Keith Boyea's Blog

Notes & Commentary on National Security, Current Affairs and Bourbon

I write good sometimes

I found this essay while going through my oldest emails in my gmail account. Apparently I wrote this in response to some right wing crank I knew in 2009 who thought that direct election of senators is what ills us. I’ve cut and pasted it here. I reread it tonight and think it might be one of the best things I’ve ever written. I’d change some things now, but it was pretty smart for 2009 Keith. Note: The footnotes don’t work well, but I’m sure you’ll figure it out. I cut and pasted this from a google doc, so please excuse some of the sloppy formatting.

 

A popular refrain coming from many good-hearted, intelligent, and patriotic Americans is that the 17th Amendment, which provided for the direct election of U.S. Senators, is a major source of what ills our nation. This view, eloquently presented by Publius in Federalist 87, holds that:

Changing the Senate from a “Federal” body to a “National” body “changed the lubricant
viscosity” of the American policy making engine (the Senate). This made American policy
especially foreign policy, more susceptible to wild, yet imprudent, swings in American public opinion.  This nationalization made the Senate an exclusively political body. This politicization led to the politicization of the Supreme Court, and worse, American foreign policy.I will address the first bullet by showing that the Senate is not a national body, as Publius suggests, and that the Senate has never been the body full of wise old grandparents that Americans could trust to better judge America’s interest. Second, I will argue that the 17th Amendment has little impact on the “politicization” of the Senate, Foreign Policy, or the Supreme Court. Finally, I will advance the thesis
that American belief in its own exception has led it to vigorously, and sometimes disastrously, pursue a foreign policy of empire.1
When the 17th Amendment directed states to allow their citizens to directly elect their Senators, it did not change the Senate from a Federal to a National body. If it did anything of the sort, it changed it from a Federal to a Regional body; something that it had always been. To call a group of people elected by citizens of the several states “national” is a misrepresentation of the facts. As a citizen of the District of Columbia, I cannot vote for any Senate candidate in Virginia, Maryland, or California. A
Senate election is no more national than that of the election of a member of the Kansas state legislature. Senators have been and will always be accountable to the voters of their state, not to the nation at large. Direct election or appointment by state legislatures—either way Senators are regional representatives in a national body.
Publius articulates that appointment of Senators by state legislatures allowed Senators to
develop a relationship with the people “of that of a Grandparent to a Grandchild, one who lacks energy but is replete with wisdom to check on the one who lacks wisdom but is full of energy.” Part of his evidence for this characterization is the Senate’s six year staggered terms, something left unaffected by the 17th Amendment. Publius goes on to say that direct election led to “aloof ‘Statesmen’…whose job it is to first keep their job…” To accept that argument is to believe that prior to the 17th Amendment, Senators exhibited little concern for keeping their jobs—which sounds as undesirable as the later day problem.

An examination of the performance of the Senate prior to the 17th Amendment will help us evaluate the performance of Publius’s Senatorial grandparents. The worst atrocity in American history, the Civil War, happened during the watch of those same grandfatherly Senators. A Civil War expert I am not, but 600,000 Americans died to correct a fundamental flaw2 in our Constitution. Where were the grandfatherly Senators then? Could this collection of wise old men not save our nation from the massacre of its sons?

Admittedly, it is unlikely that the direct election of Senators would have saved our
1 I do believe that America is exceptional, but I do not believe that its exceptionalism need lead it towards empire.

This essay will simply outline the long entwinement of American exceptionalism and empire, regardless of the method of Senatorial election.
2 To call it a flaw is to be polite. Writing the 3/5ths rule int sons, but I make the point as evidence that it is equally unlikely that pre-17th Amendment Senators were
any wiser or grandfatherly than our current crop.
A second example of pre-17th Amendment senatorial failure is Spanish-American War. While the answer may never be certain, we know today that the USS Maine was probably not blown up by the Spanish—it was likely destroyed by a fire in its ammunition hold. However, American jingoists, like Teddy Roosevelt, quickly pushed the country to declare war on the declining Spanish empire. The Senate was unable to stop the momentum for war, though it did show more rationality, voting 42-35 for
Declaration while the House voted 310-6.3 The war was nothing but a land grab—an expansion of empire necessary because the western continental frontier had disappeared.
Publius’s second charge against the 17th Amendment is that it politicized “ancillary” functions of the Senate such as ratification of treaties (and by extension its role in foreign policy) and its power to confirm Supreme Court justices. This charge, whilst sounding plausible, fails a deeper examination. To claim that the pre-17th Amendment Senate was not political is to claim that pre-17th Amendment state legislatures were not political. I would ask you, Publius, to think back to the political machines of the late 18th and early 19th centuries in the major cities across the country. Were those state legislatures not
packed with political hacks and criminals? It defies logic to think the Senators resultant from such legislatures were not beholden to politics.
Even more, the claim ignores the fundamental nature of the Senate. The Senate is a political body, made up of people who practice politics. This fact is true however a Republic goes about appointing or electing its senators. The saying could be revised to say, “You don’t have to do anything but die and pay taxes, and the Senate will always be about politics.”

