My wife and I are preparing to celebrate our eleventh anniversary, and I am racing about trying to finish preparations for a local youth sports event. Others in our democracy have a very different agenda this week. Some are waiting for the end of the world (this time, it is guaranteed to be May 21), others are doing their best version of Chicken Little…the budget sky is falling!
We do have a very large current deficit fueling an ever-growing national debt. Left unchecked, this fiscal situation could cripple our economy at least as effectively as the geniuses on Wall Street were able to accomplish during the first decade of this century. So, being the fiscally responsible, business-minded people that we are, we seek to control those aspects of our budget driving the deficits. Are the budget issues related to the diminished tax revenues that are characteristic of a recession? Are they by-products of the calamitous inflation in health care expenses? Could they be linked with the Bush tax cuts which, by definition, slashed tax revenues? Is there a connection with the ongoing wars in the Middle East?
If we are to believe the diagnosis of congressional Republicans and the so-called liberal mainstream media, the answer is none of the above. If we are to believe those beacons of fiscal responsibility and budget integrity, the real culprits are poor people, PBS, public school teachers, and food stamps.
On August 31, 2010 the last American combat troops will leave Iraq. Many thousands will remain in advisory and security roles well into 2011. Over 4,700 American soldiers, sailors, and Marines have died in the conflict, with between 97,000 and 106,000 Iraqi civilians dead as well. The strictly human toll is the most important, which is why I list it first. The toll paid by our nation in money and material, while less important, is equally startling.
It includes the $900 billion of US taxpayers’ funds spent or approved for spending through Sept 2010. Some $9 billion of US taxpayers’ money and $549.7 million in spare parts shipped in 2004 to US contractors are listed as lost and unaccounted for in Iraq. An amount totaling $1 billion in tractor trailers, tank recovery vehicles, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and other equipment and services provided to the Iraqi security forces are missing. $10 billion, per Feb 2007 Congressional hearings, was wasted or mismanaged. There are $1.4 billion in Halliburton overcharges classified by the Pentagon as unreasonable and unsupported. $20 billion was paid to KBR, a former Halliburton division, to supply U.S. military in Iraq with food, fuel, housing and other items. $3.2 billion of that $20 billion paid to KBR, are for charges Pentagon auditors deem “questionable or supportable”.
The world went nuts today, what with Lebron James choosing Miami. After the breathless hyperbole leading into the “Big Signing”, an even bigger story broke when Cleveland Cavs owner Dan Gilbert let the proverbial door hit Lebron in the proverbial backside on his way out. Gilbert blasted King James, and his letter was printed in Comic Sans! COMIC SANS!!
What could be worse? The Department of Defense released the names of three soldiers killed in Afghanistan. Staff Sgt. Marc A. Arizmendez, 30, of Anaheim, Calif., Spc. Roger Lee, 26, of Monterey, Calif., and Pfc. Michael S. Pridham, 19, of Louisville, Ky. all died from wounds sustained when their vehicle was destroyed by an I.E.D. I could have written about the continuing poor economy, continuing gushing oil, or any number of other items.
I am of the opinion that the deaths of our nation’s best people come before those stories. I might even have written of the 2 year sentence handed down to the police officer who shot a handcuffed, face down man in a train station in Oakland. Any news organization that chose to feature any of the stories in this paragraph or the one above, before reporting on Lebran James and Dan Gilbert, would be doing its job. I have to believe that even that bottomless source of hyperbole itself, ESPN, could have found other stories with more weight. Of course, I try to be a positive person, and am often disappointed.