Tag Archives: History

The Roberts Court: a new Gilded Age and a return to the long-discredited Lochner Era

Jedediah Purdy, professor of law at Duke, recently wrote at the New York Times, The Roberts Court Protects the Powerful for a New Gilded Age:

Faith in courts runs deep in the American liberal imagination. Remembering Brown v. Board of Education, Roe v. Wade and the recent marriage-equality decisions, we keep hoping that wise and fair-minded judges will protect the vulnerable and lead the country toward justice.

Recent decisions upholding President Trump’s travel ban and Texas’ racially skewed voting districts are body blows to this optimism. They are unhappy reminders that for much of American history, the Supreme Court has been a deeply conservative institution, preserving racial hierarchy and the prerogatives of employers.

When it comes to economic inequality, today’s Supreme Court is not only failing to help but is also aggressively making itself part of the problem in a time when inequality and insecurity are damaging the country and endangering our democracy.

Under Chief Justice John Roberts, the court has consistently issued bold, partisan decisions that have been terrible for working people. Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, was one of them.

Just hours after that decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement. With this “swing” vote gone, Chief Justice Roberts is now likely to take even more control over the direction of issues related to economic inequality — a direction that is earning him a legacy as chief justice of bosses, not workers.

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Robert F. Kennedy 50th anniversary of his assassination

1968 was one of the most godawful, horrible, miserable years in U.S. history. It changed who we are as Americans, and “fueled a general sense that the nation had gone mad; that the normal rules and constants of politics could no longer be counted on.” How Robert Kennedy’s Assassination Changed American Politics.

The Tet Offensive at the end of January stunned both the U.S. and South Vietnamese armies, causing them to temporarily lose control of several cities and the U.S. embassy in Saigon.  It had a profound effect on the U.S. government and shocked the U.S. public, which had been led to believe by its political and military leaders that the North Vietnamese were being defeated and incapable of launching such an ambitious military operation.

A month later, Walter Cronkite reported on his recent trip to Vietnam to view the aftermath of the Tet Offensive in his television special Who, What, When, Where, Why? He chastised American leaders for their optimism, and advised negotiation “… not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.” American support for the war declined.

In February, Richard M. Nixon (R-CA) declared his candidacy for the presidency. In March, Sen. Eugene McCarthy (D-MN) and his “children’s crusade” nearly defeated President Lyndon Johnson in the New Hampshire Democratic primary. Days later, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-NY) declared his candidacy for president. By the end of March, President Johnson delivered his Address to the Nation Announcing Steps To Limit the War in Vietnam and Reporting His Decision Not To Seek Reelection. His Vice President, Hubert H. Humphrey, would run in his stead.

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Trump’s personal animosity for Jeffrey Bezos results in abuse of power a la Nixon

Included in the Articles of Impeachment for President Richard M. Nixon adopted by the House Judiciary Committee on July 27, 1974 was Article 2 for “abuse of power,” which included ordering the IRS to audit his “political enemies” list.

We are now confronted with a parallel abuse of power by President Donald Trump, albeit by a different federal agency. The Washington Post reports, Trump personally pushed postmaster general to double rates on Amazon, other firms:

President Trump has personally pushed U.S. Postmaster General Megan Brennan to double the rate the Postal Service charges Amazon.com and other firms to ship packages, according to three people familiar with their conversations, a dramatic move that probably would cost these companies billions of dollars.

Brennan has so far resisted Trump’s demand, explaining in multiple conversations occurring this year and last that these arrangements are bound by contracts and must be reviewed by a regulatory commission, the three people said. She has told the president that the Amazon relationship is beneficial for the Postal Service and gave him a set of slides that showed the variety of companies, in addition to Amazon, that also partner for deliveries.

The Wall Street Journal  reported last month that White House officials, eager to help the president understand reality, have put together “PowerPoint presentations and briefing papers they believed debunked his concerns.”

Despite these presentations, Trump has continued to level criticism at Amazon. And last month, his critiques culminated in the signing of an executive order mandating a government review of the financially strapped Postal Service that could lead to major changes in the way it charges Amazon and others for package delivery. See, Bloomberg, Trump Orders Post Office Review After Attacks on Amazon.

