Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

December 31, 2015

A Refugee Test of National Honor

Filed under: Refugee Crisis,Resilience,Risk Assessment — by Philip J. Palin on December 31, 2015

The Wednesday, December 30 Wall Street Journal included an Op-Ed by William A. Galston.  The entire piece is below.  Such wholesale appropriation is bad practice.  I have purposefully waited for one day to pass.  But in my judgment this is the best short analysis and argument I have read regarding the issue.  You should read it too.  I also encourage you to access the WSJ website to scan the over 250 comments that readers have offered.  There are some thoughtful disagreements, there are many more reflexive dismissals.  The few supportive comments are indirect.  

My wife and I have just returned from twelve days with extended family, mostly in Kentucky and Illinois.  On the refugee crisis we encountered a wide-range of opinion: From those opening their own homes to those in need to one individual who was so consumed with anti-immigrant anger that his wife had hidden the television and disconnected Internet, blaming the media for driving her husband crazy.

At a party after the Christmas Eve service an old friend with whom I once shared Latin class reminded me that argument originally had two forms: argutare, meaning to babble, prattle, chatter and arguere, meaning to brighten, clarify, prove.  “Too much tearing, not enough air” was his analysis.  Maybe you had to be there (and sharing the eggnog).  But fundamental to any meaningful homeland security — especially for this particular land — is an ability to communicate with each other: to brighten and clarify, not just babble and accuse.

–+–

The following is by William A. Galston:

Democracies are often better than their leaders, but they cannot be better than their peoples. As months of anger give way to a winter of fear, it is time for Americans to ask themselves some hard questions.

Despite hyperbolic claims to the contrary, we remain the land of the free. But are we still the home of the brave?

According to a CNN/ORC survey released on Monday, 45% of Americans are worried that they or their families will become victims of terrorism. With all due respect, my fellow citizens, this is absurd. During the past decade, seven times more Americans died from lightning strikes in the U.S. than at the hands of Islamist terrorists.

But America’s public culture, which shapes our society and our politics, is increasingly decoupled from facts. We prefer to take our bearings from our sentiments—often the least honorable ones.

Fear is a powerful motivator but a poor counselor. Driven by fear, democracies make mistakes. The World War II internment of Japanese-Americans is a blot on the nation’s history. That the action was demanded by California Attorney General Earl Warren,authorized by President Franklin Roosevelt and ratified by the Supreme Court makes it even worse.

Toward the end of his life, Warren said that he “deeply regretted the removal order and my own testimony advocating it, because it was not in keeping with our American concept of freedom.” Whenever he thought of the children torn from their homes and neighborhoods, he admitted, he was “conscience-stricken.” He had come to believe that “it was wrong to react so impulsively, without positive evidence of disloyalty.”

Warren had discovered what Greek tragedians knew: Wisdom usually comes too late. In 1988 President Reagan signed legislation authorizing financial restitution for surviving Japanese-Americans who had been forcibly relocated. “No payment can make up for those lost years,” Reagan said. “What is most important in this bill has less to do with property than with honor. For here we admit a wrong.”

Fear is the enemy of honor, because it induces us to act dishonorably. That was the effect seven decades ago, and it threatens to return today.

When the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination recently called for a moratorium on the entrance of all Muslims into the U.S., 41% of his party agreed, according to a Quinnipiac survey in mid-December. Asked whether America should admit 10,000 Syrian refugees, only 28% of Americans endorsed humanitarian relief without regard to religion, according to a mid-November Bloomberg survey. Eleven percent said only Christians should be admitted, and a majority—53%—opposed admitting any Syrian refugees at all.

Granted, no public official can honestly say that accepting the refugees entails zero risk. But is that the right standard? Does a truly brave people do the right thing only when it is risk-free? Does a truly brave people exaggerate a minuscule danger into an existential threat? Is this the course of national honor?

The brave individual, Aristotle tells us, fears the right things for the right reasons, in the right way and at the right time. The fear so many Americans feel toward Syrian refugees does not meet that test.

Demagogues manipulate public passions; they don’t create them. These would-be leaders pander to what is worst in us in the service of their destructive agendas.

