Why Don’t We See Headlines Touting the Pentagon’s Hefty Price Tag?

Yves here. This post raises a good question, why is the press so cowardly about discussing our bloated, overly ambitious, routinely underperforming military? But it doesn’t go very far in probing why the media gives the Pentagon a free pass.

One obvious explanation is access journalism. Cross the spooks or the Pentagon and you go to the end of the line in getting planted stories pet leaks and access to insiders who can spin ‘splain what is going on .

But a second factor is a love of men (and they still are nearly all men) with medals. Now that there’s no draft, few Americans have seen up close that the military is as screwed up as any big organization. I’ve been told by people in private equity that senior members of these firms, who are masters of the universe by pretty much any standard, are bedazzled by top military men and spooks. They love being around them, hire them as speakers, door openers, and portfolio company board members.

One proof of the degree to which the US media has been captured by the Pentagon is the wall to wall attacks on Biden after the US pulled out of Afghanistan. It was completely fair to criticize the Administration on poor execution, particularly in contrast to the Soviet exit in 1979. But how many nuanced critiques were there? The press delivered a barrage of “Bad US loss of prestige, bad things will be destabilized (as if our presence wasn’t destabilizing), bad dishonoring loss of life and treasure (sunk cost fallacy).” The “Oh did we screw up how we handled it” was mainly an afterthought. And one wonders if the poor process was a feature, not a bug.

By Sonali Kolhatkar, the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute. Produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute

Intense debate over the Build Back Better (BBB) legislation has triggered stern lectures by fiscal conservatives about government spending. The legislation, which hangs in the political balance between progressive lawmakers and conservative Democrats like Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, costs $1.75 trillion over 10 years in its present form, which is equivalent to $175 billion per year.

Compare this to President Joe Biden’s proposed military budget expenditure of $753 billion for the 2022 fiscal year. According to the Security Policy Reform Institute, “This amounts to an increase of well over $12 billion, meaning that Biden boosted Pentagon funding by an amount roughly equivalent to CDC’s entire annual budget.”

Extrapolating this figure over 10 years while accounting for the projected yearly increases—a good assumption considering that the military budget almost never loses its annual raise—predicts that American taxpayers will be footing almost $8 trillion on the “defense” slice of our budgetary pie in the coming decade.

Stephen Semler, co-founder of the Security Policy Reform Institute, explained to me in an interview that “it’s amazing how hydraulic the system is.” By that he meant, “they cut $25 billion for home care” from the BBB bill. Meanwhile, he said, “Congress increased Biden’s increase to the military budget by $25 billion at roughly the same time.”

While the costs of the newly passed infrastructure funding bill that Biden signed into law and the yet-to-pass BBB legislation have been discussed ad nauseam on the front pages of major newspapers and in passionate debates on television networks, there is nary a peep from those same sources about the bloated military budget whose size continues to balloon year after year.

For example, this Washington Post article in late September headlined, “Biden, Pelosi embark on late scramble to save $1 trillion infrastructure bill” was one of many similarly billed pieces in major outlets through the end of the summer and early fall.

Imagine a headline casting implicit aspersions on the Pentagon’s funding. The fact that the size of the military budget is more than four times the size of the BBB legislation ought to be emblazoned across our papers. But we can’t imagine seeing such ideas being discussed in mainstream avenues because the military budget is considered sacrosanct—and not just by most lawmakers but also by corporate media outlets.

Semler pointed out that there are “two concepts of spending—social spending and military spending—that play by two separate sets of spending rules.”

Coming on the heels of national hand-wringing over the costs of legislation that directly benefits the American people, the tacit acceptance of a military budget many times the cost of the social spending is jarring—but only to those paying very close attention or reading independent media outlets.

An example of fair reporting is Huffington Post writer Akbar Shahid Ahmed’s article, whose headline reads in part, “The Pentagon Budget Costs 4 Times As Much As Biden’s Social Policy Bill.”

Another example is Prakash Nanda’s article published in a non-U.S. outlet called the EurAsian Times, and headlined, “Joe Biden’s $778B Defense Budget Goes Unnoticed But His $170B Social Agenda Triggers A Huge Debate.”

No such headlines appeared in major U.S. news outlets.

It’s not as if there is zero debate in the nation over our spending priorities. If corporate media outlets like the Washington Post were taking their cues from progressive lawmakers like Bernie Sanders, they might have reported on the Vermont senator’s recent tweet pointing out how, “It is beyond absurd that at the same time as our nation continues to spend more on the military than the next 12 nations COMBINED, we are told over and over that we cannot afford to invest in the needs of working class people here at home.”

