Sunday, June 30, 2013

People For The American Way Makes The Case For Defeating Conservatives


Yesterday we tried our hand at explaining how the Supreme Court's narrowly partisan decision to void the Voting Rights Act is a catastrophe that is not ameliorated by the nice pat on the head they have the LGBT community the following day. Few organizations have fought harder and as effectively as People For the American Way when it comes to LGBT equality. This week, the organization's president, Michael Keegan, warned about the consequences of the Voting Rights Act decision, warning that we MUST remember what they did in 2016.
It's been a week of mixed emotions for those of us who care about civil rights. There was the elation today when the Supreme Court overturned the so-called Defense of Marriage Act-- the discriminatory law that has hurt so many Americans in its nearly 17 years of existence-- and let marriage equality return to California. There was the anger when the Court twisted the law to make it harder for workers and consumers to take on big corporations. And there was the disbelief and outrage when the Court declared that a key part of the Voting Rights Act that was so important and had worked so well was now somehow no longer constitutional.

But throughout the week, I have been reminded of one thing: how grateful I am that Mitt Romney will not be picking the next Supreme Court justice.

It remains true that this Supreme Court is one of the most right-leaning in American history. The majority's head-in-the-sand decision on the Voting Rights Act-- declaring that the VRA isn't needed anymore because it's working so well-- was a stark reminder of why we need to elect presidents who will nominate Supreme Court justices who understand both the text and history of the Constitution and the way it affects real people's lives.

We were reminded of this again today when all the conservative justices except for Anthony Kennedy stood behind the clearly unconstitutional DOMA. Justice Antonin Scalia-- no stranger to anti-gay rhetoric-- wrote an apoplectic rant of a dissent denying the Court's clear role in preserving equal protection. If there had been one more far-right justice on the court, Scalia's dissent could have been the majority opinion.

Just think of how different this week would have been if Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan were not on the court and if John McCain had picked two justices instead. We almost certainly wouldn't have a strong affirmation of LGBT equality. Efforts to strip people of color of their voting rights would likely have stood with fewer justices in dissent. And the rights of workers and consumers could be in even greater peril.

As the Republican party moves further and further to the right, it is trying to take the courts with it. This week, we saw what that means in practice. As we move forward to urge Congress to fix the Voting Rights Act and reinforce protections for workers and consumers, and work to make sure that marriage equality is recognized in all states, we must always remember the courts. Elections have real consequences. These Supreme Court decisions had less to do with evolving legal theory than with who appointed the justices. Whether historically good or disastrous, all these decisions were decided by just one vote. In 2016, let's not forget what happened this week.

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The Supreme Court sends a message to would-be job discriminators: Discriminate away, baby!


The new president signs the Lilly Ledbetter Act in January 2009, with Lilly Ledbetter visible seen behind him and members of Congress looking on.

by Ken

Howie has already called attention to the Roberts Court's extremist coup with its Voting Rights Act slapdown. I suppose it's possible that the five thug-justices really don't understand what they did, but the signs all over the country are that the message has been received by the country's vote suppressors, indeed all the felons who have been toiling so prodigiously to disenfranchise people they don't like. Last week he wrote:
The 5 conservative bastards did something far more destructive the day before by striking down the Voting Rights Act. It's a much bigger deal than letting gays marry-- because it will inevitably lead to a far more conservative and intolerant government, one that could do a great deal of harm to, among others, the LGBT community.
Now I really don't want to minimize the importance of the rulings striking down Section 3 of DOMA and affirming the demise of California's Prop 8. There are a lot of people for whom marriage equality is a paramount issue, and it's kind of astonishing to find the weight of the Supreme Court -- not least as conservative a court as this one -- behind it, even with all that remains to be done. There should also be a certain amount of momentum. If the homophobes are worried that it may be hard to prevent marriage equality from spreading, or being forcibly spread, to the 37 holdout states.

At the same time, there's no sign of a groundswell of support at either the federal or state level for making equality in such arguably more important areas as employment and housing the law of the land. I think such developments are more possible now that they've ever been, but it's hard to detect a lot of momentum carrying over from marriage-equality victories.

And the happy vibes of those rulings are overshadowing other dark doings of the Roberts gang. Myself, I don't think it's any coincidence, as is suggested by the stage-managing of the dispensing of the term's decisions in those final weeks.

The New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin focuses in a new blogpost, "Will Ginsburg's Ledbetter Play Work Twice?," on the decisions that "Sammy the Hammer" Alito read the same day he was noticed ridiculing Justice Ginsburg while she read her dissents. Toobin recently did >an interesting profile of the justice, "Heavyweight: How Ruth Bader Ginsburg has moved the Supreme Court" (available free to subscribers only), noting that her history isn't that of the standard liberal people generally assume, given her focus on issues outside the standard ideological boundary markers, like job discrimination against women.

In the new post, Toobin notes that those cases "recalled the biggest loss -- and biggest victory -- of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's career on the bench."
The subject was job discrimination, which is prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Six years ago, the Court threw out a case that a woman named Lilly Ledbetter brought against her long-time employer, Goodyear Tire & Rubber. Ledbetter had been paid less than her male counterparts for many years -- something she didn't know until shortly before she left the company. The Justices, in an opinion by Samuel Alito, said that she had waited too long to bring her case, and extinguished her claim on statute-of-limitations grounds.

Ginsburg wrote a strong dissent in the Ledbetter case, in which she was joined by three other Justices. She called on Congress to amend Title VII and undo the damage of the Court's decision. She pointed out that it was unfair to force Ledbetter to sue before she knew she had been a victim of discrimination. But Ginsburg knew that Congress, not the Court, framed the meaning of any federal law. She said Congress could, and should, amend Title VII to make it clear that Ledbetter and others like her had the right to sue. "The ball is in Congress's court," Ginsburg said, in an opinion that she read from the bench.
"Ginsburg's timing was exquisite," Toobin writes.
In 2007, Democrats had just retaken control of the House of Representatives and were on the verge of winning the Presidency. The first bill that Barack Obama signed as President was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, just as Ginsburg had hoped. A framed copy of the bill, inscribed by Obama, has an honored place in Ginsburg's Supreme Court chambers.
It was a pair of Title VII cases that Sammy the Hammer screwed up Monday, joined naturally by his four fellow thug-justices for 5-4 majorities.
In Vance v. Ball State University, the Court narrowed the definition of "supervisor." This is important because plaintiffs can win in Title VII cases only if they suffer discrimination from a supervisor, not from a peer in the workforce. In the other case, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, the Court cut back on the definition of "retaliation," which is a key term underlying many Title VII cases.
In the dissent (joined by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan) that she read from the bench, she wrote, ""The Court's disregard for the realities of the workplace means that many victims of workplace harassment will have no effective remedy." And as Toobin notes, she "ran her Ledbetter play again," writing:
Six years ago the Court read Title VII in a similarly restrictive way. In 2009, Congress corrected that error. Today, the ball lies again in Congress's court to correct this Court's wayward interpretation of Title VII.
The chances aren't great, though, first because the job-discrimination cases "they will be swamped by the other, more dramatic cases at the end of the term"; second, because "there is no compelling figure, like Ledbetter, to bring the cause to life."
But, most important, the politics of the day are different. In 2009, Democrats controlled sixty votes in the Senate, as well as the House of Representatives. The new President's honeymoon was in full swing. Today, the Republican House shows little interest in the plight of victims of job discrimination; the Senate, too, has a Republican veto in the form of the filibuster. This time, Ginsburg's call was no less eloquent, but it's far less likely to be heard.
There is a temptation to think that the cases decided are merely technical refinements to Title VII law. The very fact that the Supreme Court took the cases, and then wrestled them to 5-4 decisions, suggests otherwise. And there's the additional message factor. Once again the Roberts Court has sent a signal that the kinds of people who need the kind of protection Title VII was designed to provide sure ain't gonna get it from this court. Discriminate away, baby. We've got your backs.

