54% of Tax Revenue Goes to Fund the Military

The War Resisters League has released its annual pie chart showing how federal tax dollars are used to support the military. This year, 54% will be spent on past and current military operations.

The United States accounts for 47% of the total world military spending on the military. The United States spending is more than the next 15 countries combined (12 of these countries are the United States’ allies).

The chart:

033109-military_tax.png

War Tax Activism

As with previous years, the War Resisters League encourages people to take action on the issue by flyering with the chart on Tax Day, engaging in a war tax boycott, or simply using the information as a way of talking about how little is spent on social services in the United States.

Jobless Rate Up for Veterans; Military Skills don’t Translate to Civilian Jobs

The Jobless Rate for Veterans is Rising

The jobless rate for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is rising. According to an article in USA Today, the jobless rate has grown to 11.2% for veterans of those wars. It has risen 4% over the last year and is significantly higher than the 8.8% rate for non-veterans in the same age group.

The article says that veterans often have trouble translating their skills to the civilian job market:

“Young veterans, Walker says, often have trouble ‘translating their military skills into skills on their resume that employers recognized.’

Robert Pearson, 23, of Minneapolis, is a former paratrooper who served in Afghanistan. He says it’s hard to find work as a human resources manager in order to use the skills he learned managing soldiers as a combat team leader.”

As it turns out, this is something that “counter-recruiters” have been pointing out for years. Those working to dissuade youth from joining the military have long argued that military skills–and recruiters promises of job training–rarely pan out.

Over the years, various studies have found that veterans earn less than non-veterans and that few veterans make use of their military skills in civilian jobs.

Halliburton’s Army: How a Well-Connected Texas Oil Company Revolutionized the Way America Makes War

Click on the image to purchase this book through Amazon.com. Purchases help support MediaMouse.org.

When one hears the term “war profiteers” in relation to the Iraq War, the first things that come to mind are often the private contracting companies that have provided critical services to the military during the conflict. Of those companies, Halliburton is one of the most famous.

However, as journalist Pratap Chatterjee shows in Halliburton’s Army: How a Well-Connected Texas Oil Company Revolutionized the Way America Makes War, what we have read in the media about Halliburton and its subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR) is only the tip of the iceberg. Halliburton’s actions go far beyond over-charging, they have in fact transformed the way the United States conducts warfare.

A History of Close Government Connections

Many of us know that former Vice President Dick Cheney was CEO of the company in the 1990s. During his tenure, Cheney dramatically increased the number of government contracts KBR had. He was a useful face for the company because he brought knowledge of how the government works and a wealth of connections to the company–a classic example of the “revolving door” between government and the private sector. However, Chatterjee shows that Cheney was not atypical and that KBR has always thrived off its connections with powerful politicians. Going back to World War II and the construction of warships, Chatterjee explains that KBR has profited greatly–and often dubiously–from its ties with the government (including questionable campaign contributions to Lyndon Baines Johnson). This history is rarely explored by the media and it was fascinating to read.

Meanwhile, as policies have changed at the Pentagon–specifically with regard to how soldiers are supplied in war–Halliburton/KBR has benefited. When former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ushered in a new era of privatization, it was Halliburton/KBR who stepped up to take on the task of feeding soldiers, setting up bases, delivering supplies, and doing other such tasks necessary for the war.

Profits, Wages, and Questionable Billing

The bulk of Halliburton’s Army explores the massive amounts of money that Halliburton/KBR has made during the “War on Terror” for providing logistical services to the military and how Halliburton/KBR has received–and continues to receive–those contracts.

To that end, Chatterjee paints a disturbing picture of government contracts handed out to a company that has been involved in a variety of objectionable practices ranging from kickbacks, bribes, and fraud to allegations of slave labor. Chatterjee looks at the inordinate number of “no-bid” contracts awarded to Halliburton/KBR without competition and how the company has used these contractors to overcharge the U.S. government millions of dollars. This includes everything from charging inflated prices for goods and services to running empty supply trucks across Iraq simply to make more money. Chatterjee also delves into the company’s labor practices, showing that Halliburton/KBR subcontractors have made extensive use of so-called “third country nationals”–workers who are from neither the U.S. nor Iraq–to perform work in Iraq. Halliburton/KBR’s subcontractors then pay these workers considerably less money than what U.S. or Iraqi workers would get paid and do so via a sliding-scale system based on nationality. Some of these workers are also victims of human trafficking and have been coerced into working in Iraq through false promises.

