People Who Need to Retire: Antonin Scalia

I had heard that Scalia wants to strike down the Voting Rights Act, but I didn’t know how off the wall he had gotten until I read Dana Milbank this morning

The acerbic Scalia, the court’s longest-serving justice, got his latest comeuppance Wednesday morning, as he tried to make the absurd argument that Congress’s renewal of the Voting Rights Act in 2006 by votes of 98 to 0 in the Senate and 390 to 33 in the House did not mean that Congress actually supported the act. Scalia, assuming powers of clairvoyance, argued that the lawmakers were secretly afraid to vote against this “perpetuation of racial entitlement.”

Kagan wasn’t about to let him get away with that. In a breach of decorum, she interrupted his questioning of counsel to argue with him directly. “Well, that sounds like a good argument to me, Justice Scalia,” she said. “It was clear to 98 senators, including every senator from a covered state, who decided that there was a continuing need for this piece of legislation.”

Scalia replied to Kagan, “Or decided that perhaps they’d better not vote against it, that there’s nothing, that there’s no — none of their interests in voting against it.”

You may need to read that two or three times to get the full impact of what Scalia is saying here. Joan Walsh quotes him some more:

I don’t think there is anything to be gained by any Senator to vote against continuation of this act. And I am fairly confident it will be reenacted in perpetuity unless — unless a court can say it does not comport with the Constitution …They are going to lose votes if they do not reenact the Voting Rights Act. Even the name of it is wonderful: The Voting Rights Act. Who is going to vote against that in the future?

In other words, he seems to think he would be doing Congress a favor by striking down the Voting Rights Act, because then they wouldn’t have to keep voting for this law they secretly don’t like but lack the courage to say so.

Scalia has said several things lately that are not just right-wing but even lack internal cohesion. Unfortunately, I don’t think the Constitution provides for forcing justices to retire because of dementia.

People Who Need to Retire: Bob Woodward

Bob Woodward: A Book Too Far. Bob Woodward, one-time investigative reporter turned stenographer to Beltway insiders, has been pushing a certifiably bogus story about how the sequester happened. Now Mr. Beltway is claiming the White House “threatened” him, when it sounds more like a suggestion that Woodward is just embarrassing himself by being such an obvious tool.

Further, Woodward seems to think that Presidents can seize dictatorial power and ignore the laws of Congress whenever they are in the mood. Obviously, he spent way too much time hanging around the Bushies. The amusing thing about this is that you can find no end of rightie “We Worship the Constitution” bloggers who agree with Woodward.

Because Obama Derangement Syndrome is about freedom.


Henry Blodget, Business Insider: Oh, Please, The White House Didn’t ‘Threaten’ Bob Woodward

Dave Weigel, Slate: How to “Fact Check” Without Any Troublesome Fact-Checking

Dave Weigel, Slate: Bob Woodward Asks Why Obama Won’t Become a Dictator and Ignore Budget Control Act

Alex Pareene, Salon: Bob Woodward demands law-ignoring, mind-controlling presidential leadership

Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic: Bob Woodward Has Now Picked the Most and Least Important Fights with a POTUS

Bob Woodward is now the John McCain of journalism.

Guns in the News

Joe Nocera has a new Gun Report up, and it begins this way —

Every day, when Jennifer Mascia and I compile this report, we are stunned at the number of children who are accidentally shot — and often killed — because a gun-owning adult in their household has put a loaded gun someplace where they can get their hands on it and shoot it. We have three such examples in today’s report, one of which resulted in the death of a 4-year-old in Houston. Other nations mandate that gun owners keep their firearms in safes bolted to the floor. Why don’t we?

And the answer is that Gun Absolutists fight such restrictions tooth and nail. I have had this conversation in online forums, many times — I’ll begin by saying that anyone who keeps a loaded gun where a child could reach it is a fool. This will be followed by X number of Gun Absolutists saying that if they followed recommended protocol — unloaded gun and ammunition separated and both locked up — then they won’t have access to their guns fast enough when Bad People break through the door to kill them. And they have a right to protect their families.

They also assure me that their kids have been/will be taught not to mess with Daddy’s firearms, so there’s no problem. This tells me the writer either has no children, or else his wife is doing all the child-raising. Either way, he seems to have no real-world experience raising children, because even the “best” child will do things they know they are not supposed to do. And very small children (like a four-year-old) are often not mentally organized enough to grasp (or long remember) what they are being told.

The father of the four-year-old was arrested, btw, but not because his carelessness caused the death of his child. He was arrested for possessing a stolen gun.

Elsewhere, men standing in line outside a gun shop in Lubbock, Texas, got into a disagreement as to who was where, and one of them pulled a gun and threatened to shoot. The men were in line to buy ammunition, waiting for the store to open.

