Friday, June 19, 2015

Condemnation without cure

Sam Smith

The past few months have been laden with events illustrating the dysfunctional time in which we live. From Ferguson to Spokane to Charleston we have been confronted with examples of how real life doesn’t work the way we think it should.

The overwhelming reaction has been a storm of condemnation of the offending parties with a stunning lack of cures. We are angry but don’t know what to do about it. In this regard, our nation is much like dysfunctional families in that many are strongly upset by what has happened but helpless to find solutions that might actually work or choose those that merely continue or exacerbate the problem.

Thus, in the wake of the Charleston killings, it has argued that we need more gun control and hate crime designation. But as Truth Revolt reported last year:
James Alan Fox has tracked mass-shootings of four or more fatalities spanning from 1976 through 2012. The data shows a steady rate of incidents as well as victims over that 36 year period -- no upward trend whatsoever.

Fox says that even if you change the data set to three victims, the result would be the same. "There isn't even any upswing in the number of school shooting victims," the article states.

Despite public outcry on social media and 24/7 media coverage lamenting that America is headed to hell in a hand basket, the evidence shows that America is no more violent than it has ever been and mass shootings aren't the new normal.
One problem with anti-gun efforts is that they steadfastly ignore other factors involved in American's tendency towards violence. Here are a couple of examples:
- Mississippi has approximately the same rate of gun ownership as New Hampshire yet has five times as many murders per capita. The same is true of Louisiana and Maine: five times as many murders per capita in Louisiana despite roughly the same rate of gun ownership.

- The growth in school shootings is a fairly new phenomenon while guns aren't. Why is there so little discussion of other possible causes such as bad reactions to psychiatric drugs (with which many school shooters were being treated), the growth of violent video games & movies, the collapse of American culture generally and the stressful rise of test driven public education?
Meanwhile, according to the Washington Post, the number of hate crime incidents the US was roughly the same in 2012 as it was in 2004. Does calling something a hate crime really help?

And, if you really want to change the way some things are done in South Carolina, is gun control and banning confederate flags a good way to start? Or is it merely a way to claim one’s moral superiority over some residents of that state?

And does anyone care that in our country the murder rate has dropped 58% since 1993?

As Dan Baum pointed out about gun control in Huffington Post, “It may be hard to show that it saves lives, but it's easy to demonstrate that we've sacrificed a generation of progress on things like health care, women's rights, immigration reform, income fairness, and climate change because we keep messing with people's guns. I am researching a book on Americans' relationship to their guns, and keep meeting working-stiff gun guys -- people whose wages haven't risen since 1978 and should be natural Democrats -- who won't even listen to the blue team because they're convinced Democrats want to take away their guns. Misguided? Maybe. But that's democracy for you. It's helpful to think of gun control as akin to marijuana prohibition -- useless for almost everything except turning otherwise law-abiding people into criminals and fomenting cynicism and resentment.”

One of the big problems with liberalism these days is that it is culturally tone deaf. It practices a political puritanism that only further annoys those it is trying to change.

One of the best rules for real reform is don’t target things people personally like – rightly or wrongly. When Howard Dean made the comment about wanting to get the votes of those with confederate flags on their trucks other Democrats like John Kerry attacked him. By any traditional Democratic standards, this constituency should be a natural. After all, what more dramatically illustrates the failure of two decades of corporatist economics than how far these white males have been left behind? Yet because they still cling to the myths the southern white establishment taught their daddies and their granddaddies, Kerry didn't think they qualified as Democratic voters.

This approach has been a disaster not only for the Democrats but for positive social change as well. If the Democrats hadn’t wasted decades ignoring the sort of economic populist agenda that help everyone, they would have not only gotten the pickup truck drivers’ votes but improved their values as Meanwhile, in my state of Maine, we are currently dealing with the second term of the worst governor in our history in part because liberals put on the ballot a referendum restricting bear traps that brought out rightwing voters who wouldn’t have otherwise showed up.

Anger, disgust and condemnation are lousy political weapons. On the other hand, doing things for people with whom one disagrees on some good subjects can be a gift that keeps on giving. It takes wisdom and courage but it pays off. Just telling someone he’s a racist doesn’t change things at all.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

How collapsing cultures face the present

From our overstocked archives.

Sam Smith, 2012 - During a solar eclipse on January 1, 1889, an American Indian named Wovoka claimed to have had a dream in which all his fellow native Americans were taken into the sky as the Earth opened up and swallowed all the whites upon it. The earth then returned to its natural state as a land where native Americans could live in peace.

According to Wovoka, to make this dream real, his native Americans were to follow these instructions: "When you get home you must begin a dance and continue for five days. Dance for four successive nights, and on the last night continue dancing until the morning of the fifth day, when all must bathe in the river and then return to their homes. You must all do this in the same way. . . I want you to dance every six weeks. Make a feast at the dance and have food that everybody may eat."

The ghost dance culture would sweep across the tribes of western America as the dancers were losing their last hold on their beloved lands.

There are similar examples:
- As military supplies poured into the Pacific Islands during World War II, local peoples reacted to the sudden change by developing "cargo cults" that offered magical explanations for the flow of imports. When the war ended, members of the cults built imitation landing strips and aircraft to attempt to recreate the former reality and restart the influx of goods.

- The early 20th century Maji Maji rebellion in Africa was spurred by a medium who offered medicine he claimed would turn German colonials' bullets into water.

- Sometimes the strange and the rational are mixed as in America's first Great Awakening, both an expression of excessive evangelicalism and of nascent equality that would help to lay the philosophical groundwork of the American revolution. Unlike the hierarchical assumptions of the Enlightenment, the Awakening taught that under God all were equal, a principle that even attracted Benjamin Franklin, though he certainly didn't care for the theology behind it.

- And sometimes the bad times produce not just the strange but the disastrous, as with the rise of Nazism.

Typically, such strange phenomena are a reaction to events that have overwhelmed many and led them to seek solace in a simplistic and seemingly comfortably symbolic solution.
Nazism, for example, didn't spring up as just an arbitrary evil virus. It fed on:

- Unhappiness in the wake of World War I, a war whose mass killings help set a new low value on human life.
- The collapse of conventional liberal and conservative politics that bears uncomfortable similarities to what we are now experiencing.
- The gross mismanagement of the economy and of such key worker concerns as wages, inflation, pensions, layoffs, and rising property taxes. There were also bankruptcies, negative trade balance, major decline in national production, and a large national debt rise compensated for by foreign investment. In other words, a version of what America and its workers are experiencing today.
- The use of negative campaigning, a contribution to modern politics by Joseph Goebbels. The Nazi campaigns argued what was wrong with their opponents and ignored stating their own policies. Sound at all familiar?
- The collapse of the country's self image, falling from world leadership in education, industry, science, and literacy.
Like Ghost Cult dancers in the 19th century, World War II Pacific Islanders wondering where their cargo was, Africans beset by German colonialists, and Germans beset by economic and cultural decline, Americans today face an extraordinary assemblage of change, discouragement, challenges and uncertainties.

