‘Tip of the Iceberg’: Thomas Says Court Should Reconsider Marriage Equality, Right to Contraception

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas appears at the White House on October 26, 2020. (Photo: Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

“It is clear he and the court’s majority have no respect for other precedents that have been won in recent decades,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal.

JULIA CONLEY June 24, 2022 (CommonDreams.org)

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas made clear in his concurring opinion regarding the overturning of Roe v. Wade that the high court has no intention of stopping its rollback of Americans’ rights, naming cases that centered on marriage equality and the right to obtain contraception as previous rulings that should be revisited.

“This Supreme Court is out of touch with the American people and increasingly suffers a legitimacy crisis.”

“It does not end at abortion. Republicans will not stop until they have stripped away every freedom they can’t load with bullets,” said MoveOn Executive Director Rahna Epting, referring to this week’s ruling by the Supreme Court’s right-wing majority that New York’s restrictions on carrying concealed weapons were unconstitutional.

In his concurrence, quoting Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion, Thomas wrote, “I agree that ‘nothing in [the court’s] opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion.'”

“For that reason,” Thomas wrote, “in future cases, we should reconsider all of the Court’s substantive due process precedents, including GriswoldLawrence, and Obergefell.

The 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut ruling affirmed that the government cannot interfere in people’s procurement of contraceptives, while Lawrence v. Texas in 2003 overturned a Texas law which had effectively made sexual relationships between people of the same sex illegal in the state. Obergefell v. Hodges, decided in 2015, affirmed that same-sex couples can legally marry.

Like the court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization on Friday, the overruling of the decisions listed by Thomas would be deeply unpopular with the American public.

That is unlikely to stop the right-wing majority from overturning those rulings, said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

“It is clear he and the court’s majority have no respect for other precedents that have been won in recent decades,” said Jayapal. “This Supreme Court is out of touch with the American people and increasingly suffers a legitimacy crisis.”

The three liberal justices who dissented against the ruling denounced Alito’s claim that the decision would not have an effect on other rights previously protected by the court.

“They are all part of the same constitutional fabric, protecting autonomous decision-making over the most personal of life decisions,” the dissent reads. “The lone rationale for what the majority does today is that the right to elect an abortion is not ‘deeply rooted in history.'”

Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Stephen Breyer added:

The same could be said, though, of most of the rights the majority claims it is not tampering with… So one of two things must be true. Either the majority does not really believe in its own reasoning. Or if it does, all rights that have no history stretching back to the mid-19th century are insecure. Either the mass of the majority’s opinion is hypocrisy, or additional constitutional rights are under threat. It is one or the other.

Economist Umair Haque said the ruling handed down Friday was “just the beginning, sadly, of the theocratic fascist project reaching its culmination in earnest now.”

As progressives called for legislative and executive action to codify the right to abortion care into federal law, attorney and Democratic U.S. House candidate Suraj Patel called on Congress to “move now” to ensure the right to contraception, same-sex relationships, and marriage equality are protected.

“Congress has that power right now. Hold the vote,” said Patel. “For 50 years Republicans told us their playbook, they attacked Roe at the edges, we didn’t codify it. Let’s not be naive and not anticipate what’s coming.”

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URGENT: Hit the streets TONIGHT at 5:00pm re: SCOTUS decision on abortion (from Adrienne Fong)

TODAY 5:00pm (June 24, 2022)

Join defenders of reproductive justice

San Francisco Federal Building
450 Golden Gate Ave. (between Polk St. & Larkin)
SF

for our 5 pm protest at the Federal Building. Are you available for civil disobedience in the form of a sit-in at the 5pm protest at the Federal Building (450 Golden Gate Ave, SF) If so, please arrive at 4:00pm for a briefing. If that’s too early, look for the CD Coordinator Nancy, who will be wearing an orange vest, to get briefed.

See below what is being called for

From: Freedom Socialist Party – Bay Area [mailto:BayAreaFSP@socialism.com]

Join the Freedom Socialist Party and the National Mobilization for Reproductive Justice:
Protest the Supreme Court’s decision on abortion! 
We knew it was coming and today it happened — the Supreme Court majority issued an opinion that overturns the right to abortion and the bodily autonomy of all people. Lives, health and futures will be lost as people find themselves forced to carry unwanted pregnancies. And the poorest, those most oppressed by racism, sexism, and transphobia will pay the highest price. 
 
