The short history of the Confederacy

by Heather Cox Richardson – Nov. 14th, 2020


“In the 1850s, the Republican Party rose to stand against a small group of wealthy southern white slaveholders who had taken over the government. Those slaveholders made up only about 1% of the American South. They ran the Democratic Party, but they knew their system of human enslavement was unpopular and that they were in a political minority even in the Democratic Party. It was only a question of time until the majority began to hem in their ownership of other human beings.

So when folks started to urge the government to promote infrastructure in the growing nation, building roads or dredging harbors, for example, these southern leaders worried that if the government began to intervene in the economy, the regulation of slavery would be just around the corner. They pushed back by insisting that the government could do nothing that was not expressly written in the Constitution. Even if the vast majority of the people in the country wanted the government to do something, it could not.

As pressure grew for government to promote economic growth for ordinary Americans, the southern slaveholders worked to cement their power. They courted poor white voters, telling them that any attempt to regulate slavery was an effort to lift Black people over them. From their stronghold in the Senate, southern leaders stopped legislation to develop the country and instead pushed laws that spread slavery into the West. When northerners objected, southern leaders packed the Supreme Court and got it to agree that Congress could not stop the spread of southern slavery even across the entire nation. But while they insisted the federal government could not promote the economy for ordinary Americans, they demanded a sweeping federal slave code to protect slavery in the West.

Their system was best for the nation, they explained. Society was made up of a mass of workers, drudges who weren’t terribly smart, but were strong and loyal. They were the “mudsills” of society, akin to the wood hammered into the ground that supported the grand plantation homes above. Directed by their betters, these mudsills produced capital, which accumulated in the hands of the wealthy. There, it did far more good than if it were distributed among those who had produced it, because society’s leaders used their wealth to innovate and build the economy, doing what was best for the workers, who could not understand their own interests. The nation thrived.

To secure this system, though, it was imperative that the mudsills could not vote. If they could, workers would demand more of the wealth they produced. White southerners had enslaved their laborers, South Carolina Senator James Henry Hammond told his northern colleagues in 1858, but northerners had not, and they foolishly allowed them to vote. “If they knew the tremendous secret, that the ballot-box is stronger than “an army with banners,” and could combine, where would you be?” Hammond demanded. “Your society would be reconstructed, your government was overthrown, your property divided… by the quiet process of the ballot-box.”

Men like Abraham Lincoln organized to overturn the idea that they were mindless workers, doomed to menial labor for life. In 1859, Lincoln articulated a new vision for the nation, putting ordinary men, rather than elite slaveholders, at the heart of national development.

Lincoln’s “Free Labor” theory held that the nation worked best when the government supported ordinary men rather than a wealthy elite. Ordinary men worked more intelligently and innovated more freely than an elite, and when the government used its power to free up resources for them, they built the economy far more efficiently than the enslaved workers who were hampered by the commands of an out-of-touch plantation owner. Rather than shunning economic development, the government should embrace it, they said, spreading free labor, rather than slavery, across the West.

When Lincoln won the 1860 election, southern leaders refused to accept the results of the election. They left the Union to launch a new nation that rejected the idea of human equality and was instead based on human enslavement.

Left in charge of the government, the new Republican Party rebuilt it according to Lincoln’s vision. To pay the enormous cost of the Civil War, they invented our first national system of taxation, including the income tax. Then, to enable people to pay those taxes, they spread opportunity to ordinary men, giving them western land (that we now recognize belonged to indigenous people), establishing our state universities, and building a railroad to take people across the country. Ultimately, they included Black men in their vision, abolishing slavery, establishing Black citizenship, and guaranteeing Black men the right to vote so they could protect their own interests.

Under the leadership of the Republican Party, Americans were, Lincoln reminded them, resolving “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Note: HCR is a history professor at Boston College, and the author of: “How the South won the Civil War”, subtitled: Oligarch, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America

Electoral maps: Now & Then

Electoral Map for General Election 2020 – Nov. 7th, 2020

Lessons Unlearnt

Privatization, outsourcing, packed classrooms and a total government failure to make them safe expose schools to deadly levels of infection in the UK.

by George Monbiot in The Guardian – Posted: 10 Nov 2020 06:12 AM PST


Does anyone in power care? Shocking revelations about the government’s handling of the pandemic are either ignored or dismissed. The vast human cost of its failure to protect us seems to leave its ministers unfazed. However badly the model of privatized, outsourced provision falls over, the program persists.