Add together climate change, the erosion of democracy, the greatest economic crisis since the 1930s, the decline of America's position in the world, rapid changes in both technology and social values, and the collapse of conventional conservative and liberal politics and we're lucky to have a reaction no stranger than that of the Tea Party movement.
 What will happen next is another story that the end of last one doesn’t necessarily foretell. For example, we have, over the past few decades, slowly disassembled our constitutional democracy without the need for any dictator at all. Corporatized, institutionalized and atomized, we needed only to follow bureaucratic process, administrative regulations and the political commercials we call the news to end up miles from where this country was supposed to be. Our two parties have served as fellow enablers, with concerns for civil liberties, peace and justice as concerns largely left to those outside of the system.
To change what happens next, it is, however, worth looking at the collapse of the Republican ghost dance movement for clues. One of these clues has gotten far too little attention, namely the fact that the GOP right is collapsing mainly because it is heavily the haven of old white men.
Consider that support for Obama among those under 30 is around 54% while for those over 65 it is 38%.
This doesn’t come close to Obama’s support among blacks (88%) or latinos (61%) or the 20 point gap that Obama enjoys with women. But such groups are more fixed in time. What changes things more quickly is when the young start to think dramatically differently and the old start to fade away. For example, Digital Journal reports:
"Tea Party supporters are likely to be older, white and male. Forty percent are age 55 and over, compared with 32 percent of all poll respondents; just 22 percent are under the age of 35, 79 percent are white, and 61 percent are men. Many are also Christian fundamentalists, with 44 percent identifying themselves as ‘born-again,’ compared with 33 percent of all respondents."
Now compare that with this striking and mostly ignored story on CNN by Laura Session Stepp about what is happening in the evangelical movement:
Evangelical churches that frequently support conservative candidates are finally admitting something the rest of us have known for some time: Their young adult members are abandoning church in significant numbers and taking their voting power with them.
David Kinnaman, the 38-year-old president of the Barna Group, an evangelical research firm … says that 18- to 29-year-olds have fallen down a "black hole" of church attendance. There is a 43% drop in Christian church attendance between the teen and early adult years, he says.
Consider the following facts about millennials in general:
• Seven in 10 millennials say sex between an unmarried man and woman is morally acceptable. (According to Kinnaman, young Christians are as sexually active as non-Christians.)
• More than six in 10 millennials (including 49% of Republican millennials) support same-sex marriages.
• Six in 10 millennials say abortion should be legal, a higher proportion than found in the general population. A higher percentage say abortion services should be available in local communities.
Millennials also part ways with conservative orthodoxy on wealth distribution and caring for the environment. According to a report in The Christian Science Monitor, three out of four say that wealthy corporations and financiers have too much power and that taxes should be raised on the very wealthy, and two out of three say financial institutions should be regulated more closely. In addition, most say that creationists' view on evolution is outdated.
The down side of all this is that the young vote far less than older citizens. Even in 2008, a young electorate allegedly heavily charmed by Obama only produced a turnout of 44% compared 70% of those over 65.
The lesson from this is neither novel nor impossible to deal with. It is that once again the future of our land is in the hands of the young. The politicians and the corporate media won’t tell them this; their potential power remains consistently concealed by those who already have power. But it’s worked over and over in the past and it can work again.
The GOP ghost dance is almost over. But, at present, there is no hopeful alternative other than a continue drift towards a dictatorial culture of impunity for the powerful. The one thing that could make a difference is for the young to discover once again how strong and wise they can be and reintroduce America to the dreams it once had.

Monday, June 01, 2015

How some signs might change our politics

Sam Smith

One of the reasons I still recall that Governor Paul A. Dever was working on the Massachusetts Turnpike even before the federal highway program was because the signs along the road told me so. As a boy I even imagined Dever with  a shovel helping the process.

The practice used to be common. But as we have gotten more prissy about politics – such as banning the earmarks that used to help get bills through Congress so you only had a bridge to nowhere instead of as, today, whole budgets to nowhere – the signed signage has disappeared.

One of the prices you pay for this is that no one has a good idea of who brought you the repairs to the bridge or highway you just drove over. Instead of the president and a governor sharing the credit, nobody really knows how it happened. Which is one reason Obama didn’t get more praise for his stimulus package.And why we don't spend more on public works.

As our federal government has become more dominated by gradocrats – lawyers, economists and MBAs – such basic political traditions are being tossed aside. After all, who needs a sign when you’ve got 2,000 pages of regulations to look at?

These, after all, were the same folks that brought us the term infrastructure to replace public works. Now the public not only doesn’t know who did it but what the hell they’re talking about.

Add to this the fact that too many liberals these days think that anything you let states or cities decide for themselves may just be the first step towards their secession from the union.

But go back to the 1950s and you find quite a different story, as I described a couple of years ago:

TheFederal Boating Act of 1958 was an early and benign example of what I came to think of as federal greenmail as Washington increasingly began using the budget as a means of getting states to give up their 10th Amendment authority over matters "not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States."
The boating act was quite mild by today's standards. A Coast Guard history said of it: "Among other benefits, this act made states essential partners in this cooperative effort. Most of the states quickly enacted boating safety laws involving boat numbering, equipment, and operation. These laws were typically uniform, making it easier for boaters to be in compliance when traveling from one state to the next. Further, many states initiated boating safety programs to implement their new laws, increasing the number of officers on the water for enforcement and rescue."
Under today's rules the options given the states would have been early eliminated in favor of hundreds of pages of federal regulations. Over the following decades the use of greenmail would explode - reaching a recent pinnacle not in the healthcare bill mandate - which wrongly asserts its rights based on the commerce clause - but in the massive interference with local schools found in the No Child Left Behind program, an intrusion assisted by highly conditional funding from private foundations who aren't even mentioned in the Constitution.
While backing for this pecuniary assault on the Constitution has often been bipartisan, it is the support of supposedly anti-authoritarian liberals that is most discouraging, since if anyone was presumed willing to stand up for what Jefferson called our "small republics," it was this wing of the Democratic Party.

The federal highway program was another example as the Department of Transportation explains:

The 1954 bill authorized $175 million for the interstate system, to be used on a 60-40 matching ratio… During the signing ceremony at the White House on May 6, 1954, [President Eisenhoweer] said, "This legislation is one effective forward step in meeting the accumulated needs." But he knew it was not a big enough step, and he decided to do something about it. Eisenhower planned to address a conference of state governors in Bolton Landing on Lake George, N.Y., July 12, 1954. Because of the death of his sister-in-law, the president was unable to attend, and Vice President Richard M. Nixon delivered the message from detailed notes the president had prepared. Nixon told the governors that the increased funding authorized earlier that year was "a good start" but "a $50 billion highway program in 10 years is a goal toward which we can - and we should - look." Such a program, over and above the regular federal-aid program, was needed because "... our highway network is inadequate locally, and obsolete as a national system."

He wanted a cooperative alliance between state and federal officials to accomplish the federal part of the grand plan. And he wanted the federal government to cooperate with the states to develop a modern state highway system.

Finally, the vice president read the last sentence of the president's notes, in which he asked the governors to study the matter and recommend the cooperative action needed to meet these goals. The speech, according to a contemporary observer, had an "electrifying effect" on the conference. It had come as a complete surprise, without the advance work that usually precedes major presidential statements. Furthermore, the speech was delivered at a time when the governors were again debating how to convince the federal government to stop collecting gas taxes so the states could pick up the revenue. Some governors even argued that the federal government should get out of the highway business altogether….

DOT also notes:

As President Dwight D. Eisenhower began to promote creation of a program to build the Interstate Construction Program, the nation's governors made clear to him that they did not want to be forced to increase state taxes to pay the additional matching funds for the national program. Therefore, the President proposed to increase funds for the Interstate System, while boosting the Federal share to 90 percent. Under his proposal, the States would continue paying the same amount in matching funds for the Interstate System that they had been paying under the 1954 Act.

Imagine if the Democrats of today had learned something from Eisenhower when pushing for Obamacare.

But, from a political standpoint, it was the signs that were the best. Note how everyone – state and feds – looked good. You knew what was happening and who was paying for it. 

Today, even among liberals, our politics has become too narcissistic to share credit. And so our leaders just spend their time balling out the other side as our roads and bridges continue to fall apart.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The righteous role of church basements

Sam Smith

I’m a Seventh Day Agnostic and, as such, I don’t give a shit about what you believe, only what you do about it. 

The Quakers have a nicer way of expressing it. For example, one of their meetings explains it this way: “Friends are people of strong religious views, but they are quite clear that these views must be tested by the way in which they are expressed in action… Friends are encouraged to seek for truth in all the opportunities that life presents to them. They are further encouraged to seek new light from whatever source it may arise. Their questing and open attitude to life has certainly contributed to the tolerance with which Friends try to approach people and problems of faith and conduct.”

I went to a Quaker high school and attended meetings every Thursday for six years. Only once can I recall a confrontation on theological matters, and that was quickly eased by a “weighty” Quaker elder who explained that a meeting was not the place for such debates.

Later, I was introduced to existentialism - the notion, it has been said, that “faith don’t pay the cable” and the view that “even a condemned man has a choice of how to approach the gallows.” I came to realize that the Quakers had beat Jean Paul Sartre by several centuries in the realization that it is what one does and not what one believes that makes the real difference in life.

 So I was somewhat prepared for what I found as a journalist and community activist in 1960s DC: religious leaders who translated their varied beliefs into common action and left faith in the back pew.

I was, for example, pushed into starting a community newspaper in an ethnically mixed neighborhood east of the Capitol by a minister trained by Saul Alinsky. He even obtained  a grant from a local Lutheran Church to get me going. Neither the minister nor the church questioned my lack of religious faith because it was clear we shared values and goals.

