Friday, June 28, 2019

Not Surprising At All

The Supreme Court ended the term with two rulings that ratified the belief that despite all their protestations that they are supremely non-political and only follow the written word of the Constitution, we all know it’s bullshit, and they know it, too.

The gerrymandering ruling was not unexpected at all, with a 5-4 right wing majority saying that the federal courts have no say whatsoever in state-wide political manipulation.  That’s ironic given that the Court with the same majority had no trouble whatsoever in diving into a state-wide political manipulation and gave the presidency to George W. Bush.  Funny too that if the case had been about Democrats re-working the congressional districts to their favor, odds are that they would have found a clause in the Constitution to put and end to it.

As for the census citizenship question, the 5-4 ruling basically told Trump to come up with a better bullshit reason to add it to the census and they’ll consider it.  Chances are that they will.

Both of these cases make it imperative for voters to remember that when they choose someone to run for president, they’re not just choosing someone for four or eight years; they’re looking down the road a lifetime, and those three little words — The Supreme Court — should be etched on the ballot every time.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Sunday Reading

On Thin Ice — Charles P. Pierce on how climate change is killing people in Alaska.

For those Chinese climate hoaxsters, it’s all fun and games until people start dying, which is happening in a lot of places around the world, and which will keep happening as the hoax gets deeper and more serious and affects more and more of the world. For example, as Smithsonian informs us, Alaska. In March, when it is still supposed to be the dead of winter there, Alaska experienced temperatures that were 11 degrees Celsius above normal. There were consequences.

On April 15, three people, including an 11-year-old girl, died after their snowmobiles plunged through thin ice on the Noatak River in far northwestern Alaska. Earlier in the winter, 700 kilometers south, on the lower Kuskokwim River, at least five people perished in separate incidents when their snowmobiles or four-wheelers broke through thin ice. There were close calls too, including the rescue of three miners who spent hours hopping between disintegrating ice floes in the Bering Sea near Nome. Farther south, people skating on the popular Portage Lake near Anchorage also fell through thin ice. Varying factors contributed to these and other mishaps, but abnormally thin ice was a common denominator.

In Alaska, ice is infrastructure. For example, the Kuskokwim River, which runs over 1,100 kilometers across southwestern Alaska, freezes so solid that it becomes a marked ice road connecting dozens of communities spread over 300 kilometers. In sparsely populated interior Alaska, frozen rivers are indispensable for transporting goods, visiting family and delivering kids to school basketball games. Along Alaska’s west coast, the frozen waters of the Bering Sea also act as infrastructure. Each winter, frigid air transforms much of the Bering between Russia and Alaska into sea ice. As it fastens to shore, the ice provides platforms for fishing and hunting, and safe routes between communities. It also prevents wave action and storm surges from eroding the shores of coastal villages.

The ripple effects of this don’t stop. The warmer ocean makes for storms more and more heavy with rain. It also upsets the ecological balance that keeps Alaska’s economy rolling and keeps many of Alaska’s Native population alive. As Smithsonian points out, nobody really knows what the effect of the warming of the Gulf of Alaska will have on the salmon population, but nobody’s speculation is good.

For many, including Rob Campbell, a biological oceanographer with the Prince William Sound Science Center, it stirs unpleasant memories of the Blob, an enormous patch of warm water that formed in the Gulf of Alaska in 2013. It lasted over two years and upset ecological norms across our region. “Today we don’t see as much heat in the gulf as we had beginning in 2013,” says Campbell. “But in general, the northern gulf is 1.5 degrees Celsius above average. It’s a big anomaly heading into summer.” Campbell finds the conditions worrisome. “Continued warmth like this has cascading effects,” he says. “And we may not understand the consequences for species like salmon for years to come.”

Elsewhere in the Arctic and the sub-Arctic, things are no better. On Friday morning, a number of people attending a policy conference in Upper Michigan leapt to the electric Twitter machine to share photos of the gorgeous sunrises and sunsets that they were experiencing.

The reason these are so striking is because the forests in upper Alberta are burning down right now in one of the earliest starts to wildfire season that Canada ever has seen. Smoke from those fires already has ridden the weather systems south as far as Iowa. Some 10,000 people have been evacuated in Alberta, but the fires do make for a nice photo or two thousands of miles away, so there’s that.

Because He Can — Jeffrey Toobin on the douchebaggery of Mitch McConnell.

The boundless cynicism of Mitch McConnell is again on display. The Kentucky Republican, who is the Senate Majority Leader, told a home-state audience that, if there is a vacancy on the Supreme Court in 2020, he will make sure that President Trump’s nominee receives a confirmation vote. This, of course, conflicts with McConnell’s view on the election-year nomination of Merrick Garland, in 2016. After the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, on February 13, 2016, McConnell announced that he would refuse to allow a vote on President Obama’s nominee, and thus would keep the seat open for the next President to fill. McConnell has lately made a halfhearted attempt to distinguish the two situations; he said that Supreme Court seats should be kept open in election years when the Senate and the Presidency are controlled by different parties. (Needless to say, he did not raise this purported distinction in 2016.) But the main reason that McConnell might push through a Republican nominee to the Court while blocking a Democratic choice is simple: because he can.

There’s another, less obvious reason that McConnell can game the Supreme Court confirmation process with impunity. The Republican Party has been far more invested in the future of the Supreme Court, and of the judiciary generally, than the Democratic Party has. Judicial appointments, especially to the Supreme Court, are a central pillar of the Republican agenda, and Republican voters will forgive any number of other transgressions if the Party delivers on the courts.

Donald Trump understood this. That’s why, during the 2016 campaign, he released a short list of possible nominees to the Court. The list was largely compiled by Leonard Leo, the executive vice-president of the Federalist Society, and the names on it demonstrated to the Republican base that Trump was serious about following its agenda—starting with overruling Roe v. Wade. Trump’s nominations of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, and of dozens of other conservatives to the lower courts, have been crucial to the President’s preservation of his stratospheric level of support from that base. Conservatives forgive Trump his louche personal life and his casual dishonesty because they know that they are getting the judges and the Justices they want.

Democrats are different. Consider what happened after McConnell blocked the Garland nomination. After a few days of perfunctory outrage, most Democratic politicians dropped the issue. Neither President Obama nor Hillary Clinton, in their speeches before the Democratic National Convention, in July, 2016, even mentioned Garland—or the Supreme Court. Its future was apparently something that neither of them wanted to discuss, or thought that their party, or the nation, wanted to hear about.

Four years later, this pattern is recurring. Consider, for example, the Web sites of three leading contenders for the Democratic Presidential nomination: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren. Each site has thousands of words outlining the candidates’ positions on the issues—and none of them mentions Supreme Court nominations, much less nominations for lower-court judges. These omissions are especially striking in Biden’s case, because he served for decades on the Senate Judiciary Committee, including several years as the chair. He voted on more than a dozen Supreme Court confirmations (including, of course, that of Clarence Thomas) and, as Vice-President, he helped Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan win approval in the Senate. Likewise, since Warren was a law professor before she ran for office, she might be expected to focus on the significance of the Court. But, for the most part, Democrats barely mention it.

It’s difficult to pinpoint why Republicans are so much more motivated by the Supreme Court than Democrats are. Complacency could be part of the reason. Despite a preponderance of Republicans on the Court for the past couple of generations, the Justices have expanded gay rights, including the right to marriage, and preserved abortion rights, by reaffirming Roe. But, thanks largely to McConnell, and, of course, to Trump, those days are likely over. Trump rallied his supporters by promising to appoint Justices who will vote to overturn Roe, and the day of that vote may soon be upon us. By the time Democrats wake up to the importance of the Court, it may be too late.

