Dear Madam/Mister Future President

As I am writing this, you don’t yet exist, and I hope you never will. As I am writing this, at least half a dozen people are still standing in the quadrennial jousting tournament we call elections. Elections in America is that brief and fleeting period of time when Washington DC turns its gaze to the rest of the country feigning passionate interest in our lives. This time around America is staring back at you in seething anger. In the olden days, this would be the proper time for tar and feathers, for pitchforks, and for burning you in effigy. Nowadays, this is the time for Twitter trolling and lack of what you call decorum in public discourse. Like all well fed, self-described benevolent aristocrats in the past, you seem surprised at our indifference to your accomplishments, and shocked at our plebian preference for rough and tumble champions of our own choosing.

Try not to worry too much. Time, and the robust voter suppression machine you and your “donors” built over centuries of enlightened democracy, is on your side. You will prevail. There will be no impractical socialist in the White House, and no vulgar businessman will be allowed to touch the intricate web of global domination your donors weaved over decades of hard work and heroic determination. Not peacefully. Not without a violent American Spring. Not in our lifetime. Not while you have a good “ground game” to get votes. Not while you have big data to “profile”, “target” and “persuade” voters. There really is nothing I want to tell you, or ask of you, because I know precisely what you will be doing in the next four years, but let’s continue this farce where you pretend to be a public servant, and I pretend to be an engaged citizen.

You are obviously “electable”, which means you passionately advocate for nothing in particular, in long erudite sentences that rise at the very end (like JFK). You certainly look “presidential”, which means that you’re not too fat or too old or too short, your nails are trimmed and your hair is combed.  You addressed every policy nook and cranny in your issue-oriented debates, in your canned stump speeches and in your ten point policy proposals that will become obsolete once the last polling station closes on November 8th. But there is one thing nobody is talking about. No clever moderator is asking, no candidate is volunteering an opinion, let alone a “plan” to tackle what is perhaps the defining issue of our times.

“It’s about the next 20 years. In the ’20s and ’30s it was the role of government. ’50s and ’60s it was civil rights. The next two decades are going to be privacy. I’m talking about the Internet. I’m talking about cell phones. I’m talking about health records and who’s gay and who’s not. And moreover, in a country born on the will to be free, what could be more fundamental than this?” –Sam Seaborn, The West Wing, Episode 9: The Short List (for Supreme Court appointees), 1999

The events of the new millennium do not seem to support Sam Seaborn’s prediction, and your campaign is stark testimony that privacy is to be forfeited without much pushback from any quarters. We could argue that principled liberals of the previous century were ill equipped to appreciate the true benefits of the Faustian deal we are now making with the Lords of the Global Digital Panopticon. One could also argue that since the days of Sam Seaborn, privacy has become all but extinct, and lo and behold the sky of freedom hasn’t fallen. Or has it?

Let’s take a quick look at your campaign operations. Did you avail yourself of a voter database? Are you paying for special software that “appends the richest set of consumer and interest data, allowing the most sophisticated targeting” of voters? Do you employ an army of techies in the basement of your national headquarters, like the landmark Obama digital campaign did? Do you have an app on iTunes that tracks your “supporters”, their friends and their families, everywhere they go? Is your voter segmentation machine spitting out properly scripted “messages” at the most opportune time for the most receptive individuals? Do you think this is what Thomas Jefferson meant by freedom and liberty? Or do you think that’s what your kindergarten teacher meant by lying and cheating? Do you even care?

Politics in an age without individual privacy is as principled as marketing toilet paper. Your brand is softer, stronger, more absorbent, bigger, smaller, whiter, greener, and very much preferred by wild bears in the forest. You stand for nothing and everything. You stand for moderation in the North and you stand for God in the South, and you stand for Nelson Mandela to offset all the white old men who manage your campaign. You stand for America in the abstract, and use personal misfortunes of citizens to illustrate your history book, but even if your poor mom or dad were of the people, you have long ago ceased to be one of us. The reason we are asked to vote for you is the same reason we are asked to choose Charmin instead of Cottonelle, with the same de minimis consequences.

