Friday, February 19, 2010

Pay to Fight: Making War Pay

Last November, Rep. David Obey (D-WI) made a suggestion that bears serious consideration. In the face of the then-pending troop surge in Afghanistan, Obey proposed a “war tax” amounting to a 5 percent surcharge on high incomes and lower percentages for low-income taxpayers to underwrite the $40 billion a year cost of that surge. With the exception of our courageous and recently departed friend, the late John Murtha (D-PA), Mr. Obey’s proposal got no traction whatsoever.

Now, as we hear a clamor of concern over America’s growing budget deficit, especially from conservative Republicans in Congress, it’s time to resurrect Mr. Obey’s proposal.

I recall right after George W. Bush declared his vaunted “global war on terror” and reporters asked him how Americans might show their commitment to that war effort and demonstrate their patriotism. Bush’s response was classic: “Go shopping,” he said. Well, going shopping and buying more Chinese made goods hasn’t worked out so well.

What’s happened to America? Most of us heard our parents and grandparents describe the sacrifices they made during World War II. From rationing eggs, meat and milk, scrap collections, victory gardens, war bond drives and rationing gasoline for their cars—America had a near universal outpouring of support for the troops on the frontlines. Sure, there were some cheaters, but the overwhelming attitude was solidarity and sacrifice for the cause. That’s why, when World War II ended, America became the breadbasket for the devastated economies of Europe and Asia. That’s how American influence helped Japan transition from a monarchy to a democracy. That’s how America was able to fund the Marshall Plan to help create European economies that were even more productive than they had been before the war destroyed them.

Not long ago, a popular beer adopted an advertising slogan that went something like: “Who says you can’t have it all?” That slogan is a perfect reflection of the pandering expectations that too many politicians from both political parties practice today. It’s also the essence of Reaganomics. It assures us: “You can have a $1 trillion-plus expenditure on defense and security (23 percent of total government spending), another $3 trillion on health and education, consumer protection and law enforcement. You can fight wars half way across the globe, protect your shores, secure your transportation systems, keep food and drugs safe, while leaving no child behind and, oh, if we run a little short, just put it on the credit card.” Don’t blame that attitude on Obama—it originated even before Reagan, but his administration perfected it.

Today, the tea baggers say, we don’t need any government besides defense and security. We hear these Right Wingers screaming that any new spending program has to be paid for with a cut somewhere else.

Okay, let’s use that same thought on any war we fight.

Let’s pay for it with a temporary tax that runs the duration of the war….Talk about an incentive for an “exit strategy”, that would be the greatest peace incentive in history. The Lefty Liberals say, we can do away with defense and security, but we need to spend even more on the other 75 percent of government. But, you don’t hear many from either side say: If you’ll tell us exactly what these programs will cost, we’ll gladly pay our fair share.

Then there are the corporations and super rich: They say, make sure the nation is “friendly to business” and “secure enough” for commerce, but let the suckers pay. Corporations think they’re doing their part with their political contributions and under the table payoffs to maintain the status quo.

Fast forward to 2010: Lot’s of people proclaim their support for the troops with yellow ribbons on their bumpers. I’m sure the troops appreciate the gesture, but come on, what does it mean? Do those yellow ribbons mean you’re willing to pay for full funding for VA hospitals and VA benefits? To pay to build the ships, planes, weapons and material that the troops need to carry out their mission?

No, Mr. and Mrs. America, we can’t “have it all,” but we can have what we’re willing to pay for. And, if we don’t think it’s worthwhile to pay a tax to pursue a global war on terror, we can let the politicians know that, too.

We don’t need a deficit commission, we need a reality check and we need it now.


The blizzards of "Snowmegaladon" have me suffering (like most of the Mid Atlantic region) from cabin fever. I have the TV on and noticed that several CNN stories have been devoted to billboard ads against President Obama. One in Montana has former President Bush with a big smirk on his face captioned: "Do you miss me yet?" Another is in Wisconsin with the Caption "Impeach Obama"… "America's small businesses are failing"…paid for by an attorney who isn't a small business. Seems like America has a very short memory. The first year has been a bit rocky as the recession President Obama inherited keeps deepening (even though nearly every economist predicted that unemployment wouldn't bottom out until the spring of 2010 and that it would remain high through 2012.)

Is it fair? Is it even realistic to think we could come out of the greatest economic disaster since the Great Depression this soon? Remember, this catastrophe was caused by the de-regulators in the anti-government Right Wing.

Meanwhile, the defenders of the status quo and big Wall Street bankers have banded together to block President Obama's cabinet appointments (the highest number of Congressional holds in the history of America.)

Their strategy is pretty obvious. They just say "NO" to everything and create total political gridlock, then blame the President for not doing anything. Both sides are aware that the vast number of Americans are angry that they don't have jobs, can't pay the mortgage, can't afford gas to fuel up the car and warm their homes and will blame the party in power come election day. Most of these Republicans are in safe Republican districts and not likely to be touched in the next election, so they feel safe by being obstructionists.

There are enough southern and western Right Wing Conservative Democrats that frequently vote with the Republicans because they share the exact same political philosophy to block the will of the majority by using parliamentary procedures in Congress. So, passing sweeping laws in Congress is something that President Obama isn't going to be able to do. Forget that. It isn't going to happen until enough Americans get fed up with the body of Congress and wholesale replace them…and I don't see that happening in my lifetime. For some reason that defies logic, most voters blame Congress as a whole but not their own Senators and Congressman or woman. They curse the rain for being wet!

So let's look at exactly what the President can and has done within his powers to do independent of this "Just Say No Congress."

His appointments, by and large, look pretty much like mainstream America: women, Hispanics, Asians, Caucasians, Blacks, and members of the opposition party…He has issued Executive Orders that correct decades of waste, fraud and abuse of federal contracting. Despite the sniping from his critics, President Obama has blocked all terrorists attacks, and there are no headlines saying "Thousands of Americans have died from Swine Flu."

But President Obama doesn't get any credit for doing a good job preparing the nation for a deadly pandemic and marshalling the world to produce an effective vaccine against this new deadly strain of flu. Obama didn't allow the swine flu to become his "Katrina." Did the President get any credit for saving untold thousand of American lives? No, but he would have gotten the blame had we not developed an effective vaccine and vaccinated a very large population center that stopped the pandemic in its tracks.

We hear a lot of bad press about the stimulus bill not creating millions of new jobs. Okay, how about the thousands of workers who didn't get laid off? Do their jobs count? The police, fire departments, school teachers, and public safety personnel whose jobs were saved as a result of stimulus money going to the state governments?

No one wants to talk about the jobs NOT lost. You hear that only 25-30 jobs were created in the construction industry by building a bridge across a highway. What about the thousands of jobs in the steel mills that produced the steel used in the bridge; or the concrete manufacturers that made the concrete that went into the bridge; or the factory that produced the paint used to paint the exposed steel portions of the bridge; or the electrical supply house that supplied the wiring and lights for the bridge? One thing most folks don't understand: construction projects need good weather for maximum efficiency. Why do you think you see so much construction taking place in spring and summer? This spring we will see the maximum effect from the stimulus bill on public projects.

Before any major project is undertaken—it takes time to write contracts, secure bids, evaluate and score the bids, then award the successful contractor the work. After all that takes place, then and only then, are the first workers hired. It takes months before the first shovel full of dirt is turned after the stimulus bill was passed. Patience is something missing in the American voting public.