Join defenders of reproductive justice for our 5 pm protest at the Federal Building. Are you available for civil disobedience in the form of a sit-in at the 5pm protest at the Federal Building (450 Golden Gate Ave, SF)? If so, please arrive at 4:00pm for a briefing. If that’s too early, look for the CD Coordinator Nancy, who will be wearing an orange vest, to get briefed.
 
Don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes, wear green if possible, and bring water and a snack to be protest-ready!
 Thanks for being part of the fight for reproductive rights!
 Nancy
415-994-5785
 
What we call for: Protect & expand Roe v. Wade; safe, legal abortion on demand without apologyRepeal the Hyde AmendmentOverturn state barriers to reproductive choicesStop forced sterilizationNo to caged kids, forced assimilation, & child welfare abusesEnd medical & environmental racism; for universal healthcareDefend queer & trans familiesGuarantee medically sound sex education & affordable childcareSexual self-determination for people with disabilitiesUphold social progress with expanded voting rights & strong unions 

#AbortTheCourt            #MyDecisionAlone        #UnjustLawsWillBeBroken
Facebook.com/reprojusticecoalitionsf         reprojustice.sf@gmail.com       ReproJusticeNow.org             www.socialism.com

The Supreme Court’s Legitimacy Crisis: From Recusal Issues to Blatant Partisanship

This op-ed argues that the current Supreme Court is illegitimate.

BY MOLLY COLEMAN AND TRISTIN BROWN JUNE 16, 2022 (teenvogue.com)

embers of the Supreme Court pose for a group photo at the Supreme Court in Washington DC

In a one-paragraph decision issued in January, the Supreme Court ruled that former president Donald Trump was required to turn over documents to the House committee investigating the January 6 insurrection. It was an unsurprising decision, described by commentators as “entirely consistent with existing law.” In a Supreme Court where a third of the members were appointed by Trump, only Clarence Thomas noted his dissent. Thomas would have permitted the Trump White House to shield its records from congressional scrutiny.

Initially, Thomas’s dissent was notable but not shocking. Thomas is a staunch conservative, frequently willing to go further to advance the right-wing agenda than many or all of his colleagues on the bench. But over the last several months, new reporting has suggested that Thomas’s dissent may not have stemmed strictly from a different interpretation of the relevant law.

Reporting has revealed that Thomas’s wife, far-right activist Ginni Thomas, was deeply involved in efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, going so far as to pressure at least lawmakers in Arizona to overturn the outcome in their state. Legal ethics experts from across the political spectrum agree that Thomas had no business ruling in a case so directly tied to his wife’s political activity — but he did so anyway.

As egregious as Justice Thomas’s refusal to recuse is, it is merely the latest display of the current Supreme Court’s illegitimacy. The creation of a 6-3 radically conservative supermajority on the Court is the result of a conservative legal movement determined to seize power at any cost.

In a 2016 presidential debate, Trump plainly stated that his Supreme Court nominees would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. He said, “If we put another two or perhaps three justices on, that is really what will happen. That will happen automatically in my opinion. Because I am putting pro-life justices on the court.” Six years later we are on the precipice of that plan becoming a reality.

Each of those “two or perhaps three justices” appears likely to help overturn Roe, according to a majority draft opinion leaked last month. And each of those three justices occupies a seat on the bench because of bad-faith practices by conservatives.

After the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, Senate Republicans began an unprecedented blockade of Merrick Garland, then president Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court. The Republican majority refused to fulfill their duty to hold hearings and vote on a judicial nominee. Garland’s nomination was stalled for a stunning 293 days before expiring on January 3, 2017. Trump assumed office shortly after and within weeks nominated Neil Gorsuch to be the next Supreme Court justice.

A little over a year later, Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement from the bench. Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh as Kennedy’s reportedly hand-selected successor. Before Kavanaugh was confirmed, Christine Blasey Ford came forward alleging that he had sexually assaulted her when the two were in high school. Two additional women subsequently came forward with sexual misconduct allegations. Following Kavanaugh’s denials (and following what Blasey Ford’s lawyers called a “sham” FBI investigation), he was confirmed to a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court.

Only two years later, Trump had the opportunity to appoint yet another justice. Just eight days after the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Trump nominated his final Supreme Court pick, Amy Coney Barrett, despite the fact that the 2020 presidential election was just 38 days away. The irony of Senate Republicans blocking Garland’s nomination for nearly a year only to turn around and swiftly force now Justice Barrett’s confirmation through was rich, to say the least.

