Category Archives: Democracy

Quote Of The Day

Will Wilkinson writing for The Economist:

To get at the value of WikiLeaks, I think it’s important to distinguish between the government—the temporary, elected authors of national policy—and the state—the permanent bureaucratic and military apparatus superficially but not fully controlled by the reigning government. The careerists scattered about the world in America’s intelligence agencies, military, and consular offices largely operate behind a veil of secrecy executing policy which is itself largely secret. American citizens mostly have no idea what they are doing, or whether what they are doing is working out well. The actually-existing structure and strategy of the American empire remains a near-total mystery to those who foot the bill and whose children fight its wars. And that is the way the elite of America’s unelected permanent state, perhaps the most powerful class of people on Earth, like it.

Ken Buck’s “Radical” Proposal to “Rewrite” the Constitution

I do not support Ken Buck in the Colorado senate race and I will not vote for him. Actually, between his extreme position on abortion, on banning common forms of birth control, and his sexist comments he made about his primary opponent, I think he is quite a jackass.

But even as much as I have some major concerns about Ken Buck and dislike him personally, the Democrats are running some ads that I believe are lacking in historical context and misrepresent the founding principles of our constitution and our republic.

Here’s the first ad entitled “Different”:

This “radical” idea that the state governments would choose their senators instead of the voters is hardly a new idea conjured up by Ken Buck. If we accept the notion that Buck would “rewrite” the Constitution, he would merely be changing the way senators are selected back to the way the founders intended 223 years ago. It wasn’t until the 17th Amendment was passed in 1913 that senators were chosen by popular vote in each state. In fairness, the ad does mention that for “nearly 100 years” Colorado voters picked their senators. It seems to me that the Democrats are counting on the average historical ignorance of civics 101 of the average person to be outraged at such an “un-democratic” idea.

Now to the second ad entitled “Represent”:

The second ad repeats the “rewrite the Constitution” claim but goes even further “change the whole Constitution?” Repealing the 17th Amendment is hardly changing the whole Constitution.

And what about this scandalous idea that Ken Buck wouldn’t necessarily “represent” what Coloradans wanted and would “vote the way he wanted”? Is this really what we want – senators and representatives with no will of their own?

To the lady in the ad who says “If Ken Buck doesn’t want to listen to what we have to voice our opinion then why is he even running?” my response would be that if its up to each senator to poll his or her constituents on each and every issue, why do we even need senators at all? This is why we have elections. If your congress person or senator consistently acts contrary to your principles, vote for someone else on Election Day. If you have a problem with Ken Buck’s policy positions as I do, don’t vote for him.

Despite popular belief, our system of government is not a democracy but a republic based on the rule of law. The senate was designed to be a counter balance to the fickle whims of the majority of citizens. Prior to the 17th Amendment, senators were selected by state legislatures so that the states themselves would be represented at the federal level while the people were represented directly in the House of Representatives.

There are certainly some good arguments for repealing the 17th Amendment that I don’t believe are “radical” at all. For one, if the state legislatures picked the senators, perhaps there would be more reason to pay attention to government at the state level. How many people in 100 can name their senator and representative in their state legislature let alone have any idea about their voting records?

Also, because senators are chosen by popular vote, some argue that their loyalties are not so much with the states they are supposed to represent but the senate itself. As a result, its much easier for the federal government to blackmail the states via unfunded mandates and holding funds hostage if states pass laws the federal government disagrees with (ex: forcing all states to keep the drinking age at 21 in order to receive highway funding).

Certainly, the repealing the 17th Amendment wouldn’t be a panacea and there are probably some very persuasive arguments in supporting the 17th Amendment. No system of government is perfect even in its most ideal form.

The founders were keenly aware that majorities could be as tyrannical as any monarch or dictator. A more democratic government does not necessarily mean people have more liberty; the opposite is more likely the case.

Tides of Change in Latin America

After Cuban leader Fidel Castro excoriated Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his anti-Semitism, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez appeared to get the message:

During a visit to the International Tourism Fair in Caracas yesterday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced he would meet with leaders of Venezuela’s Jewish community. “We respect and love the Jewish people,” said Chavez, who added that opponents have falsely painted him as “anti-Jewish.”

Chavez has been a close ally of Iran and a strong critic of Israel. He severed ties with Israel in January 2009 to protest its actions in the Gaza Strip. A series of recent incidents have ignited concerns about anti-Semitic violence in Venezuela.

The Chavez remarks came one day after Jeff wrote on this blog about his recent reporting trip to Havana and his conversations with Fidel Castro. Castro excoriated anti-Semitism and criticized Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for denying the Holocaust. The former Cuban president called upon Ahmadinejad to “stop slandering the Jews.” (Castro also expressed misgivings about his handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis, but that’s another story.)

Meanwhile, with 28,000 dead as a result of the country’s drug wars, Mexican President Felipe Calderon said that he is willing to reconsider Mexican drug laws:

The government of Mexico, tired of drug war violence, is considering the legalization of marijuana and possibly other drugs.

With Mexicans everywhere, exhausted by the deadly drug wars, asking for answers, the debate has grown more urgent.

Discussion about legalization has already been put on the public agenda by President Felipe Calderon, who has held a series of open forums with politicians and civic leaders.

The president is also known to be watching the neighbouring US state of California, to see if the state approves an initiative on November 2nd to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

Calderon has said that Mexico will not be able to act alone in legalizing drugs, saying if the cost of drugs is not levelled, at least in the United States, the black-market price will still be determined by US consumers.