After last week’s article revealing that unqualified teenage call handlers working, through Serco, on the government’s test and trace system had been suddenly “upskilled” – obliged to take on the role of experienced health workers and to make crucial clinical decisions – I’ve been inundated with messages from two groups of people. One consists of call–center workers telling the same grim story: breaking down in tears as they have to handle situations for which they have no preparation and no skills. The other consists of retired or furloughed clinicians who say they have been repeatedly rebuffed when they have offered their services to the government. It seems that experienced and qualified health workers are being turned away in favor of 18-year-olds on the minimum wage.

But I’ve also been told a separate story, about a parallel disaster unfolding along similar lines. While the Department of Health has flushed £12bn down the toilet, in the form of its failed test and trace system, the Department for Education (DfE) seems to be making a horrible mess of its own pandemic response. Here too roles once occupied by experienced clinicians have been handed to call-center workers employed by Serco. To judge by what I’ve learned so far, the result is likely to be another public health catastrophe. Continue reading Lessons Unlearnt

A reminder…

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863

With two days left until the 2020 General Election

by Heather Cox Richardson – November 1, 2020 (Sunday)

There are two big stories this weekend: voter intimidation and the Trump campaign’s attempt to game the election by convincing people that the president should declare victory on Tuesday night.
There have been flashes of voter intimidation all along, with pro-Trump supporters blocking a poll entrance in Fairfax, Virginia, in September, for example. But that intimidation escalated on Friday when a caravan of trucks and cars sporting Trump flags surrounded a Biden-Harris bus in Texas, forcing it first to slow to 20 miles an hour and then forcing the campaign to cancel the rest of the day’s campaign events out of safety concerns. One of the trucks sideswiped a car as the two drove down the highway.

After the encounter, Trump cheered on the perpetrators, retweeting a video of the vehicles swarming the bus with the words “I LOVE TEXAS!” Last night, he retold the incident to his rally in Montoursville, Pennsylvania, suggesting it showed how popular he really is.

Also yesterday, Alamance County sheriff’s deputies and city police officers in Graham, North Carolina, abruptly pepper-sprayed about 200 people who were marching peacefully to the polls. The crowd included children and disabled people and, in what will likely turn out to be a problem for the officers in court, political pundit David Frum’s children, who filmed the encounter. The sheriff’s office said it attacked the march out of “concerns for the safety of all,” but Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson has such a record of racism and intimidation that the Department of Justice sent election monitors to the county in 2004, 2008, and 2012.

This afternoon, the FBI confirmed in a short, nonspecific statement that it is investigating the incident. After all, voter intimidation is a federal as well as a state crime.
Tonight, Trump tweeted: “In my opinion, these patriots did nothing wrong. Instead, the FBI & Justice should be investigating the terrorists, anarchists, and agitators of ANTIFA, who run around burning down our Democrat run cities and hurting our people!” Continue reading With two days left until the 2020 General Election

Originalism is a straight-jacket

An illustration of Amy Coney Barrett and Constitution text.
During her confirmation hearings, Amy Coney Barrett argued that the judicial philosophy known as “originalism” should guide judges in their interpretation and application of constitutional principles. Most famously associated with the late Justice Antonin Scalia (for whom Judge Barrett clerked), this idea sounds simple and sensible: In determining what the Constitution permits, a judge must first look to the plain meaning of the text, and if that isn’t clear, then apply what was in the minds of the 55 men who wrote it in 1787. Period. Anything else is “judicial lawmaking.”

In some cases, interpreting the Constitution with an originalist lens is pretty easy; for example, the Constitution says that the president must be at least 35 years old (“35” means, well, 35), that each state has two senators (not three and not one), and that Congress is authorized to establish and support an Army and a Navy. But wait a minute. What about the Air Force? Is it mentioned in the text? Nope. Is there any ambiguity in the text? Again, no. It doesn’t say “armed forces”; it explicitly says “Army” and “Navy.” Did the Framers have in mind the Air Force 115 years before the Wright brothers? Not likely.

