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Tomgram: Mandy Smithberger, Ending the Pentagon's Pandemic of Spending

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Suckers? Give me a break. It's perfectly clear that Donald Trump considers just about every last one of us a sucker (including the members of his base) and that's not news at all. It's only news when he calls the military dead of past wars "suckers" and "losers," as reported by Jeffrey Goldberg in an Atlantic article that knocked his presidential campaign off the rails (however briefly), caused him to attack anyone seconding such claims, even demanding the firing of Jennifer Griffin, a reporter at his own personal news service, Fox News, for confirming much of Goldberg's story. (Many others reporters there would, in fact, defend her.)

And yes, when it came to the U.S. military, he was already assaulting its generals -- admittedly, not exactly the most successful crew in this century -- even in his 2016 election campaign. "I think under the leadership of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the generals have been reduced to rubble" was the way he put it at the time. He used bogus bone spurs to avoid service himself in the Vietnam War years (and anyone who didn't, of course, was a sucker or a loser), and he called for ending America's endless wars (though he hasn't). Under the circumstances and with positive attitudes toward him evidently dropping in the military itself, you might think that he was, in every sense, an anti-military figure of the first order and that would be one of your bigger mistakes.

His military record, in fact, is rather similar to his record when it comes to the Washington swamp and the wealthy (and the drastic inequality they've induced in these years): he ran against them all and won that base of his thanks to just such opposition. He came into office still badmouthing the unequal, unfair mess of a world ("American carnage") they had created and then, with every move that mattered, made this country's billionaires even richer and helped ensure that the Pentagon, as well as the rest of the national security state, would remain by a country mile the best-funded part of the government. And just in case you missed it, he even bragged about that in his recent White House speech accepting the Republican nomination for president, swearing that, almost $2.5 trillion later, his "rebuilding" of the Pentagon would never end.

As TomDispatch regular and Pentagon expert Mandy Smithberger suggests today, in our pandemic moment, when it comes to the Pentagon, this is only going to get worse. So, remind me, just who are the losers and suckers in this all-American world of ours? Not billionaire Donald Trump or the U.S. military, that's for sure -- unless, as Smithberger makes clear, in the years to come Americans do something to begin to defund the Pentagon. Tom

National (In)Security and the Pentagon Budget
A Post-Coronavirus Economy Can No Longer Afford to Put the Pentagon First
By Mandy Smithberger

The inadequate response of both the federal and state governments to the Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on the United States, creating what could only be called a national security crisis. More than 190,000 Americans are dead, approximately half of them people of color. Yelp data show that more than 132,000 businesses have already closed and census data suggest that, thanks to lost wages, nearly 17% of Americans with children can't afford to feed them enough food.

In this same period, a number of defense contractors have been doing remarkably well. Lockheed Martin, the Pentagon's top contractor, reported that, compared to 2019, its earnings are actually up -- yes, up! The company's success led the financial magazine Barron's to call it a "pandemic star." And those profits are only likely to grow, given the Trump administration's recent approval of a 10-year deal to sell $62 billion worth of its F-16s to Taiwan.

And Lockheed Martin is far from the only such outfit. As Defense One reported, "It's becoming abundantly clear that companies with heavy defense business have been able to endure the coronavirus pandemic much better" than, for instance, commercial aerospace firms. And so it was that, while other companies have cut or suspended dividends during the pandemic, Lockheed Martin, which had already raised its gift to shareholders in late 2019, continued to pay the same amount this March and September.

The spread of Covid-19 has created one of the most significant crises of our time, but it's also provided far greater clarity about just how misplaced the priorities of Washington have been all these years. Americans -- the Trump administration aside -- are now trying to deal with the health impacts of the pandemic and struggling to figure out how to safely reopen schools. It's none too soon, however, to start thinking as well about how best to rebuild a devastated economy and create new jobs to replace those that have been lost. In that process, one thing is crucial: resisting the calls -- and count on it, they will come -- to "rebuild" the war economy that had betrayed us long before the coronavirus arrived on our shores, leaving this country in a distinctly weakened state.

A New Budget Debate?

For the past decade, the budget "debate" in this country has largely been shaped by the Budget Control Act, which tried to save $1 trillion over those 10 years by placing nominal caps on both defense and non-defense spending. Notably, however, it exempted "war spending" that falls in what the Pentagon calls its Overseas Contingency Operations account. While some argued that caps on both defense and non-defense spending created parity, the Pentagon's ability to use and abuse that war slush fund (on top of an already gigantic base budget) meant that the Pentagon still disproportionately benefited by tens of billions of dollars annually.

In 2021, the Budget Control Act expires. That means a Biden or Trump administration will have an enormous opportunity to significantly reshape federal spending. At the very least, that Pentagon off-budget slush fund, which creates waste and undermines planning, could be ended. In addition, there's more reason than ever for Congress to reassess its philosophy of this century that the desires of the Pentagon invariably come first, particularly given the need to address the significant economic damage the still-raging pandemic is creating.

In rebuilding the economy, however, count on one thing: defense contractors will put every last lobbying dollar into an attempt to convince the public, Congress, and whatever administration is in power that their sector is the country's major engine for creating jobs. As TomDispatch regular Bill Hartung has shown, however, a close examination of such job-creation claims rarely stands up to serious scrutiny. For example, the number of jobs created by recent arms sales to Saudi Arabia are now expected to be less than a tenth of those President Trump initially bragged about. As Hartung noted in February, that's "well under .03% of the U.S. labor force of more than 164 million people."

As it turns out, creating jobs through Pentagon spending is among the least effective ways to rebuild the economy. As experts at the University of Massachusetts and Brown University have both discovered, this country would get significantly more job-creation bang for the bucks it spends on weaponry by investing in rebuilding domestic infrastructure, combating climate change, or creating more alternative energy. And such investments would pay additional dividends by making our communities and small businesses stronger and more resilient.

Defense Contractors Campaigning for Bailouts

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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