A new world is dawning, and the US will no longer lead it

File 20180622 26555 1lnka31.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, center, speaks with U.S. President Donald Trump, at the contentious G7 Leaders Summit in Canada in June.
AP/Jesco Denzel/German Federal Government

By , Professor Emeritus, American University School of International Service

From pulling out of treaties to denigrating allies to starting trade wars, the impulsive actions of President Donald Trump are upending the international order that has been in place since the end of World War II.

But even before Trump’s belligerent foreign policy positions, America had been gradually losing its dominant role in world affairs.

A power shift among the nations of the world began at the end of the Cold War and has been accelerating this century.

It is not as simple as saying “America is in decline,” since America remains a powerful country. But American global power has been eroding for some time, as I argue in the Foreign Policy Association’s “Great Decisions 2018” volume. The power of other countries has grown, giving them both the ability and the desire to effect global affairs independently of U.S. desires.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: ‘We are the indispensable nation.’
AP/Joe Marquette

I am a foreign policy scholar and practitioner who has studied U.S. foreign policy through many administrations. I believe this global trend spells the end of the “exceptional nation” Americans imagined they were since the nation was founded and the end of the American era of global domination that began 70 years ago. We are no longer the “indispensable” nation celebrated by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at the end of the last century.

Pax Americana no more

Since the end of WWII, the U.S. has been the central player in the international system, leading in the creation of new international organizations like the United Nations, NATO, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

American diplomacy has been essential to multinational agreements on trade, climate, regional security and arms control. Americans could and did claim to be at the center of a “rules-based international order.”

Those days are gone.

Not only do China and Russia contest America’s global role, a growing number of other countries are asserting an independent and increasingly influential role in regional economic and security developments.

Neither American political party has come to grips with this sea change. Until they do, U.S. global actions are likely to be less effective, even counterproductive.

Who’s on top?

The power shifts are increasingly visible. In the Middle East, the U.S. hoped for decades to isolate Iran as a pariah and weaken the regime until it fell.

Today, that goal is unimaginable, though national security adviser John Bolton continues to imagine it.

Iran is and will remain an increasingly assertive and influential power in the region, defending and promoting its interests and competing with the Saudi regime.

The Russians are in the Middle East region for good, building on their long-standing relationship with the family of Syria’s dictator.

Turkey, a rising regional power, acts increasingly independent of the preferences of the U.S., its NATO ally, playing its own hand in the regional power game.

The U.S. helped unleash these trends with the strategically fatal invasion of Iraq in 2003 – fatal, because it permanently removed a regional leader who balanced the power of Iran. The failure to create a stable Iraq stimulated regional religious and political conflicts and rendered ineffective subsequent U.S. efforts to influence current trends in the region, as the continually ineffective policies in Syria show.

U.S. Army helicopter crew chief in Afghanistan.
Capt. Brian Harris, U.S. Army via AP

In Asia, decades of U.S. condemnation and efforts to contain the rise of Chinese power have failed. An assertive China has risen.

China now plays almost as powerful a role in the global economy as the U.S. It has defended an authoritarian model for economic growth, armed artificial islands in the South China Sea, and built a military base in Djibouti. China has created new multilateral organizations for security discussions and one for infrastructure loans, which the U.S. declined to join. It has developed a global lending program – the Belt and Road Initiative – and has stepped into a stronger global role on climate change. And China is spreading its political and economic influence into Africa and Latin America.

The U.S. cannot slow Chinese economic growth nor contain its power. China is changing the rules, whether the U.S. likes it or not.

Elsewhere in Asia, Japan moves toward a renewed nationalism and has removed restrictions on its defense spending and the deployment of its military in the face of growing Chinese power.

North Korea behaves more and more like a regional power, winning a direct meeting with the U.S. president while making only a general commitment to denuclearize. The prospect of a unified Korea would bring into being another major regional power center in the Northern Pacific.

Other countries, like the Philippines and Australia, hedge their bets by improving bilateral relations with China. And India is a growing economic and military presence in the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia.

Nor will the U.S. contain the rise of Russia, whose government poisons its citizens overseas and kills dissenters at home. At the same time, Russia is rebuilding its military and intruding in others’ elections. The Russian regime is threatening its near neighbors and actively engaging in the Middle East.

President Vladimir Putin asserts Russia’s interests and role in the world, like any other great power. Russia is consciously and actively rebalancing the power of the United States, with some success.

Military power, the American global trump card, is not as useful a tool as it once was.

While the U.S. continues to have the world’s only global military capability, able to deploy anywhere, it is no longer evident that this capability effectively sustains U.S. leadership. Clear military victories are few – the Gulf War in 1991 being an exception. The endless U.S. deployment in Afghanistan carries the whiff of Vietnam in its inability to resolve that country’s civil war.

Meanwhile, the militaries of other countries, acting independently of the U.S., are proving effective, as both Turkish and Iranian operations in Syria suggest.

Abroad at home

The transition to this new era is proving difficult for American policy-makers.

The Trump “America First” foreign policy is based on the view that the U.S. needs to defend its interests by acting alone, eschewing or withdrawing from multilateral arrangements for trade, economics, diplomacy or security.

Trump praises “strong” nationalistic leadership in authoritarian countries, while democratic leadership in allied countries is criticized as weak.

In response, allies distance themselves from the United States. Others are emboldened to act in an equally nationalistic and assertive way.

The leaders of Russia and Turkey are strengthening ties.
AP/Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool

Some conservatives, like Sen. John McCain, call for confrontation with Russia and strengthening traditional American alliances, particularly NATO.

Others, like John Bolton, call for regime change in assertive powers like Iran.

Liberals and many Democrats criticize Trump for alienating traditional allies like Canada, France and Germany while befriending dictators. Policy-makers once critical of confrontational policies now condemn Trump for failing to confront Russia and China.

A different president in Washington, D.C., will not restore the “rules-based” international order. The underlying changes in global power relations have already undermined that order.

A neo-conservative foreign policy, featuring unilateral American military intervention, as favored by John Bolton, will only accelerate the global shift. Liberal internationalists like Hillary Clinton would fail as well, because the rest of the world rejects the assumption that the U.S. is “indispensable” and “exceptional.” Barack Obama appeared to recognize the changing reality, but continued to argue that only the U.S. could lead the international system.

