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Proud to be American? Not While it Chooses Bombs Over Bread
Published on Friday, May 2, 2003 by CommonDreams.org
Proud to be American? Not While it Chooses Bombs Over Bread
by Frida Berrigan
 

Jay Garner wants us to be proud. The man in charge of rebuilding Iraq was quoted in the New York Times on Thursday saying, "We ought to look in the mirror and get proud, and stick out our chests and suck in our bellies and say, 'Damn, we're Americans.'"

Well Jay, I am sorry to say that I am not feeling it. American soldiers shooting unarmed Iraqi demonstrators and killing at least 17 in two separate incidents. American police officers firing rubber and wooden bullets at unarmed American demonstrators outside of Oakland. Thousands of Iraqi civilians killed in a so-called precision war for their liberation. A multibillion dollar empire building effort underway in Iraq that is masked as a humanitarian reconstruction effort, while children are hungry, seniors are without medication, and education is less and less accessible right here in USA.

There are people profiting from war- and Jay Garner the proud American is one of them. And there are those who are not.

General Jay Garner the head of the Pentagon's new Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance. In that capacity he is overseeing and coordinating the relief and rebuilding efforts in Iraq. He is also a personal friend of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

He is also the president of SY Coleman, a subsidiary of L-3 Communications, a high tech defense contractor that specializes in missile-defense systems and makes the targeting systems for conventional weapons. He is not retired from that position, he is on "leave" or on "loan." And he is profiting from war.

In February Garner's company announced that its revenue in the most recent quarter had soared to $1.3 billion-up from $705 million a year ago. They attribute the windfall to a doubling of military communications and electronics sales. Overall, the company expects a 20% increase in sales and earnings this year.

This is good news for the company and its stockholders, but how can the people of Iraq trust a man who has garnered millions making the targeting systems for missiles that destroyed their country?

If the Bush administration were to consciously set out to pick a person most likely to raise questions about the legitimacy of the post-war rebuilding process, they could not have selected a better man for the job than Jay Garner. As one observer noted, "If it's not a conflict of interest, it's certainly being tone deaf."

The weapons industry- companies like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman- are also pretty tone deaf. With the country on a permanent war footing, the sky is literally the limit for America's second most heavily subsidized industry.

A new report from United for a Fair Economy, "More Bucks for the Bang: CEO Pay at Top Defense Contractors," found that the boys with the big guns making the big bucks.

Median CEO pay at the 37 largest defense contractors rose 79 percent from 2001 to 2002, while overall CEO pay climbed only 6 percent. The typical U.S. CEO made $3.7 million in 2002, while the typical defense industry CEO got $5.4 million.

The average Army private risking his or her life in Iraq is paid just $19,585- just about the national poverty rate. The average defense CEO made 577 times as much in 2002, or $11,297,548.

So, we know who is benefiting from war- but who is on the losing side? We are. We are more insecure and more threatened than ever before.

There is plenty of cash to pay for war and empire building in Iraq, but when it comes to meeting the American public's need for housing, health care, food, education and other necessities, the cash drawer is empty.

The Bush administration asked Congress to provide the Pentagon with $399.1 billion for 2004. That is a huge amount of money. That is more than a billion dollars a day. That is more than $12,000 a second- a year of college tuition.

To put it in relationship to what other countries spend, the U.S. military budget is almost seven times larger than what the second largest spender- Russia budgets for defense. It is more than 26 times the combined spending of the seven countries the Pentagon identifies as enemies. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that military spending will continue to increase at an average of 8% a year through the end of the decade. Meaning that by 2010, the military budget will top out at almost $700 billion.

The military budget does NOT include the costs of war in Iraq. The administration has put those costs in a separate $75 billion "emergency supplemental."

The United States is spending more than a billion dollars a day on the military, while a whole spectrum of domestic needs are severely under-funded. As the Congress prepares to figure pay top dollar for war, they are planning cuts in just about everything else, including veterans benefits and education. House Republicans are suggesting $14.6 billion in cut to veterans programs, including money for disabilities caused by war wounds, rehabilitation and health care, pensions for low income veterans, education and housing benefits, and even burial benefits. They are also proposing to cut the education budget by 10.2 percent below the already reduced level proposed by President Bush.

We see the effects of budget cuts and neglect already. According to the Children's Defense Fund, nearly one million black children live in dire and extreme poverty. In an alarming increase over 2000, the economic circumstances of black children further deteriorated so that more families were living on just over $7,000 a year-- that is half the national poverty line of $14,100 for a family of three.

I developed a factsheet for the War Resisters League that compares what the United States spends on war to the costs of educating and caring for children.

  • President Bush has asked Congress for $75 billion to pay the initial costs of the war in Iraq. For that same amount, we could hire 1,155,715 Elementary School Teachers to educate America's children.
  • Five days of war in Iraq = Eliminate illiteracy world wide ($1.1 billion) ($5 billion, World Game Institute)
  • 2.8 hours of war in Iraq = Nutrition supplements for 200,000 families ($45.8 million per hour) ($130 million, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)
  • 1 minute of war in Iraq = Headstart Education for 115 children ($763,000 a minute) ($6,633 per child, National Priorities Project)
  • 1 second of war in Iraq = Twice what U.S. spends per year, per child ($12,730 per second) in primary education ($6,043, Digest of Ed. Stats)

We have a lot of work to undo the damage, repair the hurt and rectify the imbalances of the "bombs over bread" policies of the Bush administration. Until we do that it will be hard for me to take Jay Garner's pep talk seriously.

Frida Berrigan is a Senior Research Associate at the World Policy Institute's Arms Trade Resource Center. She can be reached at berrigaf@newschool.edu

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