Archive

February 18th, 2016

The harm of balking at Scalia replacement

    Last I checked, presidents are elected for four years, not three. Which means President Obama should quickly nominate a replacement for Justice Antonin Scalia. Then the Senate should play its assigned role.

    For the Senate to shut down the confirmation process would be bad for the court, bad for the country and, ultimately, bad for Republicans.

    It would be bad for the court because it would leave a vacancy for more than a year, stretching across two terms and, in any number of important cases, preventing a majority from having a definitive say. (A four-four split affirms the lower court ruling and lacks value as precedent.)

    It would be bad for the country for similar reasons. Citizens deserve conclusive answers on issues important enough to reach the high court, and divisive enough to split the justices, whether that involves Obama's executive actions on immigration, Texas' restrictive abortion law or the role of public-sector unions. They also deserve a functioning political process. Refusing to go forward would serve to deepen and entrench the existing partisanship and ensuing gridlock.

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The Fire Meets the Wall

    You don’t need a firewall unless there’s a fire, and a fire is precisely what the candidacy of Bernie Sanders has set off among disaffected Democrats.

    His message is clear and resonant — that we must rein in big business and stop their unfair practices, embrace some common-sense measures as universal rights — like access to health care, paid family leave and free public college to all — curtail the corruptive influence of big money on government, and reverse the trend of income inequality.

    It is hard for liberals to argue with this as a statement of principle. The only question is, “How?” For some, the answers are unsatisfactory, particularly when considering the political realities of an intransigent Congress that has attempted to block the current president at every turn.

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If Republicans block Obama's Supreme Court nomination, he wins anyway

    After Justice Antonin Scalia's death Saturday at 79, the Supreme Court is now evenly divided between four liberal justices and four conservatives, even with Anthony Kennedy's occasional swings. What a moment for Scalia to depart: The court faces a wild array of closely divided decisions. It is an election year. And President Obama has stacked the lower circuit courts with Democrats. Obama has been chewing on his legacy for months. Fate has handed him the opportunity of any presidency - to swing the balance of the Supreme Court from conservative to liberal.

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Antonin Scalia: A brilliant legal mind who defied civil rights at nearly every turn

    In the next few days and weeks, two portraits of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia are almost certain to emerge.

    The first and the most common will laud Scalia as a lion of conservative thought and jurisprudence, a man of almost unmatched intellectual heft and commitment to conservative ideals who also maintained real friendships with justices with entirely different worldviews. He will be described as deeply religious and in possession of a healthy sense of humor. He was a man with such a way with the English language that his comments from the bench during oral arguments, his written opinions and his many, many speeches and interviews rank among the most memorable in the life of the court.

    He was apparently quantifiably hilarious and hardworking, writing a huge volume of opinions and dissents. Scalia, the son of an Italian immigrant father and product of a rigorous Jesuit education, will also be described as a testament to the American story. This is what a life can become in a country where equality and opportunity reign and where religious institutions have made meaningful contributions to public life.

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A court fight for the ages

    In most presidential elections, Supreme Court nominations are a major issue for elites and a substantial concern for significant parts of the conservative movement. Other voters usually see the future makeup of the court as a side matter, or not essential to their decisions at all.

     Justice Antonin Scalia's death on Saturday will change this.

    The issue of conservative judicial activism had already begun to take hold among liberals because of a series of fiercely ideological and precedent-shattering 5-to-4 decisions.

     You read that right: After decades during which conservatives complained about "liberal judicial activism," it is now conservatives who are unabashed in undermining progressive legislation enacted by the nation's elected branches. Scalia will be remembered fondly on the right as the brilliant exponent of the theory of "originalism" that provided a rationale -- or, in many cases, a rationalization -- for decisions that usually fit conservative ideological preferences.

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When Hillary Clinton Killed Feminism

    The Clinton campaign is shellshocked over the wholesale rejection of Hillary by young women, younger versions of herself who do not relate to her.

    Hillary’s coronation was predicated on a conviction that has just gone up in smoke. The Clintons felt that Barack Obama had presumptuously snatched what was rightfully hers in 2008, gliding past her with his pretty words to make history before she could.

    So this time, the Clintons assumed, the women who had deserted Hillary for Barack, in Congress and in the country, owed her. Democrats would want to knock down that second barrier.

    Hillary believed that there was an implicit understanding with the sisters of the world that now was the time to come back home and vote for a woman. (The Clintons seem to have conveniently forgotten how outraged they were by identity politics when black leaders deserted them in 2008 to support Obama.)

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We didn't see Trump coming. We could have.

    It's rare for an election to raise a metaphysical question - and even rarer for Donald Trump to do so. But that is exactly what he has done by repeatedly confounding expectations of his electoral demise: He has rattled our conception of how knowable the future is.

    Pundit predictions are notoriously poor, but last fall, there was near-unanimity among political analysts that Trump would fail, and fast. Nate Silver, the statistical wunderkind who made his reputation by accurately calling elections using poll-driven models,said that Trump's base of support was "about the same share of people who think the Apollo moon landings were faked."

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Speechwriter's theory on why so many politicians sound like robots

    Activists dressed as robots have made their way from New Hampshire to South Carolina, where I live, for the purpose of lampooning Marco Rubio. He performed poorly during the first part of the Feb. 6 Republican presidential debate, when he tried to answer criticism of his inexperience by enunciating the same talking point four times, sounding more like a malfunctioning machine with each repetition. Now he can only hope the jokes will get old quickly - the robot costumes, the verbatim repetition of anything said about him, the "Marcobot" nickname.

    Coverage of Rubio's howler has, to my mind, been vastly overdone (the episode did not reflect poorly on his judgment, his character or even his abilities), but it touches on a suspicion most of us have entertained about our politicians: that they use words mindlessly. Probably all of us who follow politics sometimes feel that the whole business is nothing but drivel and fakery - that politicians are emitting vacuous jargon, their key phrases repeated again and again with apparently no concern for accuracy or feasibility or coherence.

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February 17th

School choice lotteries fail to make a difference

    This is the kind of news that school- choice advocates and skeptics alike need to pay attention to: The Economist magazine reports that a team of academic economists found that students who won a lottery in Louisiana to receive vouchers to go to the public or private school of their choice did worse than students who didn't win the lottery.

    This outcome flies in the face of the predictions of many economists, who often tout school choice as a way to improve the U.S. educational system while also increasing equality of opportunity. Economists typically assume that people are rational and well-informed, and will make decisions that benefit them. If giving students and their parents more school choice hurts the students academically, then something is seriously wrong with the theory.

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School policy has gotten smarter

    A decade ago, U.S. education policies were a mess. It was the classic problem of good intentions gone awry.

    At the core of the good idea was the common-sense insight that if we want better and more equitable results from our education system, we should set clear expectations for student learning, measure whether our kids are meeting them and hold schools accountable for their outcomes, mainly gauged in terms of academic achievement.

    And sure enough, under the No Child Left Behind law, every state in the land mustered academic standards in (at least) reading and math, annual tests in grades three through eight and some sort of accountability system for their public schools.

    Unfortunately, those standards were mostly vague, shoddy or misguided; the tests were simplistic and their "proficiency" bar set too low; and the accountability systems encouraged all manner of dubious practices, such as focusing teacher effort on a small subset of students at risk of failing the exams rather than advancing every child's learning.

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