Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Military's War Chest

The United States is on track to spend more than $600 billion on the military this year—more, that is, than was spent at the height of President Ronald Reagan’s Cold War military buildup, and more than the military budgets of at least the next seven nations in the world combined.  And keep in mind that that’s just a partial total.  As an analysis by the Straus Military Reform Project has shown, if we count related activities like homeland security, veterans’ affairs, nuclear warhead production at the Department of Energy, military aid to other countries, and interest on the military-related national debt, that figure reaches $1 trillion.

In recent years, keeping tabs on how the Pentagon spends its money has grown even more difficult thanks to the “war budget”—known as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account. The use of the OCO as a slush fund began in earnest in the early years of the Bush administration’s war in Iraq and has continued ever since.  It’s hard to put a precise number on how much money has been slipped into that budget or taken out of it to pay for pet projects of every sort in the last decade-plus, but the total is certainly more than $100 billion and counting. The House Armed Services Committee chair, Texas Republican Congressman Mac Thornberry, proposed taking $18 billion from the war budget to cover items like an extra 11 F-35 combat aircraft and 14 F-18 fighter-bombers that the Pentagon hadn’t even asked for.  This was great news for Lockheed Martin for its troubled F-35 program, already slated to be the most expensive weapons system in history, and for Boeing, which has been lobbying aggressively to keep its F-18 production line open in the face of declining orders from the Navy. 

The war budget is just part of the problem.  The Pentagon has so many budding programs tucked away in so many different lines of its budget that even its officials have a hard time keeping track of what’s actually going on, much less the rest of us, who are essentially in the dark.  The Security Assistance Monitor, tries to track such programs and has identified more than two dozen of them worth about $10 billion annually.  Combine them with similar programs tucked away in the State Department’s budget, and the U.S. is contributing to the arming and training of security forces in 180 countries.  (To put that in perspective, there are at most 196 countries on the planet.)  Who could possibly keep track of such programs, no less what effect they may be having on the countries and militaries involved, or on the complex politics of, and conflicts in, various regions? The Pentagon is the only government agency providing foreign assistance that does not even have to submit to Congress an annual budget justification for what it does.  As a result the public does not know how much the DoD is spending in a given country and why.

The Secrecy Project at the Federation of American Scientists recently put the size of the intelligence portion of the national security state’s “black budget“—its secret spending on everything from spying to developing high-tech weaponry—at more than $70 billion. That figure includes a wide variety of activities carried out through the CIA, the NSA, and other members of the intelligence community, but $16.8 billion of it was requested directly by the Department of Defense.  And that $70 billion is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to secret spending programs, since billions more in secret financing for the development and acquisition of new weapons systems has been squirreled away elsewhere.

The largest recent project to have its total costs shrouded in secrecy is the B-21, the Air Force’s new nuclear bomber. Air Force officials claim that they need to keep the cost secret lest potential enemies “connect the dots” and learn too much about the plane’s key characteristics. Ronald Walden of the Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office claimed that there was “a strong correlation between the cost of an air vehicle and its total weight.” This, he suggested, might make it “decisively easier” for potential opponents to guess its range and payload. The price of a system tells you just that—its price—and nothing more.  Otherwise, with its classic cost overruns, the F-35 would have a range beyond compare, possibly to Mars and back. The real rationale for keeping the full cost estimate for the B-21 secret is to avoid bad publicity.  Budget analyst Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies estimates it could cost more than $100 billion to develop and purchase.

The bomber, of course, is just part of a planned $1 trillion splurge over the next three decades on a new generation of bombers, ballistic missile submarines, and ground-based nuclear missiles, part of an updating of the vast U.S. nuclear arsenal.  And that one trillion dollars is simply an initial estimate before the usual Pentagon cost overruns even begin to come into play. The Pentagon has come up with yet another budgetary gimmick.  It’s known as the “National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund,” or as Taxpayers for Common Sense more accurately labels it, “the Navy’s submarine slush fund.” The ideais to set up a separate slush fund outside the Navy’s normal shipbuilding budget. That’s where the money for the new ballistic missile submarine program, currently slated to cost $139 billion for 12 subs, would go. Not to be outmaneuvered, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James has now asked Congress to set up a “strategic deterrence fund” to pay for its two newest nuclear delivery vehicles, the planned bomber and a long-range nuclear-armed ballistic missile.

The Pentagon’s budget labyrinth wants its complicated budget practices to leave Congress, any administration, and the public too confused and exhausted to actually hold it accountable for how tax dollars are being spent.

Every day we read one article or another that tells us that our entire political system is rotten and corrupt to its core. Nevertheless, the majority of the herd keep it going because they are told that they have no other choice than to vote for one of two of the more effective evils. And that is precisely what they keep doing. Be it endless war for profit, the looting of social services, the subliminal brainwashing tells you to keep giving your power away to the Bushes, Trumps, Clintons, et al, and your life is diminished, your rights taken away, your earning power decreased, and your hours increased at work for less pay. Ever consider saying 'no' to the establishment?



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