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Mattea Kramer and Jo Comerford: Congress Tweeted While America Burned

7:34 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Cracked Pavement

A grim look into the United States' austerity-driven future.

Three days after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Congress passed a joint resolution called an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). You might remember it. In layman’s terms, it was a carte blanche for the Bush administration to go to war wherever it wanted, whenever it wanted, however it wanted, under the guise of fighting anyone who “planned, authorized, committed, or aided” the September 11th attackers, or “harbored” any terrorists or terror organizations connected to the attacks. That document, more than any other, launched the Global War on Terror or GWOT. President Obama long ago ditched the name and acronym, but he kept the global war.

And don’t expect that to change. On Thursday, Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael Sheehan went before Congress and insisted that the Defense Department couldn’t be more “comfortable” with AUMF, as it was written, and that not a word should be altered or amended for changed circumstances. The Pentagon was so comfortable, in fact, that its officials foresee using that resolution to continue its drone-powered “dirty wars” in the Greater Middle East and Africa for years to come. “In my judgment,” Sheehan said, “this is going to go on for quite a while, yes, beyond the second term of the president… I think it’s at least 10 to 20 years.”

So there you have it. The military got its blank check for overseas wars, for sending out the drones and the special operations forces, and has no plans to change that before 2023, if not 2033. In other words, for at least the next decade, the GWOT, whatever label it’s given, will continue to be the central fixture of American foreign policy.  It’s not going anywhere. Today, TomDispatch regulars Mattea Kramer and Jo Comerford of the invaluable National Priorities Project look at the “homeland” a decade into the future, as the effects of Congress’s austerity policies sink in. Put the two together and what a grim scene you have: a country investing in war in distant lands as it crumbles here at home. Andy Kroll

How America Became a Third World Country 
2013-2023 
By Mattea Kramer and Jo Comerford

The streets are so much darker now, since money for streetlights is rarely available to municipal governments. The national parks began closing down years ago. Some are already being subdivided and sold to the highest bidder. Reports on bridges crumbling or even collapsing are commonplace. The air in city after city hangs brown and heavy (and rates of childhood asthma and other lung diseases have shot up), because funding that would allow the enforcement of clean air standards by the Environmental Protection Agency is a distant memory. Public education has been cut to the bone, making good schools a luxury and, according to the Department of Education, two of every five students won’t graduate from high school.

It’s 2023 — and this is America 10 years after the first across-the-board federal budget cuts known as sequestration went into effect.  They went on for a decade, making no exception for effective programs vital to America’s economic health that were already underfunded, like job training and infrastructure repairs. It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

Traveling back in time to 2013 — at the moment the sequester cuts began — no one knew what their impact would be, although nearly everyone across the political spectrum agreed that it would be bad. As it happened, the first signs of the unraveling which would, a decade later, leave the United States a third-world country, could be detected surprisingly quickly, only three months after the cuts began. In that brief time, a few government agencies, like the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), after an uproar over flight delays, requested — and won — special relief.  Naturally, the Department of Defense, with a mere $568 billion to burn in its 2013 budget, also joined this elite list. On the other hand, critical spending for education, environmental protection, and scientific research was not spared, and in many communities the effect was felt remarkably soon.

Robust public investment had been a key to U.S. prosperity in the previous century. It was then considered a basic part of the social contract as well as of Economics 101. As just about everyone knew in those days, citizens paid taxes to fund worthy initiatives that the private sector wouldn’t adequately or efficiently supply. Roadways and scientific research were examples. In the post-World War II years, the country invested great sums of money in its interstate highways and what were widely considered the best education systems in the world, while research in well-funded government labs led to inventions like the Internet. The resulting world-class infrastructure, educated workforce, and technological revolution fed a robust private sector.

Austerity Fever

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Jeremiah Goulka: C-130 Math and a Cargo of Pork

6:33 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

C-130

The C-130 is an example of pork-barrel spending in the military-industrial complex.

Bipartisanship in Washington is a rare thing these days.  However, no beltway battle in recent memory has been quite as partisan as the one over sequestration and its $85 billion in across-the-board government spending cuts.  Yet, for all the rancor between Democrats and Republicans over that so-called meat ax or poison pill, there has been one point of unity, one response that everyone in Washington can seemingly get behind: hyperbole.

The Department of Defense has, of course, spent more than a decade fighting ruinous wars and hasn’t convincingly won a conflict over a significant foe (sorry, Grenada; sorry, Panama) since World War II.  Yet the mere possibility that it would have to put its civilian employees on 22 days of unpaid leave drove Pentagon chief Leon Panetta to hit the panic button, channel Chicken Little, and declare the sequestration future “the most significant military readiness crisis in more than a decade.”

Not to be outdone, Virginia Republican Congressman Rob Whittman insisted that the budget cuts would put “men and women’s lives… at stake.”  Representing a district heavy in defense contractors, he claimed, according to Business Insider, that, in addition to putting military personnel at risk, the sequester will “cost 200,000 jobs and create a wave of uncertainty for [his] state.” Meanwhile, two Air Force generals announced that the cuts would ripple through the entire defense establishment with dire results. “The impacts to the industrial base grow in magnitude as the reductions cascade down through the network of companies that support each program,” they told members of Congress.

About the only big-time military-industrial player who doesn’t seem worried is the one that seemingly has the most to lose: top defense contractor Lockheed Martin.  Even after sequestration took effect, Lockheed expressed confidence and touted its “broad portfolio of products and technologies, a robust and durable strategy and the industry’s best team.”  The defense giant further boasted that it would “continue to meet our customers’ evolving needs and generate value for our shareholders.”  In fact, just weeks before, Lockheed had all but ignored sequestration worries, offering a corporate forecast that didn’t even bother to take the coming cuts into account.  It projected that the company would meet analysts’ estimates for 2013 by raking in between $44.5 and $46 billion in net sales.  Hardly gloom and doom.

Is Lockheed Martin a military-industrial ostrich with its head in the sand?  Is it the Pollyanna of weapons makers? Or does it have an ace in the hole?  In his latest piece, TomDispatch regular Jeremiah Goulka suggests that Lockheed might not just be sequester-proof, but impervious to almost any effort to even modestly rein it in.  His investigation of one of the most resilient aircraft of modern times raises questions about whether Lockheed is truly interested in meeting its “customers’ evolving needs” or is simply interested in “generat[ing] value” at taxpayer expense. Nick Turse

Lockheed Martin’s Herculean Efforts to Profit From Defense Spending
The Epic Story of the C-130
By Jeremiah Goulka

When I was a kid obsessed with military aircraft, I loved Chicago’s O’Hare airport.  If I was lucky and scored a window seat, I might get to see a line of C-130 Hercules transport planes parked on the tarmac in front of the 928th Airlift Wing’s hangars.  For a precious moment on takeoff or landing, I would have a chance to stare at those giant gray beasts with their snub noses and huge propellers until they passed from sight.

What I didn’t know then was why the Air Force Reserve, as well as the Air National Guard, had squadrons of these big planes eternally parked at O’Hare and many other airports and air stations around the country.  It’s a tale made to order for this time of sequestration that makes a mockery of all the hyperbole about how any spending cuts will “hollow out” our forces and “devastate” our national security.

Consider this a parable to help us see past the alarmist talking points issued by defense contractor lobbyists, the public relations teams they hire, and the think tanks they fund.  It may help us see just how effective defense contractors are in growing their businesses, whatever the mood of the moment.

Meet the Herk

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