As we watch our once vital nation struggling to prevent going down the drain, can anybody give an affirmative response to that one question? Almost 13 years ago, we were glued to our television sets watching the kerfuffle in Florida as the vote counters struggled over the dangling chads and tossed out the dimpled ones while the Republican activists all but rioted outside the door. We witnessed the legal challenges that prevented us all from knowing the actual result of the presidential elections. Not until December were we told that the Supreme Court had decided that our President would be George W. Bush.
Some of us mourned, some put on their tinfoil hats, and the rest seemed to just crawl under their beds. Before we could get our minds adjusted to the "new reality," the war talk began and, in less than a year, we watched the towers of the World Trade Center crumble into rubble. The warhawks began scrambling for an attack on Iraq but it was shortly determined that Iraq had not done this deed. It was done by an outlaw group from Aghanistan, so we shifted our attention to that long-benighted country and began raining bombs and ground troops upon them.
Now, the presidency of Bill Clinton had left our budget not only balanced but we saw a predicted surplus "as far as the eye could see." Congress promptly allowed Mr. Bush to launch all-out war with Afghanistan "off the budget."
Shortly, there were more rumblings about Iraq and stories were circulated that Saddam Hussein was working feverishly in an effort to develop an atomic bomb with which to devastate the entire Middle East. We sent United Nations inspectors in to search for any sign of the suspected weapons development and all their reports came back negative. But never mind, Saddam was a bad guy and he really needed to go! In a short time, Mr. Bush was given the signal from Congress to "use his own judgement" which, of course, resulted in our entry into a long and unproductive war during which no "Weapons of Mass Destruction" were found.
Instead of increasing taxes to pay for this futile exercise, President Bush and the Congress lowered taxes, decreasing the funds available to pay for a war effort. There was not even any talk of instituting a draft to guarantee the needed manpower. The much-touted "all-volunteer military" was tasked with fighting two wars on two fronts at the same time, a situation we had not had since the end of World War II. "Contractors" were hired under no-bid contracts to take up the slack created by our under-staffing. While still fighting the Iraqis, we were undertaking "re-building projects" which were also done under no-bid contracts. There were reports of bundles of US currency being shipped into the country by the truck-load and distributed without accountability. Audits are only now taking place which demonstrate the levels of wasted money.
The dead were returned home under the cover of darkness and in deep secrecy. The wounded came home to rat-ridden hospitals and a level of care which was, upon discovery, described as an atrocity. It was, except for our dedicated soldiers, a war waged by amateurs. Unfortunately, the aftermath is being handled by the same people. The troops were largely removed from Iraq last year with little indication that much improvement was accomplished, but men are still dying in the mountains of Afghanistan with a deadline in sight for leaving under those same conditions. The established "veteran's rights" are still being touted as being in force but the vets have such a long wait for their after-care and other benefits that they are, in practice, being neglected.
Now Congress is aghast that our national deficit is so large! Their response has been a long, loud scream of "Stop spending!" Of course, that was after the banks had been bailed out, the stock market made well, and a couple of increases in their own paychecks. Their answer to the problem is to throw thousands of poor and elderly on the funeral pyre so the rich can keep their little hands warm. They fought to prevent the Bush tax cuts from expiring on millionaires as scheduled, and insist that the only way to handle the money crunch is to cancel all welfare programs as well as Social Security.
Across the country, State officials are making every effort to destroy labor unions and every effort to affect collective bargaining. The super-rich have fooled the evangelical Christians into collusion with them so they can destroy women's rights, LGBT rights, and the rights for a woman to control her own medical care. The Republicans shout, "Get the government out of our pockets!" while the religious right adds, "--and into your bedroom and your medicine chest."
But, cheer up! The stock market is booming and the rich are happily jumping through their tax loopholes and stocking up their Cayman Island retirement funds. But that is not enough! We must pay for all the bank buy-outs as well as the two forgotten wars. There is no choice but to cut the spending that protects the hungry little kids in schools, the sick who have lost their insurance through over-use or unemployment, and the elderly who are free-loading off of Social Security.
There is an epidemic of dyslexia since nobody reads history any more. Just today, in defending his projected 2013 budget, Rep. Paul Ryan said that, "Mr. Obama is to blame for using up the Social Security funds!" If the good Congressman were to read a bit of history, he would know that it was Republican President Eisenhower who asked Congress to roll the Social Security Trust Fund moneys into the General Fund to mask the appearance of the Federal budget during the 1950's when the highest tax rates were in the nineties! That changed the Trust Fund into a debt from the government to the people whose money it was. The only way to end Social Security now is to declare a default, which would cause a fiscal crisis. That's why it is called an "entitlement."
So now, we have a government which is struggling with a horrendous deficit because we fought two wars on the cuff and then bailed out a bunch of crooked bankers while being hamstrung by a bunch of politicians who have been bought -- body and soul -- by the super-rich and do not dare increase taxes from the lowest level since the income tax was instituted for fear of losing their cushy seats in Washington.
I ask you again, "Is anybody really surprised?"