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Unbenched! [avec update]

[ 61 ] February 14, 2016 |


On the topic of Supreme Court justices ringing down the curtain and joining the bleedin’ choir invisible at inconvenient moments: Would term limits be an improvement? By number of years, age or some combination of the two. (20 years or 70th birthday, whichever comes first.)

Personally, I’m far more bothered by the knowledge that something like Tom Cotton (R-WomenHuman?) could still be sliming around Capitol Hill half a century from now to give it head space beyond the thought that 65 seems too early for a Supreme Court justice, but most people are unlikely to make 90. (No matter how luxuriant their mustachios might be.)

To provide context – The average lifespan for a man in the U.S. is 76 years. For women it is 81 because we fly around on yarrow stalks at night and drain men’s life essences.

[Update – Based on a study cited in the WaPo, the average retirement age for SC justicii is a bit above 80, the reaper shows up for them close to 90. Obviously these figures are for male SCJs only, but it seems fair to add five years for women. The same study found an SCJ is more likely to croak when:

[P]olitical climate effects on death in office are consistent with the politicized departure hypothesis. When the incumbent president is of a different party than the president who appointed the justice, then the justice’s death-in-office odds are about tripled, compared with when the appointing president and the incumbent president are members of the same party.]




Good thing we’re not Ruthless

[ 105 ] February 14, 2016 |


RBG called it in this Oct. 2014 interview with Elle.

I’m not sure how to ask this, but a lot of people who admire and respect you wonder if you’ll resign while President Obama is in office.

Who do you think President Obama could appoint at this very day, given the boundaries that we have? If I resign any time this year, he could not successfully appoint anyone I would like to see in the court. [The Senate Democrats] took off the filibuster for lower federal court appointments, but it remains for this court. So anybody who thinks that if I step down, Obama could appoint someone like me, they’re misguided. As long as I can do the job full steam…. I think I’ll recognize when the time comes that I can’t any longer. But now I can.

I’m sure there’s some contradiction heightening argument to the effect that if she had stepped down in 2014 it would be excellent news for buggrit millennium hand and shrimp, but I’m glad she didn’t retire.

Calling it

[ 80 ] February 14, 2016 |


Who said this?

They lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction, there were none. And they knew there were none. There were no weapons of mass destruction.

If you guessed Noam Chomsky or Michael Moore you guessed wrong. (They’ve said this many times, just not in those exact words).

The answer is Donald Trump, at last night’s GOP debate. As Jon Chait notes, to say such a thing, especially so straightforwardly, is the heresy of heresies for the post-9/11 Republican party:

Republicans invoke Bush’s response to the 9/11 attacks, but they must discuss his record on terrorism as if he took office only after the attacks. The copious evidence that the administration received, and ignored, extensive warnings of a forthcoming attack has never pierced the Republican bubble. Conservative intellectuals treat any indictment of the administration’s terrorism record as conspiratorial blather tantamount to denying 9/11. Rubio, whose mastery of Republican consensus outstrips that of all his competitors, stated what all good Republicans believe when he blamed the 9/11 attacks on Bill Clinton. “The World Trade Center came down because Bill Clinton didn’t kill Osama bin Laden when he had the chance to kill him.”

That Trump brought up this fact is incredible. That he did so in South Carolina is even more so. South Carolina is a military state, with a hierarchical political culture that makes its conservative voters loyal to their past leaders. It is not an accident that Jeb Bush waited until South Carolina to bring his brother out to the stump, or that it is the state where Ted Cruz emphasized his opposition to drafting women in the military. It is the worst possible place to associate yourself with the concept that the president who oversaw the deadliest terrorist attack in American history had anything but a stellar record in the field of counter-terrorism, or that the war he launched afterward was mistaken.

As Trump has defied his skeptics, evaluations of his political acumen have grudgingly embraced the conclusion that there is a method to his madness. But on Saturday night, he took the madness to a completely new level. By the normal standards of politics, Trump swallowed enough poison to kill himself ten times over. If he survives, it will be the strongest evidence that he has forged a connection with Republican voters that resides beyond any plane visible to the rest of us.

I’ve been fascinated by Trump’s ascent since its beginnings last summer. How many times since then have people said “OK this is it. Now he’s really gone too far?” And yet his popularity only grows.

I suspect that Trump has decided that the way to win, not only the GOP nomination but the presidency itself, is to run a deeply counter-cultural campaign: that is, a campaign that violates every rule of political consulting and horse race punditry. And the evidence continues to mount that he may well be right about that.

Shorter Republican party in the last 24 hours

[ 57 ] February 14, 2016 |

The first and last year of a President’s term don’t count.

