Friday Reads: The Overlords are winningPosted: January 23, 2015
The combination of low voting patterns and big money in politics is finally coming to an ugly fruition. The plan was all laid out in the Powell memo of 1971. Its leaking to Jack Anderson will probably be remembered as one of the last acts of a press free of uber-corporate ownership and manipulation. It was also the beginning of the framework that ultimately led to the Citizen’s United case 5 years ago establishing a freedom of speech right for corporations best encapsulated by Mitt Romney’s famous gaffe in Iowa of “Corporations are people, my friend”.
Though Powell’s memo was not the sole influence, the Chamber and corporate activists took his advice to heart and began building a powerful array of institutions designed to shift public attitudes and beliefs over the course of years and decades. The memo influenced or inspired the creation of the Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the Cato Institute, Citizens for a Sound Economy, Accuracy in Academe, and other powerful organizations. Their long-term focus began paying off handsomely in the 1980s, in coordination with the Reagan Administration’s “hands-off business” philosophy.
Most notable about these institutions was their focus on education, shifting values, and movement-building — a focus we share, though often with sharply contrasting goals.* (See our endnote for more on this.)
So did Powell’s political views influence his judicial decisions? The evidence is mixed. Powell did embrace expansion of corporate privilege and wrote the majority opinion in First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, a 1978 decision that effectively invented a First Amendment “right” for corporations to influence ballot questions. On social issues, he was a moderate, whose votes often surprised his backers.
The combination of the Southern Strategy, the business interests behind the Powell Memo, and the insipid and wrongly labelled “Moral Majority” has created an unholy trinity of neoconfederates, billionaire plutocrats, and christianist extremists that now drive the Republican Party. We now have a SCOTUS and majority in Congress set to undo many of the advances of the late 20th century. A lot of this came from the mind of Nixon and his cronies.
… Democrats were expanding rights while the Republicans wanted to narrow them or keep them restrictive.
This realignment did not exactly start with Nixon or end with him. Barry Goldwater had voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act (although he had supported other civil rights bills), but the GOP in general then was unencumbered by a Southern constituency and its leadership often favored civil rights.
After Nixon, though, there was no turning back. In 1980, Ronald Reagan — ever the innocent — went to Mississippi and the Neshoba County Fair to tastelessly proclaim his belief in “states’ rights.” Nearby, three civil rights worked had been killed just 16 years earlier, protesting one of those bogus rights — the right to segregate the races. Reagan never acknowledged any appeal to racism. Racists took it as a wink anyway.
At one time, a good many African-Americans voted Republican — the party of Lincoln, after all. Jackie Robinson initially supported Nixon , as did Joe Louis. The former heavyweight champion had even supported a Republican in the 1946 congressional campaign against Rep. Helen Gahagan Douglas, a liberal civil rights advocate, whose California district was substantially black. As late as the 1970s, there were African-American enclaves in Maryland that voted Republican.
The damage Nixon did to his own party, not to mention the rights of African-Americans and the cause of racial comity, has lasted long after the stench of Watergate has dispersed. It not only persuaded blacks that the Republican Party was inhospitable to them, but it in effect welcomed racists to the GOP fold. Dixiecrats moved smartly to the right.
Excuse me for extrapolating, but segregationists are not merit scholarship winners. Racism is dumb, and so are racists. The Democratic Party showed racists the door.
The GOP welcomed them and, of course, their fellow travelers — creationists, gun nuts, anti-abortion zealots, immigrant haters of all sorts and homophobes. Increasingly, the Republican Party has come to be defined by what it opposes and not what it proposes. Its abiding enemy is modernity.
The first death knell of democracy was probably the undoing of the Fairness Doctrine followed closely by the demonization of labor via the busting of the Air Traffic Controller’s Union. There are a lot of reasons why the FCC should try to bring it back. The primary one I can think of is the disservice the Fox Propaganda network does to the country in terms of Science and truth. There was some paranoia in the right wing last year that the FCC was thinking about a Fairness Doctrine 2.0.
Under the controversial doctrine, which the FCC abandoned in 1987 and formally took off the books in 2011, the agency required radio and TV stations to air opposing views on controversial issues.
Pai expressed alarm that the FCC could soon start questioning why Fox spends so much time covering the attacks in Benghazi, or why NBC has focused on the controversy over lane closures in New Jersey.
House Republicans made a similar accusation in December, claiming the FCC was working on a “Fairness Doctrine 2.0.”
“Given the widespread calls for the commission to respect the First Amendment and stay out of the editorial decisions of reporters and broadcasters, we were shocked to see that the FCC is putting itself back in the business of attempting to control the political speech of journalists,” Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee wrote in a letter to the FCC.
“It is wrong, it is unconstitutional, and we urge you to put a stop to this most recent attempt to engage the FCC as the ‘news police.’
The controversy stems from a study the agency plans to conduct on “critical information needs.” The FCC is required by law to study ways to eliminate barriers to entry for small media businesses.
