November 14, 2013 § Leave a Comment
I recently posted a suggestion that NSA’s surveillance extravaganza might be rendered less intrusive by imposing a modified version of the “exclusionary rule” now applicable to criminal proceedings.[See The Surveillance Debate] I was trying to propose something with some chance of acceptance by Congress and some limit on government’s ability to monitor every detail of every citizen’s private life.
The Bob and Mike Show
After publishing those ideas, I watched an episode of “Face The Nation” in which Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee appeared. Bob Shieffer, the host, allowed him to claim, without interruption or questions, that Edward Snowden was sharing with the Russian government all of the information he acquired as a contract employee of the NSA; that Snowden’s disclosures had endangered the lives of American soldiers in Afghanistan; that Al Qaeda is rapidly growing in strength; that unwise limits on intelligence gathering led to WWII [Huh? Say what?]; that fifteen thousand people lost their lives due to Al Qaeda; that he thought Snowden should return to the U.S. and “own up” to his guilt.
I am not making this up. This veteran Congressman and this veteran journalist teamed up to dump this mind-boggling garbage into millions of TV sets watched by countless viewers unaware they were being fed Rush Limbaugh style lies and speculative fairy dust. You can watch this performance by clicking here”
Keep in mind that Rogers is one of the two people who head Congressional committees chosen as official watchdogs to be sure NSA is not unwisely or illegally invading our privacy. The other is Diane Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee who, while not as unconcerned with the truth as Rogers, shares his enthusiasm for the surveillance program she is supposed to oversee.
The other news item that made me reconsider my suggestions involved the Director of the NSA, James Clapper. Director Clapper recently testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Senator Wyden, a member of the Committee, asked him if NSA was acquiring information about Americans. [American intelligence agencies are traditionally and legally supposed to devote their efforts to foreign sources, not domestic sources of information.] Clapper lied and said, “No.” Again, you can watch his perjured testimony as well as his later squirming confession in this clip:
Why The “Exclusionary Rule” Won’t Solve The Problem
I realized that my “exclusionary rule” suggestion will not work for several reasons. First,the “exclusionary rule”, works because it applies to activities well known to the victim: cops breaking down doors; tapping phone lines; abusing prisoners; peeping in windows, either in person or through more sophisticated means (like infrared camera monitors), etc. . And, even if the surveillance itself is done secretly, the exclusionary rule comes into play when the result is offered in court. If information is obtained from third-party sources, it is done with a subpoena and both the third-party and the defendant know about it. Surveillance, by contrast, is done in secret. The victim does not know he or she is being spied on. Consequently, in most cases, the “exclusionary rule” would never become applicable.
Second, the “exclusionary rule” works because the motive of those who illegally obtain information is to convict a criminal suspect of a crime and the rule frustrates that motive. The motive of NSA’s surveillance is only peripherally interested in securing a conviction in court. In fact, the goals of choice seem to be either death, interrogation in some secret location free from supervision by ordinary law enforcement agents or permanent imprisonment in a facility like Guantanmo. So again, the “exclusionary rule” would only rarely apply.
Third, the NSA surveillance program is dangerous, not because it may lead to criminal prosecutions in court, but because it gives government information useful for blackmailing and controlling American citizens for political purposes or for the purpose of forcing them to snitch on their neighbors or acquaintances. Anyone who regards these possibilities as unlikely should recall the Nixon or the McCarthy eras. There is no reason to assume that some future jackass will not emerge, willing to use whatever tools are available to punish his or her opponents.
Fourth, because the “exclusionary rule” is a courtroom remedy, it probably won’t work to limit NSA’s surveillance program because, whenever any aspect of that program is challenged in court, the government’s knee-jerk reaction is to invoke the “national security” defense that precludes all judicial remedies for violations of individual rights. That defense would doubtless be a barrier to the enforcement of the “exclusionary rule”.
Fifth and finally, as we have already learned, when all else fails, those in charge of the surveillance will lie to protect themselves and their program from public scrutiny. And, when and if their lies are exposed, the liars will not face prosecution and jail, as would any other person who lies to a federal agency, including the United States Congress. They will continue in their positions, presumably resolved to be more careful to prevent their next lies being detected and exposed.
So, I return to my original conclusion, stated in earlier posts: The only effective and safe way to protect against government’s abuse of surveillance is to prevent the original acquisition of the information. Government should not have access to so-called metadata consisting of information swept up through technological means concerning Americans, regardless of whether the subject of the information has done anything entitling the government to acquire the information.
It is true that such information is already collected by private enterprise agencies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, AT&T and countless other companies, who acquire the information for the purpose of carrying on their legal businesses. Their motive is profit. They have no reason to use the information to harm people. They do not have the power to jail or kill those about whom they have learned personal information. So, they can be trusted with the information. They may bother us with ads or telemarketing, but they won’t jail or kill us. That threat is limited to government. That is why we have a Constitution to protect us.
