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When $8.5 Trillion is Chump Change

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.

The 16 Core Progressive Policies, Really?

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.

If U.S. Military Spending Returned to 2001 Level

The House of Representatives has headed out of town to memorialize wars without managing to achieve agreement with the Senate on reauthorizing some of the most abusive "temporary" measures of the PATRIOT Act. Three cheers for Congressional vacations!

What if not just our civil liberties but our budget got a little bit of 2001 back?

In 2001, U.S. military spending was $397 billion, from which it soared to a peak of $720 billion in 2010, and is now at $610 billion in 2015. These figures from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (in constant 2011 dollars) exclude debt payments, veterans costs, and civil defense, which raise the figure to over $1 trillion a year now, not counting state and local spending on the military.

Military spending is now 54% of U.S. federal discretionary spending according to the National Priorities Project. Everything else -- and the entire debate in which liberals want more spending and conservatives want less! -- is contained within the other 46% of the budget.

U.S. military spending, according to SIPRI, is 35% of the world total. U.S. and Europe make 56% of the world. The U.S. and its allies around the globe (it has troops in 175 countries, and most countries are armed in great part by U.S. companies) make up the bulk of world spending.

Iran spends 0.65% of world military spending (as of 2012, the last year available). China's military spending has been rising for years and has soared since 2008 and the U.S. pivot to Asia, from $107 billion in 2008 to now $216 billion. But that's still just 12% of world spending.

Per capita the U.S. now spends $1,891 current U.S. dollars for each person in the United States, as compared with $242 per capita worldwide, or $165 per capita in the world outside the U.S., or $155 per capita in China.

The dramatically increased U.S. military spending has not made the U.S. or the world safer. Early on in the "war on terror" the U.S. government ceased reporting on terrorism, as it increased. The Global Terrorism Index records a steady increase in terrorist attacks from 2001 to the present. A Gallup poll in 65 nations at the end of 2013 found the United States overwhelmingly viewed as the greatest threat to peace in the world. Iraq has been turned into hell, with Libya, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia close behind. Newly embittered terrorist groups have arisen in direct response to U.S. terrorism and the devastation it's left behind. And arms races have been sparked that benefit only the arms dealers.

But the spending has had other consequences. The U.S. has risen into the top five nations in the world for disparity of wealth. The 10th wealthiest country on earth per capita doesn't look wealthy when you drive through it. And you do have to drive, with 0 miles of high-speed rail built; but local U.S. police have weapons of war now. And you have to be careful when you drive. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives U.S. infrastructure a D+. Areas of cities like Detroit have become wasteland. Residential areas lack water or are poisoned by environmental pollution -- most often from military operations. The U.S. now ranks 35th in freedom to choose what to do with your life, 36th in life expectancy, 47th in preventing infant mortality, 57th in employment, and trails in education by various measures.

If U.S. military spending were merely returned to 2001 levels, the savings of $213 billion per year could meet the following needs:

End hunger and starvation worldwide -- $30 billion per year.
Provide clean drinking water worldwide -- $11 billion per year.
Provide free college in the United States -- $70 billion per year (according to Senate legislation).
Double U.S. foreign aid -- $23 billion per year.
Build and maintain a high-speed rail system in the U.S. -- $30 billion per year.
Invest in solar and renewable energy as never before -- $20 billion per year.
Fund peace initiatives as never before -- $10 billion per year.

That would leave $19 billion left over per year with which to pay down debt.

You may say I'm a dreamer, but this is life and death. War kills more by how the money isn't spent than by how it is spent.

Free College or Another New War?

Noting that U.S. college costs have gone up 500% since 1985, the Washington Post recommends seven countries where U.S. students can go to college for free without bothering to learn the language of the natives or anything so primitive.

These are nations with less wealth than the United States has, but which make college free or nearly free, both for citizens and for dangerous illegals visiting their Homelands.

How do they do it?

Three of them have a higher top tax rate than the United States has, but four of them don’t.

What does the United States spend its money on that these other countries do not? What is the largest public program in the United States? What makes up over 50% of federal discretionary spending in the United States?

If you said “war,” it’s possible you were educated in a fine foreign country.

