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Entries tagged "military budget"

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The Budget Wars: The Congressional Progressive Caucus is Ready for Paul Ryan

March 12, 2014 ·

Better Off BudgetThough the champions of Fix the Debt are now on the run, proponents of the grim-and-tired “We’re broke, we can’t afford it” line of argument continue to throw their weight around our federal budget debates. 

The Obama administration tried for several years to accommodate the Fix the Debt crowd. This year, the administration more-or-less gave up and delivered a budget that dared to declare that balancing the budget should not trump all other national goals. “Dead on Arrival” was the right wing’s rather predictable response.

Through all of this unproductive budget wrangling, one group—the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC)—has, year after year, performed the feat that no other group of our legislators seems able to pull off. The CPC produces budgets that balance significant deficit reduction over a ten year period with substantial investments in the near term to create jobs, strengthen the safety net, and reduce inequality—the kinds of investments that the budget austerity folks tell us we can’t afford. This group of seventy-plus progressive House members just released this year’s version, the “Better Off Budget.”

The CPC is able to reach their investment targets, in part, by going after areas of wasteful spending that other legislators won’t touch — for example, the enduringly large war budget (aren’t those wars ending?), tax havens for the rich, and oil company subsidies.

Other highlights from the CPC’s proposal include:

  • Fixing overspending in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO). Though we are finally winding down the longest period of war in our history, the OCO (the President’s war budget — separate from, but added to, the “regular” Pentagon budget) has hardly shrunk at all. 
  • Investing in the repairs needed for our deteriorating water, energy, and transportation infrastructure and creating jobs in the process.
  • Implementing a small tax on financial transactions. More than 30 countries around the world already have this tax, and it would slow down reckless speculation while also generating revenues.
  • Improving the Affordable Care Act by adding a public health insurance option into the health insurance marketplaces.
  • Imposing a tax on carbon with 25% of the revenues applies to refundable credits for low income families, which would also serve to strengthen the market for clean energy and transportation.
  • Enacting public financing for campaigns to curb the ever-more- corrosive effect of money in politics

In a couple of weeks, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan — the true champion of “We’re broke” — will unveil his budget. As he’s already promised, it will slash programs like Head Start and job training (presumably because they sap the initiative of three-year-olds and the unemployed.) A clear alternative, a Better Off Budget, will be there ready to take him on. 

Sequestration: Our Military is Due for Downsizing

February 22, 2013 ·

Sequestration wouldn't gut military

This strange animal called sequestration is certainly wreaking havoc with our customary ideological boundaries. 

If you’re an advocate, Iike I am, for revamped federal priorities that shift resources from a bloated Pentagon budget toward neglected domestic priorities, your take on this animal can’t be simple. You say cutting everything indiscriminately is a bad way to run a government (this view is nearly universal). You oppose the cuts in the domestic budget that will leave us with fewer food safety inspectors, medical researchers, Head Start teachers, and airport baggage screeners on the job. But you can reel off long lists of ways to cut waste in the Pentagon budget to the levels prescribed by sequestration, and show that these cuts will leave us completely safe.

But you also know that the whole conversation is focused on the wrong topic. It’s past time to shift this conversation away from austerity and toward investment to create jobs, as clear majorities of voters said in November was what they wanted.

Now let’s look at the Washington Post’s blogger who says he writes “from a liberal perspective,” Greg Sargent. On Wednesday he went at the Republican position on sequestration, wielding a new report from the non-partisan Congressional Research Service. The report found that the single most important cause of increased income inequality in recent years is the favored tax treatment given to capital gains and stock dividends — i.e. what the rich have used to get richer.

The Democrats, as Sargent points out, want to change this, taxing the rich and using the proceeds to replace the sequester cuts. The Republicans want to stick with sequestration and keep this favored treatment for the rich.

But all of this puts the Republicans, says Sargent, in the position of “openly conceding that the sequester will gut the military.” It’s a concession that Sargent appears to be taking at face value. Or at least not calling into question.

Gut the military? That’s what the Joint Chiefs of Staff have been saying any chance they get. Sequestration would “invite aggression,” says lingering Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. It will “put the nation at greater risk of coercion,” says the Joint Chiefs Chair, Martin Dempsey. When asked at a recent congressional hearing which nation might coerce us, though, he couldn’t say.

