Draining the GOP Senate Swamp

When high officials who have been accused of endangering the nation can simply sneer, toss out a couple childish insults, and change the subject, the concept “democracy” no longer has much meaning. It doesn’t take a dictatorship; it just takes a majority of top officials looking the other way.

Given the extremely serious nature of the charges against Trump made in recent days by three GOP Senators—Corker, McCain, and Flake, the lack of substance in Trump’s meeting with GOP Senators on Oct. 24 (as described by The Hill) was shamefully unprofessional, to the point of Senatorial dereliction of duty. Trump stands charged some of the most prominent leaders in his own party of irresponsible, reckless, immature behavior threatening domestic unity and national security.

Senator Corker: Trump’s recklessness threatens to put the nation “on the path to World War III” [New York Times.]

Senator McCain:  “To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.” [The Hill.]

Senator Flake:  “We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country — the personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms, and institutions, the flagrant disregard for truth or decency, the reckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons.” [CNN.]

But apparently not a single Senator bothered asking the President to respond substantively to these charges…charges representing some of the most thoughtful, substantive remarks on the state of the union and U.S. national security heard this century from a Republican politician.

Charges of provoking World War III or debasing the union are not charges to tossed out and dropped. That Trump chooses to evade the charges and instead respond with insults says much about the accuracy of these Senators’ verbal arrows. That they could make such charges, which—if accurate—surely merit impeachment, and then simply walk away, is almost unthinkable. That the whole rest of the Republican Senate majority could smile inanely and eat lunch with the accused speaks volumes about the pathetic poll numbers of a Congress broadly perceived as inept.

Senator Cruz’ remark is among the most blatant examples:

“We’ve got a job to do, damn it, and so all of this nonsense, I got [sic] nothing to say on it. Everyone shut up and do your job, is my view.” [The Hill.]

One can only wonder why Senator Cruz evidently does not think “abandoning our ideals” or “degrading” the country or risking nuclear war might be a threat meriting Senate attention.

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The Burden of Being in Command

You little people just don’t understand how tough it is being in command, leading a war to clean out a swamp. Obama never had so many hurricanes one after another. (“Did the Democrats do this on purpose? They couldn’t, could they?”)

When the boss has to make every decision by himself, when he cannot rely on any of his subor…(sorry) colleagues in the legislature to carry out his orders, when his employ…(sorry) Civil Servants insist upon maintaining government services that he is trying to destroy and protect liberties that his subj…(sorry) fellow citizens use to obstruct him, then that boss will be busy. He cannot do everything immediately all by himself! So have a little courtesy while the man drives his bulldozer through the Swamp.

If a hurricane imperils the lives of 3.5 million of the common people while the CE…(sorry) Great Leader is commanding a war against the NFL, well then, that is surely a shame, but a leader has to make priorities. It is totally unfair, unjust, and rude to suggest that such prioritization constitutes evidence that the man can’t manage. After all, what is more central to management than setting priorities?

And what priority could be higher than communicating, perhaps with a quick tweet readily accessible to all the commoners and carefully composed to make a point quickly and in a form sufficiently simple for all you commoners to comprehend, about the meaning of patriotism? When someone, be it a foreign thug throwing rockets around or a provincial mayor or a back-talking football player, fails to show the proper respect for the man whose very being embodies patriotism, that individual must be put in his (or her, especially her) place. Such people must not be permitted to persist.

Cut the boss some slack, already!

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.