Change is not one-sided. Hopefully the American populace and lawmakers are as willing to reconsider their drug laws as well, so that we can enter a new period in which marijuana is legal, controlled and commoditized. Californians have the chance to make change happen this November by passing Proposition 19.

Fidel Castro’s Incredible Revelations

Fidel holding a book

In an interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, some incredible quotes came from the aging Cuban dictator:

(Reuters) – Fidel Castro said Cuba’s economic model no longer works, a U.S.-based journalist reported on Wednesday following interviews with the former president last week.

Jeffrey Goldberg, a writer for the Atlantic Monthly magazine, wrote in a blog that he asked Castro, 84, if Cuba’s model — Soviet-style communism — was still worth exporting to other countries and he replied, “The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore.”

The comment appeared to reflect Castro’s agreement, which he also expressed in a column for Cuban media in April, with his younger brother President Raul Castro, who has initiated modest reforms to stimulate Cuba’s troubled economy.

Goldberg said Julia Sweig, a Cuba expert at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank in Washington who accompanied him to Havana, believed Castro’s words reflected an acknowledgment that “the state has too big a role in the economic life of the country.”

I sent my esteemed colleague Larry Bernard, who contributes to Global Crisis Garden, a link to the story and he promptly said “Holy shit.” Indeed. If even Fidel Castro is putting a gravestone on the Marxist-Leninist style of government, that really is progress.

The interview also produced a line from Fidel Castro critical of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his endless anti-Semitism:

Does this release him from the “Axis of Evil”? Cuban Leader Fidel Castro attacks Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his anti-Semitism in an interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg. Quotes include, “I don’t think anyone has been slandered more than the Jews,” and “The Jews have lived an existence that is much harder than ours. There is nothing that compares to the Holocaust.”

Fidel Castro is going to have to act along with his words. He came into the international political world as a Vladimir Lenin. If he really wants to, he can leave a Mikhail Gorbachev. This would require stepping from power and leading a transition not toward continued Castro hereditary rule but towards a Jeffersonian Chile-style system of political freedom, market economies and a welfare state all checking and balancing one another. Chilean leaders only serve one term, despite their personal popularity.

It would also require either a break with or a push toward Hugo Chavez, Castro’s buddy, to change his destructive policies and populist rhetoric. Chavez has allied himself with nightmare regimes in the Middle East and exercised his own anti-Semitism. Nationalization of industries has led to rationing and shortages (while Chavez continues to appear delightfully plump in public appearances, counter to his trim days in the military). Meanwhile, Chavez has forced initiatives to give him unlimited power and has refused to groom a successor. To make matters worse, violence in Venezuela is worse than in Iraq, and without Iraq’s room for economic and political optimism.

If Castro really has had an awakening moment in which he has realized dictatorships simply don’t work, it’s going to be meaningless if the same failed formula continues to be tried elsewhere.

Police Kill Seventeen Year Old: How Much Is Enough?

Reason’s Radley Balko reveals another disturbing story of America’s increasing police force gone awry:

Last Sunday night, police in Morganton, North Carolina shot and killed 17-year-old Michael Sipes. The officers were responding to a noise complaint called in by a neighbor in the mobile home park where Sipes lived. His mother says there were three children in the home on the night Sipes was killed, and were likely he source of the complaint.

According to Sipes’ mother and others in the house, the police repeatedly knocked on the door to the home, but never identified themselves. They say both Sipes and his mother asked more than once who was outside. A neighbor who heard the gunshots also says he never heard the police identify themselves. Police officials say the officers did identify themselves.

According to those in the trailer at the time, as the knocks continued, Sipes retrieved a rifle, opened the door, and stepped outside. That’s when Morganton Public Safety Officer Johnny David Cooper II shot Sipes in the stomach “four or five times.”

More here and here. Profile of Sipes here. The story is still fresh, but at first blush he certainly doesn’t seem like the kind of kid who would knowingly confront police officers with his rifle.

Of course, beyond this story we saw the Oakland murder of Oscar Grant, the shooting death by police of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnson in Atlanta and the terrorizing of a Missouri family and the killing of their dog during a drug raid (a crime which was replicated several times). This is really unacceptable.

Why is this not becoming an electoral issue? Police have various means at their disposal to nullify suspects and yet story after story of unnecessary lethal force seems to pop up. Republican, Democrat or any party, the candidate who runs on restoring the Fourth Amendment and focussing on law enforcement that prioritizes enforcing laws over terrorizing citizens will get my vote.

Failbook: Facebook Bans Anti-Prohibition Group

It’s beginning to be really easy to hate Facebook. While Google has stuck to its libertarian principles of free exchange of information by not cooperating with Chinese censorship, Facebook has become more and more creepy:

The people behind the “Just Say Now” marijuana legalization campaign (oft-Boinged Salon contributor Glenn Greenwald is one of many political thinkers on their board) want Facebook to back off its decision to pull their ads from the social networking service.

This is what Facebook’s PR says:

It would be fine to note that you were informed by Facebook that the image in question was no long acceptable for use in Facebook ads. The image of a pot leaf is classified with all smoking products and therefore is not acceptable under our policies. Let me know if you need anything further.

One key indicator that you are dealing with unapologetic authoritarians is when you’re being harshly reprimanded for violating regulations and rules that are unpredictable, undefinable and more than likely not even known by the person touting them. That appears to be the case with Facebook’s policies:

But the group points out that Facebook’s ad policy doesn’t ban “smoking products,” just “tobacco products.” Also, Facebook does permit alcohol ads, even ads featuring images of alcohol products and packaging, though alcohol ads that make alcohol consumption “fashionable,” “promote intoxication” or that “encourage excessive consumption” are banned. Just Say Now calls Facebook’s action censorship.

