Tag Archives: U.S. politics

The Supreme Court in Wonderland

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.

“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.

“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

Lewis Carroll – Alice in Wonderland

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TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
February, 2016

Once upon a time, long ago and faraway, there was a magical kingdom. And in the kingdom there were three great forces: the king who was chosen by the people, the counselors who said they represented the people but who really only represented the people with money (for brevity’s sake we shall revert to this group as the “wing nuts”), and the great judges. For many years these three groups found a way to get along. Oh, there would be big arguments from time to time, but by and large the three groups were most interested in making sure that their kingdom progressed in one way or another.

But then one day, the wing nuts were taken over by an angry mob of trolls who only liked to drink tea. And all wing nuts who didn’t like tea had to pretend that they did. And of all the many things that the tea-drinking wing nuts hated, the thing they hated most was the king.

They thought he was the wrong size, the wrong colour, the wrong religion, the wrong … Well, you get the idea. If the king said it was Tuesday, the wing nuts who only liked to drink tea would scream loudly that it was actually Wednesday, and that the king was trying to destroy the country because he was the wrong size, the wrong color, the wrong religion etc.

Meanwhile, the great judges would look over each of the laws that had been issued by the king or by the wing nuts and give a thumbs-up or thumbs down. Now the judges were split, 5 to 4, in favour of the wing nuts. This meant that many of their decisions went against the king. But the king was a good king, and he knew the laws of the land, so he would abide by their decisions.

And then one day the most amazing thing happened. One of the great judges, Scalia of the Sarcastic Sanctimonious Sentences, died quite unexpectedly. While in most cases the death of one of the great judges caused some hubbub, the death of the Scalia resulted in a total hissy fit among the wing nuts and the wing nuts who only liked to drink tea. They knew according to the law of the land the king had a right to name a person to replace the Scalia, and that he would probably name someone he liked and who he thought was good. But the wing nuts and the wing nuts who only liked to drink tea knew that it meant that the great judges would now be in favour of the king.

Normally the wing nuts and the wing nuts who only liked to drink tea were among the most vocal supporters of the law of the land, and often accused the king of trying to make his own laws instead. But they knew that was a tricky position to hold in this particular case, so they immediately pretended that the law (known among the people as “Article II”) did not exist.

But the great law was very clear. As long as the king was the king, he had a right to name the person who would replace the Scalia. The wing nuts and the wing nuts who only liked to drink tea then tried to say that since the king was in his last year as king, that “the people” would want them to wait until there was a new king to pick a person to replace the Scalia.

But that’s not what the law of the land said, and most of “the people” were aware that the wing nuts and the wing nuts who only liked to drink tea really didn’t care much about the people, and were only hoping that by throwing a lot of nonsense around, the new king might be the Terrible Trump or the Creepy Cruz or someone of a similar ilk, who was one of the wing nuts or the wing nuts who only liked to drink tea.

So the wing nuts and the wing nuts who only liked to drink tea started to perform a great kabuki dance. They put on white faces and made weird noises and sounds and danced strangely around the kingdom, veering back and forth between supporting the king’s right to name the successor to the Scalia, and saying that he had no right at all.

In the end, it really did not matter, because even if they allowed the king to name a successor, there was no way they were going to allow him to actually replace the Scalia. They would find some reason to say that the new judge was not the right person for the position: that he had farted too loudly in class in high school, that she had the heartbreak of psoriasis, that he had backed the wrong contestant on The Bachelor, or that she thought 2+2 = 4, when all wing nuts and wing nuts who only liked to drink tea knew that 2+2 = 5 and that climate change was a hoax (that probably wouldn’t really matter, but all wing nuts of all kinds just like saying that as a matter of course).

Which brings us to today in the kingdom. We are all waiting for the king to name a new successor to the Scalia, because that is his job and it is what the law of the land says he must do. But the wing nuts and the wing nuts who only liked to drink tea are wearing their white faces and practicing their dance in the dark places where they are known to gather. They plan to dance for a long time.

In the end the only people who will really suffer are the people in the kingdom. But they are so used to that now, they just find it kind of amusing, since they know we are all mad.

Copyright Tom Regan 2016

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

Facts and Opinions is employee-owned, and relies on the honour system: try one story at no charge and, if you value our no-spam, no-ads work, please chip in at least .27 per story, or a sustaining donation, below. Details here. 