Doonesbury — Paying the price.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Civics Lesson

Learning about the Constitution in practical ways.

A Florida student is facing misdemeanor charges after a confrontation with his teacher that began with his refusal to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and escalated into what officials described as disruptive behavior.

The student, a sixth-grader at Lawton Chiles Middle Academy in Lakeland, Fla., east of Tampa, refused to stand for the pledge in the Feb. 4 incident, telling the teacher that he thinks the flag and the national anthem are “racist” against black people, according to an affidavit. The teacher then had what appeared to be a contentious exchange with the boy.

If living in the United States is “so bad,” why not go to another place to live? substitute teacher Ana Alvarez asked the student, according to a handwritten statement from her.

“They brought me here,” the boy replied.

Alvarez responded by saying, “Well you can always go back, because I came here from Cuba, and the day I feel I’m not welcome here anymore, I would find another place to live.” She then called the school office, as she did not want to keep dealing with the student, according to the statement.

Officials said the situation escalated. The student yelled at the administrative dean and a school resource officer with the Lakeland Police Department after they came to the classroom, accusing them of being racist and repeatedly refusing to leave the room.

“Suspend me! I don’t care. This school is racist,” the student, who is black, told the dean as he walked out of the classroom with his backpack, according to the affidavit.

According to a statement from the Lakeland Police Department, the boy then “created another disturbance and made threats while he was escorted to the office.” He was later charged by police with disruption of a school facility and resisting an officer without violence.

I am sure there are plenty of people who think the teacher and the cops were right to bust this kid for being unpatriotic and refusing to give in to the demands that he salute the flag and recite the pledge.  Fortunately they are in flagrant disagreement with the United States Supreme Court that ruled in 1943 that no state official can compel anyone to be patriotic.

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.

This would also apply to those who think that football players showing their feelings in a non-disruptive and silent way should be fired.  The Constitution has your number, too.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Justice Roberts Has A Moment

From the Washington Post:

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joined with the Supreme Court’s liberals Thursday night to block a Louisiana law that opponents say would close most of the state’s abortion clinics and leave it with only one doctor eligible to perform the procedure.

The justices may yet consider whether the 2014 law — requiring doctors at abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals — unduly burdens women’s access to abortion. The Louisiana law has never been enforced, and the Supreme Court in 2016 found a nearly identical Texas law to be unconstitutional.

This is not a ruling on the case itself.  It is just a block on the law taking effect while it works its way through the courts.  But it’s a hopeful sign that the hard-core right wing majority may not be so hard core and may not be a majority.

It’s interesting to note that Chief Justice Roberts has come down on the side of sanity in a few recent rulings, including keeping Obamacare intact.  That does not relieve him of the odious rulings he’s sided with such as the decimation of voting rights (“Racism?  What racism?”) in Shelby County v. Holder and the granting of First Amendment protections to a checkbook in Citizens United, nor his dissent on same-sex marriage, but this ruling, for now, indicates there may be some hopeful signs that he’s not a complete dick when it comes to basic constitutional protections.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Looking Back/Looking Forward

Time for my annual recap and predictions for this year and next.  Let’s look back at how I did a year ago.

  • There will be indictments at a very high level in the administration as the Mueller investigation rumbles on.  Plea bargains and deals will be made and revelations will come forth, and by summer there will be genuine questions about whether or not the administration will survive.  But there won’t be a move to impeach Trump as long as there are Republican majorities in the Congress, and invoking the 25th Amendment is a non-starter.

I’ll give myself a B on that since it was pretty much that way a year ago and the gears of justice grind slowly but irresistibly.  No high-level members of the administration were indicted, but shame and scandal did bring down an impressive number of folks who had hard passes to the West Wing.

  • The Democrats will make great gains in the mid-term elections in November.  This is a safe bet because the party out of power usually does in the first mid-term of new president.  The Democrats will take back the Senate and narrow the gap in the House to the point that Speaker Paul Ryan with either quit or be so powerless that he’s just hanging around to collect pension points.  (No, he will not lose his re-election bid.)

I’ll go with a C on that since I hit the nail on the head in the first sentence; I should have just left it there.  But no; I had it backwards: the House flipped but the GOP still has the Senate, and who knew that Paul Ryan would decide to quit?

  • There will be a vacancy on the Supreme Court, but it won’t happen until after the mid-terms and Trump’s appointment will flail as the Democrats in the Senate block the confirmation on the grounds that the next president gets to choose the replacement.

I’ll take an A- on that since I got the timing wrong, but I think Brett Kavanaugh did a great job of flailing (“I like beer!”) before the Senate Judiciary Committee.  The predator still got on the court, though, and we all hold RBG in the Light for at least another two years.

  • There will be irrefutable proof that the Russians not only meddled in the 2016 U.S. election, but they’ve had a hand in elections in Europe as well and will be a factor in the U.S. mid-terms.  Vladimir Putin will be re-elected, of course.

A+ Duh.

  • Raul Castro will figure out a way to still run Cuba even if he steps down as president, and there will be no lessening of the authoritarian rule.

Another A+, but what did anyone expect?  Trump’s half-assed attempts to restrain trade with Cuba, along with Marco Rubio doing his yapping perrito act, only make it more ironic when it’s the administration’s policy to cozy up to dictators like Putin and the Saudis.  If Trump owned a hotel in Havana he’d be down there in a second sucking up to the regime with video to prove it.

  • The U.S. economy will continue to grow, but there will be dark clouds on the horizon as the deficit grows thanks to the giveaways in the GOP tax bill.  If the GOP engineers cuts to entitlement programs and the number of uninsured for healthcare increases, the strain on the economy will be too much.

I’ll take a B on this since I didn’t factor in tariffs and the trade war(s) he’s launched that led to wild uncertainty in the markets, not to mention Trump’s bashing of the Fed chair that he appointed and told him to do what he’s doing.

  • This “America First” foreign policy will backfire.  All it does is tell our allies “You’re on your own.”  If we ever need them, they’re more likely to turn their backs on us.

I get an A on this because it has and they are.

  • The white supremacist movement will not abate.  Count on seeing more violence against minorities and more mass shootings.

Sadly, a very predictable A on that.

  • A viable Democratic candidate will emerge as a major contender for the 2020 election, and it will most likely be a woman.  Sen. Elizabeth Warren is considered to be the default, but I wouldn’t rule out Sen. Kamala Harris of California or Sen. Kristen Gillibrand of New York just yet.  (Sen. Gillibrand would drive Trump even further around the bend.  She was appointed to the Senate to fill Hillary Clinton’s seat when she became Secretary of State in 2009.)

I get a B on this because it was rather easy to spot and I’m already getting begging e-mails from Ms. Harris.

  • On a personal level, this will be a busy year for my work in theatre with a full production of “All Together Now” opening in March and several other works out there for consideration.  I will also be entering my last full year of employment in my present job (retirement happens in August 2019) but I’ll keep working.

This was a great year for my playwriting with a lot of new friends and opportunities out there and more to come in 2019 (see below).

  • People and fads we never heard about will have their fifteen minutes.

Yep.  I’ve already blocked them out.

Okay, on to the predictions.

