Edenville Dam Collapses

Capitalize the Profits, Socialize the Losses

We sure do have a way of making the news lately. On Tuesday, May 19th, both the Edenville and Sanford dams were breached- Edenville via a collapse and Sanford via flooding over the top of the structure. Over 10,000 people from the Midland, MI area had been evacuated with many homes lost due to historic flood waters. 

Let’s go through the situation with the Edenville Dam, which is owned by Boyce Hydro, but in the process of being transferred to a municipal entity called the Four Lakes Task Force (chaired by a former Dow Chemical Executive). In the time Boyce has owned Edenville Dam beginning in 2004, they have consistently skirted and ignored regulations required for their license to generate power and thus profit. 

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) recently issued a report of the dam. It did not go well. 

According to the report

Since acquiring the project in 2004, Boyce has repeatedly failed to comply with requests by the Regional Engineer and other Commission staff to develop and implement plans and schedules to address the fact that the project spillways are not adequate to pass the probable maximum flood, thereby creating a grave danger to the public.

The report continues (bold is mine): 

In addition, Boyce has engaged in unauthorized construction and earth-moving without obtaining the approval of the Chicago Regional Engineer, has failed to file and implement a public safety plan necessary to protect recreational users of project facilities, has failed to construct required recreation facilities and improperly restricted public access to project lands and waters, has not retained ownership interests in project lands necessary to ensure that it can comply with Commission requirements, and has failed to comply with the project’s water quality monitoring plan. Commission staff has had repeated discussions with the licensee and has issued numerous orders requiring compliance, to no avail

FERC then issued another compliance order in 2017 based off their failure to comply with previous orders, to which Boyce predictably “did not come into compliance”. Next year, in 2018, the FERC revoked Boyce’s license to generate power from the dam. 

A year later in 2019, Boyce agreed to sell Edenville Dam to the Four Lakes Task Force for $9.4 million. Four Lakes has, to its credit, invested $300,000 into repairs and upgrades with another $2 million originally planned next winter that have been raised from community members. But apparently, the repairs didn’t come quickly enough. The community is left, as usual, to pay for the costs of this failure while Boyce continues to chase private profits. 

Mask Off

Crises like these can have a way of stripping off veneers of delusion, allowing us to more clearly see reality than we did before. Case in point: the bait and switch of deregulation. We’ve been trained to loathe even the word regulation- it sounds overbearing and unnecessary. But the reality is environmental regulations and the agencies that enforce them are vital to, in this case…not have your home flooded or destroyed. And when we skimp on these regulations as a result of a culture loathe to accept regulations, we get burned over and over again. 

We can already tell that corporate entities and big businesses own the country. Our economic system of capitalist production requires businesses to skirt laws and regulations to the limit they can get away with it. If a given company chooses to abide by a regulation and a competitor chooses to take the risk by violating it, that competitor is now at a competitive advantage and stands to make more profit, which is the only aim of business. 

A cruel irony for corporate entities in this case is that they do, in fact, still have to reside in the world they are strangling to death for next quarter’s profit margins. The problem? Their only objective as a business requires them to not learn this lesson. 

Why Our Media Fails

All it takes is a passing glance at most of our media to see how terrible it is- that is, if their objective is to report meaningful reality. 

Fortunately, Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky, in 1988, dissected why and attempted to explain the phenomenon in their groundbreaking book called Manufacturing Consent (there’s also a documentary on it which can be found on YouTube. Back in 1988, a large portion of the media was mainly consolidated to nine major companies. Today, that number is down to about five, allowing for the possibility of this monstrosity to actually exist. 

So much of our media consists of either ridiculous stories not important to our lives, narrow Democrat vs Republican discourse, or simply neglects to cover hard-hitting stories that report truth to power. Manufacturing Consent proposed the Propaganda Model to explain the failure of mass media through five filtering mechanisms that help shape the final end product of news. 

Herman and Chomsky smashed the previously given notions that the media are adversarial to power, that they serve the public, and that they are merely objective purveyors of fact. Instead, the authors propose, our media manufacture our consent for the interests of those in power, be they economic or political.

Here’s how. 

Filter 1: Ownership

It’s no secret that an independent outlet, or some small news website has a degree of freedom to publish stories that large corporate outlets don’t have. And the corporate outlets dominate what we see. 

One of the problems with corporate conglomerates dominating the news is conflicts of interest. Take Disney, for example, who owns a huge portion of media organizations, from ESPN, to Marvel, to the History Network (including the History Channel) and many others. Now, let’s say you’re an enterprising journalist at ABC News (who Disney also owns), and a damaging story comes across about Disney that would harm the company’s brand. The Propaganda Model would indicate you’re not as likely to run that story due to this conflict of interest. Multiply this across all of the Disney affiliates and the other corporate conglomerates and you have some serious problems with reporting stories.  

Filter 2: Advertising

This filter could be sub-headlined: where is the bread buttered?

Most media outlets rely on advertising funds for large portions of their budgets. The outlets- both big and small- go where the money is, and that rests with businesses, corporations, and the like. The competition over advertisers creates a situation where media outlets are scared to offend their advertisers and lose critical revenue. So what kind of news do you get as a result of this? A product that is careful not to offend advertisers, simply put. 

Turn on the TV to a cable news program and pay attention to the issues they discuss and the way the issues are discussed. Then watch the commercials. You’ll notice that those corporations paying for the advertising are either 1) not discussed, 2) not discussed in a disparaging way, or 3) their interests are promoted in an indirect way. Let’s take one example: pay attention to the cable news outlets advertising pharmaceutical drugs and notice that network either not discussing any meaningful healthcare reform or disparaging those who do. 

Issues that conflict with the interests of advertisers are also a big no-no. If a news outlet does that, they risk the advertiser spending money with a competitor and at the end of the day, these corporations exist to make money. 

This is one of the reasons independent media struggle so much to stay afloat. By discussing issues and perspectives that matter to working people, corporate interests are inevitably threatened. The effect is an independent media that are oftentimes forced to rely on individual donations- a much smaller money pool than, say, corporations like Comcast or Amazon with their multi-billion dollar advertising budgets

Robert McChesney once wrote that: “the hallmark of the media system is its relentless, ubuiquitous commercialism.”

Filter 3: Sourcing

A lot of the news you see comes from what are called sources, or insiders, to stories and issues being reported on. Oftentimes as a reporter, if you don’t have any inside sources, you don’t have a story. Now, imagine yourself as a reporter obtaining information from a source. You depend on this source for information, stories, verification, the whole nine yards. Are you going to risk offending this source and thus losing that juicy information pipeline? The Propaganda Model indicates this is not very likely. 

Take even the White House press corps who are always present when the President gives press briefings. Ask tough and hard-hitting questions as a reporter and you risk being removed from the press corps list.

The result? A system where reporters and sources are in bed with one another and thus, combining their interests- in the service of government and corporate power, of course. 

Filter 4: Flak

When media do step outside their narrow bounds of acceptable discourse, what is called flak oftentimes occurs from those attempting to discipline the media. 

An example of this is Cenk Uyger’s previous career with MSNBC, where he hosted a program back in 2011. His program became known for challenging establishment narratives and bucking acceptable dialogue- asking questions that some in power preferred not to be asked. One day, Uyger reports, he was in a meeting with the head of MSNBC at the time, who told him “I was just in Washington, and people in Washington tell me that they’re concerned about your tone”. Uyger left MSNBC shortly afterwards after reportedly being demoted for his behavior. 