The ConversationAmerica will need to learn new rules and play differently in the new balance-of-power world, where others have assets and policies the U.S. does not and cannot control.


Gordon Adams, Professor Emeritus, American University School of International Service

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Gordon Adams does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Tomgram: Frida Berrigan, Growing Up With the Threat of Pervasive Violence

Posted by Frida Berrigan at 4:41pm, April 15, 2018.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch.

It’s been a terrible year for gun makers. The venerable Remington filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy after its sales fell 27.5% in the first nine months of Donald Trump’s presidency. (Its officials had expected a 2016 Hillary Clinton victory to ensure a burst of gun purchases.) And Remington wasn’t alone. Sales have been ragged across the industry. Gun company stocks have slipped, profits have fallen, price wars are breaking out, and corporate debt is on the rise. January 2018 was the worst January for gun purchases since 2012. (A mere2,030,530 firearm background checks were logged that month, down by 500,000 from the same month in 2016!) It was the “Trump slump” in action.

The good old days for the gun makers — you know, the ones when a Kenyan Muslim was in the White House and a mass of Democratic congressional flamethrowers was preparing to shut the spigot on gun purchases in America forever with draconian laws — are long past. The National Rifle Association reigns; Republicans control Congress; Trump rules; gun control laws are something to be found in a galaxy far, far away; and all is safe, sound, and well in the world.

Or put another way, what’s often referred to as “fear-based” gun buying is no longer buoying the industry. One sign of this: in the past, mass shooting incidents (and the media brouhahas around them) were surefire gun-purchase inducers. Those background checks (a good measure of gun sales), for instance, rose 50% after Sandy Hook, 43% after the San Bernardino killings, and 40% after the Orlando Pulse nightclub massacre. But after last October’s Las Vegas slaughter in which 58 died and hundreds were wounded, they sank by 13% compared to October 2016. And even the recent Parkland school killings and the gun debate and youthful protests that followed didn’t seem to help sales (at least not until quite recently).

So, fear and guns. After President Obama was elected and the Democrats took Congress, gun production tripled in this country (and imports doubled), while, according to recent studies, white men who fit a certain profile — “anxious about their ability to protect their families, insecure about their place in the job market, and beset by racial fears” — stockpiled guns in record numbers. The gun, as one study reported, feels to them like “a force for order in a chaotic world,” though such owners are significantly more likely to use a gun in their home to kill or wound themselves or someone in their family than a burglar, intruder, or anyone else.

Think about a country filled with guns in numbers that should stagger the imagination, weapons that often have the power to rend flesh in ways that fit war, not the home. Then imagine the fears that have run rampart in this country in recent years and read the thoughts of TomDispatch regular Frida Berrigan, as a mother, as the child of famed pacifists who protested violence and weaponry of every sort, and as a relatively sane soul in a country deeply on edge with itself. Tom

Gunning Down the Easter Bunny 
The Weaponization of Everyday Life 
By Frida Berrigan

Guns. In a country with more than 300 million of them, a country that’s recently been swept up in a round of protests over the endless killing sprees they permit, you’d think I might have had more experience with them.

As it happens, I’ve held a gun only once in my life. I even fired it. I was in perhaps tenth grade and enamored with an Eagle Scout who loved war reenactments. On weekends, he and his friends camped out, took off their watches to get into the spirit of the War of 1812, and dressed in homemade muslin underclothes and itchy uniforms. I was there just one weekend. Somehow my pacifist parents signed off on letting their daughter spend the day with war reenactors. Someone lent me a period gown, brown and itchy and ill-fitting. We women and girls spent an hour twisting black gunpowder into newspaper scraps. I joked that the newspaper was anachronistic — the previous week’s Baltimore Sun — but no one laughed.

A man came by with a long gun, an antique, resting on the shoulder of his jerkin to collect our “bullets” and he must have read the gun terror written on my face.

“Wanna give it a try?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said, stumbling to my feet, pushing my gown out of the way, and trying to act like I didn’t have broken-rifle patches, symbols of the pacifist War Resisters League, all over my real clothes. I felt a surge of adrenaline as I took the heavy weapon in my way-too-small hands. He showed me how to wrestle it into position, aim it, and fire. There were no bullets, just one of my twists of powder, but it made a terrifying noise. I shrieked and came close to dropping the weapon.

And there it was: the beginning, middle, and end of my love affair with guns — less than a minute long. Still, my hands seemed to tingle for the rest of the afternoon and the smell of gunpowder lingered in my hair for days.

Got Guns?

One in four Americans now owns a gun or lives in a household with guns. So how strange that, on that day in the late 1980s, I saw a real gun for the first and last time. I grew up in inner city Baltimore. I’ve worked at soup kitchens and homeless shelters all over the East Coast and stayed at dozens of Catholic Worker Houses around the country — Providence, Camden, Syracuse, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles — every one in a “tough” neighborhood. I lived in Red Hook, Brooklyn, in the mid-1990s, before you could get a $4 coffee or a zucchini scone on Van Brunt Street, before there was an Ikea or a Fairway in the neighborhood. All those tough communities, those places where President Trump imagines scenes of continual “American carnage,” and I’ve never again seen a gun.

Still, people obviously own them and use them in staggering numbers and in all sorts of destructive ways. Sensing that they’re widespread beyond my imagination, my husband and I have started asking the parents of our kids’ school friends if they own guns when we arrange play dates or sleepovers. We learned this from the father of a classmate of my 11-year-old stepdaughter Rosena. The dad called to make the arrangements for his son to come over after school. We talked logistics and food allergies and then he paused. “Now, I am sorry if this is intrusive,” he said, “but I do ask everyone: Do you keep guns in your house?” He sounded both uncomfortable and resolute.

