US politics: we need a transformation

build back better biden
 As if we needed any more evidence of the sorry state of our political system, the long-running battle over the ‘Build Back Better’ bill has provided it. As Senator Bernie Sanders pointed out, an early version of this bill included many proposals that would help Americans live with a sense of security. In addition, these proposals were strongly supported by the US population.

Among these many items were negotiations with pharmaceutical companies to lower the obscenely high drug prices, universal Preschool for all 3- and 4-year olds, support for paid family and medical leave, and the expansion of Medicare to include dental care, hearing aids and glasses. Particularly popular with the public, the funding for this bill would come from taxes and legislative changes affecting the super wealthy who have benefited enormously from previous legislation (including gigantic bailouts) from Congress and the White House.

The corporate media reported this version of the bill had a price tag of $3.5 trillion, but failed to emphasize that this cost was spread over a 10-year period, or $350 billion per year. Many politicians opposed this bill, claiming that the cost was too high.

However, these same politicians didn’t bat an eye at giving about $715 billion a year or, assuming the same funding level, over $7 trillion for 10 years to the US military. It didn’t matter that the military has not passed an annual independent audit since Congress first mandated the audit for federal agencies in 1990. In addition, according to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, the US spending on its military is greater than the sum of the next 11 nations combined and most of these countries are our allies.

In 1957, General Douglas MacArthur, a leading US military figure during the 20th century and hardly a peacenik, explained the support for increasing military budgets.

“Our swollen budgets constantly have been misrepresented to the public. Our government has kept us in a perpetual state of fear … with the cry of grave national emergency. Always there has been some terrible evil at home or some monstrous foreign power that was going to gobble us up if we did not blindly rally behind it by furnishing the exorbitant funds demanded. Yet, in retrospect, these disasters seem never to have happened, seem never to have been quite real.”

The situation is worse today than the one President Eisenhower warned us about in his farewell address when he pointed out the dangers of the military-industrial complex. The media, universities and think tanks now are also part of this complex and provide even more lobbying clout.

An investigation by Brown University researchers estimated that the cost of US global war on terror since 9/11 at $8 trillion with direct responsibility for about 900,000 deaths. Clearly this war has been counterproductive for the US image around the world. In addition, its illegal attacks have also caused enormous unnecessary devastation and loss of lives particularly in the Middle East. Making matters worse, these illegal interventions, particularly the war crimes committed against Iraq, had very little to do with direct US interests. What a waste of resources! The financial cost to the US would be even far higher if the US were required to pay reparations for the devastation its war crimes caused.

Yet Congress continues to generously fund the Pentagon and to enrich the merchants of death while it is a miser to agencies that actually help the American public achieve the necessities of life. These necessities include housing, education, health care, food, etc. People living in much of Western Europe live much more secure lives having had these necessities for decades. Clearly our system of legalized bribery of politicians enriches the wealthy at the public’s expense.

It is terrible that two recalcitrant Democratic senators have been able to eliminate many of the important items included in the previous version of the Act such that it now costs about $185 billion/year. It is possible that the bill’s costs will be further reduced as other provisions are stripped away. What is even worse is the role of partisan politics where not even one Republican senator will stand up for the security of their fellow Americans and support the Act. What happened to the idea of standing up for the public interest? Do they prefer to see the public continue to suffer rather than to allow the other party to claim success? This system of legalized bribery and intense partisanship is a system that dooms us to disaster.

Ron Forthofer is a retired Professor of Biostatistics at the University of Texas School of Public Health, Houston, Texas; former Green Party candidate for Congress and for Governor of Colorado



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