Clause 61: The Pushback Blog

Because ideas have consequences

Archive for October 2016

An Election Every Day

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No matter how unsatisfying you think the 2016 election cycle has been or will become — and I think I have been quite forthcoming on how unsatisfying I find it — you can take some comfort in this observation. The election that really matters happens every day.

You vote in this election with your scarce resources: your time, your money and your attention. You vote with what you choose to give to withhold. You vote with what you choose to expect or to tolerate.

Everyone participates in this election. You can’t opt out. Even deciding not to decide is a decision.

The results of this daily election creates the national culture and political climate in which politicians and administrators have to operate. They can push the envelope, but they can’t take it where it doesn’t provide the flexibility to go.

If this were not true, if political leaders could successfully bend a modern industrial nation containing hundreds of millions of people to their will, there would still be a Soviet Union.

Yes, the country can get better or worse. We can go up or down on the Freedom Index, where we are already behind Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, the UK, France, the Czech Republic, Poland and Estonia. We can return to the rule of law or we can have less of it. We have national problems with entitlements and education. We can have politicians and administrators break the economy.

I am not saying the annual elections don’t matter. I am saying the perpetual referendum of 325 million people conducting their daily business matters more.

I never ruled Russia. Ten thousand clerks ruled Russia.
— One of the Tsars Alexander on his deathbed.

We can strive for equal justice under the law or continue to have corruption. But, to give an example, a nation that accepts the precept that “rank has its privileges” has already bought into having corruption. Corrupt public officials will get farther in such a nation than in a nation that demands transparency and accountability.

Here is a historical example:

The conviction that the subordination of the individual to the good of the community was not only a necessity but a positive blessing had gripped the mind of the German army, and through it that of the nation.
— Gen. Paul von Hindenburg, Out of My Life (1920)

At all historical evidence, Hindenburg was speaking accurately. Is it any wonder that Germany turned to the Nazis in 1933 when times got hard? The ground was already prepared for them. Hindenburg himself could and did object to the style of the Nazis, but could not effectively stand against their principles. Ideas have consequences.

Control the controllables. If each of us clean up our own corner of the country, the country would be cleaned up.

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Written by srojak

October 30, 2016 at 1:17 pm

US Constitiution 1.1

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In 1979, Theodore Lowi released the second edition of his book The End of Liberalism: The Second Republic of the United States. Lowi teaches at Cornell and would be characterized as a liberal; for example, he advocates government planning. However, he is also a proponent of the rule of law. The evolution of the political processes away from law and representative government toward bargaining and interest-group government began to trouble him by the time he wrote the first edition of the book ten years earlier.

Where contemporaries saw government departure from formalism as pragmatic, Lowi saw it as corrupt. Where reality deviates from formalism, we find arbitrariness, influence-peddling and injustice. He wrote the best defense of political idealism I have seen:

The gap between form and reality gives rise to cynicism, for informality means that some will escape their fate better than others. There has, as a consequence, always been cynicism toward public institutions in the United States, and this, too, is a good thing, since a little cynicism is the parent of healthy sophistication. However, when the informal is elevated to a positive virtue, and when the gap between the formal and the informal grows wider, and when the hard-won access of individuals and groups becomes a share of official authority, cynicism unavoidably curdles into distrust. Legitimacy can be defined as the distance between form and reality. How much spread can a democratic system tolerate and remain both democratic and legitimate?
The End of Liberalism, p. 297.

Although he did not use the term, the mechanisms that Lowi describes are that of corporatism: public-private partnerships in rule-making and governance. Although Lowi did not name it, he described it well enough:

The state grows, but the opportunities for sponsorship and privilege grow proportionately. Power goes up, but in the form of personal plunder rather than public choice. If would not be accurate to evaluate this model as “socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor,” because many thousands of low-income persons and groups have provided within the system. The more accurate characterization might be “socialism for the organized, capitalism for the unorganized.”
Ibid, pp. 278-9.

