Institute for Public Accuracy
By Max Fisher, Updated: July 26, 2013
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 24, 2013 Press Contacts Adam Sarvana (Grijalva) – (202) 225-2435 Mike Casca (Ellison) – (202) 225-4755 Washington, D.C. – Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chairs Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) released the following statement after House Republicans passed the FY2014 Defense Appropriations Act, a bill to fund the Department of Defense for the next fiscal year: “Republicans passed a bloated defense budget today that spends money on weapons programs the Pentagon doesn’t want. This comes a week after they voted to cut funding to feed America’s neediest children. The United States needs a leaner but more capable military able to defeat 21st-century threats. We also need to invest in jobs, education and affordable healthcare for working families. Republicans wrongly decided today that we can’t have both. “The Republican bill spends $47 billion more than the sequester-prescribed cap on defense spending allows and includes an additional $85 billion for overseas contingency operations, primarily to fund the war in Afghanistan. The bill increases spending on outdated programs and does little to help the 650,000 civilian Defense Department employees already being furloughed. “This bill is a missed opportunity to invest in what we need and cut what we don’t. In real terms, we actually spend more on defense today than we did on average during the Cold War. The Cold War is over. Our troops are out of Iraq. The war in Afghanistan is winding down. The security landscape we face today is radically different from 30 years ago, yet Republicans still want to spend like it’s 1985. “Republicans have asked working Americans to give up early education for their children, routine doctors appointments for their families and income security for their grandparents, while they spend billions on programs the Department of Defense doesn’t want or need. Preparing for wars that have already ended won’t feed our children. Investing in working families will.”
Last fall, a coalition of 85 grass-roots organizations, including teachers, veterans, unions, and community activists, placed something called the “Budget for All” on the Massachusetts ballot. The referendum urged the federal government to end the war in Afghanistan, reduce military spending, shift funding to domestic priorities, and increase taxes on the wealthy. Voters in the Commonwealth approved the measure by margins of nearly 3 to 1 in all 91 cities and towns where it was on the ballot, including many places that voted for Mitt Romney in the presidential race. The Legislature has now taken up the matter. State Senator Dan Wolf, Representative Carl Sciortino, and 34 co-sponsors have proposed a Budget for All resolution that calls on President Obama and the US Congress to embrace these priorities. In recent hearings at the State House, there was a sense of overwhelming frustration by people from all walks of life who profoundly disagree with the federal government’s taxing and spending policies. They are frustrated that the top 1 percent of Americans has grown extremely rich at the expense of the rest of us; that the national debt exceeds $16 trillion; that the country is mired in sequestration and fiscal cliffs and threats to Social Security while we spend $7 billion per month in Afghanistan; that we’re squandering the lowest interest rates in history instead of rebuilding crumbling roads and bridges.
There was testimony from families of fallen military men and women unable to obtain benefits; biochemists facing cuts to funding for Alzheimer’s research; young teachers who couldn’t afford a home. As Marty Nathan, a mother and family physician at Brightwood Health Center in Springfield summed it up, “We are simply spending federal tax dollars on the wrong things.” The voters of Massachusetts are on to something. There is ample scope to reduce military spending without jeopardizing national security, and to free up resources for local communities. Since 2001, the size of the annual military budget has grown by nearly $1 trillion, not including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Over the last decade, we’ve spent more money on the military, in inflation-adjusted dollars, than at any time since World War II. Despite this influx of cash, our Air Force and Navy fleets and forces are older and smaller than they were 10 years ago. The defense budget is filled with obsolete, redundant, and underperforming programs and facilities that happen to be located in key congressional districts. The cost of new weapons programs is growing uncontrollably, and many don’t even work well. The Global Hawk, America’s largest and most expensive spy drone (cost: $220 million apiece), cannot be used in difficult weather conditions — so the Air Force is flying U-2s from the 1950s to carry out surveillance over North Korea when the weather is cloudy. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which had an original price tag of $81 million per plane, has now doubled to $161 million each. The entire program has ballooned to $391 billion for a reduced number of planes, and is way behind schedule. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates has estimated that 30 percent of the Pentagon’s budget is consumed by overheads and indirect costs. With these overheads hidden among thousands of individual line items, the current system makes it impossible for the department to monitor and control costs. The Defense Department has flunked its financial audit every year for the past two decades, and cannot account for billions in annual spending. The recent across-the-board cuts in the sequester won’t do anything to root out inefficiencies or to enable the Pentagon to spend more strategically. The core idea behind the Budget for All is that we can’t afford to continue spending 20 cents of every tax dollar on the military, regardless of whether the item in question is necessary or even good value. Instead, we should reset our national priorities towards more butter, fewer guns, and more equitable taxation. Voters are disillusioned with the gridlock in Washington and the iron grip of special interests. Congress needs to pay attention to the common sense of our Commonwealth voters. Linda Bilmes, a former assistant secretary of the US Department of Commerce, is the Daniel Patrick Moynihan senior lecturer in public policy at Harvard University.