But instead, the Post and other outlets have continually amplified the desires and demands of conservative Democrats like Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), in story after story without following up on Manchin’s willingness to spend trillions of dollars on the Pentagon. An article pointing out the hypocrisy of fiscal conservatives and their blanket approval of military expenditures would practically write itself. It takes effort to avoid expressing such a narrative.

Even some U.S. residents see the absurdity of the silence over the military budget. Alice C. McCain, living in Washington state, wrote a letter to a local paper called the Kitsap Sun questioning the size of the military budget. She was able to see the clear contrast in priorities, writing, “Some of the same people who denounce the BBB plan as too expensive are eager to pass a bill giving the Pentagon $778 billion for one year, or nearly $8 trillion over ten years.”

She asks pointedly, “Why is it so hard to spend money on our country and its people, but so easy to dole out money for our military?” Her question is one that media outlets have judiciously avoided for years.

Organizations and think tanks like the Project on Government Oversight, National Priorities Project, and Semler’s Security Policy Reform Institute routinely call out the unjustifiably large Pentagon budget, offering up rich statistical comparisons, none of which seems good enough for major media outlets to highlight in a serious manner.

Ultimately, media outlets appear invested in the same sort of imperialist ambitions as politicians do. Semler pointed out how, “the fear of Biden going into office was that the debate that him and [former President Donald] Trump had over who could be tougher, and more ‘manly’ over China, during the lead-up to the general election would spill over into Biden’s policy.”

That fear was justified. In June, Biden signed an executive order citing, “the threat posed by the military-industrial complex of the People’s Republic of China,” and has continued to drum up anti-China sentiment while proposing a military budget increase. The Post and other corporate media outlets dutifully buttress the logic of increasing the Pentagon budget with alarmist stories about China’s expanding nuclear arsenal.

“Social spending could follow the same rules as military spending in that there’s always enough money,” said Semler. “But because Congress is only choosing to spend a certain amount [on social spending], effectively, military spending is stealing from social spending.” Imagine seeing a top story in our major media reflecting such a radical and yet patently obvious notion.

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43 comments

  1. Sound of the Suburbs

    The Right wing press have been putting out a lot of articles about how China and Russia are developing sophisticated new weapons that are more advanced than our own.
    I think the idea is to bump up defence spending even more.
    I respond with this comment.

    The US defence industry had got things down to a fine art.
    Milking the state of enormous amounts of money, while delivering little in technology.
    They had got this working really well, but now there is some competition.
    It’s going to be a big challenge for the US defence industry.
    Their competitors are delivering superior weapons on low budgets.

    Reply
    1. cnchal

      The obvious answer is for Raytheon and General Dynamics to fire the American worker and hire the Chinese worker to make their killing crapola. Bigger bang for the buck.

      It’s been going on for decades, why stop now?

      Reply
  2. PlutoniumKun

    I think the problem is more fundamental than spending X amount of money on defence and Y on social programmes or infrastructure. Since WWII US regional policy has essentially been a form of military Keynesianism – using military expenditure to shore up weaker regions or making up for losses elsewhere. Its arguably no more or less a ‘waste’ than building bridges to nowhere or pointless dams or drainage schemes or any other form of regional spending to balance things out.

    The more fundamental problem is that defence spending is clearly displacing more productive elements of the economy. In the 1980’s the Soviet Union could built world class tanks, fighters and nuclear submarines. But it couldn’t produce a car, refrigerator or airliner that anyone who had a choice would want to buy. The economy had become hopelessly distorted with every good engineer and scientists working directly or indirectly on the military. It seems to me that the US is well on this road to destruction.

    Reply
    1. David

      Yes, as you say, military Keynesianism is not dead, and all over the world isolated communities can be very dependent on military bases and military spending. And in a world which is MMT-literate, we understand that defence spending doesn’t have to be “at the expense” of anything else, provided that the necessary resources exist in the economy. A more serious argument against very high military spending is precisely that it distorts the use of productive resources, and provides perverse incentives for investment. This certainly happened in the US in the 80s and 90s, when many technology companies, finding they could not compete with higher-quality Japanese consumer imports, decided to specialise in military contracts where the competition was less fierce.

      I’ve always been fascinated by the attitude of glutinous admiration that Americans have for thier military. Pure speculation on my part, but I wonder if symbolically (I’m not talking about the reality) the military represent a necessary and welcome corrective to the official USian ideology of cutthroat economic competition and personal greed. In theory, and to some extent in practice, the military illustrate the bad conscience of a society based on greed, and an alternative model based on service. But as I say, that’s speculation.

