“Kava-gnaw, gnaw, gnaw!”

With the Kavanaugh confirmation, the President and a Republican-controlled Senate have accomplished a feat that will gnaw away at the integrity and independence of the Supreme Court for decades to come.

Not so long ago, Supreme Court justices could be confirmed by acclamation.  The confirmation process focused on intellectual rigor, character and independence, not political leaning or affiliation.  Both sides of the political aisle could collaborate and agree.

In recent decades, the confirmation process has been progressively poisoned with politics.  Justices have been nominated for their support of the party in power, to add to a conservative or liberal bloc on the Court, and, ultimately, to secure a predictable, controlling majority.

As a result, the confirmation process has become more and more fractious and the Senate votes more narrowly partisan.

No matter your party (or idealogy), this is a dangerous trend.  It has reached crisis phase with the Kavanaugh nomination and confirmation.

The Kavanaugh confirmation will be remembered as the closest, most partisan vote in modern history — eclipsing even the Clarence Thomas vote in 1991.

The following illustration charts confirmation votes for Supreme Court justices since 1975.  It shows the growing partisan and cultural divide, the pinching off of collaboration, and the failure of representative government.

Think of the closing trend lines as a graphic illustration of the narrowing of the arteries of democracy (“Democratic Arterioclerosis”).

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Prepared by Jerry Sturgill; Data Source:  www.senate.gov

Imagine if, in this latest round, the Senate – the “world’s greatest deliberative body” – had responded to the political pressures of the Kavanaugh nomination by stepping back, agreeing that the unseemly fight sure to follow would so damage the image of the Senate and the integrity of the Supreme Court that this nominee should be rejected and replaced with a more moderate one, one who could be supported by the largest number of members from both sides of the aisle — for the sake of institutional integrity.

Did not happen.

Instead, freed of the filibuster, the Republican majority charged ahead — the minority Democrat members sidelined and ignored.

Then came the allegations of sexual misconduct — echoes of the Clarence Thomas debacle — but this time set amidst the growing angst and awareness of the #MeToo movement.

With a deadline set ahead of the looming mid-term election, the theatrics of volcanic anger and the shock of mockery, careful inquiry and factual truth were avoided and obscured.  Credible testimony of sexual assault was dismissed as a “Democratic conspiracy” sponsored by George Soros and the vengeful Clintons.  A “hit job.”

Imagine if, as tempers rose and the accusations flew, the Senate had called a time out and agreed that the nomination should not proceed without, at the very least, an exhaustive FBI investigation — no matter how long it might take — for the sake of instituional integrity.

Did not happen.

Instead, art-of-the-dealstrong-man strategies — misdirection, hyperbole, fighting back – pushed the process forward, fed the news cycle and, supposedly, energized the Trump base.

In the aftermath, the institutions of the Senate and the Supreme Court have been damaged, the credibility of each, impaired.

The Senate process looked like an unplugged UFC fight fest.  The essential independence of the Supreme Court (actual and perceived) was overrun by politics.

More than ever, the Supreme Court has been made to look like a mere extension of the executive and legislative branches of government and their political “excesses.” Constitutional “checks and balances” have been eroded and the Court compromised.

Only the VOTE promises some measure of correction.  We must organize to get out a vote for change: this November and in 2020.  Out with the sclerotic old and in with the new.

Elect those able to return our democracy to fair representation, effective collaboration and service of the greater good.

The future of our great country and its democratic institutions depend on it.

 

Tax Reform: Rage Against the Machine

The current tax legislation before the Senate, and the bill passed by the House, are evidence capitalism is being allowed to gut our democracy.

In the United States, democracy and capitalism are bad bed fellows.

Democracy aspires to give equal voice to everyone. Capitalism does the opposite with its appeal to economic greed and its transactional, competitive division of the world between “winners” and “losers.”

Democracy aspires to inclusion and compromise. Capitalism promotes self interest and conflict.

Understanding the conflict between democracy and capitalism should make us feel rage about the tax reform legislation passed by the House and now before the Senate.

With the tax legislation before Congress, capitalism is being allowed to overtake and 2 - 1overwhelm our democracy.

While the legislation is promoted as benefitting the middle-class, it mainly benefits the rich and the companies they own. The working middle-class and poor come last, if at all, in the list of beneficiaries.

In violation of democratic institutions and principles, the legislation is being rushed through Congress, without hearings and with purposeful avoidance of bi-partisan support or input.

How can we trust our best interests to the advocates of this legislation–to the super rich Republicans and Wall Street capitalists who control the Executive Branch and their puppets in Congress?

