Archive for the ‘Government’ Category

In 2015, expect civil unrest, disaffected police

January 1, 2015

The astute John Michael Greer, whose Archdruid Report is one of my favorite blogs, predicted that the most important trends in 2015 will be the disaffection of America’s police combined with continuing civil unrest.

He said the morale of American police is at the same state as that of the American forces in Vietnam in the 1970s.  Police feel they’ve been sent into a war they can’t win, and abandoned by the civilian authority that’s nominally their superior.

I think there’s truth to that, although it’s exaggerated.  Rank-and-file police officers did not invent the “broken windows” theory of policing, which is that the way to ensure civil order is to punish every violation, no matter how minor.  Nor are they the ones who decided that the way to finance municipal government in places such as Ferguson, Missouri, is to collect traffic fines from poor people.

civil-unrest-2016Revolutions generally occur when the police and the military cease to be willing to defend existing authority against rebels.

I think there is zero chance that the military or police would go over to the side of rioting black people or even peacefully protesting black people.  Armed resistance is not a feasible option for African-Americans in the present-day USA.

Effective resistance to civil authority, as I see it, would come from armed and organized militias, such as the group that formed around rancher Cliven Bundy in his fight with the federal government over grazing fees.   They defied federal and local police with loaded weapons, and were not met with deadly force.

I believe there is a real possibility that, as the U.S. economic plight worsens, resistance to government could grow and, as military and police morale decline, resistance to government would be tolerated until it became a real threat.

If things continue as they are in the United States, I believe there is bound to be an explosion.  And, given the history of violent revolution, I do not expect anything good to come from such an explosion.

∞∞∞

Here is John Michael Greer in his own words:

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Civil authority, the CIA and two scary thoughts

December 26, 2014

The basic principle of constitutional government is that any government agency or official authorized to use lethal force is subject to legitimate civilian authority.

Governments, according to the U.S. Declaration of Independence, are instituted so that people may enjoy their alienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and they derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.

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Click to enlarge.

If the police, the military or secret intelligence agencies become laws unto themselves, then they become the government, and so-called American freedom and democracy becomes a sham.

The greatness of George Washington was that he always followed the directives of the Continental Congress, however misguided he may have thought them to be, and that, after the success of the Revolution, he refused the temptation to make himself dictator and retired to Mount Vernon until called to public service by the people.

Washington’s decision, and the precedent he set, saved the infant USA from the fate of the new Latin American republics, whose military forces regard themselves as the ultimate authority and who think they have a right and duty to step in when the civilian authority falters.

Then there was Germany in 1919-1933, prior to the rise of Hitler, when the German General Staff set its own foreign and military policy in disregard of the elected government, which did not dare to challenge it.

Our Pentagon and CIA have come to be political forces in their own right, not defying the elected government but letting it be known that their views are not necessarily the views of the elected government.

John Brennan, the head of the CIA, openly disagrees with President Obama’s condemnation of torture, and the President has not reprimanded him.  Neither has he tried to dismiss torturers from government service.  He appears to argue with his appointment, but not to exercise his authority as commander-in-chief.

Why not?  One likely possibility is that the President is not sincere in his condemnation.  Another is that he does not believe the public would support him.

A Gallup poll indicates that the American public has more confidence in the military than in any other American institution, and less confidence in Congress than any other instituion.  Twice as many have confidence in the military than in the presidency.   It’s a bad sign for a democracy when the public has more confidence in the military than in the civilians it elected.

Here’s a scary thought.

Maybe the President fears that if he ordered the CIA to operate within the Constitution and the law, it would not obey.

Here’s a scarier thought.

Maybe the President already has ordered the CIA to operate within the Constitution and the law, and it did not obey.

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Citi’s open door in Washington

December 18, 2014

imrs

Senator Elizabeth Warren recently complained about Citigroup’s influence on the congressional budget and legislative process.   This chart from the Washington Post shows Citi has a strong voice in the executive branch as well.  So do Goldman Sachs and other big Wall Street firms.

Presidential powers and Constitutional limits

December 1, 2014

mehta-datalab-executiveorders1Hat tip for the chart to David Damico.

President Obama is accused by Republicans of exceeding his Constitutional authority by issuing an executive order to allow up to 5 million unauthorized immigrants who meet certain conditions to stay in this country.

An executive order is simply a directive by a President to federal departments or the armed forces to follow a policy.

With the increase in the size and scope of the federal government, executive orders become more and more necessary to make the government work.  But so does the need for checks and balances to prevent abuse of executive power.

