Friday, June 28, 2013

America on her 237th birthday.

Our nation's 237th birthday is coming up on July 4th.  A lot has happened in those years.  The most important thing, and the most ominous, is that we have become the only super power on earth - if you view it in terms of our military. It is good in the sense that we no longer have to worry about an army invading us and occupying our land.  It is ominous in the sense that we have appointed ourselves the world police force. Being the world police force is costly.  The cost of wars is one of the reasons for the fall of the Roman Empire:

There are multiple reasons given by historians for the fall of the Roman Empire: Here are a few that are most applicable to the USA, the most dominant empire since Rome:
  1. Antagonism between the Senate and the Emperor (Legislative, Executive and Judicial)
  2. Decline in Morals
  3. Political Corruption
  4. Fast expansion of the Empire
  5. Constant Wars and Heavy Military Spending
  6. Failing Economy
  7. Unemployment of the Working Classes
  8. Decline in Ethics and Values
All of these reasons can certainly be seen in the US today. The cost of our military spending is rife with corruption.  Our military spending comprises 39% of the total world military budget. There is no country on earth that could oppose us - particularly if they attacked us.  It is not possible and everyone knows it. We could cut our military budget in half and we would still dwarf the combined spending of the two closest nations - China and Russia. The only people who dare attack us are Muslim extremists and they are not openly supported by any nation. Their danger to us is minimal in the big picture and is exaggerated to justify our excessive military spending and used by the CIA, now a government in and of itself, as the nebulous and shadowy cause celebre that justifies their existence. It justifies corporate America, now intrinsically involved in our intelligence industry, to spy on Americans. There were 2996 killed in the 9/11 attack; an act of murder, and a police matter, not war and a military matter.  To put it in perspective, in 2001, there were nearly 3000 traffic fatalities and over 16,000 murders, about 12,000 of them by guns. 

What the 9/11 attacks did do for "us," was to provide the Neocons, the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) and the White House, now in the control of international corporations, particularly the oil industry, the reason to assert America as the owner of the world.  In spite of the the illegality of the invasion of Iraq and the subsequent disaster,  shallowly covered and indicted by the press, we have succeeded in showing the world that we are now the cop on the corner. Pax Americana, the goal of PNAC is a reality.  So has Milo Minderbinder's, the fictional war entrepreneur of Joseph Heller's "Catch 22,"  dream come true. We have totally privatized war and made it an enormously profitable business.  The Industrial/military complex that Eisenhower warned us of is in charge.  Bush is not the only culprit, albeit the most onerous; we can thank Clinton and Obama. In fairness to Obama, he inherited it but has been too weak to do anything about it. 

Here is where we stand today 237 years after our founding fathers established our great nation:

1. We are in a state of never ending global war;  to a large extent prosecuted by private contractors at a price probably three times the cost if we did it with our troops.  With none of our troops coming home in body bags, or few, and our wealthiest citizens paying less taxes, nobody cares. Our primary export is murder with our drone attacks. Those against them claim it is better to suffer terrorists attacks then become terrorists. Those who favor them argue that it is cheaper and more humane than invading the countries harboring the terrorists.  No American troops die, fewer innocent bystanders are killed and it has the added immeasurable element of terror - something that we are totally against when others do it.  Both sides, in the pocket of commerce, particularly the oil industry, conveniently ignore the fact that if we stopped mining their oil by becoming oil independent and pulled our troops our of their country, brought our fleet home and ceased our occupation of foreign countries, we wouldn't have any terrorists. But that's not what the ultimate power in the USA, the corporations want.  They want the terrorists, we need the terrorists, killing them is profitable. 

2. A new kind of imperialism.  We declared our independence to escape the tyranny of imperialism.  Today, our empire stretches farther than any before. It's a different kind of imperialism but just as brutal.  We don't beat our minions to death, we starve them to death. From  Antonia Juhasz's book, "The Bush Agenda, Invading The World, One Economy At a Time," 

The Bush Administration's plan is to dominate the world through a corporate globalization agenda, first in Iraq, then the proposed U.S.-Middle East Free Trade Area, and ultimately as a cornerstone to the global Bush Doctrine. Bush's "free trade" economic model argues that, by removing restrictions on multinational corporations, these companies will become engines of economic growth around the world--but this will in fact bring vast wealth of a small number of global elites while entire populations suffer dislocation, poverty and violence, creating a perfect environment for breeding terrorists. The instruments for this takeover include such corporations as Bechtel, Lockheed Martin, Chevron-Texaco  and Halliburton. 

Walmart itself has 4,263 stores and 660,000 workers in countries outside the United States. Most of those workers make products that are sold in the 9000 stores in America.  In Bangladesh, a few years ago, Walmart lobbied against raising the minimum wage to 35 cents an hour.  In other countries,  the companies who made clothing for Walmart stores pay their workers as low as 17 cents an hour.