Now let’s take a look at Obamacare, which you are certain to tinker with, one way or another. In your mind, Obamacare is about money. It’s about premiums, deductibles and percent uninsured, but if that’s all Obamacare was about, it wouldn’t have required hundreds of densely typed pages, and it wouldn’t have triggered a tsunami of lesser legislations now percolating through Congress. In reality, Obamacare is how your donors use the latest technology to ensure that future elections are free from glitches that allow old communists and potty mouthed billionaires to come close to disrupting a carefully constructed world order. Obamacare is not about a human right to health care and it’s not about keeping Americans from dying in the streets, as your rogue competitors seem to believe. Obamacare is how Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon (GAFA), and their Silicon Valley brethren, take control of human life on earth, and get rich beyond the dreams of avarice.

Obamacare is about replacing personal and slow medicine, with high-tech, high-speed, precision medicine administered through metallic algorithms supplied by your donor community. Obamacare is about managing expectations (you should be familiar with that little game), to make the busywork of tracking and scoring citizens seem like medical care. Obamacare is about shifting the locus of medical decision making from individual people and their doctors to the invisible hand of computerized bureaucracy. Obamacare is to health care what high-speed trading is to stock markets. To this end, Obamacare must unleash a biblical flood of personal information for its doomsday machines to consume, and dutifully share with other stakeholders, such as your campaign software vendor. Any remote notions of physical and mental privacy are therefore obstacles to progress.

Perhaps it is logical that your party and the other party as well, have viciously turned on their front runners in an effort to select a nominee with the best ROI record for those who consider themselves owners of a global humanity.  Perhaps it’s not by accident that Obamacare which was first known as HillaryCare, and then as RomneyCare, may eventually be known as BushLeagueCare. Perhaps, as our own, bought and paid for, disruptive innovators love to point out to their less enthusiastic colleagues, this is all inevitable. Perhaps, but somehow, at some point in this long game, the courts will have to weigh in and decide if the framers of our Constitution intended to set up a government whose sole function is to capture and deliver its citizens to global moneyed interests for lifetime exploitation.

This Saturday, Justice Antonin Scalia died. In this election year the usual and customary horse trading to seat an “acceptable”, thus by necessity mediocre, judge on our Supreme Court bench for life, may not be an option. The insurmountable task of nominating the next Supreme Court Justice may land in your lap, pretty much on your first day in office. There is a bold and beautiful solution to this quandary, a grand bargain that rises above your petty party politics, and for that you’d have to turn again to the liberal fantasy called The West Wing (Season 5, Episode 17: The Supremes, 2004). Unless the Obama administration, which over the years exhibited a peculiar interest in reenacting The West Wing, beats you to it, you will get to appoint (unopposed) two Supreme Court Justices and the rare opportunity to stand “in the gaze of history”.

Unfortunately, whether you belong to Clan Clinton or are hailing from the Bushes, I am having difficulty imagining you giving up any perceived party advantages for the sake of judicial excellence on the Court. I can certainly imagine the angry socialist and the mercurial businessman rising above the pettiness, but this wasn’t meant to be. Not this year. The next four years are yours, and you will need to hurry up and bolt the doors and bar the windows. A really big war, preferably in Europe, would help tremendously. Either way though, your days are numbered. We are no longer progressive or conservative. We are either feeding at your trough or we are not, and there are many more of us than there are of you, and one of these days we will have nothing left to lose. Not even our privacy.

Margalit Gur-Arie is a THCB contributor based in St. Louis.

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25 replies »

  1. Interesting conversation and of course we disagree, but where does that leave us?

    On the one hand we have the dream of Bernie Sanders where no one is able to adequately tell us how to fund his dreams other than to say we will tax the rich which is nothing but foolishness because when he is finished taxing the rich he has to tax the rest of us until the nations economy is totally destroyed.

    I hope I have added a bit of realism in our discussion. It is so easy to agree on the end product, but so difficult to agree on a means. Of course there is always pure democracy that seemingly makes things so easy to decide. That is why three fox and a hen sitting at the table deciding what to eat almost always leads to the same result.

