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A Peace-Centered Economy

By PAM BERNS
 As we approach elections this season we are watching the posturing of candidates who pontificate about cutting taxes and government waste. But this isn’t the time to worry about the deficit. It is time to invest in jump-starting our economy and creating our future. 
    Many keep ignoring the most important problems we face by creating circuses to confuse the uneducated voter. It is easy to vent—the Tea Partiers have shown that—but it is another thing to create solutions to problems facing our country. The Tea Party movement is being underwritten by a handful of billionaires who have their own corporate interests at heart.
    Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich’s assessment of President Obama as “a wonderful con” and exhibiting “Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior” sounds incredibly racist. Obviously, his inflammatory statements are intended to position himself ahead of Sarah Palin—as the next logical Republican presidential candidate. His offensive statements are designed to attract attention and fuel the electorate.
    We need to jump-start our economy by investing in a peace-centered initiative for our people and our future. It is time to address our growing poverty, unemployment, our dependence on Mideast oil, and how we fund medical research. 
    We have been handing out generous no-bid contracts to war-centered businesses (many owned by Blackwater, now Xe) since we invaded Iraq. We have spent nearly a decade fighting without regard to the costs of both blood and treasure. Did anyone keep an eye on the millions of dollars in plastic-wrapped bundles of cash on the back of flatbed trucks in Iraq? Now we are still paying billions to keep “advisors” in this country. 
    As American troops wind down the number of advisors in Iraq, Linda J. Bilmes of Harvard University and Joseph E. Stiglitz of Columbia University report that, by the time we are completely out of Iraq, we will have spent three trillion dollars on this unnecessary, bloody conflict. 
   More than 300,000 have suffered traumatic brain injury from fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. More than 4,400 Americans have lost their lives in Iraq, more than 1,000 in Afghanistan. This is a terrible price to pay. According to a RAND Corporation study, 1.64 million U.S. troops have been deployed in the wars since 2001. 
    Obama inherited two wars, the deficit, high unemployment, and the financial debacle. He has been stuck trying to solve problems that originated on Bush’s watch. He promised to make sure health insurance was available to all, and he delivered. Now his political opponents want to reverse the health care initiative. Of course, they will object to every solution he proposes. Must politics destroy any effort to make life bearable for tens of millions of Americans?
    The only thing preventing us from turning progressive thinking into action are old ideas and campaign donations from big businesses and donors who hold vested interests in the status quo. 
    Ignoring high unemployment will not get us out of our sad state of affairs. Our unemployed must get back to work and start paying taxes. We cannot ignore the suffering of these families who have lost their jobs and are losing their homes. Many unemployed worked in jobs that were shipped overseas. Many jobs of yesterday no longer exist. Workers need to be retrained for tomorrow’s industries, such as energy and healthcare. 
    Energy independence is reliant on more than just offshore drilling and dirty coal. Renewable energy companies are making great strides in research and need to be given tax incentives to produce energy of the future, such as converting biomass to transportation fuels that do not leave us dependent on countries that resent us in the Middle East and South America.       
     Recent efforts to provide tax incentives for businesses and support for community banks will help jump-start our economy. But those efforts will not accomplish all we need to do. Education is critically tied to employability. We need a job training program to offer every unemployed person a path towards future stability. We need to make adjustments in our priorities. We need to think long-term. A national health initiative could offset investments in job training in these fields. 

Cancer Research

    One out of every two men and one out of every three women will get cancer in their lifetimes. Imagine if we had invested even a fraction of the three trillion dollars we have spent on the Iraq war on curing cancer—not merely leaving it to profit-driven private industry to invent treatments. We could train millions of unemployed Americans to work in medical research and alleviate the suffering of hundreds of millions. 
    There should be a national effort to conquer cancer—a nationwide challenge much like the Kennedy challenge of going to the moon in the 1960s. The National Cancer Institute is underfunded, receiving just $4.8 billion a year. Cancer costs the United States $263.8 billion a year. Let’s get our priorities straight. Imagine the positive influence an initiative like curing cancer would have on our economy. All political persuasions could get behind this magnificent goal.
    It’s time to use our creativity to solve these pressing problems. It’s also time for us to pack up our troops and return them home to their families. They have paid dearly to fight in two wars. We have not won the hearts of the Iraqis nor Afghans. The Iraqis still have only a few hours of electricity a day, even in 126-degree weather. Attacks by insurgents have increased as we have wound down our fighting in Iraq, despite our 50,000 remaining “advisors” who are still in danger.
    Afghanistan has a corrupt opium-centered economy. In fact, there seems to be an increasing tolerance there for Taliban-initiated stonings. Afghans don’t appear to be deserting the Taliban. Does Bin Ladin even live in Afghanistan any more? Now is the time to come home and start investing in a peace-centered economy. There are great things for us to accomplish right here.



Published: October 09, 2010
Issue: November 2010 Arts and Politics Issue