Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Trump claimed today that Clinton’s donors won’t let her reduce taxes for corporations and the wealthy. Wonder whether anyone else will notice that he said that.

Outside the factory setting [which Clinton toured today before she gave her economic-policy speech], a scattering of pro­-Trump protesters held “Hillary for Prison” signs and criticized Mrs. Clinton’s connections to Wall Street. And more than 1,000 miles away in Florida, Mr. Trump echoed that critique.

“She doesn’t have the talent” to jump­start the economy, Mr. Trump said. “If she wanted to do it, she couldn’t because her donors won’t let her.”

Wielding a chart, Mr. Trump said the Obama administration’s policies that Mrs. Clinton wants to continue have led to plummeting homeownership rates and anemic economic growth. He also suggested that Mrs. Clinton wanted to raise taxes by $1.3 trillion and place more of that burden on the middle class — something that she has not proposed.

“Many workers are earning less money in real dollars than they were in 1970,” Mr. Trump said. “And then you wonder why they’re angry.”

In Michigan, Hillary Clinton Calls Donald Trump Enemy of ‘the Little Guy’, Amy Chozick and Alan Rappeport, New York Times, today

Okay, so Clinton’s Wall Street donors won’t let her eliminate the estate tax and dramatically cut corporate taxes and taxes on wealthy individuals, which is what the Trump plan—devised by his Wall Street hedge-fund and real estate mogul advisers, his Heritage Foundation-economist adviser, and Edgar Bergen, er, Paul Ryan—says is the surefire way to jump-start the economy. Those folks know that will work because this kind of thing worked so well during the Bush administration.

Well, all right, it worked well in conjunction with bank deregulation and unregulated shadow banking that caused that skyrocketing homeownership rate during the G.W. Bush administration. The highs from which homeownership rates plummeted after the banking and shadow banking industries collapsed in the months before Obama’s inauguration.

The plummeting of which made Trump happy, he has said, because he was able to pick up so much real estate on the (very) cheap once all those homes went into foreclosure.

But Trump is crediting the wrong president for creating that buying opportunity.  His memory fails him.

And it’s not only his long-term memory that fails him.  His short-term memory is slipping, too.  He’s a businessman, so I assume he follows the trend of the stock market and corporate profit reports, or at least the profits of, say, the Fortune 100.  But apparently he forgets from one day to the next. And one week to the next.  Not to mention one year to the next, although that would be long-term memory, I guess.  Anyway, comparisons don’t seem to be his thing.

Which I guess explains why he doesn’t know that both the stock market and large-corporation profits are at record highs.  So high, in fact, that corporate CEOs don’t know what to do with all that money.  Although they do know what they won’t do with it: raise compensation for their rank-and-file workers and invest in, say, research and development.  You know, the stuff that could result in economic growth: spending by these corporations that would obviate the point of dramatic tax cuts, which Ryan, the Heritage Foundation, and Trump’s hedge fund and real estate mogul friends say the corporations would spend on compensation raises for their rank-and-file workers.  Well, all the tax-cut savings that are left after all the spending on research and development. Because money isn’t fungible after all.

There’s something about money from tax cuts that would make corporations spend the money in ways other than increased dividends, acquisitions of other companies, and mega-increases in top-executive-suite compensation.  And Paul Ryan has the secret to what it is, and he’ll only share it with Trump.

Anyway, at least we now know why Clinton, unlike Trump, wouldn’t eliminate the estate tax and dramatically cut corporate taxes and taxes on wealthy individuals.  Her donors won’t let her.

And to think I’ve wanted to see the reversal of Citizens United.  How shortsighted of me.

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About That Optimism Thing …

Watching the Democrats’ smoothly staged, potently scripted convention last week, voters could easily think that Hillary Clinton has this election in the bag.

The critiques of Donald Trump made devastatingly clear that he’s a preposterous, dangerous candidate for the presidency. The case for Clinton was compelling, and almost every party leader who mattered showed up to make it.

That included President Obama, who answered Trump’s shockingly gloomy vision of America with a stirring assurance that we have every reason to feel good. Clinton forcefully amplified that assessment. She peddled uplift, not anxiety.

But in 2016, is that the smarter sell? Are prettier words the better pitch?

They made for a more emotional, inspiring convention, so much so that many conservatives loudly grieved the way in which Democrats had appropriated the rousing patriotism and can­do American spirit that Republicans once owned. But Trump has surrendered optimism to Clinton at precisely the moment when it’s a degraded commodity, out of sync with the national mood. That’s surely why he let go of it so readily.

Clinton has many advantages in this race. I wouldn’t bet against her. I expect a significant bounce for her in post­-convention polls; an Ipsos/Reuters survey that was released on Friday, reflecting interviews spread out over the Democrats’ four days in Philadelphia, showed her five points ahead of Trump nationally among likely voters.

But she nonetheless faces possible troubles, and the potential mismatch of her message and the moment is a biggie. She has to exploit the opportunity of Trump’s excessive bleakness without coming across as the least bit complacent. That’s no easy feat but it’s a necessary one. The numbers don’t lie.

The Trouble for Hillary, Frank Bruni, NYT, today

For a few weeks last winter, into the spring, I kept getting ads on my computer screen from the Clinton campaign asking that we “Tell Trump that America’s already great.”  I don’t think I ever failed to groan or roll my eyes at that ad.  It was vintage Clinton campaign—a campaign that struck me as never failing to go for the most obvious cliché or, worse, clichéd misinformation about Bernie Sanders’ policy proposals and statements.

They—certainly including Clinton herself—came off as campaign software algorithms.  True to form.

It would have been fine to specify things about America that are great.  Michelle Obama did that beautifully in her convention speech when she said she wakes up every morning in a home built by slaves, and followed that sentence or preceded it, if I recall, with a statement that America is great.

Her point being that a source of America’s greatness is ability to change in critically important and progressive ways.

