governor Terry Branstad was boasting on his website of "“200,000+ new jobs" and "a 25% increase in family incomes." By late June, things were coming to a head. Bloomberg News reported that Romney's team asked Florida Governor Rick Scott to quiet down his bragging about job creation in the Sunshine State. There was a disastrous Ohio rally in which Governor John Kasich hailed his state's economic gains, and then Romney took the stage to slam the national economy. All in all, at least seven battleground...

Ted Cruz's Texas Tea

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
It wasn't supposed to work this way. Much as Mitt Romney was supposed to cruise into the GOP presidential nomination, Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst was supposed to have an easy path to the U.S. Senate. Dewhurst, after all, has a been a loyal soldier to Governor Rick Perry for the better part of nine years. He's toed the party line, pushing the state Senate chamber into ever more conservative territory, and he had a limitless campaign fund from his own personal wealth. Now, state insiders assumed, was his time to move up the ladder. Instead, he's locked into a tight runoff against a Tea Party favorite, and much like Romney during the presidential race, he's stuck responding to accusations of moderation, begging his audience to believe that he's just as conservative and just as hard-line as his opposition. But unlike Romney, Dewhurst has become the underdog—and a loss is looking more and more likely. Dewhurst's fall can be attributed largely to Ted Cruz, the Tea Party...

Downward Spiral

(Flickr/401(K) 2012)
We've heard a lot about jobs in this presidential election cycle. The idea being, I suppose, that once people have a job, regardless of the wages or the hours, they can bootstrap their way to the top. Probably for similar reasons, we don't hear much about poverty. So long as there are jobs around, political rhetoric seems to say, being poor is a choice. While both campaigns will spend many many millions on ads telling you about jobs, I doubt we'll hear much about economic mobility in America or pathways to escaping poverty. Just because there's little talk, however, doesn't mean there isn't a terrifying problem. The latest report from Pew Charitable Trusts looks at economic mobility across generations, using real child-parent pairings. As I wrote yesterday, the findings are bleak. While children earn more than their parents did at their age, adjusted for inflation, the rich are getting richer faster than everyone else. That means that while you may be making more than your parents,...

The Myth of Rags to Riches

In the latest version of SimCity, a computer game that let's you pretend to be an urban planner, city residents are born into an economic class and there they remain for life. This may have been done for simplicity's sake, but the scenario makes the popular computer game disturbingly similar to the situation of most Americans. The latest report from Pew Charitable Trusts, "Purusing the American Dream," deals a stunning blow to any romantic notions of bootstrapping your way to the top. It turns out only 4 percent of those raised in the bottom 20 percent ever climb into the top 20 percent. Rather, people raised on one rung of the income ladder are likely to stay pretty close to it as adults. As the report notes, "Forty-three percent of Americans raised in the bottom quintile remain stuck in the bottom as adults and 70 percent remain below the middle class." The report, from a non-partisan group that's far from ideological, shows that while in absolute numbers, the vast majority of...

Could the Voting Rights Act Be Struck Down?

(Flickr/ezola)
Texas doesn't have an air-tight case when it comes to the stringent voter-ID law that's currently having its week in court. Even Fox commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano said he expects the state to lose . And according to Politico , the Department of Justice (DOJ) has promised to show not only that the voter-ID law will have a discriminatory effect but that such an effect was intentional. Texas's case, meanwhile, rests on two different arguments: First, that the state needs a voter-ID law to combat voter fraud, and second, that the state should not have to obtain preclearance—as required by the Voting Rights Act—for changes in its election law in the first place. After failing to do so in years past, Texas's GOP-dominated legislature passed a stringent voter-ID law in 2011. Under this law, only a few forms of identification are allowed: driver's licenses and state-issued identification cards, military IDs, citizenship certificates (with photos), passports, and handgun licenses. But...

Starve a Cold, and Your Taxes

(Flickr / Gage Skidmore)
It's a well-known rule in journalism that when you don't want to write the story your editor assigned you, you suggest a new one—an equally good, if not better, alternative. This rule, obviously, does not extend to politics, where several Republican governors have taken pains to assure people that they absolutely positively hate the Affordable Care Act—Maine Governor Paul LePage worried that under the law, the IRS would turn into the Gestapo . And Texas Governor Rick Perry went on Fox News Monday morning to explain just how intense his hatred was. But rather than offering any sort of alternative plan, Perry denied there was a health-care problem in the first place. "We're not going to be a part of socializing health care in the State of Texas," he proclaimed. He said that the state would not participate in the subsidies states are supposed to set up to help the middle class buy policies, nor would the state expand Medicaid to cover those too poor for the subsidies. The former won't...

Florida's Voter Purge: What the Hell?

(Flickr/ldcross)
With a tangle of lawsuits and legal complexities, it's easy to get lost in the minutiae of Florida's voter-purge debacle. Last week, as a U.S. District Court ruled on one of the disputes between the Department of Justice and the state of Florida, most of the media discussion focused on who'd won and who'd lost in the rather nuanced court opinion. More legal action comes next week, and the discussion will likely be similar. At its core, though, this is a story of how Florida's secretary of state cast suspicion on thousands of perfectly legitimate voters. Waving around a list of 180,000 potential non-citizens and sending out a sample of 2,700 to elections officials, the state's methodology was deeply flawed. Many of those identified had immigrated to this country and completed the arduous path to citizenship. Now they're at risk of being kicked off voter rolls. With voter-ID laws gaining popularity in states across the country, the purge constitutes a new front in the battle to protect...

