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Archive for February, 2014

George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley testified before the House Judiciary Committee this week, addressing the nonenforcement of the laws. In Turley’s words: “We are in the midst of a constitutional crisis with sweeping implications for our system of government. There has been a massive gravitational shift of authority to the Executive Branch that threatens the stability and functionality of our tripartite system.” This testimony (available here) addressed potential corrective measures. His testimony of December 3, 2013 (available here) lays out the core argument (all subsequent quotes are from the December transcript).  Nonenforcement, Turley argues, “effectively reduce[s] the legislative process to a series of options for presidential selection ranging from negation to full enforcement.”  The broader ramifications:

The current claims of executive power will outlast this president and members must consider the implications of the precedent that they are now creating through inaction and silence…. Despite the fact that I once voted for President Obama, personal admiration is no substitute for the constitutional principles at stake in this controversy. When a president claims the inherent power of both legislation and enforcement, he becomes a virtual government unto himself. He is not simply posing a danger to the constitutional system; he becomes the very danger that the Constitution was designed to avoid.

As Turley concludes (after quoting from Madison’s Federalist 51): “For decades…Congress has allowed its core authority to drain into a fourth branch of federal agencies with increasing insularity and independence. It has left Congress intact but inconsequential in some disputes. If this trend continues unabated, Congress will be left like some Maginot Line on the constitutional landscape – a sad relic of a once tripartite system of equal branches.”

Both of these transcripts are worth reading, particularly if one is concerned about the expansion of presidential powers that we have witnessed in the past few administrations.

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Our rulers, I mean. The story inspiring today’s rant is the revelation that the NSA and the UK’s GCHQ have collected millions of webcam images from ordinary Internet users, including their most private conversations.

They have no respect for our privacy, our rights, or our dignity as human beings. To agents of the state, we are just cows: good for nothing but milking, that is, mulcting.

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From the Peter Peterson Foundation:

0053_defense-comparison-full

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Assorted Links

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There was a brief moment a few years back when concerns over the size of the budget deficit were leading to some discussions of the long-term fiscal imbalances and the potentials for a grand bargain. But with last month’s budget deal, the debt is no longer on the agenda.  As Alex Seitz-Wald notes in National Journal:

While it’s easy to miss the disappearance of something, the change is glaring if you know where to look. You can see it on the House and Senate floors where, last month, Republicans uttered the word “debt” just 225 times, down from 3,188 mentions in July 2011, according to the Sunlight Foundation. You could see it in President Obama’s latest State of the Union address, which mentioned budget deficits almost two-thirds fewer times than his 2011 speech.

None of this should be a surprise, of course. Election season will soon be upon us and one can be certain that no one wants to run on the promise to cut universal entitlements and/or raise taxes when there are all those hot button issues to exploit and so many babies to kiss.  Just don’t tell the babies about the problems they will face in adulthood.

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The Risk of Civil War in Ukraine

The government and the opposition in Ukraine have begun to shoot each other, leading to 26 deaths overnight. The Ukrainian army is being mobilized, and protestors have started to storm police stations and arm themselves. Could Ukraine be facing civil war?

Several factors point to a high likelihood of civil war. The first is the existing violence. Most civil wars are preceded by low-level internal violence. On the other hand, only a minority of armed conflicts with at least 25 battle deaths eventually escalate to civil war intensity (at least 1000 battle deaths). Still, the Libyan and Syrian civil wars provide recent examples of mass protests that escalated to armed conflict and then to civil war.

The second factor suggesting high violence risk is that rebels have a geographic base in the west of Ukraine. Some reports hold forth that the Lviv region has “declared independence” from Ukraine, but this is misleading. The Lviv regional council has declared sovereignty over its territory to the exclusion of the Ukrainian central government, but it is apparently open to reconciliation if a negotiated solution can be found. Still, when rebels have support of local political authorities, they are far more capable of inflicting large-scale damages on the government, because they have access to police weapons and, even more importantly, tax revenues.

The third factor suggesting high risk of escalation is external involvement. Russian support of the Ukrainian government will diminish rebel capability, but the European Union is preparing sanctions against the Ukrainian government. It is easy to imagine that Russia would send troops to assist the Ukrainian government if necessary; it is inconceivable that NATO or individual European governments would send troops to assist the rebels. Thus, the likelihood of external involvement tells more in favor of Ukrainian government capability than rebel capability. Still, what matters for conflict escalation is not necessarily preponderance of capabilities as such, but asymmetric information about capabilities. If the Ukrainian government is wrong (or the opposition thinks they are wrong) to think that Russia will send troops, it may take a harder line than necessary to reach an agreement that the opposition could countenance – and so far this indeed seems to be happening, as from all reports Yanukovych is not taking negotiations very seriously.

Nevertheless, several factors diminish the likelihood of civil war. One of the factors diminishing the likelihood of civil war is that ideological and ethnic divisions in Ukraine, while serious, are not truly deep as in multiethnic or multireligious societies like Burma, Lebanon, and Syria or highly unequal, sharply ideologically polarized societies like Venezuela, Colombia, and Bolivia. It is extremely unlikely that any region of Ukraine will actually try to secede (save perhaps Crimea’s ethnic Russians), and no Marxist-Leninist insurgency is on the cards either.

Ukraine is a relatively well-off country, and GDP per capita is one of the strongest factors associated with civil peace. That association likely reflects something about institutional quality, rather than affluence as such. Ukraine’s institutions are fragile and contested, but not collapsed as in much of sub-Saharan Africa.

Finally, (more…)

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Jason Brennan has a nice talk on this question over at BHL. My crankier piece, “Don’t Go to Grad School,” is here.

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