The American Agenda–3/3

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Dissecting the National Security State

In his book, Brave New World Order, (Orbis Books, 1992), Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer identified seven characteristics of a National Security State:

  • The first characteristic of a National Security State is that the military is the highest authority. In a National Security State the military not only guarantees the security of the state against all internal and external enemies, it has enough power to determine the overall direction of the society. In a National Security State the military exerts important influence over political, economic, as well as military affairs.
  • A second defining feature of a National Security State is that political democracy and democratic elections are viewed with suspicion, contempt, or in terms of political expediency. National Security States often maintain an appearance of democracy. However, ultimate power rests with the military or within a broader National Security Establishment.
  • A third characteristic of a National Security State is that the military and related sectors wield substantial political and economic power. They do so in the context of an ideology which stresses that ‘freedom” and “development” are possible only when capital is concentrated in the hands of elites.
  • A fourth feature of a National Security State is its obsession with enemies. There are enemies of the state everywhere. Defending against external and/or internal enemies becomes a leading preoccupation of the state, a distorting factor in the economy, and a major source of national identity and purpose.
  • A fifth ideological foundation of a National Security State is that the enemies of the state are cunning and ruthless. Therefore, any means used to destroy or control these enemies is justified.
  • A sixth characteristic of a National Security State is that it restricts public debate and limits popular participation through secrecy or intimidation. Authentic democracy depends on participation of the people. National Security States limit such participation in a number of ways: They sow fear and thereby narrow the range of public debate; they restrict and distort information; and they define policies in secret and implement those policies through covert channels and clandestine activities. The state justifies such actions through rhetorical pleas of “higher purpose” and vague appeals to “national security.”
  • Finally, the church is expected to mobilize its financial, ideological, and theological resources in service to the National Security State.

Here Comes The Project for the New American Century

In 1997 the American Agenda was consolidated as never before thanks to the brainstorming of a select group of neo-conservative activists headed by William Kristol and Robert Kazan. They called the initiative the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), and the team they put together to plan (and execute, as many of them held important posts in the George W. Bush administration) reads like a Who’s Who of neocon chicken hawks at the time. The first group of recruits might sound familiar to you. They included Elliott Abrams, William Bennet, Jeb Bush, Dick Cheney, Eliot Cohen, Midge Decter, Steve Forbes, Francis Fukuyama, Frank Gaffney, Fred Ikle, Donald Kagan, Zalmay Khalilzad, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Norman Podhoretz, Dan Quale, Henry Rowen, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz. To that illustrious cohort were later added Richard Perle, Kenneth Adelman, Richard Allen, Richard Armitage, John Bolton, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Charles Krauthammer, Daniel Pipes, and James Woolsey. A quick scan through Google shows that, of this entire group of patriots and warmongers, very few of them did any military service at all, let along serve their country in combat.

The PNAC, emboldened by right-wing successes in Washington as well as the collapse of the Soviet Union less than a decade previously, brazenly declared the objectives of their program to promote US global hegemony in a series of comuniqués which recommended, among other measures:

·  Increased defense spending

·  Complete US militarization and domination of space

·   An anti-missile system that came to be known sardonically as the “Star Wars” system

·    The ability to “fight and decisively win multiple simultaneous major-theater wars”

·    The policy of “critical regions,” especially the oil-rich Middle East

(Source: Stone and Kuznick, The Untold History of the United States, 2013)

At the top of PNAC’s immediate agenda was the toppling of the Sadam Hussein regime in Iraq. Sadam was their ally when his military served as an American proxy army against Iran in the 80s but by 2003 he was no longer useful. They had other plans for Sadam. Seen in retrospect, their strategy was to devastate Iraq, grab their oil (following much the same process as they are doing today in the Kurdish zone of Syria), then rebuild the country with the income from Iraq’s own petroleum. (Yes, it sounds just as absurd as making the Mexicans pay for the wall.) There was only one factor holding them back. Sadam had not committed any crime nor outrage grave enough to justify levelling his country in order to unseat him. Even the neocons could see that, and they alluded it in their contingency plans. They noted that, barring some catastrophic event such as the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, there was nothing to be done.

