Saturday, September 25, 2021

Musings on an American Economic Apocalypse

     By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

Don’t expect a rapture or a great tribulation to initiate America’s end times.  The cause will not likely be God, or even a pandemic or a foreign invasion.  It’s likely to be an economic collapse.  After all, America’s strength depends on its economy, and it will suffer an apocalyptic failure if it appears that America can’t pay interest on its massive $28+ Trillion national debt.

Over the years Keynesian economists have assured us that we need not be concerned with our national debt, and apparently most Americans agree.  Few are concerned with the debt ceiling or the soaring national debt, and Congress reflects that voter indifference.  Both parties have subordinated the future of America’s economy to partisan posturing for the 2022 election.

Democrats are promoting $3.5 Trillion in new spending without the tax revenues needed to amortize the increased debt.  If the Federal Reserve can’t keep interest rates low, the increased cost of borrowing will cause inflation that increases interest rates and reduces the value of the dollar.  That would imperil America’s credit rating and threaten an economic crisis.


If borrowing is not feasible and America has to pay its exorbitant debts with new dollars, that would also cause dangerous inflation.  America has depended on the dollar as the world’s currency to absorb the inflationary effects of its free spending and excessive debt.  If the dollar is no longer the world’s currency, America could suffer the same fate as Germany in the 1920s.

Since the end of World War II, the dollar has been the world’s currency and Keynesian economics have allowed America to ignore uncomfortable economic realities; but that time seems to be coming to an end.  Without major monetary and economic policy changes, an apocalyptic depression even deeper and darker than that of 1929 could descend upon America.

In 1992 James Carville asserted the first priority of politics: It’s the economy, stupid.  That hasn’t changed.  Money remains the top priority of most Americans, and America is now approaching an “inflection point” in its economy.  To pass a proposed $3.5 Trillion bill with only a paper thin majority in Congress the Biden administration needs to raise the debt ceiling.

Republicans have vowed to oppose raising the debt ceiling, and the vote is coming up soon. “The process could take days that Democrats simply do not have, meaning at least a partial or short-term government shutdown even if Congress staves off a more apocalyptic financial meltdown.”  Staving off a financial meltdown will not prevent it--only delay it.          

Congress will likely avoid an immediate economic crisis by raising the debt ceiling; but there are other more intractable issues that could trigger an economic apocalypse: Fed policies subsidizing an overpriced stock market and creating dangerous disparities in wealth, a prodigal Congress that continues to increase America’s massive national debt, and digital currency that could replace the dollar as the world’s currency.  It’s a time of reckoning for America’s future.  


The U.S. government is careening toward an urgent financial crisis as a political standoff on Capitol Hill threatens to shutter the government and thrust Washington to the precipice of defaulting on its debt.  The high-stakes feud stems from a fight to raise the U.S. government’s borrowing limit.  Democrats have tied the increase to a bill that funds federal operations into December, setting off a war with Republicans, who refuse to raise the cap out of opposition to President Biden’s broader agenda — even if it means grinding the country to a halt. In recent days, Democratic lawmakers have reassured they will not allow the country to default. But the process could take days that Democrats simply do not have, meaning at least a partial or short-term government shutdown is possible even if Congress staves off a more apocalyptic financial meltdown. And it would force Democrats to vote on their own to raise the debt ceiling by a specific amount, opening them to GOP attacks later — even as Democrats contend that some of the spending was enacted on a bipartisan basis.” See

Amber Phillips has answered three questions on the debt-ceiling fight: What is the debt ceiling?, Why are we talking about this now?, and What happens if the government defaults on its debt? See


President Biden has said “The cost of the Democrats social agenda bill will be zero.” See

To pay for their $3.5 Trillion spending bill, Democrats say they have a framework on tax hikes, but they squabble over specifics. “The new tax details had arrived as Democrats scrambled to salvage their $3.5 trillion proposal from political collapse, as moderates and liberals within the party continued to duel over the size and scope of the package. Just a day ago, Biden huddled in private meetings with the warring factions within Capitol Hill, the first in what is expected to be a lengthy series of outreach efforts to secure his broader economic agenda.” See     


According to Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics “The United States could plunge into an immediate recession if Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling and the country defaults on its payment obligations this fall. ...A prolonged impasse over the debt ceiling would cost the U.S. economy up to 6 million jobs, wipe out as much as $15 trillion in household wealth, and send the unemployment rate surging to roughly 9 percent from around 5 percent.  ...Failure to raise the debt limit would have catastrophic impacts on global financial markets. Interest rates would spike as investors demand a higher rate of return for the risk of taking on U.S. debt given uncertainty about repayment. An increase in interest rates would ripple through the economy, raising costs not only for taxpayers but also for consumers and other borrowers. The value of the U.S. dollar would also decline long term as investors questioned the security of purchasing U.S. treasuries. The cost of auto and home loans would rise.  ...Stock prices would be cut almost in one-third at the worst of the selloff, wiping out $15 trillion in household wealth,” the Moody’s report finds. Treasury yields, mortgage rates, and other consumer and corporate borrowing rates spike, at least until the debt limit is resolved and Treasury payments resume.” See

