Monday, September 27, 2010

Mosques in America, Part Two

I used to listen to Dr. Peikoff's podcasts every week, but as with much else, just haven't found the time as of late. I did find a transcript of his thoughts involving the Ground Zero Mosque situation here, and I recommend that anyone concerned over this issue read them carefully.

Having pondered the implications of Dr. Peikoff's analysis, I find it necessary to clarify my previous comments. I will say that Dr. Peikoff brings up an important point about the legal differences involved between a state of war and a state of peace, even in a free republic such as ours. But, his claims about property rights are, I think, mistaken in a couple of important respects. First let me quote the relevant passages:

"Let’s start with property rights. Property rights are limited and they are contextual. You cannot do anything you want with property even though it is yours, not if its ramifications objectively entail a threat to the rights of others. You can’t build a bomb in your home. You can’t even build a big bonfire in your backyard legitimately because the principle of rights is that property rights are a derivative of life as the standard and there can be no right to threaten anyone’s life nor indeed to threaten anyone’s property. Second, rights are contextual. In any situation where metaphysical survival is at stake all property rights are out. You have no obligation to respect property rights. The obvious, classic example of this is, which I’ve been asked a hundred times, you swim to a desert island — you know, you had a shipwreck — and when you get to the shore, the guy comes to you and says, “I’ve got a fence all around this island. I found it. It’s legitimately mine. You can’t step onto the beach.” Now, in that situation you are in a literal position of being metaphysically helpless. Since life is the standard of rights, if you no longer can survive this way, rights are out. And it becomes dog-eat-dog or force-against force."

"Now, let me give you an analogy if it’s not self-evident. Japanese strike pearl Harbor. We declare war. Japan, the Japanese, are then given a large spread of land in Pearl Harbor to build a temple celebrating — I don’t care what. The Japanese superiority or Shinto peacefulness or — I don’t care what. Now, if you can even conceive of that as justified because of “property rights,” then I say you haven’t a clue what property rights, or individualism, or Objectivism is saying. Because what permitting that amounts to is “Roll over. Kick me. Kill me. I have nothing to say.”

"If someone down the street lobbied grenades into your harm which you were renting. And the police wouldn’t do a thing. And you fled. And he buys the property and builds the Church of Home Bombing on your land. Would you say, “Oh! Well, it’s his. It’s his property.” And don’t think that’s a false analogy."

First of all, the island example is a reference to a specialized state of nature. No government exists and for the purposes of the thought experiment, only two men exist, one of whom claims to own everything and casts the other to a certain death. I do not see how or why Dr. Peikoff digressed into such an inapplicable "example," except as a way to transition to the claim that metaphysical survival is currently at stake in our war with Islamic fanatics in the Middle East. Even for that limited purpose, it seems so disanalagous to me as to promote confusion and befuddlement. We do not live in a state of nature, and Islamic fanatics do not hold the position of the "island owner," in the world in general and not in our own state of civilized society.

Property, which in all liberal and enlightenment political theory pre-dates the creation of government, can only be curtailed by one principle--that of initiating force against the rights of others. In order to get to that in the case of the proposed Islamic Cultural Center (or any Islamic building or mosque) we need to establish that those proposing the building are part of a larger movement in league with overseas fanatics trying to kill us, or that they are domestic criminals conspiring to do the same on their own. If either of these is the case, then I'm sure they are being investigated and will be arrested and prosecuted. If they are not, if they are simply American muslims with no intent to break any laws and not in any way leagued with those against whom we are fighting wars, then the connection to initiating force against the rights of others is extremely tenuous at best.

I completely agree with Dr. Peikoff in terms of our tactics and strategy in fighting the war we are engaged in, but our domestic policies--even if congress declares a state of war to exist--including property rights, do not fly out the window. Property rights are "contextual" only in the sense I have identified. If one is using their property to actually assault the rights of others--by building a bomb for instance, or conspiring to kill people--then yes, their property, like their persons and in some instances (i.e. treason), their lives, are subject to confiscation and forfeit under the established due process of law, which our republic recognizes as fundamental to the individual civil rights of all citizens. The only way in which those rights could be plausably suspended under war powers would require actual invasion and domestic warfare.

While a state of normal peace exists in the jurisdiction involved, then the laws ought to continue to operate as usual--even if the republic is fighting overseas wars. This has been our policy in every single war we have ever fought. Dr. Peikoff appeals to the founding fathers--and rightly so--but even when they faced war directly on American soil--in the Revolution and the War of 1812--they did not engage in wholesale destruction of rights. The only possible exception to this, it might be claimed, concerns the property of loyalists during the Revolution, but in that case their legal status was seen as that akin to that of traitors. But even then, they generally were not harmed in their person to the point of death, and their property only tended to be confiscated when they actively fought on the side of the British, or abandoned the country to reside (temporarily or not) in Great Britain or its loyal possessions. Even then, a number of very prominent founders--Alexander Hamilton and John Jay for instance--fought legal battles on behalf of Loyalists after the revolution seeking recompense.

The Japanese example Dr. Peikoff gives is also a false analogy. The governments of Iran and Syria are not trying to build this cultural center--if they were then I would agree with Dr. Peikoff wholeheartedly. They are, from as best I can tell, private American citizens, and are thus entitled to certain rights we would not protect in the case of the Iranian regime. Had the Japanese government tried to build anything in Hawaii, then yes of course, they would never have been permitted to do so. But, certainly, the rights of hostile governments and private American citizens are not, in any respect, the same. Also, I'm not sure why he chose to compare the Islamic cultural center to a situation that never occurred when World War II provides a far more similar example in Roosevelt's internment of private American citizens perceived by the Commander in Chief to be both potentially dangerous and potentially in danger. Here the government suspended not only property rights in time of war, but also physically confined humans with no due process of law. Dr. Peikoff's answer to the ground zero mosque situation seems far more in line with that actual historical precedent.

As to his final example, he vaguely says "someone" lobs grenades into your property, then when you flee, buys your property and builds a center to celebrate the act of throwing grenades onto the property of others. Again, I'm not sure why he chooses to resort to these non-existant and seemingly absurdist examples. Is he suggesting that the people involved in the culutral center were in league or are in league with Islamic terrorists and their international sponsors with whom we are at war? If so, his concern ought to be not with what buildings they might erect, but with why they are walking the streets free to begin with. If he's not suggesting such a literal connection, then I'm at something of a loss as to what point he's actually trying to make. A man who literally attacks you ought to be counter-attacked. Someone who aids and abetts that person is guilty also. Anyone else, even if they claim to belong to the same large religious group, must be presumed innocent until they do something to demonstrate that they are dangerous, treasonous, or otherwise unworthy of life in a free republic. I certainly have no problem if the government decides to surveil and investigate all of the people involved in this project, but until something concrete is produced, their various rights ought to be respected, even if those of us who are not muslims and disagree with all of their opinions decide they are dangerous cranks.

