Like so many communities today, the Rochester area is being hit with a fiscal three-fer: the city's looming annual budget deficit (on top of deficits and liabilities past), the county deficit (in part the effect of long-term regressive tax policy), and inadequate federal aid. And like others caught in the crunch, many Rochesterians are hitting back at convenient targets: public sector jobs, services, and taxation itself. Layoffs, cutbacks, rollbacks, austerity in all its miserable forms is on the march.
But the biggest target of all - truly a global bulls-eye - goes unnoticed. It's the fact that the nation is now spending $1.45 trillion annually, well over 10 percent of GDP, on organized violence and its aftereffects. And that's a lot of dough that can't be made available for schools, libraries, fire departments, and all the other vital functions of local government.
The $1.45 trillion figure comes from the War Resisters League's annual publication, "Where You Income Tax Money Really Goes" (go to www.warresisters.org). The total, based on the 2009 federal budget, includes current annual military spending of $965 billion; the Pentagon (DOD) accounts for the bulk of this, but other federal programs account for plenty more, like nuclear weapons under the DOE ($17 billion), Homeland Security's military ops ($35 billion), veterans benefits ($94 billion - and in this one case, a morally necessary expenditure), and not least, military-related interest on the national debt ($390 billion).
And of course we can't overlook the "War on Terror," which, including the wars against Iraq and Afghanistan, eats up around $200 billion all by itself - most of it in new debt that future federal budgets, not to mention hungry children, will have to deal with.
Yes, a trillion here and a trillion there, and pretty soon you're talking real money. But get this: according to the War Resisters analysis, which is scrupulously based on the relevant federal budget documents, points out our non-military spending comes in at $1.21 trillion, considerably below what the warrior-state gets.
Note that all these figures don't include Social Security and Medicare, which are funded through payroll taxes and thus are properly considered off-budget - though the feds fold the trust funds into the "unified budget" precisely to mask the true proportions of outlays for America's grossest domestic product: state-sponsored terror.
Viewed in the most basic moral framework, maybe the constriction of local budgets is simple justice, another form of Malcolm X's, and more recently Jeremiah Wright's, "chickens coming home to roost." But in the present crisis, only the privileged and insular can take refuge in such a conclusion. The point is, we need to take action against the warrior state while resuscitating the best aspects of the increasingly embattled, and misunderstood, welfare state.
We owe a moral debt to the poor and distressed of America as much as to the millions worldwide who've been at the wrong end of our gun. And we should find no contradiction or irony in the fact that when we turn away from organized violence as a policy tool, we'll make ourselves infinitely safer than we are today.