I almost choked on my urge to say, “Don’t you know who I am?” In certain odd corners at least, my last name, Berrigan, is still synonymous with muscular pacifism and principled opposition to violence and weaponry of just about any kind, right up to the nuclear kind. But that dad probably didn’t even know my last name and it probably wouldn’t have meant a thing to him if he had. He just wanted to make sure his son was going to be safe and I was grateful that he asked — rather than just assuming, based on our Volvo-driving, thrift-shop-dressing, bumper-sticker-sporting lifestyle, that we didn’t.

“You know how kids are,” he said after I assured him that we were a gun-free household. “They’ll be into everything.”

And right he is. Kids are “into everything,” which is undoubtedly why so many of them end up with guns in their hands or bullets in their bodies.

“Do you question everyone about their guns?” I asked the dad. He replied that he did and, if they answered yes, then he’d ask whether those weapons were locked away, whether the ammunition was stored separately, and so on.

“Thank you so much. I think we need to start doing that too,” I said as our conversation was ending and indeed I have ever since.

It’s a subject worth raising, however awkward the conversation that follows may be, because two million kids in this country live in homes where guns are not stored safely and securely. So far this year, 59 kids have been hurt in gun accidents of one sort or another. On average, every 34 hours in our great nation a child is involved in an unintentional shooting incident, often with tragic consequences.

The National Rifle Association’s classic old argument, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” takes on a far harsher edge when you’re talking about a seven-year-old accidentally killing his nine-year-old brother with a gun they found while playing in an empty neighboring house in Arboles, Colorado.

Two weeks after we learn this new parenting life skill in this oh-so-new century of ours, my husband Patrick is on the phone with a mom arranging a sleepover for Rosena. I hear him fumble his way through the gun question. From his responses, I assume the mom is acknowledging that they do have guns. Then there’s the sort of long, awkward silence that seems part and parcel of such conversations before Patrick finally says, “Well, okay, thanks for being so honest. I appreciate that.”

He hangs up and looks at me. “They do keep guns for hunting and protection, but they’re locked up and out of sight,” he tells me. “The mom says that the kids have never tried to get at the guns, but she understands the dangers.” (He had heard in her voice apology, embarrassment, and worry that the guns might mean no sleepover.)

I grimaced in a way that said: I don’t think Rosena should go and he responded that he thought she should. The two of them then had a long conversation about what she should do and say if she sees a gun. She slept over and had a great time. A lesson in navigating difference, trusting our kid, and phew… no guns made an appearance. And we know more about our neighbors and our community.

Anything Can Be a Gun

My son Seamus, five, received an Easter basket from a family friend. He was happy about the candy of course and immediately smitten with the stuffed bunny, but he was over the moon about what he called his new “carrot gun.” It wasn’t a toy gun at all, but a little basket that popped out a light ball when you pressed a button.

The idea was that you’d catch the ball, put it back in, and do it again. But that wasn’t the game my kids played. They promptly began popping it at each other. His little sister Madeline, four, was in tattle mode almost immediately. “Mom, Seamus is shooting me with his carrot gun!”

“Mom, mom, mom,” he responded quickly, “it’s a pretend play gun, not a real play gun. It’s okay.” He made popping noises with his mouth and held his hand as if he were grasping a genuine forbidden toy gun. It was an important distinction for him. He’d been a full-throated participant in the March for Our Lives in Boston on March 24th, chanting with the rest of us “What do we want? Gun Control! When do we want it? NOW!” for four hours straight.

At the march, he pointed out that all the police officers managing traffic and the flow of people were wearing guns on their belts.

“I see a gun, Mom,” he kept saying, or “That police officer has a gun, Mom.”

Repeatedly, he noticed the means to kill — and then four days after that huge outpouring of youth-led activism for gun security, Stephon Clark was indeed gunned down in his grandmother’s backyard in Sacramento, California. The police officers who shot him were looking for someone who had been breaking car windows in the neighborhood and they fired 20 shots into the dark in his direction. The independent autopsy found that he had been hit eight times, mostly in his back. Clark turned out to be holding only a cellphone, though the police evidently mistook it for a tool bar, which could have done them no harm from that distance, even if he had wielded it as a weapon.

Maybe the police saw a weapon the same way my five-year-old son sees one. He can make a stick or just about anything else, including that little basket, into a “gun” and so evidently can the police. Police officers have killed black men and boys holding pipeswater hose nozzlesknives, and yes, toy guns, too.

Where Does the Violence Come From?

Parkland (17 killed, 14 wounded). Newtown (28 killed, 2 wounded). Columbine (15 killed, 21 injured). School shootings are now treated as a structural part of our lives. They have become a factor in school architecture, administrator training, city and state funding, and security plans. The expectation that something terrible will happen at school shapes the way that three- and four-year-olds are introduced to its culture. Part of their orientation now involves regular “shelter in place” and “secure-school” drills.

At my daughter’s pre-school, the kids are told that they’re hiding from rabid raccoons, those animals standing in for marauding, disaffected white boys or men roaming the halls armed. As parents, we need to do more than blindly accept that these traumatic exercises are preparing our kids for the worst and helping them survive. Kids are vulnerable little beings and there are countless dangers out there, but they have a one-in-600-million chance of dying in a school shooting. We endanger them so much more by texting while driving them home from school.

After every episode of violence at a school — or in the adult world at a churchnight clubconcertmovie theater, or workplace like San Bernardino’s Inland Regional Center or the YouTube headquarters — there’s always a huge chorus of “why”? Pundits look at the shooter’s history, his (it’s almost always a guy) trauma, and whatever might be known about his mental health. They speculate on his (or, in the rare case of those YouTube shootings, her) political leanings, racial hatreds, and ethnic background. The search for whys can lead to hand wringing about hard-driving rock music or nihilistic video games or endemic bullying — all of which could indeed be factors in the drive to kill significant numbers of unsuspecting people — but never go far enough or deep enough.

Two questions are answered far too infrequently: Where do the guns come from? Where does violence come from?

Guns of all sizes and description are manufactured and sold in this country in remarkable numbers, far more than can be legally absorbed in our already gun-saturated land, so thousands of them move instead into the gray and black markets. Evidence of this trend shows up repeatedly in Mexico, where 70% of the weapons seized in crimes between 2009 and 2014 turned out to be made in El Norte. We have an estimated 300 million guns in this country, making us first by far in the world in gun ownership and some of them couldn’t conceivably be used for “hunting.” They are military-style weapons meant to tear human flesh and nothing but that — like the AR-15 that 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz legally bought and used in his grim Parkland shooting spree.