Enter 911, 2001, right on cue, and the Americans marched manfully into Iraq. Wait a minute. All but four of the 19 hijackers were Saudis, so why didn’t Bush’s National Security team decide to invade Saudi Arabia? Silly question. It would have been bad for business. What about Afghanistan? Osama bin Laden, the alleged perpetrator of 911 was allegedly hiding out somewhere in them there Afghan hills, wasn’t he? So, if they were going to invade anywhere, wouldn’t simple fourth-grade logic suggest it be Afghanistan before Iraq? The neocon strategists were having none of that. Rumsfeld made a remark, something about “better targets” in Iraq, General Colin Powell found some weapons of mass destruction under the bed and the world’s most formidable war machine booted up and marched. Handily enough, they already had the plans prepared.

I have treated this absurd series of events as a lark because, in the end, that is exactly what it turned out to be, a big, fat, lethal lark with a horrifying balance of dead and wounded Iraqi civilians, as well as millions being converted into homeless refugees. The number of Iraqi victims depends upon whom you listen to. The Iraq Body Count project (IBC) figure of documented civilian deaths from violence is 183,535 – 206,107 through April 2019. This includes reported civilian deaths “due to coalition and insurgent military action, sectarian violence and increased criminal violence.” The IBC site states: “many deaths will probably go unreported or unrecorded by officials and media.” According to the Associated Press‘s version more than 110,600 Iraqis had been killed since the start of the war to April 2009. (Source: Wikipedia)

It was President Barak Obama who was finally going to put the United States—and the world—in order and make things normal and decent again. So many American voters believed that message absolutely. Then, according to thebalance.com, he increased Bush’s “defense” budget to between $700 billion and $800 billion a year, and took the United States armed forces into Afghanistan. Coincidentally, Afghanistan sits on many billions (trillions?) of dollars worth of rare minerals. War, it seems, can look like good business, when regarded with a blind eye.

The Art of the Deal or Criminal Negligence?

Alleged heir to billions, real-estate developer, sexual harasser and reality TV star, Donald J. Trump achieved a surprising election victory in 2016 that produced a seismic awakening for a politically stale and morally drowsy United States. But the real shock took some time to sink in. Because, in obeyance to his wacky campaign promises, President Trump and his merry band of sociopaths have devoted the three years since he was elected to dismounting and demolishing the United States government as we know it. Lest you consider that categorical statement exaggerated, let’s take a look at the situation piece by piece. Investigative journalist and writer, Michael Lewis, makes that possible. In his thin (217-page) 2018 book, The Fifth Risk, he has given us enough reliable facts, laid out in an orderly and interesting manner, to get a reasonable grip on the situation.

The Fifth Risk is virtually a handbook of authoritative–and highly readable–information  that Lewis obtained while criss-crossing the country and interviewing high-level civil servants from the Obama administration. These were the people responsible for the day-to-day functioning of vital federal agencies.

The most fascinating–and terrifying–sections of the book describe the transfer of power from the people who ran US government agencies under Obama to the new Trump appointees. We’re talking about agencies that run from the Patent Office, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Education and the Department of Commerce, up to the Department of Energy, a thirty-billion-dollar-a-year organization with about a hundred and ten thousand employees. This process is understandably complicated and its procedures are actually established by law. Well before the election, presidential candidates are required to form a “transition team” to facilitate the transfer of specialized knowledge required to keep the all-important federal agencies running smoothly. The law actually provides fully-furnished and operational office space for each transition team.

Lewis describes the importance of the departments and their management teams:

How to stop a virus, how to take a census, how to determine if some foreign country is seeking to obtain a nuclear weapon or if Korean missiles can reach Kansas City: these are enduring technical problems. The people appointed by a newly-elected president to solve these problems have roughly seventy-five days to learn from their predecessors.  After the inauguration, a lot of deeply knowledgeable people will scatter to the four winds and be forbidden, by federal law, from initiating any contact with their replacements.

