Posts Tagged ‘defense budget’

If there is one thing that everyone in America seems to be able to agree on, it is this: we are in big economic trouble.  After having a near miss with a second Great Depression, we are unsteadily moving towards a state of continuing economic uncertainty.  It’s not just us; it’s the whole world. Spain, Greece, and Portugal are now in deep economic trouble and if they default on their debts the euro and the entire European economy could be endangered.  China, now the prime manufacturer for the world, and the principal holder of U.S. debt obligations, is mostly concerned with their own economy, not ours; except that their economic fate is inextricably linked to ours. If we go down, they go down.  That is something they would really like to avoid, so they are taking their own self-protective steps to strengthen their currency and prepare for a second round of economic bad news.

Everyone, almost everyone anyway, seems to feel we spent a huge amount of money in forestalling the complete meltdown of our banks. We did this with borrowed money – money that was essentially borrowed from China and will eventually have to be paid back.  The problem is that we are very close to being in a situation where as a nation, we spend more than we earn. And it looks like this imbalance will only get worse in the coming years.  It is a recipe for economic disaster.  We either have to earn more or spend less. The problem with earning more is that our multinational companies have outsourced so much production to China and other countries that it is now really hard to earn more money. We just don’t make enough stuff here anymore. So what’s left? Cut expenses. Spend less.

Immediately, the right wing goes after the entitlement programs, since, philosophically, they have always opposed them. Slash Social Security, cut Medicare and Medicaid, eliminate anything that smacks of helping people – and let’s don’t even talk about universal health care. On the left we hear about different types of cuts. Recently President Obama said he wanted to cancel NASA’s plans to go back to the Moon.  He also wants to tax the banks and the rich folk (makes sense – after all, that’s where the money is).  There is one thing no one talks about. The big 800 pound gorilla in the room, the Emperor’s unmentionables, the biggest ticket in the U.S. budget, the Mother of All Budget Breakers: Defense Spending. There – I’ve said it.  That which must not be said. The ledger which must not be looked at. The sacred amount, the holy of holies which must not ever be questioned: it is this one little item that is bleeding the life blood from our country.

Whoa, pardner. Wait just one cotton pickin’ minute, Glenn Beck might say. How do you figur’ that?  How come I’m not going after that big money waster, Social Security or Medicare? Well, for one thing, I’ve already paid a lot of money into the Social Security/Medicare Ponzi scheme and I want my money back some day. And I’ll get it too, and so will you, just so long as the population keeps growing – the key ingredient to any Ponzi scheme.

Defense spending, on the other hand is different. A lot of it goes to defense contractors who get their contracts via lobbyists and cozy relationships with our Senators and Congressmen.  They build all sorts of useless things like B-1 bombers and nuclear powered aircraft carriers.  They spend a lot of money on their own version of entitlement programs like huge pensions for retired admirals and generals, free medical care, free or low cost housing, food, clothing, schooling, transportation, recreation, you name it. Talk about Socialism, talk about entitlement programs, this is the King of Entitlement programs. We all know this, but it’s unpatriotic to say so, so we keep quiet.  For a great many people, the military is a jobs program, except for those unlucky few who wind up in actual combat, of course. The thing is that vast numbers of military people never come within a thousand miles of combat. The truth is that most of our weapons are never used. The truth is that the military is the largest old boy network in the country.  It is a system where you make alliances for life.  These alliances are used to get jobs in industry after people leave the military or in the government itself where you can find groups of people working in the same office who “just happened” to know each other in the service. We all know that – we just don’t talk about it.  It’s not patriotic to say that.  The thing is this: having a nice and safe, cushy career in the military and then retiring to a fat job in government or industry while collecting a fat pension is not the same thing as dying for your country in the rocks and sand of Afghanistan. But we act like it is.

The simple fact is this: our military budget is horrendously bloated.  Our military spending is way out of line. We buy the wrong weapons.  We have the wrong strategies.  We have the wrong number of people.  We are wasting enormous amounts of money on our military budget, and like a drug addict or an alcoholic, we can’t stop.  Defense spending is our sacred cow. It must not be questioned.  It must not be cut. It is killing us financially, but we won’t and we can’t admit it.

Here’s something to think about: how many years has it been since 9/11? It’s getting close to nine years. So how is our military doing fighting this war against terror? Well, let’s see….we bombed Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban, but we didn’t get Bin Laden. We invaded Iraq and killed Saddam Hussein, but we didn’t get Bin Laden.  We’re back in Afghanistan but we can’t seem to locate Bin Laden. Nine years our military has been fighting yet still we face possible terrorist attacks from Al Qaeda every day. Does this mean our military isn’t up to the job? No.  It means that this is not a job for the military.  Remember when Cheney said that the war against terror was going to be a clandestine war and we wouldn’t hear much about it? Well, that was about as close as Cheney ever got to the truth. We are not going to defeat Al Qaeda with armored columns or stealth bombers or aircraft carriers or 20,000 Marines. We don’t even know where they’re hiding.