Democracy Now! details another story– this one concerning the propaganda designed to convince the public that the U.S. needed to invade Iraq. Janet Yellin discussed her experiences as both a reporter for MSNBC and ABC News back in 2002/2003 with Anderson Cooper: 

JESSICA YELLIN: I think the press corps dropped the ball at the beginning. When the lead-up to war began, the press corps was under enormous pressure from corporate executives, frankly, to make sure that this was a war that was presented in a way that was consistent with the patriotic fever in the nation and the president’s high approval ratings. And my own experience at the White House was that the higher the president’s approval ratings, the more pressure I had from news executives—and I was not at this network at the time—but the more pressure I had from news executives to put on positive stories about the president. I think, over time, as President Bush’s

ANDERSON COOPER: Really? You had pressure from news executives to put on positive stories about the president?”

Note Anderson Cooper’s surprise to the flak being presented here- he does not appear to even be aware of the possibility of executives influencing the news from above.  Yellin continues: 

 “JESSICA YELLIN: Not in that exact—they wouldn’t say it in that way, but they would edit my pieces, they would push me in different directions, they would turn down stories that were more critical, and try to put on pieces that were more positive. Yes, that was my experience.”

Filter 5: Artificial Fear

We have large corporate ownership and the powers of advertising, sourcing, and flak covered. Now we need an artificial enemy- a threat to induce fear in the population, for a fearful population can be controlled. 

Back when the Propaganda Model was proposed in 1988, anti-communism was the focus. But today, it’s more accurate to say that anti-terrorism or anti-Islamism is the new fashionable object for artificial fearmongering. 

Back when The Bush Administration was pushing the fear button to greenlight their illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003, there were two main ‘justifications’ given. 1) Iraq leader Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction (which he didn’t have) and 2) the also completely fictitious link between Iraq and Al-Qaida. 

Fears of terrorist attacks against the U.S. have been drummed up for years to embroil the U.S. in multiple illegal wars in the Middle East and elsewhere that we’ve already discussed at length. And the threat of being killed by an Islamic terrorist in the United States is very small and on the scale of, say, falling objects or cows. Even a rising white supremacist movement has been responsible for arguably even more terrorism in the U.S. than Islamic terrorism since 2001. 

But it’s so much easier to drum up fear and hate for foreigners that appear different from us than addressing issues with some of our own citizens, or deaths resulting from avoidable accidents or healthcare. 

Putting it all Together

Add the five filters together and you get an accurate picture of how western media often operates as little more than court stenographers for power. Sure, much of our news is now online compared to print when Manufacturing Consent was first published, but the core filters remain largely the same. 

All this isn’t to say that journalists and reporters are constantly self-censoring their own work. The reverse is more often the case. The critical point is that news organizations hire- from the outset- the types of journalists and reporters that already hold the beliefs or attitudes that a particular media outlet looks for. 

To take an example, the average journalist at the Washington Post is quite likely to already hold a pro-establishment bias before they were hired. Not much need to spike their news or censor them. But would an average journalist at The Intercept or Democracy Now! get hired for the Washington Post in the first place? Not as likely. 

And there certainly are genuinely good journalists and reporters in media. We’ve linked to many of them already in our previous articles. But you have to sift through the chaff to get to the wheat, and that is one of the central purposes of what we try to do: help readers find news and media worth paying attention to. 

Here are some examples of discussions about how media operate when producing the news:

Matt Taibbi, Katie Halper, and Chris Hedges, all journalists, discuss some of the problems of media as members of the media themselves. 

Or take Chomsky himself discussing the Propaganda Model with a BBC reporter. Or Cenk Uyger calling out the media at an event with the National Press Club. 

It is a daunting task learning how to sift through the garbage of media, but for a country that loves to laud its democratic values, there is no option but to get our hands dirty with it. 

Bernie Sanders has a Real Shot

Surging at the Right Time

The last month or so has been good for Sanders and his polling numbers. He’s been building momentum with increased support and some key endorsements as of late- including the Sunrise Movement (with notably 75% voting in favor of Sanders and other key labor organizations. It’s been enough to vault Sanders into the second place slot of the primary race behind Biden. 

The storm of grassroots fundraising and activism Sanders has relied on has intensified. A record-setting $34.5 million has been raised by the Senator in the third quarter of 2019 alone, with $1 million being raised on the day of the 7th debate alone. His average donation size has kept low, as well, making up a reported $18.53 per donation from the Q3 haul. All this among a strong ground game (consisting of volunteers and staff making phone calls, knocking on doors, etc) compared to the other candidates.

The challenge will be for Sanders to grab enough delegates through the primary elections to secure a majority. As the current rules stand for the Democratic National Committee, “To win the Democratic nomination, a presidential candidate must receive support from a majority of the pledged delegates on the first ballot: 1,990 pledged delegates.” It looks like at this point based off current support polls that no candidate is set to win a majority of delegates, although this could change once candidates start dropping out of the race after some of the early states cast their votes. If no candidate receives a majority of the 1,990 delegates, what is called a brokered convention will occur. We’ll cover brokered convention rules more as we get closer to the nomination date, which begins on July 13th

Long story short: at this point, it looks like someone will have to drop out of the race to ensure any candidate can grab a majority of delegates. But with Sanders rising in the polls at the right time, especially in crucial early states such as New Hampshire and Iowa, he can potentially grab a commanding lead early.  If this happens, other candidates could drop out and shake up the support figures. 

Media Beginning to Take Sanders Seriously

It seems Sanders and his movement are becoming too big for the media to ignore any longer. 

But why, you may ask, is Sanders ignored? The answer is that these news corporations are in turn funded from other large corporations. So, of course, their narrative is going to be pro-corporate interest, which is exactly what we’d expect when you look at where the bread is buttered, so to speak. 

So instead, these media conglomerates talk about culture war issues or other issues that don’t threaten the interests of their advertisers. 

Sanders offered his thoughts on this during an interview with The Young Turks (transcript courtesy of the LA Progressive): 

We need to break through the fog of the corporate media, which does everything that they can to keep us entertained without addressing the real issues. I’m on the corporate media every single day, and you don’t know how hard it is just to try to demand that we begin to talk about the real issues. They really do not want them. They’re talking about everything under the sun but not the real issues.

I think what you have is a corporate media, which by definition, has conflicts of interests. Comcast which owns NBC. It’s probably one of the most detested companies in the country. Disney is a co-owner. They’re paying their workers at Disneyworld eight or nine bucks an hour; uh, bringing in people from around the world to replace American workers. These are issues, important issues that they don’t want to discuss.”

He continues: 

Second of all, the model for media coverage right now is six second sound bites and an unwillingness to talk about real issues in a serious way. For example, climate change. I have to write a letter to the presidents of all of the networks to tell them that on their Sunday shows they never talk about climate change; almost never talk about it. Why? Well, does it have to do with the fact that there are energy, coal company and oil company, advertising? I think it does. They don’t talk about it.”

News outlets like CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, and the like are only the messengers, here. To stop at criticizing corporate media is to miss the picture. Instead, look to where the checks are coming from. 

Neoliberal Order Horrified and Desperate to Prevent a Sanders Presidency

Rest assured, a surging Sanders is scaring the pants off of the oligarchs and political elites. Long dismissed as a candidate who can’t win- partly in hopes that their rhetoric would actually cause this to happen- Sanders is now being discussed as a candidate who can actually win the election. Even Bret Stephens of the New York Times, an establishment bellwether of elite opinion, wrote an article recently titled “Of Course Bernie Can Win”. It seems the secret is finally out.