This is all part of the so called free trade agreements and imposed on poor nations through requirements by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, both dominated by the US, that labor rights must be abolished in order for them to make loans to the country. So between our fleet in the Persian Gulf, our approximately 1000 military bases in 150 countries and the two world banks as our tools, our empire is pretty well entrenched and not about to go away.  But it's expensive and could bankrupt our nation...then the corporations will actually take over.

3. Public education is going down the tube. Corporate America does not want anyone educated except their rich investors;  and they're getting their way. From How the University was killed, in Five Easy Steps.
To explain my perspective here, I need to go back in time. Let’s go back to post World War II, 1950s when the GI bill, and the affordability – and sometimes free access – to universities created an upsurge of college students across the country. This surge continued through the ’60s, when universities were the very heart of intense public discourse, passionate learning, and vocal citizen involvement in the issues of the times. It was during this time, too, when colleges had a thriving professoriate, and when students were given access to a variety of subject areas, and the possibility of broad learning. The Liberal Arts stood at the center of a college education, and students were exposed to philosophy, anthropology, literature, history, sociology, world religions, foreign languages and cultures. Of course, something else happened, beginning in the late fifties into the sixties — the uprisings and growing numbers of citizens taking part in popular dissent — against the Vietnam War, against racism, against destruction of the environment in a growing corporatized culture, against misogyny, against homophobia. Where did much of that revolt incubate? Where did large numbers of well-educated, intellectual, and vocal people congregate? On college campuses. Who didn’t like the outcome of the 60s? The corporations, the war-mongers, those in our society who would keep us divided based on our race, our gender, our sexual orientation.
4. The New Deal has been dismantled. Bank regulation and protection for union organization has been eliminated. Free public education is on the run and, as noted above, it's content and quality is in danger. The thrust of the New Deal was to give workers a better share of the fruits of their labor. Income inequality was at an all time high in 1929.  That is one of the causes of the Great Depression - workers couldn't afford to buy the products they were making.  The New Deal produced a healthy redistribution of wealth and ushered in the most powerful middle class in history. Income inequality was at an all time low when Reagan introduced, or rather reintroduced, supply side economics. Today, it is even higher than it was in 1929. 

5. The Teaparty, the spawn of the Koch Brothers and Dick Armey's "FreedomWorks group has managed to cripple government by assuring a permanent majority in the House of Representatives with 50 gerrymandered and perpetually uncontested seats. This group consists of people whose mantra is "government doesn't work" and have made it their sole purpose to make sure it doesn't work.  The health of the nation and the well being of it's people are not important.  Sequestration has put the economy in the doldrums and it is likely to remain there. Jobs are not being created enough to maintain a healthy demand for labor and the jobs that are created are mostly in the service industry and are low paying. 

6. We are now facing the possibility of involvement in the Syrian civil war.  Our position as the sole superpower and de facto world police department would enable us to do that.  As noted above, The Project for a New American Century (PNAC) goal of Pax Americana, or world peace because we are the toughest kid on the block, is a reality; however,  it has not resulted in anything like peace. We have not used our position of power in humanitarian ways as some believed we would.  We have used it to protect our economic empire.  Meanwhile, we are still being told that "support the troops" means patriotism.  Actually, it means supporting the policy of empire protection.

7. Sadly, military policy is now being made or being decisively influenced by corporations who have even taken over our intelligence gathering as we have seen with the Snowden incident. 

8. Summary executions have become common and to a large extent accepted by the American people as justifiable. Dick Cheney's "one-percent solution," is the de facto law. Drone attacks have been stepped up under President Obama who campaigned against such things.  It is argued that hunting down terrorists and killing them with drones is more humane and cheaper than invading the country but that is not the only alternative, is it. 

So where are we today?  The right says we are just about there.  The left, optimistic left, says we are at a cross road.  I say we have crossed the road and are at a point of no return and are well on the road to corporate feudalism. We literally, now  have a government at the federal level that is owned by international corporations. With the weakening of our government as a protective entity, we are in real danger of becoming what Marc Bloch describes as a “feudal society” in his book by that name, with government by, for and of the rich. It’s a cold hard fact that there is no such thing as laissez faire. It can’t exist for long. Either you have a government that controls business or business that controls government. A healthy stable economy requires a balance – as we had from the end of WWII until the slow dismantling of New Deal legislation and the rebirth of supply side economics. Capitalism is a harsh appeal to selfishness and unchristian darwinistic survival of the fittest. Its sole redeeming quality is that it has been very effective at producing goods and it will only continue to do this as long as good government prevents it from emasculating itself.


Friday, June 14, 2013

Big Brother is watching you...and has been for a long time.