And certainly Clinton makes the point, repeatedly, that America’s greatness is so largely because of its ethnic and racial mix, so much of it the result of immigration.

But Clinton undermines her chance to win the election when she just grabs the obvious slogan or generic retort rather than identifying specific areas in which we’re no longer so great: the near-complete end to the long era of social mobility; the downward mobility of many people; the near-complete end to the long era of shared economic gains, and the consequent spiraling, gaping inequality of wealth and of income; and the conversion of the political system from a largely democratic one to an entirely plutocratic one.

The policies in the party’s platform address these.  I wish Clinton had mentioned those problems and then said, simply, that the party’s platform and additional ideas from her campaign and from Dems in Congress—Warren, Sanders, Sherrod Brown, Dick Durbin, Jeff Merkley, although she wouldn’t have had to name them—address these and do show the way toward further greatness.

Only just a week ago it appeared that Clinton’s decision to agree to a party platform incorporating so many of Bernie Sanders’ ideas, entirely or in part, was mainly lip service.  Her campaign was sending clear signals of this, telling reporters that she was more interested in courting moderate Republicans than Sanders supporters, and suggesting that consequently triangulation would be more prevalent than progressiveness.

Her selection of Tim Kaine as her running mate signaled this, or seemed to anyway, and probably did all the way back 10 days ago.  And clearly the courting of moderate Republicans was Bill Clinton’s desired direction; he himself is effectively one these days, after all.  And his convention speech, to the extent that it suggested a policy direction, seemed to me to suggest that one.

But to the surprise of, I think, most political journalists and most progressives she appears instead to have flipped the script.  It’s the view now of several high-profile commentators that Clinton at the last moment decided break from her norm and do the opposite of what she was expected to do because it’s what she always does: She offered lip service to the triangulators and a seemingly sincere promise to progressives that on much of domestic policy she’s now, genuinely, with them.

I think they may be right.

What if Clinton suddenly had an epiphany and realized three key things?  One is that it is not just the Sanders supporters who almost all will vote for her no matter what because the alternative is appalling; it also is moderate Republicans who are likely to do so, almost irrespective of her policy positions.  Another is that this is so of the big pro-corporate, pro-Wall Street donors, the ones who lean Democratic and usually donate to Dems, and the ones who are moderate corporate Republicans.

The third one is that most of the Sanders-induced platform planks aren’t actually radical, and are likely to spur a new wave social mobility, reduction of poverty, and a profoundly needed narrowing of wealth and income gaps.  Making America great again, in other words.

And the planks are popular.

What Clinton may suddenly have realized, even if her husband has not, is that the Trump nomination accomplishes something no one thought possible: It effectively repeals Citizens United, if only for this one presidential election cycle. Clinton had assumed that she could take for granted progressives’ votes, because as a practical matter progressives have nowhere else to go.  But since the regular moderate Democratic mega-donors, and moderate Republican ones too, similarly have nowhere else to go—the rabbit hole isn’t an inviting possibility—Clinton need not actually promise them anything, really, at all.

She may or may not feel liberated.  But I’m sort of guessing that once this sinks in fully, she’ll feel not only liberated but elated.  This is, after all, the strangest of election cycles.  And that would be a very welcome bit of strangeness.

Bruni’s column goes on to illustrate, quite evocatively, the conflicting signals of Clinton’s campaign.  His point, which he makes in spades, is that that itself needs to stop, because it’s self-defeating.  But he comes down, clearly, on the side of warning against a campaign of continuity-with-a-bit-of-incrementalism.

Campaigning as a true progressive and really meaning it and putting her heart into it would mean cutting the political umbilical cord from her husband and so many of the Clintons’ tight circle.  But the political and, here’s betting, the emotional reward to her would more than compensate for the loss of those crutches.  She could truly become her own person, if that truly is who she now is.  And oddly enough, she, and we, would have Donald Trump, of all people, to thank.

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Trump Falls to His Knees PLEEEADING for Republican ESTABLISHMENT Donors to Fund His Campaign—Offering Them the Ultimate Gift: Supreme Court Proxies. Toldya.

Tomorrow, behind closed doors with Paul Ryan & Friends, he will swear fealty to Mitt Romney’s platform.  And not just the part written literally, it turns out, by the Heritage Foundation and CNBC!  Also the part written by the Federalist Society. Including on Supreme Court and lower-court appointments.  Suffice it to say that his promise to hand Supreme Court and lower federal court appointments back to the Federalist Society would bode well for the Koch legal agenda.  And for the continued life of Citizens United.

For unions and people who aren’t so fond of Wall Street, though, not so much.

The Most Successful Trojan Horse Since the Trojan War, Me, May 11

Soooo sorry about this, Rust Belt blue-collar folks.  I know these names don’t mean anything to you.  But, oh, by November, they will.  Won’t they, Secretary Clinton?  Won’t they?

Won’t they?

Promise me they will.  Promise.  Promise!  And promise me you’ll actually discuss, oh, say, the Fab Five’s Federal Arbitration Act opinions.  And their National Labor Relations Act opinions. And their opinions setting out who actually has access to court.  Such as how long beyond the moment when someone files a lawsuit he or she can manage to have the case stay in court?  And who is ordered to pay who’s legal fees?  And who has immunity from lawsuits? Obscure things of that sort.

Y’know; the things that these donors actually get for all that money they donate?  The things that they’re so damn sure no attempt will be made to explain to the public, because, well, these things are just toooo complicated for ordinary folk to comprehend?  The things that rarely have anything to do with the culture wars issues that most people think are all that the Supreme Court decides but that most billionaire donors don’t actually give a damn about?

And that what’s at least as important as Supreme Court appointments to the folks to whom this candidate is ostentatiously offering himself as their policy-and-appointments puppet is the makeup of the lower federal court bench?

Pleease, Secretary Clinton?  Pretty, pretty, pretty please?

