Ben Cohen

Is Bernie Sanders a 'hypocrite' because he's a millionaire?

Leading up to Tax Day, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy reported that under Trump’s new tax plan the number of corporations paying effectively zero in taxes, or even less than zero, had doubled. Let me repeat that. Huge billion dollar corporations like Amazon, Netflix, and pharmaceutical manufacturer Eli Lilly are not paying any taxes. And Trump’s tax plan is making it worse.

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Our Badly Run Budget

President George W. Bush was elected twice, promising to run the federal government like a business. Despite the fiscal crisis in Washington, there's no better time for the president to keep his promise than now.

As businesspeople, we know that CEOs are constantly balancing the twin needs of making money in the short term and investing in the future, so that profits don't disappear a few years down the line. Similarly, President Bush has to find money to pay for the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina in the short term -- while also investing in programs, like education, that are essential to our nation's long-term security.

Of course, the president could retract some of his tax cuts or withdraw troops from Iraq -- moves that could generate hundreds of billions of dollars. But assuming he won't, what to do?

Well, when the going gets rough in the free market, businesspeople call up their accountants and scrutinize the company budget. As our CEO-in-chief, President Bush needs to make an honest assessment of our national checkbook.

Such an analysis would reveal that the Pentagon budget, more than the ledger of any other single federal department, could yield big-time savings if subjected to the cost-cutting methodology of a business executive intent on ferreting out waste.

That view is held by former President Ronald Reagan's Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence J. Korb, who argues that America could save $60 billion by cutting weapons still being built or maintained, believe it or not, to fight the defunct Soviet Union.

These cuts, Korb points out, would not affect our nation's ability to fight terrorists or the Iraq war. (The Iraq and Afghanistan wars are funded by "supplemental" appropriations by Congress, not by the Pentagon's annual budget.)

It's true that even a whopping number like $60 billion will not cure America's fiscal woes, but it certainly is a big chunk of money.

A business-minded President, along with Congress, would decide how to spend the $60 billion with a cost-benefit analysis. Which of America's fiscal needs require immediate investments and which can be deferred?

From a business perspective, we can no longer defer spending required to prepare us for the defining wars of the new century, and these wars will be fought on economic battlefields.

So the top priority for our leaders now is to ensure that America has the arsenal it needs to win future economic battles. For $60 billion in wasted Pentagon funding, America could:
Retrain hundreds of thousands of workers. America's workers, the foot soldiers in economic battles, need training as the economy shifts.
Renovate our public schools and provide health insurance for our children. America's future recruits, our children, must be equipped with the skills they need to trump their adversaries in the global economy. We should begin upgrading America's crumbling public schools and provide health insurance to every kid who lacks it in our country, the world's richest.
Take steps toward energy independence. The nation with the most energy-efficient economy will possess the most devastating weapon in future global economic wars.
Help poor nations. To promote democracy and basic decency, we should double the federal budget for humanitarian foreign aid, saving the lives of millions kids who would die of hunger in impoverished nations.

In this era of budget scarcity, President Bush and Congress must undertake a hard-nosed and bipartisan analysis of the widely acknowledged waste in the Pentagon budget. This is the only way we can 1) strengthen our strategic security by reducing our dependence on oil and rebuilding our stature overseas; and 2) ensure our economic competitiveness and security by investing in the jobs of tomorrow and the kids of today who will hold them.

It's time for our CEO to be a strategic leader and to be accountable for our future.

Welcome the Protesters -- and Their Credit Cards

Mayor Bloomberg clearly went to great lengths to lure the Republican National Convention to New York City, and now he's busy making sure the convention-goers have a great time once they arrive, offering them special performances of Broadway shows, fancy parties sponsored by Wall Street firms, and more.

Mr. Bloomberg justifies the effort and expense he dedicated to the convention – at least in part – by saying that New York will reap major economic and public relations benefits by playing host to the Republicans. But what about the economic benefits that will accrue thanks to the one million protesters who are expected to visit New York City to demonstrate?

Even if you add the 15,000 journalists who will be swarming around the Republican convention to the 13,000 convention-goers – and, for good measure, you throw in 50,000 stray lobbyists and vendors selling talking Ann Coulter dolls – the protesters will outnumber and may well outspend the Republicans and their entourage.

Look at the numbers. Protest organizations are chartering buses and mobilizing people around the country to come to New York. If 500,000 out-of-staters visit for one night – a reasonable number in light of past demonstrations – they could easily drop a total of $150 million or more.

