Category Archives: US Politics

American Islamophobia. Understanding the Roots and Rise of Fear – Khaled A. Beydoun.

I remember the four words that repeatedly scrolled across my mind after the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center. “Please don’t be Muslims, please don’t be Muslims,”

These four words reverberated through the mind of every Muslim American that day and every day after, forming a unifying prayer for Muslim Americans after every attack.

This system of inculcating fear and calculated bigotry was not entirely spawned in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks but is a modern extension of a deeply embedded and centuries old form of American hate.

Now more than ever, Islamophobia is not limited to the irrational views or hateful slurs of individuals, but is an ideology that drives the president’s political worldview and motivates the laws, policies, and programs he seeks to push forward.

Crossroads and Intersections

“Nobody’s going to save you. No one’s going to cut you down, out the thorns thick around you. . . . There is no one who will feed the yearning. Face it. You will have to do, do it yourself.” Gloria AnzaldUa, Borderlands/La Frontera

“If you know who you are, nobody can tell you what you are or what you are not.” My momma, Fikrieh Beydoun

I took my seat in the back of the Uber car, plugged in my phone and reclined my head to recharge on the way to the hotel. The road ahead is going to be a long one, I thought as I sank into the backseat, settling in for a temporary respite from the oncoming storm. “As-salamu ‘alaikum,” the young driver greeted me in Spanish-inflected Arabic, abruptly ending my break.

“Wa ‘alaikum aI-salam,” I responded, thoroughly surprised that these familiar words came out of the mouth of my tattooed Latino Uber driver, Juan. Was he Muslim? I pondered, wondering whether his neat beard signified more than a recent fad or fashionable grooming.

“It’s an honor to meet you, Professor,” he said, and continued, “I’m very familiar with your writing and work, and I’m happy you’re here speaking at Cal State LA. I wish I could’ve been there to hear your talk.” Another sign that Juan might in fact be Muslim, given that my work centers on Muslim American identity and, increasingly, Islamophobia.

“Thank you so much,” I responded, taken aback by the fact that he knew who I was, and still contemplating whether he was a recent Muslim convert or born into a Muslim family. As a longtime resident of Los Angeles and a scholar familiar with Muslim American demographics, I was well aware that Latinx Muslims were the fastest growing segment of the Muslim American population. I had attended Friday prayers with sermons delivered en espanol in California and in Florida, where I lived and taught law for two years, and prayed alongside brothers from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico as often as I did next to Muslims from Egypt, Syria, or Pakistan. However, I was still unsure about Juan’s religious identity, and to which destination he might steer this conversation.

I learned, en route from the East Los Angeles campus to my downtown hotel, that Juan was neither born to a Muslim family nor a convert. He was, rather, a man on the cusp of embracing Islam at a moment of unprecedented Islamophobia and rabid xenophobia, of imminent Muslim bans and Mexican walls.

“I have been studying Islam closely for some time now, and try to go to the mosque on some Fridays,” he shared. “I am considering making my shahada,” Juan continued, referencing the oath of induction whereby a new Muslim proclaims that “there is only one God, and Mohammed is his final messenger.” “Everybody assumes that I am a Muslim already,” he said, with a cautious laugh that revealed discomfort with his liminal status. Juan turned down the radio, and the voice of Compton native Kendrick Lamar rapping, “We gon’ be alright,” to engage in a more fluid conversation. And, it appeared, to seek a response from me about his spiritual direction.

“That’s wonderful,” I responded to Juan, who was likely no more than twenty-three or twenty-four years old, trying to balance my concern for the challenges his new religious affiliation would present with the answer that I thought he wanted to hear, and perhaps expected, from a Muslim American scholar and activist whose name and work he recognized.

As he drove, we discussed the political challenges posed by the Trump administration, and specifically, the policies that would directly or disproportionately target Muslim and Latinx communities. Indeed, Trump capitalized heavily on demonizing these vulnerable groups, as evidenced most clearly by the two proposals, the Muslim ban and the Mexico Wall, that became the rallying cries of his campaign. We also discussed how our kindred struggles with poverty complicated our pursuit of education, and how Trump’s economic vision exacerbated conditions for indigent Americans, including the 45 percent of Muslim Americans living below, at, or dangerously close to the federal poverty line. The city’s infamous, slow moving traffic enabled a fast paced conversation between my new friend and me and gave rise to an LA story seldom featured in newspapers or on television.

Juan’s responses focused on his everyday struggles living in LA and the stories of family and friends from his Pico Union neighborhood. He pointed out that the onslaughts on Muslims and Latinx communities were hardly separate and independent, or parallel and segregated. Rather, they were, and are, overlapping, intersecting, and, for him, very intimate.

“As an undocumented Latino from El Salvador living in Pico Union”, a heavily concentrated Latinx community on the margins of downtown Los Angeles, “I am most fearful about the pop-up checkpoints and the immigration raids,” he told me. These fears were more than imminent under the administration of President Obama, dubbed the “Deporter in Chief” by critics who opposed the accelerated mass deportations carried out during the final stages of his second term. But without question, Juan’s fears have become more visceral, more palpable during the Trump administration.

“I think about this every time I drive to school, work, or visit a family member,” Juan recounted, reminding me of the debilitating fear that comes over me after any terror attack. Yet his fear was far more immediate and frequent than mine, and loomed over him at every moment, including this one while he and I weaved through Los Angeles traffic, talking animatedly about politics, faith, and fear. He could be stopped at any time, whether alone or while whizzing customers through the city he knew better than the life lines on his palms.

I thought about the very imminent dangers these xenophobic policies and programs posed for Juan and people in similar situations in Los Angeles and throughout the country. I knew this city well and understood that the armed and irrational fear directed at nonwhite, non-Christian people was intense in LA, descending (among other places) on the city’s galaxy of dense and large Latinx neighborhoods. This armed xenophobia was aimed particularly at those communities gripped by poverty, where Spanish was spoken primarily, and was concentrated on people and families lacking legal documentation, indeed, the very intersection where Juan began and ended each day, and lived most of his hours in between.

Years before I rode with Juan, Los Angeles was my home away from my hometown of Detroit, the city where I began my career as a law professor, earned my law degree, and only two weeks into my first year of law school at UCLA, the setting from which I witnessed the 9/11 terror attacks. I remember the events of that day more clearly than I do any other day, largely because every terror attack that unfolds in the United States or abroad compels me to revisit the motions and emotions of that day.

For Muslim Americans, 9/11 is not just a day that will live in infamy or an unprecedented tragedy buried in the past; it is a stalking reminder that the safeguards of citizenship are tenuous and the prospect of suspicion and the presumption of guilt are immediate.

My phone kept ringing that morning, interrupting my attempt to sleep in after a long night of studying. As I turned to set the phone to vibrate, I noticed that my mother had called me six times in a span of fifteen minutes. My eyes widened. Was something wrong at home? Three hours behind in California, I called her back to make sure everything at home in Detroit was alright, still in the dark about the tragedy that would mark a crossroads for the country, my community, and indeed, my life.

“Turn on the TV,” she instructed, in her flat but authoritative Arabic that signaled that something serious was unfolding: “Go to your TV right now.” I had an eerie sense of what she was alluding to before I clicked the television on and turned to the news, but I could not have imagined the scale of the terror that unfolded that early Tuesday morning. My eyes were glued to the screen as I awoke fully to what it would mean for me, my family, and Muslim Americans at large if the perpetrators of the attacks looked like us or believed like us.

I recall the surreal images and events of that day as if they happened yesterday. And just as intimately, I remember the four words that repeatedly scrolled across my mind after the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center. “Please don’t be Muslims, please don’t be Muslims,” I quietly whispered to myself over and again, standing inside my small apartment, surrounded by bags and boxes not yet unpacked, a family portrait of my mother, sister, and brother hanging on an otherwise barren white wall. I was alone in the apartment, far from home, but knew in that very moment that the same fear that left me frozen and afraid gripped every Muslim in the country.

The four words I whispered to myself on 9/11 reverberated through the mind of every Muslim American that day and every day after, forming a unifying prayer for Muslim Americans after every attack.

Our fear, and the collective breath or brace for the hateful backlash that ensued, symbolize the existential tightrope that defines Muslim American identity today. It has become a definitive part of what it means to be Muslim American when an act of terror unfolds and the finger-pointing begins.

Indeed, this united state of fear converges with a competing fear stoked by the state to galvanize hatemongers and mobilize damaging policies targeting Islam and Muslims. That state stoked fear has a name: Islamophobia.

This system of inculcating fear and calculated bigotry was not entirely spawned in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks, I have gradually learned, but is a modern extension of a deeply embedded and centuries old form of American hate.

Following 9/11 it was adorned with a new name, institutionalized within new government structures and strident new policies, and legitimized under the auspices of a “war on terror” that assigned the immediate presumption of terrorism to Islam and the immediate presumption of guilt to Muslim citizens and immigrants.

Thousands of miles away from home and loved ones, my world unraveled. Islamophobia and what would become a lifelong commitment to combating it were thrust to the fore. Although raised in Detroit, home to the most concentrated, celebrated, and scrutinized Muslim American population in the country, my activism, advocacy, and intellectual mission to investigate the roots of American Islamophobia and its proliferation after the 9/11 terror attacks were first marshaled on the other side of the country. For me, 9/11 was both a beginning and an end, putting to rest my romantic designs on an international human rights law career for the more immediate challenges unfolding at home.

I left for Los Angeles a wide-eyed twenty two year old in the late summer of 2001. I was the first in my family to attend university an graduate school, the first to pack his bags for another city, not knowing what direction his career or life would take. After three years and three wars, those in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the amorphous, fluidly expanding war on terror on the home front, I was fully resolved to take on the rising tide of Islamophobia ravaging the country and ripping through concentrated Muslim American communities like the one I called home. I learned about the law at a time when laws were being crafted to punish, persecute, and prosecute Muslim citizens and immigrants under the thinnest excuses, at an intersection when my law professors, including Kimberlé Crenshaw, Cheryl Harris, and Devon Carbado, were equipping me with the spirit and skill to fight Islamophobia in the middle grounds it rose from, and even more importantly, at the margins.

On February 22, 2017, more than a decade and a half after 9/11, I found myself back in Los Angeles. I was now a law professor and a scholar researching national security, Muslim identity, and constitutional law. I was to give a series of lectures on Islamophobia at several colleges and community centers in the LA area. My expertise was in high demand as a result of the 2016 presidential election and the intense lslamophobia that followed. I delivered the lectures roughly one month after newly elected President Donald Trump signed the executive order widely known as the “Muslim ban.”

Seven days into his presidency, Trump delivered on the promise he first made on the campaign trail on December 7, 2015, enacting a travel ban that restricted the entry of nationals from seven Muslim-majority nations: Libya, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. To me, the Muslim ban was not merely a distant policy signed into law in a distant city; it was personal in a myriad of ways. First, I am a Muslim American, and second, I had close friends from several of the restricted nations and had visited several of those nations. Moreover, since the war on terror had been rolled out in 2001, all of the countries on the list had been either sites of full-scale American military aggression or strategic bombings.

“The bombs always precede the bans,” my mother said out loud as she watched the news one day, observing a truism that ties American foreign policy to immigration policy, particularly in relation to Muslim majority countries.

The Muslim ban was the first policy targeting Muslims enacted by the man I formally dubbed the “Islamophobia President.” It certainly would not be the last law, policy, or program implemented by the man who capitalized on Islamophobia as a “full-fledged campaign strategy” to become the forty-fifth president of the United States.

President Trump promised a more hardline domestic surveillance program, which he called Countering Islamic Violence; a registry to keep track of Muslim immigrants within the United States; legislation that would bludgeon the civic and advocacy programs of Muslim American organizations; and other measures that would threaten Muslim immigrants, citizens, and institutions. He was poised to integrate Islamophobia fully into the government he would preside over and to convert his bellicose rhetoric into state sanctioned policy.

If Trump demonstrated anything during his first week in office, it was an ability to follow through on the hateful promises most pundits had dismissed as “mere campaign rhetoric” months earlier. He kept his promises. Islamophobia was not merely an appeal for votes, but a resonant message that would drive policy and inform immigration and national security policing. His electioneering was not mere bluster, but in fact a covenant built on Islamophobia, an Islamophobia that motivated large swaths of Americans to vote for him. In exchange, he delivered on his explicit and “dog whistle” campaign messaging by generating real lslamophobic policies, programs, and action.

Trump, like many candidates before him and others who will follow, traded a grand narrative of nativism and hate for votes, which registered to great success at the ballot box.

Memories of the trials and wounds Muslim Americans endured in the wake of 9/11, which I witnessed firsthand and examined closely as a scholar, and those unfolding in this era of trumped-up, unhinged Islamophobia raced through my head as I walked to the Uber waiting for me outside the California State University, Los Angeles campus. Scores of mosques vandalized, immigrants scapegoated and surveilled, citizens falsely profiled and prosecuted, the private confines of Muslim American households violated in furtherance of baseless witch hunts, immigration restrictions and registries imposed, and innocent mothers and children killed.

Yesterday, and with this intensified third phase of the war on terror, again today. I set my bag down in the car, thinking about the turbulent road ahead. I thought about how the challenges ahead compared and contrasted with those that ravaged Muslim Americans following 9/11. More than fifteen years had passed, and the face of the country, the composition of the Muslim American population, and I myself had all undergone radical, transformative change. I had recently bid farewell to and buried my father, Ali, who in 1981 brought his three children and wife to the United States in search of all the things Donald Trump stood against, values his campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” sought to erode. Life after loss is never the same, and my season of mourning was punctuated by the fear and hysteria that followed Donald Trump all the way to the White House.

The world and the country were spinning faster and more furiously than ever before, it seemed. Locked in between the two, my life raced forward at a rate I had never experienced. The Black Lives Matter movement unveiled institutional racism that was as robust and violent as ever, as evidenced by the killing of Trayvon Martin, Rekia Boyd, Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Philando Castille, Sandra Bland, and a rapidly growing list of unarmed black children, men, and women gunned down by police, all of them memorialized and uplifted as martyrs by youth and adult, black and non-black activists marching up and down city blocks or taking protests to the virtual sphere on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms.

Black Lives Matter inspired mass actions across the country and an ongoing march of social media protests that spawned new generations of activists and trenchant thought leaders. I saw this unfold, in dynamic fashion, on city blocks, in neighborhoods, on college campuses, and on social media feeds. It left an indelible impression on my activism, writing, and worldview.

In the face of a political world seemingly spinning out of control, I decided to write this book. I hope to provide general readers, students, and activists an intimate and accessible introduction to Islamophobia, what it is, how it evolved, how we can combat it in Trump’s America, and most importantly, how to fight it beyond the current administration.

As a Muslim American law professor and civil rights activist, I hope to help readers view Islamophobia through a unique lens. I draw on a range of sources, from court cases, media headlines, and scholarship to my own experiences in walking the walk every day. Along the way, I make links and assertions that might be new to many readers: pointing out how Islamophobia has a long, notorious history in the United States, for example, and showing how the Black Lives Matter movement intersects with, and inspires, activism against Islamophobia. My aim is to offer a succinct, informed handbook for anyone interested in Islamophobia and its prolific growth at this definitive juncture in our country’s history.

I wrote this book at a time when American Islamophobia was intensifying at a horrific clip, giving immediate importance to my research and expertise and simultaneously endangering the people I love most. In addition to examining the roots and rise of American Islamophobia, this book also looks to humanize the individuals and communities impacted by it, so they can be seen beyond the frame of statistics. Many stories are interwoven, some are well known and others are not, to facilitate an understanding of Islamophobia that treats Muslim Americans not as distant subjects of study or analysis, but as everyday citizens. Citizens who, like members of other faith groups, are not only integral and contributing members of society, but are also part of a group that will define the future of the United States moving forward.

The United States is indeed at a crossroads. The rise of mass social protest movements fueled by calls for dignity, justice, and an end to structural racism have been met by an opposing front galvanized by demographic shifts toward a majority minority population and eight years of scapegoating and systematic obstruction of the first black president. Echoing through it all is the dread of an “end of white America,” a fear that politicians on the right readily stoked and fervently fed to the masses.

Much of this opposing front is fully wed to racism and xenophobia, and it backed a businessman who peddled a promise to “Make American Great Again”, a promise that was not just a campaign slogan, but was also a racial plea evoked at a time when whiteness was the formal touchstone of American citizenship and white supremacy was endorsed and enabled by law. Trump dangled before the electorate studies that project that people of color will outnumber whites by 2044, and that over half (50.2 percent) of the babies born in the United States today are minorities, and he inflamed the ever present fear that foreigners are stealing our jobs.

As a cure for these supposed ills, Trump’s campaign offered to a primed and ready audience a cocktail of nativism, scapegoating, and racism; his campaign met with resounding success and helped polarize the nation along the very lines that colored his stump speeches. Much of Trump’s fearmongering centered again on Islam and the suspicion, fear, and backlash directed at its more than eight million adherents living in Los Angeles, Detroit, and big and small American towns beyond and in between.

Islamophobia was intensifying throughout the country, relentlessly fueled on the presidential campaign trail, and after the inauguration of President Trump on January 20, 2017, it was unleashed from the highest office in the land.

Now more than ever, Islamophobia was not limited to the irrational views or hateful slurs of individuals, but was an ideology that drove the president’s political worldview and motivated the laws, policies, and programs he would seek to push forward.

This had also been the case during the Bush and Obama administrations, but the Trump moment marked a new phase of transparency in which explicit rhetorical Islamophobia aligned, in language and spirit, with the programs the new president was poised to implement.

I found myself wedged between the hate and its intended victims. Muslim Americans like myself were presumptive terrorists, not citizens; unassimilable aliens, not Americans; and the speeches I delivered on campuses and in community centers, to Muslims and non-Muslims, cautioned that the dangers Islamophobia posed yesterday were poised to become even more perilous today. The road ahead was daunting, I warned audiences after each lecture, hoping to furnish them with the awareness to be vigilant, and the pale consolation that today’s Islamophobia is not entirely new.

I was feeling alarmed for Juan, my Uber driver, even as I felt I should celebrate his being drawn toward Islam. I could not help but fear the distinct and convergent threats he would face if he embraced Islam. As an undocumented Latino Muslim in Los Angeles, Juan would be caught in the crosshairs of “terrorism” and “illegality.” Los Angeles was not only ground zero for a range of xenophobic policies targeting undocumented (and documented) Latinx communities, but also a pilot city where, in 2014, the Department of Homeland Security launched its counter radicalization program, Countering Violent Extremism, in partnership with the Los Angeles Police Department.

This new counterterror program, which effectively supplanted the federal surveillance model ushered in by the USA PATRIOT Act, deputized LAPD members to function as national security officers tasked with identifying, detaining, prosecuting, and even deporting “homegrown radicals.” Suspicion was disproportionately assigned to recent Muslim converts, particularly young men like Juan, keen on expressing their newfound Muslim identity by wearing a beard, attending Friday prayers, and demonstrating fluency in Arabic, the language tied to Islam, and in line with Islamophobia, terrorism.

I feared for Juan’s wellbeing, whether Muslim or not. I knew that the dangers he dodged every day would be far greater in number and more ominous in nature if he embraced Islam. The president, from inside the White House, was marshaling islamophobia and mobilizing xenophobia to inflict irreparable injury on Muslims, Latinx communities, and the growing population of Latinx Muslims that Juan would be part of if he walked into a mosque and declared that “there is only one God, and Mohammed is his final messenger.” He would be vulnerable to the covert counter-radicalization policing that was descending on Los Angeles mosques and Muslim student associations and simultaneously exposed to the ubiquitous threat of immigration checkpoints and deportation raids. He would also be a prime target for Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement, or VOICE, the new catchan-“illegal-alien” hotline installed by President Trump.

This seemed far too much for any one person to endure all at once, and the boundary Juan contemplated crossing by becoming a Muslim, during the height of American Islamophobia, might very well be one that he should drive far away from.

All of this rushed through my head as Juan drove me to my hotel, sharing with me his concerns and fears about the country’s current condition. I remained silent, gripped by the desire, if not the responsibility, to advise Juan to reconsider embracing Islam at this time. I tried to muster up the courage to tell him to postpone his conversion for a later time, when Islamophobic attitudes and policies were abating, when, and if, that time should come. I feared that if he did convert, the ever expanding and extending arms of the state would find him at once, brand him a radical, and toss him from the country, sending him far from the only home he has ever known, and the second home that summoned me back during a fateful moment in his life and mine.

*

Before my conversation with Juan, I’d been gripped by memories of the post 9/11 period. But for those moments in the car, I felt overwhelmed by the dangers that would encircle Juan if he took his shahada. Islam in America has never been simply a religion one chooses. From the gaze of the state and society, Islam was and still is an indelible marker of otherness, and in war-on-terror America, it is a political identity that instantly triggers the suspicion of acts of terror and subversion. The urge to advise Juan against converting reached its climax when the car came to an abrupt stop near Grand Avenue and 11th Street, in the heart of downtown Los Angeles, not far from Pico Union.

Juan stepped out to greet me on the right side of the car. “It was an honor to meet and speak to you, Brother Khaled,” he said, extending his hand to bid me farewell.

“Likewise Juan, I wish you the best,” I told him, extending my hand to meet his. I then turned away from the stranger who, after a thirty minute drive through grueling city traffic, had pushed me to grapple with my most pressing fears and had given me an intimate introduction to new fears that I could not turn away from.

I stopped, turned back toward Juan, and mustered up the strength to implore him, “But I ask you to think about whether now is the right time to become a Muslim,” attempting to cloak a desperate plea with the tone and language of evenhanded guidance. This was more difficult than any lecture or presentation I had given during the past several months, and the many more I would give later. “Your status already puts you in a difficult position, and falling victim to Islamophobia would put you in a more dangerous place,” I pled.

Voicing the words released a great weight off my shoulders. At the same time, they felt unnatural because they clashed with the spiritual aim of encouraging interest in Islam. The paradox mirrored the political confusion that gripped the nation. But the challenges and perils I lectured about in university classrooms, community centers, and mosques had to be extended to the street, and to the most vulnerable. My words were met with a look of utter surprise by Juan, who stood there and said nothing.

“Either way, you are my brother,” I closed, before we walked off in opposite directions. He thanked me, circled back to the driver’s seat, and turned right on 12th Street, in the direction of Pico Union, perhaps feeling disappointed in or spurned by the individual whose activism he admired.

I often wondered what decision Juan made, and whether he made his shahada. I also feared the worst, wondering whether he was still in the country. Was he profiled on the grounds of his Latino identity and detained because he was undocumented? Did he embrace Islam and fall victim to the counter-radicalization policing unfolding in Los Angeles? Or had he become a victim of the intersecting xenophobic backlash and Islamophobic violence authorized by Trump’s rhetoric and policies, inflicted by a bigot on or off campus?

My fears were stoked daily by bleak headlines and backward actions taken by the Trump administration, but I tried to remain optimistic. I hoped that Juan was still enrolled in classes, zigzagging his car through the maze of Los Angeles traffic to help his mother make rent, to pay his college tuition, and to drive toward his goal of becoming the first member of his family to earn a college degree. And most importantly, I prayed that he was safe and sound while working toward realizing this and other aspirations, academic, professional, and spiritual, in a country where informants and officers, bans and walls threaten to crush these very dreams and the people precariously holding onto them.

*

from

American Islamophobia. Understanding the Roots and Rise of Fear

by Khaled A. Beydoun

get it at Amazon.com

THE RESTLESS WAVE. Good Times, Just Causes, Great Fights and Other Appreciations – John McCain.

Tribute to a decent man, an honest man of honour. Even though he backed the Iraq disaster, and is a Republican.


Many an old geezer like me reaches his last years wishing he had lived more in the moment, had savored his days as they happened. Not me, friends. Not me. I have loved my life. All of it.

ACCUMULATED MEMORIES

TEARS WELLED IN MY EYES as I watched the old men march. It was a poignant sight, but not an unfamiliar one, and I was surprised at my reaction. l have attended Memorial Day and Veterans Day parades in dozens of American cities, watched aging combat veterans, heads high, shoulders back, summon memories of their service and pay homage to friends they had lost. I had always kept my composure.

It was the fiftieth anniversary of Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and I had been invited to the official commemoration. The President of the United States, George H. W. Bush, was there and would give an emotional, memorable address at the USS Arizona memorial. I assumed that I, a first term senator, had been included with more important dignitaries because that famous ship was named for the state I represent. Or perhaps I had been invited because I’m a Navy veteran, the son and grandson of admirals, and this was a Navy show.

My best friend from the Naval Academy, Chuck Larson, acted as host and master of ceremonies for the proceedings at the Arizona. Chuck had a far more distinguished naval career than I had, continuing a divergence that had begun in our first year at the Academy, where he had graduated at the top of our class and I very near the bottom. We had gone through flight training together, and remained the closest of friends. Chuck had been an aviator, then a submariner and a military aide to President Richard Nixon. He had been a rear admiral at forty three, one of the youngest officers in Navy history to make that rank. He was the only person to serve as superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy twice. On the fiftieth anniversary of Pearl Harbor, he had four stars and was commander in chief of all U.S. forces in the Pacific, CINCPAC, the largest operational command in the U.S. military, my father’s old command, headquartered in Hawaii.

The Arizona ceremony was the main event of the weekend. The President would also pay a visit to the battleship USS Missouri, as would I. She had come from operations in the Persian Gulf to join in the Remembrance Day tribute. It was her last mission before she would be decommissioned. The war that had begun for America in Pearl Harbor had ended on her deck. My grandfather had been there, standing in the first line of senior officers observing the surrender ceremony.

My father, a submarine skipper, was waiting in Tokyo Harbor to meet him for, as it turned outthe last time. They lunched together that afternoon in the wardroom of a submarine tender. When they parted that day my grandfather began his journey home to Coronado, California. He died of a heart attack the day after he arrived, during a welcome home party my grandmother had arranged for him. He was only sixty one years old, but looked decades older, aged beyond his years from “riotous living,” as he called it, and the strain of the war. My father, who admired his father above all other men, was inconsolable. Many years later he recalled in detail their final reunion and the last words his father spoke to him, “Son, there is no greater thing than to die for the country and principles that you believe in.”

The day before the ceremony on the Arizona I had joined a small group of more senior senators and combat veterans, among them Senate Republican leader Bob Dole and the senior senator from Hawaii, Dan Inouye. Bob had served in the Army’s 10th Mountain Division. A few weeks before the end of the war in Europe, in Italy’s Apennine Mountains, he was grievously wounded by a German machine gun while trying to rescue his fallen radio operator. His wounds cost him the use of his right arm, and much of the feeling in his left. Around the same time, Dan had led an assault on a German bunker in Tuscany. He was shot in the stomach and a grenade severed his right arm. He kept fighting, and would receive the Medal of Honor for his valor. Bob and Dan had been friends longer than either had been a senator. They had met while recuperating from their wounds in Percy Jones Army Hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan, along with another future senator, Phil Hart, who had been wounded on D-Day.

That day, we watched two thousand Pearl Harbor survivors march to honor their fallen. Most appeared to be in their seventies. Neither the informality of their attire nor the falling rain nor the cheers of the crowd along the parade route detracted from their dignified comportment. A few were unable to walk and rode in Army trucks. All of a sudden I felt overwhelmed. Maybe it was the effect of their straight faces and erect bearing evoking such a hard-won dignity; maybe it was the men riding in trucks managing to match the poise of the marchers; maybe it was the way they turned their heads toward us as they passed and the way Bob and Dan returned their attention. A little embarrassed by my reaction, I confessed to Dan, “I don’t know what comes over me these days. I guess I’m getting sentimental with age.” Without turning his gaze from the marchers, he answered me quietly, “Accumulated memories.”

That was it. Accumulated memories. I had reached an age when I had begun to feel the weight of them. Memories evoked by a connection to someone or to an occasion, by a familiar story or turn of phrase or song. Memories of intense experiences, of family and friends from younger days, of causes fought, some worth it, others not so much, some won, some lost, of adventures bigger than those imagined as a child, memories of a life that even then had seemed to me so lucky and unlikely, and of the abbreviated lives of friends who had been braver but not as fortunate, memories brought to mind by veterans of a war I had not fought in, but I knew something of what it had cost them, and what it had given them.

I had been a boy of five, playing in the front yard of my family’s home in New London, Connecticut, when a black sedan pulled up and a Navy officer rolled down the window and shouted to my father, “Jack, the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor.” The news and the sight of my father leaving in that sedan is one of my most powerful memories, the only memory of my father during the war I’ve managed to retain all these years. I know he didn’t go to sea immediately and I know we were briefly reunited with him when he was reassigned from a submarine command in the Atlantic to another in the Pacific theater. But I don’t recall seeing my father again after he got into that car until the war was over, and he had lost his father and many of his friends. He returned changed in the way most combat veterans are, more self-possessed and serious. I understood the journey the Pearl Harbor veterans had made.

That empathy stirred by my own memories had made me weep.

I feel the weight of memories even more now, of course. I’ve accumulated so many more of them. I was in my mid fifties in 1991. I’m eighty one now, twenty years older than my grandfather had been when he died, and more than ten years older than my father when we buried him, as it happened, on the day I left the Navy, a year before I was elected to my first term in Congress.

A quarter century’s worth of new memories, of new causes, won and lost, more fights, new friendships and a few new enemies, of more mistakes made and new lessons learned, of new experiences that enriched my life so far beyond my wildest dreams that I feel even luckier than I did in 1991.

Of course, the longer we live, the more we lose, too, and many people who figure prominently in my memories have left the scene. Friends from prison have passed away. Bob Craner, my closest confidant in prison, the man who got me back on my feet after the Vietnamese forced me to make a false confession and propaganda statement, died many years ago. Bill Lawrence, my exemplary senior ranking officer, died in 2005. Ned Shuman, whose good cheer was a tonic in the worst of times, is gone now, too. And Bud Day, the toughest man I ever knew, veteran of three wars, who wouldn’t let me die in those hard first months of my captivity, left us four years ago.

Close Senate friends have passed as well, including brave Dan Inouye. My pal Fred Thompson, whose company was a delight, died two years ago. Lion of the Senate Ted Kennedy, with whom I worked and fought and joked in some of the more memorable moments of my time in the Senate, succumbed in 2009 to the cancer that I now have. Ted and I shared the conviction that a fight not joined is a fight not enjoyed. We had some fierce ones in our time, fierce, worthwhile, and fun. I loved every minute of them.

Other friends have left, too. I’m tempted to say, before their time, but that isn’t the truth. What God and good luck provide we must accept with gratitude. Our time is our time. It’s up to us to make the most of it, make it amount to more than the sum of our days. God knows, my dear friend Chuck Larson, whom I had looked up to since we were boys, made the most of his. Leukemia killed him in 2014. He was laid to rest in the Naval Academy’s cemetery on Hospital Point, a beautiful spot overlooking the Severn River, near where our paths first crossed.

I’ve been given more years than many, and had enough narrow escapes along the way to make me appreciate them, not just in memory, but while I lived them. Many an old geezer like me reaches his last years wishing he had lived more in the moment, had savored his days as they happened. Not me, friends. Not me. I have loved my life. All of it. I’ve wasted more than a few days on pursuits that might not have proved as important as they seemed to me at the time. Some things didn’t work out the way I hoped they would. I had difficult moments and a few disappointments. But, by God, I enjoyed it. Every damn day of it. I have lived with a will. I served a purpose greater than my own pleasure or advantage, but I meant to enjoy the experience, and I did. I meant to be amazed and excited and encouraged and useful, and I was.

All that is attributable to one thing more than any other. I have been restless all my life, even now, as time grows precious. America and the voters of Arizona have let me exercise my restlessness in their service. I had the great good fortune to spend sixty years in the employ of our country, defending our country’s security, advancing our country’s ideals, supporting our country’s indispensable contributions to the progress of humanity. It has not been perfect service, to be sure, and there were times when the country might have benefited from a little less of my help. But I’ve tried to deserve the privilege, and I have been repaid a thousand times over with adventure and discoveries, with good company, and with the satisfaction of serving something more important than myself, of being a bit player in the story of America, and the history we made. And I am so very grateful.

I share that sentiment with another naval aviator, the good man and patriot we elected our forty-first President, George Herbert Walker Bush. He paid tribute twenty-six years ago to those fellow patriots whose service to America was not repaid with a long life of achievement and adventure.

We had assembled at the Arizona memorial around seven o’clock the morning of December 7, 1991. President and Mrs. Bush and their party arrived shortly after. Chuck opened the proceedings and introduced a Navy chaplain to give an invocation. At 7:55, fifty years to the minute since the attack on Pearl Harbor had commenced, the cruiser USS Chosin crossed in front of the memorial and sounded its horn as its officers and crew standing along its rails saluted. The minute of silence we observed ended when four F-15 fighters roared overhead, and one pulled up and away in the missing man formation. A bugler sounded attention at eight o’clock, the colors were raised, and the national anthem sung. President and Mrs. Bush dropped flower wreaths into the well of the memorial.

Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney introduced retired USN Captain Donald Ross, who had been a warrant officer on the USS Nevada, one of eight battleships stationed at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked. He was the senior engineer on the ship and managed to get her under way in the firestorm, the only one of the battleships to do so. The Nevada was struck by six bombs and a torpedo. Ross lost consciousness twice from the smoke and was twice resuscitated. He was blinded by an explosion, but he kept the ship steaming long enough to run her aground where she wouldn’t block the entrance to the harbor. He received the Medal of Honor for his valor. He was eighty-one years old in 1991, slight and stooped in his Navy whites, and walked with a cane. He would die the next spring. But he was exuberant that morning and emotional as he introduced his fellow World War II veteran, almost shouting, “Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the President of the United States.”

The President read from a printed text. He would give another, longer speech later that day about America’s leadership of the postwar world, and the international order we had superintended for nearly fifty years. But his speech at the memorial was devoted to the Americans who had fought and perished there at the dawn of the American century. “The heroes of the harbor,” he called them.

As he closed the speech, his voice grew thick with emotion. I think he must have felt not only the sacrifices made at Pearl Harbor, but the weight of his own memories, the memories of friends he had lost in the war, when he was the youngest aviator in the Navy.

“Look at the water here, clear and quiet,” he directed, “bidding us to sum up and remember. One day, in what now seems another lifetime, it wrapped its arms around the finest sons any nation could ever have, and it carried them to a better world.” He paused and fussed with the pages of his speech, struggling to compose himself before delivering the last line of the speech. “May God bless them, and may God bless America, the most wondrous land on earth.”

The most wondrous land on earth, indeed. What a privilege it is to serve this big, boisterous, brawling, intemperate, striving, daring, beautiful, bountiful, brave, magnificent country. With all our flaws, all our mistakes, with all the frailties of human nature as much on display as our virtues, with all the rancor and anger of our politics, we are blessed. We are living in the land of the free, the land where anything is possible, the land of the immigrant’s dream, the land with the storied past forgotten in the rush to the imagined future, the land that repairs and reinvents itself, the land where a person can escape the consequences of a self-centered youth and know the satisfaction of sacrificing for an ideal, where you can go from aimless rebellion to a noble cause, and from the bottom of your class to your party’s nomination for President.

We are blessed, and in turn, we have been a blessing to humanity. The world order we helped build from the ashes of world war, and that we defend to this day, has liberated more people from tyranny and poverty than ever before in history. This wondrous land shared its treasures and ideals and shed its blood to help make another, better world. And as we did we made our own civilization more just, freer, more accomplished and prosperous than the America that existed when I watched my father go off to war.

We have made mistakes. We haven’t always used our power wisely. We have abused it sometimes and we’ve been arrogant. But, as often as not, we recognized those wrongs, debated them openly, and tried to do better. And the good we have done for humanity surpasses the damage caused by our errors. We have sought to make the world more stable and secure, not just our own society. We have advanced norms and rules of international relations that have benefited all. We have stood up to tyrants for mistreating their people even when they didn’t threaten us, not always, but often. We don’t steal other people’s wealth. We don’t take their land. We don’t build walls to freedom and opportunity. We tear them down.

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 for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is unpatriotic. American nationalism isn’t the same as in other countries. It isn’t nativist or imperial or xenophobic, or it shouldn’t be. Those attachments belong with other tired dogmas that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.

We live in a land made from ideals, not blood and soil. We are custodians of those ideals at home, and their champion abroad. We have done great good in the world because we believed our ideals are the natural aspiration of all mankind, and that the principles, rules, and alliances of the international order we superintended would improve the security and prosperity of all who joined with us. That leadership has had its costs, but we have become incomparably powerful and wealthy as well. We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we let other powers assume our leadership role, powers that reject our values and resent our influence. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn’t deserve to.

I have served that cause all my adult life. I haven’t always served it well. I haven’t even always appreciated that I was serving it. But among the few compensations of old age is the acuity of hindsight. I was part of something bigger than myself that drew me along in its wake even when I was diverted by personal interests. I was, knowingly or not, along for the ride as America made the future better than the past. Yes, l have enjoyed it, all of it, and I would love for it to continue. A fight not joined is a fight not enjoyed, and I wouldn’t mind another scrap or two for a good cause before I’m a memory. Who knows, maybe I’ll get another round. And maybe I won’t. So be it. I’ve lived in this wondrous land for most of eight decades, and I’ve had enough good fights and good company in her service to satisfy even my restless nature, a few of which I relate in the pages that follow.

Who am I to complain? I’m the luckiest man on earth.

John McCain, Cornville, Arizona

CHAPTER ONE

NO Surrender

ON AN ORDINARY NOVEMBER MORNING in Phoenix, sunny and warm, Cindy and I walked the two blocks from our building to the nearest Starbucks. We stood in line with other early risers, and made our purchases. We walked back to our condo, coffees in hand, and got ready to drive to our place in Northern Arizona, where we go to rest and relax in good times and bad. Friends would join us there for a few days, and our conversations would inevitably return now and again to the intense experience we had just shared. But whenever it looked like we were about to dwell at length on that subject, I would steer the conversation in another direction, toward the future. And that morning in Phoenix, we were left entirely to ourselves, just another couple in need of their morning coffee, which made for a welcome change.

The night before, I had conceded the election to the man who had defeated me and would be our forty-fourth President, Barack Obama. After I had left the stage, Mark Hughes, the agent in charge of my Secret Service detail, started to brief me on the schedule and security procedures for the trip north. The Secret Service customarily continues to protect defeated presidential candidates for a little while after the election. I suppose they worry some fool might think the losing candidate deserved a more severe sanction than disappointment. I thought it unlikely, and while I regretted losing the election, I did not expect to regret recovering autonomy over decisions about where I would go and when and with whom. Wherever the hell I wanted, I thought to myself, and the notion brightened a day that might otherwise have been spent contemplating “if only.”

If only we had done this. If only we hadn’t done that. I intended to leave those questions to reporters and academics. They were unproductive. I still had a job, a job I enjoyed and looked forward to resuming. And, as I said, I looked forward to resuming the routine habits of a man without a security detail: opening doors, driving my car, walking to a coffee shop. Being at liberty. Having spent more than five years of my life in prison, I tend to appreciate even the more mundane exercises of my freedom more than others might.

Mark Hughes had done a fine job supervising my protection, as had Billy Callahan, the agent in charge of my other Secret Service detail, which alternated weeks with Mark’s crew. All the agents protecting Cindy and me, and my running mate, Sarah Palin, and her family, had been consummate professionals and had at my repeated requests exercised as much restraint as circumstances and good sense allowed. I was appreciative and grateful. But that didn’t stop me from taking a little pleasure in interrupting Mark’s briefing.

“Mark, my friend, you guys have been great, and I appreciate all your concern and hard work. I’ve enjoyed getting to know you. But tomorrow, I want all of you to go home to your families like I’m going home to mine. I’d appreciate a ride home tonight. Then we’ll say goodbye, and we probably won’t see each other again.”

Mark was accustomed to my chafing at restrictions imposed on my independence, and did not argue. He smiled, and said, “Yes, sir.” I liked him all the more for it. We said goodbye that night. And the next morning, Cindy and I walked to Starbucks without any more protection than a little sunscreen. An hour or so after that, I was happily driving north on Interstate 17, a free man at last.

It had been an exhilarating and exhausting two years. And though almost every defeated candidate insists the experience was wonderful and satisfying, I imagine I was only slightly less pleased that it was over than was President-elect Obama. Don’t get me wrong, I fought as hard as I could to win, and I really don’t enjoy losing. We had triumphant moments, and deeply touching experiences in the campaign. We had disappointing experiences as well, and days that were blurred by adrenaline fueled activity and stress. It was like drinking from a firehose all day, every day, especially in the months between the party conventions and Election Day. But it had been for the most part a wonderful experience.

While some might find it odd, the part I had enjoyed the most were the days when l was again an underdog for the Republican nomination. I’m not sure why, but my enjoyment of a fight of any kind is inversely proportional to the odds of winning it. And in July of 2007 the odds that I would win the Republican nomination for President were starting to look pretty long.

I had formally announced my candidacy in April, but the campaign had been under way for months before then. I had started out as the presumed front-runner for the nomination, and my friend Hillary Clinton, whom I had gotten to know and like while serving with her on the Armed Services Committee, was the front-runner for the Democratic nomination. Her status would last a bit longer than mine. We had built a front-runner’s campaign with a large and experienced staff and a big budget. Much too big, it turned out. We were spending a lot more than we were raising. I’m not the most prodigious fund-raiser, to be sure. I don’t mind asking people for money, but I don’t really enjoy it, either, and I certainly wasn’t as good at it as was my principal rival for the nomination, Governor Mitt Romney. I suppose it didn’t help matters with many donors that I was the leading Republican proponent of limiting campaign donations or that I was inextricably tied to the deeply unpopular surge in Iraq. My support for comprehensive immigration reform was proving to be a liability as well, although majorities of Americans then and now support its provisions. I had sponsored an immigration bill that year with Ted Kennedy. The bill was as unpopular with some conservatives as Ted was. Some of the other candidates, particularly Mitt, were already making an issue of it, and it was starting to generate grassroots opposition to my candidacy.

Whatever the reasons for my failure to outraise the competition, our spending should have been more in line with our financing. We shouldn’t have assembled an operation with as big a payroll and expenses as we had until my front-runner status was earned by winning primaries. In the spring and early summer of 2007 it was based on not much more than the fact that I had been the runner-up for the nomination in 2000, and was at the moment better known nationally than Governor Romney.

I was, to put it mildly, unhappy with my situation and considering what to do about it when I left for an overseas trip in early July. The whole thing just didn’t feel right to me. I felt as if I was running someone else’s campaign or pretending my campaign was something it wasn’t or shouldn’t have been. I had enjoyed my experiences as the underdog in the 2000 Republican nomination race partly because hardly anyone expected me to win and I felt as if I had nothing to lose. Then we caught fire in the fall of 1999, won the New Hampshire primary in a landslide, and had a rocket ride for a couple months, losing South Carolina, winning Michigan, before crashing in the Super Tuesday primaries. I left the race having outperformed expectations, possessing a much bigger national reputation, increased influence in the Senate, and an abundance of truly wonderful memories. Not bad for a defeat.

Before I made the decision to run again, I had nagging doubts that I mentioned frequently to aides that we weren’t likely to bottle lightning twice. Compounding my concern over spending and the direction of the campaign in 2007 were my concerns about the surge in Iraq, which preoccupied me more than the campaign did. There had not been many advocates in Congress, even among Republicans, for President George W. Bush’s decision to surge troops to Iraq to run a counterinsurgency under the command of General David Petraeus.

The war had been almost lost in 2006. A Sunni insurgency had grown much stronger as it claimed more territory, and more Iraqis and foreign fighters were joining its ranks. Shia militias were working with Iran to terrorize Sunnis and, when the spirit moved them, to kill Americans. They operated practically unfettered in some neighborhoods. We were obviously losing ground and were at risk of losing the war. That reality wasn’t altered by repeated assurances from senior commanders in Baghdad and from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that the American effort in Iraq was meeting all its targets (principally, the number of Iraqi troops trained, which proved as useless as a measure of success as body counts had in Vietnam). And a majority of the American people, which grew larger by the day, wanted us to get out.

I had been advocating for a counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq since August 2003. I had lost all confidence in Secretary Rumsfeld’s willingness to change what clearly wasn’t working, and I said so. To my and many others’ relief, President Bush asked for his resignation in November 2006. Knowing the President was actively considering the idea, I had urged for months that we surge thousands more troops to Iraq. I knew it was a decision that some officials in his administration opposed, that Democrats and more than a few Republicans would strongly criticize, and that most of the American people would not agree with. They had already punished Republicans for Iraq in the 2006 midterm election. They would likely want to rebuke us again in 2008, and that probability would loom larger as casualties spiked in the first months of the surge.

President Bush knew all this as well or better than I did. Good man that he is, I knew he was deeply pained by the loss of Americans he had sent to Iraq. He knew that if he decided to order the surge the situation would get worse and more Americans would die before it got better. He knew there was no guarantee it would succeed.

We had gone into Iraq based on faulty intelligence about weapons of mass destruction, and destroyed the odious Saddam Hussein regime. Bad tactics, a flawed strategy, and bad leadership in the highest ranks of uniformed and civilian defense leadership had allowed violent forces unleashed by Saddam’s destruction to turn Iraq into hell on earth, and threaten the stability of the Middle East. The situation was dire, and the price that we had already paid in blood and treasure was clear. But we had a lot at stake and we had a responsibility to attempt one last, extremely difficult effort to turn it around, to test whether a genuine counterinsurgency could avert defeat. The President chose to do the right thing, and the hardest. I imagine it was a lonely, painful experience for him, and I admired his resolve. I admired also his choice to lead the effort, General David Petraeus.

I believed that we should have responded to the insurgency at its inception, and I was increasingly convinced with every month that followed that only a full-fledged counterinsurgency, with all the force it required, had any chance for winning the war. But I didn’t know in late 2006 whether or not the situation was too far gone to salvage. Advisors whose counsel I trusted believed it still could be won. General Petraeus believed it could be. But none of us felt as confident about the outcome as we would have liked, and we knew most Americans believed we were wrong.

Five additional Army brigades were deployed to lraq, and Marine and Army units already in country had their tours extended, providing just enough force to support a counterinsurgency. The numbers of Americans killed or wounded in the first months of 2007 increased substantially, as additional forces arrived and fought to take back territory from Sunni insurgents and Shia militias. For the first time in the war on a large scale, they held the ground they took and provided security for the affected populations. The spike in casualties was expected, but it was hard not to worry you were needlessly sending young kids to their death in a war that had been a mistake. You couldn’t help but wonder if maybe the best thing now was to cut our losses. But I believed our defeat would be catastrophic for the Middle East and our security interests there as terrorists and Tehran gained power and prestige at our expense. And I was worried about the humanitairian implications of our withdrawal, fearing that the raging sectarian war might descend into genocide. Of course, if the surge failed, there would be nothing we could realistically do to prevent that defeat or prevent history and our own consciences from damning us for having made this last, costly effort.

So, as I considered what to do about my campaign, I did so recognizing that I would be spending more time and energy focusing on the issue that was likely to cost me votes. Nowhere was that likelier to be the case than in my favorite state after Arizona, New Hampshire, scene of my 2000 landslide win. In the 2006 election, Democrats had swept almost every state and federal contest in New Hampshire, a Republican wipeout blamed on voters’ deep dissatisfaction with the war. There was no credible scenario in which I could win the nomination without winning the New Hampshire primary, as I had in 2000. And even Granite State voters who had supported me seven years before and who still liked me were not pleased with my support for the war. It was increasingly apparent that many of them would express their displeasure by voting for a candidate other than me.

Anxious about the surge, upset with the state of my campaign, increasingly aware of the extent of the challenge before me, I was in a bad frame of mind that summer. My uncertainty about what to do only aggravated my condition. There have been very few times in my life when I have felt I might be in a predicament that I could not eventually escape. But I had serious doubts that I could win an election and maintain my position on Iraq. In fact, I was beginning to ask myself if I should even be trying. And that was my attitude as I departed with my friend Senator Lindsey Graham for a long-scheduled trip to Iraq, leaving decisions about how to repair my campaign or even whether to continue it for my return.

On the flight over I confided to Lindsey my unhappiness with the campaign, and we discussed what I ought to do about it. I told him I was leaning toward getting out of the race. I wasn’t sure I could win. I wasn’t sure I wanted it badly enough to do what I had to do to win. We were broke. Unlike our merry little band of insurgents in 2000, factions had formed in the campaign, and they were sniping at each other in the press. Old friendships were becoming rivalries. It was an increasingly joyless experience, and I had begun to worry that it would ultimately prove pointless. Lindsey thought it was salvageable, that we could downsize, and fight more like a challenger than a front-runner. If nothing else, that would feel more natural to me. But I was skeptical. I would need to raise a lot more money to run any kind of serious campaign, and that would get harder, not easier, as donors saw us cutting payroll, shedding talented staff, and closing state offices six months before the lowa caucuses. We were about to become in the eyes of the press and donors the first casualty of the 2008 Republican nomination race.

The worst violence had started to subside by the time of our July visit to Baghdad, which strengthened our faith that the surge could succeed. Casualties had peaked in May. The number of killed and wounded declined every month thereafter. General Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker and their staffs briefed us on the military and political gains that had been made since our last visit. We could see for ourselves that things were improving. There were visible signs of progress almost everywhere in Baghdad. Dangerous neighborhoods had been quieted, commercial activity was resuming. There wasn’t enough progress to convince you that victory was assured. Far from it. But it was enough to think that maybe, to quote Churchill, we were at the end of the beginning. I was more hopeful that the decision I had long advocated would not end up sacrificing the lives ransomed to it in a failed effort to rescue an already lost cause.

The experience that made the biggest impression on me was a ceremonial one. General Petraeus had asked us to participate in an Independence Day event at Saddam’s al-Faw Palace at Camp Victory that included the reenlistment of over 600 soldiers and the naturalization of 161 soldiers, mostly Hispanic immigrants, who had risked life and limb for the United States while they waited to become citizens. Some of these soldiers, the reenlisted and the newly naturalized, were on their second and third combat tours. Some of them had just had their current tour extended. Most were kids, of course, and some of them had spent two or three years of their short lives living with fear and fatigue, cruelty and confusion, and all the other dehumanizing effects of war. They had seen friends killed and wounded. Some had been wounded themselves. They had seen firsthand the failed strategy that had allowed the insurgency to gain strength, and had risked their lives to reinforce what they knew was a mistake. They had retaken the same real estate over and over again. They had conducted raids night after night looking for insurgents and caches of arms. They had been shot at by snipers and blasted by IEDs, and buried friends who hadn’t survived the encounters, while month after month the situation got worse. And here they were, re-upping again, choosing to stay in harm’s way. Most of them, it appeared, were excited to be finally doing something that made sense, taking and holding ground, protecting and earning the trust of the locals. Lindsey and I spoke at the ceremony. We were awed by them. It was hard to keep our composure while witnessing that kind of courage and selfless devotion to duty. And it was all the harder after General Petraeus recognized the sacrifice made by two soldiers who had planned to become naturalized citizens at the ceremony, and were now represented by two pairs of boots on two chairs, having been killed in action two days before. “They died serving a country that was not yet theirs,” Petraeus observed.

I wasn’t the only person there with a lump in his throat and eyes brimming with tears. I wish every American who out of ignorance or worse curses immigrants as criminals or a drain on the country’s resources or a threat to our “culture” could have been there. I would like them to know that immigrants, many of them having entered the country illegally, are making sacrifices for Americans that many Americans would not make for them.

The ceremony was one of the most inspirational displays of genuine loyalty to country and comrades I’d ever witnessed, and I’ll never forget it. On our return flight, Lindsey and I again discussed my political predicament and what to do about it. But I had decided before we boarded the flight that whatever I was risking by remaining a candidate, which wasn’t much more than embarrassment, it was nothing compared to what those kids were risking and the cause they were fighting for. I decided to stay in the race.

We had to downsize substantially. Many staffers left of their own accord and others involuntarily. We closed our operations in a number of states.

We borrowed money to keep the thing going. We developed a “living off the land” strategy that relied on debates and other free media opportunities to get out our message. We couldn’t afford to pay to advertise. And we had to adjust our expectations accordingly. I wasn’t able to run campaign operations with paid staff in as many primaries and caucuses as we had planned. We were going to have to downplay our involvement in the Iowa caucuses, as we had eight years before, and bet it all on New Hampshire again. We would be active in the states that immediately followed New Hampshire, Michigan, which was Governor Romney’s native state, and South Carolina. We knew we would have to win at least one of those to have a decent shot at winning the Florida primary. Whoever won Florida would have the most momentum going into Super Tuesday, when twenty-one states would hold primaries or caucuses. But for all practical purposes it was New Hampshire or bust for us again. There wasn’t a way to win without it.

I made one other commitment. I wouldn’t just stand by my position on the surge, I would make it the centerpiece of our campaign, arguing for its necessity and predicting its success if sustained, a message that many New Hampshire voters did not welcome. I couldn’t win the nomination without winning New Hampshire. I probably couldn’t win New Hampshire if I continued to support the surge. But I was going to make defending the surge my principal message in New Hampshire. An underdog again.

My very first campaign stop after returning from Iraq was in Concord, New Hampshire, where I was scheduled to deliver a speech on Iraq. Before we left, I planned to speak in the Senate about the progress Lindsey and I had witnessed and the necessity of sustaining the surge beyond its difficult first months. Before the speech, in difficult conversations with senior staff, I ordered the downsizing that necessitated staff departures, provoked bitter feelings between former colleagues and angry recriminations in the press, and spawned hours of political prognostication that our campaign was for all practical purposes “a corpse” as my days as a front-runner came to an abrupt and messy end.

I didn’t have an elaborate response to the situation. Rick Davis, my campaign manager, was working on a plan to run a smaller campaign, and find the money for it. I decided the best thing I could do was to put my head down and plod through the next few weeks. I’d like to say I ignored the skepticism and mockery directed my way. But I heard it and read it and felt it. I didn’t like it but I didn’t let it intimidate me. I intended to go to New Hampshire and make my case to people I had a pretty good rapport with even if they were no longer supporting me. If they didn’t buy it, so be it. I wouldn’t be President. I don’t want this to sound flip because it’s not as if I didn’t want to win. I did. I’m a very competitive person. But I just decided that if I was likely to lose and was going to run anyway, I shouldn’t be afraid of losing. I had something to say. I thought it was important that I say it. And I would see the damn thing through.

On a Friday morning in July, I boarded a flight to New Hampshire at Reagan National Airport with my youngest son, Jimmy, a Marine, who was about to deploy on his first combat tour, and my administrative assistant and co-writer, Mark Salter. No other staff accompanied me. Flights to Manchester, New Hampshire, in primary season are usually crowded with Washington reporters. Press accounts quickly proliferated that I had been spotted in much reduced circumstances carrying my own bag to the gate. I had carried my own bag before then. I almost always carried it, as a matter of fact (although it was another thing I was accustomed to doing for myself that the Secret Service would eventually relieve me of). I didn’t care that reporters remarked on it. The image gave them a handy metaphor for our humbled campaign. I kind of liked it.

When we arrived at the venue in Concord, which if I remember correctly was hosted by the local Chamber of Commerce, the room was congested with reporters, including some of the most well known and respected in the country. I knew most of them, and I liked many of them. A half dozen TV cameras were there to record the moment. Although we had announced I would be making remarks about the situation in Iraq, reporters, seeing what they thought was the chaos and confusion that beset a campaign in its death throes, suspected or hoped that I would withdraw from the race then and there. They were like crows on a wire, watching the unfortunate roadkill breathe its last before they descended to scavenge the remains.

I made my speech. It wasn’t a memorable one, I’m afraid. But it did not include an announcement that l was ending my campaign. Professionals that they are, none of the reporters present betrayed their disappointment that they had been denied their deathbed scene. Most of them believed I was a ghost candidate, who would sooner or later realize that he was not part of this world any longer. For my part, I would stick to my scheduled appearances for the time being while we sorted through tough decisions we would have to make about strategy, staffing, and financing. The next morning, I held a town hall meeting at the American Legion post in Claremont. Most of the questions were about Iraq. Many of them were skeptical, and a few hostile.

On a summer night a month later, I was halfway through a town hall meeting in Wolfeboro, and had answered the usual questions about the war, federal spending, immigration, climate change, veterans care, questions I got at every event. Nothing out of the ordinary had yet occurred when a middle aged woman stood and gestured to the staffer holding the microphone. When he handed it to her she started speaking in a quiet voice. When you’ve done as many town halls as I have, you can tell in an instant the people who are used to questioning candidates and those who are uncomfortable with public attention. Lynne Savage, a special education assistant in the local school system, and a mother, was the latter. I sensed as I called on her that she had something to say that would affect me. I thought it might be a criticism. She was standing just a few feet from me. Shy but purposeful, she prefaced her question by recalling that during the Vietnam War she had “proudly worn a silver bracelet on her arm in support of a soldier who was fighting.” Then she got to her point. “Today, unfortunately I wear a black bracelet in memory of my son who lost his life in Baghdad.”

My first thought in the instant she uttered her statement was that she would hold me responsible for her loss, and she would be right to do so. By my vote in support of the war and my support for the surge, I assumed a share of that responsibility, and a Gold Star mother was well within her rights to resent me for it. But she didn’t speak of resentment or accountability. She didn’t ask any questions about the war. She had only come to ask me if I would wear his bracelet, “so you could remember your mission and their mission in support of them.” The room was completely still. My emotions began to swell and I worried I would lose my composure. I managed to get out “I would be honored and grateful” before giving her a hug. “Don’t let his sacrifice be in vain,” she instructed me. I took the bracelet from her and read the name inscribed on it, Matthew Stanley. I asked how old Matthew had been. “Twenty-two,” she replied. “Twenty-two,” I repeated. My voice cracked a little as I thanked her for his service. All I could find the wit and will to say after that was, “Yes, ma’am, I will wear this. Thank you.”

