Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


The 14th Amendment Consequences

Right now several senators are on the floor calling on President Obama to unilaterally raise the debt ceiling through some twisted interpretation of the 14th Amendment, and earlier today Nancy Pelosi declared her support for this "option" as well. Senator Harkin went so far as to say that presidents can gain extra powers in emergencies, likening this debt debate to Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation in the midst of the Civil War. President Clinton came out a few weeks ago in support of this option as well. However, President Obama himself has said that his lawyers tell him he does not have the constitutional authority to do something like this without congressional approval-- but he stopped short of saying that he would not do it. As we can see from his chameleon-like changes on the war powers of the executive, his views of the Constitution are not rooted in any coherent or steady interpretation-- it is truly a living document, transforming to fit whatever the White House wants it to.

The 14th Amendment was passed in the aftermath of the Civil War and has mostly been used in past public discussions for its citizenship standards, the equal protection clause, and the application of the Bill of Rights to the states. One section of the amendment states the "the validity of the public debt...shall not be questioned," and goes on to say that the United States was not going to count the debt incurred by the Confederacy as part of the legitimate public debt. From those few words, some Democrats in Congress have decided that it mandates the Federal Government to pay the interest on our debts on time and that the President therefor has the option to do whatever it takes to ensure that we meet our debt payments. There are two massive problems with this logic.

First, we have the money to pay the interest on our debts even if we hit the debt ceiling. We literally have enough cash on hand to pay what we are supposedly mandated to pay. Second, even if we did not have the cash on hand to pay our interest--which we do--those ten words do not grant the President the authority to exceed his authority and unilaterally raise the debt ceiling. The president cannot violate one part of his Constitutional duties to fulfill another.

If President Obama does follow the cries of his allies in Congress and decide to raise the debt ceiling himself, it may very well set off a cascade of political intrigues that will have tremendous consequences for the 2012 elections. If he does do it, Obama is seeming to hold the upper hand insofar as the public will be more concerned about economic issues rather than separations of powers. But that would be the only early advantage that Obama has, and the public response would depend significantly on what both parties do following such a move by the White House.

The Republicans could very well start impeachment proceedings against President Obama for grossly exceeding his constitutional authority. This would set up a flood of fighting in Washington, D.C. that would probably irk the public even more than the Clinton Impeachment proceedings did, which would be risky for Republicans depending on how the entire thing is seen-- however, if President Obama cannot offer strong arguments for exceeding his authority and depending how long it is dragged out, it could certainly weaken Obama's image and ability to campaign fully if he is being impeached. But, since Republicans and the anti-war Left in the House of Representatives barely lifted a finger outside of some rhetorical whining after President Obama launched his unfunded and unauthorized not-war in Libya, it has weakened the ground that Congress has to oppose Obama's expansion of his executive powers. Though, it might prove possible to try roll the Libyan war, still opposed by most Americans, into President Obama's invoking the 14th Amendment as a campaign to impeach him--multiple grievances and such--and pull in the Operation Fast and Furious gunrunning debacle in the background. 

Conviction would not make it through the Senate, but such a move could bring questions of the constitutional limitations of the Executive Branch back into the public discussion in the run-up to the 2012 elections, which would force progressives like Obama to publicly defend the lack of constitutionality to their positions and would also bring the subject up in a more clear way during the Republican nominee debates and next year's presidential debates. This would hinge on the ability of the Republicans in Congress to execute it well and try to avoid seeming like petulant politicians, so I would really not stake my hopes upon such a line-- but it is certainly a possibility.

The other massive consequence would be how Democrats respond to such a move by President Obama. The president would exceed his authority to increase the nation's debt, but the question of the nation's fiscal solvency would still be at the forefront and, unless the Democrats immediately act to make cuts, it would be politically devastating to the Democratic party in the upcoming elections. The public knows we need to make cuts. I suspect that the Democrats would in turn offer some gimmicks as they have been to make it seem like they are cutting back, at which point the onus would be on the Republicans to expose their false cuts. Again, this would be a more precarious position for President Obama as it just makes it so much easier for his rivals in 2012 to show that the Democratic Party is fiscally insane. "They raised our debt $2 trillion by themselves without any spending cuts! They are leaving our fiscal house in complete disarray!"

All in all, I do not think it is certain that President Obama will invoke this 14th amendment option, but with all the cries of support from his friends in Congress and his progressive penchant for claiming extraordinary powers in whatever he deems to be extraordinary situations, it may very well be likely. The consequences of such a move might make him appear to be the hero who saved us from collapse, but with the current mood of the country it may very well energize the Tea Party movement even more and push moderates towards the Republican candidates due to the ensuing fiscal issues. Presidential politics aside, it is no small fact that two-thirds of the Senate seats up for reelection are currently held by Democrats-- even if Obama manages to skim by on all this, such a mood could not only guarantee Republicans a majority, but a filibuster-proof supermajority to boot.
Categories > Presidency


The Crisis of the New Order (Cont.)

