Friday, August 12, 2011

Transitioning Out of Democracy

I'm trying to remember what Simon Johnson saw as the time to the next financial crisis in a discussion with Bill Moyers two or three years ago (in what might have been one of the last editions of the Bill Moyers Journal before Moyers retired). Certainly, Johnson predicted no more than ten years to the next crisis, but my recollection is that he said something like three to seven years. That's just my recollection, but we can be sure of one thing — Barack Obama, Democrats and Republicans, despite weak public protestations to the contrary, have sent very clear substantive signals. Wall Street and megabank risk-taking, misconduct, and even criminality will be thoroughly underwritten by the United States government and, by extension, a willfully ignorant American populace.

This all fits into what a growing number (including Paul Krugman and Nouriel Roubini . . . I don't know about Messrs. Johnson and Kwak) have described as a large, perhaps the largest, transfer of wealth from labor to capital ever.

My own few is that the phenomenon is even broader than that, encompassing economic and legal, even constitutional, features. A transfer of wealth and economic and political power from the general population to an increasingly rapacious class of American oligarchs is underway. My view unifies developments across the economic and political spectrum:
  • the Supreme Court's creeping grant of the status of personhood to corporations,
  • the gross disparities in wealth and income (and all concomitant benefits, like health, education, longevity, etc.),
  • Bush and Obama attacks on civil liberties (including Habeus Corpus, Posse Comitatus, whistleblower protections, protections for journalists — the few who actually investigate US government misconduct),
  • the Democratic-Republican assault economic protections for elderly Americans.
  • the effective criminalization of poverty,
  • the cultural glorification of the New American Virtues — wealth, fame, good looks, longevity, fashion, etc.
I do not like the "tipping point" terminology, but the trends that accelerated in the Reagan years (having arguably begun in the Carter years) and that have continued through every president since may now have crossed some threshold, an increasingly formal grant of power to a tiny percentage of elite Americans. Any new bailouts will only be part of larger developments.

This Is What Obama, Republicans, and the Oligarchs WANT

Yves Smith directs us to, among others things, a discussion by Kate Pickett. Pickett's presentation notes that the US has more "bads" than most other wealthy, 'modern' countries — across the board. Greater inequalities in longevity, crime, mobility, happiness, education, and on and on.

It is time to stop pretending that this is an accident of other phenomena in the US. Rather, this is what the American elite want.

Americans equate wealth, longevity, "good looks" (in the form of housing, fashion, personal appearance) with virtue. Americans embrace the notion that the wealthier, longer-lived elite are better, innately better, morally better, intellectually better.

Americans embrace an innateness of status that was rejected by Europeans through the French Revolution and numerous other social upheavals.

Worst, Obama, most Democrats, all Republicans, and most important, the Oligarchs (the top 1% or so), want the rest of us to be worse off — in every sense.

This is an explanation that has all the merits attributed under the scientific method. It is simple. It explains what we observe. It has predictive power. Above all, it explains why Obama and others would pursue the policies they do despite overwhelming factual evidence.

Income/Wealth Inequality and Social Stability

The Princeton political scientist Carles Boix argued at at length that one of the things that makes democracy possible is that the better off perceive their privilege to be protected (in some measure) against egalitarian impulses of the less-well-off. In modern industrial democracies like the US, the wealthy enjoy constitutional protections and can also move their wealth elsewhere.

Fine. But two obvious questions arise.

1. Is there a point where inequality provokes a backlash among the less-well-off? The answer in the US for decades has been no. Americans are remarkably, stunningly indifferent to the gross inequalities of the US, hands down the most unequal of all the industrial democracies. The US has one of the lowest social mobility rates in the world, even compared to non-democracies and less-developed nations. It has fares most poorly among its peers on health, longevity, education, happiness — very nearly every index of comparison. (The only country that does roughly as badly is Britain. What a surprise — the nation that has done most to parrot the American example.)

Despite this, as John Kenneth Galbraith long noted (among many others), Americans didn't seem to care.... American exceptionalism. Speaking on The Charlie Rose Show, economist Kenneth Rogoff's comment echoes something I've heard elsewhere: Americans "expect to win the lottery." Americans are generally happy to see others enjoy billions because a remarkable percentage of Americans are deluded into thinking they too will win any day now — this despite the US having a dismal degree of social mobility.

Will this change? Can it change? Can Americans develop a measure of anger? Can they rally the way the French or Greeks have? The way anybody but Americans do?

