How to fail at governing America, without really trying

Symbols alone, even historic ones, do not mark enduring success. Photo: Iwo Jima

NEW YORK, April 29, 2013. Out of rubble and ash, One World Trade Center will achieve an historic milestone soon, weather permitting.

Any day, the iconic building will rise close to her full height of 1,776 feet and put paid to the notion that deadly assaults can quench the unshakeable spirit of America.

It is fitting that we mark a return close to normalcy here in New York scant days after the passing of Alan Wood, the 90-year-old veteran who furnished the giant flag our Marines hoisted when they landed at Iwo Jima in 1945.

Progress starts in poignant steps. However, symbols alone, even historic ones, do not mark enduring success.

Thinking broadly about the course of events, we are not being honest enough with ourselves in assessing whether we have truly advanced as America finally began to reap the seeds of victory sown for us so ably back in 1945.

The evidence I review suggests clearly that most Americans are currently suffering in an unwitting war against their legitimate aspirations led by incurious, unschooled elites from both political parties.

With America’s finances bursting out of control, with our Washington D.C. overlords swooning in self-absorbed, meaningless spectacles like the White House correspondents’ boondoggle, and after the latest attack on sovereign American territory, it is well past time to direct our elected representatives to address the actual, imminent dangers facing America.

The Rising Enemy Within: Uncontrolled Debt-Financed Government Spending

A report just issued suggests that President Obama has spent more time on vacation and playing golf than he has devoted to economic meetings since January 2009.

Some right-wing cynics might argue this has been a good thing in that it has allowed him less time to miss-allocate government influences over the core of our national life.

Here, I strenuously disagree with my brethren—America’s finances are past being out of control and they need to be addressed as a matter of highest urgency. Without economic security at home, we shall never have peace here and we surely cannot realistically hope to protect global peace abroad.

The mammoth deficits and towering debts built up on our behalf especially since 1999 may feed momentary populist impulses but certainly will crush our future, perhaps in the very near term.

Indeed, modern Americans have become hostages—to a miniscule elite in government, large corporations, finance, academia and the media that project the view we are not smart enough to manage ourselves.

So, too many of us cheerfully tag along and let the supposedly better informed and better qualified lead us past temptation, closer to “nirvana”.

Ask unwelcome questions too persistently and you will be deemed a clueless nuisance, or worse—an enemy of these “statists”.

Suggest, perhaps, that the First Lady’s national campaign against obesity should start with the size and reach of American government itself and you will be cast as some kind of heartless, Dickensian character—a modern Ebenezer Scrooge.

What, then, is the cold hard truth about the size and scope of America’s uncontrolled government spending today?

A Government Groaning Under Excess Weight

Under President Obama, Democrats have taken duplicitous, errant financial analysis to new depths. Worse, too many Republicans have been right along-side Democrats, defining a new downward deviancy in fiscal “responsibility”, as I have tried to spell out for some time.

In Calendar Year 2012 alone, all branches of government spent $ 5,661.4 billion: $ 809.1 billion (14.3%) on national defense and $ 4,852.3 billion (85.7)% on all other priorities.

To put this spending level in perspective, the entire Russian economy (all parts of the private sector and the public sector together) generated $ 2,053.0 billion in Gross Domestic Product in 2012.

This means that our government sector alone was 2.7 x the size of the total economic output of 142.5 million Russians. Now we learn, that for all our out-sized government spending, when it came to protecting our fellow citizens in Boston, it was the Russians who were switched on and warned us about the rising terror plot inside America and our own array of security forces, evidently, was asleep at the switch.

Is the threat posed by foreign foes greater than the threat posed by recklessly spending $ 1,357.6 billion more than the $ 4,303.8 billion all American government entities took in just during 2012?

Are officials in both parties ever going to get real about right-sizing our gargantuan Government?

In 2012, we spent 97% more on government than we did in 1999 and 31% more than we did in 2006. American households have certainly not seen growth in their incomes anywhere close to these rapid rates of increase.

The Rising Foreign Enemy: Stateless Radical Islamists

As if we did not have enough troubles at home, Americans in both parties are chafing at the bit now to prosecute more foreign military missions.

The world certainly struggles with a threat posed by stateless actors who owe no allegiance to and fear no secular leaders.

We in America can only retaliate against these amorphous foes—we must prosecute battles against concepts or individuals rather than against hostile states that should answer to their resident populations.

Vladimir Putin seemingly understands the grave threats posed by stateless radical Islamists even as we so timidly evaluate our foes. In June 2012, President Putin warned President Obama of these threats in stark terms.

Putin apparently re-iterated his concerns about threats posed by radical Islamists just after the Boston bombings.

Vladimir Putin has deep experience trying to “manage” Islamic radicalism inside and outside Russia. Harsh methods employed in Russia will never work here.

Clearly, we must be creative in defending ourselves. But please tell me, how does it make any sense, given all of our past failures, to fall in league outside America with shadowy groups and figures whose true motivations and allegiances are so difficult to discern?

Geniuses who operate in dark corners, out of public view, concoct and pursue plans that, in hindsight seem beyond ridiculous. Here, I think of supporting bin Laden against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, of bolstering Saddam Hussein against Iran, of toppling Mubarak for Morsi, of coddling, then enabling overthrow of Khaddafy, and now of instigating Assad’s downfall.

In theory, the Founder’s hoped citizens would actively debate and then plainly endorse any foreign military expeditions. Yet, this has seldom proven so in modern times. Back in 1789, oceans protected America from “blowback”—now, we are certainly not as safe.

A time for choosing has arrived again—we must pull our collective minds out of neutral, accept that we do, again face a rendezvous with destiny, and finally dig in to confront the brutal realities we all face as citizens in the richest, freest nation on Earth.

We will never make progress if we simultaneously ignore the greatest threats to global peace abroad that emanate from nations such as Iran, North Korea and Pakistan.

As grave as these foreign threats are, America must face far more profound threats here at home in government spending practices that threaten the solvency and thus the proper functioning of the only nation that could, conceivably, lead effective fights against rising tyrants.

At home, people are hurting, families are challenged but it is government that is broken in America and “We, the People” must now finally do something to fix our most serious problems, before we find out one sudden moment that we have been burying our heads in the sand for way too long.

Let’s roll!



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Charles Ortel

Charles Ortel became a lapsed member of the silent majority in August 2007 when he began alerting the public to dangers posed by structural changes in the global economy. Since then, Charles has appeared in the print, radio and television media with increasing frequency. Brass Tacks will attempt to offer non-partisan perspective on factors contributing to the unresolved, burgeoning crisis and discuss potential solutions. Graduated from Horace Mann School, Yale College and Harvard Business School, Charles tries to learn each day.  

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