Clause 61: The Pushback Blog

Because ideas have consequences

Not Following the Logic

leave a comment »

The whole flap over pro football players kneeling during the national anthem has gone to a new level this week. Let’s sort it out.

Thumbing Your Nose

Kneeling during the national anthem is thumbing your nose at the entire country. It is a posture, an affectation. People who do it are poseurs. Where else could they go to make this kind of money doing what they do?

A football player does not get to tell us how to interpret his disrespect to the nation. Yes, I am talking to you, Richard Sherman. Kneeling during the national anthem is an act of disrespect to the entire country, including most of us who have no influence over how the criminal justice system treats black people in the inner city. Sherman is too intelligent not to know that.

Having a Complaint

Do black people have a complaint regarding the way they are treated by the criminal justice system? Hell, yes. Many people, not just black people, have a legitimate beef. The shenanigans in Ferguson, Missouri, for example, should offend every voter in this country. Municipalities and counties using law enforcement as a revenue center should offend every voter in this country.

The number of persons under correctional supervision (in prison, on probation or on parole) is appalling. According to a 2012 article by Adam Gopnik, there were more black men under correctional supervision at that time than there were in slavery in 1850; the total population of America that is under correctional supervision was over six million and growing. Contrary to popular lore, many of the people in prison are there for drug offenses or offenses against “public order”. Since black people are in prison at a disproportionately higher rate than Americans in general, yes, there is a genuine issue.

Taking Action

So what should a politically aware black football player do? How about taking some of that large NFL salary and putting it to work in community action? How about sponsoring court appeals on behalf of people who are being exploited by municipalities? Put your money where your mouth is.

White House Invitations

Back in 2011, the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup and were invited to the White House. Goalie Tim Thomas declined the invitation. This writer maintained that Tim Thomas had no business declining the invitation.  I disagree. Similarly, Stephon Curry has every right to decline an invitation to the White House, given that he disagrees with the politics of the President.

The President is the Chief Executive, the Head of State and a high profile political figure. If a person disagrees vehemently with the political viewpoint of the President, by all means, do not accept his invitation to the White House.

Donald Trump’s Statements

Yes, Donald Trump made inflammatory and provocative statements on this subject. In other news, Lindy made it!

Really, who reasonably expected that, if this issue made it to Trump’s radar at all, he would make a nuanced, empathetic statement that would uphold respect for the nation as a whole while recognizing the real problems that people have encountered at the hands of governments? Did anyone really think Trump would call for national reflection on the issues that black athletes are raising while asserting that the nation deserves respect even if specific people in positions of authority have abused their power?

And there was every reason to expect Trump to weigh in on this issue. It is red meat to his base, many of whom a) love America and b) watch football. Trump has demonstrated that he has a laser focus on his core constituency, his political “investors”.

Trump’s statements are off the table for purposes of this discussion. There is nothing new here. The themes have not changed at all during the year. There really is not anything else to say.

Donald Trump is my President, in that he was duly elected through the recognized Electoral College process, just like Barack Obama was. Trump does not represent my viewpoint, and I would have wanted a more nuanced response. However, I recognize that Trump doesn’t do nuance. There is no point in flogging this horse anymore. He is what he is, and he is not going to change.

 

Advertisements

Written by srojak

September 24, 2017 at 11:22 pm

Loaves and Babies

leave a comment »

Peter Drucker wrote describing the importance of knowing when to compromise and when not to. He compared dividing a loaf of bread to dividing a baby.  When you divide a loaf in half, you get a compromise; when you divide a baby in half, you get a corpse.

The modern western state, seeking to placate everyone and avoid conflict, does not have a conceptual category for baby. Everything is a loaf, divisible by two or 20 million, as necessary, to preserve political equilibrium and prevent disruption. Any threat can be bought off; any dissent can be co-opted. But there are some things that are not amenable to compromise.

In the rest of the world, there are many people who see the West as not only weak but morally aimless. They look at us and conclude that we think we can buy our way out of any predicament, that we won’t stand and fight for anything. The Islamic State comes to mind immediately as an example, but many people in Russia, Turkey and China also believe this about the West.

The Islamic State, in its current form, is too nihilistic to survive, but it may yet morph into something else. Whatever becomes of it, the threat it represents to Western civilization is not unique to it. This threat will be made manifest by other people and cultures.

