All negotiations are defined by something called the ZOPA: the Zone of Possible Agreement. The boundaries of that zone are defined by another buzzword, the BATNA: the best alternative to negotiated agreement.
The ultimate deal has to be better for both sides than their BATNA. Anything that either side considers worse than no deal at all is outside of the ZOPA, and no amount of strategery is going to get you there. Getting rid of Social Security and Medicare: outside of the ZOPA. Raising tax rates to Danish levels: outside of the ZOPA. Single-payer health care: outside of the ZOPA. Defunding Planned Parenthood: outside of the current ZOPA.
Is the ZOPA fixed? Nope. If a Republican president were in the White House, and a few more Republicans were in the Senate, defunding Planned Parenthood might well be feasible. The massacre at Newtown moved the ZOPA on gun control leftward. The financial crisis made all sorts of previously unthinkable things — like TARP and a nearly $900 billion stimulus bill — eminently feasible. The ZOPA moves all the time, which is why we’re no longer debating the free and unlimited coinage of silver at a ratio of 16 to 1.
But note that these movements didn’t come from some sort of deft negotiation strategy. They came from external events that changed the BATNA of one side or the other. Note too that even though the ZOPA had shifted in his favor, President Obama lost on gun control because he included an assault weapons ban in his list of demands as a bargaining chip, and the other side decided to walk away instead of negotiating a deal.
How did this happen? Because the bargaining chips you include send signals about your intent, and how serious you are about negotiating — and they can therefore change the facts on the ground in ways that hurt you rather than help you.
Imagine that you tried negotiating for a car by announcing that you intended to pay no more than $2,400 for a fully-loaded new truck. Would this improve your bargaining position? Of course not; the salesman would decide that you were wasting his time, and go find another customer. Similarly, if the car salesman announced that he wanted $100,000 for a well-used Camry, that wouldn’t make you more willing to pay $30,000 for it; it would make you go seek a dealer who wasn’t obviously crazy.
Megan McArdle, “Let’s See What Republicans Learn From Losing Boehner”, Bloomberg View, 2015-09-25.
April 14, 2017
March 7, 2017
L. Neil Smith calls for an investigation into Senator Schumer’s “connection to this remnant Stalinist core, here in the West.”
Following the inglorious collapse of the old Soviet Union back in the late 20th century, without a doubt the new capital of world collectivism has come to be centered somewhere between Washington, D.C. and New York City. (It had already been observed and lamented that, at a moment in history when communism was shriveling and dying all across its native Europe, the evil legacy of Marx and Engels was alive and well in most American universities.)
New York and Washington, D,C, are both both the familiar stomping grounds of a dangerously deluded Democratic Senator who apparently has come to believe that he is the divinely-appointed rightful Chief Executive and Commander-in-Chief, and is presently leading a vicious assault on what might be termed “The Peoples’ Presidency”. One can be forgiven from wondering what stone he pulled his sword from.
Judging from his unbrokenly statist legislative record, he has always believed that the “peasants” (that’s you and me) need a Leviathan to tell them what to do, where to go, how to live their lives, even how many gallons their toilet-tanks may hold. Under no circumstances, in his dementedly Draconian view, must the American electorate be permitted to choose their own leader, especially a leader pledged to lift the burden of authoritarian government from their weary shoulders. Their duty, in his view, is simply to be born, obey their masters, pay a lifetime of taxes, die and get out of the way, not to determine the course of the Ship of State (albeit, a sinking ship, aboard which he occupies the highest crow’s- nest—as it stands now, he’ll be among the last to get his feet wet).
However what needs to be investigated is not some entirely fictional collusion between the Trump Administration and Vladimir Putin’s thoroughly post-Marxist, patently anti-communist Russia, repeated over and over and over and over again by the news floozies and gentlemen-of-the-evening of the compliant news media until we’re expected to believe it, but Charles Schumer’s deep connection to this remnant Stalinist core, here in the West.
I will repeat that, because it’s important. What needs to be investigated is not some fictional—mythical—collusion between the Trump Administration and Vladimir Putin’s post- Marxist, anti-communist Russia, repeated over and over again by the round-heeled news media until we’re expected to believe it, but Charles Shumer’s own connection to this remnant Stalinist core, here in the West.
