A trillion here, a trillion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money

Imacon Color Scanner
Painting of Everett Dirksen, a thrifty Republican.  Remember those?

W.J. Astore

Though it’s unconfirmed that Congressman Everett M. Dirksen ever uttered perhaps the most famous words attributed to him: “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money,” the sentiment surely needs to be updated for America’s profligate military moment.  Replace “billion” with “trillion” and you have the perfect catchphrase for today’s Pentagon.

Consider the following facts:

  1. The F-35 jet fighter is projected to cost $1.45 trillion over the life of the program.
  2. Modernization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal is projected to cost $1.2 trillion, though some estimates suggest $1.7 trillion as the more likely sum.
  3. America’s Afghan War has already cost $1 trillion.  Add to that another $45+ billion to support war ops for this year, and perhaps the same amount of spending each year for the next decade.
  4. A low-ball estimate for America’s Iraq War is $1 trillion, but when one adds in veterans health care and similar long-term issues, the cost rises into the $2-3 trillion range.
  5.  Each year, spending on the Pentagon, Homeland Security, wars, nuclear weapons, the VA, and interest on the national debt associated with previous military spending approaches $1 trillion.

We’re talking about real money, right?

Yet all this spending is scarcely debated within Congress.  Together with the Trump administration, Congress is a rubber stamp for the Pentagon.  Meanwhile, Congress will fight tooth and nail over a few million dollars to support the arts, humanities, and similar “wasteful” programs.  Planned Parenthood is always under attack, despite the paltry sum they receive (roughly half a billion) to provide vital functions for women’s health.  Even the $200 billion promised by Trump to support infrastructure improvements is a trickle of money compared to the gusher of funds dedicated to the Pentagon and all of its exotic WMD.

People laughed at Bernie Sanders when he proposed health care for all and free education in state colleges.  That socialist fool!  America can’t afford that!  Indeed, much better for people to go into debt as they struggle to pay for health care or college.  That’s private enterprise and “freedom” for you.  Own the debt and you can own the world.

No — Bernie Sanders wasn’t crazy.  America could easily afford universal health care and virtually free education at state colleges and universities.  Our elites simply choose not to consider these proposals, let alone fund them.  But more nukes?  More wars?  More jets and subs and tanks?  Right this way, my boy!

All these trillions for weapons and wars — one thing is certain: “freedom,” as they say, sure isn’t free.

Update (2/27/18): At TomDispatch.com, Bill Hartung goes into greater detail on the Pentagon’s massive budget for 2018 and 2019.  As he notes: “The figures contained in the recent budget deal that kept Congress open, as well as in President Trump’s budget proposal for 2019, are a case in point: $700 billion for the Pentagon and related programs in 2018 and $716 billion the following year. Remarkably, such numbers far exceeded even the Pentagon’s own expansive expectations. According to Donald Trump, admittedly not the most reliable source in all cases, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis reportedly said, ‘Wow, I can’t believe we got everything we wanted’ — a rare admission from the head of an organization whose only response to virtually any budget proposal is to ask for more.”

The title of Hartung’s article sums it up: The Pentagon Budget as Corporate Welfare for Weapons Makers.

Put succinctly, it’s warfare as welfare — and wealth-care — for the military-industrial complex.

12 thoughts on “A trillion here, a trillion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money

  1. You got billions and trillions confused in your first point on the F-35- I guess that makes the larger point that we’ve all lost track!

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    1. Thanks! Yes, I caught it just after I sent the article out — and it got me thinking about how easily we mix up “billion” and “trillion” — these numbers just blur. Which I suppose is what the Pentagon is counting on.

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  2. One of my web activities is tracking the F-35 program, which has been (under)estimated at $1.4 trillion lifetime cost, for a system that has little utility when unmanned air systems are attaining predominance.

    The F-35 program is still in development, since 2001. Think of it as the Afghanistan of Pentagon systems acquisition. Sixteen years and counting. Obsolete. Despite its status, the Pentagon has been shoveling money to the prime contractor Lockheed-Martin to manufacture increasing numbers of faulty useless pre-production aircraft, a system that has not yet undergo operational testing because they can’t provide suitable test aircraft systems.

    Is the Pentagon using auditable contracts to procure these useless systems, at about $150 million per copy? No. The last four annual lots of aircraft, 9-12, at under a hundred aircraft per year, have been procured without contracts. It’s okay, Lockheed-Martin just reported record earnings, and its stock price has increased accordingly. It’s a buy!!