Specialist Matthew Stanley was two months into his second tour in Iraq in December 2006 when an IED destroyed the Humvee he was in, killing him and four other soldiers. He was ten days shy of his twenty-third birthday and was still a newlywed, having married Amy the previous New Year’s Eve. I wore Matthew Stanley’s bracelet every day of the campaign, and I’ve worn it every day since. I’ll wear it for the rest of my life.

“Why not make a virtue of necessity?” Steve Schmidt, who was acting as a volunteer strategist for us, had proposed a few days before the Wolfeboro town hall. His pitch went something like this: You’re broke. You’re down in the polls. You’re not drawing crowds. The press has moved on. Why not get some of your POW buddies and other friends to travel with you while you hold small events all over New Hampshire, and make the case for the surge. Go to VFW and American Legion halls, to people’s backyards if you have to, and tell them you’re not quitting on the men and women we sent to fight for us in Iraq, even if it costs you the election. Voters like seeing politicians stick to their guns, especially if it looks like it’s going to cost them the election. Call it the “No Surrender Tour.”

It made sense to me. We began that September and traveled in vans and cars at first. Buses were expensive. Some of the earliest events were held in people’s homes, which weren’t exactly bursting with crowds of cheering people. I traveled with old pals from prison, Bud Day, Orson Swindle, and others, as well as my dearest friends in the Senate, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman. I got to say what I wanted to say, what I believed was important to say and true, ending every speech with what, depending on your point of view, was either a boast or a prediction: “I’d rather lose an election than see my country lose a war.”

Being an underdog with low expectations can be liberating and fun. The humor gets a little dark, but that’s often the most fortifying kind. I have a quote I jokingly attribute to Chairman Mao that I like to use in tough situations: “It’s always darkest before it’s completely black.” I remember Lindsey and I were excited when we arrived at a VFW hall one Friday night and found the place packed with people. “We must be catching on,” we congratulated ourselves, only to learn that it was fried fish night, an event so popular with the locals they were willing to put up with the annoyance of politicians interrupting their supper. We eventually got a bus, wrapped it in our new motto, “No Surrender,” and rolled along the highways of the Granite State, stumping for the surge and my struggling candidacy wherever we could find people to listen.

It worked. We slowly started to revive. The crowds grew modestly, my poll numbers improved slightly, and the press started paying a little more attention. I doubt reporters thought I was a serious contender for the nomination again, but they believed I might fight until the New Hampshire primary. I think most of them appreciated that I was a proven campaigner in New Hampshire. I also think most of them expected Governor Romney to win the expensive, labor intensive Iowa caucuses, and probably have enough momentum coming out of Iowa to beat me in New Hampshire, where he had a vacation home and was well known and liked.

A defeat in New Hampshire would surely force my exit from the race. We had to hit a triple bank shot to stay viable. I had to place respectably in Iowa without being seen to have made a major investment of time and money there. One of the other candidates had to win or come awfully close to winning Iowa so the press would declare Governor Romney had underperformed expectations. Then I had to win New Hampshire on the strength of a good grassroots organization, nostalgia for my 2000 campaign by independents who can vote in New Hampshire party primaries, respect for my open style of campaigning, taking all questions and abuse, and my willingness to tell people what they didn’t want to hear and still ask for their vote.

I like and respect Mitt Romney. I think he would have made a very good President. I liked him before we ran against each other and I liked him after we were finished running against each other. In between, I and my more demonstrative staffers worked up a little situational antipathy for the governor and his campaign. That’s natural, of course. Presidential campaigns are exhausting, stressful experiences, run on coffee, adrenaline, and fear, and when you need a little extra boost, resentment of your opponent can be a handy motivator. Mitt is an intelligent, accomplished, decent, convivial man, who is really good at raising money and looks like a movie star. Deep into the endless series of primary debates, I and the other candidates were looking a little worse for wear. Mitt always arrived looking as if he had just returned from a two week vacation at the beach, tanned, smiling, and utterly self-possessed. If you’re not constantly reminding yourself to behave like an adult, you might start getting a little pissed off at your opponent’s many fine attributes. That kind of childishness usually ends when the contest is over as it did with our campaigns. But when the game is on between very competitive people, something akin to trash talking to the press can happen, as was the case with us. Nothing below the belt, really, from either side, just jabs here and there, enough to make you want to, well, beat the other guy.

We had worked hard. We had a strategy we could afford. And we got lucky. Iowa worked out about as well as it could have under the circumstances. A late surging Governor Mike Huckabee, who had extensive support in Iowa’s evangelical community, the most influential and well represented bloc of Republican caucus voters, caught Mitt and a lot of the press if not by surprise (it was evident in the last rounds of polls) then unprepared for the magnitude of his victory. Huckabee ended up winning the thing by a nine point margin, which meant Mitt wouldn’t only be deprived of momentum coming out of Iowa, he would drop in the polls in reaction to the unexpected size of his defeat there. I had managed to come in a respectable fourth, only a couple hundred votes behind the third place finisher, my friend Fred Thompson. It’s all an expectations game. The press thought I hadn’t put in the time in Iowa and didn’t have a real organization there, but I had just enough of both to do well enough to avoid hurting myself in New Hampshire.

I wasn’t overconfident after learning the Iowa results, but I did think I was now the candidate to beat in the New Hampshire primary five days later. I had a small lead in most of the latest polls. Huckabee didn’t have much support there, but his win in Iowa had likely cost Mitt some of his support. So, as I heard the news from Iowa that night after finishing an event in New Hampshire, the guy who had come in fourth in a six-man field was, after the actual winner, the happiest candidate in the race.

I didn’t expect to win a blowout as I had in 2000. My lead in the latest polls was in the two to three point range, way too tight to get cocky. But I was confident enough to ignore my usual superstition about not discussing my primary-night speech before I knew whether we would celebrate a victory or concede a defeat. The victory I and just about everyone expected would be the biggest that night would likely belong to the candidate riding the most momentum out of Iowa and the biggest wave of enthusiasm. That was Senator Barack Obama, the eloquent newcomer to American politics, who had just defeated the front-runner, Hillary Clinton, in Iowa and given a victory speech that captured the imaginations of Americans who were tired of politics, including many first-time voters. He appeared unstoppable after Iowa. Everyone assumed he would win New Hampshire, too, and drive Hillary out of the race. I discussed with Davis, Salter, and Schmidt the right message for my speech that night, and we agreed I should begin by saluting Senator Obama’s historic achievement, and recognize what it meant to his supporters and to the entire country. I would also express my hope that should I be the Republican nominee, our contest would be conducted in a way that would impress Americans in both parties as respectful.

That sentiment wasn’t only a sincere wish for more civility in politics. The country wanted change. They wanted the biggest change they could get. Barack Obama was offering them change, and he had advantages I did not. He was not a member of the party in power, I was. He was young and cool and new to national politics. I was seventy one years old and had been a known commodity for some time, with a long record of votes and statements to criticize. He opposed the unpopular war in Iraq. I supported it. He would be the first African American to earn a major party’s presidential nomination. He represented change in his very person. I had to convince people I, too, was a change candidate. But the most effective means I had to convey that message was campaigning in ways that might appear novel and authentic to cynical voters. I intended to use my victory speech to start that effort.

When it became clear that night that I had managed a come-from-behind victory, beating Mitt by about five points, it was looking like Hillary might be doing the same. When the networks declared me the New Hampshire winner, the Democratic race was still too close to call, and we revised my speech accordingly. I began by noting I was too old to be called any kind of kid, “but we sure showed them what a comeback looks like.” I thanked the people of New Hampshire for hearing me out even when they disagreed with me. We were down in the polls and written off when we came here, I reminded them, “and we had just one strategy: to tell you what I believe.”

Unable to congratulate the winner of the Democrats’ primary, I paid my respects to the supporters of all the candidates, Republicans and Democrats, who “worked for a cause they believe is good for the country we all love.”

We had a long way to go. The Michigan primary was a little more than a week away. Mitt would be hard to beat there. South Carolina would be a close contest between Huckabee, Fred Thompson, and me. I needed to win one of them to continue. Winning both would be preferable, but South Carolina, the place where my rocket ride out of New Hampshire in 2000 crashed, loomed larger. Eight years before, I had stood on the steps of the Bedford, New Hampshire, town hall the night before the primary and looked out on a sea of faces. There were people crowding the streets and intersection, extending several blocks. It was thrilling, and I knew I was on the cusp of my biggest political triumph. It remains to this day my favorite campaign memory.

My 2008 primary win was not as heady as our victory in 2000. But I was deeply touched by it, and have had ever since a special affection for the proud voters in the first-in-the-nation primary. “These people have been so good to us,” I told Cindy that night. “I owe them so much.”

The next day, somewhere in Iraq’s Anbar Province, my son Jimmy helped dig an MRAP, a heavily armored personnel carrier, out of the mud in a wadi that had flooded in a downpour. He was knee-deep in the muck working a shovel, and sweating in the oppressive heat, when his sergeant walked over to him.

“McCain.”

“Yes, Sergeant.”

“Your dad won New Hampshire.”

“Did he?”

“Yeah, keep digging.”

“Yes, Sergeant.”

I laughed when Jimmy recounted the exchange for me when we were reunited some months later, and I laugh every time I retell it to friends. But as I have remembered it in the years that followed, and remembered, too, my worry then that my ambitions had exposed my youngest son to even greater danger, I’m moved to tears.

CHAPTER TWO

Country First

I RECEIVED A DECENT BUMP in the national polls following my New Hampshire win, and our fund raising picked up, although we still had to pay off the bank loan we borrowed in the summer to keep the campaign running. National polling leads can create a false impression that someone is a front-runner. We don’t have national primaries. The next contest was in Michigan on January 15, and Mitt and I were running neck and neck there. Michigan wasn’t do-or-die for me, but it was for Mitt. Huckabee and I had split the first two contests. Mitt had to get into the picture now or risk being written off by reporters and donors. South Carolina was four days after Michigan, and Mitt wasn’t competing there. I saw the chance to finish him off and secure a nearly invincible position by winning Michigan and beating Huckabee and Fred Thompson in South Carolina. I had upset George Bush in the 2000 Michigan primary, and believed I had a good feel for campaign…..


from

THE RESTLESS WAVE. Good Times, Just Causes, Great Fights and Other Appreciations

by John McCain

get it at Amazon.com

Anatomy of Failure. Why America loses every war it starts – Harlan K. Ullman.

Entertaining the troops under the doubtful assumption that it will raise morale seems to be part of every war we fight.

Since the end of World War II, America lost every war it started and failed in military interventions when it did not use sound strategic thinking or have sufficient knowledge and understanding of the circumstances in deciding to use force.

The public and politicians need to understand why we have often failed in using military force and the causes. From that understanding, hopefully future administrations will be better prepared when considering the most vexing decision to employ force and send Americans into battle.

The twin causes have been the failure to think strategically and to have sufficient knowledge and understanding when deciding on the use of force.

Interestingly, this failure applies to republicans and democrats alike and seems inherent in our national DNA as we continue ignore past mistakes.

By examining the records of presidents from John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama in using force or starting wars, it becomes self-evident why we fail. And the argument is reinforced by autobiographical vignettes that provide a human dimension and insight into the reasons for failure, in some cases making public previously unknown history.

The recommendations and solutions offered in Anatomy of Failure begin with a framework for a brains based approach to strategic thinking and then address specific bureaucratic, political, organizational and cultural deficiencies that have reinforced this propensity for failure.

The clarion call of the book is that both a sound strategic framework and sufficient knowledge and understanding of the circumstance that may lead to using force are vital. Without them, failure is virtually guaranteed.

Preface

Since the official end of the Cold War in 1991, remarkably, the United States has been at war or engaged in significant military conflicts and interventions for over two-thirds of the intervening years. Tens of thousands of American Soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen have been killed or wounded in these conflicts. Wars and conflicts in Iraq in 1991; Somalia, 1992-93; the global war on terror, and Afghanistan, 2001-present; Iraq, 2003-present; and Syria and Yemen since 2016 represent a total of nineteen of the past twenty-six years in which this nation’s armed forces have been engaged in combat!

Using the end of World War II in 1945 as a second starting point and including the Korean (1950-53) and Vietnam Wars (from 1959-when the first Americans were killed-to withdrawal in 1974), Americans have been in battle for thirty-seven of the past seventy-two years, or well over 50 percent of the time. The record has not been impressive. Korea was a draw. Vietnam was an ignominious defeat, vividly encapsulated by the poignant image of the last Huey helicopter lifting off the roof of the embattled American embassy in Saigon.

The only outright victory of the past six decades was the first Iraq War in 1991, in which President George H. W. Bush had the sound judgment to limit the objective to ejecting Saddam Hussein and his army from Kuwait and then to withdraw the bulk of our forces from the region.

Tragically for the nation, Bush’s son, George W. Bush, presided over arguably the greatest American strategic catastrophe since the Civil War, the second Iraq war, a conflict that led to the rise of the Islamic State and is still being waged today, without an end in sight.

The reader can evaluate the outcomes of the other interventions cited above.

Several observations that can be made about this history of repeated failure are almost as dismal the record itself.

First, few Americans are even aware of or concerned over how long this nation has been engaged in armed conflict over recent decades. It is quite a staggering length of time for a country that prides itself on its “exceptionalism” and its “peaceful” efforts to spread democracy around the globe.

Second, few Americans even ask why, given what we believe is the greatest military in the world, our record in war and military interventions is so failure prone. Third, we ourselves must ask: What can be done, in light of general public indifference, to ensure success whenever the nation employs military force in major conflicts or interventions?

This book examines the more significant American uses of force over the past six decades to understand why we lose wars (and fail in interventions) that we start. It also argues the absolute need to adopt a valid framework for making decisions, what I have termed a “brains-based approach to strategic thinking.”

While some may regard this term as arrogant, the fact is that too often we have failed to exercise fully the grey matter between our ears, with disastrous results.

To succeed, sound strategic thinking must transcend or minimize the vagaries of politics, ideologies, simplistic campaign slogans, wishful ideas, and the inexperience that have (as the forthcoming chapters will argue) handicapped the nation’s last three commanders in chief and almost certainly will affect the current one. From these analyses, the book derives means for how to win, how to succeed in applying force.

To make this argument more vivid, vignettes about major events are interspersed throughout the text. To some, they will be controversial. To others, these vignettes will underscore on a personal level the larger reasons for failure and the damning impact of the absence of sound strategic thinking. Each vignette is an accurate summary of actual events, to the best of my recollection. A few circumstances have been altered to protect sensitive information or sources.

As with any work, shortfalls and errors are the responsibility of the author alone. The only responsibility of the reader is to keep an open mind in understanding why we lose the very conflicts we start.

Harlan Ullman

Washington, D.C. September 30, 2016

Introduction

A Simple Truth Shaped By Moments of War

Presidents, politicians, and publics have failed to grasp this simple truth: for more than half a century, America has lost every war it has started. Likewise, America has also failed in military interventions it has initiated, interventions undertaken for reasons that turned out to be misinformed, contrived, baseless, ignorant, or just wrong.

In extreme humanitarian crises, especially those involving genocide and mass slaughter of innocents, decisions over whether or not to intervene with military force rather than with only aid and assistance are agonizing. More often than not, such humanitarian interventions bring temporary, not long-term solutions -the relief of the Kurds in northern Iraq in 1991 and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)’s ultimate engagement in the Balkan wars of the 1990s being notable exceptions.

Tragically, intervention for the right reasons may still fail. Somalia in the early 1990s and, particularly, Libya in 2011 are poignant examples of failure. In some cases, administrations see no choice except to intervene, regardless of risk and the unlikelihood of success. In others, such as the catastrophe now enveloping Syria, all the options range between bad and worse.

When examined critically, objectively, and dispassionately, the reasons and factors that have led to failure in applying military force are self-evident and unarguable. However, too often we are blind to or dismissive of these realities. Vietnam and Iraq (after the 2003 invasion) are the clearest and most damning examples of failed military interventions. Afghanistan is almost certainly going to follow suit, and it is a war in which the United States has been engaged for more than three and a half decades.

Yet, the proposition that wars we start, we lose has been ignored by a succession of presidents of both parties and, for far too many decades, by the American public, especially following the great victories of World War ll and the Cold War. “War” in this book is defined as the use of military force in a major conflict, not metaphorical declarations of war against inanimate enemies, such as drugs, crime, poverty, and other social ills, “wars” that, by the way, have also failed, particularly the ill-named “global war on terror.”

The purposes of this book are to alert future leaders and publics: to inform them about disastrous wars of the recent past started by us and to propose solutions and actions to prevent such failures from recurring, or to minimize the consequences, through sounder strategic thinking. Where the use of force went badly awry, it was through the failure of decision makers, who allowed unsound and flawed strategic thinking to drive bad decisions.

*

This book has its origins in the Vietnam War, in 1965. I was serving as a Swift Boat skipper in the northernmost part of the Republic of South Vietnam. Over time (I was there from 1965 to 1967), even a junior naval officer could not ignore the recurring displays of arrogance, naiveté, ignorance, ineptitude, and incompetence by the senior American political and military leadership in waging that conflict. Despite the heroism and commitment of those who fought and died in Vietnam, the war, like most wars, would have been tragicomic in its idiocies and irrationalities had it not been so deadly serious.

And have no doubt: America started this war, which would turn into a quagmire.

The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, passed two votes short of unanimously in both houses of Congress in August 1964, gave three presidents virtual blank checks to wage war in Vietnam. Tragically, that authority was based on the utterly false premise that Hanoi had purposely ordered two separate attacks on American destroyers in international waters off the coast of North Vietnam, the second of which never occurred.

Battlefield tactics exploiting the massive American superiority in firepower and mobility became surrogates for strategy in Vietnam. This confusion of ends and means had fatal consequences. One was excessive reliance on numerical and quantitative measures to rationalize the tactics. This circular logic was manifest in the perverse establishment of “body count,” which became the metric of success. Because the numbers of enemy dead showed we were winning, then ipso facto, we had to be winning.

The year 1965 begins my chronicle for understanding and identifying the anatomy of failure. Like many of the millions of Americans who served in or during the lengthy Vietnam War, I was particularly affected by certain events. Three dramatize on a personal level how and why we lost in Vietnam and too often would make similarly grave errors in the future. Each demonstrates the folly of using force without understanding the interplay of ends and means or applying sound strategic thinking, failures that guarantee defeat. Of course, they also illustrate how all wars reflect human weaknesses and unintended consequences.

The first incident demonstrates that wars cannot be successfully waged in isolation or in compartmentalized fashion by individual services and agencies. The absence of coordination is inexcusable and ultimately proves fatal. The second underscores the huge gap that often exists between those on the front lines and the politicians and commanders hundreds or thousands of miles away. (It also reinforces the Napoleonic axiom that luck matters.) The third and final vignette is the most powerful:

When ends and means are not related owing to flawed strategic thinking and fallacious reasons for having gone to war in the first place, the effort will become morally and politically corrupt.

In 1965, the Vietnam War was escalating, and the Navy called for volunteers to serve in Southeast Asia. The Navy, engaged in the air battle over the North and uncertain how it would join the ground war and the fight in the rivers and offshore in the South, began with a modest (and largely pointless) operation to stop North Vietnam from infiltrating arms and men by sea. The intent of what was called Operation Market Time was to monitor the coasts of South Vietnam with a combination of maritime aircraft, warships, and small patrol craft called “Swift Boats.” Swift Boats were fiftyfoot foot aluminum-hulled craft designed by Sewart Seacraft for servicing oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, especially in rough weather. Powered by two Cummins diesel engines, a Swift Boat could make thirty knots in average or better sea conditions.

Swifts carried twin .50-caliber machine guns in a forward mount above the pilothouse; an “over and under” 81-mm (three-inch) mortar that could fire an explosive round about two thousand yards; and a third .50-caliber machine gun mounted above the mortar tube. The crew was equipped with AR-15 automatic rifles, 79-mm grenade launchers, and other small arms. The aluminum skin barely kept out the sea, let alone enemy bullets and shrapnel. Crews were usually five or six, or larger, depending on the mission.

The flaw in this strategy was that North Vietnam already had an effective logistical land route to the South, called the Ho Chi Minh Trail. This trail, deep in the interior of Southeast Asia, did not need seaborne routes. But the Navy was anxious to get its share of the action, even though there was little action to be had.

My very modest training at the naval base in Coronado, California, included a superficial course in Vietnamese culture, a course that in my case had only one high point, a lecture by retired Army lieutenant colonel John Paul Vann. Vann was an extremely controversial former officer who later became the de facto commander of Vietnam’s II Corps area (the Central Highlands, north of Saigon) and the only civilian to be awarded a Distinguished Service Cross for gallantry during the 1972 Easter Offensive. Vann was to be killed in June 1972, when his helicopter smashed into trees on a night flight in II Corps.

At this training session, Vann described the North Vietnamese and Vietcong in glowing terms and disparaged our South Vietnamese allies. When asked why he regarded the enemy so highly and our allies so poorly, he hesitated for a moment and replied, “I guess God put all the good guys on the other side.”

Classroom instruction was followed by SERE training (survival, evasion, resistance, and escape) in freezing temperatures high in California’s mountains, ideal preparation for the heat and jungles of Vietnam. After that, several Swift Boat crews, including mine, boarded chartered civil airliners at Travis Air Force Base, outside San Francisco, for the long transpacific flight to the Tan Son Nhut air base, near Saigon, Republic of South Vietnam. But it did not happen that way.

Arriving at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines, expecting to continue on, we were notified that our tickets ended there. Despite Priority One flight status and what we were told was an immediate operational requirement to get us in-country “pronto,” no one had bothered to book us on the next leg, to Saigon. Neither begging nor strong language had any effect. At best, the Air Force could get us to Saigon in about two weeks, following the airlift of a huge USO (United Services Organization) entourage of Hollywood and other celebrities and noncombatant personnel. (Entertaining the troops under the doubtful assumption that it will raise morale seems to be part of every war we fight.) Even worse, the bachelor officer and enlisted quarters at Clark were full up, there was no room at the inn.

“Where the hell do you expect four Swift Boat crews to stay, in tents on the parade field?” the exasperated officer in charge, me, asked a nonplussed and slightly disoriented airman.

“Oh no, by far the best place and much better than here on the base is the nicest whore house in Angeles City,” called the House of the Angels. And that is where we went, cooling our heels, if that was the appropriate phrase. While we tried our best to get to the war, persistently harassing the ticketing office to move up our flights, the crews were not enthusiastic about advancing our departure date. The rooms were quite comfortable, and unlike in the BOQs (bachelor officer quarters), their air conditioning worked. Food was good, beer and booze were plentiful and cheap, and sailors were not bored by their accommodations. With no direct means to contact naval headquarters in Saigon, we were stuck at Clark.

One of the few recreations at Clark was the Officers’ Club. There, I fell into the clutches of Air Force F-4 Phantom fighter pilots on rest and recreation (“R & R”) from the 389th Tactical Fighter Squadron, stationed at Phan Rang in South Vietnam.

As we Swifties had the inside track on the local scene, given our billets, a half dozen or more of the pilots joined me in a tour of Angeles City. The pilots had been flying missions in-country for about two or three months. As Americans tried to be in those days, each was overly aggressive and anxious to get back “into the fight.” After some hard drinking, the entourage returned to the Clark Officers’ Club, where there were two bars. The downstairs bar was entered “at one’s own risk” and was not too different from some of the joints in Angeles City. At some stage, an altercation broke out between one of the Air Force pilots and a Marine.

When the scrape was broken up, the Marine was quick to disappear and the Air Force pilots were escorted out of the bar by a bevy of large bouncers. The pilots were not happy with their dismissal and tried to reenter the bar forcibly. Fights broke out with the club bouncers. The Air Police were summoned. Being slightly more sober than my comrades, I attempted to separate the combatants. The APs arrived. Bad language led to a further exchange of blows, and a three-way donnybrook broke out among the Air Police, the bouncers, and the pilots. The APs and bouncers outnumbered the pilots and manhandled each of them, one by one, into the waiting paddy wagon. Realizing this would not be good for my new friends, I demanded that the senior airman summon the officer in charge.

Though I was seemingly coherent, and wearing a Navy tropical white uniform that was not commonplace on an Air Force base, the young Air Police officer in charge was confused. Exploiting that confusion, I invented an outrageous story about how these pilots were soon off on a highly classified, above-top-secret, extremely hazardous mission over North Vietnam. This could be their last fling, so to speak. That was the soft sell. For the hard sell, I, as a representative of Gen. Marmaduke Smedley, had the authority to place everyone in custody if need be.

The “we who are about to die” line may or may not have worked. But the threat of awakening the general with such a bizarre name (the first to come to mind) surely did. Fumbling to find the imaginary phone number in the right pocket of my tropical white shirt, I said, “Here’s the general’s personal phone number. He will not like being disturbed this late.” Whether the young officer believed me or not, he chose leniency rather than the threatened wrath of my general. The officers were released -and, being young and dismissive of authority, waited only a few minutes before reentering the bar. This time they were on their own.

(I later exchanged very occasional letters with one of them. Thirty-five years later, long after I’d forgotten the incident, that pilot, then 1st Lt. Gene Quick, turned up in Washington and called. We arranged a get-together, and after Gene and his wife arrived, he got around to telling the story. My wife was disbelieving. Yet I suspect some elements were true. Welcome to Vietnam, almost.)

After much pleading and begging, finally we were airborne, landing at Saigon’s Tan Son Nhut air base ten days late. It was 3 am, and Vietcong mortars were peppering the field, already illuminated with star shells. Our only orders were to call “Tiger 345,” headquarters of Commander, Naval Forces Vietnam, on an antiquated field phone. The other two hundred or so passengers were quickly collected and hustled away to safety. We remained huddled in the empty hangar, hungry, frightened, and tired, listening to mortars exploding nearby and automatic weapons occasionally firing while I cranked on the phone, which was straight from a World War II movie, desperately trying to reach Tiger 345.

Wars in those days were obviously fought, in Saigon, on an eight-to-five basis. Thus, there was no answer from Tiger 345 until well after the sun had risen and the mortar attacks had subsided. A soft, female Vietnamese voice answered the phone. The way she pronounced “Tiger 345,” with both a Vietnamese and English lilt, is etched into my memory. An hour later a dilapidated yellow school bus arrived, with mesh wiring over the windows to prevent someone from lobbing a hand grenade or Molotov cocktail into the ancient vehicle.

The briefings in Saigon were as useful as our SERE training had been. Soon we were flying north to “I Corps” (that is, the zone assigned to the South Vietnamese army’s I Corps, the northernmost of four) in Da Nang and PCF Division 101. All of us were new to Vietnam and to war. We officers were young, arrogant, invulnerable (we foolishly thought) to the enemy, and thoroughly inexperienced and unprepared for war.

*

The first of my three vignettes was an incident that occurred on the evening of August 10-11, 1966. Three Swift Boats and four crews had been detached to a small base just inside the mouth of the Cua Viet River in the northernmost reaches of I Corps, almost in the shadow of the Demilitarized Zone separating the South and North. A Vietnamese junk base located a few kilometers away was supposed to provide some security. But the most worrisome part of a generally defenseless position was that we were colocated with the U.S. Marine Corps’ largest fuel depot of petroleum, oil, and lubricants (collectively called POL) in that part of the country, protected by an understrength guard unit.

Had a North Vietnamese or Vietcong rocket hit the fuel dump, the smoke, we joked, would have been visible in San Francisco. Still, despite the presence of local enemy units, no one in the chain of command seemed particularly worried about security. There was very little boat or junk traffic in the canals or to seaward on the ocean. As officer in charge, I dedicated one boat to “over-watch” duty, patrolling at night a few hundred yards from the base as added security. Its task was to detect any infiltration against either our undefended base or the vulnerable POL site and, if necessary, shoot on sight.

On that night, our boat drew over-watch duty. The only radar contacts were two U.S. Coast Guard WPBs -eighty-two-foot-long cutters-also on patrol. Around midnight, two jets overflew us. These could only be American, as the North Vietnamese air force never ventured south. Moments later, fire erupted in the vicinity of one of the WPBs. It appeared that the jets were strafing the boat-USCGC Point Welcome.

Knowing these were not North Vietnamese fighters, we rang up flank speed and closed the cutter. We arrived too late. Two Air Force B-57 Canberra bombers had, incredibly, mistaken Point Welcome for an enemy PT boat and made several strafing runs. The skipper, Lt. David Brostrom, had been killed while heroically shining a searchlight on the cutter’s U.S. ensign, hoping the aircraft would see it. A second crewman, Engineman Second Class Jerry Phillips, had also been killed.

We began picking up survivors who had jumped overboard. Meanwhile, our Vietnamese allies ashore had seen the attacks and, thinking we were the enemy, began firing at us with .30 and .50 caliber weapons. Fortunately, and courageously, Coast Guard chief petty officer Richard Patterson had taken command and fought to save Point Welcome, managing to turn on enough lights to convince our allies to stop shooting. A second WPB joined us in dealing with wounded.

Charges were filed against the Air Force pilots. “Friendly fire” was unfortunately the rule, not the exception, and virtually no coordination existed between the different services operating in the region. The Air Force needed pilots, and the charges disappeared. Other friendly-fire incidents occurred, particularly ashore. Miraculously, no one among our crews was killed or wounded by friendly fire during my tour, either at sea or operating close ashore (although I was almost sunk by a misdirected broadside fired, ironically, from the destroyer USS Uhlmann).

Thirty-one years, to the month, after the Point Welcome tragedy, a very close American friend living in England arrived in Washington with combat photographer Tim Page. They were in town for the CNN/Newseum salute, a huge exhibit, to photojournalists on both sides who died during the Vietnam War.

Over dinner and drinks, Tim, inquiring about my time in Vietnam, asked what had been my most harrowing experience. I recounted a summary of the Point Welcome episode. Page’s face went ashen. “Tim, are you all right?” my friend asked worriedly. Page remained stunned for a moment. Recovering slightly, he looked at me and asked, with emotion, “Did your crew wear red ball caps?”

I looked at him askance. “I beg your pardon?”

“Yes,” he replied, his color returning. “Red ball caps. And didn’t you go by the call sign ‘Red . . .’ something or other?”

“Ah yes, Red Baron . . I said, and then I was speechless. “Yes, Tim, I did, and l was.”

Tears running down his cheeks, he said in a voice filled with awe, “You saved my life! I was aboard Point Welcome.”

As with Gene Quick, sometimes events catch up with you. The larger failure was clear even to a young “jaygee.” Vietnam was fought as three or four separate wars by at least four different armies and air forces and operational commanders. Coordination was avoided by setting geographic boundaries to prevent or reduce friendly fire, rather than addressed by operational requirements. The Central Intelligence Agency further confused coordination. Throughout the country, the agency maintained a separate air force and paramilitary ground forces, as well as a small contingent of patrol boats, operating out of Da Nang.

A subset of the lack of coordination and command was the absence of fire discipline, exacerbated by a gross excess of available firepower. The body count became the metric for success and, too often, the basis for medals and good fitness reports. Aggressiveness was the order of the day. Hence, Air Force pilots were incentivized to mistake Point Welcome for a North Vietnamese PT boat even though none ever ventured south. “Shoot first” may not have been the explicit order of the day, but few units acted otherwise.

The lack of jointness and of a single, integrated operational chain of command would be addressed twenty years later with the Goldwater-Nichols Act, passed in 1986. However, integration of all crossagency capabilities in what would be called a “whole-of-government approach” still has not been fully addressed. Future failures would arise in the Afghan and second Iraq interventions, where underresourced civilian agencies were unable to deal fully with the “What next?” questions involved in bringing stability and security to those regions. “Stovepiping” of departments and agencies still persists, limiting the effectiveness of U.S. policies when all arms of government are vital to success.

*

The second vignette was an incident that spoiled Christmas Eve, 1966. A supposed truce was meant to halt fighting over Tet, the lunar new year, a well known Buddhist holiday coinciding with Christmas. The command in Saigon issued strict orders to return fire only when certain the enemy had fired first. But wars, especially this one, rarely celebrate holidays. We in the field knew that the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese army (NVA) had often disregarded truces and that we had to be prepared for any attack or probe, no matter the orders from Saigon. PCF Division 101 was based and housed on a floating barracks barge. The barge, an APL in Navy jargon, was anchored in Da Nang Harbor, about five hundred yards from the nearest shoreline.

*

from

Anatomy of Failure. Why America loses every war it starts

by Harlan K. Ullman

get it at Amazon.com

GUNS & BOMBS. Donald Trump’s hair-raising level of debt could bring us all crashing down – Ambrose Evans-Pritchard.

If there is such a thing as a capital crime in economics, it is Donald Trump’s exorbitant fiscal stimulus at the top of the cycle.

The effects are entirely pernicious. Such deficit spending at this juncture can only provoke a ferocious monetary response, threatening to bring the global expansion to a shuddering and climactic end sooner rather than later, and with particular violence.

Twin reports by the International Monetary Fund sketch a chain reaction of dangerous consequences for world finance.

The policy if, you can call it that, puts the US on an untenable debt trajectory. It smacks of Latin American caudillo populism, a Peronist contagion that threatens to destroy the moral foundations of the Great Republic.

The IMF’s Fiscal Monitor estimates that the US budget deficit will spike to 5.3 per cent of GDP this year and 5.9 per cent in 2019. This is happening at a stage of the economic cycle when swelling tax revenues should be reducing net borrowing to zero.

The deficit will still be 5 per cent in 2023. By then the ratio of public debt will have ballooned to 117 per cent (it was 61 per cent in 2007). Franklin Roosevelt defeated fascism with a total war economy at lower ratios.

The IMF does not take into account the near certainty of a global downturn at some point over the next five years. A deep recession would push the deficit into double digits, and send the debt ratio spiralling towards 140 per cent in short order.

There is no justification for Trump’s stimulus. The output gap has already closed. The fiscal “multiplier” is less than one. The US unemployment rate is approaching a 48-year low. The New York Fed’s “underlying inflation gauge” surged to 3.14 per cent in March, the highest since 2005.

As an aside, the IMF’s Fiscal Monitor noted that the lion’s share of Trump’s tax cuts go to the rich. The poorest two quintiles enjoy crumbs at first, but are ultimately left worse off.

He has betrayed the very descamisados who elected him. It is worth thumbing through the IMF’s Global Financial Stability Report for a glimpse of the gothic horror story that lies ahead of us.

”Term premiums could suddenly decompress, risk premiums could rise, and global financial conditions could tighten sharply. Although no major disruptions were reported during the episode of volatility in early February, market participants should not take too much comfort,” it said.

The report is a forensic study of hair-raising excess. The US stock market has broken with historic valuations and risen to 155 per cent of GDP, up from 95 per cent even in 2011. Margin debt on Wall Street the bellwether of speculation has rocketed to US$550 billion.

The Fund warned of “late-stage credit cycle dynamics” all too like 2007, and behaviour “reminiscent of past episodes of investor excesses? Leveraged loans in the US have doubled to USSl trillion since the pre-Lehman peak. There is a risk that defaults could spin out of control, leading to a complete “shutdown of the market”, with grave economic implications.

The shadiest “Cov-lite” loans made up 75 per cent of new loan issuance last year, with a deteriorating quality of covenant protection. This is a sure sign that debt markets are throwing caution to the wind. ”Embedded leverage” through derivatives has become endemic. US and European bond funds have raised their derivative leverage ratio from 215 per cent to 268 per cent of assets since 2014, with gross exposure reaching ”worrisome” levels. And so it goes on.

There are two elephants in the room. One is well-understood: the world is leveraged to the hilt.

“The combination of excessive public and private debt levels can be dangerous in the event of a downturn because it would prolong the ensuing recession,” said the Fund. It calculates that the global debt ratio has risen by 12 per cent of GDP since the last peak. The Bank for International Settlements thinks it is at least 40 per cent of GDP higher.

The point remains the same. Every region of the global economy has been drawn into the morass by the leakage effects of zero rates and quantitative easing, compounded by unrestricted capital flows.

The world is therefore ever more sensitive to rising borrowing costs. It lacks the fiscal buffers to cope with a shock. Countries may be forced into contractionary “pro-cyclical” policies, the fate of Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy in the EMU austerity tragedy. It may soon happen on a global scale.

The IMF says the interest rate burden as a share of tax revenues has doubled over the last 10 years for poorer countries, leaving them acutely vulnerable to “rollover” risks if liquidity dries up.

Private debt ratios in emerging markets have jumped from 60 per cent to 120 per cent in a decade.

The second elephant is global dollar debt. This is less understood. Offshore dollar debt has risen fourfold to US$16t since the early 2000s, or USS30t when equivalent derivatives are included. “The international dollar banking system faces a structural liquidity mismatch,” said the Fund.

The world has a vast “short position” on the dollar. This is harmless in good times but prone to a sudden margin call akin to late 2008 as the Fed raises rates and drains dollar liquidity.

Much of this lending is carried out by European and Japanese banks using short term instruments such as commercial paper and interbank deposits, leaving them “structurally vulnerable to liquidity risks”. French banks have shockingly low dollar liquidity ratios.

The IMF says markets should not be beguiled by the current calm in the currency swap markets, used to hedge this edifice of dollar lending. The so-called “cross-currency basis” can move suddenly. “Swap markets may not be a reliable backstop in periods of stress,” it said.

The Fund warned that banks may find that they cannot roll over short term dollarfunding currently taken for granted. “Banks could then act as an amplifier of market strains. Funding pressure could induce banks to shrink dollar lending to non-US borrowers. Ultimately, there is a risk that banks could default on their dollar obligations,” it said.

So there you have it. While the IMF is coy, the awful truth is that the world is just as vulnerable to a financial crisis as it was in 2007. The scale is now larger. The authorities have fewer safety buffers, and far less ammunition to fight a depression.

This time China cannot come to the rescue. It is itself the epicentre of risk.

The detonator for the denouement is selfevidently Fed tightening and should it ever happen a surging dollar.

Trump may have thought he was being clever in thinking that fiscal prime pumping this year and next would greatly help his re-election chances.

He may instead have brought forward global forces that he does not begin to understand, and guaranteed a frightening crisis under his own watch.

Powerless: How Lax Antitrust and Concentrated Market Power Rig the Economy Against Workers, Consumers, and Communities.

Marshall Steinbaum, Eric Harris Bernstein and John Sturm.

As workers, as consumers, and as citizens, Americans are increasingly powerless in today’s economy. A 40 year assault on antitrust and competition policy, the laws and regulations meant to guard against the concentration of power in private hands has tipped the economy in favor of powerful corporations and their shareholders. Under the false assumption that the unencumbered ambitions of private business will align with the public good, the pro-monopoly policies of the “Chicago School” of antitrust lurk behind today’s troubling trends: high profits, low corporate investment, rising markups, low wages, declining entrepreneurship, and lack of access to unbiased information. Market power and lax competition policy ensure our economy serves the few over the many.

In a new report, Marshall Steinbaum, Eric Harris Bernstein and John Sturm build on the growing progressive consensus that the economic threat of market power goes far beyond prices. The paper demonstrates the disastrous consequences that unrestrained market power has had on workers, communities, and democracy.

The authors begin by explaining the dangers of market power and the role of competition policy in maintaining a level playing field. They then outline how lax competition policy has handed incumbent corporations and their shareholders an unfair advantage and a more generous slice of the economic pie. They document the consolidation and exploitation of market power that has occurred in this environment and highlight key pieces of evidence that illustrate how weak competition is harming the economy, holding back new businesses, investment, wages, and growth.

The subsequent section reviews recent research that shows how concentrated corporate power impacts the everyday lives of Americans, surveying these effects through three lenses: the effects on consumers, on workers, and on society at large. In the final section, the authors propose policy remedies that could help rebuild inclusive growth, foster economic innovation, and restore an equitable economy that serves all of its stakeholders.


Executive Summary

As workers, as consumers, and as citizens, Americans are increasingly powerless in today’s society. Rhetoric extolling the virtues and power of free markets belie this fact, but instinctively, Americans understand that something is wrong:

The vast majority of Americans believe the economy is “rigged” in favor of corporations. And they are correct: A 40 year assault on antitrust and competition policy, the laws and regulations meant to guard against the concentration of power in private hands has helped tip the economy in favor of powerful corporations under the false pretense that the unencumbered ambitions of private business will align with the public good.

The single biggest problem with this simplistic view of “free” markets is that it ignores power dynamics and implies the existence of some natural state in which markets flourish without oversight.

In reality, no state of natural market equilibrium exists. Healthy markets depend on rules to create an equitable balance of market power between workers, consumers, and businesses. And when those rules skew the balance of power, markets favor the most powerful to the detriment of others.

In reality, firms use market power to extract from other participants rather than compete to create the best products. This not only hurts those targeted, but also results in less growth and innovation overall. Accordingly, while corporate profits have risen, wages and investment have stagnated; rather than investing in research and development (R&D) to generate innovative products, corporations have relied on lax merger regulation to buy out competitors, or they have employed a litany of anti competitive practices to prevent them from entering markets in the first place.

Knowing that consumers and workers have few alternatives, powerful corporations have jacked up prices and lowered wages. Additionally, in many instances, technological developments, free of regulatory oversight, have exacerbated these problems, allowing companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon to achieve market dominance by collecting reams of data and acting as an all knowing middleman between customers and upstream suppliers.

The pro monopoly ideology of the so called “Chicago School” lurks behind all of these trends, ceding already dominant incumbent firms and their shareholders more and more power that they can wield to their sole benefit and at the expense of society at large.

Although the evidence of rising market power and its impact on the economy are often found in broad economic data, the consequences of market power are anything but theoretical. From rising prices, to low wages, to the way we access information, market power and lax competition policy are entrenching the intrinsic advantages of wealth and power in society. Private interests increasingly determine access to critical goods and services, prioritizing privileged groups and thus exacerbating existing inequities of race, gender, and class.

In this paper, we provide evidence supporting our thesis, as well as illustrative examples of how this behavior has manifested itself in the lived experiences of regular Americans.

Finally, we discuss the antitrust reforms that can begin to rebalance the economy in favor of equity, inclusion, and democratic rule.

Introduction

In Massachusetts, a 19 year old is forced to forego her summer job as a camp counselor because of a non compete clause she unknowingly signed with a different summer camp the year before.‘

In Chicago, a 69 year old United Airlines passenger is beaten and forced off a plane for refusing to give up his seat to a United Airlines employee.

In Hedgesville, West Virginia, two parents overdose on heroin at their daughter’s softball practice. Like millions of Americans, they became addicted to opioids after being prescribed OxyContin, a painkiller manufactured and marketed under false pretenses by Purdue Pharmaceuticals. OxyContin part of a class of drugs responsible for 33,000 US. deaths in 2015, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (2016) has churned out $35 billion in revenue for Purdue. The company has yet to face legal repercussions.‘

Despite calls for disaster relief and gun control in the fall of 2017, as citizens in Puerto Rico were without water and electricity following the devastation of Hurricane Maria and the city of Las Vegas was reeling after yet another mass shooting, Congress’s attention was elsewhere: Heeding Wall Street lobbyists, the Senate voted to strip Americans of their right to hold banks and credit providers accountable for malfeasance.

As workers, as consumers, and as citizens, Americans are increasingly powerless in today’s society. Rhetoric extolling the virtues and power of free markets belie this fact, but instinctively, Americans understand that something is wrong: The vast majority of Americans believe the economy is “rigged” in favor of corporations, according to a poll by Edison Research (2016). And they are correct: A 40 year assault on antitrust and competition policy, the laws and regulations meant to guard against the concentration of power in private hands, has helped tip the economy in favor of powerful corporations and wealthy shareholders over regular Americans

Beginning in the 1970s, a concerted movement referred to as the “Chicago School” of antitrust beat back anti monopoly policy through like minded executive and judicial appointments, court rulings, and agency actions. The Chicago School argued that large corporations were large because they were efficient and because the free market incentivized them to operate in the best interest of consumers, If they didn’t, so the story went, then new entrants were always at hand to ensure the economy “naturally” served the broad public interest. Government action to break up or regulate corporations, the Chicago School argued, would only impede their efficiency or protect incumbents at the expense of entrants.

Under this regime, corporations and corporate conduct were presumed pro competitive, or economically efficient. Even for potentially anti competitive behavior, the burden of proof was raised high enough to forestall regulatory relief.

This created a dramatic departure from vigorous antitrust protections that helped make the United States the world’s most robust economy, and among the most equitable, during the postwar era. Prior to the 1970s, dating back to the age of Teddy Roosevelt and railroad robber barons, but especially after the late 1930s, regulators took an active role in ensuring equal footing for workers, consumers, and small businesses. Authorities blocked mergers that would result in dominant businesses, broke up monopolies, and closely regulated networked industries like telecommunications, banning restrictive contractual arrangements likely to benefit incumbents at the expense of consumers and new entrants. In combination with a comprehensive social safety net and powerful labor unions, antitrust protections fostered healthy competition in which firms could succeed only by offering valuable products at reasonable prices and by attracting good workers with fair wages; firms that failed to innovate or satisfy customers were out competed by new entrants. In this environment, wages and investment boomed and small businesses fueled strong employment.

In stark contrast, the results of the 40 year experiment in Chicago School antitrust have spelled disaster for the American workforce, middle class, and economy overall. While corporate profits have risen, wages and investment have stagnated.

A recent study by De Loecker and Eeckhout (2017) shows that average firm level markups, the amount charged over the cost of production, have more than tripled since 1980. And while waves of mergers have led to larger and more powerful corporations, small businesses form less often and struggle to survive. Recovery from the 2008 financial crisis hastened by government bailouts for those at the top has yet to benefit those at the middle and the bottom of income distribution.

The pro monopoly policies of the Chicago School lurk behind all of these trends, ceding already dominant incumbent firms and their shareholders more and more power that they can wield to their sole benefit and at the expense of society at large. Rather than investing in research and development (R&D) to generate innovative products, corporations have relied on lax merger regulation to buy out competitors, or they have employed a litany of anti competitive practices to prevent them from entering the market in the first place. Knowing that consumers and workers have few alternatives, powerful corporations have jacked up prices and lowered wages. In many instances, technological developments, free of regulatory oversight, have exacerbated these problems, allowing companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon to achieve market dominance by collecting reams of data and acting as an all knowing middleman between customers and upstream suppliers. When firms achieve such power, their incentive to produce better products and services disappears, and they act instead to maintain their market stranglehold by any means necessary.

We define “market power” as the ability to skew market outcomes in one’s own interest, without creating value or serving the public good.

We argue that market power, and the anti competitive behavior that it enables, is a negative sum game: Anti competitive economies, like the one we have today, produce fewer jobs at lower wages, with more expensive goods and less innovation. We aim to both document the rise of market power and illustrate how it has affected the day to day lives and general well being of American workers, consumers, and the productivity of the economy overall. In short, we show that Chicago School inspired deregulation has enabled the rich and powerful to profit by taking a larger share of the economic pie, rather than making the pie bigger by offering valuable products and services at better prices.

Increased market power of consolidated firms is especially threatening to marginalized communities, which tend to have the fewest alternatives to exploitative goods and services providers. ACA exchanges in large swathes of rural America have only one health insurance provider, and that provider is free to charge exorbitant rates. For many urban neighborhoods, gentrification is the only hope of attracting a decent broadband connection, in which case the threat of rising rent sours the payoff. In markets for labor, consumer goods, or financial services, the first victims of predatory practices are the most vulnerable, be they young people, women, or people of color.

The Chicago School has championed the benefits of “free markets” but has in fact worked to thwart them. Conflating power with freedom, the Reagan era ideology has used the free market as a rallying cry to justify policy changes that in reality benefit wealthy incumbent businesses at the expense of all others. This is the antithesis of the diffusion of economic power that is required to ensure that the economy rewards honest work, erodes privileged rent extraction in all of its forms, and ultimately operates in the public interest.

While professing to champion competition, the Chicago School has acted only to protect the unearned profits of monopolists while stifling entrepreneurship.

A recommitment to active antitrust policy is key not only to overturning the accumulations of wealth and power we see today, but also to reaping all of the societal benefits that come from undoing market power.

This report begins by explaining the dangers of market power and the role of competition policy in maintaining a level playing field. We then outline how lax competition policy has handed incumbent corporations and their shareholders an unfair advantage and a more generous slice of the economic pie. We document the consolidation and exploitation of market power that has occurred in this environment and highlight key pieces of evidence that illustrate how weak competition is harming the economy holding back new businesses, investment, wages, and growth. In the subsequent section, we review recent research that shows how concentrated corporate power impacts the everyday lives of Americans. We survey these effects through three lenses: the effects on consumers, on workers, and on society at large. In the final section, we discuss policy remedies that could help rebuild inclusive growth, foster economic innovation, and restore an equitable economy that serves all of its stakeholders.

SECTION ONE

The Theoretical and Institutional Background for Antitrust and Competition Policy

THE “FREE” MARKET IN THEORY

Market economies rest on the theory that private self interest can be aligned with the public good. In its simplest form, this theory holds that, because market interactions require the willing participation of workers, consumers, and businesses, each party will only participate in an interaction if it makes that party better off. If a worker is paid a satisfactory wage, a business owner receives a return on his or her investment, and a consumer is able to purchase a product they value at an acceptable price, then each individual benefits. In this context, firms that develop better products or reduce prices are rewarded with a larger share of the market and are thus incentivized to innovate; similarly, firms that offer a higher quality of life for employees through better pay and working conditions will attract the most productive workers and are therefore encouraged to raise wages. Competition among firms thus drives productive innovation and higher standards of living. Conversely, firms that overcharge for their products, fail to innovate, or pay low wages will lose out.

It is an elegant and important theory, but it is also just that: theory.

THE RULES MATTER

The single biggest problem with this simplistic view of markets is that it ignores power dynamics and implies the existence of some natural state in which markets flourish without oversight. In reality, no state of natural market equilibrium exists, and the entrenched power of wealth poses an omnipresent threat to the equity of outcomes;

healthy markets depend on rules to create an equitable balance of market power between workers, consumers, and businesses,

and when those rules skew the balance of power, markets favor the most powerful to the detriment of others. Thus, an economy with no labor protections will favor employers over workers, while a society with confiscatory tax rates on investment returns will make it difficult for shareholders to exercise power over the businesses they own.

As this analysis implies, setting the rules to achieve an equitable balance of power between market participants is crucial. Furthermore, beyond laws and regulations, the rules include all manner of social, cultural, and political factors, from the things we invest in and the things we neglect, to which groups are discriminated against and which are privileged. When rules preference one group over another, that group may skew transactions in their own favor, driving up profits at others’ expense. For example, redlining policies of the New Deal’s federal housing finance agencies made it impossible for black communities to accumulate wealth through homeownership.

Historically, marginalized communities have been underserved by public goods, including transportation and communications infrastructure. Physically and economically isolated, these populations became prey for firms that could get away with offering poor service and high prices due to a lack of alternatives, leading to today’s discriminatory, segmented markets. Examples like this illustrate how the rules bear a deep and complex relationship to market outcomes.

We define market power as the ability to skew market outcomes in one’s own interest, without creating value or serving the public good.

This definition acknowledges that harm to workers, consumers, or other businesses can be wrought in a number of ways not connected directly to price. For example, if a firm eliminates the threat of competition by raising barriers to entry, consumers can feel the negative impact through the reduction in service, even if quoted prices remain the same. This definition allows us to consider the broader impact that market power has on innovation, wages, and other considerations beyond consumer price.

MARKET POWER AND MARKET FAILURE

When firms possess market power and use it to extract from other participants rather than compete to create the best products, it not only hurts those targeted, but also results in less growth and innovation overall. In the 1990s, for example, Microsoft sought to dominate the software market by leveraging its ubiquitous operating system, Windows.

At the time, Microsoft made its Office software compatible only with its Windows operating system, and Microsoft also ensured that Windows was the exclusive option for newly purchased desktop hardware. Crucially, it tied licensing contracts for Windows to its proprietary web browser, Internet Explorer. Thus, the company attempted to systemically eliminate competition in every market where it competed. This drove up Microsoft’s share of the market for both operating systems and software-at the direct expense of its competitors. Since it sought to exclude rather than out perform competitors, at every level of the supply chain, and because it interfered with healthy competition, this sort of behavior is referred to as “predatory” or “anti competitive”, behavior that the federal government sought to address in its eventual antitrust suit against Microsoft in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Anti competitive behavior redistributes the surplus from market transactions away from less advantaged firms, customers, and workers and toward the wealthy and powerful. Taking the analogy of a basketball game, we can liken anti competitive behavior to repeatedly elbowing an opponent in the face, bribing referees, or rigging the scoreboard. Such strategies can lead to victory in a narrow sense, but to anyone with an understanding of basketball, it is anathema to the sport and defeats the purpose of the game. If a basketball game turns into a brawl, it’s not “bad basketball” or “tough basketball”, it’s not basketball at all.

It bears repeating that market power and the exercise of anti competitive strategies shrink the economic pie overall. When firms like Microsoft erect barriers to entry, they prevent new competitors from entering the market, strangling new businesses and depriving the economy of the benefits of those businesses namely, jobs and innovation. Thus, “anti-competitive” strategies do not simply result in higher prices for consumers, but in a slower pace of innovation and growth for the economy as a whole, notwithstanding empirically questionable research that ostensibly shows monopoly power promotes innovation. In short, when firms exercise market power, everyone else loses. Markets are only valuable when the rules provide for an even playing field between market participants.

MAKING MARKETS WORK: COMPETITION POLICY AND ITS ORIGINS

Recognizing the threat that disproportionate corporate power posed to the economy and our society, policymakers sought tools to combat market domination by large firms as early as the late 19th century. When the monopoly power of trusts like Standard Oil and the Pennsylvania Railroad sparked public outrage over high prices and poor service, Congress passed the Sherman and Clayton Antitrust acts, providing the legal means by which to regulate firms so that their size and power, and their use of predatory behavior, would not upend markets.

This new body of laws and regulations dubbed antitrust in the United States and, more generally and in an international context, “competition policy” was intended to guarantee that firms competed with one another on a level playing field, and that they did not become so powerful as to dominate workers, consumers, or smaller firms. In concert with labor and consumer protections, antitrust laws are one of three policy prongs intended to create an equitable balance of power between market actors. So, while competition policy cannot wholly eliminate market power from the economy, it is an important tool in limiting the ways in which market power can be deployed. Antitrust laws seek do this through three primary objectives:

1. Limiting the consolidation of power by regulating market structure.

Market structure generally refers to the number of firms in a given market, as well as their relationship to consumers and suppliers. The structure of a market plays a large part in determining how much influence certain firms have over a market and how they are able to use it. So, in some ways, regulating market structure is the most foundational component of competition policy.

In the era of active antitrust regulation, this was accomplished by policing a range of factors that included:

Merger enforcement: Regulating concentration was primarily accomplished by reviewing the impact of mergers. If authorities deemed that a merger resulted in a detrimental reduction in competition, they would seek to block or undo it.

Monopoly regulation: When a firm becomes the sole seller of a given good or service, it is a monopoly. When a firm achieved a monopoly, authorities would either attempt to break up the firm or begin to closely regulate its practices to ensure it did not abuse its powerful position.

Vertical integration: Firms active in more than one market, especially when they compete with their own suppliers or customers, were once considered anti competitive due to the ability to favor themselves and exclude entrants, leveraging market power in one market to dominate others. But under the influence of the Chicago School, scrutiny of vertical integration was reduced almost to nonexistence; consequently, vertically integrated firms and even whole industries are far more prevalent today.

2. Curtailing anti-competitive behaviors.

Firms are often able to engage in anti competitive practices when structural regulation fails to eliminate market power or when firms simply break the rules. Collusion, for example through which would be competitors collaborate to set prices artificially high, is always possible, even in a theoretically competitive market. In Microsoft’s case, its attempt to limit competition in software markets was based, in part, on the fact that it held a large share of the market for operating systems, but it was also based on the technological advantage that competing software companies depended on the same operating systems to run, an example in which market structure creates the scope for anti competitive conduct.

So, while anti competitive practices are often enabled by some market power advantage, which structural regulation failed to address, they must sometimes be dealt with on a sectoral or case by case basis. Antitrust laws, therefore, made anti competitive practices expressly illegal, and agencies tasked with identifying and prosecuting violations were created. Some key concerns included:

Collusion or “price fixing”: As described above, collusion is when multiple ostensibly competing firms conspire to create a defacto monopoly and set prices artificially high.

Predatory pricing: In order to drive out would be competitors, powerful firms sometimes sold goods and services under the cost of production. Seeing how such behavior threatened entrepreneurship and robust competition, authorities prohibited this practice.

Vertical restraints: This involves imposing restrictive contractual arrangements on counterparties (e.g., Microsoft requiring any hardware equipped with its Windows operating system to also carry Internet Explorer).

Barriers to entry: Once they are established, firms may seek to prevent competition by erecting barriers to entry. Such strategies can vary enormously, but some popular methods include: aggressive patent protections, leveraging relationships with federal regulators responsible for approving products, or collaborating with outside businesses to squeeze out new entrants.

3. Establishing public utility regulation of essential industries and “natural monopolies.”

Certain goods, such as water or electricity, are necessities of modern life. Consumers cannot simply choose to eschew these goods or find substitutes like they can with other products. This places firms that sell these goods and services at an enormous advantage. In many instances, the need for universal provision, combined with the cost of the infrastructure necessary to supply them, naturally lends these industries to monopoly, especially within a given region. Recognizing this, and also recognizing that limited private sector competition for the provision of utilities could be positive, authorities established laws to more strictly regulate these markets. This guaranteed access and prevented firms from exploiting the widespread need for their products or services essentially holding consumers hostage, in order to extract undue profits. Some key industries included: Telephone networks, Railroads and Electricity.

Beyond these economic concerns, 20th century antitrust was founded on the notion that the concentration of private power threatens not just economic equality, but democratic legitimacy as well. This view was perhaps best articulated and championed by Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who argued that, if left unchecked, wealthy firms and individuals would leverage their power to exert disproportionate influence over government decision making. The danger of lax protections was not just the potential for runaway economic inequality, but also for the deterioration of democratic governance.

