Monday, June 8, 2009

Permanent War and Empire

Former New York Times reporter Chris Hedges published an essay recently titled, “The Disease of Permanent War.” The subject has been on my mind for several weeks as I have been re-reading Chalmers Johnson’s book, The Sorrows of Empire and Joel Kovel’s, Red Hunting in the Promised Land.

While it seemed that the United States had been in a continual state of war throughout the 20th century, it was not until 1948 that U.S. foreign policy elites devised a rationale for permanent war. George Kennan, head of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff penned two of the most crucial Cold War documents outlining permanent war. “We have about 50 percent of the world’s wealth,” Kennan wrote in a 1948 memo, “but only 6.3 percent of its population. . . . Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; . . . We should cease to talk about vague and - - for the Far East - - unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. . . . The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.” Kennan’s memo is a recipe for empire and that is exactly what the United States created. The sentimentality and unreal objectives, the Puritan ideals, were brought out of the closet as needed over the next six decades - - most notably as alternative reasons for invading Iraq after no WMD were found - - but only to mask the naked economic interests inherent in U.S. war-making. “ . . . Since the end of the Second World War, the federal government has spent more than half its tax dollars on past, current and future military operations. It is the largest single sustaining activity of the government. It is gilded corporate welfare.

As a society focused on permanent war, with massive war spending, nearly a trillion dollars this year, what have we won? “Bridges and levees collapse,” Hedges wrote in his essay. “Schools decay. Domestic manufacturing declines. Trillions in debts threaten the viability of the currency and the economy. The poor, the mentally ill, the sick and the unemployed are abandoned. Human suffering, including our own, is the price for victory.”

After the attacks on 11 September 2001, many people asked the question, “Why do they hate us?” Not knowing our own history and seemingly oblivious to the permanent state of war already controlling our country, the questioners did not know that we taught state terrorism to thousands of Latin American military and police officials at the School of the Americas. That presidents used their own private army, the CIA, to bring about “regime changes” around the world through coups, assassinations, or economic destabilizations. The we have bombed or invaded countries that have openly broken with or opposed our hegemony. Just ask the people in Guatemala, Iran, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Chile, Iraq Afghanistan or Pakistan to name a few. We have made ourselves the most belligerent people on earth who, as President Kennedy presciently noted, have made peaceful revolution impossible and violent revolution inevitable.

One wonders what the founders, who knew full well that no republic in history had lasted more than 300 years, would make of the country we have become. Would they be “dismayed by a society that that no longer had the moral fortitude to confront the fools,” these fools who are leading us over the precipice?

What kind of government do we have, a citizen asked Benjamin Franklin as the Constitutional Convention ended? A republic, Franklin replied - - if you can keep it.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Congress: Bought and Paid For

After watching two of the three senate committee hearings that dealt with heath care, I was reminded of a saying I once heard but for the life of me I can’t remember where I heard it: There is nothing more reliable than a man whose loyalty can be bought for hard cash.  That pretty much sums up what passes for democracy in the United States at this time.  I often tell my students, half in jest (although the humor often escapes them) that if democracy worked for the benefit of the people it would be illegal.


Some background is in order in case you missed the hearings. 


President Obama and the Democratic congressional leaders have promised that they are going to fix our broken health care system.  Finally.  After all, it has only been sixty years since President Truman tried to initiate a system that would cover every person in the country rather than leave 45 million people without health care and another 50 million underinsured.  23,000 people die every year in the United States because they do not have health insurance.  Millions of people have said, “enough is enough.  We must have a system that covers everyone.” 


Health care is the talk of Washington and the airwaves.  Obama and the insurance companies announced at the White House that the benevolent health care industry has agreed to cut health care costs by 1.5 percent over the next decade, saving $2 trillion.  Mind you they also exacted a price:  government will keep its hands off health care’s billions and billions of profits. 

On capital hill the congress is holding hearings to devise ways to expand the broken system we have now: higher premiums; higher co-pays; higher deductibles while 14,000 workers loose their health care every day in this depression.  Congress invited representatives of the health care industry, insurance companies, big pharma, and just about anyone who would reap profits from maintaining the current system to speak.  They talked, and talked, and talked.


But some alternatives were not being talked about at all except by demonstrators whom the capital police hauled away and arrested.  Their crime?  To demand that representatives who favor a publicly financed, single-payer health care system be allowed at the table.  Those filthy pinko, commie, fags.


Why is single payer not at the table?  Members of the House and Senate are being loyal.  The loyalty of members of the House and Senate have been bought for hard cash.  The health care industry, which spent more than $500 million dollars in the last year on lobbying and campaign contributions, has great faith in the reliability of  the members whom they have bought.  Max Baucus, the chair of the Senate committee, received more money from the health care industry than any other member of congress.  Every other member of the committee also received money from the industry.


“In 2003,” Bill Moyers reported last week, “a young Illinois state senator named Barack Obama told a local AFL-CIO meeting, ‘I am a proponent of a single-payer universal health care program.’  There was only one thing standing in the way, Obama said six years ago:  ‘all of you know we might not get there immediately because first we have to take back the White House, we have to take back the Senate and we have to take back the House’”


Democrats now have the White House and the Senate and the House.  What the hell happened to single-payer universal health care?


Change we can believe in I guess.