Perhaps Facebook goes by the old Jack Webb Dragnet school that pot consists of “marijuana cigarettes.”

There’s alot of faux outrage out there, as the Cordoba Crowds in NYC have shown us. Given the extensive cost to normal livelihoods by the continued prison construction and law enforcement funding required by prohibition, Facebook does deserve to be boycotted for trying to silence a group like Just Say Now.

Just Say Now’s Jane Hamsher, founder of Firedoglake.com, is also on the side of liberty in her fight against punitive immigration laws. Check out an appearance she did that I posted at my website Voice of the Migrant. She’s also a cancer survivor and all around political superhero. Give her support and take it away from Facebook.

Democracy Is A Referendum On The Economy — This Is A Defense Of Democracy?

While I regularly disagree with Ezra Klein, I believe that honestly one of the main differences between him and many libertarians is that he still has faith in the political system. He’s smart, he understands incentives, he just refuses to take the next step and start understanding public choice theory and the malincentives rampant in the political sphere (or thinks they can be fixed).

Today, though, he went off the rails. Here is his defense of the political system, regarding political science’s understanding of it:

First, campaigns don’t matter as much as we think. I take that as a good thing: Democracy shouldn’t be overly reliant on whose political consultants are better at spinning the truth into advertisements and attack mailers.

Okay, here I partially agree with Ezra. Advertising is a distinct activity independent of the quality of what is being advertised. If Ezra’s argument was that voters are able to see through the spin and BS to understand the actual qualities of the candidate, I would consider that a great thing. Sadly, Ezra’s next three paragraphs explain that the advertising is not insignificant because voters see through it, but rather because they don’t make decisions on candidates or policy anyway.

Second, “elections writ large depend more on performance than on policy — that is, they depend more on how things are going (for which the incumbent party is on the hook) than on specific policies, bills, legislation, etc.” That’s a bit unfair to incumbents, who aren’t totally responsible for conditions, but it’s nevertheless a fairly decent way for voters to make decisions.

So you’re saying that voters don’t make decisions based upon candidates or policy, they make decisions on conditions like the economy and national conditions. When things are good, they keep the incumbent, and when things are bad, they throw the bums out. How can you possibly square this with the belief that any election is a mandate for policy? I.e. if voters threw the Republicans out of office due to the war and the economy in 2008, can you claim that the voters actually wanted the Democrats to enact healthcare reform?

The argument that Ezra is making is that voters are simple and driven by macro events, while Washington is driven by micro activity (bills, policies, etc). And the argument that voters are making decisions based upon overly-simplistic reasons is used as a defense of democracy?

Third is that voters don’t approach elections with strong views on policy issues. Instead, they look to the political leaders they already trust to tell them what their views should be. If President Romney had proposed ObamaCare before a mostly Republican Congress, it would’ve gotten an easy majority of Republicans — both in Congress and in the country — and almost zero Democrats. Party affiliation drives policy opinions, and not the other way around.

Okay, so the argument here is that Americans voters trust “the guy I’d like to have a beer with”, rather than actually knowing or caring about his policies. And that American voters are tribal and protect “their own”, whether it’s R or D. Further, rather than voting for what they believe, they wait for those in power to tell them what to believe, and vote accordingly.

And again, this is a defense of the system? If voters make their decisions based purely on trust and tribe, why in the world should their decision empower our leaders to do anything?

The political science take on elections is sometimes accused of being nihilistic, as if doubting the importance of campaigns is like quoting Nietzsche and dressing in black. In fact, it’s fairly optimistic: Elections are driven by the real state of the country, not the money candidates spend to advertise to voters. You could say that it would be better if people made their judgments based on the policy Congress was passing to change conditions rather than the conditions themselves, but when you really look into how people decide which policies they support, it’s actually not clear that a more policy-centric process would be an improvement. Conditions are what voters know best, and so it’s good that they rely on them.

Ahh, I see. So the argument isn’t that voters should make decisions based upon policy, because the argument is that voters are too stupid and easily-led to have any reasonable understanding of policy. Thus, they vote purely as a referendum on who’s in power, not whether replacing the group in power will result in better or worse policy.

Ezra clearly explains why democracy doesn’t work, while trying to defend democracy. When Ezra finally realizes this, he might just make a political switch.

The Whys And Wherefores Of Armed Rebellion And Beer

Over at Popehat, Ken has posted a very thought-provoking question about the American Right’s rhetoric lately regarding armed rebellion. He delves into two topics, first exactly what the reasoning, scope, and result of revolution might be, and secondly into why the rhetoric tends to follow very similar paths to rhetoric of the socialist revolutionaries of the last century. It’s worth reading for the post, and there’s been a pretty good discussion in the comments section as well.

TJIC responds with a very long post of his own, laying out not only a justification for what conditions make rebellion morally acceptable, but also a bit of a “how-to” guide to destroy the state without obscene collateral damage. Again, very interesting.

In particular, though, I personally (for several obvious reasons) was struck by this visual question/response in TJIC’s post:

Ken: [After revolution] When do we get free elections again?

TJIC: Why would we want elections when we can have freedom?

In a mere two pictures, this illustrates my beliefs on democracy, anarcho-capitalism, and [of course] beer.