The strategy Sanders has been employing all along has been the mobilization of working class sectors previously disgusted with the political system or disenfranchised altogether. The Sanders campaign is not just vying for votes, as has been the norm for decades, but is actually building a movement of workers and for workers. It’s a statement of our times that this idea is seen as so radical. 

Let’s not forget that achieving gains for the workers of this country will absolutely require such a movement in order to get any meaningful legislation passed. It’s one of the hallmarks of the Sanders campaign- Sanders himself aware that he alone will not get much done by himself in the White House by having the right policy. Or playing nice with the Republicans. Look at how that worked for Barack Obama, who famously threw away the political gift of a lifetime: a majority in the House and a Filibuster-proof Senate. The result? A Mitt Romney-inspired Obamacare bill. 

Speaking of the former Commander-in-Chief, there have been rumors that Obama would personally intervene in the race, should Sanders gain a decisive upper hand. Politico reports

Publicly, he has been clear that he won’t intervene in the primary for or against a candidate, unless he believed there was some egregious attack. “I can’t even imagine with this field how bad it would have to be for him to say something,” said a close adviser. Instead, he sees his role as providing guardrails to keep the process from getting too ugly and to unite the party when the nominee is clear. There is one potential exception: Back when Sanders seemed like more of a threat than he does now, Obama said privately that if Bernie were running away with the nomination, Obama would speak up to stop him. (Asked about that, a spokesperson for Obama pointed out that Obama recently said he would support and campaign for whoever the Democratic nominee is.)

Notice: Obama would support whoever the nominee is but made no mention of what he would be willing to do before the Democratic nominee is chosen. It remains to be seen if Obama will overtly make is presence felt during the Democratic primary, but it should be clear where his interests lie. 

Biden Still the Frontrunner

It’s easy to forget Joe Biden is even running, what with his campaign of “limited exposure” which makes me wonder what he plans to do once President, if he can’t even run a full campaign for it. But regardless, Biden still remains the front runner of this race as of now, despite his awful political history of pandering to elites. 

Ryan Grim recently wrote a piece for The Intercept shedding light on Biden’s legislative history and willingness to compromise with Republicans on slashing key worker programs: 

That political approach — that by ceding to Republicans, they will respond by compromising in return — has been thoroughly discredited by the last 40 years of events, though it remains the animating argument of Biden’s campaign.”

Biden would go on to fight for cutting Social Security and Medicare repeatedly during his legislative career. After reading this article, I got the feeling that another of the reasons centrist and corporate Democrats may oppose Sanders and his movement could stem from their personal resentment of the Sanders strategy advocating for policies that these types of Democrats were too weak to stand up for- fearing backlash from Republicans, of course. 

These same Democrats are increasingly building their brands on constantly arguing about the lack of funding to pay for these programs. The fact that there is not a single western or European country without a universal and public healthcare system except for the United States does not compute with that line of reasoning. 

It is simply easier for these Democrats to believe there’s nothing we can do but keep propping up our absolutely broken healthcare system. Easier to sleep at night with that belief, it seems. The alternative would be to leave the D.C. beltway and represent regular people- a literally radical concept in our modern age. 

Meanwhile, spending on the War on Terror alone is estimated to total $6.4 trillion by 2020. Trump’s Tax Cut bill has already cost an estimated $1.8 trillion through 2019. That the money is there is not a question. The question is: are we going to spend it on elites, oligarchs, and a war machine, or on the poor and working class? This is the question we arrive to when considering the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. For once, we finally have a major candidate who has the backbone to demand benefits for workers.

Revelations from The Afghanistan Papers

Late in the Vietnam War, in 1971, whistleblower Daniel Ellsburg, with the help of others, leaked what became known as the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times and Washington Post. The leaked papers revealed three main things:

  1. The U.S. government knew the war was lost many years and four presidential administrations before we finally withdrew from Vietnam
  2. The U.S. illegally bombed and launched major military operations in Laos and Cambodia
  3. The U.S. government publicly lied to the American people about knowing any of this until they were caught red-handed with the leak

Howard Zinn’s website tells the story briefly here.

The Pentagon Papers were a massive deal at the time and an absolute PR nightmare for the Nixon Administration. A publication from the University of Virginia containing taped conversations from President Nixon himself refer to his response to the Pentagon Papers: 

The Nixon tapes offer extraordinary insights into the drama unfolding simultaneously in the White House, complete with shadowy cover-ups, blackmail schemes and, yes, orders to blow open a safe from the commander-in-chief himself

Well, they say history doesn’t repeat itself, but if often rhymes; and the cost of not learning lessons has been massive for the United States and the world. Enter the war in Afghanistan. 

The Afghanistan Papers

The war in Afghanistan (also undeclared) began with a US invasion by the Bush Administration in 2001 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. It has since become our nation’s longest war in history that continues to this very day and has claimed the lives of an estimated 147,000 people, in addition to $1 trillion spent by the U.S. To say the war is immoral is to put it lightly, on top of the cost. 

Now, thanks to the Washington Post and their three-year legal battle with the U.S. government via the Freedom of Information Act, a trove of documents and interviews have been released that share several parallels with the Pentagon Papers of the Vietnam War. Dubbed the Afghanistan Papers, they were released this past December and can be found here

The documents reveal that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, after the invasion was only six months old, knew the conflict was a quagmire without a clear strategy to end it. Six months. Of a conflict nearing 19 years old and counting. And not only was there no clear strategy to resolve the war, but according to a U.S. official fourteen years later in 2015, “You had so many priorities and aspirations it was like no strategy at all.”

That same year in 2015, a National Security Council official would amazingly claim “It was impossible to create good metrics. We tried using troop numbers trained, violence levels, control of territory and none of it painted an accurate picture.” This was reportedly in response to Obama’s troop surge from 2009 through 2011 when The Administration urged officials to spin reality to make it look like the surge was succeeding when it clearly was not. Then-retired Army General Michael Flynn would remark on the surge: “Really? So if we are doing such a great job, why does it feel like we are losing?

On top of all that, the U.S. was dumping absurd amounts of money into the country in a failed attempt to re-build Afghanistan- this strategy commonly dubbed nation-building. The total cost of nation-building in Afghanistan has been estimated to be $133 billion, a figure higher than what the U.S. spent rebuilding Western Europe after WWII- called the Marshall Plan, adjusted for inflation. The Washington Post reports an example of how the money was distributed to Afghan districts:

One unidentified contractor told government interviewers he was expected to dole out $3 million daily for projects in a single Afghan district roughly the size of a U.S. county. He once asked a visiting congressman whether the lawmaker could responsibly spend that kind of money back home: “He said hell no. ‘Well, sir, that’s what you just obligated us to spend and I’m doing it for communities that live in mud huts with no windows.’ ”

Amid all this mess, nowhere did we hear of the budget hawks or deficit concerns with spending these mountains of cash. But when programs such as providing healthcare or education to the working class are proposed, they are hit by a wall of budget “concerns“. The fact of the matter is that trillions of dollars are always there to provide for enforcing a global U.S. empire or handing out money to oligarchs and large corporations (see Trump’s Tax Cut Bill for further proof), but not to the public. 