February 20, 2017
On Sunday, Rand Paul got some media coverage for his criticism of Senator John McCain:
Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) ripped fellow Republican Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) on Sunday after McCain criticized President Trump’s escalating war of words with the media.
He argued that the nation is “very lucky” that Trump is president and not McCain, who won the 2008 GOP nomination but lost to Barack Obama in the general election.
Paul said that McCain’s recent criticisms of Trump are driven by his “personal dispute” with the president over foreign policy.
He added that McCain and Trump are at odds because McCain supports the wide deployment of U.S. troops to protect and promote American interests abroad while he characterized Trump’s views as closer to a realpolitik approach to foreign policy.
“Everything that he says about the president is colored by his own personal dispute he’s got running with President Trump and it should be taken with a grain of salt because John McCain’s the guy who’s advocated for war everywhere,” Paul said on ABC’s This Week.
“He would bankrupt the nation. We’re very lucky John McCain’s not in charge because I think we’d be in perpetual war,” Paul added.
February 3, 2017
In the Washington Post, Radley Balko says that the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch is actually a gift to the Democrats:
It always seems a bit futile to speculate about how a Supreme Court nominee will behave down the line. Conservatives are still kicking themselves over David Souter. Eisenhower called Earl Warren the biggest mistake of his career. I personally was skeptical of Sonia Sotomayor’s history as a prosecutor and her judicial record on criminal-justice issues. She has turned out to be the court’s most reliable defender of due process and the rights of the accused.
But, of course, we do need to look into nominees, and their records and personal histories are all we have. So let’s have a civil liberties-centric look at Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s nominee to replace the late justice Antonin Scalia.
The Good: As far as I’m concerned, the most important thing to look for in a Supreme Court justice right now is a willingness to stand up to executive power. For at least the next four years (in all likelihood), the White House will be occupied by a narcissist with a proclivity for authoritarianism. We aren’t yet two weeks in to Trump’s administration, and we’re already barreling toward one or more constitutional crises. Oddly and perhaps in spite of himself, of the three names said to be on Trump’s shortlist (Gorsuch, Thomas Hardiman and William Pryor), Gorsuch appears to be the most independent and has shown the most willingness to stand up to the executive branch. […]
Gorsuch is perhaps most known for his decision in the Hobby Lobby case, in which he wrote a strong opinion denouncing the birth-control mandate in the Affordable Care Act. Whether you think that’s a plus or a minus obviously depends on whether you prioritize reproductive rights or religious freedom. But even if you’re bothered by his opinion in that case, Gorsuch’s championing of religious freedom does at least seem to be careful and principled, and not partisan toward Christianity. In Yellowbear v. Lampert, a majority of his fellow appeals court judges ruled that a federal statute required the state of Wyoming to grant a Native American prisoner access to a sweat lodge on prison grounds. Gorsuch went farther, arguing that even prisoners still retain a right to practice their religion.
Gorsuch is a critic of “overcriminalization,” or the massive and growing federal criminal and regulatory codes. I think that’s a good thing. The Volokh Conspiracy’s Ilya Somin points out that he has history of ruling that criminal laws should be read narrowly, with ambiguities resolved in favor of defendants. That, too, is a good thing.
I was also struck by Gorsuch’s acceptance speech. It was noticeably un-Trumpian. He was humble, reverent of institutions and deferential to the office for which he had just been nominated. Unlike the man who nominated him, he came off as someone devoted to the law, not someone who believes he is above it.
January 26, 2017
Megan McArdle says it’s quite possible for the Democrats to come back strongly, but to do it they’ll have to give up some of their recent favourite political toys:
Why are the left’s public demonstrations more impressive than its voter turnout? Because there are a whole lot of Democrats in the large population centers where such demonstrations are generally held. People can join a protest simply by getting on the subway; it’s an easy show of force.
But there are a lot of small towns in America, and as Sean Trende and David Byler recently demonstrated, those small towns are redder than ever. Effectively, the Democratic coalition has self-gerrymandered into a small number of places where they can turn out an impressive number of feet on the ground, but not enough votes to win the House. Certainly not enough to win the Senate or the Electoral College, which both favor sparsely populated states and discount the increasingly dense parts of the nation.