Real leaders tell the people what they need to hear. True friends of democracy don’t flatter the people. Demagogues assure the people that they are thoroughly virtuous and always right. That is the core falsehood of populism.

On Jan. 20, 1939, just two months after Kristallnacht was front-page news, Gallup’s American Institute of Public Opinion made public the results of a survey asking whether the U.S. government should permit 10,000 refugee children from Germany—most of them Jewish—to enter the country to be taken care of in American homes. Sixty-one percent of the people answered in the negative. The next month, a bill authorizing the admission of 20,000 German-Jewish children was allowed to die in a congressional committee.

That May, as the German liner St. Louis sailed within sight of Miami, President Roosevelt could have issued an executive order allowing nearly 1,000 German refugees, nearly all of them Jews, to enter the country. He did not. The ship returned to Europe, its passengers left to fate as Germany overran the Continent.

Since 2011 the U.S. government has done almost nothing to alter conditions on the ground in Syria. Nor have European governments. Now a flood of refugees threatens the stability of our closest allies. Thousands of refugees already have died at sea. And yet our leaders, backed by the American people, take no responsibility for the consequences of our collective inaction.

Even those who remember the past, it seems, are condemned to repeat it. Nothing changes except the names of the victims.

READ THE ORIGINAL WALL STREET JOURNAL OP-ED AND READER COMMENTS

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8 Comments »

Comment by Claire B. Rubin

December 31, 2015 @ 7:17 am

It is not possible to read the original article and comments without having a subscription.

And it is not clear what part of your posting is the quoted editorial.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

December 31, 2015 @ 8:23 am

Claire:

Thank you. I have made a couple of additions that I hope clarify where my preface ends and Mr. Galston’s Op-Ed begins. I don’t seem to have any options to allow non-subscribers to read the comments… which I suppose is exactly what the WSJ intends.

Here are three recent comments at the WSJ, including a positive comment contributed since I first posted:

FIRST EXAMPLE:

I realize that it is unlikely that I will be killed by a terrorist, but that doesn’t stop me from worrying about my safety and that of my family, friends and fellow citizens. I live and work in the DC area and I remember all too well the fear I felt during the DC Sniper attacks. It was brought all that much closer to home when they were captured near my home. At the same time I believe immigration is why this is the greatest country and only through continued immigration will we remain great. But I’m talking about’smart’ immigration, immigrants who bring with them a desire for a better life for them and their families through hard work, not immigrants who are immediately going to go on welfare where they will remain for successive generations.

SECOND EXAMPLE:

Galston could better draw a comparison between the US and Canadian public reaction to admitting Syrian refugees. In contrast to the characterization that many WSJ readers have of Canada as socialist leaning , it has a very strong and vocal conservative base. Nevertheless, local Canadians all across the country–including the rural and conservative areas–are holding bake sales and raising funds to host Syrian families. It appears there will be far more community supported slots to host refugees than the 25,000 the CND government proposes to admit.

These Canadians are not stupid. They realize vetting cannot be perfect. They simply view it as a risk worth taking when there is such a clear need and ability to help. The risk many Americans are prepared to take is apparently zero. Congratulations to Galtson for saying so and properly challenging Americans for hiding from a clear humanitarian responsibility.

THIRD EXAMPLE:

During the past decade, seven times more Americans died from lightning strikes in the U.S. than at the hands of Islamist terrorists.”

Lightening strikes and snake bites are also relatively low risk events but I am not aware of any program to encourage behaviors that might increase the risk of being struck or bitten. In fact we do the opposite and encourage behaviors to reduce the risk even further.

Given the incompetence or malfeasance of the federal government displayed in the vetting of the San Bernardino terrorists and in its losing track of 9500 people whose visas had been revoked, some due to security concerns, a pause in Muslim immigration is fully warranted.

PALIN FOLLOW-ON COMMENT:

I did not select examples that were — at least to my ears — mostly expressions of rage. One of the issues of communication that most concerns me is that, in many cases, some angry gesture has seemingly become, for some, the password that allows admission to a liturgy of resentment. Without the password, you will be excluded from consideration. But I will also admit, the more anger that is expressed, the more I am inclined to dismiss the messenger. Mutual dismissal is not constructive.