Related on F&O:

Why Is Mitch McConnell Picking This Fight? By Alec MacGillis, ProPublica

After word of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death emerged last weekend, it took Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell less than an hour to announce that the Senate would not entertain a replacement before November. “This vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president,” he said. McConnell’s blunt declaration was taken as the starkest exhibition yet of the obstructionism that has characterized the Kentucky senator’s stance toward President Obama and congressional Democrats.

U.S. President Reagan and then-nominee Antonin Scalia in 1986. Photo: Bill Fitz-Patrick, White House Photographer

US Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, right, was appointed by Ronald Reagan.

Antonin Scalia, F&O Frontlines blog

The death on February 13 of Justice Antonin Scalia, leader of the conservative wing of America’s Supreme Court, may be one of those rare events on which history pivots. And given the court’s oversized influence on world affairs, at a critical time for the environment, finance and human rights, the impact will be global.

 

 

Tom Regan Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92. He is based near Washington, D.C.

 

 

 

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded only by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we need a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Visit our Subscribe page for details, or donate below. With enough supporters each paying a small amount, we will continue, and increase our original works like this.

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Why Is Mitch McConnell Picking This Fight?

by Alec MacGillis, ProPublica
February  19, 2016

This story was co-published with The New York Times.

Official portrait of United States Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

Official portrait of United States Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

In early 2009, as Barack Obama was about to take office, Mitch McConnell, the leader of the Republican minority in the United States Senate, assembled his caucus at a retreat in West Virginia. There, he laid out his strategy for taking on the new president, who was sweeping into office on a tide of popularity, historical resonance and great expectations barely diminished by the economic free fall then underway.

The key, McConnell told his fellow Republicans, was to stymie and undermine Obama, but to do so in subtle ways. As one of the senators present, Robert F. Bennett of Utah, later recalled to me: “Mitch said, “We have a new president with an approval rating in the 70 percent area. We do not take him on frontally. We find issues where we can win, and we begin to take him down, one issue at a time. We create an inventory of losses, so it’s Obama lost on this, Obama lost on that. And we wait for the time where the image has been damaged to the point where we can take him on.’ “

Seven years later, with the Republicans now in the Senate majority, the opposition led by McConnell is as frontal as can be. After word of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death emerged last weekend, it took the majority leader less than an hour to announce that the Senate would not entertain a replacement before November. “This vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president,” he said.

McConnell’s blunt declaration was taken as the starkest exhibition yet of the obstructionism that has characterized the Kentucky senator’s stance toward President Obama and congressional Democrats. The resistance from McConnell has had an enormous influence on the shape of Obama’s presidency. It has limited the president’s accomplishments and denied him the mantle of the postpartisan unifier he sought back in 2008. But it has also brought the Senate, the institution to which McConnell has devoted his life, close to rupture.

His declaration on the Supreme Court also represents a striking shift for the veteran politician. In throwing down the gauntlet so emphatically, and potentially riling up a Democratic electorate, McConnell was doing something deeply out of character: putting at risk his and his party’s prospects in the coming election.

The best way to understand Addison Mitchell McConnell Jr. has been to recognize that he is not a conservative ideologue, but rather the epitome of the permanent campaign of Washington: What matters most isn’t so much what you do in office, but if you can win again.

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U.S. President Reagan and then-nominee Antonin Scalia in 1986. Photo: Bill Fitz-Patrick, White House Photographer

US Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, appointed by Ronald Reagan, dead at age 79.

As an aspiring young Republican — first, a Senate and Ford administration staff member and then county executive in Louisville — McConnell leaned to the moderate wing of his party on abortion rights, civil rights and many other issues. It was only when he ran for statewide office, for the Senate in 1984, that he began to really tack right. McConnell won by a razor-thin margin in a year when Ronald Reagan handily won Kentucky. The lesson was clear: He needed to move closer to Reagan, which he promptly did upon arriving in Washington.

From that point on, the priority was winning every six years and, once he’d made his way up the ranks of leadership, holding a Republican majority. In 1996, that meant voting for a minimum-wage increase to defuse a potential Democratic talking point in his re-election campaign. In 2006, as George W. Bush wrote in his memoir, it meant asking the president if he could start withdrawing troops from Iraq to improve the Republicans’ chance of keeping the Senate that fall, when McConnell was set to become its leader.

