Category Archives: Politics

Socialism in America

Source: The Economist, August 30, 2018

The increasing popularity of socialism is more about stiffening Democrats’ spines than revolution. ….

…. Looking past the label, however, American socialists are more progressive Democrats than Castros in waiting—and their rise poses more of a challenge to the Democratic Party than to capitalism.

Still, socialism is having a moment in America unlike any since, perhaps, 1912, when Eugene Debs, the socialist candidate, won 6% of the popular vote. Between the DSA’s founding in 1982 and the election of 2016, its membership hovered at a relatively constant 6,000—the same people, says Maurice Isserman, a professor at Hamilton College and charter DSA member, “just getting greyer”. Since President Donald Trump’s election, however, its membership has risen more than eightfold, and may soon exceed 50,000 (see chart). DSA members have lost nearly all of the primaries they have contested, but two will almost certainly be elected to the next Congress: Ms Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, from Detroit. A recent Gallup poll showed that 57% of Democrats have positive views about socialism.

But the poll never defined “socialism”, so precisely what people were expressing support for remains unclear. For decades, the cold war defined it, at least for most Americans. They were capitalist and free, while socialism was a step removed, at best, from Soviet communism. Americans under 30 have no memory of the cold war. To them, socialism may be little more than a slur they have heard Republicans hurl at Democrats—particularly Barack Obama. They may well have reckoned that if supporting universal health care, more money for public education and policies to combat climate change are all socialist, then they are happy to be socialist too……

Records, Papers, Decisions: Kavanaugh Records and the Presidential Records Act

Source: Meghan M. Stuessy, Congressional Research Service, CRS Insight, IN10959, August 27, 2018

Since Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court was received on July 10, papers detailing his activities in the George W. Bush Administration and the Office of Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr have been the subject of ongoing congressional interest. Specifically, many Members of Congress have discussed the public release of Judge Kavanaugh’s records and whether the scope and volume of records released is similar to the records of previous Supreme Court nominees.

The release and maintenance of records pertaining to Judge Kavanaugh’s tenure in these offices is governed by the interaction of the Federal Records Act, the Presidential Records Act (PRA), and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). While the Federal Records Act applies to all federal records, such as Judge Kavanaugh’s attorney work files from his tenure with the Office of Independent Counsel, the PRA applies only to records created on behalf of a president, such as records created during the George W. Bush Administration….

Calling Balls and Strikes: Ethics and Supreme Court Justices

Source: Cynthia Brown, Congressional Research Service, CRS Legal Sidebar, LSB10189, August 20, 2018

At his confirmation hearing in 2005, Chief Justice Roberts famously described his view of judges as umpires, pledging that, if confirmed, he would “call balls and strikes” when applying the law. Chief Justice Roberts emphasized the constitutional structure that underpins the Supreme Court and the rest of the federal judiciary, which is based on independence from political influence. The Court’s independence and its insulation from political influence is a perennial issue, which has received heightened attention with Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s pending nomination. What mechanisms ensure the integrity of Justices as federal officials? Are Justices subject to any rules of ethical conduct? How might such ethics rules be enforced? This Sidebar examines these questions and Congress’s potential role in regulating the ethics of the Supreme Court Justices…..

Labor Unions and Unequal Representation

Source: Daniel Stegmueller – Duke University – Department of Political Science, Michael Becher- Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse, Konstantin Käppner – University of Konstanz, Date Written: July 23, 2018

From the abstract:
Recent research has documented that lawmakers are more responsive to the views of the affluent than to the less well-off. This raises the important question of whether there are institutions that can limit unequal representation. We argue that labor unions play this role and we provide evidence from the contemporary U.S. House of Representatives. Our extensive dataset combines a novel measure of district-level union strength, drawn from 350,000 administrative records, with income-specific measures of constituency preferences based on 223,000 survey respondents matched to 27 roll-call votes. Exploiting within-district variation in preference polarization, within-state variation in union strength and rich data on confounds, our analysis rules out a host of alternative explanations. In contrast to the view that unions have become too weak or fragmented to matter, they significantly dampen unequal responsiveness: a standard deviation increase in union membership increases legislative responsiveness towards the poor by about 9 percentage points.

Southern Cities Are Passing Paid Sick Leave—But Republicans Won’t Let Them Have It

Source: Bryce Covert, In These Times blog, August 24, 2018

…. It’s a growing trend in legislatures controlled by Republicans. At least 25 states have passed preemption laws that block cities from raising the minimum wage, and 20 have banned cities from instituting paid sick leave. The majority of these laws have been enacted since 2013 and advocates for higher workplace standards say the trend is only accelerating. ….

Teens Resist Was Created by High Schoolers to Help Youth Engagement in Politics

Source: Sonia Chajet Wides and Kate Griem, Teen Vogue, August 24, 2018

Teens Resist offers biweekly news and action items you can engage with.

In this op-ed, sophomores Sonia Chajet Wides and Kate Griem, both of Brooklyn, explain why they started the youth-advocacy website Teens Resist and why they believe youth engagement is so key.

It’s no secret that Gen Z is incredibly informed and opinionated. But we need comprehensive resources to turn our opinions into tangible action. That’s why we started Teens Resist, a platform that provides those resources in order to make political activism accessible to passionate youth in a world where their voices matter more than ever.

