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You may find yourself driving down our potholed streets and freeways, hung up in traffic for hours, wondering, “How can this be when we pay so much in taxes?”

“Surely, we pay enough to provide for a modern, competitive transportation system.” The bumps in our roads can be perplexing and frustrating.

Or perhaps you’ve been over to the pharmacy to buy your regular blood pressure med, or insulin, or any number of common medications only to find that the price seems to vary randomly, and sometimes wildly – with out-of-pocket co-pays seemingly equally crazy.

“How can this be?” you might question the pharmacist, when the price of everything else in the country is more or less stable.

You might also be annoyed, or even angered, at the constant news of constant wars America is forever fighting. “How can this be when other modern nations remain relatively peaceful without interruption?” you might wonder.

Perhaps recently you’ve heard the announcements of “The happiest nations on Earth.” Our great nation we love placed a distant 14th. Meanwhile, Norway was No. 1, followed by Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland and Finland.

We ponder, “If we’re so great, how come we’re at the rear of the pack or peer nations when it comes to happiness and quality of life?

The answer to these conundrums is complex. You see, America has a complex, complex problem and until we address our complexes our problems will remain … perplexing.

It’s confusing, yes, but allow me explain:

One-half century ago, President Eisenhower warned against what he saw as an accelerating “Military Industrial Complex.” Actually, his original notes wrote “Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex.” And the addition of the “Congressional” explains a thing or two.

Ike warned: “Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.

“The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.”

Ugh. We didn’t listen. Today, the U.S. spends $600 billion annually on “defense” – some 16 percent of our entire national budget, far outstripping China, Russia, and the next six countries all combined.

Whilst hitting a pothole, you might wonder why America is so very militarized?

Things like $350-million fighter planes and wars without end add up to continual and excellent profit for big defense companies – but create bomb-sized holes in our budget for ordinary things that matter for ordinary citizens. Like good roads, affordable health care, and affordable, good schools.

Ike’s “congressional complex” comment is key. Not much gets financed without Congress’s initiation or approval. And, over the years and decades, all sorts of industries have learned to follow the military industry’s lead in “complex development.”

Think hallways full of lobbyists banging on Congress members’ heads, pushing their own complex’s agendas. Think retired congressmen going back to the trough for another deep drink, paid for by the very special interests that manipulated them while in office.

Years ago, President George W. Bush passed the Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement and Modernization Act. Big Pharm lobbied, and Congress passed the act that forbade Medicare from negotiating drug prices from manufacturers.

Imagine the largest buyer of drugs in the world precluded from negotiating purchasing price.

“Unbelievable!” you might gasp. Sorry, but true. And with the result that America pays three times more for prescription drugs than New Zealand. Twice as much as Britain. Thirty percent more than Germany, and 25 percent more than Canada.

All those billions add up to massive profits for the pharmaceutical complex while creating budgetary illness for the other things that matter in a citizen’s life. Like good roads, affordable health care, and affordable, good schools.

Three decades ago America had a rather ordinary incarceration system. Today, with heavy-handed lobbying by the prison and security industries, we’ve come out on top of the world in citizens incarcerated.

Today, some 2.2 million Americans are behind bars, and some 6 million are somewhere funneling through our “justice system.”

We’ve been incarcerating while those happier nations were rehabilitating. Private prisons and prison guard unions have benefited greatly, but today America spends more on prisons than nearly 100 other nations spend on – everything, while you face rough roads and college debt.

America has a complex Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex. Our roads frustrate you, our news infuriates you, and the ever-rising cost of medicine and education are indebting you.

All this courtesy of a U.S. Congress enslaved by and serving powerful industrial complexes over your everyday concerns. Congress has become a “complex machine,” feeding and growing our complexes, overlooking the feeding and growing of our people.

America is now the 22nd most unequal nation on the list of industrialized peers. We’ve dropped to No. 14 in happiness. Our roads and bridges are crumbling and your personal budgets are constraining.

Meanwhile, defense, drug, and prison stocks are near all-time highs.

Until we finally address our “industrial-congressional-complex,” we’ll perpetually remain flummoxed, perplexed, and depressed.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.

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  • Gil Mertz

    Interesting column, Gary. You do so much better when you’re able to control your irrational hatred for President Trump and the Republican Party.

    I believe that to whom much is given, much is required. When the world looks for a leader to keep the peace or foreign aid, they don’t look to Scandinavia. They look to America and until recently, America has always been there. I suppose if we focused mainly on skiing, building cruise ships, and baking amazing pastry, we’d be much happier, too.

