Abdullah al-Shami may be about to achieve a very strange kind of victory through martyrdom.
So far as we know, Al-Shami isn’t on the verge of a suicide bombing or self-immolation. If he dies in the coming weeks, it will likely be at the hand of another. Well, hand might be putting it strongly, since the hand that presses the button that looses the missile from the drone that kills him may be halfway across the globe. But if the bomb lands true, al-Shami will be the fifth American citizen assassinated by his government in the War on Terror.
The location of the person killing him will be as mysterious as his own origins. Although it is now public knowledge that the Obama administration is debating whether the man known by this nom de guerre meets their own classified criteria for assassination, al-Shami’s real name, place of birth, and biography to this point have all been kept secret. The most the New York Times was able to cobble together about his life is this:
The F.B.I. investigated Mr. Shami and determined that he had been born in the United States, but that he had left as a young child and had not maintained any ties to the country. In the years since then, Mr. Shami worked his way up the ranks of Al Qaeda’s senior leadership in Pakistan, his ascent aided by his marriage to the daughter of a top Qaeda leader. Last year, he appears to have risen to become one of Al Qaeda’s top planners for operations outside Pakistan, including plots against American troops in Afghanistan.
“We have clear and convincing evidence that he’s involved in the production and distribution of I.E.D.’s,” said one senior administration official, referring to improvised explosive devices, long the leading killer of American troops in Afghanistan.
Improvised explosive devices are intended to kill American troops. They’re deployed either tactically, for the sake of frustrating the objectives of an enemy force, or cathartically, out of the desire to wound and destroy, regardless of whether it advances a military objective. President Bush would often characterize al-Qaeda as motivated by a desire to destroy our freedoms and ideals. Stretching our laws to permit the droning of American citizens would seem to do more damage to American ideals than an entire shipment of IEDs.
While the armed forces and the C.I.A. have systematically picked off high-ranking leaders in al-Qaeda, to the point where nationalist factions blithely ignore the orders of their higher ups, civil liberties law at home has been subject to a barrage of Justice Department memos, FISA court opinions, and executive orders, many of them kept as secret as any military operation, on the same justification: we can’t afford to tip our hand to the enemy.
According to the Times, the debate over al-Shami’s death has been driven as much by logistical concerns as by ethical or legal scruples. Obama has been working to hand over responsibility for drone assassinations to the Pentagon. This would put drone program under a few more legal restrictions, but free the United States to claim responsibility for strikes and make other disclosures that the CIA can’t. However, the Pentagon has no authority to kill anyone in Pakistan, where al-Shami is rumored to be hiding.
If the President makes an exception to allow the CIA to conduct this strike, it will be yet another jury-rigged change to our legal system, meant to secure the short-term objective of killing the enemy, while possibly endangering the security and trustworthiness of the government we are defending from men like al-Shami.
Yesterday I outlined what I still think is Russia’s preferred outcome in Crimea, one in which the strongly pro-Russian peninsula remains part of a Ukraine that is effectively subservient to Russia’s interests, no matter who is in charge in Kiev. That’s one path for Putin, and it hardly means avoiding military force—the key point is what result Russia’s aiming at.
There are two other scenarios, however, in which a Crimea more or less formally connected with Russia would make sense from Moscow’s perspective. The first is a variation on what’s already been suggested, only instead of using a Ukrainian Crimea as leverage over Ukraine as a whole, Putin uses the example of a Crimea severed from Ukraine to warn the Ukrainians that unless they play ball the Russian way, Putin will do to eastern Ukraine what he has already done to the Crimean south. A Ukraine without Crimea would have less love of Moscow, but that might be compensated, in Putin’s eyes, by greater fear.
The other possibility is that Putin is acting from weakness—that is, he’s calculated that there’s no plausible outcome in Ukraine as a whole that favors Russian interests, so he’s going to detach Crimea to salvage what he can. In this case, it doesn’t matter if removing Crimea from Ukraine makes Ukraine as a whole less cooperative with Russia because there is no chance for cooperation in any event.
