What to Do About the Supreme Court?

Democrats in Congress plan to introduce a bill to expand the SCOTUS from nine to thirteen justices. At the moment this bill has very little chance of going anywhere, but that may not be the point. The Dems may just be attempting to signal the Supremes to watch themselves. (Naturally Nancy Pelosi is being a poopyhead and saying she won’t bring a bill to expand the Court to the House floor.)

At TPM, Kate Riga writes that the Court has been sitting on some abortion cases for a remarkably long time. When Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed last year anti-reproductive rights advocates were certain Roe v. Wade was toast. And, of course, now that I’m blogging about a delay they’ll probably issue some draconian decision tomorrow.

But assuming they don’t, it does begin to look as if something is going on behind closed doors to inject some moderation into them. And I’m betting that something may be all the talk of expanding the Court. Chief Justice John Roberts may not be want to be the Chief Justice who precided over a Court that was so radical it had to be watered down.

Last week President Biden announced he was forming a commission to study Supreme Court reform. “The topics it will examine include the genesis of the reform debate; the Court’s role in the Constitutional system; the length of service and turnover of justices on the Court; the membership and size of the Court; and the Court’s case selection, rules, and practices,” the announcement said. There is no deadline given for the commission’s recommendations. Still, it gives the justices something to think about.

At the moment a bill to expand the Court is unlikely to get around the 60-vote cloture threshold in the Senate. But Paul Waldman writes that maybe the appointment process could be reformed. One suggestion: Give every new POTUS two Supreme Court picks, and let the size of the Court fluctuate, he says.  If a justice dies or retires, the POTUS doesn’t get to make another appointment; he or she just gets two. That would eliminate a lot of the game-playing and drama around Supreme Court picks.

That wouldn’t, however, save us from the current Court’s majority of hyper-conservative religious extremists. See The Supreme Court Is Making New Law in the Shadows in the New York Times.

Law Enforcement: This Is Not Working

Videos of the police encounters with Lt. Caron Nazario in Virginia and Daunte Wright in Minnesota have been viral for the past several hours. After watching these, I’d like to suggest that we fire every cop in America and start over.

It’s beyond obvious that what went wrong in these encounters — as well as with George Floyd in Michigan, Maurice Gordon in New Jersey, Sandra Bland in Texas, Elijah McClain in Colorado, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, Philando Castile in Minnesota (again), and so many others — is that police officers unnecessarily took what should have been routine, low-tension situations and escalated them into life-and-death struggles.

Of those mentioned above, only Lt. Nazario survived. This is because he was admirably disciplined and kept his head, but it should be police who are disciplined and keep their heads. Instead, in videos more often than not you see shouting and screaming and foaming-at-the-mouth hysteria on the part of the cops. Are they not trained to de-escalate tension rather than ramp it up? Apparently not.

The officer who killed Daunte Wright was screaming “taser! taser! taser!” just before she shot him with a gun. It’s obvious she was not thinking straight. And she was a 26-year veteran, news stories say, not a rookie.  Somethng is seriously wrong here.

And no, I’ve never been a police officer. I am sure they face many challenging and dangerous situations. But you’d think they’d be better trained to be controlled and disciplined, not volatile and erratic.

In my life I’ve been stopped for traffic violations a couple of times (although it’s been years). In my experience as a middle-aged white lady the cop comes to the window and says, Lady, you were speeding, here’s your ticket. Bye. Nobody screamed at me, made me get out of the car, tried to put me in handcuffs. If the cops had come at me the way they came at Lt. Nazario or Duante Wright I’m not sure how I would have reacted, but I don’t think anyone should be faulted for having a meltdown or trying to get away. That must be a terrifying experience, and it shouldn’t be the responsibility of a person being arrested to keep the cops calmed down.

In the case of Lt. Nazario, the cops should have just told him “We stopped you because you don’t have a license plate.” And then the Lieutenant would have pointed to the dealer temporary license plate, which may have been hard to see because of the tinted windows. And then the cops could say, “Oh, okay. Never mind. Have a nice day.” End of encounter. Why is that so hard?

In Georgia, an intoxicated Rayshard Brooks fell asleep in his car in a Wendy’s drive-through line. When cops arrived to deal with him, by all accounts he was genial and cooperative, but still very drunk. He wanted to lock up his car and walk to his sister’s house nearby, and maybe they should have just taken his car keys and let him go. Indeed, they could have driven him to his sister’s to sleep it off.  They had his name and license plate number; somebody could have followed up and taken him to court in a few hours when he was sober. But Brooks became agitated and tried to get away, and he was shot and killed.

The excuse one hears is that if people being arrested would just comply with police, these unfortunate outcomes wouldn’t happen. Explain to me what undercover St. Louis detective Luther Hall could possibly have been doing that justified his brother officers beating him to a pulp?

In the case of George Floyd, it’s unclear that anyone ever explained to him why he was being arrested. He was obviously terrified. Derick Chauvin, the cop who killed him, is an even worse example of malpractice than the over-excited officer who mixed up her gun for a taser. If you saw the highlights of the prosecution’s case at Chauvin’s trial, you know that happened to Floyd was just stone-cold murder. For once, even Chauvin’s superior officers clearly said Chauvin was in the wrong. For once, maybe this time there will be a conviction. But as Eugene Robinson wrote today, one fears Chavin will get off, because that’s what always happens.

Still from bodycam video of Daunte Wright’s death.

(The Old GOP’s) God Is Dead

Ronald Reagan died in 2004, of course, but it struck me that he’s even deader now than he was then. Today he’s not just physically dead; he’s also dead as a revered and worshiped figure of the American Right.

Reagan used to be adored by the GOP. Of course, Republicans never did admit to themselves that the Reagan they revered, the Reagan of their imaginations, differed considerably from the once corporeal person. Ronald Reagan was a hero in movies, not in real life. His celebrated “sunny optimism” was a thin veneer of affability over a whole lot of bigotry against nonwhites and gays. His popular economic ideas, enshrined in history as “Reaganomics,” contributed mightily to economic inequality, the shrinking of the middle class, and an eroding standard of living among working people. Yes, GOP insiders no doubt considered those features, not bugs.

