Thursday, July 18, 2019

#199 / Which America Is America? We Decide!

Reflecting on the political disputation that arose after our president told four Members of Congress (all women, and all people of color) to "go back to where they came from," CNN noted that there is "a sobering truth to Trump's racist tweets." 

As CNN put it, America has always been divided. On the one hand, many have seen our country as a refuge and asylum, as so wonderfully articulated in "The New Colossus," the famous poem by Emma Lazarus, found on a plaque attached to the base of the Statue of Liberty: 

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Then, there are some realities that reflect another aspect of who we are:

As much as it might want to present itself as a refuge open to all, America has been, as CNN argues, a nation that "virtually wiped out Native Americans, enslaved Africans, excluded Chinese immigrants in the late 19th century and put Japanese Americans in concentration camps." The New York Times' columnist David Brooks, acknowledging this portion of our American history, calls it "essentialism," the opposite of "liberalism," and he thinks that this kind of "anti-liberalism" is likely to triumph.

Whenever the word "is" is used as an equals sign, it always tells lies. Always! What "is" America? What are we? Who am I? Walt Whitman put it this way:

Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.

Let us forgive our past and current mistakes and inhumanities. They have been, and continue to be, real. And then there are those three basic documents of American democracy: The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and The Gettysburg Address. They, too define our truth. We do "contain multitudes," and so don't we all. Both good and bad!

There is no definition for America, however accurate as to historical fact, that could ever define or contain us. Saying that this "is" who or what we are (whatever we then say about that) is to make a huge error. We make our path by walking. We define ourselves by acting, and we always start from where we are, right here. We start from right here, right now, and we can choose. In fact, we must!

America can still save the world. I hope we will. But we will do that only as we admit the world into our ranks: 

A Squad of Americans (The Beautiful)!

Image Credits:
(1) -
(2) -
(3) -

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

#198 / Why We Climb The Mountain

According to an article in Vox, President Obama "really, really, really" hated New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who is pictured above. What was Obama's beef with Dowd? That her political commentaries were focused on personality, not policy. 

Based on Dowd's column in the July 14, 2019, edition of The Times, I bet that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez may not be that happy with Dowd either. Dowd's column was headlined, "Scaling Wokeback Mountain." As Dowd begins the column, she describes her recent visit to the gym, where her workout on a spin bike exposed her to the thoughts of a video peleton instructor: 

You climb the mountain to see the world. You don’t climb the mountain so the world can see you.

You are correct if you surmise that Dowd is suggesting in her column that Ocasio-Cortez has climbed the mountain of political success for exactly the wrong reason. 

Having recently written on the "politics of forgiveness," in which I deeply believe, I would like to suggest that we all practice a little forgiveness for Ocasio-Cortez. Let's forgive her recent comments about Nancy Pelosi, in which Ocasio-Cortez essentially called Pelosi a racist. This was not Ocasio-Cortez' finest moment, but I would like to hope that she will figure that out and that Ocasio-Cortez will learn from her mistakes, as we all must learn from our own. I note that Bernie Sanders seems to echo this sentiment.

On the other hand, I think we need to show a little forgiveness to Pelosi, too. Many people, including Sanders, didn't really like the way that Pelosi struck back at Ocasio-Cortez. If you can get through the paywall, to read Dowd's column, see if you don't agree with her. Dowd is advising the Democrats, from Bernie Sanders' revolutionaries to the backers of Joe Biden, that the leaders of the Democratic Party, from all of the various perspectives, need to be able to forgive each other, and to work together. If they can't - if they don't - we all know what will happen!

That's not a pretty thought!! 

Image Credit:

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

#197 / The Politics of Forgiveness

To err is human, to forgive divine.

The quotation above is from Alexander Pope. In an article published in Verdict, an online legal journal, law professor Joseph Margulies cites to Pope's observation as Margulies provides various examples of how forgiveness has either been provided, or denied, in the world of law, politics, and society.

For instance, society seems to have forgiven the comedian C.K. for his alleged episodes of sexual misconduct, while Peter Yarrow, the "Peter" in "Peter, Paul, and Mary," was not forgiven for his role in the single incident in which he was involved. Ronald Sullivan, the attorney who went to work on the defense team of Harvey Weinstein - and was then hounded from his job as a faculty dean at Harvard - is another one of Margulies' examples.  

Margulies' article, "The Curious Politics of Forgiveness," is worth reading, though he comes to no specific conclusion. Margulies ends his essay as follows: 

There is more to the politics of forgiveness than we may have thought. Political forgiveness depends on unstated and shifting value judgments that society makes without conscious awareness, including assessments about the person who seeks readmission, the person or group he wronged, the norm he violated, the harm he caused, etc. These are all political judgments. People have not given enough thought to the hidden politics of this universal experience. My goal is to get people to ponder the politics of forgiveness.

Since I write a blog called, "We Live In A Political World," I am, of course, quite ready to agree that social decisions are, or at least can be thought of as, "political judgments." However, the essence of political decision-making, in any system of democratic government, requires a rather formal and well-defined process that includes free debate and discussion, followed by an official decision. Any such decision is always subject to revision, too! 

Margulies' examples do not include this feature. They represent, rather, what the Framers of our Constitution were worried about, the likelihood that a "mob" mentality might usurp the processes of genuine democratic debate, with the result that those most exercised and outspoken would get their way, penalizing or "forgiving" people in a rather random way, without relying on any particular principle.