So is the Air Force unconstitutional, even though it clearly fails both prongs of the “originalist” test? No, a more reasonable and obvious interpretation is that the Framers intended that the country be protected and that the Air Force is a logical extension of that concept, even though it wasn’t contemplated in 1787. This isn’t judicial lawmaking; it’s judges doing what they’re hired to do.

And these are the easy cases. How about terms like due process? What does due mean? Is a process that locks you up for life without access to a lawyer “due”? How about an “unreasonable” search and seizure? Is wiretapping “unreasonable”? (We wonder what the Framers thought about wiretapping or cyber theft.) Does “freedom of speech” apply to corporations, which didn’t exist in their modern form in 1787?

To put it bluntly, the whole premise of originalism is nonsense in that it pretends to make the work of the Supreme Court look straightforward and mechanical, like “calling balls and strikes,” in Justice John Roberts’s famous phase. But defining equal protectiondue process, or unreasonable is not. We need a Supreme Court to interpret the intent and appropriate application of the terms of the Constitution to particular cases (many not dreamed of by the Framers).

Originalism is an intellectual cloak drummed up (somewhat recently) to dignify a profoundly retrogressive view of the Constitution as a straitjacket on the ability of the federal government to act on behalf of the public. Its real purpose is to justify a return to the legal environment of the early 1930s, when the Court routinely struck down essential elements of the New Deal. Business regulation, Social Security, and Medicare? Not so fast. The Affordable Care Act, environmental protections, a woman’s right to choose? Forget it. And this despite the Constitution’s preamble, which states that one of its basic purposes is to “promote the general welfare.”

This does not mean that the Court should be totally unmoored from the text of the Constitution or the intent of the Framers and act as an unchecked super-legislature (with lifetime tenure to boot). Clearly, this would be inconsistent with the underlying democratic idea that the American people should be the ultimate decision makers through regular elections and the actions of their elected representatives. The Court must interpret and apply the terms of the Constitution according to their plain meaning (where there is a plain meaning) and the understanding and intent of the Framers (where there was such a thing). But it also must recognize that our understanding of our principles and values has expanded over time, and it must interpret the law in the context of that growth.

The intellectual dishonesty of many originalists is exposed by their reluctance to follow their own logic regarding certain landmark cases, now widely recognized as milestones in our national progress toward “a more perfect union.” The easiest examples are Brown v. Board of Education and Loving v. Virginia, the former concerning school integration, the latter, interracial marriage, illegal in Virginia until Loving in 1967. Both decisions explicitly fail the originalist test, yet Judge Barrett asserts they were correctly decided and endorses them as “super-precedents,” a convenient dodge that evades the troubling implications of her supposedly simple theory of constitutional interpretation.

Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration of Independence and paid close attention to the drafting of the Constitution from his official post in France, understood this danger explicitly: “I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions,” he wrote in an 1816 letter addressing what he perceived to be weaknesses in the new government, “but … laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”

The fact is that the Framers knew very well that they could not reliably look into the future and anticipate the changes that were to come—whether they be the necessity of an Air Force or the manifest unfairness of segregated schools—and therefore gave us a document that defines the structure of our government, but also accommodates advances in our understanding of the essential elements of human dignity.

The Constitution should be the sturdy vessel of our ideals and aspirations, not a derelict sailing ship locked in the ice of a world far from our own.

This story is part of the project “The Battle for the Constitution,” in partnership with the National Constitution Center.

An ancient story

From: Six Non-lectures by e.e.cummings


An ancient story I’ll tell you anon

Of a notable prince, that was called King John; And he ruled England with maine and with might,  For he did great wrong, and maintein’d little right.

And ‘ll tell you a story, a story so merrye, Concerning the Abbott of Canterburye;

How for his house-keeping and high renowne, They rode poste for him to fair London towne.

An hundred men, the king did heare say, The abbot kept in his house every day; And :fifty golde chaines, without any doubt, In velvet coates waited the abbot about.

