Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Pure Pork Gravy Train: How the Government Robs the Social Security Trust Fund and Gives it to the Military/Industrial Complex

by Len Hart, The Existentialist Cowboy

The fortunes of the American Empire and the Military/Industrial Complex have until recently risen and fallen together. Most recently, however, the US Military/Industrial Complex has become a vast web entangling the US government, foreign "allies, and a vast infrastructure of contractors and suppliers. This un-elected, unaccountable web threatens to kill the goose that laid the golden egg.

The American Military/Industrial complex was not immediately "institutionalized". Yet it's rise to power seems not to have been slowed by our disastrous wars in Korea, Viet Nam and now Iraq. In a real world, failure is its own reward; but in the Lewis Carroll world of the American Military/Industrial complex, power is accrued exponentially despite failure, despite incompetence, despite criminality at the very highest levels.

At some point, however, a house of cards must fall of its own weight. America's untenable position in Iraq subverts US security by revealing to the world a paper tiger, a deteriorating economy, and Bush's inability to define a victory that cannot be achieved. At the very heart of the problem is a tail that wags the dog, a cancer that thinks it is the body. Needed now is a critical re-evaluation of America's most notable fascist institution --the Military/Industrial complex.

By Military/Industrial complex we mean the Pentagon Bureaucracy, the Military Command, the vast network of defense contractors, and the branches of government that must interface with this leviathan --primarily the President as "Commander-in-Chief" and those committees in congress charged with appropriations and oversight.

Author Gore Vidal is very specific with regard to the Military/Industrial Complex. He credits Harry Truman with its creation, specifically the decision to "militarize the economy". Historically, we were approaching a "red scare", the Rosenberg case, a McCarthy era. All seemed justification enough to maintain a vast military infrastructure that spanned the globe. But as we maintained troops, bases and equipment throughout the world, we denied monies for education, health care, and basic infrastructure. Stories of little red school houses are legion and typically American. I have a true one --my vivid memories of a first grade spent inside a grim, gray cinder block building that looked more like Hitler's bunker than a school building. We were fortunate to have had desks and a blackboard.

One day I will calculate how many schools, how many books, how many computers might be acquired for the price of a single carrier, a single nuke, a single global hawk, a single campaign of "shock and awe", a "desert storm", an Iraqi Freedom in which one "brutal dictator" is simply replaced by another.
“On September 16, 1985, when the Commerce Department announced that the United States had become a debtor nation, the American Empire died. The Empire was seventy-one years old and had been in ill health since 1968. Like most modern empires, ours rested not such much on military prowess as on economic primacy.

--Gore Vidal, The Decline and Fall of the American Empire

This essay began as a series of notes on Social Security --it's future should Bush survive his second term, its future should the American people not learn the lessons of the past six years. It is not enough that our government has put into place various mechanisms by which wealth is taken from the poor and re-distributed among the very, very wealthy, it conspires to rob the retired of proceeds they've already paid in. More accurately, those monies are incinerated in Iraq!

Everyone has a pet theory and I have mine. We are witnesses to the decline of the largest empire since Rome, perhaps the largest empire in the history of the world. If you are not taking notes, you should be. You have a ringside seat.

According to Vidal, the "American Empire" has been at war since 1950. The historical precedents are legion, Roman Legion, specifically. The Roman Empire was likewise stretched to the limits of current technology. When the time came to withdraw from Briton, the legions, for the most part, walked back home to Rome. It is easy to imagine a long walk through a desolate landscape of farms, decaying estates, and hungry serfs. There is a poignant description in Thomas Cahill's How the Irish Saved Civilization.

Roman writer and military strategist Flavius Vegetius Renatus --supported in modern times by Arthur Ferrill --believed that Rome's decline is traced to the use of German mercenaries in the legions. Certainly, any fan of the BBC's historic "I, Claudius" based upon the books by Robert Graves will remember the "Germans" who wore the tunic, who fought the battles, who took the orders.

A state of Orwellian "perpetual war" or foreign occupation is a defining characteristic of empire and fascism. A series of foreign wars and internal struggles preceded Caesar's "crossing the Rubicon". The rest is grist for Shakespeare's mill who may not be literally true but captures more important, essential truths about the sources of empire and the internal dynamics driving the will to power. The result in America, as in Rome earlier, is the literal "auctioning off" of the office of President of the United States, an eventuality embodied in Mussolini's term: corporatism.