Most of all, he taught ordinary Americans that it was wrong to look to their government for help. Government, Reagan told them, was wasteful and incompetent, and expecting it to benefit ordinary citizens led to moral decay and, eventually, commujnism. One might have stopped to reflect on what the bleep a government is supposed to be for, but St. Ronald of Blessed Memory was a man of action, not a thinker. Thinking is for Democrats and Europeans. Real Americans put on their shoes (made in China) every morning and march out to do productive things on behalf of Capitalism (blessed be It) without thinking real hard about it.  Look to Capitalism and God — in that order — to provide, not government.

The real legacy of Reagan was less American Greatness and more of a big mess. See, for example, Reagan’s Real Legacy by Peter Dreier and How Reaganomics, deregulation and bailouts led to the rise of Trump by John Komlos. Yet there was something about Reagan that resonated deeply in the mystic chords of memory of U.S. conservatives. and they practically worshipped the man. Or, their idea of the man. And in many ways after Reagan left office in 1989 the GOP remained, in its shrunken little heart, the Party of Reagan for about the next twenty-five years. This was so even though Reagan himself seemed to drop out of sight once he was out of office, no doubt because of the Alzheimer’s that was finally disclosed in 1994.

But now the worship of Reagan that sustained the Republican Party through the 1990s and 2000s is really, truly, utterly dead. I’m not sure precisely when it died, but it’s dead now. It must have died before the 2020 Republican National Convention; see No Bushes, Reagans, Cheneys or McCains: Who Is Missing at Trump’s R.N.C. by Adam Nagourney, Aug. 27, 2020.

Today I read about a recent Republican National Committee shindig held for deep pocket donors at — where else? — Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach. And it struck me as I read that Reagan is dead.

Former president Donald Trump called Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell a “dumb son of a bitch” as he used a Saturday night speech to Republicans to blame him for not helping overturn the 2020 election and reiterated false assertions that he won the November contest.

“If that were Schumer instead of this dumb son of a bitch Mitch McConnell they would never allow it to happen. They would have fought it,” he said of election certifying on Jan. 6, the day his supporters led an insurrection on the Capitol to block Joe Biden’s formal victory.

Trump spent much of the speech, with many senators in the room, lashing into his former ally in personal terms, often to cheers from the party’s top donors.

In his off-the-cuff remarks Trump also badmouthed Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia and his own former vice president, Mike Pence.

You might remember that Reagan’s 11th Commandment was “Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican.” Movement conservatism took off in the late 1970s and kept flying through the 1980, 1990s, and 2000s largely because the many interest groups that signed on to Republicanism, from the Christian activists to the anti-tax zealots to the neoconservative hawks, stuck to that commandment and maintained a uniform front. Meanwhile the Democrats, headline writers assured us, were perpetually in disarray. But now that command is revoked, and the new kids in the party who align with Trump are not at all shy about trashing other Republicans.

Other accounts of Trump’s recent RNC speech say the cheering was more subdued.

“It was horrible, it was long and negative,” one attendee with a donor in the room tells Playbook. “It was dour. He didn’t talk about the positive things that his administration has done.”

Instead, Trump used the final night of the retreat to talk about himself, his grievances and how he plans to enact retribution against those who voted to impeach him — which runs counter to the donors’ main objective of making sure their dollars go toward winning overall.

Yet there they were, at Mar-a-Lago. This past January I predicted that once Trump was out of Washington the old GOP establishment would reassert itself and take the party back from Trump, but that hasn’t happened. The party seems determined to stick with Trump at least through the midterms. (See Republicans at a Crossroads.) The young pups in the party who don’t remember Ronald Reagan — not to mention the old dogs like Lindsey Graham who seem to have just plain surrendered — are determined to follow Trump off a cliff. The donors may not like it, but at the moment they haven’t jumped ship.

Seriously, Josh Hawley was born in 1979. That means he was still in diapers when Reagan was first elected president.  Matt Gaetz is even younger. Marjorie Taylor Greene is a bit older; she was in high school when Reagan left office in 1989. Ted Cruz was an undergraduate at Princeton then. The point is that the Reagan Mystique seems to be dying off, literally, with the older members of the party. There’s not much left of Reagan but the obsession with cutting top tax rates, and even that really pre-dates Reagan. Calvin Coolidge pushed multiple tax cuts to help business growth, too. The basic theory behind “trickle down” economics goes back to William McKinley, if not earlier.

Anyway, while Reagan was bad enough, now we’ve devolved to …

As much as I despise Ronnie, he would never have kissed Vladimir Putin’s and Kim Jong Un’s asses. And it says a lot about how much Reagan is dead that Trump did that, multiple times, and his supporters didn’t care. Whatever Republicans believed Reagan stood for is no longer marketable.

Michael Reinoehl: More Justice Denied

Last summer in Portland, by several accounts, a self-identified antifa activist named Michael Forest Reinoehl shot and killed Aaron “Jay” Danielson, a member of a far-right group called Patriot Prayer. After the shooting Reinoehl made a video in which he claimed he acted in self-defense. Videos of the incident don’t clearly show what happened, only that Reinoehl walked away and Danielson didn’t.

In any event, Reinoehl was never tried because he was killed by a task force made up mostly of local law enforcement officers and assembled by the U.S. Marshalls. This crew appears to have decided it was too much trouble to bring Reinoehl in. I wrote at the time,

We’ve learned a bit more about last week’s shooting in Portland, although probably we’ll never know exactly what happened since the suspect was killed in a “hail of gunfire” by police. Convenient, that. Court documents say that both the victim, Aaron “Jay” Danielson, and the alleged and now dead perpetrator, Michael Forest Reinoehl, were armed with handguns. Before he was killed, Reinoehl made a video claiming he shot Danielson in self-defense.  Unfortunately no video has come to light of the actual shooting, just the immediate aftermath, so there is no way to know if Reinoehl was telling the truth about being in danger.

