Is the US Democracy on the Critical List?–3/3


Jefferson’s “Den of  Vipers and Thieves”

Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the US, saw the central bank as an unnecessary consolidation of power. He argued that it benefited investors, banks and businesses above the wider population. President Andrew Jackson, who opposed renewing the charter of the second US central bank, famously referred to it as “a den of vipers and thieves.”

Flash forward almost a century from the Fed’s founding. According to Allan Meltzer, author of The History of the Federal Reserve, “… the Fed’s decision to bail out the banks in 2008 has shaped many Americans’ current distrust of the central banking system more than the prolonged period of low interest rates. ” The public doesn’t think the government should be in the business of bailing out banks,” he says. Mike Collins, writing in in 2015, says:

The Special Inspector General for TARP summary of the bailout says that the total commitment of government is $16.8 trillion dollars with the $4.6 trillion already paid out. Yes, it was trillions not billions and the banks are now larger and still too big to fail.

The BBC quotes Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat who has built a reputation for challenging Wall Street, as saying, “If big financial institutions know they can get cheap cash from the Fed in a crisis, they have less incentive to manage their risks carefully.”

So, who owns the Federal Reserve banks? According to the website, the Federal Reserve Banks are not a part of the federal government, but they exist because of an act of Congress. Their purpose is to serve the public. So is the Fed private or public? The answer, according to the St. Louis Fed, is both:

While the Board of Governors is an independent government agency, the Federal Reserve Banks are set up like private corporations. Member banks hold stock in the Federal Reserve Banks and earn dividends.

Distinguished British-American economist and academic, Simon Johnson writes in 2012 on The Baseline  Scenario website:

Some qualified critics of the Fed feel that prominent financial sector executives and their close allies are much too involved in how the New York Fed operates. This is partly a holdover from the original Federal Reserve Act of 1913 – and reflects the political milieu of that time, in which bankers had to be persuaded to accept a central bank. But it is also an all-too-accurate reflection of where we stand today with regard to global mega-banks and the large, nontransparent and highly dangerous subsidies they extract from the rest of society by being too big to fail. The people who run global mega-banks get the upside when things go well – they are paid based on their return on equity unadjusted for risk, so they prefer a lot of debt piled on top of very little equity. When things go badly, the downside is someone else’s problem – in the first instance, typically, the Federal Reserve’s.

And the American public’s, I might add.

(The website of Provident Metals, a Dallas-based “precious metals” broker, features a brief-but-fascinating insiders’ history of The Fed.)

The Deficiencies Are Not Just Political or Economic

Beyond pure politics and economics, the United States continues to cultivate some shockingly anti-democratic derivatives which make the world wonder when seen from abroad. Racism and white supremacy movements have never been dealt with effectively in the United States, and are on the rise today, a fact which constitutes a grave flaw in the eyes of the world. (That said, the Americans in charge aren’t concerned about the “eyes of the world.”) People in advanced countries are also concerned about social and economic inequality in the United States, the unconcern for the poor and the lack of basic first-world rights and services. A country without universal health care is unthinkable for the people of the civilized world. Nor do they understand why the wealthiest, most-advanced country in the world has such an outlandish prison population. No other advanced country has that problem. What are the Americans doing wrong, they ask themselves.

Though they are admittedly dazzled by American technology, they are gravely concerned by the United States’ disrespectful, illegal and immoral policies regarding other countries, above all their aggressive wars on sovereign nations for specious or non-existent reasons. (E.g. Vietnam, Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya…) “Regime change” is not a legitimate casus belli; nor is a socialist government in power. Perhaps the greatest American irony of all in the eyes of the world is the US’s ongoing efforts to export their model of democracy. The question arises immediately: who would want to import it?

What they do export successfully are arms, military assistance, subversive techniques and regime change at the point of a gun. Their School of the Americas (aka  La Escuela de las Americas) at Ft. Benning, Georgia set the benchmark worldwide for teaching torture techniques, principally but not exclusively, to Latin America’s present and future military officers and dictators (some 34,000 of them) for more than half a century. The School was officially closed in the year 2000.  ABC News had this to say on the day of its closing:

A U.S. army facility that critics have labeled a school for dictators, torturers and assassins is being closed today. The ‘School of the Americas,’ in Fort Benning, Ga., which has for 54 years operated as a training facility for Latin American military personnel, will shut its doors after facing criticism from human rights groups for years.

The list of graduates from the School of the Americas is a who’s who of Latin American despots. Students have included Manuel Noriega and Omar Torrijos of Panama, Leopoldo Galtieri of Argentina, and Hugo Banzer Suarez of Bolivia.

Other graduates cut a swath through El Salvador during its civil war, being involved in the 1980 assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, the El Mozote massacre in which 900 peasants were killed, and the 1989 murders of six Jesuit priests.

