The cost of war.

Our war in Afghanistan has now dragged on longer than the failed Soviet Union occupation.  And President Obama is faced with a decision to expand the war by adding up to 40 thousand new troops, engineering a withdrawal, or committing to something between those extremes. 

By all accounts, this was a war that could have ended several years ago if we hadn’t become preoccupied with Iraq.  But as the Iraq “liberation” dragged on, our real enemies in Afghanistan regrouped and gained in strength.  Now it seems that no option in Afghanistan is a “good” option – especially given our economic woes at home.

It was recently reported that the Afghan war has already cost nearly $230 billion.  It was also estimated that the war costs $500,000 (Pentagon estimate) to $1 million (Congressional estimate) to maintain one U.S. soldier in Afghanistan for one year.  That cost includes transportation, equipment, support facilities and all incidentals.  If those figures are correct, adding 40 thousand more troops to the conflict will cost the U.S. an additional $20-40 billion over the next year.   And given that we still have combat troops stationed in Germany and Japan more than 60 years after the end of WW II, the cost will likely continue for many years to come. 

Not included in that estimate is the cost of VA to treat lasting injuries and psychological damage.  There are also the sums paid to veterans for disabilities.   And, of course, it’s impossible to place a price on the lives lost in action.   

Add to these costs the price of the war in Iraq which some estimate to total more than $2 trillion.

All of this is background to the debate over health care reform and economic stimulus.  The economic stimulus package that was signed by President Obama included $787 billion to create or save jobs by rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure.  And the cost of health care reform bills being considered are estimated to  cost more than $800 billion over 10 years.  Of course, the conservatives are horrified by these numbers.

So they must be apoplectic over the cost of Bush’s wars?  Not exactly.   The conservatives can’t wait to send more troops to Afghanistan and spend more money (and more lives) on open-ended, no-bid contracts for the likes of Halliburton and Xe.  They even trotted out the dark one (former V.P., and former Halliburton CEO, Dick Cheney) to attack Obama for “dithering” over the decision to commit more troops. 

Conservative logic goes something like this:  It’s un-American and un-patriotic to spend our own money on our own citizens for jobs and health care.  But it’s absolutely necessary to spend trillions to kill a few knuckleheads on the other side of the globe. 

Does this make any sense?  I think you know the answer.

Conservative nonsense, cont’d.

As I’ve stated before, I used to be an independent.  But I quit voting for Republicans when they decided to raid mental hospitals for candidates.  Never has the mental illness of conservatives been more apparent than since President Obama’s election. 

Consider the charges which have been leveled at the President by Conservatives:

President Obama is a Muslim who is not even a U.S. citizen.  He’s a Kenyan.  No, he’s Indonesian.  Obama is a racist.  He’s an elitist.  He’s a socialist.  No, he’s a communist.  He’s a Nazi.  Obama is overseeing the take-over of private corporations.  Obama is increasing our national debt in order to bankrupt the U.S. so it can be taken over by socialists and communists.  Obama is going to take away our guns.  Obama’s televised speech to schools is an attempt to indoctrinate children.  His call for volunteerism is an attempt to put young people in camps where they can be indoctrinated.  His health care reform will lead to a government take-over of health care.  His health care reform is designed to kill the elderly.  It’s designed to kill Republicans.  H1N1 is a plot by the Obama administration to kill Republicans.  The delay in H1N1 vaccine is a plot to kill the elderly.  The H1N1 vaccine is designed to indoctrinate citizens.   Obama’s challenge to Fox Noise is a blatant attempt at censorship.  The President is “dithering” on the Afghan war.  He’s emboldening our enemies.  Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize is an international plot to indoctrinate US citizens.   

These charges have gone well beyond politics.  They’re evidence of paranoia – certifiable lunacy which begins in the tortured minds of people like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin.

At first, I took a perverse sort of amusement in listening to the charges.  Then I realized there are people who actually believe this stuff.  It’s time for the institutions to reclaim their patients.  If they can find enough straight jackets. 

A simple plan for taking back our economy.

It has been more than a year since Wall Street’s risky investments collapsed our economy.  Unfortunately, Congress still has not passed legislation to prevent such calamities in the future.  Instead of trying to craft new legislation, I suggest that Congress look to the past.  To wit:

1 – Reinstate, in its entirety, the Glass-Steagall Act.  The act created firewalls between commercial banks, investment banks and insurance companies following the Great Depression.  It was the unraveling of this act in 1994 that undoubtedly led to our current recession.

2 – Re-regulate derivatives to prevent highly risky investments resulting from the so-called “Enron exception.”  The “Enron exception” protected the company’s on-line commodity trading from federal regulation ultimately leading to Enron’s failure.  So, of course, Republicans couldn’t wait to expand the legislation which resulted in runaway crude oil prices and the housing-fueled financial collapse of 2008.

