Thursday, April 30, 2015

Did Chief Justice Roberts go a bit too far in explaining why judges are different from all other elected officials?


Chief "Smirkin' John": Too clever for his own good?

by Ken

As Daily Kos's Adam B writes in a fine post on yesterday's Supreme Court ruling that Florida can indeed bar judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign funds, the ruling "stunned many Court observers -- certainly including me."

Even in retrospect, it looks to have been a ho-hum Roberts Court split, with the Five Loonies on one side and the Four Moderates on the other, and how dare a state try to limit anyone in pursuit of campaign cash? I say "even in retrospect," because eight of the nine justices lined up in their expected places. It's just that there was one deviant, and he caught everyone by surprise. Yes, none other than Chief Justice "Smirkin' John" Roberts himself ditched the Loonies bloc and joined the Court moderate nerds the other way.

Now I'm not going to suggest cause and effect, but merely point out that this maneuver had the side effect of putting the chief in the position of assigning himself the role of opinion-writer, and the result may not be exactly what one of the Court's nerd kids might have written. For starters, it meant that the decision could be couched in terms of how judicial elections are different from all other kinds, because judges aren't politicians, even if they have been every day of their lives up to the point when, they hope, they put on judicial robes. And the courts may legitimately place limitations of very certain sorts on their fund-raising. Yes, with the chief writing the opinion, there was an opportunity to minimize any language that might come back to haunt the Loonies when it comes to other attempts to keep some kind of lid on fund-raising.

Well, our legal eagle, ThinkProgress's Ian Millhiser, is here to tell us that in the process the chief kind of let the cat out of the bag, in a post called, "Chief Justice Roberts Accidentally Reveals Everything That’s Wrong With Citizens United In Four Sentences." It seems the chief worked so frenetically to define things judges mustn't do, he left the clear implication that those are things that holdes of other elected offices may.

Here's Ian (links onsite):
On Wednesday, a 5-4 Supreme Court held in Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar that states may “prohibit judges and judicial candidates from personally soliciting funds for their campaigns.” It was a small but symbolically important victory for supporters of campaign finance laws, as it showed that there was actually some limit on the Roberts Court’s willingness to strike down laws limiting the influence of money in politics.

Chief Justice John Roberts’s opinion for the Court in Williams-Yulee is certainly better for campaign finance regulation than a decision striking down this limit on judicial candidates — had the case gone the other way, judges could have been given the right to solicit money from the very lawyers who practice before them. Yet Roberts also describes judges as if they are special snowflakes who must behave in a neutral and unbiased way that would simply be inappropriate for legislators, governors and presidents:
States may regulate judicial elections differently than they regulate political elections, because the role of judges differs from the role of politicians. Politicians are expected to be appropriately responsive to the preferences of their supporters. Indeed, such “responsiveness is key to the very concept of self-governance through elected officials.” The same is not true of judges. In deciding cases, a judge is not to follow the preferences of his supporters, or provide any special consideration to his campaign donors. A judge instead must “observe the utmost fairness,” striving to be “perfectly and completely independent, with nothing to influence or controul [sic] him but God and his conscience.” As in White, therefore, our precedents applying the First Amendment to political elections have little bearing on the issues here.

Most Americans would undoubtedly agree that judges should not “follow the preferences” of their political supporters, as they would agree that judges should not “provide any special consideration to his campaign donors.” But the implication of the passage quoted above is that members of Congress, state lawmakers, governors and presidents should provide such consideration to their supporters and to their donors. The President of the United States is the president of the entire United States. A member of Congress represents their entire constituency. Yet Roberts appears to believe that they should “follow the preferences” of their supporters and give “special consideration” to the disproportionately wealthy individuals who fund their election.

This view of lawmakers obedient to a narrow segment of the nation is not new. To the contrary, it drove much of the Court’s widely maligned campaign finance decision in Citizens United v. FEC. Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion in Citizens United does not simply argue that “[f]avoritism and influence” are unavoidable in a representative democracy, it appears to suggest that they are a positive good. “It is well understood that a substantial and legitimate reason, if not the only reason, to cast a vote for, or to make a contribution to, one candidate over another is that the candidate will respond by producing those political outcomes the supporter favors,” Kennedy wrote in Citizens United. “Democracy,” he added “is premised on responsiveness.”
Wouldn't it be nice if somebody could make this come back to haunt the chief?

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CAUTION! If You've Been Talking With "Top Man!" On Grindr, You've Got A Closeted GOP Freak On Your Hands


In 2010, California state Senator Roy Ashbury, a leader of the most contemptibly aggressive gay haters in the state legislature, was outed. Patt Morrison interviewed him for KPCC immediately after he was busted, drunk, with a young male prostitute in his car. Listening to Morrison's interview made me sad for Ashbury and for all the GOP closet queens that infest our political system.
For decades you worked so hard to keep your sexual orientation under wraps. This must have been a torment, but in another sense, was there an element of relief?

I'm sensing relief now. I had not consciously decided to come out, but there's no doubt looking back that I had become increasingly bold about attending gay events, like pride festivals, and going to dance clubs and bars. Last year I attended Las Vegas Pride and San Diego Pride.

Were you looking over your shoulder?

A little more in San Diego than Las Vegas.

...At some point, you must have realized a public career was incompatible with being open about your sexual preferences.

Something happened that I guess caused me to realize that. When I was in sixth grade, the police had a raid in the sand dunes [near San Luis Obispo] and a bunch of gay men were arrested, probably charged with indecent activity. That sticks in my mind-- the publicity and the shame around it. One of my teachers was one of the people. The talk among the kids, the talk among the adults, the talk in the community, the press-- at that time the choice was pretty clear: If you were gay and open, it was a life of shame, ridicule, innuendo about molesting and perversion. It was a dark life. Given that choice of whether you come out or whether you're in secret, I mean, there really wasn't a choice.

You worked for members of Congress, then were elected to public office yourself from Kern County. Were your sexual preferences in the back of your mind, or did you just go about your business?

The answer is both yes and no. I was married and had children. And I had a career and a passion. I also had a huge secret. But given my circumstances and my responsibilities, it wasn't an overwhelming issue for me. The desires were always there, but my focus was primarily on-- well, pretty selfishly-- on me and my career and my family.

Barry Goldwater had a gay grandson and didn't think government had any business in anybody's bedroom. But the recent brand of Republicanism has championed anti-gay issues.

I truly believe the conservative philosophy as embraced by Goldwater: that the government has no role in the private lives of the citizens. In the 1980s, there was a coming together of the religious right and the Goldwater right, sort of a marriage of convenience. It propelled Ronald Reagan to the presidency. Reagan never repudiated that but-- this is just my view-- I don't think he really embraced it either. In no way do I want to put down people of strong religious convictions; I happen to have very strong religious beliefs myself. But it was a merger of those two, and the religious [right's issues] were about same-sex rules, same-sex marriage, abortion, gun rights, these sort of core, litmus-test issues.