You’d think the media would pounce on this monumental revelation. And yes, it was reported on and covered… then largely forgotten amid the Trump impeachment stories. My guess is the media was glad to move on from covering the Afghanistan Papers because elites of both parties are to blame here, in addition to an increasingly bloated U.S. military industrial complex who buys off both parties and has close business ties with our consolidated corporate media. 

Many liberal outlets sound hypocritical if they hound the Bush and Trump Administrations for their management and continuation of the war when it was Obama who also perpetuated the war for his eight years in office. The same, in reverse, goes for much of the right-wing outlets. 

These wars will continue so long as there aren’t any consequences or accountability for those who are responsible for them. 

Speaking of which, Trump just assassinated a high ranking Iranian General

Thoughts from Noam Chomsky, the Status of Julian Assange, and Updates on Election 2020 

Earlier this week, author, linguist, and professor Noam Chomsky had a discussion with The Intercept’s Mehdi Hasan’s Deconstructed Podcast on a range of political topics. Here are some highlights from the interview, which can be found here

Chomsky discusses the Democratic party throwing the working class overboard in the wake of the 1970s: 

they handed the working class over to their class enemy- the Republicans, who tried to mobilize them on what are called cultural issues. They are shafting them at every turn, including Trump. But you can try to mobilize them on the basis of abortion, immigrants, guns…anything but the real issues.”

Chomsky continues regarding the Republican party: 

Its primary constituency is extreme wealth and corporate power. Those are the ones they serve. So you take the one legislative achievement of the Trump Administration- the tax scam- that was for the very rich and the corporate sector. Take deregulation: does it help working people to eliminate health and safety conditions in the workplace? Does it increase profits? Ok, we know the answer. Same across the board. So you run across the legislative programs, the ones that are carried out by the really evil characters- Mitch McConnell, before him Ryan, and so on. These policies are dedicated to the traditional Republican constituency. But you can’t get votes on those policies, so you have to mobilize some kind of a voting base.”

Hassan later asks him about the phenomenon of the media oftentimes ignoring coverage of Sanders or downplaying him whenever possible: 

He has absolutely infuriated the liberal establishment by committing a major crime. It’s not his policies. His crime was to organize an ongoing political movement that doesn’t just show up at the polls every four years and push a button but keeps working. That’s no good. The rabble is supposed to stay home- their job is to watch, not to participate.” 

Chomsky concluded by commenting on how dire the current moment is for our future as a species:

The current moment, not just political, is the most grim moment in human history. We are now in a situation where this generation- in fact, in the next few years- is going to have to make a decision of cosmic significance which has never arisen before. Will organized human society survive? And there are two enormous threats: the threat of environmental catastrophe which at least is getting some attention- not enough, and the other threat is nuclear war, which is increasing sharply by the Trump Administration, in fact. These have to be dealt with quickly, otherwise there is nothing else to talk about. And notice how the wrecking ball in the White House just doesn’t give a damn. He’s having fun- he’s serving his rich constituency, so what the hell? Let’s destroy the world

Assange Reportedly in Serious Health

We previously wrote about Julian Assange here and described Assange’s arrest by British authorities. Assange has been in prison since then and was recently visited by the UN’s special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of punishment- Nils Melzer. The UN notes that:

 “Although Assange is not held in solitary confinement, the Special Rapporteur said he is gravely concerned that the limited frequency and duration of lawyers’ visits and his lack of access to case files and documents make it impossible for him to adequately prepare his defence in any of the complex legal proceedings piling up against him.”

The UN continues by reporting that: 

in addition to physical ailments, Mr. Assange showed all symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture, including extreme stress, chronic anxiety and intense psychological trauma

Melzer concluded with the following statement

Unless the UK urgently changes course and alleviates his inhumane situation, Mr. Assange’s continued exposure to arbitrariness and abuse may soon end up costing his life

All for reporting war crimes and exposing elites and their activities in each of our names since they are funded from our tax dollars. If this continues, Assange might not even make it to his extradition to the US for ‘trial’. 

2020 Democratic Primary: November Update

The horse race for the presidential nomination of the Democratic party continues. When we left off on our previous update months ago, Joe Biden was the clear front runner- far and away ahead of the other candidates. That is still generally true, but his overall support has steadily atrophied from a high of 41.4% of support back in May to 28.6% as of November 6th

Given Biden’s troublesome political record and his seeming lack of gusto needed to rally the party behind him, one gets the impression of Biden as fighting a downhill battle and slowly losing support over time. 

He’s also reportedly running low on campaign funds compared to the other major candidates- his campaign having $9 million on hand. Even Kamala Harris sports $10.5 million, Warren lists $25.7M, with Sanders out front with $33.7M. Cash on hand is needed for various campaign functions- paying staffers, canvassers, marketing, and other get-out-the-vote operations. 

The New Big Three

The Democratic field has lately revealed a field of three top candidates: Joe Biden (28.6%), Elizabeth Warren (21.4%), and Bernie Sanders (18.1%), but it’s worth noting one other candidate: one who originally boasted a moderately progressive platform, but has curiously changed to a neoliberal centrist one and has been rising in the polls lately from 0.3% support in March to 7.1% recently. I’m talking of South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. 

The important question to ask is: how has Buttigieg risen in the polls since March? The short answer: he is winning over political elites and wealthy donors who are giving his campaign the impression of one who is “running as a candidate of generational change with big ideas”. Don’t be fooled- Buttigieg is running a classic neoliberal campaign that the likes of Obama, the Clintons, and many other Democrats have since the 1990s: speak in vague words about progressive ideals and ‘change’ without actually backing up any of that with clearly defined policy proposals or any sort of political record indicating they are serious about getting them done. In other words: much hot air, much less substance. 

On two signature Democratic policies- Medicare for All and public funded college tuition programs, Buttigieg responds that they are “questionable on their merits” and “not realistic”. 

On eliminating the Electoral College, fighting voter suppression, or ending gerrymandering, Buttigieg has taken these early campaign pillars and reportedly backed away from them after his elite donors have suggested he do so. 

Contrast this rapid policy reversal from elite pressure to that of Sanders, who’s message hasn’t changed much in his entire political career and is largely funded by small donors from the working class. There are simply far better candidates than the tired old centrist line that Buttigieg has cozied up to- courtesy of his elite allies and wealthy donors

War Report 4

Bolton Ousted as National Security Advisor

John Bolton is finally through as National Security Advisor. Trump is currently reviewing a list of replacements, but rest assured, whoever is chosen will have a royal mess to clean up from the wake of destruction Bolton left behind- a man who inflamed tensions wherever he seemed to cast his warlike gaze. 

This is assuming Trump appoints a less warmongering National Security Advisor than Bolton. It’s difficult to imagine a more war-obsessed advisor, but in today’s Bizarro world, anything crazy appears possible. 

Daniel Larison, from The American Conservative, mentioned of Bolton’s legacy:

Whoever takes over as Bolton’s replacement will have a difficult job of repairing the damage that he did. Bolton presided over the most dysfunctional national security process in recent memory by design, and that compounded the administration’s existing foreign policy dysfunction. He pushed an extremely hawkish agenda that has led the U.S. closer to unnecessary war with Iran, disastrously committed the U.S. to regime change in Venezuela, and effectively torpedoed diplomatic engagement with North Korea.”

Venezuelan Sanctions

In the last War Report, we pointed out that the Trump administration was de-escalating the coup attempt from the fever pitch back in April. But that has not stopped the crushing sanctions and other efforts that the US has been applying to Venezuela for years. 

