Priorities after 10 years of war

Posted Sept. 05, 2011, at 8 p.m.

“Penny polls” recently conducted by peace groups around the state have asked Mainers how they would spend their tax dollars if given the opportunity to decide among 10 categories.

At penny polls held at supermarkets, post offices and street corners in each of Maine’s l6 counties, more than 1,500 people have each been given 10 pennies and asked to allocate them among 10 categories. The results have been similar. Health care, education and veterans benefits received the greatest number of pennies while “defense” and “interest on the debt” received the fewest.

People are often surprised when we share federal budget information showing that the largest portion of the discretionary part of the budget (not including Social Security and Medicare) has gone to military spending to pay for war and war making.

Estimates range from 28 percent to 59 percent for military, depending on whether the costs of paying for the veterans of these wars are included. Visit the websites of Friends Committee on National Legislation (www.fcnl.org/10 tax chart) , the National Priorities Project ( www.nationalpriorities.org) or the American Friends Service Committee ( www.afsc.org) to get details.

As we approach the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and of war spending in Iraq and Afghanistan, we might ask whether all those dollars spent and lives lost have been worth the enormous price.

Who can measure the cost of the deaths of thousands of U.S. troops, and the many more wounded as well as the untold hundreds of thousands of civilians who have been killed and maimed in the name of making us more secure? Are we safer today then we were after the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon? Are we more prosperous? Are we more respected around the world?

Pollsters tell us that more than 60 percent of American people want to see an end to the war in Afghanistan. At a time when desperately needed programs are being cut, taxpayers are paying an estimated $1 million for each of the 90,000-plus troops stationed in Afghanistan for one year.

According to the National Priorities Project, taxpayers in Maine will pay $306.7 million for Afghanistan war spending for fiscal year 2011. For the same amount of money, 45,863 military veterans could receive VA medical care for one year, or we could pay for 5,401 elementary school teachers or provide 55,260 students receiving Pell Grants of $5,500.

Which would you choose?

If the majority of us want to see reordered priorities that serve human needs, why are the politicians, who are supposed to represent us, not acting on our behalf? It seems strange that a tiny fraction of the population should be allowed to determine the future for the majority. Billionaires and millionaires back the amplification of the minority tea party calls for cutting programs for the neediest while providing tax breaks for the wealthiest and never touching military spending.

Where are the voices of those who believe that real security lies in devoting our common wealth to the peaceful creation of jobs, health care and a clean environment?

Where are the voices of those who believe the top 1 percent who have profited from the economic crisis should pay a greater share of taxes rather than the poorest and neediest?

Where are the voices of those who say corporations reaping profits from oil subsidies and from shipping jobs overseas should be paying their fair share of taxes?

For the past 10 years peace activists have consistently called for bringing our troops and war dollars home. After t10 years of our government’s war-making and rewarding of Wall Street, it’s time for the new “silent majority” to connect the dots and to speak up for priorities to rebuild our communities.

Join with the statewide Bring Our War $$ Home (and put them to work) Care-a-Van, Sept. 10-Oct. 10. Watch for events in your community planned to promote dialogue about the costs of war. Let’s call on our representatives to support a budget that cuts the deficit without slashing Social Security, Medicare and needed programs.

Come and vote your priorities at the Penny Poll being conducted by the Orono Peace Group and the Peace & Justice Center of Eastern Maine at the Orono Festival Day on Sept. 10. And let’s talk about working together to build a movement for real security and a better America that will be heard.

Ilze Petersons works with the Peace & Justice Center of Eastern Maine.

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