After a somewhat slow December, there is a lot of good news and bad. The problem is that both seem to come at the same time, leaving anyone following the flood of information bewildered. Two main categories of news, economy and national security, are running at odds with each other. Are things getting better or are they getting worse? It depends on how you look at it.
This is what a time of revolution and restructuring looks like. Anything can happen. Times like these are what separates romantics from pragmatists, optimists from pessimists, and if we aren’t careful politics from any semblance of reality.
The first story that is worth following is the ongoing restructuring of the US economy, which added a strong 200k jobs in December. Initial claims for unemployment benefits, a measure of layoffs, are down to 375k per week, giving job growth a solid chance. Granted, at this rate the 8M-10M jobs we need will take four more years to develop, but it’s a solid start. What could go wrong to put a stop to it?
Ah, there’s always Europe. The European Central Bank (ECB) is acting to help ease the crisis as EU governments start fussing over permanent changes that will give them the kind of central bank and structure they’ve needed all along to take care of the problems they have. But Euro banks are borrowing money to puff up their balance sheets only to put it back into the ECB with nearly no interest, losing a net 0.75% in the process. They are that desperate to keep enough cash on hand to stay in business. There has to be a crisis coming soon, even if the sovereign debt crisis is figured out.
So that remains the economic story – the US job market is setting in the base for what should be real (if slow) growth, assuming Europe doesn’t blow up and wreck everything.
A similar situation is playing out in our Defense department. Obama went over to the Pentagon to brief the military on his plans – more of a “heads up” than a real policy statement with solid numbers. The roughly $684B (depending a lot on how you count) that we spend on defense every year is the largest single category in our budget and completely unsustainable. Getting out of Iraq will help get a handle on it, but the goal is a leaner military with fewer troops in Europe and a greater reliance on technology to keep costs in blood and money more reasonable. It’s very much in line with what was proposed before 9/11.
Republicans, naturally, have already started squawking. They label it a retreat from the world at a time when things are dangerous and require a firm hand. Which brings us naturally to the situation in Syria.
The conflict in Syria is degenerating into a civil war, with elements of the military openly defecting to the “Free Syrian Army”. At least one defector claims that dictator Assad no longer has control over the situation as it descends into sectarian violence and brutality for its own sake. What can the USofA do about it? Apparently, the answer is nothing at all – because we have no leverage over the nation and the politics of the region. The Arab League is doing its best to contain the problem, but they do not have the resources either. Syria will have to burn for the foreseeable future regardless of what we do.
Syria is both a case for a leaner military and a stronger one at the same time. But the potential for some kind of intervention in the region depends a lot on how it plays out if the violence crosses international borders.
No matter what we do here at home to get our act together the potential for danger ahead around the world is higher than ever. In a closely linked global system turmoil eventually hits everyone.
Will 2012 be the year when we finally get our act together, gaining control over our runaway budget and our economy? Or will the world intervene to destroy the good things that are happening here at home? Reading the news there is reason for hope and reason for panic all at the same time.
All we can do is struggle to keep it real as we do the best we can. Oh, and there’s an election this year. Sorry about that.