This brings us to the second question:

2. How are the US government and oligarchs suppressing American egalitarian impulses or protecting themselves against the same? I suggest that the national security apparatus/state that has been developing for years and has accelerated under Obama will be used to contain any American social upheaval — should any develop, which seems unlikely given the level of Americans' apathy and ignorance. Under Obama, domestic spying has grown. Obama has viciously sought to suppress whistleblowers, as Glenn Greenwald has described repeatedly. Moreover, we have an educational system which borders on systematic indoctrination. From grade school through university (especially university) we have a host of institutions that endlessly trumpet the unalloyed glories of both unlimited greed and the infallibility of the American way of doing things. I am frequently astonished by the extent to which extraordinarily well-educated, intelligent people show absolutely no inclination or ability to challenge American orthodoxy.

The writings of H. L. Mencken, John Kenneth Galbraith, Noam Chomsky, Mark Twain, and many others go into this over the length of American history. Today, we have many new voices — Naomi Klein, Glenn Greenwald among them. Yet Americans remain impervious to even the most obvious truths.

The wealthiest and their willing slaves like Obama and Congress (those members who are not among the 1% already, that is) have obvious incentives for pressing the dogma. But why so many Americans prove so indifferent is a mystery.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Obama — Worse than Bush

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has made clear that he plans to fight any cuts to the Pentagon budget tooth and nail. We have every reason to believe Obama holds similar, even identical, views. As Glenn Greenwald has noted, this sets up a near-guaranteed gutting of American social programs if the so-called "Super Congress" has any teeth. Republicans will oppose any cuts to defense. Obama has pushed for cuts to social programs already. Now he makes clear his commitment to monstrous military extravagance. Panetta has gone so far as to assert that any possible cuts "would do real damage to our security, our troops and their families, and our military's ability to protect the nation."

The Orwellian doublethink in Panetta and the Pentagon's assertions is something to behold. Note that the Pentagon is also angling for more money on the grounds that there are new security threats in the form of climate change, among other things. This hopelessly expansive, all-encompassing, "everything is a national security issue" thinking will will swell to include economic issues. Indeed, it already has, as seen in much of the hysterical rhetoric about China.

Paul Krugman noted, again, the other day that the US is looking more and more like a banana republic. One of the features of those failed states is massive numbers of citizens working for the military. Going into the military in many of these countries was the equivalent of going into business in western Europe or North America.

Have Democrats settled on the military as the only social program Republicans will support? Or is Obama just as spinelessly militant as Joseph Lieberman and war-hungry Republicans?

The US patted itself on the back over the success of its strategy of forcing the Soviet Union to spend itself into oblivion on 'defense.' On the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Zbigniew Brzezinski told Carter, "We have given the Soviets their Vietnam."

The US is now doing the same . . . to itself.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Another Brick in Neo-Feudalism

The following post from Dean Baker, commenting on the most recent lunacy from The Washington Post's Robert Samuelson:

Robert Samuelson Redefines "Wealthy"

Friday, 29 July 2011 17:27

The Washington Post once ran a front page piece questioning whether people who earned $250,000 a year, President Obama's cutoff for his no tax hike pledge, were really rich. However, it also features Robert Samuelson on its opinion page telling readers that seniors with income of $30,000 a year are wealthy. I'm not kidding.

In a piece titled "Why Are We In This Debt Fix? It's the elderly stupid," Samuelson tells readers:

"some elderly live hand-to-mouth; many more are comfortable, and some are wealthy. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports the following for Medicare beneficiaries in 2010: 25 percent had savings and retirement accounts averaging $207,000 or more."

Let's see, we have retirees who have their Social Security checks, plus a stash of $207,000. If someone at age 62 were to take that $207,000 and buy an annuity this money would get them about $15,000 a year. Add in $14,000 from Social Security and they are living the good life on $29,000 a year. And remember, 75 percent of the elderly have less than this.

To be fair, many of the people with $207,000 in savings will be older than 62 so their money will go further, but it is hard to believe that anyone can think of this as a cutoff for being wealthy, or at least anyone other than Robert Samuelson and his colleagues at the Washington Post.

My thoughts:
There is a unifying 'idea' (if it can be called that) behind the idiocy of Robert Samuelson and like-minded conservatives. Recall Orrin Hatch's assertion that the poor and less-well-off need to bear a greater share of the burden.

