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« October 2007 | Main | December 2007 »

November 13, 2007

France, UK, Seek US Prom Date

In further evidence that George Bush has caused irreparable harm to US foreign policy interests by alienating our closest allies, the UK are France are now arguing over, ah, which one is our closest ally:

After decades of Anglo-French rivalry, in which France has vehemently deplored the global influence America and Britain have attained and what every president of France since Charles de Gaulle has described as "Anglo-Saxon culture," Mr. Sarkozy claimed during his visit to Washington last week that France, not Britain, is now America's best friend and partner.

Mr. Brown, who has been portrayed on both sides of the Atlantic as having distanced himself from America to avoid the charge against his predecessor, Tony Blair, that he was Mr. Bush's "poodle," fought back last night, claiming in a speech at a banquet thrown by the lord mayor of the city of London that the French president's bid to usurp Britain's traditional place alongside America would not succeed.

"It is no secret that I am a lifelong admirer of America," Mr. Brown said. And, in a thinly veiled reference to France's traditional dislike of America and its culture, he added, "I have no truck with anti-Americanism in Britain or elsewhere in Europe, and I believe that our ties with America — founded on values we share — constitute our most important bilateral relationship."

He welcomed France's late conversion to the American cause and a similar newfound affection for America expressed by Chancellor Merkel of Germany in her visit to Mr. Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, over the weekend.

Behind her back, however, Gordon was heard to snap that Merkel was just tarting up to get Bush's attention.

November 8, 2007

Free Trade Advances

With the support of all seven of Colorado's representatives (must be those multinationals based in Bailey and the money-center banks headquartered in Grand Junction), the House voted last night to extend NAFTA rules to Peru.

This is a good thing for both the US and for Peru, for a variety of reasons. Peruvian goods basically flow freely into the US, the deal does more to lower Peruvian barriers to US goods than the other way around. It helps serve as a counter-weight to Chavezism-Castroism in Latin America, although some people have never forgiven them for defeating Shining Path. It draws Peru more tightly into US economic orbit. Their #2 trading partner is China, so unless you're expecting to see some of that wealth circle around in the form of campaign contributions, strategically it's probably better to have them trading with us.

From Peru's point of view, their economy is miniscule compared to the US, about 1.5% of our GDP. So anything that helps boost their economy will disproportionately help lift their people out of poverty. Our total trade deficit with Peru is $3 billion annually (or about $1.2 billion at the official exchange rate). Hardly something to be scared of.

Unions Make Inroads

Last week, at 3:00 on Friday, Governor Bill Ritter signed an executive order essentially unionizing state government employees. Government employees comprise an ever-growing percentage of union employees nationwide, since absent slashed tires and sniper rifles, nobody else seems to want to join.

The right to strike as an individual is virtually meaningless. The right to strike as a part of a union, in order to gain benefits under collective bargaining, is significantly more powerful. If such a right exists by Colorado Supreme Court decisions, then it cannot be overturned or even limited by note in an executive order. Such a note amounts to little more than a plea for AFSCME not to strike, at least not now, when it would be embarassing. Especially if you can't confine it to the Friday evening news cycle.

The union would be able to negotiate with the state government as a whole, or with individual agency heads. The incentive here is to pick the agency head deemed most congenial (or potentially most hostage) to their interests, and negotiate a deal to be used as a "model" for deals with other agencies. This is the pattern that the UAW has used in Detroit, with an auto industry that is obviously thriving under the arrangement.

The results of such negotiations would then make their way into the state budget proposals. With the Democrats owing their majority to carefully extorted bundled union money, how likely do you think it is they'll turn down their friends? And when control of the state legislature reverts to Republican control, very likely the first thing they'll face is the threat of a strike. That is, assuming that the legislature hasn't agreed to binding arbitration by then.

Make no mistake, this is a payoff to the union interests which increasingly dictate Democratic politics in this state and across the country. And they're being paid off with your money.

Progressively More Poor. Progressively Less Free.

Our Inefficient Constitution

There is nothing new under the sun. Whenever the Left senses it's got an all-too-transient political advantage, it bemoans that thing called, "The Constitution," standing in the way of all the good they could do, if only permitted to work their will, unrestrained. Paul Campos presents the latest example in his November 6 column for the Rocky.

First, the structure of the national legislature is wildly undemocratic. What exactly is the justification for, in this the Year of Our Lord 2007, giving a senator from Wyoming approximately 70 times more power per voter represented than one from California?

In an era in which almost all of the most important political decisions are made at the national rather than the state level, the structure of the Senate essentially gives senators from small states a license to steal federal tax dollars for the benefit of their sparsely populated fiefdoms.

And, as Levinson the political scientist demonstrates, they are exceptionally good at doing so. Hence we get $50 million bridges to nowhere, economically and environmentally insane subsidies for various farming and ranching interests, and so forth.

In fact, states were and remain the basic political unit of the American republic. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 is one of the Foundational Laws of the United States precisely because is sets forth the rules for the creation of new states on an equal footing with existing states, and the law that once a state is a state, its boundaries are fixed. (Those of us from Virginia, while we don't exactly miss those western counties, don't exactly like the way they got their own "independence," though.) Of course, if your goal is to eviscerate Federalism, by making "all the most important political decisions ... at the national level," the only logical thing to do is to erase distinctions among the states.

