Monday, July 30, 2012

Things That Need 'Some Splanin'

Things That Need ‘Splanin’ [to quote Ricky Ricardo]
P. Schultz
July 30, 2012

            Here are some interesting passages from a book entitled Do Not Ask What Good We Do by Robert Draper.

This one is about the Reverend Emanuel Cleaver, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

“….the greatest emotional challenge for E.C….involved his disappointment in the Obama administration. The CBC chairman and his colleagues had met with the president and his chief of staff, Bill Daley, more than once to protest the White House’s supine response to the Republican agenda. During the H.R. 1 program-slashing debate, Cleaver told the president, ‘Look, I was mayor of Kansas City. The community development block grant program? Huge for me. That is how I got infrastructure projects funded….’ And yet Obama’s own budget had proposed a $300 million reduction in the block grant program.
“Of late, Cleaver…had been conferring with his good friend and fellow Texan Jeb Hensarling, along with Paul Ryan and Appropriations subcommittee chairwoman Jo Ann Emerson, about a project that would redirect federal funds in grant-making agencies to the districts that had been most persistently impoverished. Many of these were white districts, like Emerson’s. The three Republicans were enthusiastic about working with Cleaver. Boehner seemed open to it as well….But when Cleaver brought the matter up to Barack Obama, the former CBC member was less than encouraging. Not only did Obama believe such a bill was unlikely to pass during the 112th Congress; he also preferred that Cleaver not try to do so, for fear that it would complicate his ongoing negotiations with the Republicans.
“And now this eleventh hour debt ceiling compromise. When Cleaver scanned the outline of it…,he could see that it was of a piece with previous Obama White House capitulations. As he would say later, ‘It is hard to condemn the president for hope.’ But this plan…was sure to fail: ‘Stevie Wonder could see it coming.’ The following morning, August 1,…the reverend wrote: ‘This deal is a sugar-coated Satan sandwich. If you lift the bun, you will not like what you see.’” [pp. 255-56]

This next one is about Boehner and his relationship with Obama and with members of his own party.

“At a conference in late July, Boehner had led off by describing how his talks with Obama indicated that the president was willing to make big concessions on spending and entitlement reform. Raul Labrador immediately went to the mike and said, ‘I have to tell you, I feel a whole lot better than I did thirty minutes ago. Thank you for sharing the information with us. And I urge you to keep doing that in the future so that we don’t have to learn about it in the newspaper.’
“After the conference, a number of senior members thanked the frequently contrarian Idaho freshman for his show of appreciation. But they were missing the point – which was that Boehner’s reticence was an ongoing concern to the Tea Party mavericks like Labrador who had come to Washington innately distrusting both its customs and the leaders who practiced them. One monologue by Boehner had hardly quelled all suspicions.
“Around the time of Labrador’s remarks, four of Boehner’s closest pals in the House….contacted Barry Jackson and told the chief of staff that they needed a meeting with the speaker right away.
“’John may not see what’s going on, but we do,’ they told Jackson. ‘Cantor’s staff is running around telling people that Boehner actually told Cantor to walk out of the Biden talks because Boehner was mad that Cantor was getting all the ink. Bullshit like that.’
“’That’s what Cantor and Ryan want,’ Jackson smirked. ‘They see a world where it’s Mitch McConnell [as Senate majority leader], Speaker Cantor, a Republican president, and then Paul Ryan can do whatever he wants to do. It’s not about this year. It’s about getting us to 2012, defeating the president, and Boehner being disgraced.’ That, said the chief of staff, was Cantor and Ryan’s ‘Young Guns’ vision of a better world.” [pp237-238]

When I was much younger, people called such activities “shenanigans.” I did not know then nor do I know now exactly what this word means but I do know that our politicians engage in “shenanigans” to the detriment of the country. I would imagine that their behavior has something to do with their egos, with their ambition. James Madison, in Federalist #51, labeled this stuff “the defect of better motives,” following a policy of getting “ambition to counteract ambition” and, thereby or allegedly advancing the public good even absent good motives. I may be wrong but it seems to me that “the defect of better [or good] motives” is hard to supply and that ambition does not seem adequate to the task.  As Ricky Ricardo use to say to Lucy: “You need to do some ‘splanin!”

