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House Defense Spending Bills, Math, and You!

Hey kids! If I know high schoolers, there’s nothing they enjoy more during the summer months than SAT prep questions.

PB Griffin, Helmand Province Afghanistan, 2010. Photo Credit: John Motter

Hey kids! If I know high schoolers, there’s nothing they enjoy more during the summer months than SAT prep questions. Here’s a fun topical one for yinz: An Afghan farmer is paid $2 by a Taliban affiliate organization to plant a homemade IED that cost them $5 to produce. A Marine Infantry platoon making less than the federal minimum wage for a seven month deployment, sees this and fires at him with javelin missile worth $78,000. They miss with the javelin, but hit with a follow up TOW missile worth $60,000. A few minutes later while on patrol conducting BDA, an MRAP hits another IED worth a whopping $10, effectively destroying the truck worth $500,000. The Marine in the gun is thrown from the turret and falls to the ground, breaking his neck upon landing. He dies, and his mother receives $400,000 from his SGLI. The driver loses his leg and eventually receives 100% VA disability compensation at $2,900 a month. The VC claims PTSD from the event and receives an 80% rating of $1,556 a month, but commits suicide three years later. The scout also claims PTSD, but is arbitrarily denied. However, he does receive a 10% rating of $133 a month for tinnitus, but he does not receive it during his 5 year prison sentence for assault with a deadly weapon that stems from his untreated PTSD, and is instead locked up in a private prison at a cost of $70,000 a year. The platoon takes small arms fire during the casevac. The concussed squad leader calls in an airstrike on a nearby compound in the general direction of the fire. A $40,000 JDAM is dropped on the wrong building killing a child, but the fire stops. The next day the child’s parents receive $2,000 in compensation. Upon further inspection, it turns out the original farmer was merely repairing his irrigation canal, but as he had no family, compensation isn’t required. Question: If this scenario is played out every day by units all over the country for 16 years, how many more years until our society collapses under the mounting costs of the conflict? This week the House of Representatives passed a “defense” budget of $696 billion dollars in its continued attempt to outspend the rest of the world combined on the military. In a touching move of bipartisanship, 60% of House Democrats set aside their party differences and voted in favor of it. As did 10 of the 17 representatives from LA County.

Now some of you may say: “B-b-b John, that’s the business of them city slickers all the way over in Washington DC, what can us simple country folk in lil ole Los Angeles do about it?” or “B-b-b-b-b-b John what about the troops?? WHAT ABOUT THE TROOPS???!?!” or “B-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b John! RUSSIAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

More likely, none of you will say any of that, but I know you’re thinking it! Here’s some of why it matters to Angelenos:

Our very own Adam Schiff alone has accepted tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from many top defense companies; they will see an enormous return on investment this year. I’m sure the prospect of all the defense spending that will come with a new Cold War has nothing to do with the fact that he won’t shut up about Russia.

We met with Good Ol’ Boy Schiff’s office in DC back in April to discuss (among other things) whether they thought that the combat veterans and service members on the ground — the ones actually fighting our wars — should have a voice in foreign policy and military budgeting decisions.

I told them that I am an active member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans For Peace, the DSA Veterans Working Group, and Veterans for Bernie. I also have many friends and colleagues in Vote Vets, Common Defense, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and Military Families Speak Out. I told them how these organizations collectively represent hundreds of thousands of progressive veterans, and how we can offer an alternative viewpoint much more in line with liberal ideals than what typically gets touted in the corporate media by Ivy League pundits who have never set foot in the Middle East, or what gets discussed behind closed doors by the out-of-touch brass and defense industry lobbyists (all of whose careers were made by supporting the war). I did my best to convey the massive gap in experience and understanding between the policy makers and the troops who must execute their policies.

They responded positively to the idea. His legislative director even told me how he has some college friends who are Army officers, so “he gets it.” I left their office confidently draped in a warm blanket of empathy.

A few weeks ago, I attempted to get a follow up meeting at Schiff’s district office in Burbank. I called and was told all meeting requests for the staff there had to be submitted in writing via fax. I can’t even remember what a fax machine looks like, so bravo to them for constructing more unnecessary barriers between them and their constituents. I decided I wasn’t going to take the bus to the UPS store to pay for a fax just so that I could ask for a meeting. I called the DC office to see why they have that policy, when every meeting we’ve ever scheduled on the Hill was done over email. They had me email a staffer who apparently runs the “stupid barrier to meeting with constituents” department. I didn’t receive a response.

I called the DC office again earlier this week to get an answer. What I’m sure is an otherwise nice lady condescendingly told me how their office receives hundreds of requests for meetings (can you believe it??). She then told me she knew nothing of this “fax tax” (my words) I was being subjected to. I was then given the email of a staffer at the district office. I’ve yet to hear back.

Meanwhile, Schiff and other heroes of the #resistance like Pelosi, DWS, and even Maxine Waters (say it ain’t so Auntie Maxine!) voted in favor of this absurd spending bill. To my knowledge, no progressive veteran organization was consulted by any member of congress when constructing this bill. Instead, they once again deferred to the “experts” who got us involved in the War On Terror to begin with, and who advocate for its continuation and escalation. But hey, maybe the Generals who haven’t patrolled since they were boots in Nam (if ever) with cushy private sector jobs lined up for them as soon as they retire know something I don’t.

The irony of this bill is that Schiff and many other members of Congress decried 45’s original proposal to increase the defense budget a couple months ago, only to exceed it with this bill. They’ll rationalize its passage by claiming this version doesn’t require cuts to other essential programs, not realizing the inherent contradiction in that statement. Like my great-grand-uncle Ike said, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.” What the hell did he know about the military anyway? He only beat the Nazis and ran the country for eight years.

