Late Night Post: a Rogue and/or Broken Nation

There’s a pretty good amount of twitter chatter and blog posts on these thoughts at interfluidity by steve randy waldman. I understand the draw because I’ve had very similar thoughts and expressed many of them recently. I thought this would be a good discussion post to follow BostonBoomer’s last post too since it’s very much related to the post called “an echo”.

I no longer trust my own government to be the provider of a civilized society. No government is perfect or without corruptions. But in 2007, I thought I lived in a remarkably well-governed nation that had gone off-kilter under a small and mean administration. In 2011, I view my government as the sharp edge of an entrenched kleptocracy, engaged in ever more expansive schemes of surveillance and arrogating powers of ever less restrained brutality. At a visceral level, I dislike President Obama more than I have disliked any politician in my lifetime, not because he is objectively worse than most of the others — he is not — but because he disproved my hypothesis that we are a country with basically good institutions brought low by poor quality leadership. Whenever I hear the President speak and am impressed by the quality of his intellect, by his instinct towards diplomacy and finding common ground and rising above petty struggles, I despair more deeply. Not just because a leader of high quality failed to restore passably clean and beneficient government. It is worse than that. The kleptocracy has harnassed this man’s most admirable qualities and made them a powerful weapon for its own ends. He has rebranded as “moderate”, “adult”, “reasonable”, practices such as unaccountable assassination lists and Orwellian nonhostilities. He has demostrated that the way grown-ups get things done in Washington is by continually paying off thieves in suits. Perhaps it is unfair to blame Barack Obama for all this. Maybe he has done the very best a person could do under our present institutions. But then it is not unfair to detest the institutions, to wish to see them clipped, contained, or starved.

This message is followed by a mea culpa expressing profound regret for supporting the Bush Administration and the Iraq War.  Also, there’s a link to the Salon article“The due-process-free assassination of US citizens is now a reality” from Glenn Greenwald which is something we’ve previously discussed.  What drug me to the post was a response over at The Atlantic by Conor Friedersdorfer who was just quoted on BB’s post.  We’re treated to some of the top ten abysmal hits of the past few years.  The bailout of banks while their bad business models still wreck havoc on our neighbors and in our cities and towns is there.  The normalization of torture and spying on citizens is listed plus a few other things that I’ve come to view as a bigger problem now than the issues surrounding Watergate and Vietnam were then.

We’ve been lied to before.  We’ve had a few of our citizen’s rights stomped about but nothing quite so systematic and unchecked.  It also seems that our institutions and especially our courts were resilient enough to stand their grounds in the past.  There were people who stood on our principles.  I’m not seeing any institutional response to the lying and executive branch power grab from Congress or the Courts or the loudest and most followed parts of the Media.

We’ve had absolutely no recompense or justice for the atrocities against liberty that we’ve experienced since 9/11. None at all.  This is what led Fiedersdorfer to ask if we were suffering from rogue leadership or broken institutions.  What ever the source, we’ve been acting like a rogue and broken nation for nearly a decade and it’s as worrisome as it is depressing.  He argues that we’ve had broken leadership during this century and that our institutions will heal.  I only wish I had his optimism.

Before pinning the blame on American institutions, let’s ponder how radically different the status quo would be if we merely adhered to longstanding laws and norms, rather than permitting our leaders to flout them in the name of protecting us from terrorism or financial collapse.

Had the Bush Administration followed the law, it never would have tortured prisoners or started secretly spying on American citizens without a warrant. If Barack Obama was as committed to fulfilling our treaty obligations as pushing his domestic agenda in an optimized political climate, he’d have investigated and prosecuted the Bush officials complicit in torture. As President Reagan wrote upon sending the Convention Against Torture to the Senate that ratified it, “Ratification of the Convention by the United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today. The core provisions of the Convention establish a regime for international cooperation in the criminal prosecution of torturers relying on so-called ‘universal jurisdiction.’ Each State Party is required either to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution.”

In Libya, where Obama violated the War Powers Act, and in various countries where President Obama is waging undeclared drone wars, more scrupulous adherence to the law would force radical changes in American behavior — as would a modicum of congressional leadership, since the body has for years abdicated its responsibility. The Founders envisioned three branches of government acting as checks on one another, the members of each zealously guarding their authority and pushing back against excesses committed by their fellow branches.

If it was just broken leadership, then we would have had some inklings of impeachment or the successful prosecution of law suits to stop some of these excesses by folks hurt by them.  However, the courts and the Congress have been equally enabling and appallingly silent or complicit.

