The Senate and SCOTUS — A Modest Proposal

Since the nomination of Merrick Garland has been held up all year, and is at this point likely dead, President Trump may nominate as many as three (even 4?) Justices to the Supreme Court.

The Senate, of course, must approve those nominations. Historically, this would have been subject to a 60-vote requirement to overcome any minority-party filibuster. But retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid eliminated that precedent, and, indeed, even two weeks ago sought to permanently “nuke the filibuster.” We may therefore expect that even a bare majority in the GOP-held Senate could approve each of those nominees.

Perhaps today Democrats can better see the folly of Harry Reid. Even some Republicans are uneasy at the prospect of President Trump’s SCOTUS picks.

I believe that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should, in the interest of national unity, allow the Democrats to restore to the Senate the historic protection of the filibuster.

He should announce that he will, in this session, schedule hearings for Merrick Garland on the condition that each member of the Senate — every single one, without exception — go to the floor of the Senate, and make a public pledge of support for the filibuster, along the lines of: “I solemnly renounce and abjure the disastrous and demagogic policies of Harry Reid which so gravely imperiled the historic safeguard that is the filibuster, and put our republic in jeopardy of descending into the ugliest form of mob rule.”

Since no Senate can bind a future Senate, this show of support for the filibuster will be necessary at the start of each term. Incoming Senators should be required to make the same pledge in January. Without such a show of national unity and resolve, McConnell should declare the filibuster dead and delete it across the board from all Senate rules.

Would this be humiliating for Democrats? Absolutely. So it might tempt the Republicans, who, otherwise, will want to wait for Trump’s nominee and those who will come later.

But swallowing their pride would be good for Democrats. Being (sort of) generous in victory would be good for Republicans. And restoring a strong filibuster would be good for the country, and not only in the area of SCOTUS nominees.

If nothing else, the election of President Trump and a GOP Senate should teach us that it is dangerous to take power into our own hands that we would be terrified to see in the hands of our political opponents.

Jury Nullification in Washington DC

I bet it does: Billboard advocating jury nullification concerns local prosecutors.

“People are going to jail for weed,” Babb said. “Things are getting so weird. There needs to be this final safeguard to protect us from a tyrannical government.”

The story also includes this: “In New York last year, an 80-year-old man was charged with jury tampering after passing out fliers about jury nullification to courthouse visitors; the case was later dismissed by a federal judge.”

Problems with ObamaCare

Quite apart from the wisdom of interfering with great swaths of the economy to create new entitlements, there is the practical matter of making it work. And that’s proving to be a problem for people working on the Obamacare web site at HealthCare.gov:

The better way to do things is a school of software development called Agile — it’s been around since the 1950s, was basically codified in the early 2000s, now has a whole non-profit devoted to it, and is the dominant form of software design in teams. Rather than moving from one static stage to the next, it emphasizes constant iteration and testing, with prototypes building on prototypes so the endpoint is something that works. The only problem, from a government perspective, is that you need to be comfortable with not knowing exactly that they will look like.

Yes. Just because a type of software development got us to the moon (back when 1K of RAM was a lot) doesn’t mean it’s the right approach to use in the 1990s. Or especially the 2010’s.

That’s one lesson from software development. Here are some others:

1) avoid building centralized systems. The mainframe has given way to minicomputers and PCs then a client-server world and now a web of devices, browsers, and various types of service providers. Web 2.0, baby.

Where does a centralized “Five Year Plan” approach to governing fit in a world of decentralized independent actors?

2) have the right type of abstraction. A spinning metal disk has nothing in common with a USB stick nor with an internet connection, but I can save a file on any one of them with the same program. That’s because there is an abstraction called a file system, and my word processor doesn’t really care what the hardware looks like: it can be silicon, magnetic disks, or something in the cloud. Software drivers for each type of hardware present a common interface that makes them all look the same to the word processor.

A centralized approach to governing doesn’t permit there to be appropriate abstractions. A mix of federal, state, and local governments, with large and small commercial and nonprofit organizations, allows you to have abstraction. Each one does what it needs to do and only that.

Last Frontier for Obamacare Exchange

A week ago I asked prospective Democrat candidate for governor Hollis French if he, as governor, would enter Alaska in the new Medicaid program. He replied, “Absolutely, yes.” (The argument he made is depressingly common among the people here: you spend $28M and the Federal government gives you a $1000M bridge to nowhere.) So Hollis French won’t be getting my vote next year.

In other Obamacare news, since Alaska doesn’t have its own exchange for nobody to enroll in, they’ve all not enrolled in the Federal exchange:

Enroll Alaska chief operating officer Tyann Boling confirmed that no one has enrolled as of late last week.

“Now things are looking a little bit better this week,” she said. “It’s not for sure we’ve enrolled anybody yet, but things seems to be functioning a little bit better, but as of last week, we had not known of one person that had enrolled in the state of Alaska.”