If Schiff’s support of this bill weren’t bad enough, he’s also co-sponsored a bill making it a felony to support the boycott of Israel. Now this one has really thrown me. Why would the representative of the largest Armenian population outside of Armenia continue to support one of the only states that refuses to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide? I guess we’ll never know.

“Ok so we should call Adam Schiff and say in our best transatlantic accent things like ‘I dare say my good sir, how dare you!’ and ‘Why I never! This shall not stand!’. But what possible effect could all this defense spending have here in LA?” Glad you asked. Here are some other reasons why Angelenos should care:

LA is facing arguably the worst homeless epidemic in the developed world. For just 1/696 of that budget, we could comfortably house ever single homeless person in the county. This would include the highest homeless veteran population in the country. We could also use that money to pay the college tuition for every CSU student in the county, even with recent tuition hikes.

In an attempt to boost their budget even more, the Pentagon will claim they need new equipment, and then sell the “old” stuff to the LAPD, LASD, and police forces all over the country under the 1033 program. Cops will receive new assault rifles, MRAPs, and other equipment to patrol their fictional war zones.

In many cases infantry units deploying overseas who actually need these things to survive will be stripped of them in these sales. Grunts will run out of trucks due to IED strikes and become entirely foot mobile while somehow departments like Morton County Sheriffs will be equipped with the vehicles their commanders told them didn’t exist. This is how our society says that Standing Rock water protectors are a greater threat to our national security than ISIS.

Our police will then use this equipment to patrol low income communities of color, as well as to intimidate and suppress demonstrations against their overreach.

Inexplicably, the LAPD has even purchased bayonets from the DOD in recent years. I can’t convey how useless and unnecessary a bayo is. Even in the ETO during WWII, there is only one recorded account of a bayonet charge carried out by an American unit. On deployment, they either sit at the bottom of your seabag or are locked away in an ISO container. The only thing I ever used mine for was opening MREs on field ops. Though generally I relied on my $10 hardware store pocket knife. Nevertheless, our boys in blue will find an excuse to purchase them in bulk, because goons like Charlie Beck treat 1033 like an even more perverse version of Black Friday.

Low-income children in our public schools will be heavily targeted for military recruitment. Many will look to the military as a means to pay for college. As Devos-style candidates take over our school board and defund public schools, the quality of education available will decrease, and with it our youths’ chances of receiving an academic scholarship. Many more who do get accepted to college will still join the military as college tuition continues to increase.

Not many GED and C students get the high speed futuristic desk jobs you see in those Air Force commercials. Most of these kids will end up in combat arms positions (we aren’t nicknamed grunts/03 dumb dumbs/morines by other MOS’s for nothing). Many will be killed on deployment. Still more who make it home will have difficulty graduating college and finding employment as a result of physical, mental, and sexual trauma from their time in service. Bureaucrats at the VA will find every excuse to deny their disability claims. Many will self-medicate with street drugs when they can’t get help. The problems created by untreated trauma can also lead to problems with the law, and convictions that disqualify them from employment. They’ll join their comrades in arms from previous conflicts on the streets of Skid Row, or places like the Sunset/Silverlake Blvd overpass where Councilman Mitch O’Farrell wants to install hostile architecture to drive them out.

Green card holders in LA will be recruited by the military as a path to citizenship. But this is too often a false promise. When they’re discharged, many will get picked up on charges relating to PTSD — assault, drug possession, brandishing a weapon — and find themselves in deportation proceedings. Our judicial system has established a pretty firm precedent of not giving a shit about one’s accomplishments in the military or service connected psychological disorders. If they get arrested outside LA county, they won’t be entitled to a court appointed attorney. They’ll get the book thrown at them and deported.

ICE will work in conjunction with the military under the Department of Homeland Security, setting up “fusion centers” in our own backyard to surveil our immigrant communities and lock up activists like CSULA student and organizer Claudia Rueda.

If you are white and/or well-off nearly all of this will go unnoticed, but thousands of your neighbors will still suffer.

There’s a lot that we need to do to fight this. For now, every town hall you attend, every phone bank and letter writing campaign you take part in, every public event you attend with your representatives, you MUST confront our elected officials with the reality of the military industrial complex. Come election season, you need to demand that they stop to accepting donations from defense contractors and REFUSE to vote for them if they do. They must know there are political consequences. There are no lesser of two evils here. Democrats are often just as complicit as Republicans in this, with slight differences that are only buying us a few more years until the end of the world.

I’ll be writing more in the future on what can be done locally about the military industrial complex. For now, please call our Senators and demand they reject this bill. Below is a list of our Representatives and how they voted. Please call them too, and let them know how you feel.


23 Kevin McCarthy (R) Yes

25 Steve Knight (R) Yes

26 Julia Brownley (D) Yes

27 Judy Chu (D) No

28 Adam B. Schiff (D) Yes

29 Tony Cardenas (D) Yes

30 Brad Sherman (D) No

32 Grace F. Napolitano (D) Did not vote

33 Ted Lieu (D) Yes


35 Norma Torres (D) Yes

37 Karen R. Bass (D) No

38 Linda T. Sanchez (D) No

39 Edward R. Royce (R) Yes

40 Lucille Roybal-Allard (D) Yes

43 Maxine Waters (D) Yes

44 Nanette Barragan (D) No

47 Alan Lowenthal (D) No