The Senate map in 2018 is brutal for Democrats. If Democrats want to get their mojo back, they’re going to need to do more than get a small minority of voters to turn out for a march. They’re going to need to get back some of those rural votes.
To do that, they’re probably going to have to let go of the most soul-satisfying, brain-melting political theory of the last two decades: that Democrats are inevitably the Party of the Future, guaranteed ownership of the future by an emerging Democratic majority in minority-white America. This theory underlay a lot of Obama’s presidency, and Clinton’s campaign. With President Trump’s inauguration on Friday, we saw the results.
January 20, 2017
Megan McArdle on the ongoing senate confirmation hearings for Trump nominees:
We might have hoped to get some sense of where things are headed from Wednesday’s Senate hearing on Price’s confirmation. We might also have hoped to get a bow-wrapped Lexus in the driveway this Christmas, but most of us probably didn’t.
Senate confirmation hearings are always more ritual than substance. The party of the nominee asks penetrating questions such as “Isn’t it true, Madam, that you once rescued an entire family of orphans from a burning building?”, with frequent pauses to thank the nominee for being there, and perhaps compliment them on their taste in confirmation hearing attire (confident, but understated, you understand). The opposition ranges from feigning outrage about things they have done themselves, to petulant whines about how much time they are being given to probe the vital matter of the parking ticket the nominee received in 1984 for depositing their car in a snowplow zone.
But the ritual is necessary. It allows us to maintain the polite fiction that our legislators actually care what the nominee thinks, rather than the partisan impact of confirming them. It can inform the public about issues with the nominee’s record that they should care about, even if they don’t. And occasionally, mostly by accident, actual new information does get tossed out.
January 3, 2017
Yes, I’m just getting caught up on articles that got published between Christmas and New Year’s, which is why I’m linking to another Megan McArdle article. This one is on the Democratic party’s “festival of wrongness” delusions about hacking the nomination to replace Antonin Scalia on the US Supreme Court:
You may be a bit confused. Republicans hold the majority in this Senate. They will also control the next Senate. How are Democrats supposed to bring the thing to the floor for a vote, much less get enough votes to actually confirm him?
That’s a very good question! The answer some progressives have come up with is that there will be a nanosecond gap between when the outgoing senators leave office, and the new ones are sworn in. During that gap, there will be more Democrats left than Republicans. So the idea is to call that smaller body into session, vote on the nomination, and voila! — a new Supreme Court justice. Alternatively, President Obama could use that gap to make a recess appointment.
The first idea started on Daily Kos, where I initially saw it. I didn’t pay it overmuch attention, as my second law of politics is that “At any given time, someone is suggesting something completely insane.” Usually these ideas go nowhere. This one, however, has gotten a bit of traction; the idea of a nanosecond nomination vote has shown up at the Princeton Election Consortium blog, and endorsements of a recess appointment have appeared in the New Republic and New York magazine.
It’s hard to know where to start with this festival of wrongness. The idea behind the nanosecond nomination seems to be that there are two discrete Senates, the old and the new, with a definite gap between them; yet that somehow, though neither the old nor the new Senate exists, there are senators, who can hold a vote on something — a sort of quantum Senate that pops into and out of existence depending on the needs of the Democratic Party.
The legal grounds for a recess appointment are even weaker, because in 2014 the Supreme Court ruled that recess appointments require at least a three-day gap — not three femtoseconds — between sessions to be valid. Even if that were not the case, Jonathan Adler argues that the new Republican Senate could adjourn sine die, ending the recess appointment a few weeks after it was made. Since Garland would have to vacate his appellate court seat, all Democrats would succeed in doing is opening up another judicial appointment for Trump.
But this is almost quibbling compared with the deeper problem: Even if these moves could work, they wouldn’t work. The people proposing these ideas seem to imagine that they are making a movie about politics, rather than actually doing politics. The hero’s quest is to get a liberal supreme court, but they are stymied until — third act miracle! A daring procedural caper! The gavel slams down on Merrick Garland’s “Aye” vote … cut to him taking his Supreme Court seat … fade to black as the audience cheers. In the real world, of course, there’s a sequel, called “Tomorrow.” And what do the Republicans do then? The answer, alas, is not “stand around shaking their fists at fate, while the moderates among them offer a handshake across the aisle and a rueful ‘You got us this time, guys.’”
