The Wrong Week

I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.

Lloyd Bridges, Airplane! (1980)

This week’s featured posts are “Minority Rule Snowballs” and “Giving up is a prerogative of privilege.

This week everybody was talking about the Supreme Court

Not only did the Court end it’s spring term with a number of disappointing decisions — I listed them in the previous post — but we also got an additional piece of bad news: Justice Kennedy is retiring, giving Trump an opportunity to appoint his replacement while Republicans still control the Senate.

In general, Kennedy has been part of the Court’s conservative majority, as he was on several decisions this week. But in the past he has also sided with the liberals on a number of key social-issue decisions: most notably the series of cases leading to the Obergfell decision, which affirmed a same-sex couple’s right to marry, but also upholding Roe v Wade, which keeps Congress or the states from outlawing abortion altogether.

As the Court stands now, Alito, Gorsuch, and Thomas are doctrinaire far-right extremists, particularly on social issues. They routinely award special rights to Christians, and have only a hazy notion of the separation of church and state. (Thomas believes that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment only prevents the federal government from establishing a religion. If Texas wanted to declare itself a Baptist state or Utah wanted to establish Mormonism, he’d be fine with that. I’m not exaggerating.)

If Trump appoints another Gorsuch to the Court, then Chief Justice Roberts becomes the fifth-and-deciding conservative vote. Roberts also has a conservative voting record, but is cagier than the other three: He seldom writes a ringing opinion that enunciates some new conservative principle, but instead has a way of seeming to re-affirm a previous decision while actually gutting it. (In 2012, for example, his vote upheld the constitutionality of ObamaCare, but did so by destroying the Commerce Clause justification Congress had in mind when it passed the law. He invented a much narrower constitutional basis for ObamaCare, which is now under fire in a new case. Similarly, he upheld the Voting Rights Act while destroying the main mechanism for enforcing it.)

So on social-issue cases — gay rights, civil rights, abortion, etc. — the typical decision will be a ringing piece of conservative rhetoric representing Alito, Gorsuch, Thomas, and the new guy, and then a more reasonable-sounding concurrence by Roberts that comes to the same conclusion on this particular case in a less sweeping way.

On economic issues, it won’t even be close: Roberts is an economic royalist; he’s for anything that increases corporate power, the influence of the 1%, or the voting power of the white Christian conservative bloc. Kennedy may have written the Citizens United opinion, but it was Roberts who maneuvered the case into position. Roberts is consistently anti-union and anti-consumer. He’ll support voter suppression and gerrymandering, as long as it has a fig leaf of alternative explanation.

I try not to speculate much on this blog, because I think way too much of the media’s “news” coverage is devoted to speculation about things that may never happen, rather than reports about what is happening. But I can’t resist here: In picking Gorsuch, Trump followed conservative orthodoxy. Gorsuch had appropriate experience and looked the part, so he might also have been appointed by President Rubio or President Cruz. I think in his second pick, Trump will want to make the point to Evangelicals that nobody else would have done this for them. That’s why they should be loyal to him personally rather than the GOP generally. So this one is going to be off the wall. If Roy Moore didn’t have that teen-age girl baggage, he’d be perfect.

Reportedly, Trump is using a candidate list created by Leonard Leo, until recently a vice president of the Federalist Society, an organization of right-wing lawyers. Trump has reportedly said he won’t ask candidates about specific issues like Roe v Wade, but that doesn’t reassure me for three reasons:

  • Undoubtedly Leo already has asked about Roe, and a judge who wasn’t sufficiently committed to overturning it wouldn’t be on the list. So Trump doesn’t need to ask; he already knows.
  • Trump lies and has no self-control. The fact that he says he won’t ask about something doesn’t mean much.
  • What really worries me is that Trump will ask for “loyalty”, as he did with James Comey. The Court may soon have to rule on questions like whether Trump can be subpoenaed, how far civil suits against him can go, and whether he can either pardon himself or pardon fellow members of a criminal conspiracy. I don’t want him negotiating a favorable ruling with judges as a condition of appointment.

