03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Iraq

Brit Hume of FOX News once compared Iraq"s murder rate to California's to downplay the level of American casualties because the two places are similar in geographical size. On August 26, 2003, Hume opined:

"Two hundred seventy-seven U.S. soldiers have now died in Iraq, which means that statistically speaking U.S. soldiers have less of a chance of dying from all causes in Iraq than citizens have of being murdered in California, which is roughly the same geographical size. The most recent statistics indicate California has more than 2,300 homicides each year, which means about 6.6 murders each day. Meanwhile, U.S. troops have been in Iraq for 160 days, which means they're incurring about 1.7 deaths, including illness and accidents each day."

Of course Hume overlooked the profound demographic differences between California and Iraq that made his assertion a pathetic joke, but the episode shows that we've sort of come full circle.

In Baghdad yesterday, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger praised U.S. soldiers for helping Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki build and nurture Iraq's public institutions, which are central to the American war effort. But at the same time Schwarzenegger is systematically (even gleefully) dismantling similar public institutions in California. Regarding the next wave of brutal budget cuts facing the state Schwarzenegger explained: "The key thing is, we have to go and still make cuts and still rein in the spending. It will be tougher because I think the low-hanging fruits and the medium-hanging fruits are all gone. I think that now we are going to the high-hanging fruits, and very tough decisions still have to be made."

Schwarzenegger and his Republican colleagues in the state Legislature hate deficits (and taxes) and believe in free market solutions for California's problems. Their latest project is to tear apart the state employee pension fund by partially privatizing it. Thus we are treated to the spectacle of tight-fisted politicians calling for public investment that spares no expense in Iraq or Afghanistan but who have little use for the same type of public investments in the United States.

In Washington, a handful Senators are currently threatening to block raising the debt ceiling unless they get a scheme passed to gut Social Security and Medicare. These same worthless politicians voted repeatedly to raise the bar on the national debt to pay for the Iraq war, which they apparently saw as a great bargain. Deficits and the national debt don't matter as long as they're going to war and "nation building" abroad. But spending some of those same tax dollars on saving the "high-hanging fruits" at home is another matter.

People like Kevin Phillips, William Greider, Chalmers Johnson, and others have been warning us for years that the expenses of empire would eventually destroy the nation's fiscal health. Just look at all of the full-throated denunciations we've seen in recent months of the idea of spending about $1 trillion over ten years for health care for American citizens. The cost of the health care legislation pales in comparison to the $7 or $8 trillion the United States will spend on the Pentagon and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the same time period. And unlike imperial expenditures the health care reforms promise to make our citizens healthier, more productive, and end the shameful monopoly of rapacious insurance companies over the nation's health care system. Spending on the health and wellbeing of Americans they see as "wasteful" and in need of offsetting budget cuts in other social programs. But the sky's the limit when it comes to feeding the national security beast.

Worse still, the United States isn't even getting out of Iraq what George W. Bush and the geniuses that comprised his national security team wanted in the first place. Iraqis are shunning United States businesses that seek to invest in Iraq because they see them as occupiers. The New York Times, reporting on Baghdad"s recent trade fair, concluded: "America's war in Iraq has been good for business in Iraq -- but not necessarily for American business." It turns out Turkish and European companies are getting the lion's share of the new private investment opportunities in Iraq that were made possible by the sacrifice of 4,400 American soldiers and one-trillion American tax dollars. So even on the warhawks' own free-market terms the Iraq adventure has been a failure.

Somewhere in all these contradictions and misplaced priorities should be a lesson for Governor Schwarzenegger as he returns to California. Someone might ask him (as well as his like-minded fellows in Washington) why he only values public institutions if they are being built with tax dollars six thousand miles away.