The manner of Reinoehl’s execution by the task force is a matter of, shall we say, confusion. No two news stories of the event tell exactly the same story. Some accounts say Reinhold fired at the marshalls before they opened fire on him; some say he didn’t. But here is one of the accounts from the New York Times

On Sept. 3, about 120 miles north of Portland, Mr. Reinoehl was getting into his Volkswagen station wagon when a pair of unmarked sport utility vehicles roared through the quiet streets, screeching to a halt just in front of his bumper. Members of a U.S. Marshals task force jumped out and unleashed a hail of bullets that shattered windows, whizzed past bystanders and left Mr. Reinoehl dead in the street. …

… But a reconstruction of what happened that night, based on the accounts of people who witnessed the confrontation and the preliminary findings of investigators, produces a much different picture — one that raises questions about whether law enforcement officers made any serious attempt to arrest Mr. Reinoehl before killing him.

In interviews with 22 people who were near the scene, all but one said they did not hear officers identify themselves or give any commands before opening fire. In their official statements, not yet made public, the officers offered differing accounts of whether they saw Mr. Reinoehl with a weapon. One told investigators he thought he saw Mr. Reinoehl raise a gun inside the vehicle before the firing began, but two others said they did not.

Mr. Reinoehl did have a .380-caliber handgun on him when he was killed, according to the county sheriff’s team that is running a criminal homicide investigation into Mr. Reinoehl’s death. But the weapon was found in his pocket.

An AR-style rifle was found apparently untouched in a bag in his car.

Five eyewitnesses said in interviews that the gunfire began the instant the vehicles arrived. None of them saw Mr. Reinoehl holding a weapon. A single shell casing of the same caliber as the handgun he was carrying was found inside his car.

Garrett Louis, who watched the shooting begin while trying to get his 8-year-old son out of the line of fire, said the officers arrived with such speed and violence that he initially assumed they were drug dealers gunning down a foe — until he saw their law enforcement vests.

“I respect cops to the utmost, but things were definitely in no way, shape or form done properly,” Mr. Louis said.

Tim Elfrink wrote in the Washington Post,

When police last week surrounded Michael Forest Reinoehl, a self-described anti-fascist suspected of fatally shooting a member of a far-right group in Portland, Ore., the wanted man wasn’t obviously armed, a witness to the scene said Wednesday.

In fact, according to Nate Dinguss, Reinoehl was clutching a cellphone and eating a gummy worm as he walked to his car outside an apartment complex in Lacey, Wash. That’s when officers opened fire without first announcing themselves or trying to arrest him, Dinguss, a 39-year-old who lives in the apartment complex, said in a statement shared with The Washington Post.

As I said, you can find other reports, including some other stories in the New York Times and Washington Post, that say Reinoehl opened fire on the marshalls first, and the marshalls returned fire. No videos of this have turned up, I don’t think. The task force members did not wear body cams, nor were there cameras on their vehicles.

But now the New York Times has published an update:

Last week, local investigators concluded a monthslong homicide inquiry with the announcement that the activist, Michael Reinoehl, had most likely fired at authorities first, effectively justifying the shooting.

But a review of investigation documents obtained by The New York Times suggests that investigators for the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office discounted key pieces of contradicting evidence that indicate Mr. Reinoehl may never have fired or pointed a gun.

While investigators found a spent bullet casing in the back seat of Mr. Reinoehl’s car, and pointed to that as evidence he probably fired his weapon, the handgun they recovered from Mr. Reinoehl had a full magazine, according to multiple photos compiled by Thurston County authorities showing Mr. Reinoehl’s handgun. The gun was found in his pocket. …

In announcing its conclusions, the sheriff’s office wrote that “witness statements indicate there was an exchange of gunfire, which was initiated by Reinoehl from inside his vehicle.” A spokesman, Lt. Cameron Simper, said that while investigators could not conclude for certain that Mr. Reinoehl had fired his weapon, he said it was “highly likely.”

But one of the witnesses that Thurston County investigators relied on to reach their conclusion that Mr. Reinoehl had fired his gun was an 8-year-old boy. His father, Garrett Louis, who had rushed to his son’s side at the time of the shooting, has consistently said he believed that officers opened fire first without shouting any warnings.

Of the two other witnesses who investigators cited to support the conclusion that Mr. Reinoehl fired his gun, one did not see it happen and the other was not sure.

Do read the whole article. The cops are covering their butts.

Also keep in mind that after Danielson was killed, Donald Trump and much of rightie media seized on the incident as evidence that antifa is a violent and lawless “organization.” It may have been important to a lot of important people that Reinoehl not be given a chance to defend himself.

Attorney General William P. Barr trumpeted the operation as a “significant accomplishment” that removed a “violent agitator.” The officers had opened fire, he said, when Mr. Reinoehl “attempted to escape arrest” and “produced a firearm” during the encounter.

If he’d been tried, Reinoehl might have been found guilty of Danielson’s murder, and maybe he was guilty. But his death looks like a political execution to me.

In other law enforcement news — Do read about Lt. Caron Nazario, U.S. Army Medical Corps, and his encounter with police. Lt. Nazario, dressed in uniform, was driving through Windsor, Virginia, in a newly purchased Chevrolet Tahoe when police lights started flashing behind him. It was night, and the lieutenant is black. Rather than stop on a dark road he flipped on his turn signal and drove slowly to a gas station about a mile away before he stopped. He placed his cell phone on the dash and put his empty hands out of the window.

The cops got out of their car, drew their guns on Lt. Nazario, shouted threats at him, and then doused him with pepper spray.

The chemical temporarily blinded Nazario and caused a burning sensation in his lungs, throat and skin. Nazario’s dog was in a crate in the back and also started to choke.

Nazario got out of the vehicle and again asked for a supervisor. Gutierrez responded with “knee-strikes” to his legs, knocking him to the ground, the lawsuit says. The two officers struck him multiple times, then handcuffed and interrogated him, the complaint says.

Medics had to be called to attend to Lt. Nazario’s injuries. The cops also refused to explain to him why he’d been pulled over. The police report said it because his car lacked a permanent plate, but body cam videos show the dealer’s temporary plate properly displayed in the rear window.