Democrats currently have 49 senators. If they hold together against Trump’s nominee and John McCain’s health doesn’t allow him to attend, then only one Republican needs to cross over to block the nomination. Susan Collins said Sunday that she “would not support a nominee who demonstrated hostility to Roe v. Wade.” But as we saw in the tax-cut debate, Collins looks for reasons to go along, not reasons to resist. She happily settles for empty promises about tomorrow in exchange for a real vote today. So if the nominee says s/he hasn’t promised Trump anything about Roe, and professes a false open-mindedness in committee hearings, I’m sure Collins will be satisfied. When the Court finally overturns Roe she will tut-tut her disapproval, never admitting that she did nothing when she had the chance to prevent it.

and immigration

The government is still keeping about 2,000 immigrant children away from their parents. When the Trump administration took them, apparently it didn’t make any plan for how to return them. A judge has given them 30 days, and it’s not clear if they’ll meet that deadline.

OK, it’s official now: The Trump administration wants to replace family separation with family detention.

In federal court Friday night, Trump’s Department of Justice, led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, filed an announcement that it is now keeping families in detention “during the pendency of” their immigration cases. That could easily mean months of detention (or longer) for some asylum-seekers — or, alternatively, a form of “assembly-line justice” that moves families’ cases through too quickly to allow for real due process.

The whole we-have-to-enforce-the-law chorus is ignoring an important point: The law says we grant asylum to people who face persecution in their home countries. If the Trump administration sends them home without a hearing or rams them through a kangaroo court, it is breaking the law. The rule of law means that laws don’t just apply to the powerless, they apply to the government too.

Hundreds of thousands of people attended protest rallies around the county Saturday, the largest being in Chicago, Washington, and New York. In little Nashua, NH, I was at a rally with about 400 others.

A slogan at many of this weekend’s protest rallies was “Abolish ICE”. Trump interprets this as an anarchic slogan that calls for no policing of the border and predicts “Next it will be all police.” Actually, the proposal is quite a bit more sensible than that, as Alt. U.S. Press Secretary explains in a tweet storm:

Let’s talk about : What it is and what it means. Does this mean getting rid of all border enforcement, or “open borders”? NO. ICE is an interior enforcement agency. They don’t guard the border. Who suggested abolishing ICE? ICE Special Investigators & Special Agents.

ICE consists of two portions with two differing missions. ICE HSI consists of trained investigators who handle highly significant drug tracking, child pornography, and other highly important translational law enforcement. And ICE ERO. ICE ERO does interior enforcement: Arresting people at courthouses, including domestic violence victims, and their places of work. Over 200 people have died in their custody. ICE routinely reallocates resources away from the important work of ICE HSI to ERO.

… ICE HSI and ICE ERO should be immediate separated within DHS, and ERO should be entirely restructured. In the interim, a more established agency such as FBI should manage both of the functions of both ICE HSI and ICE ERO.

and primaries

Progressive candidates did well in Democratic primaries Tuesday. Three in particular, in very different circumstances:

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeated Rep. Joe Crowley, who was part of the Democratic House leadership. The race drew comparisons to Dave Brat beating Eric Cantor in 2014. Ocasio-Cortez is in New York’s 14th district, which is very blue. She seems very likely to hold the seat.

Ben Jealous won the Democratic nomination for governor of Maryland. The incumbent Republican, Larry Hogan, is very popular even though Maryland is a blue state. The conventional wisdom is that Jealous will lose, but that a centrist Democrat would have lost too.

Dana Balter defeated a candidate backed by the Democratic establishment in NY-24. This is precisely the kind of district Democrats need to win if they’re going to take the House: carried by Hillary Clinton but represented by a Republican. So this is a real test of the electability of progressives.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted:

A major point of my campaign: in the safest blue seats in America, we should have leaders swinging for the most ambitious ideas possible for working-class Americans. You’re largely not going to get gutsy risk-taking from swing-district seats.

This makes perfect sense to me. It’s the flip side of Doug Jones running on middle-of-the-road ideas in Alabama and Joe Manchin having some conservative positions in West Virginia.

and a new kind of mass shooting

Thursday, a gunman rampaged through the newsroom of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, killing four editors and a member of the advertising staff. Police charged Jarod Ramos, who was captured at the scene and had previously lost a defamation suit against the newspaper. Ramos is an MS-13 gang member Muslim jihadist angry white guy with a gun. His defamation suit was in regard to a story about his harassment of a former classmate whom he had re-contacted on Facebook.

If I had to pick out one class of people to watch closely for violence, it would be men who have had harassment/domestic violence issues with women. To me, they seem way more dangerous — to the general public, and not just to the women in their lives — than any group defined by race, religion, or country of origin.

Have you ever read one of Carl Hiaasen’s Florida novels? Carl’s brother Rob, apparently a first-class journalist in his own right, was one of the victims.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted:

A violent attack on innocent journalists doing their job is an attack on every American.

