Public Budgets

Nov
29

Talk Nation Radio: George Lakey on Viking Economics

https://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/talk-nation-radio-george-lakey-on-viking-economics

George Lakey recently retired from Swarthmore College where he was Eugene M. Lang Visiting Professor for Issues in Social Change and managed the Global Nonviolent Action Database research project. His first arrest was for a civil rights sit-in. He has served as an unarmed bodyguard for human rights defenders in Sri Lanka. Lakey has led over 1500 social change workshops on five continents, and founded and for fifteen years directed Training for Change. In 2010 he was named “Peace Educator of the Year” and published his authoritative text on adult education, Facilitating Group Learning. We discuss his ninth book, Viking Economics: How the Scandinavians Got it Right -- and How We Can Too.

Total run time: 29:00

Host: David Swanson.Producer: David Swanson.Music by Duke Ellington.

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Nov
18

Born on Home Plate

Remember the satirical "Billionaires for Bush" protesters? Around this time in 2008 I asked them to become Oligarchs for Obama, and they refused. But I predict Tycoons for Trump will be born this month. Inequality, like war and climate destruction, has its face now.

Chuck Collins' book, Born on Third Base: A One Percenter Makes the Case for Tackling Inequality, Bringing Wealth Home, and Committing to the Common Good, presents the problem of inequality as well as any I've seen. Collins was born into wealth, gave it away, but still refers to himself as one of the wealthy, perhaps because of all the lasting privileges wealth brought him. Collins sites other examples, as well, of the wealthy putting their wealth to better use than hoarding.

Collins explains how a lot of philanthropy is, however, counterproductive, benefitting those least in need of it. He argues for a popular movement to create progressive taxation and progressive restraints on income. But he also makes a case for appealing to one percenters for solidarity, rather than demonizing them -- apparently because this has proven to work better but also because it's too late for anything else. Wealth has been so concentrated that without defections at the top it will never be truly shared again.

Jun
15

We Should Be More Viking

Tag: Book and Movie Reviews, Political Ideas, Public Budgets

A birth lottery winner, or a chooser behind a Rawlsian veil of ignorance, today would likely end up not as a U.S. billionaire's child (much less a random U.S. child), but as a child in Scandinavia. That is, whether you're looking for higher happiness, life-expectancy, health, education, safety, and quality of life, or you're looking for environmental sustainability, social justice, and relations of peace and generosity with the rest of the world, the model today is the land of the Vikings' descendants.

Traditionally it has not been popular in the United States to emulate others. Books on how Europe is better than here don't always fly off U.S. shelves. Michael Moore's latest movie is not his highest grossing. On the other hand, Senator Bernie Sanders made the Scandinavian model the core of his surprisingly successful campaign. Many voices were quick to tell him that his socialism doesn't work in theory. He was quick to reply that it has nonetheless been proven to work in practice.

Feb
11

What Obama Did While You Were Watching Elections

Tag: Elections, Peace and War, Public Budgets

Pass the popcorn! Wait till I tweet this! Did you see the look on his face?

Ain't elections exciting? We just can't get enough of them, which could be why we've stretched them out to a couple of years each, even though a small crowd of Super Delegates and a couple of state officials with computer skills could quite conceivably decide the whole thing anyway.

Through the course of this marvelous election thus far I've been trying to get any human being to ask any candidate to provide just the most very basic outline of the sort of budget they would propose if president, or at least some hint at the single item in the budget that takes up more than half of it. Do they think military spending should go up, go down, or stay right where it is?

Who knows! Aren't elections wonderful?

I'd even settle for the stupid "gotcha" question in which we find out if any of the candidates knows, even roughly, what percentage of the budget military spending is now.

Why is this topic, although seemingly central, scrupulously avoided?

The candidates all, more or less, agree. None of the candidates brings it up. Nobody in Congress, not even the "progressive" caucus, brings it up. Nobody in the corporate media brings it up. The corporate media outlets see war profiteers as customers who buy ads. The corporate media outlets see war profiteers in the mirror as parts of their corporate families. The fact that the military costs money conflicts with the basic premise of U.S. politics which is that one party wants to spend money on socialistic nonsense while the other party wants to stop spending money and build a bigger military.

