I found myself walking all over downtown Boston on Thursday to take care of some personal business. It was a beautiful day to walk the city. The sun was shining, everything was in full bloom, the air was warm with a cooling breeze, thousands of people were out and about, and the city was filled with unbelievably powerful and dangerous weapons of war.
You heard me. I first got hip to what was going on a couple of days earlier. There were full-dress Marines all over the place, which at first made me think there was some kind of Fleet Week thing going on. On Tuesday, I was walking down Massachusetts Avenue to run an errand when the sky was suddenly filled with roaring thunder. I looked up, and what goes bellowing by at rooftop-level overhead but three gigantic gray Osprey helicopters flying in formation toward the center of the city. The pigeons at the corner of Huntington Avenue fell into paroxysms of terror and went wheeling into the air away from the noise, while people on the sidewalks stopped and pointed and stared.
I did some Google searching when I got home and found out that it is Marine Week here in Boston - the absence of sailors walking around should probably have given me a clue that it wasn't Fleet Week - and they shipped in the Ospreys to show them off. Walking through Boston Common on Thursday, I saw one of the Ospreys parked on the green next to an Apache attack helicopter and what looked like a big. fat-bodied, MH-53 Pave Low SAR helicopter. On Thursday, after I walked out of City Hall, I looked down the Fanueil steps to see a big troop transport truck parked next to a massive Howitzer right in front of the old meeting hall. I didn't get around to any other parts of the city, but smart money says there were other war weapons on display elsewhere as well.
The Boston Globe reported it this way:
The war bird flew in low, following easy-to-spot landmarks. It hovered for a moment before landing in a clearing in the middle of the heavily populated city. And then the Marines stepped out.
This was no assault, but rather the kickoff of a week-long show-and-tell on Boston Common by the Marines, armed with smiles and handshakes.
The Marines deplaned from a MV-22 Osprey, a unique tilt-rotor aircraft that can take off and land as either a conventional fixed-wing aircraft or a helicopter.
OK, the selfish part first: I hate the Osprey, and have ever since they were introduced by Bell-Boeing and started killing Marines, who, by the way, call the thing "the widowmaker." Local reporters who were allowed to take a flight in the things had to sign all manner of releases before they took off, just in case one of them crashed again. An Osprey crash in Afghanistan killed four people just last month, in fact. The things don't work, and watching them skim the roofs in my neighborhood made me want to run and hide. I half expected one of them to go sideways and crash into the Hancock building. It really wouldn't have surprised me.
But the larger issue represented by the Ospreys, and by the other war weapons parked all over town, has to do with money that has been poorly spent. One Osprey costs $70 million, and Bell-Boeing has sold some 450 of the things to the Marines, the Navy and the Air Force. If you don't have a calculator close at hand, that comes to $31,500,000,000.00. Spelled out, that's thirty one billion five hundred million dollars of your money.
Now, let's see.
The residents of Tennessee and surrounding states had the heavens open up on them last week, causing floods of catastrophic proportions that killed dozens of people and wiped out an as-yet undetermined number of homes. Dealing with this calamity is going to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, if not more.
A massive and ongoing oil disaster is threatening the entire Gulf Coast, as well as much of the Eastern seaboard and the ocean beyond if the oil gets into the Gulf's loop current. While British Petroleum is expected to shoulder the financial burden of the clean-up, the damage to fishing and tourism will again run into the hundreds of millions, if not more. For the record, the first of the oil officially made landfall in Louisiana on Thursday, and more is sure to come.
We are still fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both conflicts cost the American taxpayers millions of dollars a minute, and have cost hundreds of billions of dollars already, and that's leaving out the burdens placed on tens of thousands of families whose son or daughter or father or mother or brother or sister was killed or maimed since the invasions were undertaken a decade ago.
Wall Street bandits have raped the futures of millions of people, annihilated their savings and retirement and cost them their homes. Millions more remain unemployed, and require hundreds of millions in unemployment and other hardship benefits, if not more. The Bush administration TARP bailout alone cost $89 billion, and that's before we get into the cost of President Obama's "American Recovery and Investment Act." Thanks to the evil dealings of the aforementioned bandits, and their facilitators in Washington, DC, it's difficult to argue against the necessity of those expenditures ... but, damn.
The Federal government, as well as all 50 states, have been undertaking a series of extreme austerity measures in order to make up for the financial shortfall the nation has been experiencing during this supply-side, trickle-down, right-wing recession. Taxes on soda drinks, taxes on everything that moves, school budgets pillaged, libraries closed and as many budgetary holes as possible filled with federal money the federal government can't afford to spend.
We are a nation in bankruptcy dealing with a series of disasters and calamities, and we are going to be deep in the hole for generations to come.
But wait, what about those Ospreys? What about the $31 billion spent on spiffy, dysfunctional helicopters we absolutely do not need, even if they did work? What about the billions stolen by US "defense" contractors in an orgy of fraud in Iraq? What about the $1 trillion allocated this year alone for the "national defense" budget?
Just dumping the Osprey program would have given us enough money to pay for the disasters in Tennessee and the Gulf, with a whole lot left over to help those affected by the recession and the Wall Street thievery. Shaving the tiniest percent off the 2010 "defense" budget would feed, clothe and educate every person of woman born in the United States, and we'd still have the most awesomely formidable military arsenal in the history of the galaxy.
But we don't talk about that stuff. We close libraries, cut education budgets, tax everything, and borrow from our children's future instead of tapping into the awesome reservoir of taxpayer cash shoveled into the Pentagon each and every year.
And, oh yeah, we get weaponry scattered across my city that taxpayers can oooh and aaaah at as a booby prize for the trillions they've had stolen from them to pay for a bunch of crap that looks good flying overhead, but doesn't do anything to keep them safe.
Psssst, Mr. Obama: tap the defense budget. We can be out of this recession in the morning.