As regular followers of RINOcracy.com know, our interest sometimes extends to matters beyond the world of politics. One such matter is the current state of top-level college athletics, recently a subject of increasing controversy. We invited a guest blog from an old friend, Roger M. Williams, who has closely followed college athletics while pursuing his long career as journalist, author and editor. He responded with an essay that we think you will find both interesting and thought- provoking.
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Real Reform in College Sports
By Roger M. Williams
It’s a contentious time in “Bigtime” college sports, with the spotlight at last shining steadily on a hypocritical and broken system. Never before has the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which controls the system, been under such pressure to reform. Continue reading
One does not have to be Republican—RINO or otherwise—to be critical of President Obama’s foreign policy. It would be sufficient to be a member of what some have described as the “Hillary Clinton wing of the Democratic Party.” In an interview in The Atlantic, Ms. Clinton made an observation that would be widely quoted: “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.” The reference to not doing stupid “stuff” was immediately recognized as a quote that White House aides had attributed, in a somewhat saltier version, to President Obama. Continue reading
We will soon post, as promised, Parts II and III of Blog No. 43 with our thoughts on Afghanistan and Ukraine (and perhaps even a few more on ISIS). Meanwhile, however, the recent activities (and inactivities) of Congress seemed to demand some comment before they are entirely forgotten. When Congress skipped town for its August recess (some things, after all, are sacred), it did so in considerable disarray. Most notable, of course, was the failure to address the problems created by the influx of unaccompanied children at our border with Mexico. But there was no shortage of other issues left unattended. An article in The New York Times noted a few:
The immigration system is still in crisis. Companies are renouncing their American citizenship over tax breaks. The Highway Trust Fund is running on empty as the nation’s infrastructure crumbles, and entitlement programs are creaking under the weight of an aging population.
Given its performance, it is not surprising that public opinion of Congress could hardly be worse. While Obama’s numbers are at an all time low, Congress’s are far lower. According to a recent NBC News/ Wall Street Journal poll only 14 percent approve of the job Congress is doing – the seventh-straight NBC/WSJ poll dating back to 2011 when this rating has been below 15 percent. In addition, “A whopping 79 percent of respondents are dissatisfied with the U.S. political system, including nearly half who are very dissatisfied. The words of Yeats’s “Second Coming,” written in 1919, seem to resonate once again… “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold….The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” And Congress itself perhaps, is Yeats’s rough beast, slouching not towards Bethlehem but November. Continue reading
In Blog 43, Part I, we discussed the ISIS Crisis and the President’s apparent failure to appreciate the seriousness of the situation and to disclose to the public his plan for responding to it. On August 7, nearly eight weeks after his initial statement on ISIS (or ISIL as the President prefers), events forced the President to break his silence and to announce, with visible reluctance, that he had authorized limited military action. Unfortunately, however, his August 7 statement, and amplifications over the two following days, gave little indication that he has yet grasped (or is willing to admit) the extent of the threat that ISIS poses not only to Iraq, and to Americans in that country but to the United States homeland. Continue reading
I knew Jim Brady before he was famous. Just forty years ago, we were both working at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (where I had sought refuge after concluding that I was no longer comfortable serving in the White House Counsel’s office). Jim held the number two position in Public Affairs and was located across the hall from my office as Deputy General Counsel. Continue reading
As readers of RINOcracy.com are doubtless aware, much has been written about President Obama’s approach to foreign policy and what appears to many, both here and abroad, to have been a projection of weakness. President Obama’s approach to foreign policy—reliance on allies with minimal direct intervention by the United States—is just that, an approach. In the abstract, there is something to be said for Obama’s approach (just as there was to the approach George W. Bush’s in the 2000 campaign when he promised humility in a foreign policy unburdened by nation building.) But an approach to policy is not a policy itself, much less a strategy (a plan to achieve specific goals), and it must be flexible enough to respond to changing threats. Does Obama’s approach have that flexibility? Back on March 16, David Sanger wrote a perceptive analysis in The New York Times, “Global Crises Put Obama’s Strategy of Caution to the Test.” Since that time, as the crises have grown more urgent, the tests have only gotten tougher and it is far from clear that Obama’s “strategy” (more accurately, approach or instinct) is passing them.