THE LIMITS OF ANTITRUST

Though antitrust protections of the mid 20th century were crucially important, recent history has proven that they were not enough. The success of these laws hinged on how they were interpreted and enforced by regulators and the judiciary. As interpretations have grown more lax, unanticipated threats have multiplied. Data aggregation and the proliferation of digital platforms like Google and Amazon, for example, pose new, unforeseen threats to workers, consumers, and society as a whole that remain completely unaddressed by existing competition policy. These challenges will require new laws, as well as new applications of existing ones.

Although antitrust reform is essential to limiting the consolidation of power by the wealthiest corporations and individuals, it will by no means ensure a just and equitable society on its own. Reining in dominance of those at the top will be impossible without also building power to oppose it through worker organizing. Political reform, to curtail or outlaw the sort of big money lobbying and advocacy that currently dominates our political system is also essential, as is a stronger social safety net, to ensure that the price of economic competition is not widespread poverty. So, although this report is focused on the evolution and challenges presented by market power, stronger antitrust is by no means a panacea to all economic challenges. Reform in these and many other areas, including on issues of gender and race inequality, is essential to the health of the economy and American society.

ANTITRUST IN PERIL

As early as the 1940s despite the clear success of revolutions in antitrust and pro labor policies wealthy firms and conservative political interests began a concerted effort to roll back strong competition policies in the hopes of taking a larger share of the economic pie for themselves. Ultimately, these interests hit on a novel argument: Private firms were naturally inclined to innovate, so any regulation only impeded growth and efficiency; rules that favored large firms would benefit consumers through lower prices; and any price markups in the event of reduced competition would be more than offset by cost savings in production.

But what this theory offered in novelty and an appealing sort of counter intuitive logic, it lacked in empirical support and rigor. The pro business camp placed enormous faith in optimistic predictions of firm behavior based on theoretical assumptions that were never tested. In doing so, it wholly ignored the importance of an equitable balance of power between market participants.

Despite the lack of evidence for the theories they articulated, the Chicago School’s intellectual proponents, academics like George Stigler, Harold Demsetz, and Robert Bork benefitted from an air of scholarly and technocratic authority. Emanating from reputable institutions and influential think tanks in Washington, proponents of this new laissez faire competition policy claimed superior insight on the basis of their original work in economic theory. They downplayed the risks of consolidated private power and labeled Brandeis’s approach to antitrust as dated and simplistic. (in reality, Brandeis himself had been noted for his introduction of empirical research into his jurisprudence?)

Bork and others from the Chicago School hoped to cast out all but the most minimal of antitrust enforcements. As Baker (2015) summarizes, they held that “law should be reformed and refocused to strike at only three classes of behavior: ‘naked’ horizontal agreements to fix prices or divide markets, horizontal mergers to duopoly or monopoly, and a limited class of exclusionary conduct.” This view reflected the Chicago School’s founding assumption that other than in the most extreme cases, firms would only ever work to increase market share through price reduction, and that, thus, regulation of all but the most blatant forms of anti competitive conduct could be eliminated.

Starting in the 1980s, this formed the dominant view of competition policy in the United States, and with the election of the enthusiastically supportive Ronald Reagan, the Chicago School’s vision began a swift conversion to reality.

Soon, a wave of executive and judicial appointees beholden to its core beliefs set to work, regulating markets in the mold of the philosophy’s pro corporation, anti statist beliefs, benefiting large incumbent firms over consumers, workers, and small businesses.

The success and prevalence of this ideology has been so profound that today, even Democratic Party appointed senior antitrust regulators assert “we are all Chicago School now” in their public appearances. The economic impact of that elite consensus is clear.

KEY CHANGES IN ANTITRUST UNDER THE CHICAGO SCHOOL:

Relaxed merger guldelines: Under this new regime, mergers that may once have been deemed anti competitive were increasingly permissible. leading to higher levels of consoiidation along with the proliferation of market power.

An end to the scrutiny of vertical Integration: Mergers, in which the parties did not compete directly, were presumed to be motivated by efficiences in production rather than the ability to exclude rivals from the market and siphon their market share.

Elevated burdens of proof: Very broadly, the Chicago School raised the burdens of proof for a range of predatory behavior. Thus, while the behaviors remained potentially illegal, it became increasingly difficult to prevent or punish harmful practices because spurious defenses were given undue credence, eg, that through some convoluted and empirically unproven mechanism, exclusionary conduct benefited consumers.

SECTION TWO

The Market Power Economy

In this lax regulatory environment, we have seen precisely the sort of economic outcomes that we would expect from a lopsided economy. A growing body of evidence indicates that whatever mechanism once translated economic surplus into shared growth is now broken. As seen in Figure 1, corporate profits when measured as a share of the economy-are at a historic peak. And even though the cost of borrowing is low, incumbents are not investing or expanding operations to out compete one another (Furman and Orszag, 2015; Barkai 2016; Gutierrez and Phillippon, 2017).

This suggests that powerful firms, operating with little competition, have been able to profit by raising prices and cutting wages, rather than by investing in new, valuable products. Recent work by De Loecker and Eeckhout (2017) finds that firm level markups have increased from 18 percent to 67 percent since 1980 a pattern that holds across all industries.

In keeping with the market power hypothesis, we also see that profits have increased most in the industries that have become more concentrated, and that wage growth has been most stagnant in these same concentrated industries (Barkai 2016; Gutierrez and Philippon, 2017; Grullon, 2016).

Of course, concentration is not synonymous with market power, but when combined with substantial policy changes at the federal level and a host of qualitative observations, the case that rising market power and anti competitive behavior have caused our current growth and wage stagnation looks compelling. Below we present six pieces of evidence that, when taken together, strongly support this view:

Fact 1: Fewer firms, less competition

Since the rise of the Chicago School antitrust policy, US. markets have consolidated dramatically. The number of mergers and acquisitions has skyrocketed, increasing from less than 2,000 in 1980 to roughly 14,000 per year since 2000. As a result, Grullon et al. (2016) found that between 1997 and 2012. more than 75 percent of U.S. industries became more concentrated, meaning a smaller number of larger firms account for most of the revenues. The number of publicly traded corporations and their share of the total market are also lower than at any time in the last 100 years.

Furthermore, conventional measures of concentration do not even capture concerns over common ownership: As institutional investors have come to dominate stock markets, they have bought shares of multiple firms in the same industry. Azar et al. (2016) document that individual institutional investors, firms like Vanguard and Blackrock, own large fractions of all main “competitors” in the technoloy, drug store, banking, and airlines industries.

It is increasingly apparent that this consolidation has had detrimental effects on the overall economy. Recent research highlights several key indicators.

Fact 2: Higher prices

A spate of recent studies shows consumer prices rising in conjunction with consolidation. Gutierrez and Philippon (2017) document that markups of prices over the cost of production have increased in line with aggregate trends in consolidation, and that these shifts are driven by large firms and concentrating industries.

Kwoka (2013) conducts a meta analysis of merger retrospectives studies comparing prices that companies charged before and after they merged. Combining the data from retrospectives on 46 mergers since 1970, Kwoka finds an average price increase of 729 percent. This study doesn’t include enough mergers to conclusively settle the debate, but it’s enough to cast serious doubt on the theory that underlies the past 40 years of competition policy.

Most recently, De Loecker and Eeckhout (2017) use a database of publicly traded firms to find that markups, the amount a firm charges above its costs, have risen to an astounding average of 67 percent, compared to just 18 percent in 1980. Although De Loecker and Eeckhout do not offer a causal analysis, other studies of markups and consolidation lend credence to the link between consolidation, market power, and rising prices.

But consolidation is not the only way that market power can impact prices in today’s economy. The increasing role of institutional investors in capital markets has exacerbated the lack of competition and the rise of prices in consumer markets. As previously noted, investors like Vanguard and BlackRock own large shares of multiple businesses within an industry. In terms of competition and price, this “common ownership” can have similar, or even more severe, ramifications as a merger.

In a recent paper, Azar, Schmalz, and Tecu (2016) measure the effects of common ownership in the airline industry. Comparing routes of independent airlines to those owned by similar shareholders, the economists find that prices would be 3 to 7 percent lower if all airlines were owned independently Importantly, these studies did not count the much documented rise of ancillary fees, which, in addition to being a thorn in the side of cash strapped flyers, have grown appreciably in recent years.“ In other work, Azar, Raina, and Schmalz (2016) show that common ownership of banks decreases interest rates and increases fees for depositors.

Fact 3: New and small businesses are struggling while large incumbents thrive

Furman (2016) documents that for 40 years, the rate of firm entry has decreased, as has the share of sales and employment corresponding to young businesses. This suggests that it has become harder for new companies, facing larger, often predatory incumbents, to overcome barriers to entry. This is especially problematic, given that new businesses, as disproportionate creators of jobs, are essential to a healthy economy.

At the same time, the largest firms are thriving: Gutierrez and Phillipon (2017) document that since 1980, measures of profitability have increased for the largest firms while remaining constant for small ones. Other data shows that the gap between the profitability of median and high performing firms has increased dramatically with time, and that the most profitable firms tend to maintain their high returns year after year.

Fact 4: Corporate investment is low, especially in concentrated industries

If barriers to entry and other predatory practices are indeed isolating incumbents from competition, then we would expect them to exercise their monopoly power by producing less and charging more, rather than by making new investments to scale up operations or develop cost cutting technologies. And indeed, evidence shows this is precisely what is occurring. Gutierrez and Philippon (2016) document that corporate investment is low compared to what firms’ market values would predict, and that this lowered investment corresponds to more consolidated industries.

In a 2017 paper, the same authors go a step further, using two methods to show that this relationship is causal. First, they demonstrate that leading manufacturing firms invested and innovated more in response to increases in Chinese competition. Second, they document higher levels of investment in industries that, likely due to bubbles or optimistic venture capitalists in the 1990s were less concentrated during the 2000s.

Fact 5: Workers are more productive, but their pay has stagnated

For 40 years, median wages have stagnated, even as workers become more productive, and the share of GDP paid as income to workers has declined since 2000. While economists have tested many explanations for these shifts technological change and automation, global competition between workers, the rising cost of benefits, none of the factors considered explains why corporate profits have grown over the same period. Indeed, Barkai (2016) documents that while corporations have paid out less of their revenue as wages, they have also spent less on capital assets like machines, offices, and software, further increasing their profits. Barkai’s work points to a different theory: The labor share of income has decreased most in consolidating industries, suggesting that corporations are paying low wages simply because their power and the lack of competition with other firms allow them to.

Even as the total share of private sector revenue paid as wages has declined, the rise of market power has increased wage inequality, by contributing to median wage stagnation and enabling runaway gains at the top. For example, the ratio of a top CEO’S compensation to that of an average worker has increased roughly ten fold, from 30 to 1 in 1978, to 271 to 1 in 2016. This relates to market power because, rather than simply paying employees less, large firms have sought to lower labor costs by pushing workers out of direct employment altogether, outsourcing them instead. Powerful “lead firms” are thereby able to avoid liability under substantial components of US. labor law, while leveraging their market power to drive down wages through a litany of extractive tactics aimed at the outside firms employing their former workers. This is related both to the “tissured workplace,” described by David Wei] (2014), and to interfirm inequality, described by Song et al. (2016) and Furman and Orszag (2015).

Fact 6: Workers have a harder time changing and accessing jobs

Trends of consolidation and declining wage growth coincide with decreases in geographic, job, and occupational mobility. Konczal and Steinbaum (2016) argue that with fewer alternative employers, workers are receiving fewer offers to work at other firms, thus forcing them to stay at the same job and tolerate lower wage growth.

Song et al. (2016) compare wages across firms and reveal that workers with similar levels of education and experience receive starkly different pay depending on their employers, and that the degree of wage segregation by firm has increased starkly over the same period in which inequality has risen (since 1980) In a competitive labor market, firm pay differentials for similar work done by similar workers should be driven to zero. Therefore, inequality in interfirm earnings suggests that pay may have less to do with an individual’s productivity and more to do with their ability to bargain or to gain access to particular firms and individuals and benefit from those personal connections. The idea that worker side variables cannot explain observed wage inequality is a fundamental challenge to the notion that the labor market is competitive.

On their own, these aggregate trends cannot establish individual instances of anti competitive behavior, but they do imply that there is a significant and growing problem of consolidated market power.

In the following sections, we delve deeper into this body of research, considering evidence of market power and exploring how it affects the everyday lives of American consumers and workers, as well as society at large.

SECTION THREE

Market Power in Everyday Life

Economic data on rising prices and stagnating wages helps to drive home the point that the ill effects of market power and Chicago School policies are anything but theoretical. Corporations increasingly exert unopposed influence over the lived experience of American consumers, workers, and citizens.

From rising prices, to low wages, to the way we access information, market power and lax competition policy are entrenching the intrinsic advantages of wealth and power in society.

Private interests increasingly determine access to critical goods and services, prioritizing privileged groups and thus exacerbating existing inequities of race, gender, and class.

In this section, we aim to illustrate how the broad policy changes discussed above result in poor outcomes for American consumers, workers, and society. We show how consolidation and predatory behavior lead not only to higher prices, worse service, and less choice for consumers, but also threaten the pace of innovation. We show how consolidation results in fewer jobs and lower pay for workers, and how firms are using anti competitive and predatory practices in order to further entrench their labor market dominance. Finally, we provide a broader view on the impacts of market power and Chicago School antitrust, showing how the consolidation of power affects geographic inequality, the flow of information, and the long term health of our democratic system.

MARKET POWER AND CONSUMERS: LESS INNOVATION, HIGHER PRICES

Although it has hinged on alleged benefits to consumers, the Chicago School’s lax approach to competition policy has allowed corporations to pursue promarket making strategies through which consumers lose twice: first, because powerful firms facing little competition are able to raise prices at will; second, because these firms choose to reinvest profits in attaining more market power, which not only reduces consumer choice, but also detracts from investment and competition aimed at developing better products and lowering prices.

In this predatory environment, the most significant innovations have been new methods of obtaining unfair gains, by misleading customers, entrapping them, or discriminating to extract consumer surplus. Even when the resulting conglomerates do invest in new technology and gain an innovative edge, weak competition means they face no pressure to pass the value created along to consumers. Across the board, market power enables corporations to profit by taking advantage of consumers, rather than by serving them.

Fewer choices, worse service, less innovation

Massive consolidation has left consumers with fewer choices and firms with less incentive to compete for customers. Walk into a retailer to buy a new pair of eyeglasses and you will likely find yourself overwhelmed with options. Upon closer inspection, however, you may notice striking similarities between models. You may also notice prices that are similarly high. That is because, whether buying from Prada, Oakley, or Target brand, you actually have a 4 in 5 chance of buying Luxottica, the Italian monopoly that owns 80 percent of major eyewear brands. Likewise, think of every food brand you have ever seen on the shelves of any major grocery store. Chances are these products are owned by one, often international conglomerates like Unilever, Kellogg’s, and General Mills.

Until the Chicago School successfully beat back regulatory standards, competition authorities closely monitored such market dominance.

Today, we are left to ask: With such large shares in their respective markets, how hard will companies work to develop new, appealing products and win over new consumers? The ramifications of such broad consolidation and the erosion of competition are severe.

Fewer firms holding more and more power not only means fewer choices for consumers, but also creates less of an incentive for firms to focus on providing the best products and service. Tim Wu (2012) points out that a firm can invest in stifling competitors directly by erecting barriers to entry or acquiring other firms, rather than investing in capital or R&D that would help it outcompete them in the marketplace. Indeed as mentioned in the previous section recent research shows that corporations are investing at record low levels, especially in the most consolidated markets. The outcome for consumers can range from irksome to deadly.

Instead of investing in R&D, many pharmaceutical companies plan their business models around their ability to purchase smaller firms that have shouldered the burden of developing new products. Strategies like these are predicated on the notion that lax competition policy will green light mergers with minimal scrutiny, even though this environment holds innovation back: Ornaglu’ (2009) finds that after merging, pharmaceutical companies have lower R&D spending, fewer new patents, and fewer patents per R&D spending, compared to non consolidated competitors. Among pharmaceutical firms in Europe, Haucup and Stiebale (2016) find that even competitors of merged companies innovate less, Nowhere else could the costs of market power and anti competitive behavior be more clear or more severe:

Even when the discovery of a new product could save thousands of lives, powerful pharmaceutical companies have based their business strategies on acquiring and maintaining market power.

Even in more benign examples, we can observe that less competition has translated into worsening consumer experience. A regular survey conducted by Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business (2017) found that customer dissatisfaction in the US. has climbed 20 percentage points over the past 40 years, while customer satisfaction has fallen. Comporting with the thesis that much of this is driven by consolidation and lacking competition, we observe that the decline in service has been led by TV, phone, and Internet service providers, some of the most concentrated industries in the country, with customer satisfaction ratings routinely below that of the IRS. As firms become more powerful, their incentive to please customers will almost always decrease.

Amazon’s activity in shoe retail serves as another good illustration of the connection between competition policy, market power, and threats to consumer well being. When Zapposcom executives refused to sell the company to Amazon in 2007, Amazon began lowering its prices on Zappos shoes and offering additional services like free express shipping in an effort to out compete the popular online shoe retailer. Normally, this sort of competition would be a good thingfor consumers, since it results in lower prices. Amazon’s strategy, however, was based on power not innovation:

Over the course of a two year battle with Zappos, Amazon drew on its vast wealth, pre existing distribution network, and large customer base, running up losses of $150 million in an effort to eliminate its competitors. Lacking Amazon‘s vast wealth and power, Zappos capitulated and sold to Amazon in 2009. The tactic of lowering prices below cost in order to starve competitors known as predatory pricing is technically illegal, but Chicago School policymakers have raised the burden of proof so high that companies can employ this strategy without fear of triggering regulatory scrutiny. Amazon alone has used this precise tactic in several high profile cases, including with Diapers.com, which Amazon purchased and shut down in 2017.

Given Amazon’s professed commitment to service in the Zappos example, some may assume that consumers, despite having lost a popular vendor, are not much worse off; this, however, is shortsighted. In the long run, anti competitive behavior not only reduces the incentive to improve products and services, but also may deter entrepreneurs from entering consolidated industries to begin with. With the disappearance of customer first firms like Zappos, Amazon lacks the competitive pressure to maintain the high level of service and low prices it offered in the effort to drive them out of business. And while Amazon’s customer satisfaction ratings remain high, there is no guarantee that this behavior won’t fade as competition dries up. The decision to offer good service, in other words, has been left entirely to the good graces of Amazon’s management. This dynamic is true wherever competition is appreciably reduced and should weigh heavily on the minds of consumers and regulators alike.

Examples of the slowed pace of innovation and evaporating consumer choice suggest that lax antitrust may be far from optimal, even if consolidation does drive lower prices, as Chicago School dogma suggests it should. Even in the narrow category of consumer prices, however, we find ample evidence that our anti competitive economy has actually led to higher prices.

Higher prices

If Chicago School antitrust deregulation purported one thing for Americans, it was a dramatic reduction in the costs of the goods and services they rely on to survive. And yet, as described in Fact 2, numerous studies across many industries suggest that consolidation and other anti competitive practices have actually caused prices to rise for American consumers.

Although undetected by most Americans, the issues of market power and anti competitive behavior have dramatic consequences in daily life. If less competition results in an additional 5 percent markup on grocery prices, that increase can be enough to break the bank for a working class family. Lower prices can give consumers flexibility, relieve financial burdens, and make it possible to save for investments like college tuition, but the alleged cost benefits of consolidation, if they do arise, must also be considered. Meanwhile, higher prices seen today mean higher profits for shareholders and CEOs.

The realization that markups might actually be rising elevates the false promise of Chicago School policies: The implicit trade off offered by the Chicago School antitrust authorities was one of lower prices for less competition. But if less competition actually results in higher prices, as the data suggests it does, then American consumers are being subjected to a lose lose agreement.

TARGETED PREDATORY BEHAVIOR

Firms also exercise their market power by charging different prices to different customers a practice called price discrimination. This can be benign, as in the case of discounted movie tickets for children and the elderly, but price discrimination can also serve as a tool for corporations to exploit the most desperate and least informed consumers With the fewest alternatives.

Price discrimination often targets neighborhoods of color, whose populations are disproportionately low income and where firms make use of the structural absence of market access. Bayer, Ferreira. and Ross (2016) show that after controlling for credit scores and other risk factors, African American and Hispanic borrowers are roughly twice as likely to have high cost home mortgages because they are served by higher cost mortgage providers, so called “market segmentation.”

A recent analysis by Angwin et al. (2016) of ProPublica finds similar trends In auto insurance. Across several states, auto insurers charge higher premiums in minority neighborhoods, relative to the actual cost of paying out liability claims. ProPublica also discovered a similar trend within the test prep industry. Princeton Review clients of Asian descent are almost twice as likely to be offered a higher price as their non Asian counterparts (Angwin and Larson 2015).

Price discrimination is an especially pertinent risk online, where sellers can use IP addresses and browsmg data to differentiate between consumers, and where dominant platforms like Amazon may be able to corner whole markets, thus allowing them to target prices individually, without fear of being undercut by competition. Hannak et al (2014) find instances where major retailers and travel websites show different results and prices depending on a customer’s digital activity. Due to their private and algorithmic nature these practices are difficult to regulate and are likely to proliferate as companies develop new ways to gather and analyze data.

Crucially, the theoretical possibility of online alternatives has not proven sufticient to discipline behavior and prevent these explotative practices.

MARKET POWER AND WORKERS: FEWER JOBS, LOWER WAGES, AND LESS POWER

Contemporary antitrust policy mostly ignores the plight of American workers and, as a result, has spelled fewer jobs, lower pay, and worse conditions. For much of the 20th century, American wages grew in accordance with the productivity of American workers. But around the start of the Reagan era, the growth of workers’ wages and worker productivity began to diverge. Despite productivity having climbed nearly 75 percent from 1973 to 2016, wages only climbed by 12 percent. As consolidation, corporate profits, and top incomes skyrocketed, workers were left behind; the typical male worker made more in 1973 than he did in 2014. And while declining worker protections and union density explain a substantial portion of this stagnation, the runaway power of employers can be seen as the other side of the same coin.

Modern antitrust policy does little to protect and in fact actively hurts the standing of the American workforce. Ignoring the impact that market power and anti competitive behavior has on workers is a feature, not a defect, of Chicago School antitrust policies. Today, in addition to merger related job loss, we see ample evidence of just how effective these policies have been at weakening worker standing. Firms engage in predatory wage suppressing collusion across industries with “no poaching” agreements, and they have standardized anti competitive contracts designed to strip workers of their mobility and bargaining power. These tactics, endorsed by permissive antitrust policy when it comes to non price vertical restraints, are remaking the American labor market to resemble indentured servitude. Part of the solution must come from antitrust, specifically, a ban on such exploitative contract provisions.

Structurally, powerful firms have abused poor antitrust enforcement in order to restructure labor markets to their own liking. Since the consumer welfare paradigm ignores upstream “monopsony”, the power a firm can wield over its suppliers, including suppliers of labor, firms outsource workers into upstream contractors, which they could more easily dominate thanks to the weakening of antitrust scrutiny for vertical contractual provisions, both price and non price. Outsourcing labor into subservient contractors not only enabled so called “lead firms” to avoid meaningful negotiation, but has also turned wage setting into competitive bidding.

In this sub section, we document how corporate consolidation and the rise of market power hurt the labor market. We discuss three primary mechanisms: First, we analyze the reduction of wages, employment, and worker power that has occurred as a result of general consolidation and decreased economic activity. Second, we outline a number of discrete anti competitive strategies used by employers to stifle worker mobility and power. And finally, building on our description of predatory labor market practices, we outline the antitrust implications of corporate disaggregation and the so called “fissured workplace,” showing how this trend places workers at a systematic disadvantage.

Fewer jobs, lower wages

As firms accrue market power and consolidate, employment and wages decrease through two mechanisms. First, firms in concentrated industries tend to lower production and raise prices, reducing the demand for labor. Second, less competition between firms means fewer options and less mobility for workers.

Just like reducing consumers’ options allows businesses to charge more, reducing workers’ options allows businesses to payless.

Such power is referred to as monopsony, the labor market equivalent of monopoly power in product markets. As Jason Furman and Peter Orszag explain in a 2015 paper, “firms are wage setters rather than wage takers in a less than perfectly competitive marketplace.” The same is true for working conditions: In a concentrated economy, workers are forced to take what they are given. Monopsonistic firms, then, are no less a threat to America’s economic well being than monopolistic ones.

These theories are easy to square with the experiences of working Americans: In 2009, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer acquired Wyeth and announced it would cut 20,000 jobs worldwide; after combining in 2015, Kraft Heinz announced plans to cut 5 percent of its workforce; most recently, rumors swirled about cuts to Whole Foods’s workforce following its sale to Amazon. And while Chicago School advocates claim that consolidation brings cost savings for consumers, something we called into question in the previous section, the concurrent claim that such savings stimulate enough demand to create more jobs than they destroy is an even greater stretch.

While the impact of consolidation and competition policy on labor markets is a relatively new question for economists, evidence that consolidation is leading to fewer jobs is already mounting. Barkai (2016) shows that the largest decreases in the labor share of income, that is, the total fraction of private sector revenue paid to workers, have come in industries with the largest increases in concentration. This suggests that weak competition causes firms to cut jobs and reduce wages. Konczal and Steinbaum (2016) relate low wage growth to patterns of low job to job mobility, scarce outside job offers, and low geographic mobility. They argue that these trends are all indicative of weak labor demand and monopsony power.

The impact of such monopsony power can be every bit as economically damaging as monopoly power, and it is only due to the Chicago School’s myopic focus on consumer welfare that policymakers and the public more broadly eschewed such considerations. In our current environment, the anti competitive threats to labor markets have multiplied and intensified.

Again, addressing the loss of worker standing will largely rely on rebuilding worker power, but allowing large firms to accrue and wield unlimited market power is a substantial contributor to existing labor market power disparities, which require a multi faceted solution.

MARKET POWER AND LABOR MARKET DISCRIMINATION

Similar monopsonistic wage setting effects also help to explain pay gaps between demographic groups. Several studies document that wage gaps between employees of the same business can be explained by assuming that employers systematically pay workers less who they know are less likely to quit as a result, a practice called wage discrimination. If systemically disadvantaged workers tend to be less sensitive to wages, then they may sort into industries that underpay all of their workers, possibly contributing to the concentration of women of color in the low paying care industry, as discussed In Folbre and Smlth (2017) Looking at data from the Portuguese workforce, Card et al. (2016) show that the combined effects of within firm wage discrimination and between firm sorting, account for about one fifth of the gender pay gap.

In perfectly competitive labor markets where workers are pald according to the value they create, such effects would not exist.

Antitrust policies that examine the effects of monopsony would not only be good for all workers but would be best for society’s most vulnerable workers.

Strategic attacks on worker standing

In addition to increased leverage over workers gained from consolidation, employers use other anti competitive tactics to increase their labor market power. The tactics we describe here are expressly anti competitive, intended to prevent positive competition among employers in order to reduce labor costs and suppress workers. Despite the seeming conflict with the core principles of antitrust policy, the brazen use of anti competitive practices in labor markets has become increasingly widespread in the Chicago School era.

Non compete contracts, for instance, prevent workers from joining competing firms until after they have left their employer and waited, presumably unemployed, for extended periods of time. While non competes have some merit in protecting trade secrets and incentivizing investment in workers, the Treasury Department (2015) points out that they are used with startling frequency among low income workers and those without a college degree, less than half of whom profess to possess trade secrets.

Far from promoting innovation and investment, these agreements simply discourage workers from searching for new jobs, allowing their employers to pay less and demand more. Crucially, they are best understood as both a symptom and a cause of declining labor market mobility and worker power: A symptom because in an earlier era, employers would never have been able to get away with inserting such terms in employment agreements; and a cause because any worker who signs one has effectively voided their ability to attract a higher wage or better job in the industry of their choice

The tactics we describe here are expressly anti-competitive, intended to prevent positive competition among employers in order to reduce labor costs and suppress workers.

Mandatory arbitration is another combination symptom and cause of low worker standing. Gupta and Khan (2017) discuss the severe impact of contractual clauses which force workers to surrender their right to sue their employer, insisting instead that employees enter into confidential arbitration in the event of a dispute. Depriving workers of this core democratic right is a win for powerful corporations, who are able to keep misdeeds out of the media and away from the eyes and ears of other employees. Like non compete clauses, mandatory arbitration is both a cause and an effect of labor market monopsony. Indeed, it would be difficult to think of a tactic more indicative of massive monopsony power than a firm forcing workers to surrender their legal rights as a condition of employment; as with non compete agreements, such a clause would never have proliferated in a more pro worker environment. Meanwhile, mandatory arbitration diminishes worker power by curtailing a worker’s ability to push back against unfair labor practices in cases of abuse.

Labor market power and the fissured workplace

These more granular examples of anti competitive labor market practices are only part of a broader pattern of firms leveraging their market power to circumvent labor protections and obtain a structural advantage over workers. In his landmark book, The Fissured Workplace, David Weil shows how powerful corporations shifted workers out of formal employment and into alternate arrangements, such as subcontracting and franchising, in order to lessen their obligations to workers. By pushing low pay workers into separate subcontracting firms, lead firms are able to wield their market power over other firms, rather than having to do so directly over workers, which could raise issues of liability under labor law.

Once pushed outside of the firm ’s organizational structure, workers receive a smaller share of the company’s revenue and face steep barriers to bargain for more.

Whereas direct employees simply receive a regular salary, outsourced workers are forced to competitively bid against one another for every contract, driving costs down for the lead firm and wages for subcontracted workers. Once pushed outside of the firm’s organizational structure, workers receive a smaller share of the company’s revenue and face steep barriers to bargain for more.

With less power and wealth than the firms that ultimately pay them, and with competing contractors threatening to under cut them, outsourced workers are driven to the lowest common denominator for workplace standards. Indeed, Dube and Kaplan (2008) find that subcontracted security guards and janitors suffer a wage penalty of up to 8 and 24 percent, respectively, while a 2013 study by ProPublica found that temp workers, another large category of outsourced Labor, were between 36 and 72 percent more likely to be injured on the job than their full time counterparts.

Weil’s analysis shows how powerful lead firms place the onus of maintaining brand standards on franchisees and their employees even as they squeeze them to reduce costs otten resulting in the low wages, dangerous work conditions, and labor law violations that are widely observed today. Outsourcing strategies are utilized up and down the supply chains of large companies from Walmart, which outsources its shipping and logistics operations, to Verizon, which outsources the sale and installation of broadband services. This system allows corporations to have their cake and eat it too; they can secure favorable contracts with suppliers while maintaining a high degree of control over an outsourced workforce.

The National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) recent ruling in Browning Ferris supports this view, by asserting that firms contracting out workers from external partners may be considered joint employers. But until this view is more widely embodied in the economy, standards will continue to sink as powerful firms subjugate the workers of less powerful firms.

All of these practices are predicated on the immense power of lead firms, from internationally recognized franchises like McDonald’s, to retail powerhouses like Walmart, that are only able to get away with such broad wage and condition setting power because they each represent such large shares of their industries. Although the topic is still nascent among economists, it is not a stretch to say that lax antitrust protection is largely to blame for the fissuring practices of powerful firms.

In fact, hard evidence linking anti competitive behavior and poor labor market outcomes continues to emerge. In addition to non compete and mandatory arbitration clauses, Krueger and Ashenfelter (2017) call attention to the negative wage and employment effects of “no poaching” agreements through which franchises have agreed not to hire workers from rival businesses, in order to suppress wages and worker power. These agreements are plainly anti competitive, created expressly to disrupt healthy competition in the labor market.

The ill effects of weak antitrust and disaggregation are echoed in the gig economy: Workers who would once have operated either as employees or as truly independent businesses are now finding work in a quasi independent role for centralized tech firms like Uber and TaskRabbit. Legally, they remain independent contractors without employee benefits; however, they lack the degree of control over their own operations that independent contractors are typically afforded. In fact, research shows these platforms exercise substantial control over participant behavior, disciplining workers for undesirable behavior and controlling the prices they set, despite their lack of employer status.

Like the franchising and subcontracting firms in Weil’s fissured workplace, these firms are leveraging market power, as well as proprietary technology, to have it both ways, controlling their labor supply without shouldering responsibility for it. Much has been said about misclassification of Uber drivers, but few have made the opposite point: If Uber drivers are not employees, then they are businesses, and thus Uber’s price setting amounts to a cartel, an organizational structure that is illegal under existing antitrust policy.

Addressing deficiencies in competition policy will be essential in combatting the structural abuse of workers. As we have stated, pro big business deregulatory competition policies were sold on the explicit grounds that consumer effects were the only effects that should be considered with regard to competition policy. As long as the consumer came out ahead, in other words, any negative ramifications for small business, and especially for workers, could be tolerated. To anyone concerned with the overall health of the American economy, this begs a simple question, which the Chicago School is unprepared to answer: What good are consumer savings if consumers have no income to save?

AMAZON’S ANTITRUST THREAT

Founded In 1994 as an onllne book retailer, Amazon has grown into the world’s fourth most valuable company, commanding a sprawling supply chain that offers everythmg from cloud computing services to audlo books. Amazon’s recent purchase of Whole Foods for $14.3 billion reignited concerns about the company‘s immense size, and yet policymakers and journalists find It dlflicult to grasp the precise threat that the tech giant poses to competition.

Through Amazon’s example, we aim to illustrate how such powerful tech firms imperil healthy competition in ways that do not align with the Chlcago School’s conception of the role of competition policy.

In some respects Amazon’s devotion to growth and investment is laudable. Rather than passing what would be enormous profits from existing business lines back to its shareholders, the company largely reinvests the proceeds into new product lines and technologIes.

The fact that Amazon employs over 1,000 people working on far off AI technology, for example, is potentially good for the economy. This is to say nothing of the fact that Amazon is wildly popular with a large, devoted user base, compelled by its low prices, streamlined service and delivery system, and wide product offerings. Indeed, it has been evident on many occasions that not only do consumers value the company, but so do the competition authorities, for they have used their regulatory and enforcement powers to put would be competitors out of business. Despite investments in innovation and consumer favorability, the fact remains many aspects of Amazon’s conduct are deeply problematic.

To see the threat posed by Amazon, it’s important to understand how the company has risen to its current status. With nearly half of all ecommerce passing through the platform, Amazon’s success is predicated by what economists call “network effects”: The more vendors sell through Amazon, the more customers will want to use it; and the more customers use Amazon, the more vendors will be forced to sell through It.

Even if a new platform were to offer a superIor service, say, by taking a smaller cut of sales no one would use it, simply because no one else was. And to compete with Amazon’s unparalleled logistics network at this point would require an unimaginable upfront investment, one that Amazon could quickly make into a debacle by further cutting its prices and denying placement to suppliers who did business with the competitor.

This special barrier to entry affords Amazon the ability to set the terms for consumers and vendors. Amazon is able, for instance, to keep 15 percent of every sale on its platform and to attract even reluctant vendors like Nike, who after resisting to sell directly on Amazon due to copyright infringement that occurs through the sale of unlicensed products on their website, eventually caved in 2017. In another prominent example of Amazon flexing its power, the retailer suspended pre-orders of all books published by Hatchett, including House Speaker Paul Ryan’s The Way Forward in order to gain leverage and secure better terms in its ebook agreements.

The Institute for Local Self Reliance (2016), among others, has underscored Amazon’s use of predatory pricing, as is commonly understood, though impossmle to prove under existing antitrust, precedent to eliminate competitors such as Zappos.com and Diapers.com.

If established firms are powerless to resist Amazon’s platform, the implications for small businesses selling on Amazon‘s Marketplace are enormous. Satirically attributed to Amazon CEO Jeff Benzos, a recent article from The Onion captured the problem well. “My advice to anyone starting a business is to remember that someday I Will crush you.”

Amazon compounds its platform advantage with a technological one. Since Amazon both runs a retail platform and sells goods. It not only competes With its own partners. but also unilaterally sets the terms of that competition. Amazon preferences its own goods in search results, and, by collecting data on all of its transactions and customers, knows both buyers and sellers, including the stategic use of its dominant cloud computing bussiess, Amazon Web Services, to monitor profitable third party vendors and consumer behavior that lets Amazon plan future acquisitions. It’s well established that Amazon uses this data to make personalized recommendations to induce customers to make purchases.

More alarming is that the company reorders options so as to extract more from customers whose past purchases and other characteristics indicate a wlllingness to pay more. This is not the kind of price discrimination that can be found in a grocery store, where quantities are priced differently in order to entlce different buyers (e g . moms and dads opting for a gallon of milk for an additional $1 instead of a quart), but a secretive and personalized form that ensures each consumer pays their maximum and that Amazon captures the difference.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder, 1998

MARKET POWER AND SOCIETY: SEGREGATION, CONTROL OF INFORMATION, AND POLITICAL MANIPULATION

Although market power’s impact on workers, consumers, and businesses is severe, the narrow economic analyses can overlook the dangers it poses for society as a whole. Franklin D. Roosevelt recognized these threats in 1938 when he said:

“The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is Fascism, ownership of Government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.”

As relevant now as they were then, FDR‘s comments suggest that beyond lost jobs, innovation, and businesses, concentrated market power poses a threat to our democracy and national sovereignty. Today, this threat manifests in a number of ways, ranging from the obvious, such as the consequences of corporate lobbying on democracy, to the more subtle, such as the massive power a small number of tech platforms now hold over the distribution of information. In this section, we discuss three broad societal threats posed by market power.

Geography and economic segregation

Increasingly, the wealthy and powerful have isolated themselves geographically and used their market power to prey on vulnerable areas and populations. The stark divide between urban and rural voting patterns in the 2016 election is just one recent example of how economic, social, and political divisions manifest geographically. Market power reinforces this new geography, threatening to calcify a class stratification that is anathema to American values.

Market power redistributes wealth and opportunity away from disadvantaged communities, be they poor, minority, or physically isolated. Wealthy Americans, clustered in wealthy suburbs and a few large cities, do not patronize local businesses, pay taxes, or otherwise engage with the economies of poor rural or urban communities.“ Nonetheless, they are able to extract profits from them. A merger may result in windfall profits, but Wall Street and Silicon Valley will absorb that money as distant plants close and local economies across the country are decimated from the deal.

In Hanover, Illinois, for example, the purchase of machine pan manufacturer Invensys spelled the end of a 50 year old factory, despite its 18 percent profit margin. The jobs were sent to Mexico, and the profits were shifted to Sun Capital in New York City.

Today, many hollowed out cities and towns remain trapped in a cycle of dependence on the very same corporate giants that eroded their communities.

Unbridled market power threatens locally owned businesses, which play an essential role in their communities, and which cannot be replaced by externally owned and managed corporations. Writing for Washington Monthly, Brian S. Feldman (2017) presents numerous examples of black owned businesses that were consumed by larger competitors as a result of the relaxed antitrust regime. Not only had these businesses provided jobs and wealth to black workers, but they also served as pillars of the community in a time when many larger, white-owned businesses were either indifferent or actively hostile to the priorities of the black community. Black business owners in Selma, Alabama, for example, provided a physical foothold for civil rights activities in the 1960s. But without antitrust protections, these small businesses could not withstand the power of consolidating giants like Walmart, which used anti competitive practices, including predatory pricing, to drive small competitors out.

Meanwhile, Bentonville, Arkansas, home of Walmart’s Walton family flourishes, with a plethora of privately funded parks and schools.

To make matters worse, weak local economies are self reinforcing: Less economic activity means less tax revenue for schools, public transportation, and other basic needs, which, as shown by Chetty and Hendren (2017), results in less economic mobility for future generations. As geographic segregation becomes more entrenched, it has become easier and easier for firms to identify and prey on vulnerable populations. As Hwang et al. (2015) demonstrate, this predatory behavior has been prevalent in both home mortgages and car insurance, where providers charge high prices and provide restricted service in areas with large minority populations. If areas continue to segregate racially and economically, this behavior will only intensify.

Nowhere is the self reinforcing mechanism of geographic segregation more evident than in the contemporary struggle to expand broadband coverage to underserved communities, both rural and urban. Many Internet service providers (ISPs) have avoided expanding service to such areas because doing so is less profitable. Through economic, political, and legal means, they have blocked efforts to provide multiple options directly. As Internet access becomes an effective (even necessary) prerequisite to entering the job market, underserved populations remain economically isolated and exploitable by powerful local monopolists. Market power compounds these issues: ISPs spend millions of dollars lobbying against the creation or expansion of proven municipal broadband networks (see introduction). In protecting their market share, entrenched incumbents not only reinforce social inequities but also actively prevent some of the least privileged Americans from accessing the modem economy.

Market power and the flow of information

Recognizing that access to unbiased information was no less essential to a democracy than water is to survival, and seeing the threat that industry consolidation and market power posed to that freedom of information, antitrust regulators once closely monitored the structure and content of newspapers and other media. Ownership of multiple competing news outlets was capped, and the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Fairness Doctrine required media outlets to fairly cover issues of national importance. In the wake of the Chicago School revolution, many of these regulations fell by the wayside with severe consequences for society and our democracy.

Just as the decline of antitrust protections altered the flow of firm revenue, it has also altered the flow of information with grave ramifications for society. The weakening, and in some cases the repeal, of key protections have greatly contributed to the obstruction of quality information that was so evident during the 2016 election. In print, radio, TV, and online, our sources of information have consolidated under openly biased ownership; media conglomerates have purchased local newsrooms en masse and geared them for profit over quality; online news is increasingly filtered by social media giants, with no eye for credibility or fairness, but with ultimate discretion as gatekeepers between readers and journalists; and television and radio stations held by politically biased media companies spew false information with little oversight.

After decades of consolidation, local news, a key source of information for nearly half of all Americans, according to Pew Research (2017) can scarcely be described as such. In 2016, the five largest local TV companies owned 37 percent of all stations. This pattern will likely worsen under Trump’s FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai, who hinted that he would further relax merger scrutiny shortly after his appointment.

As consumers of media, the information we receive is increasingly controlled by a small select group of very powerful corporations. The decline of quality local reporting is problematic alone, but, as the Knight Commission (2009) points out, will be even more harmful if the loss contributes to the further erosion of community engagement, helping to worsen already substantial distrust of local institutions.

The erosion of decades old antitrust protections has had serious ramifications for the freedom and quality of journalistic institutions, but online, there is doubt as to whether antitrust authorities will address emerging threats at all. Gatekeepers like Google and Facebook threaten to end the era of democratized information that the Internet was supposed to create. Every day, millions log on to Facebook to see which stories their friends are sharing, creating advertising revenue for Facebook but not for the organizations that created the content. Likewise, Google’s “Incognito Window” feature enables users to avoid pay walls put in place by publishers to protect copyrighted material. This is to say nothing of outright discrimination within search results, which recently drew the ire of European authorities.

Platforms not only capture profits of journalism, they also control who sees what. Emily Bell, Director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, discussed this concern in a 2016 piece for the Columbia Journalism Review.

“In truth, we have little or no insight into how each company is sorting its news. If Facebook decides, for instance, that video stories will do better than text stories, we cannot know that unless they tell us or unless we observe it. This is an unregulated field. There is no transparency into the internal working of these systems… We are handing the controls of important parts of our public and private lives to a very small number of people, who are unelected and unaccountable.”

Examples of the problems created by this centralized, unaccountable control of information are everywhere: During the 2016 election, the proliferation of fake news articles on Facebook and automated “bots” on Twitter interfered with the honest and free exchange of information. Unregulated “news” sharing on Facebook and Twitter popularized numerous conspiracy theories. And since Facehook has no obligation to provide a neutral platform, electoral campaigns, interest groups, and repositories of outside “dark money” are free to spend whatever it takes to not only get their content in front of targeted users but also prevent the opposition’s content from reaching its intended audience. Meanwhile, Woolley and Guilbeault (2017) show how Twitter bots sought to obstruct social media messaging of supporters on both sides.

When it comes to something as essential for democracy as the free flow of accurate information, the power is simply too great to be left unregulated, in the hands of a few powerful corporations.

By keeping revenue from content creators, by lending a voice to biased and false news outlets, and by artificially amplifying chosen content, powerful platforms will reduce the amount of legitimate news produced (and shared) and will instead encourage the production of whatever content their opaque algorithms favor. Rather than democratizing the spread of information, many online platforms have consolidated this process for private gain. This is a new question for antitrust authorities, and one that must be addressed soon.

Compromising the political system

The influence of large campaign donors and highly paid corporate lobbyists on American politics is no secret, but bears repeating: Individual corporations and industry trade associations, not to mention a host of more secretive “dark money” pools, leverage their wealth to exert enormous influence on legislators, executives, and other government officials at all levels. This influence amplifies the voice of the powerful and, as Jacob Hacker (2011) discusses in Winner Take All Politics, was key in bringing about the Chicago School revolution in antitrust policy in the first place.

Less discussed than the influence of money in politics is how economic policy reinforces the phenomenon. By creating larger firms and enabling them to generate excess profits, consolidation increases the number of businesses with the means necessary to invest in serious lobbying efforts, including the number of firms whose business models depend on doing so. Rather than attempting to satisfy broad constituencies of disparate interests, politicians are tempted to cater to a select few: those who can afford to both amplify their voices and offer campaign funds in exchange for political favors.

Close ties to large corporations not only help politicians fundraise, but also let them access the lucrative “revolving door” to high paying jobs in the private sector throughout or after a political career. Politicians, then, have a considerable incentive to demonstrate their usefulness to the large corporations that hold power over their political and professional wellbeing. The same goes for appointed public officials and bureaucrats.

By enhancing the ability of large corporations to win, not by innovating or improving, but by buying government favoritism, a compromised political system entrenches the concentration of corporate market power. That is why, at the dawn of an earlier revolution in antitrust, Louis Brandeis noted that we may have concentrations of wealth, or we may have democracy, but not both.

Indeed, today’s mega corporations are so large and so powerful that individual politicians may feel powerless to oppose them. Even those with enough integrity or personal wealth to avoid direct dependence on corporate funders still face pressure to conform to the views of their caucuses. And voters are watching, it’s hardly surprising that, according to Gallup polls, the percentage of Americans reporting a “great deal” or “fair amount” of confidence in the federal government has hit record lows in recent years.

Ultimately, the problem of money in politics, and its interplay with market power threatens to erode the possibility of effective government, both directly and through the trust of its citizens.

SECTION FOUR

Restoring Competition Policy to Build Healthy Markets and Inclusive Growth

This report has explained the theoretical threat of concentrated market power and demonstrated its real world consequences: Instead of creating shared value, powerful businesses, specifically their owners and executives, extract wealth from workers, consumers, disadvantaged competitors, and entire communities. This section describes the role that competition policy can play in realigning incentives and reshaping markets to create a level playing field and an equitable, inclusive economy.

Competition policy is the set of laws and institutions that aim to realign private and public interests by changing the structure of markets and governing the actions taken within them. It can be understood as serving three distinct roles:

(1) To regulate market structure and prevent the aggregation of private power, primarily by blocking mergers that concentrate too much power and breaking up pre existing, overly powerful firms

(2) To curtail anti competitive behavior by banning firms from and punishing firms for engaging in extractive practices like colluding to raise prices or deceiving consumers, including practices that may persist even without full monopolization

(3) To regulate “natural monopolies” as utilities and intervene when competition fails, either through more comprehensive regulation or the provision of public options, especially in key natural monopolies like telecommunications and energy with high fixed costs of doing business, where fierce private competition tends to give rise to boom and bust cycles that impair the steady provision of necessary services.

To limit the consolidation of power by regulating market structure, authorities should:

– Revise merger guidelines to scrutinize the potential for anti competitive behavior throughout supply chains, not merely targeting consumers

– Closely examine negative effects of vertical integration and vertical restraints that are likely to arise from proposed and consummated mergers

– Use Section 2 of the Sherman Act to break up existing monopolies and firms whose structure and business models threaten other market participants and the economy more broadly

– Scrutinize the many ways in which ownership and management have consolidated, including the common ownership of multiple firms in an industry by the same major shareholders

– Implement intellectual property (IP) reform to encourage entrepreneurship and weaken protections for incumbents, including by compelling free licensing of patent portfolios

In many instances, market power arises from the structure of a given market, that is, the number and size of firms and the ties between them. Consolidated markets lack competition, often allowing firms to charge high prices, offer bad service, and pay low wages. Such market power can therefore be addressed by preventing consolidation, either by limiting mergers between competitors or by breaking up excessively large firms. Merger review has always been a key facet of competition policy, but it is much less stringent today than it was prior to the 1980.

Under existing merger guidelines, antitrust agencies assess mergers primarily on their expected short run effect on price and output. But as we have discussed this narrow approach overlooks important effects on innovation, wages, jobs, and supply chains; even its track record on price effects is mixed at best. Congress should enact antitrust legislation that would require agencies to revise existing merger guidelines to consider the merging parties’ ability to engage in anti competitive behavior throughout the supply chain, to look for ways it may harm any and all market participants, not just consumers. That would enable the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to scrutinize vertical consolidation as well as a merger’s effects on innovation, labor markets, data privacy, and discrimination by race, gender, and geography.

The agencies should also consider exercising their authority under Section 2 of the Sherman Act to break up existing firms whose structure and business models render them impossible to regulate in accord with the new standard. Finally, an increase in the antitrust resources of regulatory agencies would complement this agenda.

In some cases, market power arises not through consolidation but through intellectual property rights (IPRs) exclusive, government enforced rights to profit from an innovation. While IPRs are intended to incentivize investment in R&D, current laws may actually be hindering innovation by slowing the spread of existing knowledge and hindering knock on discoveries, new ideas built on previous innovations. Policymakers should consider weakening such protections; doing so can promote growth and simultaneously lower prices and expand access to goods, especially medicines.

While policies to prevent and reverse consolidation and restrict anti competitive behavior at the firm level are necessary to maintain competition, another aspect of our market power crisis is the combination of management with shareholders into one corporate interest, a relationship that is then used to profit at the expense of other stakeholders.

Examples of this broad phenomenon can be seen in the rise of private equity, the lifting of regulations on corporate stock buybacks, the use of dual classes of shareholders, the decline in initial public offerings (IP0s) and the reduction in the share of the economy accounted for by traditional publicly traded corporations, and the so called “common ownership” of multiple firms in an industry by the same small set of large institutional investors.

This issue is of sufficient concern to warrant an investigation by a temporary panel with representatives from a number of government agencies with access to the data that are necessary to understand the potential threat of shareholder management consolidation. These agencies include the IRS, the U.S. Census, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as well as the competition authorities at the FTC and DOJ. The core issue to investigate is whether the various mechanisms that shareholders have for influencing firm behavior and benefiting from firm profits are used for their private benefit (and at other stakeholders’ expense) versus for the public good. Such a panel should examine corporate structures, such as private equity, tiered shareholding, private partnerships, and common ownership, as well as behavior like labor outsourcing, stock buybacks, and dividend recapitalization, that arguably serve to benefit shareholders at the expense of everyone else.

To curtail anti-competitive behaviors, policy must:

– Increase enforcement at the state and federal level

– Increase funding of federal and state competition authorities

– Increase punishments for anti competitive behavior

– Expand the scope of antitrust action at the state level

– Use antitrust law against the fissured workplace

– Challenge the ability of tech platforms to extract rents from their supply chain

_ Scrutinize price discrimination enabled by “Big Data”

– Protect low skill workers from non compete and anti poaching clauses

– Reform the Federal Arbitration Act

While preventing the accumulation of market power through large scale consolidation is important, this tactic does not guarantee that firms will always compete fairly. Even in less concentrated markets, firms may seek an advantage through anti competitive tactics, especially where vertical integration enables them to exploit a strategic position in one market for advantage in another.

Businesses can collude to charge more, take advantage of workers with contracts they don’t understand and cannot litigate, and maneuver consumers into disadvantageous terms of service or discriminate among them using data consumers do not realize has been harvested from them. And although many of these tactics are illegal, weak enforcement and judicial precedents establishing impossibly high burdens of proof and excessively narrow theories about how conduct can be anti competitive encourage abuse among firms who see no threat of repercussion.

To deter anti competitive practices and realign market incentives with the public interest, we advocate strengthening the enforcement of existing antitrust law and broadening the application of that law in key areas, especially as it relates to the emergence of new and unregulated technology.

Ultimately, anti competitive practices will only be curbed when firms operate on the assumption that nefarious behavior will be discovered and duly punished. Therefore, more prosecutorial action against anti competitive behavior and harsher penalties are necessary to discourage firms from abusing power.

Larger regulatory budgets for the DOJ Antitrust Division and for enforcement at the FTC will help achieve this goal by providing regulators with more staff and resources to carry out investigations. Most importantly, the burden on plaintiffs for winning an anti competitive conduct case is far too high.

At the federal level, of course, neither more aggressive prosecution of private firms nor a significant increase in regulatory funding seems likely in the current political climate, so we also propose expanded activity and funding of these activities at the state level. Generally, state attorneys have a well established tradition of antitrust action, and in many cases, are unburdened by the ideological baggage that plagues federal agencies and judicial precedent. These activities should be expanded wherever possible.

While poor enforcement has permitted some anti competitive behaviors, narrow court interpretations have pushed others out from under regulation entirely. For example, predatory pricing has long been a violation of antitrust statutes, but under current jurisprudence, it can only be recognized when the defendant is found to have both intent to remove competition and the ability to recoup losses incurred by selling below cost. This extremely high legal hurdle has prevented the prosecution of predatory pricing, despite evident instances of it, such as Amazon‘s behavior towards Diapers.com.

The crucial issue for prosecuting conduct cases under Section 2 of the Sherman Act is the requirement to prove monopoly power, generally by a preponderant share of the relevant market. This means that conduct in which powerful companies use their domination of one market to extract concessions in another is very hard to prove. For example, Google has used its dominance in the search market to redirect advertising revenues from content companies back to itself, Those companies have to make their content available to Google for fear of losing all Internet traffic, which then means that Google is the market participant earning the ad revenue. Google claims that it is not a monopolist in Search, “competition is just a click away,” as the saying goes and yet the observed behavior of users of its mobile platform and the restrictions that Google places on third party applications all but guarantee the tech giant will control the flow of information. (And hence reaps the reward therefrom.)

Finally, the rise of digital platforms has revived concerns about the abuse of vertical consolidation and price discrimination, issues the Chicago School had rendered largely dormant. Because they not only host sellers but also compete with them directly, platforms like Google and Amazon have ample opportunity to profit by placing other firms at a disadvantage.

The European Commission recently fined Google 2.4 billion euros for prioritizing its own Comparison shopping service over that of competitors. Regulators must either bar firms from competing on their own platforms, in effect, enact a ban on vertical integration for platform companies, or at the very least closely regulate such behavior by imposing neutrality on crucial internet era utilities.

A similar principle applies to platforms like Uber who have used their power to extract gains from workers. Since Uber drivers are technically independent businesses, the competition authorities should regard Uber’s price setting as price fixing.

Finally, access to data has enabled a new wave of advanced price discrimination through which platforms are able to charge different customers different amounts based on past behavior and other factors. Antitrust authorities must pursue vigorous enforcement of existing price discrimination laws.

To establish public utility regulation of essential industries and “natural monopolies,” policymakers should:

– Explore public utility regulation to rein in Google, Facebook, Amazon

– Promote expansion of municipal broadband networks

– Consider creation of public options for financial services

Private markets are not always able to sustain competition. This can happen when there are high fixed costs to production, as with utilities or airlines or when firms experience “network effects” that make it more useful to have one large platform than several small competitors, as with Facebonk or Amazon. In these instances, it maybe impossible to generate competition by breaking up large corporations horizontally; at the same time, outright bans on abusive practices may be too blunt an instrument to properly regulate firms’ behavior. Such situations call for further intervention, either through more fine tuned “public utility” regulation or through the introduction of public market players.

Historically, public utility regulation has been used to ensure that essential goods and services are provided accessibly and at fair prices. In domains such as telecommunications, where network effects prevented robust competition, the imposition of a “common carrier” status required providers to serve all comers at reasonable rates and without unjust discrimination. More recently, the FCC harkened back to these principles in the context of net neutrality, preventing internet service providers from exercising bias based on the content (such as a competitor’s service) they are transmitting.

Looking forward, policymakers should consider a public utility approach to regulating prominent technology firms. As gatekeepers to essential economic and social goods, Google and Facebook to news and information, and Amazon to avast logistics and shipping architecture these businesses threaten to limit or influence participation in markets and civil society. Regulatory firewalls could prevent such platforms from privileging their own content (say, in search results), thus maintaining a level playing field for smaller competitors. Further oversight could require firms to respect the interests of the users whose data they collect and sell and could guard against discriminatory treatment, including as an “unintended” consequence of revenue optimizing algorithms.

In some instances, barriers to entry prevent competition in a market, even though there is no inherent advantage to consolidation. Here, the government can intervene by simply becoming a competitor, by offering a so called public option. This approach is not a new one: The Tennessee Valley Authority’s provision of rural electrification dates back to the New Deal.

Public options have three main advantages:

First, they offer an additional, straightforward option to consumers at reasonable rates and without discrimination.

Second, they increase market competition, encouraging pre existing businesses to lower prices and offer better service.

Third, they can expand subsidized access to consumers unable to afford essential goods at market prices.

Policymakers should promote this approach in key areas, such as municipal broadband and banking.

Conclusion

For roughly 40 years, the American economy has been remade to serve the powerful and the wealthy, with no regard for everyday consumers, workers, or the health of our society.

Today, we see just how effectively policymakers and regulators have championed the needs of the few over those of the many. Ironically, the policies that helped get us here were sold on the notion that they would deliver the most good to the most people, the precise opposite of what ultimately occurred.