And what if Russia just takes all of Ukraine? That’s basically the original scenario without the subtlety, and it comes with a great many headaches, not only in terms of the effort necessary to subdue Ukraine and the penalties the West would impose, but administering a territory as economically enfeebled and politically unstable as Ukraine isn’t an attractive prospect. An independent but subservient Ukraine looks to be what fits Russia’s interests best. The question is how Crimea fits into that—and if the best outcome, from Moscow’s perspective, is impossible, then a separated Crimea might be what Putin settles for.
(Putin also has to contend with the possibility that events will get away from him, of course—that the Crimeans may be more Catholic than the pope, so to speak, and be more eager to leave Ukraine than Putin himself would desire. And escalations of violence can throw this calculating style of politics completely out the window. But when thinking about Russia’s objectives, it’s worth keeping the big picture in mind.)
p.s. Here’s what the Russian foreign ministry is saying. Ignore the framing about far-right dangers in Ukraine and note the general political demand Russia is making:
We are surprised that several European politicians have already sprung to support the announcement of presidential elections in Ukraine this May, although the agreement of the 21 February envisages that these elections should take place only after the completion of the constitutional reform. It is clear that for this reform to succeed all the Ukrainian political forces and all regions of the country must become its part, but its results should be approved by a nationwide referendum. We are convinced that it is necessary to fully take into account concerns of deputies of eastern and southern regions of Ukraine, the Crimea and Sevastopol, which were expressed at the conference in Kharkov on the 22 February.
James McWilliams wrote an interesting but disappointing piece on exercise addiction last week. The piece shows how engrossing—and potentially damaging—the sport of running can be:
Potentially addicted runners will cheat family time to run, sneak in runs without telling people, design vacations around exercise opportunities, will (if injured) count the days since their last run like an alcoholic counts the days since his last drink, and forgo sex to run (we often joke that nobody spends a Saturday morning running 20 miles because they have a great sex life). It seems certain that, if these symptoms are in any way common, running addiction will become an official disorder in due time.
Yet, in conclusion, McWilliams decides that perhaps these obsessed runners aren’t wrong, or even disordered—rather, they’re in tune with the physicality enjoyed by “pre-industrial people,” our ancestors who would not have been as inactive as modern Americans. “What if the real addicts are those who seek to be sedentary,” he asks, “While the crazed athletes are the ones who are seeking the deeper wisdom and capacity of the human body?”
McWilliams has a point here. American’s desk-bound, inert lives are rather abnormal and harmful to the human body. New research shows that commuting alone can promote higher cholesterol, depression, anxiety, back pain, and sleep discomfort (among other symptoms). Also, as a runner, I can understand the benefits he describes: the feeling of being “at ease with the world,” the sense of accomplishment and renewed purpose with each mile.
But at the same time, the sort of exercise McWilliams advocates for—the constant 10-plus mile runs, sacrifice of time, family, and health—does not seem to foster true excellence. At least, it would not stand up to Aristotle’s concept of virtue, which functions as a mean between excess and defect. Aristotelian virtue does not consist in obsession to the point of bodily harm—he said a warrior who purposefully put himself in harm’s way was not courageous, but careless: he has fallen into the “excess” side of the equation, thus falling short of true virtue. Similarly, McWilliam’s crazed runner falls too much into excess to be truly virtuous.
Yet McWilliam’s runner is no stranger to us, whether we be runners or no. Most modern Americans feel compelled to develop an expertise—be it a career, hobby, or sport. The “specialist” or “expert” always receives greatest respect, while those who “dabble” in various trades or interests are less likely to garner acclaim. Indeed, in education, fields that teach breadth over depth are seeing less students and less interest. Take the humanities, or philosophy: as philosopher professor Rebecca Newberger Goldstein told the Atlantic, interest in philosophy has declined as students “want to get good jobs and get rich fast.” Money and renown goes to the specialists, not to the holistic scholars.
