We All Lose

Echoing some of the things I said in my first post this morning, the editors of the Wall Street Journal have one paragraph worth passing on in their mournful editorial:

American democracy was healthier when politics at the ballpark was limited to fans booing politicians who threw out the first ball—almost as a bipartisan obligation. This showed a healthy skepticism toward the political class. But now the players want to be politicians and use their fame to lecture other Americans, the parsons of the press corps want to make them moral spokesmen, and the President wants to run against the players.

We all lose!

Sometimes the only way to win is not to play the game.

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Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition has won the German elections. Sort of. Deutsche-Welle reports:

Angela Merkel has won a fourth term, but official results have shown she’ll have a “tough road” for coalition talks. While the CDU remains the largest party, the far-right AfD will be the third biggest political force.

With all 299 constituencies reporting, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party the CSU came out ahead in Germany’s national election on Sunday, with 33 percent of the vote.

Rival Social Democrats (SPD) led by Martin Schulz tumbled to a mere 20.5 percent, while the Green and Left parties remained about the same as they did in 2013, each with 8.9 and 9.2 percent, respectively.

The only real success stories of the night were for the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD). After failing to make the 5-percent hurdle to enter the Bundestag last time around, the FDP managed a 10.7 percent to cement its comeback.

As for the populist AfD, a remarkable showing of 12.6 percent means that Germany will have a far-right party in parliament for the first time in more than half a century.

In the coming days and weeks you are likely to read all sorts of claptrap about the German elections written by people who know better. Americans’ instincts for elections other than our own tend to be poor.

Germany does not have a “winner take all” system like ours. They have a multi-party parliamentary system. Each German voter votes twice: once for the “direct candidates” in their districts who must win by a plurality and the second time for a slate of candidates, the party list, in the province. Half of the Bundestag is composed of the direct candidates, the other half elected from the party lists.

I’m sure that some of those who voted for the Allianz für Deutschland (AfD) the Alliance for Germany, are in fact neo-Nazis but I also believe that most of those who turned out to vote for it were protest voters, unhappy with Angela Merkel’s de facto open borders program. They’re concerned about their jobs; Germany doesn’t have an unemployment program but it has a serious underemployment problem. Jobs are being divided into multiple microjobs. They’re also concerned that Germany is becoming de-Germanized. Treating those protest voters as though they were the same as the neo-Nazis will not rebuild the strength of the middle parties. Does any of this sound familiar?

That wasn’t the way the “European project” was supposed to work. They thought it would mean Europe becoming Germanized. Not only is that not happening but they’re worried that Germany is becoming de-Europeanized. AfD’s capturing nearly 13% of the Bundestag where it had previously held no seats shows which way the wind is blowing.

Expect the junior partners to Angela Merkel’s Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands, Christian Democratic Union Party, (CDU) to press their advantage in forming a new coalition government.


The editors of the Wall Street Journal on the German elections:

This is a very German protest vote: safe. The AfD struggled for most of the campaign season, and its home-stretch surge owes to two factors. A television debate between Mrs. Merkel and her SPD challenger, Martin Schulz, this month highlighted how little the two major parties compete with each other. And polls showing Mrs. Merkel steamrolling her opponents reassured voters they could cast a ballot for the AfD without handing the party real power.

with which I agree but this:

The message is that Germans want competition. The AfD draws support from voters on both left and right who are disillusioned with 12 years of Mrs. Merkel’s bland-as-she-goes leadership, and with the SPD’s failure to oppose her for eight of those years when it formed coalitions with her.

Nah. Take the results at face value. A significant number of Germans want fewer Middle Eastern immigrants.

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Watch Your Diction

Actually, I do have one more thing to say. The news media need to choose their words more carefully. Criticizing football players isn’t an attack. Even when the criticism is wrong or intemperate. Deliberately running people down with cars or shooting at people are attacks.

Trying to get millionaire entertainers who aren’t being entertaining fired isn’t coercion. Beating people until they work or fight for you is coercion.