  • Barring natural causes or intervention from an outside force, Trump will still be in office on December 31, 2019.  There is no way he will leave voluntarily and even with the House of Representatives in Democratic control and articles of impeachment being drafted they will not get to the Senate floor because the Republicans are either too afraid to rile up the base or they’re too enamored of their own grip on power to care about the government being headed by a poor imitation of a tin-pot banana republic authoritarian douche-canoe.
  • The Mueller Report will be released to Congress and even though it’s supposed to be classified it will be leaked with great fanfare and pundit predictions of the end of the Trump administration with calls for frog-marching him and his minions out of the West Wing.  Despite that, see above.
  • There will be no wall.  There never will be.  Immigration will still be a triggering issue as even more refugees die in U.S. custody.
  • There will be no meaningful changes to gun laws even if the NRA goes broke.  There will be more mass shootings, thoughts and prayers will be offered, and we’ll be told yet again that now is not the time to talk about it.
  • Obamacare will survive its latest challenge because the ruling by the judge in Texas declaring the entire law unconstitutional will be tossed and turned into a case study in law schools everywhere on the topic of exasperatingly stupid reasoning.
  • Roe vs. Wade will still stand.
  • With the Democrats in control of the House, the government will be in permanent gridlock even after they work out some sort of deal to end the current shutdown over the mythological wall.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will become the Willie Horton for the GOP base and blamed for everything from budget deficits to the toast falling butter-side down.
  • We will have a pretty good idea who the Democratic front-runner will be in 2020.  I think Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s chances are still good (she announced her exploratory committee as I was writing this), as are Sen. Kamala Harris’s, and don’t count out Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, but who knew that Beto O’Rourke, a charismatic loser in the Texas senate race, would raise a lot of hopes?  That said, fifteen years ago when I started this blog, Howard Dean looked like the guy who was going to beat George W. Bush.
  • The economy will continue with its wild gyrations, pretty much following the gyrations of the mood of Trump and his thumb-driven Twitter-fed economic exhortations.  The tax cuts and the tariffs will land on the backs of the people who provide the income to the government and the deficit will soon be out there beyond the Tesla in outer space.  But unlike that Martian-bound convertible, the economy will come crashing back to Earth (probably about the time I retire in August) and Trump will blame everyone else.
  • There will be a natural event that will convince even skeptics that climate change and sea level rise is real and happening.  Unfortunately, nothing will be done about it even if lots of lives are lost because [spoiler alert] nothing ever is done.
  • I’m going out on a limb here with foreign affairs predictions, but I have a feeling that Brexit will end up in the dustbin of history.
  • Personally, this will be a transition year.  My retirement from Miami-Dade County Public Schools occurs officially on August 31, 2019, and I’m already actively looking for something both meaningful and income-producing to do after that.  (E-mail me for a copy of my resume; nothing ventured, nothing sprained.)  My play “Can’t Live Without You” opens at the Willow Theatre in Boca Raton, Florida, for a two-week run on March 30, and I’m planning on returning to the William Inge Theatre Festival for the 28th time, either with a play or most assuredly with a scholarly paper.  I have my bid in for a variety of other theatre events and productions; I think I’m getting the hang of this playwriting thing.
  • I will do this again next year.  I hope.  As Bobby says, “Hope is my greatest weakness.”

Okay, your turn.  Meanwhile, I wish continued good health and a long life to all of you and hope you make it through 2019 none the worse for wear.

Friday, November 9, 2018

A Good Fit

Matthew Whitaker, the acting attorney general, seems like a perfect fit for the Trump administration.

Before Whitaker joined the Trump administration as a political appointee, the Republican lawyer and legal commentator complained that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of Russian interference in the election and of the Trump campaign was dangerously close to overreaching. He suggested ways it could be stopped or curtailed and urged his followers on Twitter to read a story that dubbed the investigators “Mueller’s lynch mob.”

Now — at least on an interim basis — Whitaker will assume authority over that investigation, an arrangement that has triggered calls by Democrats for him to recuse himself.

He also harbors interesting views on the role of the Supreme Court in the scheme of things, arguing that the landmark 1803 Marbury v. Madison case that affirmed the court’s role as the final arbiter of interpreting the Constitution was one of the worst decisions the court has rendered.

“There are so many,” he replied. “I would start with the idea of Marbury v. Madison. That’s probably a good place to start and the way it’s looked at the Supreme Court as the final arbiter of constitutional issues. We’ll move forward from there. All New Deal cases that were expansive of the federal government. Those would be bad. Then all the way up to the Affordable Care Act and the individual mandate.”

He also seems to think that our laws descend from a higher power.

During a 2014 Senate debate sponsored by a conservative Christian organization, he said that in helping confirm judges, “I’d like to see things like their worldview, what informs them. Are they people of faith? Do they have a biblical view of justice? — which I think is very important.”

At that point, the moderator interjected: “Levitical or New Testament?”

“New Testament,” Whitaker affirmed. “And what I know is as long as they have that worldview, that they’ll be a good judge. And if they have a secular worldview, then I’m going to be very concerned about how they judge.”

Religious tests for judges are barred by the Constitution, but I think we already know where he stands on interpreting it.

To round out the rest of the portfolio, as an attorney he’s been accused of defrauding clients.

When federal investigators were digging into an invention-promotion company accused of fraud by customers, they sought information in 2017 from a prominent member of the company’s advisory board, according to two people familiar with the probe: Matthew G. Whitaker, a former U.S. attorney in Iowa.

It is unclear how Whitaker — who was appointed acting attorney general by President Trump on Wednesday — responded to a Federal Trade Commission subpoena to his law firm.

In the end, the FTC filed a complaint against Miami-based World Patent Marketing, accusing it of misleading investors and falsely promising that it would help them patent and profit from their inventions, according to court filings.

In May of this year, a federal court in Florida ordered the company to pay a settlement of more than $25 million and close up shop, records show. The company did not admit or deny wrongdoing.

Whitaker’s sudden elevation this week to replace fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions has put new scrutiny on his involvement with the shuttered company, whose advisory board he joined in 2014, shortly after making a failed run for U.S. Senate in Iowa.

At the time, he was also running a conservative watchdog group with ties to other powerful nonprofits on the right and was beginning to develop a career as a Trump-friendly cable television commentator.

So, he’s got authoritarian-executive views of the basic laws of the country, he wants religious tests for judges, and he’s provided legal counsel to a fraudulent get-rich-quick scheme here in Florida.

My only question is why wasn’t he the first pick for Trump’s attorney general before Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III?

Bonus Track: According to two highly-respected legal scholars, Neal K. Katyal and George T. Conway III, Trump’s appointment of Mr. Whitaker as acting attorney general is unconstitutional.

What now seems an eternity ago, the conservative law professor Steven Calabresi published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal in May arguing that Robert Mueller’s appointment as special counsel was unconstitutional. His article got a lot of attention, and it wasn’t long before President Trump picked up the argument, tweeting that “the Appointment of the Special Counsel is totally UNCONSTITUTIONAL!”

Professor Calabresi’s article was based on the Appointments Clause of the Constitution, Article II, Section 2, Clause 2. Under that provision, so-called principal officers of the United States must be nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate under its “Advice and Consent” powers.

