Another War of Jenkins' Ear

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Posts Tagged ‘Constitution

Is the Bloc Québécois About To Fall?

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Via Matt Yglesias, stunning news from North America’s frigid third:

Jack Layton is riding high after a pair of polls show the NDP overtaking the Bloc Québécois – a change that would mark a huge transformation of the political landscape if it carried through to election day and was transformed into seats in the House of Commons.

CROP survey published Thursday in the Montreal newspaper La Presse suggests the NDP is the preferred choice for 36 per cent of Quebeckers, compared to 31 per cent for the Bloc. The Tories were at 17 per cent in that poll and the Liberals were at 13 per cent.

And an EKOS Research surveyconducted for the internet news outlet iPolitics suggests that the New Democrats have jumped 10 percentage points since just before last weeks’ leaders debates to 31.1 per cent while the Bloc has dropped to 23.7 per cent.

Meanwhile, a Nanos Research pollconducted for The Globe and Mail suggests that Mr. Layton’s New Democrats are closing in on the Liberals for second place in popular support across the country.

It wasn’t inevitable that this was going to happen now, but this was inevitable sooner or later. The Bloc is in essence a vanity party: a vote for them and secession means that you as a voter literally do not care about any other issue, just secession. And given the past 5 years globally, as well as continuous effects of a conservative governing coalition, at some point it was bound to happen that  people would vote their economic and social interests over a pure protest vote.

As I noted in my previous, lengthy post, Quebec at one point was the heart of the left in Canada. These polls indicate it might be happening again. The NDP is really center left (the liberals are left) but this literally could change everything: if the Bloc loses, then the NDP could have a governing coalition like the left used to.

What makes this really interesting, of course, is that it was the Bloc siding against Harper’s government in a no confidence vote that made this election possible.


What is War? Part I

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Harvard Law Professor Mark Tushnet posits a theory of what “war” legally is, regarding the UN Security Council:

What we need to know is what constitutes a “War” within the meaning of the “declare War” clause. In the framing era what distinguished “wars” from other forms of international interactions was the jus ad bellum. And, under that law, the distinguishing characteristic of a “war” was that it opened up the nation to lawful retaliation, giving the target nation a lawful privilege to kill U.S. soldiers. The Security Council’s resolution means that Libya cannot lawfully – that is, within the bounds of the jus ad bellum – retaliate against those who use force against it. It follows that the U.S. action is not a “War” within the meaning of the “declare War” clause. (Note that there might be a functional justification for this international-law oriented definition of “War” for domestic constitutional purposes: Lawful retaliation, including the privilege to kill U.S. soldiers, is probably the most serious kind of interaction that a U.S. action can open the nation to, so requiring congressional involvement makes functional sense. But my argument doesn’t rely heavily on the functional argument.)

The key point in this argument is that a Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force deprives the target nation of the right to retaliate. I can’t cite sources saying that, but it seems to me a sensible construction of the relation between the UN’s regulation of the use of force in international relations and the jus ad bellum. A couple of implications of this line of argument should be noted. Libya might not be privileged in killing U.S. soldiers, but (or “and”) it would still be bound by jus in bellum principles. More important for domestic constitutional purposes, the argument implies that a Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force relieves a U.S. President of any obligation to obtain congressional authorization for actions taken pursuant to such a resolution. So, for example, the first President Bush would not have needed, as a constitutional matter, congressional authorization to use U.S. forces in the operation aimed at expelling Iraq from Kuwait.

This is consistent with a number of sources.

Conrad Harper, Legal Advisor to the Clinton Administration’s Department of State, said in 1994 that there are not only peacekeeping operations carried out with the consent of the state, but also “peace enforcement” to enforce Article VII. Unsaid but clearly implied is that this is not war:

It is, of course, useful in general policy discussions to have a common understanding of the meaning of various terms used. In this area, we use the term “peacekeeping” to refer to operations carried out with the consent of the states or other significant parties involved.

These are traditionally noncombat operations — except for the purpose of self-defense — and are normally undertaken to monitor and facilitate implementation of an existing truce arrangement and in support of diplomatic efforts to achieve a political settlement of the dispute.

