Wednesday, November 30, 2005

It Paines Me

Ah, good morning you patriots!

That's right. You coffee sippin, WiFi'n, mass transit usin', liberally educated folk are patriots. So are the farmers. So are some Republicans, but they seem far and between these days. Which sounds quite partisan. The reason it does is because today, under the administration of Bush, our Constitution is being threatened like never before. Foundational freedoms are being attacked. I've posted before about the growing fascist trend. Even Mussolini said corporatism and fascism are synonymous. But as well the oxymoronic Partriot Act attacks many of the Bill of Rights, as does the monopolization of the media and the rise of the Christian Reich. So remember, it's not just liberals that are patriots. There are some conservatives that are, and they need to emerge from the woodwork.
But, I digress. I want to focus on a statement at the end of Tom Paine's Common Sense. He stated, "Commerce diminishes the spirit, both of patriotism and military defence."
Now, I would tend to believe that most Americans would think that our primary reason for the Revolution was non-commercial. The lofty ideas of independence and freedom would probably take the fore front. Remember the phrase, "No taxation without representation!" Or the Boston Tea Party? What were those? Those were reactions to the current commercial environment in which America existed at the time of the Revolution. So yes, there was the need to be independent. It wasn't working to be ruled by an authority that was across the Ocean. Not when it took weeks to get a message one way. But apart from that, within the rulership of the Crown, was the subordinating of American business to that of England. And well does a government protect its own sources of revenue. Ours is no different. But it isn't what I want to focus on. I want to focus on the idea that commerce diminishes the spirit. And in what aspects, and how I see that happening.
Just to be clear, let's see what "commerce" means. It essentially means the buying and selling of goods, usually on a large scale, as a city or a nation. It means big money.
How does this apply to us? Well, on the larger scale it means what it did when Paine wrote the words while reflecting on what had happened to England. The seat then of English power was London, where Paine states they had "lost it's spirit," and "...submits to continued insults with the patience of a coward." And what are those insults? Degrading living conditions for the poor, which grow in numbers. Homeless people. Poor education. A growing jail population. The needs of the elderly left unmet, and their subsistance under attack. A growing oppressive debt which will result in unfair and burdensome taxes. A country that likes to claim to be Christian, and practices such things as torture and imperialistic war. All of these things occurred in England because it's attention was on capital markets, and nothing else. Those were the insults of this supposedly civilized nation city, that it could ignore it's own citizenry so grossly.
That's commerce on the macro scale. Let's look at the micro scale now, the one you and I live in. Commerce to you and I is defined as the selling of our goods, our skills and time, with the purchase price of we turn around and purchase the goods of others to supply the house we live in, the food we eat, and the utilities we use, the vehicles we drive and so forth. So how does this scale of commerce diminish the spirit?
First, as workers we tend to look at what we make as a combination of wage and benefits. Against that we balance how many hours we worked to earn that income of wages and benefits. So how has that changed in the last 5 years? According to the LA Times, which reported labor Department figure, wages have dropped for two years running, and are just above where they were in 1995. Look at it this way. How much has the cost of gas changed in that time, and the cost of your health insurance. My health insurance premium will make a double digit jump again this year. My wages on the other hand have not been close to the rise in the cost of gas, health insurance, or food for the last 5 years. So what is the reaction to that?
More work of course! Less time to spend at home, less time to stimulate the brain, or get involved with hobies, clubs, or politics. After a weeks work, the big issues are the household needs, and if lucky we squeeze in a couple hours to read a novel that's been sitting on the nightstand for the better part of a half year. A mystery usually. They sell because they disconnect us from our reality, which we intuitively know is shrinking. That's becoming the reality for a lot of folk. Or, for some, that reaction requires taking a second job. Oh joy! And our dufus President stated to the woman working three jobs and still raising kids, "only in America!" He just thought it was wonderful that she could work almost 3/4 of a day, and spend better than half on her kids in glorified baby sitting. Meanwhile she had no health insurance. He just thought the freedom to have three jobs was great! That's the version of the American "dream" that others want you to have. Not a living wage, not single payer health insurance that covers everyone, no more vacation time, not free education, not ownership, but a fancy version of slavery. In short, a tyranny. Which is leaving millions out of the political scene that grossly affects their bottom line.