As we have noted before, one way to look at our heated politics is to see them as the death throes of the New Deal Order, as the historians sometimes call it.  That's part of the reason why it is so hard to make a deal in Washington.  More than usual, we have two groups of people who see the problems and needs of the day differently.

Robert Samuelson recently put it this way:

The old order, constructed by most democracies after World War II, rested on three pillars. One was the welfare state. Government would protect the unemployed, aged, disabled and poor. Capitalism would be tamed. A second was faith in economic growth; this would raise everyone's living standards while permitting income redistribution. Growth was ordained, because economists had learned enough from the 1930s to cure periodic recessions. Finally, global trade and finance served countries' mutual interests.

All three pillars are now wobbling.

Charles Krauthammer puts it this way:

We're in the midst of a great four-year national debate on the size and reach of government, the future of the welfare state, indeed, the nature of the social contract between citizen and state. The distinctive visions of the two parties -- social-democratic vs. limited-government -- have underlain every debate on every issue since Barack Obama's inauguration: the stimulus, the auto bailouts, health-care reform, financial regulation, deficit spending. Everything. The debt ceiling is but the latest focus of this fundamental divide.

The sausage-making may be unsightly, but the problem is not that Washington is broken, that ridiculous ubiquitous cliche. The problem is that these two visions are in competition, and the definitive popular verdict has not yet been rendered.

We are only at midpoint.

That seems about right.  It has been enlightening to watch the shouting heads on TV lately.  They are in two different conversations.  Conservatives blame Obama and the Democrats for obstructionism.  Progressives see the exact opposite picture.  Neither side trusts the good faith of the other.

Victor Davis Hanson adds depth to the argument.  The problem is that the Progressive view is crashing.  Social Democracy is not a workable political system.  (One could say that's the point. It is called "social democracy" not "political democracy" because it makes the social primary.  The trouble is that men are not merely social animals by narture (like other mammals, I suppose). The trouble is that we are political by nature.  That is connected with what Hanson calls the "tragic view."  The conversation about what is justice is unending, as is the problem of scarcity.  Moreover, the problem of the human desire to get have more, and work less, is inescapable, as is the math of entitlement.  The rise of sociobiology is also giving strength to the conservative view of human nature. Hanson notes:

Social Security reform used to be the third rail that politicians dared not touch. But is that prohibition really still operative as big government approaches insolvency? Expect soon not just the retirement age to jump, reflecting modern longevity, or automatic cost-of-living increases to cease, mirroring the reality found in the private sector, but also the entire notion of disability to change as well.

Quite simply, the dogma that a teenager with dyslexia or a mature man with a bum knee will receive years of Social Security disability benefits will be assessed as an historical aberration of the last twenty years. A decision by an insurance company or government agency that a 62-year old must settle for arthroscopic surgery on a chronically torn meniscus rather than a complete knee replacement will not be interpreted as social cruelty.

We are winning the debate because Progressism is unnatural.  It had its day, and now is a reactionary force.  That does not mean it can't take America down with it, however.

Categories > Conservatism


A Look Back

The JibJab Super Obama is aging well, I'd say.
Categories > Presidency


Shake Head

After the failure to pass the Boehner Plan in the House last night, the debt ceiling negotiations have become a hall of mirrors - and that is just among the House Republicans.  You have the Boehner Plan's specified cuts that, if enacted, would do little improve our fiscal situation.  You have the allegedly principled House conservatives who think they are more fiscally responsible than Thomas Sowell and who seem willing to produce an immediate government funding crisis in order to try to get the Senate and the President to agree to spending cuts that do not, at present, have sufficient public support.  But who needs funds for ongoing military operations or the border patrol anyway?

There is just a lot of confusion.  Means and ends are all messed up.  I saw House conservative Trey Gowdy argue that "The seventy-fifth time we raise the debt ceiling should be the last time we raise the debt ceiling."  Well, that is unlikely to happen unless the debt ceiling is repealed altogether or raised some much larger amount than anyone is presently suggesting.  Gowdy himself voted for the Ryan budget.  That budget would add 1.388 trillion dollars to the national debt this year and 995 billion next year.  Under the Ryan budget, the federal debt held by the public would rise from just under 10 trillion dollars now to 16 trillion dollars by 2021.    

