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Have We Gone Crazy? A Look at U.S. Needs vs. Endless War

Taos Horse Fly
Published Monday, November 15, 2010

People who think the proposed Air Force training flights of assault (and assault-support) aircraft over 55 peaceful counties in Northern New Mexico and southern Colorado are a “small price to pay for freedom and liberty” have drunk the Kool-Aid.

No nation has invaded the United States and threatened our freedom and liberty. Terrorists are not a country; they are an organization, and loosely organized at that. The United States never used the Air Force to go after an organization like the Mafia, for example, any more than it should use the Air Force to track down terrorists. Finding terrorists is a police and intelligence operation. The real enemy threatening our freedom and liberty today is America’s own out-of-control military.

In its 2009 “Report Card for America’s Infrastructure,” the Society of American Civil Engineers (SACE) rated the United States infrastructure a D. Yes, the infrastructure of the richest country in the world received a D. The engineers estimate that the U.S. needs $2.2 trillion over the next five years to fix basically the same—but now bigger—problems it identified in 2005, which would then have cost $1.6 trillion—or almost half of today’s estimated cost—to repair.

What are those problems in America that need fixing, which would create hundreds of thousands of jobs to fix? Dipping into the Executive Summary of the SACE’s report, we learn that, of the nation’s 85,000 dams, deficient dams have risen to more than 4,000, including 1,819 high-hazard dams, which are defined as dams whose failure would cause a loss of life and significant property damage. The report says that leaking pipes in America’s drinking water systems lose an estimated seven billion gallons of clean drinking water a day. In 188 U.S. cities, there are “brownfield sites,” properties that are available for re-use but are still contaminated by the presence of some hazardous substance (asbestos, for instance) and still need cleaning up before the land can be redeveloped.

The report says the U.S. has an estimated 100,000 miles of levees, 85 percent of which are locally owned and maintained. With increasing development behind the levees, the public health and safety of the people behind the levees is at risk if the levees fail. With many of the levees more than 50 years old, they need repair and rehabilitation.

The increasing volume of electronic waste and lack of uniform regulations for its disposal creates the potential for high levels of hazardous materials and heavy metals in the nation’s landfills, posing a threat to public safety. Aging wastewater systems discharge billions of gallons of untreated wastewater into U.S. surface waters each year. Air travelers will face increased delays and inadequate conditions without the long overdue modernization of the air traffic control system and enactment of a federal aviation program.

Additionally, more than 26 percent—or more than one in four—of the nation’s bridges are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. The federally owned or operated locks system in America’s inland waterways, through which goods can be moved efficiently, needs refurbishing. Similar to the nation’s inland waterways, rail offers enormous economic and environmental potential, but few improvements have been made in the last five years. One third of America’s major roads are in poor or mediocre condition, and 45 percent of major urban highways are congested. Investment in public transportation has not kept pace with its growing needs.

Finally, while significant investments are being made in the National Park Service for its 2016 centennial, the agency’s facilities still face a $7 billion maintenance backlog. No comprehensive, authoritative nationwide data on the condition of America’s school buildings has been collected in a decade. Without up-to-date data, the true extent of the problems facing the nation’s schools cannot be known.

If the U.S. did not invade Iraq in 2003, the U.S. could have spent the $3 trillion cost of the war in Iraq to fix all—yes, all—of the problems the American Society of Civil Engineers identified—with money left over. The total cost of the Iraq war was estimated at $3 trillion in 2008 by the economists Joseph E. Stiglitz and Linda J. Blimes, who expected the $3 trillion to keep growing. If they included Afghanistan, they said at the time, the costs would be running $16 billion a month.

In its budget for 2011, the U. S. Department of Defense is asking for $708 billion, a total the War Resisters League puts at a more realistic $1,398 billion after it includes such military costs as $123 billion for veterans’ benefits, interest on the national debt of $399 billion—of which 80 percent is created by military spending—or $18 million for “Atomic Energy Defense Activities” hidden in the Department of Energy.

While America’s infrastructure crumbles, do expenditures like this make you feel free? Are you enjoying your liberty?

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