He argued that Mr. Mueller was a principal officer because he is exercising significant law enforcement authority and that since he has not been confirmed by the Senate, his appointment was unconstitutional. As one of us argued at the time, he was wrong. What makes an officer a principal officer is that he or she reports only to the president. No one else in government is that person’s boss. But Mr. Mueller reports to Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general. So, Mr. Mueller is what is known as an inferior officer, not a principal one, and his appointment without Senate approval was valid.

But Professor Calabresi and Mr. Trump were right about the core principle. A principal officer must be confirmed by the Senate. And that has a very significant consequence today.

It means that Mr. Trump’s installation of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general of the United States after forcing the resignation of Jeff Sessions is unconstitutional. It’s illegal. And it means that anything Mr. Whitaker does, or tries to do, in that position is invalid.

I heard one conservative commentator suggest that the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 allows such appointments in the case of a vacancy or incapacity, but it is for a relatively short period, and besides, the Constitution has supremacy.  So if Mr. Whitaker tries to fire Robert Mueller, he may face a legal challenge.

PS: Karma strikes again: George T. Conway III, the co-author of the op-ed, is married to Kellyanne Conway.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Tamper, Tamper

It’s never the crime but the cover-up that gets you.  Don’t they teach that at Yale, or was Brett Kavanaugh too busy talking to Ralph on the big white phone?

I’m not a lawyer but with my vast knowledge of “Law & Order” reruns as support, I know that even dropping a postcard to a potential witness is a no-no.

In the days leading up to a public allegation that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh exposed himself to a college classmate, the judge and his team were communicating behind the scenes with friends to refute the claim, according to text messages obtained by NBC News.

Kerry Berchem, who was at Yale with both Kavanaugh and his accuser, Deborah Ramirez, has tried to get those messages to the FBI for its newly reopened investigation into the matter but says she has yet to be contacted by the bureau.

The texts between Berchem and Karen Yarasavage, both friends of Kavanaugh, suggest that the nominee was personally talking with former classmates about Ramirez’s story in advance of the New Yorker article that made her allegation public. In one message, Yarasavage said Kavanaugh asked her to go on the record in his defense. Two other messages show communication between Kavanaugh’s team and former classmates in advance of the story.

In now-public transcripts from an interview with Republican Judiciary Committee staff on September 25, two days after the Ramirez allegations were reported in the New Yorker, Kavanaugh claimed that it was Ramirez who was “calling around to classmates trying to see if they remembered it,” adding that it “strikes me as, you know, what is going on here? When someone is calling around to try to refresh other people? Is that what’s going on? What’s going on with that? That doesn’t sound — that doesn’t sound — good to me. It doesn’t sound fair. It doesn’t sound proper. It sounds like an orchestrated hit to take me out.”

The texts also demonstrate that Kavanaugh and Ramirez were more socially connected than previously understood and that Ramirez was uncomfortable around Kavanaugh when they saw each other at a wedding 10 years after they graduated. Berchem’s efforts also show that some potential witnesses have been unable to get important information to the FBI.

Aside from the fact that you really don’t need to have a possible Supreme Court justice committing a felony just to save his dream job, the arrogance with which he does it — “hey, you’re gonna back me up on this” — speaks to his stinking attitude of white male privilege: how dare anyone — especially a woman — try to deny me my entitlement.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Sham Wow

If you believe the FBI investigation into allegations against Brett Kavanaugh isn’t a sham, well, buddy, have I got some real estate just west of here for you.

The FBI has received no new instructions from the White House about how to proceed with its weeklong investigation of sexual misconduct allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, a senior U.S. official and another source familiar with the matter tell NBC News.

According to the sources, the president’s Saturday night tweet saying he wants the FBI to interview whoever agents deem appropriate has not changed the limits imposed by the White House counsel’s office on the FBI investigation — including a specific witness list that does not include Julie Swetnick, who has accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct in high school.

Also not on the list, the sources say, are former classmates who have contradicted Kavanaugh’s account of his college alcohol consumption, instead describing him as a frequent, heavy drinker. The FBI is also not authorized to interview high school classmates who could shed light on what some people have called untruths in Kavanaugh’s Senate Judiciary Committee testimony about alleged sexual references in his high school yearbook.

So basically the White House is doing what they do best: obstructing justice while saying they’re open to any and all investigations.  It’s all bullshit and they know it.

What I find impressive is that they can pull off this and expect — even count on — the rest of us to nod and say, “Oh, okay.”  That takes chutzpah; something never in short supply with these people.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Another Woman Comes Forward

From The New Yorker, Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer report on another woman coming forward to accuse Brett Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct, this time in college.

As Senate Republicans press for a swift vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Senate Democrats are investigating a new allegation of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh. The claim dates to the 1983-84 academic school year, when Kavanaugh was a freshman at Yale University. The offices of at least four Democratic senators have received information about the allegation, and at least two have begun investigating it. Senior Republican staffers also learned of the allegation last week and, in conversations with The New Yorker, expressed concern about its potential impact on Kavanaugh’s nomination. Soon after, Senate Republicans issued renewed calls to accelerate the timing of a committee vote. The Democratic Senate offices reviewing the allegations believe that they merit further investigation. “This is another serious, credible, and disturbing allegation against Brett Kavanaugh. It should be fully investigated,” Senator Mazie Hirono, of Hawaii, said. An aide in one of the other Senate offices added, “These allegations seem credible, and we’re taking them very seriously. If established, they’re clearly disqualifying.”

The woman at the center of the story, Deborah Ramirez, who is fifty-three, attended Yale with Kavanaugh, where she studied sociology and psychology. Later, she spent years working for an organization that supports victims of domestic violence. The New Yorker contacted Ramirez after learning of her possible involvement in an incident involving Kavanaugh. The allegation was conveyed to Democratic senators by a civil-rights lawyer. For Ramirez, the sudden attention has been unwelcome, and prompted difficult choices. She was at first hesitant to speak publicly, partly because her memories contained gaps because she had been drinking at the time of the alleged incident. In her initial conversations with The New Yorker, she was reluctant to characterize Kavanaugh’s role in the alleged incident with certainty. After six days of carefully assessing her memories and consulting with her attorney, Ramirez said that she felt confident enough of her recollections to say that she remembers Kavanaugh had exposed himself at a drunken dormitory party, thrust his penis in her face, and caused her to touch it without her consent as she pushed him away. Ramirez is now calling for the F.B.I. to investigate Kavanaugh’s role in the incident. “I would think an F.B.I. investigation would be warranted,” she said.

In a statement, Kavanaugh wrote, “This alleged event from 35 years ago did not happen. The people who knew me then know that this did not happen, and have said so. This is a smear, plain and simple. I look forward to testifying on Thursday about the truth, and defending my good name—and the reputation for character and integrity I have spent a lifetime building—against these last-minute allegations.”

The White House spokesperson Kerri Kupec said the Administration stood by Kavanaugh. “This 35-year-old, uncorroborated claim is the latest in a coordinated smear campaign by the Democrats designed to tear down a good man. This claim is denied by all who were said to be present and is wholly inconsistent with what many women and men who knew Judge Kavanaugh at the time in college say. The White House stands firmly behind Judge Kavanaugh.”

What I find interesting about both this and the first story about the high school party that started all of this is Judge Kavanaugh’s insistence that neither that nor this incident took place at all.  He’s not equivocating with lines like, “I don’t recall,” or even, “Yeah, I was there but it wasn’t me.”  He’s going full-tilt denial, which makes it a binary choice: either he’s telling the truth and a bunch of other people are lying, or he’s lying and he’s counting on a bunch of other people to back him up.  There’s no half-way on this for him or for the accusers.