And if I’m right, a realistic solution presents itself. Americans disillusioned by the actions of our presidents can be forgiven for thinking that neither the GOP nor the Democratic nominee is going to be a good choice in 2012. But maybe the answer is focusing on the Congress, and electing men and women who’ll do their utmost to challenge the executive branch, whoever is running it.

If we accept the idea that we’ve got a kleptocracy going then it follows that it’s not just the last two administrations that are enabling the looters–that are also most likely huge donors to their campaigns–through excessive power grabbing. Let me offer up some one else’s example to prove my point.  I was thinking this through while looking for other blog responses and found the specific argument to my point by Ampersand at Alas! A Blog.

The Reagan administration experienced strong pushback on Iran-Contra, including hearings in Consgress, after which Oliver North and John Poindexter were both indicted for various crimes. (The indictments were later overturned on a technicality.) Even if the pushback wasn’t as strong as it should have been, the Reaganites were nonetheless given a significant incentive to avoid blatantly lawless behavior.

In contrast, neither Bush nor Obama have faced any significant legal pushbacks for their lawless behavior.

I have no doubt that had George Bush gotten a second term we would have unraveled more of the Iran-Contra fiasco.  I really don’t even see any calls from either party on the  Anwar al-Awlaki assassination or the lying that got us into the Iraq War or any of the spying, torture or un-proclaimed drone wars on nations like Yeman and Pakistan .  The Republicans love it and the Democrats–I think–are too timid to go after one of their own. The courts didn’t touch the challenge to the al-Awlaki shoot-to-kill without due process order by the ACLU and al-Awlaki’s father either.  I wonder if Samir Khan’s family has any chance of challenging some of this in court since he appeared to be some kind of collateral assassination damage of some kind.  (Not that either of them will be missed by the planet–believe me–but the precedent this sets is just over the top.) Where are the challenges to the search and seizure of property that occurs at airports in this country nearly every minute of every day?

So, I’m throwing this out as a late night question and thread.  Is every elected official a rogue?  Have they so be so captured by the plutocracy that they’ve broke the institutions and we’re unlikely to see a positive outcome?  Will all these occupy protests bring some momentum to changing things or are we just in line for more of it after the 2012 presidential election sinks us with more of the same or worse?  I just don’t know any of these answers.  I admit to feeling awful as a kid during the Watergate period, but at least the system did what it was supposed to do.  I’m not seeing that system work at all right now.

16 Comments on “Late Night Post: a Rogue and/or Broken Nation”

  1. paper doll says:

    great post. After 15 years of out of control upper crust rule, these institutions simply do not exist as we have known them…and more , even the memory of how they once functioned is fading…One of the things Hillary brings to a table is a strong knowing of how the government is supposed to work …others at her level do not possess this knowledge or the will to abide by it even if they did and after the Clintons even the memory of how the government should function will be lost at the national level imo

    • dakinikat says:

      I don’t understand how we’re not getting substantial challenges from all fronts on these things. I’m thinking it’s because Obama really is doing what the Republicans want on so many fronts they just fight him n taxes and that’s it. The Democrats appeared chagrined into silence. The courts are either overwhelmed because we’ve had no justice appointments or are in the throe of Bush appointments. There really has been a lack of appointments to courts and to federal prosecutors of guys that will take all these on.

      • paper doll says:

        I don’t understand how we’re not getting substantial challenges from all fronts on these things.

        But from who? Who can or would challenge it from within the system? Obama in the WH is proof the system is broken. Shuting down the courts via non apointments seems of a piece in a time when the rule of law is …at best, on life support. The Democrats have been chagrined into silence since Tip O’neal left it seems to me. 😦

      • paper doll says:

        Obama in the WH is proof the system is broken…

        I should add :and Bush installed 2 times before is also proof!

  2. northwestrain says:

    What we need is a Revolution — and will the “occupy Wall Street” — etc become a revolution?
    Right now the young adults I see in the videos don’t have the bright future that their grandparent had/have. The Wall Street crooks are out to loot even more of the 99%.

    Oh yeah — what Paper Doll said!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Gregory says:

      We need a revolution in the way we think about things as a society. Our priorities are all screwed up. I don’t know when everybody got hit by the stupid train but it has become so bad that I have trouble even understanding what a lot of people in my community (In NE Texas) say when they speak to me. It was certainly not like this around here 20 years ago. I don’t know what happened but something has changed and not for the better.

