All Bond Movies Ranked

Here’s something a little different. Now that I finally watched the one Bond movie I had not seen in its entirety from start to finish (see number 23), I can finally offer up my definitive ranking of all 24 Bond movies. Note: The spoof Casino Royale and Never Say Never Again are not included.

1) Goldfinger: Every bit of the Bond formula is done to perfection here: the villain, the henchman, the Bond girl, the top notch opening song and sequence: all among the best in Bond history. It also manages to be a bit campy without being absurd. Sean Connery’s Bond carefully hues the line between badass and sauve lady’s man in a way that would not really be replicated again, with perhaps Daniel Craig coming closest.

2) On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: George Lazenby’s only appearance as Bond stands out if for no other reason than it being the only time until the number six movie on the list that Bond shows anything like emotional vulnerability. Opinions certainly vary, but Telly Savalas to me is the signature Blofeld, though I could be persuaded toward Donald Pleasance.

3) From Russia With Love: For many, Daniela Biancha as Tatiana Romanova might be the greatest of all the “Bond girls,” and I wouldn’t particularly argue with that. As for the movie itself, I wouldn’t fuss with anyone who put either of these three at the top of the list.

4) Casino Royale: The Bond franchise desperately needed a fresh start after the disastrous Brosnan era and the mediocrity of latter-day Moore and Dalton, and what better way than to go back to the beginning with the very first Fleming novel. Daniel Craig was perfectly cast as Bond, and the script was the most faithful adaptation of a Fleming story since the Connery era ended. It brought the Bond franchise in the present without sacrificing the essential elements of what makes Bond so good.

5) Dr. No: The common thread among the top five movies on the list is that they are faithful adaptations of Ian Fleming’s novels. When they started veering from the plot towards the end of Connery’s run and especially in the Moore era is when the franchise started to falter. Hee we have the first in the series. It would take a couple of more films before the formula was clearly established, but this sets the series off on phenomenal footing.

6) Skyfall: After the disappointment of Quantum Solace, it was heartening to see a second strong effort from Craig. Sure, some of the plot is utterly ridiculous, but it showed a different side of the character.

7) The Spy Who Loved Me: Easily the best of the Moore movies, and the turning point of the franchise before it devolved into high camp. Also the one time when not being faithful to the novel was a good call.

8) Thunderball: It’s generally more highly regarded by others, but I’ve always thought it was a bit too busy, and the underwater scenes are simply hard to keep track of. Still brilliant, otherwise.

9) You Only Live Twice: The absurdity of Sean Connery trying to pretend to be Japanese aside, the introduction of Blofeld (finally) as the big bad is worthy of a top ten entry.

10) Live and Let Die: As cringe-worthy as some of the blackploitation scenes are, and as silly as the general plot may be, it’s still a ton of fun. It certainly sets the scene for the what the Roger Moore era would be: for good and bad.

11) The Living Daylights: Timothy Dalton was basically a 180 degree turn from Moore, perhaps turning too far to the hard-edged version of Bond. This movie would be an island of good in a sea of awfulness between the end of the Moore era and Craig.

12) SPECTRE: It disappointed, but was still a fairly solid feature.

13) Diamonds are Forever: Connery came back for one more turn, and it may have been better had he just remained retired from the series. There are still some high points, including the delightful Tiffany Case (Jill St. John), but Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd are more awkward than imposing. Throwing shade at Howard Hughes was certainly an interesting choice as well.

14) For Your Eyes Only: After the sheer awfulness of Moonraker (more on that later), a good comeback and the last of the good Moore movies. Bit of trivia: the ending of the movie with Bond and Melina being drug behind the boat as shark bait comes from the novel Live and Let Die. 

15) Licence to Kill: This may have taken the concept of a more hard-edged Bond a tad too far. Bond going on a bloodthirsty, revenge-fueled quest is something they would kinda reprise with Quantum of Solace, though dialed back a notch.

16) The Man with the Golden Gun: We really didn’t need to see a return of Roscoe P. Coltrane Sheriff JW Pepper. A slightly ridiculous movie but Christopher Lee is enjoyable enough as the villain.

17) Goldeneye: The best of the Brosnan movies. That tells you all you need to know about this period.

18) Octopussy: I’ve seen this multiple times and I’m still not sure what the hell the point is supposed to be.

19) Quantum of Solace: This happened.

20/21) Die Another Day/The World is Not Enough: Completely interchangeable and forgettable movies. I’d have to rewatch them to remember what the plot was supposed to be, and frankly I’d rather not. One of them had Denise Richards and, well, my brain has tried to blot the memory of that performance permanently.

22) A View to a Kill: The only Bond theme to hit the top of the Billboard charts. It singlehandedly saves this movie from being at the bottom of the list. Christopher Walken being Christopher Walken is normally enjoyable, but this was just awful.