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Jobs You Say? Maybe

How Congress Works – Or Doesn’t
P. Schultz
July 28, 2012

“Then Ingleside’s city manager, …Jim Gray [said]: ‘You mentioned jobs….Ingleside [Tx] right now is probably the largest job creation area in this region. But it’s a small community, and about ninety percent of the people who work here live elsewhere. The infrastructure costs are borne by the city.”
            "The city manager was referring to the fact that Ingleside had been home of a naval base that was….to be closed in 2005….The Ingleside port remained active, but the federal funds promised from the base closure program had not materialized. Gray continued: ‘We have a chance to put six thousand jobs in this area. We are a job creation area! And we’ve heard all this talk about what the government isn’t going to do – but I’ve got a $15 million sewer plant and a $15 million road I need and that doesn’t count [some other things I need]….Do we put it all on the backs of our taxpayers? Or do we come to you for help, when you were elected not to spend money?”
            "The freshman [congressman, Blake Farenthold] seemed paralyzed for a moment. ‘You’ve got a good answer, you tell me,’ he finally said. ‘But government runs up the cost of everything you do.’” [pp. 218-219]

            This is taken from a book, Do Not Ask What Good We Do by Robert Draper on the House of Representatives and especially on the House session from 2010 to 2012, focusing on those representatives who were newly elected to the House and were, many of them, beholden to the Tea Party movement. Interesting exchange and note should be taken that the freshman here does not know what to say to the city manager. The account continues as follows:

            “Jim Gray lingered for a few minutes after the event broke up and Farenthold departed to another ‘Coffee with Your Congressman’ event somewhere else in the district. The city manager acknowledged he was a steadfast Republican, and that he and the town’s eight thousand voters ‘may have swung Blake’s election.’ At the same time, Gray admitted that the freshman’s predecessor Ortiz…had been quite helpful to Ingleside in securing millions of dollars in road construction and economic development funds." [p. 221]

            Good book. One of the best on Congress I have read. Not boring for the most part.

Friday, July 27, 2012

An Election? Yes. A Choice? No.

An Election? Yes. A Choice? No.
P. Schultz
July 27, 2012

            As I have written here previously, the most important event of this presidential election has already taken place: Two, status quo, “mainstream” candidates, Mr. White Bread and Mr. Almost White Bread, have been nominated for the presidency and are considered the only viable and/or legitimate candidates for that office. This is evident from the largely meaningless rhetoric that has characterized the “campaign” so far. And if you want more evidence, consider the following from the NY Times, July 27, 2012. Enjoy.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Rumsfeld: By His Own Rules

Rumsfeld: By His Own Rules
p. Schultz
July 25, 2012

            I recently finished a book, a biography of Donald Rumsfeld, entitled By His Own Rules. The title reflects the fact that Rumsfeld developed “his own rules” for life. As a matter of fact, these “rules” were not his; rather, he wrote stuff down, copied stuff, that others had written and adopted them as “his.” No big deal.

            But it was only after, about a week after I had finished this book that I realized that Rumsfeld was merely a Republican, twenty-first century version of Robert Strange McNamara, who was Secretary of Defense under JFK and LBJ until he was “promoted” to the World Bank when he began to dissent on Johnson’s policies regarding the Vietnam War. The details are easy to get lost in, as is illustrated by the author of the Rumsfeld biography, who never once makes the connection, never sees the similarities between the two men. Again, no big deal.

            Here is an outline of what I mean. Like McNamara, Rumsfeld came in as Secretary of Defense to revamp, even “revolutionize” the Department of Defense. And like McNamara, this “revolution” was undertaken in the name of “flexibility” and “efficiency.” And, finally, like McNamara, Rumsfeld needed a showcase for the bona fides of his “revolution;” so, like McNamara’s Vietnam, Rumsfeld had Iraq. And it must be said that Rumsfeld’s results have been a lot like McNamara’s results, not so good. This just might be a big deal.

