Free Markets, Free People

Elections


“It was a game changer”

Thus was the reason, according to former ACORN worker, Anita Moncrief, why the New York Times killed a story about the connections between the activist group and the Obama campaign.

A lawyer involved with legal action against Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) told a House Judiciary subcommittee on March 19 The New York Times had killed a story in October that would have shown a close link between ACORN, Project Vote and the Obama campaign because it would have been a “a game changer.”

Heather Heidelbaugh, who represented the Pennsylvania Republican State Committee in the lawsuit against the group, recounted for the ommittee what she had been told by a former ACORN worker who had worked in the group’s Washington, D.C. office. The former worker, Anita Moncrief, told Ms. Heidelbaugh last October, during the state committee’s litigation against ACORN, she had been a “confidential informant for several months to The New York Times reporter, Stephanie Strom.”

[...]

Obama and ACORN

Obama and ACORN

During her testimony, Ms. Heidelbaugh said Ms. Moncrief had told her The New York Times articles stopped when she revealed that the Obama presidential campaign had sent its maxed-out donor list to ACORN’s Washington, D.C. office.

Ms. Moncrief told Ms. Heidelbaugh the [Obama] campaign had asked her and her boss to “reach out to the maxed-out donors and solicit donations from them for Get Out the Vote efforts to be run by ACORN.”

Ms. Heidelbaugh then told the congressional panel:

“Upon learning this information and receiving the list of donors from the Obama campaign, Ms. Strom reported to Ms. Moncrief that her editors at The New York Times wanted her to kill the story because, and I quote, “it was a game changer.”’

ACORN does not exactly deny Moncrief’s allegations, but instead waives her off as a “disgruntled” employee:

“None of this wild and varied list of charges has any credibility and we’re not going to spend our time on it,” said Kevin Whelan, ACORN deputy political director in a statement issued last week.

And the NYT isn’t saying much either:

Ms. Mathis [the New York Times’ Senior Vice President for Corporate Communications] wrote, “In response to your questions to our reporter, Stephanie Strom, we do not discuss our newsgathering and won’t comment except to say that political considerations played no role in our decisions about how to cover this story or any other story about President Obama.”

Strangely, neither the Obama administration nor anyone connected with his campaign comments on the story. Of course, if the allegations regarding handing over the donor list are true, then there may campaign finance law violations to worry about, so they probably wouldn’t say much anyway.

I have to admit, this is almost a dog-bites-man story. There can’t be too many people who will seriously contend that the NYT isn’t a liberal newspaper. And it wasn’t any big secret during the run-up to the election that the MSM was in the tank for Obama. But I do wonder if many people realize the lengths that the MSM would go to in order to see their boy to the finish line. Hillary supporters got the message pretty loud and clear during the primaries, and Palin’s backers can cite chapter and verse on how the MSM dragged her and her family through the gutter. Some people might even remember that story suggesting that McCain had an affair with lobbyist Vicki L. Iseman (for which she sued the NYT and settled out of court).

Yet, how many people realize that the de facto leader of the MSM would spike a story that’s not just critical of their chosen candidate, but that implicates him in illegal activity with a notorious election law violator? Seems like that would be news fit to print. Just not in the NYT apparently.

By the way, keep this story in mind as plans continue to unfold regarding the federal government subsidizing newspapers. If the NYT was willing to spike a story just to help its chosen one, what will they do when that chosen one is paying the bills?


D.C. Voting Rights Bill — Still Unconstitutional (Updated)

I‘ve written about this issue before, and said all I think there is to say about it. The fact is that any bill coming out of Congress granting voting rights to D.C. sua sponte is plainly unconstitutional. What’s more, Congress is already well aware of this fact. The Congressional Research Service, the legislative analysis advisors to Congress, deduced the following about H.R. 328 (the most recent precursor to current D.C. voting rights bill):

… it is difficult to identify either constitutional text or existing case law that would directly support the allocation by statute of the power to vote in the full House to the District of Columbia Delegate. Further, that case law that does exist would seem to indicate that not only is the District of Columbia not a “state” for purposes of representation, but that congressional power over the District of Columbia does not represent a sufficient power to grant congressional representation.

