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Jeffrey Lord is the George Washington of Pathetic Donald Trump Lickspittles

[ 46 ] April 14, 2017 |

cnnjeffreylordpost827-image

Heckuva job, CNN!

The White House’s attempt to gather Democratic votes for a scheme of this sort, said Lord on CNN, qualifies as a historic moment. “I want to say something here that I know will probably drive Symone crazy, but think of President Trump as the Martin Luther King of health care,” Lord argued. “When I was a kid, President Kennedy didn’t want to introduce the civil rights bill because he said it wasn’t popular, he didn’t have the votes for it, etc. Dr. King kept putting people in the streets in harm’s way to put the pressure on so that the bill would be introduced.”

These are the wages of “shape of the Earth, views differ” as an imperative to structure your commentary. An analogy that is both offensive and makes no sense on any level, explicitly made solely to piss off the liberal foil. Our media is not learning.

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How’re you going to make your way in the world when you weren’t cut out for working?

[ 80 ] April 13, 2017 |

To make a highly unoriginal observation, the Trump administration is an object lesson in just how far the most mediocre affluent white men can ascend. This starts at the top, with the guy who has gotten himself portrayed as a brilliant businessman by parlaying a massive inherited fortune into one that is almost certainly much smaller than it would be had he just put the whole shebang in a mutual fund. There’s his spokesman, who can’t get through an anodyne press conference without doing stuff like babbling about how Hitler never used poison gas with the Notably Rare Exception of his Holocaust Gallerias. And then there’s his useless children and in-laws, who seem to be getting an undue benefit of the doubt because they’re inept kleptocrats rather than fascists:

iuielvylldtkjj32xskwAbove: Vineyard Vines is proud to announce its new spring look, suitable for military cosplay

Clearly, commentary on this picture has to be outsourced to Magary:

Behold idiot son-in-law Jared Kushner—the man now in charge of brokering Middle East peace, Uberizing the federal government, reforming the entire criminal justice system, and keeping Donald Trump’s hands off his wife. This perfect still frame from a David O. Russell film has also been put in charge of beating ISIS. Yes, ISIS!

And what better way to terrify the caliphate than by sauntering around in a bulletproof vest that’s been personalized like a pair of Underoos, and then wearing it OVER a goddamn blazer? It’s a sharp look, one that says, “I’d like to make a war, but I’d also like a mint julep.”

The Gorsuch Filibuster And the Myth of the Apolitical Supreme Court

[ 109 ] April 13, 2017 |

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Edroso says most of what needs to be said about McArdle’s latest entry in the “why, oh why, are Democrats engaging in the same tactics that were a yoooge political success for Republicans?” genre. But since this argument is a little more widespread, I wanted to address this alleged reason why the filibuster of Gorsuch was a bad idea:

The base wants a filibuster of Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court, even though there is literally no possible tangible end that can be achieved thereby — and even though it may indeed make it harder to block Trump nominees in the future. For instance some future truly awful Supreme Court nominee, one for whom Republicans wouldn’t be willing to rewrite Senate rules in order to overcome a filibuster threat.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that there is such a thing as a nominee that could command majority support by Republicans for a vote on the merits, but not to blow up the filibuster, although whether this razor-thin slice of prosciutto even exists is dubious. In what sense would this nominee be “terrible”? I think Daniel Hemel and David Herzig identified it: a case in which “a nominee whose views were less extreme or whose credentials were less sterling.” The idea is that because Republicans would be less invested in a more moderate nominee with less elite formal credentials, they might not go nuclear against a Democratic filibuster. This is also almost certainly what McArdle means; after all, as Roy says she’s still outraged that Dems defeated Bork on an up-or-down vote and then approved a more moderate conservative. (You do have to love the fact that McArdle is outraged that Bork was defeated on a bipartisan up-or-down vote, and that the ACA was passed by supermajority party-line vote. It’s almost as if there’s no legitimate way for Democrats to achieve their desired ends!)

