Greg Speeter’s Speech on March 20, 2010

This speech was given on Saturday, March 20, 2010 at the rally to Bring our War Dollars Home


Thanks. As a new raging grand dad, I’d like to thank the Raging Grannies for sharing the wisdom and humor of our generation.

I’ve been asked to talk about the costs of these wars, and naturally will talk about the local costs. Part of what NPP has always done is to look at the local impacts of important federal policies, and what more important policy than war?

But I want to put this talk into a larger context. In the last few months I’ve had the opportunity to looking at big picture national trends this year – major needs and major federal policies, and I want to talk at the war’s relationship to those 3 important trends.

The first trend is what is happening with jobs

We all know we are facing a huge jobs crisis. The US Conference of Mayors just released a study that documents how long it will take each of the metro areas in the US to recover. The numbers are truly sobering. Half of the metro areas won’t recover until the end of 2012 or after. That means high unemployment for much of the country for almost 3 years. Can we wait that long?

It gets worse. The study shows that the Springfield area won’t recover until the end of 2014, almost 5 years from now.

And some metro areas won’t recover until 2020 and beyond.

We are facing an unprecedented crisis in employment. Shouldn’t our federal policies be doing all that they can to address this issue? I will come back to this in a moment.

The second trend, related to this, is state and local government budget crisis.

48 of the 50 states in the US are in budget crisis. They have been for several years, and according to economists will be for years to come.

The cumulative shortfall this year is $196 billion. A 28% – shortfall. For Massachusetts, that’s a $5 billion shortfall from a $27 billion budget. Local aid was cut by 29%. Our schools are losing teachers, your fire departments and police departments are cutting back.

Experts say that it takes 2 years after a recovery for state and local governments to begin to recover. Can we take more of this for the next 4-5 years?

But it gets worse. According to a new report by the GAO, if current federal spending policies don’t remain as they are, state and local government will be facing deficits and making budget cuts for the next 50 years. 50 years!

Will my 6 month old grandson will be the victim of budget crises in day care, and elementary and secondary education and college and for most of his life? Where is this nation headed?

The third, related disturbing trend is our 10 year trend in federal spending priorities.

We’ve created a chart at NPP that shows the direction of military spending and discretionary social spending over the past 10 years and 10 years into the future. It’s a very disturbing chart. In the year 2000, military spending and this social spending were about equal. The gap between military and social spending grows significantly by 2008. The stimulus kicks in and shows a 3 year growth in social spending, but then drops to early bush levels while the Pentagon budget continues to skyrocket, a huge and growing gap. OMB calculates that the Pentagon will increase by over $500 billion in 10 years a 25% increase NOT INCLUDING THE FULL COST OF THE WARS.

If we continue with these wars, we will be in the range of $800 billion a year, twice what we used to spent per year during the cold war.  Where will the money come from to address the education, housing, health care, jobs and other crises?

Time for some perspective. We now spend 42% of all the money the world spends on their military. 42%!

We are buying weapons not even the President or Pentagon wants, maintaining bases all over the world to import oil.

And then there is the cost of Iraq and Afghanistan wars. A trillion dollars, more than the ten year cost of the proposed health care bill.

Does it have to be that way? Are there other options?

More and more, national security experts are saying a military approach is not the best approach. The President, and former presidential candidate John McCain and Secretary of Defense Gates have all said that the threats of today are rooted in poverty and joblessness, environmental degradation, and in terrorist access to nuclear weapons.

They noted the need to for a less militaristic approach to foreign policy.

And yet if you looked at all the ways we could address security threats to homeland security, prevention and military, military gets 87% of the money, only 7 cents to homeland security, and only 6 cents to prevention, soft approaches such as eradicating nuclear weapons from the former soviet union, peace keeping, development aid, and alternative energy.

There’s an old saying: If the only tool in your tool box is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

What I’m saying is, if the major tools in the national security tool box are bombers and bullets and military bases, then war or the threat of war looks like the only option.

Our country has been involved in a hot or cold war almost every year since I was born. 66 years. 66 years.

And so as we think about alternatives to war – in Afghanistan and Iraq, 95% of the money we put into changing these countries goes to weaponry and the military, only 5% to such things as military training and education and development aid.

Might there be other options? Afghanistan has a 28% adult literacy rate.- 72% – Its national government spends $10 per capita on education a year. And yet we’ll spend well over $60 billion on a military approach in that country.

Think of what some of that money could do to provide teachers, build schools, support the important work of groups already in Afghanistan who are working from the bottom up to create an infrastructure and working government.

People I’ve talked to who have been to Afghanistan feel this would be a much better approach than the drones and the bombs and the fuel storage facilities and bases that are a part of a full-blown war.

So what does this all have to do with western Massachusetts?

Every community in this commonwealth is struggling to address basic security needs. Fire, police, schools, infrastructure.

Since these wars began, Northampton has spent $111 million on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan…$48,000 a day; half a teacher’s salary or police officer’s salary a day, for 3,285 days.

Northampton could have had 1,600 more police or fire men since the war if put in infrastructure. I know that sounds crazy, but you get the picture.

Amherst’s bill over that period has been $126 million. That’s like sending off $55,000 in a truck down to Washington from tax payers every day, for 3,285 days, since October of 2001.

This year Amherst is struggling with a $1.6 million override. Folks have been debating and discussing for months. And yet Amherst residents this year will spend $20 million on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s 12 times the override. 12 times the override.

Here’s an interesting fact that shows the connection between local budget crises and war.

The $150-$180 billion that the nation will spend on these two wars this year is about equal to the deficits that the 48 states and their communities are facing this year.

But I want to bring this back to overall military spending and jobs.

I said earlier that the Pentagon is expected to spend $500 billion more over 10 years excluding the war.

Some think we need that for jobs.

But people over at the Political Economy Research Institute at UMass did an important national study that showed that military spending is not a good creator of jobs. Other spending, in health, education, clean energy, provide far more jobs.

In fact, this nation could get over 2.9 million more jobs if invested in green energy. And there are plenty of weapons systems neither the president nor Pentagon want. It’s time to retool our military industrial complex. Swords into solar panels! That’s a way to address our national jobs crisis for the long-term.

Yes, we need a long-term jobs policy that addresses our economic and environmental needs.

So it’s time that foreign policy and war policy gets debated at the local level, because that’s what local people pay for in huge sums of money, and foreign policy shapes the social policies that affect us on a day-to-day level.

I want to congratulate the Progressive Democrats of America and this new Alliance for Peace and Justice for raising these issues to our members of Congress. This is what democracy is all about.

Every one of us ought to be sharing what’s going on in our communities with our members of Congress. And then tell a few other members of congress as well.

As former Congresswoman Barbara Jordan said, “Democracy is not a spectator sport.”

We are facing some historic challenges ahead.

But this is western Massachusetts, and I have faith in all of us.

Let’s fight for our future, and the future of our children and grandchildren.

Thank you.