The Slow Bleed | News | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

The Slow Bleed 

If you think the terrorists are scary, wait till our nation’s creditors come calling.

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This paper is a prime source of information for anyone seeking a good night out with some live music. I scan the live music calendar section much like any other reader, marking my planner with futile reminders that Lee “Scratch” Perry will play The Depot or Art Brut will be at the Venue Oct. 9. I say “futile,” because I know I don’t have the time'which, despite the old saw, is far more precious than money'to see these shows. It’s just kinda fun to pretend that I do.

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As far as tours go, then, you couldn’t ask for a bigger downer than The Concord Coalition’s “Fiscal Wake-Up Tour,” a traveling panel of budget analysts and economists duty-bound to remind us of the perils our nation soon faces if we don’t get our financial house in order. You simply can’t get more dour than a room full of suits spouting numbers and casting out dire warnings of an American future riddled with the very real possibility of sky-high interest rates and shrinking capital for business and jobs'not to mention an anemic U.S. dollar held hostage by central banks in China and Japan. The prospect of all these very real dangers is hard to convey because it involves lots of yawns between charts and dry personalities channeled through podium microphones. Needless to say, these people don’t have groupies. But never before has filling the gap between boredom and earthshaking consequences been so crucial, because the dangers our country faces in regard to our mounting national debt are very real indeed.

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But is the “Fiscal Wake-Up Tour” coming to Salt Lake City? While it is making Nov. 28 and Nov. 29 stops to Denver and Seattle respectively, it’s not coming to a stage near us. That’s depressing as well. Then again, we all know Utah’s die-hard Bush supporters are in no mood to hear the hard sell that their man in the White House is one of the most reckless, free-wheeling spenders in our nation’s history'perhaps the most reckless spender in all of American history.

nn

This isn’t such a hard sell at all. Ever since George W. Bush took office we’ve seen the Senate raise our nation’s debt limit four times in five years. When Bush took office in 2001, our national debt stood at $5.6 trillion. It’s now in the territory of $9 trillion. In 2000, our nation’s estimated fiscal exposures for government spending and entitlements, according to the Government Accountability Office, stood at $20.4 trillion. Thanks to Bush implementing the lavish Medicare drug entitlement'the most expensive entitlement since Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration'those fiscal exposures have swelled to $43.3 trillion in 2004. Doubtless they’ll be even higher in coming reports. As of next month, the nation’s baby boomers are but one year away from receiving their first Social Security checks. And already this year, according to a report by Heritage Foundation, the Senate has ignored discretionary spending caps by adding more than $32 billion onto its fiscal 2007 outlay. None of that additional debt will be spent on rebuilding our Gulf Coast or funding the war in Iraq, which costs us $1.4 billion per week.

nn

It begs belief, then, why Republicans are so sour on Democrats taking the reins of both the House and Senate after the Nov. 7 elections. For the fact seems clear to everyone else that the Republicans have even outdone the shameful fiscal excesses of the Democrats. When Time magazine asked Americans in March 2006 which party could better manage government spending, 46 percent named the Democrats, while only 31 percent sided with the Republicans. We have seen a seismic shift not only in public perception regarding which party can best handle the national credit card, but an exchange of talents between the two major parties. The Democrats have, in effect, become more Republican.

nn

But still the Republicans carry on with their same old line of “starving the beast,” i.e., cut taxes enough and sooner or later government spending will pull back on its own volition. Wrong. As detailed in an article published by The Atlantic Monthly this spring, William Niskanen, a former economist who worked in the Reagan White House, scanned all the relevant numbers between 1981 and 2005 and found that tax cuts generally lead to more government spending, not less. And why would anyone complain when we get the same government services and neo-con sponsored wars without the pain of more taxes? On the contrary, under Bush we get to delay the pain of paying all these bills by way of round after round of tax cuts. So it is that Medicare’s trust fund is scheduled to run dry in 2018, while Social Security’s trust fund will expire in 2040. Perhaps this is what Republicans want after all.

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There’s something deeply irresponsible and unethical about an administration that will scare us out of our skins when it comes to terrorists but can’t be bothered to do the right thing and stop selling our government-issued debt out to central banks in China and Japan, which currently own and collect interest payments on more than 40 percent of our debt. That’s billions upon billions of dollars that could stay within our borders, creating capital and jobs and increasing our quality of life, rather than being sent overseas.

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One of history’s enduring lessons, as recounted by Paul Kennedy in his book The Rise and Fall of Great Powers, is that economic independence and might is the foundation upon which all other powers, including military might, depend. History has also shown that shifts in world power invariably follow shifts and changes in economic power between nations.

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But anyone with a brain knows this at an almost instinctual level. Money is power. Too bad we’re only too happy to send it to central banks in Asia so that we can live for the moment, waging war on the cheap, living high on the hog, and dismissing the inevitable day when bill collectors start calling.

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