  2. Great conversation, Allan, but we should probably agree to disagree at this point 🙂 The abyss between our world views seems too big to be crossed in any meaningful way… 🙂

  3. “ I am not interested in taking Apple’s property. I am interested in splitting it into smaller pieces, so no piece is in a position to devour its benefactor.”

    In other words you are not interested any longer in your contention ‘Apple didn’t build it’ or those individuals in foreign lands that are paid substandard wages? Does breaking Apple up satisfy your desire to ‘make Apple the way we think it should be’ in all aspects except it should be broken up?

    Since Apple functions based upon its computers linking to all its different products what it sounds like you wish to do is to steal its work product. Apple created its proprietary design and Microsoft created an open design. They competed for shelf space and our dollars so people have a very complete choice of what they want, but it appears you want to tell them what they need. I’d rather the government stay out of my affairs.

    “not reflect the wealth of 99% of what makes a country a free democratic country.”

    Really? Have you ever compared what the lower income groups in our country have compared to many other nations? Then for the poorest add in the benefits provided by our government. Our poor have more space in their homes, more TV’s more, more refrigerators and more amenities than seen in many middle class homes in the countries you likely are comparing them to.

    “It is perhaps interesting to note that as corporations like Apple exceed a manageable size, citizens of the host country become poorer.”

    You have it wrong. When a nations functions exceed a manageable size citizens become poorer. The only time I can think of when the manageable size of a large corporation makes people poorer is when government and the corporations team up with one another. We have had a lot of that recently and that has caused us tremendous problems.

    “As to your statement:
    “I’ll suffer the indignities involved with exploitation if it saves lives.” – I WILL NOT. I’d rather live free, or die…. ”

    Again you are making the decision for another as to whether they would rather live free or die. Your life is not involved, but in certain countries the only difference between survival and death is a job that pays substandard wages. I don’t like to be involved in that type of thing, but I would let them choose whether they wish to live free or die. You want the ability to tell them to drop dead. 😉

  4. I am not interested in nationalizing private industry. I am not interested in taking Apple’s property. I am interested in splitting it into smaller pieces, so no piece is in a position to devour its benefactor. The benefactor being the United States of America, without which Apple would not have existed.

    Apple certainly has increased the country’s wealth, but the country’s wealth is a quaint notion that does not reflect the wealth of 99% of what makes a country a free democratic country. It is perhaps interesting to note that as corporations like Apple exceed a manageable size, citizens of the host country become poorer. We paid for the excesses of the 20’s and we are going to pay for the current ones as well, if we don’t get our act together.

    As to your statement:
    “I’ll suffer the indignities involved with exploitation if it saves lives.”

    – I WILL NOT. I’d rather live free, or die…. 🙂

  5. “The question of whether we are better off with Apple or without it”

    That is known as reality distinguishing itself from dreaming. What you consider exploitation (something none of us like) might be life saving. I’ll suffer the indignities involved with exploitation if it saves lives. I’ll try to do a work around, but I would prefer the lives be saved.

    “The correct question is open ended: what should Apple look like for us to be better off.”

    That is known as a dream and if your dream was something different then you should be producing your own version of Apple. What you are really saying is that you wish to steal Apple’s property rights and use those property rights in your own way.

    You go back to the argument that Apple didn’t build it. You had the opportunity to create Apple and so did everyone else, but Apple built Apple not you. We wouldn’t have Apple if it weren’t for those that built it and we wouldn’t have as good a road system if Apple and the wealth Apple created never existed.

    “Once we have that answer, we delegate execution to our government.”

    That is what many of the socialist/ communist governments were supposed to execute in their own lands but instead they executed over 100,000,000 outside of war. We need government, but should be careful granting government the right of making the type of decisions you wish it to make. Humans end up running both government and Apple except those in the government generally can’t create a company like Apple. They are however, just as greedy though without the ability so they have to use the power of their office to get rich.

    “Now that it sucked out all the nutrients from our soil it looks like we created an ungrateful, unprincipled monster.”