Furthermore, Chicago School policies were predicated on the idea that providing for the public good is simple. This was a convenient view for policymakers and other parties whose key interest amounted to diminishing the role that government plays in administering society.

But Chicago School ideology was also, as ample evidence shows, precisely incorrect.

Robust competition is every bit as important for economic well being as scions of the Chicago School suggested, but this school of thought presented false and misleading ideas about how to best achieve it. Here, we have combined emerging research with historical narrative aimed at explaining how antitrust policy has been a key contributor to an increasingly top heavy economy.

In the simplest way possible, we aim to show that competition is as essential as it is delicate, and that economies work best when power is evenly distributed among market actors. In this regard, competition policy is an essential tool.

It’s Time to Panic Now! – Fred Kaplan.

John Bolton’s appointment as national security adviser puts us on a path to war.

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It’s time to push the panic button.

John Bolton’s appointment as national security adviser, a post that requires no Senate confirmation, puts the United States on a path to war. And it’s fair to say President Donald Trump wants us on that path.

After all, Trump gave Bolton the job after the two held several conversations (despite White House chief of staff John Kelly’s orders barring Bolton from the building). And there was this remark that Trump made after firing Rex Tillerson and nominating the more hawkish Mike Pompeo to take his place:

”We’re getting very close to having the Cabinet and other things I want.”

Bolton has repeatedly called for launching a first strike on North Korea, scuttling the nuclear arms deal with Iran, and then bombing that country too. He says and writes these things not as part of some clever ”madman theory” to bring Kim Jong-un and the mullahs of Tehran to the bargaining table, but rather because he simply wants to destroy them and America’s other enemies too.

His agenda is not ”peace through strength,” the motto of more conventional Republican hawks that Trump included in a tweet on Wednesday, but rather regime change through war. He is a neocon without the moral fervor of some who wear that label, i.e., he is keen to topple oppressive regimes not in order to spread democracy but rather to expand American power.

In the early days of the George W. Bush administration, Vice President Dick Cheney finagled Bolton a job as undersecretary of state for arms control, an inside joke, since Bolton has never read an arms, control treaty that he liked. But his real assignment was to serve as Cheney’s spy in Foggy Bottom, monitoring and, when possible, obstructing any attempts at peaceful diplomacy mounted by Secretary of State Colin Powell.

When Powell got the boot, Cheney wanted to make Bolton deputy secretary of state, replacing Richard Armitage, who resigned along with his best friend Powell. But Powell’s replacement, Condoleezza Rice, who had been Bush’s national security adviser, blocked the move, fully aware of Bolton’s obstructionist ideology.

As a compromise, Bush nominated Bolton to be United Nations ambassador, but that move proved unbearable to even the Republican controlled Senate at the time. It was one thing to be critical of the U.N., it’s a body deserving of criticism, but Bolton opposed its very existence. ”There is no such thing as the United Nations,” he once said in a speech, adding, ”If the UN. Secretariat building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn’t make a lot of difference.”

More than that, he was hostile to the idea of international law, having once declared, ”It is a big mistake for us to grant any validity to international law even when it may seem in our short-term interest to do so, because over the long term, the goal of those who think that international law really means anything are those who want to constrain the United States.”

These might be quaint notions for some eccentric midlevel aide to espouse, but the United Nations is founded on international law, Security Council resolutions are drafted to enforce international law, and, as even Bush was beginning to realize by the start of his second term, around the time of Bolton’s nomination, some of those resolutions were proving useful for expressing, and sometimes enforcing, US. national security interests. How could someone with these views serve as the US. ambassador to the U.N.?

In his confirmation hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bolton put on a dreadful show, grumbling and scowling through his walrus mustache. Finally, in a tie vote, the committee sent Bolton’s nomination to the full Senate ”without recommendation.” Properly fearing that this foretold a rejection on the floor, Bush gave Bolton the job as a ”recess appointment” after Congress went on holiday. But the law allowing this evasion gave the Senate a chance to take a vote 18 months later. In the second round of hearings, Bolton behaved even more obnoxiously than in the first. When one Republican senator asked him whether his year and a half in the UN. had altered his ideas about the place, Bolton, rather than seizing the chance to mollify skeptics, replied, ”Not really.” The head counters in the White House withdrew the nomination, and Bolton headed back to neocon central at the American Enterprise Institute.

During Trump’s presidential transition, Bolton made the short list of candidates for deputy secretary of state, but Tillerson, who would soon get the nod for secretary, expressed misgivings about working with the guy. (Trump might have recalled that conversation earlier this month, when he decided to fire Tillerson.) After Michael Flynn flamed out as national security adviser, Bolton was also on the short list to replace him. Gen. H.R. McMaster got the nod, but Trump publicly said he liked Bolton and that he too would soon be working for the White House ”in some capacity.” And now, here he is.

In his one year and one month on the job, McMaster, who is still an active-duty Army three-star general, proved a deep disappointment to his friends and erstwhile admirers. He’d made his reputation 20 years ago, as the author of a dissertation turned book, Dereliction of Duty, which lambasted the top generals of the Vietnam era for failing to give their honest military advice to President Lyndon Johnson. And now, in his only tour as a policy adviser in Washington, McMaster has wrecked that reputation, committing his own derelictions by pandering to Trump’s proclivities and tolerating his falsehoods.

But at least McMaster assembled, and often listened to, a professional staff at the National Security Council and insisted on ousting amateur ideologues, several of them acolytes of Flynn.

Bolton is not likely to put up with a professional staff, and the flood of White House exiles will soon intensify.

One subject of discussion at Bolton’s Senate hearings, back in 2005, was his intolerance of any views that differed from his own. He displayed this trait most harshly when, as undersecretary of state, he tried to fire two intelligence analysts who challenged his (erroneous) view that Cuba was developing biological weapons and supplying the weapons to rogue regimes.

Nor is Bolton at all suited to perform one of a national security adviser’s main responsibilities, assembling the Cabinet secretaries to debate various options in foreign and military policy, mediating their differences, and either hammering out a compromise or presenting the choices to the president.

Then again, there may now no longer be many differences to mediate in this administration. The last of the grown ups is Secretary of Defense James Mattis, the retired Marine four-star general, who got that job mainly because Trump had heard his nickname was ”mad dog.” He didn’t know that Mattis regularly consulted a personal library of some 7,000 volumes on history and strategy, that (like most generals) he’s not too keen to go to war unless he really has to, and that (also like most generals) he takes the Geneva Conventions seriously and opposes torture.

In recent weeks, Trump was said to be tiring of aides who kept telling him no. He might soon tire of Bolton, who, whatever else he is, can’t be pegged as a yes man. But in the short term, Bolton may be just the man to excite Trump’s darker instincts, to actualize the frustrated hitman who raged about pelting Kim Jong-un with ”fire and fury like the world has never seen” or fomenting ”the total collapse of the Iranian regime,” which he somehow believes was about to happen, if only Obama hadn’t signed the nuclear deal and lifted sanctions.

With Tillerson out, Bolton in, and Pompeo waiting in the wings for confirmation, Trump is feeling his oats, coming into his own, like Trump is free to be Trump. Finding out just who that is may make the rest of us duck and cover.

Can America Rescue Itself? Vote, Because That’s Just What They Don’t Want You to Do – NY Times.

This is a fragile moment for America. The integrity of democratic institutions is under assault from without and within, and basic standards of honesty and decency in public life are corroding.

If you are horrified at what is happening in Washington and in many states you can march in the streets, you can go to town halls and demand more from your representatives, you can share the latest outrageous news on your social media feed, all worthwhile activities.

But none of it matters if you don’t go out and vote.

It’s a perennial conundrum for the world’s oldest democracy: Why do so many Americans fail to go to the polls? Some abstainers think that they’re registering a protest against the awful choices. They’re fooling themselves.

Nonvoters aren’t protesting anything; they’re just putting their lives and futures in the hands of the people who probably don’t want them to vote.

We’ve seen recently what can happen when people choose instead to take their protest to the ballot box. We saw it in Vir1inia in November. We saw it, to our astonishment, in Alabama in December. We may see it this week in western Pennsylvania. Voting matters.

Casting a ballot is the best opportunity most of us will ever get to have a say in who will represent us, what issues they will address and how they will spend our money. The right to vote is so basic, President Lyndon Johnson said in 1965, that without it “all others are meaningless.”

And yet every election, tens of millions of Americans stay home. Studies of turnout among developed nations consistently rank the United States near the bottom.

In the most recent midterms, in 2014, less than 37 vercent of eligible voters went to the polls, the lowest turnout in more than 70 years. In 2016, 102 million people didn’t vote, far more than voted for any single candidate.

The problem isn’t just apathy, of course. Keeping people from voting has been an American tradition from the nation’s earliest days, when the franchise was restricted to white male landowners. It took a civil war, constitutional amendments, violently suppressed activism against discrimination and a federal act enforcing the guarantees of those amendments to extend this basic right to every adult. With each expansion of voting rights, the nation inched closer to being a truly representative democracy. Today, only one group of Americans may be legally barred from voting, those with felony records, a cruel and pointless restriction that disproportionately silences people of color.

In the months leading up to the midterm elections on Nov. 6, when the House, Senate and statehouses around the country are up for grabs, the editorial board will explore the complicated question of why Americans don’t vote, and what can be done to overcome the problem.

The explanations fall into three broad categories:

SUPPRESSION

A 96-year-old woman in Tennessee was denied a voter-ID card despite presenting four forms of identification, including her birth certificate. A World War II veteran was turned away in Ohio because his Department of Veterans Affairs photo ID didn’t include his address. Andrea Anthony, a 31 yearold old black woman from Wisconsin who had voted in every major election since she was 18, couldn’t vote in 2016 because she had lost her driver’s license a few days before.

Stories like these are distressingly familiar, as more and more states pass laws that make voting harder for certain groups of voters, usually minorities, but also poor people, students and the elderly. They require forms of photo identification that minorities are much less likely to have or be able to get purportedly to reduce fraud, of which there is virtuall no evidence. They eliminate same-day registration, close polling stations in minority areas and cut back early voting hours and Sunday voting.

These new laws may not be as explicitly discriminatory as the poll taxes or literacy tests of the 20th century, but they are part of the same long-term project to keep minorities from the ballot box. And because African Americans vote overwhelmingly for Democrats, the laws are nearly always passed by Republican dominated legislatures.

In a lawsuit challenging Wisconsin’s strict new voter-ID law, a former staff member for a Republican lawmaker testified that Republicans were “politicall frothing at the mouth” at the prospect that the law would drive down Democratic turnout. It worked: After the 2016 election, one survey found that the law prevented possibly more than 17,000 registered voters, disproportionately poor and minority, from voting. Donald Trump carried the state by fewer than 23,000 votes.

FAILING TECHNOLOGY

The legitimacy of an election is only as good as the reliability of the machines that count the votes. And yet 43 states use voting machines that are no longer being made, and are at or near the end of their useful life. Many states still manage their voter registration rolls using software programs from the 1990s. It’s no surprise that this sort of infrastructure failure hits poorer and minority areas harder, often creating hours long lines at the polls and discouraging many voters from coming out at all. Upgrading these machines nationwide would cost at least $1 billion, maybe much more, and Congress has consistently failed to provide anything close to sufficient funding to speed along the process.

Elections are hard to run with aging voting technology, but at least those problems aren’t intentional. Hacking and other types of interference are. In 2016, Russian hackers were able to breach voter registration systems in Illinois and several other states, and targeted dozens more. They are interfering again in advance of the 2018 midterms, according to intelligence officials, who are demanding better cybersecurity measures. These include conducting regular threat assessments, using voting machines that create paper trails and conducting postelection audits. Yet President Trump, who sees any invocation of Russian interference as a challenge to the legitimacy of his election, consistently downplays or dismisses these threats. Meanwhile, Mr. Trump’s State Department has not spent a dime of the $120 million Congress allocated to it to fight disinformation campaigns by Russia and other countries.

DISILLUSIONMENT

Some people wouldn’t vote if you put a ballot box in their living room. Whether they believe there is no meaningful difference between the major parties or that the government doesn’t care what they think regardless of who is in power, they have detached themselves from the political process.

That attitude is encouraged by many in government, up to and including the current president, who cynically foster feelings of disillusionment by hawking fake tales of rigged systems and illegal voters, even as they raise millions of dollars from wealthy donors and draw legislative maps to entrench their power.

The disillusionment is understandable, and to some degree it’s justified. But it creates a self fulfilling prophecy. When large numbers of people don’t vote, elections are indeed decided by narrow, unrepresentative groups and in the interests of wealth and power. The public can then say, See? We were right. They don’t care about us. But when more people vote, the winning candidates are more broadly representative and that improves government responsiveness to the public and enhances democratic legitimacy.

These obstacles to voting and political participation are very real, and we don’t discount their impact on turnout. The good news is there are fixes for all of them.

The most important and straightforward fix is to make it easier for people to register and vote. Automatic voter registration, which first passed in Oregon just three years ago, is now the law or practice in nine states, both red and blue, and the District of Columbia. Washington State is on the cusp of becoming the tenth, and New Jersey and Nevada may be close behind. More people also turn out when states increase voting opportunities, such as by providing mailin ballots or by expanding voting hours and days.

The courts should be a bulwark protecting voting rights, and many lower federal courts have been just that in recent years, blocking the most egregious attacks on voting in states from North Carolina to Wisconsin. But the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. has made this task much harder, mainly by gutting a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in a 2013 case. Decisions like that one, which split 5 to 4, depend heavily on who is sitting in those nine seats, yet another reason people should care who gets elected.

In the end, the biggest obstacle to more Americans voting is their own sense of powerlessness. It’s true: voting is a profound act of faith, a belief that even if your voice can’t change policy on its own, it makes a difference. Consider the attitude of Andrea Anthon , the Wisconsin woman who was deterred by the state’s harsh new voter-ID law after voting her whole adult life. “Voting is important to me because I know I have a little, teeny, tiny voice, but that is a way for it to be heard,” Ms. Anthony said. “Even though it’s one vote, I feel it needs to count.”

She’s right. The future of America is in your hands. More people voting would not only mean “different political parties with different platforms and different candidates,” the writer Rebecca Solnit said. “It would change the story. It would change who gets to tell the story.”

There are a lot of stories desperately needing to be told right now, but they won’t be as long as millions of Americans continue to sit out elections. Lament the state of the nation as much as you want. Then get out and vote.

NY Times

What happened when the US last introduced tariffs? – Dominic Rushe.

Anyone?

Willis Hawley and Reed Smoot were reviled for a bill blamed for triggering the Great Depression. Will Trump follow their lead?

America inches towards a potential trade war over steel prices, can Donald Trump hear whispering voices?

Alone in the Oval Office in the wee dark hours, illuminated by the glow of his Twitter app, does he feel the sudden chill flowing from those freshly hung gold drapes? It is the shades of Smoot and Hawley.

Willis Hawley and Reed Smoot have haunted Congress since the 1930s when they were the architects of the Smoot Hawley tariff bill, among the most decried pieces of legislation in US history and a bill blamed by some for not only for triggering the Great Depression but also contributing to the start of the second world war.

Pilloried even in their own time, their bloodied names have been brought out like Jacob Marley’s ghost every time America has taken a protectionist turn on trade policy. And America has certainly taken a protectionist turn.

Successful presidents including Barack Obama and Bill Clinton have campaigned on the perils of free trade only to drop the rhetoric once installed in the White House. Trump called Mexicans “rapists” on the campaign trail. And China? “There are people who wish I wouldn’t refer to China as our enemy. But that’s exactly what they are,” Trump said.

As commander in chief he has shown no signs of softening and this week took major action announcing steel imports would face a 25% tariff and aluminium 10%.

Canada and the EU said they would bring forward their own countermeasures. Mexico, China and Brazil have also said they are considering retaliatory steps.

Trump doesn’t seem worried. “Trade wars are good,” he tweeted even as the usually friendly Wall Street Journal thundered that “Trump’s tariff folly ”is the “biggest policy blunder of his Presidency”.

It is not his first protectionist move. In his first days in office the president has vetoed the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), the biggest trade deal in a generation, said he will review the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta), a deal he has called “the worst in history”, and had his visit with Mexico’s president cancelled over his plans to make them pay for a border wall.

Free traders may have become complacent after hearing tough talk on trade from so many presidential candidates on the campaign trail only to watch them furiously back pedal when they get into ofhce, said Dartmouth professor and trade expert Douglas Irwin. “Unfortunately that pattern may have been broken,” he says. “It looks like we have to take Trump literally and seriously about his threats on trade.”

Not since Herbert Hoover has a US president been so down on free trade. And Hoover was the man who signed off on Smoot and Hawley’s bill.

Hawley, an Oregon congressman and a professor a history and economics, became a stock figure in the textbooks of his successors thanks to his partnership with the lean, patrician figure of Senator Reed Smoot, a Mormon apostle known as the “sugar senator” for his protectionist stance towards Utah’s sugar beet industry.

Before he was shackled to Hawley for eternity Smoot was more famous for his Mormonism and his abhorrence of bawdy books, a disgust that inspired the immortal headline “Smoot Smites Smut” after he attacked the importation of Lady’s Chatterley’s Lover, Robert Burns’ more risque poems and similar texts as “worse than opium I would rather have a child of mine use opium than read these books.”

But it was imports of another kind that secured Smoot and Hawley’s place in infamy.

The US economy was doing well in the 1920s as the consumer society was being born to the sound of jazz. The Tariff Act began life largely as a politically motivated response to appease the agricultural lobby that had fallen behind as American workers, and money, consolidated in the cities.

Foreign demand for US produce had soared during the first world war, and farm prices doubled between 1915 and 1918. A wave of land speculation followed and farmers took on debt as they looked to expand production. By the early 1920s farmers had found themselves heavily in debt and squeezed by tightening monetary policy and an unexpected collapse in commodity prices.

Nearly a quarter of the American labor force was then employed on the land, and Congress could not ignore heartland America. Cheap foreign imports and their toll on the domestic market became a hot issue in the 1928 election. Even bananas weren’t safe. Irwin quotes one critic in his book Peddling Protectionism: Smoot Hawley and the Great Depression: “The enormous imports of cheap bananas into the United States tend to curtail the domestic consumption of fresh fruits produced in the United States.”

Hoover won in a landslide against Albert E Smith, an out of touch New Yorker who didn’t appeal to middle America, and soon after promised to pass “limited” tariff reforms.

Hawley started the bill but with Smoot behind him it metastasized as lobby groups shoehorned their products into the bill, eventually proposing higher tariffs on more than 20,000 imported goods.

Siren voices warned of dire consequences. Henry Ford reportedly told Hoover the bill was “an economic stupidity”.

Critics of the tariffs were being aided and abetted by “internationalists” willing to “betray American interests”, said Smoot. Reports claiming the bill would harm the US economy were decried as fake news. Republican Frank Crowther, dismissed press criticism as “demagoguery and untruth, scandalous untruth”.

In October 1929 as the Senate debated the tariff bill the stock market crashed. When the bill finally made it to Hoover’s desk in June 1930 it had morphed from his original “limited” plan to the “highest rates ever known”, according to a New York Times editorial.

The extent to which Smoot and Hawley were to blame for the coming Great Depression is still a matter of debate. “Ask a thousand economists and you will get a thousand and five answers,” said Charles Geisst, professor of economics at Manhattan College and author of Wall Street: A History.

What is apparent is that the bill sparked international outrage and a backlash. Canada and Europe reacted with a wave of protectionist tariffs that deepened a global depression that presaged the rise of Hitler and the second world war. A myriad other factors contributed to the Depression, and to the second world war, but inarguably one consequence of Smoot Hawley in the US was that never again would a sitting US president be so avowedly anti trade. Until today.

Franklin D Roosevelt swept into power in 1933 and for the first time the president was granted the authority to undertake trade negotiations to reduce foreign barriers on US exports in exchange for lower US tariffs.

The backlash against Smoot and Hawley continued to the present day. The average tariff on dutiable imports was 45% in 1930; by 2010 it was 5%.

The lessons of Smoot Hawley used to be taught in high schools. Presidents from Lyndon Johnson to Ronald Reagan have enlisted the unhappy duo when facing off with free trade critics. “I have been around long enough to remember that when we did that once before in this century, something called Smoot Hawley, we lived through a nightmare,” Reagan, who came of age during the Great Depression, said in 1984.

They even got a mention in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off when actor Ben Stein’s teacher bores his class with it. “I don’t think the current generation are taught it. It’s in the past and we are more interested in the future.”

But that might be about to change. “The main lesson is that you have to worry about what other countries do. Countries will retaliate,” said Irwin. “When Congress was considering Smoot Hawley in the 1930s they didn’t consider what other countries might do in reaction. They thought other countries would remain passive. But other countries don’t remain passive.”

The consequences of a trade war today are far worse than in the 1930s. Exports of goods and services account for about 13% of US gross domestic product (GDP) the broadest measure of an economy. It was roughly 5% back in 1920.

“The US is much more engaged in trade, it’s much more a part of the fabric of the country, than it was in the 1920s and 1930s. That means the ripple effects are widespread. Many more industries will be hit by it and the scope for foreign retaliation, which in the case of Smoot Hawley was quite limited, is going to be much more widespread if a trade war was to start.”

“When you start talking about withdrawing from trade agreements or imposing tariffs of 35%, if you are doing that as a protectionist measure, that would be blowing up the system.”

That the promise of “blowing up the system” got Trump elected may be why the ghosts of Smoot and Hawley are once again walking the halls of Congress.

The Guardian

Somali citizens count cost of surge in US airstrikes under Trump – Jason Burke.

The Guardian has investigated scores of reports of US-led strikes targeting al-Shabaab, which have risen to unprecedented levels.

Dozens of civilians have been killed and wounded in Somalia as US-led airstrikes against Islamist militants increase to unprecedented levels, a Guardian investigation has found, raising fears that Washington’s actions could bolster support for extremists.

The escalation in strikes is part of the Trump administration’s broader foreign policy strategy in Africa and the Middle East. There have been 34 US airstrikes in Somalia in the last six months – at least twice the total for the whole of 2016.
Regional allies active in the campaign against Islamic extremists in the east African country have conducted many missions too. These appear to be the most lethal for civilians.

Almost all the strikes target al-Shabaab, the al-Qaida affiliated extremist movement fighting to establish an Islamic state in Somalia for more than a decade.

The Guardian collected and investigated scores of reports of airstrikes over the last 12 months, checking claims in local media with western and local officials, medical staff, witnesses and relatives of victims.

In five attacks since July, more than 50 civilians appear to have been killed or injured. At least two involved US aircraft.
Further casualties are likely to have been caused by other strikes but have gone unreported.
Five civilians were killed and two wounded in an airstrike on a village on 6 December, witnesses and hospital staff said.

In another incident, in October, residents and medics reported up to eight civilians being injured in an airstrike during fierce fighting in Lower Shabelle province.
The previous month, four herders were injured when a water hole near the border with Kenya was bombed.

In August, seven members of a family including small children died in a strike in southern Jubaland, relatives said. Officials said all those killed were extremists.
A month earlier, four people, including three children, were killed and eight wounded in an airstrike on a village near the southern port city of Kismayo, relatives and witnesses said.

The strikes have also killed large numbers of livestock and caused extensive damage done to agricultural infrastructure.

Though the intensity of the recent strikes is unprecedented, the use of air power in Somalia has been steadily increasing since before Donald Trump became US president.

A recent UN analysis described 74 airstrikes between January 2016 and October 2017, resulting in 57 civilian casualties. Only 14 of these strikes were “US supported”, and the report blamed Kenyan forces in Somalia for 42 of those casualties.

Kenya contributes troops and three attack helicopters to Amisom, the 22,000-strong African Union military and policing mission in Somalia. Kenyan forces are also believed to have conducted their own strikes in border areas, though Nairobi denies this.

Most airstrikes hit deep into the territory held by Islamist militants and confirmation of claims of civilian casualties, even when made by relatives of those hurt or killed, is difficult.

Some of the dead or injured may be fighters with armed tribal militias who are technically civilians, though sometimes align with the militants.

Al-Shabaab also routinely exaggerate the number of civilian casualties, and communities are sometimes tempted by the prospect of compensation to support such claims.

The sudden increase in the use of air power in Somalia by the US come after the relaxation of guidelines intended to prevent civilian casualties and a decision by the Tump administration to give local military commanders greater authority in ordering attacks.

A huge bomb that killed 500 people in Mogadishu in October – the latest in a series to target the Somali capital – has added extra impetus to the new US efforts.

Senior humanitarian figures have expressed growing concerns about the potential humanitarian cost of the offensive.

Michael Keating, the UN special representative in Somalia, said: “All those who are using military means in one way or another [in Somalia] claim that they have standards when it comes to the protection of civilians but are not translating their principles into practice. All actors could do more to protect civilians.”

In a phone interview, Ibrahim Mohamed Abdullahi, a resident of Illimey village, which is about 80 miles (130km) south-west of Mogadishu, said a projectile killed five people and injured two others on 6 December.

“Farmers had gathered at a tea shop … when the drone begun to fly over … Some of the victims were passing on the road while some were inside drinking their afternoon tea. Five died on the spot. They are not killing al-Shabaab. They are killing civilians,” he said.

Hospital officials in Mogadishu confirmed two casualties – an 18-month-old girl and a 23-year-old man – had been brought with shrapnel injuries because a clinic nearer Illimey was without electricity.

A five-year-old girl, a 17-year-old girl and three men were killed.

A US spokesperson said there were no US airstrikes in Somalia on 6 December.

The strikes in October in Lower Shabelle took place during fierce fighting between government forces and al-Shabaab. A number of militants were killed, but eight civilians in the village of Awdhegle were also injured, locals said.

Muse Xirey, an elder, said three women, a child and four men were transported to Daru al-Shifa hospital in Mogadishu when their house was hit.

“They were herders and farmers, not al-Shabaab ,” the 56-year-old said.

A doctor at the hospital said two men and a woman injured in “an airstrike between Awdhegle and Barire” were treated.

US officials say a single strike was carried out, 35 miles south-west of Mogadishu.

A third incident took place at the village of Talaka near the border with Kenya after Kenyan troops withdrew. Al-Shabaab fighters moved in shortly afterwards and were bombed, witnesses said. A watering hole some distance away was also attacked. Twenty camels were killed and four herders injured.

Kenyan forces have been blamed for the strike, but deny responsibility.

Between 16 and 17 August, the US conducted three “precision airstrikes against al-Shabaab militants, killing seven fighters” in the Middle Juba region, where there has been heavy fighting between government forces and militants, officials said.

Residents, local media and al-Shabaab-linked outlets reported seven civilians killed by explosions in Ahmed Yare village, about 15 miles outside the town of Jilib, an al-Shabaab stronghold.

In a phone interview from Kismayo, Halima Sheikh Yare said her cousin Sheikh Mohamed, a “renowned cleric”, was killed along with his wife and five male relatives.

The 47-year said her cousin was a farmer as well as religious teacher and local imam, and not, a Somalia officials claim, a local leader of al-Shabaab.

“ Al-Shabaab members are armed, but these were family members who stayed in their house and were not armed,” she said.

Hassan Muhumed, 31, a resident of Jilib who visited Ahmed Yare to check on relatives shortly after the drone strike, said al-Shabaab fighters had visited to address locals a day before the attack but had left shortly afterwards.

“All those killed were civilians,” Muhumed said.

A spokesperson for the US military said an internal investigation had found allegations of civilian casualties near Jilib at this time were “not credible”.

The final incident investigated by the Guardian occurred during the evening of 18 July, in the village of Qabri Sharif, west of Kismayo.

Residents describe “a huge bomb [that] hit several houses”, killing three children and a man. Eight injured adults were transferred to Kismayo hospital, they said.

Muhumed Kuusow, a local elder, said the children were playing inside their house when hit by shrapnel.

“They all died on the spot. The bomb was huge and the whole place was like a deep cave in the ground,” he said.

Dr Hassan Sheikh Ali, who was director of Kismayo hospital at the time, said four casualties – all herders – were brought in.

“They told us there was an airstrike on the village on 18 July, killing several people and many animals,” he said.

Abdinur Mohamed, the provincial information minister, said officials in Kismayo were aware of civilian casualties in the strike, which he said was carried out by Kenyan planes.

A US official said there were no US air strikes in Somalia on 18 July.

The recent UN report found that al-Shabaab killed 1,223 civilians and injured nearly 1,500 others between January 2016 and October 2017. This accounted for 60% of the 2,078 documented civilian deaths and 2,507 injuries in the period reviewed.

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said civilian casualties caused by regional or international forces, though only a small proportion of civilian deaths, were of utmost concern because they undermined the Somali population’s trust in the government and the international community, and that this helped extremists.

One problem for the US is that its forces are often blamed for air attacks even when not responsible.

Tricia Bacon, a former counterterrorism expert at the US Department of State who is professor at the American University in Washington DC, said airstrikes have a potent “disruptive effect” on militant organisations, but also risked alienating civilian populations “you needed to turn against them”.

A Kenyan military spokesperson referred the Guardian to Amisom when asked about Kenya’s operations in Somalia. Francisco Madeira, the head of Amisom, said the force had “not been responsible for any airstrikes” in ..Somalia in 2017.

A US military spokesperson said its forces complied “with the law of armed conflict” and took “all feasible precautions … to minimise civilian casualties and other collateral damage”.

The Guardian

Let’s wrench power back from the billionaires – Senator Bernie Sanders. 

Here is where we are as a planet in 2018: after all of the wars, revolutions and international summits of the past 100 years, we live in a world where a tiny handful of incredibly wealthy individuals exercise disproportionate levels of control over the economic and political life of the global community.

Difficult as it is to comprehend, the fact is that the six richest people on Earth now own more wealth than the bottom half of the world’s population – 3.7 billion people. Further, the top 1% now have more money than the bottom 99%. Meanwhile, as the billionaires flaunt their opulence, nearly one in seven people struggle to survive on less than $1.25 (90p) a day and – horrifyingly – some 29,000 children die daily from entirely preventable causes such as diarrhoea, malaria and pneumonia.

The American people – not Big Oil – must decide our climate future.

At the same time, all over the world corrupt elites, oligarchs and anachronistic monarchies spend billions on the most absurd extravagances. The Sultan of Brunei owns some 500 Rolls-Royces and lives in one of the world’s largest palaces, a building with 1,788 rooms once valued at $350m. In the Middle East, which boasts five of the world’s 10 richest monarchs, young royals jet-set around the globe while the region suffers from the highest youth unemployment rate in the world, and at least 29 million children are living in poverty without access to decent housing, safe water or nutritious food. Moreover, while hundreds of millions of people live in abysmal conditions, the arms merchants of the world grow increasingly rich as governments spend trillions of dollars on weapons.

In the United States, Jeff Bezos – founder of Amazon, and currently the world’s wealthiest person – has a net worth of more than $100bn. He owns at least four mansions, together worth many tens of millions of dollars. As if that weren’t enough, he is spending $42m on the construction of a clock inside a mountain in Texas that will supposedly run for 10,000 years. But, in Amazon warehouses across the country, his employees often work long, gruelling hours and earn wages so low they rely on Medicaid, food stamps and public housing paid for by US taxpayers.

Not only that, but at a time of massive wealth and income inequality, people all over the world are losing their faith in democracy – government by the people, for the people and of the people. They increasingly recognise that the global economy has been rigged to reward those at the top at the expense of everyone else, and they are angry.

Millions of people are working longer hours for lower wages than they did 40 years ago, in both the United States and many other countries. They look on, feeling helpless in the face of a powerful few who buy elections, and a political and economic elite that grows wealthier, even as their own children’s future grows dimmer.

In the midst of all of this economic disparity, the world is witnessing an alarming rise in authoritarianism and rightwing extremism – which feeds off, exploits and amplifies the resentments of those left behind, and fans the flames of ethnic and racial hatred.

Now, more than ever, those of us who believe in democracy and progressive government must bring low-income and working people all over the world together behind an agenda that reflects their needs. Instead of hate and divisiveness, we must offer a message of hope and solidarity. We must develop an international movement that takes on the greed and ideology of the billionaire class and leads us to a world of economic, social and environmental justice. Will this be an easy struggle? Certainly not. But it is a fight that we cannot avoid. The stakes are just too high.

As Pope Francis correctly noted in a speech at the Vatican in 2013: “We have created new idols. The worship of the golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal.” He continued: “Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalised: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.”

A new and international progressive movement must commit itself to tackling structural inequality both between and within nations. Such a movement must overcome “the cult of money” and “survival of the fittest” mentalities that the pope warned against. It must support national and international policies aimed at raising standards of living for poor and working-class people – from full employment and a living wage to universal higher education, healthcare and fair trade agreements. In addition, we must rein in corporate power and prevent the environmental destruction of our planet as a result of climate change.

Here is just one example of what we have to do. Just a few years ago, the Tax Justice Network estimated that the wealthiest people and largest corporations throughout the world have been stashing at least $21tn-$32tn in offshore tax havens in order to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. If we work together to eliminate offshore tax abuse, the new revenue that would be generated could put an end to global hunger, create hundreds of millions of new jobs, and substantially reduce extreme income and wealth inequality. It could be used to move us aggressively toward sustainable agriculture and to accelerate the transformation of our energy system away from fossil fuels and towards renewable sources of power.

Taking on the greed of Wall Street, the power of gigantic multinational corporations and the influence of the global billionaire class is not only the moral thing to do – it is a strategic geopolitical imperative. Research by the United Nations development programme has shown that citizens’ perceptions of inequality, corruption and exclusion are among the most consistent predictors of whether communities will support rightwing extremism and violent groups. When people feel that the cards are stacked against them and see no way forward for legitimate recourse, they are more likely to turn to damaging solutions that only exacerbate the problem.

This is a pivotal moment in world history. With the explosion in advanced technology and the breakthroughs this has brought, we now have the capability to substantially increase global wealth fairly. The means are at our disposal to eliminate poverty, increase life expectancy and create an inexpensive and non-polluting global energy system.

This is what we can do if we have the courage to stand together and take on the powerful special interests who simply want more and more for themselves. This is what we must do for the sake of our children, grandchildren and the future of our planet.

• Bernie Sanders is a US senator for Vermont

The Guardian 

The president is a disgrace to his country at so many levels. The Observer view on Donald Trump. 

It is almost one year since Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th US president. Will he last another 12 months? Day after tumultuous day since 20 January 2017, Trump has provided fresh evidence of his unfitness for America’s highest office.

It is not only that his politics and policies, from tax cuts and climate change to Palestine and nuclear weapons, are disastrously wrong-headed. It is not just that his idea of leadership is divisive, confrontational and irresponsible. Nor does the problem lie solely with his blatant racism, misogyny and chauvinism, though these are indeed massive problems.

His latest foul-mouthed outrage – describing developing countries as “shitholes” – is appalling even by his crude standards.

The fundamental failing underlying Trump’s presidency is his wilful ignorance. His frequently petulant, childish behaviour combines with a staggering lack of knowledge and contempt for facts to produce serial, chronic misjudgments. Trump, in power, cannot be trusted. He has been exposed as lacking in empathy, shamelessly mendacious, cynical and unversed or uninterested in the enduring human and constitutional values his office is sworn to uphold. Trump is the first and hopefully the last of his kind: an anti-American president. He is a disgrace and a danger to his country. The sooner he is sent packing, the better.

How much longer will Americans tolerate his embarrassing presence in the White House? His tenancy runs until November 2020, when he could seek a second term. But the problem is getting worse, not better. A series of scenarios, fuelled by his endlessly damaging, unacceptable words and actions, is beginning to unfold that could bring about his early departure.

The first and, democratically speaking, the most desirable scenario is that the electorate will simply reject Trump. This process is already well under way, if opinion polls are to be believed. Trump’s personal approval rating has averaged below 40% over the past year, a record for presidential unpopularity. More telling, perhaps, were the findings of a Pew Research Center poll last month that debunked the myth that Trump’s “base” – his core support – is impervious to his daily blundering. Trump’s backing among key groups that helped elect him – white men, Protestant evangelicals, the over-50s and the non-college educated – has fallen significantly across the board. At the same time, a Gallup survey found the number of voters redefining themselves as uncommitted “independents” rose to 42%.

Trump’s fading electoral appeal was cruelly exposed in shock defeats in Virginia and Alabama. Anger and disappointment with Trump among white voters was said to be a decisive factor, assisted by record turnout among African Americans. Nationally, evidence that the Trump rump is shredding is on the rise. A Monmouth University poll last August found that 61% of Trump voters said they could not think of anything he might do that would turn them against him. A poll last month put that figure at 37%. It is plain that many ordinary voters who trusted Trump to make a positive difference have been repelled and disgusted.

Pollsters and pundits are looking to November’s midterm congressional elections. Forecasts suggest a stunning repudiation of a “toxic” Trump, with the Alabama upset being replicated nationwide. The GOP could lose control of the House of Representatives, where large numbers of moderate Republicans are retiring, and its grip on the Senate may be loosened by an anti-Trump tsunami. No party since 1950 has hung on to the house in a midterm poll when the president’s approval was below 40%.

A humiliating nationwide slap in the face from voters this year, coupled with the loss of Congress, could bring Trump’s presidency shuddering to a halt, leaving him wounded, deserted by most Republicans and doomed to one-term ignominy. Meanwhile, another scenario prospectively leading to his political demise is playing out simultaneously. Nobody knows, as yet, whether the federal investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with Russian agents in 2016 will ultimately irretrievably compromise the president himself. But claims that Trump conspired to obstruct justice by putting pressure on the FBI and firing its unbiddable director, James Comey, appear to have substance and are potentially fatal to his presidency. Robert Mueller, the special counsel, is proposing a formal interview under oath.

It’s not over yet. Supporters of Trump point to what they see as a string of successes. They cite a stock market that has added $7tn in value, 2m new jobs and radical tax reform. They credit Trump with defeating Islamic State (a vain boast) and reducing illegal immigration. The number of Americans saying the US economy is in “excellent shape” has jumped from 2% in November 2016 to 18%. About 48% say the economy is “good”, up 11% in the same period. By these measures, his trademark vow to “make America great again” may be beginning to work – and this is likely to slow the pace of desertions from his electoral base.

Elsewhere, conservatives will point to some significant triumphs that give the lie to the idea that Trump has been a hapless figure unable to bend America to his will. On many fronts, his administration is landing significant blows to the Obama-Clinton legacy. The environment secretary, Scott Pruitt, has effectively disembowelled the Environment Protection Agency, sacking scores of advisers and scientists. He is intent on scrapping many Obama-era regulations on water, climate, pollution and more. There has been a bonfire of environmental rules. New rules on chemicals previously declared toxic are being relaxed.

The president is busy appointing predominantly young, white male, conservative judges to federal appeal and district courts. While the supreme court hears only a handful of cases a year, it is in these lower courts where America’s settlement on issues of gender, race, work, relationships and much more is decided.

Meanwhile, the interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, is shrinking America’s national monuments. Part of the Obama-designated Bears Ears in Utah (1.3m acres) and the Clinton-designated Grand Staircase-Escalante (1.9m acres) will likely be opened up for mining and other industrial pursuits. (Trump was lobbied by the uranium mining company Energy Fuels to open up Bears Ears for its uranium rich deposits.)

Then there are the quiet revolutions under way by Betsy DeVos at the education department, while former presidential candidate Ben Carson, at the department of housing and urban development, is slashing government spending on affordable housing. And on and on. These are some of the wins that conservatives are happy to bank while tolerating the intolerable in the White House.

The overwhelming impression of Trump’s first 12 months is not of steady progress but chaos. Tantrums, tears and irrational rage dominate the reality TV scene inside the White House, according to Michael Wolff’s new book, Fire and Fury. On the national stage, Trump has displayed open bigotry over migrant and race issues. His lowest point, among numerous low points, was his implied support for white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Internationally, Trump made nuclear war with North Korea more likely, dismayed the entire world by rejecting the Paris climate accord, insulted and threatened the UN over Jerusalem, did his best to wreck the landmark 2015 treaty with Iran and did next to nothing to halt the terrible conflicts in Syria, Yemen, South Sudan and Afghanistan. Worse still, in a way, he has scorned US friends and allies in Europe and cosied up to authoritarian leaders in China, Russia and the Middle East. Britain has been treated with condescension and contempt, as in his abrupt (but welcome) cancellation of next month’s London visit.

Is this dysfunction evidence of an unhinged personality, as many people suggest? Rather than invoking the 25th amendment and dumping Trump, it would be better if he was held responsible for his actions. For his wilful ignorance, his dangerous lies and his unAmerican bigotry, Trump must be held to account. Perhaps 2018 will be the year.

The Guardian 

Fire and Fury confirms our worst fears – Jonathan Freedland. 

What did you think would be the Republican reaction to the latest revelations about Donald Trump? Did you expect the party’s luminaries to drop their collective head into their hands, or to crumple into a heap in despair at the state of the man they anointed as president of the United States?

They’d certainly have had good reason. In the book Fire and Fury, which on Thursday received the greatest possible endorsement – namely a “cease and desist” order from Trump’s personal lawyers – the journalist Michael Wolff paints a picture of a man whose own closest aides, friends and even family believe is congenitally unfit to be president.
The Trump depicted in the book is ignorant: the adviser who tried to teach him about the constitution could get no further than the fourth amendment before Trump’s eyes glazed over. He doesn’t read, or even skim, barely having the patience to take in a headline. Some allies try to persuade Wolff that attention deficit disorder is part of Trump’s populist genius: he is “post-literate – total television”.

The Republicans have predicted many times that Trump would change. They’ve been wrong every time. He won’t change

He is also loathsome: we read that a favourite sport of Trump’s was tricking friends’ wives to sleep with him. He is weird, especially in the bedroom: having clashed with his secret service bodyguard over his insistence that he be able to lock himself into his quarters (Melania has separate accommodation), he demanded the installation of two extra TV sets, so he could watch three cable news channels at once. He heads back under the covers as early as 6.30pm, munching a cheeseburger as he soaks up hours of Fox and CNN. If there are crumbs, the chambermaid can’t change the sheets: he insists that he strip the bed himself.

We learn that Trump believes Saturday Night Live is damaging to the nation and that it is “fake comedy”; that daughter Ivanka wants to be president herself and that privately she mocks her father’s nature-defying combover. 

And, perhaps most amusingly, we get an answer to the question that has long enraged Trump: the identity of the mystery leaker behind the stream of stories of White House chaos and fratricidal dysfunction that have appeared since he took office. It turns out that the president rants endlessly on the phone to his billionaire friends, who feel no duty of confidentiality. In other words, the leaker Trump seeks is … himself.
Given all this material, you’d forgive congressional Republicans for being glum. Alternatively, you’d understand if they tried to denounce the book, perhaps joining those who question Wolff’s methods, believing he too often strays from corroborated facts and cuts journalistic corners. But that has not been the reaction.

Instead, the official campaign account for Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, tweeted a gif of McConnell grinning mightily. And that smirk captured the mood of many of his colleagues. What do they have to smile about? They’re pleased because they believe Fire and Fury marks the downfall of Steve Bannon, the former chief strategist to Trump and source of some of the book’s most scathing lines. It was Bannon who told Wolff that Trump had “lost it”, and Bannon who described the meeting Donald Trump Jr had with a Russian lawyer – convened for the express purpose of receiving dirt on Hillary Clinton – as “treasonous”.

Trump’s response came in the form of a long and furious statement that loosely translates into New Yorkese as “You’re dead to me” – which delighted establishment Republicans who have long seen Bannon as the enemy within.

It would be nice if this loathing were rooted in ideological principle, with Republicans despising Bannon as the apostle of an ultra-nationalist isolationism and xenophobia that could tip the US and the world towards a 1930s-style catastrophe. (Recall that Bannon once promised Wolff the Trump administration would be “as exciting as the 1930s”.)

But the truth is that Bannon posed a threat to McConnell and his ilk, vowing to run insurgent, Trump-like candidates against establishment Republicans in primary contests (just as he did, in vain, in Alabama last year). If Bannon is broken, they can sleep more easily.

Some go further, believing that, as Bannon dies, so does Bannonism. They speculate that, with the ties to his onetime evil genius severed, Trump might now moderate, becoming a more conventional, focused occupant of the Oval Office. This is delusional, twice over.

First, it’s true that things look bad for Bannon now: he has apparently lost the financial backing of the billionaire Mercer family, and it’s possible he stands to lose control of his far-right Breitbart media empire. But he understands Trump and knows that, if you’re ready to grovel and flatter, a rapprochement is always possible. Hence Bannon’s declaration on Thursday that Trump is a “great man”.

But the more enduring delusion is that Trump is poised to moderate. Republicans predicted he would change once the primaries of 2016 were under way. Then they said he would change once he’d won the party nomination. Or when the presidential election campaign proper began. Or when he’d won the election. Or once he’d taken the oath of office. They were wrong every time. He won’t change. Trump is Trump.

The sheer persistence of this delusion points to another one: the hope that Republicans will finally decide enough is enough and do the right thing by ousting this unfit president. The Wolff book has prompted another flurry of that speculation, focused this time on the 25th amendment of the constitution, which allows for the removal of a president deemed “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office”.

In an article this week, Wolff provides arresting evidence of mental deterioration. He writes that Trump would tell the same three stories, word-for-word, inside 30 minutes, unaware he was repeating himself. “Now it was within 10 minutes.” He adds: “At Mar-a-Lago, just before the new year, a heavily made-up Trump failed to recognise a succession of old friends.” 

But the 25th amendment requires the agreement of the vice-president, a majority of the cabinet and, ultimately, both houses of Congress. We are, once again, up against the sobering truth of the US constitution: it is only as strong as those willing to enforce it. And, today, that means the Republican party.

These latest revelations prove – yet again – what a vile, narcissistic and dangerous man we have in the Oval Office, wielding, among other things, sole, unchecked authority over the world’s mightiest nuclear arsenal. But the reaction to them proves something else too. That he remains in place only thanks to the willing connivance of his Republican enablers. As culpable as he is, they share in his damnation.

The Guardian 

Dispatches, A War Correspondent’s Vietnam Story  – Michael Herr. 

BREATHING IN 
There was a map of Vietnam on the wall of my apartment in Saigon and some nights, coming back late to the city, I’d lie out on my bed and look at it, too tired to do anything more than just get my boots off. 

That map was a marvel, especially now that it wasn’t real any more. For one thing, it was very old. It had been left there years before by another tenant, probably a Frenchman, since the map had been made in Paris. The paper had buckled in its frame after years in the wet Saigon heat, laying a kind of veil over the countries it depicted. Vietnam was divided into its older territories of Tonkin, Annam and Cochin China, and to the west past Laos and Cambodge sat Siam, a kingdom. 

That’s old, I’d tell visitors, that’s a really old map. If dead ground could come back and haunt you the way dead people do, they’d have been able to mark my map CURRENT and burn the ones they’d been using since ’64, but count on it, nothing like that was going to happen. 

It was late ’67 now, even the most detailed maps didn’t reveal much any more; reading them was like trying to read the faces of the Vietnamese, and that was like trying to read the wind. We knew that the uses of most information were flexible, different pieces of ground told different stories to different people. 

We also knew that for years now there had been no country here but the war. The Mission was always telling us about VC units being engaged and wiped out and then reappearing a month later in full strength, there was nothing very spooky about that, but when we went up against his terrain we usually took it definitively, and even if we didn’t keep it you could always see that we’d at least been there. 
At the end of my first week in-country I met an information officer in the headquarters of the 25th Division at Cu Chi who showed me on his map and then from his chopper what they’d done to the Ho Bo Woods, the vanished Ho Bo Woods, taken off by giant Rome ploughs and chemicals and long, slow fire, wasting hundreds of acres of cultivated plantation and wild forest alike, ‘denying the enemy valuable resources and cover’. 

It had been part of his job for nearly a year now to tell people about that operation; correspondents, touring congressmen, movie stars, corporation presidents, staff officers from half the armies in the world, and he still couldn’t get over it. It seemed to be keeping him young, his enthusiasm made you feel that even the letters he wrote home to his wife were full of it, it really showed what you could do if you had the know-how and the hardware. 

And if in the months following that operation incidences of enemy activity in the larger area of War Zone C had increased ‘significantly’, and American losses had doubled and then doubled again, none of it was happening in any damn Ho Bo Woods, you’d better believe it . . . 

Going out at night the medics gave you pills, Dexedrine breath like dead snakes kept too long in a jar. I never saw the need for them myself, a little contact or anything that even sounded like contact would give me more speed than I could bear. Whenever I heard something outside of our clenched little circle I’d practically flip, hoping to God that I wasn’t the only one who’d noticed it. A couple of rounds fired off in the dark a kilometre away and the Elephant would be there kneeling in my chest, sending me down into my boots for a breath. 

Once I thought I saw a light moving in the jungle and I caught myself just under a whisper saying, ‘I’m not ready for this, I’m not ready for this.’ That’s when I decided to drop it and do something else with my nights. And I wasn’t going out like the night ambushers did, or the Lurps, long-range recon patrollers who did it night after night for weeks and months, creeping up on VC base camps or around moving columns of North Vietnamese. 

I was living too close to my bones as it was, all I had to do was accept it. Anyway, I’d save the pills for later, for Saigon and the awful depressions I always had there. 
I knew one 4th Division Lurp who took his pills by the fistful, downs from the left pocket of his tiger suit and ups from the right, one to cut the trail for him and the other to send him down it. He told me that they cooled things out just right for him, that he could see that old jungle at night like he was looking at it through a starlight scope. ‘They sure give you the range,’ he said. 

This was his third tour. In 1965 he’d been the only survivor in a platoon of the Cav wiped out going into the la Drang Valley. In ’66 he’d come back with the Special Forces and one morning after an ambush he’d hidden under the bodies of his team while the VC walked all around them with knives, making sure. They stripped the bodies of their gear, the berets too, and finally went away, laughing. 

After that, there was nothing left for him in the war except the Lurps. ‘I just can’t hack it back in the world,’ he said. He told me that after he’d come back home the last time he would sit in his room all day, and sometimes he’d stick a hunting rifle out the window, leading people and cars as they passed his house until the only feeling he was aware of was all up in the tip of that one finger. ‘ It used to put my folks real uptight,’ he said. 

But he put people uptight here too, even here. ‘No man, I’m sorry, he’s just too crazy for me,’ one of the men in his team said. ‘All’s you got to do is look in his eyes, that’s the whole fucking story right there.’‘ Yeah, but you better do it quick, ’someone else said. ‘I mean, you don’t want to let him catch you at it.’ But he always seemed to be watching for it, I think he slept with his eyes open, and I was afraid of him anyway. 
All I ever managed was one quick look in, and that was like looking at the floor of an ocean. He wore a gold earring and a headband torn from a piece of camouflage parachute material, and since nobody was about to tell him to get his hair cut it fell below his shoulders, covering a thick purple scar. Even at division he never went anywhere without at least a .45 and a knife, and he thought I was a freak because I wouldn’t carry a weapon. 

‘Didn’t you ever meet a reporter before?’ I asked him. ‘Tits on a bull,’ he said. ‘Nothing personal.’ But what a story he told me, as one-pointed and resonant as any war story I ever heard, it took me a year to understand it: 
‘Patrol went up the mountain. One man came back. He died before he could tell us what happened.’ I waited for the rest, but it seemed not to be that kind of story; when I asked him what had happened he just looked like he felt sorry for me, fucked if he’d waste time telling stories to anyone dumb as I was. His face was all painted up for the night walking now like a bad hallucination, not like the painted faces I’d seen in San Francisco only a few weeks before, the other extreme of the same theatre. 

In the coming hours he’d stand as faceless and quiet in the jungle as a fallen tree, and God help his opposite numbers unless they had at least half a squad along, he was a good killer, one of our best. 

The rest of his team were gathered outside the tent, set a little apart from the other division units, with its own Lurp-designated latrine and its own exclusive freeze-dry rations, three-star war food, the same chop they sold at Abercrombie & Fitch. 

The regular division troops would almost shy off the path when they passed the area on their way to and from the mess tent. No matter how toughened up they became in the war, they still looked innocent compared to the Lurps. When the team had grouped they walked in a file down the hill to the lz across the strip to the perimeter and into the treeline.

I never spoke to him again, but I saw him. When they came back in the next morning he had a prisoner with him, blindfolded and with his elbows bound sharply behind him. The Lurp area would definitely be off limits during the interrogation, and anyway, I was already down at the strip waiting for a helicopter to come and take me out of there. 

‘Hey what’re you guys, with the USO? Aw, we thought you was with the USO ’cause your hair’s so long.’ Page took the kid’s picture, I got the words down and Flynn laughed and told him we were the Rolling Stones. The three of us travelled around together for about a month that summer. 

At one lz the brigade chopper came in with a real foxtail hanging off the aerial, when the commander walked by us he almost took an infarction. ‘Don’t you men salute officers?’‘ We’re not men,’ Page said. ‘We’re correspondents.’ When the commander heard that, he wanted to throw a spontaneous operation for us, crank up his whole brigade and get some people killed. We had to get out on the next chopper to keep him from going ahead with it, amazing what some of them would do for a little ink. 

Page liked to augment his field gear with freak paraphernalia, scarves and beads, plus he was English, guys would stare at him like he’d just come down from a wall on Mars. Sean Flynn could look more incredibly beautiful than even his father, Errol, had thirty years before as Captain Blood, but sometimes he looked more like Artaud coming out of some heavy heart-of-darkness trip, overloaded on the information, the input! The input! He’d give off a bad sweat and sit for hours, combing his moustache through with the saw blade of his Swiss Army knife. 

We packed grass and tape: ‘Have You Seen Your Mother Baby Standing in the Shadows’, Best of the Animals, Strange Days, ‘Purple Haze’, Archie Bell and the Drells, ‘C’mon now everybody, do the Tighten Up . . .’

Once in a while we’d catch a chopper straight into one of the lower hells, but it was a quiet time in the war, mostly it was lz’s and camps, grunts hanging around, faces, stories. ‘Best way’s to just keep moving,’ one of them told us. ‘Just keep moving, stay in motion, you know what I’m saying?’ 

We knew. He was a moving-target-survivor subscriber, a true child of the war, because except for the rare times when you were pinned or stranded the system was geared to keep you mobile, if that was what you thought you wanted. As a technique for staying alive it seemed to make as much sense as anything, given naturally that you were there to begin with and wanted to see it close; it started out sound and straight but it formed a cone as it progressed, because the more you moved the more you saw, the more you saw the more besides death and mutilation you risked, and the more you risked of that the more you would have to let go of one day as a ‘survivor’. 

Some of us moved around the war like crazy people until we couldn’t see which way the run was even taking us any more, only the war all over its surface with occasional, unexpected penetration. As long as we could have choppers like taxis it took real exhaustion or depression, near shock or a dozen pipes of opium to keep us even apparently quiet, we’d still be running around inside our skins like something was after us, ha ha, La Vida Loca. 

In the months after I got back the hundreds of helicopters I’d flown in began to draw together until they’d formed a collective meta-chopper, and in my mind it was the sexiest thing going; saver-destroyer, provider-waster, right hand-left hand, nimble, fluent, canny and human; hot steel, grease, jungle-saturated canvas webbing, sweat cooling and warming up again, cassette rock and roll in one ear and door-gun fire in the other, fuel, heat, vitality and death, death itself, hardly an intruder. 

Men on the crews would say that once you’d carried a dead person he would always be there, riding with you. Like all combat people they were incredibly superstitious and invariably self-dramatic, but it was (I knew) unbearably true and close exposure to the dead sensitized you to the force of their presence and made for long reverberations; long. Some people were so delicate that one look was enough to wipe them away, but even bone-dumb grunts seemed to feel that something weird and extra was happening to them. 

Helicopters and people jumping out of helicopters, people so in love they’d run to get on even when there wasn’t any pressure. Choppers rising straight out of small cleared jungle spaces, wobbling down on to city rooftops, cartons of rations and ammunition thrown off, dead and wounded loaded on. Sometimes they were so plentiful and loose that you could touch down at five or six places in a day, look around, hear the talk, catch the next one out. 

There were installations as big as cities with 30,000 citizens, once we dropped in to feed supply to one man. God knows what kind of Lord Jim phoenix numbers he was doing in there, all he said to me was, ‘You didn’t see a thing, right Chief? You weren’t even here.’ 

There were posh fat air-conditioned camps like comfortable middle-class scenes with the violence tacit, ‘far away’; camps named for commanders’ wives LZ Thelma, LZ Betty Lou; number-named hilltops in trouble where I didn’t want to stay; trail, paddy, swamp, deep hairy bush, scrub, swale, village, even city, where the ground couldn’t drink up what the action spilled, it made you careful where you walked.

Sometimes the chopper you were riding in would top a hill and all the ground in front of you as far as the next hill would be charred and pitted and still smoking, and something between your chest and your stomach would turn over. Frail grey smoke where they’d burned off the rice fields around a free-strike zone, brilliant white smoke from phosphorus (‘Willy Peter/ Make you a buh liever’), deep black smoke from ’palm –they said that if you stood at the base of a column of napalm smoke it would suck the air right out of your lungs. 

Once we fanned over a little village that had just been airstruck and the words of a song by Wingy Manone that I’d heard when I was a few years old snapped into my head, ‘Stop the War, These Cats Is Killing Themselves’. Then we dropped, hovered, settled down into purple lz smoke, dozens of children broke from their hootches to run in towards the focus of our landing, the pilot laughing and saying, ‘Vietnam, man. Bomb ’em and feed ’em, bomb ’em and feed ’em.’ 

Flying over jungle was almost pure pleasure, doing it on foot was nearly all pain. I never belonged in there. Maybe it really was what its people had always called it, Beyond; at the very least it was serious, I gave up things to it I probably never got back. (‘Aw, jungle’s okay. If you know her you can live in her real good, if you don’t she’ll take you down in an hour. Under.’) 