This isn’t meant to denigrate experts, professional athletes, and the like—most careers require a good depth of knowledge in a given subject. But it is important to consider whether we are practicing virtue in our trade, and whether we ought to “branch out” in order to become more healthy and well-rounded human beings. Perhaps the politician should pick up art (like Winston Churchill), the “foodie” should study literature, the economist should take dancing lessons. It isn’t that specialization is bad, so much as that specialization can often lead to obsession—and obsession leads to personal and societal disorder.
St. Augustine called such obsession a “disordered love.” The concept springs from his beautiful Confessions: disordered love seeks ultimate happiness in temporal, earthly objects or pursuits, “an action which engenders all kinds of pathologies in human behavior,” writes David K. Naugle.
“For wherever the soul of man may turn, unless it turns to you [God], it clasps sorrow to itself,” wrote Augustine. “Even though it clings to things of beauty, if their beauty is outside God and outside the soul, it only clings to sorrow.”
Running can be a thing of beauty. Waking early and jogging to a measured cadence, watching the sun illumine a dark sky, etching new trails in the soft earth—it’s an exhilarating, delightful sport. But if it’s all we cling to, we will ultimately become disillusioned, disordered, and unhappy—just as with any realm of love and interest. Much as I enjoy running, I never want this “thing of beauty” to become a disordered love.
Some TV and Twitter commentators have begun to suggest an independent Crimea as a solution for the region’s troubles. That may or may not be what a majority of Crimeans would like to see—some prefer union with Russia; others are content to remain with Ukraine—but from Russia’s point of view an independent or Russian-annexed Crimea is hardly the most desirable thing. Russia’s primary interest in Crimea, basing rights, is already secure even with the peninsula as part of Ukraine. An independent Crimea gives Russia nothing that Russia doesn’t already have. And it would deprive Russia of an invaluable asset: a large bloc of ethnic Russians within the Ukrainian electorate.
This conflict is about Ukraine, not Crimea. Russia has far-reaching interests in its neighbor—everything from pipelines to a strategic and ideological buffer zone—that are complicated by the fall of Yanukovich and the coming to power of anti-Russian leaders in Kiev. The circumstances of Yanukovich’s fall (and practically speaking, he has fallen, even if he refuses to admit it) further loosen Russia’s grip. Thus the upheaval in Crimea is a bargaining chip, not an end in itself: it’s a way for Putin to make sure that Russian interests in Ukraine as a whole are accommodated as the country’s political future is worked out.
Keeping Ukraine intact serves Russian interests better than splitting the country into separate states, but obviously Russia wants Ukraine’s integrity to be preserved on Russia’s terms. So this is the space within which negotiations can be expected to take place. What settlement is possible that will give pro-Russian Ukrainians a strong hand, and perhaps disproportionate one, within a united Ukraine, while satisfying a critical mass of the forces that toppled Yanukovich? Russia and the EU both have considerable economic stakes in Ukraine as a stable thoroughfare, so as difficult as the situation certainly is, there’s plenty of weight on the side of a grand bargain. And given how corrupt Ukrainian politics is on all sides, one suspects that money will talk louder even than nationalism—though that’s never an absolutely sure bet.
North Korea’s atrocities were thrown back into the public discourse last week, after a new report by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights stirred up international outcry. The report details the extent of human rights violations currently known in the country—crimes including “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.”
In sum, the commission says, North Korea’s crimes against humanity do not “have any parallel in the contemporary world.”
The report’s release came hand-in-hand with a Gallup poll’s revelation that Americans hate North Korea more than any other country in the world. Though Kim Jong-Un is often portrayed in a childish and almost teasing manner by American media, many are realizing this seeming childishness lends itself to an extremely brutal dictatorship.
Yet figuring out the best response to the North Korean situation is a troubling question—one without a clear or compelling answer, as of yet. For the U.S., as a South Korean (Republic of Korea, or ROK) ally, diplomacy will be tricky in days to come.