We use the term “peace enforcement” to refer to operations involving the use or threat of force to preserve, maintain, or restore international peace and security or to deal with breaches of the peace or acts of aggression. These operations are authorized by the Security Council under section 7 of the Charter and do not require the consent of the states or other parties involved. We use the term “peace operations” to refer to the entire scope of peacekeeping and peace enforcement activities.

Harper continued, giving a broad framework of what law would be relevant to US participation in UN actions:

Fourth, you asked whether tnere is an adequate legal framework [sic] to determine what the role of United States military forces will be in future United Nations peace operations. Our answer is that there is an adequate legal framework in the United Nations Charter, the relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions, the United States Constitution, the Foreign Assistance Act, and the United Nations Participation Act.

Harper also indicated that peace operations should be conducted consistent with the reporting requirements of the War Powers Act.

Additionally, the 1945 Congress, as I have previously noted, defined UN Security Council actions not as legal war but as “action for the preservation of the peace and for preventing war.”:

Preventive or enforcement action by these forces upon the order of the Security Council would not be an act of war but would be international action for the preservation of the peace and for the purpose of preventing war. Consequently, the provisions of the Charter do not affect the exclusive power of the Congress to declare war.

“The committee feels that a reservation or other congressional action such as that referred to above would also violate the spirit of the United States constitution under which the President has well-established power and obligations to use our armed forces without specific approval of Congress.”

Robert Turner found a historically specific meaning of the phrase declare war. His testimony here, also from 1994, hews closely to my own thinking:

In my testimony, I note that there has been a great deal of debate on what the “declare war” clause means by focusing on the meaning of the word “war.” I think a more useiul approach is to look at the words “declare war” which were, in fact, a term of art in international law when the phrase was embraced for our Constitution.

I provided quotes from people like Gentili, Grotius, Vattel, Burlamaqui, and other prominent international lawyers who were widely read by the Founding Fathers to show that, in fact, historically, even from Greek and Roman times, declarations of war have been associated with aggressive or offensive hostilities and not with defense.

It is sometimes said that the power of Congress [sic] to declare war has been weakened because of “imperial” Presidents. I would argue that a better explanation is that we have given up our right to engage in aggressive war, first through the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 and, more recently, through article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter.

When Congress approved the United Nations Participation Act in 1945, both houses included identical language in their reports which said that:

Preventive or enforcement action by these forces upon the order of the Security Council would not be an act of war. . . . Consequently, the provisions of the Charter do not aflect the exclusive power of the Congress to declare war.

It went on to say:

… a reservation or other congressional action . . . would violate the spirit of the . . . Constitution under which the President has well-established powers to use our armed forces without specific approval of Congress.

They were talking, of course, about article 43 agreements; but the fundamental question of, “Is the use of force under the author-
ity of the Security Council an act of war” would seem to be the same.

Although I conclude that the President is not legally required to obtain the approval of Congress for operations sucn as those in So-
malia and Haiti; as a matter of wise policy and prudence, I strongly believe it is a good idea for the President both to consult care-
fully with Congress and to get Congress formally on board, if Congress will behave responsibly.

I would add that Turner is not exactly a John Yoo clone.

Lastly, it’s worth looking at the history of the war powers clause in the constitution; the original phrase was that Congress had the power to “make war.” This was then replaced with the power to “declare war.” At the very, very least, this means that either the definition of war or the definition of “declare war” is relevant in determining the line between Congress and the executive.


Up next: I compare this Constitutional “crisis” [roll eyes] with the last Constitutional crisis regarding Tripoli under Thomas Jefferson.

Written by John Whitehouse

March 29, 2011 at 9:34 am

What’s the Deal With The Bloc Québécois?

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This week, the Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party Canadian government was voted down on a no confidence vote, and there will be an election in May. This is a good summary of the timeline that led to this specific event happening.

