Thursday, July 28, 2011

America: A Nation, Not A Business

This article originally appeared on PolicyMic on 28 July, 2011

As the 2012 presidential campaign rolls on and the debt debate continues, we continue to hear comparisons equating running America with running a business. Conservatives assert that if we ran America like a well-managed company we would not be in our current economic troubles. The current conservative talking points give the affluent among us nice cuddly names like "job creators," and focus on "fiscal discipline" in government.

Contrary to conservative belief, America should not be run like a business because it is not a business. The main goal in any enterprise is to increase profit. The survival of the company is more important than the well being of its individual employees. In tough times a business can batten down its hatches with relative ease through layoffs, furloughs, cutting hours, and hiring freezes. It can increase efficiency, cut costs, and suspend new investments. Many companies are taking these actions now to survive.

That is not so with America. Americans are not employees able to seek employment elsewhere. They cannot be cut loose by their government, especially not when many of them are already receiving such treatment from employers. Though the long-term health of America is vital, the purpose of this country is to protect and serve its people, not to profit from them or stay in the black while they go under. Sometimes it is necessary to fall into the red.

It was an uncontrollable desire for profit by our biggest firms and banks that plunged us into our current economic recession, not government spending or debt. Spending only increased after these same crippled firms begged government for a bail out. Fiscal discipline was pushed aside as the conservative Bush administration provided the first bailout package. Businesses are laying-off employees, not government. Excessive debt, taxation, and regulation did not cause this problem; high risk, over-leveraging, profit seeking and business excess did.

Conservatives argue average Americans need to endure benefits cuts, tighten their belts, and forgo revenue to decrease the national debt while tax breaks and loopholes continue for "job creators" — the very people who caused the situation in the first place — because doing so might create jobs. Conservatives are willing to support the needs of business over those of the people; they’re willing to let the crew drown to save the ship. If Americans allow them to put government on the chopping block now, there will be no one to stand in the way of further harmful excesses by profit-hoarders in the future.

The claim of "fiscal discipline" by conservatives during the debt ceiling debate should be called into question. Anyone who is willing to drive the country into potential financial Armageddon and risk further negative consequences based upon ideological, not practical, arguments cannot justify a claim for “fiscal discipline.” Government debt needs to be addressed, but that can be done without ruining our credit rating, which would likely serve to increase the debt. America is not a business. It is a country with a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. It should stay that way.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Oil: America's Kryptonite

This article originally appeared on PolicyMic on 15 July, 2011

The pace of change in America is slow and the larger the change the slower the pace. Eliminating oil dependence is a change we’ve been talking about for forty years. Much of the discussion on the issue revolves around economics. But this ignores another, arguably more important side of the issue. America’s continuing dependence on oil is an enormous strategic liability. If you look up the term strategic liability in the dictionary, there should be a picture of oil under it. There are many reasons why this is so.

Oil costs are prohibitive and unpredictable. Gas costs us $400 a gallon in Afghanistan. We pay $88 per soldier per day in Iraq for fuel. Defense spending has long been a sacred cow, but now it is on the chopping block. A smaller military budget means a smaller military where every dollar counts. Even small increases in fuel costs translate to thousands of dollars. As oil prices continue to trend upward and remain volatile, this may put our commanders in the position of having to worry if they can afford the gas to conduct operations or using a smaller force than necessary for the job due to the cost. This may put our troops downrange and our security at home in jeopardy.

Oil creates soft targets for our foes that can directly affect us. Experts have long been concerned about the liability of oil transport by land and sea to militant attacks. NATO convoys in Pakistan and fuel convoys in Iraq have been constant targets. There have been attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, India, and Indonesia. The thousands of oil wells and miles of pipelines throughout the world are impossible to be adequately secured. There have been attacks on oil infrastructure in Nigeria, Turkey, and even Mexico among other places. Any interruption in supply causes prices to shoot up and costs us billions every time it does.

Oil puts us in partnership with people that oppose our values or even with our enemies. America is the world’s largest consumer of oil. There is no question that our need for oil causes us to look the other way when our suppliers step on human rights, equality, and democracy. We also sell them arms and give trade concessions to keep them happy. If we didn’t need oil we wouldn’t need to do this. Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain are examples. Our need has put us into bed with regimes we have later fought. Think Iran, Iraq, and Libya. Dependence on oil has caused us to surrender our freedom to act.

Continuing to depend on oil is an enormous strategic liability, limits our freedom of action, and is harmful to our security. Eliminating our need for oil will make us independent again and take a weapon out of the hands of those who oppose America. We’ve been debating the issue for forty years and it is finally time to act. Breaking our dependence on oil is vital to our national security.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Conservative Message Paradox

This article originally appeared on PolicyMic on 7 July 2011

The debate about America’s government has degenerated from legitimately discussing the limits of power and criticizing waste, to depicting all government as evil and innately wasteful with public servants as overpaid loafers. To have a democracy means debate never ends, but there is a difference between legitimate criticism and ideological accusation. We need to take a fresh, common-sense look at these arguments.

The conservative assertion is that government is to blame for America’s economic woes; getting government out of the market and allowing “job creators” to keep more of their money would solve our problems. In short, government is the problem, not the solution. The problem with this oversimplification is that its proponents offer the same formula in good times and bad. Further, conservatives have a vested ideological interest in ensuring government does not function as it should to prove their thesis correct. Turning to conservatives to fix government is like hiring criminals to be police officers and wondering why crime is so high.

The conservative argument that cutting taxes, removing regulation, and shrinking government are always the solutions, no matter the conditions, defies logic. How can it be that, in the best of times and the worst of times, the answer is always the same? It is the equivalent of a doctor prescribing aspirin for both headaches and double amputations. If it does not work the first time, just cut, slash, and shrink even further. It is their answer in our current downturn, but it was also their answer in much better times than these. There is no such thing as a cure-all.

Why would we, as Americans, turn to people to make policy for us who have a stated opposition to government and expect them to generate cogent policies and programs? It should not be surprising that our government does not work as it should. Turning to conservatives to fix benefits programs they oppose is not rational.

When we elect conservatives to government office, we are saying we want our tax dollars wasted even more than any “tax and spend liberal” ever could. Putting someone in charge of making policy for an institution they do not believe in and ideologically oppose guarantees waste. We cannot expect government to be run competently by people that oppose it or want to see it dispensed with.

There is always room in a democracy for criticism, but there is no room for ideological sabotage. In our debate about how government should work and how to fix our debt, we cannot expect people that are diametrically opposed to government and its programs to work in good faith to fix them. The inmates cannot run the asylum. Turning to conservatives to make government work better, reduce our debt, and to save programs like Social Security and Medicare would be doing just that.