Failures to recuse in cases of conflicts of interest. Holding seats open in the case of Democratic nominees and rushing to fill seats in the case of Republican nominees. Allegations of sexual misconduct and “sham investigation” of said claims. Taken together, it’s no wonder the Supreme Court is facing a crisis of legitimacy.

Six conservative lawyers in robes are poised to massively upend life in the United States. It appears all but certain that the Supreme Court will end constitutional protections for abortion access within the month. If that happens, the Center for Reproductive Rights has noted that “abortion rights would be protected in less than half of the U.S. states and none of the U.S. territories,” which would disproportionately harm low-income people and Black and brown people.

And abortion is just the beginning: Legal experts warn that the legality of Plan B and various forms of birth control may soon be in jeopardy. And, as President Joe Biden has said, from there it’s just a short jump to ending constitutional protections for same-sex marriage.

Decisions about intimate relationships and reproduction aren’t the only things on the Supreme Court’s agenda. The gun-friendly conservative majority may be on track to expand the public’s ability to access and carry firearms. Some advocates say that the Court is gearing up for “a relentless effort…to transform gun regulation around the United States,” preparing to dramatically limit state and local government’s ability to pass laws regulating the ability to carry firearms.

In West Virginia v. EPA, in which a decision is also expected this month, the conservative justices appear likely to severely limit the federal government’s ability to respond to climate change. Environmental law experts warn that the far-right Supreme Court is poised to say that federal agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency no longer have the discretion to enact rules and regulations aimed at addressing the biggest issue of our time.

Unelected, unaccountable judges are on the verge of limiting our ability to fight climate change while forcing people to birth unwanted babies in a world with almost unlimited access to deadly weapons. It’s perhaps no wonder that a majority of Americans disapprove of the Supreme Court.

We are in a crisis moment — and it’s only getting worse. We must treat this Court as the emergency that it is. And that starts with structurally reforming the Court. The most impactful way to do that in the immediate term is to pass the Judiciary Act of 2021, which would add four seats to the Supreme Court. Further, we have to require transparency and accountability from justices who refuse to disclose conflicts of interests and recuse themselves when those conflicts are present.

Beyond the immediate term, we need to prioritize putting power back in the hands of democratically accountable individuals. As Harvard law school professor Niko Bowie shared with the Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court of the United States, the “Supreme Court is an anti-democratic institution.… The Court has wielded an anti-democratic influence on American law, one that has undermined federal attempts to eliminate hierarchies of race, wealth, and status.”

The time to critically assess and reconfigure the Court’s role in our society is now. Our democracy depends on it.

The Second Amendment Is a Palladium of Death. It Should Be Repealed

gun_rights

Gun rights activists carrying semi-automatic firearms pose for a photograph in the Capitol Building on January 31, 2020 in Frankfort, Kentucky. Advocates from across the state gathered at the Kentucky Capitol in support of the Second Amendment. (Photo: Bryan Woolston/Getty Images)

We have made a fetish out of the Second Amendment: it has become a loathsome idol for which no amount of American blood is sufficient.

SAM BEN-MEIR June 22, 2022 (CommonDreams.org)

It is shameful and unconscionable that this country has allowed gun violence to become the leading cause of death among children in the United States—but that is the reality. The legislation, including gun measures, recently proposed by a bipartisan group of senators represents a step in the right direction: it does some good things, such as provide money to encourage states to pass and implement “red flag” laws to remove guns from potentially dangerous people, as well as money for school safety and mental health resources; it expands background checks for gun purchases for people between the ages of 18 and 21 and penalties for illegal straw purchases by convicted criminals.

If Americans are truly fed up, disgusted, and unwilling to let this terrible carnage continue then let them stand together and call for the Second Amendment to be repealed and replaced by a constitutional provision that is more relevant to the times in which we live.

Still, the proposed legislation falls woefully short of what is needed to bring an end to the epidemic of gun violence—an epidemic that will not abate until we are prepared to grapple with the Second Amendment, and how it has been co-opted by the private interests of a powerful gun lobby that includes the National Rifle Association, among other organizations. These groups maintain that the right to bear arms is not simply one right alongside others, but the palladium or guarantor of all our other freedoms.