Once in some thick jungle corner with some grunts standing around, a correspondent said, ‘Gee, you must really see some beautiful sunsets in here, ’and they almost pissed themselves laughing. But you could fly up and into hot tropic sunsets that would change the way you thought about light for ever. You could also fly out of places that were so grim they turned to black and white in your head five minutes after you’d gone. 

That could be the coldest one in the world, standing at the edge of a clearing watching the chopper you’d just come in on take off again, leaving you there to think about what it was going to be for you now: if this was a bad place, the wrong place, maybe even the last place, and whether you’d made a terrible mistake this time. 

There was a camp at Soc Trang where a man at the lz said, ‘If you come looking for a story this is your lucky day, we got Condition Red here,’ and before the sound of the chopper had faded out, I knew I had it too. ‘That’s affirmative, ’the camp commander said, ‘we are definitely expecting rain. Glad to see you.’ He was a young captain, he was laughing and taping a bunch of sixteen clips together bottom to bottom for faster reloading, ‘grease’. 

Everyone there was busy at it, cracking crates, squirrelling away grenades, checking mortar pieces, piling rounds, clocking banana clips into automatic weapons that I’d never even seen before. They were wired into their listening posts out around the camp, into each other, into themselves, and when it got dark it got worse. 

The moon came up nasty and full, a fat moist piece of decadent fruit. It was soft and saffron-misted when you looked up at it, but its light over the sandbags and into the jungle was harsh and bright. 

We were all rubbing Army-issue nightfighter cosmetic under our eyes to cut the glare and the terrible things it made you see. (Around midnight, just for something to do, I crossed to the other perimeter and looked at the road running engineer-straight towards Route 4 like a yellow frozen ribbon out of sight and I saw it move, the whole road.) There were a few sharp arguments about who the light really favoured, attackers or defenders, men were sitting around with Cinemascope eyes and jaws stuck out like they could shoot bullets, moving and antsing and shifting around inside their fatigues. 

‘No sense us getting too relaxed, Charlie don’t relax, just when you get good and comfortable is when he comes over and takes a giant shit on you.’ That was the level until morning, I smoked a pack an hour all night long, and nothing happened. Ten minutes after daybreak I was down at the lz asking about choppers. 

A few days later Sean Flynn and I went up to a big firebase in the Americal TAOR that took it all the way over to another extreme: National Guard weekend. The colonel in command was so drunk that day that he could barely get his words out, and when he did, it was to say things like, ‘We aim to make good and goddammit sure that if those guys try anything cute they won’t catch us with our pants down.’ 

The main mission there was to fire H&I, but one man told us that their record was the worst in the whole Corps, probably the whole country, they’d harassed and interdicted a lot of sleeping civilians and Korean Marines, even a couple of Americal patrols, but hardly any Viet Cong. (The colonel kept calling it ‘artillerary’. The first time he said it Flynn and I looked away from each other, the second time we blew beer through our noses, but the colonel fell in laughing right away and more than covered us.) 

No sandbags, exposed shells, dirty pieces, guys going around giving us that look, ‘We’re cool, how come you’re not?’ At the strip Sean was talking to the operator about it and the man got angry. ‘Oh yeah? Well fuck you, how tight do you think you want it? There ain’t been any veecees around here in three months.’‘ So far so good, ’Sean said. ‘Hear anything on that chopper yet?’ 
But sometimes everything stopped, nothing flew, you couldn’t even find out why. I got stuck for a chopper once in some lost patrol outpost in the Delta where the sergeant chain-ate candy bars and played country and western tapes twenty hours a day until I heard it in my sleep, some sleep. ‘Up on Wolverton Mountain’ and ‘Lonesome as the bats and the bears in Miller’s Cave’ and ‘I fell into a burning ring of fire’, surrounded by strungout rednecks who weren’t getting much sleep either because they couldn’t trust one of their 400 mercenary troopers or their own hand-picked perimeter guards or anybody else except maybe Babe Ruth and Johnny Cash, they’d been waiting for it so long now they were afraid they wouldn’t know it when they finally got it, and it burns burns . . . 

Finally on the fourth day a helicopter came in to deliver meat and movies to the camp and I went out on it, so happy to get back to Saigon that I didn’t crash for two days. 

Airmobility, dig it, you weren’t going anywhere. It made you feel safe, it made you feel Omni, but it was only a stunt, technology. Mobility was just mobility, it saved lives or took them all the time (saved mine I don’t know how many times, maybe dozens, maybe none), what you really needed was a flexibility far greater than anything the technology could provide, some generous, spontaneous gift for accepting surprises, and I didn’t have it. 

I got to hate surprises, control freak at the crossroads, if you were one of these people who always thought they had to know what was coming next, the war could cream you. It was the same with your ongoing attempts at getting used to the jungle or the blow-you-out climate or the saturating strangeness of the place which didn’t lessen with exposure so often as it fattened and darkened in accumulating alienation. It was great if you could adapt, you had to try, but it wasn’t the same as making a discipline, going into your own reserves and developing a real war metabolism: slow yourself down when your heart tried to punch its way through your chest; get swift when everything went to stop and all you could feel of your whole life was the entropy whipping through it. Unlovable terms. 

The ground was always in play, always being swept. Under the ground was his, above it was ours. We had the air, we could get up in it but not disappear in to it, we could run but we couldn’t hide, and he could do each so well that sometimes it looked like he was doing them both at once, while our finder just went limp. All the same, one place or another it was always going on, rock around the clock, we had the days and he had the nights. 

You could be in the most protected space in Vietnam and still know that your safety was provisional, that early death, blindness, loss of legs, arms or balls, major and lasting disfigurement –the whole rotten deal –could come in on the freakyfluky as easily as in the so-called expected ways, you heard so many of those stories it was a wonder anyone was left alive to die in firefights and mortar-rocket attacks. 

After a few weeks, when the nickel had jarred loose and dropped and I saw that everyone around me was carrying a gun, I also saw that any of them could go off at any time, putting you where it wouldn’t matter whether it had been an accident or not. The roads were mined, the trails booby-trapped, satchel charges and grenades blew up jeeps and movie theatres, the VC got work inside all the camps as shoeshine boys and laundresses and honey-dippers, they’d starch your fatigues and burn your shit and then go home and mortar your area. 

Saigon and Cholon and Danang held such hostile vibes that you felt you were being dry-sniped every time someone looked at you, and choppers fell out of the sky like fat poisoned birds a hundred times a day. 
After a while I couldn’t get on one without thinking that I must be out of my fucking mind. Fear and motion, fear and standstill, no preferred cut there, no way even to be clear about which was really worse, the wait or the delivery. 

Combat spared far more men than it wasted, but everyone suffered the time between contact, especially when they were going out every day looking for it; bad going on foot, terrible in trucks and APCs, awful in helicopters, the worst, travelling so fast towards something so frightening. I can remember times when I went half dead with my fear of the motion, the speed and direction already fixed and pointed one way. It was painful enough just flying ‘safe’ hops between firebases and lz’s; if you were ever on a helicopter that had been hit by ground fire your deep, perpetual chopper anxiety was guaranteed. 

At least actual contact when it was happening would draw long raggedy strands of energy out of you, it was juicy, fast and refining, and travelling towards it was hollow, dry, cold and steady, it never let you alone. All you could do was look around at the other people on board and see if they were as scared and numbed out as you were. If it looked like they weren’t you thought they were insane, if it looked like they were it made you feel a lot worse. 

I went through that thing a number of times and only got a fast return on my fear once, a too classic hot landing with the heat coming from the trees about 300 yards away, sweeping machine-gun fire that sent men head down into swampy water, running on their hands and knees towards the grass where it wasn’t blown flat by the rotor blades, not much to be running for but better than nothing. The helicopter pulled up before we’d all gotten out, leaving the last few men to jump twenty feet down between the guns across the paddy and the gun on the chopper door. 

When we’d all reached the cover of the wall and the captain had made a check, we were amazed to see that no one had even been hurt, except for one man who’d sprained both his ankles jumping. 
Afterwards, I remembered that I’d been down in the muck worrying about leeches. I guess you could say that I was refusing to accept the situation.

***

from

Dispatches

by

Michael Herr

get it at Amazon.com 


DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA? What Has Gone Wrong and What We Can Do about It – Benjamin I. Page and Martin Gilens. 

More Democracy

Today the United States faces a number of daunting problems. Economic inequality has reached levels not seen for a hundred years. While the wealthy keep piling up riches, many Americans are hurting from job losses, low wages, high health-care costs, and deteriorating public services. Whole communities have been devastated by factory closings. Our public schools are neglected. Our highways and bridges are in disrepair.

Well-designed government policies could help deal with these problems. Large majorities of Americans favor specific measures that would be helpful. Yet our national government often appears to ignore the wants and needs of its citizens. It pays more attention to organized interests than to ordinary Americans, and it gets bogged down in gridlock and inaction.

No wonder many Americans are angry and alienated. No wonder there have been populist rebellions on both the Left and the Right: the Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump.

In this book we argue that gridlock and inaction in Washington result from two main causes: clashes between our two sharply divided political parties and obstructive actions by corporations, interest groups, and wealthy individuals.

The many “veto points” in our complex political system (that is, the many opportunities for one or another political actor to thwart policy change) are used to prevent the enactment of policies that most Americans want. The nonresponsiveness and dysfunction of government are closely related to undemocratic features of our political system. Our laws and institutions make it hard for ordinary citizens to have an effective voice in politics. They permit corporations, interest groups, and the wealthy to exert a great deal of influence over what the government does. And they allow donors and highly ideological political activists to dominate the parties’ nominations of candidates for office, so that the two parties are pushed in sharply contrasting directions—contributing to gridlock.

Both parties often stray from what majorities of Americans want them to do. It follows that our problems can be more effectively addressed if we reform our political system to achieve more democracy: more equal opportunity for all citizens to shape what their government does and policies that better address the needs of all Americans.

If the political parties are democratized, for example, so that each of them is forced to appeal more to the voters and less to the party’s donors and activists, they will differ less sharply from each other. That will reduce gridlock. Both parties will be more responsive to the citizenry and more likely to adopt solutions that Americans favor for the problems we face. Similarly, if we reform elections so that all citizens have an equal voice, and if we mute the influence of political money and organized interests, public officials will more faithfully reflect what ordinary Americans want.

Again, if the Congress and other political institutions are reformed to represent all citizens equally, those institutions will be more harmonious—less prone to clashes with each other that result in gridlock—and more responsive to the citizenry as a whole.

Some impediments to democracy have been with us for a long time. Others have grown worse in recent years. But most, we think, are fixable.

In the course of American history, the health of democracy and the extent of economic equality have tended to rise and fall together. Each has affected the other. In the late nineteenth-century Gilded Age, for example, extreme inequalities of income and wealth—inequalities not unlike those that afflict us today—empowered the wealthy few and undermined democracy. Yet that same extreme economic inequality provoked protests and social movements, which in turn helped bring about reforms that advanced both political and economic equality.

Through such efforts, the United States has enjoyed periods of relatively democratic, harmonious, and effective government, and widely shared prosperity. We believe that we can once again enjoy more vigorous democracy and more widely shared prosperity, if enough citizens mobilize and work hard for effective reforms that promote both economic and political equality. The two types of reform go together. Each facilitates the other. Neither is likely to get very far alone.

In the following chapters we show precisely how undemocratic U.S. government policy making has become. We do our best to diagnose exactly what has gone wrong. Based on that diagnosis, we explain how certain specific political reforms could greatly increase democratic responsiveness. Finally, we explore how the formidable obstacles to reform might be overcome.

Why Democracy.

We define democracy as policy responsiveness to ordinary citizens—that is, popular control of government. Or simply “majority rule.”

This commonsense definition reflects the foundation of our Constitution in the will of “we the people of the United States.” It embodies the fundamental value of political equality, insisting that in a democracy all citizens should have an equal opportunity to influence the making of public policy. It reflects the assertion in the Declaration of Independence that all men (we would now say all human beings) are “created equal.”

It corresponds to Abraham Lincoln’s espousal of government “ of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Yet the fact is that this sort of “majoritarian” democracy—which is widely embraced by ordinary Americans—has been rejected by a number of political theorists and by many social and political elites. So we need to explain why we think majoritarian democracy is desirable.

ELECTIONS ALONE DO NOT GUARANTEE DEMOCRACY.

Some theorists have argued that all that is needed for democracy is elections that create a competitive struggle for citizens’votes. To us, however, a core element of democracy is political equality—an equal voice for each citizen. Just holding elections does not guarantee that citizens will have equal influence.

For example, even if we formally allow each adult citizen one and only one vote, some people may be left out because they are deterred or excluded from voting. (We will see that voters in the United States tend to be quite unrepresentative of the citizenry as a whole.) Other people may, in effect, get many votes—if they provide money or organizational support that is essential to running political campaigns and getting a party’s supporters to the polls. Moreover, election outcomes may not reflect the real preferences of the voters if the choices on the ballot are severely restricted. And policy may diverge sharply from the desires of the public if officials ignore those who elected them and pay attention to lobbyists instead.

One way in which elections can go wrong is if voters’ choices are circumscribed. A stark example: Iran’s Guardian Council, a twelve-member body of jurists and theologians appointed by Iran’s “Supreme Leader,” decides which candidates can get onto the ballot. In Iran’s 2013 presidential election, the Guardian Council disqualified the vast majority of would-be candidates—including all thirty women and the reformist former president. So even though many Iranians (72 percent of them) voted and could exercise a “free” choice among the six candidates on the ballot—and even though the winner of the most votes peacefully took office a few weeks later—we would not want to call that election democratic.

In the United States today, no body of theologians controls who can and who cannot run for office. Yet—as a result of much more subtle and indirect processes—we may actually have something like our own Guardian Council.

In today’s America, a relatively small, unelected set of people exerts a great deal of influence over who appears on the ballot and who has a realistic chance to win: those who supply the money. When the members of this group agree with one another, they have the power to determine that certain kinds of electoral choices are essentially off-limits for voters.

In our electoral system, private money plays a huge part. Neither major party can function without many millions of dollars. And the parties generally select their candidates in obscure, low-visibility primary elections, in which only a small, atypical set of voters participates. This process limits the influence of rank-and file voters. It empowers a few highly ideological activists, organized interest groups, and donors.

In this and many other ways, our system differs from those of most other advanced countries. Since Republican and Democratic activists and donors typically disagree sharply with each other about a number of issues, there are usually very real differences between Republican and Democratic candidates. But the megadonors of both parties tend to agree in opposing certain policies that most Americans favor. These include important policies related to government budgets, international trade, social welfare spending, economic regulation, and taxes (as will be discussed in chapter 4).

On these issues, big-money political donors can act rather like a Guardian Council. They can keep off the ballot candidates, ideas, and policies they disagree with, by giving or withholding the money that is needed to put on a serious campaign.

THE MONEY PROBLEM. 

A crucial part of this picture is that both parties need enormous amounts of money, but—under our current system—that money mostly comes from a very small set of megadonors. In 2012, for example, a tiny sliver of the U.S. population—just one-tenth of one-tenth of 1 percent of Americans—provided almost half of all the money spent in federal elections. Even more remarkably, just 132 donors to huge political action committees (PACs) known as “super PACs,” giving an average of almost $ 10 million each, accounted for more money than all of the 3.7 million small donors to the Barack Obama and Mitt Romney campaigns combined.

It is extremely difficult to win a major government office without the backing of affluent campaign donors. The “preapproval” process by America’s “Guardian Council” of potential donors seems to be remarkably effective at screening out candidates who fundamentally disagree with the preferences of well-funded interest groups and well-to-do contributors. The result: U.S. government policy often reflects the wishes of those with money, not the wishes of the millions of ordinary citizens who turn out every two years to choose among the preapproved, money-vetted candidates for federal office.

To be sure, the 2016 “outsider” campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump seemed to demonstrate that—at least under certain circumstances—huge contributions from the usual millionaire and billionaire donors may not be necessary to compete. But of course Sanders did not win the Democratic Party nomination, let alone the general election.

Trump was an extremely unusual case: his celebrity and communication skills markedly lowered his campaign costs by giving him an enormous amount of free media exposure. And Trump had his own fortune to fall back on, if necessary, which also helped make him unusually independent of megadonors.

We will have much more to say in later chapters about the distorting effects of money in politics. For now, the main point is that we should not think about democracy in terms of the mere existence of elections. If we want true majoritarian democracy, what really matters is whether—and to what extent—ordinary citizens can control what their government does.

Elections can effectively ensure democratic control only if a representative set of citizens votes, and only if election outcomes are not excessively influenced by party activists, interest groups, or financial donors.

But do we want true, majority-rule democracy? Not everyone thinks so.

IS THE GENERAL PUBLIC WORTH PAYING ATTENTION TO? 

The most important objection to majoritarian democracy is that ordinary citizens may be too uninterested in politics, too ill informed, too capricious in their political opinions, too selfish, and too subject to demagoguery to have their views taken seriously. What if most Americans do not really know which public policies would be good for them or for the country? Why should we pay any attention to what they think? 

In the nation’s early days, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton worried about alleged “extreme fluctuations,” “passions” and “temporary errors and delusions” of the public. Walter Lippmann bemoaned “stereotypes” or “pictures in [the] heads” of ordinary citizens, who (he said) often fail to comprehend world realities. 

Subsequently, decades worth of polls and surveys have shown that most Americans are not much interested in or informed about politics. Again and again, many or most Americans have failed quizzes about basic political facts, such as which party controls the House of Representatives or how long a term senators have in office. 

Most people have trouble identifying or locating foreign countries. Acronyms and abbreviations that are coin of the realm in Washington, DC—NATO, ICBM, MFN, and the like—are mysteries to many Americans.  

Moreover, many Americans are confused or uncertain about exactly what kinds of government policies they favor or oppose. “Don’t know” responses to poll questions are fairly common, at least when survey researchers don’t make it too embarrassing to give them. 

Repeated surveys of the same individuals over time have showed that their stated opinions about political issues tend to vary from one year to another—sometimes back and forth, for no easily discernable reason. 

Researchers have talked of “non-attitudes”and have called into question the very existence of meaningful public opinion. 

Right up to the present day, scholars continue to write that “widespread political ignorance” is a profound problem for democracy and (in effect) to counsel political leaders to pay no heed to what ordinary citizens say they want. 

An important recent book on “democracy for realists” seems to cast doubt on the idea that the public has meaningful views that should shape government policy.  

There are good reasons for low levels of political information, reasons that can be summed up in the phrase “rational ignorance.” Most people—unless they happen to enjoy being political junkies—have little reason to devote a great deal of time or energy to most political matters. To most people, work, family, and leisure are higher priorities than most aspects of politics. Why make a big investment in acquiring political information? Especially since the odds of one individual having a pivotal effect on a major electoral outcome are usually vanishingly small. 

“Rational ignorance” notwithstanding, a few members of the public are indeed political junkies who enjoy learning about politics. And a larger portion are concerned with and knowledgeable about specific issues such as education, health care, or Middle East politics, depending on their particular occupations or interests. 

Whereas most people lack clear preferences on most issues, many people do have informed views about the few issues that they care about most. And still more have general notions about what sorts of policies are likely to suit them. 

Critics of democracy are certainly right that most individual Americans lack fully informed opinions about most issues. But it does not follow that the collective or aggregate, survey-measured policy preferences of all Americans—such as the percentages of Americans that polls show favoring or opposing various public policies—have the same characteristics as the preferences of a single typical individual. The notion that whole entities must have the same characteristics as their individual parts is a fallacy, known as the “fallacy of composition.”

THE STRENGTH OF COLLECTIVE POLICY PREFERENCES. 

There is plenty of evidence that public opinion as a collective or aggregate phenomenon is very different, much more worth paying attention to, than the day-to-day opinions of a typical individual citizen. How can this be? 

There are two main reasons. The first involves collective deliberation: a society-wide process in which experts and leaders debate public policies, their views are reported in the media, attentive Americans pick up cues from those they trust, and the attentive citizens communicate those views to their families, friends, and coworkers. 

The second reason involves the aggregation process itself: when many uncertain expressions of opinion are combined into a collective whole (for example, into the percentage of Americans favoring a particular policy), random errors and uncertainties among individuals tend to get averaged out. Survey measures of collective preferences cannot overcome systematic, nonrandom errors (we will have more to say about that later), but they do cancel out random variations that occur in “doorstep” opinions offered to survey interviewers. In most cases, the results of well-designed surveys fairly faithfully reflect longer-term, underlying tendencies of collective opinion. 

The process of forming collective opinions about politics is akin to the processes that tend to make verdicts by twelve-person juries, or market judgments by thousands of consumers or investors, much more reliable than the opinion of a typical individual. Each is an example of what can be called the “wisdom of crowds.”

Most Americans do not devote a great deal of thought to politics. But they do have easy, direct access to some information that is highly relevant to public policy: the size of their Social Security checks; what is happening to their jobs and wages; the (perhaps crumbling) condition of roads they drive on; price rises or declines in grocery stores or at gasoline pumps. On some of these day-to-day pocketbook concerns—and on such matters as neighborhood crime, the challenge of holding down a job with no paid sick leave, the difficulty of finding affordable child care, or the (un) reliability of public transportation—ordinary Americans may actually have better firsthand information than elites who live more rarefied, sheltered lives. 

When it comes to many abstract, complex, or distant matters, however—including precisely what sorts of public policy might be best for reducing layoffs and wage cuts, or for curbing price inflation, improving air quality, or avoiding war casualties—collective deliberation becomes crucial. 

Experts debate the merits of alternative public policies. Commentators and politicians express their views through various media. A set of relatively attentive citizens—without having to memorize a lot of facts—can figure out what sorts of policies are favored by leaders whom they trust to have expertise and to share their own values. (This works only if such leaders exist, can be heard, and deserve the trust bestowed upon them.) Attentive citizens adopt those policy preferences for themselves, and—again without needing to learn or recite a lot of facts—communicate them to friends, families, and coworkers who also share similar values. As a result, most Americans—on most major issues—are able to form a general idea about what they want the government to do. They develop underlying tendencies of opinion. When the uncertain beliefs and opinions of millions of people are combined, the random noise is reduced. 

Collective preferences tend to be solid. They tend to reflect the underlying needs and values of the whole body of citizens, in light of the best available information from experts and commentators. This is not just a theory. It is supported by evidence drawn from close examination of Americans’ actual collective policy preferences, as expressed in many polls and surveys conducted over many years. 

An exhaustive study of thousands of survey questions that had been asked over a fifty-year period found that Americans’ collective policy preferences do not in fact suffer from the alarming defects that are often attributed to them. “Violent fluctuations” in collective opinion are a myth. The proportions of Americans favoring or opposing a given policy generally stay stable over time, except that they react in sensible ways to such big events as an armed attack or a nuclear reactor meltdown. And they gradually change to take account of new realities or new information. As unemployment declines, for example, public support for unemployment assistance declines as well; when tax rates are lowered, public support for tax cuts declines. 

Americans as a group make many definite distinctions among policies (for example, which countries should receive economic aid; under what conditions abortions should be allowed; which kinds of assistance to the poor should be expanded or curtailed). Collective policy preferences are generally coherent: they are seldom inconsistent or mutually contradictory.  

Well-designed polls and surveys typically do a good job of revealing collective policy preferences that reflect the worldviews, values, and interests of the average American. In a word, public opinion is generally deliberative—it generally reflects the best available information and the values and interests of the citizenry. It does so not because most individuals are deliberative or aware of the best information but because individuals form their opinions through a collective social process that brings deliberation and information to bear on the issues of the day. 

We need to add certain caveats. First, poll results—especially those based on confusing, biased, or inept questions—have to be interpreted with care. But even poorly worded questions, properly interpreted, can often help reveal the contours of collective opinion.  Another problem is that tabulated poll responses can underrepresent the interests of respondents who are uncertain and give arbitrary answers or say “don’t know.” Such effects (which, however, are not generally large) should be taken into account when possible. 

The more important caveat is that collective opinion sometimes does not reflect the best available information because individuals’ errors do not always “cancel out.” This is particularly true if systematic misinformation is fed to many Americans at once and is not effectively contradicted. Examples include “fake news” transmitted by social media or misleading claims about events abroad (e.g., alleged “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq) by presidents or executive branch officials who have a near-monopoly on intelligence sources. 

Our view is that successful manipulation of public opinion is not common, at least not concerning the domestic policy issues that we focus on in this book. On such issues, personal experience and competing elites can usually be counted on to help people figure out the truth. 

In later chapters, however—when we describe concrete policies that majorities of Americans favor, and advocate that the public’s wishes should be heeded—we need to be alert for any cases in which public opinion may have been manipulated or misled. As a general matter we believe that the expressed preferences of the American people deserve much more respect from policy makers than they currently get. Respect does not mean slavish adherence. The public is certainly not infallible, and majorities are sometimes shortsighted or misguided in ways that policy makers must try to recognize and resist. But in most cases, we believe that majority rule—even when we ourselves happen to disagree with the majority—tends to produce public policies that benefit the largest number of people and promote the common good. 

We believe that more democracy in the United States today would yield better policies: “better” in the sense that they would advance the interests and preferences of more Americans. 

This conclusion is strengthened when we consider the rather bleak alternatives. Who, exactly, should rule if the people do not? Most modern societies have, for good reasons, rejected rule by hereditary monarchs, landed gentry, dictators, party cadres, or theocrats. Even rule by the best-educated, most successful Americans—if it could somehow be arranged—would suffer from serious flaws. 

Our political and economic elites—who have recently stumbled into costly and futile wars, neglected economic inequality and wage stagnation, caused devastating financial crashes, and snarled up the functioning of government—appear to suffer from their own defects of judgment. Our wealthiest elites, though highly educated and knowledgeable about many things, often seem to know or care rather little about the needs of ordinary citizens. (We will have more to say about this in chapter 4, when we discuss the enormous political clout wielded by wealthy Americans.)

In short: citizens are not perfect guardians of their own values and interests. But they are pretty good guardians. And they are the best we are likely to find. 

WHAT ABOUT MINORITY RIGHTS? 

Even if majority rule does good things for most citizens, a serious problem remains: how to protect minorities. We are not much moved by Madison’s fear that the masses might use democratic control of government to seize property from a well-to-do minority, through such “wicked schemes” as the printing of paper money.  

In our view, U.S. history and, in recent years, survey data have demonstrated that most Americans have no desire to confiscate the property of the wealthy. They have never come close to doing so. In fact, wealthy Americans have been highly successful at resisting or rolling back even mildly redistributive threats to their property, such as the progressive income tax. 

But other minorities—especially racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, and those who have distinctive political interests or hold unpopular views—deserve protection. Surely Madison, the French political observer Alexis de Tocqueville, and others were right that under certain circumstances (fear of terrorism comes to mind), majorities can threaten the rights and interests of minorities who live in their midst. 

We are not absolutist democrats. We accept the desirability of providing minorities with special protections in case majorities of Americans might want to use the power of government against them. We believe the framers of the U.S. Constitution were wise to append a Bill of Rights, including protection for freedoms of speech, assembly, religion, and the press; guarantees of due process; and protection against arbitrary arrest or unreasonable searches and seizures—all provisions that help safeguard minorities from unfair treatment. 

The tricky part is how to guarantee that these freedoms are actually protected. The record of the U.S. Supreme Court is mixed, at best. Until relatively recently the court did little or nothing for enslaved or abused African Americans and Native Americans. It has frequently permitted harsh treatment of political dissenters, especially during wartime—or amid foreign policy crises or “red scares.”

As recently as World War II (1939–45), the Supreme Court went along with the shameful incarceration of Japanese Americans in prison camps, without any evidence that they represented a threat. The court swims in the same political sea as the rest of us. It cannot always be counted on to protect minorities whom majorities of Americans are willing or eager to oppress. 

Still, we cannot think of a superior system of legal protection. The Supreme Court and the Constitution—helped along by vigilant civil liberties lawyers—are probably the best we can do. But we believe that minorities should also be protected in ways that go beyond bare-bones constitutional rights. As we will note in our discussion of democratic reforms of the U.S. Senate, it is worth maintaining certain institutional protections for minorities of any sort who hold intense political views. 

Even the much-despised filibuster, if properly reformed, might be turned into a tool for preventing unjust government actions against minorities—instead of preventing action of almost any kind, as it does now. But that is a topic for a later chapter. 

How This Book Unfolds 

In the next chapter we note certain patterns in American history, from Alexis de Tocqueville’s 1830s onward. Democracy has tended to flourish in times of relative economic equality but has withered when there are big gaps between rich and poor. Yet periods of very high economic inequality have sometimes provoked social movements that have fought for and won amelioration of both economic and political inequality. (The same thing may be starting to happen today.) 

In part 2 of the book we examine more closely what has gone wrong and what is obstructing democratic responsiveness now. 

Chapter 3 shows how undemocratic the United States is today. Ordinary citizens have little or no influence on public policy, while affluent and wealthy Americans and organized interest groups—especially business groups—often get their way. 

When large majorities of Americans want policy changes that would improve their jobs, wages, retirement pensions, or health care—or that would combat climate change, reduce gun violence, improve public schools, or rebuild bridges and highways—they are often thwarted by gridlock and inaction. 

In chapter 4 we examine just how much political clout wealthy Americans have (a great deal), what techniques they use to exercise it, and what sorts of government policies they want and get. 

Chapter 5 documents the substantial political influence of organized interest groups and explains how they exercise it. Corporations and business associations do particularly well, while “mass-based” groups have relatively little clout. 

Chapter 6 explores the vexing problems of highly polarized political parties, gridlock, and policy inaction. It discusses how polarization has increased with geographical and racial realignments, demographic and economic changes (especially the great increase in economic inequality), and certain features of our electoral system. It notes how polarization interacts perniciously with our separation of powers and our multiple “veto points” to produce gridlock and inaction. 

We then turn, in part 3, to the question of what sorts of political reforms might be effective for making government policies more responsive to ordinary citizens. 

Chapter 7 discusses a number of “equal voice” reforms that would move all citizens toward equal political influence. Campaign finance regulation—or (even without such regulation) public funding—could greatly reduce the power of private political money. Other reforms could curtail the impact of interest groups. Still others could encourage voting by citizens who are currently not well represented in the electorate—especially lower-income people and racial and ethnic minorities. 

Chapter 8 considers how to overcome policy gridlock and, more generally, how to make our political institutions more democratic. It notes undemocratic features of Congress that our legislators could easily improve if they felt sufficient pressure to do so. It also discusses undemocratic electoral arrangements that will be harder—but far from impossible—to change. And it mentions certain particularly difficult but important-to-address problems, including the extremely unrepresentative, rural-heavy nature of the Senate, and the tendency of the Supreme Court to overturn (without, in our opinion, sound justification) certain policies backed by large majorities of Americans. 

Part 4, the final section of the book, addresses the difficult question of whether and how major democratic reforms can actually be enacted. Big obstacles stand in the way, especially the need to persuade, pressure, or replace officials who have been elected in an undemocratic system and would be happy to keep it that way. 

Major changes will likely take a long time and a lot of work. But we are optimistic that they can be achieved. 

Chapter 9 addresses the idea of a social movement for Democracy. Some important improvements can be accomplished through simple changes in rules or laws that policy makers might be pushed to adopt through conventional political pressure. Ultimately, however, we believe that the most important major reforms can probably be won only by means of something new: a large-scale, long-term social movement for Democracy. 

The chapter draws lessons from past social movements—especially the Populists, the Progressives, the labor movement, and the civil rights movement—to suggest what sorts of strategies and tactics might lead to success. And it points to groups that are already beginning to work together toward democratic reforms and might help form the core of a Democracy movement. 

Chapter 10 highlights democratic reforms that are currently being achieved on the state and local level. By building on these efforts, we believe that a successful social movement for more Democracy can eventually transform America, enhancing both the quality of our politics and the quality of our lives. 

Now we turn to concrete discussions of what has gone wrong and what we can do about it. 

TWO 

Unequal Wealth Distorts Politics 

“Among the new objects that attracted my attention during my stay in the United States, none struck my eye more vividly than the equality of conditions.  .  .  . The social state of the Americans is eminently democratic. It has had this character since the birth of the colonies; it has it even more in our day.  .  .  . It is of the very essence of democratic governments that the empire of the majority is absolute  .  .  . there is nothing that resists it.” ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE, Democracy in America, 1831. 

To understand what has gone wrong with American democracy, it is helpful to look back at how our economy and our politics have changed since the early days of the United States. One historical pattern stands out. Economic inequality—the concentration of wealth and income in a few hands, with a big gap between rich and poor—has risen and fallen at various times. 

And democracy—popular control of government—has tended to move in the opposite direction. When citizens are relatively equal, politics has tended to be fairly democratic. When a few individuals hold enormous amounts of wealth, democracy suffers. 

The reason for this pattern is simple. Through campaign contributions, lobbying, influence over public discourse, and other means, wealth can be translated into political power. When wealth is highly concentrated—that is, when a few individuals have enormous amounts of money—political power tends to be highly concentrated, too. The wealthy few tend to rule. Average citizens lose political power. Democracy declines. 

This pattern underlies a key theme of this book: that the extreme economic inequality afflicting the United States today is a major cause of our loss of democracy. Only if we reduce economic inequality—and/ or break the links between money and political power—can we hope to make our government responsive to the citizenry

In this chapter we take a quick look at the historical relationship between economic inequality and political inequality in the United States. 

When Americans have been relatively equal economically—as they were in the early years of our country and were again during our post–World War II “golden age”—democracy has generally flourished. But when the gaps between the rich and everyone else have grown too great—as in the Gilded Age of the 1890s and again during recent decades of low, stagnant wages for most Americans but soaring wealth at the top—democracy has suffered. 

American history also shows, however, that we are not helpless in the face of impersonal forces that exacerbate economic inequality. Public policy matters. At several key moments in American history, extreme economic inequality has led to anger, protests, social movements, and government action to remedy the situation. Average citizens, working together, have been able to make important strides toward moderating economic inequality and enhancing democracy.  

Tocqueville’s Relatively Equal America In 1831, when the young French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville visited the newly founded United States, he was deeply impressed by the high level of economic and social equality among Americans. He was also struck by the extent to which government policies—especially in the states—were responsive to the will of the majority of citizens. He called the majority “omnipotent” and declared that nothing could resist it.  F

rom today’s vantage point, the America of the 1830s was certainly no utopia. Equality and democracy were far from complete. As Tocqueville was well aware, the slave system in the South treated most African Americans as property, exploited their labor, deprived them of personal freedom, and excluded them from any voice in politics. 

Women were stuck in a patriarchal society, with subordinate status and no right to vote. Native Americans were being driven from their lands, conquered, and killed—under the leadership of (among others) the democratic hero Andrew Jackson. No utopia, for sure. 

Still, among white males, equality and democracy were indeed highly advanced during the Jacksonian period—much more so than in any European country at that time, and much more so than in the United States today. In the 1830s many white male Americans were farmers who owned a small piece of land and grew or raised their own food. These farmers, along with craftsmen and small merchants who lived in towns and cities, enjoyed fairly similar standards of living and had much the same modest levels of wealth. 

Only a few big merchants, manufacturers, and (especially) Southern plantation owners stood out as notably more affluent, while slaves and landless urban laborers stood out as deprived. 

Economic historians calculate that U.S. inequalities of income and wealth were substantially lower in Tocqueville’s time than they are today—though there was a sharp distinction between the highly equal North and the very unequal South, and much depends on how the calculations treat slaves. 

For the country as a whole in 1810, if one considers only the free (nearly all white) population, some estimates indicate that the top 1 percent of wealth holders owned less than 15 percent of all the wealth, much less than the 35 percent figure for the United States in 2010. 

Consider those numbers for a moment. Today, 1 percent of Americans hold fully one-third of all the wealth in the country. The distribution of wealth in early nineteenth-century America was much more equal than today. Indeed, it was much more equal than in most other times and places. If slaves—who owned virtually nothing—are included in the population, and if the market value of slaves is attributed to their owners (a grim but useful calculation), Tocqueville’s America looks considerably less egalitarian—but still more equal than Europe at that time or the United States now.  

Much the same was true of incomes. In colonial times (and presumably in the Jacksonian period as well), U.S. incomes were distributed much more equally than those in England or Holland, and much more equally than in the late nineteenth-century United States. 

THE RISE OF DEMOCRACY IN THE UNITED STATES. 

As to politics, we cannot be sure exactly how responsive the state or federal governments were to citizens in the 1830s. (There were no opinion polls to tell us which policies citizens favored or opposed.) But the judgment of most historians, bolstered by evidence on voting turnout and other matters, is that among white men, American politics were in fact relatively democratic in the age of Jackson. 

In the earliest years of the United States, the right to vote had been severely restricted. The U.S. Constitution provided direct elections only to the House of Representatives. Presidential candidates were to be proposed and winnowed down by “electors,” who were chosen “in such manner as the [state legislatures] may direct”; House congressional delegations were expected to do the final picking of presidents. Senators were chosen “by”(emphasis added) state legislatures, and Supreme Court justices were appointed. Only a small minority of Americans could vote at all. The states controlled voting qualifications. 

Most states allowed only white males who were owners of substantial amounts of property to vote, and some states imposed religious or other qualifications as well. As a result, in 1790 only about two-thirds of adult white men—and few others—were legally eligible to vote. And far fewer did so. 

By 1828, however, when Andrew Jackson won his first term as president in an outburst of popular participation, presidential and House elections had become more democratic. All but two states let their voters choose presidential electors, who were generally pledged to back a particular candidate—in effect allowing citizens a more or less direct vote for president. And more white males could take part. 

Several of the original states had loosened their voting restrictions, and many new, more democratically oriented states had joined the union, so that in 1830 only eight of the then-total twenty-four states imposed property requirements for voting.  

Levels of voting turnout rose markedly. Turnout for the first election for the U.S. House of Representatives, in 1788—as a proportion of the people who were potentially eligible to vote in terms of their age, sex, race, and citizenship—was only about 12 percent, an astoundingly low figure. It rose to 38 percent by 1812 and, after a decline, jumped up to about 56 percent in Jackson’s two elections of 1828 and 1832. 

The establishment of political parties and active campaigning made a big difference, by offering citizens choices and mobilizing them to get to the polls. The highly democratic society that Tocqueville observed reflected strong popular mobilization for the 1828 election, when frontiersman and military hero Andrew “Old Hickory”Jackson of Tennessee, and his key ally, Martin Van Buren of New York, assembled a broad political coalition drawn from much of the Northeast, South, and West. 

A sophisticated party committee worked with Van Buren’s congressional caucus in Washington, DC, to set up state campaign committees, local Hickory Clubs, and a vigorous network of partisan newspapers around the country. Rallies, parades, and get-out-the-vote efforts delivered a large, enthusiastic popular vote for Jackson, who defeated the incumbent president, John Quincy Adams.  

In office, Jackson set a tone for popular democratic control of government. His inauguration brought an outpouring of people from hundreds of miles around Washington, who lined the route to the Capitol. 

Jackson opened his White House reception to citizens of modest background, who were scornfully described by a society matron as “a rabble, a mob, of boys, negros [sic], women, children, scrambling, fighting, romping. What a pity, what a pity.” 

Conservative Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story wrote to his wife that “the reign of KING MOB seemed triumphant.” 

At least in electoral and symbolic terms, then, the American politics of Tocqueville’s time were relatively democratic. 

Inequality after Tocqueville As the nineteenth century proceeded, however, the relatively equal, small-farm, agrarian America of Tocqueville’s time turned into something else. Settlers moved West. Millions of immigrants arrived from Ireland, Germany, and then southern and eastern Europe. The U.S. population doubled, doubled again, and then nearly doubled once more, from thirteen million in 1830 to ninety-two million in 1910.

Millions of people moved into big cities. While agriculture continued to expand and move westward, manufacturing surged, with more and more big mills and factories coming into existence, owned by wealthy individuals and—increasingly—by large corporations. Economic productivity soared. The United States launched into a post–Civil War “special century” of rapidly increasing standards of living. Railroads and (later) automobiles provided swift transportation. Electricity lit up people’s evenings and later began to power remarkable new consumer appliances. The telegraph, telephone, and national newspapers (and, in the twentieth century, radio and television) revolutionized communications. Nutrition, medical care, and life expectancies all improved. 

At the same time, however, millions of urban workers suffered from dismal living and working conditions, while the owners and managers of big businesses thrived. Inequality of wealth and income grew markedly. 

In a prescient chapter on “How Aristocracy Could Issue from Industry,” Tocqueville himself foresaw that industrialization and economic development might well undermine the high level of equality that he had observed among Americans. Increased division of labor would do it. Workers, he said, become “weaker, more limited, and more dependent,” while very wealthy men come forward to exploit industries. 

“At the same time that industrial science constantly lowers the class of workers, it elevates that of masters.”

Yes, indeed. As industrialization proceeded, the U.S. population became more and more sharply divided between a few very wealthy captains of industry and millions of low-wage workers. 

During the Gilded Age of the late nineteenth century, inequality of income and wealth reached extreme heights. Government policies that placed the interests of businesses above those of citizens, along with Supreme Court decisions that rejected progressive taxation or regulation of business, contributed to economic inequality. 

Extreme economic inequality, in turn, created a wealth-dominated, undemocratic politics. The English scholar James Bryce, who retraced some of Tocqueville’s steps in the 1870s and 1880s (and wrote a lengthy tome on American government) found that the inequality of material conditions in the United States had become greater than that of Europe. The United States had more “gigantic fortunes” than anywhere else in the world and a remarkable “crowd of millionaires.” 

By 1910, the top 10 percent of U.S. wealth holders owned the vast bulk—fully 80 percent—of all the wealth in the country. 

That left only 20 percent of the wealth to be divided among the whole other 90 percent of Americans. Nearly half of all the wealth (45 percent of it) was owned by the top 1 percent of Americans. 

Americans’ annual incomes were quite unequal as well. The top 1 percent of U.S. income earners got almost one-fifth of all the income in 1910, and almost one-quarter of it at the end of the 1920s. 

These numbers are worth thinking about. They imply big differences between the lives of people at the top and everyone else.  

During the Gilded Age of the late nineteenth century that laid the groundwork for those early twentieth-century economic disparities, the huge, unregulated “trusts” that dominated many industries extracted monopolistic prices from consumers and paid enormous profits to stockholders. Meat-packers sold adulterated food. Rapacious railroads charged farmers exorbitant rates to ship their grain to market. Workers labored long hours for low wages. Even professionals and people running small to-middle-size businesses resented the conspicuous consumption of the “plutocrats.”

An emblem of Gilded Age excess was Cornelia Bradley Martin’s lavish Waldorf-Astoria costume ball in the midst of the depression of 1897. While many Americans were struggling to make ends meet, six to seven hundred wealthy New Yorkers joined Cornelia—who was dressed as a queen and greeted her guests from a raised dais under a canopy of rare tapestries—to display their jewels, silks, and brocades, and to enjoy the Versailles-like scene of mirrors and tables laden with food. 

THE DECLINE OF DEMOCRACY. 

The extreme economic inequality of the Gilded Age brought with it a high degree of political inequality. Democracy declined. “Muckraker” journalists wrote of the “treason of the Senate”; they showed that key senators were on the payrolls of wealthy bankers or industrialists and did the bidding of their employers. 

The Senate became a graveyard for popular reforms. In an eerie foreshadowing of today’s politics, wealthy individuals, business firms, and institutional gridlock combined to prevent Congress from passing laws that large majorities of Americans undoubtedly wanted them to pass.  

The decline in democracy was also manifested in a sharp decline in voter turnout. After the pivotal election of 1896—in which the industrial conservatism of William McKinley decisively defeated the agrarian populism of William Jennings Bryan—a series of changes in election laws curtailed citizens’ participation: new, onerous requirements for personal registration; disenfranchisement of working-class immigrants; barriers against party labels on ballots or party mobilization of voters. (Many of these “reforms”were supported by Progressives, who sought to reduce corruption and shift power away from the wealthy toward middle-class professionals, not ethnic urban masses.) 

Also, voters were discouraged by a narrowing of political choices under the business-dominated politics of the day. The high, 80 percent or so presidential-election turnout levels of most of the nineteenth century fell sharply, to just 59 percent in 1912. 

THE REBIRTH OF EQUALITY AND DEMOCRACY. 

The extremely high levels of economic and political inequality during and after the Gilded Age were eventually moderated, however. Inequality itself provoked protests and social movements that pressed for reforms and—after a long struggle—enjoyed considerable success. 

The Populist and Progressive victories of the early twentieth century (which are discussed further in chapter 9) included two fundamental democratic reforms: direct election of U.S. senators (rather than selection by corrupt state legislators) and the right of women to vote. They also brought more popular participation in party nominations; government regulation of business monopolies; limits on long working hours and bad working conditions; and the beginnings of a progressive federal income tax. 

After a relapse into economic and political inequality during the 1920s, the Great Depression led to the political mobilization of millions of citizens and to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal policies of the 1930s, which more closely regulated business, imposed more progressive income taxes, and provided social welfare programs including Social Security. 

Most important for reviving democracy, the New Deal facilitated the organization of workers into unions that could mobilize their members and exert countervailing power against business.  

New Deal policies, together with the economic leveling effects of World War II and its aftermath, produced a “great compression” (much more equality) of income and wealth and a substantial restoration of democracy.  

THE “GOLDEN AGE.”

For a period of twenty to thirty years after World War II (from about 1946 to 1973)—which is sometimes referred to as a “golden age,” though it was certainly not golden in every respect—income and wealth were much more widely shared. By 1950, the share of wealth owned by the top 1 percent of wealth holders had fallen from 45 percent to 30 percent. The income share of the most affluent Americans was also down markedly from the late-1920s peak.  

As the economy grew rapidly during the 1950s and 1960s, the American Dream seemed realizable. Average workers could expect ever-increasing prosperity for themselves and their children. Real incomes were doubling each generation. Living standards soared. The most economically successful Americans did not seem to be impossibly far ahead; one could imagine that—with hard work and luck—one might possibly join them.

As to democracy: we cannot be sure exactly how responsive to the citizenry the federal government was during the 1950s. (Available survey data are too scanty to judge how well public policies reflected citizens’preferences.) But indications are that policy making was much more democratic during the Eisenhower administration (1953–61) than it is today. Certainly the political parties were less polarized; there was more bipartisan cooperation, less gridlock, more legislative accomplishment—including clearly popular measures like the development of the interstate highway system and the maintenance or expansion of a number of social programs.  

Today’s Explosion of Inequality 

Then, in the 1970s, things began to go badly wrong. Already during the golden age, other countries had started to undermine the global economic dominance of the United States. Germany and Japan recovered from the ravages of World War II and built vigorous new economies. Volkswagens and then Hondas began to undersell Detroit cars in the U.S. market, and inexpensive Japanese electronic goods began to appear on our shelves. 

Suddenly, in 1973–74, an embargo by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) doubled the price of oil. Wages, salaries, and the U.S. economy as a whole stagnated, while prices rose. At first nearly all Americans suffered. Then the wealthiest began to leap ahead while nearly everyone else stayed stuck, and a period of sharply rising inequality began. 

WAGE AND INCOME STAGNATION AMONG AVERAGE AMERICANS. 

American workers’ wages stopped rising. Since 1973—including many years of substantial economic growth—median hourly wages have barely risen at all. (Half of all workers earn more than the median, while half earn less. The median wage tells more about typical workers than does the mean or average wage, which can be misleadingly high because of a few extremely high-wage earners. If Bill Gates walks into a bar, the “average”income of the customers jumps way up in terms of the mean, but there is little or no effect on the median income, nor—unless Gates buys the drinks—on anybody’s actual welfare.) 

Even now, median wages remain stuck around $16 per hour, where they have been (in “real,” inflation-adjusted terms) ever since the early 1970s. Wage stagnation is a fundamental feature of contemporary America. 

For a while, family incomes (though not necessarily families’well-being) did a bit better than wages, but only because more family members began working harder and for longer hours. And soon family incomes stagnated too. Between 1947 and 1979, in terms of real dollars, the total incomes of American families in the bottom two thirds of the income distribution more than doubled. But since 1979, they have stayed nearly flat.  

Pundits and pontificators sometimes attribute this wage and income stagnation to workers’ alleged lack of skills or effort. Nonsense. American workers did not suddenly lose their ambition, their energy, or their skills at the end of the golden age. They continue to work hard and work well. Their productivity rose markedly for many years. Between 1979 and 2011, in fact—while wages were staying flat—average productivity nearly doubled, from $36.03 of goods produced per hour worked, to $60.83. 

The problem is not that the typical American worker is not working hard enough or not producing enough; it is that factors beyond his or her control—chiefly labor-saving technology and wage competition from low-wage countries—have reduced the market value of that work. 

A bigger share of revenue now goes to managers and stockholders. So a small number of wealthy people with very high incomes now get most of the gains from increased production. No wonder that many Americans feel that they have been marching up a steep hill but getting nowhere. No wonder that many resent those who seem to have leapt ahead—whether they focus on wealthy corporate executives and hedge fund managers or on immigrants and minorities. 

Wage and income stagnation tell us something about why there were so many antiestablishment Trump and Sanders voters in the 2016 elections. Americans can no longer take much consolation from hopes and dreams of upward mobility, even in relative terms. 

The American Dream promises that hard work, creative thinking, risk taking, and thrift can get anyone—or at least anyone’s children—to the top of the heap. In actual fact, however, Americans who are born into lower-income families tend to stay in the lower income ranges all their lives. So do their children. 

Those born at the top mostly stay near the top. For example, a recent study found that about half of Americans who had been in the bottom fifth of income-earning households in 1987 and were aged thirty-five to forty at the time remained in the bottom fifth twenty years later, despite the normal expectation of rising earnings over the life cycle. Those who did move generally did not move far. Fewer than one out of twenty made it into the top fifth, and fewer than one in forty into the top tenth.  

Americans enjoy somewhat more mobility between generations than within them, but less than we might like to think. High-earning parents tend to have high-earning children, and low earners tend to have low earners. The sons of fathers in the bottom tenth of income earners have just a paltry 4.5 percent chance of making it into the top fifth. (If parents’income did not matter, everyone would have a 20 percent chance of making it into the top fifth.)  

A moment’s thought about the importance of family in early childhood nurturance and in schooling, personal networks, college attendance, and financial help with homes and businesses helps us understand why it is rare to leap from the bottom to the top. More startling is the fact that the United States now appears to have less, rather than more, intergenerational mobility than several other countries that we sometimes sneer at as stultified: especially the egalitarian Scandinavians (Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden), but also Australia, New Zealand, Germany, and Japan. 

The most striking contrast is with our neighbor Canada, which resembles us in many ways but has some government policies that are very different from ours. Canada enjoys one of the highest rates of intergenerational mobility among advanced countries, while we suffer from one of the lowest. 

*

from

DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA? What Has Gone Wrong and What We Can Do about It 

Benjamin I. Page and Martin Gilens.

get it at Amazon.com

An honest Republican’s view. Jeff Flake’s full speech.

Mr. President, I rise today to address a matter that has been much on my mind, at a moment when it seems that our democracy is more defined by our discord and our dysfunction than it is by our values and our principles. Let me begin by noting a somewhat obvious point that these offices that we hold are not ours to hold indefinitely. We are not here simply to mark time. Sustained incumbency is certainly not the point of seeking office. And there are times when we must risk our careers in favor of our principles.
Now is such a time.
It must also be said that I rise today with no small measure of regret. Regret, because of the state of our disunion, regret because of the disrepair and destructiveness of our politics, regret because of the indecency of our discourse, regret because of the coarseness of our leadership, regret for the compromise of our moral authority, and by our — all of our — complicity in this alarming and dangerous state of affairs. It is time for our complicity and our accommodation of the unacceptable to end.
In this century, a new phrase has entered the language to describe the accommodation of a new and undesirable order — that phrase being “the new normal.” But we must never adjust to the present coarseness of our national dialogue — with the tone set at the top.

We must never regard as “normal” the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals. 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, reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the fortunes of the people that we have all been elected to serve.

None of these appalling features of our current politics should ever be regarded as normal. We must never allow ourselves to lapse into thinking that this is just the way things are now. If we simply become inured to this condition, thinking that this is just politics as usual, then heaven help us. Without fear of the consequences, and without consideration of the rules of what is politically safe or palatable, we must stop pretending that the degradation of our politics and the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal. They are not normal.

Reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as “telling it like it is,” when it is actually just reckless, outrageous, and undignified.

And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else: It is dangerous to a democracy. Such behavior does not project strength — because our strength comes from our values. It instead projects a corruption of the spirit, and weakness.

It is often said that children are watching. Well, they are. And what are we going to do about that? When the next generation asks us, Why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you speak up? — what are we going to say?

Mr. President, I rise today to say: Enough. We must dedicate ourselves to making sure that the anomalous never becomes normal. With respect and humility, I must say that we have fooled ourselves for long enough that a pivot to governing is right around the corner, a return to civility and stability right behind it. We know better than that. By now, we all know better than that.

Here, today, I stand to say that we would better serve the country and better fulfill our obligations under the constitution by adhering to our Article 1 “old normal” — Mr. Madison’s doctrine of the separation of powers. This genius innovation which affirms Madison’s status as a true visionary and for which Madison argued in Federalist 51 — held that the equal branches of our government would balance and counteract each other when necessary. “Ambition counteracts ambition,” he wrote.

But what happens if ambition fails to counteract ambition? What happens if stability fails to assert itself in the face of chaos and instability? If decency fails to call out indecency? Were the shoe on the other foot, would we Republicans meekly accept such behavior on display from dominant Democrats? Of course not, and we would be wrong if we did.

When we remain silent and fail to act when we know that that silence and inaction is the wrong thing to do — because of political considerations, because we might make enemies, because we might alienate the base, because we might provoke a primary challenge, because ad infinitum, ad nauseum — when we succumb to those considerations in spite of what should be greater considerations and imperatives in defense of the institutions of our liberty, then we dishonor our principles and forsake our obligations. Those things are far more important than politics.

Now, I am aware that more politically savvy people than I caution against such talk. I am aware that a segment of my party believes that anything short of complete and unquestioning loyalty to a president who belongs to my party is unacceptable and suspect.

If I have been critical, it not because I relish criticizing the behavior of the president of the United States. If I have been critical, it is because I believe that it is my obligation to do so, as a matter of duty and conscience. The notion that one should stay silent as the norms and values that keep America strong are undermined and as the alliances and agreements that ensure the stability of the entire world are routinely threatened by the level of thought that goes into 140 characters – the notion that one should say and do nothing in the face of such mercurial behavior is ahistoric and, I believe, profoundly misguided.

A Republican president named Roosevelt had this to say about the president and a citizen’s relationship to the office:

“The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the nation as a whole. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly as necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile.” President Roosevelt continued. “To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.”

Acting on conscience and principle is the manner in which we express our moral selves, and as such, loyalty to conscience and principle should supersede loyalty to any man or party. We can all be forgiven for failing in that measure from time to time. I certainly put myself at the top of the list of those who fall short in that regard. I am holier-than-none. But too often, we rush not to salvage principle but to forgive and excuse our failures so that we might accommodate them and go right on failing—until the accommodation itself becomes our principle.

In that way and over time, we can justify almost any behavior and sacrifice almost any principle. I’m afraid that is where we now find ourselves.

When a leader correctly identifies real hurt and insecurity in our country and instead of addressing it goes looking for somebody to blame, there is perhaps nothing more devastating to a pluralistic society. Leadership knows that most often a good place to start in assigning blame is to first look somewhat closer to home. Leadership knows where the buck stops. Humility helps. Character counts. Leadership does not knowingly encourage or feed ugly and debased appetites in us.

Leadership lives by the American creed: E Pluribus Unum. From many, one. American leadership looks to the world, and just as Lincoln did, sees the family of man. Humanity is not a zero-sum game. When we have been at our most prosperous, we have also been at our most principled. And when we do well, the rest of the world also does well.

These articles of civic faith have been central to the American identity for as long as we have all been alive. They are our birthright and our obligation. We must guard them jealously, and pass them on for as long as the calendar has days. To betray them, or to be unserious in their defense is a betrayal of the fundamental obligations of American leadership. And to behave as if they don’t matter is simply not who we are.

Now, the efficacy of American leadership around the globe has come into question. When the United States emerged from World War II we contributed about half of the world’s economic activity. It would have been easy to secure our dominance, keeping the countries that had been defeated or greatly weakened during the war in their place. We didn’t do that. It would have been easy to focus inward. We resisted those impulses. Instead, we financed reconstruction of shattered countries and created international organizations and institutions that have helped provide security and foster prosperity around the world for more than 70 years.

Now, it seems that we, the architects of this visionary rules-based world order that has brought so much freedom and prosperity, are the ones most eager to abandon it.

The implications of this abandonment are profound. And the beneficiaries of this rather radical departure in the American approach to the world are the ideological enemies of our values. Despotism loves a vacuum. And our allies are now looking elsewhere for leadership. Why are they doing this? None of this is normal. And what do we as United States Senators have to say about it?

The principles that underlie our politics, the values of our founding, are too vital to our identity and to our survival to allow them to be compromised by the requirements of politics. Because politics can make us silent when we should speak, and silence can equal complicity.

I have children and grandchildren to answer to, and so, Mr. President, I will not be complicit.

I have decided that I will be better able to represent the people of Arizona and to better serve my country and my conscience by freeing myself from the political considerations that consume far too much bandwidth and would cause me to compromise far too many principles.

To that end, I am announcing today that my service in the Senate will conclude at the end of my term in early January 2019.

It is clear at this moment that a traditional conservative who believes in limited government and free markets, who is devoted to free trade, and who is pro-immigration, has a narrower and narrower path to nomination in the Republican party — the party that for so long has defined itself by belief in those things. It is also clear to me for the moment we have given in or given up on those core principles in favor of the more viscerally satisfying anger and resentment. To be clear, the anger and resentment that the people feel at the royal mess we have created are justified. But anger and resentment are not a governing philosophy.

