Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Kentucky, Same-Sex Marriage, And November

If I were a clickbaitin' kinda man, I'd have entitled this one "Did Justice Kennedy Just Hand The 2015 Kentucky Governor's Race To Matt Bevin?"  Or I'd be a Lexington Herald-Leader writer, which amounts to the same thing.

Political fallout from the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to legalize gay marriage will likely show up first in Kentucky, one of the few conservative states where Democrats still control state government. 
The issue has already split two of the state's most powerful Democratic leaders five months before voters go to the polls to elect six statewide officers, including governor and attorney general. 
It began in March 2014 when Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway — a former U.S. Senate candidate who is now running for governor — decided not to appeal the initial federal court decision that overturned Kentucky's same sex marriage ban. During an emotional news conference at the Capitol, he said that to appeal would be to defend discrimination. 
However, Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear later overruled Conway and hired private attorneys to defend the state's ban in federal court. 
"His job as governor was to take the emotion out of it and say, 'What's the rule of law going to be?" said Colmon Elridge, Beshear's longtime aide. "And the only way to do that was to get a final ruling from the Supreme Court." 
For more than a year, Beshear never strayed from that sentiment. Asked repeatedly about his views on gay marriage, Beshear said his personal opinion didn't matter. He was simply appealing the decision in the hopes that the court would rule, one way or another. 
Even Elridge, who has worked closely with Beshear for eight years, doesn't know how he feels about it. 
"It's interesting, we just have not talked about it," Elridge said. 
Conway, meanwhile, has faced critics who suggest he ignored his duties as attorney general. While Republican nominee for governor Matt Bevin criticized the Supreme Court's ruling, he especially targeted Conway, who he said "abandoned his oath of office." Bevin said Conway's "failure to do his job ... disqualifies him from being elected to the office of governor." 
"How can voters trust him not to break his oath again?" Bevin said.

Bevin's an idiot, but he's an idiot leading the polls right now, albeit not by too much.  Still, the race shouldn't be this close considering voters thought Bevin was a nutjob that made Mitch McConnell preferable just last year.

We'll see how things go, but I expect to see Conway start getting very tough with Bevin soon.

Read more here:


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Last Call For Clinton Kentucky

I've been holding out hope that Hillary Clinton could win here in Kentucky in 2016 and help beat Rand Paul, but the other half of that Public Policy Polling survey on Kentucky shows that Kentucky Democrats are mostly Reagan Democrats, and Clinton will have an extremely tough battle here.

On the Democratic side Clinton is ever dominant, getting 56% to 12% for Bernie Sanders, 7% for Jim Webb, 5% for Lincoln Chafee, and 3% for Martin O'Malley. Clinton is over 80% with African Americans, 70% with liberals, 60% with younger voters, and 50% with moderates, women, men, whites, and seniors. The only group she fails to get a majority with is the swath of Kentucky Democrats who are conservatives and don't tend to vote Democratic in national elections despite their registration.

Clinton doesn't have much of a chance in the general election in the state outside of ending up running against Trump though. Paul (50/40) and Huckabee (49/39) fare the best against Clinton with 10 point leads. Carson has a 9 point lead at 49/40 and Bush's is 8 points at 48/40. Holding more modest leads over Clinton are Cruz with a 6 point one at 48/42, and Walker (46/41), Rubio (46/41), and Fiorina (45/40) each with a 5 point advantage.

But before you go believing that it's Clinton they dislike, understand that any of the other Democratic hopefuls fare even worse here in the Bluegrass State.

Clinton may not do great in Kentucky but it's really bad for any of the other Democratic hopefuls. Scott Walker would lead Sanders 42/29, O'Malley 40/22, Chafee 41/23, and Webb 42/22. Obviously that has a lot to do with name recognition but it's still somewhat jarring to see potential Democratic candidates polling in the low 20s for the general election in any state.

So Clinton would lose by 5-10 points here and any other Dem would lose by double digits.  It's not looking good here for Team Blue.  Yes, it's 16 months out and anything could happen, but I'm thinking the Clinton campaign isn't going to be making very many visits here.