Apparently, the White House only endorses Twitter attacks on innocent journalists doing their job, such as:

The FAKE NEWS media (failing , , , , ) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!

It’s a good thing the American People know not to take this “enemy” stuff literally. That Trump, what a kidder!

and you also might be interested in …

NBC News quotes five anonymous intelligence officers as saying that North Korea is in fact increasing its production of weapons-grade nuclear material.

U.S. intelligence agencies believe that North Korea has increased its production of fuel for nuclear weapons at multiple secret sites in recent months. … While the North Koreans have stopped missile and nuclear tests, “there’s no evidence that they are decreasing stockpiles, or that they have stopped their production,” said one U.S. official briefed on the latest intelligence. “There is absolutely unequivocal evidence that they are trying to deceive the U.S.”

The scenario that has most worried me since the Trump/Kim summit was announced is that Kim will take advantage of Trump’s tendency to exaggerate his accomplishments and his inability to admit mistakes. Having already taken a victory lap for getting Kim to talk about denuclearization (which North Korea has pledged many times before), Trump will be strongly tempted to deny or explain away any evidence that diminishes his premature claims of historic progress.

Puerto Rico appears to have drawn a conclusion from the federal government’s botching of Hurricane Maria recovery: It needs to be a state.

Rep. Jenniffer González-Colón (R) filed a bill on Wednesday that would pave the way for the island to become a state no later than January 2021. The measure is co-sponsored by 21 Republicans and 14 Democrats and fulfills the promises of González-Colón and Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, who campaigned on a statehood platform and said statehood is a civil rights issue for Puerto Ricans.

I did a calculation as part of my article on minority rule: Puerto Rico has about the same population as Alaska, the Dakotas, Vermont, and Wyoming put together. Puerto Ricans are already American citizens, but they have no voting representatives in Congress. Does anybody doubt that if the island were populated by English-speaking white people, it would have been a state a long time ago?

There’s an ongoing debate about civility, which somehow is supposed to apply to everyone but Trump. I should say more about this eventually, but for now I’ll settle for this:

We’re at the stage of “just say shit and hope your base repeats it”. White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow says the federal budget deficit is “is coming down, and it’s coming down rapidly.” This contradicts figures from the administration itself:

The White House’s Office of Management and Budget says the deficit is rising from $665 billion in 2017 to $832 billion in 2018, and will approach $1 trillion annually in 2019.

We’re at the point in the economic cycle when classic Keynesian theory says the government should be running a surplus, not building towards one of the highest deficits in history. When the next recession hits — and one always does, eventually — tax receipts will fall, automatic payments like unemployment compensation will rise, and the economy will need a stimulus. If you start from a baseline of a trillion-dollar deficit, you might suddenly be looking at $2 trillion or $3 trillion.

and let’s close with something amusing

I can’t decide whether this is cute or cruel, but I can’t help laughing at how dogs react to seeing their humans disappear.

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  • jcassens  On July 2, 2018 at 1:11 pm

    I hate to say it, but it was Lloyd Bridges who picked the wrong week. Point taken, though – I feel like that every week these days!

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  • jh  On July 2, 2018 at 4:52 pm

    to be fair, I would tell Kim Jong Un to continue his nuclear program. The US has never played fair. The nuclear program is the only thing ensuring that the US won’t attack him. Look at poor Saddam Hussein – no nuclear weapons and the moment the US needs to attack, they picked him.

    I’m not going to go for the “but the NK people”. The US is not known for replacing brutal dictators with leaders who are good for their people. The US is known for creating more chaos and more power vacuums.

    I’m all for the Korean Peninsula re-uniting under S.Korean diplomacy/Japanese diplomacy. But I don’t think the US is anything but a bull in a china shop.

    In fact, I’ll go one step further. A lot of nations should be re-evaluating their relationship with US. They should be looking at diversifying their trade partners and agreements with the intent of excluding the US. After all – the US isn’t looking and it can’t go to war with everybody because no one invited it to the party.

    This isn’t about petty payback or being mean. It’s being pragmatic and pushing away from a dependency on the US.

  • Larry Benjamin  On July 2, 2018 at 9:11 pm

    I hate to promote conspiracy theories, but Kennedy’s son Justin was Trump’s banker at Deutsche Bank for 12 years. Since Trump’s election, Kennedy, formerly a swing vote, has voted with the administration 14 out of 14 times, more than John Roberts has. Kennedy’s resignation also is at a very convenient time, when the Senate can confirm his successor without concern over whether this won’t be possible under a potential Democratic-majority Senate next year. Kennedy had already hired his clerks for next term, so his resignation now, coupled with his recent voting record, is curious.