He makes it patently clear that Trump’s appointees form a demolition team, not a governing body, driven more by extreme-right-wing ideology than any expertise. Perhaps the most telling detail revealed by Lewis is that the day after the inauguration of President Trump, with all the Obama agency heads sitting in offices specially prepared for welcoming the incoming appointees with thick volumes of transition information and procedures, some of which took more than a year to prepare, no Trump representatives showed up. Days went by–in some cases weeks–and the Trump administration show no signs of life. When they finally appeared, instead of the expected teams of 20 or 30 experts, they were met with just a few incoming staff members, in one significant case a single elderly white man without a notebook nor a pencil.

Lewis quotes a comment by Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump’s White House Chief Strategist during the first seven months of his term, that sums up that insider’s view of the Obama-Trump transition:

I was fucking nervous as shit. I go, Holy fuck, this guy [Trump] doesn’t know anything. And he doesn’t give a shit.

The Trump policy was obviously not to do things, rather to undo them. And he and his cohorts are proceeding diligently down the same path today. Some of them seem to think that the nation’s problems can be solved by prayer.

Is the American Agenda Survivable?

From all outward signs, the objective of the Trump government is to continue to enrich the rich and subjugate the poor, thus placing in jeopardy the health and wellbeing—if not the very survival–of generations of Americans to come. Who can assure Americans that their children and grandchildren, and their children and grandchildren, will be capable of surviving the coming climate change, the wars, the famines, the water shortages, the industrial and electromagnetic pollution, the plummeting education standards and, above all, the false values that the American agenda is based upon. In order to survive as a nation, the Americans might benefit from teaching their children well. That is, to stop trying to convince them that they are superior to other people around the country and the world. They’re not smarter nor better than any of the other children around the world. If they are superior in anything, it’s as consumers of low-grade ultra-nationalism,  “pop culture” and reality TV, the maximum expression of which is their own President Donald Trump.

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American Inequality is the Whistleblower

The United States has always been a country marred by the inequality of its citizens but never to the degree that exists today when the poles are more concentrated and farther apart. There are more rich Americans and they are richer than ever before. The poor are not only poorer but more numerous. What is more alarming is that people from the middle classes are slipping into poverty. Having a job is not always a solution. Many families in which the breadwinners are employed full time still can’t afford to have a home or a decent life.
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At the other end of the scale of inequality are the American rich, whose wealth and flashy lifestyles are unprecedented. The classic millionaire has slipped into the middle class; now it’s the billionaires who make the news. And it’s not just the Internet whizkids. Now even garden-variety bankers, accountants and company CEO’s–virtually anyone who can adjudicate his or her own salary–can also aspire to the vacuous elite.
According to a 2017 report on CEO pay from the Economic Policy Institute, chief executives at 350 top companies made $15.6 million on average in 2016—271 times what the typical worker earns. The CEO of Marathon Petroleum, Gary Heminger, took home an astonishing 935 times more pay than his typical employee in 2017.
Even Americans with “good jobs” are overworked and lack first-world working conditions. Any European worker is entitled to a month’s paid vacation in his or her first year of work. How long does it take the average American worker to merit a month’s vacation? Maternity leave in Spain has just been extended by their socialist government to 16 weeks, with an additional five weeks of paternity leave for the father.

Most of these statistics are from the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality:
Wage Inequality
Over the last 30 years, wage inequality in the United States has increased substantially, with the overall level of inequality now approaching the extreme level that prevailed prior to the Great Depression.

Education Wage Premium
Only college graduates have experienced growth in median weekly earnings since 1979 (in real terms). High school dropouts have, by contrast, seen their real median weekly earnings decline by about 22 percent.

Gender Pay Gaps
Throughout much of the 20th century, the average woman earned about 60% of what the average man earned. Starting in the late 1970s, there was a substantial increase in women’s relative earnings, with women coming to earn about 80% of what men earned.
This historic rise plateaued in 2005 and, since then, the pay gap has remained roughly unchanged.

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Women’s pay as a percentage of that of men

Child Poverty
The United States boasts fifth position in the world ranking of the percentage of poor children with 21 percent of its children in poverty,

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Health Insurance
In 2007, 8.1 million American children under 18 years old were without health insurance. Children in poverty and Hispanic children were more likely to be uninsured.