North Korea’s government could hardly be more restrictive, isolated, or ruthless. Any autonomous religious activity in the country is “now almost nonexistent; government-sponsored religious groups exist to provide an illusion of religion freedom,” says the CIA. The country’s prison camps have been compared to Nazi concentration camps: according to multiple firsthand reports from defectors, prisoners are subjected to executions, starvation, and extreme torture. In a Wednesday Telegraph piece, former prison guard Ahn Myong-Chol said “more than 90 percent” of prisoners he talked to said they had no idea why they were in the camp.
“People in the camps are not treated as human beings… They are like flies that can be crushed,” Ahn told the newspaper.
National Geographic wrote a piece about the perils facing North Korean refugees in 2009. Those who cross the border without permission may be thrown into a prison labor camp for three to five years. Conspiring to reach South Korea “is considered treason, with offenders starved, tortured, and sometimes publicly executed.” Yet China refuses to honor international agreements to treat North Koreans as refugees, maintaining instead “the defectors are illegal ‘economic migrants.’” The UN’s report has already prompted some pushback from China, according to The Telegraph:
The UN panel has warned China’s government that it might be “aiding and abetting crimes against humanity” by sending migrants and defectors back to North Korea to face torture and execution. It said that Beijing had in some cases forwarded to Pyongyang “information about the contacts and conduct” of North Korean nationals, despite knowing that they would almost certainly face torture if repatriated. China has hinted that it will use its UN security council veto to prevent the International Criminal Court indicting Kim Jong-un. However, a separate ad hoc tribunal could be convened.
Additionally, the country is experiencing rampant economic disrepair. The CIA shares some of the country’s chronic problems: industrial capital stock is “nearly beyond repair,” military spending has cut off needed resources for civilians, there are chronic food shortages due to weather and collective farming practices (amongst other systemic issues), and “industrial and power output have stagnated for years at a fraction of pre-1990 levels.”
The country’s situation is incredibly tenuous—indeed, the RAND Corporation released a report last year claiming that North Korea is a “failing state. Its government could collapse in the coming months or years, causing an immense humanitarian disaster and potentially other, even more serious consequences.” Looking at a map quickly reveals why such a collapse could have major repercussions. North Korea separates South Korea from the rest of the continent. While ROK has a strong economy at present, the dissolution of North Korea would have a variety of consequences—economic and cultural, as well as political—for its southern neighbor. Read More…
It’s that time of year again: the glitz, the glamor, the gowns. Who will go home with a coveted statue, and who will go home empty-handed? This year’s Oscar-nominated films were particularly heartfelt and inspiring (or about as close as Hollywood can manage), and TAC’s culture critic Noah Millman has seen most of them. He can tell you which ones are worth watching—or rewatching:
Loosely based on the Abscam scandal, David O. Russell takes a crack at screwball dramedy, with mixed results. Millman writes: “Russell wants it both ways – he wants you to enjoy the Scorcesean roller-coaster even as at every turn he’s showing you that his real pleasure tilt-a-whirl. And it turns out you can’t quite have it both ways.”
12 Years a Slave
The film’s undiluted portrait of slavery that had audiences sobbing in the theater is nominated for Best Picture—and the two leads, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender, are nominated for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, respectively. Lupita Nyongo is also nominated for Best Supporting Actress. Millman criticized director Steve McQueen for failing to end the film on a positive note: “McQueen doesn’t give us that uplifting twist… McQueen could have shown us a determined Northrup engaged in t[he] pursuit [of his captors], vowing never to rest, and ended his movie on an ‘up’ note. He chose not to.”
The genre-bending romantic drama of a man who falls in love with his operating system is a thought-provoking tale of humans’ dependency on their machines. Millman describes the film as “…a particularly clever Pygmalion story, one that is more attuned to what a modern man might actually want in a fantasy companion, as opposed to a mere sexual fantasy.”