Publius charges that the politicized Senate has lead to a politicized Supreme Court, “which effectively violates its original nearly impermeable Federal character by only seating ‘politically’ appropriate nominees.” It is questionable whether all of the pre-17th Amendment Supreme Court was even politically appropriate, the Supreme Court has greatly increased freedom and liberty for Americans since the 17th Amendment. Two of the most despicable decisions in court history are Scott v. Sandford4 and Plessy v. Ferguson.5

Each of the decisions was made by justices appointed by Senators who were
appointed by state legislatures prior to the 17th Amendment. Those cases contrast sharply with Brown v.Board of Education, the decision that ended the separate but equal policy in the south.6 The Brown decision was made by Justices appointed by Senators directly elected by the people of their state.This is not to claim that the post 17th Amendment court is or has been infallible. This argument simply says that there is no difference in the performance of the Supreme Court pre and post 17th Amendment.7 Essentially, the 17th Amendment has no actual effect on the Supreme Court.

3 Source for the numbers is at http://wiki.lawguru.com/index.php/Declaration_of_war_by_the_United_States. It
is strange to think about it, but the Declaration of War against Spain was only 3 Declarations ago.

 

One of the biggest scandals of the post-WWII Congresses is its abdication of its responsibility to Declare war. Congress is the only body with the power to make war, yet it has consistently ceded this authority to the Executive.
4 Otherwise known as the Dred Scott decision. This decision held that African Americans imported into the country as slaves, and their decedents, free or slave, had no rights under the Constitution.
5 This decision institutionalized the doctrine of separate but equal.
6 Others may cite Roe v. Wade as a decision that greatly increased individual freedom.
7 Measuring performance by the Supreme Court assumes that there is a constitutionally “right” answer in all cases.

My own study of the issue calls that assumption greatly into question. Oliver Wendell Holmes, HLA Hart, and John Hasnas have all attacked that presumption from different angles. Many books8 have been written on the history of American foreign policy. Through my study and my own experience as a GI on the front lines of those policies, I have concluded that American foreign policy has been and still is about creating an American empire around the world. The desire for empire has been concealed by American exceptionalism—the belief that America stands only for virtue, that it could never do harm, and its intentions are altruistic rather than selfish. That is to say, the 17th Amendment has nothing to do with it.The idea of American exceptionalism stretches all the way back to 1630. In that year, John Winthrup, a New England puritan, gave a sermon in which he coined a famous American phrase. “For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we
shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken… we shall be made a story and a byword throughout the world.”9 Winthrup was just the first of a long line of Americans who believed themselves to be the model for the globe—a force of liberty, purity, and goodness. Think for a moment, Publius, of Manifest Destiny, the Great White Fleet, Teddy Roosevelt’s jingoism, Wilson’s 14 points, victory over evil in World War II, the victory in the Cold War, our “nation building” efforts in Somalia,
Iraq, and Afghanistan and the way every President signs off by saying “God Bless America.” Americans have always and will always believe their nation to be the benevolent older brother to the rest of the world.

Because Americans have always believed in their own exception, they have consistently moved to expand their own territory. In the present time, we think of the lower 48 states always having been American. However, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, this was hardly a foregone conclusion. France, England, Spain, Mexico, and oh-by-the-way the Indians, all had extensive holding throughout North America. Even before Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase, Americans had begun an almost systematic
extermination of the Indians. Over the next 125 years, through war, purchase, and wholesale slaughter,Americans achieved a nation “from sea to shining sea.”

When the American frontier disappeared near the end of the 19th century, Teddy Roosevelt set out to expand the empire across the Pacific and in “America’s Lake” in the Caribbean. At the end of World War II, Americans extended their empire through a network of military bases and this netted bases in Germany, England, France,10 and Japan. The cease fire in Korea left American soldiers in South
Korea. The late 20th Century brought American military bases to South America to combat the War on Drugs and the Middle East to ensure the flow of cheap oil. The 21st century brought America additional military outposts in Iraq and in various locations in Central Asia.

