In January 2009, President Barack Obama was sworn in as president. Almost immediately, the Tea Party sprang up, proclaiming they were "Taxed Enough Already". All who opposed the president (and the concept of liberalism in general) began complaining that government was too big, and they needed tax relief. Politicians of every stripe proclaim every election cycle that they will "cut taxes".
The reality is that family federal income tax rates have been dropping for decades
. For an "average" family of four, they paid their highest rate (11.79%) in 1981. Since then rates have dropped steadily with some minor fluctuations. In 2014, the rate was 5.34%, less than half the rate in 1981. There's not much lower that they can go.
Because of this we've had to cut federal spending as well, and budget deficits have become harder to erase with decreasing tax revenue for government programs. As has been the case for decades, our military is our single biggest budget item. Our military spending is a much larger percentage of our budget than most of our allies, which is why they have high-speed trains, high-speed internet, free college, and complete low-cost health care coverage, and we don't.
You'd hope that all that taxpayer money that gets fed into the maw of the military-industrial complex would get spent on worthwhile things. The reality is much more grim.
We're all familiar with the problems with the VA. The hospital/doctor network meant to care for our soldiers returning home from war has been a nightmare for decades. Like most things budgetary these days, it is kept open only via stop-gap funding bills
, and is hurt by automatic budget cuts (aka: The Sequester)
. Of all the things we spend money on in the military, the soldiers should always come first, but they seem to be treated like so much disposable military hardware.
Well-connected contractors always seem to come first. Over the last 12 years, they've raked in $385 Billion
, and that's just to maintain overseas bases
Once upon a time, however, the military, not contractors, built the barracks, cleaned the clothes, and peeled the potatoes at these bases. This started to change during the Vietnam War, when Brown & Root, better known to critics as "Burn & Loot" (later KBR), began building major military installations in South Vietnam as part of a contractor consortium.
The use of contractors accelerated following the Cold War's end, part of a larger trend toward the privatization of formerly public services. By the first Gulf War, one in 100 deployed personnel was a contractor. Later in the 1990s, during US military operations in Somalia, Rwanda, Haiti, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Italy, and especially the Balkans, Brown & Root received more than $2 billion in base-support and logistics contracts for base construction and maintenance, food services, waste removal, water production, transportation services, and much more.
By the second Gulf War, contractors represented roughly one in two deployed personnel in Iraq, with the company now known as KBR employing more than 50,000 people, or enough to staff 100 army battalions. Burger Kings, Starbucks, and car dealerships, as well as air conditioning, steak, and ice cream became regular features of often city-sized bases. However, this wasn't a phenomenon restricted to war zones. US bases worldwide look much the same, which helps explain the staggering taxpayer dollars they consume.
Halliburton (former veep Dick Cheney's company) was the beneficiary of "cost-plus" contracts, whereby they buy supplies and ask for reimbursement, and get that, plus a margin of profit. How did the government not see this as a huge motivator for waste?
The work KBR performed under LOGCAP also reflected the Pentagon's frequent use of "cost-plus" contracts. These reimburse a company for its expenses and then add a fee that's usually fixed contractually or determined by a performance evaluation board. The Congressional Research Service explained that because "increased costs mean increased fees to the contractor," there is "no incentive for the contractor to limit the government's costs." As one Halliburton official told a congressional committee bluntly, the company's unofficial mantra in Iraq became "Don't worry about price. It's â€˜cost-plus.'"
So why get a Humvee fixed when you can burn it, declare it a loss, and buy another one on the government's dime (and get a better profit for it than fixing it)?
The "open check" mentality has led to the infamous budgetary and engineering boondogle of the F-35 Joint Force Striker. This military solution looking for a problem has sucked up nearly $400 Billion
, and it still isn't battle-ready yet.
Perhaps that's why it's so galling to find out that all those nice "honor the troops" displays you see now at sporting events (that we never saw before 9/11) are paid for by - you guessed it American taxpayers via the military
At the same time Congress and the president have imposed caps on military spending, the Department of Defense has paid at least $6 million in taxpayer money to 16 NFL teams across the country, including $377,500 to the Jets, with the bulk spent by the National Guard.
U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz) last week called out the New Jersey Army National Guard for the spending, which, in part, paid for a segment at Jets home games in which soldiers were featured on the big screen, thanked for their service and given tickets to the game.
Flake said most in the general public believe the segments were heartfelt salutes by their hometown football team, not an advertising campaign paid for with their money.
We pay for jet fighters that don't work, military contractors to do shoddy work and rake in profits regardless, and jingoistic displays under false pretenses, and yet we still manage to short-change the soldiers both during and after their service.