“to extend federal power to virtually all human activity”

What is absolutely clear, affirmed by the text of the 1789 Constitution, by the Tenth Amendment ratified in 1791, and by innumerable cases of ours in the 220 years since, is that there are structural limits upon federal power—upon what it can prescribe with respect to private conduct, and upon what it can impose upon the sovereign States. Whatever may be the conceptual limits upon the Commerce Clause and upon the power to tax and spend, they cannot be such as will enable the Federal Government to regulate all private conduct and to compel the States to function as administrators of federal programs.

SCALIA, KENNEDY, THOMAS, and ALITO, JJ., dissenting

The Shadow World

A book review in the TLS of Andrew Feinstein’s The Shadow World says:

In 2010, the world spent an estimated $1.6 trillion on armaments. The United States is responsible for 43 per cent of this, outstripping its nearest rival, China, by a factor of six. According to the Congressional Research Service, in Iraq and Afghanistan alone, the US had spent $1,092 billion by September 2010, and a further $171 billion was requested for 2011. But a group of economists at Brown University estimate that the total governmental outlay of costs was at least twice this, perhaps three times higher. At 4.8 per cent of GDP, weapons spending in the US is proportionately about three times higher than in other developed countries, and there is a good case for arguing that the military-industrial-congressional complex has bankrupted America.

Indeed, the perpetual prosperity of the DC Metro area owes a great deal to this complex and the amount of money it sucks from the rest of the country and redistributes here. Well connected officers and department heads parachute out of the government to land in private industry, soaking up money on projects that are often dubious.

 

The review continues:

Feinstein argues that the arms business drives domestic and foreign policy, feeds corruption, circumvents or supplants the rule of law, undermines democracy at home and abroad, and wastes precious resources. And of course weapons kill, and manufacturers and traders fan the flames of war. There are numerous examples showing that arms dealers sell to all sides. The US supplied both Iran and Iraq when the two were at war. The arms trader Viktor Bout supplied both the Angolan government and the UNITA rebels, and later sold weapons to all sides in the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. American arms manufacturers lobbied for the invasion of Iraq. Another example is the role of Lockheed Martin and its then CEO, Norm Augustine, in pushing for the expansion of NATO so that former Eastern bloc countries would need to upgrade their arsenals, buying US equipment. “In Romania [Augustine] pledged that if the country’s government bought a new radar system from Lockheed Martin, the company would use its considerable clout in Washington to promote Bucharest’s NATO candidacy.” The Shadow World reads like a protracted indictment, covering especially Britain, the United States, the Middle East and Africa, with some attention to Russia and the former Soviet republics. It is encyclopedic, covering the biggest contracts, the numbers and the trends, while also bringing into focus the key individuals. Feinstein acknowledges that to do justice to Latin America, China, India and Pakistan would require another volume, or several.

Time and again, from Washington, DC to London, from Baghdad to Pretoria, corruption accompanies armaments contracts. It has been this way for decades. Feinstein quotes a report from 1965 written by the British industrialist Donald Stokes, which included the remarks, “a great many arms sales were made, not because anyone wanted the arms, but because of the commission involved en route” and “it was often necessary to offer bribes to make sales”. Corruption is integral to the arms companies’ business model. In the case of the US defence contractors, they rely primarily on immense Pentagon procurements, pork-barrel politics and the unwillingness of members of Congress to give due scrutiny to procurement processes. Repeatedly, excesses such as a $7 hammer invoiced for $435 reach the public realm, and inquiries into illegal practices result in fines for the companies involved that amount to a slap on the wrist. And the system doesn’t change: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan became an opportunity for vast new under-scrutinized spending sprees. A request in 2007 under the Iraq Supplemental Bill for $33 billion was justified by just five pages of text. Linda Bilmes of Brown University drily noted, “In my opinion as a budgeting professor … this is not the best way for the US budget system to operate”.