By the time the 1960s were over, I had worked with about a dozen preachers, some of whom would seem strikingly odd today. None of these ministers ever questioned my faith or lectured me on theirs. They ranged from the head of the Revolutionary Church of What’s Happening Now to Catholic priests. I once stuffed $20 bucks into the pocket of a handcuffed Presbyterian minister arrested in a protest so he could use it for bail. And there was a black minister who was also a cab driver and wore his waist change maker while preaching. Meanwhile, in the larger capital, we had two Catholic priests in Congress, one as Assistant Secretary of Housing, and one elected to the DC school board.

Among the assets of some of these preachers were basement meeting rooms in their churches. During the scores of times I found myself in such rooms, we pressed anti-war protests, started the DC Statehood Party, began a bi-racial pre-school, and upped the ultimately successful battle against freeways in DC.  And no one made you recite a creed before the meetings began.

When I try to figure out why this seems a bit strange today, a number of things come to mind. One has been the huge influence of evangelical churches on our definition of religion, especially in the media. Until Pope Francis came along, think how rarely we’ve heard about non-evangelical activism in recent years. In more than a few ways, conventional Christians had let evangelicals define religion. 

The other factor is what might be called the non-profit moat. As sources of funding for non-profits have become more complex and difficult, the caution of those seeking the funds has greatly increased. This has affected secular non-profits as well, but there is no doubt that churches are much more cautious than they were a few decades ago.

But there are a couple of other factors as well. One is that interest in religion is declining in America as demonstrated in recent Pew survey.

 And this is particularly true among the young.

Thus if religion doesn’t find new ways to reach out to other Americans, it may be in serious trouble.

Then there is the growth of what in Latin America is called a culture of impunity. As I have described it:

In a culture of impunity, rules serve the internal logic of the system rather than whatever values typically guide a country, such as those of its constitution, church or tradition. The culture of impunity encourages coups and cruelty, and at best practices only titular democracy. A culture of impunity varies from ordinary political corruption in that the latter represents deviance from the culture while the former becomes the culture. Such a culture does not announce itself.
In a culture of impunity, what replaces constitution, precedent, values, tradition, fairness, consensus, debate and all that sort of arcane stuff? Mainly greed. We find ourselves without heroism, without debate over right and wrong, with little but an endless narcissistic struggle by the powerful to get more money, more power, and more press than the next person. In the chase, anything goes and the only standard is whether you win, lose, or get caught.
One of the aspects of such a culture is that the media becomes far more interested in the exercise of power rather than the values behind it. The greedsters win because of their power rather than because of logic or virtue.
Churches are among the few places where an alternative culture can still be built.  But they must move beyond the safety of declared theological virtue and faith and share their physical, moral and mental space with those of similar values and goals. They did this so well during the civil rights and anti-war movement and they can do it again. And a lot of it begins in the church basement.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Galaxy Update: The Clingons & the Process People on Planet Potomac

From our overstocked archives

Sam Smith, 2003 -   The two most powerful subcultures on Planet Potomac are the Clingons and the Process People.

The former got their name from their skill in hanging onto various branches of power with one hand while speaking on the phone with the other, valiantly ignoring the laws of gravity, ecological factors, common sense, and all the non-Clingons grabbing at their feet and trying to pull them to the ground.

While the Clingons traditionally exercised their power at will, typically to the distress of the humanoid serfs on the planet and elsewhere, in the past decade or so they have been so successfully challenged and infiltrated by the Process People that it is increasingly difficult to tell them apart.

Whereas older Clingons liked to brag about what they actually did, the newer ilk discovered that the Process People had it much easier for they didn't actually have to do anything - they just talked about it. They have also changed the nature of language so that adjectives have become nouns, numbers have become adjectives, and reality is but a mission statement away.

On an average day this doesn't matter much. There are enough humanoid serfs around to actually do what needs to be done, so the elites can concentrate on impacting, strategizing, partnering, thinking, reporting, commenting and holding conferences about what is happening. Where this breaks down, however, is when the things that need to get done suddenly become too large and too real - as on September 11 or when someone decides to start a war.

The response of the Clingons to September 11 reflected their subversion by the Process People: the first thing they thought of was to create a new bureaucracy second only to that of the Pentagon. Their assumption that this would make us safe illustrates what happens to the brain after years of inactivity. Like higher functioning autistics, the neo-Clingons could only recycle what already filled their minds and perseverate about it rather than respond in a pragmatic and rational fashion based on judgment, perception, and experience, informed and adjusted by the actual situation in which they found themselves.

Thus we were presented with a series of suggestions - some of them deadly, some just silly - about how we might react to a bio-chemical attack. The local colonial government - long in the grips of the Process People - even inexplicably suggested that pet owners stock up a longer supply of food for their animals than for themselves and the city's health department went out and hired one of the city's least effective ex-mayors to conceptualize, integrate, and communicate its own anti-terrorism strategy for a mere $236,000.

The Washington Post reported that a D.C. official acknowledged that former mayor Sharon Pratt did not know "specifically" about bio-terrorism. On the other hand, according to the contract, her five-year-old consulting company "has the capability to provide the necessary expertise based on its established relationships." Which is to say, it's not what you know, but who.

Said a department official, "She came with some big management expertise before she was mayor. We needed someone to represent and to think strategically as to how, where and what we need to do to interact with that office."

When, on a subsequent talk show, I pressed her as to how many emergency beds would be available in town should a bio-chemical crisis arise an hour from now, she was unable to give me an answer but said that officials were attempting to improve "surge capacity," not to mention planning for "syndromic disease surveillance programs."

Under the agreement, Pratt is to meet with high-level government officials and write a report outlining opportunities and tentative communications and resource-sharing agreements. The report is to include timelines for achieving collaborative goals and solutions to potential obstacles.

But, when the bomb goes off, who has time for achieving collaborative goals?

What is far more frightening though, and more immediately relevant, is that the Process People have also taken over key elements of our military. This has been going on for some time, although still not generally recognized. As early as the late 1980s, the Pentagon began talking about things such as a "generic composite peer competitor," "myriad formless threats,' and even an "asymmetrical niche opponent." If only we had only known then that they were thinking about Iraq.

Today many of our top generals are verbally barely distinguishable from your average management consultant. Take, for example, that former haven for plain talk, the Coast Guard. Its current commandant, Admiral Thomas Collins, in just one recent speech, managed to use the following phrases:
Comprehensive legislative framework to enhance. . . systematic approach . . . assessing vulnerabilities. . . protecting vital infrastructure, partnering with others at home and abroad. . . acquire and build Critical Security Capabilities. . . prepare our forces to transition easily "Between homeland security and homeland defense operations. . . sustain a lasting partnership between the military and law enforcement communities. . . flexibility to embrace necessary change, while maintaining vital continuity in service, is crucial to our enduring commitment to operational excellence.
It was especially comforting to know that "we have developed state-of-the-art techniques for assessing crew endurance risks; we have instituted new crew endurance management principles into our operational doctrines." If Admiral Collins had been around at the right time, the Lifesaving Service would have undoubtedly been called the US Maritime Endurance Management Collaborative.

This sort of gobblygook has spread throughout the military so that we now hear grown men with lots of medals talking about a 'robust battlefield environment; a commander complaining that "the enemy we're fighting is a bit different from the one we war-gamed against," and a Pentagon representative reassuring us that the Secretary of Defense believes in "a mix of services and capabilities they offer."

While such language is initially used as a way to deceive others, it soon becomes a form of self-deception because it is based to an extraordinary degree on abstract and ultimately meaningless euphemisms. Language forms the structure of thought and increasingly in Washington that structure, even in the military, is one of cards rather than of bricks.
Reality becomes indistinguishable from the mushily contrived.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The real issue behind gay marriage

Sam Smith – The gay marriage case before the Supreme Court is not really about gay marriage as much as it is about something that isn’t being talked about much: freedom of religion.

The Constitution calls upon the government to make no law "respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof".

If there was true freedom of religion in this country, it is clear that gay marriage would be legal everywhere.

Once you remove the legal gobbledygook from the arguments, what is driving the efforts against gay marriage is a small group of Chistian evangelists.

A recent poll, for example, find that even 60% of Catholics support gay marriage as do 62% of mainline white Protestants, 77% of Jews, 84% of Buddhists and 55% of Hindus. Another poll found that even 40% of evangelical millennials support it and 60% of Republican millennials under 30.

Among the religions approving or accepting gay marriage to some degree one finds Episcopalians, Presbyterians, United Church of Christ, and Unitarians. There is even acceptance in American Indian culture – the concept of two spirit people as described by Wikipedia:

Not all tribes have rigid gender roles, but, among those that do, some consider there to be at least four genders: masculine man, feminine man, masculine woman, feminine woman. The presence of male-bodied two-spirits "was a fundamental institution among most tribal peoples" and, according to Will Roscoe, both male- and female-bodied two-spirits have been documented "in over 130 North America tribes, in every region of the continent."

