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This was first published as an AFSC Blog on May 23 2018 in conjunction with the third “week of action” of the Poor People’s Campaign.

Fifty-one years ago, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King warned that “a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

Dr. King’s moral equation, spoken at the time the U.S. was raining bombs and napalm on the people of Vietnam, still applies today.

“Since Vietnam,” according to a detailed report on poverty from the national Poor People’s Campaign, a new movement inspired by King’s vision, “the United States has waged an ongoing war against diffuse enemies, siphoning massive resources away from social needs. The current annual military budget, at $668 billion, dwarfs the $190 billion allocated for education, jobs, housing, and other basic services and infrastructure. Out of every dollar in federal discretionary spending, 53 cents goes towards the military, with just 15 cents on anti-poverty programs.”

That’s one reason why poverty has actually gotten worse in the five decades since Dr. King died while standing alongside striking garbage collectors in Memphis. In other words, excessive military spending equals worse schools, deteriorating housing, decaying infrastructure, and a frayed social safety net. President Eisenhower described the equation this way in 1953, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”

We also know that aerial bombardment equals civilian deaths, mostly for women and children. Consumption of fossil fuel by naval vessels and military aircraft equals tons of carbon injected into the atmosphere. War equals ecological devastation. And extreme violence equals lasting trauma for both the perpetrators and the surviving victims.

But there’s another equation, impossible to avoid in hundreds of communities spread across the country, which says military spending equals jobs.

For a case in point, I need look no farther than Nashua, New Hampshire, home of BAE Systems, which with 5400 employees is by far the largest industrial employer in the state. Not only does BAE employ more than three times as many workers as the number two, but it matches charitable donations from employees and provides grants in the areas of education, including sponsoring the First Lego League and a Women in Technology program. It states that it is “committed to working to high ethical, safety and environmental standards, retaining and attracting a diverse and talented workforce and making a positive contribution to the countries and communities in which we operate.” A BAE representative sits on the board of the United Way of Greater Nashua. In other words, BAE presents itself as a good corporate citizen with a $982 million annual impact on the New Hampshire economy.

BAE’s largesse, like the wages it pays to its workers, is a product of the war economy, more specifically the sale of electronic components for missiles, bombs, aircraft, and other military technology to the Pentagon and other weapons makers.

BAE, a subsidiary of the firm formerly known as British Aerospace, is currently the third largest military contractor in the U.S., with more than $23.6 billion in Pentagon sales, an amount which makes up 91% of its total revenue, according to Defense News. It spent nearly $4 million on lobbying last year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and $1.2 million on political candidates in the 2016 campaign cycle.

Its former president was the Republican candidate for governor of New Hampshire20160601_074659_resized in 2014. Its former director of public affairs served until recently as the head of New Hampshire’s Department of Resources and Economic Development, the state agency charged with promoting local business. The agency (now renamed NH Economic Development) provides support to the NH Aerospace and Defense Export Consortium, a trade group that encourages foreign sales of NH-produced military hardware.  [See my 2016 article on the NH arms export promotion conference.]

With the community dependent on it for employment and charity, with millions invested in politics, and with its leaders embedded in its community’s social and political infrastructure, BAE is as good an example as we might find of what Eisenhower called the “military industrial complex.”

While the jobs it creates are real, the military spending equals jobs equation doesn’t hold up when we ask what would happen if the funds were spent elsewhere. According to Heidi Garrett-Peltier, a UMASS economist, “over the past 16 years, by spending money on war rather than in these other areas of the domestic economy, the US lost the opportunity to create between one million and three million additional jobs.” The reason: Government spending in any other area is a better job creator.

We might say that the equations which joins military spending to jobs can be disproved. But that is not just a mathematical process, it’s a moral and political one. That’s the point of the Poor People’s Campaign, to recast our nation’s politics in a moral framework.

Fifty years after the first Poor People’s Campaign it is well past time to tend to our spiritual health by changing our nation’s priorities. We don’t have as much to lose as we might fear, and we have a lot of ground – moral and economic – to gain.

