Monthly Archives: December 2007

Ron Paul redux: An incoherence of libertarianism

[Builds on previous Ron Paul blog here. (Link corrected.)]


Ron Paul argues that foreign “interventions” by the state, including ostensibly non-military ones like food-drops, are not only (a) ethically wrong—for one, they are coercive, violate “rights,” on multiple levels (if nothing else, on the American taxpayer)—but (b) they bear bad consequences for us and for the nations in whose affairs we “intervene,” or are just lame and inefficient at achieving stated goals.

The duality in his argument—his “principled” and “consequentialist” moods—shares the incoherence of libertarian and rights-based reasoning everywhere: This can be seen by asking, Just how do the two components relate? Either what is wrong just happens to lead to bad effects—in which case, it is most grand and sustained coincidence in human history—or there is some real mechanism at work within the social world which makes the wrong efforts work so poorly. If there is such a mechanism, Paul has not specified it, nor has any libertarian in the corpus of classical liberal writings from Locke to Krauthammer. Reasonable adults will assume that the “bad effects” argument is just a rationalization for the rights-based argument: “Yes, it is morally dead wrong to violate property rights (etc.) by foreign intervention and would remain so if heaven fell blazing to earth as a result of maintaining this principle; but hey, whew, gratefully, it so happens that respecting these rights is the best way to effect a pleasant world. If it weren’t, though, we’d still have to respect them.” How is one to believe such a counterintuitive thing?

Things are further complicated by Paul’s view that individuals and other non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) may “intervene” where the state should not. This includes private militias and assassins for quasi-military actions and private aid organizations for humanitarian relief. Again, for Paul, these actions are not only not wrong—they don’t violate rights—but they are more effective and less messy than state actions. But why in principle should this be the case? What property do state actions always possess, and actions by “lower” entities always lack, that accounts for their differential success? (And if there is none, how to be sure that the connection should hold in the future?)

For NGO’s are not in principle less coercive institutions than nation-states. This is why they need boards of directors and votes. Decisions are made against the will of some members. Supporters send in money before it is fully determined what will be funded with it—perhaps something the senders won’t like. Of course, Paul can argue that people freely join and fund these organizations and can leave if they want—but I may as well argue that people freely stay in the U.S. and pay taxes to the state and could leave if they want. Indeed, coercion is a necessary dimension of all human activity; every action burns up resources others could use and creates new facts which limit options for other activities.

This connects with Paul’s weird fetishism about national borders, undergirding his political isolationism. For example, he wishes to drop out of the UN and other international organizations on the grounds they “transfer power from our government to unelected foreign elites…threaten[ing] our independence as a nation.” First, again, it isn’t clear why “entangling alliances” and agreements of compromise must always be avoided on practical grounds by nation-states, while “lower” entities like individuals may do this at their own profit—as when people get married, contract for jobs, or, like Paul, join Congress. Second, this approach assumes a false dichotomy between self-determination and determination by others. We chose membership in the UN (and indeed, put considerable pressure on other states to join us). Like choosing to diet, or practice monogomy, the limitation to freedom here is a self-limitation. UN partnership is necessarily a “threat to our independence” only if every—that is, only if the very concept of—self-limitation is always a “threat.”

Also, why the privileging of the nation-state among political entities? Political “bodies” exist along a continuum scaling from the individual to the family, community, municipality, state, on up through the international. I may as well complain that the membership of Paul’s home state, Texas, in the U.S. federation “threatens its independence as a state.” Actually, Paul often makes arguments of this type, as when he invokes states’ rights (his phrase) on environmental regulation: As in, “The people of Texas do not need federal regulators determining our air standards.” Again, it is always possible that states just happen to always be better than nations at determining policy than nations—but why? And as far as “rights” to determine this, I may as well say the people of Austin don’t need “the people of Texas…setting their air standards.” The same type of confusion with “rights” is seen in Paul’s refusal to support divestment in Darfur, Sudan (H.R. 180) because it would represent undue coercion of American businesses (“forcing divestment on unwilling parties”). Again, for Paul there is no problem with the businesses themselves “forcing” a specific schedule and wage package on “unwilling workers,” indeed with all of the ways in which the nation-state already imposes upon American businesses which Paul does not object to.

