The August 10 New York Times described the obscene amount of U.S. taxpayer dollars going to support our Military Industrial Complex. The media rarely discusses the nation’s bloated defense budget, leading tens of millions of Americans to believe that there is “no money” for schools, public transit, affordable housing, arts and culture or the entire laundry list of unmet, people-serving needs. Efforts to trim even the most pointless defense allocations are vigorously resisted, with self-proclaimed “deficit hawks” leading the fight. These fake fiscal conservatives supported Bush’s massive deficit-creating tax cuts and back every foolish military dollar – yet the media promotes their fiscal sobriety when they oppose more spending to educate, house, feed or otherwise take care of people.

I was struck by Defense Secretary Gates’ insistence this week that his military reform proposal was not an effort to cut the defense budget, but instead a strategy for it to increase. It was a reminder of the bipartisan political consensus supporting massive and strategically unjustified military spending, which is immune from deficit reduction concerns or conservatives traditional opposition to government jobs programs.

Street Lighting vs. 15,000 Troops in Okinawa

Consider the following recent news report:

Faced with the steepest and longest decline in tax collections on record, state, county and city governments have resorted to major life-changing cuts in core services like education, transportation and public safety that, not too long ago, would have been unthinkable. And services in many areas could get worse before they get better.

This is what happens to a nation that puts expanding its military industrial complex over human needs.

Barney Frank recently said that he didn’t think Americans would accept continuing to fund such boondoggles as 15,000 troops in Okinawa (to defend Japan from what, exactly?) while public services were slashed. But that’s exactly what is happening, and only House progressives (nowhere near a House majority) are even raising a peep.

Bipartisan Hypocrisy

The Republican Party and Democratic so-called “deficit hawks” attack any proposed defense cuts as “job killers.” Yet this alliance refused to save the jobs of hundreds of thousands of teachers, and have backed tax and spending policies that have cost the nation millions of jobs in recent years.

Unfortunately, media coverage of Pentagon bloat is scarce. It pales in comparison to widespread stories of alleged public employee pension abuse – the amply covered scandal in Bell, California involves less money than the Pentagon wastes each one millionth of a second – and accounts of scandals in other domestic programs whose penny ante abuses collectively come nowhere near the hundreds of billions in military waste.

The media virtually never confronts self-proclaimed deficit hawks about their hypocritical backing for Pentagon bloat. Better to keep up the fiction that these folks really care about taxpayer dollars, and should be trusted when they claim that there is “no money” for domestic needs.

President Obama is backing a 1% increase in defense spending rather than insist on overall cuts. This bipartisan acceptance of military bloat recalls President Eisenhower’s farewell speech in 1961 upon leaving office:

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence – economic, political, even spiritual – is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.


Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron and author of The Activist’s Handbook.