Tag Archives: Deficits

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Military Spending is the Biggest Scam in American Politics

Image result for etching spanish american war           Military spending is the biggest waste of federal taxdollars ever. Both political parties are equally complicit.

The militarism scam is the best-kept secret in American politics.

When you think about it — but no one in the halls of Congress ever does — it’s hard to think of a country that has less to fear than the United States. Two vast oceans eliminate our vulnerability to attack, except by countries with sophisticated long-range ballistic missiles (5 out of 206 nations). We share long borders with two nations that we count as close allies and trading partners.

Historically, the U.S. has only faced an invasion once, by the British during the War of 1812. (There have been other minor incursions, by Mexico during the 19th century and the Japanese occupation of two remote islands in the Aleutian chain during World War II. The Pearl Harbor attack was a raid, not an invasion.)

Objectively, we have little to worry about beside terrorism — and that’s a job for domestic police and intelligence agencies, not the military. Yet a whopping 54% of discretionary federal spending goes to the Pentagon. The Bush Administration put the Afghanistan and Iraq wars “off the books” of the Pentagon budget. And that’s not counting interest on debt or benefits paid out for old wars. We’re still paying $5 billion a year for World War II. We’re still paying off beneficiaries for the Civil and Spanish-American Wars!

The U.S. accounts for less than 5% of the world’s population. We account for 37% of military spending worldwide, equal to the next seven countries (China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the United Kingdom, India, France, Japan) combined. (And the U.S. sells a lot of hardware to most of those countries.)

Russia spends roughly a tenth as much on defense as the U.S. And they have a lot more (and twice as much territory) to defend against: NATO/American missiles to their west in Europe, a southern border full of radical Islamists in unstable countries like Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, Afghanistan a stone’s throw away, historical regional superpower rival China next door. Despite its relatively small defense budget, Russia somehow manages to soldier on.

No matter how you look at it, America’s military budget is due for a haircut. If it were up to me, I’d scale quickly down to the Russian level, pro rata for square mileage — lob 95% of this bloated $600 billion a year monstrosity right off the top. But even a less radical budget cutter could do some good. A 10% cut — $60 billion a year — would buy universal pre-school or allow half of America’s four-year college and university students to have free tuition.

Insanely, we’re going the opposite direction.

President Trump wants to increase military spending by $54 billion — roughly 10% — per year.

Republican hypocrisy is brazen and obvious. Most are channeling Dick Cheney’s “deficits don’t matter” to justify huge tax cuts to rich individuals and big business. “I’m not the first to observe that a Republican Congress only cares about the deficit when a Democrat is in the White House,” the economist Alan Krueger says. But even the most strident deficit hawks, though uncomfortable with the tax cuts, have no problem whatsoever with Trump’s proposed hike in military spending.

“Any time we spend more money — even if it’s for something that we need — we need to cut spending in a corresponding aspect to the budget,” says Rand Paul. Slashing other, more needed programs — which is pretty much anything other than the military — is what passes for sanity in the Republican Party.

No one is proposing zero increase, much less a cut.

If anything, the Democrats are even worse. Democrats have promised a fierce Resistance to Trump and his works. But their oft-stated resolve is noticeably absent when it comes to He-Who-Must-Be-Impeached’s lust to jack up a crazy-ass defense budget that doesn’t have much of a justification to exist at all.

“This budget shifts the burden off of the wealthy and special interests and puts it squarely on the backs of the middle class and those struggling to get there … Democrats in Congress will emphatically oppose these cuts and urge our Republican colleagues to reject them as well,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said.

Notice what’s missing? Like other Democratic leaders, Schumer’s beef is with Trump’s proposed cuts to the arts, EPA and other domestic spending, and the tax cuts. He doesn’t say boo about the defense increase.

As usual, Bernie Sanders was better than other Democrats. But even he didn’t explicitly reject the idea of a military increase on its face.

As we move past Memorial Day — the holiday when we remember the war dead, the vast majority who died not to defend America but to oppress people in other countries who never posed a threat to the United States — we should reconsider the assumption that all military spending is good spending.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: State Debt

Math Not Good Like

I draw cartoons for The Los Angeles Times about issues related to California and the Southland (metro Los Angeles).