A year later, it meant ducking out of the intense debate on the Senate floor about immigration reform to avoid making himself vulnerable on the issue. It is no accident that the legislative issue McConnell has become most identified with, weakening campaign finance regulations, is one that pertains directly to elections.

This is also the best way to understand McConnell’s staunch opposition to the president: It is less about blocking liberal policy goals than about boosting Republican chances. McConnell intuited, shrewdly, that if he could bottle things up in Washington with the filibuster and other tactics, the blame for the gridlock would fall mostly to the Democrats –– the party in the White House. Not to mention that Obama had campaigned on the promise of transcending Washington’s divides, which made partisan dysfunction look like a personal failure.

There was an obvious cost to this approach. Withholding any support for President Obama’s agenda meant giving up the chance for more policy concessions on big issues like health care and financial reform. But for McConnell, shaping policy wasn’t the goal. Winning was. When he said, notoriously, just before the 2010 election that “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president,” it was less an expression of personal animosity than it was a simple reflection of the permanent campaign ethos.

Another cost to this approach became apparent only later. Withholding any votes from Obama’s big proposals meant, by definition, that the Democrats ended up forcing them through on party line votes, which further inflamed the grass-roots conservative backlash to the president. This backlash helped Republicans win in 2010 and 2014, but it also left McConnell with an empowered right wing, led by the likes of Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Ted Cruz of Texas, that was deeply wary of this onetime moderate with weak ideological moorings. Sometimes, McConnell could use this right wing to his benefit — warning the White House, for instance, that it had better accede to Republican demands on the debt ceiling in 2011 lest the renegades take the country to default.

More often, though, these self-described revolutionaries confounded him, which led to explosions of frustration like the one that a longtime associate witnessed in 2011: “He said, “Those idiots, those people come up here and have never been in office and know nothing about being in office.’ “

Such outbursts were kept under wraps, of course. McConnell needed to appease enough of the chaos makers in order to stay atop the Republican caucus, and to overcome a Tea Party Republican challenger leading up to his 2014 re-election.

He managed to do so, and finally attained his goal of becoming majority leader. He made initial overtures to Obama about finding common ground in areas like trade policy. But soon enough, the focus turned back toward the next election, 2016. Republicans now have seven Senate seats to defend in states that the president carried in 2012.

Justice Scalia’s death has greatly complicated McConnell’s election-year plans. Remarkably, he has, for once, chosen a path that would seem to reduce his party’s odds in November.

Unlike 2009 and 2010, when his opposition took the form of procedural delays, McConnell is taking a high-profile stand. Had he instead allowed the nomination process to proceed and bog down in more gridlock, the outrage quotient among Democrats would have remained lower and his prospects for retaining the majority higher.

The likeliest explanation is that the insurgency that McConnell helped engender has gotten so strong, embodied in the rise of Donald J. Trump and Ted Cruz, that it has caused him to lose his bearings. He felt compelled to get out in front of the base’s ire over the Scalia replacement to avoid a later challenge to his leadership perch.

It is also possible, though, that in the Supreme Court’s balance, in particular in relation to campaign finance law, McConnell has at long last discovered one matter that is so consequential that it is worth risking an election over.

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Related on F&O:

The Supreme Court in Wonderland, by Tom Regan, F&O Summoning Orenda columnist

Once upon a time, long ago and faraway, there was a magical kingdom … And then one day the most amazing thing happened. One of the great judges, Scalia of the Sarcastic Sanctimonious Sentences died quite unexpectedly. While in most cases the death of one of the great judges caused some hubbub, the death of the Scalia resulted in a total hissy fit among the wing nuts and the wing nuts who only liked to drink tea.

Antonin Scalia, F&O Frontlines blog

The death on February 13 of Justice Antonin Scalia, leader of the conservative wing of America’s Supreme Court, may be one of those rare events on which history pivots. And given the court’s oversized influence on world affairs, at a critical tim

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded only by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we need a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Visit our Subscribe page for details, or donate below. With enough supporters each paying a small amount, we will continue, and increase our original works like this.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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You say you want a revolution?