The government should be able to access that privately held data, based on warrants obtained from a court, based on publicly known criteria, not on a secret jurisprudence created by the FISA court. Its use of the data should be subject to judicial supervision when it involves, either primarily or incidentally, data concerning innocent Americans.
I acknowledge that the present Congress and President will not even consider such a solution. They are all invested in the GWOT (Global War On Terror), eager to boast of every Al Qaeda operator killed and every plot to blow up something in the U.S. thwarted; hostile toward any public disclosure of what they are doing and to whom they are doing it. So far as concerns the millions of Americans whose lives they pilfer and the thousands of innocent civilians they kill with drone strikes, manned aircraft bombing raids and ground invasions, they dismiss these as “collateral damage” and refer to them as the inevitable consequence of the GWOT.
Based on their reaction to these matters, it seems apparent to me that the present generation of Americans has embraced the fearful attitude sought by terrorists: They are terrified of another 9/11 bombing or worse, a nuclear version of that attack. Until 9/11, Americans enjoyed life safe behind two oceans. They could respond to foreign threats by sending young men and women into harm’s way, but they could remain insulated from personal danger. The shock of 9/11 was so severe that millions of Americans were susceptible to being duped into an Iraq war because some of their leaders scared them with tales of WMD’s and mushroom clouds.
So long as that syndrome, a kind of mass PTSD, persists, fear mongers like Mike Rogers will be able to divert attention from the threat to our freedom and the erosion of our constitutional rights that the NSA surveillance program poses. But, as readers of this blog are aware, I believe in pragmatic optimism: La Esperanza muere al ultimo, hope dies last.
My hope is that the excesses of the NSA and its promoters will provoke ordinary citizens to question and then to protest the expansion of government’s power to monitor the lives of innocent Americans. I predict that Edward Snowden will not be the last leaker to expose the excesses and dangers of NSA’s surveillance program. According to the Washington Post, 500,000 private contractors have security clearances entitling them to access secret material. The total number of people who have security clearances in the U.S. is estimated to be five million, of which 1.4 million have “top security clearance” access. Here is a link to a summary of the Post’s investigation: Secrecy in America
The summary has an interesting aside. One NSA employee told the Post that “only 40 or 50 persons” had access to some of the material exposed by Snowden and that elite group did not include Snowden, a relatively low level contract worker. So, the obvious question is: How secure are the secrets of this super top secret group?
I predict that efforts to ward off public knowledge of what the NSA is doing will fail. Americans are not inclined to be docile when they discover their private behavior has been and is being monitored, recorded and analyzed by faceless hoards of bureaucrats. I think there is a good chance that a movement will grow outside government to reign in this program. It will feature Twitter, Facebook and other social media. It will eventually involve public meetings and rallies. And, if it grows big enough and loud enough, cowering public officials will change their minds about NSA and its surveillance program.
I hope this happens. It may not. America may become the kind of country imagined in George Orwell’s 1984. Or, even worse, it may follow the model of East Germany during the Communist government period when the Stasi kept a file on everyone. I hope not.
November 3, 2013 § Leave a Comment
My friend Sid Eschenbach, with whom I have sparred at length about the NSA surveillance program, sent me a link to a great source of information about it, published by the Guardian. Here is that link: Guardian Surveillance
This comprehensive source of information is interesting and factual. It deserves the widest possible distribution. I think it raises issues that will determine the kind of country we want America to be and to become.
My debates with Sid have caused me to think beyond my initial hostility toward government’s intrusive snooping. The real question is: How can we preserve our interest in being let alone while permitting our government to take sensible steps to protect us from harm? The Fourth and Fifth Amendments to our Constitution express our willingness to take some risk as a price of freedom, but how much risk?
I have been pleased to learn that significant numbers of my fellow countrymen/women share my anxiety about this matter and, according to recent polling, seem willing to accept some risk in exchange for preserving limits on government power.
The challenge, as I see it, is to craft legislation that permits the use of government surveillance to thwart efforts by foreigners to commit terrorist attacks on the United States, while prohibiting the use of that surveillance in criminal prosecutions or in civil or administrative proceedings.
The history of Fourth Amendment law is useful as a guide toward that result. After decades of abuse by law enforcement agents, the federal courts finally used a remedy that was generally effective: the “exclusionary rule”. That rule made evidence obtained as a result of any method that violated the Constitution inadmissible in a criminal proceeding. In effect, it told cops, “If you beat a confession out of a suspect, he will be set free even if he is guilty.” It did not eliminate the problem, but it did require cops to perjure themselves in order to excuse their lawlessness. The possibility of going to prison moderated the zeal of many cops.
That is the remedy that might correct some of the surveillance abuses. “Terrorism” would have to be carefully defined in the law. The law would prohibit the use of any information or evidence obtained, directly or indirectly, pursuant to the laws serving as a basis for NSA’s surveillance programs in any criminal, civil or administrative proceeding , followed by two exceptions: First, the law would not apply to prosecution of “terrorists”. Second, the law would not apply to evidence obtained pursuant to a warrant issued by a court of competent jurisdiction. The law would declare that it was not intended to diminish or impair any right protected by the Fourth or Fifth Amendments to the Constitution. Finally, the law should prohibit any court from issuing a warrant based on “pattern of life” claims and any warrant not directed at specifically identified individuals or corporate entities. Blanket warrants permitting data vacuuming would not be permitted. This would not prevent that kind of metadata accumulation for the limited purpose of detecting terrorists, but it would prevent the use of evidence obtained pursuant to such warrants for any other purpose.
