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