For the second edition, Lowi reverse engineered a new constitution for the government from actual practice, in an attempt to highlight the spread between form and reality.

There ought to be a national presence in every aspect of the lives of American citizens. National power is no longer a necessary evil; it is a positive virtue.

Article I. It is the primary purpose of this national government to provide domestic tranquility by reducing risk. This risk may be physical or it may be fiscal. In order to fulfill this sacred obligation, the national government shall be deemed to have sufficient power to eliminate threats from the environment through regulation, and to eliminate threats from economic uncertainty through insurance.

Article II. The separation of powers to the contrary notwithstanding, the center of this national government is the presidency. Said office is authorized to use any powers, real or imagined, to set our nation to rights by making any rules or regulations the president deems appropriate; the president may subdelegate this authority to any other official or agency. The right to make all such rules and regulations is based upon the assumption in this constitution that the office of the presidency embodies the will of the real majority of the American nation.

Article III. Congress exists, but only as a consensual body. Congress possesses all legislative authority, but should limit itself to the delegation of broad grants of unstructured authority to the president. Congress must take care never to draft a careful and precise statute because this would interfere with the judgment of the president and his professional and full-time administrators.

Article IV. There exists a separate administrative branch composed of persons whose right to govern is based upon two principles: (1) the delegation of power flowing from Congress, and (2) the authority inherent in professional training and promotion through an administrative hierarchy. Congress and the courts may provide for administrative procedures and have the power to review agencies for their observance of these procedures; but in no instance should Congress or the courts attempt to displace the judgment of the administrators with their own.

Article V. The judicial branch is responsible for two functions:
1. To preserve the procedural rights of citizens before all federal courts, state and local courts and administrative agencies, and
2. To apply the Fourteenth Amendment of the 1787 Constitution as a natural-law defense of all substantive and procedural rights.
The appellate courts shall exercise vigorous judicial review of all state and local government and court decisions, but in no instance shall the courts review the constitutionality of Congress’ grants of authority to the president or to the federal administrative agencies.

Article VI. The public interest shall be defined by the satisfaction of the voters in their constituencies. The test of the public interest is re-election.

Article VII. Article VI to the contrary notwithstanding, actual policymaking will not come from voter preferences or congressional enactments but from a process of tripartite bargaining between the specialized administrators, relevant members of Congress and the representatives of self-selected organized interests.

How did he do? How closely did he bring the form of his constitution to matches what actually happens?

Written by srojak

October 15, 2016 at 2:48 pm

The Informed Celebrity Test

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There are many celebrities who appear to be confused. They think that they have a pulpit to pronounce on economics and politics because their celebrity status gives them access, whether or not they actually have any backing for their opinions.

Celebrities do not have a monopoly on being ill-informed. However, they have an ability to be heard that ordinary private citizens do not enjoy. They have a ready platform to get their message out and attempt to influence others. This platform is not available to the rest of us.

To compensate for the access advantages a celebrity has over any other citizen, I offer this simple test for celebrities to take before they tell the rest of us how we ought to vote. The positions taken are not as important as the support offered for them.