Shiplord Kirel comments:

These lines form outside every large ammo retailer when word spreads that the store has received a new shipment. The panic-crazed mob then cleans out the newly arrived inventory in a matter of minutes. My brother says he has seen the same thing in Colorado Springs and guns have been drawn there, too.

They’re going to obtain the means to defend themselves or die trying, I guess.

Also, there are updates on the status of George Zimmerman; see Mark Follman at Mother Jones and Judd Legum at Think Progress.

Punditry As Religion

I stopped watching the Sunday morning talking head shows a long time ago, mostly because they made me want to throw things at the teevee. And I don’t want to hurt the teevee.

But, except for guest appearances by Paul Krugman, I take it the establishment pundit shows have, if anything, grown more insipidly stupid over the years. Watching them may destroy brain cells. See Alex Pareene, “Watching the Sunday Shows So You Don’t Have To,” and Jason Linkins, “TV Soundoff: Sunday Talking Heads.” You can find more intelligence on the Puppy Bowl.

Speaking of insipidly stupid, last week David Brooks got roundly called out by several leftie-leaning media people for writing that President Obama has no plan to avoid the sequester. Jonathan Chait, Ezra Klein, and others let Brooks know this was unvarnished bullshit.

But, as Chait also points out, Brooks isn’t the only one saying that Obama doesn’t have a plan and that it’s his fault if Republicans won’t compromise. It seems to be the consensus of the Washington pundit class.

This is all by way of introducing what Steve M wrote about Brooks and his peers:

I didn’t join the pile-on because Brooks wasn’t engaging in journalism. He wasn’t even engaged in fact-based punditry. What Brooks was writing was theology.

Brooks was writing a commentary rooted in the Beltway’s political religion. In a religious faith, stories are told that are frameworks for belief, even if they’re not believed literally. Thus, when I was a Catholic, I was told that the Bible is the revealed word of God — and yet my faith also accepted the theory of evolution, which tells an origin story for life on Earth that contradicts the one in the Bible. The Church was saying, in effect, that the Genesis narrative of creation is theologically true, even if it’s not literally true.

You could say the same thing about the Brooks narrative. It doesn’t matter whether President Obama has acted in good faith, despite Republican intransigence, to deal with issues of taxes, spending, debts, and deficits in a responsible way — there are two strains of the Beltway faith, one of which tells us that, on economic issues, Democrats are always wrong and Republicans are always right, the other of which (the one of which Brooks claims to be an adherent) tells us that both parties are to blame, but it’s the responsibility of Democrats to move the discussion to a point midway between where the two parties are, which is, by definition, the responsible center. Republicans, according to this faith tradition, will inevitably meet Democrats halfway — though if they don’t, that’s also the Democrats’ fault.

See also Mark Twain, “My First Lie and How I Got Out of It.” “Obama has no plan” seems to be a variation of the “silent assertion lie,” which are “gigantic mute lies in the interest of tyrannies and shams.” It’s a lie that becomes an unquestioned orthodoxy because the truth is too terrible to contemplate.

Defending “Lincoln”

Oscar weekend gives me an excuse to go back and comment on Stephen Spielberg’s film Lincoln, which I thoroughly enjoyed but which is being roundly trashed by liberals throughout social media. The complaint is that it shows a distorted picture of the ending of slavery by depicting Lincoln as a “white savior” while leaving out the role played by African Americans in ending slavery.

And I say this is not a valid criticism. Let me explain why. But let me start by explaining why historical films usually annoy me.

As a history buff I often am frustrated by historical films, because the stories they tell are never as fascinating as What Really Happened. But to fit some sweeping historical narrative into a standard feature film running time, important details and significant characters are cut, and then plot twists that didn’t happen must be added to make the story “work.” As a writer I appreciate why the script writers have to do this, but I still don’t like it.

Spielberg’s Lincoln doesn’t try to tell a big, sweeping story, but instead focuses tightly on events that took place in the last days of Lincoln’s life, as his attention was focused on getting the 13th Amendment through Congress before the Confederacy collapsed and the Civil War ended. This focus enabled Spielberg to create a detailed and intimate portrait of Lincoln, not as a plaster icon but as a man who made under-the-table deals, told bawdy stories, and argued with his wife. Daniel-Day Lewis embodied this role nicely. Even the high-pitched voice was true to how contemporaries described Lincoln’s voice. I don’t believe the accent was quite right, but that’s a minor quibble.

Many people, many liberals, are slamming Lincoln for telling a distorted story of how slavery ended. Pay attention:

This is not a film about how slavery ended. I repeat, this is not a film about how slavery ended. It is a film about the last days of Abraham Lincoln. Attention is focused on the 13th Amendment because that is, in fact what Lincoln was most focused on in the last days of his life. Attention is focused on the machinations to pass the amendment in the House because it was what was happening in the last days of Lincoln’s life, and this also provided the most dramatic tension in the film. It also provides a lot of relevance to our current political, um, situation.

