We Need Real Change Not Promises

Sheila Musaji

Posted Jan 28, 2010      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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We Need Real Change Not Promises

by Sheila Musaji

Full text of State of the Union Address

Last night President Obama gave his State of the Union message and made a lot of new promises.  Some of them like the proposed high speed rail system, educational reform, ending tax breaks for corporations who send jobs overseas, etc. sound wonderful.  However, whether or not he is able to keep any of these remains to be seen.  The most critical item he was to address was reducing our Federal budget deficit and reducing the national debt.  He denied any real possibility of doing that by removing “defense” spending from consideration.  Unless we get our finances in order and stop spending money we don’t have, nothing else will be solved.  If our only substantial jobs program is the military-industrial complex, nothing will be solved.

President Obama inherited a $1.3 trillion deficit.  Obama had promised to cut the federal budget deficit by more than half in his first term, and instead it is now $1.4 trillion.  The spending cuts Obama is requesting are a year late (on his watch and 8 years late on President Bush’s watch) and $1.4 trillion dollars short.  Obama inherited two wars and not only are we not pulling out of these wars as promised, he is asking for more money and more troops.  Guantanamo (and other Gulag’s around the world) are still running.  Obama promised that he would allow every family to withdraw up to 15% from their IRA or 401(k), up to a maximum of $10,000 without any fine or penalty throughout 2009 - this never happened.  Obama promised that he would limit the influence of lobbyists, and no sign of that in sight.  Obama promised increased regulation of the financial industry - they got a bailout (part of it used for huge bonuses which Obama had promised he would limit) and now he wants one of the Foxes, Ben Bernanke to guard the henhouse as Federal Reserve Chairman.  Obama promised a credit card bill of rights for American consumers - and that has not happened.  Obama promised education reform so that American students receive a “world class education” and nothing has changed.  Obama promised to “end the use of torture without exception” and this has not happened.  Obama promised a screening of all airplane passengers against a terrorist watch list - and we saw last month just how much effort has gone into that reform.  We still have the worst health care program of any developed country.  Obama promised to reject the Military Commissions Act.  Obama promised to work to eliminate nuclear weapons.  Obama promised to hold direct, unconditional talks with Iran.  Obama promised to abide by Senate approved international treaties.  Obama promised to restore habeas corpus.  Obama promised to obey the Constitution of the U.S.  All of these unresolved issues make those of us who voted for hope and change wonder just how serious his promises are.  We are aware that Obama did not cause many of the problems that he inherited, but we expected him to help solve them and not continue the same policies that got us in this mess.  What is needed now is a strategy for how these promises will be fulfilled.

We will not be able to get our national budget in order unless military and defense spending is on the table for reduction.  Why are we continuing to ignore this fact?  We now have a deficit of $1.4 trillion and if we keep going the way we are, we may double that in five years.  This does not count our national debt which is now $12 trillion, and today Reuters reported “The Senate on Thursday voted narrowly to increase the government’s borrowing authority to $14.3 trillion, which would allow the Treasury Department to continue servicing the country’s spiraling national debt through most of 2010.”

Where will this money come from?  How can we continue to spend what we do not have?  The L.A. Times reports that “The Senate on Tuesday rejected a proposal to establish a potentially powerful commission to reduce the federal budget deficit, despite President Obama’s endorsement and swelling voter anger about government spending and debt.”

The President did mention his disappointment with this week’s Senate decision and in last week’s Supreme Court decision giving even more influence to corporations, but disappointment will not change the facts on the ground.  Obama did not even mention habeas corpus or any of our other Constitutional issues.

Our military expenditures add up to 43 cents of every government dollar spent, which adds up to $2,700 a year for each American.  The U.S. is the world’s largest arms producer and exporter and accounts for 41% of total military expenditures worldwide.  The U.S. Department of Defense budget accounted in fiscal year 2009 for about 21% of the United States federal budgeted expenditures and 24% of estimated tax revenues. Including non-DOD expenditures, defense spending was approximately 31-37% of budgeted expenditures and 35-42% of estimated tax revenues. According to the Congressional Budget Office, defense spending grew 9% annually on average from fiscal year 2000-2009. Wikipedia.