Did you feel uneasy with that combination? You did help to organize and speak at a rally in 2005 against a legislative bill sanctioning same-sex marriage.

How I ever got into that is beyond me. I was very uncomfortable with that, and I told one of my confidantes, "I'm never doing that again." It was not what I wanted to do, it wasn't me, but I helped to organize and lent my name.

A lot of people, gay or straight, are probably wondering why you voted even against issues like insurance coverage for same-sex partners.

The best I can do is to say that I was hiding. I was so in terror I could not allow any attention to come my way. So any measure that had to do with the subject of sexual orientation was an automatic "no" vote. I was paralyzed by this fear, and so I voted without even looking at the content. The purpose of government is to protect the rights of people under the law, regardless of our skin color, national origin, our height, our weight, our sexual orientation. This is a nation predicated on the belief that there is no discrimination on those characteristics, and so my vote denied people equal treatment, and I'm truly sorry for that.

When it comes to marriage, I'm getting the feeling that you're mulling over whether government ought to be in the marriage license business at all.

It's a very complicated issue, marriage, but it seems to me that the government's role is to protect a civil contract, whether it's to purchase a home together, enter into whatever financial or legal arrangement, including marriage. The whole issue of marriage as a 5,000-year-old tradition, a religious context, a historical context-- what government's role is, is the sanctification of the legal bond. Then it seems to me a matter for a church or some other societal organization but not for government.

What have you been talking about with the gay groups you've been meeting with?

The same things we're talking about. I don't have an agenda. I don't have a plan. I don't have an expectation. I just want people to know who I am and what's in my heart. I kept that from people. I concealed it from everyone for almost all my life, so I'm [now] privileged to work with people from all aspects of life, including organizations devoted to advancing the rights of gay and lesbian and transgendered individuals.

Recently in the Senate you spoke in favor of a resolution calling on Congress to repeal "don't ask, don't tell."

For that day I knew I had to say something. I already had prepared what I was going to say about serving in the military, and I actually had it written out because I wanted to be precise. But I had to preface it with something else, to give context to why all this time in elective office and being so deeply hidden, why was I now standing and speaking on this subject matter, and so I did.

...You're divorced, with four daughters and grandchildren. So here's where I ask about your family, and you can tell me to buzz off.

The things we're talking about were my choices. It was my choice to keep it secret; it was my choice to be a gay man and be married and have children. It was my choice to build a life on lies in order to conceal myself. That obviously had a big effect on my marriage and my children in ways that I don't fully comprehend, but it's my responsibility and not something to be talked about in interviews.
North Dakota state Rep Randy Boehning (R-Fargo), a 52-year-old homophobic closet case, isn't in the closet any longer. He says he's relieved to have been outed because he no longer has to lie to the world about who he is. He was outed because he sends dick shots to young men on Grindr.
State Rep. Randy Boehning, a 52-year-old Republican legislator from Fargo, says a Capitol employee told him a fellow lawmaker vowed to out him as gay if he continued to vote against bills granting gays legal protections against discrimination.

Boehning refused to identify at this point who he believes is behind the purported political payback for his vote against Senate Bill 2279, the third such bill defeated in the past six years by North Dakota legislators.

The exchange came to light when Dustin Smith, a 21-year-old Bismarck man with no known connections to the Capitol, contacted The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead earlier this month, saying he recognized Boehning from a gay dating smartphone app called Grindr. Chatting under the user name Top Man!, Boehning sent Smith sexually suggestive messages and, in the early morning hours of March 12, an unsolicited photo of his penis, according to exchanges reviewed by The Forum.

"How can you discriminate against the person you're trying to pick up?" Smith said in a recent interview.

When first questioned about the messages two weeks ago, Boehning declined to comment on whether he sent the explicit photo and messages.

But on Saturday he confirmed he was Top Man! and said he doesn't think sending a graphic photo of himself to a stranger is a lapse in judgment, as Grindr is an adult site where users often exchange such images.

"That's what gay guys do on gay sites, don't they?" Boehning said. "That's how things happen on Grindr. It's a gay chat site. It's not the first thing you do on that site. That's what we do, exchange pics on the site."

Boehning, who is not married, said there are people who know he is gay, but many of his family members and friends do not. He said Saturday he is also attracted to women and was relieved to come out because he no longer has to worry about being outed.

"The 1,000-pound gorilla has been lifted," he said. "I have to confront it at some point."

...Outing closeted gay politicians who cast votes seen as anti-gay is divisive in the gay community and has many critics. But while Smith and Boschee said they regret that Boehning was forced to come out of the closet, they believe it points out an important discrepancy between Boehning's vote and his personal life.

For his part, Boehning said coming out under these circumstances was both a personal relief and a political struggle.

"This has been a challenge for me," Boehning said. "You don't tell everyone you're going to vote one way and then switch your vote another way-- you don't have any credibility that way."

Boehning, a self-employed general contractor, said he has voted against multiple attempts to extend protected-class status to include sexual orientation because he doesn't believe his south Fargo constituents support it. Also, he has problems with the bill's language, which would protect people who are "perceived" to be gay.

If "perceived" was removed from the bill, he might vote in favor of it, he said.

Asked whether he would be personally concerned about being discriminated against in the areas of housing, workplace or public accommodation, Boehning, who lives in a rented Fargo apartment, said landlords have the right to do as they see fit.

He said many members of the Legislature find themselves allying and clashing on a variety of issues, regardless of party.

"Politics makes strange bedfellows," he said.

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The Last Word on Baltimore: It's Up to the State to Stand Down


The world, as the very very rich are making it

by Gaius Publius

I've been listening for days and days about how bad are those bad people in Baltimore, breaking windows and such. And listening to the media give honoring hours and hours to the calls for peaceful protest.

And through my head runs the one message this intends — Violence belongs only to the State.

Here's the terrific writer Ta-Nehisi Coates with the last word on Baltimore:
Nonviolence as Compliance

Officials calling for calm can offer no rational justification for Gray's death, and so they appeal for order.

Rioting broke out on Monday in Baltimore—an angry response to the death of Freddie Gray, a death my native city seems powerless to explain. Gray did not die mysteriously in some back alley but in the custody of the city's publicly appointed guardians of order. And yet the mayor of that city and the commissioner of that city's police still have no idea what happened. ...
And then he writes this indictment:
When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con. And none of this can mean that rioting or violence is "correct" or "wise," any more than a forest fire can be "correct" or "wise." Wisdom isn't the point tonight. Disrespect is. In this case, disrespect for the hollow law and failed order that so regularly disrespects the community. 
Consider just two of the first three sentences above:

When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse.