It’s also worth noting that Chatterjee reveals that Halliburton/KBR was building bases necessary for the U.S. invasions of Iraq in 2002 while the question of war was still being debated by the American public and theoretically by the government itself. This raises the disturbing possibility that contractors could be used to undermine the functioning of government.

A Useful Book for Understanding the Iraq War

Overall, Chatterjee’s examination of Halliburton/KBR makes for an incredibly revealing book. While the ins and outs of government contracting may get a little tedious at times, Chatterjee skillfully brings to light a number of previously unknown facts about Halliburton/KBR. If you are interested in understanding the role of private contractors in Iraq, you’d do well to read Halliburton’s Army along with Jeremy Scahill’s Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. Both books will help expand your understanding of not only the U.S. occupation of Iraq, but also the changing nature of warfare.

Pratap Chatterjee, Halliburton’s Army: How a Well-Connected Texas Oil Company Revolutionized the Way America Makes War, (Nation Books, 2009).

Plans Emerging for Reduction of Private Contractors in Iraq

Reductions--over a long period of time--are planned for the use of private contractors in iraq

Over the year and a half, MediaMouse.org has been critical of Democratic plans to “end the war” in Iraq, arguing that the plans have–for the most part–intended to maintain the U.S. occupation of Iraq, albeit in a more subtler manner. This is true of Obama’s recent order, which will maintain a residual force in Iraq of 30,000 to 55,000 troops.

One of the areas we have repeatedly criticized is the absence of any plans to address the military’s reliance on contractors who provide both critical services to the military–feeding soldiers, cleaning barracks, and driving supply contracts–as well as security services to companies and governments with a presence in Iraq. They have been a critical component of the occupation and will likely continue to be for some time. It’s also possible that as the U.S. reduces its formal military presence, contractors could step into fill the gaps left by departing troops.

However, according to the Christian Science Monitor, the U.S. military is hoping to reduce the use of 150,000 contractors in Iraq over the next few years.

Reduction Planned over Next Several Years

The Christian Science Monitor obtained a directive from U.S. General Ray Odierno who is ordering the military to reduce the number of contractors in Iraq by 5% each quarter. Odierno ordered reductions at some 50 bases and small installations across Iraq. He further is asking that the jobs that are not eliminated (many contractors will simply be fired as U.S. troops are removed) go to Iraqis instead.

However, this presents a series of logistical problems–training Iraqis, questions about what happens if the U.S. removes critical equipment, and security concerns–that may slow the removal of contractors. Moreover, the directive does not address the private security contractors in Iraq who operate outside the General’s jurisdiction. They will likely remain in the country for some time to provide security to U.S. interests.

There are currently an estimated 150,000 contractors in Iraq, down from a high of 200,000. Of those 150,000, 39,000 are from the U.S., 70,000 are so-called “third-country nationals” (essentially imported labor that is paid far less than what U.S. workers are paid), and 37,000 are Iraqis.

Erik Prince Resigns as Blackwater CEO

West Michigan Native Erik Prince has Resigned as Blackwater CEO

Erik Prince–the West Michigan native who founded the private mercenary company Blackwater using money from the Prince family fortune–has resigned as CEO of the infamous company.

Prince announced that he will no longer be CEO of the company, instead he has appointed a new president. Prince will stay on as Chairman but will no longer oversee day-to-day operations.

Blackwater recently rechristened itself “Xe” and is in the midst of a rebranding and restructuring effort following the loss of its coveted State Department contract in Iraq and the continued negative publicity following the shooting of 17 Iraqi civilians in 2007.

Military’s Hiring; Newspapers Giving Them Free Ad Space

An Article Promoting Military Service Was Published By WZZM 13

Yesterday when I was browsing the daily headlines on WZZM13.Com (perhaps my first mistake), I came across a rather frustrating article that was reprinted from the Detroit Free Press.

The article, titled “Who’s hiring? The military” is the latest of many articles that have appeared over the years promoting military service as an option in tough economic times. As is typically the case in these kind of articles, the newspaper only spoke with service members and recent enlistees, both of whom had favorable opinions of the military.

