Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Specter of Defection

The Republican political firmament, already roiled enough by November’s election, has gone into further convulsions after Pennsylvania’s Senator Arlen Specter’s defection to the Democratic Party this morning.

Republicans and conservatives will likely want to argue that Specter's jump is inconsequential – that Specter was so Lefty he was mostly a Democrat anyway, and that Senator Specter’s desertion just ratifies what everybody already knew. Don’t believe the happy talk this is staggering news.

First, the obvious: Assuming, as I think likely, that Al Franken finally prevails in Minnesota, the Democrats now have their 60-seat filibuster-proof majority. In actuality, they will usually have a few more than 60 seats because Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins (both Maine Republicans, at least for now), vote with Democrats on many issues.

Specter can be expected to be more liberal now that he has not got to worry about facing Republican primary challengers and keeping the Republican caucus quiet. In fact, even more than wanting to align ideology and party, Specter’s defection seems to have been occasioned by his possible loss in the Republican primary next year to Pat Toomey.
The national Republican party would have tried to help Specter retain his seat, as much as it could, but a strong primary challenge would have cost Specter a bundle, even assuming he prevailed. Now, Specter can run for re-election in a state trending strongly Democratic (the reason the national Republicans supported him) -- with the strong backing of the locally popular President of the United States.

Moreover, as a member of the majority party, and a convert whom the Democrats will want to bend over backwards to welcome, Specter will actually have legislative relevance. As a raw political calculation, Specter’s defection is quite rational, and for the moment has little downside, either to him, or to Democrats.

However, the complete Democratic dominance of the Senate carries considerable long term risk. The congressional Democrats, more than ever, have complete ownership of the consequences of Obama’s – and their own – decision making. They now have a big enough majority to have legislation pretty much their own way, and their backers will demand that they make use of this power: on spending, on foreign policy, and on, say, the question of CIA policies towards prisoners under Bush.
The Democrats will not be able to rely on Republican votes for cover, because they now have the naked power to steamroll, and all the players know it. If the Republicans pick up their toys and leave, and Obama’s plans do not work out. . .the blame will be all on Democrats, who have a long way to fall.

If the election of 2008 were not evidence enough, the loss of Specter is further proof of the utter disappearance of Republican support in the northeast. The national Republican Party (that is, the Beltway party, exemplified by new RNC Chairman Michael Steele (from Maryland) – sees this as catastrophic. Viewed another way, the Republican Party is now largely confined to the South and to the flyover plains West. The coasts and northeast are secure Democratic territory. The Beltway Republicans fear that the party will never be competitive again nationally if it cannot attract northeastern voters.

Perhaps so, but Republicans in the southern and western heartlands of the Party (who embraced Sarah Palin over the doubts of the Party establishment) just might not care. The cleavages between the parties and the regions have not developed by accident, or for trivial reasons. The two parties – and the regions of this country -- have genuine differences of opinion on almost every subject of interest, across the board.
The voters have been offered clearly different approaches to the questions facing the country, and have regionally made diametrically opposite choices. The euphoria of the mostly coastal opinion makers over Obama obscures a regional divide in this country as stark as anything seen since the Civil War. The cooler heads among Republicans may want to tack a little to the Left, and try to recover some urban and northeastern voters. The chiefs might well want to lead in this direction -- but I question whether their Indians are going to be willing to follow.
No matter where one sits politically, the ride ahead looks to be bumpy. The staggering debts our children are facing are quite sufficient reason to view the future with a good deal of apprehension. What will happen when the bills come due? I think we are all going to shortly find out whether the coasts and the rest have anything constructive left to say to each other.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Obama's Popular -- Explain It To Me

This is a request for assistance.

Obama's been President for about 100 days now, and he seems to be getting generally high marks. Real Clear Politics today talks about an interesting Gallup/USA Today poll. According to Real Clear Politics:
56% of Americans saying Obama is doing an "excellent" or "good job" as President while 20% say he is doing a "terrible" or "poor" job and 23% say the new President is doing "just OK."
From what I've seen elsewhere, this might put Obama's approval on the low side.
Explain, expound, please. As somebody who did not vote for Obama, wouldn't have even thought of voting for Obama, and who cannot at all fathom why he's popular, explain for me why he is. Mind you, i'm not trying to be mean, or snide, I sincerely don't comprehend his appeal, and will readily admit to being quite out of touch on this subject.

Bill Maher writes in the LA Times that "[t]he Republican base is behaving like a guy who just got dumped by his wife." Marc Ambinder writes in the Atlantic's blog that Obama is "almost single-handedly pulling the nation's confidence up by its tattered bootstraps." According to Mr. Ambinder "Independents remain firmly rooted in the Democratic garden. They're skittish about deficits, but they love Obama. They trust him, alone, of all the institutions of and figures in -- government."
Is this true? Are we talking about the same country?

