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Russia’s Putin beyond Constitutional Government: The Case of Aleksei Navalny

With a judge handing down a five-year suspended prison sentence, a fine of 500,000 rubles (about $8,400), and a ban on participating in the upcoming presidential election in 2017, Aleksei Navalny could feel just how power can be wielded by high government officials, including even presidents—power ultimately backed up by stern men with guns with the legal right to use lethal force. This, I submit, is what government comes down to—it’s bottom line.
The true look of a government’s power. (Sergei Brovko/Reuters)

The full essay is at “Russia’s Putin beyond Constitutional Government.”

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Can an Electorate Hold Its Political Elite Accountable: The Case of François Fillon

Can a political elite hold itself accountable? Left to its own devices, absent a virtuous citizenry, a political elite is able to exploit a conflict of interest in both wielding the authority of government and using that power even to constrain the elite itself. Unfortunately, even where an electorate is virtuous, the dispersed condition of the popular sovereign is an impediment to galvanizing enough popular will to act as a counter-power to that of a political elite, which is relatively concentrated and well-informed. In early 2017, the problem was on full display in the E.U. state of France, with little the federal government could do given the amount of governmental sovereignty still residing at the state level. So the question is whether an electorate can galvanize enough power to counter that of a political elite.

François Fillon in trouble for corruption amid an ensconced political elite. (Christian Hartmann/Reuters)

The full essay is at “François Fillon.”

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The French Socialist Party’s Proposal of a Universal Income Amended: An Economic Floor Providing Economic Security to the Poor

Benoit Hamon, “riding to victory” from political obscurity on a proposal to “pay all adults a monthly basic income,” defeated the recent Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, in a presidential primary runoff election of the Socialist Party in the E.U. state of France.[1]Although “Hamon wasn’t as tainted as Valls by Hollande’s unpopularity” because Hamon had “rebelled and quit the government in 2014,” whereas Valls served more than two years as Hollande’s prime minister in the state legislature, Hamon’s “proposal for a 750 euros ($800) ‘universal income’ that would be gradually granted to all adults also proved a campaign masterstroke. It grabbed headlines and underpinned his surprise success in the primary’s two rounds of voting.”[2]I submit that the proposal, although flawed from the standpoint of economic security, fits well with the industrial world of global capitalism.




1. Associated Press, “Hard-left Candidate wins French Socialists’ Presidential primary,” Foxnews.com. January 29, 2017.

2. Ibid.

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The Electoral College Hampered: The Case of Nixon’s 1968 Campaign Treason

While he was running for the U.S. presidency in 1968, Richard Nixon told H.R. Haldeman “that they should find a way to secretly ‘monkey wrench’ peace talks in Vietnam” by trying to get the South Vietnamese government to refuse to attend peace talks in Paris until after the U.S. election.[1]Specifically, Nixon gave instructions that Anna Chennault, a Republican fundraiser, should keep “working on” South Vietnamese officials so they would not agree to a peace agreement before the U.S. election.[2]“Potentially, this is worse than anything he did in Watergate,” said John Farrell, who discovered evidence of Nixon’s involvement from Haldeman’s notes on a conversation with the candidate. That Nixon committed a crime to win the election is itself an indication that the way Americans elect the federal president was flawed. That he went on to cover up the Watergate crime committed during the 1972 campaign only to win by a landslide should give pause to anyone having faith in an unchecked popular election.  I contend that the American Founders had designed the Electoral College in part to catch such a candidate from becoming president, even if the College had never operated as such. Yet it could.

The full essay is at “The Case of Nixon’s Treason.”

