Totally Tuesday Reads: Mounting Trump Troubles

Saturday Night Clementine Hunter (1886/87–1988) Melrose Plantation, Natchitoches, Louisiana c. 1968

Good Day, Sky Dancers!

I’m still trying to recover and finish up with the usual end-of-term things. I took some time last night to catch up with some of the headlines. I thought I’d share the work of Black American Folk Artist Clementine Hunter with you since the Juneteenth holiday is approaching. It’s always a good time to remind Republicans that Black Americans have made unique contributions to our country.

The Stolen Documents Case is heating up for Donald Trump. We learned last night that “Prosecutors Sought Records on Trump’s Foreign Business Deals Since 2017. The special counsel scrutinizing the former president’s handling of classified documents issued a subpoena to the Trump Organization seeking records related to seven countries.” Is that the sounds of chickens coming home to roost I hear? It’s just the feral roosters wandering the canal behind my house crowing their little beaks off, but it seems like an appropriate sound effect. This is reported by the New York Times.

Federal prosecutors overseeing the investigation into former President Donald J. Trump’s handling of classified documents have issued a subpoena for information about Mr. Trump’s business dealings in foreign countries since he took office, according to two people familiar with the matter.

It remains unclear precisely what the prosecutors were hoping to find by sending the subpoena to Mr. Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, or when it was issued. But the subpoena suggests that investigators have cast a wider net than previously understood as they scrutinize whether he broke the law in taking sensitive government materials with him upon leaving the White House and then not fully complying with demands for their return.

The subpoena — drafted by the office of the special counsel, Jack Smith — sought details on the Trump Organization’s real estate licensing and development dealings in seven countries: China, France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Oman, according to the people familiar with the matter. The subpoena sought the records for deals reached since 2017, when Mr. Trump was sworn in as president.

The Trump Organization swore off any foreign deals while he was in the White House, and the only such deal Mr. Trump is known to have made since then was with a Saudi-based real estate company to license its name to a housing, hotel and golf complex that will be built in Oman. He struck that deal last fall just before announcing his third presidential campaign.

The push by Mr. Smith’s prosecutors to gain insight into the former president’s foreign business was part of a subpoena — previously reported by The New York Times — that was sent to the Trump Organization and sought records related to Mr. Trump’s dealings with a Saudi-backed golf venture known as LIV Golf, which is holding tournaments at some of his golf clubs. (Mr. Trump’s arrangement with LIV Golf was reached well after he removed documents from the White House.)

Clementine Hunter Mural. In 1955, at the age of 68, Hunter painted the top floor of the African House (an outbuilding of Melrose Plantation) during a three-month period. The painting consisted of nine large panels and several small connecting panels which encircled the room and depicted the story of the Cane River country.

Yes. Indeed! That’s the sound of Donald’s Karma ripening. Here’s more. This is from CNBC. “Trump faces $10 million defamation claim by E. Jean Carroll after CNN town hall remarks.” The power of narcissism compels him!

E. Jean Carroll filed court papers Monday seeking “very substantial” monetary damages from Donald Trump for making scathing remarks about her at a CNN town hall a day after the former president lost a $5 million lawsuit to the writer.

Carroll now is seeking no less than $10 million from Trump in damages in her original lawsuit in light of what he said May 10 on CNN.

The move came as her lawyers asked a Manhattan federal court judge for permission to amend that first defamation lawsuit, which she lodged against Trump in 2019, to reflect his new statements on CNN about her, which they say also are defamatory.

“Trump’s defamatory statements post-verdict show the depth of his malice toward Carroll since it is hard to imagine defamatory conduct that could possibly be more motivated by hatred, ill will, or spite,” the proposed amended complaint said.

“This conduct supports a very substantial punitive damages award in Carroll’s favor both to punish Trump, to deter him from engaging in further defamation, and to deter others from doing the same,” the complaint said.

Carroll’s second lawsuit, filed in late 2022 and alleging rape and defamation, ended with a jury in that court after less than three hours of deliberations finding Trump liable for sexually abusing her and for defaming her last fall when he denied her allegations.

Trump’s lawyer Joseph Tacopina, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday, filed a notice of appeal of that verdict.

While we’re on the topic of that CNN “town hall” and Karma, let’s look at this headline! This is from Justin Baragona, writing for The Daily Beast: “Here’s How Bad CNN’s Post-Trump Town Hall Ratings Have Been.”

More than a week after CNN’s disastrous town hall with former President Donald Trump, the negative impact the fiasco had on the network’s ratings is coming into clearer focus. Last week, the cable news pioneer suffered its lowest-rated week since June 2015, averaging just 429,000 total daily viewers from Monday-Friday. CNN was also down double digits compared to the same week last year in both total viewership and in the key advertising demographic of viewers ages 25-54. MSNBC more than doubled CNN’s daily audience, drawing 976,000 total viewers, while Fox News averaged 1.4 million. Fox News was down 41 percent in the key demo year-to-year and 24 percent in total viewers, having seen its ratings plummet as angry right-wingers flee after Tucker Carlson’s shock firing. In fact, Fox’s post-Tucker weekday demo audience is the lowest its been since the first week of September 2001. Ratings data shows that primetime is where both Fox and CNN are suffering the most. Since the town hall, CNN has seen several of its weeknight hours—including Anderson Cooper—fall behind Newsmax, the fringe-right channel that has surged since Carlson’s ouster. And on Friday night, the channel’s much-hyped interview show hosted by Chris Wallace averaged only 224,000 total viewers at 10 p.m., drawing 60,000 fewer viewers than Newsmax’s offering. While Fox News still led in both total and demo viewership in weeknight primetime last week, the conservative cable giant’s overall audience was down 38 percent and the demo viewership dropped an eye-popping 60 percent. MSNBC, on the other hand, saw its demo audience shoot up 44 percent.

Clementine Hunter “Playing Cards, circa 1970.

Way to divide the country even more, you idiots! The fallout from the overturn of Roe v. Wade continues. This is from NPR. It’s written by Julie Rovner. “Abortion bans drive off doctors and close clinics, putting other health care at risk.” This doesn’t sound “pro-life” at all to me.

The rush in conservative states to ban abortion after the overturn of Roe v. Wade is resulting in a startling consequence that abortion opponents may not have considered: fewer medical services available for all women living in those states.

