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How The Pentagon Bankrupts America
November 26, 2008 1:40 PM   Subscribe

America's Defense Meltdown: Pentagon Reform for President Obama and the New Congress (2.3 MB PDF). A new report from the Center for Defense Information on the DoD's wastefulness, and suggested solutions. Recommended holiday reading from James Fallows and Andrew Sullivan.
posted by homunculus (29 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
President-elect Obama wants to slash wasteful military spending. To Pentagon bureaucrats, defense contractors, and congressional porkers, this means war.

Can Obama Take on the Pentagon?
posted by homunculus at 1:40 PM on November 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Other reading on the topic of the Pentagon would be Chalmers Johnson and his book Nemesis.

A google search on the topic for the lazy

(The short version - Cutting spending to the Pentagon would cause a lot of pain due to job loss to a lot of Americans)
posted by rough ashlar at 1:44 PM on November 26, 2008


Is Obama a bad enough dude to rescue the budget?
posted by you just lost the game at 1:49 PM on November 26, 2008 [8 favorites]


Defense: FY2009 Authorization and Appropriations (pdf)
The President’s FY2009 federal budget request, released February 4, 2008, included $611.1 billion in new budget authority for national defense. This total included $515.4 billion in discretionary new budget authority for the base budget of the Department of Defense (DOD) — i.e., activities not associated with combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The budget included an additional $2.9 billion in mandatory spending for the DOD base budget and $22.8 billion for defense costs of the Department of Energy and other agencies. In addition to the $541.1 billion requested for the base line (i.e., non-war cost) budget, the request also included an unallocated placeholder of $70 billion to cover war costs in the first part of FY2009.
posted by acro at 2:20 PM on November 26, 2008


Please defund that dangerous joke of an albatross, ballistic missile defense.
posted by mullingitover at 2:25 PM on November 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


if government spending on defense goes down at the same rate that spending on infrastructure, education, and healthcare go up isn't it possible to end up with the same amount of jobs?
posted by Glibpaxman at 2:30 PM on November 26, 2008


wait, $70BN for walkin-around money?
posted by boo_radley at 2:33 PM on November 26, 2008


You'll pry those gold plated toilet seats off the Generals cold dead butts!
posted by Artw at 2:41 PM on November 26, 2008


How about setting limits on the budget, like no more than 30% of the budget can go to military spending, period.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:42 PM on November 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


A big part of the problem is that career advancement within the Pentagon, and for former Pentagon bureaucrats turned private consultants, varies strongly with how expensive your projects are. There's just no career incentive to keep costs down.
posted by gsteff at 2:42 PM on November 26, 2008


Yeah, whenever Obama talked about "going line by line", "scalpel", and "keep the ones that work and cut the ones that dont" in his stump speeches/debates, I instead heard "cut the military".
posted by amuseDetachment at 2:52 PM on November 26, 2008


The cut spending thing isn't something unique to Obama. Seems like every newbie president runs on this. Where most of them fail is when they find out how little money will be saved by the kinds of spending they're usually talking about. I get hopeful when he talks about removing or fixing programs that don't work, or aren't applicable anymore like the famous mohair subsidies. I recently saw a program on Frontline World about the US/Mexican border, and that there are 5 agencies involved with that, all with their own bureaucracies. Where there could be lots of savings is eliminating duplication of management. As for the Pentagon, the defense has always seemed like a huge sieve for money, and certainly could use a good cleaning-up.
posted by Eekacat at 3:18 PM on November 26, 2008


Whenever Obama talked about "going line by line" through the budget, I thought "This budget... it is not the size you think it is." I mean: he's not going to be able to load it into Quicken.

But in any case, don't get your hopes up about him diverting deca-billions from the Pentagon to, say, the Department of Education. As Arthur Silber - The Angriest Man On The Internet - points out:

Obama is the perfect embodiment of the system as it now exists. He will challenge it on no issue of importance. To the contrary, he will advance the goals of the ruling class and ensure that the powerful are fully protected. He will lie to you about all of this, as he already has on numerous occasions -- but as I have noted, many Americans, including many liberals and progressives, are enthusiastically willing to believe anything.
posted by Joe Beese at 3:46 PM on November 26, 2008


Fred Kaplan says that Gates wants to cut the waste as well. Maybe Obama just needs to let him off his leash?
posted by Lemurrhea at 3:53 PM on November 26, 2008


Will Obama Continue 'Star Wars?'
posted by homunculus at 4:25 PM on November 26, 2008


The Trillion Dollar Tag Sale: How the Pentagon Could Help Bail Out America
posted by homunculus at 4:27 PM on November 26, 2008


I would be perfectly happy if he just declined to give them any increases over the next 8 years. Let them be defunded via inflation. If he actually cut anything, I'd be ecstatic...and in an alternate universe.
posted by DU at 5:41 PM on November 26, 2008


Obama is the perfect embodiment of the system as it now exists. He will challenge it on no issue of importance. To the contrary, he will advance the goals of the ruling class and ensure that the powerful are fully protected. He will lie to you about all of this, as he already has on numerous occasions -- but as I have noted, many Americans, including many liberals and progressives, are enthusiastically willing to believe anything.