In particular, at least six of the Justices who participated in what appears to be the most relevant Supreme Court case on this issue, National Mutual Insurance Co. of the District of Columbia v. Tidewater Transfer Co., authored opinions rejecting the proposition that Congress’s power under the District Clause was sufficient to effectuate structural changes to the federal government. Further, the remaining three judges, who found that the Congress could grant diversity jurisdiction to District of Columbia citizens despite the lack of such jurisdiction in Article III, specifically limited their opinion to instances where the legislation in question did not involve the extension of fundamental rights. To the extent that the representation in Congress would be seen as such a right, all nine Justices in Tidewater Transfer Co. would arguably have found the instant proposal to be unconstitutional.

Can Congress vote itself more members?

Can Congress vote itself more members?


During hearings before Congress on the constitutionality of the D.C voting rights bill, Deputy Assistant Attorney General John P. Elwood provided an excellent breakdown of how legal authorities had consistently found that the only way to grant D.C. citizens the right to congressional representation was through a constitutional amendment or by admitting D.C. as a state. Simply passing a law would not suffice.

Despite all the analysis presented, however, Congress continues to press forward with an unconstitutional bill:

Debate opened Monday on a bill to give the 600,000 people of Washington D.C. a full vote in the House. A new Democratic president, Barack Obama, and heftier Democratic majorities in Congress have improved the prospects for the decades-long effort that would certainly ensure another Democrat lawmaker in Congress.

Democrats outnumber Republicans by some 4-to-1 in the capital.

In a bit of horsetrading to offset the Democratic pickup, the bill would award a fourth House seat to Republican-leaning Utah, which narrowly missed getting that extra seat after the 2000 national census. With the two new seats, the House would have 437 representatives.

The time is ripe, said Ilir Zherka, executive director of the advocacy group DC Vote, to end a situation where “we are the only capital of a democracy on the planet that denies voting representation in the national legislature.”

The time is ripe because Democrats have a huge majority in both houses of Congress, and control of the White House. The fact that D.C. votes reliably, and overwhelmingly, for Democrats is the real reason for the bill’s support amongst that party, and one of the main reasons for many Republicans being against it. To overcome the opposition, therefore, Democrats have thrown a sop to Utah in the way of an extra representative, which would also appear to be unconstitutional without a census. Either way, the fact that the bill is plainly contrary to Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution seems to be merely a convenient excuse for some Republicans and a minor inconvenience to some Democrats.

Jonathan Turley has consistently echoed the above, and eloquently explains why Congress should not pass this law, and why the President should not sign it:

Like many, I believe that it is a terrible injustice for the District residents not to have a vote in Congress. As Justice Black stated in Wesberry v. Sanders: “No right is more precious in a free country than that of having a voice in the election of those who make the laws under which, as good citizens, we must live. Other rights, even the most basic, are illusory if the right to vote is undermined.” However, the great wrong done to the District residents cannot be righted through the violation of the Constitution itself.

This is not a debate about the ends of legislative action but the means. In a nation committed to the rule of law it is often as important how we do something as what we do. This is the wrong means to a worthy end.

[...]

[Our Constitution] is the world’s most successful constitutional framework because it is carefully balanced with limited powers between the three branches. It is a design that can be frustrating at times when injustices demand quick action. Yet, the very stability and integrity of our system demands that we remain faithful to its provisions, even when our principles stand in the way of our passions.

Just as there is no debate over the need for a vote for the District, there is no debate that such a vote can be obtained by other means. Indeed, there is no longer any claim to be made that the District (or the Democratic Party) lacks the votes needed to take a constitutional course. The political realities and expediencies that gave raise to this idea no longer exist. With control of both houses and the White House, the sponsors can secure a lasting and unassailable vote in the House of Representatives through either retrocession or a constitutional amendment. Indeed, some republicans have expressed their support for a constitutional amendment that would allow a voting House member for the District.

