Thu, Aug

Our REAL Sputnik Moment

ALPERN AT LARGE - President Obama, in his 2011 State of the Union address, described our nation’s technological shortcomings as this generation’s “Sputnik moment”, evoking our sense of military vulnerability against the Soviet Union of the 1950’s.  Half a century later, as we hear Russian Prime Minister and quasi-dictator Vladimir Putin accusing the United States of living beyond its means “like a parasite” on the global economy (Link), we clearly have a new “Sputnik moment” that based more on economics than on defense.

More importantly, as the historic decision of Standard & Poor’s to downgrade the U.S. credit rating rips through the markets, confidence and egos of nations throughout the world, our nation’s largest creditor—China—ripped into the United States’ unwillingness to reign in deficit and debt-expanding spending.  It’s no secret that China’s trading policies and military sales threaten both the world economic and political balances, so being so beholden to that power is truly ill-advised.

And while much of this indebtedness to such an economic, political and even military rival can be credited to former President G.W. Bush, current President Obama is as much if not more guilty of leading us into this vulnerability even if he doesn’t want to even mention the word “China”. (Link)

An even greater challenge is to get past the dueling accusations that to this day remain more political than factual in nature.  President Obama and the Democrats claim it’s the Tea Party-influenced GOP that’s to blame, calling them “terrorists” and all sorts of names.  The GOP leadership blames the President and the recent Democratic stimulus and health care initiatives for putting us over the edge and others blame both parties for too much spending.  

The fact remains that while the liberals in our country decry military overspending and policies that favor corporate excesses, and while the conservatives in our country decry educational and social services overspending, it’s hard to deny that both sides aren’t bearing honest tidings in their critiques.

It’s also true that while we weigh the question of whether some or all of our nation’s taxpayers might have to contribute more to paying down our debt, the question of whether that money would be spent well and actually be utilized towards the debt must be answered first.  

Other questions to be answered:

Is an 85 year-old the same as a 65 year-old when it comes to allotting Social Security and Medicare benefits?

Is a 33 year-old in good health but out of work for two years the same as a 33 year-old with cancer or multiple sclerosis when it comes to allotting welfare and Medicaid benefits?

If we were to cut the salaries of federal contractors and employees by 5-10%, and implement a federal hiring freeze, could we deliver the same services and quality?

If federal taxes were to go up, would they be employed to pay down our debt or to continue unsustainable spending policies?

Do we let our children’s generation pay for this decade of foreign conflicts, or do we pay for it ourselves?

And…of greatest importance…is this generation of Americans really able to rise up to the challenges of this “Sputnik moment”?

(Ken Alpern is a former Boardmember of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently co-chairs its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee.  He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at [email protected]    The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.) -cw

Tags: Sputnik, Sputnik Moment, President G.W. Bush, President Obama, Tea Party, GOP, Democrats, Standard & Poor, US Credit Rating

Vol 9 Issue 63
Pub: Aug 9, 2011