Aletho News

ΑΛΗΘΩΣ

The Pentagon’s Budget Crunch: No Dissenting Views

By Peter Hart | FAIR | February 13, 2013

We’ve noted many times that when it comes to corporate media coverage of the so-called budget “sequester”–the immediate cuts to military and social spending set to hit in a matter of weeks–what matters most is what will happen to the military.  The Washington Post had a whole piece (2/13/13) devoted to yet another round of complaints from military leaders–without a single comment from anyone who might take the view that cutting military spending would not be such a disaster.

“Defense Officials Again Sound Alarm on Sequestration,” said the Post headline, signaling that readers were probably well aware by now that this perspective has been heard loud and clear. Steve Vogel was reporting on a Senate Armed Forces Committee hearing that featured a series of military leaders warning of the disaster to come– “the looming sequestration cuts represent a dire and unpre­cedented threat to the U.S. military.”

The quotes all reiterated that point: “The wolf is at the door,” we may return to “a hollow Army,” military forces would be “degraded and unready,” and on a scale of 1 to 10, “it sure feels like a 10.”

Apparently the Post’s idea of balance is quoting spokespeople from different branches of the military–the Army’s point of view, but also someone from the Marine Corps!

Near the end, Vogel writes:

The military panel met with a sympathetic audience Tuesday, as most members of the Senate panel expressed support for ­protecting the defense budget from automatic, across-the-board cuts.

The senators’ failure to challenge the military line is all the more reason to seek out a different perspective;  say, someone who would point out that military spending skyrocketed since the 9/11 attacks, and the current round of reductions–both as part of the sequester and a separate set of budget cuts–still leave total military spending levels at around 2006 levels.

There are military analysts who could provide a different take on the supposed crisis in military spending. An article like this could use another point of view.

February 13, 2013 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Militarism | , , , | Comments Off on The Pentagon’s Budget Crunch: No Dissenting Views

US will boost funding for military adventures at the expense of public

khan20130103174020793

By Dave Lindorff | Press TV | January 3, 2013

I was asked earlier this week by an reporter for PressTV, English-language television network in Iran, if I could explain why the US political system seemed to be so dysfunctional, with Congress and the President having created an artificial budget crisis 17 months ago, not “solving” it until the last hour before a Congressional deadline would have created financial chaos, and even then not solving the problem and instead just pushing it off for two months until the next crisis moment.

I thought for a moment, trying to come up with a simple way to explain the peculiar politics of a fake democracy where two equally pro-capitalist, pro-imperialist parties vie with genuine bitterness for patronage spoils and legal bribes, all the while ignoring the real wishes and needs of the public, and then it hit me: it is really all about US militarism and the unwillingness of either of the two political parties to admit honestly to American people how much they are being gouged to allow the US government and its corporate owners to continue in their attempt to control the world.

It really is that simple.

The US currently spends almost as much on its military and on paying for current and past wars in terms of interest on war debt and care for wounded and aging soldiers as the entire rest of the world spends on arms and war. Approximately $1.3 trillion gets spent each year in taxpayer’s dollars and in more borrowed funds (50 cents of every federal tax dollar goes to pay for the US military, the intelligence apparatus, veterans’ benefits and other related military costs). It is simply ludicrous, given this situation, to imagine that the US can significantly reduce its budget deficit either by raising taxes or by cutting social spending.

Think of it this way. The US is currently running a $1.3 trillion deficit (that is federal spending less tax revenue). That deficit, significantly one must note, almost exactly matches the amount that is being spent annually on the US military, and on military/intelligence-related activities.

In contrast, the federal government budget in 2012 allocated $870 billion for Medicare, Medicaid and all other programs under the aegis of Department of Health and Human Services. The total Department of State budget is $56 billion, and a portion of that is actually for military activities, such as intelligence operations and protection of embassies and consulates. The Department of Agriculture got $150 billion, and that includes the Food Stamp program. Federal spending on education was just $100 billion a year. Social Security is not part of the tax take or the federal budget, as it is all paid from the Social Security Trust Fund, which in turn has been financed by the dedicated payroll tax paid by working people and employers.