23) Tomorrow Never Dies: The scene in which Eliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce) is speaking to his media henchmen is the most cringe-inducing scene in the history of the franchise, and that is a high bar. It plays out like a scene which would have been cut out of one of the Austin Powers movies for being too over-the-top. Pryce’s performance is especially disappointing, because he’s at an 11 on the maniacal villain scale, and he needed to be at about a 7.

24) Moonraker: James Bond in space. Some argue this is so bad it’s campy good humor. No. No it is not.

Political Bubbles and Assuming the Worst

The revelation – or really confirmation of what we all expected since day one – that Jussie Smollett staged to so-called hate crime committed against himself is the second significant case inside of a month of a viral story’s narrative crashing to Earth. Last month we witnessed the full fury of the internet unleashed upon the boys from Covington, only to have it been confirmed that not only were they innocent of the original allegations against them, they were basically the victims.

With two major stories now having exploded in the media’s face, we should naturally expect some circumspection from the media and from the general public going forward, and a reluctance to pounce on a story before the facts crystallize.

BWAHAHAHAHAHA. Nah, that’s not going to happen. Here’s CNN’s resident “conservative” SE Cupp:

This is a variation of the “conservatives pounce” theme. When leftists say or do something . . . deplorable, the media reaction is to call out conservatives for either exposing or highlighting the deplorable activity.

No one will learn a damned thing.

As for why people might be so eager to assume the worst of Trump supporters, the political bubbles we dwell in may explain much. Most of us reside in cocoons, reading news sources and social media feeds of those with whom we agree with politically. Not only does this cocooning impair our ability to understand the other side of the political spectrum, when we are exposed to the other side, it’s usually the worst elements of the other side. This is especially true on Twitter. When someone from the left is retweeted onto a conservative account – and vice versa – odds are it is someone expressing the dumbest opinion imaginable. The retweet is done for the express purpose of mockery. Therefore, we begin to hold even lower opinions of the other tribe. When a few schmuck alt-right accounts with a few thousand followers are retweeted by a member of La Resistance, the inclination is to believe that these are somehow representative of all of MAGA  nation. Similarly, if conservatives only see the most screeching members of La Resistance  retweeted into their timelines, they may come to believe that the left is more rabid than it might truly be.

And I do not absolve myself from any of this. I used to read a lot more left-wing political accounts and blogs than I do now.

Even if you’re not so inclined to start reading more Vox (or Breitbart), it would be good to keep in mind that not everything you see, especially when it is presented by co-partisans, is necessarily reflective of the entirety of the political thought of your political opposites.

 

The Emergency Order, Bad Arguments, and Logical Fallacies

Now that President Trump has issued the emergency declaration on the wall, I thought I would reiterate something I said multiple times during the Obama administration: there is no “The President thinks something is really really important but Congress won’t act so the President just gets to do whatever he wants” clause in the constitution. The Veruca Salt standard simply doesn’t exist. While I think the Democrat opposition to the wall is overwrought (and indeed now some have even indicated they want to remove the border barriers that doers exit), President Trump has had ample time to secure additional border wall funding. A changeover in Congressional leadership doesn’t constitute a national emergency.

I wanted to take the bulk of this post to address some of the responses I’ve seen, both in opposition and in defense of this action.

I’ll start with one argument made by opponents of the move that I deem to be overstated. They argue that this will set a precedent for future Democratic presidents to declare national emergencies over, say, climate change and healthcare*. There is a little bit of truth to this – as I said on twitter, each new precedent has a bit of snowball effect. But when looking at the cast of characters which constitutes the current Democratic presidential field, who doesn’t think that one of them will do this anyway? President Obama’s DACA order was arguably even less meritorious than President Trump’s actions here (where exactly was the crisis in not providing legal status to the children of illegal immigrants?), and it was President Obama who uttered his petulant “I’ve got a pen and a phone” threat when he grew frustrated with the constitution’s pesky limitations. If anything, Democrats have grown even more radical, and I don’t think President Trump increases the likelihood of future despotic actions.

* I’ve seen more than a few tweets in recent days about 28 million uninsured Americans being a graver national emergency. But I’m confused: wasn’t Obamacare supposed to solve this problem? I thought Obamacare was a “big fucking deal.” Well if there are still 28 million uninsured, maybe it was really nothing more than a “little useless clusterfuck.”

The flipside of the above is the argument from defenders of the administration is that we already have precedent, so Donald Trump’s actions are not unprecedented. Again, there’s an element of truth here, but that doesn’t make right-wing defenders of the president any less hypocritical. If you were (rightly) crying bloody murder every time President Obama used his pen and picked up his phone, you cannot now defend President Trump doing the same. If the “but daddy I want it” justification for emergency declarations is pathetic, even worse is the “but mommy he did it first” defense of the declaration. Speaking of setting precedents, you now have sent a clear message that the right-side of the political spectrum is cool with unilateral, unconstitutional, and unlawful presidential declarations so long as the end-result is fine by you. That seemingly less than about ten percent of the American public consistently even cares about constitutional law is indeed depressing.

