Friday, January 28, 2011

state of the union

Rather than talk about the actual State of the Union the other night, Obama gave the old "The future is rosy and we'll all get pie in the sky (when we die)" pitch. The actual true condition of the country is not so good.

Of American workers, 9.4 percent are unemployed, an extremely high figure compared to what it's been over most of the last 100 years, according to the US government's standard measurement, or U-3 measure of unemployment. However, this does not include workers who want or need a job but have grown too discouraged to actively look for work, or those who are underemployed, i.e., working part time but seeking full-time jobs. Adding them in yields the more candid U-6 measure of unemployment of 16.7 percent. This means that 167 of every 1,000 US workers is either without a job or underemployed.

The U.S. consumes about 21 million barrels of oil per day (25% of the worldwide consumption total of 84 million barrels per day), of which two-thirds is imported and a third produced domestically. Ninety-three percent of the oil we consume is used for transportation, and the typical American household, on average, buys 1,000 gallons a year. Oil is a diminishing resource upon which the world and national economies are totally dependent, and over the last ten years it has more than doubled in price.

Then there's the debt, which has now edged up past 14 trillion dollars, which means Congress will soon be obligated to raise the legally permissible debt limit -- again. How important the debt and debt limit are depends on who you talk to. My own feeling is that we ought to try to cut back spending enough to turn the annual deficit into a small surplus and begin to pay the debt down. But what to cut?

Government expenditures are usually reported dishonestly. For example, Social Security, often listed as 19 percent of the annual federal expenditure, shouldn't be counted because it's entirely funded by its own special trust fund, which is solvent at the moment and could be made so in perpetuity with minor adjustments. Since the U.S. spends nearly as much as the rest of the world combined on weapons, wars, preparations for wars, and defense, that's the natural place to cut.

But here again, determining what we actually spend on "defense" depends on who you talk to. The around-25 percent of the budget usually cited doesn't include the billions we've spent pursuing our various Mideast wars, the costs of veterans' benefits and pensions, interest on the national debt due to war spending (at least half our interest payments), or related defense expenditures such as the Department of Homeland Security and the CIA budget. Add all those things in and you're looking at half the federal budget.

So what's the state of the union? I give it a D or a D-. The main problem is we're not honestly acknowledging our real problems, and if we don't face them we can't deal with them.

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