This country, in other words, is a cornucopia of guns, which — honestly, folks — doesn’t have a damn thing to do with the Second Amendment.

Where does the violence come from? I’ve already shared my inexperience with guns. Now, let me add to it my inexperience with violence. I don’t know what it’s like to have to react in a split second to or flee an advancing perpetrator. No one has ever come at me with a gun or a knife or a pipe, or anything else for that matter. And I count myself lucky for that. In a nation in which, in 2016 alone, 14,925 people were killed due to gun violence and another 22,938 used a gun to kill themselves, it’s a significant thing to be able to say.

And yet, I know that I’m the product of violence (as well as the urge, in my own family, to protest and stop it): the violence of white privilege, the violence of American colonialism, the violence of American superpowerdom on a global scale… and that’s no small thing. It’s a lot easier to blame active-shooter scenarios on poor mental-health screening than on growing up in a world layered with the threat of pervasive violence.

Power is about never having to say you’re sorry, never being held accountable. And that’s hardly just a matter of police officers shooting black men and boys; it’s about the way in which this country is insulated from international opprobrium by its trillion-dollar national security state, a military that doesn’t hesitate to divide the whole world into seven U.S. “commands,” and a massive, planet-obliterating nuclear arsenal.

And don’t think that any of that’s just a reflection of Trumpian bombast and brutality either. That same sense of never having to say you’re sorry at a global level undergirded Barack Obama’s urbane dispassion, George Bush Junior’s silver spoon cluelessness, Bill Clinton’s folksy accessibility, George Bush Senior’s patrician poshness, Ronald Reagan’s aura of Hollywood charm, and Jimmy Carter’s southern version of the same. We’re talking about weapons systems designed to rain down a magnitude of terror unimaginable to the Nikolas Cruzes, Dylann Roofs, and Adam Lanzas of the world.

And it doesn’t even make us safe! All that money, all that knowledge, all that power put into the designing and displaying of weapons of mass destruction and we remain remarkably vulnerable as a nation. After all, in schools, homes, offices, neighborhoods across the country, we are being killed by our kids, our friends, our lovers, our police officers, our crumbling roads and bridges, our derailing trains. And then, of course, there are all those guns. Guns meant to destroy. Guns beyond counting.

So what might actually make us safer? After all, people theoretically buy the kind of firepower you might otherwise use only in war and pledge allegiance to the U.S. war machine in search of some chimera of safety. And yet, despite that classic NRA line — “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun” — are we truly safer in a nation awash in such weaponry with so many scrambling in a state of incipient panic to buy yet more? Are my kids truly on the way to a better life as they practice cowering in their cubbies in darkened classrooms for fear of invading rabid “raccoons”?

Don’t you think that true security lies not in our arming ourselves to the teeth against other people — that is, in our disconnection from them — but in our connection to them, to the web of mutuality that has bound societies, small and large, for millennia? Don’t you think that we would be more secure and so much less terrified if we found ways to acknowledge and share our relative abundance to meet the needs of others? In a world awash in guns and fears, doesn’t our security have to involve trust and courage and always be (at best) a work in progress?

As for me, I’m tackling that work in progress in whatever ways I can — with my neighbors, my town, my husband, and most of all my children, educating them in the ways violence scars and all those weapons just increase our journey into hell, never delivering the security they promise.


Frida Berrigan, a TomDispatch regular, writes the Little Insurrections blog for WagingNonviolence.org, is the author of It Runs In The Family: On Being Raised By Radicals and Growing Into Rebellious Motherhoodand lives in New London, Connecticut.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, as well as John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2018 Frida Berrigan

 

How the GOP Used a Two Santa Clauses Tactic to Con America for Nearly 40 Years

This scam has been killing wages and enriching billionaires for decades

By Thom Hartmann / Reprinted from AlterNet

The only thing wrong with the U.S. economy is the failure of the Republican Party to play Santa Claus.
-Jude Wanniski, March 6, 1976 

Ronald Reagan (Photo credit: whitehouse.gov)

The Republican Party has been running a long con on America since Reagan’s inauguration, and somehow our nation’s media has missed it – even though it was announced in The Wall Street Journal in the 1970s and the GOP has clung tenaciously to it ever since.

In fact, Republican strategist Jude Wanniski’s 1974 “Two Santa Clauses Theory” has been the main reason why the GOP has succeeded in producing our last two Republican presidents, Bush and Trump (despite losing the popular vote both times). It’s also why Reagan’s economy seemed to be “good.”

Here’s how it works, laid it out in simple summary.

First, when Republicans control the federal government, and particularly the White House, spend money like a drunken sailor and run up the US debt as far and as fast as possible.  This produces three results – it stimulates the economy thus making people think that the GOP can produce a good economy, it raises the debt dramatically, and it makes people think that Republicans are the “tax-cut Santa Claus.”

Second, when a Democrat is in the White House, scream about the national debt as loudly and frantically as possible, freaking out about how “our children will have to pay for it!” and “we have to cut spending to solve the crisis!” This will force the Democrats in power to cut their own social safety net programs, thus shooting their welfare-of-the-American-people Santa Claus.

Think back to Ronald Reagan, who more than tripled the US debt from a mere $800 billion to $2.6 trillion in his 8 years. That spending produced a massive stimulus to the economy, and the biggest non-wartime increase in the debt in history. Nary a peep from Republicans about that 218% increase in our debt; they were just fine with it.

And then along came Bill Clinton. The screams and squeals from the GOP about the “unsustainable debt” of nearly $3 trillion were loud, constant, and echoed incessantly by media from CBS to NPR.  Newt Gingrich rode the wave of “unsustainable debt” hysteria into power, as the GOP took control of the House for the first time lasting more than a term since 1930, even though the increase in our national debt under Clinton was only about 37%.