Governmental power is already expansive and troubling enough without advocating the suspension of normal legal procedures on American soil when the courts still operate freely and easily. And it could just as easily be turned on any other "dangerous" minority that those in power decide to persecute. I cannot advocate such power being used by the likes of those who are currently (or may in the future be) likely to use it. As much as an Islamic Cultural Center a couple blocks from where the Twin Towers once stood strikes me as insensitive, bizarre, and jerkish, I need to see something more concrete as to these specific projectors before I could countenance such state action domestically. If we're not going to try to win the war overseas we can hardly expect to succeed waging it among ourselves here at home.


I received a good comment, which I have pasted below. I will address it's arguments here as opposed to creating a "part three" on this issue.

"Some counter arguments that Objectivists are raising to your line of argumentation?

1) Islam is more than just a religion. It has a political/military ideology built into it the aim of which is conquest and subjugation.

2) Organized Islam is a political organization dedicated to the overthrow of the US Constitution.

3) Mosques are part of organized Islam and therefore should either be highly scrutinized or banned completely during time of war.

4) 70-80% of all North American mosques are stocked with Jihad literature originating from Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is financing a world wide Jihad movement including world wide mosque construction and propaganda dissemination.

5) Islamic immigration is extremely dangerous in the context of our egalitarian Leftist multiculturalist welfare state. Large populations of Muslims in Western nations ensure that Westerners live in FEAR of Muslim violence. Google up Molly Norris and see her fate. That could easily be you one day if you say the wrong thing and the US gov't will throw you under a bus.

Read this to get a sense of the problem we are facing. Admittedly it is from a Conservative but his analysis strikes me as far more realistic than yours and other similar Objectivists:"
What does "more than just a religion" mean precisely? Roman Catholicism has all sorts of political and aesthetic elements, is that "more than just a religion" as well? All religions contain elements that go way beyond theories and suppositions on the origin of the universe, man, God and the like. So when one says something like "more than just a religion," what do they mean? Religions are fairly comprehensive, if fundamentally irrational, systems of thinking about the universe and living in the world. And no religion that I'm aware of can be called more anti-life than another--they all advocate abandonment of reason and living for someone else or an alternate mystical reality or both.

Conquest and subjugation are political aims that are impossible without state support, sanction, and backing. I think there is no doubt that Muslims historically and now, in certain regions, have been bent on extending their ideology through conquest and warfare. That, however, does not change the state of peace in the United States proper and the ability of the courts to function freely right now in the American republic. Until that situation changes, there is no immediate emergency to justify a suspension of the legal system. To pretend that this building project is that emergency will empower any future government to define "emergency war powers" so broadly as to seriously undermine all the freedoms and liberties we have left. I'd rather risk the minor trivialities associated with a building everyone will sneer at as opposed to creating a potentially apocalyptic legal precedent.
What is "organized Islam?" There is no such thing. There is no central hierarchy in Islam to issue commands--NONE. One reason it is so difficult to figure out where some Muslims stand is related to this fact. Parts of the Islamic community, both here and abroad, are undoubtedly in favor of overthrowing the U.S. Constitution, which I happen to think is a terrible goal. But means are an important distinquishing feature. The U.S. Constitution contains the legal method of its own overthrow. If I or anyone else worked to put it into effect--that is amend it fundamentally or call a new convention to rewrite it--would my rights be worth less then someone else's? There is a difference morally between a person who might want the U.S. Constitution altered or abandoned but who merely argues that point and does not attempt to violently affect that outcome, and a person fighting a real and deadly war to change the system with bullets and blood.
In order to broadly paint all muslims into a conspiracy to affect such an end--violently--one has to offer more proof and evidence than simply claiming something that is historically false--that Islam has ever been unified or cohesive. I cannot make this point more clearly and one only needs to read Bernard Lewis on the history of Islam (though having lived in Saudi Arabia, this is easily observable as well) to know it--Islam is not in any sense organized. Individual Imams can either be full-blown jihadists or they can expel jihadists from their congregations and cooperate with law enforcement. If you think western busts of Islamic conspiracies could have occurred without tips and assistance from muslims, you're living in a fantasy land. As a person with at least some muslim friends, I find it beyond ignorant of reality to merely assert things about a complicated situation that conflates those who actually break laws and wage wars, and those who do not. That is a real and important--fundamentally important--difference.
War time--which we're not technically in, no state of war ever being declared--does not allow the innocent to be trampled under foot, unless an actual battle is under way with an invading force. The laws of nations and the laws of war are rather clear on this for any sort of regime--but as citizens of a free republic, we ought to be even more cautious of the exercise of any powers associated with a state of war. Building a mosque, to worship peacefully, violates the rights of no one. The presence of jihadist literature from Saudi Arabia is troubling, but so was the Communist Manifesto all over the western world (it calls for international revolution). I don't know where the 70-80% figure comes from, but lets say it is perfectly accurate, in fact, lets say the true number is 100% just to make it easier. So what? What is the context? I can go buy a reader of translations of Osama bin Laden's writings and speeches right now, what does that prove? The mere presence of jihadist literature means very little.
In order to establish an actual conspiracy to commit actual acts, one needs to establish that this literature, which actually exhorts people to war in the United States, is being used by the Imam to encourage his followers to commit real crimes. But not every Imam is using jihadist lit to exhort his flock to war--or if they are they are not doing a very good job, since the numbers involved in this war are relatively very small. The fact that such literature--call it propaganda if that is more accurate--exists means what? Are we to ban literature? Why? Are we afraid of foreign propaganda? Why?
Jihadist literature from Saudi Arabia is silly nonsense, and I have not met a muslim in the United States who doesn't agree with that (though I'm sure they exist). And I don't think--I should disclose that my best friend is Persian and a muslim--that my friends are lying to my face in order to prevent me from getting to the bottom of their secret conspiratorial designs to overthrow the government. Most muslims who emigrate to the United States do so because they cannot stand the repressive societies they were born into and want to become Americans. The 9/11 hijackers were men who did not emigrate to the United States; they were born and bred in jihadist congregations in the Middle East (most in Saudi Arabia) and trained by Al Qaeda in Afghanistan before being deployed into the west to carry out their despicable mission. They are abnormal and not, in any sense, representative of anything approaching a significant portion of the muslims who come to the United States (or those who do not).
As for Saudi Arabia, having lived there for three and a half years, we need to not pretend that the Saudis are worth fearing. We live in the most powerful country in the history of the planet that can, in a moment, wipe the entire muslim world out of existence, so we need to calm down a little bit. This isn't to say there are no dangers and no threats--there certainly are both in spades--but neither is about to result in the destruction of the republic. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is an inept monarchy that buys domestic tranquilty through a combination of not taxing its citizenry and letting religionists have full reign in domestic governance. This has created a peculiar society that is very hands off in some respects and very oppressive in many others. But the Saudi regime is perpetually worried about its vulnerability to any number of discontents from below and foreign toppling from abroad (the main object of that latter fear is now Iran). The Saudi government is likely not behind the international dissemination of any revolutionary literature, because they are equally fearful of such activity in their own country. But the Saudi royal family is massive (tens of thousands of people) and the domestic religionists are quite powerful and quasi-independent, so I have no doubt that they are the ones disseminating propaganda. But the proper response to propaganda is to simply point out how it's wrong and move on.
As for the issuing of fatwas against American citizens, I've already indicated that I think the government should simply bomb those Imams who attempt to harm Americans into the dust. This particular Imam lives in Yemen, a bizarre vendetta non-state, so it should be very little problem. But, I fail to see how the fatwa of a Yemeni Imam translates to oppressing American citizens for his actions because they also happen to be muslims. Are they trying to carry out the fatwa? If so, then those individuals ought to be dealt with. If not, then they are as innocent as you are. There is no world-wide pan-Islamic conspiracy. Nationalism, ethinicity, secularism, and a wide variety of other schisms prevent the world's muslims from conspiring about benign things, let alone anything nefarious. This doesn't mean that radical Islamists aren't a dangerous threat, but they are not the most dangerous threat in the history of the world, and they are not unbeatable. The only thing that could ever give them victory would be our own surrender to their way of doing things. They, not we, persecute non-violent ideas and actions with violence. They, not we, condemn enitre swathes of the world to death.
As for my fate should some Imam decide to issue a fatwa against me, I'd like to see how that effort would work to be quite honest. I don't find radical Islamists scary, particularly not in my own country. I don't know why this cartoonist felt in necessary to go into hiding and alter her identity. If she though it was necessary to her survival then that is sad and troubling, but I would have suggested to her that it was not necessary. Islamic hitmen are not hiding amongst us all the time, waiting to carry out the innumerable fatwas of Yemeni psychotics. If they were, there would be far more stories about dead westerners. That being said, there are already too many stories about fatwas and dead westerners. But the solution to Yemeni Imams who threaten people is not to crack the heads of American muslims--it's to crack his head and the heads of those like him. If any American is in league with such people, there is a justice system set up to deal with their ilk. But it is important to not lose our own heads and to act contrary to principle when the situation doesn't warrant such measures. A state of war, even, requires actual fighting on the ground before the normal course of justice can be legitimately altered or suspended. Such is obviously not the case at the moment. Even in far more serious wars, our republic has been able to maintain calm and persevere, as we must do now more than ever given the intense dangers involved both at home and abroad (not the least of which emanates from the government itself).

