Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

A possibly-obvious preamble: other parties, including Democrats, are also inconsistent and shift priorities based on opportunism. The main thrust of this article is that Republicans are much more consistently opportunistic, to the point that the only reliable party platform it has consistently held in the past few decades is to simply obstruct the Democrats. 

An old example that I can bring to bear is how the party that is most beloved by the National Rifle Association supported and passed gun control legislation under Reagan, when he was governor of California. What on earth would cause this? Because disarming politically active minorities was a bigger priority than their sacred second amendment rights. And before anyone dismisses the Black Panther Party as a violent extremist group, which is how it was painted in mainstream media, it bears noting that most of their fears turned out to be correct: it turns out the police were unfairly targeting black people and the federal government was illegally monitoring them

Even before that, the Republican party’s Southern Strategy was only opportunistic. Before the party leadership to make it an issue because they realized it could drive a wedge between southern voters and the Democratic party, Evangelicals favored abortion rights for women. The Southern Baptists, the largest evangelical organization in the US,  passed resolutions to that end at their Conventions of 1971, 1974 and 1976. However, once the party saw the opportunity, evangelical organizations pivoted and made it a political issue

Despite being the laissez-faire party of economic and personal liberalism, Republicans started and supported the War on Drugs as a way to control minorities during the war and civil rights protests of the 1970s. And not necessarily because they were racist – merely politically convenient

More recently, before the health care framework was implemented in the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, it was originally concocted by the very conservative Heritage Foundation and then adopted by Republican then-governor Mitt Romney in Massachusetts. And while I’ve criticized the legislation before (let’s face it, it’s a gift to the private health care insurance industry to require folks to carry health care insurance), taking it down now has become merely a battle-cry for Republican leadership, even though they decided not to do anything about it when they held both houses in Congress and the Presidency.

Perhaps most recently, the Republican senate majority leader Mitch McConnel, as well as many other Republican Senators, had championed the idea of not even considering presidential appointees to the judiciary, particularly the Supreme Court, during the last year of their term. This was called the Thurmond rule, after the Senator who blocked president Lyndon B. Johnson’s appointment of Justice Abe Fortas as Chief Justice. Oddly, the Republicans only seem to apply it when the president is a Democrat, if at all.

Famously the party of fiscal responsibility, The Republican presidencies have consistently seen increases in the government’s debt, the debt-to-GDP ratio, and economic recessions. To the point where president Trump was not only outspending prior presidents before the Coronavirus epidemic, but even used the epidemic to pass a $1.2 trillion bill while refusing any oversight on it. Further, they’ve perpetrated the myth that lower taxes (the purple line in the graph below is the top income tax rate, and the blue line is the effective average corporate tax rate) boosts the economy, even though it has no impact on median wages or employment (the red line in the graph below).


Of course, no party can stay in power without voter support. Again, like the other main party, the Republican party’s messaging has a significant impact on its supporters. However, it is either more effective, or the supporters have similarly malleable positions on policy, depending on whether their party favors or opposes it at any given point in time. For example: 

I’d love for this observation to age horribly, or even be inaccurate, because I personally espouse many of the ideologies that Republicans have occasionally espoused, and have frequently voted for Republicans. But, as of late 2020, it seems very much to be the case that obstructionism is the only ideology the Republicans consistently espouse. 

SCOTUS LibCons Range

Please answer each question in the comments of either this post, our twitter account (@citizenscotus), or our Facebook page. Once you’ve posted your answer, Brett will tell your Justice as a reply. Please do not feel obligated to provide context for your answer, as a simple yes, no, or a, b, & c will suffice. Also, while your surrounding experience is certainly nice to know, the key with these questions is how you would react in context, so even if you like curdled milk chicken, the key is that recipe is gross. These answers are for entertainment only, and should not be used to figure out which cases you should be cagey about during your eventual Senate Confirmation hearings.

1. You are a Justice on the Supreme Court. A case has come before you asking to overturn Citizens United on grounds that the first decision was wrong. It is split 4-4. Do you cast the vote to overturn the law?