As an arms manufacturer, BAE Systems stands approximately in equal global first place alongside Boeing and Lockheed Martin. But unlike the latter two, fully 95 per cent of its turnover is from armaments (Boeing is evenly split between civil and military aviation, and Lockheed Martin is 30 per cent civilian), and the British defence budget isn’t big enough to sustain the company’s ambitions. So BAE Systems has gone global. It has become a major player in the US market. But its biggest and most malodorous transaction is the Al Yamamah deal with Saudi Arabia, negotiated by Margaret Thatcher, and worth about £43 billion. Its successor, the Al Salam deal, was concluded in 2007, initially for seventytwo Eurofighter jets for £4.43 billion, but could be worth as much as £40 billion. Both are government-to-government deals with BAE as the principal contractor, and both involve an extraordinary network of oil and arms sales, slush funds, offsets and kickbacks. Feinstein’s account is filled with examples (meticulously footnoted) of the kinds of bribes and inducements offered, including rent for girlfriends’ flats, expenses-paid holidays, cars and free travel.

I don’t expect anything to be done about this, but it is another depressing aspect of the principalities and powers interlocked across the globe.

What Feinstein describes is the underbelly of globalization. Alongside the public globalization of transnational corporations and financial flows, there is an illicit global economy that involves drugs, human trafficking and arms. Feinstein shows how the shadow world of weapons production and trade has penetrated the official one and is a driving force in corruption, secrecy and impunity. The arms business would not survive in its current form without pervasive corruption.

Add abortion to the human trafficking and you have a system of totalizing evil that sits astride the globe.

Feinstein has a few heroes: some courageous and persistent journalists and a few principled insiders. One of these is Franklin “Chuck” Spinney, a Pentagon staff member on a mission to fight corruption and inefficiency.

Spinney argues that the intertwining of defence companies like Lockheed Martin, their allies in government, think-tanks and the Pentagon, results not only in profligacy from $600 toilet seats to the $70bn spent on unrequired F-22s, but it also makes war more likely, [owing] to the combination of interests and the dominance of the executive over the legislature. The executive branch is able, in myriad ways, to control money going to Congressional districts, directly (through supporting weapons programmes) or indirectly (through all of the government agencies). And patronage is now crucial given the cost of elections. It is extremely difficult for a Representative with defence production in his or her constituency to oppose a President going to war.

Halliburton exemplifies the problem: the company was a major contributor to the Republican Party ($1,146,128 between 1998 and 2003) and was a big beneficiary of the Iraq war. In Britain, BAE Systems casts a similar shadow over democracy. The Serious Fraud Office took note of the Al Yamamah deal, but found it had bitten off more than the Blair government would allow it to chew. Saudi Arabia’s Prince Bandar Al-Saud made it clear that any SFO investigation into Al Yamamah would endanger the then-pending Al Salam deal (as well as threatening to stop sharing intelligence), and the government caved in. On December 14, 2006, the SFO dropped the investigation, a day described by the Guardian as “shabby, shaming” and “among the most inglorious [Tony Blair] has spent in office”. In 2008, a ruling in the High Court was scarcely less critical: “So bleak a picture of the impotence of the law invites at least dismay, if not outrage”.

Conservatives and the Welfare State

C. Gregg Singer says of the Eisenhower era:

On the other hand, many Americans had become so accustomed to the presence of the welfare state and many forms of governmental intervention in the economic and social life of the people that even conservatives were unable to shake off the lure of its presence and the belief that the government should play an important if not a decisive role in shaping the destinies of the nation. It is evident that this conservatism lacked a firm theological foundation, and these conservatives were inclined to conduct their political activities on the basis of the claim that conservative Republicans could and should administer the liberal programs already inaugurated in the Roosevelt and Truman era because they could make them more effective and, at the same time, hold in check their potentially dangerous consequences.

That such claims were not only contradictory but even bordered on the absurd never seem to dawn upon those making them and upon the so-called “moderate” Republicans who assumed leadership in the Eisenhower era. As a result, these moderates found it very difficult to withstand the popular clamor for more and more government intervention in the economic life of the nation, and for more welfare programs.

Not Reading Bills

Discussing the New Deal, C. Gregg Singer writes of the Congress:

It is also true that in 1933 many members of Congress, by their own later confessions, voted for bills which they had not read and of which they had but a faint apprehension.

