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How Full Is That Glass? Reflecting on Voting Rights, Employment Discriminiation and Gay Marriage

Posted by Peter M. Shane on June 27, 2013

Justice Kennedy’s opinion in United States v. Windsor immediately and deservedly now enters the canon of momentous Supreme Court human rights decisions. Historians and others will likely debate whether the Court’s disposal of the Prop 8 case on technical standing grounds — allowing same-sex marriage to proceed in California, but imposing no constitutional constraint on other states — was or was not the optimal outcome. The more optimistic view, of course, is that the Court’s restraint preserves the momentum of the gay rights movement without triggering the kind of political backlash that might have been engendered by a 5-4 decision holding prohibitions of same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

The political force of the Windsor and Perry cases, however, will be diminished by the Court’s evisceration of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder. A five-Justice majority held, in effect, that Congress could not constitutionally maintain a scheme designed to prevent and remedy racially discriminatory voting practices in the South because that scheme has apparently been successful in preventing and remedying at least some racially discriminatory voting practices. That conclusion, devastatingly refuted in Justice Ginsburg’s blistering dissent, is — to use her word — a stunning act of judicial “hubris.” The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments explicitly give primary authority to Congress, not the Court, to determine the appropriate enforcement of their majestic guarantees. The Court’s determination that Congress just didn’t think hard enough about voting rights in 2006 to justify its latest extension of the Voting Rights Act is preposterous.

Shelby County also puts into context Justice Scalia’s vituperative DOMA dissent. He decries the Court’s “exalted conception” of its role in American life. He “promises” his readers that “T[he only thing that will 'confine' the Court's holding [on DOMA vis-a-vis the larger question of same sex-marriage] is its sense of what it can get away with.” “It takes real cheek,” Scalia writes, “for today’s majority to assure us, as it is going out the door, that a constitutional requirement to give formal recognition to same-sex marriage is not at issue here–when what has preceded that assurance is a lecture on how superior the majority’s moral judgment in favor of same-sex marriage is to the Congress’s hateful moral judgment against it.”

What makes this bluster so repugnant is that its author had no problem overturning a congressional act intended to preserve individual rights — the Voting Rights Act — that has been repeatedly and vigorously debated, was supported by successive bipartisan majorities in the national legislature, and which deprives not a single human being of life, liberty, or property. His fulmination, on the contrary, is on behalf of a statute that effectively did deprive married members of a political minority — men and women lawfully married under the laws of their respective states — of federal benefits potentially critical to their health and welfare.

It is also repugnant because Shelby County, in its determined obliviousness to America’s racial history, is of a piece with another Roberts decision Scalia supported – Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1. In that 2007 case, a 5-4 Court held unconstitutional two school districts’ voluntary efforts to accomplish actual racial integration based on a reading of Brown v. Board of Education that was positively Orwellian. In Chief Justice Roberts’s world, the nastiness of racism is a thing of the past, apparently to be remedied on that rare occasion it may raise its ugly head only through case-by-case litigation, in which the laws of inertia clearly favor defendants, not targets of discrimination.

But it is important to see the DOMA and VRA cases, along with the week’s other civil rights decisions, in the same frame for yet another reason. The Court’s voting rights decision has now made it much harder for Democratic voters in the Deep South to achieve more progressive political representation.

Consider that the Supreme Court has now effectively left the definition of marriage for the determination of individual state legislatures. Likewise, in two employment discrimination cases this week, the Court has left it to Congress, our national legislature, to undo the Court’s ridiculously narrow understandings, respectively, of who qualifies as an employee’s supervisor and when retaliatory action against a sexual harassment claimant ought be actionable.

But, if Republican-controlled state governments in the South now wish to change their electoral systems to entrench their control of state government or to preserve a disproportionate share of their respective state delegations in Congress, it will be much easier to do so. As a formal matter, they will still be legally forbidden to adopt practices with the intent or effect of discriminating by race. Yet that legal guarantee will no longer be enforced through an efficient administrative process by the Justice Department. Individual voters, at their own expense and shouldering the burden of proof in litigation, will typically have to take the initiative (and the years of effort necessary) to challenge those practices. It won’t be pretty. Inertia again favors the bad guys, which is exactly what the Voting Rights Act sought to prevent.

In the Windsor and Perry cases, the Court has given Americans much to cheer. The Court has also left much, however, to a political process that the Court has befouled by taking the side of state rights against actual democracy.