When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con.

Isn't it obvious that this is what's going on? That the violent State is calling "time out" when it starts getting its own back? And isn't it obvious that the media, almost all of it, is complicit in the "con" that Coates eloquently calls out?

When the Social Contract Breaks from Above, It Breaks from Below As Well

I've said this too many times, and I think I will be saying it until the whole thing comes apart. It's up to the rich to stand down. It's up to police to stand down. It's up to the predators to stop feeding on us, eating our money, our labor — and in the case of the torturers in our "security" community — our pain, which they give us to please themselves.

If the rich are determined to extract the last drop of blood (I'm looking at you, TPP, and your presidential enabler), expect the victims to put up a fuss. And don't expect that fuss to be pretty.

Response to the broken Social Contract isn't pretty, and it isn't race-specific

I'm not arguing for social war; I'm arguing for justice and peace.

But if our owners, the very very rich, and their enforcers the police, don't stand down, we may have neither. This outcome, if it comes, is one we will all regret. It took France 100 years to recover from this:

Do we have that long? Do they?


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Alan Grayson: TPP "Would Give Away The Sovereignty Our Founding Fathers Fought For In Exchange For... Nothing"


The Establishment-- the Democratic Party Establishment-- has fallen to new lows. Wall Street growled about cutting DNC, DSCC and DCCC funding because of Elizabeth Warren and BOOM!... Chuck Schumer, the biggest recipient of Wall Street bribes, excluding presidential candidates, in history is on the road to be the new Senate Democratic Leader. The DSCC and DCCC are working full-time to disadvatage-- to put it mildly-- primary candidates against the conservative, pro-Wall Street hacks they're backing. 

No top Democrats seemed all that thrilled yesterday when Bernie Sanders hinted broadly that he plans to jump into the presidential campaign and challenge Hillary Clinton on 3 major issues: campaign finance reform, climate change and income inequality. The Democratic Establishment does not care about the issues. Apparently they don't even care that the Clintons were using Hillary's position to personally enrich themselves. Democratic activists and Democratic voters care about both, but the Democratic careerist political Establishment? Not even a little-- outside of how issues fit into winning electoral strategies. The Establishment has no interest in dedicated, serious progressives like Bernie Sanders running for president, or Donna Edwards and Alan Grayson running for Senate, or for stalwart progressives like Alex Law (NJ), Jamie Raskin (MD), Jason Ritchie (WA) and Nanette Barragán (CA) running against corrupt conservatives for House seats. Matt Taibbi understands what Bernie is trying to do. The Democratic Party Establishment fears what he's trying to do.

So-called "free trade" is one of the points of contention between the Establishment and normal Democrats. Corporate shills-- from Obama and Rahm all the way down into the depths of Wall Street ass-kissers like Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Patrick Murphy (D-FL), Donald Norcross (D-NJ), Isadore Hall (D-CA), etc. With even the overwhelming majority of Republicans opposing Fast Track authority, the White House is on a jihad against Democrats in Congress who are standing up against corporate hegemony in regard to the TPP. It's an ugly mess.

Next month, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) is offering legislation to back up an idea by Warren Buffett that requires importers to provide certificates for the goods and services they sell, a stream of income that could be used to bolster Social Security and Medicare and rebuild U.S. infrastructure and cut middle class taxes. Grayson sees his bill as "the light at the end of the tunnel... It's time to stop digging that hole any deeper. Let's fight back against the scheme that has robbed the Amercian middle class now for decades. Let's fight it and let's defeat it right now while we still can. Let's put our workers back to work earning a decent day's pay for a decent day's work. Let's heal our economy and heal our nation. Let's show our courage, show our unity; let's climb out of that hole. Let's raise ourselves up and let's rebuild the American middle class."
We are activists and organizers trying to build a broad, effective movement for democratic change. We come from different backgrounds, and were inspired by different issues and fights for peace, rights and the planet. Our goal is a government that carries out the will of the people, and not serve to increase the profits of the 1% at the expense of the rest of us.

To that end we support Bernie Sanders in his bid to become the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party.  We stand firmly behind Senator Sanders as the strongest progressive challenger to Hillary Clinton-- the bold alternative.

As a truly progressive candidate for the Democratic Party nomination, Senator Sanders has the chance to inspire millions of Americans with policy proposals that put the interests of the 99%, front and center.

Franklin D. Roosevelt called out the “economic royalists” of his day. Senator Sanders is picking up the banner. He answers to “We the People” and not to the corporate and financial sectors. Bernie brings the kind of leadership that is necessary to building a real, living democracy.

The initiators of this letter are veteran grassroots organizers of Occupy Wall Street, and are joined by many energized brothers and sisters we have met along the way. In September 2011, our efforts changed the narrative of American politics, helping to focus it on the issues of our time: inequality, surrender to the power of concentrated wealth, the corruption of our democracy by moneyed interests, and the need for solutions as radical as our problems.

We are signing as individuals hoping to kickstart a small ‘d’ democratic movement. People For Bernie won’t be a corporate-style, staff-driven, controlled-message, top-down enterprise. It will reflect diverse constituencies from a broad range of movements, which in many cases haven’t seen the Democratic Party as a home for their deepest aspirations. It will reflect our commitment to fundamental change, not just a change of faces at the top of the political pyramid. People for Bernie it will reflect the urgency of more and fiercer grassroots political activity at the base.

We call on all other progressive forces to unite behind Sanders so we can have a united front in this important campaign.

Winnie Wong-- participant in OWS, @OccupyWallStreetNYC, Organizer, RFW, AFW
Charles Lenchner-- participant in OWS, former member of Tech Ops, co-founder, Ready For Warren
Howie Klein
Nadya Stevens
Andrew Smith (Rockaway Wildfire, OWS
Stan Williams (OSA, OWS)
Shana East (Ready For Warren)
Heidi Chua (Rosa Luxembourg Siftung)
Daniel Sieradski (Occupy Judaism)
Kim Fraczek (The Peoples Puppets of Occupy Wall Street)
Jesse Myerson (Occupy The Ballots)
Ethan Young Left Labor Project
David Unger
Ethan Earle (Rosa Luxembourg Siftung)
Kazembe Balagun (Rosa Luxembourg Siftung)
Diane Sweet
Gan Golan (MayDay Space)
Matt Hopard (OWS)
jackrabbit (Interoccupy)
Nadine Bloch
Thiaggo de Mello Bueno (OWS)
Mark Provost (Us Uncut)
Zak Solomon (MayDay Space, Rising Tide NYC)
Aly Johnson-Kurts (Teachout-Wu)
Robel Tekleab (Ready For Warren)
Moumita Ahmed (Ready For Warren)
Caleb Michael-Files (Ready For Warren)
Angela Linneman
Phillip Anderson (The Albany Project)
Lane Hall (Overpass Light Brigade)
Lisa Moline (Overpass Light Brigade)
Joe Brusky (Overpass Light Brigade)
Damien Crisp (member @OccupyWallStNYC)
Melissa Byrne (Occupy DC-Mcpherson, Project Springboard)
Amber Frost
Paul Russell (Occupy Faith, Judson Church)
Gabriel Johnson
Bhaskar Sunkara, Jacobin Magazine
Mary Clinton
Betsy Avila, Young Democratic Socialists
Maria Svart, Democratic Socialists of America
Beth Becker
Kelli Daley
Justin Molito

