This is the personal blog of Rick Staggenborg, MD. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the official positions of Take Back America for the People, an educational 501.c3 nonprofit established by Dr Staggenborg.

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Monday, October 21, 2013


This is the second essay in a series exploring a strategy for building a united international front against fascism and war. The first outlined a possible strategy and how to develop it around an overall goal of ending the corruption of governments as a means of establishing representative democracy. As strategic planning starts with establishing intermediate term objectives, that is the main topic of this essay.

For all the hopeful talk about the possibility of global revolution, little has been accomplished that will lead to one unless the threads of change can be woven into a pattern discernable to average people. Real change requires strategy based on common goals that have yet to be agreed upon. When there is general agreement on many of the things that must be changed, a way must be found to articulate these aims in such a way that a substantial majority understands and agrees with them. This means making the arguments in a non-ideological manner to the extent possible. Only then can a strategy be designed to reach these goals that will have broad enough support to succeed in overthrowing the existing order.

While we want to change the world, we have to start by realizing that the critical battles will be fought in the US. It is the center of global economic and military power. As the radical right plays out the strategy it began developing when Goldwater was humiliated in 1964, liberals have increasingly asked why they cannot seem to create a similarly united progressive movement. While a number of theories have been offered to explain the problem, they offer few practical suggestions about how it might be overcome. No progress can be made until liberals and conservatives can agree on the goals of such a revolution. That is not as hard as it sounds.

Occupy brought together a wide range of activists from those with mainstream political backgrounds to young Libertarian and Socialist anarchists at opposite extremes of the political spectrum. Together, they had amazing success at bringing media attention to the fact that people around the world are being systematically oppressed by a global elite often referred to as the “corporatocracy.” In the end, however, its effect was a mere ripple in the collective consciousness. The central message was lost in the babble of voices of people who were more often focused on the symptoms of the disease rather than the sickness, which is corruption of the political process by the economic elite.

As a result, most Americans are back to talking about Duopoly politics. The details of the shutdown and the upcoming debt ceiling showdown are all-consuming topics, even though they are merely manifestations of the larger problem.  The critical fact that is largely ignored by both the corporate and “alternative” media is that the debate has been framed in such a way as to justify the same austerity measures on the United States and other western nations that the international banks through the IMF have been imposing on less developed nations for decades.

The recent government shutdown epitomizes the corruption that is at the heart of everything that is wrong with American politics, which has become an existential threat to civilization as we know it. In this grotesque bit of theater, one side of the Duopoly allegedly threatened the US and world economies to prevent the implementation of Obamacare. That is a preposterous bluff, since the program is a bailout of a bankster-owned insurance industry that was pricing itself out of existence and thus welcome by corporatists with very deep pockets. The insurance industry might want more than it got, but they are not going to start over after winning millions of new customers and taxpayer subsidies that will keep profits rolling in for years before the real costs become apparent. The only possible rationale for this game of chicken is that Republicans wanted to use the threat to give Democrats an excuse to bargain away even more of the social safety net.  How else will Congress continue to provide corporate welfare to the economic elite who support both parties? Democrats stood firm for the moment, but if history is any guide they will capitulate when the question of raising the debt ceiling comes up again soon.  

If corruption is the problem, then any strategy for revolution has to provide a means of striking at the power of the economic elite over the US government. This was clear to the editors of Adbusters when they called for an Occupy movement. They suggested that protestors organize around the issues of Wall Street criminality and the need for a constitutional amendment to reform campaign finance, cutting off a vital source of their control. Their advice was ignored.  Instead, local Occupy leaders were so paranoid about co-option that they refused to work with any established organizations, to give a platform to truly sympathetic politicians or even to make a serious effort to prioritize issues. This guaranteed that the overall message would be lost and that the movement, built more on hope than strategy, would stumble.

It is not possible to change society by cacophonous protest. There has to be a unified message simple enough for the average distracted American to instantly recognize. The most universal and fundamental message that we can have is that America is not a democracy.  For those who fear rule by popular will, it is not even a Republic, because it is not representative democracy.  The systemic corruption by Wall Street of our “representatives” has put the “mock” in democracy. That is the root problem we must attack by consistently pointing out both the role of Wall Street in virtually all of the problems Occupy protested. A constitutional amendment is the first giant step to solving them.

