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a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

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How’s that lesser evil thing working out?

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 12th January 2012

Welcome to your new country, where speaking loudly about losing your guaranteed right to trial
gets you arrested within minutes.


“Occupy Wall Street Protesters shout warnings of a creeping police state in Grand Central terminal and are
themselves quickly arrested for speaking in public.” — OccupyTVNY.org

It’s an even numbered year, so it’s time again for leftish pundits of every shade — from Democratic blue to radical red — to warn their angrier, more fed-up friends that we must choose the lesser evil within this political system, or bear the blame for the results. Thus we have digby writing in her blog “Hullabaloo”:

Unless you believe, as some do, that we must get on with our impending dystopian nightmare so that we can rebuild from the rubble (sometimes known as destroying the village in order to save it) this is probably a useful group of articles.

The articles are from a Washington Monthly issue on the topic “What if Obama Loses?”, and they complete the arc of the argument: you just don’t get how really bad a Republican win would be.  Either that or, to paraphrase digby’s charge, you must be some kind of irresponsible nihilist itching to zippo-raid the hooches of the American political system — probably just because you like to see stuff burn.

Now it is undoubtedly true that Republican candidates up and down the 2012 ballot will generally be a bunch of pinch-souled corporate lick-spittles, pious frauds, and incoherent cranks.  In a sane world — and judging mainly by their presidential candidates — they’d be fit at most to write daily letters to the editor or mutter about the slow service at McDonald’s.  In our world, however, their political prospects are good, “thanks” in part to the diarrheal eruption of campaign cash unleashed by the Citizens United ruling.

The life cycle of the Democratic base
The life cycle of the Democratic base

But “thanks” — regrets really — are also in order about the quality of their opposition.  And what’s remarkable is that if you read some of the “What if Obama Loses?” articles, that comes through just about as clearly as the intended “barbarians at the gates” message.

In what seems the most widely linked (hence presumably most persuasive) of the Washington Monthly articles, Dahlia Lithwick (whose coverage of the Supreme Court and civil liberties issues I truly admire) warns that Justice Ginsburg is 79 years old, ergo it had better be Obama who nominates her successor and not Romney.  So far, so unremarkable — but then she starts to discuss who’s manning the castle walls, as it were:

Imagine a Democratic presidential nominee running on promises to reshape, remake, make over, hog-tie, or even just refinish the federal bench. It doesn’t happen. And so, even though the most conservative Supreme Court in decades sits poised to decide cases ranging from the constitutionality of President Obama’s health care legislation to the future of affirmative action in schools, the rights to gay marriage, and the fate of the voting rights act, Republicans portray both the Supreme Court and the lower courts as a collective of lefty hippies. And Democrats mainly just look at their fingernails. If you care about the future of abortion rights, stem cell research, worker protections, the death penalty, environmental regulation, torture, presidential power, warrantless surveillance, or any number of other issues, it’s worth recalling that the last stop on the answer to each of those matters will probably be before someone in a black robe. Republicans have understood that for decades now, and that’s why the federal bench—including the Supreme Court—is almost unrecognizable to Democrats today. (emphases added)

Read the rest of this entry »

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Were recalls the way to go?

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 10th August 2011

As is well known, there have been mammoth efforts to recall six Republican state senators in Wisconsin who, earlier this year, voted to end public employee collective bargaining rights; yesterday, ThinkProgress provided as good a backgrounder as any on the specific races involved.

Now, the results are in, and they’re mixed — which is to say, they’re not good enough: two senators were recalled, but that fell one short of what was needed to wrest control of the state Senate from the GOP.

Before going on, let me emphasize: my hat is absolutely off to the many good volunteers who worked in these campaigns.  What they achieved was remarkable.

Having said that, though, the more I read about these elections after the fact, the more I wonder about the strategic wisdom of the whole thing.  The elections the GOP re-won were all in what were more or less GOP strongholds to begin with.  A whole lot of time, money, and effort later, they pretty much still are.  Under these circumstances, to emphasize how much of an uphill struggle it was always going to be (see, e.g., Howie Klein, digby, or the John Nichols interview on Democracy Now!) is not even cold comfort, it’s cause for concern: were frontal assaults on well held positions like these really the best plan?

