Daniel Block

Daniel Block is an editorial intern at The American Prospect.

Recent Articles

Want to Expand Social Security? Look North

Democrats who have started a discussion about improving retirement security in the U.S. would do well to take a page out of Canada’s book.

(Photo: The Canadian Press via AP/Sean Kilpatrick)
To American progressives, this retirement story should sound familiar. After decades of pension cutbacks and declining unionization, many retiring seniors depend increasingly on underfunded government-run programs. Amid rising inequality, some wealthy seniors can afford to retire, while others must keep working lest they lose their toehold in the middle class. The notion that seniors are entitled to a comfortable retirement is fading, and fast. But this retirement security saga is unfolding not in the United States, but in Canada. The difference is that Canada, which confronts virtually all the same problems that plague the U.S., has decided to act. On June 20, Canada’s federal and provincial governments agreed to expand what’s known as the Canadian Pension Plan (CPP), a program analogous to American Social Security and one of three in Canada that supports retirees. The agreement, which officials expect to finalize by the end of the summer, could add thousands of dollars...

Can Progressives Capture New York?

The state leans heavily to the left. But its Republican-controlled state Senate and its nominally Democratic governor have given liberals a tough fight.

(Photo: AP/Mike Groll)
In the initial aftermath of the 2012 election, New York’s progressives were cautiously optimistic. As the returns came in, it became increasingly apparent that voters had elected 33 Democrats to the state’s 63-seat Senate. Left-of-center politicians were carrying districts that observers had considered solidly red—indeed, that had been specifically gerrymandered by Republicans to ensure their continued Senate command. Democrats, it seemed, would control the state legislature’s upper chamber for only the third time since World War II. “It’s a great night,” Michael N. Gianaris, the Senate Democrat who runs the delegation’s campaign committee, said at the time . “The voters of this state have sent a resounding message that they want the Democratic Party to run the state Senate.” But the voters didn’t have the last word. On November 13, 2012, Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat and former New York City Councilman, announced...

The Foul-Mouthed Far-Right Can Win. Just Ask Maine.

If you want to know what a Donald Trump presidency might be like, take a look at Maine. The state, known for its mild moderates (like Senator Susan Collins and former Senator Olympia Snowe), has acquired a new reputation for Tea Party impetuousness thanks to Republican Governor Paul LePage. Like Trump, when it comes to offensive and bellicose remarks, LePage is a gold mine. After he came under criticism from the NAACP for not attending their 2011 Martin Luther King Day celebrations in Portland and Bangor, LePage replied by telling them “to kiss my butt.” He reportedly remarked that state legislators from the city of Lewiston, all Democrats, ought to be “rounded up and executed in the public square.” And recently, during a question-and-answer with high school students in Waterville, the governor told the teenage son of a prominent political cartoonist that he would “like to shoot” his father.

LePage prefers to think of himself not as “America’s Craziest Governor,” but as an apolitical businessman. “I don’t play the political game pretty well,” LePage said. “Never have, never will.”

He wasn’t kidding. In July, LePage declared his intention to veto most, if not all, of the 71 bills passed by the state’s legislature. He had ten days to do so. He didn’t. Now he’s going to court, arguing that the legislature’s decision to take a temporary recess means he had more time to veto the bills than the legislature claims, and that as a result, 65 are not yet law. Most observers, including many state Republicans (like Senate President Michael Thibodeau), beg to differ. It’s hardly the first time Republicans have turned their back on the governor. The state passed its budget over LePage’s veto, and a bipartisan committee is investigating allegations that he threatened to withhold state funding from a charter school organization unless it fired its incoming Democratic president.

This intraparty fighting brings to mind not only Trump, but the many other Republicans whose reckless disregard for the legislative process has turned them into pariahs within their own party. Senator and presidential candidate Ted Cruz, for example, earned quite the scolding from his fellow conservatives for orchestrating a government shutdown in his futile attempt to defund Obamacare and for using a procedural tactic to try to again force a government shutdown over the president's executive orders on immigration.

As Trump has surged to first place in the polls with his own cocktail of disparaging remarks, pundits and analysts have rushed to remind us that Trump and most of the other far-right firebrands (Scott Walker excepted) stand little to no chance of winning the nomination, let alone a general election. And to be clear, I do not think that Trump, Cruz, Huckabee, or Santorum will make it to the nominating convention. Yet the fact that LePage, a man who once told reporters that a Democratic state senator wants “to give it to the people without providing Vaseline,” was elected and then reelected chief executive in a state that hasn’t voted for a Republican president since 1988, should at least give us pause before we dismiss them as mere entertainment. Donald Trump’s campaign may be Jon Stewart’s dream, but the success of his and similar rhetoric across the nation proves that ill mannered and foul-mouthed populists have significant electoral appeal.

Thankfully, that doesn’t translate into governing capability. If LePage’s experience is any indication, should we elect a president without a filter or a hinge, they may quickly find themselves isolated and debased—even by their allies.