Those seem like the obvious answers, but here's another. While you're being entertained by the election, President Obama is proposing a bigger military than ever. Not only is U.S. military spending extremely high by historical standards, but looking at the biggest piece of military spending, which is the budget of the Department of so-called Defense, that department's annual "Green Book" makes clear that it has seen higher spending under President Barack Obama than ever before in history.

Check out the new budget proposal from the President who distracted millions of people from horrendous Bush-Cheney actions with his "peace" talk as a candidate eight years ago. He wants to increase the base Do"D" budget, both the discretionary and the mandatory parts. He wants to increase the extra slush fund of unaccountable money for the Do"D" on top of that. This pot used to be named for wars, but wars have gotten so numerous and embarrassing that it's now called "Overseas Contingency Operations."

When it comes to nuclear weapons, Obama wants to increase spending, but when it comes to other miscellaneous extras for the military, he also wants to increase that. Military retirement spending, on the other hand, he'd like to see go up, while the Veterans Administration spending he proposes to raise. Money for fueling ISIS by fighting it, Obama wants raised by 50%. On increasing hostility with Russia through a military buildup on its border, Obama wants a 400% spending boost. In one analysis, military spending would jump from $997.2 billion this year to $1.04 trillion next year under this proposal.

That's a bit awkward, considering the shade it throws on any piddly little project that does make it into election debates and reporting. The smallest fraction of military spending could pay for the major projects that Senator Bernie Sanders will be endlessly attacked for proposing to raise taxes for.

It's also awkward for the whole Republican/Hillary discussion of how to become more militarized, unlike that pacifist in the White House.

And, of course, it's always awkward to point out that events just go on happening in the world rather than pausing out of respect for some inanity just uttered by Marco Rubio.

Jan
31

What Does a Progressive Budget Look Like?

Tag: Peace and War, Public Budgets

A Proposal from World Beyond WarDavid Swanson, Directorhttp://WorldBeyondWar.org

The Congressional Progressive Caucus has requested budget proposals from organizations and members of the public. Here is a friendly suggestion from World Beyond War.

Last year’s Congressional Progressive Caucus budget proposed to cut military spending by, in my calculation, 1%. In fact, no statement from the Progressive Caucus even mentioned the existence of military spending; you had to hunt through the numbers to find the 1% cut. This was not the case in other recent years, when the CPC prominently proposed to end wars and cut particular weapons. With all due respect, how is this censoring of any mention of the military evidence of progressing, rather than regressing?

Military spending is 53.71% of discretionary spending, according to the National Priorities Project. No other item adds up to even 7%. Whether a budget proposal is progressive, communist, fascist, conservative, or libertarian, how can it avoid mentioning this elephant in the room? Military spending, of course, produces the need for ongoing additional spending on debt, care for veterans, etc., so that total U.S. military spending is somewhere over twice the figure used by NPP.

Using the numbers of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which leaves out huge U.S. military expenses (which are of course in several departments of the government), U.S. military spending is as much as the next several nations’ combined — and most of those nations are close U.S. allies and major U.S. weapons industry customers. Because SIPRI almost certainly leaves out more U.S. spending than spending by other nations, in reality U.S. spending on militarism is probably the equivalent of a great many, if not all other, foreign nations combined.

In addition, U.S. military spending is extremely high by historical standards. Looking at the biggest piece of military spending, which is the budget of the Department of so-called Defense, that department’s annual “Green Book” makes clear that it has seen higher spending under President Barack Obama than ever before in history. Here are the numbers in constant 2016 dollars, thanks to Nicolas Davies:

Obama      FY2010-15      $663.4 billion per yearBush Jr      FY2002-09*   $634.9    ”       ”      ”Clinton       FY1994-2001  $418.0    ”       ”      ”Bush Sr      FY1990-93     $513.4    ”       ”      ”Reagan      FY1982-89     $565.0    ”       ”      ”Carter         FY1978-81    $428.1     ”       ”      ”Ford            FY1976-77    $406.7     ”      ”       ”Nixon          FY1970-75    $441.7     ”      ”       ”Johnson      FY1965-69    $527.3     ”      ”       ”Kennedy     FY1962-64    $457.2     ”      ”       ”Eisenhower FY1954-61    $416.3     ”      ”      ”Truman       FY1948-53    $375.7     ”      ”      ”*Excludes $80 billion supplemental added to FY2009 under Obama.