We need to decide what about our civilization is worth defending. Other people have already decided what about our civilization is worth attacking.

Written by srojak

September 19, 2017 at 6:25 pm

Posted in Ethics, Politics

Tagged with ,

Contempt of Cop

leave a comment »

The BBC has posted video showing Alex Wubbels, a nurse in Salt Lake City, being arrested for refusing to turn over a blood sample of an unconscious person to police. According to reports, there are three conditions under which hospital policy allows police to have a blood sample:

  • The person in question authorizes the sample;
  • The person in question is under arrest;
  • The police have a court order to obtain the blood sample.

None of these were true. Instead, the detective ordered the nurse to procure the sample. When she refused on policy grounds, he arrested her. There is no evidence of her having copped a ‘tude or being in the detective’s face. Instead, she explained the policy in a clear, adult manner.

Absent any contradictory information, which we have not seen to date, this is an example of a contempt of cop arrest. There really are no legal grounds for arresting a person under contempt of cop. People who can’t defend themselves and don’t have a large institution behind them get treated like this all the time.

I am hopeful that this incident will make contempt of cop real to people, so that we can stamp out this practice. Watch the video so it will be real to you.

Written by srojak

September 2, 2017 at 10:04 am

Cycles of History: Can You Force Them?

leave a comment »

Earlier this year, there was some discussion of Steve Bannon and his intellectual debt to The Fourth Turning by William Strauss and Neil Howe.  This began with an article last November in Time, and has resulted in intermittent discussion since. Howe himself wrote an article in The Washington Post last February, citing some of the high-pitched articles that had been written about what Bannon had learned from the book. The New York Times followed up in April with a piece that, while not a exactly a hatchet job, takes on specific excepts from the book in the light of the viewpoint of the cultivated Times audience (“Conform, or Else”).

Politico simply dismissed the book as “The Crackpot Theories of Stephen Bannon’s Favorite Authors.” Another putdown I have seen: “pop” historians. Anything not from a suitably pedigreed academic source is “pop.”

I had read The Fourth Turning shortly after it came out. I don’t consider the book to have “crackpot theories”, but I don’t see Strauss and Howe having attempted to be the next Nostradamus, either. Despite the subtitle of the book — An American Prophecy — the authors don’t provide any specific who, when or how. They were attempting to analyze history in terms of patterns and project them into the future. They examined Anglo-American history back to the 1450s. They say more about moving forces than how those forces will necessarily be directed, and avoid “see, I told you” political interpretations.

Nevertheless, their analysis of history has political implications. A cyclical pattern of history has a far different future than a linearly expansive pattern of history. Could the United States return to an era of deference to authority and high levels of social conformity? It is neither inevitable nor desirable, but it could happen. The current condition of the public square does remind me of the late 1850, when the nation became increasingly polarized. In 1856, when Representative Preston Brooks beat Senator Charles Sumner unconscious with his cane in the Senate chamber, Brooks became a hero in South Carolina.

Whatever the size of a person’s group, he or she is more likely to feel fairly treated in a High, where a shame ethos fosters togetherness and gratitude — and victimized in an Unraveling, where a guilt ethos fosters separation and blame.
The Fourth Turning, p. 112

I found the model of a shift back and forth between shame and guilt cultures particularly interesting, and having some degree of explanatory power. I can see why such a model might bother the people over at The New York Times; are we going to have to fight to defend our hard-won social gains?

Nevertheless, Strauss and Howe are not promoting a rigid pattern. There is no guarantee of what will happen, when it will happen or how it will all turn out. For example, the Civil War period broke the pattern; there was no Hero generation produced.

In the Civil War Saeculum, the Third and Fourth Turnings together covered the span of just one generation and produced no Hero archetype. By the usual pattern of history, the Civil War Crisis catalyst occurred four or five years ahead of schedule and its resolution nearly a generation too soon. This prompts the question: What would have happened if tempers had cooled for a few years, postponing the Crisis for another presidential election and slowing it down thereafter? … Imagine what might have happened differently in the South (which was devastated), in race relations (which reverted to Jim Crow), in the women’s movement (which collapsed), and to the Gilded and Progressive Generations (both heavily damaged by war).
The Fourth Turning, p. 262.

