Until Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) rode to the rescue this week, Pentagon brass and their allies had been issuing dire warnings about the nation's military readiness: The armed services were being decimated, they said, by sequestration—the automatic budget cuts that were set to trim $1 trillion from the Pentagon budget over the next decade. "It's one thing for the Pentagon to go on a diet. It's another for the Pentagon to wear a straitjacket while dieting," grumbled Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.). The message got through: The House overwhelmingly approved the Ryan-Murray plan just two days after it was introduced.
But now, the Pentagon has once more gotten a reprieve from the budget ax: Under Murray and Ryan's congressional budget deal, the Pentagon will get an additional $32 billion, or 4.4 percent, in 2014, leaving its base budget at a higher level than in 2005 and 2006. (The Department of Defense expects its total 2014 budget, including supplemental war funding, to be more than $600 billion.)
Before the budget deal, some critics of defense spending had been ready to accept sequestration as the blunt, imperfect tool that might force the military to shed some of the bulk it acquired while fighting two of the longest and most expensive wars in our history. Even with the sequester in place, the Pentagon's base budget was set to remain well above pre-9/11 levels for the next decade, and the military would have taken a far smaller haircut than it did after Vietnam and the Cold War wound down.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cost $1.5 trillion, about twice the cost of the Vietnam War when adjusted for inflation. Those funds came entirely from borrowing, contributing nearly 20 percent to the national debt accrued between 2001 and 2012. And that's just the "supplemental" military spending passed by Congress for the wars—the regular Pentagon budget also grew nearly 45 percent between 2001 and 2010.
No wonder, perhaps, that defense watchdogs found the Pentagon's wailing about the sequester less than convincing. "These 'terrible' cuts would return us to historically high levels of spending," snapped Winslow Wheeler of the Project on Government Oversight. According to Lawrence J. Korb, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, the Pentagon could reduce its budget by $100 billion a year without undermining its readiness. The sequestration cuts for 2013 amounted to $37 billion.
Not so long ago, a hawkish GOP politician called for the "bloated" defense establishment to "be pared down" and retooled for the 21st century. The new budget deal doesn't reissue the blank check the Pentagon received during the past decade, but it may have removed the incentive to pare down. Below, a field guide to just how big the Pentagon budget is—and why it's so hard to trim. (That GOP politician? Former Sen. Chuck Hagel, now the secretary of defense.)
Our military is mind-bogglingly big.
The Pentagon employs 3 million people, 800,000 more than Walmart.
The Pentagon's 2012 budget was 47 percent bigger than Walmart's.
Serving 9.6 million people, the Pentagon and Veterans Administration together constitute the nation's largest healthcare provider.
70 percent of the value of the federal government's $1.8 trillion in property, land, and equipment belongs to the Pentagon.
Los Angeles could fit into the land managed by the Pentagon 93 times. The Army uses more than twice as much building space as all the offices in New York City.
The Pentagon holds more than 80 percent of the federal government's inventories, including $6.8 billion of excess, obsolete, or unserviceable stuff.
The Pentagon operates more than more than 170 golf courses worldwide.
One out of every five tax dollars is spent on defense.
The $3.7 trillion federal budget breaks down into mandatory spending—benefits guaranteed the American people, such as Social Security and Medicare—and discretionary spending—programs that, at least in theory, can be cut. In 2013, more than half of all discretionary spending (and one-fifth of total spending) went to defense, including the Pentagon, veterans' benefits, and the nuclear weapons arsenal.
We're still the world's 800-pound gorilla.
When it comes to defense spending, no country can compete directly with the United States, which spends more than the next 10 countries combined—including potential rivals Russia and China, as well as allies such as England, Japan, and France. Altogether, the Pentagon accounts for nearly 40 percent of global military spending. In 2012, 4.4 percent of our GDP went to defense. That's in line with how much Russia spends; China spends 2 percent of its GDP on its military.
Too big to audit
Where does the Pentagon's money go? The exact answer is a mystery. That's because the Pentagon's books are a complete mess. They're so bad that they can't even be officially inspected, despite a 1997 requirement that federal agencies submit to annual audits—just like every other business or organization.
The Defense Department is one of just two agencies (Homeland Security is the other) that are keeping the bean counters waiting: As the Government Accountability Office dryly notes, the Pentagon has "serious financial management problems" that make its financial statements "inauditable." Pentagon financial operations occupy one-fifth of the GAO's list of federal programs with a high risk of waste, fraud, or inefficiency.
Critics also contend that the Pentagon cooks its books by using unorthodox accounting methods that make its budgetary needs seem more urgent. The agency insists it will "achieve audit readiness" by 2017.
