Putin’s Holy War: A Challenge the West Underestimates

Russian president Vladimir Putin lights a candle during a visit to the Saint Sergius of Radonezh Cathedral in Tsarskoye Selo, December 8
Russian president Vladimir Putin lights a candle during a visit to the Saint Sergius of Radonezh Cathedral in Tsarskoye Selo, December 8 (Kremlin)

The West is in new cold war with Russia, argues national-security expert John R. Schindler. Beyond the geopolitical standoff in Ukraine, where the two blocs support opposing sides in a civil war, Russia and the West advance rival visions of the world.

After Russia’s annexation of the Crimean from Ukraine in March, America’s president, Barack Obama, insisted his country was not entering into another cold war with the Russians. “After all, unlike the Soviet Union, Russia leads no bloc of nations. No global ideology,” he said.

Schindler disagrees. A former National Security Agency analyst and former professor of national-security affairs at the United States Naval War College, he argues at his blog that Russia should be seen as “the vanguard of the diverse movement that is opposed to Western postmodernism in its political and social forms.”

During the last couple of years, the contours of that movement have become more defined.

Nationalist revival

Where Putin cautioned against nationalism shortly before his reelection in 2012, warning that Russia’s multiethnic society would lose “strength and durability” if it was “infested” by it, his regime has since revived medals and military parades from the Soviet era and mandated the increased use of the Russian national anthem and flag. Relations between the Kremlin and Russian Orthodox Church have also warmed.

This nationalist revival has seemed design to shore up Putin’s popularity.

Urban and middle-class Russians, whose economic prospects had improved during the early, more liberals years of his rule, have grown dissatisfied with corruption and nepotism at the top of Putin’s “power vertical”.

Rural and working-class voters, by contrast, have seen little economic improvement and are starting to turn to communist and nationalist, rather than leftist, opposition parties.

Putin’s appeals to Russian patriotism and tradition, including his infamous ban on gay “propaganda,” look like attempts to charm those constituencies.

Russian exceptionalism

The rehabilitation of the Church, after many decades of suppression under communism, echoes in Russian foreign policy. The country has become more vocal about the plight of Christians in the Middle East, especially in Syria, where Russia’s ally, Bashar Assad, is fighting an uprising of mostly Sunni Muslims against his secular dictatorship.

When Putin informed parliament of the Crimean annexation in March, his speech contained various appeals to Russian nationalism and Orthodox mysticism, including citations of saints from the distant past.

“This was the culmination of years of increasingly unsubtle hints from Putin and his inner circle that what ideologically motivates this Kremlin is the KGB cult unified with Russian Orthodoxy,” according to Schindler.

Russia defended its role in Ukraine by arguing that Russian “compatriots” in the former Soviet republic were in danger from a new, pro-Western government.

Mark Galeotti, a New York University professor and Wikistrat analyst, argued at the time that Russian propaganda revealed “a growing belief in what we could call Russian exceptionalism, a belief that Russian civilization has a distinctive and unique place in the world and must be protected from homogenizing Western influence.”

Where anti-Westernism was previously a means to an end — to rally public support for Putin’s policies — it became an end in itself, according to Galeotti.

Imperial ambitions

But this also presented a problem, as the Atlantic Sentinel reported: Russia’s appeals to ethnic nationalism necessarily excluded the millions of non-ethnic Russians who live in the country and its “near abroad.”

This website predicted that Russia’s regional integration schemes, like the Eurasian Union, which is due to go into effect next year, were now more likely to be seen in neighboring countries as attempts to reconstruct the Soviet Union.

“The price of a prouder, stronger Russia may well be the defeat of Putin’s imperial ambitions,” we warned.

Alternative worldview

Infusing Russia’s alternative worldview with religion could preempt that. The Orthodox Church is transnational and it has “become the close political and ideological partner of the Kremlin,” writes Schindler — “a preferred vehicle for explicit anti-Western propaganda.”

[Church] agitprop, which has Kremlin endorsement, depicts a West that is declining down to its death at the hands of decadence and sin, mired in confused unbelief, bored and failing to even reproduce itself. Patriarch Kirill, head of the church, recently explained that the “main threat” to Russia is “the loss of faith” in the Western style, while [Russian Orthodox Church] spokesmen constantly denounce feminism and the LGBT movement as Satanic creations of the West that aim to destroy faith, family and nation.

Whether or not Putin really believes all this is immaterial. His regime has created and nurtured a virulent ideology that justifies its actions and explains why the West must be opposed at all costs.

