It’s been a year

Byline: | Category: Culture, Economy, Government, Iraq, Media, Military, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Wednesday, 27 October 2010

It’s been a year since I’ve last written in this space. I’ve been busy. I went back to Iraq for another tour, and then I spent another three months overseas in another theater. On top of that I’ve been writing a book. (More on that later.) That, combined with a sense that I needed some time off from my blog . . . and a few weeks turned into a few months, and then into a full year. (Truth be told, I was ready to post something a month or so ago, but I’d been gone so long that I forgot my own password.)

One of the things I worked on during my hiatus was an essay expressing concern about the increasing use of the military in domestic affairs. Keep in mind that I’m a career Army officer and a contractor to the Department of Defense–and yet, I’m deeply troubled by some recent trends I’ve seen.

I ask that you take a look at it and tell me what you think. But first, two points: one is to not get hung up on the Tea Party. I used them as a vehicle to display what I view as a growing disconnect between America’s leaders and voters. I could just has easily used a liberal grassroots group to demonstrate some of the problems. And quite frankly, liberals concerned about Big Corporations and conservatives alarmed at Big Government are really two sides of the same taxpayer-funded coin, both of which vehemently disagree about how they’re being spent.

The second point is that I wrote most of this back in January and quickly updated a few references to better illustrate some points. But since this was originally an academic essay, I’ve used footnotes instead of embedded hyperlinks. Sorry for the un-blog like nature of the format, but quite a few of the footnotes provide greatly needed additional detail that I didn’t want cluttering the essay itself, so I decided to keep them.

One other note on the format: this is written from the perspective of a senior Iraqi commander who is describing the situation in America to his leadership back home.

As for the future, I hope to update more often than annually. And I’ll keep you apprised of some of my ongoing projects as they develop. So without further ado . . .

What follows lies somewhere between fiction and prediction:

Why show me this, if I am past all hope! Good Spirit, Your nature intercedes for me, and pities me. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life?

Memorandum For: General Anwar Al Mahil, Chief of Staff of the Army, Baghdad, Iraq

SUBJECT: Lessons Learned from the American Coup

Dear Sir:

Praise be to Allah and to the Prophet Mohammed.

Attached is the report on my findings of the origins of the American Coup. In short, a collision of economic, cultural, and political forces converged to create the perfect setting for a military overthrow of the American civilian government.

It was predictable. In fact, Charles Dunlap, an American Air Force officer, had described much of what occurred twenty years beforehand. He even nearly predicted the date: 2012. However, widely read though his report was, it was little acted upon by the military or by the nation’s civilian leaders.

The coup and its violent aftermath—the sham tribunals, the executions, the purge of the military’s own professional corps—are beyond the scope of this report. In all of its horrifying detail, the brave and intrepid citizen-journalists of the resistance have ably captured that record for posterity.

Instead, the focus of my report is two-fold: Why did it happen? And how could it have been prevented?

On a personal note, I am deeply saddened by what I’ve seen. Our nation owes a debt of gratitude to the bravery of the men and women of America and the persistence they showed in their long efforts to usher Iraq into a democratic era. If only they had paid as much attention to themselves . . .

As always, Iraq can learn a great deal from the Americans. This chapter of American history, unfortunately, is a lesson in what not to do. Allah willing, we will take this lesson to heart.

Your most humble servant, Muqtada Al Assari
Commander, Multi-National Division-Washington

United Nations Peacekeeping Force-Iraq Contingent

Washington, D.C.

