I haven't had a moment to blog this weekend, but wow, what a major political event yesterday. Justice Scalia died suddenly on Saturday, and almost immediately Senate Republicans said they won't allow any nominee from President Obama to come to a vote. As Josh Marshall points out, this had no purpose save one:
In a typically insightful Twitter spree last night, David Frum noted that "McConnell’s precipitate statement [that he would refuse to hold a vote on any Obama appointee] is wrong not only on grounds of appropriateness & timing, but even politics ..." As Frum notes, it is entirely unnecessary for McConnell to make this stark pronouncement. He and his Senate caucus could simply decide in advance to judge any nominee beyond the pale, reject them on a party line vote and run out the clock.
Part of me thinks this too. And I agree with David that it is simply wrong. But I think I know why McConnell is right out of the gate with a principle he seemingly has no need to explicitly invoke:to normalize the behavior, to stake out the maximalist position early in order to allow it time to become accepted as a given. And more than this, it makes sense for him to do so while the White House is bound by normative rules of propriety and decency to focus on statements and gestures of mourning rather than political brinksmanship.
As I said, there's no debate here. It's just a power-play, a refusal to fulfill a straightforward constitutional duty, which no one, not the President or anyone else, has the power to prevent. Let's not pretend otherwise.
Because the Republican Party doesn't want to govern; they want to rule. And this has been the case since 1964.
Sears, Roebuck & Co. was founded only a couple years after the Chicago fire (and the Apollo Chorus). For decades people equated the Sears brand with mail-order retail. They could deliver anything, anywhere, and people in rural 19th- and early-20th-century America depended on them. Their success and business acumen culminated in them commissioning the tallest building in the world just over 40 years ago.
Their current chairman, Eddie Lampert, took over in 2004, and immediately applied the teachings and wisdom of the sociopathic author Ayn Rand to running the august company. He set managers against each other, extracted cash without reinvesting, merged with bankrupt K-Mart, and in the process squandered two-thirds of the company's value—$6 billion just since 2012.
The company took another step to total collapse this week when they announced that they planned to write down the value of the name "Sears" by $200 million. This came in its official report that included dry but painful descriptions of its unbelievably bad Christmas season and its continuing hemorrhaging of cash and people.
The slow death of Sears by Lampert's hands is just sad. Lampert's ideology, and probably his narcissism, have killed one of America's biggest names. I don't think we've ever seen a better example of what happens when Ayn Rand's beliefs go up against reality.
Buzzfeed via TPM reports that Marco Rubio is probably not ready for the White House:
The key line is: "Though generally seen as cool-headed and quick on his feet, Rubio is known to friends, allies, and advisers for a kind of incurable anxiousness — and an occasional propensity to panic in moments of crisis, both real and imagined."
Now plenty of us get anxious. But there's probably nothing you want less in a President than a propensity to panic in moments of crisis. It's almost terrifying. Now I'm panicking.
For all that, not to put too fine a point on it but the presidency is a fairly unpredictable enterprise with a more or less nonstop stream of crises, some trivial, some potentially world shattering. Coolness under pressure and the ability to make decisions are the two critical attributes in any leader or executive and likely the two most important for a President. What's the 3 AM red phone line call for Rubio? Even better is the reference to panicking over crises "both real and imagined."
Again, not Obama.
The current Republican rap on Obama is basically that he doesn't panic enough. Too cool and collected, when the world is burning around him. Whatever you make of that, Obama isn't a panicker. No drama. Again, you cannot put that much stock in any single article. But the charge is about the most devastating one that can be leveled at a candidate for President. And recent debate evidence tends to confirm the diagnosis.
Calculated Risk updates the "scariest jobs chart ever:"
The chart shows each of the post-World War II recessions in terms of job losses from the pre-recession peak. Notice that the 2001 recession line slides right into the 2007 line, as the Republican policies that led to the housing boom and bust tanked the banking sector.
We haven't fully recovered from the 2001 recession, in other words. We've had a generally-down cycle for almost 15 years now. That is why we should not elect a Republican legislature until they figure out how economics works.
Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg put the Rauner administration in context in a column a couple of weeks ago:
Not only did Rauner fail to make tangible progress, but he didn’t even tread water properly. The normal operation of the state, such as passing an annual budget, failed to occur, sacrificed on the altar of the governor’s hunger for term limits, union enfeeblement and other unrelated pet causes. He’s like an office manager getting himself hired by promising to expand a business who then promptly fails to pay the electric bill, as a point of principle against the electric company monopoly, so they turn the lights off. Now we’re sitting in the dark, listening to him explain.
But give credit where due: Rauner has accomplished something real, something that I would have thought impossible:
He makes Rod Blagojevich look good.
In 2014, Rauner won every county in Illinois except Cook, beating Pat Quinn by about 150,000 votes out of 3.6 million cast. That's not a huge mandate. But it has turned into a huge disaster. ("A yuge disaster?" Hm.)
No more or less than any other state. But that doesn't mean Iowans have any ability to pick winning candidates for president:
The problem is not that the people of Iowa are stupid. They are not, by most measurements. It’s that Iowa looks nothing like the rest of America. As a result, the winners, more often than not, are nationally unelectable extremists. Who can remember President Rick Santorum or President Mike Huckabee, both previous winners? Or President Uncommitted, who beat Jimmy Carter in 1976? And what to make of the finding that 43 percent of likely Democratic caucusgoers this year are self-described socialists, prepared to select a dyspeptic and unelectable senator as their candidate?
As a bellwether, the Iowa caucuses are no more predictive than a gasbag on an ethanol high swaying from a bridge in Madison County. As a representative exercise relevant to the concerns of a nation of 322 million people, the caucuses are laughable.
Consider that half of all the babies born last year in the United States were nonwhite. Not in Iowa, of course, one of the whitest states in the nation. On Monday, if the Republican caucus is anything like the 2012 turnout, 99 percent of the attendants will be white. That’s not even the United States of 1816, let alone this year.
Meanwhile, the Republican party held a debate last night that their front-runner skipped, which apparently shows how big his testicles are.
I may or may not have a letterspacing error in the headline...
Short list today, so I may do it after work before rehearsal:
Not to mention, I still haven't finished the Economist's special Christmas issue. Maybe I need a long flight or two?
This means I have some time to digest this over the weekend:
I might have a chance to read this weekend. Perhaps.
First, from the scientist behind Deeply Trivial, a Times report that giving people money to answer survey questions makes their answers more accurate:
[W]hen you ask people about the economy, the answers are less a statement of objectivity and more like what they’d say if you’d asked which pro football team was the best. That has important implications for democracy. How can people judge whether a party is effective if there is no sense of objective truth? And it could even have implications for the economy itself if, for example, conservative-leaning business executives freeze hiring or investment when the president doesn’t share their politics.
[W]hen money was added to the equation, questions about the economy became less like asking people which football team they thought was best, and more like asking them to place a wager. Even a little bit of cash gets people to think harder about the situation and answer more objectively.
“People are not telling you what they actually believe in ordinary surveys,” [researcher John G. Bullock at the University of Texas at Austin] said. “With a payment, we’re eliciting not necessarily thoughtful responses, but more sincere responses.”
In the same newspaper, Paul Krugman demonstrates that a right-wing trope about academia doesn't mean what they think it means:
Overall, the evidence looks a lot more consistent with a story that has academics rejecting a conservative party that has moved sharply right than it does with a story in which academics have moved left.
Now, you might argue that academics should reflect the political spectrum in the nation — that we need affirmative action for conservative professors, even in science. But do you really want to go there?
No, you really don't.