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Tyrannicide and the Lost Republic

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

“Beware the Ides of March”

T. Greer gave me a rousing recommendation that I read the following post on the death of Julius Caesar by Burt Likko of The League of Ordinary Gentlemen blog. Greer was correct, it was outstanding. You should read the post in it’s entirety:

Rue the Ides

….One of my big observations about Julius Caesar is that he took great care in his career to do nothing that he could not credibly claim that a political or military leader had not done before him. Scipio Africanus used his huge prestige from winning a massive war for Rome to monopolize all political power within his own family. The Gracchi disregarded informal controls in the cursus honorum in favor of pursuing needed reform. Pompey used extraordinary and open-ended military powers to wage a war of conquest for Rome and got personally rich doing it. Catalina had been a blue-blooded populist who thumbed his nose at the consuls in power. Both Marius and Sulla had marched on Rome; Marius was consul six times in a row and Sulla was a dictator for longer than the traditional six months and used attainders to purge the ranks of the elites of his enemies.

So all along, when people protested to Caesar that he was making himself into a king, he could point to precedent and say he was doing nothing new, and nothing that the republic hadn’t been through before without losing its republican character. This seemed a transparent fiction to his critics. But for a legal culture steeped in and heavily reliant on precedent, it mattered a lot. Not for nothing did Caesar spend the first chapter of both his books chronicling his own military conquests on offering political justifications for what he had done.

After all nearly two centuries of history that preceded Caesar’s rise to power demonstrated that in order for the government of Rome to be effective, it took a blue-blooded strongman brushing aside the niceties of the anti-autocratic but ossified constitution to actually do something. And that same history demonstrated to him that the public admired success much more than it did formal adherence to the law – which had grown too complex, too much a creation of the elite, and too distant from the realities of daily life and popular culture, to matter all that much to the average Roman on the street. The formalities of government were for the elites to worry about, not the common man functionally unaffected by them; justice was obtained through informal means and not through the courts.

By the end of the civil war against Pompey and the remnants of the Scipio Africanus family’s control group, every tribune, every judge, every junior official, and every decision-maker of consequence was a client of Gaius Julius Caesar. Caesar himself held a consulship, a censorship, and a dictatorship and was quite clear that he would never let those things go – he clearly intended to hold on to all of that prestige and power and immunity from criticism until his death, and he would brook no serious opposition. [….]

Read the rest here.

There is much to agree with here.

First, I think Likko understood the limitations, frustrated ambitions and political immaturity of the anti-Caesarian and Optimate conspirators very well. Tyrannicide in classical antiquity was not mere political assassination, but a noble act, usually accompanied by martyrdom, which further sanctified it. This was true of the Athenians who had put up statutes of  Harmodius and Aristogeiton who slew the tryrant Hipparchus and Lucius Junius Brutus, the ancestor of the assassin Brutus, was revered for his leadership in the overthrow of the Roman monarchy of the Tarquins.

That the conspirators expected that the participation of Brutus in the murder of his patron Caesar would resonate symbolically as an intended gesture of patriotism with the Roman people was reasonable; the romantic hope the assassination itself would prove politically transformative was not.  Likko was correct, Rome had changed since the second century BC – and not just from the abusive political intrigues of the Patrician elite but by the Social Wars that brought the bulk of Rome’s Italian allies into their political community as Roman citizens. The “People of Rome” had changed and the mob of landless poor – whom Populares like Caesar wished to aid with reforms over optimate objections – had grown much larger and dangerous.

This goes to Likko’s larger point that, as revered as the Republican traditional virtues and outward forms may have been in terms of lip service, in substantive practice as the first century AD progressed, they were increasingly ignored when convenient to powerbrokers, the wealthier classes or the mob.  Sulla’s attempt to “re-set” the Roman political system along traditionalist lines by blood purge and Cincinnatus-like personal example failed within a generation.  Other than the terrifying example of the proscriptions to inculcate political restraint, which lasted only so long as Sulla lived, nothing else was introduced to tamp down the subversive dynamic of unrestrained and aggressive aristocratic political competition for imperium and glory by the ambitious among Rome’s elite.

Where Likko errs, somewhat, in my opinion, is here:

The liberators did not think about institutions. They did not think about culture. They did not think about logistics. They did not think about government. They did not think about the contradiction inherent in a lawless act done in the name of preserving the law. They did not think about the immediate political aftermath. 

