Thoughts on Life, Love, Politics, Hypocrisy and Coming Out in Mid-Life
Saturday, May 07, 2022
The Supreme Court Has Lost its Democratic Legitimacy
The country is divided. There are those Americans furious that the Supreme Court is soon to take away the right to have an abortion. And there are those Americans furious that someone leaked that the Supreme Court was soon to take away the right to have an abortion.
Among those Americans angry with the anonymous leak of Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade is the entire Republican Party. . . . the Supreme Court, right now, is an avowedly partisan institution, an unaccountable super-legislature controlled by men and women drawn from a cadre of conservative ideologues and apparatchiks, acting on behalf of the Republican Party and its allies. Whatever legitimacy it had retained was sacrificed in the drive to build the majority that seems poised to overturn Roe v. Wade and open the floodgates to harsh restrictions on the reproductive autonomy of millions of Americans.
When McConnell led the Senate Republican caucus in a blockade of President Barack Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court in 2016 and then killed what remained of the judicial filibuster the next year to place Neil Gorsuch in the seat instead, they diminished the legitimacy of the court. When those same Republicans looked past a credible accusation of sexual assault to confirm Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, they again diminished the legitimacy of the court. And when, with weeks left before the 2020 presidential election, Republicans ignored their own rule from four years earlier — that an election-year vacancy “should not be filled until we have a new president” — to place Amy Coney Barrett on the bench in a rushed, slapdash process, they once more diminished the legitimacy of the court.
[T]he court’s conservatives have done almost nothing to dispel the view that their majority is little more than the judicial arm of the Republican Party. They use “emergency” orders to issue sweeping rulings in favor of ideologically aligned groups; they invent new doctrines designed to undermine voting rights protections; and as we’ve just witnessed, they’ll let nothing, not even 50 years of precedent, stand in the way of a sweeping ideological victory.
No discussion of the Supreme Court’s legitimacy, or lack thereof, is complete without mention of the fact that its current composition is the direct result of our counter-majoritarian institutions. Only once in the past 30 years — in the 2004 election — has anything like a majority of the American electorate voted for a president who promised a conservative Supreme Court. The three members who cemented this particular conservative majority — Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Barrett — were nominated by a president who lost the popular vote and were confirmed by senators representing far fewer than half of all Americans.
Americans have always acted as if the popular vote conveys democratic legitimacy. . . . It matters whether a president has democratic legitimacy. Donald Trump did not. But rather than act with that in mind, he used his power to pursue the interests of a narrow ideological faction, giving its representatives free rein to shape the Supreme Court as they saw fit. The court, then, is stained by the same democratic illegitimacy that marked Trump and his administration.
Republicans seem to know this, and it helps explain why they’re so angry about the leak. They hope to write conservative ideology into the Constitution. For that to work, however, Americans need to believe that the court is an impartial arbiter of law, where each justice uses reason to come to the correct answer on any given issue of constitutional interpretation.
The leak throws that out the window. The leak makes it clear that the Supreme Court is a political body, where horse-trading and influence campaigns are as much a part of the process as pure legal reasoning.
If the court is a political body — if it is a partisan body — then a roused and unhappy public may decide to reject its judgments and authority. That public may ask itself why it should listen to a court that doesn’t heed its opinion. And it may decide that the time has come to reform the court and dismantle the ill-gotten majority that conservatives worked so hard to create.
Friday, May 06, 2022
Alito’s Draft Ruling Is a Warning to LGBT Americans
Until Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.’s leaked draft opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade was published Monday, I didn’t fully understand just how dependent my same-sex marriage is on a woman’s right to choose an abortion. Now I do. And I’m terrified.
The tremors of this political earthquake reached me the next day in Los Angeles during a conversation with Ian Mackey, an out gay Missouri state representative who went viral last month after an impassioned speech standing up to fellow lawmakers whose noxious legislation targets trans kids. Mackey pointed out that Roe provided the underpinning for pro-LGBTQ rulings including Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 decision that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. Without Roe, the foundation for Obergefell is gone — and the more than 568,000 same-sex marriages performed since then, including my own, could be invalidated.
I didn’t doubt Mackey’s warning. But after finally wading through Alito’s 98-page draft, my fear is off the charts.
In 1973′s Roe, the justices ruled that abortion restrictions were unconstitutional because they violated the 14th Amendment’s admonition that states not “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” And 1992′s Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey tinkered with some aspects of Roe but reaffirmed the due process rights of women to seek an abortion.