At the moment, events in Ukraine have forced the President into engagement and leadership. Considerably aided by the tragic downing of the Malaysian airliner with its many Dutch passengers, he has been successful in persuading European countries to adopt stronger sanctions against Russia than many had thought possible. Nevertheless, effectiveness of the sanctions remains to be seen, and the extent of the Europeans’ commitment, the President’s–and ours–remains uncertain. Equally uncertain are the outlines of an overall strategy for Ukraine and more broadly, Europe. What will Europe and the United States do if the sanctions fail to have the desired result or, worse yet, if Russia takes even more aggressive actions. Is providing Ukraine with arms and other military support a good idea or bad idea? If Putin persists in his apparent attempt to revise the post Cold War map of Europe, do the EU and NATO have the resources and the will to resist? These and related questions will be addressed in a subsequent post, but here we will focus on a crisis that, for the moment, has lost prime attention from the media: ISIS.
On June 30, The Supreme Court issued an opinion in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius (collectively Hobby Lobby) invalidating regulations under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that require that insurance provided by employers cover a broad range of contraceptive medications and devices. The employers in each case objected to coverage for four specific types of contraceptives that they consider to be abortifacients, i.e., causing an abortion. The employers claimed that the requirement to provide that coverage infringed their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). A five-justice majority of the Court agreed in an opinion by Justice Alito. The immediate controversy over the decision was quickly heightened when, three days later,the Court entered a preliminary stay in Wheaton College v. Burwell relieving Wheaton, a Christian college, of complying with an alternative procedure that the Court had appeared to endorse in Hobby Lobby.
In Blog No. 22, “Obamacare and Contraception: Science, Freedom of Religion and Politics,” posted on December 8, 2013, we indicated our support for access to contraception and government programs that provide or facilitate such access; at the same time, we acknowledged having some sympathy for claims of religious liberty. The Blog went on to analyze the legal issues in Hobby Lobby but did not predict or advocate a particular result. Similarly, in this blog, we will not undertake to attack or defend the arguments of either Justice Alito’s majority opinion or the dissents by Justices Ginsburg and Breyer in Hobby Lobby, or the per curiam order (not signed by any individual justices) in Wheaton and Justice Sotomayor’s dissent from the order. Rather, the effort will be simply to point out, and perhaps illumine, some of the puzzlements left by the Court. (If, dear readers, you find some of the sledding here a bit tough, I can only promise you that it is easier than reading the decisions of the Court). Finally, of course, we’ll add a brief word about the political implications of the decisions.
Hobby Lobby. In striking down the regulations at issue, the majority of five justices held that:
- RFRA protects the religious liberty of the owners of a corporation operated for profit that is closely held (has a small number of shareholders);
- The contraceptive requirement of the ACA placed a substantial burden on the exercise of religion by the corporations’ owners;
- The regulations may be assumed to serve a compelling governmental interest in making contraceptives available without cost, but that the interest could be served by means that were less intrusive on the employers’ religious freedom by either a) providing contraceptives directly at government expense, or b) providing contraceptives by the employers’ insurers at no cost to the employers in accordance with an alternate procedure that the ACA regulations had devised for non-profit religious organizations.
Wheaton College. Wheaton objected to complying with the alternate procedure that the Court had appeared to endorse in Hobby Lobby. The Court had described the application of the alternate procedure in Hobby Lobby:
Under that accommodation, the organization can self-certify that it opposes providing coverage for particular contraceptive services. If the organization makes such a certification, the organization’s insurance issuer or third-party administrator must “[e]xpressly exclude contraceptive coverage from the group health insurance coverage provided in connection with the group health plan” and “[p]rovide separate payments for any contraceptive services required to be covered” without imposing “any cost-sharing requirements … on the eligible organization, the group health plan, or plan participants or beneficiaries.”
That “accommodation,” the Court concluded, “does not impinge on the plaintiffs’ religious belief that providing insurance coverage for the contraceptives at issue here violates their religion, and it serves HHS’s stated interests equally well.” (Under the regulations, the costs to insurers of providing the coverage would be offset by lower cost from fewer pregnancies or a reduction in fees paid to insurance exchanges.)
