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June 10, 2010
It is becoming increasingly clear that an irony with potentially tragic implications for the United States is being played out on both sides of the Atlantic.
On the one hand, there is in Europe a developing dramatic reversal of "welfare state" policies which created Greece's financial crisis which in turn created the prospect captured in a New York Times Sunday story which carried this headline: "Crisis Threatens Liberal Benefits Of European Life." The subhead read: "Rethinking Safety Net."
The story indicated that the realities which European governments are forced to ask their citizens to face are "cutting salaries, raising legal retirement ages, increasing work hours and reducing health benefits and pensions."
In sharp and potentially disastrous contrast, the United States, with the most liberal president in modern times pushing his "I will, I want" agenda, goes on piling up trillions of dollars in debt as a compliant Congress approves annual federal budgets which are nearly a trillion dollars in the red.
The Times article said that "gross public social expenditures" in the European Union countries increased from 16% of gross domestic production in 1980 to 21% in 2005, compared to 15.9% in the United States. Remember that the 15.9% figure was for 2005, three years before "ObamaCare" and all the other costly "public social expenditure" initiatives which Obama and the rest of the liberal establishment are eager to impose on the American people and the American economy.
Another recent front-page article in The New York Times carried this headline: "Greece, Debt and a Lesson" and this subhead: "A red ink question: Is U.S. so different?"
The front-page commentary made this startling comparison between the United States and Greece:
"The numbers on our federal debt are becoming frighteningly familiar. The debt is projected to equal 140% of gross domestic product within two decades. Add in the budget troubles of state governments, and the true shortfall grows even larger. Greece's debt, by comparison, equals about 115% of its gross national product today."
Any effort to slow down the welfare state express certainly won't come from the most liberal, least experienced president to serve in the White House in modern times. Nor, apparently, from the present compliant majority in the United States Congress.
The Tea Party activists, scorned by the liberal left, perhaps offer a glimmer of hope, if they help nominate more attractive candidates than Rand Paul, the recently nominated Republican senatorial candidate in Kentucky who received Tea Party support.
Would a Republican majority in Congress, resulting from the November elections, reverse the trend towards putting the United States in the same ultimate "public social expenditures" crisis as countries in Europe are facing today? Unlikely. I question whether a Republican Congressional majority-which I doubt is going to happen as a result of the November elections-would have the political courage to take really effective measures to reverse the trillion-dollar-deficits slide toward the welfare state political philosophy from which European countries are making a hurried, forced retreat.
* * *
Herewith a sort of "lest we forget" postscript to the Times Square terrorist bomb scare story:
A liberal columnist concluded that the lessons from the attempted attack in Times Square "are less political and more practical. The first line of the defense is an alert citizenry."
What utter nonsense. The first line of defense to terrorism isn't "an alert citizenry." It is a government which is much more alert and effective in discovering and monitoring potential threats, including threats developed in terrorist-training camps in supposedly friendly allied countries like Pakistan.
And perhaps the most important lesson of all is that Muslims as a people-or a religious sect-have different moral standards than do non-Muslim societies. Part of the Muslim creed is a belief in "jihad" or "holy war" and that an assured way for perpetual life in Muslim heaven is to die as a martyr in an act of "holy war."
A corollary to this lesson is that a strong faction within the Muslim world believes in exporting holy war, striking non-Muslims without warning, killing as many as possible, in their home countries if possible.
In the name of common sense, do we really need this reminder, considering the lesson we should have learned when two airliners crashed into New York skyscrapers on September 11, 2001?
How many more wakeup calls do we need to realize that a good many Muslims, including some living in this country as American citizens, hate the United States and need to be kept under better surveillance?
In addition to the importance of the Times Square incident as a wakeup call, rather than the comforting "look how quickly we caught him" reaction, isn't it time for us to review the fundamental question of our mission in Afghanistan?
This is a country which two previous world powers, Great Britain in the 19th Century and Russia in the 20th Century, attempted to conquer and install friendly governments. Both ventures ended in absolute disaster for the invaders.
What prospect do we have that the American mission (yes, yes, I know it is supposedly a NATO mission, but what country is supplying the very great majority of the troops?) will turn out differently?
Afghanistan is still not demonstrably capable of being brought together under a single representative, democratic form of government. In fact, all its history and even the current evidence is to the contrary.
Tribal rivalries result in local warlords battling for area supremacy. Add in the relatively recent development of the Taliban religious fanatics who don't think western societies like the United States have any business telling them how to treat women or otherwise practice their religion.
If President Obama and our military leaders are really convinced that we can succeed where Great Britain and Russia failed, can succeed and withdraw, leaving behind a democratized Afghanistan with no continuing serious threat from terrorist training camps, they should give reassurance to the American people.
I'm not suggesting that withdrawal from Afghanistan would end the threat of Muslim terrorism. That threat will exist, I believe, as long as we continue to be regarded as an unwelcome intruder into the Middle East, partly as a result of our staunch support of Israel.
But withdrawal from Afghanistan unless we have some reasonable prospect of lasting peaceful impact there would at least enable us to conserve our military resources and focus more effectively on close-to-home measures to protect our national security.
Measures much more effective than those evidenced by the invasion of Times Square by a would-be terrorist. He certainly had no problem planting a bomb. His only problem was that he didn't know enough to make it go off.
And his apprehension on an airliner on the runway, within minutes of flying to safety in a Middle Eastern country-a Muslim country, of course-was hardly evidence of an effective defense against terrorists.
* * *
When will Mayor Jim Suttle end his misguided (I was tempted to say "silly") advocacy of a streetcar system which would cost between an estimated $200 million to $250 million.
Suttle has indicated a belief that a federal government which is already spending trillions of dollars which it doesn't have, financed by borrowing through the issuance of more bonds, could be talked out of the construction dollars.
Suttle argues that building a streetcar system could mean $1 billion in economic development. What specific examples of economic development would be assured is an unanswered question.
The time is not over for streetcars, Suttle argues.
Wrong. The time for streetcars was over more than half a century ago when buses provided a more flexible, less expensive, more efficient public transit system.
Suttle should realize that his continuing promotion of a streetcar system distracts attention from the very real financial problems with which he must contend.
I believe the mayor would find more support for his proposed solutions to the very real problems with which he must deal if he would stop riding the streetcar proposal.
* * *
Even for our household, it was a rather chaotic morning. We (I'm being charitable here) had lost track of all three of our cordless telephones.
A friend trying to reach Marian to arrange a luncheon rendezvous had a cell phone failure.
For the luncheon, Marian needed a pair of black slacks which were somewhere in my still-unpacked suitcase. (We had returned the evening before from a three-day trip to California.)
I punched the button that sends out a "phone-locator" signal. Two of the phones showed up on the stove in the kitchen where Marian had placed them and where she had been spending time that morning.
The phones started to ring with unsolicited calls from people who said they had offers which would save us money.
And I was trying to dictate my weekly column.
"This is utter chaos," I said.
"I operate better in chaos than you do" was the reply from my indomitable roommate as she-bless her heart-prepared to serve me waffles for a late breakfast, after asking whether I wanted an egg salad or a sardine sandwich for lunch.
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