            Of course, if I am the only one to see the similarities here, then it might be that this is just a figment of my imagination and I should try to go to sleep. But as no one, either Democrat or Republican, has seen fit to take on Rumsfeld and his “revolution,” it just might be that I am not seeing things or hearing things that go bump in the night. And wouldn’t it be worthwhile to know that a Secretary of Defense in the twenty-first century was repeating the activities, recreating the policies of a failed Secretary of Defense of the 1960s? And wouldn’t it be worthwhile to ask: Why has no one noticed?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Politics of Empire

The Politics of Empire
P. Schultz
July 19, 2012

            Here is a passage from a book by Edith Foster, cited below, on Pericles and his commitment to imperialism and empire. I don’t know but this sounds familiar to me, as if it could be used to describe the United States and its foreign policy post WWII. It is a book I recommend as it provides a foil to the arguments of some “Straussians” or “Neo-Cons” that the pursuit and maintenance of an empire is “noble,” even though bound to fail. Foster makes a persuasive argument that Thucydides sees imperialism as only noble when considered in the abstract, so to speak; that is, absent considerations of just what is required to obtain and maintain an empire. As Foster’s last line has it: “I suggest that [Thucydides’] analysis cannot be a matter of indifference to us.” [p. 220]

“Thucydides showed in Pericles’ speeches that the power warfare can potentially provide had become for Pericles the aim of Athenian existence. Despite his exact knowledge of Athens and Athenian war resources, and despite his personal experiences of war, Pericles spoke of Athenian warfare as great, unique, and of never-ending importance and grandeur. A psychological progress has occurred, in which Pericles had left behind all other attachments and become attached to a sense of Athens’ unlimited future. As we have discussed, this progress has several foundations, but one of the most important was Athens’ unprecedented growth after the Persian Wars. The power and resources Pericles both inherited and helped to create allowed him to leave behind all other considerations, and to seek significance in Athens’ empire alone. It is to defend the empire that he urges the Athenians to fight the war with Sparta, and the possession of the empire and its resources, as we have just reviewed, caused him to believe that Athens would prevail.” [p. 218, Thucydides, Pericles, and Periclean Imperialism.]

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Why They/We Fail, Part III

Why They/We Fail, Part III
P. Schultz
July 15, 2012

            An example of blindness: “He [Rumsfeld] still thought that if the anti-terrorism campaign stalled in Afghanistan, U.S. forces could and should do something elsewhere.” [By His How Rules, Bradley Graham, p. 301]

            This reminds me of the old joke of the man who is looking around for something at night and another man asks him what he is looking for. “I lost my car keys,” the man says. “Where did you lose them?” the second man asks. “Well, over there on the other sidewalk.” “Well,” the second man asks. “Why are you looking for them over here then?” “Well,” the first man responds. “This is where the street light is.”

            Rumsfeld is so blind that he thinks it makes sense that if our military actions fail in Afghanistan, we should attack somewhere else. Where? Well, who knows but somewhere! “’If the initial U.S. military action is not confidence-inspiring, it could undermine our entire effort,’ [Rumsfeld’s] memo warned. U.S. strikes should be designed to produce ‘impressive results.’ Expressing doubts about the quality of available information and analysis for Afghanistan, the memo suggested targeting al Qaeda forces and assets ‘in more than one country, including some outside the Middle East.’ It also advised hitting ‘at least one non-al Qaeda target.’ Iraq was mentioned as an example.” [p. 293] If this is not evidence of blindness, it would be hard to say what would be.

            As this biography makes clear, Rumsfeld had no idea that an attack like that of 9/11 was forthcoming. “In the months before September 11, Rumsfeld had talked a lot about terrorism. In congressional testimony, news conferences, and other forums, he had regularly cited it as one of the new threats that the Defense Department wasn’t adequately organized or prepared to deal with. And yet he hadn’t made counterterrorism operations a priority, even in the face of warnings by top CIA officials that al Qaeda might be about to launch a damaging attack.” [p. 286]
As we use to say in New Jersey, talk is cheap, at least until you hire an attorney. And of course those with insight would not have wasted time talking about terrorism; they would have acted. Some might even have begun to wonder how our actions were contributing to terrorism.

