Saturday, July 4, 2015

Jon Stewart to Chris Christie: "WHY ?"

Comedian Jon Stewart had a one-word response to news that Chris Christie was joining the over-crowded field of Republican candidates for president:

W H Y  ?

I suppose Christie thinks there's still room for a no-nonsence straight-talker who tells people the hard truths.    Never to be confused with a shrinking violet, the loud-mouth Christie's style was initially appealing, and he won huge in the ratings after his response to the damage brought to his state by Hurricane Sandy.

But since then New Jerseyans have learned the hard way that the loud-mouth blusterer is not much more than that (plus a crafty politician on the take for himself and his rich friends).  Quoting Stewart:
Under him, New Jersey's had its credit downgraded eight times, unemployment has run rampant, his capos blocked traffic for political retribution, the Sandy rebuilding effort remains pathetic, he's raided pensions after promising not to, his abominable Exxon settlement [he signed an agreement that let Exxon off the hook for pennies on the multi-billion dollar, clean-up costs for toxic waste damage calculated by the environmental agency.]
Three months ago a poll of NJ citizens revealed that by 65% to 29% they think he would not make a good president.  The glib Christie's response?    "A lot of that 65% say that because they don't want me to leave to run for president;  they want me to stay in New Jersey."

Personally, I think Christie is a blowhard with an ego larger than his waist size who talks a great game -- and performs miserably for the people, even if pretty well for his cronies.

But here's the biggest reason why Christie's entry in the race is something of a joke.  Quoting Stewart again:
"Here's your real problem, governor. . . . It's not that New Jerseyans love you too much to let you go;   it's that you've already finished second in the loud, Northeastern egomaniac primary."
His first hurdle is certainly going to be to change the narrative that lumps him and Trump in the same category of loud-mouth buffoon.   Just being associated in people's minds with Donald Trump as "loud, Northeastern egomaniacs" is going to hurt Christie

After all, unlike Trump who doesn't seem to care if people think he's a jerk and a kook, Christie  needs to convince people that he is a serious, bold leader.   He has to overcome the impression that he is a bully with a shady and unsuccessful economic record as governor.   He can't afford to be tainted as a kook.


Friday, July 3, 2015

A sober look at the constitutional questions raised by SCOTUS' marriage equality decision

A week has now passed since the Supreme Court's decision on marriage equality and since the emotional reactions (both positive and negative) were at their height.   So, with some distance from the emotional high of full acceptance,  I want to try to clarify in my own thinking what the real constitutional question was all about -- and how the dissenters reasoned their positions.

I have been studying the 103 page document that contains the majority opinion and the four individual dissents by Justices Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, based his finding that same-sex couples have a right to marry on the 14th Amendment in two places:   (1)  the Due Process Clause and (2) the Equal Protection Clause.   He backs these claims up with case law and prior court decisions and dismantles arguments against them.

Essentially, the majority position is that
"The right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty."
John Roberts, writing in dissent, goes out of his way to signal his approval of same-sex marriage;  but he disagrees that it is guaranteed in the Constitution.   Rather, he writes, it should be left up to the states and to the people to decide through the legislative process.

Roberts further states that, if he were a legislator, he would consider changing the law "as a matter of social policy.  But as a judge, I find the majority's position indefensible as a matter of constitutional law."

That is the crux of the argument.   Is there a basic right?   And, if not, who gets to decide about same-sex marriage?    The majority says it is a right;  the dissenters say it is not and therefore it is up to the states and the people.

In the majority opinion, Kennedy had anticipated this argument, writing:
"An individual can invoke a right to constitutional protection when he or she is harmed, even if the broader public disagrees and even if the legislature refuses to act.  The idea of a Constitution 'was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts.' (West Virginia Bd. of Ed. v. Barnette . . . 1943)."
He also wrote:  "While the Constitution contemplates that democracy is the appropriate process for change, individuals who are harmed [by existing laws] need not await legislative action before asserting a fundamental right."

Our Constitution gives the power of self-government to the people, but it also protects certain basic rights of minorities from the whims of the majority.   It is the duty of the courts to protect individuals when existing laws violate one of those rights -- without waiting for legislative action, which may not come.

He refers to the 1986 Bowers decision, which upheld the Georgia law criminalizing same-sex behavior between consenting adults in the privacy of a home.    Kennedy points out that this 1986 SCOTUS decision was finally reversed, but it was in effect for 17 years before SCOTUS overturned it in its 1993 Lawrence v. Texas decision.   During that time, "men and women suffered pain and humiliation in the interim."

In addition to the constitutional question, Roberts makes a strong case for the negative social result of this being decided by judges.  He asserts that this decision ends the democratic process "at a time when the people are engaged in a vibrant debate on that question. . . .  Stealing this issue from the people will for many cast a cloud over same-sex marriage, making a dramatic social change that much more difficult to accept."