The U.S. Government is the largest employer in the U.S. and the largest department in the federal government is the dept of defense followed by the dept of veterans affairs and then homeland security - The DOD is the largest employer and hires civilians worldwide to support military facilities and operations.  We have the largest defense budget and are the largest arms exporter in the world

The government is no different than individuals, families, or businesses.  None can continue to spend what they do not have without risking a possible default, or in the case of the government a devaluation of the currency and/or default.  Sooner or later you have to pay what you owe.  Sooner or later you run out of credit. 

“Beijing holds the mortgage and grows impatient as we endlessly borrow on equity and refuse to begin paying it down. The possibility exists of an eventual run on the dollar or even a U.S. debt default.    Who did this to us? We did it to ourselves.    We sold ourselves a lot of snake oil about the Global Economy, interdependence, free trade and “it doesn’t make any difference where goods are produced.” The George W. Bush Republicans ran up the deficit with tax cuts, two wars and a splurge in social spending to rival the guns-and-butter of the Great Society.  ...  Again, it is not a malevolent fate that has done this to us. We did it to ourselves. We believed all that hubristic blather about our being the “greatest empire since Rome,” the “indispensable nation” and “unipolar power” advancing to “benevolent global hegemony” in a series of “cakewalk” wars to “end tyranny in our world.”    After a decade of self-delusion and self-indulgence, we must stop deceiving ourselves. As Hurricane Katrina demonstrated, the “can-do” nation that won World War II in Europe and the Pacific in less than four years, that put a man on the moon in the same decade JFK said we would, is history.    We have a government that cannot balance its books, defend its borders or win its wars. And what is it now doing? Drafting another entitlement program as we are informed that the Social Security and Medicare trust funds have unfunded liabilities in the trillions.    At the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the question is not whether we will preside over the creation of a New World Order, but whether America’s decline is irreversible.”  Patrick Buchanan

“We are plagued by a faltering economy and a monstrous financial deficit that threatens to bankrupt us. Our national debt is more than $12 trillion (which translates to more than $110,000 per taxpayer), and is expected to nearly double to $20 trillion by 2015.  The unemployment rate is over 10% and growing, with more than 15 million Americans out of work and many more forced to subsist on low-paying or part-time jobs. The number of U.S. households on the verge of losing their homes soared by nearly 15% in the first half of last year alone. The number of children living in poverty is on the rise (18% in 2007). As history illustrates, authoritarian regimes assume more and more power in troubled financial times.  ...  We are embroiled in global wars against enemies that seem to attack from nowhere. Our armed forces are pushed to their limit, spread around the globe and under constant fire. The amount of money spent on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is nearing $1 trillion and is estimated to total somewhere in the vicinity of $3 trillion before it’s all over. That does not take into account the ravaged countries that we occupy, the thousands of innocent civilians killed (including women and children), or the thousands of American soldiers who have been killed or irreparably injured or who are committing suicide at an alarming rate. Nor does it take into account the families of the 1.8 million Americans who have served or are currently serving tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.    America’s place in the world is also undergoing a drastic shift, with China slated to emerge as the top economy over the next decade. Given the extent to which we are financially beholden to China, their influence over how our government carries out its affairs, as well as how it deals with its citizens, cannot be discounted. As of July 2009, China owned $800.5 billion of our debt—that’s 45% of our total debt—making them the largest foreign holder of U.S. foreign debt.”  John W. Whitehead

“Defense represents a significant part of our discretionary spending in this country. The defense establishment needs to be under fiscal discipline, as do all of our agencies.  I don’t think defense should be exempt. If there are extraordinary things that occur that require us to respond for national security, we always will be prepared to do that. But to exempt the normal military spending just because it’s military, to me, is wrong.  The U.S. government spends more on defense than on all other discretionary spending combined, according to the Congressional Budget office.”  Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD)

