Was Whistleblowing Worth It? Discussion of Daniel Ellsberg and Edward Snowden

This is a relevant conversation between two historic whistleblowers, and they discuss the threats to press freedom and the threat of nuclear war. I would have preferred some different questions with a longer discussion, however.

Daniel Ellsberg, the US whistleblower celebrated in Steven Spielberg’s new film, The Post, was called “the most dangerous man in America” by the Nixon administration in the 70s. More than 40 years later, the man he helped inspire, Edward Snowden, was called “the terrible traitor” by Donald Trump, as he called for Snowden’s execution.

The Guardian has brought the two together – the most famous whistleblower of the 20th century and the most famous of the 21st so far – to discuss leaks, press freedom and other issues raised in Spielberg’s film.

[…]

EM: What motivated you to take the final step in becoming a whistleblower?

DE: I would not have thought of doing what I did, which I knew would risk prison for life, without the public example of young Americans going to prison to make a strong statement that the Vietnam war was wrong and they would not participate, even at the cost of their own freedom. Without them, there would have been no Pentagon Papers. Courage is contagious. I have heard you say, Ed, that The Most Dangerous Man in America was a factor in encouraging you to do what you did.

ES: That is absolutely true. While I was weighing up whether to come forward or not – and this was an agonising process because it was certainly life-changing – I watched that documentary. Dan’s example, hearing the arguments from someone who has lived through this, it helps prepare someone to make that jump themselves.

[…]

EM: Is the threat posed by Trump greater than that posed by Nixon?

DE: I believe this president will indict journalists, which has not happened yet in our country. We fought a revolution to avoid that. And we have not yet broken that first amendment, which protects press freedom, in our constitution. But this president is likely to do so. The climate has changed. And that was true under Obama, who prosecuted three times as many people for leaking as all previous presidents put together – he prosecuted nine. I think Trump will build on that precedent. He will go further and do what Obama did not do and directly indict journalists.

EM: Is the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London and fearful of extradition to the US, one of those at risk?

ES: Julian’s best defence, perhaps his only enduring defence, is that he is a publisher and has never even tried, as far as we are aware, to publish something untruthful. There are lots of criticisms, many of which are legitimate, to be said about his political views or his personal expressions or the way he put things or his agenda. But ultimately the truth speaks for itself.

DE: Assange is in danger. There are those who say that Julian does not have to fear extradition if he came out of the embassy and served a brief sentence, if anything at all, for violating the rules. I think that is absurd. I think Britain would ship him over here [to the US] in a minute and we would never see or hear from him again … under Trump, he may well be the first journalist in this country to be indicted.

EM: What about whistleblowing to prevent a US attack on North Korea?

DE: I am sure there are thousands of people in the Pentagon and the White House who know an attack on North Korea would be disastrous because they have estimates and studies that show the outcome of a supposedly limited attack would be catastrophic in terms of hundreds of thousands of lives, millions of lives and what comes after.

ES: What would you say, Dan, to the next whistleblower, who is sitting in the Pentagon? They have seen the attack on North Korea planned, they have seen the consequences and it can be stopped.

DE: They have, of course, something I did not have then, which is they can go directly to the internet. And that is not something I would advise them to do. I think that, let’s see, in your case you went to the Guardian, you did not put the stuff on the net directly as you could have done. I think you did the right thing … If the New York Times does not do it, if the Guardian does not do it, you have the internet to go to.

EM: Was whistleblowing worth it?

DE: I once read a statement by Ed Snowden that there are things worth dying for. And I read the same thing by Manning, who said she was ready to go to prison or even face a death sentence for what she was doing. And I read those comments and I thought: that is what I felt. That is right. It is worth it. Is it worth someone’s freedom or life to avert a war with North Korea? I would say unhesitatingly: “Yes, of course.” Was it worth Ed Snowden spending his life in exile to do what he did? Was it worth it for Manning, spending seven and a half years in prison? Yes, I think so. And I think they think so. And I think they are right.