I'm not kidding. I'd like to understand why. I'd like to hear what you think. I'm particuarly interested in hearing from independents, or people who were unsure of how to vote last time, but who are have been happy with the man so far.

Think of me as an alien arriving on planet Earth on a spaceship. Set me straight on why Obama's popular.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day, 2009

Earth Day celebrations are in full swing all over Cuidad El Jefe. Incense has been burned in front of the shrines to Holy Obama and Robot ALGORE, and a noxious methane-producing cow has been sacrificed, in support of fervent prayers for total industrial collapse.
The nuclear waste dump is glowing brightly, all the city lights are blazing, whale steak's on the grill, and I'm burning lots of coal trying to think of other ways to celebrate. Going on a special Earth Day shopping spree for regular light bulbs, fluorocarbons and air conditioner freon. Gonna go smoke some cigarettes and cigars in a densely packed public place while I think on whether I've left out anything.

San Jacinto and the Morning After

Yesterday was the 173rd anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto, the great Texas victory near what is now Houston that was the pivotal battle of the Texas Revolution. General Sam Houston’s 900 or so Texans surprised and routed Mexican President-General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna’s 1,350 Mexicans in just 18 minutes.

Despite the vanishingly small numbers engaged, San Jacinto turned out to be decisive, chiefly because, on the morning following the battle (173 years ago today) Texan scouts captured Santa Anna himself, and Texas was able to subsequently extort enough of a settlement from the captive Mexican leader to make independence stick. For Mexico, San Jacinto turned out to be the first major blow in a process that lost that country not only Texas, but its entire north – today the American west.

As a military campaign, the Mexican side of the Texas Revolution has always been of great interest to me. The 1,350 Mexican soldiers the Texans defeated at San Jacinto were only a portion of the Mexican forces available in Texas. The Mexican Navy had total control of the Gulf of Mexico and free movement up and down the Texas coast all during this period, and Santa Anna’s “Army of Operations” had almost 6,500 troops in Texas. The Texans had lost nearly 1,000 men at Goliad, in addition to the 183 killed at the Alamo (which also held most of the available Texan artillery). Houston’s 900-odd half-trained recruits with two guns were the sum total of rebel forces available. How, then, did Mexico lose this war?

Remembering the Alamo and Goliad sometimes obscures the fact that up through the fall of the Alamo, Santa Anna ran a pretty good campaign. Just getting an army from central Mexico to Texas was a massive military accomplishment before railroads and the internal combustion engine. The Mexicans had to bring their army across the northern Mexican desert and keep it in food and water, and haul along a big enough margin of supplies for operations such as the Alamo siege. (Food and fodder would normally be bought or “requisitioned” locally, but armies needed extra supplies for periods when they were largely stationary, such as a siege, when local food supplies would quickly be exhausted).

The massacre of the Alamo defenders, as well as Texan prisoners at Goliad and other places in early March probably appeared to Santa Anna to have cleared the boards as far as his campaign was concerned. The rage and fear his actions generated among Texans for a time seemed to work in his favor, as colonists packed up their possessions and fled east, in headlong flight for the US/Texas border. Clearing the majority of the Anglo colonists out of Texas (and probably replacing them with settlers from his armies) was no small part of Santa Anna’s plans to secure Texas for Mexico – which probably explains his ruthless policy towards Texan prisoners.

In retrospect, the Battle of San Jacinto was lost for Mexico before its first shot was fired, sometime between the fall of the Alamo on 6 March 1836, and San Jacinto, on 21 April, that is, during the period of the so-called “Runaway Scrape.” After the Alamo and Goliad, the last major Texan military force was Houston’s army, which hovered near Gonzales all during the Alamo siege. Upon hearing of the fall of the Alamo, Houston realized that he could not hope to meet Santa Anna’s concentrated forces in the field, and he moved his army east, towards the US border. Settlers fled too, and they were encouraged to destroy their property (particularly food) before leaving.

The US border. . .Santa Anna no doubt desired to close out his war quickly, primarily to forestall US intervention, and he moved out rapidly in pursuit of Houston. Santa Anna, in his capacity as President of Mexico, had already addressed letters to US President Jackson, warning Jackson against interference in Texas, and stating that Americans captured in arms in Texas would be treated as pirates. Santa Anna was probably aware of the personal and political connections between Jackson and Sam Houston, and he would have wanted to finish the war quickly, before the US could decide to intervene.