    Apple did no such thing. It increased the countries wealth along with the wealth of its citizens. Get rid of Apple and all similar large corporations and then tell us how you will implement social justice.

    “If Apple wants to sell its crap ”

    Apparently much of the world doesn’t agree with you and buys what you call crap for a high dollar amount that could have been spent elsewhere. Instead of pushing people down, Apple has helped people rise up and other industries to develop.

    No laborer in this country has to work for any company buy from them. Everyone is entitled to create an Apple. The relationship is a mutual exchange where both parties are better off. The alternative is governmental theft that doesn’t work very well and lowers the taxpayer’s standard of living.

  6. The question of whether we are better off with Apple or without it has been used to defend slavery and exploitation for centuries. It is the wrong question. The correct question is open ended: what should Apple look like for us to be better off. Once we have that answer, we delegate execution to our government.
    Apple could not have existed without the infrastructure we created for it to flourish, and that infrastructure includes many lost lives as well as treasury. Now that it sucked out all the nutrients from our soil it looks like we created an ungrateful, unprincipled monster. And I am using Apple here to describe a host of other corporations that are willing to relocate to wherever slavery is still an option.
    If Apple wants to sell its crap in the US, Apple should make it in the US and pay fair wages, or we will tax every piece of junk just enough to make the alternative unprofitable. Countries exist to serve all citizens not just the few who managed to raise to the top by pushing the many further down.

    As to Bernie’s policies, no, money doesn’t grow on trees. It grows on laborers’ backs. We are perfectly willing to pay for all those “things” that benefit us for a change, instead of paying for generating, growing and maintaining in grand style, an entire class of global leeches.

  7. Consolidation of government power always requires whipping up threats that need to be taken care of by an increasingly powerful government to protect us ….commonly it is the financiers…..new to me is Apple. For my ancestors, it was the kulaks.

  8. Apple is taxed all over the world in addition to paying the US a huge tax bill though we all recognize that like other companies it is less than the corporate rate set by our government. …And yes they leave money abroad to avoid paying taxes on that money. Maybe you would prefer the company move out of the United States which they can do. Additionally every American citizen that has bought Apple has paid taxes on their dividends and when they sold their stock. Thus the amount of taxes Apple pays directly and indirectly is huge. It is also a large American employer. I don’t blame them for attempting to limit their tax payments especially with the way our government wastes money.

    The question is are we better off with Apple or worse off?

    Are those areas out of the country where Apple pays those meager salaries better off or worse off with Apple employing their workers? Sometimes when companies leave certain areas because of complaints about low wages after they leave some of their employees die of starvation.

    You ask about Bernies policies and in the same sentence say we already have those policies so you claim they aren’t radical which is false, but so are Bernies ideas. Money doesn’t grow on trees though some people think it does. Bernie wants more of all these things so the first thing one asks is who is going to pay for it (we already have a debt the size of our GDP and an entitlement debt of many times our GDP)? We can go to Mark Zuckerberg’s former partner who is very rich and ask for his money, but he already left the country and now invests elsewhere. Are you proposing we should have locked him up and start locking others up while taking their money?

  9. Apple is big enough to evade taxation. It is big enough to exploit child slave labor in the Congo. It is big enough to enslave older children in China’s infernal factories. It is big enough to create a culture of planned obsolesce that hurts the planet and impoverishes people. It is big enough to value lives of human beings in fractions of a cent. That’s why it needs to be broken up. Not because they have “property”. What Apple and the other barons have is beyond “property”. Busting the trust was a Republican President’s idea….
    It is only recently that Republicans have become the defenders of slave masters.

    What is so “radical” about Bernie’s economics? Family leave? We already have that, but not for poor people. Minimum wage? We already have that, so now we are just haggling over the price, not the principle. Free college? We already have free education, so now we are debating the number of years of free education. Quit putting millions of people in jail for no good reason other than to enrich private prison corporations? Quit signing international trade agreements that reward corporations like Apple for making their damn stuff in China (quoting Trump)? Health care for all Americans, instead of rent for all health insurance and pharma corporations?
    I really don’t see the radical aspects here…. please elaborate if you do…

  10. Quoting Jefferson is easy. There is loads to quote and he was an extraordinary man. Explaining Bernie economics is the hard thing. It sort of runs contrary to everything learned in the past number of centuries.