Comment by Christopher Tingus

December 31, 2015 @ 10:01 am

“God is good and faithful. His peace and mercy endure beyond every sorrow in this life” –

Happy 2016 New Year to all fellow Americans who are truly dedicated to the well being of our great Republic! Be vigilant in every way….thank you to our first responders….

As the next to carry the torch from Merkel of an eventual downsized EU, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg recently said that Merkel is “overawed” and leads from behind and in reading Mr. Galston’s viewpoints, much of the instability and the refugees fleeing globally and the distrust among so many fellow Americans towards this present Oval Office et al with so much divisiveness and partisanship and “lawlessness” that there is no wonder that 57k gun permits were applied for on Black Friday alone and that Americans are carrying some 100+ million weapons – for all lawful purpose – yet prepared to defend family and neighbor and citizen even against those from within “entrusted” by precious vote and elected to office only to see a self-serving agenda unfold….

What is happening in France and Europe and the long-term problems and challenges afflicting Europe will only continue to worsen until real leadership is restored to the helm which Guttenberg will bring to the EU, however while real War looms ahead with radical Islam – while America has been so intentionally weakened by Barack Hussein Obama and a Republican led Congress and Senate who have gone along despite voter support in 2012, European nations are deeply rooted in the Holy Roman Empire and as we have seen the Holy Roman Empire united six times throughout history, while we were so unsurprised and expecting Barry Obama to embarrass us when he spoke in Paris given his leanings towards the support in “apology” for America to the Islamic world while Christians are being brutalized and killed in shocking numbers and no one has stepped to the podium to truly condemn this outright cold murder and one must note that Barack Obama’s ideological roots are far more radical (fact) as we cite his 1995 autobiography Dreams From My Father clearly showing how profoundly he has been influenced by Frank Marshall Davis and others very sympathetic to Marxist ideology….

….the “Frank” he mentioned 22 times in this book never divulging Frank’s last name finally admitting on a 1995 airing from Cambridge Municipal Television that the black journalist, poet, and pornographer who joined the Communist Party USA (fact) to become a member#47544.

I mention this Mr. Galston because the affiliations and upbringing of Barack Obama who has led this country and the global landscape to such uncertainty by enabling so many to abuse innocents globally as the United States is no longer leading against the tyrants we see….well, unfortunately you may say that one is unlikely to be killed by a terrorist yet I differ in opinion as time presses forward and far much more terror is launched herein and the (fact) clearly shows that when 9 year old Barack Obama was introduced to 65 year old Frank Marshall Davis in 1970, keep in mind that Marshall stated that the greatest threat to the world wasn’t the Soviet menace, but “Anglo-American imperialist domination” –

So Mr. galston, while Barack Obama has identified with Billy Ayers and the likes of Stalin supporters, Davis can be traced back to working with the American Peace Mobilization front and argued that President Harry Truman was a fascist and a racist imperialist and in his posthumously published memoir Livin’ the Blues, Davis admitted his sole criterion was this: ‘Are you with me in my determination to wipe out white supremacy” –

So you see Mr. Galston that when you state:

“These Canadians are not stupid. They realize vetting cannot be perfect. They simply view it as a risk worth taking when there is such a clear need and ability to help. The risk many Americans are prepared to take is apparently zero. Congratulations to Galtson for saying so and properly challenging Americans for hiding from a clear humanitarian responsibility” –

No, we are educated and enlightened and have now much evidence over seven years of this Oval Office doing its utmost to embarrass and diminish our beloved Republic in every way, a most charitable People, yet a People who cherish their Constitution, our Judeo-Christian way of Life and our boundaries, our borders intentionally kept open as are the convicts who have been allowed by DHS and others to walk among us as well as known terrorists to be permitted to slip back behind enemy lines to plan and strategize and kill more of our precious youth, White, Black and whatever, our precious young Americans….

