The American Bad Dream – (4) The New Agenda

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The military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned us about was bigger at the time, he told us, than all domestic corporations combined, and it was already quite powerful.  Less than four years after his farewell speech, the American military was in Southeast Asia, supporting a client state (South Vietnam) in its civil war with North Vietnam.  On August 7, 1964, only three days after an alleged skirmish with a North Vietnamese gunboat that was never confirmed and apparently didn’t happen, Congress passed the “Gulf of Tonkin” resolution authorizing President Johnson to go to war against North Vietnam, which he did.

Whatever the total cost of the Vietnam War may have been to the American people, in terms of many thousands of American and Vietnamese lives, hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money spent on death and destruction that could have been more productively spent, and deep scars in the souls and consciences of America and its citizens, one thing is certain:  It was very profitable for the military-industrial complex.

These companies and industries are not making bicycles or Cabbage Patch dolls.  They are manufacturing the means of mass killing and destruction.  I’m reasonably certain that these are not the most kindly, benevolent and compassionate citizens in our country.  Clearly, the more they can sell the instruments of death they manufacture, the richer they get.

A mere twenty years after Eisenhower’s speech,  the military-industrial complex and its “neo-conservative” war-mongering outlook on life and the world had gained a dangerous degree of control during the Reagan administration.  It was an administration of out-of-control borrowing, contributing some $4 trillion to the national debt. [1]  During the Reagan years, while corporate profits continued to grow substantially and wealthy people enjoyed extraordinary wealth and income growth (mostly thanks to a reduction over those years of the top tax rate from 70% to 28%), middle and lower class incomes ominously stopped growing.  In effect, America’s future was being mortgaged for the profitability of corporations and the wealthy elite.

A new corporate agenda had been established and was gaining leverage in the Reagan Administration.  Nominally the embodiment of “conservative” ideals and popularized as “the Reagan Revolution,” it was actually becoming a radical plan that is wholly antagonistic to the traditional American Dream.  The plan was pursued with a vengeance during the GW Bush Administration, when the wealthy elite continued to possess more and more of America’s wealth and income at the cost of a declining middle class and increasing poverty.  To maximize its increase in wealth, the ruling elite gave itself a tax cut (effectively transferring about $600 billion to itself from other taxpayers) and ran up about $4-5 trillion of additional federal debt in military activities, including the Iraq war.  In large measure, this money was “borrowed” from the Social Security Trust fund, that is money that Americans had been setting aside for their retirement through payroll taxes, on the promise to pay it back some day.

The money spent on the Iraq war, of course, wasted opportunities to invest in the future of America, its environment, its economy, and its people.  Importantly, while the rich got richer profiting from the “investment” in the war, the well-being and standard of living of all other Americans continued to decline.

The Bush Administration came to a close with the almost unbelievable revelation that Wall Street “investment bankers” had been controlling the commercial banking system to make extraordinary profits in mortgage hedge fund “derivative” securities markets, in effect taking billions for themselves as Americans across the country lost their homes to foreclosure and went bankrupt.  Deemed “too big to fail,” the large investment bankers were bailed out with over $1 trillion from taxpayers.  Today, Wall Street is again making record profits, while home foreclosures continue apace.

The fog that has concealed their agendas is lifting only now, as the entire corporate “industrial-financial complex” that has gained wealth and power through control of government today boldly seeks to perfect its control of federal and state governments and the economy.

The United States is still a democracy, so in order to convince people to abandon their own interests and elect federal and state officials who will carry out their shadowy agenda, these corporations and their wealthy elite have had to conceal their true intentions behind rhetoric, distortions, and lies, and this they have done for three decades.  They have relentlessly distracted Americans through the media which they now mostly control, [2] with fears of “terrorism” and “socialism,” condemnation of “big government,” and a narrow focus on what they call traditional religious and moral values generated by their allies on the religious right. [3]

Importantly, they have taken advantage of almost everyone’s inadequate understanding of economics to gain support for a false and self-serving invention called “Reaganomics,” which is exactly the opposite of the macroeconomic policies actually needed to sustain growth and prosperity for the American people.  Instead, Reaganomics is a near-perfect plan for the rich to unfairly gain wealth at everyone else’s expense.

Today, as President Obama struggles to salvage the American economy and the American way of life, in a mostly failing effort so far, a Republican Congress works to slash from the federal budget nearly all spending in support of ordinary citizens, and threatens a government shutdown if it does not get its way.  Its excuse is a new-found alleged concern for fiscal prudence, a concern that comes a little late after Republican administrations over the past thirty years added $12.1 trillion to the federal debt and put the United States on the verge of bankruptcy.

This concern does not rise to such a level as would overcome a steadfast Republican aversion to higher taxes for the wealthy and for corporations.  This is important, because taxing the rich has become the only way of avoiding a major economic collapse, and another depression.

Meanwhile, under cover of budget problems resulting from the Bush recession, Republican Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin seeks to eliminate collective bargaining rights for public sector employees and their unions, while reducing their compensation and economic security to counterbalance an alleged budget crisis he exacerbated with tax cuts for businesses.

The elimination of collective bargaining has been revealed as the prime objective of his proposed legislation: With the demise of unions, corporations will be virtually unopposed in American politics.  In a last-ditch effort to prevent passage of this destructive legislation, Democratic legislators have left the state and are staying away.

JMH – 2/21/11


[1] Republican generated debt has since grown to an astronomical $12.1 trillion, nearly all of the current $14 trillion total.

[2] The Republican Congress now brazenly proposes elimination of all funding for NPR and all other public media programs.

[3] Perhaps their unholy alliance with the radical religious right will prove to be their undoing, but it’s too early to tell.   The religious right has spearheaded their campaign of distractions, but their constant attack on the Constitution, women’s rights, and gay rights is provoking considerable backlash.

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