2. Same question as above, but it’s 8-0 in favor of keeping Citizens United as is. Do you cast the same vote?

3. You are playing a board game with a child that you like. The rules of the game require you to take an action that would win the game and likely upset the child, or you could ignore the rules and let the child win. Do you change the rules?

4. You are a Justice on the Supreme Court. A State defendant sentenced to death is appealing his decision on grounds that a procedural issue (an issue that went toward how the trial was conducted, and not whether the person was guilty/not guilty) was denied at his lower trial. All previous decisions have said the procedural issue was denied and that a rule was broken, but that it would not have affected the outcome. Assuming that is true, would you overturn the conviction?

5. You are making dinner for someone you care about and you are trying an international recipe for a meal you’ve never eaten before. The recipe is from an Anthony Bourdain cookbook. The recipe (made for 2 people) features chicken and asks you to include 3 cups of grapefruit juice and 2 spoonfuls of whole milk. Do you follow the recipe as is?

6. If no, do you remove an ingredient, add less of an ingredient, or make something different? If yes, and the recipe is bad, who do you blame?

7. Congress passes a law that gives everyone amnesty for low level State drug crimes. This law is challenged by only three States for infringing on State rights, even though it would free thousands of incarcerated minorities and 47 States prefer it. Assuming all of that is true, would you vote to strike the law?

8. You are a Justice on the Supreme Court and you are asked to decide whether the President can ban trans people from the military. Which is the best statement on how you would vote?
A. President can never do this.
B. President can always do this even if it the only stated reason is trans people are a distraction.
C. President could do this if the only stated reason is there is a cost for trans military members that is above and beyond on-trans military members. The cost a fraction of the military budget but everyone agrees it is there.

9. You are going to the movies with 6 friends. Three friends, all people you like a lot, want to see the new Fast and Furious movie. Two other friends, including your significant other and a person you don’t like, want to see a 2.5 hour indie movie that may win an academy award. They cannot decide and ask you to buy the first ticket, and they will all see whatever you buy. Which ticket do you buy?
A. Fast and the Furious
B. The indie film
C. Something else that only you want to see.

10. A class action lawsuit has been filed against a company for abusive practices in student loan debt collection. This lawsuit will likely assist past and future graduates manage student loan debt. The plaintiffs filed their lawsuit, but did not serve the defendant with the Complaint within 120 days as required by the Federal Civil Rules. The lower court dismissed plaintiff’s case even though the Complaint was served 15 days later and the defendant knew the case had begun. In addition, if the case is dismissed now, it cannot be refilled due to Statute of Limitations concerns. Assuming all that is true, do you vote to dismiss the case?

The Nuclear Option

Posted: January 3, 2017 by Nazim in Legislation, Politics


No, not that nuclear option. The Nuclear Option is the name given to the an idea conceived by Richard Nixon (sadly, of Watergate fame, despite being otherwise a pretty decent president) that ends the minority’s ability to filibuster in the US Senate, blocking the majority’s ability to pass laws. Normally, changing Senate rules requires 67% of the Senate to approve the change. But even these rule changes can be filibustered, and since the threshold of votes required to approve such changes is higher than usual, the number of senators needed to filibuster it is lower than usual.

Normally, when a bill is introduced to the Senate floor (after it is released from the clutches of a committee), it is discussed until a senator proposes a motion for cloture, which proposes to stop talking about it and take a vote on it. While it only takes half of the senators plus one to approve the bill, it takes 60% of the senate to approve the motion for cloture to end a filibuster (the ongoing discussion).

However, senators can raise a point of order, asking the presiding officer of the Senate (usually the majority party leader in the senate, but, in a case like this, more likely to be the vice-president, who is the boss of the Senate under article 1, section 3 of the Constitution) if a rule is being violated. Specifically, in this scenario, the question could be whether it’s constitutional to require 60% of senators to override a filibuster. And if the response were “Why, by George, I believe it is not,” the rule would be gone – ending the power to filibuster.