In fact, the notion that smaller states are grifters, living off the largess of the larger states, is more than passing strange. Back in 1912, Woodrow Wilson was making the same arguments for demolishing federalism on the grounds that the larger states had rigged the system in their favor.

It never seems to occur to Campos & Co. that the real problem here isn't the "power" of the small states, but the fact that the Federal government has arrogated the right to dispense all sorts of favors that by right it oughn't be dispensing. The problem isn't the pigs, it's the trough. (Don't worry, Prof. Campos. Senator and Representative Salazar will be able to continue (or resume) collecting their farm subsidies.)

Second, the structure of the Constitution makes it very difficult to undertake any kind of serious legislative reform. Not only do both houses of Congress have to agree to exactly the same statutory provisions for a bill to become law (a requirement that, as Levinson points out, isn't found in many bicameral legislative systems) but in addition the Constitution gives one person - the president - the power to veto legislation for any reason he (soon to be she) likes.

These extremely high barriers to legislative action can be defended on the basis of various ideological preferences (most notably the view that, in general, only rich and powerful people should be able to get laws passed). But Levinson's point is that hardly anyone even bothers, because the structural features of the Constitution are treated as if they were equivalent to the laws of thermodynamics, rather than products of political choices made 220 years ago, and that are ripe for revisiting, given that the world has changed somewhat since the 18th century.

In fact, I suspect nobody even tries because the "high barriers to legislative action" have been successfully circumvented by outsourcing the legislative function to the executive. You're subject to far more Federal regulation - from the size of the airbags in your car to the water flow in your toilet - than you are to Federal laws.

The barriers to legislative action are intended to drive the country towards consensus, to make sure that action isn't taken without the consent of a broad swath of the governed. What this has to do with the "rich and powerful," isn't clear, any more than the year has to do with the appropriateness of federalism.

Third, Levinson points out that the Constitution gives us no way to get rid of an incompetent president, prior to the next election. This, under present circumstances, seems like an especially unfortunate oversight. He suggests the president should be subject to removal at any time, on the basis of a two-thirds vote of the legislature (he's careful to point out that such a procedure needs to be structured so as to allow the president's party to retain the office for the rest of the president's term).

This sounds like a call for more Wilsonian "progressivism." Wilson would have been happy to make the President subservient to the Congressional majority, which would certainly be the natural outcome letting Congress replace the President at will. So in addition to erasing state boundaries, Campos would accelerate the erasure of the boundaries between branches of government.

In short, Campos doesn't seem to like any of the mechanisms built into the Constitution specifically to make sure that power stayed distributed broadly throughout the Republic, safeguards that are the reason we've been so stable for so long. They get in the way of "efficiency," but then, opposition always does.

Progrssively more poor. Progressively less free.

November 1, 2007

Gen. Paul Tibbets, R.I.P.

Paul Tibbets, who piloted the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, has died at his home in Columbus, Ohio at the age of 92. By coincidence, I had just finished reading Bob Greene's book, Duty: A Father, His Son, and the Man Who Won the War, half of which deals with Greene's friendship with Tibbets, and Tibbets's recollections of the war.

What's forgotten, and not mentioned in the AP story about Tibbets's death, is that he not only piloted the plane, he had to put together the entire team whose job it was to deliver the bomb to its target. Tibbets organized the unit near Wendover, Utah. It included not merely the flight crew of 14, but also logistical support, local and remote maintenance crews, flight planning, training, and practice.

It also included all internal and external operational security. Tibbets was the only man on the team of several thousand men who knew that they were planning on dropping an atomic bomb on the Japanese. He recalled sending men home for leave before Christmas of 1944, with instructions to talk to nobody - not even their wives - about their work. On trains and busses, the men sat next to plain-clothes intelligence officers, who reported back to Tibbets about the ones who talked. When men received phone calls or telegrams about babies born during their absence, they also received congratulatory meetings with Tibbets and his staff, just to remind them that they were watching. One wonders what the Senate Democrats would make of that today.

It was a complex, difficult undertaking for one man to get off the ground. Tibbets was 30.

The AP prefers to dwell on the controversy surrounding the Bomb, devoting most of the obituary to that controversy and Tibbets's role in it over the years. For me, it's never been close. Greene's book started as a series of columns in the Chicago Tribune, and it was the number of letters and phone calls from the children of servicemen whose lives were quite probably saved by the end of the war. He also mentions in passing the vast numbers of Japanese, including women and children, whom the Japanese generals were willing to sacrifice to their death cult, and whose lives were saved by their surrender.

(Also by coincidence, I had just finished watching The King and I on On Demand the evening before it was announce that Deborah Kerr had passed away. I hope I'm not reading The Man on Whom Nothing Was Lost too soon to keep Rudy from benefitting from Charles Hill's sage advice.)


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Six Days of War

An Army of Davids

Learning to Read Midrash

Size Matters

Deals From Hell

A War Like No Other


A Civil War

Supreme Command

The (Mis)Behavior of Markets

The Wisdom of Crowds

Inventing Money

When Genius Failed

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Back in Action : An American Soldier's Story of Courage, Faith and Fortitude

How Would You Move Mt. Fuji?

Good to Great

Built to Last

Financial Fine Print

The Day the Universe Changed


The Multiple Identities of the Middle-East

The Case for Democracy

A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam

The Italians

Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory

Beyond the Verse: Talmudic Readings and Lectures

Reading Levinas/Reading Talmud