Friday, May 13, 2011

Ding Dong, The Witch is Dead!

Remember that song from the Wizard of Oz, “Ding Dong! The Witch is dead. Which old Witch? The Wicked Witch! Ding Dong! The Wicked Witch is dead. Wake up - sleepy head, rub your eyes, get out of bed. Wake up, the Wicked Witch is dead. She's gone where the goblins go… in the bottom of the Arabian Sea.” (I just added the Arabian sea part).

Ding Dong Osuma’s Dead… but regrettably, his disastrous economic legacy is alive and well in America.  One month after 9-11 in his first video comments released by Al Jezeera, he said the main goal of the Sept 11, 2001 attacks was to bleed the American economy to bankruptcy. You and I were devastated by the loss of loved ones and our fellow Americans, but Bin Laden had no interest in them.  Killing thousands of Americans was only a means to end for him.   Bin Laden was only interested in bankrupting the United States of America, and long after he is dead, his plan will continue draining our resources, unless we do something to change course.   

It is estimated the actual 9-11 attacks themselves, cost Al Queda around $500,000, a drop in the bucket to his Saudi and other wealthy Gulf patrons.  Think about how much money the US has spent as a result of those attacks.  The direct economic consequences of the 9/11 attacks has been estimated to be between 1.2 and 2 Trillion dollars (Inst for Analysis of Global ).The numbers defy the imagination. The initial direct costs of the attacks is multiplied by the continued extraordinary military and security spending the trauma triggeredTime to wake up and give some really serious thought to American military and security options. 

We can’t afford to keep doing what we have been doing.  American defense and security spending has been far beyond what has been necessary to meet our security need. Bin Laden understood the American proclivity for over-reaction and overdoing nearly everything.  Whether it’s the size of Whoppers or HumVees, more is better.  If the Army needs 50 HumVees for a new military base, then the DOD asks Congress for money for 500 HumVees.  If we need to beef up our airport security by 100%, then we increase security spending by 500%.  Bin Ladin read the American ethos very well.  He assumed we would react irrationally, so that every time one of his mindless, usually bumbling followers was found with explosives in his shoes or underwear, that was good for another billion dollars in US security and military spending.  Great cost-benefit ratio for Bin Laden's side. 

 It is time we prove Osama Bin Laden’s vision of America is wrong.  We need to think more clearly about what it takes to defeat terrorists, while simultaneously rebuilding our own economy at home.  Whether he is dead or not, Bin Laden wins if our economy continues in its current downward tailspin.

Consider a few numbers and you will see what I mean.  George W. Bush’s disastrous War in Iraq has cost nearly $800 billion dollars for which there was no federal money appropriated.  The war in Afghanstan has cost $400 billion so far, and still counting. We have very limited tangible results to show for all that money and a lot of dead and severely injured young Americans.  Global military expenditures stand at over $1.6 trillion in annual expenditure at current prices for 2010, and has more than doubled over the past decade. US military spending has increased from $330 billion in 2000 to $690 billion in 2010. 

The annual cost of US Security agencies is $80 billion per year, including military intelligence and $53.1 billion covers the CIA and some of the other 16 intelligence agencies. An independent report by M.G.Steward and J. Mueller concluded that “An assessment of increased United States federal homeland security expenditure since 2001 and expected lives saved as a result of such expenditure suggests that the annual cost ranges from $64 million to $600 million (or even more) per life saved.”  Compare that with a cost of 10 cents per life saved by requiring seat belts in automobiles or $9.90 per life saved by setting an asbestos occupational safety limits (Assessing the costs and benefits of homeland security spending. Research Report. No. 265.04.08, ISBN No. 9781 9207 01 96 3).  The authors argue that “the sky’s the limit” mentality has led to totally undisciplined irrational spending with no regard whatsoever to possibly more benficial alterantives.  To wit, there are 26,391 private national security companies in the U.S.  That means, figuratively speaking the populations of Ham Lake, Minnesota, a 9 by 9 block area of Manhattan, New York City, and Forrest City, Arkansas, each has the equivalent of their own private security company, if you see what I mean.  Seems a bit excessive, don’t you think?

It we do nothing about this outlandish growth in military and security spending, Bin Laden will have achieved his goal of bringing the US to its knees by utterly unaffordable defense and security spending, by scaring the pants off us.  There are three major consequences of this irrational, outlandish, profligate spending: (1) the country’s level of debt has drastically skyrocketed, meaning the US has become economically dependent on our Chinese bankers, which poses serious long term political and military consequences, (2) there is no money for critical domestic spending to rebuild decaying American infrastructure, which is essential to the country’s future, and (3) the American middle class is being decimated because of unemployment, low wages and loss of benefits.  Lets begin by considering #2 and #3.

Consider infrastructure.  The American Society of Civil Engineers, a non-profit professional society has evaluated the status of US infrastructure, and it is not a pretty picture. These independent engineering professionals have studied a wide range of the basic stuff that makes the country tick, such as Drinking Water, Wastewater, Bridges, Dams, Roads, Hazardous Waste, Airports and Transit.  The Civil Engineers’ average grade for the American infrastructure is a D on an A to F scale.  Those in the worst shape are Drinking Water, Roads and Wastewater, that all got D-.  They estimate $2.2 Trillion would be needed to bring our most basic infrastructure up to a passing grade necessary to secure our country’s domestic future    In short, the country is in big trouble, and wearing blinders doesn’t help solve the problem. 

If only a fraction of excessive military and security spending were reallocated to building roads and bridges (which are falling down, remember the collapse I35W in Minneapolis killing 12 people), replacing the rickety power grid which is prone to attacks and blackouts, to accommodate wind and solar energy, replacing dams that are at risk of bursting and flooding downstream towns and cities, (e.g. the Missouri Taum Sauk dam in 2005, the 2008 East Lake Dam on Indiana, the 2006 Needwood Dam in Gaithersburg MD, and on and on, totaling 77 dam failures in the past ten years).  Some of that excess military and security spending could be diverted to investing in development of fuel cells for electrically powered automobiles, trucks and buses, and installing internet networks throughout underserved areas of the US as is occurring in most developed countries. This is the country that developed the Hoover Dam and the Interstate Highway system, at one time the envy of the World.  No more. We are lagging far, far behind our competition.  If we used our heads, our employment problem could be solved for many years to come, while overall, reducing federal expenditures and the national debt.

The nay sayers in Congress may be willing to cooperate in reigning in the disastrous course the country has taken in unwise military and security spending.  They will, of course, look out for their buddies in the military and security contracting industries in their home states who have given them bushel baskets of campaign money, but even military apologists have some sense when it comes to balancing greed against the deficit, though admittedly not much. As the federal budget negotiations move forward, military and security spending have to be near the top of the list for cuts.  To be sure, there will be lots of terrifying claims of impending disasters and rationalizations for continuing outrageous spending, but as the Wizard said in the Land of Oz, “Some people without brains do a lot of talking.”

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