      • northwestrain says:

        That’s were I am right now. And yes we’ve already met two who have taken the stupid corporate pill.

        Can’t wait to leave the area and head to New Mexico.

    • bostonboomer says:

      I sure hope these “occupy” protests continue. I’m going to write about it in my Tuesday morning post.

  3. Gregory says:

    I don’t know what possessed anyone to think that Barack Obama was a high quality leader to start with when their is just loads and loads of evidence to the contrary. My goodness, the man authored a bill in the Illinois Senate concerning Excelon and then after receiving campaign contributions watered down his own bill into nothing. Nothing screams on the take corrupt politician more than that particular deal or his house deal or his book deal or his wife landing that cushy job at the hospital.

    The whole idea that the “kleptocracy” caused this virtuous and brilliant leader to fail is ludicrous. This is who he was from the word go. He isn’t a dreamer or someone who wants to help the people of this country. He is someone who wanted wealth, fame and power. Not in order to do good but to aggrandize himself. Me thinks a lot of people just don’t want to admit that they are really bad judges of character. 1st they voted for Bush because Gore was to “smart”. Then they voted for Bush again even after his administration was completely inept and incompetent. I’ll just leave it at that. Then they voted for Obama.

    • Minkoff Minx says:

      Gregory, look at this op/ed from CNN: For Democrats, second thoughts about Obama? –

      To become the party’s standard-bearer, a candidate must capture the votes of a majority of the more than 4,000 delegates who are selected to attend the party’s national convention. Although delegates are awarded in part based on the votes that they receive, neither Clinton nor Obama captured enough delegates through their primary and caucus showings to secure the nomination. Indeed, in 2008, Democratic Party rules made such a feat almost impossible.

      Unlike the Republicans, the Democrats don’t allow states to award their delegates on a winner-take-all basis. This makes it difficult for candidates who are neck-and-neck to pull away from each other in delegate counts.

      Adding to this problem is that approximately 20% of the delegates to the Democratic National Convention are not tied to the results of primary contests. Party rules stipulate that more than 800 seats at the convention belong to a group defined as “Party Leaders and Elected Officials.” These so-called “superdelegates” are not formally pledged to any candidates and attend the convention regardless of primary and caucus results.

      Indeed, it appears that the real brilliance of the Obama campaign was to realize fairly early that a true majority was not achievable.

      In response to this fact, and having an edge in the early caucus states due to superior grass-roots organizing, the Obama campaign subtly changed the understanding of the rules. It acted as if the nomination would be determined by the delegate count after the caucuses and primaries, regardless of whether an absolute majority had been achieved. What this did was to lower the overall number by more than 800 votes (the superdelegates), and consequently change the threshold of victory.

      Since most Americans are unfamiliar with how the nominating process works, this was a fairly easy story to sell. The press for the most part cooperated. Once this fiction was accepted, any other result would be seen as undemocratic. Indeed, Clinton’s complaints about this unofficial after-the-fact rules change were portrayed as a divisive form of sour grapes. After all, following Sen. Obama’s post-Super Tuesday February romp through 10 states, it became obvious that Sen. Clinton would not be able to win under this new threshold.

      Ultimately, and most importantly, the elected and unelected leaders of the Democratic Party accepted the Obama campaign’s spin. This was crucial to Obama’s success, since a real victory at the convention depended on these superdelegates ignoring the fact that Clinton was the stronger general election candidate in swing states like Pennsylvania, Florida and Ohio. In the end, it was the endorsement of these superdelegates — again, party leaders and elected officials — that forced Clinton to concede the nomination.

      Nothing new to us…

  4. bostonboomer says:

    Great post, Dakinikat! I don’t understand what has happened for sure, but I think the explanation must be all the money flowing to politicans. It’s so much more than in Nixon’s day or Reagan’s day. I remember the Watergate hearings, and the Iran Contra investigation–those kinds of investigations don’t happen now. Why? It has to be money, doesn’t it? But I don’t know for sure.

    And why aren’t politicians worried about unemployment? Reagan was worried. But today, 10% unemployment is treated as no big deal.

    Yes, we’re a rogue nation and our government is broken. Street protests are our only hope.

    • dakinikat says:

      The money is the central thing these days. It seems to warp the entire process.

      • Branjor says:

        The money alone would not account for it if not for a vast amount of moral rot at the core.

    • Branjor says:

      There’s more money flowing to politicians these days, but then things are also a lot more expensive. Is there more in terms of real money going to pols these days?