Saturday, September 5, 2015

Fixing the US Defense Budget

Housebreaking the Department of Defense

The Pentagon as the "Perpetual Puppy"
Chewing up shoes for all eternity...every shoe, every day.

Puppy eats elephant. No, really. [image]
Many of the visitors to this blog have at some point been the "proud parents" of a new puppy. What almost inevitably following such a wonderful addition to home life was a tumultuous period of all sorts of "puppy inflicted" damages. However, all through this series of relatively brief ordeals there remained the comforting thought that just as soon as this puppy had time to resolve its teething and pooping problems, it would emerge as a wonderfully well mannered, housebroken adult.

Not so with the now eternally reoccurring, perpetually expanding Pentagon budget. Perhaps even worse, we find ourselves strangely complacent each time an even larger annual bite is taken from the General Fund. With respect to the Pentagon we have -- long ago -- simply become quite "used to the abuse." The analogy to the puppy contains an important point: "we don't simply get used to what the puppy is doing."

Visitors to this blog [and to many other blogs] have already heard plenty about the bloated "National
Notice the effect of the
 2009 stimulus.
" budget which emerges from our Congress year after year. There is no shortage of complaints. Most of them are usually met with vacuous explanations about the "cruelty of fate" which compel us to spend money almost without limit.

Add to this the fact that the tax revenue being directed to military spending also is coming from a new source -- middle class tax payers. The tax burden which supports all these increasing defense budgets now comes from individual tax payers. Previously, corporate taxes provided a much larger portion.

"Darn. This Defense Department budget IS a lot, but there is absolutely nothing else we can possibly do. The rest of the world hates us -- just listen to your radio or television."

Don't forget why the General Fund has made
money so tight.
At any awkward moment when these gaseous justifications falter, the American corporate media immediately rushes forth with another wave of panic and fear mongering. If there is no "clear and present danger" lurking somewhere around the globe, the "news editors" masquerading as "patriots of the Fourth Estate" will desperately snatch practically anything, embellish it robustly and pump it out to the information challenged tax payers to prepare them to eagerly make another "love offering" to the already over stuffed Pentagon and its "hangers-on."

Of course there's no telling where the "final destination" of such "love offerings" might be -- some of them manifest in quite visible results such as F35 fighters, new war ships and the like, but plenty of other "love offerings" seem to simply evaporate somewhere in the bowels of the Pentagon never to be seen again.

MeanMesa is certain that by this time the blog's valued visitors are already cringing at the prospect of a thousand pages of charts and graphs about the Pentagon budget through the years, military budgets of other countries and so on. However tempting that might be, straight out complaints and outrage about the bloated defense budget are not the point to be made in this post. [We'll settle for just a couple more right here to illustrate the size of the military budget. It doesn't take many too completely express this point.]
Reduction in US Defense Spending Following Recent Conflicts [Recent History of US Defense Budget]
Check the labels. These are "Discretionary Spending"
Spending less on the military = spending more on the rest. [image source]
[Note the anticipated impact of the sequester on military spending. This was the result of tea party demand to cut all federal spending other than entitlements required by law to be sustained at legislated levels. Even at the reduced rate which resulted from the sequester, the US military expenditures are so large that they still continue to completely overshadow all the international "competition."]

Now then, any visitor here old enough to tie his shoes knows quite well what should be expected once any talk whatsoever emerges about cutting defense spending. We have all seen such efforts in the past, and we have watched the painful denouement of such forward thinking inspirations as they were patiently devoured by gangs of Congressmen and lobbyists. The "head on" approach has never really produced much in terms of favorable results in recent decades.

MeanMesa suspects that a central obstacles encountered by any plan to "move" the status quo are, at least, two fold:

1. We, as taxpayers, are accustomed to the defense budget gobbling up everything it can swallow -- which is pretty much everything.
2. Just a little reflection on our own behavior during this same time reveals that we can be frightened back into reverting to these crippling, historic rates of defense spending growth. In fact, we have been, curiously, "re-frightened" every time any sort of populous movement begins to politically threaten that "level of growth."

Nonetheless, at the time of this posting in September of 2015 we see the results of cutting most of the other "normal" government expenditures to the level of a bone chilling austerity. There is little to be gained from posting a litany of everything that is falling apart because the US government has essentially abandoned the reasonable needs of every citizen who doesn't employ a lobbyist.

