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Page 10
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<< 9. 1968 (poem)11. Better Policy Starts with the Veteran's Voice >>

Defense and the National Debt

By John Ketwig

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Do you remember, back in early 2016, when the sixteen Republican candidates seeking the nomination to compete for President debated on TV? It seems a long time ago, but you may recall the universally hysterical warnings that our "National Debt" would soon exceed twenty-one trillion dollars. Well, as of July 31st, that formidable obstacle to our nation's future stands at $21.3 trillion.

We haven't heard much about that debt since Donald Trump took office. There was some nostalgic mention of the figure during the debate of the President's tax program. Once that "tax cut" was passed, we have heard a few random mentions of cutting "entitlements" like Medicaid, Medicare, or Social Security. However, the atmosphere in Washington has been clouded by issues such as collusion with the Russians, payoffs to Stormy Daniels, denuclearization of North Korea, economic "foes" in Canada and the Economic Union, and a series of weather-related disasters all across our nation.

One interesting news item has slipped under the evening news radar. In 2016 (when Obama was still President), Mark Skidmore, a Professor of Economics at Michigan State University learned that a Department of Defense Office of Inspector General report had found $6.5 trillion in unaccounted-for Pentagon spending in the year 2015 alone! Skidmore was incredulous, as that amount is more than the gross domestic product of the entire United Kingdom. A bean-counter at the highest professional level, Skidmore did some investigating, examining a variety of government websites dating back to 1968. With the assistance of Catherine Austin Fitts, a former assistant secretary in the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Skidmore assembled a collection of official government documents revealing that unsupported adjustments totaling $21 trillion had been reported to the DOD and HUD through the years 1998 to 2015! This enormous story was published by Forbes magazine in December of 2017.

Writing for Truthdig.com last month, TV host and comedian Lee Camp attempted to describe just how much money $21 trillion might be. He notes that the GDP of the United States is $18.6 trillion, and the total amount of money invested in the stock market is $30 trillion. The calculator I use to track the family bills doesn't have that kind of capacity, but Camp's tells him if $1000 bills were stacked on top of each other, twenty-one trillion dollars would create a stack 1323 miles high! Camp also suggests that a worker earning $40,000 a year would require 25 million years to accumulate one trillion dollars, or 525 million years to earn $21 trillion. I envy Lee Camp, his calculator, and his patience.

The Forbes article points out that "after Mark Skidmore began inquiring about OIG-reported unsubstantiated adjustments, the OIG's webpage, which documented, albeit in a highly incomplete manner, these unsupported 'accounting adjustments' was mysteriously taken down." A similar official government report can be viewed at https://media.defense.gov/2016/Jul/26/2001714261/-1/-1/1/DODIG-2016-113.pdf. Forbes points out that, with $65 trillion adjusted out of the Army's total $120 billion 2015 budget, the unsupported and unexplained adjustments were 54 times the level of total spending authorized by Congress! Note that these reports are only concerning the Army's missing funds, not Navy or Air Force, and Congress has ignored this incredible discrepancy.

The 2016 OIG report concludes that the unexplained and missing trillions of dollars are the result of the Depart of Defense's "failure to correct system deficiencies." Next time the family checkbook doesn't balance, try using that excuse with your spouse.

Believe it or not, the Pentagon's spending has never been audited. But, back in 2010, Congress added a stipulation to the National Defense Authorization Act that the DOD would be subject to an annual audit starting in 2017. In an audacious display of patriotism, Congress responded to the approaching audit by adding $80 billion more to the 2018 DOD budget than President Trump had requested. We the people can only hope that the 2,400 auditors assigned to audit the Pentagon might find enough loose change under the couch cushions and behind the file cabinets to pay off our National Debt and that the presidential candidates in 2020 will have other issues to discuss.

In today's America, the ultimate status symbol is no longer a Rolls-Royce or a golden Rolex wristwatch; it is a defense contract. There is little hope that the audits will end the Pentagon's hemorrhaging of taxpayer dollars, or that any responsible individuals will be put behind bars. Those Rolls-Royces and Rolex watches won't go out of style anytime soon.

John Ketwig is a lifetime member of VVAW, and the author of ...and a hard rain fell: A G.I.'s True Story of the War in Vietnam. First published by Macmillan in 1985, it is still available at most bookstores. A new book, Vietnam Reconsidered: The War, the Times, and Why They Matter will be published in the spring of 2019.

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