Margaret Thatcher, RIP

I’m sorry to learn of Margaret Thatcher’s death. But these quotes of hers made me smile again. Here are two:

‘I am extraordinarily patient, provided I get my own way in the end.’

‘To cure the British disease with socialism was like trying to cure leukaemia with leeches.’

I always used to enjoy watching Question Time when she was Prime Minister. (It was always fun watching her clobber Neil Kinnock, too.)

Tab Sweep

Walter Russell Mead talks about liberalism 5.0. Mead is always worth reading, but I’m more interested in the death of liberalism 4.0 than in what follows it. Enjoy every small victory, because it is temporary. Dave Barry once said that no truly stupid idea ever dies: they keep coming back, like horror-movie zombies, to eat the brains of the living. That certainly describes liberalism.

A lawyer dissects the contract governing Bilbo Baggins’ employment in the Hobbit. The analysis is amusing, except it shows how difficult the lawyers have made it for non-lawyers to make agreements with each other. I know that interfering in every aspect of society is necessary to keep lawyers in their hand-made Italian loafers, but I’m tired of the drag on the economy these leeches represent. In a better society, we could name and shame people who rip us off (without fear of being sued for defamation) and then honest people could simply avoid doing business with bad actors.

Human eyes are unique in three ways (at least). This gives us the ability to communicate with each other in ways that no other animal is capable of doing.

And the ever-enjoyable Daniel Hannan argues (convincingly) against the proposition that the Oxford Union ought to occupy Wall Street. Even if you can’t stay for the whole thing, the first two minutes should be unobjectionable to pretty much everyone:

This next item won’t be news if you’ve ever tried to have a conversation with anyone in their twenties, much less someone in the #ows crowd, but we are raising a generation of deluded narcissists:

A new analysis of the American Freshman Survey…reveals that college students are more likely than ever to call themselves gifted and driven to succeed, even though their test scores and time spent studying are decreasing. Psychologist Jean Twenge, the lead author of the analysis, is also the author of a study showing that the tendency toward narcissism in students is up 30 percent in the last thirty-odd years.

The next generation may be narcissists, but they aren’t the first generation to be convinced in the absence of much evidence of their own intellectual awesome-sauce. Consider, for example, everyone in the entire post-War era:

The underlying assumption of brainstorming is that if people are scared of saying the wrong thing, they’ll end up saying nothing at all. The appeal of this idea is obvious: it’s always nice to be saturated in positive feedback. Typically, participants leave a brainstorming session proud of their contribution. The whiteboard has been filled with free associations. Brainstorming seems like an ideal technique, a feel-good way to boost productivity. But there is a problem with brainstorming. It doesn’t work.

Why are Pixar movies so good? According to John Lasseter, the reason is something you can replicate for your own creative work, namely:

Pixar’s in-house theory is: Be wrong as fast as you can. Mistakes are an inevitable part of the creative process, so get right down to it and start making them. Even great ideas are wrecked on the road to fruition and then have to be painstakingly reconstructed. “Every Pixar film was the worst motion picture ever made at one time or another,” Lasseter said. “People don’t believe that, but it’s true. But we don’t give up on the films.”

Watch this talk by the late Aaron Swartz, whom the government hounded until he committed suicide, where he explains how and why he helped stop SOPA. In addition to pointing out some of the problems with today’s copyright environment, and with the way our “two party” system is wholly-owned by the intellectual property industry, he also highlights how these laws keep shrinking the area in which people can exist without violating the law:

“Right Turn” Rubin Illustrates the Gulf Between the Establishment GOP and the Conservative Base

This is a prime example of why I think Jennifer Rubin is such a tool:

DeMint has been a destructive force, threatening to primary colleagues, resisting all deals and offering very little in the way of attainable legislation. He has contributed more than any current senator to the dysfunction of that body.

Really. More than Harry Reid?

Put aside the double standard where Republicans are supposed to make the place “function” while Democrats like Reid get a pass no matter what they do. But look at the ways that DeMint is “destructive:”

  • threatening to primary colleagues — didn’t he realize that the Senate is a lifetime appointment, until you get defeated by the other party and retire to K street?
  • resisting all deals — if the Senate wasn’t populated by kneejerk squishes like John McCain and Lindsey Graham (to say nothing of pathetic “dynasty” cases like my own Senator Lisa Murkowski) that would be a problem. As it is, someone has to provide as least a little resistance.
  • offering very little in the way of attainable legislation — a doubly-qualified statement: “very little” filtered through an establishment viewpoint of what is “attainable.” This last item was only included to flesh out the complaint. They were so weak they needed help, but this isn’t it.

How to Survive Thanksgiving at Your Liberal Relatives’

How to survive Thanksgiving at your liberal relatives’ house:

“Why don’t you come to our place next year. Seeing as how your taxes are going up in a few weeks, it’s only fair.”

“Sorry I parked you in. Oh, darn, I drove the Chevy Volt today. You wouldn’t have an extension cord, would you?”

Smirk. Love the picture of Sarah Palin speaking in front of the turkey processing plant.