The Surge We Need At Home

WarhorseSometimes, messes are so big that you just can’t fix them. The best thing to do is to leave it alone, and walk away, before you make things worse.

Afghanistan is one of those big messes. President Obama’s decision to claim ownership of the war in Afghanistan—by sending 30,000 more troops to fight the unwinnable war—is an example of misplaced priorities and misguided advice. As the White House parrots the Bush administration by launching a surge in Afghanistan, there is a domestic crisis that requires our attention. And this crisis is a far greater threat to national security than any foreign terrorists, real or imagined. A surge is needed, to be sure, but it is needed here at home.

Of course, the domestic crisis of which I speak is the nation itself.  Simply put, America is a mess.  Unemployment is over 10 percent, while the effective unemployment rate—which also includes the underemployed—is more like 19.2 percent.  In the first three quarters of 2009, there were more than 2.6 million foreclosure filings , with a projected total of 3.2-3.4 million property foreclosures for the year.  In the “land of plenty”, 40 percent of the food supply is wasted, one in eight people uses food stamps, as does one in four children.  About half of American children, and 90 percent of black children, will live in a household that depends on food stamps at some point before they turn 20. And 63 percent of teachers buy food for hungry students with their own money.  Is this the most we can expect from the world’s greatest superpower?

Meanwhile, we are told the economy is recovering because Wall Street has recovered.  Wall Street never had it so good, as the banks bask in the glow of their TARP-bailout, corporate-welfare recipient status.  As the titans of finance are rewarded for their greed, failure, and demolition of the U.S. economy, the upward redistribution of wealth continues in this country.  Those who have the most are getting more and more.  A consumer-based economy ceases to function as such when the consumers are jobless, penniless, homeless, and hungry.  It doesn’t take an expert or professional commentator to realize that something is fundamentally wrong with this nation’s economic system, and that the public will not sustain more of this suffering without some repercussions.  For further information on the nature of the repercussions we can expect, you only need to consult history.

Surely, the Obama team is smart enough to know this.  After all, they have fancy degrees and extensive book learning.  But it would seem that the advisors who are misguiding the President on the economy are as useless—or perhaps as harmful—as his advisors on Afghanistan.  Just look at his economic team.  Larry Summers is Director of the White House’s National Economic Council.  In his old job as president of Harvard, Summers ignored warnings not to put so much of the university’s money into the stock market.  As a result, the world’s largest university endowment lost $1.8 billion. And this man is the President’s economic czar?

Or take a look at Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner, who failed to pay Medicare and Social Security payroll taxes for four years.  Geithner, according to one observer, “should never have been appointed to anything.  He’s been wrong about just about everything for 15 years.”  As head of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Geithner oversaw the bailout of AIG.  Further, he has been criticized for giving away tens of billions of taxpayer dollars to counterparties that contracted with AIG—a cash transfer amounting to one hundred cents on the dollar, to be exact.  Geithner was a part of the problem in helping create the financial crisis and failing to protect the taxpayers from vultures.  Now, calls for his resignation are coming from both sides of the aisle.

This is what happens when the so-called “best and brightest”—corporate pinheads with no real-world sensibilities, no moral compass, and no connection to the lives of everyday people— are given more power in government than they deserve. President Lyndon Johnson relied on Robert McNamara, a number-crunching technocrat from Ford Motor Company, to run the Vietnam War like a business. That war was unwinnable, if anyone really wins in war, and McNamara came to know it. But he continued to crunch the numbers to please his President, like any good technocrat. Who cares if in the end, 58,000 Americans and 2 million Vietnamese lost their lives, in addition to hundreds of thousands of casualties, right?

Waging a senseless, immoral and unwinnable war, Johnson cost himself a great presidency. Dr. Martin Luther King called out Johnson on the Vietnam War and was derided by many for doing so, but history proved King right. History has judged McNamara a sorry excuse for a person. And Johnson was unable to accomplish his Great Society anti-poverty programs because the war sucked up all of the resources. And that was when the American empire was far ahead of the competition.

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Today, we have a basket case of a nation, and a president who was elected as an agent of change. Yet, the Democrats have become the party of Wall Street. The administration prefers to manage its predecessor’s messes abroad rather than walk away from them. But most importantly, the people don’t have an appetite for war. The only war that concerns them now is the war that has been waged against working people for years, by a predatory economic regime of wage suppression, deregulation and corporate plunder. Today, we see the fiercest battles in this war since the Great Depression.

