Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Do We Really Want to Build and Defend an Empire?

As veteran defense analyst William Hartung notes yesterday, the new Trump administration is poised to put an already immense defense budget on steroids. He's obviously thinks the condition of our military is deplorable and thus there will be endless flows of additional cash recommended, except perhaps for the boondoggle known as the F-35.

But while Trump is poised to offer a significant injection, all presidents since FDR and the end of WWII have been building our military apparatus in one way or another. As the former general turned Commander-in-Chief, Dwight Eisenhower so vividly warned us upon exiting the office he held for two terms, the behemoth engine of the military-industrial-complex(MIC), will drive us away from repairing and improving our own society.

     Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The cost of one modern day bomber is the modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals.

And so it has unraveled as Eisenhower warned. Nary a president has escaped its clutches. Even the Nobel Peace President Obama, was arguing for a $1 Trillion dollar modernization effort of our nuclear weapons system, while launching a record number of drone attacks in countries all over the globe. The problems with military spending are so significant and embedded, that hardly anyone in elected office is willing to publicly take them on. The Washington Post reported just last November that the Pentagon's on internal study found $125 BILLION was wasted. And of course, they tried to hide the report. But even since its release, there has been a deafening silence from the Washington beltway, as the lobbyists from McDonnell-Douglas, Lockheed Martin,Boeing, and other (too big to fail) behemoths spread their loot and influence in the halls of Congress.

Then of course there is the revolving door between the Pentagon and the MIC, where former officers move with their significant pensions, to rewards aplenty from the scions of military hardware. Those scions have strategically scattered their plants and contractors around the country to insure that any cuts in government contracts can bring the many impacted congressional districts elected representatives to rise up to thwart them. Thus the long failed history of the  F-35.

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Insulating this cozy brotherhood from any rational questions has been the role of  fear-mongers and empire builders who have argued as former West Point graduate, Lieutenant-Colonel and Professor of International Relations Andrew Bacevich  has written about extensively. In his 2010 book, Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War, Bacevich lays out the U.S. sacred trinity of  military policy and practice.

     an abiding conviction that the minimum essentials of international peace and order require the United States to maintain a global military presence, to configure its forces for global power projection, and to counter existing or anticipated threats by relying on a policy of global interventionism." [page 14, emphasis in original].

Bacevich is one of the few scholars willing to stand up to the MIC. Some others have joined him and are sharing their writing through the  American Empire Project, The late Chalmers Johnson, Jonathan Schell  and Howard Zinn as well as contemporaries Noam Chomsky, Tom Englehardt, Nick Turse, Michael Klare and a few more fearless scholars and journalists.

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Fortunately we have a few think tanks that collect and scour the available data and help us make sense of it. As the Pentagon waste study mentioned above hints, the Pentagon is the only department in the government has not had an audit performed. Legislation to require such and audit has been introduced in past years, but even the good old deficit hawks aren't interested is looking at the underbelly of defense pork.

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Nationally we have the National Priorities Project which continues to collect and to prepare useful charts and studies that give us a clue of how the splurging for military impacts us. Particularly useful is data on the impacts at the state level of that spending.

The Project on Government Oversight also hosts the Center for Defense Information where you can read much more on the troubled F-35 or numerous other serious investigations into the MIC.Image result for project on government oversight

Globally we have the highly regarded SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) that annually gathers global data on militarism, arms sales, and other related information allowing some measure of comparison among nation states.

Former cold warrior, turned critic of American empire, the late Chalmers Johnson wrote a series of acclaimed and powerful books beginning with Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire (2000) in which he documents the control of the MIC over our foreign and domestic policy and the resulting consequences of that policy and practice. In his final book published shortly before his death in 2010 Johnson summarizes the argument.

