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Saturday, February 25, 2012

American Regional English: Vestiges of an Empire

In 2012, a mere fifty years after the project had begun, the fifth volume of the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE) was finally done. Sadly, the project’s director, Frederic Cassidy, had died in 2000 at the ripe old age 90. “On to Z” had been his typical way of ending phone conversations. Visiting the dictionary’s offices some years ago—ironically to use their French dictionary—I had no idea of the size of the project. Instead, I engaged a few of the staff on my thesis that regional “Englishes” in the U.S. are only natural, given the empire-scale of the republic of republics. In fact, I would argue that it is unnatural that there are not more linguistic differences from Maine across the continent and up to Alaska and over to Hawaii.

The full essay is at Essays on Two Federal Empires.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Germany’s Wulff Toppled While Wisconsin’s Walker Fights On

At the beginning of 2012, Wisconsin and Germany were both suffering from the plight of compromised figureheads. In the case of Wisconsin, the figurehead is also the chief executive, whereas in Germany they are distinct offices, so the situation in Wisconsin was more intractable. Germany’s figurehead office has much less political power, so any occupant is more dependent on maintaining credibility and stature.

In Wisconsin, Scott Walker faced a petition for a recall vote. Assuming Walker is recalled, the vote would be followed by an election for the office. Even if recalled, he could be a candidate in that election. Wisconsinites could vote to recall him then conceivably vote him back into office. Because recall pertains to a duly elected incumbent, the bias in the procedure is to respect the result of the election (i.e., “elections matter”). This bias makes sense in the case of the recall movement against Walker because it was not predicated on scandal or any charge of illegality against him. The recall is not an impeachment. Rather, the movement was in reaction to a piece of legislation that Walker had supported that took away some bargaining rights of the government employees’ union. The law’s intent was to help reduce a $3 billion projected budget deficit in 2011. Walker did manage to balance the budget, with help from the law to enabled the government to save money on public employees.

                                            Opponents of Walker gather as the recall petitions are turned into the government.  
                                                                     Tannen Maury/European Pressphoto Agency

In terms of the recall, the issue is thus whether the four year term of Walker’s office as figurehead and chief executive of Wisconsin should be cut short because of disagreement with a law that Walker signed. In other words, the matter is not an impeachable offense; rather, the question is whether the popular sovereign—the people—should have the right to circumvent one of the hallmarks of a republic (i.e., representative government): the fixed term of office, which is meant to protect the officeholder from the popular passions of the moment in order to make difficult decisions. Put another way, if it were easy to recall an elected representative, none would be likely to make the difficult decisions that we look to be made for our own good. While valid from the standpoint of direct democracy, easy recall undercuts what distinguishes a republic.

In Germany, Christian Wulff was facing a vote from the legislature removing “immunity from prosecution” from his figurehead office. On February 17, 2012, with the SPD and Green parties having come out in favor of making Wulff subject to charges of improper ties to business executives, he resigned. The scandal first broke in the previous December. It gained traction not only because of the special gifts that Wulff had received while the executive of what is comparable to a county in Wisconsin. Meanwhile, one of Scott Walker’s aids was being convicted of corruption from when Walker was the executive of a county in Wisconsin (Milwaukee county). The immediate difference is that Walker was not implicated whereas Wulff was (by the Hanover prosecutor’s office). I would add that Walker could make use of the political power that came with his authority as the chief executive whereas Wulff had no such power and thus succumbed to the pressure by resigning. In both cases, the man at the top was compromised and this in turn impacted the respective states dramatically. Because of the “dual” nature of Walker’s office, Wisconsin faced a prolonged fight over Walker in 2012 whereas German parties already settled on a new figurehead just days after Wulff resigned. It might be wise of Wisconsites to consider splitting the head office into two—one a figurehead and the other the leader of the majority party in the lower legislative chamber. Wisconsin would still be a republic.