I was going to write a post on why Canada seems to have doomed itself to minority governments, but most of what I wanted to discuss kept coming back to the great “enigma” of Canadian politics: the rise of the Bloc Québécois over the past 20 years as a political force that has no interest in governing and is too toxic to be part of any coalition. I’m also roughly interested in the antipathy of Liberals from making a coalition with the farther left party, the New Democrat Party, but that seems like typical center-left and left squabbling that we see here in America on a daily basis. So I’ll leave that for others (eg:

Quebec in Blocks

I. Background

The Bloc Québécois has been accused of being on the right, on the left, and able to work with both sides. But the Bloc was only founded 20 years ago – and the Canadian Constitution Act was less than 30 years ago. Quebec did not ratify that Constitution, the only province not to do so; but the Canadian Supreme Court held Quebec was still bound by it. The previous Constitutional arrangement had allowed limited guaranteed bilingualism, but the roots of the nationalism are different: in Quebec, there is no extensive history of national Canadian institutions that we take for granted here in the states or even in elsewhere in Canada. In the 1960s, the sovereignty movement began to gain steam, but this had been simmering under the surface for quite a while.

There have been two major attempts since 1982 to remedy the Quebec issue constitutionally, both of which failed: the Meech Lake Accord in 1987 and the Charlottetown Accord of 1992. Arguably, both failed because the split within Canadian society on the proper role of Quebec was irresolvable; in fact the Charlotteown Accord was opposed both by Quebec politicians who wanted nothing short of independence and by westerners who did not want Quebec to be recognized as a “distinct society” within Canada.

The Bloc Québécois had not existed prior to then. This was in part because Rene Levesque, the founder of the political party that would become Parti Québécois, did not favor running pro-sovereigntists in national elections.  (Parti Québécois is a Quebec level sovereignty party that is technically separate from Bloc Québécois). One notable exception to this general rule, Roch La Salle, was an independent, but willing to be a member of government – something the Bloc refuses to do.

The Bloc Québécois first ran in national elections in 1993. They only run candidates in Quebec, and have run for 75 seats in Quebec in every national election since then. This is a chart of their seats won and percentage of the popular vote in Canada and Quebec in elections since their inception:

Election Seats won % of popular vote (Canada) % of popular vote (Quebec)
1993 54 13.5% 49.3%
1997 44 10.7% 37.9%
2000 38 10.7% 39.9%
2004 54 12.4% 48.9%
2006 51 10.5% 42.1%
2008 49 10.0% 38.1%

There are four last events to review. In 1995, a Quebec referendum narrowly rejected negotiating independence, by 50.6% to 49.4%. A separatist leader blamed it on “money and the ethnic vote” but indigenous and English speaking populations are part of Quebec with the right to vote. In 1998, the Supreme Court of Canada held that there was no unilateral right to secede, but if a province expressed a “clear will” to secede, the government would have to enter negotiations. And then in 1999, the government passed the Clarity Act, establishing what that clear will would have to be: essentially some sort of supermajority, the question of which was approved prior to the referendum by Parliament; the negotiations also would have to include all provinces and indigenous groups. Additionally, the House of Commons could overrule any such vote if they feel the result was not clear.

This has made secession such a high bar that practically speaking it is impossible – there are too many English and other enclaves within Quebec for that bar to be cleared.

Lastly, in 2006, Stephen Harper introduced a resolution on the matter to declare Quebec “a nation within a united Canada”:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper had introduced the surprise motion on Nov. 22, raising the ante on a Bloc Québécois motion that sought to declare Quebecers a nation without reference to Canada. The motion states: “That this House recognize that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada.” The prime minister has said he is using the word nation in a “cultural-sociological” rather than in a legal sense. “I think tonight was an historic night,” Harper said after the vote. “Canadians across the country said ‘yes’ to Quebec, ‘yes’ to Quebecers, and Quebecers said ‘yes’ to Canada.”In politics you take risks — that’s what we did — but national unity, national reconciliation are more important than any one party or than any one individual.”

But why is the Bloc still around? It was not intended to be a permanent party – it was meant to be a temporary party. The current leader of the Bloc, Gilles Duceppe, has given a justification that sounds rather weak – in this 2010 speech he takes it as a given that since Quebec has been declared a nation that it ipso facto should be independent, nothing a few policy disagreements with the Canadian government, but really, not nearly much at all.