Wait a minute, you say, they are a ragtag bunch with no cash to pump into the local economy. Not so. Protesters increasingly fall into the aging boomer demographic. They have well-paying jobs, houses, 401(k)'s – and credit cards.

Even if half the protesters sleep on floors, that leaves more than 250,000 staying in area hotels where they will spend more than $50 million.

And how do you thank someone if you stay on their floor? You take them out to dinner after a day of all-American protesting. And before dinner, why not a Broadway (or Off Broadway) show or a visit to the Met or even a poetry slam? Or, as a thank-you, you might buy a gift for your host and for loved ones back home. And you might buy a thing or two for yourself. The protesters – poor and wealthy ones combined – could spend $100 million on this stuff and other incidentals. Despite their spending potential, what do the protesters get in the way of wooing? They can't even get a permit to congregate in Central Park and exercise their First Amendment rights of free speech because City Hall is worried about the lawns!

Last month, Mr. Bloomberg made a good start by issuing some permits to protest groups, but if he truly had the interests of New Yorkers in mind, he would immediately start a major marketing campaign, encouraging protesters from across America to demonstrate at the Republican convention. This campaign would emphasize that protesters welcome in New York – and that they'll have a good time and be kept safe. As a sign of his commitment, Mr. Bloomberg should ensure that the demonstrators be given access to a prime venue, like Central Park, for their big event.

If protesters were properly invited and assured of a safe place to protest, who knows how many would come? Two million? Three million? This could translate into a billion dollars or more for the city.

As a former businessman, the mayor should understand that cash-carrying people are cash-carrying people, even if they don't like President Bush. So, Mr. Bloomberg, roll out the red carpet to protesters.

Wake America from Its Bloodless Trance

America has two options to disarm and contain Iraq. One option--war--involves killing people. The other option--more and tougher inspections--does not.

Americans, who overwhelmingly oppose the Iraq war if high numbers of casualties result, haven't heard enough about the deaths that are sure to be caused by the war option. That's why I created a television advertisement, featuring hip-hop artist Russell Simmons, that includes video footage of actual war--of wounded civilians and of American soldiers dragging the bodies of their comrades out of harm's way.

I think most of you would want to see my advertisement and decide for yourself whether you agree with an aging ice cream guy or think I am crazy, misinformed, stoned, stupid, or much worse.

Unfortunately, most of you will never see my anti-war commercial. Why? Because the major network news outlets refused to accept it, claiming that the imagery was too graphic. Trouble is, the imagery in my ad was far less graphic than what you see on prime time entertainment shows, like "ER" or even on mayhem-crazed local TV news shows.

So what's the real reason that the TV networks rejected my ad?

Ironically, linking death to war seems to be taboo at a time when the connection should be on the top of our minds. Few in the major media are talking about casualties in the Iraq war, and it seems our nation does not want to confront the reality that the war will result in casualties, anywhere from a few thousand dead and wounded (itself a horrific number) to tens of thousands, according to international experts. Let's be clear--that's thousands of dead or wounded people, at a minimum.

Not surprisingly, the Bush Administration is doing little or nothing to break us out of our bloodless trance about the war. It has not released official information about expected causalities, although surely this information has been developed by the White House. Congress isn't demanding this information.

In the real world, outside of Washington DC, citizens seem to be expecting war without death, partly because the topic isn't on TV and partly because recent wars have been presented to us as death-free--which they were not, of course.

Thousands of innocent Iraqis died in the last war--not to mention hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children who died in the war's aftermath due to its impact on water, electricity, medical care, and more.

Even wars like the one in Afghanistan, which had fewer civilian deaths, cause soldiers to die. And soldiers, it needs to be said, are people too, often innocently caught in political turmoil outside their control, whose lives have value. Their deaths leave families and friends grieving forever.

So, it's an inexcusable omission for the Bush Administration to sell the Iraq war to us and the international community without acknowledging its human toll, not only on our soldiers but on the Iraqis.

It's really an outrageous situation, which we have come to accept as normal fare in the war business. But it actually represents deceptive spin at its ugliest. Talking about war without addressing casualties is like discussing the benefits of nuclear power and ignoring nuclear waste. The two go hand-in-hand.

To break through the denial, my ad depicted dead and wounded people, both soldiers and civilians. And that's precisely why the networks should air it. More debate about the war's potential casualties would help our nation make an informed decision about Iraq.