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Judicial Activism and Recess Appointments

Posted by Peter M. Shane on January 25, 2013

On Wednesday, January 4, 2012, President Obama appointed three new members for the National Labor Relations Board.  He also named Richard Cordray to serve as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  To do so, he invoked his recess appointments power under Article II, Section 2, paragraph 3 of the Constitution.  This is the power “to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate.”

The majority Democrat Senate, in this case, had previously convened most recently on Tuesday, January 3, 2013 for a session that lasted 41 seconds.  These 41 seconds were devoted to two items.  The first was a reading by the Senate clerk of a letter from the Senate’s then-President Pro Tem, Senator Inouye.  The letter confirmed the appointment of Senator Mark Warner for the day to perform the duties of the Chair.  The second item was Senator Warner performing exactly one such duty.  Namely, he adjourned the Senate until its 29-second session on Friday, January 6.  Senators living close to D.C. had been performing these rituals at three-day intervals since December 20, 2011.  Their performances implemented a Senate order, adopted by unanimous consent on December 17, providing that the Senate would then adjourn but, until January 23, 2012, convene every three days for “pro forma sessions only, with no business conducted.”  The reason for this ritual was the decision of the majority Republican House of Representatives, under Article I, Section 5, Paragraph 4 of the Constitution to withhold its consent to a Senate adjournment of longer than three days.  The House Republicans were of the view that keeping the Senate on a three-day leash would prevent the President from making recess appointments and doing an end-run around the Senate Republicans’ filibusters.

For all the controversy surrounding these appointments, they were clearly constitutional if either of two things is true.  They were constitutional if, despite the pro forma sessions, the Senate was in recess from December 20 until January 23.  If that hiatus amounted to a “recess” for purposes of Article II, Section 2, then the President’s exercise of his appointment prerogative was permissible.  The appointments would also be constitutional, of course, if the three-day hiatus between January 3 and January 6 was a “recess” for constitutional purposes.  The President had plausible arguments either way.

On Friday, January 25, 2013, however, three GOP-appointed judges on the U.S. District of Columbia Circuit held the NLRB appointments unconstitutional.  The NLRB, the court found, had properly determined that the petitioner, Noel Canning, had committed an unfair labor practice.  However, the Board’s order could not be enforced because three of its members were appointed unconstitutionally and, without those members, the Board lacked a quorum.

This is not a slam dunk legal issue.  The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel had issued a well-reasoned opinion asserting the permissibility of the appointments.  For his part, Charles J. Cooper, a former OLC head under President Reagan, provided a thoughtful rebuttal in testimony to the House Education and Workforce Committee.

What is striking, therefore, about the D.C. Circuit opinion is not its bottom line, but the scope of its reasoning.  Despite a pretense of constitutional modesty, the court decided the Recess Appointments issue — which the appellant had not raised to the NLRB itself — on the broadest possible ground. The court decided not that the Senate’s pro forma sessions prevented it from having a sufficiently long recess or even that its conceded three-day adjournment was too short to count as a recess. Instead, it held that recess appointments may occur only if the Senate is between sessions, for example, after it has adjourned for the first session of the 113th Congress, but before the 2nd session convenes.

Then, for good measure, two of three judges held the appointments impermissible because the NLRB seats did not actually become vacant during such an intersession recess. As they read the Constitution, unless an office actually becomes empty during a recess, it cannot be filled during a recess.  (As the third judge observes in a separate opinion, this second holding disregards about 190 years of contrary understanding by Congress and the Executive.)

Regarding a different body — a judicial appointment, in fact — the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has squarely held that presidents may make recess appointments within sessions of the Senate, not just between them.  Because of the conflict now between two circuits, there seems little doubt that, if the Administration wants to bring the NLRB case to the Supreme Court, the Court will hear it.

The court’s key defense of its interpretation of “recess” to mean only a recess between sessions is that no other interpretation would provide the courts an easy-to-implement bright-line rule.  It is worth noting, however, that – like many bright-line rules – this one makes little sense.  As recounted by Senate associate historian Betty K. Koed (and quoted by reporter Al Kamen), “At high noon on Dec. 7 1903,” the Senate president pro tem brought down the gavel to end one session of the Senate and then immediately brought a second session to order.  “In that moment between sessions,” she wrote, “during that split-second of time it took . . . to wield the gavel, President Theodore Roosevelt made 193 recess appointments.”  These appointments would have satisfied the D.C. Circuit’s bright-line rule.