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50th Anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Updated)

1968 was a most awful, horrible, tragic year that left its events forever seared in my memories. I can still recall those events as if they occurred only yesterday. The sense of shock, loss and grief are revived and felt anew on days like today.

On April 3, 1968, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his last speech in Memphis, Tennessee, his now famous I’ve Been to the Mountaintop speech, in which Dr. King recalled a previous assassination attempt on his life that almost took his life, and the current threats to his life for coming to Memphis in support of a sanitation workers strike. His closing remarks proved to be prophetic:

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.

And I don’t mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

And so I’m happy, tonight.

I’m not worried about anything.

I’m not fearing any man!

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!

At 6:01 p.m. on April 4, 1968, Dr. King was assassinated on the steps of his motel room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. The “breaking news” reports of his assassination on the network television news resulted in angry riots breaking out in American cities across the country.

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Confederate Clodfelter flies his Confederate flag (updated)

The Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required) reports that Legislative District 10 Republican Rep. Todd Clodfelter is proud to fly his Confederate battle flag on his personal computer at the state legislature, and is proud of his Southern ancestry.

The Confederate battle flag, which became popular as a symbol of opposition to the civil rights movement of the 20th century, is a symbol of defending slavery, state sanctioned segregation, white supremacy and institutional violence against African-Americans. If Rep. Clodfelter does not understand this history and is insensitive to how offensive this symbol is to African-Americans, he is an idiot. Pair of lawmakers at odds over display of confederate flag on laptop:

After saying he would not remove the Confederate flag image displayed on his laptop in the Arizona House, Rep. Todd Clodfelter, R-Tucson, said he’ll leave the computer at home instead [with Confederate flag intact].

The Tucson Republican’s 180-degree turn came one day after Rep. Geraldine Peten, D-Goodyear, expressed concerns that she could clearly see the flag from her desk, located one row behind Clodfelter’s seat, during a mandatory harassment and ethics training session at the House of Representatives Jan. 9.

ClodfelterPicture of Rep. Todd Clodfelter’s confederate flag screen saver, posted on Facebook by Rep. Geraldine Peten.

“To me it’s intimidating,” she told her colleagues. “It creates a hostile work environment.”

Rep. Geraldine Peten is correct. Under the new guidelines being adopted by the legislature to come into compliance with the Arizona Civil Rights Act to deal with complaints filed against members of the legislature — arising out of the sexual harassment claims against Rep. Don Shooter — Rep. Peten would be within her rights to file a complaint for a racially hostile work environment over this incident. It would appear that this “mandatory harassment and ethics training” needs some work.

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A lesson from history on the failure of GOP ‘trickle down’ economics

Republicans control the White House, both chambers of Congress, the tilt of the Supreme Court, more state legislative chambers than any time in history, and more governor’s offices than they have held in nearly a century. Republicans Expand Control in a Deeply Divided Nation.

This is the GOP’s high-water mark since 1929 — just before the Great Depression that GOP laissez faire economic policies brought about.

Historian Robert S. McElvaine, the author of “The Great Depression: America, 1929-1941,” warns at the Washington Post, I’m a Depression historian. The GOP tax bill is straight out of 1929.

“There are two ideas of government,” William Jennings Bryan declared in his 1896 “Cross of Gold” speech. “There are those who believe that if you will only legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea, however, has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous their prosperity will find its way up through every class which rests upon them.”

That was more than three decades before the collapse of the economy in 1929. The crash followed a decade of Republican control of the federal government during which trickle-down policies, including massive tax cuts for the rich, produced the greatest concentration of income in the accounts of the richest 0.01 percent at any time between World War I and 2007 (when trickle-down economics, tax cuts for the hyper-rich, and deregulation again resulted in another economic collapse).

Yet the plain fact that the trickle-down approach has never worked leaves Republicans unfazed. The GOP has been singing from the Market-is-God hymnal for well over a century, telling us that deregulation, tax cuts for the rich, and the concentration of ever more wealth in the bloated accounts of the richest people will result in prosperity for the rest of us. The party is now trying to pass a scam that throws a few crumbs to the middle class (temporarily — millions of middle-class Americans will soon see a tax hike if the bill is enacted) while heaping benefits on the super-rich, multiplying the national debt and endangering the American economy.

As a historian of the Great Depression, I can say: I’ve seen this show before.

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