What unifies this — and the general Republican willingness to redistribute burdens from the wealthy to the rest of us — is a true Orwellian doublethink — a commitment to the Divine Right of Wealth, the more wealthy, the more divine. This is a view endorsed by most Democrats. It finds a clear expression in a blog post by Gregory Mankiw from August, 2009: Mankiw was convinced that wealth was an indicator of superior intelligence, which in turn is genetically based; therefore, wealth is an indicator of genetic superiority. (Where have we heard this before?) This is a just a specific instance of the widespread conviction that wealth is an indicator of superiority and virtue — indeed, that wealth is itself a virtue.

On this line, there is no inconsistency in viewing subsistence-level elderly as wealthy. They 'must' be to make them plausible candidates for taxation. "America doesn't tax the poor" just as "America doesn't torture." Conversely, the really really wealthy are over-taxed, and their suffering must be alleviated through transfers from those who are under-taxed.

The logic works, if you live in the frame of mind of a 13th Century European baron.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Israel Uses Facebook . . . and What Else?

It turns out, not surprisingly, that Israel made use of Facebook to identify and track pro-Palestinian activists recently. This is probably only a tiny fraction of Israel's overall effort to track critics.

First, most (possibly all, given post 9/11 developments) electronic communications are monitored by the anglophone countries, especially the U.S., U.K., Canada, N.Z., and Australia. This has been the case for many years. The Echelon facility, based in Britain, has been monitoring electronic communications for decades. It is located in Britain precisely to avoid US government violations of American law. Mention something like this in the hearing of a Times editor or reporter (like John Burns or Thomas Friedman) and you will instantly be labeled a "conspiracy theorist," despite the fact that such media figures know this to be the case.

Second, the Obama administration has repeatedly made clear than even unambiguous speech-acts are now being taken to constitute "material support" for whatever organization is in the sights of the U.S. government. The U.S. has dug itself into a nice hole on this one (possibly with some malice aforethought). The Supreme Court has ruled (and Obama, Democrats, and Republicans have endorsed the view) that spending money is a speech act. Of course, money can be essential to material support of an enterprise. Thus, the groundwork is laid for extending restrictions on freedom of speech by likening, say, vocal support for Palestinian rights to "yelling fire in a crowded theater." And this indeed is a rhetorical/political/legal move made by diehard Israel-supporters and their willing slaves in the U.S. government and media as they seek to choke off any and all support for Palestinians.

Finally, we know that the U.S. shares "intelligence" with Israel. Likewise, we know from recent reports that Google shares information on users to varying degrees with various countries. The U.S. leads in demands placed on Google, and Google usually complies. Israel likewise enjoys near-total compliance. We also know that the major telecoms have raised no word of objection whatsoever to U.S. demands for secret access. What Israel has demanded and received we can only guess, but given the hysterical support that Israel enjoys in the U.S., I wouldn't be surprised to find that it sees greater compliance than the U.S. government. Furthermore, there is a small army of extremist, pro-Israel fanatics ready to level any and every charge at any and every critic of Israel. Computing technology has made the collection and sorting of all this information very easy for years.

Thus we have three components that reduce Facebook to what is likely a tiny component of a much larger monitoring (and control) apparatus:
  1. Technological means;
  2. Vastly expanding conceptions of what constitute (a) threats and (b) legitimate means; and
  3. A disparate, dispersed but nevertheless organized body of very willing participants.

The advantages for those who support human rights, whether Palestinians' or anybody's (since I think it is safe to say that every last person on Earth _not_ in the top 5% of the most privileged is under attack) are:
  1. Sheer numbers;
  2. Growing ease of communication;
  3. Commitment to a stable, sustainable, humanitarian solution.

I think the strategy for We the People should be
  1. Absolute openness (combat secrecy with openness);
  2. Ever-repeated commitment to non-violence;
  3. An extended, open hand even to those with whom we disagree.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Of Course Social Security is on Obama's Hit List

Liberal Obama Loyalists (LOLs — call them losers for short) are rushing to endorse Obama assurances that, contrary to press reports, Social Security and other Depression-era social safety net institutions are not in his sights. Do we really need to argue the case against Obama still? Obama is a Clinton Democrat. Social Security was on Clinton's hit list, it's on Obama's. Likewise, it is on the hit lists of Joseph Lieberman, Charles Schumer, Barney Frank, Ben Nelson and most Democrats.

