Juan Cole on Donald Trump

February 24, 2016

I think Juan Cole takes the measure of Donald Trump’s supporters and recommend his latest post. Beyond all the ridicule properly aimed at Trump, Cole focuses on the cause for concern stemming from Trump’s supporters.

 

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Supreme Court Vacancies and the Sheriff of Nottingham

February 23, 2016

Justice Scalia’s death creates a vacancy on the Supreme Court. The next president may have more to fill. Deciding cases as if it were the Sheriff of Nottingham, The Roberts Court is having a major impact on the economy. How those vacancies are filled will make a big difference to all of us.

Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham come down to us from a medieval fairy tale and retellings in print and on film. Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and his colleagues explain the role of Sheriff of Nottingham type figures in our contemporary world. As fewer people have real power, those who run the government must shovel favors to them. Given how wealthy they already are, they won’t appreciate any but very large rewards. But what government does for the public leaves less for these powerful patrons. So rulers employ modern Sheriffs of Nottingham. It’s what Bueno de Mesquita’s group calls the dictator’s game: by starving the public, dictators have more for powerful supporters – and the more they demand.

Kevin Phillips detailed the enormous benefits that corporations seek and government directs toward corporations and their leaders. Spending on politics has huge returns, driving the fruits of government to the favored few, and dismantling government wherever business prefers to operate in the dark.

Many of us have been fighting against special favors for corporations that exploit workers, the environment and the general public. But it gets worse. As the story of Robin Hood implies, holders of great wealth and power fear the people will take their ill-gotten gains from them. To prevent it  they block opponents from voting, minimize their votes by gerrymandering, and pour large funds into preserving their power while starving the population of public services.

The Supreme Court has been helping. Despite enormous gains by the wealthiest in America, and the declining share of the general public, this Court consistently moves economic benefits from the public to business, from the victims to the predators. The Court reversed the meaning of a 1925 arbitration statute to derail a plethora of state consumer protections and made it almost impossible to sue. Instead, the Court allows corporate defendants to choose who will decide the dispute, and at what cost. The Court undercut both state and federal standards of liability for injury to consumers, securities fraud and the damages available if plaintiffs win. And the Court is waging a battle to strip the unions of power to protect workers.

At the same time, the Court unleashed the full power of corporate treasuries on politics. Those corporate treasuries had barred from politics since early in the twentieth century. And the Court allowed states to make it harder to register to vote by increasing the cost and time to register – making it harder for working class, poor or physically challenged Americans to vote. The Court allows gerrymandering to reshape American politics, and has supported other efforts to entrench political incumbents. The Court topped all that by removing the requirement that covered states pre-clear voting changes, the one weapon of the Voting Rights Act that had worked.

Historians and political scientists tell us that pattern of disparities often leads to the breakdown of democracy, the loss of self-government. Sometimes it leads to violence, like the Black Shirts, Brown Shirts, Death Squads, and the security services of people like Putin. Sometmes the plutocrats simply invite a dictator to take control. Great disparities are dangerous. Instead of moderating these outrages in the name of American tradition, the Court has been making the problems worse, increasing disparities and letting them take over American politics. This Court is a danger to American self-government.

That’s where the 2016 elections matter. Whatever policies candidates claim to support, their judicial picks will have a big impact on what really happens to ordinary Americans and the future of self-government in America.

— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, February 23, 2016. An expanded essay can be found here.

 

 


Scalia’s Legacy

February 14, 2016

As my dear friend Vincent Bonventre has written, “All good Americans are saddened by the news that Justice Antonin Scalia has died.” But this is also a moment to consider his role on the Court.

For me, the principal fact is the disclaimer by Justices Thomas and Scalia that democracy has anything to do with the work of the Court. He was consistent. Stopping the counting of votes and overruling democracy in Bush v. Gore, repeatedly deciding that gerrymandering could not be determined by the courts, voting to limit access to the ballot, and overriding legislation designed to protect the equal right to vote where it had been most flagrantly denied. And of course Scalia joined the majority in the infamous Citizens United decision.

These are all part of the Court’s Republican tilt in recent years. This has not been a Court for all Americans, enforcing fair and neutral ground rules for everyone, but specifically a court with its foot on the scale making sure that the Republicans win, the Republicans control the Congress, and Republicans place an imprint on the law.

In the coming term, there are cases awaiting decision that will decide whether an independent, non-partisan commission can be charged with redistricting, what counts as gerrymandering and what is barred as retrogression in minority rights under the Voting Rights Act, among others. The Court in similar cases has been governed by a 5-4 conservative majority. In the present term, it is unlikely to be able to decide many of them, leaving lower court decisions intact, but not setting precedent for future cases. In effect, whatever the lower court decisions, the questions will remain open for the Supreme Court to decide in the future when it is back to full strength or otherwise has a majority that can reach a decision.

There are other areas of law to consider. Justice Scalia has been a consistent member of a pro-business majority that has emasculated consumer protections in state law as I have described in my new book. He also wrote the decision that emboldened gun-rights radicals to intimidate federal officials, fought against rights for gays and lesbians, and helped block even the mildest of efforts to integrate public schools.

Political scientists tell us that those are all areas which have a great deal to do with the stability of democratic regimes, a subject on which I will write most in a future post.

Scalia’s sincere emphasis on textualism sometimes led him to support “liberal” outcomes as George Kannar long since demonstrated. But most of his decisions tracked conservative views far more than textualism or originalism would have supported.

So Scalia’s absence will make a big difference on the Court. The long run implications, of course, are up to the President and the Senate. No need to repeat all the scenarios here. But whether the Court can be turned before doing more damage matters a great deal to the future of the republic. Stay tuned and, of course, plan on voting for president and senators.


