'From Republic to Tyranny'
Date: Friday, February 10 @ 10:07:30 EST
When Benjamin Franklin exited Independence Hall after the Constitutional Convention in 1787, a lady approached him and asked, "Well, Doctor, what have we got -- a Republic or a Monarchy?"
"A Republic ... if you can keep it," Franklin replied.
Benjamin Franklin and other Founding Fathers were not overly optimistic. Their Constitution, intended to postpone a slide into tyranny, cleverly separated government into three branches: legislative (the Congress), executive (the President), and judicial (the Supreme Court). The Constitution then gave each branch checks and balances over the others. Now, any tyrannical faction would have to capture three governments, not just one.
Half a century later, Alexis de Tocqueville toured the nation and wrote "Democracy in America" in 1838. He predicted that a democratic republic could in fact become a vehicle for a "tyranny of the majority."
"In my opinion, the main evil of the present democratic institutions of the United States does not arise, as is often asserted in Europe, from their weakness, but from their irresistible strength. I am not so much alarmed at the excessive liberty which reigns in that country as at the inadequate securities which one finds there against tyranny."
--Alexis de Tocqueville
But the mob-rule populism feared by Madison and de Tocqueville never came to pass. These were gentlemen, of course, and they feared a second Bacon's Rebellion. In 1676, Nathaniel Bacon had led a ragtag army of small farmers, indentured servants and slaves into Jamestown, Virginia, setting it ablaze.
Ironically, 21st century America is witnessing the opposite: a government takeover from "above," from a Big-Government and Big-Business merger supported by a slim majority of voters.
The 1920s and early-30s was also a time of top-heavy business and government in the United States. But a better comparison is to the era of the 1890s, when any semblance of free enterprise gave way to crony capitalism and a near dictatorship of monopoly capital. That era was broken up by the Progressive movement that included members of both parties and was led by a Republican president, Teddy Roosevelt.
Today, neo-conservative politicians and moneyed elites have utilized religious fundamentalism to create a bare "tyranny of the majority," but a tyranny nonetheless. A 21st century tyranny is, if anything, more viable than a 19th century one: the technology of mass surveillance, virtual voting and sophisticated propaganda all aid and abet tyranny -- with the stamp of approval of an authoritarian Supreme Court.
Tom DeLay, a conservative "Christian" from Texas nicknamed "The Hammer," symbolizes a new alliance between money and faith. A Republican in the House of Representatives, DeLay is, or was, a master of distracting voters with issues of "God, Guns, and Gays" so that he could pursue an overt agenda of corporate plunder with a scheme called "Pay to Play." DeLay was indicted on money laundering charges, but perhaps more damning is his use of a "Celebration for Children's "charity" as a cashbox.
Republicans and Democrats used to be partners in crime, enabling each other's pork-barrel projects and covering up scandals (unless a congressman went too far and was caught with either a live boy or a dead girl). But a new breed of Republicans showed up who did not want to play by the rules. They crashed the senior prom, barred Democrats at the door, and kept the spiked punch and girls for themselves.
Why is this happening at the outset of a century that holds so much promise? The economist Schumpeter recognized that free enterprise periodically gives way to "monopoly capitalism" -- shorthand for clusters of "oligopolistic firms earning supernormal profits."
Up to now, Republican and Democratic administrations alike have pursued corrective measures, implementing anti-trust policies to level the playing field and return to free enterprise. Instead, mergers and acquisitions are creating new monopolies and oligopolies. Tellingly, executives from major oil companies refuse to testify before the Senate about how much oil industry mergers increase the price of gasoline at the pump.
But something entirely new is happening. There is no real free enterprise to return to, no real economy. The United States no longer manufactures much of anything. Defenders of globalization said not to worry: the US will shift into high technology, research and development. But that's not happening either. That stuff is being outsourced too. Even routine law work and medical analyses are being outsourced.
The United States economy has become an economy of consumers -- of debtors with, on average, below-zero savings rates. And this is what shows up in our mighty Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The White House says not to worry about the deficit because it's a small percentage of our GDP. GDP still has that ring of robustness, of work and trade and investment. But our GDP is largely debt, too. Much of it is simply the result of consumer spending and of a borrowing frenzy. Creative financing and house "flipping" allows speculators, banks and mortgage finance companies to continue the Ponzi-scheme. Each move in the shell game adds to the "GDP."
The American economy is underwritten by $8 trillion of debt and depends upon $2 billion infusions of foreign capital, much of it Chinese, every day. As former Federal Reserve Chief Paul Volker noted, "It can't go on for ever."
In Empire of Debt, co-authors Bill Bonner and Addison Wiggin describe how we are reaching the state, three decades after going off the gold standard, of "Imperia Absurdum."
