Can Chancellor Merkel Walk And Chew Out Obama At The Same Time? I Expect So

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is due to visit Washington later this week.  I am confident she can both chew out President Obama over the NSA’s intrusions on her, and walk the important walk of responding with Obama to Putin’s intrusions on Ukraine.  There is a formal equivalence in the sentence above, and I imagine Merkel is not amused at all that her cellphone was (is?) monitored by American signals intelligence.  But Putin’s aggressive destabilization of Ukraine is, I think, a threat to the entire post-Cold War order in Europe.  Russia was invited into groups such as the World Trade Organization and the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, seven of whose observers are still being held captive in eastern Ukraine by pro-Russian separatists), but as a recent Carnegie Europe blog by Jan Techau points out, “the Kremlin does not seem to share the principles that the OSCE was designed to uphold.”  Twenty-first century Russia, contrary to the red herring spread by its enablers and apologists, was included in Europe’s security architecture, says Techau (“Why European Security Works Better Without Russia,” 4/29/14).  The “narrative of humiliation and justification that maintains that Russia has been ostracized, excluded, and conspired against” is “wrong on many levels.”  The reason the OSCE is not working as designed is that “no matter what binding or nonbinding agreement Russia has entered into since the end of the Cold War, it has attempted to torpedo the deal from within,” and this applies also “to the Council of Europe and the World Trade Organization, the other major multilateral forums Russia has joined in recent decades….The reason behind Russia’s behavior is its archaic understanding of what constitutes a sovereign nation….Moscow…adheres to the idea that a nation is fully sovereign only as long as it is strong enough to take care of its own security.  This notion means that only a small handful of countries in the world can claim true independence….Russia…can never accept an architecture in which a country of lesser stature has an enforceable legal claim against–or even a formal veto power over–Russian objectives. That makes it amazingly unattractvie for almost anybody to enter any kind of legally binding, or even nonbinding, agreement with Russia.”

Jan Techau, unfortunately, has accurately appraised the behavior and standpoint of today’s Russia.  Merkel and Obama have a tough job in that U.S. and German finance and business oligarchs seem to be lobbying hard for looking the other way.  In another sense, though, it should be easy for the political leaders of Germany and the U.S. to see that they need to act based on a longer-term horizon than their economic elites seem able to imagine.  Moreover, Obama and Merkel are aware that their “job creators” cannot “build it themselves” in that they need protection and support from government–and sometimes much more support than road maintenance.  Sometimes governments in democratic regimes are compelled, based on a long-term strategic worldview, to defend their citizens against the rogue behavior of countries like Putin’s Russia.  Doing so is not high-risk behavior, it is risk management and mitigation.

And meanwhile Obama might be well advised, since he is no longer running for office and only lives once, to reconsider some of his insupportable, petulant, and unworthy responses to the Snowden leaks.  It is high time to acknowledge, which he has not yet done, that we have a surveillance state, as a German official said recently, “acting without any limits.”

Who’s More Naive About Putin–Immanuel Kant Or The Captains Of German Industry?

My vote is that Kant was much less naive than the head of Siemens, for example, about the implications of Putinism for Europe’s future.  Sure Kant lived in the 18th century–details, details.  Lately there has been much commentary about the contrast between Putin’s Hobbesian vision of the world vs. the European Union’s supposedly naive Kantian cosmopolitanism.  There is some truth in that contrast, but I would say it is unfair to Immanuel Kant.  For example, in his essay, “On the common saying: That may be correct in theory, but it is of no use in practice,”  Kant is quite aware that “nowhere does human nature appear less lovable than in the relations of entire peoples to one another.”  And his short treatise, “Toward Perpetual Peace,” opens with the worldly comment that “It may be left undecided whether this satirical inscription on a certain Dutch innkeeper’s signboard picturing a graveyard was to hold for human beings in general, or for heads of state in particular, who can never get enough of war, or only for philosophers, who dream that sweet dream.”  And Kant recognized that “no treaty of peace shall be held to be such if it is made with a secret reservation of material for a future war.”  He could hardly have anticipated more concisely the Russian attitude toward last week’s “agreement” between the U.S., Russia, Ukraine, and the EU.

Meanwhile Angela Merkel is having a very hard time keeping her business elite from bowing down to Putin (the head of Shell Oil–Dutch-owned–literally bowed before Putin last week, hat tip to Bill Browder Twitter feed) in their quest for business as usual.  If the CEO of German conglomerate Siemens goes to pay a friendly visit Putin in Moscow, while German-trained Russian special forces pursue their soft invasion of eastern Ukraine (see Josh Rogin, “Germany Helped Prep Russia For War,” Daily Beast, 4/22/14) how is Chancellor Merkel supposed to conduct a foreign policy that serves the interests of all Germans, and by extension the EU as a whole?  And who then looks more naive, Immanuel Kant or the masters of the German universe who are pretending that business continues as usual?

