Saturday night owls open thread: Is the Supreme Court beyond repair?

Dave Denison at The Baffler writes—Judge Dread: Is the Supreme Court beyond repair?

THE SUPREME COURT ended its term in June with liberals feeling relieved they avoided total defeat. There was a predictable setback when the court refused to take a stand against the extreme partisan gerrymandering that is crucial to the Republican Party’s hold on state and national power. Yet, at least the Trump administration’s blatant attempt to use the census to further the GOP’s political agenda was halted for now, as Chief Justice John Roberts wrote an opinion that more or less said to the administration, “If you’re going to lie to us, you’ve got to do better than this.”

Meanwhile, conservatives were fuming because they didn’t achieve total victory. Some on the right, hilariously, were demanding the resignation, or even the impeachment, of Roberts for his little half-step off the Trump train. The chief justice was already under suspicion for a ruling way back in 2012 when he voted with the court’s liberals to uphold the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act. Now he had the temerity to reject the bogus reason that Trump’s Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross offered for adding a citizenship inquiry to the 2020 census questionnaire—supposedly to better enforce the Voting Rights Act. As the court’s ruling delicately put it: “Altogether, the evidence tells a story that does not match the Secretary’s explanation for his decision.” Or, somewhat less delicately: Ross’s sole stated reason “seems to have been contrived.”

The real reason, of course, had surfaced in May from the hard drive of one Thomas B. Hofeller, deceased. The North Carolina political consultant—who had a hand in redistricting schemes in key states around the country—had concluded that what Republicans needed to skew voting districts even more in their favor was a count not of residents but of voting-age citizens. Putting a citizenship question on the census was the way to get the necessary data. And drawing maps based on the number of voting-age citizens “would be advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites,” he wrote in a 2015 analysis. This strategy was well known in Republican circles but, oddly, was not cited by Wilbur Ross in official pronouncements.

Not all conservatives were renouncing Roberts, though. Radio bloviator Hugh Hewitt tweeted his view that the gerrymandering ruling was the more consequential one for the long haul. And he may be right. That ruling, which Justice Elena Kagan noted in her dissent shows the court “throwing up its hands” at a practice that “at its most extreme . . . amounts to ‘rigging elections’” is important for the prospects of the Republicans over the next ten years. The GOP has the full “trifecta” of control (both chambers of the legislature plus the governorship) in twenty-two states; Democrats have only fourteen trifectas. That could change in November of 2020, but the whole point of the district lines that were drawn after the 2010 census was to make legislative turnover as unlikely as possible.

The census debacle aside, the Roberts court has been consistently helpful to Republican efforts to distort the election system. Roberts led a 5-4 decision in June of 2013 to strike down a key provision in the Voting Rights Act that affected nine states with a history of discrimination. Within days of that decision, as former Attorney General Eric Holder recently wrote in the Washington Post, “conservative state legislatures unleashed a wave of unnecessary and discriminatory voter ID laws, voting roll purges and poll closures targeting minority and poor communities.” Roberts was also in the 5-4 majority of the Citizens United decision of January, 2010, which ruled that congressional attempts to regulate the influence of Big Money in elections were unconstitutional.

Yet the rationale in the court’s Rucho v. Common Cause decision last month was that the obvious problems of partisan gerrymandering “present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts.” As historian Eric Foner observed in The Nation,

The idea that the Supreme Court does not have the authority to get involved in political matters would be laughable if the results of this decision were not so damaging. Was not Baker v. Carr, the one man-one vote decision of the 1960s, political? What about Bush v. Gore (2000), which decided the outcome of a presidential election?

The logic of the Roberts court in this instance is to say that certain breakdowns in democratic fairness (which are in Kagan’s words “the devaluation of one citizen’s vote as compared to others,” i.e., a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection clause) can only be corrected by the political process—while the process remains stacked against efforts to correct them. The court declines to find a way to make an available fix to the fundamental workings of the democratic system. All of which raises a related question: Can the political system find a way to fix the Supreme Court? [...]



“After a duration of a thousand years, the power of astrology broke down when, with Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo, the progress of astronomy overthrew the false hypothesis upon which the entire structure rested, namely the geocentric system of the universe. The fact that the earth revolves in space intervened to upset the complicated play of planetary influences, and the silent stars, related to the unfathomable depths of the sky, no longer made their prophetic voices audible to mankind. Celestial mechanics and spectrum analysis finally robbed them of their mysterious prestige.”                ~~Franz Cumont, Astrology and Religion Among the Greeks and Romans (1912)



Just having fun with that app that shows you what you’ll look like in 40 years pic.twitter.com/HN6GebNBUg

— Bram (@brumthefirst) July 18, 2019


On this date at Daily Kos in 2006—Bush and African Americans:

"I consider it a tragedy that the party of Abraham Lincoln let go of its historic ties to the African American community," Bush said. "For too long my party wrote off the African American vote and many African Americans wrote off the Republican Party."