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
February, 2016

© Deborah Jones 2013

© Deborah Jones 2013

You say you want a revolution…

Well, I’m all in. I like the idea of revolutions. I’m seized with joy at the thought of overthrowing the corrupt U.S. financial establishment. I’m gripped with enthusiasm at the thought of bringing justice and economic security for all Americans. I would die happy if I actually saw that come to fruition. Seriously.

But there might be a few problems …

Have you ever been in revolution? Or the chaos that always ensues in true revolutions? Do you think the people who are being replaced will just go quietly into that good night? No fuss, no muss, glad to a bit of service and out the door? Wall Street billionaires dancing off into the sunset?

And once the revolution has been achieved, are you aware of the sacrifices and commitments that are needed to keep it in place? It can’t be done on Facebook and social media. Buzzfeed won’t have 20 little gifs about how to maintain the progressive “New World Order.” No, from what I’ve seen, maintaining any kind of a gain after a revolution can often involve tremendous commitment, little thanks for the people who are actually doing the work, and many, many backwards steps in order to keep your balance.

Now I’ve never been in a revolution, but I’ve covered them as a reporter and as an editor. A little over five years ago I sat with a group of fellow editors and watched Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resigned his position after weeks of student demonstrations in Tahrir Square in Cairo, that were sometimes met with brutal force by the entrenched interests in Egypt. But I’ll never forget that day when it looked like Egypt was headed somewhere it had never been: a place with free speech, freedom of the press, police that spend more time keeping the peace and less time beating up people, and so on and so on. You could feel the joy of the young people in Egypt pulsating through the screen.

So, it’s five years after that marvelous day in February of 2011. And where is the Egyptian revolution now? It makes me too sad to think about.

Now, the kind of revolution proposed by Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is something I find very attractive. Many of his ideas are ones that I think would benefit America: a single-payer health system, more taxes on the rich to help support programs for people who are really in need, reduced college tuitions, the end of debt for students.

But here’s the thing that I’ve learned in my 60-odd years on this planet: important things take time. They take commitment, and energy, and sustained drive, and the ability to deal with setback after setback until the goal is achieved. The fight for these important initiatives won’t end even if Bernie Sanders is elected president next November.

In fact, the fight never ends, ever.

Because all those entrenched forces that I spoke about above, the entrenched forces that turned the Egyptian revolution on its head, also exist in America. And they will fight progress every step of the way. Often cloaked in lies, in bogus science, and duplicity, but they really don’t care as long as they prevent the thing that they fear the most: that the revolution might actually work. And even if the revolution does work, they will continue to try to undo the gains that were achieved. Just today I read how drug testing for food stamps is a possibility. You think that’s a step forward?

That’s why the energy and inspiration of a man like Bernie Sanders is so welcome, even if I don’t support him for the Democratic nomination for president. The way that he is energizing young people to take up the struggle once again is more important that I can tell you. But the kind of instant change Sanders is selling is, well, impossible. And I mean that word precisely. Impossible. Look at the Occupy movement. It accomplished very few of the goals it originally championed. But it did two very important things: it raised the profile of these issues in a very public way, and it launched a lot of young people on a road that will make a difference.

Years ago a Canadian band named The Parachute Club released an album entitled “Small Victories.” One of the songs was indeed about small victories and how important they were. For some reason that song has always stuck with me. Because I’ve learned that’s the way life really works: small victories. Small victories that happen day after day through the efforts of hard-working men and women in many causes who keep their eyes on the prize and Martin Luther King’s wise words in mind.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

But it is long.

Copyright Tom Regan 2016

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

Facts and Opinions is employee-owned, and relies on the honour system: try one story at no charge and, if you value our no-spam, no-ads work, please chip in at least .27 per story, or a sustaining donation, below. Details here. 

You might also enjoy:

America’s ‘Arab Spring’, by Jim McNiven, F&O’s Thoughtlines columnist

Current political campaigns in the United States reveal how much elections are being disrupted by the same forces that have made a mess out of everything in society, from book and newspaper publishing, to overnight rentals to retail sales.

Five years on, Arab Spring’s thirst for blood still unsated, by Jonathan Manthorpe, F&O International Affairs columnist

It is sobering to remember now the optimism about the “Arab Spring” that swept through the Middle East and supportive countries in Europe and North America at the upwelling across the region of popular frustration at dictatorial, repressive governments. The throngs of young people in the city squares chanting for democracy did not constitute a political movement of any utility, and the Middle East in general is in much worse shape than it was before the Arab Spring bloomed five years ago.

