Archive

March 24th, 2016

'Too big to fail' is an empty phrase

    There is a fundamental weakness in the position of those who insist that the only way to deal with financial institutions that are "too big to fail" is to break them up: their acknowledgment that the central question of how big is "too big" is too hard to answer. This is rarely made explicit, but it is universal. Across the ideological range from Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to Neel Kashkari, president of the Minneapolis branch of the Federal Reserve, the "break 'em up" advocates scrupulously avoid suggesting any size beyond which banks must not be allowed to exist.

    The reason for this glaring omission - which renders their argument of little practical use for makers of actual decisions - is clear, once the focus is on the meaning of "too big to fail," as opposed to its invocation as a general expression of distrust of banks. The issue is how to avoid a situation in which an institution has incurred so much debt that its inability to pay threatens the stability of the financial system. In other words, how do we prevent a repetition of the damage caused by the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008? Therein lies their dilemma.

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The crime wave that wasn't

    In an era of bitter partisanship, politicians and pundits across the ideological spectrum seem to agree on one thing: Our prison system is broken. With less than 5 percent of the world's population yet nearly 25 percent of the world's prison inmates, the United States spends too much money locking up too many people for too long.

    Some fear that reducing sentences for nonviolent crimes and letting low-level offenders back on the streets - key components of prison reform - could produce a new and devastating crime wave. Such dire predictions were common in 2011 when California embarked on a massive experiment in prison downsizing.

    But five years later, California's experience offers powerful evidence that no such crime wave is likely to occur.

    In 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that California's wildly overcrowded prisons were tantamount to cruel and unusual punishment and ordered the state to reduce its prison population by some 33,000 people in two years. In response, the state enacted the controversial California Public Safety Realignment law, known in legislative shorthand as AB 109.

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Republican Elite’s Reign of Disdain

    “Sire, the peasants are revolting!”

    “Yes, they are, aren’t they?”

    It’s an old joke, but it seems highly relevant to the current situation within the Republican Party. As an angry base rejects establishment candidates in favor of you-know-who, a significant part of the party’s elite blames not itself, but the moral and character failings of the voters.

    There has been a lot of buzz over the past few days about an article by Kevin Williamson in National Review, vigorously defended by other members of the magazine’s staff, denying that the white working class — “the heart of Trump’s support” — is in any sense a victim of external forces. A lot has gone wrong in these Americans’ lives — “the welfare dependency, the drug and alcohol addiction, the family anarchy” — but “nobody did this to them. They failed themselves.”

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March 23rd

Meet Merrick Garland

    Maybe sometimes, even in this crazy town and in this crazy season, the best policy turns out to be the best politics. In the context of the Supreme Court vacancy, President Obama's choice of Merrick Garland may be the hardest for Republicans to reject -- or, as they would prefer to have it, ignore.

    Not that Garland's confirmation is by any means likely; I'd rate his chances for the high court higher than John Kasich's for the GOP nomination, though that's not saying much. Still, I think Garland's nomination comes the closest to making Senate Republicans an offer they can't afford to refuse.

    On the merits -- and this is no slight to the other finalists; Garland simply has the longevity -- he is the best qualified. He is the most moderate nominee Republicans could reasonably expect. His downside, in the view of Democrats, his age, should be a confirmation plus in the eyes of Republicans.

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What Corey Lewandowski says about what a potential Trump presidency would look like

    "Solving our fiscal crisis: What's wrong with Washington?" was the name of the Republican presidential primary forum the folks at Americans for Campaign Reform asked me to moderate on Oct. 13, 2011. The gathering at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., was noteworthy for a number of reasons, but one person stood out.

    The New Hampshire director of the Koch Brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity was unlike anyone I'd seen on the political stage. The Granite State tea partyer was a belligerent presence with a burn-this-mother-down ethos that struck me as dangerous, especially after the debt-ceiling drama we went through earlier that year. His performance was so off-putting and out of place that I asked the organizers about him.

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The party of Trump v. Merrick Garland

    In a span of about 12 hours, Americans were given definitive evidence that the Republican Party is now in thrall to its most ideologically and tactically extreme forces while the Democrats still look to the center ground and to compromise.

    Exhibit A: The results of Tuesday's primaries. Exhibit B: President Obama's nomination of Judge Merrick Garland, as moderate and consensus-building a choice as he could have made, to the Supreme Court.

    In the electoral showdowns, Donald Trump pulled off a near sweep. Yes, John Kasich, the most underrated candidate all year, managed to beat Trump in his home state of Ohio. But Trump defeated his opposition everywhere else and put a Jeb-like exclamation point on the day by trouncing Marco Rubio in his home state of Florida.

    GOP establishmentarians had anointed Rubio as their savior, figuring the young and eloquent Cuban-American could cloak his very conservative positions under the appealing mantle of youth and diversity. It didn't work.

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Isn't it time for Bernie to drop out?

    Good old Bernie. He's had his fun. He's made his point. He surprised all of us, and probably even surprised himself, by how well he's done. But now it's time to face reality.

    After all, the math is the math. By sweeping five states on March 15, Hillary Clinton now has nearly an insurmountable lead in pledged delegates and superdelegates. It's time for Bernie to do the right thing, fold his tent, endorse Hillary Clinton, urge his followers to support her, and go back to his day job.

    That's the drum beat we hear from many in the Clinton camp and in the media today. They are insistent, persistent -- and flat-out wrong. For Sen. Sanders to drop out of the 2016 primary now would be a big mistake for him and for the Democratic Party.

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Iran is a 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' problem

    It doesn't take long in Iran before you start looking at the country through a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde prism: how to get rid of the monstrous Hyde without also harming the well-intentioned Jekyll, when they share the same body.

    The Hyde part of this analogy seems clear: it's Iran's clerical regime. It retains power by dictating who can stand for election, repressing and censoring political and cultural opposition and executing about 1,000 people per year. Abroad, it arms terrorist groups and tests ballistic missiles emblazoned with the words "Israel must be wiped out."

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If no one else stops Trump, the Electoral College still can - it's in the Constitution

    Donald Trump will be the GOP's presidential nominee. Within the party, talk of a brokered Republican National Convention or even a supporting a third-party candidate has circulated among those hoping to stop him from becoming the next president, leaving Trump antagonists across the spectrum to ponder whether there's any fail-safe left, after November, to stop a Trump administration from becoming a reality.

    There is. The Electoral College.

    If they choose, state legislators can appoint presidential electors themselves this November, rather than leaving the matter of apportioning Electoral College votes by popular vote. Then, via their chosen electors, legislatures could elect any presidential candidate they prefer, no matter who wins the majority vote in their respective states.

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How Obama could get last laugh in Supreme Court fight

    Now that President Obama has rolled out a Supreme Court nominee who is being widely described as a "centrist" who has "drawn praise from both parties," some analysts are predicting that it may be harder for GOP senators to continue to refuse to consider him. But if anything, most signs are that Republicans are only digging in harder behind their stance that only the next president should pick Antonin Scalia's replacement.

    But there is a scenario worth entertaining here in which Obama has the last laugh -- and the GOP posture ends up leaving Republicans with only downsides, and zero upsides.

    That scenario goes like this: If Republicans don't give Garland any hearing, and a Democrat (most likely Hillary Clinton) wins the presidential election, Republicans could then move to consider him in the lame duck session, to prevent Clinton from picking a more liberal nominee. But at that point, Obama could withdraw his nominee, to allow his successor to pick the next justice, instead.

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