No labor leaders? If you're looking for their names, you haven't been paying attention. Labor leaders whose lives revolve around the Beltway are part of the Establishment. They are overwhelmingly self-serving and will gladly support an outrageous hack like Patrick Murphy, Hillary Clinton, Chis Van Hollen or any repulsive Blue Dog or New Dem before backing someone from the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt wing of the Democratic Party.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Mitch Waxman ruminates about the role of a "schmuck with a camera" standing up to city movers and shakers


Doughboy Park alongside Woodside Avenue in Woodside, Queens, from our April 11 Woodside Avenue walk with Jack Eichenbaum -- all photos in this post by Mitch Waxman

"I'm some shmuck with a camera who wanders around and researches the history of Western Queens and North Brooklyn obsessively."
-- Mitch Waxman, in his Newtown Pentacle
post today,
"resting and brooding"

by Ken

A few weeks ago I did a dandy Municipal Art Society walk along historic (and wildly varied) Woodside Avenue in Queens with my walking pal Jack Eichenbaum, the Queens borough historian, and who should be along for the walk about another old walking pal, Mitch Waxman -- celebrated walker, photographer, and local historian? Mitch chronicled the walk in his Brownstoner Queens column, which in its way was almost as good as, maybe better than, being there.

The photo above is from that walk, and so is this one, showing Jack in the middle (still on the sidewalk) retrieving the part of the group that was waiting in front of the Orange Hut Deli/Grocery to lead us to the actual meeting place across Northern Boulevard:

(That's me, strangely off by myself at the right.)

Mitch has lately been getting a lot more attention from the city's moneyed class as a result of his considerable skeptical writing about the developers' wet dream of building a platform over the rail yards in Sunnyside, thus making them available for massive development for which there is no infrastructure available, not to mention the massive disruption it would bring to the heavily working-class neighborhoods, it would overwhelm. But the notion that he's some kind of ideologue or has some kind of personal agenda is silly. He's a guy who lives in the area and for years has spent a lot of time talking with other people who do, and who understand that their area has been used as a dirty industrial underbelly for the fancy folk in the city's swank neighborhoods, notably Manhattan's. On many of his walking tours in the area, for example, you get to see that the booming recycling industry isn't clean and green but is in fact filthy and extremely energy-consuming as all that stuff is gathered to points out of sight of the quality folk and then process for shipment to, usually, the East. That's not ideology, it's just having familiarity with the on-the-ground reality.

During the Woodside Avenue walk I finally had a chance to ask Mitch about the publication schedule for his columns at Brownstoner Queens, which I don't see much, and learned that it's Monday and Thursday. (There's an archive of his Brownstoner columns here.) As I've mentioned, his own Newtown Pentacle blog (of which there's an author's archive here) is one of the very few blogs I read regularly, and I thought today's post provides an excellent reason why. The fabulous pictures look much better onsite.
resting and brooding

by Mitch Waxman

Contemplative perambulations, in today's post.

Mighty Triborough, as observed from the elevated Subway station on 31st street here in Astoria. One will admit that the depression era aesthethics of Robert Moses's empire building span over the East River has always appealed to me. Currently, anything that causes me to forget about the various pedantic existential issues regularly offered up by the human infestation - which plague my days - is nepenthe, and a welcome relief from the coarse bleating of the swine.

Regular readers of this, your Newtown Pentacle, would be stunned to hear the things a humble narrator has been accused of. I'm "some sort of shill for the real estate industrial complex," laying the ground for them to develop condos along Newtown Creek - that's my favorite. Recently, someone accused me of distorting facts and propagating a right wing agenda, and compared me to Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh. Others have asked if I'm seeking some sort of political appointment or secretly working for some candidate for elective office. A representative of City Planning once uttered "Who do you think you are?." Funnily enough, most of my accusers are in fact politcal operators and members of the "establishment."

What I can tell you is this - I'm some shmuck with a camera who wanders around and researches the history of Western Queens and North Brooklyn obsessively. Certain issues or topics force me to "get involved" such as Newtown Creek, or the disastrous plans which the Big Little Mayor have announced for the Sunnyside Yards. Unlike most of my critics, I actually live here. To them, I say go back to your apartments in Manhattan or move here and get some actual skin in the game.


Now that the weather has warmed up, it's tour season for Mitch. (In addition to his long-standing work with the Newtown Creek Alliance and the Working Harbor Committee, he's been doing tours in "his" areas of Brooklyn and Queens for Atlas Obscura and Brooklyn Brainery.) He's already got some dates upcoming --

May 3, 2015 –
DUBPO, Down Under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp
with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, a free tour offered as part of Janeswalk 2015, click here for tickets.

May 16, 2015 –
13 Steps Around Dutch Kills with Atlas Obscura
with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for details and tickets.

May 31, 2015 –
Newtown Creek Boat Tour
with Working Harbor Committee and Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for tickets.

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Justice Ginsburg argues that justices claiming to uphold the eternal definition of marriage don't know what they're talking about


by Ken

When I went yesterday with the Washington Post team's account of the Supreme Court's oral arguments on the cases it's hearing regarding same-sex marriage, I kept meaning to check ThinkProgress to see what legal eagle Ian Millhiser had to say about the proceedings. For general coverage I think we did OK, but now I'm happy to say that we can turn to Ian M for his particular take.

It turns out that he has taken particular note of a comment by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in response to some usual blithering from the Court's biggest blowhard-jackass, Nino Scalia. (There may be dumber justices. "Sammy the Hammer" Alito, for an instance. And the Hammer may be as vicious as Justice Nino. But he's nowhere near as overbearingly loud.) Here's Ian:
During Tuesday’s marriage equality arguments in the Supreme Court, several of the Court’s conservative members suggested that same-sex couples should not be given equal marriage rights because these couples have not enjoyed those rights for most of the past. As Justice Antonin Scalia summed up this argument, “for millennia, not a single society” supported marriage equality, and that somehow exempted same-sex couples from the Constitution’s promise of equal protection of the law.