Millman compares Alexander Payne’s newest film to his 2002 work “About Schmidt”, a rambling, dour film about an unhappy old man: “Payne’s new movie, ‘Nebraska,’ has a lot in common with ‘About Schmidt.’ Both are set primarily in Nebraska; both deal with elderly men who feel they have missed life somehow (and associate that missing out with having married June Squibb), and who go on a quixotic road trip in a roundabout way of trying to resolve their existential dilemmas.”
Critics have raved about the gorgeous cinematography and complained about the nail-biting twists and turns this film makes. Millman offers praise for the visual component of the film. “Enormous effort has been put into getting the physics right, and that effort pays off magnificently. The film is stunningly beautiful – more than that, it is sublime (to use the Burkean distinction).”
Based on a true story of a commercial ship hijacked by Somali pirates, Millman praises director Paul Greengrass’s ability to depart from the classic thriller structure to weave a more complex narrative: “The structure he’s chosen, which takes real risks in terms of pacing, allows him to draw that straight line between Captain Phillips’s resourcefulness and the might of the U.S. Navy, while also showing what, and who, lies on the other side of that line.”
Philomena and The Wolf of Wall Street
Rod Dreher doesn’t comprehensively review these two films, but sheds very important light on the religious and moral undertones of both films, bringing their messages into stark relief. Noah Millman in his Oscar post calls Philomena ”a sweet little film, well-written and well-structured.” He gives faint praise to “The Wolf of Wall Street” but claims too much time is given to the protagonist, who, in Millman’s estimation, ”just isn’t a very interesting person.”
The Dallas Buyers Club
While TAC did not review this film, the New Yorker’s review is more than apt, and appropriately highlights Matthew McConaughey’s transformation from romantic comedy beach bum to a serious dramatic actor.
Whether saber rattling or not, word is out that the White House is “rethinking its options” on intervening in the Syrian war. The collapse of John Kerry’s Geneva II talks between the rebels and regime, the lengthening casualty lists from barrel-bomb attacks, and a death toll approaching 150,000, are apparently causing second thoughts. All the usual suspects are prodding Obama to plunge in, if not with troops, at least with a no-fly zone to prevent Bashar al-Assad from using his air power.
Our frustration is understandable. Yet it does not change the reality. This is not America’s war. Never was. As Obama said, it is “somebody else’s civil war.”
Still, the case against intervention needs to be restated. First and foremost, Obama has no authority to go to war in Syria, for Congress has never voted to authorize such a war. An unprovoked attack on Syria would be an impeachable act. Last August, the American people were almost unanimously opposed to intervention. The firestorm they created was why Congress ran away from the Obama-Kerry plan for missile strikes. So if Obama has no authority to attack Syria, and America does not want a war, why, after Iraq and Afghanistan, would Obama divide his nation and plunge his country into that civil war?
What are the arguments for intervention? Same old, same old. America has a moral obligation to end the barbarism. At the time of Rwanda we said, “Never again!” Yet it is happening again. And we have a “Responsibility to Protect” Syrians from a dictator slaughtering his own people. But while what is happening in Syria is horrible, all Middle East ethnic-civil-sectarian wars tend to unfold this way. And if there is a “moral” obligation to intervene, why does it not apply to Israel and Turkey, Syria’s nearest neighbors? Why does that moral duty not apply to the European Union, upon whose doorstep Syria sits? Why is it America’s moral obligation, 5,000 miles away? It is not. The Turks, Israelis, EU and Gulf Arabs who hate Assad would simply like for us to come and fight their war for them.
The Washington Post says we must address not only the moral “nightmare,” but also the “growing threat … to vital U.S. interests.” Exactly what “vital interests” is the Post talking about? Syria has been ruled by the Assads for 40 years. And how have our vital interests been imperiled? And if our vital interests are imperiled, how much more so are those of Israel and Turkey? Yet neither has chosen to invest the blood of their sons in bringing Assad down.