In short, rights-based politics like Paul’s concentrate on who may act, prior to what constitutes a good action. This is not only counterintuitive but could never be acted upon consistently. This is compounded by the lack of any method of adjudicating the “rights” of various necessarily interactive political entities. This incoherence leads logically to a place where any kind of action whatsoever is licensed, as other—as yet unarticulated—political ends require: If we want to protect the personal property of individual Texans in a given case, we can cite their right to it. If we want to protect the business property of Texas capitalists in another case, we can cite their right to that, even though the activities this licenses may violate property rights of individual Texans—say, impinging on the quality of that column of air ascending from their property.¹


¹ Of course, some conceptions of rights allow for talk of sacrificing certain rights for other, stronger concerns. These conceptions make room for the feeling that we sometimes can’t implement a right because it would cause great suffering, or because it conflicts with some other right. But there is no evidence that Ron Paul subscribes to such a conception. He certainly never appeals to such a “trade-off” when making arguments (and he makes them often) about which entity has what right or what “freedom” to act in what way. He speaks as though it is just self-evident that Texans “have the right to” make environmental policy, and not the Federal government nor each Texan business in isolation. At other times, he presents it as self-evident that businesses “have a right to” do certain things, whatever ordinary Texans think about it; or that the Federal government “has the right to” do certain things, whatever Texan businesses, or, say, Lichtenstein, think about it. Certain of these actions affect—that is, coerce—these other bodies; thus, on a consistent view, trade-offs are being made. But Paul either (a) doesn’t believe trade-offs are at issue—i.e., he is inconsistent—or he (b) supposes that such a critical, linchpin element to the “theory” as the specifics of adjudicating all these conflicting rights is just understood. The latter assumption (b) is simply unwarranted, and it is so implausible that Paul could believe it that (a) is almost certainly the case.

The Second Amendment is irrelevant to the issue of gun ownership


My sporting wife

The Second Amendment does not secure any “right to bear arms”

The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states,

A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.

One must ask: Just what should this law have to do with gun ownership for home or personal protection? For the “license” here appears to be conditional: That is, “the right….to keep and bear arms” is necessary because—and therefore, to the extent that—“A well regulated Militia [is] necessary.” This implies that, if it becomes less than “necessary” (or if it has become clear that it is less than necessary) that “a well regulated Militia” be maintained, the mandate loses force.

Imagine I told the babysitter, “OK, being that those candies contain no allergens, I shall not infringe on your ‘right’ to feed them to my young child.” If the babysitter, after I leave the house, wipes a smudge from the list of ingredients, revealing one to which she knows my child is allergic, she could hardly justify dispensing them anyway on the argument that I told her she could.

No degree of “literalism” of interpretation will change this: Yes, I technically uttered the phrase, “I shall not infringe…,” but a phrase is not a statement—that is, a basic unit of words that makes sense (that is, the sense the speaker intends it to make) all by itself. (This distinction is very important; it captures, say, the difference between the phrase “I hate you” and the sentence [containing that phrase], “I hate youtube because it takes time away from you, the one I truly love.”)

For the babysitter, the feeding, or the license to act, is dependent on a condition—the child’s being unallergic to the food. And this condition isn’t met. Maybe it was met in the past—children can develop allergies with age—but it isn’t now. Maybe feeding allergens to a child is sometimes defensible, for reasons other than my “statement”; maybe, somehow, it is even defensible in this case. But if so, this license is conferred by something other than my words; it holds not because of, but rather in spite of, them.

To apply the analogy:

First, a well regulated “Militia,” as something distinct from a military or national guard, probably isn’t “necessary…to the security of a free State.” And even if it is “necessary,” it is unclear how ordinary home gun ownership furthers this project. Certainly, most gun owners don’t conceive of themselves or their gun ownership as part of any such project. And how could they? There are militias in operation but there isn’t “a Militia,” bearing the implications of the original, which could serve as the legal referent of the term.

Possible responses:

(a) Some argue that the “Militia” is the military or national guard. If so, then fair enough—but again, ordinary gun ownership makes no clear contribution to these organizations, nor are average gun owners under the illusion that they become part of them when they buy a gun. (And those gun owners who actually happen to be members of these groups don’t pretend that their owning a gun for personal use is what makes them a member.)

(b) There is also an argument that today’s Militia is just that broad and loose community of gun owners who might rise individually or severally to counter vaguely emergent threats down the road—perhaps from the state itself. Like the formal membership of the Catholic church turned into the Protestant “Church Invisible,” this role, or a preparedness to assume it, defines membership in the group rather than a [formal] designation. But being the opposite of “well regulated,” this is likely beyond the scope of anything the framers had in view.