      Reply
      1. Joe Well

        The cult of the military in practice is a lot like the cult of “essential workers.”

        The military enlisted are very, very disproportionately working class or even extremely poor, from rural or inner city areas, immigrants, “people of color” (especially Latinos), and with many fewer years of higher education.

        The fat cats and the big brass can hide behind the public’s reluctance to criticize this group of people and the widespread myth that most current enlisted and recent veterans have faith in the military as an institution.

        News propaganda feeds all of this.

        Two examples of these attitudes:

        1. The myth that college-educated draft-dodging hippies literally spat on returning soldiers during the Vietnam War.

        2. In the 2000s, John Kerry said something like if you don’t get an education you’ll end up stuck in Iraq. There was an outcry because everyone but everyone thought what he was saying was a transparent slur and cruelly true (he was trying to make a joke about the idiot GW Bush).

        Reply
        1. LowellHighlander

          Mr. Well,

          I think you hit on a point that warrants elaboration: the class element within the military.

          I, too, was caught up in the Economic Draft: I had no other way (other than going back to digging ditches) to obtain funding for graduate school, so I enlisted. And I found that in my old unit (at Camp LeJeune), there were plenty of people, many of whom were White and from rural America, who joined out of economic desperation.

          And how are the rank-and-file in the U.S. war machine now being treated? Apparently with such contempt by Congress and the War Department that many of them have to seek outside aid to keep their loved ones fed:

          https://www.military.com/paycheck-chronicles/2018/02/21/why-do-military-members-qualify-food-stamps.html

          As a Veteran, I only ask for one gift: I want to see the President of the United States go on national TV and show the country the lifestyles (and homes) of the executives at Lockheed-Martin, Raytheon, and all the other Beltway Bandits, because the money sure as hell isn’t going to the economic security and care of the service members’ families (or of many homeless veterans).

          Reply
      2. PlutoniumKun

        Yes, I’ve always been kind of surprised at the attitude in the US to the military, it goes well beyond the respect (and occasionally contempt) other countries have for ex army members. I lived for a while in Colchester, a big army town, and a lot of the locals, in particular the more upmarket residents of ‘south Suffolk’, were pretty contemptuous of the squaddies, and I don’t think the officers were considered all that important either, unless they were in the SAS, which rightly or wrongly is still regarded with a bit of awe.

        A few years ago my sister set up a conference organising business with her friend, a retired army officer. She had been, I believe, the highest ranking woman in the Irish Army at one time and had served with the UN in the Lebanon at a time when it was still semi-hot (i.e. Israeli backed groups would regularly take pot shots and occasionally more). So in that sense, she was no desk jockey, she’d commanded units in combat zones. Yet I don’t think it occurred to either of them to make anything but a tangental reference to this on their resumes on their website or to make any fuss about it. Certainly Irish clients would have seen it as a bit naff and pushy to have done so. But my sister did comment that US clients seemed very impressed when they found out about her background (much to my sisters disgust, who argued that her past of dealing with disturbed youths in care was much tougher than dealing with some soldiers).

        Reply
    2. upstater

      Military spending has long been directed to southern regions of the US. I do not think these “investments” ever had much to do with some sort of centralized military Keynesianism. The location of bases is driven by climate and weather, more than anything allowingfor much easier training. Many large contractors located in the south to avoid unions or get incentives from states. As the industry consolidated, it became even more concentrated in the south or California. It has been this way for 50 or 60 years. If you look at the northern tier of states there are comparatively few mega bases similar to Bragg, Bliss, Eglin, Pensacola, Lejeune or Norfolk (although upstate NY is graced with Ft Drum and 20,000 soldiers) . At the end of the cold war, virtually all the SAC bases in the northern tier were shutdown.

      DoD spending has enormous support from both parties and does not depend whatsoever on where and how the money is spent. Even congressional districts with virtually no military installations or contractors support this monster.

      Back in the mid 80s when I was in grad school, the engineering students were told half would end up in military industries. That surely remains the case today. The opportunity costs of this mal-investment of human capital are clear to see today. So that, as PK states, is a fundamental problem that won’t be solved by our enlightened leaders. The deification of the military goes way back and is as much a part of US culture and history as gunz.

      Reply
      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        You can’t run main line battle tanks through Connecticut. They likely woukdnt be useful in much of the region and too many people would complain. Artillery ranges woukd have to fire over neighborhoods. It’s really that simple, and supporting a base in a too distant rugged region has its own problems. No one is there or going to cross to where an ideal base location might be.

        The original military jets were developed in Ohio, but they needed bigger runways and hangar spaces so they moved. The old jet base in Ohio, besides housing the bodies from Roswell, is where they develop drones now.

