Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: New Year’s Eve 2023 Edition

We begin this New Year’s Eve edition of the Abbreviated Pundit Roundup with Gordon L. Weil of the Bangor Daily News writing about the trial of the Supreme Court.

If the Supreme Court acts as courts often do, it will seek to decide the bare minimum necessary and leave alone other questions. If it is a more political than judicial body, it could be expansive and do Trump a lot of good (or harm, though that’s not likely).

In the Colorado case, it might decide that insurrection meant the Civil War when the Amendment was adopted, but that it has not otherwise been defined. Colorado alone cannot create that definition; that’s for Congress to do and it hasn’t. Or it could decide that his actions did not amount to participation in an insurrection. Either way, Trump would remain on the ballot.

In the immunity case, the Supreme Court could decide against Trump, based on the Nixon precedent. The former president accepted that adverse ruling, even though it meant he was likely to be convicted in the Senate by the votes of his own party, leading him to resign. […]

The Constitution, though much revered, is much distorted by partisan practice. The Supreme Court has sometimes shared in the responsibility for that. Now it faces tough judgments. The answer about whether there was an insurrection cannot be found in the law. It will be the judgment of just nine, unelected people.

Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post says that as opposed to placing full blame for the state of the union on the “tyranny of the minority”, we need to take a look at the voters.

Elements that were once the product of pragmatic compromise (a bicameral Congress, with a Senate favoring sparsely populated states) or rarely deployed (the filibuster) now threaten the essence of our democracy. Popular will on everything from abortion to gun reform can be thwarted, leading to gridlock and a loss of confidence in government to respond to public will.

The solution to the tyranny of the minority is a wave of pro-democracy reforms, including elimination of gerrymandering and lifetime terms for Supreme Court justices as well as expansion and protection of voting rights. Republicans, once deprived of the crutches that allow minority control, thereafter will need to appeal to the multicultural, multiracial electorate of the 21st century.

Each argument presents a cogent, powerful explanation for the perilous state of our democracy. Electing true patriots would certainly help, but even well-meaning politicians learn to play by the existing rules. Change the rules, and the incentives change as well.

Plainly, we need both structural change and public virtue to repair our democracy. But there is another element the analyses do not fully acknowledge: voters. We get the government we want and deserve.

Paul W. Kahn writes for The Hill that younger generations believe more in voter persuasion as opposed to the federal courts.

An older generation of left-liberal scholars and activists grew up with a political movement that worked hand-in-hand with the federal courts. The civil rights movement relied on the courts to intervene against racist institutions for the sake of minority voters, school children and employees. The women’s movement had similar success, working with the courts both to advance equality claims in the workplace and to gain autonomy over matters of marriage and reproduction.

These successful movements shaped a generation’s attitude toward the Supreme Court. That attitude lingered even as the court set about dismantling the achievements of the Warren and Burger courts, becoming in recent decades the leading edge of conservative politics. It has been some time since liberals regularly thought of the Supreme Court as a partner or even sought to bring cases before the court. Still, the older generation maintains a memory and a hope of that earlier partnership.

A younger generation on the left has known only a conservative, reactionary court. They distrust it for good reason. They have gotten little from it, even as conditions of inequality have worsened in the country. Their distrust of the Supreme Court colors their attitude toward the politics of their parents’ generation. Too much reliance on the court, they believe, resulted in only shallow victories. That which the court gave, it could take away. In a democracy, the only secure foundation for progressive reform is in the people themselves. The hard work of democratic politics, they believe, is to persuade the people, not five members of the Supreme Court.

OK but…Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution delegates the power of nominating someone to the Supreme Court  to the President of the United States “by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate.” 

Maybe these young progressives missed their American History or civics classes but elections already determine who gets a chance to make it to the Supreme Court (Duh!). In order to get the Supreme Court that these “young progressives” want, you have to vote for the person that you think is going to appoint the people that you prefer to the court.

But too many couldn’t vote for the E-mail Lady in spite of the fact that the 2016 election was what determined the ideological balance of the court (given the Senate Majority Leader’s treachery in not giving Merrick Garland even a nomination hearing). Ideological “concerns” about SCOTUS simply was not a good enough reason to vote for her.

I hear and read too much whining from “young progressives” about President Joe Biden’s senility or that he’s genocide-enabling or that he didn’t hear any of the reasons that Osama bin Laden gave for the Sept. 11 attacks or they don’t like the laugh of Vice President Kamala Harris or the price of prime rib is too damn high or something.

Sometimes I just wish that some “young progressives” would just shut the fu*k up and spend a day reading the U.S. Constitution instead of looking at TikTok. Because they would realize that they do choose the justices of the Supreme Court based on their actions in the voting booth.

We get the government we want and deserve.

Chile, let me hush and move on to a few more pundits…

Lauren Kaori Gurley of The Washington Post says that a stronger labor market (and overall economy) played a critical role in the number and the success of labor strikes this year.

