Category: war

Where, Oh, Where Did Our National Debt Come From?

The political rhetoric of the current moment, chiefly flowing from Republicans, but barely challenged by the Democrats, describes tales of profligate over-spending by the Federal government matched with burdensome taxation. While it is true that Federal spending is higher proportionately than post-WWII norms, social programs are not the source of this over spending. One only has to look back to George Bush’s two terms to see the true sources of the debt. 

Impact of Bush Policies, economy and wars on budget deficits

War, Wars, More Wars

First up are our profligate wars. A recent study at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies finds that since 2001 we have spent between $2.3 and $2.7 trillion on our adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.All of these dollars are deficit dollars. George Bush did not ask for increased taxes to fund his wars. Barack Obama has not asked for increased taxes to fund his continuation of the Bush wars and now his new war in Libya. The final bills for these wars will reach $3.7 to $4.4 trillion.1 We are fighting these wars on the backs of our grandchildren and, as is becoming obvious from the disgusting collusion between Obama and the Republicans, on the backs of the poor and the rapidly disappearing middle class. You might think that since these wars are in our national security interests (the rhetoric of all recent Presidents) they would feel it right to ask the American people to sacrifice more than just our mercenary military but also take money out of their pockets. It has been too easy to have the Chinese pay the bill.

Pills, Pills, Drug Companies and the Health Industry

President Bush, aided by the drug industry and health insurance industry, pushed through a new Part D Drug Benefit for Medicare. This was unfunded by new tax revenues. The estimate for 2009 to 2018 is an additional $727 billion

Tax Breaks Everywhere – The Gully Swamper of Them All

Part of the religion of the right is that cutting taxes will increase economic activity and in the end generate higher tax revenues. History has proven this theory to be nonsense. George Bush, aided by members of Congress, both Republican and Democrat, passed enormous tax decreases. These bills with their charming titles,  Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 and Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003, created an enormous windfall for the rich and have not produced any job growth. In fact George Bush’s presidency is marked with the lowest job growth record of any president back to Herbert Hoover2. As is demonstrated by the graphic from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities the tax cuts of the Bush years are the largets single source of debt.

federal_outlays_and_revenues_as_percent_gdp

Under Tax – But Are We Over Spending?

With all of the Bush tax cuts (and the extensions by Obama and the Democrats) Federal tax revenues are now 14.9% of GDP. This is roughly  16% lower than the share typical during the post WWII era while Federal expenditures are 24% of GDP.  The chart from the National Priorities Project “Federal Outlays and Revenues, 1930-2015” shows the historical trends of revenues versus spending. Note that the projected increases in revenue for 2011 to 2014 are the result of the projected lapsing of the Bush tax cuts. As demonstrated by Obama and the Democrats at the end of 2010, it is hardly a forgone conclusion that this enormous giveaway will not be continued. 

The chart clearly shows that overall Federal spending is higher than the post WWII norm.  Despite the political rhetoric of the moment, it is hardly shockingly high. This is especially true if you take into account the war spending and outlays for economic recovery during what is now obviously the most serious economic slump since the Great Depression.

 


  1. I won’t go into the costs of these wars in lost lives and displaced persons not the enormous moral costs. The Watson Institute website has information on those aspects. []
  2. see Wikipedia article here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jobs_created_during_U.S._presidential_terms []

Let’s Talk About The Defense Budget – a letter to the editor

(This was submitted to the Letters to the Editor section of the Register Star here in Hudson. Not clear at the moment whether it will be published.)

Discussions of the Federal budget almost never mention the defense department.  Both political parties continue in the thrall of what President Eisenhower called the “military-industrial complex”. The defense budget is off limits.

But, can we afford this military establishment? The US, with just 4.5% of the world’s population, supports almost 50% of the world’s expenditures on war. The US has over 700 military bases outside of the country ( Base Structure Report 2010 – downloads a PDF file). According to a 2010 DOD report there are 369,000 military personnel overseas plus the 140,000 +/- in Iraq and Afghanistan. 52,440 are in Germany, 35,688 in Japan, 28,500 in Republic of Korea, and 9,660 in Italy to name just a few countries.

Do you feel safer or more prosperous as a result of this global military presence? Is all of this military really making us more secure or is it contributing to a sense of occupation and external threat around the world. The US is not universally viewed benevolently. The current uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East all involve regimes (excepting Syria) that have been direct recipients of US support, even our current evil-empire candidate Qaddafi.

