Military Spending Talking Points

The following is an email I published to the Peace Action network on November 4, 2009. The points made in that email are still valid today. This post represents a break from making the case from denying President Barack Obama a second term to a focus on restructuring the Democratic Party to adopt a whole new set of policies to change the destructive course of the nation.

The high cost of military spending is usually illustrated by reference to what the rest of the world spends, to its inefficiency as a job creator or to the cost of individual weapons systems. There is a much more complete case to be made of the deleterious effects of military spending and I hope the following information will help others to make that more comprehensive case.

I. Overall Economic Performance

The Council on Economic Priorities has found through its studies that the more a country spends on the military as a part of the economy, the slower the economic growth, the higher the unemployment rate and the slower the productivity growth. (1)

The Council’s studies are buttressed by a noted study conducted by three economists, which concluded that the alleged Reagan-Bush “boom” was really a bust. The study compared four post-World War II periods: 1948-1966, 1966-1973, 1973-1979 and 1979-1989 on three measures of economic performence: Real GNP Growth, Investment Pace and Productivity Growth. The period 1979-1989 performed well below the first two periods on all three measures and below 1973-1979 on Investment Pace. The latter period bettered 1973-1979 by only one tenth of a percent on Real GNP Growth and by four tenths of a percent on Productivity Growth. (2) The study further found that Productivity Growth in the 1979-1989 period was well behind that of leading competing economies. (3)

Economic performance in the 1973-1979 period was severely battered by inflation, due to the sharp cut in production by oil-producing nations; moreover, a central characteristic of the 1979-1989 period was the huge Reagan military buildup.

In regard to job creation, the Council of Economic Priorities’ studies show that for every $1 billion of governmental expenditure, civilian service jobs (like teaching) employ far more people that does spending $1 billion on weapons production. (4) For example, an unemployment research group concluded in the early 1980s that $1 billion in expenditures would create an average of 24,000 jobs in nuclear weapons production and an average of 38,000 jobs in civilian industries. (5)

II. Effect on Rate of Inflation

Military spending tends to drive up the rate of inflation because: 1) it uses up capital, raw materials and research talent with little or no positive economic benefit; 2) it doesn’t make things that consumers can buy; and 3) it uses up huge chunks of the federal budget, meaning there is little money for the kinds of investments that make the economy more efficient. (6) Furthermore, cost-plus contractors are guaranteed a profit over their costs, so there is no incentive to hold down costs.  

III. High Rates of Military Spending Drown Out Civilian Research

As a direct consequence of the big surge in military spending in the Reagan 80s, the U.S. spent the highest percentage of its resources on militarily-related research on a comparative-nation basis. (7) In the mid-1980s, 70 percent of the U.S. Research and Development budget was devoted to militarily-related activity and even as late as FY 1993, 57 percent was in the military research category. (8) One Reagan-initiated program alone, the University Research Initiative, doled out $85-100 million to universities for militarily significant basic research. (9)

IV, The Military Is a Voracious Consumer of a Highly Skilled Workforce

As of 1992, and according to the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, it was estimated that 342,000, or 18 percent of the nation’s 1.86 million engineers were engaged in military work, including 73,000 employed directly by the Department of Defense. (10) Moreover, based on 1986 National Science Foundation survey data, 69 percent of aeronautical and astronautical engineers, 50 percent of oceanographers, 34 percent of physicists, and 32 percent of electrical and electronic engineers worked in military jobs. (11) Former German Chancellor Willy Brandt estimated that out of every 1,000 scientists all over the world, 200 were occupied with research into arms technology. (12)

V. The U.S. Military Is a Major Polluter

In an early 1990s study, the Pentagon’s Defense Environmental Restroration Program found 17,482 toxic hot spots at domestic military institutions. (13) The Worldwatch Institute reported in a 1991 strudy that the world’s militaries accounted for six to ten percent of global air pollution, (14) while a much more recent finding is that the U.S. military is the biggest polluter in the world, generating an estimated 750,000 tons of toxic waste every year. (15) According to the media group, Project Censored, the Pentagon has 10,000 employees who do nothing but handle the legal technicalities of military pollution. (16)

That the Department of Defense and the Environmental Protection Agency are not pulling in the same direction is exemplified by the fact that Donald Rumsfeld, while secretary of defense, requested and was granted more exemptions from environmental protection legislation than was the case with any other secretary of defense after the EPA was established.