This week: Gov. Jerry Brown’s new budget projects paying off $28 billion in state debt. But the debt actually totals hundreds of billions of dollars. Possible solutions to paying off the whole thing? Maybe we could start by nationalizing Apple Computer.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Our Contempt is Bipartisan

Both Zombie Parties Too Stubborn To Admit They’re Dead

Neither party gets it.

They both think they won. And they sort of did.

But we still hate them.

Democrats are patting themselves on the back, congratulating themselves for a mandate that neither exists–50.4% to 48.1% does not a mandate make–nor, if were real, would be actionable (Republicans still control the House). “Republicans need to have a serious talk with themselves, and they need to change,” Democratic columnist E.J. Dionne sniped in the Washington Post.

Not likely. If Republicans could change anything, it would be the weather. “If you hadn’t had the storm, there would have been more of a chance for the Romney campaign to talk about the deficit, the debt, the economy,” Karl Rove told the Post. (Which leaves out the fact that the places hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy, New York and New Jersey, are not GOP states.)

“We [Congressional Republicans] will have as much of a mandate as he [Obama] will,” claimed Speaker John Boehner.

The donkeys and the elephants think they’re awesome. Their plan to govern America for the next four years? Keep on keeping on. Why change?

Both parties are insane and self-delusional.

Voters are narrowly divided between the Ds and the Rs–because we can’t decide which one we hate most.

One out of three people think the two-party system is broken, and complain that neither party represents their political views.

A staggering number of people are boycotting quadrennial exercises in pseudodemocracy. Despite the advent of convenient early voting by mail, Election Day 2012 saw a “major plunge in turnout nationally” compared to 2008. About 42.5% of registered voters stayed home this year.

There were a substantial number of protest votes.

In one of the most ignored and interesting stories coming out of Election Day, one and a half million people voted for Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein. Since Johnson and Stein were even more thoroughly censored than previous third-party candidates–Johnson and Stein were denied interviews on the major networks and locked out of the presidential debates–many of these votes must have been for “none of the above.”

Democrats didn’t win this election.

Neither did the Republicans.

Give the parties credit: They’ve united us in our contempt. Liberals and progressives hate the Democrats, which takes their votes for granted and ignores them. Conservatives hate the GOP for the same reasons. And moderates hate both parties because they don’t get along.

Who won? Not us.

Since the economy collapsed in 2008, Americans have made consistently clear what their number-one priority was: jobs. Yet the two major parties have focused on anything but.

The Tea Party convinced Republicans to campaign on paying down the national debt. Deficits, the debt and entitlements are important–but those problems are not nearly as urgent as unemployment and underemployment. When you’ve lost your job–as millions of Americans have since 2008–you need a new job now. Not next week. Not next year. NOW. You sure don’t need a job next decade–and that’s if you believe that austerity stimulates the economy. “Romney is not offering a plausible solution to the [unemployment] crisis,” Jonathan Chait wrote in New York magazine back in June. Romney never did.

And that’s why he lost.

Jobs were the #1 issue with voters, Obama never reduced unemployment and Romney had a credible narrative as a corporate turnaround expert. By all rights, Romney should have won. But he never delivered what voters wanted: a credible turnaround plan for the terrible jobs market–one with quick results.

Not that Obama and the Democrats have much to celebrate.

The president nearly lost to one of the worst challengers of all time, a bumbling, inarticulate Monopoly Man caricature of an evil capitalist. Democrats only picked up a few seats in Congress–this to a Republican Party whose platform on social issues was lifted from the Taliban, and whose major political figures included two rape apologists.

Like the GOP, Democrats paid lip service to the economy but never put forward a credible proposal that would have created millions of new jobs next week, not next decade. In 2009, while millions were losing their homes to foreclosure, Obama dwelled instead on healthcare reform. Like the deficits, the healthcare crisis is real and important–but it wasn’t nearly as urgent as the jobs catastrophe. Which, planted stories about fictional recoveries to the contrary, continues unabated.

Four years into an existential crisis that likely marks the final crisis of late-stage capitalism, an economic seizure of epic proportions that has impoverished tens of millions of Americans and driven many to suicide, the United States is governed by two parties that don’t have a clue about what we want or what we need.

