Earlier this month, a delegation of activists took to Capitol Hill to demand a decrease in the massive, out-of-control military budget. As millions of Americans struggle with inadequate health care, low wages, deteriorating public services and uncertainty about their futures as the wage gap between the wealthy elite and the working poor widens, billions upon billions of taxpayer dollars are pouring into the coffers of the Department of Defense every year. The Pentagon budget currently makes up half of the U.S. government's entire operating budget. Estimated to be around $716 billion in 2013, the U.S. defense budget is greater than the defense budgets of the next ten highest spending nations combined. The gathering was, appropriately, scheduled on International Human Rights Day.
Some of the groups present were: Roots Action, the Hunger Action Network of New York State, Code Pink, Green Shadow Cabinet, Coalition Against Nukes, Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign, U.S. Labor Against the War and many more. See their open letter to members of Congress and President Obama here.
The consortium of activists' are asking Congress to slash the bloated military budget and use the significant savings to enhance critical social programs that actually help people, things like food stamps, Social Security and improved full Medicare-for-all healthcare. They also suggested a massive public works agenda that creates good paying un-exportable jobs in every community around the country -- jobs that include clean, renewable energy for the future. And what of America's crumbling infrastructure? Our clinics, roads, schools, bridges, libraries, public transit, public water and sewage systems and national parks are in dire need of repair and modernization. The savings from defense spending could be used to repair infrastructure -- much of which was a product of FDR's New Deal in the 1930s -- and ensure a cleaner, safer, more prosperous America.
These are proposals that would benefit our citizenry rather then ravage and destroy countries abroad whose citizens far too regularly become victims in the U.S.'s perpetual military adventures.
The American people have long been subject to fear mongering and propaganda-spreading about alleged foreign threats to their safety. The blowbacks are costly. This campaign for perpetual war has significantly benefited corporate contractors like Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Halliburton who reap the massive rewards of a defense budget many times greater than that of any other country on Earth. Consider this -- the Navy's latest aircraft carrier currently under construction, the USS Gerald R. Ford, is expected to cost $12.8 billion. That's a billion dollars more than the current annual budget of the entire Internal Revenue Service. The United States already has eleven aircraft carriers, all of which outmatch every other foreign naval vessel on the sea. The IRS budget, on the other hand, is too inadequate to properly police tax evaders who reportedly cost the government $300 billion in losses every year. According to a 2011 report from The Motley Fool: "Tax evasion in the last decade cost an amount roughly equivalent to the Bush tax cuts, the Obama stimulus, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ... combined."
Mark Dunlea, Executive Director of the Hunger Action Network of NYS, who is a key figure in organizing the campaign said: "Cutting the military budget in half would reduce it to where it was before 9/11 -- when it was way too high. The amount of money spent on theUS military is a crime against humanity. It steals our children's future and it oppresses people across our planet. We shouldn't be cutting SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] funds to feed our children and seniors while wasting tens of billions of dollars to build planes and tanks that are often mothballed in desert parking lots soon after they roll off the assembly line."
President Eisenhower warned of the dangers of the "military industrial complex" in his farewell address in 1961. Now, over fifty years later, we see the result of unchecked, reckless spending on costly, unnecessary high-tech weapons of mass destruction -- and the disturbing need to find uses for them. On December 12, a drone strike in Yemenreportedly killed at least 13 people traveling in a wedding procession. A Yemeni government official has claimed that the wedding convoy contained members of Al Qaeda -- although earlier reports claimed the convoy was targeted mistakenly.
Code Pink's Medea Benjamin recently posed the question: "Do we want to feed hungry people or feed the weapons industry?"
The defense budget -- which the Government Accountability Office of Congress deems "un-auditable" -- is loaded with waste, redundancy, corruption, cost overruns, complex billing fraud and poor quality control. Let us heed Eisenhower's warning at long last and use our nation's wealth to make significant investments in a future that benefits people. (Read Eisenhower's famous 1953 "Cross of Iron" speech on this matter.)
At the least, each person can do his or her part by reaching your Senators and Representatives with your outcries. Call the Congressional Switchboard at 202-224-3121.
(Autographed copies of my book Told You So: The Big Book of Weekly Columns are available from Politics and Prose, an independent book store in Washington D.C.)