In fact, sequestration will not “gut” our military. Our military budget has nearly doubled since 2001. Sequestration would take it back to the level it was in 2007 — when we were still fighting two wars. Adjusted for inflation, it would leave that budget higher than its Cold War average — when we had an adversary that was spending roughly what we were on its military. Now, as Michael Cohen notes in The Guardian, the closest thing to a peer adversary we have is China, and we are spending more on research and development of new weapons than the Chinese are spending on their entire military. We spend more on our military, in fact, than the next 14 countries put together.

After the longest period of war in our history, we are due for a defense downsizing. Sequestration would create a shallower downsizing than any of the previous postwar periods since World War II. We can do this, and we should. We need the money for other things.

As sequestration threatens to confuse us all, let’s be sure to stay clear on that, at least.

Top 10 Myths of the Jobs Argument Against Military Cuts

August 14, 2012 ·


Members of Congress, led by the team of Senators McCain, Graham and Ayotte, are touring military contracting plants, bases and defense-dependent communities this summer raising the alarm about “sequestration.” This is the part of the current budget deal that will force $1.2 trillion in across-the-board cuts to federal spending, unless Congress comes up with the same amount of money some other way. Half is supposed to come from the military, half from domestic programs, beginning January 2.

It is true: cutting everything indiscriminately is no way to run a government. But this alarm-raising campaign, buttressed by defense industry spending to buy and promote “independent”studies, and mount lobbying campaigns, is focused not on federal spending in general, but on military cuts in particular. And the centerpiece of their pitch against these cuts is not the standard line that we need to spend ever more on the Pentagon because it needs every penny to keep us safe. Instead the focus is: jobs.

We're in the process of ending two wars. Since 9-11, spending on the Pentagon has nearly doubled. Clearly we're due for a military budget downsizing.

And the urgent need for job creation is on everyone's mind.

That's why the military contractors and their congressional allies are departing from the usual script to argue for more military spending. 

From the crowd that wants to shrink government because this will create jobs, we are now hearing that we can't shrink the Pentagon because that would cost jobs.

Here are main points of their case, rebutted one by one.

Myth # 1: The military cuts will cost a million (or, according to the Pentagon, a million and a half) jobs.

You don't need to get into the details of the many reasons to question these figures to recognize the big flaw: Cutting military spending will only cost jobs if nothing else is done with the money. As economists from the University of Massachusetts have shown, (findings recently corroborated by economists at the University of Vienna [i]) military spending is an exceptionally poor job creator.  Taking those cuts and investing them in other things—clean energy, education, health care, transportation—will all result in a net gain in jobs. Even cutting taxes creates more employment than spending on the military.[ii]

Myth # 2:  More Pentagon spending will create more jobs.

A researcher at the Project on Government Oversight recently exposed the shaky foundation of this argument. He found that since 2006 the largest military contractor, Lockheed Martin, has increased its revenues from military contracts, even as it was cutting jobs.[iii]

Myth # 3: Defense sequestration will gut our military industrial base.

Hardly. The Pentagon cuts contained in the budget deal will bring the military budget, adjusted for inflation, to where it was in 2006. Close to its highest level since World War II. More than the next 17 countries (most of them our allies) put together.[iv] 

These cuts are easily doable, with no sacrifice in security, because they are being made to a budget that has nearly doubled since 2001.

Myth # 4:  The public is buying the myth.

President Obama is actually running an ad criticizing his opponent for advocating military spending increases. The clear pattern in recent polling shows that this is a smart move. Majorities agree military spending is too high.[v]

Myth # 5:  The military economy is part of the bedrock of our jobs base.

A researcher at the Project on Defense Alternatives looked at this one. He cited a Congressional Research Service study of aerospace employment. More than 500,000 Americans are employed in aerospace manufacturing. About two-thirds of this is commercial, however. Though the defense industry has worked hard to spread itself around for maximum political effect, more than half (61%) of the nation’s aerospace industry jobs are concentrated in six states.[vi]

By contrast, more than 8 million Americans are employed in education, law enforcement, fire fighting, and other emergency and protective services -- working in every community in America.

The effects on the jobs base from cuts on the domestic side of the budget, in other words, will be much larger and more widespread than the effects of military cuts.

Myth # 6:  The military economy is part of the bedrock of our overall economic health.

Alan Greenspan, among many others, has contrasted spending on infrastructure, education, and health care with military spending. The former, he noted, strengthens the productivity—the performance—of the economy as a whole; the latter does not.

Military spending is like a family's insurance policies, he said. The family should spend enough to insure against disaster, but not a penny more, because that family should put as much as possible toward increasing its well-being through education and other enhancements to its quality of life. 

