From the Christian Bible: "They will beat their swords into plowshares." Those words have often been used to illustrate how destructive weapons of war can be converted into positive tools that benefit mankind. America has now arrived at a point in time in which we need to turn weapons of war into the tools needed to rebuild our nation's deteriorating infrastructure.
America spends a very large portion of its national budget on wars and its military garrisoned all around the world. Compared to the monumental costs incurred for the military, the amount being spent on maintaining our national infrastructure is a mere pittance.
What constitutes this infrastructure? It includes roads, highways and interstates, bridges, dams and levees, water and sewage systems, the electrical grid, airports, and railroad trackage. There are severe, mounting problems in most of these important areas and none are being properly funded. We should clearly understand that this nation's entire system of commerce and our consumer-driven economy are entirely dependent upon the continuing stability of these various elements of our national infrastructure.
We cannot afford to risk an epidemic of bridge collapses, contamination of our water systems, or power blackouts due to the failure of our electric grid. Rail transportation, destined to be more important than ever in the future, cannot be allowed to remain under-utilized. We need a program with as much priority to rebuild America's infrastructure as was given to NASA's Apollo program that put a man on the moon in 1969. That's how important this is.
In Arianna Huffington's excellent, insightful book, Third World America, she illustrates just how bad the condition of our infrastructure has become and warns of the serious consequences that we will face if we do not take action soon. But when was the last time you heard this president or any other Washington politician explain this to the American people?
While we know that we cannot allow the current rate of deterioration to continue, here is the question that must be answered; just how are we going to fund such a rebuilding program? Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) introduced a $1.6-trillion dollar bill in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2007 to fund the rebuilding of America's infrastructure. It went absolutely nowhere.
So, where in the world can we find the necessary funds? There is one area of the national budget that continues to be over-funded by our presidents and the Congress. It is the budget controlled by the Pentagon. In order to properly fund this massive rebuilding program, it would be necessary to transfer something on the order of $300-billion from the bloated Pentagon budget. We do not need to spend $1.2-trillion each year, 53% of every taxpayer dollar, to guarantee the safety and security of America. But we certainly can use $300-billion of it to guarantee the continued effective functioning of our infrastructure.
The next question is: where will the responsibility for management of this rebuilding program lie? There already exists a government agency that could absorb these responsibilities; it's called the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, made up of 36,000 military personnel and civilians that are responsible for planning, designing, building, and operating locks and dams, levees, waterways, and bridges. So it already is in the business of maintaining a large portion of America's infrastructure. However, in its present form, it is just too small to take on such a massive project.
That should not be an insurmountable problem. This agency could be reorganized, its responsibilities greatly expanded, and other essential management skills and expertise added. It had some problems in the past during the Hurricane Katrina flooding when faulty levees failed, but that kind of problem could be remedied by proper funding and more personnel.
To effectively manage such a massive program would require the addition of many thousands of personnel with appropriate skills and expertise; construction engineers, heavy equipment operators, truck drivers, electricians, and all other associated trades. And just where would this additional workforce come from?
It would come from the other branches of the military currently on active duty status, mainly from the U.S. Army. America currently has about 1.5-million military personnel in the states and overseas, stationed at more than 750 military bases and installations in 63 countries. Suppose that 250,000 qualified personnel were transferred, mainly from overseas bases, to this rebuilding program. That would leave 1,250,000 personnel in the various branches of the military that would still be the most powerful in the world -- second to none and fully capable of protecting the American people.
Of course, if President Obama would try to put such a program into effect he would be faced with great opposition from the Pentagon, the defense industry, lobbyists and many members of Congress. He would need to use the power of the presidency and his bully pulpit to get the American people behind him in such force that Congress could not stand in the way. Yes, he could do that; he needs to do that, but would he have the courage and conviction to do it?
There are those doubters and naysayers who would say that such a plan is not feasible, it couldn't be done, that this is delusional thinking; but, realistically, what would be the difficulty in transferring army personnel from one part of the service to the other? What would be the difficulty in transferring funds from one part of the Pentagon budget to another? The answer: none. It would, in fact, solve two problems at the same time -- make reasonable reductions to the Pentagon budget that is draining the wealth of America and address our dire infrastructure problems.
Transferring military personnel into this program would also help greatly to jump-start our economy. Those personnel who formerly were spending their earnings in France, Germany, Spain, Italy, South Korea, Japan and numerous other countries would be spending them in America. This organization could also hire qualified unemployed Americans, replacing their unemployment benefits with jobs. I have seen statistics that indicate that for every billion dollars invested in America's infrastructure, $6.1-billion in economic activity is generated. Why would our leadership not want to do this?
What we need to do to make this happen is adopt the attitude of "Yes we can" and "change we can believe in." Wait a minute, isn't that what President Obama used to say -- before he became president? Can we get him to use that rousing call to action in this situation? He has talked about rebuilding America's infrastructure in the past but has not taken a strong stand to get it done. This would be the perfect opportunity to use the power of his office to do something really creative that doesn't cost additional taxpayer dollars but just utilizes them in a more effective way.
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