None of these non-military budget spending categories could possibly be cut sufficiently to make any real dent in the nation’s massive deficit, which is running at $1.3 trillion a year and which now totals $16.3 trillion. Certainly cuts of 50% could theoretically be made in health and welfare spending, in education, and in other parts of the budget, but cuts of that scale would cause such mass suffering and chaos that the nation would erupt in open rebellion.

The military budget, on the other hand, could be slashed by 50% and nobody would know the difference! The public in the US barely knows there are wars going on. We read about an occasional soldier killed or plane downed, but there is no day-to-day evidence that the US is a nation perpetually in a state of war. If the military were to end those wars, which are costing over $160 billion a year, pull out of all its far-flung bases, which are costing $250 billion a year, slash its huge Special Operations Command, which now number nearly 70,000 people at a cost of over $10 billion, eliminate or massively reduce its strategic nuclear forces, which costs $60 billion a year, and decommission its fleet of aircraft carrier battle groups, which counting construction and operation costs, plus the cost of the planes and missiles they carry, probably cost in the range of $100 billion a year, the US would be no less safe, but the federal budget deficit could be instantly slashed by close to $600 billion a year. That is the amount that is being cut in the current so-called “Fiscal Cliff” bargain over a period of ten years.

In a genuine democracy, there would be politicians and a political party that would be calling for just such an end to US militarism and the massive spending that is needed to support it. It is something that polls show the majority of Americans want to see happen, even though there are no people in government calling for doing it, and even though the very idea of seriously cutting military spending is blacked out by the US corporate media.

Instead, what the American public gets is a fake debate between Democrats and Republicans, and between the White House and the Republicans in the House of Representatives, all focussed on the rest of the US budget — the non-military part. This “debate” is basically a matter of Republicans saying they want to cut the non-military budget deficit by slashing “social spending” and Democrats saying that they are willing to cut “some” social spending, but they would rather raise taxes.

The thing is, cutting social program spending more than by a small amount would be catastrophic, leading to even more mass teacher layoffs, declining health, hunger, collapsing bridges, and to fewer people being able to afford to go to college. It would lead to even more homeless Americans, including returned veterans. Nobody would accept this. We’re already suffering from such cuts. And as for taxes, in a long-running economic crisis such as we are experiencing, nobody but the rich can afford to pay more, and the rich are given a free hand at escaping taxes through loopholes, offshore banking, and high priced accountants.

The reality is that there really is only one way to attack the nation’s massive and growing budget deficit without destroying both people’s lives and the nation’s economy, and that is to slash military spending and to put an end to the country’s militarism and imperialism.

The US today, as former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel famously said during an early televised Democratic presidential primary debate in 2008, “has no enemies.” It is not threatened by any nation, has a military that is without equal, and has a populace that is armed to the teeth. The United States simply does not need to be spending in excess of a trillion dollars — at least on defense. The country would be just as safe — it would be much safer actually since it wouldn’t be destroying lives around the globe and creating enemies where there were none — if it were a tenth of its current size.

The time for a real debate about cutting the US budget by focusing on military spending has come. It is long overdue. If it isn’t addressed now, it will be eventually, not by choice perhaps, but because the US will simply no longer be able to pay for its addiction to war.

January 3, 2013 Posted by | Economics, Militarism, Progressive Hypocrite, Timeless or most popular | , , | 5 Comments

Top 10 Myths of the Jobs Argument Against Military Cuts

By Miriam Pemberton | IPS | August 14, 2012

Members of Congress, led by the team of Senators McCain, Graham and Ayotte, are touring military contracting plants, bases and defense-dependent communities this summer raising the alarm about “sequestration.” This is the part of the current budget deal that will force $1.2 trillion in across-the-board cuts to federal spending, unless Congress comes up with the same amount of money some other way. Half is supposed to come from the military, half from domestic programs, beginning January 2.

It is true: cutting everything indiscriminately is no way to run a government. But this alarm-raising campaign, buttressed by defense industry spending to buy and promote “independent”studies, and mount lobbying campaigns, is focused not on federal spending in general, but on military cuts in particular. And the centerpiece of their pitch against these cuts is not the standard line that we need to spend ever more on the Pentagon because it needs every penny to keep us safe. Instead the focus is: jobs.

MilitaryWe’re in the process of ending two wars. Since 9-11, spending on the Pentagon has nearly doubled. Clearly we’re due for a military budget downsizing.