Given the economic crisis that Russia now finds itself in, thanks to Western sanctions, during the long and cold winter now starting, we ought to expect more, not fewer, Russians turning to this worldview which resonates with their nation’s history and explains the root of their suffering.

This is an ideology that resonates beyond Russia. Some Europeans, like French nationalist party leader Marine Le Pen and Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, sympathize with Putin’s outlook.

Schindler warns, “As discontentment with American-led Europe spreads, the Russian option may look plausible to more Europeans, worried about immigration, identity and the collapse of their values and economies, than Americans might imagine.”

Chile’s Bachelet Pushes Ambitious Social Reform Agenda

Michelle Bachelet answers questions from reporters outside Chile's presidential residence in Santiago, January 7
Michelle Bachelet answers questions from reporters outside Chile’s presidential residence in Santiago, January 7 (michellebachelet.cl)

Since her inauguration ceremony last month, Chile’s president, Michelle Bachelet, has announced a series of policies aimed at proving to the public her desire for change.

Bachelet’s election campaign was based on an ambitious social reform agenda, focused on issues such as gender inequality and social welfare, as well as tax, education and constitutional reform. Her aims are similar to those of her first term in office, between 2006 and 2010, although she acknowledges that her previous government failed to bring about the change it sought. This was particularly the case for education and poverty, issues that led to mass protests and the eventually the downfall of the previous conservative government.

Bachelet’s first major step on taking office was to announce her “fifty measures in one hundred days,” an impressive list of commitments on issues ranging from education and health care to women’s rights and the environment. Legislation implementing these changes has already swept through Congress, the first bill signed into law creating new March and winter bonuses, aimed at assisting Chile’s poorest families during the toughest periods of Chile’s financial year.

A former director of UN Women, gender issues have always been close to Bachelet’s heart, and her first weeks in office resulted a bill proposing the creation of a Ministry for Women and Gender Equality. This body will oversee the implementation of a number of her gender policies, including access to secular sex education, reproductive rights, birth control and the decriminalization of therapeutic abortion. She also seeks to legalize gay marriage, building on the civil unions for gay couples introduced by her predecessor, Sebastián Piñera.

However, the most important aspect of her reforms is education, a sensitive issue that led to the “Penguin Protests” during Bachelet’s first government, as well as unprecedented levels of civil unrest under the Piñera administration.

In response to public outrage over the education policies of the previous government, Bachelet has promised an end to profit making universities, in addition to free university education within six years. She has also set herself the ambitious target of making university education available to Chile’s 70 percent most economically vulnerable students within four years.

To finance these initiatives, Bachelet proposes radical tax reform, raising the corporate tax rate from 20 to 25 percent, a figure more in line with other developed countries. She has also announced plans to clamp down on tax evasion and end the unpopular Taxable Profits Fund, a mechanism introduced by the military dictatorship to allow wealthy businessowners to register personal income as a corporate asset, thereby avoiding tax.

Despite the popularity of these initiatives, there are many on the Chilean right who question the viability of Bachelet’s reforms. The new socialist president is expected to spend more than $15 billion on her reforms, with only $8.2 billion generated by increased tax revenues.

Furthermore, although Chile stands out among Latin American economies for its growth and stability, the copper industry that has made it a success is flagging, due to a decline in Chinese demand. Even prior to Bachelet’s election, growth had started to slow, though the central bank still expects growth between 4 and 4.5 percent this year.

Bachelet’s plans have been met with feverish enthusiasm from a public visibly demanding change. Although she has always been a staunch advocate for social justice, reforms during her first term were noticeably more modest. However, it is clear that modest reform will no longer satisfy the Chilean public.

Under Bachelet’s predecessor, fuel prices, economic inequality and limited access to education resulted in protests and a national strike, supported by 70 percent of the population. Piñera’s image as a billionaire concerned only with big business cost his coalition government the election. Thus Bachelet cannot afford to be perceived as timid. She must be seen to be breaking from the past and demonstrate an unequivocal commitment to social justice to maintain public support. As such, many of the activists responsible for the protests under the last government have been co-opted by Bachelet, with the national union of students working directly with the new administration on education reform.

In a move designed to welcome Bachelet’s new government, and highlight the public’s demand for change, tens of thousands of Chileans marched through the streets of Santiago last month, in a rally dubbed “The March to End All Marches.” The event gathered together a variety of social groups keen to make their voices heard. Advocates for gay rights, indigenous groups, environmentalists and women’s rights united under one banner to show their support for social reform. Their message was clear: Chile expects change. But with expectations so high, it remains to be seen if Bachelet can deliver.

