Letter to Congress
— We should let the Bush tax cuts expire,
— In the short term, stimulus spending is more important than cutting the debt,
— The intelligence community needs to be downsized, as revealed by the recent “Washington Post” series,
— Obama should appoint Elizabeth Warren to head the consumer protection agency,
— We should continue to fund the Afghan war.
At least two billionaires have died in 2010 while estate or “death” taxes are zero: George Steinbrenner, worth about $1.3 billion, and Dan Duncan, worth about $9 billion. If their estates had been taxed at the old rate, before the Bush tax cuts, of about 55%, this would have increased the government’s receipts by about $5 billion, or about one-sixth of the $30 billion cost of the recent extension of unemployment benefits that the Republicans opposed because they were not offset by other revenues or spending cuts. Two rich people could have paid for one-sixth of the cost of keeping food on the tables of over two million unemployed people! Instead, their billions will go to buy private jets, yachts, huge houses, A-Rod, and other extravagances.
The US economy is not yet out of the woods. It is important to continue to try to create jobs and provide a safety net (unemployment compensation, food stamps, etc.) for those suffering the most. It’s sad that the fat cats on Wall Street created this financial crisis, but they have come out with bigger paychecks, while workers in America’s heartland are paying the price for the fat cats’ driving the economy off a cliff. However, we can’t run deficits forever. Within a year or two, depending on how things go, we have got to start paying off the debt. We should start by letting the Bush tax cuts expire, then look into cutting some programs — the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan look like good places to start — and then start looking at new taxes and cuts.
As an Army veteran of the Vietnam War and a retired Foreign Service officer I am particularly unhappy with the increasing use of contractors to provide government services. It’s more expensive than using government employees, and I suspect that they are less loyal. I did not approve of officers and political appointees leaving the Foreign Service to lobby for foreign governments of countries where they had served. I think your first loyalty should be the United States. I worry that many who go to the private sector believe their first loyalty is to the bottom line of the company they work for. This was most recently illustrated in the series of articles by the “Washington Post” about the US intelligence community. I had two assignments in the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research during my career, and I think its outstanding expertise despite its small size shows that quality is more important than quantity. At State, I was usually closer to the CIA than other intelligence agencies. The CIA’s collection and analysis was better than the other agencies’. I think part of the current problem is that the CIA was too independent for the Bush White House and therefore Bush and Cheney created the new position of Director of National Intelligence to bring the CIA to heel and to promote the more jingoist military intelligence agencies, like NSA and DIA. NSA’s electronic intelligence is important, but CIA’s human intelligence is even more important.
I believe that Elizabeth Warren would fight for average people, like me. To some extent the consumer protection agency was her idea. I think she would be a good person to lead it.
The Afghan war is a mess, but we have American troops fighting there. We must stand behind them and not expose them to additional danger by capriciously reducing funding for the war. If we are going to change our position on the war, make the policy decisions first, and then withdraw the troops in an orderly manner, rather than suddenly cutting off funding and placing them in a precarious situation.