The first hint of the coming clash came from the impromptu rant of an exasperated television commentator. Reminiscent of a scene out of a popular Hollywood movie. [2] Rick Santelli’s reference to that seminal event in American history, the Boston Tea Party, connected with a frustrated public. [3] Just a few months before, America’s voters expressed their disgust with what Washington had become. They voted not so much for a candidate, but to send a message that what they wanted were leaders who were “uncorrupted and unco-opted by evil Washington.” [4] What they felt they got instead was “added sewage to the cesspool.” [5]

The problems stemmed from a sense of a growing disconnect between Americans and America’s government. For as long as the economy was strong, as it generally had been for most of the quarter century leading up to the coup, the deepening rift remained hidden. However, between December 2007 and December 2009 the unemployment rate doubled to 10%. During the same period, while 8.5 million Americans lost their private sector jobs the number of government employees jumped by almost one million. [6] Further alienating the people from their government was that by 2009 the average federal employee earned $71 thousand a year while private sector employees were making only $40 thousand. [7] As one voter exclaimed, there was a sense that Washington had created “a growing public sector that’s being funded by a shrinking private sector.” [8] In the years that followed, Americans would long for the days when only 10% of the country was out of work.

Americans also saw their elected leaders spend trillions of dollars taken from them in taxes, to prop up failed financial institutions, automobile manufacturers, and insurance companies, while they themselves lost their jobs, their houses, and their hope. When the nation’s banks—many of which were recent recipients of tens of billions of taxpayer dollars—gave their employees $145 billion in bonuses, it sparked outrage from disparate groups from all political sides.[9] Meanwhile, bankers lavishly supported the incumbent politicians who helped them. [10] There was a sense that big government and big business were colluding against the people themselves.

Out of this cultural chasm grew the Tea Party movement. Originally misinterpreted as a Republican Party-led group, the Tea Parties that followed were primarily opposed to the massive size of government. [11] The group became especially popular among the increasing number of political independents who no longer identified themselves as either Democrats or Republicans. [12] Areas, which were once reliably Republican or dogmatically Democratic, became increasingly independent. [13] By the end of 2009 this renegade movement had become more popular than either establishment party. [14]

The Tea Party movement itself had its prominent leaders, like Sarah Palin, a former Vice Presidential candidate, and Glenn Beck, a radio and television personality. However, it was more accurately a leaderless movement. Instead of being controlled in a hierarchical manner, the movement spread virally through a networked community. One pundit repeatedly referred to it as “An Army of Davids,” a reference to the Bible’s diminutive giant-slayer. [15]

On the other side were the nation’s traditional power brokers: including, academia, the media, and both major parties. One New York Times columnist called them the “educated class,” a characterization dripping with the condescension the Tea Party both loathed and loved. [16] The problem for these entrenched groups was that the increasingly popular Tea Party existed outside the establishment—and these groups were the establishment.

As Americans witnessed expanding collusion between government and large corporations, the Tea Party movement involved not just libertarians , but grew to include many liberals. Anti-big corporation liberals and anti-welfare libertarians found common ground in efforts to end corporate welfare. Nowhere was this more evident than in the bipartisan anger directed at the billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded bank bailouts. [17] One prominent liberal blogger expressed a sentiment exactly in tune with the Tea Party faithful, “Our system is too broken to be fixed by politicians . . . change is going to have to come from outside Washington.” [18]

Other establishment groups came under increasing fire. The American people, for example, sensed a growing collusion between the establishment and the media and against the individual. [19]

America had weathered these kinds of storms before. Congressional elections every two years afforded Americans the opportunity to completely change who represented them. Many times in the recent past, voters did just that. [20] What was different this time was that even when the voters switched parties in 2008 and again in 2010, the results did not change. [21] As one pundit exclaimed, “People want what they voted for; they don’t like the bait-and-switch.” [22]

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The U.S. Constitution supposed a very different relationship between the people and their government. It was in the House of Representatives where citizens were to be most immediately represented. There government would be “restrained by its dependence on its people.” [23] Frequent elections were the intended means to limit the House from being “seduced” by the “more permanent branches of the federal government.” [24] However, over the years the power of incumbency grew. Especially since the 1930s the nation’s political leaders systematically concentrated power so that it became increasingly difficult to dislodge those in control. [25]

