Saturday November 24, 2012

PITTSFIELD

Yellow Dog Democrat that I am, I’m glad Ohio joined the other swing states and voted for Obama. But Ohio scares me to death. Not because it is a "swing" state, but because right now, it represents the most wildly irrational side of this country.

To most good Republicans and certainly all tea partiers, "deficit" is a dirty word because they are afraid if the deficit gets bigger their taxes will go up. According to tea partiers, if you want job creation, you have to cut taxes so that rich businessmen will crank up their factories, sell more and get richer. Unfor tunately, the richer they get, the more money gets stashed away and sits unproductively in vast fortunes. So far it hasn’t seemed to go into higher wages that increase local spending.

Of course "deficit" is not necessarily a dirty word. It has many respectable synonyms, like mortgage, student loan, scholarship and small business loan. In fact, there are three kinds of deficits, the ones that are productive and the ones like gambling that simply suck money away and give nothing back.

Then there is the third kind of deficit, which is defense spending. Clearly the country must protect itself, and munitions are extremely expensive. It is the job of the Pentagon to decide how much money we have to spend for national security. And it does.


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But if our security as a nation is proportional to the amount of money we put into arms, we are seven times as secure as the Chinese, 10 times as secure as the Russians, 11 times as secure as the French and more than 20 times as secure as the Ger mans. In fact, we spend more money on national defense than all four of the next giant spenders combined!

Clearly we are talking a lotta baloney here. But it doesn’t sound like baloney to residents of Ohio, which is a hotbed of defense contracts that produce hundreds of thousands of jobs.

But suppose for a minute that the Pentagon decided that there were certain things it did not want, even though the Ohio politicians want them badly? Here are five of the most egregious examples that have turned up recently.

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1. There is an M1 Abrams tank that the Pentagon wants to suspend improvements on until there is a new version ready in 2017. This would save $3 billion. Ohio legislators have already talked Congress into budgeting more than $250 million to keep the plant running anyhow.

2. An aircraft with the impressive name of Global Hawk Block 30 Drone could be ditched with a savings of $2.5 billion. Congress balked and indeed has already put $278 million into the program.

3. The Pentagon says that a certain cargo plane is unneeded, and grounding the fleet could save $400 million. It hasn’t happened yet.

4. The Pentagon wants to remove 5,100 unneeded positions from the Air National Guard at a savings of $400 million. Congress put the money in the budget anyhow.

I have saved the fifth example for last because it is so dumb that I still can’t believe it. It is an East Coast Missile Battery, at $3.6 billion, "to protect us from countries such as Iran." An Ohio representative has tucked $100 million into the budget for this anyhow, for an expected final cost of $3.6 billion. Why is this so dumb? Because Iran doesn’t have a missile that could even make it halfway across the Atlantic!

Total cost for all this foolishness? Over $15 billion, unless I have slipped a zero somewhere. And the Pentagon doesn’t want any of it!

But the jobs! How about the jobs? Last time I was in Ohio it was not true that every road was well-paved, every bridge as strong as an ox, classrooms had a maximum of 10 students, kids could go to the state university for a pittance, and the educational scores were the highest in the nation. No single-payer health system was available. There were not plenty of civilian jobs, schools had no music programs that supported their orchestras, and no school had a kindergarten-to-high-school program of Chinese. At least the state name didn’t have to be changed on all their stationery to "Commonwealth of Woebegone."

When Eisenhower built a country-wide system of highways, the cost was $434 billion. And guess what? He managed to do it without adding a penny to the national debt, and, yes, there were plenty of jobs.

Dorothy van den Honert is an occasional Eagle contributor.