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doris hampton 2018 town meeting

More than Half the Budget is “Way, Way Too Much”

Voters at the annual town meeting in Canterbury, New Hampshire, meeting in the town’s elementary school gym on March 16, approved a resolution calling for a shift in federal spending away from the Pentagon and toward other purposes.

The resolution was the final item on the agenda of the annual exercise of direct democracy still practiced by small town in New England. It calls on the United States Congress to “cut the Pentagon budget and to use that money to fund education, public and private sector family-sustaining job creation, environmental and infrastructure restoration, care for veterans and their families, and human services that our communities and state desperately need, and create tax cuts for working families.“ The resolution also directs the town’s Board of Selectmen to forward it to the state’s two US Senators and the district’s US Representative as a statement of the town’s views.

After the Ted LeClair, the Town Moderator, read the full resolution aloud, Bill Taylor, a retired worker in the state’s transportation department, explained the idea came from a subcommittee of the Canterbury Citizens for Democracy (CC4D), a grassroots group formed after the 2016 election. “We all looked at what the federal government is spending on our military,” he told the crowd of nearly 200 people. “It’s over 50% of the federal discretionary budget. I think that’s way, way too much. We can get what we need for less. We’re asking our representatives to start talking about it.”

Five “whereas” clauses gave the facts:

· the U.S. spends in excess of $600 billion a year on its military programs, which is well over half of federal discretionary spending, and which in 2016 cost the average New Hampshire taxpayer $3,069; and

· the U.S. spends more on its military forces than the next eight countries combined, and five of them are close U.S.  allies; and

· research shows that tax dollars spent on health care, education, clean energy, and infrastructure create more jobs per dollar than does spending on military programs; and

· the United States has a stockpile of 6,250 nuclear warheads and is in the process of spending $1.2 trillion on a whole new generation of nuclear weapons that would have the ability to annihilate life on earth; and

· the U.S. is the wealthiest nation on earth but trails many other nations in life expectancy, infant mortality, education-level, housing, and clean air and water.

The resolution was printed in the town’s Annual Report, which voters consulted during the course of the meeting. The CC4D members also produced a 4-page fact sheet, with colored charts illustrating the points in the resolution, and placed them on chairs throughout the gym before the meeting started.

“There’s very little debate in Congress over military spending, and there should be a lot more. That’s the purpose behind this resolution,” Taylor told the roomful of Canterbury residents.

The practice at town meeting is for any resident to take the microphone and offer an opinion or a question on each item. By the time Taylor introduced the federal spending resolution, the meeting had already approved the leasing of police cruisers, the purchase of a new truck for the highway department, creation of a committee to advise the town on how to reduce use of fossil fuels, and the town budget for the coming year, including a raise for the Town Administrator. Voters rejected a proposal from the Board of Selectmen to make the town treasurer position an appointed one rather than an elected office.

With the hour late, only three people took the microphone to speak to the budget resolution.

Fred Portnoy, a radio engineer and retired tech worker from Plymouth State University, said, concisely, “This is an issue the federal government is not going to solve on its own without leadership from us.”

Doris Hampton, a retired social worker and the coordinator of the Canterbury Citizens for Democracy, told townspeople that when she saw a chart showing how much more the United States spends on its military than any other country, “I thought, what is it going to take for us to feel safe in this country?”

“What we need to feel safe is for our citizens to feel like they have a Iivelihood that will support them, that they have health care, that their children can have a future. The only way I can see that we can start doing that and start feeling safe in our lives is to start this discussion about tipping the balance of our spending,” she added.

There was one dissenter, who began his speech by saying, “I love the internet, I can pretty much find anything to support any view I take.” He then cited an alternate set of statistics he said showed that Russia and China actually spend more on their military programs when issues like the differing costs of weapons production are taken into account.

ted leclair 3-16-18

Ted LeClair, Canterbury’s Town Moderator, read the resolution

Following a motion to “move the question” and end debate, the moderator read out the resolution’s conclusion one more time. “You’ll forgive me if I don’t read the whereases,” he said, drawing chuckles from the crowd. Then he asked voters to raise green “yes” cards to support the resolution or red “no” cards if they opposed it. The green cards were clearly in the majority. “The motion passes,” the moderator declared.

