It was supposed to be all over by Easter. But this weekend, the time that we were supposed to get back to work, brings us 2000 COVID-19 deaths on a single day, and a mass grave on NYC’s Hart Island. One thing we’ve learned is that Trump isn’t a clairvoyant:
When you leave late, you get there late:
It takes a team:
Wearing a red hat doesn’t make America great. What DOES make our country great is the dedication and drive to serve that’s demonstrated by so many of us. The American spirit doesn’t require fondling the flag, or bloviating in front of the media. Our first responders and our service workers make us proud to be Americans.
Vote by mail should be the answer:
In Washington State when you vote by mail, you retain a paper copy. The state can call the voter and ask them what their vote was, if necessary. You get a few weeks to decide on the issues and which candidate you prefer.
It’s not socialism if it helps you. If your check was passed by Republicans, it’s a STIMULUS:
The good news is that the daily rate of increase in new infections is now in single digits (see green above).
Deaths have again spiked, and the percentage of deaths to total cases is rising steadily.
Daily testing has stalled (again) at about 150,000/day. Growth in testing is again lagging growth in new infections.
Next: The Wisconsin primary debacle: Wisconsin held its presidential primary on Tuesday, and on Wednesday, Bernie Sanders dropped out of the race for the Democratic nomination. Unifying the Party will be much easier than in 2016. The stakes are different, the mood is different, and Bernie seems to like Biden more than he liked Hillary.
The issue before the Court was whether to stay a lower court’s decision that would have extended absentee balloting for a week due to the Coronavirus. And the most notable race wasn’t the Democrat’s primary. It was a conservative Republican’s battle to keep his seat on Wisconsin’s state Supreme Court. From the WaPo: (brackets by Wrongo)
“The scant, 10-page opinion issued Monday night highlighted the [US Supreme] court’s ideological and partisan divide. The justices’ inability to speak with one voice on matters as serious as the coronavirus pandemic and voting rights raised concerns about the legal battles bound to proliferate before the fall elections.”
The great irony in the SCOTUS decision is that the justices didn’t meet together. They are practicing social distancing, because of the Coronavirus, conducting their business via teleconferences. They have also suspended all public Court proceedings for the current term, because, you know, public safety.
But the Supreme Court’s Republican majority felt it was proper to insist that Wisconsin’s normal rules about elections be followed, and hold the primary as if there was no pandemic, no public health threat.
The best comment on the ideological divide in America today came from Tom Sullivan’s column, where he quotes a 2018 observation about conservatism by Frank Wilhoit: (emphasis in the original)
“Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect….So this tells us what anti-conservatism must be: the proposition that the law cannot protect anyone unless it binds everyone, and cannot bind anyone unless it protects everyone.”
More on Wisconsin from Sullivan:
“This morning’s online headline at the Washington Post reads, ‘The coronavirus is infecting and killing black Americans at an alarmingly high rate.’ Wisconsin Republicans on Tuesday made them stand on line in Milwaukee for hours to vote during a deadly pandemic. That will show them.”
And this tweet from Sen. Cory Booker underlines the evil intent:
“Milwaukee is home to the largest African-American community in Wisconsin. Don’t tell me that forcing people to choose between their health and their right to vote today is anything but an appalling act of voter suppression. https://t.co/4Leq1CtMHZ”
Chief Justice Roberts may claim that he is only calling balls and strikes, but he’s using a different strike zone for his friends.
Finally, let’s spend a moment remembering that both John Prine and Bill Withers died this week, Prine from the Coronavirus.
Both released their debut albums in 1971. Both were among the true greats. Here’s a Prine song that shows his social consciousness. Written in 2005, it was prescient. He wrote about the kinds of people who would eventually lead the nation in 2020 in his “Some Humans Ain’t Human”:
Have you ever noticed When you’re feeling really good There’s always a pigeon That’ll come shit on your hood Or you’re feeling your freedom And the world’s off your back Some cowboy from Texas Starts his own war in Iraq
Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.
And this Withers song about Vietnam has always hit Wrongo hard. “I Can’t Write Left-Handed”:
Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.
View of Mt. Rainer from Reflection Lake WA – 2018 photo by NathanielMerz
Here is the 7-day look at the national numbers for COVID-19:
The rate of growth in deaths as a percentage of cases continues to rise, while the rate of increase in cases picked up slightly on 4/6, although overall, it is slowing vs. 7 days ago. Testing is still growing, although the rate of growth in tests is now about equal to the growth in cases.