There is an undeniable potency to a populist appeal — but mischaracterizing or misunderstanding our problems and giving in to the impulse to scapegoat and belittle threatens to turn us into a fearful, backward-looking people. In the case of the Republican party, those things also threaten to turn us into a fearful, backward-looking minority party.

We were not made great as a country by indulging or even exalting our worst impulses, turning against ourselves, glorying in the things which divide us, and calling fake things true and true things fake. And we did not become the beacon of freedom in the darkest corners of the world by flouting our institutions and failing to understand just how hard-won and vulnerable they are.

This spell will eventually break. That is my belief. We will return to ourselves once more, and I say the sooner the better. Because to have a heathy government we must have healthy and functioning parties. We must respect each other again in an atmosphere of shared facts and shared values, comity and good faith. We must argue our positions fervently, and never be afraid to compromise. We must assume the best of our fellow man, and always look for the good. Until that days comes, we must be unafraid to stand up and speak out as if our country depends on it. Because it does.

I plan to spend the remaining fourteen months of my senate term doing just that.

Mr. President, the graveyard is full of indispensable men and women — none of us here is indispensable. Nor were even the great figures from history who toiled at these very desks in this very chamber to shape this country that we have inherited. What is indispensable are the values that they consecrated in Philadelphia and in this place, values which have endured and will endure for so long as men and women wish to remain free. What is indispensable is what we do here in defense of those values. A political career doesn’t mean much if we are complicit in undermining those values.

I thank my colleagues for indulging me here today, and will close by borrowing the words of President Lincoln, who knew more about healing enmity and preserving our founding values than any other American who has ever lived. His words from his first inaugural were a prayer in his time, and are no less so in ours:

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.

President Donald Trump, Unbridled and Extreme Present Hedonism – Philip Zimbardo and Rosemary Sword.

In Donald Trump, we have a frightening Venn diagram consisting of three circles: the first is extreme present hedonism; the second, narcissism; and the third, bullying behavior.

These three circles overlap in the middle to create an impulsive, immature, incompetent person who, when in the position of ultimate power, easily slides into the role of tyrant, complete with family members sitting at his proverbial “ruling table.”

Like a fledgling dictator, he plants psychological seeds of treachery in sections of our population that reinforce already negative attitudes.

To drive home our point, here are what we consider to be two of Trump’s most dangerous quotes:

• “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people—maybe there is, I don’t know” (remark made during a campaign rally in Wilmington, North Carolina, August 9, 2016); and

• “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue, shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters” (remark made during a campaign appearance in Sioux City, Iowa, January 23, 2016).

Before Donald Trump, it was unfathomable for American citizens to consciously consider voting for, and then inaugurating, a person as unbalanced as this president.

Admittedly, it’s possible, as Guy Winch points out in his February 2, 2016, Psychology Today article, “Study: Half of All Presidents Suffered from Mental Illness.” According to Winch, many of our previous presidents may have suffered from mental health issues, including depression (Abraham Lincoln), bipolar disorder (Lyndon Johnson), alcoholism (Ulysses S. Grant), Alzheimer’s disease (Ronald Reagan), and transient bouts of extreme present hedonism (John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton). We have also survived a president who blatantly lied to cover his criminal tracks before he was caught in those lies (Richard Nixon).

In the past, Americans have pulled together and worked to overcome our differences. We moved forward collectively as one great country. Unfortunately, in more recent times, it appears we have become a bipolar nation, with Donald Trump at the helm as his followers cheer him on and others try to resist him.

Whether or not Donald Trump suffers from a neurological disorder, or narcissistic personality disorder, or any other mental health issue, for that matter, will, undeniably, remain conjecture unless he submits to tests, which is highly unlikely given his personality.

However, the lack of such tests cannot erase the well-documented behaviors he has displayed for decades and the dangers they pose when embodied in the president of the United States.

In line with the principles of Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California 17 Cal. 3d 425 (1976), known as the “Tarasoff doctrine,” it is the responsibility of mental health professionals to warn the citizens of the United States and the people of the world of the potentially devastating effects of such an extreme present-hedonistic world leader, one with enormous power at his disposal.

On the whole, mental health professionals have failed in their duty to warn, in a timely manner, not only the public but also government officials about the dangers of President Donald Trump.

Articles and interviews intent on cautioning the masses prior to the election fell on deaf ears, perhaps in part because the media did not afford the concerned mental health professionals appropriate coverage, perhaps because some citizens discount the value of mental health and have thrown a thick blanket of stigma over the profession, or perhaps because we as mental health professionals did not stand united. Whatever the reason, it’s not too late to follow through.

In presenting our case that Donald Trump is mentally unfit to be president of the United States, we would be remiss if we did not consider one more factor: the possibility of a neurological disorder such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, which the president’s father, Fred Trump, suffered from.

We are not trying to speculate diagnoses from afar, but comparing video interviews of Trump from the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s to current video, we find that the differences (significant reduction in the use of essential words; an increase in the use of adjectives such as very, huge, and tremendous; and incomplete, run-on sentences that don’t make sense and that could indicate a loss of train of thought or memory) are conspicuously apparent. Perhaps this is why Trump insists on being surrounded by family members who love and understand him rather than seasoned political advisers, who may note, and then leak, his alarming behavior.

When an individual is psychologically unbalanced, everything can teeter and fall apart if change does not occur. We wonder how far-reaching, in our society over time, the effects of our unbalanced president’s actions will be and how they will continue to affect us as individuals, communities, a nation, and a planet.

We believe that Donald Trump is the most dangerous man in the world! A powerful leader of a powerful nation who can order missiles fired at another nation because of his (or a family member’s) personal distress at seeing sad scenes of people having been gassed to death.

We shudder to imagine what actions might be taken in broader lethal confrontations with his personal and political enemies. We are gravely concerned about Trump’s abrupt, capricious 180-degree shifts and how these displays of instability have the potential to be unconscionably dangerous to the point of causing catastrophe, and not only for the citizens of the United States.

There are two particularly troubling examples:

1. His repeatedly lavishing praise on FBI director James Comey’s handling of an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails and then, in early May 2017, abruptly and abusively firing Comey for the very investigation that garnered such praise, but in this case actually because of Comey’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia; and

2 His stating during the campaign that NATO was obsolete and then, later, unexpectedly stating that NATO was necessary and acceptable.

As is the case with extreme present hedonists, Trump is “chumming” for war, possibly for the most selfish of reasons: to deflect attention away from the Russia investigation.

If another unbalanced world leader takes the bait, Trump will need the formerly “obsolete” and now-essential NATO to back him up.

We as individuals don’t have to follow our nation’s leader down a path headed in the wrong direction, off a cliff and into a pit of past mistakes. We can stand where we are at this moment in history and face forward, into a brighter future that we create. We can start by looking for the good in one another and for the common ground we share.

In the midst of the terrorist attacks on places of worship and cemeteries mentioned earlier, something wonderful emerged from the ashes: a spirit of overwhelming goodness in humanity. In the wake of the attacks, Jews and Muslims united: they held fund-raisers to help each other repair and rebuild; they shared their places of worship so that those burned out of theirs could hold gatherings and services; and they offered loving support to those who’d faced hatred.

By observing ordinary people engaging in acts of everyday heroism and compassion, we have been able to witness the best aspects of humanity. That’s us! That’s the United States of America!

A final suggestion for our governmental leaders: corporations and companies vet their prospective employees. This vetting process frequently includes psychological testing in the form of exams or quizzes to help the employer make more informed hiring decisions and determine if the prospective employee is honest and/or would be a good fit for the company.

These tests are used for positions ranging from department store sales clerk to high-level executive. Isn’t it time that the same be required for candidates for the most important job in the world?

*

from:

The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump. 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President
Bandy Lee, MD.D., M.DIV

get it at Amazon.com

The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump. 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President – Bandy Lee, MD.D., M.DIV.

Our Witness to Malignant Normality

ROBERT JAY LIFTON, M.D.

Concerning malignant normality, we start with an assumption that all societies, at various levels of consciousness, put forward ways of viewing, thinking, and behaving that are considered desirable or “normal.”

Yet, these criteria for normality can be much affected by the political and military currents of a particular era. Such requirements may be fairly benign, but they can also be destructive to the point of evil.

I came to the idea of malignant normality in my study of Nazi doctors. Those assigned to Auschwitz, when taking charge of the selections and the overall killing process, were simply doing what was expected of them. True, some were upset, even horrified, at being given this task. Yet, with a certain amount of counseling—one can call it perverse psychotherapy—offered by more experienced hands, a process that included drinking heavily together and giving assurance of help and support, the great majority could overcome their anxiety sufficiently to carry through their murderous assignment.

This was a process of adaptation to evil that is all too possible to initiate in such a situation. Above all, there was a normalization of evil that enhanced this adaptation and served to present participating doctors with the Auschwitz institution as the existing world to which one must make one’s adjustments.

There is another form of malignant normality, closer to home and more recent. I have in mind the participation in torture by physicians (including psychiatrists), and by psychologists, and other medical and psychological personnel. This reached its most extreme manifestation when two psychologists were revealed to be among architects of the CIA’s torture protocol. More than that, this malignant normality was essentially supported by the American Psychological Association in its defense of the participation of psychologists in the so-called “enhanced interrogation” techniques that spilled over into torture.

I am not equating this American behavior with the Nazi example but, rather, suggesting that malignant normality can take different forms. And nothing does more to sustain malignant normality than its support from a large organization of professionals.

There is still another kind of malignant normality, one brought about by President Trump and his administration. Judith Herman and I, in a letter to the New York Times in March 2017, stressed Trump’s dangerous individual psychological patterns: his creation of his own reality and his inability to manage the inevitable crises that face an American president.

He has also, in various ways, violated our American institutional requirements and threatened the viability of American democracy. Yet, because he is president and operates within the broad contours and interactions of the presidency, there is a tendency to view what he does as simply part of our democratic process—that is, as politically and even ethically normal.

In this way, a dangerous president becomes normalized, and malignant normality comes to dominate our governing (or, one could say, our antigoverning) dynamic.

But that does not mean we are helpless. We remain a society with considerable openness, with institutions that can still be life-enhancing and serve truth. Unlike Nazi doctors, articulate psychological professionals could and did expose the behavior of corrupt colleagues and even a corrupt professional society. Investigative journalists and human rights groups also greatly contributed to that exposure.

As psychological professionals, we are capable of parallel action in confronting the malignant normality of Trump and his administration. To do so we need to combine our sense of outrage with a disciplined use of our professional knowledge and experience.

This brings me to my second theme: that of witnessing professionals, particularly activist witnessing professionals. Most professionals, most of the time, operate within the norms (that is, the criteria for normality) of their particular society. Indeed, professionals often go further, and in their practices may deepen the commitment of people they work with to that normality. This can give solace, but it has its perils.

It is not generally known that during the early Cold War period, a special governmental commission, chaired by a psychiatrist and containing physicians and social scientists, was set up to help the American people achieve the desired psychological capacity to support U.S. stockpiling of nuclear weapons, cope with an anticipated nuclear attack, and overcome the fear of nuclear annihilation. The commission had the task, in short, of helping Americans accept malignant nuclear normality.

There have also been parallel examples in recent history of professionals who have promoted equally dangerous forms of normality in rejecting climate change. But professionals don’t have to serve these forms of malignant normality. We are capable of using our knowledge and technical skills to expose such normality, to bear witness to its malignance—to become witnessing professionals.

When I did my study of Hiroshima survivors back in 1962, I sought to uncover, in the most accurate and scientific way I could, the psychological and bodily experience of people exposed to the atomic bomb. Yet, I was not just a neutral observer. Over time, I came to understand myself as a witnessing professional, committed to making known what an atomic bomb could do to a city, to tell the world something of what had happened in Hiroshima and to its inhabitants. The Hiroshima story could be condensed to “one plane, one bomb, one city.” I came to view this commitment to telling Hiroshima’s story as a form of advocacy research. That meant combining a disciplined professional approach with the ethical requirements of committed witness, combining scholarship with activism.

I believe that some such approach is what we require now, in the Trump era. We need to avoid uncritical acceptance of this new version of malignant normality and, instead, bring our knowledge and experience to exposing it for what it is. This requires us to be disciplined about what we believe we know, while refraining from holding forth on what we do not know. It also requires us to recognize the urgency of the situation in which the most powerful man in the world is also the bearer of profound instability and untruth.

As psychological professionals, we act with ethical passion in our efforts to reveal what is most dangerous and what, in contrast, might be life-affirming in the face of the malignant normality that surrounds us.

Finally, there is the issue of our ethical behavior. We talk a lot about our professional ethics having to do with our responsibility to patients and to the overall standards of our discipline. This concern with professional ethics matters a great deal. But I am suggesting something more, a larger concept of professional ethics that we don’t often discuss: including who we work for and with, and how our work either affirms or questions the directions of the larger society. And, in our present situation, how we deal with the malignant normality that faces us.

This larger ethical model applies to members of other professions who may have their own “duty to warn.” I in no way minimize the significance of professional knowledge and technical skill. But our professions can become overly technicized, and we can be too much like hired guns bringing our firepower to any sponsor of the most egregious view of normality.

We can do better than that. We can take the larger ethical view of the activist witnessing professional. Bandy Lee took that perspective when organizing the Yale conference on professional responsibility, and the participants affirmed it. This does not make us saviors of our threatened society, but it does help us bring our experience and knowledge to bear on what threatens us and what might renew us.

A line from the American poet Theodore Roethke brings eloquence to what I have been trying to say: “In a dark time, the eye begins to see.”

***

Professions and Politics

JUDITH LEWIS HERMAN, M.D., and

BANDY X. LEE, M.D., M.DIV.

Soon after the presidential election of 2016, alarmed by the apparent mental instability of the president-elect, we both separately circulated letters among some of our professional colleagues, expressing our concern. Most of them declined to sign. A number of people admitted they were afraid of some undefined form of governmental retaliation, so quickly had a climate of fear taken hold.

They asked us if we were not wary of being “targeted,” and advised us to seek legal counsel. This was a lesson to us in how a climate of fear can induce people to censor themselves.

Others who declined to sign our letters of concern cited matters of principle. Psychiatry, we were warned, should stay out of politics; otherwise, the profession could end up being ethically compromised. The example most frequently cited was that of psychiatrists in the Soviet Union who collaborated with the secret police to diagnose dissidents as mentally ill and confine them to prisons that fronted as hospitals (Medvedev and Medvedev 1971).

This was a serious consideration. Indeed, we need not look beyond our own borders for examples of ethics violations committed by professionals who became entangled in politics. We have recently witnessed the disgrace of an entire professional organization, the American Psychological Association, some of whose leadership, in cooperation with officials from the U.S. military, the CIA, and the Bush White House, rewrote its ethical guidelines to give legal cover to a secret government program of coercive interrogation and to excuse military psychologists who designed and implemented methods of torture (Hoffman et al. 2015; Risen 2014).

Among the many lessons that might be learned from this notorious example, one in particular stayed with us. It seemed clear that the government officials responsible for abusive treatment of prisoners went to some lengths to find medical and mental health professionals who would publicly condone their practices. We reasoned that if professional endorsement serves as important cover for human rights abuses, then professional condemnation must also carry weight.

In 2005 the Pentagon organized a trip to the Guantánamo Bay detention camp for a group of prominent ethicists, psychiatrists, and psychologists. Participants toured the facility and met with high-ranking military officers, including the commanding general. They were not allowed to meet or speak with any of the detainees. Dr. Steven Sharfstein, then the president of the American Psychiatric Association, was one of the invited guests on this trip.

Apparently, what he saw and heard failed to convince him that the treatment of detainees fell within the bounds of ethical conduct. “Our position is very direct,” he stated on return. “Psychiatrists should not participate on these [interrogation] teams because it is inappropriate” (Lewis 2005). Under Dr. Sharfstein’s leadership, the American Psychiatric Association took a strong stand against any form of participation in torture and in the “interrogation of persons held in custody by military or civilian investigative or law enforcement authorities, whether in the United States or elsewhere” (American Psychiatric Association 2006).

Contrast this principled stand with the sorry tale of the American Psychological Association. Its involvement in the torture scandal illustrates how important it is for leaders in the professions to stand firm against ethical violations, and to resist succumbing to the argument that exceptional political circumstances, such as “the war on terror,” demand exceptions to basic ethical codes. When there is pressure from power is exactly when one must abide by the norms and rules of our ethics.

Norms and Rules in the Political Sphere

Norms and rules guide professional conduct, set standards, and point to the essential principles of practice. For these reasons, physicians have the Declaration of Geneva (World Medical Association 2006) and the American Medical Association Principles of Medical Ethics (2001), which guide the American Psychiatric Association’s code for psychiatry (American Psychiatric Association 2013).

The former confirms the physician’s dedication to the humanitarian goals of medicine, while the latter defines honorable behavior for the physician. Paramount in both is the health, safety, and survival of the patient. Psychiatrists’ codes of ethics derive directly from these principles. In ordinary practice, the patient’s right to confidentiality is the bedrock of mental health care dating back to the ethical standards of the Hippocratic Oath.

However, even this sacrosanct rule is not absolute. No doubt, the physician’s responsibility is first and foremost to the patient, but it extends “as well as to society” (American Psychiatric Association 2013, p. 2). It is part of professional expectation that the psychiatrist assess the possibility that the patient may harm himself or others. When the patient poses a danger, psychiatrists are not merely allowed but mandated to report, to incapacitate, and to take steps to protect.

If we are mindful of the dangers of politicizing the professions, then certainly we must heed the so-called “Goldwater rule,” or Section 7.3 of the APA code of ethics (American Psychiatric Association 2013, p. 6), which states: “it is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion [on a public figure] unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement.”

This is not divergent from ordinary norms of practice: the clinical approaches that we use to evaluate patients require a full examination. Formulating a credible diagnosis will always be limited when applied to public figures observed outside this intimate frame; in fact, we would go so far as to assert that it is impossible.

The Goldwater rule highlights the boundaries of practice, helps to preserve professional integrity, and protects public figures from defamation. It safeguards the public’s perception of the field of psychiatry as credible and trustworthy. It is reasonable to follow it. But even this respectable rule must be balanced against the other rules and principles of professional practice.

A careful ethical evaluation might ask: Do our ordinary norms of practice stop at the office of the president? If so, why? If the ethics of our practice stipulate that the health of our patient and the safety of the public be paramount, then we should not leave our norms at the door when entering the political sphere. Otherwise, a rule originally conceived to protect our profession from scandal might itself become a source of scandal.

For this very reason, the “reaffirmation” of the Goldwater rule in a separate statement by the American Psychiatric Association (2017) barely two months into the new administration seems questionable to us. The American Psychiatric Association is not immune to the kind of politically pressured acquiescence we have seen with its psychological counterpart. A psychiatrist who disregards the basic procedures of diagnosis and treatment and acts without discretion deserves reprimand. However, the public trust is also violated if the profession fails in its duty to alert the public when a person who holds the power of life and death over us all shows signs of clear, dangerous mental impairment.

We should pause if professionals are asked to remain silent when they have seen enough evidence to sound an alarm in every other situation. When it comes to dangerousness, should not the president of a democracy, as First Citizen, be subject to the same standards of practice as the rest of the citizenry?

Assessing dangerousness is different from making a diagnosis: it is dependent on the situation, not the person. Signs of likely dangerousness due to mental disorder can become apparent without a full diagnostic interview and can be detected from a distance, and one is expected to err, if at all, on the side of safety when the risk of inaction is too great.

States vary in their instructions. New York, for example, requires that two qualifying professionals agree in order to detain a person who may be in danger of hurting himself or others. Florida and the District of Columbia require only one professional’s opinion. Also, only one person need be in danger of harm by the individual, and the threshold is even lower if the individual has access to weapons (not to5 mention nuclear weapons).

The physician, to whom life-and-death situations are entrusted, is expected to know when it is appropriate to act, and to act responsibly when warranted. It is because of the weight of this responsibility that, rightfully, the physician should refrain from commenting on a public figure except in the rarest instance. Only in an emergency should a physician breach the trust of confidentiality and intervene without consent, and only in an emergency should a physician breach the Goldwater rule.

We believe that such an emergency now exists.

Test for Proper Responsibility

When we circulated our letters of concern, we asked our fellow mental health professionals to get involved in politics not only as citizens (a right most of us still enjoy) but also, specifically, as professionals and as guardians of the special knowledge with which they have been entrusted.

Why do we think this was permissible? It is all too easy to claim, as we did, that an emergency situation requires a departure from our usual practices in the private sphere. How can one judge whether political involvement is in fact justified? We would argue that the key question is whether mental health professionals are engaging in political collusion with state abuses of power or acting in resistance to them.

If we are asked to cooperate with state programs that violate human rights, then any involvement, regardless of the purported justification, can only corrupt, and the only appropriate ethical stance is to refuse participation of any sort.

If, on the other hand, we perceive that state power is being abused by an executive who seems to be mentally unstable, then we may certainly speak out, not only as citizens but also, we would argue, as professionals who are privy to special information and have a responsibility to educate the public. For whatever our wisdom and expertise may be worth, surely we are obligated to share it.

It doesn’t take a psychiatrist to notice that our president is mentally compromised. Members of the press have come up with their own diagnostic nomenclature, calling the president a “mad king” (Dowd 2017), a “nut job” (Collins 2017), and “emotionally unhinged” (Rubin 2017). Conservative columnist George Will (2017) writes that the president has a “disorderly mind.”

By speaking out as mental health professionals, we lend support and dignity to our fellow citizens who are justifiably alarmed by the president’s furious tirades, conspiracy fantasies, aversion to facts, and attraction to violence. We can offer a hand in helping the public understand behaviors that are unusual and alarming but that can all too easily be rationalized and normalized.

An important and relevant question that the public has been asking is this: Is the man simply crazy, or is he crazy like a fox? Is he mentally compromised or simply vile? When he lies, does he know he is lying, or does he believe his own lies? When he makes wild accusations, is he truly paranoid, or is he consciously and cunningly trying to deflect attention from his misdeeds?

We believe that we can help answer these questions by emphasizing that the two propositions are not mutually exclusive. A man can be both evil and mentally compromised—which is a more frightening proposition.

Power not only corrupts but also magnifies existing psychopathologies, even as it creates new ones. Fostered by the flattery of underlings and the chants of crowds, a political leader’s grandiosity may morph into grotesque delusions of grandeur. Sociopathic traits may be amplified as the leader discovers that he can violate the norms of civil society and even commit crimes with impunity. And the leader who rules through fear, lies, and betrayal may become increasingly isolated and paranoid, as the loyalty of even his closest confidants must forever be suspect.

Some would argue that by paying attention to the president’s mental state, we are colluding with him in deflecting attention from that by which he should ultimately be judged: his actions (Frances 2017). Certainly, mental disturbance is not an excuse for tyrannical behavior; nevertheless, it cannot be ignored. In a court of law, even the strongest insanity defense case cannot show that a person is insane all the time.

We submit that by paying attention to the president’s mental state as well as his actions, we are better informed to assess his dangerousness. Delusional levels of grandiosity, impulsivity, and the compulsions of mental impairment, when combined with an authoritarian cult of personality and contempt for the rule of law, are a toxic mix.

There are those who still hold out hope that this president can be prevailed upon to listen to reason and curb his erratic behavior. Our professional experience would suggest otherwise; witness the numerous submissions we have received for this volume while organizing a Yale conference in April 2017 entitled “Does Professional Responsibility Include a Duty to Warn?”

Collectively with our coauthors, we warn that anyone as mentally unstable as Mr. Trump simply should not be entrusted with the life-and-death powers of the presidency.

***

Our Duty to Warn

BANDY X. LEE, M.D., M.DIV.

Possibly the oddest experience in my career as a psychiatrist has been to find that the only people not allowed to speak about an issue are those who know the most about it. Hence, truth is suppressed. Yet, what if that truth, furthermore, harbored dangers of such magnitude that it could be the key to future human survival? How can I, as a medical and mental health professional, remain a bystander in the face of one of the greatest emergencies of our time, when I have been called to step in everywhere else?

How can we, as trained professionals in this very area, be content to keep silent, against every other principle we practice by, because of a decree handed down from above? I am not speaking of the long-standing “Goldwater rule,” which is discussed in many places throughout this book and is a norm of ordinary practice I happen to agree with. I am rather speaking of its radical expansion, beyond the status we confer to any other rule, barely two months into the very presidency that has made it controversial.

This occurred on March 16, 2017, when our professional organization essentially placed a gag order on all psychiatrists (American Psychiatric Association 2017), and by extension all mental health professionals. I am also speaking of its defect, whereby it does not have a countervailing rule, as does the rest of professional ethics, that directs what to do when the risk of harm from remaining silent outweighs the damage that could result from speaking about a public figure—which, in this case, could even be the greatest possible harm.

Authors in this volume have been asked to respect the Goldwater rule and not to breach it unnecessarily, but I in turn respect their choices wherever their conscience has prompted them to take the professionally and socially radical step to help protect the public. Therefore, it would be accurate to state that, while we respect the rule, we deem it subordinate to the single most important principle that guides our professional conduct: that we hold our responsibility to human life and well-being as paramount.

My reasons for compiling this compendium are the same as my reasons for organizing the Yale conference by the title, “Does Professional Responsibility Include a Duty to Warn?”: the issue merits discussion, not silence, and the public deserves education, not further darkness.

Over the course of preparing the conference, the number of prominent voices in the field coming forth to speak out on the topic astonished me. Soon after the 2016 presidential election, Dr. Herman (coauthor of the Prologue), an old colleague and friend, had written a letter urging President Obama to require that Mr. Trump undergo a neuropsychiatric evaluation before assuming the office of the presidency. Her cosignatories, Drs. Gartrell and Mosbacher (authors of the essay “He’s Got the World in His Hands and His Finger on the Trigger”), helped the letter’s publication in The Huffington Post (Greene, 2016).

I also reached out to Dr. Lifton (author of the Foreword), whose “Mass Violence” meetings at Harvard first acquainted me with Dr. Herman years ago; together, they had sent a letter to the New York Times (Herman and Lifton 2017). His ready consent to speak at my conference sparked all that was to follow.

I encountered others along the way: Dr. Dodes (author of “Sociopathy”), who published a letter in the New York Times with thirty-five signatures (Dodes and Schachter 2017); Ms. Jhueck (author of “A Clinical Case for the Dangerousness of Donald J. Trump”), who cowrote and posted a letter to the head of New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene with seventy signatures; Dr. Fisher (author of “The Loneliness of Fateful Decisions”), who also expressed concerns in a letter to the New York Times (Fisher 2017); and Dr. Gartner (author of “Donald Trump Is: [A] Bad, [B] Mad, [C] All of the Above”), the initiator of an online petition, now with fifty-five thousand signatures, who cofounded the national coalition, “Duty to Warn,” of (as of this writing) seventeen hundred mental health professionals.

The Yale Conference

On April 20, 2017, Dr. Charles Dike of my division at Yale started the town hall–style meeting by reaffirming the relevance and reasons for the Goldwater rule. As assistant professor in law and psychiatry, former chair of the Ethics Committee of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, chair of the Connecticut Psychiatric Society Ethics Committee, member of the Ethics Committee of the American Psychiatric Association, and Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, he was more than qualified to do so.

It was important that we start with a firm ethical foundation: whatever our conclusion, it could not hold if we were not scrupulous about our ethical grounding. I invited as additional panelists Drs. Lifton, Herman, and Gilligan (the last the author of “The Issue Is Dangerousness, Not Mental Illness”), with the purpose of bringing together the finest minds of psychiatry I could to address the quandary. They are all colleagues I have known for at least fifteen years and highly esteem not only for their eminence in the field but also for their ethics. They were beacons during other dark times.

They abided by the Goldwater rule in that they kept the discussion at the level of dangerousness, without attempting to diagnose. The transcript of the meeting can be found in an online appendix, the link to which is at the end of this book.

The conference was initially meant to be a collaboration between Yale School of Medicine, Yale School of Public Health, and Yale School of Nursing, but when the other schools fell away as the date approached, I released the School of Medicine for what I correctly perceived would be “inevitable politicization.” In case something went wrong, I did not wish to imperil my alma mater and home institution.

Our nation is now living, in extremes, a paradigm that splits along partisan lines, and the quick conclusion will be that the speakers or contributors of this volume “must be Democrats” if they are casting a negative light on a Republican president.

However, there are other paradigms. For the mental health professional, the paradigm we practice by is one of health versus disease. We appeal to science, research, observed phenomena, and clinical skill developed over years of practice in order to promote life and to prevent death. These goals cannot be contained within the purposes of a political party or the campaigns of a candidate. Rather, we are constantly trained to bring medical neutrality—or, if we cannot, to recuse ourselves of the therapeutic situation. It is a glimpse of this perspective that we hope to bring to the reader.

Our meeting gained national and international attention (Milligan 2017; Bulman 2017). While only two dozen physically attended the conference in an atmosphere of fear, about a hundred tuned in online, and hundreds more got in touch with me for recordings or in a show of support. It felt as if we had tapped into a groundswell of a movement among mental health professionals, and also an army of people who wanted to speak about the issue (DeVega 2017).

What was intended as a publication of the proceedings led to this volume (initially so large that we had to reduce it by a third), and five top-tier publishers in the country vied for it.

Authors had to submit their manuscripts within three weeks of the meeting. It was a harrowing time, as the nation’s mood changed from relief as Mr. Trump seemed to settle into his office after the first one hundred days, to a new onslaught of scandals, starting with his firing of FBI director James Comey on May 9, 2017.

Many of the contributors here do not need an introduction, and I am humbled to have the opportunity to present such an assembly of brilliant and principled professionals. A Compendium of Expertise This volume consists of three parts, the first being devoted to describing Mr. Trump, with an understanding that no definitive diagnoses will be possible.

In “Unbridled and Extreme Present Hedonism,” Zimbardo and Sword discuss how the Leader of the Free World has proven himself unfit for duty by his extreme ties to the present moment, without much thought for the consequences of his actions or for the future.

In “Pathological Narcissism and Politics,” Malkin explains that narcissism happens on a scale, and that pathological levels in a leader can spiral into psychosis and imperil the safety of his country through paranoia, impaired judgment, volatile decision making, and behavior called gaslighting.

In “I Wrote The Art of the Deal with Trump,” Schwartz reveals how what he observed during the year he spent with Trump to write that book could have predicted his presidency of “black hole-level” low self-worth, fact-free self-justification, and a compulsion to go to war with the world.

In “Trump’s Trust Deficit Is the Core Problem,” Sheehy highlights the notion that beneath the grandiose behavior of every narcissist lies the pit of fragile self-esteem; more than anything, Trump lacks trust in himself, which may lead him to take drastic actions to prove himself to himself and to the world.

In “Sociopathy,” Dodes shows that someone who cons others, lies, cheats, and manipulates to get what he wants, and who doesn’t care whom he hurts, may be not just repetitively immoral but also severely impaired, as sociopaths lack a central human characteristic, empathy.

In “Donald Trump Is: (A) Bad, (B), Mad, (C) All of the Above,” Gartner emphasizes the complexity of Trump’s presentation, in that he shows signs of being “bad” as well as “mad,” but also with a hypomanic temperament that generates whirlwinds of activity and a constant need for stimulation.

In “Why ‘Crazy Like a Fox’ versus ‘Crazy Like a Crazy’ Really Matters,” Tansey shows that Trump’s nearly outrageous lies may be explained by delusional disorder, about which Tansey invites the reader to make the call; even more frightening are Trump’s attraction to brutal tyrants and also the prospect of nuclear war.

In “Cognitive Impairment, Dementia, and POTUS,” Reiss writes that a current vulnerability in our political system is that it sets no intellectual or cognitive standards for being president, despite the job’s inherently requiring cognitive clarity; this lack of clarity can be even more serious if combined with other psychiatric disorders.

In “Donald J. Trump, Alleged Incapacitated Person,” Herb explains how, as a guardianship attorney (in contrast to a mental health professional), he is required to come to a preliminary conclusion about mental incapacity before filing a petition, which he does in his essay, while reflecting on the Electoral College and the Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The second part of the book addresses the dilemmas that mental health professionals face in observing what they do and speaking out when they feel they must.

In “Should Psychiatrists Refrain from Commenting on Trump’s Psychology?” Glass argues against a technicality that would yield a simple yes-or-no answer to the Goldwater rule; instead, he advocates for a conscientious voicing of hazardous patterns, noting that the presence of mental illness is not as relevant as that of reliable functionality.

In “On Seeing What You See and Saying What You Know,” Friedman notes that technological advances that allow assessment and treatment from a distance, especially in underserved areas, have changed the clinician’s comfort level with remote evaluations, even when detecting a totalitarian mind-set or a multidimensional threat to the world.

In “The Issue Is Dangerousness, Not Mental Illness,” Gilligan discusses the ethics of not diagnosing a public figure versus the duty to warn potential victims of danger; when invoking the latter, he emphasizes, what matters is not whether a person is mentally ill but whether he is dangerous, which is possible to assess from a distance.

In “A Clinical Case for the Dangerousness of Donald J. Trump,” Jhueck notes that the United States legally confers mental health professionals and physicians considerable power to detain people against their will if they pose a danger due to likely mental illness—and Trump more than meets the requisite criteria.

In “Health, Risk, and the Duty to Protect the Community,” Covitz offers an ancient reference and two fables to illustrate just how unusual the mental health profession’s response is to a dangerous president, as we do not to speak up in ways that would be unthinkable for our role with other members of society.

In “New Opportunities for Therapy in the Age of Trump,” Doherty claims that the Trump era has ruptured the boundary between the personal and the public, and while clients and therapists are equally distressed, integrating our roles as therapists and citizens might help us better help clients.

The book’s third part speaks to the societal effects Mr. Trump has had, represents, and could cause in the future.

In “Trauma, Time, Truth, and Trump,” Teng points out the irony of seeing, as a trauma therapist, all the signs of traumatization and retraumatization from a peaceful election; she traces the sources of the president’s sudden military actions, his generation of crises, his shaken notions of truth and facts, and his role in reminding patients of an aggressive abuser.

In “Trump Anxiety Disorder,” Panning describes a unique post-election anxiety syndrome that has emerged as a result of the Trump presidency and the task that many therapists face with helping clients manage the stress of trying to “normalize” behavior that they do not feel is normal for a president.

In her essay “In Relationship with an Abusive President,” West illustrates the dynamics of “other blaming” in individuals who have feelings of low self-worth and hence poor shame tolerance, which lead to vindictive anger, lack of accountability, dishonesty, lack of empathy, and attention-seeking, of which Trump is an extreme example.

In “Trump’s Daddy Issues,” Wruble draws on his own personal experiences, especially his relationship with his strong and successful father, to demonstrate what a therapist does routinely: uses self-knowledge as an instrument for evaluating and “knowing” the other, even in this case, where the other is the president and his followers.

In “Birtherism and the Deployment of the Trumpian Mind-Set,” Kessler portrays the broader background from which “birtherism” began and how, by entering into the political fray by championing this fringe sentiment, Trump amplifies and exacerbates a national “symptom” of bigotry and division in ways that are dangerous to the nation’s core principles.

In “Trump and the American Collective Psyche,” Singer draws a connection between Trump’s personal narcissism and the American group psyche, not through a political analysis but through group psychology—the joining of group self-identity with violent, hateful defenses is as much about us as about Trump.

In “Who Goes Trump?” Mika explains how tyrannies are “toxic triangles,” as political scientists call them, necessitating that the tyrant, his supporters, and the society at large bind around narcissism; while the three factors animate for a while, the characteristic oppression, dehumanization, and violence inevitably bring on downfall.

In “The Loneliness of Fateful Decisions,” Fisher recounts the Cuban Missile Crisis and notes how, even though President Kennedy surrounded himself with the “best and the brightest,” they disagreed greatly, leaving him alone to make the decisions—which illustrates how the future of our country and the world hang on a president’s mental clarity.

In “He’s Got the World in His Hands and His Finger on the Trigger,” Gartrell and Mosbacher note how, while military personnel must undergo rigorous evaluations to assess their mental and medical fitness for duty, there is no such requirement for their commander in chief; they propose a nonpartisan panel of neuropsychiatrists for annual screening.

A Disclaimer

In spite of its title, I would like to emphasize that the main point of this book is not about Mr. Trump. It is about the larger context that has given rise to his presidency, and the greater population that he affects by virtue of his position.

The ascendancy of an individual with such impairments speaks to our general state of health and well-being as a nation, and to how we can respond: we can either improve it or further impair it.

Mental disorder does not distinguish between political parties, and as professionals devoted to promoting mental health, including public mental health, our duty should be clear: to steer patients and the public on a path toward health so that genuine discussions of political choice, unimpeded by emotional compulsion or defense, can occur.

Embracing our “duty to warn,” as our professional training and ethics lead us to do at times of danger, therefore involves not only sounding an alarm but continually educating and engaging in dialogue our fellow human beings, as this compilation aspires to do.

***

The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump. 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President
Bandy Lee, MD.D., M.DIV

get it at Amazon.com

GUANTÁNAMO DIARY – Mohamedou Ould Slahi.

Mohamedou Ould Slahi was born in a small town in Mauritania in 1970. He won a scholarship to attend college in Germany and worked there for several years as an engineer. He returned to Mauritania in 2000. The following year, at the behest of the United States, he was detained by Mauritanian authorities and rendered to a prison in Jordan; later he was rendered again, first to Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, and finally, on August 5, 2002, to the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where he was subjected to severe torture.
In 2010, a federal judge ordered him immediately released, but the government appealed that decision. He was cleared and released on October 16, 2016, and repatriated to his native country of Mauritania. No charges were filed against him during or after this ordeal.
Larry Siems
*
Mohamedou Ould Slahi
Every time we had a hurricane warning in Guantánamo Bay, I had the same daydream. I imagined the prison camp wiped away and all of us, detainees and captors alike, fighting side by side to survive. In some versions I saved many lives, in others I was saved, but somehow we all managed to escape, unharmed and free.

This is what I was imagining on October 7, 2016, when Hurricane Matthew was building in the Caribbean. The forecast was predicting a direct hit on Guantánamo, so the camp command decided to move all the detainees, about seventy of us, to Camp 6, the safest facility in GTMO. I was told that my belongings might not survive the hurricane, so I took my family pictures, my Koran, and two DVDs of the TV sitcom Two and a Half Men. The NCO in charge, a sympathetic Hispanic sergeant first class in his forties, arranged for another detainee to lend me his portable DVD player, but the machine died within minutes.

Outside my cell, an argument broke out between one of the detainees and the guards over the temperature in the block, an argument we all knew was futile, but the detainee had started and now couldn’t stop. “You Americans, even if I treat you as human beings, you don’t respect me,” he was yelling. “We can do this the easy way or the hard way,” the guards were yelling back.

I did my best to tune them out, and I spent the night listening for the sound of the heavy wind battering the cell, daydreaming another dramatic escape. The structure was so strong that I never even heard the storm.

But in the morning the camp was buzzing with rumors about detainees who were going to leave. One rumor said that there was a comprehensive plan that I was going be resettled along with Abdul Latif Nasir, a Moroccan detainee, and Soufiane Barhoumi from Algeria. We had all heard so many rumors over the years that turned out to be just that, rumors, that we knew not to celebrate; this would prove to be another.

For me, though, the real news came that afternoon. The bearer was our brand-new officer in charge. She had just taken over and I had not even met her yet, but now this army captain was sticking her head through my bin hole and giving me the broadest smile I’d seen in many years. “Do you know that you’re going to leave soon?” she said.

It was the best introduction to a new OIC ever: I’m taking over, and you’re going home. I was moved to a different cellblock. I met with representatives from the International Committee of the Red Cross, who officially informed me that I was to be transferred.

The U.S. government dreads the mention of detainees being freed, so it uses its own vocabulary of “transfer” and “resettlement,” as if we were cargo or refugees. Yazan, a Jordanian representative I knew from previous ICRC delegations, asked if I would accept resettlement to my home country of Mauritania. I told him I would take any transfer I was offered, quoting the title of a Chris Cagle country song: “Anywhere but Here.”

The next day, my attorneys Nancy Hollander and Theresa Duncan called me from the United States to confirm the news. Only then I could say to myself, Now it’s official: I’m leaving this prison after so many years of pain and humiliation.

“You have the Gold Meeting tomorrow,” the new OIC told me when I got back to my cell after the call. Her smile still hadn’t faded. The “Gold Meeting” takes place in Gold Building, a structure that was built for interrogation. At first, the interrogations there were not so bad by Guantánamo standards. We answered all kinds of questions from FBI, CIA, and military intelligence officers, as well as investigators who came from around the world at the invitation of their American colleagues. But the building was given a face-lift in 2003 and then was used along with the so-called Brown and Yellow buildings for torture sessions. It was in this same Gold Building that I spent many sleepless and cold nights that year, shivering in my shackles, eating countless tasteless MREs, and listening to “Oh say can you see, by the dawn’s early light” in an endless, repeating loop.

Now the bushes around the building were growing out of control, and the old Delta Three camp next door looked like a graveyard. Romeo block, where I spent my last days before I was dragged into a boat in a fake kidnapping, existed only in bits and pieces. Everything was old and rusted and dirty. It looked like a scene after one of my hurricane daydreams.

Inside Gold Building, though, nothing had changed. Its rooms were now assigned for FBI and Army Forensics, for phone calls to lawyers, and for meetings with the ICRC. But they were still set up the same way, with their one-way mirrors and the adjacent control rooms where a bunch of idle Joint Task Force (JTF) personnel would sit chewing on their cold cheese-burgers, watching me, and asking themselves how I’d ended up in this place. Even the smell was the same: at the first hint of it, I was hearing the sound my heavy chains made the day I was dragged down the corridor to a room where I would meet Sergeant Mary, one of the main interrogators on my so-called Special Projects team.

One night in August 2003, I sat shackled in one of those rooms listening to a phone conversation one of my interpreters was having. She was calling her family back in the United States, and she had forgotten to close the door behind her. English seemed like her first language, but she was speaking to her family in Arabic, with a soft Lebanese or Syrian accent. To hear her casually sharing mundane stories about life in GTMO, very relaxed, completely oblivious to the man suffering next to her, was surreal, but it was just what I needed on that cold, unfriendly evening. I wished her soothing, musical conversation wouldn’t end: she was my surrogate, doing for me what I couldn’t do for myself. I saw in her a physical and spiritual conduit to my own family, and I told myself that if her family was doing well, my family must be doing well, too.

That I was mitigating my loneliness by listening to someone else’s intimate, personal conversation posed a moral dilemma for me: I needed to survive, but I also wanted to keep my dignity and respect the dignity of others. To this day I am sorry for eavesdropping, and I can only hope she would forgive my unintentional transgression.

Now, for the “Gold Meeting,” my interpreter was a small brown Arab-American in his early thirties, with short, receding black hair. “Are you from West Africa?” he asked in Arabic as I was led into a room and shackled to the floor. My ankle chains provided a musical backdrop to our conversation, echoing throughout Gold Building.

What do other people think about us being shackled? I always wondered in these situations. Do they find it normal to interact with a restrained human being? Do they feel bad for us? Do they feel safer?

“Yes, Mauritania,” I answered in Arabic, smiling. “Do you understand when I speak?” The room was packed with people I didn’t know, mostly high-ranking military officers, and he seemed eager to show how essential he was to the proceedings. My escort team pushed the desk close enough that I could lean on it and hide my shackled feet underneath, giving the impression of a relaxed, free man. A recent picture of me adorned the door.

We waited. Like everywhere on earth, the big boss did not need to show up on time. Finally the voice of a service member, shouting as if an assault was under way, roused the room to its feet. “Colonel Gabavics, JDG Commander, on site.” The door opened and there he stood, in the flesh. It was the first and last time this man would speak to me. “You will be transferred to your country in one week. Do you have any questions?”

Because I could hardly imagine life outside Guantánamo after so many years of incarceration, I had no idea what questions to ask. I made a request instead. I told the colonel that I wished to bring my manuscripts with me—I wrote four in addition to Guantánamo Diary during my imprisonment—and some other writing and paintings I had made in classes I took in GTMO. I said I would also like to take several chessboards, books, and other presents I had received from his predecessors and from some of my guards and interrogators, gifts that had great sentimental value. I named those who had given me these presents, hoping he would honor my request for the sake of his friends. “I’ll talk to the people in charge,” he said. “If it’s okay, we will send them with you.”

I thanked him, smiling, wanting the meeting to end on that good note and not to screw things up by saying things I wasn’t supposed to say. The colonel disappeared as quickly as he came. The escort team took me to the room across the hall, where I found two women in uniform. A skinny brunette Army sergeant sat in front of an old Dell desktop that was running Windows 7. She kept smiling, even though her computer was a classic recipe for frustration; she typed everything at least twice, and the PC kept passing out on her.

On her right sat a woman who seemed to be her boss, at least by rank, a short blond Navy lieutenant with a neat ponytail. She was friendly, too, and even asked my escort team to remove all my shackles. There followed a photo shoot that had me posing five different ways: face the camera, face right, face left, and forty-five degrees to both sides. I had to give my fingerprints in about a dozen ways on an electronic pad. They recorded my voice as I read a page written in English: “My name is fill in the blank. I’m from fill in the blank. I love my country,” and the like. That was as literary as it got. I must have been nervous, because I passed this voice recognition test only on the second try.

Through it all, the sergeant struggled to save my biometric data into the old computer. My escorts restrained me again and took me to another room, this one with an FBI team. “If you promise to behave, I’ll let them take off your restraints,” a Turkish-American agent said with an honest smile. The FBI team fingerprinted me, using the old method of sticking my fingers in ink and pressing them on a paper. It was a long, tedious process, which gave me time to try out my Turkish with the agent. As we talked, his finger slipped and made its own print on the paper. He freaked out, grabbed a fresh paper, and we started again. “I hope this will be the last time you ever have to do this,” he said, laughing and handing me some sandy soap to clean my fingers.

There were four other standard-issue FBI agents in the room, two middle-aged women and two other men. The whole team was having a good time with me. “You don’t need to hope,” I assured him. “You can bet your last penny.” I was taken to my new home, the transfer camp. I had seen this camp a million times: it was right next to the Camp Echo isolation hut, where I lived for twelve years. If I believed in conspiracy theories, I would have said that the government purposely put the transfer camp right next to my cell for all those years to make me suffer even more. So many detainees were transferred out during those years, and I would be the last one to bid them farewell. We would speak to each other through the fence that separates the two camps. It was comforting to see innocent men finally being freed, and I was happy for every detainee who passed through the transfer camp, but it stung to watch them leave.

Now that detainee was me, and I couldn’t help but feel guilty. It hurt to think of leaving other innocent detainees behind, their fates in the hand of a system that has failed so badly in matters of justice. “We missed you, 760,” one of my old regular Camp Echo guards greeted me as I was unstrapped from the seat of the transport van.

As we walked through the camp, a small, blond female sergeant with a southern accent went over the new rules. “You can go anywhere you like in the camp, but you’re not supposed to cross that red line. Honestly, I don’t care if you do, but don’t hang out long, because if they see you on the camera, we could get in trouble,” she told me as she led me to my new home. “We push the food cart all the way to the white line,” she went on, going over procedures I would be hearing for the last time. In one of the strange tricks of Guantánamo, the sergeant and I walked and conversed like old friends, completely overlooking the fact that I was shackled.

Because of the hurricane, many of the mesh sniper screens on the windows had been removed from the Camp Echo huts, and the contractors—mostly so-called Third Country Nationals, who make very low wages and struggle to maintain the facilities—had not finished putting them back up. From my cell, I saw a whole world that had been surrounding me for many years, so close but so elusive: the maze of interrogation rooms; Camp Legal, where detainees meet their lawyers; the hut where the translators and teachers watched TV, waiting for their next encounter with detainees; and the two buildings where detainees come to call and Skype with their families. In a parking lot nearby, people parked their big American vans and climbed out of them, looking bored and sick of their tedious jobs.

Through the fence that separates my old Camp Echo Special hut from the transfer camp, I could see that my garden was gone, except for the untended grass and the few trees whose resilience is matched by those of us detainees who had managed to remain in one piece.

For the next several days, JTF staff kept pouring in to brief me about what was happening with my transfer. The news was coming thick and fast, from guards, from the OIC, the NCO in charge, from an officer from the Behavior Health Unit, and from the senior medical officer.

Everyone brought good news. I was told that my items were packed and had been sent to the transport people and that they would be loaded onto the plane with me. An Air Force captain from the BHU said that she had been planning to see me the following Monday, but she now doubted I would still be here. The senior medical officer, a Navy captain, came in person to hand me malaria medication, a sure sign that my departure was imminent.

In between these visits, I spent most of my time talking with the guards about what kinds of electronic gadgets I would need to acquire when I got out, and the best ways to watch all the movies I had been forbidden to watch in GTMO. They taught me about streaming sites like Netflix and Putlocker, and even about illegal downloading.

And then the day came: Sunday, October 16, 2016. All day, people in uniform kept coming and going, most saying little, if anything at all. It was surreal—as if the whole base now had only one detainee to worry about. My new favorite OIC showed up again and again with her broad smile. My night shift didn’t show up at all. “Where’s the other shift?” I asked one of the guards, a guy who had been tutoring me on how to deal with the new technologies that were waiting to overwhelm me.

“I would love it if they let me be the one leading you out of here, and the last one to say goodbye to you,” he said. The specialist’s prayer was answered; he would put the shackles on me for the last time. He grew less talkative as the afternoon wore on. Everyone seemed solemn, and a complete and utter silence descended when the smiling captain came to me and said, “You have two hours left. We’re going to lock you down.”

“Now it’s for real,” I told myself. I went inside the cell and heard one of my guards trying to lock the door manually, a very familiar sound. Whenever civilians like teachers or contractors would come from outside the camp, we would be locked like this inside our cells. I took a shower and shaved. I dressed in the new detainee uniform I had been given. My old clothes, like all my belongings in the cell, had to be left behind.

I tried to watch TV, then read a book, but I could do neither. I just kept pacing inside my room, praying and singing quietly. It was the longest two hours of my entire life. “Are you ready?” the captain finally said as she looked through my bin hole. “Yes.” “Can you stick your hands outside the bin hole?” one of the guards asked. I offered my hands, and the guards put the shackles on my wrists, gently yet firmly, asking whether the cuffs were too tight. I shook my head. After my hands were restrained, the guards opened the door to finish my upper body and my legs.

I was shocked to see how many people could fit in that small place. I saw people in uniform everywhere I looked, including the overeager translator from my meeting with the colonel. But this time he watched and said nothing. The only place I’d ever seen such solemnity was when I attended funerals. I hardly spoke, just nodding when someone asked a question. The female captain was guiding the guards, telling them what to do next. “Take him to the red line.” The red line was about sixty steps away from my door. I felt as though I could hear people’s hearts beating as clearly as the Black Eyed Peas’ “Boom Boom Pow.”

My escort team seemed nervous, and they went too far. The captain had to shout at them, “Do not cross the red line. Step back. Step back.” The guards obeyed, leading me backward and stopping just in front of the line. A huge gate opened, and a new escort team emerged. They quietly took control of me from my guards. They did not do the usual inspection of my restraints; they did not say anything as they led me outside the gate.

Another group was gathered there, including the senior medical officer and a very tall white man in uniform who was wearing a backpack and whose rank I couldn’t see. It was dark outside, but I could see that he was holding a printout with a recent picture of me. He placed the picture beside my face, looked back and forth, and shouted, “Identity confirmed.” The whole team looked as if they’d just arrived from a long trip. They all seemed sleepy, even the small black woman who’d been pointing her video camera at me from the moment I left my cell. A skinny blondish specialist would join her in the bus that transported us to the airport, and they would take turns on the camera all the way to Nouakchott.

“Do you have any complaints?” the senior medical officer asked. I shook my head. “No.” A slight smile broke across his face, and he almost shouted,

“760, I declare you fit to fly.”

We passed through two more gates. We boarded a bus that drove onto a ferry, and the bus danced like a dervish in a trance as the ferry crossed the bay. We pulled out onto the airstrip and up to the back door of a cargo plane big enough to drive a truck inside. The engines were roaring, and everyone had to shout to convey the simplest message. I was led up a long cargo ramp. As soon as we stepped inside the plane I was earmuffed and blindfolded, just as I had been when I was taken from Bagram Air Base to Guantánamo Bay. This time, though, there was no beating, harassment, or degradation.

I was strapped into a hard seat that was set nearly at a right angle and that did not recline. I didn’t dare to complain for fear someone would change his mind and take me back to the camp. I lost track of time during the flight, fighting against the pain that began in my back, spread to my ears and head, and soon overwhelmed me from all directions.

The plane landed with a heavy thump, and I felt someone peeling off my blindfold and my earmuffs. The first thing I saw was a digital clock on the wall of the plane in front of me—a little past 14:00, it read—and a bunch of half-asleep recruits who looked like they had not had their best night. I felt gentle hands playing with my shackles, starting from the middle and working up and down. “Did we arrive? I asked tentatively, barely in a whisper. “Yes,” a guard beside me said. “Is this the local time?” “Yes.”

There was no mistaking the Mauritanian weather. It was a good day, not too hot—just the right, warm welcome I needed. I was escorted, unshackled, down the ramp and onto the tarmac, where several Mauritanian government officials and an American official waited. We exchanged casual greetings, and my U.S. service member escorts went directly to stand in formation near their countryman.

After a few pleasantries, the American started toward his car. “Who’s that?” I asked one of the Mauritanians. “The U.S. ambassador,” he said. “Can I say hello to him?” I asked.

He dispatched a man standing near him. The ambassador came back to me and we shook hands. “Welcome home,” he said.

*

from GUANTÁNAMO DIARY

by Mohamedou Ould Slahi

get it at Amazon.com

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Noam Chomsky Diagnoses the Trump Era – Noam Chomsky and David Barsamian.

