Sunday, February 25, 2018

Who's voting,for whom and where? US election analysis talk

The next concrete vote on Trump isn't until November, but pollsters and election wonks are all analysing the data furiously to see if the Democrats will ride a wave back to congressional power, or whether Trump and the Republicans will in fact be able to dig down further and secure a counter-cycle triumph.

This election analysis and discussion from Politico is fascinating and a must read for students of American politics.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Shooting Schoolkids and mis-using the Second Amendment

The wording of the famous Second Amendment to the US Constitution is this:

"A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed".

My students and I saw it just a few days ago, the faded writing on the Bill of Rights displayed in the National Archives still visible. I was puzzled for a while, as in the document this is actually the fourth amendment, but it turns out the first two weren't ratified, thus pushing the famous arms amendment up to number 2 in the ranks.

I've read it a number of times, and it still seems to me that the so-called right to bear arms is very dependent on the maintenance of a militia to defend the state.  It is not, thus, an individual right at all.  It is very much a concession granted in the interests of state defence.

So how has this seemingly obvious interpretation become so sullied that the second amendment now becomes synonymous with individual freedom and democracy?  So ingrained into the American psyche as a key element of freedom that no matter how many kids are shot in schools, the right to buy any type of weapon for individual use can never be controlled?

It turns out this is a recent phenomenon.  And it's down to an organisation called the National Rifle Association, itself the front group for gun manufacturers.

As early as 1876 the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment was not a granting of the right to bear arms (United States v Cruickshank).  A 1939 ruling (US v Miller) maintained the link between arms and a militia.  Only more recently has the Second Amendment been given such broad latitude as to imply a defence of the individual right to bear arms, most noticeably in the 2008 District of Columbia v Heller ruling.

It beats me how the so-called "originalists" - the right-wing judges who claim to adhere to the very wording of the constitution and its amendments - can possibly interpret the 2nd in any other way than the one written above - as the need to preserve a "well regulated" militia.  They say the commas should be ignored and that the two clauses, on militia and the right to bear arms, are not really linked.  Doesn't read that way at all, so I guess originalists are more like creativists after all.  Which is just one of the many tragic ironies of the gun control debate in America.

The NRA's chief, Wayne LaPierre, has given an uncompromising defence of arms in the wake of the Florida school killings, at the CPAC conference.  He trotted out the old line that all you need to stop bad men with guns is good men with guns.  Do lots of "good men" hold guns?  Would "good men" want to be always ready to shoot to kill I wonder?

The NRA has been so successful in its defence of the right to have guns - and thus the immediate use of a lethal killing machine right by your side as and when you want it - that it has radically altered the culture of America.  From the president down, dozens of lawmakers - nearly all Republican - dance to the NRA tune.  Not just because of NRA money, though some do receive lots of that, but because they have bought wholly in to a culture that now identifies the right to own the means to kill with freedom.

The kids who are campaigning so prominently and admirably for gun control now won't win.  Not yet anyway.  They're up against lawmakers who can witness any number of mass killings and still refuse to ban the one thing that cause them.  If they do want to change, they have to be in for the long haul.  That's what the NRA did, and they were so successful they even got Supreme Court Justices to re-interpret the second Amendment for them.  Money and culture is still powerfully behind gun possession in America, and don't expect it to change anytime soon.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Republican Power and Evangelical Influence

1.  The Republicans have been accused of "turbo-charged" gerrymandering in order to hold on to their state and federal offices, and the two states which seem to critics to exemplify their approach are Pennsylvania and North  Carolina.  The New York Times provides, as might be expected, excoriating commentary on both situations, suggesting that Republicans are no longer just about holding power but about de-legitimising their opponents.

At stake are not just hundreds of state legislative seats, but also control of the House of Representatives, which Republicans currently hold by a 45-seat margin.

The most shocking case is playing out right now in Pennsylvania, where Republican lawmakers in 2011 created maps so skewed that when Democrats won a majority of the popular vote the following year, it translated into only five of the state’s 18 congressional seats.

But when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down the districts, the Republicans were ready.  After their appeal to the US Supreme Court was struck down by none other than Samuel Alito, they moved against the elected Pennsylvania judges:

A Republican legislator this week moved to impeach the five Pennsylvania justices who voted to strike down the maps, on the grounds that they “engaged in misbehavior in office.” 

And if Pennsylvania sounds bad, how about North Carolina, where electors put a Democrat, Roy Cooper, into the state house as Governor, only to have the gerrymandered state legislature quickly strip the office of as many powers as possible before Cooper took office.

Democracy in America?  Not going terribly well, it would seem.

2.  Meanwhile, evangelicals continue to parade their support of Donald Trump.  

America's fundamentalist protestant Christians have a habit of preferring non-religious presidents like Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump, both divorcees who could hardly be seen as exemplars of Christian teaching on marriage.  In Trump, they have managed to find a leader to support who has committed serial ethics violations, engages in abusive personal tweets, and can rarely be found holding to truth.  

Evangelical leaders claim they do not want to judge Trump as an individual, not a tolerance they held towards Bill Clinton, or to any American citizens who happen to be gay.  

In abandoning any moral stance whatsoever, evangelicals have at least revealed their colours as a partisan pressure group which merely holds its religious statements up as an umbrella for its political activism, rather than as a serious set of principles to live by.  Atheists must be delighted at their overt outing.  

