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The Shutdown Showdown is Over But the Damage is Done: Respected Military and Economic Leaders Speak Out

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“The example that America knows how to govern itself is one of the compelling aspects of our national security, and right now, we are not demonstrating that.” General James Mattis USMC (Retired) 

The shutdown of the Federal Government and the near default on our debt payments led by Senator Ted Cruz and members of the Tea Party Faction of the Republican Party has severely damaged the United States. It was an action that they knew could not succeed, but they went ahead and did it anyway.

The short term costs were significant. Standard and Poor’s estimates that the 16 day shutdown cost over 24 billion dollars. But ultimately that is not the worst of the problem. The same faction led us into the sequestration and the Democrats assuming that the Tea Party faction would act responsibly agreed to it. However, that act is also hurting us. Retired Admiral John Harvey commented:

“The method we’re going to, the sequestration and the [continuing resolution], ties their hands as to where you go and make your choices. You don’t get to make choices, and that’s the danger. It’s not that we have tough circumstances. It’s that we don’t get to make the choices necessary to deal with those circumstances.”

General Mattis, the former Commander of Central Command also said:

“The economy’s always been the engine for our national security. There’s no way that that our military power will not erode if a robust American economic revival is not part of the cards. And the dysfunction in Washington right now shows a country unable to govern itself — and that is worth more than 10 battleships to us.”

Senior Military leaders regardless of their political leanings are general very pragmatic. We are well educated and unlike the stereotypes often have more education and experience that our counterparts in either the private sector or other part of government, especially many members of the House of Representatives.

We read history, are engaged in foreign policy, economics, political science, ethics and other subjects that most people, especially the pundits and special interests only pretend to study for partisan gain. We do not get our history from barley educated hacks like David Barton, Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly.

The remarks of General Mattis and Admiral Harvey are shared by many in the military, even officers who are very conservative and not in favor of some of President Obama’s policies.

I mentioned the other night that the foundations of national power are often referred to as the DIME. That is the Diplomatic, the Informational, the Military and the Economic power of the nation. These components are dependent on each other. One only has to look to history to see this.

As General Mattis said “our economy has always been the engine of our national security.” However much of that economic power has been squandered and because we have chosen to ignore it we have seen our infrastructure rot away. Without a thriving economy our military might suffers, you do not win wars with military power alone, nor do you deter enemies.

Likewise our diplomatic power, linked to our economic and military might leverages our favorable image in the world to get other powers to go along with policies that benefit both us and them. The story that we tell about ourselves, the informational power of the nation also is part of our national power and security.

What the 2011 threat to trigger the debt limit crisis by a newly empowered and recently victorious Tea Party led Republican Party was bad in the short term as well as the long term. That deal from a national security point of view alone, not counting the cost to the poor and to important scientific, medical, economic, energy and education aspects of our economy was devastating. The sequester cuts if they are allowed to continue will endanger the country in many ways. As Admiral Harvey noted they “tie our hands.”

The damage to our international reputation over the past couple of years, but especially the self-inflicted wound of the past few weeks is devastating. Countries that are our economic and military rivals like China are hammering us and suggesting a new world order, a “de-Americanized” world order. If you think that the economy is bad now, see what happens of the dollar is no longer the world’s reserve currency. The cost of oil and everything else that we depend on from other nations will rise in a big way. Borrowing costs, just try to get a loan for a house or a car should that happen.

That is just the tip of the iceberg because once our key allies and trading partners lose confidence in our ability of govern ourselves our influence will decline and I believe in a major way. People around the world are now wondering if they can trust us. Our political system, as cantankerous as it can be worked for over 200 years, not perfectly, but well enough because our leaders understood the necessity of compromise and working across party lines for the benefit of the country. My example for this is how President Ronald Reagan and Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill in spite of there major policy differences remained personal friends and when appeared to be going bad worked together.

John Chambers the head of S&P’s Sovereign Ratings committee noted just how close that the actions of Congress had come to sending our national debt rating crashing. http://www.newsweek.com/exclusive-sp-was-minutes-marking-down-americas-debt-396 Chambers noted:

“It is simply not a characteristic of the most highly rated sovereigns that you have to worry about them not paying their debts,” Chambers said, noting that no nation has ever defaulted for such a ridiculous reason – political games of mutually assured destruction. “It is unheard of in a cohesive civil society, making it all the more puzzling and lamentable that we have these shenanigans over spending that has already been approved by Congress.”

