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The Best Defense

9:43 am in Uncategorized by welshTerrier2

“The best defense is a good offense.”

There’s been plenty of squawking from the left and even from progressive Democrats about the Democratic Party.  Obama is seen as a centrist or a pragmatist or… well, pick your own label.  The bottom line is that he has done virtually nothing to advance any semblance of a progressive agenda.  Washington and the media seem to enjoy telling Americans what is “on the table” and what is “off the table”.  Perhaps it is time for an entirely new table.

The scope of discourse in the US is painfully narrow.  The entire framework of debate, often couched in dire terms about deficits and debt, has become focused on sacrifices Americans must make.  We’re told Social Security will go bankrupt and that Washington is here to help us avoid that by making painful, yet necessary, cuts.  We’re told that Medicare and Medicaid, while good programs, must be squeezed due to cost increases.

We’re told that America’s corporate taxes are the highest in the world and that they must be reduced for the US to remain competitive.  We’re told that massive subsidies to Big Oil must be preserved so that our energy needs can be met.  Hidden behind these and other corporate welfare programs, of course, is the not-so-subtle threat that your job will be exported if you raise any objections about them.

Democrats are playing on a table selected and controlled by right-wing Republicans.  When the question becomes “how much should we take away from the elderly, the poor and just common working folks” instead of “how much should we take away from Wall Street and its investors, from the military-industrial complex and from Big Oil, Big Ag, Big Pharma and the rest of the corporate welfare state”, there can be no progress on the progressive agenda.

So, let’s spend a little time talking about just what “going on offense” could mean.

The wars, unpaid for of course, ran up a $5 trillion (that’s trillion with a “t”) tab.  Who benefited from the great fear campaign?  Military contractors made a bundle.  Oil companies have seen record profits too.  If debt and deficits are a concern, that seems like the most sensible place to recoup (uncoup?) the money.  Declare both wars over; shut down foreign military bases; make deep… very deep… cuts in the military budget.  Why is no one in Congress discussing 25% cuts… 50% cuts… 75% cuts… even 90% cuts?  Could it be that those we elect are fearful about the political fallout… or worse?  I mean, we’ve all heard the phrase “guns or butter”.  Wouldn’t it seem reasonable to call for an honest national discussion about which priority Americans prefer?  The discussion is not even on the table.

Instead of subsidizing greedy multi-national industries that provide “necessities” to Americans, let’s talk about nationalizing them.  It is nothing less than propaganda to argue that “greed is good” and that the profit motive makes these companies successful.  What they’re doing is blackmail.  You can’t live without your food, your meds, your oil,  so we can charge you anything we like and you even have to subsidize our efforts.  That’s the perfect case for nationalizing these industries.  Throw the banks in there, too, while you’re at it.

Instead of talking about the amount of Medicare cuts, suppose we talked about providing Medicare for all Americans and expanding what is covered.  Even those on Medicare incur huge medical bills or are forced to buy supplemental coverage.  Let’s put an end to that.  Before we spend trillions “defending Americans” by fighting unnecessary wars around the world, how about defending the health of Americans right here at home?  Until all Americans have the opportunity to obtain quality health care at an affordable price, we have no business pumping our tax dollars into the military-corporate state.  That’s the priority I would establish; you won’t hear the issue discussed on the Sunday morning propaganda shows.  Such themes are “off the table”.

And let’s not leave Big Pharma out of the Medicare discussion.  If Medicare were allowed to negotiate prices using its massive buying power, the US could save roughly $130 billion per year.  To their credit, some Democrats raised this issue several years ago but it was defeated by the Republicans in Congress.  This issue, however, should have been the first words out of Obama’s mouth during the so-called “fiscal cliff” negotiations.  Perhaps he said something about it; I didn’t hear a word.  He certainly didn’t rally the American people to demand lower prices for Medicare drugs.  Another issue off the table.

Obama allowed the fiscal cliff discussion to wallow into a discussion of taxing the wealthy “a little bit more”.  Well, why not a lot more?  I had a chance to watch Richard Wolff on C-Span about a week ago.  He pointed out that FDR called for a 100% tax on all income above $25,000 (equivalent to about $350,000 today).  Think about that!  A 100% tax.  That’s called going on offense.  And taxing income isn’t good enough regardless of the rate.  We also need to start talking about taxing wealth.