Lt. Nazario has filed filed a lawsuit in federal court that accuses the officers of illegally searching his car, using excessive force and violating his rights under the First Amendment. The lawsuit seeks $1 million in compensatory damages.

Michael Forest Reinoehl

 

Why the Right Doesn’t Have to Make Sense

As explained by a fellow named David Roth:

One of the defining aspects of the highly caffeinated conservative cable news sludge that Trump still chugs thirstily from morning until night is that it is hard to understand. It is intended to induce a state of heated clammy umbrage in the slack and softening minds of its consumers, and reliably does that, but it does this more through tone and frequency than by means of information. The point is to keep everyone watching both very upset and kind of curious about what exactly they’re upset about. …

… the idea is to repeat things enough that even passive viewers will be able to pick up the broad strokes, learn the heroes and villains and outrages and memes, get upset when they’re supposed to get upset and keep watching through the commercial breaks. Someone who watches enough hours of this will become not just familiar with but wholly conversant in all the salty phonemes that make up its language, but never quite know what the fuck they’re talking about.

Do read the whole thing; it’s a hoot. It’s also true. I’m sure we’ve all caught enough of right-wing media to know how true this is.

This is the Right’s superpower. Their followers believe what right-wing media and politicians say even though they don’t understand it, even though it makes no sense. And of course they don’t have to have facts to support their allegations. They can just make up whatever shit they want to make up, and it is believed. It is believed so strongly that you can show a true believer irrefutable evidence that what they believe isn’t true, and they won’t budge.

Last year righties were certain the coronavirus was a hoax; that entire U.S. cities were being burned to the ground by BLM and antifa, and that somehow massive voter fraud took the election from Donald Trump. Oh, and those thugs who attacked the Capitol Building? They were all freedom-loving patriots who were waved into the building by supportive police, and at the same time they were all antifa thugs just pretending to be Trump supporters to make Trump look bad.

We learned last week that Trump can scam the true believers out of their last dollars, and they’ll still support him. (For the latest on right-wing donation scamming, do see Tim Miller at The Bulwark.)

I still run into people who think we should be trying to engage in dialogue with the Right. Maybe once in a great while you might bump into an individual who is reachable. On the whole, though, when dealing with the true believers there’s no point. It would be less frustrating to try to explain algebra to a squirrel.

So now the Republican Party is engaged in a vast revision of election law so that they can suppress the votes of those who oppose them, because they realize that’s the only way they can win elections.

Stepping in to provide a philosophical argument for why suppressing votes is good — Kevin D. Williamson, a charmer who was once fired from The Atlantic for proposing that women who obtain abortions should be hanged. We don’t need more voters, he says, we need fewer but better voters. Note that he never clearly defines “better.”

Here’s a sample argument:

There would be more voters if we made it easier to vote, and there would be more doctors if we didn’t require a license to practice medicine. The fact that we believe unqualified doctors to be a public menace but act as though unqualified voters were just stars in the splendid constellation of democracy indicates how little real esteem we actually have for the vote, in spite of our public pieties.

The 14th and 19th amendments make voting a right of all adult citizens, and the 26th Amendment set the minimum voting age at 18. Therefore, being 18 years old and a citizen are the only necessary qualifications . There is no constitutional right to a medical license.

And if we genuinely believe that the just powers of government are derived from the consent of the governed, we can’t very well argue that only a select group of “qualified” voters — “qualification” in this case being a vague and undefined thing unconnected to citizenship — should be permitted to give their consent. Narrowing the franchise is a clear path to oligarchy.

But of course Williamson doesn’t agree with the Declaration of Independence on this point. While he lacks the moral courage to come out and say so, one clearly infers that a “qualified” voter is one who thinks like Williamson and is presumed to possess mostly European DNA.

Williamson continues,

The real case — generally unstated — for encouraging more people to vote is a metaphysical one: that wider turnout in elections makes the government somehow more legitimate in a vague moral sense. But legitimacy is not popularity and popularity is not consent. The entire notion of representative government assumes that the actual business of governing requires fewer decision-makers rather than more.

The entire notion of representative government is that the people through elections choose who will represent them. And then the representatives make decisions about laws and policies on behalf of their constituents. It is presumed that in making laws and policies the representatives do what they think is right and do not need to canvass their constituents before every vote.

Williamson almost says this later in the essay —

Representatives are people who act in other people’s interests, which is distinct from carrying out a group’s stated demands as certified by majority vote.

Yes, but it’s the majority vote that gives representatives the legitimate authority to act in their constituents’ interests. Duh.

Voters — individually and in majorities — are as apt to be wrong about things as right about them, often vote from low motives such as bigotry and spite, and very often are contentedly ignorant. That is one of the reasons why the original constitutional architecture of this country gave voters a narrowly limited say in most things and took some things — freedom of speech, freedom of religion, etc. — off the voters’ table entirely.

Yes, voters can be wrong; we see that in every election when some of the same corrupt old windbags get reelected. But other than the prohibitions on the federal government written into the Bill of Rights, I can’t think of any way that the “original constitutional architecture” limited the federal government from responding to the will of the voters in any matter. It’s true that over the years ideas about the proper role of the federal government in many matters has changed, but that doesn’t have anything to do with “constitutional architecture” that I can see.

It is easy to think of critical moments in American history when giving the majority its way would have produced horrifying results. If we’d had a fair and open national plebiscite about slavery on December 6, 1865, slavery would have won in a landslide.

[History lecture begins] No, slavery would not have won in a landslide in 1865.

There actually was something close to a national “fair and open plebiscite about slavery” held on November 6, 1860. This was the presidential election. The most prominent plank in Abraham Lincoln’s platform was a promise to keep slavery from spreading out of the slave states and into the western territories. Lincoln won easily against three other candidates.

The Democratic party split in half over slavery and nominated two candidates. The unabashedly pro-slavery-in-the-territories Democratic candidate was John Breckinridge, who won most of the slave states. He came in third in the popular vote although second in the electoral college. Stephen Douglas, who called for new states to decide for themselves whether to permit slavery, was the other Democratic candidate, and he was second in the popular vote and third in the EC.

