Mar 26, 2011


The Romantic poet John Keats defined what he called “negative capability,” the ability to make one’s own prejudices, attitudes, preferences into a blank sheet, and allow those of some other living being to fill it. He practiced this on the sparrows on his windowsill, and was able, to some extent, to see and feel what he imagined sparrows saw and felt.

In the thin layer we call the biosphere, which covers the surface of the earth from a few feet underground to a surprising distance up into the heavens, living and non-living beings exist together. The German writer Goethe was the first, to my limited knowledge, to extend negative capability to plants, a vital part of the living web for all its inhabitants.

The opposite of this capacity to see through the eyes of another is “sentimentality,” when the viewer projects all his (or her) attitudes and convictions on to the beings they are looking at, and consequently fail completely to apprehend anything at all about them.

People who dress up their dogs in little bootees for their feet, and fine jackets for their shoulders are showing a sentimental attitude. Common sense suggests that for a dog bare paws and a furry back are healthy and normal. Cats certainly wouldn’t stand for it, and will claw and bite the clothes right off, if they can, but some animals can be made to comply. The notion that little boots to keep their feet warm, for example, would improve sparrows, identifies the extreme sentimentalist.

Mar 18, 2011


Adam’s first duty, according to the book of Genesis in the Christian bible, was the naming of everything. This makes a lot of sense, since the name we give anything also includes our attitude to it, and how it should be dealt with, if you think about it. (The “Global War on Terror,” named by George Bush, and justifying the slaughter of more people than the Japanese nuclear meltdown has managed to stack up, is a good example. What? War. Where? Global. On who and why? Terror.)

Goldman Sachs, and JPMorgan Chase were both about to go bankrupt in October 2009. Nothing could save them. Their debts and obligations simply exceeded their assets by too large a sum. How was the situation altered in their favor? Very simple. Both were given a new category. Instead of being “Merchant banks,” (or “Investment banks,”) who arranged deals and do all the things merchant banks do, they were moved to the category of “banks,” i.e., they were to be regarded as in the same category as the Bank of America, or Barclays, and granted the capacity to accept deposits from the public and make loans and so forth, which previously no merchant banks were allowed to do. They could then participate in the three stooges’ TARP and other hot shot scams to dump all their junk on the tax payer. Problem solved. Except for the tax payer, of course.

Mar 11, 2011


The Disappearance of the Nightmare Arab How a Revolution of Hope Is Changing the Way Americans Look at Islam By James Carroll

Since 2001, Americans have been living with a nightmare Arab, a Muslim monster threatening us to the core, chilling our souls with the cry, “God is great!” Yet after two months of world-historic protest and rebellion in streets and squares across the Arab world, we are finally waking up to another reality: that this was our bad dream, significantly a creation of our own fevered imaginations.

For years, vestigial colonial contempt for Arabs combined with rank prejudice against the Islamic religion, exacerbated by an obsession with oil, proved a blinding combination. Then 9/11 pulled its shroud across the sun. But like the night yielding to dawn, all of this now appears in a new light. Americans are seeing Arabs and Muslims as if for the first time, and we are, despite ourselves, impressed and moved. In this regard, too, the Arab revolution has been, well, revolutionary.

The Absence of Arab Perfidy, the Presence of God

For those same two months, jihadists who think nothing of slaughtering innocents in the name of Allah have been nowhere in sight, as millions of ordinary Arabs launched demonstration after demonstration with a non-violent discipline worthy of Mohandas Gandhi. True, rebels in Libya took up arms, but defensively, in order to throw back the murderous assaults of Muammar Qaddafi’s men.

In the meantime, across North Africa and the Middle East, none of the usual American saws about Islamic perfidy have been evident. The demonizing of Israel, anti-Semitic sloganeering, the burning of American flags, outcries against “Crusaders and Jews” -- all have been absent from nearly every instance of revolt. Osama Bin Laden -- to whom, many Americans became convinced in these last years, Muslims are supposed to have all but sworn allegiance -- has been appealed to not at all. Where are the fatwas?

Perhaps the two biggest surprises of all here: out of a culture that has notoriously disempowered women has sprung a protest movement rife with female leadership, while a religion regarded as inherently incompatible with democratic ideals has been the context from which comes an unprecedented outbreak of democratic hope. And make no mistake: the Muslim religion is essential to what has been happening across the Middle East, even without Islamic “fanatics” chanting hate-filled slogans.