    This is corporate welfare on steroids, and the play-for-pay US Congress is a prime player, along with Pentagon generals who back the whole mess. And they talk about corruption in Afghanistan!

    …from the recent F-35 test report:
    • The operational suitability of the F-35 fleet remains below requirements and is dependent on work-arounds that would not meet Service expectations in combat situations. Over the previous year, most suitability metrics have remained nearly the same, or have moved only within narrow bands which are insufficient to characterize a change in performance.
    • Overall fleet-wide monthly availability rates remain around 50 percent, a condition that has existed with no significant improvement since October 2014, despite the increasing number of new aircraft. One notable trend is an increase in the percentage of the fleet that cannot fly while awaiting replacement parts – indicated by the Not Mission Capable due to Supply rate.
    • Reliability growth has stagnated. It is unlikely that the program will achieve the JSF ORD threshold requirements at maturity for the majority of reliability metrics. Most notably, the program is not likely to achieve the Mean Flight Hours Between Critical Failures threshold without redesigning aircraft components.
    • Finally and most importantly, the program will likely deliver Block 3F [full war fighting software] to the field with shortfalls in capabilities the F-35 needs in combat against current threats.

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    1. Many years ago (I forget how many) I read where someone had asked President Lyndon Johnson why he didn’t speak more about Vietnam. His reply: “When you have a mother-in-law, and she has only one eye, and she has it in the middle of her forehead, you don’t let her sit in the living room when guests arrive.” Something like that. For some reason I always associate that lurid image with these vast boondoggle weapons deals that produce unuseable, if not downright dangerious to operate, “White Elephants,” as we used to call them. With the F-35 aircraft and Admiral Zumwalt destroyer, we not only have two White Elephants, but probably the beginning of a stampede of them. Or, in other words …

      From The Triumph of Strife: an homage to Dante Alighieri and Percy Shelley (lines 1051-1120):

      Albino Pachyderms

      White elephants sit in the living room
      Like Johnson’s Cyclops mother of a wife,
      Inhibiting the conversation’s bloom

      Suggesting by their presence sordid strife:
      Returns upon investments others made,
      Supported troops supported out of life

      Supporting politicians in the shade
      Who can’t support enough to get their fill.
      Upon the treasury they make a raid

      To profit from supporting those who kill.
      With such support the troops deploy once more,
      Their stop-loss orders telling them they will:

      A back-door draft supporting troops galore,
      Their Raven contracts honored “Nevermore.”

      Supporters of the troops roll in the dough,
      Their carpetbagging no-bid contracts huge.
      It’s not the “what” but rather “whom” they know;

      Their lobby toilet swirl a centrifuge
      That separates no quo from any quid.
      They figure after them comes the deluge,

      So better get it now and get it hid;
      A last-chance grab at all the graft that spurts
      From under troop-supporting’s toilet lid.

      They chant their Mammon mantra till it hurts
      To grease the skids for their corrupt cohort.
      Out from their flapping lips their lying blurts:

      “Support! support! support! support! support!”
      For sport, for sport, for sport, for sport, for sport.

      A “higher” father George the Worst consults,
      Like Jesus putting Joseph in his place:
      A put-down of his dad that got results,

      Like Mama causin’ Joe to lose his face
      By fornicatin’ with a larger dude
      Who knocked her up and left Joe in disgrace,

      The butt of village jokes both lame and rude.
      A scarlet Hebrew letter marks his shame;
      A cuckold branded for ineptitude

      Whose ingrate stepson chooses to defame
      The carpenter whose work earned him release
      From doing business in the earthly game.

      Like Zeus seducing peasant girls in Greece,
      Old Yahweh came on down and got a piece.

      Thus satisfied in his own mind, George plays
      With legendary myths about his birth.
      His limited attention span betrays

      No grasp of any knowledge of the earth.
      But with the Big Spook coaching him at night
      He feels no consciousness of any dearth.

      So anything, he figures, adds up right
      As long as “up in heaven” Daddy grins
      And says to disregard the nation’s plight;

      For nothing that George does can count as sins
      To those who never think a dumb thing odd.
      For all the lies and bullshit that he spins

      They genuflect and kowtow to a fraud
      Who swears that late at night he talks to GAWD.