The fourth candidate, John Bell, was anti-secession but did not take a postion on slavery. Bell won Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia.

Note that at the time no candidate, not even Lincoln, called for abolishing slavery in the existing slave states. Lincoln may have wished to do so, but he believed such a thing required a constitutional amendment that was not bloody likely to happen at the time.  Voters in “free soil” states were mostly ambivalent about slavery down South but believed passionately that it should be confined to the South and not allowed to spread. They were also concerned that the Dred Scott decision opened the door to allowing slave owners to move into “free soil” states and keep their “property” enslaved. Basically, we’re looking at NIMBY — a majority of voters in non-slave states were willing to tolerate slavery in the slave states, but they didn’t want it in their back yards. Or the territories.

But if voters were ambivalent about slavery in 1860, by 1865 a considerable majority hated the slave-owning Southern plantation class with with a white-hot passion, and there is no way a majority would have voted to let them waltz back to their plantations to keep people enslaved as if nothing had happened. So the 13th Amdnement abolishing slavery was ratified on December 6, 1865, and I’ve seen nothing to suggest a majority of voters opposed this. [History lecture ends.]

Back to Williamson:

Representatives are people who act in other people’s interests, which is distinct from carrying out a group’s stated demands as certified by majority vote. Legitimacy involves, among other interests, the government’s responsibility to people who are not voters, such as children, mentally incapacitated people, incarcerated felons, and non-citizen permanent residents. Their interests matter, too, but we do not extend the vote to them. So we require a more sophisticated conception of legitimacy than one-man, one-vote, majority rule. To vote is only to register one’s individual, personal preference, but democratic citizenship imposes broader duties and obligations. When we fail to meet that broader responsibility, the result is dysfunction: It is no accident that we are heaping debt upon our children, who cannot vote, in order to pay for benefits dear to the most active and reliable voters. That’s what you get from having lots of voting but relatively little responsible citizenship.

It’s kind of rich that a conservative would express such tender concerns for the welfare of children, incarcerated people, and non-citizen permanent residents. However, one assumes that most adult voters care about children and have opinions about policies that affect them. (Note that we also have a large faction of voters who are more concerned about fetuses than children, and vote accordingly, often at the expense of their own economic well-being.) What Williamson portrays as a disregard for children is really a disagreement about what policies are better for the nation, including the children. It may be that fewer of us think about the special concerns of the incarcerated and resident foreign nationals, unless those concerns are called to our attention, but it simply isn’t true that most voters are unconcerned about the well being of others. We are not a nation of sociopaths, I don’t think.

As far as mental disabilities are concerned, it’s not clear that such people are legally and constitutionally blocked from voting. I looked it up. A few states still enforce old laws on the books that take the franchise away from people declared “mentally incompetent,” but in most of the U.S. if you are functional enough to register to vote and can show up at the correct polling place on election day and use a voting machine, you can vote. If you are too demented to do those things, then you won’t be voting, will you?

I skipped over much of the first half of the essay, where Williamson wallows in the straw-man argument that Democrats oppose Republican demands for more stringent ID requirements for voting because they are unconcerned about voter fraud.

No, dear Mr. Moron Williamson, that is not the case. If there were evidence that in-person voter fraud happened at a high enough rate to change election results we would certainly want to address it. But there isn’t. Study after study has found that incidents of people using a false identity to vote are extremely rare.  Obvously, the safeguards already in place to discourage in-person voter fraud are working just fine. Placing ever more burdensome requirements on people before they can vote is a solution without a problem. It’s also a handy voter suppression tool, especially against voters with less time and fewer resources to go chasing down this or that particular document.

And so on. The whole essay is one howler after another. But, you know, if you’re a rightie you don’t have to make sense. Any assemblage of words, no matter how inaccurate or illogical, will do for an argument.

One might sorrow over the sorry state of today’s American conservative (and National Review essayist), once represented by brainy elites like William Buckley and now by barely cognitive bigots like Kevin Williamson. But at WaPo, Philip Bump — who also takes issue with Williamson’s essay — reminds us that maybe things haven’t changed that much. He quotes Buckley from 1957

“It is not easy, and it is unpleasant, to adduce statistics evidencing the median cultural superiority of White over Negro: but it is a fact that obtrudes, one that cannot be hidden by ever-so-busy egalitarians and anthropologists. The question, as far as the White community is concerned, is whether the claims of civilization supersede those of universal suffrage. The British believe they do, and acted accordingly, in Kenya, where the choice was dramatically one between civilization and barbarism, and elsewhere; the South, where the conflict is by no means dramatic, as in Kenya, nevertheless perceives important qualitative differences between its culture and the Negroes’, and intends to assert its own. NATIONAL REVIEW believes that the South’s premises are correct.”

So perhaps thngs haven’t changed that much. The only difference is that Williamson uses fewer semicolons and is more constrained than Buckley was from just coming out and saying what he means by “better.”

William F. Buckley

Red State, Blue City

Yesterday St. Louis voters elected City Treasurer Tishaura Jones, a progressive black woman, to be their next mayor. And enough seats flipped on the Board of Aldermen — the city’s legislative body — to give progressives a small majority. (Congratulations to Flip the Board.) Maybe now they’ll change the name of the Board of Aldermen to City Council.

The new city government is about to receive a $517 million windfall from the newly passed American Rescue Plan. Also thanks to the Biden Administration, St. Louis’s sluggish vaccination rate is finally picking up. Vaccine efforts run by the state had blatantly favored rural areas over St. Louis.

So St. Louis may be poised for something of a Renaisance. It’s a city that for sure has seen better days, but it has a lot of potential.

I assume police reform is going to be on the agenda. A week ago I wrote about the failure of a jury to convict some St. Louis cops for beating a black St. Louis detective, Luther Hall, while he was working undercover. (Three officers were acquitted on most charges. Jurors could not agree on two charges, but I undersand the defendants will be re-tried.)

St. Louis also is plagued by a high rate of gun violence, in large part because of the state’s “carry whatever you want” gun laws.