       Once upon a time, you could trace the spread of imperialism by counting up colonies. America's version of the colony is the military base. By following the changing politics of global basing, one can learn much about our ever larger imperial stance and the militarism that grows with it. Militarism and imperialism are Siamese twins joined at the hip. Each thrives off the other. Already highly advanced in our country, they are both on the verge of a quantum leap that will almost surely stretch our military beyond its capabilities, bringing fiscal insolvency and very possibly doing mortal damage to our republican institutions. (Dismantling the Empire: America's Last Best Hope).p.114

Johnson goes on in depth to show how this pursuit of empire, this ailment of American exceptionalism, not only robs from our own development and well-being, but sows the resentment that all imperial attempts to control other nations feeds. In a word, blowback. His concerns even before his untimely death were that the horrible events of September 11, 2001 were symptomatic of what will follow any nation that is hooked on militarism.

With the arrival and now solid ownership of the executive branch of government by the combination of the military mindset and the Goldman Sachs greed merchants, there is ample evidence to support the decision January 26th by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists to move the Doomsday Clock two and a half minutes to midnight. We better heed the calls of Johnson, Bacevich, and others who have seen war and its consequences and question our unfettered support for militarism over human well-being. It's not too late, but it's close.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Taxes Are the Dues We Pay to Live in a Civilized, Democratic Society

[I attempted to get this viewpoint published in three newspapers in Michigan without success. So I am putting it out there via the blogosphere. Share as you see fit].

Taxes are the dues we pay to live in a civilized, democratic society.

Recent Michigan legislation introduced to eliminate the state income tax therefore suggests the end of our so-called democracy.  We have been accelerating our race towards oligarchy in recent years with the deleterious Citizen’s United case that makes it easier for the wealthy to purchase elections, the recent election handing the 0.1% the reins of government, and the avalanche of mergers and acquisitions that concentrate more wealth and power in fewer and fewer hands.

Who accrues the most from the elimination of income tax? No surprise, it’s the wealthiest among us. And when government is totally starved, who will repair all the market failures and pay for externalities like pollution that aren’t in the private sector’s balance sheets? The extreme wealthy already own our government via fossil fuels, banking, the military-industrial-complex and pharmaceutical conglomerates, with their minions at the top. A functioning democracy would wrestle some of the power back to the citizens. Voting isn’t enough. Citizens need to pressure government to do the right thing.  Democracy is not a spectator sport.

Here’s an example: The poisoning of the Tittibiwassee River from dioxins was largely the work of Dow Chemical upstream in Midland. Once the problem was identified, largely with the help of concerned citizens who live in the watershed, Dow was approached by the DEQ and EPA to fix it. But Dow, now merging with Dupont after swallowing Union Carbide following that firm’s deadly example of citizenship in Bhopal, India, sought delay after delay. The cost of cleanup was substantial, hence their reluctance to finance the repair, a similar story only magnified in Bhopal .  But much of the Dow largess is tucked away in Dow Family foundations, which bequeath some small portion each year to beautify Midland and support other community causes; the benefactors are then showered with adulation from those who benefit from the crumbs from their table.'

When I sat for a brief stint on an environmental advisory panel that looked at that issue more than a decade ago, I noted that tapping some of the Dow Foundation money could easily cover the cost of cleaning up the Tittibiwassee mess. Of course, such a radical suggestion was quickly ignored and the foundations, who weren’t at the table, weren’t offering.

There is something magical about great wealth. We tend to be enamored of it, perhaps imagining ourselves living in palatial surroundings, totally unconcerned about expenditures. Those who argue that the wealthiest among us pay the most in taxes (in real dollars) always neglect a fundamental reality: it’s not how much one pays but how much one has left that really matters.

The median household income in the US is roughly $50,000.  Current Michigan tax (4.25%) on that amount is $2,125, leaving $47,875. To be in the semi-lofty 1% category you need to make a minimum of $429,000, in which case your tax would be $19,072, leaving you a meager $409,928 to scrape by. But this is one year only. If those incomes stay steady for even ten years the one-percenters earn $4,290,000 and pay democracy dues of $190,725, leaving them with $4,099,275 compared with our median family which has earned $478,750. The difference, then, between the two families’ wealth has grown from $362,053 to $3,620,500.


This is the disease that is spreading rapidly here and abroad. It is now among the highest risk concerns as identified by the World Economic Forum in their recent 2017 Global Risks Report. Our state legislators are oblivious. We shouldn’t be.