Monthly Archives: September 2004

Tonight, we play for all the marbles.

Something else could happen. Osama bin Laden could magically appear. A terrorist strike could occur. But, assuming that neither these things, nor giant shenanigans occur, tonight’s the night.

Tonight is the night we see whether Democrats were right to pick John Kerry. Tonight is the night when we see what the national media has really become. Tonight is it.

History Unfolds Tonight

Usually, when you are certain you are witnessing history (not just the day-to-day mechanics of living, but an event of vital importnace) as it happens it is because you are seeing something very bad such as the 9/11 attacks. Today is one of those rare instances when one can expect to witness crucial history unfolding. Tonight’s debate is the most important in the history of the institution since the get-togethers began to be televised in 1960, and given that this is the most important election since 1860, these are the most important debates since Lincoln and Douglas met seven score and four years ago.

Simply, these debates are John Kerry’s last, best chance to create a substantial swing in the electorate that could make him the front-runner. A draw or marginal victory would leave him within striking distance, but racing against the clock, and a marginal or clear loss might well have him figuratively counting the klieg lights. Because, in all likelihood, at least the medium term (next 5 – 20 years) sustenance of America as a viable Democratic-Republic depends on this election September 30, 2004 is forever amongst the most crucial dates in American history.

The efficacy of America’s democracy is already ebbing. Regardless of how one feels about George W. Bush’s governance of America, no one can deny that it has brought radical change upon America’s economy and foreign policy. That a presidential electoral campaign, a basic exercise in democracy, now 33 days from its completion has not produced any meaningful discussion of these changes demonstrates a harrowing failure of our current system of governance.

Unique amongst TV-age presidents, Mr. Bush has not had to account for the decisions he has made in his tenure, except for a late-summer interview with Tim Russert. Even Mr. Bush’s most ardent supporters considered that interview a failure. It is not for nothing that Mr. Bush has not had to answer for his colossal failures and blunders thus far through the campaign. Beyond the normal “chance for a comeback” dynamic, Senator Kerry has a unique opportunity to force Mr. Bush to answer for his actions, and therefore has a far better chance of staging a comeback then challengers like Bob Dole or Walter Mondale ever had.

I am far too partisan to make an honest assessment of the “winner” or to offer any predictions. Tonight I plan on consuming a massive quantity of gin and hope that history transpires for the better.

The Pledge and the Imperial Congress

Without doing background research to citate the point, I think it’s pretty well established that, though a balance of powers was sought between the three branches, the finger was put on the scale a little bit to give Congress a little bit more power.

Congress can remove the President. Under the original constitution, the Congress could have removed the president and the vice president, and then ruled by enactment, with a Speaker/Prime Minister. Congress can also remove Justices from the Supreme Court and outright destroy the inferior Federal Courts.

The check on Congress was meant to be the people, who (as first set-up) would act through their state legislatures and their direct vote to temper the acts of their representatives and senators.

So, how then can the other branches react to Congress’s largest power-grab since the impeachment? It’s not clear that they can, but there is room.

The House has passed a bill limiting the jurisdiction of the Federal courts, excluding them from hearing cases about the pledge of allegiance. Other bills have been introduced with these jurisdictional limiting elements, including one on gay marriage.

Balkanization presents this argument based on the idea of “two-tiered Article III.” Essentially, this would mean that Congress can’t in fact remove jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to hear cases arising under the Constitution. It’s a textual argument based on a structural one.

I’m not sure I think the Supremes will buy it. No worries, I have something they are probably even more loathe to accept, but the weight of precedent may be much more forceful in this case.

The upshot of this law is to relegate to state courts the interpretation of this particular aspect of federal constitutional law. I believe this violates due process. The due process clause of the Fifth Amendment applies to the Federal government and its enactments, so we’ll be considering it here (it has been held to be parallel to the state limiting clause in the 14th amendment).

First, if there are 50 different rulings, that might be enough. Crossing over state lines with different federal rights could implicate the privileges or immunities clause as well, but I’m not going to get into that–I’m already out on a limb, so I’ll stay off the twigs. It’s not a frivolous argument that 50 different first amendments deny a person to their single right under the constitution.

But here’s my thought. It is established that there are extreme limits on the jurisdiction of a state court to issue orders to federal agencies (I think it can’t be done unless there is aprovision expressly allowing it). So, if someone sought a remedy against a federal agency, no relief could issue from a state court. A right with no remedy violates due process.

So, at least to that extent these jurisdiction limiting acts should be unconstitutional. I think after that it’s a matter of line drawing, and you could build on that predent that there absolutely must be some forum for adjudictaing federal constitutional rights–a backdoor, if you will to the two-tiered Article III argument above.

Kyoto vs. WTO: Inconsistent Approaches

I have been engaged in the trade debate for a long time. Long ago, people were told to buy American cars. This was before the foreign auto makers had much in the way of factories here. (And if you think Wall Street was what made them put the factories here, you’re wrong.) My initial instinct was that this was ridiculous. If US automakers didn’t make a product that people wanted, that wasn’t sufficiently reliable, and fuel efficient, then why should I?

This is the guy-on-the-street level argument to sell free trade. You get more for less. Same thing at Wal-Mart. The thing is, it really only costs you less out of pocket. The externalities are there, you just don’t pay for them. And that I believe is the real effect of conservative economic policies: tax cuts, lower interest rates, and lower prices by putting off all of the cost into externalities. It may cause a famine, a genocide, and a pandemic later, but that’s later. It’s the ultimate it irrational hedonism.

But consider a different case. The Bush administration has rejected the Kyoto treaty under the two wrong don’t make a right theory. I agree with them actually, that there are several bogus arguments in Kyoto. The first is the constant comparison of the US’s population to its consumption of fuels and production of carbon. Whatever our percentage of gross worldwide product is should be what percentage of carbon we are allowed. After all, if we make it and they can buy it, why shouldn’t it count against their (whoever they are) carbon quota? All that would do would force each country to have a gross worldwide product exactly the same as their population percentage wise. That’s an egalitarian dream even Marx never contemplated. Second, why should developing nations be allowed to develop at the expense of all of our health?

All of these are good arguments. Kyoto was the best that could be done, and so it should have been accepted as a starting point, but the Bush people used the above arguments as cover for their real agenda which was to externalize the costs onto nature to create fleeting temporal prosperity, then use that to keep power and profit from it. What a heist.

And why do we do that? Because we can — we’re the US, you have to accept our bargaining position as stronger, right?

But with the WTO we make no such pretensions. We act like we’re at the same basic level of bargaining as Brazil or Indonesia. Why? Well, of course the answer is that it’s about making profits — and if we can get the minimum labor cost, the minimum environmental overhead, and put off the externalities on these other countries it’s better than god forbid raising taxes to keep American workers healthy and educated and clean and safe.

So, perhaps the approach is consistent after all: do whatever to put off the costs on others or nature.

But I wonder why we couldn’t strike a better bargain with the WTO. If you want access to the best market in the world, you’re going to have to pay a tariff that will phase out over many years, which we will use to reeducate workers, provide for pensions, and whatever else needs to be done… and each phase will only phase in if we see that things are going well.

Trade is a more controversial issue than is presented. The Democrats may have to accept fault on this too… but can’t this be a winning issue for whichever candidate picks it up and asks “Why could we be given a better deal?”

Between Iraq, oil slavery, and trade, being a hyperpower just isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, I guess.

What if Bush Wins…

September’s Washington Monthly explores a second term for Bush. If I, in my wildest dilusions of granduer, had been asked to write an article to respond to that prompt, here’s what it would be:

The End of America as You Know it

By Jon-Erik G. Storm

Sometimes fundamental shifts in our nation are marked by wars. Sometimes they are marked by Constitutional Amendments. Sometimes, they aren’t memorialized by any one thing you can point to in a book. The passing of Middle Class America will be marked more by the absence of action than any one answer to a future trivia question such as “The Civil War,” or “The Fourteenth Amendment.” Indeed, sometimes the reverse groundswell is stronger than even the most firmly established law or institution, no matter how hard it was won.

Consider the Fifteenth Amendment–the Maginot line of Constitutional law–which was subsumed by 100 years of Jim Crow. Consider also the volumes of laws passed to implement FDR and his successor’s middle class America. Despite being successful in reversing the Great Depression, and winning the Cold War and World War II, a focussed and small, yet rich, opposition can finally look down on the Promised Land of its final ouster.

For a while, people won’t notice because inertia will carry forward the Middle-class society for a while. But it won’t last.