On how Congress is hurtling toward a debt showdown despite the public’s waning interest, see


On how the U.S. is losing the global race to decide the future of money--and how it could doom the almighty dollar as the world’s currency with a digital form of currency being developed by China, see

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Musings on Religion, Freedom and Pluralism as a Toxic Mix in Democracy

    By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

Religion, freedom and pluralism are hallowed concepts in American democracy, but without altruistic values to define the common good, pluralism can become a toxic form of tribalism.  The altruistic common values needed to prevent that toxic mix have been dissipated by the polarized partisan politics that now threaten American democracy.

The Founding Fathers who shaped our Constitution were deists inspired by the reason of the Enlightenment and the universal moral teachings of Jesus.  Most Americans claim to be Christians, but the church has caused more division than reconciliation with exclusivist forms of Christianity.  The  Civil War split the church, and toxic divisions over racism have never healed.

The greatest commandment of Jesus was to love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves, including those of other races and religions; but that altruistic moral imperative has been subordinated to worshiping Jesus rather than following him, and increasingly disparate forms of Christianity indicate little prospect for reconciliation in American Christianity.

The election of Donald Trump in 2016 was a reminder that a toxic mix of religion, freedom and partisan polarization is a continuing threat to democracy.  The election of 2020 indicated that even without the church a moral reformation is possible, but the future remains uncertain with continued partisan polarization and the lack of any unifying altruistic values.

Republican demands for the unrestricted freedom to ignore masking requirements and COVID vaccinations during the pandemic conflict with the requirements of public health; and Republican opposition to immigration and refugee resettlement have created toxic political issues that have escalated partisan divisions to dangerous levels.   

Democrats have countered the radical right demands of Republicans with radical left demands for massive social spending on top of a budget deficit of $3 Trillion and a national debt that exceeds $28 Trillion.  The American economy is at risk, and even more rancorous partisan polarization can be expected when campaigning for the 2022 elections begins.

Only existential threats like World War II or 9/11 have ever produced unity in America, and that unity never survived a diminished threat.  From WWII until 1989 the threat was Soviet communism, and after 9/11 it was Islamist terrorism, and both threats waned over time.  Islamist terrorism has been revived with the return of the Taliban, but not to the level of 9/11.

The return of the Taliban to power has increased the threat of Islamist terrorism, but the greatest threat to American democracy is from within.  Religion, unrestricted freedom and pluralism can become a toxic mix that undermines American democracy with tribalism, unless partisan polarization can be reconciled with altruistic values that promote the common good.


Max Boot has blamed the Founders for America’s toxic politics.  I agree with Boot’s concern for our political ills, but disagree with his view that the Founders are to blame.  That’s a copout; it’s the voters who are to blame.  The Constitution properly allows the states to retain limited sovereignty and limited powers with the electoral college and two senators from each state, no matter what their population; and the Constitution left all powers not delegated to the federal government to the states.  The US is not a pure democracy.  If it were, US politics would be controlled by New York, California, and Texas, and we would still be polarized by partisan politics.  Max Boot is wrong to blame America’s problems on the Constitution.  America fought a terrible Civil War to preserve its democracy as described in the Constitution, and voters are responsible for maintaining it, or amending it as the Founders provided in the Constitution.   See   


Saturday, September 11, 2021

Musings on America's Exit from Afghanistan as an "Extraordinary Success"

     By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

President Biden described America’s exit from Afghanistan on August 30 as an extraordinary success.  That accolade may come back to haunt him, as did President Bush’s declaration of mission accomplished a few days after the invasion of Iraq in October 2003--and President Trump described American bombing raids in Syria the same way in April 2018.

America’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan cost the lives of 13 American soldiers and left behind and at the mercy of the Taliban over 100 Americans and many Afghans who supported the American cause.  Only time will tell whether Biden’s exit from Afghanistan was an extraordinary success or a strategic failure.

What criteria should be used to judge the withdrawal?  Was America’s strategic objective in Afghanistan to prevent the Taliban from returning to power and providing a haven for Islamist  terrorists, or was it to promote democracy and human rights--or both?  And were there alternative exit strategies that could have come closer to accomplishing those objectives?

