WASHINGTON -- China's Taoists philosophers warned that you become what you hate. We see this paradox in Washington, where the current administration increasingly reminds one of the old Soviet Union.
The U.S.S.R. went bankrupt after spending 40% of national income on the military. President George Bush's administration will spend a staggering $419.3 billion US on the military this fiscal year. An additional $130 billion US has been budgeted in 2006 for the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.
That's $10.8 billion a month -- 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 in monthly secret expenditures in Iraq and Afghanistan by CIA and Pentagon intelligence.
Astoundingly, U.S. military spending in 2006 will equal the rest of the world's total combined military expenditures. I just saw an ad for the new, $115-million F-22 Raptor stealth fighter, trumpeting how its radar can "intercept communications of insurgents." Using a $115-million aircraft to listen to cellphone calls by a bunch of jihadis in Waziristan staggers the imagination.
Meanwhile, Moscow on the Potomac is in an uproar over government spying on citizens, torture, and what appears to be the mother of all influence-peddling scandals. Revelations that 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 the lapdog media. FBI agents are reportedly spying on such nefarious "terrorists" as vegetarians and animal rights activists.
Bush (shades of Leonid Brezhnev) claims the right to override any laws because the U.S. is at war. "Terrorists" ("enemies of the state" in Soviet talk) threaten the U.S., so anything goes. What next -- cancelling next fall's elections because of the threat of the phantom al-Qaida?
Meanwhile, a scandal bursts right out of the last days of the corrupt Soviet Union. A sinister Republican apparatchik named Jack Abramoff has admitted dishing out $4.4 million in bribes to senators, congressmen and political aides. Bigwigs like Bush, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Republican grand poobah Tom DeLay, Bible-thumping crusader Ralph Reed, Hillary Clinton and a bevy of venal legislators have been implicated in this culture of corruption.
Abramoff got over $30 million from various Indian tribes promoting their casino businesses. He 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?
Republicans (and also some Democrats) are scared silly by the scandal. Many legislators may be headed for the big house.
All parties that stay in power too long become deeply corrupt. Wise voters need to kick out incumbents regularly. Longevity in office ensures bad government. The Republicans, buoyed by faked-up war fever, became deeply corrupted more quickly than usual.
The Achilles heel
Money is the Achilles heel of democracy. In America, winning and keeping office demands spending huge sums on TV advertising. The Washington lobbyists and bagmen who produce millions to fund politicians have become more powerful than elected legislators. This is how parasites like Abramoff flourish.
A smell of "fin du regime" hangs over Washington, just as it did over the last days of decaying Soviet oligarchy. An out-of-touch leader presides over a lost foreign war and a morass of influence peddling and bribery, as the secret police struggle to keep a lid on growing dissent.
© 2006 Toronto Sun