Saturday, June 25, 2016

Brexit and the EU: Keeping the Peace

We so quickly forget that the purpose of the European Union was not to promote the economic interests of countries whose names begin in G and end with Y, nor to raise Northern European values over Southern. The point of the European Union was to make and keep peace.

The EU is not keeping the peace, not even trying hard. If they were trying, the ECB would be forgiving Greece's debt, while urging Britain to reconsider. In the long term, to keep the peace, the EU would be promoting Keynesian macroeconomic policies intended to reduce income inequality, and taking in the Syrian refugees, both because the alternative is too horrible to contemplate and because shutting them out will breed future conflict.

I would like to see a return to the internationalism that the EU was founded on. The business of the EU is not promoting the interests and ideology of Germany and, to a lesser extent, France. It is to make peace and create and maintain prosperity in Europe.

(Minor editorial changes, day after posting.)

Friday, June 24, 2016

Brexit and Trump: Exasperated comments to some Sanders-bashing Clintonites

Folks, did you even listen to what Sanders said?

If there's one single thing that has gone wrong with the Democrats it is the failure to listen.

Meantime, please, enough with the Sanders-bashing. We need everyone on deck for this one. The British faction that won Brexit is similar to the faction the supports Trump, and it won.

Brexit: What Next?

We don't know. Likely enough, Britain leaves the EU. Likely enough the United Kingdom splits. But the wide consequences? There is no way of knowing, but the likelyhood of their being on balance positive in the next 20 years is poor.

(Added) And one possible wide consequence is the collapse of a shaky economic recovery in the USA. Thanks, guys.

Brexit: Democracy is the Loser

The loser here, I think, is democracy and democratic institutions. All conservative fears about both have been confirmed.

I think, at this time, given the nature of modern mass media and balloting processes, we ought to be very, very afraid of direct democracy: demagogues have far too much power in this environment.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Monday, June 20, 2016

"Terrorist suspects"

Just by the way, I hope someone else is annoyed by the attempt to make the terrorist watch and no-fly lists a reason for anything other than watching. The terrorist watch list has over a million people on it, and is therefore near-useless. The no-fly list is easy to get on, and near-impossible to get off. Secret courts, secret laws, secret lists: these things are un-American.

ACLU Letter to the Senate.

A bit on the history of the Second Amendment

(Some version of this is in negotiation on Wikipedia. I have doubts that it will survive, so I am posting it here. Comments are open for the usual period.)

Possibly the first use of "well-regulated militia"

Scots MP Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun used the phrase “well-regulated militia” in his 1698 pamphlet, "A Discourse Of Government With Relation To Militias". By this he meant a universal draft.

In the ''Discourse'' Fletcher strikes a number of notes that were to echo through the US constitution. Fletcher wrote of the oppressive potential of standing armies and argued against the hiring of mercenaries, recommending instead reliance on “a well regulated militia” [1]. He wrote of the need for baronial control of the militia to check unjust royal power, and in this we may see an origin of the division of state and federal authority over the militia.

To the objection that the typical citizen was a poor soldier, Fletcher replied that they made up an “ordinary and ill-regulated militia.” He then set out his idea of a well-regulated militia:

What I would offer is, that four camps be formed, one in Scotland, and three in England; into which all the young men of the respective countries should enter, on the first day of the two and twentieth year of their age; and remain there the space of two years, if they be of fortunes sufficient to maintain themselves; but if they are not, then to remain a year only, at the expense of the public.
He goes on to praise the martial virtues such training would instill (he had after all himself been a soldier) and adds that all male citizens should continue to drill four hours a week.

The relevance of Scottish militia history to the USA

It's a pretty amazing history. The right of the Scots to participate in the militia was lost in the Acts of Union, which unified the parliaments of Scotland and England. The Scottish Militia Bill of 1707, which would have restored the Scots right to participate in the militia, was vetoed by Queen Anne, in the last royal veto in British history. Thereafter, the Jacobite Risings of 1715 and 1746 persuaded Parliament to pass the 1716 Disarming Act and then the 1746 Act of Proscription, which intensified penalties and even forbade the wearing of "highland dress" [2].

