Poor investments


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Stop me if you've heard this one before: The U.S. government has wasted hundreds of millions of dollars to prop up an endeavor that, despite increases in expenditures and extended loans, failed to live up to modest hopes of solvency.

This could refer to, well, anything — from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which assisted fewer private-sector loans than bank expansions, to our experiments in nation-building overseas.

But the most outstanding example is, at least according to the mainstream media, is the solar-energy plant Solyndra.

Despite $535 million in federal loan guarantees, Solyndra, a solar-panel manufacturer located in California, went bankrupt last month. According to internal emails acquired by the Washington Post, the White House asked the Office of Management and Budget to hasten approval for the guarantee so that Obama administration officials, including Vice President Joe Biden, could participate in a groundbreaking ceremony in September 2009.

There's no proof that the White House forced the guarantee against advisers' suggestions, but the partisan uproar is understandable — and reaches across the aisles. Republicans have accused Obama of everything from corporate cronyism to desperation (Rep. Michele Bachmann called the Solyndra guarantee an "abuse of authority and power"); Democrats have pointed out that the Solyndra loan guarantee faced bipartisan support and the federal funding sprang from a 2005 energy bill supported by President Bush and Congressional Republicans.

As a result of the outcry, there is a Congressional hearing on Friday that seeks to root out any potential wrongdoing.

This whole Solyndra mess is kind of a big deal — until you consider some of our more tenuous, poorly planned investments. There will not be a Congressional inquiry into the Bush administration's pre-emptive war against Iraq founded on lies or into the Obama administration's murder of more than 2,000 civilians, 160 of them children, in Pakistan as a result of continuing drone strikes.

Even on a purely monetary scale, the money lost to Solyndra is overwhelmed by the amount spent on other failed causes. The money squandered on Solyndra is measured in hundreds of millions, but a Brown University study released earlier this year puts the total cost of our "War on Terror" at $4 trillion — nearly one-third of the national debt.

There's no return on investment, either: As I've written about before, the burgeoning security state and bloated surveillance industry have left us with a dearth of evidence that we are any safer now than we were 11 years ago. Meanwhile, both Afghanistan and Libya have fallen into civil war after their supposed "liberation." And in purely humanist terms, our post-9/11 foreign policy has led to unquantifiable suffering in the form of the war crimes that inevitably stem from hostilities.

Of course I stand opposed to corporatism, whether it comes in the form of preferential treatment for loans or fat payouts to military contractors. If Solyndra circumvented the usual procedures because of politics or cronyism, there should rightfully be disciplinary actions extending to the highest level of government.

But I'm flummoxed by the incessant media attention given to these more mild cases of waste. War, and particularly the kind of nebulous open-ended war that we began after Sept. 11, 2001, is a far worse investment than Solyndra. But this is the truth that no one dares speak, and it is practically a civil heresy: Our wars have primarily been tremendous and catastrophic failures. Where they have "succeeded," (and what counts as success?) they have led to suffering and moral compromise.

If it is patriotism that prevents us from considering the War on Terror an unsound investment, it's time to smother that impulse. While the Solyndra debacle is the latest example of a government incapable of or uninterested in investing soundly, it is hardly the most egregious or the most inexcusable.

That distinction goes to our continuing wars.

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