China Economics Financial Crisis Politics

Stimulus and Stability

[digg-reddit-me]This Wall Street Journal article by Bob Davis accompanied by this graph to the right illustrates just how far from world opinion the Republican right is in it’s rejection of stimulus spending. This is not necessarily a bad thing – but it should give pause to those who are defending the fiscal austerity Republicans are proposing in the middle of this crisis. This issue is not considered a partisan issue for most of the world – and it is mainly Republicans in power today who see stimulus spending during a sharp downturn as something “liberal” or controversial.

David Brooks’s expressed his fair-minded exasperation this Sunday – as he pronounced the idea of the Republican-proposed government spending freeze “insane.” 

The International Monetary Fund – not normally known as a squishy, leftish organization as it promoted free trade and capitalism around the globe – is in favor of large stimulus packages:

The IMF has been urging nations to increase fiscal stimulus by at least 2% of gross domestic product to boost growth. Of the G-20 nations, only the U.S., Spain, Saudi Arabia, China and Australia are expected to reach that goal in 2009, according to the IMF.

More importantly, and more interesting then discrediting an almost powerless political party, is to notice that there seems to be some sort of inverse relationship between a society’s social safety net and the amount of stimulus spending they are proposing. 

This makes sense on a number of levels. Automatic stabilizers which should take some of the pressure off a need for a stimulus are not included here. On another level, these nations without a strong safety net must rely more heavily on economic growth for societal stability. 

If this is true, China and America would be more reliant on constant economic growth to relieve social and political pressure and would be more likely to have larger stimulus packages. France and Germany with stronger safety nets would feel more insulated and be less likely to push for large stimulus packages. This is exactly how this matter is playing out on the world stage today – with some exceptions due to political leadership. 

But both states with strong social safety nets and those without them are dependent on growth over time. But those states without strong safety nets feel the economic bumps more strongly – and downturns end up being more disruptive.

National Security Politics The War on Terrorism

The War on Drugs Is Making Us Less Safe

[digg-reddit-me]The Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy including a number of prominent Latin American politicians yesterday called the U.S. War on Drugs a failure. As summarized by Jose De Cordoba of the Wall Street Journal:

As drug violence spirals out of control in Mexico, a commission led by three former Latin American heads of state blasted the U.S.-led drug war as a failure that is pushing Latin American societies to the breaking point.

“The available evidence indicates that the war on drugs is a failed war,” said former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, in a conference call with reporters from Rio de Janeiro. “We have to move from this approach to another one.”

The commission, headed by Mr. Cardoso and former presidents Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico and César Gaviria of Colombia, says Latin American governments as well as the U.S. must break what they say is a policy “taboo” and re-examine U.S.-inspired antidrugs efforts. The panel recommends that governments consider measures including decriminalizing the use of marijuana. [my emhpasis]

The complete report (which I haven’t yet reviewed) can be found here (pdf). 

The key point is the one I highlighted in the passage above – not only is the Drug War failing – but it is, according to these prominent ex-politicians  – and “There’s no one so brave and wise as the politician who’s not running for office and who’s not going to be”)  – pushing these neighbors of ours to the breaking point. Which is part of the reason the Joint Operating Environment report by the Department of Defense saw the sudden collapse of Mexico as a possibility in the next year. 

The War on Drugs isn’t just failing. The War on Drugs isn’t just causing us to imprison a greater percentage of our population than any other in the world. The War on Drugs isn’t just eroding our laws and institutions. The War on Drugs doesn’t just undermine the War Against Terrorism. The War on Drugs isn’t just making our efforts in Afghanistan harder. The War on Drugs isn’t just wasting law enforcement resources, and costing America gold medals.  

No – it is also destabilizing nations right next to us.

This is what makes a reevaluation of our Drug War a national security priority.

Criticism Law Politics The Opinionsphere

Yes, the Senate Can Refuse to Seat Roland Burris

[digg-reddit-me]Ever since Governor Blagojevich announced his appointment of Roland Burris to take Obama’s Senate seat, the Conventional Wisdom has been that while Blagojevich’s actions are unseemly they are within the law – and more importantly, that Harry Reid and the rest of the Senate can’t do anything to stop Burris from being seated. The LA Times opined:

Exasperated as they are at being outfoxed by Blagojevich, his colleagues and critics must face the fact that he is still the governor of Illinois and empowered to appoint an interim U.S. senator. It’s not a pretty situation, but it’s the law.