Something similar occurred on March 28th, 193 AD, when the Praetorian guards, literally, sold the Roman empire to the wealthy senator Didius Julianus for the bargain price of 6250 drachmas.
A magnificent feast was prepared by his order, and he amused himself until a very late hour, with dice, and the performances of Pylades, a celebrated dancer. Yet it was observed that after the crowd of flatterers dispersed, and left him to darkness, solitude, and terrible reflection, he passed a sleepless night; revolving most probably in his mind his own rash folly, the fate of his virtuous predecessor, and the doubtful and dangerous tenure of an empire, which had not been acquired by merit, but purchased by money.

- Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; See also: Edward Gibbon: General Observations on the Fall of the Roman Empire in the West

An important point must be made here. Gibbon reports that Julianus paid for the Roman Empire in "drachmas". "Drachmas" denotes Greek currency--not Roman. At that time, the basic unit of currency in Ancient Rome was a bronze coin called an as or aes. A sestertius, another bronze coin, was worth four asses. A silver coin, the denarius, was worth 16 asses. [I will not go there!]

If Gibbon is correct, it is an indication that Rome, by that time in decline, had suffered a catastrophic devaluation of its coinage, just as it is evident that the dollar is weak today. Even now "real" money is considered by some to be "gold". That Didius Julianus would pay in Greek currency, not Roman, indicates to me that the smart money had already dumped the as, the asses, and the sestertius for drachmas. At last, bronze would seem to have little intrinsic value as "real" money. I would wager that only the very wealthy Roman aristocracy possessed denarius, which they might have held against the complete collapse of bronze coins, as many today would hold another currency or precious metals against the complete collapse of the US dollar.

Here's where everything begins to hit us where we live. Gibbon is remembered not only because he wrote a comprehensive nine volume history of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, he ventured a thesis: the Roman Empire, he claimed, fell to barbarian invasions because of "a loss of civic virtue". The citizenry had become lazy. The empire had taken up the habit of "outsourcing" to barbarian mercenaries the more odious jobs, primarily the defense of the empire itself. By the time the emperor Valens faced barbarians at Adrianople 330-395 CE[ Ammianus Marcellinus (330-395 CE): The Battle of Hadrianopolis, 378 CE ], the ranks of the legions were most certainly entirely "barbarian". They were, perhaps, the 379 AD version of Blackwater, composed largely of Syrians and "barbarian" troops from Gaul.

Other reasons given by other historians for the fall of Rome are, likewise, just as credible. The reasons given sound very modern. It is pointed out that the Roman system lacked budgetary controls, resources were wasted. Roman rule was essentially a kind of Ponzi scheme premised on conquest and plunder. Booty from conquered territories always trickled up forcing small-scale farmers into destitution, just as it did just prior to Boudicca's revolt in Briton. Unlike the US Social Security system, a "Roman dole" never paid its own way. Poorer farmers got poorer and a landed elite escaped taxation altogether. How much of this is beginning to sound familiar?
The men who possess real power in this country have no intention of ending the cold war."

--Albert Einstein
The military industrial complex seems designed to keep the rich and powerful rich and powerful, at the expense of decency, common sense and the American taxpayer. It is one of two primary means by which wealth is transferred from the working and lower classes to the upper "ruling classes" who themselves maintain the offices of the "complex". Unfair "tax cuts" favored by Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush are another means by which this is achieved. The one method reinforces the other. The primary beneficiaries of such tax cuts are the CEO's of big military contractors. It's hard not to think of the tax cuts as payoffs for support and, likewise, a promise of more pork to come.

It is not surprising that this establishment would covet the monies that are paid into what is euphemistically called the Social Security trust fund. In fact, government does not hesitate to raid those funds regularly to cover current expenses. Right now, the big expense is Iraq.

Contrary to what Social Security opponents will tell you, Social Security actually turns a profit, or, as Paul Krugman puts it: "Right now the revenues from the payroll tax exceed the amount paid out in benefits." That "profit" is literally "stolen" from you by your government to pay current expenses. That, clearly, is not a failure of the program as the GOP would have you believe. It is, rather, irrefutable proof that Social Security may be the government's only success story. If Social Security had not been a such a rousing success, there would be no monies to be looted. To be sure, those monies are routinely looted to pay for or otherwise cover up the extravagances of Pentagon bloodsuckers. All of this is pure pork --a GOP gravy train.