Bad Jobs
“Bad jobs” are typically considered those that pay low wages and do not include access to health insurance and pension benefits. As shown here, about 10% of full-time workers are in low-wage jobs, about 30% don’t have health insurance, and about 40% don’t have
pensions. The graph also shows that the likelihood of being in a bad job is much worse for part-time workers, for on-call and day laborers, and for those working for temporary help agencies.

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Incarceration
The incarceration rate in the United States has grown so dramatically since the 1970s that the U.S. now has one of the highest rates in the world. The rise in incarceration has been especially prominent among young Black males and high school dropouts. As shown in this graph, a full 37% of those who are both young black males and high school dropouts are now in prison or jail, a rate that’s more than three times higher than what prevailed in 1980.

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Percent of 20-34-year-old men in prison or jail, by race, ethnicity,
and educational attainment, 1980 and 2008

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Homelessness is as American as Apple Pie

Scenes of homelessness such as are seen on the streets of the United States today are unthinkable in any other country in the first world.

Homelessness

According to The Week, March 11, 2018, about 554,000 people in the U.S. were homeless on any given night in 2017 — including nearly 58,000 families with children — meaning they didn’t have a safe, permanent place to sleep. That figure represents a 1 percent rise since 2016 — the first time the nation’s homeless population has increased in seven years. But the country’s biggest cities, especially those on the West Coast, have seen a far bigger rise in homelessness. New York City, which has the nation’s largest homeless population, reported a 4 percent increase since 2016 to about 76,500 people, San Diego a 5 percent increase to 9,160, and Los Angeles a 26 percent increase to nearly 55,200.

Consider This Testimony Posted on Quora.com by an Open-eyed American Retiree

I am American. I am married to a French woman. I have worked for years in the United States and for years in Europe. Americans, including myself (as a working-class boy who became a university professor and Dean), are culturally molded (brainwashed) into believing that work is everything. Our lives revolve around the work we do.

I’m retired now, but in my final years as a top-level administrator I was working so hard— 10 hours a day, 6 days a week—that I did not take the vacations due me. At the end, my employer owed me more than 6 months vacation time. And, oh yes, a former employer fired me because at 55 years of age I was being paid too much in their view and they could hire a 30-year-old for much less. That is normal in America. There is no such thing as loyalty to a long time and valued worker. Workers are “inputs” into the process, not people. Americans have been raised to think this is the way it is and the way it should be.

I think it likely that the United States has been controlled by the elites at the economic top for a very long time—probably since the time of the famous “Robber Barons” of the late 19th century. Today the United States is one of the most economically unequal countries in the world. The “wealth gap” is enormous. The top 1% are billionaires. There is literally nothing they cannot buy: law, tax codes, regulations, media outlets, controlling interests in big corporations, the entire healthcare and medical industry, the infamous “military industrial complex,” political campaigns, etc. In short, the government in the USA exists to serve the super wealthy.

In much of Europe governments (incredibly) seem to be truly inclined to see themselves as serving the people and their welfare. So, the government provides high quality and free (or very inexpensive) education—including at university level, as well as high-quality universal healthcare for everyone. And workers are given protections and rights that are unheard of in the USA, including at least 4 weeks vacation a year. Of course, the people pay higher taxes for these services, but it seems well worth it. And, Chief Officers of companies are not paid ludicrously high salaries and bonuses. In fact few companies in Europe are public corporations, and so the chief executives do not have the power to raise their own salaries and bonuses as do the American chief executives of the infamous public corporations (run by “agents” not by the owners).

In short: The American workplace is brutal and the European workplace is much more humane. Americans are trained to respond to this by saying “But American companies are more successful, they generate more wealth.” Not only is this untrue (the GDP of the EU is very close to that of the USA), but so much of the wealth created in the USA just goes straight up to the billionaires at the top. That’s why one out of seven families in the USA lives in poverty, and why the American working class has not progressed economically since the late 70s.

As long as Americans are willing to be brutalized in the workplace and accept a government dedicated to the oligarchs, nothing will change for them.

Greatness?

President Donald Trump says that his goal is to “make America great again,” and there’s nothing to keep him from doing just that. But he should be mindful that true greatness is not about invading Iran, nor bigger limousines, nor tax breaks for fat cats. It’s about taking care of your people–all of them.

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