The Mexican military and political situation the morning after the Alamo fell was not unlike the US/UN situation in Korea in 1950, after MacArthur’s lighting reconquest of South Korea from the invading North Koreans. Much like Santa Anna in Texas, MacArthur was in a hurry to end the war with the complete conquest of North Korea before China could interfere. Consequently, MacArthur (as his armies moved into North Korea) threw prudent military planning out the window in the name of haste. Just as Santa Anna probably considered the Texans, MacArthur thought the North Koreans beaten, and his primary concern was getting his forces to the Chinese border at the Yalu to block Chinese intervention, not caring if in the process his troops got scattered all over the map. . .

For somewhat similar reasons, Santa Anna made haste for the US border, following Houston, wearing his jaded troops out with forced marches trying to bring him to battle and get on to the border. Wikipedia’s article on the Texas Revolution speculates that Sam Houston might have intended to retreat clear across the US border and possibly trigger American intervention (a US army was assembling on the border). We cannot know if Houston actually had this possibility in mind, but Santa Anna had to take it seriously, and try to catch Houston before he got there.

Whenever I drive to San Antonio, I imagine the barefoot Mexican conscripts, cheap shoes long disintegrated, marching day after day in either hot sun or torrential rains, fording swollen rivers, mainly concerned with foraging for food. The siege of the Alamo had probably consumed much of Santa Anna’s initial stockpile of supplies. The forced marches, the scorched-earth Runaway Scrape of the settlers (burning food needed by the Mexican Army), and Santa Anna’s own uncertainty as to Houston’s precise whereabouts and intentions led Santa Anna to allow his army (fairly concentrated after the Alamo) to become increasingly dispersed as the pursuit wore on. As Santa Anna closed in on the US border, near what would be the battlefield of San Jacinto, only 850 or so men were with him. The rest of his army was scattered.

Santa Anna is said to have called himself the “Napoleon of the West.” I wonder if Santa Anna knew anything about Napoleon’s Battle of Marengo in 1800? Napoleon, trying to pin down an Austrian army in northern Italy, was concerned the Austrians would slip by him, and avoid battle. Napoleon was uncertain of the Austrians’ location, and dispersed his troops to block possible routes of escape. . .but on the morning of 14 June 1800, near the village of Marengo …he stumbled into the whole “missing” Austrian army, with a only a fraction of his own forces present, and was nearly destroyed. In the event, reinforcements arrived, and Napoleon prevailed.

On his own day of surprises, Santa Anna was not as lucky as Napoleon, nor as bright. 500 last minute reinforcements, led by Santa Anna’s brother in law, General Cos, gave Santa Anna a bit of a numerical advantage, but Santa Anna squandered it by failing to post sufficient pickets. On the morning of 21 April 1836, the Texans attacked Santa Anna, surprising his force in camp, with the bulk of his army scattered behind him all over the Texas coastal plain like MacArthur’s on the Yalu when China came into the war, or Napoleon’s on the morning of Marengo.

In just eighteen minutes Houston and his Texans swept all Santa Anna’s campaign plans and greater geopolitical concerns about American intervention, Anglo colonization of Texas and a Mexican empire in the west right into the dust bin. The next morning, 22 April 1836, Texan scouts found Santa Anna near a burned bridge, hiding in tall grass, having doffed his splendid uniform for that of an infantry private. Mexico would now have its cup of bitterness filled to the dregs, and the captive President-General would soon put his name to the Treaties of Velasco, which gave Texas a viable legal claim to independence.

More battles, a cold war and a much bigger hot war with the US in 1846 would follow, but for Mexico, San Jacinto, was the real disaster that lost an empire.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Waterboarded 183 Times? That's Not Enough

Reuters reports today that CIA interrogators used "waterboarding" 183 times during interrogations of Mr. Khalid Sheik Mohammed, "admitted planner of the September 11 attacks."
As a point of information for the unconscious, the "September 11 attacks" refer to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States that killed 2,998 people (mostly civilians) (not including 19 scumbags), and wounded over 6,000 others.
I wonder how many of Mr. Khalid Sheik Mohammed's victims (or their families) would have given all that they possessed to have been waterboarded 183 times, if it meant that they (or their loved-one) could go on living?
I find it insane and morally reprehensible that Mr. Khalid Sheik Mohammed and his friends are allowed to go on living for even one more hour, being coddled at Guantanamo or whatever caves they're being kept in.
I find it obscene that the interrogators have not daily and hourly been squeezing Mr. Khalid Sheik Mohammed like a fruit, till beyond juiced, giving him a lot worse than waterboarding.
I find it incomprehensible that Mr. Khalid Sheik Mohammed might even be afforded the dignity of a trial, rather than just giving him a drumhead court-martial and a shot in the back of the head in a ditch someplace; with his sorry carcass being tossed on the nearest rubbish-heap, and whoever whelped this beyond depraved pirate being billed for the bullet.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Texas and Secession: Brief Introduction to Legal Issues