Ask Alison Grimes how much Hillary was able to help last year.

Golden Brown, Texture Like Sun

Cincinnati's heroin epidemic is just that, a public health issue that's costing the tri-state area millions of dollars and ruining tens of thousands of lives. Dan Horn and Terry DeMio at the Cincinnati Enquirer report on this area's biggest drug problem, and how lawmakers and police have only made it worse. If you want to see why America has lost the War on Drugs, the story of Samantha Gibson and other addicts is where you want to start looking for answers.

Jails are housing thousands of addicts, but they lack the resources to provide effective drug treatment. Most courts still insist on zero-tolerance rules that bounce heroin users from the streets to jail and back again. And long-term treatment remains a crapshoot for addicts and their families, who often can't find, or can't afford, quality care. 
"Our entire approach to this is wrong," says Dr. Mina "Mike" Kalfas, a certified addiction expert and family physician in Northern Kentucky. "Our approach as a society has failed miserably." 
For too long, Kalfas says, policy makers treated the heroin epidemic as a law enforcement problem and put the onus on addicts to get clean or go to jail. 
But heroin is as complicated as it is cruel. It comes with an intense physical addiction that alters brain chemistry and punishes those who try to stop using it with brutal withdrawal symptoms. 
Threats and punishment alone don't work because addicts want heroin more than anything else. More than their jobs, their homes, their health or even their children. 
That's why more than 13,000 heroin users spent time in Greater Cincinnati jails last year, and why more than 300 ended up in the morgue. 
It's also why Kalfas and others now say new approaches are needed, before taxpayers spend more money and families bury more overdose victims. 
"Heroin," Synan says, "is not something you can arrest your way out of." 
Gibson, a mother of three from Newport, is a case in point. She is no stranger to the system. Police have arrested her. Judges have sentenced her. Jails have locked her up. Hospitals have patched her wounds. Treatment centers have put her on waiting lists. Children's services has taken her kids. Paramedics have restarted her heart after an overdose. 
Society is heavily invested in her. Thousands of dollars already have been spent.
Yet here she sits, in jail again, biding her time until her next fix. 
Gibson runs her fingers over her scarred left hand and crosses her legs. It's been several hours since she shot up. She's getting impatient. 
"I can't get through the day without heroin," she says.

It's a devastating story, and there is some hope at least, the notion that more and more police and legislators are realizing that treatment, not incarceration, is the only way out of hell here.  But that requires money for government services, and lawmakers aren't going to go to bat to save the lives of heroin addicts who aren't exactly dependable voters.  Society doesn't give a damn about these guys, so why should taxpayers have to pay?

Of course, the reality is we do pay.  All of us.  And some pay a very final price.

San Juan By Way Of Athens

Greece isn't the only government this week who says it can't make its payments and wants a bailout, not by a long shot.  Much closer to home here in the states, Puerto Rico's governor says the island can't pay off the $72 billion it owes creditors.

The governor, Alejandro García Padilla, and senior members of his staff said in an interview last week that they would probably seek significant concessions from as many as all of the island’s creditors, which could include deferring some debt payments for as long as five years or extending the timetable for repayment.

The debt is not payable,” Mr. García Padilla said. “There is no other option. I would love to have an easier option. This is not politics, this is math.”

It is a startling admission from the governor of an island of 3.6 million people, which has piled on more municipal bond debt per capita than any American state.

A broad restructuring by Puerto Rico sets the stage for an unprecedented test of the United States municipal bond market, which cities and states rely on to pay for their most basic needs, like road construction and public hospitals.

That market has already been shaken by municipal bankruptcies in Detroit; Stockton, Calif.; and elsewhere, which undercut assumptions that local governments in the United States would always pay back their debt.

Puerto Rico’s bonds have a face value roughly eight times that of Detroit’s bonds. Its call for debt relief on such a vast scale could raise borrowing costs for other local governments as investors become more wary of lending.