Not long after her conservative colleagues raised this argument, however, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg explained exactly why marriage was long understood to be incompatible with homosexuality in just five sentences:
[Same-sex couples] wouldn’t be asking for this relief if the law of marriage was what it was a millennium ago. I mean, it wasn’t possible. Same-sex unions would not have opted into the pattern of marriage, which was a relationship, a dominant and a subordinate relationship. Yes, it was marriage between a man and a woman, but the man decided where the couple would be domiciled; it was her obligation to follow him.

There was a change in the institution of marriage to make it egalitarian when it wasn’t egalitarian. And same-sex unions wouldn’t — wouldn’t fit into what marriage was once.
It was a blunt reminder, or an attempt at a blunt reminder (subtlety is so wasted on many of Justice Ginsburg's fellow justices that even hammerlike bluntness may come across as filigreed nuance) that justices who imagine they're defending an eternal and unchanging definition of marriage are full of doody, because until surprisingly recently a concept as simple-sounding as "a man and a woman" not only wasn't simple but in fact from a legal standpoint meant something not at all like what the doody-strewers think.

Here's Ian again:
Justice Ginsburg’s point was that, until surprisingly recently, the legal institution of marriage was defined in terms of gender roles. According to Sir William Blackstone, an eighteenth century English jurist whose works are still frequently cited today to explain the common law principles we inherited from our former colonial rulers, “[t]he very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband; under whose wing, protection and cover, she performs everything.” As late as 1887, fully one third of the states did not permit women to control their earnings. And married women could not even withhold consent to sex with their husband until shockingly recently.

Under the common law, “by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract the wife hath given herself up in this kind unto her husband,” and this consent was something “she cannot retract.” The first successful prosecution in the United States of a husband who raped his wife did not occur until the late 1970s.

So American marriage law, and the English law that it was derived from, presumed that the wife was both financially and sexual subservient to the husband. In a world where marriage is defined as a union between a dominant man and a submissive woman, each fulfilling unique gender roles, the case for marriage discrimination is clear. How can both the dominant male role and the submissive female role be carried out in a marital union if the union does not include one man and one woman? This, according to Justice Ginsburg, is why marriage was understood to exclude same-sex couples for so many centuries.

But marriage is no longer bound to antiquated gender roles. And when those gender roles are removed, the case for marriage discrimination breaks down.


. . . was: "The Lawyer Defending Discrimination In The Supreme Court May Have Just Talked Himself Out Of Victory." He pointed out that lawyer John Bursch, when he took the podium, focused on the argument that "When you change the definition of marriage, that has consequences," and when pressed on those consequences trotted out an argument that was used in Sammy the Hammer's dissent in United States vs. Windsor, that the Court majority was siding with, as Ian put it, "a 'traditional' view" of marriage" which sees it "as an 'exclusively opposite-sex institution and as one inextricably linked to procreation and biological kinship' " over "a 'consent-based' view 'that primarily defines marriage as the solemnization of mutual commitment -- marked by strong emotional attachment and sexual attraction - between two persons."

The problem? In Windsor, "Only one other justice, however, Justice Clarence Thomas, joined this part of Alito’s dissent."

As Bursch pressed this view, he was challenged by Justice Kennedy -- whose position is generally considered crucial to the outcome of the present bundle of cases -- and in Ian's view "Bursch's response to Kennedy's concerns was a disaster." You can read more in the post at the above link.

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Progressives Are Not Alone — 87% of Republicans Oppose Fast Track


How the Tea Party sees Fast Track (source)

by Gaius Publius

In covering the TPP battle between President Obama and the CEO class on the one side, and most of the rest of the country on the other, I've noted that the Tea Party right is as opposed as the "professional" left. (My own TPP coverage is collected here.)

Now comes more evidence of that. Let's start with The Hill (h/t Dave Johnson; my emphasis throughout):
Trade vote stirs angst on the right

Trade legislation is sowing discord among Senate Republicans that could make it tougher than expected to pass fast-track trade authority and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

While much of the attention in the trade fight has focused on the divide between President Obama and liberal Democrats, Republican leaders are facing dissent within their own caucus because of currency manipulation and immigration concerns.

“The polling is bad, and some people are getting nervous,” said a GOP senator who requested anonymity to talk about his conversations with colleagues.

Senate Republicans are looking for political cover to vote for trade promotion authority (TPA) legislation, which would empower Obama to negotiate the TPP — a trade pact with 11 nations — that could not be amended or filibustered in Congress.

Potential Republican “no” votes on the bill include Sens. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Richard Burr (N.C.) and Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.).
There are 54 Republican senators, one of whom (Richard Burr, listed above) is likely to vote No on the floor since he voted No in the Finance Committee. If all four Republicans listed above vote No and support the filibuster — where the threshold is 60 votes — the Democrats will need to find ten votes at least to pass Fast Track in the Senate. We already know there are 7 Democratic votes for Fast Track, based on their Yes votes in committee:
  • Ron Wyden — Ranking Member and lead perp
  • Michael Bennet — Former head of DSCC
  • Maria Cantwell
  • Ben Cardin
  • Tom Carper
  • Bill Nelson
  • Mark Warner
The margins are close. The Hill again:
Ten to 15 Senate Democrats are expected to vote for the fast-track bill, which means Republican leaders can only afford to lose fewer than 10 caucus members.

“I think it’s going to be tight,” said Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.), who is leaning in favor of voting yes because the farm community supports the legislation.

Republican senators say Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his leadership team have begun to count votes, a sign that they’re not taking passage of the measures for granted.

It could be a problem depending on how few Democrats vote for it. The president has to step up and work it,” said another GOP senator, who requested anonymity to discuss his party’s whip count.
If the Republicans are down to 50 Yes votes, they'll need 10 Democrats in order to break the filibuster. If no more than 15 Democrats vote with the CEOs and the multinational corporations, Republicans can only lose another five votes:
Democratic aides say the final number of Democratic yeses is unlikely to exceed 15.

“It’s possible that more than half of the yes votes already voted for it in committee,” said a senior Democratic aide.
It's going to be tight, and pressure is building on both parties from their so-called "base":
While the trade deals are popular with the business community, they are controversial among the conservative base in states — such as Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, North Carolina and South Carolinawhere Republican incumbents are running for reelection next year.

“Why would any Republican give President Obama more authority?” said Ed Martin, president of Eagle Forum, a conservative advocacy group.
Let's look at the Republican opposition more closely.

