WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
President Obama and House Republicans are working hard to find ways to cut America's discretionary spending. They both want to take the high ground over the looming debate over raising the federal debt ceiling.
Yet prospects for the states, counties and local governments where America lives have never been grimmer. The continuing foreclosure crisis and jobless recovery bites down harder and harder, driving more and more people to local officials for help who have less and less to work with.
For Washington budget makers, everything appears to be on the table except for the tens of billions of dollars being spent in Iraq and Afghanistan. Meanwhile here at home, thousands of cops, firefighters and teachers are getting layed off.
In a recent national survey, half of the country's police departments said they were cutting their budgets and staffing. And in places where crime was going down, the cuts are having serious consequences.
Newark's Police Director Gary McCarthy told a professional law enforcement association that the loss of 167 officers was felt quickly.
"The per capita murder rate in Newark when I got there in 2006 was one third higher than the worst year that New York City ever had since 1990," said McCarthy. He and Mayor Cory Booker's administration were making real progress to bring down shootings and homicides. McCarthy said the layoffs of the officers was a "tragedy" because the city was just getting "traction" on reducing violent crime in a place that had been defined by it.
"We had four consecutive years of shooting reductions, but now my shootings are up for the year, and my murder rate is up for the year," he said.
And already, for cops in America, 2011 is shaping up to be a deadly year. A dozen have been killed — eleven by gunfire — since New Year's Day. It is part of a troubling trend. In 2010, 61 law enforcement officers were killed by gunfire, up from 49 in 2009.
So just what is homeland security? Do we only worry about battlefields abroad while cutting police at home? A decade after September 11th, it's like America's political class is on automatic pilot, like one of the drones we continue to deploy day after day. And for what result?
Are we safer? Now, law enforcement and the new federal counterterror complex tells us to gird ourselves for the ever increasing "homegrown" threat. What happened to 'fighting them over there so we wouldn't have to fight them here" scenario?
"To many of us, making war now seems a normal and permanent activity, even though its outrageous costs, financial, physical, psyhological and spiritual are inflicting acute damage upon us and future generations," wrote Professor Richard Rubenstein in his "Reasons to Kill-Why Americans Choose War."
Since the U.S. started both wars, it has spent $1.29 trillion dollars, and that's a conservative estimate. Economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes have estimated the ultimate price tag at $3 trillion, more than twice what the Congressional Research Service documents so far.
In Afghanistan, the Congressional Research Service shows spending has exploded under President Obama. It went from just under $60 billion in FY 2009 to close to a $120 billion in FY 2011.
And despite President Obama's Bush-like declaration last August "of the end of combat operations in Iraq," American soldiers are still getting killed in the non-combat combat, and the U.S. is spending several billions every month in Iraq.
Administration officials in recent testimony before Congress warned that the U.S. mght have to stay beyond the December 2011 deadline. They warned that Iraq might become a forgotten war.
As far as spawning "democracy," it looks like in a fortnight, the people of Egypt and Tunisia will get more accomplished for nothing near $1.29 trillion. You have to wonder if perhaps democracy is something you can't bring to people.