1. Peter Baker, “Nixon Sought ‘Monkey Wrench’ in Vietnam Talks,” The New York Times, January 3, 2017.
2. Ibid.

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How American Presidents Are Selected: Beyond Russian Interference

Most delegates in the U.S. Constitutional Convention in 1787 recognized the value of constitutional safeguards against excess democracy, or mob rule. The U.S. House of Representatives was to be the only democratically elected federal institution—the U.S. Senate, the U.S. Supreme Court, and even the U.S. Presidency were to be filled by the state legislatures, the U.S. President and U.S. Senate, and electors elected by citizens, respectively. The people were to be represented in the U.S. House and the State governments in the U.S. Senate. The Constitutional Amendment in the early twentieth century that made U.S. senators selected by the people rather than the governments of the States materially unbalanced the original design. In terms of the selection of the U.S. president by electors, the political parties captured them such that whichever party’s candidate wins a State, the electors there are those of the winning party. Even if the electors could vote contrary to the popular vote in a State, such voting could only be a rare exception given the party-control. Hence the electors have not been able to function as intended—as a check against excess democracy. The case of Russian interference in the presidential election of 2016 presents an additional use for the Electoral College, were it to function as designed and intended. Of course, this is a huge assumption to make, even just in taking into account the American mentality regarding self-governance.

The full essay is at “How American Presidents Are Selected.”

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Getting an Election So Wrong: The American Media and Pollsters in 2016

“After projecting a relatively easy victory for Hillary Clinton with all the certainty of a calculus solution, news outlets like The New York Times, The Huffington Post and the major networks scrambled to provide candid answers.”[1] The dynamics likely went beyond even candid answers from the media, with major implications for how much reliance Americans should place on their media-establishment for political information.


The full essay is at “Getting an Election So Wrong.”


1. Jim Rutenberg, “News Outlets Wonder Where the Predictions Went Wrong,” The New York Times, November 9, 2016.

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Iceland’s Pirate Party on Systemic Change in Developing Democracy

Rarely does systems theory become a political issue; instead, political parties and their respective candidates brandish policy positions geared to fixing particular issues (i.e., parts of systems). In Iceland, the Pirate Party proffered an exception leading up to the 2016 election. “We do not define ourselves as left or right but rather as a party that focuses on the systems,” said Birgitta Jónsdóttir, the party’s leader.[1]In other words, the party made system itself the issue. “We stand for enacting changes that have to do with reforming the systems, rather than changing minor things that might easily be changed back,” she said.[2]Even if the minor things could not be easily changed back, I contend that fixing them is still sub-optimal when the systems of which they are part are warped, and thus deficient as wholes. Therefore, a political party’s emphasis on systems as themselves being in need of reform presents the world’s population with a practical way to redress systemic problems.

The full essay is at “Iceland’s Pirate Party.”



1. Kim Hjelmgaard, “Hacker-founded Pirate Party Could Win Iceland’s Election,” USA Today, October 28, 2016.

2. Ibid.

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Political Ideology in the U.S. Supreme Court: Undercutting the Court’s Legitimacy

As the U.S. Supreme Court began its 2016 term with eight justices, the Court stood “at the threshold of an ideological transformation unmatched in nearly a half century.”[1]Not since 1968, when Richard Nixon was elected U.S. President, had such an opportunity presented itself. Nixon’s four nominations ended the liberal majority begun by Franklin Roosevelt’s eight.[2]The conservative majority begun with Nixon’s nominations was up for grabs with the 2016 presidential election. I submit that the legitimacy of the ideological dimension itself dwarfs the matter of which ideology is dominant on the Court.




[1]Richard Wolf, “Court at Brink of Transformation,” USA Today, September 30 – October 2, 2016.

[2]Ibid.

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Americans Can Sue Saudi Arabia over 9/11 and the Saudis Accept Higher Oil Production by OPEC: The Unraveling of a Deal?

On Wednesday, September 28, 2016, the U.S. Congress voted overwhelmingly—97-1 in the Senate and 348-77 in the House of Representatives—to override President Obama’s veto of a bill that allows the families of the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center bombings.[1]As a result, American courts can seize Saudi assets to pay for any judgment obtained by the families. Saudi officials in turn warned that their government might need to sell off hundreds of billions of dollars in holdings in the United States to avoid such an outcome. In another place in the world, Saudi officials were dropping their resistance to OPEC—an oil cartel—cutting production. Even though positive correlation does not in itself indicate causation, the timing may point to the impact of political calculations by Obama. That is to say, the timing may suggest a political deal gone bad.