After some more discussion on the re-building of the Sam Lake House, where the town offices are located, and a report on the results of a survey about the town’s recycling center, the 2018 Canterbury Town Meeting was declared over. Canterbury voters will meet again on the first Friday after the second Tuesday of March, 2019. By then, their two US Senators and their US Representative will have heard that voters in this small, New Hampshire town want them to make a dramatic change in how their federal tax dollars are spent.

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Concerned about militarism? Watch the budget, not the parade.

This was published first in the Concord Monitor on February 15, 2018.

President Trump’s proposal for a massive military parade has aroused bountiful criticism, including from 89% of the 55,000 Military Times readers who responded to an online survey. But if we’re concerned about a slide into military rule, I’d suggest looking away from the parade and paying more attention to the budget just approved by Congress.

“There is widespread agreement in both parties that we have cut the military too much,” observed Speaker of the House Paul Ryan just prior to the vote adding some 165 billion dollars to the Pentagon budget over two years. Of the bi-partisan consensus, the Speaker was correct. The Democratic Party’s talking points seemed to be that they, too, wanted a higher military budget although they would insist on a boost to non-military spending, as well. Even the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which to its credit has put forward an annual alternative budget that shifts funds from military programs to domestic priorities, issued a statement about the parade but said nothing about the budget its members had just voted on.

As to cuts in the military budget, Ryan’s analysis needs scrutiny. While the military budget has indeed dropped from its peak at the most intense times of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, inflation-adjusted defense spending levels are now higher than they were during the U.S. war in Vietnam and most of the Cold War. The FY 17 level of spending, $634 billion, takes up more than 50% of the discretionary spending approved by Congress. And that doesn’t even count the money going to veterans’ affairs, homeland security, the secret budgets that fund the CIA and National Security Agency, or the portion of the Energy Department’s budget devoted to nuclear weapons.

The deal raises the level of military spending by $80 billion in 2018 and $85 billion in 2019. As Politico reports, over two years, “the military will receive at least $1.4 trillion in total through September 2019 to help buy more fighter planes, ships and other equipment, boost the size of the ranks, and beef up training — a level of funding that seemed a long shot just months ago.”

The non-military part of the budget gets boosted by a lesser amount: $63 billion the first year and $68 billion the second, bringing its share to $605 billion. If you do the math, that means military programs will continue to capture 54% of the funds in the “discretionary budget,” that is, the budget Congress controls with annual appropriations. It’s that figure, more than the number of generals in the cabinet and the size of Trump’s parade, that I find alarming.

The details of the budget still need to be worked out, but there’s little doubt it will include down payments toward a new generation of nuclear weapons. Not only is the Trump administration continuing the Obama administration’s plan to replace the entire array of nuclear warheads and the planes, missiles, and submarines designed to deliver them, the recently released Nuclear Posture Review calls, as well, for new mini-nukes that could be deployed and presumably used on the battlefield. The official price-tag for the package is now $1.2 trillion, but some analysts, including former Defense Secretary William Perry and General James Cartwright, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, think $1.7 trillion is a more realistic estimate.

Perry and Cartwright believe we’d be safer by spending less. “If we scale back plans to replace the nuclear arsenal, we will actually improve our security,” they wrote recently in the Washington Post. They advocate cancelling plans for new land-based and cruise missiles, for starters.

I’d go further, and suggest the militarized approach to security needs to be re-thought. Martin Luther King, Jr. put it this way a little over fifty years ago: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

Our actual security is better protected by reducing nuclear threats through multi-lateral reductions consistent with the terms of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, global attention to climate change, creation of civilian jobs that pay living wages, ending racist and patriarchal violence, and prioritizing housing and health care. That would be worthy of a parade!

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New Hampshire Peace Action’s annual meeting today in Sanbornton featured a7-13-13 sanbornton 017 presentation by Mike Prokosch of he New Priorities Project on the national campaign to alter federal budget priorities away from militarism and toward social justice objectives.  

