The United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed 2011 the International Year of Youth. This is in recognition of children’s rights throughout the world and to realize the potential of children everywhere. The resolution proclaiming the Year signifies the importance the international community places on integrating youth-related issues into global, regional, and national development agendas. Under the theme “Dialogue and Mutual Understanding,” the Year aims to promote the ideals of peace, respect for human rights and solidarity across generations, cultures, religions and civilizations.
This happens at a time of continued economic challenge the world over and here at home. Our Congress is struggling to pass a budget that addresses the nation’s priorities. What are these priorities? Ultimately in the words of Sojourner’s Rev. Jim Wallis, “budgets are moral documents.” How we spend our tax dollars speaks volumes about who we are as a people.
In this year of youth, how are we demonstrating our commitment to our children and the future? Is it through improved education and health guaranteeing access for all? Is it through ensuring a safe environment helping to promote a safe tomorrow? In today’s economy are we providing employment opportunities and encouraging full participation of young people in public life?
These investments in our future must be carefully weighed to realize the most benefit from our precious dollars.
Where do nuclear weapons factor in this priority? This tax season the U.S. will spend roughly $54 billion dollars on nuclear weapons programs. This does not include the DoD budget, nor the expenditures on the current wars being fought in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. Nor does it include the massive government subsidies to the nuclear power industry. This is for nuclear weapons programs only. These expenditures on weapons that can never be used and that threaten our very existence affect every community in the theft of precious dollars that could be allocated to critical programs that actually do enhance our security and future.
These massive outlays are proposed to grow by $8.4 billion annually over the next 10 years as part of a proposed stockpile modernization program. This unbelievable addition was worked out in an 11th hour deal with nuclear weapons proponents during last year’s START Treaty negotiations. Do these proposals really represent our priorities?
This year’s nuclear weapons expenditures per county across the nation are enormous and in my state of California range from $164 million for Ventura County to Los Angeles County’s $1.729 billion. The poorest county in the nation, Buffalo County, South Dakota, with its 2091 residents and a poverty rate of 51.9 percent will spend more than $133,000 on nuclear weapons. Does this really benefit their 1,000 children under the age of 25? The State of Wisconsin with its budgetary drama will spend over $963 million while supposedly making the tough decisions of cutting early childhood programs, educational and health expenditures. Has anyone suggested working to eliminate or at least reduce nuclear weapons expenditures? Surely reallocating these dollars would go a long way toward alleviating many of the proposed draconian cuts in services to our most vulnerable citizens.
So, in this tax season as we fund our nation’s priorities, we must be vigilant in identifying our most pressing needs and providing for the future of our children. We can no longer treat nuclear weapons programs like entitlement programs. We must let our voices be heard and demand that our leaders work to verifiably eliminate these immoral weapons the world over. The loss of resources presently squandered on them represents our greatest security risk.
Robert F. Dodge, M.D. is a family physician practicing in Ventura, California. He sits on the board of Beyond War (www.beyondwar.org).