The relevance to the USA is set out by Konig [3]. It comes through Fletcher and James Burgh, who was quoted by Franklin and who corresponded with John Adams. To sum up a fairly complex history, the suppression of the Scottish militias and weapons ownership influenced the writing of the Second Amendment, and the phrase "well-regulated militia" is a direct reference to that history.

A few final thoughts

As I went through my very light overview of the history, some things became clear. First, the phrase "well-regulated militia" is a direct quote of the Scottish authors Fletcher and Burgh, and probably others. The Framers were referencing those ideas when they included it. (And, yes, that means that Heller was wrongly decided. Justice Scalia, I do not miss you.)

Second, the nature of the militia obligation and the militia gets narrowed by succeeding authors and legislators. From Fletcher's universal draft of men, the service requirement was reduced by Burgh to to a draft of "all men of property." Hamilton, in Federalist Paper 29, reduced the training requirement still further. Once the US militia was a going thing, militia service turned from a much-demanded right into an onerous, expensive, and resented obligation, and in the 1830s and 1840s the states exempted most men from it.

Third, what I suppose one might call the British theory of the militia was built around the weapons technology its day. The whole idea of an individual right to go armed was, first, taken for granted, and second, not taken seriously. One man with a musket, or more likely two pistols, could be a robber, but it took numbers and organization to make a revolution. With the invention of the modern rifle, we achieved such a level of lethality that a single individual with a good rifle can be as lethal as a whole team of cannoneers and with a cannon in the old days. I can't see that any of the Scots and English militia theorists would have advocated widespread distribution and carrying of such lethal weapons without at least some restrictions on who could carry them routinely.


[1] Ironically, Fletcher had himself been a mercenary in Hungary. See
[2] Which sounds very odd, but consider the suppression of gang colors in US schools.
[3] Konig, David Thomas (Spring 2004). "The Second Amendment: A Missing Transatlantic Context for the Historical Meaning of 'the Right of the People to Keep and Bear Arms'". Law and History Review (American Society for Legal History, Inc.) 22 (1): 120–159. doi:10.2307/4141667.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Sanders: Going to the Convention

There is a lot of talk about how Sanders, not going to win the nomination, ought now quietly withdraw before the Democratic National Convention. But why? With roughly 40% of primary voters supporting him, he and his faction ought to get something, especially if the Democratic Party expects his supporters to turn out for the party, and work on Clinton's campaign.

There is symbolic weight in walking into the convention with nearly 1900 pledged delegates at your back, even if Clinton has 2200. (There are approximately 600 "superdelegates," Democratic officials of various sorts, who are swing votes. Clinton needs only 80 of them to clinch the nomination.) Back when, before the internet, the power of those numbers was immense: delegates and reporters would walk into a crowded hall and see the support. Television made that visible to the whole world. Even now, seeing those numbers, seeing those people, carries weight. I hope the Clinton campaign and the Democratic leadership will pay attention.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Democratic Primary: It's down to negotiation now

So we have the votes of every state; only the District of Columbia itself, with its 20 delegates remains. As Charles P. Pierce puts it, "[Sanders] entire strategy seems now to be based on convincing members of the dreaded Democratic establishment to do something for him that they weren't even willing to do en masse for Ted Kennedy in 1980 […] And he has to get 300 of them to do it."

President Obama has agreed to meet with Sanders at the White House on Thursday and they will "continue their conversation about the significant issues at stake in this election that matter most to America's working families." To unify the Democrats, Obama will have to offer Sanders some concessions which Sanders, in turn, can offer to his supporters as a plausible reason to vote for Clinton in November. But what can he offer? Obama has delivered far less than enough on employment, banking, and foreign policy. To get the new Sanders voters to turn out, he will have to offer them something substantial, and I cannot imagine what that could be. In early 2010 I wrote, "The  party leadership will have a difficult time persuading most Democrats that the party represents them," and this is still the case.

Join the People's Progressive Libertarian Party. Peace, prosperity, and weed!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Review: Scahill's *The Assassination Complex*

(If you want to buy this book online, I recommend doing so at
The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government's Secret Drone Warfare ProgramThe Assassination Complex: Inside the Government's Secret Drone Warfare Program by Jeremy Scahill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is a collection of articles based on leaked material published on the web site The Intercept at with a foreword by Edward Snowden and an afterword by Glenn Greenwald.

