Apr 16 2012

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Stuck on Trivial as US Problems Mount

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Seek Substance over Fluff

For any American concerned about the future of the country – from any political stripe – the media focus of late has been a matter for frustration and disappointment.

There is the scandal at the General Services Administration (GSA) with its lavish conference spending, questionable travel priorities and inapporpriate YouTube videos created by staffers.

Then there was the dust up when Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen made the off-handed comment that Mitt Romney’s wife, Ann, had, “never worked a day in her life,” this, despite Mrs. Romney having raised five sons as a stay-at-home Mom. The uproar served as a counter-point to Democratic claims that have ruled the airwaves for weeks that Republicans are somehow waging a “war on women.”

And finally, over the weekend, as President Obama traveled to Colombia for a policy meeting with his hemispheric peers to discuss drugs, immigration and trade, the media focused obsessively on the mini- scandal of Secret Service agents allegedly procuring the services of prostitutes, as they prepared for the President’s arrival at the summit.

No doubt that in context, the stories have news value.

But is this what we should be talking about?

There is an unmistakable “fiddling while Rome burns” quality to the news reporting that makes the content these days appear vaccuous and banal.


Consider our current national condition, by the numbers.

Officially, there are 12.8 million unemployed Americans.  The unofficial count, which includes part time workers who want full time employment as well as those that have given up entirely, is actually near double that figure, at 22.7 million.

46 million Americans are receiving food stamps.

15.1 percent of Americans live in poverty.

14 million American homeowners have “negative equity” – where their houses are worth less than their mortgages, or near negative equity.  That’s 28 percent of all mortgages in the US; equity robbed from homeowners by the collapse of the housing market with the stock crash in ’08.  Where before the home was an investment that could – over time – provid capital for a child’s education or a couple’s retirement, there is now nothing.

More broadly, economic growth has averaged only 2.4 percent since GDP turned positive in QIII of 2009. For comparison purposes, economic growth averaged 5.7 percent in the ten quarters after the 1982 recession, where the unemployment rate dropped from 10.2 percent to 6.1 percent.

This recession was deeper and the recovery weaker than at any event since the Great Depression.

Into this middling economic performance, consider our national finances which are a disgrace.

The annual budget deficit has not been below $1 trillion since 2009 and will top $1.2 trillion this year; all borrowed money.

The national debt is $15.6 trillion – $6 trillion more than when President Obama assumed office. Put in context, the US GDP, the value of all goods and services sold in the US for a given year, was $15.1 trillion.

So, we now officially owe more than we make.

But the national debt is but one component.

If you add federal, state and local debt together, the US has a staggering $57 trillion in debt as a country. For comparison purposes, the entire GDP of all countries on earth, taken together, is $63 trillion.

But that’s still not the worst of it.

Outstanding future liabilities for Social Security and Medicare, the promises made to current and future retirees at existing benefit levels, is a jaw dropping $118 trillion. For comparison purposes, if you added up the total value of everything in the US; real estate, infrastructure, et.al., it would only come to $83 trillion.

Starting in 2011, 10,000 baby-boomers a day turned 65, making them eligible for Social Security and Medicare. 10,000 Boomers will turn 65 each day for the next 6,600 days.

Who is going to pay for this?

While we wallow in unsustainable debt, structural problems continue.

Since 2001, the US has spent $1.2 trillion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. After exiting Iraq, and as we prepare to exit Afghanistan, the US military is faced with an emerging procurement crisis. Ships, tanks and planes are old. Air to air refueling tankers are nearly half a century old. Many F-15 fighters are 25 years old. Modernizing the forces to maintain a robust, technologically advanced military organization is going to continue to cost money.

Or take education.

It’s hard to find anyone against it and the US fairly shovels money at it.

Over the last ten years, the US has spent $8.7 trillion on education at all federal, state and local levels. That roughly equals the annual GDP of China and Germany – together – but what results do we see?

In a 2010 study, out of 34 countries rated, the US was 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math.

Is this successful preparation for the 21st century workforce given the enormous level of investment?

These are the facts; and they are not in dispute.

However, with all of this looking us in the face, we are preoccupied with whether a surtax on millionaires – which will raise about two days worth of federal spending over ten years – should be a priority, or whether a proposal to slow the growth in entitlements in “radical.”

We are not spectators, but participants.

These are not crises that will break two generations hence, but actual disasters we face today.

Our future, but more importantly the future of our children, is at stake.

The words of philosopher Edmund Burke are particularly poignant. “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

It is time to dismiss the frivolous and get to the serious work of fixing America.




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