“How now, father abbot, I heare it of thee, Thou keepest a farre better house than mee; And for thy house-keeping and high renowne, I feare thou work’st treason against my crown.•• Continue reading An ancient story

COVID infectious guy saved by free healthcare wants to prevent others from receiving care

101 Reasons to Vote For Biden/Harris

Repost from: David Ferree


I’ve heard from people that they want a reason to vote FOR Biden beyond that he’s not Trump. Okay, I respect that, so I went on his website, poured through his policies, and came up with 100 reasons to vote for #JoeBiden that don’t mention Trump.

1.) $15.00 federal minimum wage

2.) Reinstate DACA – allowing new applicants to apply

3.) 12 Weeks federal paid family leave

4.) Universal Pre-Kindergarten/Childcare for ages 3 and 4

5.) Tuition-free college for those with household income less than $125,000.00

6.) Allow student loans to be relieved in bankruptcy

7.) LGBTQ+ Equality Act in the first 100 days in office

8.) Rejoin the Paris Climate Accords

9.) Decriminalize cannabis use and expunge convictions

10.) Eliminate cash bail system

11.) Eliminate mandatory minimum sentences

12.) Outlaw all online firearm and munition sales

13.) Restore the voting rights act

14.) Create a new $20 billion competitive grant program to spur states to shift from incarceration to prevention.

15.) He’ll triple funding for Title I Programs

16.) Appoint the first Black Woman to the Supreme Court of the United States

17.) Reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)

18.) Ensure the US achieves a 100% clean energy economy and net-zero emissions no later than 2050

19.) Protecting Biodiversity, slowing extinction rates, and helping leverage natural climate solutions

20.) Develop a plan to ensure that America has the cleanest, safest, and fastest rail system in the world, for both passengers and freight

Continue reading 101 Reasons to Vote For Biden/Harris

An online conversation adrift in space

Paul Jarrett – Conversation Starter · Yesterday at 11:30 AM
“I hope that people will take COVID-19 more seriously now that the Trumps have tested positive”

Linda Stidd Green wrote: Going to act exactly the same. Everyone will be exposed sooner or later. I work in healthcare and have seen literally hundreds of non covid pts. Been exposed a few times. Don’t care about masks. Often tell my pts to take theirs off when they are hyperventilating- I don’t need them to pass out. I wear masks only when I’m forced to. Period. When I see my pts I am literally over them for at least 20 minutes. I will never be tested as long as I’m asymptomatic. Not required to be. We go out to eat, go to the stores and go on vacation. I know I might get it. Not afraid. God numbers my days not covid.

Richard Pressl wrote: The vast array of COVID masks amply demonstrate how the wearer perceives the prophylactic value of wearing one. The typical cloth and procedure masks are designed to protect OTHERS from infection by the wearer…they in effect say “I am wearing this mask to protect you from infection by me” – which is a very “social” action. When a person chooses not to wear a mask in public it sends an entirely different message much more along the lines of: “I’m doing what I choose to do for myself, and if you are concerned about potential infection from me, then you should make your own arrangements, like upping your mask to N-95 grade”. If a person does not notice the gap between these two social approaches nothing more can be said.

Linda Stidd Green wrote: I have seen almost no one wearing a real N95 mask correctly. Most people have cloth masks often made of thin t shirt material. These cloth masks border on useless for both parties. If it makes you feel better I do believe it helps if a person believes it helps but that’s another subject. But long before politics got involved the science did not back up cloth masks making much difference. Distance and hand washing is better and I can’t do that for someone else. There is nothing wrong with an individual making an informed decision in what is right for them. Anyone should respect that.

Richard Pressl wrote: Due to this Administration’s horrid response to the pandemic the N-95 and KN-95’s masks have not been in adequate supply even for frontline health care workers let alone the general public. Thus the national approach in dozens of countries is for a 2-3 layer cloth mask, with social distancing, and hand sanitization as the only available public health option available. To denigrate cloth masks as not being as effective at filtration as N-95’s is a deflection from the issue…which is and must remain, fixated at decreasing transmission in the general public. The plain and simple truth is any mask which decreases the airborne transmission of COVID is better than no mask at all. Wearing one affirms that reality, choosing not to attempts to deny it. Continue reading An online conversation adrift in space

More chaos…

October 1, 2020 (Thursday)

This evening, I talked to a woman who said she cannot read the news anymore. It’s all just too much. If you feel this way, please understand that it is fine to look away when you need to. We are already exhausted, and we are entering a period that is going to be chaotic. Even a normal campaign year is crazy, but this year, the extraordinary chaos feeds the needs of this president to destabilize the country and emerge as a savior. The current chaos is designed to make you hopeless about creating change so that you give up. To combat that, look away and recharge your batteries. Focus on the things that ground you: family, friends, pets, gardening, movies, books, biking, church… whatever works. Just come back when you can… and remember to vote.

