Ochenski 

Living in La-La land: Washington policy makers need to get real

Recently released estimates of what the Bush wars cost Americans—$20,900 so far for a family of four—have shocked the nation. Couple that with the plunging dollar, the skyrocketing national debt, and maybe, just maybe, it might be enough to jar Congress into admitting it’s time to leave the La-La Land in which they and the delusional President Bush have been living and start taking care of this nation’s precarious future immediately.

If you believe anything that comes out of the White House these days, you probably thought the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan totaled $804 billion. Certainly that number is more than enough to raise concerns for a government that is living on borrowed foreign money, but according to the new figures released by Congressional Democrats this week, it is really only about half of what the wars are really costing us. Astoundingly, when you add in the hidden costs such as the interest on the loans, long-term health care for injured vets, and the sky-high costs for fuel thanks to the disruptive effect of the wars on the oil markets, the real number comes up at $1.6 trillion from 2002 to 2008. If you break out the cost between Iraq and Afghanistan, the Iraq War comes out at a whopping $1.3 trillion, or $16,500 per family of four.

Apply these numbers to the current situation now facing America and their real significance becomes readily apparent. Take the value of our dollar, for instance. Remember just a few short years ago when a greenback was good for almost a buck and half in Canada? Now it’s worth about 96 cents. Or how about the euro? When the official currency of the European Union was issued it was worth about 80 cents on the dollar. This week on international money markets, the exchange rate is about $1.46 against the buck.

What that means in simplest terms is that the world is judging America’s fiscal stability and long-term outlook and not finding the happy face our politicians continue to paint for us. Instead, they are finding a crumbling empire that, like so many empires before us, has overextended itself abroad while failing to shore up the foundations at home, hence the dollar, once the proud standard for international trade and investment, is becoming a losing investment for the rest of the world.

For the average citizen, that translates into nothing but bad news. Oil is flirting with $100 a barrel, and almost hit the mark last week. Here at home, the price of gas has zipped past $3 a gallon, while diesel, the fuel that moves America’s goods across the nation, hit $3.49 with no end in sight. When the cost of transportation takes such an enormous jump, it doesn’t take an economic wizard to figure out that everything that must be transported, from food to furniture will likewise begin to head upward in a steep inflationary spiral. So far, according the Demo report, the steep rise in the price of oil from about $37 to nearly $100 per barrel has resulted in the loss of “approximately $124 billion from U.S. oil consumers to foreign (oil) producers” in the period between the war’s start in 2003 and 2008.

Meanwhile, reacting to the bad news and predictions of worse to come, Wall Street watched the stock market plunge a thousand points in mere days, dropping back below the 13,000 mark for the first time since April, prompting massive sell-offs, wiping out billions in investment dollars, and further damaging the stability of our nation’s fiscal standing.

Now let’s look at what the La-La Congress is doing—or more accurately, not doing—about it. They have already approved the single largest military funding bill in this nation’s history—some $542 billion for a single year—and that doesn’t count the additional $50 billion for the wars Bush has requested and the House is considering this week. In a sad re-run, Speaker Pelosi is once again bleating about the withdrawal provisions the House intends to stick in the war bill. Bush and the Republicans are laughing, however, since any timetable for withdrawal from Iraq will be vetoed, the weak-kneed Demos will get the bill tossed back in their face, and then they’ll approve the funding for more war. Since they have adopted the President’s rhetoric about “supporting the troops,” they’re caught in a trap of their own devising and must, therefore, continue to fund the war.

Well, how about energy? Are the Dems doing something to help citizens being bled dry by the energy corporations? Hardly. While many Demos have jumped on board the Lieberman-Warner energy bill as if it were some kind of salvation, the flat truth is that it is nothing of the sort. Why, for instance, would Democrats want to back a bill by turncoat Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman and Republican John Warner instead of a bill of their own? Perhaps because the provisions of the Lieberman-Warner bill are so good for the corporate masters who continue to pull the strings of the congressional puppets.

While Montana’s entire Congressional delegation is praising it, at least one Democrat, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, had the guts to nail the Lieberman-Warner bill for what it is—more industry pork. According to Sanders, the bill contains “$324 billion for the coal industry, $232 billion for carmakers…and not a nickel carved out for solar power, wind energy, geothermal or other alternative energy sources.” Or how about those ambitious goals? Maybe we can get 35-mpg cars—in only 10 more years. Or maybe we can cut greenhouse gas emissions in half—by 2050. What a sad joke.

If ever Washington, D.C. needed a reality check, now is the time. Quit funding the wars, leave the coal in the ground, and put those hundreds of billions into clean, alternative energy—’cause living in La-La Land just won’t cut it anymore.

Helena’s George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at opinion@missoulanews.com.
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