Democracy Soup

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Posts Tagged ‘Supreme Court

Everyone loves freedom, except for Mississippi on abortion

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We celebrated freedom in these United States this week. Freedom in Mississippi is hanging by a legal thread, as the state’s draconian laws that essentially eliminates abortion in the state are temporarily put on hold.

If you needed to get an abortion in Mississippi, you only had one option — in the capital, Jackson — which still meant a significant drive from anywhere else in the state.

The Republicans in Mississippi decided that one abortion provider in its state was one too many, and passed laws making it virtually impossible to perform the medical procedure. Requiring hospital privileges, something that isn’t necessary, was the key point of the Mississippi legislation.

The old stat that gets tossed around is that 85% of all U.S. counties have no abortion services; that statistic hasn’t improved. Roe v. Wade might still be the law of the land, but in many parts of these United States, the Supreme Court decision doesn’t even apply.

Mississippi isn’t surrounded by the most enlightened of states: Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Alabama. Factor in laws that require an overnight stay or limit teenagers from crossing state lines and women in that part of the South really have it rough.

You can get an abortion, especially an early-term abortion, in the United States, but getting that abortion is not as simple as wanting one.

This law, and the other similar laws, hurt sexual freedom in Mississippi and other states, but they also hurt economic freedom. If you can’t use your freedom to plan your family, you can end up with kids when you can’t afford them. Given the low benefits people in Mississippi and surrounding states receive, poor is as poor does.

We have learned throughout American history that even if laws are passed in Washington, often they come to the South and die. Black men had the right to vote thanks to the 15th Amendment, though the South got away with not allowing many blacks to be able to vote for the next 100 years.

Thanks to a judge’s ruling, the lone Mississippi abortion clinic can stay open, though little has been done before this point. One is too few, but still better than none.

Americans are good at talking about the idea of freedoms, but in reality, people aren’t nearly as free as they should be, especially compared to the rest of the First World. The European Union allows its citizens to go freely to live and work in another country; Americans, Canadians and Mexicans don’t have that freedom. Single-payer health care allows Canadians, Europeans, and others to pursue their own dreams without having to be tied down to a job for health insurance.

Poor Americans who are conservative want to keep taxes low on the off-chance that they might someday be rich. But they live in the First World country where that is the least likely to happen. And that was true long before the Great Recession of 2008.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1992 that states cannot pass laws posing substantial obstacles or undue burdens on a woman’s right to an abortion. Having one abortion provider in a state larger than Rhode Island would seem to be an undue burden. having none would definitely be an undue burden.

This isn’t to say that the American dream is an abortion provider on every corner. Reasonable access can be in the eyes of the beholder, though the largest city and capital of a U.S. state should have more than one provider, and political intimidation shouldn’t be used to reduce Americans freedom.

The next step comes July 11 when a federal judge hears from both sides on continuing the temporary injunction. If not, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization will be put out of business and more than just symbolically, Mississippi will become the first state in the country where economic and sexual freedom don’t exist.


President Obama needs to sell us on Obamacare, even if we have to wait until 2014

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You might be ready to forgive John Roberts for his flub of the swearing-in of President Obama in 2009.

Roberts was the deciding vote in the 5-4 decision that upheld the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). For those who were hoping that Justice Anthony Kennedy was going to save the day, yikes.

“The fundamental problem with the court’s approach to this case is this: It saves a statute Congress did not write,” Kennedy said from the bench. “The court regards its strained statutory interpretation as judicial modesty. It is not. It amounts instead to a vast judicial overreaching.”

Not that a White House should excel in marketing, but the Obama Administration has done a horrible job at marketing this legislation. At stake was a tax, but it wasn’t called a tax. And so those that used the legal system to destroy health care reform came one vote away from accomplishing their goals.

After the ruling, President Obama explained to the American people why the legislation has helped some people, and will eventually help most of us.

When most Americans can’t take advantage of the health care reform, the opponents drive the message. You can argue that the government isn’t in control of health care or that there are no death panels, but without visible proof, your argument isn’t that strong.

Now that Obama doesn’t have to worry about the Supreme Court, and he wants to get re-elected, the president should show the American people why Obamacare will help them … even if that help isn’t coming until 2014. His inability to sell Obamacare cost the Dems the House in 2010; if he can’t get that marketing engine going, his chances of still being president will diminish.

Even if things are looking good for Obama, this isn’t the time for Dems to stop and smell the roses

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Barack Obama’s poll numbers are up, the economic numbers are better, Mitt Romney is doing worse with independents. You can hear the smugness on the part of liberal pundits. They feel really good about their chances of keeping the White House for 4 more years.

Even though February has an extra day in it this year, this is only February. Counting chickens before you have eggs is rather foolish.

These liberal pundits also forget that the House and Senate races are almost as important. And they also should consider that their chances in a number of House races are reduced because enough Republican governors got elected in 2010 to affect the redrawing of Congressional districts.

