Monday Reads

Good Morning!

The Supreme Court has gotten more contentious as the three hard right justices feel they can throw their words and weight around more than ever.  But what about the three women on the court?

And then there were the Court’s women, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, who, compared to the verbose right-wingers received less coverage—even as they exhibited qualities that most Americans expect of their highest judges: restraint, focus, nuance, empathy and a respect for exercising the power of federal government.

Is this just more sexism by the press? Are there double-standards when it comes to points made by the women justices, compared to their belligerent male colleagues? The answer, of course, is yes. But let’s look at some of the points that the women made—reinforced, often, by another moderate justice, Stephen Breyer. It reveals Americans would be well served by having more thoughtful, like-minded women—and men—on the Supreme Court.

Check out the Alternet article that reviews some of the women’s impact on the court.

Meanwhile, civil liberties activists and lawyers are trying to make sense of the SCOTUS decision that allows police officers to strip search people even if they are arrested for a routine traffic stop.

The plaintiff in the strip-search case was arrested after a routine traffic stop and jailed for a minor outstanding warrant that may well have been a mistake. Before entering the jail, he was forced to strip, lift his genitals, squat and cough. If that isn’t an assault on human dignity, you might think, what is?

The short answer is that Kennedy couldn’t find a violation of dignity for the petitioner because almost everyone committed to a jail or prison gets similar treatment. (Some states have banned the practice after minor arrests.) Every arrest, even for major offenses, is supposed to take place on the basis of suspicion, not proven guilt. Everyone in jail is equally presumed innocent until proven guilty at trial — or until he or she admits guilt in a plea bargain. To find that all of these people are having their most basic rights violated every day would have been too disruptive to the basic practices of American criminal justice.

As a result, instead of arguing about dignity, the justices disagreed about the practical question of whether invasive strip-searches are reasonably necessary to serve the interests of the jails and prisons. Kennedy’s majority opinion said that they were.

Justice Stephen Breyer, in dissent, pointed to studies finding the opposite. In one, conducted in New York under the supervision of the federal courts, one prisoner out of 23,000 searched had hidden contraband in his body in a way that would have avoided detection by X-ray and a pat-down. A California study found three instances out of 75,000 prisoners strip- searched.

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the strip-searches, however well-intentioned when first instituted, now function to humiliate people being put behind bars, sending the message that they are now essentially nonpersons, under the full control of the state.

 

Robert Reich reminds us that without jobs and decent incomes, our recovery is still very fragile. This is what I’ve been saying for some time.  Businesses are only going to hire if they have customers.  Customers need jobs and good incomes to be customers.  Even though the private sector is growing steadily, there are still huge numbers of layoffs coming from state and local governments.  Huge corporations can do business elsewhere.  It’s very hard for job seekers to move to where the economy is good if it’s half way around the world.

Remember: consumer spending is 70% of the US economy. Employers won’t hire without enough sales to justify the additional hires. It’s up to consumers to make it worth their while.

But real spending by American consumers (adjusted to remove price changes) this year hasn’t been going anywhere. It increased just 0.5% in February, after an anemic 0.2% increase in January.

The reason consumers aren’t spending more is simple: they don’t have the money. Personal income was up just 0.2% in February – barely enough to keep up with inflation. As a result, personal saving as a percentage of disposable income tumbled to 3.7% in February, from 4.3% in January. Personal saving is now at its lowest level since March 2009.

American consumers, in short, are hitting a wall. They don’t dare save much less than they are now because their jobs are still insecure. They can’t borrow much more. Their home values are still dropping, and many are underwater – owing more on their homes than the homes are worth.

The economy has been growing, to be sure, but almost all the gains have gone to the very top. This is the most lopsided recovery on record.

SOS Hillary Clinton will not be attending the Democratic convention this year.  As is tradition, the Secretary of State stays out of national politics to focus on US foreign policy.

Hillary Clinton, perhaps President Barack Obama’s most high-profile cabinet member, won’t be attending this year’s Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C., citing the duties of her job as secretary of state.

“Given her current position, she will not be attending, consistent with her not engaging in any political activity whatsoever,” Philippe Reines, Clinton’s spokesman, told the Charlotte Observer on Friday.

He added that it will be the first time Clinton will miss a Democratic convention in decades, “possibly all the way back to ’68 in Chicago.”

Malawi has sworn in its first female president.

Vice-President Joyce Banda was sworn in as Malawi’s new head of state on Saturday, the BBC reports. She is the first female head of state in southern Africa. President Bingu wa Mutharika went into cardiac arrest on Thursday, but his death wasn’t officially announced until Saturday. Banda was one of President Mutharika’s most vocal critics. She was expelled from the governing party in 2010 over her criticisms with Mutharika and went on to form her own opposition party.

Ever wonder how Romney gets away with repeating so many lies with very few reporters mentioning it?  I’ve watched Rachel Maddow cover it and have just been awed by the number of whoppers that Willard seems to continually drop without even a blink.

Romney denounced Obama for “apologizing for America abroad” during his first years in office rather than focusing on the economy. It’s another silly and inaccurate claim. PolitiFact awarded Romney a “Pants on Fire” rating for having made such a statement during his June 2, 2011, speech announcing his presidential bid. But this line obviously plays well for Romney. He has used it over and over.

I could go on, but the drift is clear. Romney’s speech was loaded with false statements. The various fact-checking sites did pounce on Romney for several of his prevarications. AP also ran a story noting that both Obama and Romney had “warped some realities” in recent speeches. But that article failed to note that the examples it listed for Obama had the president (arguably) spinning political characterizations in his favor, while the Romney examples were flat-out untrue assertions Romney made regarding Obama. Once again, a mainstream media outfit was perpetuating a false equivalency.

Romney stood before a gathering of journalists. He made a series of incorrect and dishonest accusations. And he was not hooted out of the room. He faced no penalty for this—just a few slaps from those pesky, fact-checking schoolmarms. He will not be banned from similar forums. The politerati is not up in arms. His campaign rolled on. And this may well sum up one of the fundamental problems with American politics.

So, enough from me.  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?