I refer to Wisconsin and Germany as states both in the sense of having a government and in being states in unions of states. That is, both republics were at the time semi-sovereign; the U.S. and E.U. taking up the rest of the governmental sovereignty, respectively. This basis of comparison is typically undercut. For instance, Nicholas Kulish of the New York Times writes of Wulff that the “scandal first emerged in December with the news that [he], while serving as governor of the state of Lower Saxony, had taken a private loan from the wife of a wealthy friend worth about $650,000.” However, there is no such office as “governor” within Germany. The Wisconsin office of governor applied to Germany would be to combine the figurehead and chief executive (or chancellor) offices (i.e., Wulff and Merkel) of the German government. Furthermore, Lower Saxony is a Land, not a Staat. Translated into English, Land means land, region or territory whereas Staat means state. You can see how similar English is to German here. Auf Deutsch, the German regions are called Länder, nicht Staaten! Also ist es nicht richtig zu Lower Saxony “state”heissen. [so it is not correct to call Lower Saxony a state]. Lower Saxony is about the size of a county in Montana, and Germany itself is the size of Montana. In addition to scale, both states (Germany and Montana) are semi-sovereign states in unions that in turn have some governmental sovereignty. It would be utterly misleading of a European to refer to Scott Walker as having been the governor of the state of Milwaukee in Wisconsin, but this is how Kulish describes Wulff as the executive of Lower Saxony in Germany. Das ist seltsam. (This is strange).

Germany is not in itself a United States of Europe. Nor for that matter is Britain or France, even though they are large states in the E.U. Neither for that matter is California or Texas a United States. These are all semi-sovereign republics that are member states of comparable scale (though not in population though clusters relative to the populations of the two unions) in unions also of comparable scale (and population) and with both political and economic aspects. Considering Kulish’s “report,” it is no wonder that the category mistake survives as the default. It would be more accurate of me to refer to Merkel, Sarkozy and Cameron as governors (i.e., executives of states in the E.U.) than for Kulish to refer to Wulff as having been the governor of a region of one of those states. Any American state could itself have a federal system. Considering the cultural differences within Wisconsin (e.g., Madison vs. Reinlander—itself a Land or resembling the Länder along the Rein?)—not to mention Illinois and California each being incredibly diverse internally—giving their respective Länder some autonomy might not be a bad idea. Calling the regional or county executives “governors” and the regions or counties themselves “states” would be utterly misleading, as both terms refer to polities that are members of empire-level unions and yet are comparable in scale and government to independent states in the world.

In the cases of Wisconsin and Germany, correcting for the category mistake, we can say that the political risk in the credibility of Walker and Wulff being undercut or weakened in late 2011 was mitigated by the fact that both republics are states in unions of such states. In other words, Wisconsinites did not have to count only on the government of Wisconsin and Germans did not have to count only on the government of Germany. Therefore, the recall and possible prosecution were not so risky to political stability that they should not be undertaken for that reason. It turns out that category mistakes really do get in the way in political analysis, and that correcting them allows for insights that would not otherwise be possible.


Nicholas Kulish, “German Chief Could Lose his Immunity,” The New York Times, February 17, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/17/world/europe/president-wulffs-immunity-challenged-in-germany.html

Melissa Eddy, “Merkel Backs Rivals’ Choice for President of Germany,” The New York Times, February 20, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/20/world/europe/former-east-german-activist-nominated-as-president.html

Monica Davey, “Organizers Say 1 Million Signed Petition to Recall Wisconsin Governor,” The New York Times, January 17, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/18/us/organizers-say-1-million-signed-petition-to-recall-gov-walker-in-wisconsin.html

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

E.U. Presses Italy to Tax Church Businesses

One of the chief benefits of federalism is the ability of one system of government to check another within the overall federal system. In the European Union, the state governments have so much power at the federal level—in the E.U. institutions—that it is difficult for the E.U. Government to check excesses and abuses in the state governments. E.U. law, regulation and directives rely on the state governments, albeit to varying extents. In the United States, the case is the reverse. The U.S. Government holds so many of the cards that the state governments cannot act to check abuses in the federal government. Actually, for all of the power that the U.S. Government has amassed, it does a horrible job in aiding citizens against abuses in their own state governments. Fortunately, we can look to Europe for a bright spot: the E.U. Commission and Italy, á grace de Mario Monti who is both governor of the state of Italy and a former commissioner in the E.U. Commission (the E.U.’s executive branch).

The full essay is at "Essays on the E.U. Political Economy," available at Amazon.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Sarkozy’s Electoral Campaign: Not for the U.S. Presidency

On February 15, 2012, France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy formally announced his intent to file as a candidate for the office in what would be his second term. The announcement took place just over two months from the election (April22nd). If no candidate wins an absolute majority, the two top candidates would be on the ballot in a runoff held on May 6, 2012. The European sense of a decent length for a campaign “season” could be taken to heart by Americans.

