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Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Real Sacred Cow (Podcast Version)

When budgets and deficits are discussed in the media, and on the floors of congress, Social Security and Medicaid are often called the ‘sacred cows’ of American politics, both by laissez-faire Conservatives, who think them a ‘Socialist’ abomination, and by Progressives, who see them as part of the safety net a humane society erects to protect its more vulnerable members.. But the real sacred cow is so sacred, it’s rarely mentioned seriously as a candidate for pruning at all.

It’s the US military budget, of course. Currently, the US military budget proper is 515 billion for fiscal 2009. Add discretionary spending, veteran’s benefits, and military programs that are under the auspices of other departments, and you’re up to over one trillion dollars per year on defense and war.

One trillion is a very hard number to get your mind around. It is bandied about almost casually these days in discussions of bailouts and wars to the point that it loses any real meaning. An American trillion is a one followed by 12 zeroes. One trillion dollars is over 3,000 dollars for every single man, woman and child in America. But that’s still too abstract. How about this: one trillion seconds ago was 31,688 years ago! 31,000 years ago we were nomadic hunter-gatherers living in caves. Agriculture was still 20,000 years in the future. Textiles, domesticated animals, pottery and metallurgy, medicine, writing, the wheel, the arch, houses – none of these existed.

Throughout history, empires from the Romans to the Spanish, Dutch, and British have all made the same mistakes. They’ve expanded rapaciously, controlling more and more territory and natural resources, often under force of arms, and then rotted from within as their treasuries went deeper and deeper into debt supporting the vast weight of their conquests.

America is certainly following the imperial paradigm to the letter. As in Rome, our infrastructure is crumbling; our educational and health care systems are no longer nearly the world’s best, based on any standard metrics from mathematical literacy to infant mortality. Our standard of living is manifestly eroding. We have military bases all over the world, from remote islands in the Pacific to Antarctica. Our military alone uses more fuel than the eighth largest country in the world, Nigeria, which has a population of over 140 million. And our military budget is greater than all other military budgets on earth… combined. Do we really think that this country can keep spending over 3,000 dollars per year for every one of our citizens and survive? That’s over 10 percent of the average adult American’s annual income!

There is a book entitled ‘addicted to war’ which details what our bloated military costs us. It also points out why this state of affairs persists decade after decade: our senators and congressmen are bought and paid for primarily by the Military-Industrial Complex, a term coined not by some left-wing radical, but by Dwight Eisenhower in his parting speech as president. In a draft, he originally called it the ‘Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex’, and his speech should be required reading in every school, as should Addicted to War, because we will not survive if we continue down the path of every empire that has preceded us.

Now, I’m not saying we don’t need a military; Far from it. There are real threats out there that must be met. Nor am I saying that our veterans don’t deserve the best possible care; they do. But I am suggesting that maybe the United States no longer needs bases in Germany, Poland and Great Britain. Maybe the European Union can figure out how to protect itself. I’m suggesting that a plane like the B2 bomber which was designed for a mission that no longer exists and costs over 2 billion per airplane is not the wisest way to spend our money. Our expensive weapons aren’t winning our military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We will always need defense, and deterrence against aggression, but if we stop trying to bend the world to our will, and trade coercion for cooperation, we will see a precipitous drop in the number of enemies we face.

And we must tell our elected representatives and the media that the military budget must be cut, if we are to prosper as a nation.

Audio Version

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