Categories > Politics


Putting Principle into Practice

Charles Krauthammer puts some perspective on the debt ceiling debate:

We're only at the midpoint. Obama won a great victory in 2008 that he took as a mandate to transform America toward European-style social democracy. The subsequent counterrevolution delivered to that project a staggering rebuke in November 2010. Under our incremental system, however, a rebuke delivered is not a mandate conferred. That awaits definitive resolution, the rubber match of November 2012.

I have every sympathy with the conservative counterrevolutionaries. Their containment of the Obama experiment has been remarkable. But reversal -- rollback, in Cold War parlance -- is simply not achievable until conservatives receive a mandate to govern from the White House.

Read the whole thing.

Categories > Economy

Foreign Affairs

Libyan Rebel Leader Killed

The Obama Administration and various European states, continuing to kill people and arm insurgents in the illegal not-war in Libya, have officially recognized the rebels in Benghazi as the legitimate governing authority of Libya. The opposition is officially led by the National Transitional Council in Benghazi, which we now recognize as legitimate, and was recently scolded by Senator John McCain (R-AZ) for human rights abuses being committed by the opposition in the civil war (for whom, of course, President Obama is continuing to not be engaged in hostilities by killing Gaddafi's supporters while Congress is distracted by the debt fight).

In a sure sign of why it is a bad idea for our Executive Branch to so badly want to lead Europeans from behind that it jumps into a civil war in an oil-rich Arab nation without talking to Congress or the American people before hand, the commander of the rebel army was assassinated today alongside two of his senior officers. General Abdul Fattah Younis used to work for Gaddafi, but turned on him earlier this year and was given power by the Council to lead their armed forces against the mad tyrant. Now he is dead, and in the wake of his murky death reports are coming out that the rebel army is starting to collapse on itself and may very well fall prey to a coup as factions within it turn on each other. Some believe that Younis may have been killed by other rebels. This will only extend the stalemate in the country. So, not only is our Commander-in-Chief engaging in a preemptive, unfunded, unnecessary, and undeclared war for oil without consultation with Congress nor with a proper explanation to the American people, but he is engaging in it poorly and treading dangerous ground by backing a group of unstable rebels who may not prove to be quite reliable allies. Where's the anti-war Left when you need them?
Categories > Foreign Affairs

Quote of the Day

Headline du Jour

From Ann Coulter: "


She also notes:

True, in one lone entry on Breivik's gaseous 1,500-page manifesto, "2083: A European Declaration of Independence," he calls himself "Christian." But unfortunately he also uses a great number of other words to describe himself, and these other words make clear that he does not mean "Christian" as most Americans understand the term. (Incidentally, he also cites The New York Times more than a half-dozen times.)

Had anyone at the Times actually read Breivik's manifesto, they would have seen that he uses the word "Christian" as a handy moniker to mean "European, non-Islamic" -- not a religious Christian or even a vague monotheist. In fact, at several points in his manifesto, Breivik stresses that he has a beef with Christians for their soft-heartedness. (I suppose that's why the Times is never worried about a "Christian backlash.")

A casual perusal of Breivik's manifesto clearly shows that he uses the word "Christian" similarly to the way some Jewish New Yorkers use it to mean "non-Jewish." In this usage, Christopher Hitchens and Madalyn Murray O'Hair are "Christians."

Categories > Quote of the Day


The Transformations of McDonald's

The famed fast food restaurant McDonald's is really one of the most amazing businesses in the world. It is the largest fast food restaurant in the world, and services 64 million people worldwide a day. In a time of global recession, its profits have continued to see tremendous increases. It touches almost every country in the world. I particularly like the European variety as in most of them you can also buy beer, so in Italy I would sometimes go out of my way for a late-night snack at McDonald's and order a Happy Meal and a Peroni just because I could. The Economist has used the "Big Mac Index" to study the purchasing parities between international currencies by judging the costs of Big Mac hamburgers in various countries. One of the amazingly American things about McDonald's is that its CEO, James Skinner, is a Navy veteran who never went to college and began his career as an assistant restaurant manager in Illinois, eventually working his way up the ladder to the top spot.

An amazing thing about the corporation is its ability to adapt to suit local populations. Yes, these restaurants are all over the world, but they are different all over the world with all sorts of varying menus - in China they have chicken burgers, in the Philippines spaghetti, in the UK porridge for breakfast, in Italy (where the restaurant has been declared "the death of fine cuisine", but Italy just likes make controversies out of things) you have a wider variety of salad choices, in India there is no beef or pork, Israel is kosher, etc. Even within the United States there are some minor regional differences in the menu to accommodate local tastes and preferences. They are very tuned in to what people want and how to market that (and seem to know more about international cultures than certain portions of our government!).