The first problem with this argument I’ve already identified: in that scenario the the nominee would most likely fail, like George W. Bush’s nomination of Harriet Miers, because he or she lacked the support of the majority. But let’s say grant that a justice who would win on merits but not on the nuclear option exists. The much bigger problem is that the endgame would be a more formally “qualified” but more ideologically extreme nominee, which is a much worse outcome for Democrats. To state the obvious, how a Supreme Court justice votes is far, far more important than where she got her J.D.. The whole argument is just another iteration of the myth that Supreme Court justice is primarily a technical and not political job. And despite the increasingly desperate and unnecessary credential inflation on the Court, the Supreme Court nomination process has permanently changed because nobody really believes it. After all, if it was true Merrick Garland would be on the Supreme Court now.

The brutal truth is that even if somehow a once-in-a-century, genuinely unqualified candidate like Harriet Miers somehow got on the Court, it wouldn’t really matter much — one Supreme Court vote on its own can’t do anything, his or her opinions would be written by the same kinds of clerks everybody else’s are, and obvious howlers would either be corrected by other chambers when the drafts are circulated or allowed to become part of the United States Reports just like the shoddily-argued opinions written by justices with Harvard J.D.s and extensive experience arguing before the Court are. But, practically, such a person is highly unlikely to be nominated and even if they are you don’t need the filibuster to defeat them. What we’re really talking about is keeping someone with state rather than federal appellate experience and a J.D. from somewhere like Duke or Minnesota rather than Harvard or Yale off the Court. But the idea that this such a person is “unqualified” is very silly. It’s just a story people like to tell themselves about how the Court isn’t really political.

NHL Playoff Preview: The Post-Trump Canadian Renaissance Edition

[ 28 ] April 12, 2017 |

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It’s that time of year again! We will preview this year’s NHL playoff matchups with Grand Poohbah Emeritus of American Literachoor, the best player received by the Flames in the Doug Gilmour trade, and most importantly author of the splendid new book Life As Jamie Knows It Michael Berube. I will start with the west, where I have the…pleasure? of an intense rooting interest in multiple series. And as deplorable as Edmonton and Toronto being in the postseason is, at least it will spare us more WILL A CANDADIAN TEAM EVER BE GOOD AGAIN EVER? thinkpieces. The number given with my picks is the score-and-event-adjusted Corsi (via Puck on Net.)

CHICAGO (52.45, #5) v. NASHVILLE (51.35 #11) This should be a hell of a series. To make the comparison many others have, the Blackhawks are the closest the NHL have to the Patriots (granting that you have to have a consistent core of more than one player): master coach with the very rare ability to avoid the diminishing returns of either high or low pressure, consistent stars, and the remarkable ability to to identify quality supporting talent in a cap league (while not getting attached to non-essential veterans.) Nashville are certainly a live dog, and when looking for an upset a formidable top defensive pair (which the Preds certainly have in Subban/Josi) is something to look for. But I think Chicago has at least one deep run in them (although they won’t have the advantage of Dan Quinn and Kyle Shanahan pulling the goalie with a 2-goal lead in game 7.) BLACKHAWKS IN 6.

MINNESOTA (51.63, #9) v. ST. LOUIS (50.55, #14) Minnesota looked great in the first half, stumbled considerably and righted the ship at the end. The Blues had roughly the opposite trajectory. Normally, I don’t think these trends are important. However, I suspect that the Blues might be benefitting from a Billy Martin/Bob Lemon effect: Hitchcock is a great coach but the kind of high-pressure hardass who tends to have a fairly short shelf life even when he’s successful, and replacing that kind of coach can lead to short-term improvements. My gut leans towards an upset here, although if Dubnyk plays as well as he’s capable of the Wild will probably sneak through. BLUES IN 7.

ANAHEIM (50. 45, #15) v. CALGARY (50.19, #16) My team is back in, only this time as a legitmate playoff team (although not yet a legitimate top contender) with two excellent forward lines and three elite defensemen, and since Brian Elliot started playing like the top-10 goalie he usually is rather than the sub-replacement-level goalie he played like in his first two months or so in Calgary they’ve been among the better players in the league. As even most casual fans will know by now, they’ll be facing a team that they have beaten on the road once since the Clinton administration despite playing in at least the same conference. Despite that, this is a fairly even matchup — Anaheim’s aging forward core is still awfully good, and they have a little more depth. In the end, I think home ice will decide this — not because of the streak itself, who cares, but because the Flames’ third defensive pairing has gotten absolutely brutalized and Gulutzan will have a limited ability to shelter them in Anaheim. I think that will be the difference. DUCKS IN 7.