So, I guess the “White Cracker” Donald Trump which I guess the likes of Barry Obama, Frank Marshall and others so biased, so prejudiced and seeking in every way to divide America and to dismantle the greatest Democracy in the world, well Mr. Galston, while I have been chanting with so many others – place good ‘ol Ms. Hillary and Barry Obama under House arrest for suspicion in breach of trust – treason….

Given the spending spree and again intentional in every way, this Oval Office’s intent to bankrupt our nation with a deficit soaring and a Republican Congress and Senate tagging along, with such void in leadership and more attacks within the homeland promised given this despicable and hateful governing from the White House led by Barry Obama whose other mentor, the illustrious Rev Wright clearly stated in the media in ’07 that as long as WMD’s were in the hands of the “Zionists” than why not Tehran!

However Mr. Galston, while there is far much more to comment and present (facts), while 100+million guns held high by lawful citizens – proud American citizens of all color and background and for lawful purpose and Barack Hussein Obama’s profile is quite clear now in his real intentions to do whatever necessary to do harm to our nation from within, I do concur with you Mr. Galston in your statement:

“Given the incompetence or malfeasance of the federal government displayed in the vetting of the San Bernardino terrorists and in its losing track of 9500 people whose visas had been revoked, some due to security concerns, a pause in Muslim immigration is fully warranted” –

and further Mr. Glaston:

….in the words of James Madison (1775):

“If tyranny and oppression come to this land, it will be under the guise of fighting a foreign enemy. But, in reality it will be an Enemy from within” –

Therefore Mr. Galston, while Barack Hussein Obama now attempts his Executive Orders to take weapons from the citizenry and an election draws near where the point is not to necessarily elect a new President and a woman, but whether woman or man, a leader and a true Patriot and one who cherished ‘ol Glory and he/she committed to enforcing laws, immigration laws as well and standing forthright against the likes of Barry Obama, Billy Ayers, Frank Marshall, Michelle Obama and of course Ms. Jarrett and so many others….

Maybe the “White Cracker” Donald Trump is in fact the leader we should elect despite some of his comments for apparently at least the American Donald Trump who symbolizes American business and ingenuity, innovativeness and prowess is what we now must bring back from this corrupt and se;f-serving agenda where a Secretary of State willingly shares State secrets with everyone to line the coffers of the Clinton Foundation for Billy Boy and Chelsea and should be held in suspicion in breach of faith – treason with Barack Hussein Obama who allows five known terrorists to be traded for a deserter and talks about not leaving any American behind when clearly and shoulder to shoulder, Barack Hussein Obama and good ‘ol Ms. Hillary left our brave warriors behind at the “Benghazi Massacre” –

God Bless America!

Close our borders! No refugees other than Christians who are being brutalized throughout the Middle East and finally with an election, the end of this travesty created by this biased and tainted “Chicago-Hollywood-Washington charade” –

Give our brave NSA Patriots every means to keep a weary eye on this Oval Office as well as any other who does not hold America and its values close to its heart!

Without a restored American leadership and strong arsenal and Democracy, War Looms ahead and w/much confidence, Guttenberg will lead the charge!

Christopher Tingus
“Main Street USA”
chris.tingus@gmail.com

Comment by Philip J. Palin

December 31, 2015 @ 12:19 pm

Mr. Tingus: I have worked to read your response as affirmatively as possible. What I take from your comment is that, given your understanding of his background and your perception of his motivations, you so mistrust President Obama that you are unwilling to take what Mr. Galston characterizes as a reasonable and humane risk. Is this correct? I am even less confident of this next interpretation, but do I understand you mostly agree with Mr. Galston’s analysis and argument, but as long as Mr. Obama is President you are so concerned regarding what the President might do or not do in terms of the terrorist threat (and other threats) that you are unwilling to take any risk that can be avoided?