The GOP “debt freakout” was so widely and effectively amplified by the media that Clinton himself bought into it and began to cut spending, taking the axe to numerous welfare programs (“It’s the end of welfare as we know it” he famously said, and “The era of big government is over”).  Clinton also did something no Republican has done in our lifetimes: he supported several balanced budgets and handed a budget surplus to George W. Bush.

When George W. Bush was given the White House by the Supreme Court (Gore won the popular vote by over a half-million votes) he reverted to Reagan’s strategy and again nearly doubled the national debt, adding a trillion in borrowed money to pay for his tax cut for GOP-funding billionaires, and tossing in two unfunded wars for good measure, which also added at least (long term) another $5 to $7 trillion.

There was not a peep about the debt from any high-profile in-the-know Republicans then; in fact, Dick Cheney famously said, essentially ratifying Wanniski’s strategy, “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter. We won the midterms [because of those tax cuts]. This is our due.” Bush and Cheney raised the debt by 86% to over $10 trillion (although the war debt wasn’t put on the books until Obama entered office).

Then comes Democratic President Barack Obama, and suddenly the GOP is hysterical about the debt again.  So much so that they convinced a sitting Democratic president to propose a cut to Social Security (the “chained CPI”). Obama nearly shot the Democrats biggest Santa Claus program.  And, Republican squeals notwithstanding, Obama only raised the debt by 34%.

Now we’re back to a Republican president, and once again deficits be damned. Between their tax cut and the nearly-trillion dollar spending increase passed on February 8th, in the first year-and-a-month of Trump’s administration they’ve spent more stimulating the economy (and driving up debt by more than $2 trillion, when you include interest) than the entire Obama presidency.

Consider the amazing story of where this strategy came from, and how the GOP has successfully kept their strategy from getting into the news; even generally well-informed writers for media like the Times and the Post – and producers, pundits and reporters for TV news – don’t know the history of what’s been happening right in front of us all for 37 years.

Republican strategist Jude Wanniski first proposed his Two Santa Clauses strategy in 1974, when Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace and the future of the Republican Party was so dim that books and articles were widely suggesting the GOP was about to go the way of the Whigs.  There was genuine despair across the Party, particularly when Jerry Ford began stumbling as he climbed the steps to Air Force One and couldn’t even beat an unknown peanut farmer from rural Georgia for the presidency.

Wanniski was tired of the GOP failing to win elections.  And, he reasoned, it was happening because the Democrats had been viewed since the New Deal as the Santa Claus party (taking care of people’s needs and the General Welfare), while the GOP, opposing everything from Social Security to Medicare to unemployment insurance, was widely seen as the party of Scrooge.

The Democrats, he noted, got to play Santa Claus when they passed out Social Security and Unemployment checks – both programs of the New Deal – as well as when their “big government” projects like roads, bridges, and highways were built, giving a healthy union paycheck to construction workers and making our country shine.

Democrats kept raising taxes on businesses and rich people to pay for things, which didn’t seem to have much effect at all on working people (wages were steadily going up, in fact), and that added to the perception that the Democrats were a party of Robin Hoods, taking from the rich to fund programs for the poor and the working class.

Americans loved the Democrats back then. And every time Republicans railed against these programs, they lost elections.

Wanniski decided that the GOP had to become a Santa Claus party, too.  But because the Republicans hated the idea of helping working people, they had to figure out a way to convince people that they, too, could have the Santa spirit.  But what?

“Tax cuts!” said Wanniski.

To make this work, the Republicans would first have to turn the classical world of economics – which had operated on a simple demand-driven equation for seven thousand years – on its head. (Everybody understood that demand – aka “wages” – drove economies because working people spent most of their money in the marketplace, producing demand for factory output and services.)

In 1974 Wanniski invented a new phrase – “supply side economics” – and suggested that the reason economies grew wasn’t because people had money and wanted to buy things with it but, instead, because things were available for sale, thus tantalizing people to part with their money.

The more things there were, he said, the faster the economy would grow. And the more money we gave rich people and their corporations (via tax cuts) the more stuff they’d generously produce for us to think about buying.

At a glance, this move by the Republicans seems irrational, cynical and counterproductive. It certainly defies classic understandings of economics.  But if you consider Jude Wanniski’s playbook, it makes complete sense.

To help, Arthur Laffer took that equation a step further with his famous napkin scribble. Not only was supply-side a rational concept, Laffer suggested, but as taxes went down, revenue to the government would go up!  Neither concept made any sense – and time has proven both to be colossal idiocies – but together they offered the Republican Party a way out of the wilderness.

Ronald Reagan was the first national Republican politician to fully embrace the Two Santa Clauses strategy.  He said straight out that if he could cut taxes on rich people and businesses, those tax cuts would cause them to take their surplus money and build factories, and that the more stuff there was supplying the economy the faster it would grow.

George Herbert Walker Bush – like most Republicans in 1980 who hadn’t read Wanniski’s piece in The Wall Street Journal – was horrified. Ronald Reagan was suggesting “Voodoo Economics,” said Bush in the primary campaign, and Wanniski’s supply-side and Laffer’s tax-cut theories would throw the nation into such deep debt that, he believed, we’d ultimately crash into another Republican Great Depression.

But Wanniski had been doing his homework on how to sell “voodoo” supply-side economics.

In 1976, he rolled out to the hard-right insiders in the Republican Party his “Two Santa Clauses” theory, which would enable the Republicans to take power in America for the next forty years.

Democrats, he said, had been able to be “Santa Clauses” by giving people things from the largesse of the federal government. From food stamps to new schools to sending a man to the moon, the people loved the “toys” the Democrats brought every year.

Republicans could do that, too, the theory went – spending could actually increase without negative repurcussions. Plus, Republicans could be doubleSanta Clauses by cutting people’s taxes!

For working people it would only be a small token – a few hundred dollars a year on average – but would be heavily marketed. And for the rich, which wasn’t to be discussed in public, it would amount to hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts.

The rich, Reagan, Bush, and Trump told us, would then use that money to import or build more stuff to market, thus stimulating the economy and making average working people richer. (And, of course, they’d pass some of that money back to the GOP, like the Kochs giving Paul Ryan $500,000.00 right after he passed the last tax cut that gave them billions.)