Perhaps more important, much of Puerto Rico’s debt is widely held by individual investors on the United States mainland, in mutual funds or other investment accounts, and they may not be aware of it.

Puerto Rico, as a commonwealth, does not have the option of bankruptcy. A default on its debts would most likely leave the island, its creditors and its residents in a legal and financial limbo that, like the debt crisis in Greece, could take years to sort out.

This is going to be a big political and financial problem going forward.  It's going to be up to Congress to figure out how and if they are going to help Puerto Rico, but I don't see how they can turn the island away without risking America's credit rating.

We'll see what happens, but this on top of Greece is going to be the next major financial mess for Washington to deal with.


Monday, June 29, 2015

Last Call For SCOTUSpalooza

The final cases of the term today:

Glossip v Gross, the Oklahoma lethal injection case, 5-4 with Alito writing the decision for Kennedy and the conservatives, saying that the drug midazolam, which Oklahoma uses to put death row inmates into a coma state before lethal injection, does not violate the Eighth Amendment on cruel and unusual punishment. SCOTUS ruled in a previous case that pentobarbital or sodium thiopental are no longer available for that purpose, the plaintiffs in the case argued that midazolam wasn’t as effective and the court basically rejected that argument.

Breyer and Ginsburg apparently asked for a ruling on the constitutionality of the death penalty itself, not enough votes to take that up. Blistering dissents from Sotomayor and Breyer on this one.

Arizona redistricting case, 5-4, Ginsburg’s opinion, joined by Kennedy and the liberals, holds that Arizona’s commission for redistricting created by a state referendum is valid, and that Arizona’s legislature does have standing to sue but that the case was rejected on the merits, upholding a lower court decision.

Multiple dissents by the conservative justices. California has a similar commission, and the question was if only the legislature could redistrict based on the Elections Clause of the Constitution, which says “Times, Places, and Manner of holding Elections for […] Representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the Legislature thereof.”

Michigan v EPA case, 5-4 with Scalia writing the opinion, Kennedy joining the conservatives. The EPA must take costs into account before deciding what regulations are necessary, but it is up to the agency to make that decision. However that effectively means the EPA has to justify the cost of President Obama’s EPA power plant rules, which the industry says will cost tens of billions of something ridiculous. It effectively means the power plant regulations have to be 100% rewritten. Whether or not that will happen before the end of this administration, who knows.

That’s all, folks.

A Game Of Texas Hold-Out

How long will Texas Republicans be able to get away with the tantrum phase of "resisting" a post-Obergefell America?

County clerks can refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples based on religious objections to gay marriage, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Sunday.

Paxton noted that clerks who refuse to issue licenses can expect to be sued, but added that “numerous lawyers stand ready to assist clerks defending their religious beliefs,” in many cases without charge.

The formal opinion did not specify what constitutes a sincerely held religious belief, noting that “the strength of any such claim depends on the particular facts of each case.”

Paxton said Friday’s “flawed” opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court, which overturned bans against same-sex marriage in Texas and other states, placed religious people in conflict between following their faith and the U.S. Constitution.

“Friday, the United States Supreme Court again ignored the text and spirit of the Constitution to manufacture a right that simply does not exist. In so doing, the court weakened itself and weakened the rule of law, but did nothing to weaken our resolve to protect religious liberty and return to democratic self-government in the face of judicial activists attempting to tell us how to live,” Paxton said.

Paxton’s opinion also noted that judges and justices of the peace can refuse to perform same-sex marriages.

“Judges and justices of the peace have no mandatory duty to conduct any wedding ceremony,” the opinion said, adding that couples cannot be refused on the basis of race, religion or national origin.

Pretty sure a federal judge will put an end this this very quickly, but again, how far will Republican bigots go with this?  Will they really start doing things like ending state-sanctioned marriage altogether?

Monday begins the backlash.  Pay attention to which states, and which GOP governors turned 2016 candidates are fighting this, especially when it comes to pretending to be moderates later on.