Comment by Vicki Campbell

December 31, 2015 @ 2:26 pm

Phil, I’m going to repost a comment I just belatedly posted in a forum further down, because I think some of it is relevant here, especially to some of your comments. And then I’ll post some observations about Mr. Galston’s editorial.
____________________________________________________________

Phil, thanks. I do have to differ however in honoring “ethno-nationalist extremists” perceptions of risk. I don’t feel any inclination or obligation, either one, to do so. Bad risk assessments, especially those based on bigotry and ignorance, don’t need to be validated; they need to be countered with much better assessments and proper risk communication, which DHS has done fairly poorly, at least as far as I am aware. Emergency/threat assessment, communication and management aren’t supposed to be forms of group therapy, IMHO, nor do I think such an approach or tone would be a very good way to establish credibility and authority regarding threats or hazards.

But in terms of just discussing larger issues more generally, for me it’s not about being constructive or unconstructive, or about “listening” as you have often mentioned. I’ve listened until I’m blue in the face to the same bigoted, uninformed assertions that are both inherently very destructive and not usually offered in good faith to begin with for a very long time now – and I will continue to. But I’m not going to pretend I’m hearing something other than what I am, or offer false respect for something truly hurtful or immoral simply in order to feign some artificial equivalency or balance or attribution of merit where there is none. And yes, there’s a more or less nice or “constructive” way of going about that sometimes, but I also think that serious transgressions of opinion or policy have very real and detrimental impacts out in the actual real world, and that a serious critique that is properly reflective of such negations that is delivered forthrightly is ultimately the most constructive response in the long run, regardless of any temporary discomfort that might be experienced along the way.

Put differently, I feel pretty much no compulsion to suddenly become naturally therapeutic in political discussions, for many reasons, but especially because my diagnosis of the problem has little to do with some fundamental “not listening” between different positions or an enslavement to some painfully forced, politically correct prescription for how to interact across lines of political difference, etc. I think one of the biggest problems is the fairly gargantuan information gap that very clearly, accurately accompanies these lines of difference, that I see no easy solution for, nor is going to disappear anytime soon. Also, unfortunately, it is an issue that I am probably at my least understanding of, and couldn’t possibly have less patience for (even though I fully think that I actually should, by every criteria that I normally offer up understanding and patience – but I’m simply unable to at this point, at all really, to a degree that I do find troubling, but largely unable to alter).

I often feel that style gets elevated well above substance on this blog sometimes – and when it does I guess I just don’t find it that useful, or thought-provoking, especially in the face of the severity of some of the issues we face. You have also spoken here about finding the amount and kind of disputing seeming to permeate the ether these days as as all but intolerable, but I would submit that depending on who’s life you’re living, that there is plenty to dispute, and I firmly think it is both very noble and thankless work (that is much easier to screw up than get right)- and a whole lot harder than waxing poetic or philosophic instead, which. tmm, is what I feel is too often offered instead of an appropriately serious, meaningful analysis or critique.

I think that the truth has its own ring to it, even for those habitually not listening – and that it can sing its song, so to speak, in a wide variety of contexts and styles of communication, and should in no way be expected to be welcomed or even a little bit easy to hear often times – or perhaps more than anything, to be able to be heard immediately in the moment. I also think that social media is possibly an even more powerful invention than the printing press, and that potentially absolutely everything that is said through it has the possibility of being more influential than through any other venue or forum because of its extraordinary reach – and that is for good or bad what generally shapes my comments, or even my desire to comment at all. This has the downside of often leaving my comments less sensitive to my immediate context than they could, or probably usually should be. My bigger individual issue though is that I have at this point studied pretty extensively the effects and impacts of many of the issues raised here and elsewhere, and as a result actually live with a certain degree of anger, upsetment, frustration and often even trauma that is simply not the norm. And it invariably comes out in the certain “punch” or bite that my either the style or content of my comments often have. Sometimes I feel bad about it, and sometimes I don’t – but either way, it is what it is, and I do believe it has its own value within the larger universe of conversation.
______________________________________________________________

In terms of Mr. Galston’s comments, I “liked” them as far as they go, until the end, however, where they then decidedly disturbed me. Beyond his historical review, his challenge to the notion that there can be such a thing as risk-free courage or bravery was what I found most valuable. However, I do feel it fundamentally really failed at my the-truth-has-its-own-ring-to-it standard at the end, when he didn’t offer even the barest beginning of an acknowledgement of the massive, driving role the west in general and the U.S. in particular has played in the death and destruction heaped upon the Syrian nation and its people, not just by the ridiculously demonized Assas, but by US, and other major European countries. And when he states “Since 2011 the U.S. government has done almost nothing to alter conditions on the ground in Syria,” that is such a dishonest misdirection that it really cancelled out the rest for me, and did nothing but continue the mass delusions that most Americans live with about our country and its place and role and impact in the world, and certainly in the Middle East. That to me is the real problem underneath all of this.