P.S. It is a tricky business, trying to muster the immense economic power of a group of countries accustomed to neo-Kantian “win-win” cosmopolitanism (under unanimous consent EU rules that are not necessarily helpful in crises) against a bad actor who decides to play by “Hobbesian” win-lose rules and redraw national borders.  It behooves the leaders of Europe–Merkel and Cameron and Hollande–as well as Obama, to up their game, which would involve, at a minimum, preparing their constituents and their own oligarchs for some inconveniences.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, If You Go Shopping For Birth Control Pills At 7-11, The Sour Gummi Bears Don’t Work So Well

And neither do the 7-Select TM Sour Neon Gummi Worms.  Don’t ask me how I know this, please, I am not confessing diddly squat today, as it were.

So Cardinal Dolan went on Face the Nation Sunday and said that if you want contraceptives, “my Lord, all you have to do is walk into a 7-11 or any shop on any street in America and have access to them.”  I can only imagine how many little Cardinal Dolan juniors are walking down those streets of America today, not having the foggiest idea that they may owe their existence to the good Cardinal’s ignorance about the actual product selection at 7-11, not to mention the unseemly reality of off-label usage of juju candy and M&M’s.

For the record, Cardinal (hat tip to Mother Jones), 7-11 does not carry any Plan B One Step, the one emergency contraceptive available without prescription.  And for regular birth control products, you need a prescription, you cannot just walk into 7-11 or your corner store.  Unless you’re doing something sub rosa–but you are a Cardinal, so that would be out of the question.  And the Hobby Lobby people that you were imagining you were defending–their employee health care plan already does include several kinds of birth control, just not the morning-after pill.

“It’s Not 1937 Or Anything”

Among the greatest hits of Vladimir Putin’s annual live call-in show (which was shorter than usual this year at 3 hours 58 minutes) were his declarations that he does not wish to be president-for-life and that Russia will surely come to a “mutual understanding” with Ukraine, his references to southern and eastern Ukraine as “novorossiya” (new Russia, following tsarist usage), and his laughing remark that he would not seize Alaska because it is too cold.  Less noticed was his take on Russian memory politics: “it’s not 1937 or anything.”   In other words, what is there to complain about when the state is not executing hundreds of thousands and sending millions to the gulag!  Life is good!

(Hat tip to Anne Applebaum via live blog; she also has an article on explaining “Putin’s New Kind of War”: “forget D-Day or ‘shock and awe’: the Kremlin is reinventing invasions with thugs, criminals, and lies”)

Will The Pottery Barn Rule Ever Apply To Ukraine?

The rule that “you break it, you own it” did not seem to apply very well to Ukraine in the twentieth century, and this 21st century does not seem to be starting out too well for them either.  From the forced collectivization and starvation imposed on Ukrainian peasants by Stalin in the 1930s to the horrors of the Second World War when Ukraine was the “bloodland” (see Timothy Snyder’s book) between Hitler and Stalin, to the corruption and oligarchic bleeding of Ukraine in the twenty-some post-Soviet years, no one who broke Ukraine seemed to bother to own the project of repairing it.

The foreign policy “realism” of Kissinger et al continues to consign Ukraine to the netherworld of pawn status in the great power game.  For “realists,” what matters is that Ukraine cannot be considered a “foreign country”–from the Russian perspective, that is, which counts far more than the “unrealistic” fiction that Ukraine and its 45 million inhabitants might actually possess sovereignty that anyone is bound to respect (hat tip to Lilia Shevtsova’s excellent recent article on the “Putin Doctrine”).  And Putin has played on this assumption, thus having his cake and eating it too, by asserting, though not in these exact words, that Ukraine has no right to use violence even or especially to defend itself against Russian-sponsored violence.  The notion that anyone would suffer inconvenience to protect Ukraine–even after it gave up nuclear weapons in a 1994 agreement signed by Russia, the US, and the UK–has not stopped, for example, UK prime minister David Cameron and his wife Samantha from enjoying a weeklong Easter break at a luxury yoga retreat in the Canary Islands.  (Heaven help the Obamas if they went on a weeklong yoga retreat!)  Ukraine is looking incapable (though today the fog of war has descended, making conclusions dicey) of defending itself militarily against subversion by Russian special forces in its eastern regions.  The process of re-colonization of terrain that from an imperial Russian point of view was only “external” temporarily and accidentally seems to be going well for Putin so far, though he may not intend all the consequences that follow.  Thus far it seems the “Pottery Barn rule” (attributed to Colin Powell, but not an actual Pottery Barn policy) will not soon apply to the Ukrainians.

Is Chief Justice Roberts Wiser Than Ben (“It’s All About The Benjamins”) Franklin?

Chief Justice John Roberts, just the other day (McCutcheon v. FEC): “We have said that government regulation may not target the general gratitude a candidate may feel toward those who support him or his allies, or the political access such support may afford.  ‘Ingratiation and access…are not corruption’ [quoting the 2010 Citizens United opinion].”

