Saturday, June 28, 2014

RIP Franz Ferdinand and Sophie Chotek

In Christopher Clark's masterful book about the lead up to World War I, Bismarck is a hero, Kaiser Wilhelm II (who dismissed Bismarck as Chancellor in 1890) a blustering fool who could reliably be talked down from the brink by wise counselors, Lord Gray too much under the sway of the French, the Russians too weak for their own good, and the French goaded everybody on with calamitous consequences for the 20th Century.

The Serbs were war mongering regicides; in-bred dogs.  Princip and his companions were young kids, manipulated like muslim suicide bombers today.

The Ottoman Empire was breaking apart and everyone was in an imperialist mood.

Emperor Franz Joseph was a kindly old man and Austria-Hungary ruled pretty competently over a diverse empire.  Archduke Franz Ferdinand was a promising heir, happily married.  It all could have turned out so much better!  If only ...

Friday, June 20, 2014

Ivan Perkins on Why Guns Make us Less Safe

It's a sign of the times. Ivan Perkins has an adjunct faculty position at UCLA. In that capacity he "studies" law and international affairs while his day job is editing articles for the UCLA Law Review. It's like sweeping the offices of tenured professors. Bright young graduates just can't get real teaching jobs anymore.

In the meantime, however, Rowman & Littlefield has published Perkin's book, Vanishing Coup: The Pattern of World History Since 1310; and he has been guest blogging at Volokh Conspiracy.*

Second Amendment gun enthusiasts in the United States (e.g.) can be heard to say that a government with an armed citizenry is more respectful of citizen's rights. Individual ownership of guns prevents governments from lapsing into tyranny. That's why we need The Right to Bear Arms. On the other hand, those of us who would like to see more regulation of guns, and less easy access to them because we are concerned about school shootings, shooting of elected politicians, and a drive-by-shooting youth-culture, know in our bones that this argument is wrong.  Ivan Perkins helps us articulate why it's wrong:

According to a Rasmussen poll, 65 percent of Americans believe that the purpose of the Second Amendment is to protect the nation from tyranny. Some of those Americans are on the Supreme Court. In their landmark 2008 case, District of Columbia v. Heller, the Court argued that the Framers intended the Second Amendment to serve as an ultimate “safeguard against tyranny.” Two years later, the Court quoted Justice Joseph Story, who thought the Second Amendment would “enable the people to resist and triumph” against a usurper....
But the facts don't bear this out, says Perkins:
[A]rmaments help groups like gangs, drug cartels, cults, and fringe groups detach themselves from the mainstream, and establish alternative bases for loyalty and security — in effect, “mini-states” at war with the official government. We see this phenomenon among Mafia families, Mexican drug cartels, and Colombian guerrillas, among many others. The basic process looks like this. A ringleader organizes a well-armed clique for criminal enterprises. By using bribery and intimidation to recruit policemen, officials, and judges into his private army, the boss establishes a shadowy rule over certain neighborhoods and regions. His henchmen and stooges owe loyalty to him personally, rather than to the nation, its laws, or institutions....
The reason our nation is secure from tyranny has nothing to do with the proliferation of civilian guns. As I explained earlier this week and in my new book, Vanishing Coup, we enjoy a stable democracy because we live under the rule of law, enforced by impartial and independent police, prosecutors, and judges. By insisting on legality and procedure at every level of our military and civilian bureaucracies, we make it impossible to practice the nepotism and corruption required to build personal-loyalty cabals.
Without high-level cabals, plotting a coup d’├ętat becomes inordinately difficult. When “big men” have loyal followers, plausible conspiracies form relatively easily, as each boss brings his own people on board. But in the absence of corrupt cliques, a conspiracy must grow individual by individual, with each new recruit posing a substantial danger of betrayal. Under these circumstances, coup plotting becomes absurdly perilous, and the notion of a coup d’├ętat effectively disappears from the corridors of power. This is why all the nations to achieve long-term stability — including Britain, the United States, Sweden, Switzerland, Canada, the Netherlands, Japan, and others — enjoy strong rule-of-law institutions and low corruption. (For maps of the “coup-free zone” over the past century, see yesterday’s post; for the extended map series, click here.)
Gun proliferation poses no immediate threat to American democracy, but it moves the ball in the wrong direction. Guns help criminal mini-states form, expand, and warp the operation of law. ... Thus, new gun regulations are necessary for many reasons, including the long-term preservation of our Constitution. The widespread availability of high-powered military-grade weaponry does not keep us secure from tyranny — in fact, it increases the probability that one day, our great-grandchildren will live under thuggish warlords and tyrants. 
* I note that Volokh Conspiracy is making an effort to incorporate more diverse voices since moving to the Washington Post.  Liberal Constitutional law Professor Lawrence Tribe recently guest blogged.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Why I Vote

This morning in California we are having an inconsequential election.  They are predicting record levels of voter apathy: a mere 25 to 32 of the electorate is expected to turn out.

No pot, no sex, no taxes to speak of.  No structural changes likely to screw things up for the next quarter century (think Proposition 13).  No options for doing anything positive either. 

We are voting for Jerry Brown, yet again.  We are voting for Nancy Pelosi in my district.  You think voter turnout is going to make a difference? Nah.  There's a superior court judge, but how much does your average voter know about that, anyway.  Secretary of State?  It's a ceremonial post in California. It's like being the queen without a butler or castles, or a budget to lord over.  Superintendent of Public Instruction?  I'm voting for the guy from Los Angeles--but really, the fate of the world does not hinge on it.  It's a primary for heaven's sake. 

We do get to vote to fund some veteran housing, that's decent.  We also get to shift the cost of complying with public records laws from the state to the local level.  Whoopee! Do they really need me for that?  

Yet, I spent a morning dutifully reading through my voter pamphlet.  I went on the internet to find out just how inconsequential this election really is.  

And tomorrow morning, we'll get up at 5:30 a.m. to help the poll workers set up the polling equipment in our garage.  We'll bring them coffee and almond croissants.  We'll care about the fact that most of our precinct won't show up at our door tomorrow.  We'll be sad about it.  

Yet, why care with such a trivial election?

Well, truth be told, I like to vote.  I like exercising my franchise.  I was not born in this country, I don't take it for granted.  I don't like garbage in the park either.  It bothers me to see a discarded cup.  I'm liable to stoop down, pick it up gingerly, and put it in the trash.  Is it a civic duty?  In Australia they have mandatory voting.  Here, we'd never get Republicans to agree to such a concept--they'd be screwed.  Is that reason enough to vote.  It's sufficient for me.  I'll poke a chad to spite the memory of Katherine Harris (she of Bush v. Gore infamy).  I'll mark an arrow to spite Scalia and his cronies on the Supreme Court.  

Nothing I do will make a difference in any election, and certainly not in this one tomorrow.  Yet, I like being in a community where people vote.  I like being in a community where other people also  care about voting, care about exercising their civil rights.  I wish more took it seriously.  It's like garbage in the park.  I wish fewer dropped a cup. 

What about you, tomorrow?  Are you going to drop your Starbucks cup in the street, or are you going to stand up proud and say "To hell with Katherine Harris, to hell with the Supreme Court!  I'm going to exercise my franchise right, and I'm going to do the best I can, and I'm going to revel in the sheer pleasure of it.  Because damn it, I love this country!"