EDMONTON (51.00, #12) v. SAN JOSE (52.21, #6) Congratulation to the Oilers for finally parlaying 73 top-3 draft picks into a somewhat above-average team. There is a debate about whether Edmonton has put together a legitimately excellent ream or a mediocre-at-best team that fell ass-backwards into the best prospect of the decade. I’m firmly in the latter camp — basically, I think the Oilers are the Colts if Andrew Luck had been Peyton Manning. If Thornton and Couture were healthy, I would pick San Jose without hesitation. But…they’re not. Everything will come down to how close to 100% they are, but I’m concerned enough to say OILERS IN 7. Prove me wrong, San Jose. PROVE ME WRONG.

And now, over to Michael:

Washington (Metropolitan 1) – Toronto (Wild Card 2). Although it’s nice to see that professional hockey has returned to the Air Canada Centre (this is only Toronto’s second playoff appearance since the lockout!), these exciting young Leafs are badly overmatched here. And though I know I may very well regret saying this a month from now, I really do believe that this is the year the Caps somehow fail to fold. Then again, I thought that last year, too. CAPITALS IN 5.

Pittsburgh (Metropolitan 2) – Columbus (Metropolitan 3). Two words: Kris Letang. If he were still in the Pens’ lineup, I would be drawing up a nice little Certificate of Achievement for the Blue Jackets, saying it’s so nice for you that you won 50 games and tallied 108 points. We’re sorry you have to leave after one round, but we can offer you a 10 percent discount on early May tee times. But without Letang, these Penguins are vulnerable– and on the other side, is there anything Sergei Bobrovsky can’t stop? We’ll find out! BLUE JACKETS IN 6.

Ottawa (Atlantic 2) – Boston (Atlantic 3). Meh. I can’t even dredge up any Billy Joel lyrics to express how meh I feel about this series. One of these teams will beat the other and then disappear in round two. If that makes some people in one of these fan bases happy, yay for them. BRUINS IN 6.

Montreal (Atlantic 1) – New York (Wild Card 1). Oh, how this one is going to hurt. I picked the Rangers over the Penguins in the first round last year out of sheer dogged loyalty, knowing full well that the Pens were the hottest team in the league (but still believing they would lose in 7 to the Caps in round two). I can’t do it again. Perhaps I’m haunted by the 4-1 drubbing I saw Montreal administer in early March, about which Chris Robinson said, “I’m so sorry you had to pay money to see that dog of a game.” (Ten dollars would have been about right.) Or perhaps it’s just my sense that this year, the Rangers’ destiny was to become the best fourth-place team in league history. Whatever. I feel most for Lundqvist, who for many years dragged this team single-handedly into the playoffs until the Almost Glory Years of 2012-15, when the Rangers were serious Cup contenders. I don’t know how many more chances he will have. I will content myself by replaying game 2 of the 2014 Cup finals until the Rangers win (as they should have). Meanwhile, Montreal will be moving on. CANADIENS IN 7.


[SL]FTR, I would go chalk in the East, picking Pittsburgh over Columbus and otherwise agreeing. I’ll be rooting for my gritty undergraduate heroes, Guy Boucher and Marty Raymond — who have done a terrific job in Ottawa — to pull of the upset, but the Bruins look just too solid to me.

Finally, A Reactionary White Guy Catches a Break

[ 72 ] April 12, 2017 |

climate-change-denier-1Apparently this guy wasn’t available

The New York Times has added some diversity to its editorial page:

I’m thrilled to tell you that a new colleague is joining the greatest roster of columnists in the world.

Uh, yeah, no, but moving right along.

Bret Stephens will be coming to The Times later this spring from the Wall Street Journal, where he writes the Global View column and also serves as the deputy editorial page editor, responsible for pieces from Europe and Asia.