Social Security is the victim of its own success, a target of every politician who happens to be owned, body and soul, by the MIC. If the "social security trust fund" had not been available for periodic "raids" by unprincipled politicians of both parties, the US government might have gone belly up a long time ago. Do FOX and other MSM apologists tell you that?

Republicans are, by far, the most egregious offenders but, sadly, the US government itself is the Ponzi scheme --not Social Security, unfairly expected pay its own way but also that of every other government program. How much of that money, I wonder, has wound up in Dick Cheney's pocket? How much in Bush's pocket by way of his corporate sponsors?

Halliburton and Blackwater, I am sure, get paid when others stand in line. When the other sources run dry --as they often do --our "government" just gets on board the GOP gravy train, a Ponzi scheme meets Murder, Inc. Our government will simply take another unprincipled dip into the cookie jar.

If the GOP should succeed in turning Social Security into a "privatized scheme" run by slick talkers from Wall Street, it will have killed the goose that laid the Golden Egg. Whatever will the GOP do for quick cash when it doesn't have Social Security to kick around anymore?

As its counterpart was in ancient Rome, the Military/Industrial complex is a leech, a blood sucking parasite, a black hole, a pit! The US has not made a lousy blood soaked dime by murdering folk in Iraq but we have, to be sure, paid out "billions and billions". Bills come due and we, the people, foot the bill for treason and incompetence. And, each evening, numbed by a scintillating corporate experience, we turn on FOX to get lied to and brainwashed.

The Military/Industrial complex is legalized fraud and grand larceny on a scale that would have made Roman emperors blush. People go along because it is believed that the contracts awarded will trickle down. Wealth has never trickled down. If it had, income disparities in this country would have disappeared years ago. That didn't happen. While the rich have gotten much, much richer, the poor have very nearly fallen off the scale, robbed of work, future, and self-esteem by unworkable GOP visions of a fascist America.

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Media Conglomerates, Mergers, Concentration of Ownership, Global Issues, Updated: January 02, 2009

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13 comments:

Christopher I said...

You explain graphically and eloquently how wasteful the current military spending is, and how parasitical is the military industrial complex. I don’t disagree with anything you said.

However, I’ll put it to you that military spending isn’t ALL bad. It provides jobs, careers, and technical training for lots of young people, particularly for minority groups like African-Americans.

Think also of the jobs created in the communities wherever military bases have been established throughout the US. Think of the GI Bill, and the education and training it gave to millions of Americans.

It was the man on the moon project – all part of the military budget – which was arguably the catalyst which got the current computer and cyberspace revolution off the ground.

The “warfare state” in the US is arguably the equivalent of the “welfare state” everywhere else – the Keynesian means of keeping the reserve army of the unemployed considerably lower than it otherwise would be in a society of unbridled capitalism.

It was the sudden and forced coming into being of the “warfare state” in 1941 which ended the Great Depression almost overnight.

Would the capitalist economic system which was - to put it very mildly – floundering, even have survived but for World War 2 and the massive public sector spending it entailed?

Len Hart said...

Ssme of the comments this article inspired on another forum:

#1 "While the rich have gotten much, much richer, the poor have very nearly fallen off the scale, robbed of work, future, and self-esteem by unworkable GOP visions of a fascist America."

The US is looking more and more like a sick version of "The Matrix". The ruling class is sucking the blood out of the rest of us. At what point is enough enough? When we are too drained to raise a hand in opposition?
written by Nemesis since 16 hours 24 minutesNemesis

#2 people are still in denial...don't forget we are nationalized to believe that we are the greatest and best and could never do wrong...
written by patnkansas since 16 hours 13 minutespatnkansas

#3 The "current" ss "surplus" -- actually a liability -- has been spent on current expenses by both Ds and Rs in Congress and the WH despite their rhetoric to the contrary.
written by nasrudin since 12 hours 20 minutesnasrudin

#4 Current revenues from the payroll tax exceed the amount paid out in benefits. SS opponents deliberately confuse the issue with claims that those monies paid in are just general revenue. If that were true, then a Greenspan-sponsored tax hike [1980's] was pure class warfare GOP style i.e. working-class Americans wound up paying more taxes while the reverse was true for the upper class. It is typical of the Reagan Administration that workers were left with nothing to show for the sacrifice.

Len Hart said...

