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.

 

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Quagmire

Obama did not exactly say, “Putin, trust me, we Americans know what it means to get stuck in a quagmire, so take this warning to heart.” Nor, of course, did Putin take it that way. Pity.

President Obama noted publicly that “An attempt by Russia and Iran to prop up Assad and try to pacify the population is just going to get them stuck in a quagmire, and it won’t work.” Obama will quite probably be proven correct, but to understand the outrageous hypocrisy of the remark, simply remove the names by abstracting as follows:

An attempt by [a global power and a regional client] to prop up a [vicious regional dictator] and try to pacify the population is just going to get them stuck in a quagmire, and it won’t work.

There was, for you young readers who haven’t studied your history, once a guy named Leonid who discovered this for himself in Afghanistan. Too bad Leonid was too old to write a history, for we are all still suffering from the consequences two generations later, and it would have been considerate of him to have warned us against repeating his mistake. Now, to be fair, I suspect Obama has in fact read some history, judging from his path-breaking (we hoped) Cairo speech way back at the now long forgotten beginning of his White House years, but in the rush of trying to run the world, one overlooks even the most obvious of lessons, which leads to having to rush all the more to learn them all over again…which brings us to the hypocrisy of Obama’s pot calling Putin’s kettle “black.”

This very week, as Putin solidifies his military position in Syria and flattens Aleppo (wasn’t that once a city that supported Assad?), Obama, who has been vigorously arming Riyadh with the bombs it has been using the past couple years to flatten Yemen, actually opened fire against one side in the very long Yemeni civil war. Did any Houthi imagine that Obama would respond to a Houthi rocket attack on a highly threatening U.S. destroyer sneaking around off the Yemeni coast by apologizing for the havoc wrought across the world’s most abused society by U.S. bombs over the past two years? [Note: it remains unclear whether it actually was Houthis rather than some false flag element hoping to provoke a thoughtlessly violent American response.] Bad judgment by the Houthis it may have been, and yet, fighting for your political rights against the combined might of Western bombs and Western-supplied Saudi jets for two years and then watching a U.S. destroyer, armed to the teeth, sticking its nose where it did not belong (was it…no surely not…inside Yemeni waters???) must get frustrating. More to the point, to quote a certain U.S. politician, all this is going to get the short-tempered superpower that just moved from the background of the Western campaign to manipulate the Yemeni civil war into the limelight “stuck in a quagmire.”

Follow-Up:

Dear Donald, Dear Hillary, “If elected, will you continue the Obama policy of supporting the Saudi aerial war against one side in the Yemeni civil war?”

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.

__________________________________

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.

Too Big to Survive

It was not just Wall Street that became too big for its own good. The failure of the financial system to perform for the good of the nation was equally the failure of the political system. But that’s not all: the whole American population all too readily went along for the ride. Has America become too big to survive? Continue reading

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.

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.”

From American Dream to American Illusion

Rising government acceptance of corporate corruption, intensifying corporate control over politics, rising preference in Washingtonfor a foreign policy based on force rather than diplomacy, and accentuation of class divisions with rising inequality in the U.S.constitute a shift in direction away from the post-WWII growth of the middle class and democracy. The decline in the prospects of the average American have been so slow that most seem unconscious of the change, but in the space of one generation, the American Dream has been transformed into the American Illusion. 

