Tuesday, February 23, 2021

COVID Misery Feeds the Beast but STARVES WORKING PEOPLE

Words by Charles Brooks

The American pandemic has created a public health and economic crisis felt widely and deeply across the nation. The most recent statistics reveal the crisis and depth of the despair felt by millions. Nearly 900,000 filed for unemployment just in the last week.  Over the past year, millions lost health insurance, and plunged senselessly into poverty, debt and eviction. Meanwhile the number of cases and death continues to tick upward as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicts a dire immediate future with up to 699,000 new cases and up to 559,000 deaths by March 13, 2021.  The current data shows over 28 million affected with Covid-19, and over 500,000 dead.

Despite the number of studies confirming the benefit of direct cash payments, Congress more than half of whom are millionaires, just debated the issue for months.  Questions about socialism, and whether the cost is affordable got most of the public's attention while not nearly enough light was shed on prioritized corporate interests. In the last year alone, we've witnessed a litany of corporate bailouts, the controversial Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), along with $4 trillion in leveraged funds for Wall Street firms.  In March 2020, the CARES Act passed with $1200 stimulus checks but since then Congress could only manage to agree on one additional $600 cash payout.  There was an opportunity last year when Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) proposed a federal “paycheck guarantee covering salaries for three months.  The proposal wasn't included for one of two reasons; Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) says the proposal is too costly while Rep. Pelosi placed blamed on Jayapal's non-compliance with House procedures. 

The new year, 2021 opened with yet another round of debates pushed by Senate Democrats for a $2000 cash payout as Senators prepared to override the presidential veto of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Senators turned their backs on working people and proceeded to override the veto unleashing $740 billion for military spending and nothing for working folk. 

Bear in mind that defense spending takes up more than half of discretionary spending – that’s $740 billion out of $1.3 trillion. That is considerably less funding available for education, healthcare, infrastructure, and housing, for example.  An amendment was proposed by the new Defense Spending Reduction Caucus to reduce the NDAA bill by just 10% or $74 billion. But the Lee-Pocan amendment failed with 139 Democrats joining 185 Republicans to vote the measure down. 

Consider these costs, an estimated $51.5 billion is spent annually to build and run bases abroad, and more than $150 billion annually to maintain the troops overseas.  The Scientific American says this about military spending: “There are plenty of reasons to cut the Pentagon’s budget, but its track record of profligate spending is among the most obvious. If the Pentagon were a private corporation, gross mismanagement would have forced it into bankruptcy years ago. Dysfunctional internal controls, aided and abetted by years of lax congressional and administration oversight, have enabled it to waste tens of billions of dollars annually, and the last 20 years are littered with a parade of overpriced, botched and bungled projects.

David Vine has written extensively on the pivotal role of military bases to American imperialism with, Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World and, The United States of War: A Global History of America’s Endless Conflicts, from Columbus to the Islamic State.  During an interview, Vine is asked about imperialism: “…U.S. military bases are, in my mind, a largely overlooked tool of U.S. imperial power since World War II. U.S. military bases have, since World War II, occupied dozens of countries and, at times, have actually numbered even more than the 800 today, and they’ve been a major tool by which the United States government has been able to exercise power and control over local governments [and] over local people to advance [the] economic and political interests of … U.S. corporations [and] U.S. elites.”

The Black Alliance for Peace (BAP) has been waging a relentless campaign that draws attention to U.S. military intervention, particularly the role of the African Command or AFRICOM, in the affairs of African nations.  Their campaign demands are clear; complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Africa, demilitarization of the African continent, closure of U.S. bases throughout the world, and that the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) oppose AFRICOM and conduct hearings on AFRICOM’s impact on the African continent, with the full participation of members of U.S. and African civil society.  BAP’s work also includes abolishing nuclear weapons, drone strikes, economic sanctions and the 1033 program that militarizes US police departments.  They recently co-sponsored a virtual webinar, hosted by the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom-U.S. Section, “AFRICOM and Human Rights in Africa addressing US militarism, the $740 billion and its link to the wide disparities suffered by Black working people.  Their webinar reminds us of Congress’ real priorities, as well as the neoliberal forces at work for wealthy and corporate elites.  But more importantly, their campaign continues a tradition in Black Liberation movements that historically critiqued, organized and linked US imperialism, US foreign policy, and inflated military budgets to the daily struggles of the poor and working folk. 