Monday, September 20, 2010

Mosque Construction in the United States of America

So I have been incredibly busy in trying to finish drafting my dissertation in time to hit the ground running in an academic position in the Fall of 2011 and not paying much beyond peripheral attention to current events. But I have seen that one of the stories taking prominence among Objectivists and the country at large is the question of mosque construction near the site where the World Trade Center Towers once stood in lower Manhattan. Two questions are at play in this story as I see it; the first is whether or not people in the United States have the right to construct buildings where they propagate their belief systems (I would add on land that they own, but there are no private land owners in Manhattan--which is an abomination but a subject for another day--the New York City Port Authority owns all of Manhattan) in Manhattan; if the answer is yes--and I will argue that it is--then the next question is whether or not these particular Muslims could, in good faith, really think the construction of Islamic Cultural Center is really in the best of taste so close to such a site only a decade after the worst massacre on American soil since the nineteenth century.

As to the first question. If American Muslims cannot build mosque's in the United States then no mystical religionists ought to be allowed to construct any places of worship. Islam is no more inherently violent than Christianity or Judaism--both of which were at points in their past followed by incredibly violent fanatics. Read about the first crusade and then tell me that you want Catholics building churches near you. Of course, we live in the present, not the 11th-12th centuries. But no matter how many crazy fanatics who exist in the world trying to consistently apply their war-like understanding of jihad to us, we live in a society of individual rights. We do not condemn followers of Islam who, like followers of nearly every other organized religion in the world, are inconsistent hypocrites and live normal non-offensive lives as law-abiding citizens of our republic. We condemn those who actually do, or conspire to do, actual wrong. If the people investing in this particular cultural center are criminals or plotting criminal activity or worse, conspiring with our enemies overseas, then sure, investigate them, arrest them, prosecute them, and toss them in jail. But to condemn them before that and disallow their rights to lease land and construct their own private buildings upon it is absurd.

Having lived in an Islamic country--and one of the most fanatical--for three and a half years, I don't have any especial sympathy for Islam as a belief system. It is built entirely upon the principal of submission and sacrifice of oneself to the community and to God. But that is hardly unique. It was spread through conquest initially, but once Islamic armies ran into actual resistance they became the conquered and converted people as Christians do--proselytizing them. Since there is not central command of interpretation in Islamic culture, individual Imams have a tremendous amount of power. When they abuse that to issue death threats against enemies of the faith, they are merely reenacting Urban II's call for the first crusade in 1095. For that they ought to be condemned, and if such fatwas are ever perceived as actual threats on our security or that of our citizens, then I have no problem with my government killing barbaric mystics. But a war against overseas opponents, who are Muslims and who act from an ideology built around the teachings of Islam, does not translate to outlawing mosques in the United States. When Washington told the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island that "All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoke of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support," he wasn't trying to secure Jewish support politically--they were a small minority and he was unassailable politically. He was attempting to describe why Americans had a "right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation." Now where in the world do governments prevent zany, bizarre, or even potentially dangerous religious weirdos from building their own places of congregation and worship? It is not the United States, nor should it ever be. Good god, even the CPUSA was permitted to peacefully propagate an ideology explicitly devoted to the destruction of the government and individual rights and that was actually allied with a massive murderous totalitarian regime which was also our greatest enemy for over forty years.

Now, the other question about propriety. I happen to think it's probably not the best idea in the world to select that particular location in Manhattan to build a cultural center for the same culture of those who butchered thousands of innocents down the street ten years ago. Was there a Japanese cultural center built at Pearl Harbor in 1951? A German cultural center in Warsaw in 1949? Of course not. But if people had wanted to build them, pay for them, and use them, I would not have opposed their right to do so. I sympathize with those that see this proposed construction as an affront--especially when you consider post-Al Ghazali Islamic culture has nothing much to be proud of intellectually--but there is nothing that can be done short of buying them out or boycotting the facility. Besides, if it turns out that this cultural center is run by and visited by perfectly loyal American Muslims, then it will be no different than any other house of irrational whims that litter the American landscape.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

On filibustering

As a historian I might be thought to be writing on unauthorized 19th century military expeditions of rowdy and bombastic cowboys and freebooters, but I'm actually writing on boring Senate procedural filibustering. The Senate Filibuster used to be a real show. A Senator would have to talk--literally--without pause to hold up Senate business, thus waiting for the other Senators to retire so that a quorum to continue was lost or enouch of the opposition left the chamber to tip the scales of the vote to be taken on a dreaded bill. Of course the last famous filibusters of this style well deployed against Civil Rights reforms in the 1960s and the procedural quirk of the Senate was subsequently reformed to save Senators the trouble of having to speak for hours on end. The result is the current system whereby an indivdual Senator announces their intention to filibuster whereby the Senate simply stalls until 60 of his fellows vote to proceed, getting all the benefits of an old style filibuster without any of the accompanying pain and theatrics.