Recently, a ramping up of sanctions aimed at blocking Venezuelan oil exports has been carried out- dubbed an effective blockade by some- never mind the fact that these new sanctions are blatantly illegal

The Venezuelan people appear to be correctly identifying the United States as a major contributor to their economic woes, and that sanctions are being ramped up to make life miserable on the people themselves in hopes they force regime change to which the US can install their puppet president Guido. 

Rebecca Hanson and Francisco Sanchez, writing for the North American Congress in Latin America (NACLA), mention the following: 

Many recognize that sanctions will not incentivize politicians to change course, because they are not the ones who suffer from them. Venezuelans are acutely aware of what policy analysts and academics have been saying since the announcement of the sanctions: The victims are the Venezuelan people. The situation is perhaps best summed up by an observation a friend made, after sanctions were applied earlier this year: ‘El partido trancado y el pueblo con la cochina en la mano.’ Drawing on a metaphor from domino, this can be translated to: ‘Those playing the political game have no moves left, and it’s the people who end up being screwed in the end.’

The Trump Administration wants to install Guido 1) in order to privatize their nationalized oil industry for the fossil fuel industry in the US to get their hands on it and 2) to expand US empire in South America. Expect pressure to be maintained on Venezuela throughout Trump’s tenure. 

Iran Remains a Hot Spot

As initially promising it may have been that Bolton was fired by Trump, Vijay Prashad (writing for Truthdig) urges caution, arguing it wasn’t just Bolton pushing for global conflict. And on Iran specifically, there is “a legion of arms dealers, lobbyists, establishment hawks, and people who believe that the United States should bomb Iran on behalf of Israel and Saudi Arabia”. 

Yes, a potential war with Iran is back in the news as the hawks continue their long-standing goal of invading the Persian country under any pretext they can find- real or imagined. 

Sound a bit like Iraq in 2003?

Despite the Houthis claiming responsibility for a recent drone strike on Saudi Arabian oil facilities on September 14th, the Trump Administration is seeking to use this issue as a hopeful pretext for attacking Iran on behalf of the Saudis.  Trump would go on to tweet the next day, on September 15th

Saudi Arabia oil supply was attacked. There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!”

The alleged “culprit” obviously being Iran. 

Thankfully, it appears that other countries- Europe especially- have learned from the lessons of Iraq and do not support the US in another blatantly illegal invasion. 

War in Afghanistan

Our nation’s longest war in history, the War in Afghanistan appears to finally be nearing its end. It’s cost around $2 trillion and tens of thousands of civilian and soldiers’ lives over 18 years. 

The Taliban is reported to be in a stronger position now than before the US invaded in 2001 with the Afghan government losing more and more territory in recent years. In other words: we’re clearly losing in a way that echoes the Vietnam War forty years ago- empires are slow to learn, it would seem. 

Attempting to live up to campaign promises of pulling out of Afghanistan, the Trump Administration has been negotiating a ceasefire agreement with the Taliban (notably without the involvement of the Afghan government), culminating in a tentative deal: in exchange for the US withdrawing its military gradually, the Taliban would pledge not to let Afghanistan be a launching pad for global terrorist attacks in the future. 

Formal acceptance of the deal seemed promising and would have marked a positive for the Trump Administration’s foreign policy record, but President Trump suddenly called off a meeting and halted talks with Taliban leaders in Camp David on assumptions of criticism from those on the right accusing Trump of being weak for pursuing peace. 

It’s unclear where the talks will go from here, but with a steadily declining US/Afghan position in relation to the Taliban, coupled with a US population either war weary about the conflict or simply not paying any attention, the US is likely to strike a deal with the Taliban at some point in the future. There isn’t any other clear path for the US in Afghanistan other than military escalation: a prospect the US fortunately does not appear to have the will to stomach again. 

The Illusion of Freedom

It’s a pleasant feeling to believe that one lives in a free country. But does that feeling stand up to reality for Americans?

The 2011 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) signed by Barack Obama virtually abolishes this notion. 

The law gives the US government the power to indefinitely detain anyone suspected of aiding terrorists in a military prison without trial or disclosure of charges. Read that carefully: indefinitely detained without trial. The justification is for anyone of the following

That is classic vague language. What exactly does “substantially supported” mean? Lest anyone trust the government to fairly interpret such vague concepts, remember that the US invaded Iraq in 2003 in part by falsely claiming links between then leader Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda that never existed. 

Jim Caton, writing for LegalReader, elaborates on the subjective nature of the words used in relation to Chris Hedges, a journalist who did interviews with groups such as al-Qaeda- you know, as part of being a journalist:

Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize winner and formerly the Middle East bureau chief for the New York Times, had interviewed leading members of al-Qaeda. Would such interviews constitute “substantial” support? Unlike “material support,” a term with legal definition, “substantial support” is not a legal term and so is open to broad interpretation. Similarly, the term “associated forces,” while it does have a legal provenance, offers no clear referent in the context of the U.S. Government’s sprawling “war on terror.” Must the association with al-Qaeda be a matter of actual contact and collaboration with the group? Or is an “associated force” potentially any person or persons “engaged in hostilities against the United States”? If so, what constitutes “hostilities”? As recent history has shown us, the U.S. government and its security forces are liable to find hostility in such constitutionally protected activities as peacefully protesting, blowing the whistle on illegal government activity, and disseminating information about that illegal activity. Think of the leaders of the Occupy encampments, or of Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald. It is conceivable that under the NDAA—that is, under the color of law—such people could simply disappear. Without charge. Without trial.”

The lesson is that laws like the NDAA with vague language grant more leeway for governments to prosecute for behavior they don’t agree with. 

Citizen Response

Shortly afterward, various attorneys – both civilian and military – began to raise concerns, ultimately culminating in a group of activists, including Chris Hedges, Noam Chomsky, and Daniel Ellsberg, to sue the Obama Administration over the NDAA. They claimed that the NDAA portion pictured above – section 1021- directly violated the US Constitution by “violating both their free speech and associational rights guaranteed by the First Amendment as well as due process rights guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution

Hedges spoke at the time about the trial on Democracy Now! that can be watched here

Surprisingly, they won. 

A judge from the trial, Katherine Forrest, wrote

Unfortunately, there are a number of terms that are sufficiently vague that no ordinary citizen can reliably define such conduct.”

The Obama Administration then filed an appeal shortly afterward with the US Circuit Court of Appeals. 

Hedges wrote about the appeal trial back in 2013 for Truthdig:

Once the state seizes this unchecked power, it will inevitably create a secret, lawless world of indiscriminate violence, terror and gulags. I lived under several military dictatorships during the two decades I was a foreign correspondent. I know the beast.”

This time, Obama et all won the appeal, meaning Hedges and company would need to appeal the appeal at the very top of our legal system: The Supreme Court…

…who declined to hear the case. 

Consequences of the NDAA

The Obama Administration’s successful appeal means the full language of the NDAA is in effect to this day. This behavior may seem surprising, given Obama’s image as something of a principled liberal by much of the mass media. But Lawrence Davidson, writing for CounterPunch, mentions the two-faced nature of Obama cultivating his public image versus his actual political behavior when rubber meets the road:

Toward the end of this whole unseemly process someone pointed out that President Obama has consistently asserted that he is against the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens even though his Justice Department has always supported keeping the detention clause of NDAA in place and operative.”

And who also set the record for going after whistleblowers (more so than all previous administrations combined), classifying them as spies under the Espionage Act?