Norquist gets the Vapers

[ 112 ] February 14, 2016 |

Speaking as a terminally uppity liberal who built a shrine to Obama made out of tofu, Bibles and confiscated guns, I will be seriously pissed off if the GOP adopts this brilliant Norquistian statergery.

“I think that the next election, at the presidential level, and a lot of other levels, is going to be determined by the vaping community,” said Grover Norquist, founder of Americans for Tax Reform. “Lifestyle issues win because of the power of the political support behind them,” he said.

See for example all of those elections that were swung by outraged tobacco smokers who’d been deprived of their God given right to smoke in places like hospitals and banks. (As an aside, I do like to think smokers’ rights helped some people quit. I know I felt deeply embarrassed when feeding my addiction became associated with dimwit tools of the tobacco industry who claimed the Constitution protected smoking. Or something.)

[Update – To clarify, Norquist is blatting about the FDA’s proposed rule that would expand its authority over cigarettes, cigarette tobacco and so on to include currently unregulated products such as pipe tobacco and e-cigarettes.]

“Vaping is not a product. It is a movement. It is a community, it is a political movement in support of a community and it’s changing the country in very good ways,” he said at a reception during a two-day lobbying effort on Capitol Hill by the association last week.

For example, you don’t have to worry about e-cigs getting damp and icky when you’re drowning the government in a bathtub! Maybe he can team up with health expert Jenny McCarthy to spread the message.

First they came for the vapers. And I said nothing. For I was a Marlboro Man, myself.

Why Trump is winning

[ 69 ] February 14, 2016 |


From last night’s debate:

STRASSEL: Mr. Trump, you have made a lot of promises and you have also— you’re the only candidate who has said he would not touch entitlements. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has estimated that your ideas would cost an additional $12 trillion to $15 trillion over the next 10 years and that we would have to have annual economic growth of anywhere from 7.7 percent to 9 percent annually to pay for them. Are you proposing more than you can actually deliver, at least not without big deficits?

TRUMP: First of all, the— when you say I’m the only candidate, if you listen to the Democrats, they want to do many things to Social Security. And I want to do them on its own merit. You listen to them, what they want to do to Social Security, none of these folks are getting elected, whether they can do it or not. I’m going to save Social Security. I’m going to bring jobs back from China. I’m going to bring jobs back from Mexico and Japan, where every country throughout the world— now Vietnam, that’s the new one— they are taking our jobs. They’re taking our wealth. They are taking our base. And you and I have had this discussion. We’re going to make our economy strong again. I’m lowering taxes. We have $2.5 trillion offshore that I think is 5 trillion because the government has no idea what they say 2.5, they have no idea what they’re doing or saying, as they’ve proven very well. We’re going to bring that money back. You take a look at what happened just this week, China bought the Chicago Stock Exchange, China, a Chinese company. A carrier is moving to Mexico, an air conditioning company. Nabisco and Ford— they’re all moving out. We have an economy that last quarter G.D.P., didn’t grow. It was flat. We have to make our economy grow again. We’re dying. This country is dying. And our workers are losing their jobs, and you’re going— I’m the only one who is going to save Social Security, believe me.

STRASSEL: OK, but how would you actually do that? Can I ask you? Because right now Social Security and Medicare take up two-thirds of the budget. [This is a serious exaggeration. Together they take up about two-thirds of mandatory spending, which is far less than two-thirds of the budget as a whole]

TRUMP: You have tremendous waste, fraud, and abuse. That we’re taking care of. That we’re taking care of. It’s tremendous. We have in Social Security right now thousand and thousands of people that are over 106 years old. Now, you know they don’t exist. They don’t exist. There’s tremendous waste, fraud, and abuse, and we’re going to get it. But we’re not going to hurt the people who have been paying into Social Security their whole life and then all of a sudden they’re supposed to get less. We’re going to bring our jobs back and we’re going to make our economy great again.

Yes Trump is a master manipulator of the contemporary media, but he’s also got another big edge on his GOP rivals: his policy positions are much more popular than theirs with the vast majority of voters, including Republican voters.

Cutting Social Security is a wildly unpopular position with the American public as a whole. It is, however, a very popular position within the upper reaches of the plutocracy, which calls the tune to which the rest of the GOP field dances.

Now of course the details of Trump’s “vision” as he (speaking loosely) articulated it last night consist largely of demagogic nonsense, but underneath the xenophobic ranting is a coherent political position: don’t cut Social Security benefits. That is a winning message, for the very old-fashioned reason that it is the preferred position of a very large majority of American voters, although admittedly it does not command a current majority among New York billionaires with active presidential ambitions.

