Representative Democracy in Action

The BBC:

A Western diplomat said his team had decided there were three groups of people President Trump listens to. There is his inner circle of White House advisers containing people like Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law; the former investment banker Gary Cohn; and Mr Trump’s right-wing svengali Steve Bannon.

The second group is his cabinet, and their influence varies widely from person to person, reflected in the time they each get with him inside the Oval Office.

The third group is his pre-presidency contacts from New York, and the property and media industries.

So foreign diplomats try to talk to as many people in this group of interlocking circles as they can, in the hope that if these people see the merit in their case, they will convey it to the president. And if the president hears that view enough times, he will believe it.

However, after laying out this elaborate strategy, the Western diplomat confessed, “but then there are those who say the most important thing is to be the last person to talk to him before he makes a decision”.

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Lace curtain Nixon

“Of course I preferred JFK to Nixon, but I was not bowled over,” said Harrison Salisbury, who had headed The New York Times‘s Moscow bureau. “I am afraid I took to calling Jack ‘a lace curtain Nixon.’ It was not unfair. Under the skin the politics of the two men did not differ much.”

—Larry Tye, Bobby Kennedy, (New York: Random House, 2017), 120-121.

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God’s Blessings

He would become the first person ever to launch a Hellfire missile from a Predator in flight, a privilege Hawes felt blessed by God to have been granted.

—Richard Whittle, Predator, (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2014), 186.

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Some of Media’s fallout at the CIA

Henceforth, Colby wrote in a memorandum after that meeting, the label “international terrorist” would replace “political dissident” as the target of the CIA’s illegal domestic operations. As part of this image transformation, Helms did what Hoover had done many times—and would do again in April 1971 to protect COINTELPRO when he thought it was about to be revealed—to minimize the possibility that secret operations would be exposed. Helms ended MHCHAOS in name, but continued it in reality with a new name: International Terrorism Group. It would be much easier for people, including people within the CIA, to accept the domestic operations if they thought they were aimed primarily at stopping terrorism rather than at stopping dissent.

—Betty Medsger, The Burglary, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014), 203.

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Kandahar to Guantánamo

Even those with ironclad proof that they were not al-Qaeda or Taliban were swept up, including a Syrian named Abdul Rahim al-Janko, who had been arrested by al-Qaeda on suspicion of being a Western spy and tortured into giving a videotaped confession that he had been sent by the CIA and Mossad to kill Osama bin Laden. In a jail in Kandahar when the Taliban regime fell, al-Janko was handed to the Americans, who sent him to Guantánamo. U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft later played part of the tape of his confession to journalists, claiming it was a would-be suicide attacker’s martyrdom video. The audio was muted, on the excuse that it might contain coded messages for other terrorists.

—Andrew Cockburn, Kill Chain, (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2015), 123.

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The Church of Teleology

I’ve been thinking about an encounter I had at the gym on Thursday. In the sauna a young man in his mid-20s or so politely asked me as well as the middle-aged man next to me what we did for a living. He said he was thinking about different careers. The guy next to me answered, and in my turn I asked the young man what studies he was doing. When he said sales, that he was good at convincing people of things I asked if he would humor me by convincing me of something. He said sure, and I asked that he convince me the United States is a representative democracy where one person’s vote carries the same weight as another’s. He was enthusiastic about the challenge, and promptly came back with saying we all had the right to vote, this is something people in some other countries don’t have. I asked what proof he could offer that this right meant anything. I pointed out I had the right to be a Mormon, to practice Transcendental Meditation, or spend the day at home masturbating, but my right to do these things didn’t suggest they had any intrinsic value. We agreed that Donald Trump had lost the popular vote yet still become president. We recognized that Clinton had won California’s vote. I mentioned Sheldon Wolin and the extent to which money controls American politics, and the young man immediately agreed that yes, money is what controls votes. He concluded his argument by saying it was important to do something politically, it wasn’t so important what that was, but it was important to be active, and to keep doing something. He said change may be small, but it is incremental. My 15 minutes in the sauna was soon up, and we pleasantly said goodbye.

The conversation came back to me several times in the past couple days, and I realized that part of what seems significant to me is the extent to which Americans concur with the guy’s reasoning. Last year when I asked my friend Paul for his perspective on how to live in truth in the face of a society of lies he answered with some surprise, “Well, I vote.” Even in the face of an evidently broken political system somehow people are convinced that their only responsibility is to continue with some token activity, as if justice is ordained to triumph, the good guys always win in the end, we just need to keep hanging in there, things will turn out. There is, however, no evidence for this. Why is it such a dominant conviction?

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Our Illegitimate Electoral System

Russ Feingold’s Op-ed in the Guardian:

Tuesday’s events stem directly from our own illegitimate electoral system, which produced Trump the president. They are the result of voter suppression, dark money in politics, and the esoteric electoral college – all of which serve to silence the American people.

Chalmers Johnson was very clear in Speaking Freely that when America’s democracy is lost to empire it will be impossible to get it back. In Democracy Inc. Sheldon Wolin was unequivocal in saying the US form of government is managed democracy, in his words “inverted totalitarianism.” Here is Feingold saying the current illegitimate president is the result of our illegitimate electoral system. How does a thinking American citizen act in these circumstances? What is the responsible course to follow?

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Brown & Root’s Tiger Cages

A consortium of four U.S. construction firms—including Brown & Root, later a part of Halliburton and now KBR—eventually received a contract from the U.S. Navy, paid for through the U.S. Food for Peace Program, to build new cells for Con Son.

—Nick Turse, Kill Anything that Moves, (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2013), 180.

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What if you knew her, and found her dead on the ground? How can you run when you know?

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Captured Vietnamese Males

Lengthy conversations with several Vietnam vets and an ex-drone sensor operator’s mention of the Winter Soldier Investigation last week prompted me to pick up Nick Turse’s Kill Anything That Moves today. It’s been decades since I’ve read much on Vietnam, but those years quickly come back in Turse’s excerpts from trial transcripts and other documents:

a lieutenant “captured two unarmed and unidentified Vietnamese males, estimated 2-3 and 7-8 years … and killed them for no reason”

I try to imagine the investigator or court reporter who recorded this. How do you write about a U.S. Army officer capturing an unarmed two or three-year-old?

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