In the party’s early days, Mr. Bouchard had worried that the separatist contingent in Ottawa could become a sort of “insurance policy” for skittish Quebecers: They could safely cast a vote for a sovereigntist party without any danger of it actually leading to a referendum.

Mr. Duceppe said that has not occurred, and in fact the House of Commons has become a training ground for the future leaders of an independent Quebec. “I have learned in Ottawa what it means to have a country,” he said. “When the word Canada is mentioned, all MPs from all the Canadian parties, left, right, NDP, Reform, Tories, Liberals, they all rise together. And I admire that. That is strength.” On a more concrete level, Quebec politicians have gained experience in fields not present in the provincial legislature. “Quebec experience in foreign affairs is very limited. It happens in Ottawa,” he said. “Defence happens in Ottawa. We are learning things, for sure.”

Duceppe seems to be lowering the bar for success, saying politics can change on a dime and that the Bloc is not monsters:

Mr. Duceppe is more optimistic, taking comfort from the fact that the political winds can shift suddenly. “I think the need [for sovereignty] is greater now than in 1990,” he said. When he entered politics and became the first person elected under the Bloc banner, there was still a move to have Quebec sign the Constitution. The Charlottetown accord, opposed as insufficient by the Bloc, was defeated in a 1992 referendum. Now, Mr. Duceppe said, the only options for Quebecers are the status quo or separation. “Federalists tell us there is no longer a project for renewal. The fruit is not ripe, the land is not fertile. It’s impossible to change the Canadian Constitution. That is clear. Take it or leave it.”

His lengthy presence on the federal scene, with his strong performances in English-language leaders’ debates, have earned him the grudging respect of many in the rest of Canada. When he is on holiday outside the country, he said, he is often approached by English-Canadians asking to be photographed with him. “I am proud that in the rest of Canada we have shown that sovereigntists are not crazies, not extremists,” he said. “We don’t eat babies for breakfast.”

This is all well and good, but it’s not very persuasive. In this speech he conceded the current alignment just entrenches the Conservative Party in power, but in a minority government.

II: Implications

So what we’re left with is that the Bloc Québécois isn’t a majority party even in Quebec – they just split the vote between liberals and conservatives and are a plurality group themselves with majority representation.  And even by their own words, most of what they disagree with from Canada is policy oriented (it’s certainly no more a disconnect than indigenous groups), and that they are their own nation.

This assessment gives three main reasons for Quebec independence: that economic development within Canada is unequal, that Canada does not consider itself a multinational state, and that Quebec cannot chose its legal status. The first can be remedied through existing political processes. The second could arguably be remedied by the 2006 resolution. By the latter, it is meant that Quebec alone cannot amend or negotiate to its satisfaction the legal process. But they still cannot generate a sufficient popular support to even govern Quebec at the provincial level, and yet they refuse to negotiate or compromise on their demands. And there’s no way they can be part of a coalition – they want to secede. That’s toxic for either party.

There are 308 seats in the House of Commons in Canada. If you give the Bloc 37 seats (one less than their lowest number ever) it mean that any other party would need to win 155 seats out of 271 to have a majority – and that’s a robust 57%. The Conservatives are the only party with enough appeal to approach that number, but in order to do so need to win districts that are extreme long shots. There’s a sort of resignation within this article of Stephen Harper making that sort of appeal.

So the residual (but not overly wide even within Quebec) desire for independence is inevitably going to lead to chronic government instability.

On the other hand, this sort of vanity project – committing an entire region to not being part of government – is going to be less and less important the more important national deliberations become. It’s at the point where demands of the Bloc are ignored because the Bloc demands them, even if Quebec federalists agree with them on the matter.

In essence, the Bloc has had just enough success to stay in existence and make all of Canadian politics completely fragile, but just enough failure to make this a Don Quixote type exercise for them. In this day and age issues are increasingly global, not local. Anne-Marie Slaughter has done some impressive research on this. The key decisions being made regarding the financial crisis are probably at the Basel Convention. Quebec trying to insulate itself and sacrificing political capital to do so is political madness.