  1. The Department of Labor has announced changes to the regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), to go into effect on 1 December 2016. Specifically, the earnings limit for salaried employees who must be paid overtime will be raised to $47,476/year, with an automatic adjustment every three years (at this writing, the limit is $23,660/year).
    1. Should a salaried employee receive overtime? Why or why not?
    2. What is the principle that guides your answer to the previous question?
    3. Under what constitutional authority is this change to the law being made?
    4. What are two regulations regarding labor and wages that the original FLSA, passed in 1938, established?
    5. Name two employer practices relating to wage payments for adult workers that used to occur before the 1930s and caused people to want federal labor law.
    6. The same change sets the income level of a “highly compensated employee” at $134,004/year, which is obtained by finding the 90th percentile of full-time salaried workers across the nation. What multiple of that number did you make last year?
  2. The Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case [558 U.S. 310] involves the regulation of political activity by organizations.
    1. The case was appealed when a lower court declined to provide injunctive relief to Citizens United. What was the Federal Election Commission doing that Citizens United sought an injunction to stop?
    2. What was the majority finding of the court?
    3. In the dissent authored by Justice Stevens, what differences between a corporation and a human person did he identify?
    4. Where do you put the boundary between free speech and “electioneering communication”? Does it matter who is doing the speaking? Explain.
    5. How does Congress direct and control the actions of the Federal Election Commission, including assertion of accountability by commissioners for their actions?
  3. The Kelo v. City of New London case [545 U.S. 469] involved a particular use of eminent domain by the City of New London, CT.
    1. What was the twist on eminent domain particular to this case?
    2. What was the majority opinion?
    3. In the dissent written by Justice O’Connor, what was her point?
    4. Must there be a public use to be a public purpose? Why or why not?
  4. There have been various public discussions this year as to whether one or the other of the major party candidates is unqualified to be President.
    1. What are the qualifications given by the Constitution for a President?
    2. What other qualifications would you assert? On what grounds?
  5. The US national debt is, at the time of this writing, $19.6 trillion.
    1. What is the difference between the debt and the budget deficit?
    2. About 88% of the federal budget is consumed by six major items. Name four.
    3. What are the three ways available to finance government operations?
    4. Do we ever have to pay down the debt? Could we just keep running it up for the foreseeable future? Explain.
    5. The Federal government has the exclusive authority to coin money? Could the government just print its way out of debt? Why or why not?
    6. If the Federal government just repudiated the debt, what would happen? Who would be affected?
  6. In most elections, including this one, there have been discussions about what the candidates will do to create jobs.
    1. What direct authority does the President have to create jobs?
    2. What means are available to the President to influence the creation of jobs?
    3. In the 1930s, several programs were created to put people to work during the Great Depression, most notably the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Do you think such programs could be used to effectively reduce unemployment on a permanent basis? Why or why not?

You have all the time you need.

Written by srojak

October 13, 2016 at 8:38 pm

Part of the Problem

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Glenn Beck says the current climate of the public square bothers him. In an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press yesterday, he said:

Everybody feels like there’s a play going on, and we’re just watching it and looking at each other and shaking our heads in disbelief. And nobody’s listening to the hardworking American who doesn’t feel like they belong to anything anymore. In fact, it’s almost as if we’re being, we’re standing outside and we’re not being invited to this party at all.
— “Glenn Beck: I Warned about the Rise of Nazism in America, and Now with Trump It Is Happening” (link to transcript)

Which I find interesting, because Beck is not just any old pundit. He is the founder of TheBlaze, a media organization that serves as the home for, among others, Tomi Lahren. Yeah, the one who calls herself “a commentator, not a journalist.”

So if Glenn Beck wants to take an active role in increasing the signal-to-noise ratio, he has levers to push. He could start by setting up standards of ethical journalism and demanding that people who have access to his platform adhere to these standards. He could assert that the people who broadcast under his nameplate take responsibility for what they say. He could cut off the use of his airspace to make the situation worse.

If Beck is not willing to do so, then his complaints degenerate into the four most Machiavellian words in the English language: “I told you so.”

Written by srojak

October 3, 2016 at 12:35 pm

The Winter of Our Discontent

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Wouldn’t it be great if choices in life were completely obvious? If you were presented with clear, highly differentiated alternatives that were so obvious that the right choice might as well be marked with a big neon arrow?

That rarely happens. Sometimes you have to choose between unclear or even unattractive alternatives. The 2016 presidential election is such a situation.

It is always good, in such situations, to seek to expand your option space. The two-item menu is usually presented by people who have their own agendas, which warrant a healthy skepticism.

It is in this light that I want to consider some recent articles that offer to tell us what we must do.

The Clinton Partisans

First, a pair of pieces from the New York Times.

