Archive

March 21st, 2016

It's really tough to move out of a dead-end town

    The National Review's Kevin Williamson has written something about the U.S.'s small-town, working-class whites. It's not very nice, and outrage is being expended over his claim that these people are struggling largely because "they failed themselves." A sample from near the end of Williamson's screed:

    "The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump's speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin. What they need isn't analgesics, literal or political. They need real opportunity, which means that they need real change, which means that they need U-Haul."

    Other people may read that and get mad about the "vicious, selfish" part, not to mention the blame-the-poor attitude of the whole piece. They're right to! I, however, cannot help but zero in on the last sentence -- and nod in agreement. People in communities that have hit an economic dead end really do need U-Haul. They surely need more than that, but moving away from poverty and misery is not in itself a bad idea.

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The 2016 field narrows, on one side anyway

    Hillary Clinton's Tuesday sweep of five Democratic primaries puts her more securely in the lead for her party's presidential nomination. Yet despite Donald Trump's victory in four of the five Republican state contests, his path to the nomination still encourages resistance within his party.

    Clinton rebounded from her defeat in Michigan last week by beating Sen. Bernie Sanders in three other Rust Belt states -- Ohio, Illinois and Missouri, where he had hoped to keep his comeback going -- as well as in Florida and North Carolina.

    The former secretary of state widened her lead to a cumulate margin of 1,606 delegates to 851 for the Vermonter, with 2,383 required for nomination.

    The political calendar now looks Northeast and West, where Sanders' populist pitch could prove more resonant than in the South swept so far by Clinton. But the gap between them nevertheless would require a remarkable change in the arc of the voting so far to deny her victory in Philadelphia in July.

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Take the Trump Quiz

    Donald Trump is very likely going to be the Republican nominee for president of the United States.

    Take three deep breaths.

    I know we’ve been on this path for a long time, but it’s still hard getting your head around the idea, isn’t it? Just to ease the transition, our first-ever exclusively Donald Trump quiz:

    1. After his big string of victories this week, Trump appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” where he was asked who his foreign policy advisers were. He said … 

    A. “I’m speaking with a lot of generals. Very impressive people. All winners.”

    B. “I’m speaking with myself.”

    C.  “I have a long list. It’s a good list. Vladimir Putin said it was the best list he’d ever seen.”

 

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Scalia’s “Conflict-of-Interest Airlines” Frequent Flyer Status

    How curious that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died, of all places, in an exclusive West Texas hunting lodge.

    Yet more curious, all expenses for hizzonor’s February stay were paid by the resort’s owner, John Poindexter. He’s a Houston manufacturing mogul who won a favorable ruling from the Supreme Court in an age-discrimination case last year.

    In another curiosity, the names of some 35 other people who were in Scalia’s hunting party are being kept secret. Moreover, the late judge — an ardent promoter of corporate supremacy over people’s rights — was flown to the remote getaway for free aboard someone’s or some corporation’s private jet. The name of this generous benefactor has also been withheld.

    Curious, huh?

    This isn’t a murder mystery — by all accounts, Scalia died of natural causes. It’s a moral mystery: Who was buying (or repaying) favors from an enormously powerful member of America’s highest court?

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Rubio failed, and not just because of Trump

    The 2016 demise of Marco Rubio has been obvious for a while, but it is nevertheless a very big event. He was the Republican Party's choice. He lost.

    Starting last fall, I said he would be the most likely winner. I continued saying that through the early primaries and caucuses. In fact, he seemed on track to win up until his disappointing Super Tuesday on March 1, and even in the days after that I thought he was in fairly good shape -- that is, right up until his support collapsed the weekend after Super Tuesday.

    Since I have been dead wrong about Rubio, I can't turn around immediately and tell you why he lost. It's something all of us who study presidential nominations are going to need to study, and it's going to take some time, especially for those who believe that strong parties made up of formal organizations and informal networks control their presidential nominations.

    Is this year a fluke? A sign that the system has changed? Frankly, I don't know right now.

    But I can run through some reasonable explanations of what happened with Rubio.