Doctors are showing — through their words and actions — that they are reluctant to practice in places where making the best decision for a patient could result in huge fines or even a prison sentence. And when clinics that provide abortions close their doors, all the other services offered there also shut down, including regular exams, breast cancer screenings, and contraception.

The concern about repercussions for women’s health is being raised not just by abortion rights advocates. One recent warning comes from Jerome Adams, who served as surgeon general in the Trump administration and is now working on health equity issues at Purdue University in Indiana.

In a recent tweet thread, Adams wrote that “the tradeoff of a restricted access (and criminalizing doctors) only approach to decreasing abortions could end up being that you actually make pregnancy less safe for everyone, and increase infant and maternal mortality.”

Untitled (Miss Cammie with Ducks) by Clementine Hunter, ca. 1965

Thank goodness my daughter’s practice in Seattle, Washington, is safe from this nonsense. Still, it is certainly creating horrid problems in my state and the surrounding states where Republicans have hurried to end access to reproductive care. Michelle Goldberg writes this Op-Ed for the New York Times today about the lives of 13 women in Texas. “You Cannot Hear These 13 Women’s Stories and Believe the Anti-Abortion Narrative.”

It’s increasingly clear that it’s not safe to be pregnant in states with total abortion bans. Since the end of Roe v. Wade, there have been a barrage of gutting stories about women in prohibition states denied care for miscarriages or forced to continue nonviable pregnancies. Though some in the anti-abortion movement publicly justify this sort of treatment, others have responded with a combination of denial, deflection and conspiracy theorizing.

Some activists have blamed the pro-choice movement for spooking doctors into not intervening when pregnancies go horribly wrong. “Abortion advocates are spreading the dangerous lie that lifesaving care is not or may not be permitted in these states, leading to provider confusion and poor outcomes for women,” said a report by the anti-abortion Charlotte Lozier Institute.

Others have suggested that doctors are deliberately refusing miscarriage treatment, apparently to make anti-abortion laws look bad. “What we’re seeing, I fear, is doctors with an agenda saying, ‘Well, I don’t know what to do’ when, in fact, they do,” the president of Ohio Right to Life said last year.

A new filing in a Texas lawsuit demolishes these arguments. In March, five women represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights sued Texas after enduring medical nightmares when they were refused abortions for pregnancies that had gone awry. Since then, the Center for Reproductive Rights says it has heard from dozens of women in Texas with similar accounts. And this week, eight more women, each with her own harrowing story, joined the suit, which asks a state district court to clarify the scope of emergency medical exceptions to Texas’ abortion ban.

Other Republican Culture War Craziness continues throughout the country. Texas and Florida continue to lead the insanity. “Miami-Dade K-8 bars elementary students from 4 library titles following parent complaint.”

A K-8 school in Miami-Dade County last month issued restrictions for elementary-aged students on three books and one poem after a parent objected to five titles, claiming they included topics that were inappropriate for students and should be removed “from the total environment.” The move — which allows for middle school students at the school to access the titles — is the latest example of districts and schools across the state restricting or removing books from libraries in recent months. For Stephana Ferrell, the director of research and insight at Florida Freedom to Read Project, it underscores a growing trend to redefine what is considered age appropriate, “especially regarding books that address ethnicities, marginalized communities, racism or our history of racism.”

“Books written for students grades K-5 are being pushed to middle school [libraries and] out of reach for the students they were intended for,” she said. The books aren’t being banned from the district, she argued, “but they’re banned for the students they were intended for.” In March, Daily Salinas, a parent of two students at at Bob Graham Education Center in Miami Lakes, challenged The ABCs of Black History, Cuban Kids, Countries in the News Cuba, the poem The Hills We Climb, which was recited by poet Amanda Gorman at the inauguration of President Joe Biden, and Love to Langston for what she said included references of critical race theory, “indirect hate messages,” gender ideology and indoctrination, according to records obtained by the Florida Freedom to Read Project and shared with the Miami Herald. In an interview with the Herald on Monday, Salinas said she “is not for eliminating or censoring any books.” Instead, she wants materials to be appropriate and for students “to know the truth” about Cuba, she said in Spanish. Get unlimited digital access.

This brings questions. How illiterate do they want our children to be? How disenfranchised do they want them to feel? Can they actually read?

As recently as 2020, “To Kill a Mockingbird” was one of the most frequently challenged books nationwide, largely because of its use of racial slurs, according to the American Library Association.

Today, members of the same political coalition that once mocked progressives for demanding “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” wish to shield children from the potential trauma of reading “Heather Has Two Mommies.” Those who once admonished students for being snowflakes now apparently believe children are too fragile to mount a musical with a gay character — or access reference books on puberty.

Butamid debates about how children will process texts invoking racism or sexual identity, a much more basic question plagues our educational system: whether children can process texts, period.

Parents around the country generally think their children have recovered from disruptions to schooling during the pandemic, surveys show. They haven’t. As of last spring, students were on average half a year behind in math and one-third of a year behind in reading, according to research from a team at Harvard, Stanford, Dartmouth, Johns Hopkins and the testing company NWEA.

Not that the U.S. educational system was so impressive relative to thosein our peer countries pre-covid, either.

In Oklahoma, which ranks 49th in education nationwide, the state’s top school official is devoting energy to banning use of the word “diverse” in computer science curriculums because it is too “woke.” In a telling Florida incident, a science teacher was investigated this month for showing her students a Disney film. Her transgression, apparently, was featuring a movie with a gay character — not, as you might imagine, screening a fictional film as an ecology lesson. (I speak as a product of the Florida school system, where my seventh-grade physics unit revolved around a screening of “Flubber.”)

It is dishearteningthat the culture wars have come for not just lesson plans but librarians, too. Librarians are instrumental in promoting literacy. They guide students toward texts that will absorb and engage them. They nudge kids toward books, films, periodicals and online resources that will answer burning, sometimes embarrassing questions.

Window Shade by Clementine Hunter, 1950s

So, what motivates a 19-year-old Asian-American from Missouri to do this? “19-year-old arrested on multiple charges after crashing into barriers near the White House. The suspect, identified as Sai Varshith Kandula, made threatening statements about the White House at the scene of Monday night’s incident, a law enforcement official told NBC News. A Nazi flag was seized by authorities at the scene.”