In one especially annoying criticism, a historian named Jon Weiner wrote,

The end of slavery did not come because Lincoln and the House of Representatives voted for the Thirteenth Amendment.

The best work I know about the end of slavery is Eric Foner’s unforgettable book The Fiery Trial: Lincoln and American Slavery, published in 2010, which won the Pulitzer Prize, the Bancroft Prize and the Lincoln Prize. Foner and many other historians over the last couple of decades have emphasized the central role played by the slaves themselves, who are virtually invisible in this movie. During the three weeks that the movie deals with, Sherman’s army was marching through South Carolina, where slaves were seizing plantations. They were dividing up land among themselves. They were seizing their freedom. Slavery was dying on the ground, not just in the House of Representatives. You get no sense of that in the movie.

If this were a film about how slavery ended, that might be a legitimate criticism. But it isn’t a film about how slavery ended, so it isn’t.

And I say “might,” because what the former enslaved persons were doing in South Carolina didn’t end slavery, either. Not by itself. After the war, after Reconstruction sputtered to a halt, the old plantation class got their land and power back, and the former enslaved persons became their sharecroppers. Were it not for the 13th Amendment, no doubt the former enslaved persons of South Carolina would have been returned to slavery eventually, at least for a while. That’s the truth of it.

If you wanted to make a film about how slavery ended, you’d have to go back several decades, at least to Nat Turner’s rebellion in 1831, if not earlier. And you’d have to talk about Dred Scott, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, and a host of people who did a great many significant things over a period of more than 40 years. I imagine this film as something like John Ford’s How the West Was Won, except with black actors. They could get Halle Berry for the Debbie Reynolds role.

Speaking of Frederick Douglass, I’ve seen people gripe because Frederick Douglass wasn’t in the film. That may be because he wasn’t anywhere around Lincoln in the last days of Lincoln’s life, and to write him in as a token seems to me to be gratuitous. And Douglass might object, anyway, since he had supported another candidate in the 1864 elections and had expressed disappointment when Lincoln won a second term. People, did you expect Douglass to be the Magic Negro and mysteriously appear to give Lincoln wise counsel, or what? Talk about cliches …

People who are slamming Spielberg for not including more African-American roles don’t appreciate that wherever Spielberg did go over the limits of What Actually Happened, he did it to include more African-American roles. At the beginning, the President of the United States was chatting casually with two African-American soldiers, one of whom was complaining about not getting equal pay. Very unlikely that could have happened, ever, in 1865. Mary Lincoln’s (Sally Field) African-American seamstress and confidant Elizabeth Keckley (Gloria Reuben) was written into as many scenes as Spielberg could squeeze her into, including a scene in which Mary Lincoln and Elizabeth Keckley were in the House gallery, which didn’t happen. At the end of the film, Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones, who really does deserve an Oscar) is in bed with his mulatto housekeeper and alleged love of his life, Lydia Hamilton Smith (S. Epatha Merkerson). I’ve long believed that relationship was a settled historical fact, but now I’m reading there’s no concrete proof of it. So there’s another fudge.

People complain that it’s mostly a film showing white people doing stuff, but the fact is that in 1865 pretty much only white people were allowed to do stuff. Again, that’s the truth of it. This is a bit like the complaints that none of the soldiers storming Normandy Beach in Saving Private Ryan were African American. But the army was segregated then, so that’s pretty much how it was.

I saw one gripe that the film didn’t include anything about suffrage. That’s because the President who supported the 15th Amendment and got it into the Constitution was Ulysses S. Grant, not Abraham Lincoln. We don’t know for sure if Lincoln would have supported the 15th Amendment, had he lived.

Instead of making some big, sweeping, fuzzy, not-really-what-happened film to tell a story about the ending of slavery, Spielberg was giving us an intimate glimpse into the last days of Lincoln’s life. And of course, this can never be perfect, because we’re always going to project our own ideas onto the fading story of What Really Happened.

But except where he was fudging a bit to fill in historical blanks or get more African-American actors into the film, Spielberg was true to small details in ways that are almost unheard of in a historical film. So instead of being constantly jarred by characters and plot twists that didn’t match what I know to have Actually Happened, I found myself recognizing little details that made the story very real. We even get a quick glimpse of the Native American (Seneca, to be precise) officer on General Grant’s staff at Appomattox. Did you notice that? Yes, that is What Actually Happened. I wanted to cheer.

Stuff to Read

It’s a long article, and I haven’t finished it yet, but do read “Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us” by Stephen Brill in Time. In short, the reason medical stuff costs so much is that a large part of the Health Care Industry is getting away with outrageously high profit margins and is bleeding the economy dry.

