The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Tag: Bill Clinton

Lewinsky Is Not Why Clinton Should Have Resigned

I don’t usually write about subjects I disagree with Matt Yglesias on, but this piece on how Bill Clinton should have resigned over Lewinsky is sickening.

It’s not that Clinton’s actions with Lewinsky weren’t awful, it is the moral and ethical vacuum required to think that’s the issue over which he should have resigned.

Clinton gutted welfare. I guarantee that killed a lot of people and hurt way more. Clinton pushed the three strikes laws hard, which hit black communities brutally, locking people up for years for a third strike for things like stealing a bicycle. Bill Clinton engaged in punitive sanctions against Iraq which hit basic medicine, killing and hurting a lot of people. Bill Clinton pushed for the repeal of Glass-Steagall, and signed it; this was one of the causes of the 2008 financial collapse and, thus, killed and hurt a lot people.

What happened to Lewinsky was sad, gross, and wrong. But it came nowhere near the harm Clinton did with other actions.

This inability to think at scale haunts us when dealing with powerful people. What matters most is by far and away what they do as policy. One intern and a cigar is a tragedy, to paraphrase Stalin, but thousands of deaths and people locked up for decades is a statistic.

Oh, there are arguments against this: That killing and impoverishing people is the role of the US president, but that screwing around with interns isn’t, basically.


I actually can see the case. Some things are over the lines. Rape, for example. Or torture. But war causes both, and Bush, Jr. served out his terms, as did Obama. Heck, by some accounts Bush, rather closely supervised some of the torture in Guantanamo and enjoyed doing so.

The bottom line is that we choose our leaders in part because they are functional sociopaths–able to do great evil and sleep at night. We shouldn’t choose them that way, but for a variety of reasons, we do.

But to be concerned about one abuse of position (which was consensual, however) and not about all the vast harm Clinton did to people even more powerless than Lewinsky, to say that’s where you draw the line rather than at, say, welfare reform—I don’t know, it sticks in my craw.

About the only good argument is that people who abuse power in that manner shouldn’t be allowed near power. I agree. But by the time Lewinsky occurred, Clinton had already shown he was willing to hurt the weak and poor at scale.

It’s the statistics that matter. The individual cases only can warn you about the statistics that might follow, and they aren’t always so accurately predictive. (FDR had an affair with his principal secretary. It didn’t make him a bad President and if he’d stepped down it would have been disastrous.)

I wonder if we evolved killer apes are capable of running large civilizations in anything close to an effective and beneficial fashion. The evidence coming in is looking grim.

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Rule of Men, Not Law

Amidst all the screaming about Trump, there is a feeling that he is being unfair by singling out various companies for attack.

This is true.

It is also special pleading.

What Trump is doing, and what he will almost certainly do when he is in office, is pick out specific groups and individuals, and he will very likely use the weight of the state against them.

Oh dear. Oh dear.

This is rule by men, yes. It has also been going on for years. Anti-war protestors and environmentalists have been singled out for special attention on the positive side of the scale.

Meanwhile, on the negative end of the stick, let us compare two financial crises. In the eighties, there was a financial crisis too, filled with tons of fraud, called the Savings and Loan crisis. It happened under a Republican president.

Executives were charged, and they went to jail.

In 2007-2008, we had a financial crisis, and from 2009 on, Obama’s DOJ applied fines, not criminal charges. Those fines immunized the participants, and since they did not take money from those who had benefited (and were often less than the profits taken by the corporation, even) they did not dis-incentivize criminal acts. Instead, the DOJ said: “There is no real penalty, so make the money when you can, and we’ll immunize you for a token fee.”

There is no question in any reasonable person’s mind that many executives had engaged in fraud, negligence, and criminal conspiracy which could have been indicted under RICO.

But hey, they were let off. Meanwhile, people who applied for mortgage relief were deliberately given the run-around and fucked over, losing their houses (see David Dayen’s “Chain of Title” if you need the blow-by-blow.)  Robo-signing by financial institutions, post-financial crisis, was also mass fraud, attesting to facts the signers had no knowledge of.

America is already a nation of men, not laws. One can say, “It has always been thus,” and there is some truth to that, but it is more a lie than true: see the S&L crisis.

People have already been getting away with lawbreaking–depending on who they are–and not small numbers of people. And if you don’t think various firms haven’t been picked out for special, positive favors, you simply haven’t been paying attention.

2000’s Gore vs. Bush ruling was “men over laws.” It was such a bad ruling that the Supreme Court tried to say it couldn’t be used as a precedent. Meanwhile, the protections of law in general were gutted: the Patriot Act, the AUMF, the rise of the vast surveillance state with its clear industrial-scale violations of the Fourth Amendment. Most Americans live in a border zone, where they don’t have freedom from arbitrary search and seizure. As for the First Amendment, the existence of “First Amendment Zones” tells you all you need to know.

Trump’s behaviour is and will be the direct consequence of how many previous Presidents acted, including Obama (who notably killed an American citizen without any trial and claimed the right to do so).