This is no more apparent than in the current transformations of McDonald's. Responding to increased clamoring for more healthy meals for children, the fast food chain is now lessening the amount of fries in every Happy Meal and adding apple slices. As the fad of the nation, led by our First Lady, is increasingly seeming anti-hamburger, McDonald's is adapting-- if you go to the website of the largest hamburger restaurant in the world, you will not see a hamburger in site. No, at there is only freshness-- fruit, smoothies, coffee, a smiling family; these are what McDonald's is now using to brand itself. The restaurants are all transforming into more chic and upscale-looking joints, their McCafe and McSmoothie machines standing prominent in the front while their hamburger-crafting shelves remain tucked away in the back. They are a brilliant and formidable business that continues to be incredibly tuned in to the market and the attitudes of people around the world. Remarkable. 
Categories > Economy


The Frankenstein Spark

From the science section of the New York Times:

. . . a handful of chemists and biologists ... are using the tools of modern genetics to try to generate the Frankensteinian spark that will jump the gap separating the inanimate and the animate. The day is coming, they say, when chemicals in a test tube will come to life.

Synthetic life, grown in a test-tube. It's a brave new world we're approaching.

Categories > Bioethics

Health Care

Capitol Brew House

In other news making its way all the way around the world, the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus is apparently about to become the first state capital building in America with a fully-stocked bar.

God I'm proud of my state.

Categories > Health Care

Foreign Affairs

News, Here and There

I've not written for awhile because I've been travelling abroad (so as not to be outdone by Stephen Hayward, who's presently yachting, or boating, or taking a cruise of some sort with the upper crust). I've now settled in South Korea - which is presently suffering the worst monsoon in over 100 years. Almost 50 people have died as a result of torrential rains - which were averaging 1 1/2 inches per hour yesterday, when it rained almost the entire day. Portion of Seoul, where I am staying, are completely submerged. I believe some of this has made the U.S. news.

Over here, news of the U.S. is dominated by the debt-ceiling / default issue. Asian markets dipped in response to the uncertainty and Asian countries are the largest U.S. debt-holders, so there are local angles. Naturally, the perspective is that poor Obama can't get nasty Republicans to let him pay America's debts because . . . well, CNN and MSNBC seem to dominate local news from abroad, so there's no real attempt to explain the GOP point of view. They're just the bad guys. 'Nuff said. It reminds me of when George W. Bush was re-elected, and the world was shocked because the media had given them the impression that everyone in America hated him. European friends asked if he was even going to receive double digits in the election polls.

I hear that Americans are questioning whether the current debates and looming deadline are hurting our image abroad. On the one hand, it is. We, as a whole, are arguing, bickering and failing to arrive at a democratic solution to our fiscal problems. That looks bad. But then, sausages and laws always look bad when you watch them being made too closely. It's not necessarily bad just because it's painful to watch.

On the other hand, foreign observers are consoled that the problems are all the fault of the conservatives. America shouldn't be blamed - the party of Bush should be blamed. The Republicans are the go-to scapegoats. While opinions of Obama have faltered overseas, that is due to his failure to prove sufficiently different than George W. Bush - the latter is still the measure of failure. So, sophisticated foreigners are able to qualify their contempt for American messiness by focusing their disdain on the political right.

Such is the state of the media-informed world. If conservatives care about foreign opinions (which I imagine they largely do not), they shouldn't alter their policies, but rather invest in exporting Fox News and other media outlets which are not dominated by the left.

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs

Muslims in Europe

Last year I remember discussing the issue of Muslims in Europe with a friend, remarking that "If the Europeans do not figure out how to integrate these communities, it is going to eventually lead to the typical response many European nations have towards perceived outsiders." While one cannot take the acts of one lunatic like Anders Behring Breivik, the terrorist behind the recent tragedy in Norway, to in any way be representative of a larger whole, he does bring to the public discussion views that are not all that radical to "fringe" political elements around Europe, as evidenced by comments from Italian and French members of the European Parliament. Many far-right parties in Europe are of the belief that they are under invasion from Muslim forces, and are advocating everything from banning minarets to trying to halt immigration from Muslim populations. The reaction of European leaders, particularly from Austria and France, to Turkish attempts to join the European Union shows a wider feeling towards the Muslim issue as well, though not as narrowly discriminatory as some of these political parties nor anywhere near as insanely violent as Brevik in Norway.

There are many problems with this issue. Except for some extreme cases now and then, many Muslims have not in the past had difficulty becoming Americans, for the same reason why most people do not have difficulty becoming Americans-- our nation is built around an idea that all men are free, and it is the philosophy of America that binds us. In Europe, this is much more of a difficult problem-- one cannot become French, or German, or Italian, even if your family has lived in one of those countries for generations. The European Union was supposed to help stop this by creating some sort of grand European identity, but it has largely failed in this regard because it does not accept the truths of human nature that America does. This means that Muslims in Europe are not being integrated into their nations, and are forming sub-cultures that are highly distinct and independent from the rest of society, hurting the entire cohesiveness of civil society in Europe.

