Historian Ken Burns’ new CNN series on the Viet Nam war opens many old wounds as we review its horrible history. We talk about the 62,000 Americans who died in that horrible war, but we never mention the one million Vietnamese who died in that war, and the utter devastation that we released on that part of the world through our bombings and chemical warfare. Agent Orange was an environmental catastrophe. Many of our own veterans were casualties of this. Viet Nam is still enduring the effects of Agent Orange as is evidenced by the cancer rates and birth defects, even among our veterans. And then there was the napalm.
America entered the Viet Nam war to defend the fruits of French imperialism. Also, because our government lied to us, claiming the war to be a superpower contest between the godless communists and the free world. But in truth Viet Nam was more of a tribal war between factions of the Vietnamese people. The corpses were Vietnamese and not Chinese or Russian. And finally we were there to project American power and influence abroad.
While we should always show respect for our military personnel and veterans, those who are willing to serve and even die for their country. But we should never respect or defend our nation’s pointless and often catastrophic militarism that has wreaked havoc around the world. We must always remember that it is the politicians and not the soldiers who decide which wars that we need to fight.
One sad legacy from Viet Nam is that our country has proven time and time again that it has no memory. We have been fighting for 16 years in Afghanistan for no apparent purpose. We have spilled our precious blood and wasted our treasure in an endless tribal conflict wherein we have no legitimate role to play. We cannot even articulate what “victory” would look like and we have no exit strategy.
George W. Bush started a post 9-11 war with the wrong country. Attacking Iraq after 9-11 was like bombing China in response to Pearl Harbor.
He lied to us saying that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. He lied to us by saying that we would pay for the war by taking Iraqi oil. The Bush family wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have left our nation broke and divided. He destroyed the Iraqi government and infrastructure and left chaos and disorder in its place. He disbanded the Iraqi army which then became the core of ISIS. How much better both America and the Middle East would be if only we had stayed out of this futile and destructive conflict.
Our militaristic propaganda says that our military is there to protect our freedoms. I find such an assertion to be utterly ridiculous. All too often our country goes to war not for freedom, but to intervene in tribal disputes that need to be settled by the natives, and to impose our values, form of government, and economic system on the rest of the world. We fight to make the world “safe” by making it look more like us.
Ronald Reagan conducted a terrorist “war” against the duly elected government of Nicaragua. But the origins of the mess in Nicaragua goes back to the Eisenhower administration when we sent in troops to protect the United Fruit Company from the local efforts to unionize the workers. In those days it was easy to denounce anyone who stood for unionization, land reform, or economic security for the starving masses as communists. We must never believe that our own commercial interests trump the rights of indigenous people for political rights and economic participation.
We must never believe our own propaganda. We have no right to talk of freedom when unarmed people of color are being routinely tyrannized, brutalized, and even murdered by police officers for no reason. This is what the Colin Kaepernick protest was all about.
We must never equate patriotism with flag waving or outward patriotic displays when many of our own are denied security and full economic participation. We must never say, “America, right or wrong.” We must never assert our moral supremacy, when prisoners in Iraq were subjected to torture and abuse. That part of the Bush wars will always be a stain on our national character.
During the Third Reich, the nice people made the best Nazis. These nice people were not diabolically evil, but like sheep the allowed and even supported the diabolical evil that surrounded them. America must never become a nation of sheep that believes its own propaganda and confused true patriotism with flag waving support.
We must learn to face our nation’s history with honesty and self-reflection. We must begin to learn from our past and seek to build a better future.
While I will confess to be a very partisan person, I chose never to engage in partisanship on this blog during the election. There was already way too much partisan hatred and bickering. There was already a cacophony of voices screaming insults and abuse at each other. This is no way to run an election, or a country for that matter. But now we need to sort things out and begin our journey forward. To do this we must take a painful and honest look at our nation’s troubles, and figure out how we can best come together to solve them.
We need to find a way to come together as a nation and discuss our various issues and their best solutions. In the present political climate any civil discourse seems impossible.
The Republican leader in the Senate said early on that the party’s primary goal was to prevent Barack Obama from being elected to a second term. Such a stance can only be described as destructive defiance. It seems that the Republicans, and especially those of the Tea Party persuasion, tried to sink the ship of state because they were unable to set its course. That is partisanship gone rancid. Every proposal that Obama offered up, including his quest to find acceptable compromises, were shot down by intransigent Republicans. And then, to add insult to injury, the Republicans viciously accused Obama of having a failed presidency. A failed Tea Party mutiny is a more apt description of the last two years.
In the kinder, gentler times in Washington, Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill declared that, “We are all friends here after 5:00 pm and on weekends.” If only we could recapture such civility in today’s political life.
Our country is still in a mess. There is no dispute about that. We have rampant unemployment, soaring debts, a shaky, unfunded entitlement system, a collapse of the middle class, a large and accelerating gap between the haves and the have-nots. The middle class is hurting and the poor are becoming ever more destitute.
We need tax reform, immigration reform, and regulatory reform. We need to create jobs, rebuild our infrastructure, rebuild our economy, and rebuild our crumbling education system that was once the pride of the planet and the source of our great economic well-being as a nation that once allowed even our working classes to participate in the American Dream.
On the global front we are in the midst of the largest mass extinction in seventy-five million years. We need to develop a sustainable economy that does not plunder the earth’s resources or endanger its future to power our economy today. So, before we build pipelines to move shale oil down from Canada we need to stop and assess the environmental impact. Sustainability must now be a key component of every decision.