The Founders’ ideal was that the nation’s leaders would come from the people, and then quickly return to the people. It was not an accident that in the same year that America ratified the Constitution, the infant nation’s “Queen City of the West” re-christened itself in honor of Cincinnatus, the Roman general, who after he did his service to his nation, quietly retired to his home rather than take the offered reins of Rome. [26] For more than a century, America lived by that ideal. Until the 1900s the average House member’s length of service was a mere six years. In the years after World War II, the average tenure in the House grew to 20 years. [27] The rise of a permanent political class was not something the Founders foresaw. However, it did develop, and the American public was increasingly unhappy about it. [28]

Concurrent with the rise of a professional political class was the creation of a large permanent military. Again, the nation’s Founders did not foresee this development. Yet, between the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Cold War that soon followed, America came to accept the need for greater defense capabilities. What did not evolve, however, was the development of checks to balance the stronger military. In the Founder’s view, this would come from “the natural strength of the community” which would always be “an over-match” for the army. [29] Further restraining the army against the people was that the populace would not be “habituated to look up to the military power for protection.” [30]

This was a development of great concern to Charles Dunlap. [31] For years the military remained the only branch of the federal government in which a majority of the population expressed high confidence. By 2009 an astounding five times as many Americans trusted the military to do the right thing than trusted Congress. [32] When the crisis later erupted, Americans naturally turned to the military for help. However, this would prove their undoing. If only the people had listened to Alexander Hamilton’s 200-year old caution: “The people are always most in danger when the means of injuring their rights are in the possession of those of whom they entertain the least suspicion.” [33]

After having rejected Republicans in 2008, then the Democrats two years later, and still seeing that nothing had changed, outraged Americans opted for an entirely fresh start in 2012. When the American establishment still thwarted the voters, violence ensued.

Trouble started during the campaign season when the Tea Party found that ballot access laws in a dozen states kept the new party’s candidates off the ballot. Polls showed the party’s presidential candidate well ahead of those of both Democrats and Republicans, but it became increasingly clear that none of the three candidates would win a majority of the electoral votes necessary to win the election. The Tea Party candidates for Congress also faced an uphill battle. Many of their nominees were unable to meet the strict rules imposed to keep them off the ballot.

When the November election finally came, the Tea Party’s presidential candidate won well over half of the popular vote. However, because the party was denied access to the ballot in many states, there were less than the 270 electoral votes necessary to give the party’s nominee a win. That then threw the election into the House of Representatives.

There, the situation was no less murky. The Tea Party’s congressional candidates looked like they had won 225 seats—barely enough for a majority. Unfortunately, dozens of them found themselves the victims of a trend of judicially contested elections that had accelerated since 2000. [34]

To the Tea Party’s supporters, it looked like collusion. Election boards, which by law in many states were made up of only Republicans and Democrats, dismissed absentee and write-in ballots for the flimsiest of excuses. [35] Day by day the Tea Party’s margin of victory shrank. When Congress convened in January, it did so without 30 members—all of them districts where the Tea Party candidate looked to be ahead, but where the outcome was in doubt.

It got worse. Even though the Tea Party was the largest bloc, Republicans and some Democrats combined their votes on a compromise choice for Speaker of the House. The public was outraged as never before.

The result was the largest protest Washington had ever seen. More than two million angry Americans descended on the nation’s capitol. Things quickly got out of hand. Determined to “take back the House,” the crowd literally did so. For nearly two weeks, the protestors staged a “sit-in” of enormous proportions. Congress was unable to convene to select a new president. Noon on January 20, 2013 came and went. For the first time in 224 years, America was without a president.

According to the Constitution, the new vice president should have taken control. Without an Electoral College majority, that meant that the senate should have decided that race. However, unwilling to choose a vice president while the presidential outcome was still in doubt in the House, the Senate never acted. Next in line to the presidency was the Speaker of the House—the very same one whose selection was viewed as illegitimate by a majority of Americans. To a great number of citizens it looked like Democrats and Republicans conspired to thwart the will of the American people.

