It’s the end of the world as we know it

Apart from excited Trump supporters, there are few in the United States and elsewhere anticipating his inauguration with hope for the future and gratitude over his success. The fact is, if the United States had had a functioning and rational democratic polity and if the rule of law had been an organic quality of its institutions, then Donald Trump would not be poised to become president of the United States. He would be contemplating a jail term instead. Moreover, at this moment, he is slated to violate the emolument clause of the Constitution (Article 1, Section 9, Clause 8), and willingly so. His willfulness is unsurprising because sleaze defined his business career, vice his personal life. More importantly, we can be certain that a rational democratic polity, namely, a political system in which a well-informed demos could significantly influence the institutions and decisions of the state, would not produce a Hilary Clinton or a Donald Trump as the only feasible candidates for president. This certainty reflects the fact that these candidates were so bad that reasonable individuals would not choose either for president. They would choose instead someone worthy of the office, picking from a candidate pool that offered defensible but different solutions to the problems at hand. How do we know they would make a better choice? We know because we identify someone as reasonable because they consistently act reasonably.

Consider Trump’s adversary. Just like Hillary Clinton’s preferred opponent, crime and corruption, incompetence and hypocrisy stain her persona, and presumably her soul. Her Foundation functioned as a bagman for the influence she peddled. As the First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State, she produced a record composed of imperial war-making and genocide, of rapacious attacks on the subordinate classes and groups, of the transformation of the welfare state into the carceral state and of the waste of capital by Wall Street. Today, Hillary and Bill Clinton, along with Barack Obama, stand before the world as the faces of a country suffering an irreversible decline, and of a state much more dangerous to its citizens and others than any state known to us. It is exceptional only in the dangers it makes real.

Amazing as it may seem, given the power vested in the office they sought, Americans despised both candidates. This hatred included some of their partisan ‘allies.’ At times, candidate Trump appeared as though he wanted to ruin the Republican Party. He attacked his opponents as well as party regulars. Naturally, his party reciprocated. It now appears obvious that a large fraction of America’s security-surveillance apparatus want to destroy him. Likewise, the FBI, or a fraction thereof, attempted to wreck Hillary Clinton late in the campaign. She clearly harmed her party through her tainted primary victory and her decisive loss to a buffoon like Donald Trump. Along the way she alienated the leftwing of her party with her arrogant march to defeat, treatment that continues with the post-election faction battles occurring across the country. And she, along with the party elite, seemed to have learned nothing from their defeat. They blame others (Russia and Putin!) for their failings. They believe they were stabbed in the back by the FBI, Sander’s supporters and Green Party members. They fail to realize that their grafting of neoliberalism and identity politics works well only when the country enjoys a bubble inflating. They have only indifference, patronizing gestures and a mailed fist whenever the bubble deflates. Neoliberalism does not play in hard times. Only a simpleton would believe otherwise. Enriching the already rich, empowering the already powerful — neoliberal nostrums require heavy doses of ideological foolishness, narcolepsy and nativist bluster to swallow, when making ends meet becomes a difficult problem. Even ideology and identity fail when capitalism torments the electorate, who vote with their pocketbook even when they choose to follow this or that charismatic leader. Like any candidate, the neoliberals need voters once they spend their billions on a campaign. They need to offer something to the electorate. They need democratic legitimacy. Even running against a Donald Trump could not put Hillary Clinton in office, she the charmless Princess of negative charisma. As a system politician, she offered nothing but more of the same.

Despite his triumph, most Americans do not care for Donald Trump. Because of this his electoral victory amounts to a personal defeat. He did not win the popular vote, and he lacks democratic legitimacy because of it. He is a populist lacking popular support. His inauguration might become a social disaster. Few wish to attend, applaud and cheer. Musicians break agreements to abandon him. Hollywood ridicules him. His cabinet nominees disgrace themselves when they appear before Congress. The CIA and MI6 collude to spoil his already damaged reputation. He may quit the job, Congress may impeach him or an assassin kill him. The bar is set low.

I suspect that we may be living through a decisive moment in American history. By decisive I mean it is a time pregnant with the promise of radical change. I am not alone in this regard. The duopoly party system that emerged after Watergate, a regime that expressed the neoliberal turn in the nation’s political economy, is all but spent. It never had a defensible moral compass. The needle of its political compass always pointed to Hell. To my mind the Obama administration provided the farcical endgame for this regime. He was a system politician, and for most Americans, that system came to be a source of worry and debt, of a better future that would never come. I also suspect that many Americans believed Obama would deliver a politics that realized the hopes he elicited from them on the campaign trail. He would not be another phony leader. He would follow the path set by Martin Luther King, whose name Obama invoked. His reforms would make their lives better. But Obama was a phony. For Obama, King provided a symbol he cynically appropriated, not a model for a political ethos. He thus gave America another failed presidency, reckless war-making, surveillance and a rawer form of capitalism. Out of his failures and their hopeless some Americans looked towards a Trump, some towards a Sanders. I leave it to my readers to judge whether the sociopath or the fellow traveler would make successful presidents under present circumstances, when radical change confronts us.