Of the losing challengers, Clark came closest (lost 52-48%), but that’s still a pretty definite loss, and no one else came close at all. As far as I can tell, the thinking seemed to be (1) everyone who was really mad in February and March would stay mad for 5 months, (2) the GOP would be asleep on Election Day and not turn out their voters, too, all (3) in GOP-leaning districts.  The strategy amounted to absolutely needing three tough away game wins out of six.  Getting two was great, but the overall result was not a win. So it was a loss.

There was an alternative, discussed at the time both by labor leaders in Wisconsin (both AFL-CIO and IWW) and in the national media: a general strike, i.e., a “a strike involving workers across multiple trades or industries that involves enough workers to cause serious economic disruption.”

Yes, that might have lost some kind of ‘high ground’ among independents, conservatives, and even some “liberals” — but nearly anything runs that risk.  Yes, it’s technically illegal (under the Taft-Hartley Act — passed over Harry Truman’s veto in 1947)  — but technically so are other forms of civil disobedience.  When there’s a full-blown emergency, it’s appropriate to take emergency measures — and do so smartly.  One could imagine calling general strike for two days; then quit; then do it again; then quit again. Etc.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Wisconsin union buster legislators greeted by protesters

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 18th March 2011

On Wednesday, many of the key GOP legislators who voted to end collective bargaining for public unions in Wisconsin planned on coming to DC for a March 16 fundraiser — essentially sneaking into DC to pick up their checks for their sneak vote against labor.  A lot of different groups — AFL-CIO, MoveOn, Public Campaign — started telling their supporters to show up at the site of the fundraiser: the BGR lobbying firm headquarters, at 601 13th St NW in Washington DC.

I was among those who joined the demonstration.  As ever, I brought along my camera and video camera.

At first we just walked up and down in front of the building, I’d guess maybe five or six hundred people all told.  Then all of a sudden a guy standing at the door starts waving people in, so everybody so inclined crowded inside, chanting, blowing whistles, etc.

What greeted us was an all but perfect stage setting for a confrontation with the ruling class, something out of Bertolt Brecht’s wildest dreams: a marble and glass indoor atrium, lined with palm trees below, stretching up for ten stories above, each floor with balconies at which startled denizens of the building gathered to view the impromptu occupation. A heroic statue* stood at the center of a stairway reaching up several stories; a “Respect Workers Rights” banner was quickly hung on the balustrade in front of it. It developed that three or four hundred people can really raise a pretty deafening ruckus if they are so inclined.

The organizers showed a deft touch with the whole thing in that they did *not* stay in any one place for long.  After a few remarks by an AFL-CIO organizers, a Wisconsin teacher, and a Sheet Metal Worker union official, the word was OK, we’re leaving now, clean up, leave it better than you found it.

At this point many hundred more had gathered outside, and the DC police decided to just cordon off the block and give it over to the protest.  So that’s what happened — but after a few minutes the crowd proceeded away from that as well, heading straight to the White House.  We got there in about ten minutes, stood there doing many of the same chants — “What’s disgusting? Union busting” etc. — and then left *again* along a diagonal path through Lafayette Park, away from the White House.  I had no idea where they were headed and tagged along.  But when they got to H Street they doubled back heading east — towards the US Chamber of Commerce.  And by golly if they didn’t head straight in there too!  So I did as well.

This time the place was smaller, a regular lobby maybe forty feet by forty feet, with several dozen of us inside, one guy banging a drum for all he was worth, everyone else chanting “hey hey ho ho” and “people united will never be defeated” and whatnot.

One security guy was apparently steamed about it all — and decided he’d pull a fast one on us and close and lock the doors with us still on the inside.  I started to leave, but he blocked me — and he was a *big* guy, bound and determined to keep me from leaving and on bottling up everyone else behind me.   At no time did I hear him or anyone else request that we leave, though I may have missed that part, I was maybe the 30th person to go in.

