Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Harris, Warren the Big Winners from the First Debate Round

The polls are in, and the big winners from the first Democratic debate(s) are Elizabeth Warren and especially Kamala Harris (as I said -- don't listen to me).

Of course, it's still very early. But right now there's a four person race between Biden, Sanders, Warren, and Harris -- and a pretty steep drop-off after that.

For me, that means that the biggest loser from the first debate was not actually Joe Biden, but Pete Buttigieg. Buttigieg had been right up there in the front-runner conversation, and now he's on the outside looking in. Beto O'Rourke was in a similar circumstance, although he had already seemingly started to fade -- a lackluster debate performance only confirmed the trend. But that Buttigieg, who did not seem to perform particularly poorly (though hardly scintillating either), got separated out from the top-tier of candidates is much more of a problem.

While Sanders is still part of the Big Four, I'm not sure that this is good news for him either. He's already at near-maximum name recognition, and it's far from clear from whom he'll draw supporters as other candidates drop out. The most promising target is Warren -- but now it's more likely that Warren will last to the end, and maybe Sanders will start bleeding his support to her.

The other big mover people have mentioned coming out of the first debate was Julian Castro, but it mostly looks like he went from "complete non-entity" to part of that mid-tier group that's outside-looking-in (like Booker, O'Rourke, and now Buttigieg). Definitely an improvement for him, but not the surge we saw out of Harris.

As for Biden, I agree with Paul Campos that he's in the position of having a massive early lead that you know is going to get eaten away -- the only question is how fast. I don't think he's going to be able to hold it. But he's actually in a fundamentally different position and I'd say better position than Sanders, who affirmatively needs to grow and doesn't have a clear route to doing it. Biden just has to stem the bleeding for long enough that the clock runs out -- though I have to say, that isn't the most inspiring way to limp into a general election.

Monday, July 01, 2019

Should the University of Alaska Go On "Strike"

The University of Alaska system is facing a massive crisis as Republican Governor Mike Dunleavy just vetoed $130 million dollars in state funding (this was part of a much broader ax Dunleavy took to the state budget as he seeks to divert money away from public services and towards the cash payout Alaskans receive from the state each year). Along with a $5 million cut the university had already absorbed, this amounts to a cut of over 40% of its state funding.

You can read the letter the university President sent out here; it paints a pretty grim picture. It's well beyond a hiring freeze or furloughs -- the president is indicating the university might have to declare a state of financial exigency, discontinuing entire programs and laying off tenured faculty members. It's the type of body blow a university might never recover from.

Given the increased hostility the GOP has directed towards the entire idea of higher education, one suspects that might be the point. But I'm wondering whether it might be worthwhile to call the bluff. Instead of furloughs or firings or program terminations, the hot take play for the university leadership might be to vote to suspend operations outright. Announce the university is not a viable academic entity at the level of funding the Governor has deigned to allocate, and shut down the university until a more reasonable budget is restored.

In essence, it's a strike -- but a strike implemented and approved by the university leadership (so arguably more of a lock-out, but really the entire idea is pretty sui generis, as far as I know).

This is a spitball idea -- I'm not wedded to it, and I can imagine any number of details I don't know which might suggest it's a bad idea. Certainly, it'd be a deeply painful move that would ask for immense sacrifice from university students, staff, and faculty. But then, so would capitulating. It's a high-stakes gamble, but it might be worth the risk. If it wants to remain a viable institution of higher education, the University is more likely to survive a temporary cessation of operation than it is wholesale destruction of entire departments, programs, academic and career support services, and the tenure system. The latter would represent the obliteration of the university in all but name. But if Alaska politicians want to destroy the University of Alaska, they should be forced to face that consequence outright.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

SCOTUS Strikes Down Economic Protectionism in Tennessee

This week, in Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers v. Thomas, the Supreme Court struck down a Tennessee ordinance which prohibited new residents from obtaining a liquor store license until they had resided in the state for two years (in a particularly galling twist, they can't renew the license until they have ten years of residency -- even though liquor store licenses have to be renewed annually. Yes, that means there is a seven year no man's land in between.). The vote was 7-2, with Justices Gorsuch and Thomas in dissent.

