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Yesterday, we emailed you about In Accordance With, a short film by the Meerkat Media Collective that depicts a set of abortion restrictions that are already in place in a number of states, and that could be dramatically expanded if Roe v. Wade is overturned or curtailed by the Supreme Court. This is a live threat, as the Republican-controlled Senate rushes to confirm 48-year-old Amy Coney Barrett for a lifetime appointment to the Court less than two weeks before Election Day. Barrett’s all-but-certain confirmation means that six of the Court’s nine justices will be Republican appointees, including five appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote. Absent radical procedural reforms, these right-wing justices will control all interpretation of federal law for decades, and be poised to block the progressive policies demanded by a growing majority of the electorate, not only on abortion rights, but on labor, the environment, criminal justice, civil rights, and even the basic procedures that will determine the outcomes of elections—including the one immediately before us.
Barrett is a product of the Federalist Society pipeline, which is hard to describe accurately without sounding like a conspiracy theorist—it basically means that she is the culmination of a decades-long project by right-wing billionaires like the Koch family to take over the federal judiciary and reverse a century of liberal economic regulations and social justice advances. Barrett, by the accounts of those who have studied and worked with her, is the perfect vessel for this ambition. She is disciplined and poised; she knows exactly what to say and what not to say to impress mainstream legal elites, establishment journalists, and old-guard senators like Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, whose farcical handling of last week’s hearings drew heated criticism from progressives and from Feinstein’s own Senate colleagues. Those hearings are likely the main reason that 51% of the public now supports confirming Barrett—a 14-point increase since her nomination was announced last month, even as support for Trump and the GOP is in freefall.
Last week, Feinstein embraced her Republican Judiciary Committee counterpart Lindsay Graham at the end of the Barrett hearings, which she called “one of the best set of hearings that I’ve participated in.” This morning, in an apparent shift in tone, Feinstein joined Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and every Democrat on the committee in boycotting—and thus refusing to lend any further legitimacy to—the confirmation process, while the Republican majority on the committee voted unanimously for Barrett’s confirmation to proceed. Although the Democrats have little chance of preventing the confirmation with this boycott, one can only hope that it augurs more than symbolic resistance to the status quo.
All polling now suggests that Joe Biden will likely prevail in the electoral college. If he does assume the presidency in January, and if Democrats are able to secure a bare majority of the Senate and retain control of the House, Biden’s accomplishments in office will depend on the party’s willingness to bend and even break the rules and norms that have governed Washington for generations. It’s one thing to call out the hypocrisy of the GOP—which insists on confirming Barrett right before the 2020 election when they refused to confirm Barack Obama’s nominee to the Court, Merrick Garland, for 10 months before the 2016 election—as Schumer did this morning. It’s another to be willing to exercise power as ruthlessly as Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have, without regard for tradition or collegiality or any principle other than that the will of the majority of Americans should have some influence over how we are governed.
Leading Democrats have been dropping hints for weeks that “court packing,” a strategy unsuccessfully attempted by the Roosevelt administration in 1937, might be on the table should Biden win. Essentially, this would mean expanding the Court by a significant number of members beyond the long-established nine—a number that is not specified anywhere in the Constitution—allowing Democrats to shift the ideological balance in favor of liberal justices. After initially dodging the question of whether he would commit to such a strategy, this morning Biden floated a bipartisan commission that would explore wider avenues of judicial reform, which might mean imposing age or term limits in addition to court packing. “Bipartisan” is a potential red flag here, as it’s hard to imagine even relatively centrist Republicans sacrificing the power conservatives have built up over the judicial system. But the fact that Biden is saying that all options are on the table means there is some limited cause for optimism.
