Monday, May 11, 2009

Let's Get Serious, Part 1


Well Steve, now that you've established your "knuckle dragging" conservative principles, let's see if we can put them to the test.

Its hard to know where to begin, since all you are doing is railing at different spending programs. To a point, I even sympathize with you. Now it may be sufficient to assume that government wastes people's money because Ayn Rand Said So. But before making arbitrary, "faith based" cuts or spending freezes, I think it is best to first determine specifically how society is going to deal with the social or economic consequences. To your credit you say: "I will admit *some* of the entries on that list are arguably “needed”. But is there no room for eliminating THINGS THAT DON’T WORK?..." - And I heartily agree.

Now clearly, programs like Amtrak and the The National Endowment for the Arts are easy targets. On the other hand, Medicaid requires a good deal more consideration. As I am sure you are aware, Medicaid is restricted to children, pregnant women, the elderly and the disabled - who are, or are in families below the poverty level. Some would want to know how many children, pregnant women and the elderly would be turned out of hospitals and nursing homes as a result of cutting this program by 162 billion (81 plus 81 in state matching funds).

My goodness, if we live in a country which accepts the responsibility of building schools, hospitals and power plants in far off Iraq, how could you expect we would be able to stomach the medical emergency which would result from abandoning our most vulnerable citizens right here at home? Personally, I'm not a very big fan of Nietzsche style of social Darwinism. And if society, by the agency of government, accepts the responsibility of caring for the least fit of its constituents, well then so what? If government, by law, forces a man to participate in that responsibility, I would rather consider it an enforcement of generosity rather than of tyranny.

Now if you are serious about small government and lower taxes - and eliminating "THINGS THAT DON'T WORK" - why not start from the top with the most expensive of all government programs, that being National Defense? But before we get started, I can't resist pointing out a little bit of Faux News chicanery which surfaced in your post. From that post:

"To begin, I must apologize… The President *has* called for cuts in spending – and (surprise!) it was Defense Spending! Back in January, 2009, he asked for an 11% cut in Pentagon spending. Given the challenges we are facing in the world from a military point-of-view, that action seems potentially dangerous. But, for the moment – let’s go with those making those cuts (which would total about 55 Billion, I think)"

Huh? The President did no such thing. This "11% cut" baloney originates, as near as I can tell, from a Faux News article from January 30th of this year. From that article:

"The Obama administration has asked the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff to cut the Pentagon's budget request for the fiscal year 2010 by more than 10 percent -- about $55 billion -- a senior U.S. defense official tells FOX News.

Last year's defense budget was $512 billion. Service chiefs and planners will be spending the weekend "burning the midnight oil" looking at ways to cut the budget -- looking especially at weapons programs, the defense official said."

I figure you read that article - or something like it - and assumed it to mean that the Obama administration wanted to cut defense spending by 55 billion, which is precisely what Faux News wanted you to think. But that isn't true. Which means it is false - or, as ill mannered louts like myself would say, a lie.

The truth is, Obama's 2010 budget requested an 8% increase in defense spending, to 527 billion - from last year's budget request of 488 billion (actual direct expenditures later came to around 512 billion). And he didn't make this request because the media "called him out" on it. Obama actually campaigned on a strong defense platform and was good to his word.

So how was Faux News able to manufacture the 11% cut? Read the article (above) again. The way it is worded, you think Obama was planning on cutting defense spending from last year's level of 512 billion, to 457 billion. Even the math on this works out: 55 billion is almost 11% of 512 billion. Now read it again. What the article really says is that Obama was considering cutting the Pentagon's budget request. That request was 584 billion dollars! And that's no surprise either - every year, the Pentagon always requests more funds than it expects to receive. That's just the way the game is played.

Now please - don't come back and tell me your comment was, like the Faux News article, technically correct. By the same logic, you could claim that Obama "cut" all sorts of entitlement spending because his budget asked for less money than their respective departments proposed. Any reasonable person reading the Faux News article would conclude that Obama was going to propose an 11% cut in defense spending for 2010 from the level in 2009 - your comment went a little further by saying he actually made this request - neither of which is or was true. I rest my case on that little tidbit. Now back to your conservative principles...