Democracy is a choice of rule, of whether you will have Left or Right, Republican or Democrat, Bud or Miller. It is both limited and binding. If the populace chooses Miller, the shelves are stocked with Miller Lite. Or more accurately, in our current system the shelves are stocked with ONLY Budweiser and Miller, in proportion to the vote count. At the top (President), perhaps the decision is that only one of them is then allowed to advertise on the networks [to strain the analogy well beyond its breaking point]. This situation is great for Budweiser, and great for Miller, regardless of where they fit along the spectrum of 60/40 split or 40/60 split of market share. The situation isn’t so good for the folks who don’t like either — but this is a democracy and they’re stuck with it.

In such a situation, would you say that the people who don’t like Bud or Miller are fully enfranchised? After all, they have every right to vote alongside the B party and the M party. After all, if they really want to drink something else, why don’t they just convince the rest of the voting public to join them.

That answer isn’t suitable for beer, that answer isn’t suitable for restaurants (imagine if McDonald’s vs. Burger King were your only choices), or for musical taste (imagine Lady Gaga vs. Jay-Z as your only choices), or for automobiles (Ford vs. GM). Yet we allow that answer to be suitable for something far more important, our governance.

When it comes to beer, I want freedom. I don’t want to stop people from drinking Bud & Miller, even though I find both of them to be a bit bland and boring. After all, bland and boring works for some people. My sister-in-law rarely eats anything more exciting than spaghetti or grilled cheese, and while I often chide her in a good-natured way, I have no interest in forcing her to eat sushi. With freedom, though, the people who want Bud/Miller can have it, and the people who want wide selections of craft beer can have it. Bud/Miller/Coors make up about 90% of the US Beer market share, but that leaves a lot of room for us on the “long tail”. And when I want a beer that no brewery can make for me, I just fire up the burners, grind some grain, and make it myself. That’s freedom.

Likewise, when it comes to governance, I want freedom. My right to vote for the Bud party or the Miller party doesn’t mean I get anything close to the government I want or find legitimate. Democracy has its advantages over many other forms of government, but it still forces everyone into a lowest-common-denominator one-size-fits-all political system. Those of us who don’t fit that mainstream get crushed right in with the masses. Like beer, I don’t really care what governance *you* want — if you love the Republicans or Democrats, you’re welcome to them. The problem in Democracy is that if 90% of the people in this country want Republicans or Democrats, the other 10% don’t have a chance at getting Libertarians. Your vote only matters if you have popular interests. There is no long tail. Freedom and liberty shouldn’t be subject to a vote, but unfortunately that’s the world we’re living in.

A little inisight as to why the Democrats are losing so badly this election

It’s because they don’t realize that the elements of their “turnaround plan”, are what is causing them to lose in the first place:

From Mark Halperin, writing in Time:

“What has kept the easily panicked denizens of Capitol Hill from open revolt until now was a shared confidence that there was still plenty of time to turn things around, and that the White House had a strategy to do just that. (Comment on this story.)

The two-part scheme was pretty straightforward. First, Democrats planned a number of steps to head off, or at least soften, the anti-Washington, anti-incumbent, anti-Obama sentiment that cost them the Massachusetts seat. Pass health care, and other measures to demonstrate that Democrats could get things done for the middle class; continue to foster those fabled green shoots on the economy, harvesting the positive impact of the massive economic stimulus bill passed early in the Administration; heighten the contrast between the two parties by delivering on Wall Street reform and a campaign-funding law to counteract January’s controversial Supreme Court decision.

Use all of those elements to contrast the Democrats’ policies under Obama with the Republicans’ policies under Bush, rather than allow the midterms to be a referendum on the incumbent party. “

…. Soooo their plan is basically “Wow, it didn’t work, let’s do it again only HARDER”.

What a work of utter fantasy and self delusion…

We call this “believing your own bullshit”.

See, the Democrats really honestly think that “the middle class” is all for their program, and they just aren’t executing well enough etc… That the mass of voters frustration is about their inability to get things done.

In reality, the mass of voters are CHEERING because they caren’t getting things done. They don’t WANT this healthcare boondoggle. They don’t want more restrictions on free speech. They don’t want more government control and interference in their lives and their businesses.

The far left, and the idiot youth (and yes, they are useful idiots as far as the Democractic political machine is concerned) are disappointed (At best) and riled up (at worst) by the Democrats failures, but they make up a small minority of the voting electorate (no more than 20 percent, and most years a lot less). Most of them are reporting to pollsters that they won’t be voting this time around.

The Democrats don’t realize, it’s not their lack of execution, it’s their program itself that’s killing them; because “the middle class” recognizes that said program is really going to hurt them, to benefit the non-taxpaying class, and the Democratic political establishment.

“The Middle Class” recognize when someone is trying to steal from them, they don’t like it, and when it comes down to protecting their wallets, THEY VOTE.

It’s why whenever the left wants to pass some big social legislation, they have to lie to the people and tell them that it won’t increase THEIR taxes, just those rich fat cats up the hill, and those evil corporations…

Only they’ve beaten that horse to death now, and the truth is obvious for anyone who wants to look. The lefts agenda will directly hurt the wallet of everyone who actually pays taxes.

The people may be apathetic about most things, and they may be uninformed and unobservant about politics… but they aren’t stupid. Hit’em in the wallet, and they will hit back.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Voting For Smaller Gov’t In November? Good Luck

As Chris pointed out last week, Republicans might be able to get us to at least a divided Congress in November. One expects that if they do, they’ll stand athwart the tracks as the big-government train approaches, yelling STOP!

But their bark is worse than their bite:

Yeah! Go Red team! Go Democracy!

via TJIC, who as always gives it the extra flourish that a graph like this really needs.