As it turns out, and as Margulies' examples show, the most outspoken and exercised are often those who could star in a new Clint Eastwood film called "The Unforgiving." The real Eastwood film, you may remember, is called "The Unforgiven." 

Personally, I tend to think that both Alexander Pope and Jesus were onto something, and that our politics should always aim for the divine, with forgiveness being our political default. 

Image Credit:

Monday, July 15, 2019

#196 / Great Expectations

I truly love Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens. To make a more comprehensive (and accurate) statement, I love everything by Charles Dickens! I love everything he ever wrote. In this blog posting, however, I am not revisiting one of Dickens' greatest novels, I am just comandeering its title. 

It is my belief that most of us, most of the time, act in the way that we think others are expecting us to act. That is not always true, of course, but I do think it is true for the most part, and that it is true most of the time. 

If I am right about that, then it is really important for each one of us to have "great expectations." That is, we should assume that good things are supposed to happen, that good things can happen, that good things, in fact, will happen, and that people will act honorably and decently as they attempt to achieve all those good things. To the extent that society expects this, the chances of that being true increase dramatically. 

Because people don't, always, act honorably and decently, and because good things don't always happen, we can fall into a pattern of expecting the worst, not the best. I definitely think that this is the approach that many are taking to our contemporary politics. Our president helps reinforce the idea that we should always expect the worst! The president definitely does not act the way that people have long expected a president to act. This fact has been noted by innumerable columnists. The pundits ponder on what to do about it. 

I suggest that we demand of ourselves that we have great expectations. That is something that we can do about it. I have always liked the title of another book, by writer and educator James Herndon

If we want things to be the way they are supposed to be, then we need to let everyone know that this is exactly what we expect! This is exactly what we demand. That nothing else will be acceptable!

When we think about the politics that define our common life together, we need to have great expectations - and we should expect that our great expectations will be fulfilled.

One more thing! We need to have great expectations of ourselves, too. That may be the most important part!

Image Credit:

Sunday, July 14, 2019

#195 / Looking For A New Curriculum

Down by the Riverside is a spiritual that dates back to before the American Civil War. I have copied out a shortened version of the lyrics, below. 

It has become very clear (I hope to every thoughtful person) that a great many really huge changes must be made if we want human existence to continue. These changes I am talking about are not just "desirable." They are "required." 

Fighting a "war," to solve our problems, is not going to work. It is not working now, and won't work ever. We need, as the song tells us, a new course of study. We need to develop a new curriculum!

I'm gonna lay down my sword and shield
Down by the riverside
Down by the riverside
Down by the riverside 

I'm gonna lay down my sword and shield
Down by the riverside 
I ain't gonna study war no more 

I'm gonna lay down my heavy load
Down by the riverside
Down by the riverside
Down by the riverside 

I'm gonna lay down my heavy load
Down by the riverside
I ain't gonna study war no more

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Saturday, July 13, 2019

#194 / Living On A Battlefield

"War" may be our favorite metaphor. We have the "War on Drugs." We have the "War on Poverty." We have the "War on Crime." We have the "War on Terror." Recently, I found my son reading a book called "The 33 Strategies of War," by Robert Greene. My son had picked it up, he told me, at the Santa Cruz Public Library. Greene is noted as an expert on "strategy, power, and seduction." He tells us that LIFE ITSELF is basically a "War." I was only partly pleased to discover that General George S. Patton got a rather favorable mention in Greene's book. Despite my name, I have resisted the idea that there might be a familial connection.

Last Friday, I read a column by Paul Krugman, the retired Princeton economist who writes for The New York Times. "Trade War" was the topic, and Krugman contends that "Trump Is Losing His Trade Wars."

Might I suggest (think about it) that "War," itself, is a losing proposition in virtually every circumstance. The United States is engaged in many foreign wars. We are losing them all. We are also not winning any of those economic and political "Wars" listed above. I guess some might take Trump's word over Krugman's, and think we are winning the "Trade Wars," but I think I'm going to go with the economist on this one. We are losing our "Trade Wars," too. 

"Conflict" is inevitable. "War" is not. In the arenas of politics, economics, social policy and international relations, I suggest we drop the "War" metaphor. 

Let's give ourselves a break and get off what Greene postulates as the "battlefield of life."

Whenever we have differences, let's work it out! I am really tired of the idea that to achieve what we want to achieve we need to kill someone else.

Image Credit:

Friday, July 12, 2019

#193 / 5,000 Days

A recent newpaper article has told me that David Crosby, pictured above, is "facing the end." As Kurt Vonnegut might have said, "so it goes." My own take? "So don't we all."

I recently went in for a long-deferred "annual" physical exam. The doctor told me I seemed pretty healthy, and that it was likely that I would live until I am ninety years old. That is, roughly, 5,000 more days for me. 

Doesn't seem like a lot, but I am doing better than Crosby, if my doctor's prediction proves correct.

Crosby is "going to have a heart attack in the next year or two, and that will be it," according to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal (click that link; if you can get through the paywall the article is well worth reading). 

Faced with inevitable death and demise, Crosby, who is seventy-seven years old, is pumping out new music as quickly as he can. He is "afraid of dying after battling hepatitis C, receiving a liver transplant and now struggling with diabetes, on top of his cardiac issues." Here's Crosby: 

People don’t talk about death, or they adopt some fairy tale like sitting on a cloud playing a little harp. Hogwash. No matter how long you have, the question is the same: What are you going to do with it? I want to make the world better, and the only thing I can contribute is music. I can make good music that will lift you up. That’s what I’m supposed to do.”