Hysteria gripped the nation. Some wondered if, without a commander-in-chief, the nation was at risk of an attack. Worse than the hypothetical, was how constitutional uncertainty effected economics. The stock market collapsed. Bond yields nearly doubled in a week. There were runs on banks. The price of gold shot to more than $3,000 an ounce. An already unstable economy spun out of control. The media whipped up the frenzy, highlighting the threat that the blockade of the Capitol posed to the nation as well as to public safety. Even many of the Tea Party’s supporters were concerned that the protests had grown out of control. A frantic search was on for a peaceful resolution. And so, Americans placed their trust into the hands of the only group in America that had the trust of the people to do the right thing.

The new House Speaker, whose position was next in line to the presidency, but whose legitimacy was suspect, ordered the military to seize control of Capitol Hill. A most undemocratic scene unfolded: the Army protected the people’s representatives from the people themselves.

The coup wasn’t quite as immediate as Dunlap envisioned. There was no “Permanent Military Plenipotentiary” or “General Brutus” to occupy the White House. Congress reconvened, and the House selected a President: the same new Speaker. To win over the public, the Senate named a popular senior military officer to the vice presidency. It was a powerful symbol, vividly exposing the symbiotic relationship between the military and government itself. Each owed their power to the other. And once the military had crossed the Rubicon of injecting itself into domestic politics, it became easier to do it again and again. That was especially the case after the military quashed dissent from within its ranks.

That there was discussion in the ranks about the legitimacy of the political crisis, should have surprised no one. However, the response to the discussion was swift and severe. Three years before an Army officer who vocally disagreed with national policy took it out violently on fellow soldiers, killing 13 of them at Fort Hood. In response, the military trained its members to be aware of those “asserting that US policy and authority is illegitimate.” [36] Goaded by the nation’s civilian leadership, the military vigorously quashed discussion about the legitimacy of the military’s actions. Among the most senior of those purged, was Lt. Gen. Charles Dunlap. In a professional journal he warned that however bad the potential violence might have been, it was less injurious to the long-term health of the body politic than to allow the military to decide the election. He was forced to resign. Dozens of other dissenters soon disappeared from the military’s ranks. Civil-military relations were no longer a proper topic for the nation’s military professionals. It was no surprise that when Congress soon eliminated the remaining vestiges of Posse Comitatus, the military objected not at all.

Far from objecting, military leadership actually advocated the expansion of authority into the domestic realm. This was largely due to the economic collapse, which had a huge impact on the nation’s tax receipts. The military found itself in competition with other departments and agencies for a declining number of federal dollars. This added role justified, in their eyes, even larger defense budgets. They were not about to upset their keepers by raising uncomfortable questions of constitutionality. Congress, in turn, rewarded their fealty handsomely.

Congress owed its power to the military. The military knew it, and they exacted their toll. Defense spending would always have the upper hand, even as economic decline eroded many other spending programs. The future saw greater military involvement in political life, from providing armed escorts to government officials, to securing polling places, to maintaining comprehensive databases on American civilians, to infiltrating raids on “un-American” groups, which, of course, included many Tea Party organizations. [37] The civil war itself was still a couple years away, but the events surrounding the 2012 election made it inevitable.

There were ways to have prevented this. At its heart, the coup was made possible by the gradual removal of balance from America’s delicate system of checks and balances. Once it was determined that there was a legitimate need for a standing peacetime Army, there was little thought given to how to constitutionally restrict its size and scope. Similarly, the rise of a “professional” political class was another unbalanced evolution.

Both of these changes unenvisioned by the nation’s founders were largely the result of federal finances. Generations of government had grown flippant in their concern over the concept of unsustainable deficit spending, thus removing even mathematical limitations to the military’s budget. Since the size and scope of government was unconstrained by any spending limits, government grew far faster than the economy. This lasted right up until there was a crisis of confidence in the ability of the government to make good on its debts. When investors fled the world’s currency of last resort, what were formerly viewed as sacrosanct economic rules no longer applied.

