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The Most Important Issue in 2016

Yesterday, the Indiana Senate killed the bill expanding civil rights in Indiana to protect LGBT Hoosiers. The bill was terrible, but its continued viability at least provided a vehicle for further discussion and improvement. Its death means that Indiana law will continue to allow people to be refused employment, or fired, simply because they are gay. Indiana law will continue to allow landlords to turn away gay couples simply because they are gay couples.

And if you’re gay, Indiana law will allow that deeply “religious” baker to turn you away without a cake. In fact, unless you live in one of the cities that has passed a civil rights ordinance, you might as well resign yourself to continued second-class citizenship status–despite the fact that remedying the situation enjoys widespread public support.

It isn’t only Indiana’s legislature that seems incapable of acting on behalf of the common good. The last time I looked, the approval rating of the U.S. Congress was 9% (and many of us are scratching our heads, wondering who the hell is in that 9%).

In Indiana, much of the legislative paralysis is a direct consequence of the man who sits in the Governor’s office; when the chief executive of a political subdivision is incapable of leadership, it feeds intra-party squabbling and lack of discipline.

In Washington, the problem goes in the opposite direction: a deeply dysfunctional Congress intent upon thwarting any and every initiative proposed by the President is mired in petty posturing and has largely abandoned its constitutional role (not to mention any sense of obligation to the voters).

In fact, the only part of our national government that is functioning (barely) is the Supreme Court, and that Court is on the brink.

As election law guru Richard Hasen recently wrote,

When the next President of the United States assumes office on January 20, 2017, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be nearly 84, Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy will be over 80, and Justice Stephen Breyer will be 78. Although many Justices have served on the Court into their 80s and beyond, the chances for all of these Justices remaining through the next 4 or 8 years of the 45th President are slim. Indeed, the next president will likely make multiple appointments to the Court.

Hasen’s article is long, but well worth reading in its entirety. His point, however, can be summed up by the title of his piece: The Most Urgent Civil Rights Issue of Our Time is the Supreme Court Itself.

As important as this year’s gubernatorial and legislative races will be, electing a President who will elevate non-ideologues to the Supreme Court is the most important issue for voters in 2016.

Without a Court willing to hold legislatures and governors to account, America runs the very real risk of becoming a nation none of us would recognize, and in which most of us would rather not live.


When We Don’t Know It When We See It

Ever since Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart admitted that he couldn’t define pornography, but that “I know it when I see it,” the line has become something of a joke–trotted out to underscore the less-than-coherent nature of an observation or complaint.

What isn’t a joke, however, is the increasing divide between people who recognize the complexities and realities of the world we live in and those who are increasingly at sea. The latter group– grasping for bright lines and responding to slogans in lieu of analysis–are easy pickings for  politicians willing to pander to their fears and incomprehension.

A recent commentary posted at Talking Points Memo provides a graphic example of the phenomenon. The writer attended the Trump/Palin/Cruz rally against the Iran agreement, and noted the reaction to Trump’s bombastic, non-specific attack, which boiled down to “I could have done it better” and “America needs to win again, and I’ll make America a winner.”

“We’re going to build up our military. We’re going to have such a strong military, that nobody—nobody!—is going to mess with us. We’re not going to have to use it,” said Trump.

This is American Exceptionalism re-imagined by Charles Atlas. Trump wants to prove that he can make America so huge and so strong—the strongest!—that no terrorist would dare kick sand in our faces again. Thinking this way is more than a little silly, but it is exactly how the people who went to the Stop Iran Deal Rally felt.

The pity of this all is that the Iran deal shows how America can lead (and win!) in an increasingly disorganized world. We negotiated with Iran from a position of strength. We had support from our European allies. We had Iran’s billions in our banks. Behind door number one was Iran giving up their nuclear weapons program. Behind door number two was Iran becoming the next destination for Drone Airlines. The United States gave up nothing in this deal. In exchange for their own money, Iran gave us what we wanted: an Iran without The Bomb.