Nine Percent of Pennsylvanians May Not Be Able to Vote for Lack of ID

(Flickr/Katri Niemi)
The debate around voter ID laws is generally one about protection versus disenfranchisement. Advocates of the laws, which require photo identification to vote, often say the law won't have an impact anyone who's voting legally. In Pennsylvania, the Secretary of the Commonwealth assured lawmakers that 99 percent of voters in the state had the necessary identification, and promised that " No one entitled to vote will be denied that right by this bill. " Her views were echoed by Republican lawmakers throughout the state who pushed for the measure. You need a photo ID for everything these days, the logic seemed to go, so why not voting too? After all, who doesn't have a photo ID? Well, a lot of people. The Secretary of the Commonwealth put out a press release Tuesday announcing that 9 percent of registered voters didn't have photo IDs from the state Department of Transportation. Pennsylvania's voter ID law, which became law March of this year, allows voters to use a variety of types of...

A Crack in the GOP's Support for Voter-ID Laws

(Flickr/ Michigan Municipal League)
There's little question what the political calculus behind voter-ID laws is. Advocates argue that the laws, which require government photo identification to vote, are necessary to prevent voter fraud—despite there being virtually no evidence that such fraud is a problem. In practice, the laws will disproportionately have an impact on poor people and those of color, two Democratic-leaning groups that are less likely to have such IDs. Predictably, Republicans have been pushing for these laws, while Democrats generally oppose them. That is, until earlier this week, when Michigan Governor Rick Snyder shot down his own party and vetoed a state voter-ID law . He also vetoed laws that would have made it harder to conduct voter-registration drives and to confirm U.S. citizenship for voters. All three—pushed by Republican Secretary of State Ruth Johnson and sponsored by Republican lawmakers—would likely have dampened turnout, particularly among disadvantaged communities. During hearings on the...

LEGOs for Oil?

(Flickr/bdesham)
Recently, I found myself in a LEGO store. The reasons for my going to the store are not that interesting—suffice it to say, I needed a gift and scented candles would not be appreciated. This was my first time in such a store, though I had loved LEGOs as a child. I remembered them as a sort of high-tech Lincoln Logs—inoffensive, brightly colored building bricks, with an occasional person to keep things interesting. On their face, they seemed genderless. My first move was to head to the "Friends" section, to check out the brand's latest, controversial line. Apparently LEGO felt there was room for them in the Barbie and Bratz market. The first set I saw, Stephanie's Cool Convertible , features a curvy little blonde doll, complete with a miniskirt and pink bow, who rides in a purple convertible. A little dog in the back seat has a slew of pink grooming products, as well as its own matching pink bow. Using the convertible, girls can take other LEGO Friends "to the beauty shop, to the beach...

If Texas Doesn't Expand Medicaid, Two Million Will Be Without Options

(Flickr/ José Goulão)
It's no secret there's a health-care crisis in Texas. The state has the biggest uninsured population in the country with around 6.2 million—or a quarter of all residents—lacking insurance. As a Kaiser Health News report highlighted , poor and uninsured Texans must sometimes wait more than 24 hours in emergency rooms, where treatment is most expensive, while more cost-effective health-care options, like preventative care, are out of reach. The Affordable Care Act was supposed to change all that. It offered new avenues for health-care coverage to people at all income levels by expanding Medicaid. But yesterday's Supreme Court decision made it optional for states to expand their Medicaid coverage. "There's going to be a donut hole in the middle if a state doesn't proceed," says Edwin Park, vice president for health policy at the D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. In Texas, if the state chooses not to expand its services, almost two million people may be stuck in limbo—...

Why It's Still in States' Interests to Expand Medicaid

(Flickr/ernstl)
For supporters of the Affordable Care Act, it was hard to hear—over the cheering—anything besides the fact that the Supreme Court today kept the law almost entirely intact. But the Court did make a slight change to a crucial part of the ACA: Medicaid expansion. Under the law, by 2014, states are supposed to extend their Medicaid programs to cover people under 65 with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty line. An analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that means 17 million more people would have access to health care over the next 10 years. Before today, it looked like states didn't have much choice in the matter. If they didn't make the necessary expansion, they would lose all federal Medicaid dollars. In their brief, states argued that wasn't much of a choice—federal Medicaid grants simply constitute too much money to lose. Back in February, Timothy Jost had a very helpful explanation of the states' argument on this point in Health Affairs . As he...

A Student-Loan Solution We Should Be Talking About

(Flickr/Philip Taylor PT)
Tuesday, Senate leaders said that they had reached a deal to freeze student-loan rates at 3.4 percent —rather than allowing them to double on July 1. It's welcome news for the millions of students in this country who rely on such subsidized loan rates to help pay for school. But the deal doesn't get at the overwhelming national problem of student debt, which, at more than $1 trillion, now exceeds credit-card debt in the country. Among the factors that contribute to those numbers is the problem of remedial coursework. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2007-2008, "approximately 36 percent of first-year undergraduate students reported that they had ever taken a remedial course." That spikes up to 42 percent among undergraduates at two-year institutions. In some states, the proportion of students needing those courses can be dramatically higher; in Colorado's community colleges, the remediation rate was 58 percent this year. That means students are taking extra...

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