Conversely, should the 2013 Senate, within a single session, now leave town for three months with key executive branch positions unfilled, the President – according to the D.C. Circuit – may do nothing.  I dissent.

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Occupy the Constitution 2.0

Posted by Peter M. Shane on December 16, 2011

I cannot say that my earlier suggestions for a pro-democracy constitutional amendment have ignited a firestorm of grassroots activity. They have, however, elicited enough email responses to prompt my attempt at a yet better-drafter version.

Members of Congress have already proposed a constitutional amendment to deal, in particular, with the Citizens United problem, and the Supreme Court’s general hostility towards campaign finance regulation. As critical as these moves are — I wholeheartedly recommend Larry Lessig‘s Republic, Lost for a compelling analysis of how money has corrupted our political system — I do not believe they are sufficient to generate the kind of revitalization our political system needs if we are ever to replace our entrenched plutocracy with more genuinely democratic government.

Revamping our political landscape in the name of democracy requires, I believe, four critical changes: the legitimation of campaign finance regulation, authority for public financing to reduce the impact of disparate fund-raising among candidates, the constitutionalization of federal voting rights, and legal protection against gross gerrymandering. The following draft amendment embodies this four-part strategy — with thanks to readers who have offered friendly amendments to the amendment.

Draft Pro-Democracy Constitutional Amendment

Sec. 1. Congress may regulate political contributions and independent expenditures regarding elections for any federal office as may be reasonable to protect the fairness and integrity of such elections. Such regulations may include the prohibition of political contributions and expenditures by commercial, for-profit corporations for any federal office.

Sec. 2. States and the District of Columbia may regulate political contributions and independent expenditures regarding elections for any state or local office, or on behalf of any state or local referendum, within their jurisdiction, as may be reasonable to protect the fairness and integrity of such elections. States may delegate such regulatory authority for local offices, referenda and initiatives to the relevant local governments. District of Columbia, state and local regulations may include the prohibition of political contributions and expenditures by commercial, for-profit corporations for any office, or on behalf of any initiative or referendum, within the relevant jurisdiction.

Sec. 3. Regulations adopted pursuant to this Amendment may not have as their purpose the suppression of, or discrimination against, any particular political viewpoint.

Sec. 4. No citizen of the United States who has reached the age of 18 may be denied the right to vote in any election for state or federal office or any referendum, initiative or similar ballot contest conducted in the state of which he or she is a duly registered domiciliary. No citizen of the United States who has reached the age of 18 may be denied the right to vote in any election for local office or any referendum, initiative or similar ballot contest conducted in a local jurisdiction of which he or she is a duly registered domiciliary. Any election regulation that has the purpose or effect of denying the right to vote that is not narrowly tailored to serve a compelling and legitimate government interest shall be unconstitutional. States shall adopt affirmative measures to ensure that citizens may conveniently exercise the rights guaranteed by this section.

Sec. 5. In districted elections for federal, state or local office, every citizen of the United States who has reached the age of 18 shall have the right to vote in a fairly apportioned district that implements the principle of one person, one vote and that has not been drawn substantially for the purpose of defeating political competition and preserving the majority status within that district of any political party.

Sec. 6. Congress may provide for the funding of elections in connection with any federal office. Should any candidate in a publicly funded federal election choose to decline public funding, Congress may permit adjustments to the subsidies provided other candidates according to the fundraising and spending of their privately financed opponents.

Sec. 7. States and the District of Columbia may provide for the funding of elections in connection with any state or local office. Should any candidate in a publicly funded state or local election choose to decline public funding, the state or relevant local jurisdiction may permit adjustments to the subsidies provided other candidates according to the fundraising and spending of their privately financed opponents.

Sec. 8. Congress may enforce the rights protected by this Amendment through appropriate legislation.

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Occupy the Constitution

Posted by Peter M. Shane on October 13, 2011

The Occupy Wall Street movement has brought a level of energy and inspiration to participatory Left politics unseen since the 2008 Obama campaign and with, perhaps, yet more enduring potential.

Among admirers who are unfazed by the pathetic attempts at trivialization voiced by Republican politicians and their media propagandists, the chief anxiety seems to be the absence of a specific policy agenda around which to rally the citizenry.