And yet Europe has found a way to make this even worse. At the same time it is marginalizing and isolating its Muslim populations, and at the same time some nations are actively persecuting Islam, many European nations are simultaneously caving to political correctness in regards to Muslim sensitivities, leading to truly damning things like not teaching the Holocaust because of anti-Semitic sentiments from Muslim students. If there is anywhere that people need the Holocaust rammed down their threats and hit in the head with, it is Europe. It also appears as if the European Union project may be leading to opposition nationalism within some nations to maintain national identities, which could in turn be unfriendly towards immigrant populations in general and Muslim populations in particular. You add to this some politicians and many individuals falsely blaming unemployment in Europe on immigrants from Turkey, the Middle East, and North Africa, and you just have a whole range of problems and frictions that will continue building. (It is worth noting as an aside that there is little difference between how Muslim populations are being treated and how Gypsies/Roma have always been treated in Europe).

It is hard to tell how to resolve or at least begin discussing this issue. Certainly a large part of the problem is the Muslim populations of Europe themselves, yes, but a great deal of the problem is just Europe itself-- the same sort of problems that Europe has always faced. I fear the knee-jerk reaction in Europe will be to clamp down on the religious rights of Muslims, clamp down on immigration, and continue to marginalize the existing populations-- perhaps even to the point of beginning deportations in the future. Anders Breivik is a madman, but he came from a pulse that is beating throughout Europe and needs to be addressed-- this is a seriously important matter that also has consequences for the United States, though our position is not as dire as Europe's. Their Muslim populations are more separate from civil society than ours, and their nationalistic tendencies are more severe than ours. The European Union is and will continue to be an ineffective way of discussing this issue, and I'm not sure if the individual European nations would be able to either-- but the roots of the problem need to be discussed. If they aren't, the threat of Islamic extremism will persist and the number of potential Anders Breiviks will grow in response. It's tough. In the mean time, prayers go out to all in Norway and respect for the resolve they are showing in the wake of these terrible events.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


The FDA is Nuts

Walnuts that is:

According to the Food and Drug Administration, that is precisely where you should find them. Because Diamond Foods made truthful claims about the health benefits of consuming walnuts that the FDA didn't approve, it sent the company a letter declaring, "Your walnut products are drugs" -- and "new drugs" at that -- and, therefore, "they may not legally be marketed ... in the United States without an approved new drug application." The agency even threatened Diamond with "seizure" if it failed to comply.

If that's the law, there is something seriously wrong with it.

Categories > Progressivism

Foreign Affairs

Russia Lowers Alcohol Standards

Apparently Russia has never considered beer to be alcoholic, due to their high standards of anything with less than 10% alcohol being simply considered a foodstuff. Now, though, with beer soaring past vodka as the Russian drink of choice, the Russian government has officially classified beer as an alcohol so that they can start regulating it more to combat an apparent alcoholism problem in Russia. People say it is common to see the hoi polloi drinking beer around towns like soft drinks. As they live in Russia, I don't blame them!
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Dueling Budgets

This Power Line note is very clear on why the upcoming deal in Washington should not be a "grand fiscal bargain." Read the whole thing, and also note the long quote from Sen. Jeff Sessions near the end. I am still optimistic that this is, more or less, what will happen.
Categories > Politics


Cover-Ups of Gunrunning Scandal Continue

During congressional testimony today over Operation Fast and Furious, Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) expressed sympathy for the embattled agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives as they are questioned about the operation that led to thousands of weapons being given by our government to murderers, rapists, and slavers in Mexico. Congressman Cummings said that he knew that this was all very emotionally draining and that he wanted to help everyone move past the whole thing. A friend of mine at the hearing said that the back-and-forth between the ATF and the Congressman about emotions and such almost made him want to gag. Move past it.

The only way we can begin to move past this debacle is arresting whoever authorized this in violation of federal and international law. We can begin to move past this by firing the supervisors of whoever authorized this for gross incompetence. We can begin to move past this by apologizing to the people of Mexico and the family of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry for arming their killers. We can begin to move past this by trying to figure out how, almost twenty years after the disaster at Waco, the ATF is still so poorly-managed and incompetent as to allow thousands of weapons to be given to the Mexican cartels. The extent to which congressional Democrats, some of whom only a few years ago were comparing Bush to Hitler for his foreign policy and Guantanamo Bay, want to just "move past this" is embarrassing.