"America's impoverishment is even more ridiculous. She is sustained by foreign wealth, but without real money. It is merely paper money without the paper -- electronic registration units of paper money. It is a mirage -- a chimeric representation of something that doesn't exist anywhere. For every additional dollar the US Treasury calls into being, there is no extra dollar of savings, no extra dollar of profit, not even the paper dollar itself. At least the gold taken from Latin America is still around today and is still useable. The dollars created by the Treasury are likely to disappear altogether."
-- Bill Bonner and Addison Wiggin, Empire of Debt
So while the official economy is based on debt (but looks good on paper), the real economy includes a poverty rate that continues to increase, jumping to 37 million people. And the number of Americans with no health insurance recently jumped to more than 45 million people.
"What we are seeing," says Paul Craig Roberts, is the "rapid transformation of America into a Third World economy." Investor Warren Buffett, who now calls the United States "Squanderville," says that we are becoming a "nation of sharecroppers."
There is a way out. There is a solution. Because public and private debt has gone beyond the point of no return -- meaning that it will never be paid back (that's why "deficits don't matter") -- it's time for more debt. In order to avoid the hangover, stay drunk.
Thus, the new American economy is about feeding at the trough of corporate welfare, privatization, and war. Indeed, war is the new feedlot. That's why it's not being fought smartly. The Bush regime could have stayed in Afghanistan until Osama bin Laden was captured. It could have transformed NATO into a surgically-precise anti-terror alliance. But borderless eternal struggle is much more profitable. The spending and the debts can go on forever.
Accordingly, the U.S. military budget for Fiscal Year 2006 is $531 billion. This is more than all other nations combined. The figure includes $441.6 billion for the Defense Department and the Department of Energy's nuclear weapons programs, $49.1 billion for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and 41.1 billion for Homeland Security. [Editor's note: Bush, in last week's State of the Union Address, asked for an extra $70 billion for mounting costs of his wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.]
But the US doesn't actually have this money. Americans are enslaving their grandchildren to foreign creditors in order to pay for it. And the Bush policy dovetails with that of his alleged nemesis, Osama bin Laden: "So we are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy." It's the Bush-bin Laden "Bleed-to-Bankruptcy Plan."
Much of this borrowed money goes to Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics and Raytheon. There are now even new mercenary corporations in the mix. In fact, there are more mercenaries in Iraq than there are British soldiers. Blackwater, for example, a private "security company" that recruits international soldiers of fortune, undertakes "top secret missions" in Iraq. (Mercenaries are illegal under the Geneva Conventions Article 47.) Supposedly such missions do not involve combat, but Blackwater was present in the Fallujah operations -- where, months earlier, four mercenaries were torched and hanged. (So now the regular Army has to avenge the killing of mercenaries.)
Halliburton is perhaps the largest pig at the trough. It fills a niche formerly occupied by the US Army Corps of Engineers, which performed the same functions better and more economically.
Halliburton, connected to Vice President Dick Cheney, is under criminal investigation because it appears to have overcharged by at least $61 million for gasoline brought in from Kuwait to Iraq. Halliburton also accepted $6.3 million in kickbacks from subcontractors in Iraq, and it charged the US government for three times as many meals as it was actually serving to U.S. soldiers in Kuwait. Halliburton also operated in Iran long after Bush's "Axis of Evil" speech.
Back home, Halliburton subsidiaries are building facilities that can be used as detention centers in case of "national emergencies." Such emergencies can include earthquakes and hurricanes but also civil unrest. Given the imperial tone of the current administration, detention centers for political subversives are not difficult to imagine.
But Big-Government and Big Business do need popular support. There are not enough neoconservative ideologues or moneyed elites in America to win an election. Thus, this alliance has invested heavily in right-wing media, nurturing reactionary values and launching diatribes against liberals, homosexuals, feminists, dissidents, scientists, secular-progressives, "welfare-dependent" African Americans and Muslims. Pundit Ann Coulter, whose ideas can only be classified as "neo-fascist," has dispensed with the niceties: "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity."
Middle class support for the Radical Right manifests itself in what can be fairly called a "Counterfeit Christianity." In normal times, Christianity can be a religion of emotional and spiritual uplift, and of kindness, but today's Protestant mullahs sell Jesus as everything he was not: pro-war, pro-rich, pro-death penalty and a Republican to boot.
Pat Robertson, a televangelist, even issued a kind of pseudo-edict, or "fatwa," calling for the assassination of Venezuela's socialist president, Hugo Chavez.
James Dobson's Focus on the Family is "tax-exempt" even though it wields a political "Values Action Team" in Washington, DC, made up of fire-and-brimstone zealots. Meanwhile, the Bush regime is seeking to revoke the tax-exempt status of progressive Christian churches that criticize the war in Iraq.
