Saturday, March 2, 2013

Our Political World at a Glance, Very Weird Week Edition

Black man schools the press corps on the sequester. The conservative base's head explodes.

It's a busy, busy world in Washington these days, with some interesting movement in some states, as well, and I'm on the road in southern Oregon, where, besides grabbing a little golf, I'm learning interesting tidbits in conservative Josephine County.

Here's what I'm tracking:
  • The sequester, which no one likes, is happening anyway. It'll take a little time to unfold, and there's still a chance that a deal can be cut, but I wouldn't hold your breath. Fact: President Obama has a plan -- revenues plus cuts, with some even to entitlements -- and the Senate had the votes to enact such a plan but was shut down by a Republican filibuster. The House Republicans have a plan: tell the world Obama has no plan and then go home after doing nothing. Bold.
  • Next stop in the Washington-is-disintegrating-before-the-eyes-of-the-world implosion -- which makes it really easy to negotiate from strength with Iran, China, or your mama, for that matter -- is a continuing resolution needed to fund the government past March 27th. Expect Republicans to try to exact concessions. Expect Democrats to say you've got to be kidding. Result? Who knows.
  • Off in the distance is May when we hit the debt ceiling again. Anybody think the Republicans will continue to be willing to do anything that might wreck the Obama presidency, despite the damage it does to Americans? Yeah, me, too. So, what to expect in May? Sheesh.
  • Only thing going for sane people hoping for an end to this nonsense is that the Republicans start getting heat from their own constituencies. With so many military installations in red states -- which might really begin to feel the pain of the sequester -- this just might bring us respite.
  • Meanwhile, the rest of the Obama agenda -- immigration, gun violence, early childhood education, climate change, jobs -- will be sidelined. Part of the Republican plan? You betcha.
Interesting tidbit on a local level: Josephine County in southern Oregon, a very conservative locale, recently voted against the sheriff levy. A tax revolt against paying for the law enforcement costs of the county sheriff's office via property taxes has left the sheriff's department cut to the bone. Result? There are now two deputy sheriffs to patrol 1,642 sq. miles. With a population of 82,713 -- mostly in the City of Grants Pass, which has its own police force -- it's a very rural area, which means two deputies couldn't be very available to the scattered rural population. Calls for help, I'm told, can now take days, as regular patrols have been canceled. Real nice, conservative law-and-order folks. Don't worry though, local residents, very fond of guns, have begun to form posses, which they have granted the moniker "citizens' patrols."

21st-century law enforcement, Josephine-County-style.

If only that were the only absolutely frickin' weird politics of the past week, I'd be outa here, but, sorry, no. We must address the Bob Woodward kerfuffle, as the WaPo christened it. Facts as I saw them (back by the vast majority of observers, I must say):
  • Bob Woodward took to the front page of his Washington Post to accuse Barack Obama of moving the goal posts on sequester negotiations, a false report refuted, among other sources, by his own recent book. Holy badly damaged reputation, Batman!
  • Then, maybe as a smoke screen, he doubled down, as even the Daily Caller called him out.
  • Then, maybe to change the subject, he made public an exchange of emails in which his original source on the sequester for his book -- Economic Adviser Gene Sperling -- and, by extension, his WaPo article, suggested that he'd regret trashing his reputation by being inaccurate (which, of course, he was.) Woodward felt threatened, which he then later denied ever saying.
  • So, to clarify things he went on Hannity (Hannity!?) to say that he was never threatened, he just received a coded "you better watch out!"
  • Woodward's "moving the goal posts" accusation had Obama wanting tax revenues as part of a deal now when he never said so back when the sequester was decided upon. Here, just for fun, are a few times before, during, during, after, and after the sequester that Obama, of course, did make it clear that he wanted a balance of tax revenues and spending cuts in any sequester deal. Hell, he even wanted the same thing as part of the Super Committee's (failed) deal that was meant to eliminate the sequester.
  • Bob Woodward, of Watergate fame, already relegated to stenographer status with his last several books, is now relegated to dishonorary membership in the usual Beltway journalism gang-that-couldn't-shoot-straight, also known as the Serious People in charge of DC conventional wisdom, which is neither conventional or wise, or true, or understood twenty miles away from the Washington Monument.
  • But, hey, it was better than talking about something serious during the sequester (non-)negotiations!

Love, American-Style!

As bad as the above was, our Dear Leader, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, made it clear during oral arguments for a Shelby County, Alabama challenge to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 -- most especially to Section 5 of the law, which subjects notably racist states to heightened scrutiny of any new voting laws in said jurisdictions -- that if he didn't like what Congress did or why they did it, then it's his job as a judge to shut Congress down. Apparently, it doesn't matter if Congress was exercising its constitutional discretion by enacting laws in areas under its purview, if Dear Leader thinks it's dumb, if it's been "written about," then, fuck, overturn it. Man, he's now a cross-pollinated cloning of a Supreme Court justice with the Incredible Hulk.

Here are the Supreme Hulk's magic words:
And this last enactment [renewal of the act in 2006], not a single vote in the Senate against it. And the House is pretty much the same. Now, I don't think that's attributable to the fact that it is so much clearer now that we need this. I think it is attributable, very likely attributable, to a phenomenon that is called perpetuation of racial entitlement. It's been written about. Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political processes.
I don't think there is anything to be gained by any Senator to vote against continuation of this act. And I am fairly confident it will be reenacted in perpetuity unless -- unless a court can say it does not comport with the Constitution. You have to show, when you are treating different States differently, that there's a good reason for it.
That's the -- that's the concern that those of us who -- who have some questions about this statute have. It's -- it's a concern that this is not the kind of a question you can leave to Congress. There are certain districts in the House that are black districts by law just about now. And even the Virginia Senators, they have no interest in voting against this. The State government is not their government, and they are going to lose -- they are going to lose votes if they do not reenact the Voting Rights Act.
Even the name of it is wonderful: The Voting Rights Act. Who is going to vote against that in the future?
Scalia: Finally over the top?
Thus spake Scalia. It is no longer the province of Congress to enact a law they feel remains necessary -- and had in the past repeatedly passed constitutional muster -- but now the province of the Supreme Hulks to determine, meh, Americans are just not racist enough to worry about anymore. Some checks and balances and separation of powers.

My only hope is that if Section 5 is shot down as discriminatory to the several states that it once applied to it will then apply to all equally, thus allowing heightened scrutiny everywhere. I can't imagine any other result, but then I'm not privy to Justice Hulk's dark inner dialogue. And, of course, there's always the outside chance that Justice Kennedy has retained a spark of intelligence and integrity.

What a week. We've been pestered, sequestered, court jestered, and, possibly, up in Oregon, Chestered ("Mr. Dillon, Mr. Dillion!" -- kudos to those getting the joke), and we still might survive, albeit more than a little chastened. That is, if we have a conscience or an embarrassment bone, neither of which the Republican Party apparently has or is willing to exercise.

At least one thing is clear: Hollywood no longer need develop more reality TV shows. We simply need to tune into Washington for our daily dose of drama, however faux -- or destructive -- it may be.

Fine. You can have his office. I want his tanning booth.

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