The first of myriad red flags appears on Page 5. “The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision, including the one on which the defenders of Roe and Casey now chiefly rely — the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment,” Alito writes. “That provision has been held to guarantee some rights that are not mentioned in the Constitution, but any such right must be ‘deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition’ and ‘implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.’” This country has a lot of rights not deeply rooted. For instance, the nation is 245 years old, but racial integration is just 57 years old. Marriage equality is nearly seven.
Another warning is where Alito rips the Roe ruling because “it held that the abortion right, which is not mentioned in the Constitution, is part of a right to privacy, which is also not mentioned.” And Casey, he sneers, is grounded “solely on the theory that the right to obtain an abortion is part of the ‘liberty’ protected by the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.” Theory?
Then Alito casts aspersions on the cases the court used in its Casey ruling to justify that liberty “theory.” Among them are Loving v. Virginia (legalized interracial marriage) and Griswold v. Connecticut (guaranteed access to contraception). He also hammers away at the “theory” by taking aim at post-Casey decisions such as Lawrence v. Texas (decriminalized consensual sex between adults) and Obergefell.
Alito makes an astonishing assertion: . . . . Nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion.”
Alito must think we’re fools. . . . If Roe and Casey must be overturned because they are hopelessly flawed, then all other cases that rely on their arguments asserting privacy and personal liberty are endangered. The 6-to-3 conservative Supreme Court majority is packed with ideologues; how could it resist taking Alito’s radical thinking to its logical end?
This is what was concerning Mackey on Monday. He elaborated in a subsequent email:
If [Alito] prevails, and the Court in fact begins treating every individual right not explicitly mentioned in the Bill of Rights as a policy dispute, we must presume it is only a matter of time before marriage equality, and the right to engage in an intimate same-sex relationship, is once again a policy dispute. Griswold, Loving, Roe, Lawrence, and Obergefell survive only together. One without the other is non-existent. The rights of the marginalized are bonded together in writing through these decisions to form a single thread. If one tears the entire fabric is undone.
Even if the final ruling in the next month or two isn’t as radical as the draft opinion, what Alito put forth is a clear warning to LGBTQ Americans that our rights could be stripped next.
LGBT American who fails to make sure they vote a straight Democrat ticket in EVERY election is a fool and as misguided as wealthy European Jews who thought the Nazis would not come for them. Extremists like the right wing majority on the Supreme Court do not make exceptions to their extreme ideology.
Thursday, May 05, 2022
The SCOTUS Majority's Religious Tyranny
In their never-ending quest to turn politics into a game and dumb down the most serious of issues, the media continues to use the term “culture wars” to describe a range of issues in which the right seeks to break through all restraints on government power in an effort to establish a society that aligns with a minority view of America as a White, Christian country. In using “culture wars,” one would think this were a battle between two sides over hemlines or movie ratings or “lifestyles.” If media outlets keep up that distorting language, they are going to find it hard to explain the firestorm that awaits the overturning of Roe v. Wade, if the leaked draft opinion by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. prevails.
The livid reaction from progressive advocacy groups and Democratic politicians across the country about the potential evisceration of abortion rights — and possibly others protected by the 14th Amendment — should tell the media this is not simply about “culture,” nor is it a “war.” It’s a religious power grab by justices who, according to at least two female Republican senators, dissembled under oath about their intentions regarding Roe. The Senate Judiciary Committee should hold hearings and call GOP Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) to testify. If those senators were really duped, they should consider advocating for extreme measures, including impeachment and a filibuster exception to codify Roe.
It’s important to identify the nature of the threat to Americans . . . . A Supreme Court decision that would criminalize abortion, eviscerating the ambit of privacy and personal autonomy afforded by the 14th Amendment, would expand governmental power into every nook and cranny of life — from a doctor’s office in Texas treating a transgender child, to intimate relations in a bedroom in Georgia, to a pharmacy counter in Ohio. Will government dictate a set of views that have not had majority support for decades?
The right-wing justices and their supporters appear ready to reject one of the Founders’ core principles: that religion shall not be imposed by government edict.
Other Republicans have given away the scheme. In his 11-point plan, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, declares: “The nuclear family is crucial to civilization, it is God’s design for humanity, and it must be protected and celebrated. To say otherwise is to deny science.” Put aside the utter incoherence (is it God or science?): The senator is explicitly calling for state power to be used in the service of his religious beliefs.