This is what winning looks like. This is our enemy surrendering their weapons without a fight not because they love us but because they know they would not survive the fight. After our embassies getting bombed, 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, Russia invading Georgia, the red line in Syria, Benghazi, Russia invading Ukraine, Boko Haram, and ISIS, stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons was change we need to believe in.

One of the most frustrating aspects of the dispute over the Iranian agreement was the absolute lack of alternatives (other than war) offered by its opponents. Watching proponents and opponents debate the issue was like watching an adult argue with a two-year-old having a meltdown.

If people who don’t know it when they see it, people looking instead for simple, non-specific messages, bombast and empty rhetoric, end up outnumbering thoughtful Americans at the polls next year, we’re all in trouble.

The Ugly American

A friend just asked me an interesting question: why do you suppose no one has interviewed Dick Lugar about the merits/demerits of the agreement with Iran?

A good question, to which I have no good response. But it does raise another question: when and how did the party of Dick Lugar, Bob Dole, Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller–among many, many others–become the party of Ben Carson, Bobby Jindal and Donald Trump?

I have resisted writing about Trump, because really…why waste the digital ink? But it occurs to me that the reason I find him so repulsive is because he embodies everything that is wrong with my country; he’s like the “ugly American” tourists who used to roam Europe routinely embarrassing the rest of us.

  • Start with the narcissism: the belief that he is “exceptional.” The insistence that he is always right, and any critic is wrong, jealous, unable to appreciate his superiority.
  • The glorification of money and the delusion that he is self-made: I’m rich so I’m better, and it’s all due to my brilliance; I don’t owe my (exaggerated) fortune to my inherited wealth, or my ability to avoid the consequences of bad business decisions through multiple bankruptcies, or the “old boys” network available to the sons of well-to-do white Christian males.
  • The substitution of witless name-calling for discourse: if I disagree with you, you’re a dummy or a clown. I don’t have to explain why you’re wrong, or what I would do instead, or why my idea is better. Just playground-level epithets.
  • The full-throated bigotry and racism: Obama is black, so he couldn’t possibly have been born in the U.S.; brown people are all illegal immigrants who are murderers and rapists.
  • The chutzpah. Denigrating John McCain’s service while Trump was taking advantage of deferments available to the pampered and privileged.
  • The confusion of tasteless and tacky with quality.

There is more, but what I don’t understand is how a significant part of the Republican base can take this delusional buffoon seriously. He is an embarrassment to the party and the country. Granted, the rest of the field ranges from undistinguished (to put it mildly) to terrifying, but Trump’s antics are so outsized as to make even Rick Perry (“oops!”) look sentient by comparison.

We live in a world that is complicated and increasingly interdependent. We need leadership that understands those complexities and can analyze and debate the available options for dealing with them–not purveyors of bumper-sticker slogans, faux machismo and belligerent bullshit.

The party of Dick Lugar and Bill Hudnut is long gone.





Perils of Policing

Thanks to the ubiquity of cellphone cameras, Americans these days get treated to a lot of stories about police misconduct–so much so that we sometimes forget that–troubling as they are– misbehaving officers represent a small percentage of the men in blue.

We’ve all recently seen the graphic and unsettling evidence of cops mistreating black teenagers at a pool party. But Juanita Jean–proprietor of the World’s Most Dangerous Beauty Salon, Inc.–has provided us a glimpse of the other side of the equation, namely, what happens when a perfectly reasonable police officer confronts a self-important “Sovereign Citizen” spouting bizarre legal theories about why the state of Texas lacks the authority to ticket him.

The video shows the May 2 arrest of 49-year-old Scott Richardson after being pulled over for allegedly driving 50 mph in a 40 mph zone. Recorded by Richardson on his cell phone, it shows him arguing with the Addison officer for over four minutes before the policeman gets out his baton and breaks the driver’s side window and pulls the man from the car. …

During the course of the interchange, the officer requests the man show him his driver’s license and proof of insurance a total of 15 times before he gets out his baton, makes the same request a final time, and begins breaking the window.

I think my favorite part of the exchange was Richardson demanding of the officer “As a man, what right do you have to stop another man?” (I guess it would be okay to stop a woman??)

You really need to click through and see the entire confrontation.

A day in the life…..



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