And the winner is......nobody

It was announced today that for the second year in a row the Ibrahim Prize will not be awarded. The award recognizes democratically elected African leaders who have demonstrated skilled leadership in office and, importantly in a region known for long-serving autocrats, allow for the peaceful transition of power at the end of their terms. In the decade since it was launched, the award has only been given to four individuals.

Justice Scalia is Dead- Now What?


The passing of Justice Antonin Scalia looks to have some very interesting consequences in the coming months.  As the longest serving justice at the time of his death and the leader of the court’s right flank, Scalia leaves behind a strong legacy.  Few Supreme Court Justices provoke as strong reactions from the public as he did.  Though the other three reliable conservatives on the court (Roberts, Alito, and Thomas) all voted with Scalia at least 86% of the time, none gets the same fawning from conservatives (particularly Roberts at this point) nor the disdain from liberals that Scalia attracted.  He was looming figure and one that was obviously intelligent, principled, and influential.  He will continue to live on as an intellectual and philosophical giant among conservative legal circles.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has stated, ““The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”  This is absurd on its face.  It is the president’s constitutional duty to “nominate…judges of the Supreme Court.”  While this is done with the “advice and consent of the Senate,” there is no reason for a senator to exhort the president to maintain a vacancy on the Supreme Court for what would certainly amount to over a year.  Further, the Supreme Court is not the People’s Court.  By design, the Supreme Court is the least democratic institution laid out in the Constitution.  It is a check on political branches that are beholden to the people.  To suggest that for this nomination the public deserves any more input than they have always enjoyed is to dismiss Article II of the Constitution and more than two centuries of precedent.  Informed voters should know that the Supreme Court is an incredibly powerful institution with the ability to change the functioning of the country overnight.  Any abortion foe or gay marriage advocate is well aware of this.  When voting in a presidential or Senate election voters should consider the secondary or tertiary impacts of their votes, the constitution Supreme Court being one of these.  Still, the Supreme Court always has been distant from the whims of voters and ought to remain so.  It is irresponsible for a six term senator to propagate any myth about the people deciding what the court looks like.

The process of replacing Scalia on the highest bench is going to be dramatic.  Despite Mitch McConnell’s fantasies, I think everyone can anticipate President Obama naming a nominee.  The real question is whether President Obama will name someone who can satisfy the Senate.

Republicans should be wary of overplaying their hand and delaying until after the elections.  While the have the ability to be absolutely obstructive now, they do stand to lose the both the Senate and White House in November.  The general election is months away, but I remain skeptical of the GOP’s chances to get their man, whoever that may be, in the White House.  Prediction markets agree with me on this point (or maybe I should say that I agree with the markets).  Of course, this is subject to change.  The primary process is long and we are no closer to knowing the general election matchup than we were a month ago.  The emergence of a strong consensus Republican candidate and further erosion of support for Hillary Clinton could lead to a change in parties in the executive.  As it stands though, the Republicans face an uphill battle.  Retaining the Senate seems more realistic, but here the Republicans are stuck defending 24 seats while the Democrat defend only 10.  If Obama names a squishy conservative or a moderate to the court and Republicans block it and subsequently get drubbed in the election by the Democrats, they could end up looking particularly foolish.  A new Democratic president with a Democratic Senate could then install a liberal Justice that would fundamentally shift the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court with Scalia was quite balanced though right-leaning.  With four reliably liberal conservatives and four reliable conservatives, no ideology can be seen as dominating the Roberts Court.  President Obama will seek to push the Court to the left.  It is unfathomable that he would nominate a Scalia clone.  However, I would be similarly surprised if he nominated a hardened liberal judge.  With the current Senate makeup, he stands no chance of getting a liberal dream pick through.  It would seem that for Obama his best hope is to pick a nominee that will satisfy at least a sizable minority of Senate Republicans and not scare away Democrats.  Nonetheless, we can anticipate that he will push for a leftward shift.  When replacing a Justice near one bound of the ideological spectrum, any nominee closer to the mean will be seen as creating a shift.

