State of the Union

Taiwan’s Protests Could Mean Trouble With China

Taiwan, the semi-autonomous nation not known for making waves, is erupting over a trade pact with China. Last week, hundreds of student protesters occupied the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan’s unicameral legislative body, demonstrating against the Guomindang’s (KMT) unilateral passage of a service trade agreement signed last year. According to CNN, protesters successfully blocked riot police from the Legislative Yuan with chairs, and have been seated both in and outside the building, singing, chanting, and holding up signs. Police have since used force to clear the Legislative Yuan, with the prime minister saying that the students were “paralyz[ing] our administrative workings,” according to a New York Times report yesterday.

The pact’s passage breaks the KMT’s promise to collaborate with the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), staving off an inevitable conflict with the opposition over the pact. The DPP’s longtime stance is rooted in advocating full Taiwanese independence and dissolving ties with China, with much of its energy expended attacking the KMT for colluding with China against local Taiwanese interests. One of the DPP party slogans is, “sell Taiwan”, implying that the KMT is a cowardly puppet government with no interest in advocating for Taiwanese independence.

The protests come at the tail of a long decline in popular opinion of Taiwanese president Ma Ying-Jeou, whose conciliatory stance with China has incited a slow-burning resentment among his political opponents, and has even caused those within his own party to distance themselves from him. Ma’s approval ratings have dropped close to the level of disgraced former DPP prime minister Chen Sui-bian, who was convicted of money laundering in 2009.

One possible outcome of these protests, especially if the trade pact is derailed, is that formal relations across the strait could begin to deteriorate. Damon Linker in The Week speculates that if China were to take Taiwan, it would herald the end of American expansionism in the region. He argues that in spite of written agreements to help Taiwan defend itself, the United States would be unlikely to join in such a war. American neutrality in a hegemon-underdog dispute would bespeak our weakening global image as the world’s national guard, in Linker’s view. While logically sound, this perspective overlooks one important aspect of U.S.-China-Taiwan relations: The United States’s ability to influence Taiwanese relations with China or in the international community was never very strong to begin with. Read More…

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A Brief History of 2013, As Told Through Our Best Articles

Edmund Burke Illustration by Chris Morris

As the clocks click to close on another year, we take a brief glance back at the best we had to offer, judged by reader traffic and editor’s picks.

Alan Jacobs closed out 2012 by demanding peace from insufferable others in “Hey Extraverts: Enough is Enough.”

Andrew Bacevich kicked off the new year by calling for a “Counter-Cultural Conservatism” with less Ayn Rand, and more Flannery O’Connor.

In February, Rand Paul delivered the first major GOP foreign policy address post-November at the Heritage Foundation, articulating a Congress-centric realism drawn from George F. Kennan as the conservative alternative to Bill Kristol. In the lead-up to that address, he discussed his foreign policy ideas with Daniel Larison.

Pope Benedict then shocked the world by abdicating the Holy See. Daniel McCarthy called the decision a “salutary reform” to the rising celebrity status of the papacy, while Jonathan Coppage reflected on what it means to outlive a post meant for a lifetime.

That same month, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman broke open the conservative debate over same sex marriage by declaring, “Marriage Equality is a Conservative Cause.” Our entire coverage of the issue was particularly strong, getting beyond the news cycle incriminations to grapple with the cultural implications of institutional change. Rod Dreher looked at the cosmological change of same-sex marriage in “Sex After Christianity”, before the Supreme Court’s decision, and and the uneasy prospects of religious liberty in “Does Faith = Hate?” after it.

In March, Rand Paul took to the floor of the Senate to filibuster the nomination of John Brennan to the CIA in protest over not receiving White House assurances over potential domestic droning powers. Jordan Bloom live-blogged the entire affair until Paul received his requested assurances from Attorney General Eric Holder, and the entire national drone debate had been changed.

When Cardinal Bergoglio was announced as the new Pope Francis, few could have expected how strongly he would capture the Western media imagination, left and right. Patrick Deneen recently issued the definitive defense of Francis from his Republican capitalistic critics.

The 10th anniversary of the Iraq War brought much retrospection, but none better than Daniel McCarthy’s account of how the botched war discredited the GOP in the same way as Vietnam culturally discredited Democrats. Andrew Doran then detailed how the Iraq invasion had vindicated the worst fears of Middle Eastern Christians in “How the Iraq War Became a War on Christians,” and how a Syrian intervention would only repeat it.