There are defenses of the Bloc’s existence, but they tend to be that the Bloc is still relatively popular – and they are! But there’s no clear path to achieving their goals. Indeed, as time goes on, they’ve lost power and decisions. Even if they achieve another referendum, the House of Commons has complete control over what is on the referendum and what to do afterwards; and there’s still not nearly enough support in Quebec to get the supermajority of support that would be necessary to trigger negotiations.

And so Canada is left with an unstable system; Quebec is left with negotiating completely from weakness, since their representatives are toxic; it is meant to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In the end, I don’t see this stalemate changing unless there is an abrubt change in circumstances; if it was not brought on by the financial crisis, it’s hard to say what would bring it on. But there’s two forces pushing towards a stalemate: the Bloc reduces Quebec’s power, increasing marginally desire for independence; on the other side, integration leads towards acceptance. (As well as blaming the Bloc for being relatively powerless.).

In short, I feel for my Canadian friends. They’re sort of doomed to political instability.

III. Broader Context

But the bright side for my Canadian friends is that Quebec can do this because the stakes are so low. If Stephen Harper ran Canada off the rails like George W. Bush did America, I doubt that the Bloc would get as many votes as they do in the present. Voting for Quebec sovereignty is important for a plurality of people in the province, but they also have single-payer health care, gay marriage and a reasonable foreign policy all things considered:things Americans mostly dream of. So the left can let Harper fool around – if he tries to take away anything they consider core to their existence, they can vote otherwise.

So we’re left with two political standards: achievements and stability. American is remarkably stable but achieving even small things is deathly difficult. Canada has little political stability but a great many political achievements.  (If anyone in Canada wants to dispute this, name a policy problem in Canada that the government could solve that is not worse in America. That can’t be a long list.)

I’m not going to trade my citizenship, but I do have a little Canadian envy of that.

That is, red with envy; not blue.

Image from here, used under a Creative Commons License.

What Congressional Authorization Requires: A Response to Adam Serwer

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Adam Serwer on war powers:

As someone who thinks American leaders should start fewer wars and be more judicious about which wars the U.S. does choose to fight, I’m fan of requiring Congressional authorization for military actions that aren’t explicitly acts of self defense and have as much clear lead time as this one did. Even if it doesn’t end up reducing military intervention overall, it might force future presidents to think more critically about the use of force.

Except that there’s no evidence requiring Congressional authorization in practice means that presidents think more critically about the use of force. In practice, given the Iraq War and the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, it just gives the President an incentive to scare the living hell out of Congress and the American people. When that’s done, even usually sane people have a tendency to give in, for a great many psychological reasons that I don’t want to get into. But safe to say there’s good, smart people who wrongly got caught up in the Iraq war hype. And Vietnam hype.

I fully agree we ought to want the President “think more critically” about the use of force, but Congressional authorization seems to be a poor way to do it.

That does leave the question of how can we enforce this norm: one drastic way would be to abolish the 22nd Amendment. When Presidents know they have to face re-election again, they might be more concerned with long range effects. But this is highly unlikely and unwise for a great many reasons. It’s justifiably off the table.

Option two would be to elect a better Congress; that’s slightly more possible, but put a first rate fear monger in the White House and he or she would get his or her war unless it was completely ridiculous (and if we’re at the completely ridiculous phase, like President Palin wanting to invade Russia, I don’t think a norm to go to Congress is going to be the key element).

A third option would be to actually pay attention to this in Presidential elections. This is pretty convincing; What we’re seeing now is Andrew Sullivan for one not realizing what Obama being advised by Samantha Power actually meant despite Power’s article on Rwanda in the Sullivan’s own magazine. We spent the better part of a year weeding Hillary from Obama based on minuscule differences on their health care plans when Congress (read: Ben Nelson and Max Baucus) had the final say in the matter. By contrast, because of a hyper sensitive and gaffe oriented media, the closest we got to a debate on intervention on foreign policy was chest beating on Iraq, nuclear weapons use in Afghanistan, and meeting with dictators. Well, Obama (and McCain for that matter) both met with Gaddafi. And here we are.

