Brown, McCaskill, And Sanders Fighting The Good Fight

One of my favorite Democrats in the Senate is Sherrod Brown. If you watched any news this past weekend, you were treated to his pissing off the insufferable Orrin Hatch, during a meeting of the Senate Finance Committee last Thursday night.

Brown called bullshit on the Republican claim that their tax “reform” bill was all about increased incomes for middle-class folks. The senator from Ohio said:

I just think it would be nice, just tonight, before we go home, to just acknowledge, well that this tax cut really is not for the middle class, it’s for the rich. And that whole thing about higher wages, it’s a good selling point, but we know companies just don’t give away higher wages. They just don’t give away higher wages just because they have more money. Corporations are sitting on a lot of money now. They’re sitting on a lot of profits now. I don’t see wages going up. So, just spare us the bank shot, spare us the sarcasm and the satire, and let’s move forward.

Hatch, of course, grew indignant and began touting his former impoverishment, saying,

I come from the poor people, and I’ve been here working my whole stinking career for people who don’t have a chance, and I really resent anybody saying I’m just doing it for the rich. Give me a break. I think you guys overplay that all the time, and it gets old. And, frankly, you ought to quit it…I get kind of sick and tired of it.

Now, one has to credit Hatch for properly calling his career “stinking.” But beyond that, anyone who thinks he has spent that stinking career working “for the [sic] poor people,” for “people who don’t have a chance,” I have a degree from Tr-mp University I’ll sell ya. As for Hatch being sick and tired, Brown said:

I get sick and tired of the richest people in this country getting richer and richer and richer….

He was gaveled down by the snowflake from Utah.

That leads me to my own senator, Claire McCaskill, who was just here in Joplin for a town hall-style meeting on Saturday (she was rudely treated by only one right-winger in the audience; that’s progress). During the meeting, she tried to educate the locals:

As I go around the state, particularly in some of the rural communities, where it is tough in terms of jobs and it is tough in terms of the AG economy, so, talking about a tax code that we could reform to really help those folks, but instead, Republicans are putting forth a bill that is really focused on people that make more than $1 million dollars.

McCaskill doesn’t just talk truth about Republicans while here in Missouri. She also had a few things to say during a Senate Finance Committee meeting last week, also featuring Orrin Hatch:

Clearly, that notorious fighter for the poor, Mr. Hatch, had no idea what was in the bill he was defending. But, aw shucks, neither does the man Republicans are counting on to sign it, should they succeed in ramming it through Congress.

Now we come to an appearance by Bernie Sanders on CNN’s State of the Union. Here is the Vermont senator’s exchange with host Jake Tapper:

TAPPER: President Trump is accusing Democrats of being obstructionists on the tax issue. He tweeted — quote — “If Democrats were not such obstructionists and understood the power of lower taxes, we would be able to get many of their ideas into the bill.” What’s your response?

SANDERS: Well, that’s total nonsense. Democrats have been completely shut out of this process, just as they were shut out of the health care legislation process. Here is the fact. And Trump should understand this. What this legislation is about is fulfilling the promises, Republican promises, made to wealthy campaign contributors. There is a reason why the billionaire class provides hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign contributions to Republicans. And now is payback time.

What this legislation is about, Jake, is giving 50 percent of the tax benefits to the top 1 percent, and at the end of 10 years in the House bill, forcing almost 50 percent of the middle class to actually pay more in taxes. What this legislation is about, absolutely insanely, is repealing the estate tax, a $269 billion tax break, not for the top 1 percent, but for the top two-tenths of one 1 percent, a handful of the wealthiest families in this country, like the Walton family and the Koch brothers family and other very wealthy families….And, by the way, Jake, one other point.

When they run up a $1.5 trillion deficit, as they will in this legislation, they’re going to come back — and that’s what Paul Ryan is saying — they’re going to come back with massive cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, because they say, oh, my goodness, the deficit and the national debt are too high.

This is a terrible, terrible piece of legislation, and it must be defeated.

That was quite a takedown of the phony Republican tax (and, for now, healthcare) bill. But Sanders wasn’t finished:

TAPPER: So, Republicans’ response to the idea that 50 percent is going to the top 1 percent is, the top 1 percent pays a disproportionate amount of taxes. I do want to better understand your objection to this aspect of the bill. Is it the size of the tax cut going to the wealthy that bothers you or the idea that the wealthy are getting any tax cut at all?

SANDERS: Well, first of all, what the Republicans are forgetting about is, yes, the rich pay more in taxes because we have massive income and wealth and equality in America. Fifty-two percent of all new income in America is going to the top 1 percent. Duh. Yes, the rich are going to be paying more in taxes.

