We Need a New Generation of James Bakers

Former Secretary of State James Baker, Leo McGarry in the flesh, spoke at my 2008 Texas Tech commencement ceremony. In a recent Texas Monthly interview, he spoke about why Washington no longer works. He mentions redistricting, before pointing to the media-generated echo chamber of manufactured outrage:

[W]hen I was trying to get things done for the American people, the press were at least trying to report on events reasonably and objectively. They were observers, not players. Today the press are players. If you tune in to MSNBC, you’d think you were listening to the house organ of the Democratic party. If you tune in to Fox, you know you’re listening to the house organ of the Republican party. That makes for good ratings, but it doesn’t make for good governance.

This morning, Secretary Baker penned a Wall Street Journal op-ed that addressed four glaring weaknesses in the Iran nuclearjamesbakertime102210 deal:

  1. Disputes over the timeline for phasing out sanctions
  2. “Verification mechanisms”
  3. “Snapback provisions” which would grant the authority to reapply sanctions
  4. “Iran’s refusal so far to provide historical information about its nuclear-enrichment program so that there is a baseline against which to measure any future enrichment.”

This is the most thoughtful critique of the deal that I have encountered, motivated by progress rather than partisanship:

I commend the president and his national-security team for trying to solve this difficult problem short of military action. A nuclear-armed Iran threatens the security of the Middle East and the world. A nuclear-arms race in that volatile part of the globe would be disastrous. Military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities should remain our last resort, as it would strengthen the hard-liners in Tehran and could have other unfortunate and serious consequences.

Friday Links

We’ve heard all about Facebook envy. It seems that Instagram envy is even worse:

The stage-managing impulse seems particularly strong among young parents, who appear to conjure the spirit of Norman Rockwell every time they whip out their iPhones to snap a shot of their adorable, smiling children.

The Denver Post covers the “world’s first day of legal recreational marijuana sales”:marijuana-stores-open-colorado

While marijuana sales remain illegal under federal law, no place in the world — not even Amsterdam — has gone as far as Colorado to legalize and regulate sales of marijuana. The law allows state residents to buy up to an ounce of marijuana and out-of-state residents a quarter-ounce.

Later this year, Washington state will launch a marijuana industry similar to Colorado’s. The U.S. Department of Justice has decided not to block legalization in either state, so long as the states implement strict regulations on the stores.

In a statement Wednesday, Colorado U.S. Attorney John Walsh said federal authorities “will be monitoring Colorado’s efforts to regulate marijuana closely.”

David Brooks used his NYT column to explain why he quit smoking marijuana so many years ago:

Smoking was fun, for a bit, but it was kind of repetitive…We graduated to more satisfying pleasures. The deeper sources of happiness usually involve a state of going somewhere, becoming better at something, learning more about something, overcoming difficulty and experiencing a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.

George Mason law professor Ilya Somin has caused quite a stir. Here’s something he wrote a while back that stuck with me:

I don’t believe that citizens have a duty to vote. Staying home on election day isn’t morally wrong. But if you do choose to go to the polls, you have a moral obligation to your fellow citizens to exercise the power of the ballot responsibly. And that means trying to become a better-informed voter and making a real effort to evaluate the information you learn in an unbiased way.

John Cassidy discusses the “progressive dilemma” in the wake of Mayor de Blasio’s inauguration:

No matter how he fares, though, the harsh fact is that New York will almost certainly continue to get more unequal—a fact that, in some ways, reflects its success. During the past thirty years or so, the city has emerged as one of the great global hubs of money and information, with its only real rivals being London, Tokyo, and Hong Kong. In that time, it’s also turned into a virtual petri dish for rising inequality, with globalization, financialization, and the rapid growth of the online economy all contributing to an unprecedented concentration of wealth and income at the top.

Mayor de Blasio’s use of the A Tale of Two Cities analogy draws the ire of Reid Cherlin:

It would strain credibility to liken the One Percent—a term he used in his remarks—to the abusive French aristocracy, just as it would strain credibility to liken a tax increase to guillotinings in the public square. The problem is that the fixation on A Tale of Two Cities suggests both. If progressives think that’s the wrong analogy, then they should pick a different book.

Great piece in The Atlantic arguing that the election of Mayor de Blasio is a signal that the Democratic Party has become the Party of John Edwards:

In Barack Obama’s 2004 convention speech, he spoke famously about overcoming America’s cultural and ideological divide: “There’s not a liberal America and a conservative America” … It was Edwards who depicted an America divided by class, with “two different economies … one for people who are set for life … and then one for most Americans, people who live paycheck to paycheck.

