What is likely to make the majority of Americans more secure right now, the defense appropriation bill, or universal affordable healthcare? Which is most likely to insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare?  Defense that actually defends US citizens extends way beyond military action.  We face some far greater and more immediate threats than enemy weapons and enemy soldiers.

Obama-signs-defense-authorization-bill

Obama signs the defense authorization bill, Oct. 28, 2009

Defense spending is treated is if it carries no cost. I am continually puzzled that there is almost no discussion in the news, no questions asked about the vast sums involved in what is called defense spending. Those who allege they are fiscal conservatives never blink at these massive sums, or the seas of red ink they create. Obama signed a $680 billion defense bill amidst heated debate about spending $90 billion on healthcare. You hardly heard a peep anywhere in the news about the vast sums in the defense bill.

Bush’s last defense spending bill, in effect through September 2009, came to $608.6 billion.

No ordinary person can get a sense of how much money that is. It helps to divide the $608.6 billion by the 365 days in a year and realize Bush’s new defense budget will cost the taxpayers $1.7 billion a day. This works out to $1.2 million a minute counting Saturdays and Sundays. Yet the main threat to the country as advertised by Bush are terrorists who have no standing army; no warships; no warplanes; no tanks; no satellites.

I am not against defense spending.  The money needs to be spent more wisely, and that requires public debate and participation in the process.    That debate requires news media willing to research and discuss the issues.  Unfortunately, there is little sign of that at present.

In fact those parts of the defense establishment actually fighting to defend the US interests, the soldiers, are under resourced and underfunded because the defense contractors set the spending priorities through their lobbyists and networks of government friends.  The needs of defense contractors are very different from the needs of soldiers.

The reasons Congress will swallow … defense requests without even chewing on them are the same old ones. No politician … wants to give his opponent or anyone else grounds to call him or her weak on defense. And the pols shrink from canceling even an obsolete weapon experiencing huge cost overruns because of the jobs attached to it back home. Defense contractors, rather than try to justify their weapons on the basis of the threat beyond our shores, focus instead on showing state by state all the jobs that would be lost if their widgets were cancelled.

I don’t see anything likely to change this pattern.  It is the military industrial complex President Eisenhower warned against, after spending his two terms as president locking it into place.  The State Department, that is supposed to be the face of US foreign policy has no constituency, certainly nothing as massive and powerful as the defense industry.  It does not have the funding, power, or influence of the Pentagon.

I sometimes think the real death blow to American democracy came when the US Supreme Court ruled that money is the same as free speech.

The US Supreme Court, in its 1976 decision in the case Buckley v. Valeo, essentially concluded that free expression can be counted in dollars. Money spent to influence elections, the court concluded, is a form of constitutionally protected free speech. [link]