War Spending Drains an Economy:

It is common to think that, because many people have jobs in the war industry, spending on war and preparations for war benefits an economy. In reality, spending those same dollars on peaceful industries, on education, on infrastructure, or even on tax cuts for working people would produce more jobs and in most cases better paying jobs — with enough savings to help everyone make the transition from war work to peace work.

War Spending Increases Inequality:

Military spending diverts public funds into increasingly privatized industries through the least accountable public enterprise and one that is hugely profitable for the owners and directors of the corporations involved.

War Spending Is Unsustainable, As Is Exploitation it Facilitates:

While war impoverishes the war making nation, can it nonetheless enrich that nation more substantially by facilitating the exploitation of other nations? This is far from clear, and if it were, it would not be sustainable in light of the dangers created by war, the environmental destruction of war, and the economic drain of militarism.

The Money Is Needed Elsewhere:

Green energy and infrastructure would surpass their advocates’ wildest fantasies if some of the funds now invested in war were transferred there. Morally, they must be. As a matter of simple continued human existence, they must be, as they must be transferred to housing, education, infrastructure, and healthcare — at home and abroad.

It would cost about $30 billion per year to end starvation and hunger around the world. It would cost about $11 billion per year to provide the world with clean water. U.S. foreign aid right now is about $23 billion a year. Increasing it would have a number of interesting impacts, including the saving of a great many lives and the prevention of a tremendous amount of suffering. It would also, if one other factor were added, make the nation that did it the most beloved nation on earth. A recent poll of 65 nations found that the United States is far and away the most feared country, the country considered the largest threat to peace in the world. Were the United States responsible for providing schools and medicine and solar panels, the idea of anti-American terrorist groups would be as laughable as anti-Switzerland or anti-Canada terrorist groups, but only if one other factor were added — only if the funding came from where it really ought to come from — reductions in militarism.

Some U.S. states are setting up commissions to work on the transition from war to peace industries.

Popular opinion polls show huge support for cutting militarism and increasing spending in useful areas. In 2011 numerous polls found the top public solution to a budget “crisis” was to tax the super-rich, and the second most popular solution was to cut the military. This support increases dramatically when people find out how high military spending now is. Polls show that people have no idea. The Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland showed people the budget and then asked them about it. The results were very encouraging.

If a supposedly “progressive” caucus will not so much as tell people what the basic outlines of the budget look like, why produce a progressive budget? If you will tell people what the budget looks like, you really ought to follow through by proposing to change it.

We recommend eliminating nuclear weapons and working with the rest of the world to do the same globally. We recommend closing foreign bases, removing foreign and ocean-based weapons, and keeping U.S. troops within 200 miles of the United States. We recommend eliminating aircraft carriers, long-range missiles and other weapons that serve an offensive rather than a defensive purpose. We recommend eliminating secret “special” forces and weaponized drones that allow presidential killing sprees without Congressional oversight. This should, of course, be done through a program of conversion or transition that strategically retools and retrains to benefit U.S. and world workers, infrastructure, energy systems, the natural environment, and international relations.

We thank you for your consideration and encourage you to contact us for additional information.

Jan
06

Iniquity, the 0.000006%, and Who Pays $300k to Hear Hillary

The United States' 20 wealthiest people (The 0.000006 Percent) now own more wealth than the bottom half of the U.S. population combined, a total of 152 million people in 57 million households. The Forbes 400 now own about as much wealth as the nation's entire African-American population — plus more than a third of the Latino population — combined; more wealth combined than the bottom 61 percent of the U.S. population, an estimated 194 million people or 70 million households.

These stats are from the Middle Ages and also from the Institute for Policy Studies which acknowledges that much wealth is hidden offshore and the reality is likely even worse.