I think David Crosby is right on target with this observation. We all ought to be making friends with the inevitable, not trying to play dodgeball with reality. I also think that the new film about Crosby, produced by filmmaker Cameron Crowe, and discussed in the article in The Wall Street Journal, is likely to deliver a message that should resonate with us all. It certainly resonates with me.

The film on Crosby, opening on July 19, 2019, is called "Remember My Name." 

Image Credit:

Thursday, July 11, 2019

#192 / Let Wisdom Not Be Forgotten Or Ignored

Christi Belcourt (Métis) - The Wisdom of the Universe, 2014. Photograph
The Métis are members of ethnic groups native to Canada and parts of the United States. They trace their descent to both indigenous North Americans and European settlers. Above is a picture of an art work by a Métis artist, Christi Belcourt, entitled "The Wisdom of the Universe." This is the kind of wisdom that Leah Penniman talked about in yesterday's blog posting

Belcourt's work appears as part of a first ever museum retrospective of Native American and Canadian female artists, Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists. The showing is being held at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and will continue until August 18, 2019. Click here to read an article about the show, which The Guardian calls "groundbreaking."

The image above is stunning, and it made me think about how often we discount, forget, or ignore the wisdom that comes from the World of Nature, the world that ultimately sustains all life. 

As Belcourt shows in such a wonderful way, the Universe is exuberant, prolific, and is teeming with beautiful intricacies that make all life possible. Native peoples knew that this intricate and beautiful tapestry of life is something that should be celebrated as the source of all Wisdom. It must not be damaged or forgotten. It is the fabric of existence. "Science" should be an adventure in exploration, not exploitation.

Almost always, we ignore the Wisdom of the Universe. We are interested in our own thoughts and creations, and so we sail into calamity, perhaps even into extinction, without ever making use of the sustaining wisdom that Nature offers. 

I think that Belcourt is saying: "Look." "See." "There is still time to remember who we really are!"

Image Credit:

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

#191 / Food Apartheid: We Must Free Ourselves

I am pretty much convinced that The Sun magazine is one of the best magazines in America. You can make up your own mind by browsing it online (just click that link, above).

I am kind of a print guy, myself, so I look forward to the print edition of The Sun, which shows up in my mailbox once a month. The July 29, 2019 edition of The Sun has an article titled, "To Free Ourselves, We Must Feed Ourselves," which is the transcript of an interview between Tracy Frisch and Leah Penniman, who is pictured to the right.

I commend this article to you in its entirety, but let me provide a few excerpts for the article. The last excerpt, I think, pretty much sums it all up.

Our White Western society has a lot to learn:

Frisch: You say that racism and injustice pervade the food system. How? 
Penniman: They are built into the DNA of the food system. The system is not broken; it’s working as it was designed to, concentrating wealth and power into the hands of the few at the expense of the many.

The current food system was built on the labor of 12.5 million skilled African farmers who were taken by force from their homeland. Europeans did not know tropical and subtropical agriculture, so they kidnapped experts to build the sugar, cotton, and tobacco plantations of the Caribbean and the U.S. South. That forced labor, performed on stolen land, became the basis for the wealth of this nation.


In the early 1900s the Great Migration began. Black people were leaving the South in large numbers, but they weren’t seeking economic opportunity, as we’re often told. They were fleeing racial terrorism.

Today we have food apartheid, a system of segregation that relegates certain people to food abundance and others to food scarcity. If you’re a black child in America, you are twice as likely to go to bed hungry tonight as a white child. Diet-related illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity disproportionately afflict black and indigenous people. And land ownership is over 98 percent white. So racism is embedded in the food system

In traditional African cosmology, there’s an understanding that the earth has wisdom to share with us. Not only that, the ancestors are transmitting messages to us through our contact with the earth.


Carbon dioxide is the most significant greenhouse gas due to its quantity. It doesn’t have as much heat-trapping capacity as methane and nitrous oxide, but there’s so much more of it. And soil is a huge carbon reservoir. Organic matter in the soil is very rich in carbon. When you destroy that organic matter through farming practices, you release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. But when you increase organic matter in the soil, you sequester carbon. We’re trying to create a bank of stable carbon in our soil.


Frisch: At Soul Fire Farm you embrace several forms of cooperative social organization that originated either in Africa or among people of African descent. How have you adapted them? 
Penniman: At the center of African cosmology there’s a “we,” not an “I.” Individualism is a Western worldview. We’re looking to revive our communal nature.

Image Credits:
(1) and (2) -

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

#190 / Look Ma, No Congress!

Dylan Matthews, who writes for, has authored an article that I have not been able to locate on the internet, but which I received as an email bulletin, headed by the title I have reproduced above. Here is Matthews' basic recommendation: 

Democrats running for president in 2020 have a lot of plans: Medicare-for-all, free college, student debt forgiveness, tripling federal aid to K-12 schools, free child care.

What none of them have is a plan to pass those plans if, as appears likely, Republicans continue to control the Senate. The unstated but universally known truth about a world where President Biden/Sanders/Warren/Harris serves alongside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is that no major legislation will ever get passed.