Wheaton College, however, objected that making the required certification would itself trigger the provision of the very contraceptive coverage by the insurer that it found offensive to its religious beliefs. Faced with that objection, the Court fashioned something of a compromise. Pending a resolution of Wheaton’s claim on the merits, the Court held that the college need not file the form of certification required by the regulations and that the college’s previous notification of its religious objections would suffice as a notice to the government of its objections. The brief two-page per curiam order provoked a lengthy and vigorous dissent by Justice Sotomayor joined by the other two women justices, Ginsburg and Kagan. (It is not clear how Justice Breyer voted).
Just why the Wheaton order amounted to a compromise was explained by Tom Goldstein in SCOTUSblog.com. http://www.scotusblog.com/2014/07/where-was-justice-breyer-in-the-wheaton-college-fight/ (Tom is a cofounder of SCOTUSblog. Many other distinguished lawyers and journalists contribute to the blog and it is an invaluable source of opinion and data about the Supreme Court). Tom’s explanation of Wheaton
Formally, Wheaton College sought and received an injunction. But, as a practical matter, it got much less than it wanted because of the accompanying language in the order. Wheaton wanted to be able to refrain from taking any step that would facilitate free contraception for its faculty or students. But the Court’s order states unequivocally that the government can require Wheaton to provide it with notice of its religious affiliation and can on that basis ensure that the same coverage is provided. In other words, the injunction merely frees Wheaton from filling out the government’s “Form 700,” but it still requires Wheaton to accomplish the same result by an arguably less onerous means.
1.) Were the claims of the employers, and the opinion of the Court, in Hobby Lobby, based on a misunderstanding of the relevant science? If so, does it matter?
In Blog 22, we noted that Physicians for Reproductive Health (“Physicians”) had filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief arguing at length that in fact the contraceptive methods complained of were not, as the employers claimed, abortifacients. The opinion in Hobby Lobby was criticized by some as based on an assumption contrary to the consensus of scientific opinion. For example, a column in The Los Angeles Times by Robin Abcarian, “The craziest thing about the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision,” argued that the employers’ belief was simply not a scientific truth. At a more scholarly level, Cornell Professor Michael Dorf considered at some length whether, or to what extent, “religious claimants are entitled to rely on empirically false propositions to ground their legal claims to exceptions.” The empirical falsity of the employers’ claims, however, is not clear.
Justice Alito addressed the issue briefly:
As we have noted, the [employers] have a sincere religious belief that life begins at conception. They therefore object on religious grounds to providing health insurance that covers methods of birth control that, as HHS acknowledges, see Brief for HHS in No. 13–354, at 9, n.4, may result in the destruction of an embryo. By requiring the employer to arrange for such coverage, the HHS mandate demands that they engage in conduct that seriously violates their religious beliefs.
The footnote referenced by Justice Alito cited FDA-approved product labels that the Physicians’ amicus brief had described as outdated and not reflective of current research. Nevertheless, even the Physicians conceded that, while the methods complained of operated principally to prevent fertilization, at least one method, insertion of a copper IUD, may prevent a fertilized egg (embryo) from being implanted in the uterus, thereby resulting in its destruction. While the Physicians’ amicus brief argued that, according to medical literature, pregnancy (and hence the possibility of an abortion) does not occur until after implantation, that definitional understanding should probably not be seen to control the employer’s religious beliefs.
Moreover, the distinction between contraceptives and abortifacients seems unlikely to be significant in future cases. Within a few days after the Hobby Lobby decision, the Court denied certiorari in three cases wherein courts of appeals had upheld objections by employers to all forms of contraception. (At the same time, the Court remanded for reconsideration, in light of Hobby Lobby, three cases in which employers who objected to all forms of contraception had been denied any relief.)
2.) Did the order in Wheaton conflict with the decision in Hobby Lobby?
Justice Sotomayor and her colleagues Ginsburg and Kagan certainly saw a conflict and Sotomayor’s dissent said so in no uncertain terms:
Those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word. Not so today. After expressly relying on the availability of the religious-nonprofit accommodation to hold that the contraceptive coverage requirement violates RFRA as applied to closely held for-profit corporations, the Court now… retreats from that position. That action evinces disregard for even the newest of this Court’s precedents and undermines confidence in this institution.