A little-noticed part of the $2 trillion stimulus package allows the federal government to provide money directly to US churches to help them pay pastor salaries and utility bills. From NPR: (emphasis by Wrongo)
“…the $2 trillion economic relief legislation…includes about $350 billion for the Small Business Administration (SBA) to extend loans to small businesses facing financial difficulties as a result of the coronavirus shutdown orders. Churches and other faith-based organizations are among the businesses that qualify for aid under the program, even if they have an exclusively religious orientation.
So, we’re not simply speaking of not-for-profit subsidiaries of churches such as charities. The Trump administration is saying churches themselves will qualify for direct loans. Apparently, the program is based on the average monthly payroll of a church school or the parish, which is extrapolated to eight weeks. The cost of maintaining staff for that period becomes the loan amount.
“Faith-based organizations are eligible to receive SBA loans regardless of whether they provide secular social services….No otherwise eligible organization will be disqualified from receiving a loan because of the religious nature, religious identity, or religious speech of the organization.”…
The SBA’s regulations currently exclude some religious entities. Because those regulations bar the participation of a class of potential recipients based solely on their religious status, SBA said it will decline to enforce those subsections and will propose amendments to conform those regulations to the Constitution.
The SBA is quoting a 2017 Supreme Court decision, Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, which was the first time the Court said the government is required to provide public funding directly to a religious organization. Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the majority in the 7-2 decision. The key argument was that Trinity Lutheran faced discrimination solely because of its identity as a church. That, the Court decided, was discrimination. From the opinion:
“There is no question that Trinity Lutheran was denied a grant simply because of what it is….A church.”
The grant was for refurbishing the church’s playground.
But in this case, the SBA is offering direct funding of religious entities with money provided by tax dollars from the rest of us. We’re likely to see this in the courts soon.
This isn’t the first time that the Trump administration provided funds directly to churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious organizations. In 2018, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) changed its rules to make houses of worship eligible for disaster aid.
First Amendment watchers have reacted. Alison Gill, legal and policy vice president of American Atheists said:
“The government cannot directly fund inherently religious activities….It can’t spend government tax dollars on prayer, on promoting religion [or] proselytization. That directly contradicts the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”
If they want Federal funds, shouldn’t they pay Federal taxes?
Pyramids viewed from Cairo Street, Egypt – photo by Hossam Abbas
The Supreme Court’s new term begins next Monday, and much of America’s culture wars will move in front of the bench for adjudication. Some of the issues being litigated include abortion, gay rights and gun control. It’s no secret that conservatives control the court, and its liberal wing is in retreat. This could be a momentous year in shaping the country’s socio-cultural future.
On Monday, October 7th, the justices will hear arguments in the case Kahler v. Kansas, regarding whether the 8th and 14th Amendments allow a state to abolish the insanity defense. Four states, Kansas, Utah, Idaho and Montana have abolished the insanity defense. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Kansas says yes, and so does the Trump administration.
Also on Monday, they will hear Ramos v. Louisiana, regarding whether the 6th Amendment guarantee of a unanimous jury verdict to convict someone applies to the states. Currently, Louisiana and Oregon permit non-unanimous juries.
On Tuesday, the court hears a case concerning whether gay and transgender people are protected by federal civil rights laws that bar employment discrimination. Three workplace discrimination cases will be heard. Two of the three cases ask whether “because of sex” in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prevents an employer from disadvantaging employees on the basis of their gender identity or sexual orientation. Fewer than half the states have laws against firing workers because they are gay or transgender. Now the Supremes will decide if the federal civil-rights laws protect the 8.1 million LGBT workers in America.
It may not surprise you that the Trump administration says Title VII doesn’t apply to gay and transgender workers, contrary to the view of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
On November 12th, they will visit Trump’s effort to end DACA, the Obama program that protects mostly Hispanic young adults from deportation. The case is Department of Homeland Security v. Regents, University of California, where three cases were consolidated for argument in which lower courts decided that the Trump action violated the federal Administrative Procedures Act.
Also scheduled for Nov. 12 is a case in which a US border patrol officer shot and killed an unarmed Mexican teenager who was not on US soil, but hiding in a culvert between the US and Mexico. The question is whether federal courts can award damages to the family for the agent’s actions.
On December 2nd, they are scheduled to hear a major gun rights case. The case is NY State Rifle and Pistol Assn. v. City of New York. The challenge is to the city’s ban on the transport of licensed and unloaded guns outside the city limits. But the city amended the law, and is arguing that the case is now moot, since it has given the challengers what they sought. The case may be dismissed.
Among possible cases that have not yet been scheduled are two appeals regarding Republican-backed abortion restrictions enacted in Louisiana and Indiana. If the court were to take either or both of those cases, it would raise the possibility of a ruling that further curbs abortion rights.