    Imagine if his son had been President Hillary Clinton’s banker, and if conservatives would ignore that.

  • Dale Moses  On July 3, 2018 at 1:09 am

    A potential track for “civility”.

    A number of people have brought out philoposhers talking about tolerance as a one way street. How intolerance cannot be tolerated. However there is a better analogy (that I did not come up with) floating around out there.

    Tolerance is not a moral. Tolerance is a peace treaty. It applies the same for civility. Civility is what we do when we both agree to respect norms; to respect a discourse.

    For the past 50 years or more Republicans have not respected the discourse or norms; though they were more subtle about it. Now they no longer are subtle about it. They still want us to be civil because the claim of civility is another weapon they can deploy against us.

    In order to restore order we need to end the treaty. And fight mean and unfair and when we win; destroy the Republican Party as an institution forever. If we don’t then Republicans will learn the same lesson they learned from Watergate. Which, instead of “don’t be traitors” was “don’t lose”.

  • knb  On July 3, 2018 at 10:01 pm

    Re: Susan Collins and Roe vs. Wade: If you live in Maine, you should contact Senator Collins to remind her that ALL of the judges on Trumps list have already been vetted to be sure that they have “hostility to Roe v. Wade” – regardless of what they say in their hearings. Ideally, keep an eye on the hearings, and contact her again just before the vote.

  • knb  On July 4, 2018 at 3:40 pm

    Senator Booker is also concerned about Trump picking justices that will rule on cases against him. Booker is advocating that the Senate Judiciary Committee block any nominations from Trump until after the Mueller probe is finished.

    Personally, I agree with him, but there are 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats on that committee and they would very likely vote on party lines, so the that the nomination will end up going to the full Senate.

  • knb  On July 5, 2018 at 8:40 pm

    The Republican members of the Judiciary committee. In order to block a nomination, only one of them needs to decide that it’s a bad idea for Trump to pick the judges that will hear the cases against him.

    – Chuck Grassley (IA)
    – Orrin G. Hatch (UT)
    – Lindsey Graham (SC)
    – John Cornyn (TX)
    – Michael S. Lee (UT)
    – Ted Cruz (TX)
    – Ben Sasse (NE)
    – Jeff Flake (AZ)
    – Mike Crapo (ID)
    – Thom Tillis (NC)
    – John Kennedy (LA)

    • weeklysift  On July 6, 2018 at 7:15 am

      I could almost imagine Ben Sasse taking that position, but not really.

      • knb  On July 8, 2018 at 12:48 pm

        Sasse has a statement on his web site saying that the new justice should be confirmed before the next Supreme Court session starts in September, Also “President Trump has an opportunity to keep his promise and put another serious constitutionalist on the court.” So I don’t think Sasse is going to vote “no.”

        Hatch is even less likely. He’s given a floor speech in which he blames Democrats for politicizing the confirmation process and citing “the Left’s radical vision of judicial power.”

      • weeklysift  On July 9, 2018 at 7:11 am

        It was a nice fantasy while it lasted.

    • Linda Barker  On July 6, 2018 at 11:06 pm

      How about Jeff Flake or Lindsey Graham voting no??

      • knb  On July 9, 2018 at 7:55 am

        Apparently Senator Graham was on Fox over the weekend and said “Republicans are holding four lottery tickets and all of them are winners.” I don’t think that he’s going to vote “no.”

    • Larry Benjamin  On July 7, 2018 at 3:45 pm

      It’s nice to imagine that one of them will vote down the nominee for that reason, but it’s wishful thinking. Every one of those men, despite occasionally voicing criticism, has still reliably voted in lock-step with the administration.

  • Larry Benjamin  On July 9, 2018 at 8:37 am

    One option is for the Democrats to sue to enforce the “McConnell Rule,” which states that when there is a Supreme Court vacancy, the nominee cannot be considered until after the next presidential election. This is based on the observation that not all laws are statutory, and a new rule promulgated by the Senate is a “law” unless the Senate explicitly overturns it. The fact that McConnell himself set this precedent and is now refusing to follow it himself is irrelevant. The Senate will have to vote to reject this rule, otherwise, it stands and McConnell can be required to follow it.

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