Chalmers Johnson on our economy and the military

Posted on January 24th, 2008 in Culture,Economy,General,Politics,War by Robert Miller

A few days ago Chalmers Johnson’s book Nemesis: the last days of the American Republic was published in paperback. This is the final book of Johnson’s trilogy which began just before 9/11 with his first book “Blowback.” I read all three books and I strongly recommend them to provide you with some sense of what it means for a country with 47 million of its citizens lacking health care, with a failing infrastructure and in the midst of the most gilded of gilded ages, to claim to be the most powerful nation in the world with a military budget that is completely out of control. But, if you don’t have the time to read his books, you might want to read his most recent TomDispatch article as sort of an update since the publication of his third book last year.

The military budget is a noose around our neck, particularly in tough times, though it may not seem like it to most people. On the other hand, most people don’t know the true size of our military budget, as much of it is secret and other parts of it are hidden within other Federal agencies. As the military has very cleverly put a piece of many of its projects in each state, canceling projects, reducing military costs or closing military bases is virtually impossible as congress will refuse to allow loss of jobs from their district, even if the long-term future of the country depends on dramatically cutting such costs: afterall, they have to run every two years. Of course, we are not paying for all of our military expenditures now, except in the form of some pretty stiff interest payments on our new debt. We are postponing those payments for the war, giving these huge military costs to a later generation. Johnson believes that we will never pay those debts because we will be bankrupt as a nation. Perhaps Bush knows this too. Johnson has a sobering message about the future of America and the quality of the leadership we send to Washington to manage our affairs. It is no coincidence that the people running this country are the Enron types who have created such brilliant innovations for us in the recent past.

Where all this will end is anyone’s guess, but most of the country is uncomfortable with where we are going, yet we seem unable to do much about it or even publicly discuss the nature of our problems, our economy and the giant inequalities of wealth within the nation. Rupert Murdoch has a lot to do with suppressing the dialogue. When was the last time you heard a viable political candidate talk about reducing the cost of the military? This year, the military will come in with a budget request that will top all others and it will be the largest military budget since WW II. Of course, congress will oblige, because there are too many jobs at stake in their own districts: a military gotcha!

But keep in mind that we don’t even know what the size of the military budget actually is, because much of it is “black” like the CIA, with hidden costs for security reasons. Most Americans believe that when the Pentagon or the administration announce the military budget for any single year, that it includes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which of course it does not! Those war costs represent at least an additional $ 141 billion, which we borrow. One group of experts conclude that if you take the size of the military budget claimed by the military and double it, you have a more realistic value of what we actually spend on the military, but just the military budget that runs through the Pentagon. But that too doesn’t touch all the bases. Remember that our military budget does not cover the cost of war or its aftermath or other support mechanisms. The Department of Energy runs the nuclear warhead program (~$ 24 billion) which is not included or defined as part of our military budget. Veterans care and other public services related to service men are also separate and will be huge, given all the care needed for brain-damaged soldiers in the Iraq war. What about the budget for “Homeland Security” at $ 46 billion? But don’t stop there: Treasury department $ 46 billion for military retirement budget; FBI $ 1.9 billion for paramilitary operations. Johnson’s conservative calculation for our military expenditures for 2008 is $ 1.1 trillion, not the $ 481 billion the pentagon wants to tell you about. The higher budget number is closer to the true cost of our military empire. But even leaving out all those costs, the military budget for this year, including the “war on terrorism” and “other costs” will be at least be more than $ 766 billion. The truth is, that those who pay attention to these issues and come up with budget numbers that are more realistic, like Chalmers Johnson, are not given any attention at all in the public media, so the public is largely unaware of the great albatross hanging around our neck in the form of a completely insane and unsustainable military budget. The combination of a military budget we cannot pay for, but defer through borrowing, the loss of a competitive manufacturing base, a balance of payment debt that is so large it will begin to rival our GDP, coupled to our domestic problems of health care and an interest rate that is so low, reduced payments to those living on interest bearing annuities increasingly put them, mostly seniors, at risk of falling further into serious poverty. What then is the cure? Do we have one?

You will note that no one today in Washington, with the possible exception of Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul, are willing to mention these issues and their popularity is such that the conversation ends when they stop talking about it. Most Americans are concerned about this country and most don’t approve of the direction we are going. But most Americans don’t know what to do about it, or feel so utterly helpless in changing such a complex set of problems, they would rather turn to God. In my opinion, the distasteful growth of religious zealotry and Christian fundamentalism in this country is fueled by the fact that people are conflicted about what is happening to their lives with a powerful sense of diminished opportunities looming in their future. So, if it’s the End of Days, why not blame it on God? To the extent that Huckabee is a viable political candidate, his candidacy was created (through triangulated extrapolation) by our military budget and the very right wing policies he wants to continue. Yes, “God bless America,” but who will be there to bless Americans.

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