Some of this is right – the conspirators did not think clearly about politics, given the large numbers of patricians and rich “new men” alike who had fallen under Caesar’s spell or grudgingly accomodated themselves to his personal rule after the failure of Pompey and Cato. That they expected the sort of popular sympathy Cato received -really more public respect for his incorruptibility and intrangisent virtue than any widespread desire to emulate Cato’s antiquated Roman mores or reactionary politics – is itself evidence f how out of touch they were. That said, thinking in terms of institutions would have been nigh impossible for them.  As an aristocratic Republic, Rome’s institutions that composed what we might call “the state”  were very few in number and skeletal in form. This was because the expectation was that patrician leadership, informally exercised through their extensive clientelas, their public benefactions and donations, expressions of charismatic auctoritas even when not in power, would always provide the muscle to make things happen. These in turn would be regulated by age-old custom, tribunican vetoes, the signs of the augurs, the weight of Senatorial opinion and what formal laws existed.

When custom began to be lightly disregarded in pursuit of political vendettas and even the legions did not possess an “institutional” existence yet, there was little to stop aristocracy from transmogrifying into oligarchy and autocracy. Conceiving of institutions in the modern sense of an independent, self-regulating,  corporate body in the late 1st century BC would have been a radical innovation to say the least. Even Octavian’s assumption of imperial power was done under the mantle of amalgamating republican offices in his own person that took many lifetimes to crystallize “princeps” into an institutionalized, tyrannical, office of  “emperor” as understood later in the time of the Dominate.  Brutus, the wayward follower of Cato, could no more have conceived of institutionally-based constitutional reform to renovate Roman government than he could have invented an airplane

This however, is a mere quibble about a minor point in an excellent post.

The White Paper and its Critics

Monday, February 11th, 2013

Someone for reasons unknown last week leaked the classified Department of JusticeWhite Paper” on targeting with drone attacks the numerically tiny number of US citizens overseas who have joined al Qaida or affiliated groups. The leak set off an outburst of public debate, much of it ill-informed by people who did not bother to read the white paper and some of it intentionally misleading by those who had and, frankly, know better.

Generally, I’m a harsh critic of the Holder DOJ, but their white paper, though not without some minor flaws of reasoning and one point of policy, is – unlike some of the critics – solidly in compliance with the laws of war, broader questions of international law and the major SCOTUS decisions on war powers. It was a political error to classify this document in the first place rather than properly share it with the relevant Congressional committees conducting oversight

Here it is and I encourage you to read it for yourself:

Lawfulness of Lethal Operation Directed Against a US Citizen Who is a Senior Operational Leader of al-Qa’ida

Much of this white paper debate has been over a legitimate policy dispute (“Is it a good idea if we use drones to kill AQ terrorists, including American ones?”) intentionally being mischaracterized by opponents of the policy (or the war) as a legal or constitutional question. It is not. The law is fairly settled as is the question if the conflict with AQ rises to a state of armed conflict, which SCOTUS dealt with as recently as Hamdi and for which there are ample precedents from previous wars and prior SCOTUS decisions to build upon. At best, framed as a legal dispute, the opponents of the drone policy would have a very long uphill climb with the Supreme Court. So why do it?

The reason, as I discern it, is substituting a legalistic argument and judicial process (“FISA court to decide drone killings”) to conceal what is really a debate over American war policy   and the President’s war powers in order to accrue domestic political advantage or at least avoid paying the costs of advocating a potentially unpopular position. Otherwise, opponents have to argue on the merits that the US should not as a matter of policy kill al Qaida terrorists sheltered by Pakistan or beyond the reach of government control in Yemen. Or that we are not “really” at war or that Federal judges are better suited for picking bombing targets than Air Force and CIA analysts and that “due process” should apply to enemy combatants on the battlefield. Many of these arguments are valid ones to raise and debate but are unlikely to be persuasive to the public or Congress; if they were, they would have prevailed in 2010 (drones) or 2001 (“are we at war?).