Which pretty much leaves you with evangelical Christians, Mennonites, Seventh Day Adventists, Orthodox Jews, Theravada Buddhists and Catholic officials (albeit not a majority of their congregation) who think gay marriage is unacceptable or evil.

The opponents like to cite tradition in defense of their position, but in reality the tradition they are speaking of is a religious one based on the faith to which they belong. And there is no way tradition should get to trump the Constitution in court.

Thus, should the Supreme Court rule against universal gay marriage, it essentially will be granting superior legal status to some religions over others. If you are a running water Baptist in Alabama your view on this religious matter will carry the force of law while Unitarians will have to accept your view or move to another state

And that’s about as unconstitutional as it gets.

My easy and fully legal alternative, as I have noted before: if you don’t like gay marriage, don’t marry a gay.   

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Why is Hilary Clinton in so much trouble so early?

Sam Smith – I confess I’ve been a bit startled by all the trouble that Hillary Clinton has found herself in more than a year before she’s due to be nominated at her party convention.

Even the stupid Republican stuff – like the Benghazi incident – has gained a prominence you wouldn’t have expected if the Secretary of State had been, say, Bill Clinton. And the email controversy isn’t the sort of issue you would expect a clever politician to let come to the fore so easily and with so many bad answers.

But then as I thought about it more, I realized that there has been a noticeable difference in the way Hillary Clinton and her husband handle their curves and cons . HRC actually has a long history of not doing it all that well while WJC seems to get away with everything.

One theory I’ve come up with is that to be a really good hustler you have to have grown up around hustlers and see life as a perpetual con rather than an entitlement.

One of Bill Clinton’s early national cons, for example, was that he had been raised in a place called Hope. The problem with this is that when he was seven years old his family moved to Hot Springs, a fact that rarely would get mentioned in the media.

Hot Springs is where Al Capone is said to have had permanent rights to suite 443 of the Arlington Hotel. Clinton's stepfather was a gun-brandishing alcoholic who lost his Buick franchise through mismanagement and his own pilfering. He physically abused his family, including the young Bill. His mother was a heavy gambler with mob ties. According to FBI and local police officials, his Uncle Raymond -- to whom young Bill turned for wisdom and support -- was a colorful car dealer, slot machine owner and gambling operator, who thrived (except when his house is firebombed) on the fault line of criminality.

Paul Bosson, a Hot Springs prosecutor, put it this way: “In Hot Springs, growing up here, you were living a lie. You lived a lie because you knew that all of these activities were illegal. I mean, as soon as you got old enough to be able to read a newspaper, you knew that gambling in Arkansas was illegal, prostitution was illegal. And so you lived this lie, so you have to find some way to justify that to yourself and, you know, you justify it by saying, Well,’ you know, ‘it's okay here.’"

As Clinton’s mother, Virginia Kelly once said, “Hot Springs was so different. We had wide-open gambling, for one thing, and it was so wide open that it never occurred to me that it was illegal - it really didn't - until it came to a vote about whether we were going to legalize gambling or not. I never was so shocked.”

Going back the 1930s, Hot Springs represented the western border of organized crime in the U.S with the local syndicate headed by Owney Madden, a New York killer who had taken over the mob's resort in Arkansas. Owney Madden was an English born gang member who had been arrested more than 40 times in New York by the time he was 21. Madden got the assignment from his boss, Myer Lansky. The plan for Arkansas was modeled on an earlier one in which Governor Huey Long opened a Swiss bank account into which the mob would put $3 to $4 million annually for the right to run casinos in the state. Lansky then moved to Hot Springs where he hired Madden, former operator of Harlem's Cotton Club. According to one account, "The Hot Springs set up was so luxurious and safe that it became known as a place for gangsters on the lam to hole up until the heat blew over." And Hot Springs was where Lucky Luciano was arrested and brought back for trial prosecuted by Thomas E.Dewey.

Now compare this with Hillary Clinton’s childhood as described in Wikipedia:
Hillary Diane Rodham … was raised in a United Methodist family, first in Chicago and then, from the age of three, in suburban Park Ridge, Illinois. Her father, Hugh Ellsworth Rodham, was of Welsh and English descent; he managed a successful small business in the textile industry. .. As a child, Hillary Rodham was a teacher's favorite at her public schools in Park Ridge. She participated in sports such as swimming and baseball and earned numerous awards as a Brownie and Girl Scout. She attended Maine East High School, where she participated in student council, the school newspaper, and was selected for National Honor Society. For her senior year, she was redistricted to Maine South High School, where she was a National Merit Finalist and graduated in the top five percent of her class of 1965.
When you consider the pair’s subsequent history it’s becomes clear that while Bill was a street hustler and, as Senator Bob Kerry said in 1996, “an exceptionally good liar,” Hillary dealt with her crises as though they were a challenge to entitlements resulting from all her achievements. Thus those who questioned her activities were “haters” or part of a “vast right wing conspiracy."

To be a victim of a conspiracy against you and your husband is one thing; for it to become vast seems somewhat narcissistic.

Her hyper-self assessment led her at one point, Brian Wiliams style, to claim on New Zealand television that she was named after Sir Edmund Hillary. At the time of Mrs. Clinton's birth, Edmund Hillary was an unknown beekeeper.

This was not the only time this sort of thing happened. In 2009 the Times of London reported:
Hillary Clinton . . . was back in Belfast last week, giving a gentle push to politicians dragging their heels over a final piece in the peace process jigsaw. But according to the Sunday Life newspaper, during a speech she made to the Stormont parliament, she said that Belfast's landmark Europa Hotel was devastated by an explosion when she first stayed there in 1995.

The Europa, where most journalists covering the decades-long conflict stayed, was famed as Europe's most bombed hotel, earning the moniker "the Hardboard Hotel". However, the last Provisional IRA bomb to damage the Europa was detonated in 1993, two years before President Clinton and his wife checked in for the night. The last time the Europa underwent renovations because of bomb blast damage was in January 1994, 22 months before the presidential entourage booked 110 rooms at the hotel.

Mrs Clinton told assembled politicians at Stormont: "When Bill and I first came to Belfast we stayed at the Europa Hotel . . . even though then there were sections boarded up because of damage from bombs."
And describing her visit to Bosnia, she said, "I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport but we just ran with our heads down to get in the vehicles to get to our base." After archive news footage was shown of her walking calmly from her plane with her daughter, Hillary Clinton admitted: "I did mis-speak the other day”

Thus it is not surprising some questioned other claims such as:
  • · She played pickup basketball when she was young
  • · Telling New York voters that she had been a Yankees fan when she lived in Chicago.
  • · Telling upstate New York voters that she had been a duck hunter.
And then there has been the constant rearrangement of reality. For example, in 1997 HRC was pictured reading to sick kids. The problem: sick children don't look that cute, especially those who are bald from cancer treatments or fitted out with tubes and such. The solution: replace the sick children with well versions belonging to the hospital staff. It worked beautifully.

And then there is the repeated specification of reality such as reported by Laura Myers in the Las Vegas Review-Journal:
Hillary Rodham Clinton likes to travel in style. She insists on staying in the “presidential suite” of luxury hotels that she chooses anywhere in the world, including Las Vegas. She usually requires those who pay her six-figure fees for speeches to also provide a private jet for transportation — only a $39 million, 16-passenger Gulfstream G450 or larger will do.

And she doesn’t travel alone, relying on an entourage of a couple of “travel aides,” and a couple of advance staffers who check out her speech site in the days leading up to her appearance, much like a White House trip, according to her contract and supporting documents concerning her Oct. 13 speech at a University of Nevada, Las Vegas Foundation fundraiser.

.... Documents obtained by the newspaper show that she initially asked for $300,000 and reveal that she insists on controlling every detail of the private event, large and small, to ensure that she will be the center of attention.

“It is agreed that Speaker will be the only person on the stage during her remarks,” according to the May 13 contract the Harry Walker Agency signed for Clinton’s keynote address at the Bellagio.

According to her standard speaking contract, Clinton will remain at the event no longer than 90 minutes; will pose for no more than 50 photos with no more than 100 people; and won’t allow any press coverage or video- or audio-taping of her speech.

The only record allowed will be made by a stenographer whose transcription will be given only to Clinton. The stenographer’s $1,250 bill, however, will go to the UNLV Foundation.

