Sunday, October 30, 2011

"Throw Grandma Over the Cliff! - But Don't Touch Defense $$$$!"

"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.

So (paraphrasing) says Neoliberal hack Robert Samuelson in his latest defense of the indefensible ('Defending Our Defense Budget!') , in this case the monstrous, malignant U.S. defense budget. He compares any form of significant cutting to the bloated Pentagon tab to "a dangerous, slow motion disarmament" - which might fly for anyone not aware that the U.S. spends more on defense than the next 25 nations together,

As usual, similar to this PR hack's other specious columns to try to justify slicing social spending, various half-truths are employed as well as outright distortions and twisting of statistics to serve his purpose as a Pentagon bandwagoneer. This time he uses the ruse of "three bogus arguments" which he insists are made by those who would dare make such cuts (obviously, trying to steer the unconstitutional "super committee" away from such a direction!)

Let's go through his prefatory canards before dealing with his attempts to take down the three "bogus arguments" against his precious military- industrial complex.

First, he claims there has been a "downsizing of military personnel" from the late 1980s, to 2010, with "the U.S. Armed Forces dropping from 2.1 milion to 1.4 million" germinating what he calls a "Peace dividend". As he delivers these numbers, he doesn't mention that the latter ten years have seen more military intervention in the form of the occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan which have required multiple deployments of National Guardsmen (not listed among the official recruited armed forces, e.g. in the Navy, Army, Marines, AF) at a cost of literally trillions in messed up lives, and undelivered domestic services those Guardsmen could have provided. Neither does he reference the sundry hundreds of higher tech weapons used to assist and supply these occupation troops, or how much has been squandered in puffed up contracts to Halliburton, Bechtel etc.

He then avers that from 2001 through 2011 the Congressional Budget Office claims the two occupations - "wars" in Iraq and Afghanistan "cost only $1.3 trillion, or 4.4 percent of total federal spending over those years." But he doesn't mention that this figure omits the projected future costs due to: a)medical treatments, such as for the severe brain injuries personnel have experienced from IEDs (an estimated 500,000) and b) the costs of medical care in toto for these returned vets. Adding those figures on, one gets another $3 trillion, which would make the total cost projected (since Samuelson is so fond of also projecting "future liabilities" in Social security, etc.) $4.3 trillion, and that's not factoring in current medical inflation rates. Hence, factoring in those costs with medical inflation rates one will arrive at a more realistic total of nearly 20% of total federal spending, easily through 2020 and probably 30% through 2025.

He then compounds his distortion further, by referencing the year 2011 and that "these costs were $159 billion or about 12% of the deficit" but leaves out the total amount of Pentagon money allocated beyond the occupations and budget supplementals ($790b) which then show the total military costs come to nearly 58 cents of each dollar, or 58% of the deficit! Indeed, this has been more than double the total percentage since 9/11. Clearly, that event was used as justification to more than double the military's piece of the pie. (Former defense analyst Chuck Spinney noted in 2004, the percent of the GDP was effectively doubled, to 4.4% setting the stage for a 'war between defense spending and Medicare spending')

Samuelson then attempts to directly rebut three main arguments for defense cuts:

1) That we can't afford today's military:

Samuelson asserts we can and must afford it - though he does agree that how much we do spend is a "political decision". Indeed it is, and it is also a "political decision" as economist G.P. Brockway once noted (The End of Economic Man, 1991), how much is allocated to the poor or dispossessed, vulnerable, and how much to lobbyists, speculators and weapons. Brockway correctly notes that such decisions inform and decide what manner of nation we are to be. Whether one attuned to the basest human instincts and lowest common denominator, or one that aspires to set an example for others.

He then uses more funny statistics in his response, saying that in the 1950s-60s "we used 40-50% of the federal budget routinely for defense, representing 8% -10% of our national income". This is true, but the total deficit as recently as 1961 was only $8 billion! This is compared to $15 trillion today, of which more than half has been directly or indirectly from defense spending since Reagan came in, as of 1981. Moreover, that large percent of the national yearly budget allocated for defense was made during a Cold War against another superpower, the former Soviet Union - which had itself matched our consumption dollar for dollar. It was not against a gaggle of robed, stateless lunatics that seek to set off a "dirty bomb" or two or maybe attack a jetliner. The USSR had more than 12,500 nuclear weapons - the least of which was some 50 megatons - deliverable by nearly 8,000 ICBMS.

So this fool is comparing apples and oranges. Thus, when he avers that "by 2010 only 20 percent of national income was devoted to the military" he is playing the fool. I mean, comparing some 40-50% consumed militarily of an annual billion dollar budget is not in the same class as consuming 20% of an annual $3 trillion budget.

2) We spend so much more than anyone else that cutback won't make us vulnerable.