Without such fanatics, who in the West knows what this religion actually looks like?

In fact, its clearest image has been there on our television screens again and again. In this period of transformation, every week has been punctuated with the poignant formality of Friday prayers, including broadcast scenes of masses of Muslims prostrate in orderly rows across vast squares in every contested Arab capital. Young and old, illiterate and tech savvy, those in flowing robes and those in tight blue jeans have been alike in such observances. From mosque pulpits have come fiery denunciations of despotism and corruption, but no blood-thirst and none of the malicious Imams who so haunt the nightmares of Europeans and Americans.

Yet sacrosanct Fridays have consistently seen decisive social action, with resistant regimes typically getting the picture on subsequent weekends. (The Tunisian prime minister, a holdover from the toppled regime of autocrat Zine Ben Ali, for example, resigned on the last Sunday in February.) These outcomes have been sparked not only by preaching, but by the mosque-inspired cohesion of a collectivity that finds no contradiction between piety and political purpose; religion, that is, has been a source of resolve.

It’s an irony, then, that Western journalists, always so quick to tie bad Muslim behavior to religion, have rushed to term this good Muslim behavior “secular.” In a word wielded by the New York Times, Islam is now considered little but an “afterthought” to the revolution. In this, the media is simply wrong. The protests, demonstrations, and uprisings that have swept across the Middle East have visibly built their foundations on the irreducible sense of self-worth that, for believers, comes from a felt closeness to God, who is as near to each person -- as the Qu’ran says -- as his or her own jugular vein. The call to prayer is a five-times-daily reminder of that infinite individual dignity.

A Rejection Not Only of Violence, But of the Old Lies

The new Arab condition is not Nirvana, nor has some political utopia been achieved. In no Arab state is the endgame in sight, much less played out. History warns that revolutions have a tendency to devour their children, just as it warns that every religion can sponsor violence and war as easily and naturally as nonviolence and peace.

History warns as well that, in times of social upheaval, Jews are the preferred and perennial scapegoat, and the State of Israel is a ready target for that hatred. Arab bigotry has not magically gone away, nor has the human temptation to drown fear with blood. But few, if any, revolutions have been launched with such wily commitment to the force of popular will, not arms. When it comes to “people power,” Arabs have given the concept several new twists.

Because so many people have believed in themselves -- protecting one another simply by standing together -- they have been able to reject not only violence, but any further belief in the lies of their despotic rulers. The stark absence of Israel as a major flashpoint of protest in these last weeks, to take a telling example, stands in marked contrast to the way in which the challenged or overthrown despots of various Middle Eastern lands habitually exploited both anti-semitism (sponsoring, for instance, the dissemination through Arab newsstands of the long-discredited Protocols of the Elders of Zion) and the plight of Palestinians (feigning sympathy for the dispossessed victims of Israeli occupation while doing nothing to help them, precisely because Arab dictators needed suffering Palestinians to distract from the suffering of their own citizens).

Not surprisingly, if always sadly, the Arab revolution has brought incidents of Jew-baiting in its wake -- in late February in Tunis, for example, by a mob outside the city’s main synagogue. That display was, however, quickly denounced and repudiated by the leadership of the Free Tunisia movement. When a group of Cairo thugs assaulted CBS correspondent Lara Logan, they reportedly hurled the word “Jew” at her as an epithet. So yes, such incidents happened, but what makes them remarkable is their rarity on such a sprawling landscape.

To be sure, Arabs broadly identify with the humiliated Palestinians, readily identify Israel as an enemy, and resent the American alliance with Israel, but something different is unfolding now. When the United States vetoed the U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the very thick of February’s revolutionary protests, to flag one signal, the issue was largely ignored by Arab protesters. In Palestinian areas of the West Bank and Gaza, the spirit of Arab revolt showed itself mainly in a youth-driven and resolutely non-violent movement to overcome the intra-Palestinian divisions between Fatah and Hamas. Again and again, that is, the Arab Muslim population has refused to behave as Americans have been conditioned to expect.

The Mainstreaming of Anti-Muslim Prejudice

Conditioned by whom? Prejudice against Arabs generally and Islam in particular is an old, old story. A few months ago, the widespread nature of the knee-jerk suspicion that all Muslims are potentially violent was confirmed by National Public Radio commentator Juan Williams, who said, “I get worried. I get nervous” around those “in Muslim garb,” those who identify themselves “first and foremost as Muslims.”