Here the authors directly address variations in the patterns. This also provides a cautionary note to those who would attempt to accelerate change in the hope of bringing about an earlier resolution. The requisite conditions for a satisfactory outcome may not be there.

This is where Bannon’s obsession with this book should cause concern. He believes that, for the new world order to rise, there must be a massive reckoning. That we will soon reach our climax conflict. In the White House, he has shown that he is willing to advise Trump to enact policies that will disrupt our current order to bring about what he perceives as a necessary new one. He encourages breaking down political and economic alliances and turning away from traditional American principles to cause chaos.
— Linette Lopez, “Steve Bannon’s Obsession with a Dark Theory of History Should Be Worrisome“, Business Insider, 2 Feb 2017.

So if Steve Bannon does believe that he should create disruption to accelerate the coming crisis, he needs to go back and re-read the book.

Written by srojak

August 6, 2017 at 7:30 pm

Thank You for Protecting Me from Myself

leave a comment »

Two very helpful persons at the Brookings Institution, Jonathan Rauch and Benjamin Wittes, have written a paper calling for more professionalism and less populism in American public life. The title of the paper claims, “voting makes us stupid.” Really?

Of course, Donald Trump is a walking testament to the stupidity of voters. But their argument goes beyond this. Let’s examine the points in detail.

More Participation Will Not Be Beneficial

The authors go back to, of all people, the Founders as a source of the idea that the Constitution was set up to limit participation. This is true. The Founders feared mob rule almost as much as government tyranny.

Drawing upon ample historical experience, they worried that democracies were vulnerable to demagoguery and prone to instability. Although they insisted that republican government required direct public input, they also constrained and balanced that input.
— Rauch and Wittes

So can we look forward to a shift in the policy of the Brookings Institution to call for a reduction in open primaries and restoration of the selection of Senators to the states?

The People are Incompetent

This is always going to be a seductive idea to a think tank that considers itself a repository of public policy expertise, but leave that aside for now.

This argument actually goes back to Walter Lippmann. In Public Opinion (1922), Lippmann attacked “the doctrine of the omnicompetent citizen.” Lippmann called for a structure modeled on his idea of the British foreign service, where disinterested and independent experts provide policy options to elected officials.

However, there is no such thing as a disinterested expert. The regime Lippmann visualized quickly degenerates into a system where the experts exercise political control because they control the menu of options under discussion.

In practice, the British foreign service wasn’t that great a model. It really worked out like this:

[Bernard] was concerned that the FO [Foreign Office] produces only one considered view, with no options and no alternatives. In practice, this presents no problem. If pressed, the FO looks at the matter again, and comes up with the same view. If the Foreign Secretary demands options, the FO obliges him by presenting three options, two of which will be (on close examination) exactly the same. The third will, of course, be totally unacceptable, like bombing Warsaw or invading France.
Yes, Prime Minister

That is what is going to happen when unelected experts are in control of the policy menu. Even Lippmann had lost faith in experts by 1925, when he wrote The Phantom Public:

[Government] is also subject to the same corruption as public opinion. For when government attempts to impose the will of its officials, instead of intervening so as to steady adjustments by consent among the parties directly interested, it becomes heavy-handed, stupid, imperious, even predatory.

There is really no such doctrine justifying public participation in politics as based on an “omnicompetent citizen.” The authority of the people is not contingent on them passing some sort of civics test. The legitimacy of the government is derived from the consent of the governed. It is not derived from the consent of that subset of the governed that those governing consider qualified.

We have the right to grant or withhold consent, not because we are omnicompetent, but because we have skin in the game. We live with the consequences of government actions. It’s our blood and treasure on the line.

  • In 1953, an Anglo-American effort in Iran instigated the ouster of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh. This was undertaken primarily because Mossadegh wanted to extract more concessions from the British. The participants in the American government believed that the British economy was unable to withstand these concessions. However, the end result included both the breakup of the British monopoly on Iranian oil trade and a price increase to show the Shah was not a puppet of the west. Thus, for all the broken china, this foolish misadventure did not even accomplish its original intention. Did the American people really want what was done in their name?
  • In 2016, the Obama administration committed the United States to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 18% under the Paris Agreement. This commitment was made by executive order, bypassing the Constitutional requirement for treaties to be ratified by the Senate. The commitment, which has been revoked by Donald Trump, would have necessarily increased energy costs for American citizens in order to comply with the targets. Why did we want this? The Obama administration knew we did not, which is why it evaded review by our representatives in the Senate.