January 17, 2016
We learned that much of the increase in political polarization was unavoidable. It was the natural result of the political realignment that took place after President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964. The conservative southern states, which had been solidly Democratic since the Civil War (since Lincoln was a Republican) then began to leave the Democratic Party, and by the 1990s the South was solidly Republican. Before this realignment there had been liberals and conservatives in both parties, which made it easy to form bipartisan teams who could work together.
But we also learned about factors that might possibly be reversed. The most poignant moment of the conference came when Jim Leach, a former Republican congressman from Iowa, described the changes that began in 1995. Newt Gingrich, the new speaker of the House of Representatives, encouraged the large group of incoming Republicans to leave their families in their home districts rather than moving their spouse and children to Washington. Before 1995, Congressmen from both parties attended many of the same social events on weekends; their spouses became friends; their children played on the same sports teams. But nowadays most Congressmen fly to Washington on Monday night, huddle with their teammates and do battle for three days, and then fly home on Thursday night. Cross-party friendships are disappearing; Manichaeism and scorched Earth politics are increasing.
Jonathan Haidt, quoted by Scott Alexander in “List Of The Passages I Highlighted In My Copy Of Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind“, Slate Star Codex, 2014-06-12.
December 11, 2015
Mark Steyn writes about his appearance before the Senate sub-committee on Space, Science and Competitiveness:
On the morning of the event, Senator Bill Nelson, the Florida Democrat and Ranking Member, sent a message, warning me that I was obligated to “respect the decorum of the Senate”. I’ve been invited to Buckingham Palace, the White House and parliaments around the world, and nobody has ever felt it necessary to pre-issue such a warning. In the event, the US Senate has no “decorum” worthy of respect, as we’ll get to in a moment.
I said above that the Senate had no “decorum” to disrespect. By that I mean that, when my pal Ezra Levant and I gave evidence (as we say in the Westminster tradition) in the Canadian Parliament, members from all parties turned up and asked thoughtful and engaged questions. When we run into each other in Montreal, the representatives of the Bloc Québécois and I do not even agree on what country we’re in. But that afternoon we had a pleasant and civilized exchange, and one that had some rewardingly non-partisan after-glow in the months that followed.
In the US Senate, at least on Tuesday, senators wander in and out constantly. Their five-minute “question” sessions are generally four-minute prepared statements of generalized blather followed by a perfunctory softball to “their” witness, after which they leave the room without waiting to hear the answer – and then come back in when it’s their time to speak again at which point the staffer feeds them the four-minute blather they’re supposed to be sloughing off this time round. The video doesn’t capture the fakery of the event because under Senate rules the camera is generally just on whoever’s speaking. Whether this meets the “decorum” of the Senate, it certainly doesn’t meet the decorum of life; it’s a breach of the normal courtesies – and, frankly, Americans are the chumps of the planet for putting up with it. Since the 17th Amendment, senators have been citizen-legislators like any other, and so their contempt for the citizenry who have graciously consented, at their own time and expense to appear before them, demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of the relationship.
Take this guy Brian Schatz, the Senator from Hawaii. He did his shtick, lobbed a softball at his witness, Rear Admiral Titley, and stood up to leave. I said I’d like to respond, and he demurred on the grounds that he was outta there, he had to get back to washing his hair or whatever. I said I’d still like to respond to what he said, and so I did – to an empty chair. A pseudo-parliament is a fine place in which to debate pseudo-science, but “decorum” has nothing to do with it.
There is another kind of basic rudeness, which I have never experienced in a real parliament. If you’re moderating a panel discussion on C-SPAN with five panelists, it’s generally considered polite to distribute the questions broadly. In this case, the Democrats asked no questions of anyone other than their guy – Rear Admiral Titley. For example, there was some extensive discussion of the satellite record: They have the scientist who created and developed the satellite temperature record sitting at one end of the table: John Christy. This is a remarkable scientific accomplishment. Yet they directed all their questions on the subject to the bloke down the other end – Rear Admiral Titley, who knows no more about the satellite record than I do. This is like inviting Sir Isaac Newton to a hearing on gravity and then only asking questions of Mr Timeserver sitting next to him. It may represent the “decorum” of the Senate but in any other area of life it would be regarded as insufferably ill-mannered.