****

Okay, on a serious note (the above is a serious note, too; it just doesn’t sound like one): This—this—is exactly the kind of thing that Bill Clinton could explain easily to people with no background in this stuff.  Most people couldn’t.  But he could.

And here’s another serious note: This candidate is an absolute monkey.  People just feed him policy stuff and he parrots it.  He asked someone to get him the names of rightwing appellate judges, and that someone obliged.  The candidate himself couldn’t tell you a thing of substance about any of them, or for that matter a thing of substance on legal issues at all.

Apparently, he’s decided to hand not only his fiscal-policy proposals but also his judicial nominations to the, um, Heritage Foundation.  Literally.  The Heritage Foundation.  So this should be a good time for Clinton to apprise the public of who, exactly, comprises this organization’s board of directors.  And who funds it.  Not too many labor union folks there.

President Chauncey Gardiner: ‘Being There’ at the Bait-and-Switch.  I’m batting 1,000 on this stuff.  The Democrats SHOULD LISTEN TO ME.  They should read AB.  This is a brilliant, prescient blog!

OMG.  I’m sounding like Donald Trump.  This election is getting to me.

____

CLARIFICATION (which apparently is needed): Reader J.Goodwin and I exchanged the following comments in the Comments thread:

J. Goodwin/May 19, 2016 8:34 am

I’m sure that she is already familiar with the names on this list.

Me/ May 19, 2016 3:58 pm

I wasn’t saying that Clinton isn’t familiar with the names. I was saying that the general public, the voters, aren’t–and that Clinton should fill them in. And that she also should inform the voters about the Heritage Foundation–what it is, and that Trump is delegating major policy proposals and prospective appointees like Supreme Court justices to this organization.

She absolutely needs to inform the voters of key things that the Republican donors know that Trump is promising them with. That was my point. My intended one, anyway.

It’s a critically important point, I think, so I wanted to clarify it. My cryptic reference to “the Fab Five”, also to be clear, meant the four winger Supreme Court justices who remain on the court and their recently-late comrade in arms.

Added 5/19 at 4:31 p.m.

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John Cornyn Adopts Trump-Like Fascism Techniques. Good Job, Donald! [Updated.]

Dan Crawford sent me links to these two articles about Senate Judiciary Committee enforcer John Cornyn’s threat on Tuesday that he and his compadres will destroy the reputation of anyone nominated by Obama for Scalia’s seat.  I responded to him after reading the articles:

You know, Dan, this is so palpably, stunningly offensive that Sanders and Clinton need to tell the public about it.  It’s really just jaw-dropping. It’s just … I don’t know; I can’t even think of a perfect adjective.  Scary, maybe?

Beverly

Sanders, especially, should mention this on the campaign trail as a way to illustrate the lengths that the people who want the federal courts—most prominently but by no means only, the Supreme Court—to continue to serve as a fully owned subsidiary of Koch Industries and the legal arm of the Republican Party, albeit with the full force of the United States government’s powers.

Cornyn is a former Texas state supreme court justice and Texas attorney general.  I’m betting that his professional history isn’t pretty, so he’s perfect to have his Fascism routine turned back on him. As in, turnabout is fair play.  Exposing his record as a state supreme court justice and a state attorney general to national examination may, given what some of the specifics are likely to be, ensure his seat as a Texas senator for as long as he wants it.  But it also may well help in making the remainder of his tenure as a senator, beginning next January, be as a member of the Senate minority.

And I don’t mean that I expect him to become a Democrat.

Thug-like threats and actions aren’t likely to appeal to a majority of voters.  As Trump’s general-election and favorability poll numbers indicate.

In other words: Citizens united against Citizens United!  And so very much more.  Hoist this politician by his own piñata.

_____

UPDATE: The New York Times today has an editorial on this, writing:

On Monday, John Cornyn, the senior Republican senator from Texas, warned President Obama that if he dares to name a successor to Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court, the nominee “will bear some resemblance to a piñata.”

Violent imagery has been commonplace in political statements for a long time, but even so, it is disgraceful for a senator to play the thug, threatening harm to someone simply for appearing before Congress to answer questions about professional accomplishments and constitutional philosophy

The editorial is titled “Republican Threats and the Supreme Court”.

Senator, may we not drop this? … Senator. You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?

Added 3/11 at 8:42 a.m

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The Campaign-Finance Transparency Canard … In All Its Orwellian Splendor

For the reasons explained above, we now conclude that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, Anthony Kennedy, John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Jan. 21, 2010

I should have foreseen it on Monday.  That was the day that the Washington Post published a high-profile article by Matea Gold, one of the Post’s national political reporters, headlined “Big money in politics emerges as a rising issue in 2016 campaign.”  Five of the Post’s other national political reporters contributed to the piece, two of them reporting from New Hampshire.

By “it”—that is, the thing I should have seen coming—I mean the Orwellian attempt by Republicans to blame campaign-finance laws for the billionaire co-optation of politicians instead of on, say, the Supreme Court’s dismantling of those laws.

The thrust of Gold’s article is this: Historically, the general public laments the influence of large campaign-finance donors—those who contribute directly to campaigns or parties, and those who run or contribute to ostensibly independent PACs and, now, SuperPACs—most people cite specific substantive policy concerns such as the state of the economy, rather than the influence of large donors, as their main political concerns, because, well, most people don’t connect government policy to who’s paying for the policymakers’ elections.  But now, because of the clear, well-known effect of Citizens United (and McCutcheon v. FEC, whose name and specifics most of the public does not know, but whose effect the public does know, albeit under the rubric of Citizens United), large swaths of the public are, finally, connecting the dots between government policy and campaign-finance practices, whatever the guise.

Uh-oh.  Much of the public is now not only onto the Koch brothers, but recognizes that the Koch brothers and others who are nearly as wealthy are effectively the puppeteers to the candidates for national public office—and may soon become aware that that is as true of elections for state government.  All three branches of it.

