Friday, March 07, 2008

If we are going to spend this much on defense then we should invest in human resources first.

We've heard all the arguments about how we need a secure America in justifying bloated defense budgets, which are many times more than any other nation in the world spends on its military.

Yet, we read all the time about proposed cuts in veterans programs, the attempt a few years ago by the Bush administration to cut the extra pay troops get when they are in combat, and (this affected my brother in law) when they flew troops home from Iraq on a short furlough, they dumped national guard troops off in cities on the east coast and they had to buy their own tickets home if they wanted to see their families (his Colorado national guard unit was flown to if I remember right either Atlanta or Baltimore). We've seen that our army has been stretched to the limit in Iraq, with tours of duty increased and rotation time back home cut as the only way to create the 'surge.' Four years ago, John Kerry said he would if President ask Congress to provide the funding for the creation of two new combat divisions. He lost the election, and the result is that they have not yet been created. We've seen that the chronically low pay in the military has meant that some military families have had to go on food stamps or other means of public assistance, especially during the times when one parent is deployed overseas. We've heard gut wrenching stories of veterans who have been left seriously injured by war, but who have not been given the support they need or have been denied the benefits that disabled veterans have been given in previous conflicts.

So this begs the question: In a military budget that runs into the hundreds of billions of dollars, why can't we find more to pay and otherwise support our men and women in uniform, and why can't we find the relatively smaller amounts it would take to support the veterans administration which is now dealing with its own surge-- in Iraq and Afghan war veterans who need help when they get back home? Even things that they need right now-- like better body armor and up-armored humvees, have been slowed down by bureaucrats who apparently think that those items aren't important enough to put it in the 'urgent' box.

Yhe answer is the same as it always has been, but exaggerated by the twisted 'compassionate conservatism' of the Bush administration, in which individuals often have to deal with the effects of cuts in any kind of services, but there is no limit on the generosity of this government when it comes to corporate welfare.

For example, the biggest story right now involving military contracts is that a European company, Airbus, have been given a contract over Boeing to make air refueling tankers. It is true that one could argue that there are some security concerns regarding background checks, but I would think this would be a relatively minor concern, especially for a European company (we have more sensitive military components than that manufactured in China, for heaven's sake!) What this story has really exposed is that it is all about money. The Airbus model was superior to the Boeing proposal in five out of five criteria, so there is no question that it is a better product, but a lot of people are objecting because of the billions of dollars that will be spent on it (and which therefore won't go to Boeing.) Let me ask it this way: If you are an American pilot, wouldn't you want to have to depend on a more reliable fueling tanker? But somehow this never even has been brought up. We've heard about the money this will cost investors and the company, we've heard about the 44,000 jobs this will cost Americans, which is a legitimate concern, but let's face it-- these employees are being used as pawns for Boeing to hide behind; the real issues is the money. If you want proof, consider that this is actually a rebid contract-- the government official who shepherded through the initial, inflated contract which went to Boeing without a serious bidding process was subsequently hired by the company as a consultant and paid a lot more than any of those 44,000 workers would have earned.

We know the Pentagon is in love with high-tech gadgetry. And as far as developments like laser guided missiles and computer drones etc. have helped with efficiency and reduced casualties that is great. But it has also become an Achilles heel. As I mentioned earlier, many crucial components of our military weapons are manufactured abroad, including some in China. And today we saw a story about how Chinese hackers (who claim they are sometimes paid by the Government, a claim Beijing denies have penetrated the most secure of Pentagon websites In fact, it does not matter whether they are paid by the government or not. The point is that if there were ever a military conflict they could at a crucial time shut down most or all of our computers. If that happened it would depend on the American soldier, and not on all the high tech gadgetry.

I have faith that in such a situation the American soldier would still be able to prevail. But in that context, we have to ask why we are pouring so much money down an endless drain of fat military contracts to build ever and ever more expensive and ultimately more vulnerable weapons systems, while at the same time we spend less and less on the most important and fundamental weapons system we have-- the American serviceman.

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