Democracy Doesn’t Work

Yet another in a long line of evidence showing that while democracy might be a way to gauge the public’s general mood or satisfaction, it’s certainly too clumsy of a tool to really have anything to do with setting policy:

Led by Loyola Marymount University’s Andrew Healy, a team of researchers compared 44 years of US presidential, gubernatorial, and Senate election data to the results of Division I college football games. After controlling for demographic effects, they found that at the county level, a local athletic victory one week before an election gave incumbents an average 1.70% gain. (In contrast, post-election victories or games more than two weeks before polling day had no effect on voting.)

The effect didn’t arise from athletic triumph alone—the emotional intensity of a win seemed to determine its electoral impact. For example, Dr Healy and his colleagues calculated the unexpectedness of each victory based on point spreads from the betting market. They found that a surprise win garnered a bigger electoral bump (2.59%) than an expected one. And in “powerhouse” districts with an especially fervent fan base, a victory could yield up to 3.35% for the incumbent.

So what’s the over/under on the first attempt by a politician to pay refs to influence the outcome of a game when they’re in a tight race?

Point: “State’s Rights” A Misnomer

This is a post in our continuing “Point/Counterpoint” series, where TLP contributors and/or guest posters debate a topic. In this installment, Michael Powell argues against the existence of “states’ rights”. Tomorrow, Brad Warbiany will defend states’ rights, and his post can now be found here.

During the twentieth century, there were several confrontations between federal authorities and those proclaiming “state’s rights.” The most notable were those of Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus, in 1967, who called on his state’s National Guard to block several African American youths from attending high school and Alabama Governor George Wallace, who literally stood in the way of troops sent by the Kennedy Administration to escort students Vivian Malone and James Hood (both instances being unforgivable offenses in the Deep South) in 1963. The state was blatantly violating not only individual rights of its citizens but also the legal authority of the U.S. Supreme Court and the executive branch.

The “right” for the state to discriminate against the individual in defiance of federal law (and human decency, which is another matter and not a concept that is very popular in Alabama or other deep southern states) was precisely what George Wallace cited explicitly in his speech at the University of Alabama on June 11, 1963:

The unwelcomed, unwanted, unwarranted and force-induced intrusion upon the campus of the University of Alabama today of the might of the Central Government offers frightful example of the oppression of the rights, privileges and sovereignty of this State by officers of the Federal Government. This intrusion results solely from force, or threat of force, undignified by any reasonable application of the principle of law, reason and justice. It is important that the people of this State and nation understand that this action is in violation of rights reserved to the State by the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Alabama. While some few may applaud these acts, millions of Americans will gaze in sorrow upon the situation existing at this great institution of learning.

Personally, I would not cry crocodile tears if the South had been let go during the Civil War. My ancestors fought in the Confederate Army but my personal life has been filled with people of color. The South has not simply been racist; it has been the closest region in the Western World to pre-industrial feudalism. Its ugly history of public executions, terrorism, exclusion from employment and education of massive portions of the population (including not just people of color but poor whites, women and those who stood against the Southern Christian traditionalist grain), intellectual rejection, ethno-nationalism, proud ignorance and aggressive religiosity is more reflective of the worst regimes in the Middle East than the enlightened industrial democracies of Western Europe, North America and Asia. Just as is the case with the Middle East, the rich natural resources of the South have been the primary reason for keeping the impoverished backwater area in the sphere of the United States.

If it hadn’t been for slavery, racism and the South, the “state’s rights” argument may have more standing validity. Unfortunately, for those who bring back its spectre it brings to mind Jim Crow laws, lynchings, segregation and war. Just as the swastika, which actually has a relevance to Buddhist philosophy, has been defiled by the actions of German National Socialism, “state’s rights” has been defiled by the actions of Southern political actors.

For issues in which “state’s rights” would be a logical defense, especially regarding marijuana, where states like California seek to protect the individual rights of drug users in defiance of prohibitionist federal intervention, I have to beg the question: Why is it an issue of state governance and not simply the right of the individual to do as he wishes?

This isn’t simply a historical, theoretical argument either. States are still today violating individual rights, with the federal government acting as an intervening force of justice. Arizona’s immigration law, SB 1070, which effectively legislated racial profiling and declared war on undocumented workers who are critical to the American economy, is being set upon by the Obama administration’s Justice Department.

I have worked in Latin American foreign policy, so I would like to add that, while I stand in firm opposition to SB 1070, I understand completely why it was implemented. We are in really bad economic shape, as I surely don’t have to inform anyone here. That is exacerbated by the perception by people that don’t understand economics that Hispanic immigrants are “stealing” their jobs and the horrendous mob violence that has been implemented on the border by drug cartels. I reject Kantian ethics that proclaim motivations to paramount to results, however, and a mob of fearful people hardly ever makes the right decision. In American history, “state’s rights” has been a flag that has often been waved by populist demagogues while “individual rights” has been waved by judges and executives with a better grasp of the law. “State’s rights” is a misnomer which is usually used to defend defiance of settled law. It doesn’t deserve or necessitate revival in our political discourse.

William F. Buckley, Jr. Would Be Proud

42-19694571

William F. Buckley Jr. is famous for once having said:

“I am obliged to confess I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University.”

If he were still around today, I’m sure he’d get some enjoyment out of the fact that a plurality of Americans agree with him:

Tuesday’s primaries were more proof of the anti-incumbency mood felt in many parts of the nation, and a new Rasmussen Reports poll finds that many voters continue to feel a randomly selected sample of people from the phone book could do a better job than their elected representatives in Congress.

