October 31, 2007
The Crack Gap, Reformed (sorta)
You've probably seen this: The Supreme Court just put a de facto moratorium on all executions until Baze v. Rees, a lethal injection case from Kentucky, gets decided next spring. (Here's one prediction on how that will turn out.) For my money, though, the bigger criminal-justice news is that, tomorrow, the U.S. Sentencing Commission's new guidelines come into effect, reducing the disparity in penalties for crack and powder cocaine. It's not a huge change (see here), but it's something.
We have been engaged in a long-term study of judicial voting patterns, and we recently published an oped in the Los Angeles Times, in which we gave “awards” to Supreme Court justices, based on a statistical study of their votes. The Judicial Neutrality Award went to Justice Anthony Kennedy. The Judicial Restraint award went to Justice Stephen Breyer. The less coveted Partisan Voting Award went to Justice Clarence Thomas. Justice Antonin Scalia received the Judicial Activism Award.
Today's Washington Post declares this the Era of La Presidenta in South America, thanks to Chile's and Argentina's recent female victors in presidential elections and the possibility that this woman-in-power trend is about to "spread north" through the continent. The Post sees it as a South-America-specific phenom: Marta Lagos, who conducts polls throughout Latin America and is based in Chile, said both women rose to prominence because their people were desperately seeking a new class of political elites.
The Hillary Papers
As I said below, I find Hillary's coyness about her exact role in her husband's administration rather strange. That said, I found it pretty silly for Barack Obama to jump in and gravely declare it "a problem" that Hillary won't publicly release her White House papers archived at the Clinton library.
October 30, 2007
I saw another pretty strong night for Hillary Clinton in Philadelphia. On both substantive and stylistic levels we learned nothing virtually nothing new about the candidates tonight. In the media's funhouse of expectations and conventional wisdom, however, I suspect Barack Obama will again be judged to have come up a little flat. It may be a matter of his delivery, but even with sharpened critiques Obama somehow doesn't break through and grab your attention. A couple of things I haven't seen discussed elsewhere jumped out at me. One was Hillary's response to a question about her experience.
Obama And Entitlements
Barack Obama hasn't been getting much love from the liberal blogosphere for suggesting that Social Security poses a long-term fiscal problem for the federal government (see Paul Krugman, Ezra Klein, and Matt Stoller, among others). Obama's critics note, correctly, that it's Medicare, not Social Security, that's responsible for the bulk of the entitlement crunch we face (Jon Chait also made this point recently), and that the bulk of that problem is that health-care costs are rising rapidly.
One of Kevin Drum's Virginia readers writes in to say that Hillary Clinton is absolutely loathed in the South and could never win down there. Kevin responds that no Democratic presidential candidate—not even John Edwards—has a prayer of winning in the South, and anyway, the Democrats don't need to win any Southern states to capture the White House, so this shouldn't even be a concern. That seems right, but incomplete. If you look at '08 Senate races in, say, Oklahoma and Kentucky, James Inhofe and Mitch McConnell look awfully vulnerable in early polling.
Leavitt To Europe
The New York Times reports this morning that HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt will soon be traveling to Switzerland and the Netherlands to see first-hand how those countries' health-care systems--which achieve universal coverage through, more or less, a mandate-and-subsidize approach similar to the one proposed in the Senate by Ron Wyden and Bob Bennett--actually function in practice.
I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the audacity of the fake press briefing FEMA staged last Tuesday, in which agency reps, pretending to be reporters, lobbed softball questions at Deputy Administrator Harvey Johnson, allowing him to ramble on and on about the greatness of FEMA's response to the California wildfires.
October 29, 2007
I normally love Michigan's Carl Levin, the simultaneously hard-assed and endearingly grandfatherly Iraq expert in the Senate (here's a link to his coos-of-appreciation-inducing Time award as one of "America's Best Senators"!). The Iraq measures he's introduced this year, often with Rhode Islander Jack Reed, have always been smart -- they keep a strict focus on the desired outcome, withdrawal, while resisting pressure to buck the political and technical realities of how that's going to happen. But he needs a new p.r. guy.