Now, to get all constructivist on the matter:

Essentially, the Constitution is a set of norms we want judges to enforce in part, and we the public enforce in part. There’s no judge in the country who would get away with trying to stop the planes in midair; hell, look at the Korematsu decision; courts refused to opine militarily on matters that were clearly unconstitutional and already over because of national security.

If we want different war powers, we have to make that change ourselves.

UPDATE: Why DO we want Congressional authorization sooner or later? So we don’t put the military in an untenable position of choosing between the people and someone elected who is now wildly unpopular. I just don’t think a Congressional authorization meets this particular goal; there are reasons all military actions should be authorized eventually, if not prior to the action itself.

Bottom line: take this as  my musings on prior Congressional authorization. Obviously, if one does not have any forever, there are certain larger problems that emerge. (I think the context was clear in Adam’s original post, and my excise took that context away).

Written by John Whitehouse

March 23, 2011 at 2:30 pm

What the Guatemalan Constitutional Crisis Tells Us All

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When I said in my last post that the Constitution is not a suicide pact, this is a great example of what I mean practically. The following example follows the letter of the law while completely rendering meaningless the spirit:

A court official says Guatemala’s first lady is ending her eight-year marriage so she can seek to succeed her husband as president.

Guatemala’s constitution prohibits members of a president’s extended family from running for the presidency.

Judiciary spokesman Edwin Escobar says divorce proceedings began Monday between Sandra Torres de Colom and President Alvaro Colom, who cannot run for re-election.

If both parties agree, the divorce could be final in about a month.

Torres announced March 8 that she will be the presidential candidate of the governing National Unity for Hope party in the September election.

This follows the text but it renders that same text utterly meaningless. A pro-forma divorce in practice cannot be enough to satisfy a requirement to prevent corruption and nepotism.

A better court ruling would be that since the first lady is only divorcing for the purpose of running, that the law should still apply. This would not follow the letter of the law but would likely be better law because it would be a better hedge against corruption. Note that this isn’t about strict intentionalism or adherance to the text, but rather a value judgment. If that makes me a legal realist, so be it.

Does this approach to law decrease predictability? Yes. But it also increases trust in the system since what we’re seeing in the current situation is people make an en run around the law.

That’s not directly comparable to Libya (I imagine my critics would say I am the one making an end run around the Constitution) but it does explain how we should think of the law: we should look to purpose and functionality and worry less about strict constructionism or intentionalism.

This is why I am a liberal: we need a flexiblr government able to respond to a great many type of issues, domestic or international.

Written by John Whitehouse

March 21, 2011 at 11:31 pm

Salon’s Michael Lind Makes the Case for Healthcare Being Unconstitutional

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In an up and down hit piece on me, here, Michael Lind goes off the rails at the end:

The Constitution cannot be amended by statute. It cannot be amended by treaty. It cannot be amended by precedent. It cannot be amended by public opinion poll. It cannot be amended by election result. It cannot be amended by humanitarian pity. The U.S. Constitution can only be amended by the procedures set forth in Article V of the Constitution itself.

We use precedent and practice to interpret the Constitution all the time. That’s the entirety of good commerce clause jurisprudence, (unless unbeknownst to me you Michael Lind are a Lochner truther.)  This is, essentially, the only goal of constitutional lawyers: They take various possible interpretations and argue which is the best, using the plain text, arguments from context, history, and state practice. Ronald Dworkin’s writings on interpretation are persuasive in this regard: we need to find the best constructive interpretation, not the originalist one or the plainest text one. That’s why we have government – not as an academic argument about whether actions comply or not, but to actually govern the country. The Constitution is not a suicide pact, we need to think about it dynamically.

Again, maybe I’m wrong on whether this is Constitutional, but I’m confident my approach to thinking about lawmaking is right.

Lind also says:

But suppose that the UNPA had been worded differently, and had sought to empower the president to wage war without prior congressional authorization, as long as the U.N. Security Council approved. In that case, the UNPA would have been unconstitutional from the beginning. Even if it wants to, Congress cannot, by statute, amend the Constitution.

