Saturday, May 2, 2015

Baltimore police charged with homicide

Having completed an independent investigation into the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody, Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby has reported that his death has been ruled a homicide.

Criminal charges will be brought against several officers, including second degree murder, manslaughter, false imprisonment and more.   Ms. Mosby also declared that there was no valid cause for Gray's arrest in the first place.

Mosby only began in this job four months ago, and she has never held elected public office.   She is African-American, coming from five generations of family in law enforcement.


Friday, May 1, 2015

A new prediction on SCOTUS' marriage equality decision: 6 to 3 to overturn bans.

This is based in part on Adam Liptak's Apr 29, 2015 article in the New York Times, "Gender Bias Issue Could Sway Chief Justice."

Liptak focuses on a little-noticed point made by Chief Justice John Roberts that changes my prediction of how he will vote, which could possibly make it a 6 to 3 decision.   This assumes that Justice Kennedy will vote with the four liberal justices to declare that all states must allow same-sex marriages based on the equal protection clause.

In oral arguments on Tuesday, the chief justice seemed to be against it in most of his comments.    But think again about this:
“I’m not sure it’s necessary to get into sexual orientation to resolve this case.  I mean, if Sue loves Joe and Tom loves Joe, Sue can marry him and Tom can’t.  And the difference is based upon their different sex. Why isn’t that a straightforward question of sexual discrimination?”
This theory is not new, just not very widely explored.  But it would simplify the decision and allow the bans to be banned, based on prior court decisions that mandate equal treatment of both males and females.   It would not so blatantly "overturn a tradition" that has existed "for millenia."

This would fit with Roberts' decision that saved the Obamacare case -- not by agreeing that Congress could levy a penalty on those who do not buy insurance (as others were arguing), but by side-stepping that difficult question and simply saying that the penalty is really a tax -- and that congress already has the right to levy taxes.

Both of these Roberts decisions are alike in that they sidestep a difficult decision by changing the question.   In the Obamacare case, it shifts the question from "does congress have the right to impose a penalty?" to simply saying that it's a tax, not a penalty.  

In the marriage case, it shifts the question from "is there a right under the equal protection clause to marry?" to simply saying that it's a question of gender equality, not sexual orientation equality.   See Roberts' pattern?

It would simply apply existing sex discrimination law," in the words of Northwestern law professor, Andrew Koppelman, who had filed a brief in this case urging the court to strike the bans based on sex-discrimination.   So the idea is not original with the chief justice;  but he is the only one who decided to bring it up in oral arguments.

Here's the real reason I'm fairly sure this is what Roberts will do.   He cares about the reputation of the court and its/his legacy.   He wants to be on the right side of history.   But he also doesn't want to go any further out on a limb than he has to to get the result he wants.   

Also, both these decisions have the same degree of "cute" about them, which I think is also a characteristic of the chief justice.   Underneath, there's a bit of the trickster in Chief Justice Roberts.    And that's fine, as long as it keeps letting him make the "right" decisions.

So I'm now predicting that Kennedy will join Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan in mandating marriage equality in all states, making it 5 to 4.   And then Roberts will write a separate decision based on gender equality, making it 6 to 3.    I respect the former reasoning, and I hope those five stick to that and don't just join Roberts in a "tricky" decision, which I think will leave things not as clear as they would be under an equal protection reasoning.

On the other hand, it could be that this alternative basis is the ace up Roberts' sleeve, in case Kennedy does not vote with the liberals.   Then Roberts could step in and save the court's reputation without joining an opinion he doesn't really share.

Either way, I am more optimistic about the ultimate outcome (be it 6-3 or 5-4) than I was yesterday.


Thursday, April 30, 2015

The politics of fear

The quotations are from an article by Ezra Klein on discussing a study done by Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz and his colleague Steven Webster.
"Politics isn't about who you love. It's about who you fear.