Consumers, Not Government, Should Set Cannabis Prices

Marijuana sold legally in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, June 1, 2008
Marijuana sold legally in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, June 1, 2008 (Valentina Solito)

I don’t often find myself disagreeing with Walter Russell Mead but one of the arguments he makes at his blog today against decriminalizing marijuana — which the state of Colorado did this year — is quite misguided.

According to Mead, “a key question is how Colorado should set the prices for legal pot. Set it too low,” he writes, “and cheap Colorado weed could help prop up the black market in other states but set it too high and people will prefer to buy from the black market in Colorado.”

The assumption here being that a central authority should set cannabis prices which is quite absurd. The whole point of decriminalizing the drug is to get the government out of regulating what Coloradans can and cannot consume — which is, of course, the only argument in favor of legalization that matters.

Now that there can be a free market in cannabis, demand and supply will determine its price, just as happens with any other product. Why should cannabis be any different?

Mead further notes that “quite apart from these price considerations,” the black market in Colorado is unlikely to go away. Which is probably true because marijuana remains illegal in virtually all other states.

But that is far from an argument against legalizing drugs. By that logic, no state could ever take the first step of decriminalizing anything!

Dutch, Germans Struggle With Russia Relationship

Vladimir Putin Angela Merkel
Russian president Vladimir Putin and German chancellor Angela Merkel attend a conference in Moscow, November 16, 2012 (Bundesregierung)

President Vladimir Putin reminded Russia’s biggest trade partners in Europe on Sunday and Monday how ambivalent they are about their economic relations with his country. Putin’s visit to Germany and the Netherlands was overshadowed by concerns in both nations about the deterioration of human rights in Russia.

The Dutch and Germans are major importers of Russian oil and natural gas and sell agricultural and industrial products, including cars, to the country but are uneasy about the Kremlin’s political interference in energy markets and the maltreatment of Russian gays and international human rights organizations in the country.

German chancellor Angela Merkel suggested in a speech on Sunday that her country could help Russia innovate and diversify its economy. “We believe this can happen most successfully when there is an active civil society,” she said.

We must intensify these discussions, develop our ideas and we must give the NGOs, who we know as a motor for innovation, a good chance in Russia.

Putin’s government sees many such nongovernmental organizations as agents of the West that aim to destabilize it. While aid and charitable organizations that “criticize the current authorities” are perfectly permissible, “the activities of ‘pseudo-NGOs’ and other agencies that try to destabilize other countries with outside support are unacceptable,” the Russian leader wrote last year.

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, whose country was the first to legalize gay marriage in 2001, expressed concern about a law pending approval from the Russian parliament that would ban homosexual “propaganda” in Russia. “Gay rights are human rights,” he insisted during a joint press conference with his Russian counterpart on Monday before arguing that the two countries could have different views on “such difficult topics” exactly because they have a strong relationship.

Amnesty International and gay rights movements staged demonstrations outside the Hermitage Amsterdam museum where Putin met the Netherlands’ Queen Beatrix.

In Germany, protesters carried Syrian flags to signal their displeasure with Russia’s support for the Levant country’s embattled leader, Bashar al-Assad, whose regime tried to suppress a popular uprising that has since morphed into an armed insurgency. Russia has resisted calls from countries like the United Kingdom and the United States to impose tougher international sanctions on Assad’s government.

Germany and the Netherlands are less confrontational than their American and British allies who have derided Russia for propping up a Middle Eastern dictator. Neither is keen to criticize Russian policy too vehemently as they depend on the country for hydrocarbon imports.

On the eve of Putin’s visit, the Netherlands’ economy minister announced that the Dutch-Russian joint venture Shtandart had agreed to invest some €800 billion in the construction of an oil terminal in the port of Rotterdam. 30 percent of crude oil and 45 percent of oil products shipped through Rotterdam harbor already originates in Russia. Germany, in turn, is a major recipient of oil and gas that flows through the Netherlands. Russia supplies more than a third of Germany’s natural gas consumption.

Germany’s dependence on Russian energy has created concerns in Eastern Europe about too close a relationship between the two countries that could jeopardize the interests of NATO states situated in between.

German policy toward Russia in recent years has seemingly harkened back to Willy Brandt’s Cold War Ostpolitik that assumed diplomatic engagement alone would help foster political change in the East. Only recent has Merkel adopted a more critical tone but not all members of her government are convinced that is appropriate.

