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Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain

February 15, 2011

The political debate in Washington this week reminds me of  the Wizard of Oz. On Monday, President Barack Obama unveiled his plan to freeze domestic spending for the next 5 years just as the House began debating legislation that would cut back federal spending by $58 billion just in the next seven months.

Neither of these budget proposals is going to become law, but both allow the authors to argue they are making a real effort to cut federal budget deficits. Meanwhile, behind a curtain off on the sidelines there is a man who is managing to make sure that all of these proposals keep his agency from facing big budget cuts. Who is that man? Here’s a hint: Although the people of Egypt have demonstrated to the world the power of nonviolence, our political leaders still believe the security of this nation depends on spending more on the Pentagon.

The challenge for everyone in this country, including those of us in the FCNL community, is how do we  help the nation see the man behind the curtain who is protecting the Pentagon from budget cuts? We need to build a political coalition to cut at least $1 trillion in Pentagon spending during the next decade. On Tuesday, several members of Congress will offer the first of what will no doubt be many proposals for cuts in Pentagon spending. Will you join us in urging your representative to reduce the Pentagon budget?

The good news is that the man behind the curtain isn’t really hiding.

PBS NewHour host Jim Lehrer managed to push back the Curtain enough last night to give us a glimpse of  the man behind the curtain. Here’s what Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said on Monday night:

We will have modest growth in the defense budget for the next three fiscal years. And, then, the last two years of the five-year period, we will be protected against inflation, but not have real growth. So, this is really all about a reduction in the rate of growth, not actual dollars in defense. I mean, because of inflation, because of very low rates of growth, we will get more money in F.Y. ’13, fiscal year ’13, than we did in ’12 and so on.

In other words, while other federal agencies are looking at cuts of 8, 10, 15% from the levels of last year, the Pentagon gets a pass.

So while President Obama and the House leadership are cutting government programs that provide subsidies to help poor elderly people pay to heat their homes and other programs that make a difference, the Pentagon budget is still going up. I’ll be waiting for my colleague Ruth Flower to provide the definitive word on the details of the budget, but without hearing anything more I can say that increasing what this country spends on the Pentagon while cutting other programs is — in my view — a mistake.

We at FCNL will be working in the next few months to insist that Pentagon spending be cut. The good news is that there is bipartisan support for these cuts and if we work together we can pull back the curtain to expose the people hiding behind the curtain.

The challenge will be to build a movement to get that message to Congress and the president.

3 Comments
  1. Alicia McBride permalink*
    February 15, 2011 12:59 pm

    I thought Ezra Klein’s piece in today’s Washington Post summed this up pretty well

    If you look at how the federal government spends our money, it’s an insurance conglomerate protected by a large standing army…Politicians don’t take the ax to non-defense discretionary spending because they think Teach for America or the food-safety infrastructure – both of which the Republicans are proposing to cut drastically – is more wasteful than the Pentagon or the health-care system. They do it because Teach for America and the food-safety system are less politically powerful than the Pentagon or Medicare beneficiaries.

  2. February 15, 2011 6:38 pm

    These are excerpts from my upcoming book; “Eden Denied: The Corporate Suppression of Technology”.