Meanwhile, the Republican state government of Missouri continues to be criminally bad at governing. You might remember that last year the state’s voter passed a resolution calling for Medicaid to be expanded under the Affordable Care Act. As I wrote at the time, “This [expansion] was proposed as a constitutional amendment so that the looney tune wingnut legislature couldn’t block it with legislation.”

But, by golly, they’re blocking it anyway by refusing to fund it.

 After refusing to set money aside in next year’s budget to pay for a voter-approved expansion of Medicaid, Republicans in the Missouri House took steps Tuesday to distribute the unspent cash on other items.

From directing $18 million to school transportation costs to sending an additional $88 million to nursing homes, the House Budget Committee reviewed how it will spend the $1 billion that Republican Gov. Mike Parson had earmarked for the expansion of the health insurance program for the poor.

The panel’s review came after last week’s decision to not fund the expanded Medicaid program that voters approved last August by a 53-47 margin, saying even with federal sweeteners, the addition of 275,000 Missourians was not sustainable over time.

That last part is total bullshit, of course. The federal government currently is picking up 90 percent of the cost of expansion. And state tax revenues are picking up nicely at the moment from last year’s slump.

In addition to the state’s tax collections, Missouri has received billions of dollars in federal aid over the past year, giving Parson’s administration a robust cushion heading into the next fiscal year.

But no money to expand Medicaid, no no no.

Rep. Cody Smith, R-Carthage, who chairs the House budget panel, said he wants to use the Medicaid money to address shortfalls in other state funding.

Along with school transportation and nursing homes, he is proposing to funnel $53 million to mental health care services and $61 million to in-home care of the elderly and disabled.

The plan also includes sending an additional $1 million to the state’s chronically underfunded public defender office.

Those are all programs that need funding, no question. But why do I assume that buckets of the federal windfall is going to evaporate into parts unknown? Or even just sit around in bags somewhere, since we learned this past November that the state was sitting on $1.1 billion in unspent covid aid from the federal government. Likewise, a lot of counties — I’m betting Republican-run counties — were not spending the funds available to them. St. Louis by then was running short.

Meanwhile, Democratic Rep. Peter Merideth said St. Louis, which has been one of the cities hit hardest by the virus, is close to running out of money to keep day cares open and prevent homelessness. He was one of several lawmakers who raised concerns about huge sums of federal coronavirus aid not being spent in Missouri, despite the need.

“I’m just getting really frustrated that it seems like we’re sitting on money for the purpose of making sure our day care providers are getting reimbursed at the rate they had before and that they’re not suffering horribly,” he said during the Monday hearing.

At the time this was going on, the state’s positivity rate was close to 20 percent. But somehow all these Republicans couldn’t think of anything that might be done with the Covid relief money. For all we know Gov. Parsons was using piles of cash as doorstops in the governor’s mansion. See also What Will State GOP Officials Do to Waste the Covid Relief Money?

Liars Gonna Lie

Righties are still processing the move of the MLB All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver. One of the talking points making the rounds is that Colorado’s voting laws are similar to Georgia’s. I take it this is being pushed especially hard by Fox News and Gov. Brian Kemp..

In response, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp addressed the situation, comparing the two states’ procedures, saying he is baffled by the decision.

“Georgia has 17 days of in-person early voting including two optional Sundays, Colorado has 15,” the Republican governor said. “So what I’m being told, they also have a photo ID requirement. So it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.”

Aaron Blake at WaPo takes this claim apart. “When it comes to picking a state that makes voting accessible — and provably so — it’s very difficult to do much better than Colorado,” he writes. Among other differences, most Coloradans vote by mail. ” All registered voters receive absentee ballots automatically, and as many as 99 percent of people who vote use that option,” Blake writes. So a couple fewer days of early voting isn’t that big a deal.

Under the new Georgia law, by contrast:

  • Absentee ballots cannot be requested earlier than 78 days or less than 11 days ahead of a general election or the runoff for that election (instead of 180 days prior).
  • Applications for an absentee ballot cannot be sent to voters unless one is requested.
  • Voters will be required to provide a copy of a Georgia ID, and that could include providing your drivers license number.

Blake says, “Colorado sometimes requires ID to vote by mail, but only when someone casts a mail ballot for the first time, and again the list of acceptable IDs is significantly broader.”  Blake continues,

Colorado has regularly been hailed as a beacon of voting laws. Not only does it routinely rank among the states with the highest turnout — it was nearly 87 percent of registered voters (and 75.5 percent of eligible voters) in 2020 — but it also has one of the safest systems in the country, if not the safest. Turnout depends on a lot of things, including voter interest, but it’s difficult to argue that a state that ranked No. 2 in turnout in 2020, even as many other states expanded their mail-in voting, is somehow comparable to a state with significantly lower turnout that is adding restrictions.

Watch Jen Psaki annialate Peter Doocy.

 

Joe Manchin Is Pissing Me Off

Joe Manchin, in January:

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia called for up to $4 trillion in infrastructure spending over the weekend as Democrats are on the verge of controlling Congress for at least the next two years.

“The most important thing? Do infrastructure. Spend $2, $3, $4 trillion over a 10-year period on infrastructure,” he told Inside West Virginia Politics, a news program. “A lot of people have lost their jobs and those jobs aren’t coming back. They need a place to work.”

Joe Manchin, in February:

Sen. Joe Manchin said Wednesday that he favors a large infrastructure package that would be paid for in part by raising tax revenues — a point of contention between the two parties.

“I’m sure of one thing: It’s going to be enormous,” the West Virginia Democrat, who is seen as a swing vote in a chamber divided 50-50, told reporters at the Capitol.

While he didn’t predict a price tag, Manchin said Congress should do “everything we possibly can” to pay for it. He said there should be “tax adjustments” to former President Donald Trump’s 2017 tax law to boost revenues, including by raising the corporate rate from the current 21 percent to at least 25 percent.

Joe Manchin in March:

Notably, Manchin said the Republican resistance to higher taxes was not a “reasonable” position in an infrastructure negotiation.

