Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Open Letter to President Obama

A partial Solution to the Budget/Economic Crisis

Dear President Obama:

I’m not as smart as many of your current appointees but I may be a little smarter than some from the previous administration. I’m just an American, grandson of four immigrants whose legacy helped build this country and whose sons and grandsons fought to protect it, bled for it, and worked to improve it.

Somehow, sometime after the Korean conflict, we seemed to have lost our way in America. A cancer began to creep into our culture. People lauded the Great Society but did not realize that with greatness comes responsibility. We began to expect things – social security was designed as a supplement but became the primary source of income for many retirees. Welfare programs designed to give people a temporary boost became the primary source of income for multiple generations. As the government began to assist people, too many started to feel entitled to the help and many churches and benevolent organizations pulled away from their responsibility to help their fellow man. We as a nation grew to be less dependent on each other and to feel less responsibility for each other. The era of responsibility continued to slide until we no longer took responsibility for our own needs.

The wealthy felt entitled to tax cuts. Businessmen felt entitled to government contracts. Suppliers of goods and services felt entitled to top dollar regardless of quality. The middle class felt entitled to rich work contracts complete with lifetime health benefits and guaranteed retirement funding. The poor felt entitled to the various forms of welfare to which they had become addicted. Everybody felt entitled. Nobody felt responsible. The recipe for financial disaster had been written and needed only time to run up huge mortgage Ponzi schemes, housing bubbles, stock market returns built on what corporations refer to as “blue sky,” and hospitals that charged hundreds of dollars for a single aspirin or other items available for pennies in a regular grocery store.

The Health care system became bloated. Doctors ceased to become physicians and became corporations who limited the time with patients according to insurance company dictates and cut corners for maximum profits. Health care became a misnomer, for only the tiniest portion of manpower and time was devoted to patient care. The vast majority was spent filling out insurance forms, meeting with drug salespeople, and taking part in outside business enterprises. The patient became the least of the concern of the medical profession, inc.

Schools which once produced students who were the envy of the world now have dropout rates that often surpass 50% and those who do complete their education rank at the bottom among graduates from so-called first-world countries. Parents sue teachers because their children are entitled to “A” grades regardless of the level at which they achieve. Teachers are pressured to have their students score at certain levels on standardized tests regardless of abilities, lest the school fail to meet “Adequate Yearly Progress.” Disruptive students are required to attend class with their peers who want to learn. Classrooms are bursting at the seams with overcrowding and budget cuts threaten to exacerbate the situation.

Much noise has been made of the billions of dollars that have been spent in support of a war that has been fought largely by the 21st century equivalent of Hessian soldiers; that is, “security forces” such as those supplied by Blackwater and other favored corporations, often with no-bid contracts and frequently with little oversight of either where money is spent or the behavior of the non-military combat security.

So here you are Mr. President. A few months into your term and so many problems dumped into your lap. You have offered plans which have been lauded by some and attacked by others. However it must be noted that those who would attack your plans do not offer viable alternatives. You have asked the public as well as some of the greatest minds in the country to offer suggestions. I cannot offer a panacea to the problems or even a plan for more than one issue at a time, so I will take a stab at how we might jump help the economy.

According to globalsecurity.org, U.S. troops are located in nearly 130 countries around the world. Some of the deployments have lasted 50 years or so. More than 150,000 American troops are posted in Germany, South Korea, and Japan. Another 25,000 or so are stationed in Italy and Britain and miscellaneous other countries for a total of about 200,000 troops in Europe and Asia and another 200,000 or so in Iraq. Our “peacetime” budget for American troops, mostly abroad, exceeds half a trillion dollars per year. In case you are unable to grasp that figure, let me write it out: 500,000,000,000.

Every troop worldwide must be fed, clothed, and housed. Local foreign economies worldwide thrive on the commerce brought to them by our troops and of course, ultimately the taxpayers. During WW-II soldiers cooked, cleaned, and were generally self sufficient. No longer. Nearly everything needed to support a large contingency of soldiers is outsourced, with contracts often going to favored companies and many times with no competitive bid required. When all contingencies are added in the half-trillion dollars spent annually increases dramatically.

According to a Heritage Foundation blurb, “Many of our installations in Germany and South Korea are remnants from a bygone era. For example, Yongsan Army Garrison in downtown Seoul was built by the colonial Japanese army long before World War II. Tank and artillery ranges where our forces train in Germany were first used by the Bavarian army more than 100 years ago. Today, these training areas are wholly inadequate to accommodate the extended reach of our current generation of weapons and the rapid pace of modern maneuver warfare.”

Many foreign bases do not support our mission and some countries are openly hostile to our troops being stationed in their country. Imagine how you would feel if Chinese or Russian troops were posted on our soil. But costs do not end with the keeping of bases on foreign soil. For those in combat, additional costs are incurred for material and arms destroyed, soldier deaths, and injuries which often require treatment for the rest of the life of the afflicted veteran.

So Mr. President, my suggestion is to start by reviewing all the antiquated policies. Your G-20 trip might be a good time to start. Just because U.S. troops “have always been there” does not mean they must always be there. We are the most powerful nation in the world, but not the only one. We must maintain a strong army on alert in the event of attack, but we are not the world’s policemen. Bring home most of our men and women from around the world. End the U.S. combat involvement in Iraq and if you must do so temporarily, keep the required number of non-combat troops in Afghanistan. Those actions alone would pay for upgrading our education system and infrastructure. Continue to rework the moribund health system, and to the persistent naysayers, who go off hourly like a cuckoo clock, ignore them.

I’ll close with a musical suggestion:

A little blogging music Maestro… “Time to Say Goodbye,” by Andrea Bocelli

Dr. Forgot

No comments: