Americans demand big Supreme Court changes
Plus, education worries and worker wins
Welcome to a Wednesday edition of Progress Report.
Lots to cover tonight, so I’ll make this intro snappy.
First, Scunthorpe United, the working class football club that I’ve spent more than a year trying to rescue from a convicted fraudster who was trying to bleed it to death, is finally safe. There’s a good chance that this is gibberish to you, but it’ll make sense if you read this and especially this.
And second, I want to make this newsletter as useful and enjoyable as possible, so I’m looking for a bit of guidance. Simply put, do you like a few longer issues of the newsletter per week, or would you want shorter, more frequent emails? Your vote will help shape the next phase of the newsletter!
Alright, time to get to the news!
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The big news yesterday was that Kevin McCarthy got ousted as Speaker of the House, proving once again that Republican House Speaker is the most cursed job in government. The role went unoccupied for 42 years until the GOP first recaptured Congress in 1994, and has since had a worse success rate than off-season caretaker at the Overlook Hotel.
Consider the list of Republican speakers and their ultimate fates.
Newt Gingrich: Forced to resign by members of his own caucus.
Dennis Hastert: Imprisoned for being a serial child molester.
John Boehner: Forced to resign by far-right members of his own caucus.
Paul Ryan: Driven out of DC by far-right members of his own caucus.
Kevin McCarthy: First Speaker to be forcibly removed from office, by a vote initiated by members of his own caucus.
The convicted pedophile was actually the most legislatively successful of these distinguished losers, as Hastert actually lost the job after a massive wave election. He went to prison years after resigning, and would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for a pesky investigation into campaign finance violations.
It’s unclear who will be the job’s next victim, though the interim speaker, North Carolina Rep. Patrick McHenry, is clearly going to take advantage of the spotlight on his audition. McHenry looked like an angry debutante ball judge as he slammed the gavel to dismiss the House last night.
McCarthy’s career is probably toast, and I’ll admit to experiencing a bit of schadenfreude at seeing such a cynical and nakedly ambitious political operator, who sold his soul for a fleeting bit of power, get humiliated on the world stage. Beyond the mirthful chuckle we’ve all enjoyed at McCarthy’s expense, there are a few points worth considering:
This happened because McCarthy wasn’t enough of a psychopath for sicko nihilist Republicans who now fully control the party. This isn’t normal politics, it’s the empowering and mainstreaming of utter sociopathy.
Thanks to gerrymandering, “other” Republicans couldn’t get rid of the sickos even if they wanted to do so. And there are plenty of Republicans who voted to keep McCarthy in office who still agree with the sickos on every other issue (see: Marjorie Taylor Greene).
While the national media obsessed over the GOP caucus drama, I spent yesterday afternoon on the phone with people in Georgia who have lost their Medicaid coverage due to Republican policies. Every moment of attention given to the palace intrigue and intramural soap operas begets more of it, further burying the real consequences of these peoples’ actions.
The best thing to come out of this is the near-certain demise of the Problem Solvers Caucus. Good riddance.
All that being said, I wish there were Democrats willing to hold party leaders to account for real policy failures. A week after Dick Durbin offered a mealy mouthed call for Sen. Robert Menendez to resign from office, he let the NJ senator, who is under indictment on comically egregious corruption charges, to introduce judicial nominees during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
I’m surprised Durbin can sit for those whiny, tepid cable news interviews given his total lack of a spine.
Speaking of things that the senior senator from Illinois refuses to do, a new poll has found that a vast majority of Americans really want to see big changes made to the Supreme Court.
The most fair and immediately effective reform, expanding the number of seats on the court, has the support of 44% of registered voters surveyed in the Politico/Morning Consult poll, while 35% were against the idea.
That’s the reform with the softest level of support, though it has a lot of room to grow; only 61% of Democratic voters backed the idea, likely because President Biden and other party leaders have shot it down. You’d expect the approval number to rise rapidly if leadership got behind expansion.
Other reforms have overwhelming bipartisan support. Placing term limits on justices garners support from 69% of registered voters, including 56% of Republicans.
Even more popular is the suggestion of imposing a binding code of ethics on the justices, which has the support of 75% of registered voters. Somewhat surprisingly, 84% of voters 65+ are in favor of a binding ethics code. Dick Durbin recently asked the Supreme Court to impose one on itself, a request that was once again met with utter indifference.
Here’s a video of him whining about JD Vance blocking some US attorney nominations from going through unanimous consent, before steamrolling with a floor vote. He could have done that a full month earlier, but instead opted to let Vance lie and smear nominees and bask in some attention.
I don’t mean to pick on this guy, but c’mon. The Senate has changed. The nation has changed. We don’t have time for nostalgia or stubborn refusal to recognize reality.
Meanwhile, the untouched and unreformed Supreme Court has begun its fall session. A few notes:
On Tuesday, Justice Kentaji Brown Jackson destroyed the former Trump solicitor general who was suing to eradicate the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau on behalf of a consortium of scummy payday lenders.
Clarence Thomas should have been asked to recuse himself from that case because it was brought by a group backed by the Koch network, which Thomas was recently revealed to have promoted at fundraisers at a men-only conservative bacchanal in the woods. His recusal was never formally requested.
Finally, the Supreme Court wisely refused to hear an appeal in the case that sought to overturn New York’s rent laws. Conservatives are now taking gigantic swings, trying to demolish the entire regulatory state through court decisions, but it’s clearly going to take a few more sessions…
It’s not just business oversight that conservatives are trying to obliterate, either. The Christofascist wing of the far-right movement has been working for 40+ years to end the government’s enforcement of the separation of church and state, perverting the concept of religious liberty in ways already embraced by the Supreme Court’s cult members.
The Alliance Defending Freedom is responsible for pushing the increasingly outrageous cases through the court system. My latest piece at More Perfect Union, co-produced with the investigative outlet Documented, lifts the veil on their plans with scrupulous research, expert testimony, and previously unpublished audio of the far-right goons discussing it all in explicit detail.
Unnerving, right? It gets worse! One of the points we had to cut for time was that this isn’t just a mission to give states the opportunity to fund religious public charter schools. What the ADF and its reactionary evangelist ilk want to do is trap and force states to fund religious public charters, regardless of whether lawmakers or voters want them or not.
For example, New York funds some public secular charter schools, but does not have a voucher program and does not give money to any religious schools. If the Supreme Court was to rule in favor of the ADF in the cases outlined above, New York would be forced to give equal access to funding to religious charters. If the state was to shut the charter program down in order to avoid that requirement, religious groups could claim discrimination and sue for the money, anyway.
The best and most direct chance of stopping the right-wing wrecking ball before it destroys public education is to fix and balance the Supreme Court, which is right now loaded with members of the Christofascist legal deep state. Now you know why I get so angry with Dick Durbin. The future truly is in his hands.
Arizona: In the meantime, you can get a good preview of what the far-right is trying to accomplish by tracking the school voucher program in Arizona, which we’ve covered many times here before. The latest news out of the desert is that the GOP’s plan is working exactly as intended.
Per the pro-public school nonprofit Save Our Schools Arizona:
As of this week, the ESA voucher program is $22,945,005 in the red, with 67,935 enrollees receiving an average amount of $9,523. At the current rate of growth, an additional 737 students are approved to use vouchers each week – the majority of whom are current private school and homeschool students who could previously afford this option and whose education was never before subsidized by public monies. The program’s cost is currently growing by $7,018,451 per week — or $30 million monthly.
By the end of this school year (and fiscal year), the voucher program is on track to cost Arizona $296.6 million more than the legislature budgeted, meaning the program will be 47.5% over budget.
This is what Republicans envision for their voucher program: Funneling billions of dollars to unaccountable for-profit and religious schools while bleeding out public schools. It’s the perfect grift, which is why other GOP states are fighting so hard to do it.
Nebraska: Gov. Jim Pillen believes so deeply in defunding public schools that he just forked over $100k to Keep Kids First, the pro-privatization PAC that will lead the fight against an effort to repeal the state’s new voucher law.
The state teacher’s union recently submitted petition signatures to qualify a ballot that would undo the GOP’s expansion of “opportunity scholarships,” which gives people tax breaks for donating to a school voucher fund. The signatures are currently under review.
Should the initiative make the ballot, it will pit teachers, parents, and labor against an array of conservative billionaires, including Nebraska Sen. Pete Ricketts (who has donated $25k thus far) and national education vampire Betsy DeVos, whose organization has dropped more than half a million dollars on the effort already.
Ohio: Gov. Mike DeWine is so determined to get Ohio caught up with other GOP states’ puritanical makeover of public education that he’s defying a new temporary restraining order issued by a Franklin County judge in order to implement his desired changes. The state Board of Education is no more, at least for the moment.
Big Wins for Working People
Let’s end with the good, the exciting, and the potentially transformative. As is becoming a regular occurrence, those adjectives best fit the stories coming out of the labor beat, while there’s some solid progress being in health care despite GOP subterfuge.
Strikes: Kaiser Permanente employees in four states kicked off a three-day strike on Wednesday, as the SEIU accused the healthcare “nonprofit” mega-system of slow-walking negotiations over a new contract. Approxinately 75,000 workers hit the picket lines in California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington, making it the largest health care industry strike of all time.
Though doctors not included among the striking Kaiser workers (though they are increasingly unionizing around the country), the strike is expected to cause a massive slowdown in services at the 39 hospitals and many additional facilities owned by Kaiser, a vertically integrated healthcare system.
Workers are asking for a $25-an-hour minimum wage with a 7% bump for inflation next year, while Kaiser has offered to pay $23-an-hour in California and $21-an-hour elsewhere. Kaiser Permanente made $2.1 billion in profit last quarter on operating revenue of $25 billion.
Above all else, workers are demanding adequate staffing levels that ensure the safety of the patients and physical and mental well-being of the people that take care of them. That demand has been front and center in virtually every nurses’ strike since 2021, as reduced staffing numbers during Covid — due to a mixture of safety protocol, burnout, and mass resignations — have yet to rebound.
Teeth: The Medicaid unwinding continues to disrupt millions of peoples’ lives, but there’s good news for some of the 80 or so million Americans still on the low-income health care program.
Both Kentucky and Tennessee have added dental benefits to their Medicaid programs this year, while Utah passed a bill to do the same and is awaiting federal approval. They join the likes of Kansas, which added dental care last year, and Virginia, which did so in 2021 before Glenn Youngkin took office.
Illinois: Advocates on Tuesday celebrated a landmark new law signed by Gov. JB Pritzker that aims to regulate the unwieldy and frequently shady temp worker industry.
The Temp Worker Fairness and Safety Act requires employers to pay temp workers comparable wages to full-time employees after they’ve been on the job for 90 days. This should put an end to the widespread practice of underpaying blue-collar temp workers — who are predominantly people of color — for years on end, a tactic that also tends to suppress wages for everybody else.
Pivotally, the law makes it illegal to discriminate against temp workers who refuse to cross union picket lines and work as scabs. There were 980,000 people who took jobs as temp workers in Illinois last year, so the bill provides a major boost for labor unions, as well.
The law also requires staffing agencies to register with the state, a must given how often they lie to workers, commit wage theft, and shield clients from legal responsibility for abuses committed on the work site.
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