I am curious to see how President Obama plays this, whether he opts for a politically pragmatic pick or shoots for the moon.  The last significant shift in the Supreme Court came under George W. Bush when Sandra Day O’Connor’s seat was taken by Samuel Alito, transforming a swing vote into a conservative spot, though even this was not a revolution.  Justice O’Connor, like Anthony Kennedy, could viewed as a conservative, albeit a squishy one.  My money would be on Obama to name someone in this mold, though perhaps someone who is reliably pro-life as means of assuaging conservatives.  In any case, this will create ripple effects through the election cycle as Supreme Court nominations gain the spotlight as a consideration when voters pick candidates.

Donald Trump: Not A Friend Of Veterans


My friend David Reese has written about the use of veterans, specifically physically disabled ones, as political props.  He’s also written on the problems associated with empty statements of support for veterans.  It’s insightful stuff and I have been thinking of it a lot as the election season has kicked off.  Politicians love to use veterans to achieve their goals.  Like a lot of politicking, it can be painful to watch, but in most cases it is just the way the game is played.  However, Donald Trump has crossed into new territory in using veterans as political tools with his “fundraiser” after he decided his feelings were too hurt for the Iowa debate.  Trump’s event was an egregious attempt at parlaying the broad support in society for veterans into political gain once Trump realized he had made a strategic mistake in the Iowa campaign.  Of all the candidates this cycle, Trump has demonstrated the worst understanding of veterans and veterans’ issues.  Let’s dispel once and for all with this fiction that Donald Trump is an ally of veterans.

“I always felt like I was in the military.”
-Donald J. Trump

I don’t hold it against Trump that he didn’t serve in the military.  Most Americans have not served in the military.  It does not make them lesser Americans.  Veterans do not hold a special class of citizenship, nor should we.  My generation of veterans made a choice to serve.  For me it was the right choice and I am proud of it.  A lack of military service is not something to be ashamed of, however claiming that you were pretty much in the military is demeaning to those of us who actually wore the uniform.  I don’t care that you didn’t serve, just don’t act as if you did.

Further, Trump has degraded the actual military service of others for political gain.  Mocking John McCain for having been a prisoner of war shows a casual disregard for the realities of combat service.  At least the Swift Boat Vets were actually in Vietnam.  His understanding of the effects of roadside bombs is also distorted.  IEDs were a signature feature of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  If all they brought about was a “little ride” when a Humvee struck them the death toll in those conflicts would have been significantly lower and countless cases of traumatic brain injury, amputation, mutilation, and other maladies would have been avoided.

In his capacity as a businessman Trump also has a history of being not so friendly to veterans.

Trump’s event in Iowa was a hasty attempt to use a politically sympathetic group as cover once it became clear that Fox News was not going to give in to his bullying.  His record shows his cluelessness towards military service and veterans issues.  The event itself had very little substance with regards to veterans’ issues and was just another chance for Trump to brag about how great a guy he is.  In the events wake Trump has attempted to use veterans as props and thankfully they have declined.  Trying to assist charities for veterans should be an apolitical act and groups are right to refuse to be dragged into campaigning.

Stating you support veterans does not make it so, especially if you have a tendency to distort and misunderstand service in the ways Trump has.  I would say that this stunt lowered my respect for Trump, but that is simply not possible at this point.

Voicing faux concern couched in anti-immigrant rhetoric does nothing to help struggling veterans.  Spreading misinformation about the VA does not fix its problems.  Writing what surely must be the classiest, most sophisticated check ever written for veterans’ groups does not make you a great American.  If you want to make America great for veterans use your platform to actually identify problems facing them and put forward intelligent policy prescriptions.  Bombing the “shit out of” ISIS or Iraq or any other group or country for that matter is not a serious foreign policy plan and it does not lead me to believe that service members, future veterans, under Commander-in-Chief Trump would be valued.  Valuing veterans begins with valuing service members and not blindly planning to place them in danger because it gets applause at a campaign event.

Donald Trump is not a friend to veterans.  He’s a child contemptuously parading as a serious candidate.  His support of veterans is superficial, opportunistic, and dismaying.  America’s veterans deserve better.

Donald, feel free to let me know how much of a loser I am for not properly appreciating cynical rhetoric and theater.