There was no way, Wanniski said, that the Democrats could ever win again. They’d be forced into the role of Santa-killers by raising taxes, or anti-Santas by cutting spending. Either one would lose them elections.

When Reagan rolled out Supply Side Economics in the early 80s, dramatically cutting taxes while exploding spending, there was a moment when it seemed to Wanniski and Laffer that all was lost. The budget deficit exploded and the country fell into a deep recession – the worst since the Great Depression – and Republicans nationwide held their collective breath.

But David Stockman came up with a great new theory about what was going on – they were “starving the beast” of government by running up such huge deficits that Democrats would never, ever in the future be able to talk again about national health care or improving Social Security.

And this so pleased Alan Greenspan, the Fed Chairman, that he opened the spigots of the Fed, dropping interest rates and buying government bonds, producing a nice, healthy goose to the economy.

Greenspan further counseled Reagan to dramatically increase taxes on people earning under $37,800 a year by doubling the Social Security (FICA/payroll) tax, and then let the government borrow those newfound hundreds of billions of dollars off-the-books to make the deficit look better than it was.

Reagan, Greenspan, Winniski, and Laffer took the federal budget deficit from under a trillion dollars in 1980 to almost three trillion by 1988, and back then a dollar could buy far more than it buys today. They and George HW Bush ran up more debt in eight years than every president in history, from George Washington to Jimmy Carter, combined.

Surely this would both starve the beast and force the Democrats to make the politically suicidal move of becoming deficit hawks.  And that’s just how it turned out.

Bill Clinton, who had run on an FDR-like platform of a “New Covenant” with the American people that would strengthen the institutions of the New Deal, strengthen labor, and institute a national health care system, found himself in a box.

A few weeks before his inauguration, Alan Greenspan and Robert Rubin sat him down and told him the facts of life: he was going to have to raise taxes and cut the size of government. Clinton took their advice to heart, raised taxes, balanced the budget, and cut numerous programs, declaring an “end to welfare as we know it” and, in his second inaugural address, an “end to the era of big government.”

Clinton was the anti-Santa Claus, and the result was an explosion of Republican wins across the country as Republican politicians campaigned on a platform of supply-side tax cuts and pork-rich spending increases. State after state turned red, and the Republican Party rose to take over, ultimately, every single lever of power in the federal government, from the Supreme Court to the White House.

Looking at the wreckage of the Democratic Party all around Clinton by 1999, Winniski wrote a gloating memo that said, in part: “We of course should be indebted to Art Laffer for all time for his Curve… But as the primary political theoretician of the supply-side camp, I began arguing for the ‘Two Santa Claus Theory’ in 1974. If the Democrats are going to play Santa Claus by promoting more spending, the Republicans can never beat them by promoting less spending. They have to promise tax cuts…”

Ed Crane, then-president of the Koch-funded Libertarian CATO Institute, noted in a memo that year: “When Jack Kemp, Newt Gingrich, Vin Weber, Connie Mack and the rest discovered Jude Wanniski and Art Laffer, they thought they’d died and gone to heaven. In supply-side economics they found a philosophy that gave them a free pass out of the debate over the proper role of government. Just cut taxes and grow the economy: government will shrink as a percentage of GDP, even if you don’t cut spending. That’s why you rarely, if ever, heard Kemp or Gingrich call for spending cuts, much less the elimination of programs and departments.”

Two Santa Clauses had gone mainstream. Never again would Republicans worry about the debt or deficit when they were in office; and they knew well how to scream hysterically about it as soon as Democrats took power.

George W. Bush embraced the Two Santa Claus Theory with gusto, ramming through huge tax cuts – particularly a cut to the capital gains tax rate on people like himself who made their principle income from sitting around the mailbox waiting for their dividend or capital gains checks to arrive – and blew out federal spending.

Bush, with his wars, even out-spent Reagan, which nobody had ever thought would again be possible. And it all seemed to be going so well, just as it did in the early 1920s when a series of three consecutive Republican presidents cut income taxes on the uber-rich from over 70 percent to under 30 percent.

In 1929, pretty much everybody realized that instead of building factories with all that extra money, the rich had been pouring it into the stock market, inflating a bubble that – like an inexorable law of nature – would have to burst.

But the people who remembered that lesson were mostly all dead by 2005, when Jude Wanniski died and George Gilder celebrated the Reagan/Bush supply-side-created bubble economies in a Wall Street Journal eulogy:

“…Jude’s charismatic focus on the tax on capital gains redeemed the fiscal policies of four administrations. … Unbound by zero-sum economics, Jude forged the golden gift of a profound and passionate argument that the establishments of the mold must finally give way to the powers of the mind. … He audaciously defied all the Buffetteers of the trade gap, the moldy figs of the Phillips Curve, the chic traders in money and principle, even the stultifying pillows of the Nobel Prize.”

In reality, his tax cuts did what they have always done over the past 100 years – they initiated a bubble economy that would let the very rich skim the cream off the top just before the ceiling crashed in on working people. Just like today.

The Republicans got what they wanted from Wanniski’s work. They held power for thirty years, made themselves trillions of dollars, and cut organized labor’s representation in the workplace from around 25 percent when Reagan came into office to around 6 of the non-governmental workforce today.

Over time, and without raising the cap, Social Security will face an easily-solved crisis, and the GOP’s plan is for force Democrats to become the anti-Santa, yet again. If the GOP-controlled Congress continues to refuse to require rich people to pay into Social Security (any income over $128,000 is SS-tax-free), either benefits will be cut or the retirement age will have to be raised to over 70.

The GOP plan is to use this unnecessary, manufactured crisis as an opening to “reform” Social Security – translated: cut and privatize.  Thus, forcing Democrats to become the Social Security anti-Santa a different way.

When this happens, Democrats must remember Jude Wanniski, and accept neither the cut to disability payments nor the entree to Social Security “reform.” They must demand the “cap” be raised, as Bernie Sanders proposed and the Democratic Party adopted in its 2016 platform.

And, hopefully, some of our media will begin to call the GOP out on the Two Santa Clauses program. It’s about time that Americans realized the details of the scam that’s been killing wages and enriching billionaires for nearly four decades.