Behavior like this from public figures such as Barack Obama is why we at Cutting Through Politics do what we do: cut through the bullshit from the smoke and mirrors of our media landscape in order to shed light on reality to keep the powerful accountable. 

The Apple Cart is Wobbling

Earlier, we wrote about the business offensive launched to smash the democratic movements of the 1960s and 1970s. Well, it seems our owner class is once again worried – enough to issue a public proclamation via the Business Roundtable, a non-profit association made up of various corporate executives. 

This time, there is no offensive for big business and the ultra-wealthy to launch- they already own all of the commanding heights of our society, economy, and government. They instead take to an attempt at convincing us that a corporate capitalist state is a great thing for everyone and not just our tiny minority of executives and shareholders who own massive capital. But hey, just in case you may doubt us, we are now going to change our practice in order to be accountable and sustainable- just trust us on this

The Roundtable issued their statement back in August called “Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation” (it can be read in about 2 or 3 minutes). 

The press release for the statement claims (bold is mine) “Since 1978, Business Roundtable has periodically issued Principles of Corporate Governance. Each version of the document issued since 1997 has endorsed principles of shareholder primacy – that corporations exist principally to serve shareholders. With today’s announcement, the new Statement supersedes previous statements and outlines a modern standard for corporate responsibility.”

To paraphrase, in other words: ‘In the past we have consistently been blatantly irresponsible in the way our corporations operate, but now, in light of the consequences of our actions, we are proclaiming to the world that we’re turning a new leaf. We now care about ‘corporate responsibility’ and acknowledging that the world outside of our narrow corporate confines exists and does, in fact, matter’

Oh, do go on, then. 

Smoke and Mirrors

I’d urge a small mountain of skepticism regarding this claim by the Roundtable. The track record of corporate activity is as clear as day from their inception. These executives issued the statement not because after all these years of buying off our government, outsourcing millions of workers, polluting our environment, indoctrinating our citizens, selling weapons of war, etc, that they all of a sudden care to be responsible to the world around them.

So why, after over 40 years of consistently hyping up the values of shareholder capitalism is the Business Roundtable ostensibly changing course? 

These executives see a population that is beginning to reject the very capitalist system that has handed them the vast sums of wealth and power that they have extracted from the system. In other words, they fear their apple cart may tip over. Poll after poll show that Americans are beginning to reject capitalism – especially the younger generations. 

Fist-Fighting the Wind

“Redefining” a corporation as a general proclamation will do next to nothing. Corporate ownership and incentive structures remain unchanged, making this new statement ring as hollow as any business propaganda you’ll see. A corporation is a legal entity designed to extract as much profit as possible for shareholders. No glorified proclamation without actual legal or legislative teeth will change how corporate entities fundamentally operate. 

But perhaps these executives recognize this. Perhaps they see the winds of change blowing away from them and see their statement as a futile but an at-least-we-tried measure. Regardless, this statement shows that despite possessing overwhelming power and wealth in our society, these entities individuals are ultimately out of answers- neutered from actually addressing our society’s ills that they have poured fuel on. 

As the playwright, Arthur Miller, once said, “An era can be considered over when its basic illusions have been exhausted.”

It appears our society is approaching a crossroads. We haven’t yet reached it, but the basic illusions of our economic and political system have indeed been exhausted. And the masters of our society have demonstrated their feebleness with this Business Roundtable statement. They know their game is up and are attempting to clutch onto their power and wealth for as long as humanely possible. They will ride the sinking ship to the depths as long as they have first class seats- to hell with everyone else. 

Here’s the kicker: all this turmoil is occurring in “the longest economic expansion in American history”. How can these two concepts possibly be true? Mentioning both is akin to saying: “that soaking wet towel is dry”. 

The economy, as was discussed in a previous article, is working well for corporations and the ultra-wealthy, as shown starkly in a New York Times piece. But the incomes for the rest fall under either barely increasing or outright declining when adjusted for inflation, all while the increasing cost of living outstrips any gains many workers manage to carve out for themselves. All this amid the systematic selling off or gutting of our public services, lands, and resources, leaving workers with the undeniable reality of systematic decline all around us. 

Critics of income re-distribution to the poor and working class reliably leave out the fact that the US has been re-distributing absolutely massive amounts of money from the public to the top of the income scale for decades. Ask yourself why we have crumbling infrastructure, declining schools, and all the rest? That money used to come from taxes on the wealthy and corporations, which have been slashed since the 1950s. The top income tax bracket in the 1950s was 91% (and is now 37%) and the share of taxes paid by corporations declined from 32.1% in 1952 to 9.9% by 2013. 

It doesn’t take an economist to understand that this creates a situation where much less tax income is received from the centers of wealth and power compared to the 1950s/1960s. 

The result is a shifting of the tax burden to the poor, middle, and working class who have much less wealth to begin with. The consequences are the steady erosion of our society that has ultimately led to the Business Roundtable finally feeling worried enough to issue their statement. It concludes with:  

Each of our stakeholders is essential. We commit to deliver value to all of them, for the future success of our companies, our communities and our country.

Don’t count on it.

Why Isn’t Change Occurring?

A crumbling infrastructure. An exploitative economic system. A broken healthcare system. A global empire. An unjust two-tier legal system – one for the rich and one for the poor. 

Life for working class Americans has slowly but consistently been getting tougher and tougher since the 1970s. Every year, our social, economic, and political system decays around us little by little. Most of us see it.

The fact that fundamental and structural change is necessary is obvious. Most Americans seem to agree, as Pew has recently found (here, here, and here).

Here’s the big question: why is change not occurring? We’ve addressed a historical perspective which focuses on US political institutions and how they were set up from the beginning to protect against reform from the forces of democracy. 

But despite the anti-democratic aspects of our political and economic system, we surely don’t live in a dictatorship or monarchy. Most of our business entities are, in fact, private dictatorships, but the reality is our political system will yield to sufficient popular pressure from below- be it powerful enough. 

Which gets us to what is most important of all: building popular movements and coalitions to enact change from below. In other words, movements that do not depend on and obsess over any one particular person. 

Consider those who elected Donald Trump. Whether motivated by economic insecurity, racial animosity, or simply frustration, many of those who elected Trump admired his “strong man” mentality and felt he could change the system by force of his will and personality. 

It’s all too easy to fall for this trap- putting faith in a single leader to bring about needed changes. A mistake we make again, again, and again. “Put me in power and I will give you what you want” is a phrase that even if a leader truly believes it, is almost certain to be proven a farce. 

Historical examples are too numerous for even a single book, but the same can be said also of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama. He frequently evoked “hope and change” on the campaign trail, and enough people believed him that he was elected back in 2008 and again in 2012. 

Take Obama’s record, though: a then-Senator and former constitutional law professor at the University of Chicago. A relatively qualified candidate. One who was elected president with a Democratic-controlled House and Filibuster-proof Senate. In other words, a prime opportunity to pass landmark legislation during one of the US’s greatest economic crashes in history. 

The result of Obama’s Administration, as Noam Chomsky mentioned in an interview with Truthout: “In general: much smooth rhetoric, some positive steps, some regression, overall not a very impressive record.” 

Now for the crucial questions: why wasn’t Obama very effective? What was missing from this equation?

The answer, in part: Obama ran on Obama. He didn’t have a mass popular movement behind him or any proven and consistent policy record to speak of. These things are crucial for fundamental and structural change in our country. 