Why does the spending freeze exempt the military?  “I’m only calling for elected officials to consider the cost of war just as they would consider the cost of any other use of taxpayer dollars. Generals on the ground advocating for an expensive counterinsurgency are only reciting their best opinion. That’s their job. The president should balance their recommendations with our capacity to fulfill them. That’s his.”  Derek Thompson

“The facts about America’s bloated, excessive, always-increasing military spending are now well-known.  The U.S. spends almost as much on military spending as the entire rest of the world combined, and spends roughly six times more than the second-largest spender, China.  Even as the U.S. sunk under increasingly crippling levels of debt over the last decade, defense spending rose steadily, sometimes precipitously.  That explosion occurred even as overall military spending in the rest of the world decreased, thus expanding the already-vast gap between our expenditures and the world’s.  As one “defense” spending watchdog group put it:  “The US military budget was almost 29 times as large as the combined spending of the six ‘rogue’ states (Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria) who spent $14.65 billion.”  To get a sense for how thoroughly military spending dominates our national budget, consider this chart showing where Americans’ tax revenue goes.  Since much of that overall spending is mandatory, military spending—all of which is discretionary—accounts for over 50% of discretionary government spending. Yet it’s absolutely forbidden to even contemplate reducing it as a means of reducing our debt or deficit.” Glenn Greenwald

“In this way, no institution is more deeply embedded in American life or less accountable for its acts; Pentagon time exists enswathed in an almost religious glow of praise and veneration—what might once have been known as “idolatry.” Until the Pentagon is forced into our financial universe, the angry, impatient one where most Americans now live, we’re in trouble. Until candidates begin losing because angry Americans reject our perpetual wars, and the perpetual war-planning that goes with them, this sort of thinking will simply continue, no matter who the “commander-in-chief” is or what he thinks he’s commanding.    It’s time for Americans to stop saluting and end the Pentagon’s free ride before America’s wars kill us.” Tom Engelhardt

“What, for all our faith and hope, has the Obama brand given us? His administration has spent, lent, or guaranteed $12.8 trillion in taxpayer dollars to Wall Street and insolvent banks in a doomed effort to re-inflate the bubble economy, a tactic that at best forestalls catastrophe and will leave us broke in a time of profound crisis. Brand Obama has allocated nearly $1 trillion in defense-related spending and the continuation of our doomed imperial projects in Iraq, where military planners now estimate that 70,000 troops will remain for the next fifteen to twenty years. Brand Obama has expanded the war in Afghanistan, increasing the use of drones sent on cross-border bombing runs into Pakistan, which have doubled the number of civilians killed over the past three months. Brand Obama has refused to ease restrictions so workers can organize and will not consider single-payer, not-for-profit health care for all Americans. And Brand Obama will not prosecute the Bush administration for war crimes, including the use of torture, and has refused to dismantle Bush’s secrecy laws and restore habeas corpus.  Brand Obama offers us an image that appears radically individualistic and new. It inoculates us from seeing that the old engines of corporate power and the vast military-industrial complex continue to plunder the country. ... “  Christopher Hedges

“Real security won’t come from more military spending. Congress should instead be taking money out of the Pentagon and increasing support for diplomacy, development and international cooperation, expanding allocations for green jobs, environmental protection and energy efficiency, and providing additional money to meet increasing human needs, particularly at the state level.”  Friends Committee on National Legislation.

“Mr. Obama is in danger of being perceived as someone whose rhetoric, however skillful, cannot always be trusted. He is creating a credibility gap for himself, and if it widens much more he won’t be able to close it.”  Bob Herbert

“I knew I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without first having spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent ...  Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments.    I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”  —  Martin Luther King, Jr., Riverside Church, New York, Beyond Vietnam speech, April 4, 1967

It would seem that many knowledgeable individuals on all sides of the political spectrum are beginning to take to heart President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s final address to the nation in which he warned about the military-industrial complex.  In the 50 years since Eisenhower’s speech our military has expanded to 737 foreign military bases in 120 countries around the world with 255,000 troops deployed across various U.S. military commands.