Look, we’re in a class war and we’re losing very badly.  Our government does not represent our interests.  You can’t call it democracy, or even a republic, when we, the people, are not being represented.  The “get money out of politics” meme, while well-meaning, is a dead-end.  You can’t “get money out of politics”, or frankly do anything, unless you first demand leadership that represents you.  And, you can’t have leadership that represents you unless that leadership is willing to make a 100% commitment to engaging the class war.  That’s what going on offense means.

When Democrats, even liberal Democrats, are willing to fight against cuts but aren’t willing to truly engage the battle against concentrated wealth, corporate welfare and the corporatizing of our lives and our culture, the difference between Republicans and Democrats becomes very slim indeed.  Fighting against cuts, without a major realignment of our economy, inevitably leads to austerity measures.  Put another way, without going on offense, our future is a lost battle.

Cut US Military Spending by 90%: Is It Feasible?

9:31 am in Uncategorized by welshTerrier2

Each year, the Congress convenes and determines how the Federal revenue pie will be sliced into pieces. Who gets a big share? Who gets the shaft? What are the top priorities? What is less important or even unimportant? The part of the budget over which Congress has control is called the discretionary part of the budget. If the US owes interest on debt it has borrowed from China, for example, it can’t vote to lower the interest rate or to pay China less than it owes. Things like interest on the national debt or things that are currently mandated by law, such as Social Security and Medicare, cannot be allocated a smaller share of the budget. In this sense, the costs are fixed and Congress has no jurisdiction, unless they change the laws, to increase or decrease the budget allocation.

When Congress sat down to slice up the 2012 budgetary pie, one item in the budget walked away with a majority of the discretionary resources. That item was military spending. In 2012, military spending will consume 59% of the discretionary budget. Here is a pie chart supporting this statistic:

US Budget - Discretionary Spending - 2012

And that’s the good news. The real amount of military spending goes well beyond what the budget indicates. You may find this hard to believe, or perhaps not, but political games are played with the budget to make the amount of military spending seem much lower than it actually is.

Consider the following line items (2006 data) that should be part of the military budget but are squirreled away into other budget buckets:

Annual Interest on War Debt: $207 billion
Veterans Affairs: $70 billion
Homeland Security: $69 billion
Military Retirements: $39 billion
Foreign Military Aid: $25 billion
Atomic Weapons: $17 billion

The actual military budget is really about 60% higher than the stated budget because of this budgetary gimmickry. The real military budget is somewhere in excess of $1.2 trillion each and every year.

A less commonly discussed statistic about military spending is the cost of this expense on a per capita basis. If we divide the number of US citizens into the budget allocation, we find that, on average, each and every citizen is now spending about $4,000 a year to pay the military tab. You can see support for that statistic in the following chart:

US Per Capita Military Spending

Four thousand dollars per citizen is a very real burden for most of us. Consider the cost of military spending to an average citizen over a lifetime of roughly eighty years. $4K a year times 80 years shows that the average American citizen will spend about $320,000 on the military over their lifetime. Now extend that to a typical family of four trying to send their kids to college, pay their mortgage, pay for health care and provide a little retirement security. How much does American military spending burden the average family of four over their lifetimes? It’s a staggering $1,280,000 or more. Can this really continue? We are bankrupting the country and bankrupting ourselves.

Some make arguments in support of military spending. “It creates jobs for people. It provides many poor people with training. The internet (ARPANET) was originally a military project. Military research has led to all sorts of technological breakthroughs. The military is making the country safer.”

Military spending is making the US much weaker; not stronger. Instead of investing in America’s future, we are spending 59% of our discretionary budget on things that do not make the country more competitive economically. Instead of upgrading our national infrastructure, we have deployed our military across the globe. Military personnel are now housed in almost 1,000 bases spread across almost every country in the world. What are they doing there? Many are busy, especially in the Middle East and Afghanistan, guarding private oil company pipelines. They are acting as a private security force for multi-national oil companies. US taxpayers foot the bill; big oil and their investors rake in the dough. If we believe it is in the national interest to guard oil pipelines, we should nationalize the oil companies. Let the profits be returned to those who foot the bill.

