Now that the holidays are over and I no longer have to quarrel with my crazy conservative relatives, I’ve had time to reflect on some of their outrageous, FOX-fed lies and wild misconceptions. Their most absurd claims were that America is going broke because of social welfare programs (though none of them want Social Security or Medicare cut). The fact is that relatively very little of the country’s spending is allocated to food stamp recipients, unemployment compensation, and other Republican bugaboos. The majority of spending goes to sacred Republican corporate cash cows–defense contractors.
Figures for 2014 aren’t available yet, but in 2013 alone nearly half of taxpayers’ money, over $1 trillion, was spent on defense. Defense is a large umbrella under which falls categories like Operations and Maintenance, Procurement, Personnel Salaries and Housing, Construction, and Research, Testing and Evaluation. That last nebulous category is responsible for the biggest boondoggle is US history: the F35 fighter jet. The F-35 was designed to do everything except perform oral sex on its pilots; instead it has been a useless project that has wasted $1.5 trillion over many years of research and development. That’s more than the entire defense budget of 2013. And yet, according to defense industry critic James Fallows, “…the aircraft can barely do anything: it has trouble flying at night, its engines have exploded during takeoff, and early models suffered structural cracks. There’s no end in sight, either.” This is great news for no one except Lockheed Martin, manufacturer of the defective plane, which has profited immensely at taxpayers’ expense.
But Lockheed is not the only corporate pig feeding at the public trough. The list of US defense contractors includes nearly every major corporation in America. The obvious culprits are Northrop Grumman, Boeing, Halliburton, the Carlyle Group, Bechtel Corporation, Exxon, Shell Oil, General Dynamics, Remington Arms, Smith & Wesson, Springfield Armory, KBR (Kellogg, Brown & Root), Rockwell Collins, and General Electric. But also on the list are companies one might not suspect: IBM, Johns Hopkins University, Carnegie-Mellon, MIT, Nextel, Ernst & Young, Motorola, Mitsubishi, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Humana, Israeli Aerospace, and the University of Texas are all receiving lucrative government handouts. The entire list of organizations receiving government money for defense projects runs into the thousands, and you can bet that each one of these entities is cajoling, financing, and schmoozing its favorite congressmen to ensure that the money keeps flowing. That’s how our system works. Those who have money and power have a voice in government and how it spends our money. Those without a voice–the old, the poor, the weak–have very little say; thus, they are the ones whose funds are constantly imperiled. The right-wing, corporate propaganda machine called FOX News disseminates its lying filth long enough and loud enough to make even the most intelligent conservatives believe that social welfare programs are bankrupting the country. But you won’t hear a peep out of them about defense contractor waste and corruption, like that surrounding the F-35.
Despite the fact that America is not at war anywhere in the world, defense spending continues to rise. That’s because the system itself is too powerful to stop. Those who get rich from the defense cash grab have the wherewithal to spend freely on their preferred political candidates. Once in office these candidates continue to publicly rail against the poor, the frail, the defenseless, the “takers,”; all the while, behind the scenes, these politicians keep directing our dollars to their corporate benefactors. But there’s more to this charade; the threat of war, terror, and impending doom must convince the citizens that defense spending is necessary. The tactic of scaring us into turning over our tax dollars to corporate greed is as old as US wars themselves. And we are alone in the world in wasting our treasure on worthless military spending.
The 2012 American defense budget was 6–7 times larger than the $106 billion military budget of China, the next closest military spender. The United States and its close allies are responsible for two-thirds to three-quarters of the world’s military spending (of which, in turn, the U.S. is responsible for the majority). The US also maintains the largest number of military bases on foreign soil across the world. Why do we have bases and outsized military presences in far-flung places across the globe? If you don’t know the answer to that, you haven’t been paying attention.
So next holiday season, when your crazy conservative relatives try to convince you that social welfare is killing America, knock them over with the facts. The story of the F-35 alone will probably do the trick.