By the time he was trying to shut the doors, there were about three or four dozen of us inside.  One guy ducked under his arm, he tried to stop that (so he wasn’t just trying to block further entrants). A bunch of us started to press out, me in the lead (I didn’t want to get trapped in there).  A bit of a nonviolent scrum ensued, him and one or two security guards on the outside trying to close the doors on us, 4 or 5 of us pushing out, me getting pushed from both sides — kind of the cork in the bottle — thinking hmm, this is the proverbial tight squeeze.  But our push won, the door stayed open.  On the outside, people began chanting “let them out,” and as far as I know everyone did stream out — and dispersed, this time for good.

In just a few minutes my friend Tim and I had left as well.  We headed over to a bar, and celebrated the day with some beers and fish and chips.  I gave away my “We Are One” ATU sign — which someone else had given to me — to some tourists who asked me for it.

I’ll post some videos below.  The first two are fairly raw footage — i.e., sometimes I forgot the camcorder was on and you’ll see the bag or my feet or the world turned upside down.  But in a way, it was, and the topsy turvy videography almost gets across the spirit of the moment as well as anything else.  Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Other accounts of the protest:

=====
* The statue in the center really was magnificent, it seemed all but designed for the occasion. It turns out it’s called “Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves,” by Donald De Lue; perhaps sadly, the original is at the Normandy American military cemetery in France. I like to think this was its happiest day in many a year.

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Primary him

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 12th March 2011

Obama creates indefinite detention system for prisoners at Guantanamo Bay (Finn/Kornblut, Washington Post, 3/7/11):

President Obama signed an executive order Monday that will create a formal system of indefinite detention for those held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who continue to pose a significant threat to national security. The administration also said it will start new military commission trials for detainees there.

It’s not the last straw for me; that was somewhere along the line a while ago. But it did seem to merit a response, so I made one, with apologies and credit to James McMurtry’s great “Cheney’s Toy” song.

To family, friends, and neighbors who like Obama – I’d drink a beer with him too, he’s eloquent, thoughtful, all that. That’s not the point. The point is that the facts unfortunately show he’s not on my side on a lot of critical issues. So I’m not on his. The video provides a partial bill of particulars and ends by suggesting — or rather pleading for — the course of action in the title of this post: “Primary him.”  For a set of links supporting some of this, see my ongoing list gathered under the tag “obamadisappointsagain.”  After a while, of course, it’s stupid to be disappointed, but that’s how I felt at first, and the label remains convenient.

Last December, Michael Tomasky at the Guardian zeroed in on a DailyKos diarist’s similar plea and called it “deeply silly.” Yet it wasn’t “just” some DailyKos netizens who were and are grumbling; in the same month, Tikkun editor Michael Lerner laid out a good case for a primary challenge in the Washington Post: Save Obama’s presidency by challenging him on the left. Two key paragraphs:

With his base deeply disillusioned, many progressives are starting to believe that Obama has little chance of winning reelection unless he enthusiastically embraces a populist agenda and worldview – soon. Yet there is little chance that will happen without a massive public revolt by his constituency that goes beyond rallies, snide remarks from television personalities or indignant op-eds.

Those of us who worry that a full-scale Republican return to power in 2012 would be a disaster not just for those hurting from the Republican-policy-inspired economic meltdown but also for the environment, social justice and world peace believe it is critical to get Obama to become the candidate whom most Americans believed they elected in 2008. Despite the outcome of last month’s election, it is unlikely that the level of his base’s alienation will register with the president until late in the 2012 election cycle – far too late for society today and our future tomorrow.

Lerner believes — and I agree — that a challenge could galvanize activism on the left going into the 2012 general election.  And the point need not be to sink Obama’s ship — it will be good just to board it for the general election campaign; that might mean, say, switching Vice Presidents, or getting commitments for other cabinet posts.  And of course getting commitments to reverse the disappointing policies of his first term. If none of that turns out to be possible, though, there’s a real question in my mind whether electing a Republican in Democrat’s clothing is really all that preferable to electing one the left can actually organize against.

