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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Fox Has Its 2024 Candidate
      •  Democrats Are Packing
      •  Another Abortion Horror Story
      •  "Red to Blue" Targets California
      •  Bannon Trial Will Commence Today
      •  Bernie Endorses Barnes
      •  The World's Courts, Part II: Island Nations

Fox Has Its 2024 Candidate

The grass is always greener on the other side, as they say. And while Donald Trump has universal name recognition, a devoted fanbase, and actual service as president under his belt, he's also damaged goods. For many on the red side of the aisle, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) appears to offer the same upsides as Trump and many fewer downsides. On top of that, DeSantis is much cleverer and much less likely to torpedo himself and his party as a result of personal grudges and score-settlings. You can see why many prominent Republicans are toying with the idea of switching horses.

The folks who run Fox have done this analysis, and are clearly making their move to climb on board the S.S. DeSantis. This weekend, the cable outlet posted a video featuring interviews with random (or, very possibly, "random") Republicans in Maricopa County, AZ:

Fox's programmers aren't nearly as skilled as YouTube's programmers, so if the embedded version doesn't work, you can click on the word "video" above to watch it directly on Fox's site. In any event, all but one of the folks in the video say that they like and respect Trump, but it's time for him to step aside in favor of DeSantis.

Again, it's understandable that DeSantis is new and shiny as compared to Trump. But we're not persuaded he's actually more electable, and the polls thus far back that up. There have been eight nonpartisan polls of Joe Biden vs. DeSantis this year, and Biden came out on top in five of them. There have been seven polls of Kamala Harris vs. DeSantis in the same timeframe, and the VP came out on top in six of them. There have been two polls of Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) vs. DeSantis, and Newsom was on top in both.

In short, the Democrats are in about the weakest position possible right now, while DeSantis has yet to be put under the intense microscope that comes with a national campaign, and the Governor is still polling as the weaker candidate versus his most likely Democratic rivals. And that's before we consider the possibility that he could lose his reelection bid this year; the only recent poll has probable challenger Charlie Crist (D) up one point on DeSantis, 51% to 49%. It is possible that as DeSantis gets more exposure, he could rise in the presidential polls. However, our guess is that he's already very well known to the MAGA crowd, and that he's near his ceiling, support-wise. Remember, Trumpism has consistently been a "win by the skin of your teeth" political program. In fact, it is very possible that the effect of more exposure for DeSantis will be to clue low-information voters in on the less savory aspects of his administration, thus dragging him down.

Truth be told, if Fox is looking for the candidate most likely to succeed as Trump v2.0, they may not need to look to Florida to find him. Recalling that Trump's greatest political skill is his media savvy and the corresponding ability to whip the base into a frenzy, and further recalling that the MAGA crowd cares little for experience or for serious policy proposals, it seems pretty clear to us that the fellow best suited to inherit the mantle is... Tucker Carlson. DeSantis may be a cleverer puppetmaster and chess player than either Trump or Carlson, but the Governor is also utterly lacking in charisma and has a voice suited to... well, silent movies. Can you really imagine DeSantis being able to replicate a Trump rally? We can't, but we can see Carlson doing it.

It would seem that Carlson is thinking along similar lines, as he traveled to Iowa this weekend for a speech in which he blasted transgender athletes, wind turbines and corporate America. The crowd ate it up. Anyone who reads this blog knows full well what kind of people find any excuse to visit Iowa, and it ain't cable TV personalities. (Z)

Democrats Are Packing

Well, packing the Supreme Court, that is. Nothing is going to happen this term, of course, not while the Filibuster Twins Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) have anything to say about it. But yesterday, a group of House Democrats, led by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) reintroduced a bill that would add four seats to the Supreme Court. Perhaps you'll want to double-check our math on this, but according to our figures, if you take the current three lefty justices and add four more, that's seven, which is one more than the current six righty justices.

The most famous attempt at something like this, of course came from Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1937, and was a mixed success. It didn't actually pack the Court but it did cow the justices enough that they stopped shooting down everything he did. However, be wary of drawing too many parallels. There is considerable evidence that FDR never really wanted to change the composition of the Court, and that the proposal was just meant to throw a scare into the conservatives that kept striking down New Deal programs. Further, the perception in the 1930s, at least among those angered by the scheme, was that Roosevelt's plan was a baldfaced power grab. And, truth be told, it was. In this case, however, the Democrats can very plausibly argue that the Republicans radicalized the court through various machinations, and that adding justices is merely a corrective.

Again, nothing is going to happen this term, but the blue team is certainly laying the groundwork, should the opportunity present itself in 2023 or 2025. For now, the Party should give some attention to its messaging. The term "packing" is used because that was how the maneuver was described in the 1930s. But "packing" sounds sordid or unnatural. The Democrats would be far better served if they can manage to get people to start calling it "Court balancing" or "Court rebooting." (Z)

Another Abortion Horror Story

The story of the 10-year-old rape victim who could not get an abortion in Ohio is very, very bad. Yesterday, a different sort of very, very bad story made headlines.

Marlena Stell lives in Texas (of course), and she and her husband were thrilled when she got pregnant. However, an ultrasound at 9 weeks revealed that the fetus was no longer viable, as there was no heartbeat present. Stell asked for a dilation and curettage procedure, to remove the fetus, and the doctor refused, requiring her to wait two weeks for an additional ultrasound to confirm the diagnosis. She did finally get the procedure, after the additional ultrasound, but she obviously was forced to carry a deceased fetus for two weeks. Not only is that psychologically gut-wrenching, it's also physically dangerous, as dead tissue within a living body serves as something of an engraved invitation for infectious bacteria.

We've already pointed this out, but stories like this are going to be making headlines throughout this election cycle, and the next one as well. This will not help the Republican Party. Also not helpful is the fact that the more fanatical elements of the party, rather than running from the most problematic implications of the Dobbs decision, are leaning into them. This weekend, for example, the Idaho GOP voted to amend its platform to criminalize all abortions, even those performed to save the life of the mother. So, it's not even speculative if Democrats say: "You know what Republicans want? To force women to carry pregnancies to term, even if it costs the women their lives." (Z)

"Red to Blue" Targets California

California, as readers of this blog know well, does not gerrymander its district maps because the state's residents voted to put the job in the hands on a bipartisan commission. Despite that, the DCCC sees a great deal of potential in the Golden State. Reader S.R. in Auburn, CA, brings to our attention the fact that the Committee has updated its "Red-to-Blue List," adding six more Republican-held seats that the Democratic Party will try very hard to flip this cycle. And five of the six new additions are in California.

Here are the six (incumbent's name, if they are running for reelection, is in the parentheses):

  1. CA-03 (Open): Kermit Jones (D) is a physician, veteran and lawyer who also did a fellowship in the Obama White House. He's matched against Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R).

  2. CA-13 (Open): Assemblyman Adam Gray (D) is a moderate with a blue-collar background. His actual opponent is nursery owner John Duarte (R), but Gray is really running against House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who has ties to Duarte.

  3. CA-27 (Rep. Mike Garcia): Christy Smith (D) is a former assemblywoman who ran for this seat in 2020 and lost by just 333 votes. Garcia is in his first term, having won the seat after Democrat Katie Hill was compelled to resign. He's got Donald Trump's endorsement, so Smith is campaigning against Trump and not Garcia.

  4. CA-40 (Rep. Young Kim): Dr. Asif Mahmood arrived in the U.S. as a refugee from Pakistan, and went on to earn his M.D., and also to build an extensive résumé as an activist and a philanthropist. He will take on Kim, who narrowly lost a race for this seat in 2018 and then came back to narrowly win in 2020. Kim is one of only two Republicans to represent a district in previously-ruby-red Orange County.

  5. CA-41 (Rep. Ken Calvert): Will Rollins (D) is a former Assistant U.S. Attorney, and he's running primarily on the successes he had while in that job—for example, he sent a QAnon supporter to the hoosegow after that person plotted an attack on the Port of Los Angeles. Calvert will be a tough nut to crack; he's the longest-serving Republican in California's House delegation, having been in Congress since 1993.