3 – Re-regulate banks by instituting a national usury law that would cap interest rates at 12 percent.   Prior to the Reagan-era deregulation, today’s interest rates would have resulted in prison sentences for loan sharking. 

4 – Restore the maximum income tax rates to pre-Bush levels.  Better yet, restore the maximum rates to pre-Reagan levels.  This could provide additional income to rebuild our infrastructure and/or reduce the national debt.

5 – Close tax code loopholes which encourage U.S. corporations to establish off-shore “headquarters” in order to avoid taxes.  At the very least, prevent such corporations from receiving government contracts.

6 – Use our anti-trust laws to break up any corporations deemed “too large to fail.”  If a company is so large that its failure would damage the nation’s economy, it automatically qualifies as a monopoly.

There is nothing new or Earth-shattering about any of these measures.  And that’s the point.  They have all been proven.  In fact, they kept our government and our businesses operating effectively for decades until Republicans undermined our nation’s economic security in order to deliver greater profits to their greedy corporate masters.

The Bill of Rights that was never enacted.

Michael Moore’s latest movie Capitalism, A Love Story includes film from President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1944 State of the Union address.   As part of his address, FDR stated, “It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known.  We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.”  He continued, “We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence.  ‘Necessitous men are not free men.’  People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.”  

President Roosevelt proposed what he called a second Bill of Rights “under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.”  This 2nd Bill of Rights included:  The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation; The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation; The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living; The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad; The right of every family to a decent home; The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health; The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment; The right to a good education. 

Roosevelt concluded that “America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens.”  Unfortunately, FDR did not live long enough to see his 2nd Bill of Rights enacted.  The question now becomes, will we? 

Let the investigations begin.

It was recently announced that a former member of the Bush cabinet, Gail Norton, is the subject of a corruption probe. As Secretary of State, Ms. Norton awarded some lucrative oil shale leases to a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell PLC, the company that hired her a few months later.

The focus of the investigation is whether Norton violated a law that prohibits federal employees from discussing employment with a company if they are involved in dealings that could benefit the firm. It’s also possible that she broke the federal “denial of honest services” law, which permits a government official to be prosecuted for violating the public trust.

I have no idea if Ms. Norton is guilty. Her actions certainly give the appearance of guilt. But she’s certainly not the only former member of the Bush administration who appeared guilty of some impropriety. 

How about former EPA chief Stephen Johnson who found ways to avoid regulating greenhouse gases? How about former Secretary of Treasury Henry Paulson who authorized billions to former colleagues in financial institutions without restrictions? How about former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales who fired US attorneys for what appeared to be political purposes? Or how about John Yoo who found questionable justification to approve torture? Scooter Libby was convicted of outing a covert CIA operative, but what about those above him who likely encouraged him to release the information?

How about Don Rumsfeld who was responsible for awarding “no bid” military contracts to the corporation that was previously headed by former Vice-President Cheney? Finally, how about the former president who usurped power from Congress and seemingly ginned up information to justify an unwarranted invasion of Iraq?

As long as there are reasonable suspicions that these people committed illegal or unethical actions, there is a great likelihood that this kind of unethical behavior will continue.

And why limit the investigations to former government officials? The Bush administration was especially egregious. But the problems with our government go much deeper.

While we’re at it, let’s investigate the links between all elected officials and lobbyists. After all, when a political candidate receives tens of thousands of dollars from an industry, corporation, lobbyist or individual expecting special access or treatment, is that not as unethical as what Gail Norton is accused of?

Maybe we should reconsider all of our troop deployments.

The current discussion regarding the appropriate level of US troops for Afghanistan got me wondering about the total size of our military.  How many more troops do we have to send?

The most recent information I found shows that we have nearly 1.4 million active duty troops worldwide and another 1.4 million in active reserve.  Those totals include 130 thousand in Iraq and 62 thousand in Afghanistan with at least 68 thousand by year end.

In addition, we have 40 thousand in South Korea, 45 thousand in Japan, plus 5-30 thousand each in Italy, Spain and Turkey and 250 thousand in Germany!  The question is “Why?” 

I understand why we have troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.  But why do we still have troops in Japan?  The war has been over for more than 60 years and, although Japan is a threat to us economically, it certainly isn’t a military threat.  So what possible reason can there be to maintain such a large force?  If it’s to act as a counter to China, do we really think 45 thousand troops are a serious deterrent to China’s combined forces of more than 6 million?

You also have to wonder about our troop levels in Germany.  After all, Hitler and the Third Reich were defeated in 1945 and the Cold War has been over for more than 20 years.  