It’s going to be nuts from here on out.

In the first draft of this October 1 letter, I wrote that presidential adviser Hope Hicks has tested positive for coronavirus. Trump tweeted that he and the First Lady “will begin our quarantine process!” CNN’s White House correspondent John Harwood noted at 11:30 pm: “curious that neither Trump nor WH have disclosed any test results for him more than 3 hours after news broke that Hope Hicks tested positive. Trump’s typical approach is boasting that he doesn’t worry because he gets tested so much. He told Hannity he doesn’t know if he has it.” MSNBC justice and security analyst Matthew Miller tweeted “Thank god the White House has a history of being completely honest about the president’s health. It would be awful if we couldn’t trust them right now.” Continue reading More chaos…

Demand Answers !!

Post debate perspective by HCR

Letter by an American

September 29, 2020
by Heather Cox Richardson

My house is blissfully quiet, but my ears are still ringing.

The first presidential debate of 2020 was unlike anything we have seen before. CNN’s Jake Tapper said: “That was a hot mess, inside a dumpster fire, inside a train wreck.” “He was his own tweets come to life.” “We’ll talk about who won the debate, who lost the debate … One thing for sure, the American people lost.” Conservative pundit William Kristol called it “a spectacle… an embarrassment… a disgrace… because of the behavior of one man, Donald Trump. The interrupting and the bullying, the absence of both decency and dignity—those were Donald Trump’s distinctive contributions to the evening, and they gave the affair the rare and sickening character of a national humiliation.”
Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?
In a normal presidential debate, both candidates try to explain their policy proposals, jab at their opponent, and convince undecided voters to move in their direction. If this had been a normal presidential debate, its weight would have fallen on Trump, who is significantly behind Biden, to win voters. Biden’s goal would simply have been not to lose anyone.
If we were calling this like a normal presidential debate, Trump lost. He did not move the needle in his direction. Biden won; he did not lose anyone.
But this was not a normal presidential debate.
Trump long ago gave up the pretense that he wanted to win a majority of voters. For months now, he has made no effort to reach outside of his base. Instead he has focused on solidifying and radicalizing it. As his trade war with China and the coronavirus has weakened his support, he has given massive grants to farmers, promised checks to 33 million elderly to help pay for prescriptions, splashed transportation grants around, and recently even offered grants to lobstermen who have lost business because of the trade war.
Trump set out tonight not to convince undecided voters to support him, but rather to harden his supporters and encourage them to disrupt the election so he can contest the results until the solution goes to the Supreme Court where he hopes a majority will rule in his favor. He laid it all out tonight. Continue reading Post debate perspective by HCR

Constitutional crises?

Trump balloting machinations heighten fears of 1876 redux

Not long before he died in 2005, William Rehnquist wrote an excellent history of the disputed presidential election of 1876. The Stanford-educated chief justice became deeply fascinated in the subject while leading the Supreme Court during its deliberations in Bush v. Gore, the decision that settled the 2000 election in George W. Bush’s favor.

Rehnquist understood that little, if anything, is truly unprecedented. History may never repeat itself exactly, but there are always echoes. While Bush v. Gore is top of mind because it happened in our lifetimes, the chicanery of 1876 might soon become more salient.

President Trump’s escalating and preemptive attacks aimed at undermining the legitimacy of the November election are generating growing fears of a looming constitutional crisis. The president reiterated on Thursday that he may not honor the results should he lose reelection, reaffirming his extraordinary refusal to commit to a peaceful transition of power.