Sure, Stephens is a climate denialist. And he Very Seriously compared the Iran deal to Munich. But anti-Trump conservatives are going to start getting a pass for a lot of other things.

It does say something that, in response to the 2016 campaigns, the Times’s response is to go right to…the Wall Street Journal.
…Edroso has more.

Today From the Neoconfederate Takeover of the Department of Justice

[ 81 ] April 12, 2017 |

sessions trump

It turns out putting someone who a Republican Senate considered to be too racist to be a District Court judge in the 80s in charge of the DOJ may not work out that well:

The crowd was small, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s speech was short. But his message couldn’t have been clearer:

“This is a new era,” said Sessions, who sported a dark suit in the hot Arizona sun. “This is the Trump era.”

And with that Sessions officially weaponized the Justice Department to crack down on undocumented immigration. After taking a private border tour with Customs and Border Protections agents in Nogales, on the southern edge of Arizona, the attorney general announced the feds will soon be spending a lot more time prosecuting people who break immigration laws.

Sessions made the announcement over a glitchy sound system to a group of reporters and Customs and Border Protection agents just a few feet away from the Mexico border. A gust of wind knocked over the American flag behind him as he spoke, so a CBP agent stood behind it and propped it up until the attorney general finished his speech.

All federal prosecutors, Sessions said in his slow Alabama drawl, must now consider bringing cases against people suspected of the “transportation or harboring of aliens.” Those prosecutors must also look to bring more felony prosecutions against some immigrants who illegally enter the country more than once and should charge immigrants with document fraud—which includes using a made-up Social Security number—and aggravated identity theft when they can.

One veteran federal prosecutor told The Daily Beast these changes are a generating significant concern.

“It’s fucking horrifying,” the prosecutor said. “It’s totally horrifying and we’re all terrified about it, and we don’t know what to do.

“The things they want us to do are so horrifying—they want to do harboring cases of three or more people,” the prosecutor continued. “So if you’re illegal and you bring your family over, then you’re harboring your kid and your wife, and you can go to jail.”

As always, the lesson is that Both Sides Do It but the Democrats are even more neoliberal.

There Is One New York Politician Who Could Be the Democratic Nominee in 2020

[ 546 ] April 12, 2017 |

185718998-sen-kirsten-gillibrand-addresses-a-conference.jpg.CROP.promo-mediumlarge

I’m glad Erik recently highlighted Rebecca Traister’s superb profile of Kirsten Gillibrand. 2020 is a long way away and we don’t know what the field will look like, but Gillibrand is exactly the kind of political talent the Democrats need to be cultivating. She won a House seat in New York’s North Country — exactly the kind of swing district in which Trump outperformed Romney and McCain — but has been a strong progressive ever since being elected to statewide office, and understands where the party is going. And note as well that she was remarkably progressive for someone running in a blueish-purple House district:

The improbability of Gillibrand’s preaching skills matches the improbability of her role as a Democratic holy warrior against Donald Trump. Appointed to fill Hillary Clinton’s seat in 2009, Gillibrand came to the Senate with a reputation as a moderate upstate hack, an unremarkable product of New York’s political machine. Yet one month into the Trump administration, Gillibrand had staked out the most defiant position among her colleagues, casting the most “no” votes against his Cabinet nominees of any senator (although she did vote for Nikki Haley as ambassador to the U.N.), earning admiration from progressives frustrated by other Democrats’ initial willingness to “work with” Republicans. When Gillibrand spoke at the Battery Park rally against Trump’s Muslim travel ban in January, chants of “Kirsten 2020!” rang out among the protesters.

[…]

And like Sanders, she sees in left-wing populism — in affordable day care and paid leave and the expansion of Medicare as a means of addressing economic inequality — a path for red and blue America to come together. Sanders spoke alongside Gillibrand in March at a press conference in support of the Family Act, and Gillibrand is very enthusiastic about becoming a co-sponsor of Sanders’s forthcoming Medicare for All bill. “People want affordable health care,” she says. For the record, she’s not late to that party; Gillibrand supported Medicare for everyone when she ran in her House district in 2006. “It’s the solution, and it makes sense to people even in my two-to-one Republican district.”