87% of Republicans Oppose Fast Track

Dave Johnson, from the piece linked above:
Republicans in Congress can read polls and letters from their constituents as well as Democrats, and they, as most Democrats already have done, are starting to realize that it might not be wise to rubber-stamp the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the rigged fast track trade promotion authority process that will be used to pre-approve it. The tea party and the right generally are starting to ramp up their own opposition.
In support, he offers this. First, 87% of Republicans oppose Fast Track:
I noted in the recent post “A Look At The Fast Track Bill Shows It’s The Wrong Thing To Do” that polls show that many conservatives are opposed to fast track and the TPP, and that in Congress, “many ‘Constitution-based’ Tea Party Republicans are opposed to it.” Those polls show that “Republicans overwhelmingly oppose giving fast-track authority to the president (8 percent in favor, 87 percent opposed), as do independents (20 percent-66 percent).”
He notes that Pat Buchanan is strongly opposed, as are Tea Party "patriots." In fact, conservative advocacy groups are already starting to run ads. Huffington Post (h/t Johnson again):
Americans for Limited Government, a conservative group founded by wealthy activist Howard Rich, will begin radio ads in New Hampshire on Thursday, calling on Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to oppose the fast-track legislation moving through Congress. All three senators are running for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

“Congress is getting ready to give Obama more power, just when we’re getting ready to choose his replacement,” the ad says. “If Congress gives Obama fast-track power, he’ll use it to write more regulations for our economy -- for the entire world. Rules that the next president won’t be able to change.”
Note that "next president" objection in the last line above. If that "next president" is Hillary Clinton, she'll have Fast Track power as well for any trade deal she wants to gin up. See what I mean by a bipartisan rejection of Fast Track? Only the money-bought want it, and I think I mean that literally.

Also, note those names listed above — Republican Sens. Cruz, Paul and Rubio. If all three decide to vote No, the Republican Yes votes fall to 47, and 13 Democratic Yes votes will be needed. Are there 13 Democratic Yes votes for Fast Track? You can help with that.

It's Going to Be Close

It's going to be close and also interesting. I personally think Ron Wyden should lose his job over his role in this, regardless of what happens. But that's for later (though you can always click here, give him a little call, and offer a little piece of your mind, especially if you vote in Oregon).

For now though, lobby your senators hard — both Democrats and Republicans. Senate phone numbers here. Call them both; you will never know until afterward who was about to fold and say No to Fast Track. This can still be won.


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Does It Matter To You Who Wins The British Election Next Week?


During the American Revolution, Patriots didn't just have the British Army and Hessian mercenaries to contend with. At least 20% of the white colonists, conservatives, were traitors and sided with the British. As many as 2.5 million colonials were Tories or Royalists and after the war almost 100,000 of them fled the 13 colonies for Britain, Canada and other British colonies. Benjamin Franklin's own son, William, was one of them-- a governor of New Jersey who stayed loyal to the crown and settled in London after the British and their conservative allies were defeated.

A week from tomorrow-- Thursday May 7-- the Brits will elect a new government and 632 Members of Parliament. There are 302 Conservatives, 56 Liberal Democrats (so 358 in the coalition) and 256 members of the Labour Party in the out-going Parliament. Right-wing American businessman Bob Dudley, CEO of British Petroleum has endorsed the Conservative Party, as have tabloids the Daily Mail and the Daily Express. Eddie Izzard and Stephen Hawking have endorsed Labour.

Polling shows a virtual dead heat and most seat predictions show the Conservatives winning a narrow victory over Labour, although Labour + the Scottish National Party will command a majority. But what about the rest of the world? Yesterday, The Guardian tried figuring out who Obama, Putin, Modi, Hassan Rouhani and Robert Mugabe would be voting for.

US-- Miliband

Obama himself has established a workably cordial relationship with David Cameron, though the UK has looked increasingly marginal to the White House of late: noticeably absent from recent negotiations with Russia over Ukraine and incurring the wrath of Obama by siding with China over new banking institutions.

A re-election for Cameron also raises the prospect of a referendum on Britain leaving the EU, one of the few issues of domestic UK politics on which Obama has ever expressed an opinion.

Though the current president may have less concern for Britain than his interventionist predecessor or likely successors, he would still rather see a British-flavoured EU than an EU where the French and Germans called all the shots alone.

Meanwhile, many of the Republican frontrunners have already began working on their Atlanticist credentials by making trips to London, and would no doubt much prefer if Cameron were to stay on the other end of the special relationship.

Indeed, one of the first indications that Jeb Bush was poised to join the 2016 race was when he turned up with the chancellor, George Osborne, on a tour of Britain’s conservative power brokers last November. Governors Scott Walker and Chris Christie were not far behind with trips that also suggest the GOP mainstream would feel most comfortable with another Tory-led government in London.

But not all Republicans naturally lean towards the Tories. The libertarian-minded maverick Rand Paul may find more common cause with Ed Miliband on issues of foreign policy, where the Labour leader’s role in blocking western air strikes in Syria chimes with a growing strand of anti-interventionism on the US right.

Conversely, it is far from a given that the more hawkish Hillary Clinton would slot in with Labour anywhere near as comfortably as her husband once did.

Russia-- Cameron

“Who does Vladimir Putin want to see running Britain after May 7?” This was the question posed by Nick Boles, a Tory minister, on Twitter recently. Boles was pretty sure he knew the answer: Ed Miliband and the Scottish nationalists. “The man who abandoned the Syrians to their fate and the woman who wants to scrap our nuclear deterrent,” he wrote.

However, according to Sergei Utkin, an analyst working on Russian relations with EU countries, while the British general election is hardly top of the agenda for most Russian politicians, if anything the preference is probably for a Conservative victory. “In general the Conservatives are a known evil, so even if our relations are not so good there will be an expectation that they won’t get any worse,” he said.

Some in the Russian elite with property in London or family studying in the UK might prefer a Labour victory because they felt the left would be more tolerant on immigration, Utkin claimed, but the political elite would be more likely to err on the side of hoping for the status quo.

There is also considerable interest in the rise of the smaller parties, and the disproportionate influence they could wield in a hung parliament with just a few MPs.

Nigel Farage famously said he admired Putin’s political style, and there are reasons to believe the affection could be mutual. While Ukip has not received the kind of Russian money that other European far-right groups such as France’s Front National have had, Farage is a regular guest on the Kremlin’s Russia Today television network, where his message of a broken Europe goes down well.

On the one hand, Farage’s line that Britain, as a sovereign country, should be able to make its own policy decisions and not be subordinate to Brussels resonates with many Russian politicians on a philosophical level. More pragmatically, they also feel that a referendum on the UK’s EU membership would keep Britain and the EU busy for some time.

“Britain leaving the EU would make both Britain and the EU much weaker, which those in the Russian leadership feel would be good for Russia. And if Brussels and London are occupied with the debate over the issue for years, then it will leave less time for working on a tough common foreign policy,” said Utkin.

Germany-- Miliband

At the start of his tenure, David Cameron was viewed as something of a breath of fresh air in Berlin-- smart, charismatic, youthful-- and a good partner for Angela Merkel to work with.

But Europe is always the first hurdle at which relations between British and German conservatives fall. CDU politicians are, without fail, staunch Europeans. The unbridgeable gulf between them and their Eurosceptic counterparts in the UK has often made relations between two otherwise natural political bedfellows quite a challenge.