“On the one hand, we don’t want to hold back on criticism regarding Russia’s internal development,” said Guido Westerwelle, the liberal party foreign minister, late last year, “but on the other hand we are very keen for the strategic partnership with Russia to be expanded.”

Dutch officials sound similarly ambivalent when they discuss their relationship with Russia. Foreign minister Frans Timmermans urged the country in February to reject its gay “propaganda” ban but has been more cautious in his criticisms than he was while a lawmaker for the now ruling Labor Party.

The Netherlands is currently the second largest natural gas producer in Europe, after Norway, but estimates are that it will have to import in as little as ten years’ time. If it is to remain a pivotal distributor of gas in Europe, it can ill afford to alienate the Russians.

Republicans Should Move to Middle and Shouldn’t

Mitt Romney lost Tuesday’s presidential election in the United States because the incumbent did particularly well among racial minorities, young voters and women — three groups that are likely to determine the outcome of future elections as well. For Republicans to appeal to them and remain competitive, they have to moderate their positions on some issues but stay the course on others.

If Tuesday’s election had been a referendum on President Barack Obama, there’s a good chance that Romney would have won. A slim majority of voters indicated that they trusted him more to handle the economy than the Democrat. Republicans won overwhelmingly in 2010’s congressional and gubernatorial elections because voters trusted them more to reduce the deficit and boost employment than the president’s party. But on cultural and social issues, public opinion increasingly favors Democrats over Republicans. Read more “Republicans Should Move to Middle and Shouldn’t”

Mediterranean Engenders Tyranny of the Majority

As predicted, the fate of the “Arab Spring” democracies is leaving much to be desired. Liberal societies can simply not arise from illiberalism and the alternative is, and has always been, to either have secular, authoritarian, pro-Western elites or Islamist, populist, unreliable governments. Between liberal dictatorship and Islamist democracy, the choice is a dilemma.

What makes the choice more difficult is that it is also one between civil rights and political freedoms. In all of last year’s Arab revolutions, the observed constant was ethnic or ideological majorities politicizing the Mediterranean spillover of the Western financial crisis in order to unseat minority regimes. In Tunisia, the Islamists removed the secularists. The same happened in Egypt. In Bahrain, the Shia majority tried to overthrow a Sunni regime; vice versa in Syria, and in Libya there was no majority to be had. Read more “Mediterranean Engenders Tyranny of the Majority”

Democrats Try to Frame Election as Vote on Equality

Members of President Barack Obama’s party who are running for election in November seek to frame the upcoming vote as one about income and sexual equality. The economy is still foremost on voters’ minds, but Democrats are hoping to change that.

After Vice President Joe Biden told NBC News’ Sunday morning talk show Meet the Press this weekend that he was “absolutely comfortable” with gay marriage, the president, too, voiced support for legalizing marriage for same-sex couples.

No longer “evolving” on the issue, President Obama’s change of heart will likely endear him to young, first time voters who backed him overwhelmingly in 2008 but have since grown weary of his politics.

Among gay Americans, his support of marriage equality is unlikely produce a major shift. In 2004, after President George W. Bush endorsed a constitutional amendment to define marriage as one between a man and a woman, 23 percent of gay Americans voted Republican anyway. In the 2010 congressional elections, 31 percent did.

While 50 percent of the general population supports gay marriage, 70 percent of Americans under the age of thirty does. Two thirds of them voted for Obama in 2008.

The president’s election year conversion on the issue of marriage appears to be part of a concentrated effort to frame the upcoming vote as one between the progressive Barack Obama who tries to move the nation “forward” and intransigent Republicans who, on both economic and social issues, are “backward” in their opposition to his policies.

It’s not just on marriage that Republicans are supposed to be reactionary. Democrats accused conservative lawmakers of waging a “war on women” earlier this year because they did not want to force insurance companies to include birth control in their mandated coverage.

The fight over contraception was “illuminating,” the president told a group of women voters last month. “It was like being in a time machine.” He added, “The choice between going backward or moving forward has never been so clear.”

Obama is currently leading his likely Republican opponent Mitt Romney among woman 49 to 39 percent.

Besides marriage and gender equality, the president has described mounting income inequality as “the defining issue of our time.” Few Americans agree. In a recent Gallup poll, just 2 percent of respondents listed the gap between the rich and poor as their top economic concern. But there is a sense that opportunity is increasingly denied to the middle class while the wealthy are shielded by their Republican friends from higher taxes and regulations.