When are liberals and progressives going to figure this out? The Democratic strategy for 30 years has been to out-Republican the Republicans. The dividing line, to the extent that there is one, has been on social issues like abortion and gay rights — not on economic issues, not on military issues. Had Clinton not gotten embroiled in the Lewinsky scandal, he would have moved aggressively to privatize Social Security, many of his 'liberal' economic advisers (like Robert Rubin) advocated.

Similarly, when Obama was (supposedly) tackling American health insurance issues, he excluded all single-payer advocates and most (perhaps all) organized labor representatives from the discussion. We now know that even when he was publicly supporting the public option during the campaign, we was in fact privately and personally opposed.

If Obama had been on the political stage 40 years ago, people would have marveled agape at a Black Democrat who was (and is) more conservative than Richard Nixon or most Republicans before George W. Bush. Obama is significantly more conservative than Nixon, George H. W. Bush and Reagan on a number of issues.

During the 2008 campaign, Obama hit on a winning strategy of enlisting the support of many disaffected liberals and progressives. Now, his lies are laid bare. He knows he cannot win out support again (except for delusional diehards who forgive or overlook his wrongdoing). Instead, Obama is moving to claim more conservative voters, which is where is natural sympathies lie anyway.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Prediction

In many parts of the world, large families are the norm. Development experts try to encourage smaller families with an eye to parents investing more in fewer children – better education, health care, conditions overall. It's a tough sell. Parents see a large family as insurance against infant and child mortality and also insurance in old age in societies where there is little or no social safety net.

In the next few decades, we will see large families become common again in the US. Democrats and Republicans alike advocate privatizing — or eliminating altogether — Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid. The more extreme want to eliminate public education (Dick and Lynne Cheney were among this number). The most extreme want only two public institutions — the military and domestic enforcement, largely to adjudicate contractual disputes.

A future without the social safety net on which Americans have come to depend. Large families will again serve as insurance against the infirmities of old age.

The Vestigial Human

James Lovelock is the leading advocate of the "Gaia Hypothesis" — the view that the Earth is an organism (if I understand the notion at all) and behaves as one, with systems regulating the body.

Carry the metaphor further (of course, Lovelock does not just mean it as metaphor, but what the hell). . . . The human body has an appendix, a vestigial organ that does nothing; it's positioned too far along the digestive tract to be of any use. In other animals, it is still very important, but in humans it is useless. Still, it can become a site of infection — appendicitis. Infected and burst . . . peritonitis, infection of the abdominal cavity. Death may result.

Humans have become the vestigial organ of Gaia. And we have become infected, inflamed, risking the entire body.

What do we do with an inflamed appendix?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Bush Dirty Tricks

James Risen of The New York Times reports today (Wednesday, 15 June 2011) on a former C.I.A. official's charges that the Bush administration sought to torpedo world-renowned Middle East scholar and blogger Juan Cole, professor at the University of Michigan and author of the blog Informed Comment. The story is notable for several reasons, including at least two the Times entirely omits or severely downplays.

According to Risen, Bush people were unhappy with a prominent academic voicing — and getting a wide hearing for — deep criticism of and opposition to the Iraq war. Former C.I.A. intelligence officer Glenn Carle, "a top counterterrorism official during the administration of President George W. Bush, said the White House at least twice asked intelligence officials to gather sensitive information on Juan Cole."

This could be a serious violation of American law; the C.I.A. is barred from domestic spying (though lets remember we have seen a lot of attacks on protections against domestic spying in recent years, including by Democrat and champion of 'transparency, Barack Obama). Had Carle leveled his charges while Bush while still in office and if Bush himself had played a role, such actions would arguably have risen to the level of impeachable offenses (among many Bush committed).

I find the story interesting for points Risen effectively ignores. In 2006, Yale University's departments of sociology and history both approved Cole for appointment. Cole's hiring was scuttled by the Yale administration. There is ample reason to believe the Israel Lobby went to bat against Cole. Certainly, right-wingers and Israel-idealogues were railing against him. There were reports of leading, wealthy Israel-idolaters and Yale donors were threatening to pull their funding. Any skeptical about the tactics of Israel extremists should recall wealthy Israel-supporter Michael Lucas's March 2011 threats against Manhattan's LGBT Community Center and the center's cancellation of a fundraiser by critics of Israeli policy . Or the Alan Dershowitz tirade against Norman Finkelstein taking a post at DePaul University. Or the campaign against the play I Am Rachel Corrie in New York. This list could go for pages (attacks on academics, cultural programs, journalists, human rights institutions, etc.)