Indeed, in the 21st century, the sun never sets on the American empire.11
However Senators are selected, there is, in the DNA of Americans, a rightful and earned belief in their own exception. Unfortunately for America and Americans, we have channeled that belief into perfecting the rest of the world rather than perfecting our own country. In his book, Ideology in American Foreign Policy, Michael Hunt says that America “should be a model, not a modeler” for the rest of the world. Citizens, Representatives, Senators, and Presidents would be wise to remember
Hunt’s remark.
8 I would suggest two that have been influential in my arguments: Ideology in American Foreign Policy by Michael
Hunt and The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism by Andrew Bacevich.
9 Taken for Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_upon_a_Hill
10 We’ve since been evicted from France.
11 A close examination of these bases and their consequences can be found in the book Blowback, by Chalmers
Johnson.
In conclusion, Publius is rightly concerned about the direction of our nation. The wars in Iraq
and Afghanistan continue to kill our sons and daughters12, empty our treasury, and divide our citizenry.
Our economy is still slow, unemployment is high, and obtaining even the modest college degree
required to compete in a globalized world requires thousands of dollars in loans. However, I cannot
agree with Publius in saying that the 17th Amendment has anything to do with what ails America.

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Written by keithboyea

June 7, 2019 at 7:55 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

My Board of Directors

In his wonderful back page essay in the latest issue of Current Affairs, Nathan J. Robinson writes

Here is one thing I have done in the past to deal with depression…I used to imagine myself as…a company, with a board of directors. And on my board of directors was all the people, living and dead, whom I admired. My board had some extraordinary people on it. Among them: Eugene Debs, Malcom X, Fats Domino, Emma Goldman, Frederick Douglass, Noam Chomsky, Cab Calloway, Nawal El Saadawi. And I was feeling low, I would mentally call a meeting of the board…and I’d ask them what they thought I should do…

I thought that was a fantastic idea and I started using it immediately. When I can’t sleep because I’m obsessing over something dumb, I call a board meeting. Setback at work? Call a board meeting. I thought I’d share my own personal mental board of directors.

Andrew J. Bacevich: I relied heavily on Dr. Bacevich’s work while I was in graduate school and came to admire him. I probably don’t agree with him on everything, but his voice is a voice of conscience.

Earnest Becker: Becker is a philosopher/psychologist I also encountered in graduate school. His ideas regarding death denial add an interesting insight in trying to figure out what to do in a particular situation.

Cornel West: When I listen to or read Cornel West, I want to try harder at being a better person.

Oprah: Who wouldn’t want Oprah on your side? Oprah is a voice of empathy and empowerment.

John Connolly: John is the author of 18 books featuring private detective Charlie Parker. I love these books. John describes the landscape of his novels “a honeycomb world” as he weaves supernatural and spiritual elements into his books.

Nathan J. Robinson: Nathan gets a spot on my board not only because he is a wonderful writer, but he has a knack for finding beauty. Libraries, balconies, mental boards of directors, your local street musician.

(I would encourage everyone to read and subscribe to Current Affairs.)

 

 

 

 

Written by keithboyea

July 26, 2018 at 11:04 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Boy was I wrong

Jesus, Donald Trump is president. Has been for something like 70 days. I was way wrong with my last post. It’s hard to understand his appeal.

Written by keithboyea

April 2, 2017 at 2:08 am

Posted in Uncategorized

What is the GOP Doing?

The GOP is threatening to hold over an Obama appointee to the Supreme Court. I don’t think they understand the situation they are in.

The GOP is close to nominating Donald Trump for president. He’s going to win South Carolina. He’ll likely win Nevada. At that point, he’s the front runner and who’s going to stop him?

So, if Senate GOPers are holding a Supreme Court nomination until the election, what exactly are they holding for? Donald Trump? In the very slim possibility that Donald Trump becomes president, does the GOP believe he will nominate someone worth waiting for?

I’m no Republican, but I’d take the moderate that Obama is sure to nominate. The GOP is going to lose the presidential election, again, and the possibly the Senate. So whoever Obama nominates for his “legacy” is going to be better than whoever Clinton or Sanders nominates in 12 months. Of course, that’s assuming the GOP doesn’t hold the seat open for another 8 years waiting for a GOP winner that hates gay people and abortion. And waiting for that is dumber than I think even the GOP is. (Cause it will never happen)

But seriously, what is their strategy at this point?

 

Written by keithboyea

February 20, 2016 at 2:33 am

Posted in Uncategorized

A Few Thoughts on the Air Force Academy

The Air Force Academy is in the news again for all the wrong reasons. The Colorado Spring Gazette reports that cadet athletes have committed sexual assaults, cheated on tests, and generally behaved like cavemen. This isn’t the first sexual assault scandal in recent memory–in 2003 approximately 50 women came forward with allegations of sexual assault.

Being that the Air Force Academy is my alma mater, I thought I’d provide some honest suggestions to improve the Academy.

1.) Cleanse the Culture

I did not show up at the Academy a misogynistic prick. I learned it there. My attitudes towards women while I was at the Academy were loathsome, and my attitudes were squarely in tune with the general attitude of male cadets. It certainly doesn’t sound like attitudes have improved over the last 12 years.