"George Bush was not elected by a majority of the voters in the United States. He was appointed by God."
--Lt. General William G. Boykin
Why do Christian fundamentalists support the war in Iraq? Insisting upon a literal interpretation of Revelation, a rogue text largely incompatible with the gospel, the Religious Right believes that God's Master Plan includes the War in Iraq. And Iraq, after all, is the Home of the Whore of Babylon. This war is a necessary and inevitable build up to the Rapture, the Tribulations, and the Second Coming of Christ. President Bush, with the fiery conviction of a beer hall convert, shares the vision of the American Empire as God on the March.
This unholy triangle between neoconservative ideologues, aristocratic capitalists and the new Christian ayatollahs is what predominates in American politics. The triangle is held together by the Republican Party with a blend of Madison Avenue patriotism, false religion and a corporate crime wave.
As in other nondemocratic regimes, the "Party" (the Republican Party) has purged the bureaucracy, firing mid-level professional bureaucrats in the Justice Department, the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Education and other agencies. The Party is also about to dissolve unfriendly courts -- starting with the liberal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. This California court will be cleaved into two more compliant courts stuffed with Republican judges.
What really begins the transition from "administration" to "regime" is the 2000 presidential election. This is not because there was "no doubt" that Al Gore actually won, as President Jimmy Carter said. It's because the conservative Supreme Court justices exposed themselves, rather unabashedly, as a naked political force.
Normally, conservative justices elevate the "states' rights" of the 10th Amendment over the "individual rights" of the 14th Amendment. Historically, this allowed southern states to keep oppressing African Americans, which, at the end of the day, is the pretty much the only thing "states' rights" is about.
In Bush v. Gore, however, the conservative justices abandoned states' rights. Actually, conservative judges abandon states' rights when it conflicts with a reactionary social agenda: The court overturned California's medical marijuana laws because it claimed, with Kafkaesque reasoning, that the laws might impact the "interstate commerce" of an illegal substance that was supposed to have no interstate commerce.
And thus the conservative Supreme Court refused to let the Florida Supreme Court order a larger recount of votes in the state. This recount would have included many African American votes, which were overwhelmingly for Al Gore. The court then claimed that their opinion should be restricted to this case and should not set precedent -- effectively admitting that they were making an exception, just for one day, to the rule of law.
The 9-11 Twin Towers attack was a blessing for the Bush administration. It provided justification for two wars. It centralized power around the executive branch. It inspired a Republican Congress to hand the president unprecedented powers with the USAPATRIOT Act that allows for mass surveillance and militarization of the homefront. September 11 also enabled an inner circle of neoconservative "Vulcans" to commandeer the Defense Department, the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency (the last to be purged).
The 2004 presidential election drove another nail into democracy's coffin. The Republican Party allowed activists to employ "brownshirt tactics," challenging tens of thousands of African-American voters, turning many away at the polls and forcing others to fill out lengthy "provisional" ballots. The 2004 victory rested on White-on-Black confrontation.
Representative John Conyers (D-Michigan), of the House Judiciary Committee, documented the systematic abuses. The violations included rejecting voter applications based on paper weight (resulting in thousands of African American voters being disenfranchised); placing too few voting machines in African-American neighborhoods; and allowing a black-box voting company, Triad, to practice questionable counting techniques. Foreign election observers compared 2004 to elections in the former-Yugoslavia.
Two thousand-four sealed another deal: Voting is now privatized. Republican-backed computerized voting equipment makers get no-bid contracts to run elections. The software, of course, is "private property" and beyond scrutiny of ordinary citizens.
In this post-2004 world, we are moving from free enterprise to a predatory capitalism. Predictably, Congress is rolling back child labor laws, environmental protections and student loan programs.
Consider these examples of how the panicked private sector is passing over into the public sector, getting it to tighten the grip on the throat of a permanent underclass.
The Republican Congress initiated changes in the child labor laws so that young teenagers can operate more dangerous machines and work around much hotter equipment -- overturning regulations in place for four decades. Conservatives, of course, backed the rights of mining companies to employ young children, and they repeatedly argued for this up until 1941, when the Supreme Court, in an outrageous example of judicial activism, prohibited child labor in United States v. Darby (1941).
Using children as guinea pigs in medical experiments? It's now allowed. The new Food and Drug Association (FDA) is in the process of allowing the testing of dextroamphetamine for ADHD on completely normal children. In keeping with Dr. Mengele's fetish, the test will include 12 pairs of identical twins and 12 pairs of fraternal twins.
Mandatory mental screening and standardized distributions of psychotropics in elementary schools? Big Pharma's wet dream is coming true with the Republican-backed and Orwellian-named "New Freedom Initiative," known by its critics as "No Child Left Unmedicated" or "Shut Up and Take Your Drugs."