Some have raised concerns that cutting military spending will cut millions of jobs during a severe recession. The wrong solution is to keep paying people to do things that don’t benefit us as a society. That never makes any sense. There are tons of productive projects that need to be done. We can easily reabsorb military personnel into the civilian economy if we get our priorities straight. They could be put to work rebuilding the interstate highway system and the many decrepit bridges all over the country that have fallen into disrepair. They could be trained and put to work building a globally-competitive national wi-fi system. They could be put to work in our public schools to lower student-teacher ratios. They could be put to work to design better-insulated buildings and to retrofit existing buildings to reduce energy demand. They could be put to work upgrading our national parks. In short, there are a million things, i.e. a million productive things, military personnel could be doing as they transition back into the civilian economy.

Well, that’s all fine, you say, but what’s the deal with cutting the military by 90%? Don’t you think that’s a little irresponsible?

I’m glad you asked.

Let me say at the outset that I am far from a military expert. I am just one citizen who clearly sees that the current military madness cannot continue. It’s literally killing us. The issue is not whether we need to significantly reduce military spending; the issue is whether we can reasonably explore cuts in the 90% range. Here’s my proposal to do just that.

Assuming that we view the purpose of military spending as defensive in nature, and we should, we ask the question “what countries might pose any risk at all to the US based on their history, or their ideology, or their level of military spending and sophistication?”

While answers to this question might vary, my answer is China and Russia. This is not to say that I believe either of these countries is likely to attack the US but rather that they could conceivably, perhaps at some point in the future, have the resources and technological sophistication to do so. How much do these two countries combined currently spend on their military?

The military budget for China and Russia combined is currently about $167 billion per year.

If we were to cut the US military budget by 90%, the US would be spending about $70 billion per year instead of the stated $700 billion line item. Clearly, few would be willing to spend that much less than China and Russia.

But suppose we thought of defense in a more global way? Suppose we thought in terms of a “shared defense” with our allies. Think about organizations like NATO as an example. By cooperating with our global allies, we could spread the costs of military preparedness across many countries. While coordination and defense strategies would become somewhere more complicated, the “shared defense” approach could literally save the US from bankruptcy and it could give the US a real opportunity to invest in more productive resources.

With China and Russia spending around $167 billion on their militaries every year, what kind of budget could a shared defense produce?

Here, based on 2010 data, are the military budgets of just some US allies:

France: $61 billion
UK: $57 billion
Japan: $51 billion
Germany: $47 billion
Italy: $38 billion
Australia: $27 billion
South Korea: $27 billion
Spain: $26 billion
Canada: $22 billion
Israel: $16 billion

Add these budgets to the $70 billion the US would spend after cutting its stated military budget by 90% and you have a combined budget of around $442 billion which is almost triple the combined military budgets of China and Russia.

Are there some problems with a shared defense model? I’m sure there are. Questions will be raised. What if this? What if that? The point is that it’s a starting point for a discussion that has been denied to the American people for far too long. No elected official would dare put this on the table. They are all so afraid of losing their next election that sound policy, especially radically different policy, cannot even be raised for discussion. If just one steps out of line, military spending targeted for their state will likely be reduced. It’s just easier for them to go along with the military-industrial complex than it is to do what’s right for the country.

Is a 90% cut feasible? Is shared defense a viable approach? Can the US continue to spend 59% of its discretionary budget (or more) on the military? Could we return millions of military personnel to our civilian economy and give them critically important, productive things to do? Most Americans believe the great American empire is in a steep, potentially terminal, decline. Most of the budget cutting being proposed targets a desperate, vulnerable population with cuts in public education funding, health care, Social Security and other anti-safety net madness. All this while the largest area of discretionary spending, i.e. military spending, seems politically immune to the kinds of cuts needed to rebuild the country. We’re in big trouble, folks, and the proposed shared defense program might just be a huge step in the right direction.

Is a 90% cut in military spending feasible? Yes, I believe it is.