March 7, 2013

Letters to the editor, March 7, 2013
Pentagon budget needs judicious cuts

I am writing to protest the bloated Pentagon budget. Congress has a simple choice. It can continue to waste money on unnecessary Pentagon goodies, or it can invest in what really matters: education, the environment, jobs and the economy.

click image to enlarge

The Lockheed Martin F-35B is unveiled in Fort Worth, Texas, in 2007. The Defense Department should invest more in long-range missiles and less in “expensive aircraft like the F-35,” a reader says.

2007 File Photo/The Associated Press

Currently, the Pentagon spends $718 billion a year, not including veterans' benefits. This exceeds the peak of war spending in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2007, when the total Pentagon budget was $597 billion. In fact, the defense budget has gone up for an unprecedented 13 straight years and has grown by 48 percent over the last decade.

The big winners, of course, have been defense contractors. Between 2006 and 2011, they enjoyed a 10 percent increase in taxpayer dollars from the federal government, from $101 billion to $113 billion.

In the same years, the top five defense contractors collectively cut 3 percent of their jobs while being awarded 10 percent more in taxpayer dollars.

It has not always been so. After the Korean War, Pentagon spending was reduced by 43 percent, after the Vietnam War by 33 percent, and after the Cold War by 36 percent. There is a clear precedent for reductions.

There is also a consensus. Military leaders, policy organizations and forward-thinking defense contractors believe that Pentagon reductions offer a unique opportunity to adapt to 21st-century priorities.

Supporters include Gen. Colin Powell, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey, Raytheon CEO William Swanson, U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn.

We need to focus on real, 21st-century threats. This means making greater investments in special operations forces for counterterrorism, putting less emphasis on expensive aircraft like the F-35 and more on cost-effective long-range missiles, protecting cyberspace and maintaining informational superiority over future threats from entities like China.

John Bernard
South Portland

In early 1961, as part of his final speech as president, Dwight Eisenhower warned us about the fears he had of the military-industrial complex becoming too powerful a tool in our country. He cautioned us to guard against this because of the power it would have over the country.

Sadly, his fears have become facts.

With numerous folks moving back and forth between the government and military suppliers, people may feel a divided loyalty.

For those who work in government purchasing, they know often the temptation of being very generous to big government contractors. And contractors have been brilliant in spreading these contracts into as many states in the union as possible so that legislators are also beholden to them because of the jobs.

So what have we gained?

Yes, a mammoth complex that requires about $700 billion this year -- about half the military spending in the world.

Politicians do not dare cut the budget for fear of their loyalty to the country being questioned and for fear of losing campaign donations by the military-industrial complex.

They also are terrified of the consequences of not fighting for every defense job in their district.

Many times the military has tried to overcome the ridiculous spending of Congress and failed.

Ike realized and feared what we now have today. He cautioned about putting too much money in warfare and too little in education and taking care of the needy.

We now find our country in never-ending wars and a political establishment that does not dare question this.

When will the politicians realize this sad fact and start to reduce the size of the military in a substantial way?

There could be plenty of jobs in sustainable energy or education or fixing our crumbling infrastructure in the USA. That would be true patriotism.

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