Of course, a party in minority, particularly the current uncharacteristically small minority Republicans in the Senate have (41) will wish to use this, its only real check on the majority, as often as they feel they must when it seems unlikely that enough of their opponents will defect. As the Senate was designed without the idea that it would be the realm of two institutionalized and entrenched parties that would also exist in the House of Representatives (not to mention without the notion that it would directly represent the people), the filibuster rule of the Senate has been a useful and appropriate innovation to retain the spirit of the original expectation that the Senate would be a check on the lower house and more slow and deliberative in the legislative process. Unfortunately, frustrated Democrats in the blogosphere are displeased with the "slow" pace of "change" currently coming out of the U.S. Congress and they have set their sights on the filibuster as the prime culprit. Of course, when Democrats were in the minority, the filibuster was a tool they employed often enough, but now, some claim, Republicans have abused the process.

Another quirk in this situation is that the Senate, under normal circumstances, cannot change its rules except through the vote of a super majority of two thirds--except at the beginning of a new session where the body only needs a simple majority or a tie with Biden's tie-break vote to change the rules. As long as they take on no other business before the rule changes, a simple majority can change all the rules if they desire it. The idea is that if they proceed to other business then the "new" Senate implicitly accepts all of the "old" Senate's rules and therefore must accept the super majority rule for amending. One thing I'm not clear on about how this works is how one accounts for the senate ever being old or new given that two-thirds of that body is always in office, unlike the House which actually can be completely new every two years.

Part of this is sour grapes. When out of power, both parties use the filibuster to prevent things they don't like and cannot possibly defeat in any other way. And both parties, when in power, bemoan the use of the filibuster by the other side. So some of this is just silly unreflective partisan nonsense. But some of this is a realization in the part of radicals that the filibuster is, inherently, a conservative tool, preventing all change of the status quo no matter if defined as good or bad. As such, it can and always will be deployed against reform in any direction. Liberals would deploy the filibuster against deregulation, legislative repeals, and all manner of "reform" they clearly do not like. Conservatives have acted likewise. But when you have a 57 Senator majority, plus two caucusing independents, it is understandable that true believers get frustrated that the minority can so easily gum up the works. But given the scope of any "reform" and the ramifications it might have, it is still somewhat mind-boggling that on the verge of massive electoral reverses the Democrats and their most radical supporters would urge the destruction of what may one day soon be their only means of halting "reforms" they do not support.

Range of the moment thinking is often characterized by the complete absence of long-term thinking. It is all around us, but no more pathetically than in a national political leadership that runs trillion dollar annual deficits without blushing. By advocating a rule change by which to silence their opponents, radicals on the left may actually be enabling their opponents to easily ignore their shrieks of protest in the future when they aren't in the majority. So while I oppose such a rule change as essentially dangerous to minority rights, I will not feel sorry for lefties when this one--if they manage to pass it--comes back to bite them in the ass.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

In Defense of the Atom Bomb

If you have not already seen the trailers for “Countdown to Zero,” get ready, because after being dormant for over twenty years, the no nukes/nuclear freeze nuts are back with a vengeance. The same charlatans who brought us “An Inconvenient Truth” to convince us that mega-Hurricanes were about to swamp the United States in a mega-hot post-Katrina world. Remember that? Ok, even scientists can make mistakes, and that is the ultimate point of this new “documentary,” they made a huge one when they weaponized the power of nuclear fission, and then later nuclear fusion. Now we are to be dictated to by the likes of Jimmy Carter and Pervez Musharraf about bringing the total global number of nuclear weapons to zero. It is one of the most breathtaking examples of foolishness presented seriously I have seen in some time.

Nuclear weapons are alarming and breath-taking in their destructive capacity. It is possible to envision building enough of them to, if used, wipe out most of human civilization and make subsequent life on earth extremely difficult for the survivors. For Hollywood directors this idea presents interesting avenues for action/science fiction movies. For simpletons it is an alarming and realistic prospect. But nuclear weapons are the single greatest factor in preventing the second sequel to World War I and all other major wars in the period after their use at the end of World War II. War on a major scale between nuclear powers is inconceivable to all people involved, because winning seems completely impossible. Or if it is technically possible, it presents the most Pyrrhic of Pyrrhic victories. And so, after the bloodiest opening of any century in human history, the second half of the twentieth century was one dominated by wars in the third world that, while deadly and destructive, did not threaten to bring war between countries most capable of destroying the progress of civilized man.

That genie is irreversibly out of the bottle, for better or worse. It is not possible to dial back the clock. Nuclear power offers great enormous potential to generate cheap efficient power with rather minimal risks, and its development brings along the possibility of weaponization. That’s simply a fact of reality. Nuclear weapons are alarming in the hands of despots and psychotic criminal terrorists around the world, and that specific issue is worthy of combat, but disarming the United States of its defensive nuclear arsenal is criminal at best. No hostile forces and regimes around the world are ever going to listen to Jimmy Carter’s pathetic appeals to give up nuclear weapons. Just as criminals do not follow the law in acquiring illegal weapons, the world’s worst people will not break their designs for one minute even if the United States were to toss all of its nuclear weapons in the ocean tomorrow. We’ll be infinitely less safe, our allies will be infinitely less safe, and for what? The notion that it is possible or desirable to re-enter the pre-1945 world is horrifically nonsensical. The best that can be said for those who would seriously advocate that nuclear weapons be destroyed is that they are woefully disconnected from the reality of world affairs and human nature, not to mention all of human history. I will leave the worst that can be said for them to private utterance.

On a separate note I have just learned that cap and trade is dead for this legislative session: Huzzah!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Check out a new post on Thomas Jefferson on the early republic blog and get involved in the discussion!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Why I’ll Never Be Confirmed to the Supreme Court

John Paul Stevens is out, Elena Kagan is about to be in. The Supreme Court of the United States, the pinnacle of the third branch of the government, is about to welcome aboard its 112th member and President Obama’s second addition to the court after Sonia Sotomayor. Elena Kagan kicked off her Senate confirmation hearings by pledging “modesty” in her future career as a member of our country’s most august court. Therein lies the problem in my theoretical confirmation to the Supreme Court (based on the extremely dubious assumption that I could be or would be nominated by some future President). A Supreme Court Justice should be many things, but modest is not one of them.

