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President's Day 2006: Back to Basics

by Michael Nystrom
February 20, 2006
Cambridge, MA

In addition to the daily Bull! and Not bull economic & social news links that I post to my website (www.bullnotbull.com/bull), I recently added a new daily set of links called the Government Watch. As a student of economic history, I know that our economy does not operate in a vacuum. In fact, the long-term direction of any nation’s economy is largely determined by its government policies. For the United States, the foundation of these policies can be traced back to three important documents from the founding of the United States of America: The Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.

The forefathers of our country drafted these documents to warn of the danger of excessive government power, to limit the scope and power of government, and to document and guarantee the inalienable rights of American citizens. In exchange for these rights, one of our primary responsibilities as citizens is to maintain a watchful eye over the government, lest it become overly powerful and intrusive. This has been the general tendency of all governments – democratic or otherwise – along the long arc of history.

In order to keep government power in check, Americans have been given the First Amendment to the Constitution – freedom of speech, and the Second Amendment – the right to keep and bear arms – as weapons to check intolerable government oppression. (Take 5 minutes to read your fascinating Bill of Rights.) For most of the 230 year history of our country, the blessings of limited government and substantial freedom of the populace were apparent in the world-leading US intellectual, economic, and moral prosperity. Government was both by the people and for the people, and the health and strength of the country reflected that fact.

The country has, however, gone astray. Most people sense that, though we may be afraid to admit it. And although it has been more pronounced than ever in this new millennium, the problems that we are dealing with were much longer in the making. In getting back to my original point, I’ve recently begun to post links that have been critical of the government’s current policies and actions. As a result, however, I have received a number of emails, some of them not very polite, accusing me of being a “Bush Hater.” Here is one such email (one of the more polite ones):

I really enjoy your website. I find information on it that I would not otherwise have found. I do have one issue. Your Government Watch clearly is biased against the Bush Administration. Why not post the articles and let the reader come to their own conclusions? As I said this is one of the best websites -- don't let it turn into just another "Hate Bush" website. Thank you, P

While it is true that in the pantheon of presidents past, our current executive does not rank near the top of my list of favorites, I do not in fact hate President Bush. My criticisms have been undertaken in the original spirit of American democracy – of being generally distrustful of government power, regardless of the name of the ruling party, and of keeping a watchful eye on those officials whom we as a people elect, and whose salaries we pay with our tax dollars. I am sharing these opinions by exercising my right to free speech as guaranteed by the First Amendment.

In spite of these intentions, the above letter has helped me to understand how easily my actions can and have been misinterpreted. I clearly see P’s point: It appears that I’m picking on Bush and the Republicans, when in fact I’m picking on government in general. There is a big distinction. But in this era of bitter partisanship, in which people for some reason feel the need to define themselves as either “red” or “blue” -- as if they are on one side or the other of a high school football game -- criticisms of the government tend to become personalized, even when this is not the intent.

I am neither a Democrat nor a Republican, and in fact, I see little distinction between the two parties. Their tired old lines are simply “business as usual” -- too similar to offer any real choice for the American people, too timid to offer the hope of any real change. A case in point was the 2004 presidential election – Bush v. Kerry. What kind of a choice was that? We had two spoiled rich boys, both Yale graduates and members of the Skull & Bones society, for whom governing seems to be an avocation in an otherwise wealthy life disconnected from the American people.

The US has unfortunately devolved into a one party corporatist state since the end of WWII, something that President Eisenhower warned the American people of in his farewell address in 1961:

Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every state house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

The “potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power” that Eisenhower warned of has unfortunately come to pass. Today, both parties -- Democrats as well as Republicans -- are simply puppets serving the same corrupt master of corporate profits and corporate power at any cost. They have sold the American Dream down the river for short-term profits, and the corporate controlled press has perpetuated the false yet intensely bitter distinction between “Democrat” and “Republican” to divide and weaken the American people and our Union. Which of these parties represents the interests of we the little people, against the interests of the giant people who walk among us – the corporations? In case you didn’t know, corporations are considered people under the law – just like you and me, with all of the same rights but none of the same responsibilities. Corporations have more advantages than you and I, considering they have (way, way) more money, they never die, they have no morals, feelings or emotions, and are pathologically programmed for the pursuit of power and profit. In a fight between the American people and the largest defense corporations in the world, who do you think would win?