            And then there is this from Tom Robbins, a novelist sometimes cited here. Consider the following quote cited in an earlier blog:

“I happen to have been in the air on the morning of September 11, flying out of New Orleans. When the pilot announced that we couldn’t be assigned a gate in Atlanta due to ‘an aircraft accident in New York,’ I instantly turned to my paramour and said, ‘Terrorists!’ Just blurted it out. Our foreign policy made such an attack inevitable, and that may have been its most tragic aspect: it was entirely preventable – not by better intelligence gathering but by a more honorable, less arrogant American role in foreign affairs.” [pp. 124-25, Conversations with Tom Robbins]

Isn’t it interesting that even without all the information that Rumsfeld and others had that Robbins was not surprised by the attacks of 9/11 at all. “Our foreign policy made such an attack inevitable….” This might be classified as insight and we might begin to wonder why a novelist and not the well informed Secretary of Defense would possess this. Perhaps, as suggested in an earlier blog in this series, information is more blinding than illuminating, that it is imagination that makes insight possible. Nor is Robbins the only example of this phenomenon. Graham Greene in the early 50s saw America’s involvement in Vietnam, what its character would be like [My Lai included], and what its denouement would be. As Voegelin wrote: “Pragmatic rationality of action, disregarding the participation in right order, is a dangerous indulgence….”

Indeed, that would seem to be the case for Rumsfeld who was reduced, after the attacks of 9/11, to recommending bombing, somewhere, sometime, perhaps even Iraq. Just attack, just bomb, somewhere and quickly. And this is called strategy and Rumsfeld is considered a “realist.” Wow!

Why They/We Fail, Part II

Why They Fail, continued
P. Schultz
July 15, 2012

            In a previous blog, I proposed a project or rather a couple of questions: Why does our government fail so often? And: Why do those men who seem to be and actually are quite competent fail so often? Well, I think I have found part of an answer to the second question and I found it in a place I would not thought to have found it, in a commentary on the history of what I call political philosophy, a history written by Eric Voegelin. Here are some of the relevant quotes. 

            “Pragmatic rationality of action, disregarding the participation in right order, is a dangerous indulgence that may grow into an irrational force destructive of order.” [The World of the Polis, p. 41]

            “The strict rationality of a struggle for power, without regard for the order of Hellenic society, had indeed become the standard of action in political practice.” [ibid.]

            “From the causality of rational action, as understood by Thucydides, nothing could result but a power struggle to the death. Restoration of order could only come from the soul that had ordered itself by attunement to the divine measure. This entirely different conception of history was Plato’s.” [p. 43]

            What is striking about men like Rumsfeld and McNamara, but also even Dick Cheney, is their rationality, as Voegelin has it, their “pragmatic rationality,” their unquestioning faith in “rational action.” Rumsfeld and McNamara were what might be called “information junkies.” They desired to amass as much information as they could, thinking that by doing so they would know what to do, not thinking that by amassing information they were actually blinding themselves to what I like to call “real reality.”

            What follows from amassing information and acting on it are what are called “progress reports.” These reports invariably find that “progress” is being made – which is not all that surprising given that they are called “progress reports.” Again and again, during the Vietnam War, the progress reports indicated that progress was being made, for example, in the “body counts” or in the number of Vietnamese who had been “relocated.” Insofar as they could be, these progress reports were accurate. Still, they were blinding. For example, no progress report indicated – or even could indicate – that something like the Tet Offensive was about to occur. This would have required insight and that is not what progress reports are about or what they provide.

So the blindness is in a real sense self-imposed because these men, while seeming to have “sight,” have no insight. Insight, as the word implies, requires looking within. “Information” is that which is available on the surface and as this “data” is amassed it actually becomes harder for and less likely that human beings will look within. And it could be that insight is the work of the imagination and, of course, if one attribute helps to define “pragmatic rationality” it is a distrust of, even the dismissal of the imagination. [Read your Machiavelli, central chapter of the Prince, where Machiavelli dismisses the usefulness of those who have based their political philosophy on “imagined republics.”] But if it is the imagined that provides insight, then “pragmatic rationality” or “strict rationality” is blinding rather than illuminating.  And those who call themselves “realists” are anything but. They are bound to fail because they have lost touch with reality even while thinking that they have not.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Douthat and Religion: Blessed Be the Blind

Douthat and Religion: Blessed Be the Blind
P. Schultz
July 14, 2012

This is a very strange column by Russ Douthat. Strange in that it seems to be his argument that religious liberals, “Christian liberals” should adjust their beliefs in order to “stay in business.” That is, never once in this column – as near as I can tell – does Douthat consider the possibility that “Christian liberals” actually believe in, say, the legitimacy of “same sex marriages.” Because if they do so believe than they have another issue altogether different from the one Douthat thinks they have.