We are all driving on roads and bridges which are falling apart. We are sending our children to public schools which are falling apart. Even with the ACA the nation's medical status remains precarious. The economy has been transformed into a third world chaos where most Americans are living on credit. Most young college graduates are carrying a five or six digit student loan debt. The list can be extended almost ad infinitum.

The MeanMesa Plan - NOT a "Head On" Approach
Well, at least not an exclusively, traditional "head on" approach.

Before anything else, an important disclaimer must be added at this point. The plan IS NOT entirely MeanMesa's, at all. A caller to the Thom Hartmann Show -- one of MeanMesa's favorites -- proposed this last week. [The Thom Hartmann Show, KABQ 1350 AM, Albuquerque, 10 AM to 1 PM, weekdays]

This great caller offered the proposal that the US defense budget should be "politically" set as a percentage of the over all federal expenditures for each year. She went on to suggest that the budget levels of other important federal expenditures be "tied" to the defense budget in the same way.

Terms are important. By the use of the term, "politically," MeanMesa means that the percentage of the federal budget allocated for the military would become a highly "political" factor in the policy and corresponding campaign platform of candidates for the White House and the Congress. Further, by use of the term, "important," MeanMesa means "important" to tax paying voters living in the country -- roads, bridges, school, health care and so on. Of course national security is important to American voters, but the division of discretionary resources [below] pretty well maps out how important we consider these various matters to be. The huge amount of resources dedicated to military spending reflects the "decision" we've made as we compared the importance of military spending to the other categories shown on the chart.

When we "face facts," the question being posed here is whether or not this giant military budget is THAT important? Remember, we are not comparing this military budget to no military budget at all. We are comparing the size of the respective budgets to determine if this distribution of resources is really consistent with what we want and need.

Now it's time to insert a nice collection of charts and graphs. [Blogger happens to be in a failure state right now, so MeanMesa's apology for the awkward formatting.]

The President's "2015 Discretionary Spending" Budget
Check the labels. These are considered discretionary. [NationalPriorities]
This chart [above] shows the size of the military budget compared to all the other allocated budgets to handle the "other important" matters to be paid for by the government.

The Proposed 2016 Budget includes actual cost figures.
It is interesting that all these smaller "Discretionary Spending" items turn out to be precisely the budget areas which draw the most criticism and complaints from Americans dissatisfied with roads, bridges, health care, Social Security and the rest. The task at hand is to decrease the size of the military allocation and redistribute the savings from the reduction to the other categories.

But how could anything like this ever survive its perilous journey through the Congress?

That Congress has already very clearly demonstrated its complete lack of interest is directing tax money to issues which actually matter to tax payers. That Congress is working for someone else, and the identity of that "someone else" is no longer much of a mystery.

Even the designation of certain expenditures as "Discretionary" represents an out dated paradigm waiting to be fractured. For example, who considers domestic infrastructure maintenance to be a "discretionary" budget item? Certainly not the Americans paying to repair their cars after hitting a bottomless pot hole.

The United States has a long list of "things" it must do, but -- as is seen in these pie charts -- all it seems to actually be doing is expanding a military capability which is already too big to even be useful and...caring for a particularly vicious crop of extremely well connected, extremely ill tempered, utterly rapacious billionaires. [Billionaires who also happen to own every word not uttered by the entire domestic media, lock, stock and barrel.]

Dividing the pot, but not the paradigm.
The entire $1.5 Tn "Discretionary Spending" [shown above] becomes the "orange area" of the total spending proposal [shown to the right]. Note that National Debt interest represents roughly one fifth as much as all discretionary spending in the budget proposal.

The fascinating division of the "pie" explains that legislatively mandated expenditures are items such as Social Security and Medicare payments while the division [and size] of "everything else" is decided by the Congress. This is a problem, and it is explicitly the "problem paradigm" mentioned before.

Since practically the first days of the nation the Congress has enjoyed "full access" to all these "discretionary parts," and for decades these parts have represented the "private Congressional looting grounds" from which literally dynastic wealth has been relentlessly extracted from the tax payers year after year. Although the paradigm is, indeed, historic, the rate of extraction has never been as high as it is currently running -- not even in the era of the Robber Barons.
Discretionary, Interest and Mandatory budgeting
 sections detailed and  shown all together.