Then a piece in The American Prospect arguing that President Obama (and the Clintons) not only lost the battle for the soul of the Democratic Party, but was just flat-out wrong about the feasibility of overcoming the ideological divide:

One trend I do think will shape people’s lives this year and in years to come is the increasing divergence between the places where lots of Democrats live and the places where lots of Republicans live. Yes, it sounds trite and overdone to talk about Two Americas, but it is true, and it’s becoming more true all the time. And one question I’m curious about is whether we’ll see an increase in people picking up and moving to places where public policy either accords better with their values or offers them important benefits they need to live their lives (or both).

Back to Work Links

The first day back from a two-week vacation. Back to the grind. Some links:

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about habits, with New Years resolutions and all. Aristotle famously said that excellence is not an act, but a habit. A cool Brain Pickings post about the subject:

What this research suggests is that 21 days to form a habit is probably right, as long as all you want to do is drink a glass of water after breakfast. Anything harder is likely to take longer to become a really strong habit, and, in the case of some activities, much longer.

Jay Root previews the 2014 Texas campaign between Wendy Davis and Greg Abbott:

Texas was and is a Republican state, and for those who like to handicap political races, this one leans rather heavily in favor of Perry’s heir apparent. Like Perry, Abbott can draw on the GOP’s well-oiled turnout machine, a long list of supportive officeholders and the deep pockets of dozens of pro-business donors.

But as Democratic consultant Glenn Smith likes to point out, weird and unexpected things can happen in elections — as they did in 1978, when Democrats ruled Texas similar to the way the GOP does now.

“Wendy is an underdog,” said Smith, a former aide to Gov. Ann Richards. “So were the Republicans when Bill Clements got in. And he won.”

Edward Luttwak expresses bewilderment at China’s increasingly aggressive military posture, and contrasts Beijing’s current attitude with the Kremlin’s Cold War perspective:

In spite of countless encounters between American and Soviet aircraft and warships, as well as the famous set-to between the U.S. and Soviet armies at “Checkpoint Charlie” in the heart of Berlin, there were very few dangerous incidents. Soviet officers knew that “adventurism” was a career-ending offense.

Yet in the Chinese case, Communist Party leaders apparently encourage it. The state media vigorously endorse each act of military adventurism. Why should this be? After all, the risks of escalation are enormous.

kliff-kingsbury-charlie-weis Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury started his first season with high hopes but, once again, my Red Raiders disappointed from mid-October to mid-December. A Kingsbury doubter recants his skepticism after Tech’s Holiday Bowl upset over Arizona State:

Kingsbury just won eight games in his first year, and did it with players that weren’t recruited to his system, and did it with basically two true freshmen taking virtually every snap at quarterback. What happens when he gets a few recruiting classes under his belt? Or an experienced quarterback? Or just more experience himself as a head coach all the time?

With Bill de Blasio’s inauguration, a new era of progressive politics in Gotham. The libertarians at Reason are skeptical and liken the new mayor with the socialist French President Francois Hollande, who’s been a disappointment:

Hollande’s approval rating is lower than that of any president in the history of the Fifth Republic. Moody’s has downgraded France’s credit rating for the second time in two years. A “lost generation” of young French people have migrated to countries that actually provide opportunities for work. So ineffective has been Hollande’s recipe of taxes and spending that he announced in his New Year’s address a new program of tax and spending cuts.

The ruling in the “sequel to Citizens United will be released any day now. I wrote my law school thesis about campaign finance, before which I harbored some misconceptions. The Supreme Court has recognized a distinction between contributions to candidates and expenditures made on their behalf. Here is a discussion of expenditures articulated in Buckley v. Valeo, the 1976 landmark case:

Advocacy of the election or defeat of candidates for federal office is no less entitled to protection under the First Amendment than the discussion of political policy generally or advocacy of the passage or defeat of legislation. It is argued, however, that the ancillary governmental interest in equalizing the relative ability of individuals and groups to influence the outcome of elections serves to justify the limitation on express advocacy of the election or defeat of candidates imposed by…[an] expenditure ceiling. But the concept that government may restrict the speech of some elements of our society in order to enhance the relative voice of others is wholly foreign to the First Amendment, which was designed “to secure `the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources,'” and “`to assure unfettered interchange of ideas for the bringing about of political and social changes desired by the people.'” The First Amendment’s protection against governmental abridgment of free expression cannot properly be made to depend on a person’s financial ability to engage in public discussion.

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