Change? Not these guys. Not unless we force them to–or, better yet, get rid of them.

(Ted Rall‘s is the author of “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: 7-7-7

Jobless? Face It: Obama’s Not That Into You

Forget Herman Cain’s 9-9-9. The battle cry for every American ought to be 7-7-7.

7-7-7: for the $7.7 trillion the Bush and Obama Administrations secretly funneled to the banksters.

Remember the $700 billion bailout that prompted rage from right to left? Which inspired millions to join the Tea Party and the Occupy movements? Turns out that that was a mere drop in the bucket, less than a tenth of what the Federal Reserve Bank doled out to the big banks.

Bloomberg Markets Magazine reports a shocking story that emerged from tens of thousands of documents released under the Freedom of Information Act: by March 2009, the Fed shelled out $7.77 trillion “to rescuing the financial system, more than half the value of everything produced in the U.S. that year.”

The U.S. national debt is currently a record $14 trillion.

We knew that the Fed and the White House were pawns of Wall Street. What’s new is the scale of the conspiracy.

Even the most jaded financial reporters were stunned at the extent of collusion: “The Fed didn’t tell anyone which banks were in trouble so deep they required a combined $1.2 trillion on Dec. 5, 2008, their single neediest day. Bankers didn’t mention that they took tens of billions of dollars in emergency loans at the same time they were assuring investors their firms were healthy. And no one calculated until now that banks reaped an estimated $13 billion of income by taking advantage of the Fed’s below-market rates.”

Citigroup earned an extra $1.8 billion by reinvesting the Fed’s below-market loans. Bank of America made $1.5 billion.

Bear in mind, that’s only through March 2009.

“Many Americans are struggling to understand why banks deserve such preferential treatment while millions of homeowners are being denied assistance and are at increasing risk of foreclosure,” wrote Representative Elijah Cummings, a ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform who is demanding an investigation.

Indeed we are.

This stinks. It’s terrible economics. And it’s unbelievably cruel.

First the economics. The bank bailouts were supposed to loosen credit in order to encourage lending, investment, job creation and ultimately consumer spending. It didn’t work. Banks and corporations alike are hoarding cash. President Obama, who promised 4 million net new jobs by earlier this year, has been reduced to claiming that unemployment would have been even higher without the bailouts.

Ask any business executive why nobody is hiring and they’ll blame the lack of consumer demand. If the ultimate goal is to put more money into people’s pockets, why not just, you know, put more money into people’s pockets?

Bank executives used federal taxdollars to pay themselves tens of billions in bonuses and renovate their corporate headquarters. We the people got 0-0-0. What if we’d gotten 7-7-7 instead?

Every man, woman in child in the United States would have received $24,000.

A family of four would have gotten $96,000.

And that’s without an income test.

New data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that 100 million American citizens—one of out of three—subsists below or just above the official poverty line. Demographers, statisticians and economists were stunned. “These numbers are higher than we anticipated,” Trudi J. Renwick, the bureau’s chief poverty statistician, told The New York Times. “There are more people struggling than the official numbers show.”

For four decades progressive economists have warned that the middle-class was being eroded, that the United States would become a Third World country if income inequality continued to expand. They can stop. We’re there.

These poor and “near poor” Americans comprise the vast majority of the uninsured, un- and underemployed, and foreclosure victims. If Bush-Obama’s 7-7-7 Plan had gone to each one of these 100 million misérables instead of Citigroup and Bank of America, the IRS would have mailed out 100 million checks for $77,700 each.

This would have paid off a lot of credit cards. Kept millions in their homes, protecting neighborhood property values. Allowed millions to see a doctor. Paid for food.

A lot of the money would have been “wasted” on new cars, Xboxes—maybe even a renovation or two. All of which would have created a buttload of consumer demand.

If you’re a “99er”—one of millions who have run out of unemployment benefits—Obama’s plan for you is 0-0-0.

If you’re one of the roughly 20 million homeowners who have lost or are about to lose your house to foreclosure—most likely to a bank using fraudulent loan documents—you get 0-0-0.