A 19-year-old Missouri man, accused of driving a truck into barriers near the White House, made incriminating statements that have led investigators to believe he was seeking to harm the president, officials said Tuesday.

The driver was Sai Varshith Kandula of Chesterfield, U.S. Park Police said Tuesday morning.

The charges against Kandula for allegedly “threatening to kill, kidnap, inflict harm on a president, vice president, or family member,” stem from statements he made to multiple law enforcement agencies, according to a Secret Service representative.

The suspect was interviewed by Secret Service investigators Monday night, the agency representative said, during the ongoing probe that also involves United States Park Police, the FBI and U.S. Capitol Police.

Kandula was further charged with assault with a dangerous weapon, reckless operation of a motor vehicle and trespassing.

My next question is, why this guy identifies with NAZIs? That’s an Indian surname. This hate stuff is just freaking confusing.

I think I need a nap and food or both. Have a great week!

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

Lazy Caturday Reads

The Cat by an open Window (Aix-en-Provence) Charles Camoin

The Cat by an open Window (Aix-en-Provence) Charles Camoin

Happy Caturday!!

It is just me, or is the political news getting so complex and frightening as to be overwhelming? I’ve been looking around the internet for stories to post today, and it seems to me there is way too much going wrong. Is it my own anxiety and depression interfering with my judgment? Or is the country really on the brink of disaster? I hope it’s just me.

Let’s see, there is the most immediate crisis: the debt ceiling impasse. Then there’s frightening long-term threat of Donald Trump and his followers. There’s the building threat of Ron DeSantis. And there are more frightening issues: the Supreme Court and the effects of their recent decisions on women–abortion bans in many states, and the possibility of limits on birth control. There’s also Russia’s war on Ukraine–which I’ve pretty much given up on following–and the danger to our country posed by Republicans who support Russia in that conflict. And of course, for the longer-term, there are the threats to the environment and to humans from climate change. Have our lives always been this complicated?

I’m going to start by recommending a very long essay by Michael Tomasky at The New Republic: Donald Trump Against America. The subhead is, “He loves an America of his twisted imagination. He hates—and fears—the America that actually exists. And if he gets back to the White House … look out.” I haven’t actually finished reading this article–it’s practically book-length, but I’ve read quite a bit and plan to go back and finish it. It’s a look at the modern history of U.S. politics and an analysis of the current negativity of the Republican party as opposed to what Americans actually believe and want today. Republicans are completely out of step with modern American attitudes, and yet they have outsize power to affect our reality because of their control of the Supreme Court, Congress, and state governments.

Now for the most immediate issue–the debt ceiling fight.

Talking Points Memo: Growing List Of Dems Urge Biden To Cite 14th Amendment To Sidestep McCarthy’s Debt-Ceiling Hostage Crisis.

A growing group of Senate Democrats is urging President Joe Biden to seriously consider invoking the 14th Amendment to declare the debt ceiling unconstitutional, a strategy that — if upheld by the courts — could avert a looming default without any concessions to House Republicans, who have used their slim majority to take the debt ceiling hostage.

Sens. Tina Smith (D-MN), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Ed Markey (D-MA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have been circulating a letter amongst their colleagues this week to collect support for Biden to invoke the 14th Amendment and lift the debt ceiling without any help from House Republicans.

Suellen Ross

By Suellen Ross

“We write to urgently request that you prepare to exercise your authority under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, which clearly states: ‘the validity of the public debt of the United States … shall not be questioned,’” the draft letter reads. “Using this authority would allow the United States to continue to pay its bills on-time, without delay, preventing a global economic catastrophe.”

As the so-called “x-date” — when House Republicans may push the country to default on its debts — draws closer, legal scholars have pointed out that the 14th Amendment seemingly declares the debt ceiling unconstitutional. It’s an argument that also gained traction during the Obama-era debt-ceiling standoffs, though that Democratic administration ultimately chose not to embrace it.

Now, some Democrats are saying the Biden White House should give it a hard look, arguing that the Civil War-era amendment requires the administration to continue to pay the U.S.’s bills regardless of the early 20th century debt ceiling statute, and Republicans’ 21st century attempts to take it hostage. A list of demands passed by the Republican-controlled House last month includes spending cuts to some of Democrats’ most prized priorities.

At Politico, Adam Cancryn claims that’s not likely: Biden’s 14th Amendment message to progressives: It ain’t gonna happen.

Progressive lawmakers renewed their call for President Joe Biden to bypass Congress to avert a default after the abrupt cancellation of debt ceiling talks on Friday.

But the White House remains resistant. It issued a subdued statement indicating it sees no reason to pull the plug on talks. And privately, its message has been even blunter.

Senior Biden officials have told progressive activists and lawmakers in recent days that they do not see the 14th Amendment — which says the “validity of the public debt” cannot be questioned — as a viable means of circumventing debt ceiling negotiations. They have argued that doing so would be risky and destabilizing, according to three people familiar with the discussions.

The White House has studied the issue for months, with some aides concluding that Biden would likely have the authority to declare the debt limit unconstitutional as a last-ditch way to sidestep default. But Biden advisers have told progressives that they see it as a poor option overall, fearing such a move would trigger a pitched legal battle, undermine global faith in U.S. creditworthiness and damage the economy. Officials have warned that even the appearance of more seriously considering the 14th Amendment could blow up talks that are already quite delicate.

“They have not ruled it out,” said one adviser to the White House, granted anonymity to speak candidly about discussions. “But it is not currently part of the plan.”

Well, at least they haven’t completely ruled it out.

A Cat Basking in the Sun, Bruno Lijefors

A Cat Basking in the Sun, Bruno Lijefors

Sara Chaney Cambon at The Wall Street Journal: Debt-Ceiling Standoff Could Start a Recession, But Default Would Be Worse.

Prolonged debt-ceiling squabbling could push the U.S. economy into recession, while a government default on its obligations might touch off a severe financial crisis.

U.S. lawmakers are negotiating over raising the federal government’s borrowing limit and may have just days to act before the standoff reverberates through the economy.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said that the government could become unable to pay bills on time by June 1. In that case, the Treasury Department could halt payments, such as to federal employees or veterans.