If OWS is to become a lasting force, however, in American policy, its objectives have to go beyond policy proposals that aim at ameliorating our short-term economic distress. The movement has to try to reshape the institutions through which we conduct our politics. Government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” will remain an unlikely prospect as our political institutions are now rigged.

And there is simply no hope of doing the work that needs doing unless significant changes are made to the Constitution of the United States.

Larry Lessig has made an overwhelming case that money is corrupting our democracy. Money has that power, in part because the Supreme Court has interpreted the Constitution to protect plutocracy. But our Constitution, as interpreted by the Court, also lets transient majorities in state legislatures so finagle our legislative elections as to undermine genuine electoral competition. If our “representatives” don’t have to compete for our votes, their positions are quite unlikely to mirror our preferences.

Consider that, in the convulsive 2010 congressional mid-term elections, 87 percent of the incumbents who stood for election were re-elected — this, at a time when public approval of Congress was in the low 20s. If nearly nine out of ten incumbents get to keep their jobs even when the public hates their handiwork, what kind of democratic accountability do our elections actually provide?

It is commonly said that high rates of incumbent retention reflect a world in which voters despise Congress, but love their local representatives. There is, of course, another explanation: legislatures have stacked the deck in favor of protecting incumbents.

There are many ways in which our Constitution undermines democracy. The legislative disenfranchisement of the District of Columbia, the setup of presidential elections and the malapportionment of the Senate are all conspicuous examples. Yet, if recent history is a guide, changing any of these provisions — the makeup of the Senate could not be undone without a new constitutional convention — would be extremely difficult.

It should be less contentious, however, to rally around three ideas that ought to elicit widespread public support across a considerable political spectrum — undoing the constitutional protection for corporate spending, expanding the adult franchise so that all Americans can vote and authorizing the public funding of elections. Toward that end, I have appended below yet another draft of what a pro-democracy constitutional amendment could look like.

Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. wrote some years ago of his puzzlement that the American Right seemed always ready, willing and able to rally around proposed constitutional amendments, no matter how improbable — whether it’s a “Human Life” amendment, or a pro-school prayer amendment, or now an anti-gay-marriage amendment. Would it not seem more promising to organize the American people around a constitutional ideal in which people actually believe, namely, democracy?

To cement its role as a new anchor for the Left in American politics, OWS participants should endorse both policy proposals to increase economic fairness and prosperity in the short-term and constitutional changes that will restore government accountability as a meaningful aspiration in America.

DRAFT PRO-DEMOCRACY CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT
Sec. 1. The freedom of speech shall not be construed to deny Congress authority to prohibit or otherwise regulate political contributions and expenditures by commercial, for-profit corporations for any federal office.

Sec. 2. The freedom of speech shall not be construed to deny authority to the States to prohibit or otherwise regulate political contributions and expenditures by commercial, for-profit corporations for any state or local office, or for any state or local referendum or initiative, within their jurisdiction, and or to delegate such regulatory authority for local offices, referenda and initiatives to the relevant local governments.

Sec. 3. No citizen of the United States who has reached the age of 18 may be denied the right to vote in any election for state or federal office or any referendum, initiative or similar ballot contest conducted in the state of which he or she is a duly registered domiciliary. No citizen of the United States who has reached the age of 18 may be denied the right to vote in any election for local office or any referendum, initiative or similar ballot contest conducted in a local jurisdiction of which he or she is a duly registered domiciliary. Any election regulation that has the purpose or effect of denying the right to vote that is not narrowly tailored to serve a compelling and legitimate government interest shall be unconstitutional. States shall adopt affirmative measures to ensure that citizens may conveniently exercise the rights guaranteed by this section.

Sec. 4. In districted elections for federal, state or local office, every citizen of the United States who has reached the age of 18 shall have the right to vote in a fairly apportioned district that implements the principle of one person, one vote and that has not been drawn substantially for the purpose of defeating political competition and preserving the majority status within that district of any political party.

Sec. 5. Congress may provide for the funding of elections in connection with any federal office. Should any candidate in a publicly funded federal election choose to decline public funding, Congress may permit adjustments to the subsidies provided other candidates according to the fundraising and spending of their privately financed opponents.

Sec. 6. States may provide for the funding of elections in connection with any state or local office. Should any candidate in a publicly funded state or local election choose to decline public funding, the state or relevant local jurisdiction may permit adjustments to the subsidies provided other candidates according to the fundraising and spending of their privately financed opponents.

