Archive

July 15th, 2016

Conservatives will probably lose the legal fight for small government. Here's why.

    Stop me if you've heard this one before: The 2016 election matters because the next president might be nominating two or three justices to the Supreme Court.

    It's one of those statements you hear all the time because, well, it's true. The next Supreme Court appointment may throw the liberal vs. conservative balance of the court into disarray, which is why pundits have been issuing foreboding proclamations like "we're only one vote away from losing (insert constitutional right here)."

    One of the legal issues that's less often discussed is the role that the next Supreme Court justice will play in conservatives' long-running legal fight to limit the size of the federal government. For decades, conservatives on the bench have been losing that war, giving way to a system of administrative law that is written, for the most part, by bureaucratic agencies. Without putting a justice on the bench who can build consensus on how to rework the rules on agencies' regulations, it's likely conservatives will lose this fight in the long run.

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Cheap Money Talks

    What with everything else going on, from Trump to Brexit to the horror in Dallas, it’s hard to focus on developments in financial markets — especially because we’re not facing any immediate crisis. But extraordinary things have been happening lately, especially in bond markets. And because money still makes the world go ‘round, attention must be paid to what the markets are trying to tell us.

    Specifically, there has been an extraordinary plunge in long-term interest rates. Late last year the yield on 10-year U.S. government bonds was around 2.3 percent, already historically low; on Friday it was just 1.36 percent. German bonds, the safe asset of the eurozone, are yielding minus — that’s right, minus — 0.19 percent. Basically, investors are willing to offer governments money for nothing, or less than nothing. What does it mean?

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Assaults on the trust between black and blue

    The vivid, horrifying videos of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling dying at the hands of police officers have brought new attention to fatal police shootings. The terrifying ambush that took the lives of five Dallas police officers and wounded seven others has brought new attention to attacks on the police.

    And so, I am afraid. Not of the violence itself. Even considering recent high-profile events and heightened attention to police shootings, violence both by and against police officers remains relatively rare and has been in decline for years. But I am afraid of the impact these events will have on the already-strained relationship between police and the communities they serve.

    Those effects are perhaps most visible in the significant tensions that exist between the Black Lives Matter movement and the Blue Lives Matter movement. Despite their very different perspectives, participants in both movements have essentially the same concern: a perception that society does not value members of their community. Attempts to discredit that perception or demonstrate that it is exaggerated or inaccurate have proved counterproductive. Perception becomes reality.

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An attack on Citizens United, through a back door

    A group of high-profile legal minds wants the Supreme Court to eliminate super-PACs, the advocacy groups that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of cash to praise and attack political candidates.

    But instead of asking the court to overturn the 2010 Supreme Court case that lifted many restraints on political spending, Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, they plan to ask the justices to overturn a lower court decision that interpreted Citizens United to open the door to the super-PACs.

    The strategy is worth pursuing. If President Barack Obama's nominee Merrick Garland or another Democratic choice is on the Supreme Court when the case reaches it, there could be five votes for the approach. It's even conceivable, just barely, that the author of Citizens United, Justice Anthony Kennedy, would join the vote.

    If it fails, however, the approach could foreclose the best hope for reversing the effects of Citizens United. The question therefore is timing - and whether the effort is coming too soon.

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July 14th

The tragic downfall of British media

    There is a conceit among many senior editors in the U.K. that Britain has "the best journalism in the world." At its best, certainly, British journalism is very good indeed. From the sober analysis of the Financial Times and the Economist to the tub-thumping of the tabloid press to the BBC's worldwide reputation for accuracy and impartiality, the British public has access to a healthy mixture of domestic, foreign, and investigative reporting. On many occasions, democracy has been well served by journalists here who make important stories accessible and hold power to account.

    At its worst, however, journalism in Britain can be truly awful. Five years ago, much of the world was rightly shocked by revelations of phone-hacking on the Rupert Murdoch-owned Sunday tabloid News of the World. The subsequent judicial investigation into the culture, practice, and ethics of the press, led by Lord Justice Leveson, exposed the tasteless practices on which some British tabloids had come to rely: the invasions into personal privacy, the gross intrusions into private grief.

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Whoa! Enough is enough!

    Even Bernie Sanders had heard enough of Hillary Clinton's emails those many months ago. Still the GOP simply cannot let go. Is it because they have nothing of their own to offer? Certainly they are not getting much (anything?) of quality from their presumptive Presidential nominee.

