Quick hits (part I)

1) Sorry, I can’t let Howard Schultz go.  Eric Levitz on his vapid town hall:

A promise to make health care affordable for every single American — which is to say, to extend insurance to the nearly 30 million people who currently lack it, and drastically reduce costs for the one in four Americanswho currently forgo necessary medical care because even with insurance they cannot afford it — without increasing the deficit, significantly raising taxes, or disrupting the private insurance market. (Schultz feels no obligation to specify how he would do this.)

This is indicative of Schultz’s broader program. For all his bluster about the Democratic Party’s unrealistic promises — and the left’s refusal to recognize the necessity of legislative compromise — Schultz offered CNN’s audience virtually nothing beyond unrealistic promises and statements that betrayed an ostensible ignorance of the necessity of legislative compromise. On the latter count: Any political observer with a rudimentary understanding of the U.S. Senate would know that, if a voter wants incremental improvements to the health-care system — but not Medicare for All — they will (almost certainly) get what they’re looking for from any Democratic nominee; even president Bernie Sanders will not be able to pass any legislation without the approval of red-state Democrats like Jon Tester and Kyrsten Sinema. Which is to say, to the extent that Schultz is proposing concrete policies, they are just less-detailed versions of the Democratic Party’s consensus positions.

2) Chait on the “emergency.”

As a matter of principle, the Constitution establishes a system that requires the House, Senate, and the president to approve new laws. In some cases, expediency requires the president to act unilaterally. Those rare cases are not defined as emergencies because they’re important — lots of policy is important, even life-threatening. The emergencies are cases where the executive needs to act in an especially urgent way, and where congressional involvement may not be practical…

The anticipation that courts will smack down Trump’s attempted power grab has created some complacency about the brazenness of his attempt. The clever take in Washington is that Trump is claiming emergency powers knowing full well he will probably lose.

But it hardly vindicates the president. Trump impulsively engineered a government shutdown out of the mistaken belief that somehow it would give him leverage over Democrats, and without any understanding of the humanitarian fallout. After he quickly realized it wouldn’t, he made almost no effort to negotiate in good faith, even though it certainly would be possible to imagine immigration policies most Democrats and some Republicans would want enough to authorize more border-security funding.

Having deliberately inflicted pain on his own country on a whim, he is defying democratic norms in order to extricate himself from the humiliation of a retreat. That he is likely to lose may mitigate the offense, but doesn’t excuse it. Trump has at minimum proven that he lacks the temperament or basic competence to serve as president of the United States.

3) Jordan Weissman is right about this plan to allow Medicare buy-in for those 50 and over, “Moderate Democrats Are in Love With a Tepid and Outdated Idea to Fix Health Care.”

4) Yasha Mounk on the “emergency”

Americans often like to imagine that their system of checks and balances is a secure bulwark against the threat of autocracy. But in reality, no set of political institutions is, in and of itself, enough to constrain a popular and power-hungry president intent on destroying the republic. One of the reasons for this is the classic problem of the state of emergency, with which political philosophers and students of the law have grappled ever since the Roman Republic.

As Cicero argued in De Legibus, the safety of the people is the highest law; when a polity faces some unforeseen emergency, there may thus be urgent and legitimate need to loosen some of the ordinary legal restrictions on the powers of the highest magistrate. At the same time, it is obvious that any legal recognition of the need for emergency powers creates a huge opportunity for abuse; if an aspiring autocrat declares a false emergency, he would instantly be liberated from the usual constraints on his power. The history of the 20th century demonstrates that this is no abstract concern: From Adolf Hitler in Germany to Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, some of the most brutal dictators of the past hundred years have consolidated their power by exploiting emergency legislation.

5) I’m covering this in my public policy class and I don’t recall sharing it here before (and if I have, it’s really good).  David Roberts, “What genuine, no-bullshit ambition on climate change would look like.”

6) Nice piece from Paul Waldman, “Warren and Klobuchar demonstrate the fundamental divide among Democrats.’

This is Warren’s articulation of the problem: Not just that the system is rigged — something Trump said in 2016 — but that it’s rigged by and for a specific group of wealthy individuals who shape it for their own benefit. This willingness to name the villains of the story she tells distinguishes Warren from many of the other candidates.

She also said, “We can’t afford to just tinker around the edges—a tax credit here, a regulation there. Our fight is for big, structural change.” She then outlined an agenda for economic and political reform to change how the system operates. So to summarize, Warren says the problem is a system rigged by the wealthy; the solution is a series of broad and fundamental policy changes that take away their power to continue rigging the system. She’s the one to implement them, because though she came from a poor family, she had the opportunities she says are lacking in the United States today, and she has spent a career understanding and attempting to confront the forces that limit those opportunities for ordinary people.

Klobuchar detailed some of the same policy proposals as Warren, such as reforms to reduce political corruption and guarantee voting rights. She did name some particular individuals — a reference to “dark forces” attacking voting rights, another to “tax loopholes designed by and for the wealthy,” and criticisms of pharmaceutical companies and the gun lobby — but she didn’t tie them together in a single us-vs.-them critique. For Klobuchar, the real problem is “our politics,” a system in which everyone is implicated and everyone can have a part in improving.

7) NC legislature considering revising the law on alcohol sales.  Just sad that Republicans still justify laws with rationales like this,

The state could make more money by allowing ABC stories to open on Sundays. North Carolina is one of only eight states that doesn’t allow liquor store sales on Sundays.

“I think we need Sunday free for the Lord’s day,” said Rep. Pat Hurley, a Republican from Randolph County.

8) This professor says that email is “making professors stupid.”  Yeah, it seems like some workdays are all about email management (but in reality, those emails are generally about my teaching, research, and service) and I don’t think it’s making me stupid.