But network TV executives don't think you should see our commercial.

We hope they will reconsider their decision. Until they do, you can see our ad at Win Without War.

And, even if you don't want to see our anti-war commercial, ask the President and your representatives in Congress to spell out all the potential consequences of the Iraq war--before America invades.

Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben and Jerry's, is president of TrueMajority.org, which enables citizens to fax their members of Congress about critical issues like the Iraq war. His views do not reflect those of Ben and Jerry's Homemade, Inc.

The Real Costs of War

The President's men have compared their war in Iraq to a new product, but this is a product that nobody wants. So, they've timed it, "from a marketing point of view," and they've supported it with a "multi-million dollar P.R. blitz." But their product is a deadly distraction, bristling with nasty side effects and violating national law.

Speaking as businessperson, if I put this product out on the market, my shareholders would have my head.

This is a war based on lies:

•     The connection between Saddam and al-Qaida is a lie.

•     The idea that Saddam is capable of attacking the U.S. is a lie.

•     And a war of so-called surgical strikes is a lie.

Many thousands of people -- fathers and mothers, sons and daughters -- will be killed in this war, and yet there is no imminent threat to the security of America that justifies sending our brave men and women in uniform off to die. And the idea that the people of Iraq, who have already been terrorized by the loss of 500,000 of their children due to U.S.-led sanctions -- the idea that these mothers and fathers want to be liberated by being bombed by the United States, is absurd.

The Bush administration is engaged in the most extreme form of power politics that I've ever seen. What their actions are saying is that we are the biggest, baddest bully on the block and, therefore, we can make and break the law as we see fit. We are told that we are to attack Iraq because Saddam Hussein has violated U.N. resolutions. But just to put it into perspective, let's look at the U.S. record:

•      The U.S. has repeatedly violated, and continues to violate, the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

•      The U.S. pulled out of the ABM treaty.

•      The U.S. has refused to ratify the comprehensive test ban treaty.

•      The U.S. has scuttled the biological weapons treaty because we wouldn't agree to inspections.

•      And we forced out the head of the chemical weapons convention, who was trying to bring Iraq into the fold.

•      The last time UN weapons inspectors were in Iraq, the U.S. violated regulations by using them as spies.

•      And now we have the Bush doctrine of preemptive war which states that WE can attack any country that we THINK might attack us, although I do not believe it gives that right to other countries.

But enough about war and lost lives and the rule of law. I mean, let's talk about money. After all, I'm a businessman and money's my game.

I've got a chart here that gives you an idea of how our government has been spending our money. Now this is a big crowd, but this is a big chart:

40 billion -- children's health care
34 billion -- children's education
15 billion -- higher education
7 billion -- job training
29 billion -- affordable housing
8 billion -- environmental protection
355 billion -- the Pentagon budget. And that does not include the 200 billion dollars that war with Iraq and the ensuing occupation and nation-building is expected to cost.

Now these are tough economic times for the U.S. America is on the brink of recession. Median household income is down. Poverty and unemployment are up. The huge surpluses of the last years have been frittered away on tax breaks. City, state and school budgets across the country are in shock. Retirement and college savings have been decimated.

And now the administration wants to add another 200 billion dollars to that last line on the chart. 200 billion -- that's a lot of money. What could we buy with that if we didn't have this war?

•      For 55 billion dollars we could provide all of our public schools with state of the art computer systems for all of our students.

•      For 11 billion dollars a year, we could reduce class size, kindergarten through 3rd grade, to 15 kids per class.

•      For 6 billion dollars a year, we could provide health insurance for all those kids who don't have any today.

•      For 2 billion dollars a year we could provide Head Start for the hundreds of thousands of eligible kids who can't get into the program.

•      For another 2 billion dollars a year, we could double funding for clean and renewable energy.

•      There are 30,000 children a day, around the world, who are dying from hunger. For 13 billion dollars a year, we could feed all of 'em!

•      There are 6,000 people a day dying from AIDS in Africa. For 10 billion dollars a year, we can curb the disease.

•      And for 1 billion dollars a year, we could provide complete public financing of all federal elections, allowing us to really, totally and absolutely get money out of politics -- for one billion dollars a year.

All of those things I just reeled off add up to 100 billion dollars. This war is going to cost 200 billion. We have another 100 billion leftover!