Williams was fired by NPR, but the commentariat rallied to him for simply speaking a universal truth, one which, as Williams himself acknowledged, was to be regretted: Muslims are scary. When NPR then effectively reversed itself by forcing the resignation of the executive who had fired him, anti-Muslim bigotry was resoundingly vindicated in America, no matter the intentions of the various players.

Scary, indeed -- but no surprise. Such prejudice had been woven into every fiber of American foreign and military policy across the previous decade, a period when the overheated watchword was “Islamofascism.” In 2002, scholar Bernard Lewis’s book What Went Wrong? draped a cloak of intellectual respectability around anti-Muslim contempt. It seemed not to have occurred to Lewis that, if such an insulting question in a book title deserves an answer at all, in the Arab context it should be: “we” did -- with that “we” defined as Western civilization.

Whether the historical marker is 1099 for Crusader mayhem; 1417 for the Portuguese capture of Ceuta, the first permanent European outpost in North Africa; 1492 for the expulsion from Spain of Muslims (along with Jews); 1798 for Napoleon’s arrival as a would-be conqueror in Cairo; 1869 for the opening of the Suez Canal by the French Empress Eugenie; 1917 for the British conquest of Palestine, which would start a British-spawned contest between Jews and Arabs; or the 1930s, when vast oil reserves were discovered in the Arabian peninsula --- all such Western antecedents for trouble in Arab lands are routinely ignored or downplayed in our world in favor of a preoccupation with a religion deemed to be irrational, anti-modern, and inherently hostile to democracy.

How deep-seated is such a prejudice? European Christians made expert pronouncements about the built-in violence of Islam almost from the start, although the seventh century Qur’an was not translated into Latin until the twelfth century. When a relatively objective European account of Islam’s origins and meaning finally appeared in the eighteenth century, it was quickly added to the Roman Catholic Index of forbidden books. Western culture is still at the mercy of such self-elevating ignorance. That’s readily apparent in the fact that a fourteenth century slander against Islam -- that it was only “spread by the sword” -- was reiterated in 2006 (on the fifth anniversary of 9/11) by Pope Benedict XVI. He did apologize, but by then the Muslim-haters had been encouraged.

Western contempt for Islam is related to a post-Enlightenment distrust of all religion. In modern historiography, for instance, the brutal violence that killed millions during paroxysms of conflict across Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries is remembered as the “religious wars,” even though religion was only part of a history that included the birth of nations and nationalism, as well as of industrial capitalism, and the opening of the “age of exploration,” also known as the age of colonial exploitation.

“Secular” sources of violence have always been played down in favor of sacred causes, whether the Reformation, Puritan fanaticism, or Catholic anti-modernism. “Enlightened” nation-states were all-too-ready to smugly denounce primitive and irrational religious violence as a way of asserting that their own expressly non-religious campaigns against rival states and aboriginal peoples were necessary and therefore just. In this tale, secular violence is as rational as religious violence is irrational. That schema holds to this day and is operative in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the United States and its NATO allies pursue dogmatically ideological and oil-driven wars that are nonetheless virtuous simply by not being “religious.”

No fatwas for us. Never mind that these wars were declared to be “against evil,” with God “not neutral,” as George W. Bush blithely put it. And never mind that U.S. forces (both the military and the private contractors) are strongly influenced by a certain kind of fervent Christian evangelicalism that defines the American enemy as the “infidel” -- the Muslim monster unleashed. In any case, ask the families of the countless dead of America’s wars if ancient rites of human sacrifice are not being re-enacted in them? The drone airplane and its Hellfire missile are weapons out of the Book of the Apocalypse.

The Revolution of Hope

The new Arab revolution, with its Muslim underpinnings, is an occasion of great hope. At the very least, “we” in the West must reckon with this overturning of the premises of our prejudice.

Yes, dangers remain, as Arab regimes resist and revolutionaries prepare to erect new political structures. Fanatics wait in the wings for the democrats to falter, while violence, even undertaken in self-defense, can open onto vistas of vengeance and cyclic retribution. Old hatreds can reignite, and the never-vanquished forces of white supremacist colonial dominance can reemerge. But that one of the world’s great religions is essential to what is unfolding across North Africa and the Middle East offers the promise that this momentous change can lead, despite the dangers, to humane new structures of justice and mercy, which remain pillars of the Islamic faith. For us, in our world, this means we, too, will have been purged of something malicious -- an ancient hatred of Muslims and Arabs that now lies exposed for what it always was.