Even assuming the Amendment sanctioned guns for such an “invisible militia,” it is hard to see how the stated concerns of the typical gun owner fit into such a project. Home or personal protection by armed, isolated individuals does not carry the sense of unified collectivity conveyed by any normal understanding of “militia” action. Nor are most home invasions or other violent crimes acts of political usurpation, treason or “internal invasion,” such that deterring them qualifies as a matter of ‘state security.’ In brief, if this is what the Second Amendment supports, it would cease to cover the great majority of what its supporters cite it for.

(c) Of course, a minority of gun owners who appeal to the Second Amendment admit that the “original” American Militia, in that sense of a formal organization, is indeed defunct, but purport to be working to resurrect it—perhaps in the same way certain Protestant denominations are working to resurrect the church of Jesus Christ. And these persons do conceive their gun ownership to serve this project. To this one can only say that, however correct or truly “constitutional” the concept of Militia that drives them, the “products” of their effort do not in fact bear “the implications of the original,” nor has it any hope of being resurrected by way of these gun owners’ owning guns (or doing whatever they do with the ones they own). And this still presupposes the dubious idea that such a thing is, again, “necessary…to the security of a free State,” if it ever was.

Even if it did, a “right to bear arms” sheds no light on the real debates of gun enthusiasts

Up to now I’ve been addressing the use of the Second Amendment to defend the basic right to own firearms—that is, conversely, to defend against “banning guns.” But the Amendment is also cited against legal regulations on guns which fall short of a total ban. (This is predictable, as “taking away our guns” is never seriously ventured by a politician and thus makes for too amorphous and distant a target to generate much discursive mileage.) I say they use this kind of “argument” in the weak sense that, when met with the idea that some kind of waiting period or firearm safety device or licensing restriction is to be someway mandated by the state, they respond by saying it violates the Second Amendment.

Whether they acknowledge it, it is possible to conceive of gun regulations that Second Amendment proponents would support; for example, they would surely support “infring[ing] upon the right of…people” to arm small children, or to “bear” guns equipped with shrill loudspeakers which made bystanders’ ears for miles around bleed out at random, untriggered intervals. But if these regulations are valid, it is cannot be the case that regulation per se transgresses the Second Amendment. And if some regulations are to be admitted, then it is an open question whether there may be others. The whole “gun issue” becomes—for all parties—just a question of which regulations to put up, and which to discard. Indeed, a good many regulations—perhaps even every single one that has ever in fact been proposed or will be—may be indefensible. But the fact that there is a “right to bear arms” does not make it so.

For this reason, the whole issue of regulating firearms—again, short of a total ban—has nothing whatever to do with the Second Amendment, even if we interpret that Amendment as securing a “right to bear arms” for the ordinary, non-Militia uses. That is, the existence of the Amendment—i.e., the fact that there is a “right to bear” at all—is presupposed by any discussion on specific gun regulations, but has nothing to contribute to the specifics of it. A “right” doesn’t tell us how, or within what parameters (and there are always parameters), this right is to be exercised: The mere “right to marriage” doesn’t tell us which paperwork needs to be filed for a marriage license, and in what time-frame, by which government department and at what filing tax rate. You can debate the amount of paperwork, etc., but don’t pretend that saying “there’s a right to marry” settles the matter. (Nor does the constitutional right to “pursu[e] happiness” tell us the proper drinking age, or stringency of purity standards on beer, even though drinking alcohol makes some people “happ[y].”)

[N.B.: I write all this in the interests of clear thinking—always a good cause—rather than the interests of having, or not having, firearms. As hinted, there can certainly be good reasons to sanction gun ownership other than the Second Amendment; whether or why there actually are is a matter beyond the scope of this post. But nonetheless, I maintain close to zero reservations about “guns in the home.” I keep a gun for protection, and for me this is not just a necessary evil, in the sense that I like guns and can “aesthetically” appreciate their functions apart from this main purpose. And I repeat that whether a thing is “constitutional” is never so interesting as whether it is “right” or “sensible.” Ethics is not math. You can critique the axioms.]

An ironic kind of mandate: Why the loss of Chavez’ constitutional reforms means full-speed forward for the Revolution

[A grown-folks analysis. Better late than never.]