As for the unlawful part of this, defenders say that “hey, Congress set us on this path, and the president is just doing what’s in his legal authority.” I’m not one to shy away from blasting Congress for cowering in fear to assert its rights as the superior  branch of the federal government, but I am not persuaded that the president is acting within the very generous parameters laid out by Congress. As David French explains in National Review, this is an abuse of the statutory authority given away by Congress.

Look at the list carefully. He’s listing criminal challenges. He’s listing humanitarian challenges. He’s listing the problems on the border that have existed for decades and that Congress has enacted comprehensive statutory schemes (including funding civilian wall construction and civilianimmigration authorities) to combat. Gang activity and drug-smuggling are grave problems, but they are crimes, not acts of war. The declaration doesn’t even try to argue that there is a precise, unique challenge that only the military can counter — such as a national disaster that would require the use of the military’s unrivaled heavy-lift capabilities or its immediate access to manpower.

Instead, the declaration cites the wasteful 2018 border deployment, but that is only evidence that the military has been used, not that it must be used. If the mere fact of a deployment were proof of the necessity of military intervention, then there would be no limiting principle on a president’s action. The message is clear — the military is “required” simply because he says it is required.

I was called a “neocon” on Twitter for having the temerity to argue that the president has no constitutional or statutory authority to justify issuing this emergency declaration. It is a sign of the lack of intellectual heft of much of the populist right that they believe defending constitutional norms is a sign of “new” conservative thinking.

I guess I could just sit back and laugh when President Harris issues a presidential emergency declaration shutting down the health insurance industry and forcing all Americans onto Medicare. It could be humorous to see the contortions of the overwhelming majority of Americans suddenly switching their opinions on such declarations. Instead I’ll just weep as our constitution becomes all but a dead letter.

Democrat Party Priorities

Earlier this week, Virginia legislator Kathy Tran pushed legislation to liberalize Virginia’s abortion laws and to do away with even the minimal restrictions on third trimester abortions. In support of Tran’s effort, Governor Ralph Northam had this to say in response to a question about the availability of abortion in the case of a child who has actually been born:

This is why decisions such as this should be made by providers, physicians, and the mothers and fathers that are involved. When we talk about third-trimester abortions, these are done with the consent of the mother, with the consent of physicians, more than one physician by the way, and it’s done in cases where there may be severe deformities, there may be a fetus which is non-viable. So in this particular example, if the mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen, the infant would be delivered, the infant would be kept comfortable, the infant would be resuscitated if this is what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physician and the mother.

This stance is an extreme one even in the Democratic party. Yet here is a full rundown of all the major Democratic party players in response to Northam:

(crickets)

On Friday, a photo emerged that showed Northam’s medical school yearbook page. Among the items was a photo of two individuals, one in black face and the other in a KKK robe. Presumably one of the two individuals was Northam. On Friday night, Northam apologized, but then on Saturday he backtracked in one of the weirdest press conferences in world history. He claimed that neither of the two individuals was he, and he also suggested that there be a facial recognition scan – how a facial recognition scan be done on a hooded figure is a mystery. He did say he had actually worn blackface for a Michael Jackson dance contest, and then came a bizarre explanation of having to apply shoe polish. There was even a moment during the presser where it seemed Northam was set to moonwalk before his wife reminded him where he was.

When it came to chastising Northam for the yearbook catastrophe, there has been no shortage of Democrats who are now calling for him to resign. Here is a rundown of just some of the Democratic presidential candidates condemning Northam and calling for him to step down.

Meanwhile, here is Hillary Clinton:

Other prominent Democrats have also chimed in and called for Northam to step down.

This has been a rather revelatory moment in American politics, and it has shone a bright line on the soul of the Democrat party. A governor defending infanticide draws absolutely no criticism, yet the revelation that this same individual may have posed for a racist photo 35 years ago means he should be cast into the exterior darkness.

Even if one concedes that silence does not connote support for Northam’s abortion stance, the comparative reactions to these two events should make abundantly clear where the Democrat party’s priorities lie. In a sad way, had Democrats stood by Northam they would be less morally repugnant. But their manifest lack of interest in condemning infanticide (if not outright support) is brought into clear relief when contrasted with their unified reaction against a man posing for a racist photo three and a half decades ago.

While we might applaud the Democrat party for coming a long way since their adulation for a man who spent many a day wearing the klan robe, it’s unfortunate they are less concerned about respecting the rights of at least one class of humans.