The Constitution does not prescribe limits on the extent of the rights it protects. Congress can enlarge and extend those rights. This law would do so.
I am not sure these restrictions will be enough to protect us from government abuse. I would much prefer a blanket ban on government acquisition of metadata for any purpose, requiring a court order based on specific need and fact-based reasonable suspicion as a prerequisite for access to such data. I have what I believe is a well founded fear that, no matter what legal restrictions are imposed, zealous bureaucrats will get around them through absurd opinions written by unethical lawyers and, if all else fails, through perjury and deceit. The recent lying to a congressional committee by James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, who has not been prosecuted for perjury, plainly supports my fears on this score.
I am very encouraged by the news that Glenn Greenwald has obtained funding for the launch of a new news service that will be based on the muck-racking tradition of journalism identified with Ida Tarbell, Upton Sinclair, Ray Stannard Bakee and Lincoln Steffens. It may be that, once again, the First Amendment will save us from government run on the East German Stasi model.
November 2, 2013 § Leave a Comment
We now have a handy test for establishing a meanness quotient for members of Congress. A large contingent of our elected officials have emerged from behind their occasional claims of concern for the general welfare of their fellow citizens. The rising political power of the Tea Party has apparently encouraged these class warriors to cast aside any shyness about the identity of their enemy and call a spade a spade. They have decided to stop coddling the men, women and children of this country who want to eat without working. Their enemies are Americans who are poor.
To graphically illustrate just how these poverty stricken families are luxuriating at the expense of the taxpayers, here is a link to a list of the benefits they now enjoy. SNAP benefits These Enenezer Scrooge Award winners, worthy successors to Ronald Reagan and Mitt Romney, are offended that a family of four can receive $668 to buy food for a month without working. They have identified that as prime target for the elimination of “waste and abuse”.
So they can be appropriately recognized for their patriotic nobility and fiscal responsibility, here is a link to a list of the Congressmen who voted to cut 40 billion dollars from the SNAP program. Ebenezer Scrooges Every single one of them is entitled to that recognition. And, as a bonus, this test has a sub-test: Every voter who chooses to vote for them over any opponent, unless they are running against a child-molesting ax murderer, is also entitled to the Ebenezer Scrooge Auxiliary Award.
The demographic makeup of those who receive food stamps is interesting. They way the data is presented is also interesting. For example, the Pew Research firm published this breakdown, stated as percentages. Pew Report The percentages appear to reflect that blacks are the largest recipient group.
Here are a series of charts posted by a blogger that show that more whites than blacks receive food stamps. This is an example of how misleading percentages can be. The difference, of course, is that there are many more whites than blacks in the total population. The second series of charts are based on percentages of the total population. The Pew percentages are percentages of the different segments of that population.
I know you all understand this and I don’t mean to be condescending. I just find these arithmetic games cropping up frequently in political rhetoric and this is a good example.
Finally, with some sadness, I add the following comment.
The way this abomination began was with the stupid sequester deal. Our leader and his advisers assumed that if they loaded enough stupid, unfair and irrational items into a bomb timed to go off if the Congress failed to come up with a more rational and fair deal, it would force the negotiation of a rational and fair deal.
There has been no deal and the prospects of one seems to me unlikely unless the advocates for economic justice cave once again. It does not look like that will happen. And, Paul Ryan is the lead negotiator for the Scrooge/Crazy/Ayn Rand coalition. So, the first part of the sequester bomb exploded this week and those depending on food stamps to avoid starvation saw their pittance shrink.
So, who is to blame? Those who have no compassion or those who have compassion but were willing to bet the welfare of poor families that a fair deal could be negotiated with heartless politicians? Poker players know better than to bet the rent money, especially on filling an inside straight. Obama has not proved to be a very good judge of the other players in his political game.
October 27, 2013 § 1 Comment
I just watched Meet the Press. David Gregory did his usual imitation of a Fox News anchor, ignoring the obvious lies repeated by GOP flacks and asking loaded questions to those seeking to explain government policies. Example: when Rick Santorum said the federal government would fund the expansion of Medicaid “for only a short time”, Gregory did not correct him or allow Governor Granholm to do so. The truth is, of course, that the federal government will fund 100% of the cost of expanded Medicaid for three years and at least 90%of that cost thereafter. Millions of viewers, however, will not know that and will not know how callous and homicidal it is for GOP governors to reject money to provide health care for millions of poverty stricken men, women and children in their states, leaving them to struggle with illness and life threatening health problems without the medical care they need.
