Friday, March 19, 2010

Budgets, Priorities, and Cannon Fodder

By now, we’ve all been through the town meeting process. Difficult decisions about budgets have been thrashed out and voted on. New fire trucks, police cars, town garages – all have been dealt with, with a stern eye fixed upon our current economic situation.

The same kind of work is being done in every state. The bottom line is that tax revenues are down, all across the country. With a national unemployment rate somewhere in the 18-20% rate, one can see why. States are making difficult decisions. Indiana embraced a statewide tax cap. An increase in sales tax revenue was supposed to fill in the gap, but sales tax revenues have declined rather dramatically. That’s the thing about tax caps. They don’t cut costs, they just force cuts in spending, and those spending cuts almost always affect education and services for the most vulnerable amongst us. Muncie had to cut 32 firefighters, or 29% of their force.

This same work is being done in Concord. The DD waiting list is about to return. This is the list of people who have developmental disabilities or brain injuries, who need services. That we had a waiting list, ever, for these folks is mind boggling enough. The list was eliminated in 2007, but is likely to return. State Senator Lou “Slots” D’Allesandro would like to tie the DD waiting list to potential gaming revenues, but many families aren’t happy with the idea of gambling on their child ever getting services.

Also going under the ax are juvenile diversion programs, AIDS services, the state employee’s pension fund, and the court system. NH’s courts are already bogged down with backlog, and it’s about to get worse. No speedy trial for you in NH. The Dept. of Corrections is also going to take a hit. So are the state parks. Since some of our state parks are already in terrible shape, this isn’t good in a state that relies so heavily on tourist dollars.

States have been warned that there will be little help forthcoming from the federal government, which is facing the same problems. Tax revenues are down. The Bush tax cuts were supposed to create jobs, but that didn’t work out. Instead, they increased the deficit, and our revenue problems. Over 11 million jobs were lost during the last decade, and no one seems to have much of a plan for how to make them come back. Instead, more trade agreements are planned, meaning more jobs heading overseas. Tax cuts for the wealthy do not create jobs, no matter how many times the trickle-down Reaganistas tell us that it is so.

Our infrastructure is failing. Our health care system is a disaster. Our educational system is also failing. We’re lagging behind in technology and in access to the internet, which is still a huge problem in rural areas. The United States is a wealthy country – so where are our resources going? Simple. They’re going to war.

A look at our federal discretionary budget pie chart reveals what our national priority in spending is: defense. In 2009, 58% of the discretionary budget went to defense spending. According to the Pentagon, the US has 716 military bases overseas. This does not count the 400 bases we currently have in Afghanistan, or the 300 or so that we have in Iraq. There aren’t many countries that don’t have a US base or at least a US military presence. We are a global occupying force.

That’s been our choice, since the Cold War. Our defense spending is as much as the rest of the world combined. Other countries have enacted wonderful education and health care programs for their people. They have high-speed railways; they have Internet access for nearly everyone who wants it. These countries made their people their priority. The US has made killing people a priority.

From 1940 to 1996, the US spent $5 .5 trillion on nuclear weapons, and nuclear weapons programs. That’s a stack of dollar bills that would reach all the way to the moon, and partway back again. That’s a stack of money that did nothing for the people of this country. To justify it, fears were created. The Russians! The Communists! There’s always a reason found to keep on expanding US defense spending. Terrorism is the new Communism.

Terrorists are created most easily in places where there are no educational or job opportunities, where the quality of life is marginal at best. Terrorism is also created in places where there is a strong perceived sense of injustice. These are not conditions that we will rectify at gunpoint. We cannot ever kill “the terrorists” since the very act of our killing serves to create more of them. Still, we’re spending trillions on killing in Iraq and Afghanistan. Seven new bases are planned in Colombia.

At a time when things are so grim here at home, in February, Obama asked for an increase in defense spending. In 2009, the DoD base budget was $513 billion. In 2010 it leaped to $534 billion. For 2011, the DoD has requested $708 billion. That does not include the appropriations for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Presumably it covers the rest of the countries we are currently bombing: Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.

It’s difficult to imagine how we will be able to continue to afford this level of military spending, but cutting military spending is not up for discussion. Anyone who mentions it is automatically accused of being weak and unpatriotic. That’s what the culture of military imperialism has done for us – along with the 24-hour cable news cycle, and the shrieking idiots found therein.

As parents sit around the kitchen table wondering how to pay for college: fear not. There aren’t any jobs anyhow. The US military is our jobs program. There’s plenty of opportunity in the growing field of cannon fodder.

“The world cannot continue to wage war like physical giants and to seek peace like intellectual pygmies.”
~ Basil O’Connor

© sbruce 2010 published as an op-ed in the Conway NH Daily Sun 3-19-10


DissedBelief said...

Thank you Susan! Two years ago I asked a Republican acquaintaince exactly what she thought killling other people cost? Going to "war" is an expensive pastime, and we are now paying for it. I read a few years ago somewhere online that our defense budget was almost over 60% I'm inclined to believe this figure since our infrastructure, education and everything in between is in disgraceful condition. You also mentioned internet access in this outstanding article Susan. I also recall reading somewhere that Europe refused dial up and DSL theorizing this would set their populations back technically light years. All our issues coupled with the lack of health care I would think, would stir the emotions and voices of rational thinking citizens. But instead, "they" follow in the quicksand steps of Faux hysterical news and believe that universal health care is some form of communism. We have slid backwards ever since the great Ronnie and are continuing the downward plunge at a frightening rate. I shudder to think where and when the big drop will be.

Matisse said...

That is so depressing! I don't know how you continue to fight for your ideals, Susan. If it were me, I would have left the US a long time ago. The situation, as you say, is untainable, and more and more people will open their eyes to this. What's next? Defense budget cuts or an empire that slips in more and more dysfunction, social unrest and irrelevance.