What An Incredibly Stupid Week

I’ve said I hope to refrain from discussing current events on this blog, or at least reacting to every news story other than to talk about larger constitutional and philosophical principles surrounding them. One of the reasons is my complete frustration with the state of the media and how things are reported, and what stories are reported. This past week served as confirmation of at that approach. Let’s recap the week that was, where things just dumber each day.

First, there was this Gillette toxic masculinity ad, which I think became viral late Sunday or last Monday. This is one of those moments where the reaction to it, and then the reaction to the reaction were more the story. Count me among those who just gently shrugged his shoulders at it. I can see what Gillette is trying to say, though why a razor company feels obligated to spread the message is beyond my poor ability to comprehend. Perhaps the reaction to it would have been more muted had it not come on the heels of the idiotic APA guidelines on “toxic masculinity.” I have only daughters, but I’m more afraid of them coming home with any of these guys than that I’m going to confront some toxically masculine son-in-law.

And then it got dumber from there.

President Trump then had the temerity to buy fast food and serve it in the White House to the National Champion Clemson Tiger football program. He said the government shutdown meant his cook staff couldn’t prepare a meal, so he bought a whole bunch of Burger King, McDonalds, and Wendy’s. I think the most overwrought reaction to this were those who claimed this proved that the president was a racist – because I guess only non-whites eat fast food and no member of the Clemson team is white. Amazingly this dominated the next two days of the news cycle, because we just needed to hear every possible analysis of just how wrong it was for the president to serve fast food to probably the only set of humans who can afford to eat fast food calorie-wise – athletes.

This was only displaced in the news cycle when BuzzFeed published a story by Jason Leopold claiming he had seen evidence proving President Trump had directed Michael Cohen to lie about the Russia investigation. Most sensible people waited for confirmation of the story, while others put on their impeachment party hates and started counting the days to his big Senate trial. But the story never was confirmed, and Robert Mueller’s office responded, saying “BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the special counsel’s office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony are not accurate.” This may seem like a non-denial denial, but I have to question why the Special Counsel’s office would have responded if the report were completely true. I don’t think this completely forgoes the possibility that Trump will wind up in legal hot water, but at this point BuzzFeed’s credibility should, again, be called into question. Still no other outlet has come forth to corroborate this story, and it seems more likely than not that this a nothingburger.

But that was all just the warmup for the stupidest, most despicable event of the week. Fortunately for me I was at a family event on Saturday, and thus could only briefly scroll through Twitter and Facebook. Therefore, I only saw some mentions of the altercation that had taken place near the Lincoln Memorial for the March for Life. So when I finally had an opportunity to sit down and watch the videotape, much more evidence had emerged. Some things became immediately obvious to me. First, there were no chants of “build the wall.” It’s possible some voice shouted that at some point, but it’s not clear who or even if that’s what was said.

Second, the original story of some high school kids getting in the face of a lone Native American protester were manifestly untrue. The longer videos clearly show it was the black Israelite* organization who were hurling all sorts of racist, homophobic, and other slurs at the boys, not the other way around. Then Nathan Phillips entered the fray, and things did not de-escalate, though that was his stated purpose for walking up to the group.

*: Just to be clear, that’s what they call themselves. I once saw them in New York, and as I called them by that name in response to a friend who asked me who they were, some woman chided me for using a supposed slur. 

I’m not going to recount everything that happened. By now I’m sure anyone reading this has already seen the videos or is familiar with what took place. Robby Soave has one of the most detailed and accurate assessments.

As I said, I fortunately came to this story a day late, so didn’t have the opportunity to opine about matters before more details became available. Others, however, were quick to condemn the kids, especially Nicholas Sandmann, who emerged as the Emmanuel Goldstein of the weekend. I’ve never heard of a Nazi smirk, but he has one according to the bright lights of the internet.

The treatment of Mr. Sandmann is particularly galling when you consider that he acted more responsibly than any other human being in this affair. There’s even a point, caught on video, where he clearly signals to one his classmates to knock it off when said classmate began getting into it with one of the other protesters. Rather than representing the smirking face of hate, Sandmann was a young man who showed great resolve and fortitude in the face of – let’s call it what it is, hatred.

There are numerous takeaways from this event. Perhaps none are as important as this: maybe wait a moment before posting your social media hot take. It’s true that waiting for “all the evidence” to come in may entail literally waiting forever, but it couldn’t hurt to wait for more than one initial viral video.

But at least some who initially attacked the boys repented and apologized when moire evidence started coming in. Others, however, just dug in their heels. Either they’re lying about seeing the longer videos, or else these people are so blinded by their ideological hatreds that they refuse to see truth when it is literally in front of them.