The End of the Special Relationship?

America has no ally quite like Israel. No other country has benefited as extensively from U.S. support. Successive administrations have routinely vetoed Security Council resolutions seeking to punish or condemn Israel’s behavior. The U.S. has blocked attempts to add Israel’s nuclear arsenal to the IAEA agenda. And while Israel was not decisive in instigating the Iraq War, it was one of the most ardent voices pushing for an invasion.

There have, of course, been spats. Increasingly, they have become public. There have even been moments where the U.S. has forced Israel to acquiesce to agreements it might otherwise wish to avoid—like when it temporarily halted settlement construction in 2009. But these disputes never seriously shifted American policy. When push came to shove, the U.S. and Israel presented a united front.

That might have ended today. In its deal with Iran, the United States has dramatically defied Israel’s explicit desires despite an extraordinary campaign against the deal by lobbying groups considered to be among the most powerful in the country, capped by a congressional address given by a foreign head of state who lacked a presidential invite.

Indeed, it has usually been Israel that has violated the wishes of its partner—not the other way around. In 2010, for example, Benjamin Netanyahu resumed settlement-building in the West Bank over American protests, thereby torpedoing peace talks with the Palestinians. And in 1991, the State Department’s inspector general accused Israel of making “unauthorized transfers” of American weapons to other countries—including China. But the U.S. has nonetheless hewed closely to Israel’s interests, even in cases where those interests diverge.

Iran is such a case. The White House and its allies have argued that this deal will ultimately make Israel safer by preventing (or delaying) Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon. That may be true, but there are other reasons for Israeli opposition. Ending sanctions will enrich Iran, and the regime could use its newfound resources to increase funding of proxy militias like Hezbollah, which attack Israel. And it is doubtlessly unnerving for the Israeli government to see its closest ally engage in any kind of rapprochement with its most prominent enemy.

But America is not Israel, and if it wants to disentangle itself from the Middle East’s intractable conflicts, resolving a longstanding dispute is surely a boon. This deal reflects that fact.

The agreement is not yet final, and Congress could vote by a two-thirds majority to stop its enactment (though that seems unlikely). Nor is it the be-all and end-all of American-Israeli relations. Obama will leave the White House in less than two years, and whoever comes next may have a less acrimonious relationship with their Israeli counterpart. On the whole, support for Israel within the U.S. still remains strong.

But this deal will be difficult to undo, even under a GOP administration (Clinton has already given it her blessing). Should it survive, and should public disagreements between the U.S. and Israel persist, then the relationship will no longer be what it once was.

Scalia's Temporary Retreat from Textualism

In a 1996 essay, Antonin Scalia declared war on judicial activism. He criticized justices for ruling according to their personal predilections and blasted the American legal system for being populated by “lawmaking” judges who usurp the democratic process by using whatever means necessary to bring the case to a desired resolution.

As a result, Scalia proposed that judges adhere to a form of statutory interpretation called textualism, in which they examine only the text of the law in question when issuing decisions. While this means judges should avoid outside sources of information (like the legislation’s history), Scalia insisted that they should still read an act “to contain all that it fairly means” and avoid adhering rigidly to individual clauses, particularly if doing so would produce absurd results.

The Court’s ruling in King vBurwell, which held that four obscure words in the Affordable Care Act did not bar the federal government from providing subsidies to citizens who purchased insurance on federally run exchanges, thus ought to be a truly sweet moment for Scalia. The case was created, contested, and decided on largely textual grounds, and the majority opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, was “perfectly consistent with textualism,” says Nicholas Bagley, an assistant professor of law at the University of Michigan and the co-author of an amicus curiae brief in King.

But Scalia, who is on record as believing the entire act to be unconstitutional, wrote a blistering dissent that called the Court’s majority decision an example of judges using “interpretive distortions … to correct a supposed flaw in the statutory machinery.”

“Our only evidence of what Congress meant comes from the terms of the law, and those terms show beyond all question that tax credits are available only on state exchanges,” Scalia wrote. But as Bagley points out, such a position is inconsistent with Scalia’s stated emphasis on avoiding ironclad literalism.

“The [majority] opinion does not rest on legislative history or what was on Congress’s mind,” Bagley says. “The opinion rests on the text’s statute.”

Indeed, in his opinion, Roberts cited previous instances where Scalia stressed the importance of textualism. In United Savings Association of Texas vTimbers of Inwood Forest Associates, Scalia wrote that “a provision that may seem ambiguous in isolation is often clarified by the remainder of the statutory scheme” and in Utility Air Regulatory Group vEPA, Scalia wrote “that the words of a statute must be read in their context and with a view to their place in the overall statutory scheme.”

Even in the 2012 ACA case, Scalia seemed to have no trouble discerning that federally provided subsidies were essential to the act’s machinery, writing that without them, “the exchanges would not operate as Congress intended and may not operate at all.”

But it is apparent that three years later, when such a holistic reading of the act would mean its survival, Scalia suddenly saw things a little differently.