Huge Military Budgets Make Us Broke, Not Safe

aerial shot of Pentagon

(Image: Shutterstock)

We’re all tense. Hearing about our fellow citizens in Hawaii scrambling around, looking for a place to hide from a nuclear bomb, will do that to you. So will contests between two unstable world leaders over the size of their nuclear buttons.

Now, some politicians say they’ll protect us by adding massive amounts to the Pentagon budget. This seems like a no-brainer: feel threatened, give more money to the military. But it isn’t.

Practically everyone from the president on down, though, seems to take it as a given. “In confronting these horrible dangers,” Donald Trump said during his State of the Union, “I’m calling on Congress” to “fully fund our great military.”

The president and his party are now looking to add somewhere between $ 30 and $ 70 billion more in military spending to their budget for next year — on top of the increases for this year. Democrats seem willing to go along, with a few caveats.

Nobody seems worried anymore about adding to the financial hole we just dug for ourselves and our children with $ 1.5 trillion in tax cuts for the rich.

It’s true that the military needs predictability, which has been hobbled by politicians who can’t get it together to pass a real budget. Every enterprise, except maybe improv comedy, does. But it’s not true that the military needs more money.

The portrait of a “starved” military, which Trump and his secretary of defense like to complain about, airbrushes out a few facts.

We’re now spending more on the military, adjusted for inflation, than at any time since World War II — including during the Reagan and George W. Bush buildups. We spend more than the next eight countries put together.

Worse still, the military can’t even say what it’s actually spending — it’s still the only federal agency that can’t pass an audit. The brass says they’ll really try this year, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

Trusting the Pentagon to rein in its own waste hasn’t worked. Back in 2015, the Pentagon’s own commissioned report found $ 125 billion in administrative waste that could be cut over five years. But then they simply buried the report.

Here’s what we really need to feel safer: Leaders who are working to reduce nuclear tensions rather than rev them up.

Instead, in addition to firing off scary tweets, Trump repeated calls in his State of the Union to “modernize and rebuild our nuclear arsenal,” to the tune of $ 1.7 trillion. Why? The 4,000 nukes we currently have — enough to destroy the entire planet — seem like an adequate deterrent.

Leaders are meanwhile working on designs for new “lower yield” nukes, envisioning them as tools for “limited” nuclear war. That makes nuclear war seem more feasible, and therefore more likely. Feeling safer yet?

And they want to build up the arsenal of conventional weapons, mostly to counter China. But China is expanding its influence around the world not mainly through military spending — its military budget is only a third of ours — but through its civilian investments.

As the U.S. retreats from providing development aid, China is filling the vacuum. As the U.S. cuts off its previous investments in clean energy technology, China has become the solar panel provider to the world.

Our new security strategy, by the way, has also airbrushed out climate change. A military that previously identified climate change as “an urgent and growing threat to national security” is now barred by the administration from talking about it at all.

While we contemplate spending money we don’t have for weapons we don’t need, the urgency of this threat continues to grow.

The post Huge Military Budgets Make Us Broke, Not Safe appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.


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Making the World Safe for Trust Fund Babies

Wealthy estate

Couples with less than $ 10.6 million and individuals with less than $ 5.3 million in wealth are exempt from the estate tax – meaning that 99.8 percent of households aren’t affected by it. (Photo: Steven Martin/Flickr)

Real wages have stagnated for decades. Homeownership rates are down. College debt is weighing down young people entering the workforce. Millions of low-wage workers eke by on a minimum wage of $ 7.25 an hour.

As the American Dream slips away for millions of people in this country, one faction of Congress is doing its best to aid a select group of folks that least needs a helping hand: trust fund babies.

More than 222 House members — nearly all of them Republicans — have co-sponsored legislation to abolish America’s inheritance tax, a levy that only applies to the estates of multi-millionaires and billionaires.

Technically called the estate tax, and derided by its opponents as the “death tax,” this part of the tax code affects only one out of every 500 Americans.

If Congress abolishes it, the already wealthy will gain the privilege of passing unlimited inheritances to their children once they die. Scrapping it would rip a $ 210 billion hole in the federal budget over the next decade, according to the Tax Policy Center.

The lawmakers determined to kill the inheritance tax go out of their way to hide the facts and pose as populists.

Repeal the estate tax

(Cartoon by Khalil Bendib)

Take Representative Kevin Brady, a Texas Republican and lead sponsor of repeal legislation. He circulates advertisements with two young farm kids next to a pickup trick with the caption, “The Death Tax crushes family farms, ranches and businesses.”

And a Kentucky PAC spent $ 1.8 million airing a TV ad featuring a farmer who bemoans the burden of the inheritance tax and praises Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (The farmer, John Mahan of Lexington, did not complain about the $ 405,692 in federal farm subsidies he received between 1995 and 2012).

The inheritance tax “continues to be the number one reason family-owned farms and businesses aren’t passed down to the next generation,” Brady recently (and wrongly) claimed.

It’s hard to fathom how a tax that 99.8 percent of households don’t pay could be a bigger threat to farmers than volatile farm prices and competition from corporate agribusiness. But don’t bank on opponents of the inheritance tax letting the facts muddle their political agenda.

