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California | U.S. | Anti-War
Q&A with Michael Eisenscher of Bay Area New Priorities Campaign
I had the opportunity to chat with self-proclaimed “professional Troublemaker” Michael Eisenscher of the Bay Area New Priorities Campaign. When he is not involved in the New Priority Campaign, Michael works as a National Coordinator for the U.S. Labor Against the War movement. The New Priorities Campaign is focused on reducing the United States defense budget.
Rozali Telbis: How would you describe the New Priorities Campaign to those who are unfamiliar?
Michael Eisenscher: We organize a series of meetings with an effort to coordinate with other organizations that typically do not tend to military issues, but they recognize that we are all affected by military spending. The Campaign works at mobilizing and educating the public on defense spending through a number of actions including: an on-line Declaration of Principles (at http://newprioritiescampaign.org/about/declaration-of-principles-full-text/), the Global Day of Action Against Military Spending, pressuring members of Congress, and ensuring the public knows the facts regarding the bloated military budget. Our economy is dependent on the military-industrial complex. The money that goes towards the defense budget sucks funds away from the essential resources that are needed right here in America – bridges are falling apart, teachers are underpaid, and there is tremendous austerity being imposed to get the working people and the poor to bear the burden for a financial crisis that was created by the 1%.
RT: Why did you get involved in this campaign?
ME: I’m been a social justice activist all my life. I organized my first union when I was 18. That was more than 50 years ago. I’ve been an anti-war activist from the day that I got my draft notice for Vietnam; I was a war resister. My principle activities have been in the labor movement. When it looked like we were going to war with Iraq, I helped form U.S. Labor Against the War and I've been working for it full-time ever since.
RT: What are the most effective ways to reduce the military budget?
ME: The Campaign gathers people who don’t normally get together to create pressure and work together to engage in political campaigns and mobilize the public. This is only one piece of the puzzle, though. Our economy has been distorted by militarism for such a long time that it won’t unravel overnight. We need to disentangle the amount of money we spend on weapons and war. The media has us confused: they say, the more we spend, the safer we are but in reality that is not the case at all. It is the exact opposite, because national security is not just about the size of our military or the lethality of our weapons. In Afghanistan for example, the opposition do not have elaborate weapons systems, they don’t have an air force, no electronic weapons systems – what they have is a conviction – a commitment to an idea, and you cannot defeat the commitment to an idea with technology. This is why they are still “winning”. Meanwhile in America, we don’t have decent housing, we are losing our homes, we don’t have health care, we don’t have income or retirement security.
RT: How is the U.S. defense budget related to global poverty?
ME: Money spent on the U.S. military is inextricably linked to overall global poverty. Military weapons draw money away from essential social safety net programs that would allow for people to pull themselves out of poverty. On a global scale, the wars abroad have destroyed families, villages and communities – threatening and destroying the livelihood of thousands of innocent people. A study done at the University of Massachusetts revealed that $1 billion from the military budget, it would create about 11,600 jobs. If you take the same billion dollars and spend it on education, it will create 29,300 jobs. This is called an economic ‘opportunity cost’ – when you spend money on one thing, you forgo spending it on something else. Health care, education, environmental protection and tax cuts that fuel consumer spending all create more jobs dollar for dollar than funneling money towards weapons and war. As a result, we are becoming more economically and socially insecure on a national and global scale.
The United States is the world’s largest purveyor of arms. Our government is the number one global “gun runner”. Poor nations divert funds that could go to alleviating poverty, sickness and illiteracy into purchasing arms in an arms race to out-gun their neighbors.
RT: Is President Obama making a conscious effort to reduce military spending?
ME: No. His budget proposals do not solve the problem. It talks about the problem but it doesn’t solve them, although he has explicitly stated his support for raising taxes on corporations and wealthy people. We have money. The money is there, but the people who have it aren’t willing to give it up. We now have more student debt than mortgage debt. So – kids are starting their lives – and their incomes are going to banks – they cannot even participate in the economy – buy homes, start families, invest in businesses, save for retirement - contributing to economic stagnation. Pentagon spending is down a little due to sequestration and because the Afghan War is drawing down. But Obama wants to put more money into “modernizing” our nuclear arsenal, spending on boondoggles like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and operating about 1000 military bases around the world.
RT: What are the current justifications for military spending?
ME: One word: terrorism. The “War on Terror” has been the most recent justification for fighting unnecessary and unjustified wars abroad. The problem is that when you see the world through the eyes of multinational corporations, political decisions are made on what’s good for the bottom line and what’s good for your own class interests. The U.S. spends more on the military than the next 10 highest spending nations combined, including both Russia and China plus Iran and North Korea. War may be good for corporate profits of the arms industry but it is bad for our society and economy – and has not made us safer. You can’t use an F-35 fighter jet to deal with a couple of guys with a backpack bomb who want to kill a lot of people at a marathon. Terrorism is a criminal matter that is best addressed with smarter diplomacy, better intelligence, effective policing and most importantly addressing the seed bed for discontent – poverty, disease, illiteracy, economic exploitation, homelessness.
There will be a Global Day of Action Against Military Spending on Monday, April 14, which will coincide with other similar events across the globe. For more information, please visit the New Priorities Campaign website or you can contact Michael directly at info [at] uslaboragainstwar.org.