Saturday, June 03, 2006

Homeland Security cuts highlight why we need to rethink the paradigm.

The biggest news locally has been about how Phoenix and Arizona (despite having the nation's largest nuclear plant and a 400 mile long international border which as we have been reminded continually lately, is porous) will suffer deep cuts-- as much as 60%-- from Homeland Security funding. Other cities, including New York will also suffer significant cuts, up to 40%. These cuts are to be offset by increases in funding to cities like Los Angeles and a number of cities in the south, which are more susceptible to natural disasters. Atlanta, the home of the Center for Disease Control, is getting quite a bit of new money.

Of course, we should be spending more time preparing for natural disasters, as last year's horrible events showed. The disastrous consequences of putting FEMA under the Homeland Security umbrella, admitted widely even by those who have supported it last year, have not been fixed (apparently this is another case where ideology, which was behind the demotion and downsizing of FEMA, trumps common sense even in the face of demonstrated failure).

But the real problem is this: Congress and the President are looking at it as a zero-sum game. Given the need to increase preparation for combatting natural disasters, the increases in funding to places like Los Angeles and the south make sense. However, it is not like we are less at risk for terrorism than we were last year. If anything, our failure to catch bin Laden, and the continuing anti-American fervor in the Middle East which we feed daily in Iraq, makes us more vulnerable to terrorism. What we see here is the classic military mistake of redeploying to fight last year's war. Only this time the redeployment is in terms of government resources, rather than military assets. Corporate America sometimes is guilty of the same sort of thinking, looking at the short term exigencies instead of the long term requirements. I suspect that this is the sort of thinking that is pervading our government here.

This is a product of the dominant paradigm that exists today in government: the urge to 'hold the line on spending' while cutting taxes further and downsizing government at all costs. Leave aside the enormous deficits that this type of thinking has plunged us into, as well as the trillions of dollars in corporate welfare that have made a joke out of the whole 'hold the line on spending' routine (and as we well know by now, Republicans can allow the wasteful spending of government funds much better than any Democrat ever did); The 'all costs' have proven phenomenal. I blogged yesterday about Iraq, and made the point (as I've made before) that the 'Rumsfeld doctrine,' that we could fight a war on the cheap with a smaller (meaning lest costly) force, has in fact cost us far more since ignoring Eric Shinseki's advice about how to handle the early stages of the occupation directly contributed to the development of the insurgency and the situation we find ourselves stuck in today. The budget cuts which were made in New Orleans flood levee protection (over a period which precedes the Bush administration, to be sure) are by now well documented, and one can only hope that the kind of fiscal recklessness that we have seen balloon the deficit to historic proportions won't lead to the ruin of our entire economy.

What we need is a new paradigm in Washington. A paradigm that where a need is identified, we put together the necessary resources to deal with it, without borrowing from other places where the resources are also needed. Where wasteful spending is identified, we should obviously get rid of it, and we should audit spending regularly to make sure that it is being done with as little waste as possible. However, if it is necessary to increase the available resources to deal with an emergency or potential emergency then we should not hesitate to do so. And yes, we have to pay for it. Keep in mind that we had a surplus only six years ago, and that that surplus was wiped out (even before 9/11) by the Bush tax cuts. The good news is that in order for the unprecedented trillions of dollars in cuts to get passed, even the conservatives who then controlled Congress had to put sunset clauses on them, as the amount of the cuts was breathtaking (and yes, the deficits that have occurred since have collectively taken our breath away). What we have to do is demand a government that is accountable, but is adequately funded so that we can put more money where it is needed without taking it away from other places where it is also needed. Then we have to have a tax structure to pay for it, which should be the case after the sunset clauses end over the next few years. We will need to hold the feet of Congress to the fire over this though, especially since there will be people who will intentionally have short memories and claim that the expiration of the tax cuts at the sunset date is the equivalent of 'raising taxes.' Nothing of the sort, in fact to suggest it is would be disingenuous, but you can be sure that is what they will claim.

So in summary, we have a choice between a government that is perenially being starved and as such is ineffective, as we have now, or one that is a tool of the citizens and is accountable, adequately funded (without running a deficit) and effective.

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