When you call things that aren’t attacks attacks and things that aren’t coercion coercion, what do you call attacks and coercion?


Maybe We Should Try Losing

I don’t have a great deal to say about the NFL/national anthem/Trump kerfuffle but I’ll say it here. Both sides of the argument seem to think they’re winning. I don’t know whether it’s deliberate jiu jitsu but Trump has actually gotten the NeverTrumpers to argue against the national anthem. They seem to think that’s an argument they can win.

All I can say is that if this is winning losing might be preferable.


My Childhood Home

From time to time I’ve mentioned my childhood home but I don’t believe I’ve ever shown it to you. The picture above is of the house where my parents lived when they were first married and where I spent my first ten years. The picture was taken very shortly after my parents moved in.

One of the first things they did after moving in was to redo the steps in front of the house and put a brick railing around the porch. I strongly suspect that the work on the steps and porch was done by my dad and his law school pal, Jack Fisher. Although that picture was taken right after they’d redone the steps, that’s very much what the house looks like now. Subsequent owners have done almost no maintenance. I believe that tiny spruce in the foreground, looking for all the world like a weed, was may parents’ first Christmas tree.

When they moved in the house consisted of a small living room with adjoining dining room, a kitchen, bathroom, and one tiny bedroom. In addition to the steps and porch they also put an addition on the back of the house—a single large room. That room was shared by my me and my siblings. It was our bedroom, our playroom. Each of us took a corner and when my youngest siblings were born they got the bedroom and my parents took the fourth corner. That’s my mom standing on the new addition looking glum.

I think that you can see that when I said that it was modest I was sugar-coating it. It was a dive, a pit. But my mom did a good job of making it into a home and, well, it’s still home to me even though well over a half century has passed. I cried when we left.


Going to the Movies

I’ve mentioned it before but when I was a kid we saw lots of movies, mostly at the drive-in. For a buck both of my parents and a carload of kids could all go to the movies and we would go just about once a week. It’s not that we were fantastically well-off at the time. We lived in an extremely modest home in a working-class neighborhood and my dad was working two jobs (associate at a law firm and teaching law at St. Louis University). It was more a question of priorities and one of the priorities was getting out of the house.

My parents had, well, peculiar ideas of what constituted family-friendly viewing. I don’t think my dad much cared for genre pictures so nearly all of the movies we saw were dramas, comedies, or musicals and I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve seen just about every drama, comedy, or musical made between about 1950 and 1960, nearly all of them at the drive-in.

Here are some of the movies that I definitely remember seeing:

The Robe (1953)
The Rose Tattoo (1955)
Lili (1953)
Wild Is the Wind (1957)
Trapeze (1956)
East of Eden (1955)
Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
Giant (1956)
Elephant Walk (1954)
Executive Suite (1954)
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)
The Hustler (1961)
Wind Across the Everglades (1958)
Baby Doll (1956)
Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
7 Brides for 7 Brothers (1954)
Jupiter’s Darling (1955)
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Written on the Wind (1956)
The Long Hot Summer (1958)
Ben Hur (1959)
The Ten Commandments (1956)
The Conqueror (1956)
Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
All That Heaven Allows (1955)
Magnificent Obsession (1954)
Marty (1955)
Athena (1954)
The Rains of Ranchipur (1955)
The Night of the Hunter (1955)
The Tender Trap (1955)
The Catered Affair (1956)
Tammy and the Bachelor (1957)
The Mating Game (1959)

and that’s just off the top of my head in no particular order. I’m sure if I thought about it for a while I would remember more. A lot of those I haven’t seen since seeing them at the drive-in but if I start watching them I’ll remember them immediately.

Kiddie pictures we saw in the theater, probably at a Saturday matinee although my memory is a little fuzzy about that. I know we saw all of the Disney full length animated cartoons, nature pictures, and live action pictures of the period in the theater. I remember seeing Hondo (1953) in the theater (it was in 3D and we wore glasses). And I think I’ve told you the story of going with my mom to see Forbidden Planet (1956). Those are the only western and science fiction movies, respectively, I can remember seeing when I was a kid although there must have been more westerns. The only Hitchcock picture I remember seeing as a kid was Dial M for Murder, in the theater in 3D.