In publishing biweekly lists on our website that contain briefings and actions to take on topics in the news, Teens Resist hopes to make complicated issues easy to understand. The lists are practical, and made by and for teens. We also publish longer features, written by our core of staff writers or by contributing writers who have extensive knowledge of a particular issue, going deeper into particular issues, including DACA and net neutrality. We also use social media, such as our Instagram, for more frequent updates on current events, lists, and activism opportunities…..

Today’s GOP leaders have little in common with those who resisted Nixon

Source: Michael Koncewicz, The Conversation, August 23, 2018

Republican leaders in 2018 are profoundly different than the ones who dealt with Watergate in the 1970s.

During Watergate, a significant number of GOP members of Congress and the Nixon administration publicly resisted President Richard Nixon’s efforts to undermine the rule of law.

Today’s GOP leaders, with few exceptions, meekly follow President Trump.

Republicans in Congress, and even GOP candidates for Congress, have been loathe to criticize the president. Their submissiveness has significant implications. In my view, some Republicans today are, with the support of the president, openly impeding an ongoing investigation that may or many not implicate Trump.

Recent attacks from Republicans on Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election has made that much clear.

That’s in contrast to how some prominent members of the GOP acted during the Watergate crisis that led to President Nixon’s resignation.

Research in my forthcoming book “They Said No to Nixon” reveals that Republican civil servants serving in President Nixon’s administration blocked his attempts to politicize their work.

Their stories, when contrasted with the actions of Republicans today, show how the GOP has transformed from a party that included moderate civil servants to one that embraces a culture of loyalty now….

Laundering Racism Through the Court: The Scandal of States’ Rights

Source: Lynn Adelman, Dissent, Summer 2018

When three conservative law students founded the Federalist Society at Yale Law School in 1982, they probably didn’t expect that it would become one of the most influential legal organizations in the United States. They styled themselves as renegades, fighting back against a liberal legal establishment that was using the courts to trample individual freedoms. But the students had support from a few prominent jurists, including Antonin Scalia—one of their first faculty advisers—and with Ronald Reagan in office, the political tide was turning in their favor. Three-and-a-half decades later, the Federalist Society has some 40,000 members and millions of dollars in funding from conservative megadonors including the Koch brothers. No less than five of its current or former members have served on the Supreme Court (including Trump appointee Neil Gorsuch). Membership in the organization has become an important qualification for an appointment to the federal bench.

Moreover, since roughly the Society’s founding, the doctrine of federalism has become the basis for a new, conservative orthodoxy in U.S. law. The last two Chief Justices of the Supreme Court, William Rehnquist and John Roberts, have been strong adherents of federalism, as have virtually all of the other conservative justices. And President Trump is currently stocking the lower federal courts with like-minded jurists at a record pace.

By federalism, these legal conservatives mean that the authority of the federal government is limited, that states are sovereign bodies, and that courts should enforce limitations on federal power and bolster the power of states. On its face, the conservatives’ attachment to federalism may not seem particularly objectionable. After all, the founders did divide power between the federal government and the states so as to facilitate policymaking by those legislators most familiar with the issues in question. It is becoming clear, however, that the practical consequences of the conservatives’ attachment to federalism are far from benign. For African Americans, particularly those living in states of the former Confederacy, the impact of federalist doctrine as implemented by the Supreme Court has been no less than devastating—so much so that the justices’ view that it is justified by the principle of state sovereignty is indefensible.

In this article, I explore this issue primarily in the context of two of the Roberts Court’s most important federalist decisions, Shelby County v. Holder and National Federation of Independent Business (“NFIB”) v. Sebelius. In Shelby County, the Court struck down, on states’ rights grounds, the formula provided in the Voting Rights Act (“VRA”) for determining whether states and municipalities had to get approval from Washington (preclearance) for any change in their voting rules to ensure that the change was not racially discriminatory. Similarly, in NFIB, the Court struck down the inducement in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for states to participate in the act’s Medicaid-expansion program on the grounds that it violated states’ rights. In both Shelby County and NFIB, Chief Justice Roberts wrote the principal opinion…..

Reformism Yesterday and Social Democracy Today

Source: Maecel Liebman, Jacobin, August 22, 2018

We shouldn’t try to resurrect the social-democratic politics of the past. What we need is a socialist movement that pairs radical demands with mass, militant action. ….

…. Marcel Liebman didn’t live to see Tony Blair lead the British Labour Party. But in the mid-1980s, the Belgian Marxist had already witnessed enough: social democracy, he proclaimed, was dead. “The new-style reformism means reformism without reforms,” he wrote…..

….In “Reformism Yesterday and Social Democracy Today” — first published in the 1985–86 edition of Socialist Register and reprinted below in a slightly abridged form — Liebman traces this history, from the heady days before World War I, when socialism seemed inevitable, to the descent into a more straightforwardly technocratic, uninspired reform politics.

While Liebman arguably understates the obstacles that any socialist project faces in a capitalist democracy — focusing on party machinations instead of the structural power of business  — his essay is an important read as the socialist left regains its footing today. It is only by revisiting the pitfalls of the past that we can chart a more viable path in the present…..