If this was a court of law (and if I was a lawyer), I’d say he has the presumption of innocence and the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt was on the accusers.  But it isn’t (and I’m not) so what it comes down to is who do you believe?  Women who have nothing to gain and clearly are putting their careers (and in the case of Prof. Ford, her safety) on the line are coming forward.  Judge Kavanaugh has his reputation — and that’s a valuable commodity — but his current job is not at risk unless the Senate chooses to open impeachment hearings.  Clearly the stakes are not equal.  So both Prof. Ford and Ms. Ramirez must be both sure of themselves and their recollections, while Judge Kavanaugh is not allowing for any room for error.

Which brings me back to my original point: why is he so dead-set certain that both women are lying and the incidents never happened?  After all, if his supporters can say that it happened so long ago and the women were clearly intoxicated to the point that they can’t remember it clearly, how is it that Judge Kavanaugh recalls so clearly that nothing happened at all?  Why isn’t his memory of events so long ago just as hazy?  We already have circumstantial evidence that he knew how to party in high school; how is it that he’s so sure that he wasn’t at the party in question in Maryland or at Yale?

Either he’s relying on the fact that it’s very hard to prove a negative, or he’s taking his cues from the man who nominated him to the Supreme Court.  Trump has never admitted to anything even when there’s undisputed proof.  So far it’s worked for him.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Sunday Reading

Kavanaugh Cursed Either Way — Francis Wilkinson at Bloomberg on the doomed nomination even if he’s confirmed.

One way or another, Brett Kavanaugh will have to pay.

He will not necessarily pay explicitly for whatever it was he did or didn’t do on that contested night long ago. Although if Christine Blasey Ford appears to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and if she acquits herself credibly, then Kavanaugh is unlikely ever to sit on the Supreme Court – no matter what Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell says.  [Ed. note: Prof. Ford has agreed to appear before the committee on Thursday, September 27.]

Kavanaugh can wait to see if Ford’s allegations fall apart under questioning. It’s possible she’ll prove a jumble of contradictions. But from what we know so far, it’s hard to imagine she would. Ford doesn’t have to be sure of the color of paint on the wall 35 years ago. She only needs to be sure of the details of the attack as she has already described it.

Conservatives viewing her actions as a product of Democratic skulduggery fool themselves. Her allegations were problematic for Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, who first received them in confidence. If Democrats had plotted to weaponize the allegations for best effect, this late-inning muddle would not have resulted.

If McConnell is correct and Republicans manage to push Kavanaugh through to the high court, no matter what, Kavanaugh won’t be out of the woods.

This is not 1991, when Anita Hill accused soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. And Kavanaugh, the beneficiary of virtually every privilege that status and education can afford, is not Thomas.

Democrats in 1991 were already the party of feminists. But many of the Democratic men in Congress – Barbara Mikulski was the lone Democratic woman in the Senate – were just as doltish toward a female accuser as Republican senators are today.

That’s no longer the case. Democrats have four women on the Judiciary Committee, and the men are so different from the cast of 1991 that Senator Chris Coons of Delaware has publicly mused that maybe he should cede his committee time to his two female colleagues who are former prosecutors and superior interviewers.

More important, the Republican Party of 1991 is not the party of 2018. The party leader then was George H.W. Bush, a war hero with pronounced social graces. The current leader is a habitual liar and crude demagogue who has been accused of sexual predation by more than a dozen women while continuing to behave as cad-in-chief.

The GOP of 2018 views the Supreme Court differently as well. Republicans were not facing electoral attrition in those days, desperately trying to sabotage the future. Republicans had held the presidency for three terms and were on the verge of a historic victory in the House over a corrupt and complacent Democratic majority.

Now, Republicans are investing in a partisan court to deliver partisan outcomes to advance partisan goals that are insulated from democratic accountability, such as elections and popular opinion, which Republicans increasingly fear.

That’s why they killed the legitimate nomination of Merrick Garland to the court. And it’s why bad faith saturates their every act concerning the court; they view it as an antidemocratic firewall to protect their culturally narrow and politically unpopular agenda.

It will be in Democrats’ political interest to delegitimize a partisan Republican court waging war against a Congress and state governments under Democratic control. When Democrats regain sufficient strength in Washington, Kavanaugh will appear to them as a wounded, vulnerable prey.

Democrats can revisit evidence of his misleading testimony. They can pursue documentary corroboration, among the vast trove to which Republicans denied the Democrats and the public access, to buttress potential claims of perjury. And if Ford is bullied out of her moment now, they can give the alleged victim a belated but still-powerful platform, designed to her specifications.

A public re-vetting of Kavanaugh would take place in a very different context – almost certainly after special counsel Robert Mueller has given an accounting of his investigation into Donald Trump. By the time Kavanaugh’s case would be reopened and relitigated by a Democratic majority, perhaps not until 2021, everything Trump previously touched will likely appear tainted, and suspect.

The Kavanaugh saga is still fluid and its outcome uncertain. Kavanaugh might yet make it to the Supreme Court. But barring the unlikely collapse of Ford’s allegations, questions of Kavanaugh’s legitimacy will not end. Sooner or later the chalice will reveal itself to be poisoned.

Leonard Pitts, Jr. on the rush to social media judgment.

“Judge not, and ye shall not be judged.” Jesus preaches that in the book of Luke.

But then, Jesus never had Twitter. Or, for that matter, Instagram or Facebook. He never had, in other words, one of the social media platforms on which millions of us routinely judge other people every day. It’s a habit we might do well to reconsider.

Not that anybody should feel remorse over the online humiliation administered to someone like Aaron Schlossberg, captured on video berating people at a New York City cafe for speaking Spanish. And the social media beatdown Jeffrey Whitman took after following another driver to his home in Columbus, Ohio to yell racial slurs should make no one’s eyes sting with sympathy tears.

But what about Geoffrey Owens, the former “Cosby Show” actor who was infamously job-shamed for working at Trader Joe’s? And what about Anthony Torres?

He was video recorded by another passenger a little over a week ago, shaving his face on a New Jersey Transit train as it pulled out of New York City. At one point he even flicked shaving cream to the floor. The clip was posted to Twitter – it has since been removed – where it racked up over 2 million views. The reaction was, not surprisingly, swift and brutal.

Torres was called “disgusting,” a “dumb drunk,” a “slob,” – and an “animal.” Then the Associated Press found him and got his side of the story.

“My life is all screwed up,” Torres told the AP. “That’s the reason I was shaving on the train.”

Torres, it turned out, came to that moment from a lifetime of hard knocks: peripatetic years of chasing work from state to state, sometimes sleeping in motels and bus stations, two strokes since 2016. That day, he was fresh from a homeless shelter. One of his brothers had bought him a ticket so he could go to another brother in South Jersey. Torres, 56, was shaving because he didn’t want to look like what he’s been through.

As to why he didn’t do the obvious — shave in the restroom — Torres’ brother Thomas told the AP that even as a child, Anthony lacked the ability to conceive the consequences of his actions. “When he did what he did, that, to him, was normal.”

After all this came out, the response was what you’d expect: lots of recrimination and a Go Fund Me account that, as of Thursday afternoon, had raised $37,000.

The Internet taketh away, the Internet giveth.

