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This morning, Carl Hiaasen says there's no such thing as a painless execution, Ross Douthat complains that making cake is too hard--then eats it anyway, Colbert King notices that racism is not dead, Kathleen Parker complains about journalists talking about journalists, and Maureen Dowd is in middle school again. But first...

Ruth Marcus notices something that several folks on Daily Kos also noted, but which the news seems to have missed.

“We are not final because we are infallible,” Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson famously observed, “but we are infallible only because we are final.”

Now — actually, six decades later — comes Justice Antonin Scalia to demonstrate that neither aspect of that aphorism is entirely correct.

Like the rest of us mortals, Scalia, it turns out, is fallible. He made an embarrassing whopper of a mistake in a dissent Tuesday. ...

The majority in the case, involving Environmental Protection Agency rules covering power-plant emissions that cross state lines, upheld the regulation. Scalia, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, dissented, reading from the bench for emphasis.

Scalia’s beef with the EPA was that it substituted its judgment for that of Congress, inventing a cost-effectiveness approach that appears nowhere in the statutory text. So far, so scathing. But as part of his indictment, the justice, in a section titled “Plus Ça Change: EPA’s Continuing Quest for Cost-Benefit Authority,” accused the EPA of being a recidivist re-interpreter.

“This is not the first time EPA has sought to convert the Clean Air Act into a mandate for cost-effective regulation,” Scalia thundered, citing a 2001 ruling in which, he said, the court also “confronted EPA’s contention that it could consider costs” in setting air quality standards.

But — oops — it was the party challenging the EPA rule in that case, not the agency, that wanted costs to be considered. And — double oops — Scalia himself wrote the opinion.

The problem with Marcus' take on this? She empathizes with Scalia, saying "If you’re in my business, you know how extraordinarily easy it is to make a mistake and how exquisitely painful it is to acknowledge."

But here's the thing: Scalia is not in your business, Ms. Marcus. He's in the business of delivering decisions that affect the lives of millions, often for decades. Getting a decision this badly wrong isn't the equivalent to mangling a quote or jumping the gun on an election prediction. Your embarrassment at putting down a wrong value for a politician's age is not even in the same ballpark.

But at least DK regular pollwatcher's post on DK gets a little national ink.

It did not take the liberal blogs and interest groups long to pile gleefully on. “Epic Blunder,” said Talking Points Memo. “Scalia’s Mistake Exposes His Ideological Agenda,” blared People for the American Way. Uh-Oh, Scalia Screws Up Royally. Time To Retire, read a post on Daily Kos.
Keep 'em honest, pollwatcher.

Now, come in inside...

Colbert King talks Bundy and Sterling.

“Mama. What’s a racist? ”

“Why here, honey: Read all about it.”

That’s all it takes. Sterling and Bundy, racism personified.

The reaction to both men’s comments also came with ease as well as in high dudgeon: emotional explosions of outrage and anger.

Words can do that. Offensive, hurtful words never fall out of use. Nor, too, the emotions they express.

A passionate dislike for black people is deeply ingrained in some white folks — it’s an integral part of their lives. To claim that Sterling, the 80-year-old Los Angeles Clippers owner, and Bundy, a 67-year-old federal-government-hating rancher, are part of a dying breed is absurd. They have peers and heirs who share their repugnant views.

Thus it has always been.

But that is not the issue. The issue is: How much damage can they cause?

King's answer to this question is "not much." I disagree. Bundy's racism is not an adjunct to his anti-government views. It's part and parcel to the not-militia movement; as deeply ingrained as it was in every previous effort to assault the legitimacy of the federal government back to 1860. Bundy may not roll back the clock on the rights of African-Americans, but that doesn't mean he's not dangerous. If violence comes out of this situation, racism will be the fuel.

The New York Times on President Obama's foreign policy skills.

