The Closet Moderate: July 2009

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Hazards of Vice-Presidential Time Travel

Senators brace for the arrival of Biden_1
Vice President Joe Biden on the need for the U.S. not to overplay its hand with Moscow:
It is never smart to embarrass an individual or a country when they're dealing with significant loss of face. My dad used to put it another way: Never put another man in a corner where the only way out is over you. It just is not smart.
Vice President Joe Biden on domestic difficulties that are affecting Russian foreign policy:
The reality is the Russians are where they are. They have a shrinking population base, they have a withering economy, they have a banking sector and structure that is not likely to be able to withstand the next 15 years, they're in a situation where the world is changing before them and they're clinging to something in the past that is not sustainable.
I want to stress that these are quotes from the same WSJ interview, presented in reverse chronological order.

To me, this interview suggests that the moment we invent time travel our first priority should be to keep that technology away from Joe Biden. The only alternative is to accept a reality in which every moment of gaffe-prone Biden-space is filled with future Joe Biden arriving through a temporal hole to tackle past Joe Biden before he can commit a gaffe.

In extreme cases, the cross-temporal tackling may prove to be a gaffe in and of itself, and necessitate stacking distimed Biden interventions several deep: Biden_0 is about to make a gaffe, but Biden_1 arrives from the future to tackle him. Unfortunately, this act produces its own regrettable consequences, and thus Biden_2 is forced to travel back to time 0 in order to stop Biden_1 before he can make the situation worse. Eventually, we'd have to set up a government agency a la Men in Black for the sole purpose of regulating Bidennic irregularities in the timestream.

Our own present can barely handle the negative externalities associated with a single Joe Biden--we dare not inflict more than one on it.

[Photo: Sen. Joe Biden speaks while Sen. Patrick Leahy braces for the imminent arrival of Biden_1.]

h/t: Drezner


Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Code of the Schoolyard

I had a college professor who explained the specific way IR scholars use the terms "anarchy" and "hierarchy" as follows:

I went to Catholic school, and we had a nun who would watch over us as recess, Sister Mary--she would twist your ear good and hard if she caught you up to no good. When Sister Mary was on the playground we had hierarchy. If a bully acted up, you could go to her and she would twist, Lord, how she would twist his ear. But when she stepped away for a smoke, we had anarchy. The powerful did what they pleased and the rest of us had to stay out of their way.

Apt, no? Lately, though, we've seen the schoolyard manifest itself more in terms of rhetoric than structure.

Secretary of State Clinton on the DPRK:
What we've seen is this constant demand for attention, and maybe it's the mother in me or the experience that I've had with small children and unruly teenagers and people who are demanding attention. Don't give it to them. They don't deserve it.

The North Korean Foreign Ministry
We cannot but regard Mrs. Clinton as a funny lady as she likes to utter such rhetoric, unaware of the elementary etiquette in the international community. Sometimes she looks like a primary schoolgirl and sometimes a pensioner going shopping.
Proving, if nothing else, that busting on pastel pantsuits is a sport for all seasons.

Fun Fact [Not Actually A Fact]: In 1952, a combined DPRK/Chinese task force first developed "the People's Elbow" for use in the Korean War [proof above]. In 2005, an IP suit brought on behalf of Chairman Mao's embalmed corpse forced Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson to retire his signature move.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Expanding waste

My latest gripe about American governance concerns the stimulus. No, not that it's too big -- that's a lost cause -- nor that it's taking too long -- the only thing government can do quickly is tax you or jail you -- but rather the quality of the spending. Look at the stuff they're spending money on: job retraining, which we now know is worthless; plugging holes in states' budgets, which only delays the states' legislators comeuppance for their spendthrift ways; and of course the big government favorite, more welfare.

