February 06, 2008

The True Third Rail in American Politics

First, in an effort at scrupulous accuracy, I should note that yesterday's calculation of the budget deficit for fiscal year 2009 incorrectly stated that the $150 billion stimulus package was not included; it is, actually, thus reducing the actual deficit to the high $600 billion level. However, the Treasury Department's forecast is based upon a growth rate of 2.7% in GDP, which is unrealistic if the United States is in fact entering a recession (an implication the growth rate will be negative for at least two consecutive quarters), as the CBO notes. One way or another, Paulson's forecast is made out of moonshine and fairy dust, and Bush is going to leave office with huge budget deficits, a staggering national debt and reeling entitlement programs, and mainly all because of That Thing Which Cannot Even Speak Its Own Name, which, as a public service, the PondMeister lays out here:

The world's top 10 military spenders and the approximate amounts each country currently budgets for its military establishment are:

1. United States (FY08 budget), $623 billion
2. China (2004), $65 billion
3. Russia, $50 billion
4. France (2005), $45 billion
5. Japan (2007), $41.75 billion
6. Germany (2003), $35.1 billion
7. Italy (2003), $28.2 billion
8. South Korea (2003), $21.1 billion
9. India (2005 est.), $19 billion
10. Saudi Arabia (2005 est.), $18 billion.

It might be noted that Saudi Arabia's military budget is actually a subsidiary account of the U.S. budget, since the Saudis spend their money on American high-tech gizmos and jet planes. Be that as it may, if you add the bottom 9 budgets, they come to about $323 billion, or about 1/2 of the American budget. Now, the American budget is actually understated; adding in, as Chalmers Johnson does, the "black budgets" of the CIA, the Department of Energy, Homeland Security and the multitude of intelligence agencies (all of which are unconstitutionally kept secret from the American people), the real figure is about $1 trillion per year for defense and homeland security.

If you support a mainstream candidate (meaning, someone who could actually get elected and preside over this fruited plain), the one thing you will never hear him or her say is that we ought to drastically cut military spending. This is the ultimate no-no. When Bush talks about cutting "government spending," he never means the military budget; on the contrary, his budget proposals always urge increases in military spending.

Since we're spending all this money, here's a fair question, I think: against whom are we defending ourselves? Here's another question: why did the 9/11 plotters use hijacked American passenger jets as missiles? Answer: Because they were part of a ragtag terrorist group that couldn't afford its own air force, that's why.

Suppose, as a rule of thumb, the USA decided to spend as much as the next four countries on the list combined. That comes to about $200 billion. That assures us that if Russia, China, France and Japan ganged up on us, we would have the resources to handle them, although the notion of a war among such advanced countries is a little anachronistic anyway. No country on that list is going to tolerate a massive invasion of their respective "homelands." They're going to go nuclear, just as Israel would in the event of a massive invasion of its territory by surrounding Arab countries. We all know that. The days of Normandy Beach and island-hopping American conquests in the Pacific are over. The A-Bomb made them obsolete. The USA maintains a large standing army and all this expensive hardware so we can invade countries which are not nuclear powers in order to influence geopolitical conditions, mainly, fossil fuels; however, if we gave that up as American policy and focused our expenditures simply on (a) a military sufficient to protect the American homeland from invasion and (b) a nuclear deterrent, how much would that cost?

If any other nation on the list can pose a serious threat to the USA, with its budget reduced to the parameters noted, how would they go about that with their own budgets so limited? Why are they able to operate so efficiently where we can't? It doesn't make any sense. The United States could institute a program of one-year, universal military service for every American, immediately after high school (as countries such as Germany and Switzerland have done) to guarantee itself a large pool of able-bodied people who could defend America against invasion. It could reduce the standing army and decommission all overseas bases. It could refocus its military and intelligence apparatus against the interdiction of terrorist acts carried out in an "asymmetrical" way.

It's too bad that Obama, or Clinton, or someone with the nation's attention won't take the time to educate the American public about what's really necessary to defend the USA. The vast amounts spent arise simply from the inertial force of the military-industrial complex and are unrelated to our real needs. With the available tax revenues, we can't fix anything else unless we reduce the military and intelligence budgets.