Like Turley, I am in favor of D.C. residents having a vote in both the House and the Senate. And also like him, I am fervently opposed to any extra-constitutional means of accomplishing that goal. Instead, let’s draft an amendment, or begin the process of retroceding D.C. back to Maryland. Let the Maryland officials be accused of wanting to oppress D.C.’s denizens for a while, instead of those of us who simply want to uphold the Constitution.

We know how to make it happen, and yet Congress insists on doing it the wrong way. Much of it, of course, is sheer laziness and want of expediency. But that is no excuse for elected officials to blatantly disregard their roles as stewards of the contract between the people and their government, and the very source of those officials’ power. Minor as some of these indiscretions may be, when Congress takes it upon itself to decide which parts of the Constitution are worth following and which are not, then we become a rudderless ship of fools.

However it’s done, I heartily agree that we start the process of welcoming our D.C. brothers and sisters to the circus known as Congress. In order to make that welcome worth something, however, I recommend that we go about it in the way that passes constitutional muster.

UPDATE: As it turns out, a bill has been introduced by Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-TX, 1st Dist.) to retrocede D.C. back to Maryland. Funny how this bill hasn’t received any news attention.


MYOB

In my last post, I argued that the Seventeenth Amendment should be repealed.  Once upon a time, Americans from across the political spectrum could agree on at least one principle of good governance: federalism, or more generally, localized decision-making.

To put a fine point on it:

  • Your state knows its own values and interests better than the national government does.
  • Your county knows its own values and interests better than the state government does.
  • Your city knows its own values and interests better than the county government does.
  • Your neighborhood knows its own values and interests better than the city government does.
  • Your household knows its own values and interests better than the neighborhood does.
  • And you arguably know your own particular values and interests better than other members of your household do.

Depending on who’s won lately, the people in power at higher levels of organization may approximately reflect your values and interests, but the further away they get, the less likely this is to be the case.  Simply put, the more people you have to represent, and the further they are away from you, the harder it is to faithfully represent them all.

Even if your Congressman is a tremendously intelligent and virtuous man, what he doesn’t know about his constituents’ beliefs and circumstances could fill libraries.

So as a general rule, it makes sense that we should want matters to be decided at the most local level possible.  If you have a personal problem, you have the greatest incentive to fix the problem, your values will determine what trade-offs you’re comfortable with, and the matter probably shouldn’t leave your household — or at worst, your peer groups.  If it doesn’t naturally spill over into other people’s lives, they don’t want you to make it their problem.

Largely because so much power has accrued at higher levels of government, people increasingly turn to the impersonal and ignorant forces of those higher levels to handle their problems.  Today, the federal government has so much power, reaching down to the most local possible decisions, that people focus an inordinate amount of their attention and aspirations on who controls it and what they do with it.  Everyone’s fate is determined by whose collective hand controls the Biggest Lever.

I cannot stress enough how dangerous a development this is. Let’s leave aside, for the moment, how centralized control and planning tend to double down on mistakes rather than correct them.  They have much more insidious effects.

Making everything a national issue has poisoned the national debate.  It is a significant cause of the Culture War (see Roe v Wade, or Defense of Marriage Act).  It has contributed to making politics personal, and it’s why so many people have become emotionally invested in the person of the President.  Think about how much more common it has become for both parties to use the language and imagery of dictators to describe the president — usually when we disagree with him.

Bottom line: it is difficult to tolerate your neighbor’s difference of opinion if his opinion controls your life.  It has become too difficult to mind one’s own business.