Example: when Alex Castellanos,, a GOP hireling, described education as “a disaster” and Medicare and Social Security as a “bankrupt Ponnzi scheme”, Gregory did not correct him. Neither program is “bankrupt”, a term that means that an entity is not able to meet its current obligations. Social Security is in no danger of becoming bankrupt. It will require some minor tweaks to insure its ability to pay benefits at some time in the future but its popularity and success virtually insures those minor changes will be made. Medicare is affected by the rising cost of health care, a problem most experts expect the ACA to mitigate, partly as a result of the ACA’s requirement that health insurers make preventive care available.
Milions of viewers will not know this because Gregory allowed both Rick Santorum and Castellanos to repeat these GOP talking points lies that have been repeated so many times that the average consumer of TV news probably believes them to be true.
So far as concerns Castellanos’ claim that American public education is a “disaster”: First, the problems of public education are more attributable to the obsessive protection of “local control” than any influence by the federal government. One problem is that many children being raised in poverty, arrive at school hungry. The federal SNAP program, generally known as “food stamps”, has been trying to cope with this problem. Many children from low income homes need help when they reach the entry age for public education. The federal government, led by the Obama administration, has been trying to provide funds for pre-K education to respond to this problem, The Head Start program is another federal program that assists underprivileged children to achieve educational success. The GOP has opposed their efforts by trying to cut funding for them. The GOP dominated House of Representatives recently voted to cut 40 billion dollars from the Food Stamp program.
None of this information was mentioned in response to Castellanos’ lying comments. Sunday talk shows could be a useful way to educate people about true issues related to governmental policies that affect their lives. Instead, they are a platform for spewing misleading information. The First Amendment, the most valuable feature of American government, has been converted into an enabler for harmful propaganda.
One of the GOP talking points lies is that “millions of Americans are being notified that their present health insurance plan will be cancelled as a result of the ACA.” When that is repeated, it is natural for people who have health insurance to become fearful and angry. It sounds like the President’s health care program will leave them without health insurance.
This is a perfect example of a half-truth lie. Suppose Google notified everyone with a 4S Iphone that it would stop working on December 1, 2013. Can you imagine how angry and upset millions of 4s Iphones would become? But then suppose that Apple offered a new 5s Iphone to every owner of the 4S Iphone with new improved features at no charge and no change in the existing service contracts. Some customers would probably complain about the inconvenience of swapping the phones, but most would appreciate the change and realize that Google had misled them.
David Gregory interviewed Patrick Geraghty, CEO of Florida Blue, the Blue Cross Blue Shield health insurer in Florida. Gregory flashed on the screen a scare headline from a Florida paper stating “300,00 Health Insurance Policies Cancelled” (I may be misstating the headline, but that was its message.) Then he began lobbing attack questions at Garaghty.
Garaghty, showing admiral restraint in response to Gregory’s effort to portray the ACA as responsible for denying health care to 300,000 people, patiently explained, over and over, that those policies did not meet the requirements of the ACA because they did not have some protections required by the new law. He explained that agents of his company, at the same time they notified policy holders that they would have to seek new policies, were informing them of many new health insurance policies available to them and assisting them in becoming insured under one of those new policies. Gregory asked him to guarantee that the new policies would be no more expensive than the old policies. Garaghty responded that he could not make such a sweeping statement because the cost of the new policies would depend on the type of coverage chosen by the policy holder and upon the government subsidy available to defray the premium cost.
Finally, when Gregory could not get the kind of damning indictment of the ACA he was demanding, he switched to a White House conference attended by Garaghty before the launch of the ACA. He asked if Garaghty told the President that technical problems might accompany the launch. Garaghty, alert to the headline Gregory was seeking: “President Ignored Warning of Launch Glitches”, refused to accommodate Gregory’s headline hunting, responding only that the conference was productive and informative. Gregory gave up, contenting himself with a wry comment that Garaghty had not answered his question. Garaghty, obviously well able to handle trick questions, continued to smile and thanked Gregory for the interview.
This interview both exposed the misleading nature of the GOP’s effort to scare people with tales of their health insurance being cancelled. It also exposed Gregory’s misunderstanding of the function of an American journalist. It is true that exposing government fault is a valuable benefit of the First Amendment. I feel privileged to live in a country where the government is not allowed to punish public exposure of its faults and failures. That does not mean, however, that the only proper function of journalism is to air critical attacks on government’s policies. The most fundamental requirement of responsible journalism is that it be truthful. That means repeating carefully worded misleading statements made by political enemies of government is not journalism. It is acting as a megaphone for propaganda.
David Gregory misunderstands this simple principle. He believes his duty is to attack the policies and actions of the government, thus demonstrating his professional independence. He also designs his TV show based on false equivalence. He seems to think that “balance” requires him to afford a platform for political party flacks who have no credentials to qualify them to judge programs like health care, but who are adept at word games calculated to confuse viewers about the facts. He suffers from a comparison with other journalists like Tim Russert, his predecessor, and Walter Cronkite.