        Reply
      2. Huey Long

        Excellent point, I was thinking about this very thing the other night!

        Just look at the Navy for example. They used to run big shipyards in Boston, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and on the San Francisco Bay. All of these are gone and the work they did is farmed out to civilian yards, most of which are in the south.

        Speaking of civilian shipyards, all the big northeastern ship builders that used to build ships for the Navy (Sun, NY Ship, GD Fore River) with the exception of Bath and Electric Boat are gone too.

        At one time the Navy had a fleet of repair ships and tenders to perform depot-level m&r worldwide. In the early 90’s it was decided to liquidate the tender/repair ship fleet ostensibly to save money and instead farm all that formerly in-house work to private contractors. I mean why spend money in-house when you can spend it on an overseas fat Leonard shipyard and get a kickback?

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    3. SteveD

      Its arguably no more or less a ‘waste’ than building bridges to nowhere or pointless dams or drainage schemes or any other form of regional spending to balance things out.

      If the ‘other form of regional spending’ serves to improve or create productive capacity then there is all of the difference in the world. True infrastructure is the gift that keeps on giving; military spending generally is not. Do you really think that, as an obvious example, building out a regional fiber optic network and then leasing it competitively would be “arguably no different” than spending the same $$$ on manufacturing tank components in the same region?

      Reply
  3. Larry Y

    Many of the best and brightest are already drawn to finance and web. The rest are being offshored.

    The contractors engage in much less age discrimination, can’t offshore, and have jobs located outside increasingly concentrated tech hubs.

    Reply
    1. JTMcPhee

      War contractors can’t offshore? Here is just one choke-point of offshoring that’s critical to the “modern” clumsy giant of the imperial military machine: https://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/articles/2018/11/8/offshore-battery-production-poses-problems-for-military

      Too bad no one important anywhere questions the endless continuation of the entire idiocy of that whole Game of Risk that is so thoroughly effing up the planet and the world’s political economy…

      Reply
  4. The Rev Kev

    This love of the troops is not just limited to the top end of town and I saw a beer add that made the point of thanking the troops like they should be. I have seen other videos along the same lines but in real life-

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pVSk5YtodyQ (59 secs)

    The truth though is more mundane where we read of the families of the troops not having enough to fed themselves or their kids. Or their being stationed in barrack rooms that are filled with black mold like at Camp Lejeune.

    But PK made the most relevant point that ‘The economy had become hopelessly distorted with every good engineer and scientists working directly or indirectly on the military.’ It is not the money but the actual resources being squandered. Even back in 1990, about 60% of research was directly or indirectly for military purposes. And think of the scientists and engineers who should be working on civil projection and revitalization projects but who work on military projects instead. Think if all those resources could be devoted to coping with and ameliorating climate change instead.

    Reply
    1. Ashburn

      I would add that despite many of our best and brightest working for weapons manufacturers, and the enormous sums we devote to the military, we are still losing ground in the military sphere to Russia and China. A World Economic Forum report states that in 2016 China produced 4.7 million STEM graduates a year, while the US produced 568,000 STEM graduates. Russia, with less than half the US population, graduated 561,000.

      This is not an argument that we need to spend more on the military, rather we need to completely rethink our over-extended militarized empire and realize the more we spend the faster we fall behind.

      See chart on Page 21: https://www3.weforum.org/docs/HCR2016_Main_Report.pdf

      Reply
  5. Kurtismayfield

    Isn’t one of the problems that the Congress critters/Senators can direct defence spending to their own districts? If it’s a social program it applies to everyone (or, if you are a New Democrat, to whoever means tests into it). But a defence contract can be directed to Bath ME, or Jacksonville NC.

    The pork must flow..

    Reply
  6. urblintz

    Seems the Pentagon has a built in COLA adjustment each year… now imagine what inflation will do to the paltry 1.7trillion in social spending “promised” over 10 years, never mind the inevitable cut backs which future republicans and democrats will oversee. Bi-partisanship means never having to say you’re sorry.

    Reply
  7. Ashburn

    I believe the situation is much worse than depicted in the article above. The military budget is not only stealing from the social needs of our citizens, it is buying crap with extravagant price tags attached. Case in point: our nuclear aircraft carriers and the entire battle groups of ships necessary to protect them have become sitting ducks to Russian and Chinese hypersonic anti-ship missiles. Yet we continue to build them, operate them, and maintain them at enormous cost. The latest boondoggle, the USS Gerald R. Ford, can’t even set sail because of delays, cost overruns, and equipment failures such as the electromagnetic launch system, the latest technology to replace the traditional steam-driven catapult launch system. And, of course, most taxpayers will never know about this because our corporate media has no interest in reporting on the crimes of our military-industrial-complex.