Four core trends have combined fundamentally to alter the course of U.S.society over the last generation. Under the cover of a flood of elitist propaganda equating corporate growth with social good and circus-like elections with democracy, in one brief generation, the social, political, and economic prospects of U.S.society have tragically dimmed. Individuals have reacted with resignation by opting out of politics (precisely what the rich wanted) or self-defeating anger by blaming Moslems or liberals for their own failures (again playing into the hands of the rich), becoming increasingly focused on the present when careful consideration of the long-term impact of our behavior and government policies are the key to reversing the decline.
Corruption. Corruption is rapidly eroding the quality of governance in the U.S., with a complacent Federal Government attitude toward war profiteering,  environmental, and financialcrime leading the way. Most striking is the shift government behavior from the 1980s, when the FBI ran a vigorous and successful campaign following the S&L crisis resulting in the imprisonment of hundreds of financial criminals, to the Bush Administration’s war against regulation and the Obama Administration’s refusal to bring to justice the financial criminals at the heart of the 2008 Financial Crisis.
Corporate Rule. The continuing popularity of the Corporate Party and its strengthening chokehold on government in the aftermath of the blatant misbehavior of Big Finance in 2008, even with the supposedly pro-people party in power, attest to the growing shadow of corporate power over U.S.democratic institutions. With even the Supreme Court upholding the shockingly anti-democratic principle of “one dollar, one vote,” it is clear that democracy is not just under attack but being soundly defeated.
War Is the Answer. The increasingly blatant use of violence, open calls for aggression under the thin veneer of “preventive” war, and the rising tendency of officials to brag about economic warfare, terrorist attacks against foreign scientists, and drone bombings of individuals whose identities may not even be known with the justification that the victims “may” have been fighting against some pro-U.S. foreign regime all point to the institutionalization of a policy of violence by choice as the preferred method of solving all problems. The War Party remains nearly as powerful as it was following 9/11 despite a decade of disasters that were incredibly costly to all but the rich, and the U.S.currently pursues a belligerent policy toward not just Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistanbut also desperately poor Latin America and Africa. Gore Vidal’s characterization of the U.S.party system as one party with two conservative wings seems more accurate every day.

Return from the Dead of a Class Society. The post-WWII rise of the American middle class to the point where Americans broadly felt that they lived in a middle-class (i.e., a class-free) society has now clearly been reversed and is well documented by the Congressional Budget Office. With home-ownership under attack by corrupt banks, jobs increasingly part-time, contracts being broken by both corporations and governments, unions weakened almost to the point of irrelevance, wages declining, pensions a dream of the past, and a massive new class of unemployed people simply written off as superfluous even as a new super-class of billionaire financial manipulators arises, there can no longer be any doubt that the U.S. is evolving backwards into a new class society that Marx would have no trouble recognizing.

Although Americans have of course always faced problems, U.S.society has been distinguished by “the American Dream,” the belief that progress toward equality, liberty, and peace would occur. These four trends–government acceptance of corporate corruption, corporate rule undermining democracy, the international use of force rather than persuasion, and the return from the dead of a class society predict the end of the American Dream. The probability of that sad prediction coming true is only strengthened by the evident decline ineducation; the alienation of Americans from participation in public affairs (reminiscent of the stereotypic “long-suffering Russian serf”) that hands victory on a silver platter to the exploitative international corporate elite (prime recipient of Iraq War largesse Halliburton, for example, is no longer a U.S. corporation); and a general refusal in American society to think about long-term consequences.
Given the wealth of the country (if not of the population) and the historically demonstrated ability of U.S. society to rise to meet major challenges, this last point—the unwillingness of Americans to think about the long-term consequences of their behavior—may be the most serious weakness of all.
All of the four trends identified above are–from the perspective of a society that thinks only about the present, sneers at history, and forgets almost everything more than a few years old—very much long-term processes. Other fundamental threats to American security, most obviously global warming, are considerably longer-term processes. If one cannot even remember the S&L crisis, how can one see the shift by Washingtontoward acceptance of financial crime? In a few years, will Americans have forgotten that diplomacy used to be the method of choice for exercising influence in the world? Will Americans be watching drone warfare in our own skies as the whole world copies the U.S.innovation of illegally bombing with drones wherever it wants? Will corporations be openly handing voters envelopes filled with cash to make “democracy” function “properly?”
Before Americans can figure out how to correct this decline in their fortunes, they will have to recognize the nature of the decline that has occurred over the last generation so they can see the impact of current behavior on future prospects.