Modesty, as Justice-to-be Kagan employs the word, means deference to the legislative and executive branches in their making of law. In Kagan’s world, that simply means bending the Constitution over backwards to allow unconstitutional laws to skate by the fundamental supreme law of the land. To her would-be opponents in the Senate, Mitch McConnell’s hapless band of Republicans, modesty is a good thing since it means no “legislating from the bench” and therefore none of those annoying judicial decisions against gay marriage bans or abortion restrictions. In either guise, “modesty” from a Supreme Court Justice is improper. Instead of being that which is always and ought to be said in these confirmation hearing, modesty should be relegated to the “list” of words that gets one “Borked” right out of the room. [By the way, just so there is no confusion, Robert Bork was a terrible nominee who was rightly rejected—or “Borked.”]

What would Supreme Court Nominee Alexander Marriott say in his confirmation hearings about his judicial outlook and philosophy? I would approach such a job offer in the following manner, from most specific to most general: 1) the role precedent or stare decisis should play for a Supreme Court Justice, 2) the role of Supreme Court Justice qua the rest of the government in our republican system, 3) the Proper method of interpreting the constitution, and 4) the proper role of the Federal Government in relation to individuals and the States:

The role precedent or stare decisis should play for a Supreme Court Justice
Judges of inferior courts should be extremely hesitant about ruling against the decisions of higher courts, particularly the Supreme Court of the United States. It is in this sense that the principle of stare decisis makes the most sense for a rational judiciary. There are two primary reasons for this: 1) in inferior courts there is still a higher court to appeal any decision to and 2) stability in the law is important to maintaining respect for the law and stability in society. BUT, for a Supreme Court Justice, it is doubly important to be independent from the tyranny of erroneous reasoning of prior Supreme Court decisions. Prior Supreme Court precedents are not to be taken lightly, but those that do not conform to higher principles discussed below are not entitled to unlimited respect as final or definitive.

The role of Supreme Court Justice qua the rest of the government in our republican system
A Supreme Court Justice is but one member of the highest court in the United States and thus has a part in crafting the final word on all constitutional legal matters. This includes the ability to check the legislative and executive branches by voiding federal laws which violate the Constitution. The Chief Justice also participates in the checking of the executive branch by presiding over impeachment trials of President by the Senate. A Justice of the Supreme Court ought not to assume an unseemly deference to congressmen or Presidents because the former were elected by the people. Every Supreme Court Justice is appointed by the one officer of the government elected by all of the people and confirmed by the people’s representatives in the U.S. Senate. This indirect method of gaining their positions is appropriate and legally prescribed by the very Constitution they swear oaths to uphold. They perform an equally vital and indispensable function in the government with the other two branches and should not grovel. An independent and strong judiciary is essential to the freedom and well-being of the republic. The judiciary can only be as independent and strong as each of its individual members. Any actual abuses, true deviations from the application of the laws, or gross violations of laws or incompetence, all of these are just causes for removal and the constitution provides the remedy to the people’s most immediate and direct part of the government, Congress.

The Proper method of interpreting the constitution
The first standard of judging of the Constitution is the Constitution itself. Treaties are supreme to all other law as well, but as it would be an absurd conceit to place Treaties on par, let alone above, the Constitution, they must have a subordinate role to the Constitution. Following Madison’s advice, the next most “authentic” set of sources for expounding on and interpreting the charter are the records of the ratifying conventions that made the Constitution an operative and real government, and not just an idea written on paper. Next are the contemporaneous debates and statements on the Constitution by its supports and detractors during the ratification period. Next are the precedents established during the first several years of the government’s operations. Finally there is the body of Supreme Court constitutional case law. The only other sources of law that can be properly admitted into discussions of fundamental American law are those that existed prior to the Constitution. Thus the Declaration of Independence is a relevant source of American jurisprudence, while the common law of Great Britain is not (as Marshall decided during the Burr treason trial). International law has bearing through treaties and through informal usage and acceptance, but it cannot be superior to the Constitution in an American court of law—any American court of law.

The proper role of the Federal Government in relation to individuals and the States
The Federal Government was formed for specific reasons and was thus granted specific powers. The Constitution neither creates an unlimited leviathan nor a wimpy league of sovereign and independent states. It acts directly upon the individual citizens of the United States and is supreme in everything it does. The States have residual powers and rights, not delegated to the federal government, over issues of local prerogative as the state constitutions establish for themselves. But they are enjoined, in the Constitution, against doing a whole host of things, principally those things that the federal government is specifically empowered to do. They have no rights or powers to interfere in the enforcement of federal laws. The states are also not to withdraw from the general government under any pretext of legality. As for individuals, the language of the Constitution and the undeniable weight of all other varieties of evidence and documentation, suggest that their rights are the primary reason the government was established. In order to make that even more obvious, almost every amendment made to the Constitution relates to some province of individual rights and freedom that the government may not—explicitly—intrude upon, lest there be some misunderstanding in the foregoing articles. But the rights of individuals are not derived from the Constitution—a fact that the document explicitly recognizes—they are inherent in the nature of man. They cannot violate each other (thus there cannot be a right to life and liberty and also a right to own slaves or a right to the product’s of another’s labor) and they are the reason government’s are established—to preserve and protect these rights. Any Justice should boldly proclaim this and proudly recognize that the document they swear oaths to is the product of a nearly unprecedented and almost entirely unduplicated effort to create a government strong enough to survive but controlled and circumscribed enough to not squash the very rights it was called into being to protect. The fact that it remains in operation more than two centuries later through some of histories greatest conflicts and disasters is nothing short of wondrous. The fact that prospective Justice Kagan could not even affirm some sort of doctrine of natural rights is a sad and appalling sign of the state of the legal profession.

And so, now that I have publicly staked out such firm positions, I am further doomed should some misguided soul ever appoint me to the Supreme Court of the United States. But unlike Elena Kagan, I would never make fun of the non-informative and shallow nomination hearing process and then play right into that same process once nominated. I would, if nominated, answer candidly and honestly all questions asked of me. If it meant not being confirmed to the court, so be it. No prospective Justice should be so desirous of power as to adopt a policy of answering and at the same time not answering the questions of the Senate. And the Senators should not make honest answers, within a reasonable range of judicial and political disagreement (for instance, it is absurd to vote down a prospective justice because you happen to disagree on tariff policy while voting down a communist or fascist jurist would be most appropriate), grounds for denial. Such an attitude merely encourages and fosters the shallow, uninformative, and boring confirmation hearing process that now dominates.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Immigration: A Problem in Need of Principle Application

Some issues currently before the American people as "problems" befuddle me. Abortion, gay marriage, drugs. How and why people get exorcized over these issues is sometimes frustratingly unfathomable to me. I remind myself that people who see these as issues of high priority--as issues at all of any priority--are operating under a completely different set of premises and values than I, but this is often an unsatisfactory anodyne to what ails me.