This won’t stop some people from labeling her a neoliberal who proves the Democratic Party hates the working class, of course; as wjts puts it, the routine is familiar: “Any political position that Gillibrand has ever taken that I disagree with is her real position. Any political position that I can imagine Gillibrand taking that I disagree with is her secret real position. Any political position that Gillibrand has taken that I agree with is insincere pandering.” But it will just be a good test to identify people you can safely ignore.

I don’t know if Gillibrand will be the Democratic nominee, but I do know that if there is a nominee from New York it will be Gillibrand. The favorite dumb-cynical-that-thinks-it’s-sophisticated-cyncial assumption about the next Dem candidate is that Andrew Cuomo will be a very serious candidate. Here’s a hot tip: he’s not. He’s drawing dead. There is no constituency of the Democratic Party he appeals to more than Gillibrand except some donors, and Gillibrand’s not going to have any trouble raising money. You know how Joe Lieberman ran a farcically weak campaign as the party’s most recent vice president against a relatively unimpressive field in a party that was significantly to the right of the current one in 2004? Cuomo wouldn’t do that well. Think Rudy Giuliani, George Pataki, Jim Webb, like that. The whole idea is silly. If he considers himself a candidate this will be good for New York, but he has no chance of being the nominee. It’s not happening.

Keeping up Pretenses

[ 167 ] April 11, 2017 |

gorsuch2

The Supreme Court, as most of you know, has become completely dominated by the Harvard/Yale law-Ivy League undergrad-federal appellate judge paradigm. Despite’s Trump’s noises about broadening the base, Gorsuch exemplifies it. While it’s not the worst thing to derive from the self-regard of America’s elites, it also doesn’t really make sense theoretically or historically. While there are various reasons for this, one reason is that the increasing polarization of the Court — which is about to accelerate as the median shifts well to the left or right — has created a felt need to pretend that being a Supreme Court justice is about technical competence rather than politics. I have an article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed about this:

Every one of the eight justices now on the Supreme Court (as well as the late Scalia) received a law degree from Harvard or Yale, with the exception of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who started at Harvard but had to settle for Columbia to finish. Every current justice was also a federal appellate judge when nominated to the court, with the exception of Elena Kagan, who was solicitor general at the time of her nomination. Clarence Thomas, an alumnus of Holy Cross, is the only current justice who didn’t receive an undergraduate degree from the Ivy League or Stanford (which very likely explains why he’s more inclined to look for talent outside the Ivy League when hiring clerks). Of the justices nominated to the court since President Richard Nixon left office, the only one who hadn’t received a law degree from Harvard, Yale, or Stanford — the perennial top three of the U.S. News law-school rankings — was John Paul Stevens, the first post-Nixon nominee, who received his law degree from Northwestern in 1947.

During the campaign, Trump hinted that he might break with the longstanding credentialist homogeneity of the court. A 21-judge shortlist he issued in September 2016 ranged well beyond the Ivy League, focusing on state and federal appellate judges from noncoastal circuits, with a wide range of educational backgrounds. “If the list has a main theme,” observed the New York Times Supreme Court reporter Adam Liptak, “it is that there are plenty of good judges who went to law school at places like Notre Dame, Marquette, the University of Georgia, and the University of Miami.”

But Trump went with the Ivy Leaguer. It’s a shame because a Supreme Court confined to just graduates of ultra-elite law schools is neither necessary nor desirable. Beyond that, the Gorsuch pick suggests that this reliance on such qualifications is a way to disguise the coming ideological polarization of the Supreme Court. In other words, as the Court has become more enmeshed in our extremely polarized politics, elite credentials have become a way to preserve the myth of a high court insulated from partisanship.

[…]

The blockade of Garland, then, is just the beginning. As the ideological stakes increase, we’re going to see more short-staffed courts, as staffing the federal judiciary, including the Supreme Court, during times of divided government becomes increasingly difficult. The growing dominance of federal appellate judges with Harvard or Yale J.D.s seems at least in part a way of obfuscating the stakes, of pretending that Supreme Court nominations are about formal qualifications rather than about politics.