First, Bush’s re-election and the GOP’s continued control of Congress and the Courts will allow Preisdent Bush to institute his “Ownership Society.” Social security will be privatized. Pension plans will all be converted to 401(k) style plans. There will be no tax on capital gains. Labor unions will mostly cease to exist. Things unimaginable will be privatized (did you ever imagine a privatized military like that in Iraq?).

Instead of the so-called Nanny state trying to prevent racial animus, old-age poverty, and provide education and health care in line with the rest of the industrialized world, the Sibling-Rivalry state will tell you to put it all in the stock market and use the earnings to pay for private schools, retirement, trash service, health care, and private toll highways.

And it’s quite possible that this will work–at first, anyway. In fact, it will probably be wildly successful and popular at the outset. Because just like in the 1990s, when low interest rates dramatically raised the amount of captial avaiable for the markets, the Ownership Society will likewise cause a capital glut; and the Fed is unlikely to tame the impending bubble.

Just like the last time, and the time before, and the time before that, it won’t be until the bubble bursts that people wonder what hit them and why. The fallout will be the end of the middle class as we know it, and, as a result, America as we know it.

When the financial plight of a large portion of any society dramatically plummets, that society becomes unstable and predicting what comes next is very difficult. There was never a power so rich, with such a destructive arsenal to undergo such a meltdown. The Soviet Union was close, but its people were used to suffering, not to our spoiled by comparison way of life.

All of the debates we have now about health care, education, the environment, etc. will be mooted when the fallout from Bush’s reforms begin to pollute the air.

In a twisted, delusional leap of bizzaro-egalitarianism, we will all pretend that we are capable of enjoying the benefits of massive wealth, even when the goal is illusory for most. Yes, it appears envy, avarice, and myopia will be the sins that undo us, when everyone was expecting pride. It will be long after President Bush leaves office that this process begins, but when the day comes there will no doubt be a deep regret an any sighting of a “Don’t Blame Me — I voted for Kerry” bumpersticker.

Because we can’t accept that not all of us can be millionaires, not all of us can tolerate the risks of the stock market, and not all of us can keep up with Joneses, very few of us will.

A Return to Gilded Age Social Darwinism

Despite clever “message structuring” and the occasional defeat the over-riding objective of post-Reagan Revolution Republicans has been to cancel the progressive economic reforms of the twentieth century. In “What’s the Matter With Kansas” Thomas Frank argues that the reforms of the 60s and 30s have already largely been eroded and that by creating a flat tax the reforms of the 10′s will be undone as well. After all of the tax cutting for the wealthy balloons the defecit then Social Security will default at around 2012 when many of the Baby Boomer generation retire and suddenly, for all intents and purposes, in terms of the economic climate, it will be 1888 again.

The social side of this transformation was revealed at the Republican National Convention when Arnold Schwarzenegger derided people who are unsatisfied with America’s lethargic economy for being “economic girlie men.” By implication, those who are having difficulty making ends meet these days are not decent folk doing their best to get by, but weak, damaged losers who do not have what it takes to prosper in the land of opportunity. Schwarzenneger’s “economic girlie men” derision is the most direct statement of the Gilded Age style Social Darwinism that the Republicans want to return to. That the enver popular actor-turned-governor made this statement is also telling, for this social structure only works if the masses of the new poor can be convinced that the social order is cool and that the wealthy are wealthy because of their skill and good looks, not nepotism.

Polls indicate that a majority of Americans favor the repeal of the estate tax (Or “Death Tax” as the conservatron messege-spinsters have dubbed it) even though it only effects a fraction of the very wealthy because they are convinced that they, one day, will be amongst that elite two tenths of one percent of the populations and when they are they do not want the Fed taking their money.

The Genesis of the progressive reforms of the twnetieth century were poor farmers who, despite their ethic of self-reliance, realized that they had to organize and use their power to fight interests that were too large for them to fight as individuals. The government was alread big back then. All that the progressives accomplished was to make government big for both railroads and for typical citizens. When government becomes big only for vested interests once again will hard working, proud, independent Americans band togehter to take on forces that are too big for them to face alone, or well they be so mesmerized by the one in five hundered thousand successes of athletes, rappers, lottery winners and other modern Horatio Alger characters and so bothered by the spectre of abortion and gay marriange that they will not want to be “economic girlie men” by demanding a better lot in life?