Among other things, the agency plans to ask TV journalists about their “news philosophy” and “the process by which stories are selected.” The study will gather data on “perceived station bias” and “perceived responsiveness to underserved populations.” The FCC also wants to examine how local TV stations cover “critical information” such as “economic opportunities” and the “environment”.
There have been many more instances of cases sent to the Supreme Court and end runs by states around civil rights and liberties like the christianists’ obsession with ending a woman’s right to an abortion without exception in the first two trimesters. We’re beginning to see some of the final steps in the plan this year. We’ve watched the court gut the Voting Rights Act. Are they now set to gut the major provisions of the Fair Housing Act?
A sharply divided US Supreme Court on Wednesday took up a challenge to the Fair Housing Act (FHA) in an action that liberal critics say could gut the major civil rights provision.
At issue in a case from Dallas, Texas, is whether the housing law authorizes lawsuits over racially neutral measures that nonetheless disproportionately impact minority residents.
Liberals support the so-called disparate impact theory of civil rights enforcement, while conservatives warn that such an approach could lead to racial quotas in housing and other areas.
The case has attracted significant attention, with friend-of-the-court briefs filed by various civil rights groups, 17 states, and 20 cities and counties. On the other side, briefs have been filed by a number of conservative groups and business associations, including insurance companies, banks, finance companies, and home builders.
The FHA prohibits anyone from refusing to sell, rent, or otherwise make unavailable a house or apartment to a person because of their race, religion, or national origin. There is no dispute about this aspect of the law.
After the FHA was enacted in 1968, federal courts and agencies began embracing a broader interpretation of the law’s scope, concluding that, in addition to barring intentional discrimination, the statute also authorizes lawsuits when housing decisions disproportionately harm minority groups.
The case before the high court involves a lawsuit challenging decisions by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs in awarding tax credits for low-income housing in Dallas. The Housing Department sought to provide new affordable housing in areas where existing housing was blighted or nonexistent. It sought to do so under race-neutral criteria.
Despite that goal, not everyone was satisfied with the agency’s performance. A Dallas-based group seeking to foster racial integration, the Inclusive Communities Project, sued the Housing Department because it said the agency had failed to provide adequate opportunities for low-income housing in Dallas’ more affluent suburbs.
Also percolating its way through Congress is a ban on all abortions after 20 weeks based on the nonscientific nonsense that the nervous system of a fetus is developed enough at that point to experience pain. It is not. It’s the usual, sneaky, lying way that religionists use to confuse the easily confused. A controversial provision caused the bill to be tabled. Republican Congresswomen were upset by a redefinition of rape tucked away in the bill that sought to ensure that only narrowly approved definitions of “rape” would be treated differently.
It’s one thing to campaign on stopping abortion—it has been a largely successful GOP plank since Roe v. Wade, and one that helped create a juggernaut connection between evangelical Christians and the Republican Party. (Yes, there have been occasional hiccups.) But it’s a different and more complicated matter to actually institute sweeping restrictions successfully.
Republicans have sought for years to ban abortions after 20 weeks. (Molly Redden has a definitive history.) The House GOP has been trying directly for the last few years, but each attempt has come to nought. Besides, even a successful House bill would have run into the Democratic Senate. But with a newly enormous majority in the House and a newly minted majority in the Senate, Republicans finally had a chance to get a bill to the president. While Obama would surely reject it, it would be a powerful political gesture and please the party’s pro-life allies. Even better, they had the opportunity to schedule the vote to coincide with the March for Life in Washington on Thursday.
They almost made it, but then the GOP coalition fell apart—not on wavering opposition to abortion overall, but on the technicalities. Like many such proposals, the bill would have allowed for exceptions in a few limited cases, such as rape. This bill made rape an exception, but only if a woman reported it to law enforcement. As Ed O’Keefe reports, that set off alarms for a bloc of female Republican lawmakers. They worried that the rape-reporting restriction was too strict, and that the bill would alienate young voters and women from the party. And so Wednesday evening, GOP leaders abruptly yanked the bill. Instead, the House passed a less restrictive bill Thursday, permanently banning federal money from going to pay for abortions. A ban already exists, but it has to be renewed every year.
The vise in which the party finds itself is easy to understand but hard to loosen. On the one hand, the party’s religious base has worked hard for Republicans and expects to see results, and most elected officeholders are personally pro-life. (Pulling the bill when thousands of the most fervent pro-lifers are in Washington must be an especially bitter pill for leaders.) But everyone knows the GOP faces a demographic time bomb, since its voters are older and whiter and more pro-life than the general population, so it’s risky to do anything that might make it harder to win them over.
North Carolina’s Renee Ellmers, one of the prominent dissenters in this case and now a target for grassroots conservative fury, is no swing-district moderate. She won reelection in November by defeating American Idol also-ran Clay Aiken by a whopping 18 points. Ellmers removed her name as a sponsor, then said she would vote for the bill—but still requested that no vote be held until concerns could be addressed.