That means 2020 contenders should be doing a lot more thinking about how they can achieve their policy aims without Congress, using existing laws and executive powers. I have a couple of suggestions for where to start if candidates want to reduce poverty.

I would like to suggest that this plan to make future policy changes by executive action should NOT, in fact, be the way that the Democratic Party and its candidates approach the 2020 election. We, as voters, should not be approaching the upcoming election in this way, either. 

Democracy in the United States has, from the start, been based on the idea that Congress, not the President, should be making the key policy decisions that determine what our government will do. I am not ready to abandon that idea. 

If we give up on the idea that policy should be made by Congress, and are prepared to have government operate by Executive Order, we are really saying that it's just fine for an elected president to do the kind of things that Donald Trump is doing. Democrats, of course, would like the president to do other things, not what Trump is doing, but the "process" as well as the actual decisions made, is important. A governmental system that allows our elected president to act like a "ruler," and individually to decide all the most important issues, will NOT end up being good for the people. 

You will remember, I am sure, the shorthand formula for good government so wonderfully articulated by Abraham Lincoln. We must have a government that is "of, by, and for the people." That is the kind of government that America has had every right to be proud of since 1789. I am not willing, in the name of pragmatic expediency, to give up on that idea.

Where does that leave the Democrats? The Democrats need to make the 2020 campaign a campaign to change the government, not just the president. That means that the Democrats must do all in their power to reassume control over the United States Senate, while maintaining control in the House of Representatives. This is precisely what presidential candidate Michael Bennet called for, during the June 26th Democratic Party debate. 

Bennet's right!

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Monday, July 8, 2019

#189 / Winners And Losers

Megan Rapinoe, Kneeling during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner

Megan Rapinoe, shown kneeling, above, "wasn’t expected to start Sunday’s Women’s World Cup final because of a hamstring issue, [but] wound up winning it instead, calmly slotting home a penalty kick in the 61st minute to start the U.S. on its way to a 2-0 win over a stubborn team from the Netherlands before a sellout crowd at Stade de Lyon." 

Rapinoe scored five of the team’s eight goals in the elimination rounds and so finished the tournament with six goals, and was undoubtedly the "most valuable player" in the United States' unprecedented World Cup win.

Also on Sunday, July 7, 2019, conservative political commentator Marc Thiessen complained about Rapinoe in a column in The New York Times. According to Thiessen, whose picture is displayed at the end of this blog posting, "Megan Rapinoe's anthem protests hurt the fight for gender equity."

Aside from my thought that Thiessen, as a privileged white male, is hardly the right person to be talking about what either helps, or hinders, the fight for gender equity, I take exception to the following comment, excerpted from his column: 

Megan Rapinoe, the co-captain of the U.S. national women's soccer team, refuses to place her hand over her heart with the rest of her team when the national anthem is played at the World Cup in Lyon, France. ... She started protesting the anthem in solidarity with Kaepernick in September 2016, when she played for the Seattle Reign in the National Women's Soccer League. 
Let's be clear: Rapinoe is an amazing athlete. ... But Rapinoe is ... playing for the United States. ... Rapinoe is protesting the Stars and Stripes while wearing the Stars and Stripes. That's not okay. Representing your country is a privilege, not a right. If she really feels she can't show respect for the U.S. flag and anthem, then she shouldn't wear the U.S. jersey.

Thiessen has the idea, apparently, that Rapinoe's protest is against the national anthem and the American flag. Not so, Marc! The protest is against racial injustice. Thiessen also has the idea that someone who plays on a "United States" team must follow a prescribed program of patriotism (a program dictated by whom, by the way?). This seems exactly contrary to what genuine patriots ought to reverence about our nation. The Star Spangled Banner, as we all remember, ends with a heart wrenching affirmation. America is the "land of the free and the home of the brave."

As we watched the World Cup Finals, who better exemplified that statement of what it means to be an American than Megan Rapinoe? What might better express "respect" than Rapinoe's prayerful knee as the anthem is played?

Enforced and compelled patriotism is no patriotism at all.

Megan Rapinoe is a winner. Marc Thiessen is not:

Marc Thiessen

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Sunday, July 7, 2019

#188 / Let's Learn A Lesson From Hawaii

I recently returned from a brief vacation in Hawaii. I was on the island of Maui, and it was a pretty nice visit! See the picture above, taken at sunset in Lahaina, as an offer of proof. 

Right after my return, The New York Times suggested that a person should move to Hawaii if he or she would like to be "less racist." Candidly, I mostly ran into other tourists on my recent visit, and had only limited contact with bona fide, full time residents of Hawaii. Even though I can't claim my trip provides me with personal evidence, I do think that The Times' story makes a good case. I link it here for your review and consideration.

According to the article, "Ancient Hawaiians learned to get along in order to survive."

Now, isn't that exactly our situation today? Here. There. And everywhere?

Think so!

Image Credits: 
(1) - Gary Patton personal photo
(2) -

Saturday, July 6, 2019

#187 / World Leaders Pictured Below

The Guardian has published an article that is nothing more than a discussion between Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Greta Thunberg. If you don't know who these women are, you should definitely click those links. Even more, you should read that article. The article is about global warming, and here's the theme: 

Hope is contagious!

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Friday, July 5, 2019

#186 / Two Decisions, One Message To Voters

The United States Supreme Court handed down two important decisions on Thursday, June 27th. The current members of the Court are pictured above, conveniently catagorized by The New York Times. 