Sec. 7. Congress may enforce the rights protected by this Amendment through appropriate legislation.

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“Job Creators” or “Hostage Takers?”

Posted by Peter M. Shane on September 26, 2011

When I started blogging occasionally for Huffington Post, I resolved to confine my use of this platform to issues on which my professional background in constitutional and administrative law would give me (and any readers I might have) the advantage of some actual expertise.

On this particular occasion, however, with our political system seemingly stuck at the depths of dysfunction, I feel the need to rant. The occasion is yesterday’s speech by House speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to the Economic Club of Washington. This is how he summed up the current state of the economy: “Job creators in America are essentially on strike.”

To be “on strike” is a telling metaphor — especially interesting if one suspects, as I do, that Speaker Boehner is typically not in sympathy with strikes. To strike, by definition, is to refuse voluntarily to perform the work you would otherwise be doing — the kind of thing that right-wing pundits would normally call “extortion.”

So, I have a proposal. From now on, instead of using “job creators” to identify the businesses that are sitting on huge piles of cash, raking in unprecedented corporate profts, and benefiting from tax breaks and bailouts that have underwritten a cushy life for unaccountable CEO’s, let’s call them what they really are: “hostage-takers.”

The hostages are us.

The hostage-takers want you to believe that tax cuts are always good for the economy. So, how did we do after the Bush tax cuts? As summed up by Ronald Brownstein,

On every major measurement, the Census Bureau report shows that the country lost ground during Bush’s two terms. While Bush was in office, the median household income declined, poverty increased, childhood poverty increased even more, and the number of Americans without health insurance spiked. By contrast, the country’s condition improved on each of those measures during Bill Clinton’s two terms, often substantially.

The hostage-takers want you to believe that regulations kills jobs and, let’s face it, those child labor laws really did kill factory work opportunities for 10-year olds. But regulations can actually create jobs, by generating markets for new goods and services, and by boosting consumer demand as a result of increasing confidence in the marketplace.

Excessive regulation is hardly the problem that created the housing crisis and banking sector meltdown. Quite the reverse. So, to say that regulations per se are the enemy of growth is just wrong.

The hostage-takers want you to believe that all business needs in order to start hiring again is “certainty.” Guess what? There is no “certainty” in the economy; there is only risk. Political scientist Jacob Hacker has documented in compelling terms what he calls the “great risk shift” — the poisonous trajectory of right-wing public policy in which the corporate elite and their political allies have shifted economic risk from their shoulders and placed it on the shoulders of workers and the middle class, who now have less job security, fewer benefits, and a lower median wage, even as productivity improves.

I now have a modest proposal. Let’s stop negotiating with hostage-takers. Let’s stand up to them. Let’s insist that the machinery of government was not designed to accelerate the concentration of wealth in the hands of a very few, while the rest of the population experiences the worst poverty rate in decades and the most dramatic income inequalities in nearly a century. Let’s remind the hostage takers that ours was intended to be a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

And we don’t pay ransom.

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Memo to Obama: Use Market Jitters to Seize the Initiative

Posted by Peter M. Shane on August 10, 2011

Thanks to the debt ceiling deal no one liked, official Washington seems poised now to wait for a cumbersome congressional process to drag the country again through an extended spectacle of pathetic political gamesmanship. Critical points on the time line between now and January 1 include the end of the fiscal year (September 30), at which point the government shuts down unless appropriations are enacted, the November 23 reporting date for the congressional Committee of Twelve, and the December 23 deadline for a congressional vote to head off sequestration. As things stand, we can expect an eleventh-hour, 59th-minute political nightmare on each of these dates.

Here’s an idea for the president: Don’t wait. Seize the initiative. Offer a progressive plan within the next two weeks, and demand Congress enact it by the end of the fiscal year.

The parameters for the plan should be straightforward. The Committee of Twelve is supposed to produce $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction. Make $2 trillion your target. But achieve half that deficit reduction through revenue enhancement and economic growth generated by a redirection of government spending away from low-return subsidies and towards investment in infrastructure, the clean energy sector, and research and development, plus short-term stimulus through extended unemployment insurance and a payroll tax moratorium.

