Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Decreasing Deficits...Increasing Drones

…saying, ‘Peace, peace’,
when there is no peace.

Jeremiah 6:14b

I’ve proposed a freeze in government spending for three years. This won’t apply to the benefits folks get through Social Security, Medicaid or Medicare, and it won’t apply to our national security, including benefits for veterans. But it will apply to all other discretionary government programs.Barack Obama, January 27, 2010, State of the Union Address

As [Jesus] came near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.
Luke 19:41-42

It's a tough time to be a prophetic Christian in the US, but nobody said it was ever going to be easy. Last week, Obama's State of the Union was served as an unhealthy appetizer before the release of the budget yesterday. The $744 billion defense budget will, no doubt, keep everyone "safe" except for Middle Eastern civilians living on the other side of the globe and "suspected terrorists" detained in the States.

According to DemocracyNow's sources, the US conducted 12 drone strikes in January 2010 that killed 123 Pakistani civilians and 3 al-Qaeda leaders (that's a 41-to-1 ratio). The Pentagon asked for and received an increase in their budget for unmanned aircraft:

The Air Force will double its production of the MQ-9 Reaper, a bigger, more heavily armed version of the Predator drone, to 48. The Army will also buy 26 extended-range Predators. Overall, spending on the Reapers and Predators, which are built by General Atomics of San Diego, will grow from $877.5 million in 2010 to $1.4 billion in 2011...The expansion will allow the military to increase unmanned patrols -- the number of planes in the air at once -- to 65, up from its current limit of 37.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates justified the spending to promote the use of drones in narcotics investigations, border patrols and aid in natural disasters:

We will continue to see significant growth for some years into the future even as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan eventually wind down. The more we have used them, the more we have identified their potential in a broader and broader set of circumstances.

Meanwhile, GOP leaders continue to cry foul for prosecuting "suspected terrorists" like the Christmas Day underwear bomber in civilian courts with the rights to due process. Glenn Greenwald, a constitutional lawyer, wrote a terrific defense for why and how the Constitution guarantees these rights to non-US citizens here and abroad. In addition, for those of us who pledge allegiance to the kingdom of God, we have a commitment to saturate dignity and respect (in addition to prayer and love--Matthew 5:43-45) on all of God's children, foreign and domestic--this is how Jesus tells us we can be God-like:

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.
Matthew 5:44-45

In addition to our Christian vocation, there is plenty of evidence that drone killings and the torture and withholding of due process of what turns out to be innocent "suspected terrorists" continues to be a tremendous recruiting weapon for al Qaeda, not to mention puts US soldiers abroad in grave danger (why wouldn't "the enemy" torture American POWs now?).

Obama's freeze on all government spending other than military and Medicare/Medicaid/Social Security entitlement spending is simply a bad political tactic (what Nobel Economist Paul Krugman calls the 'deficit peacocks') that will not help the most vulnerable or the American middle class and it will probably backfire on Obama and the Democratic Congress eventually anyways. Christopher Hayes points out the budgetary ignorance of the American public in his editorial in the The Nation:

The fact is that about two-thirds of what the government does is maintain the world's largest security apparatus and provide social insurance for the elderly, both of which are exempted from the freeze. But thanks to decades of right-wing attacks on Big Government, many people think that most of what the government spends money on are things like food stamps and foreign aid.

Of course, we pursuers of truth should scold Obama with his deficit peacock tactics, but also curse the GOP when they blame the rise of the national debt on Obama and the Democratic Congress. We are experiencing an intense hangover of 8 years of Bush tax cuts and bloated defense spending. The LA Times did a pretty nice job of simplying our national debt issues and its causes:

Despite widespread perceptions that economic stimulus spending and government bailouts of troubled financial institutions are largely behind the ballooning deficits, those temporary programs actually account for only a fraction of the budget shortfall.

The primary factors are long-standing imbalances between taxes and spending, plus the deep recession that reduced tax revenue and increased outlays for safety net programs such as unemployment insurance and food stamps.

With wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, spending for national defense has surged about 140% since 2000 -- to $722.1 billion projected in 2010. Government spending for Medicare has gone up even faster in the last decade, to $462.1 billion in 2010. At the same time, personal income taxes were cut earlier in the decade under the George W. Bush administration.

It is a seriously laughable mystery that political leaders in DC (Republicans and Democrats) talk about reducing the deficit while increasing the defense budget. It is not just ironic, it is un-Christian.

--Theological Autopilot

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