October 19, 2013 § Leave a Comment
The World Commerce Turnpike is a highway reserved for trucks carrying the worlds’ food and maintenance supplies. Most of the traffic is pickup trucks. There are a few diesel bobtail trucks of various bed sizes and one specially built oversize eighteen wheeler semi, the USA Express.
The USA Express employs two drivers, Danny Demo and Gary Goper who alternate according to an irregular schedule as drivers. They argue constantly, like a married couple who long ago exhausted ways to torment each other and are reduced to repeating, over and over, the same hackneyed scripts. One issue which sparks the most intense disagreements is the choice of truck stops at which to pause, rest and socialize with like-minded patrons. Danny prefers a chain called the Keynes Kan-Do Korner which Gary hates. Gary is passionate about the VonHayek Serfers Roadhouse which Danny regards as a haven for the deranged.
One day, a few months ago, Gary was driving through Texas. He saw, standing at a crossroad, a well dressed young man, grinning and waving excitedly, obviously needing a ride. To Danny the grin looked more like a smirk and he thought he saw a disturbing resemblance to another hitchhiker named Joe they picked up many years ago who turned out to be an insufferable demagogue and hate monger. But before he could state his protest, Gary stopped and welcomed the new passenger into the truck.
The newcomer had hardly settled into his seat before he began pontificating about issue after issue in ways that were somewhat unsettling to both Gary and Danny. He introduced himself as Ted Cruz and lost no time before informing his cab mates that he was smart, educated at an Ivy League university and, though born in Canada, regarded himself as an authentic Texan. He also claimed to have superior talent as a truck driver and begged for a chance to prove it.
His directed his most intense hostility toward the ACA Health Center, a new medical facility located some miles down the road. Taking full advantage of his captured audience, he delivered a obviously well rehearsed jeremiad about the health center, declaring that, if allowed to open, it would threaten the world with every conceivable plague and horror. He said that he regarded blocking the entrance to the ACA Health Center his duty bound mission. He concluded with a demand that he take over the wheel.
As Danny watched in dismay, Gary, apparently gobsmacked by the force of Cruz’s oratory, brought the truck to a stop and surrendered the wheel to Cruz. Cruz expertly guided the giant truck back on to the Turnpike and, as he up-shifted into higher gears and increased speed, he continued to regale his passengers with his dire predictions about the ACA Health Center.
For a few miles Gary and Danny began to relax and inure themselves to listening to Cruz’s babbling. Soon, however, they both noticed that traffic ahead was becoming congested and that slowing the Express was necessary to avoid endangering the drivers and vehicles crowding the Turnpike. Cruz, seemingly oblivious to this problem, continued to increase speed, saying that his only interest was to reach the entrance to the ACA Health Center in time to block its entrance.
As a disastrous collision became more and more imminent, both Gary and Danny stopped listening to Cruz and began frantically trying to wrest control over the truck away from him. Finally, Gary shoved Cruz aside, grabbed the wheel and stomped on the brake. The huge truck began to jackknife as brakes squealed and tirees skidded. Drivers in trucks ahead began to veer toward the ditches as their rear view mirrors were filled with terrifying images of the Express bearing down on them.
At the last moment, the front bumper of the Express came to a halt a few feet from the crowd of slower moving trucks in front of it. Cruz was forcefully ejected from the driver’s seat. He exited without apology, still talking obsessively about the terrible harm about to occur because he did not reach the entrance to the ACA center.
Gary and Danny looked at each other, sweat beaded on their foreheads, both needing to stop at the next truck stop to change their underwear and reached a rare agreement: NO MORE CRUZ CONTROL ON THE TURNPIKE!
October 16, 2013 § 1 Comment
This morning I watched as Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell jointly announced that they reached an agreement. Acting on behalf of our two major political parties, they agreed that our country will pay its bills and that Congress will end the stupid costly and damaging interruption of government services. They addressed the Senate before the TV cameras.
Harry Reid said that we should resist fixing blame for the mess, thanked his GOP counterpart and expressed confidence that a new atmosphere of cooperation would now prevail. Mitch McConnell attacked the Democratic Party and promised a continued effort to destroy the Affordable Care Act. The scene was one more example of the interaction between the Democrats and Republicans for the past five years. Reaching “across the aisle” is always Democrats surrendering some benefit to working class Americans and the GOP grasping with one hand an opportunity to enrich their wealthy business patrons and, with the other hand, reaching for more.
I visualize these negotiators in my mind. The Democrat’s mouth turned down at the corners, eyebrows slanted up in the middle in an expression of mixed surprise and despair; the GOP’s eyes glistening with excitement, lips parted showing teeth gritted in anger, nostrils quivering with labored breathing. The bully and the victim.
So now, we are to have a joint committee to negotiate a grand bargain to “solve the deficit crisis” by next January or February. I heard one commentator mention that the House GOP negotiator will be Paul Ryan, the Ayn Rand student whose reputation as a budget expert is based on his proposed budget that had two characteristics: First, it was economically incoherent and ignorant. Second, it proposed to gut Medicare, Medicade, Social Security and any other effort to correct the wealth inequality that has, for the past forty years, gradually eroded the incomes of middle class Americans and created a smaller and smaller percentage of obscenely wealthy rentiers. If there one thing that we can predict with complete confidence it is that Paul Ryan will never agree to anything that increases tax revenue and that he will insist all efforts to solve the “deficit problem” consist of reducing expenditures that benefit the poor and the middle class.