The continued belligerence of our leaders saps our souls, saps our spirit, and saps our strength as a nation.

Let us instead rededicate ourselves to helping our nation to match its actions with the spirit and soul of our people -- in goodness and justice and compassion and love.

Ben Cohen, of Ben and Jerry's fame, is founder of TrueMajority, which offers free, one-click activism.

Enemy Wanted

A couple weeks before 9/11, you may have seen this job posting in the newspaper:

ENEMY WANTED. Serious enemy needed to justify Pentagon budget increase. Defense contractors desperate. Interested enemies send letter and video (threatening okay) to Enemy Search Committee, C/O Ben Cohen, Burlington, VT, 05401.

At the time, our politicians couldn’t find a credible enemy to justify spending billions on new submarines and jets that would be perfect for fighting the collapsed Soviet Union, but would be otherwise useless.

Where was the enemy requiring the Pentagon to upgrade its fleet of stealth aircraft -- already the world’s best by far?

Tough-looking trading partners like China didn’t make the enemy cut. North Korea was even going diplomatic. Defense contractors were worried.

Meanwhile, children's advocates were saying that rather than waste money on impressive but useless Pentagon toys, we should modernize our crumbling public schools, vaccinate kids in poor nations, fight AIDS, and do so much more ...

So, I wanted to find an enemy that our lawmakers could use to justify increasing the huge military budget without looking like complete fools or crooks -- which is what they looked like at the time.

But my enemy search wasn’t going well. No enemy was mean enough for the job and the giant budget.

Then the World Trade Center was attacked. Suddenly, our nation was focused on terrorists, seemingly a perfect fit for my enemy job posting. And, sure enough, in the wake of 9/11 our politicians not only stood proudly behind the mammoth Pentagon budget, but rushed to throw even more money at the military -- about $40 billion worth in $20 billion chunks.

But as the stock of defense contractors began to soar, people quickly began to wonder what was really going on. Were politicians using the endless "war on terrorism" to provide a direct feeding tube from the U.S. Treasury to the bank accounts of special interests, who finance their campaigns?

In a word, yes.

Even Lawrence Korb, a top defense official under Ronald Reagan, says we’re spending tens of billions of dollars on new submarines, planes, and tanks that will be just as useless at fighting terrorists as our current high tech wonders. Korb says that the Pentagon has more than enough money to fight terrorism -- even if its budget were trimmed by 15 percent or more.

In other words, the Pentagon needs to be smarter, not fatter. Why does the Defense Department need $400 billion to fight enemies armed with $5 box cutters?

For perspective, Bush’s much-hyped "axis-of-evil nations" (Iran, Iraq and North Korea) spend $12 billion annually on their militaries combined. Iraq spends less than $2 billion.

Furthermore, most of us understand that a rational response to terrorism should focus on much more than the military. We need to fight poverty abroad and at home, reduce the debts of impoverished nations, achieve energy independence, and create a more just and compassionate world.

This broader approach to "fighting terrorism" recognizes that our own nation’s security depends on the security of the planet. And the problem is, we are not spending enough on the stuff required to make our planet more secure in the long term.

While the administration wants to spend $400 billion on the Pentagon, America would spend only $10 billion on foreign aid, $8 billion on the entire EPA, $4 billion on the Centers for Disease Control, and less than $1 billion on refugee programs and the Peace Corps.

And, though 9/11 changed many things in America, our public schools are still crumbling and millions of our kids still need health insurance.

So, with all the basic unmet needs we’ve got in our own country -- and with all that we should do abroad in the name of human and planetary decency -- Vice Admiral Jack Shanahan (USN, ret.), former CIA Director Stansfield Turner, and other military experts cannot figure out why the administration proposes to spend over 1 billion dollars per day on the Pentagon. This is enough money to make countless dreams come true at home and abroad. Our rich nation has the potential to do so much good in the world.

Terrorism, horrible for sure, is not an enemy that requires the military buildup that we are witnessing in our nation. So, I still think America lacks an enemy that justifies the Pentagon budget. Our politicians need help, or they are going to start to look really stupid.

My enemy search continues. Let me know if you have any killer ideas.

Ben Cohen is co-founder of Ben and Jerry’s. Join Ben in putting an end to the insanity in Washington D.C. Write him at info@truemajority.com.

Wanted: Enemy to Justify $344 Billion War Budget

You may know some despicable characters, but are they mean enough to apply for this job posting?

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