It’s a surprising and little-known fact that opinions about abortion have barely budged in the American public in the 42 years since Roe. As Karlyn Bowman and Jennifer Marsico wrote for The Atlantic, despite years of heated debate, a slight majority of Americans still consistently back legal abortion, even as they personally oppose it. The GOP has found great success at enacting restrictions in states it dominates.
Indeed, it seems that Republican men want certain exemptions to the act of “rape”. It’s amazing to see that Republican women rebelled at the idea of “legitimate rape”.
In sum, some Republican women basically shamed the House into dropping the vote for the bill, mostly because they’re worried it’s going to kick off another “legitimate rape” debacle as male Republicans go on cable TV to brag about the bill and are asked to explain why they only allow for rape exceptions if the victims have reported to the police.
What’s really amazing about this story is that Rep. Renee Ellmers and other female Republicans were pretty much guaranteed to support the bill if the male Republicans allowed for what is really a minor tweak in the language, allowing the rape exception to cover all rape victims, not just the minority that file police reports. After all, this bill is just a symbolic gesture, a wet kiss to the Bible-thumpers amassing on the Hill today for the annual rite of lady-hating sex phobia known as the March for Life. Obama was going to veto it anyway. They had nothing to lose by expanding the definition of “rape” to mean any time a man forces sex on a woman. In fact, they should have welcomed the change, because the original language would have meant reporters asking male Republicans why they require women to file police reports to be believed, which in turn means someone was bound to start talking about “legitimate rape”. Ellmers is hardly some kind of political genius. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see where this was headed.
So I’m forced to conclude the reason that so many male Republicans were unwilling to concede this teeny weeny issue is that it was really important to them to pass a bill that formally suggests that women frequently lie about being raped and should be assumed to be lying until a man, in this case a police officer, blesses her account of what happened.
It would be easy to see all of this as the last vestiges of old, white male privilege. Afterall, the news is full of things like this: “A Shocking Number of Americans Under 30 Have No Religion — This Country Is Going to Change.” Again, I keep hoping that we’ll be able to dance on the graves of the Koch Brothers, Pat Robertson, Antonin Scalia, Phyliss Schafly and the like and that it will all go away. Still, it took like 40 years for them to undo so many things. It seems like it will take longer than that to put it all back together again and actually make progress.
And as the Keystone Pipeline Boondoggle snakes its way through this very corrupt Congress, we get news of two pipeline disasters. The first one is in Montana.
A second large oil spill into Montana’s Yellowstone River in less than four years is reviving questions about oversight of the nation’s aging pipeline network.
Investigators and company officials on Wednesday were trying to determine the cause of the 40,000-gallon spill that contaminated downstream water supplies in the city of Glendive.
Sen. Jon Tester said Saturday’s spill from the decades-old Poplar Pipeline was avoidable, but “we just didn’t have the folks on the ground” to prevent it.
The Montana Democrat told The Associated Press more frequent inspections by regulators are needed, and older pipelines should face stricter safety standards.
“We need to take a look at some of these pipelines that have been in the ground for half a century and say, ‘Are they still doing a good job?'” Tester said.
The latest spill comes as Republicans and some Democrats, including Tester, want the Obama administration to approve TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the Gulf.
Keystone would cross the Yellowstone roughly 20 miles upstream of the Poplar Pipeline spill.
Almost 3 million gallons of saltwater drilling waste spilled from a North Dakota pipeline earlier this month, a spill that’s now being called the state’s largest since the North Dakota oil boom began.
The brine, which leaked from a ruptured pipeline about 15 miles from the city of Williston, has affected two creeks, but it doesn’t currently pose a threat to drinking water or public health. The pipeline’s operator — Summit Midstream Partners — discovered the spill on Jan. 6, but officials didn’t find out about the true size of the spill until this week.
The pipeline company has been trying to clean up the spill by vacuuming water from the creek, but in doing so, they’re also capturing a lot of fresh water.
“The problem is that … the creekbed is kinda being replenished with water so we extract, it fills; we extract, it fills,” John Morgan, a spokesman for Summit Midstream told the Grand Forks-Herald.
North Dakota Department of Health Environmental Health Section Chief Dave Glatt said he hasn’t seen any impacts to wildlife yet, but officials won’t likely know the full impact until all the ice melts. Officials have discovered chloride concentrations in Blacktail Creek as high as 92,000 milligrams per liter — far higher than normal concentrations of about 10 to 20 milligrams per liter.
“That has the ability to kill aquatic life and so we’ll want to see if the aquatic life was able to get out of the way, and if they weren’t, how badly they were impacted,” Glatt said.
Greed, religious extremism, and bigotry! Say hello to SCOTUS and the new Congress!
I find all of this very, very depressing. What’s on your reading and blogging list today?