And now for the hard part: Announce you are putting on the table the option of an October 1 government shutdown unless Congress enacts a plan that you find acceptable – a plan that must be jobs-and-growth oriented, protective of the middle class, and focused on revenues, not just cuts. (At the very least, this will tempt the GOP to taunt you with a continuing resolution too good not to sign.)

You will be standing on high ground. Just keep repeating the words, “families,” “middle class,” “growth,” and “jobs.” The markets want to see the United States take actual leadership and show it can address problems before we have a gun, already cocked, to our collective head. Please lead the way.

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Using “Mandate Gap” to Measure Fault in the Event of a Government Shutdown

Posted by Peter M. Shane on April 7, 2011

According to the United States Election Project at George Mason University, 132,645,504 Americans turned out to vote in the 2008 election, representing 61.6 per cent of the eligible voting population.  Voters casting presidential ballots handed Barack Obama a 53 to 45 per cent win over John McCain. 

In 2010, 90,682,968 Americans voted, representing 40.9 per cent of the eligible population. Those voting for House members gave Republicans overall a 52 to 45 per cent win.  (Of the 246 GOP winners on election day, 85 won with Tea Party endorsement.)  Votes for Republican Senate candidates beat Democratic candidates 49 to 45 per cent.

In 2009, Rich Lowry, editor of the conservative National Review wrote: “Obama’s mistake is governing as if he has a heroic mandate when he really has a modest one. This is his mandate gap.”

In deciding who may at fault for causing a government shutdown, it might be worthwhile to consider who is straining their “mandate gap” now.

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“Love is the Answer”: Original Songs Recovered from 1970-72

Posted by Peter M. Shane on March 7, 2011

Between 1970 and 1972, Rick Lewis, Elissa Fazio and I engaged in a spate of song-writing.  Rick was my roommate for three years at Harvard and Elissa, one of my dearest friends from West Hempstead High School.  We produced about a dozen songs together, and – in late 1971 or early 1972 – another roommate, Andy Chester, recorded Rick and Elissa performing our songs (including one I had written the summer before college with another friend, Bill Hellert).  Andy owned what seemed to us to be a pretty advanced four-track reel-to-reel tape recorder.  I recently found my copy of that tape, had it digitized, and shared it with Rick and Elissa.  Our collective view is that eight of the songs are surprisingly not too shabby after 40 years.  If you make due allowance for youthful self-absorption, I’m not even too embarrassed by the lyrics.  Elissa now runs a small business in Tucson, Arizona (and is engaged in myriad other activities).  Rick is a cardiologist in Virginia.  But, if there’s going to be a 2015 folk revival, I think they’re ready for touring.  And, if Elton John decides to ditch Bernie Taupin, well . . .

1.  January Ways

Music by Rick Lewis
 Lyrics by Peter Shane
 Vocal: Elissa Fazio
 Piano and guitar: Rick Lewis
 © 2011.  Peter M. Shane and Richard A. Lewis.  All rights reserved.

2. New York City Summer Days

 Music by Elissa Fazio
 Lyrics by Peter Shane
 Vocal and guitar: Elissa Fazio
 © 2011.  Peter M. Shane and Elissa Fazio.  All rights reserved.

3. Parting Friends

 Music by Elissa Fazio
 Lyrics by Peter Shane
 Vocal and guitar: Elissa Fazio
 © 2011.  Peter M. Shane and Elissa Fazio.  All rights reserved.

4. Ingiving

 Music by Elissa Fazio
 Lyrics by Peter Shane
 Vocal and guitar: Elissa Fazio
 © 2011.  Peter M. Shane and Elissa Fazio.  All rights reserved.

5. Feeling Fine

 Music by Rick Lewis
 Lyrics by Peter Shane
 Vocals: Elissa Fazio and Rick Lewis
 Guitar:  Rick Lewis
 © 2011.  Peter M. Shane and Richard A. Lewis.  All rights reserved.

6. Always at the Beach

 Music by Rick Lewis
 Lyrics by Peter Shane
 Vocal: Elissa Fazio
 Piano and guitar: Rick Lewis
 © 2011.  Peter M. Shane and Richard A. Lewis.  All rights reserved.

7. Love is the Answer

 Music by Rick Lewis
 Lyrics by Peter Shane
 Vocal and guitar: Elissa Fazio
 © 2011.  Peter M. Shane and Richard A. Lewis.  All rights reserved.