While the Dems retained control of the Senate, the margin is extremely tight and Harry Reid’s leadership can’t be as effective because of the pressures of representing a red state. And as poorly as 2010 went, everything else can go the Dems way and the GOP might still take the Senate. You can have Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi, but not much will get done with Mitch “Turtle” McConnell. If Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas die between 2013-2017, liberals want strong choices to replace them. In a GOP-controlled Senate, that might not happen.

Too often, the Dems focus on the White House and not Congress. To be fair, the Democratic Party went 40 years without having to worry about losing the House until 1994. In those days, even with the GOP would occasionally control the Senate, the Dems still had a lot more political control than they do now.

The Republicans play the way they do in part because they went so long without that control. They want to go beyond where they are, and they are never satisfied.

These liberal pundits remind me of a person being chased by a bear in the woods. The person loses the bear for the moment, and is so happy that the bear appears to be gone, even though the bear is still chasing after the person. Even if having the bear lose track of you, still need to keep running since you aren’t out of danger.

Barack Obama had some coattails in 2008, but under ideal circumstances (2008), the coattails weren’t that long. Even if Obama is re-elected, there will be no coattails in sight and the Dems need a more elaborate strategy to retake the House.

Yes, if the Republican presidential candidate seems inferior, even by standards outside Dem circles, the false sense of security could have some truth within it. Though, even Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum will still get 35%-40% of the vote. And they will still draw conservatives to the polls, helping other races down the ballot.

Though the Obama Administration and the liberal pundits think Mitt Romney would be the most dangerous threat, ironically, Romney offers the best hope of bringing down GOP turnout, improving the likelihood of Dem pickups (e.g., 1992, 2008) down the ballot. Romney, of course, has the best chance from the GOP side to win the White House.

Though the timeframe is different, Republicans at this point in 1992 thought they had nothing to fear from Bill Clinton and the Dems in 1968 didn’t think much of Richard Nixon in February. Races are won in November, not February. And even if the Dems can be a little confident, they shouldn’t gloat until all the votes are counted in November. Even after a little gloating, there is a whole lot of work to be done.

Conservatives finally wake up to Supreme Court conflicts of interest, but not their own

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Conflict of interest can be subtle or extremely obvious, but when justice is involved, even the slightest conflict of interest reduces faith in the justice system.

One of the recent storylines in the comic strip “Candorville” had a female judge who was presiding on a child-custody case concerning her daughter. Interestingly, the judge ruled against her own daughter. While admittedly this is fictional, in real life, you wouldn’t expect such a scenario to occur. The mother-daughter relationship would be considered a conflict of interest, and the case would be assigned to a different judge.

Simple, easy-to-follow conflicts of interest haven’t bothered conservatives when it comes to the Supreme Court. After all, the obvious conflicts of interest have all occurred on the conservative side, including but not limited to Bush v. Gore.

Until now.

Conservatives want Elena Kagan to not hear , known as “Obamacare.” Kagan worked for the Solicitor General’s office, though the Obama Administration points out that it started to separate her away from the legislation when she was being considered for a possible seat on the highest court.

Conservatives may have a case here of a conflict of interest. And liberals are smart enough to realize this may be true, and may result in Kagan not hearing the case before the Supreme Court.

The MSM coverage of this case has focused mostly on Kagan, and not as much on Clarence Thomas, who has yet another conflict of interest before the Supreme Court. Thomas’ wife has worked for several conservative groups tied to the case. Antonin Scalia and Thomas upped the ante by attending a dinner sponsored by the law firm arguing the case before the Supreme Court.

Thomas thinks so little of his conflict of interest that he has not put down his wife’s income on required forms. Money in a household certainly qualifies as a conflict of interest.

Thomas’ wife was soliciting resumes for the Bush team. Scalia’s sons, Eugene and John, worked for firms that worked with the Bush team. Eugene later worked as Solicitor of the Department of Labor under Bush in 2001. Both fell within the confines of conflict of interest; neither withdrew from the case. To no one’s surprise, they ruled on the side of their familial interests.

In 2004, Scalia had a conflict of interest with a long-time friendship of Dick Cheney as a suit seeking records from Cheney’s energy task force. Scalia’s arrogance came through in a memo at the time. “I do not believe my impartiality can reasonably be questioned,” he wrote. “If it is reasonable to think that a Supreme Court Justice can be bought so cheap, the Nation is in deeper trouble than I had imagined.”

In terms of the Supreme Court, this last decade or so has been the worst stretch in terms of perception of justice thanks to these numerous conflicts of interest. In all but one case, conservatives were asked to recuse. In all but one case, the MSM didn’t spend much time on the story. Even in that one case, with an obvious conservative conflict of interest, the liberal example gets more attention.