Moreover, does Douthat think the “conservative Christians” are maintaining their conservatism for the sake of “staying in business?” I think not as he seems to assume that they maintain their beliefs because they actually and legitimately believe them.

And, finally, Douthat never offers his opinion on just what “Christianity” should be or, rather, become. Like so many others, Douthat writes as if “Christianity” has had a clear and unchanging meaning over the past 2000 years plus. And one gets the impression from Douthat, as one gets from many others who concern themselves with protecting “Christianity,” that is, their version of Christianity, that recent changes, especially changes from the “liberals,” constitute the first substantive changes affecting “Christianity.” In other words, Douthat writes as if the Reformation had never occurred or, more generally, that there is no Christian history .

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Government Failure

Government and Failure
P. Schultz
July 12, 2012

            Here is a question that should be addressed in every American government textbook ever written: Why does our government and its personnel fail – often? [A supplementary question: How does it fail?]

            This question was spurred on by my reading a biography of Donald Rumsfeld, entitled By His Own Rules, which I bought on Amazon for the huge sum of $0.01 plus shipping. It is an OK book but one too concerned with presenting a “balanced” view of Rumsfeld as a government official and as a human being. But it got to me thinking: Here you have this man who is reputed to be and even proves himself to be intelligent, competent, ambitious, and characterized by integrity and, yet, he fails. In this regard, Rumsfeld reminds me of Robert Strange McNamara, who of course failed at the same job as Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense. And, by the way, another man of some competence also failed in that job, a man who ultimately committed suicide while occupying that position, Forrestal.

            But does our government fail often? It seems to me a good argument can be made that it does. Consider, in terms of domestic policy: Poverty, drugs, crime, violence, health care, and economic constancy. Consider further, in terms of foreign policy: China, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, not to mention 9/11 or Pearl Harbor. These all seem to be examples of areas, both domestic and foreign, where “success” has been elusive, to say the least. [This is not to say that our government and its officials have not had successes. Of course they have. But having successes does not mean that failure or failures are uncommon. And it is my thought that we can learn more or some things by looking at our failures along with or in distinction from our successes.]

             I am not looking at this from a malicious viewpoint but rather from an analytical one. I am not looking to “bash” the U.S. but rather to understand why our government and those who occupy important positions in it seem to fail with some regularity. As some will not be surprised to learn, I have the feeling that it has something to do with what I like to call “the quest for greatness.” That is, the men who wrote the Constitution sought to create a “great nation,” a nation that could only be created by means of a pervasively powerful national government that would draw into it men of great ambition and accomplishments who would undertake, in the words of Alexander Hamilton, ambitious projects, “extensive and arduous projects” that would secure the good of or “re-form” society while creating an “empire” of impressive power that would illuminate, at the very least, the world by its example.

Anyway, it seems worthwhile to raise this question and see what kind of answers we might come up with. To be continued.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Justice Roberts and the Commerce Clause

Justice Roberts and the Commerce Clause
P. Schultz
July 8, 2012

“To an economist, perhaps, there is no difference between activity and inactivity; both have measurable economic effects on commerce. But the distinction between doing something and doing nothing would not have been lost on the Framers, who were “practical statesmen,” not meta- physical philosophers. Industrial Union Dept., AFL–CIO v. American Petroleum Institute, 448 U. S. 607, 673 (1980) (Rehnquist, J., concurring in judgment). As we have explained, “the framers of the Constitution were not mere visionaries, toying with speculations or theories, but practical men, dealing with the facts of political life as they understood them, putting into form the government they were creating, and prescribing in language clear and intelligible the powers that government was to take.” South Carolina v. United States, 199 U. S. 437, 449 (1905). The Framers gave Congress the power to regulate commerce, not to compel it, and for over 200 years both our decisions and Congress’s actions have reflected this understanding. There is no reason to depart from that understanding now.”

