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What to watch for in 2010:An American world of war


We, of course, think of ourselves as something like the peaceable kingdom. After all, the shock of September 11, 2001 was that "war" came to "the homeland," a mighty blow delivered against the very symbols of our economic, military, and—had Flight 93 not gone down in a field in Pennsylvania—political power.

Since that day, however, war has been a stranger in our land. ...


Although our country delivers war regularly to distant lands in the name of our "safety," we don't really consider ourselves at war(despite the endless talk of "supporting our troops"), and the money that has simply poured into Pentagon coffers, and then into weaponry and conflicts is, with rare exceptions, never linked to economic distress in this country. And yet, if we are no nation of warriors, from the point of view of the rest of the world we are certainly the planet's foremost war-makers. If money talks, then war may be what we care most about as a society and fund above all else, with the least possible discussion or debate.

In fact, according to military expert William Hartung, the Pentagon budget has risen in every year of the new century, an unprecedented run in our history. We dominate the global arms trade, monopolizing almost 70% of the arms business in 2008, with Italy coming in a vanishingly distant second. We put more money into the funding of war, our armed forces, and the weaponry of war than the next 25 countries combined (and that's without even including Iraq and Afghan war costs). We garrison the planet in a way no empire or nation in history has ever done. And we plan for the future, for "the next war"—on the ground, on the seas, and in space—in a way that is surely unique. If our two major wars of the twenty-first century in Iraq and Afghanistan are any measure, we also get less bang for our buck than any nation in recent history.

So, let's pause a moment as the New Year begins and take stock of ourselves as what we truly are: the preeminent war-making machine on planet Earth. Let's peer into the future, and consider just what the American way of war might have in store for us in 2010. Here are 10 questions, the answers to which might offer reasonable hints as to just how much U.S. war efforts are likely to intensify in the Greater Middle East, as well as Central and South Asia, in the year to come.




1. How busted will the largest defense budget in history be in 2010?


Strange, isn't it, that the debate about hundreds of billions of dollars in health-care costs in Congress can last almost a year, filled with turmoil and daily headlines, while a $636 billion defense budget can pass in a few days, as it did in late December, essentially without discussion and with nary a headline in sight? And in case you think that $636 billion is an honest figure, think again—and not just because funding for the U.S. nuclear arsenal and actual "homeland defense," among other things most countries would chalk up as military costs, wasn't included.

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The new book-banning, courtesy of the United States government

It’s hard to believe, but true: under a law Congress passed last year aimed at regulating hazards in children’s products, the federal government has now advised that children’s books published before 1985 should not be considered safe and may in many cases be unlawful to sell or distribute. Merchants, thrift stores, and booksellers may be at risk if they sell older volumes, or even give them away, without first subjecting them to testing—at prohibitive expense. Many used-book sellers, consignment stores, Goodwill outlets, and the like have accordingly begun to refuse new donations of pre-1985 volumes, yank existing ones off their shelves, and in some cases discard them en masse.

The problem is the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA), passed by Congress last summer after the panic over lead paint on toys from China. Among its other provisions, CPSIA imposed tough new limits on lead in any products intended for use by children aged 12 or under, and made those limits retroactive: that is, goods manufactured before the law passed cannot be sold on the used market (even in garage sales or on eBay) if they don’t conform. The law has hit thrift stores particularly hard, since many children’s products have long included lead-containing (if harmless) components: zippers, snaps, and clasps on garments and backpacks; skateboards, bicycles, and countless other products containing metal alloy; rhinestones and beads in decorations; and so forth. Combine this measure with a new ban (also retroactive) on playthings and child-care articles that contain plastic-softening chemicals known as phthalates, and suddenly tens of millions of commonly encountered children’s items have become unlawful to resell, presumably destined for landfills when their owners discard them. Penalties under the law are strict and can include $100,000 fines and prison time, regardless of whether any child is harmed.Urge to kill rising...

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