The dysfunction of our system is not new.

Santorum at St. Catherine of Sienna

In the New York Times today, there is an article about Rick Santorum. It mentions that he attends St. Catherine of Sienna, a Catholic parish in Great Falls, VA. Justice Scalia attends there, Louis Freeh used to (maybe he still does), convicted spy Robert Walker did, as do other luminaries. It’s also a heavily Opus Dei parish by all accounts. I visited there six years ago and wrote about it here.

Cads “R” Us

Judging from Newt Gingrich’s debate performance last night, “the media” must have approached his wife about having an open marriage back in the Nineties. The media also must have divorced twice and had at least one affair. I say this because Newt did not take any responsibility for a story coming directly from the mouth of his ex-wife, but rather blamed “the media.” And a room full of gullible plebeians roared their approval for this bombastic tripe. Once again, the actions do not get blamed, but rather those who expose the actions.

This is the man who led one wing of the “family values” party back in the Nineties. A man who attempted to impeach another philandering con artist who sat in the Oval Office for lying about his own “inappropriate intimate contact.” He may be a forgiven man, although I would bet that he is now lying about what he asked his former wife. However, if he is truly penitent I think he would want to fade away, serve somewhere insignificant and out of sight. Instead, we see him back at center stage, inflicting himself on the nation again.

And Republicans who blithely support men like Newt and Herman Cain cast doubt on the integrity of the entire Right. If it had been Bill Clinton up on stage wagging his finger at an anchor last night, the Right wing universe in bold array would have been in an uproar today, calling down wrath on him. Newt would probably be at the front of the line! However, if it’s one of “our” guys, well then let’s cheer him on as he attacks the media. What a farce! I hope that over time our better instincts kick in and he suffers the fate of Mark Sanford, Herman Cain and Larry Craig.

Ultimately, this same story of amoral leadership has dominated politics throughout my lifetime, from Gary Hart(pence) to Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich to John Edwards. Most of these men are social grafters who are obsessed with making money and moving up to ultimate positions of power and saying whatever it takes to get there. I’m starting to think that anyone who is upwardly mobile cannot be trusted in politics. The patricians like Romney and Bush Senior have the manners to avoid tawdry affairs like this. Moreover, Romney’s Mormonism more and more shows itself to be a compass of clarity for his personal morality – something that is tragic when you think about it. If Gingrich is the nominee, I will vote third party or stay home.

The Press is the Enemy

Good old Richard Nixon hated the press.

“Never forget,” he tells national security advisers Henry Kissinger and Alexander Haig in a conversation on December 14 1972, “the press is the enemy, the press is the enemy. The establishment is the enemy, the professors are the enemy, the professors are the enemy. Write that on a blackboard 100 times.” Nixon to Al Haig.

[…]

“I really need a son of a bitch,” Nixon said, “who will work his butt off and do it dishonorably.” Because it wasn’t as though this would be a fair fight. “Do you think, for Christ sakes, [that] the New York Times is worried about all the legal niceties? … We’re up against an enemy, a conspiracy. They’re using any means. We are going to use any means.

[…]

Haig: Yes sir, very significant, this, uh, Goddamn New York Times exposé of the most highly classified documents of the war.

Nixon: Oh that, I see-

Haig: [Unclear]

Nixon: I didn’t read the story but, uh, you mean that, that was leaked out of the Pentagon?

Haig: Sir, it, uh, the whole study that was done for McNamara, and then carried on after McNamara left by Clifford, and the peaceniks over there. This is a devastating, uh, security breach, of, of the greatest magnitude of anything I’ve ever seen.  Continue reading “The Press is the Enemy”

The Dismal GOP Field

Rick Perry seems to be giving speeches drunk:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7M4gz97Y9W8]

Newt Gingrich is a serial adulterer. And then there is Herman Cain. Talk show hosts have been rushing to defend him as the victim of a vicious leftist smear. But how can they possibly know this when they don’t know the facts of the cases? More and more people are coming forward to voice their discomfort with Cain’s behavior in the past, shouldn’t we stop voicing opinions until we actually know some facts?