We have the Constitution and the Bill of Rights to protect of from government, but what do we have to protect us against the power of corporations, which have arguably become even more powerful than our government? This is the real issue behind today’s problems of homelessness, unemployment, and the breakdown of the family and community infrastructure. But it is so easy to forget this, and instead get caught up in the snipping and backbiting of “red v. blue” and “us v. them” that we don't see what is really going on.

What’s going on? Our future, and our children’s future has already been mortgaged because corporations, in effect, run the show at the expense of the distracted and confused American people. Corporations are winning because they write the laws and have the power, influence and money to get them passed in Congress. They laugh all the way to the bank. They outsource, cut benefits, cut pensions, all in the name of "globalization." How do we know corporations are winning? Their profits are going up – the only meaningful measure they care about – while employment and salaries of people all over the world are going down. This is not just an American phenomenon – those in the middle classes in England, France, Germany, Japan, Taiwan – all of the industrialized nations of the world – are on the defensive, losing out to the corporations that increasingly dictate the pace and very meaning of life.

In this country, companies that are involved in the defense industry make out the best – like bandits. Look at the AMEX defense index since the US War of Terror started in 2003. A 150% gain while the rest of the markets treaded water. There is the profit – what is the cost? 2,274 young Americans dead, 16,000 wounded and 30,000 Iraqis killed.

Corruption has settled into the highest levels of power – both public and private, and equally represented by both political parties. While most people would rather not admit this openly, the evidence that everyone knows it is that people simply have absolutely no expectations of the government but entertainment, a good “he said, she said” fight of the Reds vs. the Blues, and more war. Americans have no expectations whatsoever of protection from forces economic (healthcare, increasing national debt, erosion of American manufacturing), environmental (Katrina, global warming) or social (homelessness, poverty, education, infrastructure). This being the case, why do we even have a government at all?

It is time to get back to basics. The foundation of this country is that we are all equal - including the President and the vice president. The foundation of this country is that corporations are NOT people. The foundation of this country is that both government and corporations are servants of the people, not the other way around. It is time to rewrite the rules to reflect these foundations. No one is special under the law. Leaders are paid to lead, but it is our responsibility to put the whip to them. It is our responsibility to create a responsive and responsible government and to realize the full potential of America and Americans. It is time to realize that full potential cannot be measured simply by a dollar figure.

After sharing this with the emailer above, he wrote back to say:

It might surprise you that I agree with much of what you say. I believe our economy is very much manipulated, has been for a long time, and our politicians see it as "business as usual". I am a Republican. However I have much frustration with the spending, and the growing role of government in our daily lives. I am also frustrated with the lack of courage to tackle Social Security, Medicare and immigration. Thanks, P

I am sure that this is not the only Republican out there that is frustrated with the current administration. Corruption has spread so far that it is beginning to become apparent to all. The Republican Party – like the Democratic Party – has strayed far from its roots, so it does not surprise me in the least that P and I are in agreement. We are all, first and foremost Americans, and as true Americans I believe we all have an inherent sense of independence, fairness and justice that has been violated by both the large corporations and our government.

The above quote can be found at the Holocaust memorial here in Boston. I have spent today reflecting upon its meaning to me. Our nation has a proud history of honor, truth and justice. It may be easy to ignore a number of big problems: Human rights abuses at Guantanamo Bay, American-sponsored torture, secret prisons, illegal spying, all sprung from a $250 billion, unjustified war (how could that money have been better spent?), a lack of a coherent response to global warming (mirroring the lack of coherent response to Katrina), an $8,000,000,000,000 national debt that will be left to our grandchildren to pay, and the increasing creep of corporate power…The list of problems that are simply being avoided goes on and on. We don’t have to solve them all in one day, but the first step is acknowledging them, and beginning to think about them.

Nope, not my problem, you might say. But if things keep up the way they are going, they’re going to be everyone’s problem very, very soon.

Please share your comments on this article here. Reader comments are valuable, both to myself, and to other readers. What can we do about the problems? Please post your comments: http://www.bullnotbull.com/blog/?p=43

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