Whether individuals choose to focus their efforts on ending war, dealing with climate change and other environmental issues, establishing universal health care, working for a just economy or any of the myriad other problems Congress refuses to address, they must become part of the effort to tie these issues into the root problem of corporate control of the US government. Until this problem is addressed, all other efforts serve no purpose other than to assure that advocacy groups will always have causes to fight, since they will never make meaningful progress with a government so thoroughly corrupted by corporate influence. All advocates for justice must help make clear that large international banks ultimately dictate its economic and military policies. Only when major organizations learn to coordinate the message with this overarching theme can a truly unified progressive movement emerge.

After the end of the Vietnam War, most of those who had committed themselves to working for social change declared victory and went on with their lives.  Many of them went on to become part of the Establishment they had loathed for putting them or those they loved at risk of having to fight and die in a war for corporate Empire. Once unified by the overall theme of social justice and overturning a social order that systematically oppressed the poor, women and minorities, the progressive movement soon lost its collective identity. The Kennedys, King and Malcolm X were all dead, martyrs to a cause that too few remembered when the immediacy of the threat seemed to fade. Despite gains in civil rights for African-Americans and women, the essential corruption was largely unchanged. Nixon was forced to resign in disgrace and some of the CIA and FBI abuses of power against protestors were revealed. Many of us were under the impression the system was working.

Just as we have learned from the successes and failures of Occupy, so we must look to the 60s for lessons that will help us win the revolution that was left unfinished in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. One key lesson from that struggle was the realization that the power of the People could only be realized when those struggling for justice for various groups of individuals joined forces to fight for liberty and justice for all. Another was that the movement was most successful when it appealed to the universal desire to see America be the beacon of hope for this ideal, contrasting it to the reality of the actions of its government.  Inspiring hope created growing support, while merely inflaming anger at the established order led to resistance by the large segment of Americans who are fearful of change.  As we educate the public about the need for change, we must make them understand that they can make those changes by taking control of their government using a practical strategy, not a nebulous fantasy of creating a new society or form of government by rational persuasion alone.

Without going into detail here, the basic idea behind such a strategy is that the only way to create real change is through the power of the vote. We must find a way for Americans to use it to seize control and establish a government of, by and for the People rather than the economic elite. Many people have reacted to corruption in politics by giving up on electoral politics. Rejecting the only means we have of exercising political power reduces the idea of revolution to a dangerous fantasy, since the only alternative in the end would be violent resistance. Fortunately, it is possible to use the electoral process to pass a constitutional amendment that will effectively reform campaign finance. All it will take is to make support for such an amendment a litmus test for candidates for Congress in 2014 and beyond until we elect a legislature that will pass the amendment.  Since the reasoning behind this claim is not self-evident, a more complete analysis of this idea will be elaborated on in the final essay in this series.

We cannot wait for a movement to arise spontaneously as the result of ever-worsening economic conditions and infringements on civil liberties. If we do, by the time Americans realize a democratic revolution is necessary. It will be too late to challenge a corrupt government that has granted itself enormous power to repress dissent. The least informed will then to resort to violence. This can only result in the deployment of a police state apparatus that is already in place. We need a strategy based on ideas that are widely accepted if we want to achieve a real majority. Occupy should have proved conclusively that with the mainstream media almost completely controlled by corporate interests, it will take more than slogans to create a shift in the collective consciousness of Americans that challenges nearly universally accepted ideas. If we want to lead them to the truth, we have to start from where they are.

To challenge the lies about “free” markets, the notion that democracy equates to the right to vote and the fallacy that there are two parties with competing interests, we have to tie the lessons to ideas that are even more fundamental.  The goal is to make people realize that these ideas are used to keep us from seeing the systemic manipulation of the 99% by the 1%. Because they are so deeply ingrained, it is very difficult to challenge them directly. That means that we have to create cognitive dissonance by highlighting how accepting them conflicts with even more deeply held beliefs.  No ideas are more basic to the American psychology than freedom and representative democracy.  Starting from there, it is possible to create a groundswell of support for a plan that could unite the vast majority of Americans from across the political spectrum in a common goal. How to do that will be the subject of the next two essays in this series.
Next:  Changing the World: The Psychology of Belief

Thursday, October 3, 2013


Today's blog is by Karl Eysenbach, who posts as Old New Lefty in Open Salon. The opinions expressed are those of the author. This blog may be reproduced, unedited and with attribution, without prior permission.

