Two lost wars - Part II

Monday January 14, 2013

Don Keelan

In Part 1, of "Two Lost Wars," I had noted that America was losing its two longest wars --the War on Poverty (1964) and the War on Drugs (1971).

Historically, when America has been mired down in a losing military campaign the commander-in-chief called for a new strategy. President Lincoln did exactly that in the early years of the Civil War. President Franklin D. Roosevelt did so, as well, throughout WWII, through General George Marshall. Successor commander in chiefs had to change strategies in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. The reasons why are not as important as the fact that they did it. President Obama, needs to develop and implement new strategies for the War on Poverty and the War on Drugs.

The president is the one to provide the leadership in reversing the rising number of Americans who are relying on the federal, state and local governments, as well as the tens of thousands of nonprofits, for their basic subsistence.

A significant part of the president’s involvement should be to get to the cause as to why there are tens of millions of Americans dependent on others for food, fuel, clothing, healthcare and housing. He will need to differentiate those whose plights were the result of a catastrophic event -- caused by a natural disaster, fire, sickness or accident, lifelong disability or aging. For these, America has held out its safety net in years past and will into the future.

However, this is not why we are losing the War on Poverty. Neither was the 2008 economic crash at the core of what is taking place in the exponential growth of the poverty rolls.

It has been reported that in America, 40 percent of all newborns do not have a father at home. Layer onto this statistic, the fact that 70 percent of high school graduates are not ready for college. Upward mobility is nearly impossible. When it is more financially rewarding to stay at home and receive the plethora of benefits currently available what sense is there to work -- a single parent with two children can obtain $57,000 in benefits while at home. A working single parent also with 2 children, would need to earn close to $70,000 to match what someone receives from the government and nonprofit organizations.

By not addressing this issue over the years, we have hijacked individual incentive and the government and nonprofits have become enablers, thus eliminating the character trait of responsibility. What politician would dare to change the status quo? Upward mobility for their constituents is not in the politician’s toolbox.

The other war, the War on Drugs, is also a lost cause and will only get worse without the president’s intervention.

Mr. Obama, will be called upon to determine if legalization is the answer. He may be tempted, by the billions of tax dollars that would flow to the U.S. Treasury, by having cocaine, heroin and marijuana sold at controlled stores, not unlike liquor is now. The cost of enforcement and incarceration would plummet. Why is it that no one has addressed the cost of having to provide healthcare to millions of drug-addicted teenagers and adults who would be obtaining their drugs "legally"?

Mr. President, 11 years into the War on Drugs you predecessor’s wife, First Lady Nancy Reagan announced to America’s youth, "Just Say No." Unfortunately her words were not heeded. Covert military operations, border enforcement, anti-drug education, have not stemmed the flow. We are losing this 41-year-old war.

There is one thing the president can do "outside the box" to cause a major headache to the world’s drug dealers -- he can issue an executive order to change the color of the U.S. currency from green to blue (or some other color).

The biggest challenge within the drug cartels is how to unload their warehouses, which are ladened with U.S. currency. The money laundering part of their operations is paramount and the most difficult. In February of the year of the change, anyone holding on to green U.S. currency would have it exchanged for the newly issued "blue currency." Inconvenient and costly, yes, but not unlike standing in line at airports while going through security -- also inconvenient and costly but necessary and successful. A side benefit of course would be the unraveling of the underground economy, now in the hundreds of billions of dollars.

Mr. President, what we need to bring these wars to an end are two things -- your involvement and new strategies.

Don Keelan writes a bi-monthly column and lives in Arlington.


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