Myth # 7:  Military workers have already taken their share of the hits.

No. The global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas tracks layoffs month by month. For the past three years, while military spending has absorbed more than half of the discretionary budget (the part Congress votes on every year), the private sector contractors it supports have absorbed an average of only 4% of the nation’s job loss. See this spreadsheet (docx).

During those three years, the defense industry laid off a total of 106,000 workers. During the same period, state and local governments laid off more than 500,000 workers.

Myth # 8:   The political campaign against sequestration is consistent with the dominant economic philosophy of the politicians doing the campaigning.

No again. The free marketeers who think shrinking government will create jobs are preaching that the Pentagon budget can’t be shrunk because this will cost jobs.

Congressman Barney Frank has summed up nicely what they are asking us to believe: “that the government does not create jobs when it funds the building of bridges or important research or retrains workers, but when it builds airplanes that are never going to be used in combat, that is of course economic salvation.”

Myth # 9:  The contractors have their workers' interests at heart.

If they did, they might narrow the gap a bit between the CEO’s and the average worker’s salary.  For Lockheed Martin (CEO: $25 million[vii]; average worker: $58,000[viii]) this gap is more than 400 to 1.

Myth # 10:  Sequestration will force contractors to warn most of their workers of an impending layoff. 

Lockheed is threatening to send these notices a few days before the November election.  The argument for this bit of political blackmail is that since the cuts aren’t specified, all workers are at risk.  While Lockheed claims these notices are required by law, the Labor Department, i.e. the controlling legal authority, says they are not.

In fact, as researchers from Win Without War and the Center for International Policy recently pointed out,[ix] the defense and aerospace industry is sitting on a pile of cash from yet another year of record revenue and profits in 2011.[x] Lockheed alone has $81 billion in backlogged orders, and more coming in.[xi] They have it a lot better than most companies.

And this cushion gives them time to plan for the downsizing, and keep the workers they profess to care about employed, by developing new work in other areas. See Fact Sheet: Replacing Defense Industry Jobs for some ideas on how.


[i] https://www.dropbox.com/s/6s4ix8muj2kmhhx/a%20non%20linear%20defense%20growth%20nexus.pdf

[ii] http://www.peri.umass.edu/236/hash/0b0ce6af7ff999b11745825d80aca0b8/publication/489/

[iii] http://pogoblog.typepad.com/pogo/2012/08/defense-contractor-time-machine-less-spending-more-jobs-analysis-reveals.html#more.

[iv] http://www.usnews.com/debate-club/should-congress-repeal-the-scheduled-cuts-to-defense-spending/7-reasons-to-keep-the-defense-budget-sequestration-cuts

[v] http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/frame_game/2012/08/obama_s_ad_against_military_spending_have_polls_shifted_on_the_defense_budget_.html?utm_medium=referral&utm_source=pulsenews

[vi] “US Aerospace Manufacturing: Industry Overview and Prospects,” Congressional Research Service, December 3, 2009. http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R40967.pdf.

[vii] http://www.businessinsider.com/the-highest-paid-ceos-at-the-largest-us-based-financial-companies-2012-6#2-george-roberts-kkr-49

[viii] http://www.peri.umass.edu/236/hash/0b0ce6af7ff999b11745825d80aca0b8/publication/489/

[ix] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/william-hartung/lockheed-martin_b_1625183.html

[x] http://www.pwc.com/en_US/us/industrial-products/assets/pwc-aerospace-defense-review-and-forecast.pdf

[xi] http://online.wsj.com/article/BT-CO-20120620-709424.html

Sequestering Military Spending

November 21, 2011 ·

In its final stages, debate over the supercommittee has boiled down to squeezing new revenues out of millionaires vs. cutting the social safety net. The largest portion of the discretionary budget, however, funds the military — and that fact has been mostly obscured in this equation. With the panel in its final death throes, military spending is emerging from the shadows in the form of “defense sequestration.” This is the requirement that failure would trigger $1.2 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years, half of which would come from the Pentagon's coffers.

Thirteen straight years of military spending increases have more than doubled the Pentagon's base budget. Photo by expertinfantry.Scare tactics don’t tend to produce entirely sensible legislation, and this one is no exception. Yet can these cuts be made with no sacrifice to our security? Emphatically, yes.