What Scalia Meant

[ 154 ] February 14, 2016 |


And what he could have meant had Reagan nominated Bork first and Scalia second and therefore probably gotten them both:

…had Scalia’s dissents ultimately shaped America, women would not have reproductive rights, the federal government could not effectively regulate health care, LGBT people would not have the right engage in sexual intercourse without fear of arrest – let alone alone the right to marry – and states could single them out for legal disabilities. Women could be excluded from state educational institutions, public schools could teach creationism in science classes and prisoners could be assaulted by prison guards. And, in large part because of Scalia, in America today, the Voting Rights Act has been gutted, the rights of employees and consumers have been curtailed, Brown v Board is more likely to be used to stop integration than to promote it and moneyed interests increasingly dominate elections.

But, to be Scrupulously Fair, at least he wasn’t Sam Alito:

And it’s true that Scalia was not a strict Republican party-liner: there were some cases in which he was willing to make common cause with liberal justices out of principle. In one dissent, he (correctly) characterized the mandatory drug testing of Border Patrol officers as “a kind of immolation of privacy and human dignity in symbolic opposition to drug use”. He wrote a brilliant dissent, joined by Justice John Paul Stevens, upholding the habeas corpus rights of American citizens accused of terrorist activities. And in some 4th and 6th Amendment cases, he regularly voted in a civil libertarian direction.

I’ll have more on the politics of replacing Scalia later.

The political implications of Scalia’s death

[ 190 ] February 13, 2016 |

I would be very surprised if we don’t spend the next year-plus with at most eight SCOTUS justices.

Every four years we hear that the winner of the presidential election may well play a key role in shaping the composition of the Court for decades to come. This will not be a hypothetical scenario in 2016, as two things seem highly likely: Senate Republicans will not approve anyone President Obama nominates to replace Scalia, and the next president will at the very least end up choosing two Supreme Court justices, if not more (Justice Ginsburg’s departure from the Court prior to 2021 seems practically certain, — she turns 83 next month and is in precarious health — and one or two other current justices may well be gone by then as well).

Obama will surely take into account that an increasingly radicalized and confrontational GOP is not going to allow its senators to approve anyone to the Court that Democrats would consider minimally acceptable. This suggests he will nominate someone whose rejection by the Senate will do maximum damage to the electoral chances of both the Republican presidential nominee, and of the GOP senatorial candidates who will be in competitive races in November.

In fact it’s quite possible that the rejection of Obama’s nominee (or nominees) will become the central issue of the presidential campaign, as we are now poised to spend the next year, if not longer, with a fundamentally deadlocked Supreme Court.

Indeed, it’s well within the realm of possibility that the politics of this situation will play out in such a way that public disgust over how a radicalized GOP reacts to Obama’s nomination(s) ends up playing a crucial role in handing both the presidency and the Senate to the Democrats.

And should that happen, we can then look forward to Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders choosing Barack Obama to succeed Antonin Scalia.

Traditions Republicans suddenly remember

[ 92 ] February 13, 2016 |

AKA Lies.

Christ, what a grasshole.

As to what I think Obama should do (since you’re all dying to know), I think he should announce that he’ll nominate the person who is Scalia’s equal in championing conservative values. And then head to Camp David while the creeps duke it out.

The Game

[ 322 ] February 13, 2016 |

“KnightsTemplarPlayingChess1283” by Alphonse le Sage (Alfonso X) – “Livre des Echecs” (Libro de Ajedrez, dados y tables). Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

I eagerly await Scott and Paul’s commentary.  Gaming it out, however, am I wrong in thinking of two different scenarios for Obama?

  1. Nominate a centrist who will represent (to Democrats) a clear improvement over Scalia, and see if Republicans are nervous enough about either a Hill/Bern victory or losing the Senate (or both) to bite, or…
  2. Nominate someone from a key demographic that will be offended by over the top GOP attacks on the nominee.

Or both; there’s plenty of time between now and the election for the rejection of one nominee.

Scalia Dead

[ 422 ] February 13, 2016 |

Scalia is dead.

Associate Justice Antonin Scalia was found dead of apparent natural causes Saturday on a luxury resort in West Texas, federal officials said.

Scalia, 79, was a guest at the Cibolo Creek Ranch, a resort in the Big Bend region south of Marfa.

According to a report, Scalia arrived at the ranch on Friday and attended a private party with about 40 people. When he did not appear for breakfast, a person associated with the ranch went to his room and found a body.

Chief U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia, of the Western Judicial District of Texas, was notified about the death from the U.S. Marshals Service.

U.S. District Judge Fred Biery said he was among those notified about Scalia’s death.

“I was told it was this morning,” Biery said of Scalia’s death. “It happened on a ranch out near Marfa. As far as the details, I think it’s pretty vague right now as to how,” he said. “My reaction is it’s very unfortunate. It’s unfortunate with any death, and politically in the presidential cycle we’re in, my educated guess is nothing will happen before the next president is elected.”

