By Andrew Kreig
My morning newspaper Feb. 17 provided several depressing reports. I learned more about the spread of horsemeat in Europe’s human food supply. Subscribers read also about austerity measures in the United States that hurt the young, old, and those in between.
The downward developments are worth noting, especially because they contrast so much with the uplifting words and stagecraft of the president’s recent second-term Inaugural and State of the Union speeches.
Our normal topic in this space — injustice — is gloomy in its own way. Legal rights will seem increasingly like a luxury in hard times ahead, subject to new limits on freedom. Few will recall that due process and other legal rights are not a luxurious token of the nation’s success, but were a necessary precondition.
As for Europe, we now know that unwitting consumers there have been eating horsemeat. It’s cheap for the food processors and under-funded, lax regulators have not been careful about eliminating mystery meat from processed foods.
So how far is the United States from that disgusting danger? Perhaps a long way. There are no known horsemeat gourmands here, unlike Europe. So it would be hard to slip meat into relevant plants even if inspectors are downsized.
But don’t count on avoiding other regulatory setbacks. We are much less worried about health, war costs, and privacy intrusions than we should be. In addition, our leaders and media focus us far more than is healthy on religion-inspired witch-hunts and sex obsessions. Those do nothing to help the economy and most consumers.
We should draw on our rich history of films and books portraying harsh economic conditions. As a reminder, the government-enforced poverty and other oppression of Orwell’s1984 was once regarded as so horrible that the public would resist it.
Instead, we in America dare not protest even with expert evidence available that the federal government is collecting virtually all of our emails and phone calls. No federal official dares call a hearing to invite testimony on these illegal searches. Instead, officials stand by as the whistleblowers are imprisoned under Bush and Obama administrations alike. On the economy, we endure a long-term propaganda campaign as if FDR, the Depression, and the New Deal never succeeded.
We and our representatives listen in near silence as paid liars with fancy job titles and graduate degrees pretend that taxes were low during the Eisenhower administration, and that trickle-down economics during the Bush administration did not destroy the economy in 2007-2008.
In 1973, the science fiction movie Soylent Green portrayed 2022, when the nation’s main food supply would be marketed under the brand name “Soylent.” The film starred Charlton Heston. The film suggested that poverty and austerity would lead to harsh options in food supply and other living conditions. Although fantasy, the film’s concept was relatively logical compared to economic nostrums being peddled in Washington these days. That’s true especially in the hallowed halls of Congress and the most famous so-called “think tanks” filled with ideologic shills.
Movies get our attention, just like the stories in my Washington Post today. We can protect ourselves at least somewhat if we know both headlines and the history.
Listed below are today’s headlines. Regarding austerity, check out: State of the millennial union: Underemployed an overloaded and Future retirees at greater risk; Majority may be worse off than parents. Another angle is: Cash-strapped Job Corps won’t take new recruits. It shows the federal government curtailing jobs at the program designed to employ idealistic and under-employed young people.
On horsemeat and the breakdown of regulation, we see, Thin Margins force Europe’s food industry into short cuts and Britain finds horsemeat in school meals, hospitals and restaurants as scandal spreads,
On the breakdown of government and private institutions generally, there are too many reports to mention. A sample includes the story of why President Obama is missing the opportunity to undertake meaningful reform of a serious problem: Obama’s Voting Reform Plan All Pomp, Little Circumstance. The president should be investigating those who destroy democracy, not giving their lawyer an equal voice in a study group. As for the private sector, we learn from The Post’s last ombudsman? that the Washington Post is likely to cut costs by ending nearly five decades of employing a reader representative.
Perhaps most important of all, we learn that the Tea Party deregulatory movement was planned a decade ago by longtime advocates of austerity for the public. The Tea Party movement thus was not a “reform” of the practices of President Obama or even President Bush. Instead, it was a clever marketing plan by wealthy ideologues such as tobacco heir C. Boyden Gray, and his allies to impose austerity on ordinary people while maintaining enormous spending on such pet projects as arms buildups and spending on Mideast wars.
Another leading advocate of austerity is retired financier Peter Peterson. Peterson, born in 1926, is reported to have spent nearly a half billion dollars of his money to foster Washington think tanks and other public relations efforts to advocate reductions in government deficits.
Sitting in a front table, I saw Peterson in action up close as the keynoter for a conference Dec. 10 in Washington. The elderly tycoon was personable and eloquent in selling the story with a more nuanced approach than the Tea Party. He is a Nebraska-born son of a Greek diner owner who went on to, among other things, succeed David Rockefeller, as head of the Council on Foreign Relations from 1985 to 2007.
