Hillary and a Great America

A “great” America would not be one that practiced war, racism, sexism, or elite financial crime. Hillary has been “playing it safe” the whole election and is consequently in real danger of losing, but she could, with one week to go, articulate an image of a truly “great” America. If she cannot herself see this possible future, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Russell Feingold could team up to write it for her. But Hillary needs to take ownership in public.

With one week to go before election, if Hillary wants to win, she should demonstrate that she deserves to win, and here is the speech I would like her to make:

The next President will face three critical and immediate challenges.

  1. Financial Crime. Elite financial crime has undermined the integrity of the American since the man-made 2007 recession. Senators Warren, Senator Sanders, and I have agreed on a plan that, if elected, I will promote immediately to minimize the danger of a new financial collapse by bringing the guilty to trial and eliminating “too big to fail” financial corporations that can blackmail society for their private gain.
  2. Syrian Civil War. I hereby state publicly that the concept of a no-fly zone over Syria, albeit perhaps a good idea when I first proposed it, now faces a new reality on the ground in Syria and is no longer a safe, logical option as a unilateral U.S. plan. Syria’s crisis must not be allowed to inflame a new major power war. i I will promote coordinated U.S.-Russian negotiations to consider a joint no-fly zone as well as other ideas for minimizing violence while simultaneously focusing U.S. policy on aiding Syrian society to recover, both by helping refugees and by providing aid to such non-sectarian and defense-oriented social groups as may be identified.
  3. Police Brutality Against Democracy Activists. A shameful violation of American values is currently playing out in North Dakota. The prima facie case of police and corporate collusion against popular rights demands the immediate and forceful attention of the White House and the FBI. Rather than speak further, I am today boarding a plane for a personal inspection of the confrontation between Americans defending their rights and the power of Big Oil.

I, Hillary Clinton, will–if elected–take action on these three issues my first day in office.

 

An Elite Culture of Hostility

 

An elite culture of hostility toward the people is rising in the U.S. This elite is not just a plutocracy but, increasingly, an insecure and vengeful plutocracy that views popular participation in the democratic process, at home or abroad, as the primary enemy. This paranoid elite mindset is laying the foundations for dictatorship.

From the Patriot Act, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo pre-trial torture, wars for profit, destroying the careers of honest Federal officials who oppose contract fraud, and drone attacks on unidentified civilians to bailouts of billionaires and “stay out of jail” cards for Wall St. CEOs despite prima facie evidence of fraudulent behavior to the vicious pre-trial torture of individual Americans guilty of embarrassing top officials, we are witnessing the rise of an elite culture based on self-defense against the people. The members of the elite who buy into this culture all agree that it is in their common private interest to treat the people as the enemy. Whether the president or Wall St. banker or arms corporation CEO happens to label himself Republican. Democrat, or apolitical businessman is becoming increasingly irrelevant: the elite is adopting a garrison state perspective that labels all debate, all independent thought as proof of treachery.

This culture of dictatorship rests on a foundation of private wealth used for public power: a few CEOs from the arenas of finance, energy, and war profiteering who specialize in transferring social wealth into their own hands for subsequent transfer to their political lackeys. Once bought and paid, the political lackeys pass the laws required for the protection of the CEOs’ wealth transfer scam. Do independent commissions write the implementing rules governing how Wall St. is regulated? No, bureaucrats supported by representatives from Wall St. write those critical implementing rules. Do independent commissions decide if NSA should be permitted to engage in domestic spying? No, a highly secretive internal government body does. Class war by the rich, immunity from prosecution for the powerful, and secrecy are the legs on which dictatorship stands.

We may differ on which politician is most guilty, we may differ on whether or not any specific official personally desires to institute a dictatorship. Regardless of the answer, the rise of this defensive, anti-popular elite culture is promoting the consolidation of a single elite committed to its own perpetuation and determined to fight to the death against popular participation in the democratic process. Just as dictatorship has a critical core, so does democracy. The legs of democracy are transparency and public accountability. Transparency does not mean the transparency of what you do in your bedroom or write in your emails but what officials do in their offices. Unlike officials who seem suddenly, in our post-9/11 world, to have become addicted to pre-trial torture, for citizens in a democracy, “public accountability” means bringing the powerful to court to defend themselves. [Why do I feel it necessary to spell out something so obvious?!? Did we not all learn this in high school?]

The dynamic powering the transfer from democracy to dictatorship is, in a word, that “power corrupts.” The more power is acquired via ill-gotten and hidden pathways, the harder those abusing power will try to cover up, until they reach the point where they can only protect their personal careers by outright dictatorship…by which point they may well have the power to do so. Whatever lies in the hearts of our current officials, sooner or later this mindset of hostility toward the public (first, the public in a few Muslim states and now only a few years later also the American public) will be exploited by a leader to build what we will all recognize as a dictatorship…unless we change the elite culture of hostility.