He goes further:
"There will be consequences to shutting down the political process on an issue of such profound public significance. . . . However heartened the proponents of same-sex marriage might be on this day, it is worth considering what they have lost, and lost forever:  the opportunity to win the true acceptance that comes from persuading their fellow citizens of the justice of their cause.   And they lose this just when the winds of change were freshening at their backs."
That would have been a good point -- even three years ago;   but we are past that point.   It is widely accepted that this persuasion has already occurred for the significant majority of people.   The rapidity of change in public approval of marriage equality is unprecedented.   It is now at 60% in the latest polls -- even before this decision of SCOTUS.

The other dissents by Scalia, Thomas, and Alito add more heat, but not much light to Roberts' more reasoned arguments.    I find this fascinating as a constitutional principle debate;   and, to the extent that I can separate those questions from my personal feelings about the rightness of marriage equality, I think the Kennedy opinion and the Roberts' dissent should be studied by legal scholars as a grand debate about these basic questions.


Thursday, July 2, 2015

Suddenly, we have a liberal SCOTUS ???

Very interesting analysis of this year's Supreme Court decisions and how this conservative court suddenly is being called "liberal" by New York Times writer Adam Liptak.   Here are some excerpts and summaries:
"The stunning series of liberal decisions delivered by the Supreme Court this term was the product of discipline on the left side of the court and disarray on the right.

"In case after case, including blockbusters on same-sex marriage and President Obama's health care law, the court’s four-member liberal wing, all appointed by Democratic presidents, managed to pick off one or more votes from the court’s five conservative justices, all appointed by Republicans. . . . "
Liptak then quotes University of Chicago law professor Eric Posner:
The most interesting thing about this term is the acceleration of a long-term trend of disagreement among the Republican-appointed judges, while the Democratic-appointed judges continue to march in lock step."
Liptak credits the leadership of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with the leveraging of the four liberal votes.   She was quoted from an interview last year as saying, “We have made a concerted effort to speak with one voice in important cases."

In contrast, conservatives couldn't agree and often wrote separate opinions, even when they favored the same outcome.   The three more conservative justices (Scalia, Thomas, Alito) often try to move the court further to the right than Roberts and Kennedy will go along with.  Thus they have a harder time tailoring an opinion that they can all agree on in order to reach the majority on a given case.

Professor Posner was quoted again, saying that “Kennedy, Roberts and Alito’s pragmatism contrasts with the formalism of Scalia and Thomas . . .”    Law Professor Lee Epstein of Washington University of St. Louis, says: "The Republicans can’t seem to agree even when they agree.” 

As Liptak points out, it's hard to call this court liberal when it just this week voted against death row inmates in a case involving the death penalty and against Obama on environmental regulations.   What does stand out, Liptak says, is that the Supreme Court has proved to be more of an ally with President Obama than has Congress.

And then there's the opinion of Lisa S. Blatt, an experienced lawyer who has argued more than 30 cases before the Supreme Court and studied its voting patterns:  “This term feels just huge.  It's clearly the most liberal term I’ve seen since I’ve been watching the court.” 
Warning that "This term may have been an anomaly, and the next one may shift back to the right," Liptak notes that they have already agreed to hear cases next term on affirmative action and are likely to hear a major case on abortion.   Nevertheless, analysis of decisions shows that the current court is less business-friendly than is generally assumed, having given several "substantial losses" to the business community.

We shall see.   This all adds to my admiration for Justice Ginsburg's decision not to step down so that President Obama could name her replacement.   As she told Diane Sawyer in her interview, the current senate would not confirm any nominee nearly as liberal as she is.   And now we can add to that her leadership role and strategy in presenting a united liberal front in the behind-the-scenes negotiations that result in being able to get Kennedy or Roberts to join a decision and get a majority on a given case.

So a lot depends on the continuing health and stamina of Justice Ginsburg -- and on the election of a Democratic president and senate to nominate and confirm her successor.
Viva la RBG !!!


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Donald Trump phenomenon -- and my mistake

I was wrong to belittle the effect of Donald Trump on the Republican primary race.   I dismissed him as an entertaining, obnoxious wacko -- the spot Michele Bachmann occupied in 2012.    The truth, as I'm beginning to realize, is that The Donald is far more dangerous to the Republicans.

Why?    Because he rips the scab off their fake blandishments and exposes the raw truth of what it is to be a conservative in this day and time -- or, rather, he exposes the pandering that politicians have to do to get the vote of the extreme right wing.   He doesn't sugar coat anything, makes no apologies, and seems to be impervious to what other people think of him.  [How else could he continue with that hair after all the ridicule?]