The Visionless Society

The writing of Chris Hedges tends to have too much doom and gloom in my view, and I usually prefer the more pedantic approach to the more hyperbolic approach in describing reality, but there’s a lot of quality analysis in this interview/essay Hedges conducted/wrote. I don’t agree with all of it, but then again, I don’t always agree with all the work of others that I post. I do usually try to post about what I see as the truth to this website, however.

I will say that other countries should learn from the mistakes of America though, and there are definitely a lot of mistakes to learn from.

Imagine yourself in early 2019. The Democrats, despite never articulating a political vision other than not being Donald Trump and refusing to roll back Republican legislation such as the 2017 tax bill, have regained the House of Representatives by a slim majority. They vote articles of impeachment. The Senate Republicans, pressured by many within their own party to abandon Trump because of his ineptitude, increasingly erratic behavior and corruption, call on the president to resign. Trump refuses. He uses the megaphone of his office to incite violence by his small, fanatic base. The military, whose deployment as a domestic police force is authorized by Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act, is called into the streets to quell unrest. The United States, by the time the violence is snuffed out, is a de facto military dictatorship.

That such a scenario is plausible to public figures such as Ralph Nader is a sign of the deep decay of democratic institutions. The two major political parties lack a coherent vision. They are subservient to corporate power. They have abandoned the common good. They have turned politics into burlesque. They have rendered the citizenry impotent. The press, especially the electronic press, has transformed news into a grotesque reality show filled with trivia, gossip and conjecture. The elites in both parties, along with the rich and corporations, profit from a naked kleptocracy. Everything is for sale, from public lands to public education. And the juggernaut of corporate power impoverishes the people as it willfully destroys the facade of the hollowed-out democratic state.

“There is no democracy,” Nader said when I reached him by phone in Connecticut. “The only democracy left in this country is they don’t haul you to jail for speaking out. What’s left of democracy is a significant due process, habeas corpus, freedom of speech and probable cause, and that’s violated when there’s a terrorist attack and people are rounded up, like Muslim Americans.”

“Can there be a democracy when you don’t have a competitive electoral system?” he asked. “No. Can there be a democracy when people who come in second win the election? No. Can there be a democracy when it’s tougher to get on the ballot than in any other Western country in the world by an order of magnitude? No. Can there be a democracy when money rules? And not just the money that politicians raise, but the third-party money. No. Can there be a democracy when people have no influence on the military budget? No. It’s not subjected to hearings. It’s ratified on the floor of the House and Senate, but it doesn’t go through the appropriations process. It’s subject to the most anemic, pathetic, servile questioning you can imagine. The Congress has destroyed any kind of democratic participation … in the military and foreign policy. The Congress is [supposed to be] invested in the sovereignty of the people. They [those in Congress] do not comply with the Constitution and the declaration of war authority. They don’t comply with the appropriations process. They have increasingly less public hearings. They are cocooned on Capitol Hill with a force field of money, militarism and materialism. Self-interests block the American people, who can hardly call their member of Congress [because the calls are diverted to voicemail]. This is the latest racket.”

“Trump is playing rope-a-dope with the Democrats,” Nader continued. “He’s such an inviting target—all the lies, the stupidity, the outrage, the racism, the misogyny—they can’t resist. As a result, they’re weakening themselves by not having an affirmative agenda. They’re still talking about how they can learn how to connect with the average person. Can you imagine? It’s now the end of 2017. They’re trying to figure out a message.”

House Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Nader noted, has adopted the mantra “money, message, and mobilization” for the party. “If you start with money, what kind of a message are you going to have?” he asked. “If you don’t have a message, what are you going to mobilize around? So here it is. They still haven’t learned because they will never learn. The party will always be weak, flabby, indentured and dialing for the same commercial dollars as long as the four-time losers continue to run the party. … The country is spinning into the abyss.”