The Yale connection is also interesting. I believe that the role of a very small number of very elite universities in securing American oligarchy is being downplayed (and the issue of American oligarchy is downplayed to begin with). George W. Bush went to Yale. Leading Israel fanatic Joseph Lieberman did, too. For many years, Yale was a key source for C.I.A. recruits. Dubya's daddy, President George H. W. Bush went to Yale and was head of the C.I.A. from 1976 to 1977. It is my contention (certainly not original) that universities like Yale serve as factories of "received opinion." That is, they provide the intellectual foundations (to the extent that the United States embraces intellect at all) for power. You need an excuse for bombing civilians in Iraq? Line someone up from Harvard. The history of leading schools barring or even ousting great minds that offered threatening views is very long. (To provide a little grist without milling, look for stories of Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis and Harvard, Chomsky and M.I.T., Gabriel Kolko, William James and Nathaniel Shaler. Several public universities developed great departments in a variety of disciplines because the faculty could and were safely booted from private schools but not could not be from public ones without Bill of Rights protections.)

Some questions remain unanswered (and unasked by the Times). If the Bush administration sought dope on Juan Cole, was it asking for information already in the C.I.A.'s possession, in which case the C.I.A. was already doing domestic work? Or was it directing the C.I.A. to nose about domestically? How does this fit into a larger pattern of expansion of presidential power (an expansion Obama aggressively pursues, arguably more aggressively than Bush)? Will Glenn Carle be treated as Barack Obama has treated other whistleblowers — maliciously and ruthlessly?

All of this will earn me a charge of "conspiracy theorist." Have a made any such claim? No. I am describing the lines of force in American power relations.


Cole, Juan (2011). "Ret'd CIA Official Alleges Bush White House Used Agency to 'Get' Cole," Informed Comment, June 16, 2011.

Drum, Kevin (2011). "Bush v. Cole," Mother Jones, Wed. June 15, 2011.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Elizabeth Warren, Forging Ahead in Calm Seas

There is a beautiful piece of music composed by Felix Mendelssohn — Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, first performed in 1828 and inspired by both a Beethoven cantata of 1815 and poetry by Goethe. The contradiction in the title may be lost on most people today. In the age of sail, a calm sea was potentially disastrous. The Horse Latitudes may have been so named because horses were cast overboard when water supplies fell too low on a becalmed ship.

Elizabeth Warren strikes me as a seafarer making headway in a calm sea. There is plenty of bluster in Washington but little if any progress on much of anything. Warren is a real force opposed by Obama and Republicans alike. Yet she perseveres.

I find Elizabeth Warren a particularly interesting phenomenon. In some respects, she reminds me of Brooksley Born — someone with great insight and catching the entrenched powers unprepared. Warren is a very rare breed at Harvard Law School, someone who did not go to the big five Elite God-Blessed Law Schools. When Elena Kagan was named (pathetically predictably) by Obama to the Supreme Court, there was some comment that only Harvard and Yale would now be represented among the justices. Warren went to Rutgers. Obama has been a hardcore Harvard lackey in many, even most, of his appointments.

This is not a trivial observation about "old school ties." The issue is one of concentration of power. A particular school affiliation is only a symptom. As more and more are noting with greater and greater frequency, a tiny percentage of Americans are benefitting at the expense of the vast majority. This is reflected in the coddling of Wall Street at the expense of the entire country.

In the case of Obama specifically, there is a question of psychology. He shares with the president he most resembles, Bill Clinton, the experience of being abandoned by a parent. In Obama's case, from the sound of it, he was completely abandoned by one parent, his father, and substantially abandoned by the other. He demonstrates a pattern of behavior that psychologists likely understand — a desperate need to please power figures. But this is just armchair psychologizing.

More important is a problem evident in the growing pattern of political decision-making that isn't just indifferent to the welfare of the overwhelming majority, but is directly repugnant to it. A huge percentage of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the United States systematically disregard existing law (as Obama has now in Libya or in his treatment of Bradley Manning, among others, or as the Supreme Court did in Citizens United or in Bush v Gore). This huge percentage also disregards the general welfare — and the longterm wellbeing of the United States — to serve a tiny fraction of Americans, arguably numbering no more than 10,000, and perhaps far fewer than that.