For Valentines Day 2016

February 9, 2016

It’s the time of year to think about love. I used to think that if you hadn’t heard Cho Cho San sing in Madame Butterfly about that fine day when Lieutenant Pinkerton would return to her, one had never heard a love song. Musically, I still think so. But what it really communicates is longing. Is that love?

Much of what we hear as popular music, or art songs or operatic love songs are songs of longing, loss or jealousy. Where’s the love?

Contrast that with Billy Bigelow’s soliloquy in Carousel where he starts thinking of the child he and Julie are expecting. First he thinks about the things he’ll do with “my boy Bill” until he realizes that the son he is dreaming about could be a she, and then realizes the ways that he will have to provide for her. Of course he is sexist in the ways that he thinks about his son or daughter, but he is also realizing and warming to the responsibilities of a loving husband and parent. Billy comes to understand that love is about the ways he can make his family’s lives better, not merely about his own pleasure.

Billy makes a big mistake and pays with his life. But the soliloquy that Rogers and Hammerstein wrote for him says a great deal about what love is about, the ways it transcends longing and jealousy, the joys of giving, the humanity of caring. I think that says a lot about the love that many of us experience. We seek the responsibility, the opportunity as well as pleasures of truly caring about others.

For me, that includes the satisfaction of taking seriously the needs of other Americans, of all origins, faiths and colors, and openness and respect toward visitors and immigrants. Respect and concern for others is part of asking the same for oneself. Ours is a very diverse country and it will be moreso in coming years. We can teach new generations of Americans that success is just a process of stomping on others to gain advantage or we can communicate the values of mutual concern and respect – toward others, and toward ourselves. Ultimately, peace depends on how well we treat each other, and how confident others are that they can live in peace and harmony with us.

The modern world has upended some ancient accommodations among peoples. Jews lived at peace in the Muslim world for a millenium and lived precariously in the Christian world for much of the same period. Colonialism played a part in changing that for the Muslim world. The racism and classism of colonialism stirred the Muslim soul and some of that has come out as anger. That illustrates the importance, as well as the morality, of the Golden Rule, treating others as we would want to be treated. For me it also points to the satisfaction of truly caring about others.

May I end with the words of the ancient Rabbi Hillel:

If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
But if I am only for myself, who am I?
If not now, when?

— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, February 9, 2016.

 


Milestones Update, February 8, 2016:

February 8, 2016

Unfit for Democracy is now available in book stores, online and on Kindle.

NEW:

Rescheduled for Friday, February 12, 2016, interview by Susan Arbetter for broadcast at a later date on WCNY’s Capitol Bureau

Added: Thursday, February 25, 2016, at 3:30, talk at the University at Albany, location to be announced

FULL SCHEDULE OF UP-COMING EVENTS:

Thursday, February 11, 2016, at 1 p.m. on WAMC, broadcast on “In Conversation with …” of the interview by Alan Chartock, CEO of WAMC, before a live audience at Albany Law School, on Jan. 26, 2016

Rescheduled for Friday, February 12, 2016, interview by Susan Arbetter for broadcast at a later date on WCNY’s Capitol Bureau

Thursday, February 25, 2016, at 3:30, talk at the University at Albany, location to be announced

Friday and Saturday, March 4-5, 2016 at “The Schmooze,” a meeting at the University of Maryland School of Law, on Constitutionalism and Democracy

Wed., March 23, 2016, at 1:30 p.m. at the Humanities Institute for Lifelong Learning, at the Delmar Reformed Church, 386 Delaware Avenue, Delmar, N.Y. This is listed as members only but may open up later.

March 24, 2016 at 7 p.m., book party at the Book House at Stuyvesant Plaza, open to the public

March 29, 2016, address at the Annual Meeting of the Westchester Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union

Tuesday, May 17, at noon, Book Talk, Albany Public Library, open to the public

Tuesday and Wednesday, May 24-25, 2016, at the Demos Convening at the University of Pennsylvania

AUDIO AVAILABLE:

Joe Donahue’s interview of me on the WAMC Roundtable, Jan. 25, 2016 at 11:10 a.m., is currently available as a podcast.

PLEASE get in touch with me if you are interested in arranging an event.

All good wishes,

Steve

 


Milestones update

February 3, 2016

Unfit for Democracy is now available in book stores, online and on Kindle.

COMING UP:

Tuesday, February 9, 2016 interview by Susan Arbetter for broadcast at a later date on WCNY’s Capitol Bureau

Thursday, February 11, 2016, at 1 p.m. on WAMC, broadcast on “In Conversation with …” of the interview by Alan Chartock, CEO of WAMC, before a live audience at Albany Law School, on Jan. 26, 2016

Friday and Saturday, March 4-5, 2016 at “The Schmooze,” a meeting at the University of Maryland School of Law, on Constitutionalism and Democracy

Wed., March 23, 2016, at 1:30 p.m. at the Humanities Institute for Lifelong Learning, at the Delmar Reformed Church, 386 Delaware Avenue, Delmar, N.Y. This is listed as members only but may open up later.

March 24, 2016 at 7 p.m., book party at the Book House at Stuyvesant Plaza, open to the public

March 29, 2016, address at the Annual Meeting of the Westchester Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union

Tuesday, May 17, at noon, Book Talk, Albany Public Library, open to the public

Tuesday and Wednesday, May 24-25, 2016, at the Demos Convening at the University of Pennsylvania

AUDIO AVAILABLE:

Joe Donahue’s interview of me on the WAMC Roundtable, Jan. 25, 2016 at 11:10 a.m., is currently available as a podcast.

 

PLEASE get in touch with me if you are interested in arranging an event.

 

All good wishes,

 

Steve


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