Testimony today revealed that officials in the White House had been briefed about Operation Fast and Furious as early as September 2010. ATF Director Kenneth Melson and his deputy seem to be embracing the "I was incompetent but not complicit" line of talking right now, which was contradicted by ATF Agent Lorren Leadmon saying that senior officials, including Mr. Melson, received briefings about the ill-fated project in late 2009 and early 2010-- these briefing informing them that the entire operation was troubled, with ATF Agents recommending its cancellation. The United States Embassy in Mexico complained that it had been kept in the dark about the entire operation, despite sending complaints and inquiries to the Department of Justice about American guns being found beside dozens of dead bodies in Mexico; the State Department was told "everything is under control" and then ignored. This testimony reinforces information from emails indicating that the ATF and Department of Justice have been trying to downplay the scandal ever since Brian Terry was murdered by guns we gave the cartels. When Senator Grassley began investigating the incident earlier this year, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich defended Fast and Furious in a letter that only gave one paragraph to Terry's murder, saying that information cannot be shared due to pending investigations; the letter set off a batch of emails from senior ATF and DoJ officials, including Melson, congratulating each other for "staying the course" and supporting each other.

Good thing Congressman Cummings is not in the majority at the moment to support and stay the course with them as well. We cannot "move past" this disaster until the Department of Justice is brought to justice.
Categories > Congress

Foreign Affairs

The Return of German Gunboat Diplomacy?

Hardly noticed by the American public, two weeks ago a Thai airplane was impounded in Munich by German authorities. Not just any airplane, but the airplane belonging to the crown prince of Thailand, Maha Vajiralongkorn. Why would Germany do such a brutish thing?

German officials claim that the airplane was seized in accordance with German law as collateral for bills never paid by the Thai government. More than twenty years ago a German company, now bankrupt, built a highway in Thailand and was never paid in full. The company's liquidator convinced a German court to issue a judgment allowing him to seize the Being 737, worth about 20 million Euros.

This caused a furious reaction by the Thai government. In Thailand, the royal family is highly revered and never critically discussed in public. In fact, the royal family is never discussed at all. The disgrace the German government has brought on the crown prince is therefore a matter of national honor. The Thai foreign minister, Kasit Piromya, was immediately dispatched to discuss this issue with his German counterpart, but only after calling the German government's actions "a serious mistake."

During the past week, it seemed at first that the Thai government would pony up the money while the German courts would simultaneously declare that the airplane belongs to the crown prince personally rather than the state of Thailand. This would then imply that the airplane had been falsely seized.  However, this face-saving solution fell apart yesterday and now a long legal battle in the German courts might ensue, leaving the crown prince stranded in Germany.

At first, this entire episode might fall into the category of "clumsy foreign policy," along the lines of the blocking abstaining supporting of UNSCR 1973 and the ensuing NATO mission. Why else would Germany risk its traditionally good relationship with Thailand?

One possibility is that Germany is not at all jeopardizing its relationship with Thailand but rather continuing it. Instead, Germany might be supporting the democratic process in Thailand. On July 3, 2011, the former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's party, headed by his sister Yinluck, won the parliamentary elections with an absolute majority. This came after five years of political unrest in Thailand. Five years ago, Thaksin was forced out of office by the military. Three years ago, Thaksin's party had also won the elections but his opponents used every trick, fair and foul, to invalidate the elections and assume power instead. Now, the current electoral results are still not certified and might not be until August 2. Especially the election of Yinluck to parliament has not been confirmed. The crown prince is a key player opposing Thaksin and his party. It is therefore possible that the German government, by encouraging the liquidator to pursue this legal route, is neutralizing the crown prince and putting gentle pressure on the Thai government to confirm the electoral results and abstain from replaying the game from 2008.

Maybe this gives the German government too much credit and an ingenious liquidator really has caught the German government flat-footed turning Franz Josef Strauss airport into the new wild west of debt collection. This would not bode well for Greece. But I like to believe that sometimes things are not as they seem, which in this case would include German diplomacy full of finesse.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Separation of Powers is Not a Radical Defect of the Constitution

Let's not even mention the reporting (especially the almost intentionally unlearned and misleading CNN on this) save to say that according to them everything is about to fall apart, collapse, and it will be the fault of Congress and the Tea Party folk especially. Obama on the other hand is a willing compromiser and an altogether noble man.  So let's not mention any of that.  Let's just say that George Will has it right in today's WaPo in the form of a mini-lecture on separation of powers.  He is also right in calling for Geithner's resignation and also hits it on the nose when he calls Obama a Huey Long with a better tailor!  Oh, those little arts of popularity, they're not working so good for this president!