Comment by Vicki Campbell

December 31, 2015 @ 2:34 pm

I offer another editorial from Consortium News’ investigative journalist Robert Parry, of Iran Contra fame: re the mess in the Middle East, well beyond.
___________________________________________________________________

Monday, December 28, 2015
by Consortium News

The Misinformation Mess
by Robert Parry

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman marvels at the right-wing extremism prevalent in the Republican presidential race not just from the “outsider” candidates but from the “establishment” favorites as well, doubling down on President George W. Bush’s economic prescriptions and foreign policies despite their record of disaster.

The media’s obsession with Donald Trump’s off-the-cuff candidacy “has in one way worked to the G.O.P. establishment’s advantage: it has distracted pundits and the press from the hard right turn even conventional Republican candidates have taken, a turn whose radicalism would have seemed implausible not long ago,” Krugman wrote on Monday.

From escalating U.S. military involvement in the Middle East to slashing taxes – again – for the rich, the supposedly “mainstream” Republicans, such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, are acting as if the catastrophes under Bush-43 never happened.

It would be fair to say that the Democrats are suffering from a similar disconnect from the lessons of the last quarter century, with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton bristling with hawkish rhetoric toward Syria and Russia while sending fawning salutations to Israel despite its contribution to the Mideast crisis by repressing the Palestinian people.

Even Clinton’s chief rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, can’t formulate a rational policy toward the Middle East, although – to his credit – he did oppose Bush’s bogus case for invading Iraq and favors prioritizing cooperation with Russia in defeating the Islamic State over demanding another “regime change” in Syria.

But Sanders simply wants to postpone the U.S. removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and he encourages Saudi Arabia to throw its military weight around more across the region, not noticing that the Saudis are backing many of the Sunni jihadists who have helped turn the Middle East into a killing field. Nor does Sanders note that Saudi Arabia’s air force is currently pulverizing Yemen because a Shiite rebel group, the Houthis, gained power in that impoverished nation.

In a rational world, Saudi Arabia would be viewed as a major part of the problem, not part of any solution.

On domestic policy, Sanders – like Trump – does seem to have touched a populist political nerve in their recognition that neo-liberalism (as preached since Bill Clinton’s presidency) has failed to protect America’s middle class. Though Sanders’s and Trump’s brands of populism offer sharply divergent remedies, they both speak to Main Street’s fear that it is being left behind by the high-tech globalized world that has diverted vast wealth to Wall Street and Silicon Valley

The more traditional candidates – whether Hillary Clinton or the establishment Republicans – don’t address the heart of this problem. Instead, they choose to play it safe on the edges while embracing the “free market” orthodoxies that created the crisis.

A Propagandized People

But is it really possible to expect that the American people (as propagandized and misinformed as they are) could effect significant change through the electoral process, which is itself deeply compromised by vast sums of dark money from American oligarchs, while other super-rich Americans own the major media companies.

So, while there may be some logical responses to this combination of crises, the media/political system prevents them from being considered in any coherent way.

For instance, a rational approach to the Middle East would shift American alliances away from the reactionary Persian Gulf monarchies and Turkey and toward a more balanced approach that would invite greater involvement of Shiite-ruled Iran, which the Sunni-led monarchies view as their chief regional rival. There is little reason for the United States to take one side of a sectarian split within Islam that dates back to the Seventh Century.

By shedding its current pro-Saudi bias, the United States could finally get serious about resolving the Syrian crisis by shutting down the money and weapons going from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to the extremists not just in the Islamic State but also in Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and its various jihadist allies.