In a worst-case scenario, a failure to pay holders of U.S. government debt, a linchpin of the global financial system, could trigger severe recession and send stock prices plummeting and borrowing costs soaring.

Many economists don’t expect a default for the first time in U.S. history. But they outline three potential ways the standoff could affect the economy and financial system, ranging from not great to extremely scary.

Camon discusses the likely results of three scenarios:

1) Last minute deal

The economy is already slowing due to rising interest rates, with many forecasters expecting a recession this year. While lawmakers haggle, uncertainty could cause consumers, investors and businesses to retrench, increasing the chances of a recession, said Joel Prakken, chief U.S. economist at S&P Global Market Intelligence.

Workers aren’t likely to lose their jobs, but the unpredictability of the economic outlook could cause them to put off purchases.

Stock prices could start to decline as June 1 nears….“Even if we get an agreement before we run out of resources there still could be a legacy effect of the uncertainty that restrains economic growth,” Prakken said.

2) Deal after deadline

If negotiations extend beyond Thursday June 1, economists expect a more severe reaction from financial markets, as the possibility for default looks more real.

“The shock would tend to accelerate quite rapidly” on June 1, said Gregory Daco, chief economist at Ernst & Young.

If consumers’ retirement and investment accounts suddenly shrink, they could sharply curtail their spending, the lifeblood of the U.S. economy. Businesses could pause hiring and investment plans.

3) No deal

If no deal is reached and the government can’t pay all its bills for days or weeks, repercussions would be enormous.

“There would be chaos in the global financial system because Treasurys are so important,” said Wendy Edelberg, an economist at the Brookings Institution. “What happens when that thing that everybody is benchmarking themselves to proves to be one of the riskiest things out there?”

Ernst & Young’s Daco said a default would trigger a recession more severe than the 2007-09 downturn.

Read more details at the WSJ link. If you can’t get in with my link, try using the one at Memeorandum.

A couple more stories on the debt limit impasse:

Jason Linkins at The New Republic: The Beltway Media Is Spreading Debt Limit Misinformation. The political press bears a share of the blame for the fact we are once again on the precipice of default.

Carl Hulse at The Washington Post: Finger-Pointing Won’t Save Anyone if Default Leads to Economic Collapse.

Jacobus van Looy White Cat at an Open Window, 1895

Jacobus van Looy, White Cat at an Open Window, 1895

In other news, if Biden manages to win the debt ceiling war, will Republican missteps on the abortion issue help him win in 2024?

CNN: ‘Reap the whirlwind’: Biden and North Carolina Democrats see 2024 edge in GOP abortion ban.

North Carolina Republicans jumped out on a limb this week when they passed a controversial new abortion ban. Democrats are now rushing to saw it off.

The state GOP legislative supermajority’s decision to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the measure sharpened the stakes for next year’s elections – and gave Democrats new impetus to invest up and down the North Carolina ballot.

At the top of the ticket, President Joe Biden’s campaign is already drawing up plans to focus on the ban, which outlaws most abortions after 12 weeks, in its bid to win a state last captured by a Democratic presidential candidate in 2008. Former President Donald Trump’s victory there in 2020 was his narrowest of the election, and North Carolina is critical to any Republican’s path to the White House.

The shock waves from the brief but fierce abortion fight – 12 days that saw the bill pass, get vetoed by Cooper, then resurrected by Republican lawmakers – are also expected to reach into next year’s races for governor, state attorney general and both legislative chambers. With Cooper term-limited, the campaign to succeed him is expected to be the most competitive governor’s race of 2024, potentially pitting far-right GOP Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson against Democratic Attorney General and Cooper protégé Josh Stein.

The race to succeed Cooper, who has for years beat back the Republican agenda in North Carolina with his veto pen, will be especially heated if Robinson wins the Republican nomination. Democrats are already highlighting his absence from the legislature during the abortion votes – arguing that he is trying to distance himself from the ban. The Republican had tried to avoid publicly commenting on the issue in recent weeks – a reversal from his usual posture – though he told a conservative radio host the day after Republicans overrode Cooper’s veto that North Carolina continued to “move the ball” on abortion.

Read more at CNN.

People have been asking where Ron DeSantis got the money to pay for his round the world and cross country political tour, and The New York Times’ Alexandra Berzon and Rebecca Davis O’Brient got the goods: Air DeSantis: The Private Jets and Secret Donors Flying Him Around.

For Ron DeSantis, Sunday, Feb. 19, was the start of another busy week of not officially running for president.

That night, he left Tallahassee on a Florida hotelier’s private jet, heading to Newark before a meet-and-greet with police officers on Staten Island on Monday morning. Next, he boarded a twin-jet Bombardier to get to a speech in the Philadelphia suburbs, before flying to a Knights of Columbus hall outside Chicago, and then home to his day job as governor of Florida.


Rapp and Johan, Bruno Liljefors, 1886

The tour and others like it were made possible by the convenience of private air travel — and by the largess of wealthy and in some cases secret donors footing the bill.

Ahead of an expected White House bid, Mr. DeSantis has relied heavily on his rich allies to ferry him around the country to test his message and raise his profile. Many of these donors are familiar boosters from Florida, some with business interests before the state, according to a New York Times review of Mr. DeSantis’s travel. Others have been shielded from the public by a new nonprofit, The Times found, in an arrangement that drew criticism from ethics experts.

Mr. DeSantis, who is expected to formally announce his candidacy next week, is hardly the first politician to take advantage of the speed and comfort of a Gulfstream jet. Candidates and officeholders in both parties have long accepted the benefits of a donor’s plane as worth the political risk of appearing indebted to special interests or out of touch with voters.

But ethics experts said the travel — and specifically the role of the nonprofit — shows how Mr. DeSantis’s prolonged candidate-in-limbo status has allowed him to work around rules intended to keep donors from wielding secret influence. As a declared federal candidate, he would face far stricter requirements for accepting and reporting such donations.

“Voters deserve this information because they have a right to know who is trying to influence their elected officials and whether their leaders are prioritizing public good over the interests of their big-money benefactors,” said Trevor Potter, the president of Campaign Legal Center and a Republican who led the Federal Election Commission. “Governor DeSantis, whether he intends to run for president or not, should be clearly and fully disclosing who is providing support to his political efforts.”