Mark Twain once described his premature obituary as greatly exaggerated.  Biden’s description of his exit from Afghanistan as an extraordinary success was, at the very least, premature; and it was political hubris for him to ignore its many flaws.  Biden sounded like Donald Trump in praising his own policies, and that will likely detract from his legacy.

Another contingency that will shape Biden’s legacy is what happens to the Americans who remain in Afghanistan and the many Afghans who wanted to escape a Taliban regime, but were left behind.  Even so, 124,000 Afghan refugees did escape the Taliban as part of the massive airlift out of Afghanistan, and they are now seeking a place to settle.

With the return of the Taliban to power, it’s obvious that America failed to transform Afghanistan into a democracy that respects human rights.  As to whether Afghanistan again becomes a haven for Islamist terrorism, Talban assertions that it will prevent al-Qaeda and ISIS from exporting terrorism mean little if the past is an indication of the future.

Andrew Bacevich has observed that “The American war in Afghanistan has ended in bitter humiliation.  The age of American privilege is gone for good.”  It represents the end of the age of a distorted American exceptionalism that motivated abortive military interventions in Vietnam and Iraq.  It’s time for America to accept its loss of world hegemony.             

Just as history embarrassed President Bush for his premature praise of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 as a mission accomplished, it will likely remember President Biden’s hasty exit from Afghanistan as underscoring the failure of America to clean up the mess it made there.  Leaving Afghanistan after 20 years was the right thing for America to do; but its exit strategy was flawed.


“In May 2003 President Bush stood under a Mission Accomplished banner just six weeks after the invasion of Iraq and asserted that “major combat operations in Iraq have ended.  But the war dragged on for many years after that and the banner became a symbol of U.S. misjudgments and mistakes in the long and costly conflict. Bush was heavily criticized for the move.”  Trump used the same ‘mission accomplished’ language to describe airstrikes in Syria in 2018”.  See

Commenting on Biden’s speech on August 31, Aaron David Miller said, ”Biden is done with Afghanistan, but is Afghanistan done with Biden?  Thousands of American University of Afghanistan students and graduates were left behind. Paradoxically the one issue that required more detailed comments from the President and will be treated most harshly by his critics was the issue Biden himself identified as the only vital national interest America has in Afghanistan: How to protect the homeland from terror attacks.  ...Biden’s speech was for America.  If US allies were looking for apologies ,they surely weren’t going to find it in Biden’s speech.”  See  

Andrew Bacevich has noted that “...throughout the decades-long Cold War, the United States was the envy of the world — free, democratic and prosperous. The end of the Cold War served to affirm such convictions. Hence, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the demise of communism prompted few second thoughts regarding the now well-entrenched power projection paradigm. Nor did 9/11. Indeed, in response to the terrorist attack on New York and Washington, George W. Bush doubled down, describing the nation’s new enemy as “heirs of all the murderous ideologies” of the prior century. The United States would deal with them precisely as it had dealt with ‘fascism, Nazism and totalitarianism.’ The recent past would define America’s future. So at Bush’s behest, the nation embarked upon a Global War on Terrorism.   …The postwar formula for sustaining a position of global privilege is no longer working. The paradigm of power projection, with its emphasis on military intervention abroad, no longer provides a relevant response to these threats. The American war in Afghanistan ended in bitter humiliation, but it should serve as a wake-up call. The age of American privilege is gone for good.  The most pressing task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships that will refurbish and renew the prevailing conception of American freedom.” See     See also, Andrew J. Bacevich, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism, Metropolitan Books, 2008.   


According to Lindsey Graham (R, SC), the US will be going back to Afghanistan.  Graham said “Afghanistan will be a cauldron for radical Islamic behavior, presenting the US with only two options: You can say that’s no longer my problem...or hit them before they hit us.” See

The Editorial Board of the Washington Post has advocated a different path for US policy in Afghanistan, advocating, “the US should pursue its remaining goals in Afghanistan, which must include advocating the human rights of its people. There has been too much wishful thinking already.”  But promoting human rights in Afghanistan may itself be wishful thinking. See


In the aftermath of America’s exit from Afghanistan Michael Gerson visualizes President Biden embracing a redefinition of war--but not an alternative to war.  It’s a strategic shift from counterinsurgency with US troop deployments in hostile Islamic cultural environments overseas to over the horizon counterterrorism relying on hit and run tactics from distant bases.  Gerson seems to recognize that such a change in military strategies will not change the outcome, which is increased cultural resentment to the U.S. that will foster more rather than less terrorism.  See


On the conflict between Islam and libertarian human rights, and why advocating human rights in Afghanistan would be difficult, see Religion, Law and Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy at