Senator Crapo campaigned on a platform of reducing deficits and the crushing national debt.  Yet, post-election, he said this to Bloomberg:

“Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho, a member of the tax-writing Finance Committee, said Monday he wants a tax cut that’s ‘as big as we can get’ within the budget window, though he declined to put a number on it.'”

The tax cut he now supports is around $1.5 trillion and over the next 10 years, the national debt is expected to increase by at least this amount.

He is also supports the elimination of the Affordable Care Act mandate and subsidies, which will have the effect of putting affordable health insurance beyond the reach of many Idahoans.  From the Washington Post:

“‘Did we take away their money? No,’ says Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho). ‘There’s not $1 taken away from them if they make that choice’ not to buy insurance.”

That is like telling homeless people, “You should be happy with all the money you’re saving because you can’t afford a home.”

Senator Risch expressed mealy-mouthed support from the Senate Floor:

“Tax reform will bring relief to American families and under the plan released by the Senate Finance Committee, middle-class Americans will see a benefit in the form of a lower tax bill, which means more money for households to bring home.”

OK?  But Senator Risch is one of the wealthiest members of Congress.  How will this legislation benefit his family?  And what about the offsetting negative impact on poor working Idahoans of the repeal of the Affordable Care Act individual mandate?

We could only know the extent of his self-dealing and conflict of interest if he discloses the impact of the tax legislation on his and his family’s tax bill.

In summary, until the moment of the vote, we should scream at both Senators to oppose a tax bill that will add to the deficit and national debt and which contains provisions that will hurt Idahoans.

The rushed process by which this tax bill is being hurried through Congress is outrageous.

Equally outrageous:  the unnecessary, long-term negative economic impact the legislation will have on our country and state.  We will all end up worse off in the end.

As Corva Korax recently commented on my “Campaign for Idaho” Facebook page:

“Every tax cut for the rich is a new tax on the poor and middle class whether higher health care premiums or loss of access altogether, higher tuition, higher education costs and fewer opportunities, worse civic services.”

Amen.

Surprise! Over the Weekend, Graham-Cassidy Went from Bad to Worse!!

It’s hard to believe this Zombie bill could get any worse. But it did.

Last night Politico received a leaked copy of a revised Graham-Cassidy bill.  I presume the “leak” was by someone who recognizes this effort as so ill-conceived and harmful that the country should know about it ASAP.  In good time, at the eleventh hour, before this terrible legislation is put to a vote.

http://www.politico.com/story/2017/09/24/obamacare-graham-cassidy-repeal-243079

Thank you, dear leaker, whoever you are.  You have exposed this last-ditch Republican effort to undo Obamacare.  Instead of getting better, Graham-Cassidy has gone from bad to absurd, which might be laughable if it were not so cravenly cruel.

This latest effort amounts “bribery” of the “swing senators” from Arizona, Alaska and Kentucky, with more block grant monies promised to each of their states.  However, as the Politico article points out, this masks the overall slash-and-burn assault on Medicaid.

So, promising more money to the “swing states,” is less like a bribe and more like a mugger telling you to be grateful to be mugged because you can keep your watch.

Another retrograde revision tries to win over Senators Cruz and Lee by effectively removing federal regulation of health insurers in favor of the states.

Among other things, this would lift existing caps on out of pocket costs and lead to the unwinding of protections for individuals (like my hard-working diabetic daughter) who have “pre-existing conditions.”

On this point, Politico quotes Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation:

“This revised bill is tantamount to federal deregulation of the insurance market.  If there were any doubt that people with pre-existing [conditions] are at risk of being priced out of individual insurance, this bill removes them.”

It’s high time to put aside political differences and mend the problems of the Affordable Care Act.  While Congress continues to battle over health care, with perennial waste of time and money, people are dying.

Americans should demand congressional collaboration and cooperation and an end to this hyper-partisan nonsense.

[Check out my March 15, 2017 blog post:  https://jerrysturgill.blog/2017/03/15/fix-obamacare-stop-wasting-time-and-money-tearing-it-down]

Meanwhile, you have probably seen news of our own Idaho Senators’ willingness to vote for Graham-Cassidy.  (Which makes me wonder why they didn’t try to be hold out votes too, to attract more hush-up, block-grant money to Idaho and make the proposed Medicaid mugging less bad.  Oh well.)

Whether or not Graham-Cassidy passes, Messrs. Risch and Crapo should be held accountable–now and at future ballot boxes–for their cowardly toeing of the far-right party line and their abject failure to help make health care available and affordable for more Idahoans.

 

Graham-Cassidy-oppose