Additional Resources and Reading

"...The Department of Defense is the Federal Government’s largest agency and one of the most complex organizations in the world. With more than 1.3 million active duty service members, 750,000 civilian personnel, and more than 811,000 National Guard and Reserve service members, the DoD is the nation’s largest employer. As one of the nation’s largest health-care providers, DoD’s TRICARE program serves approximately 9.4 million beneficiaries. The DoD, which operated with a base budget of approximately $551 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2017, executes a multibillion-dollar global supply chain and manages a 5 million-item inventory.  DoD is also one of the largest holders of real estate, managing a global portfolio that consists of more than 568,000 assets (buildings and structures), located at nearly 4,800 sites worldwide, covering 27.2 million acres of property..." Defense Department


The Cost of War Project, The Watson Institute for International & Public Affairs at Brown University,

The Cost of War FACT SHEET, The Watson Institute for International & Public Affairs at Brown University

Radical Black Peace Activism in the Black Liberation MovementBy Charisse Burden-Stelly February 2018

Black Alliance for Peace campaign

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Monday, February 8, 2021

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Wednesday, February 3, 2021

The Decline and Fall of the American Empire

Instead of opening doors for American big business or supporting America’s diplomatic position in the world, the U.S. war machine has become a bull in the global china shop, wielding purely destructive power to destabilize countries and wreck their economies.

Even in the American empire’s neocolonial phase, the role of the U.S. military and the CIA was to kick open doors through which American businessmen could “follow the flag” to set up shop and develop new markets. (Photo: Calvin Shen)

Even in the American empire’s neocolonial phase, the role of the U.S. military and the CIA was to kick open doors through which American businessmen could "follow the flag" to set up shop and develop new markets. (Photo: Calvin Shen)

In 2004, journalist Ron Suskind quoted a Bush White House advisor, reportedly Karl Rove, as boasting, “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.” He dismissed Suskind’s assumption that public policy must be rooted in “the reality-based community.” “We’re history’s actors,” the advisor told him, “…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

Sixteen years later, the American wars and war crimes launched by the Bush administration have only spread chaos and violence far and wide, and this historic conjunction of criminality and failure has predictably undermined America’s international power and authority. Back in the imperial heartland, the political marketing industry that Rove and his colleagues were part of has had more success dividing and ruling the hearts and minds of Americans than of Iraqis, Russians or Chinese.

The irony of the Bush administration’s imperial pretensions was that America has been an empire from its very founding, and that a White House staffer’s political use of the term “empire” in 2004 was not emblematic of a new and rising empire as he claimed, but of a decadent, declining empire stumbling blindly into an agonizing death spiral.

Americans were not always so ignorant of the imperial nature of their country’s ambitions. George Washington described New York as “the seat of an empire,” and his military campaign against British forces there as the “pathway to empire.” New Yorkers eagerly embraced their state’s identity as the Empire State, which is still enshrined in the Empire State Building and on New York State license plates.

The expansion of America’s territorial sovereignty over Native American lands, the Louisiana Purchase and the annexation of northern Mexico in the Mexican-American War built an empire that far outstripped the one that George Washington built. But that imperial expansion was more controversial than most Americans realize. Fourteen out of fifty-two U.S. senators voted against the 1848 treaty to annex most of Mexico, without which Americans might still be visiting California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Nevada, Utah and most of Colorado as exotic Mexican travel spots.

In the full flowering of the American empire after the Second World War, its leaders understood the skill and subtlety required to exercise imperial power in a post-colonial world. No country fighting for independence from the U.K. or France was going to welcome imperial invaders from America. So America’s leaders developed a system of neocolonialism through which they exercised overarching imperial sovereignty over much of the world, while scrupulously avoiding terms like “empire” or “imperialism” that would undermine their post-colonial credentials.