Christopher I said...


However, I’ll put it to you that military spending isn’t ALL bad. It provides jobs, careers, and technical training for lots of young people, particularly for minority groups like African-Americans.

I support that idea up to a point. In Rome, the legions had not always been the professional hard core types we see in spectacular movies. In the days of the Republic, the legions were most often comprised of laborers and farmers. Many of them did not benefit from increased militarism. Often --whenever a war du jour was over --the returning legionnaire would find that his farm had been confiscated by an aristocrat who had seized it for back taxes (presumably) and had converted into a villa or a vineyard or both. Eventually, ordinary jobs were outsourced to slaves from the far flung reaches of empire and it is not hard to imagine unemployment rising as the the Republic became Empire and as the empire became increasing a military dictatorship. It was a lose-lose deal for everyone but the very, very rich.

Think also of the jobs created in the communities wherever military bases have been established throughout the US. Think of the GI Bill, and the education and training it gave to millions of Americans.

I've had some experience with military bases. Base towns often spring up around a base but dissapear when bases are closed. In some cases, local merchants jack up prices upon word of increases in military pay. The creation of bases leaves much to be desired as a way of stimulating or even creating an economy.

It was the man on the moon project – all part of the military budget – which was arguably the catalyst which got the current computer and cyberspace revolution off the ground.

The moon project need not have been considered "military" spending. I suspect that it was stuck as such for political reasons. Constituents would willingly support expeditions in search of Valhalla if they are labeled "military" or, better, NATIONAL DEFENSE! Secondly, many right wing demogogues campaign upon a platform of "vote for me and I will secure a military base near our town!" Everybody wants to get on board the gravy train.

The “warfare state” in the US is arguably the equivalent of the “welfare state” everywhere else – the Keynesian means of keeping the reserve army of the unemployed considerably lower than it otherwise would be in a society of unbridled capitalism.

Thanks for mentioning Keynes. I am more nearly a Keynesian than any other "type". Nixon, as you may recall, upon embarking upon a federal deficit, is said to have remarked: "We are all Keynesians now". But I think Nixon, Reagan, and Bush --all of whom have run up the highest federal deficits in American history --are only "half" Keynesian. They are eager to run up deficits in ways that benefit only an increasingly small elite. A nation could boot strap its GDP in the short term by going to war but this a very, very cynical move. Alas --GDP is only a number. It doesn't tell you how many are employed in creating it; nor does it tell you to whom the benefits of higher GDP "trickle", if at all. If one is hell-bent on running up historically high deficits, as have Reagan and Bush, I would expect a better return on investment, a better accounting of how the monies that we don't have are spent. What is the return on investment. The Iraq war, for example, is a black hole. Even if the oil fields are seized and secured, it will be done for the benefit of Halliburton, Exxon-Mobei and other Bush partners. Will this money trickle down? NO! In fact, since Ronald Reagan popularized this kind of thinking, wealth has consistently moved upward --NOT down. Consider also the construction of a "tank". Once built the economic benefits of building that tank are over. The tank will never return a damn dime. The same amount of money spent building schools and educating children is a REAL investment in a nation's future. Moneys diverted to military expenditures almost never come back or "trickle down" to the education of children. Even David Stockman recanted his years shilling for Reagan and called supply side economics (trickl down theory) a fraud, specifically "a Trojan Horse."

It was the sudden and forced coming into being of the “warfare state” in 1941 which ended the Great Depression almost overnight.

To be sure, US production doubled between 1939 and 1944. But there is nothing in Keynes that would lead one to believe that only spending on war will do the trick. The issue, rather, is how are the deficits to be spent? How is the wealth to be distributed? But for a short period of time in Clinton's second term (check the Census Bureau, Dr. Daniel Weinberg), the incomes of the very, very rich have increased exponentially and to the detriment of every other group.

Weinberg's brief of 1997 was the first and only good news on that front since Ronald Reagan cut taxes for filthy rirch folk back in 1982. Under Bush, the bad old days are back, perhaps to stay. This is not what Keynes had in mind. In the end, the house of cards will collapse.

