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What Does It Say About Us?

A Year of Fall and Decline

by DAVID SWANSON

The fall and decline of an empire can take many years, but certain "benchmarks" (as imperial courts have been known to call them) can measure the progress in one year alone. Take, for example, the year 2010.

This year opened with the United States Supreme Court claiming further power to rewrite the U.S. Constitution, specifically by further opening up elections to the highest bidder. The year closed with congressional elections that cost more than before and in which money spent by third parties to influence the elections was more decisive than before. Election advertisements, in the view of myself and many others, also became uglier, baser, and more hateful than before, while the positions advertised moved a big step rightward. These were all trends that could be measured in previous years as well, and which we will probably see advance further in years to come, barring a change of course.

The year 2010 opened with the closing of Air America Radio, a semi-leftist radio network that was badly managed. The year also saw right-wing radio networks cancel top programs in various cities because those programs leaned left. Meanwhile, rightwing media took further steps into astroturfed activism, promoting and then reporting on rallies. And the year ended with the corporate media selling the public on the need to criminalize actual journalism that exposed what the U.S. government was doing. These were all trends that could be measured in each previous year, and as likely as not in the years to come.

As in past years, 2010 saw the largest U.S. military budget yet recorded, whether one counts only the Pentagon or the Pentagon and the off-the-books wars or the Pentagon, the wars, and all the military spending through other departments. As in past years, in 2010, military spending became a larger percentage of government spending, more of the military was privatized, more U.S. military bases were opened in more nations, more missile offense equipment was positioned, more wars were fought in secret, more drone strikes killed more people, more wars were underway — including an unacknowledged (much less congressionally declared) ground war in Pakistan; and by all measures of violence, death, expense, and public opinion the wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq were headed in a bloodier and more counterproductive direction. As in each year of the global war on terrorism, terrorism increased globally.

In 2010, as in each previous year, presidential power expanded, while the power of the legislature and the power of the people contracted. The president claimed greater powers of secrecy, immunity, and legislative and judicial ability. Lawless imprisonment is being "legalized" and habeas corpus lost to time. The president has claimed the power to assassinate Americans as well as to imprison them for life without charge. Crimes of aggressive war, torture, and warrantless spying, among others, have been granted immunity, and known criminals rewarded with huge sales for published remorseless confessions. Congress continued its collapse, its addiction to filibuster fever, its domination by partisanship, and the degradation of the powers of impeachment, subpoena, and oversight.

In 2010, our nation owed more money to others than it did before, more Americans had no jobs than before, more Americans had been foreclosed on, more poverty shortened more lives, more people lived without homes, and Wall Street saw more profits with more of its money than before coming from the public treasury. Inequality continued to rise, and the very richest Americans got richer. The United States fell in international rankings in areas including inequality, education, life expectancy, and the rule of law.

In 2010, the idea of addressing global warming before it destroys the planet — which had actually been a topic of conversation in 2009 — pretty much disappeared. Our government resigned itself to facilitating the death and suffering of billions of people not yet born, and most of us flipped the channel to something sexier.

And then there was light, or at least wikileaks, which in 2010 exposed U.S. efforts in 2009 to sabotage international negotiations on global warming, not to mention exposing US embassies as servants of its military and CIA full of contempt for the world and serving primarily as salesrooms for U.S. weapons against which the United States might be able to arrange to fight some future wars. Wikileaks has just begun, and has exposed wars, war crimes, torture, support for military coups, diplomacy as muscle for corporations, Saudi terrorism funding, Saudi pressure for an illegal attack on Iran, lies about Iranian missiles, and U.S. pressure to block investigations or prosecutions of its crimes in Spain, Italy, Germany, and England. The rest of the world is coming to terms with the cynical militarization of U.S. diplomacy, and so might Americans themselves if they find out about it.

And they might. Good media outlets are growing and being born as well as dying. No new war on Iran or Korea has been launched yet, and I think we could stop it if it were publicly debated. Cutting the military budget, including foreign bases and NATO, is very much on the table. The START treaty is a start in a better direction. The filibuster rule’s future is not certain, and a vote may be taken in the Senate to end or modify it in the next week. (Our demand must be to end it!) The veal pen has some broken fences, as groups loyal to both justice and the Democratic Party are having to choose one or the other. And sometimes it has been known to be true that what does not kill us makes us stronger.

DAVID SWANSON is the author of "War Is A Lie."