8. Goin’ On

 Music by Bill Hellert
 Lyrics by Peter Shane
 Lead vocal:  Elissa Fazio
 Background vocal: Elissa Fazio
 Guitar: Elissa Fazio
 © 2011.  Peter M. Shane and Bill Hellert.  All rights reserved.

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Are the People of Egypt Available for Freelance Democracy Building?

Posted by Peter M. Shane on February 11, 2011

Now that the people of Egypt have successfully ended the Mubarak regime, I’m wondering if they are available for freelance work.

For example, I am thinking of a nation whose capital is home to over 600,000 people, none of whom are represented by a voting member of their national legislature.

It is a country where about 16 per cent of the population is given control over half the seats in the upper house of that legislature – and can effectively block what a majority of citizens want. (Actually, it’s worse than that because a single legislator in that House can block legislation, and not even a majority can insist on a vote.)

It’s a country where the right to vote is not even in the national constitution. Its Supreme Court actually said that no one in the country has a constitutional right to vote for its President.

Of course, there are other ways of catapulting democracy. You can invade, as we did in Iraq. But when I consider the price tag for that effort, in both money and human life, the Egyptian plan looks way better.

And the country I’m thinking of is not even a dictatorship. If the Egyptians have 18 days to work their democratic genius, they could probably institute democracy in half that time and grab a week for a well-deserved vacation.

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Finding Old Friends: A Strange Story of West Hempstead, LI

Posted by Peter M. Shane on December 26, 2010

The summer I turned seven, my family moved us from Wildwood Road, around the corner from Cornwell Avenue School, to a house on Woodfield Road, around the corner from Eagle Avenue. Throughout elementary school, my most frequent playmate was undoubtedly my next door neighbor, Kevin Kleffmann. Coming in a close second, however, would surely have been my across-the-street neighbor, Gary Ellson – at least until his family moved away. (I’m guessing that happened just before junior high.) In any event, from second grade until the Ellsons moved to Wantagh, Gary and I were close buddies — my clearest memory of us is trick-or-treating, he as a Union solder and I as a baseball player; we told anyone who asked that we were both “Yankees.” Because of this memory, Halloween — especially when my daughter was young — always brought Gary to mind. I’m pretty sure I tried Googling his name some years ago, although the name was too common to surface any reliable clue as to his whereabouts.

Last week, for no reason I can think of, I had a dream in which I was again in high school. I was a participant in a county-wide high school band (which, in reality, never happened) and, at our first practice, I ran into Gary. We were very happy to see one another and, after catching up a bit, I said to him, “How are Laurel and Judith?” Laurel and Judith were his younger sisters and, truth be told, I’m not completely sure I would have had a conscious memory of their names. I was thus so struck by the clarity of my memory in the dream that I couldn’t help but respond to the following thought: “Laurel Ellson” is a distinctive-sounding name; if she kept Ellson as a surname, she might be more easily discoverable online than Gary. So, I went to Facebook, searched for “Laurel Ellson,” and immediately found a woman who appeared to be in the right age range, whose hometown was “Wantagh.” After a couple of days’ thought, I decided to tell her all this via email (just assuming I had found the right person), only to share my best wishes with her family and, through her, to extend my regards to Gary.

Within hours, Laurel responded, warmly and in detail. She was, indeed, the sister of my childhood friend. She conveyed the sad news that Gary had died two years ago from brain cancer. What stunned me, however, is that she also shared the news that, until his death, Gary had been a resident of Columbus, Ohio, and a staff member at Ohio State University, where I have taught since 2003. With his wife, he co-founded the Actors Theater in Columbus, probably best known for its summer performances in our beautiful Schiller Park. In other words, a bright, funny companion of fifty years ago was again my neighbor, and I didn’t know it. Not knowing of Gary’s whereabouts, I had lost out on at least five years’ opportunity for renewed friendship with someone who had plainly grown up to be a smart, creative, energetic adult.

I don’t believe in omens or magical thinking, but I do take a lesson from this story: The impulse to reconnect should not be treated lightly. Gary lived clearly enough in my memory, and the Internet makes corresponding so easy, that I should have taken more seriously years ago the impulse to find him. The point would not have been to wander down Memory Lane – I doubt either of us would have remembered enough of Grades 2-6 to sustain much conversation – but for the mutual enjoyment of whom we had each grown up to be. Gary’s premature death was no doubt a profound loss to many, many people; I am sorry to have learned so late that I am among them.

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