The Louisiana case concerns a challenge by an abortion clinic to state requirements that doctors who perform the procedure must have “admitting privileges” with local hospitals. It is similar to a Texas law that the Supreme Court struck down in 2016, when Justice Anthony Kennedy sided with the court’s liberals. But last year, Kennedy retired and was replaced by Bret Kavanaugh.
It would be extraordinary if they take up this case and then overrule a precedent set just three years ago. The only thing that’s different is the composition of the court.
Looking further ahead, we may see contentious arguments on the limitations of presidential power. Likely subjects include the president’s push for the power to remove the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; executive privilege in battles over Trump’s tax returns; and use of a national emergency designation to use money appropriated elsewhere to fund the border wall.
And finally, there’s impeachment. In April, Trump tweeted that if “the partisan Dems ever tried to impeach”, he would “first head to the US Supreme Court”. There is little doubt that the Supremes would move quickly to hear such a case.
It wouldn’t be smart for Trump to expect them to come to his rescue during impending impeachment proceedings. In 1993 Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote for a unanimous court that impeachment authority “is reposed” in Congress, “and nowhere else”.
Then, if the House of Representatives actually impeached Trump, Chief Justice John Roberts will find himself playing a constitutionally required role: presiding over the president’s removal trial in the Senate.
All in, a pivotal term for the Supremes and for America.
“Wrongo’s shorter John Roberts: The federal government can’t do anything about your state stripping you of representation. You have to go back to the people who stripped you of representation and ask them.”
Despite Wrongo’s skepticism, on Tuesday, the North Carolina (NC) state Supreme Court put an end to eight years of Republican partisan gerrymandering when it ruled against NC Republicans who had installed it in 2011. From the Daily Kos (DK):
NC’s current state-district maps had to be redrawn again in 2017, after the US Supreme Court affirmed a lower court’s ruling that they constituted an unconstitutional racial gerrymander.
Now, NC’s voters will be voting in new state election districts for the third time since 2011.
This decision is similar to one in PA in 2018, where a state court ruled that PA’s congressional map was unconstitutionally gerrymandered. It also relied on the PA state constitution, so its decision was not reviewable by the US Supreme Court.
When SCOTUS decided not to rule on the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering, it said quite clearly that state courts could rule on the question based on the individual state constitutions. NC now joins PA as states in which this strategy has succeeded.
The NC and PA decisions are reminders that we can challenge bad laws under state constitutions. States are free to recognize more rights than those enumerated in the US Constitution, they just can’t recognize fewer rights. This is the sort of “federalism” that conservatives hope you never learn about.
The NC court decision was 345 pages long. The opinion really makes it clear how there’s just no possible defense for what the GOP was doing in NC. In addition, the opinion might as well have had “John Roberts is an embarrassing hack” stamped on every page.
This doesn’t mean that Democrats can relax between here and 2020. Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin are states where 2020 state Supreme Court elections could either give Democrats a majority, or set them up to gain one in subsequent elections. That will be crucial in the next decade, since the Census will also take place in 2020. There will be new voters to count, or to disenfranchise, depending on your Party’s ideology.
This war must be won in the trenches, not by the national candidates. Wisconsin gave us a bad example in April. Although Democrats in Wisconsin won the popular vote in 2018, they didn’t work hard enough to get their state Supreme Court nominee over the finish line in 2019, despite having a progressive plurality.
Democrats have to realize that they won’t win if they think only certain elections are important enough to get out and vote.
These battles are local, not national, and now that the US Supreme Court will be sitting on its hands for a decade or more, these are fights we must win.
Democrats can’t afford not to contest local judicial elections.
In news you most assuredly haven’t seen, the 10th District US Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled that “Faithless Electors”, people who do not cast their votes in the Electoral College for the winner of their state’s presidential election, are now free to vote for anyone they want.
This Colorado case came about because in 2016, one elector refused to vote for the state’s winner, Hillary Clinton, and instead, voted for John Kasich. The Colorado Secretary of State ordered him to cast his vote for Clinton, or be replaced. He refused and was subsequently replaced with an elector who voted for Clinton.
The faithless elector sued, and the 10th Circuit decided in his favor, saying that the Constitution provides:
“…Presidential electors the right to cast a vote for president and vice president with discretion. And the state does not possess countervailing authority to remove an elector and to cancel his vote in response to the exercise of that Constitutional right.”
The court traced the history of faithless electors back to 1796, when Samuel Miles voted for Thomas Jefferson instead of John Adams. Congress counted his vote. In the 2016 election, there were 13 anomalous votes from three states, and Congress also counted those votes.