Now, Sanders just about said it all right there—just about. The most beautiful part of what he said, the most concise framing of the issues voters may hear in the next two election cycles, was what he said next:

SANDERS: But does anybody watching this program really believe that the major crisis facing our country—when the middle class is shrinking, when our infrastructure is falling apart, when young people can’t afford to go to college, are leaving school deeply in debt, when 28 million people have no health insurance—does anyone really think that the major crisis facing this country is the need to give hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks to the very richest people in this country?

That was what wrestling fans might call a flying spinning heel kick. In one sentence, in 81 extemporaneous but eloquent words, Sanders struck his Republican opponents with the truth. 

Good for him. And although Republicans won’t listen, if voters do, good for the country.


Piss Off Orrin Hatch And Nominate Diane Wood To The Supreme Court

At the risk of turning off regular readers, the pending resignation of Justice John Paul Stevens cries out for a 2000-word essay on why Diane Wood should be Obama’s nomination to replace the “liberal” voice on the Court.

Okay.  I won’t write 2000 words, but I do find Judge Wood very interesting, particularly her approach to judging.  Stay with me, if you want to have a little ammo to combat the onslaught of hysteria and ignorance that will be forthcoming in the philosophical battle over who will be the next justice on our highest court.

In a lecture she gave in 2005 titled, “Our 18th Century Constitution in the 21st Century World,”  Judge Wood, who sits on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, shows why she would be a match for any conservative currently sitting on the high court.

She begins her talk with this:

Fine wines and Stradivarius violins improve with age, taking on greater richness and depth as the years go by.  For many, if not most, other things in today’s frenetic world, value is evanescent.  

I like her already.

But, more important, she has a philosophically tenable counter to the originalism espoused by most conservatives, not only those on the Supreme Court, but those Constitutional experts like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and, of course, Fox “News” scholar, Glenn Beck.*

Wood contrasts the “originalist approach” (think: Antonin Scalia and a hopped-up Limbaugh) with the “dynamic approach” (think: nearly everyone else) and she clearly sympathizes with the dynamicists:

If…one is willing to give the broad provisions in the Constitution and its Amendments a generous reading, thereby validating the many adaptations that the Court and country have endorsed over the years, our old Constitution has stood the test of time admirably.  

Indeed, it has:

The basic charter that suited a small, relatively powerless, rural economy with a population of 3.9 million now serves a global superpower of nearly three hundred million citizens, where economically the relevant stage is the entire world, where national and global communications are instantaneous, and where it is easier to get from New York to Honolulu than it once was to get from New York to Philadelphia.

Not content, though, with the old categories, Wood wants to move beyond them:

It is end the long-standing and unproductive methodological debate over “originalism” versus “dynamism” or “evolution” and focus instead on how, as a substantive matter, we should interpret the Constitution in the twenty-first century, and what it has to say on questions unimaginable to our eighteenth-century Framers.

Now, were I to go on and cut and paste from the rest of her lecture, things like,

The literal Constitution, for which some have argued, would be a woefully inadequate document for the American people today…


The Federalist Papers and other documents from the Founding period make it abundantly clear that the Framers knew that they were creating a set of constitutional standards, not prescribing rigid constitutional rules…

this little posting would go well beyond 2000 words and would go unread by the average net-surfer. But suffice it to say that Wood’s reasoning appears to be quite sound, “liberal” though it will certainly seem to anyone who thinks the Joplin Globe is a “liberal” newspaper.

A few more highlights deserve a mention here.  Wood discusses “impoundment” (you’ll have to look it up) and the controversial War Powers Resolution (or Act, as I was taught in school) which seeks, albeit with questionable constitutionality, to limit the powers of any president to prosecute wars like, say, Vietnam.

What I find interesting, in terms of the current cries to “follow the Constitution,” coming from Tea Party law professors (with their spelling-challenged signage), is this fact, brought out by Judge Wood:

War powers bring into even sharper focus the difference between today’s Constitution and the text adopted in 1789.  Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 confers on the Congress the power “to declare War.” One could be forgiven for thinking that this short phrase must mean that the country cannot enter into hostilities without first obtaining a formal declaration from Congress, and that this declaration will specify with what country or group of countries the United States is at war. Neither of those suppositions is true in the post-Vietnam War period…

Neither is true, she says, because

1) the War Powers Resolution “specifically recognized the power of the President to commit U.S. troops to hostile action without a formal declaration of war,” and,

2) ” the idea of “war” itself has become hopelessly fuzzy. In an era where one can have “wars” on phenomena like terrorism or organized crime–in which there is no enemy with whom to negotiate, no power capable of surrender, and thus no way to know when the “war” is over–the text of the Constitution is not very helpful.”

Now, in light of the War on Terror, which most folks on the Right support enthusiastically, if extra-Constitutionally, that phrase Wood used, “the text of the Constitution is not very helpful,” is, well, very helpful.