"That's the upshot of a draft paper by political scientists Alan Abramowitz and Steven Webster that attempts to untangle a mystery about modern American politics: how can there be record levels of party loyalty and straight-ticket voting at the same time that fewer Americans than ever before are identifying as Republicans and Democrats?

"To answer the question, Abramowitz and Webster test a host of political characteristics to see what best predicts party loyalty. The real key, they found, was fear of the other party: 'Regardless of the strength of their attachment to their own party, the more voters dislike the opposing party, the greater the probability that they will vote consistently for their own party’s candidates.'

"It's worth saying that a bit more clearly: you're more likely to vote Democratic if you hate Republicans than if you love Democrats, and vice versa. What parties need to do to keep you loyal isn't make you inspired. Rather, they need to make you scared. . . ."

[In other words]  "we like the party we belong to a bit less, but we hate the other party much more" . . . .  [I]n politics, many believe — often correctly — that if the wrong side wins, the consequences will be grievous.

"What's more, politicians from both parties have an incentive to keep it that way.   [A Pew survey] . . . shows that the more you hate the other party, the likelier you are to vote, and the likelier you are to donate money to candidates from your party."
Abramowitz and Webster then go on to discuss why the polarization and fear of the other party has increased so dramatically.   Their conclusion is that "the two parties are becoming more demographically dissimilar from each other, and that's making it easier for them to hate each other . . . . [and] as the parties become more distant demographically and culturally, they become more distant on policy, too."

What does this mean about future elections?   The authors predict that Republicans will continue to control both the House and the Senate because of the patterns of geographical distribution of their voters.   However, they also predict that Democrats will continue to hold the White House.   In part this is due to the electorate in presidential elections being younger and less white.   Here's the final word from Ezra Klein's article:

"[A]s American politics becomes more partisan, and more based on fear of the opposing party, individual candidates matter less. So for all the talk of how much less enthusiastic Democrats are for Hillary Clinton than they were for Barack Obama, it's not likely to matter all that much because Democrats are going to be extremely enthusiastic about beating the Republicans, and vice versa."

It's going to be an interesting next 18 months.


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

MLK's words from 1960s just as relevant today

With Baltimore being just the latest site of violence erupting over the killing of an unarmed black young man by police officers, the perspective of Martin Luther King, Jr. from the 1960s is just as relevant in today's unrest.     There is no way to improve on the words he wrote:

“Now I wanted to say something about the fact that we have lived over these last two or three summers with agony and we have seen our cities going up in flames. And I would be the first to say that I am still committed to militant, powerful, massive, non-violence as the most potent weapon in grappling with the problem from a direct action point of view. I’m absolutely convinced that a riot merely intensifies the fears of the white community while relieving the guilt. And I feel that we must always work with an effective, powerful weapon and method that brings about tangible results.

"But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that:

 "A riot is the language of the unheard."

"And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Impressions of SCOTUS marriage equality hearing

Impressions from two activists who were in the courtroom today.   They both expressed optimism for a favorable outcome -- almost certainly on Question 2 that would require states to honor same sex marriage legally performed in other states, and somewhat less certain about Question 1 that would require all states to allow same sex marriages.

If Question 1 is favorable, then Question 2 becomes moot:   there's no need to require recognition of out of state marriages if all states are required to allow them.   But, if Question 1 fails, then it seems highly likely that Question 2 will be favorable.

Here's how Ryan Reilly and Jennifer Bendery of Huffington Post summed up the hearings: 
"The Supreme Court on Tuesday seemed to be debating how -- not if -- same-sex marriage should become legal in every state in the country."
What this means to me is that there is no longer any real argument about the rightness of marriage equality;   the only real question is:   who decides whether this is the right time to require it, the federal courts or the people through referendum or through their elected representatives?

SCOTUS' decision is expected some time in June.


Turning the tables on the gay thing

Today, April 28, 2015 is the historic day that the Supreme Court hears oral arguments which could be the death knell of state bans of same-sex marriage all over the country.   Or it could be the day that SCOTUS kicked the can down the road again by upholding those bans in Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee, and Kentucky -- and throwing into confusion the married gays and lesbians in the 36 states where it is now legal.

