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The Pentagon Connection

I wonder how Seymour Melman feels these days. For over half a century, this Columbia University industrial engineering professor (now emeritus) has been researching, writing and speaking about the massive overspending on the military portion of the federal budget and how this waste is de-industrializing America, costing millions of jobs and starving the investment in public works — repairing the crucial physical capital of America.

Recently, he prepared a memorandum called “The Pentagon Connection” where he recounted the massive redundancy and costliness of various weapons systems — such as the next wave of fighter planes, missiles, submarines and aircraft carriers — and the opportunity cost so adverse to the domestic needs of our country. Remember, the U.S. no longer has a major opponent that used to justify huge military budgets. Both Russia and China are converting quickly to the state capitalistic-oligarchic model and the Soviet Union is no more.

First, Professor Melman cites the Report Card for America’s Infrastructure that was issued by the American Society of Civil Engineers. One and a third trillion dollars are estimated for the repair of twelve categories of public works, including schools, drinking water systems, sewage systems, airports, public transit, bridges and roads.

The Engineering society found what any person who observes — great needs coming from great disrepair and decay. Adding $618 billion for repair of U.S. housing and railroads brings the capital improvement needs to a $2.0 trillion market, he notes.

Mr. Melman, whose knowledge of U.S. industry is legendary, adds:”Every manufacturing industry whose products are required for repairing and modernizing America’s infrastructure is left out by the federal government’s military plans.” And expenditures.

The military economy drains the civilian economy and this trend has been accelerating into what Melman called a “huge change” in the American economy. He writes: “This deindustrialization has happened so quickly that America’s capacity to produce anything is seriously undermined. For example, last year the New York City government announced its plans to buy a new fleet of subway cars. Though this contract is worth $3-4 billion, not one U.S. firm responded. Of 100 products offered in this fall’s L.L. Bean catalogue, 92 are imported and only 8 are made in the U.S.A.”

“Closing U.S. factories has not only left millions without work, but has also diminished the U.S. production capability required for repairing our broken infrastructure,” Melman says. Melman doesn’t mention it in his memo, but previous studies have demonstrated that a million dollars in civilian investment creates more jobs than a million dollars in military weapons systems.

The states and cities are reporting deeper deficits. This year, the states will be over $60 billion in the red. Taxes and tolls are going up. Necessities are being cut — outlays, Melman points out, for schools, libraries, fire and police departments, sanitation department, child welfare, health care and services for elderly people. But there are hundreds of billions for Soviet-era type weapons driven by the weapons corporations and their campaign cash for key members of Congress who decide the distortions of your tax dollars.

Recently, Bob Herbert, a columnist for the New York Times, interviewed the well-known financier, Felix Rohatyn, who was involved in the response to the City’s fiscal crisis in the 1970s. The current fiscal crisis ofthe states and cities is, to Mr. Rohatyn, very serious.

Mr. Rohatyn told Mr. Herbert that he believes that a $75 billion-a-year program of federal assistance to state and local governments combined with a $75-billion-a-year tax cut for working people would provide a substantial boost to the economy, and over time would result in the creation of several million jobs.

But, in spite of polls (as well opinions expressed by military experts, like retired General Anthony Zinni) showing that a large majority of the American people do not believe that President Bush has made the case that Iraq threatens the U.S. nor do they want him to commit our troops unilaterally, the White House chief is willing to spend at least $150 billion and incur casualties pursuing this obsession while ignoring life-saving needs in our country.

For a copy of the entire Melman memorandum, send a self-addressed, large stamped envelope to Professor Seymour Melman, Department of Industrial Engineering, Columbia University, 500 West 120th Street, New York, NY 10027.

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Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

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