And yet — it’s not working. Garland’s impeccable résumé didn’t get him a hearing. And despite Gorsuch’s similarly impressive credentials, he was confirmed only after a Democratic filibuster was overcome with an unprecedented change in Senate rules. The norm that senators from both parties should defer to any Supreme Court nominee who is formally qualified is over.

So perhaps it’s time for presidents to end the Harvard/Yale monopoly on the Supreme Court. Many other potential justices are well qualified, and there is no logical or historical reason for the practice to continue. Eventually, as polarization becomes too obvious to ignore, elite academic credentials will no longer be as salient as they are now, and presidents may well consider nominees from outside the Ivy League again.

Get it while it’s not behind the paywall!

Failing…Upward?

[ 83 ] April 11, 2017 |

emails

Another hiring coup by CNN!

The voracious recruiters at CNN are at it again: This time, they’ve managed to coax veteran investigative reporter Eric Lichtblau from his perch at the New York Times. Lichtblau will serve as assistant managing editor at CNN’s Washington bureau. A memo from Lex Haris, executive editor of the unit titled “CNN Investigates,” describes Lichtblau’s player-coach job:

“In this role, Eric will guide our coverage and thinking on both short-term scoops and long-term projects,” notes Haris. “The goal: To make news on the most important story lines out of D.C. He will work with the reporters on the CNN Investigates team and coordinate with other teams in the Washington bureau. And when he’s onto a investigation, he’ll still be reporting and writing too.”

Yup, that Eric Lichtbau. Not only was his byline on the infamous October 31 “nothing to see here on Trump and Russia” story in which the NYT acted as a puke-funnel for the alt-right element of the FBI, his attempt to manufacture a Clinton Foundation scandal was pathetic even by Clinton Rules standards. The fact that he’lll have a “player-coach” role at CNN is pretty scary. And at CNN he’ll of course be joining Mr. Chris Cillizza.

The positive spin is that the Times and Post may be undergoing at least some degree of a “my God, what have I done?” moment. The negative spin is that two of the reporters whose botched reporting helped put Trump in the White House have gone on to jobs with more visibility that also probably pay better. The incentives here are…not great, Bob.

The Antitrust Paradox Paradox

[ 281 ] April 10, 2017 |

Fly the Friendly Skies of United TV ad-8x6

I’m beginning to think that Robert Bork’s theories about how monopolies are awesome for consumers might not work all that well in practice:

Following shortly on the heels of Leggingsgate, United Airlines is under fire again for the disturbingly rough handling of a passenger on flight 3411, from O’Hare International Airport to Louisville on Sunday.

The flight was reportedly overbooked, and United wished to board four employees. After attempting to bribe people into giving up their seats, they had a computer randomly select people to be deboarded. While two agreed, one man who was selected along with his wife refused to give up his seat. The footage above, taken by Jayse D. Anspach, shows the man being dragged screaming from his seat by police. After falling forward, he appears to hit his face on an arm rest and looks stunned. The officers drag him down the aisle.

If our powerful economic actors actually believed in markets, the solution here was obvious: if it’s that important to you that employees get on this particular flight, there is a price that would have attracted two more volunteers, so meet it. (If meeting the price people are willing to take for getting bumped makes overbooking unprofitable…uh, good?) But of course, the support of economic elites for markets end exactly when they produce unfavorable results. (Cf. also “markets produce salaries for players that are “too high”? SALARY CAP!”, “people will not do job x at the offered wage = THERE ARE SOME JOBS AMERICANS JUST WON’T DO,” etc.)

It’s the End of the Court as we Know It, And I Feel Like Shit

[ 206 ] April 10, 2017 |

gorsuch2

The confirmation of Neil Gorsuch is the culmination of a process that will treat Supreme Court nominations as purely partisan. Some of the consequences are unlikely to be pretty:

One response to this new state of affairs is to pine for the old order. Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post, for example, argues that Senate Democrats should have allowed “an up-or-down vote now, in exchange for a promise not to abolish the filibuster next time.” But this deal would be transparently worthless even if McConnell offered it. Anyone who thinks that McConnell would allow the Democrats to filibuster a Supreme Court nomination—especially a nomination that would transform the median vote of the Court—because of an inherently unenforceable promise should invest their life savings in a doctorate from Trump University.