In Rucho v. Common Cause, the Court held that when state legislatures establish gerrymandered Congressional Districts, by drawing politically-motivated maps, the federal courts will simply not entertain any challenge to such maps. According to Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the five "conservative" members of the Supreme Court, any challenge to the legitimacy of such partisan maps  is simply "nonjusticiable." If you click this link, you can read an article in The New York Times that reports on the decision in Rucho v. Common Cause. The Times has also editorialized about the decision, summing up the decision as follows: "The justices said partisan gerrymandering, no matter how flagrant, is beyond the reach of the courts, imperiling the fairness of future elections."

Justice Kagan filed a dramatic dissent in Rucho v. Common Cause, part of which I quote below:

“Of all times to abandon the Court’s duty to declare the law, this was not the one,” Kagan wrote, reading her blistering dissent from the bench Thursday, a move that generally indicates deep disagreement with the majority opinion. The practices challenged in these cases imperil our system of government. Part of the Court’s role in that system is to defend its foundations. None is more important than free and fair elections.”

The second case decided by the Supreme Court on June 27th was Department of Commerce v. New York. The Court decided, in a unanimous decision authored by Chief Justice Roberts, that the head of the Department of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, had not adequately justified his decision to include a question about citizenship in the questionnaire to be utilized in administering the 2020 Census. Once again, The New York Times reported on this decision in its news columns. The paper editorialized about the decision, too:

The nuanced ruling, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, noted that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s decision to add the citizenship question “was reasonable and reasonably explained,” despite the Census Bureau’s misgivings about the move. As recently as last week, bureau experts warned that adding the question would result in a significant undercount of households with at least one noncitizen member. Mr. Ross “determined that reinstating a citizenship question was worth the risk of a potentially lower response rate,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote, because of “the long history of the citizenship question on the census.” Mr. Ross had argued that the question was needed to help the Justice Department better enforce the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Later in the ruling, however, the Chief Justice wrote that the voting rights rationale offered by Mr. Ross depended on an “incongruent” explanation that wasn’t supported by proper evidence. “It is rare to review a record as extensive as the one before us when evaluating informal agency action — and it should be,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote. “But having done so for the sufficient reasons we have explained, we cannot ignore the disconnect between the decision made and the explanation given.”

The decision in Department of Commerce v. New York was not rendered as a "final" decision. The Court remanded the case for further deliberations, which means that the Trump Administration was allowed to come back to the Court with a better justification for its proposed question on citizenship. Initially the Administration decided not to do that, but it seems that this initial reaction may then have been "trumped" by the president, based on one of the president's tweets.

Because the Administration will ultimately do whatever the president directs, it is not yet clear what the Administration's response to the decision will ultimately be. Perhaps, the Administration will try to  come up with something that will satisfy the Court, and if it does, the federal government will be able to ask that citizenship question as part of the 2020 Census. That, in turn, as Chief Justice Roberts acknowledged, will lead to a very significant undercount of those non-citizens present in the United States at the time of the census. Many non-citizens, knowing that they would have to "out" themselves as undocumented by responding to the census questionnaire, will choose not to participate at all. Here's the final line from The Times' editorial:

The justices deserve credit for sending the case back for more thoughtful decision-making. After oral arguments in April, many court watchers expected that they would repeat the mistake of the court’s travel ban ruling and ignore the Trump administration’s evident bad faith. Fortunately, they were wiser this time around.

In April 2019, The Times said that allowing that citizenship question as part of the census would be "a coup with profound implications for American democracy." In effect, such a decision would permit state legislatures not only to deny federal support to urban areas, generally more "liberal," and to furnish additional federal support to rural areas, generally more "conservative." Even more importantly, census data on citizenship would provide a powerful new tool to help those state legislatures so inclined to gerrymander Congressional Districts to benefit Republican Party incumbents. Depending on what the Trump Administration decides to do, we will get to see whether or not the Court will actually resist what The Times has properly characterized as the Trump Administration's "bad faith."

There is a common theme in these recent decisions. They are both bad, but there is a kind of "tough love" message in what the Court tells us in each one of them. 

Here is the bottom line: The Supreme Court, and the federal courts in general, are not going to save us from the elected officials that we have placed in office (even if those officials were elected only because of rampant gerrymandering). Our solution to bad politics is in our own hands. We need to devote enough energy and attention to politics to be sure that the elected officials who represent us will do so in "good faith," not bad faith. The courts are not going to save us!

Let me provide that video from yesterday's blog posting once again. It's a short course in American democracy. That's what we have to rely on, not the courts!

Image Credit:

Thursday, July 4, 2019

#185 / Move To Mexico? Do Something Else?

Pictured is Janet Blaser, a one-time resident of Santa Cruz, California, now an expatriate living in Mazatlán, Mexico. Why did she leave my wonderful hometown? Well, Blaser wrote a whole book about that decision, recently reviewed by Wallace Baine in the Good Times newspaper.

The Good Times focuses on all things Santa Cruz, with a particular interest in lifestyle and entertainment items. It is exactly the right place to look for articles about "good times," and based on Blaser's experience, and the experience of another twenty-six women who contributed to her book, the best of the good times currently available to Americans may be found south of the border. Here's the cover of Blaser's book, reported to be available at Bookshop Santa Cruz:

I haven't yet read this book, but I have a copy, and it is definitely on my list. I was surprised to learn, as I read Walllace Baine's article, that the expat stories collected in the book do not "run into a strong vein of political anti-American exhaustion or disappointment."

“I had anticipated that there would be more women who would say, ‘Oh, when Trump was elected, that was it. I’m outta here,’ or had some other complaints about America," says Blaser. "But that was really not the case.”

I have heard lots of people say just the opposite, and that the polarized and dysfunctional politics of the United States is making them think seriously about moving to some other country. Blaser, and the other women profiled in Blaser's book, make the case for leaving the United States for Mexico.

For a different idea, which suggests that you stay put in the United States, you might want to consider what Jennifer Lawrence has to say about how to deal with our dysfunctional politics and our atrophied democracy. On the Fourth of July, as we think about our politics and government, the option that Lawrence recommends might make a lot of sense to a lot of people. The video is about twelve minutes long, and....

It has a message that is absolutely appropriate for our national holiday:

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Wednesday, July 3, 2019

#184 / Rotkin Recommends

Mike Rotkin, pictured above, is the one-time "socialist-feminist" Mayor of Santa Cruz, California, which is my hometown. Mike ran the Community Studies Program at the University of California, Santa Cruz for many years, and he is still teaching there. He is a member of the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission, and is deeply engaged in the political life of the community.

Mike also knows a good book when he reads one.

I would like to pass on one of Mike's recommendations, having now read, at his urging, We The Corporations, by Adam Winkler. I have placed a picture of the book's cover to the left.

I agree with Mike that this is a very good book, and I encourage you to get beyond the cover. The book documents what Winkler calls the "corporate rights movement," and takes its readers from the beginnings of corporations in ancient Rome to Citizens United in 2010 and the Hobby Lobby case, decided by the United States Supreme Court in 2014.

The Hobby Lobby case gave corporations a right to religious freedom, just like you and I have religious freedom. What's good for us, in the First Amendment, is apparently good for those corporations, as well. We know that the Hobby Lobby corporation favors a right-wing evangelical brand of Christianity. We are still waiting to find out the religious preferences of Monsanto, General Motors, and Bank of America, but it's good to know that these corporate giants don't have to provide medical care for their employees if it's against the corporate religion. That's what the Supreme Court held in the Hobby Lobby decision.

Besides documenting in fascinating detail how our legal system has dealt with corporations, Winkler's book is a great way to learn about how our Supreme Court functions.

We The Corporations is now an official Rotkin-Patton recommended read!

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Tuesday, July 2, 2019

#183 / Come Meet George

I teach Legal Studies classes at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and I tell my students (it's the truth) that one of the joys of that job is that it provides me with an opportunity to introduce them to thinkers with whom they may not be familiar. I usually give the students some names, and I almost always include: Hannah Arendt, Jill Lepore, Zeynep Tufekci, Antonio Machado, Ugo Betti, and Bob Dylan. Dylan, by the way, is the only Nobel Laureate on my list. 

During a recent holiday, I had an opportunity to read some essays by George Scialabba, collected in his excellent book, Slouching Toward Utopia. Here is a link to a nice little write-up about Scialabba, and a recorded interview. 

I think I am going to add Scialabba to my list, and I invite anyone who may be reading this blog posting to hunt him down. Scialabba mostly comments on books, and you will be treated to thoughts like the following, which comes from his commentary on a 1998 book by Alan Wolfe, One Nation, After All: What Middle-Class Americans Really Think About God, Country, Family, Racism, Welfare, Immigration, Homosexuality,Work, the Right, the Left, and Each Other:

"The parties are more partisan than ever," Wolfe complains, "and the leadership more dedicated to scoring ideological points than to governing the country." Wolfe concedes that this strictures applies "in particular" to the Republicans; but in fact, it applies only to the Republicans. The Democrats have been in flight from ideology for at least two decades. Think of the Democratic standard-bearers in recent history: Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Hart, Bill Clinton, Gore, Gephardt, Biden, Obama, Hillary Clinton. There is not a spark of ideological passion in a single one of them....

Students? Friends? Meet George Scialabba. Recommended!

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Monday, July 1, 2019

#182 / Thank You, Mr. Vice President

The reviews are in, and "Joe Sixpack" lost. That title was bestowed on former Vice President Joe Biden by Maureen Dowd, who wrote a column in The New York Times with the following headline: "Kamala Shotguns Joe Sixpack." Frank Bruni, another Times columnist, had a similar analysis. The headline on Bruni's column read: "And Now, The Dream of a Harris-Buttigieg Ticket."

I may be jumping the gun in suggesting that Dowd and Bruni are right, and that Joe Biden "lost" the Democratic Party presidential primary debate, held in two installments on June 26th and June 27th. I don't think so, however. I think that Dowd and Bruni are right, and that Biden's performance in that debate was consequential with respect not only to the debate itself, but to his entire candidacy for the presidency. 

A phrase from the jury trial selection process comes to mind as I consider my personal judgment on what happened on Thursday, June 27th. Here's what I think a trial lawyer would have said to Joe Biden, after that debate was over, presuming that the debate was seen as being analogous to the selection process related to picking jurors for a trial: 

The people would like to thank and excuse Mr. Biden. 

Let's not forget the "thank you." I, personally, appreciate the former Vice President's willingness to put himself forward as a possible candidate - and for his long and honorable service to this country. I was prepared to believe that picking the former Vice President might be the right choice. He is, after all, someone who has been involved in government since 1970, when he was first elected to the New Castle County Council at age twenty-eight (I kind of have a thing for former County Supervisors). Biden was elected to the United States Senate in 1972, which is actually extraordinary. He served, I think, very honorably throughout his entire career. I watched the recent debate with a willingness to be convinced that maybe our former Vice President could lead the Democratic Party to a victory in 2020. That must mean, of course, a victory not only in the presidential race, but in the race to maintain Democratic Party control of the House of Representatives, and to attain a majority in the United States Senate. Candidate Michael Bennett made very clear, during the debate, that this, in fact, the task at hand. 

My judgment, having watched during both days of the debate, is that we are not going to be able to rely on our former Vice President to do what has to be done to win back the presidency and to help the Democratic Party recapture the Congress. I think this perception is widespread, and is not restricted to a couple of New York Times' columnists. I feel a real sense of gratitude that this realization comes so early. Now, we can focus on other alternatives. There is a difficult set of decisions ahead. 

Is the "dream team" we need really Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg, as Frank Bruni suggests? Despite all the scoffers, could it be that Bernie Sanders is actually the best person to lead the kind of "revolution" that truly is needed? What about Warren and Castro  as a "dream team" ticket?

There are no easy answers. Not for me, anyway. But after the June 27th debate, at least as far as I am concerned, it is now clear that the Democratic Party "dream team" is not going to be led by Joe Biden. 

Thank you, Mr. Vice President! You are excused.

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Sunday, June 30, 2019

#181 / Good Faith And The Fourth Amendment

Timothy Carpenter robbed a lot of banks, but no one in any of the banks he robbed could ever identify him. Those who saw him just knew Carpenter as "some guy" who was involved in the robberies. In view of that, how did the authorities know Carpenter was involved, and ultimately pin the crimes on him? 

Well, and there is a lesson here for all of us in Carpenter's story, Carpenter had a cellphone (maybe you have one, too). As you may or may not realize, cellphones work by maintaining frequent and automatic contact with cellphone towers, and the phone companies that provide cellphone service maintain a record of the contacts that every cellphone has with every cellphone tower with which it is ever in communication. Thus, any individual who uses a cellphone (including you and me), and who carries it around, is providing his or her cellphone company with a complete and documented map of where the cellphone user has been, and at what times. This map is pretty accurate, too, and this is the information that allowed law enforcement officers to pin the bank robberies on Carpenter. When the banks were being robbed, Carpenter's cellphone records proved he was in the immediately vicinity. It couldn't have been a coincidence, either, since there were LOTS of banks in what was an ongoing robbery spree, and Carpenter was there in every case!

Here is where the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution comes into the story. As you may remember, the Fourth Amendment protects us from "unreasonable searches and seizures." Generally speaking, if law enforcement wants to use evidence in a criminal prosecution, that evidence must have been obtained after an impartial magistrate has issued a search warrant, based upon probable cause. In Carpenter's case, there was obviously no probable cause to arrest him until AFTER law enforcement officials reviewed his cellphone itinerary, and law enforcement didn't get any search warrant to obtain those cellphone records; they just asked the phone company, which turned over the records to them.

Carpenter sought to exclude the evidence obtained from the cellphone companies on the basis that asking the phone companies for this data, without a warrant based on probable cause, was an "unreasonable search and seizure." When evidence has been obtained without a warrant, and is based on an unreasonable search and seizure, the courts will exclude the evidence. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court decided that that the cellphone record evidence should be excluded. So, case over! At leasrt, that is what I thought when I read the Carpenter decision, which was handed down by the Supreme Court in June 2018.

A recent New York Times opinion editorial has provided an update, reporting that a Federal Circuit Court recently decided that the cellphone evidence can be used against Carpenter, after all, despite the 2018 Supreme Court ruling, because law enforcement officers were acting in "good faith" when they obtained the cellphone evidence from the phone company. In other words, until the Supreme Court ruled, law enforcement officers had every reason to think it was just fine to ask the phone companies, as "third parties," to provide the evidence that could be used against Carpenter. Implicitly, the court ruled that the Supreme Court's decision was prospective only.

The so-called "good faith" exception to the exclusionary rule has been expanding. More and more, the courts are deciding that illegally-obtained evidence can, in fact, be used against accused persons, because the law enforcement officers didn't really know that they were obtaining evidence illegally. If law enforcement acts in "good faith," the failure to follow constitutional requirements isn't a bar to using the evidence.

Frankly, I don't find that "good faith" exception to show much "good faith" to citizens, who shouldn't be incarcerated for life (Carpenter's fate, apparently) when the evidence used to convict then has been obtained contrary to the protections provided by the Fourth Amendment.

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Saturday, June 29, 2019

#180 / An Astounding Proposal By Bernie Sanders

I watched on both Wednesday and Thursday this week as the first Democratic Party presidential debates got underway. More are planned. I have been quite interested in the reactions to the debates that I have seen, and I note that there have been many comments about the interchange between Kamala Harris and Joe Biden on racism, and about Biden's former opposition to federally-mandated school busing as a way to integrate our schools. Most of the comments I have read say that Harris came off very well in that exchange with Biden, and in the debate overall. I certainly agree. The picture above shows Bernie Sanders in the middle, with the words from Biden and Harris just flying by from both sides. 

No one has mentioned, as far as I have been able to determine, a truly radical proposal from Bernie Sanders, made during the debate on Thursday. That proposal would allow the next president to "rebalance" the Supreme Court, without waiting for Justices to die or resign. In all fairness, the proposal does depend not only on a Democratic Party candidate winning the presidency, but on retaining Democratic Party control in the House of Representatives and winning a Democratic Party majority (perhaps even a supermajority) in the Senate. Maybe no one is expecting that to happen, which is why no one has commented on Sanders' idea. My own explanation is that the commentators just weren't paying attention.

It seems to me that nobody even noticed that Sanders had advanced a completely new idea about what to do about our current, and highly politicized, Supreme Court. Maybe people should be paying more attention to what Bernie Sanders says!

Sanders' idea that we need to deal as a first priority with income inequality, was his major issue in 2016. That idea has clearly defined the field for the Democrats this time around. In other words, Sanders has been an intellectual innovator within the Democratic Party, and coming into the party from outside has undoubtedly helped him to do that. I was a delegate for Bernie Sanders at the 2016 Democratic Party Convention, held in Philadelphia, and it is my observation that the Democrats gave Bernie scant credit for anything in 2016, and may well have lost the presidency because of that. Having been given time to reflect, Democrats should be grateful, not hateful, about Bernie's strong and unrelenting campaign to make the Democratic Party live up to its heritage, instead of being the party of the liberal, wealthy, and the privileged. This is exactly the point that Bill DeBlassio made so effectively in the first round of the debates, on Wednesday. Let's thank Bernie Sanders for that!

Democrats should also pay attention to new ideas from whatever source, and Bernie has some. Did you notice what he said about the Supreme Court? If you didn't, let me outline what I heard.

On Thursday, Sanders said he did not believe in any effort to try to "pack the Court," by adding new Justices that would shift the ideological balance of the Court. "Mayor Pete" Buttigeig has apparently advocated this approach. Franklin Roosevelt tried that, and it failed, because doing that would so clearly transform the Court into a purely "political" institution, and our system actually depends on the Court seeing itself, and the people seeing the Court, as a branch of government that is not, first and primarily, partisan. Sanders had another idea!

What Sanders said is that it would be possible (the Congress would have to agree) to restructure who gets to sit on the Supreme Court. There could be a "rotation" system involving Justices both on and off the Court. This is a radical idea. There are definitely pros and cons, and it might be difficult to accomplish, but what Sanders is trying to remind us is that Congress is actually in charge of the government, including having jurisdiction over the composition of the Supreme Court. 

Article I of the Consitution places ALL legislative power in the Congress. Article II says that the President is supposed to be sure that the laws are "faithfully executed." In other words, the Constitution does NOT contemplate that the president sets policy. The president is supposed to carry out and execute the laws enacted by Congress.

As we know, the Congress has largely abdicated its legislative and policy responsibilities, even over war, and the President now acts like a king. This understanding of the job is particularly congenial for our current President, who kept talking about the "reign" of former presidents as he campaigned for the job in 2016.

But what about Article III, which describes how the judicial branch is structured and operated? Here is the complete text

Article III

Section 1.
The judicial power of the United States, shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The judges, both of the supreme and inferior courts, shall hold their offices during good behaviour, and shall, at stated times, receive for their services, a compensation, which shall not be diminished during their continuance in office. 
Section 2.
The judicial power shall extend to all cases, in law and equity, arising under this Constitution, the laws of the United States, and treaties made, or which shall be made, under their authority;--to all cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls;--to all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction;--to controversies to which the United States shall be a party;--to controversies between two or more states;--between a state and citizens of another state;--between citizens of different states;--between citizens of the same state claiming lands under grants of different states, and between a state, or the citizens thereof, and foreign states, citizens or subjects.
In all cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, and those in which a state shall be party, the Supreme Court shall have original jurisdiction. In all the other cases before mentioned, the Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction, both as to law and fact, with such exceptions, and under such regulations as the Congress shall make. 
The trial of all crimes, except in cases of impeachment, shall be by jury; and such trial shall be held in the state where the said crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any state, the trial shall be at such place or places as the Congress may by law have directed. 
Section 3.
Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court. 
The Congress shall have power to declare the punishment of treason, but no attainder of treason shall work corruption of blood, or forfeiture except during the life of the person attainted.

All the Constitution says is that there shall be a Supreme Court, and such inferior courts as the Congress shall determine. How the court system is organized and operated depends on what the Congress decides. 

Bernie Sanders is suggesting that we should think about having a Supreme Court in which the membership rotates on some basis. All Justices, once appointed, would have a lifetime appointment (as the Constitution mandates and assuming no impeachable offense), but nothing in the Constitution says that Justices of the Supreme Court, once appointed to that Court, must serve on the Supreme Court for life. We could rotate justices off and onto the Supreme Court.

Think about it! That's a new idea! Difficult to accomplish? Certainly. Desirable? Maybe or maybe not. But it does seem to me that this is a new idea worth thinking about, and debating. Properly executed, this idea might help "depoliticize" what has become a very "political" Supreme Court.

What's going on here? Could it be that Bernie Sanders is actually calling upon the Congress to take control of this country, and to do so with both courage and innovation?

YES! That is exactly what Bernie Sanders is doing, and he should be celebrated for the role he is playing to help make American democracy great again!

That's MADGA, for those who like acronyms.

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