If Mitt Romney ever had a plan to govern this country he refused to communicate it to the general public. Every question directed to him was answered either by reciting his talking points or by attacking the president.
He spoke repeatedly about tax breaks for the millionaires and billionaires on the grounds that these are the job creators. But this was also George W. Bush’s line. It was a failure then and it would be a renewed failure again. It might be a good idea to give tax breaks that spawn actual job creation. But without such a linkage many of the rich would simply park their excess cash in their Swiss bank accounts helping no one.
There is already too much idle cash on the sidelines awaiting productive investment opportunities. What is lacking is not excess cash, but rather consumer demand. If you want to stimulate the economy and create jobs then put some extra cash in the pockets of the middle class so that they can go out and buy tires and refrigerators, thus creating demand and driving production.
Romney wanted to see financial regulations abandoned to free up business from government interference. But we have had three major financial crises in recent history that were directly caused by the lack of effective government regulation:
- The Savings and Loan Crisis in the Reagan era caused by deregulation of the thrift industry.
- The stock market collapse of 2000-2002 caused by the complete failure of the Securities and Exchange Commission to regulate our financial markets. Elliot Richardson, then the Attorney General of the New York was the only person even trying at that time to regulate the financial markets. During this time of regulatory abdication, the predators, thieves and con-artists had their field day. The rogues list includes such names as Enron, WorldCom, Arthur Andersen, and a host of others. The financial losses from this event totaled over $5 trillion.
- Finally, we had the global collapse of our financial markets due to the “liar loans” in 2008. Mortgage companies would give loans to anyone who could fog a mirror. These trash loans were then securitized with “AAA” ratings and sold throughout the global financial markets. When this house of cards, built on corruption and regulatory abdication, finally collapsed, it created a global recession from which we have yet to extricate ourselves.
Does any of this sound like we need LESS regulation?
Romney never did explain how he could give tax breaks to the rich, increase military spending by two trillion dollars and balance the budget. Such nonsense is what George H.W. Bush called “Voodoo Economics.” He did speak of doing away with almost all federal programs that actually benefit the middle class and working poor. In a frenzy of social Darwinism he would cut funding for Head Start, unemployment insurance, Pell grants and student loans. The millionaires and billionaires would prosper mightily under a Romney administration, while the rest of us would be floundering in debt and despair, and left with no rope to climb. Even Big Bird had his head on the chopping block. Excuse me, but is not Big Bird about preschool education? While government subsidies for public television do not pay for the production of Big Bird, they do go to sustain broadcasts of Big Bird to smaller, mostly rural communities where the need for such preschool education is critical.
And then there is the strange case of Obamacare that was at the center of Romney’s attacks. Obamacare began as Romneycare in Massachusett. So, how could Romney attack what was essentially his own plan raised to the federal level?
The American health care system before Obamacare was a disgrace. The U.S. spends 17% of its GDP on healthcare, while no other country spends more than 12%. And still our health care outcomes trail most of the world. The leading cause of personal bankruptcy in this country is from medical bills. It would be hard for anyone to argue that our system did not need a major redesign.
Romney claimed that he would repeal Obamacare his first day in office. But he never told us what he would do to replace it.
There have been three major financial meltdowns in the United States in the past few decades. There was the Savings and Loan Crisis of the 1980’s under President Reagan. There was the 2002 Wall Street Collapse and the Financial Markets collapse of 2008, both under President George W. Bush. What these three events had in common was that they were all triggered by a lack of federal regulation of our financial system.
The Savings and Loan Crisis was created by the Reagan era push to deregulate businesses. Thrift institutions were given the powers of commercial banks, but without the oversight given to the banks. The result was a feeding frenzy of greed and mismanagement that caused the collapse of 747 out of 3,234 thrift institutions.
The collapse of the financial markets in 2002 was due to a total failure of the Securities and Exchange Commission to oversee the nation’s securities industry. The only person who appeared to be trying to regulate the securities industry was Eliot Spitzer, who was then the Attorney General of New York.
There was a culture of financial greed and deception like this country has never seen. Most if not all the major money center banks and brokerage houses were knowingly selling trash securities to their customers and charging very high commission rates in the process. Arthur Andersen was out teaching seminars on how companies could set up shell corporations and operate according to the Enron model. Energy companies were shutting down power plants, creating artificial shortages of electricity. They would then sell the “replacement” power on the spot market at enormous costs to relieve the “shortages”. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) refused to stabilized the market, and instead gave the predators free rein.
The collapse of our financial institutions has led to a world-wide recession. This latest crisis was brought on by an institutionalization of corrupt loan practices. It began with the birth of the “liar loans.” Anyone who could fog a mirror was given a loan. With housing prices building a bubble no one seemed to expect a burst. People were given mortgage loans that they could not afford. But the banks would tell them not to worry. After all, with the way that real estate was escalating in price all they needed to do was to hold on to the property for several years and then sell it at a higher price giving them enough money to settle their debts and still have money left over.
Then these “liar loans” were securitized and given stellar ratings by the rating agencies. It is as if the banks, rating agencies, real estate brokers, insurance companies, investment houses and government regulators were all working in collusion with one another. When the bubble burst there was nowhere to run. These securitized “liar loans” were ubiquitous throughout the global financial markets.
These three recent financial crises should make obvious the need for strong and effective federal regulation of our financial markets. We should know by now to resist the call for a reduction of regulation to spur business. The results of such reductions will be to give the predators free reign to loot and pillage, while crippling our financial markets and destroying trillions of dollars in wealth.