Anatomy of a budget buster
In the early 2000s, the Pentagon began developing a new generation of stealthy, high-tech fighter jets that were supposed to do everything from landing on aircraft carriers and taking off vertically to dogfighting and dropping bombs. The result is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, whose three models (one each for the Navy, Air Force, and Marines) are years behind schedule, hugely over budget, and plagued with problems that have earned them a reputation as the biggest defense boondoggle in history.
Rolling out the F-35 originally was expected to cost $233 billion, but now it's expected to cost nearly $400 billion. The time needed to develop the plane has gone from 10 years to 18.
Lockheed says the final cost per plane will be about $75 million. However, according to the Government Accountability Office, the actual cost has jumped to $137 million.
It was initially estimated that it could cost another $1 trillion or more to keep the new F-35s flying for 30 years. Pentagon officials called this "unaffordable"—and now say it will cost only $857 million. "This is no longer the trillion-dollar [aircraft]," boasts a Lockheed Martin executive.
Planes started rolling off the assembly line before development and testing were finished, which could result in $8 billion worth of retrofits.
There are savings to be had within the Pentagon's massive budget—if politicians can weather the storm that kicks up whenever a pet project is targeted. Here are 10 ideas for major cuts from an array of defense wonks, from the libertarian Cato Institute and the liberal Center for American Progress to the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
Get rid of all ICMBs and nuclear bombers (but keep nuclear-armed subs).
Retire 2 of the Navy's 11 aircraft carrier groups.
$50 billion through 2020
Cut the size of the Army and Marines to pre-9/11 levels.
At least $80 billion over 10 years
Slow down or cancel the pricey F-35 fighter jet program.
At least $4 billion/year
Downsize military headquarters that grew after 9/11.
Cancel the troubled V-22 Osprey tiltrotor and use helicopters instead.
At least $1.2 billion
Modify supplemental Medicare benefits for veterans.
$40 billion over 10 years
Scale back purchases of littoral combat ships.
$2 billion in 2013
Cap spending on military contractors below 2012 levels.
Retire the Cold War-era B-1 bomber.
$3.7 billion over 5 years
Why Congress spared the Pentagon
A few weeks ago, an agreement to end the cycle of budget crises and fiscal hostage-taking seemed distant. Sequestration had few friends on the Hill, but the parties could not agree on how to ditch the automatic budget cuts to defense and domestic spending. Republicans had proposed increasing defense spending while taking more money from Obamacare and other social programs, while Democrats said they'd scale back the defense cuts in exchange for additional tax revenue. Those ideas were nonstarters: Following the government shutdown in October, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called the idea of trading Social Security cuts for bigger defense budgets "stupid."
Which explains why Rep. Ryan and Sen. Murray's deal craftily dodged taxes and entitlements while focusing on the one thing most Republicans and Democrats could agree upon: saving the Pentagon budget. This chart shows why military spending is the glue holding the budget deal together.
Guns and butter
A closer look at the $361 billion handed to military contractors in 2012 reveals the enormous amount of stuff the modern military consumes. Some of the items on the shopping list:
The House just passed the Ryan-Murray budget deal, signaling an unexpected end to the cycle of budget crises and fiscal hostage-taking. A few weeks ago, such an agreement seemed distant. Sequestration had few friends on the Hill, but the parties could not agree on how to ditch the automatic budget cuts to defense and domestic spending. Republicans had proposed increasing defense spending while taking more money from Obamacare and other social programs, while Democrats said they'd scale back the defense cuts in exchange for additional tax revenue. Those ideas were nonstarters: Following the government shutdown in October, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) called the idea of trading Social Security cuts for bigger defense budgets "stupid."
Which explains why Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray's deal craftily dodged taxes and entitlements while focusing on the one thing most Republicans and Democrats could agree upon: saving the Pentagon budget. Ryan's budget committee previously declared the sequester "devastating to America's defense capabilities." Murray had warned of layoffs for defense workers in her state of Washington as well as cuts to combat training if sequestration stayed in place.
The chart above shows why military spending is the glue holding the budget deal together. It also shows how any remaining opposition to the bill in the Senate may bring together even stranger bedfellows than Ryan and Murray: progressive dove Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and sequestration fan Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
We've got much more coming on military spending and how the Pentagon just dodged a budgetary bullet. Stay tuned.
In addition to fighting furiously to keep guns in our warm, live hands, the National Rifle Association celebrates guns pried from cold, dead hands in its National Firearms Museum, "one of the world's finest museum collections dedicated to firearms." The museum's Treasure Collection includes everything from Annie Oakley's guns to Dirty Harry's Smith & Wesson. Another item in the trove, which the NRA tweeted about yesterday, is an elephant rifle that belonged to Henry Morton Stanley, the 19th-century British American journalist and "explorer" who marauded through east, southern, and central Africa.
The 22-pound rifle, which fired a quarter-pound of lead with each shot "was considered heavy artillery," explains NRA museum senior curator Doug Wicklund in the clip above. With it, Stanley shot 16 elephants during his 1871 trek in search of the missionary and doctor David Livingstone. Yet the NRA doesn't mention that when he wasn't shooting charismatic megafauna with his elephant guns, Stanley was shooting people with them.