And it’s no slip of the tongue. As would a number of Supreme Court justices, Scott would impose religious views while refusing to admit his views stem from a particular religious perspective.
This is not about “culture.” It is about appropriating state power to enforce theocratically driven positions. Issues dismissed as “culture” or “wokeness” inevitably boil down to whether government will diminish individual rights (e.g., a rape victim’s access to abortion) and supplant decision-making on matters, such as health care, that individuals and families jealously guard.
It wasn’t so long ago that “conservatives” stood for the proposition that government, especially the federal government, should not control the totality of traditions, habits and decisions made in civil society.
The principle of limited government posits that — unlike totalitarian states that override personal conscience, family and religion — free peoples do not tolerate an all-pervasive government. . . . . “When the right to privacy is attacked, anyone in our country may face a future where the government can interfere with their personal decisions. Not just women. Anyone.”
In sum, the media’s “culture wars” shorthand is an evasion, a refusal to recognize that what is at stake are the rights and lives of those without the resources or power to defend themselves (e.g., travel out of state for an abortion). The Supreme Court is poised to roil the very essence of our constitutional tradition and strike at the heart of a pluralistic democracy. Let’s call it what it really is: state-enforced theocracy, or, if you prefer, religious authoritarianism.
Be very, very afraid. These "godly Christians" are ruthless and cruel and lie incessantly. Your very freedoms are at stake and they must be defeated.
Wednesday, May 04, 2022
SCOTUS: Abortion Is Only the Right's First Target
If you are an American with a young daughter, she will grow up in a world without the right to choose when and where she gives birth, and in which nothing restrains a state from declaring her womb its property, with all the invasive authorities that implies.
That is the significance of the draft Supreme Court opinion leaked to Politico, which shows that the right-wing majority on the Court intends to discard Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, landmark precedents guaranteeing the constitutional right to abortion. . . . The draft likely reflects the direction of the final decision, even if the scope of that decision changes.
The draft, written by Justice Samuel Alito, is sweeping and radical. There is no need to dwell too long on its legal logic; there are no magic words that the authors of prior opinions might have used in their own decisions that could have preserved the right to an abortion in the face of a decisive right-wing majority on the Court. The opinion itself reads like a fancy press release from a particularly loyal member of the GOP Senate caucus. Alito’s writing reflects the current tone of right-wing discourse: grandiose and contemptuous, disingenuous and self-contradictory, with the necessary undertone of self-pity as justification.
Alito claims to be sweeping away one of the great unjust Supreme Court precedents, such as Dred Scott v. Sanford, which held that Black people had no rights white men were bound to respect, or Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld racial segregation. But in truth, Alito is employing the logic of Plessy, allowing the states to violate the individual rights of their residents in any way their legislatures deem “reasonable,” as the opinion in Plessy put it.
In Plessy, Justice Henry Billings Brown held that Louisiana’s segregation law, as far as the Fourteenth Amendment was concerned, “reduces itself to the question whether the statute of Louisiana is a reasonable regulation, and, with respect to this, there must necessarily be a large discretion on the part of the legislature.” Alito has now applied this same logic to abortion—but not just abortion—arguing that in the future, courts should defer to state legislatures “even when the laws at issue concern matters of great social significance and moral substance.”
Aderson Francois, a law professor at Georgetown University, told me. “This draft does the same thing: It envisions a notion of federalism so weak, so toothless, so bereft of substance that the federal government has no legitimate role in protecting women from states imposing forced births upon them.”
The implications of this ruling are therefore tremendous. Notwithstanding the reality that being a woman does not mean being pro-abortion-rights, all over the world the right to decide when and whether to give birth is tied to the political, social, and economic rights of women as individuals. That right is likely to be severely curtailed or to vanish entirely in at least 26 states if this decision takes effect.
If the draft becomes the Court’s decision, however, it would have implications for more than just abortion. In the U.S., the rights of many marginalized groups are tied to the legal precedents established in the fight for abortion rights. This opinion, if adopted, provides a path to nullifying those rights one by one.
“The majority can believe that it’s only eviscerating a right to abortion in this draft,” Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin, told me, “but the means by which it does so would open the door to similar attacks on other unenumerated rights, both directly, by attacking the underpinnings of those doctrines, and indirectly, by setting a precedent for such an attack.”
