America Has Gone Off the Rails. Steven Brill Sees Ways to Get It Back on Track.

According to Gallup, in the first week of January 2004 more than half of surveyed Americans were satisfied with the direction of the country. Within a few weeks, however, that number had fallen below 50 percent. It has never recovered. Since the 2008 financial crisis, it has not cracked 40 percent.

.. Brill describes a slow-motion process of perverse meritocracy in which, as one law professor tells him, “the elites have become so skilled and so hardworking that they are able to protect each other better than ever before.” Or, as Brill labels it, “Moat Nation.”

.. Brill focuses on the legal shifts and stalemates that ushered in the country’s current predicament

.. The rise of executive compensation practices linked to stock prices encouraged executives to prioritize short-term profits over long-term investments. A series of Supreme Court cases, ending with Citizens United, enabled corporate speech to play a powerful role in national politics. The growth of super PACs and lobbyists in Washington guarantees that any piece of appropriate regulation will be watered down — first in Congress and then in the implementation stage.

.. The federal government’s approach to fraudulent financial firms has shifted from the criminal prosecution of executives to the levying of fines.

..  the number of times the phrase “unintended consequences” appears in the book. Many of the legal and regulatory changes that Brill excoriates have counterintuitive beginnings. Who helped spearhead the growth of the commercial speech movement? The consumer advocate Ralph Nader, who sued the Commonwealth of Virginia to allow pharmacies to advertise drug prices. “Talk about boomerangs,”

.. the very first political action committee was created in 1943 by a labor union.

.. efforts to bring more minority members to Congress as “another reform effort that boomeranged,” because minority Democrats allied with Republicans to rewrite congressional districts and eviscerate districts held by white Democrats.

.. Brill blames the tortoise-like pace of government rule-writing on due process run amok.

.. Brill argues that interest groups have weaponized due process to guarantee gridlock.

..  In almost all of “Tailspin,” a well-intentioned liberal reform goes badly off the rails.

.. Brill never quite makes the connection between laws and norms.

.. many of the trends that Brill identifies, like political polarization, have their origins in the erosion of norms, not laws, and the real question is whether Americans can trust one another enough not to abuse less legalistic systems.

.. On this point, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt’s “How Democracies Die” is probably more instructive.

Mitch McConnell Is the Master of Confirming Judges

He outmaneuvered Chuck Schumer last year, making the path clearer for this year’s high court nominee.

Mr. McConnell adopted as his top priority as Senate majority leader an ambitious effort to make the federal courts more conservative—from top to bottom. There’s only one way to do this—fill every judicial vacancy with a conservative.

For Mr. McConnell, this is a war. Justice Gorsuch was D-Day. Judge Brett Kavanaugh is the slog across France. Mr. McConnell is a general in a hurry to keep winning, since Republicans could lose the Senate majority in November.

.. When Justice Gorsuch sailed through, Democrats and the left were reeling from Donald Trump’s election. Their opposition was inept. The vaunted “resistance” to anything associated with Mr. Trump was pathetic. Now Democrats are committed to blocking Judge Kavanaugh, and they’re serious. But they still have Chuck Schumer as their leader, and they still can’t do it without Republican help.

.. Mr. McConnell is experienced in outmaneuvering Mr. Schumer. By the time the Democrat offered his deal, Mr. McConnell had recruited former Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire as Judge Gorsuch’s sherpa as he visited senators. Ms. Ayotte pointed Ms. Collins and Ms. Murkowski to Judge Gorsuch’s record, which didn’t reveal a yearning to kill Roe. After listening to Judge Gorsuch, the two senators were leaning in his favor. Mr. Schumer was too late.

..  Ms. Collins and Ms. Murkowski are back. Same issue. Democrats seem to think every GOP judicial nominee is hiding a passion for overturning Roe. In truth, some may be. But it’s awfully hard to prove it.

.. Why is Mr. McConnell so successful in getting Republican judges confirmed? He’s a big-picture guy. He plays a long game. He must have a home-state agenda for Kentucky, but you rarely hear of it. He’s not out for himself.

.. As Republican leader, he has little interest in popularity. He’s secretive and a self-described introvert. “He never tells me anything,” a close Senate ally says.

