“Our fundamental responsibility is to protect the American people, the homeland, and the American way of life.” National Security Strategy of the United States, 2017 (President Donald Trump)
“The United States government has no greater responsibility than protecting the American people.” National Security Strategy, 2015 (President Barack Obama)
“At home our most important priority is to protect the homeland for the American people.” The National Security Strategy of the United States of Americas, 2002 (President George W. Bush)
The United States’ National Security Strategy is based on foundational Instruments of National Power (INP). The INP consists of Diplomacy, Informational, Military, Economic, Financial, Law Enforcement, Information. Combined with the INP’s support, they combine to protect an economy and society that has an annual Gross Domestic Product of nearly $20 trillion (USD) and a per capita income of almost $60 thousand according to the CIA’s World Factbook. In that publication, the CIA notes that “US firms are at or near the forefront in technological advances, especially in computers, pharmaceuticals, and medical, aerospace, and military equipment…”
This incredible wealth and power, and the mythical status of America’s technologies, could not stop three disastrous events; two of which could have been prevented (911 and great recession), and the third mitigated (COVID-19).
Over the last 19 years, the American people have been exposed to a deadly virus (COVID-19), a brutal economic recession in 2008, and terrorist attacks in 2001 on two symbols of American power. And in each case, the response of the US government was to first pump trillions of dollars into Wall Street’s coffers through bailouts and quantitative easing, while, in comparison, main street got billions of pennies tossed their way.
The national security strategies pushed out by three American presidents (two Republicans and one Democrat) claim the number one priority of the US government is to protect the American people. But as the three shock and awe events of the last 19 years demonstrate, the American people that are protected by the national security strategy are the wealthy and powerful classes and institutions that run the country from their perches on Wall Street, in the White House and Congress, and the Pentagon.
The middle and lower class workers are an afterthought.
Wall Street is, in fact, a threat to the country. Its focus on increasing return on investment for shareholders has crippled investment in the real economy (infrastructure, retooling, etc.). A better description of Wall Street would be the Wall Street Mafia. An extortion racket if there ever was one. Consider Harvard Business Review’s, The Price of Wall Street’s Power:
“Scholars and executives alike have criticized Wall Street not only for promoting short-term thinking but for sacrificing the interests of employees and customers to benefit shareholders and for encouraging dishonesty from executives who feel they’re being asked to meet impossible demands. The financial sector’s influence on management has become so powerful that a recent survey of chief financial officers showed that 78% would “give up economic value” and 55% would cancel a project with a positive net present value—that is, willingly harm their companies—to meet Wall Street’s targets and fulfill its desire for “smooth” earnings.
Executives often explain their deference to Wall Street by saying they have a “fiduciary duty” to maximize shareholder returns. That’s been an article of faith since 1970, when Milton Friedman wrote in the New York Times that executives’ only responsibility was maximizing profits. The problem, however, is that it’s not true. Whatever your beliefs about the moral responsibilities of executives, a fiduciary duty is a specific legal obligation, and law professor Lynn Stout has shown that as a matter of law American executives simply do not face any such requirement.
From 1998 through 2013 the finance, insurance, and real estate industries spent almost $6 billion on lobbying; the only sector to spend more was health care. In the wake of the 2008 crisis, the financial sector actually intensified its pressure on the government. Look at the 2013–2014 election cycle: As of March 2014 finance, insurance, and real estate had spent almost $485 million on lobbying—more than any other industry—and had donated almost $149 million to the campaigns of federal candidates, nearly three times as much as health care had donated.
Representatives and lobbyists of the financial sector are so entwined with the agencies that are supposed to regulate it that Washingtonians collectively refer to them as “ The Blob.” This is reflected in the résumés of current and former government officials.
President Trump’s la-dee-da attitude during the initial spread of COVID-19 should have come as no surprise. A virus himself, Trump’s preference would probably have been to let COVID-19 cull the human herd by not instituting mass testing of the American populace. A dark reading of that thinking being that people infected would continue to travel around the United States passing along COVID-19 to others.
Vox reported that “Politico reporter Dan Diamond told NPR [National Public Radio] host Terry Gross that, based on his own reporting, Trump “did not push to do aggressive additional testing in recent weeks, and that’s partly because more testing might have led to more cases being discovered of coronavirus outbreak, and the president had made clear — the lower the numbers on coronavirus, the better for the president, the better for his potential re-election this fall.”
Trump’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic brings to mind a scene in the movie classic Total Recall (1990 version) where the sinister character Victor Cohagen (played by Ronnie Cox) is told by an engineer that if he cuts off oxygen supply to one of the city sectors, inhabitants there will die.
Cohagen: Yes, what is it?
Underling: Sir, the oxygen level is bottoming out in sector G - what do you want me to do about it?
Cohagen: Don't do anything.
Underling: But they won't last an hour sir.
Cohagen: F*** 'em.