The Constitutional authority to issue executive orders comes from provisions vesting the “executive power” of the U.S. government in the President, making the President commander-in-chief of the armed forces and ordering the President to make sure that the laws be faithfully executed.

The most far-reaching executive order in American history was the Emancipation Proclamation.   President Lincoln claimed power as commander-in-chief to order the confiscation of property of the enemy.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued more executive orders than any other President.  On the day he was inaugurated, he ordered the temporary closing of American banks.  Another executive order was to forbid American citizens to hoard gold coins or bullion.  FDR’s most infamous executive order was the internment of Japanese-American citizens during World War Two.

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Obama-GOP compromise? I hope not

November 14, 2014

All ways in which President Obama and Republicans in Congress could reach agreement are bad for the American people.

All of President Obama’s initiatives that are good for the American people are unacceptable to the Republicans.

Bad for Americans, acceptable to Republicans

Pro-Business Trade Treaties

free-tradePresident Obama has pushed for new trade treaties that give foreign corporations the right to appeal for damages if countries pass laws that unjustly deprive them of profits.  Similar provisions in existing trade treaties have been used against environmental regulation, subsidies for renewable energy and financial regulation.  Proposed new treaties are believed to go further.

The proposed Trans Pacific Partnership agreement appears doomed, but the Trans Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (aka the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) and the Trade in Services Agreement might sneak in under the public’s radar.   Corporate American favors these treaties, so the GOP might go for them.

Weakening Social Security and Medicare

obama_cutsPresident Obama repeatedly proposed changing the formula for Social Security benefits and raising the age for Medicare, in exchange for modest tax increases on upper income brackets.  Even though the tax increases are off the table, Republicans might go for such a “grand bargain” on other issues.

Starting New Wars

Obama-and-DronesIf President Obama discovers some new threat that he says requires military intervention in a foreign country, the Republicans in Congress are sure to support him—short of actually voting authorization, which he says he doesn’t need anyway.  Likewise for new authority for surveillance, preventive detention, drone strikes, prosecution of whistle-blowers, etc.

Tar Sands Pipeline  [Added 11/15/14].

The Canadian government and Trans Canada corporation want to bring corrosive tar sands bitumen from northern Alberta to oil refineries in the United States.  Republicans in Congress are strongly in favor of this.  President Obama’s stand on the Keystone XL pipeline is uncertain, but federal regulators have already quietly approved the alternative Alberta Clipper pipeline.  Overall the President is a strong promoter of energy development, including hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.

Good for Americans, unacceptable to Republicans

Climate Change

waronglobalwarming63-300x0President Obama says that he wants laws and regulations that limit the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.  A larger segment of the Republicans deny that human-caused climate change is even taking place, let alone that something should be done about it.

Immigration Reform

The only feasible immigration reform, as I see it, is some provision providing a path to citizenship for the millions of unauthorized immigrants already in this country.  I admit this is not good, but the alternatives are worse.

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Funding government by court settlements

August 28, 2014

State governments in the USA get increasing amounts of revenue from court settlements from corporations accused of wrongdoing.  As The Economist reported, these settlements amount to big money.

So far this year, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and other banks have coughed up close to $50 billion for supposedly misleading investors in mortgage-backed bonds.  BNP Paribas is paying $9 billion over breaches of American sanctions against Sudan and Iran.  Credit Suisse, UBS, Barclays and others have settled for billions more, over various accusations.

Structured-SettlementsAnd that is just the financial institutions.  Add BP’s $13 billion settlement over the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Toyota’s $1.2 billion settlement over alleged faults in some cars, and many more.  [snip]

Rhode Island’s bureaucrats have been on a spending spree courtesy of a $500 million payout by Google, while New York’s governor and attorney-general have squabbled over a $613 million settlement from JPMorgan.  [snip]

Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, who is up for re-election, reportedly intervened to increase the state coffers’ share of BNP’s settlement by $1 billion, threatening to wield his powers to withdraw the French bank’s license to operate on Wall Street.  Why a state government should get any share at all of a French firm’s fine for defying the federal government’s foreign policy is not clear.

There are two ways of looking at this.  One is that federal prosecutors and state governments are shaking down corporations for minor offenses, much as local police and courts in communities such as Ferguson, Missouri, shake down residents for minor traffic offenses.  The other is that corporate officers are buying their way out of individual criminal liability at stockholders’ expense.

I think the second alternative is the more common, while The Economist writer apparently disagrees.  Whichever is the case, as state government becomes more dependent on corporate settlements for revenue, the more demand there will be for windfalls from future settlements.   If shakedowns aren’t common now, they will become so.  There is no good alternative to paying normal expenses of government through taxes.