The People are Irrational

Sure, they are. But the professionals are people, too. How are they not any less irrational than the public at large?

There is a reason that David Halberstam titled his history of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations in Vietnam The Best and the Brightest. The best and the brightest can also go wrong. And when they do, the move in greater unison than the public at large. They largely drink from the same wells of information and have similar outlooks. Groupthink is particularly prevalent among professionals.

The authors quoted Lee Drutman: “Informed, individualistic rationality is a chimera.” Actually, rationality in public life in general is overrated. One of the most rational politicians of the past hundred years was Neville Chamberlain. It is perfectly rational to want to avoid going to war to interfere “in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing.” But history demonstrated it was a bad idea.

The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.
— G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

More Education Will Not Be Helpful

More than what? In 1918, the National Education Association completed Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education. This report called for seven objectives of secondary education, including Civic Education:

For such citizenship the following are essential: A many-sided interest in the welfare of the communities to which one belongs; loyalty to ideals of civic righteousness ; practical knowledge of social agencies and institutions; good judgment as to means and methods that will promote one social end without defeating others; and as putting all these into effect, habits of cordial cooperation in social undertakings.
Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education, p. 13.

Yet, here we are 99 years later. Every year students are reported to be in greater ignorance of civics, politics and economics than last. Rauch and Wittes cite a survey showing that most respondents cannot name the three branches of government, identify the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court or locate the entity with the power to declare war. Moreover, they cite the common belief that the government spends more on foreign aid than on Social Security or Medicare.

So how is this not an indictment of the existing education establishment? How has the education system delivered on the 1918 goals?

In Public Opinion, Lippmann famously wrote:

It is because they are compelled to act without a reliable picture of the world, that governments, schools, newspapers and churches make such small headway against the more obvious failings of democracy, against violent prejudice, apathy, preference for the curious trivial as against the dull important, and the hunger for sideshows and three legged calves. This is the primary defect of popular government, a defect inherent in its traditions, and all its other defects can, I believe, be traced to this one.

The education system has had a century to remedy the “preference for the curious trivial as against the dull important.” It has not done so, and we can only conclude that it does not want to. Better to keep people in their state of supposed ignorance, and then tell them to leave public policy to the professionals. This is a scam.

It is manifestly unfair to fail to educate people to be effective citizens and then tell them that they can’t participate in political life because they are living in civic ignorance.

The Return of Intermediaries

Rauch and Wittes make the case for intermediaries in public. Political intermediaries can be elected officials or representatives of political parties. What they call a substantive intermediary has specialist knowledge of a policy area, such as health care.

Political intermediaries are necessary. Here is one Rauch and Wittes omitted: states. The several states are a necessary counterweight to federal power. It is more than time to rediscover the role of states in our political process.

The specialist intermediary would be of value. No one without specialist knowledge is going to make sense of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act; I tried. It would be great to have intermediaries who could help the citizen navigate the issues.

The first logical candidate might be the media. Try spending a little less time on having two groups of mouthpieces talk over each other, and devote that time to providing information on how a segment of the economy works. If that seems scary, put on segments at 4 in the morning, when no one is watching anyway, and let us record them.

Want to discuss pricing of prescription drugs? Go through the history of the FDA and the decisions that were consciously made to make sure that new drugs were introduced in the US first. Follow the economic consequences of those decisions. Discuss the new drug application (NDA) process that generates enough paper to fill a semi-trailer. Visit ambulancechaser.com (I am not going to give them free publicity by using their real domain name), where people seeking victim status can be gathered into a class to launch a lawsuit.

Corporatism hated intermediaries and sought to get rid of them at every opportunity, leaving the individual citizens alone with the all-knowing, almighty federal government. We need intermediaries that Brookings hasn’t even thought of.

However, we also need to be able to trust the intermediaries. We require that they are giving us all the information, not just a limited and purposeful set of options (two of which are identical and the third totally unacceptable). We need intermediaries to watch the intermediaries.