Obama didn't cut the defense budget because, like most every politician today, he didn't want to get tarred and feathered with the "weak on national security" brush. Oh and by the way, thanks for confirming this with your comment: "But taking a shotgun approach to the Left’s whipping boy – while ignoring the very serious foolishness in other parts of the budgeting process - is insane at best and could place the country as a whole in significant danger." What? Is a person who dares to ask practical questions about defense spending, by definition, treating the DOD as a "whipping boy"? And just out of curiosity - how can you "at best" be "insane" to do this. Is there some more dysfunctional condition of mental incapacity which corresponds to "at worst"?

This attitude has so poisoned the atmosphere that a rational public review of defense spending has become almost impossible in this country. And Steve, if you are the advocate of limited government you claim to be, why shouldn't we have that review?

Eisenhower (one of my favorite presidents - surprise!) said a great many things in his Farewell Address which you and I will both heartily agree with. From that speech:

"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.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together."

Now in the impassioned close of your last post, you propose we start by cutting "tyranny". Well, let's do that by following a Republican president's advice. Let's get started...

Counting the supplemental appropriations for Iraq and Afghanistan, it looks like the 2010 defense budget is going to come in at around 664 billion dollars. But just to be clear - this number does not include veteran's benefits (94 billion), or foreign military aid (9 billion). This brings total defense spending projected for 2010 to around 767 billion dollars.

Now thatsa some spicy meatball, yet even this figure is a little deceptive. Other defense expenditures are buried in spending for other programs, like the AEC (nuclear weapons and research), NASA and Homeland Security, to name just a few. For this reason, some estimates put actual total defense spending for 2010 as high as a trillion dollars. A more conservative figure would be about 830 billion. Is this too much, too little, or as Goldilocks would say - just right? Let's take a look...

First, some perspective. Most estimates put world military spending for 2009 at somewhere between 1.3 and 1.4 trillion dollars. For reference, the same estimates put U.S. military spending at around 45 to 50% of this amount. Thus, a country of 300 million (our's) commits roughly $2500.00 annually per capita to military spending, as opposed to the rest of the world, which spends on average just over a dollar per capita.

But what of our potential conventional adversaries? Well, China, a nation of 1.3 billion, spends about 70 billion, or around 60 cents per capita. The Russian Federation? They spend a whopping 40 billion, or about 282 dollars per capita.

Communist China's entire military budget would not even cover our country's expense for veteran's benefits. China doesn't operate one single aircraft carrier of any kind. The United States operates 11 nuclear powered super carriers, each at an initial cost of around 4.5 billion each . China operates 4 ballistic missile armed submarines with 12 SLBM's each. The United States has 18, each of which is capable of devastating any nation on Earth with 24 submarine launched nuclear missiles.

For a real eye opener, you can go to the DoD's own, 2007 Base Structure Report World and do the math yourself: World wide, the United States military occupies over 5000 bases, including over 800 bases abroad, which in total comprise over 50,000 square miles of land: an area larger than the combined areas of Indiana and Tennessee put together, and including huge bases in Korea, left over from a war which ended 56 years ago, as well as Japan and Germany, left over from a war which ended 64 years ago. Except for a few minor exceptions, no other country on Earth other than the United States has a single military base outside its internationally recognized borders. We have 800.

The United States Military maintains a total of around 1.4 million soldiers, sailors and airmen. By comparison, China has 3.8 million and Russia has 1.5. These numbers are deceptive however, because no other country, especially China and Russia, employs civilians like we do. This includes over 450,000 DoD civil service employees and over 200,000 contractors. Largely, civilian employees and contractors perform services which in most other foreign military establishments are performed by uniformed personnel. Thus, counting all personnel expense, the U.S. Military's annual cost per soldier is a staggering $160,000.00 each. And this doesn't even count equipment.

Everything about the U.S. Military is huge. One more example: The United States Military is far and away the largest owner of golf courses in the world, and operates 224 of them in 11 countries worldwide. Go here for tee times...

Next, in part 2 - can the U.S. Military budget really be cut by 50%? ....

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