.. “In a city where concealing ambition behind a cloak of righteousness is the norm, this refusal is one of his more underappreciated virtues,” Mr. McGuire wrote. The majority leader’s willingness to oppose popular issues like the tobacco settlement and campaign-finance reform show he’s no political weakling.

.. Mr. McConnell isn’t particularly popular. But he’s respected. He says the only real power he has as majority leader is control of the Senate floor. When Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016, Mr. McConnell said the Senate wouldn’t take up a nomination in President Obama’s last year. Democrats screamed, but neither Mr. McConnell nor Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley flinched. The result: Justice Gorsuch.
.. Among Mr. McConnell’s unusual traits are patience and a sense of when to call a vote. He’s willing to delay a vote for months waiting for precisely the right moment. Last spring he twice canceled votes to confirm an appeals court nominee. When he felt the time had come, he held a quick vote. The judge was confirmed handily.
.. No one is better at the game, now or probably ever.

There’s So Much You Don’t Know About Brett Kavanaugh

One proposal would limit justices to 18-year terms, which would create an opening on the court every two years, and reduce some of the political gamesmanship that surrounds open seats today. But any change to the justices’ tenure would require a constitutional amendment, and so is a longer debate for another day.

.. During the 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump publicized a list of possible Supreme Court nominees preapproved by the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation, another conservative group. It was scrubbed of any squishes along the lines of David Souter, Anthony Kennedy or even Chief Justice Roberts, all of whom have been deemed insufficiently committed to the cause for failing to vote in lock step with the radical right’s agenda. (Judge Kavanaugh was left off the original list but was added later.)

The Federalist Society claims to value the so-called strict construction of the Constitution, but this supposedly neutral mode of constitutional interpretation lines up suspiciously well with Republican policy preferences — say, gutting laws that protect voting rights, or opening the floodgates to unlimited political spending, or undermining women’s reproductive freedom, or destroying public-sector labor unions’ ability to stand up for the interests of workers.

.. Senate Democrats need to use the confirmation process to explain to Americans how their Constitution is about to be hijacked by a small group of conservative radicals well funded by ideological and corporate interests

.. We’re witnessing right now a global movement against the idea of liberal democracy and, in places like Hungary and Poland, its grounding in an independent judiciary. Mr. Trump and Senate Republicans appear happy to ride this wave to unlimited power. They will almost certainly win this latest battle, but it’s a victory that will come at great cost to the nation, and to the court’s remaining legitimacy.

.. Americans who care about the court’s future and its role in the American system of government need to turn to the political process to restore the protections the new majority will take away, and to create an environment where radical judges can’t be nominated or confirmed.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

“You can’t really beat big money with more money. You have to beat them with a totally different game.”

.. Nearly 75% of her donations were small individual contributions, while less than 1% of Crowley’s contributions were.[16]

.. The Ocasio-Cortez campaign spent $194,000 to the Crowley campaign’s $3.4 million.

.. Governor Cuomo endorsed Crowley, as did both of New York’s US Senators, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, as well as 11 US Representatives, 32 local elected officials, 27 trade unions, and progressive groups such as the Sierra ClubPlanned Parenthood, the Working Families PartyNARAL Pro-Choice America and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, among others.[31

.. her campaign video began with her saying “women like me aren’t supposed to run for office.

.. She held several debates with Crowley, who was criticized for not showing up to one debate and sending a surrogate instead.[34]

.. Her victory was especially surprising as she was outspent 18-1.[38]

.. Several commentators noted the similarities between Ocasio-Cortez’s victory over Crowley and Dave Brat‘s 2014 victory over Eric Cantor

.. Like Crowley, Cantor was a high-ranking member in his party’s caucus.[42]

.. Cortez’ campaign was also helped by the district’s shifting demographics. The district, which had once been represented by 1984 Democratic vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro, had been significantly redrawn after the 2010 census, and was now almost half Hispanic.

.. Many journalists faulted the traditional, national news media (with a few exceptions) for not identifying, or even recognizing, the newsworthiness of the campaign while the smaller, local and progressive news media, such as The Young Turks, were covering it early on.

..  progressive media outlets “saw the Ocasio-Cortez upset coming”.[41]

.. Ocasio-Cortez will face Republican nominee Anthony Pappas in the November 6 general election

.. Pappas, who lives in Astoria, is an economics professor at St. John’s University