A straightforward legal analysis begins and stops with ascertaining whether or not we are in a state of armed conflict with al Qaida. The white paper used a “kitchen sink” approach to try and cover all legal bases, perhaps to create a basis for a later freewheeling peacetime use of armed drones – which incidentally, I am not in favor of – but it is not required here and actually distracts from the strongest legal argument – the administration is lawfully fighting an enemy in an armed conflict declared by Congress.
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If we are in an armed conflict under international law with al Qaida – and the evidence appears here in fact, legislative action, context, historical and legal precedent to be overwhelming – renders most of the other justifications cited in the white paper for the policy regarding due process as well as nearly all of the criticisms of it moot, at least in terms of legality. Wartime enemy combatants are in a qualitatively different legal status vis-a-vis the United States government acting as a belligerent than are non-combatants or are civilians in peacetime (even civilians who commit criminal acts). No American citizen has a right to pick up arms and join an enemy army or armed group during a war, period. Or a subsequent right to be treated as anything but a combatant if they do. Combatant status is not determined by nationality under international law but by behavior and adherence to a belligerent party’s military forces and their physical disposition ( hors d’ combat, in the act of surrender etc.).
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American citizens fought in enemy armies, notably the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS, against the United States in WWII and a handful defected to the enemy in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. While some of these men were tried for treason after these wars ended, others were treated as enemy POWs or simply allowed to come home at a later date, but none were accorded judicial due process *during* the conflict as potential targets of an American military attack. Only after capture, as with the saboteurs in the Ex Parte Quirin case, did judicial review and due process come in to play.. We see a similar phenomena with the Civil War where, even under the Lincolnian theory that the Confederacy merely represented “Combinations too powerful to be suppressed” (i.e. a private insurrectionist conspiracy and not the states themselves as corporate, legal, sovereign entities in rebellion), we do not see SCOTUS insisting on normal, civilian, judicial due process in Ex Parte Milligan except where “civil courts are in operation” (i.e. away from the battlefield). This was to prevent the application of martial law in civilian areas in the North, not to stop martial law in theater or occupational zones.
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Had this issue of due process for active enemy combatants been raised during WWII or even Vietnam, it would have been likely (and properly) regarded by US officials as ludicrous; if true, the logic would imply that enemy units could immunize themselves from attack (or substantially delay them)  by recruiting American citizens into their ranks. It would also beg the question why the US could lawfully bomb enemy targets and risk killing American POWs via collateral damage, but not directly target enemy fighters who happened to be American citizens. It would further beg the question why it would be lawful to indirectly target an American citizen in a group of enemy fighters with, say, artillery or gravity bombs from 52,000 feet but be an unlawful violation of due process to aim at him directly with a drone missile or a sniper rifle. Is a Marine rifleman who happens upon Adam Gadahn in Afghanistan and kills him therefore an “assassin” (to use Glenn Greenwald’s description of targeted killings) to be charged with murder?
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Even as a matter of “due process” (!) – never mind fighting a war – how could this legal argument possibly make any sense? What precedent under military law or international law from prior conflicts supports it?
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How would inserting judicial review – even SCOTUS – over operational planning and target selection as a step in the President’s exercise of his Constitutional authority as Commander-in-Chief likely to affect the Separation of Powers? This is not a trivial question – in military terms it is analogous to the judiciary usurping the position of the Rules Committee in the House of Representatives over legislative matters. How would this innovation impact our ability to fight our next war or wars?
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Much like the white paper’s lengthy, but entirely irrelevant discourse into the nature of threat “imminence” and “breadth”, this argument is sheer invention if a state of armed conflict with al Qaida exists. Most criticisms and not a few of the white paper’s own legal justifications consist of novel restraints alien to the historical practice of states prosecuting an armed conflict that we would be extremely unwise to adopt and sanctify as precedents for waging future wars.
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Let us take one of the more intellectually serious and responsible expert critics as an example, Steve Vladeck of American University. Not everything he has to say in his lengthy post is wrong and I even agree with some of his points, but things like this strike me as specious, or at least a very weak reed upon which to rest an argument that alters the constitutional balance:
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….First, many of us who argue for at least some judicial review in this context specifically don’t argue for ex ante review for the precise reasons the white paper suggests. Instead, we argue for ex postreview–in the form of damages actions after the fact, in which liability would only attach if the government both (1) exceeded its authority; and (2) did so in a way that violated clearly established law. Whatever else might be said about such damages suits, they simply don’t raise the interference concerns articulated in the white paper, and so one would have expected some distinct explanation for why that kind of judicial review shouldn’t be available in this context. All the white paper offers, though, is its more general allusion to the political question doctrine. Which brings me to…