In my opinion Boehner is going to get his way (largely) on his two phase plan, the Senate Dems will go along with it, and Obama will sign it.  He brought up Reagan in his talk, but forgot to mention that Reagan signed similar plans every six months or so during his presidency, which Obama says he refuses to do.  But he will not veto any of the plans put in front of him that Congress  passes, and there will be more than one.
Categories > Politics


Obama's Jefferson

The letter Obama quoted from is instructive for its understanding of what compromise means.  Obama quoted from Jefferson's letter to John Dickinson, July 23, 1801, "Every man cannot have his way in all things -- without this mutual disposition, we are disjointed individuals, but not a society."  But note Jefferson's denunciation of his rival Federalists later on in the letter:

The greatest good we can do our country is to heal it's party divisions & make them one people. I do not speak of their leaders who are incurable, but of the honest and well-intentioned body of the people. I consider the pure federalist as a republican who would prefer a somewhat stronger executive; and the republican as one more willing to trust the legislature as a broader representation of the people, and a safer deposit of power for many reasons. But both sects are republican, entitled to the confidence of their fellow citizens. Not so their quondam leaders, covering under the mask of federalism hearts devoted to monarchy. The Hamiltonians, the Essex-men, the revolutionary tories &c. They have a right to tolerance, but neither to confidence nor power. It is very important that the pure federalist and republican should see in the opinion of each other but a shade of his own, which by a union of action will be lessened by one-half: that they should see & fear the monarchist as their common enemy, on whom they should keep their eyes, but keep off their hands. (emphasis added) 

Categories > Presidency


Stephen Douglas Obama, the Great Compromiser

For Obama, America is great because of its moments of compromise--not for its uncompromising moments (Declaration of Independence, Civil War).  I guess Obama thinks the Compromise of 1850 (Fugitive Slave Act) is our grand model.  Reflect on his conclusion below:

America, after all, has always been a grand experiment in compromise.  As a democracy made up of every race and religion, where every belief and point of view is welcomed, we have put to the test time and again the proposition at the heart of our founding:  that out of many, we are one.  We've engaged in fierce and passionate debates about the issues of the day, but from slavery to war, from civil liberties to questions of economic justice, we have tried to live by the words that Jefferson once wrote:  "Every man cannot have his way in all things -- without this mutual disposition, we are disjointed individuals, but not a society." 

History is scattered with the stories of those who held fast to rigid ideologies and refused to listen to those who disagreed.  But those are not the Americans we remember.  We remember the Americans who put country above self, and set personal grievances aside for the greater good.  We remember the Americans who held this country together during its most difficult hours; who put aside pride and party to form a more perfect union.  

Well, out of the Compromise of 1850 we got California into the Union.

Categories > Presidency


Rush Transcript Of Last Night's Speech

Obama: Both parties share the blame for the problems caused by George Bush and the Republicans.  Curse them for taking ofice at the start of a recession, being in office during the largest terrorist attack in US history, responding with an Afghanistan campaign that I supported and expanded, voting for a cheaper drug benefit than the one my party wanted, launching an Iraq War supported by my party's last nominee and my Secretary of State and tax cuts that I mostly want to keep - until I'm safely reelected, heh, heh, heh.  Sure I added trillions and trillions to the deficit, but none of that was my fault.  I inherited stuff.  But this isn't about blame.  We need compromise and that means everybody should do it my way.  My way means big cuts that I never have and never will specify but trust me they are like so awesome.  We also need to cut corporate jets which I'm going to imply will be more than a trivial aspect of any deficit reduction deal.  The other side wants to cut your grandfather's Social Security so that corporate CEOs could take their Gulf Streams to Disney World while you drive on highways with potholes the size of the crater caused by the meteor that killed the dinosaurs.  We need people who don't selfishly cling to their principles by disagreeing with me.  We are a great country because of moments of unity like the time when I was elected President.  And we can do it again.

Categories > Politics


Just a Box

It took a long and lengthy legal battle, but now Catholic monks have permission to sell wooden boxes. This is absurd. Following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the brothers of Saint Joseph Abbey lost much of the trees on their woodland property that they had previously harvested to sustain their simplistic way of life. They began selling the simple wooden caskets that they had previously made only for clergy, and soon thereafter were ordered to stop creating caskets and threatened with fines and imprisonment.... for selling a wooden box with handles.

According to the state of Louisiana, only people with special licenses from the State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors--itself a cartel controlled by existing businesses that do not like competition--are able to sell wooden boxes. In order to get a license, one needs a high school diploma, some college education, special classes on embalming, a year-long apprenticeship, and an official funeral parlor. All the monks wanted to do was carve their boxes and sell them to people. The funeral cartels are doing all that they can to stop this due to the fact that the monks are selling their simple wooden boxes at a far, far cheaper price than the fancy boxes people are forced to pay for elsewhere. Luckily, the Federal 5th Circuit has upheld the right of people to make and sell wooden boxes, with the judge saying that "there is no rational basis" for such regulations on people selling caskets-- again, a casket is just a box. The attorney for the funeral board has said that the state of Louisiana will likely appeal the case, which may then find its way to the Supreme Court.