This decision could have major ramifications for future presidential elections. The attorney for the faithless elector, Jason Wesoky, said the Court’s ruling essentially makes the laws requiring electors to vote for the state’s winner unenforceable. That impacts 16 states today.
It is even more significant, since a growing number of states are rethinking their Electoral College systems in response to the 2016 election. The 16 states that have passed laws that award all of their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, currently equal 196 electoral votes.
If states representing another 74 electoral votes pass it, the so-called National Popular Vote bill will control the majority of votes in the Electoral College. The bill has passed at least one chamber in 8 additional states with 75 additional electoral votes.
This Appeals Court’s decision means that yet another crucial issue to the future of our democracy will be in the hands of the Supreme Court, once the appeal gets to them.
Enough of news you won’t ever use, it’s time for your Saturday Soother!
Start by brewing up a mug of Honduras Marcala coffee ($19/12oz.) from Santa Barbara’s Handlebar Coffee Roasters. The founders are professional cyclists who met while riding in the Amgen Tour of California, America’s best bike race.
Now, settle back and listen to something very different, a guitar band from Mali called Tinariwen. They are Tuareg musicians from northern Mali. They play rolling melodic lines and loping rhythms that evoke the desert sands of the Sahara. The band’s name literally means “deserts” in their language, Tamasheq. Here they are playing “Kel Tinawen” from their upcoming album “Amadjar”, available on September 6th:
The video is of a road trip along Africa’s Atlantic coast as the band and crew cross the Western Sahara. They will be touring the US in September. For an early date in Winston-Salem, NC, some locals on social media are leveling violent, racist attacks against the musicians. Welcome to America!
Here is a translation of the lyrics:
Evil tongues – you can keep talking.
The uprising will be impossible to suppress.
The treachery of your evil words has sold out your brothers for your own interests.
You’ve locked them up in a prison, every last one of them.
You fine talkers, tell us what road you plan to take to avoid us if we remain rooted.
You’ve forgotten the suffering of our parents,
The suffering they have experienced since birth,
Unable to find water, unless they dig wells with their own hands.
Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.
On June 27, the Supreme Court held that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s March 2018 order directing the Census Bureau to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census questionnaire could not go forward. At the time, we all thought that there would be no such question on the census.
“President Trump and Attorney General William P. Barr began working to find a way to place a citizenship question on the 2020 census just after the Supreme Court blocked its inclusion last month, Mr. Barr said on Monday, adding that he believes that the administration can find a legal path to incorporating the question.”
More from Barr:
“I felt the Supreme Court decision was wrong, but it also made clear that the question was a perfectly legal question to ask, but the record had to be clarified…”
The ruling left open the possibility that the citizenship question could be added to the census if the administration came up with a better rationale for it.
Here’s a way to look at what the Administration means: The Supreme Court said we couldn’t do this. Our reasoning was stupid and insulting. So now, we have to come up with something better. Yeah, we said it was too late for that, but we’re working on a brilliant new reason.
And you shouldn’t make anything of the fact that the lawyers the DOJ had working on it just quit:
“Barr also acknowledged that the career Justice Department lawyers who had worked on the census question had little appetite to continue on the case after Mr. Trump inserted himself into the process…. The Justice Department announced a day earlier that it was replacing them, a nearly unheard-of move.”
On Monday, the plaintiffs in the case asked a NY judge to block the DOJ lawyers’ withdrawal because they did not demonstrate “satisfactory reasons” for the change. On Tuesday, the judge denied the request, except for two DOJ attorneys.
Barr also said that the Trump administration would soon reveal how it plans to add the question, but he wouldn’t detail exactly how it would be justified.
On Monday, Speaker Pelosi announced that she intended to schedule a full House vote “soon” to hold Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress for defying subpoenas for documents related to the census question. This had been recommended last month by the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
If Barr goes forward, the question will be provisionally added, and a new time clock for the case starts again.
But, Trump may have screwed the pooch. He admitted that the whole point was to favor Republican redistricting, which was exactly what his lawyers have said is not the case, because that’s unconstitutional. Trump said we need the census citizenship question for many reasons:
“Number one, you need it for Congress — you need it for Congress for redistricting,” he said Friday. “You need it for appropriations — where are the funds going? How many people are there? Are they citizens? Are they not citizens? You need it for many reasons.”
Trump apparently doesn’t realize that America bases redistricting on the population of the district, not the citizens in the district. Yet, there’s still a strong possibility that his question will be part of the census.