This thing could be appealed, but we’re in almost uncharted territory here. The constitution expressly says the Senate can write it’s own rules, as long as they abide the general framework provided, so you’d definitely have to read between the lines to find any argument either way. I say almost uncharted because this “option” has been used at least twice before in 2013. In January, by a vote of 78 to 16, the filibuster was temporarily banned, but only for that session. This change included safeguards, such as requiring the minority leader and seven other minority senators to approve overriding the filibuster. But in November, the ability to filibuster to oppose judicial nominees in District and Circuit courts (basically all courts below the Supreme Court) ended, by a vote of 52 to 48. For those keeping score, both changes were made by Democrats.

So, if the Democrats threaten to filibuster Republican Supreme Court nominees, this will probably come up. However, Republicans are likely to find themselves in the minority again at some point, so some may think that they might hesitate to do something this rash. However, the Republican-controlled legislature in NC just dramatically curtailed the Democratic governor-elect’s powers, displaying no such hesitation.

The phrase courts love to use when referring to our federal legislature’s behavior is Congress, in its infinite wisdom… We can hope.

Step Zero

Posted: November 30, 2016 by Nazim in Election, Moral High Ground, Politics


The “recent unpleasantness” was the way some politician referred to the Civil War, I believe, and I’ll steal the euphemism to say that the recent unpleasantness has caused a great stir among the people I know, and in mostly negative ways, as I mentioned in the recent episode. Personally, my reaction has been to re-evaluate: I was wrong about some things before the election. I might be wrong about others. Some have taken this to mean that they should be passive, or acquiescent, or something else they somehow both didn’t want to hear and at the same time heard. I can’t speak intelligently about humans – I include myself in that group – but lucky for me, others can.

I was trying to work this article on cognitive bias into some kind of election preparation piece that never came together, but find useful now. The short of it, because, if I’m frequently too lazy to click through, you might be as well, is this quote:


  • We don’t see everything. Some of the information we filter out is actually useful and important.
  • Our search for meaning can conjure illusions. We sometimes imagine details that were filled in by our assumptions, and construct meaning and stories that aren’t really there.
  • Quick decisions can be seriously flawed. Some of the quick reactions and decisions we jump to are unfair, self-serving, and counter-productive.
  • Our memory reinforces errors. Some of the stuff we remember for later just makes all of the above systems more biased, and more damaging to our thought processes.


Politicians Keep Promises

Posted: September 30, 2016 by Nazim in Politics, Uncategorized


About two-thirds of the time, according to fivethirtyeight, politicians keep their promises. Some of you may be surprised to read this coming from Nazim’s keyboard, but even I can’t fight these numbers. It certainly jives with my notion that politicians are very motivated to keep their jobs. And I would certainly have questions about what constitutes a promise and what constitutes keeping it. The answer to the latter is a generic “good faith effort,” according to the article. I’m not sure I’d be satisfied with that. If I promise to fix your car, would you be okay with “I tried?”

And, more to the point, two-thirds is still an absurdly low fraction. I haven’t been tracking my rate, but I certainly hope that it’s better than two-thirds.

Murder Rates Still Very Low Overall

Posted: September 14, 2016 by Nazim in Politics, Public Health


Despite the recent spike in murders across the US, it’s a good idea to remember that, overall, violent crime is close to a 20 year low. Just to frame some of the recent political considerations.

Congress Being Congress…

Posted: September 10, 2016 by Nazim in Legislation, Politics


On Friday, Congress passed a bill (Yay! They did something!) by consent, meaning the minority simply recognized that the majority had the numbers to pass it and therefore didn’t require a vote. The legislation, which will be vetoed by the president (which will not be overriden, so Congress basically didn’t do anything after all), allows the families of 9/11 victims to sue the Saudi government in US courts. This will be interesting.

The claims would probably be interesting: I’ve seen some individuals of the Saudi government had ties to some of the Al Qaeda members that had a hand in the attacks, but I’ve seen little evidence that the Saudi government proper had any role. However, I could be wrong about that, which would make it interesting.