    Reply
    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      I’m sure the quality of soldiers is suspect, but the Russian beat down of Georgia’s NATO audition was a real eye opener, not that the Russians wouldn’t fight to win but the limits of or wonder weapons. With all the crazy stories, one would think this would get tossed around, but the performance of theoretical NATO grade troops must without air superiority is too embarrassing to dredge up.

      Reply
  8. Rod

    Good Holiday to be reminded of this.
    I pulled KP this day in both ‘73 & ‘74
    But in different countries, so there’s that.

    On Media’s choice to inform:
    It takes effort to avoid expressing such a narrative.
    At least more effort than a Citizen blowing it off.

    Although I will admit that Uncle Sam (as surrogate for my Society) did gave me the best shoes I’d ever worn in my 18 years prior.
    And I wasn’t the only one to comment on that.

    And the Attitude Adjustment I got certainly “woke” me up before it was a thang.
    And of course I carried that sense of duty forward by sharing my thoughts with the hundreds and hundreds of citizen students I since encountered.
    HooYah or whatever.

    As pointed out above, more bad than good is where we’re at.

    Reply
    1. Rod

      Oh, and because of the Holiday, in’74’, we didn’t scramble to, and countdown the Round.
      And the world was safer for it.

      Reply
  9. ex-PFC Chuck

    Re:

    “Now that there’s no draft, few Americans have seen up close that the military is as screwed up as any big organization.”

    There’s a reason acronyms such as FUBAR and SNAFU originated in the military during wartime.

    Reply
  10. Sven

    From today’s links, in the story about the McDonald’s ice cream machines:
    “You might compare this to the F-35. It’s like, does Lockheed really want to finish this airplane? Or do they want another $100 million contract to fix some component on the old one?” Kytch’s O’Sullivan asks.

    Reply
  11. camelotkidd

    My clients are all in finance and when I tell them I was an Army paratrooper they go ga ga, so there’s definitely something to what Yves says about the fawning over the military in elite circles. That being said, the military is also one of the last bastions of socialism, where food, healthcare, lodging, etc. are provided, allowing a decent quality of life. Then there’s the camaraderie, where even as an upper-middle-class individual I connected with different races and classes harmoniously. As for the ongoing Pentagon gravy-train, the contractors are smart in that they have facilities in every state and congressional district, ensuring a constant funding impetus. What’s funny is that the good times are just about over, where decades of profit vs defense have hollowed out the US military to such a degree that any real war against either Russia or China would end in disaster. The War Nerd had a pretty good article at NC a while back about the reality of a US war with China over Taiwan. Watching the increasingly insane brinksmanship over Ukraine and Taiwan, which the possibility of a nuclear exchange, has convinced me that we are ruled by psychopaths.
    Good times.

    Reply
  12. Tom Stone

    The fawning over the military is called “Jock Sniffing” in pro sports.
    And the more fruit salad on the uniform the more the desk jockey’s fawn.

    The US Military is in sad shape due to careerism and other forms of corruption among the officer corps, the other ranks frequently join because it is their best option, the GI Bill gave you ( Past tense) a shot at a middle class life and the uniform gives you respect from the average American.
    Even if you need food stamps to feed yourself.
    Which is not a small thing when your alternative is working at 7-11 or McDonald’s.

    Reply
  13. Susan the other

    lf we were seriously interested in our national security we would be far more objective about how we achieve it. We cannot achieve any sort of security, national or otherwise, by developing the fastest weapons of mass destruction. All we can achieve by that logic is very fast mass destruction. The real trouble with mass destruction is that it is pure hubris and it is becoming harder to justify from beginning to end. We only look at the middle – after we have spent trillions, impoverishing people and planet, on engineering the miraculous weapon(s) but before we have used them. When military planners deign to look at the aftermath of all that destruction, they just consider it to be the cost of war. Which is a big problem because the planet, let alone the living, cannot afford it and does not have the collective energy needed to recover from it. Which all goes to make “war” just another oxymoron. So that’s part of the answer – nobody wants to be the one to write that editorial; nobody wants to be interviewed on how we recover from modern warfare. But nobody wants to give up all that money either. One possible solution, or the start of a solution, is to give the military a new mandate. A mandate not to cause destruction; a mandate to repair and protect the planet, and etc. That’s national security and then some.

    Reply
    1. lordkoos

      Real “national security” would have been not outsourcing the manufacture of things we depend on to other countries, for example medicines and food. The US went from being a net exporter of foods to a net importer sometime around 2005.