Initial Considerations

So the constitutional reforms proposed by President Chavez and the Venezuelan National Assembly failed to pass by referendum on Dec. 2. It is widely understood that the outcome was secured by widespread abstention by those who voted for Chavez in the last referendum. About as many detractors, for intents and purposes, voted “No” this time around, while Chavez supporters dropped out by nearly a few million.

This being said, nobody seriously denies that Chavez retains the basic support of a basic majority of Venezuelans, even beyond the abstaining contingent—or that a “No” vote means anything to the contrary. Presidential approval percentages far outstrip the razorslim margin of “Yes” over “No” voters. On the probabilistic assumption that the pro and anti-reformers will draw roughly equal percentages of their supporters to rallies, the Chavista base is many times greater than that of the opposition. Indeed, the CIA’s “Hayden memo”—more on this below—shows that the opposition assumed the reforms would pass and concentrated their efforts on post-vote destabilization, to discredit these and prime the ground for their reversal. (To minimize the “Yes” vote, they actually tagged their literature with the slogan, “Chavez, Yes, Reform, No!,” pretending to endorse the president they had ousted by coup, and the original constitution they suspended, back in 2002.) The same memo cites polls taken by US intelligence which indicate high majorities favoring the reforms.

In this light, the failure of the reforms is puzzling on its face. It is not what was expected by anyone. Thus, it stands as in need of special explanation as any other puzzling phenomenon. And like all hypotheses invoked to explain puzzling phenomena, the explanation is to a degree speculative.

The reform items have been at least hinted at by Chavez for many years, and are, arguably, logically continuous with those features of the Bolivarian revolution already enacted. They don’t represent some sharp, unpredictable character turn in “Chavismo,” nor is there evidence of wide disenchantment with the elements Chavismo has already yielded—quite the contrary. Pre-vote polling suggest the abstainers would have voted “No” had they been, say, forced to choose.

A Template for Analysis

But if (a) Venezuelans are mostly Chavistas, and (b) the ballot represents no serious break with (this) Chavismo, then: The respective “links” between these elements and the outcome they would be prima facie expected to yield have, in a sense, “artificially” broken down. That is, either the basic support of the majority failed to register “through” the forms of bourgeois procedural democratic forms, or the understanding by this “basic majority” of the balloted items—that is, of their own real, if implicit, support of these—failed to so register. (Or possibly both.) We can explore these aspects in turn.

(a) Limitations of the Electoral Form

It is possible that the extent to which Chavez “overplayed his hand” politically with the vote reflects his opting for the referendum format rather than any specific measures on it. Had the reform measures been left to the National Assembly—which is, in a real sense, forced to show up while “the people” aren’t; and which has, again, voted for measures of a spirit with those on the referendum; and which has itself been voted in by the same “contingent” to decide upon just such measures—they would pass nearly unanimously, and we would hear no howls of opposition to this outcome apart from the Americans and the domestic ruling-class mass media (who is always howling anyway).

Having voted Chavez in on a particular platform, and his having enacted prior reforms through avenues other than popular referendum, it is plausible voters were confused or unconvinced as to why they had to vote again for the balloted measures. In 2000, Chavez was extended “rule by decree” powers through an enabling act of the National Assembly; this he used to enact significant reforms. He still very much controls this body and could use it so again. Thus, it is plausible that voters were unclear as to why they had to vote again for the same sort of thing.

Relatedly, it may be that a significant number of Chavistas are not especially driven to turn out for votes in which Chavez’ presidential position is not immediately in question. By analogy, I might be very pressed to vote to continue my marriage, if the alternative is its dissolution, yet not so pressed to vote in favor of any particular action affecting our lives together—if the alternative is just that my wife and I will proceed to act upon the matter later, in some (possibly that same particular) way. I would trust we would decide the matter in a way consonant with the values “embodied” in the initial decision to marry; the condition of being married in the first place preempts the need to “pin down” the decision formally, in advance, along a timetable imposed from outside. Likewise, Chavistas may just expect Chavez to act in a way consonant with values already “embodied” in his election and past record. (Indeed, low voter turnout is historically the norm for all Venezuelan elections except for those deciding the president.)

I dare say it is easier to accept that these considerations were decisive than that millions of Venezuelans are happy with Chavist reforms but don’t want any more of them. But as yet, it remains (very) speculative and in any case insufficient to explain all of the abstention numbers.

(b) Referendum? What Referendum?