In an interview with Fox News Radio, Trump said he would agree with a Supreme Court ruling that Democratic nominee Joe Biden won the election but without it, the vote count would amount to “a horror show” because of fraudulent ballots. He’s also continuing to agitate to get whomever he nominates onto the Supreme Court confirmed before November so that she can vote in his favor. There is no evidence to support Trump’s claims about widespread fraud. Continue reading Constitutional crises?

Perspective: On SCOTUS

by Heather Cox Richardson – Sep 21st, 2020


The big story today is big indeed: how and when the seat on the Supreme Court, now open because of the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday, will be filled. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced within an hour of the announcement of Ginsburg’s passing that he would move to replace her immediately. Trump says he will announce his pick for the seat as early as Tuesday.

Democrats are crying foul. Their immediate complaint is that after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February 2016, McConnell refused even to meet with President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, on the grounds that it was inappropriate to confirm a Supreme Court justice in an election year. He insisted voters should get to decide on who got to nominate the new justice. This “rule” was invented for the moment: in our history, at least 14 Supreme Court justices have been nominated and confirmed during an election year. (Three more were nominated in December, after an election.)

There is a longer history behind this fight that explains just why it is so heated… and what is at stake.

World War Two forced an American reckoning with our long history of racism and sexism. Americans of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, all gender identities, and all levels of wealth had helped to defeat fascism and save democracy, and they demanded a voice in the postwar government. Recognizing both the justice of such claims and the fact that communist leaders used America’s discriminatory laws to insist that democracy was a sham, Republican President Dwight Eisenhower set out to make equal justice under law a reality.

Over the course of his eight years in office, from 1953-1961, Eisenhower appointed five justices to the Supreme Court, beginning with Chief Justice Earl Warren, the former Republican Governor of California, in October 1953. In 1954, the Warren Court handed down the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, decision, requiring the desegregation of public schools. The decision was unanimous.

From then until Warren retired in 1969, the “Warren Court” worked to change the legal structures of the nation to promote equality. It required state voting districts to be roughly equal in population, so that, for example, Nevada could no longer have one district of 568 people and another of 127,000. It required law enforcement officers to read suspects their rights. It banned laws criminalizing interracial marriage. It ended laws against contraceptives.

Warren resigned during President Richard Nixon’s term, and Nixon chose Chief Justice Warren Burger to replace him. Burger was less interested than Warren in using the Supreme Court to redefine equal rights in the nation; nonetheless, he presided over the court when it handed down the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision striking down restrictive state abortion laws. The case was decided by a vote of 7-2, and the majority opinion was written by Justice Harry Blackmun, a Republican nominated, like Burger, by Richard Nixon. All the justices were men.

Americans opposed to the Supreme Court’s expansion of rights complained bitterly that the court was engaging in what came to be called “judicial activism,” changing the country by decree rather than letting voters decide how their communities would treat the people who lived in them. Rather than simply interpreting existing laws, they said, the Supreme Court was itself creating law.

When President Ronald Reagan took office, he attacked the idea of “activist judges” and promised to roll back the process of “legislating from the bench.” In his eight years, he packed the courts with judges who believed in “a strict interpretation of the Constitution” and “family values” and said they would not make law but simply follow it. Reagan appointed more judges than any other president in history: three Supreme Court associate justices and one chief justice, as well as 368 district and appeals court judges. Older members of the Justice Department who believed that the enforcement of the law should not be politicized were outraged when Reagan appointees at the Justice Department quizzed candidates for judgeships about their views on abortion and affirmative action. Reagan’s Attorney General Edwin Meese said that the idea was to “institutionalize the Reagan revolution so it can’t be set aside no matter what happens in future presidential elections.” Continue reading Perspective: On SCOTUS

Perspective: The fate of SCOTUS

September 21, 2020

Surrendered court seats

In the final decades of the 20th century, liberals and conservatives each had their own problem that kept their preferred judges from dominating the Supreme Court.

For conservatives, it was the unreliability of the justices appointed by Republican presidents. Some turned into relative moderates (Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy), while others drifted further left (David Souter, John Paul Stevens and Harry Blackmun).