The full essay is at “Unraveling of a Deal?


1. Jennifer Steinhauer, Mark Mazzetti, and Julie H. Davis, ,“Congress Allows Saudis to Be Sued Over 9/11 Attacks,“ The New York Times, September 29, 2016.

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Russian Electoral Fraud: A Threat to Constitutional Governance

In spite of Ella Pamfilova’s appointment in March, 2016 to “clean house and oversee transparent, democratic elections,” . . . “a statistical analysis of the official preliminary results of the country’s September 18 [2016] State Duma elections points to a familiar story: massive fraud in favor of the ruling United Russia party.”[1] “The results of the current Duma elections were falsified on the same level as the Duma and presidential elections of 2011, 2008, and 2007, the most falsified elections in post-Soviet history, as far as we can tell,” physicist and data analyst Sergei Shpilkin said to The Atlantic.”  In 2008, Shpilkin estimated that United Russia actually won 277 seats in the Duma instead of the constitutional majority of 315 that it was awarded.[2] This means that Putin’s party could unilaterally amend the Russian constitution. From a constitutional standpoint, either the hurdles in the amendment process are too low or the election fraud has been so massive the entire form of government is impaired.


The full essay is at “Russian Electoral Fraud.”



1. Valentin Baryshnikov and Robert Coalson, “12 Million Extra Votes for Putin’s Party,” The Atlantic, September 21, 2016.

2. Robert Coalson, “Russia: How the Kremlin Manages to Get the Right Results,” Radio Free Europe, March 7, 2008.

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California Passes Stricter Pollution Targets: Bringing Business Around

California’s legislature approved a bill (SB 32) in August, 2016 that extends the climate targets from reducing greenhouse-gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2020 (the former target) to just 40 percent of 1990 levels by 2030.[1]A second law, which includes increased legislative oversight of California regulators and targets refineries in poor areas, passed as well. Diane Regas of the Environmental Defense Fund pointed to California’s climate leadership. “As major economies work under the Paris Agreement to strengthen their plans to cut pollution and boost clean energy, California, once again, is setting a new standard for climate leadership worldwide.”[2]At first glance, it would seem that the legislature had freed itself from big business to pass the bills, but the sector itself was split. I submit the anticipation of a refreshed “cap and trade” program as an alternative (or mitigating factor) to stricter regulations played a role. Simply put, using the market mechanism in government regulation makes the stricter targets more palatable to market-based enterprises.

The full essay is at “California on Greenhouse Gases.”


1. Chris Megerian, “’A Real Commitment Backed Up by Real Power’: Gov. Jerry Brown to Sign Sweeping New Climate legislation,” Los Angeles Times, August 25, 2016.

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Picking a U.S. President: Excessive and Insufficient Democracy

Even as the Electoral College has never performed as intended, that the delegates at the U.S. federal constitutional convention devised it can help us to flesh out some of the hidden, or overlooked, deficiencies in how a U.S. president is selected in t… . . . → Read More: Picking a U.S. President: Excessive and Insufficient Democracy

The Big Short and Concussion: A System on Steroids

Want a glimpse of the “powers that be,” American-style? Three films–“The Big Short,” “Concussion,” and “Spotlight”–together form a perfect storm that in theory could trigger resistance. More practically speaking, the films are likely to result in mor… . . . → Read More: The Big Short and Concussion: A System on Steroids

The Big Short and Concussion: A System on Steroids

Want a glimpse of the “powers that be,” American-style? Three films–“The Big Short,” “Concussion,” and “Spotlight”–together form a perfect storm that in theory could trigger resistance. More practically speaking, the films are likely to result in mor… . . . → Read More: The Big Short and Concussion: A System on Steroids

Political Contributions in the U.S.: Political Bribery Beyond Access

What exactly does a large political contribution do for a contributor? The standard line is that access is “bought.” Being far removed from the Washington “belt-way,” the American people have swallowed the line, admittedly naively. As of 2015, we can look at the proverbial “man behind the curtain” for a much more realistic grasp of the extent to which the American political system is corrupt.