The per curiam order of the majority made no attempt to respond to that (or any other) argument made by Justice Sotomayor. In Hobby Lobby, the court had left itself an escape hatch by cautioning that “We do not decide today whether an approach of this type complies with RFRA for purposes of all religious claims,” and cited the pending claim in Little Sisters. That caveat, however, hardly sufficed to explain what struck not only the dissenters but many observers, as a rather abrupt about-face.
If there is not a real conflict, it is perhaps because, as Tom Goldstein has suggested, the majority believed that the difference between filing a form and providing another form of notice “is material in terms of the entity’s religious objections, but is not material in terms of whether the coverage is available.” Nevertheless, the majority had to know that, at a minimum, its Wheaton order would cause confusion among the public and, no doubt, much of the bar.
3. Will women be denied access to contraceptives without cost as a result of the Hobby Lobby decision and the Wheaton injunction?
Probably not, at least in the case of women employed by the for-profit corporations covered by the Hobby Lobby decision. The majority opinion in that case clearly assumed they would not be denied such access. On the other hand, the complexity of the regulatory scheme under the ACA means that applying the alternate procedure to for-profits is not a slam dunk. For example, an article in The New York Times on July 4, “Obama Weighs Steps to Cover Contraception,” http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/05/us/politics/obama-weighs-steps-to-cover-contraception.html?emc=eta1 outlined some of the administrative difficulties confronting the Administration in attempting to implement the Court’s decision. One curious aspect of the decision in Hobby Lobby is that neither party had urged the application of the alternate procedure or briefed it. The Court could have remanded the case to the lower courts for consideration of the issue, or at least asked the parties for briefing and argument, but it did neither. Consequently, the Court was on its own in deciding that the procedure was not only sound in theory but feasible in practice. Nevertheless, given the strong motivation of the Administration to provide coverage, and the likely desire of the Court to validate its assumption in Hobby Lobby, it is likely that in the end an acceptable solution will be devised.
In the case of women employed by non-profit religious organizations, the answer could be less clear. The per curiam order in Wheaton expressly stated that “Nothing in this interim order affects the ability of the applicant’s employees and students to obtain, without cost, the full range of FDA approved contraceptives.” In contrast, however, Justice Sotomayor’s dissent in Wheaton described administrative problems that she perceived and concluded that the government’s task was “daunting — if not impossible.” Moreover, there may be differences among different religious organizations depending on the nature of their insurance arrangements. Prior to the rulings in Hobby Lobby and Wheaton, the Court had granted a stay in Little Sisters of the Poor v. Sebelius that, just as Wheaton later would, provided an exemption from filing the prescribed form but required a written declaration of the employer’s written objection on religious grounds. Justice Sotomayor’s dissent in Wheaton argued that a crucial difference lay in the fact that in the earlier case the “third-party administrator was a ‘church plan’ that had no legal obligation or intention to provide contraceptive coverage.”
Finally, the eventual decisions on the merits in Wheaton and Little Sisters might or might not adopt the compromise remedies provided at their preliminary stages. The religious employers will probably insist that the provisional remedies granted them are inadequate. We believe, however, that the majority’s stated assumptions of continuing access to coverage will remain intact. If so, there would seem to be no basis for the claim of some that the Court had sacrificed the religious rights of employees. (Beyond that, others have observed that there is probably no established religion whose tenets demand the provision of contraceptives on demand.)
4. Was the decision in Hobby Lobby a narrow one or, as Justice Ginsburg’s dissent claimed, “a decision of startling breadth”?
The short answer is that only time will tell. Justice Alito took some pains to try to allay the fears of the dissent as to implications of the opinion in future cases.
HHS and the principal dissent argue that a ruling in favor of the objecting parties in these cases will lead to a flood of religious objections regarding a wide variety of medical procedures and drugs, such as vaccinations and blood transfusions, but HHS has made no effort to substantiate this prediction. HHS points to no evidence that insurance plans in existence prior to the enactment of ACA excluded coverage for such items. Nor has HHS provided evidence that any significant number of employers sought exemption, on religious grounds, from any of ACA’s coverage requirements other than the contraceptive mandate.