I want to flag this briefly, and particularly the dissents of Gorsuch and Thomas. To be clear: I firmly believe that good policy and proper legal interpretation are not coterminous categories. The question before the Court was (a) whether laws like this violate the "dormant commerce clause" and (b) whether the special legal regime the Constitution provides for alcohol regulation in the 21st Amendment alters that analysis. I'd have to read the case more carefully to decide where I come down on it, though in my extremely brief browse I think the majority has the better of the argument.

But this nonetheless serves as a good example of a simple point: there is no straight line connection between conservative jurisprudence and economic liberty. In many circumstances, there is a more straightforward left-libertarian alliance against unnecessary government licensing regimes which serve only to obstruct disfavored classes from economic opportunity. Sometimes, conservatives will join them (the majority opinion here was written by Justice Alito); in the right circumstances sometimes one sees a massive cross-party consensus on these issues. But there remain plenty of cases where conservative politics and conservative legal analysis implies propping up economic protectionism and government red tape. Any assumption of a natural alliance between economic freedom and conservatism is a myth.

The UK's Wild Corbyn-Loss Labour-Win Scenario

A new poll-projection suggests the LibDems may well take the Islington North constituency off Labour.

Why is that worth mentioning?

Because Islington North would be Jeremy Corbyn's district.

It's hard to assess the reliability of this source, which apparently is a projection off of larger data, rather than a direct poll of the district. But it's far from beyond the realm of possibility. Islington, like much of the London environs, broke hard for the LibDems in May's European Parliamentary elections, as frustration with Labour's tepid response to Brexit (itself a function of Corbyn's barely disguised pro-Brexit preferences) boiled over. Indeed, the LibDems actually won Islington.

One would think that losing the party leader's historically-safe seat would only happen as part of a historic anti-Labour wave. This instinct would seemingly be buttressed by Corbyn's record-setting public unpopularity (which manages to plummet past Theresa May's own disastrously appalling favorability ratings).

But things are a bit wilder than that.

Like most of the U.S., UK parliamentary elections occur on a "first past the post" basis -- basically, whoever gets a plurality wins (even if they fail to get 50%). And if you look at recent polling of Westminster voting intentions, what one sees is an almost ludicrously tight four-way race between Labour, Conservatives, LibDems, and the Brexit Party, each of whom is hovering at a +/- 20% vote share. In such an environment, it's almost anyone's guess who will emerge on top. Labour (or any other party) could slip into office with barely 30% of the vote, even if it is reviled by most of the electorate even in the districts it wins.  And for Labour, in particular, it's probably best positioned to pull off this little trick in swingish districts outside London where its Brexit-ish stance isn't utterly toxic (i.e., the opposite of Islington). It's entirely possible that Labour could perform "well" nationwide (by which I mean, it manages to hold its core support group together against a LibDem challenge while Brexit and Tories rip each other to shreds) while still losing seats in London -- including Corbyn's.

Indeed, if the dominoes fall right this could even result in a bizarre "minority rout" election, especially if the Labour/LibDem fight yields a clear winner and the Tory/Brexit party fight doesn't (or vice versa). Then we can imagine one party scoring massive gains even as it is actually wildly unpopular with the very electorate it is "winning". While that's less likely, one can easily manage a series of bizarre outcomes that seem to lack any sort of rhyme or reason as huge numbers of seats are decided by whoever manages to eke out a plurality in a four-way contest.

Honestly, the sheer uncertainty of it all makes me kind of wish the UK would adopt proportional representation, if only out of a sense of self-preservation. The way things are set up now is not built for a four-party race -- it's massively volatile.