    You would break large businesses like Apple apart because they were able to produce a product the public wants? You accuse them of being a monopoly, but there are many brands out there that do similar things and even cost less. Maybe you don’t like the idea of proprietary information which gets us back to property rights and their right to own their intellectual property.

    Corruption enters all or almost all governments. That is the price of government, but government can serve a useful function and by doing so can serve the people. On the other hand I don’t think we want government so powerful that we serve the government. Do we?

  11. If quoting Jefferson doesn’t get me any points, then I don’t know what would… 🙂

    I most certainly would advocate for breaking up Apple and Google and Facebook, etc. The entire Silicon Valley complex should be blown apart because at this point it has probably as much power and improper influence as the banks do.
    I am always amazed at people talking about free markets when entire industries are monopolized by a handful of corporations. It should not be possible for corporations, including banks, to get as big as they are now. But they did, because they first corrupted the government (campaign contributions and lobbying) and the corrupted government allowed them to grow like weeds and even helped them along.

    I believe government should be fixed and can be fixed. I don’t think size is the problem. The small local State governments are more corrupt than the Feds. If I read you correctly, you don’t think government can be anything but corrupt. I am not at all convinced that this is so.

  12. Quote whomever you like, but that doesn’t touch on the poor economics of Bernie’s rants nor does it manage the problem of Liberty vs security and the property rights some are so willing to give up so easily. From my vantage point I see the conglomeration you are talking about being caused by the government which you wish to give so much power to. Just how many times City Bank in its present or earlier forms was bailed out is unclear to me, but it was government that bailed them out. Are you advocating the break up of Apple? If so why? If not why not?

  13. I didn’t think about a “black market”… Not sure we can have one here due to all the licensing laws, but I can see people crossing the border looking for relief. I think some already do… Co-ops sound interesting too, but I’m wondering if “official” insurers, including public ones, won’t flex their muscles to rescind your catastrophic coverage if you use anything out of their systems…. like invalidating warranties for computers if you try to fix something on your own… just thinking out loud here…..

  14. “…Consolidation becomes the 4th chapter of the next book of their history. but this opens with a vast accession of strength from their younger recruits, who having nothing in them of the feelings or principles of ’76 now look to a single and splendid government of an Aristocracy, founded on banking institutions and monied in corporations under the guise and cloak of their favored branches of manufactures commerce and navigation, riding and ruling over the plundered ploughman and beggared yeomanry. this will be to them a next best blessing to the Monarchy of their first aim, and perhaps the surest stepping stone to it.” –Thomas Jefferson, 1825

    Either we break the big banks, big corporations and the unholy matrimony between those and our “government”, or there is little point in arguing about the particular flavor of enslavement awaiting us. That’s what I want Bernie (or Trump) to put in motion… both are railing against this corrupt model, while everybody else wants us to get busy with abortions, race, guns, sexual orientation, sexism… anything but the real McCoy….

  15. Historically I believe socialism and communism have been used interchangeably. I think Marx used both in describing his theories, but in a more common perception one could look at socialism as incomplete on its way towards communism where production is controlled by the whole nation and there are no class distinctions. Communism is reached when there is no state.

    Hitler was voted in democratically, but there was a big difference between what he preached and what occurred. Bernie, however, is preaching the impossible unless the state takes over rights of the people. Bernie is not a Hitler or another person of the twentieth century that we despise. He is simply a decent person that doesn’t understand economics and that without property rights there is no such thing as Liberty. He is not restoring the rights of the people rather shifting their rights to the government.

  16. The big problem now seems to be “too much out-of-pocket”. Cost sharing is zooming. People are going to NOT use the system. Many would rather pay the tax penalty than take up insurance.