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Dems still look good for mid-terms - WaPo

From the Washington Post's "Plumline" blog, some still optimistic points about the Democrats' chances in November:

* DEMS POUR MONEY INTO STATE LEGISLATIVE RACES: The New York Times reports that a Dem-aligned group led by former attorney general Eric Holder is set to pour big money into obscure state legislative races across the country in 2018:
The group [is] determined to deny Republicans so-called trifectas in state governments — places where a single party controls the governorship and an entire legislature … The group’s list of high-priority states includes most of the critical states in presidential elections.
Preventing total GOP control in as many states as possible could block lopsided pro-GOP congressional maps in the next decade and avoid a repeat of the last decade’s disaster.
* DEMS GRAB ANOTHER SEAT IN DEEP RED TERRITORY: Last night, Democrat Mike Revis won a special election for a state legislative seat in Missouri. Reid Wilson explains:
If Revis’s lead holds, it would mark a significant swing from 2016, when President Trump won the district by a 61 percent to 33 percent margin. Four years before that, Mitt Romney beat President Obama in the district, south and west of St. Louis, by a 55- to 43-percent margin.
It’s another sign of the energy on the Democratic side putting deep red territory in play, which continues to bode well for 2018.
* DEMS HOLD ADVANTAGE IN BATTLE FOR HOUSE: The punditry has swung toward a Trump/GOP comeback, based on the economy and Trump’s slightly rebounding approval. But National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar diagnoses the situation much more accurately:
If there’s one constant that strategists in both parties acknowledge, it’s that Democratic turnout will be sky-high, fueled by deep-seated antipathy towards Trump. … For Republicans to mitigate the impact, they need to persuade enough independent voters to support them and turn out their own voters in similar numbers. … They could hang on to many of their most-vulnerable seats, but still see the bottom fall out because of red-hot Democratic intensity and lackluster GOP preparation. It’s why Democrats still hold the edge in the battle for House control, even if the anti-Trump tsunami never materializes.
By the way, ignore the punditry that tells you Dems are overconfident. They know this is still very much up in the air and that there’s tons of work to be done.
(Greg Sargent)

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Let the Brexiteers in

The Sunday Times runs a piece today about the frustration of hard-Brexit minded Tory MPs, and their desire for a "dream team" of Johnson, Gove and - of course - Rees-Mogg, to come in and run things.

Remain minded Tories should probably consider the same thing.  As Theresa May's government lurches around trying to find a strategy, or a vision, or anything at all, it becomes increasingly apparent that there is no value to the Remainer wing in her continued leadership.

Mrs. May's poor negotiating situation can be put down to her need to have been more Brexit than the Brexiters initially, in order to convince that wing of the party that this quondam (admittedly lukewarm) Remainer really could be trusted.   Alex Wickham notes this point in his assessment of the depressed state of Brexiteers.

However, Mrs. May's own lack of vision for Brexit means she is caught between the two wings of her party.  For every Johnson, there's a  Hammond etc.  Given the lack of control they have over the process, the Brexiters - exemplified by the increasingly frustrated outbursts from the non-governmental Jacob Rees-Mogg - will keep complaining that the outcome we are heading for is nothing to do with them.  Nick Cohen skewers their responsibility avoidance strategy perfectly in his article for the Observer.

So it may be that the allegedly plotting Brexiteers should be given their time in power.  They wanted this thing, campaigned energetically for it, and should now be given the chance to deliver it.  That way, they can hardy avoid responsibility for the result, good or bad.  Remainers can thus make their case more forcefully, unafraid of the charge of de-stabilising the government or the fear of getting someone worse.  In effect, they would become the coherent, opposition group that the Brexiters currently are.  And be ready to step in should the Three Brexiteers swashbuckle their way to disaster.

Friday, February 02, 2018

Lead or Go. Still discussing May

The conservative weekly "The Spectator" is influential - and widely read - in Conservative Party circles, so it can hardly be good news for May that its well-connected political editor, James Forsyth, has written the cover story under the stark demand that she "Lead or Go".

This debate doesn't seem to be getting any quieter, even as May is in China trying to secure trade deals.  The BBC's Laura Kuenssberg commented on the febrile atmosphere in Westminster on this morning's Today programme (here, go to 1:09:06 for Nick Robinson's start), noting that Tory MPs were daily changing their minds about May.

The problem for Tory MPs, as I noted below and here, is their risk-averse caution.  They don't want May but they hate the uncertainty of the alternative.  May's leadership is flawed from top to bottom, but the parliamentary part she leads is riven through and through with factional strife, resulting in a ghastly stasis that is tipping the party into a state of catatonic inaction.

Michael Oakeshott was the pre-eminent 20th century philosopher of conservatism, and his analysis of 1951 might bear some re-considering.  He described conservatives attitudes thus:

In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination. The enterprise is to keep afloat on an even keel; the sea is both friend and enemy

Tory MPs today might want to consider whether they have taken to heart his final injunction:

The seamanship consists in using the resources of a traditional manner of behaviour in order to make a friend of every hostile occasion.

They are certainly facing a hostile occasion, but don't yet seem to have secured the resources to make a friend of it.  Very unconservative.

The retreat of liberalism goes on

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