The Battle Yet To Come

The Obergefell v Hodges decision on Friday didn't end the battle for gay rights in America any more than Loving v Virginia ended the civil rights battle for black America, and the coming fight will be a lot harder: federal civil rights protections.

Exhilarated by the Supreme Court’sendorsement of same-sex marriage, gay rights leaders have turned their sights to what they see as the next big battle: obtaining federal, state and local legal protections in employment, housing, commerce and other arenas, just like those barring discrimination based on race, religion, sex and national origin.

The proposals pit advocates against many of the same religious conservatives who opposed legalizing same-sex marriage, and who now see the protection of what they call religious liberty as their most urgent task. These opponents argue that antidiscrimination laws will inevitably be used to force religious people and institutions to violate their beliefs, whether by providing services for same-sex weddings or by employing gay men and lesbians in church-related jobs.

Nationally, antidiscrimination laws for gay people are a patchwork with major geographic inequities, said Brad Sears, executive director of the Williams Institute at the School of Law of the University of California, Los Angeles. “Those who don’t live on the two coasts or in the Northeast have been left behind in terms of legal protection,” he said.

At least 22 states bar discrimination based on sexual orientation, and most of them also offer protections to transgender people.

Tennessee is one of the majority of states that do not bar such discrimination. There, in East Nashville, Tiffany Cannon and Lauren Horbal thought they had found the perfect house to share with a friend, and the landlord seemed ready to rent when they applied in April.

Then he called them to ask what their relationship with each other was, Ms. Horbal, 26, recalled.

She said that when the landlord learned that she and Ms. Cannon, 25, were partners, he said, “I’m not comfortable with that.” He refused to process their application, even after they offered to raise their rent by $150, to $700 a month, Ms. Horbal said.

The women, both restaurant workers, are still looking for a place to live.

The hard reality is that while you can now get married in a state like Tennessee or Kentucky of Arkansas or Florida if you're LGBTQ, you can still be fired or denied a place to live because of it. Remember, Gov. Sam Brownback removed protections for LGBTQ workers earlier this year in Kansas.

That national fight still rages on. And if you think that fight will be won with Republican bigots in charge of the House and Senate, dream on.


Sunday, June 28, 2015

Last Call For A Lot Of States, Burning

We know what the response of America's many hate groups are to the Confederate flag being taken down in some places: burning down black churches across the South.

In what may not be a coincidence, a string of nighttime fires have damaged or destroyed at least six predominately black churches in four southern states in the past week.

Arsonists started at least three of the fires, while other causes are being examined in the other fires, investigators say.

The series of fires — some of them suspicious and possible hate crimes — came in the week following a murderous rampage by a white supremacist who shot and killed nine people at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C.

The fires also occurred at a time when there is increasing public pressure to remove the Confederate flag — one of the last hallmarks of white superiority — from government buildings and public places as well as banning assorted Confederate flag merchandise sold in retails stores and online.

Even if the fires are deemed arson, it takes additional proof under reporting standards to conclude the act was a hate crime, investigators say.

“As the nation grapples with the massacre at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., one of the oldest Black churches in the South, other Black churches have become recent targets of arson,” writer David A. Love said today at Atlanta BlackStar.

Now it's possible that it being summer, that storms and lightning and other accidents may have started some of these fires, but there are at least three that are being investigated as full-blown arson right now at black churches in Knoxville, Charlotte, and Macon.  I'm thinking more investigations, and more fires, are coming.

This should be a national story right now, but it's not.  The "CHRISTIANITY IN AMERICA IS UNDER ASSAULT" people are suddenly very, very quiet about places of Christian worship being burned down to the ground.

But tell me again that it's "heritage, not hate".

"Activist Judges" Means You Made A Ruling I Don't Like

Republicans use their political power to destroy those that do not agree with them, whenever possible. This week's evidence of this: Sen. Ted Cruz's ridiculous response to Obergefell v Hodges.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) has proposed a constitutional amendment that would subject Supreme Court justices to periodic judicial elections in the wake of rulings that upheld a key portion of the Affordable Care Act and affirmed gay couples' right to marriage.