Wealthy from a career in manufacturing and on Wall Street, he established the Peter G. Peterson Foundation in 2008 with a $1 billion endowment. Its goal is to raise public awareness about U.S. fiscal-sustainability issues related to federal deficits, entitlement programs, and tax policies.What that means in practice is that he seeks huge spending cuts from both the right and left, with those on the left inevitably falling up those relying on “entitlements” such as Social Security and Medicare. He and his allies have been extraordinarily successful in keeping their vision prominent with both parties, but they have not succeeded in nailing down the austerity they want into legislation.
Peterson and his allies are regarded as the voice of conventional wisdom. So, the real and imagined results of budget deficits are driving many of our nation’s policies, even after Democrats decisively won the presidency and Senate elections. Democrats also garnered a mandate in the House with 1.7 million more votes than Republicans, even though Democrats continue in the minority because of GOP gerrymandering at the state level.
With the help of Tea Party enthusiasm and widespread attacks on Obama, Republicans won most state elections in 2010. That control enabled Republicans to pack Democrats into relatively few districts. Thus, Republicans control far more “safe” congressional seats for the next decade even if they lose elections on a statewide basis. This occurred in several major states in 2012 that have high numbers of Republicans even though they lost the state vote.
Looking ahead to the second term, Obama proposed initiatives during his recent major speeches. The president, however, provided no path to overcome funding, House obstruction, Senate filibuster, and other real-world procedural issues. He had the ability to force filibuster reform, for example. But he either let or more likely directed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to cave in to Republican pressures, thereby letting elite interests in mostly small states block serious actions.
As the biggest companies thrive on the stock market in part through off-shoring jobs, automation and low taxes, the economic outlook is questionable. Quality jobs have disappeared for decades, even while the stock market has rebounded from the disaster of the last days of the Bush administration.
A disconnect continues between perceptions that Obama is a big-spender and the continuing hardship faced by many in the public, including those who rely on regulation to ensure safe products, fair markets, Medicare, adequate public safety, good schools and the rest of modern government. Many in the public blame Obama, like President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, for big spending when much of the spending was created by the Depression-causing economic policies of their predecessors.
Obama had the further burden of a bloated health, defense, and national security sectors, which he has been unwilling to curtail. The United States now spends more than the next 10 nations combined on defense. Health costs are at least double and sometimes triple those of every other Western nation without better results. This is because no other nation relies on the private insurance sector as does the United States with an inefficient blend of regulated, unregulated and tort incentives that compound paperwork and complicate care.
Glen Ford, executive editor of Black Agenda Report, attacked the president hard following the State of the Union address. A pioneering black broadcaster and print journalist for four decades, Ford noted that the president adopted Republican talking points in saying it was a sign of “progress” that “we are more than halfway towards the goal of $4 trillion in deficit reduction that economists say we need to stabilize our finances.” That means that Obama will collaborate with the GOP in cutting almost $2 trillion more. “The big cuts,” Ford predicted, “will come from those programs that enjoy overwhelming support among Americans. He claims to be with them in spirit while opposing them in practice.”
The lack of decent jobs for young and old alike described by the news articles over the weekend underscores the problems that need not exist. In fact, some doom-sayers, their allies, and predecessors have paved the way for current conditions.
Gray’s duplicity is worth exploring in this regard because his pedigree is relevant. His father, Gordon Gray, was a federal official under Republican and Democratic administrations for three decades, most prominently as Army secretary helping President Truman and as national security adviser to President Eisenhower. Gray was a close friend to both Eisenhower and Connecticut Senator Prescott Bush, whose son and grandson became presidents.
More broadly, such leaders were helping reconstruct Europe and plan the next stages of Western strength as onetime colonies declared independence around the world. The Rockefeller and Rothschild families picked 100 of their near-peers to meet annually beginning in 1954. They called themselves the Bilderberg Group after the name of their first site, the Bilderberg Hotel, located in the Netherlands. Although many high-ranking media executives and commentators attend, this society is strictly secret. Leading financial, industrialist, government, energy and media executives confer on policy issues. Membership overlaps heavily with more public groups, such as the Council on Foreign Relations and the Rockefeller-founded Trilateral Group.
Gordon Gray, a lawyer and newspaper publisher, was an advocate of mind-control experiments on unsuspecting military personnel to examine their reactions when drugged and otherwise reoriented in ways that officials hope might prove instructive. Also, Gray shared with Prescott Bush a keen interest in eugenics. Gray and his wife thus led a program of intelligence testing of North Carolina boys and girls, with hundreds of those who failed the tests sterilized to improve the population pool in the still-segregated South.
The program endured criticism, especially because of so many returning war veterans were opposed to Hitler’s eugenics program. Also, Prescott Bush sought to lower his own profile on the issue in view of his secretive work representing on Wall Street Fritz Thyssen, Hitler’s chief financier, until the eve of the war. With sensitivities high, the sterilization program wound down and morphed into advocacy for birth control. These days, the Republican Party has been so intimidated by religious zealots that many of its elected officials dare not support Planned Parenthood even for routine medical services that have no connection with conception issues.