There are many to blame in this fiasco, and few who come off well. Let’s start off with who deserves the least amount of blame or hate: the aforementioned Nicholas Sandmann. As for the bulk of his classmates, I’m starting to take the position that they, too, largely acted well. Did some of them act foolishly and respond poorly to some of the antagonism? Perhaps, but how should a 16 or 17-year old respond when a bunch of nutjob racists are yelling at you, or some other weird dude begins playing a drum in your face? As for the MAGA hats, this is the only semi-legitimate criticism, but only insofar as wearing any partisan political regalia should be frowned upon at the March for Life because we want to try to keep partisanship out of the event as much as possible. But the idea that the hats themselves are inherently bad or equivalent to a Klan hood, as was repeated throughout the Twitterverse, is obscenely stupid.

Next up, we have the chaperones. I have not heard a satisfactory answer to where they were during this. Could any of them have stepped up to protect the boys, or did some try only to be shouted down? This is one part of the story I’d like to investigate further before passing judgment.

Nathan Phillips, meanwhile, at best exaggerated his role in this or just blatantly lied, intimating that he went in there to play peacemaker, when it is clear he was dead set on stirring up the agitation. Of course, the black Israelites are the worst direct actors in this story. They are an insane group of angry bigots, and anyone attempting to defend them in any way should be shunned.

Then there’s the media. Oh, suddenly they had something to report on during the March for Life. Let’s ignore those anti-Semites marching in Washington the very next day, we’ve got some southern, Catholic, white boys to demonize. It took most major media outlets a full two days before some of them started to say, “Hey, maaaaaaaybe we kinda sorta got this one completely wrong.”

But I reserve my greatest ire for both the school and for the archdiocese of Covington, with special mention for the archdiocese of Baltimore. These venerable institutions wasted no time in throwing these students under the bus. What’s more, when the situation began clearing up and the real news began trickling in, they failed to retract their earlier groveling statements. Only very recently did the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Covington walk back a little bit, but only through mealy-mouthed statements saying that they were “investigating” the incident. What’s there to investigate? It’s the same mealy-mouthed shit being spewed by Fr. Jim Martin, who refuses to fully apologize for throwing stones at these boys, and instead chooses to offer passive-voiced, conditional-laden non-apology apologies.

Amy Welborn has more to say about Jim Martin and that other noted guardian of charitable speech, Mark Shea. Donald McClarey, meanwhile, has noted the cowardice of Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville and his failure to retract his earlier condemnatory comments.

For those who are not fans of harsh language, I advise you to skip this next paragraph.

Hey, assholes, you know how you buried your heads in the fucking sand while your colleagues were out there diddling boys and seminarians, and how you continue to evade all sense of responsibility? Yeah, you might want to think twice before you trash faithful Catholic boys and men before all evidence comes in. But I guess you don’t much care about evidence, because you obviously didn’t give two shits while seminarians were telling you what was happening inside the walls of your seminaries. So the next time you mail your pleas for your archdiocesan appeals, just know the envelopes and the papers inside are going to be used for their only useful purpose: toilet paper.

Ahem. So that’s where we are. The only confident prediction I will offer from all this: we will learn absolutely nothing from this.

That’s Not How the Constitution Works, Mr. President

Hey guys, do you recall the “if Congress isn’t being reasonable, the President gets to do what he wants” clause of the U.S. Constitution? I don’t, but evidently President Trump has access to the secret Constitution.

President Trump on Wednesday resumed his threat to bypass Congress and fund the construction of a border wall by declaring a national emergency if Democrats maintain their opposition to his funding demands.

“I have the absolute right to do national emergency if I want,” Trump told reporters during a White House pool spray. “My threshold will be if I can’t make a deal with people that are unreasonable.”

As AP reminds us earlier in his post, this is the same exact rationale President Obama employed with DACA. It was outrageous then, and it is outrageous now for President Trump to consider using executive action here.

President Obama threw quite a few presidential tantrums – the equivalent of Veruca Salt saying “But Daddy I want it” – whenever Congress didn’t give him what he wanted, so he acted unilaterally and without constitutional sanction, and fortunately he was slapped down quite a few times, and unanimously so, by the Supreme Court. Sadly, President Obama is not the only president to think that “urgent” matters give him unprecedented authority. Blame Congress both in its dithering and in its unwillingness to slap down presidents if you want – I certainly do – but it takes one to do the unconstitutional tango.

It doesn’t matter how important a given president thinks the issue is. There are clear mechanisms for pursuing a given action, and the president does not just get to act unilaterally in most cases just because Congress can’t agree on a given course. Sometimes executive orders are given under rightful circumstances. No one in their right mind should think we’ve reached such a crisis point of national security that the president should be able to go all Samantha on Bewitched, blink his eyes, and get what he wants.

And if you do think the president would be acting justly in this matter, I hope you take the same position when a future Democrat president declares that climate change is the moral equivalent of war and he can thus shut down all coal and natural gas plants on his say-so.