In the process, it leaveth an observer ruminating on the hazards of an era of digital lynch mobs wherein one can carp and fault-find without ever leaving the comfort of one’s couch. Problem is, there is something about viewing other people on screens — viewing them at a remove — that tends to objectify them, make them not quite real. And there is something about the anonymity of social media that does not encourage us to be our best and most compassionate selves.

That can be a toxic combination, as Owens and Torres would surely attest. It’s given us a culture of instant, online opprobrium that falls on both the evil and the unlucky with indiscriminate force. Social media empower us to shame the shameful, but they also allow us to victimize the vulnerable. What does it say about us when we can’t — or won’t — tell the difference? What does it say about what we’ve become?

Someone called Torres an “animal.” But he’s no animal. He’s just a guy whose life hasn’t worked out, just someone’s brother who was trying to get home.

And you can’t deny someone else’s humanity without losing a little of your own.

Doonesbury — Report from the swamp.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Rush To Judgeship

The Republicans are in an awful hurry to get Brett Kavanaugh onto the Supreme Court, pushing Prof. Ford with the “take-it-or-leave-it” deadline to testify on Monday.  It’s as if they know that if they can’t whoop him through next week, it’s all going to go sideways until after the election when perhaps the rising tide and gorge of voters see what they’re pulling off sweeps a bunch of Republicans out of office and their chances go a-glimmering.

Ironically, they were smugly content to keep the Scalia seat open on the court for over 400 days while Merrick Garland cooled his heels waiting for so much as a postcard from Mitch McConnell, and now all of a sudden it’s really important to get it done.  Kinda like there’s some political reason for it, huh?

A lot of us were hoping that they learned a lesson from the Anita Hill / Clarence Thomas hearings in 1991.  Unfortunately the lesson the Republicans learned and still practice is that you can vilify a witness and defend a predator and get your creepy guy onto the court, and that’s all that matters.  They’ve learned nothing from history, and to them the #MeToo movement is nothing but a bunch of shrill women with made-up stories and exaggerated claims because some dude brushed up against them in the elevator and didn’t fall over with apologies and a court settlement.  They got their guy on the Supreme Court and that’s all that matters.

Monday, September 17, 2018

If History Is Any Guide

The fact that Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser of sexual assault has come forward and is willing to testify is good in that it removes the shadow of anonymity behind which his supporters can hide and dismiss the claim.  But if history — in the name of Anita Hill — is any guide, it is she who will be vilified and Judge Kavanaugh portrayed as the victim, and the Republicans will still vote to confirm him to the Supreme Court.

It’s not just the intervening years since Anita Hill testified that Clarence Thomas displayed himself as a sexual predator or the emergence of the #MeToo movement have elevated the consciousness of sexual assault and the pervasive ways in which the perpetrators try to convince us that it’s all a witch hunt.  They haven’t, even though the number of people who have been brought to justice — or at least been identified and faced the consequences — has risen dramatically in the last few years.  It’s only been happening among those who have a conscience, and oddly enough, the people who preached the loudest about “character counts” and worried endlessly about what to tell the children, are the ones who rise to the defense of the accused and find creative ways of dismissing the charges.

The vote may be delayed.  Christine Blasey Ford may give testimony on live TV, reenacting the Clarence Thomas hearings of 1991.  But in the end — and especially with their party led by someone who was able to be elected while bragging about committing sexual assault — they will find a way to confirm Judge Kavanaugh to the court.  Then he and Justice Thomas can share a Coke and a smile.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Brett And Circuses

The first day of the Kavanaugh hearing devolved quickly to consternation and shouting matches.

Through most of the day, the nominee sat silently in the center of the room, alone at a table below the senators and in front of more than 100 reporters and nearly that many citizens who had waited for hours in line for their few minutes of inspirational democracy in Hart Senate Office Building Room 216.

All around him, democracy happened. It wasn’t pretty. The first seven hours of the Kavanaugh hearing broke down like this:

About three hours consisted of Democrats saying to their esteemed Republican colleagues that they did not provide the documents Democrats need to decide if Kavanaugh should get a lifetime appointment to the nation’s top court, with the Republicans responding to their friends across the aisle that yes, we actually did.

The debate in the greatest deliberative body in the world proceeded more or less as follows:

Did not.

Did so.

The Republicans and their pundit minions were shaking their heads and tut-tutting about the complete lack of decorum and class that the Democrats and protestors brought to the hearing, even though it came off as a tepid imitation of the warm-up acts for a Trump rally.  The shouters have nothing on the #MAGA crowds in airplane hangars and county fairs.

I think the most telling moment of the day was one that passed in silence, hardly even noticeable by the hundreds of reporters and flashbulbs.

It happened in the middle of a contentious meeting taking place in a country whose political divide seems to grow deeper by the day.

As the room broke for lunch during the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, a man approached the judge from behind and was able to get his attention. Kavanaugh turned to look at the man, who later identified himself on social media as Fred Guttenberg, the father of Jaime Guttenberg, one of the 17 people killed in the Parkland school shooting in February, as he stuck out his right hand. He appeared to say, “My daughter was murdered at Parkland.”

Kavanaugh gave the man a look but declined to shake his hand. It is not clear whether he heard Guttenberg’s introduction, though the two were standing within a few feet of each other. Another man, who a White House spokesman later said was a security guard, had come to Guttenberg’s side by that point.

(Photo by Andrew Harnik/AP)

The interaction was captured on camera — both in an arresting photograph shot by the Associated Press and multiple video cameras recording from different angles. And it quickly began to circulate on social media, an instant visual artifact trending as a stand-in for a politically complex and emotionally intense moment in American history.

As they say, a picture says a thousand words, so there you have it.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The Permanent Stench

Brett Kavanaugh begins his inevitable journey to confirmation on the Supreme Court today.

Hours before the start of hearings on Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, the lawyer for former president George W. Bush turned over 42,000 pages of documents from the nominee’s service in the Bush White House, angering Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, who issued what is certain to be a futile call to delay the proceedings.

“Not a single senator will be able to review these records before tomorrow,” Schumer (D-N.Y.) tweeted Monday evening.

Taylor Foy, a spokesman for Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), responded that “our review team will be able to complete its examination of this latest batch in short order, before tomorrow’s hearing begins.” A few hours later, a tweet from the committee said that the “Majority staff has now completed its review of each and every one of these pages.”

The hearings are scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, with opening statements by committee members. No information was released on the subject matter of the documents, and Bush’s lawyer asked that they be kept from the public, made available only to committee members and staff.

Kavanaugh, appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit by Bush, served the president in the White House Counsel’s Office from 2001 to 2003 and as staff secretary from 2003 to 2006. 

The cable networks will cover this live.  Judge Kavanugh will give non-committal answers to questions on points of law and his views on hot topics like abortion, voting rights, and marriage equality, and Republicans will extol his virtues as a great car-pool dad and even-handed jurist who will spend the rest of his life running ours.

We’ve heard all of this before from both sides.  I’ve been through enough of these — the first one I remember was the attempt to put Abe Fortas on the court during the Johnson administration (Lyndon, not Andrew), followed by Bork, O’Connor, Thomas, and so on — to know that it’s all amateur theatre, and this appointment will go through as most of the others have.  Unless there’s some pretty hard-core surprises in the new batch of 42,000 pages (which the committee skimmed through the way most people read internet user service agreements), he’ll be wearing his robes by the first Monday in October.