The Second Amendment has in fact a long history of being referred to as the “palladium of liberty,” going as far back as St. George Tucker’s Blackstone Commentaries (1803):

“This may be considered as the true palladium of liberty… The right of self-defence is the first law of nature: in most governments, it has been the study of rulers to confine this right within the narrowest limits possible. Wherever standing armies are kept up, and the right of the people to keep and bear arms is, under any color or pretext whatsoever, prohibited, liberty, if not already annihilated, is on the brink of destruction.”

For the supporters of gun rights, Tucker’s comments provide incontrovertible proof that “the right to bear arms was originally understood to protect an individual right to keep and use firearms for personal self-defense, hunting, and any other lawful activity.” As it turns out the individual rights misreading of Tucker, and by extension, the Second Amendment, is a stark example of how constitutional scholarship can be “hijacked for ideological purposes…”

Far from being a right of personal defense, as modern gun advocates urge, Tucker saw the Second Amendment provision protecting the right to bear arms as necessary to mitigate anti-Federalist worries that the federal government might threaten the states; to assuage their fears about the potential disarmament of the state militias.

Tucker was by no means alone in describing the Second Amendment as the “palladium of liberty,” a remarkable phrase the origin of which we should take a moment to ponder. The Palladium goes back to Ancient Troy and the statue of Pallas Athena which was believed to ensure the safety and survival of the city. In other words, the Palladium was a wooden idol, thought to guarantee the well-being of the Trojan state. As anyone who has read their Homer knows, the Palladium did not protect Troy from utter ruin, and in fact, the goddess who did most to bring about the fall of Troy was Athena herself. The Palladium turned out to be no more than a fetish, an object accorded special powers that it does not in reality possess. Meanwhile, the actual goddess Athena was bent on Troy’s downfall.

The Second Amendment, we are told by Tucker is and his followers, is the palladium, the guarantor or safeguard of our freedom. My thesis is quite simple: Those who wish to defend the Second Amendment as the palladium of liberty are right about one thing. The Second Amendment is indeed an idol, a false idol it turns out—and rather than guaranteeing our liberty it is daily guaranteeing our death and self-destruction. The Second Amendment is not the palladium, the guarantor of liberty, but the palladium of meaningless death and carnage.

We have made a fetish out of the Second Amendment: it has become a loathsome idol for which no amount of American blood is sufficient. Republican legislators are prepared to sacrifice our youngest, most vulnerable, and most innocent on the altar of the Second Amendment, lest they are excommunicated and banished from the temple and its coffers. Such legislators are far worse than mere cowards: they are complicit in the endless cycle of bloodletting; they have betrayed those who are most in need of protection and safety.

The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution provides that “a well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” As former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens observed, “Today that concern is a relic of the 18th century.”

How many Americans, how many children, how many innocents need to be slaughtered on this wretched altar, as if our Founding Fathers cared more for the right of an 18-year-old to purchase a military-style assault rifle than for the right an 8-year-old to live free from unspeakable terror, senseless violence, and a horrifying death? Increasing the minimum age to buy a gun from 18 to 21 years old might well have prevented the slaughter in Uvalde, Texas which was perpetrated by an 18-year-old who purchased an assault rifle days after his birthday.

If Americans are truly fed up, disgusted, and unwilling to let this terrible carnage continue then let them stand together and call for the Second Amendment to be repealed and replaced by a constitutional provision that is more relevant to the times in which we live. The Second Amendment’s staunch defenders refer to it as the touchstone and guarantee of all our other rights. But is this correct? By turning this right into the palladium of liberty what are we doing but reifying it, transforming it into a fetish, an object of our creation which now lords over us, demanding absolute devotion and blood sacrifice? Do we exist for the sake of protecting this single right, are we here to serve the right to bear arms or does the right exist for our sakes, for our benefit?

What needs to be emphasized is that there is nothing even remotely conservative about the gun lobby’s position or the position of those that would turn the Second Amendment into an absolute right of individuals ‘to keep and bear arms.’ Indeed, it is the very antithesis of conservatism, and it is in the name of genuine conservatism that we should demand that the Second Amendment is repealed. Former Chief Justice Warren Burger was certainly a conservative and he said explicitly that the idea that there was an individual right to bear arms was “a fraud.” Referring to the NRA, Berger claimed on PBS that the Second Amendment, “has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word fraud, on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”

For nearly two hundred years the general legal consensus was that the right to bear arms was not an individual right but the right for those called to military service—that is, the militia. And as Burger points out, if according to the Second Amendment “the militia—which was going to be the State army—was going to be ‘well regulated,’ why shouldn’t 16, and 17 and 18, or any other age persons, be regulated in the use of arms, the way an automobile is regulated?” If he were writing the Bill of Rights now, he said in 1991, “There wouldn’t be any such thing as the Second Amendment.”