What did those 20 wealthiest, most meritorious people do to deserve such disgusting riches? The group includes four Wal-Mart heirs, three Mars candy heirs, and two Koch brother heirs. They earned their wealth by being born to wealthy parents, just like some who want to work for them, such as Donald Trump. One politician is actually one of them: Michael Bloomberg.

These individuals could fund a total shift to clean energy or end starvation on earth or eradicate diseases. That they choose not to is murderous and shameful. It's not their sacred right. It's not cute. And it's not funny when one of them pretends to give his money away by giving it to himself.

The 0.000006 Percent has a tight grip on the media as well, with Jeff Bezos owning the Washington Post and Amazon, Sheldon Adelson buying newspapers, Mark Zuckerberg owning Facebook, Larry Page and Sergey Brin with Google, Warren Buffet owning whole chains of newspapers, and again Bloomberg with Bloomberg News.

In the first phase of the 2016 Presidential election cycle, according to the New York Times, 158 wealthy donors provided half of all campaign contributions, 138 of them backing Republicans, 20 backing Democrats. No candidate can easily compete without huge amounts of money. And if you get it from small donors, as Bernie Sanders has done the most of, you'll be largely shut out of free media coverage, and belittled in the bit of coverage you're granted. The media coverage, the debate questions, and the topics discussed are determined by the interests of the wealthy in this national oligarchy.

Then there's the corrupt foundation money and speaking fees flowing into the Clinton family from wealthy sources in the U.S. and abroad. While most Americans are unable to sit through a full presidential debate, Wall Street, Big Pharma, and corporate technology interests have shelled out hundreds of thousands of dollars supposedly just to hear Hillary or Bill Clinton speak.

According to a new report by Consortium News, Hillary Clinton took in $11.8 million in 51 speaking fees between January 2014 to May 2015. Bill Clinton delivered 53 paid speeches to bring in $13.3 million during that same period. That's over $25 million total, largely if not entirely from wealthy parties with a strong interest in influencing U.S. government policy.

This system of rewarding former politicians is one of the great corrupting forces in Washington, DC, but the revolving door that brings such politicians back into power makes it many times worse.

According to the Washington Post, since 1974 the Clintons have raised at least $3 billion, including at least $69 million just from the employees and PACs of banks, insurance companies, and securities and investment firms.

According to the International Business Times, the Clintons' foundation took in money from foreign nations while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, nations such as Saudi Arabia for which she then waived restrictions on U.S. weapons sales. (Also on that list: Algeria, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Qatar.) I brought this up on a recent television program, and one of the other guests protested that I was not, at that moment, criticizing Donald Trump. But, even if we assume Trump is the worst person on earth, what has he done that is worse than taking a bribe to supply Saudi Arabia with the weapons that have since been used to slaughter children in Yemen? And what does Trump have to do with bribery? He's self-corrupted. He's in the race because of the financial barrier keeping decent people out. But he hasn't been bribed to act like a fascist.

The Wall Street Journal reports that during the same period, Bill Clinton was bringing in big speaking fees from companies, groups, and a foreign government with interests in influencing the U.S. State Department. Eight-digit donors to the Clintons' foundations include Saudi Arabia and Ukrainian oligarch Victor Pinchuk. Seven digit donors include: Kuwait, Exxon Mobil, Friends of Saudi Arabia, James Murdoch (son of Rupert), Qatar, Boeing, Dow, Goldman Sachs, Wal-Mart and the United Arab Emirates. Those chipping in at least half a million include Bank of America, Chevron, Monsanto, Citigroup, and the Soros Foundation. And they don't even get a speech!

Sign this petition:We urge the Clintons to clear their corrupted image by donating their $25 million in recent lecture fees to organizations legitimately working for campaign finance reform, Wall Street reform, environmental protection, and peace.

Watch this video.

Oct
23

Veto Corleone Already in White House

Tag: Peace and War, Public Budgets, Public Policy

President Barack Obama has vetoed a military authorization bill. Why would he do such a thing?

Was it because dumping $612 billion into a criminal enterprise just finally struck him as too grotesque?