How would you feel if foreign troops were stationed in Columbia County?

Whether you see this military might protecting democracy and our values around the world, or, to pick a polar opposite view, as an occupying force sustaining our global empire, you have to ask, can we afford it?

We all recognize that the US is no longer the preeminent economy in the world. We are just the biggest, but no longer the most dynamic. Can we afford to expend 20% of the Federal budget on defense and security when our competitors are spending just a fraction of that?  On a per capita basis other countries spend much less. China 4%, Japan 19%, South Korea 23%, Canada 26%, Germany 26%, France 46% and UK 44% (Wikipedia: military expenditures per capita)

What could we do with the hundreds of $billions we currently spend projecting our military outside of the US? Fix our crumbling interstate highway system, build a modern air traffic control system, build high speed trains in the megalopolises, or fund universal daycare and HeadStart. I am sure that you could come up with other ideas. I bet we could retire the national debt and reduce taxes all at the same time.

Bush, Anger and Dispair Over Our Situation

New Thoughts as of 1/18/11:

This month’s Atlantic Monthly has a two page piece, “The Last Stand of Ricardo Sanchez” about General Ricardo Sanchez, the first commander of US forces during the now 8 year old Bush war, Iraqi Freedom. This reports on Sanchez’s quest to bering the Bush regime to some accountability for their war. Definitely worth a read.

Original Posting 11/27/10

Bush Mission Accomplished on aircraft carrier

The return of George Bush to the national scene with the release of his memoir, Decision Points, once again roused feelings of anger and dispair. Anger that we have such a weak sense of ethics, basic right and wrong stuff, in our culture. This man and his cohorts lied, aggressively distorted facts, and mislead the country into what has turned out to be a disastrous adventure in aggression in Iraq. If we had any real politics in this country at least some national politicians should have been calling for his impeachment and, perhaps,  trial for war crimes. The man is responsible for the devastation of Iraq, ten of thousands, at a minimum, civilian causalities, the flight of millions from their country to neighboring states, and the vast expansion of anti-US militancy around the world. This not to mention the costs directly to us in dead, wounded and financial costs running off into the far future. That is the source of my despair that Americans continue to be oblivious of the true cost to others and to themselves of our empire. In large part this ignorance is due to decades of propaganda from the government, industry and academies. Seemingly everyone in the elite is on the payroll of the empire.

The executive-congressional-military-industrial complex is real and effective. This renders us without any politics to grapple with this state of affairs.

The elite rolled out the big guns to puff Bush’s book. Heavy weight interviews with Matt Lauer and Oprah replete with a dust up with some silly rapper named Kanye West. This is what Bush faced instead of people who might have been capable of posing some serious questions with some serious follow ups. But, what exactly am I expecting. We are the people to whom politicians lie, reflexively and without any fear of repercussions. This has been going on continuously for my whole life. Bush is just the cherry on the ice cream float.

Krugman Asleep at the Wheel of History ….. the elite has not been interested for forty years…

The August 1st New York Times carries the latest Paul Krugman opinion piece, “Defining Prosperity Down“. He is depressed because it is dawning on him that the elite is in the process of redefining the level of structural unemployment that is normal to adjust to the significant likelihood that we will be living with 9%+unemployment on into the future.

Where has Krugman been? He is old enough to remember that back in the 1960s structural unemployment was defined in college textbooks as 3%. Then during the later years of the Nixon regime this got redefined to 6%. This to meet the emerging pattern of chronic unemployment and no real growth in wages for working and middle class families that has now characterized the last 40 years in the US. Where has Krugman’s head been? Paul Samuelson author of the most widely used college introduction to economics was on the faculty at MIT when Krugman studied there in the 1970s. Has Krugman not checked the shift in the definition of structural unemployment from one edition to the next during those years?

Krugman is right that the Obama administration and the Congress has no real interest in the laggard performance of the economy when viewed for the bulk of the population in the working and middle classes. What is unacceptable is not to recognize and clearly state that the elites in the US have not cared about this matter since the days of LBJ and earlier. How can one explain that not only has the definition of structural unemployment crept inexorably higher, but the stagnation in real incomes of average Americans over the last forty years has roused no effective policy directions under either the Republicans or Democrats.