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On the other hand…

Bipartisan senatorial critique of NSA domestic spying by Leahy, Udall, Frankin, Grassley supports transparency in government.

Senator Leahy statement on NSA domestic spying:

Today, the Judiciary Committee will scrutinize government surveillance programs conducted under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA.  In the years since September 11th, Congress has repeatedly expanded the scope of FISA, and given the Government sweeping new powers to collect information on law-abiding Americans – and we must carefully consider now whether those laws have gone too far.

Last month, many Americans learned for the first time that one of these authorities – Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act – has for years been secretly interpreted to authorize the collection of Americans’ phone records on an unprecedented scale….

In the wake of these leaks, the President said that this is an opportunity to have an open and thoughtful debate about these issues.  I welcome that statement, because this is a debate that several of us on this Committee have been trying to have for years.  And if we are going to have the debate that the President called for, the executive branch must be a full partner.  We need straightforward answers and I am concerned that we are not getting them….

Just recently, the Director of National Intelligence acknowledged that he provided false testimony about the NSA surveillance programs during a Senate hearing in March….

The patience and trust of the American people is starting to wear thin….

The Government is already collecting data on millions of innocent Americans on a daily basis, based on a secret legal interpretation of a statute that does not on its face appear to authorize this type of bulk collection.  What will be next?  And when is enough, enough?

Congress must carefully consider the powerful surveillance tools that we grant to the Government, and ensure that there is stringent oversight, accountability, and transparency.

Congressional coalition opposes domestic spying –

A stunning bipartisan group of 205 Congressmen voted to slap down the Administration and the Republican House leadership over NSA domestic spying. Advocates of continued nearly unrestrained domestic spying against citizens not accused of any crimes won a narrow victory that cannot but awaken them to the on-going national outrage over the domestic spying scandal by Intel agencies that have traditionally been barred from domestic activities. The Amash-Conyers bill represents a significant response to the post-9/11 trend, symbolized by the grossly mis-named “Patriot Act” toward abuses of power by an Imperial Presidency that shows little concern for Constitutional guarantees of civil liberties. We should all be grateful to Manning for sacrificing his life in the name of real patriotism.

Tools of the Rich

The citizens of the U.S. are shortchanging themselves by allowing the super-rich to define taboos in order to prevent society from considering fundamental reforms that might preserve our democracy, enhance our security, and improve our lives…at the expense of constraining the ability of the super-rich to amass more wealth. Continue reading

Policy Process Fairness

To make effective policy and to understand what game policy-makers are playing, process must be distinguished from policy. If the policy is a search for peace, but the process is seen by the adversary as intentionally designed to put them at a disadvantage, the result is likely to be violence.


One may imagine the landscape of possible public policies by a state as a function of the fairness of the domestic and foreign policy processes (theoretical introduction here). Such a model defines four quadrants, with the two extremes being a quadrant in which process is totally fair (green, in the figure) and a quadrant in which it is totally unfair (red, in the figure). In the green space, policy is made democratically, through negotiation; in the red, policy is made by force. If the “quality” of governance is defined as a function of the degree to which the policy-making process produces positive-sum outcomes (and thus stability, which is assumed to be greater over the long run when all sides buy into the substantive decisions that are reached and have a fair chance to promote their subsequent modification), then the deeper into the green sector, the better the quality of governance (white arrow).
Before beginning an argument about policy substance, attention should be paid to policy process: setting up a fair process facilitates inventing a mutually acceptable solution. Politicians resistant to this line of thinking are probably cheating, i.e., they do not want a solution. Developing a scientific method of identifying fair process may prove somewhat difficult, but even a minimal concept of fair process facilitates policy evaluation and implementation. Deep in the red quadrant, the region of force, lie economic sanctions, terrorism, cyber-warfare, and military attack. As one moves toward the green region of diplomacy (internationally) and democracy (domestically), one passes through a broad area in which preconditions are attached to negotiations. This is a rich region for analysis, where the well-armed always call for “peace” first to steal the best card (e.g., demonstrations) in the hand of the weak. Thus, city governments across the U.S.responded to Occupy protests not by listening to their substantive demands but by trying to prevent or circumscribe the demonstrations. Similarly, the central government of Peruis currently demanding an end to local anti-gold mining protests as a precondition to compromise, as though such a concession by the weak rural farmers would have no impact on their subsequent negotiating position. Moving all the way into the green region, one reaches (at least theoretically) the magical land where two adversaries sit down and (really) reason together. Occasionally, innovative positive-sum solutions emerge from such open-minded discussions.
Similarly, on the domestic side, one moves from police violence and death squads at the dictatorial extreme to recalls and referendums at the democratic extreme. While this may all be intuitively obvious, formalizing the approach, even to the minimal extent laid out here, offers the advantages of 1) sensitizing people to the dangers inherent in overlooking biases in process while debating substance and 2) raising the issue of the relative significance of various process biases. Concerning the latter, for example, Americans have yet to face up to the seriousness of demanding Iranian preconditions that amount to surrender as the entry price to negotiations. Why would an adversary negotiate if it had given up all its bargaining cards in advance? Perhaps a policy of forcing Iraneither to surrender or fight is what the American people want, but U.S.policy-makers are certainly not presenting those as the choices, nor in reality are they the choices. On the Iran issue, U.S. policy-makers are playing a different game, and in a democracy, the people have a right to know what the game their leaders are playing.