The Democrats have never called for an audit of the Pentagon’s massive and bloated military budget. They do not address corporate crime, champion consumer protection, promote the rights of workers or demand a living wage or full Medicare for all. And because they stand for nothing other than the politesse of identity politics and high-blown liberal rhetoric they have been unable to protect the country from the worst generation of the Republican Party in the nation’s history.

“They don’t even know how to have sonorous political language,” Nader said. “They’re stealing from you—my fellow Americans. A handful of corporate, greedy bosses controlling your government on this national stage and local level, gouging out whole communities, sending industries to fascist communist regimes abroad. They have no loyalties to this country. They have no allegiance to communities other than to exploit them, abandon them. They rose to power on the backs of you, the workers. They were subsidized by Washington and state capitals, by you the taxpayer. The Marines bailed them out when they got into hot water, palling around with dictators and monarchs. Why do you allow them to rule you?”

Nader said the ruling elites have “lost the fear of the people.” This has given rise to “a multifaceted dictatorial government indentured to the plutocratic class symbolized by Wall Street.”

Corporations, enjoying a new tax code that reduces corporate income taxes to 21 percent while individuals pay up to 37 percent, have been awarded the constitutional rights of individuals while individuals have been stripped of their rights.

“The Constitution is increasingly a dead letter,” Nader said.

Corporate media companies view the news division as a revenue stream. They collude with Trump in the daily Gong Show that masquerades as news.

“Trump took the press from profanity to obscenity,” Nader said. “He learned some lessons from ‘The Apprentice.’ He realized the media, with a few exceptions, will do anything for ratings and money. What does he do? He goes down the sensuality ladder. He starts talking openly about racism, rapists and sex, grab them wherever you want and get away with it. They [the media] go wild. That destroyed all the opponents in the Republican primary. Knocked them out day after day, as the press went after sensuality. The coarseness, the brutishness. There’s always a novel attack. He kept them catching up with him. One day he goes after [Sen. Marco] Rubio. Another day, he goes after Hillary. Another day, a veteran family.”

“When The New York Times has two pages of tiny print of Trump’s lies, what impact does it have unless there are remedies and mobilizations that use that material to strengthen the opposition to replace him?” Nader asked. “After a while, people just shrug their shoulders and go back to playing video games. The margin for the defeat of the Democrats by the Republicans can be attributed sufficiently to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage and all these creeps. They have a massive soliloquy, day after day after day with no rebuttal. And they’ve got the blue-collar worker that way. What kind of a population on the left of center would have allowed that to happen? Using our public airwaves for free.”

Nader said he feared that the population was so effectively anesthetized by mass culture that it might not rise up against the elites. “The U.S. has developed a society with an almost indeterminate absorptive capacity for injustice, abuse and degradation,” Nader said. “There is no civic education in the schools. They don’t know what the Constitution is. They don’t know what the law of torts is. They don’t know where the town hall is. They’re living in virtual reality, swinging between big screen TV and their cellphones. They’re wallowing in text messages. To an extent, they’re excited by the workings of the minds symbolized by Wall Street and Silicon Valley. That’s the young generation. Great changes start with people in their 20s. But look what you’ve got now. You’ve got 10 years of internet connection, cellphones available to any child. That’s one. The second is 24/7 entertainment. The third is the abandonment by the elderly generation. They’ve sort of given up. They don’t know the gadgetry. They don’t know the language. They have their own economic insecurity. They’re not extending any kind of historical experience to the young which contains severe warnings. Watch out. You don’t think it can happen again, [but] it can happen again and again. There’s no verbal, oral tradition between the generations. Less and less. Then you have the political system, which is deep-sinking the society. How are people going to mobilize themselves? Is there a strong union, a labor movement? No. A strong consumer movement? No. They’re losing their privacy. They’re losing their ability to use legal tender. The corporate coercion is, to a degree, now getting rid of cash. Marx never believed that could happen. Why do they want to get rid of cash? They want to drive everybody into an incarcerated penitentiary that is surrounded by mobile payments, credit cards, credit scores, credit ratings, debit cards, constant debt, invasion of privacy, and the ability to assess penalties, charges and unwanted purchases because they control people’s money. That’s Wells Fargo. Wells Fargo got away with 3 million forced, unknown and unwanted credit card sales, auto insurance sales, repairing their ratings. Some people lost their cars and their homes. They’re flipped over into bankruptcy. Nobody has been prosecuted yet.”