As for the increased longevity of Congress, it too came about as a result of the federal budget. More spending resulted inevitably in business spending an increasing amount to influence that government spending. Entrenched business interests bought, and thus further entrenched, incumbent politicians. It was a cycle wholly unbroken until the rise of Tea Party risked completely fracturing it.

These were largely socio-political problems over which the military had little influence. But what they could influence was the ability of its members to be a part of it. Many of those entrenched business interests were retired senior military leaders who cashed in on their connections in order to increase the size of the defense budget. Increasingly common was the former soldier or military retiree who returned to the military in a quasi-civilian role. This development was not unlike what was occurring in government in general, and most especially among elected officials, who rotated between their government jobs and lucrative positions on the periphery of their former public roles. [38] Like the military, government in general had become a closed loop society increasingly insulated from the population it supposedly served. The Defense Department should have recognized this as a problem, and advocated for a wall of separation between senior military retirees and military lobbying.

The military should also have advocated for a wall of separation between itself and many of its domestic duties. Especially after the attacks on September 11, 2001, the American military became increasingly involved in American life. After the creation of the Homeland Security Department, seemingly every crisis—floods, earthquakes, cyber crimes, immigration—had a security component that required a deeper Defense Department presence. And then the “domestic enemies” list began to grow.

Every American service member pledged to “defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” However, that is not the same thing as defending the government against all its potential enemies. Especially when it came to domestic defense, threats to the Constitution were more likely to come from the powerful within the system than from a few miscreants on the outside. From ferrying public officials on military aircraft, to putting out forest fires, to taking charge of emergency relief, “No,” should have more often been the response to requests to expand the military’s role at home. At the very least, the military should have downplayed its role. For example, it should never have allowed itself to be the public face of disaster relief in the form of daily uniformed press briefings, such as occurred in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill. For that both accustomed political leaders to depending on the military to perform what were essentially domestic political roles and habituated the American public to a greater military presence in their daily lives.

By 2012 all the ingredients were in place for an American coup. As always happened when the powerful attempted to hold on to power for too long, conflict was inevitable. And when that conflict was on the verge of becoming bloody, the American people looked to those to whom they were accustomed to turn in a crisis. Just as Alexander Hamilton warned, power is always most dangerous “in the possession of those of whom [the people] entertain the least suspicion.”


[1] Dickens, Charles.  A Christmas Carol: in Prose: Being a Ghost Story of Christmas.  London: Bradbury & Evans Printers, 1858.    90.

[2] In the 1976 Oscar-winning film Network, a frustrated television news anchor, Howard Beale, wanders off-script and tells his audience, “I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s work, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there’s no end to it. . .  I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation . . .  All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad. . .  So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, ‘I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!’”  Beale’s rant was met with a chorus of similar yells from people all across the city. .

[3] CNBC commentator, Rick Santelli, reported from the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade and expressed the concerns of a number of the traders about the moral hazard of proposed economic solutions to the ongoing recession and financial difficulties.  He suggested the people protest through a “Chicago Tea Party,” which caused Wilbur Ross from inside CNBC studios to presciently predict that would cause the government to respond with the National Guard.  “Rick Santelli and the ‘Rant of the Year’,” .

[4] Heilemann, John and Halperin, Mark, Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime.  Quoted in:  Wehner, Peter, “The Once-Appealing Barack Obama,” Commentary Magazine.  January 18, 2010. .

[5] Wehner, Peter, “The Once-Appealing Barack Obama,” Commentary Magazine.  January 18, 2010. .

[6] The establishment data from the Employment Situation Summary released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for December 2007 reported that nonfarm employment was a total of 138,495,000 jobs.  Of that, there were 22,388,000 government jobs, and 18,627,000 education and health service jobs. .  Establishment data from the December 2009 report indicated that total nonfarm employment had fallen to 130,910,000, while the number of government jobs had climbed to 22,467,000 and education and health services employment had jumped to 19,456,000. . 

[7] “For Feds, More Get 6-Figure Salaries,” USA Today. December 11, 2009. .

[8] “Frank Luntz Focus Group Explains the Election” Fox News, January 19, 2010. .