Let that marinate for a minute, and I’ll move on to my suggestion for one solution. Continue reading


Repealing the Seventeenth Amendment

George Will argues we should repeal the Seventeenth Amendment.  I doubt it will happen–too many people are convinced of the Populist notion that the more direct the democracy, the better.  But I’ve been arguing for years that this measure would restore a great measure of federalism to the US, and that we would generally benefit from such a change.

Doug Mataconis of Below the Beltway isn’t so sure.  He writes,

As I’ve noted before, it’s a provocative argument, but I think there’s something missing:

My take on the subject is this — from a procedural point of view the 17th Amendment is certainly one of the factors that has made the expansion of Federal power, and the erosion of Federalism, more easy to accomplish. Returning to direct election of Senators *might* have a positive impact, but that will only happen if the Senators elected have a proper understanding of their role under the Constitution.

And if the state legislators appointing them have that same understanding.

Given the political climate in America today, having Senators who are beholden to the whims and wishes of state legislators is unlikely to produce a better breed in the Upper House than having Senators who are beholden to the whims and wishes of voters.

In some sense, repealing the 17th Amendment involves turning back the clock in more ways than one. We can return to the procedural methods that the Framers first put in place, but that doesn’t mean that the philosophy that will guide the Senate will change in any significant respect.

I can’t comment on whether we’d get a “better breed”, but the procedural change would change the practice, if not the philosophy, of senators.  As I argue in the comments, the purpose of many of the checks and balances in the Constitution of the early republic was to have people in power answer to those who were jealous of their own power. Repealing the Seventeenth wouldn’t cure all ills, but it would help.

For example, the federal government has extended its power over state and local matters by using its superior funding power to provide goodies, and attaching strings to that money.

If we posit that state legislators want to arrogate more power to themselves, then–given the power–they will resist those strings. US Senators, realizing that their appointment to the Senate (and all the attendant benefits) requires pleasing the state legislators, will avoid attaching those strings. They don’t need to understand anything except who’s buttering their bread.

Let’s say that state legislators still like the idea of getting federal money without having to levy their own taxes. Well, if the Senate tries to appropriate no-strings-attached money for the states, naturally the House and President will resist. They don’t want to levy taxes and receive no controlling benefit in return.

A smaller number might be ideologically committed to using the superior federal power of taxation to fund these goodies, but not having strings attached to federal money would dull the incentive.


How To Build A Dictatorship

Venezuelan voters approved a referendum to end term limits on Sunday, paving the way for Hugo Chavez to perfect his dictatorship:

President Hugo Chavez says a referendum victory that removed limits on his re-election is a mandate to intensify his socialist agenda for decades to come. Opponents warn of an impending dictatorship.

Victory!  Enslaved at last!

Victory! Enslaved at last!


Both sides had called the outcome of Sunday’s vote key to the future of this South American country, split down the middle between those who worship the president for redistributing Venezuela’s oil riches and those who see him as a power-hungry autocrat.

“Those who voted “yes” today voted for socialism, for revolution,” Chavez thundered to thousands of ecstatic supporters jamming the streets around the presidential palace. Fireworks lit up the Caracas skyline, and one man walked though the crowd carrying a painting of Chavez that read: “Forever.”

[...]

The constitutional overhaul allows all public officials to run for re-election as many times as they want, removing barriers to a Chavez candidacy in the next presidential elections in 2012 and beyond.

“In 2012 there will be presidential elections, and unless God decides otherwise, unless the people decide otherwise, this soldier is already a candidate,” Chavez said to applause. First elected in 1998, he has said he might stay in power until 2049, when he’ll be 95.

Hmmm. Maybe those “critics” are onto something, eh?

At their campaign headquarters, Chavez opponents hugged one another, and some cried. They said the results were skewed by Chavez’s broad use of state resources to get out the vote, through a battery of state-run news media, pressure on 2 million public employees and frequent presidential speeches which all television stations were required to air.

With the courts, the legislature and the election council all under his influence, and now with no limits on his re-election, officials say Chavez is virtually unstoppable.