[…]

“The banks are making huge profits,” Nader said. “Therefore, they’re taking bigger risks. The consumer dollars are being transferred to corporate profits, which are now being transformed into stock buybacks in order to meet the criteria for higher compensation even if it’s against the interest of their own company.”

“From 2005 to 2014, you had $3.9 trillion of stock buybacks, 50 percent of all corporate net profits,” he said. “Fifty percent of the top 500 corporations profited in that decade with stock buybacks. Not to better salaries or shoring up pension plans, not to dividends, not to research and development, not to productive capital and job creation. It’s to stock buybacks. The biggest story untold, or minimally told, in the American economy today. With all this money repatriating from overseas and more corporate offices, they’re planning more stock buybacks. It’s like burning money.”

“Walmart, instead of raising wages for its wage-starved masses, has about $65 billion stock buybacks in the last seven years,” Nader said. “If you take a million Walmart workers and you give them a thousand dollars more a year, that’s $1 billion. Multiply that by 60 to 70 times.”

The speculation, which is trashing the country’s economy, will continue, Nader said, until the financial system collapses and the U.S. defaults on its bonds.

Nader worries that as long as “10 to 15 percent of the American people are well-off” the elites will have enough support to continue the assault.

“Societies have been repressed by far smaller members of well-instituted upper classes,” he said. “That’s what we forget. Eighteenth-, 19th-, 20th-century Europe. A tiny clique controlled them. When there’s any problem it flips over to dictatorship. As long as the contented classes are not upset, the system of control is in lock, like connecting gears.”

[…]

Resistance, Nader said, must be local. First we need to organize to take back our own communities, he said. Congressional seats have to be contested by grass-roots organizations that use the power of numbers to overwhelm mass media and corporate money. And we can expect the corporate state to attempt to shut out our message.

“Living wage, taxes, universal health insurance, that have 70 percent support or higher,” Nader said in listing campaign issues. “Breaking up big banks, 90 percent support. Cracking down on corporate crime, similar. People need to give corporate crime a face. This is what happens to your credit. This is what happens to your home. This is what happens to your job. This is what happens to you if you have cancer. This is what happens in the hospital. This is what happens when you’re denied health insurance; you can’t cover your kids. It’s pretty crazy when you can’t make this kind of a pitch to a large audience.”

The greed of the corporate state leaves us unprepared for the ravages of climate change, he warned. And by the time the elites respond it may be too late.

“It’s a race,” Nader said. “Once Miami gets inundated, especially Fisher Island, it might bring the wealthy class to their senses. The problem with solar is it needs a network. Solar panels are fine, but if you’re going to have solar electricity you need a different type of grid system. That requires infrastructure investment.”

“Justice needs money,” he concluded, calling on enlightened elites to spend a billion dollars to fund resistance movements outside the Democratic Party. “The abolition movement needed money. The suffrage movement needed money. They got it from wealthy people. Civil rights movement. The Curry family. The Stern family. The early 1950s, 1960s. Environmental movements got money from rich people. Don’t wait for the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party is an instrument. On the first round you’ve got to use it and control it. On the third round, when you’re mobilized, you can throw it aside. It’s a hollowed feature that is a part of the duopoly. But it’s there. These parties are very vulnerable. They’re shells that rest on money and television ads that nobody likes. Unrebuttable right-wing talk radio. All these can be circumvented neighborhood by neighborhood, but you’ve got to have money. Labor halls are unoccupied. Veteran halls are unoccupied. Libraries are unoccupied. There are a lot of meeting places around. A lot of empty stores can be rented.”