A comprehensive calculation of U.S. military spending puts it at over $1 trillion a year. The International Institute for Strategic Studies puts it at $645.7 billion in 2012. Using that smaller number, let’s compare the seven nations where Americans can find their human right to an education respected:

France $48.1 billion or 7.4% of U.S.
Germany $40.4 billion or 6.3% of U.S.
Brazil $35.3 billion or 5.5% of U.S.
Norway $6.9 billion or 1.1% of U.S.
Sweden $5.8 billion or 0.9% of U.S.
Finland $3.6 billion or 0.6% of U.S.
Slovenia $0.6 billion or 0.1% of U.S.

Oh, but those are smaller countries. Well, let’s compare military spending per capita:

United States $2,057
Norway $1,455 or 71% of U.S.
France $733 or 35% of U.S.
Finland $683 or 33% of U.S.
Sweden $636 or 31% of U.S.
Germany $496 or 24% of U.S.
Slovenia $284 or 14% of U.S.
Brazil $177 or 9% of U.S.

It’s worth noting that in wealth per capita, Norway is wealthier than the United States. It still spends significantly less per capita on war preparations. The others all spend between 9% and 35%.

Now, you may be a believer in militarism, and you may be shouting right about now: “The United States provides these other nations’ warmaking needs for them. When Germany or France has to destroy Iraq or Afghanistan or Libya, who does the heavy lifting?”

Or you may be an opponent of militarism, and you may be thinking about its many additional costs. Not only does the United States pay the most in dollars, but it generates the most hatred, kills the most people, does the most damage to the natural environment, and loses the most freedoms in the process.

Either way, the point is that these other countries have chosen education, while the United States has chosen a project that perhaps a well-educated populace would support, but we don’t have any way to test that theory, and it doesn’t look like we’re going to any time soon.

We have a choice before us: free college or more war?

Talk Nation Radio: George Vradenburg on How Alzheimer's Is Killing Us

George Vradenburg is the Chairman and Co-Founder of We discuss the new report finding Alzheimer's to be a leading cause of death in the U.S. We also ask Vradenburg whether perhaps a little money could move from the military to Alzheimer's research. Listen for the answer. Vradenburg is a member of the Private Sector Senior Advisory Committee, Homeland Security Advisory Council, Department of Homeland Security, and of the Council on Foreign Relations, and of the Economic Club of Washington.

Total run time: 29:00

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

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Now Two States Pursue Truly Affordable Education

Maryland may soon join Oregon in exploring solutions to the crisis of student debt and unaffordable education.

Education is supposed to be a human right.  But the United States puts people into deep debt to pay for it.  Short of taxing billionaires or dismantling bombers (both of which we're all, I hope, working on), what's the solution?

The state of Oregon has passed a law creating a commission to study a plan called "Pay it forward. Pay it back."  See Katrina vanden Heuvel: An Oregon Trail to End Student Debt.

This is not a plan to make education truly free, and that would probably be ideal.  But this is not, I think, a step that would move us away from that goal -- in the way that strengthening but tweaking the private health insurance system arguably moves us away from a single-payer solution.

This is, however, a plan that makes college tuition at state universities initially free.  Students would pay nothing up-front and borrow nothing from loan sharks.  Then they would pay the state back 3% of their income for some number of years, possibly 20.  The graduate who brings in $100 million per year would hand over $3 million.  The graduate who brings in $10,000 would pay $300.  While the purpose of an education for many students may not be related to money, in terms of money one is paying for what one gets.  If you buy an unmarketable skill, you pay nothing for it.  Some have responded by calling this perfect capitalism, while others have noted its correspondence with the ideal of "from each according to his/her means."  This system also seems fair to those not interested in college: they pay nothing.

There are shortcomings, of course.  Wealthy users of private universities contribute nothing to public universities under this scheme.  Pursuers of high-paying careers might drift in greater numbers toward private universities, if they can afford to.  A big investment is need to start this up, and then long-term trust in the public system is needed to keep it going in the face of inevitable pretenses that it's collapsing like Social Security (which -- breaking news! -- is not collapsing).  Most importantly, perhaps, the Oregon model covers only tuition. Room and board and books should be included as well, or the problem of student debt won't be solved.