There has been a lot of talk these past several days about Texas secession in the news, and since this topic is interesting to me, here is a brief introduction to some of the legal and historical issues surrounding the question of Texas secession, with some links to pertinent documents. The opinions herein, are of course my own.
Rasmussen has a poll out which might be some comfort to those thinking that they’re cooler heads and that secession is a lame-brained idea. According to Rasmussen:

Thirty-one percent (31%) of Texas voters say that their state has the right to secede from the United States and form an independent country.

However, the latest Rasmussen Reports poll in the state finds that if the matter was put to a vote, it wouldn’t even be close. Three-fourths (75%) of Lone Star State voters would opt to remain in the United States. Only 18% would vote to secede, and seven percent (7%) are not sure what they'd choose.

That would seem to settle the issue pretty definitively, unless one considers the context. We’re being told that 31 percent of the Texas population thinks that Texas has the right to leave if it wants, and 18 percent would actually do it in circumstances where there has been no organized agitation for secession, and no political party or faction pushing for it. How would these numbers look if there was a serious independence movement here, and not a few cranks?
Other commentators opine that the Civil War settled the issue, and the crushing of the Confederacy establishes that Texas, or other states, have no right to secede. Poppycock. The war had nothing to do with settling the existence or non-existence of a legal or moral right for a state to leave the US. For that matter, neither did Texas v. White, 74 U.S. 700 (1869), the Supreme Court case (the majority opinion written by Lincoln's former Treasury Secretary, Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase) that purported to settle it later.
The right to secede is a political question, inherent in the concept of government by consent of those governed, and the right of people to determine their own governing institutions. The states pre-dated the Federal government, their citizens delegated power to it, and can resume it. Texans have as much of a moral and legal right to secede from the US as the colonies did to leave Great Britain.
The only real questions are whether they want to do so badly enough, and then have the power to make it good. If, say, Vermont (which actually has some kind of secessionist movement, unlike Texas) someday votes to pull itself out of the Union, I cannot imagine that Americans would actually, in the modern world, tell Vermonters they had to stay in a union they didn't want to remain a part of, much less use force to make them do so.
On the other side of the coin, there has been some loose talk about an urban legend that claims that the US Congress’s Joint Resolution, and the Texas Convention's Ordinance of Annexation, bringing Texas into the United States in 1845 reserved Texas the right to secede later. This is completely mistaken.

Texas rejected a treaty of annexation. Bringing Texas into the United States was accomplished by a Joint Resolution of the US Congress, and an Ordinance of a special convention in Texas. Neither the US Joint Resolution, nor the Texas Ordinance, address the issue of secession at all. Texas did reserve the apparent right to divide itself into other states, which has been proposed at various times, and which would today probably produce a bunch more Republican Senators, and possibly a couple of Democrats.
Provision for division was made, but inclusion of specific language on secession in either the US or Texas documents would have surely killed US support for annexation. Southerners and others supporting the admission of Texas to the US would never have called into question for their own states a right they maintained was already inherent in statehood by giving it specifically to Texas. When Texas left the United States in early 1861, it did so by means of another State convention and another Ordinance (later approved by the voters) that simply repealed the Texas Ordinance of Annexation of 1845.
Further, I'm not sure the mechanisms allowing Texas to divide itself into more states are worth the paper they’re written on – considered as either statutory law or as some sort of treaty, the analysis is the same. In the United States, both treaties and statutes can be changed and modified by subsequent Congressional legislation. This is true of treaties even if the change amounts to a “violation” of the treaty. Even assuming Texas had some kind of "treaty" allowing it to divide itself, the international position of the US on such a treaty is a political matter, to be resolved between sovereign governments. Texas, unless it secedes and makes it stick, is not sovereign. As far as American law is concerned, the last action in time controls. Congress could quite legally pass a statute and tell Texas it could NEVER split – at least if it split within the union.
Reconstruction muddied all these murky waters still further. Under the Union theory of the law (Lincoln's specifically) Texas and the other Confederate States never left the Union, they simply got themselves out of proper relations with it. Therefore, the provisions allowing Texas to divide might still be operative, if no subsequent statute changed them.
This would be the case even under Congressional reconstruction, which, unintentionally, implicitly acknowledged the validity of secession by treating the former Confederate States as "conquered provinces” and later making them go through a process of re-admission to the Union. However, Congress insisted on one further wrinkle – before Texas could re-enter the Union -- it was forced to produce yet another Ordinance, by yet another convention (15 March 1866), declaring secession in 1861 null and void, and renouncing the right in future.