Conservatives rightly sneered when Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize. After all, it was pretty much equivalent to a freshman college football player winning the Heisman Trophy for suiting up for his first game. And as we all know, there've been plenty of reasons during the Obama administration where it was pretty obvious that he might not have been as worthy a recipient as Mother Theresa.

Failure to close Guantanamo, drones, the surge in Afghanistan and Iraq...

No need to list them all.

But now it's time to play the game of "Let's Pretend."

First, let's think of Barack Obama who's actually just a regular human being. If you were in the position that he's in (winning the Nobel Prize) -- wouldn't you feel just a teeny bit guilty about the crap that you've had to ladle because of the demands that the American Empire has put on you? We can get into psychoanalyzing the man in the Oval Office, but believe me. 99.9% of the time when you're Prez -- you better jump when the Defense Department tells you what to do.

 We can get all liberal and whiny about Obama's lack of leadership and everything, but let me tell you. A stronger, better person than Barack Obama as POTUS would have only a 5% chance to do anything different than what Obama has done. And sure, I wish that he'd never appointed Timmy Geithner or Eric Holder, but a lot of crap is baked into the cake in DC. And there's nothing that anybody can do about it.

 Needless to say, President Obama was and is no doubt trying to figure out how to justify winning the Nobel Peace Prize for himself, but he is in many respects just a creature of circumstance. But once, in a great while (a real blue moon), opportunity reveals itself. And in this case, opportunity came from Syria.

I have no secret knowledge of the inner workings of the Obama White House. However, I do know that power does have its privilege. And princes do talk only to princes. So let's just pretend that we have 100% access to all of Barack Obama's phone calls.

First, let's go back in time to the middle of 2012 or thereabouts. The Syrian conflict had been boiling over for a couple of years, and the Defense Intelligence Agency has a better handle on the day to day situation on the ground in Syria than the CIA. Monitoring military developments is the exclusive job of the DIA. The CIA, unfortunately, is sometimes capable of allowing ideological zealots to color its analyses.

Most people pay more attention to what the CIA says. During the fall campaign, I had a brief conversation with Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, and I expressed serious concerns about the way DC appeared to be handling Syria. I told Wyden that the Russians should definitely be the lead sled dogs with regards to Syria, and Wyden's first impulse was to spout off some 'Merkan BS about how we'll show those Russkies because 'Merka is exceptional. Yadda yadda yadda, or something like that.

Checkmate to ONL? No, my last words to him were, "Please get a briefing from the DIA."

Wyden (self-satisfied) said, "They're under my committee!" End of conversation, but I put odds that the Senator actually did what I told him to do.

 I make this point not for self-aggrandizement about my psychic powers in foreign policy. But I want to make a point that anyone with even a modicum of understanding about the situation on the ground knew that a real path to peace in Syria might actually start with Russian intervention. Unfortunately, this common sense proposal couldn't possibly fly in Washington, DC!

Imagine Barack Obama going on television and saying, "My friends -- the only way to solve the problem of peace in Syria is to allow the Russians to be the lead sled dog. We will follow." Can you IMAGINE the shit storm that would set loose, not only from the Republicans, but from the lame stream media? Politically, as they say, this approach by Obama would be a non-starter, and I think that is a severe understatement.

So what's a Prez to do? The first rule for any elected is to do nothing when you're bollixed. Obama mouthed words about freedom fighters, evil Assad, etc. etc. for a year. And oh yeah, there was that "red line" remark somewhere. So fast forward to what I still think was a false flag operation on the part of rogue elements of the Syrian Army that had gone over to the other side from the chemical weapons corps.

And here, the president was put into a major dilemna. The way policy works in any White House is that the President's words are sacred, and that any development that goes counter to the President's words must be retaliated against. In the case of Syria, there was the ever present lobbying power of the Saudis, Big Oil, and the Israelis. And any president's administration is larded with clowns who pretend to advocate for the national interest. But in fact, they're captured national security advisors whose hearts are with Bandar Bush or AIPAC. That's just the cost of doing business to get into the Oval Office.

What's an Obama to do????