Worth quoting fully…

From Altercation:

Name: Tim Kane

Hometown: St.Louis

A Game Theory Review of the Neocon/Isreal problem is most disturbing:

The overlooked and most troubling aspect of the Israeli/Neocon phenomena is

the fact that Neocons benefit from extremism. Moderation and rational

policies are going down the tubes in a self feeding frenzy of extremism begeting

the need for more extreme policies untill we end up in tyranny. And

extremists on both sides cooperate to keep extremism going at the expense of

moderates.


All of this is best understood through the eyes of Game Theory:

Most lay people were introduced to Game Theory by the movie “A Beautiful

Mind,” a story about the mathematician John Nash who’s work provided proofs for

certain aspects of Game Theory. The major concept behind Game Theory is

explained in simple language in a seminal work titled “The Evolution of

Cooperation” by Robert Axelrod, an economist at University of Michigan.

Axelrod asks, then answers, the question, “When (under what conditions) does it

pay cooperate?” In short cooperation is a rational response when two

egoist (parties) are in a prolonged game (relationship) with an indeterminable

end.


Axelrod demonstrates that cooperation will often break out (and is a

rational response) under these conditions between two parties, even when they do

not communicate, even when they are hostile to each other, even between species

in nature. Using a simple game scenario, he then asks the question, “What

is the second best strategy to cooperation under these conditions?” The

answer is the similarly simple “tit-for-tat” strategy which often will lead

parties back to cooperation. Another and very important finding is that if

one knows that a game will end (that is if one can foresee the game ending, even

if it is many moves from now) it pays to stop cooperating immediately.

Those who see their end coming are thus likely to be the first to end

cooperation. (It is important to point out that Game Theory explains much

about human behavior, but not all, ideology and belief systems can alter

otherwise rational responses).


Game theory explains a lot. It explains why I can trust my grocer, or the person who cuts my hair, or a neighbor to not cheat me, but why I have to be guarded about someone selling me a used car: ongoing relationships encourage civility and cooperation, short term relations don’t. It explains why religion can cause persons who might otherwise not be virtuous to be virtuous: relationships between each other and between the self and God don’t end at death, without a determinable end, the rational reaction is to be civil, cooperative and virtuous. It explains why term limits have spawned animosity in my state of Missouri’s state politics: All politicians know that there is a future determinable end to their relationship in the

legislature, so their is little reason to cooperate.


Game Theory also explains why Mutually Assured destruction theory in the cold war facilitated detente: Since neither party could prevail against the other party, and both parties rationally pursued survival, it meant that both parties would be in a

continuous relationship with an indeterminable end -thus bringing about

cooperation and a lessoning of tensions. Game Theory also explains the

animus of domestic politics characterized by the neocon movement:

(Perhaps) they saw their (near) end (extermination) in the 1964 election -

facing termination they abandoned civility (cooperation) in political discourse

and started playing an extremist game of elimination or hegemony over their

opponent (a hallmark of arriving at this point is when one suddenly

characterizes the enemy as Evil [singnaling a desire to terminate] [as Grover

Norquist has of the Democrats], and reacts by going into a fundamentalist world

view).


Game Theory also explains why hostility breaks out or can’t be solved:

In the Israel/Palestine situation – events are being driven by extremists

(meaning end game strategists) that want to eliminate the other party. In

fact extremist on both sides seem to be cooperating to eliminate moderates, as

when an extremist Israeli Jew killed Prime Minster Rabin. Worse, in the

Israeli/Palestine situation we get little to no news on the active efforts there

towards nonviolent, civil disobedience and moderate efforts at peace that are

currently going on both sides (following the Gandhi/Martin Luther King model for

peaceful nonviolent change). There are sizable numbers, if not majorities,

on both sides that seek a rational Game Theory accommodation, sizable because

this is a rational approach to the conditions there. The lack of news

coverage of the nonviolent civil disobedience movement there implies that

extremists are emplaced in the establishment, blocking awareness: nonviolent

civil disobedience’s power is the appeal to a broad, almost universal,

collective conscience. If it is denied publicity it cannot succeed -

condemning the participants to a bloody “tit-for-tat” outcome.

The most

frightening thing is that extremism is in Bush’s best interest – as demonstrated

by Cheney’s “Vote Bush or Die” platform. We see now that Putin is leaning

towards this same position. Create war to generate job security. It

seems there are no reasonable problems to deal with real issues today.

Just a fanning of the flames of extremism. Most troubling – nothing for

the white rabbit to do but run and hide in a very deep hole and pray for rain to

put the flames out.