President's Day 2006: Back to Basics
by Michael Nystrom
February 20, 2006
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
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
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?
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
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:
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