What has made these conflicts of interest so problematic is that the Supreme Court was supposed to be the one place where politics didn’t enter into the equation. The recently retired John Paul Stevens proves an excellent example: appointed by a Republican (Gerald Ford), Stevens proved to be an independent thinker throughout his long stay on the Court. “Independent” doesn’t mix well with Scalia or Thomas.

No one thought Scalia or Thomas in those rulings were going to vote against the way they did. Conflicts of interest aren’t just about the vote, but how the vote is perceived. The brazenness by Scalia and Thomas adds to the wounds.

As much as we’d like to go back and fix the wrongs caused by conflicts of interest on the Supreme Court (especially Bush v. Gore), we can’t. If conservatives want to finally play this game, they need to acknowledge their hypocrisy of previous conflicts of interest. If nothing else, having to withdraw from cases would reduce the arrogance of Scalia and Thomas outside the courtroom. Then they will have to know that “Obamacare” could be decided by 6 Supreme Court justices, so that conservatives will finally understand the true meaning of conflict of interest.

Fighting back against concealed-carry laws

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On my trip to Minnesota, nobody warned me that I was entering a concealed-carry state. True, my last trip to the 10,000 Lakes state was a long time ago. But I had no idea of the law until I started seeing signs that fit a pattern.

This was the first sign that I saw — Minneapolis Farmers Market on Lyndale:

Minneapolis Farmers Market on Lyndale
My honest thought was “Okay, duh. That’s a good idea.”

Turns out that if you have a permit, you can carry a concealed weapon anywhere (schools and eventually churches excepted). And in order to avoid having guns in your establishment, you must post a sign.

The most extreme of those signs was in front of the Supreme Court room in the state Capitol in St. Paul.

State Supreme Court justices having to rely on people observing a sign that is off to the side. Hopefully, state Supreme Court Associate Justice Alan Page can tackle the gunman before anybody gets hurt (Page is a former NFL defensive tackle with the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears).

Now, in Wisconsin, a state I visit way more often than Minnesota, you can bring a gun into the state Capitol in Madison. But you still can’t bring a camera. You wouldn’t be reading this column without a camera. Might skip the Capitol on my next visit to Madison.

If enough buildings have these signs, then the law is profoundly silly. Then again, what are the chances of too many signs outside Minneapolis or St. Paul? And would a sign prevent someone who wanted to do damage that would be armed?

Society would be better off if establishments had to post signs to ALLOW guns in their buildings. Put the impetus on those businesses.

Here are some of the other places of business that are smart enough not to want to have guns in their establishments.

— Baseball team

— Strip clubs

— The famous Guthrie Theater

and, of course, the Mall of America.

pictures taken by me

Written by democracysoup

November 18, 2011 at 7:27 am

Canadians more free for ‘pursuit of happiness’ than Americans

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Today is Canada Day, the day where the Great White North celebrates the birth of its country. Fireworks, picnics, and beach trips dominate the landscape, and this year, the country has the newest Royal Couple, Will and Kate, visiting Canada.

The sense of “freedom” isn’t as dominant in Canada as in the United States for the Independence Day. As excited as people are about the expanded freedom of gay marriage in New York state, there are more provinces (10) that allow gay marriage in Canada than states (6) in the United States. Which country has more freedoms?

Throw in 3 Canadian territories and gay marriage covers way more ground in Canada than the United States.

“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is in the U.S. lexicon, not Canada’s. But Canadians have freedom that most Americans can only wish for having.

President Barack Obama is slowly warming up to the idea of gay marriage along the lines of a frog in water where the heat has just been turned on. Obama’s empathy for marriages not in the mainstream should stem from his parents mixed marriage, an illegal act in some parts of the United States when his parents were married. Unfortunately, that hasn’t helped his empathy level for gay marriage.

What little freedom that exists in the United States is extremely limited. A few states allow for gay marriage, but the vast majority of states have some barrier to recognition. Freedom also means the freedom to move around a country, especially in uncertain economic times. If you are gay married, you don’t have the freedom to move to another part of your own country.

Federal law in the United States doesn’t recognize gay marriage, so just because you’re American and gay married doesn’t mean you are in most of the country.

A lesbian married couple who lives in Ontario and gets married in Ontario, and one of them gets a better job in Alberta due to oil production, that couple has the freedom to move to Alberta and still have their marriage legitimately recognized because they’re Canadian.

Think about couples that have moved from New York to California over the last few years. Gay married? Not gay married? Some people who care would be confused about the Golden State in the last few years.

Canadians, gay or straight, are also free to pursue jobs that suit them best. Americans? Not so much.

Americans aren’t free to do so if they are tied to their health care plan based on their employment location. Want to be an entrepreneur in the United States? Better not have any health issues for you or your family.