Parachute Club – Small Victories:

 

 

Tom Regan Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association, he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92.

 

 

 

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded only by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we need a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Visit our Subscribe page for details, or donate below. With enough supporters each paying a small amount, we will continue, and increase our original works like this.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Divided we fall

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TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA   
May, 2015 

The popular image that Americans like to have of themselves is of one nation, undivided, standing together with friends and against foes, that there is no problem that the American people cannot overcome, symbolized most vividly in the image of the melting pot – that no matter where you come from, no matter what your race or ethnic background, it will all disappear one day and you will become an American.

Horse hockey.

 I tend to think of myself as an optimist. I try to look for the best in people, in situations, and in life in general. But I’m growing increasingly pessimistic about the future of the United States of America. Increasingly I see America is not one but two countries: one is rich, white, older, male, conservative, hyper-religious, racist, bigoted and misogynist. The other America is populated with people of colour, the poor, the young, individuals who do not fit into the status quo notion of sexual or gender stereotypes, women (especially poor women of colour), and those who I referred to as progressive “white refugees,” who have fled conservative white America and what it stands for. 

The size of the first group above is shrinking and in some cases dramatically so, while the second group is growing both in numbers and in political clout. This terrifies the first group, and they have decided to defend their beliefs (and the privileges that go along with them) at any cost. The result is an increasing gap in almost every category you can measure.

According to a recently released survey, America now has the fourth largest gap between rich and poor in the world. Only Turkey, Chile and Mexico fare worse. When you consider the incredible wealth of the world’s only superpower, this is a staggering statistic. It illustrates how wealth is increasingly being concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer individuals who spend much of their time only trying to make sure that the system is rigged to concentrate even more economic power in their hands. 

You can see this divide in the comments of former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, when he told a small group of wealthy supporters that 47% of people in the country are basically freeloaders totally dependent upon the government for everything.

You increasingly see this gap occurring around issues about race. How many more Fergusons or Baltimores or New Yorks or Clevelands are we going to need before we face the truth that there is an ugly streak of institutionalized racism that run through police departments across this nation? But those in the first group don’t want to face this issue. Their thoughts on the subject can best be summed up in a recent statement by Politico conservative writer Rich Lowry who said that “Not all black lives are worth saving.”

Politically, you see this gap widening almost day by day over issues like gay marriage, immigration, womens’s reproductive health, climate change, contraception, programs that support the poor, health-care, gun legislation, treatment of minorities like Muslims, and the list goes on and on. While there have always been differences on these and many other important issues between these two groups, in the last decade has become a veritable chasm of Grand Canyon proportions. 

And I’m afraid that the very medium on which you are reading this column is part of the reason. The Internet, for all the many positive things it does, has basically allowed Americans to read only those views that basically support the biases or prejudices that they hold. When added to the influence of cable TV news channels that only present liberal or conservative viewpoints, and in the case of a channel like Fox “News,” views that are often distorted lies and manipulated information masquerading as “the truth,” people can go months without ever actually stumbling across an opposing point of view.

Never has there been a time when we have more access to information and so little exposure to facts.

I wish I could offer you some kind of a solution, some kind of a 30,000 foot-view that basically said it’s all okay, it’ll all work out okay. But I really can’t. Both sides are entrenched for the long run, with little hope of a truce on the horizon. I certainly can’t pretend that I see both groups equally – I absolutely find myself in the latter group, constantly bemoaning the actions of the former. But as much as I find some of their actions despicable I would be more than willing to compromise to something that both sides could agree to.

Maybe right now I just can’t see the forest for the trees, but there are so many trees, so many issues that demand our attention, but will probably never be dealt with. 

Because how can you solve a problem when you can’t even agree on what the problem actually is? And that is America’s problem.

 

References:

 

These Countries Have The Widest Gap Between The Rich And The Poor, Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/29/countries-rich-poor-gap_n_7471214.html

 

Copyright Tom Regan 2015 

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

 

Tom Regan Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio A former executive director of the Online News Association, he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92.

 

 

 

 

 

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Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Help sustain us with a donation (below), by telling others about us, or purchasing a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page. 

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