9) Sorry, I cannot let Howard Schulz go, but his campaign really is illustrative about so much in American politics.  Ezra, “Howard Schultz’s campaign is based on 3 ideas, and they’re all wrong.

10) When it comes to advanced analytics, I just love learning about hockey (especially goaltending).  Love this 538 trying to figure out why scoring is noticeably up in hockey this year.  TLDR– it’s not clear, but it’s fun to watch.

11) David Hopkins, “There Are No Clear Lane Markers on the Road to the White House.”

Political journalists are fond of metaphors, and one recent analogy that seems to be rising in general usage is the comparison of the presidential nomination process to a highway with multiple “lanes” corresponding to identifiable party factions or subgroups. According to this view, each candidate and primary voter resides in a specific party lane (or, on rare occasions, can straddle the boundary between two lanes). The best-positioned candidates in the race, then, will be those who can unite the voters in their lane—either because they have it all to themselves from the start, or because they quickly knock similarly-situated candidates off the road…

While some of these analytical attempts to sort out the primary competition contain grains of truth—there are, after all, identifiable constituencies within the parties that are more or less attracted to various candidates—the “lanes” model of characterizing nomination contests is fundamentally flawed and potentially misleading. It rests on assumptions about how voters behave in party primaries that don’t hold up in reality, as the history of presidential nominations (including the 2016 race) makes very clear…

It’s important to understand how candidates behave strategically to build electoral coalitions and, to the best of our ability, to identify what considerations prompt voters to choose a specific candidate. But any conceptual model of nomination politics needs to incorporate a large random error term, representing the varying effects of personal charisma, persuasive advertising, memorable debate performances, catchy slogans, journalistic takedowns, verbal gaffes, and other factors that have proved difficult to anticipate yet can be just as influential as substantive positions or group membership in shaping voters’ evaluations of the candidates. We’re about a year away from primary and caucus participants being asked to officially register their preferences, which means that we’re still a year away from rank-and-file Democrats beginning to settle on their choice of nominee. It’s a long road to the nomination, and the vagaries of timing and luck ensure that many unforeseen twists and turns still lie far ahead.

12) Interesting take on the Amazon HQ2 mess:

No deal has garnered as much attention as Amazon’s, particularly since local politicians engaged in dozens of publicity stunts designed to woo the retail giant. While the company was searching for new offices, its value ballooned to $1 trillion and Bezos became the richest man in modern history. Meanwhile, investigative reports trickled out all year about the company’s brutal labor practices. The news often came with some mention of HQ2.

LeRoy says Amazon has indeed inadvertently highlighted public subsidies, which corporations have been able to negotiate largely in the dark. “I think Amazon is not winning a lot of love from corporate America for that,” he says. Deals between governments and other tech companies—and the secrecy surrounding them—are receiving scrutiny, too. Two nonprofits are suing San Jose, California, over a $67 million deal to sell government land to Google for new office space. The organizations argue city officials illegally signed nondisclosure agreements with the tech giant.

But the outcry over Amazon’s HQ2 search won’t necessarily have a lasting impact on the way government officials hand out subsidies to corporations. Jensen says he’s witnessed a number of governments make cosmetic reforms, like introducing rules requiring companies verify the number of jobs they end up producing, but that fundamental issues often don’t get addressed. “I think the PR of this decision hasn’t been positive and there is a potential for a backlash,” he says. “But I feel like I have seen enough terrible economic development scandals that go by the wayside.”

13) Sean Illing on the “emergency,” “Trump declared a national emergency at the border. I asked 11 experts if it’s legal. Spoiler alert: probably not.”  This is really useful for understanding the legal basis of why Trump will likely lose in court.  And it’s not about the obvious lack of urgency.

14) An interesting take on modern journalism, “Journalism is not dying.  It’s returning to its roots.”

If, however, you explained Twitter, the blogosphere, and newsy partisan outlets like Daily Kos or National Review to the Founding Fathers, they’d recognize them instantly. A resurrected Franklin wouldn’t have a news job inside The Washington Post; he’d have an anonymous Twitter account with a huge following that he’d use to routinely troll political opponents, or a partisan vehicle built around himself like Ben Shapiro’s Daily Wire, or an occasional columnist gig at a less partisan outlet like Politico, or a popular podcast where he’d shoot the political breeze with other Sons of Liberty, à la Chapo Trap House or Pod Save America. “Journalism dying, you say?” Ben Franklin v 2.0 might say. “It’s absolutely blooming, as it was in my day.”

What is dying, perhaps, is that flavor of “objective” journalism that purports to record an unbiased account of world events. We take journalistic objectivity to be as natural and immutable as the stars, but it’s a relatively short-lived artifact of 20th-century America. Even now it’s foreign to Europeans—cities such as London cultivate a rowdy passel of partisan scribblers who don’t even pretend there’s an impregnable wall between reportage and opinion. The US was much the same until the late 19th and early 20th century. Until 1900 or so, most newspapers were overtly political, and a name like The Press Democrat meant Democrat with a big D. Advertising was a minor concern, as party leaders encouraged members to subscribe to their local party organ, obviating the need for anything more than classifieds.

15) A rare link courtesy of my youngest son, who sent me this interesting article about the rise of “legacy” board games.  Sorry, I won’t be buying games anytime soon in which I have to tear up cards.

16) Before this season, I was feeling pretty flat about Duke basketball– despite a lifetime of fandom– due to all the one-and-doneness.  But, damn, Zion Williamson’s super-human ability and amazing joie de vivre is his play have brought me fully back on board for this season at least.

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