The foundation, meanwhile, is prohibited from advertising the event on radio, TV or billboards. Mail and website ads are allowed, although Clinton staffers must approve in writing any promotional material. One unhappy UNLV Foundation official in an email complained of “meddling” after Clinton’s agency edited a description of the annual dinner to “dumb it down.”

And Clinton’s demand for approval of all website material before it hits the Internet prompted a UNLV Web designer to grouse in an email that it seems “assbackwards in my mind.”

According to a May 31, 2013 email, Clinton’s standard contract usually includes... Hotel accommodations selected by Clinton’s staff and including “a presidential suite for Secretary Clinton and up to three (3) adjoining or contiguous single rooms for her travel aides and up to two (2) additional single rooms for the advance staff.”
And there is a long history of treating criticism not with countering facts but as if it were a personal affront to someone above such criticism.

During the 1992 campaign, Hillary Clinton defended her role in the Madison Guarantee S&L scandal by saying, "I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas. But what I decided to do was pursue my profession, which I entered before my husband was in public life."

Forgotten, however, is what inspired this homily: accusations that Ms. Clinton had represented Whitewater business partner Jim McDougal's S&L before her husband's government. Here's what the New York Times reported on March 17, 1992: "Hillary Clinton said today that she did not earn 'a penny' from state business conducted by her Little Rock law firm and that she never intervened with state regulators on behalf of a failed Arkansas savings and loan association. . . "

Records would show that she did, in fact, represent Madison before the state securities department. After the revelation, she says, "For goodness sakes, you can't be a lawyer if you don't represent banks."

Finally, there is a curious indifference to how others might respond to her concealing information. For example, long before her 5,000 missing emails cropped up, in 1996 she talked to Jim Lehrer on PBS News Hour about the problem:
JIM LEHRER: Are you keeping a diary? Are you keeping good notes on what's happened to you?

HILLARY CLINTON: Heavens no! It would get subpoenaed. I can't write anything down. (laughing)

JIM LEHRER: So well, when it comes time to write this book, you're just going to sit down and try to remember all this?

HILLARY CLINTON: I have tons of, you know, schedules and information and all that stuff, but you know, there's been a real crimp put in history by these absurd investigations that have gone on where people, you know, don't even want to, you know, say I had dinner last night with--because if you say that, the person you had dinner with is likely to get called before some committee somewhere.
She added that her comments would be used to "go after and persecute every friend of mine, everybody I've ever talked with, everyone I've had a conversation with. ~ It's very sad."

Which may explain why she had to pay Barbara Feinman $120,000 to ghostwrite It Takes a Whole Village, albeit without credit and even claiming in the preface: "It takes a village to bring a book into the world, as everyone who has written one knows. Many people have helped me to complete this one, sometimes without even knowing it. They are so numerous that I will not even attempt to acknowledge them individually, for fear that I might leave one out."

The thing that all these tales have in common is that a really good hustler would have done it far better. Mixing ego and con just doesn’t work well. Which is why Hillary Clinton finds herself in so much trouble so early in the campaign.

I know her husband hasn’t been all that faithful, but maybe in such matters, he could give her some good advice.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The biggest threat to America: Ourselves

Sam Smith 20011 - Based on facts and not posturing, the greatest damage to the United States over the past decade has been done by its politicians and their embedded media rather than Al Qaeda and similar groups. For example:

- During this period the United States government has not taken a single significant step to reduce hostility towards it in the Muslim world, thereby serving as a continuous de facto recruiting tool for Al Qaeda et al. After all, the best way to reduce the appeal of the most extreme is to meet the concerns of the most rational.

- Excessive spending for unnecessary and counterproductive military conflict has done far more damage to the country's fiscal state than Al Qaeda could even imagine.

- The dismantling of the Constitution and the steady drift towards a police state damages our safety or freedoms, and supports the arguments of Al Qaeda et al.

- Finally, and hardly ever mentioned, the US government has been over three times more deadly to its citizens due to its policies than has Al Qaeda and similar groups. In addition, as this rare and remarkable 2009 chart by Stephen Walt in Foreign Policy illustrates, we have also killed over a quarter million Muslims, hardly a good approach to a safer America.

In short, our policies over the past decade have been probably the most counterproductive and damaging to the country we claim to be defending that America has ever pursued.

What too many journalists no longer understand about corruption

Sam Smith - At some point in recent decades, Washington - from the White House to Capitol Hill to the lobbyists and to the media - adopted a novel notion: that if what you do fails to result in indictment or impeachment, it is okay.

These are the rules our capital city currently observes. As any normal parent or teacher knows, however, it is not a particularly good approach to morality. Nonetheless, it's just fine with people like Michael Tomasky of the Daily Beast, witness this item:
Clinton has been in our faces for 20-plus years. Where is any evidence of real corruption? I don’t mean stuff you may not have liked or that kinda looked funny. I mean actual, Rhode-Island-style, steal-a-hot-stove corruption.

Don’t say Whitewater. She endured millions of dollars’ worth of investigations by a prosecutor (Ken Starr) who quite obviously wanted to nail her to the wall, and he came up with nothing. I still remember, by the way, the hopped-up political atmosphere after Bill Safire wrote a column calling her a “congenital liar” and predicted that she was going to be indicted any day now. It was not unlike the mood this week, as we anticipate The New York Times and The Washington Post’s reducing themselves into effectively collaborating with Fox News to trumpet Peter Schweizer’s book, Clinton Cash. But Safire was wrong, as he in fact so often was about so many things, and Starr never got her.

Cattle futures, billing records—it’s all the same. Thousands of people, people who hate her and want to see her thrown in jail, have been over and over and over these things. I know the fact that she walks freely among us suggests to many people that she and Bill are so brilliantly devious that they always knew exactly how to get away with it. But just maybe Occam’s Razor applies here, and she’s never done anything illegal.
And Tomasky is not alone. For example a recent  Quinnipiac poll reports:
American voters say 54 - 38 percent that Clinton is not honest and trustworthy, a lower score than top Republicans. Voters say 62 - 34 percent that she has strong leadership qualities, besting Republican men by margins of 10 percentage points or higher.
Extrapolate that and you find that only a little more than a third of voters see honesty and trustworthiness as a strong leadership quality.  Which tells a lot about our times.

Having lived in the Rhode Island cited by Tomasky, as well as in places like Boston and Philadelphia when I was young. I can assure you that, on average, political corruption is an offense that is fun to talk about and, theoretically, indictable, but hardly ever indicted.

Until the last couple of decades, every self respecting reporter understood that. Now, according to the media and our political leaders, as long as you're not arrested you're okay.

Which is one more thing that makes being a parent or a teacher so hard these days.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

What baseball and poker can teach us about climate change

From our overstocked archives

Sam Smith, 2009  - One thing is clear as the climate change debate chugs along: we need to teach math better in our schools. And it wouldn't hurt if journalism schools taught some math as well.

For example, it is apparent that those who argue that one good snow storm destroys the case for climate change never got a good introduction to odds and averages.

An exception seems to be baseball. I have never heard a critic of ecological theory argue that a good hitter's failure to get to base in a particular game indicates that he should be immediately traded. Sometimes it's because he swings badly and sometimes because the pitch is low and outside, but nobody says that's proof he's a bad hitter.

Yet, have one cold winter and they want to dump climate change.

I'm mystified by this. My only explanation is that sports writers have done a far better job getting people to understand (or just accept) things like odds and averages than scientists or journalists. The unfortunate thing is that too many seem to think they only apply to sports.

Maybe we should have a Monday Night Climate Countdown on TV.

There are some other people good at figuring out odds and averages, such as poker players.

In 1997, I offered a poker player's guide to environmental risk assessment. Key points included:
1. Figure the stakes as well as the odds.

2. The odds of something happening at any moment are not the same as the odds of something ever happening. In ecological calculations - especially ones in which the downside could ruin your whole millennium - it is the latter odds that are important.

3. When confronted with conflicting odds, ask what happens if each projection is wrong. Temporary job loss because of environmental restrictions may come and go, but the loss of the ozone layer is something you can have forever.

4. When confronted with conflicting odds, remember that you don't have to play the game. There are other things to do with your time - or with the economy or with the environment - that may produce better results. Thus, instead of playing poker you could be making love. Or instead of getting jobs from some air or water degrading activity, the same jobs could come from more benign industry such as retrofitting a whole city for solar energy.