Since summer 2014, President Barack Obama and his “coalition” have been fighting a half-hearted war that has failed to face down the U.S. “allies” aiding the Sunni jihadists in Syria. Only when shamed by Russia in fall 2015 did the U.S. coalition join in bombing trucks carrying the Islamic State’s oil from Syria through Turkey’s open borders for resale in the black market. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “A Blind Eye Toward Turkey’s Crimes.”]

As for Syria’s political future, a reasonable approach would be to leave the selection of national leaders up to the Syrian people through internationally organized democratic elections. The voters would be the ones to decide Assad’s fate, not outsiders.

Yet, Official Washington finds itself in the crazy position of extending the bloody Syrian war – and the resulting chaos across the region and into Europe – because Obama and other Important People said “Assad must go!” and don’t want to lose face by dropping that demand. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Neocons Object to Syrian Democracy.“]

A realistic approach to the Middle East also requires finally standing up to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, rather than letting him dance U.S. political leaders around the world stage like puppets on a marionette’s string. A balanced approach to the Middle East would allow for collaborating with Russia and Iran to apply pressure on the parties in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to make the necessary concessions for a peace deal, imperfect though it would surely be.

The need to work with Russian President Vladimir Putin would also require rethinking the aggressive U.S. strategy regarding NATO and Ukraine. Instead of insisting that everything is “Putin’s fault,” the U.S. government could acknowledge its hand in exacerbating the political crisis in Ukraine in 2013-14 and admit that the U.S.-backed putsch on Feb. 22, 2014, was not the simple story of “our good guys vs. their bad guys” that was sold to the American public.

As part of all this reassessment, there needs to be a coming-clean with the American people regarding what U.S. intelligence knows about a variety of key events, including but not limited to the Aug. 21, 2013 sarin attack outside Damascus, Syria; the Feb. 20, 2014 sniper attack in Kiev, Ukraine, which set the stage for the coup; and the July 17, 2014 shoot-down of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine.

The fact that such events have been exploited for propaganda reasons – to blame U.S. “adversaries” – while the detailed knowledge of the U.S. intelligence agencies is hidden from the American people has deprived the public of an ability to make rational assessments about the larger policies. U.S. positions are driven by false or faulty perceptions, not reality.

The Disappearing Middle Class

Along with bringing rationality and reason back to U.S. foreign policy, a similar process of truth-telling could take place domestically. The core problem of America’s disappearing middle class is not just technology and globalization; it is that the super-profits from those developments have gone overwhelmingly to the extremely rich, rather than equitably shared with the population.

Thus, we see the rapid shrinking of the Great American Middle Class, a development that is destructive and dangerous because a prosperous middle class serves as ballast for an economy, preventing it from suddenly capsizing.

Plus, if most people can’t afford to buy the products that technology produces, then eventually the investment in that technology becomes unprofitable, a lesson well known since the days of Henry Ford who wanted his workers to earn enough to afford to buy his cars.

There is the trick question about what is the value of all the properties and hotels in “Monopoly” once one player has won by bankrupting all the other players. The answer is zero because no one has any money to visit the properties or stay at the hotels. They thus have no monetary value. A similar reality holds true in the real-world economy. Over-concentration of wealth is a threat.

The answer to this conundrum is also clear: since it is impossible to stop technological advancement and risky to start trade wars, the alternative is to tax the super-profits of the rich and recycle the money in the form of jobs to build infrastructure, educate the young, protect the environment, research ways to improve health, etc.

There is nothing wrong with having machines do more of the drudgery and give humans more time to enjoy life. The problem comes when the benefits accrue to a tiny minority and the rest of us are forced to work harder or face declining living standards.

But what prevents us from making the sensible move – i.e., dramatically increase taxes on the rich and put that money to use putting people to work on worthy projects – is Ronald Reagan’s propaganda message that “government is the problem.” The Right has built onto that theme the idea that government promoting the common good is against the U.S. Constitution.

Thus, you have extremists such as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz posing as “constitutionalists” as they ignore the fact that the chief authors of the Constitution – the Federalists – inserted a clear mandate for the U.S. government to “provide for the … general Welfare.” That authority was cited in both the Preamble and Article I, Section 8, which enumerates the government’s powers. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Right’s Made-up Constitution.”]

