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Military spending is bankrupting the country

3:30 PM EST, January 20, 2013

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The endless chatter about the "fiscal cliff" has avoided any serious consideration of military spending as a major cause of our difficulties ("Just say no to financial insanity," Jan. 16).

Defense appropriations are $525 billion for 2013 — 57 percent of the total discretionary budget and more than those of all other departments and agencies combined.

The U.S. military has twice the budget as the seven next nations combined. We could have an effective military at a far lower cost.

So why are our military expenditures so high? Too many bases abroad, three prolonged and ill-conceived wars, unneeded weapon systems and nuclear weapons. This staggering waste largely reflects the defense contractors' clout rather than military necessity.

President Dwight Eisenhower warned against such power and bloat more than 50 years ago. Our bloated defense budget should be reduced and the savings put to better use for the country.

Taxpayers in Baltimore, for example, paid $690 million in taxes that went to the Department of Defense in fiscal year 2012. According to the National Priorities Project, this is twice the cost of providing health care to all the city's low-income children under 18.

Similar trade-offs could be made on any program that benefits residents. And virtually all such investments would create more jobs per dollar than the Pentagon could.

Rather than acting as the world's policeman, we should share global burdens through diplomacy. This posture would help reduce military appropriations significantly, enabling serious investment in education, health, job creation, rebuilding infrastructure, ameliorating poverty and reversing climate change.

The present approach is bankrupting us and siphoning resources away from the public investments that sustain a civilization. Clearly, we need more balanced priorities to heal and rejuvenate our nation.

Steve Buff, Columbia

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