Sunday, July 11, 2010

"Should I Stay or Should I Go?" Afghanistan, Jobs & The Economy

I don't know about you, my fellow Politicos, but the folks I know who have lost their jobs or have been laid off are not "deadbeats" as the GOP claims, nor are they "spoiled," as per Sharon Angle, the newest crackpot to rise to the national level (nor have they been "spoiled" by the system as she claimed in her recent walk-back). My friends are good, hard-working people who have paid into unemployment insurance their entire working lives. They pay their bills, stay current with their mortgage payments (even if upside-down in their loans), and raise their kids to be productive members of society. My friends who are out of work are, for the most part, teachers and other professionals, not the kind of people who work the welfare system to make a buck or get fired to collect unemployment, as Republicans would have you think. They're good people facing hard times, and, as they old saying goes,  there but for the grace of God go we.

"So what has this got to do with Afghanistan and Iraq?" you ask yourself. Everything - absolutely everything. While we fight these wars, (declared or not...that's an entirely different blog post!), Americans who wish to work, who genuinely want to get out from under their upside-down mortgage, who are willing to work hard to provide for their families, are held hostage. Unemployment benefits are too much to pay, say the GOP leadership. Responsive as ever, you can see. To them, the working-class American struggling to fee their families and in need of the benefits they contributed to for years are a price worth paying to defeat the Dems in November. Their lives are insignificant, and not worth the price of cutting off their contractor friends or sacrificing their "win at any cost" philosophy.

I found myself asking, "How much is too much to pay?" What we need is a simple fiscal check-up about where our deficit comes from and what to do to lessen it by putting our priorities in order. How can we help the middle-class survive, put people back to work, and put our money where our priorities are? Of course, there are always politics that get in the way when we try to do just that. (Are you listening, Republican leadership?) But I thought it was worth looking at the numbers available to find an answer.

So, the first thing I wanted to know was where we are spending our money. Conventional wisdom tells us that a boatload is going to Afghanistan and Iraq. But how much? For 2010, approximately $1.08 trillion, including $748 billion for Iraq, $300 billion for Afghanistan, $29 billion for enhanced security, and $5 billion that cannot be allocated. Don't ask me what they mean by "cannot be allocated." Sounds a little like petty cash, just in case you need to bribe a local chieftan, or spring for lunch for the gang at the Kandahar base TGIFridays or something.


Of this cumulative total, 69% would be for Iraq, 28% for Afghanistan, and 3% for enhanced security.

By now, you've all heard that the Grand Obstructionist Party is holding up the unemployment benefits extension in the Senate over their bogus concerns about increasing the deficit. Funny how they're hawks when we're in office, and spend like drunken sailors when they're in:
Ah, but I digress...as I was saying, where's the money gone? What's the cost of the unemployment extension they shot down? In fact, how much has unemployment cost us in the last couple of years? Keep in mind that the best stimulus bang for the buck comes from unemployment benefits, a good $1.78 per dollar spent.
Even before the last new round of extended benefits in November, the cost of unemployment compensation was estimated by the White House to exceed $140 billion for fiscal 2010, which began in October. Just two years ago – when the unemployment rate was 4.8 percent in contrast to the current 10.2 percent – the cost of unemployment benefits was only $43 billion.
So, we're fighting a war that will cost us $1.08 trillion, and we're shelving an unemployment package that would only cost us $43 billion. That's a $1 trillion, 37 billion dollar difference. That's a friggin' mind-boggling amount of money. Stop and think about the kind of money we're talking about here:

Yeah, and that's only a trillion. So, with a national debt in the neighborhood of $13 trillion, the kind of stonewalling the Rethugs are up to is primarily political. They'd like to continue to see their contractor friends continue to receive funding, they'd like to continue to see Halliburton and KBR and Xe (AKA Blackwater) and BP (yes, they've just been granted a new fueling contract for our military) profit from the wars. And of course, they'll claim not only that Afghanistan is Obama's "war of choice," but that the tax cuts for the rich should be continued, since they had no effect on the deficit:
Take out the Bush-begun wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, then take out the Bush tax cuts, which I pray will not be continued, and things look manageable. Also interesting to note is the direction of the path which the deficit projection is taking, even with the wars and cuts intact, as of 2011. Now, without 'em, we'd have no debt to speak of.  Imagine the jobs programs, the infrastructure we could afford, the firefighters and teachers we could employ and the quick exit from the recession that a few trillion dollars could make. Boggles the mind.

So I sit here and think of my friends, those without jobs, family and friends serving in both wars for multiple deployments, and those of us who struggle to make ends meet as the middle class is crushed to support the cost of tax cuts for the rich. Looking at my family and friends I just cannot consider the cost of the wars, the favoritism to the GOP crony contractors and the tax breaks for those who need it least just don't justify the means. Especially when we factor in the cost of the lives lost. Lessening the deficit seems like it's got some pretty obvious answers. The question then becomes are the Democrats and The President willing to play hardball and push for what will salvage the middle class, even at the cost of being labeled partisan or being seen by the opposition as "the quitter who lost the war" by withdrawing our troops. I hope they'll have the moral courage to take the right road and not settle for politics as usual.

What do you think, my fellow Politicos? Is all this worth the cost, both economic and human? What would you do with all those trillions to improve life for all Americans? Put on your armchair economist hat and tell me how you'd get the deficit under control.

7/12/10 This just in: Kyl, (R-AZ), argues to keep Bush tax cuts for the rich while he votes against unemployment extension. I'm telling ya, Gibbs couldn't have written it any better. Hope the Administration takes this gift and makes the most of it!