My fear is that the success of this joint committee will be judged according to how much the Democrats cave in and agree to changes that damage working class Americans. I believe this is the wrong time to deal with the deficit. This is the time to deal with the Sequester, that stupid monstrosity designed by Barack Obama to be unpalatable to the GOP, which they lapped up like a kitten eating warm milk. This is a time for government investment in infrastructure to put people back to work. This is a time to fix Medicaid so that state governments cannot sabotage it. Yes, I know the Supreme Court erected barriers to accomplishing that. Overcoming those barriers should be the challenge to this committee.
It is crucial that the purpose of this Committee be established from the beginning. It should not be to balance the budget. It should be to re-balance expenditures and revenue. This is a time to banish Norquist, Jim Demint and the rest of those government haters from the administration of government. We have just exposed them to be irresponsible, harmful political promoters of chaos and economic ruin. Now is the time to isolate and defang their moles within the Congress, beginning with Ted Cruz. That should be the marching orders for the Democrats. It should come from the President, He should address the country at least once a week on TV to keep people informed about just and fair solutions to our economic problems, incliuding, but not limited to the deficit.
October 2, 2013 § Leave a Comment
First, a Correction Notice
I have made some corrections to my last post (www.bobsremonstrance.com “A Mind Meld, a Grok and A Couple of Reactions”). The substance has not changed, but I have removed two or three “that”‘s that escaped my notice when I originally edited it. “That” is a word almost always as useless in a written piece as “you know” in a conversation. I ordinarily excise the “that”‘s that creep in but, this time, I missed some.
Also, in memory of my high school English teacher, I cleaned up a sentence in the part about “Crime and Punishment”. I originally wrote: “The novel is an engaging description of a part of Russian society, set in St. Petersburg.” My only excuse is an aging brain. The sentence now reads, “The novel, set in St. Petersburg, is an engaging description of a part of Russian society”
Finally, I removed the redundant word “mental” from my effort to describe Styron’s long window into the mind of Peyton. I wrote that he described her “mental musings”, as if “musings” could be other than “mental”. So “mental” is now gone.
Is There A Conspiracy?
I have long considered those who interpret current events as the product of conspiracies to be CooCooBirds. So, with great hesitation, I present my version of the present struggle over funding our government and paying our bills. I hope I am wrong, but the evidence seems persuasive that we have among us a cadre of powerful and wealthy individuals who want to convert the democratic republican government of the United States of America into a plutocratic corporate oligarchy.
American Business Community: Has It Been The Dog That Didn’t Bark?
I have a friend who never tires of rebuking his liberal comrades for claiming and assuming that the GOP is the party of business. He insists that the Tea Party insurgency within the Republican Party has separated it from the interests and policies of American capitalism. As he analyzes the issue it reminds me of the epic struggles within the labor movement in the 1930′s when factions allied with the Communist Party sought leadership roles. There were some unions in which they had some success but the newly organized CIO, notably the Steelworkers and the United Auto Workers, fought back in a series of epic convention battles. The Communists were effectively drummed out of the labor movement and never gained any significant power in unions. My friend contends that the relationship between the Tea Party and the GOP is similar to the Commies versus the CIO.
In the last week the press has reported that agents of the Chamber of Commerce and some representatives of Wall Street’s financial community met privately with House Speaker Boehner and other GOP leaders. They expressed alarm at the prospect of a government default if the “debt ceiling” is not raised. In apparent response, Boehner stated he will not allow that to happen. The Tea Party members, led by Ted Cruz continues to threaten a default. It remains to be seen how this will play out. Boehner’s statement is interesting. He is not promising that his party will not threaten a default; just that they won’t allow a default. How kidnapping extortion works when there is no threat to shoot the hostage is a mystery.
Those who insist GOP policies no longer align with those of the capitalists point to these reports as confirmation of their argument. I see the matter somewhat differently. I perceive the Tea Party as the latest iteration of a movement, attitude and set of policies that have roots planted long before they acquired the clever “Tea Party label . They can be summarized with three words: Hate the Government.
This history can be traced through rhetorical artifacts. In 1978, Alan Greenspan told a Finance Committee, “”Let us remember that the basic purpose of any tax cut program in today’s environment is to reduce the momentum of expenditure growth by restraining the amount of revenue available and trust that there is a political limit to deficit spending.” A Wall Street Journal article quoted a Reagan staffer who summarized the idea with a bumper sticker quip, “Starve the Beast”. St Ronnie, in his 1981 inaugural address, said, “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” Grover Norquist stated the goal plainly: “I simply want to reduce it [the govenment] to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bath tub.” The Great Communicator told his adoring followers, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help’.”