Headed into 2023, many Wall Street forecasters were predicting a recession. The Federal Reserve was in the midst of an aggressive campaign to raise interest rates to fight inflation, leading to the widespread belief that the unemployment rate would rise in response to weakened labor demand. Those fears lingered into the early months of the year, as 160,000 layoffs in the tech industry in the first quarter and a series of bank failures briefly sparked concerns about a broader meltdown in the economy.

But recession fears faded as stronger-than-expected consumer spending pushed employers to keep hiring at a healthy clip. Fierce competition for workers has pushed employers to continue to raise wages, with the bottom 25 percent of wage earners seeing the biggest wage gains this year, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

Justin Wolfers, an economist at the University of Michigan, called 2023 “genuinely a banner year for the working class and low-paid workers,” noting the economic recovery since covid has been strongest for those on the lower end of the income scale. […]

The strength of the labor market played a crucial role in a series of strikes that helped secure the strongest union contracts in decades across a variety of industries this year.

Andrea J. Arratibel of El País in English says that for various reasons and in various ways, Latinos in the United States are highly susceptible to disinformation and “fake news.” (Pushing fair use here.)

Hispanic citizens represent almost 20% of the U.S. population, “but they’re orphaned by news in their language,” Calzadilla notes. Quality journalism in Spanish is a very scarce commodity and barely has funding. “Translations from English are usually of poor quality… they don’t take into account the way in which Latinos express themselves. And the sections aimed at them are the first to be eliminated when the media suffers from budget cuts,” she explains.

Agents of disinformation churn out content “that undermines democratic institutions, affects human rights, immigration, access to voting, or health care,” Calzadilla emphasizes. This past September, for example, conservative groups and Republican politicians pushed a false narrative in which they claimed that the Democratic Party had proposed allowing abortion — under any circumstances — up to the ninth month of pregnancy. “Something completely false, which was widely spread in Spanish,” Calzadilla clarifies.

In addition to the language factor, many members of the Hispanic community face other barriers to accessing reliable sources of information. “This exposes them to certain dangers, as the pandemic clearly demonstrated,” Calzadilla affirms. The narratives about the safety of the Covid-19 vaccines were among the most widespread and impactful hoaxes that circulated on social media, taking a serious toll on many American citizens. This was explained in 2021 by an analysis from First Draft, a project against online misinformation founded in 2015 by some of the most important data companies, such as Google.

According to this study, misinformation about vaccines brought about serious consequences for Latinos, who were 2.8 times more likely to be hospitalized for Covid-19 and 2.3 times more likely to die from the disease than non-Hispanic whites. Fake news generated widespread confusion and unscientific rumors, such as alternative treatments to cure the infection, “or absurd claims, [alleging] that the vaccines contained microchips, altered DNA, or were made from aborted fetuses and were the work of the Antichrist,” Calzadilla laments.

The former executive director of the Jewish activity hub at Harvard University (Harvard Hillel), Bernie Steinberg, writes for the Harvard Crimson about the weaponization of antisemitism.

During my long career as a Jewish educator and leader — including thirteen years living in Jerusalem — I have seen and lived through my community’s struggles. Now, as an elder leader, with the benefit of hindsight, I feel compelled to speak to what I see as a disturbing trend gripping our campus, and many others: The cynical weaponization of antisemitism by powerful forces who seek to intimidate and ultimately silence legitimate criticism of Israel and of American policy on Israel. […]

As a leader in the Jewish community, I am particularly alarmed by today’s McCarthyist tactic of manufacturing an antisemitism scare, which, in effect, turns the very real issue of Jewish safety into a pawn in a cynical political game to cover for Israel’s deeply unpopular policies with regard to Palestine. (A recent poll found that 66 percent of all U.S. voters and 80 percent of Democratic voters desire an end to Israel’s current war, for instance.)

What makes this trend particularly disturbing is the power differential: Billionaire donors and the politically-connected, non-Jews and Jews alike on one side, targeting disproportionately people of vulnerable populations on the other, including students, untenured faculty, persons of color, Muslims, and, especially, Palestinian activists.

Louis Keene of Forward says that there is a new entry in the Urban Dictionary as of some days after Oct. 7, 2023.

The 30-plus entries for “Israeled” so far submitted to Urban Dictionary more or less share a definition. One, posted Oct. 22, reads: “Verb. Use this term to refer to someone who steals something and acts like the victim.”

All Urban Dictionary entries use the word in a sentence for clarification, with many proceeding along these lines: “In a restaurant, someone asked to share my table. I agreed. After a moment, he asked me to leave because he has a meeting! I’ve been Israeled.”

The top-ranked entry had racked up more than 9,000 upvotes and 17,000 downvotes as of Dec. 29. […]

…Urban Dictionary — one of the top 500 most-visited websites in the United States — has been scrutinized over the spread of racism and misogyny on the platform in recent years…

Definitions can be flagged for removal, but the content moderation team that reviews the reports generally seems to take a laissez-faire approach. And a cursory review of the site’s terms of service does not find any clear-cut violations in “Israeled.” Though definitions that provide “information that is false, misleading or inaccurate,” are deemed unacceptable, the site reserves the right to not take down even definitions that are in violation.

