A Reminder Where the Real Money Is

From Philadephia Inquirer columnist Will Bunch’s newsletter (you can sign up here — it’s free):

>> The billions for a more just, less racist America are hiding in plain sight at the Pentagon 

You couldn’t blame the legions of marchers who’ve taken over some of America’s streets this past month in the name of justice for George Floyd for wondering which army they were fighting. Many protests have been met with weapons of warfare — with choking tear gas (actually, the UN doesn’t even allow that in war!), sharpshooters taking out eyes with rubber bullets, or cops tossing grenades that go flash and bang, occasionally with an armored personnel carrier as a scenic backdrop.

To protesters, the massive response by helmeted robocops is proving their point that America spends too much on policing, and it does! $115 billion a year to be exact. But what if the problem with “militarized police” isn’t only the police but the “militarized” part? … a sickness that manifests itself in warrior cops at home but also drone strikes in an endless U.S. “forever war” overseas.

What if the money to pay for all the social programs that our over-policed cities really need — to hire school nurses and buy new textbooks, and recruit a new kind of army of social workers and drug counselors — isn’t only supporting your local police, but hiding in plain sight on the left bank of the Potomac River?

No political leaders from either party ever ask how taxpayers could possibly afford the $1.5 trillion for the Pentagon’s underwhelming F-35 stealth jet, even as your coronavirus nurse works the ICU wearing a Hefty bag. — Will Bunch

Defund the police? Sure. But real leaders defund the Pentagon.

“Our security investments have been in too many of the wrong places,” Matt Duss, the top foreign-policy advisor to former presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, told me this week, in what could arguably be called an understatement. “We’ve need to have a serious conversation about reducing the defense budget.”

Do we ever! The current Pentagon annual budget of $736 billion is larger than military spending by the next 10 biggest nations combined — and we’re talking about places like China, Russia and India. (For the curious, only China’s military spends more than that $115 billion America spends just on cops.) Yet somehow, no political leaders from either party ever ask how taxpayers could possibly afford the $1.5 trillion (yes, with a “t”) that’s gone down a sinkhole for the Pentagon’s underwhelming F-35 stealth jet, even as your coronavirus nurse works the ICU wearing a Hefty bag.

The weird part of this, though, is the way that congressional Democrats — who once could be counted on to at least pay lip service to curbing the military-industrial complex — have thrown in the towel on defense cuts in the Trump era. When Democrats re-took control of the House in 2019, their $733 billion proposal for the Pentagon was only a tad smaller than President Trump’s bloated plan.

“Members of Congress are very concerned about being cast as ‘weak on defense,‘” Duss told me — a problem that’s become deeply rooted in the so-called “war on terror” era, post 9/11. There’s other issues — America’s politically wired allies in the Middle East and elsewhere pushing for a U.S. military presence, and defense jobs scattered across so many congressional districts.

Despite all these roadblocks, Congress, led by Duss’ boss, Vermont’s Sanders, last year turned heads with an unprecedented vote to end U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen — thwarted, of course, by a Trump veto. Now, in a George Floyd moment where radical change seems possible, Sanders is pushing an amendment to immediate cut defense spending by 10 percent to funnel more than $70 billion into anti-poverty programs.

Currently the most ambitious dreamer among the defund-the-Pentagon crowd is California Rep. Barbara Lee, the only House member to cast a “no” vote on authorizing the anti-terror war in 2001. Her resolution aims to cut U.S. defense spending roughly in half — some $350 million — which would include canceling Trump’s Space Force (the real one, not the badly reviewed TV show) and getting rid of a majority of America’s global archipelago of military bases. Can’t afford it? With a deep economic recession and pressing social needs, can we afford not to?

Taking on the military-industrial complex isn’t a distraction from the demands on the street for racial justice; rather, it cuts to the core of the problem. Whether armed men are firing tear gas into Lafayette Square or Predator drones into weddings in Afghanistan, the amount of money that America spends on suppressing, attacking and killing human beings is obscene. And there’s a new generation, with a new explanation, that’s figuring this out.