And the urgent need for job creation is on everyone’s mind.

That’s why the military contractors and their congressional allies are departing from the usual script to argue for more military spending. Instead of saying, as usual, that the Pentagon needs every penny to keep us safe, they’re saying it needs every penny to preserve jobs.

From the crowd that wants to shrink government because this will create jobs, we are now hearing that we can’t shrink the Pentagon because that would cost jobs.

Here are main points of their case, rebutted one by one.

Myth # 1: The military cuts will cost a million (or, according to the Pentagon, a million and a half) jobs.

You don’t need to get into the details of the many reasons to question these figures to recognize the big flaw: Cutting military spending will only cost jobs if nothing else is done with the money. As economists from the University of Massachusetts have shown, (findings recently corroborated by economists at the University of Vienna [i]) military spending is an exceptionally poor job creator.  Taking those cuts and investing them in other things—clean energy, education, health care, transportation—will all result in a net gain in jobs. Even cutting taxes creates more employment than spending on the military.[ii]

Myth # 2:  More Pentagon spending will create more jobs.

A researcher at the Project on Government Oversight recently exposed the shaky foundation of this argument. He found that since 2006 the largest military contractor, Lockheed Martin, has increased its revenues from military contracts, even as it was cutting jobs.[iii]

Myth # 3: Defense sequestration will gut our military industrial base.

Hardly. The Pentagon cuts contained in the budget deal will bring the military budget, adjusted for inflation, to where it was in 2006. Close to its highest level since World War II. More than the next 17 countries (most of them our allies) put together.[iv]

These cuts are easily doable, with no sacrifice in security, because they are being made to a budget that has nearly doubled since 2001.

Myth # 4:  The public is buying the myth.

President Obama is actually running an ad criticizing his opponent for advocating military spending increases. The clear pattern in recent polling shows that this is a smart move. Majorities agree military spending is too high.[v]

Myth # 5:  The military economy is part of the bedrock of our jobs base.

A researcher at the Project on Defense Alternatives looked at this one. He cited a Congressional Research Service study of aerospace employment. More than 500,000 Americans are employed in aerospace manufacturing. About two-thirds of this is commercial, however. Though the defense industry has worked hard to spread itself around for maximum political effect, more than half (61%) of the nation’s aerospace industry jobs are concentrated in six states.[vi]

By contrast, more than 8 million Americans are employed in education, law enforcement, fire fighting, and other emergency and protective services — working in every community in America.

The effects on the jobs base from cuts on the domestic side of the budget, in other words, will be much larger and more widespread than the effects of military cuts.

Myth # 6:  The military economy is part of the bedrock of our overall economic health.

Alan Greenspan, among many others, has contrasted spending on infrastructure, education, and health care with military spending. The former, he noted, strengthens the productivity—the performance—of the economy as a whole; the latter does not.

Military spending is like a family’s insurance policies, he said. The family should spend enough to insure against disaster, but not a penny more, because that family should put as much as possible toward increasing its well-being through education and other enhancements to its quality of life.

Myth # 7:  Military workers have already taken their share of the hits.

No. The global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas tracks layoffs month by month. For the past three years, while military spending has absorbed more than half of the discretionary budget (the part Congress votes on every year), the private sector contractors it supports have absorbed an average of only 4% of the nation’s job loss. See this spreadsheet (docx).

During those three years, the defense industry laid off a total of 106,000 workers. During the same period, state and local governments laid off more than 500,000 workers.

Myth # 8:   The political campaign against sequestration is consistent with the dominant economic philosophy of the politicians doing the campaigning.

No again. The free marketeers who think shrinking government will create jobs are preaching that the Pentagon budget can’t be shrunk because this will cost jobs.

Congressman Barney Frank has summed up nicely what they are asking us to believe: “that the government does not create jobs when it funds the building of bridges or important research or retrains workers, but when it builds airplanes that are never going to be used in combat, that is of course economic salvation.”

Myth # 9:  The contractors have their workers’ interests at heart.

If they did, they might narrow the gap a bit between the CEO’s and the average worker’s salary.  For Lockheed Martin (CEO: $25 million[vii]; average worker: $58,000[viii]) this gap is more than 400 to 1.

Myth # 10:  Sequestration will force contractors to warn most of their workers of an impending layoff. 

