Where Has All The Money Gone?

In 2015, Michigan State economics professor, Mark Skidmore became curious when he heard former assistant secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Catherine Austin Fitts mention that the Pentagon couldn’t account for $6.5 trillion in spending. So he asked Fitts and a team of his graduate students to help him confirm that number. After poring over public documents, the team discovered that the original number was inaccurate.

Instead of $6.5 trillion in unsupported spending, the team found that the actual number is $21 trillion – a sum equivalent to our entire national debt!

Even if that number is flawed (and there’s no reason to believe that it is), there is plenty of evidence to show that the military-industrial complex President Eisenhower warned about has severely damaged our nation’s economic health. For example, it is estimated that our misadventures in the Vietnam civil war cost us $1.3 trillion in 2017 dollars. The cost of care for Vietnam vets has cost us at least $1 trillion to date. And neither of those figures include the billions of dollars wasted on supplies fraudulently sold through the black market in Vietnam.

It is estimated that the Reagan-era tax cuts and military build-up contributed $3 trillion to our national debt. The Bush tax cuts contributed an additional $10 trillion to the debt. The cost of our war in Afghanistan – now our longest-running war – is $2.4 trillion and counting. The cost of care for Afghan war vets is $1 trillion. Our invasion of Iraq cost yet another $2.6 trillion. And the cost of care for Iraq war vets is estimated at $1.3 trillion.

In addition, the US has spent more than $61 billion in the reconstruction of Iraq. Another $8 billion of US funds is missing in Iraq. $45 billion is missing in Afghanistan. And, claiming that the cost of transportation is too great to bring military equipment home, the Pentagon ordered it buried in the sands of Kuwait.

The Pentagon’s F-35 joint strike fighter program has already cost more than $450 billion and is expected to top out at more than $1.5 trillion. Yet it has failed almost every test. In the words of two military analysts, “It can’t turn, can’t climb and can’t run.” And in another blatant display of waste, Congress authorized spending hundreds of millions of dollars for Abrams tanks that the Army doesn’t even want.

How has the Trump administration and Congress responded to all of this spending? They increased the Pentagon budget by another $700 billion! Then they passed a tax cut for corporations and the wealthy that is expected to add yet another $1-2 trillion to the national debt over the next decade!

Of course, the GOP has a plan to pay for all this spending. As articulated by Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, they plan to cut spending through “entitlement reform.” In other words, the GOP plans to cut funding for Medicare, Medicaid, SNAP and Social Security.

Maybe – just maybe – there’s another way. Imagine if, instead of spending our money on unnecessary wars and tax cuts for the rich, we spent that money for good. Imagine if we spent it on health care for our citizens; on education; on rebuilding our infrastructure; on scientific achievements; on lifting people out of poverty; on eradicating disease. We could do all of that and more with just the money the Pentagon wastes.

Author William Blum put our current military budget in context when he said, “Do you know what one year of the US military budget is equal to? One year. It’s equal to more than $20,000 per hour for every hour since Jesus Christ was born.”

And that doesn’t even include the trillions of dollars in Pentagon spending that are missing or unaccounted for.

VA Problems A Product Of Our Never-Ending Wars.

Since taking office in 2009, President Obama has been confronted with an extraordinary list of problems: Two wars, a failing economy, the collapse of our largest financial institutions, a massive number of home foreclosures, a failing auto industry, high unemployment, rising deficits and rising debt. Those are just the problems he inherited the day he took office. In addition, he’s faced a multitude of other issues: An obstructionist and do-nothing Republican Party, a racist and increasingly angry Tea Party, a porous southern border, belligerent leaders in Israel and Russia, rising poverty, and a vanishing middle class.

You may not believe the President has done enough to solve our problems but, in reality, his performance has been nothing short of remarkable. Without the leadership of his administration, we may have experienced a second Great Depression – a fact that is clearly spelled out in Timothy Geithner’s new book Stress Test. Of course, Teapublicans don’t want to talk about that. They call it the “Blame it on Bush Syndrome,” and they hold Obama responsible for all the problems he inherited.