“We are not necessarily the prime movers,” Prokosch said to the assembly of more than 40 members of the statewide peace group.  “We need to be allies with the people who will benefit the most.”

Prokosch’s recounting of the movement to transfer federal spending from war-making to programs that meet human needs referred back to the 1970s “transfer amendment” and demands from black leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. for the government to turn away from war and toward the needs of poor communities.  

For me, his message conjured up memories of several decades of “fair budget coalitions,” “fair budget action campaigns,” priorities projects, and the like, none of which seem to have made much of an impact on the federal budget.

The new effort, 7-13-13 sanbornton 030which began in the period following the 2008 economic collapse, might be different, Prokosch suggested.  Bringing the peace movement together with community organizing networks, faith groups, and organized labor at a time when  competition for federal resources is fierce, the latest “move the money” movement is built on a “long term, grassroots, and big tent” approach, he said.

“It’s clear we have a long term fight on our hands,” he said, and “the peace movement doesn’t have the strength to do this alone.”

In fact, under its current leadership, the US House of Representatives is already trying to “move the money,” but in the wrong direction, from social programs toward more militarism.   But this creates an opportunity, Prokosch insisted, for peace activists to build relationships with people who care about the victims of austerity budgets.

The type of organizing that’s needed requires more than slogans and graphs.  It has to be done “in a deep way,” taking peace activists outside their comfort zones, for example building alliances with military production workers who might understand that budget politics and world changes will put pressure on the Pentagon to reduce spending.  The corporations that profit from weapons production won’t drive the transition to a new economy, he said, but workers who care about the futures of their communities have incentives to consider alternatives.  

A agenda focused on jobs, services, fair taxes, and cuts in Pentagon spending can provide common ground for a coalition that can achieve long-term c7-13-13 sanbornton 005hange.  To illustrate the potential, Prokosch described last years’ “Budget for All” referendum in Massachusetts, where voters endorsed a “move the money” resolution by 3:1 margins in diverse districts, including ones that chose Mitt Romney for President.  

NH Peace Action’s Will Hopkins said the organization is planning to bring similar  resolutions to NH Town Meetings next year.  (Contact him for  more information.)

The Peace Action members also held a brief business meeting at which they elected their board for the coming year.  NH Peace Action is lamperti 7-13-13 sanbornton 009a statewide membership group, affiliated with the NH Peace Action Education Fund.  Board Chair John Lamperti did a good job explaining the relationship between the two entities and the tax categories that limit what they can do and affect how they raise funds.   

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In their recent op-ed for the “Campaign to Fix the Debt,” New Hampshire State Senator Lou D’Allesandro and former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell used several paragraphs to explain the danger that the country could go over the “fiscal cliff,” which they describe as “a series of across-the-board spending cuts and tax increases that will hurt everyone.”

That these measures, intended to reduce the federal government’s fiscal deficit, have aroused dread even among leaders of “Fix the Debt,” should be proof that the “debt’ is not the biggest problem we face. In the short run, the top economic problem the country faces is under-employment and stagnant wages for most workers.

The major cause of the current federal deficit is the economic collapse that began in 2008. When the economy melted down, the taxable income of workers dropped. Moreover, un- and under-employed workers were more likely to receive federal payments such as unemployment insurance, Medicaid, and food stamps.

The other significant causes of the deficit are the tax cuts pushed by President George W. Bush and extended/expanded by President Obama, and rapid expansion of military spending, including (but not limited to) the invasions/occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The cost of Social Security has nothing to do with the current deficit. If the population and economy grow at normal rates, the future workforce will deposit enough into the system to fund the retirement of those who are working now, especially if Congress raises the payroll tax cap and permits millions of undocumented immigrant workers to enter the formal economy.

Long-term, the cost of Medicare and Medicaid could pose a significant burden on the economy. But this has everything to do with the larger problem of rising health care costs and nothing to do with the fact that these are “entitlement” programs.

If the nation insists on cutting the deficit, we should return our attention to its causes: tax rates, excessive military spending, and the recession itself. If we fix the economy, the debt will take care of itself.

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When is a “Town Hall Meeting” not a “Town Hall Meeting?”