”... 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 Statehouse, 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.  We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.  ...” Dwight Eisenhower

And with this weeks Supreme Court decision, the corporations that produce and supply the weapons and even the mercenaries will have even more influence.  If businesses and corporations can now spend as much as they want on political campaigns - and if our biggest business is arms and the military, then doesn’t it seem as if they will now be buying whatever political leaders they want?

“Major defense contractors were seriously involved in the 2008 elections. Lockheed Martin gave $2,612,219 in total political campaign donations, with 49% to Democrats ($1,285,493) and 51% to Republicans ($1,325,159). Boeing gave $2,225,947 in 2008 with 58% going to Democrats, and General Dynamics provided $1,682,595 to both parties.  Northrop Grumman spent over $20 million in 2008, hiring lobbyists to influence Congress, and Raytheon spent $6 million on lobbyists in the same period. In a revolving door appointment, Obama nominated Raytheon’s senior vice president for government operations and strategy, William Lynn, for the number two position in the Pentagon. Lynn was formally the Defense Department’s comptroller during the Clinton administration.”  Peter Phillips

“As a result of a rash of military-industry mergers encouraged and subsidized by the Clinton administration, the Big Three weapons makers—Lockheed Martin Corporation, Boeing Corporation, and Raytheon Corporation—now receive among themselves over $30 billion per year in Pentagon contracts. This represents more than one out of every four dollars that the Defense Department doles out for everything from rifles to rockets.”  Sourcewatch

How do we change the balance of power?  We the people really don’t seem to have much to say about what happens anymore, and most seem to be happy to be entertained by “news” about sex scandals and other non-issues. 

A must read article by William J. Astore A Very American Coup: Coming Soon to a Hometown Near You includes the following concrete suggestions:

Yes, it can happen here.  In some ways, it’s already happening.  But the key question is: at this late date, how can it be stopped?  Here are some vectors for a change in course, and in mindset as well, if we are to avoid our own stealth coup:

1. Somehow, we need to begin to reverse the ongoing militarization of this country, especially our ever-rising “defense” budgets.  The most recent of these, we’ve just learned, is a staggering $708 billion for fiscal year 2011—and that doesn’t even include the $33 billion President Obama has requested for his latest surge in Afghanistan.  We also need to get rid of the idea that anyone who suggests even minor cuts in defense spending is either hopelessly naïve or a terrorist sympathizer.  It’s time as well to call a halt to the privatization of military activity and so halt the rise of security contractors like Xe (formerly Blackwater), thereby weakening the corporate profit motive that supports and underpins the American version of perpetual war.  It’s time to begin feeling chastened, not proud, that we’re by far the number one country in the world in arms manufacturing and the global arms trade.

2. Let’s downsize our global mission rather than endlessly expanding our military footprint.  It’s time to have a military capable of defending this country, not fighting endless wars in distant lands while garrisoning the globe.

3. Let’s stop paying attention to major TV and cable networks that rely on retired senior military officers, most of whom have ties both to the Pentagon and military contractors, for “unbiased” commentary on our wars.  If we insist on fighting our perpetual “frontier” wars, let’s start insisting as well that they be covered in all their bitter reality: the death, the mayhem, the waste, the prisons, and the torture.  Why is our war coverage invariably sanitized to “PG” or even “G,” when we can go to the movies anytime and see “R” rated, pornographically violent films?  And by the way, it’s time to be more critical of the government’s and the media’s use of language and propaganda.  Mindlessly parroting the Patriot Act doesn’t make you patriotic.

4. It’s time to elect a president who doesn’t surround himself with senior “civilian” advisors and ambassadors who are actually retired military generals and admirals, one who won’t accept a Nobel Peace Prize by defending war in theory and escalating it in practice.