Republicans in Congress weakened the Family Leave Act, a Clinton-era initiative that permitted workers to take time off without pay to attend to sick family members or to have a baby. It's a "tough love" approach to "family values."
The Republican-dominated National Labor Relations Board prohibited millions of temporary workers from unionizing (from capitalizing their labor in a free market). The vote was 3 to 2, with the three Bush appointees voting "yes," the two remaining Bill Clinton appointees voting "no." It is not for nothing that AFL-CIO President John Sweeney called the Bush regime the "most anti-labor administration since Hoover."
The new Department of Labor eliminated eligibility for overtime pay for millions of workers in the "Great Overtime Pay Take-Away."
The Republican Congress axed $50 billion from the deficit by cutting Medicaid, food stamps and student loans.
The Republicans cut the money used to investigate corporate violations of the minimum wage. Of course, the Bush regime is opposed to any increases in the minimum wage (even though most research finds that minimum wage increases lead to neither inflation nor unemployment). Indeed, we've gone through the longest period ever without an increase in the minimum wage.
Corporate prisons, paid on a per-prisoner per-day basis, are invited to write mandatory sentencing legislation in Republican-dominated legislatures, including Texas. The US now incarcerates more people than any nation except North Korea, and the figure keeps rising. Call your broker!
The Bush regime advanced new regulations for the National Forest Management Act to permitting more logging in all of the 155 national forests. The new NMFA regulations were shaped by the American Forest and Paper Association.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), under pressure from Big Oil and the White House, deleted parts of a report because it described the risks of global warming.
The EPA relaxed restrictions on discharging untreated sewage into lakes, rivers and coastal waters.
The EPA decided to permit use of the herbicide atrazine, despite a European Union ban and scientific findings linking it to frogs bearing both male and female sex organs. (Coming Soon: Deformed Animal Planet.)
The Republican-controlled Congress refused to take action on S. 799, sponsored by Senator Ted Kennedy, to ban fast-food industries from marketing soft drinks and junk food in taxpayer-funded public schools.
The Republican Congress no longer requires labels for food with DNA that has been genetically-modified, even if such Frankenfoods contain genes from viruses or bacteria, and even if such foods are hybrids that breach the divide between animals and plants.
The 2003 Farm Bill allowed the FDA to define "irradiation" as "cold pasteurization." This means a green light the irradiation industry, which uses low-levels of radiation (like x-rays) to irradiate food and kill bacteria (with unknown long-term effects).
The FDA approved several "bovine growth hormones" that scientists from around the world consider unsafe and that are banned in Europe. (Fox Television fired veteran reporter Jane Akre for pursuing this story.)
The Republican Congress refuses to release test information and documents regarding "mad cow disease."
The new US Department of Agriculture (USDA) refuses to improve the hygiene of the beef industry, even though dozens of countries have banned US beef because of high hormones and other contaminants.
The USDA now forbids beef producers from advertising hormone-free meat because the major slaughterhouses fear that universal testing by minor beef producers would raise industry standards. Not much has changed since Upton Sinclair exposed unhealthy practices in slaughterhouses in "The Jungle" (1906).
The FDA only issued a warning over a possible link between Viagra and some kinds of blindness after the mainstream media exposed the findings.
The FDA is finally -- after suppressing reports linking psychotropic drugs to violence and suicide -- requiring strong "black box" warning labels that read: " Antidepressants increase the risk of suicidal thinking and behavior (suicidality) in children and adolescents with major depressive disorder (MDD) and other psychiatric disorders ." Imagine, a drug has been linked to violence and suicide -- and it's still on the market.
The FDA moved to ban the natural supplement ephedra but not its pharmaceutical version (which can be patented), ephedrine. It took a United States District Court ruling reverse the politically-motivated FDA ban.
The FDA delayed pulling Vioxx from the market, a pain-killer produced by Merck, even after studies had established links to heart attacks.
The FDA is in the process of approving a drug-like chemical ingredient to soft drinks that tricks the taste buds into sensing sugar when it is not there. Developed by Senomyx, this chemical will not be listed on the label.
The Republican-sponsored "Project Bioshield Act" prevents victims of vaccinations-gone-awry from suing pharmaceutical companies in court. No suits will be allowed, even if the government "mandated" the vaccination during an anthrax emergency, and even if the vaccine maker engaged in fraud.
These current trends are troubling. Congress has abandoned its charge under Article I and Section 8 of the US Constitution, to provide for the general welfare of the United States.
These current trends also call to mind Benito Mussolini's observation that "fascism should more appropriately be called corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power."
Andrew Bosworth teaches Political Science at a university in Texas. This is the first installment in an upcoming book, American Apocalypse. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Source: Online Journal