Cameron’s performance on the international stage has made German policymakers lose their patience. There was his clumsy resistance over not wanting Jean-Claude Juncker to become president of the European commission, and the tactless enthusiasm with which he withdrew Tory MEPs from the European People’s party.

How telling it is, says Gerhard Dannemann, a German expert on Britain, that: “In the event of a European crisis it was once Cameron that Obama used to call. Nowadays it’s Merkel.”

For Germans who have been following the UK election campaign closely, observing everything from Cameron’s consumption of a hotdog with a knife and fork (“awkward,” said one commentator) to the PM-less TV debate (“cowardly” said another), the only issue that truly matters is Europe.

The nervousness that stems from knowing that a Conservative win equals a referendum on Europe by the end of 2017, and all that a subsequent Brexit might entail, is palpable in Berlin.

Berlin will lose an important EU partner should the UK vote to leave-- not just as a trading partner, but in like-minded thinking on everything from immigrant access to benefits, to ensuring that the EU stays competitive. And without the UK, the domination of the southern states, including France, would be almost overwhelming for Germany.

From that point of view Ed Miliband, even though he comes from a completely different political camp, may make a far easier partner for Merkel to work with than Cameron.

China-- undecided

Lively debates about Britain often pop up in China: from discussions of Benedict Cumberbatch and Premier League matches, to the state of Charles and Camilla’s marriage and the wares at Bicester Village outlet shopping centre.

When it comes to next month’s election, however, there is a resounding silence. There is far greater interest in a poll more than 18 months away-- the US presidential ballot-- than the one in a matter of weeks. One of the few bothering to comment-- the HereinUK account on Sina’s Weibo microblog-- has focused on the process: “The must-have skill for every leader in the election-- taking selfies,” it said, beneath pictures of Cameron, Nick Clegg, Miliband and Farage posing with voters.

The political elite are similarly indifferent to the campaign. For the world’s second-largest economy, the UK is just one among many partners. And while the current British government has been accused of cosying up to Beijing, adopting a trade-first policy largely at the chancellor’s behest after it was frozen out over Cameron’s meeting with the Dalai Lama, there is no sign that Miliband would take a substantially different tack.

“China highly values its bilateral relations with Britain, but I don’t think it worries much about the election outcome-- it won’t drastically affect Britain’s current China policies,” said Wang Yiwei, director of the China-Europe Academic Network and a professor at Renmin University.

“Their attitudes towards China are quite similar: a closer relationship with China means a new and great opportunity for not just London, the financial centre, but the British economy as a whole.

“Though not having a decisive result and forming a coalition might give rise to concerns about investment efficiency, it’s quite clear that Britain welcomes investment from China. I don’t think the authorities would worry too much.”

Zhao Chen, deputy chief of the European politics department at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, agreed: “Whichever party wins the election won’t affect Sino-UK relations and the UK’s China policies much … Labour also highly values the Chinese market.”

If the decision of British voters does end up disrupting relations, it will probably be a long-term and unintentional consequence of other Labour-Tory policy differences. An exit from the EU would reduce the UK’s importance to China.

“Though London is the global financial centre, it is the integrated EU market that makes the UK attractive to Chinese investments. China sees the UK as the bridgehead for the EU and is interested in the 500-million-population EU market rather than just [the] domestic market,” Zhao said.

South Africa-- Miliband; Zimbabwe-- Cameron

Few in South Africa would mourn a defeat for David Cameron. Last year, President Jacob Zuma was scheduled to visit the UK twice but cancelled both times. First he ducked out of Britain’s official memorial service for Nelson Mandela and attended the wedding of Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe’s daughter instead.Then he skipped a summit because, sources say, he was warned that he would “doorstepped” by the media and relations with the UK were frosty.

The leaders’ relationship may never have recovered from Cameron’s first visit to South Africa as prime minister in 2011, when they were poles apart over the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi. Many senior figures in South Africa believe that Libya’s subsequent descent into chaos has vindicated their criticism of western military intervention.

Then, in 2013, South Africa rebuked the British government for stopping direct aid to the country after two decades, describing it as “tantamount to redefining our relationship”. Conversely, Labour appeals to the trade union allies of the ruling ANC and is believed to have offered advice to the party during its 1999 election campaign. Aubrey Matshiqi, a political commentator, says: “Traditionally there have been strong relations between the ANC and Labour, and the ANC has preferred Labour to win.”

This time, however, with South Africa focused on trade partners such as Brazil, China, India and Russia, the British election has received little attention. “There are three South Africans who know who Ed Miliband is,” Matshiqi adds. “I could be exaggerating. It might only be two.”

In neighbouring Zimbabwe it appears that political alliances are reversed. Mugabe has never forgiven Labour for reneging on promises of funding land redistribution made under the 1979 Lancaster House agreement. Only this month he thundered again: “Blair, Blair, who was he? Just the prime minister of Britain. I’m president of Zimbabwe.” After Labour’s defeat in 2010, the ageing president reportedly said: “It looks like I can do business with Britain again.”

British-born Piers Pigou, southern Africa project director of the International Crisis Group, says: “They still live with the antipathy towards Blair and Labour. They don’t seem to get that the party today isn’t that close to the Blair and Labour of the 90s. They have a penchant for the Conservative party and prefer them to win, which is kind of ironic considering that the bulk of opposition to re-engagement is likely to come from the Conservatives.”

Mugabe remains under EU sanctions and has no personal relationship with Cameron, but there is said to have been discreet communication between the two governments. Last year Zimbabwe hosted its first British trade delegation in about two decades, hailed by the finance minister, Patrick Chinamasa, as “the first step in our normalisation of relations between the United Kingdom and Zimbabwe”. But as for 7 May, says the Harare-based political analyst Ibbo Mandaza, “I don’t think they’ve thought about it. I’ve seen no analysis, no reference to the British election at all.”

France-- Miliband

Unlike good wine, British politics does not travel well in France and vice versa. For years, journalists in Paris would write about the “centre-right government of Gaullist Jacques Chirac,” when it was considerably to the left of Tony Blair’s Labour administration.

As François Hollande’s current Socialist government has moved closer to his country’s traditional partner, Germany, Britain seems to have dropped off France’s radar.

Bruno Bernard, a political speechwriter, and parliamentary adviser to a former UMP minister, said: “If you ask, most French still think Tony Blair is prime minister. Since his election David Cameron has made no impression on France. He’s already been in power for five years and I don’t believe people in France even know the UK is having an election.

“Farage and Ukip are making an impression, but because of Marine Le Pen, who is all anyone is talking about in France at the moment.”

