Chaos and the American Empire

Ed Raymond

Harpers’ Magazine in the last edition published a long list of items that were mistaken for guns in the hands of people killed by police in the United States since 2001. People were shot to death because they held hairbrushes, bottles of cologne, beer, and pills; toys, and underwear. Among the hundreds of items handheld, one seemed to stand out: a Bible. Maybe the victim got a break later when he approached the pearly gate. I wonder if the police shooter showed any remorse or suffered from PTSD for his mistake. As life in our society becomes more complicated by life-changing inventions and increased tensions among our diversified populations, the number of unintended consequences increases exponentially. Millions of guns in the hands of good guys and bad guys, so to speak, brought about the consequences of Columbine, Ferguson, the murder rate in Chicago, and all of the “Black Lives Matter” protests.
    Tom Engelhardt in an article published by Alternet reviews what has happened in the world since September 11, 2001 and the Bush administration’s decision to go to war in Iraq. That decision has eventually resulted in many momentous unintended consequences: changing borders, volatile governments, and regime changes. Before we invaded Iraq the administration was repeatedly warned of consequences. Amr Moussa, head of the Arab League, warned Bush-Cheney the invasion of Iraq to remove Saddam would “open the gates of hell.” Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak said the invasion would create another 100 Osama bin Ladens in the Middle East. They were both right. We now have hundreds of Osamas tending 1,000 gates of hell. We have spent about $6 trillion turning Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt, Somalia, and Yemen into hell holes--with the diabolical assistance of Saudi Arabia and Iran. About five million Syrians and millions more from other countries in chaos have passed through the gates of hell to become refugees. In our attempt to bring law and order to the Middle East we have brought  chaos. Some of the chaos has crossed to our shores. Some day the American people should ask George Bush, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, and Colin Powell if they have reviewed the consequences.

A Consequence: American Children In Poverty

   After 15 years of financing military campaigns and 700 bases around the world, after 30 years of destroying the middle class, and individuals and corporations avoiding taxes by moving their profits to tax havens, we are second to Brazil among 15 industrialized nations in having the largest percentage of children living in poverty-level households: Brazil--29.7%, United States--20.1%, Greece--17.3%, Hungary--16.8%, Russia--15.8%,Australia--14.4%, Canada--14.4%, Poland--14%, France--11.4%, Czech Republic--10.6%, Ireland--10.4%, Taiwan--8.7%, Netherlands--6.3%, and Finland--4.4%.
   What many Americans don’t understand about poverty in the U.S. is that children in poverty don’t see any way out. Over 80% of their homes have air conditioning and kitchen appliances so they are better off than children in India or Congo. But their lives are worse in the end because they live in drug-infested areas that are violent. They attend segregated schools which often do not have the funds to offer a good educational program. Some black high schools in this country cannot offer college prep courses such as algebra, physics, and chemistry because of lack of funds. Poor students have little chance of ever getting out of the ghetto. Only 5% of high school dropouts ever get a chance to attend college. This is another unintended consequence of 15 years of wars. The rich don’t have that problem. They go to Ivy League schools which reap huge endowments from wealthy alums and parents. The eight Ivy League universities have endowments of $117 billion, or roughly $2 million per student.
   In contrast to our poverty-stricken children, there is a big luxury market for Neiman-Marcus, the stores for the American wealthy--where they offer eight-person servings of frozen collard greens for $66 plus $15.50 shipping during the holidays. Having lived in the South for three years I have eaten my share of collard greens, known as poor people’s food. They were a staple right next to okra in the Marine chow hall. Is it an ego thing for a wealthy family table? You can buy enough collard greens for the family for $2.50 in your supermarket. What’s the motive? They taste like a cross between dandelion leaves and spinach. Want some classy Neiman-Marcus baked beans? You can double your ego with an eight-person serving costing only $80 plus $18 shipping. You can triple your ego with candied yams for a bargain $64.