Know thine enemies

A part of Corey Robin’s reaction to the first Presidential debate:

What seems pretty clear, coming away from that debate, is that both parties are ideologically exhausted. Trump is replaying a script from the 1970s, and Clinton’s only answer is herself, that she clearly looks and acts more presidential. This could have been an election, and a debate, that covered new ground. It looks like, for better or for worse, we’ll be re-treading the same old, same old.

It is true that both parties have exhausted their respective ideologies. But their exhaustion appeared as such with the advent of neoliberalism, which dates to Jimmy Carter’s time in office. After all, the neoliberal ideology was and was meant to be a dead end solution to the human predicament. There would be no alternative to capitalist democracy, as per Margaret Thatcher and Francis Fukuyama. There could be only regressions and detours.

Unfortunately, or not, the proud ship of Whig history has sunk on a shoal complex composed of environmental degradation, resource depletion, an ossified capitalist world system and widespread spinelessness among the global political elite. Put differently, the ancestors of our dead enders began to destroy the world long before they took complete hold of it. The dead enders merely are the heirs of an embedded and remorseless Calvinism. But they were thoroughly unhinged by ‘their’ triumph over the residue of Stalinism in Eastern Europe and Russia. They believed their own propaganda had been confirmed! America’s duopoly system merely encapsulates the abyss which awaits us. Clinton and Trump — they are mere signs of our collective destruction. They reflect the stupidity and arrogance of the powerful. They reveal the consequences of our incapacity to learn.

A hard path to walk that leads to any place and to no place

Immanuel Kant wrote:

Reason must in all its undertakings subject itself to criticism; should it limit freedom of criticism by any prohibition, it must harm itself, drawing upon itself a damaging suspicion. Nothing is so important through its usefulness, nothing so sacred, that it may be exempted from this searching examination, which knows no respect for persons. Reason depends upon this freedom for its very existence. For reason has no dictatorial authority; its verdict is always simply the agreement of free citizens, of whom each one must be permitted to express, without let or hindrance, his objections or even his veto [(Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, A 738-9), emphasis added].

Rain, rain, rain…

I don’t mind.

I never cared much for rain and snow. When young, precipitation interfered with my plans and they nearly always made my life more difficult. Today, however, I believe precipitation to be akin to manna from heaven. While I watch dust storms, massive wildfires, water shortages and desertification afflict so many around the world, I have learned to appreciate the easy availability of this increasingly scarce resource. Many are not as lucky.

Potable water — more value than crude oil.

Chomsky on state power, domestic surveillance and ‘national’ security

Writing for In These Times, Noam Chomsky offered the following observations about the kind of security sought by the security-surveillance state:

In an interview on German TV, Edward J. Snowden said that his “breaking point” was “seeing Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, directly lie under oath to Congress” by denying the existence of a domestic spying program conducted by the National Security Agency.

Snowden elaborated that “The public had a right to know about these programs. The public had a right to know that which the government is doing in its name, and that which the government is doing against the public.”

The same could be justly said by Daniel Ellsberg, Chelsea Manning and other courageous figures who acted on the same democratic principle.

The government stance is quite different: The public doesn’t have the right to know because security thus is undermined — severely so, as officials assert.

There are several good reasons to be skeptical about such a response. The first is that it’s almost completely predictable: When a government’s act is exposed, the government reflexively pleads security. The predictable response therefore carries little information.

A second reason for skepticism is the nature of the evidence presented. International relations scholar John Mearsheimer writes that “The Obama administration, not surprisingly, initially claimed that the NSA’s spying played a key role in thwarting 54 terrorist plots against the United States, implying it violated the Fourth Amendment for good reason.

“This was a lie, however. Gen. Keith Alexander, the NSA director, eventually admitted to Congress that he could claim only one success, and that involved catching a Somali immigrant and three cohorts living in San Diego who had sent $8,500 to a terrorist group in Somalia.”

A similar conclusion was reached by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, established by the government to investigate the NSA programs and therefore granted extensive access to classified materials and to security officials. There is, of course, a sense in which security is threatened by public awareness — namely, security of state power from exposure.

The basic insight was expressed well by the Harvard political scientist Samuel P. Huntington: “The architects of power in the United States must create a force that can be felt but not seen. Power remains strong when it remains in the dark; exposed to the sunlight it begins to evaporate.”