[9] “Banks to Pay Out Record $145 Billion in Bonuses,”  Real Clear Markets Video.  January 15, 2010, .

[10] “Since 2002, the [financial] sector has contributed more than $1.1 billion to congressional candidates . . .  The sector is among the biggest donors overall.”  Hamberuger, Tom and Heisel, William, “Heavily Invested in the Outcome,”  Los Angeles Times.  September 23, 2008. .

[11] A Washington Post poll found in January 2010 that, “by 58 percent to 38 percent, Americans said they prefer smaller government and fewer services to larger government with more services.”  Balz, Dan, “One Year Later Assessing Obama: Testing the Promise of Pragmatism,”  Washington Post. January 17, 2010. .

[12] According to a Pew Research Center survey, “ . . . the country [experienced] such a boost in independent voters that they now make up the largest proportion of the electorate in 70 years.”  Millner, Gloria.  “Independents outnumber Democrats, Republicans,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 22, 2009. .

[13] Nowhere was the gain in independents more telling than in reliably-Democratic Massachusetts, which was the only state in the nation to have voted for the Democratic candidate in the landslide 1972 presidential election.  “Democrats outnumber Republicans by three to one in the state, but independent voters now outnumber them both: a majority of the state’s voters are no longer members of either party.”  Cooper, Michael, “In Senate Race, Massachusetts Bucks a Political Stereotype,” The New York Times, January 17, 2010. .

[14] “The tea party movement is mostly famous for its flamboyant fringe. But it is now more popular than either major party. According to the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 41 percent of Americans have a positive view of the tea party movement. Only 35 percent of Americans have a positive view of the Democrats and only 28 percent have a positive view of the Republican Party.”  Brooks, David.  “The Tea Party Teens,” The New York Times.  January 4, 2010. .

[15] Reynolds, Glenn, An Army of Davids: How Markets and Technology Empower Ordinary people to Beat Big Media, Big Government, and Other Goliaths.  Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006.

[16] Brooks, David.  “The Tea Party Teens,” The New York Times.  January 4, 2010. .

[17] An example of the increasing cooperation between libertarian-leaning conservatives and liberals skeptical of corporations is illustrated by an exchange on  “A READER EMAILS TO ASK why I haven’t gotten behind Arianna Huffington’s ‘Move Your Money’ campaign. ‘Move Your Money is very John Galt, very Tea Party.’ . . .  I kind of like the idea, and while I doubt it will have as much impact as they suggest, it seems to me that moving money from bailed-out banks to smaller community banks is a good idea — sort of like buying your car from non-bailout car companies.”  By that time, it was already evident that the two of the three American automobile companies that received billions of dollars of taxpayer bailouts would never again be profitable, while Ford, which didn’t take federal funds, saw increased sales and returned to profitability by the end of 2009.  The American people were voting with their wallets against increased government spending.  Reynolds, Glenn., January 7, 2010,  .

[18] Huffington, Arianna, “’Hope’ Has Been a Bust, It’s time for Hope 2.0,” The Huffington Post. January 18, 2010 .

[19] The Washington Post, one of the nation’s most prominent newspapers, came under fire when it was discovered that the Post’s publisher had planned to sell government and business officials access to her news and editorial staffs for as much as $250,000.  Allen, Mike and Calderone, Michael, “Washington Post Cancels Lobbyist Event Amid Uproar,”  Politico.  July 3, 2009.  .

[20] On four occasions in the previous 80 years the American electorate had voted for a significantly different Congress (the change of at least 50 seats and resulting in a turnover of the party controlling the House of Representatives).  Angry Americans at the depth of the Depression gave Democrats 97 new seats and control of the House of Representatives.  Tired of President Truman and the Democratic Party, the 1946 election resulted in Republican control of the House after they gained back 55 seats.  Two years later, Democrats retook the House against a “Do-Nothing Congress” when they won 75 seats.  Republicans regained control in 1994 by picking up 54 House seats amidst numerous Democratic scandals and a sense of government overreach.