One thing to remember: History will record that Brett Kavanaugh was appointed to the Supreme Court by the most corrupt and incompetent president in the history of the nation.  No matter how he acquits himself on the bench for the next forty years or so, it will be a stench that we will be smelling long after Trump is relegated to the dumpster.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Nice Guy

Dahlia Lithwick in Slate doesn’t think that just because you’re a nice guy qualifies you to be on the Supreme Court.

Niceness is nice. I’d even go so far as to venture that niceness is very, very nice. But it’s not the basis from which to offer someone lifetime tenure on the highest court in the land. And I am still waiting for the Republican appellate lawyers, D.C. lobbyists, and operatives to stand up and tell us how “nice” Judge Garland was. Because I would submit that he was just about equal in “niceness” to Kavanaugh, and yet it mattered not one bit to anyone two years ago, since at that time, niceness was irrelevant. At the very least, then, we should be able to agree that if Garland’s kindness to small animals and assorted D.C. charities was immaterial in 2016, Kavanaugh’s warmth of character should not be an issue in 2018.

[…]

Ask any law clerk at the Supreme Court to name the warmest, kindest justice on the bench and they will tell you Clarence Thomas is that guy. Every time. That’s not nothing, but it isn’t anything close to everything. Being lovely to people around you isn’t a proxy for judicial ideology and methodology. Let’s please respect Kavanaugh enough to stop talking about his mad carpooling skills. It’s insulting to him as well as to the rest of us. He is being elevated to a lofty office. Let’s take a page from the Supreme Court and start appreciating the enormity of that office itself. The state of Brett Kavanaugh’s niceness is not a constitutional question.

This is a preemptive to the line we’re going to hear from Republicans who want to prevent any chance that Mr. Kavanaugh will be Borked.  “You shouldn’t do that because he’s such a nice guy!”  And there will be concern trolling from some Democrats who are worried that when it’s their turn to nominate someone to the court, they’ll get Borked in return.  News flash: Merritt Garland.  He got stealth-Borked by Mitch McConnell, and the question of his niceness never came up.  And neither did his chance to get on the court.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Too Late Now

I knew the moment I got up this morning to check my e-mail that I would be getting “BREAKING” and URGENT messages about the nomination of the next white Christian guy nominated to the Supreme Court, along with appeals to send money to defeat the nomination.

Not that I’m in favor of putting Brett Kavanaugh on the bench or that I don’t think that he won’t be the one to find a way to overturn Roe vs. Wade or uphold the corporation-as-person or find new ways to extend “religious liberty” into outright bigotry in terms of marriage equality or let the 2nd Amendment be the absolute law of the land, the time to have worked to keep him or any other like-minded 19th century-precedented jurist off the bench was in 2010, 2012, and 2016 when people who should care about those issues and keeping them safe from Mike Pence decided not to vote.

Thanks a lot, you lazy jerks or you purists who thought Jill Stein could make a “statement.”  Well, here’s a statement for you: my great-nephew George will be well into his forties before the seat becomes available again, and time and the actuarial tables don’t make it look good for those who stand against the onslaught of Jesus-shouters and corporate greed.  So you owe him and his generation and those to follow something more than, “Sorry, but I didn’t think it mattered.”

Friday, July 6, 2018

Don’t Pick The Wrong Fight

I heard Nina Totenberg on NPR run down the list of possible Supreme Court picks yesterday afternoon and what particular talents they have in appealing to the right-wing nutsery.  Frankly it doesn’t matter which one gets the nod; they’re all sufficiently conservative to the point that arguing about whether or not they’re in with one group or not doesn’t really matter.

The Democrats have a tough enough battle ahead that they need a cogent single-line attack.  Some are going for the “McConnell screwed us out of Obama’s pick,” which is a waste of time.  What’s done is done, and karma will get Mitch eventually.  The pitch they should be using is that the person making the selection is under investigation — criminal and civil — by various branches of the government and therefore shouldn’t have a role in picking one of the people who will inevitably sit in judgment on him.

Monday, July 2, 2018

This Time We Really Mean It

I know it sounds alarmist to say that the Supreme Court pick by Trump could change the world, but this time it could.  Giving the right wing a solid majority on the court for the next thirty years could mean the end of reproductive choice, which effects more than just women; LGBTQ rights, including marriage equality; voting rights, workers rights, immigration, and even the various amendments to the Constitution, including the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth.

All of them have been under assault by the right wing since the 1960’s, held in check by an evenly-balanced court that even Ronald Reagan couldn’t tip his way completely.  He got very close with Robert Bork, but we stopped it then, and got Anthony Kennedy.  Now he’s going, and unless we do something to stop Trump’s pick, we’re going to get someone just as doctrinaire and antediluvian as Bork, but without the charm.

But wait, someone says, how do we know that Trump will pick a far-right jurist?  Simple; because he will do whatever he can to piss off people, and he knows that picking a wingnut will outrage the progressives.  He doesn’t really care about policy or judicial background; he just likes to watch the fireworks.  He doesn’t have a clue that whomever he picks will outlive him and change the fundamental laws of this nation; he just wants to see Rachel Maddow’s head explode.  Knowing that, it’s safe to conclude that his choice will be not be because he cares a popcorn fart about the Constitution — we’ve known that all along — but what kind of meltdown he can cause on Twitter.

So it comes to the Senate, where a far more wily foe lies in wait: Mitch McConnell.  He’s already stolen the Supreme Court pick from the Democrats the last time there was a vacancy with his daring daylight robbery of Barack Obama and Merrick Garland.  Now he’s planning to whoop through Trump’s pick before the mid-terms, knowing that the sentiment is building against the Republican majority in the Senate, and the only thing that’s keeping him in the majority is the health of John McCain, who is the 51st Republican in a 51-49 chamber.  It only takes two to win for the Democrats.

As Martin Longman notes, it’s a lot easier to work for change than it is to fight to keep the status quo.  This time the change is coming from the left, but the battle is going to be that much more brutal when you have a mercurial and frankly bonkers leader on the other side, held in check only by the fingernails and hawksbill of Mitch McConnell and the ticking clock leading up to November.

This will be a two-front battle.  We have to defeat the nomination of Trump’s pick and we need to win back the Senate to guarantee that no matter who else he picks for however long he remains in office won’t get passed through so your grandchild can marry whomever he or she wants or gets to decide who controls her body or if they get to enjoy a safe work place or even vote in the first place.

I know I’ve said that every election and therefor the future of this nation hangs on three little words — The Supreme Court — but this time we really mean it.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

What’s To Stop Them Now?

There are times when you just have to say…  Well, I don’t know what I can come up with cogently, so here again is Charlie Pierce with thoughts on the retirement of Anthony Kennedy and the handing over of the reins to the far-right nutsery for the next thirty years.

There is not much that the Democrats can do about this now. The Republican majority in the Senate killed the filibuster in order to install Neil Gorsuch in the seat they hijacked from Merrick Garland. So any complaining about how Chuck Schumer didn’t hip-check Mitch McConnell into the aisle should be pre-emptively dismissed now. This result was inevitable from the moment that Antonin Scalia’s heart stopped. This is the beginning of the end of the long game that began with the Powell memo in 1972. All that’s left for them now is to solidify the gains they have made, an option that no longer may be available to minority voters, and gay citizens, and everybody else who thought their enhanced ability to participate in American self-government was permanent.