Obama needs a surge of resources here in the U.S. to help everyday people. He should take a page from F.D.R., or several chapters if he must, and adapt it to twenty-first century sensibilities. F.D.R. saved the people from capitalism, if he didn’t save capitalism from itself. Now is the time to save the people once again.

David A. Love

This article first appeared in The Black Commentator and is republished with permission.

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Comments

  1. Roger says

    Another misguided view of reality . . . Although you could say that the war in Afghanistan seems to be a waste time and resources, immoral even; You fail to see the other side of the coin.

    First the war is not only fought on the battle field but in the millions of streets and homes in towns and cities, I’m not talking about bullets and RPGs. I thing therefore I am. (If you think you can’t win you have already lost) Unlike your assertion, the military has learned well from Vietnam, Revolutionary war and hopefully the Civil War. No one said it was going to be easy, no one said it was going to be pretty, no one said it was going to be a couple of years. Even rule of the iron fist takes time. People have to believe that your words are the actions you intend them to represent. It requires dedication and commitment (long term commitment). In the case of Afghanistan, our services men and women are in a commitment not only to blast an enemy away but also to help the common man build their nation to more than the 3rd world living they have been experiencing under their existing leadership.

    This is not done just to get rid of terrorist; It is also to stabilize the nation for the long run. If we are to cut and run we only prove that we are like the Soviet Union, in it only for our benefit. We have a direct stake in this war. You can not deny that the source of attacks on US soil (and for some reason primarily Manhattan) Come from groups of extremist in the middle east who have a massed great influence. When a nut-job sect forces their ways on to a country and then proceed to serve the first blow to a nation it deems threatening, it would serve that other nations interest to strike back both militarily and psychologically. How do you subvert antagonists that have struck fear in the lives of downtrodden countries? Commit to help improve those countries while repelling the aggressor’s physical attacks. This is the same way you prove your loyalty to a friend. You have their back even if it means you get hurt. It is not pretty but if the friend is worth it you are both better off in the long run.

    In regards to the surge at home, this idea is correct. A surge in employment and improvement projects would greatly move our economy. The problem is we do not have a complete understanding of the Macro economics. Not to say that it is impossible but the question is, by what means.

    One of the reasons we are in the situation we are in is simply greed. Greed on the part of companies that were willing to push unwise purchases as well as consumers who did not see fiscal solvency a priority. A predator cannot be a predator unless you give it the chances to be so. (Take the elephant and the Hippo for example.)

    The average American was spending $1.25 for every $1.00 earned which is fine if you are a business in its first few years. Unfortunately, this was a way of living for most. Scarier fact is that it is a way of living for the Federal Government. A lot of expenses but we keep charging the credit card because it is so easy to ask the Fed to let us borrow more money to do what we want instead of concentrating on the essentials. (Obama was informed correctly, this is probably going to be a double dip Depression. The real estate and mortgage system took a dive but the credit system portion of the banking industry is next. This should be obvious by now as not a lot of credit is being doled out.)

    Another issue that seems to have escaped us is that FDIC is government insurance. If enough banks disappear the Federal government would now be saddled with another debt; one it may not be able to pay. It makes sense to buy banks and sell them to better off banks in a strategy to escape this possibility.

    Back to the issue of employing people to staff public projects; If you get “Just-Over-Broke-s” to people now, they will not have learned their lesson. A human needs more than 6 months to develop new (hopefully good) permanent habits. Companies (not just financial companies) need to learn that over consumption is not a perpetual trend. Yes jobs would help move the economy forward, but where is that money going to come from? Our economy? Extra loans from the Fed? Is the government going to provide these jobs?

    The only way to improve an economy (whether macro or micro) is by providing something of value that others are willing to give you money for it. To make other people give us money we must provide them something they would like from us. Before World War II it was infrastructure to support the productivity of war supplies. During World War II it was machinery and supplies for war. At the end of World War II it was machinery to rebuild other nations. Although FDR provided relief he also knew that in the long run we would be receiving money from out side sources. Pricing was not an issue then. Now anything is about pricing including labor. Today it is up to us to figure out how to bring money to us and not only on the macro level but on a micro level.

    The Democratic Party and the Republican Party have been the Wall Street parties ever since we stopped giving a rat’s pitudy about how our government is being run. The Parties look to the private sector because there are more leaders there than there are out here. Private Sector leaders know how to make things happen (whether those things are good or bad doesn’t matter. Hitler was a leader and knew how to make things happen. Luckily Churchill was a better leader and made something else happen) All we have learned to do is how to show up to work to get a paycheck in a few weeks.