James Carroll, bestselling author of Constantine’s Sword, is a columnist for the Boston Globe and a Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence at Suffolk University in Boston. His newest book, Jerusalem, Jerusalem: How the Ancient City Ignited Our Modern World (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), has just been published.

Copyright 2011 James Carroll

Mar 4, 2011


Remembering Ma’az Shukair, still with us, I hope, official dealer with foreign devils at Radio Jordan’s English section, and the good advice he gave “Your microphone is your best friend. Treat it as though you love it,” which one of the foreign devils may have duly transmitted to the radio station staff they were training in another place, - but that’s another story - and my friend Faris Glubb, fellow contributor at Radio Jordan. Gobsmacked, I was, to note Faris was reading translations of Arabic poetry into modern verse (any idea how long THAT would take?) and getting paid at the time it took to read them. Well, none of us grew rich at Radio Jordan, but we had a lot of fun.

Faris was the son of Glubb Pasha, the creator of the Desert Legion. The last time I saw him was in a Beirut pub, and he obviously wanted to talk, but for some now long forgotten reason I was in a tearing hurry, and so I just said to him “We are star dust, we are golden, And we have to find our way back to the garden,” as I waved farewell. Can’t really improve on it, even now.

Ma’az’s favorite musician, George Shearing, has just died aged 91, and Ma’az would heartily agree on the problems of getting something done BEFORE you reach that peaceful state of being dead. Means a lot of really fine George Shearing is being played on the radio station, Pacifica for Jazz and Justice, that sometimes graces this niche at the heart of Mordor.

The Age of Iron

The Greek poet Hesiod, a contemporary of Homer, wrote of the five ages of men, the gold, the silver, the bronze, the heroes living in the western isles, and the fifth, the iron age, his and ours.

“This is the Race of Iron. Dark is their plight.
Toil and sorrow by day are theirs, and by night
The anguish of death. And the gods afflict them, and kill
Though there’s yet a trifle of good amid manifold ill.”

Not exactly a comfortable existence. And what is likely to happen to them?

“With beautiful bodies veiled in their robes of white
Forsaking the human race for the gods, in flight,
Forbearance and Righteous Wrath depart, and leave
Evil too great to resist, and mortals who grieve.”

Not good, you might say.

“And Zeus will destroy them in turn on his chosen day
When children at birth show heads already grown grey”

And destroyed they may well be, though the precise name of the destroyer varies according to taste; if you wish to identify the heads grey at birth as already burdened with huge debts, feel free.

It is not the movers and shakers of that time that we remember. It is a certain fat balding old guy who went out whenever possible to escape from his wife and to hoist a few flagons with his mates, young guys who hung on his every word, and even wrote them all down, that we teach in our schools; the leader among them laid the basis of all western philosophy, including a good eighty per cent of Christianity, for the next three thousand years, and the nerdy second in class became the tutor of Alexander the Great, and was also the founder of all western, and most eastern, science. (His record achievement of having a technical manual, the Optics, still in use at a prestigious European university some two thousand five hundred years after his death turns textbook writers green with envy.)

Alexander had an interesting family background, certainly very different from the wholesome family life all good Americans claim and that none of them actually possess. His father was the inventor of the wedge tactic in battles as opposed to the standard straggly line, and his mother claimed a mysterious god as the true father of Alexander. (Does that remind you at all of the permanent pain in the life of Winston Churchill, that his wife had a lifelong affair with Beaverbrook, the newspaper magnate, leaving Churchill free to concentrate on affairs of state since in the British Upper Classes divorce was not an option?)

Those who gloried in the description of America as the “New Rome” now have to deal with the arrival at 500 AD. You’d think one could live quite comfortably amid the accumulated loot of empire for a good few years after that empire had ended, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. Franks and Gauls turned up, all kinds of riff raff, Goths and Visigoths, and made demands, and even shaggy Mongolian types, intent on plunder. Until the practice was banned, Roman citizens often sold themselves into slavery to escape the financial burdens laid on them by the state.

But while the race of iron is in control, we live in interesting times; we have no choice.

“Fifth is the race I call my own and abhor,” says Hesiod
“Oh to die, or be later born, or born before.”