Good. Hopefully one day all people everywhere will have the right to be able to carve and sell wooden boxes without being threatened with imprisonment.
Categories > Courts


Moving The Goalposts

1.  Mayor Bloomberg is giving 50 million to the Sierra Club so they can lobby for the destruction of the coal industry.  I'm building to a point. Stay with me.

2. Douglas Holz-Eakin gives an amazingly simple and concise explanation of why an extended failure to raise the debt ceiling would be a calamity.  It is a thing of beauty.  If I were some conservative rich guy or ran some big right-leaning 527 like American Crossroads, I'd build a $20 million or more ad campaign around Holz-Eakin (and/or James Capretta and/or Yuval Levin) giving 1-2 minute talks on defined contribution Medicare, block granting Medicaid, changing the Social Security indexing formula for high earning future retirees, or moving the health insurance system for under-65s to a combination of personally owned, renewable catastrophic care policies and government-subsidized reinsurance pools.   

And I'd run those ads on network television, BET, Univision, The Daily Show and the Colbert Report starting this Fall.  Let tens of millions of Americans see (maybe for the first time) a conservative arguing for reforms that will bring the welfare state down to a sustainable level in a clearly articulated, well thought out, and humane way. I suspect that this would do more good than $50 million in 30 second ads next October when the political commercials hit you with mind numbing repetition.  I would argue that Conservatives should invest in popularizing their best arguments early, but it is too late to be early.  That was for the last decade.  We can only hope that it is not too late to do any good.   

Categories > Politics


Sides of the Times

Paul Rahe reacts to Jonathan Chait's discussion of the feud between Paul Krugman and David Brooks. 

One of the unwritten laws of journalism is that columnists at The New York Times do not attack one another. If they really, really disagree, they have to be oblique, and [Jonathan] Chait caught both Krugman and Brooks hurling barbs purportedly at others that were, in fact, aimed at one another.

[Krugman]: Last week, President Obama offered a spirited defense of his party's values -- in effect, of the legacy of the New Deal and the Great Society. Immediately thereafter, as always happens when Democrats take a stand, the civility police came out in force. The president, we were told, was being too partisan; he needs to treat his opponents with respect; he should have lunch with them, and work out a consensus.

. . . [Brooks]  Very few people have the luxury of being freely obnoxious. Most people have to watch what they say for fear of offending their bosses and colleagues. Others resist saying anything that might make them unpopular.

But, in every society, there are a few rare souls who rise above subservience, insecurity and concern. Each morning they take their own abrasive urges out for parade. They are so impressed by their achievements, so often reminded of their own obvious rightness, that every stray thought and synaptic ripple comes bursting out of their mouth fortified by impregnable certitude. When they have achieved this status they have entered the realm of Upper Blowhardia.

Rahe comments on the players.

I know Krugman and Brooks only from reading them, but that is, I suspect, in this case enough. When I read the former, I nearly always find myself thinking of a kid I knew in third grade. Every time the teacher left the room, he was up in front of the class, clowning around. He wanted attention; he desperately craved applause; and he was willing to abase himself in their pursuit. Krugman is a man of great intelligence and considerable ability as an economist, and he has been honored as few men could ever hope to be. But, out of partisan instincts and a degrading desire to be fiercely loved and admired, he is willing to sacrifice the genuine respect that he earned for his acumen. Once upon a time, he really did think "in rigorously empirical terms." Now he writes simply and solely as a partisan. When he agreed to write for the Times, he checked at the door the thoughtfulness that once distinguished him.

When I read Brooks - who is no less intelligent and would be pleasant company, I am sure - I am frequently driven to hold my head in my hands. He very much wants to fit in, and when Pinch Sulzberger hired him, for once in his life he knew what he was about. Brooks is what passes as a respectable conservative in left-liberal circles. He is weak and accommodating; above all else, he does not want to rock the boat  . . .

Brooks has a boss and colleagues, and he will never write a column likely to be thought by them "obnoxious." He really does have disdain for the "few rare souls who rise above subservience, insecurity and concern," and he is prepared to believe that all that is really going on is that they are taking "their own abrasive urges out for parade." In this posture, there is something obviously self-serving. For, if Brooks sticks to it - if, when the chips are down, he is always ready to come to the defense of the Barack Obamas of the world - he will keep his comfortable perch, he will be liked (if not respected) by those like him, and he will fit right in.

Categories > Journalism