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Second, and in any event, the suggestion that lawsuits arising out of targeted killing operations against U.S. citizens raise a nonjusticiable political question is almost laughable–and is the one part of this white paper that really does hearken back to the good ole’ days of the Bush Administration (I’m less sold on any analogy based upon the rest of the paper). Even before last Term’s Zivotofsky decision, in which the Supreme Court went out of its way to remind everyone (especially the D.C. Circuit) of just how limited the political question doctrine really should be, it should’ve followed that uses of military force against U.S. citizens neither “turn on standards that defy the judicial application,” nor “involve the exercise of a discretion demonstrably committed to the executive or legislature.” Indeed, in the context of the Guantánamo habeas litigation, courts routinely inquire into the very questions that might well arise in such a damages suit, e.g., whether there is sufficient evidence to support the government’s conclusion that the target is/was a senior operational leader of al Qaeda or one of its affiliates…

My first criticism would be that Vladeck’s premise that the question of a targeting decision of an American citizen who is a senior leader of al Qaida during a state of armed conflict who is active outside the territory of the United States is a matter for adjudication by US courts is incorrect. He is essentially arguing that the political question doctrine does not cover the exercise of the Constitutionally specified war-making powers of the executive and legislative branches during a war. I am highly skeptical this is an argument any Supreme Court would entertain lightly, much less the Roberts Court.
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My second criticism is more practical – that Vladeck in seeking judicial review of the decision process by which an American citizen is determined to be senior or not senior leader in al Qaida leadership is a distinction without a difference from a court having a priori judicial review of the larger military operation in wartime but with the added detriment of exposing the intelligence process, to discovery. Targeting decisions involve assessment of intel about the target from a variety of perspectives – confidence, effect, probability of success/costs and the “fusion” of (usually) USAF and IC in a targeteering shop. Why  judicial scrutiny should apply only to drone strikes targeting a specific US citizen among other al Qaida operatives in wartime vice simply bombing an al Qaida safe house in which a US citizen might be employs a legal reasoning that is obscure to me. If a US citizen being a potential casualty is the critical constitutional variable here, then not also judicial review of a bayonet charge?
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The proposal for judicial review of potential attacks during an armed conflict (not peacetime) is rife with a host of counterproductive second and third order constitutional and military effects. It represents a sweeping change in our political order by a technical legal fiat. It would also be an exceedingly dumb way to run a war. It might test our powers of imagination, but somehow, we faced down Hitler and the Imperial Japanese without Federal judges running our strategic bombing campaigns.
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This preference for legalistic arguments is partly a product of over representation of lawyers among the American political elite. Highly competent attorneys are very skilled at framing arguments on behalf of clients so that they begin litigation not only from a favorable explicitly stated position but, where possible, with several layers of one-sided implicit premises built in that you accept uncritically only at your peril. When a lawyer comes into a public policy debate saying that a political question is a legal question, he is making a political argument to remove a political dispute in a democratic polity to the courts where the matter will be decided under very different procedures and will remain as a legal question thereafter.
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Sometimes, this is the constitutionally correct thing to do; more often, it is simply an expedient thing to do that diminishes democratic accountability while rendering policy and process needlessly more complex and adversarial than even open public debate. It is also a self-aggrandizing feedback loop for lawyers as a class – when all political questions are legal questions, then should we not all defer to their superior expertise and training? It is the road to technocracy and the rule of law becoming “rule by lawyers”.
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Does that mean the critics have no point whatsoever regarding the use of drones in “targeted killings”? No. The idea that targeting American citizens is bad *policy* because it might, for example, be poorly employed against innocent people by mistake or, in slippery slope fashion, lead to a normalization and extension of the practice of targeted killing outside of an officially recognized armed conflict is a completely valid *political* argument. It is even, in my view, a very wise caution. It just does not hold water as a legal argument on behalf American citizens who go overseas and pick up arms and wage war against the US by joining al Qaida.
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More importantly, there are better, simpler remedies to a “slippery slope” with drone attacks that can be employed legislatively and through vigorous oversight that can be enacted that will strengthen rather than undermine and confuse our constitutional system of governance. First, the Obama administration, for it’s part, should allay critics fears by removing “targeted killings” from the arbitrary hands of unnamed “senior officials” (code for the President? The National Security Adviser? A random White House lawyer?) and either return to a more traditional Pentagon target assessment procedure or use the NSC process with a PDD/NSDD and a properly and timely “finding” being presented to Congress.
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Secondly, the proper body to review the judgement of the administration in tactics, operations, and strategy is not the judicial branch, but the legislative, which has done so in prior conflicts and holds the power of the purse to control the extent of campaigns and the raising of armies. The Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War was the oversight mechanism the Congress employed during the Civil War to review and influence the actions of the Lincoln administration. I would argue that the US Congress is more than sufficient to do the same task today with a far less existential conflict, if it chose to do so. Congress could, if it wished, forbid these operations or cease funding them. Quite pointedly, they have done neither.
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If Congress does not engage in rigorous oversight, it does not follow that a Federal Court is the appropriate constitutional substitute for Congress abdicating it’s wartime responsibilities. Targeted killings of enemy combatants during a declared armed conflict is a question of war policy, not due process, and is the purview of the political branches, not the judiciary
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Thirdly, the “slippery slope” danger is genuine and should be interdicted with legislation prohibiting or severely restricting the use of armed drones at home or forbidding their use against civilians resident in the territory of the United States entirely. A definition from Congress of under which circumstances that terrorism is a matter for law enforcement or military action is something that is likewise years overdue.
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Congress should be taking up it’s weighty responsibilities in war policy and not punting them to the executive or the judiciary, so that the actions of the US government in a matter of extreme gravity like a war are constitutionally clothed in democratic consent.