Yes, the world we live in requires tradeoffs and choices from among the unpalatable and the disastrous. The belief that ordinary people cannot understand these issues in a nuanced way is a piece of received wisdom. Populism is a rebellion against this, an assertion that legitimacy derives from the consent of the people, whether or not the people express themselves in a way pleasing to those who would wield power over them. Thank God the American people have the sand to push back on the professionals who would undermine them.

Did Donald Trump Obstruct Justice?

leave a comment »

We had a fun argument earlier this week on CNN between Jeffrey Toobin and Alan Dershowitz over whether or not Donald Trump obstructed justice by his conduct toward former FBI director James Comey. You can see it here (4:43).

Toobin claimed that Trump obstructed justice:

  • That the alleged request by Trump to Comey to lay off investigating former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn would have constituted obstruction of justice;
  • That Trump’s firing of Comey was obstruction of justice.

Dershowitz disagreed. He argued that Trump had the constitutional options to order Comey directly to cease investigating Flynn or even to grant Flynn an executive pardon. Dershowitz cited the example of Caspar Weinberger, who had served as Secretary of Defense for Ronald Reagan and who had been indicted by Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh in 1992, accusing Weinberger of perjury and obstruction of justice during the Iran-Contra Affair. President George H. W. Bush pardoned Weinberger before these charges could be tried.

Dershowitz did not argue that Trump should get a free pass, just that his behavior was within his authority under the Constitution and did not constitute a crime. During the interview, Dershowitz said, “Impeachment is political. There is no judicial review of impeachment. You can impeach a president for jaywalking.”

I have to agree with Dershowitz, not just because of his reputation as a constitutional law scholar. Where does the FBI appear on the constitutional org chart? It is within the Justice Department, part of the Executive branch. The FBI is not an independent agency — does anybody really want it to be? (Anybody remember J. Edgar Hoover?)

As such, the FBI director serves at the pleasure of the president, who has the constitutional authority to dismiss the director for any reason, or no reason at all. This is not to say that there will be no political consequences for the president. Lyndon Johnson wanted to dismiss Hoover, but drew back from the political consequences [see Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest, p. 529]. Trump went ahead and fired Comey, and he can live with the political consequences of having done so.

Abuse of political power is a perfectly good reason to impeach a president. Congress also has less extreme options at its disposal, such as cutting funding for the president’s programs and either refusing or delaying consideration of the president’s legislative agenda.

Criminalizing political behavior you don’t like is a bad road to go down. It would represent another step toward being a banana republic with no bananas.

In this case, it is political spinelessness that causes people to seek some artificial objective standard — never mind that it is not applicable. If you don’t like the man’s politics, come out and say so. Seek political means to counteract them.

And if you’re in journalism, and you are concerned that you can’t object to someone’s politics and still appear unbiased, you’re absolutely right. You have to choose your course and live with the consequences no less than a politician has to.

Written by srojak

June 10, 2017 at 3:06 pm

Personal Loyalty in Government

leave a comment »

CBS News estimates that about one-fifth of the country is solidly behind President Trump. Of this subset of the population, they report that 55% “believe government and law enforcement officials should take an oath of loyalty to the Constitution and president,” as opposed to pledging loyalty to the Constitution alone. Given an adult population of 209 million, by my reckoning, that would be 23 million adult Americans holding this belief. I find this deeply disturbing.

There are about 4,000 politically appointed positions in the administration. Those in the executive branch serve at the pleasure of the president.  Although he can dismiss them at any time, there can be political consequences for doing so. Managing a federal department is not the same as managing a family business. The removal of a highly respected senior staffer can demoralize those who had been working for her, unless there are reasons the survivors can respect and these reasons are communicated well.

A requirement of personal loyalty to an individual President would take the political appointees in the direction of a Führerprinzip, in that it would communicate that the will of the executive takes priority over the appointee’s concepts of right and wrong. Furthermore, the door swings both ways; an executive politically hostile to your interests as a citizen could also demand such loyalty from political appointees.

Attention, 23 million Americans: rethink this idea immediately. It would represent a significant further step to make politics “a civil war by other means,” and we are far along on that path already. The Constitution was designed to prevent a majority from running roughshod over a minority. It deserves the highest loyalty of those who serve in government.

Written by srojak

May 23, 2017 at 5:10 am