As Stanley related in his own accounts, he repeatedly used his big guns to intimidate and kill people he encountered on his African travels. Here's how he dealt with some of the "savages" who got in the way of his trans-continental journey in 1875:
I discharged my elephant rifle, with its two large conical balls, into their midst…My double-barreled shotgun, loaded with buckshot, was next discharged with terrible effect, for, without drawing a single bow or launching a single spear, they retreated up the slope of the hill…
Twice in succession I succeed in dropping men determined on launching the canoes, and seeing the sub-chief who had commanded the party that took the drum, I took deliberate aim with my elephant rifle at him. That bullet, as I have since been told, killed the chief and his wife and infant, who happened to be standing a few paces behind him, and the extraordinary result had more effect on the superstitious minds of the natives than all previous or subsequent shots.
On getting out of the cove we saw two canoes loaded with men coming out in pursuit from another small cove. I permitted them to come within one hundred yards of us, and this time I used the elephant rifle with explosive balls. Four shots killed five men and sank the canoes.
The final body count of this incident, Stanley claimed, was 14 dead and 8 wounded, presumably including the baby and its mother. Due to tales such as this, Stanley gained a reputation for indiscriminate slaughter. George Bernard Shaw described him as a "wild-beast man, with his elephant gun, and his atmosphere of dread and murder." Fellow expeditionist Richard Burton observed, "Stanley shoots negroes [sic] as if they were monkeys." Though the elephant gun in the NRA's collection is likely not the one fired in the passage above, it's not surprising that the gun lobby isn't volunteering the larger story behind the trigger-happy owner of this "special treasure."
"My Lord, I am the First Accused." Those were Nelson Mandela's opening words as he stood in the dock in the Palace of Justice in Pretoria, South Africa, on the morning of April 20, 1964—nearly half a century before his death December 5 at the age of 95. Mandela and eight other defendants had been charged with violating the Sabotage Act and the Suppression of Communism Act, accused of plotting violence against the apartheid government with the aim of overthrowing it. By fomenting "chaos, turmoil, and disorder," the prosecutor explained, the accused hoped to achieve "liberation from the so-called yoke of the white man's domination." Mandela, who was already serving a five-year sentence for organizing a strike and leaving the country without a passport, assumed that they would be sent to the gallows.
With the verdict all but certain, Mandela and his codefendants decided to turn their trial into an indictment of the apartheid state. When he had been asked for his plea, Mandela replied, "The government should be in the dock, not me. I plead not guilty." Yet the lengthy statement he prepared to open his defense was not an attempt to prove his innocence—in fact, he readily admitted to many of the charges made against him. He instead took the opportunity to forcefully promote his cause. But he also knew that he was offering a doomed man's final words, in essence, a self-written epitaph.
Mandela took two weeks to write the speech. A white lawyer who reviewed a draft exclaimed, "If Mandela reads this in court they will take him straight out to the back of the courthouse and string him up." Mandela's own lawyer urged him to cut out the final paragraph, but Mandela held firm. "I felt we were likely to hang no matter what we said, so we might as well say what we truly believed," Mandela recalled in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. The final lines of Mandela's 60-page, 176-minute statement have since become its most famous:
During my lifetime I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realized. But, My Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.
The richest 1 percent of Americans have seen their average income jump more than 270 percent over the past five decades. Meanwhile, the average income of the least wealthy 90 percent of Americans grew an anemic 22 percent during that time. (Those figures are based on inflation-adjusted real dollars.)
So how much would you be earning today if the phenomenal income growth at the very top of the income scale had trickled down to most Americans? Use this calculator to find out.
If most Americans' incomes had grown at the same rate as the 1 percent's over the past 50 years, you currently would be making $0, the same amount you already do. Congrats! You're already in the top 1 percent of earners!
In other words, if you're in the bottom 90 percent of earners, your current income would be an estimated 205 percent higher if the vast majority of incomes had kept up with the gains experienced by the superwealthy.
At the lowest end of the bottom 90 percent, the difference is even more extreme: If the minimum wage had kept up with the 1 percent, it would be nearly 250 percent higher than it is today.
Back in the real world, most Americans' incomes have stagnated over the past few decades. Meanwhile, top incomes have skyrocketed, leaving middle- and low-income Americans behind and accelerating the growth of the income gap that began opening in the 1980s.
Methodology: The data used to the make this calculator is from the World Top Incomes Database. All income figures used to make the calculator are in 2012 dollars and do not include capital gains. Your hypothetical income is an estimate based on applying the overall change in the average income of the top 1 percent between 1960 and 2012 to the average incomes in 2012 for the bottom 90th, the top 10th to 5th, and top 5th to 1st income percentiles.