Then began the Summer of Snowden. During the initial onslaught of security state backlash against the NSA whistleblower, Philip Giraldi defended Snowden against treason charges. John Glaser explicated the dangers of a systematic project of secret laws and surveillance in “Obama’s Secrecy Agenda.” Tea Party congressman Justin Amash led an unlikely bipartisan coalition to break mass domestic surveillance, and almost won. He then took to our pages to explain explain his vision of Constitutional politics in “How to Keep the Constitution.”

Then came the sarin gas attack in Ghouta, Syria, and the Obama Administration’s subsequent attempted rush to war. Jim Antle set the stakes for whether Congress could resist being driven into another war on sketchy intelligence by the executive, and the political implications of its potential success in a piece that holds up very well in retrospect, “Can Congress Say No to a Syria War.” Eminent historian Philip Jenkins put the plight of the ancient Syrian Christian community in stark contect in “Syria’s Christians Risk Eradication.” Read More…

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How a Shopping Mall Becomes a Killing Zone

This really is frightening.

Terrorist incidents tell us nothing new about human nature. We already knew that people are capable of horrendous violence, especially when they have come to regard some other subset of human beings as unworthy of full human status. It’s not surprising, then, to see the terrorists of Somalia’s loathsome al-Shabaab movement violating all laws of humanity by slaughtering innocent victims of all ages. People can become monsters, and they did in the Nairobi mall attack that began on September 21.

What really is alarming, though, is to see terrorists create a radical new tactic against which there is no obvious response or defense. There was nothing surprising, for instance, in the idea that terrorists might hijack airliners, but only in 2001 did we realize that hijackers might use them for suicide attacks, turning those aircraft into deadly missiles. Nairobi has just shown us another horrible innovation. It might be that we won’t realize how effective this could be against the U.S. until we face yet another day when we are counting the dead in their hundreds. We have to confront this issue immediately.

Think about it. How would one attack a shopping mall, whether in Nairobi or Minneapolis? Presumably a number of pickup trucks draw up in the parking lot, and 20 or so armed men and women get out, carrying their weapons and ammunition. Then they enter the mall and begin killing until they can do no more harm. They are strictly limited by the number of bullets and grenades they can carry. When police and military forces arrive, the terrorists might hold out for an hour or two before being eliminated.

That’s one way to do it, but it’s clearly not what happened in Nairobi, where firefights were still in progress several days after the initial assault. Even more amazing, terrorists were still putting up resistance against strong Kenyan forces, reputedly trained and assisted by British and Israeli special forces.

How on earth did the terrorists do it? Why, they rented a store. Read More…

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The Navy Yard Names Lost in the Politics

Wednesday, much of Washington, D.C. was shocked by the news of a shooting at Navy Yard. Some buildings went into lockdown. At least one intern got a frightened call from her father. A fellow employee asked me if my husband was safe. But 12 people are dead, and their loved ones now mourn. It was shocking and tragic.

But from media, we hear a familiar regurgitation of anger and disdain. Every time there’s a tragic shooting, the pro-gun and anti-gun commentators raise their voices. The “I told you so!” messages ricochet off each other, with finger pointing and lambasting on both sides. Commentators respond to these deaths as they have to so many—at Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, and others—with an upsurge of political debate on gun control. In addition, there always seems to be an in-depth psychoanalysis— sometimes akin to morbid fascination—of the killer.

It is true that, in light of the tragedy, some consideration of gun policy is probably a matter-of-course. But to launch into this debate within hours of the shootings seems insensitive and careless. We forget that killing is messy and erratic, and killers even more frighteningly unpredictable. We forget that there is no way to stop all evil people from ever doing evil things, as long as the human mind is possessed with creativity and cleverness. We forget that guns can be dangerous in the wrong hands, and that something must be done to protect the vulnerable.