In the US senate, conservative ideology takes precedent over the suffering of the American people. The plebes are being slow-rolled. According to USA Today ”Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who chairs the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, objected to fast-tracking the legislation. He acknowledged workers are struggling but said businesses are also struggling and that an expensive federal mandate wouldn’t help them.”
The general public might have the impression that the US government had no plan of action for the invasion of the COVID-19 organism. In 2006, President George W. Bush laid down a template for dealing with a pandemic that should have been implemented as China (fast forward to 2020), and subsequently, the rest of the world, coped with the spread of COVID-19. Though the Bush strategy was focused on influenza, all the core steps the US government had to take immediately were well articulated.
“The Strategy provides a high-level overview of the approach that the Federal Government will take to prepare for and respond to a pandemic, and articulates expectations of non-Federal entities to prepare themselves and their communities. The Strategy contains three pillars: (1) preparedness and communication; (2) surveillance and detection; and (3) response and containment. Preparedness for a pandemic requires the establishment of infrastructure and capacity, a process that can take years. For this reason, significant steps must be taken now. The Strategy affirms that the Federal Government will use all instruments of national power to address the pandemic threat.
The combined US National Security budget (uniform services, contractors, nuclear weapons development at the Department of Energy, operations, etc.) is roughly $1.25 trillion per year, according to an analysis by the Project for Government Oversight (POGO) and the Center for Defense Information conducted in 2019.
That is a staggering $1.25 trillion in 2019 and you can bet that going forward that yearly figure is likely to rise. It is the White House and US Congress that sign off on that amount year after year.
“Our final annual tally for war, preparations for war, and the impact of war comes to more than $1.25 trillion—more than double the Pentagon’s base budget. If the average taxpayer were aware that this amount was being spent in the name of national defense—with much of it wasted, misguided, or simply counterproductive—it might be far harder for the national security state to consume ever-growing sums with minimal public pushback. For now, however, the gravy train is running full speed ahead and its main beneficiaries—Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and their cohorts—are laughing all the way to the bank.”
And what about the costs for wars on terror, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan and its effects on America’s economy?
According to the The Balance :
“The War on Terror is a military campaign launched by President George W. Bush in response to the al-Qaida 9/11 terrorist attacks. The War on Terror includes the Afghanistan War and the War in Iraq. It added $2.4 trillion to the debt as of the FY 2020 budget.
The War in Afghanistan has lasted longer than the Vietnam War. The War in Iraq killed 4,419 U.S. soldiers and wounded 31,994 more.59 Taxpayers have spent more than $1.52 trillion on the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.
The real cost of the War on Terror is not just what it has added to the debt. It's also the lost jobs that those funds could have created. By some estimates, every $1 billion spent on defense creates 8,555 jobs and adds $565 million to the economy.61 That same $1 billion given to you as a tax cut would have stimulated enough demand to create 10,779 jobs and put $505 million into the economy as retail spending. And $1 billion in education spending adds $1.3 billion to the economy and creates 17,687 jobs.
Using this model, the $2.4 trillion spent on the War on Terror created 20 million jobs and added $1.4 trillion to the economy. But if it had gone toward education instead, it would have created almost 42 million jobs. It would have added $3.1 trillion to the economy. That may have helped end the recession sooner.”
Trump has proposed about $850 billion in economic stimulus (in addition to the billions in the House of Representatives aid package lingering in the Senate). So that’s a one time shot of about $1 trillion for America’s suffering plebeians.
Sounds good until you realize that one of Trump’s proposals in his stimulus package is to suspend the payroll tax which funds Social Security. Even in the face of a national health and economic emergency, opportunistic Trump seeks to cripple Social Security.
According to the Motley Fool, “Social Security collected more than $885 billion in payroll tax contributions in 2018, the most recent year for which the Social Security trustees have made information available. That represented the vast majority of the roughly $1 trillion in revenue that Social Security received, and it was enough to pay almost 90% of all the benefits that Social Security recipients got that year.If Social Security stopped receiving that $885 billion, the impact would be immediate. Benefits would have to get funded almost entirely by trust fund balances. With asset levels of about $2.9 trillion, the program could only go for four years before using up its entire savings. Even if a payroll tax cut lasted only for the last nine months of 2020, the roughly $660 billion hit would dramatically accelerate the time at which the trust funds would be empty.”
In 1972, President Richard Nixon compared the average American to a young child in a family. Nothing has changed in 2020. Wall Street, the White House, the US Congress and the Pentagon treat the American people as children.
The lyrics to Woody Guthrie’s song, This Land is Your Land ring true in 2020 just as they did in the original version in 1940::
“As I went walking, I saw a sign there,
And on the sign there, it said “Private Property.”
But on the other side, it didn't say nothing!
That side was made for you and me.
In the squares of the city, in the shadow of a steeple,
By the relief office, I'd seen my people.
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me? (Woody Guthrie)
John Stanton can be reached at jstantonarchangel.com. His most recent book is America 2020: A Nation in Turmoil. It is free on Kindle