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Sunday Classics: In "The Flying Dutchman" Wagner shows there's more than one way to get from Act I to Act II and from Act II to Act III


by Ken

In our earlier post about Wagner's Flying Dutchman we heard the Norwegian sea captain Daland return home from a perilous voyage bringing a guest, none other than the Flying Dutchman to meet (and hopefully entrance) his daughter, Senta. Then we left the two potential lovers alone for their long scene, and I would have liked to return for the end of Act II, as Daland returns. Here is that little fragment.
DALAND: Forgive me! My people will stay outside no longer;
each time we return home you know there is a feast.
I would enhance it. Therefore I come to ask
if it can be combined with a betrothal.
[To the DUTCHMAN]: I think you've wooed her to your heart's content!
[to SENTA]: Senta, my child, do you too consent?
SENTA [with solemn resolution]:
Here is my hand! And without regret
I plight my troth till death!
DUTCHMAN: She gives her hand! Powers of hell,
through her troth I defy you!
DALAND: You shall not regret this union!
To the feast! Today let all rejoice!

Karl Ridderbusch (bs), Daland; Gwyneth Jones (s), Senta; Thomas Stewart (b), Dutchman; Bayreuth Festival Orchestra, Karl Böhm, cond. DG, recorded live, 1971

Kurt Moll (bs), Daland; Dunja Vejzovic (s), Senta; José van Dam (bs-b), Dutchman; Berlin Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. EMI, recorded 1981-83


In Friday's preview we heard the Sailors' Chorus that opens Act III. Now we're going to hear two ways that Wagner put Acts II and III together. Originally he imagined the opera's three acts running together; later he separated them by repeating orchestral material at the ends and beginnings of the interior acts.

Read more »

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Digital Dementia-- Is It For Real?


Roland's my closest friend. I call his cell phone at least once a day. But I have no idea what his number is. I press a button on my cell and his phone is automatically "dialed." If I lost my phone, I wouldn't be able to contact him. Oh, wait, I could. All I would have to do is go to my computer and type in the first 3 or 4 letters of his screen name and his e-mail address would come up. If I was at another computer, though, I wouldn't be able to e-mail him either. I only know the first 3 or 4 letters of his rather complicated screen name. Everything comes up kind of automatically online. It's so convenient... but I remember nothing. I hope it's making room in my brain to remember more important things. I refuse to get GPS for my car-- even though the crooked Toyota dealer made me pay for it anyway-- because I don't want to forget how to get from place to place.

Doctors in South Korea are talking about this as digital dementia... but they're diagnosing it as an epidemic among teenagers, not people my age.
South Korea is one of the most digitally connected nations in the world and the problem of internet addiction among both adults and children was recognised as far back as the late 1990s.

That is now developing into the early onset of digital dementia-- a term coined in South Korea-- meaning a deterioration in cognitive abilities that is more commonly seen in people who have suffered a head injury or psychiatric illness.

"Over-use of smartphones and game devices hampers the balanced development of the brain," Byun Gi-won, a doctor at the Balance Brain Centre in Seoul, told the JoongAng Daily newspaper.

"Heavy users are likely to develop the left side of their brains, leaving the right side untapped or underdeveloped," he said.

The right side of the brain is linked with concentration and its failure to develop will affect attention and memory span, which could in as many as 15 per cent of cases lead to the early onset of dementia.

Sufferers are also reported to suffer emotional underdevelopment, with children more at risk than adults because their brains are still growing.

The situation appears to be worsening, doctors report, with the percentage of people aged between 10 and 19 who use their smartphones for more than seven hours every day leaping to 18.4 per cent, an increase of seven per cent from last year.

More than 67 per cent of South Koreans have a smartphone, the highest in the world, with that figure standing at more than 64 per cent in teenagers, up from 21.4 per cent in 2011, according to the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning.

Dr Manfred Spitzer, a German neuroscientist, published a book titled Digital Dementia in 2012 that warned parents and teachers of the dangers of allowing children to spend too much time on a laptop, mobile phone or other electronic devices.

Dr Spitzer warned that the deficits in brain development are irreversible and called for digital media to be banned from German classrooms before children become "addicted."
Spitzer is a psychiatrist at Ulm University and, to put it mildly, he's no fan of the Internet. "Avoid digital media... they truly do make us fat, dumb, aggressive, lonely, sick and unhappy." He compares teaching children to use online media to serving them beer, and providing computers in elementary schools to heroin dealers getting their users hooked. Not everyone agrees. In fact, children are performing significantly better on IQ tests now than in previous generations. The astonishing upward trend in IQ levels is known as the "Flynn effect," named after American political scientist James Flynn, who published a new book last year, Are We Getting Smarter? Rising IQ in the Twenty-First Century, in which he seeks to elucidate this phenomenon. Flynn's findings refute the claims of those who warn that humanity is getting dumber. We're "amusing ourselves to death," American media theorist and critic Neil Postman argued in a 1985 book of the same name. Postman blamed television for a decline in cognitive skills. Since then, however, the average IQ in the US has risen by nearly 10 points.
Spitzer says the term "digital dementia" originated with Korean scientists. More likely, though, it simply comes from a survey one web portal conducted five years ago among its users, who indicated among other things that they were hardly able to remember telephone numbers anymore.

Additionally, Spitzer previously made many of the same claims verbatim in his 2005 book Vorsicht Bildschirm! (Caution, Screen!) Since then, the average German IQ has risen by about 2 points.

Around 1900, there was a similar fashion for hysterical warnings of "nervous disorders" and the weakening of the brain supposedly triggered by technological advances. It was in this environment that a Parisian researcher developed the first intelligence test in 1905.

Then, exactly 100 years ago, Hamburg-based psychologist William Stern invented the "intelligence quotient," or IQ. In the fall of 1917, with Europe at war, Stern received an assignment to select 1,000 out of 20,000 Hamburg children for advanced lessons at school. The researcher chose not to rely on IQ scores but, rather, to conduct intensive observation of the students in the classroom-- he knew the limits of his own tests.