But most of all, we forget the killed: the people with mourning loved ones, lives cut short. There were 12 of them Monday—NBC News shared their names and stories:

Michael Arnold, 59
Sylvia Frasier, 53
Kathy Gaarde, 62
John Roger Johnson, 73
Frank Kohler, 50
Kenneth Bernard Proctor, 46
Vishnu Pandit, 61
Arthur Daniels, 51
Mary Francis Knight, 51
Gerald L. Read, 58
Martin Bodrog, 54
Michael Ridgell, 52

Kenneth Proctor loved the Redskins. Vishnu Pandit was a native of Bombay, India, who “took great pride in being employed by the United States Navy.” Martin Bodrog had three daughters and taught Sunday School at church. Arthur Daniels’ wife and family shared their story on a local TV channel last night: “Priscilla says her husband Arthur had worked at the Navy Yard off and on as a handyman for 17 years. She says he left for work on Monday at 6:45 a.m. and wasn’t heard from again.” The couple had been married for 30 years, with five children and nine grandchildren.

There are responses to the shootings worth praising for their genuine concern. Rev. Andrew Royals at St. Vincent de Paul, blocks away from the Navy Yard, opened the church doors for mass. Attendees prayed for the victims.

In our democracy, we can be happy that public discourse and media give us the right to comment on important policy issues. But perhaps we need reminding that such a right comes with the responsibility to use it well, for the sake of all those who grieve today.

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Why You Should Go to 2013 Front Porch Republic Conference

The estimable Front Porch Republic will host its upcoming conference, titled “City People, Country People: Being a Localist In the Megalopolis,” in Claremont, California. Event speakers include TAC contributors Bill Kauffman and Jeremy Beer. The conference will also contain a screening of recent Maxwell film Copperhead (reviewed by TAC contributor Jordan Bloom in June).

The conference will explore the ideas of place and community in a growing urban and suburban landscape, and strive to determine how people “enmeshed in a massive (sub)urban expanse” can cultivate community and live sustainably. As co-sponsors of the event and friends of FPR, we strongly encourage you to attend.

Here is the program:

Friday, September 20

7:30 p.m. Screening of Copperhead followed by Q&A with screenwriter Bill Kauffman (Rose Hills Theater)

Saturday, September 21

8:30 a.m. Continental Breakfast (Rose Hills Theater Lobby)

9:00 a.m. Introduction (Rose Hills Theater)

Susan McWilliams, Pomona College

9:15 a.m. “The Good Twenty-First-Century City” (Rose Hills Theater)

Chair: Lily Geismer, Claremont McKenna College

Panelists: Phillip Bess, University of Notre Dame School of Architecture; Peter Dreier, Occidental College; Ted McAllister, Pepperdine University

10:45 a.m. “The Possibilities of Work in the New World” (Rose Hills Theater)

Chair: John Seery, Pomona College

Panelists: Susan McWilliams, Pomona College; Andrew Yuengert, Pepperdine University; TBD

12:15 p.m. Lunch and Keynote Address  (Rose Hills Theater and Lobby)

“I Can’t Believe You’re From L.A.: Los Angeles as a Cultural Center”

Speaker: Dana Gioia, author and former chair of the National Endowment for the Arts

2:00 p.m. “Food in the Megalopolis” (Rose Hills Theater)

Chair: Jeff Polet, Hope College

Panelists: Nancy Neiman Auerbach, Scripps College; William Barndt, Pitzer College; Jason Peters, Augustana College

3:30 p.m. “Philanthropy, Localism, and Hypermobility” (Rose Hills Theater)

Chair: William Schambra, Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal

Panelists: Jeremy Beer, American Philanthropic; David Bosworth, University of Washington; Alicia Manning, Bradley Foundation;

4:45 p.m. Closing Remarks (Rose Hills Theater)

Mark T. Mitchell, Patrick Henry College

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What’s a Law to an Executive?

Late yesterday, the Treasury Department announced that it will be delaying the employer mandate provision of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) by one year. Treasury’s ostensible reason is to simplify reporting requirements, but Josh Barro explains that is either lame or fake. In short, the Obama Administration is having difficulty implementing its signature legislative achievement, and so is pushing it back to try and ward off some of the consequences of a bungled law.

Last week, the Supreme Court overturned a federal law (DOMA), which having declared it unconstitutional, the Department of Justice had already refused to defend in court. The Court simultaneously denied standing to a California group seeking to defend ballot initiative Proposition 8, which had amended the California constitution to ban gay marriage. The California executive had refused to defend that popularly passed measure, and so the amendment was defeated by ultimate default after being struck down by a lower court.

