Arms Budget 2001

Arms Budget 2001

S.F. Examiner


The hot story out of Washington these days, according to the nation’s leading media, is military spending, normally a topic relegated to the back pages or weekend editions. But give the press a whiff of “betrayal,” as one New York Times columnist put it, and out come the front page and editorial siege guns, badly aimed as usual.

The Times started it with a Feb. 5 volley titled “Bush Warning on Spending Cools a Wishful Pentagon,” reporting that the White House “splashed skepticism” on plans to raise military spending beyond the current budget of $309.9 billion. Times columnist Paul Krugman chimed in that the military was being betrayed in the name of tax cuts. And two days later a Times editorial praised Bush’s “wiseness” in deferring any major increases, endorsing the latter’s campaign pledge to raising military spending $4.5 billion a year, “a realistic overall spending target.”

In all of these stories there was never a hint that a substantial number of Americans, including at least 61 members of Congress, find no wisdom whatsoever in spending more than 52 percent of the U.S. Discretionary Budget on things that go bang.

Think about that for a moment: “wise” to spend more on the military than we do on health, justice, natural resources and the environment, housing, science, unemployment and social services, Medicare, commerce, agriculture, and energy, plus miscellaneous en toto?

What, pray tell, is “realistic” about shelling out more than 19 times what our potential “enemies” spend for military hardware? All our currently designated “bad guys” together-Libya, Iran, Iraq, Cuba, Syria, Sudan, and North Korea—spend about $16 billion a on their militaries, about the same we spend on a weapon system that might possibly work. Or not, as in the case of the $50 billion we have plunked down over the years on our anti-missile system.

It’s even worse that than. Given the U.S. is a member of NATO, it seems only fair toss the $140 billion our allies spend on the scale as well, making that ratio 28 to 1. If you’re paranoid you can factor in Russia and China as “bad guys,” but between the two they only spend about $100 billion on armaments. Four to one in favor of our guys is pretty good odds.

In fact, worldwide, while military spending has declined from $1.2 trillion in 1985 to $800 billion today, the U.S.’s share of that spending has risen from 30 percent to 34 percent. By the year 2005 we will be spending more on our military than the average amount we spent during the Cold War. Which, as I recall, is over.

What the media rarely does is report what all this means in terms of trade-offs, although it occasionally slips in if you look sharply. Buried in the 23ed paragraph of a Feb. 10 New York Times article about the Bush Administration’s plan to push reading in the “Head Start” program the reporter noted that because Bush was “reluctant to increase the program’s $5 billion budget,” that he would forego giving teachers a salary raise in favor of “arming them” with a “fairly prescribed script” about how to teach three and four year olds to read.

$5 billion represents two B-2 stealth bombers, their weapons, and their crews.

We have a couple of those “trade-offs” right here in Northern California. In late January a consortium of counties, including Alameda, San Francisco, Santa Clara, Solano and Santa Cruz, filed suit against paint and chemical companies to pay for damages caused by lead paint. This is no minor problem. As many as one in seven children in the U.S. may have elevated levels of lead in their blood. There are 130,000 in California alone, 4,046 in Alameda County, and 588 in San Francisco, according to the Alameda County Lead poisoning Prevention Program, and the San Francisco City Attorney’s office, respectively.

There are no debates over the effects of lead poisoning- According to a 1996 University of Pittsburgh study, elevated levels of lead in boys is related to bullying, vandalism, arson, and shoplifting. Lead poisoned children are six times as likely to have develop learning disorders, and seven times as likely to drop out of high school. The damage is permanent.

Lead paint was banned in 1978, but it still saturates the walls, window sills, and ceilings of low-income housing. To remove it would cost somewhere between $30 billion and $100 billion

The V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, which crashes a lot, killing U.S. Marines at a far more efficient rate than any enemy they have encountered in the past decade, will cost $30 billion. The anti-missile system, which will shoot down international arms agreements but has yet to come even close to intercepting a warhead, will cost $100 billion.

Given that Bush has already informed Housing and Urban Development to prepare for cuts, do you want to make any bets about who is going to lose in the tradeoff between kids, planes and missiles?

These tradeoffs should enrage us: 19.9 percent of our children and 10.5 percent of our seniors live in poverty. Between 42 and 45 million people have no health care. Each year, one million young people forego college for financial reasons. At least 700,000 children under the age of five die of malaria worldwide, a figure, according to Physicians for Social Responsibility, that could be enormously reduced at a cost of $1 billion a year.

That’s half a B-2 bomber, with change to spare.

It doesn’t have to be this way, although to overcome it will require going up against the military industrial complex Dwight Eisenhower warned us all about almost 50 years ago. That complex is the 13th largest economy in the world with the lobbying power of 185,000 companies, led by the likes of General Motors, General Electric, General Dynamics, Boeing, Northrop, Raytheon, etc. No pussy cats there.

But there are straws in the wind. Last year, the Congressional Progressive Caucus proposed a budget that cut $30 billion from the Pentagon, a fact you would only know if you were a reader of The Nation. The proposal only got 61 votes, but it’s a start.

Several years ago a handful of peace activists got together in what the Clinton Administration (and the media) called a “quixotic” campaign to ban landmines. Today, most of the countries of the world have signed just such a ban, with only a few of the big powers and the U.S. holding out. Start small, think big, and tell people what the tradeoffs are, and all sorts of things can happen. Maybe even halving the military budget and saving some of those kids.


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