VI. The  Military Is a Major Contributor to U.S. Oil Dependency

Early in the 21st century, the U.S. military was consuming 330,000 barrels of oil a day. (17) According to a former secretary of the air force, Thomas C. Reed, the eight-engine B-52, — some of which are still flying today — uses up 15 tons of fuel in one hour at full-throttle flight. (18) At a “fully burdened” cost of $400 a gallon, 15 tons of fuel would cost about $1,440,000.

Besides high oil consumption, the U.S. military was consuming more aluminum, copper, nickel and platinum in the early 1990s than was much of the Third World. (19) We are, in effect, shortening the useful life of the earth’s finite resources through our reliance on a huge military establishment — a resource-use crime of unimaginable proportions. This crime encompasses our arms export program, which leads to other nations devoting a larger share of their resources for weapons of war.

VII. Rank Inflation Contributes to High Military Cost

The trend in the U.S.military has been to increase the ratio of middle-rank and flag-rank officers to enlisted men and women. In 1985, the armed forces had about one-sixth (2.2 million) the 1945 number of enlisted men and women but employed one-half the number of generals and admirals, and nearly the same number of field-grade officers than it had 40 years before, during a world war. (20)

VIII. “Fully Burdened” Fuel Cost Highlights Overseas Bases Cost

Finally,  the startling revelation by the Pentagon that the “fully burdened” cost of a gallon of gasoline used by the U.S. military in Afghanistan is $400 has brought glaringly to home the high cost of supplying and maintaining our vast overseas military base complex.

(1) Robert DeGrasse, Paul Murphy and William Ragan, The Cost and Consequences of Reagan’s Military Buildup (New York Council on Economic Priorities, 1982).

(2) Samuel Bowles, David M. Gordon and Thomas Weisskopf, “The ‘Boom’ a Bust,” The Nation, February 10, 1992.

(3) Ibid.

(4) DeGrasse

(5) Marion Anderson, Jeb Brugmann and George Ericheck, Destructive Investment, Nuclear Weapons and Economic Decline (Lansing, Michigan: Economic Research Associates, 1983).

(6) David Walsh, “Economic Impact of Buildup Argued, ” Boston Globe, January 5, 1982.

(7) DeGrasse.

(8) Gary Chapman and Joel Yudkin, Briefing Book on the Military-Industrial Complex (Washington, DC: Council for a Livable World Education Fund, December 1992).

(9) Ibid.

(10) Ibid.

(11) Ibid.

(12) Willy Brandt, Arms and Hunger ( New York: Pantheon Books, 1986).

(13) John W. Miller, “The Militaries’ War on  the  Environment,” The Nonviolent Activist, November-December 1992.

(14) Ibid.

(15) Graydon Carter, What We’ve Lost (New York: Straus and Giroux, 2004).

(16) Ibid.

(17) Ibid.

(18) Thomas C. Reed, At the Abyss (New York: Ballentine Books, 2004).

(19) Miller.

(20) Rich West, “Military Mania,” SANE World, Summer 1987.


The State Government’s Assault on Planned Parenthood and Reproductive Rights

Politicians in Indiana, Wisconsin, Kansas and North Carolina all voted to stop funds from going to Planned Parenthood. Indiana’s governor Mitch Daniels was even willing to reject Medicaid funding for all the state’s low-income residents than allow Planned Parenthood to receive a dime.

Arizona forbids trained and qualified nurse practitioners and physician assistants to provide abortions. Pharmacists can refuse to fill birth control prescriptions. South Dakota requires “counseling” and a 72-hour wait before an abortion can be performed. New Hampshire refused to renew a 40-year contract with Planned Parenthood. Virginia tried to shut down Planned Parenthood with non-medical concerns like size of hallways and janitors’ closets. Virginia nor any other state doesn’t stipulate hall and storage sizes for oral surgery or cosmetic surgery.

The infection of efforts to harass and confound Planned Parenthood has spread from state governments to the national level, as exemplified by the request of Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL) for 13 years of financial records from Planned Parenthood.