“Sin, Death, and Hell have set their Marks on Him”

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

King Richard III 

The bones of Richard III, Shakespeare’s greatest villain and the last King of England to be killed in battle have been discovered and identified by DNA testing:

….There were cheers when Richard Buckley, lead archaeologist on the hunt for the king’s body, finally announced that the university team was convinced “beyond reasonable doubt” that it had found the last Plantagenet king, bent by scoliosis of the spine, and twisted further to fit into a hastily dug hole in Grey Friars church, which was slightly too small to hold his body.

But by then it was clear the evidence was overwhelming, as the scientists who carried out the DNA tests, those who created the computer-imaging technology to peer on to and into the bones in raking detail, the genealogists who found a distant descendant with matching DNA, and the academics who scoured contemporary texts for accounts of the king’s death and burial, outlined their findings.

….Richard died at Bosworth on 22 August 1485, the last English king to fall in battle, and the researchers revealed how for the first time. There was an audible intake of breath as a slide came up showing the base of his skull sliced off by one terrible blow, believed to be from a halberd, a fearsome medieval battle weapon with a razor-sharp iron axe blade weighing about two kilos, mounted on a wooden pole, which was swung at Richard at very close range. The blade probably penetrated several centimetres into his brain and, said the human bones expert Jo Appleby, he would have been unconscious at once and dead almost as soon.

The skull of Richard III

Injuries to the skeleton appear to confirm contemporary accounts that the king died in battle. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

The injury appears to confirm contemporary accounts that he died in close combat in the thick of the battle and unhorsed – as in the great despairing cry Shakespeare gives him: “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” 

Richard III, usurper and probable regicide of his nephew the boy King, was the last truly medieval King of England. Had Richard lived to rule, his reign would have been characterized by the same bloody uprisings and civil strife that marked the War of the Roses. England was fortunate in his successor who had bested him in battle, Henry Tudor who became King Henry VII was an energetic and far seeing monarch who restored a war-wracked and bankrupt England to peace and fiscal health and set the foundations of the modern United Kingdom and the future world-spanning British Empire. It was Henry who started the Royal Navy and curtailed the ability of the nobility to wage war as they pleased with large private armies, by taxing them for each man at arms, thus ending bastard feudalism ; recalcitrant rebels were executed and justices of the peace established in every shire to enforce the law of the realm rather than the corrupt whims of manorial courts.

Richard III has his devoted fans as well his detractors. Except for his impatient ruthlessness, Richard probably was little worse, morally speaking, than his fellow medieval monarchs in an age when brutality and the rule of the strong was the norm.  However, unlike the brilliant Henry, Richard would have done little to improve the situation and might have made life in England more savagely violent.

“Sustaining” your Way to Serfdom as a Grand Strategy

Monday, January 14th, 2013

Friend of the blog, commenter L.C. Rees, likes to point out that one of the most important part of a grand strategy, particularly one that is maintained despite evidence of being a geopolitical failure, are the domestic political effects that work to the advantage of the faction supporting it.  In my view, grand strategy usually has a political or cultural evolutionary component and, human nature being unchanging, Rees’s cynical observation has merit.