The elite has been busy over the past forty years fighting so-called wars against various boogeymen, the Soviets, dominoes, drugs, communism, terrorism, and so on. The elite has been busy sustaining a global military machine and imperial presence that has consistently placed US spending on armaments in the range of 40% to over 50% of total world spending on war.

The elite has been engaged in a religious venture called ‘free market capitalism’ for this whole period. This war, aided by the religious rhetoric of Milton Friedman and his cabal of coreligionists at U. Chicago, dismantled the protections in the financial markets build up after the debacle of the Great Depression.

What is the elite has been doing is taking care of its patrons. The rich have gotten richer during this whole period and enormous so in the last twenty years. But the patrons are not fooled by the religious free market rhetoric. They have gotten richer through the fleecing of the economy through predatory tax breaks, tax havens, and the protected gambling of the ultra rich in the financial market places of Wall St. and The City.

A Fog of War or a Fog of Ethics?

Through our friend Esther Hanig we attended a showing of Errol Morris’s new documentary, The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons From the Life of Robert S. McNamara. at the Kennedy Library in Dorchester on December 14, 2003. This documentary is an extended adventure into the historico-biography of Robert S. McNamara, most famous as the Secretary of Defense during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. The movie intersperses close up head shots of McNamara (always shown off center) responding to questions posed by the interviewer (never seen, but clearly the director Morris) with historical footage and graphics illustrating events or concepts.



McNamara today at age 87 McNamara as Sec. of Defense ca 1966.
Photos appropriated from the New York Times web site


One of the most effective sections reveals McNamara’s role in the planning and execution of bombing campaigns during WWII under the command of Gen. Curtis LeMay. This bombing campaign attacked 67 Japanese cities. Morris uses historical footage of the results and then flashes the names of the Japanese cities with their populations on the screen immediately followed by the names and populations of similar-size American cities. In one night a fire-bombing of Tokyo incinerated 100,000 civilians. In the movie, Mr. McNamara tells Mr. Morris. “Lemay said, `If we’d lost the war, we’d all have been prosecuted as war criminals.’ And I think he’s right. He — and I’d say I — were behaving as war criminals.” He asks, “What makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?” (thanks for this quote to the movie review article “War and Never Having to Say You’re Sorry” by Samantha Power, Published: December 14, 2003 in the New York Times)

Later, covering the Vietnam War, Morris provides audio tapes of both Kennedy and Johnson speaking with McNamara about the war. These add more fuel to the argument that if Kennedy had lived that he would not have enlarged the US involvement. And, on the other hand, Johnson comes across as clearly responsible. No surprise there.

When asked during the post-screening discussion about why he waited for over twenty years to reveal that he had come to think the Vietnam war a mistake even while still Sec. of Defense, McNamara repeated his claim that as a former Sec of Defense he could not say critical things of the war policy because it would have been giving comfort to the enemy and endangering US troops.

This is a cruel bit of logic.

When McNamara left his position roughly 25,000 Americans had died and probably 10 to 20 times that many Vietnamese. By the time the war actually ended seven years later, more than twice that many had died on both sides. It remains a galling outrage that this man, so intimately involved with the development and prosecution of the Vietnam War, could be seeking absolution twenty years later. It is the minimum we human beings owe to each other that, when confronted with obvious wrong doing, we speak up. This obligation is all the more important for those in positions of power and authority. But, one of Morris’s points in his movie is that evil and evil doers are never quite so easily categorized as might be in an old Western movie.

The end of the post-screening discussions with McNamara displayed this point with fresh vigor. After the program was officially closed, McNamara called for a few more moments of the audience’s attention. He wanted to add to his call for work on developing and deploying a real policy on proliferation of nuclear weapons with a call for international standards for behavior by political leaders enforced by international judicial tribunals. Perhaps we might think of him in the dock for his role in the Vietnam War. Just as a small starting point for the prosecution: during the movie McNamara himself pointed out that more munitions were dropped on Vietnam during the war than all that were used in the European theatre of WWII. And, this, in a country that is just about the same land area as our states of Wisconsin and Minnesota and then, as now, one of the poorest countries in the world.

But, then, McNamara seems incapable of connecting the ethical dots in his own life. How can acknowledge that his role in the fire-bombings of Japan might be considered a “war crime”, his policy in Vietnam wrong, and call for international standards of behavior enforced by international courts??

PS: I highly recommend the movie. It is challenging and very well made.

12172003