Leveraged to the max: Superpower on the brink
There was a time when events like the collapse of that bridge over the Mississippi would have been taken in stride. Yes, it was a tragedy, a mature nation would have said, but like earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes and bolts of lighting hitting folks on picnic grounds, these are "acts of God." Even in a good life and a great country, bad things happen.
But today, there has be someone to blame, someone to be held accountable, someone who could have prevented it, someone whose head must go on a pike. And it is the job of the journalist to give us the guilty. And the modern journalist relishes nothing more than standing before a TV camera passing moral judgment on failed mortals.
After Katrina, it was President Bush, who neglected to send in the 82nd Airborne at once, and "Brownie," the FEMA chief. Yet, all concede Brownie had done "a heckuva job" in the Florida hurricane.
We are now told there are 70,000 bridges in this country that are "structurally deficient," whatever that means, since collapsing bridges are a rarity. One recalls the crumpling of a slab of the Bay Bridge in San Francisco a few years back, but few others. Yet, a clamor has arisen for hundreds of billions of tax dollars to repair our crumbling infrastructure of roads, sewers, bridges and electrical grids.
Fine, but where are we going to get the money?
We are bust. We consume all we earn. We save nothing. We borrow $2 billion a day to finance our trade deficit and buy all those goods and gadgets at the mall. The Chinese save between 35 percent and 50 percent of all they earn.
Though dependent on OPEC for 60 percent of our oil, we haven't built a refinery or a nuclear power plant in more than 25 years, and we are not permitted to drill in much of Alaska or off California or Florida. We don't build dams anymore, like Hoover and Grand Coulee, we tear them down. We were once the greatest road-builders since Rome, as Ike's Interstate Highway System was built in two decades, not two centuries.
Barack Obama wins standing ovations from liberal Democrats by pledging to double foreign aid. Thus, under President Obama, the U.S. government will borrow from China and Japan $50 billion each year to subsidize regimes in Africa, putting our kids in hock forever, so we can feel good about ourselves.
Wake-up call: This is not the 1950s. We are not the world's greatest creditor nation anymore, but the world's greatest debtor.
Credit card debt, mortgage debt and corporate debt have never been higher. The fall of 800 points in the Dow the last two weeks resulted from defaults on home mortgages, bundled up and traded like stocks in the Grand Casino of Wall Street by the boys at Bear Stearns.
Abroad, the United States fights two guerrilla wars that have not yet taken the lives of as many soldiers as we lost putting down a Philippine insurrection a century ago. Yet, an ex-chief of staff says the U.S. Army is "breaking."
Query: If those "savage wars of peace," in Kipling's phrase, can break our army of 500,000, how in heaven's name can this little army fulfill war guarantees and treaty commitments to fight for 25 NATO nations, Israel, the Arab Gulf, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan?
We are committed to police the world. Yet, we have an Army that is "breaking," as presidential candidates bray about attacking Iran, a nation three times as large and populous as Iraq, and invading Pakistan, a Muslim nation of 170 million with atom bombs. Whom are we kidding? U.S. foreign policy is bankrupt. We can't cover our commitments with the ground forces we have. And a world watching America thrash about in Mesopotamia is beginning to recognize it and act upon it.
While the federal deficit is only 2 percent of GDP, the surpluses of the 1990s are history, and we are steering toward an entitlement iceberg.
"Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid . . . already exceed 40 percent of the $2.7 trillion federal budget. By 2030, their share could hit 75 percent of the present budget," writes columnist Robert Samuelson. "To keep federal spending stable as a share of the economy would mean eliminating all defense spending and most other domestic programs. . . . To balance the budget with existing programs at their present economic shares would require . . . tax increases of 30 percent to 50 percent -- or budget deficits could quadruple."
We do not have the forces to fight and win our wars, or defend present allies. We do not collect enough in taxes to fund the coming deficits in Medicare and Social Security. High-wage jobs, technology and factories are pouring out of America into China. We hail the Global Economy, as they toast a Chinese economy that is growing at 12 percent, six times the rate of the U.S. economy in the first half of 2007.
A day of reckoning for the boomers will arrive in the first term of the new president.