They have everything in place to do that very thing. Some of it was serendipity; they didn’t plan on two Republican presidents in 18 years both installed without winning the popular vote. But the rest of it was a grand strategy against everything they have despised about American politics since the end of World War II. They have pushed every built-in chokepoint present in our political institutions in order to put in place political choke-points guaranteed to operate to their advantage, and they’ve done everything to reinforce these dark creations until they look as permanent as the composition of the U.S. Senate or the Electoral College. When the Senate confirms the nomination of Louie Gohmert later this summer, it will mean that four of the nine justices of the Supreme Court will have been nominated by presidents who lost the popular vote. I’m beginning to doubt the wisdom of the Founders.

Anyway, everything’s up for grabs now, if Justice Samuel Alito’s casual detonation of 40 years of precedent in Wednesday’s majority opinion in Janus is any indication. Roe, and then Griswold, are in range. The very idea of a national healthcare system is running scared. Reform of our cash-drunk campaign finance system now looks as distant as the mountains of the moon. Obergefell carries a bullseye—the next court is odds-on to find religious liberty exceptions to every law, including gravity and certain parking regulations—and so do Miranda and, what the hell, Brown v. Board.

Why not? What’s out there to stop them now? Just this week, they’ve written religious bigotry and legislative ratfcking into the Constitution and converted the United States into a right-to-work country. Millions of people are going to have their lives made harder by the events of the past week. In that context, musings on political strategery seem viciously beside the point.

The only way to stop this is to stall the hearings on the nomination until after the mid-terms in November and work like hell until then to take back the Senate.  Both are breathtakingly monumental tasks given the odds against the Democrats and their maddening ability to try to get along.

And don’t think that waiting for Robert Mueller and his report, no matter how damaging it is to Trump and the Republicans, to save us.  Even if Trump is somehow miraculously forced out of office or is incapacitated, waiting in the wings is Mike Pence, who will appoint Judge Roy Moore to the court.

So, yeah; there doesn’t seem to be a lot to be gained by wondering what Chuck Schumer will do.  It’s up to us now.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Looking Back/Looking Forward

Here we go with my annual recap and prognostication for the year.  Let’s see how I did a year ago.

  • I have no earthly idea what will happen with Trump in the White House.  But I can say that for the first time in my life — and I will hit 65 this year — I am frightened both for myself and my country.
  • At some point in 2017 elements of the electorate will realize that they got conned into voting for Trump and that they were played for fools.  The backlash will begin when they find out he can’t follow through on his bullshit promises, and reach a peak when they find out that repealing Obamacare and deporting 11 million people effects them personally.  When it happens, it will not be pretty.

I’m still frightened.  Nothing — not the Mueller investigation, the revelations coming from various sources, or chatter about impeachment or invoking the 25th Amendment — has calmed my fear that he is still capable of doing something that puts us and the rest of the world in peril.  As for the second bullet point, we are seeing faint glimmers that disillusionment is happening in the nooks and crannies of America where he can do no wrong, and no amount of tweeting and bullshit from Fox News can turn around his dismal approval numbers.  But that just means that fully 1/3 of the electorate still approve of him.  Even his failures — Obamacare yet survives and the deportations haven’t happened — haven’t dimmed the hopes of the dim.

  • There will be a downturn in the economy thanks to the cyclical nature of economics and the instability in the market by the Twitter-In-Chief. He will, of course, blame it on Barack Obama.

Obviously I’m not an economist because if I was I would have known that the economy lags behind and the continued growth and low unemployment rate are a result of Obama’s policies.  Of course Trump is taking credit for it.

  • A year from now the Syrian civil war will still be dragging on.  ISIS will still be a factor, and if Trump does what he says he will do with the Iran nuclear deal, expect to see them re-start their nuclear program.  “Dr. Strangelove” will be seen by historians as a documentary.
  • The refugee crisis will continue and fester once nativists and right-wing elements win majorities in western European countries.

The Syrian civil war goes on but it’s not dominating the news cycles, and ISIS is a lessening factor.  I don’t know if it’s sheer exhaustion.  The refugee crisis goes on but with a lesser magnitude.

  • Our diplomatic thaw with Cuba will freeze as the attempts to end the blockade will not get through Congress. Only until Trump gets permission to open a casino in Varadero Beach will there be any progress.

Trump rescinded some of the Obama administration’s changes in our relations with Cuba but not enough to return us to Cold War status.  The blockade, such as it is, enters its 57th year.

  • Violence against our fellow citizens will continue and take on a more xenophobic tone as the white supremacists think they are now in control. The attorney general will do nothing to put an end to it because, in his words, “they had it coming.”

Charlottesville and Trump’s tacit support of the Nazis proved that to be true, more’s the pity.

  • We will lose the requisite number of celebrities and friends as life goes on. 2016 was an especially painful year. As I always say, it’s important to cherish them while they are with us.

I lost two uncles and a nephew since I wrote that.

  • The Tigers will finish second in their division.

They traded Justin Verlander.  Yeah, he helped the Astros win the World Series, but…

Okay, now on to predictions.

  • There will be indictments at a very high level in the administration as the Mueller investigation rumbles on.  Plea bargains and deals will be made and revelations will come forth, and by summer there will be genuine questions about whether or not the administration will survive.  But there won’t be a move to impeach Trump as long as there are Republican majorities in the Congress, and invoking the 25th Amendment is a non-starter.
  • The Democrats will make great gains in the mid-term elections in November.  This is a safe bet because the party out of power usually does in the first mid-term of new president.  The Democrats will take back the Senate and narrow the gap in the House to the point that Speaker Paul Ryan with either quit or be so powerless that he’s just hanging around to collect pension points.  (No, he will not lose his re-election bid.)
  • There will be a vacancy on the Supreme Court, but it won’t happen until after the mid-terms and Trump’s appointment will flail as the Democrats in the Senate block the confirmation on the grounds that the next president gets to choose the replacement.
  • There will be irrefutable proof that the Russians not only meddled in the 2016 U.S. election, but they’ve had a hand in elections in Europe as well and will be a factor in the U.S. mid-terms.  Vladimir Putin will be re-elected, of course.
  • Raul Castro will figure out a way to still run Cuba even if he steps down as president, and there will be no lessening of the authoritarian rule.
  • The U.S. economy will continue to grow, but there will be dark clouds on the horizon as the deficit grows thanks to the giveaways in the GOP tax bill.  If the GOP engineers cuts to entitlement programs and the number of uninsured for healthcare increases, the strain on the economy will be too much.
  • This “America First” foreign policy will backfire.  All it does is tell our allies “You’re on your own.”  If we ever need them, they’re more likely to turn their backs on us.
  • The white supremacist movement will not abate.  Count on seeing more violence against minorities and more mass shootings.
  • A viable Democratic candidate will emerge as a major contender for the 2020 election, and it will most likely be a woman.  Sen. Elizabeth Warren is considered to be the default, but I wouldn’t rule out Sen. Kamala Harris of California or Sen. Kristen Gillibrand of New York just yet.  (Sen. Gillibrand would drive Trump even further around the bend.  She was appointed to the Senate to fill Hillary Clinton’s seat when she became Secretary of State in 2009.)
  • On a personal level, this will be a busy year for my work in theatre with a full production of “All Together Now” opening in March and several other works out there for consideration.  I will also be entering my last full year of employment in my present job (retirement happens in August 2019) but I’ll keep working.
  • People and fads we never heard about will have their fifteen minutes.
  • I’ll do this again next year.

Okay, friends; it’s your turn.