I’d like to think this kills all “the two parties are the same so who cares if Republicans win in 2016” arguments if Hillary wins the nomination. But then I also know Salon exists.

Millennials Say They Love Socialism. But Does That Change Consumer Behavior?

[ 55 ] February 13, 2016 |


No, it does not.

Millennials have a higher opinion of socialism than they do capitalism.

As you can see, overall, 52 percent expressed a favorable view of capitalism, compared with 29 percent for socialism. Republicans, those in families earning more than $100,000, and people age 65-plus had an especially high regard for capitalism compared with socialism, but respondents in almost every demographic category demonstrated the same preference to some degree.

There were just two exceptions to this pattern: Democrats rated socialism and capitalism equally positively (both at 42 percent favorability). And respondents younger than 30 were the only group that rated socialism more favorably than capitalism (43 percent vs. 32 percent, respectively).

OK, but does “socialism” mean anything to younger people? Or more accurately, what does it mean? That to me seems entirely unclear, other than as a buzzword for a society different than what we have now. That could mean policy items that is actually socialism–like socialized health care or free college tuition. But given how fast and loose Bernie Sanders uses the term–he’s not a socialist in anything more than a vague sense and basically holds the policy positions of Hubert Humphrey in a more conservative era–I don’t think there’s a lot of deep thinking going on yet about what it means to be a socialist. That’s fine really, the fact that the term actually has positive connotations with growing numbers of Americans is positive in itself.

But I think young people, including self-identified socialists, have a lot more identity tied in with individualistic consumerism than socialism, however defined. The same generation (and one presumes mostly the same people within that generation) who is embracing the term also claims they want to see fair trade products produced ethically. But they aren’t going to pay any more for those products.

The majority of millennials may not be putting their money where their mouths are when selecting chocolate, according to a Kansas State University expert in psychological sciences.

Despite strong preferences for ethical chocolate in focus groups, only 14 percent of millennials in individual choice studies selected candy with ethical or social factors labeling — such as organic, Rainforest Alliance Certified, non-GMO and Fair Trade — according to a study by Michael Young, professor and head of the university’s psychological sciences department.

“For most participants, their choice behavior reflected minimal concern for ethical factors, whereas their public declarations in a focus group suggested otherwise,” Young said. “Participants who modestly preferred a candy with certain labels in our focus group may be unwilling to pay much more to obtain it.”

The study “Millennials and chocolate product ethics: Saying one thing and doing another” will be published in an upcoming issue of Food Quality and Preference. Young and his research assistant Anthony McCoy, doctoral student in psychological sciences, Albion, Michigan, evaluated answers from 80 participants in focus groups and 214 participants for the choice studies. Participants were assigned to focus groups based on ages in the millennial range — younger millennials were participants 18-25 years old and older millennials were participants 26-35 years old.

“We got the impression in the focus groups that millennials were learning in college what attitudes were popular to express regarding their food,” Young said. “But many of the older millennials confessed that they often were not making purchases consistent with those expressed attitudes due to limited financial resources.”

Now don’t get me wrong–I’m not criticizing that choice. Most of us don’t have a ton of money and that’s especially true of students. Those are reasonable choices to make given real life circumstances. However, I am pretty skeptical how many of them will be buying fair-trade chocolate in 15 years when they presumably have access to greater financial resources. When choosing between the same product with significantly different prices, how many of us consistently choose the more expensive one for any reason? Most of us do not. There is some market for this, as Whole Foods’ success shows. But it’s a primarily a consumeristic choice, not one with larger potential to transform the real inequalities of the global economic system. Moreover, it assumes that in fact that fair trade is really fair trade, even though we have no way of finding out.

To me, this story is not about the fickle nature of millennials or the use of political terminology without really thinking through it or any sort of hypocrisy. The problem is a consumer-based theory of change rather than a political-based theory of change. In other words, if you want to solve the problem of exploitation in the global chocolate industry, which is very real and horrifying, consumer movements can make a difference. But they also have limitations. Rather, as I argue in Out of Sight, we need enforceable labor standards that apply to U.S. companies no matter where they source their chocolate with very real consequences for those companies and the individuals in those companies complicit with unethical sourcing. We need meaningful inspection systems and we need to allow workers around and their advocates to be able to access the legal framework to prosecute violations. This is sort of collective solution to global inequalities that should be a central tenet of a revived socialism, one that builds international labor and consumer solidarity to hold corporations accountable for their crimes.

Unfortunately, we are a long ways from such an agenda becoming part of a broader socialism. But with the growth in socialist identification, perhaps there is room to press for deeper thinking about what such a socialism would mean and how we could apply it globally.

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