Tomgram: Kramer and Pemberton
By Mattea Kramer and Miriam Pemberton Posted on September 19, 2013, Printed on September 19, 2013
“Traditional economic competence of every sort is being eroded by the state capitalist directorate that elevates inefficiency to a national purpose, that disables the market system, that destroys the value of the currency, and that diminishes the decision power of all institutions other than its own. Industrial productivity, the foundation of every nation’s economic growth, is being eroded by the relentlessly predatory effects of military economy.”
The time couldn’t have looked riper for beating swords into plowshares. After more than 10 years, U.S. combat in Vietnam had ended and President Nixon had recently begun normalizing relations with China, that Communist behemoth. And yet, in 1986, more than a decade later, Melman surveyed the governmental landscape and saw the same forces at play in the same ways. By then, however, deindustrialization had obliterated whole American industries — especially in what came to be called the Rust Belt — that had once produced durable goods and offered well-paying jobs that had once been the pride of the planet. “Instead of enjoying guns and butter, we are suffering a national blight of street begging, homelessness, and hunger, unseen since the Great Depression,” he wrote then. In the years since, the primary Communist behemoth on the planet, the Soviet Union, went belly up and its satellite states in Eastern Europe and Central Asia spun out of its orbit. Still, even with no real enemies on the horizon, talk of a “peace dividend” in Washington came and went in the blink of an eye. A smoldering war with Iraq, combat in the former Yugoslavia, an abortive intervention in Somalia, and attacks in Sudan and Afghanistan followed. Not long after, the permanent war economy, still thriving, found itself profitably joined to the idea of permanent war, aka the Global War on Terror. A decade of disaster followed, in which successful invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan devolved into ruinous, wheel-spinning occupations, and interventions in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, and elsewhere produced at best dubious, at worst disastrous, results. Meanwhile, the military-industrial complex and the national security state continued to engorge themselves on taxpayer dollars. In 2004, Melman died without ever seeing his dream of converting any significant part of the American war economy into a peace economy get the slightest traction. Today, however, Washington has recently quit one major war and is winding down another. For the first time in memory, a bipartisan coalition in Congress has also pushed back against a presidential rush to war. In addition, and to the amazement of Washington watchers of every stripe, a bipartisan agreement in Congress will, albeit modestly, ratchet down runaway Pentagon spending. Were Melman still alive, he would no doubt be writing with increased vigor about converting the military economy to a civilian one. In his stead, TomDispatch regular Mattea Kramer of the National Priorities Project and Miriam Pemberton of the Institute for Policy Studies pick up the banner and suggest how America’s overabundance of swords might, in the foreseeable future, be beaten into wind turbines. Nick Turse
Institute for Policy Studies’ Miriam Pemberton speaks with Rep. Keith Ellison, detailing Connecticut’s recent legislation to ultimately create green manufacturing jobs from defense industry manufacturing, May 21, 2013,
A Q&A with the Story of Stuff Project founder about her new video on the biggest obstacles to change and how we can overcome them.
