Posted tagged ‘defense spending’

Defense Spending

January 5, 2018

Increasing the Defense Departments budget, long a staple for Republican politicians, is in the news again. President Trump made increased defense spending a corner stone of his campaign, of course, without specifying what the spending would be on or why.

This week, in an opinion column in the Wall Street Journal, Mark Halpern (who recently stepped back from his MSNBC relationship over sexual harassment allegations) wrote a clear and persuasive column on the urgency surrounding increasing defense spending. Halpern’s comments, however, did not provide any ideas on what would not be funded if defense spending was increased.

Halpern’s thesis builds from the assumption that nuclear deterrence is critical to America’s defense. Halpern claims that the core “nuclear triad”, that is the US ability to deliver nuclear weapons by land, sea, and air have gotten old and have questionable reliability. This could leave the US open to a first strike nuclear attack and questionable ability to respond if attacked. Halpern points to aging aircraft, outdated submarines, and stationary, silo based missiles.

Since WWII, the US has been the undisputed world leader and most experts lay this reality to our nuclear deterrence and a large deployable military. US defense spending, of course, far exceeds that of any other country.   The US spends as much as all other countries combined. Hmmm.

Halpern’s column makes a strong case for urgently placing high priority along with increased dollars on restoring the superiority of our nuclear deterrence. Here are some thoughts about what he might add to his plea.

  • Where does “guns or butter” fit? Is nuclear deterrence an expense which mandates a decrease in social and entitlement spending?
  • Who does “nuclear deterrence” actually benefit? If Americans were willing to become isolationists and bring its armies, ships and planes home, would our banks, financial institutions, and global businesses thrive as they do today?
  • And, how does a $1.5 trillion tax cut fit into national defense

Mark Halpern makes a persuasive case for why the US needs to update its nuclear deterrence. What is missing is the obvious connection between increased defense spending and how it should be paid for.

What To Do About North Korea?

April 11, 2013

There is a lot of huffing and puffing going on about a two bit country in East Asia.  Of course I am talking about nuclear capable North Korea.  Every evening the nightly news shows breathlessly talk about the latest rhetoric flowing from North Korean sources.  Are we on the brink of nuclear war?

If you planning some fun events for this weekend, my advice would be to not think twice and go about your business.  If you had cancelled any events, I would strongly advise “take two aspirins, turn off the TV, and catch up on a good read”.

So why all this noise?

Probably two reasons.  (1) The media is simply shameless.  For them a world event with the US somehow involved represents dollars from heaven.  (2) For friends of the US defense budget, this is what they live for.  How can Congress cut defense spending with a war at our door steps?

So why are the North Koreans acting so strange?    Most likely it is just an extortion attempt.  South Korea and the US have in the past, on occasions of similar North Korean behavior, rewarded them with something good.  This time South Korea and the US are not likely to step forward with any goodies.  So who is going to be extorted?

My guess is that quietly China will promise some help on fuel or grain or something that the UN sanctions are keeping from North Korea.  In return for this help, China will ask North Korea to tone it down.  So North Korea will get its reward for acting out.

The actual situation is ludicrous.  North Korea might not last one day if armed warfare were to begin.    But… there is always the unexpected…  And were North Korea to use weapons of mass destruction, the US response would put an end to North Korea’s capability.   The question would be, at what cost and unintended consequence?

The US needs to make clear through diplomatic channels to North Korea, China, South Korea, and Japan what the consequences would be if North Korea were to attack any of its neighbors.  This message should be private and all North Korean public statements should be ignored.

Publicly, North Korea does not exists.  Privately, China, you must take care of North Korea, and South Korea and Japan, go on about your ways, China and the US have the situation under control.

With this approach, the big loser would be the media with the military industrial cousins holding fast.


Getting Real

February 22, 2013

The past few days the news has been filled with dire warnings about Sequestration.  The Defense Department has done a particularly good job pointing out how they will find themselves if the $46 billion sequestration cuts occur.  With Defense spending running north of $600 billion per year, one is struck with this is not a “business mindset”.

The business world is often struck with economic downturns.  The fittest businesses adjust by reducing costs.  The best businesses reduce these costs in a way that prepares them for future growth while improving efficiency now.  The Defense Department is long over due for this type of a “come to Jesus” experience.

No bureaucrat, worth his salt, sits still for cuts.  Every penny the bureaucrat’s agency has spent has been worthwhile and necessary for achieving the agency’s charter.  Businesses have shown, however, that there is always room for greater productivity and efficiency.

Stepping back, Congress passed the Sequestration law and the President signed it.  Maybe both political parties thought compromise could be found and this law replaced with other measures.  That has not happened.  But think about alternatives.

Does it make sense to give a pass to the Defense Department and instead raise taxes on certain segments of income earners?  Does it make sense to do nothing and allow the deficit to continue driving up our debt?  Does it make sense to ignore entitlements and not raise taxes on everyone?