“Where do they think it’s going to come from?” he asked. “How are you going to fix America?”

Joe Manchin, today:

Senator Joe Manchin, a moderate West Virginia Democrat, criticized the corporate tax increase plan President Joe Biden has proposed to pay for a $2 trillion infrastructure bill, raising concerns it could risk American competitiveness. …

…In an interview with WV MetroNews Talkline podcast on Monday, Manchin echoed Republican concerns about the tax hike.

To be fair, Manchin says he’s okay with the top corporate rate going from 21 percent to 25 percent, but not 28 percent, even though the rate was 35 percent before 2018 and U.S. companies were doing fine. No one can substantiate that the Trump tax cuts created any jobs or made the U.S. any more competitive.

And as far as competitiveness is concerned, we absolutely must modernize. In so many ways we are falling behind other industrialized nations — in high speed transportation and broadband speed and access, both of which are critical to staying competitive, and our infrastructure generally is going to hell. So Manchin’s claim that the infrastructure bill will make the U.S. less competitive is insane.

Until recently Manchin was saying it would support the infrastructure bill if it got some Republican support. That was his hedge. He could claim to be all in for infrastructure but, so sorry, bipartisanship is just more important. But last week Mitch McConnell declared there would be no Republican votes for the infrastructure bill, period, end of discussion. As Rachel Maddow said, this is great for Democrats. It gives them a green light to go ahead with reconciliation.

So now Manchin has to come up with another excuse. I guess worrying about “competitiveness” was best excuse he could find.

I agree with many that the Biden package announced last week already is too small. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said last week it ought to be $10 trillion over ten years, not $2 trillion over eight years. I’ll take the $2 trillion over nothing, in the hope that if we extend Democratic majorities in the Senate in 2022 we can get another infrastructure bill in 2023.

But, damn, I am just done with Mr. Prima Donna Joe Manchin. Maybe they’ll bring back earmarks and give Joe a bunch of projects with his name on them for West Virginia. That might keep him happy.

Trump Scammed Trump Donors Out of Millions

I have been trying to not post anything about Donald Trump, but this is too awful. Shane Goldmacher reports in the New York Times that the Trump campaign scammed millions of dollars out of his supporters by tricking them into making weekly recurring donations when they had intended only a one-time donation.

The story begins with Mr. Stacy Blatt of Kansas, dying of cancer and on a limited income, who heard the pleas from the Trump campaign for more money and sent a donation of $500, which was everything he could afford. He didn’t realize that the campaign was taking multiple payments of $500 out of his bank account until the checks he was writing for rent and utilities started bouncing. The Trump campaign had withdrawn $3000 from Mr. Blatt’s bank account in less than 30 days.

The story doesn’t say if Mr. Blatt ever got money back before he died in February.

Mr. Blatt wasn’t alone. A lot of other people who had intended to make one-time donations found their bank accounts being drained. It turned out that the campaign, starved for cash and being outspent by Joe Biden, revised its donation website in September so that one had to check a box to opt out of making a recurring donation. And, of course, this information was tucked away in a little corner of the page.

Contributors had to wade through a fine-print disclaimer and manually uncheck a box to opt out.

As the election neared, the Trump team made that disclaimer increasingly opaque, an investigation by The New York Times showed. It introduced a second prechecked box, known internally as a “money bomb,” that doubled a person’s contribution. Eventually its solicitations featured lines of text in bold and capital letters that overwhelmed the opt-out language.

The tactic ensnared scores of unsuspecting Trump loyalists — retirees, military veterans, nurses and even experienced political operatives. Soon, banks and credit card companies were inundated withfraud complaints from the president’s own supporters about donations they had not intended to make, sometimes for thousands of dollars.

Eventually, “the Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee and their shared accounts issued more than 530,000 refunds worth $64.3 million to online donors.”

We don’t know how many of those refunds were to people trying to claw back the unintended donations. Campaigns return donations for a lot of reasons. But in comparison, the equivalent Biden/Democratic campaigns returned 37,000 online refunds totaling $5.6 million for the same time period.

And even though it appears the money was returned, it amounted to an interest-free loan to the campaign in the closing month of the campaign and after, when Trump was raising money to “fight” the supposed “steal.” One assumes that many donors suffered real hardship and anxiety as a result.

Although the Trump campaign got more blatant about scamming donors in September 2020, the actual practice began as early as March 2020, when the Trump campaign website donation page featured a small yellow box with a pre-filled check box next to the words “Make this a monthly recurring donation.” At least at that point, it appears, most donors noticed the checked box and unchecked it. The article says that this practice is not uncommon on campaign donation websites.

Graphics in the Times article show that donations to Trump lagged behind Joe Biden’s until mid July, when the Trump campaign and RNC added a second pre-filled check box to donation pages. Then the donor determined to make a one-time donation had to find and uncheck both of them. And then in September the monthly donations became weekly. Soon there were more pre-checked yellow boxes on the cite authorizing additional payments. The pages were designed to be deliberately confusing and the text hard to read.

Also– the company being used to facilitate donations, WinRed, is a for profit company that keeps a piece of each donation. WinRed did not refund the fees it collected.

Also– the weekly donations soon caused a lot of people to donate far more than the $2800 legal limit for an individual. One donor was eventually refunded $87,716.50.

After the November election, Republican Senate candidates David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler also began to use prechecked boxes authorizing weekly payments on their campaign websites to raise money for their runoff campaigns.

And the best part is, some people contacted by the Times who were scammed declared they are still “100 percent loyal” to Donald Trump. They think WinRed scammed them, not Trump.

But of course.So much of contempary conservatism is nothing but a grift, anyway. See Rick Perlstein’s classic essay The Long Con from 2012. See also from the Mahablog archives Live by the Grift; Die by the Grift from 2013 and Putting the Con in Conservative from  2015

And see also Jonathan Chait, Trump’s Campaign Bilked His Fans Out of Millions Because Of Course It Did. 