The Wall Street Journal suddenly discovered the Constitution and the Rule of Law after eight years of amnesia1 and declared that this was a matter of “Harry Reid v. the Constitution,” claiming without equivocation that Blagojevich had “every legal right” to appoint Burris, that the “Beltway Democrats can’t inject themselves into what is clearly a matter of Illinois law,” and finally that:

Nowhere in the Constitution is there a “qualification” saying that a Senator must not have been appointed by an embarrassing Illinois Governor…now that Mr. Burris has been appointed, Mr. Reid can’t legally deny him his seat. If this is the way Democrats are going to use their new monopoly on Beltway power even against a member of their own party, we’re in for an ugly couple of years.

David Gregory, temporarily sans smirk, parroted the same Conventional Wisdom on this morning’s Meet the Press.

This Conventional Wisdom holds that the 1969 Supreme Court case of Powell v. McCormack limits the Senate’s power to take action pursuant to Article I, Section 5 of the Constitition. The Article states:

Each House shall be the judge of the elections, returns and qualifications of its own members…

Powell limited this power by holding that:

In judging the qualifications of its members under Art. I, § 5, Congress is limited to the standing qualifications expressly prescribed by the Constitution.

What the LA Times and Wall Street Journal and David Gregory fail to take into account – whether deliberately or not is unclear – is that the Powell case revolved around the question of whether the Congress could judge the qualifications of a member and exclude him or her for bad conduct while Reid is making his case under the Senate’s power to judge the process by which it’s members are selected or elected. On Meet the Press, Reid said that he didn’t know of anything Burris had done wrong or any qualification he lacked. Rather Reid pointed to the tainted process which lead to Burris’s appointment as the problem. This is an entirely separate issue from the one decided in Powell – in which a duly elected Congressman was denied his seat for misconduct during the previous session of Congress:

Our examination of the relevant historical materials leads us to the conclusion that …the Constitution leaves the House without authority to exclude any person, duly elected by his constituents, who meets all the requirements for membership expressly prescribed in the Constitution.

The key phrase being “duly elected.” The Senate still has the power to judge the returns and the elections – and this power was not limited by Powell. The corruption of the process leading to Burris’s appointment is also what Reid & co. keep harping on – rather than Burris’s qualifications. An election of a Senator marred by corruption, like a corrupt appointment, is to be judged by the Senate. Akhil Reed Amar and Josh Chafetz explain the history of this power and it’s previous invocations.

If Reid chooses to push this claim of Constitutional authority and refuses to seat Burris, he may well prevail, proving once again John Kenneth Galbraith’s prescience:

The enemy of the conventional wisdom is not ideas but the march of events.

  1. That’s unfair. The Journal always remembers to invoke the Constitution when slamming Democrats. It only ignores it when Republicans are acting unconstitutionally. []
Financial Crisis Humor Law

Discretionary Spending (cont.)

Contra Raoul Felder, who asked for a bailout for divorce lawyers in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal because:

There is no other profession more dependent on discretionary spending, except perhaps the oldest one.

Chris Thompson of Slate’s The Big Money:

Some of the luckiest attorneys in the world, he says, will be the divorce lawyers. “Suddenly, people find themselves cutting back, and that makes them lose face in their tony community,” he says. “So that exposes tensions in the relationship that may have been previously ignored. The matrimonial bar may see a flow out from this.”

So that’s what it’s come to for New York’s finest lawyers: waiting around for broke investment bankers to destroy their marriages.

Law National Security Politics The Opinionsphere The War on Terrorism

Liberty is Not Another Word for Anti-Antiterrorism

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.

[digg-reddit-me]The Wall Street Journal editorial page is a platform for kings and prime ministers,  presidents and scientists, thinkers and businessmen, who want to speak to the powerful and monied interests of the American elite. And then, there are the crazy right-wingers who run the board and invite their friends to write short propaganistics pieces.

Reading yesterday’s editorial board piece about the “anti-antiterror lobby,” I was tempted to throw around terms like “fascist” and “fear-mongerer” in response. I felt a strong visceral anger as the board described those who insisted laws be followed – the foundational principle of civilization itself – as in league with terrorists (who oddly seek the same freedom from law the Wall Street Journal supports). I was so angry I missed the point of the piece.