Samuelson, hack that he is, has a rebuttal for this too. He does admit that the total U.S. defense spending in 2009 was "six times China's" and "13 times Russia's" but argues that we can't take these too seriously because "U.S. salaries and procurement costs are orders of magnitude higher". In fact, relative to the respective standards of living, soldier salaries in the U.S. are not that much different, and indeed, Chinese, Russian soldiers reap benefits that the U.S. counterparts do not. In fact, they have less to worry about on returning from service in terms of jobs, benefits, while U.S. service person may well find his job long gone on his return, being in a capitalist "every man for himself" society. No wonder the suicide rate has tripled in the last decade.

As for "procurement" costs, well Samuelson is indeed correct, but 80% or more of these are plain waste, harkening back to the Reagan era of $5,000 toilets, and $75 hammers! Thus, it has been found nearly all defense contracts have been "padded" ever since that era. Analyst Chuck Spinney has even (in a 2001 PBS NOW appearance with Bill Moyers) pointed out one of the most egregious paddings of all, dated from ca. 1999, of the Pentagon "misplacing" $1.1 TRILLION. No one dares mention or disclose on paper, that this was more than likely padding under the table for defense contracts issued since the 1991 Gulf War!

3) The Pentagon has so much inefficiency and waste that sizable cuts won't jeopardize our fighting capability.

Samuelson here agrees "of course there's waste and inefficiency" but argues that "these are being targeted in the $450 billion of additional cuts over ten years that President Barack Obama and congress agreed to earlier this year".

But if more than $1.1 trillion of such waste accrued during the 1990s, according to Chuck Spinney's estimates, then may we not conclude at least that much accrued during the past ten years of occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Especially thanks to Halliburton in the former.) That means that a cut of $450 billion over ten years is not adequate, and ought to be at least doubled to $900 billion, and that is to remove waste alone!

Samuelson then lists several other programs cuts, e.g. to the F-22 stealth fighter, and possible cuts to Tricare - the veterans' medical counterpart to Medicare, but says "it's a myth that all waste can be surgically removed".

But no one is demanding a "surgical" removal, only a judicious use of limited budget resources. In this sense, Samuelson doesn't mention the proposed new expenditures on programs, weapons systems such as the 3,000 planned F-35 bombers, more appropriate for conventional warfare. So why squander nearly $1 trillion on this white elephant when defense contract padding and cost overruns are factored in? That money could better be applied to Tricare as opposed to cutting needed medical assistance for our vets there! There are also dozens of other programs of dubious utility and great cost, including the continued construction and use of these drone weapons.

Samuelson argues that "demands on the military are expansive and murky" but for sure this will always be the case in a so-called era of "terror wars". But being smarter, and applying more rigorous methods to procurement operations (especially cutting the defense corporations and their lobbyists out of making, writing budget proposals) would cut this down significantly. That is still no justification for not wielding the budget axe to the Pentagon to possibly force them to be more judicious as opposed to expecting year after year of growing Pentagon pieces of pie while ordinary Americans continue to suffer home foreclosures, joblessness, 1 in 6 frequency of child malnutrition and a whole generation of young people in debt slavery.

Lastly, Samuelson argues that:

"Defense spending is unlike any other spending because protecting the nation is government's first job. It's in the Constitution. Highways, school lunches and Social Security are not."

He seems to forget or doesn't process, that NO where in that document is a massive, formalized military establishment - corporate manufacturing nexus approved, which links industry and arms manufacture as ends in themselves - the "military -industrial complex" Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us about in his January, 1961 farewell address.

Nor does Samuelson process two other items in the Constitution:

1) The clear statement in the Preamble that the government is "to PROMOTE THE GENERAL WELFARE"

That is, not corporate or military welfare, but the GENERAL welfare! That indeed includes, to any normal brain- functioning person, "school lunches, highways and Social Security". As well as affordable health care and free education through college, such as democratic socialist nations like Barbados allow.

2) The inherent unstated RIGHTS implicit in the Ninth Amendment to the Bill of Rights.

Such rights can include the rights to affordable health care, and to social insurance!

As Prof. Garry Wills has noted in his landmark book, A Necessary Evil-A History Of American Distrust Of Government, Simon & Schuster, 1999:

"What the Ninth says is that the rights enumerated as protected by The Constitution do not exhaust all rights inherent in a people. The states can retain powers, though not rights."

In other words, while rights to health care, Social security etc. and even school lunches may not be found explicitly written down in the Consitution, they were accounted for as possible future unenumerated rights by our wise Founders, who realized at the time of authorship they couldn't conceive of every possible right.

Maybe Wall Street's favorite hack needs to go back to school and take a degree in American Government and the Constitution as opposed to Punditry and Hackery!

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