      I think that the decline of America as a functional society (including the ability to successfully project military power) was obvious to the average citizen even before the pandemic, but it doesn’t seem to have entered the consciousness of our ruling elites. The same can be said for climate change and the degradation of the environment, neither of which seem to be a priority for those in power. The focus for them continues to be on making as much money as possible.

      Reply
  14. John Zelnicker

    I’m in no position to analyze the military or the MIC as most of the previous comments do, but I agree with them.

    I want to point out what is one of my big pet peeves.

    When we (the media and most folks here, too) talk about social spending we refer to 10-year budget numbers. When we talk about military spending we refer to one-year budget numbers.

    Using 10-year budget numbers, in general, started back in the 1990’s, IIRC, and it distorts everyone’s thinking. I believe the idea came out of a conservative economic think tank, like Peter Petersen’s, and the purpose was to scare people with huge numbers that were almost impossible to comprehend.

    Now, to make the distortion even greater we spend time comparing 10-year numbers for the BBB act with one-year budget numbers for the military. Sonali made the conversion so the numbers referred to the same time frame, but she was a bit inconsistent about it.

    I know this may seem a bit trivial given all the serious political and economic consequences of our bloated military, but we are not helping ourselves to compare the $1.7 trillion 10-year BBB funding to the almost $800 billion one-year military budget. People see the larger number and it looks like a lot of social spending relative to the military. However, instead of being more than twice the military budget, the BBB is about one-fifth of it.

    IMNSHO, writers who know better need to explain this much more clearly than they usually do.

    /rant off

    Reply
  15. Southern Belle

    When you look at a wider ‘National Security’ remit, the Pentagon $753M is just a part of some $1.2M in spending. Add in the Military and Defense Dept. Health and Retirement budget ($9.7billion), Veterans Affairs Budget ($284B), Homeland Security Budget ($52.2B), the catch-all Defense-Related Activities Budget ($10.5B), International Affairs (USAID, funding to State Dept) Budget ($79B) and it begins to add up to an extraordinary sum of real money.

    Quite why Veterans Affairs and retirement budgets aren’t in with the Pentagon budget I don’t know. They certainly should be there. We should be talking about an annual 1 billion dollar plus Pentagon budget. You’d think that would be worthy of coverage…..

    Reply
  16. Hubert Horan

    You can’t explain why the media never does any critical reporting on military spending if you focus your analysis on military spending. Points here are akin to the proverbial blind men touching bits of the elephant but failing to see the elephant.

    Start instead with the forces that have massively increased and entrenched the political, economic and cultural power of the 10%/PMC (a shorthand label I think everyone here understands.) Among those processes focus on the expanded (and highly effective) use of propaganda-based communications techniques. And notice that those forces have produced a world vastly different from what existed in say, 1980.

    The “10%/PMC” is far from homogeneous, but every subgroup pursues goals that fully support the overall hegemony of the “10%/PMC.” Propaganda techniques use emotive language and tribal loyalty signals to reframe complicated issues into simplistic good-versus-evil narratives. This makes it impossible to debate issues using traditional evidence-based analysis (why do Pentagon weapons systems cost so much and fail so often?) and forces everyone to judge people and policies through the prism of contrived “teams” (‘the people attacking these systems are trying to undermine our dedicated, heroic soldiers”). This makes it possible for members of each team to go along with things directly contrary to their interests (support spending that boosts Raytheon executive bonuses while cutting spending for veterans medical support).

    In the 1980s the military-industrial-national security complex was already well organized politically and of course was one of the pioneers of propaganda. But its Congressional support was regionally focused (largely in sunbelt areas where the large bases had been placed due to the power of the Southern Democrats in charge of appropriations) and there were significant countervailing forces anxious to cut spending after the Vietnam debacle, and anxious to reign in national security abuses.

    Situation today is totally different. Not only has meaningful opposition to unlimited military-security spending been crushed, but establishment institutions consider even narrow, marginal questions to be outside the pale of acceptable public discussion. You see less debate about military/security strategy/spending/performance than you saw debate about the role of the Communist Party in the USSR in the 1970s. Expanded propaganda efforts killed the possibility of public debate, and co-opted opponents based on tribal loyalties. As the power of one side of the story increased, the media abandoned the difficult work of investigating complex issues, and happily repeated the manufactured narratives they had been spooonfed.