As I explained too briefly in an extended remark in my previous blog, it was necessary to appear to be an idiot to get the job done. And it was necessary to pick up the telephone and talk with other world leaders. For our purposes, Barack Obama only had to talk to two. #1 was of course, Vladimir Putin. I'm thinking Obama and Putin had many a heart to heart chats about the Syrian situation. And no doubt, Obama mentioned more than once in different ways how important it was for Russia to be the lead sled dog, but there were political problems at home getting in the way of implementing this very sensible strategy.

Here's where phone call #2 comes in. That was the call to London. Someone, somewhere (I don't know who) said that George Osborne, Prime Minister of Great Britain could do the trick. So Barack picks up and dials. And the fix is in.

 Washington has been going around all over the world looking for the usual suspects to be a coalition of the willing to bomb the shit out of Syria, but no action is to be found. George Osborne is more than willing to be thrown into the tank for Barack. There is a remarkable vote in the House of Parliament where the majority of back benchers express a vote of no confidence in the proposed policies of the British government and there's no cabinet shake-up, dissolution of Parliament, or call for an election? And you think Worldwide Wrestling is a put up job?????

This little action gives Obama all the excuse he needs to go to Congress to ask for an authorization of the War Powers Act. Mind you, this was never a problem for Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, or Iraq, not to mention those hundreds of little military incursions to places like Grenada, Panama, etc. etc. But surprise, surprise! It turns out to be a problem for Barack Obama! Now how could that just happen?

Of course, the chattering classes go all nuclear. That Barack Obama is so inept and foolish! What's wrong with that boy? Yadda yadda yadda. And we can see the results. John Kerry's supposed off the cuff remarks lead to a remarkable chain reaction where peace appears to be breaking out all over the Middle East.

Not only does Basher Assad have no problems in giving up his stockpile of chemical weapons, but elements of the Free Syrian Army are now attempting to negotiate with the Assad government to guarantee the safety of Syrian government employees in contested territory if the more liberal elements of the FSA can work with Assad's forces to fight the Islamists who've been bought and paid for by our freedom-loving allies, the Saudis.

We haven't heard the end of the Syrian peace process by a long shot. But you will note that a surgical American air strike against Syria is now totally unthinkable.

Meanwhile, we have the developments in Iran. The election of Hassan Rouhani to be the President of Iran in August is a "BFD," to paraphrase Joe Biden. I will not spend too much time on the horrible, twisted relations between the USA and that country. However, it's worth noting that Rouhani is closely related not only to the Ayatollah Rasfanjani (and more importantly) President Khatami, both very much good guys in comparson to Nutjob Ahmadinejad.

Khatami, in case you didn't know was a true liberal, serving from 1997 up to 2005. President Khatami went so far as to offer the United States assistance in hunting down the terrorists who were responsible for 9/11. And of course, what did George Bush do? "Iran is part of the axis of evil...."

Say no more.... No need to talk about the non-existant Iranian atomic bomb. But that alligator in the sewer has been the Great White Whale of Captain Netanyahu & Co. for a long time, and it's been driving our foreign policy machinery. I mix my metaphors, but you get the drift.

And so, Rouhani and Obama can't shake hands in public because both are afraid of their domestic reprecussions. But John Kerry can meet privately with Hassan Rouhani for a half hour and come out with both guys grinning and basically saying, "We can do business!" And Barack Obama can call Rouhani on the telephone and wish him well in Persian, while Rouhani thanks him in English.

It's a long way from now to Point Z in the case of both Syria and Iran. But I think that President Obama is close to actually deserving that Nobel Peace Prize.

Regular readers of this blog will recall that I also argued that there is good evidence that the President has shown a pattern of deliberately undermining his own arguments for war in Syria that is consistent with his resistance to hawks who have been pushing for war with Iraq since before his election.

Former senior CIA analyst Ray McGovern recently wrote a column which gave evidence to back up the belief that Obama, a Presidential history buff, is fully aware of why and how Kennedy was killed and wants to avoid the same fate.

To those who would call him a coward for not more directly challenging the power of the military-industrial complex: consider whether you would be willing to give your life and leave your daughters fatherless in a futile symbol of resistance. That is all it would mean if he were to die for a country whose people are so focused on their hatred for one another that they cannot come together to save the nation and the world. To quote President Obama himself, we "have to be the change that will make (him) do the right thing."