Sunday, January 30, 2011

Footnote to the preceding

There is another, often related area, besides serving economic power where the demand is to justify the "don't" rather than the "do." That is serving military power. Since the former provides for the latter which is used to protect the former, a nice and historically long-standing symbiotic relationship, the same flipping of the burden of proof from the claimant to the questioner is not surprising.

Amtrak and other mass transit projects are not, of course, the only targets of the Republican Study Commission I mentioned a couple of posts earlier. Their list is a veritable plethora of traditional right-wing targets, most of which have the common feature of being something that government does well or where it provides a genuine service or in some other way makes an actual contribution, which is the one thing the wingers can never allow or admit to.

However, and again this will come as no surprise, there is one area where they had a strict hands-off policy, one area exempt from cuts or even any consideration of them: anything to do with war. Past, present, or future. Military spending is off the table. Veteran's benefits are off the table. "Security" is off the table.

Because we can always find money for war. Always. According to the Congressional Research Service, the Iraq war - Oh yeah, remember that? - is now costing about $5.4 billion every month. The Afghanistan war is costing $5.7 billion every month. In July, there was a "supplemental request" (of which I thought we were told there would be no more) of $34.4 billion, mostly for the cost of the escalation in Afghanistan.

In FY2010 $171 billion was spent on our wars and that same amount is desired for FY2011. Together, those two wars so far have cost about $1.1 trillion, says the CRS.

That same figure, by coincidence, represents something else: a minimum figure for military-related spending proposed for FY2011. A trillion dollars a year. Even the White House's own figures (see Table 3.2 at this link to the OMB or go directly to the file), which conceal some of the costs now being incurred due to past military spending, peg the figure at $778 billion ($750 billion for "national defense" plus $28 billion for "international security assistance"). Despite some TPer huffing and puffing, no official is going to be called before any committee with a requirement to justify it, as the "presumption of correctness" lies with the war chiefs and it's the opponents who not only have the burden of proof but must somehow overcome that presumption even to get a serious hearing.

Money to save life? You have to justify spending it. Money to take life? You have to justify not spending it. Money to raise people to health? Can't afford it. Money to lower people to hell? Can't afford not to. Money for smarter students? Prove it. Money for smarter bombs? Goes without saying. Money for railroads? No. For railguns? Yes.

While I started this by referring to the Republican Study Committee, I should emphazie that this is not a GOPper vs. Dimocrat thing - those budgets for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for FY2010 and FY2011 did not come from the George Bush White House, after all - and it's not even, strictly speaking, a left-right thing: The far right, driven by its isolationism, is sometimes even harsher on such matters than the left. There is, rather, a broad conservative-to-liberal consensus that spending on the military, on arms, ultimately on war, is all but sacrosanct. That consensus is not new and it did not originate in the US; it is, as I said at the top, historically long-standing. But that makes is nonetheless real and nonetheless deadly both because of what it enables by its biases and what it prevents by its sucking up of emotional, physical, financial, and scientific resources.

The thing that gives some hope in the short run is that Americans on the whole have come to realize that war spending is not and must not be given a special pass. Asked in a recent NYT/CBS poll whether they would cut Social Security, Medicare, or the military budget in order to reduce the deficit, a majority of Democrats and independents and a plurality of Republicans chose the military; 55% overall.

But the pushback among The Serious People has already begun: A couple of weeks ago, "Newsweek" carried a piece that called moves to cut war spending a "risky rush" which no one knows how to do "without jeopardizing security and our place as a world leader." Making actual cuts, cuts that are not merely symbolic or PR, will take a lot of work. A good place to start, not the only place but a good place, is the Friends Committee on National Legislation, while the more radical among you might try the War Resisters League while the more centrist could check out the Center for Defense Information.

Wishing us good luck.

Footnote: In case someone thinks this as I am almost certain someone will, while I do regard veteran's benefits as a present cost of past military spending and therefore part of current military spending, I do not object per se to such benefits nor do I object to veterans applying for them. They are there to be used. What I object to, as I explained (or at least tried to) in my post Heroics and later here, is veterans getting benefits simply because they are veterans, benefits that others are denied, and getting them without regard to need. Benefits, that is, which they receive as a kind of reward and which have the effect of declaring their lives and their contributions more important, more valuable, than those of non-veterans.

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