So Republicans, again, have it backward when they want to lower taxes on businesses and high-income earners but privatize federal health support for seniors at the same time. As the president put it, they want “everybody left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules.”

The fact that Mitt Romney seems rather more like a character out of the popular drama series Mad Men, set in the 1960s, socially awkward and unsentimental when he talks about the economy, doesn’t help.

Voters overwhelmingly see joblessness and the ballooning national debt, areas in which the president has made markedly little progress, as the most important issues for the upcoming election. Democrats, who have resisted every Republican effort to rein in spending and not even introduced a budget in the Senate for all of Obama’s presidency, know that they cannot win on the economy. They have to change the conversation.

A majority of Americans is now on the left on most social issues, except abortion. Opposition to contraception coverage and gay marriage is concentrated in conservative states that are safely Republican. In critical swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, which will likely determine the outcome of November’s presidential election, voters lean Republican on economic issues but may well give Democrats a majority if they see the other party as backward indeed.

If Republicans fall for this trap and lose sight of their potentially winning argument — that they’ll fix the economy and get the government’s fiscal house in order — to revive the culture wars of the 1990s, this time, they will probably lose.

DeMint Warns Republicans Not to Ignore Paul Vote

South Carolina senator Jim DeMint on Friday cautioned his fellow Republicans against ignoring the Ron Paul vote in their party’s presidential primary elections. “If Republicans don’t figure out how to listen to and understand some of the things he’s saying,” he told Fox News’ Hannity, it could break up the party.

Conservatives worry about a third party run by Paul because it could split the right-wing vote and enable President Barack Obama to win reelection in November.

Unlike previous primary contests, when Paul rarely won more than 10 percent of the vote, in Iowa and New Hampshire this month, he won more than 20 percent each time. Voters registered as independents were able to participate in both elections and Paul did especially well among them and voters under the age of 29. In both Iowa and New Hampshire, Paul won half the youth vote and in the latter, a third of self-declared independents.

Among first time voters, too, Paul’s limited government and anti-war rhetoric resonated but it’s anathema to many social conservatives and defense hawks who reject the Texas congressman’s candidacy as having no bearing on the party’s future. DeMint didn’t share that view on Friday. “The whole debate within the Republican Party needs to be between conservatives and libertarians,” he said.

Paul’s used to be mainstream conservatism in the United States. The Republican Party abandoned its noninterventionism in the wake of World War II while its emphasis on individual liberty eroded as a consequence of the religious revival of the 1980s which prompted even once presidential candidate and Arizona senator Barry Goldwater, whose views on the proper role of government were similar to Paul’s, to lament his party’s reactionary positions on cultural issues as abortion and gay rights.

Representative of the religious right in today’s primary race is former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum who rivaled frontrunner Mitt Romney for a first place finish in Iowa and who hopes to do well in South Carolina’s primary next week.

Santorum told National Public Radio in 2006 quite frankly that most conservatives do not embrace the notion of personal autonomy anymore. “Some do,” he admitted. “They have this idea that people should be left alone, be able to do whatever they want to do, government should keep our taxes down and keep our regulations low, that we shouldn’t get involved in the bedroom, we shouldn’t get involved in cultural issues. You know, people should do whatever they want.”

Although Paul is opposed to abortion rights, his views on drug legislation, education policy and marriage are far outside the mainstream of Republican thought. According to Santorum, it is “not how traditional conservatives view the world.”

I think most conservatives understand that individuals can’t go it alone. That there is no such society that I am aware of, where we’ve had radical individualism and that it succeeds as a culture.

Goldwater would beg to differ. So does between 5 and 7 percent of voters nationwide if Paul were to run as an independent in November’s presidential election.

At least 80 percent of his support as a third party candidate would come at the expense of the Republican ticket. States like Florida, Indiana, North Carolina and Virginia, which were carried by George W. Bush in 2004 but won by Obama in 2008, could all go for the Democrat if Paul acts as a “spoiler” on the right. Together they wield 68 electoral votes which could tilt the balance in the president’s favor. So if only for electoral reasons, Republicans ought to take notice of Paul’s mounting popularity.

Arab Monitors Begin Their Mission in Syria

Last Monday, Syria witnessed the bloodiest day of the Syrian uprising with close to one hundred people killed across the country by Bashar al-Assad’s army and police forces.