We needn’t weep for the School of the Americas, though. In January of 2001 it reopened in the same location, run by the Defense Department rather than the Army, and with a new name. It is now known as the “Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.” Its motto is, “Libertad, Paz y Fraternidad” (Freedom, Peace, and Fraternity).

So, what’s the balance of the last 200 years for the world’s greatest democracy? Are recent United States governments living up to their high-minded Constitution? Sadly, not entirely. Since the United States was seen as the savior of the world immediately after World War II the power and prestige earned during the war went to the politicians’ heads and, always under the pretext of protecting the world from communism, the United States became more of a bully than a benefactor. As they increasingly assumed the role of policemen to the world and its ultimate ideological masters, the Americans’ star lost a lot of its shine. Where they had a reputation for decency and fair play they became renowned for cynicism and sharp dealings. It didn’t help that for decades they had been sponsoring ever-more-brutal and reliably “anti-communist” dictators from Latin America to the Middle East, and interfering in the political processes in other countries around the world.

Next on their immediate agenda of bellicosity, it seems, are Iran and North Korea. The Israelis have long had their eye on the former as potential Palestine-style lebensraum for their cramped little country and the help they get from the Americans to destabilize Iran will reveal to what extent the Israeli tail is wagging the American dog. United States leadership still feels the sting of Iran holding 52 American diplomats and other citizens hostage for 444 days from November 4, 1979, to January 20, 1981, after a group of Iranian students took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. It stands as the longest hostage crisis in recorded history. What the Americans have forgotten is the 1954 regime-change operation engineered by the CIA and British MI6 which deposed the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh “and restored the Shah to absolute power, initiating 25 years of repression and torture.” (Quote from William Blum’s Rogue State.) Mossadegh’s “crime” was to nationalize British petroleum interests in Iran.

As for North Korea, President Trump is about to find out that the game of geopolitics is not played in midnight Twitter sessions. Kim Jung-un has outsmarted the President by declaring a unilateral dismounting of North Korea’s nuclear offensive potential. When they sit down together at the negotiating table he will, I suspect, require at the same time that the United States remove their nuclear installations (along with their troops) from South Korea. Check mate.

On the American home front, perhaps the most egregious government initiative has been the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (the Trump Tax Cuts), a tremendous boon for big business which the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office sees as adding an estimated $1.455 trillion to the national debt over ten years. This tax cut for the rich entails, of course, a corresponding tax increase for Americans who are not rich. It’s a giant step in the progress of American lycanthropic democracy, a country run by werewolves.

Here is how the Americans for Tax Fairness see the results of the Trump tax cuts.

There’s a name for boasting about one thing and doing the opposite. It’s called hypocrisy. Most countries—excepting, perhaps, Iceland—feel obliged to be hypocritical from time to time, but we have never seen any other country so constantly and utterly devious as the United States of America. They would like to consider their seemingly magnanimous, disinterested policy declarations as “white lies,” “lies for your own good” or “creative use of euphemisms,” but it’s none of that. It’s pure unalloyed hypocrisy. How long can a nation go on living off myths and lies while portraying itself as the shining democracy on the hill? We shall see.

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Read more rantings in my ebook, The Turncoat Chronicles.
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Is American Democracy on the Critical List? 2/3

Lincoln fallen
If Lincoln Could Raise His Head Today…

Multi-Billionaire Brothers Change the Rules of the Election Game

The twisting of U.S. elections is enough to make a grown man cry unless that man is a lobbyist or an incumbent candidate in a national election. Election finance rules were radically changed with the 2009 Citizens United Supreme Court decision. This case was complicated and controversial, partly because it was brought before the court by an ad hoc Political Action Committee (PAC) financed by the extreme-right-wing Koch Brothers, multi-billionaires with a penchant for dabbling in politics.

The Brookings Institution’s Darrell West devised a ranking to sort out which of the larger-than-life politicized American billionaires are the most powerful, factoring in “campaign expenditures, activism through nonprofit organizations and foundations, holding public office, media ownership, policy thought leadership and behind-the-scenes influence.” At the top of his list were the Koch Brothers.

The upshot of the Citizens United initiative, the result of a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling, was that the government restriction on “independent” political spending by corporations and unions was declared unconstitutional. Some cynics might say that Citizens United opened the door to powerful interests “buying” legislators. However one would choose to express it, the foxes are definitely loose in the American election henhouse.

Lobbyists Take Over Washington

Legal lobbying has always been just another mechanism for funneling money to elected officials in exchange for fabulous favors, all at the expense of normal American citizens. But with the Citizens United decision in hand Washington lobbyists now have carte blanche in federal elections. Given the prime importance of big money in American democracy they simply support, by means of Super PACs, candidates who advanced their clients’ private agendas. To sum up, however indirectly, they buy elections wholesale.

The Electoral College: An institution to Confuse and Contain American Voters

Then there’s the Electoral College. What did the people of the United States do to deserve such a clunky, mysterious, unreliable way of distributing the votes in presidential elections, and what can be done about it? There have been many theories alleged for the creation and perpetuation of the Electoral College, but none as convincing as the real reasons, which are almost never cited.