But this is a creative possible step forward that could someday spread to every state and to private institutions as well, which might discover it is needed for them to compete. members in every state and Washington, D.C., recently emailed their state legislators by the thousands asking them to set up commissions similar to Oregon's and to seriously pursue solutions to unaffordable education.  You can do the same.

Here's the email that's being sent (you can edit it): 

"As a constituent, I urge you to consider:

"The state of Oregon has passed a law creating a commission to study a plan called "Pay it forward. Pay it back."  Under this plan, tuition at state universities will not be paid upfront or borrowed from loan sharks.  Graduates will pay the state back by handing over 3% of their income for some number of years.

"The Oregon model could be improved.  As proposed it covers only tuition.  Room and board and books should be included as well, or the problem of student debt won't be solved.

"Getting such a program started will take serious investment and political will.

"For our children and our grandchildren, please exercise the sort of leadership needed and move our state toward treating education as a right, not a privilege."

Almost immediately, RootsAction heard from Maryland State Delegate Kirill Reznik who said he had been considering this idea and wanted to move on it now.  He sent out this announcement:


"(ANNAPOLIS, MD) August 2, 2013 Following the recent passage of the 'Pay It Forward, Pay It Back' bill that overwhelmingly passed the Oregon State Legislature in July, Delegate Kirill Reznik (D- Germantown) plans to introduce a similar bill in Maryland. If passed, Maryland would become the second state to explore alternative options to the mounting student loan debt epidemic.

"'Pay It Forward, Pay It Back,' is an idea that originated out of a Capstone Seminar on student debt out of Portland State University, generating an innovative solution to student loan debt. Whereby students would go to college tuition free and then give back a small percentage of their gross annual income over the next 20-25 years until their tuition was paid in full. Ironically, Oregon passed the “Pay It Forward, Pay It Back” bill on the same day that Congress voted to double student loan rates.

"Delegate Reznik will be introducing legislation to authorize a study to determine whether or not such an idea will work and how best to roll it out.

"'Receiving a higher education is the most effective way to promote economic mobility. Unfortunately, the cost of education shuts out those opportunities for too many Marylanders. As the State with the best public education system in the country, we should also be on the forefront of expanding higher education. The economic opportunities that will come along with this innovative approach will make Maryland a top destination for business and industry,' said Delegate Reznik.


"Delegate Kirill Reznik is a member of the Maryland House of Delegates representing the 39th District in Montgomery County. His district includes the areas of Gaithersburg, Germantown, Montgomery Village, Washington Grove, North Potomac and segments of Darnestown, and Derwood. He began serving in the House of Delegates in October 2007, and sits on the Health Government Operations committee. He was currently appointed to serve as the Chair of the County Affairs Committee within the Montgomery County House Delegation."

Now, the question arises: What about your state?!

Sequester Optionally Applied Only to Good Things

Spending cuts have been applied by Congress to both military and non-military spending. 

In my view, the military cuts are much too small and the non-military cuts should not exist at all.  In the view of most liberal organizations, the military cuts -- like the military spending and the military itself -- are to be ignored, while the non-military cuts are to be opposed by opposing all cuts in general. 

But, guess what? 

The spending limits on the military are being blatantly violated.  Both houses of Congress have now passed military budgets larger than last year and larger than is allowed under the sequester. 

Meanwhile the sequester is being used to cut away at all that is good and decent in public policy.

Talk Nation Radio: Highway Boondoggles Bypass Budget Crunch

Randy "Salz" Salzman is a transportation writer and researcher and the author of Fatal Attraction: Curbing Our Love Affair With the Automobile Before it Kills Us.  He discusses how highway construction boondoggles that are bad for health, heritage, the environment, and even the flow of traffic, have survived in these times of cramped public budgets.  In particular, Salzman looks at the example of a proposed highway in Charlottesville, Va., opposed by the public but rolling ahead toward unsafe, destructive, and ridiculously expensive construction.

Total run time: 29:00

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

Download or get embed code from Archive or  AudioPort or LetsTryDemocracy.

Syndicated by Pacifica Network.

Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!

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