Ardent opponents of Planned Parenthood may be playing with fire in their ignorance of the widespread use of Planned Parenthood services: the roughly 800 clinics serve about three million people every year. Planned Parenthood officially claims more than six million activists, donors and supporters nationwide, who can be contacted for political work.* This large network of supporters may become larger, because the Affordable Care Act allows Planned Parenthood to become a Medicaid provider, which will likely increase its reach by several million.

The family reproductive planning and other services Planned Parenthood performs have increased in recent years because anti-choice folks have shut down many of the stand-alone clinics that used to provide such services. The cruel joke is on the anti-choice forces, because when women stop regular checkups, they also are likely to stop birth control. Thus, closing down Planned Parenthood would likely increase, not decrease, the number of abortions. Kistina Page has written a very provocative book titled “How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America,” in which she makes the basic point that the anti-choice movement has actually greatly increased the number of abortions performed in the United States. Her book will be the subject of a future blog.

*Elizabeth Mitchell, “The Genius of Cecile Richards,” The Nation, March 26, 2012.

Cultural, Economic and Workforce Structures Help Reinforce U.S. Militarism

The following essay of mine was published in on February 27, 2010.

With total US military spending now approaching 3/4 of a trillion dollars per year — about as much as the rest of the world’s countries combined — cutting military spending is becoming an issue of concern for the peace movement and beyond, especially as the president has proposed a three-year freeze on domestic spending. As much as one might want to reduce military and defense-related spending, there are powerful cultural and other influences embedded in our society which make it difficult to shift spending to underfunded domestic needs.

High among these influences is the symbiotic interconnection between sports and the armed forces. Many major sports events start with such military displays as a precision flyover of jet fighters, the unfurling of a huge US flag by members of the military services, the flag presentation by a military service color guard, or the singing of the National Anthem by individual or collective service members.

Besides these heavy overlays of military pageantry, sports announcers lavish praise on “Our brave men and women fighting for our freedom overseas.” Never do we hear in what ways our freedoms as citizens are being enhanced by our involvement in military conflicts, the rationales for which have become increasingly strained.

It is not true that wars never enhance freedom, as, for example, millions were released from the oppressive control of their conquerors and/or occupiers when the Nazi and the Japanese nations were defeated. Yet, due to intimidation preventing criticism of a nation’s war policies and the erosion of civil liberties premised on wartime exigencies, war negatively impacts the freedoms of the warring nation’s citizens.

A second powerful influence is the rally around the commander-in-chief motif, a correlative to “Don’t change horses in the middle of the stream.” This mode of thinking makes it difficult to divest ourselves of leaders who have embroiled the nation in military quagmires through devious, deeply flawed reasoning or even criminal means.

Another variety of groupthink which has become increasingly prevalent in recent history is to label anyone as a hero who serves in a combat zone. I know that when I was in the US Army during the Korean War, such uncritical hero worship was far from the norm. Enlistees were treated with withering scorn by the far more numerous draftees and even the career military questioned the intelligence of those who voluntarily put their lives in  imminent risk.

It has also seemingly become mandatory for anyone interviewing a service member to thank him or her for service to the nation. This cowed deference stems from charges that returning Vietnam War veterans were badly treated by the media and some members of the public. It is a misfortune that military service has become designated as the only way one can serve the nation.

Surprisingly enough, even our National Anthem fosters the martial spirit among US citizens. In the months after 9/11, whenever the National Anthem was played at sporting event, the line which drew the most boisterous response was the one about bombs bursting in air.

The militarist conditioning of our young is being fostered through penetration of military recruitment — often insidiously hidden — into our schools; the interactive video game fairs featuring images of military offensive power; and the displays of military hardware, employing spit-polished military personnel helping youngsters climb into tanks and warplane cockpits.

Shifting the focus from the cultural underpinnings of a militarist society, the structure of the US workforce is skewed toward the protectors versus the producers when the US is measured against the other industrialized nations. In a study published in 1992*, three economists coined the term “garrison economy” — also described as the cost of keeping people down. The garrison economy encompasses “guard labor” and “threat labor.” Guard labor includes the full range of enforcement activities necessary to maintain the peace: workplace supervisors, police, judicial and corrections employees, private security personnel, the armed forces, civilian defense employees, and producers of military and domestic security equipment. Threat labor consists of those who make credible the peril of job dismissal: the unemployed, “discouraged workers” and prisoners.