To cry now, and especially to weep for large corporations who are bad actors, is hilariously hypocritical and intensely revealing. “Trump blackmailed them into keeping a few jobs in America, that tyrant!”

Oh, My, God, the funny. Now yes, Trump has also called out people for terrible reasons. Oh well. Yes, that’s a new bad thing (though not worse than killing a US citizen without trial, the right to face his accusers, or see the evidence presented against him), but I just find it hard to get very worked up over.

You already lost your rule of law. There are a few places one can date the loss to, but I put it in Obama’s mass-immunization of financial executives. You could argue for Bush vs. Gore or a number of other places.

But wherever you put it, it already happened.

You have the rule of men. For certain people, the law is interpreted and enforced differently.

This, folks, was at the heart of Trump’s attacks on Clinton for e-mail, which liberals laughed off.  But we all know that if some peon had done the exact same thing, they would have been ruined and probably gone to jail.

You already lost rule of laws, and had rule of men.

You have already paid a frightful price for this. The reason your economy is so bad is because bankers were immunized and bailed out, staying in charge of your economy when they are incompetent crooks and ordinary people were not bailed out.

Not coincidentally, minus not bailing out ordinary people, Trump does not win election in 2016.  (He also wouldn’t have won if Obamacare was not so flawed, but that’s another post.)

Trump is just the continued price for breaking your own laws and constitution, and your own unwritten norms.

As such he falls under “as you sow, so shall you reap”.

Until large numbers of Americans see it this way, including at least some faction of elites or would-be-elites, there can be no true fix for this situation, whatever happens with Trump.

Trump is the symptom, not the disease, and until you treat the disease, things like Trump (or the financial crisis and the lack of real recovery from that crisis) will continue to happen, and fools will continue to be bewildered by them, as if the very public actions of the people they elected had not led to them.

Machiavelli wrote, and America’s founders agreed, that good men could make bad laws work, and that good laws could not save bad men.

The founders’ equivalent was that eventually Americans would become so degraded that they could only be ruled by despots.

Americans have given many signs of being this degraded, and now it’s up to Americans to prove that they aren’t.

Don’t dare to say this is all on “deplorables” or Republicans, because Democrats have not just been complicit in all of this, they have spurred it on in deliberate ways–as with Obama on surveillance, drone murder, and whistleblowers.

It is on Americans.

Americans are reaping as they have sown. That all Americans are not bad or degraded is not the point. Enough of you are, and your elites are corrupt as a class, so much so that I would easily expect, in nine or ten years, to be fundamentally unethical and unsuited to public life. That includes, by the way, Bill Clinton, Bush Jr., Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Trump is what Americans have earned.

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Reagan and George W. Bush Changed the World More than Bill Clinton or Obama

We have a problem.

Left wingers and centrist, technocratic types are enamoured of intelligence. Of being smart.

Smart is all very nice. I am smart. But smart is not a synonym for effective or competent or wise or, well, most other words. It isn’t even a synonym for clever.

George W. Bush, by the time he got to the White House, was not smart. You listen to him talk, and it’s obvious. This is not a smart man (he was smart when he was younger–something went wrong).

George W. Bush had his two terms, and he changed the nature of American government in ways that neither Clinton nor Obama did. Bill Clinton ran Reagan’s economy better. Reagan was not smart. Reagan changed the nature of American government more than any President since FDR.

Bill Clinton was Reagan’s butt-boy. Understand that. Internalize it. He ran the neo-liberal economy that Reagan had created, and yes, he ran it better than Reagan, but he was living in Reagan’s world.

Obama ran Bush’s government. He kept deporting people–he deported even more people than Bush did. He ramped up drones. He kept troops in Afghanistan, he attacked Libya, he kept extending the Patriot Act and AUMF. He was operating within a constitutional order set up by Bush, and he never challenged it. Not once.

Obama was Bush’s butt-boy. Understand that. Internalize it.

It was famously said of FDR that he had a second class mind and a first class temperament. FDR created a framework for the US that ran, substantially from 1932 to 1970 or even 1980. Even Nixon, who overturned the post WWII order, didn’t overturn the New Deal. Heck, Nixon wanted universal health care.

Every Republican President after FDR and before Reagan, was FDR’s butt-boy. They ran the country he set up and they did it largely by his rules.

FDR wasn’t stupid, by any means, but he wasn’t as smart as Clinton. He might not even have been as smart as Obama. But he was far, far more effective. He got his way, he changed the nature of America, and he made it stick with his enemies.

Smart is NOT a synonym for effective.

This is very important to understand when dealing with someone like Trump.

I’m going to pound this issue a bit more, in a bit more detail, but for now: Stop underestimating people because they don’t have the sort of smarts you were taught in school matter, and which mostly matter because school selects for them. If you don’t, people like Trump and Bush will keep winning.

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Is Hypocrisy Preferrable to Honesty?

Ok, this.

Right. Now, Bill Clinton, whom some call the “first Black President” signed a crime bill based on the myth of teen (black) superpredators, which included three strikes laws and a huge amount of money for local policing and prisons.

That crime bill was emulated and led directly and indirectly to huge incarceration of blacks, massive-over policing of black communities, and the destruction of black families.

