Sliding Down in Anger

“I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.”

— Thomas Jefferson, 1802

“It’s worse than you can imagine,” a Member of Congress confided to me, referring to the downward spiral of the economy. “We just gave all those hundreds of billions to the bankers so they would lend it and they didn’t lend it and they still want more. The bankers don’t know what they’re doing and Tim Geithner [Treasury Secretary] doesn’t know what he’s doing. We all know this is the worst economic slump of our lifetime.”

While the arcane Washington budget processes – each Senator and Member trying to grab something for his or her district or State — unfold, the poor should start to worry. They have already lost or about to be lose homes, jobs and health care. The propertied classes focus on their major concern: their property, which stands immeasurably higher in their moral guidelines than the lives and welfare of those without or with less.

The remaining masters of the universe on Wall Street still cling to the idea of their own infallibility. “El Duce is always right,” Mussolini said about himself – before the Partisans hanged him.

The capitalists oddly enough believe in capitalism and have done all in their power to spread the word. Their public promoters convinced lots of working people that capitalism and the American flag go together. Capitalism means freedom, so the very notion of nationalizing banks – forget socialism – looms in their minds as akin to the Holocaust.

The big bankers and their corporate brethren have connected to political power, one step below them, by simply throwing money at politicians who eagerly catch it. They also endow think tanks whose mavens will then explain to the gullible public why the United States needs perpetual war – to spread freedom (capitalism).

Count the victims of this cavalier assumption. Since the 1950-3 Korean War, US forces have overthrown — or attempted to — governments by force and violence in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Chile, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Brazil, Iran and Indonesia. They encouraged military coups in countless other nations in the third world.

Until the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s, the battle against communism justified the interventions. The Reds have since been replaced as the demon by the Terrorists. Thus, Afghanistan and Iraq join the victim nations, with Pakistan inching its way onto the list.

The wars cost the lives of countless US servicemen and women and many more of the natives — in the name of protecting freedom. To question the worthiness of service in any of the wars – Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf–became tantamount to questioning the flag itself.

The mantra that surrounds the start of all the new wars remains numbingly in place. The President asks young people to fight because the nation’s freedom is at risk. Having said the magic words, the President then goes on to suck money from the taxpayers to “win” the noble struggle. Official language assumes “we” are good and those opposing us are bad. Listen to what Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, told US and European attendees at a security conference. “To win in the Afghanistan-Pakistan war, we need to identify and separate the ‘irreconcilables’ from the ‘reconcilables,’ striving to create the conditions that can make the ‘reconcilables’ part of the solution, even as we kill, capture, or drive out the irreconcilables.” (Remarks at 45th Munich Security Conference, February 8, 2009) Imagine a top British general in 1776 making similar remarks to his fellow officers regarding the populace in the American colonies!

“Reconcilables” means those the United States can buy or intimidate to collaborate with its policy goals. Some people would call them traitors. Later, after US forces withdraw and the “friendlies” become pariahs in their own country, the US government might reconcile itself to bring a few of them to the United States — as they did with some members of the Hmong people after the Vietnam War.

Bush sent troops to Afghanistan in October 2001 to find and kill Osama bin Laden. Somehow the mission has changed into one of making Afghans reconcile to a US-designed order. This has not worked in Korea, Vietnam or anywhere else where US troops tried to export our – now sinking – way of life to people with different cultures. But it has been expensive.

The harsh fact, unmentioned in the US media, is that the United States, with its vast technological superiority and military power did not win in Korea or Vietnam, cut and ran in Laos and left Cambodia in such a mess that the bloody Khmer Rouge could take power there and slaughter a percentage of the population. Similarly, Washington policy “experts” do not reflect on the fact that all the CIA coups yielded little of permanence. Indeed, the blowback from CIA coups in Iran and Guatemala are still evolving.

The coups in Brazil and Chile have eroded military power in those countries and brought to the presidency socialists who have defied Washington – something that would not have been permitted fifty years ago. But how many of the powerful in the nation’s capital ask the question as budget time comes around: how can we afford to continue spending on wars we never seem to win when the state of our own economy is in virtual collapse?

The current military budget maintains “268 bases in Germany, 124 in Japan, and 87 in South Korea. Others are scattered around the globe in places like Aruba and Australia, Bulgaria and Bahrain, Colombia and Greece, Djibouti, Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, Romania, Singapore, and of course, Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — just to name a few. Among the installations considered critical to our national security are a ski center in the Bavarian Alps, resorts in Seoul and Tokyo, and 234 golf courses the Pentagon runs worldwide.” (David Vine, “The Costs of Empire: Can We Really Afford 1,000 Overseas Bases?” FPIF, March 10)

As the Congressman assured me, “the only thing that can put a halt to this military spree is for the public to get wind of how much were pissing away on this overseas nonsense. My God, it’s going to cost more trillions of dollars than we see in this round of bailouts. People have to start asking of the military budget just as they ask of the bank bailouts: do these expenditures really keep us stable?”

The rich and powerful think mainly about preserving and expanding their wealth and power. President Obama must realize that under the emergency powers of his office, he not only has the authority to seize our assets, but also has access to all the assets of America’s richest men for meeting those emergencies that threaten the common good.

It has become apparent to millions of people that the nation faces a severe crisis. One year ago, who could have predicted Congress would bailout banks and monster sized insurance giants, that GM would teeter on the brink of bankruptcy and our fabled way of life would become a joke for millions of recently foreclosed families?

Soon, lots of people will ask: If we bail out the banks then why shouldn’t we control them — or even own them? The bankers screwed up. Why should they get any of our money? Maybe they’ll even question why Congress should continue funding a massive military institution that hasn’t won a real war since 1945 to the tune of some three quarters of a trillion dollars a year?

SAUL LANDAU is an IPS Fellow, author of A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD (Counterpunch) and director of forty films, available on dvd from





SAUL LANDAU’s A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD was published by CounterPunch / AK Press.