Read the rest at the NYT.

One more important story on one of our huge problems–the Supreme Court.

Ian Ward at Politico Magazine: The Supreme Court Is Hiding Important Decisions From You.

As the Supreme Court begins to release its written opinions from its most recent term, much of the public’s attention is focused on high-profile cases on affirmative actionelection law and environmental regulation. But according to Stephen Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas Law School, this narrow focus on the most headline-grabbing decisions overlooks a more troubling change in the High Court’s behavior: The justices are conducting more and more of the court’s most important business out of the public eye, through a procedural mechanism known as “the shadow docket.”

Jamie Wyeth, Maine Coon CatQuantitatively speaking, cases arising from the shadow docket — which include everything apart from the court’s annual average of 60 to 70 signed decisions — have long made up a majority of the justices’ work. But as Vladeck documents in his new book, The Shadow Docket, published this week, the court’s use of the shadow docket changed dramatically during the Trump years, when the court’s conservative majority used a flurry of emergency orders — unsigned, unexplained and frequently released in the middle of the night — to greenlight some of the Trump administration’s most controversial policies.

“What’s remarkable is that the court repeatedly acquiesced and acquiesced [to the Trump administration], and almost always without any explanation,” Vladeck said when I spoke with him. “And they did it in ways that marked a pretty sharp break from how the court would have handled those applications in the past.”

It wasn’t just the frequency of the court’s shadow docket decisions that changed during the Trump years; it was also the scope of those decisions. Whereas the justices have traditionally used emergency orders as temporary measures to pause a case until they can rule on its merits, the current court has increasingly used emergency orders to alter the basic contours of election law, immigration policy, religious liberty protections and abortion rights — all without an extended explanation or legal justification. To illustrate this shift, Vladeck points to the court’s emergency order in September 2021 that allowed Texas’s six-week abortion ban to take effect — a move that effectively undermined Roe v. Wade nine months before the court officially overturned it in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

“It really highlights a problem that’s endemic to how we talk about the court, which is that we fixate on the formality of the court’s decision and explanations and downplay the practical effect of its rulings, whether or not they come with those explanations,” Vladeck explained.

Read the rest at Politico.

That’s it for me today. What stories are you following?

Wednesday Reads: “Shut the hell up.”

I have to start with this:

From the link:

One Wednesday in mid-April, Harris removed her headphones and heard the younger women shouting through their cell doors. That in itself wasn’t unusual, but the conversation soon had Harris at her own door. They were giving advice about avoiding pregnancy—and all of their advice was wrong.

“You gotta let him in yo butthole before yo biscuit and be a toaster strudel, not a twinkie,” they shouted to a woman who was scheduled for release within a few months.

Translation: To avoid pregnancy, a woman should have anal sex before vaginal sex. She should also be sure that the man ejaculated on her, not inside her.

Harris had been a nurse before her incarceration. Alarmed at the egregiously wrong advice, she went to her door to make sure that the women were armed with facts rather than myths that would lead to unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.

So…Harris began to talk to the women, and set them straight:

She started with sex education, and then she moved on to talk about consent, trying to explain what it was—and what it wasn’t. She wasn’t as successful at that, she told The Nation. Many of the young women had already been sexually exploited by adult men in their short lives, she said, but because they had accepted favors or items, or because the person had not forced them into sex, they believed they had consented.

Then, a woman asked about so-called “partial birth abortion,” a nonmedical phrase the anti-abortion movement created to stigmatize later abortion care.

“There’s no such thing,” Harris told them. She explained that most abortions are now medication abortions, meaning that a person need not undergo a procedural abortion to terminate their pregnancy.

That was what drew the ire of the guard on duty—a young man in his early 20s whom Harris had never noticed before. But that day, he made his presence—and his views about abortion—known. 

From her cell, Harris could see in only one direction. She did not see the man during the first part of her impromptu sex education discussion. But once she began dispelling myths about abortion, he stormed into view, yelling at her to shut up and threatening not only a disciplinary ticket for violating prison rules but even a new criminal charge, which could lead to additional prison time.

In response, the younger women cursed him out, even telling the officer that he was a “partial birth abortion.”

The officer took Harris’s identification card to write a disciplinary ticket and he threatened to file a new criminal charge against her, Harris said. After he stormed off, Harris began making phone calls from her prison-issued tablet to find out if the state had passed any post-Dobbs laws that might allow new charges to be brought against her.

“The legislature has not passed a law that criminalizes speaking about abortion,” Sara Ainsworth, the senior legal and policy director of If/When/How. Even Texas’s SB 8, which prohibits abortion after six weeks and allows individuals to file civil lawsuits against anyone who “aids and abets” an abortion, does not criminalize abortion itself or talking about abortion.

But, Ainsworth continued, “it’s not surprising that someone is misstating the law and using it to threaten someone else when so many people are confused.”

Can you fucking believe this shit?

From this Yahoo! / Jezebel Link:

To be clear, what Harris did is not illegal in any state. While some states like Texas and South Carolina have floated bills to criminalize “aiding and abetting abortion” and prohibit internet providers from hosting websites with information about self-managed abortion, no laws currently criminalize talking about it. Nonetheless, there’s an overarching culture of confusion surrounding abortion rights post-Roe, which has been exploited by anti-abortion activists—and now, apparently, prisons—to punish people and violate their rights. Local police departments have long exploited confusion and misinformation that equates self-managed abortion with feticide to criminalize pregnant people and those who help them.

Access to sexual health resources like abortion, and even information about these resources, has always been mired in barriers in prisons, where some states even continue to permit prisons to shackle pregnant incarcerated people. Even before Roe fell, one study showed about 70% of incarcerated people didn’t realize they still had a right to abortion. Despite having this right, most prisons made it impossible to access: A study showed the two-thirds of prisons that allow abortions require the pregnant person to pay for all associated costs—an impossible feat considering some prisons pay incarcerated people just $0.08 per hour for their labor.

Harris told The Nation she believes the prison is using her to send a message to other incarcerated people to “shut the hell up.” That sounds about right, to me.

In another newsworthy story from Texass…

No, that ain’t no fucking joke…

Read more details at the Vanity Fair article above.