It was left to critics like President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana to seriously examine the imperial control that wealthy countries still exercised over nominally independent post-colonial countries like his. In his book, Neo-Colonialism: the Last Stage of Imperialism, Nkrumah condemned neocolonialism as “the worst form of imperialism.” “For those who practice it,” he wrote, “it means power without responsibility, and for those who suffer from it, it means exploitation without redress.” 

Decades ago Martin Luther King Jr. warned us that “a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

So post-World War Two Americans grew up in carefully crafted ignorance of the very fact of American empire, and the myths woven to disguise it provide fertile soil for today’s political divisions and disintegration. Trump’s “Make America Great Again” and Biden’s promise to “restore American leadership” are both appeals to nostalgia for the fruits of American empire.

Past blame games over who lost China or Vietnam or Cuba have come home to roost in an argument over who lost America and who can somehow restore its mythical former greatness or leadership. Even as America leads the world in allowing a pandemic to ravage its people and economy, neither party’s leaders are ready for a more realistic debate over how to redefine and rebuild America as a post-imperial nation in today’s multipolar world.

Every successful empire has expanded, ruled and exploited its far-flung territories through a combination of economic and military power. Even in the American empire’s neocolonial phase, the role of the U.S. military and the CIA was to kick open doors through which American businessmen could “follow the flag” to set up shop and develop new markets.

But now U.S. militarism and America’s economic interests have diverged. Apart from a few military contractors, American businesses have not followed the flag into the ruins of Iraq or America’s other current war-zones in any lasting way. Eighteen years after the U.S. invasion, Iraq’s largest trading partner is China, while Afghanistan’s is Pakistan, Somalia’s is the UAE (United Arab Emirates), and Libya’s is the European Union (EU).

Instead of opening doors for American big business or supporting America’s diplomatic position in the world, the U.S. war machine has become a bull in the global china shop, wielding purely destructive power to destabilize countries and wreck their economies, closing doors to economic opportunity instead of opening them, diverting resources from real needs at home, and damaging America’s international standing instead of enhancing it.

When President Eisenhower warned against the “unwarranted influence” of America’s military-industrial complex, he was predicting precisely this kind of dangerous dichotomy between the real economic and social needs of the American people and a war machine that costs more than the next ten militaries in the world put together but cannot win a war or vanquish a virus, let alone reconquer a lost empire.

China and the EU have become the major trading partners of most countries in the world. The United States is still a regional economic power, but even in South America, most countries now trade more with China. America’s militarism has accelerated these trends by squandering our resources on weapons and wars, while China and the EU have invested in peaceful economic development and 21st century infrastructure.

For example, China has built the largest high-speed rail network in the world in just 10 years (2008-2018), and Europe has been building and expanding its high-speed network since the 1990s, but high-speed rail is still only on the drawing board in America.

China has lifted 800 million people out of poverty, while America’s poverty rate has barely budged in 50 years and child poverty has increased. America still has the weakest social safety net of any developed country and no universal healthcare system, and the inequalities of wealth and power caused by extreme neoliberalism have left half of Americans with little or no savings to live on in retirement or to weather any disruption in their lives.

Our leaders’ insistence on siphoning off 66% of U.S. federal discretionary spending to preserve and expand a war machine that has long outlived any useful role in America’s declining economic empire is a debilitating waste of resources that jeopardizes our future.

Decades ago Martin Luther King Jr. warned us that “a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

As our government debates whether we can "afford" COVID relief, a Green New Deal and universal healthcare, we would be wise to recognize that our only hope of transforming this decadent, declining empire into a dynamic and prosperous post-imperial nation is to rapidly and profoundly shift our national priorities from irrelevant, destructive militarism to the programs of social uplift that Dr. King called for.

Nicolas J.S. Davies

Nicolas J.S. Davies is the author of "Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq" (2010). He also wrote the chapters on "Obama at War" in "Grading the 44th President: a Report Card on Barack Obama’s First Term as a Progressive Leader" (2012).

This article originally appeared at CommonDreams.org. Originally published on February 3rd, 2021. It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. 

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