South Korea?  Okay, I understand that one.  The Korean War has never been declared over – we simply signed an armistice that paused the fighting.  And even though that was 56 years ago, the country to the north has nuclear weapons, missiles and a huge standing army. 

Perhaps the most puzzling deployments are the thousands of troops in Italy and Spain.  For what purpose?  Shopping?  Supplying wine to the rest of our troops?  Working on their tans?  Because Don Rumsfeld favored Tuscan cooking? 

The real question is this:  If we have 1.4 million troops, why are so few bearing the brunt of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan?  If my figures are correct, fewer than 15 percent are deployed in those countries.  Yet many of our soldiers are already on their 4th and 5th tours of duty in combat. 

As long as President Obama and the Department of Defense are considering troop levels in Afghanistan, why not look troop levels everywhere?  They could begin by declaring victory in Germany, Italy and Japan, and finally bring those troops home.

Why different standards for ACORN and Halliburton?

Recently, Congress voted overwhelmingly to suspend funds for ACORN.  Never mind that the bill violates the Constitution’s prohibition on Bills of Attainder (singling out a single group or individual for punishment).  According to Republicans, ACORN must be punished for the actions of a few of its staffers.

Why suspend funds from an organization that has a long history of helping the poor?  The short answer is that ACORN has made it more difficult for Republicans to be elected, and Democrats are simply afraid to be painted as too partisan. 

During last year’s presidential election, ACORN invoked the fury of conservative talk radio and Fox News by registering voters.  Since most of these newly registered voters were minorities and/or poor it is assumed that they voted for President Obama.  Of course, the conservatives cried foul.  They accused ACORN of helping to steal the election.  They claimed that ACORN had registered tens of thousands of illegal votes.  There were widely publicized registration forms for Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, etc., which seemed to point to widespread voter fraud. 

The problem with that argument is that ACORN pays members to register voters.  Since the members are paid by the number of registration forms filled out, some of these people inevitably try to scam the system.  ACORN recognizes that possibility, and since it has to account for every single voter registration form, the organization sorts the forms into three categories before submitting them to the local voter registration office:  Those that can be confirmed, those that cannot be confirmed, and those that are obviously fraudulent.  Therefore, if there is fraud, it occurs at the voter registration office.  ACORN should not be held accountable.

Nevertheless, Republicans felt they must do something to rid the country of ACORN, so a few enterprising conservatives went looking for evidence that ACORN is a renegade organization defrauding the American public.  Two young people posed as a pimp and a prostitute and visited ACORN offices looking for advice on how to run a brothel and funnel the money into a Congressional campaign.  In three offices, ACORN volunteers provided advice.  In another, the ACORN volunteers recognized the scam and “punked” the actors. 

There is no question that those who provided the advice should be fired.  And they were.  But attacking an organization of more than 500,000 members for the bad behavior of a few is ridiculous.  If we’re going to use that standard for all organizations receiving money from the federal government, then why not suspend all further contracts with Halliburton?  After all, the sloppiness of a few employees in its KBR subsidiary caused numerous soldiers to be electrocuted in Iraq.  There are also accusations that several Halliburton employees gang-raped a woman in Iraq.  When the woman tried to sue Halliburton for her treatment, she was told that the fine print in her contract prevents lawsuits.  Finally, there is alleged evidence that Halliburton has defrauded the government out of millions of dollars.  Yet there is no parallel outcry against Halliburton such as that against ACORN.  No legislation to withhold funds.

Or how about Blackwater, aka XE?  Blackwater mercenaries have been accused of murdering Iraqi civilians and raping Iraqi women.  Yet XE still receives lucrative contracts with the Defense Department.

There can be only two explanations:  Money and influence.  Halliburton and XE have them.  ACORN does not.

Are Republicans suffering from award envy?

Since Republicans and other conservatives seem so troubled by President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize, I think they should receive awards, too – just so they don’t feel left out. 

Here are a few suggestions: 

Congresswoman Michelle Bachman receives an award for the most convincing impersonation of an insane person.

Sara Palin earns the award for best eyesight. (After all, she can see Russia from her living room and that’s a distance of nearly 600 miles.)

To Senator John McCain goes the award for most accurate nickname – McNasty.

To Senator Sam Brownback goes the “Love-The-Unborn-Hate-The-Living” award for trying to pass legislation that would give the death penalty to abortion providers.

Congressman Jim DeMint receives a nasty rash of unknown origin for wishing that health care reform becomes President Obama’s Waterloo.

Former Congressman Tom DeLay gets an award for happy feet, not just for participating in Dancing With The Stars, but for his Texas two-step around campaign finance laws and his creativity in coming up with the most Rorschach-like congressional districts in gerrymandering for Republican benefit.