And if that isn’t enough to make you think Texas is out of hand:

Now the cartoons, via Cagle:

Should have some media wolves in there as well.

This is an open thread.

Finally Friday Reads: E Pluribus Unum

This mural of Lady Justice was painted by W. T. Reed and is located in the courtroom of the Pike County Courthouse in Waverly, Ohio. Captured by Photographer Doris Rapp.

Good Day Sky Dancers!

During the Cold War and Jim Crow periods, pressured by right-wingers and hyper-religionists, our country gravitated from our country’s traditional motto to the theocratic statement “In God (sic) we Trust.”  This happened in 1956.  The symbolism of “out of many, one” was evidently too woke for them back then.  It sounded too much like godless communism.

I think the big assumption was that you could tell a communist by their choice to not drag religion into everything in the tradition of the First Amendment of our Constitution. You may remember the crap the Republicans gave President Obama while visiting Jakarta in 2019 when he spoke of E Pluribus Unum as the motto under which our country was founded.  It was placed on “The Great Seal” of the United States in 1782. 

Moreover, in the 1770s and ’80s Congress opposed a theistic motto for the nation, and many of the founders worked hard to prevent one from being established.

In July 1776, almost immediately after signing the Declaration of Independence, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson were tasked with designing a seal and motto for the new nation. In August John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, that he had proposed the “Choice of Hercules” as the image for the seal. Adams believed that individuals should choose to lead moral personal lives and to devote themselves to civic duty, and he preferred a secular allegory for that moral lesson.

The other two committee members proposed images that drew on Old Testament teachings, but neither shared the beliefs of those today who assert the role of God in our national government. Benjamin Franklin, a deist who did not believe in the divinity of Christ, proposed “Moses lifting up his Wand, and dividing the Red Sea, and Pharaoh, in his Chariot overwhelmed with the Waters.” This motto he believed, captured the principle that “Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God.”

Thomas Jefferson, who later created his own Bible by cutting out all mentions of the miracles of Jesus Christ (as well as his divine birth and resurrection), envisioned “The Children of Israel in the Wilderness, led by a Cloud by day, and a Pillar of Fire by night, and on the other Side Hengist and Horsa, the Saxon Chiefs, from whom We claim the Honour of being descended and whose Political Principles and Form of Government We have assumed.” Of all of his accomplishments, Jefferson selected just three for his tombstone, one of which was writing the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which established a separation of church and state.

The three men worked in consultation with an artist, Eugène Pierre Du Simitière, who rejected all of the ideas of the three committee members. His own first attempt was also rejected by Congress. It would take years and several more committees before Congress would approve the final design, still in use today, of an American bald eagle clutching thirteen arrows in one talon and an olive branch in the other.

Only the motto “E Pluribus Unum” (“from many, one”) survived from the committee on which Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin had served. All had agreed on that motto from the beginning.

The current motto, “In God We Trust,” was developed by a later generation. It was used on some coinage at the height of religious fervor during the upheaval of the Civil War.

It was made the official national motto in 1956, at the height of the Cold War, to signal opposition to the feared secularizing ideology of communism.

In other words, “In God We Trust” is a legacy of founders, but not the founders of the nation. As the official national motto, it is a legacy of the founders of modern American conservatism — a legacy reaffirmed by the current Congress.

The northwest mural, overlooking Main Street, features a Black “Lady Justice” with a scarf covering her eyes, a sword in her right hand, and the scales of justice in her left, ready to deliver “fair and true justice.” Victor Ash. University of Houston-Downtown

It always amazes me when the Tea Party completely misses the history of that event.  Republicans tend to do that. Then, there’s the Second Amendment, where the modern, very recent interpretation written by Justice Scalia (Heller, 2008) was textualized and still is controversial. However, it still stands because, well, that’s why Republicans keep stacking the court. They want to interpret the US Constitution free of all that debate and writings we have to read from historical documents which clearly indicate how absolutely wrong they all are. But that doesn’t matter to them.  They are all convinced that Right-Wing Christian Nationalism is the only interpretation of anything. There are many deep pockets in Right-Wing America to fund the attack on our Constitutional Republic and small d democracy.

Justice Clarence Thompson’s Big Daddy Warbucks is one of the Huge Republican Donors funding the death of all of America’s Better Angels one institution at a time.  It’s not a coincidence that Harlan Crow is in the headlines while we see this headline from Dean Obeidallah. “Tennessee GOP succeeded where MAGA failed on Jan 6: They overturned an election to preserve White Supremacy.”  He adds, “This will only get worse.”  Indeed.

Did you watch any of the Tennesse house’s sham “trial” yesterday?  It belonged more to Wonderland than the United States judicial system.  I was expecting someone to shout “off with their heads” or, more appropriately, “lynch them” to the young black men that dare represent and join their constituents to protest gun violence. Four of five seconds in the legislature well defined their sin.

The event struck me in the same way that watching southern law enforcement turn fire hoses on children during the Civil Rights actions. I was unsurprised to hear that one of them uttered the word uppity. Gerrymandering by such states is the only way they get what they want.  Tennessee and Wisconsin showed us that this week.

The Tennessee GOP’s shocking expulsion of two Black state representatives— Justin Jones and Justin Pearson—from the legislature for simply breaking House rules of decorum was about one thing: Preserving white supremacy.

That is not just my view but also Democratic Tennessee State Senator London Lamar who appeared on my SiriusXM show Thursday night. When I asked how much of the GOP’s expulsion of these two state reps was motivated by white supremacy, the Senator bluntly responded: “All of it.” (The clip is at the bottom of the page.) Senator Lamar also explained how white GOP leaders in the Tennessee legislature have long prevented discussions on racism, even noting that on Thursday a GOP Senator introduced legislation to ban local governments in the state from studying reparations. “This State still very much has issues with racism,” the Senator added.

There is a connection between the Tennessee GOP controlled state legislatures only expelling the two Black state reps—and not the white rep who engaged in the same conduct—and the Jan 6 attack. That terrorist attack incited by Trump was also about preserving white supremacy.

A few facts back that up. First, polls have found that nearly two-thirds of Republicans agree with a core belief of the “great replacement” conspiracy theory that alleges Democrats are encouraging demographic change in the country to replace “more conservative white voters.”  As a 2022 poll found, 68 percent of Republicans responded that they believed that the recent shift in U.S. demographics is “not a natural change but has been motivated by progressive and liberal leaders actively trying to leverage political power by replacing more conservative white voters.”