Not to worry.  Republican pundits Ed Rogers and Kathleen Parker have the answer.  Which they’ve wasted no time in laying out in their respective forums in the Washington Post forums, Rogers in his blog there surprisingly honestly titled “The Insiders,” Parker in her syndicated column.

Rogers, a longtime high-profile Republican political consultant inside and outside Republican White House administrations, and now (to quote the bio line at the bottom of his blog posts) “the chairman of the lobbying and communications firm BGR Group, which he founded with former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour in 1991,” announces in both the title and the body of a blog post yesterday that he is “embarrassed by our campaign finance system.”  Yup.  The first paragraph of his post reads:

I’m embarrassed by our campaign finance system. And as a long-time participant in the system, for me to get here, it must be pretty bad. So-called “campaign finance reform laws” have created a surreal world where the official campaigns aren’t where the campaigning is being done. I can’t say it any better than the recent article “Trading Places” in the National Journal. Tim Alberta and Shane Goldmacher, who wrote this thoughtful piece about the impact and increasing necessity of super PACs, said, “[SuperPACs] pose an existential threat to the old order. The campaigns themselves may soon become subordinate; as Mitt Romney demonstrated in the 2012 primary, a candidate can win without an effective campaign but not without an effective super PAC.” How can the public interest be served in a world where an unaccountable super PAC is actually bigger than a candidate’s formal campaign?

It can’t, Rogers concludes.  But not because a few exceedingly wealthy people are dictating candidate campaign platforms—they hold their own private primaries these days—and, of course, actual government policy by those whom they sponsored as candidates.  Uh-uh.  No, Sir. No, Ma’am.  No how. No way.  It’s because of a lack of transparency regarding who is funding whose SuperPACs.

And whose fault is it that this system has developed and is having the effect that it’s having?  The drafters and supporters of the post-Watergate and 2001 McCain-Feingold campaign-finance statutes!  Without which we would have had no commandeering of candidates, elected officials and (consequently) of government policy!  Uh-uh.  No, Sir. No, Ma’am.  No how. No way.

If extremely wealthy individuals could donate unrestricted amounts of money directly to campaigns and parties, and have to identify themselves as doing that, the public would also be entitled to transcripts of these folks’ phone and in-person conversations, and email exchanges, with their candidate-proxies/elected-officials, see.

Problem solved!  Or it would be, if only we would just kill the remaining campaign-finance restrictions before the Supreme Court does, and require it all to be … transparent.

Rogers’ post reminds me of those old children’s black-and-white game book puzzles in which the object is to find the obscured animal in the thicket of the drawing’s foliage.  He’s now, finally, after many decades as a participant in the system, embarrassed by that system, because of how very bad it now is.  But it’s the campaign finance reform laws—the so-called ones, not the real ones—that have created a surreal world where the official campaigns aren’t where the campaigning is being done.

Yes, that’s right.  You probably thought that the Supreme Court’s literally spontaneous campaign finance “reform” law announced under the auspices of First Amendment jurisprudence in January 2010, and “enhanced in the name of freedom by the court’s majority last year in McCutcheon v. FEC, striking down most of the McCain-Feingold law, played some role in creating a surreal world where the official campaigns aren’t where the campaigning is being done.   But it didn’t.  Uh-uh.

We know that, because although Rogers admits that it is only now that he’s finally embarrassed about our campaign-finance system–13 years after McCain-Feingold was enacted but four years after the Supreme Court decimated that statute–he’s embarressed by the system propogated by McCain-Feingold, a system that is now a quaint memory.  The embarrassment is totally unrelated to the Supreme Court’s nullifiçation of most of the statute.  Which explains why he doesn’t mention Citizens United, much less McCutcheon. He doesn’t mention the Supreme Court and Citizens United, at all.

So there.

The animal figures in the drawing are really, really obscured.  But he assures us that they’re there.  The campaign-finance laws left standing for now, he complains, are quickly rendering the campaigns themselves subordinate.  As Mitt Romney demonstrated in the 2012 primary, a candidate can win without an effective campaign but not without an effective super PAC.  So, how can the public interest be served in a world where an unaccountable super PAC is actually bigger than a candidate’s formal campaign? he asks.

But by design, he’s asking the wrong question.  So I’ll ask the right one, which is: How can the public interest be served in a world where a handful of billionaires puppet campaigns of others for public office and have secret, direct access to the candidates and who direct campaign positions the goal of which is to ultimately dictate government policy?  It is not, and it cannot.  And that’s true whether unlimited money goes directly to a candidate or party, or both, or whether instead it goes to a SuperPAC.

The demand for transparency is largely a canard, a way to render false assurances that the problem is entirely or mainly secrecy of the identity of the benefactors.  We know who the Kochs are and whom, and what, they support, because they’ve been open about it.  Same with Sheldon Adelson and Tom Steyer.  So what?

Parker’s column today is worse than Rogers’ post, but because of its obvious Orwellian feel will just prompt shrugs, I’d guess.  She writes, in a piece titled “Mr. Hughes Goes to Washington”:

Setting aside for now the debate about security, let’s turn our attention to [gyrocopter pilot Doug Hughes’] proclaimed mission of shining a light on our corrupt campaign finance system and his urgent plea for reform.

We tried that, Mr. Hughes, and it created an even bigger mess. [Italics in original.]Today’s salient political adage goes like this: Behind every successful politician is a billionaire — or several.

We did indeed try that, Ms. Parker.  And for a decade or so it worked reasonably well.  But, see, that decade saw the Democrats take control of both houses of Congress from the Republicans as well as the election of Barack Obama.  So although the Supreme Court majority initially killed most of McCain-Feingold in order to allow corporate CEOs to use shareholder money to support Republican candidates directly and indirectly, what we have as a result is less the influence of corporate money than the purchasing of federal, state and local government policy by a billionaire.  Or several.