            This is a quote from Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion in the Affordable Care Act case, recently decided by the Supreme Court. Roberts seems to think that economists think differently about the terms “activity” and “inactivity” than the rest of us do and differently than the framers of the Constitution, who were, he says, “practical men” and not “mere visionaries.” Well, that is reassuring to know about the framers of the Constitution and certainly is different than what most of us are taught in school about those men, who wrote what one commentator described as the best plan of government ever written by human beings. It is good to know that they did this by merely applying “practical reason” and not speculative “theories.”

            But in all seriousness who is being “practical” here, Justice Roberts or his alleged economists? It is hard to say that it is not the economists because one does not have to be an economist or a speculator or theorist to know that both activity and inactivity “have measurable economic effects on commerce.” The case Roberts must deal with is Wickard v. Filburn, where a wheat farmer was fined for growing more wheat than he was allotted by the national government even though he did not use this wheat to engage in commercial activity. As Roberts says in his opinion, the wheat farmer did not engage in any commercial activity by growing his wheat, which he used to avoid engaging in commerce by buying wheat from others to feed his cattle. So was the farmer engaged in a commercial activity or not? He was certainly engaged in an activity that affected interstate commerce but so too are those who actively choose not to purchase insurance.

            If I am not mistaken, the proper issue is: Could the national government compel wheat farmers to grow a certain amount of wheat? It is accepted, even by Justice Roberts who does not wish to overturn the Wickard case, that it can compel farmers not to grow beyond a certain amount of crops, without paying a penalty. Why can they do this, even though the excess wheat is not used for commercial purposes? Because, as Roberts knows, such excess affects commerce among the several states. Well, so does the failure of farmers not to grow enough and, if the national government can compel farmers not to grow excess wheat because it affects interstate commerce, why can it not compel farmers to grow a certain amount of wheat; that is, to compel them to do something that they would not otherwise have done because not doing it affects commerce among the states?

            You know, Justice Roberts’ heart is in the right place, in favor of limiting the power of the national government under the commerce clause. And this isn’t for me a bad idea as this power has been used as a guise by which to regulate loan sharking and gambling and the transportation of women across state lines for immoral purposes, as well as stolen vehicles. So this clause has been used as a police power, which Roberts correctly claims the national government should not have. But he is mistaken in his attempt to limit the Congress’ power under this clause and he is bound to fail because to succeed he would need to distinguish Congress’ commercial regulations from other kinds of regulations such as morals regulations or health regulations. Roberts and some on the Court made much of the fact that if Congress can regulate people’s decisions regarding health insurance then it could regulate what we buy at the super market. But if the purpose of the latter hypothetical law is promoting health rather than commerce, then it would be unconstitutional. 

            “To an economist, perhaps, there is no difference between activity and inactivity; both have measurable economic effects on commerce.” The important difference is not between activity and inactivity when something done or undone has an impact on commerce; rather, the important difference is or should be between those laws that regulate commerce and those that while pretending to regulate commerce are actually not commercial regulations at all. This is where Justice Roberts should have drawn the line between constitutional and unconstitutional laws passed under the commerce clause. Obviously, the national government makes us purchase stuff all the time, compels us to buy certain stuff like properly equipped cars or more specifically catalytic converters. Just as obviously, many of these regulations have little commercial value and certainly regulating commerce is not their primary justification. But they will continue under Roberts’ scheme, a scheme that is unlikely to stem the use of the commerce power to regulate activities for reasons other than commercial and, therefore, unlikely to stem the expansion of the power of the national government. 

Addendum: Here is another quote from Justice Roberts:

“The individual mandate forces individuals into commerce precisely because they elected to refrain from commercial activity. Such a law cannot be sustained under a clause authorizing Congress to “regulate Commerce.”

            If I am not mistaken, this is precisely what the Congress did to the wheat farmer involved in the Wickard case, “force [that] individual into commerce [buying wheat to feed his cattle] because [he] elected to refrain from commercial activity.” And, of course, the Court sustained what amounted to a compulsion to engage in commercial activity.