If you’re a teacher asking for a raise, or a parent caring for a sick child or parent, or just an ordinary worker hobbling to work on an old car that needs to be replaced, all you’ll get is 0-0-0.

There isn’t any money to help you.

We don’t have the budget.

We’re broke.

You can’t get the bank to call you back about refinancing, much less the attention of your Congressman.

But not if you’re a banker.

Bankers get their calls returned. They get anything they want.

There’s always a budget for them.

They get 7-7-7.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Phony Budget Crisis

Forget Austerity. Tax the Rich.

Everywhere you look, from the federal government to the states to your hometown, budget crises abound. Services are being slashed. Politicians and pundits from both parties tell us that the good times are over, that we’ve got to start living within our means.

It’s a lie.

Two case studies have made news lately: California, where new/old governor Jerry Brown is trying to close a $25 billion shortfall with a combination of draconian cuts in public services and a series of regressive tax increases, and Wisconsin, where right-winger Scott Walker says getting rid of unions would eliminate the state’s $137 million deficit.

Never mind the economists, most of whom say an economic death spiral is exactly the worst possible time for government to cut spending. Pro-austerity propaganda has won the day with the American public. A new Rasmussen poll funds that 58 percent of likely voters would approve of a shutdown until Democrats and Republicans can agree on what spending to cut.

The budget “crisis” is a phony construction, the result of right-wing “starve the beast” ideology. There is plenty of money out there—but the pols don’t want it.

There is no need to lay off a single teacher, close a single library for an extra hour, or raise a single fee by one red cent.

Every government can not only balance its budget, but wind up with a surplus.

The solution is simple: tax the rich.

Over the last 50 years tax rates for the bottom 80 percent of wage earners have remained almost static. Meanwhile the rich have received tax cut after tax cut after tax cut. For example, the rate paid by the top 0.01 percent—people who currently get more than $6.5 million a year—fell by half (from 70 to 35 percent).

Times are tough. Someone has to pay. Why not start with those who can most afford it?

Europe has the world’s best food, its best healthcare system and its best vacation policy. It also has one of the fairest ways to generate revenue for government: a wealth tax. In Norway, for example, you pay one percent of your net worth in addition to income tax.

What if we imposed a Norwegian-style wealth tax on the top one percent of U.S. households? We’re not talking upper middle class here: the poorest among them is worth a mere $8.3 million. This top one percent owns 35 percent of all wealth in the United States.

“Such a wealth tax…would raise $191.1 billion each year (one percent of $19.1 trillion), a significant attack on the deficit,” Leon Friedman writes in The Nation. “If we extended the tax to the top 5 percent, we could raise $338.5 billion a year (one percent of 62 percent of $54.6 trillion).”

But that’s just the beginning. Wealthy individuals are nothing next to America’s money-sucking corporations.

Business shills whine that America’s corporate tax rate—35 percent—is one of the world’s highest. But that’s pure theory. Our real corporate rate—the rate companies actually pay after taking advantages of loopholes and deductions—is among the world’s lowest. According to The New York Times, Boeing paid a total tax rate of 4.5 percent over the last five years. (This includes federal, state, local and foreign taxes.) Yahoo paid seven percent. GE paid 14.3 percent. Southwest Airlines paid 6.3 percent. “GE is so good at avoiding taxes that some people consider its tax department to be the best in the world, even better than any law firm’s,” reports the Times‘ David Leonhardt. “One common strategy is maximizing the amount of profit that is officially earned in countries with low tax rates.”

America’s low effective corporate tax rates have left big business swimming in cash while the country goes bust. As of March 2010 non-financial corporations in the U.S. had $26.2 trillion in assets. Seven percent of that was in cash.

The national debt is $14.1 trillion.

Which is a lot. And, you see, entirely by choice.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Yes, I Can

Straight Talk on Balancing the Budget

The federal budget deficit is like the weather. Everybody talks about it; except for Bill Clinton, no one ever does anything about it.

President Obama’s bipartisan Fiscal Debt Commission has released a draft report that starts out with a big problem: even talking about reducing spending is insane when you’re in the midst of a Depression. The real unemployment is over 20 percent. Creating jobs ought to be the feds’ top—perhaps sole—priority.

