Returning Now To Our Regular Program, “The Fiscal Cliff”

Photo by John Hayden

It’s 10 days since I last posted on Work In Progress. The Earth continues to spin. Gen. John Petraeus and Paula Broadwell, et al., were pushed from the front pages by a deadly rocket battle between Israelis in Israel and Palestinians in Gaza.

Full-out war appeared imminent, according to cable TV news. But a ceasefire was called in time for Thanksgiving.  (Appropriate that it’s an American holiday. We have so much to be thankful for, compared to the rest of the world. And we take it all for granted.)

The waning of the Middle East crisis made room for a seasonal story: Walmart employees threatening to disrupt kickoff of the Christmas shopping frenzy. (Starting time for the frenzy advanced from Black Friday to Thanksgiving Day, henceforth to be known as Black Thursday.)

The Walmart protests fizzled, naturally. They had as much impact as Y2K. Walmart workers stand exposed as powerless against the energy of American consumerism.

Now we return to the dreaded “Fiscal Cliff,” at least until the next distraction. Be not faint-hearted! In the grand scheme of things, the fiscal cliff is a bump in the road.

Most importantly, the fiscal cliff provides a unique opportunity to put the brakes on the runaway military-industrial defense complex.  Seize the day!   

(If you have trouble reading the fine print on the charts, click the “view” pulldown menu at the top of your  computer window, and increase the size.)

It’s a national secret in plain sight. Since 9-11-01, U.S. defense spending has more than doubled.  Against all logic, many Americans have been misinformed into believing that we need to spend even more on defense!

Not to belabor the obvious, all that increased spending came on the watches of two presidents, George Bush and Barack Obama. (For our previous post on the Fiscal Cliff, click here.)

Most of the additional spending paid for wars in two little, far-away countries, Iraq and Afghanistan. American service men and women were asked to sacrifice their lives and their limbs far from home. But American taxpayers were not asked to sacrifice.

While a few Americans were fighting and dying, most Americans received tax cuts! Is there any fairness or common sense here?

Because American taxpayers were excused from paying for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. government — the same government that ran budget surpluses under President Bill Clinton — ran up enormous war debts under Bush and Obama. It all started in a fervor of panic and patriotism after 9-11-01.

Now, in 2012, U.S. citizens are asked to pay off the war debt by sacrificing Social Security and Medicare. Social Security and Medicare, unlike the wars, have been paid for by money that Americans earned with the sweat of their work. American citizens own Social Security and Medicare. We’ve paid for them. Social Security and Medicare belong to us.

The alternative is a small increase on tax rates for the wealthy, reform of tax loopholes, and cutbacks in the defense budget. Or we could just go over the cliff, which would probably accomplish most of the above.

Would it hurt us to go back to defense spending levels we had under Bill Clinton and George Bush, Sr.?

The above chart doesn’t give the full picture. It doesn’t include “mandatory” spending in many areas, including Social Security and Medicare. But the picture it does give is instructive. The military budget takes up well over half of the U.S. discretionary budget for 2013.

And the money we spend on defense goes where? Some of it goes to defense industries in the U.S. Much of it is spread around the globe, maintaining our military bases on every continent.

We should note that a good portion of the defense budget is for personnel. It goes to military families for salaries, housing, and benefits. However, much of the money paid to military personnel and families is spent in the countries where they are stationed. Ironically, when soldiers return from war, not much is spent on them here in the U.S.

A bank robber was once asked why he robbed banks. His famous answer:

“Because that’s where the money is.”

Profound. The defense budget is “where the money is.”

— John Hayden

2 thoughts on “Returning Now To Our Regular Program, “The Fiscal Cliff”

  1. The defense budget, to use a horrible pun, is really indefensible. You are absolutely right in pointing out that Americans, with the exception of those abroad and their families, have not been made to feel the real pain of war – not in our actions or our wallets. This is the how the draft would put things in proper, more thoughtful perspective. No one wants it, but maybe we’d think a lot harder before supporting a war.


    • Yes, I think I’d support a military draft or national service draft of some kind out of fairness. I suspect our stays in Iraq and Afghanistan would have been briefer if we’d been drafting soldiers, instead of using reservists. War is the most serious of business, and we no longer recognize it as such.


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