Some pundits say that the Republican establishment is beginning to panic at the thought of Donald Trump in the debates.   Former White House press secretary for George W. Bush, Ari Fleischer, said:
“Donald Trump is like watching a road-side accident.   Everybody pulls over to see the mess. And Trump thinks that’s entertainment. But running for president is serious. And the risk for the party is he tarnishes everybody.”
They fear he will not observe the usual debate decorum and hurl personal insults at his fellow Republicans.    He's already referred publicly to Carly Fiorino's "vicious firing" from Hewlett Packard and her failed campaign for senate.   He slashed Marco Rubio as "very weak" on immigration and said that Jeb Bush is "an unhappy person" who "couldn't negotiate his way out of a paper bag."

But debate decorum pales in comparison with the damage he can do to the Republican establishment's bait-and-switch strategy.   He exposes the real truth of what others hint at ambiguously in their carefully worded talking points.    And he will force others to take a stand that may hurt them badly in the general election.

This is a delicate dance they are trying to do -- flirt with the right wing extremists just enough to get their votes, then pivot back to the center right to bring in the more reasonable center right voters.

Donald Trump won't let them get away with their polite hypocrisy.    He doesn't care about the Republican party.   He only cares about Donald Trump -- and he already knows that he would be "a great president," so he doesn't have to court anybody.    And he doesn't worry much about facts -- he makes them up as it suits him.

That's a problem for the Republicans.   He could destroy their chances, which are slim at best for president.   The real damage he could do to the party is in down-ticket races, if he makes everyone look bad.    

So, Donald Trump in the debates is a Democratic Dream Come True.


UPDATE Wednesday afternoon:    Trump is now polling second in a national CNN poll and second in New Hampshire and tied with Ben Carson for second in an Iowa poll.     Remember that in 2012, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, and Herman Cain each had a short burst as frontrunner, only to flame out later.    Maybe this is just everybody stopping to look at the roadside accident.    Time will tell.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

I never expected this

This is not a photoshop trick.   It is an actual photograph of the White House on Friday night to acknowledge that marriage equality is now the law of the land.

Embedded image permalink

SCOTUS also did this

The nine justices have had a busy year.    Almost missed in the two big ones (Obamacare and Marriage Equality) were some other significant decisions issued on Monday:

1.  They voted 5-4 to put on hold the Texas law that would have required all but nine abortion clinics in Texas to close.   This law essentially requires that abortions be done only in facilities that have operating room facilities.    A lower court upheld the law, and SCOTUS put a stay on implementing it while the case is on appeal to the highest court.

2.  They upheld an Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission that was passed by voters in 2000 to counter gerrymandering.   At issue was a clause in the Constitution that says that time, place, and manner of voting for Representatives and Senators shall be set by the Legislature.   Since the commission was create by the voters rather than the legislature, opponents challenged its legality.   The SCOTUS majority interpreted "Legislature" to include a vote by the people who elect the legislature.

Because this was a question of constitutional interpretation, this decision bodes well for future decisions involving voter rights.

It was not all positive.   The court also decided against EPA restrictions on mercury emissions from power plants.     And it upheld Oklahoma's use of the lethal injection drug that has caused multiple painful executions.


Monday, June 29, 2015

NASCAR chief says 'no' to Confederate flag

From a news item on Huffington Post:

"Calling the Confederate flag an 'insensitive symbol' he personally finds offensive, NASCAR chairman Brian France said the sport will be aggressive in disassociating the symbol from its events."

Taking down the Confederate flag

A woman, Bree Newsome, climbed the flagpole and took down the Confederate battle flag that was flying over the Confederate Memorial on the capitol grounds in Columbia, SC.    The activist group she represents, Blackbird, released this statement:

“We can't continue like this another day. It's time for a new chapter where we are sincere about dismantling white supremacy and building toward true racial justice and equality.”

Bree Newsome

That flag was raised again about 45 minutes later by state officials.   It is still the law of South Carolina that this flag cannot be lowered without a vote by 2/3 of both houses of the state legislature.   That was part of the compromise when the flag was removed from flying over the state capitol to a pole by the Confederate Memorial on the state capitol grounds.

The "stars and bars" flag is commonly assumed to be the flag of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War era.   It was not.   It was a battle flag used first by the Army of Virginia and later picked up as a flag carried into battle by other units of the Confederate Army.   It later became the symbol of post-war resistance to everything the South resented about losing the war and all of the difficulties of reconstruction.    The KKK soon began featuring this flag, along with the Christian Cross at its rallies.

I remember during my college years at Duke in the 1950s that it became romanticized as a symbol of the "glories of the Old South," as depicted in the first part of "Gone With the Wind."   It also represented the "states rights" cry that blamed everything on the federal government.   It would often be waved as young guys chanted "The South's Gonna Rise Again."