If we have an enemy in this fight, it is al-Qaeda, the al-Nusra Front, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, all of which are terrorist and implacably anti-American. And who is keeping these enemies of ours out of Damascus? Assad, Hezbollah, Iran and our old friend Vladimir Putin. And who has been supplying the terrorists? Our friends in the Gulf, with weapons funneled through Turkey, our NATO ally. Read More…
First, let me say that Corey is quite right that “the essence of the conflict” between Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine can be found in their “different orientations toward the entirety of human experience.” Furthermore, I agree with her that “most people who call themselves conservative” are actually followers of the ideologically-oriented Paine. Most conservatives “are concerned with efficiency, problem-solving, and changing the world.” Most “have qualms about technology … but we no longer resist it.” Most are willing to “give up on the rule of law as an ideal and promote policies that encourage our own favored outcomes.”
I agree with Corey’s general assessment of the current state of political conservativism. As Mark Signorelli recently commented about Corey’s piece, “We occupy a political order determined not merely by liberal ideas, but by liberal emotions.” Taking this one step further, I would say that the current political climate mirrors G.K. Chesterton’s definition of a maniac. The maniac is a “clean and well-lit prison of one idea: he is sharpened to one painful point. He is without healthy hesitation and healthy complexity.” Without the kind of hesitation that comes with concern and care for tradition and the recognition of human complexity, our public discourse plunges into the gloom of rancor, vituperation, and indifference to others’ opinions.
There is, however, a mistaken notion that Corey puts forward in addition to her review. She writes that “in most respects, and particularly in politics, it appears that Paine has won the day.” While I wholeheartedly support Corey’s conclusion that what we need is a “reorientation of the modern soul,” I fail to see how Corey’s capitulation that “Paine has won” is at all necessary or helpful.
In an effort to make her point, Corey gives the discussion over to the kind of slavish power discourse of winning that is all-too-often misappropriated today. Here, the misappropriation is blatantly apparent. What game were Burke and Paine playing? What has Paine won? Was Burke not informed about the competition? What were the rules? When did it end? Will there be a rematch?
An essential aspect of the conservative mind is the belief that society and civilization are neither competitions nor games to be won or lost. They are not contests between hostile ideas or policies or movements. In Reflections on the Revolutions in France, Burke defined society as “a partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue, and in all perfection.” The basic contours of this kind of partnership—things like justice, charity, fellowship, temperance, and patience—build a lasting civilization. Read More…
The United States has struggled to find a way to support Syrian rebels without putting American lives at risk, and President Barack Obama has repeatedly rejected proposals to shift from arms dealing to cyberwar. He’s making a prudent choice.
Instead of targeting enemy soldiers, cyberwar targets enemy infrastructure. Just as your own computer can be damaged by being infected with a virus, enemy computers can be compromised with targeted malicious software, but, instead of stealing your credit card number or wiping your hard drive, these attacks can steal battle plans and disable or even destroy weapons systems and infrastructure.
Cyberwar is a tempting option, since it keeps our boots off the ground and out of enemy airspace. One Pentagon plan would have reportedly grounded President Bashar al-Assad’s missiles, preventing him from launching airstrikes without the inconvenience of setting up a no-fly zone or a shield system.
However, the safety Obama would win for our troops abroad could be outweighed by the danger he’d expose us to on the homefront. The very remove that makes cyberwar tempting makes it more likely that, if this kind of conflict is normalized, battles will spill over into the infrastructure of our daily lives. And that’s a theater of operations we’re ill equipped to defend.
Cyberwar favors the smaller side. Developed countries have the most to lose, responsible as they are for power grids, secure databases, banking systems, etc. A digital insurgency is agile and light, with nothing to protect but its own files. Some struggling countries even have even lucked into their own defenses by lagging behind. According to the New York Times,
[Cyberattacks were] considered during the NATO attacks on Libya in the spring of 2011, but dismissed after Mr. Obama’s advisers warned him that there was no assurance they would work against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s antiquated, pre-Internet air defenses.