“I am proposing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would subject each and every justice of the United States Supreme Court to periodic judicial retention elections," Cruz said Saturday, during a speech in Des Moines, Iowa. He also called for such elections in the National Review on Friday.

The proposal from Cruz, who once served as Supreme Court clerk, comes as he is trying to position himself as the presidential candidate of choice for conservatives and evangelicals who disagree with the court's decisions this week. The Texas Republican is using the rulings to paint himself as a stalwart defender of religious freedom, opponent of same-sex marriage and reaffirm his pledge to abolish the Affordable Care Act should he win the presidency.

Cruz is also using the rulings to reemphasize his assertion that he tacks far to the right of the rest of the 2016 GOP field when it comes to social issues, a point he started making in the wake of a controversial religious freedom law Indiana passed in March.

"Sadly we’ve seen several 2016 candidates in response to yesterday’s decision saying it is the law of the land, we must accept it and move on," Cruz said as the Des Moines audience booed. "When Republican candidates are standing up and reciting Barack Obama's talking points things have gone seriously wrong."

"I demand that we give the majority the power to destroy those who would dare to say the minority has rights too."

Bobby Jindal wants to dissolve the Supreme Court. Ted Cruz wants to put justices under elections. And yet these are serious candidates for President of the United States of America, and a current governor and US senator, respectively.

Republicans are insane.

Sunday Long Read: Reading is Fundamental

Your Sunday Long Read this week is of course Justice Anthony Kennedy's decision holding that the Fourteenth Amendment grants the fundamental right to marry to all Americans.

Under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, no State shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” The fundamental liberties protected by this Clause include most of the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights. See Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U. S. 145, 147–149 (1968). In addition these liberties extend to certain personal choices central to individual dignity and autonomy, including intimate choices that define personal identity and beliefs. See, e.g., Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U. S. 438, 453 (1972); Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U. S. 479, 484–486 (1965). 
The identification and protection of fundamental rights is an enduring part of the judicial duty to interpret the Constitution. That responsibility, however, “has not been reduced to any formula.” Poe v. Ullman, 367 U. S. 497, 542 (1961) (Harlan, J., dissenting). Rather, it requires courts to exercise reasoned judgment in identifying interests of the person so fundamental that the State must accord them its respect. See ibid. That process is guided by many of the same considerations relevant to analysis of other constitutional provisions that set forth broad principles rather than specific requirements. History and tradition guide and discipline this inquiry but do not set its outer boundaries. See Lawrence, supra, at 572. 
That method respects our history and learns from it without allowing the past alone to rule the present. The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times. The generations that wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment did not presume to know the extent of freedom in all of its dimensions, and so they entrusted to future generations a charter protecting the right of all persons to enjoy liberty as we learn its meaning. 
When new insight reveals discord between the Constitution’s central protections and a received legal stricture, a claim to liberty must be addressed. Applying these established tenets, the Court has long held the right to marry is protected by the Constitution. In Loving v. Virginia, 388 U. S. 1, 12 (1967), which invalidated bans on interracial unions, a unanimous Court held marriage is “one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.” The Court reaffirmed that holding in Zablocki v. Redhail, 434 U. S. 374, 384 (1978), which held the right to marry was burdened by a law prohibiting fathers who were behind on child support from marrying. The Court again applied this principle in Turner v. Safley, 482 U. S. 78, 95 (1987), which held the right to marry was abridged by regulations limiting the privilege of prison inmates to marry. 
Over time and in other contexts, the Court has reiterated that the right to marry is fundamental under the Due Process Clause. See, e.g., M. L. B. v. S. L. J., 519 U. S. 102, 116 (1996); Cleveland Bd. of Ed. v. LaFleur, 414 U. S. 632, 639–640 (1974); Griswold, supra, at 486; Skinner v. Oklahoma ex rel. Williamson, 316 U. S. 535, 541 (1942); Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U. S. 390, 399 (1923). It cannot be denied that this Court’s cases describing the right to marry presumed a relationship involving opposite-sex partners. 
The Court, like many institutions, has made assumptions defined by the world and time of which it is a part. This was evident in Baker v. Nelson, 409 U. S. 810, a one-line summary decision issued in 1972, holding the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage did not present a substantial federal question. 
Still, there are other, more instructive precedents. This Court’s cases have expressed constitutional principles of broader reach. In defining the right to marry these cases have identified essential attributes of that right based in history, tradition, and other constitutional liberties inherent in this intimate bond. See, e.g., Lawrence, 539 U. S., at 574; Turner, supra, at 95; Zablocki, supra, at 384; Loving, supra, at 12; Griswold, supra, at 486. And in assessing whether the force and rationale of its cases apply to same-sex couples, the Court must respect the basic reasons why the right to marry has been long protected. See, e.g., Eisenstadt, supra, at 453–454; Poe, supra, at 542–553 (Harlan, J., dissenting). 
This analysis compels the conclusion that same-sex couples may exercise the right to marry. The four principles and traditions to be discussed demonstrate that the reasons marriage is fundamental under the Constitution apply with equal force to same-sex couples.

