Rochelle, IL....Wednesday, February 16, 2011....Let's face it: America has a fascination with crime. I don't know why this is - i don't know if anybody does. But we know it is so by the ubiquity and popularity of crime themes on television, in the movies, in the popular press. Maybe it's the vicarious thrill we get from the portrayal of acts that we, of course, would never commit...but perhaps secretly wish we could experience. Or perhaps there's something about being tantalized by the threat of harm, held at a safe distance, but made to seem very real.
I thought to start by appealing to that secret thrill. Public enemy #1 - does it intrigue you? Yet consider this: it is more than hypothetical. Public enemy #1 means it poses a greater risk to the common weal than any other individual, syndicate, or phenomenon. So who or what is public enemy #1? Some mass murderer? The mafia? Companies like Enron that defraud the public? Let me take you back a few years. Back to a time in the modern era, but before cell phones, before iPods and iPads, before Walkmen, VCRs, even touch tone dialing. Back to the beginning of the 1960s, to the farewell address of the greatest American hero of World War II, our retiring President, General Dwight Eisenhower.
In that famous speech, he warned about the rise of what this man who had devoted his life to military, and then public, service called "the military-industrial complex". Every gun that is made, he said, every weapon produced, is in some sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, who shiver and are not clothed, who wander and are not housed. It wasn't Karl Marx or Mr. Krushchev or even some long-haired liberal professor saying these things, it was General Dwight Eisenhower, the man who shepherded the Allied forces to victory over the Nazi war machine, a man who understood the significance and necessity of weaponry.
"In some sense a theft" - these were his words. And theft is a crime. The bigger the theft, the bigger the crime. Whoever commits the biggest crimes is therefore our biggest public enemy. And whom do we have, today, who commits crime on such a scale? Of course, they might be other crimes, than theft. They might be murder....mass murder....or the poisoning of whole peoples or environments.... maybe something like the rape of the Amazon rainforest, or the incredible toxic oil spill in the Giulf of Mexico. What crimes - deliberate harmful actions planned and carried out intentionally - rise to the level of public enemy #1? Bernie Madoff, who stole not millions, or mere hundreds of millions, but some 50 billions of dollars from his victims? Or perhaps the earlier Savings and Loan scandal, that robbed millions of innocent depositors? Or how about the 19 thugs who boarded American airplanes with box-cutter knives, one beautiful late summer day, and extinguished several thousand lives? Might we call them public enemy #1 - or the movement they represent?
I'm afraid not. All these are mere pikers compared to the criminals i have in mind. Now i'm going to throw around some figures in a moment, and before i do, i want to put them in some perspective. We measure our national budgets, these days, and our naional indebtedness, not in billions or even hundreds of billions of dollars, but in trillions. Do you have any idea what a trillion dollars means? I learned recently that if you took literally a trillion one-dollar bills, and if you could actually stack them one on top of another, in very, very high piles, they would reach all the way from the surface of the earth, to the surface of the moon....four times!
Or think of it another way: if you could stand in the middle of Grand Central Station in Manhattan, handing out dollar bills to passersby, as fast as possible - and let's be realistic, here, let's make them $100 bills. So let's say you're giving away a $100 bill every second - which is pretty darn fast, when you think about it. How long would it take you to give away a trillion dollars? Well, it turns out you'd need a little help, because if you did it every second of every day with no break for eating or sleeping or anything else, it would take you 3 hundred seventeen years, 35 days, 17 and three-quarter hours....give or take a minute or two.
That's just ONE trillion dollars. And yet the national indebtedness of the United States is now around thirteen trillion dollars. And there is a reason for it. It's not social progams out of control - they are not out of control, in fact, they're not very well funded. It's not too many regulatory agencies - if anything, when you consider the massive harm that much ungoverned commercial activity is doing to our planet, we have way too little regulatory mechanism. It's not the unchecked growth of entitlement programs - the fact is that a program such as Social Security is self-sustaining for a few decades yet! Social Security currently has something like a $4 trillion surplus, at least on paper.
No, the expenditures which have run up this huge debt, which have burned up America's productive might and given us nothing economically useful in return, which have made us paupers in the world economic community and a third-world nation in terms of our rotting infrastructure, our failing health care system, our dilapidated inner cities, our topsoil-poor farmland, our decrepit educational system - the tragic waste of resources which has put us in this fix is the very military-industrial complex that General Eisenhower warned us against, in his last days as President, grown to such monstrous proportions that, to borrow a phrase from Casey Stengel, if the General were alive today he'd be turning over in his grave.