There certainly can be reasoned arguments about the pace of spending cuts.  But how can there be questions that such large government spending segments such as entitlements or defense are not included?  The same reasoning applies to taxes.  Why should the tax code present during President Clinton’s term not apply?  Why shouldn’t, in addition, not instead of, a millionaires tax (where anyone earning $1million pay at least 30% tax rate) be included too?

There are of course all sorts of reasons why each special interest does not want to implement one or more of these “why not questions”.  What is also the case, there are no alternative ideas coming from the President, the Senate, or the House.

Hmmm.  Businesses do not merrily reduce costs.  Business Bureaucrats cry just as loud as government ones.  And once the cuts are made, surprise, surprise, life goes on.

Governing By Polls

February 20, 2013

Former President Bill Clinton perfected “triangulation”, a process of launching a policy idea as a trial balloon, polling to determine its public’s acceptance, and then adjusting the trial ballon, and repeating the process until public acceptance reaches a desired level.  Then, and only then, Bill Clinton took a public position.  Democrats and Republicans both seem to be attempting to play that cleaver but gutless game with sequestration.

The sequestration measures rapidly approaching would chop about $100 billion off the budget ($1 trillion over 10 years).  Democrats are now bemoaning the law and seeking to change it to make it less onerous.  Less onerous to Democrats means less spending cuts and more taxes.  Republicans want to see no new taxes and no cuts to defense spending.  In the best of circumstances, spending cuts, for Republicans, would be all in entitlements.  The current sequestration law gives neither Democrats or Republicans what they want.

This is white knuckles time.

Each side is sure they have the public’s preference on their side.  How do they know that?  Bingo, the polls.

There is little evidence that Democrats or Republicans see a greater picture.  Cutting a trillion dollars from the budget (the size of our yearly deficit) could have major consequences.  It has to mean increased unemployment (at least temporarily).  Unemployment could compound itself into a recession and only time would tell for how long.

While cuts to general spending as well as defense spending are almost certainly a good idea, how much and over what time period is not clear.   Raising some new tax revenues is also wise, but how much and from whom is unclear.   Ignoring entitlements, however, overlooks the main driver of the deficit.  And within entitlements, it is health care that must be tackled.  Do the math.

The interesting things about polls is that their answers depend on what questions you ask and who you ask.  Long term solutions for our chronic deficit problem do not seem to be among the question being asked.

Even more to the point, I wonder whether the younger generations who must pay for the debt are in the polling population?


Making Sense of Chuck Hagel

February 15, 2013

A new word may be emerging from the Senate halls.  The word, a noun, is “Hagel-ling”.  It describes a process where a minority party recklessly exercises a historic Senate privilege and blocks a Presidential nomination with no job performance grounds.

“Hagel-ling” continues a practice which gained momentum beginning in 2009 called “No-ing”.  This practice calls for the President’s opposition to simply say “No” to anything and everything the President proposes.

Both practices gain character when the invokers wear an American Flag lapel pin.  Looking a television camera straight on, the “No” sayer says, “the American people don’t want this, they want …. whatever.”

Who said English was a dead language?

To put “Hagel-ling” and “No-ing” is a fuller context, one should try to answer the following four questions:

  • Which Country spends more (twice as much as most) other countries on health care, does not include everyone in health care coverage, and accepts a system that delivers mediocre health care outcomes?
  • Which Country spends more per student on K-12 education than any other country (except Switzerland), and produces students whose standardized test scores are mediocre?
  • Which Country spends more money on Defense than any other country, almost as much as all other countries combined?
  • Which Country imprisons more citizens than any other country with little or no impact upon crime rates?

The answer to all four question is the United States of America.

The US finds itself in a peculiar spot.

  • The Federal budget is chronically unbalanced.
  • Most experts point to a shortage of educated and skilled workers to fill current and future jobs.
  • Defense spending bares little resemblance to imminent threats and a lot more commonality to Congressional districts.
  • Prison populations keep rising as well as the budgets to house more prisoners per capita than any place in the world.  Why is the US so law un-abiding?

Frankly, I am not sure of why “No-ing” and “Hagel-ling” have come into existence.  Their practice solves nothing and does not advance greater understanding of any issues.

I am pretty sure, however, that the “why” answer lies close to the answer to why our nation is not up in arms over these four questions.  How can America sit by and waste so much money on health care, education, defense, and prisons, and then lament the nation’s Federal budget deficit?

Just maybe, if we try to make sense of the Chuck Hagel situation, we can stumble on the much larger set of problems, fully in our control, which continue to drift along with or without Chuck Hagel.  We elected the members of Congress!

The continued rejection of looking at data, comparing worldwide, and then making decisions in the nation’s best interest is hard to understand.  Maybe Chuck can help us find the way.

Haggling over Hagel

January 9, 2013

The uproar over President Obama nomination of former Nebraska Senator, Chuck Hagel, is a study in dysfunctional behavior.  We are seeing so many objectives are being served at the same time.  It just reassuring that the sand box is big enough for all the actors.