Populism and Conspiracy Thinking

Last week Tucker Carlson blew up the right side of the internet when he delivered this 15 minute monologue on his nightly show. It was ostensibly a response to Senator Mitt Romney’s op-ed in the Washington Post, blasting President Trump for his rhetoric and character. But in reality it was so much more, and represents a sharp divide between “populist” and traditional conservative/libertarian economic thought. It has spurred a number of critical responses as well as defenses. David French had one here, and Ben Shapiro has now written a pair of pieces as well.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Frankly, I find this debate a refreshing change of pace because the focus is on fundamental principles. Most of Carlson’s critics concede the truth of much of what he says, though they are critical both of his solutions (or lack thereof) and the level of blame he places on elites.

There is a lot here to discuss, and indeed it touches on some of the topics I had been hoping to cover. Here I am just going to focus on one very narrow issue, and it’s one David French touched upon. Listening to – or reading – Carlson’s talk, I heard a lot of familiar notes. Whenever I read through populist screeds in various social media settings, a common refrain is that some external force is the reason for all that ails either the individual or society as a whole. By external force I mean some force outside the person himself. Some kind of nefarious group – politicians, Democrats, Republicans, masons, etc. – is pulling the strings and are the cause of our woes.

Carlson’s monologue was full of these indictments. Here’s French quoting Carlson:

And he talks about wealthier Americans as if they’re indifferent to the plight of their fellow Americans. Here’s Carlson: “Those very same affluent married people, the ones making virtually all the decisions in our society, are doing pretty much nothing to help the people below them get and stay married. Rich people are happy to fight malaria in Congo. But working to raise men’s wages in Dayton or Detroit? That’s crazy.”

As French notes, this just isn’t true.

In 2017, Americans gave more than $410 billion in charity, and the idea that this charity flows principally overseas is ludicrous. Gifts to international charities represented only 6 percent of total giving, and foreign aid represents roughly 1.2 percent of the federal budget, an inconsequential sum compared with the immense sums we spend in the United States on economic development and social welfare. America is consistently one of the most charitable countries in the world, whether measured by volunteerism or money.

The more subjective aspect of this claim is that the rich just don’t care about the plight of poor people or the folks in Appalachia. While it’s easy to pin bad policy choices on a lack of concern, this is not necessarily accurate. Or as French puts it, it’s less about rich Americans not caring as them just making poor policy decisions.

What struck me about all this is that there’s a common subtext with conspiracy thinking. For conspiracy theorists, there’s always some cabal working behind the scenes to destroy everything. The World Trade Center didn’t get taken out by a pair of planes flown by Islamic terrorists – oh no, it was Bush and Cheney and a neocon plot to eventually invade the Middle East and take all their oil. No, those kids in Connecticut weren’t gun down by a madmen, it was a plot by the US government to force gun control upon us.

The thing about conspiracy theorizing is that in some ways it serves as a comfort to those who espouse these ideas. Here’s why. It is unfathomable to think that terrible events could be random. Or, better yet, it’s difficult to accept that these truly events could have happened in the United States without some sort of sign off by the deep state. Because if some random mad man can just shoot up a school, or if 19 well-funded terrorists could take out the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and kill thousands, the world becomes a much less ordered place. I mean just look at the paranoid discussion centering around the new world order – and I don’t mean that one, brother. The key word there is “order.” Because if the world isn’t being run by such cabals, then there’s decidedly less order in the world.

In many ways I think this is what motivates populist thinking. If there is an opioid crisis in Appalachia, then the remote cause can’t be the choices those individual living there made. The crisis must have been precipitated by men of evil intent. Because the flip side of conspiracy and populist thinking is that if we get rid of the bad men and replace them with well-intentioned people, then there is a solution to the world’s ills.

The chaos and tragedy of the world is not just that – it’s not the natural state of a fallen world, but a predetermined outcome. It’s unthinkable that bad things could just happen in the United States or the citizens of the country. Ultimately, if we just adjust the gears, then things will be okay.

I recognize that this this is not an entirely fair comparison, and there’s a little bit more complexity to Carlson’s and others thinking. Yet I can’t help but see this underlying connection. It’s an outlook that is both fatalistic and yet naively optimistic, because the subtext is that a fix is just a flick of the light-switch away. It is a shared worldview that is uncomfortable with disorder. Ultimately both modes of thinking are dangerous in their own ways, but more on that to follow.

A Civics Lesson for Our Speaker

So Nancy Pelosi recently had this to say:

When Pelosi was asked whether she considers herself equal to Trump, she said, “The Constitution does,” The New York Times reported.

Pelosi’s position as Speaker makes her the second in line for the presidency should something happen to Trump, after Vice President Pence, according to the Constitution.

