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Est. April 5, 2002
September 17, 2015 - Issue 621

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Where Does All The
(Taxpayers’) Money Go?


"Name any social or physical problem that a society
might have and the U.S. has it to spare. A stagnant
pool of politicians in Washington, D.C., does not
seem to be willing or able to do anything about it."

People in the U.S. wonder every day: Why is this part of our society not working or why do we seem to be sinking economically, politically, and environmentally? And, why are our societal problems growing exponentially?

The American people are constantly reminded, even by a supine press, that roads and bridges are in disrepair, that many of our schools are in high stress, that our health care “system” leaves millions to fend for themselves, that the poor among us don’t seem to be able to survive, and the poor make up an ever-growing part of our population.

Name any social or physical problem that a society might have and the U.S. has it to spare. A stagnant pool of politicians in Washington, D.C., does not seem to be willing or able to do anything about it. Their “action” on hot-button issues (pick one) that do not have much to do about the failing health of our nation masks their unwillingness to do anything about the real problems of daily life for the vast majority of Americans.

One of the reasons, probably the primary reason, is that much of the money goes to the military and “defense” of the U.S., to protect the frail citizenry from threats, real and imagined. We spend more than half of our treasure as a nation on war and preparation for war. While the people might intuitively understand that this is the case and it is the reason that so many are left behind in this supposedly greatest economy in the world, there is now a book that pulls it all together and lets us have a look at just where in the world our money goes.

In his book ‘Base Nation,’ David Vine gives an insight into the reality of it. Our money, our treasure, is spent around the world…all around the world. He shows that our taxes are supporting some 800 bases, large and small, in countries on virtually every continent and that, he admits, may be underestimating the size of the empire.

His research over several years and his travel to bases in various countries show the profligate expenditure of the taxes of everyday Americans. He repeatedly reminds the reader that he made his estimates on the conservative side, mainly because he could not get straight answers from many military sources. In fact, he showed that, in many cases, the Pentagon itself does not have a solid handle on where, and on what, the money is spent.

The power of the defense industry is illustrated in the virtual takeover by private companies of the functions that previously were done by military personnel, especially since the end of the Vietnam War. No more peeling potatoes for GIs. Now, the work is done by contractors, who are doing more and more of the “work” of maintaining our bases around the world. The “contractors” are doing some of the fighting, as well, as we saw in Iraq, when mercenaries from Blackwater were in the fighting, believing that wherever they were was a “free fire zone.” They caused many serious problems, since they believed that they were not bound by the order of military combat.

That is no small problem and the infiltration of private soldiers into the military mix is just one of the problems of the bases of empire. Just remember that there are about 800 bases that cover the globe. There has been no other empire in the history of the world that has projected such a mighty presence in so many parts of the world as the current sprawling network of bases of the U.S. Vine repeats several times in the book that he is working with information that he could glean from various military, governmental, and research sources to come up with the conservative estimate of 800 bases. It could be several times more. There does not seem to be any agency in government that has an accurate count of bases, except for the major ones, and what goes on there.

The major bases, Vine points out in his book, which was published a few weeks ago, can be like small American cities transplanted into their “host” countries, with their row houses, fast food restaurants, movie theaters, golf courses, gyms, retail stores (the ubiquitous PX or post exchange that are like giant department stores), and other amenities of life in the U.S. If you could be transported from your own city to one of these bases, you would not think you had left the country. And, there would be no reason to go anywhere, once you were on the base. Everything is right there and that comes in handy if the local populace is not pleased with your presence, despite the “economic activity” that is provided by American military largesse.

The collapse of the Soviet Union a quarter-century ago, leaving the U.S. as the world’s only “super power,” apparently did not stop the wild expenditure of money on things military, especially the maintaining of bases everywhere. In one part of the book, he pointed out the absurdity of at least one base, where contractors were maintaining the base and security contractors were watching over the enterprise. In effect, the U.S. was paying contractors to feed security personnel in a base where there were no troops.

If senators and representatives in Washington were paying attention, they would see that the waste and corruption are depriving the nation of the money needed to provide for the needs of the people, but, of course, they are all involved in the charade that this nation is not an empire and has no aspirations to rule the world. Or, at least, the important parts of it. With the national security state firmly implanted in the psyche of the nation, it becomes easier and easier to convince the people that military might is more important than health care for all or education for all or decent housing for all.

The “war on terror” has taken the place of the Soviet Union and the fear that we are in danger of imminent attack has sufficiently cowed the people into believing that the military should take precedence over all other aspects of the nation and society. The fear mongering has succeeded beyond the dreams of the fear mongers and the money continues to flow into the coffers of the military, the Department of Defense (which should be renamed properly, Department of War), and all of the weapons and defense industries.

Many analysts over the years have asked Americans, as Vine does in ‘Base Nation,’ to imagine another country having just one base in the U.S. It would not be tolerated. The hostility toward foreigners on American soil would be great and the fear mongers in the nation’s capital would have their public relations people working overtime. But, that’s the status of America astride the world.

George W. Bush, as president, after the catastrophe of September 11, 2001, when asked why anyone would attack the United States, famously said, “They hate us for our freedom.” Well, they really don’t hate us for our freedom. If they hate us, they hate us for our occupation of large parts of their native soil and in some cases, we occupy or have occupied their entire country (after invasion, of course). And, occasionally, when they were in the way, the U.S. has removed entire populations from small island nations, when those islands were needed for naval or air bases, or for target practice. That tends to arouse hostility among those ethnically cleansed.

This kind of wasteful expenditure of the substance of the country makes the U.S. weaker, because its people are weaker. No nation can endlessly spend money on war and survive as a nation, yet, no one in power seems to recognize that. Civilizations have collapsed by doing the very thing that the U.S. is doing. It’s in the historical record, to be looked up in any high school library, if there are any students who still spend time in libraries.

It is a bi-partisan effort, this endless war, and the “war on terror” gives the green light to spend an ever-increasing amount of our federal budget on the war machine. Always, that means cutting off money for public schools, higher education for all, housing for all, health care for all, and all of the things that make life enjoyable in a civilized society. Anyone who wonders where her (federal tax) money went needs to look at the “guns and butter” balance: It tilts heavily toward the guns. ‘Base Nation’ will give readers an idea of where their tax money goes and why the needs of your own community are starved of funding.

The lives of American children and their families are being hollowed out by such wasteful spending and Vine’s book is a good place to start learning how we are being duped by (in President Eisenhower’s words) “the military-industrial complex,” although now, it should include in that complex the Congress, the press, and academia, not to mention the plethora of Right Wing think tanks that sprouted like mushrooms after World War II. Americans are controlled by those who seek continuous war and, by the way, make millions and billions of dollars by doing so.

Only the people can change that. Columnist, John Funiciello, is a long-time former newspaper reporter and labor organizer, who lives in the Mohawk Valley of New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Contact Mr. Funiciello and BC.

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