The “log cabin” kids jumped in quickly.  They might do well to look in the mirror.  These gay Republicans have jumped out in front of the bus while the much larger gay community have taken the time to look at Hagel’s entire record (including his apology over his “overly gay aggressive” comments).  If these log cabin kids think Republicans will like them any better for stirring the pot, they are sadly mistaken.

Bill Kristol’s statements are not a surprise.  You might recall that Kristol and his Weekly Standard “neoconservative” magazine were a thinly disguised cheering team for AIPAC.  Hagel did incorrectly refer to AIPAC as the “Jewish Lobby” instead of correctly saying it was an Israeli Lobby.  Kristol, however, rode to infamy with his unbridled support for invading and occupying Iraq.  Later when the Bush Administration completely mismanaged the Iraq War, Kristol claimed the invasion had been a good idea but the war’s prosecution had been poorly done.  He is no closer to the mark this time too.

The two amigos, Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham, are in this fight for different reasons.  Both are seeking to be seen politically as relevant, someone who other political big shots need to deal with.  Both are also very concerned with the deficit debate, and the likely outcomes.  Both are either smoking something or are becoming delusional as they age in thinking defense spending should increase.

Chuck Hagel is a Republican who beliefs date to a past era where both parties were far more responsible and reasonable.  Hagel will approach the Defense Department with clear eyes and a recognition that the heady days of ever increasing defense budgets is over.  Hagel will work to cut the defense budget using a larger measure of logic and common sense than worrying about whose congressional district is being hurt.  Graham and McCain do not like that type of independence.

Hagel will be implementing President Obama’s policies, not creating them himself.  The President recognizes that “balanced budget reductions” means a shared spending curtailment.  Tax code expenditures (those lovely loopholes), entitlements, defense, and all other discretionary have to be on the table. 

Ridiculous spending programs like the F-35 where Congress votes to spend more and the Defense Departments says we don’t want to spend more, will be over with Chuck Hagel.  Graham and McCain know this.

For sure it is appropriate for Graham and McCain to hold their own foreign policy and supporting defense views.  They must, however, who won the election two months ago.  


Doctors or Drones?

January 4, 2013

Most everyone has heard the age old conundrum, should a country produce more guns or butter?  In normal economic terms, if you put your resources into producing butter, you will have less resources to produce guns.  The US appears to be looking at the choice of producing drones (read defense spending) or supporting doctors (read health care).  As both grow, efforts to reign in the deficit inevitably bring the arguments that health care cost growth must come at the expense of defense, and vice versa.

It is staggering to compare US health care spending against that of other countries. The data indicates the US spends about twice as much on health care (doctors in this post) than other modern countries.  Why?  And who cares?

The short answer is we had better all start caring.  Health care is bankrupting the country, it is over 50% of the deficit and growing.  It is approaching 20% of out GDP.  As health care continues to grow, it will crowd out the country’s ability to do other things, like buying drones (meaning defense spending).

Universal health care is one option.  One of the standby arguments, however, against  universal health care is that it is socialized medicine.  (That does not seem so bad to me if the health care is effective as in Germany, France, Japan, Canada, etc.)  But the critics continue, “and you know that universal health care robs money from other government priorities, like defense”.  Hmmm.

Unless a country borrows endlessly, as the US has done in recent years, there is a limit to what any country can afford.  In that sense, the positioning of drones or doctors is correct.  But trading off health care verse defense spending does not need to be the only alternative.

Look for answers to the question, why is America’s health care so expensive.  A Forbes article sheds a different light upon the costs.  While the answer to how to reduce the cost of specialist (like over prescription or higher salary) and poor utilization of hospitals is not straight forward, what is clear is that drones have nothing to do with it.  There are models around the world of health care that covers all residents, costs much less, and produces outcomes as good or better.

Looking at defense spending, again we find a disconnect.  US defense spending is the highest in the world and equals about as much as all other nations spend.  The reasons are many.  Defense employs many workers and over time defense contracts have found their way to almost all Congressional districts.  Defense is good business.  Campaign donations, jobs, and to some extent, hidden subsidy support for commercial aviation, transportation in general, and electronics are beneficiaries.  We know defense can be cut.  We don’t have agreement on where and how much.

So the issue is not doctors or drones.  We have already too much defense spending and far too much health care spending.  The country needs to think.  Why should we not want a health care delivery system that cost about half (the same as other modern countries) and produces equal or better outcomes?  If we do, then let’s work on how to get there, and not try to reduce the number of people who can get health care (as Congress is now contemplating)?

We also know we are spending far more on defense than other countries.  Why don’t we develop a foreign policy that protects basic American interests but funds the defense apparatus necessary at a lower level, or collects contributions from other nations who choose not to spend themselves?

The better notion is that we want doctors and drones, just not the expensive version we have now.