What these have in common is an executive tradition with an ever increasing sense that it is not only the executor of the laws, but the legislator and judge as well.

In the latest issue of National Affairs, Tevi Troy detailed how Team Romney planned to implement their “pledge to repeal Obamacare.” Troy acknowledged that “even in the optimistic scenarios that had Romney winning the Presidency,” the GOP would lack full control of the Senate, and so “a straight-up, all-out repeal was unlikely.” As Jordan described previously, their strategy was: “eat away at enough of the the thing that collapse is inevitable and repeal seems like the better option to Senate Democrats.”

Because of the great “leeway” given to the HHS in making key decisions about Obamacare, Romney’s team of experts concluded that, “in the hands of an administration eager for repeal,” it would be possible “to effectively nullify the new system through a carefully choreographed series of executive actions.” Troy says “the regulatory rollback would have been so complete that we were confident Obamacare never could have gotten off the ground,” and a better designed system could be pushed to replace it.

Such an initiative would have come under great contumely, and provoked a great outcry from Democratic circles and the media, who would have rightly called it a breach of the principle that the executive should enforce Congress’s duly passed laws. Congress has abdicated so much legislative authority to the executive branch, however, that it has enabled any arbitrary implementation and enforcement of its laws that satisfy any executive’s political concerns.

In related news, the Dodd-Frank financial system reform still has significant regulations outstanding as pressure is brought on regulators to delay and water down another complex mess of well-intentioned legislation. And before the administration began its push for immigration reform, it ramped up enforcement of border laws so as to mollify conservative critics, but those same critics have no recourse if the administration should slack at enforcement after passage.

More, and more, it seems, laws are seen as a signals to the executive and bureaucracy of topics to take up and dispose of as they please, rather than specific instructions in need of execution. That should trouble all of us.

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In Egypt, Protest Without Ceasing

After a surge of recent protests, Egypt’s military issued an ultimatum on Monday, giving Morsi two days to appease the demonstrators. If he does not comply, the military will impose its own ‘road map for the future.’

Some have called this Egypt’s “Second Revolution.” The question, however, is whether its first revolution was ever completed.

In January 2011, Over 50,000 protesters first filled Tahrir Square. News websites noted how “rare” and “unusually large” such demonstrations were. Even after toppling long-time ruler Hosni Mubarak, the protests continued to fester and build over the next 10 months and into November. After the provisional government offered its resignation to the supreme military council, things quieted somewhat in December and January.

However, sporadic protests continued in February, March, and April 2012. In June, demonstrators protested the Supreme Court’s dissolution of the Islamist-led parliament. In July, they protested when the court froze Morsi’s decree to reinstate the parliament.

When Morsi assumed legislative powers on August 12, the people responded with mixed support and protest. After the court acquitted 24 people associated with the 2011 “Battle of the Camels,” activists and political parties called for a nationwide protest on October 12. That same week, anti-Morsi protesters accused the Muslim Brotherhood of trying to take over the country.

When Morsi issued a presidential decree on November 22 immunizing his decrees from challenge, demonstrators again filled Tahrir Square. Violent clashes erupted between protesters and the police.

In December 2012, Egypt Independent reported that Egypt had plunged into a “political crisis,” with “deadly” demonstrations by Morsi supporters and opponents. On January 24, demonstrators and police clashed on the eve of the second anniversary of Mubarak’s overthrow.

Last month, a purported 14 million anti-Morsi protesters gathered across the country. They were using their 2011 revolution slogan: “The people demand the ouster of the regime.”

After looking at the two-year timeline, it appears that Egypt’s protests have never fully stopped – not for more than a few months. The country is stuck in a cycle of protesting, violence, attempted appeasement, and more protesting. The current demonstrators are in Tahrir Square with the same reasons – and even the same words – given in January 2011.

Perhaps this exhibits one of the weaknesses of protesting. While Tahrir Square demonstrations have enabled angry Egyptians to gather and vent frustrations, they have not effectively changed the status quo. As noted by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, this is a “leaderless movement.” The Egypt opposition has yet to provide a viable alternative to authoritarian rule – and without a strategy, they cannot establish order. Egypt’s only order, in the midst of the chaos, has come from its military and political leaders. Unfortunately, the “order” these leaders impose is often unjust. But without a feasible substitute, they will maintain power.