    Most importantly, the 10%/PMC elites who most benefitted from unfettered military-security spending became politically aligned with other 10%/PMC elites focused on things like unfettered financial, health care and tech industry power, monetary policies serving the interests of capital accumulators, and housing and education policies that massively increased the wealth of the 10%/PMCers serving all those groups. All of which was supported by well organized and massively funded propaganda programs explaining that the massive increases in 10%/PMC wealth and power were entirely based on merit and the objective judgement of neutral markets. The media happily repeated more manufactured narratives and treated any analysis based on class or economic interests as outside the pale of acceptable public discussion. In 1980 there was a reasonable connection between public debates and elections and the policies voters actually wanted. All of the efforts in recent decades have successfully killed any governmental accountability to “voters” and entrenched the government’s dedication to the interests of the various 10%/PMC groups.

    The 10%/PMC has crushed every political effort to raise doubts about their current hegemony. Donald Trump directly attacked the miserable performance of the military and the foreign policy establishment as part of an (initially successful) strategy of rallying potential voters against the failures of a self-serving elite. The “blob” and the “Deep State” counter-attacked, Trump reneged on promises to rein them in, Trump lost the next election, and hasn’t given any indication that his future political efforts will threaten the military-security elites in any way. Readers here do not need to be remined of the parallel Democratic dynamic.

    The elites running both parties have consistent refused to do anything that would appear to question 10%/PMC hegemony, even when it would directly reduce their ability to win elections. Similarly, specific 10%/PMC groups won’t pursue policies serving their interests if it might undermine overall 10%/PMC. Less spending on useless military hardware would free up funds for more spending on health care, and health care reforms would significantly reduce the cost of treating veterans, but both options are off the table.

    Remember, that unlike the situation in 1980, the people running the media are full fledged members of the 10%/PMC, view the 10%/PMC as their primary audience. The radical consolidation of these industries (media, finance, military contractors, etc) was also critical to stifling debate. When there were scores of major contractors, you’d see claims that system X shouldn’t be funding because system Y was superior. Reporters for the tiny number of surviving media outlets know they will be blackballed if they push back against the elite-friendly narratives the senior executives want to see.

    Reply
    1. ambrit

      And the rest of us become Neo-Fellahim.
      Systems with that degree of ossification generally are broken up from without.

      Reply
    2. Robert Hahl

      “When there were scores of major contractors” we were competing with the Soviets. During the subsequent consolidation of defense contractors, in the ‘90s, the catch phrase was “Peace is hell,” but it was not hell and it was not peace, it was a push toward bigness for the sake of political competitiveness. What you describe was the result of the end of the Cold War (as previously justified), while searching for a new justification.it was not a cause of the changes.

      I remember a speech given by Joe Biden when he was VP or shortly before, to the frackers and gas producers, telling them to consolidate, it sounded just like “the last supper” that defense contractors talk about. At the time I thought Biden was just saying they needed to consolidate in order to pay the large amounts people like him demand, but now I think there was something more. He was saying that what they were doing to make money was so objectionable that they needed more political power, so they must consolidate.

      Reply
  17. meadows

    The reason I was able to understand what was happening in Vietnam as a teenager (about to become a Concientious Objector) in 1970 was that I came from an educated home. Not school, church or culture…. my home. I remember being surprised at the lack of awareness of many kids my age who accepted the BS of the day and went into the military either by draft or willingly.

    The MIC relies on ignorance, money desperation, broken families… but lack of an educated awareness is the necessary stuff to hook the unwary.

    Reply
    1. Robert Hahl

      I was twelve in 1969, and remember getting upset with schoolmates when someone asked my opinion of the war and realized, right then, that I had no way to form an intelligent opinion and said so. They didn’t seem to feel it. The “domino theory” was all one needed to consider. Either you believed in it or you didn’t.

      Reminds me, this song sounds like hoping the Vietnam war will end before you turn 18.

      Quicksilver Messenger Service – Fresh Air
      https://youtu.be/7ejj81Y2ZlM

      Reply
    2. David in Santa Cruz

      We need to go further and ask ourselves why have the PMC and the oligarchs they serve spent the past 30 years since the collapse of the USSR destroying the ability of their fellow Americans to feed, clothe, house, and care for themselves?

      My conclusion: their monkey-brains recognize that Globalization, Climate Change, and most importantly, Over-Population, have created a hoarding imperative to the exclusion of all others. Through their hegemony over the propaganda apparatus, they have engaged the Military-Industrial Complex and the military class as praetorians in the service of their rationing of resources to themselves.

      This could have worked swimmingly, but for universal suffrage. The 2016 presidential election laid bare the problem when the Democrats stole the nomination from the voters for the darling of the PMC, and a desperately bankrupt class-traitor manipulated the electorate to turn on the PMC’s anointed one — although he delivered nothing in return but to feed his own greed.