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Republicans should think before they obstruct

    In deciding what to do about President Barack Obama's nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, Senate Republicans should think about only two things.

    These are charts from Iowa Electronic Markets, one showing that bettors believe the Republicans are very likely to lose control of the Senate, and one showing that those same bettors believe that the Democrats' chances of taking the White House are pushing 70 percent.

    Prediction markets can be wrong. A little over a month ago, they had Marco Rubio as the overwhelming favorite to become the G.O.P. nominee. But this doesn't seem like the moment to bet that the markets are mistaken. If Senate Republicans make good on their threat to refuse to approve any nominee, the chances are that the vacancy will be filled by President Hillary Clinton and confirmed by a Democratic Senate, right after the caucus votes to abolish the filibuster.

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Pre-emptive obstructionism on court vacancy

    Not that anyone should be surprised that the judicial wars went nuclear even before President Obama chose a Supreme Court nominee, but two recent developments drive home the dismal state of affairs.

    First, a conservative group launched a television commercial attacking a potential nominee -- an unlikely nominee, and yes, we've reached the point of advertising campaigns in advance of judicial nominations.

    Jane Kelly's sin? Before being named a federal appeals court judge, a position to which she was confirmed unanimously just three years ago, Kelly was a federal public defender, representing a client. Just like the Constitution guarantees.

    Second, the Republican National Committee announced that it would team up with another conservative group to mount a "comprehensive judicial response effort" on the eventual nominee. "We're going to vet that person and put their real record on display," said Chairman Reince Priebus. Funny, I thought that was the job of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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Political violence is an American tradition

    Florida Sen. Marco Rubio says that the tension Donald Trump cultivates at his rallies is worthy "of the Third World." He's overstating the case, and for that, Americans should count themselves lucky.

    I have been to eight of Trump's rallies in several states over the last two months, and I have seen protesters removed or jeered at each one, but I have not seen anything that could be described as a serious brawl.

    In Trump's months of campaigning before growing and fired-up audiences, some of them so large they packed stadiums, no one has been seriously injured -- and that includes the police officer and two civilians who were briefly taken to a hospital after the canceled rally in Chicago on Friday. A punch, a reporter pushed to the ground: This is hardly the mayhem that sometimes accompanies politics in what Rubio calls "the Third World."

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Obama makes a smart bet for the Supreme Court

    Merrick Garland is the safest possible pick for President Barack Obama. Extraordinarily well-qualified, moderate and often pro-prosecution, Garland has been considered a potential Supreme Court nominee almost since 1997, when Bill Clinton put him on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. But if he isn't confirmed, it isn't a permanent loss for Democrats. Sri Srinivasan, his much younger near-clone, will still be waiting in the wings as a confirmable moderate Democratic back-up.

    Among court-watchers, it's long been understood that Garland needed unique circumstances to be nominated: The retiree had to be a white man, and the Senate had to be Republican. Otherwise, why would a Democratic president nominate a moderate white man?

    In recent years, the conventional wisdom regarding Garland was that his age -- he is now 63 -- would work against him. Sri Srinivasan, also on the D.C. Circuit, is just as smart as the whip-smart Garland; is only 49; and is South Asian and Hindu to boot, offering a touch of diversity. (Garland is white and Jewish; his almost too WASP-y name is the giveaway clue.)

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Obama's pick could soothe a bruised Supreme Court

    In the current era, it's probably impossible to find a nonpartisan choice for the Supreme Court. But if you did a national search for one, hoping to find a judge's judge, known above all for caution and humility, there's a good chance that you'd settle on Merrick Garland. (Disclosure: I have known Garland for many years, and we are friendly acquaintances.)

    No one should doubt that in terms of the future arc of the law, replacing Antonin Scalia with Garland would greatly matter. But it's important to see exactly why. Above all, he would be a stabilizing force on the court, promoting continuity rather than large-scale change.

    An illuminating example: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has repeatedly suggested that the individual right to bear arms "hangs in the balance" -- that with another Democratic appointee, a majority of the Supreme Court would rule that the Second Amendment confers no such right. But that's not going to happen.

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