For example, as Nicolas Sarkozy was undergoing two or three months of campaigning in France, Scott Walker had been campaigning for months already in Wisconsin, well in advance of a recall election that could still be six months away. I suspect that generally speaking, the campaigns in the U.S. states are much longer in duration than in the E.U. states. Perhaps Europeans are less tolerate of excess, or more willing to “just say no.”

Comparing a state-level campaign season with the election of an office at the empire-level (i.e., of a Union of such polities) is problematic. For one thing, at the E.U. and U.S. level, the states themselves would expect to have a say. Hence, primaries and caucuses to nominate a party candidate for the office of the President of the United States are by state. This involves several problems, such as what to do if a state voting later has a narrowed range of possible candidates from which to choose. Having every state nominate on the same date, with a run off a week or two latter, would be an improvement, but it would take away the distinctiveness of the states—something Europeans appreciate.

The American Electoral College, wherein electors vote for the President of the United States by state (literally in the capitols), is also not convertible into elections at the state level. It would make no sense to apply such a mechanism to a state itself (i.e., voting by state). My more general point is that it is hazardous to compare state and federal electoral politics and processes because the nature of a federal union does not apply to a particular state thereof. Yet this is typically ignored and I’m sure many people are trying to compare Sarkozy’s campaign with that of Obama.

This raises a much larger point: what to do with a societal category mistake that has become the legitimate default. The human proclivity of ignorance to presume that it cannot be wrong only complicates the matter of correction. Treating the U.S. as if it were a state in the E.U. with a large backyard conflates apples and oranges. Moreover, the error involves treating an empire as if it were on the kingdom level (i.e., a part of itself). It is like treating one person in his entirety as if he were equivalent to another person’s arm. The problems with such a comparison become clear once clothing is considered. What covers your arm is not going to cover my entire body, and going with it in January in Wisconsin or Wyoming would be dangerous. Similarly, it is dangerous to a polity to disregard what it is and treat it as if it were something else.

Therefore, although the U.S. Presidential campaign “season” (now two years!) is entirely too long and is in urgent need of reform, it would be a mistake to look at Sarkozy’s announcement, coming just two months before of his election, as a basis of comparison. Perhaps it is because empire-level federal unions of states have added elements (as well as scale) that complicate (and thus extend) the selection process of an empire-wide office such as the Presidency of the United States that the European Union has so far decided not to have an elected president. Given the nature of the level and scale of the E.U. and U.S., there is a lot to be said of the proposals in the U.S. Constitutional Convention wherein state legislatures or chief executives select the U.S. President. As it is, the U.S. House of Representatives, voting by state, elects that office where no candidate has an absolute majority of the electors in the Electoral College. Because the delegates in the convention thought it unlikely that any one person could be so well-known even in the empire of 13 republics, I suspect that they presumed that most presidents would be elected by the democratically-elected federal representatives, voting by state as the U.S. is a union of states (i.e., the states being members too).

No one would be happier than me were the American presidential election reformed to have a two or three month campaign season, but given the fundamental difference between the U.S. and E.U. on the one hand and their respective states on the other, we could expect problems because a category mistake would be involved. For instance, two months given the empire scale would mean that grass-roots campaigning would be virtually impossible; the television media would be the conduit, and perhaps with undue manipulation from the funded-pundits and media “personalities.” There is a reason why in traditional federal theory, officials of the states select the empire-wide office holders. The state officials themselves having been elected (after a two month campaign!), their involvement would not be at the expense of democracy. In fact, it would heighten public attention on the state-level elections, as is the case in the E.U. Put another way, were the E.U. to have an overall president (rather than one of a given institution, such as the European Council), I doubt it would be a simple election decided only by the E.U. citizens as a whole. That would be to conflate the E.U. with one of its states. See what I mean? If so, you will see the mistake being made over and over again as a matter of course, as a generally accepted default rather than a gross error. Welcome to my world.

Gabriele Parussini and David Gauthier-Villars, “Sarkozy Launches His Bid for New Term,” The Wall Street Journal, February 17, 2012. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204880404577224793514483690.html