These ideas, repeated and elaborated over and over by hate radio hosts like Limbaugh, Hannity and dozens of others scattered throughout the country, embedded themselves in mainstream consciousness and had powerful effects. I believe they relate to the present political climate and the outsize influence of the “Tea Party” in the same way that the Taliban’s ideas related to the advent of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. This “hate the government” policy is to our democracy as the dogmas of Sharia are to Muslim ideas of government. It is true that the Taliban does not represent the policies of the majority of Muslims. Most Muslims do not favor government run according to Sharia law.
Unlike the labor movement, however, the Muslim/Arab community, while some representatives have disclaimed allegiance to Al Qaeda, has mounted no vigorous public opposition to the growth of that extremism. Recent developments in Egypt reflect how timidly and ineffective such opposition has been.
And, also unlike the labor movement, the American business community, far from denouncing the growing political clout of these government haters, have favored, with generous financial support, candidates who have based their campaigns on these “hate the government” policies.
Why Did the Business Dog Not Bark?
I began by asking myself why the corporate business community would permit the Republican Party to threaten the stability of our financial system by failing to make timely interest payments on our debt. I assume the Koch brothers, the Club for Growth, the other controlling owners of Big Oil and the complex of Wall Street banks and hedge funds could exert a powerful influence on the policies of the GOP should they choose to do so. They have certainly paid handsomely for that kind of access. So, intimately involved as they are in the domestic and international financial markets, why would they allow a US default that would do immediate and long term damage to the reputation of U.S. bonds? To oversimplify, why would they want to damage the ability of the U.S. government to borrow money at low rates of interest?
When I stated the question in this simple way, I caught a glimpse of the answer: If their goal is to weaken and, if possible, destroy the ability of the U.S. government to create and maintain programs that protect ordinary working class citizens from the turbulence of unregulated capitalism, they would prefer that the funding of such programs be dependent on the power to tax, not the ability to borrow.
Government, like private enterprise, cannot grow if it lacks access to borrowed money at reasonable interest rates. Powerful corporate businesses are intuitively and invariably opposed to taxes and government regulation. The Supreme Court has enabled such interests to wield virtually unlimited power to favor obedient politicians and to punish disobedient ones. Thus armed, they probably are confident they can prevent large tax increases. And, if taxes must be raised, they have shown impressive ability to insure they are levied against the middle class, not the corporate ruling class.
I believe the silence and indifference of the business community to the growth of these ideas has resulted, in part, from changes in the nature and makeup of that community. The wealth and power of American capitalism has become more concentrated in the financial system. Engine Charley Wilson’s claim that “What’s good for General Motors is good for America” seems quaint in today’s America. General Motors owes its existence to a Democratic Party president and a financial life preserver tossed by the government. Wall Street banks have become so powerful and so capable of capsizing the American economy that the Attorney General has pronounced them “too big to fail and too big to jail”.
I believe the present conspiracy is the result of a very long train of events that were engineered by a relatively small group of people who were active in business, but who did not comprise the mainstream of business leaders. They created think tanks, institutes, foundation-funded university and college chairs and fellowships. They promoted candidates whose rhetoric identified the federal government as the enemy.
The complicity of the mainstream business community consists, I believe, in its enthusiastic embrace of the results of these political tactics. They have eagerly applauded the destruction of the labor movement. They have railed against fair taxes. They have bitterly opposed reasonable regulations. They have contributed large amounts of money in support of candidates who preached hostility toward the government in which they sought elective office . The business community has, like Dr. Frankenstein, created a fiend they did not fully understand or expect.
We will soon discover whether American capitalism will forswear its Faustian bargain with the Tea Party and force a return to rational politics. Regardless of the brash claims of independence by the Tea Party office holders, I believe if they were told that pursuit of their destructive policies would net them a few hundred million dollars worth of opposition when they run for re-election, their devotion to principle might wane. So long as the opposition of Wall Street is limited to “tut tut” and “shame on you”, I agree with the Tea Partiers: “These guys are not for real.”
Safe Havens for Domestic Political Terrorists
During the past ten years, using arcane political ploys, too complicated to attract the attention of ordinary voters, the corporate plutocrats and their client state office holders have created a network of what the British once called “rotten boroughs”, voting districts composed of like-minded constituents who would return representatives to Congress regardless of how dramatically their views differ from those of the majority of Americans. These were and are safe havens for the Tea Party caucus. They are the American Afghanistan. In Texas this was engineered by Tom Delay, a creation of corporate lobbyists.
Who Are These Terrorists? What Do They Want?
The carefully crafted political climate in those districts has enabled the election of a group of Congressmen who regard government as the enemy. They are not anarchists. They favor government policies that protect property rights, provide for an expanding military force and other services that facilitate business activities. So far as concerns such functions as the “safety net” and promoting the “general welfare”, they regard such expenditures as charity, inappropriate for taxpayer support.