Neo-liberal Crisis Threatens Peru

Crisis threatens Peru, with presumed populist Humala taking a corporatist stand. Rhetoric is hardening on both sides, and no one appears able to define the struggle between the rural poor and international gold mining interests in a positive-sum manner.

When Ollanta Humala, who had presented himself as a populist who would put civil liberties ahead of international corporate interests, won election as Peru’s leader, Peru’s future seemed to be brightening, but his first year in power has left the country facing a text-book neo-liberal challenge: people versus gold. Despite local fears that a new gold mining project will destroy the population’s water supply and strong regional government support for anti-mining demonstrations, Humala has sided with the gold mining corporation and pushed his administration into crisis.

This delightful video shows the natural beauty of the Cajamarca region.

Following two resignations from the cabinet, the Humala administration has shown signs of a new willingness to listen to the people who elected him. Nevertheless, the extension for another month of the state of emergency in Cajamarca on Friday, a slap in the face of the head of the on-going negotiations between the central government and the regional government, suggests a continuing pro-corporate bias on the part of what was supposed to have been a popular, democratizing regime. In protest over Humala’s attitude, Cajamarca regional president Gregorio Santos, who now stands accused of “rebellion” against Humala, is boycotting the negotiations and flatly asserted on August 9 that at this point lifting the state of emergency would not suffice: the mining corporation must step back and the government must look into the deaths of the protesters. Speaking slowly and thoughtfully, Humala called for an “end to hypocrisy” (Dejémonos de hipocresías.) on August 8 and warned Humala not to “hide behind the priests” (ocultarse detras de los sacerdotes) serving as mediators. The Humala Administration, however, is demanding the retreat of the protesters before negotiations—assurances that there will be no more “actos radicals” before lifting the state of emergency, far from Santos’ demand for action by the mining corporation.
Despite the deaths of five protesters and mediation by the Catholic Church, the central government and the regional opposition to the mining project have not even managed to agree on the terms for sitting across the negotiating table from each other. Humala, seen by the elite a year ago as a troublemaker for his outspoken opposition to their policies, now sits in their seat, evidently expecting the same popular obedience the old elite once expected of him. His accomplishments during his first year in office may be overwhelmed by the controversy over gold mining:

Since taking office a year ago, Humala has introduced a minimum monthly pension for the elderly poor and grants for students while augmenting programs for infants and families in poverty. He said the number of the people enrolled in some of the programs would double during his term. Humala’s approval rating fell to a fresh low of 40 percent this month, according to pollster Ipsos, after a crackdown on protesters opposed to Newmont Mining’s $5 billion Conga project in the northern region of Cajamarca that killed five people this month. [Reuters7/28/12.]

Humala plans a $30 billion expansion of gold and copper mining over the next five years in Peru; how that will address the quality of life of Peru’s rural poor remains unclear.
Rhetoric on both sides is hardening, and protesters have called for a strikeon August 21 and 22.

Humala’s Theoretical Error: Screwing the Lid on Tight Makes the Pot Boil Over

As a man of the people, Humala must know better, but once in office, he began to think he was, if not above the law, at least above the people. He has, as a result, discovered that top-down decision-making imposed upon the people, without gaining their buy-in generates exactly the chaos leaders want to avoid. By failing to show that residents would benefit from a new gold mine in their backyard, by failing to ensure that they would retain clean water, and most importantly of all by avoiding the short-term inefficiencies of democratic decision-making, he has provoked a deepening national crisis reminiscent of the decade-old Cochabamba water war against Bechtel Corporation and a Bolivian leader who made the same mistake…and turned Evo Morales into a national hero. More, he has thereby contracted a severe case of instability plus long-term counter-productivity, weakening himself both domestically and internationally while undermining his policy of befriending international mining corporations to boost Peru’s economic prospects. Political processes are not linear: what works for a day may be the cause of failure by the weekend.

Humala had to play a two-level game (to simplify his reality), dealing with the international gold mining corporation and dealing with his countrymen. On the foreign policy side, he negotiated; in terms of domestic governance, he attempted a centralized decision-making process…thus landing, for this policy, solidly in the tricky blue arena where behavior toward domestic partners clashes with behavior toward international partners. Playing tough guy in the red arena of force might make a leader feared; playing nice guy in the green arena of conciliation might win a leader moral stature. Playing in the internally inconsistent blue arena makes a leader look like a push-over to foreigners and like a sell-out to those who voted for him.
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READINGS:

Democracy or War?

