An Odor of Fin du Régime in Washington

China’s Taoist 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 u201Cthe counter-intelligence field activity.u201D 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 du rgime" 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.