Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Higher and Deeper

The conservative war on the US government is proceeding steadily. BushCheney’s tax and spending policies are implementing the long term conservative strategy of destroying the government with debt and zero income. The past four years have seen Bill Clinton’s budget surpluses eradicated in favor of record deficits. It should be clear to all by now that BushCheney and the people that back him have no interest in managing the US government to benefit the national community. Rather, BushCheney, and his friends at the Federalist Society, Americans for Tax Justice and the Project for a New American Century are far more interested in using federal tax dollars to support wasteful, ineffective military adventures and unnecessary weapons systems while limiting domestic government to a very few basic functions. I think they support a national currency.

This rant springs from yesterday’s Washington Post report on the long term impact of BushCheney’s budget policies. The increased cost of the prescription drug benefit (from $400 to $800 billion) is only one of several initiatives where projected costs were lowballed to Congress using budgetary smoke and mirrors like delayed and partial implementation. Now that the prescription drug benefit is up and running, their full costs become apparent, creating a “budgetary landmine” for the next president.
“Congress and the White House have become adept at passing legislation with hidden long-term price tags, but those huge costs began coming into view in Bush's latest spending plan. Even if Bush succeeds in slashing the deficit in half in four years, as he has pledged, his major policy prescriptions would leave his successor with massive financial commitments that begin rising dramatically the year he relinquishes the White House....

...By the time the next president comes along, some analysts said, not only will there be little if any flexibility for any new initiatives, but the entire four-year term could be spent figuring out how to accommodate the long-range cost of Bush's policies....”

By the end of BushCheney’s term, government will be so mired in debt that it will have no ability to act on behalf of the community that created that government, except maybe to issue currency (which is likely to be of decreasing value) and provide for some form of national defense (although the steady depletion of US forces in Iraq and future BushCheney wars may not leave much else for defense). Federal programs in many areas–transportation, education, environmental protection, workplace safety,health care and others that benefit the population at large–will no longer be an option for addressing serious problems. Instead, those issues will be left to the various states and local governments. Although state and local governments play an important role in the US federal system, they often lack needed funds because of limited revenue sources. The federal government, able to draw on the wealth of an entire nation, is an important contributor to many state and local initiatives. In addition, effective programs and solutions often require national scope and authority in order to succeed. Without national leadership, necessary planning and coordination is lacking, states and localities can bid away environmental, labor and individual protections competing for business and industry.

Which, in the end, is what the conservatives want. They have never hidden their hostility to government that constrains private capital and corporate decision-making. No matter that these private decisions often have serious public consequences. To these ideologues, government is just plain wrong. For years their hostility was based on animosity toward the New Deal and they complained mainly about government spending and deficits. Beginning in the 1960's the conservatives began organizing seriously to dismantle the New Deal and within 20 years scored their first major successes with Ronald Reagan. Reagan was their wet dream come true: lower taxes, more military spending and actions, less regulation. The deficit, which had been at the center of conservative complaints for decades, became a non issue in the 1980's. In those years the deficit became a weapon to hamstring future presidents and Congress. Reagan did not answer all of the conservatives prayers but he did saddle the government with more debt than any of his predecessors.

Bush Cheney is the culmination of that conservative wet dream. Compared to BushCheney, Reagan was an ineffective piker whose legacy was a deficit that could actually be tamed by a Democratic successor. BushCheney is not going to make that mistake. Massive tax cuts, ever increasing military spending, questionable reforms and fiscal sleight-of-hand will leave the US government with a mountain of debt that will burden this nation for decades to come. In the meantime, well connected businesses and crony capitalists reap billions in profits while BushCheney mortgages this nation’s future.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Wanting Much

A few weeks ago I wrote that I want Iraq to be a stable secular democracy. That outcome is one that could redeem the tragedy of Iraq’s modern history. But who am I, a “fortunate son” in a developed nation, to want anything for Iraq? In the end, what I want is irrelevant. What Iraqis want is paramount. I know that Iraqi society includes many, diverse and often conflicting peoples and hope that they find a way to create a responsive government that will allow them to live in harmony with each other and other nations. Whatever government emerges from the chaos of the US invasion is a matter for Iraqis to decide and for this nation to respect.

So what’s my interest in their decision. As a United States citizen, I want my military forces to stop destroying Iraq and killing Iraqis. At the most human level, I want all Iraqis to have the same opportunities to live on their land, in ways that honor culture and tradition while respecting the human rights of all men and women in their community. I want Iraqis to govern themselves and to live in peace with all their countrymen and the nations in the region and the world. It’s that simple. As a secularist, I would welcome a non religious government in Iraq but I know that any political solution must respect the Islamic beliefs of many Iraqis. Reconciling, compromising and accommodating the many religious and ethnic differences that have divided Iraq for centuries will be a difficult act. Only Iraqis can do this.

Beyond creating a viable polity and government, I want Iraq to prosper. As an oil rich nation, Iraq has a strong basis for economic development and is much coveted by other nations and foreign corporations. I would be highly pleased to see a credible Iraqi government control the production and sale of its oil and invest the earnings in modern economic infrastructure that benefits all Iraqis. I wish. I wish. At heart, I am a Utopian, I believe that honest people can live together in harmony and respect. After their many years of dictatorship, war and economic hardship, the Iraqi people deserve peace and harmony.

Accounts of the January 30 elections by Iraqi bloggers and Dahr Jamail report that Iraqis were motivated to vote in hopes of ending the US occupation. Thus, the US needs to looking for ways to reduce its military presence and let the Iraqis get on with creating their nation. As a citizen of the world, I expect them to live in peace with their neighbors and me. I also respect Iraq’s right to request the same from me and my native land. In the wake of elections where Iraqis voted against the occupation, a new government can request a cease fire from both sides. If the cease fire holds, the government can request that the US withdraw forces to its bases. As a sovereign nation, Iraq can direct the disposition of forces on its soil. The new government can demonstrate that sovereignty most notably by defining the terms on which foreign forces will remain in Iraq. This would immediately remove the primary reason for the insurgency and may give Iraqis–Shi’a, Sunni, Kurd, religious and secula–the opportunity to create institutions to mitigate and reconcile age-old conflicts. A genuine cease-fire and truce would give the US an opportunity to rebuild some of what we have destroyed with our massive firepower.

In the end, what I want for Iraqis is what I want for myself. I know their vision of life will differ from mine in its detail and activity but I am pretty sure that Iraqis seek the opportunity to live, learn and prosper in community that respects individual human beings. I have been fortunate in my life. I know that many, many people have not been so fortunate. What little hardship and grief I have known is nothing compared to the misfortune so many have known. I want that misfortune to end. Everywhere. For Everyone. That’s why I am proud of what the United States has done throughout its history to foster the humane society that I wish for. Our Declaration of Independence and Constitution laid the basis for a vibrant democracy that has expanded the rights of many even as our government sometimes failed to live up to those ideals. I am not proud of my country's failures. But I know what this nation has contributed to the world and am proud of the nation that made those contributions.

That’s why I get so pissed off at BushCheney. I hear the language of democracy and freedom from him but see only opportunistic realpolitik aimed at short run economic advantage. I see him hijacking US patriotism and resources to support a weakening economy rather than looking to lead this nation into a changing world where the United States is no longer dominant. Even as this nation’s 20th Century dominance gives way to a more challenging world, the United States still has much potential to compete in a multi-polar world economy. Rather than seeking the path to the future, however, BushCheney is still looking to fortify the corporations that depend on the old economy, on the fossil fuel economy supported by massive military presence.

This nation and the entire world lose much as a consequence.