Republicans didn't "write off" blacks, they used them as a demonizable prop to bring in the Dixiecrat vote into their fold.

And who is Bush to talk, given the disaster he ignored in New Orleans? He could rush to DC on a midnight flight to sign the "let's meddle in the Schiavo family's affairs" bill, but couldn't be bothered to cut his six-week vacation short when Katrina hit.

Abraham Lincoln would be no more a modern-day Republican than Strom Thurmond or Jesse Helms would be modern-day Democrats.

Monday through Friday you can catch the Kagro in the Morning Show 9 AM ET by dropping in here, or you can download the Stitcher app (found in the app stores or at Stitcher.com), and find a live stream there, by searching for "Netroots Radio.”


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Daily Kos Elections 2Q 2019 Senate fundraising reports roundup

Quarterly fundraising reports for federal candidates, covering the period from April 1 to June 30, were due at the Federal Elections Commission on July 15 at midnight Eastern Time. Below is our chart of fundraising numbers for every senator seeking re-election this cycle, as well as every notable challenger. (Click here for our companion chart for the House.)

As always, all numbers are in thousands. The chart, and an explanation of each column, can be found below.

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Below you’ll find an explanation of each column:

Under "Party," a designation including "-inc" refers to an incumbent. "2Q Raised" is the amount the candidate has received in donations from donors during the reporting period. This includes transfers from other committees but does not include any self-funding or loans. "Self-Fund" is the amount of contributions and/or loans a candidate has made to their own campaign, using their personal resources, during the reporting period. This number, if any, is not counted in the "Raised" column. "Spent" is the amount of money the campaign has spent during the reporting period. "Cash" is the total cash on hand the campaign has available at the end of the reporting period. "Raised CTD" is the amount the candidate has received in donations from donors cycle-to-date as of the end of the reporting period. This includes transfers from other committees but does not include any self-funding or loans. "Self-Fund CTD" is the amount of contributions and/or loans a candidate has made to their own campaign, using their personal resources, cycle-to-date as of the end of the reporting period. This number, if any, is not counted in the "Raised CTD" column.

You can access the chart above in spreadsheet form here. If you click through, you'll see two additional columns on the right-hand side.

"Transfer" is the amount of monetary transfers from other political committees during the reporting period. This number, if any, is counted in the "Raised" column. "Transfer CTD" is the amount of monetary transfers from other political committees during the reporting period. This number, if any, is counted in the "Raised CTD" column.

Ultimately, all money received from all sources is reflected in every candidate's cash-on-hand totals, less spending. You can also check out our roundup for the first quarter of 2019.

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Nuts & Bolts: Inside a Democratic campaign—The rule of threes

It’s another Saturday, so for those who tune in, welcome to a diary discussing the Nuts & Bolts of a Democratic Campaign. If you’ve missed out, you can catch up anytime: Just visit our group or follow Nuts & Bolts Guide. Every week I try to tackle issues I’ve been asked about, and with the help of other campaign workers and notes, we discuss how to improve and build better campaigns.

At Netroots Nation last weekend, I had time to participate in some candidate reviews and conversations with media about effective campaigning. Sitting with staff for a campaign and a reporter, we discussed different ways in which candidates can engage voters and work to win elections. At a certain point, I mentioned that one of the most effective strategies for reaching voters I had ever come across came from, well, a Republican. There were a few laughs, and I said: I’ve never seen an easier-to-understand methodology for reaching voters than Bob Dole’s rule of threes.

Let me stop you before you say, Hey! Wait! We are trying to elect progressive Democratic candidates! Don’t worry. The rule of threes has nothing at all to do with policies and positions, and is completely adaptable to almost any electoral race, from nonpartisan to one being run by the most progressive Democratic candidate imaginable. 

So this week, I’m going to offer you a breakdown of the rule of threes in issue messaging—a strategy that for years has been drilled into the heads of conservative candidates—and why Democratic candidates might see value in adopting the approach.

Understanding what a voter can absorb

In this approach to reaching voters, the key idea is that many of them have doubts about what a campaign or candidate can actually accomplish. Most voters, the theory assumes, think too many candidates promise things they have no chance at all of accomplishing, and that leaves them feeling as though they are setting themselves up to be disappointed. The theory also says that large platforms with tons of issues are fine, but when it comes down to it, in most races, voters prefer an easy-to-understand system of a small number of issues that they think the candidate actually believes in.

When you talk to future candidates, they say that if you give a large number of proposals, voters believe that you are checking boxes on a list and that you probably are actually motivated by very few of those issues. Voters want to know what you are most passionate about, not receive a laundry list, they say.