Fox News Tucker Carlson—who I have long referred to as “Tucker Klansman”— has worked tirelessly to promote that belief in the years before the Jan 6, 2021 attack. Carlson began in 2019 on his top rated show—along with his guests—to fuel the flames of white victimhood by claiming Democrats want to literally replace white Republicans.  Donald Trump also continually played on the white right’s fears with talk of “invasion” of immigrants flooding America and bringing crime.

Jan 6 was a manifestation of that fear of the white right losing power.  Just look at who carried out the attack. While The Proud Boys and members of white right militias got the headlines, a study by the University of Chicago looking at the people arrested tells us more about what truly fueled this: the fear of white people being replaced.  This report found that “the No. 1 belief among insurrectionists—shared by fully 75 percent of respondents—is the “great replacement” of the electorate by the Democratic Party.”

That helps explain why the majority of those arrested did not come from deep Red areas but from places with the greatest demographic change.  As Robert A. Pape, a professor at University of Chicago who led the study noted, the majority of those arrested for the Jan 6 attack came from counties that had lost white population share. The greater the decrease in “non-Hispanic whites,” as the researchers described, the more likely the county was to have spawned an alleged rioter.

More than half of the people arrested for the Jan 6 attack—per Pape’s report—hail from counties where Biden won, adding to the sense that these right wing conservatives were literally losing power.

Justice is Blind. This mural was created by Ronald McDowell, who was commissioned by Jefferson County Court House, Birmingham, Alabama. 2018

Tennessee, the founding location of the KKK, is still dealing with leaving its past.  You may think I was using the term lynching gratuitously earlier. But maybe you didn’t know this. This is from the AP. It’s dated March 2, 2023.  “Tennessee GOP lawmaker apologizes over ‘hanging’ comment.”

A Tennessee Republican lawmaker on Thursday apologized after asking earlier this week if “hanging by a tree” could be added to the state’s execution methods. This comment has shocked Black lawmakers who point to the state’s dark history of lynching.

Rep. Paul Sherrell, who is white, first made the remark Tuesday as a separate lawmaker was introducing legislation to include the firing squad to execute death row inmates.

“I think it’s a very good idea, and I was just wondering about… could I put an amendment on that it would include hanging by a tree, also?” Sherrell asked.

At the time, no one on the legislative committee reprimanded or pushed back against Sherrell’s comments. However, his words gained traction throughout the week, which led to the Republican’s apology on the House floor Thursday.

Joyce Vance reminds us of how recently we had a normal Supreme Court that didn’t encourage making most of the country second-class citizens. “Tennessee  —  In December 1966, the United States Supreme Court unanimously decided a case called Bond v. Floyd.” 

In December 1966, the United States Supreme Court unanimously decided a case called Bond v. Floyd. Julian Bond was a Black man elected to the Georgia legislature.

Several months after his election in June 1965, a civil rights organization that Mr. Bond belonged to issued an anti-war statement about Vietnam, which he subsequently endorsed in statements to the press. White members of the Georgia House challenged Bond’s right to be seated, charging that his statements aided our enemies, violated the Selective Service laws, discredited the House, and were inconsistent with the legislator’s mandatory oath to support the Constitution.

Bond filed a challenge in the House to the petitions against seating him, alleging they were violations of his First Amendment rights and they were racially motivated. The House committee hearing his challenge concluded that Bond should not be seated. He filed a lawsuit, and a three-judge panel in the federal district court in Georgia ruled against him 2-1. Bond filed an appeal under a provision that permitted him to go straight to the United States Supreme Court. While the appeal was pending, he was re-elected to the Georgia House in a special election, and, again, the House refused to seat him. He was elected again in the regular election in 1966, and the Supreme Court decided his case shortly afterwards.

The unanimous Supreme Court decision in Bond’s favor relied upon a famous First Amendment case, New York Times v. Sullivan,holding that although a state may impose a requirement that legislators take an oath of allegiance, it cannot limit their capacity to express views on local or national policy. “[D]ebate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open,” the Court wrote, citing the decision in Sullivan.

The Court’s opinion in Bond concluded with these words: “Legislators have an obligation to take positions on controversial political questions so that their constituents can be fully informed by them, and be better able to assess their qualifications for office; also so they may be represented in governmental debates by the person they have elected to represent them. We therefore hold that the disqualification of Bond from membership in the Georgia House because of his statements violated Bond’s right of free expression under the First Amendment.”

Detroit Artist Fel3000ft. ‘The Justice Wall’.2020

No wonder the Republican states want to hide Black History. They’re trying to repeat the worst, hoping we all live in a vacuum or won’t pay attention to what they say and do.  However, the GOP is losing elections. The most recent election in Wisconsin for a position on its Supreme Court illustrates how even a highly gerrymandered state can still deliver a message and progress when voting. Patrick Marley from the  Washington Post writes this: “With liberals in charge, Wisconsin Supreme Court could rule on these issues.”

Democrats made clear to voters that the Wisconsin Supreme Court election this week centered on one key issue: giving liberals a majority on the court so they can overturn the state’s abortion ban.

But the race was also about getting the votes to redraw gerrymandered legislative and congressional districts. And protecting the outcome of the 2024 presidential election. And, potentially, a long list of other issues.

Wisconsin has a Democratic governor and a Republican legislature, so many of its most consequential disputes are resolved by the state Supreme Court. Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz, a liberal, beat former justice Daniel Kelly, a conservative, by 11 points. When she is sworn in on Aug. 1, liberals will obtain a 4-3 majority, ending a 15-year run of conservative control of the court.

All shall be equal before the law – Graffiti in Cape Town, South Africa

The author follows with a list and discussion of issues that will be decidedly different due to the change. Abortion and redistricting sit right at the top. This epic headline comes from Axios.  “The GOP’s epic losing streak.” 

If Republicans step back and look beyond the legal and social-media spectacle of Donald J. Trump, they’ll see screaming political sirens everywhere they gaze.

Why it matters: The GOP’s political trouble has been unfolding slowly but unmistakably, starting even before Trump’s loss to Joe Biden in 2020.