The latest national telephone survey of Likely Voters finds that 41% say a group of people selected at random from the phone book would do a better job addressing the nation’s problems than the current Congress. Almost as many (38%) disagree, however, and another 20% are undecided.

These findings show little change from early January and early September 2009. However, the number of voters who feel a random selection could do better is up eight points from early
October 2008
, just before the presidential election.

Honestly, it couldn’t be any worse, could it ?

Quote Of The Day

Pretty much sums up one of the main problems with modern democracy:

In a widely quoted book entitled The End of History, Francis Fukuyama wrote about the intellectual and practical triumph of democracy as a system of government. No further political paradigm shifts would be required. Democracy was the omega end point of the historical process of human sociopolitical evolution. Great reading, perfect for the 1990s when American triumphalism and the Washington Consensus reigned supreme. But Fukuyama seems to have overlooked the tendency of modern democracies with universal suffrage to glacially move towards bankruptcy by promising their voters entitlements that these governments cannot afford.

Democracy is the rule of the popular, not necessarily the just. And voting yourself goodies from yourself the public purse will always be popular.

Howard Zinn was the Worst the Left has to offer

Howard Zinn passed at the beginning of this year, and I will admit part of me was saddened at his passing. My mother owned his People’s History of the United States, and my fellow students at college seemed to adore his work. My best friend is a Zinn fanatic, bringing him up nearly every time politics comes up.

Now that months have passed since he died, the second-hand positive notions are gone and the real nature of Zinn’s career can be assessed. Reason wrote an appropriate article following his passing, concluding that Zinn was “a master of agitprop, not history.”

The absolute worst of Zinn came on his deplorable misinformation regarding the totalitarian state in Cuba and the rise of political Islam, both of which placed Zinn on the wrong side of history. That Zinn’s nonsense is regularly repeated by fairly intelligent people is sad phenomenon, indeed. From Reason:

Just how poor is Zinn’s history? After hearing of his death, I opened one of his books to a random page (Failure to Quit, p. 118) and was informed that there was “no evidence” that Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya was behind the 1986 bombing of La Belle Discotheque in Berlin. Whatever one thinks of the Reagan administration’s response, it is flat wrong, bordering on dishonest, to argue that the plot wasn’t masterminded in Tripoli. Nor is it correct to write that the American government, which funded the Afghan mujahadeen in the 1980s, “train[ed] Osama bin Laden,” a myth conclusively debunked by Washington Post correspondent Steve Coll in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book Ghost Wars.

Of Cuba, the reader of A People’s History is told that upon taking power, “Castro moved to set up a nationwide system of education, of housing, of land distribution to landless peasants.” Castro’s vast network of gulags and the spasm of “revolutionary justice” that sent thousands to prison or the executioners wall is left unmentioned. This is unsurprising, I suppose, when one considers that Zinn recently told an interviewer “you have to admire Cuba for being undaunted by this colossus of the North and holding fast to its ideals and to Socialism….Cuba is one of those places in the world where we can see hope for the future. With its very meager resources Cuba gives free health care and free education to everybody. Cuba supports culture, supports dance and music and theatre.”

Zinn’s movement leftism never gained nuance, even on his deathbed. His very last interview was with Playboy, in which he talked about America’s economy:

PLAYBOY: So what can the average American do?

ZINN: Not much alone, individually. The only time citizens can do anything is if they organize, if they create a movement, if they act collectively, if they join their strengths. The trade union movement, of course, is an example of that. The trade union movement is weak, and the trade union movement needs to become stronger. Citizens need to organize in such a way that they can present the members of Congress with demands and say, “We are going to vote for you if you listen to us,” or “We’re not going to vote for you if you don’t listen to us.” In other words, people have to organize to create a citizens movement. We have to think about the 1930s as a model; people organized in the face of economic crisis—organized into tenants’ movements and unemployment councils and of course they organized a new trade union movement, the CIO. So we need people to organize. Of course, this is not easy, and it won’t happen overnight. Because it’s not easy the tendency is to throw up your hands and not do anything, but we have to start at some point, and the starting point is people getting together with other people and creating organizations. For instance, people can get together to stop evictions. Neighbors can get together. This is something that can be done at a local level. This was done in the 1930s when neighbors got together to stop the evictions of people who weren’t able to pay their rent and the 1930s were full of such incidents. Tenants’ councils had been formed and when people were evicted from their tenements, their neighbors gathered and put their furniture back in the house.

That sort of nonsense about collective action being the only means of change is just that: nonsense. George Orwell alienated many of his friends on the left, who he made in his criticism of colonialism and fascism, by taking on Stalinism in Animal Farm and 1984. Malcolm X was murdered by his former friends at the Nation of Islam when he revealed the hypocrisy of its leader, Elijah Mohammed, and renounced extremism in favor of racial reconciliation. Oskar Schindler saved 1200 Jews by employing within his own factories. The list goes on, as does the list of those who were manipulated due to their unwavering allegiance to a collective of any kind. Fresh-behind-the-ears college students who take Zinn’s words to be the truth run the risk of becoming exactly what Zinn was: a tool of propaganda.

The Case Against An Article V Constitutional Convention

Virginia Delegate James LeMunyon has an article in today’s Wall Street Journal where he makes an argument that I’ve been hearing with disturbing frequency lately:

The remedy is in Article V of the Constitution, which permits a convention to be called for the purpose of proposing constitutional amendments. Any proposed amendment then would have to be ratified by both houses of 38 state legislatures (three-fourths of the states). This entails 76 separate votes in the affirmative by two houses of the 38 state legislatures. (Nebraska, with its unicameral legislature, would be an exception.)