As a result, Republicans tell their candidates to whittle the issues down to items they can speak about with clear conviction, and when other issues come up, simply to say things such as, “I’m with the caucus and will certainly listen to leadership on those issues”. This also completely excuses Republicans from talking about distasteful issues in states. Running as a Republican in a purple state? Stick with the issues you care about; when real Republicans press them, they simply respond, “I will be with the caucus and listen to leadership,” and move on. Bland enough that it couldn’t be used to excite people, but enough of a reference to tell Republican voters you would toe the party line. It also allows them to spend more time seeming, well, passionate about their issues.

So, how did they sell the rule of threes?

The campaign guidance on the rule of threes is simple enough. Pick three issues: one which you are passionate about and believe you can accomplish within a single term of being elected. A second issue that will be more difficult, but could be accomplished, though it might take more time. And finally, pick a third issue that you care about that will be very difficult to accomplish, that your constituents do want, and that you can work on.

So a candidate could say, “This year, I’m running for a seat in the statehouse. I’m going to tell you three things I plan to work on for you if you vote for me. First, it is time to make sure that the state does its part and puts traffic markers on the state highway in our community. This is dangerous and should be repaired! Second, I am going to make sure we have good schools in our community. Finally, if you elect me, I will work on commonsense gun control to protect our future!”

Now, these are a bit more generic than what your candidate may actually promote, but whatever issues they are, the pattern is the same: something you can accomplish, something that will take time, something difficult but that your voters want. As a campaign method, this helps many voters believe that you may have big dreams that they share with you, but you are also aware enough to understand what you can accomplish. Republicans have argued that if nothing you presented to voters was ever likely to become law, voters would view you as unlikely to be effective, and even if they agreed with you, they wouldn’t vote for you.

Are Democratic voters the same? I would contend that, in many ways, most Democratic voters also want candidates who they believe both provide a vision for the future and also maintain a realistic projection of what can be done, and the smaller the race—say, city councils and state offices—the more all voters focus on what can be accomplished.

What is the point of including a difficult issue and an issue unlikely to be resolved, then?

If voters like the idea of attainable goals, why go out and pitch ideas that would be difficult or unlikely to accomplish? And this is where campaigns start laying out the hopes of a reelection and a way to help their entire caucus before they are even elected.

By bringing attention to two issues that more difficult to achieve, and one that you can achieve, you offer yourself and your caucus a way to talk to voters about success and work. Let’s say you are elected, and within your first legislative session, you accomplish your achievable goal: The state commits to putting proper traffic controls on the highway in your district! Now the doors are open to you on the three issues you have laid out. You pen an editorial or a Facebook post, send email to your campaign supporters, saying:

“Today, I am proud to announce that we have passed legislation that will fix the issues on the state highway that cuts through our district. During the campaign, I made a commitment to my district that I would work to make sure we accomplished something important—and we have. 

“I bring that same level of commitment every day to our work to provide a better plan for our schools. I thank everyone who has come to the state house, helping to make sure our concern for our public schools receives attention.

“In the next legislative session, I will be joining with my fellow Democratic caucus members, and we will focus on (another issue you can resolve in a legislative session).”

In other words, Dole contended, voters like to feel that they have elected someone who is successful, and the more successes you can show—promises kept—the more likely you are to stay in office. This also offers candidates the chance to fundraise for their next election off of a success, and encourages new voters in their district to see them as elected officials who pay attention to their districts; that they recognize new community issues while they are in office, and that being in the state house or the federal government hasn’t cut them off from their home communities.

Does it work for Democratic candidates? I think there will always be room to discuss what campaign messaging and issues strategies are out there that can be effective. Over the years, though, I have never found anything more effective in a campaign than keeping the message simple and understandable, and for thousands of candidates, over decades of time, the rule of threes has been simple and effective. 

Now, my question for you is this: What has worked for YOUR candidates?

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Trump nominates mini-Scalia as labor secretary, this week in the war on workers

It’s important to uphold the principle that someone who lets a sexual predator—who preys on children, no less—off easy because he’s rich and connected and has good lawyers should not be in charge of a large chunk of the federal government, so Alexander Acosta had to go. That said, many, many workers will be much worse off as a result of his departure. Acosta was a conservative Republican who could be counted on to put the interests of the wealthy over the interests of workers, but he wasn’t in a big rush and he wasn't ready to burn down the entire system of government to screw workers a little more quickly. Now, Donald Trump has nominated Eugene Scalia, son of the late Supreme Court justice, to replace Acosta.

Scalia has represented Walmart against corporate whistleblowers. He’s represented Wynn casinos against table game dealers who objected to tip pooling rules that gave some of their tips to managers. The list goes on and on. 