The 1866 Ordinance is really no impediment to secession either, since a further convention could simply repeal this Ordinance also -- just as the 1861 convention repealed the Ordinance of Annexation. Probably none of this will ever happen, but the right of the people of a state to resort to secession is implicit in the entire concept of republican institutions, ordered liberty, and self-government. Whether secession can be successful is more a question of popular will and raw power than it is of law.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Which End is Up Now?

Yet another among the many reasons for El Jefe's relative silence of late is the rapid and increasingly disorienting change in the political and economic landscape. The ground is shifting in strange, unprecedented ways almost hourly.
Yesterday the Governor of Texas said that Texas could secede if it wanted -- and my sense is that a not insignificant percentage of Texans think they would be happy to see this happen. This came only a day after Governor Perry endorsed a State Sovereignty resolution pending in the Texas House of Representatives that proclaims that the 10th Amendment:
. . .assures that we, the people of the United States of America and each sovereign state in the Union of States, now have, and have always had, rights the federal government may not usurp. . .
The draft resolution, (citing the 10th Amendment) goes on to demand that:

. . .the federal government, as our agent. . .cease and desist, effective immediately, mandates that are beyond the scope of these constitutionally delegated powers. . .

Read the whole thing. The draft resolution appears toothless, but the fact that it is being considered at all tells us that we are now in a different world than only a year ago. How much stranger will things get, as the implications of US national bankruptcy begin to be understood? (I think yesterday's Tea Parties were less about our already high taxes than about the well-founded fear of our spending ourselves and our children into bankruptcy). Will we come together as in the 1930's? Or will the crowd head for any exit it can find, like a theater audience leaving a bad show?
"May you live in interesting times," the Chinese curse goes. Ours would certainly seem to fill that bill. Gives me the heebie-jeebies.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Kathy Ireland

Kathy Ireland, former Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, has a weight problem?
The purveyors of such vicious and noxious propaganda should be locked up, in the deepest dungeons of the Kingdom, at once!
El Jefe still thinks Kathy Ireland is one of the most beautiful women God ever unbagged.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Obama Discovers a New Language

The President, during a NATO press-conference yesterday, referred to the language of Austria as "Austrian," a malapropism that would have left 19th and 20th Century European statesmen and historians absolutely speechless. (video here)
We skeptics are endless assured that our Columbia University and Harvard Law School educated President knows better about everything. No doubt he does, but possibly Obama was too busy studying community organizing to pay much attention to central European history, and all that boring Großdeutschland/Kleindeutschland, Otto von Bismarck, Anschluss Österreichs, World War I, World War II stuff. Possibly I'm nitpicking just a bit (Hell, I admit it), but the man who discovered the "Austrian" language is clearly just the fellow to get us on better terms with Europe, eh?
Maybe I should give the fellow a break. Certainly, the press is -- James Fallows writes in his blog at The Atlantic:
He [Obama] also appeared to refer to the language of Austria as "Austrian," thus: "I don't know how you say it in Austrian, but we call it wheeling-dealing." If this had been GW Bush, it would have been taken as an obvious gaffe, as in his calling the residents of Greece "Grecians." Here you can't be sure whether it's a plain error or a knowing casualism, as in saying that Australians speak "Australian" -- eg, in the ad that says, "Foster's: Australian for 'beer.' "
Now folks, that's true journalistic skill. Admit a double standard, and make it positively sound rational, and do it in a tres gentil way. Yes, you silly unwashed rubes, the Great One may have slipped, but he's the Man of Hope. Now if Bush had talked about some Austrian language, you can bet your last Euro that Fallows is right and the journos would have jumped all over Bush like the Gestapo did to Austrians who didn't vote Ja on the Anschluss. But times have changed, and the Eurolefties that run things across the pond, Obama's spiritual brothers, are likely to declare Austrian a language if it would make the Sainted One look good.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Still Here. . .

As is painfully obvious, El Jefe just hasn't felt much like posting lately, and is still sort of sulking on his estates., I rather think I'm still in mourning over the election.
I can barely stand to turn on the television or the radio, and when the Chosen One comes on, I usually opt to save my blood pressure and immediately turn the channel. I've been reading a lot, mostly history, hanging out in the country as often as I can get there, and working. Facebook's interesting too -- have recently gotten onto that and reconnected with lots of folks.
Anyway, I miss blogging, and hope to feel up to the work, soon.