Interest in calling a first-ever Article V convention is growing at the state level. A petition for such a convention passed the Florida Senate last month, to propose amendments requiring a balanced budget and to restrain the growth of the national government. If approved by the House, Florida would be the 20th state with an active call to do so. In the Virginia House of Delegates, I introduced a resolution (H.J. 183) calling for a constitutional convention to restrain the national government as well. Requests by two-thirds or 34 states are required for a convention to be called.

Here’s what Article V says about a Convention:

The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States

It sounds like a pretty straightforward idea. If Congress is being stubborn about passing Amendments that the people deem necessary, why not call a Convention to go over their heads ?

Well, there’s a very good reason, and former Chief Justice Warren Burger put it bluntly in 1983:

I have also repeatedly given my opinion that there is no effective way to limit or muzzle the actions of a Constitutional Convention. The convention could make its own rules and set its own agenda. Congress might try to limit the convention to one amendment or to one issue, but there is no way to assure that the convention would obey. After a convention is convened, it will be too late to stop the convention if we don’t like its agenda. The meeting in 1787 ignored the limit placed by the confederation Congress “for the sole and express purpose.”

With George Washington as chairman, they were able to deliberate in total secrecy, with no press coverage and no leaks. A constitutional Convention today would be a free-for-all for special interest groups, television coverage, and press speculation.

Our 1787 Constitution was referred to by several of its authors as a “miracle.” Whatever gain might be hoped for from a new Constitutional Convention could not be worth the risks involved. A new convention could plunge our Nation into constitutional confusion and confrontation at every turn, with no assurance that focus would be on the subjects needing attention.

Burger, of course, was exactly right then and he’s exactly right now.

It’s worth noting, as Burger does, the historical context in which the 1787 Convention came to be:

On January 21, 1786, the Virginia Legislature, following James Madison‘s recommendation, invited all the states to send delegates to Annapolis, Maryland to discuss ways to reduce these interstate conflicts.[1] At what came to be known as the Annapolis Convention, the few state delegates in attendance endorsed a motion that called for all states to meet in Philadelphia in May 1787 to discuss ways to improve the Articles of Confederation in a “Grand Convention.”[1]

Instead of discussing improvement to the Articles of Confederation, though, the delegates quickly moved to the creation of an entirely new system of government that had no resemblance to the then-current national government and, when they were done, instead of complying with the amendment procedure provided for in the Articles, which would have required approval by Congress and unanimous consent of all thirteen state legislatures, they provided for a ratification process that completely bypassed Congress and the states. And they did that because they knew there was no way the new Constitution would have been approved by all thirteen states.

The Articles of Confederation, of course, were a flawed document and it’s unlikely that the United States would have survived as a unified nation for very much longer had they remained in place. So, in some sense, Madison and the others at Philadelphia did the right thing.

But, as Burger says, we were lucky and there’s no reason to believe we’d be similarly lucky as second time.

Regardless of any of the arguments that LeMunyon and the others make about ways to limit the scope of the convention, the experience of 1787 makes it plain that, once called, there is no way to limit the scope of a Constitutional Convention, and no reason to think they we’d end up with an entirely different Constitution when it was over.

We were also lucky in 1787 because of the men who gathered to write the Constitution. The values they shared were values of individual liberty and small government. Does anyone truly believe that we’d be lucky enough to have delegates to a 2013 Convention, say, that were anywhere near the intellectual and moral calibre of Madison, or Mason, or Franklin ? Yea, I didn’t think so.

Finally, Burger’s point about the importance of secrecy in the 1787 proceedings is even more poignant today. In the era of the 365/24/7 news cycle, blogs, Facebook, and Twitter, there wouldn’t be any way to keep these deliberations secret and making them public would just increase the likelihood that the end product would be one big mess.

The Constitution isn’t perfect and there are many things I would change about it, but I am not willing to take the risk of sacrificing the entire structure we’ve built over the past two centuries just for a chance to do it.

Is America Ungovernable?

Arnold Kling relays the case that many of you who follow the lefty blogs have probably seen:

It’s the latest meme. The U.S. is ungovernable, because of
a) Senate procedures
b) Republican obstructionism
c) polarization
d) special interests
etc.

I’ve seen it from Marc Ambinder, Steven Pearlstein, and others. I’m too lazy to copy links, but my guess is that you have seen it, too.

Well, there are two different questions here that liberals conflate inappropriately:

1) America is ungovernable.
2) Structural government issues prevent the government from getting anything done.

Yes, all the points above explain why #2 is true. But even if all that were “fixed”, #1 would be true, for the very reason Hayek states:

To act on the belief that we possess the knowledge and the power which enable us to shape the processes of society entirely to our liking, knowledge which in fact we do not possess, is likely to make us do much harm.
-Friedrich August von Hayek

To put it simply, it is impossible for a bunch of lawyers and bureaucrats in Washington DC to adequately govern — aka rule — the activities of 300 million Americans. The system — “system” meaning free actions of individuals, not meaning directed and ruled action — is so complex that the best any government can hope to do is to set very general rules making force or fraud illegal*, and set up a fair and just court system to arbitrate. Washington simply cannot integrate the information needed to make decisions at that level effectively.

To be fair, Arnold Kling reaches the same point, but he expands more fully on the idea of decentralization and the idea of federalism or competitive government as an answer. I suspect he does so because he believes competitive government will result in libertarian government — as those who earn refuse to “join” the governments of those who rely on handouts, and thus the non-libertarian governments cannot sustain their goals. This is partly true for territory-based governments (becoming more true as the territory shrinks), and undoubtedly true for non-territory-based governments.

