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Before we go cliff diving

Two fiscal areas we need to focus on

Ah, the Fiscal Cliff.

This is the ominous nickname attached to a round of deep cuts that will automatically go into effect Jan. 1, 2013, unless our elected officials do some necessary budget cutting and revenue raising on their own, an elusive goal seeing the gridlock that has paralyzed those inside the Beltway. What is certain is that inaction is poised to negatively impact all our lives. It is now time for those we sent to Congress to do we elected them to do — namely grow up, compromise and ACT! Despite the posturing and face-saving, I hope that enough Republicans will disavow their irresponsible no-tax pledge they made to Grover Norquist and remember they serve the American People, not him.

But if saving money is the key here, I have two suggestions that bear some reflection. They involve some uncomfortable realities regarding climate change and military spending.

Human cost aside, climate change has long-lasting economic consequences that we can no longer ignore. Fortunately, the mayors and governors along the Eastern Seaboard are long past debating whether global warming is happening. They are already making tangible plans to deal with rising sea levels, knowing that this will be an irreversible trend of the future. There is nothing like having 14-foot storm surge of water swamping lower Manhattan or your coastal communities to re-arrange one’s perspective.

The bill is already adding up. Tabulating hurricanes Katrina, Sandy, and Irene alone with the recent Midwest drought yields a price tag of $150 billion. According to the National Resource Defense Council, by 2025, climate change-related disasters will cost the United States about $275 billion each year. That translates to over $2 trillion per decade. Money we might not even have, which means that the victims of storms, droughts, floods and tornados might get no relief at all.

Whenever I consider the issue of defense spending, I wear two hats, the spiritual and the pragmatic. The first one, of course would have every military weapon dumped into the Pacific Ocean. War is nothing but a tragic waste of lives, time and resources and the $1 trillion annual global spending on such folly could instead transform this world into a paradise for everyone.

Pragmatically, I realize that the human race hasn’t evolved to this understanding so I don’t expect any moves toward universal disarmament. Heck, even India, the “Nation of Gandhi” has a stockpile of nuclear weapons.

My issue is what President Eisenhower warned about concerning the military-industrial complex and what Orwell admonished about an economy based on constructing needless weaponry. Despite the hysterical bloviating of conservatives, our armed forces are the strongest in the world and needs to be stronger like Barry Bonds needs more steroids. I would prefer it to be a lean, mean, fighting machine, used strictly for defense and not to advance American corporate interests abroad. Let the Dick Cheneys of the future fight for their own oil.

A response to this would be that cutting defense spending would lose jobs which it will indeed. However, we only build a Cold War nuclear sub, worthless in the war on terror, because if we didn’t, the Connecticut towns of New London and Groton would go under. While logical, it’s nonsensical. Better to refit and reuse those skills for peacetime efforts that further benefit our nation. It’s been done before, the perfect example being World War II, when every factory in America, without exception, was building war material. Afterward, they reverted to making the tools of peace.

If we did it then, we can do it now. The defense industry is a pork-ridden, over-bloated mess and some fat trimming would do all of us some good. Therefore, we can make cuts to the defense budget without fear that we’ll have Russian (or Chinese) tanks rolling down Main Street.

This might sound heretical here in our valley, but in other ways, a military comes in handy. Nothing beats a C-5 transport (those big whale-like monsters based at Westover) for getting tons of supplies and hundreds of first responders to a disaster site. Providing relief and rescue for those in need is the Service at its best and isn’t as soul-destroying as modern warfare. No soldier ever committed suicide from saving a family from a flood.

Recently in Greenfield, about a hundred people came together at the Blessed Sacrament Church to load several large trucks with relief supplies bound for those in New York suffering from Hurricane Sandy. They brought food, water, clothing, cleaning supplies and enough diapers for every baby on Long Island. The sheer magnitude of the generosity was staggering. Those loading the trucks were conservatives, liberals, ex-Marines, ex-hippies, young and old, gay and straight. It was a raucous, joyous, energetic crowd.

It might be a cliche, but Americans are able to rise above politics and ideology to solve a problem. If we can do it here, they sure as hell can do it in Washington D.C.

Daniel A. Brown has lived in Franklin County since 1970 as an artist, writer, amateur historian, and photographer. He is a frequent contributor to The Recorder and welcomes feedback at dbrown1793@gmail.com .

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