"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death." -Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
After Bernie danced across the stage to greet Ellen DeGeneres for an appearance on her show yesterday (to the disco music of 'Burn, Baby, Burn'), he sat down to address some serious questions from the host. Right out of the box her first one was framed thusly:
"A lot of people who have a lot of money pay a lot of money (in taxes). So why isn't that amount of money going to the people who don't make that amount of money? Why is it not allocated in the way that you're saying?"
Bernie answered far too ambiguously:
"Well, it's a good question and it has to do with we're spending money in areas where we should not be spending money and we're not spending money where we should be spending money"
He then went into his stock response about "why this so" and "the top one percent owning as much wealth as the bottom ninety percent" - but still not connecting this directly to the misplaced spending - which is almost entirely on DEFENSE! So little wonder Ellen had to keep probing to try to get more explanation.
She went on:
"I still don't understand how we can have that extreme wealth and the middle class is disappearing. ...I understand you're saying there's loopholes but there should be enough money to help everybody else"
Sanders then went into the "incredible greed" of corporate America, but still dodged the 'elephant' sitting in the room pooping all over, the spending of the Military Industrial Complex (which in this fiscal year is estimated to reach $662 billion, this on top of the $4 TRILLION we have already squandered in Iraq and Afghanistan - and which Obama's extension in the latter will see us wasting even more.)
Ellen needed help, but Bernie didn't give it. She vaguely realized that even the obscene wealth of billionaires, the overall tax loopholes of the wealthy and tax havens for the corporations could not account for the wealth gap Sanders cited. It was then his job, to name directly the atrocious spending on the defense establishment - especially since 9/11 - which has now reached an insane proportion.
But he didn't do it, continually going back to the "billionaires". Yes, their greed and wealth explains part of the gap, but not all. The real bleed down of wealth is a result of obscene defense spending.
In August, 2002, former Defense Analyst Chuck Spinney – appearing on a Bill Moyers ‘NOW’ (PBS) segment- examined how the Pentagon had somehow ‘misplaced’ (couldn’t account for) $1.2 trillion of taxpayer money. He noted that this reckless, careless bookkeeping miscue disclosed the U.S. was no longer a democracy or even a Republic, since a key branch of gov’t had become totally unaccountable.
Three years later, after the Bushies had ramped up defense spending to dramatic new heights, what amounted to 2.4% of GDP as opposed to 1.2%, Spinney predicted it would incept a “war on Social Security and Medicare”. He predicted the total costs of military spending, including in Iraq, and Afghanistan and a de facto perpetual ‘war on terror’ (as well as a burgeoning national security state) would become so great that the major social programs would be slashed to pay for the deficits engendered. How large is the military money pit? What sort of monster must it ‘feed’?
The United States currently maintains 702 military 'installations' in 63 foreign countries (it has 4,471 bases altogether), according to the Defense Department's annual budget statement. These figures don't include bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. We also spend more on military weapons than the next 25 nations combined.
None of this Bernie mentioned although he spared no opprobrium for the billionaires. My take is that this presents a glaring gap in his inequality arguments and will have to be addressed as further debates unfold and questions become more probing. What will not do is answering Ellen in the way he did, i.e. "we're spending money where we should not be spending money" etc. Because as a moderator the question I'd then ask - which Ellen ought to have - is: "Spending where we should not be spending on WHAT?"
What is Bernie afraid of? I suspect that he doesn't want to be attacked from yet another front, i.e. "weak on defense" when he's already taking so much heat for being a "socialist". And yet, nearly all of Bernie's proposals - from free college tuition to expanding Social Security - would require money from the only money pot that can provide it: defense spending!
Sanders' team needs to work out now how they will address the mammoth defense spending issue and integrate it into their narrative. It will be tricky and admittedly dangerous - no one wants to go up against the MIC - but without doing it all his social support proposals will come off as unrealistic and unachievable.
Sanders' supporters will be watching!