Ringside

Vive La Filibuster

In the wake of innumerable warnings of disaster and accusations of bad faith, Democrats and Republicans did something unusual today: they came to agreement on how to do business, at least for a while. The topic was the filibuster, which used to be something the minority party used in extraordinary circumstances, but in the hands of Republicans has become a hurdle every single substantial piece of legislation and nominee has to jump.

The White Man's Burden

When Mark O'Mara, one of George Zimmerman's attorneys, was asked at a news conference after his client's trial about the role race played in the case, he should have said that his client was found not guilty, and he'd leave the speculation to others. Instead, he said that if Zimmerman had been black, "he never would have been charged with a crime." Because as we all know, the criminal justice system in America is tilted in favor of black people. Sure, whites who shoot blacks are far more likely to get off than whites who kill whites, blacks who kill blacks, or blacks who kill whites (a difference that is especially wide in states with "stand your ground" laws).

A Trial Ends, And Nothing Changes

The trial of George Zimmerman comes to a close today, and despite the endless hours of cable coverage, those waiting for profound insights into the state of race in America will be disappointed. Zimmerman's guilt or innocence turns on narrow questions, like who got on top of whom during a fight no one saw, not on the jury's opinions about our ongoing struggles with racism.

Rand Paul and Confederates: It's Complicated

When you have to come out and tell reporters, "I'm not a fan of secession," you're not having a particularly good day. That's what Rand Paul found himself doing today, in the wake of revelations that one of Paul's staffers, who co-wrote (or, let's be honest, probably ghost-wrote) Paul's 2010 campaign book, also spent years as a neo-confederate shock jock advocating secession, praising the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and urging whites to be proud of their heritage. Just how is it that Rand Paul, like his father before him, keeps attracting these people? It's a mystery.

The First All-White Political Party

Back in 1964, in an interview with Ebony Magazine, the former vice president Richard Nixon—who had run for president in 1960 as a civil-rights moderate—warned that Barry Goldwater would transform the Republican Party forever if he managed to win his crusade for the GOP nomination. “If Goldwater wins his fight,” Nixon said, “our party would eventually become the first all-white political party.”

The Forever War Sputters to an End

When the United States invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, polls showed a remarkable nine in ten Americans supported the action. After all, we had just been attacked by an organization headquartered there, so it seemed only natural that our military would go in, hunt down the culprits, and punish them and those who helped them. But the years dragged on and on, and it eventually became clear that we weren't rooting out al Qaeda but trying to establish stability and democracy in a country that is a stranger to both. Meanwhile, over 2,000 American servicemembers have given their lives, and half a trillion dollars of our money has been spent on a war whose original purpose is all but forgotten.

The Real Robert E. Lee

Today is the 150th anniversary of the final day of the Battle of ‎Gettysburg, and with that in mind, it’s worth remembering the particular actions of Confederate soldiers a week earlier, as they marched north into Pennsylvania.

In the movement that culminated in Gettysburg, Robert E. Lee’s men kidnapped free blacks by the hundreds—men, women, and children. Up to a thousand were captured and forced into labor with the Confederate Army. And during the eventual retreat from Pennsylvania, they were sent South. Once in Virginia, they were returned to their former owners, or if born free, sold into slavery.

Solving (or Not) a Problem Like the Middle East

When George W. Bush delivered his State of the Union address in 2005, a number of Republican members of Congress showed up with a finger colored purple, in solidarity with the Iraqi voters who were required to dip their fingers in ink upon leaving the polls. Iraq had held an election, the purple digits testified, and therefore invading two years prior had been a swell idea, the transition to democracy was on its way, and everything would turn out great.

The triumphalism turned out to be a bit premature; thousands of Americans were still to die there, not to mention hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and the country is riven by religious strife and violence to this day. 

Justice Scalia's Infuriating Hypocrisy

The opening lines of Antonin Scalia's dissent in United States v. Windsor—where a 5–4 majority of the Supreme Court overturned the 1997 Defense of Marriage Act on equal protection grounds—are straightforward: "We have no power to decide this case. And even if we did, we have no power under the Constitution to invalidate this democratically adopted legislation."

The Vanquished Voting Rights Act

Congratulations, America! Racial discrimination in voting is now a thing of the past. Or so the five conservative justices on the Supreme Court decided in their ruling issued today, overturning the preclearance formula of the Voting Rights Act, under which states with long histories of discrimination at the voting booth had to get permission from the Justice Department before changing their voting rules. Now they're free to do as they wish, and although one could still challenge blatantly discriminatory rules in court, states like Texas, Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina have been liberated from federal oversight.

Texas' Last Minute Abortion Attack

When Republicans won sweeping victories in the 2010 elections, they decided to take advantage of the moment. They might be losing the culture war, but with control of many state legislatures, they could mount a frontal assault on women's reproductive rights. And so they did; in 2011, there were no less than 92 laws passed at the state level to restrict women's access to abortion. The next year saw a further 43 such laws passed (still more than any other year in history), and 2013 has already been a bad year for abortion rights.

The Fox You Rode in On

A few years ago, people joked that Fox new was running a jobs program for has-been, hoping-to-be-again Republican politicians dreaming of defeating Barack Obama in 2012. Among the personalities emploted by the network during Obama's first term were Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, and of course, Sarah Palin. Palin had the best deal by far: a $1 million a year salary, a studio buily in her house so she wouldn't have to go anywhere, and a schedule of appearances so relaxed that she ended up getting paid more than $15 for every word she uttered on the air. And the thing of it was, she was terrible at it.

The Boehner Ultimatum

Sometimes it's hard to tell which Republicans in Congress fear more: immigration reform passing, or immigration reform not passing. They need to help pass reform to show America's Latino voters that, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, the Republican party doesn't actually hate them. But their base doesn't actually like the idea of comprehensive reform, particularly if it involves a path to citizenship (even a long and painful one). What to do?

Ringside Seat: Another Day, Another SCOTUS Decision

The story of voting rights in recent years has been largely about conservatives and legislators in Republican states working hard to restrict them, and progressives trying to counter those moves with legal challenges and organizing drives. The most prominent fights have been over voter ID laws, which are supposed to address the "problem" of voter impersonation, something that occurs about as often as two-headed sharks. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court upheld voter ID laws in 2008. But today saw an unexpected defeat for those who would like to make voting as difficult as possible, when the Court struck down an Arizona law requiring voters to prove their citizenship.

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