    What kind of underground market will develop to fulfill the medical needs of these folks who avoid the system?: Discounted cash payments, per event, to docs who have also given up taking insurance? NP or PA care? Medical tourism? Lots of self care via internet tools? What about drugs and surgery with self care? Maybe something will evolve from the ground up that will be an innovation that will change the entire system? Groups of people might form spontaneous co-ops and begin to buy drugs together and get buildings. They would have to fight licensing rules and pay docs and everyone else by salary. With enough political savvy they might succeed.

    The free or black market could figure out a way, I think, to bring back a decent bottom-up medical system.

  17. There is a big difference between socialism and communism, and then there is a big difference between those and democratic socialism, which is what Bernie is preaching.
    Either way, and call it whatever else, if we don’t restore the balance of power between the people and the mountains of cash, we are doomed.
    Note also that there are no gulags in countries that guarantee health care to all citizens, and a college education today is a pretty basic thing. We didn’t always have k-12 for free. It was a gradual change, and it’s time to change to k-16. If my memory is correct Jefferson would have approved and he was no commie… 🙂

  18. “he will use the bully pulpit to rally up the people.”

    In the twentieth century we didn’t do to well rallying up the people to promote socialism (communism). Unintended consequences left a lot of people under iron rule with over 100 million dead outside of war.

  19. Yes, it is a rant, and I am having trouble lately with containing the urge to step out on the balcony and scream, as Dr. Accad, aptly pointed out 🙂

    As to your questions, I could be wrong, of course, but I think both men would see the wisdom in appointing brilliant jurists to the Court, particularly if they get an opportunity to balance two vacancies at the same time, and let the chips fall where they may. I think Trump is actually the most likely to “make a deal” and accomplish something like that.

    I am under no illusion that Bernie Sanders will be instituting single payer or “free” college on his first day in office. He will get tangled in the DC morass, and it is up to us to clean that up as well. But he will make incremental change in the right direction, and he will use the bully pulpit to rally up the people. That’s all I realistically expect from him. If this is to be a political revolution, it won’t be won overnight, and that’s okay.

    As to Trump, he will take a different road, perhaps a more pragmatic one than Bernie, precisely because he is an insider, and he knows the ropes. This won’t be the first time a Republican, super rich, eccentric, New Yorker goes to the White House and decides to fight his class on behalf of the people. Would it? 🙂

  20. Bernie is my candidate, and if they manage to stop him, then, yes, I will vote for Trump. I have never voted Republican in my life, but I will this time. If they manage to stop him too, I will stay home on election day, for the first time, and cry.

    Privacy is in my opinion a right, perhaps the most “natural” and “inalienable” right possible. It is not taken by government alone. Privacy now is being taken by big corporations, and I believe it is the job of government of the people, by the people, for the people, to prevent them from doing so.

    Instead, “our” government acts like an extension of global corporations, and not just regarding privacy. It needs to be replaced. The whole thing needs to be replaced, and I am hoping against all hope that we can do it peacefully. Call it a political revolution or a movement, but one way or the other, it has to go….

  21. Agree with MD as HELL. Rant. But that’s ok.

    Here’s my question: what kind of Supreme Court justice would a President Trump appoint?
    I think this is a very interesting question.

    And Number. 2 Margalit, what makes you think either a Sanders or a Trump administration would be any less likely to be get tangled up in Beltway lobbying?

    Look at the economics of Vermont’s single payer attempt …

    And Trump’s real estate history. You’re suggesting a former New York / New Jersey real estate developer won’t play the same game?

    Do you know what’s involved in getting a permit to do ANYTHING in New York City?

  22. I am MD as Hell and I am not going to take this anymore!
    Has a nice ring to it.

  23. Margalit,
    A little hard to follow. Nothing like a good rant. Does not have to make perfect sense. And it does not.
    That’s OK. Privacy is not something granted by government. It is taken by government.
    Obamacare is about devaluing people. In the near future economy people are not an asset. There are in fact too many people on the globe. No better way to trim the herd than inflict healthcare on them.
    Sounds like Trump is in fact your candidate. No donors. No script. Totally transparent.

    I like it.