But it is legal in many of those state because of federal court rulings, not because of legislatures that changed their laws without mandate from the judicial system.   If SCOTUS upholds bans in these four states, what will that mean for the 36 states?   Can they re-instate their bans?    Will the weddings still be valid?

Whichever way SCOTUS decides these cases, it's interesting that just on the eve of this momentous day, Ian Reisner and Mati Weiderpass, Republicans and longtime gay partners, hosted a fundraiser in their home for Sen. Ted Cruz.    The event first made news for what Cruz said at the party -- that, if one of his daughters were gay, "I would love them just as much."

Compared to Cruz's anti-gay statements on the campaign trail, this seemed a slightly moderating stance on his previous anti-gay stance.

Now the other shoe dropped.   Reisner began getting furious backlash from friends and others in the gay community.   How could he host a fund-raiser for this anti-gay bigot?    A boycott was started against his business.

Reisner admitted that he had simply responded to a request to hold the fund-raiser without doing his homework on Cruz's positions on gay marriage.   He now acknowledged his poor judgment.
"I am shaken to my bones . . . .  I was ignorant, naive and much too quick in accepting a request to co-host a dinner with Cruz at my home without taking the time to completely understand all of his positions on gay rights.

"I've spent the past 24 hours reviewing videos of Cruz' statements on gay marriage and I am shocked and angry. I sincerely apologize for hurting the gay community and so many of our friends, family, allies, customers and employees. I will try my best to make up for my poor judgement. Again, I am deeply sorry."
Ethical question:    Should Cruz return the money raised at the event, which (sort of) was raised under false pretense to the guests?   That is, an implied endorsement by the hosts?

Personal question:    Who set Reisner up this way?    Didn't the person who asked him to host the event know Ted Cruz's positions and think it would be a problem?

The big question:   Who would ever have thought, even 5 years ago, that the big problem in Republican fund-raising circles would be that a candidate was too anti-gay?


Monday, April 27, 2015

Obama hits back at Dick Cheney and Michele Bachmann

Following the tradition of the annual White House Correspondents Dinner, President Obama's speech at the Saturday night event was laced with barbs for political enemies, and jabs at others.

Responding to a recent comment from Dick Cheney, he quipped:
"A few weeks ago Dick Cheney said he thinks I'm the worst president of his lifetime, which is interesting, because I think Dick Cheney is the worst president of my lifetime."
And about Michele Bachmann, who last week predicted that Obama's policies on Iran's nuclear program and marriage equality would lead to Armageddon, the end of times as described in the Bible's book of Revelations, when Jesus returns to earth to take the faithful up into heaven -- the "rapture" -- before the destruction of the world and the end of days on earth.   Here's Obama's response:
"Just this week, Michele Bachmann actually predicted that I would bring about the biblical end of daysNow that's a legacy.    That's big.   I mean Lincoln . . . Washington -- they didn't do that."
Good joke writer.  And good delivery.   Which reminds me that this Mr. Cool President stood there at the 2011 correspondents dinner and tossed out his jokes -- knowing that he had just set in motion the Special Operations mission that would end in the death of Osama bin Laden. 


Sunday, April 26, 2015

The 10 happiest countries

The United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network has released the 2015 World Happiness Report, which looked at 158 countries for sense of well-being, lifestyle, freedom to make life choices, social support, and life expectancy for newborns.

The United States was in 95th place.  Here are the top 10:

10. Australia
 9.  New Zealand
 8.  Sweden
 7.  Netherlands
 6.  Finland
 5.  Canada
 4.  Norway
 3.  Denmark
 2.  Iceland
 1.  Switzerland

It's interesting that financial wealth was not one of the criteria.  In the U.S., the criteria that are measured, however, are more tied to level of affluence than in most of the top 10.   

All of those countries, I believe, have governments that provide, for all citizens, greater freedom of life choices and higher levels of social support than does the U.S.