That first debate seems to have helped Hillary Clinton move ahead of Donald Trump in the polls. However, I know that many of you are asking yourselves:Why is this even a question?
— Gail Collins, “How Could Anyone Vote for Trump?” (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/01/opinion/how-could-anyone-vote-for-trump.html), 30 Sep 2016.

I will take up the question of how anyone could vote for Trump later on. However, have no illusions that Collins has written a reflective article examining legitimate reasons for dissatisfaction with Hillary Clinton. There simply aren’t any. Collins is an intellectual bully. Not only are people who want to vote for Trump morally defective; so are people who want to vote for Gary Johnson, since he failed her geography test.

When I am confronted by the “not voting” or “protest voting” crowd, their argument often boils down to one of principle: They can’t possibly vote for Trump or Clinton because both are flawed in their own ways.

I know immediately that they have bought into the false equivalency nonsense, and additionally are conflating the casting of a ballot with an endorsement of a candidate’s shortcomings.
— Charles Blow, “The Folly of the Protest Vote” (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/22/opinion/the-folly-of-the-protest-vote.html), 22 Sep 2016.

But if the candidate’s shortcomings are not relevant, what are we voting on? Is it possible that the Trumpkins have a point? Oops, was that my outside voice?

The context of Charles Blow’s remarks are racial issues, so he already has a starting point in identity politics. Blow has staked out his ground rather clearly:

You can’t care about this issue and risk the ascendance of a man who last week was endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, a group that in its questionnaire to candidates claims: “Fringe organizations have been given a platform by the media to convey the message that police officers are a ‘militarized’ enemy and it is time to attack that enemy.” The questionnaire goes further: “There is a very real and very deliberate campaign to terrorize our nation’s law enforcement officers, and no one has come to our defense.” This, of course, is cop fantasy, but this group is the nation’s largest police union, representing some 330,000 officers.

Really? Cop fantasy? The Dallas police shootings were on 7 July. The Baton Rouge police shootings were on 17 July. Even the New York Times covered them. Is Blow really not aware?

Or is this the standard identity politics song, Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen? Nobody has suffered injustice the way my group has suffered injustice. And, yes, I’ll say it: poor people generally, and Blacks in particular, suffer injustice at the hands of some police, courts and municipalities. But Blow wants to overcome collective treatment of individuals who are black by collective treatment of individuals who are police. Good luck with that.

And, yes, Charles, thanks for reminding me:

There is another truth: That person will appoint someone to fill the current vacancy on the Supreme Court (assuming that the Senate doesn’t find religion and move on Merrick Garland before the new president takes office) and that person will also appoint federal judges to fill the 88 district court and court of appeals vacancies that now exist (there are 51 nominees pending for these seats).

Which is another reason not to want to vote for Hillary Clinton.

I will also discuss the question of equivalency between Trump and Clinton further on. But there is one more point to be made about the progressives and their following:

His convention was called “one of the worst ever.” Chris Matthews deemed him “dangerous” and “scary,” Ellen DeGeneres said “If you’re a woman, you should be very, very scared.” His opponent ran an ad against him portraying him as uniquely dangerous for women. “I’ve never felt this way before, but it’s a scary time to be a woman,” said a woman in the ad.

He was frequently called a “bully,” “anti-immigrant,” “racist,” “stupid,” and “unfit” to be president.

I’m referring, obviously, to the terrifying Mitt Romney.
— Karol Markowicz, “How Paul Krugman Made Donald Trump Possible” (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/08/05/how-paul-krugman-made-donald-trump-possible.html), The Daily Beast, 5 Aug 2016.

Progressives have demonstrated that they can intimidate moderate opponents by calling them extremists. Having done so, they have helped cleared the way for genuine extremists who really are the threats that progressives like to holler about. Are you happy now?

The Trump Following

I am going to consider one of the more unique opinion pieces in support of Donald Trump.