This history helps illustrate how the wealthy feared for the nation’s future even at a time of growing prosperity. That period of success coincided also with income tax rates of 91 percent upon the wealthy during the entire Eisenhower administration. Those taxes helped fund the nation’s infrastructure, defense budget, and other programs.
The president, who had commanded Allied forces in Europe during the war, ended his term in 1961. Eisenhower’s Farewell Address warned the public that the greatest danger to democracy was, not high taxes, but the domestic “Military Industrial Complex.” Eisenhower, is increasingly and deservedly recognized as one of our finest presidents.
During that period, the actor Charlton Heston was on the cusp of achieving stardom in such films as Ben-Hur.He participated in the 1963 civil rights march led by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Washington, DC. Much of the country was segregated then, either by law or in practice. The owner of the Washington Redskins football team, for example, was a proud racist who refused to employ any African-American players until the league threatened him with drastic sanctions in the 1960s.
Heston would go on to star in Soylent Green as a colleague of a fellow policeman, portrayed by Edward G. Robinson. The two solved the murder of a wealthy businessman killed during an era of “pollution, overpopulation, depleted resources, poverty, dying oceans, and a hot climate due to the greenhouse effect.” Much of the population is portrayed as surviving on “soylent” processed food. The world’s top executives cheerfully marketed it via major ad campaigns, although the executives themselves dined on more traditional luxury foods.
Boyden Gray, meanwhile, carved out a successful career in the 1970s after graduation from Harvard Law School. His employers included George H.W. Bush as White House counsel during the entire Bush presidency.
Among many work and volunteer initiatives, Gray co-founded the Washington advocacy group FreedomWorks, which collected funds from the wealthy to provide seed money and other behind-the-scenes help to start the Tea Party movement.
The Tea Party ostensibly began in 2009 as a grassroots reaction to the Obama presidency. Fox News relentlessly promoted it. Many of their adherents were whites who knew the country was changing for the worse, but had limited information about who was responsible or their the advocacy would help foster pressure to limit the Social Security, Medicare and other programs helpful to many in Red States. Former Reagan administration official Paul Craig Roberts has written frequently, as in a column below, that the mainstream media of which he was a prominent part for many years at the Wall Street Journal has failed to inform the public about economic issues.
A federal study released this month show that those like Gray prepared for the Tea Party launch more than a decade ago. Former Vice President Al Gore published a column below. Both Gore and his father, a late Tennessee senator, came under attack for money-making after their federal terms. The issue is always with us.
On the bright side, we can take solace in signs of concern, good intentions, and good deeds. Gray, like his late father, helps lead many civic groups.
Recently, I came across a call for reform and good citizenship authored by Lynn Forester de Rothschild, the New Jersey-born wife of Sir Evelyn de Rothschild, a leader of the two-century-old global banking family. Under the theme How we must stop the greed and corruption that threaten to destroy the American Dream, she wrote that she and her husband “believe that greed and corruption in the City and on Wall Street have understandably shaken the faith of countless millions who have been excluded from the very same system that brought me security and success. Evelyn and I worry that the resulting pessimism – even cynicism – about our economic system is undermining its very existence.”
“Indeed, according to one recent survey by the Boston Consulting Group,” she continued, “only 21 per cent of Americans and 28 per cent of Britons believe their children will have a better life than them. This could lead to any number of negative consequences. In an effort to bring the best to the system, I am co-chairing a new international group, “the Henry Jackson Initiative For Inclusive Capitalism” that is trying to showcase several immediate and permanent solutions from the private sector. In our first working paper, available at henryjacksoninitiative.org, we have highlighted several private sector efforts to improve education, support small and medium businesses and to bring back a bedrock sense of ethics and civics. I don’t want to destroy the system. I want to balance the freedom that has brought me a wonderful life with personal responsibility. That is the only way to save capitalism for the sake of a future generation of girls who have dreams.”
We shall see whether that kind of initiative results in worthy reforms or to convoluted processes that steer reform energies into dead ends. I suspect it will do both, much like volunteers for both the Tea Party and Obama campaigns have found.
In the meantime, I took a break from writing this to enjoy a slice of non-soylent pizza garnished with pepperoni that contains no horse meat (to my knowledge). Who knows how long that will last if we lay off more meat inspectors as if they were just as disposable as air traffic controllers, manufacturing sector, or postal workers.
Trying to look on the bright side, I saw in today’s paper that one writer described her native region as “too small to be a republic and too large to be an insane asylum.”
Let’s hope that description remains for one place, not the whole country.