Prominent NYT Reporter Writes About Covering the War on Terror

Someone could make a plausible case that James Risen deserves a Pulitzer for this. Much worse writing (as seen with Thomas Friedman and David Brooks) has certainly been given awards to.

I believe my willingness to fight the government for seven years may make prosecutors less eager to force other reporters to testify about their sources. At the same time, the Obama administration used my case to destroy the legal underpinnings of the reporter’s privilege in the 4th Circuit, which means that if the government does decide to go after more reporters, those reporters will have fewer legal protections in Virginia and Maryland, home to the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA, and thus the jurisdiction where many national security leak investigations will be conducted. That will make it easier for Donald Trump and the presidents who come after him to conduct an even more draconian assault on press freedom in the United States.

The battles over national security reporting in the years after 9/11 have yielded mixed results. In my view, the mainstream media has missed some key lessons from the debacle over WMD reporting before the war in Iraq. Times reporter Judy Miller became an easy scapegoat, perhaps because she was a woman in the male-dominated field of national security reporting. Focusing on her made it easier for everyone to forget how widespread the flawed pre-war reporting really was at almost every major media outlet. “They wanted a convenient target, someone to blame,” Miller told me recently. The anti-female bias “was part of it.” She notes that one chapter in her 2015 memoir, “The Story: A Reporter’s Journey,” is titled “Scapegoat.”

Since then, I believe the Times, the Washington Post and other national news organizations have sometimes hyped threats from terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. The exaggerated reporting on terrorism, in particular, has had a major political impact in the United States and helped close off debate in Washington over whether to significantly roll back some of the most draconian counterterrorism programs, like NSA spying.

But overall, I do believe that the fight inside the Times over the NSA story helped usher in a new era of more aggressive national security reporting at the paper. Since then, the Times has been much more willing to stand up to the government and refuse to go along with White House demands to hold or kill stories.

Ralph Nader at Harvard Law School

Particularly notable here is the story about the potentially corrupting effects of being in the law school, the facts that aren’t mentioned enough, and the indignance about how institutions are often functioning in modern society.

Nader is in one of his prime elements the law at HLS, delivering what is probably one of the best lecture sessions that he’s given in recent years. I would know, as I’ve seen most of them.

“You have to ask yourself, are you going to become a lucrative cog in a corporate wheel? Plenty of wheels! Plenty of opportunities. Do you really want to be part of the perpetrator class? Do you really want to be part of the class that covers up massive deaths and injuries, penury, fraud, and a enveloped corporate crime wave?”

Recent Noam Chomsky Interview

There are thoughts worth highlighting in this interview with one of today’s most notable intellectuals.

On inequality, it was low (by comparative standards) during the period of regulated capitalism — the final era of “great compression” of income as it is sometimes called. Inequality began to increase rapidly with the advent of the neoliberal era, not only in the US, though the US is extreme among developed societies. During the tepid recovery from the Great Recession of 2008, virtually all gains went to the top few percent, mostly 1 percent or a fraction thereof. “For the United States overall, the top 1 percent captured 85.1 percent of total income growth between 2009 and 2013,” an Economic Policy Institute Study revealed. “In 2013 the top 1 percent of families nationally made 25.3 times as much as the bottom 99 percent.” And so, it continues. The latest Federal Reserve studies show that “The share of income received by the top 1 percent of families rose to 23.8 percent in 2016, up from 20.3 percent in 2013. The share of the bottom 90 percent of the distribution fell to 49.7 percent, the lowest on record in the survey’s history.” Other figures are grotesque. Thus, “Average wealth holdings for white families in 2016 were about $933,700, compared with $191,200 for Hispanic families and $138,200 for black families,” a product of deep-rooted racism exacerbating the neoliberal assault.

There are many contributing factors to the sharp break between the two postwar periods — neither [of] which began to approach what is surely possible in the richest society in world history, with incomparable advantages.