5. Don't let anyone - in industry, government, or the media - define an "acceptable level of risk" for your own death or disease. They may not have the same vested interest in the right answer as you do.

6. If the stakes are too high, the game is not worth it. If you can't stand the pain, don't attempt the gain.
So if someone tells you that the snow outside proves there's no global warming, remind them that this year, Albert Pujols  - six-time Silver Slugger who has led the National League in home runs, batting average, doubles and RBI - only got a hit 33% of the time.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

How you became the enemy

From our overstocked archives

Sam Smith, 1997 - At the end of the Cold War, a top Soviet official promised America one last horrible surprise. We are, he said, going to deprive you of an enemy. The official turned out to be more perceptive about American politics than many in Washington. In at least one Pentagon office there is still a sign that reads: WANTED: A GOOD ENEMY.

Mostly unreported, America's political and military planners have been working hard developing an external threat to compensate for the disappearance of the USSR. Although in the short run, the Pentagon has been remarkably successful in exempting itself from the deficit-cutting hysteria, there is always the danger that the public and politicians might start asking too many questions. Even those defense contractors whose basic expertise is the creation of weapon cost overruns are hedging their bets. A slew of these companies, for example, are bidding to take over the Texas social welfare system, thus diversifying from one form of human misery to another.

Lately the military's dilemma has come a bit more out in the open thanks to something called the Quadrennial Defense Review, a sort of Olympics of Pentagon budgetary navel gazing. In the subsequent angst as displayed in policy papers, conferences, and trade journals, it still appears that the military and foreign policy junkies lack a decent foe.

So uncertain is their trumpet, in fact, that planners have been forced to resort to abstractions that are not only uninformative, they are truly absurd. I am not speaking of euphemisms, mind you, for a euphemism is word or phrase substituted for something else. In this case, there is no something, at least until around 2010 when it is optimistically projected that a non-euphemistic enemy might actually emerge.

In the meanwhile, we just have to make do with -- and spend hundreds of billions to protect ourselves against -- a generic composite peer competitor, myriad formless threats, or even, god forbid, an asymmetrical niche opponent. (What did you do in the last war, daddy? Well, son, I killed 14 generic composite peer competitors and would have wasted more if a frigging asymmetrical niche opponent hadn't got me in the chest.)

To produce a justification for defending against such gossamer threats, retired Vice Admiral John Shannahan of the Center for Defense Information notes that the Department of Defense has "day by day, hour by hour plans" to make sure that its version of the quadrennial defense review is reflected in federal appropriations and the public prints. As every Pentagon official knows, the most predictable threat to the American military is the budget cycle. Franklin C. Spinney, a top DOD budget analyst who has recused himself from the current charade, describes his colleagues as busy changing charts and changing colors on the changing charts as they plan for the future. "They're off in virtual reality," he suggests.

Toys, not boys

For all the new jargon, there is something strangely familiar about it all. In fact, the QDR is at heart a repackaging of military modernization plans first created in the last days of the Cold War. Much of it has little to do with defending America from enemies known and unknown. Rather, argue critics, its purpose is to manufacture threats to justify the current force structure -- including the 45% of the military (more than 600,000 people) who perform non-combat functions (such as preparing charts for the Quadrennial Defense Review).

The QDR is propelled by budgets, not strategy. Not only that, it is driven by a particular sort of budget, exemplified by another poster found recently at military bases to advertise Armed Forces Day. The sign shows ships (including, strangely, an obsolete battleship), planes and tanks, but absolutely no human beings. This is fitting because the modern military is not so much about fighting men and women as about equipment sold to the military by corporate men and women. The saying is that it's about "toys, not boys."

The Pentagon lobbyists and their contractors are brilliant at keeping this DOD money machine churning. They have even revived Star Wars, that megabuck fraud of the Reagan era well described as a system that doesn't work designed to be used against a threat that doesn't exist.
We will protect your purchasing power -- Budget director Franklin Raines to a meeting of high-level Pentagon officials.
More modest goals include selling Congress hugely expensive weapon systems on the specious grounds that they will be cheaper to operate than older versions. By the time Congress discovers that the operating cost estimates are wrong (something it might have surmised if it had used common sense instead of lobbyists' press releases) the defense contractors involved are billions richer and ready to recycle the scam one more time. The stakes are not insignificant. A typical fighter plane at the end of the Cold War cost about $28 million. Ten years from now, your run-of-the-mill fighter will set you back $88 million.

Waiting for Godzilla

Of course, just as people really can be out to get paranoids, so even a rampantly misguided military establishment can really face some serious threats. This fact raises America's military myopia from absurdity into the realm of justifiable concern.

An open discussion of such threats, however, is virtually impossible. Even the right to talk about such things is a tightly held prerogative of the mandarin class. The Council of Foreign Relations, a cult-like like organization that journalist Richard Hardwood approvingly calls "the nearest thing to a ruling establishment in America," routinely holds meetings at which participants (including guests) are prohibited from speaking about what transpired.

It's not that one would really want to listen to much of it. The men and women who have designated themselves the guardians of America's future policies are among the most boring and unimaginative folk one finds in Washington. Many are like those described by LBJ as having gone to Princeton and ended up in the CIA because their daddies wouldn't let them into the brokerage firm. Still it is not too comforting to realize that in the quiet places of Washington, the first half of the 21st century (as they never tire of calling what the rest of us call the future) is in the hands of the conceptually dyslectic.

And the media is not about to challenge these folk. One good reason may be found in a 1995 membership roster of the Council on Foreign Relations as reported by Public Information Research. Here are just a few of the media CFRers:
Roone Arledge, Sidney Blumenthal, David Brinkley, Tom Brokaw, William F. Buckley Jr., Hodding Carter III, John Chancellor, Arnaud de Borchgave, Joan Didion, Leonard Downie Jr., Elizabeth Drew, Rowland Evans Jr., James Fallows, Leslie Gelb, David Gergen, Katharine Graham, Meg Greenfield, Jim Hoagland, Warren Hoge, David Ignatius, Robert Kaiser, Marvin Kalb, Joe Klein, Morton Kondrake, Charles Krauthammer, Irving Kristol, Jim Lehrer, Anthony Lewis, Michael Lind, Jessica Matthews, Jack Nelson, Walter Pincus, Norman Podhoretz, Dan Rather, Stephen Rosenfeld, A. M. Rosenthal, Diane Sawyer, Hederick Smith, Laurence Tish, Garrick Utley, Katrina vander Heuval, Milton Viorst, Ben Wattenberg, Lally Weymouth, Roger Wilkins, and Mortimer Zuckerman.
Ask any of these people what went on at their last CFR tête-à-tête and you'll probably find their concern for a free press rapidly evaporating. Katherine Graham, for example, once told a CIA gathering: "There are some things the general public does not need to know and shouldn't."

There are substantial implications to all this. If, for example, the CFR puts out a report decrying restraints on the CIA, may we infer that the aforementioned concur? If not, how many have publicly stated their disagreement? How, in fact, can we tell what is going on if foreign policy discussions are handled in the manner of meetings of the Masons, Montana Militia, or Skull & Bones?

The rest of the liberal establishment, for its part, is sometimes willing to challenge the Pentagon on cost grounds, but becomes considerably more befuddled when considering strategy and downright timid when confronted with growing evidence of military intervention in civilian life.

Part of the problem stems from the lack of a coherent liberal foreign strategy short of supporting the UN, Israel and Nelson Mandela. Part of it stems from the chronic cowardice of contemporary liberalism. But the biggest challenge comes the fact that liberals have bedded down with the most right-wing president of modern times. The price for this includes going along with Clinton's schizophrenic, short-term, and amoral foreign and military policies, which are driven far more by the needs of major campaign contributors than by American interests.

Building a threat

Nowhere is this more apparent than in our policy towards China. If there is to be a real "peer competitor" in the foreseeable future, China easily makes the finals. As the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lt. General Patrick Hughes, told a Senate committee recently:
Overall, China is one of the few powers with the potential -- political, economic and military -- to emerge as a large scale regional threat to US interests within the next ten to twenty years. . . . In a worst-case scenario, China would view the United States as a direct military threat.
Now, if this is a fair assessment, there could be a number of reasonable responses. One might, for example, demote China to a trade category somewhat below that of most favored nation. One might be fairly strict about concessions such as permitting them only after improvements in China's treatment of its own people. One might maintain a cool civility of relations or even make bombastic noises from time to time just to stay in practice.