Glenn Beck should get the daytime Emmy of his fantasies for his role in creating fiction.

Finally, George W. Bush gets an award for making President Obama look so good by comparison.  (Heck, he even made Herbert Hoover look good!)

Like father like daughter.

When Dick Cheney held the office of vice-president, we all held our breath (and our noses) whenever he emerged from his dark cave.  We knew that his emergence could only mean trouble for the free world.  Either he was going to start another war, announce a new surveillance scheme for innocent Americans, or he was going to devise new ways to torture suspected terrorists and/or Democrats.

Now that the election of President Obama has sent the Dark One scurrying back to his badger hole, it appears that his offspring has taken it upon herself to remind us of how lucky we are that he’s no longer in office.  No one to rattle sabers?  Liz Cheney will show up on Fox News to promote war against somebody.  No one to promote torture?  Liz Cheney will torture us with her opinions.  No one to blame the Bush administration’s failures on Democrats?  Liz Cheney knows who’s really at fault.

Most recently, she appeared on Fox News to react to President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize.  (After all, who would know more about peace than someone whose father is so versed in war, torture and draft deferments.)  Not surprisingly, she believes that Obama is totally undeserving of the award.  She explained that Obama has not proven anything yet – he hasn’t invaded Iran or North Korea.  Why he hasn’t even acquiesced to the military’s request for more troops in Afghanistan yet. 

The Dark One’s offspring even had a suggestion for President Obama.  Instead of traveling to Oslo to pick up the Peace Prize, she announced that the president should send the mother of a dead American soldier in his place.  (Perhaps Ms. Cheney hasn’t yet realized that any mother we would send is likely grieving as a result of a decision by Dick Cheney.)  Liz said she believes it would make a great statement to let the world know that it’s the lives of American soldiers that keep the world safe.  Apparently, in the Cheney family, nothing says peace like a grieving mother and the promise of more wars. 

For our economy, let’s give credit where credit is due.

The so-called teabaggers and wing nuts claim their attacks on President Obama aren’t the result of racism or ideology.  They say their demonstrations are about the national debt which they believe has increased to staggering new levels under the Obama administration. 

There are three flaws with their argument.  One is that the debt only really matters if we plan on selling our nation sometime soon.  Otherwise, it’s merely a number.  Second, while it’s true that the debt has reached an all time high in actual dollar amount, as a percent of GDP (gross domestic product) it has been higher before.  And third, very little of the current debt can be attributed to actions by President Obama.

Following the Great Depression and WWII, the national debt as a percent of GDP stood at 120 percent.  It steadily decreased each year until the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.  Under Reagan the administration so overspent on military weapons that the national debt nearly tripled.  The debt continued to increase during the George H.W. Bush administration.  When Bill Clinton was elected President in 1992, he prioritized the economy and succeeded in significantly reducing the debt.  Then, under George W. Bush, the debt nearly doubled again until, by the time he left office, it had risen back to 80 percent of GDP.  (One has to wonder where the tea parties and town halls were then.)

In reality, the recent increase in our national debt is the result of two wars begun by the Bush administration (one based on false information) that have cost more than $2 trillion – a figure that doesn’t even include the cost of health care, disability compensation and death benefits for those who have served in these wars.  Contributing to the increase was the creation of the massive Homeland Security department by the Bush administration.   And, of course, the primary cause was Republican-led deregulation of banks and commodities resulting in runaway greed and wild speculation.  When the banks’ risky investments failed, the Federal Government was faced with a decision of bailing out those responsible for this mess.  Or letting the nation slide into a 2nd Great Depression. 

By the time of his inauguration, President Obama was facing the worst economy since Herbert Hoover.  And, like FDR, he has little choice but to try to create jobs through stimulus funds and loans.  Yet, despite having created this mess, Republicans have fought Obama at every opportunity.  Not a single Republican in the House voted for the stimulus package and all but three Republicans in the Senate voted against it. 

It appears they would rather make some sort of political statement than uphold their commitment to serve our nation. 

Republicans have also tried to block health care reform and the proposed cap on carbon dioxide emissions intended to head off more severe climate change.  (They wouldn’t want to interfere with the profits of our large corporations, would they?)

Perhaps the most absurd attack on President Obama is his trip to promote Chicago as host of the Olympics.  They claim that he should be spending more time in the Oval Office.  Hmmm, I wonder what they thought of Bush’s vacations while in office.  The final statistics show that “W” spent 977 days (33 percent) of his two terms on vacation, including the days immediately following Hurricane Katrina.

In my opinion, everyone needs to be more patient with this president.  Republican presidents had nearly 30 years to get us into this mess.  Let’s give President Obama more than 9 months to get us out of it.