In this case, there is sufficient historical evidence that the members of Congress in 1945 and since by all available evidence had a different definition of war than Michael Lind does. Thus they were not amending the Constitution but merely clarifying it. Maybe they were and are wrong, but we should fully discuss what is the best interpretation based on the text, state interests, etc. and not just say “TEH CONSTITUTION SAYS WAR SO YOU ARE A SOPHIST.”

By the way, I’m not responding to most the first half of Lind’s article because I did so here, in response to Charlie Savage.

But basically, Lind’s argument boils down to this: If Congress knowingly authorized the letters UN to be painted on the Tomahawks, using them would be constitutional, even if it did not approve or have any prior knowledge of the Libyan resolution. This is patently absurd and a bad rule in regards to the original Congressional intent – that case, Congress has no less knowledge of what is going on.

Additionally, as Jack Goldsmith notes, the OLC has long interpreted strengthening the UN as a vital US interest, so protecting it can be justified on that level as well. I’m surprised someone on the left wouldn’t agree.

Also, I feel compelled to respond to the dumbest set of analogies I’ve ever seen:

Suppose that Congress were to pass four laws — one giving the IMF the power to borrow money on the credit of the United States; one delegating the power to negotiate U.S. trade treaties to the World Bank; a third giving the Organization of American States the authority to establish U.S. laws of citizenship and naturalization; and a fourth delegating the power to make bankruptcy law to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. All four of those laws would be null and void, because Congress is not permitted to give its constitutional powers to another branch of the U.S. government or to foreign governmental or non-governmental entities.

None of these apply in the slightest. Of course they would be unconstitutional. The issue here is a clear separation of powers issue, all four here are issues of government sovereignty. I thought we were discussing a tug of war between Congressional war authority and Presidential commander-in-chief powers. This is just stupid, since the IMF has NO power to borrow US money. The President DOES have the ability to be commander-in-chief. Maybe that extends to starting a campaign, maybe not. But the IMF borrowing money on US credit doesn’t tell us a damn thing.

Michael, I’m an unpaid blogger who just has a law school degree to my name. I’ve made mistakes in my posts you cite. Really. But I’m pretty confident in my bottom line, and if you want to have a constructive debate instead of picking on me because 20 people on Twitter retweeted it, then I’m more than willing. Given your resume, there’s probably a lot I can learn from you. And if you’re hiring, I would be willing to do that in person!

I think I need to move to a new topic, lest I be called more names by fellow members of the left.

Written by John Whitehouse

March 21, 2011 at 10:08 pm

Thailand’s Andrew Johnson

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That’s what it seemed at first:

Thailand’s prime minister has survived a no-confidence vote brought against him by opposition politicians, ensuring his government remains in office in the run-up to what is likely to be a close election in July.

Abhisit Vejjajiva was backed by 249 politicians, or 52 per cent of the eligible house voters, in a censure motion after four days of debate marked by allegations of corruption, mismanagement and conflicts of interest levelled at him and nine of his ministers.

“The parliament has voted to give confidence to the Prime Minister and another nine ministers to stay in power,” Chai Chidchob, the house speaker, said on Saturday.

It is the third censure motion that Abhisit has defeated since 2009.

Wait, 3rd motion in as many years? What’s going on here? If this guy Teflon or is something deeper going on?

The root of the problem it appears is that in a deeply divided country it only takes one-fifth of the lower house of Parliament to initiate a no-confidence motion against the Prime Minister.

The Guardian optimistically reports that there is hope an upcoming election can change that, but given the deep divisions between the urban and rural in the country, and the structure of the Constitution that requires only one-fifth to initiate a no-confidence motion, this seems a story more likely to repeat over and over again in the years to come.

There’s a lot of ways I prefer parliamentary systems to Presidential ones, but the basic stability of the Presidential system has a strong appeal as well. Even at the state level, it’s going to be harder to remove Scott Walker than the Thai PM. Walker can’t be recalled unless he’s 1) served a year and 2) there is signatures from one-fourth the amount of people who voted in the previous election. California’s law is less stringent – only 12%. I’d say Wisconsin’s is the best.

Written by John Whitehouse

March 19, 2011 at 9:37 am