It turns out that it’s the “several” part that Parker, and probably Rogers, finds problematic.  Parker dedicates much of the remainder of her column to Hillary Clinton’s call last week for mandated transparency in campaign finance in its various forms, because, well, transparency has not been Clinton’s strong suit.  Clinton has a pretty broad base of large donors, apparently. Anyway, Parker writes:

This tells us two things: Transparency polled well in focus groups; Clinton is adept in the art of political jujitsu.

Campaign finance reform is indeed on many minds, if only in greater America. Beyond the Beltway, people like Doug Hughes choke and spit when talking about politics and politicians. The notion that a few rich people can determine who leads this essential nation is a sour, cynical-making joke that borders on the criminal.

As noted in the quote from Citizens United that opens this post, Justice Kennedy and four of his colleagues beg to differ.  But Parker and Kennedy agree on the elixir.  Parker continues:

There’s nothing free about paid-for elections — unless everybody knows where the money came from. [Italics in original.] Ever since the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, generally known as “McCain-Feingold,” our two-party system has been on life support. If in pre-reform America, too many wealthy people were donating large sums to candidates, at least we usually knew who they were. In post-reform America, too many are still giving large donations — but in the shadows.

As one philanthropist put it to me, “Money will always find a way.”

Funny, but I wasn’t aware that the two-party system was on life support between 2002 and 2010, although I guess it might have appeared that way to someone who liked the idea of a one-party system as long as the one party is the Republican one.  (I am not such a person.)  I’d argue instead that the two-party system’s demise, as Parker and Rogers seem to mean it, came not as a result of the enactment eight years earlier of McCain-Feingold but instead from the rise of the Tea Party and therefore as a result of that Supreme Court opinion that cannot be mentioned in polite company.  Or in Republican pundits’ commentary.

Nor am I aware that money always finds a way in the other democracies. The other democracies in the world–the actual ones, and there are a number of them–manage to ensure that it doesn’t.

Left unexplained by these folks, and by others, possibly including Hillary Clinton, is why they believe that the purchase of candidates’ platforms and, ultimately, of elected officials’ policy positions is pernicious only when done via SuperPAC; the purchase of candidates and entire parties is fine, because, see, we know that Republicans audition with the Kochs, and we know these brothers are billionaires many times over, but that would be unimportant if only the brothers could make direct payments to the campaigns and parties.

Hillary Clinton may be adept at political jujitsu, but suffice it to say that she has no monopoly on it.

I do accept Parker’s characterization (however unwitting but by her own terms accurate) of Kennedy & Friends’ actions as bordering on criminal, though. And that money does find a way in this democracy.  But only in this democracy.  By resounding democratic majorities of 5-4.

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Mike Huckabee points the way to nullifying Citizens United and McCutcheon v. FEC: Enforcing the enabling-legislation requirement!

Unlike in Wisconsin, same-sex marriage prohibitions in South Carolina and Wyoming weren’t stricken directly, but rather as a consequence of circuit court rulings against bans in nearby states. And Republicans there are intent on dragging their heels. Rather than accepting defeat, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and Wyoming Governor Matt Mead both plan to enforce their state SSM bans to the bitter end. But whereas these governors are probably just playing footsie with nullification, and ultimately plan to issue same-sex marriage licenses when federal judges order them to, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is all in on the idea that Republican governors can continue to stand athwart same-sex marriage until gay people pry the veto pens from their cold dead hands.

“It is shocking that many elected officials, attorneys and judges think that a court ruling is the ‘final word,'” Huckabee said. “It most certainly is not. The courts are one branch of government, and equal to the other two, but not superior to either and certainly not to both. Even if the other two branches agree with the ruling, the people’s representatives have to pass enabling legislation to authorize same sex marriage, and the President (or Governor in the case of the state) has to sign it. Otherwise, it remains the court’s opinion. It is NOT the ‘law of the land’ as is often heralded.”

— The Scariest Reaction to SCOTUS’s Gay-Marriage Bombshell Wasn’t From Ted Cruz, Brian Beutler, The New Republic, yesterday

And to think that for more than four years now we’ve all been treating Citizens United as the final word on those money-is-speech and corporations-are-people things, even though there’s been no enabling legislation enacted by any of the people’s representatives. Silly us.

I totally disagree with Beutler.  This isn’t scary at all!

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Ted Olson Wants Congress to Bar the Koch Brothers’ Contributions to Incumbents. I Say: Good Idea!

Post updated below.

—-

Forty-six Senate Democrats have concluded that the First Amendment is an impediment to re-election that a little tinkering can cure. They are proposing a constitutional amendment that would give Congress and state legislatures the authority to regulate the degree to which citizens can devote their resources to advocating the election or defeat of candidates. Voters, whatever their political views, should rise up against politicians who want to dilute the Bill of Rights to perpetuate their tenure in office.

Led by Majority Leader Harry Reid, these Senate Democrats claim that they are merely interested in good government to “restore democracy to the American people” by reducing the amount of money in politics. Do not believe it. When politicians seek to restrict political speech, it is invariably to protect their own incumbency and avoid having to defend their policies in the marketplace of ideas.

—  Harry Reid Rewrites the First Amendment. When politicians seek to restrict speech, they are invariably trying to pr otect their own incumbency.  By Theodore B. Olson, Wall Street Journal, today

Hmmm.  The McCain-Feingold campaign-finance statute, which the Supreme Court largely eviscerated in Citizens United v. FEC in early 2010 and all but completed the job earlier this year in McCutcheon v. FEC, was enacted in 2002.  In 2006, the Democrats unexpectedly gained control of both the Senate and the House, largely by defeating, y’know, Republican incumbents, and substantially increased their majority in both houses in 2008, mainly by defeating, um, Republican incumbents.  Citizens United certainly helped the Republicans gain control of the House in 2010, but failed that year and again in 2012 to recapture the Senate.  Harry Reid won reelection in 2010, despite the Kochs’ and Karl Rove’s very best efforts.