There are two ways to intepret Pelosi’s comment, and neither one is flattering regarding her understanding of the constitution. The more charitable interpretation is that she means the legislative branch is co-equal to the executive. In this case, she would be underestimating her own branch’s standing. Jay Cost and Luke Thompson have a done a fantastic job on their Constitutionally Speaking podcast to debunk this long-held cliche about “co-equal” branches. If you have spent any time examining the political thought of the Framers, you’d immediately be disabused of the notion that they thought the three branches were equal. The legislative branch, as the branch representing the people, was held to be the superior branch. One can look at the powers delegated to each branch and recognize the implicit belief in legislative superiority. What the constitution expounded was not “separate but equal,” but rather the idea that each branch had defined roles, with some amount of intermingling powers as a “check” on those powers. But the idea they were equal in weight is not supported by a reading of the constitution or an understanding of the history.

If Pelosi is instead asserting that her position is equal to the presidency itself, well that’s just absurd on its face. That the Speaker comes second in the line of succession is proof not of its equality, but of its inferiority to the presidency. The Speakership is barely mentioned in the constitution other than to define how the Speaker is chosen. The Speaker of the House’s powers are largely a creation of House rules, not of the constitution itself. The Speaker cannot issue executive orders, appoint constitutional officers, make war, or any of the other myriad constitutionally defined powers of the executive. While Congress as a whole may be superior to the Executive, the Speaker of the House alone is not even remotely within the president’s orbit in terms of actual power.

We’re already off to a wonderful start in Nancy Part II.

 

 

What’s a Little Article V Among Friends?

 .  . . and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate. – Article V, U.S. Constitution

The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. – 17th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution

Even a curmudgeon like me will concede that not all debates over constitutional meaning are crystal clear. Interpreting original meaning (or intent, if you prefer) can be difficult. Trying to determine whether the freedom of speech clause of the first amendment really applies to political donations, or whether the first amendment even applies to the federal government at all, is not necessarily black and white.

But then there are certain clauses which are really not open to interpretation. There’s no creative way to argue that a 31-year old man born and naturalized in France is eligible for the presidency. Similarly, the equal composition of the Senate is laid out in black and white throughout the constitutional text. More importantly, this is one element of the constitution that cannot simply be amended by the traditional process. As laid out in Article V of the U.S. Constitution, no state can be deprived of equal suffrage in the Senate without its consent. This means that for all practical purposes equal suffrage in the Senate cannot be altered unless every single state assents to this change, which really means that equal suffrage in the Senate cannot be altered. This would seem pretty straightforward.

Not if you’re a writer for the Atlantic with a day job teaching Legal Studies at Business Ethics at Wharton, because Eric Orts has a proposition for you: we’ll just legislate this pesky hindrance away. No, seriously:

There’s a better, more elegant, constitutional way out. Let’s allocate one seat to each state automatically to preserve federalism, but apportion the rest based on population. Here’s how.

Start with the total U.S. population, then divide by 100, since that’s the size of the current, more deliberative upper chamber. Next, allocate senators to each state according to their share of the total; 2/100 equals two senators, 3/100 equals three, etc. Update the apportionment every decade according to the official census.

In the new allocation, the total number of senators would be 110. The total is more than 100 because 10 of the smallest states have much less than 0.5/100 of the U.S. population but are still entitled to one senator each.

So how do you get out of the clear constitutional prohibition against this change? Legislation, of course:

First, consider that Article V applies only to amendments. Congress would adopt the Rule of One Hundred scheme as a statute; let’s call it the Senate Reform Act. Because it’s legislation rather than an amendment, Article V would—arguably—not apply.

Second, the states, through the various voting-rights amendments—the Fourteenth, Fifteenth, Nineteenth, Twenty-Fourth, and Twenty-Sixth—have already given their “consent” by directing Congress to adopt legislation to protect equal voting rights, and this delegated power explicitly applies to “the United States” as well as the states. The Senate Reform Act would simply shift seats according to population. No state or its citizens would lose the franchise.

Note that even states that did not ratify the voting-rights amendments have, functionally, consented to them, and thus also to the constitutional logic supporting a Senate Reform Act. As Justice Clarence Thomas explained in 1995, “The people of each State obviously did trust their fate to the people of the several States when they consented to the Constitution; not only did they empower the governmental institutions of the United States, but they also agreed to be bound by constitutional amendments that they themselves refused to ratify.”

There are so many logical problems with this that you can drive a truck through them, and fortunately Charles Cooke has done the job natural-born Americans won’t do:

Never in the history of the English language has the word “arguably” done as much work to support the sentences around it. And never, ever has it been so cruelly exposed to ridicule. On Orts’s rationale, Congress could amend any part of the Constitution by legislation. Want to abolish the First Amendment? Just pass the repeal through Congress on a simple majority vote. Easy! That the various branches of government are formed by the Constitution itself — and, by extension, that they cannot amend their own structure without that Constitution being amended — is the most elementary rule in all of American law. It cannot be undone by wishful thinking. Indeed, if anything, the Senate’s structure is the most permanent variable in the entire U.S. Constitution, given that it not only enjoys the same protection as everything else, but has an extra layer on top that ensures that any alteration be made with the consent of those directly affected. For Orts to treat the most heavily guarded item within the document as if it were the most easily circumvented is nothing less than extraordinary, and suggests to me that he believes his audience is stupid.