An eight-reporter team for The New York Times investigates the myriad of troubles that the IDF had in responding to the Oct. 7 massacre by Hamas that day.

The Times investigation is based on internal Israeli government documents and a review of the military’s cache of materials, known as Pandora, that contains tens of thousands of videos, including footage from body cameras worn by terrorists and closed-circuit surveillance cameras. The Times interviewed dozens of officers, enlisted troops and eyewitnesses, some of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about military operations.

The documents and interviews revealed new details about the attack, including military assessments and orders like the one given by The Pit early that morning. Taken together, they show that much of the military failure was due to the lack of a plan, coupled with a series of intelligence missteps in the months and years before the attack. […]

Israeli security and military agencies produced repeated assessments that Hamas was neither interested in nor capable of launching a massive invasion. The authorities clung to that optimistic view even when Israel obtained Hamas battle plans that revealed an invasion was precisely what Hamas was planning.

The decisions, in retrospect, are tinged with hubris. The notion that Hamas could execute an ambitious attack was seen as so unlikely that Israeli intelligence officials even reduced eavesdropping on Hamas radio traffic, concluding that it was a waste of time.

We get the government we want and deserve.

Toby Helm writes for the Guardian that an overwhelming majority of the British public believes that Brexit has been bad for the British economy.

A clear majority of the British public now believes Brexit has been bad for the UK economy, has driven up prices in shops, and has hampered government attempts to control immigration, according to a poll by Opinium to mark the third anniversary of the UK leaving the EU single market and customs union.

The survey of more than 2,000 UK voters also finds strikingly low numbers of people who believe that Brexit has benefited them or the country.

Just one in 10 believe leaving the EU has helped their personal financial situation, against 35% who say it has been bad for their finances, while just 9% say it has been good for the NHS, against 47% who say it has had a negative effect.

Ominously for prime minister Rishi Sunak, who backed Brexit and claimed it would be economically beneficial, only 7% of people think it has helped keep down prices in UK shops, against 63% who think Brexit has been a factor in fuelling inflation and the cost of living crisis.

Who woulda thunk it? A slim majority of the British public believed the lies about the National Health Service, accepted arguments steeped in racism and now they’re still going through economic trouble.

We get the government we want and deserve.

Megan Corrarino of Just Security provides us with nine issues that she wishes JustSecurity had devoted more time and space to.

Guantánamo

More than 21 years on, U.S. detention at Guántanamo Bay continues. Earlier this year, longtime detainee Majid Khan was released, but 30 other detainees, including at least 16 cleared for release, remain in custody; many suffer from health problems, including from the effects of torture. Efforts to secure plea deals in the remaining cases – which many 9/11 victims’ families advocate for as the best remaining path to justice – hit a roadblock in September, when the Biden administration rejected proposed deal terms, although negotiations remain ongoing. […]

Space Law

Several recent developments in outer space – including increasing commercial activity and the use of space-based weapons in Russia’s war against Ukraine – have prompted conversations about what laws govern the final frontier. The starting point is the Cold War-era Outer Space Treaty, which assigns States international responsibility for any national activity, including commercial activity by non-State actors, carried out in outer space; in practice, the existence of multiple domestic legal regimes can create complex and sometimes contradictory regulatory patchworks as well as a step – or more – behind new technologies.

Among the issues to watch in 2024: the application of international humanitarian law to space-based warfare; how countries, including the United States, will seek to regulate increased commercial activity in space; and whether there may be movement toward international norms around certain emerging technologies, such as remote sensing.

Finally today, The Grammarian writes for The Philadelphia Inquirer his annual list of words that we need to leave in 2023.

The new year is a time to shrug off those things that weighed us down in 2023.

Unfortunately, 2023 had a lot of terrible words and phrases. As we alwaysdo this time of year, let’s cast these terms into the past and never speak of them again in 2024.

Rizz. This word — slang for romantic appeal or charm — was destined for shame even before it ended up on both Oxford’s and Merriam-Webster’s word-of-the-year lists. I’ve written before about how such lists are clickbait nonsense, a pseudo-tradition that’s far beneath the dignity of the august institutions that typically publish them. Their inane selection of rizz — a word bound to be forgotten — feels like Borat trying to master “not” jokes: endeavoring to explain slang that wasn’t funny or interesting to begin with. This is Philadelphia, where our “rizz” is a crumb bumwhose statue was secreted away in the dead of night in 2020. From now on, if anyone’s talking about “rizz,” Gonzo better be involved. […]

Periodt. Periodt, whose heyday was roughly 2019 to 2021, puts a period on the word period. When a period — or even the word period — isn’t enough, periodt adds even more emphasis. Unfortunately, it does so at the cost of cultural appropriation; as Indiana University linguist Michael Adams has said, periodt originated in Black gay slang, and somehow caught on. Regular old punctuation works really well. Use it — and avoid yet another misappropriation.

I disagree with The Grammarian about periodt automatically being a case of cultural appropriation. It’s not that you say it, it’s how you say it.

Everyone try to have the best possible day and Happy New Year to all!

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