The 1789 French Revolution is one example of effective protesting, as the French managed to topple their monarch and “make their voice heard.” However, the ensuing Reign of Terror was characterized by death and destruction. Few protests seem to generate order from their chaos. It is impossible to deny that chaos and injustice have riddled Egypt’s protests. Tahrir Square has had its fill of sexual assault, violence, and vandalism. A mass of angry protesters will never create order or equality – not on their own, at least. Not without a thoughtful, judicious plan.

Unfortunately, in Egypt’s case, there is no plan. And after two years of nearly constant civil unrest, one wonders whether they will ever find one.

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The Fertilizer Explosion in West, Texas

Raw footage of the blast is harrowing: a father and son filming the fire at the West, Texas fertilizer plant were close enough to be shaken and deafened by the explosion.

The Telegraph has a somewhat less disturbing clip of moment of detonation in the report below. The plant contains more than 12 times as much chemical fertilizer as was used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

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Four New Jersey Vignettes

We had a death in the family and had to go up to central New Jersey for the funeral last weekend. It was extremely difficult finding a room as most of the hotels are still full of people who are homeless as a result of hurricane Sandy. When I did find a vacancy online, I quickly moved to lock it in with my credit card.  The reservation bounced back, with a message telling me that the room was no longer the $130 posted price but had instead increased to $160. I did the reservation form a second time only to have yet another message pop up telling me that the price had increased to $190, plus tax. I reserved the room at that price as I had no choice. I wondered to what extent the hotels were playing the same trick with FEMA, with the State of New Jersey emergency management, and with the hapless survivors who were paying their own way.

We talked to a number of people who had lived on or near the Jersey Shore. Many were either retired or were approaching the end of their working careers and had lost absolutely everything in the storm. The entire Shore area has been reconfigured and whole communities embracing a specific economy and way of life have been swept away. Many homeowners did not have flood insurance as it was prohibitive (upwards of $4000 per annum I was told). Like New Orleans, this was a disaster that will play out over many years as reconfiguration and reconstruction take place in the peculiar New Jersey human environment that combines widespread corruption with sometimes astonishing altruism. Our local best-in-New Jersey pizzeria (a significant accolade) had lost its power for a week but was up and running overtime when we arrived dishing out hundreds of free pies to people who had lost their homes. Read More…

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It’s Over; The Republican Party Hasn’t Recovered From Bush

As I write, Barack Obama has been declared the winner of the 2012 election. He will compile an impressive victory in the Electoral College. By my projections at least a 313-213 victory. And it could be larger than that when Florida and Ohio are finally counted. But Romney made a respectable showing in the popular vote, one that would have been surprising before the first debate made a Republican comeback victory seem temporarily possible.

We’ve already gone over the reasons Romney lost. The Republican coalition is shriveling, the Democrats are growing. Romney was an unliked nominee who failed to compete for the very voters that powered Republicans to re-take the House in 2010.  I think he is an admirable guy in some ways, but harnessing the passions of the GOP and riding them into the White House was a task beyond the abilities of the hyper-competent, hard-working moderate.

It’s a bad night for social conservatives, in fact it is almost a complete reversal of 2004. Same sex marriage won on the ballot in Maryland and Maine. Obama did not really propose anything new on the economy or foreign policy fronts, but he did make contraception, rape, and Roe v. Wade a large part of this campaign. He constantly portrayed Romney as a man with “the social policies of the 1950s.” Apparently this worked. If there is one thought that comforts me (and perhaps some readers), it is that the chances of courts striking down the “contraceptive mandate” that impinges on religious freedom seem very good. However, Obama’s second term will mean that a future American judiciary may be more open to that sort of thing.

Because changing demographics are such a huge part of Obama’s formula, it is going to cause Republicans to discuss how they can attract a more diverse pool of voters. Inevitably this will focus on Hispanics. I expect tonight’s results will be used as an argument for automatically nominating Florida Senator Marco Rubio for 2016.

But in reality the more pressing problem is that Republicans are still a party badly damaged by the George W. Bush years. The GOP has traditionally held huge advantages on foreign policy and the economy. That advantage is gone now. And Mitt Romney was the wrong candidate to give the party a refresh on those issues, particularly when the gettable voters were downscale whites. It isn’t that Republicans aren’t reaching enough voters; voters simply don’t believe the GOP is competent to govern.

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