I believe there is a culture of misogyny at the AFA. It is passed down to freshmen cadets by the upperclassmen, who learned it from the upperclassmen when they were freshmen. It is, quite clearly, difficult to break that cycle. Therefore, I would proposed that the class that entered basic training in June (the class of 2018) be the last class of cadets to enter the Academy until the summer of 2018. This year there would be four classes, next year there would be three and so on. Eventually the class of 2018 will be at the Academy alone.

When the class of 2022 enters in the summer of 2018, the Academy administration can go about creating a new culture–one that respects women, encourages trust among cadets, and one that is basically the opposite of the culture they have now. That culture can then be passed down to future classes.

2.) Eliminate Division 1 Athletics

The incentives for NCAA division 1 athletics are antithetical to the Academy’s mission. Winning above all else, TV contracts, donor money, and affiliation with the NCAA all create a culture that contribues to the general cultural problem. Football players (like me) put football first; ahead of academics, military commitments annd everything else. It divides the cadet wing into athletes vs. non-athletes. The incentives for coaches is to recruit marginal Academy cadets who are uncommonly good at sports. (Again, just like me.) It’s unhealthy and unnecessary.

Replace division 1 athletics with either division 3 or a revitalized intramural program. Whatever lessons that can be learned from the “fields of friendly strife” can be learned without the NCAA.

3.) Reduce the Cadet Population by Approximately Half

There are far too many cadets that do not plan on making the Air Force a career. (Like me, again.) There’s no sense in spending so much time and energy on a future “leader” who never plans to lead in the military. I don’t have access to separation statistics, but the percentage of Academy grads that separate after meeting the minimum obligation don’t need to be trained by the Academy in the first place.

The idea is that you want to recruit people who really buy-in to what the Air Force is selling. It wasn’t for me and it isn’t for a lot of people. Cut people like me out of the picture and you’ll have a lot more buy-in to the Air Force and Air Force Academy party line.

(This isn’t to say that sexual assaults are occurring because of five and divers, it is a general suggestion meant to improve the Academy.)

4.) Get Rid of Management as a Major (and maybe even lose academic accreditation)

There’s no reason any cadet should major in management (like I did). During my stint, management was the largest major! (600 cadets out of 4,000) I think there is value in the humanities, but management is such a bullshit major that it ought not exist. Cadets major in management because they can’t cut it in the other majors or they want the easiest possible academic track. (Once again, that was me.)

More controversially, I’d argue that the academy should drop its academic accreditation. Stick with the argument for a moment: What is the purpose of the Air Force Academy? In my opinion, it is to prepare people to fight and win wars. Therefore, that’s what the education should focus on. Nearly every cadet should be what used to be called a “Military Arts and Sciences” major. (I may allow for a percentage of engineering and sciences majors.)  The education shouldn’t be like the one you get at the University of Texas. It might not even be broadly useful outside the military. Fine. Perfect even. We are preparing officers, not businessmen.

5.) Actually Prepare Cadets for the Air Force

A sad and stupid fact of the Air Force Academy is that once you graduate, you still don’t know how to do your Air Force job. You are as well prepared to do your job as any ROTC or OTS grad; which is to say not really at all.

Cadets find out their Air Force Specialty during the first semester of their senior year. There’s no reason they don’t spend the entire second semester training to do the job they are going to do in the Air Force. If you are a pilot, you begin Undergraduate Pilot Training. If you are a contracting specialist like me, you go to an operational contracting squadron and begin to learn the ropes. Same goes for personnel, maintenance, acquisitions, and on and on. There are at least 4 Air Force bases in the Colorado Springs area so it isn’t even that hard to find places to put the cadets.

Written by keithboyea

August 9, 2014 at 1:57 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Election Reaction

I woke up this morning feeling empty.  I felt disappointed, even though I expected Obama to win.  I’d be just as disappointed if Romney would have won. 

It’s like this:  Not enough people in this country care about the issues I care about.  Those issues include the endless war on terror, civil liberties, wealth inequality, domestic spying, drones, mass incarceration, the drug war, the Afghan war, civilian casualties, and a few others.   Those issues simply weren’t discussed [by the major candidates] during this campaign.

So as a result, I’m disappointed.   I should have expected this.

 

Written by keithboyea

November 7, 2012 at 9:42 am

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Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina and the Iraq War

It strikes me as odd that at this moment I’m living through my second class 1 hurricane since moving to Washington, DC in 2007.  It might be that I didn’t know much, but I never thought Washington was much of a hurricane risk.  Hurricane Sandy is blowing away outside as I type this.

But what I can tell you is that even a category 1 hurricane is scary.  Shit is blowing here—trees are leaning, and we are almost expecting to lose power.  What I can’t imagine is a category 5 hurricane like Katrina.  Which got me thinking.

In my life the two biggest failures of democracy in my lifetime are the Iraq War and hurricane Katrina.  Neither is excusable, but I thought they needed comment.

Written by keithboyea

October 29, 2012 at 7:21 pm

Posted in Uncategorized