Getting us out of Iraq can get us out of recession

The American Prospect’s Harold Meyerson has an op-ed in the Washington Post today outlining the nature of the coming recession, and how our economic response is going to have to change if we’re to fix it.

“Wait,” you’re thinking, “is he saying we’re in recession? Surely not! I know it’s a worry, but no one’s actually said it’s official yet.”

Let’s take a look at the facts, then:

Citigroup, America’s largest bank, has been hit with a staggering $10 billion in losses this quarter. Naturally, the company is doing what all companies do as a first response to crisis–cutting thousands of jobs–and is begging foreign investors to pump cash into its reserves to keep it solvent.

Countrywide, America’s largest lender, reported spikes in delinquencies and foreclosures so severe that the company was looking at bankruptcy protection. It was hailed as a relief when Bank of America announced plans to buy the lender, but think about this–how bad is our economic state when our biggest giants in their respective industries are doing so poorly?

And what about the consumer, that bulwark of economic growth through spending? Well, thanks to a combination of collapsing home equity, high gas, energy, and food prices, and nearly insurmountable personal debt, consumers are falling behind on loan payments, credit card debt is on the rise, and retail sales are plummeting from lack of consumer spending.

If this isn’t a recession, it’s damn close, and like the wolf hungrily stalking its prey, will be upon us soon.

Back to Meyerson’s column. He accurately notes that the mazelike structures of current Wall Street investment strategies make it nigh-impossible to accurately oversee these transactions, which has led to so many billions of dollars’ worth of losses. Moreover, he also notes that without some serious infusion of jobs, cash, and direction from the government, this recession may deepen into a depression that will take years to recover from.

“Okay,” you may be asking, “but where can we get the money for such a thing? That’s going to be expensive!”

Well, here’s one simple idea–ending the war in Iraq immediately and bringing our troops home. Imagine what we could do with the influx of capital we’re wasting on a failed venture that has cost thousands of lives and tens of millions of dollars. I live in DC, so I used my own city as the basis for calculation:

Taxpayers in District Of Columbia will pay $2 billion for the cost of the Iraq War through 2007. For the same amount of money, the following could have been provided:

504,157 People with Health Care OR

3,465,229 Homes with Renewable Electricity OR

33,815 Public Safety Officers OR

33,333 Music and Arts Teachers OR

946,048 Scholarships for University Students OR

174 New Elementary Schools OR

6,801 Affordable Housing Units OR

620,958 Children with Health Care OR

266,133 Head Start Places for Children OR

33,333 Elementary School Teachers OR

29,432 Port Container Inspectors

Any one of these projects provides a golden opportunity for new jobs and economic revitalization for my city, or the even better long-term investment of raising kids with decent educations and the ability to make better lives for themselves. But we’ll never know, because that money went instead to turning a country into a protectorate of our empire just to keep the oil pumps working.

I said not long ago that in order to win, Democrats should run on the economy instead of Iraq, and I still hold to that. But I am rethinking that approach–instead of trying to push Iraq aside in people’s minds, Democrats and progressives should link the two together. Every dollar spent in Iraq, fighting a war started on a lie that has cost us immeasurably, is a dollar not spent on rebuilding our country’s prosperity, peace, and future solvency.

End the war, bring our troops home, and let’s get down to the equally painful business of rebuilding our country’s economic base and transiting us out from a system based on debt, consumption, greed, and graft. We’ve done it before, and we can do it again. We don’t have any choice in the matter.

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