When attendance is limited to employees of a self-interested foreign corporation that is playing host to a reverse lobbying event.

The event in question is the “Preserving America’s Strength” show being staged by U.S. Senators Kelly Ayotte, John McCain, and Lindsey Graham on Tuesday morning, July 31 at BAE Systems in Merrimack. The Senators say they are trying to “sound the alarm” about the economic impact of cuts in military spending if the Pentagon is forced to cut $500 Billion from its budget over the next ten years.

The budget cuts, taken from a ten-year budget of about $5.5 Trillion, would be matched by an equal amount of cuts in non-military spending under a process known on Capitol Hill as “sequestration.” This would come after a decade in which Pentagon spending has risen by more than 35 per cent, even after accounting for inflation and excluding the costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Members of the public are not invited to the “Town Hall Meeting.”

That means the Senators are not likely to get questions about the job or economic impact of cuts in areas such as housing, nutrition assistance, health care, education, and environmental protection.

Nor are they likely to hear that canceling the Pentagon budget cuts will either mean deeper cuts in human needs programs, higher taxes, continued deficit spending, or some combination of the three.

It’s possible that no one present will point out the United States military spending is already almost as much as that of all the other nations of the world combined and that many of the big-spenders among them are our allies.

While cuts in weapons production — not to be confused with cuts in pay or benefits for active duty and retired members of the armed services — would lead to job losses in those industries, a recent report from Senator Tom Harkin says “the economic effects of cuts to nondefense programs could be worse than cuts to Pentagon spending.” According to Sen. Harkin’s analysis, sequestration would cut $3.5 million from special education funding in New Hampshire, costing the state 44 jobs and reducing services to infants and children. $1.2 million in Head Start cuts would cost 41 jobs and eliminate services for 194 more children. Cancer screening for women, low income heating assistance, family violence prevention, assistance for unemployed workers, and dozens of other programs assisting people in New Hampshire would suffer.

Even the Aerospace Industry Association says cuts in non-defense programs would have a more harmful effect on the nation’s economy than would cuts in defense spending.

“$1 billion spent on each of the domestic spending priorities will create substantially more jobs within the U.S. economy than would the same $1 billion spent on the military,” according to a recent report from the UMASS Political Economy Research Institute.

“Dollar for dollar, clean energy and health care support 50% more jobs than defense spending, and education supports more than twice as many,” says Heidi Garrett-Peltier, co-author of the UMASS study. “Cutting the budget for education, then, results in twice as many jobs lost as cutting the budget for defense.”

Surely “America’s strength” is built on more than just weapons. A strong country requires a strong domestic economy, educated youth, a healthy population, and clean air and water. And a vibrant democracy needs actual public dialogue on pressing issues, not staged roadshows by elected officials who are supposed to be working for the people.

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Today’s Concord Monitor reports that when Rick Santorum was asked a question about the Affordable Care Act at his “town hall forum” in Hudson yesterday, the presidential candidate responded with a rhetorical question.

“Did the government pay for your housing? Did it pay for your food?” Santorum asked Jillian Dubois, a Hudson voter.

The Monitor does not record if Santorum waited for a response. But the correct answer to both questions probably would have been, “yes.”

The federal government provides a subsidy of about $100 Billion a year for homeowners through the Home Mortgage Interest Deduction. The federal government also subsidizes agriculture to the tune of about $10 Billion a year, half in direct payments to producers of commodity crops.

“How much is the role of government to pay for things that you should have to pay for?” Santorum also asked. How’s this for an answer:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”  That’s the preamble to the Constitution, to which Santorum will have to swear allegiance should he ever be re-elected to federal office.  

I’d include health care in the “General Welfare” category. 

As for government spending to subsidize housing and food, I suggest a look at how the subsidies are distributed.  

Nearly 50% of the benefits of the mortgage interest deduction benefits go to the wealthiest 10% of taxpayers, according to the Tax Policy Center.

According to the Environmental Working Group’s Farm Subsidy Data Base, 10% of “farmers” took 74% of all subsidies between 1995 and 2010. 62% of farmers received no subsidies at all.

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