“Effectively this will become a dictatorship,” opposition leader Omar Barboza told The Associated Press. “It’s control of all the powers, lack of separation of powers, unscrupulous use of state resources, persecution of adversaries.”

As the article notes, however, everything is not peaches and cream for Chavez. Venezuela’s economy, which is so heavily dependent on oil revenues, lies in shambles, beset by low oil prices, rampant inflation, and little prospect for relief. According to Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington:

… the global financial crisis and the plunging price of oil, which accounts for 94 percent of Venezuela’s exports and nearly half its federal budget, will limit Chavez’s ability to maintain the level of public spending that has fueled his popularity.

Without oil revenues to prop up the socialist spending regime, Chavez will have to resort to other means of stabilizing the economy. Because producers of wealth are so politically disfavored in Venezuela, and there are myriad obstacles to successfully operating any businesses, Chavez’s options for economic recovery are limited:

Empty shelves in Venezuela.

Empty shelves in Venezuela.

“Venezuela faces serious problems no matter what today’s results were. Later this year, economic problems are going to be felt more acutely.”

Venezuela, the fourth-largest supplier of crude oil to the U.S., depends on oil for 93 percent of export revenue and half the government’s budget. Prices for crude have plunged 74 percent since touching a record in July.

[...]

“Now we’re going to see what’s beyond this campaign and what he does when he takes the economy into account,” [Enrique] Alvarez, [head of Latin America fixed-income research at IDEAglobal in New York] said.

The adjustments to economic policy will probably include raising taxes and devaluing the currency to cover a public deficit now that his marathon political campaign is out of the way, said Alberto Ramos, Latin America economist at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. in New York.

Raising taxes is de rigueur in such circumstances, but not likely to generate much revenue. After all, the government has taken over the most lucrative part of the Venezuelan economy, and people and businesses who don’t earn much don’t have much to pay to the government. Taxes are not going to solve any problems.

Without any real economic engine to fund socialist programs, therefore, Chavez won’t be able to buy votes anymore. Instead he will have to find another way to garner (or manufacture) public support if he wants to remain in power. And there isn’t any doubt that he wants to remain in power.

The most obvious way for Chavez to accomplish this feat to convince the country that his leadership is indispensable to the country’s fortunes. That line of argument is already a staple in his rhetoric — i.e. that success of the Bolivarian Revolution depends on Chavez exercising ever increasing power — so the foundation has been laid. However, it was much easier to sell that idea when the oil revenues were pouring in. With a looming fiscal crisis at hand, and the prospects of economic improvement looking dim, a call for new leadership will likely grow louder.

Ironically, the path to permanent power for Chavez was described by socialist activist Naomi Klein in her book “Shock Doctrine: the Rise of Disaster Capitalism.” In what has become the bible for the anti-capitalist/ant-globalization movement, Klein

… explodes the myth that the global free market triumphed democratically. Exposing the thinking, the money trail and the puppet strings behind the world-changing crises and wars of the last four decades, The Shock Doctrine is the gripping story of how America’s “free market” policies have come to dominate the world– through the exploitation of disaster-shocked people and countries.

Her theory rests on the premise that democratic obstacles to corporate domination are swept aside in times of severe crisis (e.g. Iraq war, Katrina, tsunami in Sri Lanka), allowing global moneyed interests to swoop in and take control of the economy. She often cites Milton Friedman and the “Chicago Boys” dealings with Pinochet as an example of how capitalist forces purposely, and sometimes violently, undermine the will of the people when they are at their weakest in order to introduce reforms that actually serve the interests of the elite rather than the people. In spite of her historically challenged maunderings (Friedman only met Pinochet once for an hour, and wrote him a letter), Klein does hit on an important point: crises are routinely used to further the power of the elites. Klein just identifies the wrong parties. It is typically the government elites who profit from these crises.