There were two key findings in the study: 1) the US ratio of one guard or threat laborer for every 2.3 civilian employees not engaged in maintaining order was the highest among the industrialized nations — it also correlated with the slower rate of economic growth in the US; and 2) there was an inverse relationship between management size and productivity. Thus, the US, with 12.1 percent managers, had a productivity rate of 0.7 percent, while Japan, with 3.7 percent managers, had a productivity rate of 3.0 percent. Finland, with only 3.0 percent in  managerial ranks, had a productivity growth rate of 3.6 percent.

A key question is: Is a study done nearly two decades ago still valid today? Given the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the subsequent explosive growth of security companies, the ongoing increase in military personnel and mercenary forces, the increase in the US prison population to the highest level ever, and the extremely high levels of discouraged and unemployed workers in today’s workforce, all suggest that the ratio of guard and threat workers to civilian workers not engaged in maintaining order may be even higher than it was in the early 1990s.

In today’s deeply troubled economy, job creation is perhaps the most urgent priority in the nation. A recent study by University of Massachusetts” economists Robert Pollin and Heidi Garrett-Peltier** found, similar to previous research over the last few decades, that public investment in military spending is about the worst way to create jobs, especially good-paying ones, and to stimulate the economy. Instead, investment in clean energy, health care and education would all create more jobs and stimulate more economic activity.

In conclusion, deeply embedded cultural factors make it difficult to significantly reduce the size of the US military establishment. Also, a workforce structure premised so strongly on security fears results in more and more resources being expended to protect less and less. The time is ripe for a mass movement to challenge these factors and overwhelm militarism with peace and priorities that reflect a new understanding of human security, which would make us safer and strengthen the economy for everyone.


*Samuel Bowles, David M. Gordon and Thomas Weisskopf, “The Boom a Bust,” The Nation, February 10, 1992.

**”The U.S. Employment Effects of Military and Domestic Spending Priorities: An Updated Analysis,” Pollin and Garrett-Peltier, commissioned by the Institute for Policy Studies and Women’s Action for New Directions, 2009.

War on Drones: An Aerial Outside Agitator Coming to Your Neighborhood

I have previously blogged on the dangers of U.S. drone attacks but the recent writings of Jeff Morley, who writes for Salon Magazine, have given updated context in terms of frequency of drone attacks; number of victims; the fear and intimidation they cause; and their use in the United States.

Morley’s estimate that Barack Obama has launched three to four times the number of drone attacks, over a comparative period, as George W. Bush, is in line with other informed estimates.His figure of 174 children killed by drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004 comports with the figure cited by the U.K.-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which puts the total killed by U.S. drones in Pakistan  in a range of 2,500 to 3,000, with the civilian toll ranging from 479 to 831. Morley identifies Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia as the four countries where drone strikes are occurring today.

According to polls Morley has seen, opposition to U.S. drones is almost universal in Pakistan, fueled not just by the strikes themselves, but by the fact that in some areas of Pakistan, seeing a drone in the sky is an almost daily occurrence. It has got to be frightening to realize that anyone of those drones could be targeting you, your family or friends and associates.

The accuracy of identifying legitimate targets is certainly a problem. During the war in Iraq, the International Red Cross found that most of the thousands of Iraqis being held in captivity by U.S. forces had not been charged with a crime. The fact that U.S,. intelligence did not have good information on suspected insurgents meant that family members and close friends were held, because they might have evidence or clues to suspects’ locations.

During the earlier stages of the war in Afghanistan, many were detained on the basis that they had the same or a similar name of a suspected insurgent/terrorist. Others were turned in by someone who had a score to settle or to get rid of an inconvenient rival.

Jeff Morley raises the issue that as the terrorist leaders are being killed off, the bar might be lowered to attack lower echelon terrorists. It wasn’t long ago that reports surfaced of an argument raging in the Obama administration of targeting the “soldiers” who carry out terrorist plots. Thus, those seen unloading what look like explosives could be hit, along with those frequenting a terrorist hangout.

Besides the real possibility that U.S. drone attacks might be creating more terrorists than are being eliminated, Americans should be concerned about aerial outside agitators coming into their communities. Miami-Dade County in Florida and a county in Texas already have certification to use drones in law enforcement activities and ten more counties have applied for certification. We have already given up much of our privacy to government surveillance.