But, after a time, a walk in the cold, I was able to tame my anger – to reason with it, to analyze it, and to direct it more appropriately.

Despite the hysteric, trying-too-hard rhetoric, the Wall Street Journal might well have a point when it sided with Ray Kelly in criticizing the “unnecessarily protracted, risk-averse process” that is behind the current technological innovations. They’re probably right in stating that the FISA is flawed. Which is why it’s too bad that the Journal board used their influential platform to “boomerize1 the issue instead of actually discussing it in any meaningful way.

I shouldn’t be surprised that the Journal would politicize national security instead of acting responsibly. This is what they do. They represent the worst of Boomerdom. The actual argument they put forth has emotional resonance – touching on themes that were relevant in the 1960s. But it ignores the actual issues at stake here – the rule of law; new technologies; terrorism; checks and balances; liberty; the Constitution; public safety. The Journal doesn’t acknowledge that a balancing test must always be applied – between liberty and security. Instead, they mock those concerned with liberty as pro-terrorists (or to seem less ridiculous, “anti-antiterrorists.”)

The Journal‘s rhetoric is at worst diabolical – as they seek to place political blame on the Democrats for any future attacks because “Democrats and the left” inserted “an unelected judiciary into the wartime chain of command.” But this invocation of wartime is a sleight of hand – unless the Journal considers America itself to be under marital law. The Journal talks about how the executive branch already has “Constitutional authority” to wiretap communications that FISA was explicitly set up to regulate – neatly accepting the most extreme view of executive authority that led the mutiny of the top members of Bush’s Justice Department and almost causing John Ashcroft (Attorney General), Jack Goldsmith (Head of the OLC), James Comey (2nd in Command of the Justice Department), Robert Mueller (FBI Director), as well as scores of their subordinates – Republicans and staunch conservatives all – to nearly resign in protest. Now, these conservatives are lumped in with “Democrats and the left” as “anti-antiterrorists” because they believe in some limits to executive power, even in the field of national security.

The Journal manages to explain away why the conservative attorney general is the one who is telling Ray Kelly he’s wrong – rather than the FISA court which has rejected only a handful of the tens of thousands of applications for warrants to wiretap.  Of course, the attorney general is refusing to even submit Ray Kelly’s requests to be adjudicated – which the Journal acknowledges is a wise move because the “system” is dominated by “anti-antiterrorists.” They blame the attorney general’s actions on the liberals. The Journal insists that the famously prickly judge is just trying to please the liberals because only liberals would insist on laws to restrain the actions of the executive. Apparently, the Journal cannot understand what kind of man could stand up for American values in the face of fear and terror – so they presume he must be pragmatically compromising with liberals.

Thus, the Wall Street Journal has turned a bureacratic struggle between two conservatives into an indictment of the rule of law itself. Apparently, lawfulness is deemed in essence liberal, aka “anti-antiterroristic.” Does that leave us with monarchism? Which laws should the executive obey? What if the law is amended to address concerns? Should we get rid of the Fourth Amendment and that whole idea of “unreasonable searches”? None of these questions are answered – or even addressed. It’s really too bad that the Journal didn’t have any space to let some grown-ups write an op-ed on the issue. They were too busy trying to score clever political points.

  1. They politicized the issue along the lines of the Baby Boomer divide, using key words and paradaigms that are designed only to appeal to half of the public. []
Financial Crisis Humor Law

Discretionary Spending

Raoul Felder in the Wall Street Journal:

There is no other profession more dependent on discretionary spending, except perhaps the oldest one.

Conservativism Political Philosophy Politics

The Downfall of the Conservative Intellectual

Mark Lilla described the downfall of the conservative intellectual movement in last week’s Wall Street Journal, describing how conservative intellectuals in the 1960s had originally and self-consciously understood themselves to be elites, trying to educate the public, as the public overwhelming supported liberal politicians. Lilla describes the changes as the sons and daughters of these thinkers took over the institutions of the conservative movement from The Weekly Standard to The National Review, just as conservative politicians began to win elections. This generation – Bill Kristol, Jonah Goldberg, Rich Lowry, and the rest was different:

