Debate Left, 8/14

DOD gets cake; NASA gets crumbs

By Marianne Stanley

Hmmm.  This is a really tough one (not!).  Can we justify the $2.5 billion cost of NASA’s Curiosity rover that recently landed successfully on Mars, a planet that’s a minimum of 36 million miles from Earth?  After all, these are fiscally rough times for this country, right?  Our budget isn’t balanced.  Our deficit is continually climbing.   And $2.5 billion isn’t chicken feed.

For what we spend on the Afghanistan “war” annually, we could send out more than 240 rovers like Curiosity. How can anyone think it’s a waste to stretch our vision once again, to motivate our students, to give a shot in the arm to our collapsing education system, to put our money on something awe-inspiring and constructive rather than soul-numbing and irretrievably destructive?

While this absurdly named “War on Terror” continues to deplete our goodness and spirit as a nation, robbing us of more than 6,000 of our precious children so far, and robbing the world of millions more due to our aggression in lands not our own, we try to make the argument that we cannot afford NASA and its space programs.  This is a baseless claim.  Are we saying we cannot afford investing in our future, in our schools, in our youth, in our poor, in our neighbors and fellow citizens but we can afford to throw billions into our killing machine?  For the money spent to create mayhem overseas on the basis of lies and hype, we could easily have instead ensured the well-being of our own.  We could have chosen to be the world’s leader in creating green jobs to resurrect our working class; we could have acted with heart to ensure jobs didn’t go overseas, homes weren’t stolen by predatory lenders, children all have well-funded schools to go to and enough food on the table so that 20 million little Americans don’t have to go to bed hungry every night.

We are spending more than $12 billion each week to continue military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.  To date, those costs well exceed $1.4 trillion, though the National Priorities Project, a research organization on federal spending at all levels of government, reports that the cost will far surpass $3 trillion.  While we “little folk” can’t get a break if even one of our checks bounces, Congressional hearings reveal that we have somehow “lost” $9 billion of taxpayers’ money, with another $6.6 billion “stolen” and another $1 billion “missing”…with no criminal charges forthcoming.

How much is a billion?  This might help:

A million seconds = 12 days

A billion seconds = 31 years

A trillion seconds = 31,688 years (or since about the year 30,000 B.C.)

So, let’s go back to the question of whether the $2.5 billion cost can be justified to the taxpayers.  Yes, of course it can be justified!  After all, we’re the United States of America!  We’re the country that has always been ahead of its time, the country that explores new frontiers, achieves new heights, invents greater technology and sets higher standards.  It all comes down to a question of priorities.

Defense spending eats up the lion’s share of our country’s descretionary spending, while education gets only three percent.  Doesn’t this smack of being just a tad out of whack?  Do our children matter so little to us?

The smart move would be to severely slash defense spending since we’re already top-heavy with weapons and weapon delivery systems (we have 9,000 nuclear bombs alone) and instead invest in waging peace instead of war.  Just like the War on Drugs, the War on Terror is bound to fail since it is founded on a faulty premise, that drugs and terror can be overcome with force.

The opposite is true.  They can only be overcome with a desire for peace, a willingness to listen, a removal of corporate money from politics, a visionary leader and flipping the U.S. budgetary pie chart to put most of its money in the people here at home.  The space program can rekindle an interest in the sciences and engineering while igniting the fires of imagination and our collective will to strive for excellence as a nation once again.

Marianne Stanley is an attorney, college professor and former journalist who believes many of our nation’s ills could be cured if our children were taught critical thinking skills beginning at the elementary level and continuing through middle and high school. She can be reached at

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