Friday, February 26, 2016

Clinton Speaking Fees

 NYT Editorial Demands Mrs. Clinton Show Voters Those Transcripts
Thoughts on the NYT editorial:
 Industry meetings invite outside speakers all the time and pay what the market will bear. For the outside speaker, these are more like performances, not meetings. The Clintons are the super rock stars of our age who can command high speaking fees based on who they are and how well they can engage a live audience, far better than almost any other public figures. Hillary Clinton was presumably paid the high market value of her appearances whlie a private citizen. Sad to say, this is yet another fishing expedition. Why would there be transcripts of performances? And if there are no transcripts, is that the next manufactured scandal?

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Who's on First?

Who is on first? The next step in the escalating tit-for-tat on judicial nominations will occur in 2017 when the Senate Majority leader will announce his pick for Supreme Court justice after conferring on possible candidates with his caucus. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold hearings on the candidate. Each Republican on the committee will ask friendly questions and each Democrat at the hearing will complain vociferously about the process that excluded the President. Once approved by the Senate Majority leader, the name will be forwarded to the President for him to nominate and the Senate to rubber stamp. The Senate majority leader will inform the President that the Senate will not consider any other names that she puts forward.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Restructuring the Political Parties or the Constitution - Which Will it Be?

Interesting read on structural tensions within the parties by Thomas Edsall in NYT Opinion today. Our constitutional system is being stretched beyond its limits. The most basic built in checks and balances (Senate approval of President's nominees to an independent judiciary, Senate filibuster, and passage of a law requiring both House and Senate and Presidential signature with veto that can be sustained or overridden) no longer work. The problem is with the party system and that is where the solution lies. We could never have an effective Constitutional Convention rewriting the rules of our democracy because the structure and functioning of such convention would be stymied for the same reasons Congress no longer works. The system has long relied on two parties working within established norms of behavior, as party leaders tack toward the fringes of their own parties. Up until recent weeks, we were still hearing President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Democratic leaders saying how much we all need to work together. With the Scalia succession battle, we may not hear that again. The looming breakdown of our system of governance at the federal level, barring tweaks to the rules in Congress on the filibuster or the Constitutional framework on nomination of justices, begs for a union of the moderates into a centrist coalition. That coalition could function more as a majoritarian party, allied with the left on some issues and the right on others. This would be the only way that the U.S. majority rule system could work like the muli-party parliamentary systems of Europe.

The barrier to this new system is that it could be preempted by the long term strategy of the Republican Party establishment to succeed on its agenda at the state level, one state at a time. This strategy contemplates ruling as a minority, but with the power of a majority, which depends on wielding power within the states to suppress voter turnout of Democrats, maximize the advantages of gerrymandering, and win legal challenges from Democrats before a Supreme Court dominated by Republicans. See Edsall piece from last month: The Republican Party's 50-State Solution.

Unless the Republican strategy is successful, the path to a new majoritarian centrist party system lies in a Presidential candidate who can win as an independent possessing the right combination of personal attributes and experience with substantial financial backing. We have never seen a third party Presidential candidate with sufficient appeal to win an election from the center in the electoral college system. The victory of that candidate will only come when voters are angry enough, which could happen in 2020 if the logjam continues in 2017 - 2020 with a Democratic President and Republican Congress. We can thank Donald Trump for showing us this scenario for 2020 is possible , but not with him as the candidate.  Unless something changes, we could see an even angrier electorate and more severe fracturing of our politics.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Supreme Court Nominations