The president has abetted the collapse of a decaying system; Chomsky explains how.
This interview has been excerpted from Global Discontents: Conversations on the Rising Threats to Democracy, the new book by Noam Chomsky and David Barsamian to be published this December.
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David Barsamian: You have spoken about the difference between Trump’s buffoonery, which gets endlessly covered by the media, and the actual policies he is striving to enact, which receive less attention. Do you think he has any coherent economic, political, or international policy goals? What has Trump actually managed to accomplish in his first months in office?
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Noam Chomsky: There is a diversionary process under way, perhaps just a natural result of the propensities of the figure at center stage and those doing the work behind the curtains.
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At one level, Trump’s antics ensure that attention is focused on him, and it makes little difference how. Who even remembers the charge that millions of illegal immigrants voted for Clinton, depriving the pathetic little man of his Grand Victory? Or the accusation that Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower? The claims themselves don’t really matter. It’s enough that attention is diverted from what is happening in the background. There, out of the spotlight, the most savage fringe of the Republican Party is carefully advancing policies designed to enrich their true constituency: the Constituency of private power and wealth, “the masters of mankind,” to borrow Adam Smith’s phrase.
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These policies will harm the irrelevant general population and devastate future generations, but that’s of little concern to the Republicans. They’ve been trying to push through similarly destructive legislation for years. Paul Ryan, for example, has long been advertising his ideal of virtually eliminating the federal government, apart from service to the Constituency—though in the past he’s wrapped his proposals in spreadsheets so they would look wonkish to commentators. Now, while attention is focused on Trump’s latest mad doings, the Ryan gang and the executive branch are ramming through legislation and orders that undermine workers’ rights, cripple consumer protections, and severely harm rural communities. They seek to devastate health programs, revoking the taxes that pay for them in order to further enrich their constituency, and to eviscerate the Dodd-Frank Act, which imposed some much-needed constraints on the predatory financial system that grew during the neoliberal period.
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That’s just a sample of how the wrecking ball is being wielded by the newly empowered Republican Party. Indeed, it is no longer a political party in the traditional sense. Conservative political analysts Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein have described it more accurately as a “radical insurgency,” one that has abandoned normal parliamentary politics.
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Much of this is being carried out stealthily, in closed sessions, with as little public notice as possible. Other Republican policies are more open, such as pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, thereby isolating the US as a pariah state that refuses to participate in international efforts to confront looming environmental disaster. Even worse, they are intent on maximizing the use of fossil fuels, including the most dangerous; dismantling regulations; and sharply cutting back on research and development of alternative energy sources, which will soon be necessary for decent survival.
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The reasons behind the policies are a mix. Some are simply service to the Constituency. Others are of little concern to the “masters of mankind” but are designed to hold on to segments of the voting bloc that the Republicans have cobbled together, since Republican policies have shifted so far to the right that their actual proposals would not attract voters. For example, terminating support for family planning is not service to the Constituency. Indeed, that group may mostly support family planning. But terminating that support appeals to the evangelical Christian base—voters who close their eyes to the fact that they are effectively advocating more unwanted pregnancies and, therefore, increasing the frequency of resort to abortion, under harmful and even lethal conditions.
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Not all of the damage can be blamed on the con man who is nominally in charge, on his outlandish appointments, or on the congressional forces he has unleashed. Some of the most dangerous developments under Trump trace back to Obama initiatives—initiatives passed, to be sure, under pressure from the Republican Congress.
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The most dangerous of these has barely been reported. A very important study in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, published in March 2017, reveals that the Obama nuclear-weapons-modernization program has increased “the overall killing power of existing US ballistic missile forces by a factor of roughly three—and it creates exactly what one would expect to see, if a nuclear-armed state were planning to have the capacity to fight and win a nuclear war by disarming enemies with a surprise first strike.” As the analysts point out, this new capacity undermines the strategic stability on which human survival depends. And the chilling record of near disaster and reckless behavior of leaders in past years only shows how fragile our survival is. Now this program is being carried forward under Trump. These developments, along with the threat of environmental disaster, cast a dark shadow over everything else—and are barely discussed, while attention is claimed by the performances of the showman at center stage.
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Whether Trump has any idea what he and his henchmen are up to is not clear. Perhaps he is completely authentic: an ignorant, thin-skinned megalomaniac whose only ideology is himself. But what is happening under the rule of the extremist wing of the Republican organization is all too plain.
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DB: Do you see any encouraging activity on the Democrats’ side? Or is it time to begin thinking about a third party?
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NC: There is a lot to think about. The most remarkable feature of the 2016 election was the Bernie Sanders campaign, which broke the pattern set by over a century of US political history. A substantial body of political science research convincingly establishes that elections are pretty much bought; campaign funding alone is a remarkably good predictor of electability, for Congress as well as for the presidency. It also predicts the decisions of elected officials. Correspondingly, a considerable majority of the electorate—those lower on the income scale—are effectively disenfranchised, in that their representatives disregard their preferences. In this light, there is little surprise in the victory of a billionaire TV star with substantial media backing: direct backing from the leading cable channel, Rupert Murdoch’s Fox, and from highly influential right-wing talk radio; indirect but lavish backing from the rest of the major media, which was entranced by Trump’s antics and the advertising revenue that poured in.
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The Sanders campaign, on the other hand, broke sharply from the prevailing model. Sanders was barely known. He had virtually no support from the main funding sources, was ignored or derided by the media, and labeled himself with the scare word “socialist.” Yet he is now the most popular political figure in the country by a large margin.
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At the very least, the success of the Sanders campaign shows that many options can be pursued even within the stultifying two-party framework, with all of the institutional barriers to breaking free of it. During the Obama years, the Democratic Party disintegrated at the local and state levels. The party had largely abandoned the working class years earlier, even more so with Clinton trade and fiscal policies that undermined US manufacturing and the fairly stable employment it provided.
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There is no dearth of progressive policy proposals. The program developed by Robert Pollin in his book Greening the Global Economy is one very promising approach. Gar Alperovitz’s work on building an authentic democracy based on worker self-management is another. Practical implementations of these approaches and related ideas are taking shape in many different ways. Popular organizations, some of them outgrowths of the Sanders campaign, are actively engaged in taking advantage of the many opportunities that are available.
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At the same time, the established two-party framework, though venerable, is by no means graven in stone. It’s no secret that in recent years, traditional political institutions have been declining in the industrial democracies, under the impact of what is called “populism.” That term is used rather loosely to refer to the wave of discontent, anger, and contempt for institutions that has accompanied the neoliberal assault of the past generation, which led to stagnation for the majority alongside a spectacular concentration of wealth in the hands of a few.
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Functioning democracy erodes as a natural effect of the concentration of economic power, which translates at once to political power by familiar means, but also for deeper and more principled reasons. The doctrinal pretense is that the transfer of decision-making from the public sector to the “market” contributes to individual freedom, but the reality is different. The transfer is from public institutions, in which voters have some say, insofar as democracy is functioning, to private tyrannies—the corporations that dominate the economy—in which voters have no say at all. In Europe, there is an even more direct method of undermining the threat of democracy: placing crucial decisions in the hands of the unelected troika—the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission—which heeds the northern banks and the creditor community, not the voting population.
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These policies are dedicated to making sure that society no longer exists, Margaret Thatcher’s famous description of the world she perceived—or, more accurately, hoped to create: one where there is no society, only individuals. This was Thatcher’s unwitting paraphrase of Marx’s bitter condemnation of repression in France, which left society as a “sack of potatoes,” an amorphous mass that cannot function. In the contemporary case, the tyrant is not an autocratic ruler—in the West, at least—but concentrations of private power.
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The collapse of centrist governing institutions has been evident in elections: in France in mid-2017 and in the United States a few months earlier, where the two candidates who mobilized popular forces were Sanders and Trump—though Trump wasted no time in demonstrating the fraudulence of his “populism” by quickly ensuring that the harshest elements of the old establishment would be firmly ensconced in power in the luxuriating “swamp.”
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DB: Trump’s first foreign trip was to Saudi Arabia. What significance do you see in that, and what does it mean for broader Middle East policies? And what do you make of Trump’s animus toward Iran?
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NC: Saudi Arabia is the kind of place where Trump feels right at home: a brutal dictatorship, miserably repressive (notoriously so for women’s rights, but in many other areas as well), the leading producer of oil (now being overtaken by the United States), and with plenty of money. The trip produced promises of massive weapons sales—greatly cheering the Constituency—and vague intimations of other Saudi gifts. One of the consequences was that Trump’s Saudi friends were given a green light to escalate their disgraceful atrocities in Yemen and to discipline Qatar, which has been a shade too independent of the Saudi masters. Iran is a factor there. Qatar shares a natural gas field with Iran and has commercial and cultural relations with it, frowned upon by the Saudis and their deeply reactionary associates.
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Iran has long been regarded by US leaders, and by US media commentary, as extraordinarily dangerous, perhaps the most dangerous country on the planet. This goes back to well before Trump. In the doctrinal system, Iran is a dual menace: It is the leading supporter of terrorism, and its nuclear programs pose an existential threat to Israel, if not the whole world. It is so dangerous that Obama had to install an advanced air defense system near the Russian border to protect Europe from Iranian nuclear weapons—which don’t exist, and which, in any case, Iranian leaders would use only if possessed by a desire to be instantly incinerated in return.
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That’s the doctrinal system. In the real world, Iranian support for terrorism translates to support for Hezbollah, whose major crime is that it is the sole deterrent to yet another destructive Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and for Hamas, which won a free election in the Gaza Strip—a crime that instantly elicited harsh sanctions and led the US government to prepare a military coup. Both organizations, it is true, can be charged with terrorist acts, though not anywhere near the amount of terrorism that stems from Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the formation and actions of jihadi networks.
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As for Iran’s nuclear-weapons programs, US intelligence has confirmed what anyone can easily figure out for themselves: If they exist, they are part of Iran’s deterrent strategy. There is also the unmentionable fact that any concern about Iranian weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) could be alleviated by the simple means of heeding Iran’s call to establish a WMD-free zone in the Middle East. Such a zone is strongly supported by the Arab states and most of the rest of the world and is blocked primarily by the United States, which wishes to protect Israel’s WMD capabilities.
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Since the doctrinal system falls apart on inspection, we are left with the task of finding the true reasons for US animus toward Iran. Possibilities readily come to mind. The United States and Israel cannot tolerate an independent force in a region that they take to be theirs by right. An Iran with a nuclear deterrent is unacceptable to rogue states that want to rampage however they wish throughout the Middle East. But there is more to it than that. Iran cannot be forgiven for overthrowing the dictator installed by Washington in a military coup in 1953, a coup that destroyed Iran’s parliamentary regime and its unconscionable belief that Iran might have some claim on its own natural resources. The world is too complex for any simple description, but this seems to me the core of the tale.
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It also wouldn’t hurt to recall that in the past six decades, scarcely a day has passed when Washington was not tormenting Iranians. After the 1953 military coup came US support for a dictator described by Amnesty International as a leading violator of fundamental human rights. Immediately after his overthrow came the US-backed invasion of Iran by Saddam Hussein, no small matter. Hundreds of thousands of Iranians were killed, many by chemical weapons. Reagan’s support for his friend Saddam was so extreme that when Iraq attacked a US ship, the USS Stark, killing 37 American sailors, it received only a light tap on the wrist in response. Reagan also sought to blame Iran for Saddam’s horrendous chemical warfare attacks on Iraqi Kurds.
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Eventually, the United States intervened directly in the Iran-Iraq War, leading to Iran’s bitter capitulation. Afterward, George H.W. Bush invited Iraqi nuclear engineers to the United States for advanced training in nuclear-weapons production—an extraordinary threat to Iran, quite apart from its other implications. And, of course, Washington has been the driving force behind harsh sanctions against Iran that continue to the present day.
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Trump, for his part, has joined the harshest and most repressive dictators in shouting imprecations at Iran. As it happens, Iran held an election during his Middle East travel extravaganza—an election which, however flawed, would be unthinkable in the land of his Saudi hosts, who also happen to be the source of the radical Islamism that is poisoning the region. But US animus against Iran goes far beyond Trump himself. It includes those regarded as the “adults” in the Trump administration, like James “Mad Dog” Mattis, the secretary of defense. And it stretches a long way into the past.
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DB: What are the strategic issues where Korea is concerned? Can anything be done to defuse the growing conflict?
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NC: Korea has been a festering problem since the end of World War II, when the hopes of Koreans for unification of the peninsula were blocked by the intervention of the great powers, the United States bearing primary responsibility.
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The North Korean dictatorship may well win the prize for brutality and repression, but it is seeking and to some extent carrying out economic development, despite the overwhelming burden of a huge military system. That system includes, of course, a growing arsenal of nuclear weapons and missiles, which pose a threat to the region and, in the longer term, to countries beyond—but its function is to be a deterrent, one that the North Korean regime is unlikely to abandon as long as it remains under threat of destruction.
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Today, we are instructed that the great challenge faced by the world is how to compel North Korea to freeze these nuclear and missile programs. Perhaps we should resort to more sanctions, cyberwar, intimidation; to the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system, which China regards as a serious threat to its own interests; perhaps even to direct attack on North Korea—which, it is understood, would elicit retaliation by massed artillery, devastating Seoul and much of South Korea even without the use of nuclear weapons.
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But there is another option, one that seems to be ignored: We could simply accept North Korea’s offer to do what we are demanding. China and North Korea have already proposed that North Korea freeze its nuclear and missile programs. The proposal, though, was rejected at once by Washington, just as it had been two years earlier, because it includes a quid pro quo: It calls on the United States to halt its threatening military exercises on North Korea’s borders, including simulated nuclear-bombing attacks by B-52s.
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The Chinese-North Korean proposal is hardly unreasonable. North Koreans remember well that their country was literally flattened by US bombing, and many may recall how US forces bombed major dams when there were no other targets left. There were gleeful reports in American military publications about the exciting spectacle of a huge flood of water wiping out the rice crops on which “the Asian” depends for survival. They are very much worth reading, a useful part of historical memory.
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The offer to freeze North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs in return for an end to highly provocative actions on North Korea’s border could be the basis for more far-reaching negotiations, which could radically reduce the nuclear threat and perhaps even bring the North Korea crisis to an end. Contrary to much inflamed commentary, there are good reasons to think such negotiations might succeed. Yet even though the North Korean programs are constantly described as perhaps the greatest threat we face, the Chinese-North Korean proposal is unacceptable to Washington, and is rejected by US commentators with impressive unanimity. This is another entry in the shameful and depressing record of near-reflexive preference for force when peaceful options may well be available.
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The 2017 South Korean elections may offer a ray of hope. Newly elected President Moon Jae-in seems intent on reversing the harsh confrontationist policies of his predecessor. He has called for exploring diplomatic options and taking steps toward reconciliation, which is surely an improvement over the angry fist-waving that might lead to real disaster.
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DB: You have in the past expressed concern about the European Union. What do you think will happen as Europe becomes less tied to the US and the UK?
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NC: The EU has fundamental problems, notably the single currency with no political union. It also has many positive features. There are some sensible ideas aimed at saving what is good and improving what is harmful. Yanis Varoufakis’s DiEM25 initiative for a democratic Europe is a promising approach.
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The UK has often been a US surrogate in European politics. Brexit might encourage Europe to take a more independent role in world affairs, a course that might be accelerated by Trump policies that increasingly isolate us from the world. While he is shouting loudly and waving an enormous stick, China could take the lead on global energy policies while extending its influence to the west and, ultimately, to Europe, based on the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the New Silk Road.
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That Europe might become an independent “third force” has been a matter of concern to US planners since World War II. There have long been discussions of something like a Gaullist conception of Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals or, in more recent years, Gorbachev’s vision of a common Europe from Brussels to Vladivostok.
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Whatever happens, Germany is sure to retain a dominant role in European affairs. It is rather startling to hear a conservative German chancellor, Angela Merkel, lecturing her US counterpart on human rights, and taking the lead, at least for a time, in confronting the refugee issue, Europe’s deep moral crisis. On the other hand, Germany’s insistence on austerity and paranoia about inflation and its policy of promoting exports by limiting domestic consumption have no slight responsibility for Europe’s economic distress, particularly the dire situation of the peripheral economies. In the best case, however, which is not beyond imagination, Germany could influence Europe to become a generally positive force in world affairs.
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DB: What do you make of the conflict between the Trump administration and the US intelligence communities? Do you believe in the “deep state”?
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NC: There is a national-security bureaucracy that has persisted since World War II. And national-security analysts, in and out of government, have been appalled by many of Trump’s wild forays. Their concerns are shared by the highly credible experts who set the Doomsday Clock, advanced to two and a half minutes to midnight as soon as Trump took office—the closest it has been to terminal disaster since 1953, when the US and USSR exploded thermonuclear weapons. But I see little sign that it goes beyond that, that there is any secret “deep state” conspiracy.
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DB: To conclude, as we look forward to your 89th birthday, I wonder: Do you have a theory of longevity?
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NC: Yes, it’s simple, really. If you’re riding a bicycle and you don’t want to fall off, you have to keep going—fast.
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***
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Noam Chomsky, Institute Professor emeritus at MIT, has written many books and articles on international affairs, in particular on Israel and Palestine. His latest book, Global Discontents: Conversations on the Rising Threats to Democracy, will be published in December 2017.
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David Barsamian is the director of Alternative Radio in Boulder, Colorado
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The Nation

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Public Choice Theory. The idea that climate scientists are in it for the cash has deep ideological roots – Graham Readfearn. 

Author and academic Nancy MacLean says cynicism about the motives of public servants, including government-backed climate scientists, can be traced to a group of neoliberals and their ‘toxic’ ideas.

You’ll have heard that line of argument about cancer scientists, right?

The one where they’re just in it for the government grant money and that they don’t really want to find a cure, because if they did they’d be out of a job?

No, of course you haven’t. That’s because it’s ridiculous and a bit, well, vomit-inducing.

To make such an argument, you would need to be deeply cynical about people’s motives for consistently putting their own pay packets above the welfare of millions of people.

You would have to think that scientists were not motivated to help their fellow human beings, but instead were driven only by self-interest.

Suggesting that climate scientists are pushing a line about global warming because their salaries depend on it is a popular talking point that deniers love to throw around.

But why do so many “sceptics”, particularly those who form part of the organised machinery of climate science denial, feel comfortable in accusing climate scientists of only being in it for the money?

Duke University history professor Nancy MacLean suggests some answers in her new book Democracy in Chains: the Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America.

Charles Koch

The book documents how wealthy conservatives, in particular petrochemical billionaire Charles Koch, teamed up with neoliberal academics with the objective, MacLean says, of undermining the functions of government in the United States.

MacLean’s central character is the late James McGill Buchanan, a political theorist and economist who won a Nobel award in 1986 for his development of “public choice theory”.

Buchanan and Koch developed and propagated their ideas through a private organisation called the Mont Pelerin Society (MPS) – an influential group known as the “neoliberal thought collective” that was established in 1947 by famed free market economist Friedrich Hayek. Buchanan was a former president and joined in 1957. Koch, who has poured millions into groups attacking mainstream climate science, joined MPS in 1970. MPS has about 500 members in more than 40 countries.

In the US it has many members who also work at think tanks that push climate science misinformation and attack renewable energy. A membership list from 2013 showed Australian members included the Institute of Public Affairs boss John Roskam, former prime minister John Howard business figure Maurice Newman and former senator Bob Day. 

MacLean argues that in the minds of many exponents of this “public choice” school, people are motivated primarily by self-interest.

Public choice advocates will argue that people who work in government will push for increased departmental budgets primarily to protect their job prospects.

In an interview at the Brisbane writers festival, MacLean told me: “If you read some of the stuff that comes out of the people in the ‘public choice’ school, they will say that these climate scientists are just after the next federal grant … they will try and discredit them as human beings. It’s really toxic stuff.”

When Buchanan received his Nobel award, Prof Steven Kelman, at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy school of government, wrote that Buchanan’s view was a “terrible caricature of reality ” and belied the public spirit of elected representatives and government officials.

This brings us back to the notion that cancer doctors might have a personal interest in not finding a cure. Proponents of public choice – including those who worked with Buchanan – have made just those claims.

In 1992, two academics from the Center for the Study of Public Choice at George Mason University (a centre established and led by Buchanan), wrote a book called The Economics of Smoking. In the book, economist Robert Tollison argued that the “anti-cancer bureaucracy will face weaker incentives to find and develop effective treatments of and cures for cancer, as well as facing incentives to magnify the risks of cancer”.

“A cure for cancer would put many cancer bureaucrats out of work,” Tollison wrote.

So the argument goes that these anti-cancer “bureaucrats” were not so much motivated to protect people from painful and deadly conditions linked to smoking, such as cancer and heart disease. Instead, they might work a bit less stringently to find a cure in return for a wage.

There’s an irony in this accusation of people acting in their self-interest. Before and after writing that book chapter, Tollison was paid consultancy fees by the tobacco industry.

In the archives of tobacco documents released as part of US litigation, you can find a 1988 invoice sent to the Tobacco Institute for Tollison work on a “media tour”.

In 1993, the archives reveal, Tollison and his GMU colleague Robert Wagner, who co-wrote The Economics of Smoking, pitched to the tobacco industry a report attacking the World Health Organization, which would cost $20,000.

Again, the pair would accuse “WHO bureaucrats” of engaging in spending patterns that “reflect the interests of bureaucrats”. The WHO should not be spending money on programs “against cigarettes”, the pair wrote.

MacLean points to a Bloomberg column by the liberal economist and Buchanan acolyte Amity Schlaes, written after Buchanan’s death.

Schlaes wrote glowingly that Buchanan’s “public-choice theory explained everything” to her about the true motives of public officials.

“Health officials’ interests in testing small children’s blood for lead made sense when one considered that finding poisoned children validated their jobs,” wrote Schlaes, who became a member of the Mont Pelerin Society in 2008.

“This is how someone could think,” MacLean tells me. “That a doctor would not be concerned about preventing a child from getting lifelong brain damage … no … they just wanted to expand their checking accounts. It’s really toxic.

“You’ve created this toxic wasteland now, and you can see the damage that those ideas have done,” she says.

It would be hopelessly naive to argue that money never motivates people to do certain things.

But to suggest global warming exists only because climate scientists need the money, you need to ignore melting ice sheets, rising sea levels, increasing extreme weather events, strings of record hot years, retreating glaciers, acidifying oceans, warming sea temperatures and bleaching corals. Or claim there is a conspiracy to manufacture these impacts in exchange for a wage.

The Guardian 

Democracy In Chains Introduction

THE DEEP HISTORY OF THE RADICAL RIGHT’S STEALTH PLAN FOR AMERICA

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From 9/11 to Humpty Dumpty – Roger Cohen. 

I watched my president perforate at the Pentagon and all I could think as he held forth about heroism on the 16th anniversary of 9/11 was how did we end up with Humpty Dumpty.

It was Humpty Dumpty, of course, who declared: “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.” At least Humpty Dumpty said it without that repetitive thumb-to-stubby-forefinger gesture of our esteemed leader.

Words cascade from that pinched mouth and they mean nothing, because when a man of moral emptiness tries to exhort a nation to moral greatness the only thing communicated is pitiful, almost comical, hypocrisy.

Between a hero and a huckster, between speaking and mouthing, the distance is great. Watching the esteemed leader’s head turning jerkily, like an old electric fan, from teleprompter to teleprompter, I almost felt pity. His is the Age of Indecency

President Trump seems lonely in his evident unfitness. Between him and his wife Melania I imagine what John Lanchester once described as “one of those silences which can only be incubated by at least two decades of attritional intimacy.” Well, they’ve known each other for 19 years. 

We’ve had a big fall. For the perpetrators of the attack on America, the biggest success has been the injection of fear into the national psyche. Not even they could imagine how social media could turn fear into contagion and how the politics of fear would help propel a buffoon with feral instincts to the White House.

Looking back over the years since the attack that bright September morning — it was my daughter Adele’s 4th birthday and she had just recovered from an infection so serious I had to hold her little body while doctors performed a spinal tap — I am reminded of lines from Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises.”

“How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked.

“Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually and then suddenly.”

First, there was the downward glide: the misbegotten war, the soldiers and shoppers, financial implosion, impunity for the mighty, recession, anxiety and polarization. Then Americans, and not only Americans, decided it was better to blow things up than have more of the same. That’s when things precipitated.

The esteemed leader won even though Americans know he makes stuff up and wants a victorious small-to-medium-sized war that will allow him to proclaim American greatness restored. People do crazy things. They invade Russia, for example. Just look at history. Trump might think bombing Iran is his ticket in 2020.

What is all the fear about? It’s the loss of sanctuary. Menace could be anywhere since it came out of a clear blue sky. It’s the loss of victory. There is none to be had. It’s the loss of confidence. America’s power is greater than its ability to use it. It’s the loss of community. Technology is a great connector but also a great isolator. It’s the loss of self-worth. Life in the Facebook age can become an endless invitation to feel inferior or unloved.

All of this has fed a tissue of fear and disquiet easily exploited by the esteemed leader, whose instincts are above all for human weakness.

Hence Muslims and Mexicans and Mullahs and trade manipulators and all the other menaces to America that the leader deploys as needed.

In “The Sun Also Rises,” Hemingway wrote something else: “It is awfully easy to be hard-boiled about everything in the daytime, but at night it is another thing.”

It’s hard to shrug off the darkening skies. The worst of 9/11, almost a generation on, is the feeling that the perpetrators won. They didn’t buckle Western freedom and democracy, but they injured them. They disoriented the West. They sucked some of the promise out of a new century.

The assassins of Abraham Lincoln and Mahatma Gandhi and John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King took the lives of great men but did not destroy their ideas. Perhaps they reinforced the immortality of those ideas. The assassin of Yitzhak Rabin and the mass murderers of 9/11 dispatched by Osama bin Laden were, however, more successful.

Yigal Amir, Rabin’s killer, uprooted the Oslo seeds of peace by assuring that Israeli Messianic-nationalist religious ideologues got the upper hand over secular pragmatists. They have never relinquished it. Bin Laden sapped America’s confidence, wove fear into the nation’s fabric, and inspired a metastasizing form of jihadi fanaticism that continues to terrorize the West in the crazed pursuit of a restored caliphate.

And Humpty Dumpty wants to build a wall he can sit on to contemplate xenophobia and Islamophobia.

I broke down a couple of days after 9/11 when I saw an image of a woman’s ultrasound stuck on a subway wall at 42nd Street with the words: “Looking for the father of this child.” Perhaps, in retrospect, my sobs were for all the innocence lost that day, the dreams unborn.

Adele was very brave through the spinal tap. Today she’s a brave young woman. They are out there: the brave, the stoical, the imaginative and the decent. Despite everything, they will have their day.

NY Times

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THE REBUKE OF HISTORY. The Southern Agrarians and American conservative thought – Paul V Murphy. 

In November 1980 the prophets returned to Nashville, Tennessee, to be honored. Vanderbilt University hosted a symposium honoring the Southern Agrarians on the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of I’ll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition (1930).

I’ll Take My Stand was an indictment of the industrial civilization of modern America. The authors hoped to preserve the manners and culture of the rural South as a healthy alternative. The book was the inspiration of two Vanderbilt English professors and poets, John Crowe Ransom and Donald Davidson, and their former student, the poet Allen Tate.

It was composed of twelve essays written by twelve separate individuals, the title page declaring them to be Twelve Southerners.

An essayist in Time magazine, claiming that 150 doctoral theses had been written about the book, remarked on the appeal of Agrarianism to modern-day environmentalists and theorists of the “zero-sum” society.

“Why do the Agrarians, with their crusty prophecies and affirmations, still sound so pertinent, half a very non-agrarian century later?” he asked.

The answer, he felt, lay in the power of Agrarianism as a poetic metaphor. This was a view shared by the organizers of the event, who, in a volume derived from it, argued that I’ll Take My Stand was a prophetic book. Once dismissed as a nostalgic, backward-looking defense of a romanticized Old South, the book was rather “an affirmation of universal values” and a defense of the “religious, aesthetic, and moral foundations of the old European civilization.”

Industrial society devalues human labor by replacing it with machines, argued the Twelve Southerners. Machine society undercut the dignity of labor and left modern man bereft of vocation and in an attenuated state of “satiety and aimlessness,” glutted with the surfeit of consumer goods produced by the industrial economy. Industrialism, they argued, was inimical to religion, the arts, and the elements of a good life, leisure, conversation, hospitality.

The Twelve Southerners were frankly reactionary and seriously proposed returning to an economy dominated by subsistence agriculture.

The theory of agrarianism, they declared, “is that the culture of the soil is the best and most sensitive of vocations, and that therefore it should have the economic preference and enlist the maximum number of workers.” Why, they asked, should modern men accept a social system so manifestly inferior to what had gone before? “If a community, or a section, or a race, or an age, is groaning under industrialism, and well aware that it is an evil dispensation,” the Twelve Southerners declared, “it must find the way to throw it off. To think that this cannot be done is pusillanimous.”

I’ll Take My Stand was a self-conscious defense of the South, undertaken sixty-five years after Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House.

The passage of years revealed an almost protean quality to Agrarianism. It came to mean very different things to a variety of different thinkers. Indeed, the contributors themselves, over the years, interpreted and reinterpreted their original impulse in light of changing convictions and interests. In 1930, I’ll Take My Stand was an indictment of industrial capitalism and a warning of its potential to destroy what the Agrarians considered a more humane and leisurely social order.

For some, it later came to be a statement of Christian humanism. For others, it was a rousing defense of the southern heritage and southern culture, which, in turn, meant a defense of the Western tradition. For others, Agrarianism was merely a metaphor for the simple life—one not consumed with materialism. For others still, the symposium was part of a traditional southern political discourse, which warned against centralized power and a strong state and which stood against bourgeois liberalism.

After World War II, the nascent conservative movement—poised against what it perceived to be an unwise liberal elite and in defense of traditional values and American capitalism—subsumed the Agrarians within its intellectual tradition. The Agrarians became respected, if quixotic, dissenters from the main trend of American progressivism.

Since the founding of the nation, southerners had sought a way to reconcile modernity and tradition, to participate in the modern market economy while retaining the shockingly premodern (yet profitable) system of slave labor. Slaveholders were alternately beguiled by the riches of the capitalist marketplace and appalled at the prospect of a society based on the pecuniary impulse and the self-interest, chicanery, and competitiveness of the market.

The 1920s offered a richer discourse on the crises of faith, morals, and science produced by modernity than any decade since. Agrarianism was an attempt to respond to questions being asked by others besides southerners: Is it possible to satisfy the felt needs for community, leisure, and stability in the dizzying whirl of modern life? How do we validate values in a disenchanted and secular age?

The Twelve Southerners’ response was both radical and conservative. They rejected industrial capitalism and the culture it produced. In I’ll Take My Stand they called for a return to the small-scale economy of rural America as a means to preserve the cultural amenities of the society they knew. Ransom and Tate believed that only by arresting the progress of industrial capitalism and its imperatives of science and efficiency could a social order capable of fostering and validating humane values and traditional religious faith be preserved.

The South as a symbolic marker of both traditional society and Western civilization became the central element of the Agrarian discourse. Modernism and modernization were no longer deeply related; what was a radical conservatism was now southern traditionalism. This bifurcation of economic and cultural analysis, which the Agrarians had originally resisted, reflects a distinctive attribute of the conservative movement that was emerging in the 1950s and transforming the leadership of the American Right.

Conservatives, southern and otherwise, constitute the final group to preserve the memory of the Agrarians. Conservatives have proudly honored the Agrarians as perceptive forefathers and tend to present them as southern traditionalists—proponents of a social order based on religion, opponents of a godless and untraditional leviathan state, critics of a rootless individualism, and, above all, stout defenders of the South, which necessarily entails a defense of southern tradition, culture, and values.

The paradox for southerners of the Agrarians’ generation, to change but to remain loyal to history, remained a continuing source of division for the Agrarians and undercut the radical conservatism of I’ll Take My Stand.

The growth of great nation-states, even if democratic, had marginalized the individual. Indeed, the individual was reduced to meaninglessness, with no sense of responsibility, no sense of past and place. In this context, the Agrarian image of a better antebellum South came to represent for Warren a potential source of spiritual revitalization. The past recalled not as a mythical “golden age” but “imaginatively conceived and historically conceived in the strictest readings of the researchers” could be a “rebuke to the present.”

In the end, the history of the Agrarian tradition was shaped by the pressure of the past on this group of southern intellectuals, a past whose legacy included segregation and white supremacy.

The southerner, Ransom wrote in I’ll Take My Stand, “identifies himself with a spot of ground, and this ground carries a good deal of meaning; it defines itself for him as nature.”

This may be so, but the interpretation of this meaning has been the subject of much conflict among southerners, white and black, throughout the century. At the heart of Agrarianism was the question not only of where do I stand, but also, who belongs? And it was not the ground that provided the answers but the human beings who took their stands upon it.

***

THE REBUKE OF HISTORY. The Southern Agrarians and American conservative thought. 

Paul V Murphy

get it at Amazon.com

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The new American Dream: rent your home from a hedge fund – Simon Black. 

About a month ago I joined the Board of Directors of a publicly-traded company that invests in US real estate.

The position brings a lot of insight into what’s happening in the US housing market. And from what I’m seeing, the transformation that’s taking place today is extraordinary.

Buying and renting out single-family homes has long been the mainstay investment of small, individual investors.

The big banks and hedge funds pretty much monopolize everything else. They own the stock market. They own the bond market. They own all the commercial real estate. They even own the farmland.

Single-family homes were one of the last bastions of investment freedom for the little guy.

But all that’s changing now.

Last week a huge merger was announced between Invitation Homes (owned by private equity giant Blackstone Group) and Starwood Waypoint Homes (owned by real estate giant Starwood Capital).

If the deal goes through, the combined entity would be the largest owner of single-family homes in the United States with a portfolio worth over $20 billion.

And this is only the latest merger in an ongoing trend.

Three years ago, for example, American Homes 4 Rent bought Beazer Pre-Owned Rental Homes, creating another enormous player. A few months later, Starwood Waypoint bought Colony American Homes.

And of course, Blackstone was one of the first institutional investors to start buying distressed homes, forking over around $10 billion on houses since the Great Financial Crisis.

At one point, Blackstone was reportedly spending $150 million a week on houses.

There are some medium-tier players coming into the market as well. A friend of mine runs a fund that owns about 2,000 rental homes in Texas, and he’s buying every property he can find.

I called him for his perspective on what’s happening in the housing market. Here’s what he told me:

There are lots of little guys assembling portfolios of 10-100 homes. And I like to buy these guys out because they have much higher funding costs than us.

And, eventually, as we get larger, medium-sized funds like mine will get bought out by Blackstone and the other mega players.

In short, medium-sized funds are buying up all the little guys. And mega-funds like Blackstone are buying up all the medium-sized funds.

This means there’s essentially an ‘arms race’ building among the world’s biggest funds to control the market, squeezing small, individual investors out of the housing market.

Then there’s the situation for renters.

US Census Bureau statistics show that, over the past decade, the number of rental households has been rising steadily while the number of homeowner households has been falling.

In other words, the American Dream of owning your own home has been fading.

It’s easy to understand why:

US consumer debt is at an all-time high of over $1 trillion (mostly credit card debt), with an additional $1.3 trillion in federal student loans.

Americans… especially younger people, are far too heavily indebted to be able to save any money for a down payment.

Moreover, despite all the hoopla about the low unemployment rate in the US, wages are totally stagnant.

(Plus bear in mind that most of the jobs created have been for waiters and bartenders!)

So the average guy isn’t making any more money, or able to save anything… all while home prices soar to record levels as major funds gobble up the supply.

This means that the new reality in America, especially for young people, is that if you’re lucky enough to not be living in your parents’ basement, you’ll be relegated to renting your house from Blackstone.

But… there is some interesting opportunity in all of this.

With a supply of more than 17 million rental homes in the United States, there’s a LONG way to go for this trend to play out. We’re still in the early stages of the mega-fund consolidation.

And some savvy little guys are figuring out how to cash in on this trend.

Think about it: mega-funds don’t have the capacity to buy up homes one at a time. They just don’t have the time.

They need to buy homes in big volume… hundreds, even thousands at a time. And they’re willing to pay a premium if they can buy in bulk.

That’s why medium-sized funds like the one my friend runs in Texas are basically assembling large portfolios with the sole purpose of flipping everything to the mega-funds.

But smaller investors can play this game too.

Medium-sized funds need to buy in bulk as well. They don’t have the time or resources to buy up homes one at a time.

This creates a unique, niche opportunity for individual investors to assemble small portfolios, say, 10 properties, with the sole purpose of flipping to medium-sized funds.

We know some people already doing this. They essentially put several single-family homes under contract simultaneously (with only a small deposit on each home).

But, BEFORE they close, they make arrangements to flip the entire package of homes to a medium-sized fund through a double-escrow closing.

This structure guarantees a neat profit to the small investor while requiring limited up-front capital.

And like most great investment opportunities, it’s been very lucrative so far because very few people are doing it.

SovereignMan.com

Unlearning the Myth of American Innocence – Suzy Hansen. 

My mother recently found piles of my notebooks from when I was a small child that were filled with plans for my future. I was very ambitious. I wrote out what I would do at every age: when I would get married and when I would have kids and when I would open a dance studio.

When I left my small hometown for college, this sort of planning stopped. The experience of going to a radically new place, as college was to me, upended my sense of the world and its possibilities. The same thing happened when I moved to New York after college, and a few years later when I moved to Istanbul. All change is dramatic for provincial people. But the last move was the hardest. 

In Turkey the upheaval was far more unsettling: after a while, I began to feel that the entire foundation of my consciousness was a lie.

Who do we become if we don’t become Americans? If we discover that our identity as we understood it had been a myth?

My years as an American abroad in the 21st century were not a joyous romp of self-discovery and romance. Mine were more of a shattering and a shame, and even now, I still don’t know myself.

The politics I heard about as a kid had to do with taxes and immigrants, and not much else. Bill Clinton was not popular in my house.

We were all patriotic, but I can’t even conceive of what else we could have been, because our entire experience was domestic, interior, American. We went to church on Sundays, until church time was usurped by soccer games. I don’t remember a strong sense of civic engagement. Instead I had the feeling that people could take things from you if you didn’t stay vigilant. Our goals remained local: homecoming queen, state champs, a scholarship to Trenton State, barbecues in the backyard. The lone Asian kid in our class studied hard and went to Berkeley; the Indian went to Yale. Black people never came to Wall. The world was white, Christian; the world was us.

We did not study world maps, because international geography, as a subject, had been phased out of many state curriculums long before. There was no sense of the US being one country on a planet of many countries. Even the Soviet Union seemed something more like the Death Star – flying overhead, ready to laser us to smithereens – than a country with people in it.

We were free – at the very least we were that. Everyone else was a chump, because they didn’t even have that obvious thing. Whatever it meant, it was the thing that we had, and no one else did. It was our God-given gift, our superpower.

By the time I got to high school, I knew that communism had gone away, but never learned what communism had actually been (“bad” was enough). Religion, politics, race – they washed over me like troubled things that obviously meant something to someone somewhere, but that had no relationship to me, to Wall, to America. I certainly had no idea that most people in the world felt those connections deeply. History – America’s history, the world’s history – would slip in and out of my consciousness with no resonance whatsoever.

Racism, antisemitism and prejudice, however – those things, on some unconscious level, I must have known. They were expressed in the fear of Asbury Park, which was black; in the resentment of the towns of Marlboro and Deal, which were known as Jewish; in the way Hispanics seemed exotic. Much of the Jersey Shore was segregated as if it were still the 1950s, and so prejudice was expressed through fear of anything outside Wall, anything outside the tiny white world in which we lived. If there was something that saved us from being outwardly racist, it was that in small towns such as Wall, especially for girls, it was important to be nice, or good – this pressure tempered tendencies toward overt cruelty when we were young.

I was a child of the 90s, the decade when, according to America’s foremost intellectuals, “history” had ended, the US was triumphant, the cold war won by a landslide. The historian David Schmitz has written that, by that time, the idea that America won because of “its values and steadfast adherence to the promotion of liberalism and democracy” was dominating “op-ed pages, popular magazines and the bestseller lists”. These ideas were the ambient noise, the elevator music of my most formative years.

I came across a line in a book in which a historian argued that, long ago, during the slavery era, black people and white people had defined their identities in opposition to each other. The revelation to me was not that black people had conceived of their identities in response to ours, but that our white identities had been composed in conscious objection to theirs. I’d had no idea that we had ever had to define our identities at all, because to me, white Americans were born fully formed, completely detached from any sort of complicated past. Even now, I can remember that shiver of recognition that only comes when you learn something that expands, just a tiny bit, your sense of reality. What made me angry was that this revelation was something about who I was. How much more did I not know about myself?

It was because of this text that I picked up the books of James Baldwin, who gave me the sense of meeting someone who knew me better, and with a far more sophisticated critical arsenal than I had myself. There was this line:

But I have always been struck, in America, by an emotional poverty so bottomless, and a terror of human life, of human touch, so deep, that virtually no American appears able to achieve any viable, organic connection between his public stance and his private life.

And this one:

All of the western nations have been caught in a lie, the lie of their pretended humanism; this means that their history has no moral justification, and that the west has no moral authority.

And this one:

White Americans are probably the sickest and certainly the most dangerous people, of any colour, to be found in the world today.

I know why this came as a shock to me then, at the age of 22, and it wasn’t necessarily because he said I was sick, though that was part of it. It was because he kept calling me that thing: “white American”. In my reaction I justified his accusation. I knew I was white, and I knew I was American, but it was not what I understood to be my identity. For me, self-definition was about gender, personality, religion, education, dreams. I only thought about finding myself, becoming myself, discovering myself – and this, I hadn’t known, was the most white American thing of all.

I still did not think about my place in the larger world, or that perhaps an entire history – the history of white Americans – had something to do with who I was. My lack of consciousness allowed me to believe I was innocent, or that white American was not an identity like Muslim or Turk.

Of this indifference, Baldwin wrote: “White children, in the main, and whether they are rich or poor, grow up with a grasp of reality so feeble that they can very accurately be described as deluded.”

Young white Americans of course go through pain, insecurity and heartache. But it is very, very rare that young white Americans come across someone who tells them in harsh, unforgiving terms that they might be merely the easy winners of an ugly game, and indeed that because of their ignorance and misused power, they might be the losers within a greater moral universe.

In 2007, after I had worked for six years as a journalist in New York, I won a writing fellowship that would send me to Turkey for two years. I had applied for it on a whim. No part of me expected to win the thing. Even as my friends wished me congratulations, I detected a look of concern on their faces, as if I was crazy to leave all this, as if 29 was a little too late to be finding myself. I had never even been to Turkey before.

In the weeks before my departure, I spent hours explaining Turkey’s international relevance to my bored loved ones, no doubt deploying the cliche that Istanbul was the bridge between east and west. I told everyone that I chose Turkey because I wanted to learn about the Islamic world. The secret reason I wanted to go was that Baldwin had lived in Istanbul in the 1960s, on and off, for almost a decade. I had seen a documentary about Baldwin that said he felt more comfortable as a black, gay man in Istanbul than in Paris or New York.

When I heard that, it made so little sense to me, sitting in my Brooklyn apartment, that a space opened in the universe. I couldn’t believe that New York could be more illiberal than a place such as Turkey, because I couldn’t conceive of how prejudiced New York and Paris had been in that era; and because I thought that as you went east, life degraded into the past, the opposite of progress. The idea of Baldwin in Turkey somehow placed America’s race problem, and America itself, in a mysterious and tantalising international context. I took a chance that Istanbul might be the place where the secret workings of history would be revealed.

In Turkey and elsewhere, in fact, I would feel an almost physical sensation of intellectual and emotional discomfort, while trying to grasp a reality of which I had no historical or cultural understanding. I would go, as a journalist, to write a story about Turkey or Greece or Egypt or Afghanistan, and inevitably someone would tell me some part of our shared history – theirs with America – of which I knew nothing. If I didn’t know this history, then what kind of story did I plan to tell?

My learning process abroad was threefold: I was learning about foreign countries; I was learning about America’s role in the world; and I was also slowly understanding my own psychology, temperament and prejudices. No matter how well I knew the predatory aspects of capitalism, I still perceived Turkey’s and Greece’s economic advances as progress, a kind of maturation. No matter how deeply I understood the US’s manipulation of Egypt for its own foreign-policy aims, I had never considered – and could not grasp – how American policies really affected the lives of individual Egyptians, beyond engendering resentment and anti-Americanism. No matter how much I believed that no American was well-equipped for nation-building, I thought I could see good intentions on the part of the Americans in Afghanistan. I would never have admitted it, or thought to say it, but looking back, I know that deep in my consciousness I thought that America was at the end of some evolutionary spectrum of civilisation, and everyone else was trying to catch up.

American exceptionalism did not only define the US as a special nation among lesser nations; it also demanded that all Americans believe they, too, were somehow superior to others. How could I, as an American, understand a foreign people, when unconsciously I did not extend the most basic faith to other people that I extended to myself? This was a limitation that was beyond racism, beyond prejudice and beyond ignorance. This was a kind of nationalism so insidious that I had not known to call it nationalism; this was a self-delusion so complete that I could not see where it began and ended, could not root it out, could not destroy it.

In my first few months in Istanbul, I lived a formless kind of existence, days dissolving into the nights. I had no office to go to, no job to keep, and I was 30 years old, an age at which people either choose to grow up or remain stuck in the exploratory, idle phase of late-late youth. Starting all over again in a foreign country – making friends, learning a new language, trying to find your way through a city – meant almost certainly choosing the latter. I spent many nights out until the wee hours – such as the evening I drank beer with a young Turkish man named Emre, who had attended college with a friend of mine from the US.

A friend had told me that Emre was one of the most brilliant people he had ever met. As the evening passed, I was gaining a lot from his analysis of Turkish politics, especially when I asked him whether he voted for Erdoğan’s Justice and Development party (AKP), and he spat back, outraged, “Did you vote for George W Bush?” Until that point I had not realised the two might be equivalent.

Then, three beers in, Emre mentioned that the US had planned the September 11 attacks. I had heard this before. Conspiracy theories were common in Turkey; for example, when the military claimed that the PKK, the Kurdish militant group, had attacked a police station, some Turks believed the military itself had done it; they believed it even in cases where Turkish civilians had died. In other words, the idea was that rightwing forces, such as the military, bombed neutral targets, or even rightwing targets, so they could then blame it on the leftwing groups, such as the PKK. To Turks, bombing one’s own country seemed like a real possibility.

“Come on, you don’t believe that,” I said.

“Why not?” he snapped. “I do.”

“But it’s a conspiracy theory.”

He laughed. “Americans always dismiss these things as conspiracy theories. It’s the rest of the world who have had to deal with your conspiracies.”

I ignored him. “I guess I have faith in American journalism,” I said. “Someone else would have figured this out if it were true.”

He smiled. “I’m sorry, there’s no way they didn’t have something to do with it. And now this war?” he said, referring to the war in Iraq. “It’s impossible that the United States couldn’t stop such a thing, and impossible that the Muslims could pull it off.”

Some weeks later, a bomb went off in the Istanbul neighborhood of Güngören. A second bomb exploded out of a garbage bin nearby after 10pm, killing 17 people and injuring 150. No one knew who did it. All that week, Turks debated: was it al-Qa’ida? The PKK? The DHKP/C, a radical leftist group? Or maybe: the deep state?

The deep state – a system of mafia-like paramilitary organisations operating outside of the law, sometimes at the behest of the official military – was a whole other story. Turks explained that the deep state had been formed during the cold war as a way of countering communism, and then mutated into a force for destroying all threats to the Turkish state. The power that some Turks attributed to this entity sometimes strained credulity. But the point was that Turks had been living for years with the idea that some secret force controlled the fate of their nation.

In fact, elements of the deep state were rumoured to have had ties to the CIA during the cold war, and though that too smacked of a conspiracy theory, this was the reality that Turkish people lived in. The sheer number of international interventions the US launched in those decades is astonishing, especially those during years when American power was considered comparatively innocent. There were the successful assassinations: Patrice Lumumba, prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo, in 1961; General Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, also in 1961; Ngo Dinh Diem, president of South Vietnam, in 1963. There were the unsuccessful assassinations: Castro, Castro, and Castro. There were the much hoped-for assassinations: Nasser, Nasser, Nasser. And, of course, US-sponsored, -supported or -staged regime changes: Iran, Guatemala, Iraq, Congo, Syria, Dominican Republic, South Vietnam, Indonesia, Brazil, Chile, Bolivia, Uruguay and Argentina. The Americans trained or supported secret police forces everywhere from Cambodia to Colombia, the Philippines to Peru, Iran to Vietnam. Many Turks believed that the US at least encouraged the 1971 and 1980 military coups in Turkey, though I could find little about these events in any conventional histories anywhere.

But what I could see was that the effects of such meddling were comparable to those of September 11 – just as huge, life-changing and disruptive to the country and to people’s lives. Perhaps Emre did not believe that September 11 was a straightforward affair of evidence and proof because his experience – his reality – taught him that very rarely were any of these surreally monumental events easily explainable. I did not think Emre’s theory about the attacks was plausible. But I began to wonder whether there was much difference between a foreigner’s paranoia that the Americans planned September 11 and the Americans’ paranoia that the whole world should pay for September 11 with an endless global war on terror.

The next time a Turk told me she believed the US had bombed itself on September 11 (I heard this with some regularity; this time it was from a young student at Istanbul’s Boğaziçi University), I repeated my claim about believing in the integrity of American journalism. She replied, a bit sheepishly, “Well, right, we can’t trust our journalism. We can’t take that for granted.”

The words “take that for granted” gave me pause. Having lived in Turkey for more than a year, witnessing how nationalistic propaganda had inspired people’s views of the world and of themselves, I wondered from where the belief in our objectivity and rigour in journalism came. Why would Americans be objective and everyone else subjective?

I thought that because Turkey had poorly functioning institutions – they didn’t have a reliable justice system, as compared to an American system I believed to be functional – it often felt as if there was no truth. Turks were always sceptical of official histories, and blithely dismissive of the government’s line. But was it rather that the Turks, with their beautiful scepticism, were actually just less nationalistic than me?

American exceptionalism had declared my country unique in the world, the one truly free and modern country, and instead of ever considering that that exceptionalism was no different from any other country’s nationalistic propaganda, I had internalised this belief. Wasn’t that indeed what successful propaganda was supposed to do? I had not questioned the institution of American journalism outside of the standards it set for itself – which, after all, was the only way I would discern its flaws and prejudices; instead, I accepted those standards as the best standards any country could possibly have.

By the end of my first year abroad, I read US newspapers differently. I could see how alienating they were to foreigners, the way articles spoke always from a position of American power, treating foreign countries as if they were America’s misbehaving children. I listened to my compatriots with critical ears: the way our discussion of foreign policy had become infused since September 11 with these officious, official words, bureaucratic corporate military language: collateral damage, imminent threat, freedom, freedom, freedom.

Even so, I was conscious that if I had long ago succumbed to the pathology of American nationalism, I wouldn’t know it – even if I understood the history of injustice in America, even if I was furious about the invasion of Iraq. I was a white American. I still had this fundamental faith in my country in a way that suddenly, in comparison to the Turks, made me feel immature and naive.

I came to notice that a community of activists and intellectuals in Turkey – the liberal ones – were indeed questioning what “Turkishness” meant in new ways. Many of them had been brainwashed in their schools about their own history; about Ataturk, Turkey’s first president; about the supposed evil of the Armenians and the Kurds and the Arabs; about the fragility of their borders and the rapaciousness of all outsiders; and about the historic and eternal goodness of the Turkish republic.

“It is different in the United States,” I once said, not entirely realising what I was saying until the words came out. I had never been called upon to explain this. “We are told it is the greatest country on earth. The thing is, we will never reconsider that narrative the way you are doing just now, because to us, that isn’t propaganda, that is truth. And to us, that isn’t nationalism, it’s patriotism. And the thing is, we will never question any of it because at the same time, all we are being told is how free-thinking we are, that we are free. So we don’t know there is anything wrong in believing our country is the greatest on earth. The whole thing sort of convinces you that a collective consciousness in the world came to that very conclusion.”

“Wow,” a friend once replied. “How strange. That is a very quiet kind of fascism, isn’t it?”

It was a quiet kind of fascism that would mean I would always see Turkey as beneath the country I came from, and also that would mean I believed my uniquely benevolent country to have uniquely benevolent intentions towards the peoples of the world.

During that night of conspiracy theories, Emre had alleged, as foreigners often did, that I was a spy. The information that I was collecting as a journalist, Emre said, was really being used for something else. As an American emissary in the wider world, writing about foreigners, governments, economies partaking in some larger system and scheme of things, I was an agent somehow. Emre lived in the American world as a foreigner, as someone less powerful, as someone for whom one newspaper article could mean war, or one misplaced opinion could mean an intervention by the International Monetary Fund. My attitude, my prejudice, my lack of generosity could be entirely false, inaccurate or damaging, but would be taken for truth by the newspapers and magazines I wrote for, thus shaping perceptions of Turkey for ever.

Years later, an American journalist told me he loved working for a major newspaper because the White House read it, because he could “influence policy”. Emre had told me how likely it was I would screw this up. He was saying to me: first, spy, do no harm.

The Guardian

Trump is the real nuclear threat, and we can’t just fantasise him away – Jonathan Freedland. 

Among the many terrifying facts that have emerged in the last several days, perhaps the scariest relate to the nuclear button over which now hovers the finger of Donald Trump. It turns out that, of all the powers held by this or any other US president, the least checked or balanced is his authority over the world’s mightiest arsenal. He exercises this awesome, civilisation-ending power alone.

As Trump has learned in recent months, the man in the Oval Office cannot simply issue a decree changing, say, the US healthcare system. He has to build majorities in the House and Senate, which is harder than it looks. If he wants to change immigration policy, a mere order is not enough. He can be stopped by the courts, as Trump saw with his travel ban. But if he wants to rain fire and fury on a distant enemy, bringing more fire and fury down on his own citizens and many hundreds of millions of others, there is no one standing in his way. Not for nothing does the geopolitical literature refer to the US president as the “nuclear monarch.”

The more you hear of the simplicity of the system, the more frightening it becomes. If Trump decides he has had enough of Kim Jong-un’s verbal threats, he merely has to turn to the low-level military aide at his side and ask them to open up the black briefcase that officer keeps permanently in their grasp. The bag is known as the nuclear “football”. (It gets its name from the code word for the very first set of nuclear war plans: dropkick.) Inside the bag is a menu of options, explained in detail in a “black book,” but also set out in a single, cartoon-like page for speedy comprehension. Trump has only to make his choice, pick up the phone to the Pentagon war room, utter the code words that identify him as the president and give the order. That’s it.

There is no need for consultation with anyone else. Not the secretary of state or the secretary of defence, nor the head of the military. The officer who receives the call at the Pentagon has no authority to question or challenge the order. His or her duty is only to implement it. Thirty minutes after the president gave the instruction, the nuclear missiles would be hitting their targets. There is no way of turning them back. Such power in the hands of a single individual would be a horrifying prospect even if it were Solomon himself whose finger was on the trigger. But as Bruce Blair, a former nuclear missile launch officer, and seasoned military analyst wrote during the 2016 campaign, Trump’s “quick temper, defensiveness bordering on paranoia and disdain for anyone who criticises him do not inspire deep confidence in his prudence.”

What’s more, Trump is the man who said in 2015, “For me, nuclear is just the power, the devastation is very important to me,” and who bellowed from the campaign podium, “I love war”. In last year’s election campaign, the former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough reported on a briefing a foreign policy expert had given Trump. “Three times, he asked, at one point, ‘If we have them, we can’t we use them?’ … Three times, in an hour briefing, ‘Why can’t we use nuclear weapons?’”

It turns out Hillary Clinton was right to warn Americans 14 months ago that, “It’s not hard to imagine Donald Trump leading us into a war just because somebody got under his very thin skin.” And here we are, Trump tweet-goading the North Koreans by declaring military solutions “locked an loaded”. We need imagine no longer.

Those who find themselves trembling at all this have spent the last few days grasping for a comfort blanket. A favourite has been the notion that those around Trump, especially the generals current and former, will not let him unleash nuclear Armageddon. This view holds that, yes, Trump may well be dangerously unhinged but fear not, the wiser heads of Washington will stay his hand. Indeed, this strain of thinking has been visible since Trump took the oath of office. Call it the deep state fantasy. It looks to the national security apparatus, the intelligence agencies and the permanent bureaucracy, the shadow government, to step in and do the right thing.

It hangs its hopes on a range of prospective saviours. It might be the trio of former generals made up of Jim Mattis, who heads the Pentagon, John Kelly, recently drafted in as chief of staff, and HR McMaster who serves as national security adviser. Alternatively, it looks to the loose alliance hailed this week by the influential Axios website as “The Committee to Save America”, consisting not only of the generals but also the cluster of New Yorkers that includes some of Trump’s less hot-headed economic advisers, with added reinforcements from the Republican ranks in Congress. The committee’s unofficial mission: to protect “the nation from disaster”. The ultimate deep state fantasy longs for the men in the shadows not merely to restrain Trump, but remove him from office. The designated hero of this story is Robert Mueller, the former FBI director now heading what is reported to be a swift and penetrating probe into allegations of collusion with Russia as well as Trump’s wider business dealings.

Mueller’s role may indeed prove to be critical. But the deep state fantasy itself, while comforting, is surely a dead end for Trump’s opponents. For one thing, events have reached an odd pass when liberals are dreaming of unelected generals thwarting an elected head of government: that used to be the fantasy of the militaristic right.

But it also relies more on hope than evidence. All these supposedly wise heads around Trump: what restraint have they achieved so far? Kelly was meant to impose order and discipline, and yet we still have Trump tweeting threats that could easily be misinterpreted as the cue for war. On North Korea, the US administration continues to send conflicting signals by the hour, with Trump outriders like Sebastian Gorka slapping down secretary of state Rex Tillerson on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday, creating confusion when a nuclear standoff requires calm clarity.

And we cannot escape the basic fact. All these advisers can try to hold him back, but when it comes to it, nuclear authority is Trump’s and Trump’s alone. He is the nuclear monarch.

The glum truth is that the only people who can effectively check a democratically elected menace like Trump are other democratically elected leaders. Ultimately it will be up to the men and women of Congress to do their constitutional duty by impeaching Trump and removing him from office. If Republicans won’t do it, then voters need to replace them with Democrats who will, by voting for a new House in the midterm elections of November 2018. The trouble is, it’s not clear that the US – or the world – have that much time.

The Guardian 

The Middle East’s Next War – Joschka Fischer. 

With the retaking of Mosul in northern Iraq, the Islamic State (ISIS) could soon be a thing of the past. But the defeat of ISIS and the demise of its self-proclaimed Iraqi-Syrian caliphate won’t bring peace to the Middle East, or even an end to the Syrian tragedy. Rather, it is likely to open a new chapter in the region’s bloody and chaotic history – one no less dangerous than the previous chapters since the fall of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I.

The continuation of this violent pattern seems almost certain because the region remains unable to resolve internal conflicts on its own, or to create anything like a resilient framework for peace. Instead, it remains trapped somewhere between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Western powers are hardly blameless for the Middle East’s woes. Any mention of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, by which Great Britain and France partitioned the post-Ottoman territories, still incites such rage in the Arab world that it seems as if the plan, devised in secret in 1916, had been conceived only yesterday.

Nor should we forget Czarist Russia’s role in the region. Following World War II, its successor, the Soviet Union, and its Cold War rival, the United States, began their multiple interventions.

Indeed, the US may be the most significant contributor to today’s regional turmoil. America’s interest in the Middle East was originally based on its need for oil. But, with the onset of the Cold War, economic interest quickly morphed into a strategic interest in preventing the emergence of anti-Western, Soviet-friendly governments. America’s effort to maintain decisive influence in the region was then supplemented by its close security partnership with Israel, and finally by the two large military interventions of the two Gulf Wars against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

America’s involvement in Afghanistan, too, has had profound repercussions for the Middle East. The US-backed insurgency of the 1980s, launched under the banner of jihad against the occupying Soviet Union, transformed two close American allies – Pakistan and Saudi Arabia – into strategic threats. This became clear on September 11, 2001, when it emerged that 15 of the 19 attackers sent by al-Qaeda were Saudi citizens. And it was Pakistan that created the Taliban, which provided al-Qaeda a haven for hatching its plots against the US and the West.

The success of the first Gulf War, launched in January 1991 by President George H.W. Bush, was fatally undermined 12 years later by his son, President George W. Bush, whose own Gulf War caused a regional catastrophe that continues to this day. Whereas the senior Bush had pursued the limited objectives of liberating Kuwait and didn’t seek regime change in Iraq, his son’s aims were far more ambitious.

The idea was to topple Saddam Hussein and bring about a democratic Iraq, which would catalyze comprehensive change throughout the Middle East and transform it into a democratic and pro-Western region. Within the younger Bush’s administration, imperial idealism prevailed over hardheaded realism, resulting in sustained destabilization of the Middle East as a whole and helping to place Iran in a position to expand its influence.

After the Islamic State’s demise, the next chapter in the history of the Middle East will be determined by open, direct confrontation between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran for regional predominance. So far, this long-smoldering conflict has been pursued under cover and mostly by proxies. The two global powers active in the region have already clearly positioned themselves in this conflict, with the US siding with Saudi Arabia and Russia with Iran.

The current “war on terror” will increasingly be replaced by this hegemonic conflict. And with Saudi Arabia and four Sunni allies imposing isolation on Qatar, in part owing to the Qataris’ close relations with Iran, this conflict has reached its first potential tipping point at the very center of the region, the Persian Gulf.

Any direct military confrontation with Iran would, of course, set the region ablaze, greatly surpassing all previous Middle East wars. Moreover, with the fires in Syria still smoldering, and Iraq weakened by the sectarian struggle for power there, ISIS or some successor incarnation is likely to remain active.