Annie Leonard’s groundbreaking video, The Story of Stuff, awakened millions of people to the repercussions of our consumer culture. Now she’s taking on an even bigger campaigntransforming our flawed economic system and calling for a new conversation about how we can create meaningful change. The Story of Solutions, the newest video from Leonard and her Story of Stuff project, encourages viewers to push for solutions that change the economy’s goal from “more” to “better.” In the video, Leonard says: “Changing the goal of the entire economy is a huge task. Of course, we can’t do it all at once. But when we focus on game-changing solutions, we gradually make it possible for a new game to be played.” Leonard further discussed the new video, change and obstacles to it with AlterNet. Alyssa Figueroa: What inspired you to create The Story of Solutions? Annie Leonard: I’ve been so surprised at the response to The Story of Stuff in terms of how many people have seen it it’s now past 30 million views. But what’s surprised me more is the number of folks who’ve written to ask us for additional films, and by far the most requested one is The Story of Solutions.A lot of people say, “It’s nice the problem is outlined, but what can we do?” Its been nearly six years since I released The Story of Stuff, and the reason I didn’t do The Story of Solutions right away is because there were a lot of questions that came in from people about specific aspects of what’s wrong with the economy. And there were so many questions about what they can personally do. So first we did a series of films about problems with the materials economy about manufactured demand and toxic products and our throwaway culture that were made in partnership with groups that had the capacity to handle tens of thousands of people coming to them to get involved. Because in the beginning it was just me and a couple other people here. We didn’t have the capacity to handle the interest, so we started working with groups to which we could direct our viewers. The thing is, I began to see that the kind of solutions work that many folks were doing was too often addressing the symptom rather than the drivers of the problem. And even if folks were advancing really good, deep, transformational solutions, there were some common, consistent barriers in their way. There are so many different solutions, but we keep running up against the same obstacles, so that’s what we address inThe Story of Solutions. It was interesting to think through our contribution to the discussion about solutions. When word got out we were making this, dozens of environmental organizations emailed me and said, “My solution is in there, right?” You know, green chemistry or recycling or renewable energy. And I said, “No, actually it’s not. This is not a list of solutions.” Partly because that would be a list and that would be boring. And also because solutions are really different depending on where you are. I can’t really say, “This is how you do transportation” because it’s different if you’re in Boston or Bombay. So rather than giving boring lists of solutions, we decided to inspire people to think more deeply about the kinds of solutions we need. We don’t use these words in the film because we try to be as accessible as possible, but really it’s a look at transactional solutions and transformational solutions. By that I mean there are a bunch of fundamental, structural flaws in our economy and government today. And transactional solutions try to advance a solution within that fundamentally flawed structure. Transactional solutions aren’t always bad, like banning lead or banning DDT. Those were transactional solutions that thank God they happened. Children are smarter and people are healthier today because of those. So transactional solutions aren’t always bad. But they don’t try to transform this overwhelmingly flawed structure. Whereas transformational solutions begin to transform that flawed structure. What I’m saying in the film is, absent the deeper transformational solutions, all of our individual work for solutions on any front is going to be a) not enough; and b) really, really hard. We are always beating our heads against these same structural obstacles. But if we can take some time to incorporate changing the context of our work with a different set of economic priorities and a different kind of government, we could open the floodgates to solutions. It wouldn’t be as hard to advance solutions because the actual goal of the economy would be healthy, happy people and a thriving environment. AF: Your video is focused around changing the goal of the game frommore to better. But before people try to go out and change the world, do they need to change themselves to want better instead of more? AL: I think there are changes needed on three different levels. So a part of it is, personally and individually, we need to make sure that our own priorities support happy, healthy communities in a sustainable environment. So somebody who is buying new iPhones every year and buying new cars every year and really stuck on the consumer treadmill, I would encourage them to reconsider their own priorities. But I also don’t blame the individual fully because we’re so trapped in a society that structurally supports the consumerist model. You know, $16,000 is spent on advertising every second, getting us to buy more stuff. What if there was $16,000 per second spent on messages saying that we are good enough the way that we are? That our hair and our bodies and our skin and our cars and our houses are all good enough? Can you imagine how different a society we’d have? So of course we do need to make sure our individual actions are in line with a healthy, sustainable future, but it’s hard to do that when we are constantly bombarded with messages telling us, “more, more, more.” I would love to see limits on advertising. I was in Canada a few months ago talking to an association of school superintendents, and they were absolutely stunned when I told them that our public schools allow corporate advertising. They were like, “How can you have corporate advertising in your schools, indoctrinating kids at such a young age?” So yes, we want to encourage our kids to want