What Bill Clinton DID, which Hillary Clinton supported, was terrible for African Americans. Absolutely devastating.

Now, no question, Donald Trump is saying shit important people aren’t supposed to say. I despise racism, and Donald is saying a lot of racist shit.

But the Clintons did stuff that terribly hurt poor black communities. Now, maybe Bill loved blacks but just happened to accidentally fuck them sideways. That’s certainly possible. I don’t know the man’s soul. But his actions towards blacks were terrible.

I don’t know if honest racism is better, in the sense that it makes racism more socially acceptable. But it does have the simple virtue of being honest and getting it out. American politics has been driven by racism since, well, forever. But there is a hypocritical stream of racist action and rhetoric from Nixon that has never ended.

It was all dog-whistle. Say “welfare moms” and wink, and voters knew you were saying blacks. Welfare Reform was also about punishing blacks (poor whites just got caught in the crossfire).

America’s economic history since the end of the post-war era can be read in racial terms. Blacks came to the city, whites fled to the suburbs, and enough of them switched votes to Republicans (the Reagan Democrats) to elect Reagan, in order to keep their suburban home prices up.

This is all of a piece.

Racism is stupid. It is contemptible. But few politicians have done more harm to blacks than Clinton or Mario Cuomo, the great Liberal governor with his three strikes law.

So I’m not going to get super-worked up that Trump is honestly saying what many think, and the attitudes which “liberal” politicians acted upon.

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Noam Chomsky Owns Sam Harris and Indicts Bill Clinton

Picture of Noam Chomsky

Picture of Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky had a private email session with Sam Harris about Clinton’s bombing of a Sudanese pharmaceutical factory which Clinton allegedly believed was also manufacturing a nerve agent. I really recommend reading the entire exchange, which is hilarious and horrifying on multiple levels. First, because Harris just doesn’t get that Chomsky is smashing him flat and asks for permission to publish it. Second, because the sort of ethical reasoning Chomsky uses is so alien to so many people in the world (and, sadly, especially to Americans).

To put it simply, Clinton’s destruction of that factory meant that many people didn’t get the drugs they needed to survive. So they died. The number of people who died was much larger than the number of people who died in 9/11. Harris just doesn’t seem to get it, he thinks “intent” matters more and that Clinton deserves the benefit of the doubt. Chomsky points out that any intelligent person would have predicted the effects of bombing that factory and Clinton did it anyway.

If he did it without malice, well, that means he felt nothing even though he had to know he was killing all those people. Feeling nothing about mass murder–and that’s what it was–is arguably worse than murdering someone you acknowledge as human, as having worth.

(There is also a a brief discussion of the Iraq sanctions of the 1990s, which were a terrible crime, as well.)

The point I want to emphasize is this: If you knowingly do something which a reasonable person knows will lead to large numbers of deaths, you are on the hook for those deaths. It may be the “least worst option” in some cases (though not, I think, in either of these cases), but you are still responsible.

A reasonable man (and Clinton is a brilliant man, famed for staying up all night doing research, right down to reading all the appendices and footnotes, unlike many executives), is responsible for the effects of his actions that a reasonable man forsee.

This is Ethics 101—it is also Democracy 101. If you cannot understand this, you cannot hold your legislators and executives responsible.

Chomsky also dismisses questions of motives as irrelevant; virtually everyone says they have great motives, including the Japanese during their mid-20th century wars. At the end of the day, you can only judge with reasonable expectations and by results. Everything else is BS.

I will finally note something a lot of people don’t seem to understand, because they have been exposed more to propaganda about Chomsky rather than his own writings or his seminal work in Linguistics and Cognitive Science. Like him or hate him, Chomsky is one of the great geniuses of the 20th century. Even at age 86 and slowing down, getting into the intellectual ring with him is like trying to bear hug a grizzly. It is unlikely to end well for you

It sure didn’t for Sam Harris.

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You will never, again, have a good economy for ordinary people so long as this continues

Reuters on Ben Bernanke’s post-Fed career:

Bernanke was paid at least $250,000 for his first public speaking engagement, in Abu Dhabi, since stepping down in January, according to sources familiar with the matter. That compares to his 2013 paycheck of $199,700, and the appearance was only the first of three around the world this week.’ (two weeks ago)

Ben Bernanke bailed out investors to the tune of trillions of dollars.  Now they are making sure he, personally, will be rich, so that no Federal Reserve Chairman ever thinks of not putting them first, second and last.

You cannot, and will not, have a good egalitarian economy while this sort of thing goes on.  It is not possible.  Those who have been in such positions should be given a very nice pension (say 5x median income) and not allowed to keep any additional earnings for the rest of their lives.

I can hear fools squealing already “gold plated pensions” and “paying them not to work” and “not fair”.

It would be far cheaper than the status quo.  Far, far cheaper.  Right now people like Ben Bernanke and Bill Clinton (worth 100 million after repealing Glass-Stegall and pushing through NAFTA) don’t work for you, they work for the people who will make them rich after they leave office.  That costs you far far more than a generous pension for the rest of their lives.

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