  6. IL-17 (Open): Eric Sorenson (D) is a meteorologist. We have not seen his forecasts, so we don't know how skilled he is, but we're pretty confident he never changed the course of a hurricane with a Sharpie. So, there's that. He's got the endorsement of Cheri Bustos (D), who is vacating the seat. The Republican will be Esther Joy King, who is quite moderate by the standards of the modern GOP.

We're a little surprised that some of these races were not already on the Red-to-Blue List, but in any case, they are there now. (Z)

Bannon Trial Will Commence Today

When we last wrote about Steve Bannon's trial for contempt of Congress, we could find no indication as to whether it would be a bench trial or a jury trial. As it turns out, it's a jury trial. But selection didn't take long; the pool of jurors has produced 22 acceptable candidates, of which 14 (12 regular jurors and two alternates) will be empaneled today.

This means that opening arguments will be in the books by lunchtime today, and it's even possible that the prosecution will finish presenting its case by the end of the day. And everyone involved, on both sides, says that there is no reason that this should take more than a week. So, it could well be that the finale of the summer series of 1/6 hearings and a verdict for Bannon occur within hours of each other. And if he gets popped, it could encourage non-cooperative folks like Mark Meadows to rethink their approach, thus laying the ground work for a potential fall series of 1/6 hearings. (Z)

Bernie Endorses Barnes

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has taken a look at the four candidates running for the Democratic nomination in Wisconsin's U.S. Senate race, and has decided he likes what he sees in Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (D). So, the Vermont senator bestowed his endorsement on Monday.

We don't normally mention endorsement news, because there's so much of it, but this one is interesting for two reasons. The first of those is that Our Revolution, the progressive group that was effectively founded by Sanders, gave its endorsement to... Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson (D). Perhaps the Senator is no longer the de facto leader of American progressivism?

The second reason we bring it up is more of a theoretical question. Undoubtedly, Sanders spoke to Barnes before making the endorsement, and undoubtedly Barnes accepted it. But is Sanders' support a net positive for the candidate, or a net negative? That is to say, will it scare away more moderates than it attracts progressives? Especially with Our Revolution endorsing a different candidate, and the presumably splitting the progressive vote? There's no great way to measure this, but it's worth noting that Sanders' old foe, Hillary Clinton, is very careful to endorse only in races where she's confident it will help. On the other hand, Clinton's old foe, Donald Trump, doesn't think for one moment about the possibility that his endorsement might do more harm than good. (Z)

The World's Courts, Part II: Island Nations

Last week, we had reader submissions that gave some detail about the court systems of Germany and Austria, with an eye toward answering the question of whether or not those court systems have the same, enormous powers enjoyed by the U.S. Supreme Court. Today, we shall resume that series with a look at some island nations (an entirely arbitrary grouping, as we explained last week):

  • P.S. in Wellington, NZ: In New Zealand, Parliament has supremacy. Our Supreme Court has no power to strike down laws. If Parliament passes legislation that the Court finds contrary to our Bill of Rights, it can do nothing more than make a "declaration of inconsistency." It's up to the Government and Parliament to decide what (if anything) to do about that. Ditto for findings by the Waitangi Tribunal (which hears claims about contraventions of the state's 1840 treaty with indigenous Maori—another aspect of our uncodified constitution). As a result, few Kiwis can name any member of the appointed-but-entirely-non-political judiciary.

    Note: Parliament can alter much of our constitution with a simple majority (but politicians don't abuse this power). Only six provisions in New Zealand law are entrenched (mostly having to do with voting).

    Oh, and abortion is healthcare, firearms are regulated, LGBTQ+ rights are affirmed etc., etc., without court assistance or interference.

  • I.H. in Jakarta, Indonesia: As a unitary republic, we only have one court system, from the lowest level in the cities/regencies, up to provinces, and then to the national level. We have two highest-level courts: The Supreme Court, which handles appeals from the lower courts, and the Constitutional Court, which handles constitution-related issues. Indonesia's original constitution does not create a Constitutional Court. It was amended in 2001 to do that (among other things).

    The Constitutional Court is the only court that can strike down laws (acts) created by the People's Representative Council (similar to U.S. Congress), if the court finds the law contradicts the constitution.