Take, for example, how our own government has seized upon the current fiscal crises to shove a giant social spending bill down our throats, plunging future generations into massive debt, and centralizing control over the lives of individual Americans:

Last year the US economy was hit with one shock after another: the Bear Stearns bail-out, the Indymac collapse, the implosion of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the AIG nationalisation, the biggest stock market drop ever, the $700bn Wall Street bail-out and more – all accompanied by a steady drumbeat of apocalyptic language from political leaders.

And what happened? Did the Republican administration summon up the spirit of Milton Friedman and cut government spending? Did it deregulate and privatise?

No.

It did what governments actually do in a crisis – it seized new powers over the economy. It dramatically expanded the regulatory powers of the Federal Reserve and injected a trillion dollars of inflationary credit into the banking system. It partially nationalised the biggest banks. It appropriated $700bn with which to intervene in the economy. It made General Motors and Chrysler wards of the federal government. It wrote a bail-out bill giving the secretary of the treasury extraordinary powers that could not be reviewed by courts or other government agencies.

Now the Obama administration is continuing this drive toward centralisation and government domination of the economy. And its key players are explicitly referring to heir own version of the shock doctrine. Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, said the economic crisis facing the country is “an opportunity for us”. After all, he said: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And this crisis provides the opportunity for us to do things that you could not do before” such as taking control of the financial, energy, information and healthcare industries.

That’s just the sort of thing Naomi Klein would have us believe that free-marketers like Milton Friedman think.

Of course, that isn’t how supporters of free markets behave at all. It is, however, exactly how someone like Hugo Chavez operates.

With the Venezuelan economy shrinking, and real suffering occurring on a growing scale, the opportunity is ripe for Chavez to further “reform” the country, and complete the Bolivarian Revolution as he has promised. That won’t save the nation from economic ruin, and indeed will probably hasten such an outcome, but it will provide the impetus for perpetual Chavista rule.

The economy is doing poorly? That’s because the revolution has not advanced far enough. Economy doing well? The revolution is working its wonders! Rinse and repeat.

Thus the keys to Chavez’s Bolivarian kingdom lie in the propagandistic message that only centralized and powerful leadership can provide adequately for all. Principles such as “fairness” and “equality” are used as bludgeons against any who dare step out of line. Individual achievement is sneered at as “selfish” and “against the common good.” The redistribution of any wealth created outside the government system (as all wealth created inside is confined to the governmental leaders) is touted as the only means of ensuring a safe and productive future for all. Capitalism is deemed the language of the oppressor, and blamed for any and all ills that befall the nation. Yet, despite all this rhetoric, things will never seem to get any better.

Poor, poor Venezuela. Thank goodness we won’t such stifling of economic welfare and individual freedom here.


Iraq: This Democracy Thing Might Work!

Iraq votes

Iraq votes

It sure has been getting low-key coverage in the MSM, but it appears the election in Iraq went off very well and is producing some surprising and, frankly, good results.

14,400 candidates stood for office.  Unlike 2005, when 200 candidates were killed prior to the election, this time 8 were lost.  14 of the 18 provinces were included (Kurdistan’s provinces are having separate elections) and while turnout was considered to be low (51%), Sunnis participated en mass for the first time. William Shawcross describes the results:

All the Islamic parties lost ground, especially that associated with the so-called “Shia firebrand”, Moqtada al-Sadr, whose share of the vote went down from 11% to 3%. The principal Sunni Islamic party, the Islamic Party of Iraq, was wiped out.

The only Islamic party to gain ground was the Dawa party of the Shia prime minister Nouri al-Maliki – and even that party dropped the word Islamic from its name. The power of Maliki, who has emerged a stronger leader than expected, is further enhanced by these elections. Now no Islamic parties will be able to control any provinces on their own. The election is thus a big defeat for Iran which had hoped that Shia religious parties would control the south and enable Iran to turn them into a mini Shia republic.