One leading factor is the financialization of the economy, creating a huge bloc of largely predatory institutions devoted to financial manipulations rather than to the real economy — a process by which “Wall Street destroyed Main Street,” in the words of Financial Times editor Rana Foroohar. One of her many illustrations is the world’s leading corporation, Apple. It has astronomical wealth, but to become even richer, has been shifting from devising more advanced marketable goods to finance. Its R&D as a percentage of sales has been falling since 2001, tendencies that extend widely among major corporations. In parallel, capital from financial institutions that financed business investments during the postwar growth period now largely “stays inside the financial system,” Foroohar reports, “enriching financiers, corporate titans, and the wealthiest fraction of the population, which hold the vast majority of financial assets.”

During the period of rapid growth of financial institutions since the ’70s, there seem to have been few studies of their impact on the economy. Apparently, it was simply taken for granted that since it (sort of) accords with neoliberal market principles, it must be a Good Thing.

The failure of the profession to study these matters was noted by Nobel laureate in economics Robert Solow after the 2008 crash. His tentative judgment was that the general impact is probably negative: “the successes probably add little or nothing to the efficiency of the real economy, while the disasters transfer wealth from taxpayers to financiers.” By now, there is substantially more evidence. A 2015 paper by two prominent economists found that productivity declines in markets with rapidly expanding financial sectors, impacting mostly the sector most critical for long-term growth and better jobs: advanced manufacturing. One reason, Foroohar observes, is that “finance would rather invest in areas like real estate and construction, which are far less productive but offer quicker, more reliable short-term gains” (hence also bigger bonuses for top management); the Trump-style economy, palatial hotels and golf courses (along with massive debt and repeated bankruptcies).

In part for related reasons, though productivity has doubled since the late ’70s when finance was beginning to take over the economy, wages have stalled — for male workers, declined. In 2007, before the crash, at the height of euphoria about the grand triumphs of neoliberalism, neoclassical economics and “the Great Moderation,” real wages of American workers were lower than they had been in 1979, when the neoliberal experiment was just taking off. Another factor contributing to this outcome was explained to Congress in 1997 by Fed Chair Alan Greenspan, when testifying on the healthy economy he was managing. In his own words, “Atypical restraint on compensation increases has been evident for a few years now and appears to be mainly the consequence of greater worker insecurity.” Insecurity that was, as he noted, markedly increasing even as employment prospects improved. In short, with labor repressed and unions dismantled, workers were too intimidated to seek decent wages and benefits, a sure sign of the health of the economy.

The same happened to the minimum wage, which sets a floor for others; if it had continued to track productivity, it would now be close to $20 an hour.

[…]

Despite much lofty rhetoric about “free markets,” like other major industries (energy, agribusiness, etc.), financial institutions benefit enormously from government subsidy and other interventions. An IMF study found that the profits of the major banks derive substantially from the implicit government insurance policy (“too big to fail”), which confers advantages far beyond the periodic bailouts when corrupt practices lead to a crash — something that did not happen during the earlier period, before bipartisan neoliberal doctrine fostered deregulation. Other benefits are real but immeasurable, like the incentive to undertake risky (hence profitable) transactions, with the understanding that if they crash, the hardy taxpayer will step in to repair the damage, probably leaving the institutions richer than before, as after the 2008 crash for which they were largely responsible.

Other factors include the accelerated attack on unions and the radical reduction in taxes for the wealthy, both natural concomitants of neoliberal ideology. Another is the particular form of neoliberal globalization, particularly since the ’90s, designed in ways that offer very high protection and other advantages to corporations, investors and privileged professionals, while setting working people in competition with one another worldwide, with obvious consequences.

Such measures have a mutually reinforcing effect. As wealth becomes more concentrated, so, automatically, does political power, which leads to government policies that carry the cycle forward.

[…]

One might almost define “neoliberalism” — a bit cruelly, but not entirely unfairly — as an ideology devoted to establishing more firmly a society based on the principle of “private affluence, public squalor” — John Kenneth Galbraith’s condemnation of what he observed in 1958. Much worse was to come with the unleashing of natural tendencies of capitalism in the neoliberal years, now enhanced as its more [brutal] variants are given virtually free rein under Trump-Ryan-McConnell Republicanism.