Last year, a couple of JCS aides/field grade officers wrote a grossly overpraised paper that was pushed by Anne-Marie Slaughter, Thomas Friedman and assorted worthies, that purported to be about a new grand strategy with which America could navigate the world. Mostly it centered on a preference for an America being run by a vaguely EU-like, technocratic, regime under the rubric of “sustainment”, in which the authors wisely folded in a number of  shibboleths popular with the corporate-liberal upper class who write large donation checks to think tanks or make their living in public policy and academia.

The talk of this nature died down when the election cycle began, but the themes were recently revived by the New America Foundation’s Grand Strategy Project whose director had an op-ed in Foreign Policy to reintroduce this agenda to the chattering classes now that the pesky voters are out of the way until 2014:

A New U.S. Grand Strategy 

….Walkable communities: The first pool of demand is homegrown. American tastes have changed from the splendid isolation of the suburbs to what advocates are calling the “five-minute lifestyle” — work, school, transit, doctors, dining, playgrounds, entertainment all within a five-minute walk of the front door. From 2014 to 2029, baby boomers and their children, the millennial generation, will converge in the housing marketplace — seeking smaller homes in walkable, service-rich, transit-oriented communities. Already, 56 percent of Americans seek this lifestyle in their next housing purchase. That’s roughly three times the demand for such housing after World War II.
If only Bismarck had included some “walkable communities” for Prussia, Europe might have avoided the tragedy of World War I.
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Incidentally, all of this argument from assertion is unsupported rubbish keyed to a preexisting anti-suburban agenda the Obama administration brought with them into office in 2009. As Joel Kotkin explained:

….Whenever possible, the Clintons expressed empathy with suburban and small-town voters. In contrast, the Obama administration seems almost willfully city-centric. Few top appointees have come from either red states or suburbs; the top echelons of the administration draw almost completely on big city urbanites—most notably from Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. They sometimes don’t even seem to understand why people move to suburbs.

Many Obama appointees—such as at the Departments of Transportation and of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—favor a policy agenda that would drive more Americans to live in central cities. And the president himself seems to embrace this approach, declaring in February that “the days of building sprawl” were, in his words, “over.”

Not surprisingly, belief in “smart growth,” a policy that seeks to force densification of communities and returning people to core cities, animates many top administration officials. This includes both HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan and Undersecretary Ron Sims, Transportation undersecretary for policy Roy Kienitz, and the EPA’s John Frece.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood revealed the new ideology when he famously declared the administration’s intention to “coerce” Americans out of their cars and into transit. In Congress, the president’s allies, including Minnesota Congressman James Oberstar, have advocated shifting a larger chunk of gas tax funds collected from drivers to rail and other transit.

In addition, the president’s stimulus—with its $8 billion allocation for high-speed rail and proposed giant increases in mass transit—offers little to anyone who lives outside a handful of large metropolitan cores. Economics writer Robert Samuelson, among others, has denounced the high-speed rail idea as “a boondoggle” not well-suited to a huge, multi-centered country like the United States. Green job schemes also seem more suited to boost employment for university researchers and inner-city residents than middle-income suburbanites.

Suburbanites may not yet be conscious of the anti-suburban stance of the Obama team, but perhaps they can read the body language. Administration officials have also started handing out $300 million stimulus-funded grants to cities that follow “smart growth principles.” Grants for cities to adopt “sustainability” oriented development will reward those communities with the proper planning orientation. There is precious little that will benefit suburbanites, such as improved roads or investment in other basic infrastructure.

Kotkin nails it. Mr. Doherty is simply trying to find some national security window dressing for an elite preference that ordinary people will be much easier to manage, monitor and fleece if they are concentrated in high-density urban housing and prevented from voting with their feet by a network of punitive, anti-development, anti-mobility, Federal  regulations. The research paper, if you can call it that, justifying this authoritarian agenda can be found here. Judge for yourself.
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However, this is no idle pipe dream, it has been done before. The  Japanese pursued a similar national “grand strategy” after WWII with the blessing of Washington to reconstruct defeated Japan: the old, independent,  Japanese business empires called zaibatsu were transformed by SCAP into submissive keiretsu that would take “administrative guidance” from the Ministry of International Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Finance. In return, the keiretsu were heavily subsidized by the government, which kept Japanese “salarymen” to an artificially low “middle-class” standard of living with macroeconomic policies that forced the Japanese to have an extremely high level of savings. A docile work force penned into tiny apartments, governed by a de facto one-party autocracy of the Liberal Democratic Party that kept the rent-farming machinery in place for big business for fifty years. It isn’t a great model, it is not what Walter Lippmann would have called “a good society” but it did work.
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Mexico under the PRI dictatorship was a more backward version of this paradigm, as was Chicago under Mayor Daley.
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Now back to our own grand strategy of walkable communitarianism:

…..Every continental-scale economic region must embark on a decisive sustainability strategy without delay. Working within existing norms of the World Trade Organization and the United Nations, America will lead the partnership of major economies to refashion the global economic system around eight or nine economic blocs, each boasting the scale necessary to support mature industrial ecosystems. This will mean promoting and strengthening regional economic blocs such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the Union of South American Nations, the African Union, the Commonwealth of Independent States, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

This part is literally nonsensical.

Say what you want about Osama bin Laden’s powers of rhetoric: he may have failed to convince his fellow Muslims to unite the ummah into a Caliphate but he evidently convinced a lot of people at The New America Foundation that Islam is an economy.

And as aside, why the hell is pushing political unification of South America or Africa under top-heavy, transnational bureaucracies in American interest? It sure isn’t in the interest of poor Africans or campesinos. For that matter, how can Africa unify if a third of their states will be in the OIC? WTF? Does Foreign Policy use editors or is it just a blog?

However, all that was simply geopolitical fantasizing over matters about which the United States has little control and would be unlikely to come off even under the best of circumstances. The next part I suspect is intended much more seriously. It certainly reflects a worldview that is pernicious and apparently more widespread among our elite than we realized, for which they are now testing the waters, to see if their fellow citizens are the herd they imagine us to be and if they can get away with it.

….Just as America would never fight a 21st-century war with Korean War-era weapons, it should not govern today with institutions devised for a bygone era. The Founding Fathers established a constitution that allows for the adaptation of the institutions of government to the knowledge, threats, and opportunities confronting each generation. Americans should make use of that foresight. Under this strategy, the country will adapt the institutions of its federal government to execute this grand strategy and invest in the American people to ensure that they receive the opportunities they need to be informed and engaged citizens. 

This is a tentative call, in milquetoast, coded, language, to find legal stratagems to gut the Bill of Rights and euthanize American democracy, or at least render it comatose, as a mere facade for a new paternalist technocracy that treats citizens as wards or children while we are rent-farmed for the benefit of a small elite. Certainly when we are all marooned in our government-regulated, high-density, housing, disarmed and without private transportation or much disposable income it will be too late for us to raise our voices in protest.  Doherty is correct about one aspect, such a society is probably “sustainable”; feudalism after all lasted more than a thousand years.

In plain English, the strategy of “sustainment” is a long term policy for postmodern serfdom with most of us intended to be walking behind the oxen when we are not wearing the yoke ourselves. Despite the nervous, thin-lipped, smiles and hasty reassurances, these people truly wish us and our children ill.

The good news is that none of this can come to pass without our consent. The U.S. Constitution is both sword and shield, if you are willing to pick it up. Speak, write, organize, litigate and vote out of office would-be authoritarians no matter what party label they wear. The best antidote for our creeping oligarchy is electing and appointing to office a large number of people outside of this exceedingly insular, geographically and intellectually narrow, social circle of graduates of  a handful of universities and last few percentage points of socioeconomic status who have in the last 15 years grabbed control of our government.

Really, we’re Americans – our talent pool is 315 million strong. We can easily do better.

Guns and The New Paternalism

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg      Photo credit: The New York Times 

Longtime reader and blogfriend Eddie Beaver sent me a link to an article by NYT columnist, Ross Douthat. In my view, Douthat has written a fairly important observation of a political dynamic that is broader than the simply the new push by the elite for new and stringent gun control legislation:

Bloomberg, LaPierre and the Void

FOR a week after the Newtown shooting, the conversation was dominated by the self-righteous certainties of the American center-left. In print and on the airwaves, the chorus was nearly universal: the only possible response to Adam Lanza’s rampage was an immediate crusade for gun control, the necessary firearm restrictions were all self-evident, and anyone who doubted their efficacy had the blood of children on his hands.