The government-sponsored violence over the next two days either kept that pace or accelerated in some areas, particularly in northwest Syria, where activists and villagers have reported scenes of a “massacre” by tanks and machine gunners. During arguably the worst period of intimidation since the democratic protests began last March, the Syrian National Council, the most prominent anti-government political organization outside the country, has released figures suggesting that two hundred and fifty people were killed last week over a 48 hour span.

It is now undeniable that the Syrian regime is intent on stopping the protest wave any way it can, even if heavy weapons like anti-aircraft guns and tank warfare need to be used to get the job done.

The total death toll is now probably far higher than the 5,000 reported by the United Nation’s senior human rights official this month. It will continue to go up as more conscripts chuck their Syrian army uniforms and run into the arms of the opposition — a development that Assad’s Republican Guard forces have quickly responded to with summary executions, indiscriminate arrest operations and tank shelling.

With the cities of Syria literally running red with blood, it would be inappropriate, if not downright insulting, to suggest that Bashar al-Assad truly wants to usher in democratic reforms for his country. As long as Assad’s Ba’ath Party is considered to be the heart and soul of Syrian political life, the prospects of Syrians voting the way they would like to is just as delusional.

The crisis has caused even Syria’s allies to think twice before vouching Assad in public. Close to two months ago, China and China vetoed a Security Council resolution demanding that Syria halt violence against its citizens and pull its army from civilian areas. Now Moscow appears to be edging closer to the Western position, disregarding its previous stance of refusing to meddle in the affairs of a sovereign state.

In a draft resolution circulated to other Security Council members by the Russians, the Syrian government is urged to suspend its “suppression of those exercising their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association.”

The Russians also call on the Syrian authorities to initiate a judicial investigation targeting those who have either ordered, were a part of or who were in any way implicated in abuses. The statement is an about-face from last October, when Moscow teamed up with Beijing to block a unified Council response to the violence.

In what may be another boost to the protesters, Arab League officials have reported that Syria’s foreign minister has accepted the Gulf Arab plan to send mediators into Syria to make sure that the government is actually doing what it says it is doing — pulling its forces back, releasing political prisoners swept up in the violence, reaching out to the Syrian opposition and generally ending the killing and arrests. On this front, Russia also appears to be at the forefront with the Foreign Ministry confirming that the government decided to allow monitors in after poking and prodding by Russian diplomats.

Moscow is still far away from where France, the United Kingdom and the United States would like it to be and with the Syrian regime having broken so many promises in the past, activists and Western powers are reluctant to celebrate the Arab League mission prematurely.

Although the Syrian government has promised unfettered access, there is a disbelief that the Arab monitors sent into the country will be allowed to travel to the worst effected areas freely. President Assad will be sure to make the lives of these monitors difficult, because he rightly understands that failing to obstruct the mission would confirm what nearly everyone has been saying about his regime since the unrest broke out — that it is brutal, inhumane and entirely at fault.

Similarly, withdrawing troops from centers of protest and releasing the tens of thousands of prisoners who have been thrown into jail cells would be an act of capitulation to the opposition.

Agreement aside, Assad has passed the point of no return. Minus resignation and a publicly humiliating trial, Syrians will not react to any of his reforms positively. The killings will continue with the Arab League now directly involved. Without stronger words and actions from China and Russia, a complete enforcement from Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan of the Arab League sanctions, and a Syrian president that inexplicably changes his stripes, a diplomatic solution to the crisis seems no longer a viable option.

Obamacare is Still Unconstitutional

Last week, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the individual mandate of President Barack Obama’s health reform law as unconstitutional. It’s almost inevitable now that the Supreme Court will be asked to rule on the matter eventually.

Defenders of “Obamacare,” which is how the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 has become known, argue that the Commerce Clause in the Constitution grants the federal government the authority not just to regulate interstate commerce but all commercial activity, including health insurance. Forcing people to purchase insurance, they say, is not just legal; it’s the right thing to do because millions would otherwise fail to insure themselves against medical catastrophe.

The appellate court in Atlanta, Georgia on Friday decided otherwise, opining that the Commerce Clause should not be interpreted “in a way that would grant to Congress a general police power.”

As for the mandate, the Eleventh Circuit considered not just the constitutionality of it “but also its implications for our constitutional structure.” If the federal government can force people to buy insurance, what can’t it do? There are, in fact, very clear restrictions on federal power in the Constitution and “while these structural limitations are often discussed in terms of federalism, their ultimate goal,” the court points out, “is the protection of individual liberty.” Read more “Obamacare is Still Unconstitutional”