A Hillary Clinton presidency is Russian Roulette with a semi-auto. With Trump, at least you can spin the cylinder and take your chances. To ordinary conservative ears, this sounds histrionic.
— Publius Decius Mus, “The Flight 93 Election” (http://www.claremont.org/crb/basicpage/the-flight-93-election/), Claremont Review of Books, 5 Sept 2016.

Yeah, I have rather ordinary conservative ears, and that sure sounds histrionic to me. It also sounds fairly representative of the argument I have heard from various Trumpkins. Let’s examine.

The argument in this article is founded on some rather substantial assertions. What interested me is the fact that the author progressed from these assertions in a very logical manner to his conclusion. The assertions are:

  • Nativism: the author objects foursquare to immigration, and maintains that Tom Tancredo got it right on immigration. I don’t accept nativism, so we’re off to a bad start.
  • Opposition to Free Trade: it is clear that the transition to free trade has been very badly managed, splitting the risk from the reward and dumping the former on those who are least able to manage it. Nevertheless, if you fully costed any practical program of reversing globalization, would you have any substantial political support for that? Yeah, I know — you can say that about almost any political program. And I am going to.
  • Opposition to Military Adventurism: clearly the neoconservative program of nation-building has been a failure in any honest assessment. We were supposedly in Afghanistan to prevent the spread of radical terror groups; now we have radical terror groups in Iraq, Syria, Libya and sub-Saharan Africa. That worked well, didn’t it?

However, the author goes further.

Let’s be very blunt here: if you genuinely think things can go on with no fundamental change needed, then you have implicitly admitted that conservatism is wrong. Wrong philosophically, wrong on human nature, wrong on the nature of politics, and wrong in its policy prescriptions. Because, first, few of those prescriptions are in force today. Second, of the ones that are, the left is busy undoing them, often with conservative assistance. And, third, the whole trend of the West is ever-leftward, ever further away from what we all understand as conservatism.

If your answer— [Matthew] Continetti’s, [Ross] Douthat’s,  [Reihan] Salam’s, and so many others’—is for conservatism to keep doing what it’s been doing—another policy journal, another article about welfare reform, another half-day seminar on limited government, another tax credit proposal—even though we’ve been losing ground for at least a century, then you’ve implicitly accepted that your supposed political philosophy doesn’t matter and that civilization will carry on just fine under leftist tenets. Indeed, that leftism is truer than conservatism and superior to it.
Ibid, italics in original.

This is a charge that we have to take seriously. Conservatism cannot keep on the genteel, self-satisfied path that it has been on. It has to, in the words of the article, “consider anything really different.” But Donald Trump is not just anything.

One of the Journal of American Greatness’s deeper arguments was that only in a corrupt republic, in corrupt times, could a Trump rise. It is therefore puzzling that those most horrified by Trump are the least willing to consider the possibility that the republic is dying. That possibility, apparently, seems to them so preposterous that no refutation is necessary.

The republic has been in trouble for at least 80 years, since FDR figured out how to implement an effective permanent vote-buying political establishment. You are not going to turn it around in one election, even if you find a Solon to run the country. Which I assure you Donald Trump is not.

Recall the earlier article by Markowicz.

It’s absurd to assume that any of this would stop or slow—would do anything other than massively intensify—in a Hillary administration. It’s even more ridiculous to expect that hitherto useless conservative opposition would suddenly become effective. For two generations at least, the Left has been calling everyone to their right Nazis. This trend has accelerated exponentially in the last few years, helped along by some on the Right who really do seem to merit—and even relish—the label. There is nothing the modern conservative fears more than being called “racist,” so alt-right pocket Nazis are manna from heaven for the Left. But also wholly unnecessary: sauce for the goose. The Left was calling us Nazis long before any pro-Trumpers tweeted Holocaust denial memes. And how does one deal with a Nazi—that is, with an enemy one is convinced intends your destruction? You don’t compromise with him or leave him alone. You crush him.

So it would seem the author wants us to become the extreme, ignorant yahoos the progressives have always claimed we are. But if we did so, would we not already be defeated?