Lockheed is threatening to send these notices a few days before the November election.  The argument for this bit of political blackmail is that since the cuts aren’t specified, all workers are at risk.  While Lockheed claims these notices are required by law, the Labor Department, i.e. the controlling legal authority, says they are not.

In fact, as researchers from Win Without War and the Center for International Policy recently pointed out,[ix] the defense and aerospace industry is sitting on a pile of cash from yet another year of record revenue and profits in 2011.[x] Lockheed alone has $81 billion in backlogged orders, and more coming in.[xi] They have it a lot better than most companies.

And this cushion gives them time to plan for the downsizing, and keep the workers they profess to care about employed, by developing new work in other areas. See Fact Sheet: Replacing Defense Industry Jobs for some ideas on how.

Footnotes

[i] https://www.dropbox.com/s/6s4ix8muj2kmhhx/a%20non%20linear%20defense%20growth%20nexus.pdf

[ii] http://www.peri.umass.edu/236/hash/0b0ce6af7ff999b11745825d80aca0b8/publication/489/

[iii] http://pogoblog.typepad.com/pogo/2012/08/defense-contractor-time-machine-less-spending-more-jobs-analysis-reveals.html#more.

[iv] http://www.usnews.com/debate-club/should-congress-repeal-the-scheduled-cuts-to-defense-spending/7-reasons-to-keep-the-defense-budget-sequestration-cuts

[v] http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/frame_game/2012/08/obama_s_ad_against_military_spending_have_polls_shifted_on_the_defense_budget_.html?utm_medium=referral&utm_source=pulsenews

[vi] “US Aerospace Manufacturing: Industry Overview and Prospects,” Congressional Research Service, December 3, 2009. http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R40967.pdf.

[vii] http://www.businessinsider.com/the-highest-paid-ceos-at-the-largest-us-based-financial-companies-2012-6#2-george-roberts-kkr-49

[viii] http://www.peri.umass.edu/236/hash/0b0ce6af7ff999b11745825d80aca0b8/publication/489/

[ix] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/william-hartung/lockheed-martin_b_1625183.html

[x] http://www.pwc.com/en_US/us/industrial-products/assets/pwc-aerospace-defense-review-and-forecast.pdf

[xi] http://online.wsj.com/article/BT-CO-20120620-709424.html

August 17, 2012 Posted by | Deception, Economics, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Militarism, Timeless or most popular | , , , | Comments Off on Top 10 Myths of the Jobs Argument Against Military Cuts

Disconnect: Public Wants Cuts in Defense Spending; Democratic and Republican Leaders Don’t

By Matt Bewig | AllGov | July 23, 2012

Americans want a Peace Dividend, but their leaders won’t give it to them. Despite multiple polls showing broad support for cuts in U.S. defense spending, a sort of anti-democratic bipartisanship has emerged in Washington, where both Republicans and Democrats oppose such cuts, often vocally.

The most recent polling data on the issue, released last week by the Program for Public Consultation (PPC), in conjunction with the Center for Public Integrity and the Stimson Center, shows that Americans believe defense spending should shrink next year by a fifth to a sixth of its present size. Other polls released during 2012, including surveys by Gallup, Roper, and others, have been similar, although variations have occurred.

The issue has arisen this summer because, under a budget compromise reached last year between Democrats and Republicans, 10% across the board cuts are set to kick in at the beginning of 2013, which would give the Department of Defense a budget next year of $470 billion—an amount it got by on during the George W. Bush administration while the U.S. was fully engaged in both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Nevertheless, both Republicans and some Democrats in Congress oppose these spending reductions, and former Vice President Dick Cheney recently emerged to lobby Congress against them, joined by representatives of Lockheed Martin Corp., who warned of thousands of layoffs if the cuts occur.

Lockheed Martin, the largest arms merchant in the world, is eager to keep filling up from the taxpayers’ money spigot. With annual revenues of about $45 billion, it invests its profits in influence, especially in Washington, where since 1989 Lockheed has donated $23 million to political campaigns, spent $125 million on lobbying; received $20 million in earmarks; received 31 grants and 15,358 contracts from the federal government; and placed 257 of their people on 135 government advisory committees.

