Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Born and Raised Inside the Pentagon



Born and Raised inside the Pentagon.

Mayor Jordan remarked at a Ward meeting, “We have to be frugal with our money.” On almost the same day, the public schools were also saving pennies, and Governor Beebe ordered all state agencies to find “ways to save money” with the state’s vehicles. I’m sure we’re all for frugality in municipal and state affairs. And we are well served by our competent officials who operate with auditable, accountable discipline. They can tell citizens what a project will cost, what it will actually do, and when it truly might arrive.

Yet they seem blind or subservient in pinching pennies at home without making a single complaint about our government spending trillions of dollars in foreign wars without the fiscal discipline demanded at home.

Here’s why we must pinch pennies at home: The Pentagon budget in 2001 when George W. Bush became president amounted to $305 billion (not including nuclear weapons or interest on the debt and many other billions in related costs). By the time he left office it was $600 billion and the national debt $10.6 trillion. Under President Obama Pentagon budget, deficit, and debt continue to rise. Why is this?

Example one:
You have a part of the F-35 in your backyard. The Pentagon plans to buy 43 F-35 fighter aircraft under the 2011 budget at a cost of $201 million per F-35. The Pentagon intends to procure 2,443 of these fighters. Besides the question of the need for so many, or even the need for the fighter at all, other problems include its share of Pentagon administrative overhead, estimated to be 40%.

Example two: You have a part of the super-secret militarization of the heavens outside of international agreements and boundaries in your garage.
The Pentagon’s $26 billion per year space program, which exceeds NASA’s budget of $18 billion, is increasing. It includes the multi-billion-dollar National Reconnaissance Office with its spy satellites and the rockets that lift them into space.

Example three: Pentagon chaos pervades your yard, garage, and entire house. The Pentagon cannot pass an audit. As the Director of the Straus Military Reform Project of the Center for Defense Information writes: “the Pentagon’s comprehension of its own material resources is a deep, dark void. It can’t track its own money; it cooks its own books to make them appear in balance, and then it makes new spending decisions based on the phony data. Nor can it accurately track its own property, even supplies to the troops fighting in Afghanistan.”

Pentagon, wars, deficit, and debt. This bloated war machine produces enormous deficit. The federal budget deficit is the difference between what the government takes in from taxes and other sources and what it spends annually. Imagine you made $60,000 in a year but had $70,000 in expenses. You would have a $10,000 deficit. You would need to borrow $10,000 to make up the difference. The national debt can be thought of as the accumulated amount the government owes from years of borrowing money to pay off the annual deficits. Pinch all the pennies you can locally, the U.S. budget deficit has grown to $1.17 trillion in the first ten months of 2010. The national debt in 2010 is $13 trillion. Of that, some $350 billion goes to pay the interest on the debt held by banks in China, Japan, and individuals. Thanks to the F-35 and the spy satellite you have welcomed to your bank account, and the books cooking in your kitchen.

The question then is: Why are our government officials, who are so sincerely trying to find money for the services we desire, utterly zipped about why the money is so short? You would think Lioneld, Connie, and our other officials who struggle so valiantly with too little money would be, if not furious, at least willing to explain why they cannot do what we wish. But they are silent.

A few years ago I asked the members of OMNI to suggest why the public is silent about the invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq, and US permanent war. In response I received over 30 different explanations. All together (busy, fear for job) they composed a comprehensive explanation. Yet one explanation, and I think the best, was not mentioned. I have been describing it. Our officials also have a war machine occupying their property, and a book cooker now watching TV in their living room, and they have been there so long nobody notices them, even when paying for their exorbitant upkeep!

How that ruinous situation occurred for the people of the US is a complicated story, of course, but fortunately many books explain it (Carroll’s House of War one of the best), and it is summarized in a book published just this August 2010: Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War by Andrew Bacevich.

The basic creed and myth of the US was expressed as early as 1941, by Henry R. Luce in his essay, “The American Century.” The purpose of the US was to liberate and transform the world. Read this carefully: “The people of the United States should ‘accept wholeheartedly our duty to exert upon the world the full impact of our influence for such purposes as we see fit and by such means as we see fit.’” Within a decade after Luce’s pronouncement, the Pentagon was a Leviathan and the US was the most powerful National Security State in world history.

You know the official story; it seems almost organic to the US brain. The US was compelled by enemies—Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Hirohito—to become a global power. From WWII to the invasions of Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Pakistan, no choice ever existed for us. Overwhelming US power was necessary to guarantee not only our safety, prosperity, and freedom, but also that of our allies. The view was so fundamental to our educational conditioning system, so taken for granted, that it was invisible.

The Cold War sustained that black and white, Manichean worldview so thoroughly that it became the national orthodoxy with its dogmas to which every president since Roosevelt adhered and continues today with President Obama. The Vietnam War forced some of the population to question the dogmas—for example, that US power was essentially benign--, but the orthodoxy successfully led the majority through some 40 to 50 illegal invasions and interventions following WWII. The next great shock to the web of national security assumptions and myths embraced by US Christian, Jew, and Muslim was Bush II’s invasion of Iraq and radical extension of the security orthodoxy to a “global war on terror” via preventive war. Yet the orthodoxy held and still holds, as the Obama/Pentagon apparatus repeats the same slogans of the Bush II/Pentagon, the same as with Panama, Grenada, Nicaragua, as we remember backwards the orthodoxy in action through Bush I, Reagan, Carter, Nixon, Johnson, Kennedy, Eisenhower, and Truman, where the US National Security State began in 1947. That so many generations were successfully indoctrinated to accept these beliefs as unimpeachable is as truly astonishing as the almost complete collapse of independent, critical thinking during those years.

Is it any wonder, then, that US military spending dwarfs that of Russia, China and in fact equals the combined military budgets of the next 15 countries behind us? We have been thinking inside the Pentagon for seventy years, so long we don’t see it. The assault on universal Medicare as ruinously expensive, for example, was out of self-interest on the part of some, but compassionate medical care for all was also attacked by intellectuals like George Will and by members of the general public for whom the service was intended. Seventy years of national security public relations, of fear and secrecy, had convinced them that the Pentagon, a standing army, and global armed coercion, never mind the truly ruinous expense and the waste, were necessary.

Bacevich, Andrew. Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War. Metropolitan/Holt, 2010.
Blum, William. Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II. Common Courage, 1995. Rogue State: A Guide to the Wokrld’s Only Superpower. Common Courage, 2000.
Carroll, James. House of War: The Pentagon and the Disastrous Rise of American Power. Houghton Mifflin, 2006.
“Close Look at Cars Needed Everywhere.” NAT (8-14-10).
Crutsinger, Martin. “July U.S. Deficit at $165 Billion.” ADG (8-12-10).
Fort, Caleb. “Schools Trying to Save Energy.” NAT (8-15-10).
Hennigan, W. J. (L. A. Times). “New Day for Space Brain Trust?” ADG (8-16-10).
Holland, Matt. “There’s a Tank in Your Backyard.” Northwest Arkansas Times (10-23-09).
Jordan, Lioneld. Remarks at Ward 3 Meeting in City Plans and Budget (8-16-10).
“Obama Signs $26 Billion bill to Curb Layoffs.” ADG (8-11-10).
Wheeler, Winslow. ”How Much Will Each F-35 Cost?” and “Nightmare Budget Scenarios at the Pentagon.” The Defense Monitor (April/May/June 2010).
Will, George. “Health Care Costs Could Ruin U.S.” The Morning New (1-1-09).

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