Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Last Call For Courting Disaster

The Supreme Court's fall term begins this week, and after several big victories for Team Liberal last June, WaPo's Paul Waldman reminds us that this conservative SCOTUS could turn around within nine months all but put an end to affirmative action, the availability of abortion, voting rights, public sector unions, and oh yeah, Obamacare as the courts get back their normal actions of siding with Republicans.

And while they’ve had a couple of recent high-profile defeats at the Court, conservatives have enjoyed a conservative majority for a couple of decades now. Yes, Anthony Kennedy sometimes joins with liberals, as he did in the case legalizing same-sex marriage. But just in the last few years, they’ve seen the doors of campaign finance thrown open to unlimited spending by corporations and billionaires; the Voting Rights Act gutted; affirmative action all but outlawed; an individual right to own guns created for the first time in American history; corporations granted religious rights to exempt themselves from laws they don’t like and sectarian prayer allowed at government meetings; unions undermined and employment discrimination suits made more difficult; and a whole series of less well-known decisions that enhance the power of the powerful, whether it’s the government or corporations. 
Nevertheless, when you hear conservatives talk about the Court, they don’t say, “We need to make sure we get more conservative justices to keep winning.” Instead, they say, “We’ve been betrayed!” So what’s going on? 
There are a couple of answers. The first is that they’re demanding not just a record of wins, but absolute perfection. They want not justices who will bring a conservative philosophy to the Court, but justices who will never stray from whatever it is the Republican Party wants at a particular time. The recent decision in King v. Burwell is a perfect example: the lawsuit itself was a joke, based on a series of claims about the Affordable Care Act that ran from the clearly false to the laughably ridiculous. When John Roberts sided with the majority to dismiss it — despite a long record of being on the “right” side of all the cases I mentioned above, plus many more — they declared him to be an irredeemable traitor. 
The second reason is that narratives of betrayal are central to how conservatives understand history. Whenever events don’t turn out as they would like, whether it’s a foreign war or a lost election or a societal evolution, the story is always the same: We were betrayed, either by our opponents or by the people we thought were our allies. Was the Iraq War a terrible idea? No, we had it won — until Barack Obama betrayed us by pulling out. Why was George W. Bush so unpopular? Because he betrayed conservative principles by not cutting spending more, just like his father betrayed us by raising taxes (while the younger Bush was still president, longtime conservative activist Richard Viguerie wrote a book entitled “Conservatives Betrayed: How George W. Bush and Other Big-Government Republicans Hijacked the Conservative Cause).” As Digby memorably wrote, “Conservatism cannot fail, it can only be failed. (And a conservative can only fail because he is too liberal.)” And it goes back as far as you want. Why did the Soviet Union come to dominate Eastern Europe? Because FDR betrayed us at Yalta
It isn’t that there’s never any truth in this story, particularly when it comes to the Court. David Souter, for instance, turned out to be a genuine liberal, not at all what Republicans expected when he was appointed by George H. W. Bush. But they’ve gotten so used to the betrayal narrative that they place even a single setback into it. Which may explain why conservative opinions of the Court have changed so dramatically in recent years. According to Pew polls, in 2008, 80 percent of Republicans approved of the Supreme Court, compared to 64 percent of Democrats. By 2015, the views of Democrats hadn’t changed — their approval was at 62 percent. But Republican approval had fallen to 33 percent, despite all they had won at the Court over that time. A full 68 percent of conservative Republicans call the Court “liberal,” an idea that is absurd by any objective measure, but one that is regularly fed by conservative media and Republican politicians.

We'll see what happens, but let's be honest that the Roberts Court has been an utter disaster for the country, and there's little reason to think that the 2015-2016 term will be any different.

Obama's Marine Scene

Dubya certainly didn't bother with any, but President Obama has named two new federal marine sanctuaries to protect America's waters as the world's attention turns to the Our Ocean Conference in Chile this week.

In a video message to conference attendees, President Obama announced plans for two new marine sanctuaries, one off the coast of Maryland, and the other in Lake Michigan. They’ll be the first new national marine sanctuaries designated by the federal government in the past 15 years. 
One of these sanctuaries will be an 875-square mile section of Lake Michigan off the shore of Wisconsin, which is recognized for its collection of nearly 40 known shipwrecks, some of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The other sanctuary is a 14-square mile area of the Potomac River, which includes Maryland’s Mallows Bay — an area known for its ecological significance, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and home to bald eagles, herons, beavers, river otters and numerous species of fish. 
“The United States is committed to working with our international partners to protect our oceans and protect our planet,” says Obama in the video. “Because I refuse to leave our children a planet that’s beyond their capacity to repair.” 
The two areas were nominated for sanctuary status last year after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reopened the public nomination process for the first time in 20 years. Since the process was opened, seven nominations were submitted from around the country, and the two announced today were the ones so far approved by NOAA for consideration as national marine sanctuaries. At least one other nomination is still currently under review by NOAA. 
These plans come on the heels of other recent action by the Obama administration to expand protection for marine areas in the United States. Last year, President Obama made Alaska’s Bristol Bay off limits to oil and gas development, while still allowing for commercial fishing in the area. He also expanded the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, which was originally established in 2009. 
Marine national monuments differ from marine sanctuaries in that they can be established by presidential proclamation, whereas sanctuaries are designated by NOAA and require extensive public input — however, they can offer similar protections and human use restrictions over marine ecosystems. 
The United States is also announcing several other plans aimed at protecting marine resources. In Chile for the conference, Secretary of State John F. Kerry announced the launch of Sea Scout, a global initiative targeting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing by uniting world leaders, expanding technology and information-sharing and identifying illegal fishing hot spots. NOAA also has plans to expand the development of a technology known as the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite, which detects boats and may help alert nations to illegal fishing activities. The technology will be implemented in several nations in 2016, including Indonesia and the Philippines.