Let us takes those words to heart, once and for all, and move to repeal and replace the Second Amendment lest this dreadful idol we have made continues to demand ever more innocent blood.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

SAM BEN-MEIR

Sam Ben-Meir is a professor of philosophy and world religions at Mercy College in New York City.

Biden Taps Anti-Social Security Ideologue To Oversee Program

Jun 21, 2022 • Matthew Cunningham-Cook (levernews.com)

Biden nominated Andrew Biggs, a think tank denizen with a history of slamming Social Security, to oversee government retirement benefits for 66 million Americans.

Biden Taps Anti-Social Security Ideologue To Oversee Program
Andrew Biggs (credit: American Enterprise Institute)

Last month, President Joe Biden nominated a longtime advocate of Social Security privatization and benefit cuts to a key board overseeing the Social Security system. The move comes as Republicans get ready to push cuts to Social Security and Medicare, if they end up winning control of Congress during the November’s midterms, as expected.

The development suggests that there could soon be a coordinated push in Washington to cut the Social Security program, which provides retirement, disability, and survivor benefits to 66 million Americans.

On May 13, Biden chose to nominate Andrew Biggs, a fellow at the right-wing American Enterprise Institute think tank, for a Republican seat on the bipartisan Social Security Advisory Board, which was created in 1994 to consult the president and Congress about the Social Security system.

For years, Biggs has been a vocal critic of expanded Social Security and workers’ right to a secure, stable retirement free from the vagaries of the stock market. He has dismissed the retirement crisis as a non-issue and as recently as 2020 blamed problems with the Social Security system on “older Americans’ game of chicken.” And two decades ago, Biggs worked on a Bush administration commission that pushed to privatize Social Security.

In response to questions from The Lever, Biggs suggested he no longer favors privatizing Social Security. Instead, he said he now believes that nations’ Social Security-like programs should be “more focused on guaranteeing against poverty in old age while middle and high-income individuals take on greater responsibility for saving for retirement on their own, such as by the government establishing universal retirement savings accounts for every worker.”

Establishing such savings accounts would be a solution in search of a problem. Social Security is incredibly successful at delivering retirement benefits, and raising taxes on the wealthy would be a straightforward way to expand the program. Alternatively, creating retirement accounts invested in the stock market would involve a much more unwieldy and risky expansion of government programs — and would be a huge boon to Wall Street.

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While the seat on the bipartisan board is by tradition assigned to a Republican, Biden could have chosen a moderate candidate — or even leaned on precedent to avoid the nomination process altogether. Former President Donald Trump routinely refused to nominate Democrats for seats on boards and commissions. Furthermore, Biden could use the efforts of Senate Republicans to block speedy confirmation of many of his nominees as justification for holding the seat open, said Jeff Hauser, director at the Revolving Door Project.

“If [Senate Minority Leader Mitch] McConnell’s caucus continues to slow-march consensus presidential nominees in order to limit the filling of vacant judgeships, independent agency commissioner slots, U.S. Attorney positions, and senior department officials,” said Hauser, “retaliation against an ardent opponent of Social Security would be both well warranted and good politics.”

“Carpal Tunnel Syndrome From Your Mouse Or Something”

For Biggs, attempting to milk government programs for private-sector profits is nothing new.

In 2001, Biggs was a staff analyst on George W. Bush’s commission on Social Security that advocated privatizing the government program by shifting the programs’ trust fund investments from U.S. Treasury bills to high-fee, high-risk “personal accounts” that  seniors could use to invest Social Security assets in the stock and bond markets, like employees do with their 401(k) plans.

After that, Biggs spent four years working as an associate commissioner of the Social Security Administration, which administers the Social Security program, while Bush unsuccessfully pushed the unprecedented privatization efforts recommended by the 2001 commission.