The full essay is at “Political Bribery

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Political Contributions in the U.S.: Political Bribery Beyond Access

What exactly does a large political contribution do for a contributor? The standard line is that access is “bought.” Being far removed from the Washington “belt-way,” the American people have swallowed the line, admittedly naively. As of 2015, we can look at the proverbial “man behind the curtain” for a much more realistic grasp of the extent to which the American political system is corrupt.


The full essay is at “Political Bribery

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The U.S. Senate Approves Fast-Track for Pacific Trade Deal: Overstating the General Will

The way the world works is not in itself reason enough to dismiss the possibility of an ideal being more fully realized, and to refuse to take practical steps to its realization. Horse-trading is a staple in politics. The expression “making sausage” is typically used to refer to political horse-trading because people generally do not know—nor do they want to know—how sausage gets made; and it is probably best that way, at least according to the politicians. I propose that we “get under the hood” anyway, because only then can we ask ourselves whether political horse-trading is overused; a better way may be possible and even practical under some conditions. 

The way in which the U.S. Senate passed “fast-track” status for the proposed Pacific trade agreement provides a useful case study.


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President Obama Overreaching on Trade

Throughout the twentieth century, the U.S. Government grabbed more and more power from the governments of the member-states. Even within the U.S. Government, presidents have tended to over-reach. Specifically, they have put their role in proposing legislation and treaties above their role as that government’s chief executive in enforcing existing laws. In May 2015, Sen. Elizabeth Warren issued a report whose thesis is that presidents of both parties had failed to enforce the labor-provisions in the existing trade treaties. That the current president, Barak Obama, was in the midst of negotiating yet another trade treaty said to have labor provisions included opens him up to the charge of over-reaching. That is to say, rather than focusing first on enforcing existing trade arrangements to which the U.S. was then a party, he was going beyond—that is, over-reaching—to negotiate yet another deal. Such over-reaching is akin to going beyond the negative legislative power in vetoing legislation to spend a lot of time proposing legislation at the expense of devoting time to running the executive branch as its chief executive and conferring with members of Congress on ways to improve the administration of existing law. In this essay, I use Warren’s report as a means into answering why the overreaching habit has become so ubiquitous among American presidents that the electorate barely recognizes it as such.

The full essay is at “Overreacting on Trade.”

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Sen. Mitch McConnell Re-elected: A Washington Insider Sustained by the Establishment

The human brain is likely hard-wired to assume that tomorrow will be like today. This coping mechanism effectively narrows the window of our cognitive and perspectival range. The status quo not only endures; it is dominant, whereas reform must push hard to see the light of day. In politics, establishment interests, made wealthy in the status quo, bet their contributions on the political insiders—the establishment politicians who embrace the status quo. As a result, an electorate is manipulated and mislead by branding ads to the extent that it cannot be said that the real will of the people is done. The ensuing public policy is also not of that will; rather, legislation protects the vested interests in return for their contributions. A republic in the grip of this self-sustaining cycle can be said to suffer from a kind of hardening of the arteries. As times change, such a ship of state becomes increasingly unmoored from its people. Eventually, the ship sinks, after the pressure of incongruity has reached an unsustainable level. I contend that the 2014 U.S. Senate election in Kentucky between the Senate’s minority leader, Mitch McConnell, and his Democratic challenger, Alison Grimes, illustrates this political illness in action.

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Reforming U.S. Corporate Taxation: On the Virtue of Simplification

As the Republican Party assumed control of the U.S. Senate, and thus of Congress itself, since they would continue in the majority in the U.S. House, Republican Congressional  leaders and President Obama all emphasized policy areas where common gr…

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