The economic impact of defense cuts, especially on jobs, is one of the main reasons otherwise moderate or liberal Democrats oppose defense cuts, reasoning that the recession-ravaged economy cannot sustain a significant spending cut. Yet according to the PPC poll the public, even when provided information about the possible economic consequences of defense spending reductions, still opts for them over cuts to domestic programs like Social Security, health care, or education. Further, people in congressional districts with high defense spending supported defense cuts as readily as those in other districts, although Democrats generally supported larger cuts than Republicans.

“The idea that Americans would want to keep total defense spending up so as to preserve local jobs is not supported by the data,” said PPC director Steven Kull. On average, Democrats supported a Pentagon cut of 22%, while Republicans wanted a cut of 12%.

July 24, 2012 Posted by | Corruption, Economics, Militarism | , , , | 1 Comment

Poll: 76% of Americans favor cutting military spending

Press TV – July 17, 2012

The results of a new survey indicate that most Americans, from both Democratic and Republican congressional districts, support the reduction of the country’s military spending.

The result of the poll, published on July 16, indicated that 76 percent of Americans favored slashing of the defense budget, while only 20 percent approved of increasing the military spending.

The poll was conducted by the Program for Public Consultation (PPC), a newly-established joint program at the University of Maryland, US-based nonprofit investigative journalism organization, the Center for Public Integrity, and the Stimson Center, a nonprofit global security think tank.

According to Steven Kull, the director of the PPC, those respondents, who lived in Republican districts advised a 15-percent reduction in defense spending, while those from Democratic districts proposed an average 28-percent cut.

The poll further showed that the main reason behind the American citizens’ support for the cuts is their strong belief that a large amount of the military budget goes to waste.

The view is held by 80 percent of the participants in Republican districts and 86 percent of the respondents in Democratic districts, the study showed.

The soaring military spending comes despite the Obama administration’s cuts in public spending to compensate for the budget deficit.

The US has reportedly spent over USD one trillion in taxpayer money on its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.

July 17, 2012 Posted by | Economics, Militarism | , , , , | 1 Comment

Decoding the Pentagon’s Budget Numbers

By WINSLOW T. WHEELER | CounterPunch | February 10, 2012

This Monday, February 13, the Pentagon will release the details of its fiscal year 2013 budget.  The press, congressional staff and think tank-types go through an annual routine, scrambling to get out their take on the numbers and some selected issues.  Some of these efforts are quite predictable; this year we will surely hear about –

•   how much growth or cuts are in the budget, depending on which baseline people select;

•   what is the spending for the F-35, or the next generation bomber, or whatever hardware is the focus of attention;

•   how much will US bases in Europe lose to help pay for the “pivot” toward Asia, and

•   what is the administration going to do about sequestration next year?

These and more clever questions are sure to be asked.  But if this year is like the past, the numbers, specifically those in the Pentagon’s press release, will be the wrong ones, and many of the important and fundamental issues will be distorted or ignored.

What follows is an effort to help people through the maze.

This year, the Defense Department has already released the top line numbers for 2013 and the next four years.  They are at http://www.defense.gov/news/Fact_Sheet_Budget.pdf.  But, as usual, they are incomplete-even for knowing the top line.  They are discretionary spending (annual appropriations) and do not include mandatory spending (entitlement programs) in the DOD budget.  The latter amount is only a few billion dollars (peanuts in DOD budget terms), but that only starts the list of missing numbers.

To identify defense spending not in the Pentagon budget you also need to know what the Department of Energy is spending for nuclear weapons, and what other agencies are spending for the National Defense Stockpile, the Selective Service and other activities that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) calls “Defense-related activities” in the “National Defense” budget function.

You probably will not find these in the Pentagon’s press materials because they frequently aren’t there.  You can always find them at the OMB website, which will post its materials at some point Monday morning.  But you’ll need to know just where to find the complete and accurate number display on the defense budget, lest you get lost in the blizzard of tables and tomes that OMB releases on budget day.  At the OMB website, at http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb, hunt down a document in the 2013 budget materials called “Analytical Perspectives;” then go to the “Supplemental Materials” and find a table titled “Policy Budget Authority and Outlays by Function, Category, and Program.” For the past two years, it’s been numbered Table 32-1.  All the National Defense spending categories are there: DOD, DOE/Nuclear, the other cats and dogs, and both discretionary and mandatory spending are listed.  They are right at the top of this long table; “National Defense,” or budget function 050, is the first display.  Get those numbers straight, and for completeness and accuracy you will be head and shoulders above the herd using just the Pentagon press release.  There you can also find what the actual numbers were for 2011 and 2012, which given the chaos in Congress, has not been easy to sort out.

