"War is the greatest threat to public health." - Gino Strada, Italian war surgeon and founder of the UN-recognized Italian NGO Emergency

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Our Runaway "Defense" Budget

Now that the dust is settling (and Hank Paulsen's buddies at Goldman Sachs are in charge), what do you think of that $700 billion Wall Street Bailout? What I find remarkable about it is how it galvanized the American people. Democrats and Republicans came together (for a brief moment) to speak out against this phenomenal "giveaway" for the Wall Street fat cats that would do little, if anything of substance, for people about to lose their homes.

Of course the American people couldn't come together in such huge numbers to stop the invasion of Iraq (cost of Iraq war is about &560 billion so far). Interestingly enough, while we prepare to charge $700 billion against our grossly over-limit national credit card, we barely even notice that we spend much more than that every year on what we patriotically call "DEFENSE". Just what the heck ARE we defending?

So let's step back for a moment and consider just what the numbers are in terms we can all understand. Have you ever walked into a car dealer to buy a car and found out that once you added up all the extras you were going to have to forego your first-born child's college education? Well, that's a fair analogy of our nation's defense spending. Let's do the numbers (based on the 2009 budget - reference: Wikipedia)

Base Price: $515.4 billion, with a total of $651.2 billion when emergency discretionary spending and supplemental spending are included.

Nukes: $9.3 billion for nuclear weapons research, maintenance and production (Department of Energy budget).

Veterans: $33.2 billion for Veterans Affairs (Yes, we need to take care of our veterans!).

Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: funded by principally by "extra budgetary" supplements passed by Congress; $170 billion in 2007.

Real Secret Stuff: $32 billion for the Black Budget . The New York Times article references a book by the title, “I Could Tell You but Then You Would Have to Be Destroyed by Me." That pretty well sums it up.

Whoops, I think those numbers fried my calculator. But even without it I can safely say we are talking tax, license, out the door for roughly (are you sitting down?) a mere TRILLION DOLLARS. But hey; this baby will impress the neighbors, do zero to sixty in a flash, and don't even ask about fuel efficiency. With this much military power, we can guarantee you all the oil you can waste. So, you aren't impressed? Looking for something a little "greener"?

If you are like me, you might be wondering why we are spending such a phenomenal amount of money on war and a pittance on diplomacy and foreign aid, not to mention important issues including education, health care and energy efficiency. Well, look no further. When he's not making ice cream, Ben Cohen (of Ben & Jerry's fame) is messing with Oreos. He's got a wonderfully graphic demonstration of not only our budget imbalance, but a pretty straightforward suggestion for how we can fix it. Check it out by clicking the cartoon below:

After you've watched Ben's budget explanation, check out the Friends Committee on National Legislation's (FCNL) newest report, The Responsibility to Prevent, which explains how the U.S. could save billions of dollars by investing now to prevent wars before they break out. Now there's a novel concept. And, for another breakdown of the budget, check out FCNL's Tax Day Flyer that shows how 43 percent of our 2007 tax dollars paid for war.

The Quakers are right; War Is Not The Answer! We should be investing to prevent war and build a culture of peace. This is the kind of investment that the short sellers at Goldman Sachs just wouldn't understand. It won't make the shareholders of the weapons makers happy, but it will ultimately save lives, create goodwill overseas, free up money at home for desperately needed programs of social uplift and survival, and create a world free of the threat of war.

We the people are the catalyst for creating a new paradigm of peace; we are the ultimate lobbying force if we raise up our voices for change. Cut a useless, Cold War Era weapons program here, another one there, and pretty soon you've got billions of dollars to spend on peace.

If you like what you read at FCNL, consider subscribing to one or more of their special interest email lists and joining their email activist network. No one on Capital Hill does it quite as well as the Quakers when it comes to advocating for "a world free of war...a society with equity and justice for all...a community where every person's potential may be fulfilled... an earth restored".

What is your dream? What unnecessary weapons systems would you cut? Spread the word; share the message! Peace is possible. But it is up to us to make it happen.

Be sure to tune in next time to learn about some of the more unusual (and sometimes bizarre, and definitely under the radar) ways that the Pentagon is spending our tax dollars!



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