A Sinkhole That Is Pulling Us All Down

Written by: Terry Link

Primary Source : Possibilitator, November 19, 2017

While most local papers probably did not splash the news on their front page or headline their evening news last week, our largely bought Congress just gave the Military-Industrial-Complex (MIC) a sizable raise in thanks for their contributions and lobbying pursuits. President Trump’s initial budget request for the Pentagon was for a sizable $54 billion increase for the military last February. This proposed hike to $668 billion, while sizable by any measuring stick, was not enough for our Congressional members (with rare exception). This past week in their rush to show their true patriotism (cough, cough) they upped the ante by a most generous $32 billion taking it to an even $700 billion.  Of course, they will now all be able to tout how they are strong on defense as they hit the campaign trail. But put this in the perspective of the new budget proposal as the National Priority Project just did and your eyes might water as we invest in permanent war.

Bumper Sticker Bake SaleOf course, when they dream this stuff up they aren’t thinking of budget balancing or deficits or least of all the robbery of our treasury so that we can’t rebuild our infrastructure, care for our veterans or seniors, provide better education and health care and develop our communities with renewable energy and other green technologies that make living in the future better for everyone. Never mind either that those types of investments in real human security produce way more jobs per $1 billion dollar of investment than does equal money spent on the military.

But perhaps this isn’t enough reason to balk at suggestions from MIC lobbyists to throw more money into weapon systems.For any willing to follow any of the many who shine the light on military waste and corruption there is plenty more reason to plug the leaks of our tax dollars into their coffers. William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy and one of those who have toiled for years to follow the money in the MIC showed in a post last week how some of this game is played. In this piece he lays out the influence peddling in the nuclear weapons arena as just one example. To get your blood pressure up a little more read any of his earlier works or reports to see how corrupt the system is.

Center for Internaional Policy logoOr from a slightly different angle take a look at a report last week from the dedicated folks at the Project on Government Oversight. This highlights how even when we empty our purses for the Pentagon,  requesting how those dollars are performing is a bit too much to ask. The fact that the Pentagon has escaped any complete audit for decades might give you a hint. A few of those crazy (yes bipartisan members) have asked that such an audit be required before we hand over any more money.

The almost total capture of the Congress by the myth of more military spending means a more secure world should be easy to show. 16 years of war in Afghanistan and thousand of American lives lost, which are dwarfed on the losses sustained by the Afghan people, have made the country and its people no better off. Trillions of dollars for regime change in Iraq (or was it weapons of mass destruction – seems like we did the mass destruction with our relentless bombing)  in Iraq destroyed the country.

Yet, each budget cycle the relentless, and may I suggest stupid, belief that only adding more force will solve the problem is a pompous American belief. You don’t need to believe me. Read what military people themselves say. Three I look to are Andrew BacevichWilliam Astore, and Danny Sjursen.

Andrew BacevichWilliam AstoreDanny Sjursen

 

 

 

 

 

But let me suggest the sinkhole of military spending is about to take an exponential leap based upon recent actions by the MIC in partnership with their key friends in Congress. A report in last week’s trade publication for all things military, Defense News, gives a glimpse of what’s to come – “Congress to MDA: Prepare for Spaced-Base Missile Attacks” . Yes, that’s right – Congress is calling the shots on this, not the Pentagon. Earlier this year I saw hints of this when I noticed a new piece of legislation co-sponsored by my own Senator Gary Peters. A recent addition to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Peters and his conservative colleagues propose and elaborate on a space based military presence in their S.1196 “Advancing America’s Missile Defense Act of 2017”.

It’s clear to this reader that the authors of this bill drink from the “technological optimism” fountain. Those that drink from this fountain believe that whatever ails us, there is a technological solution. And not only are they sure of its success, they are unencumbered by consideration of any ‘unintended consequences’ or what economists refer to externalities. Neither of course do they consider, to borrow another economics phrase, ‘lost opportunity costs’. There can be little doubt that these grand plans come from the many millions the MIC invests in lobbying. For an excellent consideration of concerns with ‘technological optimism’ read economist Robert Costanza’s provocative look at the future through various lenses in “Four Visions of the Century Ahead: Will it be Stark Trek, Ecotopia, Big Government of Mad Max” written on the eve of this century.