End Military Aid to Israel Now

From The Guardian:

Thousands of Gazans fled their homes … on Sunday after Israel warned that it would “strike with might” against what it says are rocket-launching sites.

The exodus … came after Israel dropped leaflets and sent text messages warning civilians to evacuate northern Gaza by midday on Sunday in advance of a large-scale bombing campaign. The area is home to at least 100,000 people….

The warning was issued hours after Israeli naval commandos launched an early morning raid on a beach … in the north of Gaza City, targeting another rocket-launching site. On Saturday the coastal enclave suffered the bloodiest day of the six-day Israeli assault, with 54 Palestinians reported killed.

There has been speculation that Israel may launch a ground offensive into Gaza, a move likely to sharply increase the number of civilian casualties. So far 166 people have been killed, including 30 children, according to Gaza’s health ministry. There have been several Israeli injuries but no fatalities….

In the worst single incident of the conflict so far, at least 17 people were killed and 45 injured when two large Israeli bombs hit a house in the Tuffah neighbourhood of Gaza City where the city’s chief of police … was sheltering. Five other people were missing, presumed dead.

Most of the injured were returning home from a mosque when they were caught by shrapnel from the blast.

Israel has been massing tanks and soldiers at Gaza’s borders, which some fear could signal a wider ground offensive that would cause heavy casualties. “We don’t know when the operation will end,” the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, told a cabinet meeting on Sunday. “It might take a long time.”

The United States gives more military aid to Israel than to any country except Afghanistan. This year we’re giving the Israelis more than 3 billion dollars to spend on their military. 

That’s between 15% and 20% of Israel’s military budget, even though Israel is a relatively wealthy country. According to the International Monetary Fund, Israel has a higher gross domestic product per capita than South Korea, New Zealand, Italy or Spain.

We should immediately cancel all military aid to Israel. They would still survive and prosper with a smaller military budget; we could create some jobs in America with $3 billion; our standing with the rest of the world would improve; and the right-wing Israelis might finally understand that they need to reach a reasonable accommodation with the Palestinians instead of treating them as if they’re less than human.

Choosing to Fall Behind

We’ve gotten used to thinking that America is the greatest country in the world. Obviously, we’re a rich and powerful nation that has historically been a land of opportunity for most of our citizens. We have accomplished so much. Yet we are falling behind other advanced nations. Not because of external circumstances, but by choice.

Eduardo Porter, writing in the NY Times, points out that: “Every developed country aspires to provide a better life for its people. The United States, among the richest of all, fails in important ways. It has the highest poverty and the highest infant mortality among developed nations. We provide among the least generous unemployment benefits in the industrial world. Not long ago one of the most educated countries in the world, the United States is slipping behind. The reason is not difficult to figure out: rich though we are, we can’t afford the policies needed to improve our record.”

Why are we falling behind? Mr. Porter explains:

“Citizens of most industrial countries have demanded more public services as they have become richer. And they have been by and large willing to pay more taxes to finance them. Since 1965, tax revenue raised by governments in the developed world have risen to 34 percent of their gross domestic product from 25 percent, on average.

The big exception has been the United States. In 1965, taxes collected by federal, state and municipal governments amounted to 24.7 percent of the nation’s output. In 2010, they amounted to 24.8 percent. Excluding Chile and Mexico, the United States raises less tax revenue, as a share of the economy, than every other industrial country.

No wonder we can’t afford to keep more children alive.”


Here are two principal reasons why we can’t afford to do what needs to be done.

Reason 1: We no longer have a progressive tax system. When you factor in the various kinds of taxes we pay, it turns out that the people who could afford to pay more are taxed at roughly the same rate as everyone else.



Reason 2: It’s hard to believe, but the US is responsible for at least 40% of the world’s total military spending. We spend 5 times as much as China and 10 times as much as Russia. Unless we’re going to fight the rest of the world, or maybe counter an invasion from outer space, we are wasting a whole lot of money that could be spent toward making this the greatest country in the world.


We are choosing to fall behind.