[21] The Democratic Party took control of the House of Representatives in 2006 when they took 31 seats from the Republican Party.  Two years later they expanded their lead by adding another 21 Democrats to the House.

[22] “Brown’s Win and Obama’s Iraq,” The Anchoress, January 19, 2010. .

[23] Federalist 52.

[24] Federalist 52

[25] Richard Winger describes increasingly restrictive ballot access laws which “began during the 1930s when major party politicians were eager to discourage labor from starting its own party.” Winger, Richard, “Ballot Access for Minor Candidates,” The Case Program, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, 1997. .  Gerrymandering was another technique for protecting incumbent politicians against loss.  While the practice dates back to at least 1812 when the word was coined, advanced computing made the practice of drawing district boundaries to benefit incumbents much more highly refined.  “The 2002 congressional elections make this point starkly.  Only four challengers defeated House incumbents – the lowest number in modern American history.”  Mann, Thomas and Ornstein Norman, Brief of Amici Curiae in support of Appellants, League of United Latin American Citizens v. Rick Perry, Supreme Court of the United States, .

[26] Founded originally in 1788 as Losantiville, the Ohio city was renamed “Cincinnati” in 1790, the same year that Rhode Island became the 13th state to ratify the United States Constitution.

[27] “Throughout history the percentage of incumbents who sought reelection who were returned to the next Congress has rarely fallen below 70 percent . . . What does appear to have changed over time is the percentage incumbents seeking reelection.  For most of the 19th century this percentage was in the 60-70 percent range.  With the trend towards careerism that emerged in the late 19th century and accelerated in the 20th century, this figure rose to the 85-95 percent range.”  This translates to an average length of service in the House of about 6 years through the nation’s first 100 years.  More recent reelection rates bring the service length for the average incumbent to approximately 20 years.  Another way to think of these reelection rates is to consider that if the size of the House throughout history had been a constant 435 members—its modern size—that would translate to an average change of about 144 new members every two years, instead of the recent average of about 44.  Reelection Rates of House Incumbents: 1790-1994.  Congressional Research Service.  March 8, 1995.

[28] A Rasmussen Reports poll found that 50% of respondents felt that “high reelection rates result from rules that are ‘rigged to benefit members of Congress.’”  Only 28% disagreed.  From the survey report: “Over the last century, turnover in Congress has been declining dramatically. At the time the Constitution was written, the Founders expected a 50% turnover in the House following each election. That standard existed for most of the nineteenth century. Turnover fell to single digits for the first time in 1968. Currently, other than freshman in their first reelection bid, it takes an exceptional circumstance to defeat an incumbent.  “50% Say ‘Rigged’ Election Rules Explain high Reelection Rate for Congress,”  Rasmussen Reports, April 28, 2009.

[29] Hamilton, Alexander.  Federalist No. 8 The Consequences of Hostilities Between the States From the New York Packet.  Tuesday, November 20, 1787.

[30] Hamilton, Alexander.  Federalist No. 8 The Consequences of Hostilities Between the States From the New York Packet.  Tuesday, November 20, 1787.  Google Books accessed 16 January 2010.

[31] “Americans became exasperated with democracy.  We were disillusioned with the apparent inability of elected government to solve the nation’s dilemmas.  We were looking for someone or something that could produce workable answers.  The one institution of government in which the people retained faith was the military.  Buoyed by the military’s obvious competence in the First Gulf War, the public increasingly turned to it for solutions to the country’s problems . . . Though not obvious at the time, the cumulative effect of these new responsibilities was to incorporate the military into the political process to an unprecedented degree.”  Dunlap, Charles, “The Origins of the American Coup.”  Parameters. Winter, 1992-93.  , 4.

[32] A Gallup poll taken June 14-17, 2009 found that 82% of Americans expressed a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the U.S. military.  Only 17% of those polled said the same thing about Congress.  The military “has ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in Gallup’s annual Confidence in Institutions list almost every year since the measure was instituted in 1973, and has been No. 1 continuously since 1998.”  Saad, Lydia.  “Americans’ Confidence in Military Up, Banks Down,”  Gallup.  June 24, 2009. .