Immigration is just such an issue. So much vitriol, so much bluster, so much money! And for what precisely? What are the principles motivating those so upset over immigration? That immigrants use things once they get here? That some immigrants commit crimes? That the immigrants capable of getting around the obtuse and illogical legal immigration system do so? These aren't principles so much as gripes.

Every country has a right and duty to defend its geographical political integrity--from external political threats. But from private immigrants? This is issue number one. So there are no invading armies crowding the borders of the republic, but what about criminals? The government must honor all extradition treaty obligations with legitimate governments. If fugitives from other countries seek safety in our bosom they ought to be expelled back the justice awaiting them. What about those who committed crimes but served their sentences? This is a matter where I think there is some legitimate issue for debate. Other countries around the world have bizarre and unjust criminal codes that condemn people for non-crimes while other countries let murderers out of jail after absurdly short periods of time (i.e. at all). I think a case by case approach should be applied for tough questionable cases. I do not think it unreasonable to bar those previously convicted of murder, rape, and larceny past some set value of stolen property. Those who commit crimes here before attaining citizenship ought either to be dealt with under our justice system, sentenced, then deported (if their crime is not serious enough to warrant a life sentence or the death penalty), or, if a minor felony, simply deported back to their country of origin providing that that is not a death sentence.

What about employment “theft” and the use of hospital emergency rooms and state welfare aid? These are "issues" only insofar as someone cares about maintaining state economic interventions and welfare programs. There is no way to avoid paying some form of tax in almost every state in the Union, so the idea that even the most illegal of immigrants is paying no taxes is a canard. Now, they might not be paying as much as a native citizen of the republic in the same position, but it seems to me that if one has a problem with that state of affairs then the immigrant is not the direction in which to direct one's ire, but the laws that make such a situation possible.

Jobs, outside of the government, are the creation of employers. They are not public goods or commodities, but are privately held and offered. The labor market in this country is, in principle, a free one. That being said, it is heavily regulated. There is a well known price floor in place in the market for labor, more commonly referred to as the minimum wage. Like every other market with price floors and ceilings set to levels above or below the market equilibrium of supply and demand, buyers and sellers will sometimes ignore the rules to conduct business that is mutually beneficial and not harmful, yet illegal. Immigrants, often reared in societies far less abundant than ours, are often capable of living far more economically than native Americans and are willing and able to offer their labor at rates below those of many other people. Like most competitors today who find themselves in a position demanding a choice--change or fail--many Americans competing with immigrants, particularly illegal ones, strike out for a third option. Simply, proscribe the competition.

Think of the labor market in the same way you would about any other market, except in this market, the collusion which is squashed by anti-trust laws in nearly all other markets is encouraged in the form of Union protections. Direct price controls are frowned upon in nearly all markets except for labor where price floors exist nearly everywhere (and price ceilings are sometimes discussed and proposed quite seriously). The American Republic has often been committed to protectionism of its domestic markets in a wide variety of manufactured items. And so it has been of its labor. It's not the result of a host of seedy behind-closed-doors lobbying activity, but the dangerous democratic rumblings of the vox populi.

But for those who claim to only care about security, how do we secure ourselves from criminals and terrorists from abroad or at our borders? Criminals and terrorists are always going to try to do things either patently illegally or attempt to pretend lawful behavior to avoid suspicion. This is always the case and it is not what characterizes the vast majority of immigrants historically or currently. We spend vast sums of money to set up systems and employ our fellow citizens to prevent these two small classes of people from entering the country and wrecking havoc. But those systems and fellow citizens not only having to hunt down the criminals and terrorists over a vast border, they have to do it amidst a much larger population of people technically breaking the law to immigrate to the United States for just and upright reasons. Why? Because of the current harebrained scheme of national quotas and visas that penalizes everyone. Does it even have the redeeming feature of keeping criminals and terrorists out? No. The quotas and visas are irrelevant to criminals and terrorists who simply ignore these laws along with every other law that gets in their way. Or they will comply to a point to avoid harassment ala the 9/11 hijackers.

The national quota and worker/student visa system should be abolished. It serves no legitimate end. Immigrants coming from afar will have to enter through sea ports or air ports and are subject to old-fashioned methods of making sure they are who they claim to be and/or not infected with horrible contagions. Without a quota and visa system, the current mess on the Mexican border should almost entirely evaporate as far as concerns people interested in making an honest living go. It’s far safer, cheaper, and easier to enter a known border crossing to undergo an identification confirmation and medical examination than to hike through the desert with hardcore criminals. As for the criminals, they will suddenly find themselves as isolated figures in the desert easy to handle for the resources already appropriated for the purpose. No more endless sea of humanity to hide in. The key is to not drive honest decent people into the arms of rapacious unsavory criminals in order to achieve non-objectionable ends. No citizen of the United States has any right to interpose themselves between prospective employers and employees except in a case where someone's legitimate individual rights are violated.

If U.S. citizens wish to complain that their welfare systems cost too much money because people use them (shocking that free money offered to people sometimes gets grabbed) then they should reconsider why they have such programs in place to begin with. They are objecting to behavior. There can only be two reasons: 1) They don't like the idea of people getting handouts, in which case, they should work on getting rid of the government handout system; or 2) They don't like the particular person getting the handout. The first complaint is based on a principle, the second is not.

So it's clear that I think the hullabaloo surrounding immigration is a lot of confused, prejudicial, muddled nonsense. But naturalization of immigrants is a legitimate province of the government. The government and the republic broadly ought not to encourage or foster a dangerous pluralism. What do I mean by that? The republic always has and should continue to encourage the immigration of those who want to make a new start; those who want asylum from tyranny; those who want to take the opportunities and responsibilities of freedom by the horns and succeed. It has never been the policy of the republic to encourage the immigration of monarchists, aristocrats, criminals, communists, or anyone else not supportive of human liberty and dedicated to the principles of individual liberty from which the republic was born. It is a very mild restriction, but one the republic should hold to very firmly.