December 8, 2015
Patrick Crozier says we shouldn’t automatically believe the “common wisdom” about the career of Senator Joe McCarthy:
The vast majority of books and articles written on the subject claim that [Senator McCarthy] made it all up. M. Stanton Evans begs to differ. In Blacklisted by History: the Untold Story of Senator Joseph McCarthy and his Fight Against America’s Enemies he argues that in the vast majority of cases those accused by McCarthy of being communists were exactly that. Some were out and out spies. Some were agents of influence. Some were happy to help in the running of communist front groups. But the argument still stands: they were aiding a power that was hostile to the United States.
Evans comes to this judgement mainly by leafing through the files that have become available. These include the FBI files and what have become known as the Venona transcripts: Soviet messages de-crypted by the US military in the 1940s.
It is important to realise that these weren’t just spy games. Communist activity had a real impact. In the early 1940s, for instance, John Stewart Service, the State Department’s man in China produced a string of reports. In them he praised Mao’s Communists to the hilt claiming that they were democrats and successfully fighting the Japanese while condemning Chiang Kai Shek’s Kuomintang (KMT) for being incompetent, corrupt and uninterested in prosecuting the war. This was a travesty of the truth. Reports like this led to the KMT being starved of money and weapons which may well have tipped the balance in the Civil War leading, in turn, to the misery that was subsequently inflicted on the people of mainland China.
So, if he was right why has he been condemned and why does he continue to be condemned by history? Some of it appears to have been McCarthy’s own fault. He puffed up his war record. He over-stated his case. He bullied witnesses. He made the odd mistake. He criticised revered war heroes. Some if it was snobbery. McCarthy was from the wrong side of the tracks. There was no Ivy League education for him. He left school early but through hard work still managed to become a lawyer. He was also a Catholic. But most of it was because he was up against the combined forces of the communists and the establishment.
The Tydings Committee – a special sub-committee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – was established to get to the bottom of his initial 1950 claim that there were 57 communist agents working in the State Department. It did no such thing. In fact it didn’t even try.
According to Evans it was a cover up from start to finish. There was almost no attempt to get at the facts. Often a denial from the accused was sufficient. At one point they even asked the leader of the US Communist Party if certain people were members. He had to be prompted to say “no”. Most of the hostile questioning was not aimed at the accused – who were often evasive – but McCarthy himself. An inordinate amount of time was given over to attempting to prove that McCarthy had initially claimed a figure of 205 rather than 57 – as if it mattered. There was a definite suggestion that State Department personnel files had been tampered with. It was no great surprise when the official report concluded that McCarthy had made it all up.
November 27, 2015
Many Republicans seem confident that last week’s performance in the mid-term elections bodes the end of the Obama era, and the dawn of the bright Republican future. Many Democrats seem confident that last week’s performance in the midterms was a mere blip on the way to the Emerging Democratic Majority. Both sides would do well to read Sean Trende’s 2012 book, The Lost Majority, which I made my way through this weekend.
To state Trende’s thesis simply: There is no such thing as a permanent majority. Parties are coalitions of disparate groups of voters, and they win by strapping enough different groups together to push themselves across the electoral finish line. Unfortunately, the broader your coalition, the harder it is to hold together. Those different groups may have radically different values and interests; satisfying one may end up alienating the other. Trende suggests that the longest-lived coalition was not, in fact Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s famed “realignment,” which showed large cracks as early as 1937, but the Eisenhower coalition that lasted roughly from 1952 to 1988. As the dates suggest, the reason for unity was the external threat from the Soviet Union. That’s a pretty stiff price to pay for internal unity.
I took two major things away from the book: First, you can’t count on demographics to hand you a victory in such a vast and diverse country, because today’s coalition members may end up as a large and growing pillar of the opposition. And second, although both parties are constantly hunting for a mandate for radical change, the voters almost never deliver one. The party stalwarts may want to tear down the current edifice and start over, but the less ideological coalition partners are usually looking for some light redecorating, perhaps along with a specific personal interest like freedom of conscience in business operations, or less restrictive immigration policy. The harder the parties push on their ideological platforms, the faster the “coalition of everyone” starts leaking supporters to the opposition.