It is time for political leaders to wake up and realize that what they are doing will destroy this country. Unfortunately there are some out there like Senator Cruz who are willing to do this all over again. That is unfortunate, unwise and just plain stupid.

God help us all.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Silent Witnesses

“We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds; we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretence; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use? What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, and straightforward men. Will our inward power of resistance be strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves remorseless enough, for us to find our way back to simplicity and straightforwardness?” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Letters and Papers from Prison)

It has been an exhausting summer for most Americans and much of the Western World. We are witnessing events that most of us could not imagine happening.  We are tired of war but seem to be unable to extricate ourselves from the most expensive and least strategically important wars we have undertaken inAfghanistan.  The numbers of killed and wounded continue to mount even as it becomes apparent that there is no way to win the war given that more troops, time and money would have to be employed none of which we have.

Our economy is in terrible shape with sustained high unemployment, a massive debt, decaying infrastructure and little prospects for improvement.  Standard and Poor’s downgraded long term U.S. debt creating even more uncertainly and fear in U.S.and world markets.  Several European Union countries are on the verge of economic collapse threatening the Euro Zone and causing a ripple effect around the world.

We demand that governments do something but seem to ignore the fact that governments control almost nothing because they are in the thrall of the financial industry which really does control what governments can and cannot do. They even dictate how governments should manage their debts as in the case of SP downgrading the United States.  Our founders understood the dangers and the control that bankers have over governments.  Thomas Jefferson noted “I sincerely believe, with you, that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies; and that the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale.” His fellow Virginian and drafter of the Bill of Rights James Madison said “History records that the money changers have used every form of abuse, intrigue, deceit, and violent means possible to maintain their control over governments by controlling the money and its issuance.”  Across the Atlantic a leader of a different sort, Napoleon Bonaparte had a similar insight “When a government is dependent upon bankers for money, they and not the leaders of the government control the situation, since the hand that gives is above the hand that takes.”

Catholic philosopher G. K. Chesterton wrote about how the worst vices and passions, selfishness, greed, lust and power were supposed to somehow bring about the best in people.  “It was the mystical dogma of Bentham and Adam Smith and the rest, that some of the worst of human passions would turn out to be all for the best. It was the mysterious doctrine that selfishness would do the work of unselfishness.” 

In the middle of this rapidly worsening situation we see the Unholy Trinity of politicians, pundits and preachers as they pontificate about and blame one another for things that they refuse to take responsibility for and of which they really have little understanding.  Stirred up by them we too have become polarized, angry and distrustfully of our neighbor to the point of hatred.  Conservatives now hate liberals, liberals hate conservatives, the radicals on both sides have pushed their more moderate colleagues into adopting their position because those “moderates” are even more afraid of the ideologues in their own party than they opposition party.

Our government if we can call it that anymore is hopelessly divided and set against each other and none of the most prominent political “leaders” seem to have any morale center or courage of conviction.  They all seem to be Bonhoeffer cynics, misanthropes, or clever tacticians.

Religion is even used a trump card by the right with erstwhile “pastors” blessing the most ungodly adventures, preemptive war, use of weapons of mass destruction, while cozying up to and advocating for the most powerful financial interests.  Some of the more blatant of these “pastors” like C. Peter Wagner advocate a Christian theocracy based on the Seven Mountains theology by which Christians must take dominion over seven key spheres of society which are government, arts and entertainment, media, education, family, religion, and business with business being the most important.  If he was an isolated case it would not be worth commenting on but Wagner and his allies in the Dominionist movement are closely connected to a number of Republican Presidential candidates and one who will likely declare, Texas Governor Rick Perry.

We have witnessed it all and we have to say what we have seen is not working and in fact is an embodiment of evil and anarchy as each group positions itself to gain the most. We have exulted power, vice, avarice and greed as the highest ideals Bonhoeffer said:

“Unless we have the courage to fight for a revival of wholesome reserve between man and man, we shall perish in an anarchy of human values…. Socially it means the renunciation of all place-hunting, a break with the cult of the “star,” an open eye both upwards and downwards, especially in the choice of one’s more intimate friends, and pleasure in private life as well as courage to enter public life. Culturally it means a return from the newspaper and the radio to the book, from feverish activity to unhurried leisure, from dispersion to concentration, from sensationalism to reflection, from virtuosity to art, from snobbery to modesty, from extravagance to moderation.” 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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