    Cost of Government Subsidy Programs

    Special interest spending of the federal budget has accelerated in recent years and has created plenty of waste and corruption. Politicians have helped special interests by increasing subsidy programs while also helping themselves. But the main problem is the size of the budget and the fact that politicians on both sides are more than happy to dole it out.
    By 2006, there has been a total 1,696 subsidy programs in the federal budget, which hand out hundreds of billions of dollars to businesses, state government, non-profit groups and individuals. The number of subsidy programs has increased 44% since 1990.
    Federal spending, not including interest, has grown 47% since 2001. A related but unexamined trend is the growth of various federal programs. Federal control over society has grown as politicians have approved bringing these programs under their wing, including many state, local and private institutions.
    The number of federal subsidy programs has grown by 44%, adding 520 programs since 1990. The largest increases have been in the Departments of Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Interior and Justice. The number of farm programs has skyrocketed partly due to the oversized farm bill from the Bush administration in 2002, who also added many homeland Security programs since 9/11, which hasn’t made much economic or security sense.
    The number of programs that have been reduced are in two areas where we need them the most; in education and (alternative) energy. The agencies with the largest number of programs are: Health and Human Services, 334; Agriculture, 237; Education, 146; Interior, 134; H.U.D., 109; Justice, 104; EPA, 94; Homeland Security, 88; Commerce, 86; Transportation, 64; Labor, 48; and Defense, 40.
    Although not the largest subsidy program, the largest subsidy program recently installed is the Medicare prescription drug benefit program with a price tag for 2007 alone is $70 billion. Do drug companies REALLY need to be subsidized, or is this the politicians paying off their corporate friends for campaign contributions and other perks, with our money?
    Federal expenditures (without interest) increased from $1.657 trillion in 2001, to $2.427 trillion in 2006. This amount does not include interest which goes to the private bankers we call the Federal Reserve.
    Government subsidies range as high as 50 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). This measure is not particularly accurate for a couple of reasons. Credit and insurance programs, as well as regulatory loopholes, add to the actual subsidized amount that are not recorded.
    Subsidized programs can also cause social problems. Subsidies can negatively impact human health or the environment, and would include policies that subsidize environmentally-intensive or destructive behavior of companies in the various sectors, such as agriculture, energy, mining, farming, fishing, transport, and construction.

    The 2010 Federal Budget

    While one political party is pitting itself against the other in ideological arguments about how to reduce the budget, there are plenty areas of interest that can be collaborated on. While researching this chapter, and after a brief 2 day perusal of the 2010 Federal budget, I have found that many of the programs from various departments are relics of the past and were initially put in place to help individuals and small businesses get a foothold in the economy of a changing American landscape. While some programs go as far back as 1930, they were sorely needed and functioned as intended, but this landscape continued to change. Many of these programs are now inadequate for the circumstances or do not function as originally intended. Due to the growth of the corporate industries, many of these subsidy programs have been silently transferred to corporations that have supplanted small business and individual entrepreneurs. We have no business contributing to this corporate welfare system and by making it publicly known, should develop a continuing firestorm of antagonism against the corporate controlled government to end these subsidy programs immediately. It is another element of deceit visited on the individual taxpayers of this country, and both parties, with full knowledge, are continuing to cover up this theft of the people of this country.

    Without going into a lot of detail, the following is a summary of the various government departments with the amount each spends on subsidies. Many of the individual programs are outdated and can be eliminated or substantially reduced. The final sum that is paid to the coffers of the corporate conglomerate for this fraud will be immense, no matter who does the calculations. The sums below may be arbitrary and woefully incomplete, but is done to merely show the incompetency and neglect by our elected officials to adequately distribute the wealth of this country.

    Billions in Corporate Subsidy Programs

    1. AGRICULTURE: $142 billion dollars for an array of subsidy programs from agriculture farm programs, $30 billion; food programs, $97.9 billion; Forest Service, $6.9 billion, and others. Subsidies to corporate farmers make up almost the total of the $30 billion of that program which should be eliminated. An overhaul of the food stamp program would show a considerable savings. The Forest Service buys land but also doles an unknown amount of money out to corporate businesses. Recent cuts in personnel have been disastrous to national parks, so money should be transferred from businesses back to personnel. Cost; $1,200 per household. Estimated yearly savings: $60 billion.
    2. COMMERCE: $17 billion for Census Bureau, Patent and Trademark Office, and administers foreign trade policies. This Department also unnecessarily subsidizes businesses activities. Cost per household: $140. Estimated yearly savings: $5 billion.
    3. DEFENSE: As of 2011, $721 billion will be spent which doesn’t include supplemental amounts for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which adds billions more. Americans spend more on defense than all the nations combined. Of all the departments, this one deserves the most scrutiny and could incur the most savings to taxpayers. Employs 2.3 million people with over 800 military bases around the world, again, more than all the nations in the world combined. Estimated yearly savings from stopping the wars, eliminating half of the military bases, and building less machinery and bombs to kill people. And the cost could go down significantly if we put our minds toward building a safer world by diplomacy, instead of destruction. Cost per household; $6,110. Estimated yearly savings: $300 billion (initially).
    4. ENERGY: $38 billion. Oversees nuclear weapons sites, which are an outgrowth of militarism and not included in the Defense Department. Conventional nuclear waste sites from nuclear power plants are also in this category. (This should be added to the cost of doing business which would make nuclear plants cost ineffective.) Energy Dept. is responsible for clean-up. Subsidizes conventional and alternative fuels. The huge oil, gas, ethanol, and coal companies are beneficiaries of many of these subsidies and should be eliminated. Between the years of 2002-2008 the U.S. Government provided $72 billion in fossil fuel subsidies compared to $29 billion for renewable. The money saved should go towards developing clean energy, non-polluting energy, and of course, the wireless free energy technology. Remaining amounts should go towards cleaning up the nuclear mess and the corporations who made the mess in the first place should be held accountable. Funds should be used to develop the Brown’s Gas method of neutralizing radioactive waste. Cost per household: $320. Estimated yearly savings: $20 billion.
    5. EDUCATION: $38 billion. We need an intelligent and informed populace. This is only $127. Per individual in the United States. We can spend more. Cost per household: $320. Estimated yearly savings: None.
    6. HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES: $869 billion. Trillions of dollars are being held hostage by the FED, or the private banking industry. Investing (our) money in business infrastructure would put people to work, lessening the load on welfare programs. Cost per household: $7,400. Estimated yearly savings: $300 billion.
    7. HOUSING & URBAN DEVELOPMENT: $63 billion. Again, much of this money goes to subsidized programs. Cost per household; $530. Estimated yearly savings; 20 billion.
    8. TRANSPORTATION: $91 BILLION. Numerous subsidy programs for corporate welfare. Yet we can hardly improve the gas mileage on autos. Cost per household; $770. Estimated yearly savings: $40 billion.
    9. HOMELAND SECURITY: Estimated cost for 2011; $56.3 billion. Many of these programs are either not working or they are a duplication of energies in other departments. Contractors such as Halliburton and others win no-bid contracts to suck money out of the budget. I would dismantle this department altogether and let other departments take up the slack. Costs per household. $ 470. Estimated yearly savings: $56.3 billion.

    There are, of course, more departments within the US Government, and more savings could be realized by closer scrutiny. But the total savings just for these 9 departments using this less than precise, and in my view, conservative estimate, would amount to more than $800 billion annually. The tax savings per household would be a staggering $17,000 annually. So let’s watch closely and see how congress fumbles its way through this next budget. The republicans will of course attack social security (which pays for itself) and health care, but they won’t touch the sacred military or homeland security budgets. As I will continue to point out; Our elected officials (and the republicans en masse)are giving away the store to the corporations. In return they are assured of plenty of cash for their campaign war chests, and promises of lucrative employment in the corporate hierarchy after they are finished fleecing the government.

    Obama’s Colossal Mistake

    President Obama had campaigned on the promise to take apart the budget line by line, but no one in his administration has tackled it as yet, or at least as far as we know. In retrospect, as far as the recent election is concerned, it was a colossal mistake. It would have been wise for him to have done that budget search to reduce criticism for the new programs that the democrats created. With subsidy programs estimated now at upwards to 2½ trillion dollars, more than half of that amount could be abandoned as old relics which serve only corporate interests. I am amazed that no one in congress can see this glaring opportunity. The money saved would pay for health-care and other programs without increasing the deficit, and more importantly, lower the tax burden. Social Security would also be saved from the dull-bladed republican ax.

  3. February 16, 2011 2:16 am

    We are suffering the structural readjustment that the IMF used to impose on less developed countries, to protect the interests of bond holders. People died from some of the cutbacks in public services. And guess what? Joseph Stiegliz of the World Bank noted that some countries that ignored the IMF advice did as well or better. Sure wish he were advising Obama! Laying off state workers will depress the economy. Some of the cutbacks cost more in the end, in prisons and emergency care.

    There is a book out, “Reinventing Collapse”, by Dmitry Orlov. He says we are making the same mistakes as the Soviets did, putting a larger and larger proportion of the funds into the military, and fewer and fewer into socially useful and profitable uses. Downward spiral.

    I see social unrest in our future, and steered by reactionary forces that blames immigrants, the debt, pointy-headed liberals, anything but the elephants in the room: The cost of the war and empire, and the failure to spend money in a counter-cyclical fashion to give temp jobs or more unemployment to people who will spend, spend, spend.

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