better instead of more, but we also need to get those relentless messages telling them “more, more, more” out of our schools and elsewhere. We have to reclaim both our physical and mental landscape. AF: You state in the video that our happiness comes from many things, including our “sense of purpose.” What do you think is that purpose? Or how do we get that sense of purpose? AL: There’s a whole interesting world of happiness studies. All the different fields of academics studying this now are finding very consistent answers to the question of what contributes to lasting happiness. Once your basic needs are met, the things that most contribute to happiness are having a social fabric a sense of community, having leisure time to spend with your friends and family having a sense of purpose or meaning in your life beyond yourself, and the act of working together with others on shared goals. It doesn’t even matter what that sense of purpose is, just the act of working with others toward a shared goal and having a sense that there is more to your life than just working and shopping, leads to a greater sense of happiness. Then it’s like a positive cycle because a greater sense of satisfaction and meaning and happiness leads to a decreased desire to shop for more stuff. How fortunate for us that the very thing we need to do to get our country and the planet back on track is to work together, engage together as citizens and build a better future, and that very act will not only make us happier but will help build the power to make a better world. We’re lucky that the thing we need to do isn’t that what makes us miserable, it’s that what makes us most happy. AF: What would you say to those probably most affected by this game who don’t feel they have time to fight for change? Maybe they are so in the grind with work and other things. AL: Well, that’s definitely not just their imagination. When I look at some of the systemic obstacles to greater civic engagement in our country, number one is overwork. We work 300 to 400 hours a year more than our counterparts in Europe. We work more hours per week than any other industrialized country except maybe South Korea depending on which data set you look atand they’re not exactly a leisure-filled society, so that’s not a good bar. It’s not just a perception that we are overworked and exhausted, we actually are overworked and exhausted. A number of economists who are trying to figure out how to reduce our environmental impact, increase our sense of happiness and increase our civic engagement are on a mission to reduce amount of hours we work in this country. A number of them make a very compelling point that going to a four-day workweek would not only equalize employment opportunities, but it’s probably the single biggest thing we could do to increase civic engagement. It also has enormous environmental benefits, but it’s on the agenda of very few environmental groups. In Seattle, John de Graaf, who wrote Affluenza, now runs a campaign called Take Back Your Time. He has incredible statistics about how overworked we are compared to not just other countries but to our parents’ generation. AF: What about those who just feel apathetic and helpless and who don’t think they are going to win anything? AL: Again, in a sense they’re not imagining that because we have been so pushed out of the political world, pushed out of our democracy so much that our citizen muscles have gotten flabby. I like to talk about consumer muscles and citizen muscles. And our consumer muscles are spoken to and validated so much that they are really overdeveloped. We really know how to be good consumers. But we’re so seldom called upon to act as citizens that our citizen muscles have atrophied and one of the results is we feel apathetic. That’s a negative reinforcing cycle in which we feel apathetic and we don’t do anything so we sit back and watch more and corporations take over our government and get more and more outrageous policies passed and then we get even more apathetic. What we need to do is start exercising our citizen muscles. You know the corporations, when they’re trying to promote their agenda in the policy world, the big thing they have is money. They have millions and millions of dollars. But we have millions and millions of us. And that’s only going to start making a difference if we start using it. So we’re really on a kick here to get our community and viewers to start exercising our citizen muscles, even if it’s small. Start doing something to build that muscle, because we learn to win by winning. We begin to build power by building power. So even if you’re sore after the first workout, you’ve got to start getting involved to build that better future. And the good thing is that it’s fun. It provides that sense of meaning and purpose that provides such longer lasting happiness than a new iPhone. AF: What do you hope is the major takeaway for people? AL: I hope people get that there is a different level of solutions we should be advocating for these systemic solutions and that without that, everything that we do is going to be not enough and really hard. I was recently giving this talk to forest campaigners in Southeast Asia who were working to protect the rainforest. I was talking to them about the problems of operating in a growth-oriented society because the entire way the economy is set up and measured and validated goes against what they’re trying to do. I was explaining to them that they need to learn about the economy and they need to incorporate a critique of a growth-oriented economy in their work. One of them looked at me and looked so tired and said, “I’m working so hard to save the Indonesian rainforest. And you’re telling me I have to also try to change the economy?” I said, “If we don’t change the economy, you will never save the rainforest.” It’s not like it’s in addition it’s necessary. Not only is it necessary, once we do that, we won’t have to work so hard to save the rainforest because it will then be in accordance to the new norms. AF: Because these structures are so systemic and huge, do you think the people will be victorious in the end? Do you think that even matters to what’s happening right now? AL: People ask me if I think