In fact, some American couples, gay or straight, have divorced not from animosity but from financial practicality where being married is a drawback for getting insurance. And other American couples have been tempted or actual got married to get health care from their spouse. Is that what they mean by the Defense of Marriage Act?

Freedom can’t be just about the freedom to grill meat outdoors, shop at Wal-Mart, and blow up body parts with fireworks.”Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” has to mean something in Americans’ everyday lives instead of being a patriotic slogan that doesn’t translate in the 21st century.

One freedom that Americans have than Canadians don’t is freedom of speech. Canadians tend to limit speech based on hate, but you could easily argue that hate is rather difficult to define. But since Canadians have freedom to say mostly what they want, have freedom to move around based on marriage and health care, they are a lot more free than their Southern counterparts.

And the freedom of speech that Americans have and Canadians don’t has been damaged since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that money is speech, average Americans now have less freedom to make an impact in the political process, unless they’re rich. And average Americans aren’t getting rich these days. For full disclosure, the majority conservative government of Canada wants to strip political parties of federal funding, making corporate money a stronger player in Canadian federal elections.

Freedom needs to be a 365-day part of people’s lives, not just on the Canadian holiday (July 1) or the American holiday (July 4). The pursuit of happiness doesn’t guarantee happiness, but the pursuit does require maximum freedom to pursue happiness. Right now, neither Canadians nor Americans live in the ideal, but in a head-to-head North American matchup, Canadians would win it running away.

So enjoy your grilled meats, potato salad, and other picnic fare this weekend, Canadian or American. But once your holiday is over, think about what freedom really means to you, and do what you can to put pressure on your politicians so that you can pursue happiness.

Other reasons why you should vote on Election Day

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You’ve gone through the reasons why you should vote on Election Day, and you might not be that impressed. The good news is that there are very good reasons why you should vote and what you should think about as you go to the voting booth.

— For Obama fans, who gets onto the Supreme Court and other federal judge slots.

If you haven’t been satisfied about Obama’s Supreme Court picks because you think they aren’t liberal enough, and you don’t vote today, you should reconsider based on the courts.

Nominees have generally sailed through, at least Supreme Court picks. Things will get much worse for the Dems if the Senate margin gets narrowed or if the GOP takes control.

Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy are both 74 years old. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 77 years old and has had health problems. Stephen Breyer is 72 years old. And if you think Obama is going to get re-elected, that would be six more years, the same length as the Senate seats that could be won by names such as O’Donnell, Angle, Miller, and Paul.

— The redrawing of Congressional districts.

For those who say midterm elections aren’t important, there is a special significance to elections in years that end in 0. The party in charge of the House, Senate, and governor’s chair gets to control (in most states) the redrawing of the Congressional districts based on the 2010 census.

Despite the pleas of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), people filled out the census forms. And the Congressional districts will change based on those results. Look for yet another decade where seats leave the Midwest and go to the Southwest.

— Holding your nose and voting is better than not voting.

The criticism of “both candidates stink” or some other equivalent word rings so hollow. Okay, so the candidates aren’t that exciting. The time to determine the candidates seems like a long time ago. Holding your nose and voting may not sound appealing. But it could be worse.

And if you really feel that way, vote for a third party candidate. People think they are wasting their votes on a third party candidate. But the more people who vote, the more politicians of all stripes will be intimidated by the wrath of the voter. Do you feel like politicians are really scared of you. Voting scares the hell out of them.

— Not voting in all the races on the ballot.

Some people freak out over voting for judges or “lesser” races on the ballot. While the position of this blog is that you should vote in every race where you feel comfortable, it is better to vote in a few races than not vote at all.

A few minutes every two years, not counting local elections, is a very small sacrifice to make for being a citizen.

— People died for the right to vote.

Okay, this might seem like a cliche. But it’s true. Really true. People died so black people can vote. Women. Other minorities. Some people work hard to deny legitimate U.S. citizens of their right to vote — in 2010. Shouldn’t you work just as hard to make sure you vote?

— Fool the pundits as well.

The MSM isn’t afraid of you political power prowess. But it might be if you vote in droves. The pundits always tell us that midterm elections don’t draw nearly as many people as presidential elections. And our turnout for presidential elections stinks.

— One election doesn’t signify “change.”

Seriously, did you think all the problems in Washington would be solved in two years? If you voted for Obama in 2008 because you wanted things to be different, and you don’t vote in 2010, you have yourself to blame. We all can argue that Obama and the Dems haven’t done enough. But the ability to go backward becomes active if the GOP gains the House, the Senate, or both.

And if you didn’t vote for Obama in 2008, and you like what he has done, continue the change.

For those who didn’t vote for Obama, and don’t like what he has done, all I ask is that you vote depends on reality, not made-up stuff from right-wing talk shows. If you work from facts, and still vote against Obama and the Dems, some people will disagree with you, but will respect your position.  And besides, you already are going to vote, so you don’t need this brand of help.