The informative value of IQ tests has been debated ever since their invention. Stanford psychologist Lewis Terman, for example, followed a group of 1,500 gifted children over several decades. The majority of them did not grow up to be new Einsteins, but rather led entirely normal lives and did not even perform above average in their professional lives. It turns out that self-confidence and perserverance, as well as the way a person is raised, have just as important an effect as IQ does.
The fact that people are scoring progressively better on IQ tests, Flynn says, doesn't represent better cognitive skills so much as it expresses a modern, scientifically influenced way of thinking that can better take hypothetical and abstract situations into account. "In pre-modern societies, people thought in a more practical and concrete way," the researcher explains. In his book, he provides an anecdote to illustrate this point. As a child, he writes, he once asked his father: "But what if your skin turned black?" He just answered: "That is the dumbest thing you have ever said-- who has ever heard of anyone's skin turning black?"

This is the only way to explain the fact that the average IQ in Kenya is just 72-- but is increasing by an enormous one point per year. "If I conduct an IQ test and ask a shepherd, 'What connects a lion and a lamb?' he might say, 'The lion eats the lamb,'" Flynn says. "The correct answer on the test, though, is: 'Both are mammals.'"

Thinking is "plastic" and adapts to the environment, Flynn adds. From generation to generation, children find it easier to organize symbols, create categories and think abstractly.

Flynn thus calls for "sociological imagination" when it comes to interpreting data on human intelligence. In many countries, for example, girls have caught up with boys in IQ tests-- an effect of being treated equally. And African-Americans score worse than white Americans only when they grew up under difficult circumstances. For example, no difference was found among the children of black US soldiers living in Germany.

In the 1990s, it seemed like the Flynn effect was gradually coming to a standstill, prompting questions about whether a maximum level had perhaps been reached. But, to his amazement, Flynn is now discovering that the trend has started up again.

One thing stands out, though: While young test subjects are particularly good at solving visual and logical tasks quickly, their vocabulary is increasing only minimally-- unlike that of their parents.

"Linguistically, the generations are growing apart," Flynn states. "Young people can still understand their parents, but they can no longer mimic their style of speech. That was different in the past." One possible reason for the change is that today's young people read and write many short messages on Facebook and on their cell phones, but they rarely immerse themselves in books anymore.

Flynn says this is a pity-- but no reason to panic. What some have taken for "digital dementia," he explains, is ultimately just children and young people adapting to a world that is faster-paced and strongly influenced by digital media.

For personal reasons, Flynn is far more concerned about an entirely different phenomenon: Everyone's IQ test scores start to slip with advancing age-- and the more intelligent they are to begin with, the faster their results drop. The only thing that can apparently counteract this trend is exercising the brain-- including with the help of modern media.

Last week, a working group under Osvaldo Almeida, an Australian professor of geriatric psychiatry at the University of Western Australia, in Perth, released the results of a long-term study of over 5,500 seniors. The finding: Study participants who used computers had over 30 percent less risk of developing dementia.


Today's Sunday Classics post, "In The Flying Dutchman Wagner shows there's more than one way to get from Act I to Act II and from Act II to Act III," follows at 5pm ET/2pm PT. If I can get it up earlier on the stand-alone Sunday Classics blog, I will. -- Ken

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FEC Quarter Ends Today; Should You Care?


Today's the end of the FEC fundraising quarter and I want to refer you to a post yesterday you may have missed about real bipartisanship, bipartisanship based on compromising that genuinely works for both sides, not compromise based on a combination of opportunism, bribery and one side betraying core values.

Some Members of Congress-- virtually all the Republicans, all the New Dems and every single Blue Dog for example-- finance their political careers by taking legalistic bribes from special interests like Wall Street banks, armaments makers and/or Big Oil. Blue America has been encouraging a new model, one based on congressmen and senators who represent actual citizens and citizens who in turn chip in to help with those Members' campaigns. Our primary avatars for this model has always been Alan Grayson in the House and Bernie Sanders in the Senate.

Like I said, this weekend is another quarterly FEC deadline. You probably got dozens of e-mails from all kinds of phony-baloney Democrats begging for help, primarily ones like Patrick Murphy, Sean Patrick Maloney and Ann Kuster who have worked for the bad guys all year and have only earned your scorn. Instead we'd like to ask you to consider making a contribution to Alan Grayson's campaign. He continues to super-serve ordinary working families, not big, wealthy corporations and their lobbyists.

This week he offered an amendment to an offshore drilling bill that would have guaranteed each state the right to make the ultimate decision about drilling. He put together a coalition of environmentally concerned Democrats and states rights-oriented Republicans, including some of the most right-wing Members of Congress. Big Oil panicked and put pressure of the GOP House leadership to get some of the Republicans to change their votes. Some did-- but not enough. But Big Oil had an ace in the hole: Blue Dog John Barrow (GA), the House Democrat they gave the most money to last year. He and fellow Blue Dog Jim Matheson (UT) were the only Democrats to vote against Grayson's amendment Friday. The amendment lost by one vote... by one vote in a House where Republicans have a 33 vote margin. No Democrat has been able to do anything like that... except Alan Grayson.

Big Oil, Big Finance, the Military Industrial Establishment have every Republican and a good solid chunk of Democrats. We have Alan Grayson. Let's make sure we keep him in Congress. The other names on that page have been vetted with Grayson in mind. We want to find him a team who will be there fighting for the same values and principles, instead of more like John Barrow and Jim Matheson.

UPDATE From Congressman Grayson

To whom does Haliburton give money?

Not me.

Here's how Congress works for most of the Members: they sit in their offices, they cross the street to the Floor of the House to vote every once in a while, and, while in their offices, corporate lobbyist after corporate lobbyist comes to kiss their rings. They kiss that ring with their lips, and, with their hands, they hand over the language that they want inserted into a bill that will help their cause.

Then, after the Members of Congress do the bidding of their corporate masters, they walk across the street to the party HQ, pick up the phone, and ask those same corporations to raise tens of thousands of dollars for their campaigns.

These corporations aren't bankrolling my campaign, because I don't do their bidding. I rely on you. If you want me to keep fighting and keep legislating in the public interest, I need your support before the important June 30th deadline.
Even $5 and $10 contributions, if enough people make them, can determine a race. You can help Alan here.

We ran this amazing video of Grayson already but I want to run it again... it's that good:

And here's another clip that should blow minds-- especially inside the DC Democratic Establishment. "We need more Democrats who are Democrats... As Howard Dean said years and years ago, 'You can't beat a Republican by being a Republican.' Nobody's fooled by that. If the public has a choice between a real Republican and a fake Republican running as a Democrat, they'll choose the real Republican every time. So it's actually self-defeating." He just devastated Steve Israel's entire DCCC strategy:

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Saturday, June 29, 2013

Does Steve Israel Understand How To Make GOP Racism Work Against Them-- Or Is That Not Reptilian Enough For Him?


Like we saw Thursday, now that the Senate has passed comprehensive immigration reform, what's next? The Senate Democrats have already given away every conceivable bargaining chip available before the bill becomes worthless and insupportable. Nothing will ever change the minds of the racists in control in the House. There are two camps of Republicans in the House on this issue-- the majority camp of racists and bigots and then a more mainstream camp that knows it should be done for various reasons but is afraid of the racists and bigots. Until Boehner has a majority of Republicans willing to break away from the racists and bigots, there will be no signing ceremony in the White House. So where do we go from here? Fawn Johnson sketched out a few ideas Friday for Roll Call.
Some proponents have floated the idea that the House could pass an immigration package that includes provisions unpalatable to President Obama and Democrats and excludes pieces they consider essential, such as a path to citizenship. They would settle for this outcome for the sole purpose of the House passing something-- anything-- that would get them to a conference committee with the Senate. In theory, the deal-breaker provisions could be erased in the conference negotiations.

That strategy isn't flying with Democrats. Here's just one example: House Republicans say that allowing local law enforcement to apprehend and detain unauthorized immigrants is critical to enhancing border security. Democrats reject that idea without blinking. "No," said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., a lead sponsor of the Senate bill, when asked if Democrats could accept that provision as part of a comprehensive package. "Look, I have opposed that forever, because even the toughest law enforcement will tell you that you undermine the confidence of communities to talk to local police."

Democrats have other demands. Anything short of eventual, full citizenship for undocumented immigrants would trigger protest marches from liberal activists. And House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has made it clear that immigration negotiators are not to touch Obama's health care law, which means Republicans who want to ban health care subsidies for green-card holders are out of luck.

The situation becomes a stalemate: Deal-killer provisions for Democrats are essential components for Republicans.

There may be another way to get to Point B, but it is based on the questionable proposition that the House GOP would work its will at first and then be willing to compromise later. The House Judiciary Committee has readied a series of smaller immigration bills-- on local law enforcement, agricultural workers, electronic verification, and high-skilled visas-- that could see floor votes in July. Assuming they pass, Republicans say they could package them as an opening bid for conference negotiations with the Senate.

Thus far, however, the list of House bills doesn't include anything that legalizes the undocumented population, ignoring the top demand from both Democrats and Obama. What's more, the bills have not passed the committee with Democratic votes. It's hard to convince bipartisan reformers that they should back a strategy in which House GOP leaders have to rely solely on Republican votes. The farm bill's downfall last week erased what little faith they might have had in such a plan.

So what's next? Members "have to get beat up a little bit at home" before a vote on a major immigration bill is even possible, said one GOP aide close to House leaders. So far, that's not happening. "My constituents all like what we're doing," said Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., who chairs the Judiciary Committee's Immigration Subcommittee. "They like the fact that you're giving scrutiny to each component, as opposed to saying, 'We hope that you like this enough to overlook the fact that you don't like this at all.'"

The Senate's comprehensive immigration bill is exactly the kind of grand compromise that rank-and-file House Republicans are assiduously avoiding. They see Republican senators giving away a path to citizenship, desperately sought by Democrats, in exchange for promises of tougher enforcement-- a bad deal, in their eyes. "Oh, they hate it, my constituents," said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.

It's hard for reform advocates to fathom that the GOP rejects what they see as an obvious truth-- either immigration reform passes or Hispanics ditch the Republican Party forever. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid calls House Republican opponents "the crazies."  Congressional aides supportive of reform efforts shake their heads in disbelief, urging reporters to ask Republicans what they propose to do about 11 million undocumented immigrants.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a supporter of a path to citizenship, says opponents of immigration reform hurt the GOP's image with Hispanics. "It's hard to sell your economic agenda if they think you're going to deport [their] grandmother," he said.

But such arguments don't seem to have much traction in the House. To wit, ultraconservative hard-liner Steve King, R-Iowa, is feeling pretty good. "I was a lonely guy two months ago," the congressman said of his protests against bipartisan groups in the House and the Senate crafting big immigration bills. "Lots of people said, 'You can't stop that... Now I'm juiced. I'm going to go try out for the Redskins."
The ultimate arbiter is liable to be voters at the ballot box. Nate Silver put together a list of the Republican congressmembers with the largest Hispanic populations. This chart is just the Members with 25% or more. No one wants to lose a quarter of the voters even before the campaign begins, right? Well, no one sane does. But who would argue that these far right Republicans from Texas and California-- and that's 22 of the 26 districts!

Mitt Romney’s dismal performance with Hispanic voters in November gave Republican legislators “a new appreciation” for change, as Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona who is one of the eight senators in the bipartisan group, has said.

That may be true for many politicians seeking to win national and statewide elections in places where the Hispanic share of the electorate has increased significantly. But the main hurdle is expected to be in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where a different set of political incentives apply.

Most Republicans in the House come not only from very conservative districts but also from overwhelmingly white districts.

In the 232 Congressional districts represented by Republicans, the average Hispanic share of each district is 11 percent (the 200 Congressional districts held by Democrats are, on average, 23 percent Hispanic). Just 40 of the 232 Republicans in the House come from districts that are more than 20 percent Hispanic, and just 16 from districts that are at least one-third Hispanic. At the other end of the spectrum, 142 districts represented by Republicans are less than 10 percent Hispanic.

In all, 84 percent of House Republicans represent districts that are 20 percent or less Hispanic.

...[T]here is no guarantee that Republicans with a greater share of Hispanic constituents will necessarily favor reform. But three of the four Republicans in the House already negotiating an immigration bill with Democrats-- Representatives John Carter and Sam Johnson, both of Texas, and Mario Diaz-Balart, of Florida-- come from districts that are more Hispanic than the average Republican-held Congressional district.

The fourth Republican negotiator in the House, Raúl R. Labrador, represents Idaho’s First Congressional District, which-- at 10 percent Hispanic-- is just below the average for Republicans. Mr. Diaz-Balart represents Florida’s 25th Congressional District, which is 70 percent Hispanic. Mr. Carter represents Texas’s 31st District, which is roughly a quarter Hispanic. And Mr. Johnson represents Texas’s Third District, which is 15 percent Hispanic.
Of the 26 districts in the chart above, the DCCC is only targeting 6, even though some are Blue districts. The only Republicans worried about electoral defeat are
David Valadao (R-CA)
Stevan Pearce (R-NM)
Blake Farenthold (R-TX)
Gary Miller (R-CA)
Jeff Denham (R-CA)
Buck McKeon (R-CA)
Ileana's seat would be in the bag if Debbie wasn't protecting her
All these other seats... 100% ignored by the DCCC. Some of them have free reelection passes from Israel and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, like Ileana Ros Lehtinen. Others are just out of reach because of DCCC incompetence. In 2008 Obama beat McCain in Darrell Issa's district. Regardless of how badly Issa has been behaving, Steve Israel refuses to get serious about recruiting a candidate to run against him in a district with a 26% Hispanic population. Ed Royce may be quieter, but he's as much a villain as Issa-- and has a district that's over a third Hispanic and with lots and lots of Asian-Americans too, who Royce has given plenty of reasons to want a new congressman. Last year the Democrats had a sterling candidate running, Jay Chen, and the DCCC studiously ignored him. Royce-- who spent $4,515,190 to Chen's $714,594-- beat him 59-41%. The DCCC spent exactly-- to the penny-- zero. The Democrats will never-- and I mean NEVER-- win back Congress as long as Steve Israel is chairman of the DCCC. It's as though he were working for the Republicans. Reappointing him after his disastrous performance in 2012 was Nancy Pelosi's biggest career-long mistake. Sí, se puede!

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TV Watch: I'm going to try again, but I still won't be able to communicate the brilliance of Aaron Sorkin's "Sports Night"


JEREMY [Joshua Molina]: Not fitting in is how qualified people lose jobs.
ISAAC [Robert Guillaume]: Yeah, but a lot of the time it's how they end up working here. . . . It's taken me a lot of years, but I've come around to this: If you're dumb, surround yourself with smart people; and if you're smart, surround yourself with smart people who disagree with you. . . . You fit in on your own time. When you come to work for me, you show up to play.
-- from "The Hungry and the Hunted,"
Season 1, Episode 3, of Sports Night
by Ken

As I wrote a few weeks ago, one of the things I started looking at during my recent "holiday" from work was the DVDs of the astounding 1998-2000 TV comedy Sports Night, of which Aaron Sorkin was the creator (his first TV series), the nearly exclusive writer, and one of the executive producers. I remembered the show being out-of-this-world good. On re-viewing, I was in a continuous state of mind embogglement. When I finally zipped through the last four or five episodes of Season 2, and realized I had miscounted and there were no more episodes to watch, I was even angrier than ever, not to mention more despondent, that there were only two seasons, 45 episodes to watch.

Sports Night, to back up a bit, was a third-place 11pm-nightly cable sports-news show on CSC, a sports cable network owned by Continental Corp., whose tycoon owner had lured Isaac Jaffee (Robert Guillaume) out of a planned retirement, following an illustrious journalism career, to create and run the show. The regular cast included anchoring-and-writing partners Casey McCall (Peter Krause) and Dan Rydell (Josh Charles), executive producer Dana Whitaker (Felicity Huffman), senior associate producer Natalie Hurley (Sabrina Lloyd), and assistant producer Jeremy Goodwin (Joshua Malina), plus a battery of control-room virtual regulars, and a host of memorable recurring and one- or two-shot characters. (Before she was House's Dr. Cuddy, Lisa Edelstein did two terrific episodes as Dan's nemesis, sports newscaster Bobbi Bernstein.)

Since that previous post I've been despondent about how little justice I did to the show in trying to communicate its dazzlingness -- brilliant writing, uniformly brilliant cast (down to the smallest roles -- and a spectacular ensemble), brilliant direction (with the look and feel set by Thomas Schlamme, also an executive producer, who later collaborated with Sorkin on The West Wing and a show even more unjustly unappreciated than Sports Night, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip), all-around brilliant production work (including brilliant music by ABC's amazingly inventive jack-of-all-musical modes W. G. Snuffy Walden).

But none of that means anything if you don't actually see the shows. What's worse, although I've mentioned them in the past, this time I didn't call attention to the show's achievement in capturing three of the most compelling and heartbreaking romantic relationships I've seen on any screen in any form, those of --

SN assistant producer Jeremy Goodwin (Joshua Malina) and senior associate producer Natalie Hurley (Sabrina Lloyd)

Continental Corp. analyst Rebecca Wells (recurring guest star Teri Polo) and SN co-anchor/writer Dan Rydell (Josh Charles)

SN co-anchor/writer Casey McCall (Peter Krause) and executive producer Dana Whitaker (Felicity Huffman)

I found all three every bit as powerful in the re-watch, and was even more impressed by the careful delineation of the effects of the failures of all three; after a breakup, the feelings don't necessarily stop. (In fairness, I should note that in what turned out to be the final episode, it appeared that Natalie and Jeremy were going to get back together, and maybe also Dan and Rebecca, who had suddenly returned from the West Coast.) This time through I was also more compelled than before by the relationship that was never meant to be, between Dana and hot-shot lawyer Gordon (the best thing I've seen Ted McGinley do, especially noteworthy in his prickly interactions with a jealous Casey).

Incredibly too, I made no mention of the way Sorkin incorporated the stroke suffered during the first season by Robert Guillaume, who played Sports Night's boss, managing editor Isaac Jaffee. The news of Isaac's stroke became the final blow in an amazing episode called "Eli's Coming," in which Dan's misunderstanding of the Isaac had already been under enormous pressure from corporate parent Continental Corp to slash costs and make the show softer. With him out of commission, the hugely increased pressure fell on Dana. Nor did the pressure subside when Isaac returned. A happy consequence -- for viewers if not for the Sports Night crew, at least initially -- was Isaac's hiring of a consultant in Season 2, which meant a clutch of dazzling episodes for William H. Macy (Felicity Huffman's real-life husband, of course).

In the earlier post, I did transcribe a whole little scene from Episode 11 of Season 1, "The Six Southern Gentlemen of Tennessee," one of the most remarkable episodes of a series that was hardly ever less than remarkable. It's a scene in which Casey, lost in self-congratulation over a triumphant appearance on The View, is confronted by "the assistant wardrobe supervisor for Sports Night as well as two other shows here at CSC" for having accepted credit on the show for dressing himself so sharply. The young woman, whose name Casey doesn't know (it turns out to be Monica), tries to make him understand how easily he could have given proper credit to her boss. The role of Monica was a one-shot appearance by the future Donna Moss of West Wing, Janel Moloney, and it never even occurred to me that I might be able to find a picture from this scene.

I'm not going to rehash the whole scene, though if you're inclined, you'll find it in the original post. Here's just the bit related to the picture:
MONICA: "Can you tell me which of these two
shirts you should wear with [the gunmetal tie]?"

MONICA [holding out a striped tie]: Do you know what color this is?
CASEY [staring down at his desk again]: Well, it's gray.
MONICA : It's called gunmetal. Gray has more ivory, and gunmetal has more blue. [Without pausing, as she reaches for two shirts she was carrying and holds them up. ] Can you tell me which of these two shirts you should wear with it?
CASEY [now looking at her and the shirts]: Uh, I don't know.
MONICA : No, you don't. There's no reason why you should. You're not expected to know what shirt goes with what suit, or how a color in a necktie can pick up the color in your eyes. You're not expected to know what's going to clash with what Dan's wearing, or what pattern's going to bleed when Dave changes the lighting.

Mr. McCall, you get so much attention and so much praise for what you actually do, and all of it's deserved. When you go on a talk show and get complimented on something you didn't, how hard would it be to say, "That's not me, that's a woman named Maureen who's been working for us since the first day -- it's Maureen who dresses me every night, and without Maureen I wouldn't know gunmetal from a hole in the ground"? [Soft music comes up.] Do you have any idea what that would have meant to her? Do you have any idea how many times she would have played that tape for her husband and her kids? [CASEY looks down, abashed.]

I know, I know this is when it starts to get busy for you. [Heads back to the garments on the chair.] I hope I didn't take up too much of your time. [She continues fiddling with garments.] Please don't tell Maureen I spoke to you. She'd be pretty mad at me.
In case you haven't gotten the idea, Aaron Sorkin is not just a brilliant writer, he's a brilliant writer for actors. And he also seems to have a thing about working with really terrific actors. I wish I could show you what Janel Moloney did with that extraordinary little set piece. I was about to say "written by Sorkin," and I assume it was, but the credit for the writing credit for the episode is Sorkin plus Matt Tarses, David Walpert, and Bill Wrubel.)