    Without proper vigilance, understanding and action how do we assure politicians are doing their job? With out these three how do we know our children are doing well?

  2. says

    “The Surge”

    December 6, 2009 by politicalsnapshots

    “The Surge”

    The war in Afghanistan is also a continuation and expansion of the corporate welfare policy of the Bush administration, which interestingly is not only wholly accepted by President Obama, but is raised to a higher level (surge). The more private contractors sent to Afghanistan, the better for the bottom line (surge) (profit). The more the merrier. Bush or Obama, as always, the interest of the corporate elite is paramount.

    The decrease in violence in Iraq was not a result of President Bush’s strategy of sending 30,000 more troops to Iraq (surge), that President Obama is so desperately trying to duplicate, but it was mainly a result of the U.S. government’s payment of about $10 a day to about 70,000 Sunni insurgents.

    During his speech to the nation explaining his reasons for the Afghanistan “surge”, the president said:

    “So, no, I do not make this decision lightly. I make this decision because I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is the epicenter of violent extremism practiced by al Qaeda. It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak. … In the last few months alone, we have apprehended extremists within our borders who were sent here from the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit new acts of terror. And this danger will only grow if the region slides backwards, and al Qaeda can operate with impunity. We must keep the pressure on al Qaeda, and to do that, we must increase the stability and capacity of our partners in the region.”

    I thought I was listening to President Bush. Word for word the same message, but, a different messenger, one who is more articulate. He also used Bush’s tactic of scaring the American public, the danger to America “is no idle danger, no hypothetical threat”. The only thing missing from his speech was that, he didn’t use the threat level colors. It is too early in his presidency; we might still see him use the threat levels in the future.

    The president’s troop” surge” in the Afghanistan war has made his Conservative Republican friends temporarily happy, but members of his own political party and the American citizens at large are not supportive of his so-called “surge”. While America is facing a massive unemployment, millions of citizens without health insurance, the country burdened with cumbersome and chocking growing debt, to say the least, the president’s choice of the Afghanistan “surge” at this particular moment, seems to be unwise.

    Professor Mekonen Haddis.

  3. says

    I fully agree with author Love and commenter Toji that a real people-level surge (stimulus) by Mr Obama, basically simply imitating FDR, would do great things for our economy.

    By this time Obama – seemingly learned and sharp – should long have known all about that. Yet so far we see nothing more adequate than his first bail-outs, of Wall Street and the Banks. As Love suggests, we have an administration more interested in managing Bush’s failures rather than in true initiatives, even those which copy past successes.

    Sure, the Gops pride themselves now on being No No No – aggressively against saving or enhancing anything ‘public’ if instead they can save or make extra temporary bucks for their favorite private pillagers. In response to them, basically, Obama and Dem pols remain the wimps they became used to being during the Bush years.

    Apparently neither Obama nor his party’s pols are really all that interested in much of anything, other than CYA. They apparently don’t care either way about replicating FDR’s lessons and successes. They don’t really much care about saving the country – whether you speak of our economy, our public health, our nature and natural resources base, our willingness to stand up and fight – violently or otherwise – reasonable struggles abroad. Struggles not for ill-defined and therefore can’t-win causes in Afghanistan but for truly necessary and well-defined causes on behalf of the future of the planet and the oppressed: to cope with climate change, to stop genocide in Darfur, to enable democracy rather than nukes in Iran.

    The OBushma administrations and similar inadequacy will continue until we get the REAL kind of surge we need at home. Not merely top-down on-again off-again let’s-be-nice-to-the-people surges by the likes of Emperors Bush or Obama. Not merely more nominal ‘participation’ where ordinary citizens can merely vote or call in or sign petitions or do demonstrations – while meanwhile a small decision oligarchy of a few hundred politicians and high appointees gets to make all the actual choices – a proportionally far tighter oligarchy than we had in 1776.

    The REAL kind of surge we need calls on us the people to insist stridently on our basic political (as well as economic) rights: to bring real democracy into our public decisions. We must update and radically change the 220-year oligarchic attitude and constitutional structure of American (and other)governments – so that, instead of public policy decisions being reserved to a small class of expensively elected and perked long-term (and therefore readily corrupted) political power-holders, decisions are made by many deliberating juries (each of manageably short term)of ordinary citizens.