Of course the left doesn’t want a black Republican to succeed, but that doesn’t mean that this is some set of baseless charges. You have at least two women who had strong enough cases that they had to be settled with. This doesn’t mean that their charges had merit necessarily, but it suggests that they may have. Frankly, someone with charges like that against him in his past – be they true or false – should know better than to run for a national office. And Christians of all people should know that our hearts are desperately wicked and deceptive. All of us can hide sin and act in different ways around different people, it’s called original sin.

None of this is to say that Cain is guilty as charged, but it increasingly looks that way. Although I agree in most areas with Ron Paul, he doesn’t have leadership capabilities and would be hard pressed to come up with a cabinet that agrees with him. So, I do think we will end up defaulting to Romney as the most competent, sane and sober candidate without skeletons in his closet. In some ways, this bothers me. In other ways, it is a good thing that we vet these people before they take over. Just think if this stuff about Cain didn’t come out until he had the nomination locked up – now that would be a leftist coup giving us another Thomas Eagleton.

Ultimately, national politics is a lost cause and we are all watching the ship sink at a faster or slower pace. My long term thinking is that the central government will someday collapse under the burden of unsustainable fiscal commitments and the country will have to reconfigure itself into regions that perhaps become new nations. I shouldn’t care about the GOP nominating process because in the end it is futile, but I can’t help marveling at the train wreck it has become this year.

Thoughts on the Election

These are my unscientific thoughts about the election this week. I think that the American public moved from being concerned with questions of terrorism after 9-11 to economic concerns in 2006. Also, the way that we were railroaded into going to war with Iraq rankled many people and the perpetual duration and costs of the wars made people sick. [note that we don’t see any anti-war protests now that the Democrats are in charge of the nation]

We had the dot com blowup followed by the Enron scandals and 9-11, but the economy seemed to normalize only to see the housing bubble collapse starting in 2005 and reaching full force in 2008. Rather than rein in government spending or do anything like reduce the scope of government, President Bush expanded government massively via things like the Homeland Security Agency and new intelligence directorates all over the place. Spending skyrocketed and the wars seemed endless and hopeless. Home equity was plunging and people felt despair. Despite all of this, McCain was neck and neck with Obama until the Lehman Brothers collapse and the panic it induced. People voted for a cipher – President Obama – in hopes that he would end the wars, fix the economy, somehow make Washington a paragon of openness and virtue, stop global warming and other magical and wonderful things. The voters rejected the Republicans as hypocrites and took out their vengeance for bad economic times on them. What they did not do, by and large, was endorse the Democratic agenda of a large welfare state, unlimited abortion and other radical notions. Many GOP voters probably stayed home in 2008 out of anger or disgust.

The Democrats, however, interpreted the results as a sweeping wave that affirmed their agenda and was ushering in a new Rooseveltian or Great Society vision of the country. As George Will wrote, all they were in 2008 was “not George Bush.” The Democrats assumptions of generational and demographic realignment were wrong.

Now it is 2010. The economy is still in tatters, the wars continue, Washington is the same as it ever was and housing is still a shambles. Additionally, we have had trillions of dollars in debt added to our system and many feel that we teeter on the edge of a total financial collapse in the next decade or two. So, voters put a lot of the insiders out on their ear and shook things up again. Republicans should not interpret this as the nation turning to Constitutional originalism, small government, Laffer-curve, pro-life policies. I see it more as inchoate rage and frustration, coupled with the idea on the part of many middle class and lower class whites that the government is growing beyond control and that the Christian values of our past are forcibly derided on the part of the overclass. I don’t know how blacks and Hispanics feel about the government, but I surmise that many blacks expected something from President Obama and haven’t seen it.

Until the economy improves and uncertainty fades, I don’t see either party lasting in power for long periods of time. Fundamentally, our economic pattern of massive debt, fiat currency and unfunded entitlements seems doomed. Defense spending cannot be sustained at its current levels. The morals of our institutions are out of whack with what many profess to believe. This will make for continual turmoil in our nation as far as I can tell, and I also don’t expect the new wave of GOP legislators to achieve much.

My two cents.