In other words, the “originalist” meaning of the U.S. Constitution was in favor of a robust and activist federal government. But few Americans know and understand that history. They have been sold on a false rendition that serves the interests of the rich who understandably don’t want the government to use its taxing powers on behalf of the broader population.

The Heart of the Matter

Which get us to the heart of the matter: Why is the American political debate so ill-informed and misinformed? Why was there virtually no accountability in the mainstream U.S. news media when nearly every important foreign-policy journalist and pundit bought into the WMD lies that justified the Iraq War? Why are the same kinds of “group thinks” continuing to prevail, with U.S. government propaganda accepted rather than questioned?

The answer to that conundrum is that Official Washington is dominated – on foreign policy – by neoconservatives and their liberal-interventionist sidekicks and – on domestic policy – by neo-liberals and government-hating conservatives. The old days – when there were foreign policy “realists” who acted more from a perspective of American interests and politicians who remembered the Great Depression and the New Deal – are gone.

The neoconservatives, who emerged as pro-Vietnam War Democrats in the 1970s and switched over to Reagan Republicans in the 1980s, have proved to be a formidable and effective force for a propaganda-driven foreign policy that sees American interests as indistinguishable from Israel’s and treats the American people like cattle to be herded.

That is why real information is as dangerous to neocons as water was to the Wicked Witch of the West. It is also why they have concentrated so much on getting control of the flow of news to the American people. If all the public gets is propaganda – and if honest journalists and scholars are marginalized and silenced – then the people will either support the latest neocon/liberal-hawk cause or end up in confused disarray, not sure what to believe.

The truth is that the neocons and their liberal-hawk allies now control virtually the entire mainstream news media, from The New York Times and The Washington Post to NPR and the major networks to Fox News and most of right-wing talk radio. Even esteemed journalist Seymour Hersh now must go overseas to the London Review of Books to get his important reporting published when it challenges the “group think” on Syria and other topics.

‘Free Market’ Capitalism

A similar situation exists regarding “free market” capitalism that is embraced by both neo-liberals and right-wing economists. For decades, in the major U.S. news media, it has been hard to hear a discouraging word about “free trade” deals even though labor leaders and some populist politicians warned presciently that these deals would cost millions of middle-class factory jobs.

Today, there is more skepticism about “free trade” as the social and economic impact has become undeniable but, again, there was no accountability for the misleading advocates of these agreements nor a serious effort to rewrite the deals. Renegotiation of the trade deals has been one of Donald Trump’s major proposals and applause lines.

But most Republican candidates favor more of the same: more unrestrained capitalism and less taxation on the wealthy. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton positions herself as a centrist, promising no “middle class” tax increases on people making $250,000 or less, a redefinition of the “middle class” to include families making about five times the median income.

Despite their other shortcomings, Trump and Sanders are the only candidates seriously addressing some of these key economic issues. For his part, Sanders advocates much higher taxes – especially on the wealthy and the stock speculators – to fund a broad range of social programs, such as Medicare for all, and to finance massive infrastructure rebuilding.

Yet, the central challenge for a possible political transformation in America rests on reliable information getting to the people, especially given all the sources of misinformation and the many barriers to the truth. That battle – restoring the life-blood of democracy, an informed electorate – remains the challenge of our time.

© 2015 Consortium News

Comment by Philip J. Palin

December 31, 2015 @ 5:27 pm

Vicki: Thanks for your recent corrections, for the Parry piece, and for moving up what you originally wrote for the style-substance discussion… all very constructive to my effort at thinking. I want to take some time to consider a couple of your alternative perspectives before I try to adopt, adapt or otherwise respond. Best wishes for the close of this year and the beginning of the new.

Comment by Vicki Campbell

January 1, 2016 @ 3:33 am

Thank you, Phil – I wish you the same. We lasted later this year than most, but all the food is put away and the dishes are done, and we had a especially wonderful time welcoming in the new year with family and friends. With each year that passes, it has become ever clearer how very blessed I am – and I feel very grateful for that. I wish the same for everyone in the HLSWatch community.

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