Santa Barbara county taxpayers will give $811.8 million towards the Department of Defense’s budget for 2012, according to nationalpriorities.org. That’s not counting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; for those two wars county taxpayers have given an additional $1.9 billion since 2001, money that would otherwise have stayed in the local economy.
Only a minority of this money goes directly to the actual citizen-soldiers in uniform who are doing the fighting.
The lion’s share of county taxpayers’ war funding goes into the pockets of for-profit, privatized companies that make up the burgeoning military industrial complex president Eisenhower warned us of five decades ago. A May 2011 Congressional Research Service report acknowledged that the majority of personnel, foreign and domestic intelligence operations, and matériel used in our wars are now manufactured, supplied, and managed by for-profit, private contracting companies
Private defense contractors – companies and corporations large and small that build hardware, develop software, supply construction workers, truck drivers, and heavily armed advisors and security personnel – do not have to tell taxpayers how they conduct business or spend taxpayer money. The Freedom of Information Act does not apply. For-profit military contractors hide behind “top secret” designations.
The Government Accountability Office reports independent oversight of defense contractors is nonexistent, phony billing is rampant, and billions end up in offshore tax-dodging schemes, reinvested in “global commercial and foreign government clients.”
In Iraq and Afghanistan, private security personnel supplied by “peace and stability” defense contractors like Black Water and Triple Canopy can carry weaponry and ammunition such as explosive bullets banned by the Geneva Convention. These private security forces are not subject to The Uniform Code of Military Justice, and are not beholden to the same rules of engagement as are our uniformed personnel. Iraqi and Afghan civilians do not distinguish the behavior, weaponry, and tactics of privatized for-profit security personnel from our men and women in uniform.
Coalition Provisional Authority Order 17, signed by Bush appointee Paul Bremer, sealed the deal for private military defense contractors in Iraq: “Contractors shall not be subject to Iraqi laws or regulations in matters relating to the terms and conditions of their Contracts, including licensing and registering employees, businesses and corporations…”
For-profit defense contractors are seemingly untouchable. They operate under self-generated rules endorsed by our lawmakers and their appointees, and support an economy and system of accountability that seems to be entirely separate to that which governs the deployed combat soldier overseas and the citizen and taxpayer here at home. This is the military industrial complex, come to fruition, that President Dwight D. Eisenhower was so wary of, and warned us of in his 1961 farewell speech:
” … This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence – economic, political, even spiritual – is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
“We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together …”
When taxpayers in Santa Barbara county hand over that $811.8 million (plus an additional $214 million to fund the off-the-books wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) to the Department of Defense this year, it will in turn will hand the majority of that money to private defense contractors. Librarians up in Lompoc where I live have to account to the taxpayer for every meager penny they spend, and consequently are told to cut services and lay off employees because apparently they are all too expensive. Yet look out the library window, and, viewable from every schoolyard in Lompoc, librarians and teachers and students can watch rockets take off from Vandenberg Air Force Base with secret military payloads manufactured by for-profit defense contractors who will not tell us in any detail monetary costs or tell us exactly what these payloads do or why we need them.
The latest launch – just the launch itself – cost taxpayers $40 million. A spare $40 million would transform Lompoc: fix its roads, fund its schools, staff its libraries, all of which could be minutely scrutinized and challenged by the local taxpayer.
We have allowed so much outsourcing of critical Department of Defense operations to for-profit private contractors who comprise the military industrial complex that we have no control over what is done in our names with our money. Naturally the MIC tells us to pay or suffer dire consequences; apparently we have no choice but to believe them.