Another Consequence: A Tax System That Creates Income Inequality

    The “trickle-down” policies of Reagan and the Bushes have actually turned into “gush-up.” The wealth created by tax cuts has remained in the pockets of the One Percent or was socked away in tax havens scattered around the world. Some say about $7 trillion is hidden overseas.  A healthy society keeps its priorities straight instead of orienting everything around individual self-interest. But there is a huge financial industry and greedy international banks to help people pay as few taxes as possible. A healthy complex society requires expensive infrastructure and safety nets to maintain the common good. We can’t do it without a fair tax system. We are just learning about the wealthy hiding trillions of dollars overseas from the leaking of 11.5 million documents called the Panama Papers. It may take investigative experts years to determine who all the tax cheats  are. David Brooks, a conservative writer for the New York Times, wrote this about two weeks ago: “In a lovely society we all pull our fair share. Some things the government does are uncontroversial goods: protecting us from enemies, preserving the health and dignity of the old and infirm. These things have to be paid for, and in the societies we admire, everybody helps. In a lovely society everybody practices a kind of social hygiene. There are some things that are legal but distasteful and corrupt. In a lovely society people shun these corrupt and corrupting things. The tax code is a breeding ground for corruption.” Every year pollsters ask us whether “it is every American’s civic duty to pay their fair share of taxes.” At least nine out of ten citizens agree with the statement every year. One year only 3% disagreed. That’s amazing, because 6% think the Apollo 11 moon landing was faked—and we have to consider that 72% of Republicans still believe Barack Obama is a Muslim!
   I wonder if the One Percent has ever been asked to respond to the same poll. Will think about paying their fair share of taxes as they peruse the Neiman-Marcus Christmas catalog this year? Besides the “gourmet” collard greens, baked beans, and yams available at a 4,000% markup, the catalog includes items ranging in price from a box of six snowflake-shaped marshmallows for $10 to a $1.5 million Cobalt Valkyrie-X airplane in rose gold. How about a $395 rabbit-fur jacket for a newborn baby or a $1,300 tufted sofa for your pooch? How about a Chanel ruby-and-diamond-encrusted watch for $93,000 or a $100,000 rare collection of children’s books? Neiman-Marcus can also buy you a one-night appearance in the Broadway show “Waitress” for $30,000. Wow! Your name in lights-ever so brief! I wonder if a slumber party for 12 at the Dallas Neiman-Marcus store for $120,000 will sell. It might depend on what you do before you slumber. For just $700,000 you can divide a three-week’s vacation in three English country estates. A helicopter is provided. If you like to sleep close to your money and jewelry you can buy a mattress with a built-in fireproof lockbox for $25,000.
   The Neiman-Marcus catalog was first produced in 1926. Perhaps the weirdest gift ever sold was a camel from Africa that arrived on a Fort Worth doorstep on Christmas morning. Surprise! The most expensive item ever offered was a Boeing Business Jet for $33 million. It didn’t sell. A $6.7 million helicopter with a special entertainment system did.

Another Unintended Consequence Of Iraq: Trump Says The Military Is A “Disaster!”

   We used to spend on “defense” about as much as the top ten of the highest-spending countries. Now we are down to the top seven. But China, Japan, Russia and other countries have recently  increased their spending. We still have more aircraft carriers than all the world’s navies combined. The last one cost about $22 billion—without airplanes. We have technology which has almost eliminated the idea of static front lines in war. In World War II my Marines suffered 5,900 killed and 17,400 wounded taking the little island of Iwo Jima from Japan. With the armaments available today, unless some idiot uses nukes, we would not have casualties of that magnitude taking Iwo today. The nature of our wars is changing. No more Maginot Lines, no more Stalingrads. Military experts say Trump is wrong about military strength. We can fight two small wars simultaneously.
   But the Pentagon has to stop building planes and ships without thought of the cost. The F-35 fighter has been under development for decades but is still not ready for combat. You can’t build planes while they are flying. The bill for each F-35 is now $178 million. That’s way beyond an obscenity.  This is the military-industrial complex at work. The U.S. Navy has just finished building the most expensive destroyer in its history at $4.4 billion. It’s true that the 610 feet long ship has the radar image of a fishing boat 1/12th its size. But the contractors discovered that the projectiles designed for the advanced gun system that would be fired at targets 70 miles away did not cost $50,000 each. Each shell ran $800,000! The Navy wanted 12 of those destroyers—before it found out about the cost per shell. A Tomahawk missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead only costs $1 million and has a 1,000 mile range. Our defense budget is also military disaster.
   In recent research it was determined by the use of Google Glass headsets that rich people spend much less time looking at other human beings when compared with lower social classes. The conclusion? People from privileged backgrounds are less dependent on others socially, so they are less likely to view other people as motivationally relevant in a society. In other words: “We don’t need those other people at all.” They spend large amounts of money without seriously thinking about the lower social classes or what their fair share of the “common good” is. Some recent examples of purchases by rich people that might raise the psychological question: Why do they collect these things? The ashes of Truman Capote, author of “In Cold Blood” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, had collectors from four continents drooling. The Los Angeles auctioneer could hardly keep up with the bidding he started at $2,000. Kept in a carved Japanese wooden box, the ashes were finally hammered by a bid of $43,750. The suit of clothes he had worn at death brought $6,400 and his pill bottles went for $9,280. Let’s put the shrinks to work on the buyers and the other bidders. I wonder about the character and qualities of the person who will buy the VS Bright Night Fantasy Bra that will be featured at a Victoria’s Secret fashion show in December. It can’t be very comfortable because it’s encrusted with diamonds and emeralds and has a $3 million price tag. Marilyn Monroe is still hot stuff in the collector’s market. The white dress that was mostly around her waist in the movie “The Seven Year Itch” recently sold for $4.6 million. Remember when Marilyn made news singing “Happy Birthday!” to JFK in a very imaginative, clinging gown? It sold last week for $4.8 million.  I bet the purchaser will be listed in the Panama Papers as the holder of a tax haven account.