Megan McArdle, “No Party Will Get a Permanent Majority”, Bloomberg View, 2014-11-10.
October 2, 2015
In The Freeman, Lawrence W. Reed talks about one of the last few Republicans in the Rome of Julius Caesar’s ascendance:
In the estimations of many historians, two men hold the honor as the most notable defenders of the Roman Republic. Marcus Tullius Cicero was one. Marcus Porcius Cato, or “Cato the Younger,” was the other.
Since there was a “younger,” there must have been an “elder,” too. Cato the Elder was the great grandfather of the younger. Both men, separated by more than a century, were influential in public office. Think of the elder as the social conservative, concerned in his day with preserving the customs and traditions of Rome. The younger was one of history’s early libertarians, interested more in personal and political liberties because he believed that if they were lost, nothing else mattered. It is this second one to whom I refer in the balance of this essay as simply “Cato.”
By the time of Cato’s birth in 95 BC, the Roman Republic was long in the tooth. Founded four centuries earlier, it had risen from obscurity to political and economic dominance in the Mediterranean. Rome was easily the world’s wealthiest and most powerful society. It wasn’t a libertarian paradise — slavery was a part of its makeup, as it was even more brutal everywhere else — but Rome had taken liberty to a zenith the world had never seen before and wouldn’t see again for a long time after it finally fell. The constitution of the republic embodied term limits; separation of powers; checks and balances; due process; habeas corpus; the rule of law; individual rights; and elected, representative legislative bodies, including the famous Senate. All of this was hanging by a thread in the first century BC.
Cato was just five years of age when Rome went to war with its former allies in the Italian peninsula — the so-called “Social War.” Though the conflict lasted just two years, its deleterious effects were huge. The decades to follow would be marked by the rise of factions and conflict and local armies loyal to their commanders instead of the larger society. A “welfare-warfare” state was putting down deep roots as Cato grew up. The limited government, personal responsibility and extensive civil society so critical to the republic’s previous success were in an agonizing, century-long process of collapse. Even many of those who recognized the decay around them nonetheless drank the Kool-Aid, succumbing to the temptations of power or subsidies or both.
Before the age of 30, Cato had become a supremely disciplined individual, a devotee of Stoicism in every respect. He commanded a legion in Macedon and won immense loyalty and respect from the soldiers for the example he set, living and laboring no differently from day to day than he required of his men. He first won election to public office (to the post of quaestor, supervising financial and budgetary matters for the state) in 65 BC and quickly earned a reputation as scrupulously meticulous and uncompromisingly honest. He went out of his way to hold previous quaestors accountable for their dishonesty and misappropriation of funds, which he himself uncovered.
Later he served in the Roman Senate, where he never missed a session and criticized other senators who did. Through his superb oratory in public and deft maneuverings in private, he worked tirelessly to restore fealty to the ideals of the fading Republic.
September 10, 2015
Published on 9 Sep 2015
Today’s big event in Washington, D.C. was a rally sponsored by the Tea Party Patriots against the Iran nuclear deal. The event drew several hundred people who showed equal amounts of contempt for the Islamic Republic of Iran, President Barack Obama — and the congressional leadership of the Republican Party.
There doesn’t seem to be a clear libertarian position on the Iran deal — some think it will open Iran up to moderating Western influence while others think it doesn’t do enough to keep the mullah’s nuclear ambitions at bay.
Reason TV caught up with Glenn Beck of The Blaze (2:18), radio host and best-seller Mark Levin (1:00), and former Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (5:10), all of whom ragged on establishment Republicans as much or more than they did on Harry Reid, Barack Obama, and Islamic clerics.
And we managed also to find out what Donald Trump — the big draw at today’s event — thinks about libertarians. (:51)
August 19, 2015
Colby Cosh on the Senate scandal that is convulsing the Parliamentary Press Gallery from coast-to-coast (actually, it’s more like from Gatineau to Nepean):
I wish I’d captured the exact quote from Twitter, but a paraphrase will have to do: someone said recently, “If you want to feel better about Canada, try explaining the Duffy-Wright scandal to someone from another country in one sentence.” I cannot help feeling that there is something to this. Our media have blitzed a courtroom and consumed great newspaper acreage over a very technical and complicated topic. There is no glamour in the affair, by world standards — phrases like “paid for hookers,” “hired a death squad” or “donations from the Klan” are absent.