And yet, I can understand the nostalgia for the previous ways of doing business. The new, partisan norms are likely to get ugly, especially during times of divided government. And other longstanding norms might also be threatened.

One implication of the new normal is that we’re likely looking at a future in which presidents can only reliably fill judicial vacancies when their party is in control of the Senate. Supreme Court vacancies will be impossible to fill when the Senate is in opposition hands. Had Hillary Clinton won with a Republican Senate, it is overwhelmingly likely that the Republican blockade would have continued unless Democrats retook the Senate in 2018. McConnell proved that obstruction doesn’t carry a political cost, and opposition parties have no incentive to give high-stakes victories to the president.

One upshot of this is that short-handed Supreme Courts will become increasingly common. This isn’t the end of the world; some issues can be resolved by an eight-member Court. In a federal system, circuit splits are suboptimal but not necessarily disastrous. The American separation-of-powers structure produces many inefficiencies, for better or worse, and this will be another one.

The nuclear option could portend further norms going by the wayside, however. The nine-member Supreme Court is not fixed by the Constitution, but is simply a norm that has now persisted for more than a century. If Gorsuch is the last first-term Trump nominee to be confirmed, this norm is likely to persist.

But imagine if Donald Trump is able to replace Anthony Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer. If the size of the Supreme Court remained at nine, very conservative Republicans would have a stranglehold on the Supreme Court for decades despite the party having lost the popular vote in six of the last seven presidential elections. Furthermore, the decisive appointments would have been made by a historically unpopular president who most voters rejected. Democratic governments would be consistently frustrated when trying to enact their agenda by hostile courts. Cherished rights like a woman’s right to have an abortion would be abandoned.

If this happens, it is very possible that we would have a constitutional crisis. Democrats would likely attempt what FDR tried to do after winning re-election in 1936. Court-packing, as Senate Democrats in 1937 realized, is a far from perfect solution because once the nine-justice equilibrium is gone, the other side will respond in kind when they have the chance, creating a chaotic and increasingly illegitimate judicial system. But a governing coalition facing hostile courts that cannot be quickly transformed may well see it as the least worse option.

The elimination of the filibuster of the Supreme Court is in itself a good thing, and there will be worse consequences of dysfunctional American institutions. But the new equilibrium could have disastrous consequences pretty quickly.

Guided by the Beauty of Our Weapons

[ 143 ] April 8, 2017 |

g-cvr-080501-mission-10a.grid-6x2

Here’s perhaps an even more egregious example of the phenomenon Paul wrote about yesterday, courtesy of Brian Williams:

The footage, provided by the Pentagon, showed several Tomahawk missiles launching from U.S. Navy destroyers in the Mediterranean Sea, illuminating the decks of the ships and leaving long trails of smoke in the night sky.

 It was a sight that seemed to dazzle Williams, who described the images as “beautiful” in a segment on his show, “The 11th Hour.”“We see these beautiful pictures at night from the decks of these two U.S. Navy vessels in the eastern Mediterranean,” Williams said. “I am tempted to quote the great Leonard Cohen: ‘I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.’”

“They are beautiful pictures of fearsome armaments making what is for them what is a brief flight over to this airfield,” he added, then asked his guest, “What did they hit?”

In 2000, George W. Bush became president in substantial measure because the media, erroneously perceiving nothing much of substance to be a stake, was relentlessly focused on inane and sometimes made-up trivia about the candidate of the incumbent party. We can safely say the lesson was not learned, although the Bush administration was a catastrophic failure. The most catastrophic failure of all was the Iraq War, which the mainstream media cheerleaded uncritically. The airstrikes against Syria being greeted by claims that this is making Trump even more PRESIDENTIAL than the time he pulled off the remarkably PRESIDENTIAL act of reading sentences off of a teleprompter without literally drooling would seem to suggest that the lessons of the Iraq War haven’t been learned either. Hopefully we can at least get to the bottom of Hillary Clinton’s email server.

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