Two years after winning an election in which foreign policy was barely mentioned, President Obama is being pummeled at home and abroad for his international leadership. The world sometimes seems as if it is flying apart, with Mr. Obama unable to fix it. Through a combination of a few significant missteps, circumstances beyond his control, unreasonable expectations and his maddeningly bland demeanor, Mr. Obama has opened himself to criticism that he is not articulating a strong, overarching blueprint for the exercise of American power and has not been able to bend authoritarian leaders to his will.

It is paradoxical that, in key respects, Mr. Obama is precisely the kind of foreign policy president most Americans and their allies overseas wanted. He rejected the shoot-first tendencies of George W. Bush, who pretended to have all the answers, bungled two wars and asserted an in-your-face American exceptionalism that included bullying allies. We know where that got us.

But Mr. Obama has long been fully responsible for his own foreign policy. While he has made mistakes, and can be frustratingly cautious, he has done a better job than his detractors allow, starting with salvaging an economy that is at the core of American power. He has produced the first possibility of a deal on Iran’s nuclear weapons. Even though shrinking budgets and a public that is tired of war and unconvinced of the need for international engagement have undoubtedly put a check on his ambitions, talk of America shrinking from the world is overblown.

I've never understood the idea of "maddeningly bland demeanor." Does anyone really think that other world leaders are going to be impressed if the President pounds the table? Maybe he should use his shoe, or say "bring 'em on" or any of the other idiocy that has worked just so well for leaders in the past. There is no point where rational discourse isn't appropriate.

Maureen Dowd gets paid again to treat all of politics as if it's happening in the world's most banal high school.

Everywhere you look, the Clintons rule. ...

The former and future Democratic regime is clearly itching to get back in the saddle and relieve a president who is stalled on every front, and who never really got any joy from working the joystick of power or appreciated the value of the carrot-stick approach that helped Lincoln and L.B.J. bend history.

Both President Obama and Hillary have recently referred to leadership as a relay race. And if a fatigued and fed-up Obama looks ready to pass the baton early, the ravenous and relentless Clintons look ready to grab it — and maybe give him a few whacks over the head with it.

The funniest part of this bit is that Dowd makes out as if she's tired of mixing the personal and the political. Maureen Dowd wouldn't make it past Tuesday without mixing the personal and the political.

Ross Douthat is sure that intellectuals are wrong, because their books are hard and boring.

NO doubt by now you’ve finished last month’s assigned reading, Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” for our spring-semester course on Stratification in America. I’m sorry about the length (and the Amazon back-order problem), but I’m sure that the 696 pages of inheritance-data analysis and Émile Zola references flew by. And the good news is that you don’t need to worry about the term paper, because my fellow Elite Media Pundits and I have written about 330,000 words on the book that you can just crib, copy and repurpose.
You know, Ross. As it happens, I made it through just fine. I also had no trouble with "A Brief History of TIme" or "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed," because A) I can read and B) my attention span runs longer than two seconds.
... your next assignment is much shorter — only 344 pages this time. Also, it’s possibly a little sexier than Piketty (his shirt-unbuttoned photos notwithstanding), with fewer equations and a little more human interest.

The title is “Paying for the Party,” and the subtitle is “How College Maintains Inequality.” (I can tell, you’re waking up already.) The authors, Elizabeth A. Armstrong and Laura T. Hamilton, and a team of researchers embedded themselves in a freshman dormitory at an unnamed high-profile Midwestern state school and then kept up with a group of female students through college and into graduate or professional life.

So, I can completely see how a book composed of personal anecdotes about a small number of students in one dorm at one school is completely equivalent to a deeply-researched tome about economic systems across a span of centuries. Let's go on.
... this reading assignment, unlike “Capital,” gets at a point about class hierarchies that social conservatives are more likely to appreciate. “Paying for the Party” is also a story about the socioeconomic consequences of cultural permissiveness — about what happens, who wins and who loses, when a youth culture in which...
Nope. Sorry. Can't pretend for one moment more that this piece is anything but bullshit. When you write back to the editors at the New York Times, and you really should, please note that Douthat's total dismissal of Piketty's book is that it's challenging, and then he pivots to a rant about how everything wrong with college really comes down to how it's too focused on partying.

