Miller: Dumb dollars for the war machine
As a parent of three boys, I’m accustomed to deflecting repeated budget requests for items that fall under the “cool but silly, unnecessary or impractical” category. Over the years, those have included everything from a $300 robotic Star Wars Lego set to, more recently, a $37 Walmart machete spotted in the camping aisle. And while we parents occasionally buckle and bestow upon the beatifically beaming child something we know will soon find its place among the dust bunnies beneath the bed, we also believe modeling fiscal restraint will serve our kids in good stead as they reach adulthood. After all, we reason, even someone like Mitt Romney has to exercise fiscal prudence once in a while (Mitt owns six homes; he could certainly afford eight or 10).
If, however, none of those lessons are ever learned by our boys, they could do worse in indulging their spendthrift fantasies than to join the military or Congress and get on some kind of Pentagon appropriations committee. Because even in these belt-tightening times, when roads are crumbling, teachers and cops are being laid off and public university funding is being savaged, the U.S. military is still having a little ol’ field day.
There are two truly excellent examples of this sure to make the blood boil in even the most hawkish American. One is the $37 billion Littoral Combat Ship the Navy has on order, and the other is the (deep breaths) $1.5 trillion-and-counting F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in the shopping cart for the Navy, Air Force and Marines. As pointed out in an article in Foreign Policy, that’s more than the GDP of Spain.
Reading about these two fancy new war machines, I was unsurprised to learn they’re packed full of (faulty) technological wonders, way over budget and far behind schedule. Despite the costs sunk into both already ($8 billion for the boat, $400 billion and counting for the plane), no one’s actually seen one of these things put into service due to all kinds of problems too numerous to mention here (but easily searchable online). In other words, it’s something like a $408 billion kit car dad’s been building in the garage that mom may not live long enough to ever get a ride in.
By comparison, Planned Parenthood, the federal funding of which is always a political hot potato, received $487 million in tax dollars last year. Another conservative bogieman, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, received $422 million. Together the two budgets might buy you an engine or a rudder or two on these two military boondoggles.
Now, I don’t dispute the fact that the military occasionally needs new stuff, although I’ll never stop arguing the military has a great deal more than it needs and gets way more from Congress than it should. Numbers vary, but the basic annual cost of running America’s war machine is about $1 trillion – much of that funding antiquated, Cold War holdovers like 11 aircraft carrier groups roaming the seas, or 70-plus submarines doing whatever it is they do. Yes, the push is on to get the military to spend less, but the efforts seem analogous to the 400-pound guy ordering a Diet Coke to go with his triple baconator and mega fries.
So who’s to blame for all this? We all are. As a country, we sat by and allowed an outsized focus on military spending and global projection of power take over our country. It’s been said we put on a uniform for World War II and simply never took it off, and the evidence of that is clear. Enormous companies, from GE and Lockheed-Martin to Raytheon and General Dynamics, live to serve the Pentagon, and while they do indeed provide many jobs, the reality is that these corporations have a truly outsized paw in the taxpayer’s pocket, and they work hard to keep it there.
Just a few thoughts to keep you asking questions next time some politician tells us we can’t afford a few million bucks to fix a road or a school. And even as the so-called Budget Control Act looks to trim $600 billion from the Pentagon over the next decade, Republicans who crafted the cuts as part of a deficit reduction deal last year are feverishly trying to renege.
After all, when it comes to chopping benefits for seniors, women, children or other people in desperate need of aid, it’s all on the table. But downsizing the war machine? No, we can’t have that.
Summit Daily editor Alex Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (970) 668-4618.
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