Pascal Canfin, a member of the Europe-Ecology-Green party and a former minister for development in Hollande’s Socialist administration, is concerned about how the UK election will play out for climate and environmental issues.

“In the event the only way the Conservatives have a majority is with Ukip, this will leave the government hostage to climate sceptics. However, I have spoken to Miliband’s advisers and special envoys and their position is much more positive for France.

“Europe is another dimension to the British election, and we have to admit that if there’s a Conservative government that is obliged to make an alliance with Ukip, we’ll have a British position on Europe that has moved very far away from the French position.

“Britain will surely seek to negotiate treaties and repatriate powers to its sovereign government. If there’s a Labour government in alliance with the SNP, there will be a closer ally, able to construct a better relationship with France. Clearly, there are two different paths.”

The former justice minister and MEP Rachida Dati, who served in Nicolas Sarkozy’s government, says Brussels is watching the UK election “with a lot of interest."

“The United Kingdom’s place in Europe, and thus the future of Europe, are at the heart of this campaign. David Cameron has had the courage to propose holding a referendum in 2017, because this meets a deep wish of the British people.

“Certain people in Brussels fear the result, for fear of being shaken out of their comfort zone. I believe Brussels and the member state governments would be obliged to hear the message from Britain. I am personally convinced the change in Europe sought by David Cameron is wished for by many Europeans: a Europe that is less bureacratic.”

India-- Miliband

The British elections have attracted little attention so far in India, despite historic links and the repeated visits of ministers over recent years.

“There was a peak of interest when Cameron came in, but even that wasn’t much compared to the interest [Tony] Blair and [Gordon] Brown generated,” says Dipankar De Sarkar, a Delhi-based columnist and former correspondent in the UK.

Many Indians have been put off by the “anti-immigration rhetoric” in the UK in recent years, and the Conservative government’s tightening of visa policies, he says.

“The whole sentiment has just turned people off the UK here. The rise of Ukip hasn’t helped. Indians for a long time looked at the UK as a gateway to Europe too, but that has also slipped.”

If any Indians are tempted to pick sides, there is a historic tendency to favour the Labour party, seen as supportive of India’s independence from Britain in 1947. However, Cameron has visited India repeatedly and Ed Miliband is “an unknown quantity”, according to Kanwal Sibal, a former senior diplomat.

Miliband’s recent promise to remove tax privileges from wealthy foreigners living in Britain, a favoured base of many Indian tycoons, has “ruffled a few feathers," Sibal says, which may lead to “a slight preference for Cameron” among the Indian elite.

The local Hindustan Times noted that the Labour party had not mentioned India in its manifesto, whereas the Conservatives, “viewed by many Asians as the ‘nasty party’,” had “made significant mention of India."

The newspaper noted that the Ukip manifesto had mentioned India too, in the context of its desire “to foster closer ties with the Anglosphere."

Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, has significant support among the Indian community in the UK.

Jaimini Bhagwati, who was India’s high commissioner in London from 2012 to 2013, says that India, though a developing country, has found it easier to “do business” with rightwing governments in the UK and the US, and that many within the emerging power are uneasy with Miliband, who reminds them of an “old-style trade union leader."

“Normally you’d think that a Labour government would be favourable to us but it’s the Conservatives who have their ear closer to the ground in terms of getting things done. At the end of the day, at our stage of development, it’s about technology and capital,” Bhagwati says.

Modi’s first meeting with Cameron took place on the margins of the G20 in Brisbane, Australia, last year. The British prime minister praised his counterpart’s “vision” and stressed India was a top priority of the UK’s foreign policy. After Modi’s election in May last year Cameron spoke of how “Britain and India now both [had] bold reforming governments that believe in free enterprise and progress."

The UK has expanded its presence in India-- the diplomatic mission is one of the biggest in the world-- and has made expanding trade a key objective. On a recent visit, Philip Hammond, the foreign secretary, spoke too of “shared security interests” globally and in the region.

The reality, however, is that British efforts to “move the relationship to another level” seem to have left the Indians largely unmoved. Modi has focused his foreign policy efforts primarily on relations in the region, then on the US, with Europe and the UK a long way down the list. He is expected to travel to London after the election, however.

Australia-- Cameron

Australia’s prime minister, Tony Abbott, is probably the country’s most famous anglophile.

And though he has made no public comment on the British election, there is also little doubt the Australian Liberal prime minister would welcome the return of David Cameron to Downing Street on 7 May.

During a visit by Cameron to Australia in November 2014, Abbott described the relationship between the UK and its former penal colony as “a relationship between, if not quite equals, certainly peers, and as important as any relationship on this earth."

Abbott and Cameron have a cordial personal relationship, though they differ significantly on certain policy issues, most notably on climate change. Cameron was quick to congratulate Abbott on his election victory in September 2013, taking to social media to declare: “It will be great working with another centre-right leader.”

Cameron visited the Australian parliament last year while in the country for the G20 meeting, and the two leaders have worked together on issues such as counter-terrorism.

The connections run deeper. Cameron has Lynton Crosby, an Australian, as his campaign director. Crosby ran campaigns for the Liberal party in Australia in 1998 and in 2001. Mark Textor, Crosby’s business partner, is the Liberal party’s current pollster. Textor is also on board as strategic adviser to Cameron and the Tories for the current campaign.

Iran-- undecided

Iran may have more serious issues to worry about than the forthcoming UK election, but who governs next in Westminster is still important for Tehran leaders. The UK is among the six major powers currently negotiating with Iran to find a permanent settlement to the decades-long dispute over its nuclear programme.

Under the Tories, Iran-UK relations experienced peaks and troughs. In November 2011, the British embassy in Tehran was stormed by a mob who ransacked offices and diplomatic residences. It triggered one of the worst crises in bilateral relations since the 1979 Islamic revolution as Britain withdrew all its staff from Tehran and expelled all Iranian diplomats from London in retaliation for the attack. All but nominal relations were severed.

But since the moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, took office in 2013, Tehran-London relations have improved. Both countries have upgraded ties to the level of non-resident charges d’affaires and taken significant steps towards reopening their missions.

Later in 2013, Cameron and Rouhani spoke on the phone, in the first direct contact between a British prime minister and Iranian president in a decade.

In 2014, a parliamentary delegation from the UK, led by the former foreign secretary Jack Straw, travelled to Tehran to improve ties. Britain’s chargé d’affaires, Ajay Sharma, has also travelled to Iran a number of times trying to mend relations. A group of Iranian parliamentarians have since visited Westminister, in the first visit to the UK by Iranian MPs in nearly 50 years.

In September 2014, Cameron and Rouhani met in New York on the sidelines of the UN general assembly. It was the first encounter between an Iranian president and a British prime minister since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Despite these improvements, Britain and Iran have not yet technically opened their embassies in their respective capitals. That may change with a new prime minister in Downing Street.

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