Gary Horton: America has a complex complex


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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