The Economist’s writer is right to say that the big problem with these settlements is that they are made in secret.  Nobody knows the evidence against the corporations, and nobody knows what, if anything, they admitted to doing.

Senators Elizabeth Warren and Tom Coburn have proposed a bill that would require the terms of the settlement to be made public, and for the prosecutors and regulators to write explanations of why the cases did not go to trial.   That would be a good start.

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Why so much military equipment to give away?

August 20, 2014

Why is it that the U.S. Department of Defense has so much surplus military equipment?  So much that they have no better use for it than to give it away to local police departments?

It is hard to believe that there have been so many radical improvements in armored personnel carriers, sniperscopes and the like that the old armored personnel carriers and sniperscopes have become obsolete.

Could it be that the DOD has a problem with its procurement process?  Could it be that DOD bureaucrats regularly order more equipment than they need in order to maintain their shares of the DOD budget?

I think the armed forces should be well-armed and well-equipped, but if they have more equipment than they know what to do with, then that is a problem.

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The things that President Obama could do

August 18, 2014

butwewon'tThe excuse given by supporters of President Obama is that he is stymied by the Republican control of the House of Representatives and by Republican obstructionism in the Senate.   It is true that the congressional Republicans are determined to block the President’s programs by any legal means necessary.

But as Thomas Frank pointed out in his latest Salon article, there are many things the President could do on his own authority that would be both popular and beneficial to the nation.  They are:

Frank noted that Obama also could tell the Federal Communications Commission that Net Neutrality is the policy of his administrationHe could reclassify marijuana so that it is no longer a Class I narcoticHe could reform the federal contracting system so as to discourage outsourcing and promote good labor practicesHe could encourage whistle-blowers instead of punishing them.

So why doesn’t the President do any of these things?  It can’t be because he is worried about corporate donations for his next campaign.  He is not eligible to run again, so that is not a factor.

I see three possible explanations.  The most likely is that he genuinely believes in what he is doing.  My guess is that he thinks that the status quo, with some minor modifications to file off sharp edges, is the best that is possible in today’s world.

Another possibility is that he doesn’t want to do anything to jeopardize the kind of lucrative post-Presidential career that Bill Clinton enjoys.  And the third, which I think highly improbable, is that he is afraid, that the powers-that-be know some guilty secret or have some sort of leverage on him.

 

The American empire and its colonies

July 8, 2014

The United States of America consists of more than just 50 states.   This video describes the complex web of US colonies, territories and dependencies, all subject to taxation without representation.

If I were a citizen of Puerto Rico or Guam, I don’t think I would want to declare independence from the USA, and I don’t expect the inhabitants of these dependencies to do so.  But in the unlikely event that this happened, I would not advocate putting down the rebellion by means of armed force.

Hat tip for the video to Jack Clontz and his friend Marty.

Muzzled watchdogs: the IRS and the SEC

July 3, 2014

chart-federal-tax-gap-4.top

Bernstein_IRS_combo

About $385 billion in U.S. taxes goes unpaid every years, according to the Internal Revenue Service.   That’s equal to about 11 percent of the federal budget.

The IRS ought to have enough enforcement staff to collect that money, but the opposite is happening.   The IRS budget is down 14 percent since fiscal 2010, and it has 11 percent fewer employees.  Staff specifically assigned to enforcement is down 15 percent.

President Obama proposes a modest increase in budget and staff, but not enough to get the IRS back up to 2010 levels.  Republicans in the House of Representatives want to cut the budget even more.   Meanwhile the IRS has important new responsibilities—administering the tax credit provisions of the Affordable Care Act, and implementing the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, which is intended to stop tax evasion in foreign tax havens.

I don’t like paying taxes, and probably you don’t either.  But I pay what I owe.  If others don’t pay what they owe, then either people like me have to make up the difference or the amount is put on the national credit card for future generations to pay.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is another muzzled government watchdog.  It never has exercised its authority to require corporations to reveal political contributions, as part of their required disclosure to investors.  Mary Jo White, a Democrat who chairs the SEC, never put this on the agenda.

Last week the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee reported out the annual SEC budget.  One provision of the bill bars the SEC from making a political disclosure requirement.   So a way to monitor corporate power is being shut off before most Americans realize it exists.

LINKS

Why the GOP really wants to de-fund IRS by Jared Bernstein for The Washington Post.

Why is Washington still protecting the secret political power of corporations? by Alexis Goldstein for The Guardian.

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