As to point two:

Even for those of us who are accustomed to learning in awe about the many innovative policies the architects of the Reconstruction Amendments intended secretly to mandate in the future, this one is a doozy. Insofar as it can be followed, Orts’s case here is that (a) the Constitution protects equal voting rights, (b) that, in his view, the Senate does not protect equal voting rights, so (c) the Constitution mandates that the Senate be altered — presumably via the “arguable” legislative method outlined above. Historically, legally, and linguistically, this approach is bizarre: If the framers of the “Fourteenth, Fifteenth, Nineteenth, Twenty-Fourth, and Twenty-Sixth” amendments had wanted to abolish or amend the Senate, they would have done so — or, rather, they wouldn’t have done so, because their amendments would have failed spectacularly at the first hurdle. Worse still, it is extremely dangerous, for if Orts’s approach were to be indulged, we would quickly move so far beyond both the security of both stare decisis and plain language as to invite endless, untrammeled chaos. Why? Well, because one can play his game with anything. First, you find a part of the Constitution that guarantees a favored end — say, “establish justice,” “promote general welfare,” or guarantee “freedom of the press”; then you contend that this end is incompatible with any other provision you happen not to like; and, finally, you explain that the provision you dislike is itself unconstitutional. At best, this method represents cheap sophistry. At worst, it represents anarchy. Again: “Our Constitution is more malleable than many imagine” is a euphemism for “We must ignore the law as it is written.”

Now take it home Charles:

But we must not, of course. Rather, we must ignore Orts, and we must push back against people who believe their job is to rewrite history and to misinform on a grand scale. I can see why certain professors feel the need to do this: Absurd as his cases always are, my proverbial Grunton Rabitini of Soiled Woods College has his words repeated widely by the unprincipled and the uninformed. But I cannot see why The Atlantic needs to publish it. We have a civics problem already in this country. Professor Orts and his editors just made it that little bit worse.

Unbelievably, Orts tried to fight back on Twitter, spending most of the time (incorrectly) complaining that Cooke failed to substantively address any of his points, relying instead on personal attacks, even as Orts accuses Cooke of taking his position because of “white privilege.” Even by the usual dumb standards of Twitter it was pretty horrific.

It’s sad to recall that Orts is an actual professor who teaches college students, because his understanding of constitutional law couldn’t be much dimmer than his average student.

2018 Finis

I created this blog at the tail end of the Kavenaugh hearings. At no point in the last three years had I felt as inflamed and passionate about politics as I was during this time, and so I decided to start blogging yet again.

These past three years have been rough politically, and this is especially reinforced every time I hop on Twitter. All of social media has been bad, but everything is magnified on Twitter. This past weekend I flipped back and forth between certain MAGA-nation grifters expressing their lack of #caring about dead immigrants, backed by their legion of cult followers, and the #Resistance crowd – who frequently bellyache about Donald Trump’s callous tone – celebrating the death of a young staffer for the Federalist.

It is at times amusing, and at other times distressing, to note the similarities between MAGA Nation and La Resistance. The former mocks the latter for their snowflake tendencies, even as the former viciously turn on anyone who dares even utter a peep of criticism of President Trump. The former’s cultlike reverence for the current president, meanwhile, is eclipsed only by the latter’s undying devotion to his immediate predecessor, which is itself being eclipsed by their deification of the white Irish skateboarding guy who lost to Ted Cruz. And of course neither side can see the irony of mocking/lauding Donald Trump’s ignorance one moment while lauding/mocking Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for the idiocy that comes out of her mouth the next.

All this means my passion for writing about politics has waxed and waned. (It should be noted that the time I have to devote to extended writing has almost entirely waned.) Who wants to write about politics when it seems less than ten percent of the population is anywhere near where you are at the moment?

In the end, my lifelong interest in politics cannot simply be snuffed out. So my hope is that in the coming year I can get around to posting more frequently. This blog was never intended to be yet another one dedicated to current events. There are plenty of people who have dedicated their careers to either complaining about Donald Trump or complaining about the people complaining about Donald Trump, and I don’t need to add my voice to this chorus.

With that in mind, to the extent I do write about current events, it will be in the light of constitutional and general political philosophy (this blog should really be hopping around June, then). I will also hope to expand into other areas that tickle my fancy.

And with that, I hope you all have a healthy and happy New Year.