Thom Hartmann is a talk-show host and author of over 25 books in print

Can New California Water Storage Projects Win State Funding?

An initial review by the California Water Commission slashed the ‘public benefits’ claimed by project applicants, prompting outrage in some quarters. Others say the process is working exactly as voters intended.

Bear River CA

The Bear River in Northern California’s Sierra Nevada foothills, shown here, is the site for the Centennial Dam project proposed by the Nevada Irrigation District. Image: Wikimedia Commons


Written by Matt Weiser

If California taxpayers are going to spend $2.7 billion on new water storage projects, the projects had better come with many more environmental benefits.

That was the message sent by the California Water Commission, which on February 2 released its first analysis of 11 projects vying for a share of the riches. The money will come from Proposition 1, a ballot measure approved by voters in 2014, which empowered the state to issue nearly $2.7 billion in bonds for water storage, whether new reservoirs, groundwater recharge or some form of hybrid.

But according to Prop. 1, the money can only pay for “public benefits” associated with the projects, not just the cost of storing water. This includes environmental enhancements like improving streamflow for fish, the capacity to capture or convey floodwaters, recreational amenities and emergency response capabilities.

The State Water Commission is charged with vetting the public benefit claims. This is a weighty undertaking, because such a thing has never been done before.

In its initial review of the projects, the commission found that none would deliver all the public benefits claimed in their applications. Some were very far off the mark, the commission found, especially concerning environmental benefits. In a few cases, the commission actually zeroed-out the claimed benefits.

This triggered a swift backlash from the water industry and some conservative politicians in the state, who criticized the commission for setting the bar too high.

A cosponsor of the original Prop. 1 legislation, state senator Scott Wilk, R-Antelope Valley, urged the commission in a letter to revamp its application process, claiming “dereliction of the duties bestowed upon the Water Commission and its staff.”

The Association of California Water Agencies called the low rankings “deeply concerning.” State senator Jim Nielsen, R-Tehama, told the Sacramento Bee he felt “visceral anger” at the news and suggested the commission was thwarting the will of the voters.

But others said the commission is doing exactly what the voters wanted: Holding water storage projects to a higher standard, and rigorously vetting the claims they make.

“In quite a number of cases they said, ‘Well, these numbers just look too high.’ I thought it was pretty brave of them,” said Jay Lund, director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California, Davis, and a professor of engineering. “This is public money. It’s going to be coming out of the state budget for decades to come. So I’m glad to see them doing a reasonable job of it.”

The projects that took the biggest hit in the Water Commission evaluations include Pure Water San Diego, which involves recycling and storing wastewater; Centennial Dam, proposed on the Bear River by the Nevada Irrigation District; and the Willow Springs groundwater banking project proposed in the San Joaquin Valley. The water commission found all of these had no public benefits to offer, or that the claimed benefits could not be verified.

Two others were reduced to near zero, including Temperance Flat Reservoir, a new dam proposed on the San Joaquin River, which has been heavily criticized by environmental groups; and a Tulare Lake groundwater storage project in the San Joaquin Valley, which is opposed by some neighboring water users.

The best-performing projects are a proposal by the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District to use recycled wastewater for farm irrigation, helping to recharge groundwater; and a proposal by the Inland Empire UCtilities Agency to recycle water for groundwater recharge, easing pressure on Feather River diversions. The commission reduced their public benefits by less than one-third.

Others fall somewhere in between these extremes. One is the Sites Reservoir project in Colusa County, which proposes to divert Sacramento River water into a new 1.8 million acre-foot off-stream reservoir. The commission rated its ecosystem benefits at only 13 percent of what the backers claimed, and its overall public benefit at 40 percent.

The biggest setback for the Sites project involved the claim that its stored water could be used at critical times to improve flows for salmon migration, and that this would ease pressure on other reservoirs to provide fishery flows, thereby stretching regional water supplies. These benefits either didn’t measure up as claimed, or could not be fully verified.

Yet Jim Watson, general manager of the Sites Joint Powers Authority, said he wasn’t entirely surprised by the scrutiny.

“We figured that with the size of the project, and some of the bold concepts that we put into our proposal, that we would have to clarify some of them,” Watson said. “We were very disappointed we were not able to be scored on environmental benefits in terms of water for salmon.”

This isn’t the end for these projects. The water commission is urging the applicants to amend their proposals, and it has set up an appeal process, with revised applications due by February 23. After that, it will conduct another review, with preliminary funding decisions expected in July.

“The commission has every confidence the information received in the coming weeks will help us fund eligible projects and the public benefits they provide,” Armando Quintero, the commission’s chair, said in a statement.

In a few cases, the shortcomings found by the commission appear to be more technical than substantive. One example is the proposal to expand the existing Los Vaqueros Reservoir, located south of Antioch and operated by Contra Costa Water District.

The project has become something of a favorite among environmental groups, because some of the additional water it proposes to store would be dedicated to wildlife refuge areas in the San Joaquin Valley. This would help hundreds of migratory bird species, as well as many other kinds of wildlife, that have been shortchanged on water deliveries for decades.

Los Vaqueros had its public benefits slashed by the commission partly because its backers used a modified computer model that was not familiar to the reviewers.

I’m confident it can overcome the analytical problems with its application,” Rachel Zwillinger, a water policy adviser at Defenders of Wildlife, said of the Los Vaqueros project. “It’s heartening to see the commission is taking their review seriously and are trying to make sure we select projects that provide real environmental benefits. I expect to see a lot of new analysis come in as a result of this appeal process.”

Some projects will probably have to make major changes to continue through the application process. This could include revising operations to produce more public benefits, or requesting less money to bring the project into alignment with the benefits it offers.

The Sites Reservoir proposal, for example, already has enough funding commitments from interested water agencies. Yet Watson says he is committed to the process.

“I know the commissioners will make investment decisions in projects,” said Watson. “The fact that our biggest selling point (water for salmon) wasn’t recognized is the part that we’re working on.”

Some proponents may decide to pull their projects from the process and proceed without state funding.