And Kennedy goes on to establish these four principles and traditions very logically and eloquently. It's a worthy opinion and one that I think will be discussed by Americans for decades to come, the way we consider Brown v Board of Education or Roe v Wade today.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Last Call For Flag, Captured

So, a woman named Bree Newsome had enough of the Confederate flag flying at the South Carolina statehouse grounds and took it down herself.

The Confederate flag has been temporarily removed from in front of the South Carolina Statehouse.

An unidentified black woman was about halfway up the more than 30-foot steel flagpole just after dawn Saturday when State Capitol police told her to come down. Instead, she continued up and removed the flag before returning to the ground.

The woman and another man who had entered the wrought-iron fence surrounding the flag were arrested.

The flag, which is protected by state law, was raised again a short time later. A rally by flag supporters was scheduled for later Saturday.

Calls for removing the flag have been renewed since nine black churchgoers were killed in what police characterized as a racist attack at a Charleston, South Carolina church last week.

Filmmaker and activist Michael Moore offered to pay her bail, and the flag was back up a hour later, but, at least somebody did something about it.

For a bit.

Will the rest of South Carolina get the damn point?

An Afternoon In Charleston

President Obama's eulogy in Charleston for slain Rev. Clementa Pinckney at Charleston's historic Emanuel AME Church is one for the history books.

Whatever solutions we find will necessarily be incomplete. But it would be a betrayal of everything Reverend Pinckney stood for, I believe, if we allow ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again. 
Once the eulogies have been delivered, once the TV cameras move on, to go back to business as usual. That’s what we so often do to avoid uncomfortable truths about the prejudice that still infects our society.
To settle for symbolic gestures without following up with the hard work of more lasting change, that’s how we lose our way again. It would be a refutation of the forgiveness expressed by those families if we merely slipped into old habits whereby those who disagree with us are not merely wrong, but bad; where we shout instead of listen; where we barricade ourselves behind preconceived notions or well-practiced cynicism.

It was actually a beautiful eulogy and an impassioned speech, but the delivery...ladies and gentlemen we got to see the Reverend Bishop Dr. Barack H. Obama of the Church of Hope and Change, and it was legendary. I'm hoping that this speech will be the one that goes down in history for him.  There are several that could be defined as "the" Obama speech, but this is by far my favorite.

This is the man I was proud of voting for twice even in Kentucky, a state he lost by double digits both times.

We witnessed history yesterday in every sense of the word.  It was President Obama at his best and most genuine, and for a politician of any level, to let his guard down as he did to let the world see, that took some fortitude.  He is a master orator and oh, by the way, a pretty damned good President too.

Enjoy it.  June 26 was a hell of a day.
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