You probably did not know that you are an investor in a vast network of hotels from South Carolina to Hawaii to Japan. Just as Starwood runs Westin, Sheraton and St. Regis, the Department of Defense operates Air Force Inns, Inns of the Corps and the Navy Lodge, among other brands.
You probably did not know that we, the people, spend $500 million each year on military bands. No -- not bulletproof waistbands, but bands with drums and saxophones that receive more taxpayer funding than NPR and PBS.
You probably were not aware that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is indebted to you. The National Guard alone spent $110 million in taxpayer dollars sponsoring NASCAR racing and professional fishing in 2011 and 2012.
From the fiscal cliff to the looming threat of sequestration, our budget deficit seems to be hitting crisis mode every few weeks now. Naturally, there are two ways to go about reducing the deficit: raising taxes or cutting spending. Seeing as military spending accounts for 20 percent of our yearly expenditures, it is no surprise that it is often cited as a target for cuts.
The debates surrounding the military budget are very predictable, and go something like this:
Democrats: The military budget is bloated. Let us see what we can cut.
Republicans: Military spending is sacrosanct. Cutting a single dollar will make us weak and vulnerable and cause America's superpower status to evaporate.
As the examples above illustrate, however, it is clear that there is a great deal of miscellaneous military spending that is neither making us safer nor more secure. And we are not even talking about the billions of dollars spent each year on weapons and equipment suited for conventional warfare, not the militants and insurgencies we are fighting today. As President Obama said to Mitt Romney in their final debate, "You mention the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets... It's not a game of battleship where we're counting ships, it's 'What are our capabilities?'"
Cutting money does not spur doom and gloom just as throwing money at a problem will not fix it. What matters is whether money is spent effectively. No one would argue that the quality of education would decrease at a school that stopped spending money on typewriters, quills and rock-climbing walls. The same is true in the military.
It is also apparent that we should increase the amount of military spending in some areas. The fact that the Navy Seal who shot bin Laden is unemployed, receives no pension, and is paying for his own insurance despite suffering complications from his service is unconscionable. How many of us walk by war veterans each day living in abject poverty on the streets? We must honor those who have served us, and this must go beyond bumper sticker salutes at at sporting events. We can honor our veterans by providing them with the best healthcare money can buy, helping them transition into civilian lives with vocational training programs, and ensuring that they have a safety net so, at the very least, they can afford basic necessities.
If we acknowledge that our military budget is not all being put to the best use, we can reallocate funds where they are actually needed and still have plenty of room to cut. There is surely no shortage of companies eager to emblazon their logos on Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s car.