The New GOP War on Business Owners

It’s likely nobody understands the dark heart of the Republican Party better than David Frum, who used to be a member in good standing. He has a new piece at The Atlantic called The Strange New Doctrine of the Republican Party. In brief, Frum says that the Republican Party has abandoned what was once a bedrock principle — the rights of private property owners to their own property. Now Republicans are all about protecting “folkways,” defined by sociologists as “the traditional behavior or way of life of a particular community or group of people.” If private property rights get in the way of “folkways,” then private property rights have to go.

Consider, for example, the “right” to take a firearm onto someone else’s private property. I would think the conservative position would be that property owners, including business owners, can bar firearms from their property if they want to, just as they might choose to ban alcohol or pets. But this is not the position of today’s GOP.

For example, about ten years ago, Republicans decided that business owners could not stop employees from keeping guns in their cars parked in the employee parking lot. First Oklahoma, then several other states, revised their firearm codes to stipulate that a private property owner could not forbid people from keeping firearms in their locked cars parked on the owner’s property. In some cases the guns may be removed from a car to be placed in another car — arms dealing? — and the parking lot owner may not interfere.

But of course, the gun people aren’t stopping with keeping guns in their locked cars in a parking lot. The new “folkway” is unimpeded open carry. According to the Giffords Center, some states have imposed “draconian requirements on private businesses” that wish to stop the open carry of deadly weapons on their property. For more details, I found a 2017 paper from the University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform on this subject. “From state to state, the laws governing how business owners exercise their right to ban guns are not only diverse, but they are also often unclear, ineffective, and sometimes simply unconstitutional. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, for a business owner to enforce his property rights safely,” it says. For example, in Kansas it’s not enough to post signs saying no open is carry allowed; a business owner or employee must physically approach open carriers and request that they leave.

“Altogether,” Frum writes, “in almost half the states in the country, gun rights now trump property rights to a greater or lesser degree.”

This favoring of “folkways” has been robustly on display during the pandemic and the fight over enforceable mask mandates. Now Republicans have zeroed in on vaccine passports. New York, for example, has developed a smartphone app that allows people to download their vaccination status. The app then displays a QR code that can be scanned at participating venues. A theater, restaurant, or other business owner might choose to limit or sequester seating for unvaccinated people but let people with the right QR code to sit wherever they want.

How well this works I do not know. Whatever happens, don’t lose your vaccination card. You may need it.

But no, Republicans say, we cannot allow business owners to make those decisions about their own businesses. I take it businesses may not discriminate against unvaccinated people, just gay people trying to order wedding cakes.

Florida governor Ron DeSantis has vowed there will be no vaccine passports in Florida. So far, he has not declared he will stop the Miami Heat NBA franchise from opening sections of its American Airlines Arena to fully vaccinated people only, as the Heat intends to do, But he’s going to raise a stink about it. Frum writes that in this case the point is not to win the fight, just to make a big show of fighting. DeSantis “must reckon with a party in which anti-vaccination has joined pro-gun as an indispensable cultural marker—and as a potential veto bloc for anyone aspiring to a future Republican presidential nomination,” Frum says.

Frum concludes:

To appease those cultural blocs, Republican politicians must be willing to sacrifice everything, including what used to be the party’s foundational principles. To protect the gun, or to avoid contradicting the delusions of anti-vaccine paranoiacs, property rights must give way, freedom to operate a business must yield. The QAnon-curious Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene expressed the new mentality when she took to Facebook to denounce vaccine passports as “corporate communism.” It sounded crazy. But if you understand that she interprets communism to mean “any interference in the right of people like me to do whatever we want, regardless of the rights of others”—then, yeah, the property rights of corporations will indeed look to her like a force of communism.

A sizable minority of Americans want to use airplanes belonging to others, theme parks belonging to others, sports stadiums belonging to others—without concession to the health of others or the property rights of owners. With guns, with COVID-19, with tech, the new post-Trump message from the post-Trump GOP is: Private property is socialism; state expropriation is freedom. It’s a strange doctrine for a party supposedly committed to liberty and the Constitution, but here we are.

Private property is socialism; state expropriation is freedom.  Seriously, that’s the new Republican doctrine.

Today there is a new twist. You might have heard that yesterday the CEO of Delta Air Lines, headquartered in Atlanta, issued a statement critical of Georgia’s new voter suppression law.

Last might, in retaliation, the Georgia House voted to repeal a tax break for Delta on jet fuel. The Senate adjourned at the end of a legislative session without taking up the measure, but some Georgia Republicans are dropping hints the punishment for Delta isn’t over.

Greg Sargent:

The move fizzled in the Georgia Senate. But note this extraordinary quote from the GOP House leader, also courtesy of the AJC:
“They like our public policy when we’re doing things that benefit them,” said House Speaker David Ralston, adding: “You don’t feed a dog that bites your hand. You got to keep that in mind sometimes.”
That could not be clearer: If you bite us, we will stop feeding you. Translation: Republicans tried to rescind the tax break as direct retaliation for criticism of the law.

One suspects they will not drive Delta out of Atlanta, And it’s also the case that Delta was no doubt prodded into action by criticism from the Left.

Rather, what’s at issue is the conduct of GOP leaders. These ostensible public servants, who are supposed to make decisions like this in the public interest (a quaint notion), expressly employed their legislative power to punish a private company for criticizing their efforts to restrict the franchise and for defending the rights of fellow Georgia citizens.

Underscoring the point, the Georgia House GOP leader went before reporters and conspicuously declared he’d cracked open a can of Pepsi. This looked like retaliation against Coca Cola, which is also headquartered in Georgia, and also released a statement condemning the new law.

For all the right-wing sneering about corporate “wokeness” today, there actually is a long history of corporations taking a lead in promoting racial equality — and opening new markets for their products. Ironically, Pepsi is one of those corporations.

This is not to say that big corporations are likely to abandon the GOP anytime soon, especially with the Democrats planning to raise corporate taxes and end the subsidies of fossil fuel. But so far, Paul Waldman writes, GOP opposition to these proposals has been pretty lame. The big shots of business may decide their money might be better spent elsewhere than donate to a party that only works for militant gun owners and anti-vaxxers.