The Pentagon and its allies in industry and Congress are warning us over and over that this “doomsday” scenario will leave us weakened and vulnerable. They're ignoring several pretty important facts. The “sequestration” cuts, added to those already planned, would bring our military spending, in inflation-adjusted terms, to its 2007 level. Was anyone talking about doomsday then?

Thirteen straight years of military increases, moreover, have more than doubled the Pentagon's base budget (excluding war spending), bringing it to its highest level since World War II. And these increases have actually expanded the gap between U.S. military spending and the rest of the world. At the beginning of this period, we were spending about a third of the world’s total. Now we're spending about half.

Even if sequestration cuts across all military programs, this sort of ham-handed approach is safely doable. Our blank-check approach to military spending in this century has created waste in every program, waiting to be trimmed. Even as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta works to protect his budget at the expense of all others, his Pentagon remains the only federal department that can't pass an audit of its books.

The Project On Government Oversight has calculated that simply cutting back by 15 percent on the privatization of military functions that has occurred in this period would save $300 billion over 10 years.

Is sequestration the best way to manage a defense drawdown? No. For one thing, the best way would make choices based on how much we need to spend, on what, to keep us safe. A new security strategy could allow us to question, for example, the need for our current “forward presence,” which has between 105 and 125 ships cruising around three oceans nearly all the time, and target savings accordingly in the naval budget. Sequestration bypasses this kind of thinking.

Nor would the sequestration “haircut” do anything good for our enduring unemployment crisis. Military cuts, it is true, will have a smaller impact on jobs than other cuts in the domestic discretionary budget. A study by economists at the University of Massachusetts found that $1 billion in military spending sustains about 11,000 jobs as compared to about 17,000 from an equivalent amount of spending on clean energy. Let's cut spending on military programs we don’t need and invest those savings in job creation by making things we do need.

This is the kind of vision laid out in a new report from my organization, the Institute for Policy Studies. It outlines a set of cuts to those military programs we don’t need, and combines that with fiscal reforms and pollution taxes. The result would be more than $800 billion we can invest in building the kind of country we all deserve.

Palestine, Israel, and all the Countries the U.S. is at War with after 9/11

September 15, 2011 ·

September 11 commemorations were everywhere this past weekend. My own view is that the devastating attacks of September 11 were, along with an enormous human tragedy, a huge crime, a crime against humanity. But they did not threaten our country’s existence, they did not threaten our democracy. It was the acts of September 12, when the Bush administration decided to take the world to war in response, that threatened and continue to threaten our country, our democracy, our security, and the security of much of the rest of the world.

Many of you probably saw the piece in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, by one of their top editors, Bill Keller, one of the “liberal hawks,” sort of apologizing for having supported the Iraq War. I sent a letter to the Times (we’ll see if it gets in!) to say that his “hard look” back is appropriate, but not nearly hard enough. He spoke of the “monster argument” being so potent in convincing him to call for war against Iraq, but where was he in the 1970s and 1980s when Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship was armed and financed by the United States? He ignored the 1990s when the people of Iraq faced not only the continuing brutality of that dictatorship but the monster of U.S.-backed economic sanctions that killed over 500,000 children.

But most of all Keller ignored the fact that the “broad consensus” he invokes was not absolute. He names one skeptic who “joined the hawk club” after Powell’s speech to the UN Security Council — but ignores all those skeptics who watched that same speech and weren’t convinced. Some of us published articles with titles like “Powell’s Dubious Case for War” within hours of Powell’s speech on February 5, 2003. He ignores — as his newspaper so often ignored — the voices of consistent skeptics, those of us who opposed the Iraq war as a drive toward power and empire, who cheered the UN when it joined millions of people around the world who said no to war. We opposed the war then, and we were right. We still are.

Now the 9/11 commemorations have come and gone, and our country is still at war.  Sometimes it seems that one way or another the United States is at war against almost the whole world: 

  • Official (though undeclared) wars in and against Afghanistan and Iraq
  • Official (but not really a war "because U.S. troops aren’t the ones at risk") war in Libya
  • Unofficial (though sort of acknowledged) war in Pakistan
  • Unacknowledged (because murder-by-drone doesn’t count as war) war in Yemen and Somalia
  • Indirect and diplomatic war (through $30 billion military aid enabling Israel’s occupation and by promising another UN veto) against Palestine
  • Unacknowledged and denied (through still-stealth drone campaigns) war in uncertain venues mainly in Africa, Asia and the Middle East
  • Untitled (though still accurately described as the Global War on Terror) war in the whole world
  • Then there’s the not-exactly-military war, like the war against the poor in the United States because of the hundreds of billions, now trillions, of tax dollars wasted on all those other wars.