Getting to table 32-1 in Analytical Perspectives can be tricky.  For example for 2012, it is not listed in the Table of Contents to “Analytical Perspectives,” and the “Supplemental Materials” for the entire budget did not show it; you want the “Supplemental Materials” for “Analytical Perspectives.”  Also, in the past, there have been other tables labeled 32-2 or something close, but they show the wrong numbers.  You don’t want them; you want “Policy Budget Authority and Outlays by Function, Category, and Program,” and it should, repeat should, be numbered 32-1, unless OMB has messed around with its formatting for 2013.  Perplexing?  Yup.

Next, you might want to assess national security spending not in the Pentagon or even the “National Defense” budget. In what should be Table 32-1 you can also find the budgets for Veterans Affairs (function 700) for additional costs of past and current wars, and International Affairs (150) for military and economic aid and other State Department programs integral to national security spending.

You can also find some spending for military retirement and DOD health care that is not in the National Defense budget function.  They, however, are hard to tease out. You can find them if you word search in the pdf version of Table 32-1, especially in functions 550, 600 and 900 for “military retirement” and “DOD Retiree Health Care.” But they are a thicket of positive and negative numbers and tricky to net out to an accurate number.  Perhaps it is best to simply be aware that they are there and that they can amount to low double digits of billions of dollars.  Ask your favorite budget geek what they net out to.  If he or she can’t sort it out in a day or two, get a new budget geek.

You still do not have all the defense related numbers.  You don’t have the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Go back to the “Supplemental Materials” for “Analytical Perspectives.”  There find “Appendix — Homeland Security Mission Funding by Agency and Budget Account” or “Table 33-1.”  (At least that’s what they were labeled for 2012.) They should list the budget for DHS which is embedded inside the various budget functions in Table 32-1.  But be careful; make sure you are not double counting any homeland security funding that shows up in both the National Defense budget function or 150 or 700 and the DHS budget.  There should be tables that help you avoid the double counting.

Don’t look for any intelligence community spending; it’s $80 billion, give or take, but it’s not shown; it’s classified and embedded inside the 050 numbers.  Don’t try to add anything for intel; if you do, you will be double counting about $80 billion.

Perhaps you will decide to include the defense share of the national debt, specifically the share of the interest payment in 2013 for the debt that can be attributed to DOD, or National Defense, or all of the above for 2013.  Find the total interest payment in function 900 and make your calculation.

Add it all up and you will get about $1 trillion, very probably more; if you don’t get that high, you are missing something-something big.

Next you may want to make comparisons to show where defense spending is headed.  Some will compare this defense budget to previous plans, showing a gigantic reduction.  Some will compare it to last year’s spending, showing a tiny reduction-basically a flat budget.  One comparison is mostly phony; one is not.  (Hint: Last year I planned to win the lottery.  I didn’t; ergo, my flat salary this year means a gigantic pay cut.)

If you want to go viral on phoniness, compare contemporary spending to historic defense spending using percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as the measure.  That way you can pretend the big recent increases are big decreases, and more huge increases should be oh-so affordable.  Avoid this gimmick, especially those who use it. Apply that thought also to people who use the same gimmick for non-defense spending.

Finished with the numbers?  Why not address some of the long term, fundamentally important (and disturbing) trends in US defense spending?  Two chapters in the anthology “The Pentagon Labyrinth: 10 Short Essays to Help You Through It” address such things.  One is by Chuck Spinney, and I think it’s an important exposition.  Find it at http://pogoarchives.org/labyrinth/01-spinney-w-covers.pdf.  The other expands on DOD’s habitual misdirection on numbers and briefly addresses the shrinking and aging that are continuing in our combat forces and their equipment.  I wrote that one; find it at http://pogoarchives.org/labyrinth/08-wheeler-w-covers.pdf.  I am sending you this piece with enough time before budget day on Monday to read those short essays and to conjure up your own take on what they mean for questions you should be asking Monday.

I hope this helps.  Have fun on budget day.