For liberals, the problem was the mishandling of Supreme Court transitions, through the occasional surrendering of a seat so that a Republican president could fill it.
In 1968, the last year of Lyndon Johnson’s presidency, he appointed a personal friend to replace the departing chief justice — and when the nomination floundered on ethical grounds, the seat remained available for the next president, Richard Nixon, to fill. Later, two other liberal justices — Hugo Black, in 1971, and Thurgood Marshall, in 1991 — retired under Republican presidents and were each replaced by a conservative justice. Marshall’s replacement, Clarence Thomas, is still on the court today.

If you want to understand why conservatives have come to dominate the court in the early 21st century, it’s worth keeping in mind this history. In the simplest terms, conservatives have largely solved their 20th-century problem: Republican presidents now nominate only deeply conservative justices. Liberals, on the other hand, have not solved their problem.
The death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg — like Marshall, a civil rights giant, who demanded that the United States live up to its ideals — has created the fourth time in the last six decades that liberals may turn over a seat to conservatives. Aware of this possibility, some legal scholars and writers pleaded with Ginsburg to retire while Barack Obama was president and Democrats still controlled the Senate, but she wanted to remain on the court. Continue reading Perspective: The fate of SCOTUS

New Book Published by The Atlantic: “The American Crisis”

a discussion with some of the contributors…


Cullen Murphy: The title The American Crisis leans heavily on a word that often gets thrown around. The “crisis” explored in the book is existential—it transcends politics or ideology. How would you describe the condition the country is in?

Anne Applebaum: It’s a very specific kind of crisis: an identity crisis. Many of our current political, economic, cultural, and historical arguments are really about a very fundamental question: Who are we? Are we a multiethnic, multicultural nation that lives in really remarkable harmony? Are we a nation of racists and white supremacists? Are some Americans more “American” than others? And if so, which ones, and why?

It’s not an accident that we’re arguing right now over statues, over dates like 1619 and 1789, over heroes and villains. All of those debates are, at base, about national self-definition. Americans have conducted these kinds of debates before; in the 1860s, they led to the failure of democracy, and ultimately civil war. I’m not saying we’ll end up there again—the conflicts of the 21st century will not resemble the conflicts of the 19th century—but it’s important to remember that failure is possible.

Murphy: The Atlantic articles collected in this book cover a wide range of topics—politics, national security, race, inequality, education, the economy, health, social trends. Together, they reflect the systemic nature of the crisis. Is there one subject that illuminates them all?

Applebaum: The pandemic did present a unique kind of test. Not only has it offered a special challenge for a health-care system that does not cover all citizens; not only has it caused profound problems for America’s precarious labor force; not only has it taken an unusual toll on underfunded school systems—beyond all that, it has also tested our sense of social solidarity. Stopping the spread of the virus requires an enormous degree of cooperation as well as trust in public-health advice. But cooperation, in turn, requires precisely that elusive sense of unity, that feeling of common purpose, we no longer share. Continue reading New Book Published by The Atlantic: “The American Crisis”

Meanwhile – Afghanistan circa Sep 2020

The Washington Post The Daily 202

by James Hohmann with Mariana Alfaro – Sept 11, 2020


Jeffrey Goldberg’s Article in The Atlantic

Donald Trump greets families of the fallen at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day 2017.CHIP SOMODEVILLA / GETTY
Trump rejected the idea of the visit because he feared his hair would become disheveled in the rain, and because he did not believe it important to honor American war dead, according to four people with firsthand knowledge of the discussion that day. In a conversation with senior staff members on the morning of the scheduled visit, Trump said, “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.” In a separate conversation on the same trip, Trump referred to the more than 1,800 marines who lost their lives at Belleau Wood as “suckers” for getting killed.

Belleau Wood is a consequential battle in American history, and the ground on which it was fought is venerated by the Marine Corps. America and its allies stopped the German advance toward Paris there in the spring of 1918. But Trump, on that same trip, asked aides, “Who were the good guys in this war?” He also said that he didn’t understand why the United States would intervene on the side of the Allies.

Trump’s understanding of concepts such as patriotism, service, and sacrifice has interested me since he expressed contempt for the war record of the late Senator John McCain, who spent more than five years as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese. “He’s not a war hero,” Trump said in 2015 while running for the Republican nomination for president. “I like people who weren’t captured.”There was no precedent in American politics for the expression of this sort of contempt, but the performatively patriotic Trump did no damage to his candidacy by attacking McCain in this manner. Nor did he set his campaign back by attacking the parents of Humayun Khan, an Army captain who was killed in Iraq in 2004.