Recchi’s bill and six others examined line by line for this article offer a closeup window into what happens when powerless buyers — whether they are people like Recchi or big health-insurance companies — meet sellers in what is the ultimate seller’s market.

The result is a uniquely American gold rush for those who provide everything from wonder drugs to canes to high-tech implants to CT scans to hospital bill-coding and collection services. In hundreds of small and midsize cities across the country — from Stamford, Conn., to Marlton, N.J., to Oklahoma City — the American health care market has transformed tax-exempt “nonprofit” hospitals into the towns’ most profitable businesses and largest employers, often presided over by the regions’ most richly compensated executives. And in our largest cities, the system offers lavish paychecks even to midlevel hospital managers, like the 14 administrators at New York City’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center who are paid over $500,000 a year, including six who make over $1 million.

Of course, the answer to this problem is to let the Holy Free Market (blessed be It) reign unfettered. (/snark)

Elsewhere — lawmakers in several states want to make gun owners buy liability insurance. And “Governors Fall Away in G.O.P. Opposition to More Medicaid.”

Read more:

A Nod Toward Reality

Today heads are exploding in Rightieland, because Florida Governor Rick Scott has reversed course and decided to go along with the “Obamacare” Medicaid expansion.

You might remember that last summer’s SCOTUS decision declared that states could not be forced to expand Medicaid, as called for in the Affordable Care Act. The baggers immediately seized on this as a means to foil Obamacare and prevent it from succeeding. You can keep tabs on which states are in and which states are out on this website.

Scott was all lined up to nix Medicaid expansion, but he has changed his mind and will expand. Erick Erickson’s heart is broken..

Do read “What’s It Like to Wake Up From a Tea Party Binge? Just Ask Florida!” by Stephanie Mencimer at Mother Jones. It’s quite an eye-opener, and a jaw-dropper. It was written before Scott’s flipflop. But it includes this bit:

If Florida rejects the Medicaid expansion, state hospitals stand to lose about $654 million a year in federal payments for care to the uninsured—payments that were reduced in Obamacare on the assumption that hospitals would gain revenue by caring for the newly insured.

One wonders if Scott’s former cronies in the hospital biz leaned on him to change his mind.

Also read Jonathan Chait’s comments on Scott’s change of heart. I started to excerpt part of it, but it’s all good. So just go there.

Stifling Republican Government Because Freedom

Let us consider what is wrong here

Yesterday, Missouri state Rep. Mike Leara (R) proposed legislation making it a felony for lawmakers to so much as propose many bills regulating guns. Leara’s bill provides that “[a]ny member of the general assembly who proposes a piece of legislation that further restricts the right of an individual to bear arms, as set forth under the second amendment of the Constitution of the United States, shall be guilty of a class D felony.”

“Republican government” in the title refers to republic, “A political order in which the supreme power lies in a body of citizens who are entitled to vote for officers and representatives responsible to them,” says the dictionary. Apparently Rep. Leara thinks this republicanism thing is a threat to freedom, and he’s going to nip it in the bud.

The biggest problem with the bill, however, is that it almost certainly violates the Missouri Constitution, which provides that “[s]enators and representatives . . . shall not be questioned for any speech or debate in either house in any other place.” Although there are very few court decisions interpreting this clause in the Missouri Constitution, the United States Constitution contains a parallel clause guaranteeing that federal lawmakers shall not be called to account for “any Speech or Debate in either House” of Congress, and courts commonly interpret parallel provisions of state and the U.S. Constitution to have similar meanings.

In other words the Constitution protects the freedom of legislatures to propose any damnfool thing they want, because the guys who wrote the Constitution trusted the process of republican government. That is, they trusted the wisdom of voters and the constitutional process by which laws are proposed, debated, passed (or not) and possibly challenged in court if the law is unconstitutional. Leara reveals he isn’t having any of that, and wants to restrict the process to secure the outcome he desires.

Freedom, Mr. Leara? Yep, that’s what he says

Leara’s bill comes amidst a flurry of red state legislation aimed at nullifying any new firearms regulations coming out of Washington in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school massacre. (The White House and other supporters of new gun control have said over and over their proposals do not violate the Constitutional right to bear arms.)

Unlike some of the sponsors of those bills, Leara said he doesn’t expect his bill to pass. He filed the bill criminalizing certain bill language to make a point about freedom, he said.

“I filed HB 633 as a matter of principle and as a statement in defense of the Second Amendment rights of all Missourians,” he said in a statement sent to TPM Tuesday. “I have no illusions about the bill making it through the legislative process, but I want it to be clear that the Missouri House will stand in defense of the people’s Constitutional right to keep and bear arms.”

Are we being nibbled to death by Stupid, or what?