Of course we knew Trump was going to nominate someone terrible. And that’s just what he did, because Trump and his entire party are all about putting a boot on the neck of workers.

● Where do the 2020 candidates stand on labor? In These Times has answers.

● In win for Trump administration, appeals court stymies union challenge to civil service restrictions:

The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reverses a ruling last year that struck down key provisions in three executive orders signed by President Trump that rolled back civil service protections, making it easier to fire employees and weaken their union representation.

The orders, which affect 2.1 million civil servants, are part of a confrontational approach the president has taken toward a federal bureaucracy he calls unaccountable and wasteful. The rules, issued in May 2018, slashed the on-the-clock time employees spend on union business, made it harder to appeal performance evaluations and curtailed options for poor performers to improve.

● As temperatures climb, a new push to keep workers safe.

● It’s been a crappy week. Here's a round-up of worker wins.



This Day in Labor History: July 17, 1944. A munitions explosion at the Port Chicago Naval Magazine in Port Chicago, California killed 320 soldiers, mostly African-Americans loading munitions onto ships. Let's talk about how soldiers are also workers and how this was a racist act. pic.twitter.com/sD0r5FAra6

— Erik Loomis (@ErikLoomis) July 17, 2019



Celery is nutritious & part of many of our diets, but did you know how much backbreaking work goes into harvesting this veggie & getting it to our tables? Thanks Melvin for sharing this vid from the celery fields you're laboring in. #WeFeedYou pic.twitter.com/fa5nvykoYq

— United Farm Workers (@UFWupdates) July 19, 2019

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7 in 10 Republicans say Trump’s comments make them feel ‘excited’ or ‘proud,’ Pew survey reports

More than eight in ten adults in the United States feel that the nature and tone of political debate has grown more negative in the last few years, as reported by the Pew Research Center. While these initial survey results aren’t too shocking, they’re still important to investigate. After all, with Donald Trump in the White House, we have to consider as seriously as ever whether or not hate speech and chants to “send her back” or “lock her up” may lead to actual violence. We also have to consider why, exactly, so much of what Trump churns out actually does resonate with people.

According to this survey of adults in the U.S., which was conducted between April 29 and May 13 of this year, about three-quarters of the same polled group say that political debate has become less fact-based. 60% feel that it’s become less focused on actual issues. 

Interestingly, people have some strong feelings on what elected officials should and shouldn’t be able to fling around. Trump, specifically, comes up in the questions. Almost three-quarters of Americans believe that politicians should avoid using language that could “encourage violence,” though more Democrats (83%) than Republicans (61%) feel this way.

Almost one-quarter of respondents believe that Trump has changed political discourse for the better, while 55% feel he’s changed it for the worse. Nearly half of Republicans feel he’s changed it for the better, while 84% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning Independents feel the opposite. 

Another interesting point along party lines: Whether or not it’s OK to call someone “unAmerican.” 30% of Republicans say it is off-limits for a Republican to call a Democratic opponent anti-American, while 45% of Democrats say it is off-limits for a Democrat to say this about a Republican opponent.

While the survey took place in the spring, it’s hard to think about this question without thinking about Donald Trump’s recent call to “send back” women of color congresspeople, and the violent chants against Rep. Ilhan Omar. What underlies his attacks, alongside the racism and sexism, is a sentiment that these people are “unAmerican.”

In a country where “patriotism” rings deep, calling someone “unAmerican” can be an act of violence. it’s also worth considering that even if physical violence isn’t an immediate threat, verbal threats—even veiled ones, like describing someone as “unAmerican”—may lead to people feeling fear or avoiding the public eye or discourse. Basically: Intimidation and isolation.

More than 80% of Democrats report that Trump’s comments “often” or “sometimes” make them feel a range of negative emotions, including concerned, confused, embarrassed, exhausted, angry, insulted and frightened. 

While some Republicans do report feeling embarrassed by Trump’s comments, roughly 70% report feeling pretty good about them. Words include: entertained, hopeful, excited, respected, inspired, and—somehow—informed.

Perhaps what is most concerning for the long-term is that there isn’t a clear agreement among respondents about what qualifies as sexist or racist language. Basically: How will I know if something might be offensive to someone else? Or: It doesn’t sound racist or sexist to me, and thus, it isn’t. See also: concerns about “PC-culture” or being too “politically correct.”

65% of Republican and Republican-leaning voters said they often don’t agree with the definition of racist (and sexist) language, though six-in-ten respondents overall say the same. So while Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters aren’t as bad as Republicans, they still come in at 58%. Post-graduates and college graduates are more likely to say it’s easy to know when something is racist or sexist. 

Overall, 60% of respondents say that people today are too easily offended by the language that other people use.

What do you think? 

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