Consigning Douthat to the George Will closet looks like the only sensible solution. The two of them can play a perpetual game of pepper as they throw circular arguments and miserable baseball metaphors back and forth.

Frank Bruni gets out a microscope to find America.

Not long ago I asked a good friend of mine — one of the smartest men I know, and one of the most devoted dads — if he thought that his children would live in a more prosperous America or at least enjoy the same bounty of opportunities that we had.

His response was instant and unequivocal. No.

“How do you make peace with that?” I said.

He shrugged, laughed bitterly and answered, “I’m hoping to leave them a lot of money.”

The American dream, 2014 edition: Squirrel away nuts for a leaner tomorrow. The worst is yet to come, so insure yourself against it if you’re among the lucky few who can.

You might also work to see that there's more opportunity and less inequity in society, but hey, why do that if you're positioned to just profit from the problem?
More and more I get the sense that we’ve lost it, and by “it” I mean the optimism that was always the lifeblood of this luminous experiment, the ambition that has been its foundation, the swagger that made us so envied and emulated and reviled.

We’re walking small. And that shift in our gait and our gumption has been palpable for many years, during an unusually sustained period of frustration that has the feel of something more than a temporary dive: a turned corner, the downward arc of a diminished enterprise.

In a lengthy memo that he shared with Politico late last year, the Democratic strategist Doug Sosnik assessed what he called “a decade of anger and disaffection,” noting that for 10 years in a row, according to polling by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal, the percentage of Americans who believed that the United States was on the wrong track exceeded the percentage who thought it was on the right track. That’s a change in the very character of the country.

Do you suppose that could be due to media that spends every day telling them that we're on the wrong track and to politics that seems interested only in protecting those few who have wealth to pass along?

Kathleen Parker isn't keen on the correspondent's dinner.

This is the time when Americans renew their hatred of Washington and Washington wallows in a bittersweet cocktail of self-love and self-loathing.

Which is to say, this is White House Correspondents’ Association weekend, with the dinner Saturday night amid a galaxy of pre- and after-parties. Attendant to these events is the also-annual handwringing about the dinner’s value.

Those questioning, of course, are the media, which create the problem, then examine the problem, then suggest ways to solve the problem (that we don’t really believe is a problem) and then go on to repeat the problem.

Which can surely be solved... by more suggestions on how to solve the problem.

Carl Hiaasen finds it hard to separate murder and cruelty.

No species in nature kills its own kind more often or more creatively than humans do, yet we cannot seem to devise a reliably swift, painless method of capital punishment.

Oklahoma’s bungled execution of Clayton Lockett is the latest death-chamber debacle. After receiving a supposedly lethal injection, the convicted murderer began writhing, mumbling and tried to rise off the gurney.

Officials later said that the procedure caused a “vein failure.” The executioner who was administering the fatal dose might have been unaware, since he was separated from Lockett by a wall.

That’s not standard procedure in hospitals and medical offices. Usually the person giving the injection is standing next to the patient, not hiding from him.

When Lockett squirmed back toward consciousness, the execution was stopped. Prison officers said he died of a heart attack 27 minutes later. By that time the blinds to the chamber window had been shut to prevent the witnesses from seeing Lockett’s continued suffering.

He’d received the death penalty for a hideous crime, shooting a woman and burying her alive. Most of those who now say he didn’t suffer enough have never attended an execution. I have.

The faces of those who supervised Lockett’s final moments were ashen when they emerged. Torture is bad policy in capital cases because the Constitution outlaws “cruel and unusual” punishment. The underlying moral precept is that the state shouldn’t act as savagely as the person who committed the murder.

Why is it wrong to seek a state that acts along the lines of our noblest intentions, rather than mirroring our darkest actions?

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