Aside from rights specifically mentioned in the text of the Constitution, Alito argues, only those rights “deeply rooted in the nation’s history in tradition” deserve its protections. This is as arbitrary as it is lawless. Alito is saying there is no freedom from state coercion that conservatives cannot strip away if conservatives find that freedom personally distasteful. The rights of heterosexual married couples to obtain contraception, or of LGBTQ people to be free from discrimination, are obvious targets. But other rights that Americans now take for granted could easily be excluded by this capricious reasoning.
“In a series of cases beginning in the early 1920s, the Court carved out a protected space for family, marriage, and children that the government is constrained from regulating,” Kimberly Wehle wrote last December. “A rollback of Roe could split this sphere open if the conservative theory that implied rights are constitutionally invalid takes hold, and states begin passing draconian laws that creep into other areas of intimate personal life.”
[Y]ou can see the outlines of this new legal regime: On the grounds that it constitutes a form of religious discrimination, conservatives will be able to claim an exemption from any generally applicable rule they do not wish to follow, while imposing their own religious and ideological views on those who do not share them. Although the right-wing justices present this rule in the language of constitutionalism, they are simply imposing their ideological and cultural preferences on the rest of the country.
American life will now be guided by the arbitrary vicissitudes of conservative cultural identity, gleaned from Fox News, and by the justices’ inclination to shape their own views to conform to that identity. Aided by voting restrictions and partisan gerrymandering, the conservative movement will argue that its most coercive mandates have popular legitimacy, no matter how much of the country opposes them.
Be very, very afraid if you are gay, a member of a racial minority or do not adhere to Christofascist dogma.
Tuesday, May 03, 2022
Russia's "Brain Drain" May Help the West
For Putin to drive away some of his nation’s greatest minds is lunatic. But as someone once said, never interrupt your enemy while he is making a mistake.
The piece in the Post looks at the IT worker exodus in particular. Here are excerpts:
RIGA, Latvia — In his two-bedroom Moscow apartment, 35-year-old start-up wizard Pavel Telitchenko spent years mulling a move from Russia, fearing the gradual rise of a police state. Then, three days after the Kremlin’s tanks rolled into Ukraine, he made the hard choice — packing up his young family, along with his prized vinyl-record collection, and joining a historic exodus that includes a massive outflow of Russia’s best and brightest minds in tech.
I could not raise my son in a country like that,” said Telitchenko, who resettled in neighboring Latvia in March with his wife and 3-year-old son. . . . . “The war made me realize that Russia will not change,” he said.
Western attention is focused on the millions of refugees who have fled Ukraine since the Russian assault began on Feb. 24. But Russia is also in the midst of an emigration wave that is upending its spheres of arts and journalism, and especially the world of tech.
The Russian Association for Electronic Communications told the lower house of Russia’s parliament last month that 50,000 to 70,000 tech workers have fled the country, with 100,000 more expected to leave over the next month — for a total of about 10 percent of the sector’s workforce.
[S]ome of those leaving are opposition activists, artists and journalists — people whom President Vladimir Putin is probably happy to see go, and whose departure could reduce active dissent within Russia. But nearly half of those leaving hail from tech — a highly transient, globally in-demand workforce that includes many who fear Russia’s global isolation, newly adverse business climate and near-total authoritarianism.
Experts on global migration and Russian population are calling the current exodus Russia’s single fastest since the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, when millions of intellectuals and economic elites fled the rise of the Soviet Union. . . . “We’re talking about a lot of people in a very condensed period, a matter of weeks. In 1917, Russia was in the midst of a civil war. But this is happening at time when there is no war within Russia itself.”
Returning to the Times article, the losses are not confined to IT workers:
Putin may be betting that as long as a strong majority of Russians support him, he can afford to lose the malcontents. He may even be glad that some are going. The autocrat is not erecting barriers to keep the intelligentsia from leaving, although he has offered tax breaks, subsidized mortgages and postponement of conscription into the armed forces to keep tech workers at home.
He may live to regret his nonchalance. “There is no doubt that there is long-lasting damage. The whole wave of recent emigration is the most productive slice of the Russian society,” said Konstantin Sonin, an economist with the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy who moved from Russia.
