Thursday, October 25, 2012

Grover Norquist vs. the Pentagon

Grover Norquist vs. the Pentagon from The American Conservative

I must be getting old. Now I agree with Grover Norquist. Mr. Norquist is the man who first emerged in the 1980's and who's best known quote is that he doesn't want to eliminate government, just to

“shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”

Now I listen to him, and he's making perfect sense
GN: Conservatives should insist that defense spending be examined with the same seriousness that we demand in examining the books of those government agencies that spend taxpayer money in the name of welfare, the environment, or education. We laugh at liberals who declare that their favorite spending programs should be exempt because the spending is for a noble cause.

A Spanish socialist once declaimed: Spending too much money is not left wing—it is stupid. Ditto wasteful spending in zones conservatives tend to favor because they are actually mentioned in the Constitution.

Spending should be transparent. All spending by the Pentagon should be online. Every check. Exceptions should be made for legitimate national security issues. But military and civilian pay and retirement benefits are not state secrets. This has already been done in many state governments.
I agree with both the anonymous Spanish socialist who's name apparently can't be mentioned in the American Conservative, and Mr. Norquist.  Spending too much is just stupid.

We've literally have been throwing money at the Pentagon for the last decade.  We've been doing exactly what conservatives normally decry, throwing money at a problem.  In this case, the 'problem' was the terror attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001.  I don't know the exact number, but I'd guess we've thrown something in the neighborhood of ten trillion dollars, that's $10,000,000,000,000.00, at the 'problem'.  We spend somewhere in the neighborhood of a trillion dollars a year on 'defense'.  It was less a decade ago, but you can also add in several hundred billion dollars a year in the wars that the Democrats and Republicans have both kept "off-budget".  So, ten trillion dollars from 2001 to 2012 is probably not a bad guess, and maybe a little on the low side.

What do conservatives normally think about trying to solve problems by throwing money at the problem?

GN: One should look at the charts that compare tax dollars spent per pupil on education to SAT scores, or high school graduation rates. Spending is not caring. Spending is what politicians do instead of caring. Spending more does not guarantee success. Politicians like to measure spending because it is easier than measuring actual metrics of accomplishment.

Then one should ask why defense spending is exempt from the laws of politics.

For a decade now, we've had politicians who have spent trillions of dollars on 'defense' in order to show they 'care' about 'security'. The one thing that Democrats and Republicans have agreed on consistently for the last decade is that we must 'show we are tough' by increasing defense spending. Obama and Romney both agree that the defense spending should continue to rise, even while they both agree that harsh austerity measures like those in Simpson-Bowles should be imposed upon the American people because of the 'deficit' that's come from spending ridiculously more on 'defense' than the rest of the world.

The Economist, hardly a left-wing journal, wrote in 2011, in a post called "Defence spending: Always more, or else"

All of which isn't to say that America's generals should rest easy, or that the president should disband the army. It is merely a plea to start viewing the defence budget in more realistic terms, where proposed cuts, or small increases, are not viewed as doomsday scenarios
Here's The Economist's chart of defense spending from that article.

Does it look like we spend too little on 'defense'?  Remember, that chart is only the official Pentagon budget, and not the other 30% or so that's hidden in other agencies that bring the total up to nearly a trillion dollars a year.

And also remember that from the stack on the right side of that chart, Turkey, Canada, Australia  South Korea, Italy, Germany, Japan, France and Britain are official allies of the USA.  And that Brazil and India could be considered friendly neutrals that would be very unlikely to attack the US.  That leaves Saudi Arabia, which is realistically the last country to attack the US, which it did on Sept. 11, 2001, and Russia and China.  And frankly, neither Russia nor China is saying a word these days about any sort of attack on the US.  The days of the Soviet Union having tank armies in East Germany aimed at NATO are long, long, long gone.

To understand how absurd this all is, try to picture this chart, but with the USA side some $300 billion (or approx 40%) higher, and then imagine the right side with only Saudi Arabia, Russia and China on the list.  Add a couple of small slivers for North Korea and Iran.  To spare your sanity, don't even try to think about that giant barrel of pork that is the Department of Homeland Security, or what might be in the NSA's black budget.

When was the last time you heard of an audit of the Pentagon?  If you are somewhere in age between myself and Mr. Norquist, you may remember the many stories in the past of over-priced hammers and toilet seats that inflated costs paid out to defense contractors.  But these days, you never hear those stories.  No one is taking a close look at exactly what we spend and how we spend it.  Asking that the Pentagon efficiently use the money that we the people provide to them is now considered "unpatriotic".  Somehow, what's become "patriotic" is to continually raise the defense budget and throw more and more and more and more money at the problem.  Romney and Obama are fighting during the debates about who can raise the defense bill even higher.

What have we gotten from all of this?  Back to Mr. Norquist.
GN: Ask advocates of the decision to occupy Iraq and Afghanistan after the Baathist and Taliban regimes were overthrown what their goal was. What would define winning or succeeding? How much did it cost? In dollars and in lives. And how much will continuing the occupations cost? When will they end? Someone sure of the virtue of his decisions will welcome answering those basic questions. Those who cannot answer those questions now should have been forced to answer them before lives were spent towards an unarticulated purpose.
Reagan asked in 1980: are you better off than you were four years ago? Are American interests in the world more secure today than before the decision to occupy Iraq and Afghanistan?
We've spend 10 trillion dollars on 'defense' in the last decade.  We're currently spending a trillion dollars a year.  Are you more secure than you were a decade ago?  Almost certainly not.  We are told now that we have to give up more civil liberties to be secure.  That the threats are so serious that the President and the Pentagon need the authority to lock up any American indefinitely on their say so.  You are currently so insecure that the NSA is building a massive center in Utah to monitor and store for later investigation all of your communications, and probably this blog post.  You are so insecure that you need TSA to expand their airport checkpoints out to trains, buses and even along the highways.  You are so insecure today that Mitt Romney wants to win your vote by spending an additional $2 trillion dollars over the next decade, and that's on top of the $10 trillion or more that's already planned.

Of course, this is the ultimate wasteful government spending.  Because if it ever succeeded, if it ever did make you feel more secure, then it would have to end.  And, in the world where the government takes your money and spends it, stopping that practice is simply not an option.  The people in charge of the programs, and the people getting rich from the programs both want the spending to go on and on and up and up.  Thus, the one thing that is absolutely certain is that none of this spending will ever make you feel more secure.


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