Raise your hand if you think any additional marine sanctuaries would be approved or even reviewed by NOAA under a Republican president.  Hell, if the GOP keeps control of Congress and gets the White House, I'd expect a law preventing marine sanctuaries from being created, if not reversing the sanctuary status of existing parks for drilling and coastal land development for new McMansions for rick bankers.

Maybe after seven years people will start realizing that President Obama has been serious about the environment since day one.

Slow Bern In A Red State

WaPo's Dave Weigel discovers that Nobama Country in the Appalachians isn't interested in Hillary Clinton either, but is somehow mysteriously fertile ground for Feeling The Bern.

Shelley Brannon, 62, can sum up the Obama presidency with three words. Well, three words and an exclamation. 
“He screwed us,” said Brannon, a coal miner from Wise County, Va., as he sat outside a rally for the United Mine Workers of America. “Man, he screwed us.” 
He shook his head under a camouflage hat that matched his camouflage UMWA T-shirt, and he described his fantasy of dumping nuclear waste in the yards of environmentalists, “if they think coal’s so bad.” He mulled over the mistake UMWA had made in 2008, when it endorsed Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton. Then he explained why he would probably be voting for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the next Democratic primary. 
“For one thing, he knows what union is, and he respects it,” said Brannon. “That’s all we need is respect. He’s just a likeable fella, trustworthy. I don’t think she has the same respect for the union, and she really shot herself in the foot over, you know, all that secretive stuff.” 
West Virginia has rejected the Obama-era Democratic Party more dramatically than any state outside the South, with Appalachian counties that voted for Mike Dukakis and Walter Mondale turning blood red over the past eight years. But if you think it’s in places like this that the insurgent Sanders campaign faces its most formidable test, here’s what he thinks: It is also one of his greatest opportunities. 
The Vermont socialist thinks that white, working-class voters, the sort of people Obama once self-defeatingly said “cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them,” are just one honest argument away from coming back. 
“We have millions of working-class people who are voting for Republican candidates whose views are diametrically opposite to what voters want,” said Sanders in an interview. “How many think it’s a great idea that we have trade policies that lead to plants in West Virginia being shut down? How many think there should be massive cuts in Pell grants, or in Social Security? In my opinion, not too many people.”

Now this is truly weird, given Bernie's position on climate change in Coal Country is essentially the same as President Obama's and Hillary Clinton's.

The United States must lead the world in tackling climate change, if we are to make certain that this planet is habitable for our children and grandchildren. We must transform our energy system away from polluting fossil fuels, and towards energy efficiency and sustainability. Millions of homes and buildings need to be weatherized, and we need to greatly accelerate technological progress in wind and solar power generation. 
Unless we take bold action to address climate change, our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are going to look back on this period in history and ask a very simple question: Where were they? Why didn’t the United States of America, the most powerful nation on earth, lead the international community in cutting greenhouse gas emissions and preventing the devastating damage that the scientific community told us would surely come?

So yeah, Bernie Sanders straight up says on his website that he wants to continue to take America away from fossil fuels, but coal miners are suddenly lining up to say how awesome Bernie Sanders is going to be.

Why, it's almost like these coal miners oppose Barack Obama over something other than his environmental policy.  Weigel:

Sanders’ campaign theory of 2016 may be that there’s a larger electorate hiding in plain sight. Over the summer, as he gained in polls, Sanders was criticized for bringing seemingly every issue back to the sediment of economics and class. Black Lives Matter activist Marissa Johnson dubbed it “class reductionism.” Clinton allies had trouble seeing how Sanders’s support could grow beyond white liberals.

But they may be missing the weight of Sanders’s cardinal argument — for greater economic fairness — and the willingness of voters to look past other issues, notably the environment and gay marriage, where they disagree. 
Sanders won elections in Vermont, a white, rural and gun-owning state, as a socialist. The social issue “distractions” bemoaned by red state Democrats seemed to bounce right off his armor. (He also has taken mixed positions on gun control, supporting a ban on assault rifles, for instance, but opposing the Brady Bill). In the end, is the white guy who voted for him in Vermont any different than the white guy in West Virginia or Kentucky or Ohio who was told to blame liberals for his problems?

In my experience, the answer is not really.  A lot of working-class white voters left the Democrats when 2008 came down to Hillary versus Obama.  Now that Bernie is in this (and possibly Biden) hey, all of a sudden it's about working-class white values again.

I've got some bad news for folks though.  Bernie's got about as much chance of winning West Virginia or Kentucky as I do, and from an electoral standpoint, why does it matter?  Sure. Bernie will help with Wisconsin, Ohio, Minnesota, etc. but how much nationally?

Do we want white voters who abandoned the Dems over a black president to come back to the party at all?


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