change is possible. I say change is inevitable. I mean change is absolutely happening. We have an absolutely different situation now than in any of the other social movements in the past, in that we are seriously bumping up against ecological limits. So we are going to be forced to change. We are going to be forced to look to each other rather than the market. We are going to be forced to meet our needs. We are going to be forced to become less consumeristic and buy less stuff. There are actual physical and biological limitations. Because of that, we know change is going to happen. Right now, we’re using about one and a half times the amount of resources the planet can regenerate each year. We’re eating into the stockpiles nature has built up. So I’m positive that change is going to come, and there are already so many places where you see it sprouting up. The question is: are we going to change by design or disaster? Either we get proactive and work together democratically, intelligently, strategically, and we figure out another way to live on this planet that’s more sustainable, more healthy, more fair and actually a lot more fun it’s not that fun being an exhausted consumer – or we keep living the way we’re living. It’s really up to us to decide if we’re going to change by design or disaster. One way or the other, change is coming. There’s still time to change by design, but the clock is ticking. Alyssa Figueroa is an associate editor at AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @alyssa_fig. Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cpkRvc-sOKk https://www.usaspending.gov http://www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/letendre/2013/oct/10/albany-common-council-upholds-us-constitution/ http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Portal:Outsourcing_America_Exposed New Proposals: Progressives must rely on more than saying “hands off Social Security and Medicare,” although that should remain central to our message. We need a strong offense, to go with that potent defense. By putting forward simple, broadly popular, progressive proposals that actually enhance benefits and add money to Social Security and Medicare, we enable Democratic allies in Congress to set the agenda and counter claims that they are not taking action to address the real solvency problems. And we also help set the agenda for the inevitable future deal to address both programs’ financing. Here are two simple, popular, powerful proposals. On Social Security, make the richest 5% people pay into Social Security on all their earnings, just like 95% of workers now do. Use the new revenue to both boost Social Security benefits – which are too low – and extend the solvency of the Social Security Trust fund. On Medicare, slash the cost of prescription drug prices just like the Veterans Administration and all our global competitors do, saving hundreds of billions of dollars in the next decade. The Social Security proposal has been introduced in both houses of Congress, with legislation by Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa (S.567) and Rep. Linda Sanchez of California (H.R.3118), which would boost benefits in two ways: changing the way benefits are calculated (designed to particularly help low-and-moderate income seniors) and changing the inflation adjuster Social Security uses to the CPI-E, which more accurately captures what seniors pay. This is exactly the opposite of the chained CPI proposed by President Obama, which undercounts what seniors typically purchase. The legislation raises the money to pay for the benefits and extends the Trust Fund by gradually removing the cap on earnings taxed by Social Security, which is $113,700 in 2013. Doing so would extend the period during which the Trust Fund has enough money to pay all benefits from 2033 to 2049. Progressives have long talked about Medicare using its enormous purchasing power to get the same kind of low drug prices paid by the Veterans Administration or every other country on the globe. While estimates of the savings vary, they clearly would be substantial, tens of billions each year, much more than the cuts to Medicare included in the President’s budget. There are two bills in Congress that aim to do this, one sponsored by Vermont Rep. Peter Welch and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and the other introduced by Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky and Senator Dick Durbin. While neither is designed to get the maximum savings – a combination of the approaches taken in each is needed – either would work to make the point that we can strengthen Medicare by stopping the drug companies from ripping off the country. But having legislation is really window dressing to the strategy here: offering bold, popular solutions that deal with both sides of the problems facing Social Security and Medicare: benefits that are too small for the retirement security of seniors and the shortfalls in financing of both programs. While elites want to focus on the “entitlement crisis,” the public is well aware of the financial pressures most seniors now face and the looming retirement crisis, and is adamantly opposed to cuts in both programs. It is up to progressives, inside and outside of Congress, to seize the moment. It’s a simple message: instead of making painful cuts to Social Security and Medicare we can boost benefits for seniors and make sure that the programs are there for the long term by having millionaires pay into Social Security like everyone else and stopping drug companies from ripping off Americans. Driving this message will turn the grand bargain debate on its head, and will start setting the terms for progressive solutions when Congress does take action on both programs in the next few years. Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a Senior Adviser to USAction, and the author of Fighting for Our Health. He was National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now during the legislative battle to pass reform. Lofgren Corollary: http://www.jobs-not-wars.org/republicans-and-the-lofgren-corollary/ http://www.jobs-not-wars.org/agencies-need-to-strengthen-oversight-of-multibillion-dollar-investments-in-operations-and-maintenance/