Thursday, April 07, 2011

This Moment (UPDATE)

We are a day or so away from a shutdown of the United States government. I have no desire to pretend it is the fault of this or that party, this or that ideology. In general, I tend to refuse to play the blame game. Right now, at this moment, I find myself in the curious position of not really caring about the situation, while simultaneously recognizing that, with hundreds of thousands of troops in harms way, this is a most dangerous moment in our history.

First, beyond any doubt in my mind, the whole idea that there is a fiscal crisis with which we must deal, that the public is demanding action, is ridiculous. There is no such crisis. We have a decade-long, multi-front war which has been carried on without any serious funding plan. Indeed, even in the midst of this war, taxes remained at historically low levels, and any increase in revenue to cover the expense not only of these conflicts, but general governmental expenses, has been considered out of bounds.

Simultaneously, a domestic financial bubble was allowed to grow, then burst abruptly, although certainly not without having been predicted, dragging down not only the housing and banking industries, but the automobile industry, and the economy as a whole. Fiscal measures that, for two generations and more, are generally considered favorable to restarting a stalled economy became a matter of controversy, and a plan to stimulate the economy through government spending, while certainly helpful, was neither large enough, nor long enough in duration to do anything but, perhaps, stave off the worst possible scenario, economically speaking.

The previous Congress, with its Democratic majority, was both highly productive but also, in its final months, cowardly in the extreme. The hectic days of the lame-duck session, after the Republican Party retook a majority of seats, proves this more than anything as many measures that were considered dead were passed easily enough. One matter, however, overall federal spending for the current fiscal year, was not dealt with. The incoming Republican majority was determined to use the failure of the previous Democratic majority to force a confrontation that could lead, and has now led us, to the brink of a shutdown of the federal government, including, as noted Tuesday, stopping pay to troops now in combat in Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Libya.

Not once in all the discussions has the threat of a government shutdown in a time of war been noted. Not once in all the column inches of any newspaper or website have I read anyone say that the "fiscal crisis" is imaginary, a product of and underfunded federal government and an economic downturn. Not once in all the finger pointing and blame announcing, have I read anyone call what is now happening false, fake, contrived, phony, or nonsensical. With certain obvious solutions not up for discussion - higher taxes, ending the conflict in Afghanistan and bringing home combat forces in Yemen as well as our troops stationed in Iraq, ending our involvement in the NATO airstrikes on Libya - any "real" solution to the current mess is out of the question. No matter if a government shutdown occurs or doesn't occur, we shall find ourselves again, next year or the year after, in this same situation, facing a massive shortfall of revenue, a sluggish economy (most economists agree it will be years before we approach the kind of economic activity we had in the middle years of the past decade, and far longer if ever before we achieve anything like what we had in the 1990's), and a largely false political discussion.

This is a moment of deep, troubling events. No one - not the President, not anyone in Congress - has displayed any kind of courage or honesty or integrity in addressing what is before us. For this reason, as well as for the insipid, ridiculous nature of so much of what passes for commentary, I am trying, best as I can, to distance myself from any involvement in these events. To be blunt, I feel dirty even thinking about it all, disgusted with our country, ashamed that there is no one willing to be the kind of leader we need right now.

UPDATE: While Paul Krugman has certainly shown remarkable good sense in dismissing Rep. Paul Ryan's "budget" as the nonsense it is, the following, thanks to a link from Jay Ackroyd at Eschaton, is even more clear on what should be, were our politics less insane, the political realities.
As I’ve noted previously, you can do a combination of tax increases (not too much, just nudge them back up to Clinton-era rates) and defense cuts and you don’t even have to voucherize Medicare or implement a millionaire’s tax and just like that you have yourself back on the right fiscal trajectory through 2030. Small tweaks to Social Security fix that program, and Medicare can only be fixed if we tackle the healthcare system as a whole – which Obamacare begins to do. Ryan’s budget repeals the ACA.


I’m confused. A lot of Democrats have suggested some sort of compromise on spending cuts and tax increases. It’s the Republicans who won’t countenance repealing the Bush tax cuts. It’s Republicans who are bound to block any serious effort to scale back defense (though Tom Coburn is good on this, and many Democrats have their fingers in the defense money-pot as well…) It’s Republicans like Ryan who are proposing radical measures that are tantamount to massive wealth transfers from the poor to the wealthy.
That this pretty clear statement of reality is outside the bounds of our current discourse is evidence enough that staying out of the fray is by far the best option for those who cannot impact it at all.

Virtual Tin Cup

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