That leaves the question of “who?”, of course, and here Lerner suggests a number of possibilities. Tomasky indicates that the two I’d favor most — Feingold and Dean — have apparently ruled out anything of the sort. Yet situations can change. And at any rate, Obama himself was not a household word when his meteoric rise to power began. New leaders can emerge. I hope they do.

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Annals of Truthiness: the Jack Conway ad, its Rand Paul subject

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 19th October 2010

truthiness (n.) – the alleged emotional or “gut” level truth of a statement or proposition, rather than its actual, verifiable truth.*


Conway ad text (corroborating links added):

“Why was Rand Paul a member of a secret society that called the holy Bible “a hoax,”
that was banned for mocking Christianity and Christ? Why did Rand Paul once tie
a woman up, tell her to bow down before a false idol, and say his god was “Aqua
Buddha”?
Why does Rand Paul now want to end all federal faith-based initiatives
and even end the deduction for religious charities
? Why are there so many questions
about Rand Paul?”

The political ad of the year so far appears to be this one, to the right, run by the Democratic Kentucky Senate candidate Jack Conway in his contest with Republican-slash-Tea Party-slash-libertarian Rand Paul.

While any ad short of enthusiastic Paul-adulation would likely be met with outrage on the right, this one has caused some jaws to drop even on the left side of the political commentariat, and has been fiercely condemned.  See, e.g., Jonathan Chait, who calls it the “ugliest, most illiberal political ad of the year” and — not to be outdone –Jason Zengerle, who goes with “The Most Despicable Ad of the Year“:

First, no candidate over the age of, say, 30 should be held politically accountable for anything he or she did in college—short of gross academic misconduct or committing a felony. Second, and more importantly, a politician’s religious faith should simply be off-limits. If it’s disgusting when conservatives question Barack Obama’s Christianity, then it’s disgusting when Jack Conway questions Rand Paul’s.

…an opinion perhaps all the more credible for coming from the reporter who actually broke the bizarre, disturbing “Aqua Buddha” story last summer. On the other side, Theda Skocpol — sociologist and academic by day, unsuspected political firebrand  by night — rejoins:

People are acting as if it is some kind of political sin to point out to ordinary Kentucky voters the kind of stuff about Paul’s extremist libertarian views that everyone in the punditry already knows. This does not amount to saying that Christian belief is a “requirement for public office” as one site huffs. It is a matter of letting regular voters who themselves care deeply about Christian belief know that Paul is basically playing them. No different really than letting folks who care about Social Security and Medicare know that Paul is playing them. (link added)

Now, Conway’s ad actually gives me the first few reasons I’ve had to favor Paul — I think faith-based initiatives mix church and state far too much, and I think that churches shouldn’t be tax exempt, given that they engage in political activity one way or the other.

But like Rand Paul, I’m not from Kentucky –  and unlike him I’d hesitate to put myself forward as a candidate for one of its Senate seats.  Put me down on Conway’s and Skocpol’s side — it’s completely fair game for Conway to place this ad.

Bluegrass Values
Rand Paul’s purist-libertarian ideology is a a foreign transplant in Kentucky — and most other places, for that matter.  I’d personally pick other Kentucky-clueless stuff of Paul’s, such as not knowing what Harlan County is famous for.  But this fits the “really from KY?” theme well too — the more so since ‘out of touch with heartland values’ is such a frequent GOP refrain. Read the rest of this entry »

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Selected “newsrack actblue” candidate updates

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 15th October 2010

Goal Thermometer

Lentz tied with Meehan, Sestak pulls ahead of Robbins, Grijalva race tightens, Grayson foes zero in with millions, Clements (Green) makes inroads among South Carolina Democrats.  SUPPORT ”newsrack Dems” BY CLICKING ON THE THERMOMETER TO THE RIGHT! CLICK HERE TO DONATE TO THE TOM CLEMENTS CAMPAIGN!