Led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Republicans, as Koch puppets, claim that by defeating the proposed constitutional amendment to nullify Citizens United and McCutcheon, they are merely interested in good government to “return democracy to the American people” by continuing to allow unlimited amounts of money in politics. Do not believe it. When politicians seek to have Congress and state legislatures controlled by plutocratic puppeteers who actually draft legislation secretly and then deliver the finished draft to their legislator puppets, it is invariably to protect their own incumbency and try to gain or retain a stranglehold on mechanisms of government and avoid having to defend their policies in the marketplace of ideas.

That said, if Ted Olson’s real concern is that a return to pre-Citizens United, McCain-Feingold-like campaign finance laws would just serve to strengthen incumbency, the obvious answer is to demand that Mitch McConnell, an incumbent currently running for reelection, step up to the plate, return his Koch contributions, and propose legislation that would restrict contributions to incumbents in order to give challengers a stronger voice.  That’s something that McConnell and his challenger, Alison Lundergan Grimes, might agree on.

It’s all about the First Amendment, see.

What a moronic op-ed.

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UPDATE: I posted the following comment in the Comments thread in response to some comments there indicating that some readers missed the specific intended point of this post:

The intended point of my post is that Olson’s claim is clearly false that removing restrictions on contributions by the very wealthy and corporations hurts incumbents. This is a canard that the right is using to try to tamp down anger about Citizens United and McCutcheon and the unlimited amounts of money that are now purchasing elections, candidates and elected officials—and to undermine attempts to nullify those opinions.

Clearly, the Kochs and other very, very wealthy people are individually paying huge amounts of money to finance McConnell’s campaign. McConnell is an incumbent. So are the current Republican House members whose reelection campaigns these people are funding. McConnell’s opponent isn’t an incumbent; she’s a challenger. So are the Democrats trying to unseat House Republican incumbents. This is a sleight-of-hand that Olson and the others think no one will notice. I noticed. It’s a false statement of fact.

9/9 at 12:09 p.m.

 

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Shaken, Not Stirred: The Supreme neo-Framers (likely) will continue their perversion of the First Amendment speech clause tomorrow.

In an email this morning, Bill H asked me whether I know much about a case called Harris v. Quinn, in which the Supreme Court will announce the likely 5-4 majority’s ruling tomorrow.  I responded:

I know LOADS about it, Bill, and wrote about it–and about a bizarre comment by Alito during the argument on the case–right after the argument back in Jan. and have mentioned it two or three times since then.  It is really striking that the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in order to consider the claim: that requiring public employees to pay a fee (not the full union dues, but instead some small percentage of the membership dues as compensation for the union’s legal obligations by which employees who opt out of membership nonetheless gain the benefits of the union contract (pay, benefits, job protections), violates the employee’s First Amendment speech rights.

But what’s downright stunning is that at the argument, Alito said he believed that the very existence of public-employee unions violates the First Amendment because–seriously; he said this–the non-member union-contract beneficiary might want small government.  This, from someone whose first official act as a justice was to join Kennedy (the opinion’s author), Scalia, Thomas and Roberts in ruling that a district attorney did not violate an assistant district attorney’s First Amendment speech rights by retaliating against him for writing an internal memo saying that he believed that a cop had falsified some evidence in obtaining a search warrant.  That opinion, in a case called Garcetti v. Ceballos, was and remains extremely controversial–it was shocking, really–and played a key role in a case, called Lane v. Franks, that the Court decided two weeks ago.

I suggested in my posts about Harris and about that comment by Alito’s during the argument that the non-union beneficiary of a public-employee union contract had the option of quitting his job or refusing the negotiated benefits in order to reduce the size of government.

I had predicted from the outset that the opinion in Harris would be issued on the same as the opinion in Hobby Lobby, so that news coverage of Hobby Lobby would overwhelm coverage of Harris, and I was right. Because of the way in which the Court divvies up majority-opinion-writing among the justices, it is clear that Alito was assigned to write the opinion in Harris.

There is a (very) outside chance that one justice changed his mind since the week of the argument (when the vote was taken and the majority-opinion-writing was assigned), and that someone other than Alito therefore is writing a 5-4 opinion rejecting the outrageous First Amendment claim.  Something sort of like that happened in a case called Bond v. US, argued last Oct. and decided [on Jun. 2], a case that they planned to use to advance their states’-rights juggernaut but instead ended up making an important statement about abuse of prosecutorial discretion–a ground on which they never, ever, would have even considered agreeing to hear the case (okay, maybe they would have, but only because the prosecutor was a federal one, not a state one; but even so, probably not).  In that case the actual outcome didn’t change, nor did the author of the opinion (Roberts), but the basis for the ruling, and the statement of law, changed significantly.

I call Bond the Stirred, Not Shaken opinion.  I have a theory about the reason for Roberts’ late change of heart, and I’ve been intending to post in-depth about it but haven’t yet.

I do expect an outrageous 5-4 opinion by Alito in Harris, though.

Yes, the undermining of public-employee unions–like state-courts’ rights to baldly violate individuals’ non-gun-ownership, non-religious, non-real-estate-regulation-er-takings constitutional rights, and to supersede Congress’s Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendment powers to buttress, say, individuals’ voting rights–is definitely on the List of Circa 1983 Movement Conservative Legislation-via-Supreme-Court-Pronouncement THINGS TO GET DONE.

And done, these things will get. Now that the chief justice has expressly conceded that their end game has been all along a Court-mandated plutocracy in which legislators’ constituents are those who pay to become one, irrespective of any connection between the location of the constituent/benefactor’s voting residence and the legislator/beneficiary’s legislative district–now that these five justices have used the First Amendment speech clause to formally institute a poll tax, and redefined the term “constituent,” and therefore “democracy,” beyond former recognition*–it’s time for them to get back to other uses of the newly reconstructed First Amendment speech clause.  In the name of the Framers.

The original ones, of course!