    I also believe that happiness is a choice and not dependent on things or external circumstances. With all it’s flaws, America is the greatest nation in the history of the world with opportunity to make your life what you want it to be. Some may choose to be flummoxed, perplexed, and depressed while others seek to improve their lives, but the choice belongs to us.

    By the way, I recently visited the “Happiest Place on Earth” and I noticed that Disneyland is completely surrounded by a massive wall. And why? To prevent people from entering illegally and partaking of benefits reserved for paying customers. What a novel idea. Imagine how much more money we’d have for our street’s potholes if we weren’t spending so much on illegal immigrants. Perhaps we should follow Disney’s lead.

    • lois eisenberg

      I can’t control my dislike or contempt for the liar-in-chief for one of reasons
      stated below:
      As the destroyer- in- chief the finger-pointing-chief ripped Obama for the
      Syrian debacle the maniac didn’t mention Russia or Iran who are actively propping up Assad’s regime.

  • Brian Baker

    When my daughter was a little girl she’d do finger-paintings for me. She’d sit at the table and smear random colors all over a piece of paper, and then turn to me.

    “Look, Daddy”, she’d say proudly. “A sunrise!”

    Of course, all I could see was paint smeared randomly all over the page.

    That’s what we have with this Horton column: a little kid’s finger-painting of what’s wrong with America. It makes no sense to the person reading it. Only in the mind of the “artist” who created it do any of the shapes or colors coalesce into a meaningful whole, as they’re randomly selected and applied.

    Horton’s painting of an “industrial-congressional-complex” makes as much sense as my daughter’s finger-painting of a “sunrise”, meaning none. It’s a very pretty picture, quite colorful, but not at all representative of anything in the real world.

    He’s taken disparate elements of our society which he considers flaws or shortcomings in its fabric and tried to tie them together into a neat package of cause and effect. But the fatal mistake in this approach is that it ignores the benefits that derive from that very same system.

    We live in a society unique in the world, with freedoms and liberty, guaranteed in our Constitution, that are unparalleled anywhere. We’ve also – whether willingly or not – been forced to assume the mantle of being the defender of those freedoms on a global scale, both for
    ourselves and our allies.

    There are costs, both overt and hidden, that accrue to those kinds of benefits and responsibilities. That’s just the way the world works.

    I know Horton, and those like him, have a utopian vision of how they think things should be. I’ve been active in politics for about five decades, and have been debating these issues for all of that time. But utopia doesn’t exist, and never will. That’s just a fact.

    Any society with freedoms such as ours is going to be a messy place. Open debate, electoral politics, federalism, equal access of competing interests, free-market economics, free speech, property rights, individual responsibility, open competition… these are all concepts that, when
    put in practice, will naturally lead to uneven results.

    Equality of outcome can only be assured by the imposition of tyranny.

    So… which system would you prefer?

    • Gary Bierend

      Makes you wonder if Mrs. Horton puts a gold star on Gary’s columns before they go up on the refrigerator.

      • Brian Baker


  • Ron Bischof

    “Ugh. We didn’t listen. Today, the U.S. spends $600 billion annually on “defense” – some 16 percent of our entire national budget, far outstripping China, Russia, and the next six countries all combined.

    Whilst hitting a pothole, you might wonder why America is so very militarized?”

    Actually, no, I don’t, Gary.

    Potholes aren’t a Federal government responsibility, so that’s a non sequitur.

    Additionally, you’re making a fallacious “black or white*” argument, often called “guns or butter” in military funding discussions. National defense is a Federal enumerated power in the Constitution. Repairing potholes is not. There’s plenty of funding available if the Feds stay in their lane.

    While certainly there’s fat that needs trimming in the Pentagon budget, that’s not unique to that Federal agency.

    Your assertion also fails with a false comparison, i.e., equating the mission of the U.S. military with regional powers. Please demonstrate how the nation states you refer to possess a global navy that protects sea lanes for trade.

    As to the rest and as Brian detailed, your column theme doesn’t really hold together when challenged with facts.


  • lois eisenberg

    “President Trump welcomed Sisi to the White House and hailed him as a hero.”
    How demented can one man be ?

  • Gil Mertz

    Lois, my comments were directed only to those who take responsibility for their actions. As a liberal Democrat, we understand this does not apply to you. Something that might help in all of your hate and bitterness is try pretending that President Trump is Barack Obama. You’ll find your tolerance for deceit and incompetence will increase dramatically.

  • lois eisenberg

    “Trump’s top adviser, Steve Bannon, is no longer on the National Security Council. It’s a move that leaves him far less involved in shaping the president’s national security policy”

  • Ron Bischof

    The further we stray from the Constitution as architected, the more “complex” the dysfunction of government and its effects will become.