[33] Hamilton, Alexander.  Federalist No. 25 The Same Subject Continued (The Powers Necessary to the Common Defense Further Considered) From the New York Packet. Friday December 21, 1787.

[34] At least since the 2000 presidential election, both parties have readily employed teams of lawyers ready to pounce on any real or perceived inconsistencies in voting.  Recounts and Republican legal challenges following the 2008 U.S. Senate election in Minnesota left the state unrepresented in the upper chamber until July 7, 2009, six months after the Senate convened.  Kim, Seung Min, “Franken Sworn in as Minnesota Senator,” USA Today, July 8, 2009, (Accessed, January 18, 2010.)  Not to be outdone Democrats openly explored their legal options to delay the seating of Scott Brown should he win special election for a vacant U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts.  Quaratiello, Frank, “Scott Brown Swearing-in Would be Stalled to Pass Health-care Reform,” Boston Herald, January 9, 2010. .

[35] Tennessee is representative.  There, both the state election commission and each of the county’s election commissions are comprised of five members, which by law, are either Republicans or Democrats.

[36] The Fort Hood attack was the result of a militant Islamic Army major who had on numerous occasions publicly expressed his displeasure with the nation’s actions in the Middle East.  By 2010 the military had incorporated the Fort Hood attack scenario into its mandatory annual anti-terrorism training.

[37] Cass Sunstein, the head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs co-authored a paper advocating that the government infiltrate “conspiracy-minded organizations.”  From the report itself:  “ . . . . government officials would participate anonymously or even with false identities. . .  Sunstein, Cass R. and Vermeule, Adrian, Conspiracy Theories (January 15, 2008). Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 08-03; U of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 199; U of Chicago Law & Economics, Olin Working Paper No. 387. Available at SSRN:

[38] Here is just one example of the “deeply opaque” lobbying relationships between DOD, retired military officials, Congress, and the media:  “Defense Solutions, sought the services of a retired general with national stature, someone who could open doors at the highest levels of government and help it win a huge prize: the right to supply Iraq with thousands of armored vehicles.  Access like this does not come cheap, but it was an opportunity potentially worth billions in sales . . . The company signed Barry R. McCaffrey, a retired four-star Army general and military analyst for NBC News . . . Four days later the general swung into action.   He sent a personal note and 15-page briefing packet to David H. Petraeus, the commanding general in Iraq, strongly recommending Defense Solutions . . . ‘No other proposal is quicker, less costly, or more certain to succeed’ he said. . .  General McCaffrey did not mention his new contract with Defense Solutions in his letter to General Petraeus.  Nor did he disclose it when he went on CNBC that same week . . .   In his testimony to Congress, General McCaffrey criticized a Pentagon plan to supply Iraq with several hundred armored vehicles made in the United States by a competitor of Defense Solutions.  He called the plan ‘not in the right ballpark’ and urged Congress to instead equip Iraq with 5,000 armored vehicles.”  The author highlighted what he called, “an exclusive club has quietly flourished at the intersection of network news and wartime commerce.  Its members, mostly retired generals, have had a foot in both camps as influential network military analysts and defense industry rainmakers.  It is a deeply opaque world, a place of privileged access to senior government officials. . . “ Barstow, David.  “One Man’s Military-Industrial-Media Complex,”  The New York Times.  November 29, 2008.  .

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2 Responses to “It’s been a year”

  1. Tregonsee Says:

    For another, equally chilling, cautionary tale, read “Caliphate” by Tom Kratman. Much the same idea, though a Pat Buchanon-esqe president does in fact put the military largely in power, starting with a nuclear carpet bombing of the Arab world.

  2. Kay Brooks Says:

    WOW! Glad you’re back safely. Thank you for this post. It contains things we need to seriously consider. So appreciate your insight, warning and your service. Let those with ears to hear…