Bob Franken

Last Week’s Hearst NewYork Times Column

(Writer’s note: Per arrangement with the syndicators, these columns appear here a week after their newspaper release)

^U.S. SHOULD GET OUT IN FRONT OF HISTORIC CHANGES@< ^(For use by New York Times News Service clients)@< ^By BOB FRANKEN@= ^C.2011 Hearst Newspapers@= WASHINGTON _ He is demonstrably a madman, a ruthless dictator. Until recently, Moammar Gadhafi was the outcast he deserved to be. That is sadly not the case in so much of the Mideast, where for decades the United States has backed oppressors for our own convenience, making a mockery of promises to be a beacon of democracy. Time after time when it suited anti-Soviet, anti-terrorist and pro-oil needs, America sided with the bad guys. At his Feb. 15 news conference, President Obama had a lecture for these leaders, saying: ``You've got to get out ahead of change, you can't be behind the curve.'' Given how long the U.S. has been behind the curve in the region, those words may ring hollow. As these entrenched despots lose their grip, this country is left to worry whether those dubious allies will be replaced by adversaries. Let's face it, we have been controlled by an instant gratification compulsion to act on short-sighted needs and neglect the longer term. This same kind of short-sightedness is evident here at home. After generations of raised alarms, the financial walls are starting to crumble. Individuals can pretend they are so much more prosperous than they really are. Money is lavished wildly and the charges put on a credit card with little regard for where it was spent or how it was misspent. No one is bothered with a realistic revenue stream. Taxes are disdained. There is always money to borrow. Or so it seems.

Now those who have floated along on this phony abundance are flailing around to simply stay above water while using others as life preservers. We pit one interest group against another, rich against needy, education and social programs against corporate profits. People don’t know what to think.

Obviously, they want smaller federal budget deficits but a Harris poll released Feb. 16 reports that “when shown a list of 20 areas of federal government spending, a majority of the public supports cutting only six of them and these do not include the big ticket items that comprise most of the federal budget.” Those big tickets would include Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, where the big bucks are and where the political peril is. By a smaller margin, they oppose cuts in defense spending.

If the logjam isn’t broken, national debt will flood the full faith and credit of the planet’s economic anchor. We face a possibility of sinking in debt. In the sage words of House Speaker John Boehner, “Come on. We’re broke.”

Of course, this is the same John Boehner who kept his supporters happy by saying that “raising taxes on anyone is wrong,” just another example of how our leaders try to feather their own political nests even as the chickens come home to roost.

To illustrate how all this collides at the international and national intersections, consider the decades that we’ve blown off serious energy alternatives because oil was always available from someone, somewhere, no matter how sinister.

Now, at the very thought of a disrupted supplies, even peripheral ones from Libya, prices of gasoline are zooming. For obvious reasons, spending more to fuel our cars means there’s less spending power to fuel an economic recovery that’s already sputtering.

Add to this mix the massive U.S. debt that’s held by countries like China and the outlook seems precarious. We have no choice but to replace myopia with a clear vision of what lies ahead and avoid the quick fixes that will inevitably cause further collisions with the future.
What sets our nation apart from countries like those in the Mideast is the tradition of government with consent of the governed. That takes trust that our leaders must not continue squandering.
^–@< (E-mail: bob(at); on the Web:

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