Attitude toward democracy and war seem critical factors in the evolution of the U.S., judging from four core trends currently evident: rising corporate control, rising corruption, rising elite preference for war over negotiation, and the strengthening of class divisions. (Part I of this series on the future prospects of the U.S. discussed the four trends.)


The four core trends in the socio-economic and political evolution of U.S.society suggest a pair of explanatory dimensions for evaluating the future course of society: attitude toward democracy and attitude toward war. “Democracy” refers not to sterile institutional forms (e.g., elections) but to a whole complex process of popular insistence on guiding and judging the behavior of those permittedto be national leaders. Democracy stands or falls on the dedication of the population to defend it, as illustrated by the Occupy Movement, Bolivia’s Cochabama campaign for drinking water free from corporate control, and Peru’s Cajamarca campaign to control the behavior of international mining corporations. “War” refers to the use of force—including economic sanctions, political coups, state terrorism, as well as outright military attack—to influence the rest of the world, as opposed to negotiating positive-sum solutions.
Defined more formally, the result is a “governance” dimension, going from “democratic” (bottom-up) to “centralized” (top-down) and a “foreign affairs” dimension, going from “negotiation” to “war.” Curiously, these two dimensions both can be viewed as trading off the degree of confusion in the initial decision-making process (with democracy and negotiations being the extremes of confusion) for what may be the hope of stability over the long-term. War, for example, is easy to start but a famously ineffective method of achieving the desired long-term solution (WWI provoking WWII, WWII provoking the Cold War, Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon provoking the rise of Hezbollah, the U.S. invasion of Iraq pushing Iraq into Iran’s orbit, etc.). Perhaps the real underlying dimension of significance should thus be society’s attitude toward long-term solutions (i.e., how much effort a society is willing to make to achieve a solution acceptable to all sides over the long-term as opposed to a quick fix for the winner).
Sticking, for now, with the original dimensions, they generate an analytical landscape of four alternative scenarios. The green and red regions represent analytically clear alternatives: the green for a democracy that, while obviously negotiating domestic political solutions (by definition) logically does the same internationally and red a centralized regime that gives orders domestically to the repressed population and internationally seeks to do the same. The blue and grey regions represent intuitively illogical, albeit perhaps historically common (at least briefly), possibilities that seem likely to be unstable. The blue region would encompass dictatorships that work internationally for positive-sum solutions. The grey region would encompass aggressive democracies. To say that the green and red regions are analytically logical does not mean that they are in practice logical forms of governance. That is a more complicated issue–a function of leadership and circumstance. In general, however, one may hypothesize that the regimes in the green region will tend to generate policy slowly but reach relatively stable solutions: slow because they must be negotiated and stable precisely for the same reason, that the various parties freely agreed and therefore presumably saw some advantage in the agreement. Conversely, regimes in the red region see likely to make decisions efficiently but make policy that is relatively counter-productive over the long-term, provoking instability.

In addition to using this model to evaluate regimes, it can be applied to specific policies. It is obvious that democracies tend to become less democratic as a function of stress: with barbarians at the gate or cities leveled by earthquakes, decisions need to be made. More interesting are situations in which democratic regimes loudly proclaim their desire to do as the population wants even while carefully concealing what they are actually doing in order to implement micro-managed and highly dictatorial policy decisions. Graphically depicting a “green” state that happens to reach a “red” decision or implement a decision in a “red” manner  is likely to facilitate communication and comprehension by getting past trivialities such as, “Oh, but we live in a democracy!” Living in a democracy and behaving democratically at every step are two very different things.

American citizens have very little influence over Washington’s traditional tendency to support right-wing, militarist factions in Israel that talk peace while implementing anti-Palestinian repression. No referendum in the U.S. has ever asked which policy Americans would prefer, nor do decision-makers typically explain what they are actually doing; rather, they publicly proclaim an interest in resolving the situation while quietly blocking any effective steps to reach a positive-sum compromise, which would require historic transfers of land, water, and political power to Palestinians. Regardless of one’s opinion of the policy, the strategy pursued on this policy is relatively opaque to the U.S. public. The policy is implemented in a highly centralized manner and presented as even-handed while in fact relying on force rather than serious negotiations (either with the U.S. public to formulate the policy or with Palestinians to work out the terms of the solution). Using the model encourages stepping back from the substance of a policy to ask probing questions about the nature of the policy, the likely impact of making or implementing policy of a particular nature, whether or not a policy of a particular nature is appropriate, and how often a state can design or implement top-down policies and still legitimately call itself “democratic.”