The Assassination Complex covers the US policy of assassination using electronic surveillance and drone aircraft as it has developed since 9/11, with side trips into the use of similar electronic surveillance technologies by civilian police in the USA. There is much horrifying and terrifying information given here, but perhaps the central terror is the lawlessness of the practice: people, US citizens and not, are condemned in secret courts and executed without a chance to see their accusers or defend themselves. The executions are usually made based on electronic surveillance without on-the-ground checks, with the result that sometimes the wrong people are killed; not even questionable execution but simple murder.

So far as is known, civilian police in the USA are not using armed drones, but they are using the same electronic surveillance technology, and the idea of sloppy, over-worked, trigger-happy US police with even that much power is not a happy one.

This is an important book and anyone who cares about such matters should read it. I think, also, a companion volume on the legal issues this technology raises is badly needed. There are issues of both international and domestic law. I am not even sure assassination is forbidden by any treaty. It has been used historically, but it has never been common; it is far too difficult to carry out with human agents and it seldom achieves useful military objectives. With electronic surveillance and drones, it has become routine, though, as with other forms of air war, though, if TAC is to be believed, it is apparently largely effective at terrorizing civilians and still ineffective at achieving military objectives. Beyond that is the shadow of proliferation. For the moment, this is a technology limited to a few governments, but that will change; unless international treaties are drawn up, it will come to pervade the world. In US domestic law, it is simply not permitted, unless one adopts the most tortured readings of the law: the Framers forbade execution or even legal punishment without trial because of bitter personal experience, and the Constitution and Bill of Rights forbid them, unless, perhaps, there is a declared war. It has never been mooted in court that I know of, but I do not see how the law reasonably allows the United States to declare war on an abstract noun: wars are between governments and peoples, not simply on "terror" or "drugs."

I will venture, now, two criticisms: first, that it is a poorly-designed book; the use of red backgrounds and text detracts from the work, and the fonts chosen are jarring and distracting. Simon and Schuster is a major publisher, and they can do better. Second, I do wish that paper copies of the online documents the book relies on had been archived and published. It is so very easy for electronic evidence to be erased.

View all my reviews

Oh, Hillary, no: Nixon, Clinton, Kissinger

Two of Nixon's most Nixononian and criminal acts as candidate and President, the prolongation of the Vietnam war and the CIA-orchestrated coup in Chile, were Kissinger's ideas. I am left wondering how much of Clinton's Latin American foreign policy is also Kissinger's idea. It is at least Kissinger-influenced; Clinton acknowledges Kissinger as friend and mentor. I am left thinking that much of Clinton's often criticized hawkishness is the influence of Henry Kissinger. And yet Kissinger's policies have often failed, making enemies worldwide, and his body count is astonishing: at least in the hundreds of thousands and arguably in the millions.

Oh, Hillary, no.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Hillary Clinton's nomination: I feel a great distubance in the Force

So, according to CNN, Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic Presidential nominee, barring disaster or superdelegates flipping their pledged votes. This news comes a day before the last round of primaries, where six states, total population 53 million, would be voting. CNN did a lunk-headed thing, making voters in six states feel their votes don't count.

Today I met a young woman who told me that, having been told that, because of her age, she knows nothing by Clinton supporters at her state's Democratic caucuses, was having doubts about voting for Clinton.

What I am hearing from Clinton supporters is that they are looking forward to abandoning the Sanders supporters. But the election is not won yet, and the Democratic Party may yet regret that decision, if it is indeed the decision of the Party leadership.

Meantime, we have Trump, who is becoming increasingly unhinged. I am starting to be concerned that instead of the buffoonish, incompetent Trump, Clinton may face the dislikeable but smart and effective Ted Cruz in the general election. If so, the Republican right will be much less inclined to cross party lines, and the Democratic Party may yet need the Sanders voters.

Or perhaps something else will go wrong. Perhaps this bird just has indigestion. But I have the sick feeling that my side has lost.

"The rule of no realm is mine, neither of Gondor nor any other, great or small. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, those are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail of my task, though Gondor should perish, if anything passes through this night that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower again in days to come." — Gandalf

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Greece, near-on a year later

Of course one day the Greek economy will recover, just as the Irish famine came to an end.
Good historical context; the analogy with Ireland is apt and the 1944 Polanyi quote is eerie in its prescience.