But I find that argument** to have one major weakness. The idea of federalism and local control is largely predicated on the idea that the people in Washington aren’t very good at making decisions for me, and that by moving those decisions closer to me it’s a lot more likely that the decisions my government makes for me are effective ones. But should government make my decisions at all?

Personally, regardless of whether they make good or bad choices, I do not outsource my decision-making to the government. Even if they will make good choices, I do not want them choosing for me. This is a moral statement, and it is just as true of the government of Washington DC as of Sacramento as of Laguna Niguel, CA. It is true that I have more control over the government of Laguna Niguel than of DC, but fundamentally that doesn’t change the fact that my one vote is not determining my decision — it is weighed against the votes of others who do not have the right to decide for me.

If the US is ungovernable, so is the state of California, and so is the city of Laguna Niguel. No matter how small of a government you draw, it cannot have all the information it needs to make decisions for me. Fundamentally, decisions are the marriage of facts and values, and although any government may have access to the facts, it does not have access to my values. Therefore they do not have the information necessary to make decisions for me.

Liberals are upset that the government is structurally biased towards inaction. But action doesn’t equal governance. For something to be governable, the governing authority must have access to both the facts and the values of those it governs. Unfortunately since the latter is never possible, it substitutes its own values (dictatorship) or the average/majority values (democracy). Either is insufficient, and thus America is ungovernable.
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Opening the floodgates…

From tonight’s State of the Union address:

“Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections,” Obama said. “Well I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and that’s why I’m urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong.”

In the video, Justice Samuel Alito can be seen visibly disagreeing with this sentiment. First, I’m glad someone can stand up against a President who respects the independence of the judiciary so little that he calls them out in the State of the Union. Such moves reek of political hackery that should be far beneath the President. Second, Obama’s assertion is flatly wrong.

Obama contends that the floodgates have been suddenly opened for corporations to have undue influence over candidates and politicians simply because campaign spending limits have been lifted. How, in a country where a single mother can be ordered to pay $1.92 million for sharing music because of a law bought and paid for by the recording industry, can it be claimed that the influence of corporate interests is at all inhibited?

In the recent health care debates, WalMart was on the front lines of the cheering, hoping that they could dupe Democrats into using the law to skewer their smaller competitors. In the same debate, the SEIU managed to secure a sweetheart deal for unions where the “Cadillac” tax would not be borne if the gold-plated health care plan was a result of collective bargaining (read: union strong-arming).

The history of the last half-century in Washington is one where incumbents and party-anointed successors enter into perpetual quid pro quo relationships with special interests. Legislators get things from special interests in return for political and legislative favors. We all know that this is the way things work. We all hope that when we send “our guy” to Washington that he’ll be the one to change it.

In real life, there is no Mr. Smith. Even when someone like Jeff Flake comes to Washington and tries to fight for the people he is rebuffed. The self-styled ruling class in Washington depends on having a monopoly on the influence of big business and special interests.

It is not the thought of special interests influencing politics that scares the ruling class. It is the thought of special interests influencing politics without them that does.

Influence peddling and vote buying are expected in the halls of power. Interests are allowed nearly unlimited access as long as they come in as supplicants to the ruling class. Once the same interests attempt to take their message from K Street to Main Street, the law is brought down upon them as they are accused of trying to corrupt the political process.

With that in mind, let’s look at what the President really meant behind the doublespeak:

“Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to speak directly to the people,” Obama said. “Well I don’t think that the course of American politics should be interfered with by the American people. It should be decided by the ruling class in cooperation with America’s most powerful interests, and that’s why I’m urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong.”

The Supreme Court had the temerity to undercut the system of influence carefully constructed by the Republicratic ruling class over the last century. Obama is leading the charge to restore the power that the Supreme Court, and the Constitution, has denied them.

May more Americans have the courage to challenge Obama and the ruling class on this.

Gay Marriage — Far LESS Harmful Than Democracy

I’d like to claim that I’m not one to pick nits — but I’d be lying. So here is exhibit 10,483 in the “Brad takes part of a post he agrees with and spins it way out of context.”

The base post is about marriage and in support of gay marriage. But I found this analogy somewhat off:

What opponents of same-sex marriage cannot explain is how exactly same-sex marriage undermines the institution of marriage. It broadens the definition, to be sure; but that definition still includes opposite-sex marriage. We broadened the definition of voting when we allowed non-landowners, women, minorities, and 18-year-olds to vote. Democracy is a process of broadening; it’s an evolutionary thing.

You see, there’s a difference. Allowing gays to marry does not make my marriage to my wife any less meaningful. Allowing gays to marry does not infringe upon any of my natural rights. In fact, while I have no problem with gays (and have several gay friends), it doesn’t change the way anyone might think about gays. Gay marriage doesn’t stop homophobes from being homophobes just like Loving v. Virginia didn’t stop racists from hating blacks.

Democracy, though, is far less tolerant. The masses of the nation can democratically infringe upon my rights. They can forcibly seize more of my earnings as “taxes”. They can impose regulations on every aspect of my life, including how much water my toilet can flush. And worst of all, they hold in their power the ability to determine who I may or may not choose to marry. I’m lucky enough to be in the “politically favored” rather than the “minority” status on that one, but that doesn’t in any way change the nature of democracy. While I don’t oppose the expansion of voting on fairness grounds (it should be clear that I’m against democracy on its own merits), every expansion of voting only widens the pool of people who think they can tell me what I can and cannot do.

I don’t like the idea of comparing gay marriage to democracy. After all, one of the two should be opposed. Just not the one most people think.

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