This bill has no price tag of course. But once we are shown that we can’t live without it, to oppose it will mean you are ‘soft on defense’. The F-35 boondoggle, perhaps the Pentagon’s largest cost overrun of all time (and the planes are still not fully operational) has parts of it built in moire than 400 of the 435 Congressional districts. That’s not accidental. If a Congress person argues to cut funding for a failed program, the threat to local jobs has them rethink that originally prudent consideration. The MIC knows this.

That notion is alive as a perfect example in my own beloved state of Michigan. Here all but one member of the Michigan delegation signed on to a letter to the Pentagon to select Ft. Custer, near Battle Creek in southwestern Michigan as home to a new Ground Based Missile Defense System. Battle Creek area like many in Michigan can use a hand, and Ft. Custer is underutilized. But this proposed $3.2+ billion project was not requested by the Pentagon. A Union of Concerned Scientists report highlighted other problems with the addition of a third ground based missile defense site (existing sites are located in Alaska and California). Number one being that the likelihood of it working is questionable. Oh, and two, the Pentagon hasn’t asked for additional sites.

This is a textbook example of how MIC works. First ingredient is fear. You absolutely need to be afraid of some possibility to occur for which the weapon system must be developed and deployed.. Since the West coast already has two of these sites, of questionable effectiveness – to perhaps save us from missiles launched from N. Korea, China, Russia or Pakistan, now we need protection from the Iranians, who no doubt think that if they launch a nuclear missile (they don’t have), they could possible take out all of our missiles scattered around the world, many on moving submarines. Once the fear is established then you need Congress to bring home the bacon, or pork. So the race is on to see who can win the prize.

Now as a Congressional member it may seem like a worthy effort to secure the missile system for your backyard, but a wise soul might entertain some second thoughts. If you really want to bring jobs to your community there are a few problems with this. The major component of the system is, you guessed it, missiles. These are made by our friends at Boeing. So they won’t be built here. Then there is the concern that money invested in military doesn’t produce  near as many jobs for dollar of investment as does education, health care, infrastructure or green technologies. All of which would make the world a bit better off. And all of which become lost opportunity costs if the money is diverted to these weapons systems. But then, there is the fact that the chances of these expensive systems actually working in a real event are slim. Seems like a high-risk, low profit investment.

And we really haven’t even discussed perhaps the biggest elephant in the room – outright military waste. The Pentagon did a study over five years and found $125 Billion in waste. It tried to hide the report but it was just last December by the Washington Post. One can only wonder how much additional waste might be identified with an audit of all of its operations including more than 800 military bases scattered around the world.

I don’t believe in simply criticizing without offering alternatives, or in my parlance “possibilities”. So here is one such possibility. At the end of the Cold War there was an expected ‘peace dividend’ that we never received. There was talk and consideration for a brief time of something called “economic conversion“. The idea was to convert existing facilities to non-military community development opportunities so as not to disrupt the closure of a facility on a local community. The emphasis was also on decent employment for those who would otherwise lose jobs from the closure. Base closure has become almost impossible, largely because of the impact on the community and no civilian  reinvestment in the community. Legislators fight fiercely to protect their community regardless of the overall benefit to the country.

Providing economic conversion funds that are managed locally by communities will relieve the Congress of fighting for programs none of us need and do not make us safer. We should reduce funding for the military and shift it towards conversion that builds stronger communities with emphasis on green technologies, enhanced education and health care, and other local infrastructure improvements. All of which create more jobs. That’s where we’ll find real security. Now we need to elect members of Congress who can look beyond the paid lobbyists and seek out real alternatives to war and militarism. Otherwise we’ll all be sliding into that sinkhole.

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Terry Link
Terry Link is a retired MSU librarian, former founding director of the MSU Office of Campus Sustainability, and co-founder and former chair of the American Library Association’s Task Force on the Environment. He recently served as associate editor for the two-volume encyclopedia, Achieving Sustainability: Visions, Principles, and Practices(Gale/Cengage 2014). He has also served as executive director of a regional food bank and as a county commissioner. Currently he is president of Starting Now, LLC, a sustainability consulting firm, a Senior Fellow for the U.S. Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development and serves on numerous non-profit organization boards.
Terry Link

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