It’s simply not enough to elect a president and expect them to be successful with a docile and apathetic working class. 

Even the American left risks making this mistake for the 2020 Presidential Election. Bernie Sanders, it’s true, is one of the few politicians in the US attempting to mobilize working class coalitions. And there are signs that Sanders is running his 2020 presidential campaign differently, as The Nation’s Matthew Karp points out

Rather than battle Republicans by targeting a “Democratic base” defined by strict demographics—the preferred strategy of many progressives today—Sanders seeks to overcome the power of the ultra-rich by rallying a much larger coalition of the working and middle classes. Bernie’s America is not divided between red and blue states or vicious and virtuous voters but between the rulers and the ruled. This may be one reason Sanders, alone among the politicians classed as “progressive,” has remained popular with independent voters.” 

But even a President Sanders would not succeed in passing any of his keystone policies such as Medicare for All, public-funded college, or Climate Change legislation without a mass movement behind him mandating reform. 

This is not to say that electing the right people isn’t a good thing – it certainly is, especially considering executive orders, foreign policy, and Supreme Court nominations that a president, for example, has at his or her control. 

To put it another way, electing the right people is necessary for substantive reform, but not sufficient for such reform. 

FDR and The New Deal

There was a time when mass labor and working-class movements did, in fact, mandate reform from the centers of wealth and power. That time was in the midst of the Great Depression of the 1930s. Richard Moser from Counterpunch describes this climate:

Widespread labor upheavals changed the political climate. The mass production industries were organized for the first time as thousands of new leaders –including significant numbers of women and people of color — led the revolt from the shop floor.

There were strikes waves that included sit-down strikes where workers actually occupied the workplace.  Autoworkers in Flint, Michigan kicked off the wave of sit-down strikes that spread into all sorts of workplaces.

Strikes for better conditions and union recognition were massive. For example, in 1934 alone, there were 1,856 strikes waged by 1,470,000 workers.[2] Six million workers formed unions during the decade. Of the 38 new industrial unions, 18 were led by communists or other leftists until McCarthyism and the 1947 Taft-Hartly Act expelled them from the AFL-CIO. So furious was the class war that the New Deal was forced to recognize worker’s rights in an attempt to pacify labor relations.”

Moser then details how the Farm Holiday Movement of 30,000 members led protests against mortgage foreclosures. 40,000 veterans, dubbed “The Bonus Army”, marched on D.C. and formed a tent city to demand better benefits.  The unemployed formed Unemployed Councils to demand work and better living conditions. Moser continues: 

In March 1930, 500,000 people marched in 25 cities to demand relief. Many local demonstrations were brutally attacked by police. People died but we won unemployment insurance.  The Workers Alliance of America originally demanded ‘the abolition of the profit system’ and claimed to represent 400,000 people. They pushed for legislative reforms and progressive candidates. The unemployed movement was led by communists, socialists, and assorted radicals.”

Moser correctly explains that the New Deal reforms were forced from below – aka mass movements of various working-class organizations:

Mass movements, third parties and revolutionary parties, labor upheaval, agrarian unrest, powerful populists, discontented veterans, and Democratic congressmen more radical than FDR pushed the New Deal into being.”

Now imagine FDR attempting to pass any of these reforms by his Administration alone. Good luck on that. 

Some say politics is all about compromising with the other side and finding the middle ground – a middle ground they contend is usually correct. But this is largely a ruse. Compromise is only one aspect of politics and far from the most important. 

What is far more critical to politics is one oftentimes forgotten in our age of rampant individual consumerism and religious market greed. And that is building coalitions and movements that force demanded change. There is no alternative. Anything short of coalition building and mass movements from the population will ultimately result in an effort of bowed heads and hands held out for some leader or other to hopefully provide. We’ve seen how this practice has played out in the past.

Myths of the Founding Fathers and Democracy

Throughout much of our lives in America, we have been fed a consistent diet of adulation and unquestioned praise for our founding fathers- how they worked ardently to achieve independence from the British, risking their lives and careers for purpose of establishing democracy and equality for all. 

It is certainly true that we owe a debt to the founding fathers for splitting America off from achieving independence from colonial rule. Their contributions are significant, but what of the system they built afterwards? Was it the great system of democracy and equality we are sold? Could our children’s civics books be whitewashing history in part by mythologizing our nation’s founders?

The Declaration of Independence boldly states that “all men are created equal”. But since much of the founding fathers were slave owners themselves, that phrase rings hollow. Of democracy as well, the founding fathers – contrary to what much of us are led to believe – were no fans of power resting in the hands of all citizens.

Sometimes, words speak for themselves. 

Benjamin Rush

A simple democracy is the devil’s own government.”

Fisher Ames

“”A democracy is a volcano which conceals the fiery materials of its own destruction. These will produce an eruption and carry desolation in their way.””

Alexander Hamilton

If we incline too much to democracy, we shall soon shoot into a monarchy.”

Elbridge Gerry

The evils we experience flow from the excess of democracy. The people do not want virtue, but are the dupes of pretended patriots.”

James Madison

democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”

Remember Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes exhausts and murders itself. There never was a Democracy Yet, that did not commit suicide. It is in vain to Say that Democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious or less avaricious than Aristocracy or Monarchy.”

John Adams

Democracy, will soon degenerate into an anarchy, such an anarchy that every man will do what is right in his own eyes, and no man’s life or property or reputation or liberty will be secure and every one of these will soon mold itself into a system of subordination of all the moral virtues, and intellectual abilities, all the powers of wealth, beauty, wit, and science, to the wanton pleasures, the capricious will, and the execrable cruelty of one or a very few.”

Sure, the founding fathers in general weren’t advocates of democracy, instead opting for a republican form of government featuring first and foremost a separation of powers among legislative, executive, and judicial branches. 

But they weren’t the Social Darwinists that are rampant in today’s America, either. The popular rallying cry of ‘every man for himself’ which is a common axiom among modern reactionaries would have been largely discarded among the founding fathers. 

Alana Semuels of The Atlantic writes of the founding fathers at this time that (bold is mine):

“For example, after the revolution, John Adams advocated for laws that forced families to divide their estates among all their children, to prevent European-style feudal estates, according to Joseph R. Blasi, Richard B.Freeman, and Douglas L. Kruse in The Citizen’s Share: Reducing Inequality in the 21st Century. The goal of a republic, he believed, was “the greatest happiness for the greatest number.””

Semuels continues regarding a proposed banking system for Pennsylvania:

“When, in 1786, the General Assembly of Pennsylvania debated giving a corporate charter to the Bank of America, a handful of representatives expressed concern that the bank would give too much economic power to one set of men, according to The Citizen’s Share.”

“Shall we grant such an institution? Shall we give such an artificial spring to concentrated wealthy? By no means,” Representative William Findley said to the General Assembly of Philadelphia. The assembly then voted to deny the bank the charter—though later bank directors were able to drum up support by convincing Thomas Paine to lobby for a new assembly.”


The founders also favored workers over owners, which helped … a class of non-owners remain economically empowered.”

In a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote to James Madison in 1785, Jefferson remarked that: 

But after all these comes the most numerous of all the classes, that is, the poor who cannot find work. I asked myself what could be the reason that so many should be permitted to beg who are willing to work, in a country where there is a very considerable proportion of uncultivated lands? These lands are kept idle mostly for the aske of game. It should seem then that it must be because of the enormous wealth of the proprietors which places them above attention to the increase of their revenues by permitting these lands to be laboured. I am conscious that an equal division of property is impracticable. But the consequences of this enormous inequality producing so much misery to the bulk of mankind, legislators cannot invent too many devices for subdividing property, only taking care to let their subdivisions go hand in hand with the natural affections of the human mind.”