The Patriot Act is like the weather - but not exactly. Everybody is talking about both but with the weather, nobody does anything about it because they can't;  with the Patriotic Act, everyone wants to do something about it and could but they don't know anything about it.  John Conyers, when interviewed by Michael Moore for his movie, "Fahrenheit 9/11," admitted he hadn't read it and in fact admitted that he didn't read most of the bills he passed.  I have to admit, I tried to read it and gave it up after about a half an hour.  It was crafted by legislative aids with law degrees who are more educated and more intelligent that the law makers they serve and probably insert their own agendas in their legalistic language.

To understand it and to take an opinion on it, you have to consideder what it has done. Under it, we (the CIA) have kidnapped people in foreign countries and taken them to other countries for interrogation. From Wikipedia

The United States' Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) runs a global apprehension and incarceration operation of suspected terrorists, known as “extraordinary rendition”, which developed after the 9/11 attacks under the George W. Bush administration. From 2001 to 2005 CIA officers captured an estimated 150 people and transported them around the world
 Under the Bush administration, rendered persons were reported to have undergone torture by the receiving countries. Journalists, civil and constitutional rights groups, and former detainees have alleged that this occurred with the knowledge or cooperation of the administrations of the United States and the United Kingdom.
 The revelations about the US program prompted several official investigations in Europe into alleged secret detentions and unlawful inter-state transfers involving Council of Europe member states. A June 2006 report from the Council of Europe estimated 100 people had been kidnapped by the CIA on EU territory (with the cooperation of Council of Europe members), and rendered to other countries, often after having transited through secret detention centers ("black sites") used by the CIA, some located in Europe. According to the separate European Parliament report of February 2007, the CIA has conducted 1,245 flights, many of them to destinations where suspects could face torture, in violation of article 3 of the United Nations Convention Against Torture. A large majority of the European Union Parliament endorsed the report's conclusion that many member states tolerated illegal actions by the CIA, and criticized several European governments and intelligence agencies for their unwillingness to cooperate with the investigation.
 Within days of his inauguration in 2009, US President Barack Obama signed an Executive Order opposing rendition torture and established a task force to provide recommendations about processes to prevent rendition torture. While the Obama administration has distanced itself from some of the harshest counter-terrorism techniques, it has also said that at least some forms of renditions will continue. As of 2011, the administration allowed rendition only "to a country with jurisdiction over that individual (for prosecution of that individual)," when there is a diplomatic assurance "that they will not be treated inhumanely.”
If they can do that there, how much more difficult would it be (and how soon) to do it here. We have started down the "slippery slope." If the reason for jihad behind the terrorist attacks is not defensive because we have invaded their countries with our fleet, oil rigs, commerce and western immorality as they claim; but because they hate us for our freedom, as we like to claim, then they have already won.  We are no longer free and safe in our homes.

Another element of the Patriot Act is the electronic surveillance activities which authorizes government to monitor internet and telephone communications without any judicial review. With the unbridled privatization initiated by Reagan and finally realized during the Bush administration via Vice President Dick Cheney, these surveillance capabilities have been turned over to private contractors under contract to the National Security Agency (NSA) or the equally inept CIA.  Our intelligence operations are now sold in the international market. The danger in this has become apparent with the apparent defection of  Edward Snowden, an unvetted employee of government intelligence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. Snowden is either a hero or a traitor depending on who you talk to. The scary thing is that there are a hundred thousand or more Edward Snowdens out there carrying national security secrets in their brief cases.

Personally, I have no problem with the government monitoring my telephone calls and emails as long as they keep them to themselves but with Edward Snowden running around, they may become public if I ever become a celebrity. But doesn't it just seem wrong for the government to do this?  On the other hand, private business has been doing it for years. But in their case it's just for business and as Milo Minderbinder says, "what's good for business is good for America." I get marketing emails and hard mail by the scores weekly that are based on knowledge of my buying patterns and financial status.

The irony of the exposure of electronic eavesdropping and the Patriotic Act that the Edward Snowden affair is:
1.  The super-patriots, the flag wavers, who worry so about national security and terrorists are the same people who privatized our national security and who are making a profit from it.

2.  We don't worry about private firms invading our space if it is for selling shirts and ties but resent it when it is to protect our country.

3.  There were less than 3000 people killed by terrorists in the USA in 2001 and there were 32,000 traffic fatalities and 16,000 murders. Where are our priorities?

4.  Our freedom, which is what our military volunteers are led to believe they will fight for when are induced to sign up,  is threatened more by the Patriot Act than by the "terrorists."

5.  Conservatives supported all elements of the Patriot Act when passed and operated by George Bush and hate it when renewed and operated by Barack Obama.  Liberals hated it then and hate it now.

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