Producing Peace: Converting a Permanent War Economy

April 21st, 2008 - by admin

Andrew Norman / The – 2008-04-21 22:50:28

Omaha Weekly Reader

Standing on a Colorado Springs street corner Monday, April 7, Mary Beth Sullivan answered the phone as she put down a sign that read, “War is not healthy for children and other living things.”

Sullivan is a peacenik of the unabashed variety. A tree-hugging, rabblerousing idealist whose doomsday environmental scenarios and books-not-bombs economic schemes prove her naiveté.

She thinks Americans care that 42.2 percent of their 2007 income tax dollars went to military spending, while just over 4 percent and 3 percent went to education and to the environment respectively, according to the National Priorities Project.

If Sullivan is nuts it’s because she thinks Americans will consider their children’s children when they hear that government money devoted to healthcare, education, environmental sustainability and infrastructure can generate up to twice as many jobs per dollar as military spending, according to a 2007 study by the University of Massachusetts-Amherst’s Department of Economics and Political Economy Research Institute (PERI).

If Sullivan is wacko it’s because she believes Americans are ready to talk about converting a permanent war economy into one promoting sustainability and peace.

Other innocents and would-be kooks will hear her revolutionary notions when she speaks at the 16th-annual Space Organizing Conference & Protest at St. John’s Parish basement at Creighton University April 11-13.

Local and national social leaders and activists like Los Alamos Study Group Director Greg Mello, Des Moines Catholic Worker co-founder Frank Cordaro and Lindis Percy, from England’s Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases, will offer workshops focused on U.S. Strategic Command’s recent mission evolution, missile-defense systems in Europe, U.S. military bases abroad and wars of the future. The event begins at 4 p.m. Friday with a rally at StratCom°¶s Kinney Gate.

Mad Money
A trained social worker and community organizer from Maine, Sullivan worked with homeless people, women on welfare and disabled children. In 1995 she began volunteer work with Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space.

In 2007, the United States spent an estimated $572 billion on the military, about $1,800 per resident and more than the combined GDPs of Sweden and Thailand. That°¶s the year Sullivan quit her day job and became the outreach coordinator for the activist group.

“We’ve got an unlimited amount of money, it seems, for military growth, but we don’t have money to house people? The richest country on the planet?” Sullivan recalled thinking. “I decided the best social work I could do was to work to stop this madness.

“We’re flat-broke as a nation. Where is the money? The money is in war making.”

In 2007, the previously mentioned 42.2 percent of every income tax dollar comes to 28.7 percent for current military and war spending, 10 percent for interest on military debt and 3.5 percent for veterans’ benefits; while 8.7 percent of every dollar went toward anti-poverty programs, 4.4 percent toward education training and social services, and 2.6 percent toward the environment, energy and science programs.

President Bush’s 2009 budget would give the Iraq war another $139 billion; $116.6 billion in tax cuts for the richest 10 percent of Americans; and $1.3 billion on renewable energy and conservation.

The Institute for Policy Studies and United for a Fair Economy found that in 2005, defense industry CEOs made 108 percent more on average than in 2001; CEO pay at other large U.S. companies increased by 6 percent during this time. In 2006, the groups’ report showed CEOs of the top six defense contractors made between $12 million and $24 million.

These included the chief executives of Lockheed Martin ($24.4 million), Boeing ($13.8 million), Northrop Grumman ($18.6 million), General Dynamics ($15.7 million), Raytheon ($11.9 million) and Halliburton ($16.5 million). Each made more in a week than any of the military’s generals or admirals made in a year.

Meanwhile the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2005 (pre-Hurricane Katrina and the Minnesota bridge collapse) gave the country’s infrastructure an overall grade. It cited the nations deteriorating roads, bridges, drinking water systems and other public works.

Sullivan points to work by the late economist and engineer Seymour Melman, who found in 2003 that, since the end of World War II, the government had spent more than half its tax dollars on past, current and future military operations.

In Melman’s report, “In the Grip of a Permanent War Economy,” he decries the deindustrialization of the United States by a “war-focused” White House and a “compliant” Congress which “favor production in Mexico and China where government powers bar independent unions. As production of both consumer goods and capital goods are moved out of America, unions and whole communities are decimated.”

Sullivan and Global Network want to organize a movement connecting peace, environmental and church communities with the union and labor movement, “that has us all demanding on a local level…, This isn’t the way we want our money spent.”

Dollar-for-Dollar Comparison
PERI’s October 2007 report, “The U.S. Employment Effects of Military and Domestic Spending Priorities,” examines spending cost in relative terms — i.e. what is the impact of spending a given sum of money on the military versus spending the same funds on some combination of non-military alternatives?

Researchers Robert Pollin and Heidi Garrett-Peltier found that “$1 billion spent on personal consumption, health care, education, mass transit and construction for home weatherization and infrastructure will all create more jobs within the U.S. economy than would the same $1 billion spent on the military.”

But would making the change mean substituting well-paying military jobs with poor-paying domestic jobs? It depends.

Spending on personal consumption (tax cuts or rebates) produces poorly paid jobs that provide less compensation than the amount resulting from military spending. However, investment in health care, education, mass transit and home construction results in more total wages and benefits relative to defense investment.

Sullivan said communities support local defense industries because they offer union jobs that provide health care.

“So many of us are economically dependent — this [military-related economy] is how we put food on our tables,” she said. “This is how we put our kids through college. But we have to look at the consequences of that.”

She said her plan isn’t about drastically cutting military spending tomorrow, with subsequent high levels of unemployed.

“It’s really about careful strategizing that says, “Let’s build a future that works. Let’s create options for our young people,” she said.

Sullivan wants military industries converted to produce green technologies — windmills, rail and solar.

Then things get a little crazy.

“What if this country decided that we wanted to master the alternative energy world?” Sullivan asked. “What if we decided we would look for modern technological ways to harness this solar energy, harness wind energy, harness tidal power? What if we decided that every home in this state of Colorado we would fit with a solar panel? Or that every community in Kansas, that’s loaded with wind, would have a windmill? What if we decided that we could indeed cut off our addiction to fossil fuel? Imagine if our universities, our research and development funds, were going into creating a sustainable future rather than creating weapons for use in space ˇ”

Building a Future
Sullivan attended the four-day Winter Soldier anti-war conference in Silver Spring, Md. in March. She heard many stories of young people who join the military and go to war because they couldn’t otherwise afford college.

“What an abomination that is. These young people, their lives have just been altered permanently,” she said.

She recalls a female friend serving in the Navy whose job it was on March 19, 2003 to participate in the operation that launched the first Tomahawk missile attack on Baghdad.

“She did her duty on the deck, went down a couple hours later and watched on C-SPAN Baghdad burning,” Sullivan said. “Here’s a young woman who went to school … to become a civil engineer. Imagine what she is living with now — what she wants to do with her life is build bridges, build roads, build infrastructure. She’s just participated in an action that’s destroying the infrastructure of another country.

“What are we doing to our young people — if that’s their life choice? We have got to turn it around.”

Crazy talk for sure.

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