But the notion that one sovereign government can unilaterally pass a law allowing it to sue another government in the first government’s courts is almost unprecedented. I say almost because this is almost what the Bank Markazi case was about, but there, Congress just wanted to remove sovereign immunity from foreign money in the US. Here, we’re dragging a foreign government into our courts. I can’t imagine Congress being okay with the opposite happening. Actually, I think that’s why Congress won’t ratify several treaties. Which is why many diplomatic veterans are throwing shade at the bill, saying that it’s more likely to just cause diplomatic waves than bring any justice about.

I guess Congress can try to do something some other time.


Before Citizens United was even a glimmer in the Supreme Court’s eye, a 2014 study reviewed 1,779 important US policy decisions made between 1981 and 2002. The researchers compared the decisions policymakers made compared to the desires of the average voter. In other words, it asked, if the average voter desires a policy, is that policy more likely to happen? Surprisingly, It’s not. Over twenty years of policy making, the average american voter’s preferences have so little impact on major policy decisions that it’s within the margin of error for zero. On the other hand, “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy.”

All Citizens United did was clarify that we’re in an oligarchy with virtually unlimited political bribery.

Governance & Climate Change

Posted: July 29, 2016 by Nazim in Politics, Uncategorized


Climate change is the other issue that almost makes me a single-issue voter, due to the regular receipt of news such as the fact that record high temperatures have again exceeded expectations. Below is a verbatim copy of an amazingly detailed Reddit post by ILikeNeurons. I’m copying it here for visibility and in case it gets deleted or removed.

However, action at the government level will only happen with pressure from citizens themselves, he added.

This is the part more people need to internalize. We know what we need to do about this problem; we’ve known for awhile now. The consensus among scientists and economists on carbon taxes § is similar to the consensus among climatologists that human activity is responsible for global warming. Putting the price upstream where the fossil fuels enter the market makes it simple, easily enforceable, and bureaucratically lean. Returning the revenue as an equitable dividend offsets the regressive effects of the tax (in fact, ~60% of the public would receive more in dividend than they paid in taxes). Enacting a border tax would protect domestic businesses from foreign producers not saddled with similar pollution taxes, and also incentivize those countries to enact their own carbon tax (why would China want to lose that tax money to the U.S. government if they could collect the revenue themselves?) Conservative estimates are that failing to mitigate climate change will cost us 10% of GDP over 50 years. In contrast, carbon taxes may actually boost GDP, if the revenue is used to offset other (distortional) taxes or even just returned as an equitable dividend (the poor tend to spend money when they’ve got it, which boosts economic growth). We won’t wean ourselves off fossil fuels without a carbon tax, and the longer we wait to take action the more expensive it will be.

It’s really just not smart to not take this simple action. Join RepublicEN (US) and write a letter to the editor (congress reads those things!), join Citizens’ Climate Lobby and start lobbying congress (you can do it from your home district!), join ConservAmerica and educate congress about conservative solutions to environmental problems, join the American Sustainable Business Council and write to your members of congress asking them to help you make your business sustainable, just please do something that pushes policy in the right direction.

§ The consensus among economists holds whether you’re looking at economists with expertise in climate economics, economists with expertise in resource economics, or economists from all sectors.


Okay, the laws reviewed below are not technically blue laws, but the insane liquor distribution system in Pennsylvania is close enough. Here, to buy a few cans of beer, you go to one store. If you want a case of beer, you have to go to a different store. And, finally, if you want wine or liquor, you have to go to a state-run store. Thank goodness, the latter is about to change: soon, grocery stores will be able to sell wine, and other laws that loosen up this structure are on the legislative agenda.

The Supreme Court has frequently ruled that laws based on custom, as opposed to laws aimed at the goals of Safety and Happiness enshrined in our recently celebrated Declaration of Independence, are fine. This, despite the fact that they are often based on one religion’s tenets, which, you’d think, would run afoul of the Establishment Clause. Perhaps this is due to the fact that these laws have some moral alibi in trying to curtail consumption, but this argument might even fail a rational basis test, since there is no limitation on the amounts of alcohol that can be purchased at once, as far as I know.

The law may set us free, but sometimes it just confuses me.

via Pinchot’s Legacy: Pennsylvania’s Liquor Control System | History’s Headlines – Home