Trump remained fixated on McCain, one of the few prominent Republicans to continue criticizing him after he won the nomination. When McCain died, in August 2018, Trump told his senior staff, according to three sources with direct knowledge of this event, “We’re not going to support that loser’s funeral,” and he became furious, according to witnesses, when he saw flags lowered to half-staff. “What the fuck are we doing that for? Guy was a fucking loser,” the president told aides. Trump was not invited to McCain’s funeral. (These sources, and others quoted in this article, spoke on condition of anonymity. The White House did not return earlier calls for comment, but Alyssa Farah, a White House spokesperson, emailed me this statement shortly after this story was posted: “This report is false. President Trump holds the military in the highest regard. He’s demonstrated his commitment to them at every turn: delivering on his promise to give our troops a much needed pay raise, increasing military spending, signing critical veterans reforms, and supporting military spouses. This has no basis in fact.”)

Trump’s understanding of heroism has not evolved since he became president. According to sources with knowledge of the president’s views, he seems to genuinely not understand why Americans treat former prisoners of war with respect. Nor does he understand why pilots who are shot down in combat are honored by the military. On at least two occasions since becoming president, according to three sources with direct knowledge of his views, Trump referred to former President George H. W. Bush as a “loser” for being shot down by the Japanese as a Navy pilot in World War II. (Bush escaped capture, but eight other men shot down during the same mission were caught, tortured, and executed by Japanese soldiers.) Continue reading Jeffrey Goldberg’s Article in The Atlantic

Alternate reality

August 29, 2020 (Saturday)

by Heather Cox Richardson


With the end of the Republican National Convention on Thursday, the race to the November election is in high gear.

Trump has made it clear he will run on the idea that he has defeated the coronavirus and rebooted the economy, while rioters from the “radical left” are destroying American cities, aided and abetted by Democrats. But the convention’s picture of the president and the nation America were so wildly untrue that fact-checkers have stayed busy ever since.

Vice President Mike Pence rewrote history to argue that Trump managed the pandemic wonderfully. “President Trump marshaled the full resources of our federal government from the outset,” Pence said. “He directed us to forge a seamless partnership with governors across America in both political parties.”

In fact, there is really no debate over the reality that Trump did not acknowledge the magnitude of the crisis for six to eight crucial weeks, despite warnings. He refused to invoke the Defense Production Act to speed up the production of critical medical supplies and instead told states they were on their own. When states then tried to buy their own supplies, the federal government often intercepted the shipments and handed them to private distribution systems to send to places the administration determined needed them most, redistributions that were often attributed to political favoritism.

Most attendees at the president’s speech did not wear masks, and speakers at the convention referred to the pandemic in the past tense. But coronavirus has not gone away. Although the overall number of new cases is declining, hot spots remain, especially as schools and universities have reopened over the past two weeks. At the University of Alabama, 1200 students have tested positive for Covid-19 since classes resumed less than two weeks ago; Florida has seen nearly 900 students testing positive in the same period. America is still suffering close to 1000 deaths a day from Covid-19, bringing our numbers over 180,000 people.

Pence also boasted that we have gained back 9.3 million jobs in the last three months… with no acknowledgment that it is Trump’s mismanagement of the pandemic that devastated the economy in the first place, or that we are still 13 million jobs down from where we were before the coronavirus.

Trump’s narrative that cities are in crisis, and the violence is caused by the “radical left,” is not supported by the evidence, either.

First of all, there is less violence than he suggests. Crime has actually been dropping in the U.S. for a decade, and protests are isolated. American cities are not in flames. On Twitter, a user claimed that: “There’s this creepy vibe in DC right now where it’s obvious how bad the city’s been destroyed by rioters, and yet people are almost afraid to point it out or oppose it. You almost have to whistle past the boarded-up windows as if it’s all just normal.” Other users ridiculed him by posting photographs of peaceful city scenes, noting that a number of places closed early in the summer because of Covid, but that the only “creepy vibe” was the new fortified wall around the White House. Continue reading Alternate reality