After World War II Europe pretty much disarmed. We didn’t. Neither did the Soviets. President Reagan drove the Soviet Union into bankruptcy by accelerating the arms race. Massive military spending didn’t help the Soviet economy, it killed it. Even so, we don’t learn.  We continue on, preparing to fight multiple simultaneous wars on different fronts, like the Cold War never ended.  We’re spending enormous amounts on the War on Terror at the same time.  More than anything else it is this unconstrained defense spending that is destroying our economy.  Why? Because the military does not create a product. Money goes in but no consumer products come out. It isn’t a business. Money spent on defense is not an economic stimulus, it is a burden on the taxpayer – a burden we have to acknowledge and sensibly reduce. This doesn’t mean we stop fighting Al Qaeda, it means we have to fight in a more productive, intelligent, and clandestine way – but not the way of the military.

Our problem is that we cannot even talk about this. Our problem is that we have a corrupt system that continually increases defense spending in ways that are not useful or effective. Our problem is that, more than anything else, defense spending is killing our economy and we won’t admit it; we are afraid to admit it.  Our problem is that defense spending has become our sacred cow and it has become unpatriotic to question anything about it. Even so this will end, either when we get up enough courage to honestly debate defense spending or when our economy simply collapses and defense spending, like everything else, simply withers away.

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The worldwide economic meltdown has focused a lot of attention on the role and power of banks and insurance companies in our country.  In addition, the current debate on health care legislation also highlights the power of the health insurance companies.  In the part 1 and part 2 of this series I wrote about the way these money-making industries use their financial power to influence our government, through the intermediaries we call lobbyists, to essentially purchase legislation that is beneficial to the bottom line of these companies, at the expense of the American citizen.

There is another group of wealthy people we don’t often think of as wealthy because they prefer to stay in the background.  They don’t have the names or jobs of the famous robber barons of the past, names like Rockefeller and Morgan, but they are quietly there nonetheless and we were warned about them many years ago by one of our presidents.  It was a warning our government chose to ignore. I am talking about the military-industrial complex. The warning about this group of for-profit businessmen was issued by President Eisenhower. Over the years since World War II, our U.S. military industrial complex has grown rich – bloated might be a better word.  In spite of President Eisenhower’s warning this industry has grown so large that it is potentially a larger factor and therefore a larger potential danger to the economic well being of the country than the banks and the insurance companies put together.

Today the total budget of the United States is about $3.1 trillion dollars.  Of that amount, about half, $1.49 trillion dollars will be spent this year on military-related costs. When George Bush was president he attempted to hide the growth in this part of the budget by keeping the costs of the Iraq War and the Afghanistan War out of the budget. These costs are instead appropriations.  He went even further to distract attention from the total military costs in our budget by making the “Global War on Terror” a separate line item in the defense budget, separate from the line labelled “Department of Defense”.  It’s like having a budget for a fire department where we might have a set of costs labelled “Fire Department” and another set of costs labelled “Putting out fires”.

The simple fact that defense spending, one way or another, eats up half of our tax dollars shows implicitly the effect the military-industrial complex has on our economy.  The point here is not that we are spending a lot of money on a war that was started by our enemies. The point is that we are spending a lot more money on “defense” that is unnecessary.  A good example is the USS George H W Bush, a nuclear powered aircraft carrier that was launched at the end of the George W Bush administration.  This aircraft carrier is a dinosaur, a creature of an age of Soviet/American tensions and it is designed to provide a deterrent against a foe that doesn’t even exist anymore.  In an age when our primary strike weapons have become stealth bombers that fly non-stop from the U.S. and remote controlled drones that launch missiles directed by operators sitting in control rooms in the U.S. mainland, the aircraft carrier is headed for extinction, just as the battleship did before.

However, it is not about aircraft carriers and battleships that I am concerned.  It is our the decisions that are made to produce weapon systems that are either outdated, ineffective, inappropriate, or just the wrong thing at the wrong time.  I am concerned about the decision making process in military procurement that creates a condition where we send in soldiers to Iraq using Humvees as their primary patrol vehicle while these vehicles are without any armor at all.  Meanwhile we spend huge amounts of money building tanks and other armored vehicles that are of little use.

The list of useless, ineffective, inappropriate, and just plain awful products that our military buys from the industrial complex is a very long one.  And some people get very rich selling these products to the government while other, more effective products, are shunted aside and never purchased at all.  Why? Because it is all about connections.  Connections between the wealthy owners of the manufacturers of the weapons and the people who sign the purchase orders.  It is about connections between lobbyists and Congressmen when decisions are made about what to buy and what not to buy.  There is a flow of money, just as in the banking and insurance industries, from the military equipment manufacturers, via lobbyists, to our elected representatives and that is how decisions are made: not to buy the best product for the best price, but to buy the product that will put money in someone’s pocket.

And that, in a nutshell, is how your government spends about half of your tax dollars.  On the other hand there are other countries, European countries, that spend far less of a percentage of their national budget on “defense”.  Did you ever wonder what those countries do with all of their excess money that they don’t waste on frivolous defense expenditures?  Here’s one thing they do: a lot of them provide free medical care for their citizens.  Here’s another thing: some of them also provide 100% free college costs for their citizens.  While our government lurches from “crisis” to “crisis” the rest of Western civilization is pursuing a more constructive path, making better lives for their citizens.  That’s because they are not burdened by a system of power that starts with the wealthy and proceeds, via a group of lobbyists, directly to our elected representatives.  In many countries the elected representatives actually try to help the people and not just help themselves to a bigger piece of the pie.

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