All of this is under human control, and can be reversed. There are many realistic options, even without looking beyond short-term feasibility. A small financial transaction tax would sharply reduce the rapid trading that is a net loss to the society while benefiting a privileged few, and would also provide a progressive government with revenue for constructive purposes. It’s common knowledge that the deterioration of infrastructure has reached grotesque proportions. Government programs can begin to address these serious problems. They can also be devoted to improving rather than undermining the deteriorating public education system. Living wage and green economy programs of the kind that Bob Pollin has developed could go a long way toward reducing inequality, and beyond that, creating a much more decent society. Another major contribution would be [an equitable] health care system. In fact, just eliminating the exorbitant patent protections that are a core part of the neoliberal “free trade agreements” would be a huge boon to the general economy — and the arguments for these highly protectionist measures are very weak, as economist Dean Baker has shown convincingly. Legislation to put an end to the “right to scrounge laws” (in Orwellian terminology, “right to work laws”) that are designed to destroy unions could help revive the labor movement, by now with different constituencies, including service and part-time workers. That could reverse the growth of the new “precariat,” another matter of fundamental importance. And it could restore the labor movement to its historic role as the leading force in the struggle for basic human rights.

There are other paths toward reviving a vital and progressive labor movement. The expansion of worker-owned and managed enterprises, now underway in many places, is a promising development, and need not be limited to a small scale. A few years ago, after the crash, Obama virtually nationalized a large part of the auto industry, then returning it to private ownership. Another possibility would have been to turn the industry over to the workforce, or to stakeholders more broadly (workers and community), who might, furthermore, have chosen to redirect its production to what the country sorely needs: efficient public transportation. That could have happened had there been mass popular support and a receptive government. Recent work by Gar Alperovitz and David Ellerman approaches these matters in highly informative ways.

[…]

An immediate objective of moderately progressive policy should be to sharply cut the huge military budget, well over half of discretionary spending and now expanding under the Republican project of dismantling government, apart from service to their wealthy/corporate constituency. One of many good reasons to trim the military budget is that it is extremely dangerous to our own security. A striking illustration is the Obama-Trump nuclear weapons modernization program, which has sharply increased “killing power,” a very important study in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists reported last March. Thereby, the program “creates exactly what one would expect to see, if a nuclear-armed state were planning to have the capacity to fight and win a nuclear war by disarming enemies with a surprise first strike.” These developments, surely known to Russian planners, significantly increase the likelihood that they might resort to a preemptive strike — which means the end — in case of false alarms or very tense moments, of which there are all too many. And here, too, the funds released could be devoted to badly needed objectives, like quickly weaning ourselves from the curse of fossil fuels.

This is a bare sample. There’s a long list.

[…]

A recent study by the US-based Commonwealth Fund, a nonpartisan health policy research group, found that once again, as repeatedly in the past, the US health care system is the most expensive in the world, far higher than comparable countries, and that it ranks last in performance among these countries. To have combined these two results is a real triumph of the market. The roots of the achievement are not obscure. The US is alone in relying on largely unregulated private insurance companies. Their commitment is to profit, not health, and they produce huge waste in administrative costs, advertising, profit and executive compensation. The government-run component of the health system (Medicare) is far more efficient, but suffers from the need to work through the private institutions. The US is also alone in legislation barring the government from negotiating drug prices, which, not surprisingly, are far above comparable countries.

[…]

Nevertheless, there are new openings for some degree of [reason], which could greatly enhance people’s welfare, as well as improving the general economy.

To be sure, there will be massive opposition from private power, which has extraordinary influence in our limited class-based democracy. But it can be overcome. The historical record shows that economic-political elites respond to militant popular action — and the threat of more — by endorsing ameliorative measures that leave their basic dominance of the society in place. New Deal measures of social reform are one of many illustrations.