As a strong supporter of the inheritance tax, I’ve seen this playbook before. Between 1996 and 2004, America’s plutocrats, including the Walton and Mars families, invested millions in a propaganda campaign designed to save themselves billions.

They plastered the media with images of farm families, alleging that the inheritance tax would be the “death of the family farm.” The only problem was, when pressed by Pulitzer Prize winning reporter David Cay Johnston, foes of the estate tax couldn’t produce a single example of an actual farm lost because of the inheritance tax. It was a complete myth.

Congress wound up weakening the tax in 2001, when opponents failed to abolish it. Now this tired debate is back, with those phony farm images and fake populism.

Here’s what really matters: Couples with less than $ 10.6 million in wealth are exempt from the inheritance tax. So are individuals with wealth under $ 5.3 million.

The inheritance tax is important because the very richest Americans already benefit from enormous loopholes that enable them to pay taxes at rates lower than average workers. The inheritance tax levels the playing field.

And the huge family fortunes now being passed onto the next generation are creating a new wave of American aristocrats.

Who are the real faces of the inheritance tax? Try the sons and daughters of the billionaires who make the Forbes 400 list, standing next to their family limousines.

There is a real problem with the inheritance tax: Billionaires are paying expensive lawyers to weasel out of paying it. Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, for example, used a system of trusts to funnel $ 8 billion in wealth to his heirs. This maneuver let his family dodge about $ 2.8 billion in estate taxes that would be due after his death.

Instead of abolishing the inheritance tax, lawmakers should focus on closing the loopholes that empower the richest Americans to legally dodge it.

The post Making the World Safe for Trust Fund Babies appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Chuck Collins directs the Inequality and the Common Good project.


People in Gaza trapped with nowhere safe to escape

More than 120,000 people have now fled their homes but have nowhere safe to go. With exit through Israel closed under the long-term blockade, and the border with Egypt shut, most people are prevented from escaping the violence. 

Oxfam delivers water to families sheltering from the violence

More than 120,000 people have now fled their homes but have nowhere safe to go. With exit through Israel closed under the long-term blockade, and the border with Egypt shut, most people are prevented from escaping the violence.

The past few days have been the deadliest yet in Gaza, with civilians including women and children making up the vast majority of casualties, and on average a child being killed every hour in Gaza. Rockets continue to be fired from Gaza into Israel.

People have been warned to leave nearly half of Gaza’s small territory as airstrikes intensify. However, with bombing and fighting taking place across all of Gaza there is simply nowhere safe for people to go to. Thousands of displaced families are sheltering in school buildings, although at least 85 schools have also been damaged in the past two weeks.

Um Mohammed Al Azazma, a mother of eight, told Oxfam: “Everyone was running and scared while carrying their children and the tank shells falling around us. I had to jump over dead bodies in the streets. The schools were full and we ended up in a church. My children are scared and we try to convince ourselves that we are in a safe place, but there is no safe place in Gaza right now. The only thing we need is to be safe in our homes.”

Conditions in the schools are becoming increasingly desperate, with clean water, food and shelter running perilously low. Oxfam is trucking vital supplies of safe water to 19,000 people sheltering in schools, a church and a mosque. Oxfam is also delivering water to Al Shifa hospital, which has seen a massive influx of civilian casualties in the past few days, including many women and children. Hospitals and health facilities have themselves been hit and seriously damaged.

“The terrible toll on civilians is shocking. Hospitals and water supplies are under massive strain and the needs are increasing by the day. People are fleeing terrified. Normally in crises like this we would see an exodus of people escaping the violence, but in Gaza there is no safe place for them to go. For years the blockade has prevented most people from leaving Gaza, restricted trade and devastated the economy. Lasting peace and security for both sides means ending the blockade and the collective punishment of people in Gaza,” said Nishant Pandey, head of Oxfam in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel.

Damage to water and electricity systems has disrupted the supply of water to over 1 million people. Destruction of sanitation plants risks raw sewage contaminating the water and increasing the risk of disease. Only half of Gaza’s sewage plants are now working. Most of Gaza is now only receiving power for four hours a day or less.

The ongoing violence and intensive airstrikes makes it extremely difficult and dangerous to deliver aid to people, despite the growing needs. Many Oxfam staff and partners have themselves been affected by the violence and have had to leave their homes.

Oxfam condemns violence against civilians by all sides, including Israeli military actions and Palestinian rocket fire. We urge the international community to do much more to push for a lasting ceasefire that ends the blockade and addresses the root causes of the conflict.

The terrible toll on civilians is shocking. Hospitals and water supplies are under massive strain and the needs are increasing by the day.

Nishant Pandey

Head of Oxfam in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel

Notes to Editors

For media: Oxfam has staff in Gaza and Jerusalem who can do interviews in English, Arabic, French, Spanish, Italian and Dutch.

Contact Information

For more information or to arrange interviews, please contacts:
Alun McDonald, Media and Communications Coordinator, Oxfam in OPTI
+972546395002 (Jerusalem) +972592992208 (West Bank and Gaza) or

For updates, follow @Oxfam

Read the Oxfam staff blog: Living through the Gaza airstrikes


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