So I read that essay. Now, in my view in order for Obama to betray anyone, an action has to satisfy three criteria: A) Obama has to do it. B) Obama has to have claimed he was not going to do it and C) You have to want Obama not to do it.

Alternatively, you could have the inverse: Not A, Not B and Not C. (Obama doesn't do something he said he would do and you want)

But the article doesn't lay out any actions that fit those criteria at all. In fact, the author doesn't even make any specific claims whatsoever. Except for one link at the end that accuses Obama of being a war criminal, because he didn't try to impeach Bush.

It's all rather idiotic.
posted by delmoi at 6:19 PM on November 26, 2008 [3 favorites]


If Obama massively cut defense spending, it would cause the same economic hardship we would see with the shuttering of GM and Ford, unfortunately.

I'd like to see it cut though, maybe in a few years or if the money and people can be directed into less wasteful crap. (i.e. put all the jet engineers to work on wind turbines and stuff)
posted by delmoi at 6:21 PM on November 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Lemurrhea, letting Gates be the business end of the scalpel would be the smart thing to do. Great idea!
posted by Mister_A at 6:22 PM on November 26, 2008


Recommended holiday reading from James Fallows...

He’s long moved away from concentrating on the topic of ineffective military spending, but the first good book on this subject I ever read — over 25 years ago — was Fallows's own, National Defense. The paperback edition won the National Book Award in 1983.
posted by LeLiLo at 6:45 PM on November 26, 2008


Obama is the perfect embodiment of the system as it now exists. He will challenge it on no issue of importance. To the contrary, he will advance the goals of the ruling class and ensure that the powerful are fully protected. He will lie to you about all of this, as he already has on numerous occasions -- but as I have noted, many Americans, including many liberals and progressives, are enthusiastically willing to believe anything.

That was a shit essay.

Note to the writer: An essay that starts out of the gate calling anybody who disagrees with you an asshole before backing up your thesis, is not very effective. In this case he doesn't even GET to his thesis before calling everybody a else gullible asshole.

Yeah. Bro. You tell it. It's so awesome be completely inert and bitch constantly about the man.
posted by tkchrist at 6:51 PM on November 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


If Obama massively cut defense spending, it would cause the same economic hardship we would see with the shuttering of GM and Ford...

No it wouldn't. A lot of "defense" spending is really just scientific research but with the military getting first dibs or driving the requirements.

For instance, the Great Robot Race competitions. The DoD is funding the development of cars that can drive themselves in realistic conditions (all terrain, traffic, etc). They obviously would like to be able to deliver supplies without risking lives. But this is technology that has many applications outside the military. So just move the funding from the DoD to the NSF. You reduce the power of the Pentagon, probably streamline the process, probably reduce the cost and increase the time to useful civilian application.

Another example is the space catalog. (Almost) only the military has the big radars that are needed/helpful to track all that stuff, so (almost) only the military does it. But this is a job that needs to be done even for non-military reasons. Move funding, reduce Pentagon influence, streamline, more productivity.

Now granted, there are a lot of programs (*cough*BMD*cough*) that are just a waste. Those people could be laid off or they could be shifted into something useful. Set the Army Corps of Engineers to work building bridges, fixing New Orleans for real, cleaning up SuperFund sites, etc. Get the scientists working on developing new technologies to help them at these tasks.
posted by DU at 7:07 PM on November 26, 2008


The cover article in this month's IEEE Spectrum magazine:

What's Wrong with Weapons Acquisitions?

Escalating complexity, a shortage of trained workers, and crass politicization mean that most programs to develop new military systems fail to meet expectations


http://www.spectrum.ieee.org/nov08/6931
posted by intermod at 8:43 PM on November 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


How's Obama going to cut defense spending when he's planning to go all Lyndon Johnson on Afghanistan? I have, with reservations, high hopes for his administration. But some people's expectations are at serious odds with reality.

massively cut defense spending

Really? What? How? I find it hard to see him as some kind of Army-dismantling Quaker when he's pulling troops out of one quagmire to throw them into another which is, if anything, more hopeless.

I hope he ends up negotiating with the Taliban, catching Bin Laden and getting us out of there. But if he has a coherent plan., he sure ain't tellin' anybody yet.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:06 PM on November 26, 2008


Pentagon Reform doesn't have to mean cutting spending. Just knowing where the money is going would be a great start.

Remember when Rumsfeld admitted they couldn't account for 2.3 Trillion dollars?
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 5:45 AM on November 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Damn you, homunculus! I have no time to read all your informative, interesting, highly relevant links.

Seriously though this subject is my personal pet peeve. Thanks for posting on it. You're one of my favorite metafilter posters - you always provide well-researched links that expand the discussion.
posted by heathkit at 11:54 PM on December 1, 2008


Gates' Plan To Fix the Pentagon: The now-and-future defense secretary's two critical ideas for reforming the military.
posted by homunculus at 9:09 AM on December 6, 2008


Gates expected to use new clout to scale back Pentagon weapons plans: Sniper blimps and light planes could gain favor over pricier projects, such as high-tech jets and the Future Combat Systems program.
posted by homunculus at 5:34 PM on December 10, 2008


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