Dubious billing procedures by politicians make for good stories. They helped bring down an Alberta government not long ago. But that news story involved using public resources for partisan purposes. In the case of Nigel Wright — as distinguished from the issue of Mike Duffy being a scurrilous, greedy trimmer, a truth we did not need a trial to tell us — the fundamental problem is what the Conservative party and Wright did to defray the questionable expenses imposed upon the treasury.
A scandal and a shame it may be, but in an upside-down way. Mike Duffy’s expense claims have not yet been found to be legally or procedurally wrong. Duffy was unwilling to pay them back. Nigel Wright tried to pre-empt the issue by making use of his personal fortune. It’s a “scandalous” donation of private dollars to the public treasury.
If I ask what is actually scandalous about this, I am guaranteed to receive several different answers. The Conservatives are charged with having considered paying Duffy’s expenses out of party funds, which, I am told, are “public” in nature because they are supported by a tax subsidy. The Conservatives did, of course, contemplate using party funds … but didn’t. And those funds, though subsidized, exist precisely to be applied ad libitum for partisan convenience.
Another theory is that Wright’s payment was, by its inherent nature, a “bribe.” The Conservatives, covering up bribery! — non-lawyers are fond of that one. Whether Duffy was guilty of accepting a bribe is, of course, one of the issues in the trial. It is even less clear that Wright is guilty of having offered a bribe: in law, a bribe does not take two to tango. Under the Criminal Code, giving a bribe means giving money to a legislator in order to get them to do something, or not do something, “in their official capacity.” There are plenty of speculative theories about what Wright had to gain from paying Duffy’s expenses: none, as far as I can see, involve Duffy’s official conduct.
July 30, 2015
Richard Anderson explains why unlike most mature countries, Canada is unable to amend the constitution:
The Senate is our great constitutional appendix. It gets a bit inflamed from time to time but, a hundred and fifty years in, we’ve generally come to the conclusion that it’s too much of a hassle to get rid of. In other countries, normal nation states, amending a constitution is just one of those things. There’s a convention, people argue about it and eventually some words get swapped in and out of the country’s basic law. The Americans might go so far as to fight a civil war over such things, but for most countries it’s routine stuff.
Having successfully avoided civil wars, insurrections, coup d’etats and other assorted public disturbances, the Canadian project has retained one bizarre character flaw: Our inability to amend the constitution in anything like a sensible manner. For those old enough to have lived through the constitutional wars of the 1970s and 1980s the very mention of the C-word induces terrible flashbacks. Sometimes when I close my eyes I can see Joe Clark talking about amending formulas. In those moments I question the existence of a merciful God.
The latest idea to drift out of the PMO is that Stephen Harper will stop appointing Senators. This is actually quite similar to how the PM approaches maintenance on 24 Sussex Drive. The official residence is almost as old as Canada itself. Unfortunately so is much of the plumbing. The building is literally falling to bits and requires millions in renovations. Being a politician first and a government tenant second, Stephen Harper knows that doing more than the bare minimum to keep up his Ottawa home will provoke shrieks of outrage from the Opposition. Only when the building finally collapses will anything really be done. And at three times the original price.
This same logic will now be applied to the Senate. The PM will stop appointing senators until there is no more Senate. Sounds neat, eh? Except that the Senate is ensconced into the bedrock of our constitutional order. If the number of living breathing Senators drops below quorum the Supreme Court, the real rulers of our fair Dominion, will order the PM to appoint more. Then the PM of the day, perhaps Mr Harper or Mr Mulcair, will shrug their shoulders and do as their bosses tell them.
The only way to get rid of the Senate is to amend the constitution. Like going to the dentist this would be both painful and expensive. Unlike going to the dentist it would also be interminable. Dentists, you see, have golf games. Constitutional lawyers don’t play golf. It would interrupt from their fascinating work of discussing whether or not the power of disallowance is genuinely obsolete. If you don’t understand what that means don’t worry neither do they.