The Six Points model needs to be adapted to explain the contentiousness of Supreme Court nominations and battles between Senate Democrats and Republicans and therefore the fact that "both sides do it." The SP model works well to explain efforts to pass, block or repeal legislation, but needs to be adapted for the fights over nominees. For nominees, the two trigger points appear to have been (1) Roe v. Wade and (2) Robert Bork nomination battle.
(1) Roe v. Wade appears to be the decision that triggered a belief among many conservatives, especially religious conservatives, that the Supreme Court had gone too far and drastic actions were necessary.
(2) The 1987 Bork nomination battle was unusual at the time in that a nominee who was eminently qualified based on experience and intellect went down to defeat in the Senate after a contentious battle based in large part on the fear of extremely conservative rulings if Judge Bork were elevated to a lifetime term on the U.S. Supreme Court.
In tactical terms, actions in items (1) and (2) can be considered in terms of noncooperative game theory. The nomination of Judge Bork was interpreted by liberals at the time as an extreme reaction by President Reagan to item (1) along with other legislative and judicial progress made during the 1960s. The fact of lifetime terms for Supreme Court justices made approval of the Bork nomination by the Senate seem dire. So the nomination by the President of an "extreme conservative" became a trigger to Democrats and the denial of approval by Democrats became a trigger to Republicans. Even though 2 Democrats voted for approval and 6 Republicans voted against, the stage was set for more contentious battles over judicial nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Courts of Appeals which evolved into more frequent use of the filibuster in the Senate along with other measures including Senate privilege to block nominations. This history has put us on a course for Supreme Court nominations of tit-for-tat responses by Democrats and Republicans to each other in a sort of repeated prisoners' dilemma game with grim trigger. The exact contours of the game are not important here. What matters for the theory is that in the case of judicial nominations, there is more to the idea that "both sides do it", as adjusted by either side to the specific situation ,  than there is when it comes to legislative efforts.  We should not confuse the two and use the case of judicial nominees to argue that "both sides do it" in every situation.

Friday, February 19, 2016

JEP False Balance Study

Interesting article in the NYT "Gray Matter" of February 12, 2016 by the author of a study in the Journal of Experimental Pychology: Applied on journalistic "false balance" and experiments designed to test its effects and alternative approaches.

I am not a JEP subscriber and did not read the study , but does this research head in the right direction? The false balance journalistic approach derives from a way of thinking that says that presenting the array of facts and interpretations set forth by the experts is the best way for the general public to evaluate the evidence and reach justifiable conclusions. What does that mean in the U.S. where almost any issue worth studying has a political dimension? Does evaluation of scientific research get settled by majority rule or by the quality of the research? If the journalist presents two sides to an issue regardless of the issue, whether or not the supplemental information seems to suggest a majority position, the mere act of presenting two sides casts doubt on the majority position - otherwise, why would you even bring up the minority position? Or so goes the thinking of many a rational reader.

Clinton Redux

February 15, 2016
Down Memory Lane - After the 1998 mid-term elections, Republicans who had already controlled both houses of Congress suddenly insisted on impeaching President Clinton rather than wait for the new Congress to be sworn in come January of 1999. So a truly lame duck Congress impeached a president, but an elected president is now to be denied the Constitutional responsibility to appoint a justice to the Supreme Court?

Monday, February 15, 2016

Scalia Successor

February 14, 2016
Mitch McConnell's immediate response to the death of Justice Scalia can be explained by The Six Points on The Only Winning Strategy.

The Red Flag - for the Senate Majority Leader to discuss particulars of the succession within hours of Justice Scalia's passing would normally be considered in terribly bad taste. However, Senator McConnell needed to make the first strike in order to reframe the issue (see Lakoff). The Senate will review any President Obama nominee. Defying the Constitution, it's like black stealing the first move in chess away from white, never mind the rules. This tells Republican's the battle plan. Otherwise, some Senators or other prominent Republicans might assume that the plan would only be to oppose any nominee by the President, but of course the President will send a nomination to the Senate for approval. The normal expected debate regarding Senate approval of the nominee is pushed further by McConnell's action to an unexpected and manufactured controversy - whether or not the President has a right to appoint a nominee to the Supreme Court with almost one year left in office, as if that means anything. This new debate has prompted a lot of discussion about the history of prior nominations and whether or not the details of those nominations are comparable, all of which is irrelevant. That discussion distracts from the consideration of current Court cases, which could suffer much longer than a year if there is a protracted nomination battle for the new President and Senate after January 20, 2017.