In the case mentioned above, four Supreme Court justices said they would vote for literally any position the administration takes on the issue. And a fifth vote (Chief Justice Roberts) searched in vain for any possible fig leaf that would allow him to join them. When he couldn’t, he sided with the liberals.
Americans should be outraged that the Trump administration willingly engaged in an illegal action, and then lied about it in federal court. They should be outraged that four members of the Supreme Court thought that was just fine. The Chief Justice thought it could have been fine, had they come up with a less blatant pretext, which he invited them to provide. Any Chief Justice worthy of the title would have simply ruled that the process couldn’t be salvaged.
The big story here isn’t the census question. It’s the DOJ’s legal team refusing to continue working on the case. This is unprecedented, and a really big deal.
The most plausible explanation for their quitting is that they told the Supreme Court it had to decide by June 30th, or the question couldn’t be included. If they now have to go back to SCOTUS, they would have to admit that was a lie.
We have to hope that the administration’s malevolence will be ruined by their incompetence.
While most of the media was blathering about the Democratic debate dog-and-pony-shows, the story of the week was the Gerrymandering decision that the Supreme Court announced on Thursday. Its decision in Rucho v. Common Cause says that the federal courts have no business policing partisan gerrymanders. That issue is for states to handle.
Chief Justice John Roberts:
“Our conclusion does not condone excessive partisan gerrymandering. Nor does our conclusion condemn complaints about districting to echo into a void….The States, for example, are actively addressing the issue on a number of fronts.”
The Conservative justices are saying that citizens have no recourse to the federal courts to solve what has become a major weakness in our democracy.
Roberts is now three-for-three, with Citizens United opening the floodgates to unlimited corporate money funding candidates. Then, with Shelby County vs. Holder, he eviscerated part of the Fourteenth Amendment and defanged the Voting Rights Act. And now, in Rucho v. Common Cause, he delegates to state legislative majorities that were enabled by the first two rulings, the ability to perpetualize (? probably not a word) their party’s time in office by drawing unrepresentative district maps with no recourse to judicial appeal.
Justice Elena Kagan dissented:
“For the first time ever, this Court refuses to remedy a constitutional violation because it thinks the task beyond judicial capabilities. And not just any constitutional violation. The partisan gerrymanders in these cases deprived citizens of the most fundamental of their constitutional rights….Of all times to abandon the Court’s duty to declare the law, this was not the one. The practices challenged in these cases imperil our system of government. Part of the Court’s role in that system is to defend its foundations. None is more important than free and fair elections….”
Wrongo’s shorter John Roberts:
“The federal government can’t do anything about your state stripping you of representation. You have to go back to the people who stripped you of representation and ask them.”
This has enabled a charade of a democracy to replace the one that we thought we had. Chief Justice Roberts’s legacy will be the death of democracy. All of today’s cartoons will concern gerrymandering.
Iran’s solution to possible war with the US. If this happened, Trump would say he got a love letter from the Ayatollah:
Little-known technology shows Pentagon the best story to use about its reasons for war:
This week, the Trump administration argued in court that detained migrant children do not require basic hygiene products like soap and toothbrushes in order to be held in “safe and sanitary” conditions:
Mitch ain’t willing to discuss reparations:
Reparations are a difficult subject. As the historian Howard Zinn said, “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.” He meant that you either abide the status quo, or you oppose it. You either commit yourself to be the best anti-racist you can be, or you don’t. Whichever you choose, you should be honest in how you frame your choice. Saying that reparations are not worth pursuing, or simply doing nothing about them, is an implicit defense of the policies and systems that have created our present-day racial inequities.
The Supremes held 7-2 that a cross located in a war memorial could be displayed on public property (at a traffic circle). They said that some crosses are merely historic icons. Their decision favors one religion over others, and it seems hostile towards religious minorities. And why won’t Christians act like Christians?
In another “elections have consequences” story, The Economic Policy Institute (EPI), has a new report about how states can blunt the 2018 Supreme Court decision in Epic Systems v. Lewis. In that case, the court ruled that employers can use forced arbitration clauses to strip workers of their right to join together in court to fight wage theft, discrimination, or harassment. The EPI forecasts that by 2024, more than 80% of private-sector, nonunion workers will be covered by forced arbitration clauses.
They argue that, given the current very conservative Supreme Court, it will be up to individual states to pass “whistleblower enforcement” laws like those introduced in Massachusetts, Maine, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, to empower workers who need to sue law-breaking employers, including those covered by arbitration clauses.
On to cartoons. Here’s a look at abortion from the GOP white male perspective:
Trump won’t (can’t?) deal:
GOP’s accomplishments are transparent, even if they are not: