The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

S.C. Lt. Governor compares poor to stray animals

The history of South Carolina explains a lot about why they seem so different from the rest of us. In the early days of European colonization, South Carolina served as port of entry for a disproportionate segment of the slave trade—not surprising, since a disproportionate segment of its first white settlers were slavers from Barbados. From that happy genesis the state has led the way in regressive thinking, from its early and enthusiastic Indian removal policies in the 1700s, to passing the first secession resolution in December 1860, through to its continuing existence on flying the Confederate battle flag.

I'm fairly certain only a small minority of the 4.5m people who live in South Carolina have attitudes reminiscent of the 19th century, but unfortunately they elected one of those cretins Lieutenant Governor. And yesterday, Andre Bauer expressed himself in the fine tradition of Strom Thurmond and Preston Brooks:

Bauer, who is running for the Republican nomination for governor, made his remarks during a town hall meeting in Fountain Inn that included state lawmakers and about 115 residents.

"My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed. You're facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don't think too much further than that. And so what you've got to do is you've got to curtail that type of behavior. They don't know any better," Bauer said.

In South Carolina, 58 percent of students participate in the free and reduced-price lunch program.

Bauer's remarks came during a speech in which he said government should take away assistance if those receiving help didn't pass drug tests or attend parent-teacher conferences or PTA meetings if their children were receiving free and reduced-price lunches.

Ordinarily, I'd welcome a guy like this as the GOP nominee, because (as George Allen discovered) it makes my party's job a lot easier. But South Carolina isn't Virginia, and Bauer is already the Lt. Governor and the GOP front-runner. We'll see if enough South Carolinian Republicans want a different candidate on June 8th. We'll see.

Activist judges

James Fallows makes an excellent point about Chief Justice Roberts' anti-conservatism:

The head of the nation's judicial branch was purposefully deceptive during his "umpire" [confirmation] testimony. Or he had no idea what his words meant. Or he has had a complete change of philosophy and temperament while in his mid-50s. Those are the logical possibilities. None of them is too encouraging about the basic soundness of our governing institutions.

The majority voting in Citizens United v FEC overturned 100 years of legislative compromises by fiat. Fallows' colleague Megan McArdle thinks this is fine:

The description in the first paragraph could just as easily describe sodomy law before Lawrence v. Texas, civil rights law pre-Brown, or indeed, the state of abortion law pre-Roe. Had Roberts voted for the majority in one of these cases, would we be hearing the same anguish about his lack of deference to precedent?

Two things. First, those cases all dealt with the rights of living persons, not "persons" under the vastly-expanded definition of the term that occurred during the robber-baron era at the turn of the 20th century. Corporations didn't suffer arrest and persecution because they couldn't give millions to their favorite political causes. Second, those cases all brought some state laws into conformance with Federal law, without creating whole new law out of thin air.

Citizens United opens up a brand new era of corporatism. As Slate's Dahlia Litwick pointed out on "Marketplace" last night, "During 2008 alone Exxon Mobil generated profits of $45 billion, with the diversion of even 2 percent of those profits to the political process, this one company could have outspent both presidential candidates and fundamentally changed the dynamics of the 2008 elections." The arguments in favor of unrestricted corporate money in politics are seductive, but ultimately destructive of democracy. I worry that we're headed toward even greater income inequality in the U.S. This decision will hasten it.

Democracy takes one on the chin

In a major victory for the slippery-slope theory of jurisprudence, the Supreme Court today removed all barriers to corporate dominance in politics:

In a 5-4 decision, the court's conservative bloc said corporations have the same First Amendment rights as individuals and, for that reason, the government may not stop corporations from spending freely to influence the outcome of federal elections.

Until now, corporations and unions have been barred from spending their own treasury funds on broadcast ads or billboards that urge the election or defeat of a federal candidate. This restriction dates back to 1907 when President Theodore Roosevelt called on Congress to forbid corporations, railroads and national banks from using their money in federal election campaigns. After World War II, Congress extended this ban to labor unions.

Just like the repeal of Glass-Steagall, the people most at risk from the removal of restrictions are the ones least likely to remember why they were there in the first place.

I'll have more to say once I read the case and digest it. My initial reaction is horror. I only hope that someday we can look back on this case with the disdain that we, today, reserve for Dred Scott or Plessy v. Ferguson, both of them deeply damaging decisions that looked, at the time, to some people, like perfectly natural interpretations of existing law.

Room in the handbasket

As the Massachusetts Democratic Party limps around with a self-inflicted bullet wound in its foot, we should keep in mind that Americans have always thought the country's going to hell, and yet hasn't actually gotten there, as James Fallows reminds us:

Through the entirety of my conscious life, America has been on the brink of ruination, or so we have heard, from the launch of Sputnik through whatever is the latest indication of national falling apart or falling behind. Pick a year over the past half century, and I will supply an indicator of what at the time seemed a major turning point for the worse. The first oil shocks and gas-station lines in peacetime history; the first presidential resignation ever; assassinations and riots; failing schools; failing industries; polarized politics; vulgarized culture; polluted air and water; divisive and inconclusive wars. It all seemed so terrible, during a period defined in retrospect as a time of unquestioned American strength.

... In The American Jeremiad, his classic 1978 account of that phenomenon, Sacvan Bercovitch, of Harvard, points out that from the very start of European settlement in New England, colonists were warned that God was disappointed in them, so they should improve not just their individual ethics but their collective social behavior. Indeed, only six years after the Arbella brought John Winthrop to Massachusetts, a Congregationalist minister was lamenting the lost golden age of the colony, asking parishioners, “Are all [God’s] kindnesses forgotten? all your promises forgotten?”

Nearly 400 years of overstated warnings do not mean that today’s Jeremiahs will be proved wrong. And of course any discussion of American problems in any era must include the disclaimer: the Civil War was worse. But these alarmed calls to action are something we do to ourselves—usually with good effect. Especially because of the world financial crisis, “we have seen palpable declines in the middle class’s standing and its sense of security for the future,” Jackson Lears said. “I think that was a good deal of what was behind Obama’s election—that same longing for rebirth that we have seen in other eras. It is rooted in the familiar Protestant longing for salvation, but is adaptable to secular arenas. Obama was basically riding to victory as part of a politics of regeneration.” Barack Obama’s very high popularity ratings just after the election suggest that even those who now oppose him and his policies recognized the potential for a new start.

It's a great article, made more interesting by Fallows' recent return to the U.S. after 3 years in China.

So, no, we're not going to hell. We're in that unstable moment when the swing has reached the top of its arc and started returning to center, but bits of us are still moving in the opposite direction. Thirty years from now, when we're at the top of the left side of the arc, it'll feel the same way.

Time to hug the dog

One year into the Obama administration, it seems that a sizable portion of the country believe that because he hasn't cleaned up the unprecedented mess left by the former occupant, he somehow caused it. That, anyway, comes through in the reports of GOP focus groups of independent voters in Massachusetts. That, and crashing ignorance:

"I like what Scott Brown stands for and I feel that the Democrats cannot run the country anymore. That too many people that don’t have jobs are going hungry. They’re not taking care of business. They’re not doing their jobs. They’re caught up in this health care thing. I’m saying they’re not taking care of the people that are unemployed.” (Independent Man, Bristol)

Except for the bits in the past year where the Democratic Congress expanded unemployment insurance, passed a stimulus package, prevented massive bank failures, and started winding down two wars.

"Scott Brown ran a campaign as an underdog and he ran without support and is getting his message out, it doesn’t feel like he’s tied to anybody...." (Independent Woman, Norfolk)

Except for the largest single GOP money-drop in a decade.

"Brown would be the forty-first elected Republican, breaking the monopoly the Democrats have in Congress. I think they’re running away with their agenda and not listening to the American people. Just that there are so many cases where, for example the tea party, people are out there expressing their opinions. I see interviews with Harry Reid, not hearing the majority." (Independent Man, Bristol)

Except for the majorities who voted for the Democratic Congress, Senate, and President (53%, 52%, and 53%, respectively) in 2008.

In fact, the Democratic Congress' failing could be that they've tried too hard to represent the entire country, including the obstructionist right wing, when they should have taken their mandate and rammed their policies through. This, if you recall, is what the Republicans did in 1994 and 2000. Andrew Sullivan summarizes:

[The health care reform bill is m]ore conservative than Nixon or Clinton - and yet it's a threat to the meaning of America. This is claptrap. Hooey. Hysteria. And wrong. If the Democrats give into this FNC/RNC campaign to smear Obama as something he is not, they will miss the only chance of real, imperfect but meaningful reform. They will have blinked after being psyched out.

The Republican Party doesn't care about policy, they don't care about governing, they don't care about helping people, and they certainly don't care what the majority of Americans want or need. The Republican Party cares about winning qua winning. And then what? Well, they don't care.

And yet, today's aftershock in Haiti and Japan Airlines' bankruptcy (¥2 trillion) will probably be more important events a year from now.

Good summation of Massachusetts

Jon Stewart, of course:

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It's all right. Throughout history the right usually has more internal discipline than the left, and somehow, things progress anyway. I just hope that today, nihilism loses. (Think about that for a moment and then, if you live in Mass, hold your nose and vote for Coakley anyway.)

Political morass in Illinois

States can't declare bankruptcy. If they could, Illinois would probably have done already:

While it appears unlikely or even impossible for a state to hide out from creditors in Bankruptcy Court, Illinois appears to meet classic definitions of insolvency: Its liabilities far exceed its assets, and it's not generating enough cash to pay its bills. Private companies in similar circumstances often shut down or file for bankruptcy protection.

...Despite a budget shortfall estimated to be as high as $5.7 billion, state officials haven't shown the political will to either raise taxes or cut spending sufficiently to close the gap.

As a result, fiscal paralysis is spreading through state government. Unpaid bills to suppliers are piling up. State employees, even legislators, are forced to pay their medical bills upfront because some doctors are tired of waiting to be paid by the state. The University of Illinois, owed $400 million, recently instituted furloughs, and there are fears it may not make payroll in March if the shortfall continues.

In unrelated news, the current temperatures are 16°C in Raleigh and -1°C in Chicago...

Friday afternoon potpourri

Randomness:

Really. January.