For other commentary on the challenge of promoting human rights in Islamic regimes, see Human Rights, Freedom and National Security (April 4, 2017) at

See also, What the Afghanistan Fiasco Teaches Us About Religion, Legitimacy and Politics (Aug 21, 2021), at


On the conflict between Islam and libertarian human rights, and why advocating human rights in Afghanistan would be difficult, see Religion, Law and Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy at

For other commentary on the challenge of promoting human rights in Islamic regimes, see Human Rights, Freedom and National Security (April 4, 2017) at

See also, What the Afghanistan Fiasco Teaches Us About Religion, Legitimacy and Politics (Aug 21, 2021), at


Saturday, September 4, 2021

Musings on How Religion and Culture Caused the Afghanistan Debacle

      By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

The Afghanistan Army was trained and supplied by the U.S. and supposedly motivated to fight for democracy and human rights against an oppressive Taliban.  But the Afghan army dissolved in the face of a Taliban offensive.  It abandoned its fight for libertarian democracy and women’s rights to maintain the oppressive cultural values of a patriarchal Islamist culture.

It was another painful lesson in legitimacy for America.  Overwhelming American military power cannot change the religious and cultural norms that shape the standards of legitimacy.  The Afghanistan army was never motivated to replace Islamist standards of legitimacy with libertarian values.  It forfeited the battle for the hearts and minds of Afghans to the Taliban.

Americans should understand that.  It took 150 years for women to gain the right to vote in America, and Christian morality continues to shape our standards of political legitimacy.  It’s little wonder that the Afghanistan army supported Islamist values that preserved their male dominance, and were not willing to fight and die for conflicting Western libertarian values.  

Promoting democracy and human rights is a laudable strategic objective, but American national security policy must accept cultural realities.  For American trainers and advisors to  promote libertarian values in Islamist cultures can be a mission impossible when it’s a mission imperative to maintain a close working relationship with their indigenous counterparts.

Peaceful persuasion is a better approach than coercion for promoting democracy and human rights in Islamist cultures.  With Islam expected to supersede Christianity as the world’s largest religion by 2070, increasing religious and cultural diversity makes peaceful persuasion preferential to coercion for reconciling conflicting religious and cultural values.

The reconciliation of Islamist regimes and Western libertarian democracies requires that they find common ground on their values with advances in knowledge and reason.  That can begin with the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors of other races and religions as we love ourselves.  It’s a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims.

When those of contentious religions become neighbors in pluralistic cultures, the fundamental freedoms of religion, speech and equal rights for women are essential for peaceful coexistence.  When Muslims embrace human rights as a matter of faith and politics, oppressive forms of Islamism lose their legitimacy, and Muslims can share those fundamental freedoms.

For America to successfully promote democracy and human rights overseas depends on its powers of persuasion rather than military coercion.  America should have learned that lesson in legitimacy in Vietnam, but its military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan were painful reminders of how religion and culture can trump overwhelming military force.


A US bombing raid in Afghanistan that targeted a suspected ISIS-K bomber reportedly killed ten civilians, including children.  It illustrates how the collateral damage from the excessive use of military force can disparage American efforts to promote democracy and human rights.  See

tan-kabul-evacuation-intl/index.html, and

The Washington Post Editorial Board bemoaned that It’s been a bleak summer for democracy and civil society worldwide. It’s time to turn it around.  “This has been a horrible summer for the causes of democracy and civil society. The bleakest news has been the triumph of a despotic, fundamentalist movement in Afghanistan. But around the world, dictators have been aggressively destroying the elements of any open and free society: the news media, unions, political parties, movements and their leaders. They are bottling up the rights to free speech and assembly and straitjacketing competition. Welcome to the summer of freedom lost.” See

The rights of women illustrate the correlation of religion with the cultural values that shape political legitimacy.  Jill Lawrence has observed that changes in cultural values must come from within: We can’t make a country care about its own women.  Only Afghanistan can do that.  See

E. J. Dionne, Jr. has asked, Can religion strengthen democracy?  Dionne noted that “Most of us would regard a faith that promotes love, compassion and justice differently from a belief system that encourages violence, intolerance and hatred.”  But then acknowledged that “in recent years large sections of the Christian right embraced Donald Trump, the antithesis of Christian values.

...The use of religion by a hard, often authoritarian right suggests that religion is not always democracy’s friend.  And the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan reminds us that certain fervent forms of theism are implacably opposed to tolerance and openness.” See

A commentary from 2015 advocating persuasion over coercion anticipated a disastrous end to America’s misplaced Afghanistan crusade.  It remains as relevant today as it was then.  See 

American Exceptionalism: The Power of Persuasion or Coercion? (November 15, 2015)