This article originally appeared on Water Deeply. You can find the original here. For important news about water issues and the American West, you can sign up to the Water email list.

A Great Blue Heron, Cherry Garcia and the Founding of the Wolf Creek Community Alliance

By Don Pelton and Jane Pelton
Members, Wolf Creek Community Alliance

INSPIRATION

CLICK TO ENLARGEOne day in the fall of 2002, local contractor Jonathan Keehn had an unforgettable experience while walking along a stretch of Wolf Creek in downtown Grass Valley. He described that experience a couple of months later in an influential article: “I was walking along the creek behind the Safeway and came across a great blue heron standing knee-deep facing upstream, obviously fishing. After eyeing me for a few moments, she took off. A few wing flaps brought her over the freeway as she headed down toward French Ravine.”

Reminiscing years later about the founding of the Wolf Creek Community Alliance (WCCA), two of the founding members said that it was Jonathan’s original article that inspired them to join with him to create the environmental non-profit, dedicated to “preserving and protecting Wolf Creek and its watershed for the benefit of present and future generations”.

In the early months of 2003, the founding group met frequently to talk about the alarming threats to water quality in creeks and streams in the Wolf Creek watershed, and about how a small group of local citizens could enlist community support to restore Wolf Creek. One staple of these early meetings was Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia. As Jonathan recalled, people would say, “Not another meeting! … Oh wait, there’s gonna be ice cream?” The Wolf Creek Community Alliance wasn’t just another environmental non-profit, it was becoming a community of like-minded souls.

By means of a huge volunteer effort, plus donations from local citizens and occasional grants, the Wolf Creek Community Alliance has grown into a mature and effective watershed organization.

Wolf Creek is a major tributary to the Bear River; it is 20+ miles long, and its watershed encompasses about 78 square miles from the slopes of Banner Mountain to its confluence with the Bear. Within the watershed, population and land uses vary widely so that the interacting streams range from highly degraded and urbanized to relatively wild. Because of the elevation, sun exposure, and variety of soils, the watershed once supported very productive and diverse ecosystems. But today, water and soil contamination persists from past mining and logging. Development has led to increasing deforestation, impermeable surfaces, erosion, and increased water usage. Setbacks and riparian corridors for the Creek have not been consistently maintained. Portions of Wolf Creek have been diverted into culverts and paved-over. Periodic accidents at the City’s waste water treatment plant spill sewage into the Creek. Winter rains wash contaminants into the Creek. The urban and mining-waste effluents that enter Wolf Creek and its tributaries in and around Grass Valley affect downstream farmers who use irrigation water that comes from Wolf Creek. Wolf Creek has been listed as impaired under the Clean Water Act due to bacteria levels.


ACCOMPLISHMENTS IN ITS FIRST 15 YEARS

Water Quality Monitoring: Since 2005, WCCA volunteers have been monitoring water quality at sentinel sites on Wolf Creek and some of its tributaries. The scientific data collected helps to identify and address problems, disturbances, and contamination affecting the health of our watershed and that of all of its human and wild inhabitants.

Education and Outreach: WCCA volunteers work to increase community understanding of water quality problems in the watershed by tabling at local events, and producing brochures, display materials, videos, maps, handouts, and an informative website. WCCA volunteers produced a film about the proposed Wolf Creek Trails plan, “A Creek Runs Through It”. 

Restoration and StewardshipWCCA volunteers lead Stewardship Days to remove non-native invasive vegetation and plant stabilizing native plants along creek banks on public lands, and are available to consult with Creekside property owners who have questions concerning stream stewardship. Volunteers worked with the City of Grass Valley to adopt Grass Valley’s first riparian set-back regulations, and were instrumental in the development of the Wolf Creek Parkway conceptual plan for a connecting system of walk-able and bike-able trails along Wolf Creek through Grass Valley. In partnership with American Rivers and the City of Grass Valley, WCCA is helping to restore a reach of Peabody Creek, a tributary of Wolf Creek that flows through Condon Park.

Creek-Friendly Development: WCCA volunteers attend City and County Planning Commission meetings in order to advocate for creek–friendly practices in construction and landscaping – erosion and sediment control, creek setbacks and easements, riparian buffer zones, wetlands protection, storm water catchment, permeable surfaces, water conservation, wildlife habitat and trails.

Watershed Assessment and Planning: In 2017, in partnership with Sierra Streams Institute and funded by the Bella Vista Foundation, WCCA began work on a 3-phase pre-restoration assessment of conditions throughout the Wolf Creek watershed including land use, land cover, hydrology from historical and current perspectives, abandoned mine sites, and planned future developments.

Collaboration: In addition to project partnerships with American Rivers and Sierra Streams Institute, WCCA volunteers participate with groups working to protect and restore neighboring watersheds: South Yuba River Citizens League during their annual river cleanup, the Fire Safe Council during their annual Scotch Broom Challenge, and The Sierra Fund during their events to bring attention to mining’s toxic legacy.

DO YOU WANT TO HELP?

Volunteer: WCCA welcomes volunteers for water monitoring, restoration and stewardship, wildlife surveys, outreach and education, fundraising and grants, creek advocacy at city and county planning meetings, publicity, and office support. See “Support our Work” on the WCCA website.

ROUND UP when you shop at Briarpatch In the month of February, 2018, WCCA is the Briarpatch “COOP-CAUSE” of the month. You can help when you shop at Briarpatch in February by remembering to tell the cashier at the register to “ROUND UP!” when you pay your bill.

DONATE

Earn rebates for WCCA when you shop at SPD (hand in this form to any SPD market) and Save Mart (use this form).

SAVE THE DATES APRIL 28 – MAY 6, 2018 FOR KNOW YOUR WATERSHED WEEK:

Wolf Creek is spearheading the first annual “Know Your Watershed” event planned for April 28 through May 6 involving over 18 watershed organizations, tribes, land trusts, and other organizations focused on protecting the Bear, Yuba, and American River watersheds. It will be 8 days of learning and fun with hikes, bio-blitzes, school programs, and art programs throughout the watersheds. If you would like to be involved with this event, send an email to  wolf@wolfcreekalliance.org.


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