E pluribus unum is our motto for a reason. American pluralism is a wondrous achievement and we bask rightly in our incredible variety as a people, but when it comes to the truly important fundamentals of our political creed and our unity as a people, we have been and must be together. Not as a collective mass without thought--never that. But we can be united in our devotion to the liberty and freedom the revolution was fought for and which has been reaffirmed in blood numerous times ever since. United around our constitution, that stolid, rarely changing yet alive and breathing and real document. United around each other because now, as always, Franklin's injunction that we must all hang together or assuredly hang separately is absolutely true. And united around our ability to absorb--happily absorb--those who see our society, our example, and want in. Those around the world staring at the United States of America on small television screens, or hearing about it on crackling radios, or being told about it around a campfire under starry skies. To all those aspiring people wishing to escape poverty, wishing to help family and friends, wishing to achieve that which would be impossible anyplace else--anytime else--it is to this republic they have always flocked and continue to flock to even in this troubled age. A goal, a dream, a vision--by the millions, people bring them to our shores. Few lands in history could ever claim to be a land of immigrants. It's not an accident. Immigration requires a maximum effort. There has to be a reason to leave and there has to be a reason to go to a particular place. It's always easier to stay put. And yet to us they come, from all over. We must open ourselves to them while maintaining our republican way of life. Becoming a walled camp, worrying about which particular people are getting handouts, and blaming our employment woes on others is not us. That sort of thinking is not America at its best. When an immigrant risks everything to come here, it is not a small, insulated, petty country he holds before him. Nor should it ever be.

To that end I propose the following amendment to our constitution.

PROPOSED IMMIGRATION AMENDMENT to the Constitution of the United States

Section One. All foreign aliens, unless convicted of crimes to be defined by the Congress of the United States, or infected by such illnesses as shall be defined by the Congress of the United States, shall not be prohibited from entering the United States or its territories and remaining indefinitely unless said foreign alien commits a felony against a Federal law or a law of the several States;

Section Two. All foreign aliens not otherwise excluded by prior criminal activity in the United States or its territories, or by prior criminal activity in their countries of origin, the extent of which shall be defined by the Congress of the United States, shall be naturalized citizens of the United States in pursuance of the following;

Section Three. All foreign aliens wishing to become citizens of the United States shall, continuously, reside in the United States or its territories for a period not less than ten years;

Section Four. All foreign aliens wishing to become citizens of the United States shall declare their intention of becoming a citizen by swearing to and signing an oath, publicly witnessed by at least two officers of government, State or Federal. No foreign alien shall become a citizen until this oath is sworn and signed. The oath shall be: "I swear that I shall always uphold and protect the Constitution of the United States and its republican form of government. I swear I shall always affirm and protect the individual rights of all citizens of this republic. I swear by my life and all that I hold dear, that I shall never levy war against this republic. Never will I swear allegiance to any foreign prince, potentate, or people against this republic. I swear that so long as I am a citizen of this republic I will maintain, with my life if necessary, its laws and its liberties;"

Section Five. Any foreign alien wishing to become a citizen of the United States cannot do so by contracting a state of marriage with a citizen of the United States;

Section Six. Foreign aliens, whether seeking citizenship or not, who have children in the United States, shall not become citizens. All children of foreign aliens born in the United States or its territories will be citizens of the United States and enjoy all the rights and privileges guaranteed to the same;

Section Seven. Congress shall make no law restricting foreign aliens of any nation from immigrating to the United States or its territories, nor shall it harass foreign aliens from any nation, seeking citizenship or not, unless the United States are at war with said nation, and only so long as a state of war exists shall this prohibition be ignored;

Section Eight. All Federal laws concerning naturalization and immigration passed prior to the adoption of this amendment shall be void. All foreign aliens in the United States or its territories at the time this amendment is adopted shall be eligible for citizenship under the provisions of this amendment retroactively regardless of their prior compliance with the previous, now void, naturalization and immigration laws;

Section Nine. Congress shall make all laws necessary and proper for carrying the foregoing powers, provisions, and proscriptions into effect immediately.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Blog of the Early Republic Redux!

I have redesigned and recommenced operating my other blog, The Blog of the Early Republic, a link to which you can find on the right as well as in the link provided in this message. I will be updating both blogs on a weekly to bi-weekly basis from now on, so stay tuned for what I hope is some interesting content. That is all.
Harry Reid's Political Fate

Having returned to Nevada semi-permanently after a five year self-imposed exile in New England (pursuing that Ph.D dream of mine) I find a community quite unfamiliar in many respects to the one I left behind in August 2005. For one thing, there are fewer people here. I don't just mean all of my friends moved away, though that is certainly true in some regards, but there are just fewer people about. This is anecdotal, obviously, but I'm sure it can be verified by the agencies in charge of keeping track of such things, and the 2010 Census will undoubtedly bear out this observation.

Finding work is infinitely more difficult than it was when I left. I'm still looking. But any sort of position from measly laborer, to adjunct professor, from security screener to substitute teacher and anything else you can imagine seems to be scarce. Scarce is perhaps too timid a word. One almost senses that given the current prices of gold it might make more sense to imitate our ancestors of '49 (that's 1849) and go prospecting for a claim somewhere. But unlike in those days, most of the good prospecting land seems to be owned already, usually by the Federal Government.

It's still very hot. I'm not sure if I expected that to change, but it did not (unfortunately). And there are a bunch of new buildings everywhere. People actually use the beltway! No one did in 2005. It was an unused expensive boondoggle back then.

Politically things are peculiar. Jim Gibbons was a very popular man when I left. A veteran of the Gulf War and repeated congressman for the rest of the state (there were two congressional districts before the 2000 Census; one for Las Vegas, one for the rest of the State). As far as Republicans in the State went, he seemed the most respected. John Ensign was nipping at his heals. I return to find Gibbons's career in tatters and Ensign a laughingstock. The former was just rejected in his party's primary and the latter is hoping people stop laughing by 2012 when he's up for re-election. I have met with and spoken to Senator Ensign several times, once at some length. He seemed like an intelligent decent guy. His failure to resign his seat baffles and appalls me.

That brings me to the current Senate race that has gained national attention. Harry Reid, the Majority Leader in the U.S. Senate finds himself trailing his challenger, Tea Party darling Sharron Angle. Having been in New England for the last five years, the last year and a half most notably, I must say I have no personal experience with these Tea Parties. I enjoyed Rick Santelli's extemporaneous condemnation of the endless effusion of Federal money at the end of the Bush Administration and the opening of Obama's on CNBC. I was quite shocked that it inspired a nation-wide effort to lodge vocal and strident opposition against those measures and has now taken on an active role in selecting, endorsing, and supporting candidates for higher office, from Rand Paul in Kentucky to Angle here in Nevada. I'm appalled that a neophyte clown like Sarah Palin has ingratiated herself into some sort of informal leadership position among at least some portion of these people. It calls into question their judgment at the very least. There are few Republicans more ridiculed than she, and it's ironic that a movement inspired by righteous fury at expanding government should elevate a meddling mommy-state Republican like Sarah Palin to a leadership position. But this is a digression to be pursued elsewhere.