People just don’t go to the movies like that any more. It’s too expensive. They watch TV or DVDs or streaming but that’s a very different experience.


It’s Perfect

When I saw the caption of Andrew Michta’s article at The American Interest, “Five Priorities for Europe’s Trans-Atlantic Strategy”, I almost laughed out loud. Why should European politicians change anything? What they’re doing is perfect.

Not only do they spend less on their own defense than would otherwise be necessary, their spending is insufficient to maintain their responsibilities in collective defense or to play the role that they should on the world stage. They can use the money they’ve saved to buy votes through social and infrastructure spending. And they can lambast the United States for spending too much and being so warlike.

How could it be any better? It’s perfect as it is.



“Nullification” is the theory that the states have the right to ignore or “nullify” any federal law they deem unconstitutional. Nullification would seem to fly in the face of the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause:

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

It was used unsuccessfully by some Southern states to reject integration of their schools. In their decision in Cooper v. Aaron the Supreme Court explicitly rejected the theory of nullification saying in part that Brown v. Board “can neither be nullified openly and directly by state legislators or state executive or judicial officers nor nullified indirectly by them through evasive schemes for segregation” and asserting that state attempts to nullify federal law are ineffective. Nullification has never been upheld by the U. S. Supreme Court.

California legislators have recently passed a law, the “California Values Act”, effectively making the state of California a sanctuary for illegal immigrants. The Los Angeles Times reports:

California lawmakers on Saturday passed a “sanctuary state” bill to protect immigrants without legal residency in the U.S., part of a broader push by Democrats to counter expanded deportation orders under the Trump administration.

The legislation by Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), the most far-reaching of its kind in the country, would limit state and local law enforcement communication with federal immigration authorities, and prevent officers from questioning and holding people on immigration violations.

After passionate debate in both houses of the Legislature, staunch opposition from Republican sheriffs and threats from Trump administration officials against sanctuary cities, Senate Bill 54 was approved Saturday with a 27-11 vote along party lines. But the bill sent to Gov. Jerry Brown drastically scaled back the version first introduced, the result of tough negotiations between Brown and De León in the final weeks of the legislative session.

Is the California Values Act an attempt at nullification? If not why not? If so is nullification justified? When?
Who decides and how do you know?


The Limits of Strategic Patience

Sadly, in his post at the RAND Blog analyst Bruce Bennett doesn’t answer the question he asks about U. S. policy with respect to North Korea let alone the one he implies. The question he asks is what should the United States do besides exercising “strategic patience”?

The U.S. should consider pursuing a multidimensional approach — including economic sanctions, threats of military actions, and disseminating information in North Korea that would threaten its internal politics — to try to persuade Kim Jong Un that his nuclear weapons do more to jeopardize his regime than secure its survival.

Our pursuit of economic sanctions against North Korea has very nearly reached its limit. There is no stomach for imposing sanctions on China and that would be next step. The Chinese are pretty clearly beginning to sense that. How much stronger a threat can we make beyond the threats that President Trump issued at the UN? Bellow louder? Turn redder?

I’m sure that Mr. Bennett knows better than I of the limitations we have in pursuing information operations within North Korea. They would be ineffective anyway for reasons I’ve explored here in the past.

The real $50 trillion question is when has strategic patience, my preferred course of inaction, run its course. Mr. Bennett correctly characterizes the present:

The July 4th test, which appeared to demonstrate a missile range adequate to cover much of Alaska, may not have carried a warhead heavy enough to accommodate a North Korean nuclear weapon. The July 28th ICBM test, while appearing to have adequate range to reach much of the United States, had a warhead that was almost certainly too small to carry a North Korean nuclear weapon, and in any case reportedly burned up on reentry (though Postol and colleagues dispute what actually burned up, saying they believe that it was the nearly empty upper stage of the missile that actually burned up). The warhead may have burned up because North Korea reduced the weight of the warhead shields in order to obtain greater range.

or, in other words, the North Koreans do not presently pose a threat to the mainland United States.