Let the insanity commence.

Triumphant Republicans say they want to balance the budget. So does Obama. Are they serious? Of course not.

Still, theoretical budget-balancing exercises help enlighten us about where our taxdollars really go. So let’s roll up our sleeves and start some back-of-the-envelope slashing.

The 2010 federal budget shows $3.6 trillion in spending and $2.4 trillion in revenues. Net deficit: $1.2 trillion. It’s a doozy, too. It nearly 13 percent of GDP. It’s the highest since 1943, during World War II.

The goal, then, is to close a $1.2 trillion budget gap. Can we find at least $1.2 trillion in budget cuts? News flash: getting rid of the National Endowment for the Arts ($161 million in 2010, or about 0.01 percent of the deficit), ain’t gonna do the trick.

Any serious budget cutter has to start with defense. The reason is simple: it accounts for 54 percent of discretionary (i.e., optional) federal spending. It’s the biggest piece of the pie by far.

(Mainstream news reports usually state that defense accounts for 20 percent of federal outlays. But they’re fudging the facts in order to pretty up the military-industrial complex. For example, they include budget items like Social Security that no one can do anything about—they’re in a trust fund.)

Of that 54 percent, 18 percent is debt service on old wars. There’s nothing we can do about that—though that number should probably give us pause the next time a president wants to invade Panama or Grenada.

Anyway, that leaves 36 percent, or $1.3 trillion to play with. $200 billion a year goes to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Let’s pull out. We’re losing anyway.

New Deficit: $1.0 trillion.

In 2007 Chalmers Johnson wrote a book about the staggering costs of American imperialism. “The worldwide total of U.S. military personnel in 2005, including those based domestically, was 1,840,062 supported by an additional 473,306 Defense Department civil service employees and 203,328 local hires,” he wrote. “Its overseas bases, according to the Pentagon, contained 32,327 barracks, hangars, hospitals, and other buildings, which it owns, and 16,527 more that it leased. The size of these holdings was recorded in the inventory as covering 687,347 acres overseas and 29,819,492 acres worldwide, making the Pentagon easily one of the world’s largest landlords.”

We’re broke. It’s time to bring those 2.3 million men and women home. At an average cost of $140,000 per employee—crazy but true—we could save $322 billion annually.

New Deficit: $676 billion.

After Defense, the other big costs are Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

The obvious place to start slashing is wealthy recipients. Why should Bill Gates, worth $58 billion, get Social Security or Medicare benefits? Dean Baker sums up the traditional liberal argument in favor of giving tax money to people who don’t need it: “Social Security enjoys enormous bipartisan support because all workers pay into it and expect to benefit from it in retirement. Taking away the benefits that better-off workers earned would undoubtedly undermine their support for the program. This could set up a situation in which the program could be more easily attacked in the future.”

Yeah, well, whatever. We. Are. Broke. “Means testing”—for example, eliminating benefits for the approximately one percent of families over age 65 who earn over $100,000 a year—could save $150 billion a year.

New deficit: $526 billion.

Now let’s talk about the other side of the equation: income. How can the U.S. government scare up some extra cash?

Allowing the Bush tax cuts for the richest three percent of Americans to expire on schedule would bring in $70 billion a year. Seems like a no-brainer: anyone earning over $250,000 a year is doing awesome. Moreover, if Democrats don’t insist on the expiration of at least some of those “temporary” tax cuts, what’s the point of the deal they cut with the GOP back in 2001?

New deficit: $456 billion.

When it comes to revenues, you have to go where the money is: the wealthy. The rich have gotten richer, which is a big part of the reason we’re in a Depression again. They’re hogging all the goodies. The rest of us can’t spend.

Despite the miserable economy, there are still 2 million American households earning a whopping $250,000 or more per year. (Their average income is $435,000.) If we were to increase these super-rich Americans’ marginal income tax rate from 35 to 50 percent—the same it was during the early 1980s under Reagan—we’d bring in an extra $131 billion a year. If we raised it back to 91 percent—the top rate during the boom years between 1950 to 1963—the Treasury would collect $487 billion.

Budget SURPLUS: $31 billion.

And we haven’t started on corporate taxes.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2010 TED RALL

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