      White elephants mean waste on scales so vast
      That few can comprehend the sunken cost
      Or summon any samples from the past

      To illustrate just how much we have lost.
      But like the busted gambler who can’t quit,
      Dame Clinton hopes the sun will melt the frost.

      And so into the wringer goes her tit,
      While Betty Boops and pampered poops cavort;
      Like flies about an open wound, they flit.

      In pain, the faces of our troops contort
      While she supports King George’s contract firms.
      Such rank ingratitude at their “support”!

      They hope to finish, then begin new terms,
      These asinine albino pachyderms.

      Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2006-2010

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    2. And just think — the F-35 was supposed to be the low-cost fighter! I remember the initial planning for the JSF — joint strike fighter — when I was working flight planning systems in the AF from 1995-98. The program is already roughly 20 years old and yet it’s still a mess. It’s sort of like the F-111 program from the 1960s. You can’t build a plane that’s great for all the services and for all missions, so you end up with a kluge …

      There’s really nothing wrong with the A-10, the F-15/16, and F-18. But I suppose you can’t make lots of money by simply building the same models with some updates and tweaks. The big money is in building new planes with “stealth” and special helmets and fancy software and all the rest.

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    3. “And they talk about corruption in Afghanistan!” Thank you DonBacon for pointing that out. In a perverse way they are right, as they are the ones who caused the corruption so they know all about it. It takes two to tango.
      Afghanistan traditionally – and to a large extent still – being a tribal society, obviously always had a lot of nepotism. The clan comes before the individual, which is the logical basis for survival in harsh conditions.
      There no doubt also was pay-to-play corruption as in any country in the world, but never at the level it has attained under our guidance. Just think of all the millions – which by now may have accumulated to billions – unaccounted for in military spending alone, plus civilian contractors and even individuals with their (litterally) suitcases full of dollars.
      At the other end a largely unemployed country and underpaid civil servants with a moral obligation to support a huge extended family ‘All for One and One for All’ (sounds familiar?). Not easy to resist complementing your meagre salary with a few dollars (city house rents skyrocketed because of our presence, but salaries did not), while on the highest levels it became sheer cynical greed, including fat offshore bank accounts.
      To paraphrase Andy Singer’s neocolonialism picture : “We’ve corrupted your country. Now you can pay us for eradicating that scourge.’

      Not that the EU is much better. We traffic Afghan refugees by returning them to their dangerous country, as we made that a condition for continued financial support.
      The line between corruption and blackmail can be very thin.

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    4. Great report on F-35. Thanks. As a retired adman, I found Billary’s campaign terrible for 1BIL$, vs Trump’s 250Mil. Both thieves, Trump won because he was not surrounded with them. Podesta’s are not admen, but government/lobbyist hacks. I call her “The Edsel” of candidates. It all ‘worked’; beautiful clothes, great face/hairdo: but something was wrong.
      Ford was smart enough to cancel their mistake in 2 years! The F-35 is an Edsel. Us US taxpayers pay for their mistakes!

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  3. It’s not only $150 million aircraft and $12 billion ships, it’s $200K jeeps . . .for the National Guard!
    contract award announced Feb 23:
    AM General LLC, South Bend, Indiana, was awarded an $11,843,793 modification (P00008) to contract W56HZB-16-C-0068 to procure an additional 60 vehicles for the M1167 High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles Recapitalization program for the Army National Guard.

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  4. The US Army is expanding toward the half-million personnel mark, when the country has no need of a standing army at all for national security. “Protecting our freedom” they say. Actually, Canada and Mexico are quite benign.
    The Constitution addresses the situation well:
    Article I, Section 8
    1: The Congress shall have Power . . .
    12: To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;
    13: To provide and maintain a Navy;

    Of course as we well know the problem comes when some fabricated need for the army is dreamed up and the army is sent to kill people who resist it in some pitiful land on the other side of the planet, a project the army always fails at. But hey, there’s good money in it.

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  5. “it’s warfare as welfare — and wealth-care — for the military-industrial complex”
    Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT) released its quarterly earnings results on Monday, January 29th. The aerospace company reported $4.30 EPS for the quarter, beating analysts’ consensus estimates of $4.06 by $0.24. Lockheed Martin had a return on equity of 354.55% and a net margin of 3.92%. The firm had revenue of $15.14 billion for the quarter, compared to analyst estimates of $14.72 billion. During the same quarter in the previous year, the company posted $3.25 EPS. The business’s revenue was up 10.1% on a year-over-year basis.

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