February 05, 2008

Co-Dependent Nation

The stock market is tanking again today (in the morning, as I write), an indication that the Plunge Protection Team meeting in the basement of the White House is running out of gas. They just don't have the scratch to do it all by themselves, folks. Look, all you American Idol fans: you've got to do your part. Isn't there anything you want to buy right now, even if you're unemployed and you've missed your last two mortgage payments? Where's your sense of commitment? The "service sector" numbers are down, and since "service sector" = "the economy," we've got a real problem. And the American consumer is causing it. How can we put this to you? Try this: Buy shit or die.

I've been watching Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson bob and weave before a Senate committee this morning, and he's valiantly striving to explain how Bush's last budget can be reconciled with his pledge to balance the books by ...some date in the future. The current estimate calls for an "official" deficit of $409 billion; however, it must be pointed out that this number fails to include anything, even though everyone knows that huge expenses are being deliberately left out in order to maintain the fiction that Bush's "budget balancing" is an actual phenomenon and not the reality distortion of a dry drunk trying to convince himself he's done something he hasn't.

You can see how the personality problems of our national father engender anxiety symptoms in his citizen-children. How come Daddy still refuses to admit that he's not including the Social Security surplus of $200 billion in his calculations? So that takes our deficit to $607 billion. And what about the uncounted "emergency appropriations" for Iraq & Afghanistan, which apparently will add up to $70 billion? So we're up to $677 billion. And then the "stimulus package" of $150 billion, taking us to $827 billion, or twice the official figure. That's about 25% of the total budget of $3.1 trillion, and will take the national debt to about $10 trillion when Bush leaves office.

The Senators, however, are obviously afraid to point out Daddy's problem. He's addicted to military spending. No matter how bad his financial situation gets, he absolutely insists that his war jones has nothing to do with it. He's got it under control. He needs it, in fact. While we're talking about that, this year he'd like more money to feed the monkey. He wants to cut medical research, education funding, subsidies for seniors freezing to death because of high fuel oil costs, transportation funding (like resurfacing our washboard roads), benefits for veterans getting maimed in his wars, but dammit -- give me that military money!

Gee whiz, it does seem that until someone has the guts to point out to Daddy he's got a huge problem, and that he's nowhere near his fantasized goals, that we're going to remain stuck on Step One. Where we've been, unfortunately, since January, 2001.

February 04, 2008

The Unsinkable Patriots

I was watching the Super Bowl yesterday in my den in the company of a lifelong pal, a fellow I can share stories with about seventh grade teachers as easily as the current perplexities of the American economy. A liberal like me, whose views of society were informed as much by the lower middle class California housing tract we both grew up in as by our later exposure to student agitation at the University of California at Berkeley in the late Sixties.

So maybe you'd expect us to be a little cynical watching the Declaration of Independence reading that preceded the game. Switching from one NFL star to another (and including others, such as Pat Tillman's wife), most of the Declaration was read, all except the bill of particulars laying out the specific grievances against the British Crown. I have a framed copy of the document on my den wall, in fact, and I make it a practice to read the entire Declaration every Fourth of July. So maybe I expected myself to be inured to yet another reading, and if so, I would have been wrong about myself, too. Because both of us sat there crying, within a few moments of "When in the course..."

The Declaration of Independence is simply the most eloquent, stupendous, inspiring, and brilliant political document in the history of the human race. Yet there was something else going on there, too. Maybe the thing was being broadcast on the Fox network; maybe half the guys reading it are Bush supporters; maybe it's simply my wishful thinking, inspired in part by the ascendancy of an African-American man and a woman to positions of political prominence in current politics. Maybe all that's true, and yet the inclusion of a couple of vignettes before and after the reading, Ben Franklin warning that the Declaration was a perilous act ("either we hang together or we shall surely hang separately") and the signing by John Hancock in large letters so that "George" would have no trouble reading it...and the inclusion of Pat Tillman's wife, who has been a courageous critic of Administration propaganda...is it possible that entities so mainstream and corporate as Fox and the NFL were subtly sending out messages that it's time to reclaim the spirit of democracy once again, and to demonstrate the courage of the Founding Fathers in our own time?

Just for a moment I didn't feel so alone in this sense our country has been betrayed, that if I'm a crank writing under the sobriquet "Waldenswimmer," that's okay, because I'm doing it for the right reasons. Because patriotism isn't dead in this country, and it will live to fight another day, just as Tom Brady will recover from that injury and resume his greatness soon. It's very early on a Monday morning and I find myself utterly incapable of cynicism, a triumph in itself; and I feel resolved to demonstrate in my own life at least 1/10th of the courage of Adams, Jefferson, Washington and Franklin. Or, for that matter, Eli Manning on the last magnificent drive.