The fears expressed by the dissent may well be exaggerated, but at this point there is no basis for confident predictions concerning future attacks on ACA coverage.
It may be noted that some commentators have posited even more far-reaching concerns. For example, it has been suggested that while Hobby Lobby involved only closely held corporations, it could be expanded to apply to publicly held corporations. Moreover, it has even been supposed that such corporations might then assert religious objections to compliance with environmental laws or the minimum wage. We believe, however, that such scenarios are fanciful and far-fetched, both as to what corporations would attempt and what the Supreme Court would sustain.
In Blog No. 22, we had noted conspicuous support by Republicans for the employers case in Hobby Lobby and we cautioned that, if the employers should prevail, Republicans should avoid crowing. That was good advice and, after a giddy day or two, it is a course that they have largely followed. It seems to be generally recognized that, to the extent the decisions in Hobby Lobby and Wheaton have a political impact, it is likely to favor Democrats.
Simply put, while Hobby Lobby and Wheaton may be applauded by a large portion of the Republican base, the decisions are not likely to send many to the polls in celebration or gratitude. For Democrats, however, the decisions produced by Republican appointees to the Court will, fairly or unfairly, fit nicely in their narrative of a “War on Women,” a narrative that will no doubt attract some women voters.
The surge of unaccompanied children from Central America across our southern border has produced what is generally recognized to be a mess. Sadly, it has been accompanied by the familiar mess in Washington with the usual antagonists, the Administration and Congress, Republicans and Democrats, struggling over how to respond. And the border crisis appears to have made the goal of “comprehensive immigration reform” more elusive than ever. Continue reading
In the Special Bulletin of June 3, we indicated that our vacation itinerary included Lake Como and Rome. That did not happen. Just before we were to fly to Italy, we received word that the wife of the couple with whom we had planned the trip had broken her hip, and we did not want to carry out the plan without them. We decided to keep our ticket to Milan, spend a couple of days there, and then head for England for a couple of weeks. Once in England, we stayed in country inns in Wiltshire, Devon, Somerset and Berkshire, spent two nights with Angela’s cousin in Surrey and then stayed in London for three days. Thus, a brief report may be in order: it takes nothing away from celebrating the Fourth of July to note that our historic ties to England remain strong and relevant. And some readers who have themselves spent time in England, or even lived there, may be interested in a current perspective.
First, some overall impressions. The English countryside remains as beautiful and unspoiled as ever and the villages reliably quaint. The inns were comfortable and offered fine food, considerably better than one might have experienced twenty or even ten years ago. (The only discordant note was the practice in one inn of piping a continuous loop of Frank Sinatra vocals into its lounge.) To no surprise, London was bustling, seemingly prosperous and conspicuously multi-national. Our hotel there, a five star enterprise, was said to be owned by an Indian family and all of the staff clearly had English as a second (or possibly third or fourth) language. They were, however, unfailingly friendly, obliging and competent. Then, when we stopped at the historic church, St. Martin-in-the-Fields, to catch the rehearsal of a Mozart concert, we noticed the program for the following Sunday: one service in English and two in Chinese (one Cantonese, one Mandarin.)
We did not get to the north of England where economic and social problems may be more evident. In our travels, however, we had to rely on the media to get some feel for the country’s various challenges. As it happened, the news during much of our stay was dominated by the World Cup and the unhappy experience of the English team. In the United States, the World Cup this year raised public interest in soccer (or football as the rest of the world has it) to an all-time high. In particular, the acrobatics of the American goalie, Tim Howard, clearly made many new fans for the sport. Nevertheless, the level of passion for the sport here is still far less universal and intense than in England and many other countries around the world. In England, we saw the public mood proceed quickly through several stages: from excitement and anticipation, to disappointment and anxiety, and finally despair, as England was ignominiously sent home in the first round.
Apart from the World Cup, media attention focused on problems in the schools, Britain’s membership in the European Union, and the prospect of the Scottish referendum on independence.
British Schools. Discussion of the schools centered on concern over a report by Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education) of a “Trojan Horse” movement by Muslims to dominate schools in areas of high Muslim population. In Birmingham and other locations, the movement was found to have impacted curricula, faculty and the life-style of students, including discrimination against non-Muslims. The report triggered responses from various government officials including Prime Minister David Cameron who pledged that every student in British schools would be taught “British values,” which he identified as tolerance of others, accepting personal and social responsibility and respecting the law.