What will be left in three or four years to show for this money? Nothing. Compare that with the spending of the O.G. of stimulus, FDR. When Roosevelt and his allies in Congress opened up the public fisc, they were just as good at spending as Obama and the modern-day Democrats. But look at what they spent it on: roads, schools, post offices, and other government buildings. They may not have been necessary, but at least the government had something to show for it when they were through. Like many of our tens of readers out there, I went to school in a WPA-built building that was both functional and attractive. And what's more, the New Deal jobs might have been make-work jobs, but at least they encouraged work. I prefer make-work to make-sloth.

So, what's the point? What awesome project should our deficit trillions fund? What would be both useless and spectacular, a joy to future generations? The answer is obvious ...
...a summer capital.

The answer came to me as I read Holy Cow, a travelogue by an Australian in India. The author, Sarah MacDonald, described visiting the city of Simla, which was once the summer capital of British India, a place to which the Raj retreated from the summer heat of Calcutta. Eleven hundred miles away in the Himalayas, Simla provided a welcome relief from the god-awful summer heat of the Ganges Delta.

It made me think: what other capital is beastly hot during the summer? Exactly -- anyone who has lived in D.C. can see the logic of this immediately. So why not extend Interstate 66 up into the hills of West Virginia and found there, somewhere around Hardy County, a new city. Build a little capitol, little President's house, little train station, little lobbyists' offices, and all that. They could do it up in Victorian style, like a quiet small city that gets invaded by a plague of politicians every summer. They could even found a college there, or a branch of WVU, maybe, so that there would be people there in the other nine months.

It sounds crazy, but if they're going to spend billions trillions, at least spend them on something that will last and might even serve a purpose. Let's not forget that our real capital was built in a new location where no city existed. And, after a hundred years or so, it became quite livable. And just as our first, working capital was named after our first President, let's name our second, unnecessary capital after the President who made unnecessary spending a part of the American Dream. Instead of sweating it out in malarial Washington, let's have our next stimulus bill passed from the breezy heights of Roosevelt, West Virginia.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Jay-Z and the New American Century

I bet you guys didn't think there was any overlap between IR and hip-hop. You were wrong. Below, two great posts on the feud between Jay-Z and the Game, and its implications for American foreign policy:
And Lynch rounds up the reactions here.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Currency rebels

Matthew Yglesias's blog brought this news item to my attention:

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — State vendors and contractors could use their government-issued IOUs to pay state taxes, fees and liens under a bill approved by an Assembly committee.

The Business and Professions Committee unanimously passed the bill by Assemblyman Joel Anderson during its first legislative hearing Tuesday. The bill requires the state to accept its own IOUs as payment for money owed to the government.

Anderson, a Republican from La Mesa, says the measure would help businesses and others being paid with IOUs. The state began issuing the warrants last week as lawmakers struggle to close a $26.3 billion deficit.

As a professional lawyer and amateur hard-money enthusiast, my mind immediately went to this provision of our federal Constitution:
No State shall ... coin Money; emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts....
So, unless those IOUs are redeemable in specie, this law is clearly unconstitutional. The only things California can take as payment for taxes are U.S. dollars, gold, or silver. By passing this bill, the California legislators will violate their oath of office.

To emit a bill of credit, according to our Supreme Court in Craig v. Missouri, "conveys to the mind the idea of issuing paper intended to circulate through the community for its ordinary purposes, as money, which paper is redeemable at a future day." That is, for the state to write an IOU, allow it to circulate, and accept it as payment.

You can see why this is a part of the constitution. Imagine every state having its own money. Not only would it add ridiculous hassle to interstate commerce, but it would allow any state in a tight spot to inflate its own currency and degrade the wealth of its citizens. It's like if Italy stayed in the EU, but kept printing lira. Madness!

I once told one of my fellow bloggards that California would eventually have to be crushed by the rest of the Union, but I never imagined that its treason would begin with something as mundane as a dispute over legal tender.


Sunday, July 12, 2009


This column by Daniel Gross is completetely useless. Summary: forecasts are inaccurate, please write me a check for doing nothing. Die in a fire.

Edit: Okay, that was a little harsh. Second-degree burns in a fire.