Again, the hypocrisy of slave owners sometimes advocating for workers interests is contradictory, to say the least, and is not forgotten. But to argue the founding fathers mirror the Social Darwinist ideas of today is inaccurate. 

The nation America’s founding fathers created

Statements and letters are important, but what of the nation that the founding fathers created from their revolution? 

Surely, it was a nation that is far more democratic than Great Britain, who in the 1780s boasted an electorate of just 3% of the population and a royal family – still in existence today, in fact. It’s also worth noting that much of Europe at the time still had absolute monarchies in place, making Britain and their parliament a democratic exception to the norm. 

Of those who could vote in early America:

Typically, a voter had to be a free, adult, male resident of his county, a member of the predominant religious group, and a “freeholder.” A freeholder owned land worth a certain amount of money.”

In other words, slaves, women, and non-property owners were excluded from voting – resulting in about 6% of the population being eligible to vote. The senate was chosen by state legislatures and thus not subject to direct vote by the voting population (this remarkably wouldn’t change until 1913). 

Institutions are paramount

But the requirements of a democratic state extend beyond merely semi-frequent elections. How a nation’s institutions are structured is also critical. And in this regard, several of our key political institutions have been set up expressly to contain the forces of democracy and popular will, as the founders put it.

Let’s examine these institutions. 

The Senate

The Senate makes up one of two houses of Congress together with the House of Representatives. As already pointed out, voters couldn’t elect senators until 1913. It was designed in the “Great Compromise” between large and small states. The result being smaller states having disproportional power over larger states since any congressional legislation can be struck down by the Senate alone. 

Erwin Chemerinsky of Prospect writes of the Senate:

Nor does any other democracy have an institution like the U.S. Senate. Because every state, regardless of its size, gets two senators, the Senate is hugely unrepresentative of the country. California, with 39.5 million people, has the same number of senators as Wyoming, with a population of 579,315. A slight majority of Americans live in just nine states. They have 18 votes in the Senate, while the minority holds 82 seats.”

Not only is the makeup of the Senate inherently reactionary, but the famous filibuster rule known as “The Soul of the Senate”, is one of the key arms of this institution. Any senator can use the filibuster to speak for an unlimited amount of time and thus delay any legislation proposed for as long as said senator can endure the process. The filibuster can only be broken by what is called cloture, meaning they need a three-fifths vote of senators (typically 60 of 100) to do so. And its use is skyrocketing lately

Fortunately since the filibuster is not in the Constitution, the filibuster can be eliminated entirely by a simple majority vote in the Senate, also called the Nuclear Option

But it’s due to the existence of the Senate itself, coupled with rules like the filibuster that lead to statements, such as from Senator Alben Barkley in the 1940s, that “all of the rules of the Senate, work into the hands of those who seek to obstruct legislation,”.

The Supreme Court

A body of nine justices nominated by the president and appointed by the Senate for life make up the Supreme Court- along with their clerks and other staff. 

Rob Hunter put it when writing for Jacobin in 2017:

The justices themselves are also ambiguous figures. They never seem to tire of repeating the sententious bromide that they are neutral arbiters — yet their interpretive philosophies frequently offer up divergent outcomes in similar cases. Most justices deny that their jurisprudence is colored by ideological commitments or partisan affiliations — but political scientists have no difficulty assigning them ideology scores on the basis of their voting patterns. No one who follows national politics has trouble discerning which justices share their views and which don’t.

At times, Supreme Court justices appear to be ciphers — empty vessels into which the presidents who nominate them have decanted their preferred political views. At other moments, they are mysterious and oracular. Their involuted and gnomic utterances, it seems, can only be understood by arcane adepts skilled in the divination of such things.” 

It’s also worth pointing out that the more democratic and representative of the two houses of congress – The House of Representatives – has no voice in appointing Supreme Court justices. 

On transparency, pictures and television cameras are banned from the courtroom of the Supreme Court. In 2013, a list of each justice at that time had statements on the record regarding allowing cameras into the courtroom which can be found here. It’s not surprising that such a powerful institution that is the highest court in the land does not want to be held more accountable to the public. 

The Electoral College

We’ve previously written about the Electoral College here. In short, it’s an institution that chooses the US president during the electoral process, as opposed to actual voters (the Electoral College can technically choose whoever they want for president with unclear consequences should they do so). As a result of the Electoral College system, two of our last three presidents have lost the national popular vote (Bush and Trump). 

A nation cannot be a democracy and have a system where a candidate for the highest political position can win despite receiving less votes than his or her rival candidates. 

The Separation of Powers

Having a government separated by the three branches – legislative, executive, and judicial – thus creating a system of “checks and balances”, can be a positive idea. When implemented with an emphasis on power ultimately resting in the hands of democratic forces (via the legislature, in one instance), a separation of powers could function to constrain authoritarian or unscrupulous executives. 

But that is different than what we have today. To pass a bill at the federal level, it would require getting past no less than: two congressional committees, two congressional houses (the Senate sometimes requiring a supermajority with the possibility of filibuster), a presidential signature, and the Supreme Court not striking it down. 

This makes any landmark legislation designed to improve the lives of working-class Americans extremely difficult. If only one of the above hurdles isn’t met, the bill is done for.  Anyone can see our system of government is designed for the ability of a relatively small group of people to grind the system to a halt, many times requiring large mass movements to pass significant legislation. 

Recall the mass political movement necessary to passing the Civil Rights Bill in 1964,  Medicare in 1965, or the New Deal programs in the 1930s. 

These movements did achieve some success, but requiring such monumental movements in order to change the country make modern efforts such as the Green New Deal a likely decades-long process of movement-building and solidarity among working class coalitions. 

Even constitutional amendments, which are able to reform the Constitution itself, face steep hurdles, as Seth Ackerman details:

And the entire system is frozen in amber by an amendment process of almost comical complexity. Whereas France can change its constitution anytime with a three-fifths vote of its Congress and Britain could recently mandate a referendum on instant runoff voting by a simple parliamentary majority, an amendment to the US Constitution requires the consent of no less than thirty-nine different legislatures comprising roughly seventy-eight separately elected chambers.

Sunset or Sunrise?

The United States was a pioneer in democracy back in the late 1700s, but due to the effect these anti-democratic institutions have had in holding back popular will and opinion, the US has fallen behind democratically for hundreds of years- all by design of the founders who set up our institutions to constrain these forces. 

The point here isn’t to denigrate the founding fathers or downplay the role they played in wresting US independence from Great Britain. They didn’t have the historical precedent or popular democratic movements back in the 1700s that we have today. It’s even possible many of the founders would be advocates today of democratic forms of government with our experience. 

The point is instead to dispel myths that many of us have been spoon fed and were raised on of the saintly democratic-loving founding fathers. Regardless of one’s opinion of any of the founding fathers, it’s imperative to know the truth about our history. 

From all the signs around us we can see that the current political system created by our founders is slowly failing. The founders’ anti-democratic institutions are at the forefront of our institutional decay. Where we will go from here is unknown, but we will be better served by charting our own visionary path forward to a fully democratic society while leaving much of the visions of our founders to history.