Along the way, Cameron stressed the importance of teaching about the Magna Carta as a foundational document. Officials in the Prime Minister’s office were even reported to have said that it was “embarrassing that pupils in America, where Magna Carta is seen as a key forerunner of that country’s constitution, knew more about it than their British counterparts.” Whether American students are so familiar with the Magna Carta may be questioned, but it does appear that the document is receiving increased attention under the Common Core curriculum adopted by most states. (Cameron had experienced his own Magna Carta embarrassment when, appearing on the David Letterman Show two years ago, he had been unable to translate “Magna Carta” as Great Charter. On the other hand, the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, a fellow graduate of Eton and Oxford, insisted that Cameron knew full well the meaning of Magna Carta but had feigned ignorance to appear more down to earth.)
Responses to the experience of the Birmingham schools reflected, to some extent, a broader concern with “creeping Islamisation” in Britain. Although Muslims account for only about five per cent of the population of Britain, they attract a considerably larger share of public attention and concern. Concerns were heightened in June by statements from the government that several hundred British citizens were believed to have left Britain to join the jihadists of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The majority of British Muslims are, of course, entirely peaceable and should not be tarred by the actions of a few. Nevertheless, as the number of mosques increase, and the number or of Anglican churches and church attendance decline, the impact on the culture will be increasingly difficult to ignore.
In my own case, I was riding on a tour bus making its way around London, when I found myself suddenly surrounded by a group of nine young women wearing customized T Shirts with their names and a slogan “Hen Party.” “What’s going on?” I asked one of them. “Is someone getting married?” I guessed. “Yes,” she replied, pointing to the young woman seated directly behind me. I turned and asked:
“When is the wedding?”
“In August,” she replied.
“Where will it be?”
“In the midlands, near Birmingham.”
“Will it be a large wedding? How many guests will you have?
“Oh, about a thousand.”
“Wow. Will it be a religious ceremony?”
“Oh, yes. Islam.”
Apart from the question of Muslim influence, which has affected a relatively small number of schools, the British are more broadly concerned with the quality of British education. Just as in the United States, the nation’s PISA score, as compared with other developed countries, is a matter of continuing disappointment. (PISA is the Program for International School Assessment administered by the OECD. See Blog No. 29, February 26, 2014 for a listing of PISA scores along with discussion of educational issues in the United States.) In Britain, a separate study by Parliament’s Education Committee found that poor educational performance was tied to ethnic and cultural background and in a way that may be surprising to some on both sides of the Atlantic:
“Poor white British children now come out of our schools with worse qualifications than equally poor children in any other major ethnic group. They do less homework and are more likely to miss school than other groups. We don’t know how much of the under performance is due to poor attitudes to school, a lack of work ethic or weak parenting.
Although educational under-performance in the United States is often associated with racial minorities, the cultural problems, involving attitudes toward education, may be similar.
In Britain, Sir Michael Wilshaw, the head of Ofsted, suggested that the solution to the problem in Britain was to focus on parents. He accused white working-class families of no longer valuing education as a way to improve their family’s prospects. He urged that parents be fined if they missed parents’ evenings, failed to read with their children or allowed homework to go undone. A proposal to fine parents is unlikely to find much political support in either Britain or the United States. On the other hand, it may well be worthwhile to pursue research to see if there may be other ways in which parents can be motivated (and perhaps trained) to contribute more to their children’s education.
The European Union. A good deal of media attention in June was focused on the attempts of Prime Minister Cameron to block the nomination of a candidate, Jean-Claude Juncker, for President of the European Commission—the controlling bureaucracy of the European Union. It appeared from the outset that Cameron’s efforts would fail and in the end so they did. The European Council nominated Juncker over the opposition of only the UK and Hungary. The result was regarded by many as a humiliating defeat, and it remains puzzling as to why Cameron invested so much of his and Britain’s political capital within the EU on his quixotic effort.
Juncker, a former Prime Minister of Luxembourg, was initially nominated by the European Parliament in a departure from previous practice; in the past, the President of the Commission has been nominated by the European Council, consisting of the heads of government, rather than the Parliament. Cameron objected to the change of procedure, but more deeply because he regarded Juncker as “too federalist.” In the context of the EU, “federalist” describes those who favor a central government with broad powers and detailed regulations—at the expense of the authority of individual nations. The instincts of Britain, past and present, tend to run in quite the opposite direction; indeed, there is substantial sentiment for withdrawing from the EU altogether. Cameron has said that he favors remaining in the EU, but with reforms, and he has proposed a referendum on membership in 2017. The consensus appears to be that the election of Juncker is likely to make reforms more difficult and perhaps jeopardize the approval of membership in 2017.
Should the United States care or even pay attention? The answer is surely yes, although there is little or nothing that we can do or say to influence the future course of events. Moreover, it is impossible to project what Britain’s withdrawal from the EU might mean for it or for the EU. It is, however, reasonable to speculate that withdrawal would, at a minimum, result in a period of instability for both. The EU, of course, has other more pressing problems including the still shaky economies of countries struggling to live with (or escape from) austerity. But we cannot be indifferent to the prospects of either the EU or Britain. Both are major trading partners, and the interconnections between their and our financial institutions have been made abundantly clear.
Scottish Independence. The United Kingdom consists of Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) and Northern Ireland. The issue of Scottish withdrawal from the United Kingdom, is scheduled for a referendum on September 18, 2014. Although the referendum is far more imminent than the possible withdrawal of the UK from the EU, the potential consequences are also uncertain. Indeed, questions abound. Would Scotland be able to share the pound and continue to enjoy the support of the Bank of England? Would Scotland be able to join the European Union? Would nuclear submarines continue to be berthed in Scotland? As North Sea oil revenues decline, will Scotland be able to afford the structure of benefits that many have promised will follow independence? And, not to be forgotten, would Queen Elizabeth continue to vacation at her beloved retreat at Balmoral? Again, a decision to withdraw suggests a source of instability and surely would be at the very least a major distraction to focusing on and dealing with other issues.
Not surprisingly, interest and emotions in Scotland are running high on the issue. When Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling contributed one million pounds to the cause of maintaining the union, she was promptly and viciously attacked in the social media by Scottish Nationalists. In England and Wales, a poll indicated approximately 60% of the people would prefer that Scotland remain in the union, but the general attitude seems to be a more low key, perhaps fatalistic, “Well, we’ll see.” The United States obviously has no voice in the matter, but cannot ignore entirely developments that may weaken its oldest and most reliable ally.
England and the UK obviously have some serious matters to deal with. But those matters pale in comparison with past perils confronted and surmounted. Thus, it seems rather cheeky to suggest that, as the London bureau chief of The New York Times recently wrote, the country is undergoing an identity crisis. On the contrary, we believe that the country will continue to follow the command of the World War II poster (that with endless variations is now seen in the United States on napkins, mugs and other artifacts): “Keep Calm and Carry On.”
Before leaving on vacation, RINOcracy.com had become concerned that the current controversy between a major publisher, Hatchette, and Amazon has serious implications for the industry and its customers. We asked for comment from an individual with a long and distinguished career in publishing and he generously responded with the guest blog below. We are delighted to relieve the vacation hiatus with its publication. Because the writer is still active in publishing, and reluctant to become a combatant in the current conflict, it is published under a pseudonym.
As previously indicated, regular postings on RINOcracy. com will resume in July.
Are the Books in the Stores?
“In this city I account [my book] as fallen on barren ground. I avoid all public places, so as not to meet the persons to whom I have sent it; and if I cannot avoid them, I greet them without stopping; for when I pause they give me not the faintest sign that they have received it, and thus they confirm my belief that it has gone forth into a desert.”
This might be the lament of a contemporary novelist, but instead it is Giambattista Vico, writing in 1725 upon the publication of his book New Science, which was destined to become a classic. Ah, if only the publisher’s job ended when the book came out of the bindery. But in 2014 as well as 1725, there remains the damnable problem of “getting the book out there” so that people might buy it. This, despite all the agonizing details of contracts, royalties, manuscript editing, proofreading, jacket design, and the hand-holding of authors, is the real bane of the book publishing business: distribution. Continue reading