Later, during the 1960s Civil Rights era of struggle and violence, it more and more became the symbol for the anger and sometimes violence of those white men who blamed all their misfortunes on the mandated desegregation and government control from Washington.

As time went on it seemed to become more and more entrenched as a symbol of hatred and defiance.    So, to those people, having their symbol forcefully removed from public display will reinforce their sense of defeat and shame -- and their reaction of violence.

I hope, with leadership, starting with President Obama and people like Strom Thurmond's son Sen. Paul Thurmond of South Carolina, we can get through this phase without more violence. 

As one who grew up in small town Georgia and who knows people on both sides of this divide, I agree that we must seize this opportunity and relegate the shameful symbols of oppression and hatred to museums and history books.   They have no place in current displays of our collective honor.

And yet I hope this can be done without further fanning the flames of violence.   Take down the flags, fold them and put them away in museums rather than burning them or dragging them through the mud.    I understand the impulse to do that, but that would simply do to one group of people what the display of the flag in places of honor has so painfully done to another group of people.   I'm not trying to draw a moral equivalence to the two sides -- far from it.   But I am suggesting that we act to correct a wrong rather than to exact revenge.

Do this -- and do it in the spirit of those who died in Mother Emanuel Church, not in the spirit of the man who went there to kill them.


Sunday, June 28, 2015

Realists vs True Believers in politics

I've often contrasted the idealists and the pragmatists in our political process, having one foot in each camp myself and often shifting from one to the other, depending on the issues.   

I've suggested before that much of the disappointment his supporters feel in President Obama comes from the fact that we wanted him to be able to govern as the idealist he was in the campaign -- only to find out that pragmatism gets you further in Washington.

Listen to Matthew Yglesias who wrote an essay for online VOX on this subject, but using True Believers and Realists instead of Idealists and Pragmatists.
"In politics, you have your realists and you have your true believers.

"To say that Obama 'didn't mean it' when he said [in 2008] he believed marriage is between a man and a woman is a little too simplistic.  The point is that Obama was a realist. He wasn't prepared to take any political risks on behalf of the cause of marriage equality.  At the same time, he was clearly committed to taking a pro-equality stance where politically viable.  And he set about appointing federal judges who share the generally LGBTQ-friendly worldview of the elite Democratic Party.  If the Supreme Court rules this week to make marriage equality the law of the land, [as it did] it will be because Obama was in office to fill two vacanciesan office he might not have held had he taken a bolder stance.

"Realists do what they have to do to get through the day (or the week or the month or the year), and then do what they can to deliver for their core supporters. It can work quite well, even when it aggravates activists.

"True believers are different. They push the boundaries in inconvenient ways. They are indispensable for creating real political change, but they can also be dangerous and unpredictable. And it's probably not a coincidence that they rarely end up sitting in the Oval Office. It's simply too risky. . .

"[Scott] Walker has true believer written all over him. . . .  [Jeb] Bush, by contrast, is making bullshit . . . a centerpiece of his campaign with his laughable 4 percent growth commitment.   Like many politicians, he has a long track record of changing his positions and his message as circumstances change. . . .
". . . . The Bushes, in other words, are establishment guys. They stand for the Republican Party's conservative values, but most of all they stand for doing what it takes to win and to deliver for the establishment of which they are integral members.

"To many, this contrast makes Walker look appealing. There are voters out there who want a true believer. And that is what makes Walker such a tantalizing figure — he's a true believer, but unlike a Ted Cruz he's not throwing bombs from the back benches. He's a real governor of a real state — a bluish state, at that — who could very possibly win a presidential election.
"But there are also people out there who are looking for a cynic. And many of those people happen to be the people in a position to cut the six- and seven-figure checks that the modern Super PAC desires."
*   *   *
I mostly agree -- but I do want to point out that Jeb Bush has a history of behaving like a True Believer on occasion -- most notably in the Terri Shiavo case, where he actually used his position as governor to defy a lawful court decision; and then used his position as brother of the president to get congress to pass a law (later declared unconstitutional) to circumvent the Florida court's decision.   In the long run, he lost the ideological war on this, but he paid his dues to the right wing as a true believer.

That doesn't change the basic points that Iglesias is making.    But I wouldn't be so ready to put Jeb Bush completely in the category of realist.


[Added note:   The International Business Times ran an article just yesterday questioning the sincerity of Jeb Bush's denunciation of lobbyists in his opening campaign announcement.   While he now claims that he fought relentlessly against the lobbying culture when he was governor of Florida, the IBT says otherwise.   According to them, The Southern Strategy Group, a major lobbying firm, had frequent meetings with Bush on behalf of their clients.  A lobbyist at their firm helped write two of Bush's major speeches, and in some instances Bush sought out direct input from them while drafting legislation that their clients had a financial interest in.]