Again--I cite Rome. I have alluded to the domestic effects of Rome's foreign adventures and occupations. Rome became addicted to war. It is instructive that at Adrianople, Valen's army was composed entirely of legionaries from conquered provinces. The bottom line might have looked good in a very general sense but the benefits of empire were confined to a handful of filthy rich aristocrats in Rome. You may have read my allusion to Didius Julianus in the current article. My thesis, based upon what is known about that incident, is that Rome's currency had already collapsed. Am I the only one who sees incredible economic significance in the fact that when the Roman Empire was sold at auction, it was done so in GREEK currency --not Roman. When Bush auctions off America, will it be sold in Euros? The US is most certainly at a point comparable to that of Rome of about 190 AD.

Would the capitalist economic system which was - to put it very mildly – floundering, even have survived but for World War 2 and the massive public sector spending it entailed?

Wars are a quick and shallow fix! Isn't it interesting that the Iraq war has most certainly NOT had a similarly beneficial effect on the US economy. What about jobs? Good jobs have disappeared as American industry is outsourced. In general, few are paid well. There's always Wal-Mart. Many jobs proliferate in other areas --but who wants to shill time shares by phone for the rest of a dreary life in Oceania?

Thanks for the debate, Christopher. I am inspired now to dust off my old notes on Keynes --a favorite of several of my profs. An article about Keynes is probably overdue.

Anonymous said...

Good write Len...

One thing is for certain, the Republicans have been hell bent on doing away with social security for years, that is, the responsibility is what they really are worried about.

And all that money just sitting there, ( well, I suppose it is gone now...thanks to Bush's war) All I have to say to the rest of the discussion, is that in this day and age, we should have found the progressive mechanisms to generate economy, avoiding the military fix.

benmerc

Len Hart said...

Well put, benmerc, aside from the moral implications of waging a war of naked aggression (a war crime) war is a lousy way to prime the economic pump. I like your term "military fix" --conjuring an appropriate image: junkie. Rome, Nazi Germany, the US --all became WAR JUNKIES!

Anonymous said...

At any rate Len, it is interesting reading your historical comparatives, gives much food for thought and insight addressing the parallels.

benmerc

daveawayfromhome said...

I dont know how many school textbooks the money we've spent in Iraq could have bought, but as of April or so we could have sent over 1.7 million people to a fully-paid four-years of college. The first of them would have graduated by now, and I suspect would have brought the nation far more good than whatever oil we might get from Iraq will.

Len Hart said...

I wish I had included your stats with regard to education. Your points hit the conservative big lie right in the cajones. When the facts are put bluntly, as you have, it should be clear that the cost of NOT investing in things like education, things that actually PRODUCE is simply incalculable.

In other words, the loss in Iraq is not merely the cost of men and materiel --it is the loss of what might have been created had the same amount been spend educating, building, creating.

Alas, all that is now lost to us thanks the the goddamned fascists who have stolen our country.

there is a special place in hell and I hope they go there soon!

Anonymous said...

Reading upon what you said I think you don't go back far enough. Based on your argument the problems started when the USA kept a wartime economy after winning WWII.
In effect creating a self perpetuating complex that requires a constant outside threat to show it is needed. Which seems to tie in nicely with the floundering that occurred after the collapse of the USSR until terrorism was found as perpetual war enemy.

George Warmonger said...

REVOLUTION is the Solution!!!

Len Hart said...

Anonymous said...

Reading upon what you said I think you don't go back far enough. Based on your argument the problems started when the USA kept a wartime economy after winning WWII.

One could begin the history even earlier. Certainly, the American Revolution, for example, was inspired as much by the western lands declared off limits by the Crown when the thirteen states were still just colonies.

For our purposes, the point is made by dating the creation of what is now called the MIC (Military/Industrial Complex) to a deliberate decision of Harry Truman and a GOP Senator whose name escapes me at the moment.

Anonymous said...

I didn't read every word of the post, but I hope the author understands that there is absolutely NO Social Security Trust Fund. It is a fraud. Every bit of Social Security TAX taken out of people's paychecks (and it will happen even if you don't have a SSN) goes straight into general revenue. It is nothing but a flat-out welfare program. It is not insurance, and it is not a retirement program. If you doubt this, read the federal government's legal brief submitted in Flemming v. Nestor (1960). It's quite an eye-opener.

As to the comment about the "man on the moon" project: I hope that writer knows that the "moon landings" were hoaxes as well. When you throw in the 9/11 attacks, the Gulf of Tonkin "incident," and many others, it seems that pretty much ANYTHING you are told by the federal government is either a lie or an out-and-out hoax.

Imagine my shock.

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