I know this has some of you gasping for breath out there. We were assured by none other than the great Juan Cole and his fellow travelers that Iran was in total control of the Iraqi governmental apparatus and would quickly turn into what Shawcross characterizes as a “mini-Shia republic”.

Yet it appears that the Iraqi public are rejecting the concept of a theocracy in favor of a more secular government. And that, of course is a de facto rejection of Iran.

Obviously Iraq still has a long way to go, but it is hard to deny the amount of progress that has been made. Except for the dead-enders who’ve vested so much into this           being the “worst foreign policy disaster in US history”, it is looking pretty darn good in Iraq.

USMC Maj Gen John F. Kelly gives you an indication of the level of change that has taken place in previously violent Anbar province:

Something didn’t happen in Al Anbar Province, Iraq, today. Once the most violent and most dangerous places on earth, no suicide vest bomber detonated killing dozens of voters. No suicide truck bomber drove into a polling place collapsing the building and killing and injuring over 100. No Marine was in a firefight engaging an Al Qaida terrorist trying to disrupt democracy.

What did happen was Anbar Sunnis came out in their tens of thousands to vote in the first free election of their lives.

[...]

One of the things I’ve always said was that we came here to “give” them democracy. Even in the dark days my only consolation was that it was about freedom and democracy. After what I saw today, and having forgotten our own history and revolution, this was arrogance. People are not given freedom and democracy – they take it for themselves. The Anbaris deserve this credit.

Today I step down as the dictator, albeit benevolent, of Anbar Province. Today the Anbaris took it from me. I am ecstatic. It was a privilege to be part of it, to have somehow in a small way to have helped make it happen.

Shawcross asks:

There will be further setbacks. But who knows, Iraq may yet even become a model for democratic change in other Arab countries. If so, who deserves some credit? The much maligned President Bush. And Tony Blair.

Now that’s real hope and change.

~McQ


Venezuela: Headed For A Hugoless Future?

I think my guy Hugo is beginning to see the handwriting on the wall and realizes that if he doesn’t manage to fool the population into making him president for life now, he’ll have to seek other means.

You see, the situation in Venezuela is not getting better nor the future brighter for our favorite socialist:

Treasury reserves are dwindling, electricity blackouts are becoming commonplace, public security is deteriorating, and the finances of the state-owned oil monopoly, PdVSA, are in apparent disarray. There is little reason to think that the decline will be reversed any time soon.

If Mr. Chávez hopes to continue governing under the guise of democracy after 2013, when his term expires, he must get the constitution changed now.

The last time he tried this, even with almost total control of the voting apparatus, he was unable to concoct a win. He apparently tried for days, but apparently the loss was such that even he couldn’t fudge it.

So now the newest attempt. Interestingly, the latest attempt includes open-ended terms for nearly every elected official in Venezuela, not just the presidency. I’d suggest that actually works against Chavez and not for him. Those that marginally favor Chavez may not want the local mayor, legislator or governor in office indefinitely. It is an even bet then that they will not be inclined to vote for such a constitutional amendment. They, as well as anyone, know the hazards of entrenched power.

You have to wonder then, given the great possibility that the amendment will go down in flames on Feb. 15th what Hugo’s next move will be. My guess is it will have nothing to do with supporting and defending the constitution of Venezuela.

~McQ


Recipe for Realignment

Damon Linker at The New Republic has a thoughtful post about how President Obama can win and end the culture war. It goes against the intuitions of most of the Left, but I think he’s figured out something that has eluded almost all of them — a way to unravel some of the most significant bonds that have held the Republican coalition together for the last several decades.

While I think he’s right about same-sex marriage (social conservatives are losing ground steadily), I find his thoughts on abortion particularly cogent.

How could Obama — how could liberals, how could supporters of abortion rights — both win and end the culture war, once and for all? By supporting the reversal or significant narrowing of Roe, allowing abortion policy to once again be set primarily by the states — a development that would decisively divide and demoralize the conservative side of the culture war by robbing it of the identity politics that holds it together as a national movement.