My friends, it is our out-of-control military budget which is public enemy #1, and it will kill us if we don't get it back under control.
It isn't merely that all this spending on war and preparation for war is terribly misguided, counter-productive, and cannot be shown to have increased our security one scintilla. Worse, by depriving our entire society of much-needed resources for honest-to-goodness human needs, this profligate spending has ruined our cities, our countryside, our habitations, our health, our common life. Now let me give you some concrete examples.
Taxpayers in The United States will pay $737.0 billion for the Department of Defense for Fiscal Year 2011, if the proposed budget is enacted. That's just shy of three quarters of a trillion dollars. This buys weapons, two on-going wars, hundreds of military bases, new planes and submarines, a large standing armed force and a huge bureaucracy behind it....not to mention all kinds of expenditures on various civilian projects, funded by the military, whose real purpose is to marry the civilian sectors to the military and silence opposition. Three quarters of a trillion dollars...a cool three trillion in just four years. Now let's consider, what could we be buying, instead?
If we cut the so-called "defense" budget by just 10%, we could use those funds this way (data from www.nationalpriorities.org/tools/tradeoffs/): * 3.78 million children receiving low-income healthcare AND * 1.13 million elementary school teachers AND * 1.29 million firefighters AND * 9.7 million Head Start slots for children AND * 44.5 million households with renewable electricity-wind power AND * 9.45 million military veterans receiving VA medical care AND * 15.16 million people receiving low-income healthcare AND * 1.12 million Police or Sheriff's Patrol Officers AND * 93.5 million scholarships for university students AND * 13.28 million students receiving Pell Grants of $5550 each.
These are just some of the things we could provide ourselves with THIS YEAR if we cut the defense budget by only 10%. Did you know there was a serious candidate for the Democratic nomination for President in 1992 - a man with administrative experience, the elected mayor of Irvine, California, a liberal Democrat in heavily Republican Orange County (Larry Agran) - who said that on his first day in office, being the Chief Executive of the country, he would cut defense spending by 50% and put the savings into more urgently-needed national priorities. Fifty Per Cent! I'm suggesting just a fifth of that....for now.
Now, I'm not a big fan of how either of the major parties has handled our finances in my lifetime. And it's certainly true that when we consider the terrible financial situation of our states and cities today, the true problem is that they can't raise taxes enough to cover their debts because the defense budget is already stealing it all away to throw away on stuff we don't need, that creates no economically useful product.
I used that phrase before - it's time i fleshed it out just a bit. How many people ride to work on a B2 bomber? Once it is built - and, sure, it creates jobs in the building of it - how many jobs does it actually produce and sustain for the economy, over the long haul? No more than a few dozen. A few crews to fly it around, a few more to service it. That's IT!!
Now suppose you took some of that $8 or $10 billion that it costs now to produce ONE B2 bomber, and spent it instead on, let's say, transit buses. How many jobs would THAT create? Well, first of all, the jobs to produce buses are not going to be as high-skilled, hour-for-hour, as the jobs to build buses. So you can hire more people at somewhat lower wages. Lots more people, in fact. Our recession goes away, as we take this money and put it back in the civilian sector. And once the buses are built, guess what? They carry people to work! A single bus carries hundreds of people to work every day! Imagine a fleet of buses! And they need people to drive them and wash the windows and repair and service them! They have a fantastic impact on the economy. Not money just thrown away, as with a bomber, literally thrown away.
And, by the way, what do you get for your $10B? A reasonable estimate to produce a bus is $200,000 today. You get 50 THOUSAND buses. Do you suppose we could use maybe a dozen or so of those around here? Let's have four dozen, for Ogle County - that leaves 49 thousand nne-hundred fifty-two for the rest of the country. And i tell you what, cancel another B2 bomber and we can afford to pay the drivers and maintenance folks. Now how many people can we employ with that money? Well, at let's say $50,000 a year, which is probably on the high side for these jobs, we can hire 200,000 workers - that's four per bus. Why, we'll have money left over; we can even paint the dang things.
Do you begin to get some idea of how throwing all this money away on military spending is impoverishing our country, throwing the political parties at each other's throats, and making mortal enemies out of neighbors? I tell you, military spending is public enemy #1, and it has got to be stopped.
So what is to be done? Well, that's really the topic of another talk; maybe i'll give you that one for Easter, since John has asked me to talk at Easter time. Suffice it to say that we have got to begin talking about it, which is something we haven't been doing for a long time, treating the subject as if it were sex or religion or something like that. It is not taboo. It is our future, yours and mine, and it's time we reclaimed it. =========== 30 ==========