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*In his Apr. 2 opinion in McCutcheon v. FEC, Roberts redefined “constituent” as an American who, irrespective of place of residence, donates to a political campaigns in sufficient amounts to buy the candidate or incumbent’s proxy vote on legislation, and “democracy” as plutocracy.  The specific statement is:

[C]onstituents have the right to support candidates who share their views and concerns. Representatives are not to follow constituent orders, but can be expected to be cognizant of and respon­sive to those concerns. Such responsiveness is key to the very concept of self-governance through elected officials.

Ergo–voila! It’s official; we have a plutocracy.

Just in case you were wondering.

[Clarification added 6/29 at 5:08 p.m.]

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The Secretive Democracy Alliance’s Secret Is Out: Some of its members are elitist, racist and self-serving.

Clarification appended below.

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[David] Brock, a former “right-wing hit-man”-turned-top-big-money-Democratic-operative, is part of a behind-the-scenes campaign to convince donors it’s OK to attack the Koch brothers for spending millions of dollars while doing the exact same thing for the left.

“You’re not in this room today trying to figure out how to rig the game so you can be free to make money poisoning little kids, and neither am I,” Brock told donors this month at a conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico, according to someone who attended the conference, but who declined to be identified because it was closed to the press.

“Subscribing to a false moral equivalence is giving the Kochs exactly what they want: keeping us quiet about what they’re doing to destroy the very fabric of our nation,” added Brock, whose deep-pocketed nonprofit groups are leading the charge to make the conservative megadonors Charles and David Koch an issue in the 2014 midterms. …

But Brock’s pitch … isn’t sitting well with some major liberal donors and operatives, who worry the anti-Koch strategy could backfire big time. It has not yet been proven effective at motivating key Democratic voting blocs like unmarried women and minorities, and liberal critics also worry it risks undercutting more important issues, smacks of class warfare and opens themselves up to hypocrisy charges.

“The Democrats’ problem is off-year turnout, and I’m not clear how emphasizing the Koch brothers gets more black and brown folks to the polls,” said Steve Phillips, a member of the secretive Democracy Alliance club of major liberal donors. “My sense for voters of color is that the issues of income inequality, housing, education, immigration reform, health care and criminal justice reform would resonate more.

— “The existential crisis of the liberal millionaire,” Kenneth P. Vogel and Tarini Parti, Politico, today

And since voters of color are too stupid to recognize that the issues of income inequality, housing, education, immigration reform, health care and criminal justice reform would have, maybe, a little something to do with legislative and executive-branch policy on the issues of income inequality, housing, education, immigration reform, health care and criminal justice reform, it definitely would not resonate with them to point out that the Koch brothers are among a tiny group of billionaires and multi-millionaires who actually write legislation for their bought-and-paid-for elected officials to enact.

Black and brown folks are just fine with Citizens United and McCutcheon, if they’ve even heard of those Supreme Court rulings.  It’s only white people who know about the rulings and understand such complexities, like dot-connecting.  Well, white men and white married women do, anyway; white unmarried women don’t.

Got it!

I’m glad the Democracy Alliance is secretive.  Rather than, say, openly demeaningly elitist, racist and maybe even manipulatively self-serving.

Dan has asked me to clarify that this post is sarcastic. So: This post is SARCASTIC. REALLY. It’s SARCASTIC.

Yiiiikes. (And I’ve corrected the typo, too.)

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I wrote in the Comments thread, in response to reader Cindy K, who said she’s glad I clarified that this post is sarcasm:I actually thought the title alone indicated satire, sarcasm. Silly me, I guess. As I told Dan in an email last night, I guess I’ve been reading too many Alexandra Petri and Gail Collins columns.

Updated 6/25 at 2:21 p.m. 

 

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Chris Cillizza Misses the Point. (The most important point, anyway.)

Anecdotal evidence, the basis of so much journalism prior to the rise of the data movement and still, to my mind, over-relied upon — is just that: anecdotal. Roughly 65,000 people voted in the Cantor-Brat primary; Brat won by more than 7,200 votes. Assuming that what a non-scientific sample  of 1, 10 or even 100 people in the district thought about Cantor (or Brat) in the run-up to the race — the shoe-leather reporting prized by Carr — was indicative of how 65,000 people were planning to vote seems to me to be somewhat misguided. (Now, if all 100 people a reporter talked to in the district loudly derided Cantor as an out of step liberal, then I take back my previous point. But, my guess is that wouldn’t have happened.)

Should I have seen Eric Cantor’s loss coming?, Chris Cillizza, Washington Post, today

I assume that Cillizza is, as he says, responding to New York Times writer David Carr’s column on Monday, “Eric Cantor’s Defeat Exposed a Beltway Journalism Blind Spot,” rather than also to, say, my AB post from Wednesday, in which I discuss Carr’s column and note that what the national news media missed, but what the local political reporters Carr mentions recognized, was not simply local antagonism toward Cantor but, to an apparently substantial extent, local antagonism toward Cantor because he is the very embodiment of the politician who shares John Roberts’ particular view, stated expressly in his opinion two months ago in McCutcheon v. FEC, of who or what a politician’s “constituent” is.

In my post on Wednesday (picked up in full elsewhere, I’m glad to see), I noted that the in-depth analysis of it by political several political journalists now that the post-Canter-defeat dust has settled is that critical to Brat’s victory was an anti-plutocracy theme and that Cantor provided the perfect foil for it. Most of the articles discussing this say that the Chamber of Commerce–an explicit target of Brat’s during the campaign, and other major players among the Republican business constituency, who Roberts described in McCutcheon as constituents entitled to secretly help draft legislation by dint of their ability to purchase that right, concur and are springing into action.  As Gail Collins summarized it in her New York Times column yesterday:

The defeat of the House majority leader, Eric Cantor, terrified many of the party establishment’s supporters, particularly since Cantor’s opponent ran against Wall Street, big business and bank bailouts.