We shouldn’t indulge any false hope that Biden is a secret radical leftist, but it’s plausible that underlying political circumstances could compel a Biden administration to take bigger procedural risks than the Obama administration did. For instance, recent polling suggests that nearly two-thirds of Americans support the Affordable Care Act and about four in five support protections for people with pre-existing conditions, even though these policies are existentially threatened by conservatives on the Supreme Court. Not only will any kind of bold progessive agenda on healthcare, climate, immigration, and countless other issues be dead on arrival with a 6-3 conservative Court—it will be impossible to prevent backsliding on decades of progressive wins. For Biden’s presidency to be anything short of a disaster, he and leading Senate Democrats will have to get more aggressive than most of them have ever been over their long careers. As Osita Nwanevu wrote in The New Republic this week, the Constitution itself is currently functioning the way it was originally designed, as an impediment to the majoritarian democratic rule to which Democrats and their supporters are theoretically committed, and on which a successful Biden presidency would depend. And as Adam Serwer wrote in The Atlantic this morning, court packing may be the only way to protect the basic voting rights hard-won by the civil rights movement.
It will take the sustained fury of progressive activists to make sure Democrats remember that. As a New Yorker, I’ve noticed that the usually mild-mannered Schumer has taken on an increasingly combative and left-leaning posture over the past year, and I can’t help but speculate that this is in response to recent wins by left-wing and progressive candidates in New York’s Congressional and State Senate primaries. There are more self-described socialists in Albany now than there have been in a century, and Schumer is up for reelection in 2022, as rumors abound that he might face a primary challenger like Rep. Alexandria Ocaso-Cortez. Gov. Andrew Cuomo is also up for re-election that year and facing heat from progressive state senators like Alessandra Biaggi. Whether or not such primary challenges actually happen, they represent growing pressure on some of the most powerful establishment Democrats to shift their tone, strategy, and focus in the wake of the Trump era’s one-sided war on norms.
In a Responsa published last week, the Jewish Currents editorial staff argued that by placing an almost religious level of faith in the Supreme Court as an instrument of justice, a generation of Jewish liberals has intellectually and spiritually exhausted itself—that a “Jewishness that has locked itself in a fantasized vision of the recent American past is deferring its panic about the inability to imagine where we’re headed.” Looking beyond the election, if we’re headed anywhere other than the abyss, it will be because we demanded an approach to politics at the highest levels of power that reflects the stubbornness, tenacity, and creativity of the most radical organizers.
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Well, I’ll be damned. Take a look at this:
To understand the connection between Christendom’s principle of discovery and the laws of the United States, we need to begin by examining a papal document issued forty years before Columbus’ historic voyage In 1452, Pope Nicholas V issued to King Alfonso V of Portugal the bull Romanus Pontifex, declaring war against all non-Christians throughout the world, and specifically sanctioning and promoting the conquest, colonization, and exploitation of non-Christian nations and their territories.
Under various theological and legal doctrines formulated during and after the Crusades, non-Christians were considered enemies of the Catholic faith and, as such, less than human. Accordingly, in the bull of 1452, Pope Nicholas directed King Alfonso to “capture, vanquish, and subdue the saracens, pagans, and other enemies of Christ,” to “put them into perpetual slavery,” and “to take all their possessions and property.” [Davenport: 20-26] Acting on this papal privilege, Portugal continued to traffic in African slaves, and expanded its royal dominions by making “discoveries” along the western coast of Africa, claiming those lands as Portuguese territory.
Thus, when Columbus sailed west across the Sea of Darkness in 1492 – with the express understanding that he was authorized to “take possession” of any lands he “discovered” that were “not under the dominion of any Christian rulers” – he and the Spanish sovereigns of Aragon and Castile were following an already well-established tradition of “discovery” and conquest. [Thacher:96] Indeed, after Columbus returned to Europe, Pope Alexander VI issued a papal document, the bull Inter Cetera of May 3, 1493, “granting” to Spain – at the request of Ferdinand and Isabella – the right to conquer the lands which Columbus had already found, as well as any lands which Spain might “discover” in the future.