No Dissenting Perspective

Seeing an article with a headline that talked about the current economic situation and the military, the first thing that popped into my head was the idea of a “poverty draft”. This is the idea that the military is seen primarily as a career option for the poor and that the military actively seeks out recruits from economically disadvantaged communities. There’s a wealth of information available about this, but the Detroit Free Press never discussed it.

This is likely due to the fact that the article does not cite anyone who is involved in promoting alternatives to military service to youth. This was particularly frustrating because the Detroit-based group FAME has been actively promoting alternatives to military service. The organization points out that many of the promises made by the military are broken. It also points out that significant hurdles exist in getting the education and job training benefits touted by the military.

The Michigan television station WWMT also ran a similar story that functioned as an ad for the military without bothering to offer a dissenting perspective.

An All Too Common Approach

Unfortunately, this is a common approach by the media when discussing military service. MediaMouse.org has reported on this numerous times in the past. In the past five years, we have seen the local media promote military recruiting repeatedly, but never include a dissenting perspective or even seek to independently verify the claims made by military recruiters.

Military Recruiting Increasing in Tough Economy

Military Recruiting On The Rise As Economy Crumbles

On Sunday, The New York Times reported that as the economy worsens, enlistment in the military is on the rise. The Army surpassed its recruitment targets for the months of October, November and December, which coincides with the first quarter of the fiscal year. The article also cited that there are expanded education benefits included in the new G.I. Bill, which is an attraction for many, especially new high school graduates. However, the Times failed to mention that the proposed discretionary budget for the 2009 fiscal year includes 58% for national defense (down 1% from the 59% of 2008), with a pathetic 7% for education, training, employment and social services.

The National Priorities Project breaks down exactly where spending on national defense goes: 89% to the military, 7% to homeland security, and 4% to preventative measures. Military spending has nearly doubled since 2001 – from about $350 billion to nearly $600 billion. Of total world military spending, the U.S. makes up 48%. Israel is the third largest arms importer (topped only by China and India, the two countries with the largest populations).

The amounts of money spent on war and military would be ludicrous at any time, but the fact that the nation is in a recession with alarmingly high unemployment rates, speaks volumes. The U.S. government continues to clearly prioritize war and oppression over education and social services.

Early Look at 2008 Army Recruiting Numbers for Michigan

012209-military_recruiting.jpg

The National Priorities Project has released the first half of its annual review of Army recruiting. The initial review looks at data by state, county, and zip code. It finds that the Army has once again missed its quality benchmarks:

“The Iraq War began to have an impact on recruiting in 2005 when the Army missed its goal for the number of recruits. Despite increases in spending on recruitment and advertising such as new arcade games designed to draw more youth into the Army, the Army has failed to meet its benchmark for the level of educational attainment of recruits for the fourth year in a row. The percentage of recruits with high school diplomas reported in early October by the Department of Defense was considerably greater than what the data actually show. This difference is due to the Army’s reporting on the number of “contracts” rather than the number of “accessions” with high school diplomas. Contracts are recorded at the time of sign-up, whereas accessions are those who actually enlist. Each year there are losses of individuals who, despite signing the contract, do not end up enlisting.”

As in previous years (2006, 2008), the data provides information specific to Michigan. The National Priorities Project reports that Michigan ranked 29th for Army Recruits Per Thousand Youth at 1.52 (down from 1.79 in 2006). However, Michigan did have the county with the second highest recruitment rate in the country–Luce County. Other counties including Arenec, Kalkaska, and Clare also ranked in the top 100.

Here in West Michigan, Kent County had 146 Active-Duty Army recruits and 25 Reserve Army recruits.

MediaMouse.org will have a more complete look at the numbers in the coming weeks when the National Priorities Project released information based on race and income.

Pentagon: Soldiers with PTSD cannot Receive Purple Heart

Pentagon: Soldiers with PTSD Cannot Receive Purple Heart

On January 8, the Pentagon effectively de-legitimized Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), by officially deciding not to award Purple Hearts to service members who have been diagnosed with PTSD.

In May, John Fortunato, a military psychologist, brought up the question by saying he thought making troops with PTSD eligible for the award would help remove the stigma that follows the disorder. Fortunato said, “These guys have paid at least a high — as high a price, some of them — as anybody with a traumatic brain injury, as anybody with shrapnel wound, and what it does is it says this is the wound that isn’t worthy, and I say it is.”