  • Polls show a tight race between Meehan and Lentz (Bender, Philadelphia Daily News; October 14)

    The 7th Congressional District race between Republican Pat Meehan and Democrat Bryan Lentz had been a question mark on the map of competitive U.S. House races, mainly because of the lack of independent polling in the Delaware County-based district. Suddenly, we’re waist-deep in polls, including today’s Daily News/Franklin & Marshall College poll showing Lentz trailing Meehan by only a few percentage points among likely voters with the midterm elections less than three weeks away. And a poll released yesterday by The Hill, a congressional newspaper, put Meehan one point ahead of Lentz, 40 percent to 39 percent. Those two surveys, combined with last week’s Monmouth University Poll that had Meehan ahead of Lentz, 49 percent to 45 percent, show that Lentz has a chance of withstanding the national Republican “wave” that could give the GOP control of the House. In all three polls, Meehan’s edge is within the margin of error.

  • Two Internal Polls Show PA Senate Tightening (Fitzgerald, philly.com; October 13)

    Democrat Joe Sestak has clawed his way into a statistical tie with Republican Pat Toomey in the Pennsylvania Senate race, according to two new internal Democratic polls. Toomey was leading Sestak 46 percent to 45 percent among likely voters in a poll conducted for Sestak’s campaign by David Petts, of the Washington firm Bennett, Petts and Normington, and obtained by The Philadelphia Inquirer. The survey of 800 likely voters was conducted Oct. 4-6, and results were subject to a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. Also, a poll conducted for the Democratic Senatatorial Campaign Committee by Garin-Hart-Yang over the last week showed Sestak leading Toomey 44 percent to 42 percent. When “leaners” were pushed to make a choice, Sestak went up 47 percent to 44 percent. The poll was based on 606 likely voters.

  • Vote 2010: poll points to close race for Grijalva seat (Fox11AZ.com; October 12)

    We are less than a month away from the November 2 election and a new poll shows Congressman Raul Grijalva’s race might be closer than many thought. The website Politico.com cites a Colorado poll showing republican Ruth McClung within two ponts of Grijalva. Today Sarah Palin announced her support of McClung.

  • My Vote Is Not For Sale (Alan Grayson, The Hill’s Congress Blog; October 11)

    “Conservative outside groups” have now spent more than $9 million “slamming vulnerable House Democrats,” and (B) the total against me will reach “at least $1.7 million by the end of next week.”

    Think about that. I am only one member of the U.S. House of Representatives, out of 435. I represent one-quarter of one percent of America. And yet roughly TWENTY PERCENT of spending in the entire country by these shadowy right-wing groups has been spent to defeat…me. I feel so proud!

    I must be doing something right.

  • Clements has passed Greene (John O’Connor, The State; October 13).

    U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint is poised to cruise to re-election, as 58 percent of poll respondents favor DeMint. But Green Party candidate Tom Clements of Columbia is preferred by 12 percent of voters, while Democratic Party nominee Alvin Greene is preferred by 11 percent of voters. Clements leads Greene among Democrats 30 percent to 22 percent. Greene, the surprise winner of the Democratic nomination, has not actively campaigned.

    CLICK HERE TO DONATE TO THE TOM CLEMENTS CAMPAIGN!

  • Democrats Step Out for Clements — Quietly (Corey Hutchins, Columbia Free Times; October 13-19)

    Just recently, former Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges and ex-South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian were listed as hosts for a local meet-and-greet on behalf of Clements.

    Hodges declined to say who he’s supporting in the U.S. Senate race. He says his energy is focused on the governor’s race and other statewide bids.

    “I’m interested in hearing what he has to say,” Hodges tells Free Times about how he ended up as a host for the Clements event. “I think it’s safe to say that I’m very unhappy with the Democratic and Republican candidates for U.S. Senate. I think the country’s got some serious problems to deal with, and I’m not confident that either the Democratic or Republican candidate is the right person to do the job.