Nope.

Was it because he grew ashamed of holding the record for highest average annual military spending since World War II, not even counting Der Homeland Security Department or military spending by the State Department, the Energy Department, the Veterans Administration, interest on debt, etc.?

Nope. That would be crazy in a world where pretense is everything and the media has got everyone believing that military spending has gone down.

Was it because the disastrous war on Afghanistan gets more funding?

Nope.

The disastrous war on Iraq and Syria?

Nope.

The monstrous drone wars murdering 1 vaguely identified person for every 9 innocents slaughtered?

You kidding?

Oh, I've got it. Was it because building newer, bigger, and smaller more "usable" nuclear weapons is just too insane?

Um, nope. Nice guess, though.

Well what was it?

One reason that the President provided in his veto statement was that the bill doesn't allow him to "close" Guantanamo by moving it -- remember that prison still full of people whom he, the President, chooses to keep there despite their having been cleared for release?

Another reason: Obama wants more money in the standard budget and less in his slush fund for the War on the Middle East, which he renamed Overseas Contingency Operations. Obama's language suggests that he wants the base budget increased by more than he wants the slush fund reduced by. The slush fund got a piddley little $38 billion in the vetoed bill. Yet the standard budget is deemed so deficient by Obama that, according to him, it "threatens the readiness and capabilities of our military and fails to provide the support our men and women in uniform deserve." For real? Can you name a man or woman in uniform who would receive a dime if you jumped the funding of the most expensive military in the history of the known universe by another $100 billion? The President also complains that the bill he's vetoed did not allow him to "slow growth in compensation."

Another reason: Obama is worried that if you leave limits in place on military spending in the "Defense" Department, that will mean too little military spending in other departments as well: "The decision reflected in this bill to circumvent rather than reverse sequestration further harms our national security by locking in unacceptable funding cuts for crucial national security activities carried out by non-defense agencies."

Hope and Change, people! Here's a full list of the areas in which Senator Bernie Sanders has expressed disagreement with President Obama's preferences on military spending:

 

 

 

 

 

##

Aug
21

When $8.5 Trillion is Chump Change

Tag: Peace and War, Public Budgets

Three cheers for Reuters pointing out that the Pentagon can't explain what it did with $8.5 trillion that taxpayers gave it between 1996 and 2013.

Three trillion cheers for a blogger who is pointing out that this fact renders many other concerns ludicrous, and recommending that people bring it up at every opportunity:

"What's that? Body cameras for all cops will be too expensive? How about we find 1/10,000th of the money we sent to the Pentagon."

"Oh really? There's 500 million in provable food stamp fraud going to poor people how about the $8.5 TRILLION the pentagon can't account for?"

"Oh really? You think Obamacare is going to cost us almost a trillion dollars over 15 years? How about the 8.5 Trillion that just disappeared into the ether at the Pentagon? What's your take on that?"

"Oh really, you're concerned about deficit spending and the debt? Fully 1/3 of the national debt is money we sent the Pentagon and they can't tell us where it went. It's just gone."

"College for everyone will cost too much? You must be really pissed at the 8.5 Trillion, with a 't', dollars the pentagon's spent and can't tell us where it went."

This is all very good as far as it goes, whether you like the body cameras or corporate health insurance or other items or not. We could add an unlimited number of items including some expressing our concern for the other 96% of humanity:

"You can end starvation and unclean water for tens of billions of dollars; what about that $8.5 trillion?"

Et cetera.

But here's my real concern. The $8.5 trillion is just the bit that the Pentagon can't account for. That's far from all the money it was given. U.S. military spending, spread across several departments with the biggest chunk of it to the Department of so-called Defense, is upwards of $1 trillion every year. Over 17 years at the current rate, which rose sharply after 2001, that's upwards of $17 trillion.

Imagine that the Pentagon accounted for every dime of that missing $8.5 trillion, named every profiteer, documented the life history of every man, woman, and child killed, and passed the strictest audit by an independent team of 1,000 accountants reporting to 35 Nobel Laureates -- if that happened, I ask you, exactly what difference would it make?