A number of times I found myself going back through episodes I'd already re-watched. And in more than one case when I was trying to track down the source episode for a remembered scene or plot line, I started picking out those that seemed "possibles" based on the brief plot synopses but was slowed down immeasurably when I found myself unable to stop an episode once I'd started it, even when it became clear that it wasn't the one I was looking for. There are episodes that in the re-watch I re-watched two, three, four, or more times.

And one scene in particular has been haunting me. It's from Episode 3, "The Hungry and the Hunted" (the writing is credited to Sorkin alone), and in it Jeremy, whom we saw being interviewed and hired for his assistant-producer job in the pilot episode, has gotten "the call" -- Isaac and Dana are sending him out to produce his first field assignment: a hunting segment in the Adirondacks. When he returns, Natalie has seen the edited footage, which looks fine, and he claims that everything went fine. But Isaac already knows that something happened, something bad enough to have required his being taken to the hospital.

Isaac "invites" Jeremy to join him and Dana in his office, and finally drags the story out of him. (Happily, I didn't have to transcribe this; I found the episode script online.)
JEREMY: We shot a deer. In the woods near Lake Mattatuck on the second day. There was a special vest they had me wear so that they could distinguish me from things they wanted to shoot, and I was pretty grateful for that. Almost the whole day had gone by and we hadn't gotten anything. Eddie was getting frustrated; Bob Shoemaker was getting embarrassed.

My camera guy needed to reload, so I told everybody to take a ten-minute break. There was a stream nearby, and I walked over with this care package Natalie made me. I sat down, and when I looked up, I saw three of them: small, bigger, biggest. Recognizable to any species on the face of the planet as a child, a mother, and a father. Now, the trick in shooting deer is you gotta get 'em out in the open. And it's tough with deer, 'cause these are clever, cagey animals with an intuitive sense of danger. You know what you have to do to get a deer out in the open? You hold out a Twinkie. That animal clopped up to me like we were at a party. She seemed to be pretty interested in the Twinkie, so I gave it to her. Looking back, she'd have been better off if I'd given her the damn vest.

And Bob kind of screamed at me in a whisper, "Move away!" The camera had been reloaded, and it looked like the day wasn't gonna be a washout after all. So I backed away, a couple of steps at a time, and I closed my eyes when I heard the shot. Look, I know these are animals and they don't play bridge and go to the prom, but you can't tell me that the little one didn't know who his mother was. That's gotta mean something. And later, at the hospital, Bob Shoemaker was telling me about the nobility and tradition of hunting and how it related to the Native American Indians, and I nodded and I said that was interesting, while I was thinking about what a load of crap it was.

Hunting was part of Indian culture -- it was food and it was clothes and it was shelter. They sang and danced and offered prayers to the gods for a successful hunt so that they could survive just one more unimaginably brutal winter. The things they had to kill held the highest place of respect for them, and to kill for fun was a sin. And they knew the gods wouldn't be so generous next time. What we did wasn't food and it wasn't shelter and it sure wasn't sports. It was just mean.
My first reaction when the episode first aired in October 1998 was (and is): Wow! My second reaction was (and is): Can you imagine what it must be like to be an actor in a series and get your script and in it see something like this written for you?

What I didn't remember so well was the rest of the scene. Watching it again (and then again), it blew me away.
ISAAC: Jeremy, why didn't you tell us how you felt about hunting when we gave you this?
JEREMY: Because you told me you spoke to Mark Sabath at USA Today.
ISAAC: Yeah, but what --
JEREMY: In fact, I know you must have spoken to him before you ever hired me.
ISAAC: Of course I did. I also spoke to Dave Heller at the Free Press and Tom Monahan at the Sacramento Bee.
JEREMY: And they all said pretty much the same thing.
ISAAC: Yes. They all said that Jeremy Goodwin was a bright guy with a world-class understanding of popular sports, but that he didn't quite fit in and there was little chance that he'd advance in their organization.
JEREMY: Due respect, Mr. Jaffee, but I have $80,000 in college loans to pay back. My instincts told me to shut the hell up and do what I was told.
ISAAC: Your instincts were wrong.
JEREMY: Not fitting in is how qualified people lose jobs.
ISAAC: Yeah, but a lot of the time it's how they end up working here. Now, you had an obligation to tell us how you felt. Partly because I don't like getting a phone call saying I've put one of my people in the hospital. But mostly because if you feel that strongly about something, you have a responsibility to try and change my mind. Did you think I would fire you simply because you made a convincing argument?

It's taken me a lot of years, but I've come around to this: If you're dumb, surround yourself with smart people; and if you're smart, surround yourself with smart people who disagree with you. I'm an awfully smart man and Mark Sabath is an idiot. He had you and he blew it. You're gonna do great here. But you gotta trust us. You fit in on your own time. When you come to work for me, you show up to play.

I'm going home. You don't know us very well. So if it's hard trusting us at the beginning, maybe it'll help to know that we trust you. Good night. [ISAAC exits.]
Of course you still need to see it. On-screen it's just words. But entrust Sorkin's words to the care of actors of the caliber he always seems to work with, and . . . well, wow!

You could see in a lot of the critical response to the first season of Sorkin's current show, for HBO, The Newsroom, that a lot of people who pay lip service to Sorkin's genius don't really mean it, or at least don't really understand wherein that genius lies. Often, for example, they're people who saw West Wing as a roman à clef about White House life, and told us which real-life Clinton aide equaled which WW character, totally missing -- as I've written here -- that the show was Sorkin's romantic fantasy, written and produced as realistically as humanly possible, of how a White House could function if you took people with the same potential and allowed them to behave just a tad more idealistically.

Maybe it's only natural that someone who writes real-life romance as penetratingly and sympathetically as Sorkin should be in general outlook a romantic fantasist. It seems to me obviously true as well for his vision of the TV news business in The Newsroom, which is why hitting him over the head for incorporating hindsight into shows built around historical events is so totally beside the point. This might matter if the Newsroom episodes were documentaries, or even intended as fictional re-creations of how those actual events unfolded in the media. The point is that all the things his characters are allowed to know are things that people in their position could have known, and in this romantic fantasy it's fair game to imagine how differently events could have unfolded if people had done their jobs with just a bit more character, a bit more appreciation for the consequences.

Sports Night too was a romantic fantasy. It's important that the show-within-a-show Sports Night was not a ratings magnet; it was unabashedly a no. 3 show. But the people involved, starting at the top with Isaac, were trying to do something different, something more honest and informing. Without saying that there are no bosses in positions like Isaac's who share his belief about employees "fitting in," I have to say that it still impresses me


Court And Spark


When I was 16 I hitchhiked from Brooklyn to Los Angeles so I could stow away on a ship to Tonga. In Brooklyn there had never been anything like the billboard campaigns along Route 66 in state after state in the middle of the country to impeach Earl Warren. Warren was a moderate Republican Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, appointed by President Eisenhower, and Fred Koch, the money behind the virulently anti-American John Birch Society and the father of today's vile Koch brothers, made it his life's work to impeach Earl Warren (as well as Eisenhower and Kennedy). Fred Koch is the evidence that society should confiscate all the wealth of sociopathic individuals who use that wealth to undermine society itself. Lee Fang devotes a whole chapter of his new book, The Machine, to the evil Koch family.
The true story of the Koch family’s dedication to rightwing politics begins back one generation with the father. Fred C. Koch, a hardscrabble Texan of Dutch ancestry, founded the Koch Industries empire and pioneered a strategy for advancing conservatism that was pivotal in shaping the modern American right. He unapologetically attacked his enemies, branding them communists, or worse. He paid for groups to help whip up a grassroots army filled with populist rage against the united Nations, Justice Earl Warren, and President Kennedy. He helped begin the process of evicting moderates from the Republican Party. And he instilled in his sons a philosophy that a proper “American businessman” should “fight like a tiger” when someone tries to “take a few thousand dollars away from him.”