The leading gun control chorister was Michael Bloomberg, and this was fitting, because on a range of issues New York’s mayor has become the de facto spokesman for the self-consciously centrist liberalism of the Acela Corridor elite. Like so many members of that class, Bloomberg combines immense talent with immense provincialism: his view of American politics is basically the famous New Yorker cover showing Manhattan’s West Side overshadowing the world, and his bedrock assumption is that the liberal paternalism with which New York is governed can and should be a model for the nation as a whole.

….Unfortunately for our country, the Bloomberg versus LaPierre contrast is basically all of American politics today. Our society is divided between an ascendant center-left that’s far too confident in its own rigor and righteousness and a conservatism that’s marched into an ideological cul-de-sac and is currently battering its head against the wall.

….The establishment view is interventionist, corporatist and culturally liberal. It thinks that issues like health care and climate change and immigration are best worked out through comprehensive bills drawn up by enlightened officials working hand in glove with business interests. It regards sexual liberty as sacrosanct, and other liberties — from the freedoms of churches to the rights of gun owners — as negotiable at best. It thinks that the elite should pay slightly higher taxes, and everyone else should give up guns, SUVs and Big Gulps and live more like, well, Manhattanites. It allows the president an entirely free hand overseas, and takes the Bush-Obama continuities in foreign policy for granted.

Douthat’s criticism of a reflexively angry but unimaginative and politically inept Right is correct, but class trumps mere Left-Right distinctions regarding gun control, with celebrity pundit Fareed Zakaria and conservative press baron Rupert Murdoch aligning with fellow Manhattan West Side billionaire and gun control zealot, Mayor Michael  Bloomberg  and various worthies in calling for UK style “gun bans”.

Britain of course, does not have a 2nd Amendment or, for that matter, a written Constitution that acts as a bar to government curtailment of civil liberties and both Parliament and British courts have different views on the limits of basic rights of free speech, self-defense (not just with guns), property and other liberties than the American norm. In light of the  2nd Amendment and District of Columbia vs. Heller, that sort of draconian legislation that makes gun ownership a privilege of the very few, would be obviously unconstitutional. If Illinois, for example must comply with a Federal Appellate Court order to permit citizens under new legislation to carry concealed guns, it is rather unlikely the Federal courts will entertain a confiscatory national gun control law that would trample not only the 2nd Amendment, but the 4th, 5th and 14th along the way. Nor would the governors of a majority of American states be on board for this, nor most Congressmen from rural states or the high tens of millions of Americans who own guns and reside in zip codes outside of Georgetown and Manhattan.

However, a healthy disregard for the strictures of Constitutional law and the liberties of ordinary citizens is a hallmark of the New Paternalism of our increasingly oligarchic elite, composed of superwealthy billionaires, hedge fund managers, Fortune 500 CEOs and the technocratic-political-legal class sporting ivy league pedigrees. They are even worse on the 4th Amendment and individual privacy than on gun rights look disapprovingly at the First, which constrains their ability to censor and punish unenlightened opinions or political criticism. Outside of gay marriage and abortion, I am hard pressed to think of a single individual liberty our elite holds in unqualified esteem or at least in as much esteem in their own presumed competence to rule.

As Douthat noted, this not merely about guns, but of this small group having a searing contempt for the way the majority of Americans live their lives and a manifest, bipartisan, desire to regulate them for their own good in matters great and small. To decide how other Americans should educate their children; whether they should go to college and if so, what they should be permitted to study;  how much and what kind of food they should be allowed to eat or drink; whether their religion should be treated with deference in public policy or dismissed for the greater good; where they should live and how far back their “middle-class” living standards should be cut or pensions reduced, transformed or eliminated for the benefit of those whose incompetently  mismanaged companies, banks and   equities firms were so recently bailed out by taxpayers and the Federal Reserve.

It would be one thing, of course, if these high minded New Paternalists intended to live under the laws they eagerly want to impose on the rest of us, but largely they intend a different set of rules for themselves. They are ardent gun-control advocates who pack heat, public pension reformers who loot their employee’s pensions to enrich themselves, ed reformers who send their kids to posh private schools , crusaders against obesity who love junk food, zealous environmentalists with giant carbon footprints and advocates of tax reform whose corporations pay no taxes. Their mismatch between words and deeds is so vast as to almost be admirable – say what you like about this cabal’s lack of humility or sense stewardship, they hit the jackpot when it came to chutzpah.

If Hubris mated with Hypocrisy, their offspring would look much like the present American leadership class.


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