After review, Defense Department spokeswoman Eileen Lainez explained the decision not to award purple hearts to those diagnosed with the disorder: “PTSD is an anxiety disorder caused by witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event; it is not a wound intentionally caused by the enemy from an ‘outside force or agent,’ but is a secondary effect caused by witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event.”

PTSD is a natural result of the horrifying situations troops must witness or participate in on a daily basis, from risking their own lives, to seeing their friends being killed or wounded, to being forced to kill, wound or torture others (including civilians.) Symptoms can include recurrent re-experiencing of the trauma, loss of interest in activities and life in general, guilt, shame or self-blame suicidal thoughts, blackouts, headaches, chest pains, stomach problems, sleep problems, substance abuse, irritability, difficulty concentrating or remembering things and hypervigilance to threat, among others. Recovery is gradual; residual symptoms can remain for many years or the rest of one’s life. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that up to 11% of Iraq veterans and 20% of Afghanistan veterans suffer from the disorder.

Only two national corporate media outlets covered this story, CNN and the New York Times. The Times also published a blog in support of the decision.

Press Report on Military Recruiting: Nothing Critical about the Military

Grand Rapids Press Reports on Military Recruiting

Sunday’s Grand Rapids Press featured an all too familiar front-page story–a story talking up military service as a career choice for youth.

The article was titled “Re-enlistment, recruitment on rise as soldiers seek economic stability” and while at first glance it is a look at how military enlistment has risen as a result of the dismal economic situation in Michigan, it quickly becomes obvious that the story also functions as free advertising for the military as few critical words are said about military service.

Why Join the Military? Casualties Down, Financial Benefits

The risk of death in Iraq? Not a problem:

“At the same time, the drop in casualties in Iraq has made the military seem less risky.

In 2008, 314 U.S. troops died there. It marked a significant drop from the 904 who died in 2007, 822 in 2006 and 846 in 2005.”

Still, you might be risking your life serving in the military, but it might be easier than facing the economic situation here:

“Army Spc. Alex Stewart had a choice: Roll the dice with a dismal economy or put his life on the line and extend his military commitment.

The Grand Rapids resident concluded the Army is a safer bet.

‘I want a stable life for my wife in a very shaky economy,’ Stewart said. ‘There were no other options.'”

The article follows a familiar refrain: while the military may have some risks and may disrupt your personal or family life, the lure of benefits is worth it:

“Army Maj. Joel Heath, in charge of recruitment for the Grand Rapids region, said a military hitch is a much easier sell when the market is tumbling and job losses mount.

‘They want the educational benefits the military provides. Some are seeking adventure and just to get away from Michigan,’ Heath said.

‘We are seeing quite a few individuals enlist that are in their 30s and have a family and are looking to provide a better form of stability for their family.’

‘It looks even better than it did before. I get health care, dental, a regular paycheck that you can count on,’ she said.”

Lack of Independent, Dissenting Perspectives

While reporter Ted Roelofs talked to military recruiters, service members, and recent enlistees, he made no effort to seek out independent perspectives–most strikingly those that have a critical perspective of military service. Across the country, groups such as the American Friends Service Committee, the War Resisters League, and Project YANO are organizing against military recruiting and challenging common claims made by the military, particularly around promises of benefits. These sources have reported that receiving educational benefits and enlistment benefits from the military is much more difficult than the military makes it seem. For example, one study showed that only 43% of enlistees received money from the GI Bill. Moreover, there are also local groups that have done work critical of military recruiting in the past, with both ACTIVATE and the Institute for Global Education (IGE) doing “counter-recruiting” work. Outside of Grand Rapids, Finding Alternatives to Military Enlistment (FAME) out of Detroit could have provided an independent perspective on the topic.

A Common Way of Covering Military Recruiting

Unfortunately, this glowing coverage of military service as a career choice is common in the media. During the Army’s recruiting slump in 2005, the Grand Rapids Press ran a story–also by reporter Ted Roelofs–talking up the financial benefits of joining the military, in addition to similar articles over the past several years. The Press has also reported on publicity stunts done by the military to generate free media coverage, a common strategy employed by the military.

Sadly, it isn’t just the Grand Rapids Press that has covered media uncritically promoted military recruitment. WOOD TV 8, WXMI Fox 17, and WZZM 13 have all run stories that portray military service in a positive light with little mention of any negative aspects.