    In fact, with the candidate they have, not to mention their "also-rans," to focus on the bad judgment of Clinton is the height of arrogance. Without doubt it was bad judgment but how much more is there to be said about it? Their candidate seems to be lacking in judgment of any sort. He certainly is not very well acquainted with the truth which leaves little room to accuse Hillary Clinton of playing loose with the truth. That is something that most likely can never be absolutely proven but didn't she swear to tell the truth to the congressional committees that have already grilled her? So, why is it "sworn testimony" is the claim as the purpose for the latest inquisition? Again, how much is enough?

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Trump Reaps a Veep

    I am embarrassed to admit how much I’ve enjoyed the Donald Trump vice-presidential search. There’s nothing like a bunch of egomaniacs humiliating themselves in public to cheer up a dark day.

    We got to sit through a series of very public tryouts — who can introduce Trump at a rally in the loudest, most craven manner possible? My blue ribbon went to Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who hollered that Trump has “never forgotten or forsaken the people who work with their hands,” apparently skipping over all the construction workers he’s stiffed in his real estate business. Pence has also started twittering like a howling dog. (“We will not rest until we elect @realDonaldTrump as the next President of the United States of America!”)

    On Wednesday, for mysterious reasons that may have been connected to trouble with the Trump plane, Indiana became the center of the veep universe. Pence was visited by a delegation that included Trump, Trump’s daughter, Trump’s sons, Trump’s son-in-law and, oh yeah, the campaign manager.

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After a month of violence, a recommitment to principles

    Tuesday will mark one month since a gunman killed 49 people and injured more than 50 others at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. This past week brought more murder and sadness, with police violence against African-American men in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Minnesota captured on viral video, a grieving boy and a shattered girlfriend, and then a sniper in Dallas who killed five law enforcement officers and terrified a city.

    Add to that the shameful litany of mass shootings in recent years; the collapse of states in Syria, Libya and now Venezuela; a refugee crisis that has destabilized the European Union and inflamed voters in Great Britain; and our own electoral season, which has whittled down our political options to a nativist bully who winks at racism and violence and a deeply unpopular political insider who is widely seen as dishonest.

    The world has been falling apart for a long time now. So how do we put it back together? The answers are the same as they ever were: We change our leaders at the ballot box; we compel them to act through peaceful protest; and we improve ourselves through learning, self-criticism, conversation and art.

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A bottom-up approach to fighting the Islamic State

    There are two theaters in the conflict with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and they are not defined by international borders. The first is "ISIS-stan" in western Iraq and eastern Syria. Here the U.S.-led coalition is making progress and has rolled back significant portions of the territory held by the terrorist group. But the gains have come from predominantly Kurdish and Shiite forces, and there are limits to how far these groups can advance into Sunni heartland areas and be accepted by local populations. Rolling back the Islamic State is not enough - to sustain these gains, we must focus on the security forces and governance mechanisms that will replace them.

    The second theater lies farther west, where Syria is embroiled in a horrendous civil war. The United States has assumed that this problem is not as important and has heretofore avoided involvement except for pursuing diplomatic negotiations. That's a mistake. In Syria and Iraq, the challenge of countering the Islamic State is bound up in the broader civil wars that have created governance and security vacuums and allowed the group to thrive. These vacuums are the disease; the Islamic State is the most serious of many problematic symptoms.

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White America's ongoing worry: The aggrieved black man

    America's suddenly rapacious appetite for theater about the slave era - whet first in 2013 by that year's winner of the Academy Award for best picture, "12 Years A Slave," and fed most recently by the Broadway hit "Hamilton" - will be satisfied again in October. Hollywood is scheduled to serve us "The Birth of a Nation," Nate Parker's biopic of Nat Turner, the slave who led what turned out to be the deadliest slave rebellion in American history.

    Turner experienced a vision that God chose him to lead enslaved Africans and their progeny to freedom. He sought to do God's work by cutting a swath to the heavens painted with the blood of every white person he and his gang encountered after nightfall on Aug. 21, 1831. By midday the next day, Turner's gang had slaughtered upward of 60 white people in rural Virginia. White mobs responded by killing at least 200 slaves.

    Turner was eventually captured. After his execution, he was skinned.

    Slavery was outlawed 34 years later, or 151 years ago. White America needn't sweat another Nat Turner, another slave revolt.

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