Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Connecting The Dots

It is hard to fathom how the current events in the Middle East and northern Africa could have any bearing on the welfare state here in the US.  But yesterday the media reported on two seemingly unrelated events that if history is any indication will be inexorably linked in the future.
The Associated Press reports that in light of the escalation of violence in Syria the State Department has ordered personnel at the US Embassy in Damascus to leave the country and has encouraged all Americans in the country to do the same.  The White House has stepped up its condemnation of President Bashar Assad’s regime and has begun to draw up sanctions against the president, his family and his inner circle to pressure them into halting the aggression.
Does this sound familiar…it should.  We have seen this strategy before.  First the government issues statements of righteous indignation.  Then economic sanctions designed to pressure the offender to back off are put into place.  Next comes the rally speech before NATO, the insertion of CIA Special Ops personnel, implementation of a no fly zone, strategic bombing of command and control installations and finally boots on the ground.  This is what we do as self proclaimed protector of the planet.
The seemingly unrelated story concerns American’s growing dependence on government assistance.
USA Today reports the Americans depended more on government assistance in 2010 than any time in our history.  A record 18.3 % of the nation’s total personal income was from the government in the form of Social security, Medicare, food stamps, unemployment benefits and other social programs.  The report states that actual wages accounted for 51% of our income; the lowest share since the government began keeping track in 1929.  This trend shows no signs of easing especially with 77 million baby boomers just beginning to access Medicare and Social Security benefits.
So how are these two events related?
Congress is currently debating measures to decrease spending and cut our nation’s growing deficit.  The focus has been on cutting entitlements.  The Republicans have offered a solution which focuses on slashing entitlements and social programs while maintaining the current Bush tax cuts.  At the same time they have encouraged the President to ramp up efforts in Libya, maintain our operations in Afghanistan and take a strong stand in Syria. And the Republicans are not alone.  The President seems to be pressuring Iraq into letting us stay past the end of the year while the Iraqi government want us out.
A large percentage of the world has grown comfortable with America operating as the world’s protector.  Many nations have grown accustomed to outsourcing their military budgets to the US.  This is a phenomenon that started when an economically weak Western Europe needed American assistance to hold off the advances of first Nazi Germany and then Communist Russia.   But Western Europe is no longer weak and Nazi Germany and Communist Russia no longer exist.  We need to stop providing military subsidies to the rest of the world.  We need to spend that money here at home. 
There is no question that our entitlement programs need to be fixed.  But slashing benefits at a time when a rapidly growing number of our aging population need medical services, are having difficulty finding jobs or are reaching retirement age is not the answer.  The problem is the exorbitant cost of our health care delivery system and until Congress is willing to go up against the doctors, the hospitals and the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries the cost of entitlements will continue to soar.  Slashing health care benefits is easy but cruel.  Bucking “Big Pharm” and the powerful insurance lobby is the difficult but the right thing to do.
Democrats and Republicans talk a great deal about spending cuts, deficit reduction and foreign policy strategy.  But they don’t seem interested in discussing the one thing that they both promised to provide…jobs, job, and jobs.  If you lower unemployment you also lower the amount the government pays in unemployment benefits, food stamps and other social programs.  So how do we increase jobs?
One way is by rebuilding our crumbling, outdated infrastructure.  Former Pennsylvania Governor and current MSNBC contributor, Ed Rendell said we could rebuild and modernize our entire infrastructure including light rail and broadband connectivity for $110 billion per year.  So where do we get $110 billion?  The cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cost American taxpayers $150 billion per year.  Just think of the new jobs and the increase in business and commerce that we would generate by modernizing our infrastructure.  Just think of the lives that would be spared if we were no longer at war in the Middle East.  It seems like a pretty good trade off.
America cannot afford another military conflict.  We cannot afford the three wars in which we are currently engaged.  And every dollar that we spend in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya is a dollar that could be spent here at home.
So you see there is a connection between these two stories.  We have a clear choice.  We can spend the money on modernizing our infrastructure, fixing our entitlement programs and improving the lives of the American taxpayers.  Or we can continue to act as the world’s police force, subsidize the military budgets of half of the world and continue to defend France against the advances of Belarus.                       

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