Whether he said it or not, P. T. Barnum was right. There’s a sucker born every minute. We need only look in the mirror.
The biggest financial scam in human history — second place isn’t even close — is what is euphemistically called the defense budget of the United States of America. In comparison, Bernie Madoff was a piker. The defense budget duplicates his fraud of roughly $65 billion every two to three weeks, year after year, decade after decade.
Every few years, some politician makes hay by finding examples of fraud in defense spending. This totally misses the point. The defense budget itself is the fraud.
Why is it a fraud? Because it has virtually nothing to do with the defense of the United States. Oh, we defend our “interests,” especially those we say are “vital” to our national security; we defend our access to oil; we defend our attempts to remake the world in our image. But defense of the United States of America? No one seriously believes the absurdly massive “defense” budget has anything to do with that.
And yet we keep participating in this fraud. We pay — year after year, decade after decade. Maybe, like many Madoff “victims,” we have convinced ourselves it’s not a fraud. Maybe we have allowed ourselves to believe it will make our lives more comfortable.
And it’s not only a scam. As WAMM rightly labels it, it’s madness. Often we hear a definition of madness — engaging in the same tactic over and over again, expecting different results — applied to a foreign policy based on continual warfare. Less often do we apply that definition to our own tactics.
For at least the last half century, people have organized, petitioned, protested, demonstrated, and engaged in direct action for the principle that our resources should be used for human needs rather than for war. For some of us, our strategies and our tactics have been based on an ideology of class struggle. For others, it has been our faith that organizing and demonstrating with massive numbers of people can make a difference. And some believe exerting pressure through the electoral process is our most effective remedy.
There may be no magic bullet, and I don’t want to dismiss the value of persistence. But we ought not engage in tactics merely because our ideology or our faith in existing processes tells us to, or because those are the tactics we’ve used in the past. To avoid the madness label, we must instead think in terms of what might work. We cannot allow ourselves to be boxed in by our past practice, by the “realism” of our leaders, or by our hopes for change. We may have to think outside the box. To escape from “madness,” we may have to become “unrealistic.”
Roughly $12-13 billion a year is taken out of the pockets of Minnesotans to keep this scam going. And another $8 billion or so is borrowed in our names. The state budget shortfall was small in comparison — $2.5 billion/year. That was due to another fraud, caused by a huge two-decades long decrease in the percentage of total personal income of Minnesotans going to state and local taxes, a decrease accompanied “coincidentally” by a skewing to the rich of that income. So, strictly speaking, the fraudulent defense budget wasn’t the cause of the phony shortfall in Minnesota’s budget. But keeping that $12-13 billion home and not allowing the federal government, through borrowing, to steal from future generations would try the skills of our homegrown Republicans to manufacture future state revenue shortfalls.
Throughout the half-century or more of organizing, petitioning, protesting and acting, the vast majority of us have willingly, or sometimes less willingly, contributed to the madness. From time to time, there have been tax resistance uprisings, some, like refusing to pay the telephone tax, more widespread than others. Unfortunately, sometimes more visible tax resisters have been prosecuted. Imagine if Bernie Madoff had the power to prosecute those willing to blow the whistle on his scam. Frightening, isn’t it? Well, those willing to live their principles and withdraw from the fraud, from the madness, ought to be protected. One way of doing that is to collectivize the risk they face.
So where is all this leading? How do we make the defense budget scam clear to more people? How do we connect the madness of military spending to the lack of resources for human needs? How do we extricate ourselves from this fraud and reclaim our sanity? How do we protect those who through their intervention or their non-compliance challenge the status quo?
The answer almost jumps right out of the box: we no longer participate in the fraud; we stop contributing to the madness; we speak and act more boldly than we have in the past; we secede.
Secession?! Isn’t that something we associate with the Todd Palins and Governor Perrys of this world, with kooky libertarians in Vermont, with hippies who wanted to withdraw from society, with the South’s desire to preserve its “way of life”? Sure, but it can also be a political strategy that frees us from military madness and ends our participation in the fraud, that collectively protects those who refuse to comply even while the rest of us collaborate in the scheme, that makes clear for others the connection between war and human needs, that puts us in the role of actors rather than petitioners or protestors, and that has the capacity to wake people up in the other 49 states.
Of course, there are problems with such a strategy. Many think it is unrealistic to believe a majority of Minnesotans would join such a venture. There is the obvious danger of being seen as irrelevant kooks. We would forego the money we’ve put into social security, medicare, etc. During the transition to a system that cares for those who now rely on federal programs, we would have to depend on each other and our fellow Minnesotans. And a dozen other problems.
But after decades of trying, connecting the war economy with the lack of funds for serving human needs is hardly on the radar, for either the public or for government officials. For example, in the recent sideshow on raising the debt ceiling, the defense budget was only rarely mentioned by our elected leaders. And when it was mentioned, it often was to scare people about the defense cuts a default would cause.
Secession may well not be a good idea. The mere word can be chilling. But I offer it as one suggestion of thinking outside the box, of trying not to repeat the tactics of the last 50 years or more that seem to have had minimal results. We can and must do better.