What actions by the North Koreans would the Chinese deem required a response from the United States? Detonating a thermonuclear weapon over the Pacific? Attacking U. S. forces directly? Detonating a weapon within Japanese territorial waters? These are the tough questions which I wish Mr. Bennett had answered.

While I continue to encourage strategic patience, I don’t think we should bandy words about, either. There should be only one response to a actual North Korean attack, it would entail the sudden deaths of 25 million North Koreans, and it would be over in a matter of an hour or so.


Things Have Changed in Mexico

In an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times Mexican politician Agustín Barrios Gómez tells Americans some things I wish were emphasized more frequently, contrasting the Mexico City earthquake of 32 years ago with the more recent quake:

On Sept. 19, 1985, an earthquake registering 8.1 on the Richter scale struck Mexico City. Partly because of inadequate building codes, the death toll reached upward of 20,000 people. Electricity, telephones, the airport, the subway — all were down for several days.

The government’s failure was especially glaring. Insular and out of touch after 56 years of single-party rule, then-President Miguel de la Madrid responded testily to offers of international help by declaring, “We are self-sufficient.” We were not, but we tried to be. In collective shock at the lack of response from their government, Mexicans self-organized. We coordinated massive relief efforts that saved many thousands of lives, and we rebuilt astonishingly fast.

In 2000, when de la Madrid’s Institutional Revolutionary Party finally handed power over to the opposition, newly elected President Vicente Fox would declare that modern democracy in Mexico was the product of civil society finding its strength after the 1985 earthquake.

Exactly 32 years later, on Sept. 19, 2017, a combination trepidatory (up-and-down) and oscillatory (side-to-side) 7.1 earthquake hit, 12 days after a nearby oscillatory 8.2 quake. The Richter scale measures energy released, not the violence of the quake, which has more to do with location, depth and geological characteristics of the affected area. So the 7.1 felt 10 times worse than the 8.2. You’ve seen the videos shot around the city by stunned citizens — and they are terrible.

But unlike in 1985, government, civil society and the building codes are much more resilient. Electricity, telephones, the airport, the subway — all are functioning. In what has to be one of the great coincidences of the decade, two hours before the earthquake struck, the city performed its annual seismic drill. (It takes place on the anniversary of the 1985 quake.) We have an earthquake early warning system mounted on each of the city’s 15,000 CCTV cameras. Up to 90 seconds’ warning can make the difference between deaths in the hundreds or the thousands.

Thirty-two years ago, the federal government turned away help that already had arrived at the Mexico City airport, including a Swiss canine unit trained to find bodies after an avalanche — a transferable skill. My father, the ambassador to Switzerland at the time, managed to get them into the city despite official disapproval. This time, the Mexican tax authorities are waving import duties on international goods sent to help emergency efforts. Cellphone service is available, and Wi-Fi hot spots are free. Uber is shuttling volunteers to rescue operations. Amazon Mexico teamed up with the Red Cross to create a massive relief “wish list” so good Samaritans can donate directly. Google Maps has helped us identify the location of collapsed buildings so we can channel aid there.

In his weekly column, Mexican journalist Leo Zuckermann declared himself twice as proud today as he was in 1985 to be a Chilango, as we Mexico City residents call ourselves. He’s proud to see how all of our efforts, and billions of dollars, have paid off in earthquake preparedness. But he’s also proud to see evidence of other seismic changes.

Since 1985, we have built what is arguably the most sophisticated electoral system in the world. We have gone from being a country dependent on petrodollars to one that is a major manufacturing powerhouse, with a diversified economy that is among the biggest in the world.

Thirty-two years ago Mexico was a poor country, incompetently run. Today it’s a middle income country and governed much more effectively. They’re more than able to take care of their problems but, as the op-ed notes, not too proud to take help from other countries when they need it. The Mexican people shouldn’t be patronized by us. They should be respected.