Winslow T. Wheeler is director of the Straus Military Reform Project and editor of  The Pentagon Labyrinth: 10 Short Essays to Help You Through It.

February 13, 2012 Posted by | Deception, Militarism | , | Comments Off on Decoding the Pentagon’s Budget Numbers

Pentagon Budgets and Fuzzy Math

By Peter Hart – FAIR – 01/27/2012

By the tone of  some of the media coverage, you might have thought Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced a plan to slash military spending yesterday.  On the front page of USA Today (1/27/12), under the headline “Panetta Backs Far Leaner Military,” readers learn in the first paragraph:

The Pentagon’s new plan to cut Defense spending means a reduction of 100,000 troops, the retiring of ships and planes and closing of bases–moves that the Defense secretary said would not compromise security.

The piece quotes critics of the cuts like Sen. Joe Lieberman and an analyst at the right-wing American Enterprise Institute. And the article talks about the most commonly cited figure of $487 billion in cuts over 10 years. As economist Dean Baker writes about such coverage–“Military Budget Cuts: Denominator Please”–there is no way people can assess the significance of what sounds like a lot of money if they don’t know how much the Pentagon is planning to spend over the same 1o-year period–roughly $8 trillion.

The PBS NewsHour did little to clarify the issue. The broadcast began with Jeffrey Brown announcing, “The Pentagon today outlined almost half a trillion dollars in budget cuts that would shrink the size of the U.S. military by trimming ground forces, retiring ships and planes, and delaying some new weapons.” PBS aired clips from Republicans Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich denouncing the budget cuts, and then interviewed a Pentagon official.

Even coverage of the Pentagon’s new “austerity” that managed to include some helpful context didn’t make things very clear. “The Pentagon took the first major step toward shrinking its budget after a decade of war” was how a New York Times story by Elisabeth Bumiller (1/27/12) begins. In the fourth paragraph, readers found this:

Even though the Defense Department has been called on to find $259 billion in cuts in the next five years–and $487 billion over the decade–its base budget (not counting the costs of Afghanistan or other wars) will rise to $567 billion by 2017. But when adjusted for inflation, the increases are small enough that they will amount to a slight cut of 1.6 percent of the Pentagon’s base budget over the next five years.

So the “first major step” in cutting the military budget… isn’t really a cut?

A Washington Post piece by Craig Whitlock (1/27/12) had a more accurate lead–“The Pentagon budget will shrink slightly next year”– but later tries to make a 1 percent cut sound more significant: “While the difference may sound small, it represents a new era of austerity for the Defense Department.”

To make matters even more confusing, the Post points out later that

Although the defense budget will decline next year, to $525 billion from this year’s $531 billion, under Obama’s current projections it will inch upward in constant dollars between 1 percent and 2 percent annually thereafter.

Kudos to Nancy Yousef of McClatchy for writing a piece (1/26/12) that took a different tack. Under the headline “Defense Budget Plan Doesn’t Cut as Deeply as Pentagon Says,” Yousef led with this:

Pentagon officials on Thursday announced the outlines of what they called a pared-down defense budget, but their request would increase baseline spending beyond the projected end of the war in Afghanistan, even as they plan to reduce ground forces.

To Yousef, the Pentagon was ” employing a definition of the term ‘reduction’ that may be popular in Washington but is unconventional anywhere else.”

And activist/writer David Swanson pointed out that the first question at Panetta’s briefing got right at this question of whether the cuts are really cut. From the transcript:

Mr. Secretary, you talked a little bit on this, but over the next 10 years, do you see any other year than this year where the actual spending will go down from year to year? And just to the American public more broadly, how do you sort of explain what appears to be contradictory, as you talk about, repeatedly, this $500 billion in cuts in a Defense Department budget that is actually going to be increasing over time?

Panetta’s answer:

Yeah, I think the simplest way to say this is that under the budget that was submitted in the past, we had a projected growth level for the Defense budget. And that growth would’ve provided for almost $500 billion in growth. And we had obviously dedicated that to a number of plans and projects that we would have. That’s gotta be cut, and that’s a real cut in terms of what our projected growth would be.

See the new release from the Institute for Public Accuracy for more of the context largely missing from the Pentagon budget coverage.

January 27, 2012 Posted by | Deception, Militarism | , , | 1 Comment