  1. First, the 2018 House elections were a disaster for Republicans: Democrats had a net gain of 40 seats to take over the House — their largest gain since the post-Watergate election of 1974.
  2. Then Trump lost the presidency.
  3. Next, Republicans blew two runoff elections in Georgia and lost control of the U.S. Senate. The runoffs took place a day before Trump backers stormed the Capitol.
  4. Then, Republicans won the legal fight over abortion as Trump-appointed justices helped to ensure the reversal of Roe v. Wade. But the GOP lost a series of political battles over it afterward — a reflection of polls indicating that most Americans support abortion rights. GOP-led state legislatures have shown no signs of slowing their push to enact stricter abortion bans, suggesting continuing political backlash.
  5. Republicans put high-profile election deniers on the 2022 midterm ballot in key state and federal races — only to see several lose winnable elections.
  6. Republicans blew a chance to control the Senate by nominating too many hard-to-elect-in-a-swing-state Trump facsimiles. Their hopes of a big House majority were erased for the same reason, creating constant headaches for new Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
  7. Just this week, progressive Democrats triumphed in two of this year’s most consequential elections. Brandon Johnson, a teachers’ union organizer, was elected Chicago mayor. In swing state Wisconsin, Democrat-backed Janet Protasiewicz flipped the state Supreme Court to liberals in a landslide, after leaning into her support for abortion rights.
  8. Senate Republicans have been gifted a historically favorable 2024 map — but hard-right candidates who appeal to the GOP base again threaten to inject uncertainty into at least five winnable races.
  9. Trump is driving an agenda dominated by vengeance and victimhood, diverting Republicans from the inflation- and crime-centered messages that helped them in the midterms.

Reality check: Trump, if anything, is stronger and more likely to win the GOP nomination than he was after the November midterms.

This brings me to the poster child for Republican corruption.  That would be Uncle Clarence Thomas.  BostonBoomer gave us a thorough examination of his ongoing luxury trips on the way to the gates of hell.  This is written by Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern for Slate. “Clarence Thomas Broke the Law, and It Isn’t Even Close It probably won’t matter. But it should.”

ProPublica’s scrupulously reported new piece on Justice Clarence Thomas’ decadeslong luxury travel on the dime of a single GOP megadonor will probably not shock you at all. Sure, the dollar amounts spent are astronomical, and of course the justice failed to report any of it, and of course the megadonor insists that he and Thomas are dear old friends, so of course the superyacht and the flights on the Bombardier Global 5000 jet and the resorts are all perfectly benign. So while the details are shocking, the pattern here is hardly a new one. This is a longstanding ethics loophole that has been exploited by parties with political interests in cases before the court to curry favor in exchange for astonishing junkets and perks. It is allowed to happen.

We will doubtless spend a few news cycles expressing outrage that Harlan Crow has spent millions of dollars lavishing the Thomases with lux vacations and high-end travel and barely pretended to separate business and pleasure, giving half a million dollars to a Tea Party group founded by Ginni Thomas in 2011 (which funded her own $120,000 salary). But because the justices are left to police themselves and opt not to do so, we will turn to other matters in due time. Before the outrage dries up, however, it is worth zeroing in on two aspects of the ProPublica report that do have lasting legal implications. First, the same people who benefited from the lax status quo continue to fight against any meaningful reforms that might curb the justices’ gravy train. Second, the rules governing Thomas’ conduct over these years, while terribly insufficient, actually did require him to disclose at least some of these extravagant gifts. The fact that he ignored the rules anyway illustrates just how difficult it will be to force the justices to obey the law: Without the strong threat of enforcement, a putative public servant like Thomas will thumb his nose at the law.

If there is a single image that captures this seedy state of affairs, it is a painting of Thomas hanging out with Leonard Leo (Federalist Society co-chair and judicial power broker) and Mark Paoletta (who has served as chief counsel to former Vice President Mike Pence and general counsel of Donald Trump’s Office of Management and Budget). Both are political operatives, though Crow assures us that they would never dare talk about Thomas’ work. This image should be enough to shock anyone into taking action against the spigot of dark money that flows directly from billionaire donors into the court, its justices, and their spouses’ pockets. Continuing to live as though there is nothing to be done about any of this is a choice. We make it every day.

In addition to working in the Trump-Pence administration, Paoletta serves as the Thomases’ longtime fixer, attack dog, and booster. He represented Ginni Thomas when she spoke to the Jan 6. committee about her support for overturning the 2020 election. He also edited a biography of Clarence Thomas based on an almost comically obsequious documentary (in which he was also involved). So it should not be a surprise that Paoletta has also testified against any ethics reform measures for the Supreme Court, dismissing the reform movement as part of “the coordinated campaign by some Democrats and their allies in the corporate media to smear conservative Justices with the goal of delegitimizing the court.”

The lack of a binding ethics code for justices redounds to Paoletta’s benefit: ProPublica reports that he joined the Thomases on a trip through Indonesia’s Lesser Sunda Islands on the Crows’ yacht. At the time, Paoletta was serving in the Trump administration, and was therefore subject to far stricter ethics rules than the justice; he told ProPublica that he reimbursed Crow for the trip, although he would not give a price tag. (It is an extraordinary feat for a public servant to be able to afford a private international yacht adventure; it also proves that even in government posts that actually have enforceable ethics rules, those rules may not be up to the job of policing corruption.)

Go read the rest!  This needs to change.

Anyway, that’s it for me today.  This is a long post.  I hope you can get through it without losing your lunch.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

Black Rage is founded on two-thirds a personRapings and beatings and suffering that worsensBlack human packages tied up in stringsBlack rage can come from all these kinds of things
Black rage is founded on blatant denialSqueezed economics, subsistence survivalDeafening silence and social controlBlack rage is founded on wounds in the soul  

Wednesday Cartoons: Sorry about the mess…

Good morning, it has been a difficult couple of days…just the cartoons for today.

Ted Cruz seems to have the same words, literally, every time there is a mass killing…check it out:

So, what an asshole. Ditto, Ditto, Ditto!

Next up, an interesting long read.

This next link is an important one:

Read how the local conservatives and agriculture barons are basically drowning out a largely historical black community…by refusing to do anything about the major flooding in the area of Tulare Lake.

That’s it, please be safe today. This is an open thread.