No Such Thing As An Unfunded Mandate Here!

Happy 100th birthday to the Federal Reserve!  I take no position here on whether the Fed is an illegitimate usurper, or whether we ought to go back to the gold standard (abandoned by noted pinko Richard Nixon, if I remember correctly).  I just feel that any centenarian deserves a certain respect.

As interested parties around the world await news on the “tapering” of Fed bond purchasing, let me say simply that the Fed’s dual mandate–“to promote effectively the goals of maximum employment, stable prices and moderate long-term interest rates” (since 1977, per Congress’ revision of the 1913 Federal Reserve Act)–is a work-in-progress, but a project with a rosier long-term horizon than, for instance, Bitcoin.  Why so?  It helps a lot to have a mandate, or two, with 300 million reasonably productive people and considerable political legitimacy behind it.  With all the bickering in Washington, if the Senate ever blockaded a nominee for Fed chair or revised the Federal Reserve Act to micromanage its quasi-public, quasi-private operations, then we would know that our political/economic system is in big trouble.  Even the wonderful structure of checks and balances and separation of powers could not protect us from that kind of indiscreet legislation.

As it stands, the great thing about the Fed–and a source of worry should it fade away or collapse–is that it suffers from no unfunded mandates, insofar as people and institutions around the world trust it.  The Fed snaps its fingers, and don’t think too hard about fighting it unless you have money to burn.

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Discerning Evil Spirits In Washington

“He will not be mocked…you cannot serve two masters.” I hope that the House stenographer, who interrupted voting last night with those words, among others, is feeling OK today. Perhaps she needs professional help, and if so I hope she gets it. But it is easy to imagine that taking down the utterances of our representatives in Congress would drive strong persons to rant. And half of what the woman, Dianne Foster Reidy, said ought to be heeded by the Congresspeople. If Pope Francis, who has been speaking often about idolatry lately, said of our politicians that they are mocking God and trying to serve two masters, many would say yet again what a capital fellow and terrific pope he is!  But as Charlie Pierce wrote today on his Esquire politics blog, “impromptu outbursts of the crazy cannot be allowed.” Pierce goes on to cite remarks on the end times etc. by Ted Cruz and Michele Bachmann at the recent “Values Voters Summit,” where “well-dressed and well-organized insanity is encouraged,” and concludes that “our courtier press doesn’t hate crazy. It just hates improv.”

Care For Jam With Your Freedom Muffin?

The NY Post cover yesterday showed a funhouse image of President Obama in the Oval Office with the headlines “The Buck Does Not Stop Here!” and “Obama punts on Syria.” The other leading right-wing media organ, that is the WSJ, took a slightly higher road: “Obama recklessly gambles with American credibility.”

Many In Congress–Democrats as well as Republicans–might have preferred to not take a vote, so as to have the luxury of critique without fingerprints. President Obama deprived them of that easy path. Even though he did signal that he might go ahead with some kind of military action without Congressional authorization, I think that is quite unlikely. The political right is outraged whether Obama shows scrupulous respect for Congress’ Article One prerogatives or not. Their squeals are especially loud now that Obama has forced them out of their comfy Obamacare repeal fantasy zone and into the political open. Which is not to say Mr. Obama has a clear plan.

P.S. Are we likely to see the Murdoch-owned press show Cameron as a cheddar-cheese eating surrender monkey and Francois Hollande as a heroic Gallic Asterix? Will we (as has been tweeted already) have to call our breakfast food freedom muffins?

It Should Not Be Just Your Military And You Are Not My Commander-In-Chief

To President Obama: Sir, you are the duly elected President of the USA, and as Baracka Flacka Flames has said, you are the head of the state. However, if you can say that the armed forces are “my military,” as you did today, either you or the Congress or both have lost your way. They, the Congress, may have wanted to abdicate their explicit Constitutional powers. But we the voters have chosen them as well as you to represent us.

And by the way, unless I belong to the military, you are not my commander-in-chief. Nothing personal. Neither was Bush, Clinton, Bush, Reagan, Carter, Ford, Nixon…you get the picture, I hope. I have heard enough media insinuation, spoon-fed by minions of our surveillance state, that the President is Commander-in-Chief of the American people.

Update Saturday August 31: President Obama has paused to wait for a Congressional vote to authorize military action in Syria, surprising his staffers, according to a New York Times story. This is one issue where the Republican House can hardly refuse to vote–and the Senate will be obliged to take a vote as well. A piece of political prudence that may also be a step back from the imperial presidency. I do not follow, however, the connection he made from we are a country where right makes might rather than might makes right straight to “I have therefore made a second decision” to ask Congress for a vote. Congressional approval is a process issue that matters but does it confer just war status on whatever a president does?

The Summer Hit Of 2013: Magna Carta Holy Grail? Unh-unh, It Was “Magna Quaestio Est De Mendacio”

Without a doubt, it was Edward Snowden who really got lucky this summer (nice try, Daft Punk) with his monster hit “Magna Quaestio Est De Mendacio.” Jay-Z or no Jay Z, the great tune of summer 2013 was all about the great problem of lying, which has long transcended musical genres.

Augustine wrote two treatises on the topic of lies, De Mendacio and Contra Mendacio. He preferred the later treatise Against Lying, but decided to let On Lying remain “in print” as well, though in the Retractations Augustine wrote late in life he found De Mendacio “obscure, and intricate, and altogether troublesome.” In the first paragraph of the treatise itself he warns the reader that the way will be “very full of dark corners… (with) many cavern-like windings” as Augustine takes up the cases for as well as against lying, which he defines as “speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving.” I am not ready today to follow Augustine down that rabbit hole. I am only ready to say that I believe it is bad for the future of a democratic republic with representative government and consent of the governed to focus too much on suppressing whistleblowing (or, if you prefer, leaking for ostensibly altruistic reasons) while at the same time conniving to make informed debate about surveillance and privacy rights too difficult.

It is vexing and troubling to judge, regarding government surveillance, how security and liberty ought to be balanced–or whether that is a false and foolish either/or, as Franklin warned. It is also hard to say to what extent we are well served to keep applying Churchill’s dictum that “in wartime truth is so precious that she should be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” It is easy to imagine the “interests” (regardless of what President Obama said August 9) that the millions employed by or profiting from the national security state have in stopping terror attacks and also in releasing or even, heaven forbid, leaking information selectively to make sure their gravy train is perpetual.

I am skeptical that the latest story about the NSA overstepping its bounds thousands of times is, in itself, as big a deal as some in Congress and the media say. But I take Senators Wyden and Udall seriously when they say the latest revelations are just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, on the NSA acting out of legal and constitutional bounds (which two things are not identical).

What tune will be top of the chart this fall?

John Boehner Dilates Upon Legislation And Judgment

Mr. Speaker Boehner says we should judge the House not on how many laws they have passed but rather on how many they have repealed. No problem. You may be red hot, but you have not repealed diddly squat. Now what?