Why is the $8.5 trillion that went to unknown purposes worse than the other trillions that went to known and named weapons and dictators and militants and recruitment campaigns? The documented and accounted for spending all went to evil purposes. Presumably the unaccounted for "waste" did the same. What's the difference between the two?

As World Beyond War points out, war has a huge direct financial cost, the vast majority of which is in funds spent on the preparation for war — or what's thought of as ordinary, non-war military spending. Very roughly, the world spends $2 trillion every year on militarism, of which the United States spends about half, or $1 trillion. This U.S. spending also accounts for roughly half of the U.S. government's discretionary budget each year and is distributed through several departments and agencies. Much of the rest of world spending is by members of NATO and other allies of the United States, although China ranks second in the world.

Wars can cost even an aggressor nation that fights wars far from its shores twice as much in indirect expenses as in direct expenditures. The costs to the aggressor, enormous as they are, can be small in comparison to those of the nation attacked.

It is common to think that, because many people have jobs in the war industry, spending on war and preparations for war benefits an economy. In reality, spending those same dollars on peaceful industries, on education, on infrastructure, or even on tax cuts for working people would produce more jobs and in most cases better paying jobs — with enough savings to help everyone make the transition from war work to peace work.

Military spending diverts public funds into increasingly privatized industries through the least accountable public enterprise and one that is hugely profitable for the owners and directors of the corporations involved -- thus concentrating wealth.

While war impoverishes the war making nation, can it nonetheless enrich that nation more substantially by facilitating the exploitation of other nations? Not in a manner that can be sustained.

Green energy and infrastructure would surpass their advocates’ wildest fantasies if the funds now invested in war were transferred there.

May
22

The 16 Core Progressive Policies, Really?

Tag: Peace and War, Political Ideas, Public Budgets, Public Policy

Salvatore Babones' proposals in Sixteen for '16: A Progressive Agenda for a Better America are not bad, assuming a progressive agenda can limit itself to one nation.

But these sorts of proposals tend to be -- and this one is no exception -- smart, compassionate takes on the topics that are in the corporate media. The topics that aren't already on your television also aren't in this book or others like it.

What should the U.S. public budget be? Is nearly double the 2001 level too much military spending, too little, or just right? Who knows. Babones doesn't say.

Why not consult someone on "the other 54% of the budget" that all such literature ignores (the military's 54% of discretionary spending, as calculated by the National Priorities Project)? Just a quick consultation with someone aware of the existence of the single largest public project of the United States would add something to all of these pseudo-electoral platforms.

Item number 14 in Babones' list is "Stop torturing, stop assassinating, and close down the NSA." He goes through the common pretense that Obama "banned torture," as if it weren't a felony that was simply going unpunished on Obama's orders. He follows this up with the usual pretense that the limited "ban" on torture opened up loopholes for torturing "legally." Babones does a bit better on drone murders. But what about manned-aircraft murders? Tank murders? Gun murders? What about war? Is war "progressive"? Who knows!

Should we, as the other 15 points propose, create jobs, build America's infrastructure, support public education, extend Medicare to everyone, raise taxes on top incomes, refinance social security, take down Wall Street, make it easy to join a union, set a living minimum wage, upgrade to 10-10-10, put an end to the prison state, pass a national abortion law, let people vote, suffer the refugee children, and save the earth? Of course, we should.

But if you're willing to end the prison state (and as the text expands on that, to end the militarization of local police) then you are willing to make significant change, and you are aware of the problem of militarization. So how does that little item that takes up 54% of the budget go AWOL from all of these projects?

If U.S. military spending were merely returned to 2001 levels, the savings of $213 billion per year could fund education, a new justice system, aid for refugees, an open and fair and verifiable election system, and the saving of the earth -- with a good bit of change left over.

Whence the nearly unanimous decision to avoid the topic? The Institute for Policy Studies, which published this book, does not ignore the topic elsewhere. Why does it not manage to infiltrate these progressive platforms? Perhaps peace is just not progressive.

World Beyond War

RootsAction.org

War Is A Crime

Talk Nation Radio

There Is No Way To Peace

Peace is the way.

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