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Local View: A common call from a divided nation: We can't afford war

Mayors brace for more funding cuts." "Class sizes expected to grow." "Social Security on debt commission's chopping block." People in the Twin Ports and across the nation are getting used to headlines like these. School boards, cities and the fed...

Mayors brace for more funding cuts." "Class sizes expected to grow." "Social Security on debt commission's chopping block."

People in the Twin Ports and across the nation are getting used to headlines like these. School boards, cities and the federal government all are running out of money. But where is it going?

There isn't one simple answer, of course. Is it incompetent government? Not enough taxes? Too many taxes?

Nationally, many people blame President George W. Bush's bailouts or President Obama's stimulus spending or the trade imbalance. Economic policy is certainly complicated.

But there is an elephant in Washington's living room that neither the Republicans nor the Democrats seem willing to talk about.

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Earlier this year, Obama pledged to freeze domestic spending. At the same time, he called for more money for the military. And this is how it has been under almost every president, Republican or Democrat, since World War II. In 2011, the Pentagon's annual budget will reach an astounding $708 billion. This doesn't include emergency funds for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, commitments that Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz predicts will cost our economy $3 trillion. And it doesn't count our nuclear-weapons program, which is half of the energy budget, our space-weapons program, which is half of the NASA budget, or our programs to help wounded veterans.

War spending is the largest single contributor to our national debt. Almost half of everyone's federal taxes pays for war, past or present.

So the problem isn't taxes; it's how they're being spent.

The people we've sent to Washington have come to equate security with guns, bombs and "pre-emptive" strikes. But as our military presence expands around the globe -- with bases in almost every nation on Earth -- so does anger over what is seen as a modern-day empire. At the same time, the infrastructures of our communities crumble under the weight of a war-heavy economy.

Could it be that after trillions of dollars and more than eight years of a war already twice as long as World War II, a unique consensus is forming among the people of this country that transcends political affiliations and other differences?

It's time to re-imagine what true security looks like. War should be the last resort of any democracy. The real backbone of a healthy society is found in our communities and our international relationships. Unfortunately, Washington has gotten in the habit of robbing from the latter to pay for the former.

As people scramble to file their annual tax returns today, Congress prepares to vote on an additional

$33 billion in back-door funding for war in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. At the same time, cities in Minnesota are facing a devastating $125 million cut to local government aid -- or roughly one day's worth of the war supplemental.

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What if Congress took the brave step of saying no to more war funding and investing the savings into struggling communities such as Duluth? Even a tiny portion of our war budget could effectively bring our cities back to life, keeping libraries open, parks clean, and public safety officers on the streets.

By no means are we suggesting Congress should leave the U.S. defenseless or cut veterans programs. The problem is that we have become a nation addicted to war, outspending the combined military budgets of every ally and enemy alike.

If we don't want to go the way of the Romans, it's time to kick the war habit and start investing in diplomacy, our communities and our future.

Coleen Rowley of Apple Valley, Minn., is a retired FBI agent. Joel Kilgour of Duluth is a member of the steering committee of the Northland Anti-War Coalition.

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