    CLICK HERE TO DONATE TO THE TOM CLEMENTS CAMPAIGN!

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2010 “newsrack” congressional candidate updates

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 10th October 2010

Great news: we’ve now raised $1234 for our list of progressive candidates around the country! And in a second fundraising drive — one for Russ Feingold done in coordination with “Get FISA Right — we’ve raised another $1102 for Russ Feingold!

Thanks to all who’ve contributed; join us if you haven’t!

Here are updates on Senate races with “newsrack actblue” progressive Democratic and Green candidates…

  • Russ Feingold (WI) — The New York Times still rates him a “tossup” with challenger Ron Johnson, but Nate Silver’s 538.com analysis gives the Republican an 89% chance of victory as of today, up from 80% a couple of weeks ago. A PoliticsDaily poll (via RealClearPolitics) put Feingold behind by 12 percent as of 10/1, but a CNN poll had the race even. Feingold and Johnson debated on Friday night, and I wrote about that debate in the prior post.
  • Joe Sestak (PA) — The New York Times rates him a “tossup” with opponent Pat Toomey, and Nate Silver’s 538.com analysis gives the Republican an 94% chance of victory as of today, up from 80% a couple of weeks ago. The latest poll results I found (via RealClearPolitics) put Sestak behind by 7 percent as of 9/28-10/4.
  • Tom Clements (SC) — Neither the Times nor Nate Silver rate him at all; DeMint is a prohibitive favorite over Democratic challenger Alvin Greene.

In House races…

  • Tarryl Clark (MN-6) — The New York Times rates her race against Michele Bachman as “lean Republican” , and Nate Silver’s 538.com analysis gives the Republican an 99% chance of victory as of today. The latest poll results I found put Clark behind by 9 percent as of 9/17.
  • Alan Grayson (FL-8) — The New York Times rates him a “tossup” with challenger Daniel Webster, and Nate Silver’s 538.com analysis gives the Republican an 68% chance of victory as of today – up 16% from a couple of weeks ago. The latest poll results I found (via RealClearPolitics) indicate Grayson has lost the soft lead he held a couple of weeks ago and is now behind by 7 percent as of 9/25-27.
  • Mary Jo Kilroy (OH-15 ) — The New York Times now rates her race against Steven Stivers as “leaning Republican”, and Nate Silver’s 538.com analysis gives the Republican an 90% chance of victory as of today. The latest poll results I found put Kilroy behind by 9 percent as of 9/28-30.
  • Patrick Murphy (PA-8) — The New York Times still rates him a “tossup” with challenger (and former incumbent) Mike Fitzgerald, Nate Silver’s 538.com analysis gives the Republican an 70% chance of victory as of today — more or less unchanged from a couple of weeks ago. The latest poll results I found (via RealClearPolitics) put Murphy behind by 14 percent as of 9/14-19.
  • Bryan Lentz (PA-7) — The New York Times still rates him a “tossup” against Pat Meehan in the race to fill Joe Sestak’s seat.  Nate Silver’s 538.com analysis gives the Republican an 70% chance of victory as of today. The latest poll results I found (via RealClearPolitics) put Lentz behind by 4 percent as of 10/4-6.
  • Manan Trivedi (PA-6) — The New York Times rates his race against incumbent Jim Gerlach “leaning Republican,” and Nate Silver’s 538.com analysis gives the Republican an 93% chance of victory as of today. I’ve not found poll results for this race.

You can update all of the above by going to a special “2010 Elections” page I’ve set up here; you’ll find other useful links as well. Most poll results above are via RealClearPolitics; use the “@” link next to candidate names on that page to get the latest on their contests from that site.

The upshot is that things are tending in the wrong direction in the polls for many of these candidates. Each donor will have a different response to what to do about that: help those who still seem to have a chance, or stand by everyone — these are all fine candidates, and there’s still plenty of time for turnarounds, whether locally or nationally.