Senator Reid, from my personal experiences with the man (I have met all of Nevada's Senators for the past 14-15 years through the Sun Youth Forum, a meeting of the minds of select High School Students moderated by local notables including, during the two years I attended, Senators Reid and Bryan and then Congressman Ensign), is unpleasant and unapproachable. But he's neither foolish nor timid. He's an experienced and able politician in the sense that he knows how to win elections and wield political power. Defeating him in an election is not an easy proposition. It was very nearly pulled off by a then very popular and appealing Congressman John Ensign in 1998. He came up several hundred votes short. But Reid's arguments for his own retention then are the same as now, except now he's been in the Senate an additional 12 years and he now holds the highest position of actual political power in that body. He can credibly argue that in terms of that ugly "pork" spending everyone seems to hate except when it's spent on them, he's the man. In tough economic times a man waving money in your face can be an irresistible force.

His opponent has never won state-wide office. Why is this important? Because neutralizing Las Vegas, for a Republican, is critical to winning such elections. By this I mean, a Republican must make sure that Las Vegas is not so lop-sided in favor of the Democrat that it blots out the Republican sweep of much of the rest of the State. Reid counts on Las Vegas and its various powerful Unions (Teachers, Nurses, Culinary, etc.) to carry elections over the remainder of the State. In a midterm election, turnout is always critical and Unions are great organizing devices for turning out the vote.

His other ace in the hole in the past is that he has been able to mollify Nevada's tilt towards social conservatism (there are still a ton of Mormons living here). The Democrat from Nevada is "Pro-Life" in the sense that he opposes the right of the living to decide their own fates and to use their own bodies as they see fit. His opposition to abortion has served in the past as a way to hold onto Mormon voting affinity as well as mute the potential issue on the part of his Republican challengers.

However, this year poses certain problems for all of Senator Reid's former strategies. Waving federal money around in an election year where (at least in Nevada) many people are extremely angry over the unaccountable spending going on at the Federal level, only seems to highlight what's wrong in Government and with Senator Reid in particular. As for abortion, it has been thankfully absent from much, if not all, of the electioneering so far. I do not anticipate, barring some unforeseeable turn of events, that it will factor in anyone's vote this November. As for the Senator's elevated position in the majority party. I see that as being just as likely to be a liability if many of his constituents see his record of "accomplishment" there over the past two years to be one of irresponsible and reckless spending and legislating. The overhaul of healthcare regulations, in response to the market distortions created by the previous 40-50 years of healthcare regulations hardly struck many Nevadans as a necessary or desirable legislative goal. Nor do they view creating a fake market in carbon emissions as a pretext for inventing a host of new and onerous taxes as a wise or desirable end. And yet, if Senator Reid pursues using his powerful position as the casus prima for his re-election, he merely highlights a host of very unpopular and controversial "achievements" which threatens to motivate everyone in the state who either does not like him anyway or finds those legislative acts/goals to be antithetical to their way of thinking.

Of course, the other strategy Senator Reid has at his disposal and is currently pursuing is that of simply making the alternative unacceptable. Nevada is a closely divided state as far as party registration goes, and independents hold the real power in state-wide races. The current TV ads Senator Reid is running play up Angle's alleged dislike and opposition to the grand old entitlement programs the government currently runs, Social Security and Medicare. It is a predictable and classic move. Whether Angle holds such views is irrelevant really as no one thinks altering those programs, let alone doing away with them, is politically possible in the near future. But a seemingly large swathe of those currently receiving benefits from those programs like them, and they vote. Like the retired armies of ancient Rome, old Americans are that politically volatile group that any politician messes with at their own risk. [In the later 19th and early 20th centuries, the group playing that role in the United States was actually and litally a retired army. The Grand Army of the Republic, the veterans of the Union armies that won the Civil War, were a political force to be reconed with. Politicians meddled with their pensions at their own peril. But at least in those days it was a finite and delimited group of people that eventually died off.] Just as the former had to be given lands and generous pensions to ward off the precipitous (and all too common) march on Rome, the latter has to be assuaged that their "entitlements" are not only not going to be done away with, but that they will not be cut or even prevented from increasing (for very long anyway). If Senator Reid can convince his fellow aged citizens that his opponent is a threat to a cherished part of their existence, he might very well cobble together a strong enough coalition of voters to survive the current threat to his senate seat.

Of course, candidate Angle has lots of financial support from a national network of people who dislike Senator Reid. She's also benefiting from the outraged and excited echoes of Rick Santelli's outburst on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Whether that's enough to take down the state's most powerful, crafty, and durable politician (no one, not even his fiercest partisans, would dare claim that he's the most beloved) when he currently ranks as one of the most powerful (for good or ill) men in the country is not a matter I care to predict at the moment. If he loses it will be a poor sign for President Obama's goals over the next two years and a very obvious repudiation from a state that gave it's five electoral votes to him in 2008.

As to whether that event, should it occur, will have any immediate impact on the economic situation in the state the answer is obvious--NO. The private sector of the economy nationally is not going to be able to proceed robustly in rebuilding and expanding until it has some idea of what it's operating constraints and costs are going to be in the future. While the debt increases without an end in sight, while the congress continues passing regulatory expansions over and reorganizations of huge swathes of the economy (healthcare, finance, potentially energy), and while the President continues to prod, move, and ask for more and more, most employers will prudently hold onto their money until they can figure out how much they'll need to cover new expenses. Previous temporary tax cuts are going to expire at the end of the year on top of everything else. The economy is likely to remain stagnant and uninspiring until this situation reverses or, at the very least, stabilizes. Nevada's economy relies on the prosperity of the rest of the economy to prosper. It needs tourists and people travel less these days.

Senator Reid's ultimate fate will have some, probably not insignificant, impact on stabilization and/or reversal being possible, to say nothing of their actually occurring. Republicans have been no more credible in the realm of actually paring down the cost of government and undoing regulations. In fact, they've been less credible for promising those things and then not delivering them. It is time to test, for perhaps the final time, whether the American people, specifically the portion of them (still) living in Nevada, can vote on principles the majority of them profess to hold and then keep their elected champion committed to those principles. Or whether they've irreversibly gone down the road of being a clamoring mob, that will bow at the alter of the highest bidder and the most unscrupulous demagogue. I cannot say what the result will be, but I'm mildly pleased that it remains an open question.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Well it's been a couple of years, so it must be time for another tale of heartbreak. I will spare everyone those details, but as in the last case, I won't spare you the awful poetical outpourings of my shattered heart. I'll be fine though, and hopefully blogging a bit more in the coming weeks as I draft dissertation chapters and resume living.

Again, I am here, love’s loyal supplicant
Again, I have failed, all must now grant.
My love I offer and again it’s mine
How does this happen time after time?

A match so complementary, how could it founder?
But all is lost as I pathetically flounder!
No soul searches as much as I and yet,
On my success no observant eyes would bet.

Few love this world as much as I,
Yet what I want most seems to be too high.
Ought I to withdraw from these futile endeavors?
When it seems that all life’s joys are unattainable treasures?

What flaw hampers me that I don’t see?
Could I even fix whatever’s the matter with me?
Or is the rest of humanity mad?
Not one thing now can make me glad!