A sample of Biggs’ writings on Social Security over the years shows that he:

  • Hand-waved away retirement insecurity for millions of Americans, saying that “only” 23 percent of seniors will have retirement incomes equal to or less than 75 percent of their average pre-retirement earnings.
  • Was concerned by Social Security taxes being raised on “upper-middle class Americans making as little as $140,000,” even though such a tax hike would massively increase long-term Social Security funding.
  • Endorsed cuts to Social Security, saying: “Most middle and upper-income retirees could survive just fine with slightly lower initial Social Security benefits and lower Cost of Living Adjustments after retirement.”
  • Argued that Social Security privatization would make Americans “not only richer, but also happier, healthier, more familial, smarter, and more active citizens.”
  • In 2013, Biggs justified the idea of raising the retirement age for Social Security benefits by saying that Americans’ “biggest on the job risk is, you know, carpal tunnel syndrome from your mouse or something like that.”.

For years, Biggs has led the American Enterprise Institute’s attacks on defined-benefit pensions in the public sector, pushing states and municipalities to lower the expected rate of return on their pension funds, which would make the funds look less promising and bolster the case for benefit cuts.

In 2016, President Barack Obama and Republican lawmakers appointed Biggs to the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico, the unelected body that effectively controls financial matters on the island, which has pushed for deep cuts in public employees’ pensions, while bailing out the island’s Wall Street bondholders.

Biggs’ background and past statements make him a questionable choice to fill the Social Security Advisory Board vacancy — if Biden had to fill the vacancy at all.

As Hauser at the Revolving Door Project pointed out, Trump would routinely refuse to nominate Democrats for the seats they were owed on other bipartisan boards and commissions, including the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Progressives called on Democratic lawmakers to speak up and demand that Trump make the appointments — but the calls were ignored.

“Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump quietly pocket vetoed potential appointees recommended by Chuck Schumer during the Trump presidency, and sadly, the Democratic leadership ignored our call for action and never raised a fuss about it publicly,” Hauser told The Lever.

“However, that passivity doesn’t change the fact that a precedent was set,” he added — suggesting Biden should use that precedent to avoid nominating extremists like Biggs.

Letters to the Chronicle: How the Boudin recall is a failure of democracy

June 20, 2022 (SFChronicle.com)

San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin prepares to give a concession speech at his election night party at the Ramp June 7 in San Francisco. He was recalled by city voters.
San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin prepares to give a concession speech at his election night party at the Ramp June 7 in San Francisco. He was recalled by city voters.Gabrielle Lurie/The Chronicle

The Chesa Boudin recall was legitimate but a failure of democracy.

Boudin was elected with a promise to reform the San Franicisco District Attorney Office’s policies to divert more low-level offenders into treatment instead of jail. And that’s just what he’s done. But he was elected by the narrowest of margins, 50.8% to the runner-up Suzy Loftus’ 49.2%. Including exhausted ballots, Boudin garnered only 44.9% of those who voted. Nevertheless, he did win.

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Study Shows Excess Corporate Profits in the US Have Become ‘Widespread’

Gas prices seen in California

Gas prices over $7.00 a gallon are displayed at a Chevron gas station on May 25, 2022 in Menlo Park, California. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A new research paper finds that corporate price markups and profits jumped to their highest levels in seven decades last year.

JAKE JOHNSON June 21, 2022 (CommonDreams.org)

A new paper published Tuesday shows that U.S. corporate price markups and profits surged to their highest levels since the 1950s last year, bolstering arguments for an excess profits tax as a way to rein in sky-high inflation.

Authored by Mike Konczal and Niko Lusiani of the Roosevelt Institute, the analysis finds that markups—the difference between the actual cost of a good or service and the selling price—”were both the highest level on record and the largest one-year increase” in 2021.

“Almost 100% of these firms’ earnings derived from markups are distributed upward to shareholders rather than retained and reinvested.”

“Markups this high mean there is room for reversing them with little economic harm and likely societal benefit,” Konczal said in a statement. “To tackle inflation, we need an all-of-the-above administrative and legislative approach that includes demand, supply, and market power interventions.”

In their new brief, Konczal and Lusiani note that higher markups don’t always mean larger profits.

“But they did in 2021,” the researchers write, showing that the net profit margins of U.S. firms jumped from an annual average of 5.5% between 1960 and 1980 to 9.5% in 2021 as companies pushed up prices, citing inflationary pressures across the global economy as their justification.

“How high companies can increase their sales up and above their costs… matters for the economy more generally because these markups distribute economic gains from workers and consumers to firms and shareholders,” said Lusiani. “This is especially the case when almost 100% of these firms’ earnings derived from markups are distributed upward to shareholders rather than retained and reinvested.”