Fred, a racist who detested the civil rights movement, probably could have never imagined a black president of the United States. But Fred laid the groundwork for his sons to try to tear the first one down.

...Because Eisenhower allowed the Panamanian flag to fly over the Panama Canal, Fred surmised that the president was “beginning to surrender” to the “Communist conspiracy.” Fred wrote that “a former Assistant Secretary of State for Latin American affairs told me that certain members of the State Department helped put Castro in power and guide his every move.” Fred believed Democrats, as well as moderate Republicans, were actively enabling Castro, who he called the “Mao Tze-tung of the Western Hemisphere.”

In December of 1958, in the living room of a brick Tudor house in a quiet Indianapolis neighborhood, Fred was summoned for a meeting with eleven other staunch anticommunists who shared his fervent belief that Christian society and free markets were at grave risk of slipping away. Robert Welch, a candy manufacturer who had been financing and authoring a series of pamphlets articulating his anticommunist ideas for half a decade, presided over the special gathering. Welch bellowed that there had been an “800% expansion of Communist membership in [the] last 20 years” and that the recent surge in inflation and “collectivism” was part of a red plot to destroy American civilization. After two full days of nearly uninterrupted lecture, Welch presented his solution: a new organization to fight the left in every corner of America. Named after a Baptist missionary serving as an American soldier, who was reportedly killed by the Chinese in 1946, the John Birch Society was born. Welch wanted to make Birch a martyr and proclaimed him the first American death in the war against communism. The men at the meeting, many of them leaders of the powerful National Association of Manufacturers, agreed they would level the playing field with the communists and commit to “fight dirty.”

Welch parlayed his expertise in marketing candy into a multifaceted strategy for advancing his paranoid anticommunist beliefs. He recorded simple how-to videos, developed a door-to-door strategy for his organizers, and stressed the importance of advertising to his allies. Fred’s wife Mary later remarked that she had always been impressed with Welch and his approach to politics. Welch was a “very intelligent, sharp man, quite an intellectual,” she told the Wichita Eagle.

The Birchers, with plenty of seed money from Fred and his cohorts, spread quickly throughout the nation, hiring field operatives, hosting training sessions, and publishing hundreds of thousands of Welch’s Blue Book of anticommunist theory and monthly newsletters proclaiming new examples of communist infiltration. The Belmont, Massachusetts, headquarters of the Birchers initially hired twenty-eight employees, in addition to many volunteers who labored to fire off $4,000 worth of mail every week. As a founding member of the national John Birch Society Council, Fred served as a liaison to paid coordinators, who in turn worked with volunteer chapter leaders and ordinary members. Under the seemingly benign motto of “Less government, more responsibility,” the Birchers recruited upward of 50,000 people in a massive rollout campaign during the spring of 1961. In the wake of the Kennedy victory and a relatively liberal Republican Party, the Birchers filled a vacuum of conservative leadership.

Through monthly bulletins and taped lectures from Welch, individual members were asked to advance the cause in their local communities. Goals would include tasks such as attending meetings of “Communist fronts” like the ACLU to shout down “disloyal” speakers or to organize “spontaneous” petition gatherings to impeach Earl Warren. Despite their belief that every liberal group in America was truly a front group for communists, the Birchers themselves were obsessed with using dummy organizations to better achieve their agenda. Welch recommended that members assemble various fronts like: TACT (Truth About Civil Turmoil), which connected civil rights groups and African American organizations with communists; TRAIN (To Restore American Independence), a group to mock the united Nations and pacifists; SYLP (Support Your Local Police), a particularly effective recruiting tool after the Watts riots; and MOTOREDE (The Movement to Restore Decency), which lobbied against sex education, birth control, and abortion.

A Bircher-led red scare rekindled McCarthyism in towns across the country. In Amarillo, Texas, the local Bircher leaders, including the mayor and a retired brigadier general, led a campaign to purge a clergyman accused of being a communist sympathizer. They also rid the libraries of “communist” books, which included Pulitzer Prize–winning literature, and punished teachers who had been accused of disloyalty. According to historian Rick Perlstein, Centralia, Missouri, became a “virtual Birch fiefdom; the owner of the factory that employed half the town’s workforce made membership practically a condition for advancement.” In Fred’s hometown Wichita chapter, which included its own paid Birch Society organizer, Time observed that “student members of the society are trained to tell their cell leader of any ‘Communist’ influence noted in classroom lectures; by phone, parents belabor the offending teacher and his principal for apologies and admissions of guilt.”

The rapid rise of the Bircher movement sharply divided the GOP. In early 1961, the national press reported on Welch’s view that Dwight Eisenhower was guilty of “treason,” and that his brother Milton Eisenhower was probably his “boss within the Communist party.” This prompted a harsh rebuke from a group of Republican elders. “It is unbelievable that any sane person would make such accusations,” said North Dakota Republican Milton Young during a speech on the Senate floor. Liberal Republican Senator Thomas Kuchel complained he was being targeted by Birchers in his reelection bid.

However, a faction of Southern lawmakers and Republican politicians found strength in the Bircher brand of conservative populism. Dixiecrat Congressman L. Mendel Rivers of South Carolina extolled the Birchers as a “nation-wide organization of patriotic Americans.” Congressmen John Rousselot and Edgar Hiestand, both California Republicans, were card-carrying Birch Society members. Life reported that Republican defenders of the group believed that the Birchers would serve as a vanguard for the “conservative renaissance in America whose main respectable apostle is Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater.”
When I was a schoolboy, the giants on the Supreme Court appointed by FDR were beginning to retire-- Felix Frankfurter, Hugo Black, William O. Douglas. Truman's, Eisenhower's and Kennedy's appointments weren't as profound, just kind of mainstream. LBJ's last appointment was Thurgood Marshall, a brilliant jurist who was also the first African-American to serve on the Court. Even 75% of Nixon's dreadful conservative appointments were kind of mainstream-- Warren Burger, Harry Blackmun and Lewis Powell-- and it wasn't until his final appointment, the hideous William Rehnquist, that the GOP decided to turn the Supreme Court into an ideological and highly partisan arm of the Republican Party. Rehnquist came to prominence as an Arizona attorney who would work on Election Day trying to prevent Blacks and Hispanics from voting. Reagan made him Chief Justice when Burger retired. The Court started transitioning from a conservative bastion to a reactionary one. Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts and Samuel Alito are dangerous far right ideologues and corporate whores who work every day of their lives against the interests of ordinary American families. Hopefully when Scalia and Kennedy, each 77 years old and fighting off senility, retire President Hillary Clinton will replace them with more mainstream justices. But, for now, the GOP and corporate America control the Supreme Court, just the way Fred Koch had planned long ago. E.J. Dionne:
We prefer to think of the Supreme Court as an institution apart from politics and above its struggles. In the wake of this week’s decision gutting the heart of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, its actions must now be viewed through the prism of the conservative movement’s five-decade-long quest for power.