When we look at the entire federal budget as proposed by the President, it is tempting to complain that Barack Obama has accomplished very little in his efforts to change the dimensions of the "juggernaut" is many significant ways, but this would actually be rather unfair. In reality this President has managed to make a few very positive "minor adjustments," but the sheer budgetary inertia of the monster -- coupled with ravaging greed of a Congress being paid very well to maintain it in this state -- has made making more substantial changes almost impossible.

So, what's left for tax payers? How can anyone possibly "bend this curve?"

It turns out that we have to solve this the same way that we solve other things -- by making it politically necessary to solve it. There are no lobbyists working to restore the things that American voters have lost to the looting frenzy of the oligarchs' Congressional austerity monkeys, so we will have to accomplish this the old fashioned way -- at the polls.

Smashing the "Money Always Wins" Political Paradigm
Tricking voters becomes even cheaper when
 it no longer requires the purchase of bread and circuses.

Sadly, perhaps, the first thing we think of when we contemplate the "winning at the polls" idea is that the folks who are now consistently winning at the polls are, in fact, winning primarily because they have so much money to "invest" in it. All of that "investment" money only works for them because it is able to "deliver" election victories. This is another paradigm which must be completely smashed if the democracy is to be restored.

Happily, it can be.

The necessity of actually winning an election represents the last bastion of the democracy that hasn't been undercut by all the money and media of those fantasizing the final, complete usurpation of the democracy. Now it's high time to show the billionaires that "two can play that game."

[Sanders has officially shown us that this is how we can meet the challenge facing us. Now, we have to breathe this approach into every Congressional District and Senatorial campaign in the country by 2016.]

The primary reason that billionaire money can be so effective has everything to do with what is being demanded by voters as they consider which candidates to support. They are, very clearly, not demanding nearly enough. MeanMesa has listened to the endless blather offered up by the current crop of well financed GOP candidates. It is almost entirely gaseous rhetoric about "liberty," "security," "greatness," "prosperity" and so on, and it -- emphasizing the notable exception of what Sanders is doing -- is devoid of policy proposals or even flimsy political platforms which provide even a hint of "what might happen" if this or that candidate is actually elected.

How can the demand for more concrete policy proposals be returned to these political campaigns? How can voters demand that politicians "get specific" about their intentions if elected? 

The MeanMesa "Pie Chart" Solution
Redirecting campaigns to the politics of democracy

Because the outcome of electing a specific candidate to run the government -- whether in the White House or the Congress -- is determined largely by the spending decisions which will be made once in office, spending decisions must become a central element in the campaigns. However, spending decisions can become incredibly complex -- so complicated that campaign promises about them [if there even any made during a campaign] -- are intentionally avoided when election politics is "running hot."

Yet, it is precisely these spending decisions which have the most influence on the voters as an elected official's term wears on after the election. Why not make these decisions the "pivotal axis" of the campaign?

Contemporary political "debates" are hardly debates at all. Most of the time they become "cameo appearance opportunities" annotated by laughably vacuous discussions of, you guessed it, "liberty," "security," "greatness," "prosperity" and so on. But, if voters demanded that political campaigns be centered on proposals concerning discretionary spending, those "debates" might suddenly grow teeth.

MeanMesa would be far more interested in two competing candidates "debating" about whether military spending should be 55% or 35% and whether education spending should be 10% or 5%. The voter watching such discourse being conducted between opposing candidates would have actual specifics about exactly what could be expected in the months and years following the election.
What political campaigns might look like
 if they were based on spending policy.

Further, if the winning candidate once installed in office, proposed budget decisions significantly contradicting these campaign pledges, a serious explanation might be required.  That's right -- an elected candidate would become accountable once in office.

It would be nice if the opposing candidates could agree on how the "four portions" would be defined, but even if they couldn't, the mere fact that this candidate selected these portions and the other candidate selected those portions would reveal more than a hundred hours of the silly "debates" ever could. However, this post is about military spending.

In the first chart [at the beginning of this post] we can see the effect of the 2009 stimulus on the crippled economy as it emerged from the Bush II Autocracy's looting binge. The diversion of billions of dollars from the currently bloated military budget -- for example, a diversion into education and infrastructure as suggested in the graph [directly above] -- would stimulate the US economy beyond the wildest dreams of most Americans while investing tax money into areas which would actually improve the standard of living -- not to mention the creation of millions of jobs not in the military industries.

For heaven's sake! Peace might break out!

[MeanMesa wishes to compliment the source providing all the research for these charts. You can visit the sites here: 

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