“Making corporations once again price-takers rather than price-makers,” Lusiani added, “will help bring down prices, and in time lead to a more equitable, innovative economy.”

The new research comes as the White House struggles to formulate a coherent and effective response to an inflation surge that has become a serious economic and political problem, particularly as the pivotal 2022 midterms approach.

Survey data shows that U.S. voters, including those in key battleground states, overwhelmingly want the Biden administration to challenge corporate power and support a windfall profits tax to counter soaring prices at grocery stores, gas stations, and elsewhere across the economy.

Konczal and Lusiani’s brief makes the case for a new tax to combat excess profits that they say have become “widespread.” Such a tax, the researchers argue, would help redistribute “runaway economic gains while simultaneously eroding company incentives to increase their markups.”

Additionally, they write, “increasing competition and reducing market power” through antitrust action “would bring down inflation to some degree, no matter its cause.”

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But influential U.S. economists—former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers chief among them—have argued that solving high inflation would require pushing down wages and throwing millions of people out of work.

“We need five years of unemployment above 5% to contain inflation—in other words, we need two years of 7.5% unemployment or five years of 6% unemployment or one year of 10% unemployment,” Summers, who spoke with President Joe Biden by phone Monday morning, said in an address in London later that same day.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, who is leading an effort to tamp down inflation by aggressively hiking interest rates, has also cited modest wage increases over the past two years as a factor behind rising inflation, expressing his desire to “get wages down” despite evidence that wage growth has slowed in recent months.

Konczal and Lusiani contend in their paper that “while the idea that we are facing the threat of a wage-price spiral is becoming conventional wisdom, this brief and other research finds that changes to labor and worker compensation are not driving factors in recent markups.”

“If margins are unusually high, then there’s the possibility that profits and markups can decrease as either supply opens up or demand cools, removing pricing pressure,” they write. “Such a high profit margin also means that there’s room for wages to increase without necessarily raising prices—an important dynamic in a hot labor market.”

‘He Must Resign’: Staff Texts Over Fake Elector Slates Implicate Ron Johnson

ron_GettyImages

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) speaks during a Senate Budget Committee hearing on February 10, 2021. (Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

“Trump and his MAGA allies planned, promoted, and paid for a seditious conspiracy to overturn an election they lost,” said one Democratic Senate candidate. “And Ron Johnson attempted to deliver it to D.C. on a silver platter.”

BRETT WILKINS June 21, 2022 (CommonDreams.org)

Wisconsin Democrats on Tuesday led calls for U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson’s resignation after the House January 6 committee revealed texts indicating that the Republican’s office wanted to hand-deliver certificates of fake electors to then-Vice President Mike Pence in service of former President Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

“Ron Johnson actively tried to undermine this democracy. He literally tried to hand Mike Pence fake ballots.”

The bipartisan congressional panel probing the deadly 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol showed an exchange of text messages initiated by Johnson’s chief of staff Sean Riley to Pence legislative director Chris Hodgson that the Republican senator wanted to advance an “alternate slate of electors” for Wisconsin and Michigan, both of which Biden won.

“Do not give that to him,” Hodgson texted back.

In response to the presentation during Tuesday’s hearing state Rep. Francesca Hong (D-76) tweeted that “Sen. Ron Johnson should resign, effective immediately.”

While Johnson is not among the 147 congressional Republicans who voted to overturn President Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory, he did host a December 2020 hearing at which supporters of Trump’s “Big Lie” that the election was “stolen” spent hours promoting conspiracy theories about the contest.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) called Johnson’s action “direct support for for Trump’s conspiracy to overturn the will of the people in Wisconsin.”

Four Democratic candidates for Johnson’s Senate seat also called on him to resign.

“Ron Johnson actively tried to undermine this democracy. He literally tried to hand Mike Pence fake ballots,” Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes said in a statement. “Once again, Ron Johnson has proven he’s a danger to our country and our fundamental rights. I’m calling for him to resign immediately.”

State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski argued that “it is clear Ron Johnson is a threat to our democracy and is unfit to continue serving in the United States Senate.”

Former state lawmaker Tom Nelson called Johnson “a criminal and a traitor” who should “be prosecuted.”

“He must resign,” Nelson added.

Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry, also running in the primary to oust Johnson, tweeted that “Trump and his MAGA allies planned, promoted, and paid for a seditious conspiracy to overturn an election they lost. And Ron Johnson attempted to deliver it to D.C. on a silver platter.”