But this strategy is better suited to self-interested despots like Qaddafi or science fiction like Battlestar Galactica than to a modern nation. The United States will never be in a position to sacrifice prosperity and progress for security through technical regress.
Right now, the United States doesn’t just have weak cyber defenses, but, once a breach occurs, our infrastructure isn’t resilient enough to weather the damage. A recent sniper attack on a California power plant raised concern because our power grid is so delicately balanced that compromising just a few power stations, physically or electronically, would give an attacker the ability to induce a massive blackout, even worse than the one that struck the Northeast in 2003. Read More…
President Barack Obama has made it absolutely clear that he will rule by Executive Order for the remainder of his term. Republicans and independents have decried this as an unconstitutional power grab, a usurpation of authority granted by the Constitution to Congress, while Democrats are mostly too embarrassed to defend what they so strongly opposed under George W. Bush and Richard Nixon.
A conservative response should begin by observing that the U.S. Constitution is not as legally neat as the protesters suggest. While most folks focus on the uplifting sentiments of the Bill of Rights to liberty and property, the essential Constitution is all about power and how it is divided. The progressive myth of a legalistic constitution of rights is just that, a fable to cover its own view of political power. The Bill of Rights was not even part of the original document. The fundamental Constitution is outlined in its Articles, dividing power between legislative, executive, judicial, state and amendment institutions. But the boundaries between them are anything but clear.
Abraham Lincoln suspended judicial habeas corpus and controlled speech during the civil war without legal support from Congress and actual opposition from the Supreme Court. The succeeding Reconstruction Congress impeached the president for merely attempting to replace his own cabinet and when unable to convict him made his veto a nullity by strict party rule, rigged voter lists in the South, and effectively unicameralizing the Senate and House under a joint committee of Republican leaders. Andrew Jackson directly refused to implement a Supreme Court decision supporting Cherokee property rights, distaining the court to enforce its ruling if it could because he would not.
Isn’t the Supreme Court supposed to have the last word on these matters? In challenging President Bush’s attempt to replace regional U.S. Attorneys against Congressional opposition in 2006, Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman said such differences between the executive and legislature must be umpired by the courts. He and his classmates were taught in law school that “the Constitution was what the Court said it was.” Bush replied he would not allow his Attorney General to enforce a judicial contempt order even if the court issued one and that was that. More recently, President Obama announced he would not enforce federal anti-drug laws against states with marijuana legalization laws and refused to deport certain illegal immigrants. Back in 1988, Congress passed a Civil Rights Restoration Act specifically nullifying the Grove City Court decision and in 1991 passed a civil rights bill overruling five Supreme Court decisions by name.
Even with their relative decline in recent years, the states are not without redress either, as the marijuana legalization laws demonstrate. States have created constitutional amendments, laws, and attorneys general suits to circumvent national laws and opinions on marriage, abortion, racial preferences, gun restrictions, the Real ID Act, Obamacare (by more than half the states), and many others. Indeed, many federal laws and court decisions are administered by state bureaucracies that differ in their interpretation and enforcement greatly, as Alabama and Massachusetts in fact do. Amendments to the Constitution have been passed on many critical subjects over the years and on several occasions the mere threat has changed federal policy.
Taxes would seem one area where the legislature must predominate. No taxation without local representation was the principle complaint justifying the American war for independence. Today the effective imposition of taxes by creative executive regulatory interpretation—such as the recent increase in fuel emission standards—is the rule rather than the exception. Judges have required state legislatures to increase taxes to upgrade schools for minorities or to redress other presumed shortcomings for all kinds of special interest purposes. A St. Louis federal court in effect ran the local school for decades. Since the Supreme Court has ruled that the Obamacare penalties were taxes, exemptions and changed regulatory requirements are in effect taxes passed by the health and treasury secretaries alone.
President Obama is by no means the first to govern by Executive Order. Read More…