Monday, December 19, 2011

The Federal Budget Versus the U. S. Constitution

The major issue with all government spending, on a case-by-case basis is, what is the "return on investment” which seems, perhaps to be the point of this article.  The real question in the case of weather related research, as with all research, do we benefit more economically than we pay (traditional cost:benefit ratio)?  I believe that what James Kwak has offered at The Baseline Scenario (see  is a valid argument that such is true in the case of hurricane related research (assuming ad arguendo, that the methodology is effective AND efficient in terms of expenditures, or is there a more effective and efficient alternative?).  There are lots of areas of governmental expenditure which cannot be argued as being efficient and effective alternatives to other competing possibilities.  I have just finished reading a very scary and amazing book:  Top Secret America, by Dana Priest and William Arkin.  Unlike the obvious argument we may have about the advisability of spending amounts to theoretically save lives and preserve assets potentially risk from hurricanes, which are a statistical fact of life and which have distinct defined costs in both areas, the national security, counter-terrorism budget is completely and utterly out of kilter regarding efficiency and effectiveness pursuant to any possible argument. 

Let's consider the amount of budgeted expenditures for the sixteen agencies tasked with protecting us from terrorism (some with other purposes, but not many), which are somewhere in excess of $300 billion (because of certain factors they have become more than a little difficult to quantify, since they extend into all areas, federal, state and local).  Consider that one could argue that not included in that number is an amount of military spending essentially dedicated buy not identifiable as serving that specific purpose.  Consider that, in our history, we have lost less than 5,000 lives (not counting troop losses in Afghanistan, but only civilian lives on American soil, including embassies worldwide).  Compare this expenditure to protect us against losing about 400 to 500 lives a year from terrorism, with the expenditures and losses related to, say, enforcement of laws against illegal drugs.  I would suggest that we spend about 10% or less of that $300 billion annually to protect ourselves from the effects of illegal drug commerce and usage, and that the loss in terms of lives and economic losses in that area would be an order of magnitude greater than that from terrorism (tens, if not hundreds of times more).  The contrast of competing priorities is truly striking and is reaching the point of absurdity.  Why can't we have only three agencies related to terrorism beyond the military?  I say that the FBI, CIA and Homeland Security should be plenty (and one could argue that in this case, Homeland Security is superfluous beyond the FBI, which should have total authority to control "internal" terrorism and terroristic threats.  As an example, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s trip to America (the underwear bomber) was missed due to a purely administrative SNAFU between multiple agencies (a simple, well-documented failure of communication).  The major problem with our post 9/11 national security policy is that it has fostered its own "complex" which overlaps with and corresponds with the Military-Industrial Complex, such that now that we have created it, its lobbies have become so powerful that we not can hardly discuss limiting it without the oligarchs associated with this drastic overspending successfully countering any such actions through lobbying, disinformation, and other clandestine means.  As an example, we now have nearly a million citizens with Top Secret clearances, and a two year backlog to obtain them (and, by the way, just processing one such clearance costs tens of thousands of dollars).  We have an agency which will soon be able to monitor the daily lives of almost every American in multiple ways.

I completely agree with any efforts to restrict government expenditures to justifiable tasks at justifiable levels, and that what we need is some oversight on the overseers who are now bought at auction by special interests in every election at every level.  In this atmosphere, democracy simply can't happen, and what we spend for our government will continue to be less and less efficient and effective.  Of course, the corruption of the budgetary processes within our governments at all levels has completely overwhelmed the ability of anything resembling rational government to succeed.

The real tragedy at the moment is that both ends are crippled, that is, we cannot effectively pass measures to make what we already have more effective and efficient, so that we literally can’t control spending in any meaningful way, and, we also can’t reform the massive imbalances created in a corrupted tax code and actually raise the revenues necessary to pay for even what is necessary.  The obvious answer is to reduce (or, ideally, eliminate) the effects of money in our politics.  What that will take is electoral and lobbying reformation, and, since that is asking the fox to change the rules for his chicken house, that can’t happen, unless we find a way around the Supreme Court’s rulings in Buckley v.Valeo (corporations are people), and Citizens United (money is speech).  The only way to do that is to pass a constitutional amendment to change those decisions (The Supreme Court can’t rule that a constitutional amendment is unconstitutional, thank God!!).  Last Friday, December 16th, David McGrew of the Occupy movement posted the following article on the internet:, which enumerates thirteen proposed 28th Amendments to the U. S. Constitution which would make these changes, some of them proposed by quite eminent people, including congresspeople and senators.  Whoever you are, wherever you are, please become active, and join one of these movements, some of which are beginning to merge and consolidate their efforts.