The dying is no problem, under the beneficent program of Dr. Kissinger implemented by all American presidents since Carter. Just go to Afghanistan. The rest is more difficult.

Mar 2, 2011


The Real U.S. National Security Budget: The Figure No One Wants You to See - By Chris Hellman

What if you went to a restaurant and found it rather pricey? Still, you ordered your meal and, when done, picked up the check only to discover that it was almost twice the menu price.

Welcome to the world of the real U.S. national security budget. Normally, in media accounts, you hear about the Pentagon budget and the war-fighting supplementary funds passed by Congress for our conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. That already gets you into a startling price range -- close to $700 billion for 2012 -- but that’s barely more than half of it. If Americans were ever presented with the real bill for the total U.S. national security budget, it would actually add up to more than $1.2 trillion a year.

Take that in for a moment. It’s true; you won’t find that figure in your daily newspaper or on your nightly newscast, but it’s no misprint. It may even be an underestimate. In any case, it’s the real thing when it comes to your tax dollars. The simplest way to grasp just how Americans could pay such a staggering amount annually for “security” is to go through what we know about the U.S. national security budget, step by step, and add it all up.

So, here we go. Buckle your seat belt: it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Fortunately for us, on February 14th the Obama administration officially released its Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 budget request. Of course, it hasn’t been passed by Congress -- even the 2011 budget hasn’t made it through that august body yet -- but at least we have the most recent figures available for our calculations.

For 2012, the White House has requested $558 billion for the Pentagon’s annual “base” budget, plus an additional $118 billion to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. At $676 billion, that’s already nothing to sneeze at, but it’s just the barest of beginnings when it comes to what American taxpayers will actually spend on national security. Think of it as the gigantic tip of a humongous iceberg.

To get closer to a real figure, it’s necessary to start peeking at other parts of the federal budget where so many other pots of security spending are squirreled away.

Missing from the Pentagon’s budget request, for example, is an additional $19.3 billion for nuclear-weapons-related activities like making sure our current stockpile of warheads will work as expected and cleaning up the waste created by seven decades of developing and producing them. That money, however, officially falls in the province of the Department of Energy. And then, don’t forget an additional $7.8 billion that the Pentagon lumps into a “miscellaneous” category -- a kind of department of chump change -- that is included in neither its base budget nor those war-fighting funds.

So, even though we’re barely started, we’ve already hit a total official FY 2012 Pentagon budget request of:

$703.1 billion dollars.

Not usually included in national security spending are hundreds of billions of dollars that American taxpayers are asked to spend to pay for past wars, and to support our current and future national security strategy.

For starters, that $117.8 billion war-funding request for the Department of Defense doesn’t include certain actual “war-related fighting” costs. Take, for instance, the counterterrorism activities of the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development. For the first time, just as with the Pentagon budget, the FY 2012 request divides what’s called "International Affairs" in two: that is, into an annual "base" budget as well as funding for "Overseas Contingency Operations" related to Iraq and Afghanistan. (In the Bush years, these used to be called the Global War on Terror.) The State Department’s contribution? $8.7 billion. That brings the grand but very partial total so far to:

$711.8 billion.

The White House has also requested $71.6 billion for a post-2001 category called “homeland security” -- of which $18.1 billion is funded through the Department of Defense. The remaining $53.5 billion goes through various other federal accounts, including the Department of Homeland Security ($37 billion), the Department of Health and Human Services ($4.6 billion), and the Department of Justice ($4.6 billion). All of it is, however, national security funding which brings our total to:

$765.3 billion.

The U.S. intelligence budget was technically classified prior to 2007, although at roughly $40 billion annually, it was considered one of the worst-kept secrets in Washington. Since then, as a result of recommendations by the 9/11 Commission, Congress has required that the government reveal the total amount spent on intelligence work related to the National Intelligence Program (NIP).

This work done by federal agencies like the CIA and the National Security Agency consists of keeping an eye on and trying to understand what other nations are doing and thinking, as well as a broad range of “covert operations” such as those being conducted in Pakistan. In this area, we won’t have figures until FY 2012 ends. The latest NIP funding figure we do have is $53.1 billion for FY 2010. There’s little question that the FY 2012 figure will be higher, but let’s be safe and stick with what we know. (Keep in mind that the government spends plenty more on “intelligence.” Additional funds for the Military Intelligence Program (MIP), however, are already included in the Pentagon’s 2012 base budget and war-fighting supplemental, though we don’t know what they are. The FY 2010 funding for MIP, again the latest figure available, was $27 billion.) In any case, add that $53.1 billion and we’re at:

$818.4 billion.