Supporting Donald Trump to turn back progressivism is like using a flamethrower to get termites out of your house. Yes, you will get rid of the termites. You will also get rid of the house.

False Equivalence

Let me now return to the issue of an equivalence between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. No, there is none.

Hillary Clinton promises sunshine and kitten whiskers for everyone. Her behavior is self-seeking, but can be understood rationally. Her behavior is, within limits, predictable.

Every interaction is both an exchange of semantic information and a dance of social positioning, even those, as in science or academia, that strive to be purely the former.

To all appearances, Trump is engaged solely in the latter form of communication, and only in a narrow way: He treats all social interactions as zero-sum games establishing dominance and submission. In every interaction, someone is going to win and someone is going to lose, be with Trump or against him.
— David Roberts, “The Question of What Donald Trump “Really Believes” Has No Answer” (http://www.vox.com/2016/9/29/13086236/trump-beliefs-category-error), 29 Sept 2016.

Donald Trump says anything at any time. It is a semantic game to take an utterance of his and try to work backward to impute its purpose. Publius Decius Mus is fooling himself by thinking that Trump has any commitment to advance his or any other agenda other than Trump’s own self-aggrandizement. The entire concept of lying has no meaning for Trump. Reality is just a genre of television. Truth is whatever is convenient this minute.

If you want a businessman to vote for, Gary Johnson is a businessman. Trump is a real estate speculator, an economic rent-seeker and a reality TV star.

Nevertheless, it is damning with faint praise to say that Hillary Clinton is not as bad as Donald Trump. Even with no equivalence between the two, Clinton offers to take the country in a direction that I, for one, do not want to go. I don’t owe my vote to Trump to prevent the election of Clinton, but neither do I owe my vote to Clinton to prevent the election of Trump.

None of the Above

This election, for short-term purposes, is already down the drain. However, pursuant to the points made by Publius Decius Mus, the republic is in trouble and the country is going in the wrong direction. What makes it a wrong direction, rather than just a direction some of us dislike?

I maintain that, as the herald of this site asserts, ideas have consequences. My reading of history tells me that some choices lead to greatness and other choices lead to destruction. I have previously articulated how I know that a day of reckoning must come. The Trump candidacy is only the beginning of what we have to look forward to as the progressive fixation on negative-sum distribution plays itself out and the public square becomes increasingly nasty. It’s baked into the cake now. Decades in the making, it is too late for one enlightened chief executive to avoid, even if such were to be found.

I am most interested in the long game. Do we as conservatives want to alienate voters who we could reach and offer an alternative to progressive dependency, such as Hispanics, in the name of a misguided nativism? I think not. Do we want to risk the nation on Donald Trump, who provides no reason to expect any commitment to conservative principles or Constitutional process? I think not.

Someone on the Sunday shows observed that Donald Trump failed to make any mention in the first debate of the Supreme Court. There is a reason for this: He doesn’t care. He would blow off the court and Congress.

Donald Trump is a one-trick pony. All he knows how to do is negotiate. He negotiates things that should rightfully be non-negotiable, like his contractual commitments to his vendors. He would negotiate the American commitment to NATO and to South Korea. He negotiates what we as citizens have a right to know about the guiding principles of a presidential candidate. I see no evidence that, if elected, he would consider Constitutional law as non-negotiable.

As of this writing, several newspapers have endorsed Gary Johnson, most notably the Chicago Tribune and the Detroit News. The USA Today gave Trump an anti-endorsement, calling him “unfit for the presidency.”

The majority isn’t silent; the government is deaf.
— Unknown

Act well your part, there all honor lies.
— Alexander Pope

If you are repelled by the progressive agenda, this is not the time to cave in to fears and weakness by endorsing a candidate who seeks to exploit fears and weakness. We know that those who do not vote will be labeled as apathetic and cowardly; Gail Collins has already warned us of this. Find someone else with whom to make common cause and do so.

 

Written by srojak

October 2, 2016 at 12:36 pm