Cutting the defense budget and investing in local communities is the best way to ensure that the United States remains the world’s most powerful nation, a group of national and local activists said at a public policy forum Saturday.
Panelists at the “Redefining National Security” forum concluded that the nation’s greatest threat is not an attack by a foreign power but the growing number of Americans who lack access to health care, housing, decent jobs and a good education.
About 100 people gathered at UC Berkeley’s Joseph Wood Krutch Theater to hear the progressive call to arms.
“Now is the time to redefine national security in terms of how we care for the people of this nation rather than by how many weapons we can stockpile,” said Wilson Riles Jr., forum co-chair and executive director of American Friends Service Committee. “For our nation to be secure we must create jobs that pay a
livable wage, provide a decent education and access to affordable health care."
But federal spending priorities lie elsewhere, all eight panelists agreed. They pointed out that the House of Representatives approved $306 billion in military spending for fiscal year 2001, an increase of $18 billion over current spending.
The bill, passed 367-58 on July 29, catapults defense spending to Cold War levels, panelists said. What’s more, the US military budget is now 2 1/2 times the total spent by Russia, China and seven other countries considered “potential threats,” according to the National Priorities Project, a non-profit research and education organization.
“The less expensive strategy is to meet the needs of our people,” said Joseph Volk, executive director of the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Quaker lobby group. “We need to narrow the ever-increasing gap between rich
Children, the elderly and minorities are hardest hit in California, Volk said. The number of children in California living below the poverty line increased from 947,000 in 1987 to 2.1 million in 1998, according to a report by the Census Bureau.
“We have many of our children living in poverty and 87 percent of our schools in California needing repair to be considered in good overall condition,” said Alameda County Board of Education Superintendent Sheila Jordan. “In the year 2000, the federal government spent one dollar in K to College education for every eight dollars it gave to the Pentagon. Our government has its priorities all wrong.”
Supporters of increased military spending – conspicuously absent from the panel – argue that the money ensures that 1.4 million active troops can fight and win two major regional conflicts around the same time. The money will also let the Pentagon procure new weapons, such as 341 F-22 jetfighters and 30 new nuclear-powered attack submarines.
But panelists didn’t see the point.
“We are at a moment in history when there are no peer powers or alliances which pose any significant military threat to the United States or our allies,” said retired Rear Adm. Eugene J. Carroll Jr., now deputy director of the Center for Defense Information, an independent research organization that monitors military affairs. “Using 50 percent of the entire
discretionary federal budget to defend the country from imaginary threats is excessive and wasteful.”
But getting Congress to cut military spending is another matter. There are few voices on Capitol Hill making such arguments, and those that do don’t wield much power.
In the U.S. House, the 54-member Congressional Progressive Caucus – that includes 10 representatives from California – opposes increased defense spending. But political reality can dictates otherwise.
“The Congressional Progressive Caucus say they support our efforts,” said Andy Sekana, a forum organizer and member of the San Francisco Progressive Challenge. “But in voting, it has not happened.”