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.

Content isn’t king

subscription streaming has more or less ended the strategic importance of music to tech companies. In the past, any music you bought for your iPod had proprietary DRM and could only be played on Apple devices

.. Your music library kept you on a device. With streaming these issues mostly go away.

.. if you do switch to a different service you’re not giving up tracks you’ve paid money for, just a list of your favourites. Switching became easy.

.. Since music no longer stops people from switching between platforms, it’s gone from being a moat .. to a low-margin check-box feature.

.. A Taylor Swift exclusive for Apple Music might drive some iPhone sales, just as a cool new ad campaign might, but there’s no strategic lever here – no lock-in. 

.. whenever I talk to music people or book people, very quickly the conversation becomes a music industry conversation or a book industry conversation. What matters for music are artists and touring and labels and so on, and what matters for books are writers and publishers and rights and Amazon’s bargaining power in books and so on. These aren’t tech conversations.

.. The big tech platform companies rolled into these industries and changed everything, but then moved on to bigger things.

.. Amazon has a big ebooks business, but Prime and perhaps Alexa are the strategic levers.

.. Tech needed content to make their devices viable, but having got the content (by any means necessary), and with it of course completely resetting the dynamics of the industry, tech outgrew music and books and moved on to bigger opportunities.

..  the shows that are watched mainly because they’re broadcast at 8pm on Saturday will suffer, and so will the channels that are watched because they’re high up on the program guide. Channel brands, shows and episodes are unbundled. We’ve been talking about this in theory for over a decade, but finally, praxis is here.

.. Amazon and Netflix have entered TV content creation and ownership in ways and on a scale that no-one from tech ever did for music or books. Amazon did try to get into book publishing and has a significant self-publishing arm, but it had little success recruiting existing mainstream authors

.. neither Apple nor Spotify created a record label. In TV, though, Amazon and Netflix are already spending more on commissioning original and exclusive content than many traditional channel brands.

.. Cancel the subscription delivery service and you lose access to all Amazon TV shows.

.. For Google and Facebook, there’s no subscription to cancel – there’s no binary (renew/don’t renew, cancel/don’t cancel) decision you might take that would cut off your access to that great TV show. You don’t close your Facebook account – you just go there less. You might stop paying for the Youtube TV service, but that won’t cut off your access to any other part of Google – nor would anyone want it to – the purpose of these businesses is reach.

.. cancel Prime and you’d lose Amazon, but what do Google & FB have to cancel? Without some platform decision to lock you into, content is marketing, and revenue, but not a lever.

..  You pay an average of $700 or so every two years (i.e. $30/month) and Apple gives you a phone. Buy an Android instead and you lose access to the (hypothetical) great Apple television service. This is why people argue that Apple should buy Netflix.

.. From a pure M&A perspective, buying Netflix and immediately limiting its business to Apple devices would halve its value – why buy a business and fire half the customers? Buying it without such a restriction would have no strategic value – Apple would just be buying marketing and revenue.

..  Apple has always preferred a very asset-light approach to things that are outside its core skills. It didn’t create a record label, or an MVNO, and it didn’t create a credit card for Apple Pay – it works with partners on the existing rails as much as possible

..  it does so with nothing like the kind of negotiating power that it had in iPod days – Amazon and Netflix (if not also Google and Facebook) have seen to that.

.. Part of ‘content is king’ was the idea that (at least in theory) content companies can withhold access to their libraries entirely, and in the past one might have presumed that that meant they had the power to kill any new service at birth. In reality, rights-holders have always had too strong a need for short-term revenue to forgo broad distribution, and few of them individually had a strong enough brand to extract a fee that was high enough to justify exclusivity.

.. They always have to take the cheques – individually to meet their bonus targets, and collectively to meet their earnings estimates.

.. for a media company to give a tech platform exclusivity is immediately to build up that platform’s power over the media companies.

.. Similar problems apply to the somewhat chimerical idea that content companies should go direct to consumer – few of them have the skills, fewer have the brand and content, and fewer still, again, have a shareholder structure to allow the short-term revenue hit.

.. the device is the phone and the network is the internet. The smartphone is the sun and everything else orbits it. Internet advertising will be bigger than TV advertising this year, and Apple’s revenue is larger than the entire global pay TV industry.

.. This is also why tech companies are even thinking about commissioning their own premium shows today – they are now so big that the budgets involved in buying or creating TV look a lot less daunting than they once did.

 

Is There a Better Way to Fight Terrorism? A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

We talk about what’s known and what’s not known about terrorism; we talk about what’s working and what’s not to prevent it; we talk about whether we overvalue the threat of tactical terrorism and undervalue the threat of strategic terrorism, including cyber- and bioterrorism.

McConnell Says Democrats’ Glee on Debt Limit Deal Was Premature

Mr. McConnell said that he insisted the newly passed legislation preserve Treasury’s ability to apply “extraordinary measures” and shift money within government accounts to pay off debt and extend federal borrowing power.

That will delay the need for another increase in the debt limit well beyond the December deadline that Democrats have been trumpeting as their big moment of leverage.

.. In fact, Mr. McConnell said, the debt limit will not have to be increased until well into 2018, taking that volatile subject off the table for the December spending talks, and eliminating the Democrats’ most dangerous bargaining chip in the first round of negotiations.

.. “One of the advantages of being the majority leader is you control the paper,” Mr. McConnell said, referring to legislation. “I wrote it in such a way that it does not prevent what is frequently done, which is the use of extraordinary measures. The minority leader and his team were trying to get us not to write it that way, but I did write it that way and that is the way it passed.”

.. Under the scenario Mr. McConnell sketched out, the December talks will now focus on hurricane relief and other budgetary matters and the administration can tell Democrats “see you next year on the debt ceiling.”

.. “I think I can safely say the debt ceiling and the spending issue in December will be decoupled because the debt ceiling will not come up until sometime in 2018,” he said.