So give what you can, right now.

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The Great Betrayal, judicial activism, and a living Constitution

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 2nd October 2010

September 17 was Constitution Day, always a good opportunity to reflect on that document and what it means to us.  Unfortunately, I missed that opportunity.  But of course every day is Constitution Day!  So I’ll go ahead and write down a few things I’ve been thinking and reading about lately on that subject and its intersection with another that has been occupying me lately: post Civil War American history.

In a note he published on Facebook, Patrick Bruckart wrote,

…the Bill of Rights was intended to restrain the federal government’s authority and provide citizens a means of redressing grievances against it. The BOR did not originally apply to the states. The Fourth Amendment, for example, was later applied to the states via the Fourteenth Amendment and subsequent court decisions. The next time we are inclined to complain about “judicial activism,” we should ask ourselves whether it would be acceptable for state or local law enforcement officials to search our homes (or property) without having first obtained a warrant based on probable cause. And that’s just one example.
(links added)

Even in colonial times, some states provided their own constitutional guarantees — that is, they acknowledged their own limitations — regulating searches and seizures.  But it was optional — especially with respect to the lower and disenfranchised members of society.


The Fourteenth Amendment
1. All persons born or naturalized
in the United States, and subject to
the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens
of the United States and of the State
wherein they reside. No State shall
make or enforce any law which shall
abridge the privileges or immunities
of citizens of the United States; nor
shall any State deprive any person
of life, liberty, or property, without
due process of law; nor deny to any
person within its jurisdiction the
equal protection of the laws. [...]
5. The Congress shall have power
to enforce, by appropriate
legislation, the provisions of this
article.

But the Fourteenth Amendment changed all that.  In particular, the Fourteenth Amendment — in both intent and language — clarified that rights guaranteed under the Constitution were a floor under state law, not merely interesting limitations on a far off federal government.  And both these rights and the promise of equal treatment under the law were guaranteed to everyone born in, naturalized to, or simply under the jurisdiction of the United States of America.

And Congress could see to it.  According to Akhil Reed Amar’s indispensable “America’s Constitution: A Biography,” the final enabling clause — “Congress shall have power to make all appropriate laws” furthering this aim — was selected to echo specific Supreme Court rulings deferring to “appropriate” Congressional legislation. Amar:

And — here is the key point –the American people ratified the Fourteenth Amendment, with evident understanding of its, and also the Thirteenth’s, language authorizing “appropriate” federal legislation.  Knowing full well that Congress believed that this language authorized transformative new federal statutes to uproot all vestiges of unfreedom and inequality — and having seen with their own eyes that Congress had already acted on a similar belief in connection with the Thirteenth Amendment — Americans said yes.  We do.

Or so they believed.

“A vain and idle enactment”
To return to Bruckart’s remarks, I think one point to remember about judicial activism is that sometimes it’s needed simply to undo prior such activism.

The main example, to me, is in how the Fourteenth Amendment was bled nearly dry shortly after its ratification by one regrettable Supreme Court ruling — In re Slaughter-House Cases (1873; text)  — and one manifestly unjust one, United States v. Cruikshank (1875; text), a ruling rivaled in infamy by Dred Scott, Korematsu and few others.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Why win when you can lose: tax debate postponed to after election

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 27th September 2010

First they said they wouldn’t.  Then they said they would.  Now they say they won’t.  In a move that may be one of the last nails in the November coffin for Democrats, the debate about which Bush era tax cuts, if any, to extend has been postponed until after the election.  Lori Montgomery reports (“Tax-cut vote likely set for after elections,” Washington Post):

Democrats said they are counting on the pre-election impasse over taxes to ease when lawmakers return to Washington in mid-November for the first of two work periods before a new Congress is seated. Senate Democrats, who control 59 seats, will need to unite their caucus and win the support of at least one Republican to overcome a potential GOP filibuster. Sen. Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, said that will be easier after the elections.

