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Five Eye-Opening Facts About Our Bloated Post-9/11 'Defense' Spending

A dollar spent on guns is one less buck available for butter.
 
 
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This week, the National Priorities Project (NPP) released a snapshot of U.S. “defense” spending since September 11, 2001. The eye-popping figures lend credence to the theory that  al Qaeda's attacks were a form of economic warfare – that they hoped for a massive overreaction that would entangle us in costly foreign wars that would ultimately drain away our national wealth.

They didn't bankrupt us the same way the Mujahadeen  helped bring down the Soviet Union decades before, because our economy was much stronger. But they did succeed in putting us deep into the red – with an assist, of course, from Bush's ideologically driven tax cuts for the wealthy.

The topline number is this: we have spent $7.6 trillion on the military and homeland security since 9/11. The Pentagon's base budget – which doesn't include the costs of fighting our wars – has increased by 81 percent during that time (43 percent when adjusted for inflation). The costs of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have now reached $1.26 trillion. But that only scratches the surface; it doesn't include the long-term costs of caring for badly wounded soldiers, for example.

One line-item suggests that 9/11 has been used to justify greater military spending across the board; the nuclear weapons budget has shot up by more than a fifth after adjusting for inflation. How intercontinental ballistic missiles that can vaporize whole cities are useful in a “war on terror” is anybody's guess.

The Pentagon itself acknowledges these dollars haven't all been spent effectively – there is certainly plenty of waste. According to the Washington Post, the DoD has blown $32 billion (enough to offer free, universal college tuition for a year) on canceled weapons programs since 1997. According to the Poststory, which is based on an unreleased Pentagon rep ort, “For almost a decade, the Defense Department saw its budgets boom — but didn’t make the kind of technological strides that seemed possible.”

"Since 9/11, a near doubling of the Pentagon’s modernization accounts — more than $700 billion over 10 years in new spending on procurement, research and development — has resulted in relatively modest gains in actual military capability,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said in an address last week.

He called that outcome both “vexing and disturbing.” Some might find the relentless focus on cutting benefits for vulnerable Americans "vexing and disturbing" in light of this profligate spending. Budgets, after all, are a reflection of our priorities.

Toward that end, let's put these numbers in perspective by looking at some of the other things we might be doing with those dollars. Because a buck spent on guns is one less for butter.

1. Post-9/11 Defense Hikes Equal Five Times the “Medicare Gap”

Economist Dean Baker notes that “the projections in the Medicare Trustees report, as well as the CBO baseline budget, show that the program faces a relatively modest long-term shortfall.” The amount of money needed to balance the program's finances over its 75-year horizon, he adds, “is less than 0.3 percent of GDP, approximately one-fifth of the increase in the rate annual defense spending between 2000 and 2011.”

2. Afghanistan Costs Alone Could Pay for 15.6 Years of Head Start

Head Start provides education, health, nutrition, and parenting services to low-income children and their families. It's an incredibly successful, effective and popular program, but there are only 900,000 places in the program for more than 2.5 million eligible kids. According to the National Priorities Project, what we've spent on the Afghanistan war so far could fund Head Start for all eligible children for the next 15.6 years.

 
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