Abortion: Red Versus Blue? Not so Much

Abortion: Red versus Blue? Not So Much
P. Schultz
July 8, 2012

“Ohio Abortion Foes Fail:

“An anti-abortion group fell short on Tuesday in its attempt to gather signatures to change the Ohio Constitution to declare that life begins when an egg is fertilized. Backers of the proposed constitutional amendment in Ohio and elsewhere hope to prompt a legal challenge to the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that gave women a legal right to abortion. The group had collected only about 30,000 of the roughly 385,000 signatures required to qualify for November ballots, said Patrick Johnston, the director of Personhood Ohio. Supporters have also fallen short of the signatures needed to qualify for the November ballots in California and Nevada. And in Oklahoma, the state’s highest court halted an amendment effort to grant personhood rights to human embryos, saying the measure was unconstitutional.” NY Times, July 8, 2012.

            This news should surprise no one, as it remains a fairly well established fact that the American people are not especially divided when it comes to their thinking about abortion, for better and worse. For the past several decades, at least, the American people support a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy but only under certain conditions. They disagree most about which conditions justify such a termination but an overwhelming margin support “choice.” And, of course, an amendment like the one proposed in Ohio would deny women and men that choice, to say nothing of doing other things that Americans think should be done.

            One question is: Why don’t we know this? That is, why is it so commonly thought and said that Americans are divided on the issue of abortion? Well, I don’t know exactly why but I do know that because we have been persuaded to think and talk this way, someone or some groups want us to think and talk this way, meaning that someone or some groups want us to think we are more divided politically than we actually are. And then the question becomes: Who wants us divided? That is, how does this manufactured divide serve the interests of some?

            A fellow named Noam Chomsky wrote a book entitled The Manufacture of Consent, which is about, of course, “manufacturing consent.” It is often taken to mean that politicians and others in the ruling class work to produce consensus, which is often thought to mean bringing people together on particular policies like the war on terror or the war on drugs or the war on crime. No doubt this is part of the phenomenon that Chomsky has observed. But there are other, less visible examples of consensus that politicians work at and one of these is, for me, the idea that the American people are divided “red” and “blue” and live in “red states” and “blue states” and hold “red values” and “blue values” and never the twain shall meet. And, of course, this is just illustration of the very old maxim, “divide and conquer” although in this case it ought to be “divide and govern.”

            Of course, to the extent that this analysis is correct, it means that we do in fact have a “ruling class,” that is, politicians whose first concern is to protect the power and privileges of their class even at the expense of “solving problems.” So, I do not expect most to agree with this analysis as we Americans do not like to think that there is here a ruling class and that it looks after its own interests before it tends to ours. That this is one of the most common or the most common political phenomenon [it is the meaning of Plato’s and Aristotle’s concept of “regimes” and how each political order is some kind of “regime”] known to human beings deters us not a bit. And so to avoid confronting the fact that the United States is, like every other political/social order ever created by human beings, governed by a select few – and we do have some say in the “selection process” but not as much as we think – we buy into the idea that we are in fact a people divided over issues like abortion. And so to avoid thinking we have a ruling class, we allow that class to convince us of things that serve their interest and power in ruling us. And we come to believe that our government is D.C. is “broken,” that is, it does not work because the two parties cannot agree or work together when in fact we are left dissatisfied because the ruling class governs for its own benefit rather than ours.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Washington is NOT Broken

Washington Is NOT “Broken”
P. Schultz
July 2, 2012

I am listening to and watching Morning Joe on MSNBC and one of the participants just said that “Washington is broken; we all know that.” She went on to add that in some areas, D.C. is not “broken.”

Simple argument: Washington is not “broken;” it is oligarchic [or for some democratic]. Why is this an important distinction? Because it reminds us that political analysis ought to focus on and be conducted in political terminology. We speak as if Washington was a machine and that we need mechanics to “fix it.” This is the same kind of argument that was often made against Shrub or Ronald Reagan, viz., that they were not very bright. Often these charges did not stick and so Reagan, for example, was labeled “the Teflon president.” Well, perhaps. But they did not stick because, I think, they were not political terms. Some people, for better and worse, liked Reagan’s politics. Others did not.