It’s been a hell of an end to summer. The new census figures out this week are horrifying. Unemployment is staggeringly high, with more than 14 million people officially unemployed — which of course don’t include those who are under-employed, working two or three slave-wage jobs to survive, or who have simply given up looking. The current new jobs program is completely insufficient. What we need is a major federal jobs program, a real WPA, that we know works. Instead, we’re seeing billions diverted to continuing illegal, useless wars.

Poverty has surged to its highest levels in almost two decades, with one out of five children and one out of six people overall living below the poverty level, including lots of families where someone does have what passes for a job these days. And remember that the official “poverty line” is just over $22,000 for a family of four, no matter where they live! Imagine that for a family in New York or Washington or Chicago or Los Angeles…

And those devastating figures are far worse when we think about where our tax money is being spent. If President Obama ended the Iraq war “right away” — just the Iraq war, not even counting Afghanistan — he could bring home almost 50,000 troops and save almost $50 billion dollars. That’s enough for one million new green middle-class jobs — starting with those returning veterans.

How many of these flags represent countries we are in some kind of war with? Photo by Radar Communications. If the president ended the war in Afghanistan “right away” — and we’re seeing every day how the U.S. occupation is causing more, not less violence in Afghanistan — he could bring home about 100,000 troops and $122 billion of our tax money. Keeping those troops in Afghanistan costs a million dollars a year each. For every soldier we bring home, saving that million dollars, we could hire that once-soldier-now-civilian plus 19 more people in good green jobs.

That’s what I wrote about in response to the celebrations about August — the first month without U.S. casualties in Iraq — but with too many Iraqi civilians still being killed, and too many billions of our tax dollars still wasted. (I also wrote a short op-ed version that went out on IPS’s OtherWords op-ed syndication service.)


But the end of summer also means the UN General Assembly is coming back into session in the next couple of weeks. And Palestine is back on the agenda. After years (more than 20 years, actually) of a failed U.S.-controlled “peace process,” the question of Palestine is once again on the global agenda of the United Nations. And once again the United States is isolated with Israel, standing almost alone in the world in opposing a Palestinian initiative for UN recognition of Palestinian statehood that has long been the claimed, but never implemented, goal of U.S. policy. The fight is ostensibly over venue, not substance; the United States, we are told, supports a Palestinian state. But we don’t support them getting it in the UN. We only support it if it is created under our auspices and control. Otherwise we’ll call it “unhelpful.”

The United States has promised to veto a UN membership bid in the Security Council. But the Palestinians may avoid that by heading straight to the General Assembly where there is no veto, but where their state recognition will not include UN membership, though it would include the potentially powerful right to join the International Criminal Court. But there are a lot of negatives as well, primarily having to do with loss of representation at the UN for Palestinian refugees and support for their right of return, and many Palestinians are against this move. Developments are very uncertain, no one is sure yet what the Palestinian diplomats actually intend to do. What is clear is that we should not allow the United States to be the ones to say “no” to the Palestinian effort.


Lots of other Middle East news. I had a letter published in the Washington Post targeting U.S.-NATO hypocrisy in Libya and objecting to their misrepresentation of the UN resolution supposedly justifying the Western military intervention there. With regional developments changing so fast, at the moment changing especially swiftly in terms of Israel’s increasing isolation and changing relationships with its one-time allies in the region, I discussed the role of Egypt’s changes in determining Israeli actions in Gaza, with The Real News Network editor Paul Jay. (This video, along with some great footage of the protests in Israel, ends rather abruptly when the east coast earthquake interrupted our interview… it’s pretty funny.)

And I collaborated with my friend Richard Falk, the great international law scholar and the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, on an analysis of the UN’s latest report on last year’s Israel attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla — in which they managed to claim Israel’s blockade of Gaza is somehow legal.

And last, as summer wanes, the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation is holding our annual national conference, celebrating ten years of work changing discourse and challenging U.S. policy towards Palestine and Israel, and looking forward to a (hopefully) short time left before we can fold up shop and take a vacation, because we’ve succeeded.

We have a lot of work to do.

Thanks for all your support and — for the first time — I’m urging you to follow me on Facebook! (And no snide remarks from those of you who know my Luddite tendencies…) You can find me here: http://www.facebook.com/PhyllisBennis

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