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Foreign Correspondent
INSIDE TRACK ON WORLD NEWS
by international syndicated columnist & broadcaster Eric Margolis

AN ODOR OF FIN DU REGIME IN WASHINGTON

Copyright: Eric S. Margolis, 2006

January 9, 2006

WASHINGTON - China's Taoists philosophers used to say that you become what you hate. We certainly see this paradox in Washington these days where the current administration increasingly reminds me of the old, unlamented Soviet Union, which I covered in the late 1980's.

The USSR went bankrupt after spending over 40% of national income on its huge military forces. This year, the Bush administration will spend a staggering $419.3 billion on its military An additional US $130 billion has been budgeted in 2006 for the ongoing occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

That's $10.8 billion monthly - 40% above previous estimates - and somewhat more than the monthly cost of the Vietnam War at its height. Add to this huge sum an estimated $1.5 billion monthly secret expenditures in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan by CIA and the Pentagon's various intelligence agencies. This at a time when Washington has to borrow money from Japan and China to fund its day-to-day operations.

Astoundingly, US 2006 military spending will equal the rest of the world's total combined military expenditures. This at a time when no power, or group of powers, can threaten the United States militarily.

Verily, did President Dwight Eisenhower warn Americans in his final address of the manifest dangers of the military-industrial complex. I just saw an ad for the new, $115-million apiece F-22 Raptor stealth fighter trumpeting how its radar can `intercept communications of insurgents.' Using a $115 million aircraft to listen to cell phone calls by a handful of jihadis in Waziristan staggers the imagination. What we have are gold-plated weapons systems in search of a role, and the military-industrial complex in search of new foes.

Meanwhile, Washington is in an uproar over spreading government spying against citizens, the White House's disgraceful defense of torture, and what appears as the mother of all influence peddling scandals.

Revelations the super-secret National Security Agency and FBI have been monitoring domestic as well as international telecommunications have roused even the deadheads in Congress and wakened the lapdog media. We learn FBI agents are spying on such nefarious `terrorists' as vegetarians and animal rights defenders. Readers of this column will have long ago learned about US government surveillance of private calls, notably in my columns about NSA's secret Echelon system, and a new Pentagon agency for domestic surveillance, the Orwellian named "the counter-intelligence field activity".

President George Bush, shades of Chairman Leonid Brezhnev, claims the right to override any laws, and violate the constitution, because the US is at war. `Terrorists' (`enemies of the state' in Soviet talk) threaten the US, so anything goes, claims the White House. One wonders if the US Attorney General - the same official who concocted memos supporting torture and violation of the Geneva Conventions - is preparing a brief justifying canceling next fall's elections because of the threat of the phantom al-Qaida.

Now, an enormous scandal has erupted right out of the last days of the corrupt Soviet Union. A sinister Republican lobbyist and apparatchik named Jack Abramoff has admitted dishing out $4.4-5 million worth of bribes and goodies to senators, congressmen and political aides.

Bigwigs like President Bush, House Speaker Denis Hastert, Republican Grand Poobah DeLay of Texas, Hillary Clinton, and a bevy of red-faced legislators have been implicated in a pervasive culture of corruption. They are frantically returning piles of cash Abramoff gave them, or giving the funds to charity.

Abramoff, who looks like a member of the Russian Mafia, got over $30 million from various American Indian tribes promoting their gambling businesses. Abramoff and cronies scalped their Indian clients, pocketing $11 million in kickbacks. Where, one wonders with awe, did those persecuted native Americans find so much cash? Just how much has gambling money corrupted the political process?

Republicans and also some Democrats are scared silly by the Abramoff scandal. As the great 19th century writer Mark Twain observed, Congress is America's native criminal class. Many legislators may be headed for jail.

Of course, this is all part of the great wheel of life in Washington. All parties that stay in power too long become deeply corrupt. Just look at Canada's rotten Liberals or Mexico's even more rotten PRI. Wise voters need to kick out incumbents regularly. Longevity in office ensures bad government. The Republicans, buoyed by faked-up war fever, become deeply corrupted more quickly than usual. Arrogance and greed overcame even pretenses of honest government.

Money is the Achilles heel of democracy. In America, winning and keeping office requires spending huge sums on TV advertising. The Washington lobbyists and money raisers who produce millions to fund politicians have become more powerful than elected legislators. The average legislator spends 80% of his time fund-raising, allowing vile parasites like comrade Abramoff to flourish.

A smell of `fin de régime' hangs over Washington, just as it did over the last days of decaying Soviet empire when an out of touch leader presided over a lost foreign war, and a swamp of influence peddling and bribery, as the secret police struggled to keep a lid on growing dissent.


WRITER'S NOTEBOOK

  • The stroke suffered by Israel's 77-year old leader, Ariel Sharon, has produced an amazing amount of hand-wringing in the North American media, as if he was the only man who could lead Israel. There are others, but the tragedy of this moment is that Sharon, having defeated all his Arab foes, taken out Iraq, and had President George Bush wrapped around his little finger, was in a position to bring a viable settlement of the 70-year Jewish-Palestinian struggle. He held all the cards.

    This column warned at the beginning of last month that Sharon's health was precarious and wondered how long it would be before he was felled by a grave illness.

    Whether Sharon intended to fashion a just peace, or, more likely, simply impose an apartheid-style Bantustan on the Palestinians, is uncertain. He now seems out of the political picture. For many Israelis, Sharon was a father figure and great leader. For me, he was a great general. For Palestinians, he was a ruthless butcher. As we review his career, we must recall his triumphs but also his role in the US-sanctioned invasion of Lebanon, in which Israeli forces killed 18,000 civilians, and his role in the massacre of 2,000 women and children at Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps. This massacre was cited by Osama bin Laden as his main reason for attacking New York's World Trade Center.

  • Interesting to see Bolivia's new Indian leader, Evo Morales, visiting Jacques Chirac in the Elysee Palace, dressed in a cheap leather jacket, and calling on the King of Spain in a sweater. Welcome back to the days of revolutionary garb. Maybe it marks the end of the era of those idiotic-looking three-button suits.

    When I met with Libya's strongman, Muammar Khadaffi, I wore a Ralph Lauren bush jacket, a Hunting World shirt with ammo pockets, and camel-colored slacks. Khadaffi, a notorious cloths-horse, eyed me with interest and admiration. `Mr Eric, you are looking very militant tonight!' he observed. The militant Evo Morales, who calls President Bush `a terrorist,' is going to be a big thorn in Washington's side.

  • Have you noticed, no US Army choppers are ever shot down in Iraq or Afghanistan. They `crash,' or make `hard landings.' More Pentagon doubletalk.

  • Russia's short-lived shutoff of natural gas supplies to Ukraine reminds us that it remains the primary source of heating fuel for much of Western Europe, thanks to a spreading network of pipelines. This means Russian will exert ever more important strategic influence over the continent. Two weeks ago I saw something I would never have dreamed of in past years: a Russian Lukoil retail gas station in the Georgetown section of Washington DC. Who would have thought…


Published at Bigeye.com since 1995 with permission, as a courtesy and in appreciation.

To read previous columns by Mr. Margolis: Click here

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