If that sounds strange to you, read the whole thing.

I have said for years that overturning Roe v Wade, and thereby sending the issue back to the states, would effect a political realignment in this country.

Conservatives can’t enact a federal ban on abortion through Congress, RvW or not; whatever Republican politicians may say to win primaries, that would be mass political suicide and they know it. For social conservatives, there is one reachable goal — overturning RvW through the slow process of controlling Supreme Court appointments — meaning conservatives need to control the White House and the Senate for long, preferably unbroken stretches of time. That means that social conservatives expend a disproportionate amount of energy on the very top levels of national politics, allowing them to leverage their energy through GOTV efforts.

But like a dog chasing a car, they don’t have a clear idea of what they would do with it if they got it. If RvW were overturned or significantly narrowed, suddenly abortion would be a state-by-state fight.

It’s much easier to direct their energy into Senate races and presidential elections to win the broad-brush fight against RvW than to convince the state-level electorate on the nitty-gritty details of pro-life policy.

In the vast majority of states, social conservatives wouldn’t be able to put any but the most basic restrictions on the practice – perhaps limiting partial-birth abortions in some, third-trimester abortions in fewer. The options of limiting state funding for abortions, and requiring minors to obtain parental consent or at least knowledge, are both available under current constitutional law.

Virtually no one opposes abortions when the mother’s life is at stake, and while I haven’t looked at the state-by-state poll data, I doubt there’s a state in the union that would ban abortions even in cases of rape and incest. Finally, let’s put something simply: whether principled pro-lifers like it or not, there’s just not enough voter support to really punish women who undergo abortions. Practical pro-life politics would target doctors and institutions, not customers/patients.

And then? Then the fire would die down. Unlike taxes and spending or environmental issues, there are only a few ways to move the ball in either direction on abortion. Once elections make clear the basic outlines of what is achievable on such a narrow issue as abortion, the issue’s potency as a politically unifying force will diminish.

See, when there’s no way to compromise, the radicals control the conversation. So we have two starkly divided camps, each internally united by the near-fiat Supreme Court decision. If specific policy decisions were made by the people and representatives of each state, the camps would begin breaking down visibly based on actual policy preferences, roughly based on gradients of moderation.

At that point, those outside the mainstream have little choice but to begin the hard work of changing hearts and minds, and working through regulation and appropriations. That’s the moderating force of democracy.

The full effects on the national political scene are hard to predict, but they would be wide-ranging.

  • A powerful wedge issue would lose a great deal of potency, allowing people who are otherwise uncomfortable fits in their political coalitions to move between parties, or become less reliable partisan allies of politicians who take a hard line.
  • We would see moderation at both the federal and state levels, although evangelicals and Catholic groups would probably become more energetic for a while at the state level at the expense of federal efforts.
  • And finally, we would do the good work of returning policy and political focus to more local levels of government, and convert a great deal of energy spent on politics into energy spent on private education and outreach.

Whether the parties to this culture war want it to end is another matter.


Meanwhile In Iraq

Progress continues:

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has hailed a largely peaceful vote for new provincial councils across the country as a victory for all Iraqis.

Voting was extended by one hour due to a strong turnout, including among Sunni Muslims who boycotted the last polls.

The first nationwide vote in four years is being seen as a test of Iraq’s stability ahead of a general election due later this year.

Security, while tight, seems to have been effective:

Despite warnings from Iraqi and US military commanders that al-Qaeda posed a threat to the elections, there were relatively few incidents reported.

And the Sunni’s decided to participate this time:

The turnout was reported to be brisk even in Sunni areas.

The head of the Iraqi electoral commission in Anbar province – a centre of the Sunni resistance to the US occupation – said he was expecting a 60% turnout.

Their participation will, of course, change the representation in government, but it looks like the Sunni’s have decided that becoming a part of the solution is a much better strategy than being a part off the problem.

Real hope and change.

~McQ

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