    The Supreme Court has the power to strike down lower-level laws, such as government regulations, if the court finds the laws contradict specific acts.

    The Constitutional Court consists of nine justices: three appointed by the president, three appointed by the People's Representative Council, and three appointed by the Supreme Court. They hold their position for 5 years, and can be appointed again only once. They also have to retire at the age of 70. The chief justice is elected by the nine justices and serve for 3 years.

    The Supreme Court consists of 60 justices. A judicial commission proposes new justices to the People's Representative Council and the president for approval. The chief justice is elected by the justices. Justices retire at the age of 70.

    Note that in both courts, justices can come from any law-related background; they don't need to come from the ranks of lower-court justices.

    Additional note: Any election dispute is under jurisdiction of the Constitutional Court. For example, in the presidential election, if the losing candidate sues, then the Constitutional Court will take the case. The same applies for any election at any other level.

  • S.R. in Stockton, CA: I lived in Japan from 1991 to 1999 and 2016 to 2021. Fortunately, I never had any need to worry about the courts there. My impression is that the courts in Japan are a lapdog to the ruling party (which almost never changes)—the Jiminto (Liberal Democratic Party, which is neither liberal or democratic). From how I saw things (TV news, which, with my highly fractured Japanese, I needed to rely on my wife to interpret), once the police arrest you, you are guilty. You are held until prosecutors either gather enough evidence or induce a confession (à la Carlos Ghosn). With a conviction rate approaching 100%, it's hard to believe courts have any independence. (Yet another caveat: I'm a computer programmer, not an expert in the Japanese legal system.)

    What keeps the courts and Japanese legal system from being overwhelming is the self-discipline and large amounts of training the police have—it prevents them from running amok and arresting everyone for jaywalking and other petty infractions. (Instead, if they catch you jaywalking, they'll just lecture you.) Due to being a foreigner in Japan, I've talked with police a few times and have never failed to be impressed by their patience and professionalism.

    My feeling is the courts were set up (implicitly) to act as a way to prevent upstarts from challenging those who already have power, but to do it in such a fashion as to reduce friction and unrest as much as possible. Challenging those in charge is likely to fail (but not always, as some cities and prefectures have ruled that gays have rights, but that's not a big hot-button issue in Japan).

  • J.C. in Binan, Laguna, Philippines: This isn't quite what you asked for, but it is more the Supreme Court affirming legislative removal of basic rights, which has been in the news here recently. And before you jump to conclusions, this isn't new President Marcos—it's under outgoing President Duterte.

    First, some background: While Marcos' first executive order was to abolish the anti-corruption committee, the day before Duterte left office the government ordered the shuttering of Rappler—the newsmagazine run by the Philippines' first Nobel Peace Prize Winner. Both Rappler and ABS-CBN (the country's largest TV network, and also shut down under Duterte), were both highly critical of Duterte.

    In this climate, at the height of the pandemic, the 2020 Anti-terrorism Law was passed by the legislature. The Supreme Court of the Philippines (SCOTP) upheld the law, which includes provisions of warrantless arrest for up to 24 days, and allows a special "Anti-Money-Laundering Council" to designate someone a terrorist under their own authority, without evidence and without going to the courts. This legislation was narrowly upheld by SCOTP 8-7. The three Supreme Court Justices that Duterte did not appoint were in the minority. (Yes, that's right. The President in one term appointed 12/15 justices. And no—that's not a record for a Filipino President.) You can see here that SCOTP has the right of judicial review—even to the point of removing phrases from laws. They are the final authority on law in the land, which makes sense considering that this was all originally based on the American system, during the American Empire days.

    But all of this is old news—why bring it up now? This past week, in one of the final acts under President Duterte, that aforementioned Anti-Money Laundering Council designated as a terrorist a former priest known for his peace and human rights work for the poor but significantly not known for his terrorism. The Roman Catholic Church is up in arms about this, and his assets are now frozen. And it shows that when rights are removed, they have real-world consequences.

Thanks to all of you! Tomorrow, we'll turn an eye toward North America. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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