What one would likely not do as President -- if the opinions of the DIA director are worth a jot or a tittle -- is:
· Let persons with close ties to the Chinese government (and particularly its military) play major roles in your political fundraising machine and get access to top secret materials.

· Ship highly advanced computers and software to the Chinese.

· Help the Chinese get advanced fighter aircraft technology.

· Pretend that Tiananmen Square was just an unfortunate faux pas.
Yet the fact is that we currently have two contradictory policies towards China. One, enunciated by General Hughes and costing us hundreds of billions a year in military spending; the other, practiced by President Clinton and his political machine, in which all of America and its economy seems to have become a loss leader designed to attract the Chinese.

Admittedly, there has been similar schizophrenia in the past as when American corporations helped Hitler become enough of a "peer competitor" to launch his half of World War II. Or when large numbers of Ford tractors tilled the collective fields of Stalin's Soviet Union. Or when the Bush administration helped build up the Iraqi military prior to launching war against it.

But little as blatantly inconsistent has occurred in American history as the China policies being pursued today on either side of the Potomac River (and even in different parts of the Pentagon).

Much of the bizarre detail of this may not have reached the average reader, but examples include:

· Insight magazine reports that supercomputers were sold to China. Other hyper-high tech systems were sold to the China Academy of Science, apparently with the approval of then-Commerce Secretary Ron Brown and the director of the NSA.

· While his employees pumped up the budget to prepare for a Chinese threat, Defense Secretary William Cohen announced that working with China and Russia would be a cornerstone of his military policy. To make this clear, Cohen not only sent General Shalikashvili to Beijing (the flaggiest American officer to appear there in 14 years) but during the same period gave Russian defense secretary Igor Rodionov lunch, lengthy conferences, and a 19-gun salute.

· A 1995 GAO report found that the US had approved 67 export licenses to China for military-industrial products between 1990 and 1993, including $530 million of military-related technology.

· Israel is reported to be helping China build an advanced jet fighter using technology that originally came from the US.

· Another Chinese jet fighter, the FB-7, was started with US aid and assistance during the Reagan/Bush administration.
The vanishing nation

One of the reasons there is so little interest in the consequences of such policies is that modern governmental and media technocrats don't really believe in countries any more -- even their own. In a logic system overwhelmingly dominated by money and its passage from here to there, the nation-state has become a nostalgic anachronism, useful primarily as a symbol with which to appeal to aged members of the electorate on Memorial Day.

I would wager that President Clinton has evoked loyalty to America less than any president to date. Instead, patriotism has been replaced by such corporatist goals as being "globally competitive" or "maintaining productivity."

While the dubious history of jingoism may lead some to shrug off the decline of nationalism, if we are to be transformed from a major country into just another corporate conglomerate, shouldn't we at least be allowed to vote on the matter? Even the stockholders in leveraged buyouts get that much.

There is another and more subtle problem. As emotional ties to our country are diminished or severed, there becomes less and less reason to respect those protections, habits and ideals that have characterized America. Clinton's rampant contempt for civil liberties, while in part the product of the southern feudal culture from which he sprung, demonstrates how expendable constitutional values are in a system where the last line of the budget is considered more important than the first lines of the Bill of Rights and where next quarter's trade with China is considered infinitely more significant than the possibility that the next generation's might end up fighting it.

Once one has applied the puerile, short-ranged, soulless, and avaricious principles of modern corporatism to foreign and domestic policy, everything else becomes expendable: sovereignty, loyalty, democracy, freedom, happiness, decency, environment, and morality. o

This is not some future threat we face but our present condition. In the dollar-driven logic of Clintonism, behavior that in the Cold War would have been regarded as near treasonous is now considered business as usual. We still, in order to restrain anarchy, severely punish as spies those who sell secrets to foreign countries without higher authority. If however, the president or secretary of commerce support the transaction, we call it trade policy and make upbeat announcements about it.

Similarly, for nearly all our history, any US official who dared give up American territory without a struggle would be pilloried or worse. Yet today the greatest surrender of sovereignty in US history, our signature on the GATT agreement, is chalked up as an inevitable result of globalism.

This abandonment is not controversial, nor even readily apparent, because Americans simply have not been told that it has occurred. They do not know that their country -- which defeated in turn the British, the Mexicans, the Confederacy, the Spanish, the Germans (twice), the Japanese and outlasted the Soviet Union, has surrendered without a whimper to a junta of trade technocrats armed with nothing more menacing than cell phones.

They do not know that the US Trade Representative can go into court and sue any state or local government for pursuing policies at odds with the dictates of international trade tribunals -- policies that for more than two hundred years have been considered the rightful and righteous business of American governments. They are probably not aware that a three-member panel of the world Trade Organization has already ruled that the European Union's ban on hormone-treated beef is illegal, a ruling that could easily be replicated again and again against American local and state environmental, civil rights, and labor legislation.

The real war

How could our own government so blithely have betrayed us? How could our own media fail to note the coup? Simply because, once the rules of the game changed from a geographic to a corporate definition of international politics, citizenship, patriotism and national self-interest became irrelevant. Your value became not your nationality but your prevailing wage rate. Your country was no longer a homeland but a unit of production. In fact, to the extent that you still consider yourself a party to your government with actual rights and such, you have become at best a problem and at worst a threat.

The greatest change that has occurred in recent years in the relationship between governments and their people is the degree to which the former fears and distrusts the latter. Underlying this fear and distrust is the knowledge that the robber-baron paradigm of the Reagan-Bush-Clinton era has reaped a harvest of enormous hostility. Bruce Auster, writing recently in the US News & World Report, noted:
The admirals and generals have been gathering . . . to learn what enemy the visionaries from the Central Intelligence Agency see in their future. The answer, it turns out, is not Russia or China or Iraq. It's demographics. Global Trends 2010, a classified study by the CIA 's National Intelligence Council, finds that growing populations, widening gaps between rich and poor, and continuing revolutions in communications will incite new ethnic and civil conflicts."
Another study, prepared for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reports that "mass communications will vividly depict quality-of-life differences, leading to political instability in some places."

These studies tacitly admit what no politician will: that the policies of the past twenty years have been for the benefit of the few at the brutal expense of the many.

While little of such considerations creep into the Quadrennial Defense Review, this is largely because the means of containing alienated civilian populations are relatively inexpensive. The funds required to maintain a calming American presence in scores of countries would be hard to find on one of those DOD charts if placed next to, say, projected aircraft expenditures.

These funds support something the military calls "Operations Other Than War." OOTW covers a wealth of activities including policing urban areas, search and seizure, civil administration, peacekeeping, and supplying food.

According to an article in Commentary, in 1994 "Army units found themselves reacting to a host of OOTW and deterrence missions in Rwanda, Bosnia, Somalia, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Northern Iraq, Korea, Haiti, and even in California to fight forest fires."

Many of these activities are carried out by Special Operations, the command in charge of low intensity warfare and psychological operations. According to a report in the Tampa Tribune, Special Ops -- comprised of 46,000 personnel from all three services -- averages 280 missions a week in 137 countries.

Such skills can be easily transferred from Rwanda to, say, Watts. The current militarization of American civilian life is simply Operations Other Than War in a more familiar country. Let's review the bidding:

· The National Guard is now deeply involved in the War on Drugs, from flying helicopter missions to providing logistical support for police paramilitary operations in urban areas.

· JROTC courses are now found in more than 2,200 high schools involving some 310,000 students. These courses teach not only military behavior but inculcate military biases into subjects such as American history. In Washington, DC, students per-ceived to be discipline problems have been told they were required to join JROTC.

· The military is being used to train police officers, inevitably increasing the tendency of citizens to be regarded by these officers as "the enemy."

· The military is ready to provide "overflow facilities for incarceration of those convicted of drug crimes" and "rehabilitation oriented training camps" according to DOD documents. These facilities could be as easily used for incarcerating anyone else for any other reason as well.

· The century-old posse comitatus act, designed to keep the military out of civilian law enforcement, appears to be on its last legs.

· Eight-nine percent of the county's police departments, according to a recent study, have paramilitary units and some of these are used "proactively," deliberately creating fear in minority neighborhoods.

· The military is monitoring the Internet as a potential threat and is working on plans to use the Internet for psychological warfare.

· Plans by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the 1980s to take over the country in an ill-defined emergency appear to have been only partially dismantled after being exposed in the media (including TPR). Among the most striking aspect of these emergency plans was the absence of any provision for a legislature or judiciary. In any event, a long list of presidential directives provide for a massive transfer of political power to the executive branch under uncertain circumstances and even less certain constitutional protections.