The above described political strategy and policies have been accompanied by an effective media campaign powered by Fox News and talk radio. An echo chamber has been created in which a significant percentage of our citizens live and work. There they are relentlessly bombarded with reasons for hostility toward their government, especially the federal government. So-called “social issues” like abortion and gay marriage are featured. The Bill of Rights is interpreted to be important as protection of gun ownership and property rights, but as a hindrance to apprehension and punishment of suspected criminals. Above all, taxation to pay for relief from poverty is denounced as theft and an invitation to moochers and lazy loafers. Government regulation is blamed for interfering with the pursuit of profits and healthy competition.
Federal laws enabling workers to bargain through labor unions have been gutted. There is no “labor movement”; only a few vestigial survivors of the struggles that occurred during the first half of the twentieth century. The only effective organizations capable of exercising significant influence on national political policy are private corporations. Political party organizations are generally ineffective. Political candidates create ad hoc organizations that disappear after elections.
What If They Prevail?
The end result of these developments is easy to envision. If the policies they represent prevail, the decisions affecting the lives and fortunes of ordinary Americans will not be made in the halls of government in Washington D.C.. They will be made in the board rooms of a few corporations with enough power and money to control lower tiers of lesser corporations whose success depends on access to capital and favorable treatment by the tycoons of finance. The profit motive and free market capitalism will replace any thought of empathy, compassion or fairness as determinants of government policy. Workers with no bargaining power, facing fierce competition for jobs, will be forced to accept whatever employers choose to offer. The “Iron Law of Wages”, rejected as morally unacceptable by Ricardo, will become the hallmark of American labor policy.
We’ve Seen An Earler Version of This Movie
Our history offers a preview of how this looks. In the early 1900′s a few powerful business giants controlled the railroads, the coal, the iron and the Wall Street banks that, in turn, operated the United States as a corporate subsidiary. This was the age of the “Robber Barons”.
That earlier period of institutionalized selfishness and greed did not permanently change our country because its victims fled westward into the still sparsely populated frontier of our vast land. Also, in the 1920′s, the Wall Street casino, operating without any significant regulation, created a gigantic bubble of exuberant greed that finally popped. FDR and his brain trust cleared away the wreckage and established a new system based on a balance between capitalism and government. That effort was aided by the financial stimulus required by our mobilization to fight WWII.
How Did Domestic Political Terrorism Become a Political Strategy?
Fifty years later, led by Ronald Reagan, the government began dismantling the balance established by the New Deal. He began by attacking labor unions. He used his office to demean and discredit every government program designed to alleviate poverty and enable the underprivileged to enjoy a reasonably comfortable middle-class life. He used his skills as an actor to spin yarns about “Welfare Queens”. He inspired a generation of government haters to follow his example and design ways to foster distrust and hostility toward the United States government.
This effort, in the past five or six years, has emboldened a group of angry ideologues, calling themselves the “Tea Party”, to claim the right to set minimum standards of political purity for the Republican Party. Like Al Qaeda, they are so loosely organized that identifying their responsible spokesmen is difficult. They have an agenda, but no formally elected or appointed leaders. They operate like free-ranging enforcers of their ideology. They have demonstrated their ability to intimidate members of the GOP holding public office who, if they stray from the dictates of the Tea Party, find themselves opposed by primary candidates more aligned with its dogmas. Ted Cruz, a first-term Senator from Texas, is their Supreme Leader. His current fatwah requires a jihad against the Affordable Care Act.
In 2011, the President and the leadership of this terrorist group made a deal. It was in the form of a promise to make a deal. They promised to reduce the federal deficit by a stated amount by January 1, 2013, and, to insure that they would bargain in good faith on ways to achieve that goal, they agreed that, if they failed to keep that promise, a group of budget cuts would be imposed in ways thought to be so irrational as to be unacceptable to either political party.
The negotiations that followed revealed that, contrary to expectations, the domestic terrorist group declared they were agreeable to the irrational budget cuts and, hence, would not agree to any reasonable alternative. On January 1, 2013, an impasse occurred and the damaging budget cuts took effect in March, 2013. The domestic terrorists were emboldened by what they regard as their successful strategy aimed at weakening and crippling the federal government, thus fulfilling their promise to the electorate in their Afghanistan districts. They learned that, by focusing on sabotage rather than governance, they could not only survive, but exercise power.
The similarity of this recent history to the strategy of the Bolsheviks following the 1917 Russian revolution is remarkable.
What Happens Next?
I think, during the next few weeks, this domestic terrorist group will mount an assault on the financial system of the United States by forcing a default on our bonds. If they are successful, the economy may gradually slide into a new form of recession. This time, weakened by the debt default, the government may not have the ability to counter the faltering economy with financial stimulus money. Any chance of moving forward with gun safety laws or immigration reform will disappear. The wish list of America’s most powerful and ruthless corporate enemies of the federal government will become the agenda of the Tea Party’s next fatwahs.
If this happens, it is difficult for me to believe that it will occur by accident. It will convince me that there has, indeed, been a well thought out and deftly executed conspiracy to take over our government by a corporate plutocracy. I know this sounds like Joe McCarthy and the John Birch Society in the 1950′s railing about the “communist threat”. I only hope it proves to be as goofy as that.