Friday, July 16, 2010

The Case for Cutting Military Spending

On January 17, 1961, President Dwight David Eisenhower, the thirty-fourth President of the United States and the respected general of World War II, gave his farewell address to the nation. In his address, Eisenhower was ending his career in public service and made some remarks about the future of this nation, particularly of the growing industry of solely building armaments. He claimed, "this conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience," and that it encompassed all aspects of American life. Eisenhower saw that this new mindset came out of the Cold War but also insisted that it was something that must have a close eye kept on it, saying "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes."

Almost fifty years after President Eisenhower spoke of the dangers of the military industrial complex and twenty-one years after the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States is now crippled by the very thing that pragmatic general had warned us of. In 2010, the Department of Defense released its budget is $663.8 billion, which is an increase from the $513.3 billion that was used in 2009. Next year, that number is expected to increase to over $700 billion, making the amount of discretionary spending for the Department of Defense for the year of 2011, more costly than the 2008 bailout of AIG, Lehman Brothers and Goldman Sachs.

Like the bailout, the United States has become the personal ATM for armament companies like Lockheed Martin and Boeing to build an excessive amount of arms. Meanwhile currently, our country's education budget is at $63.7 billion, only ten percent of the whole Defense Department spending. This week on Capitol Hill, there is a debate over extending unemployment benefits, and if the unemployment rate stays at the rate than it is, then the bill should only cost $8.5 billion, little over one percent of the Defense Department's budget. As a result currently, the country is facing a deblitating deficit of $1 trillion.

There are some who say that it is an absolutely necessity to continue indiscretionary military spending and while it is true that there is a need to maintain our security, most other countries spend only a fraction of what the United States Spends. Case in point, Britain, who has the second most powerful military in the world and is the closest ally of the United States, spends only 5.8% towards the Ministry of Defence. Meanwhile Russia, perhaps the only true existential threat to the United States of America, spends the equivalent of only $46.8 billion. As for North Korea, Iran and other countries presented to be an existential threat, combined they make up little more than one percent of the entire military spending of the world.

By cutting the Defense budget, even if by only shaving off the first $100 billion, the United States can help to offset the crippling debt that so many deficit hawks in Congress and in the Tea Party worry about. In addition if the budget is slashed in half, the United States would still have more arms than Russia and Britain combined and afford to create a system of community service where college students can spend two years performing community service, joining the military, Americorps or the Peace Corps to help pay for their education as well as have an instilled sense of duty to improving their country.

Currently, the US is facing an economic crisis in ways that it has never faced before. With a dwindling Middle Class, many families find it harder to own a home, save for retirement and send their children to college. In addition, the crippling cost of the military industrial complex engorges our deficit higher than any health care program or financial recovery ever could. Meanwhile, with no significant infrastructure, there is little to export to pay for our insatiable need to consume. However, by reasonably scaling back our military spending, the United States can work to move towards securing its future from foreign invaders or the domestic terrorism of generational theft.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

In order to create a more perfect union

"We the People, in order to create a more perfect union..." Those are the words that open the Constitution of the United States America, perhaps the greatest experiment in democracy since those of the Roman Republic and Ancient Athens. After months of furious debates, the delegates who came representing each of the states in the union came to ratify this document predicated by these eleven words in hopes of forging a new political experiment; the likes of which had never been seen before and, while imitated by many other nations, has never been replicated.

However, it is easy to forget that when the Constitution was ratified that the political debates surrounding it were not absolved and that they would be buried along with the buckets of sweat that dropped onto the floor of Independence Hall that scorching Philadelphia summer. In fact, one could make the argument that with the ratification of the Constitution, the floodgates for political debate were opened. Federalists were concerned that the interests of the individual states would supersede the needs of the newborn nation. Meanwhile the anti-Federalists, who would later be referred to as the Jeffersonian Democrats, were concerned about the interest of the common men and that the Constitution dictated too much on behalf of issues pertaining to government and not on the rights of the average citizen. Then there was the issue of slavery. Northern journeymen were concerned that slavery would subvert their trades by creating an inexpensive labor force to conduct their industry. Meanwhile, Southern farmers were afraid that by abolishing slaves, their businesses like plantation farming of tobacco and cotton would go belly up as well as violate not only their right to property but also their culture.

Despite all of these misgivings about the intricate details of the Constitution, the delegates decided to ratify the document nonetheless. The chief reason being was that as Benjamin Franklin said, "I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of Government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered, and believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other." The Framers knew that will all of their preconceived notions and personal self interests that they could not possibly create a perfect document to govern their land. However, overall they knew that the Constitution and the laws that it entails, are not stone tablets that are infallible that must be strictly adhered to. Rather, the Constitution was an imperfect document, that must continue to be hemmed and altered. This is why their document had those words "in order to create a more perfect union;" they themselves could not perfect the union, but that future generations would work to create a more perfect union.

Indeed, there would be alterations to the constitution that would fix the problems initially posed to the Framers. Shortly after the ratification of the Constitution, Congress would pass the Constitution's first ten amendments, which became known as the Bill of Rights, which included basic liberties such as freedom of religion and due process. The issue of slavery would be solved with the 13th and 14th amendment and with the 15th Amendment, America insured that no matter what race a man had, they had the right to have a voice in our democracy.

As the Union grew, so did our ability to graft in other people into the political process, such as women and youth with the nineteenth and twenty-sixth, respectively. The nation's continued tirelessly to create not only a free society but also a just and equal society for all Americans. Like Franklin, we freely declare, "it is therefore that the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others." We understand that at times, this nation has not been perfect and there are still many ways where we are still imperfect. However, our ability to improve ourselves that makes America great; that drive to "create a more perfect