Indeed, power does decay when made public, and we may recall here that Huntington was a leading figure of the excess of democracy movement (1970s) which sought to rehabilitate and secure state authority after federal institutions had weathered poorly the many political crises of the 1960s. American democracy was thought to be a burden for those governing America, according to these analysts. The governors could not govern if the governed refused to affirm governmental power. Today, on the other hand, the ‘excesses’ of an energetic civil society do not trouble much America’s national political institutions. The latest crisis of American democracy has another cause:

Is there a new crisis of democracy? Certainly, the American public seems to think so. Anger with politicians and institutions of government is much greater than it was in 1975. According to American National Election Studies polls, in 1964, 76 percent of Americans agreed with the statement “You can trust the government in Washington to do what is right just about always or most of the time.” By the late 1970s, that number had dropped to the high 40s. In 2008, it was 30 percent. In January 2010, it had fallen to 19 percent.

With trust goes authority. When trust is lacking, when citizens no longer believe their representatives, the wielders of power necessarily find themselves placed on a slippery slope with illegitimacy sitting at the bottom of the plane. If the American democracy is now in crisis, this crisis would have little or nothing to do with democratization efforts originating from below. The crisis is not a by-product of the Tea Party or Occupy movements. Nor has it issued from anti-system tendencies within the duopoly parties or from an emerging anti-system party the existence of which effectively threatens the American political system as such. Rather, the crisis originates instead in the anti-democratic qualities which now define governmental institutions in the United States, qualities which elicit mistrust in the governed. The federal government is neither responsive nor responsible, neither accountable nor transparent. Its failures are many, sometimes obvious and often painful for its citizens as well as for others subject to its operations. It has earned the mistrust it enjoys, for it is more akin to an automaton than a place where citizens gather in order to govern themselves.

updated 3.11.2014

Austerity kills

It is always worth making the effort to recognize that an unnecessary but not pointless austerity politics creates adverse and, sometimes, existential problems for those individuals without the means or power to solve their personal problems. These individuals can only suffer what they cannot avoid. Scot Rosenzweig of Allentown, PA confronted Pennsylvania Governor Corbett with this issue, forcing him to defend his support for his Healthy Pennsylvania project, derided by its critics as CorbettCare. Corbett notoriously refused to accept the greater Medicaid monies authorized by the Affordable Care Act. Corbett eventually proposed a plan that would limit the scope and efficacy of the health care provided by the state of Pennsylvania to its poorest citizens. Currently, thanks to Corbett’s ideologically motivated scheming, Pennsylvania has neither an expanded Medicaid program nor even the lesser CorbettCare. At least one death can be attributed to this lack:

Her death did not faze Corbett, however.

First Black President© to open Plantations!

A White House press release announced the good news:

For decades before the economic crisis, local communities were transformed as jobs were sent overseas and middle class Americans worked harder and harder but found it more difficult to get ahead.  Announced in last year’s State of the Union Address, the Promise Zone Initiative is part of the President’s plan to create a better bargain for the middle-class by partnering with local communities and businesses to create jobs, increase economic security, expand educational opportunities, increase access to quality, affordable housing and improve public safety.  Today, the President announced the next step in those efforts by naming the first five “Promise Zones”.

The first five Zones, located in San Antonio, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Southeastern Kentucky, and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, have each put forward a plan on how they will partner with local business and community leaders to make investments that reward hard work and expand opportunity.  In exchange, these designees will receive the resources and flexibility they need to achieve their goals.

Each of these designees knows and has demonstrated that it takes a collaborative effort – between private business and federal, state, tribal and local officials; faith-based and non-profit organizations; children and parents – to ensure that hard work leads to a decent living for every American, in every community.

Good jobs for everyone? Well, no. The program is limited in scope (it does not include everyone in need) and lacks a living wage requirement (wages and benefits will reflect the labor market for unskilled labor). Is this welfare for the common man and woman? Again, no. The program will be formed around tax breaks, regulation suspensions and similar corporate welfare programs. The tacit goal is to create a government sponsored low-wage, low-regulation labor market in areas which suffer from a labor market surplus. The program is, in fact, a rehash of what were once called Urban Enterprise Zones. The Promise Zones are, plainly put, plantations, as Mike Whitney pointed out:

Plantations were a familiar feature of the antebellum South, but were abandoned following the Civil War. Now a new generation of corporate kleptocrats want to revive the tradition. They think that weakening consumer demand and persistent stagnation can only be overcome by skirting vital labor protections and shifting more of the cost of production onto workers. Obama’s promise zones provide a way for big business to slip the chains of “onerous” regulations and restore, what many CEO’s believe to be, the Natural Order, that is, a Darwinian, dog-eat-dog world where only the strongest and most cunning survive.

I wonder if Foxconnthe “we drive our employees to commit suicide” people — will open an Arbeitslager in the United States? They surely are the kind of company Obama wants to attract.

The PRC — A worker’s paradise