Exploring the second “link”—between the voters and their comprehension of the specific reforms—a fuller picture is yielded:

It is unclear, to paraphrase Chomsky in the wake of Bush’s reelection, that Chavez lost the referendum because it is not clear that any referendum actually took place—that is, if by “referendum“ is meant a forum in which people choose between options they grasp clearly, in concert with their own interests and values.¹

This was made possible by the sheer number of reforms on the ballot—33 at first, quickly ballooning to 69—and the typical dense legalese in which they were drafted. Voters had only a short time—a month—to digest and debate these. This was especially problematic as certain items were complicated and unfamiliar. For example, the “new geometry of power” named a plan to redistrict municipalities to decentralize power. These would have various, new and interrelated functions, including the right to create, by vote, still other various, new political entities—councils, communes, unions—and the right to join these with others of the same and different type. These reforms can be quite in the interests of the voting majority without being intuitively or readily apparent as such. Finally, the presentation of the reforms in two large “up or down” blocks meant that one had only to disagree with any single item to reject the whole thing.

Beyond its brevity, limitations in the “Yes” campaign compounded matters. The reform side—perhaps overconfident in light of their twelve straight electoral wins since 1998—failed to adequately articulate the content of the reforms to social layers beyond its Chavista core. To a degree this was unavoidable: A key role was naturally delegated to the PSUV, the new merger party formed out of all the old Bolivarian groups. The party is young and its organizational network, disunified and underdeveloped. The job of education and the inspirational “whip” fell largely to the president himself—who was either abroad or distracted with matters (such as the abortive negotiations for FARC hostages) not directly related to the vote.

Effectiveness in this arena was needed to counteract the disinformation campaign by the reform opposition. Virtually every private mass media organ set its considerable resources to this project, around the clock. Normally for-purchase airtime was made free to the opposition. It was widely “reported” that the reforms would allow the state to seize virtually anything as its own property—small businesses, houses, cars, animals, clock radios. A twin-page spread in Ultimas Noticias, contender for the biggest newspaper in Venezuela, added children to the list, charging the state would remove these from the home at two years of age to be raised in state boarding schools. As in the States, the proposal to remove term limits from the presidency—bringing Venezuela in line with most of the world’s formal democracies—was presented as a vote to crown Chavez “president for life.” Major newspapers ran falsified copies of the proposed reforms. The state neither received nor—for good or ill—demanded, “equal time” in these venues.

Unsurprisingly, the same US agencies that helped organize the failed presidential coup in 2002—the CIA, USAID, and the American embassy in Venezuela—had hand in all of this. (NED is not mentioned in the memo but has been funneling money to opposition groups throughout Chavez’ administration and remains in the mix.) Nor was this role limited to “information.” The aforementioned memo was addressed to CIA Director Michael Hayden by embassy leader Michael Steele. It describes a multi-faceted anti-reform campaign implicating these groups. Tactics range in varying levels from the deceitful to the illegal and—though mostly “outsourced”—violent. The memo comes in the middle of the plan’s implementation and recommends its final phase, called “Operation Pincer” (or “Pliers”). The program allots millions of American tax dollars to fund false reporting, attack ads and bogus polls to discredit the reforms and notably, the credibility of the election process itself. It cites success in organizing affluent and ultraleft-sectarian college students to physically attack government offices, election officials and pro-Chavez demonstrators—actions which in fact led to the deaths of a handful of reform supporters. “Pliers” culminates in plans for a second coup against Chavez, originating in the National Guard; this is presented as a contingency for “Yes” vote they were sure would (still) come, but remains on the table.

Note also the role of Fifth Column sabotage: The “new geometry” shifted various powers from regional ministers, mayors and governors, to unprofessional communal groups; this has inspired some of the former to defect, not wanted to cede or share authority. Likewise, sections of the “Chavist” federal bureaucracy, seeing their interests as tied to a “stable” state, have no interest in supporting anything perceived as too radical and resisted organizing.

(c) Economic Concerns: Decisive, As Always

Of course, the outcome we would “prima facie expect” in light of what we know of our voters’ politics, and the soundness of electoral forms to translate this into policy, is not the whole story. It is possible that the limitations described by (a) and (b) were “overwhelmed” by considerations entirely beside those matters.