“In a September session, it’s hard to separate anything you do from politics,” said Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) “And the politics ultimately triumphed. We didn’t get much of anything done. And that’s why I think, ultimately, members of the Senate have decided the best thing to do is go home, particularly those who are running.”

The thing is, debating the justice and wisdom of extending Paris Hilton tax cuts was an eminently reasonable and necessary debate to have if growing deficits are truly a concern. But set aside that it would have been good policy — it would have been great politics.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Good news, bad news

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 25th September 2010

First the good news: in less than one week, “newsrack actblue” has raised $860 for our list of progressive candidates around the country!

It’s also good news that Raul Grijalva (AZ-7) and two late adds Chellie Pingree (ME-1) and Lloyd Doggett (TX-25) appear to be in good shape, judging by New York Times / fivethirtyeight.com estimates today. I’ve pushed those candidates to the bottom of the “actblue list,” with updates noting their relatively safe status.

The bad news is that the remaining candidates are struggling. In Senate races with “newsrack actblue” progressive Democratic and Green candidates…

  • Russ Feingold (WI) — The New York Times rates him a “tossup” with challenger Ron Johnson, and Nate Silver’s 538.com analysis gives the Republican an 80% chance of victory as of today. The latest poll results I found put Feingold behind by 6 percent as of 9/22. (Editorial comment: this must not stand.)
  • Joe Sestak (PA) — The New York Times rates him a “tossup” with opponent Pat Toomey, and Nate Silver’s 538.com analysis gives the Republican an 80% chance of victory as of today. The latest poll results I found put Sestak behind by 5 to7 percent as of 9/25.
  • Tom Clements (SC) — Neither the Times nor Nate Silver rate him at all; DeMint is a prohibitive favorite over Democratic challenger Alvin Greene.

In House races…

  • Tarryl Clark (MN-6) — The New York Times rates her race against Michele Bachman as “lean Republican” , and Nate Silver’s 538.com analysis gives the Republican an 98% chance of victory as of today. The latest poll results I found put Clark behind by 9 percent as of 9/17.
  • Alan Grayson (FL-8) — The New York Times rates him a “tossup” with challenger Dan Webster, and Nate Silver’s 538.com analysis gives the Republican an 52% chance of victory as of today. The latest poll results I found put Grayson ahead by 40 to 27 percent as of 9/5 — with 23 percent undecided.
  • Mary Jo Kilroy (OH-15 ) — The New York Times rates her a “tossup” with challenger Steve Stivers, and Nate Silver’s 538.com analysis gives the Republican an 76% chance of victory as of today. The latest poll results I found put Kilroy behind by 5 percent as of mid-August.
  • Patrick Murphy (PA-8) — The New York Times rates him a “tossup” with challenger (and former incumbent) Mike Fitzgerald, Nate Silver’s 538.com analysis gives the Republican an 71% chance of victory as of today. The latest poll results I found put Murphy behind by 14 percent as of 9/10.

You can update all of the above by going to a special “2010 Elections” page I’ve set up here; you’ll find other useful links as well.

The upshot is that some good people need help, perhaps especially Russ Feingold, Patrick Murphy, and Mary Jo Kilroy. We need to keep as many of them on the Hill as possible. So please click over on the fundraising badge and give what you can right now, while there’s still time to close the gap and overtake their opponents.

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UPDATES, 9/26: (1) In an interesting “Why Generic Ballots May Underestimate Democrats” post , Nate Silver examines results suggesting that the common question — “If the election for Congress were held today, would you vote for the Democratic candidate in your district or the Republican candidate in your district?” — tends to exaggerate Republican advantage by about 4 percent, compared to when the question concerns the actual candidates running against eachother. Interestingly, Mary Jo Kilroy is one of the candidates involved — but unfortunately, she does worse than the generic comparison for her district (same poll cited above). (2) Great Alan Grayson ad (FL-8) against his theocrat opponent, “Taliban” Dan Webster. You’ll see the moniker is not unjustified — and that Grayson punches hard. More on Webster here.

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