Another destabilizing factor is the reopening of the “Kurdish question.” The Kurds – a people without a state – have proven to be reliable fighters against ISIS and want to use their new political and military clout to make progress toward autonomy, or even an independent state. For the countries affected – first and foremost Turkey, but also Syria, Iraq, and Iran – this question is a potential casus belli, because it affects their territorial integrity.

Given these unresolved questions and the escalation of the hegemonic conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the next chapter in the region’s history promises to be anything but peaceful. Yes, the US may have learned from the Iraq disaster that it cannot win a land war in the Middle East, despite its vastly superior military power. President Barack Obama sought to withdraw US forces from the region, which proved difficult to achieve both politically and militarily. That’s why he ruled out military intervention – even from the air – in the Syrian civil war, leaving a vacuum that Russia quickly filled, with all of the known consequences.

Obama’s successor, Donald Trump, also campaigned on a promise to withdraw from the region. Since the election, he has launched cruise missiles at Syria, entered into more comprehensive commitments toward Saudi Arabia and its allies, and escalated America’s confrontational rhetoric vis-à-vis Iran.

Trump clearly faces a steep learning curve when it comes to the Middle East – a region that won’t wait for him to master it. There is no reason to be optimistic.

***

Joschka Fischer was German Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor from 1998-2005, a term marked by Germany’s strong support for NATO’s intervention in Kosovo in 1999, followed by its opposition to the war in Iraq. Fischer entered electoral politics after participating in the anti-establishment protests of the 1960s and 1970s, and played a key role in founding Germany’s Green Party, which he led for almost two decades.

Project Syndicate

No is not enough, defeating the new ‘shock politics’. Part 1: Trump Shock Therapy  – Naomi Klein. 

Shock Doctrine 

The term “shock doctrine” describes the quite brutal tactic of systematically using the public’s disorientation following a collective shock: wars, coups, terrorist attacks, market crashes, or natural disasters, to push through radical pro-corporate measures, often called “shock therapy.”

Trump and his top advisers are trying to pull off a domestic shock doctrine. The goal is all-out war on the public sphere and the public interest, whether in the form of antipollution regulations or programs for the hungry. In their place will be unfettered power and freedom for corporations. It’s a program so defiantly unjust and so manifestly corrupt that it can only be pulled off with the assistance of divide-and-conquer racial and sexual politics, as well as a nonstop spectacle of media distractions. And of course it is being backed up with a massive increase in war spending, a dramatic escalation of military conflicts on multiple fronts, from Syria to North Korea, alongside presidential musings about how “torture works.”

The goal? The “deconstruction of the administrative state” (the government regulations and agencies tasked with protecting people and their rights).

And “if you look at Trump’s Cabinet nominees, they were selected for a reason, and that is deconstruction.”

What’s happening in Washington is not the usual passing of the baton between parties. It’s a naked corporate takeover, one many decades in the making. It seems that the economic interests that have long since paid off both major parties to do their bidding have decided they’re tired of playing the game. Apparently, all that wining and dining of elected officials, all that cajoling and legalized bribery, insulted their sense of divine entitlement. So now they’re cutting out the middlemen— those needy politicians who are supposed to protect the public interest— and doing what all top dogs do when they want something done right: they are doing it themselves.

Up to now in US politics there’s been a mask on the corporate state’s White House proxies: the smiling actor’s face of Ronald Reagan or the faux cowboy persona of George W. Bush (with Dick Cheney/ Halliburton scowling in the background). Now the mask is gone. And no one is even bothering to pretend otherwise.

The Trump family’s business model is part of a broader shift in corporate structure that has taken place within many brand-based multinationals, one with transformative impacts on culture and the job market, trends that I wrote about in my first book, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies. What this model tells us is that the very idea that there could be— or should be— any distinction between the Trump brand and the Trump presidency is a concept the current occupant of the White House cannot begin to comprehend. The presidency is in fact the crowning extension of the Trump brand.

The fact that such defiant levels of profiteering from public office can unfold in full view is disturbing enough. As are so many of Trump’s actions in his first months in office. But history shows us that, however destabilized things are now, the shock doctrine means they could get a lot worse. The main pillars of Trump’s political and economic project are: the deconstruction of the regulatory state; a full-bore attack on the welfare state and social services (rationalized in part through bellicose racial fearmongering and attacks on women for exercising their rights); the unleashing of a domestic fossil fuel frenzy (which requires the sweeping aside of climate science and the gagging of large parts of the government bureaucracy); and a civilizational war against immigrants and “radical Islamic terrorism”(with ever-expanding domestic and foreign theaters).

A large-scale crisis— whether a terrorist attack or a financial crash— would likely provide the pretext to declare some sort of state of exception or emergency, where the usual rules no longer apply. This, in turn, would provide the cover to push through aspects of the Trump agenda that require a further suspension of core democratic norms— such as his pledge to deny entry to all Muslims (not only those from selected countries), his Twitter threat to bring in “the feds” to quell street violence in Chicago, or his obvious desire to place restrictions on the press. A large-enough economic crisis would offer an excuse to dismantle programs like Social Security. 

We don’t go into a state of shock when something big and bad happens; it has to be something big and bad that we do not yet understand. A state of shock is what results when a gap opens up between events and our initial ability to explain them. When we find ourselves in that position, without a story, without our moorings, a great many people become vulnerable to authority figures telling us to fear one another and relinquish our rights for the greater good.

There’s one thing I’ve learned from reporting from dozens of locations in the midst of crisis, whether it was Athens rocked by Greece’s debt debacle, or New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, or Baghdad during the US occupation: these tactics can be resisted. To do so, two crucial things have to happen. First, we need a firm grasp on how shock politics work and whose interests they serve. That understanding is how we get out of shock quickly and start fighting back. Second, and equally important, we have to tell a different story from the one the shock doctors are peddling, a vision of the world compelling enough to compete head-to-head with theirs. This values-based vision must offer a different path, away from serial shocks—one based on coming together across racial, ethnic, religious, and gender divides, rather than being wrenched further apart, and one based on healing the planet rather than unleashing further destabilizing wars and pollution. Most of all, that vision needs to offer those who are hurting—for lack of jobs, lack of health care, lack of peace, lack of hope—a tangibly better life.

Trump, extreme as he is, is less an aberration than a logical conclusion, a pastiche of pretty much all the worst trends of the past half century. Trump is the product of powerful systems of thought that rank human life based on race, religion, gender, sexuality, physical appearance, and physical ability, and that have systematically used race as a weapon to advance brutal economic policies since the earliest days of North American colonization and the transatlantic slave trade. He is also the personification of the merger of humans and corporations, a one-man megabrand, whose wife and children are spin-off brands, with all the pathologies and conflicts of interest inherent in that. He is the embodiment of the belief that money and power provide license to impose one’s will on others, whether that entitlement is expressed by grabbing women or grabbing the finite resources from a planet on the cusp of catastrophic warming. He is the product of a business culture that fetishists “disruptors” who make their fortunes by flagrantly ignoring both laws and regulatory standards.

Most of all, he is the incarnation of a still-powerful free-market ideological project, one embraced by centrist parties as well as conservative ones, that wages war on everything public and commonly held, and imagines corporate CEOs as superheroes who will save humanity.

In 2002, George W. Bush threw a ninetieth-birthday party at the White House for the man who was the intellectual architect of that war on the public sphere, the radical free-market economist Milton Friedman. At the celebration, then US secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld declared, “Milton is the embodiment of the truth that ideas have consequences.” He was right— and Donald Trump is a direct consequence of those ideas.

With US vice president Mike Pence or House speaker Paul Ryan waiting in the wings, and a Democratic Party establishment also enmeshed with the billionaire class, the world we need won’t be won just by replacing the current occupant of the Oval Office.

Naomi Klein

from her new book: No is not enough, defeating the new shock politics. 

The Lewis Powell Memo: A Corporate Blueprint to Dominate Democracy. – Elizabeth Warren. 

In 1971, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce enlisted a corporate lawyer named Lewis Powell to write a secret memo.

As soon as Powell finished his thirty-three-page paper, the chamber, a national organization representing the interests of many of America’s largest corporations, quietly began passing it from one power broker to another.

For the CEO crowd, the memo was electrifying. Powell had held nothing back. He forcefully argued that the entire free-enterprise system was under attack—and he called on the super rich to counterattack with all their might.

Powell was an unlikely firebrand. He was mild-mannered, gentlemanly, and unfailingly polite. Many people remarked on his deeply ingrained civility. He was intensely proud of his Virginia roots, which were noticeable in his soft drawl, and he idolized Robert E. Lee. Tall and thin, Powell wore thick glasses and old-fashioned suits. Yet despite all his courtly manners, when it came to defending his corporate clients, he was a take-no-prisoners, shoot-them-all kind of guy.

Powell served on the board of directors for more than a dozen of America’s biggest corporations, and his dedication to advancing the interests of corporate America was legendary. His work for tobacco company Philip Morris included signing off on the company’s annual reports touting the health benefits of cigarettes, and he railed against the press for failing to give adequate credence to the industry’s claims about tobacco safety. He was close personal friends with the top lawyer for General Motors, and when newspaper articles about cars with dangerous designs and product defects began appearing, Powell viewed those stories—and the reporters who wrote them—with alarm. He fervently believed that such challenges undermined people’s confidence in corporate America and put our country right on the slippery slope to socialism.

Many of those who received Powell’s memo shared his view that America’s system of free enterprise was at risk, but it was his call to action that really galvanized his CEO readership. His advice was visionary: Fight back! Reshape Americans’ views about business, government, politics, and law. Fund conservative think tanks. Influence young people by reasserting business interests on college campuses. Pay professors to publish pro-business work.

Using example after example, Powell made it clear that he wanted to return America to the pro-corporate, largely unregulated government that, in his view, had served this country so well before the Great Depression.

In the darkest days of the Depression, Roosevelt had offered hope to “the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid.” Without a hint of irony, Powell now spoke tenderly to America’s millionaires:

“One does not exaggerate to say that, in terms of political influence with respect to the course of legislation and government action, the American business executive is truly the ‘forgotten man.’”

Rich guys just can’t catch a break.

THE PLAN: TAKE OVER GOVERNMENT

Two months after Powell sent his memo to the Chamber of Commerce, President Nixon nominated him for the Supreme Court. The paper remained secret until after Powell was confirmed. But his idea had already spurred the millionaires and CEOs who’d read the memo to stop complaining and start acting. The rich and powerful enthusiastically took up his call to arms and began to use their considerable wealth to alter America’s political landscape.

Their efforts began to pay off almost immediately. Just over nine years after Powell’s memo began to circulate, and with considerable support from a “Business Advisory Panel” of corporate CEOs, Ronald Reagan was elected president.

Reagan swept into office under the banner of free-market economics, and he was cheered on with many boisterous calls for “liberty” and “freedom.”

Reagan’s approach was unmistakably aimed at helping giant businesses and their top executives, but its advocates promised working people that all those benefits going to big corporations would “trickle down” to them as well. The economic plan was as simple—and as sweeping—as the plan Franklin Roosevelt had put in place nearly half a century earlier during the Great Depression. But Reagan’s plan turned Roosevelt’s on its head.

Elizabeth Warren

from her book: This Fight Is Our Fight, the battle to save working people. 

***

Written in 1971 to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Lewis Powell Memo was a blueprint for corporate domination of American Democracy.

CONFIDENTIAL MEMORANDUM

Attack on American Free Enterprise System

DATE: August 23, 1971

TO: Mr. Eugene B. Sydnor, Jr., Chairman, Education Committee, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

FROM: Lewis F. Powell, Jr.

This memorandum is submitted at your request as a basis for the discussion on August 24 with Mr. Booth (executive vice president) and others at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The purpose is to identify the problem, and suggest possible avenues of action for further consideration.

Dimensions of the Attack

No thoughtful person can question that the American economic system is under broad attack. This varies in scope, intensity, in the techniques employed, and in the level of visibility.

There always have been some who opposed the American system, and preferred socialism or some form of statism (communism or fascism). Also, there always have been critics of the system, whose criticism has been wholesome and constructive so long as the objective was to improve rather than to subvert or destroy.

But what now concerns us is quite new in the history of America. We are not dealing with sporadic or isolated attacks from a relatively few extremists or even from the minority socialist cadre. Rather, the assault on the enterprise system is broadly based and consistently pursued. It is gaining momentum and converts.

Sources of the Attack

The sources are varied and diffused. They include, not unexpectedly, the Communists, New Leftists and other revolutionaries who would destroy the entire system, both political and economic. These extremists of the left are far more numerous, better financed, and increasingly are more welcomed and encouraged by other elements of society, than ever before in our history. But they remain a small minority, and are not yet the principal cause for concern.

The most disquieting voices joining the chorus of criticism come from perfectly respectable elements of society: from the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences, and from politicians. In most of these groups the movement against the system is participated in only by minorities. Yet, these often are the most articulate, the most vocal, the most prolific in their writing and speaking.

Moreover, much of the media — for varying motives and in varying degrees — either voluntarily accords unique publicity to these “attackers,” or at least allows them to exploit the media for their purposes. This is especially true of television, which now plays such a predominant role in shaping the thinking, attitudes and emotions of our people.

One of the bewildering paradoxes of our time is the extent to which the enterprise system tolerates, if not participates in, its own destruction.

The campuses from which much of the criticism emanates are supported by (i) tax funds generated largely from American business, and (ii) contributions from capital funds controlled or generated by American business. The boards of trustees of our universities overwhelmingly are composed of men and women who are leaders in the system.

Most of the media, including the national TV systems, are owned and theoretically controlled by corporations which depend upon profits, and the enterprise system to survive.

Tone of the Attack

This memorandum is not the place to document in detail the tone, character, or intensity of the attack. The following quotations will suffice to give one a general idea:

William Kunstler, warmly welcomed on campuses and listed in a recent student poll as the “American lawyer most admired,” incites audiences as follows:

“You must learn to fight in the streets, to revolt, to shoot guns. We will learn to do all of the things that property owners fear.” The New Leftists who heed Kunstler’s advice increasingly are beginning to act — not just against military recruiting offices and manufacturers of munitions, but against a variety of businesses: “Since February, 1970, branches (of Bank of America) have been attacked 39 times, 22 times with explosive devices and 17 times with fire bombs or by arsonists.” Although New Leftist spokesmen are succeeding in radicalizing thousands of the young, the greater cause for concern is the hostility of respectable liberals and social reformers. It is the sum total of their views and influence which could indeed fatally weaken or destroy the system.

A chilling description of what is being taught on many of our campuses was written by Stewart Alsop:

“Yale, like every other major college, is graduating scores of bright young men who are practitioners of ‘the politics of despair.’ These young men despise the American political and economic system . . . (their) minds seem to be wholly closed. They live, not by rational discussion, but by mindless slogans.”A recent poll of students on 12 representative campuses reported that: “Almost half the students favored socialization of basic U.S. industries.”

A visiting professor from England at Rockford College gave a series of lectures entitled “The Ideological War Against Western Society,” in which he documents the extent to which members of the intellectual community are waging ideological warfare against the enterprise system and the values of western society. In a foreword to these lectures, famed Dr. Milton Friedman of Chicago warned: “It (is) crystal clear that the foundations of our free society are under wide-ranging and powerful attack — not by Communist or any other conspiracy but by misguided individuals parroting one another and unwittingly serving ends they would never intentionally promote.”

Perhaps the single most effective antagonist of American business is Ralph Nader, who — thanks largely to the media — has become a legend in his own time and an idol of millions of Americans. A recent article in Fortune speaks of Nader as follows:

“The passion that rules in him — and he is a passionate man — is aimed at smashing utterly the target of his hatred, which is corporate power. He thinks, and says quite bluntly, that a great many corporate executives belong in prison — for defrauding the consumer with shoddy merchandise, poisoning the food supply with chemical additives, and willfully manufacturing unsafe products that will maim or kill the buyer. He emphasizes that he is not talking just about ‘fly-by-night hucksters’ but the top management of blue chip business.”

A frontal assault was made on our government, our system of justice, and the free enterprise system by Yale Professor Charles Reich in his widely publicized book: “The Greening of America,” published last winter.

The foregoing references illustrate the broad, shotgun attack on the system itself. There are countless examples of rifle shots which undermine confidence and confuse the public. Favorite current targets are proposals for tax incentives through changes in depreciation rates and investment credits. These are usually described in the media as “tax breaks,” “loop holes” or “tax benefits” for the benefit of business. * As viewed by a columnist in the Post, such tax measures would benefit “only the rich, the owners of big companies.”

It is dismaying that many politicians make the same argument that tax measures of this kind benefit only “business,” without benefit to “the poor.” The fact that this is either political demagoguery or economic illiteracy is of slight comfort. This setting of the “rich” against the “poor,” of business against the people, is the cheapest and most dangerous kind of politics.

The Apathy and Default of Business

What has been the response of business to this massive assault upon its fundamental economics, upon its philosophy, upon its right to continue to manage its own affairs, and indeed upon its integrity?

The painfully sad truth is that business, including the boards of directors’ and the top executives of corporations great and small and business organizations at all levels, often have responded — if at all — by appeasement, ineptitude and ignoring the problem. There are, of course, many exceptions to this sweeping generalization. But the net effect of such response as has been made is scarcely visible.

In all fairness, it must be recognized that businessmen have not been trained or equipped to conduct guerrilla warfare with those who propagandize against the system, seeking insidiously and constantly to sabotage it. The traditional role of business executives has been to manage, to produce, to sell, to create jobs, to make profits, to improve the standard of living, to be community leaders, to serve on charitable and educational boards, and generally to be good citizens. They have performed these tasks very well indeed.

But they have shown little stomach for hard-nose contest with their critics, and little skill in effective intellectual and philosophical debate.

A column recently carried by the Wall Street Journal was entitled: “Memo to GM: Why Not Fight Back?” Although addressed to GM by name, the article was a warning to all American business. Columnist St. John said:

“General Motors, like American business in general, is ‘plainly in trouble’ because intellectual bromides have been substituted for a sound intellectual exposition of its point of view.” Mr. St. John then commented on the tendency of business leaders to compromise with and appease critics. He cited the concessions which Nader wins from management, and spoke of “the fallacious view many businessmen take toward their critics.” He drew a parallel to the mistaken tactics of many college administrators: “College administrators learned too late that such appeasement serves to destroy free speech, academic freedom and genuine scholarship. One campus radical demand was conceded by university heads only to be followed by a fresh crop which soon escalated to what amounted to a demand for outright surrender.”

One need not agree entirely with Mr. St. John’s analysis. But most observers of the American scene will agree that the essence of his message is sound. American business “plainly in trouble”; the response to the wide range of critics has been ineffective, and has included appeasement; the time has come — indeed, it is long overdue — for the wisdom, ingenuity and resources of American business to be marshalled against those who would destroy it.

Responsibility of Business Executives

What specifically should be done? The first essential — a prerequisite to any effective action — is for businessmen to confront this problem as a primary responsibility of corporate management.

The overriding first need is for businessmen to recognize that the ultimate issue may be survival — survival of what we call the free enterprise system, and all that this means for the strength and prosperity of America and the freedom of our people.

The day is long past when the chief executive officer of a major corporation discharges his responsibility by maintaining a satisfactory growth of profits, with due regard to the corporation’s public and social responsibilities. If our system is to survive, top management must be equally concerned with protecting and preserving the system itself. This involves far more than an increased emphasis on “public relations” or “governmental affairs” — two areas in which corporations long have invested substantial sums.

A significant first step by individual corporations could well be the designation of an executive vice president (ranking with other executive VP’s) whose responsibility is to counter-on the broadest front-the attack on the enterprise system. The public relations department could be one of the foundations assigned to this executive, but his responsibilities should encompass some of the types of activities referred to subsequently in this memorandum. His budget and staff should be adequate to the task.

Possible Role of the Chamber of Commerce

But independent and uncoordinated activity by individual corporations, as important as this is, will not be sufficient. Strength lies in organization, in careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and national organizations.

Moreover, there is the quite understandable reluctance on the part of any one corporation to get too far out in front and to make itself too visible a target.

The role of the National Chamber of Commerce is therefore vital. Other national organizations (especially those of various industrial and commercial groups) should join in the effort, but no other organizations appear to be as well situated as the Chamber. It enjoys a strategic position, with a fine reputation and a broad base of support. Also — and this is of immeasurable merit — there are hundreds of local Chambers of Commerce which can play a vital supportive role.

It hardly need be said that before embarking upon any program, the Chamber should study and analyze possible courses of action and activities, weighing risks against probable effectiveness and feasibility of each. Considerations of cost, the assurance of financial and other support from members, adequacy of staffing and similar problems will all require the most thoughtful consideration.

The Campus

The assault on the enterprise system was not mounted in a few months. It has gradually evolved over the past two decades, barely perceptible in its origins and benefiting (sic) from a gradualism that provoked little awareness much less any real reaction.

Although origins, sources and causes are complex and interrelated, and obviously difficult to identify without careful qualification, there is reason to believe that the campus is the single most dynamic source. The social science faculties usually include members who are unsympathetic to the enterprise system. They may range from a Herbert Marcuse, Marxist faculty member at the University of California at San Diego, and convinced socialists, to the ambivalent liberal critic who finds more to condemn than to commend. Such faculty members need not be in a majority. They are often personally attractive and magnetic; they are stimulating teachers, and their controversy attracts student following; they are prolific writers and lecturers; they author many of the textbooks, and they exert enormous influence — far out of proportion to their numbers — on their colleagues and in the academic world.

Social science faculties (the political scientist, economist, sociologist and many of the historians) tend to be liberally oriented, even when leftists are not present. This is not a criticism per se, as the need for liberal thought is essential to a balanced viewpoint. The difficulty is that “balance” is conspicuous by its absence on many campuses, with relatively few members being of conservatives or moderate persuasion and even the relatively few often being less articulate and aggressive than their crusading colleagues.

This situation extending back many years and with the imbalance gradually worsening, has had an enormous impact on millions of young American students. In an article in Barron’s Weekly, seeking an answer to why so many young people are disaffected even to the point of being revolutionaries, it was said: “Because they were taught that way.” Or, as noted by columnist Stewart Alsop, writing about his alma mater: “Yale, like every other major college, is graduating scores’ of bright young men … who despise the American political and economic system.”

As these “bright young men,” from campuses across the country, seek opportunities to change a system which they have been taught to distrust — if not, indeed “despise” — they seek employment in the centers of the real power and influence in our country, namely: (i) with the news media, especially television; (ii) in government, as “staffers” and consultants at various levels; (iii) in elective politics; (iv) as lecturers and writers, and (v) on the faculties at various levels of education.

Many do enter the enterprise system — in business and the professions — and for the most part they quickly discover the fallacies of what they have been taught. But those who eschew the mainstream of the system often remain in key positions of influence where they mold public opinion and often shape governmental action. In many instances, these “intellectuals” end up in regulatory agencies or governmental departments with large authority over the business system they do not believe in.

If the foregoing analysis is approximately sound, a priority task of business — and organizations such as the Chamber — is to address the campus origin of this hostility. Few things are more sanctified in American life than academic freedom. It would be fatal to attack this as a principle. But if academic freedom is to retain the qualities of “openness,” “fairness” and “balance” — which are essential to its intellectual significance — there is a great opportunity for constructive action. The thrust of such action must be to restore the qualities just mentioned to the academic communities.

What Can Be Done About the Campus

The ultimate responsibility for intellectual integrity on the campus must remain on the administrations and faculties of our colleges and universities. But organizations such as the Chamber can assist and activate constructive change in many ways, including the following:

Staff of Scholars

The Chamber should consider establishing a staff of highly qualified scholars in the social sciences who do believe in the system. It should include several of national reputation whose authorship would be widely respected — even when disagreed with.

Staff of Speakers

There also should be a staff of speakers of the highest competency. These might include the scholars, and certainly those who speak for the Chamber would have to articulate the product of the scholars.

Speaker’s Bureau

In addition to full-time staff personnel, the Chamber should have a Speaker’s Bureau which should include the ablest and most effective advocates from the top echelons of American business.

Evaluation of Textbooks

The staff of scholars (or preferably a panel of independent scholars) should evaluate social science textbooks, especially in economics, political science and sociology. This should be a continuing program.

The objective of such evaluation should be oriented toward restoring the balance essential to genuine academic freedom. This would include assurance of fair and factual treatment of our system of government and our enterprise system, its accomplishments, its basic relationship to individual rights and freedoms, and comparisons with the systems of socialism, fascism and communism. Most of the existing textbooks have some sort of comparisons, but many are superficial, biased and unfair.

We have seen the civil rights movement insist on re-writing many of the textbooks in our universities and schools. The labor unions likewise insist that textbooks be fair to the viewpoints of organized labor. Other interested citizens groups have not hesitated to review, analyze and criticize textbooks and teaching materials. In a democratic society, this can be a constructive process and should be regarded as an aid to genuine academic freedom and not as an intrusion upon it.

If the authors, publishers and users of textbooks know that they will be subjected — honestly, fairly and thoroughly — to review and critique by eminent scholars who believe in the American system, a return to a more rational balance can be expected.

Equal Time on the Campus

The Chamber should insist upon equal time on the college speaking circuit. The FBI publishes each year a list of speeches made on college campuses by avowed Communists. The number in 1970 exceeded 100. There were, of course, many hundreds of appearances by leftists and ultra liberals who urge the types of viewpoints indicated earlier in this memorandum. There was no corresponding representation of American business, or indeed by individuals or organizations who appeared in support of the American system of government and business.

Every campus has its formal and informal groups which invite speakers. Each law school does the same thing. Many universities and colleges officially sponsor lecture and speaking programs. We all know the inadequacy of the representation of business in the programs.

It will be said that few invitations would be extended to Chamber speakers. This undoubtedly would be true unless the Chamber aggressively insisted upon the right to be heard — in effect, insisted upon “equal time.” University administrators and the great majority of student groups and committees would not welcome being put in the position publicly of refusing a forum to diverse views, indeed, this is the classic excuse for allowing Communists to speak.

The two essential ingredients are (i) to have attractive, articulate and well-informed speakers; and (ii) to exert whatever degree of pressure — publicly and privately — may be necessary to assure opportunities to speak. The objective always must be to inform and enlighten, and not merely to propagandize.

Balancing of Faculties

Perhaps the most fundamental problem is the imbalance of many faculties. Correcting this is indeed a long-range and difficult project. Yet, it should be undertaken as a part of an overall program. This would mean the urging of the need for faculty balance upon university administrators and boards of trustees.

The methods to be employed require careful thought, and the obvious pitfalls must be avoided. Improper pressure would be counterproductive. But the basic concepts of balance, fairness and truth are difficult to resist, if properly presented to boards of trustees, by writing and speaking, and by appeals to alumni associations and groups.

This is a long road and not one for the fainthearted. But if pursued with integrity and conviction it could lead to a strengthening of both academic freedom on the campus and of the values which have made America the most productive of all societies.

Graduate Schools of Business

The Chamber should enjoy a particular rapport with the increasingly influential graduate schools of business. Much that has been suggested above applies to such schools.

Should not the Chamber also request specific courses in such schools dealing with the entire scope of the problem addressed by this memorandum? This is now essential training for the executives of the future.

Secondary Education

While the first priority should be at the college level, the trends mentioned above are increasingly evidenced in the high schools. Action programs, tailored to the high schools and similar to those mentioned, should be considered. The implementation thereof could become a major program for local chambers of commerce, although the control and direction — especially the quality control — should be retained by the National Chamber.

What Can Be Done About the Public?

Reaching the campus and the secondary schools is vital for the long-term. Reaching the public generally may be more important for the shorter term. The first essential is to establish the staffs of eminent scholars, writers and speakers, who will do the thinking, the analysis, the writing and the speaking. It will also be essential to have staff personnel who are thoroughly familiar with the media, and how most effectively to communicate with the public. Among the more obvious means are the following:

Television

The national television networks should be monitored in the same way that textbooks should be kept under constant surveillance. This applies not merely to so-called educational programs (such as “Selling of the Pentagon”), but to the daily “news analysis” which so often includes the most insidious type of criticism of the enterprise system. Whether this criticism results from hostility or economic ignorance, the result is the gradual erosion of confidence in “business” and free enterprise.

This monitoring, to be effective, would require constant examination of the texts of adequate samples of programs. Complaints — to the media and to the Federal Communications Commission — should be made promptly and strongly when programs are unfair or inaccurate.

Equal time should be demanded when appropriate. Effort should be made to see that the forum-type programs (the Today Show, Meet the Press, etc.) afford at least as much opportunity for supporters of the American system to participate as these programs do for those who attack it.

Other Media

Radio and the press are also important, and every available means should be employed to challenge and refute unfair attacks, as well as to present the affirmative case through these media.

The Scholarly Journals

It is especially important for the Chamber’s “faculty of scholars” to publish. One of the keys to the success of the liberal and leftist faculty members has been their passion for “publication” and “lecturing.” A similar passion must exist among the Chamber’s scholars.

Incentives might be devised to induce more “publishing” by independent scholars who do believe in the system.

There should be a fairly steady flow of scholarly articles presented to a broad spectrum of magazines and periodicals — ranging from the popular magazines (Life, Look, Reader’s Digest, etc.) to the more intellectual ones (Atlantic, Harper’s, Saturday Review, New York, etc.) and to the various professional journals.

Books, Paperbacks and Pamphlets

The news stands — at airports, drugstores, and elsewhere — are filled with paperbacks and pamphlets advocating everything from revolution to erotic free love. One finds almost no attractive, well-written paperbacks or pamphlets on “our side.” It will be difficult to compete with an Eldridge Cleaver or even a Charles Reich for reader attention, but unless the effort is made — on a large enough scale and with appropriate imagination to assure some success — this opportunity for educating the public will be irretrievably lost.

Paid Advertisements

Business pays hundreds of millions of dollars to the media for advertisements. Most of this supports specific products; much of it supports institutional image making; and some fraction of it does support the system. But the latter has been more or less tangential, and rarely part of a sustained, major effort to inform and enlighten the American people.

If American business devoted only 10% of its total annual advertising budget to this overall purpose, it would be a statesman-like expenditure.

The Neglected Political Arena

In the final analysis, the payoff — short-of revolution — is what government does. Business has been the favorite whipping-boy of many politicians for many years. But the measure of how far this has gone is perhaps best found in the anti-business views now being expressed by several leading candidates for President of the United States.

It is still Marxist doctrine that the “capitalist” countries are controlled by big business. This doctrine, consistently a part of leftist propaganda all over the world, has a wide public following among Americans.

Yet, as every business executive knows, few elements of American society today have as little influence in government as the American businessman, the corporation, or even the millions of corporate stockholders. If one doubts this, let him undertake the role of “lobbyist” for the business point of view before Congressional committees. The same situation obtains in the legislative halls of most states and major cities. One does not exaggerate to say that, in terms of political influence with respect to the course of legislation and government action, the American business executive is truly the “forgotten man.”

Current examples of the impotency of business, and of the near-contempt with which businessmen’s views are held, are the stampedes by politicians to support almost any legislation related to “consumerism” or to the “environment.”

Politicians reflect what they believe to be majority views of their constituents. It is thus evident that most politicians are making the judgment that the public has little sympathy for the businessman or his viewpoint.

The educational programs suggested above would be designed to enlighten public thinking — not so much about the businessman and his individual role as about the system which he administers, and which provides the goods, services and jobs on which our country depends.

But one should not postpone more direct political action, while awaiting the gradual change in public opinion to be effected through education and information. Business must learn the lesson, long ago learned by labor and other self-interest groups. This is the lesson that political power is necessary; that such power must be assidously (sic) cultivated; and that when necessary, it must be used aggressively and with determination — without embarrassment and without the reluctance which has been so characteristic of American business.

As unwelcome as it may be to the Chamber, it should consider assuming a broader and more vigorous role in the political arena.

Neglected Opportunity in the Courts

American business and the enterprise system have been affected as much by the courts as by the executive and legislative branches of government. Under our constitutional system, especially with an activist-minded Supreme Court, the judiciary may be the most important instrument for social, economic and political change.

Other organizations and groups, recognizing this, have been far more astute in exploiting judicial action than American business. Perhaps the most active exploiters of the judicial system have been groups ranging in political orientation from “liberal” to the far left.

The American Civil Liberties Union is one example. It initiates or intervenes in scores of cases each year, and it files briefs amicus curiae in the Supreme Court in a number of cases during each term of that court. Labor unions, civil rights groups and now the public interest law firms are extremely active in the judicial arena. Their success, often at business’ expense, has not been inconsequential.

This is a vast area of opportunity for the Chamber, if it is willing to undertake the role of spokesman for American business and if, in turn, business is willing to provide the funds.

As with respect to scholars and speakers, the Chamber would need a highly competent staff of lawyers. In special situations it should be authorized to engage, to appear as counsel amicus in the Supreme Court, lawyers of national standing and reputation. The greatest care should be exercised in selecting the cases in which to participate, or the suits to institute. But the opportunity merits the necessary effort.

Neglected Stockholder Power

The average member of the public thinks of “business” as an impersonal corporate entity, owned by the very rich and managed by over-paid executives. There is an almost total failure to appreciate that “business” actually embraces — in one way or another — most Americans. Those for whom business provides jobs, constitute a fairly obvious class. But the 20 million stockholders — most of whom are of modest means — are the real owners, the real entrepreneurs, the real capitalists under our system. They provide the capital which fuels the economic system which has produced the highest standard of living in all history. Yet, stockholders have been as ineffectual as business executives in promoting a genuine understanding of our system or in exercising political influence.

The question which merits the most thorough examination is how can the weight and influence of stockholders — 20 million voters — be mobilized to support (i) an educational program and (ii) a political action program.

Individual corporations are now required to make numerous reports to shareholders. Many corporations also have expensive “news” magazines which go to employees and stockholders. These opportunities to communicate can be used far more effectively as educational media.

The corporation itself must exercise restraint in undertaking political action and must, of course, comply with applicable laws. But is it not feasible — through an affiliate of the Chamber or otherwise — to establish a national organization of American stockholders and give it enough muscle to be influential?

A More Aggressive Attitude

Business interests — especially big business and their national trade organizations — have tried to maintain low profiles, especially with respect to political action.

As suggested in the Wall Street Journal article, it has been fairly characteristic of the average business executive to be tolerant — at least in public — of those who attack his corporation and the system. Very few businessmen or business organizations respond in kind. There has been a disposition to appease; to regard the opposition as willing to compromise, or as likely to fade away in due time.

Business has shunted confrontation politics. Business, quite understandably, has been repelled by the multiplicity of non-negotiable “demands” made constantly by self-interest groups of all kinds.

While neither responsible business interests, nor the United States Chamber of Commerce, would engage in the irresponsible tactics of some pressure groups, it is essential that spokesmen for the enterprise system — at all levels and at every opportunity — be far more aggressive than in the past.

There should be no hesitation to attack the Naders, the Marcuses and others who openly seek destruction of the system. There should not be the slightest hesitation to press vigorously in all political arenas for support of the enterprise system. Nor should there be reluctance to penalize politically those who oppose it.

Lessons can be learned from organized labor in this respect. The head of the AFL-CIO may not appeal to businessmen as the most endearing or public-minded of citizens. Yet, over many years the heads of national labor organizations have done what they were paid to do very effectively. They may not have been beloved, but they have been respected — where it counts the most — by politicians, on the campus, and among the media.

It is time for American business — which has demonstrated the greatest capacity in all history to produce and to influence consumer decisions — to apply their great talents vigorously to the preservation of the system itself.

The Cost

The type of program described above (which includes a broadly based combination of education and political action), if undertaken long term and adequately staffed, would require far more generous financial support from American corporations than the Chamber has ever received in the past. High level management participation in Chamber affairs also would be required.

The staff of the Chamber would have to be significantly increased, with the highest quality established and maintained. Salaries would have to be at levels fully comparable to those paid key business executives and the most prestigious faculty members. Professionals of the great skill in advertising and in working with the media, speakers, lawyers and other specialists would have to be recruited.

It is possible that the organization of the Chamber itself would benefit from restructuring. For example, as suggested by union experience, the office of President of the Chamber might well be a full-time career position. To assure maximum effectiveness and continuity, the chief executive officer of the Chamber should not be changed each year. The functions now largely performed by the President could be transferred to a Chairman of the Board, annually elected by the membership. The Board, of course, would continue to exercise policy control.

Quality Control is Essential

Essential ingredients of the entire program must be responsibility and “quality control.” The publications, the articles, the speeches, the media programs, the advertising, the briefs filed in courts, and the appearances before legislative committees — all must meet the most exacting standards of accuracy and professional excellence. They must merit respect for their level of public responsibility and scholarship, whether one agrees with the viewpoints expressed or not.

Relationship to Freedom

The threat to the enterprise system is not merely a matter of economics. It also is a threat to individual freedom.

It is this great truth — now so submerged by the rhetoric of the New Left and of many liberals — that must be re-affirmed if this program is to be meaningful.

There seems to be little awareness that the only alternatives to free enterprise are varying degrees of bureaucratic regulation of individual freedom — ranging from that under moderate socialism to the iron heel of the leftist or rightist dictatorship.

We in America already have moved very far indeed toward some aspects of state socialism, as the needs and complexities of a vast urban society require types of regulation and control that were quite unnecessary in earlier times. In some areas, such regulation and control already have seriously impaired the freedom of both business and labor, and indeed of the public generally. But most of the essential freedoms remain: private ownership, private profit, labor unions, collective bargaining, consumer choice, and a market economy in which competition largely determines price, quality and variety of the goods and services provided the consumer.

In addition to the ideological attack on the system itself (discussed in this memorandum), its essentials also are threatened by inequitable taxation, and — more recently — by an inflation which has seemed uncontrollable. But whatever the causes of diminishing economic freedom may be, the truth is that freedom as a concept is indivisible. As the experience of the socialist and totalitarian states demonstrates, the contraction and denial of economic freedom is followed inevitably by governmental restrictions on other cherished rights. It is this message, above all others, that must be carried home to the American people.

Conclusion

It hardly need be said that the views expressed above are tentative and suggestive. The first step should be a thorough study. But this would be an exercise in futility unless the Board of Directors of the Chamber accepts the fundamental premise of this paper, namely, that business and the enterprise system are in deep trouble, and the hour is late.

***

Lewis Powell

Greenpeace

Admit it: Trump is unfit to serve – E.J. Dionne Jr. – The Washington Post. 

What is this democratic nation to do when the man serving as president of the United States plainly has no business being president of the United States?

Senators such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham seem to know it is only a matter of time before the GOP will have to confront Trump’s unfitness. They also sense that Flynn’s resignation as national security adviser for lying about the nature of his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the United States raises fundamental concerns about Trump himself.

In this dark moment, we can celebrate the vitality of the institutions of a free society that are pushing back against a president offering the country a remarkable combination of authoritarian inclinations and ineptitude. The courts, civil servants, citizens — collectively and individually — and, yes, an unfettered media have all checked Trump and forced inconvenient facts into the sunlight.

It is a sign of how beleaguered Trump is that his Twitter response on Wednesday morning was not to take responsibility but to assign blame. His villains are leakers and the press: “Information is being illegally given to the failing @nytimes & @washingtonpost by the intelligence community (NSA and FBI?). Just like Russia.

The Trump we are seeing now is fully consistent with the vindictive, self-involved and scattered man we saw during the 17 months of his campaign.

As a country, we now need to face the truth, however awkward and difficult it might be.

Washington Post

Democrats Should Disavow Clinton Super PAC, Not Protest Her Loss – Michael Saint, The Observer. 

Time to move on! 

The Democratic Party will fail unless it rejects Clintonism.

The Democratic Party rejected the grassroots strategies that enabled Obama‘s wins in 2008 and 2012 to their peril. Instead, Democrats lined up behind Clinton, the embodiment of the elitist status quo, and resorted to shady tactics to push her through the Democratic primaries against an unanticipated challenger, Sen Bernie Sanders. 

Clinton and her supporters have laid fault for her loss on everyone and everything including Sanders, Jill Stein, Susan Sarandon, millennials, the FBI, James Comey, Russia, Wikileaks, racist Trump supporters, stupid people, Bernie Bros and the media. In truth, the fact that Clinton won the popular vote shows that her campaign was unable to develop and implement a strategy for the swing states that cost her the presidency.

Now Clinton and her loyal followers—many who happen to be wealthy donors and celebrities—rally around the fact that she won the popular vote, along with every other excuse and scapegoat for her loss. Continuing to defend Clinton and rehabilitating her image by sensationalizing the reasons for her defeat allows the Democratic Party to avoid introspection, responsibility and accountability, thereby hamstringing the Trump resistance.

The Democratic Party has been and will continue to be utterly useless until it fully rejects Clintonism. 

Observer

Trumpcare Is a Moral Travesty – Robert Reich. 

America has the only health care system in the world designed to avoid sick people.

Shame on every one of the 217 Republicans who voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act on Thursday, and substitute basically nothing.

Trumpcare isn’t a replacement of the Affordable Care Act. It’s a transfer from the sick and poor to the rich and healthy.

The losers are up to 24 million Americans who under the Affordable Care Act get subsidies to afford health insurance coverage, including millions of people with pre-existing conditions and poor people who had access to Medicaid who may not be able to afford insurance in the future.

The winners are wealthy Americans who will now get a tax cut because they won’t have to pay to fund the Affordable Care Act, and healthy people who won’t have to buy health insurance to subsidize the sick.

House Republicans say they have protected people with pre-existing health problems. Baloney. Sick people could be charged premiums so high as to make insurance unaffordable. Trumpcare would even let states waive the Obamacare ban on charging higher premiums for women who have been raped — which actually occurred before the Affordable Care Act.

America has the only health care system in the world designed to avoid sick people. Private for-profit health insurers do whatever they can to insure groups of healthy people, because that’s where the profits are. They also make every effort to avoid sick people, because that’s where the costs are.

The Affordable Care Act puts healthy and sick people into the same insurance pool. But under the Republican bill that passed the House, healthy people will no longer be subsidizing sick people.  Healthy people will be in their own insurance pool. Sick people will be grouped with other sick people in their own high-risk pool – which will result in such high premiums, co-payments, and deductibles that many if not most won’t be able to afford.

Republicans say their bill creates a pool of money that will pay insurance companies to cover the higher costs of insuring sick people. Wrong. Insurers will take the money and still charge sick people much higher premiums. Or avoid sick people altogether.

The only better alternative to the Affordable Care Act is a single-payer system, such as Medicare for all, which would put all Americans into the same giant insurance pool. Not only would this be fairer, but it would also be far more efficient, because money wouldn’t be spent marketing and advertising to attract healthy people and avoid sick people.

Paul Ryan says the House vote was about fulfilling a promise the GOP made to American voters. But those voters have been lied to from the start about the Affordable Care Act. For years Republicans told them that the Act couldn’t work, would bankrupt America, and result in millions losing the health care they had before. All of these lies have been proven wrong.

Now Republicans say the Act is unsustainable because premiums are rising and insurers are pulling out. Wrong again. Whatever is wrong with the Affordable Care Act could be easily fixed, but Republicans have refused to do the fixing. Insurers have been pulling out because of the uncertainty Republicans have created.

The reason Republicans are so intent on repealing the Affordable Care Act is they want to give a giant tax cut to the rich who’d no longer have to pay the tab.

Here we come to the heart of the matter.

If patriotism means anything, it means sacrificing for the common good, participating in the public good. Childless Americans pay taxes for schools so children are educated. Americans who live close to their work pay taxes for roads and bridges so those who live farther away can get to work. Americans with secure jobs pay into unemployment insurance so those who lose their jobs have some income until they find another.

And under the Affordable Care Act, healthier and wealthier Americans pay a bit more so sicker and poorer Americans don’t die.

Trump and House Republicans aren’t patriots. They don’t believe in sacrificing for the common good. They don’t think we’re citizens with obligations to one another. To them, we’re just individual consumers who deserve the best deal we can get for ourselves. It’s all about the art of the deal.

So what do we do now? We fight.

To become law, Trumpcare has to go through 4 additional steps: First, a version must be enacted in the Senate. It must then go a “conference” to hammer out differences between the House and Senate. The conference agreement must then pass in the House again, and again in the Senate.

I hope you’ll be there every step of the way, until Trumpcare collapses under the weight of its own cruelty. House Republicans who voted for this travesty will rue the day they did. Any Senate Republican who joins them will regret it as well.

AlterNet

Trump Is Creating an Authoritarian Dictatorship – Here’s Why – bgerber. 

If there is an overarching pattern in the Trump regime’s first months, it is a steady move toward oligarchy verging on authoritarian dictatorship. I am a political scientist by training and I didn’t write the above sentence unthinkingly. Putting aside Trump’s Russian role model, Putin, the pattern is clear.

  • appointing wealthy businessmen (and one businesswoman) to key government positions)
  • refusing to release taxes
  • signing controversial executive orders out of the public eye
  • ignoring reporters’ questions
  • running the country by, to be kind, deceptive tweets
  • stopping publication of the White House guest list
  • living a rich lifestyle supported by public funds
  • benefiting personally from public office
  • placing family members in key governmental positions
  • appointing an FCC Chairman who will significantly reduce access to the Internet
  • attacking the press as the “enemy of the people”
  • claiming that the president cannot be held accountable for behaviors committed before or, potentially, after his election
  • thug-like behavior in relation to perceived political enemies
  • scapegoating of specific ethnic or religious groups directly or by implication
  • mysogynistic and anti-LGBTQ behaviors
  • engaging in grossly exaggerated policy swings
  • supporting massive fines and imprisonment for Inauguration Day protestors and protestors in general

Whether intentional or not, the above has the effect of creating an American Presidency very different from any we have ever seen and one that should frighten anyone who understands political, economic and social history.

Opednews

This Fight is Our Fight: The Battle to Save Working People – Elizabeth Warren. 

The tale of America coming out of the Great Depression and not only surviving but actually transforming itself into an economic giant is the stuff of legend.

But the part that gives me goose bumps is what we did with all that wealth: over several generations, our country built the greatest middle class the world had ever known. We built it ourselves, using our own hard work and the tools of government to open up more opportunities for millions of people. We used it all, tax policy, investments in public education, new infrastructure, support for research, rules that protected consumers and investors, antitrust laws, to promote and expand our middle class.

The spectacular, shoot-off-the-fireworks fact is that we succeeded. Income growth was widespread, and the people who did most of the work, the 90 percent of America, also got most of the gains. In the 1960s and 1970s, I was one of the lucky beneficiaries of everything America was building, and to this day, I am grateful to the bottom of my soul.

But now, in a new century and a different time, that great middle class is on the ropes. All across the country, people are worried—worried and angry.

They are angry because they bust their tails and their income barely budges. Angry because their budget is stretched to the breaking point by housing and health care. Angry because the cost of sending their kid to day care or college is out of sight. People are angry because trade deals seem to be building jobs and opportunities for workers in other parts of the world, while leaving abandoned factories here at home. Angry because young people are getting destroyed by student loans, working people are deep in debt, and seniors can’t make their Social Security checks cover their basic living expenses. Angry because we can’t even count on the fundamentals, roads, bridges, safe water, reliable power, from our government.

Angry because we’re afraid that our children’s chances for a better life won’t be as good as our own. People are angry, and they are right to be angry. Because this hard-won, ruggedly built, infinitely precious democracy of ours has been hijacked.

Today this country works great for those at the top. It works great for every corporation rich enough to hire an army of lobbyists and lawyers. It works great for every billionaire who pays taxes at lower rates than the hired help. It works great for everyone with the money to buy favors in Washington. Government works great for them, but for everyone else, this country is no longer working very well.

This is the most dangerous kind of corruption. No, it’s not old-school bribery with envelopes full of cash. This much smoother, slicker, and better-dressed form of corruption is perverting our government and making sure that day after day, decision after decision, the rich and powerful are always taken care of. This corruption is turning government into a tool of those who have already gathered wealth and influence. This corruption is hollowing out America’s middle class and tearing down our democracy.

In 2016, into this tangle of worry and anger, came a showman who made big promises. A man who swore he would drain the swamp, then surrounded himself with the lobbyists and billionaires who run the swamp and feed off government favors. A man who talked the talk of populism but offered the very worst of trickle-down economics. A man who said he knew how the corrupt system worked because he had worked it for himself many times. A man who vowed to make America great again and followed up with attacks on immigrants, minorities, and women. A man who was always on the hunt for his next big con.

In the months ahead, it would become clear that this man was even more divisive and dishonest than his presidential campaign revealed.

Plenty of people were eager to describe the special appeal of Donald Trump and explain all the reasons why he won. But we need more than an explanation of just one election; we also need to understand how and why our country has gone so thoroughly wrong.

We need a plan to put us back on track, and then we need to get to work and make it happen. We need to live our values, to be the kind of nation that invests in opportunity, not just for some of us, but for all of us. We need to take our democracy back from those who would pervert it for their own benefit. We need to build the America of our best dreams.

If ever there was a time to fight, this is it.

Elizabeth Warren

From her new book:

This Fight is Our Fight: The Battle to Save Working People


A directionless, foolish president has unlocked the weapons store. We are all in great peril – Observer Editorial. 

In the run-up to last November’s election, American voters were repeatedly warned that the inexperienced, volatile and impulsive Donald Trump would be a dangerous choice as next US president. Less than three months into his term, that prediction is coming true. Trump’s reckless behaviour is rapidly sucking the world into an alarming new era of extreme strategic instability, most evidently in the case of North Korea. 

Suddenly abandoning his pledge to pursue non-interventionist policies and eschew the role of global policeman, Trump has performed an astonishing volte-face. It began with a casually insouciant decision, taken over dinner in Palm Beach in January, to order a special forces ground operation in Yemen that Barack Obama had previously blocked as too risky. The operation went badly awry. 

Trump tried shoddily to distance himself from this failure and turned his attention to Syria and Iraq. Word went out from the White House that US field commanders would henceforth enjoy greater latitude in fighting Islamic State (Isis). There would be no more of Obama’s frustrating micro-management. Trump’s message: the gloves are off – not that they were ever really on.

Since then, civilian casualties in both countries have been rising, the result of US or US-led bombing. The Iraqi army’s slow and painful effort to retake Mosul from Isis has not been noticeably advanced by stepped-up American engagement. But the lethal impact of the siege on Mosul’s citizens has measurably grown, as in last months horrific American bombind of a basement shelter that killed up to 150 people.

Trump has significantly increased the number of US troops in Syria, ahead of an anticipated assault on the Isis stronghold of Raqqa. Then he upped the ante again, firing off 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian army base in an emotional retaliation for a chemical weapons attack in Idlib province. This self-indulgent escapade has done little or nothing to further peace in Syria. But it did trigger a destabilising confrontation with Russia, Syria’s ally, with possible implications for security in eastern Europe, Nato and the Asian power balance.

Having greatly impressed himself by this grandiose show of might, Trump, now self-styled global enforcer-in-chief, swivelled his sights on to Afghanistan, setting off the biggest explosion he could manage without actually going nuclear. Last week’s detonation of a Moab monster bomb was gimmick warfare. It may have killed some Isis fighters. It may not. That was not the point. The aim, again, was to showcase US firepower and Trump’s supposed martial prowess. The target audience was not Isis or the Taliban but North Korea, where, to China’s justified alarm, Trump has deployed a nuclear-armed naval armada in a bid to bully Pyongyang into submission.

And so, in the space or 100 days or so, Trump’s crudely intimidatory, violent, know-nothing approach to sensitive international issues has encircled the globe from Moscow to the Middle East to Beijing, plunging foes and allies alike into a dark vortex of expanding strategic instability.

In switching sides and policies from one day to the next, Trump resembles a punter in a betting shop, rashly gambling on a hunch. In the North Korean case, if Trump guesses wrong, the results could be utterly calamitous. 

There is a place for deterrence in international affairs and, to work, deterrence must be backed by the possible use of force. That is how we survived the Cold War. It is possible that Syria’s regime will stop using chemical weapons because of Trump’s punitive response. It is arguable that China needed a jolt to get it more involved in containing North Korea and that Pyongyang may cease, for a time, its provocative behaviour. The defeat of Isis, wherever it lurks, is undoubtedly desirable.

But as every military strategist and experienced statesman knows, the uncertain means to these desirable ends are fenced about with deep complexities, subtleties and countless shades of political and military grey. Bombs and more bombs do not solve anything. Violence can and usually does make matters worse. The world beyond Trump Tower and Mar-a-Lago is not a shooting gallery. War and diplomacy are not zero-sum games.

The US president is not hosting a television reality show – not any more, at least. This is all only too real. And if Bomber Trump has proved anything in the past three months, it is that he lacks the judgment, the common sense and the common humanity to be anybody’s commander in chief.

The Guardian

JFK’s Nephew Blows the Whistle on Syria. ISIS is a Product of US Intervention for Oil – Claire Bernish. 

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. delivered a searingly astute summation concerning the truth behind the U.S.’ presence in the Middle East — its subservience to the fossil fuel industry’s most precious commodity: OIL.

“As we focus on the rise of ISIS and the search for the source of the savagery that took so many lives in Paris and San Bernardino, we might want to look beyond the convenient explanations of religion and ideology and focus on the more complex rationales of history and oil, which mostly point the finger of blame for terrorism back at the champions of militarism, imperialism and petroleum here on our own shores,” Kennedy advised in an editorial for Ecowatch.

Kennedy’s critical look at the United States’ history of meddling, interventionism, and hegemony — almost exclusively to maintain the flow of oil — makes apparent its role in destabilizing the entire Middle East, particularly Syria. Indeed, more than fifty years of violent intercession — ultimately in the interest of the fossil fuel industry — has stoked enormous resentments. Essentially, American geostrategic corporatism — under the guise of militaristic peacekeeping — created the same violent Islamic Jihadism the U.S. now battles against.

Beginning during the Eisenhower Administration, Arab sovereignty and the Middle East nations’ Cold War neutrality were perceived as threats to American access to oil.

First in the order of business for Eisenhower’s Presidency was Iran’s first elected leader in 4,000 years, President Mohammed Mosaddegh. Mosaddegh’s desire to renegotiate Iran’s unfavorable oil contracts with British Petroleum led to a failed coup by British intelligence — whom he promptly expelled from the country. Despite Mosaddegh’s favorable view of the U.S. — a model of democracy he sought to employ for Iran — Eisenhower, with the aid of the notorious Allan Dulles, ousted the leader. “Operation Ajax” deposed Mosaddegh and replaced him with Shah Reza Pahlavi — a leader whose bloody reign culminated in the Islamic revolution of 1979 “that has bedeviled our foreign policy for 35 years,” Kennedy wrote.

Perhaps one of the larger threats lay in Syria’s reluctance to approve the Trans Arabian Pipeline — intended to cross Syria in order to connect Saudi oil with ports in Lebanon. When the democratically-elected, secular Syrian president balked, the CIA engineered a coup in an attempt to replace him.

“The CIA’s plan was to destabilize the Syrian government, and create a pretext for invasion by Iraq and Jordan, whose governments were already under CIA control,” explained Kennedy. It did not work. An astonishing failure, anti-American riots and violence erupted across the region. Syria barred several American attaches, and then outted and executed all officials who harbored pro-American sentiment. Indeed, the U.S. very nearly sparked all-out war with Syria over the incident.

Repercussions from that attempted coup — as well as more successful installments of puppet regimes elsewhere — still play out in foreign policy and geopolitical dealings in the present. A more ‘successful’ leader removal and replacement involved a name everyone in the U.S. is familiar with: Saddam Hussein. 

After failed attempts to depose Iraq’s leader, the CIA ultimately installed Hussein and the Ba’ath Party to power. As Kennedy noted, Interior Minister Said Aburish once said of that plot, “We came to power on a CIA train.” James Critchfield, the CIA Station Chief in charge of the both the successful and failed coups, later said the CIA had essentially “created Saddam Hussein” — also supplying him weapons, intelligence, and chemical and biological weapons.

“At the same time, the CIA was illegally supplying Saddam’s enemy — Iran — with thousands of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to fight Iraq, a crime made famous during the Iran Contra scandal … [M]ost Americans are unaware of the many ways that ‘blowback’ from previous CIA blunders has helped craft the current crisis.”

While Americans widely believe the mainstream press’ and governmental narrative that the current U.S. role in Syria amounts to humanitarian goals, beginning with the Arab Spring in 2011, “Instead, it began in 2000 when Qatar proposed to construct a $10 billion, 1,500km pipeline through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, and Turkey,” Kennedy explained. 

“The proposed pipeline would have linked Qatar directly to European energy markets via distribution terminals in Turkey which would pocket rich transit fees. The Qatar/Turkey pipeline would have given the Sunni kingdoms of the Persian Gulf decisive domination of world natural gas markets and strengthen Qatar, America’s closest ally in the Arab world.”

The E.U. currently gets 30 percent of its gas from Russia, Kennedy noted, and “Turkey, Russia’s second largest gas customer, was particularly anxious to end its reliance on its ancient rival and to position itself as the lucrative transect hub for Asian fuels to E.U. markets. The Qatari pipeline would have benefited Saudi Arabia’s conservative Sunni Monarchy by giving them a foothold in Shia dominated Syria […]

“Wikileaks cables from as early as 2006 show the U.S. State Department, at the urging of the Israeli government, proposing to partner with Turkey, Qatar, and Egypt to foment the Sunni civil war in Syria to weaken Iran. The stated purpose, according to the secret cable, was to incite [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad into a brutal crackdown of Syria’s Sunni population.

“As predicted, Assad’s overreaction to the foreign-made crisis — dropping barrel bombs onto Sunni strongholds and killing civilians — polarized Syria’s Shia/Sunni divide and allowed U.S. policymakers to sell Americans the idea that the pipeline struggle was a humanitarian war.”

Kennedy’s lengthy historical context for the current imbroglio absolutely warrants a thorough perusal. Its unmistakable message should serve as a critical reminder that the United States government and its mouthpiece in mainstream press — as convincing as they may seem — are never telling you the whole story.

The Free Thought Project