  4. Marie Russell-Barker says

    Not that I am being disagreeable with the writer of this article, or that I don’t feel for the citizens of Afghanistan I do. I however agree with the President on sending more troops, if this was not a part of his campaign I would easily say no to more troops but this matter did not come to a surprise to me and it should not have for other either.

    He stated in his campaign that he though that the previous administration took their eyes of the real war and went to Iraq instead who had nothing to do with 9/11 the president have always though that we should have been in Afghanistan, this is where he thought our focused should have been.

    Now for America to turn their backs on his decision not because they are tired of war I believe that what the underline situation is thus economy and unemployment, yes I agree that these things should be taken account of but we can not pick and choose that which we want him to live up to in his champagne promises and then decide that some he should forget. This is unfair to him and makes us look hypocritical? We want every thing but are not willing to pay for any thing so we jump on the bail out of the banks,(I understand) and what we call Wall Street. but with out these things happening every economist agreed that if it had not happened we would be sinking more in this big giant hold.

    Complain if you must but put it into prospective. Obama have not did anything to please most of Americans since his elections, what part of hope or change did you not understand neither of these things takes place over night it will take more than this one year to get to a place the some will be satisfied (some will still be griping). Give him the chance to try to fix things in Afghanistan. Give him the chance to be the President Of the United State Of America as you have given others before him he do not deserve all the criticism that he is receiving now.

    You agreed with everything Bush and his administrations did no complaints, know why if you did you were called UN-American.

  5. Sharon Toji says

    Although I am not happy about the circumstances of this article, which I consider to be an accurate appraisal of the situation, I am happy to see its source. In our weekly Kaffee-Klatch, we lost African American participation whenever there was any criticism of Obama during the discussion. It appeared that white people were not supposed to critique the administration, since it would display our innate racism. We need everyone to speak out and push Obama in the right direction.

    I can’t say I was “disappointed” in the jobs summit, because I didn’t expect it to be more than window dressing, but every day I wake up with the hope that President Obama will read one of the articles by people like Paul Krugman or Bob Herbert in the NY Times and a light will finally click on in that sharp brain of his.

    I think there must be a good deal of creativity available in those gray cells, and he could surely find funds to put a fast jobs program into action. He says that jobs and the money for them must come from the private sector. As a small business person, who is barely hanging on and has emptied my small savings account just to make the payroll I have now I can tell him what everyone else would tell him — there is no money in the private sector to hire new people, and guess what, with things the way they are, there is no way most of us will be willing to take out loans to hire new people, even if banks will approve them. I have maxed out about $125,000 in bank credit that should be used to finance jobs, and I can’t pay it back, because the contractors I’m working for won’t pay me! I’m not about to go into more debt to hire more workers.

    But, if there were thousands of jobs out there at, say, $15.00 per hour to clear brush ahead of the fire season, spruce up restrooms in public parks, paint classrooms, put an aid in each classroom and public library and recreation center, tutor in after school programs — those people would have money to spend in their neighborhoods. As neighborhoods received an influx of money in shops, restaurants and gas stations, workers would be needed there. Tax receipts would go up, and maybe cities, counties and states could retain more workers. That’s the kind of trickle down we need to get the economy going.

    We need construction jobs as well, but not just for roads and highways and bridges. Those jobs are very limited, heavy construction jobs. When you build and repair schools, libraries, recreation centers and public housing, you employee not only concrete and steel workers, but painters, tile setters, cabinet makers and installers, hardware suppliers, plumbers, electricians, fire alarm installers, heating and air conditioning workers, window installers, and even companies like mine, that make room identification signs and install them.

    In the huge bureaucracy that is our government, there are undoubtedly funds already available in various departments that could be diverted to such programs. The President has, I believe, more power than he may know. So far, his executive power has been used for things like continuing certain military tribunals, refusing to publish pictures of US torture, continuing aspects of the Patriot Act that spy on Americans. Why not use it for good?

    Believe me, once jobs started to appear and people started to get the paychecks from them, the program would be unstoppable. Congress would not dare stand in the way. Our President is a reader and a student of history. He needs to be reading a history of FDR’s presidency during the depression right now, of the WPA, the TVA, the CCC. It is almost too late. Midterm elections will soon be upon us. People are falling into an abyss that they will never climb from. Students will drop out of school. Older people will founder and never work again, just waiting out the days until they get a meager social security check. Yes, we need a surge right here at home!

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