The Budget Crisis: Facing Limitations

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2009 Five Presidents, President George W. Bush...

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Despite liberal claims to the contrary, the United States does not have unlimited resources for government programs. Even in a floating currency market, the supply of money is finite, and printing more merely lowers its value. The massive spending at the end of G. W. Bush’s term and throughout Mr. Obama’s term is unconscionable. Mr. Obama’s budget was dominated by bailouts of Wall Street, the stimulus, and funding for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, as a social democrat he increased spending for entitlement programs. Now the country is near bankruptcy, and despite the deal over the current budget, it will remain in a precarious state for generations because of the mistakes of this generation. Members of both parties–and even Mr. Obama–realize that deep cuts must be made in federal spending. Those cuts should include both domestic programs and “national defense” (i.e., war) programs. The current welfare-warfare state will end–either by choice of elected officials or by a ruined economy.

Robert E. Lee rightly predicted the rise of the modern American state when he said something to the effect that the American empire would eventually become a tyranny at home and aggressive abroad. Indeed, Congress came close to ruling with dictatorial power after the War for Southern Independence. One vote failed to convict President Andrew Johnson, and with Supreme Court rulings in the 1870s the ruins of the Old Republic were preserved for a time. With the rise of industrialism and eventually the domination of industrialism, with its uprooting of families and breaking of traditional ties, the government stepped in to care for the unfortunate, a work that had previously been carried out by the local community, family and friends, and churches. The mood in the country was optimistic, and the problems of industrialism’s mistreatment of workers were remedied by the government (by child labor laws, for example). During the Great Depression, President Roosevelt supported massive government programs–the extent to which they eased or prolonged the Depression is still debated. In an America which believed both in the perfectibility of man and in unlimited resources, massive government programs seemed to be the solution to social problems caused by the industrial state. As late as the mid-60s, the welfare state expanded exponentially under Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society.” The United States economy was still basking in the post World War II glow, something that would come crashing down with the 1973-74 recession. Instead of mankind being perfectible, government programs made many people worse morally and worse economically, permanently dependent on the state. Instead of having unlimited resources, the budget deficit ballooned, with only a brief respite during Mr. Clinton’s presidency due to the money saved by the U.S. not fighting the Cold War. However, George W. Bush and a Republican Congress, whom one might expect to show fiscal responsibility, did not, and domestic spending rapidly increased. In addition, the needless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq cost the country in both lives and money. Mr. Obama tried to continue to fight the wars but with massive increases in domestic spending–and thus we come to the present disaster. If the welfare state does not control its spending, it will collapse–then what happens to the millions of people dependent on government aid? That is the choice the President and Congress face–to either get spending under control or to continue spending and place the United States on a permanent “bad credit” status, leading to exploding interest rates, sharply lower stocks, and an economic depression. This is really no choice at all. The American empire will fall–either by voluntary choice or by economic realities. Americans will realize their own finitude. Perhaps this will lead to a less aggressive America, and one with a smaller government that is less intrusive in everyday life.

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Private Manning’s Detention

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Private Bradley Manning is the solider who allegedly leaked documents to Wikileaks. Whether or not he is guilty of a crime, his present treatment at the hands of the United States government is reprehensible. I had hoped that Mr. Obama would have reversed the barbaric Bush administration policies authorizing torture. Torture is evil in itself whether it involves foreign nationals or American citizens, but it should be particularly disturbing to all Americans that a citizen of the United States would be treated in a barbaric fashion. Mr. Obama, unfortunately, has only given lip service to stopping torture by American law enforcement and military officials. In practice, his administration has been every bit as brutal as the Bush administration. One positive development is that there are a number of critics from all sides of the political spectrum who have opposed the brutal treatment of Private Manning; see the link at http://balkin.blogspot.com/2011/03/statement-on-private-mannings-detention.html. With sufficient public pressure, perhaps Mr. Obama can be moved to reverse this atrocious treatment of an American by his own government.

Bush Still Doesn’t Get It

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Former President George W. Bush is out of hiding and into the limelight again as he promotes his new book. From the interviews I have read, there isn’t much new that redeems his poor performance as president. One positive is that he appears to question (just a little) the wisdom of the “Patriot Act.” And he admits that pushing belief in Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction” was a mistake. How many people died for that mistake?

Bush admits his mistake in not foreseeing the economic crisis. He and his advisers ought to have seen the mortgage crisis coming. Either someone did not warn Mr. Bush who should have warned him or he ignored the warnings he did receive. In either case, it was the Administration’s almost complete deregulation of the banking industry that allowed financial institutions to make so many bad loans–the government policy of forcing banks to loan to the poor does not, by itself, explain the extent of the crisis. Mr. Bush bears some responsibility.

Despite appointing two excellent Supreme Court justices, overall, Mr. Bush’s presidency must go down as an abysmal failure. The good he did was outweighed by two wars, excessive defense and excessive domestic spending, and the collapse of the economy. His dependence on Neoconservative advisers such as Vice-President Dick Cheney virtually destroyed his presidency. Sadly, Bush still doesn’t “get it.” Perhaps one day he’ll swallow his ego and take more responsibility for the damage he did to the United States and to other countries.

Mr. Bush is unapologetic on torture, claiming that waterboarding gave the United States and Great Britain some useful intelligence. Thus Mr. Bush still supports a practice that is now almost universally acknowledged as evil and barbaric. Unfortunately his successor hasn’t closed the door on torture–so the post-911 madness of America continues.

Bush gives his policies credit for there being no more attacks on the U.S. before the end of his term as President. This reminds me of a story (from Ann McGovern’s book Ghostly Fun) about a man who hired a wrinkled old witch holding a broom outside his front door. His wife, horrified, asked him why. His reply: “To scare the elephants away.” His wife said, “But there aren’t any elephants around here!” Then her husband says, “See! It works!” There are too many causal factors that could have prevented a post 9-11 attack for Bush to give himself credit. But this is one president who has no problem with failing to restrain his ego.

Apparently Mr. Bush had asked the Pentagon to draw up war plans for Iran. Thank God that war did not materialize, though I would not put it beyond Mr. Obama to start one. Iran is years away from developing a nuclear weapon. Unlike Israel, it has signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. And although I find Iran’s president to be morally reprehensible, that does not justify war with Iran. Mr. Bush, consistent with the neoconservatives, rarely found a war he didn’t like.

Mr. Bush did considerable damage to the Republican Party; it is only because of the ineptitude and radical ideas of President Obama that the Republicans gained so many seats in Congress this year.

More Deception about Iraq

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An Iraqi woman looks on as U.S. Army Soldiers ...

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So American troops fight in Baghdad after “all American combat troops have been withdrawn.” Anyone with minimal intelligence should have known that combat for American troops would not end in Iraq. Although Mr. Obama had the good sense not to declare victory, as Mr. Bush did when he announced the end of “major combat operations,” his actions remain deceptive. So-called support troops will come under fire from insurgents, and they will have to choice but to defend themselves. Iraqi forces will become overwhelmed at times, and U. S. troops (and “civilian contractors” in some cases) will come to the rescue. Mr. Obama claims all U. S. troops will be withdrawn by the end of 2011. I’m not holding my breath.

The Iraq war began in deception and continues in deception. How many more Americans and Iraqis will die or be maimed for life due to this insanity? It may take the United States many years to recover from the foreign policy blunders of the previous administration. I had hoped that the new administration would not follow suit. Unfortunately that hope has been dashed as the American empire continues to gasp its dying breaths. The aftermath, I fear, will be ugly.