So, even if we elect a brighter person, say a person who has a Harvard degree but who is a committed oligarch or a committed democrat, his or her election will not necessarily make things/life better, that is, more just, more equal, more free, more oligarchic [which the oligarchs like], or more democratic [which the democrats like]. In the political world, unlike the “mechanical” world, what matters is politics and political choices. We can go on ignoring this fact of life but we do so at our own peril. At the very least, we will continue to be frustrated by a “system” that seems immune to change. But it is only immune to change because we fail to understand that we need a different politics and different politicians, not a different machine or different mechanics. If you would like to see examples of this phenomenon, just consult the presidencies of Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, or Abraham Lincoln. These men did not confuse politics with mechanics and they all took on the prevailing regime and changed it – not so the “system” would “work” better but so the new prevailing political order would be more just, more equal, and/or freer.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Krauthammer and the Court

Krauthammer and the Court
P. Schultz
July 1, 2012

This is a quote from a Charles Krauthammer column that appeared in the Winston Salem Journal and, I am sure, in other papers as well. My comments follow.

As a conservative, he [Chief Justice Roberts] is as appalled as his conservative colleagues by the administration's central argument that Obamacare's individual mandate is a proper exercise of its authority to regulate commerce.

“That makes congressional power effectively unlimited. Mr. Jones is not a purchaser of health insurance. Mr. Jones has therefore manifestly not entered into any commerce. Yet Congress tells him he must buy health insurance — on the grounds that it is regulating commerce. If government can do that under the Commerce Clause, what can it not do?”

Nice try, Krauthammer. Let me give you another scenario: Mr. Farmer plants some corn on his farm. He does not intend to and does not sell it to anyone. Rather, he uses it to feed his cattle only. He is then charged with violating a federal law that says he could only grow so much corn on his farm and this law was based on the Congress’ power to “regulate” commerce. He appeals all the way to the Supreme Court and, guess what, he loses. And he lost because Congress, in having the power to regulate commerce, has the power to regulate anything that affects that commerce. Did Mr. Farmer engage in commerce or in interstate commerce? The Court’s answer was “No” and that answer is correct. Mr. Farmer like Mr. Jones in Krauthammer’s example “manifestly [has] not entered into any commerce.” But it did not matter because what Mr. Farmer had done affected interstate commerce or “commerce among the several states.”

Does this mean that the power of Congress is virtually unlimited under the commerce clause? Yes, it does, for all practical purposes, as Chief Justice Marshall pointed out in the case of Gibbons v. Ogden. Of course, the Court has rendered decisions, especially more recently in such a case as Lopez v. United States [1995], that do attempt to establish limits on the Congress' power to regulate commerce. But at the same time and even the same Court has rendered other decisions that for all practical purposes render the Congress' power to regulate commerce limitless. The scenario above was based on a case, Wickard v. Filburn, which held that a farmer who grew more wheat than he was allotted under federal regulations, even though this wheat had only a minuscule affect on interstate commerce, could be held liable for violating a constitutionally valid regulation of commerce among the several states. And in Katzenbach v. McClung, Ollie's Barbecue was liable for violating the 1964 Civil Rights Act even though less than half its business was interstate and its affect on interstate commerce was minuscule. And more recently, the Court held that the federal government could regulate, i.e., criminalize, the sale and distribution of marijuana, even in states allowing the medicinal use of marijuana, as a valid regulation of interstate commerce.

What is the remedy? How is this great power to be limited? We could rely on the Supreme Court but as the above summary indicates, this does not guarantee that the commerce power will be limited in its application. For Chief Justice Marshall the remedy lies with the people and their elected representatives. If the Congress deems that not buying health insurance will have an adverse affect on commerce among the several states, then the Congress can regulate this non-activity, either with its commerce power or its taxing power, just as it may mandate that Mr. Farmer either not grow more than so much corn or that he grow so much corn. If you don’t like this result, take it up with Chief Justice Marshall and the men who wrote the Constitution or, better yet, with your elected representatives.