Another area of ambiguity involves “state sovereignty,” a hot topic on the Tea Party circuit.  Writing in 2005, Wood said:

The Framers knew perfectly well that the Constitution they crafted took important powers away from the States (in response to the unsatisfactory experience under the Articles of Confederation), yet left many  powers still in state hands. With the latter especially in mind, they were careful (at least in the Tenth Amendment) to dissipate any impression of a negative inference about state power from the existence of the enumerated powers. But the express provisions of the Constitution leave much unsaid. They do not spell out, for example, answers to such important questions as whether Congress, acting pursuant to its Article I powers, may enact legislation creating rights that private parties may enforce against the States; if there is a pre-constitutional doctrine of sovereign immunity of the States, whether the scope of that immunity was absolute or restricted; and if the state sovereign immunity doctrine will evolve over the years in the same way as the foreign sovereign immunity doctrine.

The point is that there are ambiguities built into the Constitution, like who gets to determine when we are “at war,” and for how long, as well as the nature of the federal/state relationship.

And the Constitutional hand-wringing coming from folks who also think Obama is a foreign-born Muslim socialist/Communist, is not only dubious, it is flat-out indefensible.

The truth is that the Constitution is not a static set of rules, interpretable only by philosophically parochial judges.  Judge Wood’s lecture shows that the old document is in good hands when it is in the hands of those who see it as an adaptive instrument of governance.

And I wrote all of that in just under 1100 words. 

But you should read the rest of her lecture, because she has much to say about individual rights, liberty, “takings,” international human rights, “unwritten rules,” and so on.

I want to end with her short enumeration of why we, as Americans, have come to value what we value in terms of human rights, and how a 21st-century approach to interpreting the Constitution preserves what we value:

Our strong national commitment to individual rights…continues to depend on several crucial constitutional understandings that have always had their critics, and more recently have come under sharper attack. Those understandings include the following:

(1) broad language may legitimately be interpreted broadly, in a manner informed by evolving notions of a decent society;

(2) as a matter of federal constitutional law, some liberties are beyond the power of any governmental entity to deny;

(3) most parts of the Bill of Rights, in particular through the doctrine of selective incorporation, apply to state action as well as to federal action;

(4) constitutional principles can be inferred from sources such as the structure of the overall document and preconstitutional understandings.

Before anyone swallows the line of reasoning that will inevitable fall from the lips of conservative critics over the next few months regarding Obama’s latest Supreme Court nominee, one should read the words of a woman Obama should seriously consider—and then appoint—to our Supreme Court.

Who cares if Orrin Hatch gets pissed?


*Beck, performing a public service, has urged President Obama to appoint a “gay-handicapped-black woman who’s an immigrant.”  His rationale is,

She could be the devil, she could say ‘I hate America, I want to destroy America,’ and that way they’ll only be able to say, ‘Oh, Why do you hate gay immigrant black, gay, handicapped women.’ Because that’s what this has to be. It must be about.. And when I say this, I mean all of it.

“He’s A Good Face For Our Party”

Sen. Orrin Hatch, who has developed amnesia lately over the Republican use of the reconciliation process, was on Meet The Press on Sunday and was attempting to say something nice about Republican National Committee Chairman, Michael Steele:

He made mistakes like everybody does, but he’s a good face for our party. I think he’s articulate, he’s smart, he has a lot on the ball.

Why do white folks continue to think they have to comment on the way black folks talk (“he’s articulate, can you believe it?”) or their intelligence (“by God, he’s smart, too!)?  And doesn’t the fact that Michael Steele has reached such heights as titular head of the GOP imply that “he has a lot on the ball”?

 Here is the clip of Hatch’s comments:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The Hatch Act

Rush Limbaugh call your office.  Orrin Hatch is stealing your shtick. 

Today on Morning Meeting with Dylan Ratigan, the senior Republican senator from Utah said the following:

One of the big goals of the whole Democratic Party is to move people into that category—the bottom 50% that basically don’t pay taxes—and a high percentage of them get money from the federal government, who think everything they are or ever hope to be comes from the almighty Democratic Party.

Such disgusting rhetoric usually flows from the mouths of the right-wing talkers, as they perform daily for the 5% of Americans who gather under the circus tent of extremism.

But since the Republican Party has almost totally succumbed to the extremist performance artists, it shouldn’t be surprising that “respected” figures within the party have joined their act, like circus elephants, and dutifully make such offensive—and false—statements about not only Democrats, but about exactly one half of the American people.

Just for the record, everyone pays taxes.  Even if one is part of the 43% who don’t have any federal income tax liability, there are still state income taxes and fees, county taxes, Social Security and Medicare taxes, sales taxes, excise taxes (like on gasoline), and the taxes that are hidden in the price of goods and services.

Orrin HatchSo, not only has Senator Hatch insulted the Democratic Party and the American people by accusing half of them of freeloading and placing “everything they are or ever hope to be” in the hands of the Democrats, he has done so by bearing false witness—which used to be against Mormon sensibilities.

But then, again, so did monogamy.  

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