5. Let’s toughen up.  Let’s stop deferring to authority figures who promise to “protect” us while abridging our rights.  Let’s stop bowing down before men and women in uniform, before they start thinking that it’s their right to be worshipped and act accordingly.

6. Let’s act now to relieve the sort of desperation bred by joblessness and hopelessness that could lead many—notably male workers suffering from the “He-Cession”—to see a militarized solution in “the homeland” as a credible last resort.  It’s the economy, stupid, but with Main Street’s health, not Wall Street’s, in our focus.

7. Let’s take Sarah Palin and her followers seriously.  They’re tapping into anger that’s real and spreading.  Don’t let them become the voices of the angry working (and increasingly unemployed) classes.

8. Recognize that we face real enemies in our world, the most powerful of which aren’t in distant Afghanistan or Yemen but here at home.  The essence of our struggle to sustain our faltering democracy should not be against “terrorists,” with their shoe and crotch bombs, but against various powerful, perfectly legal groups here whose interests lie in a Pentagon that only grows ever stronger.

9. Stop thinking the U.S. is uniquely privileged.  Don’t take it on faith that God is on our side.  Forget about God blessing America.  If you believe in God, get out there and start trying to earn His blessing through deeds.

10. And, most important of all, remember that fear is the mind-killer that makes militarism possible.  Ramping up “terror” is an amazingly effective way of shredding our Constitution.  Putting our “safety” above all else is asking for trouble.  The only way we’ll be completely safe from the big bad terrorists, after all, is when we’re all living in a maximum security state.  Think of walking down the street while always being subject to a “full-body scan.”  William J. Astore teaches History at the Pennsylvania College of Technology.  A retired lieutenant colonel (USAF), he has also taught at the U.S. Air Force Academy and the Naval Postgraduate School.  He is the author of Hindenburg: Icon of German Militarism.

Public Citizen (Ralph Nader’s group) is advocating a constitutional amendment.  In their statement responding to the decision, Public Citizen’s leaders demanded public financing of congressional elections, and added, “Public Citizen will aggressively work in support of a constitutional amendment specifying that for-profit corporations are not entitled to First Amendment protections, except for freedom of the press. We do not lightly call for a constitutional amendment. But today’s decision so imperils our democratic well-being, and so severely distorts the rightful purpose of the First Amendment, that a constitutional corrective is demanded.  We are formulating language for possible amendments, asking members of the public to sign a petition to affirm their support for the idea of constitutional change, and planning to convene leading thinkers in the areas of constitutional law and corporate accountability to begin a series of in-depth conversations about winning a constitutional amendment.”

“The obvious solution, of course, would be a sharp turn to the left. Go where the real solutions are. Fight the good fight. Call liars ‘liars’ and thieves ‘thieves’. Do the people’s business. Become their advocate against the monsters bleeding them dry. Create jobs. Build infrastructure. Do real national health care. End the wars. Dramatically slash military spending. Produce actual educational reform. Launch a massive green energy/jobs program. Get serious about global warming. Kick ass on campaign finance reform. Fight for gay rights. Restore the New Deal era regulatory framework and expand it. Restore a fair taxation structure. Rewrite trade agreements that undermine American jobs. Rebuild unions. Fill the spate of vacancies in the federal judiciary, and load those seats up with progressives. Rally the public to demand that Congress act on your agenda. Humiliate the regressives in and out of the GOP for their abysmal sell-out policies.    All of this could be done, and most of it would be very popular, especially if it was backed by an aggressive and righteously angry Oval Office advocate for the people who knew how to use the bully pulpit to shape the narrative, to market ideas, and to mobilize public support.”  David Michael Green

“Thomas Jefferson and those who followed took it as a rule of thumb that political progress stems from dissent. Under the First Amendment, people have a right to dissent. The great dissenters such as Martin Luther King Jr. were even willing to commit civil disobedience to force the government to assume its constitutional role.  But as author Howard Zinn points out all too well, “Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience.”  John W. Whitehead

It is time for the American people to demand real change.