The three branches of the US government, under the Constitution providing checks and balances with respect to one another, are instead a collective agency capture by American Oligarchy. The system of checks and balances exists today only in the petty bickering between two very similar pseudo-parties. Otherwise, it is absent. So what are We the People to do when (1) the entire government is failing to serve our interests and (2) that same government has very effectively ensured its longevity and continued capacity to serve those interests it does prize?

This is not idle rhetoric, nor is it a view isolated to the left (as it was in the past). There is a growing, very respectable literature on the decline or failure of American democracy. It includes scholars like Sheldon Wolin, Larry Bartels, Joseph Stiglitz, and Paul Krugman. And that's just four.

Elizabeth Warren has sailed on through American doldrums. Why, I don't know.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

As With Bailout, So With Social Security

Recall that the first attempt to bailout banks in September 2008 failed in Congress after a deluge of calls from voters in opposition. Then Congress rallied. After all, if 95% of members support policy X, how can you play one off against another?

The same is happening now. The oligarchs have ruled against Social Security. They know they will never need it, but in time there will be no one left to raise taxes on but the rich, so in time, if social programs are to be preserved, the rich will have to pay a share more closely representing the degree to which they disproportionately benefit in out society.

The solution is to kill social programs in their entirety, let the poor and middle classes suffer. Why? Congress and every president since Reagan have demonstrated repeatedly that they place a near-exclusive priority on the interests of the wealthiest (not just to the exclusion of others, but at the expense of others).

The political economist Carles Boix has argued that democracy thrives when the privileged perceive that the masses cannot vote away the wealth of those privileged. So countries with diverse and liquid assets like the U.S. can tolerate democracy. I suggest that the United States is proving Boix's argument incomplete. The rich are saying, again and again, "No!" to democracy.

It may be no more complicated than this: In a society where a huge majority show no interest in current events, politics, economics, justice, truth, government, why should power-brokers deal with democracy when they can just as easily — or more easily, given the population's passivity — deal without?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Question: What Is the Biggest Problem with American Democracy?

This has been answered very nicely by Paul Krugman, Michael Kinsley, James K. Galbraith and many others on the liberal and progressive end of the spectrum. The US is already a de facto oligarchy. Clinton, Bush and now Obama have worked diligently to formalize American Oligarchy, with the unalloyed support of Wall Street and a huge percentage of corporate boards, Democrats, Republicans and American super-rich.

I emphasize that this issue has been expressly raised by many who are far less left-leaning than I am.

It's a possibly-encouraging feature of American democracy that some who could easily ride the wave among fellow oligarchs are vocally opposed to the decline (among them, George Soros).

By contrast, a deeply discouraging feature is the absolute failure of the vast majority of American journalists to do anything even remotely resembling the work they assert they do. Here is London Times editor Robert Lowe in 1851:

The first duty of the press is to obtain the earliest and most correct intelligence of the events of the time, and instantly, by disclosing them, to make them the common property of the nation... The Press lives by disclosures... For us, with whom publicity and truth are the air and light of existence, there can be no greater disgrace than to recoil from the frank and accurate disclosure of facts as they are. We are bound to tell the truth as we find it, without fear of consequences – to lend no convenient shelter to acts of injustice and oppression, but to consign them at once to the judgment of the world.

Similar thoughts have been voiced by H. L. Mencken, Mark Twain, Studs Terkel, and others. But today, we hear prominent members of the American news establishment explicitly reject this journalistic duty. The torrent of condemnation of and vile misreporting on Julian Assange is a perfect example of this (by, among others, the New York Times, including 'star reporter' John Burns).

Equally discouraging is the deeply delusional state of the American people. Economist Ken Rogoff was recently on Charlie Rose (Rose usually dismally middle-of-the-road to conservative). In response to a question on why Americans support the Republican campaign to cut taxes for millionaires and billionaires, Rogoff — absolutely on-target — said something to the effect, "Because everyone expects to be rich." I've heard this on the street myself — people with no prospects of any kind asserting with total confidence that they are going to win the lottery. I heard this twenty years ago in Massachusetts when it was reported, during widespread opposition to a modest tax increase proposal, that many lottery ticket buyers spent more on the lottery each year than they paid in their state taxes. (Dollar for dollar, which do you think returned more value to them? Hint: Expected gain on a one dollar lottery ticket is less than a penny.)

The US may very well have the most ill-informed, poorly-educated, deluded population of any country on Earth. (But China seems determined to best us on that count.)