Veterans programs are an important part of the national security budget with the projected funding figure for 2012 being $129.3 billion. Of this, $59 billion is for veterans’ hospital and medical care, $70.3 billion for disability pensions and education programs. This category of national security funding has been growing rapidly in recent years because of the soaring medical-care needs of veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars. According to an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office, by 2020 total funding for health-care services for veterans will have risen another 45%-75%. In the meantime, for 2012 we’ve reached:

$947.7 billion.

If you include the part of the foreign affairs budget not directly related to U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as other counterterrorism operations, you have an additional $18 billion in direct security spending. Of this, $6.6 billion is for military aid to foreign countries, while almost $2 billion goes for “international peacekeeping” operations. A further $709 million has been designated for countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, combating terrorism, and clearing landmines planted in regional conflicts around the globe. This leaves us at:

$965.7 billion.

As with all federal retirees, U.S. military retirees and former civilian Department of Defense employees receive pension benefits from the government. The 2012 figure is $48.5 billion for military personnel, $20 billion for those civilian employees, which means we’ve now hit:

$1,034.2 billion. (Yes, that’s $1.03 trillion!)

When the federal government lacks sufficient funds to pay all of its obligations, it borrows. Each year, it must pay the interest on this debt which, for FY 2012, is projected at $474.1 billion. The National Priorities Project calculates that 39% of that, or $185 billion, comes from borrowing related to past Pentagon spending.

Add it all together and the grand total for the known national security budget of the United States is:

$1,219.2 billion. (That’s more than $1.2 trillion.)

A country with a gross domestic product of $1.2 trillion would have the 15th largest economy in the world, ranking between Canada and Indonesia, and ahead of Australia, Taiwan, the Netherlands, and Saudi Arabia. Still, don’t for a second think that $1.2 trillion is the actual grand total for what the U.S. government spends on national security. Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld once famously spoke of the world’s “known unknowns.” Explaining the phrase this way: “That is to say there are things that we now know we don't know.” It’s a concept that couldn’t apply better to the budget he once oversaw. When it comes to U.S. national security spending, there are some relevant numbers we know are out there, even if we simply can’t calculate them.

To take one example, how much of NASA’s proposed $18.7 billion budget falls under national security spending? We know that the agency works closely with the Pentagon. NASA satellite launches often occur from the Air Force’s facilities at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The Air Force has its own satellite launch capability, but how much of that comes as a result of NASA technology and support? In dollars terms, we just don’t know.

Other “known unknowns” would include portions of the State Department budget. One assumes that at least some of its diplomatic initiatives promote our security interests. Similarly, we have no figure for the pensions of non-Pentagon federal retirees who worked on security issues for the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, or the Departments of Justice and Treasury. Nor do we have figures for the interest on moneys borrowed to fund veterans’ benefits, among other national security-related matters. The bill for such known unknowns could easily run into the tens of billions of dollars annually, putting the full national security budget over the $1.3 trillion mark or even higher.

There’s a simple principle here. American taxpayers should know just what they are paying for. In a restaurant, a customer would be outraged to receive a check almost twice as high as the menu promised. We have no idea whether the same would be true in the world of national security spending, because Americans are never told what national security actually means at the cash register.

Christopher Hellman is communications liaison at the National Priorities Project in Northampton, Massachusetts. He was previously a military policy analyst for the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, a Senior Research Analyst at the Center for Defense Information, and spent 10 years on Capitol Hill as a congressional staffer working on national security and foreign policy issues. He is a TomDispatch regular and a frequent media commentator on military planning, policy, and budgetary issues. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Hellman explains how he arrived at his staggering numbers, click here, or download it to your iPod here.

[Note on Sources: The press release from the Office of The Director of National Intelligence disclosing the Fiscal Year 2010 $53 billion intelligence budget consists of 138 words and no details, other than that the office will disclose no details. It can be found by clicking here (.pdf file). An October 2010 analysis by the Congressional Budget Office entitled "Potential Costs of Veterans' Health Care" projects rapid cost growth for Veterans Administration services over the next decade as a result of spiraling health care costs. To read the full report, click here (.pdf file). To see all the federal agencies that contribute to homeland security funding, click here (.pdf file)]

Copyright 2011 Christopher Hellman