The “official versions” have to do with the logistics of organizing an election in a vast wild country. In the 1780s early Americans were told that the sheer size of the country made it impossible for the voters to become acquainted with the candidates and their programs, so it was necessary to give the voters some help. Then, in 1804, political parties with national presence gave rise to the 12th amendment which, instead of doing the fair and logical thing and abolishing the Electoral College, modified it to its current form. It now enables presidential elections to be partisan affairs, featuring two competing tickets and separate votes for presidential and vice-presidential candidates.

Once the lack-of-voter-information objection was overcome, why wasn’t the Electoral College eliminated in favor of a direct vote count? This has to do with the principal (and unmentionable) reasons for creating and maintaining the Electoral College:

  1. The founding fathers didn’t trust the American rabble to make their own high-level political decisions. It was necessary to place a buffer between the voters and the final determination of the elections. Hence, the Electoral College.

  2. Even more important were the North-South regional issue and the question of slavery. As slaves were denied the vote, the Northern candidate was bound to win if the slave population (more than half a million) of the South was not counted. So the framers of the Constitution compromised, permitting the South to count three-fifths of the slave population as valid votes. Ironically, this then tipped the scales in favor of the southern states. For 32 of the first 36 years of constitutional government, a white slave-holding Virginian occupied the presidency.

Black people in the United States eventually got the vote, but the Electoral College continues to stumble forward to this day. This is why Donald Trump is President of the United States today even though Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election by a narrow margin.

What can be done to remedy this cruel and unusual situation? Nothing, for the time being. Such a remedy would entail a constitutional amendment approved in both the House and in the Senate, the latter requiring a two-thirds majority. Given Washington’s political realities today, that is not about to happen.

Enter the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex and the Clandestine Services

The Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex has associated itself with such a massive set of special interests and has assumed so much power in recent years that it prevails over all other powers in the country. Essential to this all-encompassing power are the clandestine services (FBI, NSA, CIA, etc.) where so much top-secret chicanery goes on that these services control top-level political and military decisions in half the world. (Those who are interested in these matters can follow a case in point in real time when President Trump sits down with the North Korean leader, Kim Jung-un in the near future.) But the American secret services, themselves, are out of control. Neither the American people nor, in many cases, their elected representatives are aware of what’s going on, so they have no way of controlling vital events in the life of the nation. The American spooks are essentially all-powerful both at home and abroad.

There are countless examples of this phenomenon in the country’s recent history. Perhaps the most egregious was the Iran-Contra affair, as the main player in the illegal dealings was the President of the United States, Ronald Reagan. According to a PBS article from their collection, The Presidents, Reagan’s dirty-tricks team (Does the name, Oliver North, ring a bell?), thwarted by explicit legal restrictions from selling arms to Iran, devised a scheme to operate behind the backs of the Congress and the people of the United States. Not only did they sell arms to Iran but they funneled part of the proceeds to the CIA’s army of Contras in Nicaragua.

Clandestine operations are able to negate the essence of democracy by their secret nature, their virtually unlimited financing and the fascination they hold for immature politicians. President Barak Obama, ostensibly an honest man committed to peace, was mesmerized by CIA operative John Brennan and the drone-assassination program to the point where the two personally selected assassination candidates in weekly meetings. Obama later named Brennan director of the CIA. (See Conor Friedersdorf’s excellent 2016 article in The Atlantic on the subject here.)

The other massive example of the reach of the American clandestine services is the secret anti-communist armies created by NATO (an all-purpose organization for infiltrating other people’s countries and advancing the American agenda) and the CIA–with help from the British MI6–in almost all European countries after the Second World War. Dubbed “Operation Gladio,” this was ostensibly a scheme to resist a theoretical Soviet occupation of Europe, but was actually used as a set of terrorist groups to instill fear of communism in European countries by carrying out random mass murders and blaming them on “the Reds.”

Other Fishy Fundamental Institutions

It’s not only the United States government and military that are out of control. There are other dodgy institutions, such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), whose website proclaims: “USAID’s work advances U.S. national security and economic prosperity, demonstrates American generosity, and promotes a path to recipient self-reliance and resilience.” This is not easy to decipher but William Blum in his book, Rogue State, says that it includes collaborating with the CIA in fixing elections in client countries.

Perhaps the most sinister of these respected institutions is the Federal Reserve System—made up of the 12 Federal Reserve banks dotted around the country, the most important one being the New York Fed. They respond to no elected power, not the President, not the Congress nor the Supreme Court. And the Fed is not even a government agency; it’s a private business with all Americans under its economic suzerainty.  How did this happen? It’s been a long, winding road, starting with the founding of the Federal Reserve System in 1913. According to the Fed’s own website, “it was created by the Congress to provide the nation with a safer, more flexible, and more stable monetary and financial system.”

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Read more rantings in my ebook, The Turncoat Chronicles.
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