      Then the global pandemic came along and all hell has broken loose in the U.S. The aggrieved 90 percent have turned to anarchy: evidenced by the Black Lives Matter demonstrations that often turned into riots; the nativist Stop-the-Steal demonstrations that devolved into riots; the overdose die-off; and the de facto General Strike of refusing gig work. The recent phenomenon of flash-mob robberies of high-end shops and pot dispensaries appears to me to be an attempt by the excluded class to get a piece of Smaug’s hoard.

      The control of the party-electoral system and the propaganda apparatus by the PMC/Oligarch class makes a political solution highly unlikely. The 90 percent in America have recourse to solutions other than universal suffrage: they have unfettered access to firearms and ammunition. Something to ponder through the tryptophan haze this Thanksgiving…

      Reply
  18. NotThePilot

    I wholly agree with PlutoniumKun (from first hand experience) that we’ve gone far past the point where the MIC is sapping the technical capacity of society. A few extra impressions, and they’re a bit speculative at points so I could be wrong:

    1. For the headline itself, journalists wanting to keep tapped into the “inside dope”, even if it’s made up, is definitely part of it. However, there’s probably also some sort of ego-reinforcement going on. When meeting a high-flying officer, especially from one of the academies or ROTC at a selective college, I could see a white-collar big-wig thinking “they’re like a tougher version of me, aren’t we awesome?” In a weird way, I think a lot of the civilian worship also comes from the same logic you see with fascists: soldiers are (theoretically) violent towards out-groups and obedient. It makes little men feel big.

    2. The actual backbone of the US military are probably the NCOs though. Plus it seems a lot of company & field officers today start out enlisted, get their degree, then commission. I’m pretty sure almost none of these people wind up on the board of Lockheed, but they’re arguably the ones that keep everything from falling apart, no matter how much the fish stinks at the head. In that sense, the US military has probably become like most other decent-sized organizations in America today.

    3. But in one of life’s little ironies, the US military may now also be the most class-conscious institution in American society. Here’s the rub: these people don’t just have a company culture, they live a fundamentally different life with different values from the mainstream society. Even as just a military brat, I can say it definitely lingers in your bones. Sandwiched between the 18-year-olds that sign up after lifting weights to too much Toby Keith (I think most of them wise up pretty quick), and the revolving door in DC, there is a genuine military class. It is broad, it is deep, it is very competent when not setup to fail, and it is very self-aware. And honestly, I think the only thing holding it back from acting as a class is the ritual afterglow of a now hollow US civic religion.

    Reply
  19. Rodger Mitchell

    The rich, who run America, don’t like social spending, because it narrows the Gap between the rich and the rest. It is the Gap that makes them rich. Without the Gap, no one would be rich. We all would be the same, and the wider the Gap, the richer they are.

    This is known as “Gap Psychology“: The desire to widen the Gap below and to narrow the Gap above.

    Reply
  20. Jan Boudart

    The Department of Energy absorbs a big expense exploring Small Modular Nuclear Reactors that should be attributed to DOD. The prize for best design for Small Modular Nuclear Reactors is a function the the DOE, but admittedly the new research is in the service of the Defense Department. Since it is claimed that the DOD would be a major customer for SMNRs, why is the DOE absorbing the cost of R&D? It shrinks the defense budget by a little and hides the fact that from “Atoms for Peace” right after WWII to today, the fission project (and now the fusion project) have always been about serving defense, not making electricity.

    Reply
  21. Ep3

    Yves, here’s my 2 cents.
    First, i think ppl view the military like they view their local police dept. If we cut their budgets, somehow that means we don’t have the police/military to call when our cat gets stuck in the tree. If we stop building billion dollar B-2 bombers, then the terrorists will be able to invade and win.
    Second, there’s a lot of “well my neighbor is in the military, and he’s a nice person, so I better support the military budget bcuz if i don’t, it’s like not supporting my neighbor”. Or, the neighbor works at the B-2 factory. Or, this voter is a local businessman who does legal work for employees of the factory, or does employee taxes, etc. Of course, he was all for closing & moving GM factories away from union workers. But don’t take this private business from him.
    Third, how much do reporters depend on their access for their content? Instead of searching out questions & answers, DC reporters contact party PR folks who provide them with headlines, quotes, etc. They don’t have to do much work.
    Finally, our ruling elites still believe there is a finite amount of natural resources and that if we, the rabble, are given the proper amount of food, water, shelter, clean air, and health care, we will breed like locusts & consume every last resource until nothing is left. So it’s best that we ration everything, unless you have the money to pay for it.

    Reply

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