Over the next 25 years there grew up a new generation of conservative writers who cultivated none of their elders’ intellectual virtues – indeed, who saw themselves as counter-intellectuals. Most are well-educated and many have attended Ivy League universities; in fact, one of the masterminds of the Palin nomination was once a Harvard professor. But their function within the conservative movement is no longer to educate and ennoble a populist political tendency, it is to defend that tendency against the supposedly monolithic and uniformly hostile educated classes. They mock the advice of Nobel Prize-winning economists and praise the financial acumen of plumbers and builders. They ridicule ambassadors and diplomats while promoting jingoistic journalists who have never lived abroad and speak no foreign languages. And with the rise of shock radio and television, they have found a large, popular audience that eagerly absorbs their contempt for intellectual elites. They hoped to shape that audience, but the truth is that their audience has now shaped them.

Today there are a few conservative movement intellectuals left – George Will for one. One could make a case for David Brooks and David Frum. Most of the rest are party hacks – or intellectuals who happen to be conservative, rather than members of the conservative movement and it’s institutions.

This isn’t a healthy result for a two party system.

Domestic issues Election 2008 McCain

Those Republican Leftists!

There are about 10 things to argue with in Steven Calabresi’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. Let me pick one for the moment. Calabresi appeals to those who are considering voting for Obama:

The net result is that the legal left will once again have a majority on the nation’s most important regulatory court of appeals.

Sounds frightening. Of course, that does suggest that the legal right controls the Courts now.

A point of fact: 61% of judges in the various Courts of Appeal were appointed by Republican presidents. And 7 of the 9 Supreme Court justices were appointed by Republicans. The fact that these Courts are now regularly called “leftist” seems to tell us more about how far the Republican party has moved than it does about the political leanings of the justices.

Election 2008 Politics The Clintons

Noonan on sexism

Peggy Noonan isn’t known for her enlightened thinking, but on occasion her riffs are truly enlightening:

So, to address the charge that sexism did [Hillary] in:

It is insulting, because it asserts that those who supported someone else this year were driven by low prejudice and mindless bias.

It is manipulative, because it asserts that if you want to be understood, both within the community and in the larger brotherhood of man, to be wholly without bias and prejudice, you must support Mrs. Clinton.

It is not true. Tough hill-country men voted for her, men so backward they’d give the lady a chair in the union hall. Tough Catholic men in the outer suburbs voted for her, men so backward they’d call a woman a lady. And all of them so naturally courteous that they’d realize, in offering the chair or addressing the lady, that they might have given offense, and awkwardly joke at themselves to take away the sting. These are great men. And Hillary got her share, more than her share, of their votes. She should be a guy and say thanks.

It is prissy. Mrs. Clinton’s supporters are now complaining about the Hillary nutcrackers sold at every airport shop. Boo hoo. If Golda Meir, a woman of not only proclaimed but actual toughness, heard about Golda nutcrackers, she would have bought them by the case and given them away as party favors.

It is sissy. It is blame-gaming, whining, a way of not taking responsibility, of not seeing your flaws and addressing them. You want to say “Girl, butch up, you are playing in the leagues, they get bruised in the leagues, they break each other’s bones, they like to hit you low and hear the crack, it’s like that for the boys and for the girls.”

And because the charge of sexism is all of the above, it is, ultimately, undermining of the position of women. Or rather it would be if its source were not someone broadly understood by friend and foe alike to be willing to say anything to gain advantage.

Election 2008 Foreign Policy McCain Politics

Lieberman’s selective indignation

Isaac Chotiner of The New Republic “throws some elbows” in his pushback against Senator Joe Lieberman’s Obama-like-all-Democrats-is-unmanly-and-weak-on-terrorism editorial in the Wall Street Journal:

[Lieberman writes:]

Mr. Obama has said that in proposing this, he is following in the footsteps of Reagan and JFK. But Kennedy never met with Castro, and Reagan never met with Khomeini. And can anyone imagine Presidents Kennedy or Reagan sitting down unconditionally with Ahmadinejad or Chavez? I certainly cannot.

That’s right: It wasn’t all that bad that JFK ordered a disastrous invasion of Cuba that almost led–at least indirectly–to nuclear war with the Soviets. No, that was fine when compared to Obama’s “naivete.” And as for Reagan’s Iran policy, well, nothing to criticize there. Perhaps if Obama sent Ahmadinejad some missiles and a birthday cake, the Illinois Senator would gain Lieberman’s approval…