Such steps have been prepared without any public debate about who should run the country in a genuine emergency. The Constitution does not address the matter directly, but since martial law is not one of the powers delegated to federal government, it seems clear that in a catastrophe -- say a nuclear attack on Washington -- the country should properly be run by the fifty states. Unfortunately, the governors of these states do not have the power to enforce this view. In fact, their state militias -- once a jealously guarded symbol that we were indeed "united states" -- have been greatly federalized

Occupying urban America
A study reported in the academic journal Social Problems found that 89% of the over 500 police departments it surveyed had fully functioning special operations units trained and modeled on military principles. For all practical purposes, these units represent a military force whose target is American communities and citizens. Not only has the number of paramilitary police units soared but the level of their activity has exploded as well. Between 1980 and 1995, the number of incidents involving paramilitary units has quadrupled.

The study, conducted by Peter B. Kraska and Victor E. Kappeler of Eastern Kentucky University, was carefully designed to elicit the cooperation of police departments. Some police officers spoke with brutal frankness:

"We're into saturation patrols in hot spots. We do a lot of our work with the SWAT unit because we have bigger guns. We send out two, two-to-four men cars, we look for minor violations and do jump-outs either on people on the street or automobiles. After we jump-out the second car provides periphery cover with an ostentatious display of weaponry. We're sending a clear message: if the shootings don't stop, we'll shoot someone."

But are these units really going after the truly dangerous? Out of all 1995 incidents, civil disturbances and terrorist events amounted to one percent each, hostage situations 4% and barricaded persons, 13%. Conducting what the police call "high risk warrant work" (overwhelmingly drug raids) accounted for 76% of the paramilitary operations.

Here are some of the other facts the researchers uncovered:

· Many paramilitary units conduct between 200 to 700 warrant or drug raids a year. These are almost exclusively no-knock entries.

· A paramilitary unit in Chapel Hill NC conducted a crack raid of an entire block in a black neighborhood. Up to 100 persons were detained and searched, all of whom were black (whites were allowed to leave the neighborhood). There were no prosecutions.

· Some 20% of the units regularly patrol just as a display of force, often dressed in extreme military garb, including ninja type uniforms. Police in Fresno CA refer to their patrol area as the "war zone."

· Such tactics are not limited to big cities. In fact, more and more smaller towns have their own paramilitary units. For example: "One mid-west police department that serves a community of 75,000 people patrols in full tactical gear using a military armored personnel carrier (termed a 'Peace Keeper' as their transport vehicle." Says the commander, "we stop anything that moves." Another town's paramilitary commander told the researchers, "When the soldiers ride in you should see those blacks scatter."

· Some of these police departments admit to using "community policing" funds for these military operations. In fact, 63% of those responding to a question on the matter agreed that the paramilitary units "play an important role in community policing strategies." One self proclaimed community policing chief said: "It's going to come to the point that the only people that are going to be able to deal with these problems are highly trained tactical teams with proper equipment to go into a neighborhood and clear the neighborhood and hold it; allowing community policing and problem oriented policing officers to come in and start turning the neighborhood around."

· The nation's capital is being turned into a Singapore on the Potomac as congressional appointees exercise plenary powers on behalf of corporate friends -- with total contempt for elected officials and the citizenry. The Washington DC school system is being run by a retired general of dictatorial inclinations and right-wing ideology. A buddy of Clarence Thomas and a man of no apparent competence in the field of education, Gen. Julius Becton commutes miles into the city and has provided high-paying jobs to old Army comrades, including the former director of the Department of Defense's only maximum security prison.

· An active duty military officer has been put in charge of a state National Guard unit for the first time in American history.

· Several active-duty special operations units have reportedly been quietly integrated into National Guard units.

· The FBI's deputy chief for domestic terrorism is an active duty colonel, despite the century-old posse comitatus act's prohibition on the military taking part in domestic law enforcement.

· Two hundred troops and nine helicopters invaded Pittsburgh the night of June 3, 1996, in what was later described as a routine training exercise but sure fooled a lot of the city's residents. They flooded 911, talk shows, and local media with worried calls. The exercise appears to have been part of an attempt to acclimatize citizens to an increasing military presence in civilian life. Similar exercises have taken place in at least 20 other cities.

· The Pentagon's manual on "domestic support operations" gives a chilling view of how the military sees its role in a post-Cold War America. Says the manual: "Today . . . is a new awareness of the benefits of military assistance to improve the nation's physical and social infrastructure." The role the military projects is extra-ordinarily broad including disaster assistance, environmental missions, law enforcement, and community action. In a section that may have been lifted from a guide to the Vietnam village pacification program, the Army notes that "domestic support operations provide excellent oppor-tunities for soldiers to interface with the civilian community and demonstrate traditional Army values such as teamwork, success-oriented attitude, and patriotism. These demonstrations provide positive examples of values that can benefit the community and also promote a favorable view of the army to the civilian population."

· A remarkable article by military historian and strategist Martin van Creveld in the Los Angeles Times last July 30 gives the flavor of what's in store. Van Creveld argued that "the military systems built up over the past decades are proving useless in the face of the greatest security threat of the next century: terrorism." The reason: these forces "have discovered that their weapons are too cumbersome and their organization too complex for anti-terrorist and anti-guerrilla actions. . .

"In many countries, militaries originally designed for interstate warfare are already taking an active part in the struggle against internal opponents. Others are preparing to take the same road. In France on July 14, police units joined the army in marching down the Champs Elysees for the first time. In the peaceful Netherlands, the Marechausee, or riot police, now forms the fourth service besides army, navy and air force. . .

"As the 20th century draws to an end, it is time that military commanders and the policy makers to whom they report wake up to the new realities. In today's world the main threat to many states, including specifically the US, no longer comes from other countries. Either we make the necessary changes, or what is commonly known as the modern world will lose all sense of security and dwell in perpetual fear."

Perpetual fear

Of course, the irony of such declarations is that a search for security based on such principles is the shortest route to a state of perpetual fear. Imagine, for example, what might have happened to England during the Blitz had it succumbed to the paranoia that now grips so many of America's military and civilian elite. Alternatively: what really would happen if we were to provide our president with the same modest level of protection as, say, a British prime minister? What if, wonders of wonders, we actually tried to deal honestly with some of the problems that lead to insurgencies in the first place?

In a recent article in National Defense, Major General David Grange and Colonel Paul Munch declare that "after reviewing the carnage of the bombs at New York City's World Trade Center and Oklahoma City's Federal Building, Tokyo's poisonous gas attack and other recent events, Congress concluded the United States is no longer immune from a catastrophic terrorist attack."

General Grange has an interest in making it seem thus. He is Director of Military Support, and in charge of training and assisting cities in coping with a guerilla attack. Some 120 cities will undergo this training in the next few years.

In fact, however, last year recorded the world's lowest number of terrorist incidents in 25 years. Only 311 people were killed -- that's one person for every 16 million persons on the planet. You stand a far better chance of being murdered in an American city than you do of being bombed for any reason (by terrorist, spouse or Mafia) anywhere in the US.

Obviously, if there is going to be a nuclear, biological or chemical attack in of these cities it makes sense to be prepared. But there are other approaches that would probably be much more successful than that of General Grange. Such as seeking the consent of the governed rather than just their containment. Such as changing American policy to support without equivocation the creation of a Palestinian state -- not at the end of some interminable "peace process" but now. Such as not replacing simple democracy, which can not be bombed away, with over-glorified and over-powered national leaders who can. The most effective anti-terrorism policy -- both in cost and lives -- is to ameliorate divisions that lead to undesired insurgencies in the first place and to have your country run by scores of low-risk democrats rather than by one easily targeted regent. That's what is called for by the Constitution. But that's not part of the current game plan.

The game plan of America's mandarins absolutely assumes a widening gap between the governed and the governing and between rich and poor, one that will have to be met by force of one sort or another. Those in power are prepared to do business with most favored nations abroad and to suppress least favored citizens at home.

This is a policy without redemption. It is not only economically cruel and profoundly anti-democratic, it is deeply subversive and destructive of American ideals and culture. Those who run the country, whether in government, business or media, seldom any-more speak of this land with feeling, affection or under-standing. They carry forth their affairs unburdened by place, history or culture -- without conscience, without country and without any sense of the pain they have caused.

America is no longer for them a place to serve and to love. And because they have, in the name of global glories, cut themselves off from their own land, it is becoming for them increasingly a place of danger -- a place of long, grim shadows, the sort of shadows that too often conceal a foe.