All of these insults infect this country. According to the Census Bureau, poverty has gone up for five years, bot in numbers of people and percentage. At the same time, bankruptcies and foreclosures are hitting record highs, according to the mortgage industry and American Bankruptcy Institute. It is also common knowledge that the number of people with health insurance has declined about one million a year since Bush took office. That numbers stands around 45 million people right now. And this is the richest, most powerful nation on the planet?
Thankfully, I see an upsurge in the number of people getting active in politics. Judging by last November, it is against the policies of the GOP. It is definitely grassrooots activities, which is a very good thing.
Let us look though at the other side of this coin, that of military defense. How is it that commerce diminishs the spirit of military defense?
First and foremost, by turning military defense into commerce. War profiteering is what we call it today. Contractors on the battlefield. Contractors with legal immunity of repsonsibility. Contractors that are paid by our tax dollars.
Blackwater, Vinnell Corporation, Halliburton, KBR (a subsidiary of Halliburton) and Dyncorp are companies that deal partially or entirely in construction, military policing, and other military support services. These contractors get paid upwards of $200,000 a head, compared to the roughly $25,000 a soldier makes. Anyone with math skills can figure that for the price of one contractor, I can have 9 soldiers. Yet only one company is making armored Humvees. One. No one has requested any other company to make them. And supply is nowhere near demand. One company that makes body armor, DHB Industries, has done quite well by the war. Well, the CEO did. he earned $525 big ones in 2001. In 2004, his salary was $70 MILLION! I believe that's a jump of what, over 10,000%. Not bad. And so of course, he sold off a bunch of the company stock for another $180 million, which drove the price from $22 a share to a little over $4 a share as of last month. And what worthy cause benefited this largesse, which by the way is paid for by our tax dollars? That's right, a bat mtizvah with a price tag of $10 million. Figure, the live entertainment included Aerosmith, 50 Cent, and Don Henly to name a few. The really great part? The Marines had to recall 5000 of the vests which DHB made because they couldn't withstand a 9mm round. Apparently none of the $250 million went into quality control. How about aHalliburton? It's stock price was in the mid 40's in the year 2000, wheen it got it's first Iraq contract. Yea, that's right. 2000. Today it trades at just under $69 a share. Shall we go on?
I don't think we need to. General Smedley Butler said these same things just after WW1. His greta little book, War is a Racket says it quite well. So a first step would be to stop the Pentagon from contracting it services outside the military.
What arises out of making money by having war, is the necessity to make war. Which automatically means, we go on the offensive. The spirit of military defense is a live and let live spirit, but if you try to hurt me or mine, you'll find out why the flag said "Don't Tread on Me." According to History News network,
According to the Defense Department's annual "Base Structure Report" for fiscal year 2003, which itemizes foreign and domestic U.S. military real estate, the Pentagon currently owns or rents 702 overseas bases in about 130 countries and has another 6,000 bases in the United States and its territories. The number of people involved is somewhere near a half a million. Is this what it means to "provide for the common defense," or have we gone a few steps beyond that? And what do we consider then the request of the Air Force to put weapons in space? It might seem that it's been this way so long that we couldn't possibly go back. But we can. We must.
Consider the money it takes to keep all those bases functioning. And the weapons systems needed to make 13 carrier task forces operational. What would happen if we pared back, and began closing those foreign bases? Troops would be safer, and better used on our own soil to deal with domestic crisis' as well as fight terrorism better. Secondly, as I already mentioned, consider the savings. We could actually fund schools, and research into cures for diseases. I think hand in hand with this should be the need of every person who turns 18 to spend a year in the military, and then a year in the Peace Corp. Then in the event of a need to mobilize large numbers, we'd have them. But I see that need diminishing more and more every day.
But this is how the spirit of defense is weakened, because it in practice hardly exists.
Another step in the right direction would be a Department of Peace, as Representative Kucinich from Ohio has not only suggested, he has many co-sponsors to that resolution.
In short, squeezing the citizens through their employment, and devoting energy to maintaining an industrial military establishment is how the spirit of patriotism and military defense is diminished. President Eisenhower warned us about this. As citizens we need to demand of our elected officials that they co-sponsor with Mr. Kucinich a Department of Peace. We need to tell them that we want butter, not guns. That we want the military to be the military, not the industrial military complex it is. And we expect them to provide for our common defense, and no more.


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