In the Inter Cetera document, Pope Alexander stated his desire that the “discovered” people be “subjugated and brought to the faith itself.” [Davenport:61] By this means, said the pope, the “Christian Empire” would be propagated. [Thacher:127] When Portugal protested this concession to Spain, Pope Alexander stipulated in a subsequent bull – issued May 4, 1493 – that Spain must not attempt to establish its dominion over lands which had already “come into the possession of any Christian lords.” [Davenport:68] Then, to placate the two rival monarchs, the pope drew a line of demarcation between the two poles, giving Spain rights of conquest and dominion over one side of the globe, and Portugal over the other.
During this quincentennial of Columbus’ journey to the Americas, it is important to recognize that the grim acts of genocide and conquest committed by Columbus and his men against the peaceful Native people of the Caribbean were sanctioned by the abovementioned documents of the Catholic Church. Indeed, these papal documents were frequently used by Christian European conquerors in the Americas to justify an incredibly brutal system of colonization – which dehumanized the indigenous people by regarding their territories as being “inhabited only by brute animals.” [Story:135-6]
The lesson to be learned is that the papal bulls of 1452 and 1493 are but two clear examples of how the “Christian Powers,” or “different States of Christendom,” viewed indigenous peoples as “the lawful spoil and prey of their civilized conquerors.” [Wheaton:270-1] In fact, the Christian “Law of Nations” asserted that Christian nations had a divine right, based on the Bible, to claim absolute title to and ultimate authority over any newly “discovered” Non-Christian inhabitants and their lands. Over the next several centuries, these beliefs gave rise to the Doctrine of Discovery used by Spain, Portugal, England, France, and Holland – all Christian nations.
Cherokee Nation v. Georgia 30 U.S. (5 Pet.) 1, 8 L.Ed. 25 (1831).
Davenport, Frances Gardiner, 19l7, European Treaties bearing on the History of the United States and its Dependencies to 1648, Vol. 1, Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Institution of Washington.
Johnson and Graham’s Lessee V McIntosh 21 U.S. (8 Wheat.) 543, 5 L.Ed. 681(1823).
Rivera-Pagan, Luis N., 1991, “Cross Preceded Sword in ‘Discovery’ of the Americas,” in Yakima Nation Review, 1991, Oct. 4.
Story, Joseph, 1833, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States Vol. 1 Boston: Little, Brown & Co.
Thacher, John Boyd, 1903, Christopher Columbus Vol. 11, New York: G.P. Putman’s Sons.
Williamson, James A., 1962, The Cabot Voyages And Bristol Discovery Under Henry VII, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wheaton, Henry, 1855, Elements of International Law, Sixth Edition, Boston: Little Brown, and Co.
Ziegler, Benjamin Munn, 1939, The International Law of John Marshall, Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.
These ultra-dense objects regularly star in movies, in popular idioms, and in a nonstop stream of headlines reminding us that Einstein was right. However, we’ve had a scientific description of black holes for just over a hundred years, when Karl Schwarzschild solved key equations in Albert’s newly minted theory of general relativity. It took scientists until the 1960s to then move black holes out of pure mathematics and show that they can, in fact, form across the cosmos.
These days, we have evidence of black holes eating stars, messing with the motion of nearby objects, belching out jets of high-energy particles, and crashing into each other with such force they send ripples through the fabric of spacetime. At the same time, our telescopes are getting so powerful, astronomers were able to capture the first-ever direct glimpse of a black hole’s gaping maw in 2019.
Now, three researchers are sharing the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics for their work making black holes such scientific all-stars. One, Roger Penrose, was part of the team that offered the first evidence black holes exist in nature. The other two, Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez (pictured above), conducted foundational work showing that a whopper of an invisible object (thought to be a supermassive black hole) lurks in the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way.
“I am very worried about America. I love America. I just love the States. I’m the sort of age that saw America as everything that was good: rock’n’roll, cars with fins, James Dean, John F. Kennedy, baseball and chewing gum. All these things were just fantastic for someone from a little country on the other side of the world. And now I’d be reluctant to set foot in the place. It’s unrecognisable.
“It’s terribly damaged. It’s traumatized. I hope things do change in November but whoever wins that election, there will be staunch resistance from the other side. How you reunite a country that has been systematically taken apart by this administration I just don’t know.”