Benjamin Franklin, Speech at the Constitutional Convention on the Subject of Salaries, June 2, 1787: “Sir, there are two Passions which have a powerful Influence in the Affairs of Men.  These are Ambition and Avarice; the Love of Power and the Love of Money.  Separately, each of these has great Force in prompting Men to Action; but when united in View of the same Object, they have in many Minds the most violent Effects.  Place before the Eyes of such Men a Post of Honour, that shall at the same time be a Place of Profit, and they will move Heaven and Earth to obtain it….And of what kind are the men that will strive for this profitable Preeminence, thro’ all the Bustle of Cabal, the Heat of Contention, the infinite mutual abuse of Parties, tearing to Pieces the best of Characters?  It will not be the wise and moderate, the Lovers of Peace and good Order… It will be the Bold and the Violent, the men of strong Passions and indefatigable Activity in their selfish Pursuits. These will thrust themselves into your Government, and be your Rulers.  And these, too, will be mistaken in the expected Happiness of their Situation; for their vanquish’d competitors, of the same Spirit, and from the same Motives, will perpetually be endeavouring to distress their Administration, thwart their Measures, and render them odious to the People.”

Former CIA And NSA Director Michael Hayden (And Possible Undead Zombie) Attacks Senator Dianne Feinstein As Too “Emotional”

Could Ockham’s Razor help explain former NSA head Michael Hayden’s attack on Senate Intelligence Committee chair and 78-year-old woman Dianne Feinstein for making “emotional” criticisms of the surveillance state?  Ockham said do not multiply causes beyond what is necessary.  So would the simplest explanation be that Hayden does not grasp Feinstein’s critique because he is in fact an undead zombie?  There you have it, problem solved.

Destabilize? Moi?

The Guardian published a commentary yesterday by Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accusing the West of “needlessly whipping up tension” in Ukraine, which “still faces complex tasks in constructing a sovereign state.”  A sly understater of reality, that Sergei!

Meanwhile two Russian ambassadors (currently serving in southern Africa) were recorded drunkenly bragging that “in the future we’ll damn well take your Catalonia and Venice, and also Scotland and Alaska.”  Ambassadors Chubarov and Bakharev observe that it would be better to leave Romania, Bulgaria, and the Baltic countries alone for now, and focus on “Miamiland” and “Londonland.”  “Exactly, Miamiland is f–ing 95% Russian citizens.  We have a full right to hold a referendum.”

They certainly have the talking points down, even–or especially–while inebriated.  Meanwhile Lavrov is given the more tedious task of soberly explaining to Englishmen and Germans why they should feel nervous, guilty, and neutral between east and west while Russia dismembers–oops–brings the eastern half of Ukraine into its fraternal embrace.

Are President Putin And Chief Justice Roberts Strong Enough To Fight Corruption?

Some people seem to think Putin and Roberts are strong leaders.  If they are really strong leaders, why do they seem to be so afraid of fighting corruption in their societies?

Putin’s invasion and annexation of Crimea was opportunistic, taking advantage of a chaotic situation in Ukraine and seemingly taking western Europeans and Americans by surprise.  But some commentators believe his goal was to distract his own domestic audience in Russia from economic failures due primarily to endemic corruption, most visibly on the Sochi Olympic project.  However accurate that explanation, in the longer view Putin has not succeeded in modernizing Russia’s economy, particularly in reducing the deadweight losses from corruption.

John Roberts, likewise, seems a shrewd operator, but one wonders how well his opinion in McCutcheon, the latest campaign finance case, will wear with a little age.  As Zephyr Teachout of Fordham Law School has written (see her downloadable SSRN papers on corruption, especially “The Anti-Corruption Principle”) corruption for the Framers and Founders was by no means limited to outright bribery.  Corruption depends on concentration of power, anti-corruption on dispersal of power–thus the crucial constitutional principles of “separation of powers” and “checks and balances.”  She argues persuasively that for anyone even mildly committed to fidelity to the original understandings of the Consitution, “anti-corruption” is a freestanding principle that can and sometimes ought to limit and constrain the application of other cardinal constitutional principles, even First Amendment principles such as free speech.  James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and George Mason are likely turning in their graves over Roberts’ latest “what? me worry” pro-corruption judicial opinion.  Is John Roberts wiser than the Founders?


Just Another Day Defining Corruption Down At The Supreme Court

The McCutcheon plurality opinion Chief Justice Roberts read out at the Supreme Court yesterday does not remove all limits on political corruption in this country.  All in good time, my little pretty.  Our little party’s just beginning.  You think we have defined corruption down today (hat tip to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “Defining Deviancy Down”)?  You just wait. You think they have oligarchs in Putin’s Russia?  We’ll show them who’s exceptional, and what oligarchy is really all about!

P.S. I could go into the details, but that would only dignify an opinion that is either clueless or unscrupulous or utterly un-conservative, or all three.