A Contentless Speech and a Highly Questionable Agreement on Afghanistan

President Obama made his speech from Afghanistan this past week with the podium parked in front of two U.S. armored vehicles, sporting U.S. flags. The display of armored might is hardly comforting to those many viewers who don’t associate almost continuous wars with a nation intent on peacekeeping.

The Obama speech on the future conduct of the war in Afghanistan was very short on content and far more optimistic than was the last six-month report by the Pentagon. Whereas Obama saw significant progress in reducing Taliban strength, the Pentagon report revealed a mixed picture of some reduction in violence and some territorial gains over the Taliban; however, the Taliban were described as resilient and capable of making gains in the spring and summer fighting season. The U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, has been described as wanting to slow the pace of U.S. troop withdrawals, especially in areas where gains have been made against the Taliban.

There was no mention in the Obama speech of how many U.S. troops will be left in Afghanistan after the end of 2014, the date by which the United States will allegedly no longer have a combat role in Afghanistan. The speech was also devoid of any mention of how much the U.S. involvement with assisting the Afghans in the future will cost.

The rationale for the Obama speech was to announce the completion of a  10-year agreement, which would be the template for U.S. interaction with Afghanistan through 2114. Although in the agreement, there is a provision that the agreement will meet U.S. legal requirements, there has been no announced intent to submit the agreement to the U.S. Congress for consideration as a treaty. Yet the agreement contains many of the elements that would be found in a treaty. When George W. Bush completed an agreement with Iraq, setting forth as a prime component that U.S. troops — at least the great bulk of them — would leave Iraq no later than December 31, 2011, some Democratic legislators in Congress demanded the agreement be submitted for consideration as a treaty. Although it is still early for reaction to the agreement to form, no members of Congress have yet requested submission as a treaty.

Reflections on the Killing of Osama bin Laden

It is a little over a year since Osama bin Laden was killed by Navy Seals, so this is an appropriate time to reflect on the action and the reactions to it. I continue to think that the killing was a major mistake in two dimensions as to the way that the attack went down: 1) there was no need to kill him; and 2) the Pakistani government should have been notified in advance that we knew where he was and then a joint operation arranged. Based on the Navy Seals’ account, they killed an unarmed bin Laden, who was in their control, and he could have been captured and hustled into the waiting helicopter. Instead, we as a nation, revealed to the world that we would kill a wanted person in cold blood, as it were, and expose our constitutional right of due process before the taking of liberty or life to be a hollow pretense. Trying bin Laden in a court of law would likely have been a very complicated affair, but core values can’t be jettisoned just because they are hard to keep.

The chief argument against including the Pakistanis is that they may have spirited bin Laden away before the operation took place. This was a possibility that skilled diplomacy could have lessened in advance. As it was, the attack created a huge rift with our supposed ally, which still lingers today.

It is not good when you profess to believe in a nation’s sovereignty and then violate it to the extent that you send a military force deep into that nation’s territory.

Some of Obama’s supporters have focused their fire on the Obama critics who accuse him of politically exploiting the killing of Osama bin Laden by celebrating it in a re-election campaign ad. These supporters accuse the critics of hypocrisy for previously labeling Obama as soft on terrorism and now not wanting to give Obama any credit for getting rid of Osama. Obama critics should feel free to make the case that President Obama is unduly taking political advantage of the killing; however, those who had previously labeled Obama soft and weak on terrorism should also acknowledge that their prior assessment had been faulty. Yet I also fault the Obama supporters who focus exclusively on the hypocritical opponents of Obama and who don’t express some introspective uneasiness about the killing of a wanted man clearly in the control of his attackers. Also, that uneasiness or concern should extend into our military subversion of another nation’s sovereignty, when defense of it is supposed to be another one of this nation’s values.



Campaign Finance Reform Deferred

A year ago, President Barack Obama was considering an executive order to require corporations with government contracts to disclose political spending. Campaign finance reformers were all aglow, because it looked like a defacto Disclose Act, which would require disclosure of political spending of over $1,000.

In February 2012, when Obama’s re-election campaign announced that it would suppoort Priorities USA and other Democratic Super PACs, it pledged to work on campaign finance in the meantime. Obama supports House and Senate versions of the Disclose Act, which have no chance of passing.

Obama could, instead, try to force nominees onto the Federal Election Commission or call for the Securities Exchange Commission to issue rules requiring political spending disclosure. He is not likely to do either.