Venezuelans in Chavez’ “natural base”—wage workers and peasants—are plagued by a serious shortage of staple foods, including milk and meat, and other commonplace consumer goods. They also suffer under high inflation, nearly 18% in so many months. This didn’t come from nowhere, but as a result of rising earnings for all classes of Venezuelans, which increased effective demand—in itself a key gain of previous Bolivarian reforms which could have stayed that way. While the state attempted to tame this dynamic with price controls, the response of large sections of the capitalist state—partly to lessen the impact of decreased profits, partly as a protest against the controls—has been to restrict supply: Producers of scarce goods tamped down on production while large retailers hoarded the stocks they already held. Venezuelan finance capitalists withheld investment or relocated it to foreign enterprises, or turned to “nonproductive” enterprises altogether like real estate or bond speculation. Large distributors—wholesale “middlemen” and direct retailers—bypassed the price controls by funneling to the burgeoning black market. (Chavez has thought that flooding the country with imports would help also—but imports, it appears, can be hoarded and funneled underground just as well as domestics.)

These strategies were not just the initiatives of individual capitalists but a very open, deliberate and key plank in the reform opposition strategy as organized by (among others) FEDECAMARAS, the Venezuelan Chamber(s) of Commerce. (This is essentially a union for big capitalists, and fiercely anti-Chavez—their own then-president replaced him as interim president during the ‘02 coup.) This has succeeded in demoralizing the populace—the goal of the opposition leaders who called for it—even while growing consumption levels maintain: It is not that so many Chavez sympathizers have grown hostile to Bolivarian reforms, but rather tend toward apathy and disillusionment as very real, admitted gains are (subsequently) neutralized by higher prices and scarcity. This is precisely the mood, historically speaking, that engenders electoral abstention rather than the outright rebellion of voting-against or -out.


Were economic considerations decisive to the vote? Certainly, all “sides” in the reform issue—Chavistas, the opposition, and the abstainers—credit it as such, whether they agree on (or admit) the root causes of the economic troubles. In brief, we have only to assume that this discontent has cut into the numbers of less “fired up” Chavistas in the miniscule proportion needed to account for “No’s” over “Yes’s”—a reasonable (if strictly unprovable) assumption. (The reforms missed because just 1.4% more voters negated than affirmed.)

To the extent that economic factors were decisive, the idea that the reforms failed because Chavez politically “overreached” or “moved too fast” in a revolutionary direction is backward. It is precisely because the expropriations [of capitalist land and factories] have been so halting and partial, and that Chavez has been content—or felt forced—to trust the good will of the capitalist class to maintain supply, that the shortage-inflation dynamic has been permitted. The ballot failure should not be interpreted as a call for braking, or deferring, the revolution, but for pressing it much further—immediately. This entails, minimally, large-scale expropriation in local agribusiness, as well as heavy state investment therein, to ensure supply, as well as state administration of food distribution to prevent hoarding, enforce price controls and close back-doors to the black market (which would itself probably require expropriations).

There is nothing here that hasn’t been done before under worse circumstances, and nothing which can’t be ultimately placed under popular oversight and direction. But it has to be done quickly, for all of the reasons, by analogy, that you cannot “skin a tiger paw by paw”: You have to “totalize” the project to overwhelm the possibility of a counter-productive reaction. Finally, it is in the sense that such a programme can be said to logically “fulfill” the reforms—or their “spirit,” as it were—that one can call the latest failure of partial reforms an ironic mandate for the same—or much, much more.


¹ I’m assuming here that the reforms were “in concert with the interests and values of the voting majority, or at least addressed their major stated concerns.” That universal free education, expansion of social security benefits, and reduction of the workweek to 36 hours (for same pay), are not a good bet makes sense only on neoclassical economic theories that no regular Venezuelans buy into, or the view that the other items on the ballot are such a bad bet that their negative prospects outweigh the benefits of the others. Again, this isn’t the main point, but an argument of the second type would probably cite the right of the executive to suspend elements of the constitution in times of national emergency. In brief, if the former reforms—or any other significant achievement—are worth making, they are worth defending, and such “national emergencies” have occurred in recent history and are brewing now, as the opposition runs calls for a new coup on national TV and sends cash to Colombian death squads to kidnap and murder union leaders.

Like Yugoslavia, I’m only present as an absence

[I haven’t been posting much lately, what with workplace stressors (requiring alcoholic and forensic-televisual detox), the birthday of my wife, and (sort of) studying the GRE. In the meantime, read a phenomenal study on the wars in/breakup of the Yugoslav federation. Ed Herman is always great on this issue. See also Diana Johnstone, or more briefly, Lou Proyect’s review of her “Fool’s Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions.”]

Ed Herman: Knows a thing or two about a thing or two