Opinion

Corruption is eroding American democracy

Here's how

American imperialism: What is good for? Absolutely nothing.

The cynical among you might argue that American imperialism makes a sort of cold business sense. The American state conducts wars around the world, and the American people benefit from defense contracts, cheap oil, raw materials, access to markets, and so on.

There is a grain of truth to that argument — but it's not the whole truth. On net, most of the American empire is a gigantic waste of money. But in the process, individuals like Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) do make out handsomely.

As The Daily Beast reports, after announcing his support for pushing the 2020 military budget to an eye-popping $750 billion, Inhofe's financial adviser bought between $50,000 and $100,000 of the stock of military contractor Raytheon. When the news came out, he dumped the stock.

It's representative of the kind of corruption that is slowly eroding American democracy — when the people's elected representatives do not even pretend to hide they fact that they are making policy to benefit themselves.

Of course, it's not just the imperial war machine that operates under this logic. Take former Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), who invested $15,000 in a health-care company in May 2016 and then wrote a bill that would have massively benefited their bottom line. (He then went on become President Trump's secretary of Health and Human Services, then resigned in disgrace for hugely exploiting his position for free trips and benefits.)

Or take Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who was rather squeamish on the 2017 Trump tax cuts until they included a provision that would be massively profitable to people with a particular type of real estate trust — that is, people like Bob Corker, who owns millions in such assets. And while most other congressional Republicans did not get specific breaks laser-targeted to their own portfolio, almost every single one of them are independently wealthy, and thus will benefit handsomely from any rich-tilted tax cuts.

Now, what Inhofe and Corker did was not quite insider trading, since the information involved was public — unlike Rep. Chris Collins, who was arrested for just that in August. (Actual insider trading used to be legal and common for members of Congress until a 2012 law banned it after a CBS expose.) It's more that they simply and straightforwardly used their public power to personally benefit themselves, right in the open. At the risk of stating the obvious, this kind of thing is why powerful people are supposed to avoid conflicts of interest.

Then, of course, there is the sprawling festival of public looting that is Trump administration. The depths of the grifting here may never be known, but virtually every day there is a new story of him accepting unconstitutional foreign bribes at his hotels, spending public money to benefit himself and his family, his officials wildly misusing public money, and so on. Adjusting for changing values, it's quite possibly the most nakedly corrupt administration in history — and certainly the most gauche about its corruption.

This goes considerably further than the usual model of what's wrong with money in politics — in which a business captures politicians with campaign donations and promises of future bribes, and the politician legislates on their behalf. That is common, but this goes even further with a closed loop of bribery, both by and for the individual politician.

But when it comes to military corruption, it's especially worth noting the material consequences for people around the world. The New York Times recently published a wrenching article on the U.S.-backed Saudi war in Yemen, detailing the aftermath of a double-tap airstrike that first blew up a newly dug well, and then massacred dozens of civilians who came to see what had happened. The Saudi strategy is plainly to strangle the Yemeni economy, cut off their water supplies and sanitation, and stop the importation of medicine. Perhaps 85,000 children under 5 years have died already. It amounts to a war of extermination — and one in which many of the bombs and equipment being used are built by Raytheon. (The House of Representatives, by the way, narrowly voted to prevent debate on restricting American backing of this war on Wednesday with the help of five Democrats, one of whom bafflingly told The Washington Post's Jeff Stein that "I don't know a damn thing about it.")

The Saudi money is only a small part of the gargantuan sums spent on U.S. military contractors. The really big-ticket items are the pointless wars, like the one in Afghanistan that was very obviously lost 10 years ago and will cost perhaps $2 trillion all told; and the outrageously bloated weapons contracts, like the recently delivered aircraft carrier that cost $13 billion and doesn't work. These are a straight-up looting of the American people, whose tax dollars might otherwise have gone to paid leave or better infrastructure. But at least Sen. Inhofe and his ilk get a cut now and then.

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