Liberals will still win occasional and sometimes partial victories, as they did Wednesday on same-sex marriage. But on issues directly related to political and economic influence, the court’s conservative majority is operating as a political faction, determined to shape a future in which progressives will find themselves at a disadvantage.

...The marriage rulings, however, should not distract from the arrogance of power displayed in the voting rights decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts. His opinion involved little Constitutional analysis. He simply substituted the court’s judgment for Congress’ in deciding which states should be covered under the Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which required voting rules in states with a history of discrimination to be pre-cleared by the Justice Department.

The court instructed Congress to rewrite the law, even though these sophisticated conservatives certainly know how difficult this will be in the current political climate.

Whenever conservatives on the court have had the opportunity to tilt the playing field toward their own side, they have done so. And in other recent cases, the court has weakened the capacity of Americans to take on corporate power. The conservative majority seems determined to bring us back to the Gilded Age of the 1890s.

The voting rights decision should be seen as following a pattern set by the rulings in Bush v. Gore in 2000 and Citizens United in 2010.

Bush v. Gore had the effect of installing the conservatives’ choice in the White House and allowed him to influence the court’s subsequent direction with his appointments of Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito.

Citizens United swept aside a tradition going back to the Progressive Era-- and to the Founders’ deep concern over political corruption-- by vastly increasing the power of corporate and monied interests in the electoral sphere.

Tuesday’s Shelby County v. Holder ruling will make it far more difficult for African-Americans to challenge unfair electoral and districting practices. For many states, it will be a Magna Carta to make voting more difficult if they wish to.

The Constitution, through the 14th and 15th Amendments, gives Congress a strong mandate to offer federal redress against discriminatory and regressive actions by state and local governments. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted in her scalding but very precise dissent, “a governing political coalition has an incentive to prevent changes in the existing balance of voting power.”

In less diplomatic language, existing majorities may try to fix election laws to make it far more difficult for their opponents to toss them from power in later elections. Republican legislatures around the country passed a spate of voter suppression laws disguised as efforts to guarantee electoral “integrity” for just this purpose.

Recall that when conservatives did not have a clear court majority, they railed against “judicial activism.” Now that they have the capacity to impose their will, many of the same conservatives defend extreme acts of judicial activism by claiming they involve legitimate interpretations of the true meaning of the Constitution.

It is an inconsistency that tells us all we need to know. This is not an argument about what the Constitution says. It is a battle for power. And, despite scattered liberal triumphs, it is a battle that conservatives are winning.

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Right To Vote/Right To Marry: The Red States


Barney Frank retired from Congress last year. Obama picked a series of crooked Wall Street operators for positions he should have tried filling with brilliant and proven tribunes of the public like Barney and Brad Miller (D-NC), who also resigned last year. I'm not certain what Brad is up to now but Barney has certainly not faded away. Having been for so many years the most noteworthy openly gay Member of Congress, media turned to him in droves for comments about the grudging and narrow Supreme Court ruling that struck down DOMA and kind of struck down California's hateful Prop 8. And Barney, who recently married his partner, was as gleeful as all members of the LGBT community. Like me... well, probably more than me. I'm less an assimilationist and, although I'm happy for the folks who wanted and needed this, I fear it is another deadly blow against what helped make the gay community unique and nonconformist.

But, like Barney, I'm not exactly singing the praises of the Supreme Court. The 5 conservative bastards did something far more destructive the day before by striking down the Voting Rights Act. It's a much bigger deal than letting gays marry-- because it will inevitably lead to a far more conservative and intolerant government, one that could do a great deal of harm to, among others, the LGBT community. Thursday Barney was on MSNBC's Morning Joe and he said that if he had been empowered to decide one Supreme Court decision this week, he would have taken up the case on the 1965 Voting Rights Act and not the Prop 8 marriage ban that is no longer supported by California voters anyway. He explained that the "terrible decision killing the Voting Rights Act" is far more harmful to the country than the marriage equality case. "Racial discrimination," he asserted, correctly, "has been much worse [than discrimination against the LGBT community] in this country and if I could have frankly picked one decision this week,  I'll be honest, it wouldn't have been the gay marriage one. I wish I could have reversed that terrible decision killing the Voting Rights Act because I think there are still serious issues there in democracy." It would be amazing if Scalia, who's 77, wakes up in hell tomorrow and Obama nominates Frank to replace him. And if we all get unicorns for our birthdays.

This wasn't lost on Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairs Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) and Keith Ellison (D-MN). They got it just right when they commented on the Supreme Court rulings this week in a joint statement:
“We celebrate today’s decision by the Supreme Court to respect the right of all Americans to marry who they love. The road to today’s victories started 44 years ago at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, where the gay community made a public stand against institutional discrimination. Since that day, LGBT Americans have worked tirelessly for equal rights under the law. The decisions made by the Supreme Court today reaffirm those rights and move our country closer to fulfilling the promise in our Constitution of equal rights for all.

“While today’s rulings were a positive step forward, yesterday’s Supreme Court decision to weaken the Voting Rights Act endangers voting rights and is a troubling step backward. We should celebrate the victory for marriage equality by working together to defend the voices of millions of Americans who may face increased discrimination at the polls after yesterday’s decision. Senator Harry Reid has already vowed that the Senate will act quickly to fix the problems created by yesterday’s ruling. The House should follow his lead as soon as possible.”
So what can, realistically, be done to fix the problem before the Republican just start barring minorities from voting across the Old Confederacy and in states they control like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, the Dakotas and Indiana? The Senate is where it will start, of course. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Judiciary Committee: "I intend to take immediate action to ensure that we will have a strong and reconstituted Voting Rights Act that protects against racial discrimination in voting." He says he plans to start right after the 4th of July break. Unfortunately, Leahy's counterpart in the House is an old line unreconstructed Confederate and racist pig, Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and he's not likely to allow any kind of protections for minorities to get through his committee, which is stuffed full of teabaggers and bigots and boasts some of the most contemptible partisan extremists in Congress, like Steve King (R-IA), Trent Franks (R-AZ), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Jim Jordan (R-OH), Lamar Smith (R-TX), Spencer Bachus (R-AL), Darrell Issa (R-CA), Randy Forbes (R-VA), Trey Gowdy (R-SC), Ted Poe (R-TX), George Holding (R-NC), Doug Collins (R-GA), Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and Jason Smith (R-MO).

Pelosi was whistling in the wind when she said "I would like to see something called... the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would address the concerns that the Court put in its decision about Section 4. It’s really a step backward and it’s not a reflection of what is happening in our country in some of these places. And when we put that bill together, when it was passed last time, it passed overwhelming, overwhelming 98 to nothing in the Senate and 390-something to almost nothing in the House. And it was bipartisan and we came to terms on it, in a way that we were all jubilant about the passage of it, Democrats and Republicans alike.”

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