In the early days after 911, shop till you drop was the mantra. Steeped in a desire to prove our patriotism and imbued by a culture of acquisition, Americans obediently put their economic lives on the line. Five years hence, we now have the largest consumer debt in US history. "Epidemic proportions " according to the Federal Reserve, the highest since the Feds began recording this statistic 25 years ago. Consumer debt is matched only by the largest federal deficit in our history: As of February 2006, our national debt is approximately $8.2 trillion. The public has been sold on the concept that we can spend our way not only out of debt but out of terror threats. The safety nets of both have been eroded. Who says the personal isn 't political?
Just recently Bush admonished Americans for our addiction to oil. Now Bush is someone who should know something about addiction. But the problem isn 't oil addiction, it 's the open season for shop-aholics. Millions of Americans share an addiction to shopping with the President, only most of us don 't get bailed out by someone else.
The Bush 2007 budget gives us a glimpse of the federal shopping addiction --billions for the military industrial complex that buys contractors who disappear the cash along with suspects taken as prisoners of war. Thus far, Bush has added to the federal debt at the same rate as Reagan. Yet Bush continues to act as if debts don 't matter (tell that to the over 2 million people who declared personal bankruptcy last year). Bush has probably never personally known anyone who is in debt no less bankrupt, although he managed to leave several corporations bankrupt without ever losing any of his own personal funds. Similarly, it is taxpayers and our heirs who will be left with this federal legacy, the burden falling largely to those least able to pay for it. Although the primary cause of personal bankruptcy is a high level of consumer debt with no safety net to protect against an emergency, buried in the other part of the Bush budget is further slash and burn of the safety nets.
President Reagan sold the Soviets on the shop till you drop concept. This neocon-based policy was designed to engage the Soviets in a spending contest in which the winner would emerge as victor in the Cold War. The competition wasn 't for the best, most efficient and effective military; the competition was measured by who spent the most money on their military toys. It was appearance that counted, not competency, in the post-Hollywood White House.
Taking their turn at the star wars game, the Soviets frantically shopped and dropped millions of rubles into weapons systems, a war in Afghanistan, and expansion of Empire as they moved their weapons and their debt into stratosphere. But the timer ran out; the ruble couldn 't compete with the dollar and the Soviets had to abandon their visions of Empire. They left Afghanistan broke and busted militarily.
As the Berlin Wall came down, Americans started building up our own walls. The gap between rich and poor increased; crime grew; more criminals were put behinds bars, walled off from society. The civil liberties of the poor were traded for clean streets and private guards posted at the gates of communities walled off to keep out "others. " Our terrorized citizens cringed in fear of other, building wider gulfs to protect homogenized lives. As a result, Americans became more isolated and less likely to be exposed to anyone outside of their own kindred spirits. Thus, 911 was not just a shock to our sensibilities but it was a shock to discover that the others had a gripe against us.
Post-911, self-described patriotic vigilantes now gather to patrol our borders, poised to protect us from the others who are suspected of harboring bombs of terror that not only threaten to destroy buildings and the lives within them, but also threaten to shred the thin veneer of economic safety behind which average American families compete in a thin job market, or for a seat in a classroom in a good school, or for affordable health care. Meanwhile, around the halls of the executive, consideration is given to building Israeli-style concrete walls to keep any immigrant/terrorists from seeping through our borders. In the Green Zone of Baghdad huge concrete walls attempt to save Americans from the Iraqis who we came to save.
We are carving an American Empire with huge military bases all over the former Soviet satellites, installing our own satellites, both on the ground and in the atmosphere. The kind of spying that used to be considered de rigueur for the USSR has become routine in the US. The Reagan label of Evil Empire has boomeranged around the world, slapping us with our own cliches. We are now stuck in the same rut as the old Soviet bureaucrats and the administration is top heavy with leftovers from the Cold War era who don 't know how to (or don 't want to) change tracks. The same old Cold War policy is being played out in a world where no one has the weapons to compete but we keep building them anyway with borrowed dollars. What happens when the clock runs out on the dollar?
While starving the Soviets in Afghanistan, the US fed the belly of the beast, supplying strategy and arms to bin Laden as he joined in the plot against the Evil Empire. Bin Laden wasn 't fond of Empires of the western variety. But he was a good student and he learned his lessons from the CIA, who happily funded his activities. While the Pentagon continues its shopping addiction, al Qaeda has no need to shop. Al Qaeda and their splinter organizations are playing a new game, but Bush & Co. act as if we 're still playing in the same Afghani sandbox fighting star wars. We repeatedly bang into concrete walls, but instead of changing course, we merely raise the ceiling on the debt.
We have met the enemy and it is us. We have turned into our own Red Scare, orchestrated by Red-blooded Americans who believe in using tyranny to spread their version of democracy. While al Qaeda hides in caves, we hide with our newly purchased possessions behind man-made walls, as if they will protect us from another terrorist attack. While our real enemies continue to lurk not only in Afghanistan and Iraq, but all over the world, we build our own gulag. As one arm of the government routinely sweeps up prisoners and puts them behind secret walls, another arm secretly breaks through data firewalls to police our own citizens.
The Soviet style threat that monopolized the political landscape of the fifties has bloomed inside the White House, and the press and the public tiptoe through the tulips, afraid to believe what is really happening. This government has dissembled the old Soviet system. Instead of the Politburo spewing Soviet reality in the state-run newspaper Pravda (the Russian word for truth), we have faith-based reality spread through PysOps programs run by Rumsfeld 's known knowns. Bush cronyism competes with Soviet-style bureaucracy and Soviet-style bribes have become the way business is done in Washington: Take the cash, shop and leave no receipt behind.
The old Cold War mavericks are now part of the Bush Regime. In the Bush version of democracy, whistleblowers are not protected, but punished. Judicial review is ignored. Voting machines are subject to tampering and recounts are determined by a court system that is gradually becoming one more voice for the executive. Jail sentences are authorized without due process, behind closed doors. National ID cards are on the table. They tell us they are fighting for our security, to kill the evil enemy, but what they have killed is our own national self-esteem.
Winning by intimidation is how tyrants grab their power. We forget that walls that keep "others" out can also keep "us" in. We forget that the USSR had a constitution and an elected government. (So do Iran and Iraq, for that matter.) What the Soviets didn 't have was a healthy Bill of Rights that was respected and enforced; what they didn 't have was a working system of checks and balances that could prevent runaway power. Tyranny, whether in a godless state or one ordained by In God We Trust, is still tyranny. Torture is still torture, regardless of the perpetrator. Are we so naÃ¯ve that we think tyrants didn 't claim their power for the "good " of the nation?
Tyrants come to power during periods of chaos and upset of the national psyche. They exploit people 's fears and play on their sense of dignity. Then they take control of everything that matters. As we descend into financial bankruptcy, moral bankruptcy continues to rise.
© 2006 Lynne Glasner