Similarly, the Obama administration is now being blamed for delays at some VA health facilities. Yet VA problems existed long before Obama took office. Indeed, he appointed General Eric Shinseki to fix the problems and reduce delays. By most accounts, Shinseki has had some success. But no one can hope to change a health system that serves more than 8.6 million veterans overnight. The problems could be the result of a few incompetent bureaucrats. If so, they must go.

A larger issue is what led to the crowding at VA hospitals…the willingness of too many politicians to send our youth to war for questionable reasons! When we continue to pursue military actions around the globe, we are going to create more veterans – many with serious and expensive-to-treat health issues. Yet it seems that Congress has not fully recognized that reality when it comes to the VA budget. It’s estimated that, in addition to the trillions spent on the Iraq and Afghan wars, the cost of treating our wounded soldiers could also run into the trillions…a fact that has been little discussed.

When the Bush administration took us to war more than a decade ago, few Americans were asked to make sacrifices. Instead, Bush asked us to go shopping. And, instead of raising taxes to cover the cost of his misadventures, he actually cut them! If it weren’t for the yellow ribbons, ribbon decals on cars, and the obligatory “thank you for your service” statement recited to anyone in uniform, there would have been little indication that we were at war. The Bush administration controlled the news media by forcing reporters to be imbedded in military units. It even banned news media from photographing the flag-draped coffins of those killed in war.

Out of sight…out of mind.

The lesson in this is that if you want to go to war, you better be willing to pay the price. Everyone should be asked to make some sacrifices. Everyone should be asked to pay for the sacrifices of those wounded in war. And those costs should be made abundantly clear. Indeed, such costs are the only real deterrent to cause voters and politicians to hesitate before waving the flag, beating the war drums and sending our troops into yet another foreign conflict.

A Memorial To Gun Victims?

A new study by Dr. John Leventhal, professor of pediatrics at the Yale School of Medicine, found that firearms kill more than 3,000 children each year in the US.  Another 7,000 are wounded badly enough to be hospitalized, most from assaults. And those are just the statistics for children! Overall, there are more than 11,000 homicides per year in the US involving a firearm and more than 19,000 suicides involving a gun according to statistics from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

No other advanced nation comes close.

To put these statistics into perspective, the number of children killed by guns in the US in a single year exceeds the 2,977 people who died in the attacks on 9/11. The 4,486 US soldiers killed during the 6 years of the Iraq War is less than half the number of gun homicides that occur in the US in a single year. And the 2,287 US soldiers who have been killed during the 10 years we have been engaged in the Afghan War is roughly equivalent to two and a half months of gun homicides in the US!

Put another way, as of May 2011, there were 58,272 names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, representing the number of US soldiers killed during our 14 years of military involvement in Vietnam. The number of gun homocides in the US would exceed that number in approximately 5 years. And, if you included gun suicides, the number would be exceeded in just 3 years!

Do you still think we don’t have a gun problem in this country?

Yet despite the overwhelming reality of these statistics, American politicians refuse to act. The shooting of a US Congresswoman and the mass murder in Tucson, Arizona wasn’t enough to force common sense gun control. The mass murder in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater wasn’t enough. Even the slaughter of 26 children in Newtown, Connecticut wasn’t enough to prompt Congress to act. They couldn’t even pass a measure calling for universal background checks of gun purchasers when polls showed that a vast majority of Americans supported it.

It makes one wonder what it will take to bring Americans to our senses.

I would suggest that we create a memorial to gun victims listing all of their names. Make the memorial as visible and as powerful as possible, something similar to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Add the names of gun victims week by week; month by month; year by year. It may take a while, but eventually most sane people will realize exactly what our lax gun laws are costing us.

At least I would certainly hope so.