It’s a problem, if you’re a big-money donor, to be worried that your party is being taken over by crazy people who will alienate the voters in a national election by opposing immigration reform and contraception. It’s a catastrophe to be worried that it’s being taken over by economic populists.

Cillizza and, I suspect, a number of other professional political analysts remain wedded to what is quickly becoming an outdated model.  They’re missing some important handwriting on the wall, which is that huge swaths of the public are dismayed at the meaning of “constituency” and “democracy” as defined in the New Dictionary of Supreme Court English, edited by Roberts and Anthony Kennedy.  As I said in my Wednesday post:

Call McCutcheon v. FEC the new poll tax. I do.  After all, John Roberts, in a surprising bit of honesty, described it in his opinion for the majority as pretty much that in his opinion in that case earlier this year. “Ingratiation and access . . . are not corruption,” he wrote, quoting Anthony Kennedy’s the Court’s decision in Citizens United, and then explained:

“They embody a central feature of democracy—that constituents support candidates who share their beliefs and interests, and candidates who are elected can be expected to be responsive to those concerns.”

But Cantor’s constituents–the ones that Roberts says should dictate Cantor’s policy positions and write legislation he proposes–couldn’t vote in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District last week. The district is too far away for them to commute to Wall Street, or to Wichita, KS, or downtown Houston, or Raleigh, NC.  And surprisingly, it turns out that Brat actually ran what was in large part a progressive economic-populist–an anti-plutocracy–campaign highlighting who exactly Cantor’s  constituents (to borrow Roberts’ term) are.  So, now that that is being widely reported and is sinking in, hedge-fund types and the Chamber of Commerce crowd apparently indeed are starting to pray.

Apart from the obvious reason for the definitional chasm between Roberts & Co. and most people embedded in that statement by Roberts–specifically, the definition of “democracy”–add to the rapidly growing list of Roberts’ casual redefinitions of common words this new definition of “constituent,” one disembodied from residency in the candidate or officeholder’s actual election jurisdiction.

Cantor was beaten, in substantial part, it certainly appears, by Citizens United and McCutcheon–by a backlash toward the political system that is now, bizarrely but expressly, institutionalized as a matter of constitutional jurisprudence.  Turnout was very heavy, far heavier than it was in the primary in that district two years ago, when apparently all the candidates were fine, thank you very much, with poll-tax democracy.

I titled that post “David Brat, et al. v. John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, the Koch Brothers, the Chamber of Commerce, et al.”  And in the last two paragraphs, I elaborated upon the title, writing:

Brat, for his part, appears to be about to run a general-election campaign consisting mainly of slogans and non sequiturs.  No surprise, of course; slogans, cliches, non sequiturs are the very essence of the current Republican Party–both factions of the Tea Party/Republican Party. The Paul Ryan/Koch brothers/Chamber of Commerce faction and also, because of the mutual exclusivity of its premises, the (newly named) David Brat faction. That’s simply the nature of this beast.

But the divorce case originally known as Movement Conservatives v. Movement Conservatives, filed June 10, 2014 in the Richmond, Virginia Court of Public Opinion, is a class action.  I just checked the docket for the case, and it’s now called Movement Conservatives, et al. v. Movement Conservatives.  And already, there have been several amicus briefs filed on behalf of the petitioners.  And the Supreme Court may not decide the outcome of it after all.

That last sentence is true; the Supreme Court has lost control of the narrative on this.  It has tried, but unsuccessfully, to decree new non-legal definitions of “corruption,” “democracy,” “constituent,” “person,” and “speech.”  It is losing its case in the courts of public opinion in most jurisdictions around the country; that much already is clear.  But the Court will decide, very possibly–in other litigation; actual imminent litigation, in Wisconsin state court and very possibly in federal court–whether or not two key provisions of Wisconsin state, and of still-standing federal, campaign-finance statutes violate five Supreme Court justices’ view of the First Amendment within the peculiar prism of their definitions of those words.

Best as I can tell from news reports in the last 24 hours, the apparently forthcoming state prosecution of a few people involved on behalf of Gov. Scott Walker and Republican state legislators in the Wisconsin recall elections in 2011 and 2012, and perhaps of Walker himself, will necessarily involve challenges by the defendants to the constitutionality of Wisconsin’s (and possibly eventually to the federal government’s) statutory prohibitions against consort between election campaigns and PACs purporting to be “operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare” and unaffiliated with a political party or candidate.

The PACs are not subject to donor-amount limits, and they also can qualify for non-profit tax status if they meet a low bar for what constitutes “exclusively for the promotion of social welfare”.

But whether operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare, as “social welfare” is defined by most people, or instead as it will be defined in New Dictionary of Supreme Court English, these groups embody a central feature of democracy as defined in the April 2, 2014 edition of that Dictionary—that constituents support candidates who share their beliefs and interests, and candidates who are elected can be expected to be responsive to those concerns. And Scott Walker and the Republican legislators who were subject to possible recall adopted the very definition of “constituent” included in the current edition of the New Dictionary. Most of the people and groups with which they appear to have been coordinating were Walker’s and the legislators’ constituents only in the newly defined sense.  They were not residents of Wisconsin and therefore could not show a valid photo ID at a polling place in Wisconsin. (They would have to vote by absentee ballot.)

But Walker & Friends still remain a bit too precocious in one respect.  The Court’s majority has not yet redefined “democracy” to include as a central feature a First Amendment right of constituents (under either definition, traditional or new) to hide their identity when contributing directly to a political campaign.  And it well may not do so.  Kennedy indicated in his opinion in Citizens United that he does not believe that secret donations to campaigns embody a central feature of democracy.  Uh-oh.

Ultimately, though, what matters most is the outcome that civil litigation, Movement Conservatives, et al. v. Movement Conservatives, because not all five of the current editors of the New Dictionary are young and healthy–and because of the political facts illustrated by the surprisingly high turnout in the open primary in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District and the predominant campaign theme of the winner.  But I don’t expect Chris Cillizza to get that.

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