“Putin has a very specific worldview” that opposes globalization, Sonin told me. Putin believes “that an autarkic, centralized economy is sort of a strong economy. When Russia is cut from the international trade, when people are leaving, it seems to him that this is going in the right direction, the acceptable direction.”
If Russia achieves political stability by ridding itself of smart people who oppose Putin’s rule, Sonin said, “the stability will be achieved at a very low level of production and consumption.”
Russia has suffered from brain drain for at least a century, in part because it produces top-notch university graduates, yet usually hasn’t had an economy capable of putting their skills to good use. The United States and other countries have long benefited from immigrants from what was the Russian Empire . . . . In the United States that includes such giants as Igor Sikorsky, a pioneer in helicopters; Simon Kuznets, a Nobel laureate in economics; artists and composers such as Irving Berlin, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Vladimir Nabokov, and businesspeople such as the Wonskolaser brothers, better known by their Americanized name, Warner Brothers.
Starting around 2010 the brain drain eased because the Russian economy was performing well. . . . But the invasion of Ukraine has once again yanked the plug out of the drain hole.
[T]he Biden administration asked Congress last week to suspend for four years the requirement that Russian scientists applying for H1-B visas have a sponsoring employer. The measure would apply only to Russian citizens with master’s or doctoral degrees in science or engineering fields such as artificial intelligence, nuclear engineering or quantum physics. They would have to undergo security vetting.
That’s a smart move. Western nations are making a mistake if they don’t hold the door open to Russian scientists because of opposition to Putin . . . . “If they’re leaving, they’re the best and the brightest and the bravest,” she said. “It’s important not to brand all the Russians as the baddies in the world.”
Monday, May 02, 2022
Sunday, May 01, 2022
Ron DeSantis' Billion Dollar Mistake
Last week, like the petty tyrant he is, Florida governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill dissolving Walt Disney World’s special district status, as retribution for the company’s decision to speak out against his bigoted “Don’t Say Gay” law. Set to go into effect next June, the move abolishes Disney’s self-governing jurisdiction, the Reedy Creek Improvement District, and no longer allows it to effectively run its own city in and around the theme park. That means the counties of Orange and Osceola would be required to pay for services like firefighting, which Disney currently covers, and would be on the hook for Reedy Creek’s roughly $1 billion in outstanding bond debt. In other words, DeSantis’s act of revenge would not only punish a private company for condemning his anti-LGBTQ+ law, it would likely punish Florida residents too, whose property taxes would go through the roof. Which is a pretty wild thing for a governor to do, particularly one from a party that talks a big game about “cutting taxes” and “free speech.” But all of this might be moot anyway, because Disney apparently knows Florida’s laws better than DeSantis and has said that actually, he can’t do jack unless he pays off Reedy Creek’s debts first, and until then, it’ll be business as usual in Mouse Town.
In a statement to its bondholders, reported by CNN, the Reedy Creek Improvement District pointed out that the 1967 state law establishing Disney’s special district states that Florida “will not in any way impair the rights or remedies of the holders…until all such bonds together with interest thereon, and all costs and expenses in connection with any act or proceeding by or on behalf of such holders, are fully met and discharged.” In other words, DeSantis’s attempt to dissolve the district is illegal unless he coughs up $1 billion first and because of that, Reedy Creek told bondholders, it’s not going anywhere.
“In light of the State of Florida’s pledge to the District's bondholders, Reedy Creek expects to explore its options while continuing its present operations, including levying and collecting its ad valorem taxes and collecting its utility revenues, paying debt service on its ad valorem tax bonds and utility revenue bonds, complying with its bond covenants and operating and maintaining its properties,” the district wrote in the statement.
Last week, amidst DeSantis’s petty act of retribution, Orange County tax collector Scott Randolph told The Washington Post, “Orange County is going to be stuck with $164 million or more per year in expenses with no revenue. So they’re going to have to raise property taxes. This is a huge tax increase on the citizens of Orange County that they’ll have to pay every single year.” Florida state representative Carlos Smith, also noted that, if dissolved, the hundreds of people who work for Reedy Creek—who are presumably Florida residents—will lose their jobs. Which is apparently fine with the governor . . . . “If Disney wants to pick a fight, they chose the wrong guy,” DeSantis wrote in a fundraising email to supporters on Wednesday last week. “I will not allow a woke corporation based in California to run our state.”
But apparently that “woke corporation” won’t be surrendering so easily!
DeSantis is a dangerous idiot.