The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody

An American Tragedy

In his final speech to the American people on January 17, 1961, just two days before the Kennedy inauguration, President Dwight Eisenhower warned the nation of the danger presented by what he called the “military-industrial complex”.

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.”

Today, “the disastrous rise of misplaced power” not only persists, but has grown exponentially. Today, we are governed not by the people, not merely by a “military-industrial” complex, but by a troika of military and corporate monoliths and a subservient government, operating as a triumvirate, the extent of which Eisenhower could not have imagined.

To the dangerous military-industrial partnership or conspiracy that Ike warned against, there has now been added a third and more tragic dimension – the outright proselytizing of government members by corporate buy-out – which is at the root of a seemingly unstoppable juggernaut that threatens to neuter and dismember the nation as we know it. The decline of the middle class – and any vestige of government of, by and for the people – is only one tragic outcome, but it is perhaps the greatest potential disaster, because it could inevitably result in the nation’s economic and societal collapse.

The wresting of the nation’s governance out of the hands of its people by a bought-and-paid-for government (in all three of its constitutional branches – executive, judicial and administrative) by the immense and insidious infiltration of corporate power, greed and ultimate influence, has already resulted in the crippling of our means of going forward, has already wrought financial, social and political inertia.

Abe Lincoln would surely turn over in his stovepipe and string tie, confronted by a government (1) of the oil oligopoly, (2) by the insurance industry and (3) for the pharmaceutical giants. Say it isn’t so?

(1) Heavily subsidized, even while producing net earnings in the billions, British Petroleum, placidly regulated by government goof-offs, succeeded with its enormous oil spill more than two years ago in trashing the Gulf of Mexico to such an extent that its natural wild life will never recover, and costing the residents around the hundreds of miles of its shoreline and its complex of maritime and land-based industry, to lose billions of dollars which will never be recovered. And yet currently, unblushingly, BP is readily taking credit for ponying up a few million dollars for a five-state ad campaign devoted to attracting tourists to this “vacation wonderland.” Seriously.

(2) As just one small example of lobbying success, the insurance industry in central Florida, which had pocketed 75 years’ worth of hurricane premiums, in 2004 following Hurricane Charley, with a modicum of claims, first quadrupled premiums (premia?) and then opted out of offering hurricane insurance, with the benevolent blessing of an obliging Republican state government. This was small change compared with a much larger insurance industry rip-off, which I’ll get to later.

(3) The greatest boff of all belongs to the pharmaceutical industry and its standard-bearer GlaxoSmith Klyne. Normal operations, sanctioned by a well-juiced government and its trained seal the FDA, consist of developing top-drawer medications which are then marketed for billions, whether or not they’re dangerous, or even criminal. Recently found guilty of both civil and criminal fraud in marketing lethal, although legal, drugs, GSK (NYSE) agreeably peeled off a $3 billion fine, and then continued on its merry way. Three billion bucks to a multi-hundred-billion dollar empire amounts to little more than dipping into the petty cash drawer. Do the GSK stockholders know this? They freakin’ EXPECT it. All through the trial, conviction and penitential coughing up of the fine, GSK stock hardly showed a tremor of remorse, swinging narrowly between $44.50 and $46.50. Horrors.

Recently, James Carville and Stan Greenberg, (both graduates of the Clinton administration when taxes were higher than now, and corporations managed to muddle through with the most ebullient economy in history) have written a book entitled It’s The Economy, Stupid, a plea for the return, rather than the twilight, of the middle class. Lots of luck. Even if we had the means and the will to make that happen, it isn’t going to happen.

We can’t go home again to a world of relatively full employment, of moderately compensated executives, of reasonable home ownership. The reason is simple: the post-American Third Industrial Revolution.

Because complicating this global shift, those two tragic phenomena (the gridlock of government and the marginalization of the will of the people), are occurring and being partially submerged by a silent, subliminal evolution, the worldwide shifting of world economic systems into what has been described as the Third Industrial Revolution, an unseen but undeniable development. This economic and social change is supplanting the carbon-fuel/machine age of the 20th Century with a new world powered by natural sources that supplant dependence on fossil fuels, and embracing the universe of the worldwide web, warping us away from the machine age, mass production and all those lovely 20th Century institutions.

Post-America is neither restrictive nor enhancing, but rather inevitable. And it tends to mask the decline of the world to which we’ve been accustomed.

A certain idiot rear-guard action is being proffered by foot-draggers who see in natural gas and fracking oil deposits a new Jerusalem. Writing in Smart Money, a stepchild of the Wall Street Journal, Reshma Kapadia makes the case that “enormous new oil and gas discoveries under American soil are having a game-changing impact on the entire economy.” He’s no doubt dead right. Dead, right? We can indeed be fossil-fuel dependent. All we have to do is give up our water-and-environmental dependency.

No clearer icon of the post-America world is necessary than the figure of Mark Zuckerburg, who, modest in his Ralph Lauren tee-shirt, just a year ago earned 18 billion dollars in an afternoon, flummoxing the best of Wall Street securities analysts in the process. He represents Industrial Revolution #III (IR III), as compared to Jack Welch’s (IR II) in the 20th Century and John Jacob Astor’s IR I in the 19th Century. Welch’s General Electric took more than a century to build. Facebook coalesced, came together in eight years.

Robert Reich, Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and formerly Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, was named by Time Magazine one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. In his recent book Beyond Outrage, he details some of the numerous ways in which Wall Street commits atrocities despite the Dodd-Frank Bill, despite the Volker Rule, despite the Glass-Steagall Act, all of which were designed to rein in the freebooting excesses of free enterprise gone unregulated.

It is undoubtedly a matter of public choice whether big banks should be allowed to take the kind of risky bets that plunged the economy into the worst downturn since the Great Depression, and whether people with great wealth should be able to buy our democracy with huge campaign contributions.

What do we do while we’re waiting for the new Industrial Revolution?

We are perilously close to losing an economy and a democracy that work for everyone, and replacing them with an economy and government that exist mainly for a few wealthy and powerful people…

Cut the budget where the real bloat is. Military spending and corporate welfare. End weapons systems that don’t work and stop wars we shouldn’t be fighting to begin with, and we save over $300 billion a year. Cut corporate welfare – subsidies and special tax breaks going to big agribusiness, big oil, big pharma, and big insurance – and we save another $100 billion.”

Like drowning 500 lawyers – or politicians – that sounds like a good start.

Bill Annett writes four newsletters: The Canadian Shield, American Logo, Beating the Street, and The Oyster World. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Bill.