Responding to the congressional committee’s revelation, Johnson spokesperson Alexa Henning tweeted that “the senator had no involvement in the creation of an alternate slate of electors and had no foreknowledge that it was going to be delivered to our office.”

“This was a staff-to-staff exchange,” she added. “His new chief of staff contacted the vice president’s office,” which “said not to give it to him and we did not. There was no further action taken. End of story.”

I used to think Gavin Newsom wouldn’t run for president in 2024. Now I’m not so sure.

SFGATE politics editor Eric Ting argues that a Gavin Newsom presidential bid in 2024 looks much more likely than it did a few weeks ago

Eric Ting, SFGATE June 21, 2022 (SFGate.com)

Gov. Gavin Newsom takes questions during a press conference on COVID-19 vaccination and housing for homeless veterans at the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021. 
Gov. Gavin Newsom takes questions during a press conference on COVID-19 vaccination and housing for homeless veterans at the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021. MediaNews Group/Los Angeles Dail/MediaNews Group via Getty Images

Previously, we’ve written about how California Gov. Gavin Newsom is clearly laying the groundwork for a presidential run, though we’ve argued that 2028 — and not 2024 — is the likely year that would happen.

For one, Biden remains adamant he’s going to seek re-election. For another, if Biden doesn’t run in 2024, Vice President Kamala Harris seems like she’d be the natural successor, and Newsom has stated on two separate occasions that he’d be inclined to back Harris in a Biden-less Democratic primary.

However, recent developments with both Biden and Newsom have made the possibility of Newsom running in 2024 appear much more likely than it did a few weeks ago.

First, the whispers around whether Biden will seek re-election have grown curiously loud in the past few weeks, with several national outlets publishing stories in which anonymous administration and Democratic Party officials have expressed doubts about Biden’s candidacy and continued ability to govern. These whispers come amid a continued downward trend in the president’s approval rating and mainstream publications raising age-related concerns that were once considered taboo. Biden is 79.

The White House, for its part, continues to state Biden will run again. If Biden seeks re-election, it’s beyond unlikely that Newsom or any other prominent Democrat challenges him in a primary. However, Biden running in 2024 certainly seems like less of a sure thing than it was at the start of 2022.

“But wait,” you may say. “Didn’t you state that if Biden doesn’t run, it seems likely Newsom would defer to Harris?”

Sure, that may still happen. But Newsom has dramatically escalated his national posturing in the past week — so much so it’s worth wondering whether his line about deferring to Harris should be ignored as much as his line about how a presidential run is “not even on [his] radar.” (One has to be extremely obtuse to not think Newsom isn’t, at the very least, considering running for president someday.)

First, the governor did an interview with The Atlantic to talk about the national Democratic Party and Republican-led state legislation on abortion and LGBT rights. In that interview, Newsom called for the national Democratic Party to become more combative. Mind you, he found time for this at the moment he and the California Legislature still have not agreed to several important provisions in an inflation relief package tied to the budget.

Then, the governor decided to join former President Donald Trump’s Twitter alternative Truth Social with the stated goal of “calling out Republican lies.” So far, he has posted about gun control, crime and COVID-19 policy. No other Democratic officeholder of Newsom’s stature is doing anything close to this.

In his interview with The Atlantic, Newsom reiterated that he is not “interested in challenging Biden if he seeks a second term, or contesting Harris, a longtime ally, if Biden does not.”

But if Biden doesn’t run, Newsom may become Chris Christie and “miss his moment” if he chooses to defer to Harris (Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis must grapple with similar questions as he considers possibly challenging Trump in 2024). Politics moves extremely fast, and Newsom himself told The Atlantic he was surprised his recent comments about the national Democratic Party struck such a nerve. 

No one knows what the political landscape will look like in 2028 or beyond, so Newsom’s “moment” may be now. All of this is moot if Biden follows through and seeks re-election, but the events of the past few weeks — both in Bidenworld and Newsomworld — have made a Newsom presidential bid in 2024 look much more likely than it looked just a month ago.Top Picks In Shopping

Written By Eric Ting

Eric Ting is SFGATE’s politics editor. He is an East Bay native who has a Master’s degree in journalism from Stanford University. Eric did his undergrad at Pomona College, where he majored in politics and minored in economics. Email: eric.ting@sfgate.com