- Sam Niell
. Old friends, you came to Washington, most of you with idealism in your hearts and a love of country and her people. Look what’s happened. It’s not too late. We will protect your
… a blast from the past (2003)
“Or, suggests Peter Bakke, online manager at the Concord Monitor, perhaps it’s a downfall of newspapers in general, be they print or online. “Why (should politicians) advertise with somebody who’s writing about you every day anyway?” he asks.”
Democracy Dies in Darkness
In Debt: The First 5,000 Years, anthropologist and economist David Graeber proposes a concept of “everyday communism” which he defines, when analyzing peasant lives as “The peasants’ visions of communistic brotherhood did not come out of nowhere. They were rooted in real daily experience: of the maintenance of common fields and forests, of everyday cooperation, and neighborly solidarity. It is out of such homely experience of everyday communism that grand mythic visions are always built”. Also, “society was rooted above in the ‘love and amity’ of friends and kin, and it found expression in all those forms of everyday communism (helping neighbors with chores, providing milk or cheese for old widows) that were seen to flow from it”.
Closer to home, he gives this example: “If someone fixing a broken water pipe says, ‘Hand me the wrench,’ his co-worker will not, generally speaking, say, ‘And what do I get for it?’ … The reason is simple efficiency…: if you really care about getting something done, the most efficient way to go about it is obviously to allocate tasks by ability and give people whatever they need to do them.” Moreover, we tend to ask and give without thinking for things like asking directions, or
“…small courtesies like asking for a light, or even for a cigarette. It seems more legitimate to ask a stranger for a cigarette than for an equivalent amount of cash, or even food; in fact, if one has been identified as a fellow smoker, it’s rather difficult to refuse such a request. In such cases—a match, a piece of information, holding the elevator—one might say the “from each” element is so minimal that most of us comply without even thinking about it. Conversely, the same is true if another person’s need—even a stranger’s—is particularly spectacular or extreme: if he is drowning, for example. If a child has fallen onto the subway tracks, we assume that anyone who is capable of helping her up will do so.”
The thing which makes it “every day” is this argument: “communism is the foundation of all human sociability. It is what makes society possible. There is always an assumption that anyone who is not actually an enemy can be expected to act on the principle of “from each according to their abilities”, at least to an extent, which is to say, the extent just described.
He proposes studying these practices and says that the “sociology of everyday communism is a potentially enormous field, but one which, owing to our peculiar ideological blinders, we have been unable to write about because we have been largely unable to see it”. Nevertheless, Graeber’s ideas were later discussed by journalist Richard Swift as being a type of “a reciprocal economy”—which makes use of the “ethic of reciprocity” or the “Golden Rule“.
From: Debt: The First Five Thousand Years
Democrats will have a field day if Republicans leave town without another stimulus deal with just 90 days until the election. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) have already bashed Republicans over and over again for failing to come to the aid of Americans facing poverty, eviction and food insecurity while proposing in their bill a tax deductibility for business lunches. Pelosi had this stunning exchange with CNBC’s Jim Cramer on Thursday:
Jim Cramer: I like your spirit of being more upbeat, more optimistic, so I will offer this: Why can’t you go across the aisle and say, ‘Representative Lewis, civil rights legend, would have loved it if we could do something for the totally disenfranchised in this country. No matter what, can we give a huge chunk of money to the people who are disenfranchised, to minorities who want so badly to stay in business and can’t and to people who are trying to go to college or have student loans who are minorities who are the most affected because they had the least chance in our country?’ That’s got to be something both sides can agree to.Speaker Pelosi: Perhaps you mistook them for somebody who gives a damn for what you just described.Jim Cramer: Ooh, jeez.Speaker Pelosi: Yeah. That’s the problem. See, the thing is, they don’t believe in governance. They don’t believe in governance, and that requires some acts of government to do that. . . . And basically, economists tell us, spend the money, invest the money for those who need it the most, because they will spend it. It will be a stimulus or at least a stabilization of — and that’s a good thing. Consumer confidence is a good thing for the economy. You know that better than anyone.