Prelude to Tax Day

Aerial View of the Pentagon in Virginia
Aerial View of the Pentagon in Virginia

by Pat Hynes

Previously published in Common Dreams

On Tax Day, there’s more than one elephant in the room, and they’re all in mansions.

Elephants occupy the bulging mansions of 657 American billionaires, 43 of them new this past pandemic year. Their combined wealth soared to $4.2 trillion—up $1.3 trillion—between March 21, 2020 and February 6, 2021. Nor do these billionaires pay taxes on the new wealth unless they sell these assets at a profit. During this same period, more than 78 million working people lost their jobs.

Our politicians never consult the public about what makes us feel secure in order to give us a voice defining national security.

Someone has spotted these elephants in their mansions: Senator Elizabeth Warren and colleagues in the House have proposed the Ultra-Millionaire Tax Act. Millionaires would pay 2 cents on every dollar of wealth above $50 million and billionaires, 3 cents on every dollar of wealth above a $1 billion. Would they even feel it? Couldn’t these mega-rich afford more like a nickel and 10 cents tax on a dollar respectively, given that most of the 2017 Trump-Republican tax cuts accrue to them?

But the biggest Tax Day elephant in the room resides in the 5-sided military mansion, the Pentagon, with its criminally large budget—nearly a trillion dollars each year siphoned from our tax dollars. Why criminal? Consider these five facts:

  • Wars unwon, trillions spent, and millions of innocent dead: Since the early 1950s Korean War, the U.S. has waged both short, quick and long, large unwinnable wars against non-Western and darker skinned people and overturned governments “not in out national interest” (translate “we don’t like them”): from Iran, Vietnam, Granada, Libya and Panama, to Afghanistan and Iraq.  Even the majority of recent U.S. war veterans do not support the wars they fought in.
  • Arming the world: The U.S. supplied 37% of major weapons to 96 countries in 2020, thereby feeding war and starving people. Saudi Arabia received ¼ of our arms, creating the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in waging its war and blockade on Yemen, with our tax dollar weapons. What God blesses America for starving, maiming, and killing the children of Yemen?
  • Climate crisis and pollution: The U.S. military is the largest institutional user of oil in the world, and thus, the largest institutional contributor to greenhouse gas warming. If the military were a country, the Department of Defense would rank 47th out of 197 countries for its greenhouse gas emissions. From 2003-2007, the U.S. war in Iraq released more greenhouse gas emissions annually than 139 countries.
  • Ruse of “national security”: Our politicians never consult the public about what makes us feel secure in order to give us a voice defining national security. Were we polled, I would wager that a quick recovery from the pandemic; secure jobs with a living wage; quality education for children; safe roads and bridges; affordable housing, and investing in renewables to protect from climate crises would rank up there, above threats from China, as our national security.
  • Defense industry coddled during pandemic; “weapons before citizens”: “Congress awarded $130 billion more than requested to defense contractors for the nuclear-armed Columbia class submarine program” while they “whittled down the second round of stimulus payments to Americans to $600…” reports Trystan Guyette of Beyond the Bomb. Since the inception of the pandemic, the Washington consensus assured that major weapons makers, such as Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, would receive larger payments in advance of work.

Has our government learned nothing as it continues to use the lion’s share of our tax dollars to ensure global military supremacy while neglecting our security and well being at home?

The chief pandemic profiteer Lockheed Martin received an estimated $450 million to keep its supply chain for weapons funded. So generous was the advance funding that the company advertised thousands of new jobs during the pandemic. Major weapons contractors Raytheon and Northrop Grumman reported being satisfied in meeting their customers’ needs throughout the pandemic.

Let’s take a look at what our tax money went to this past year.

57 cents of each dollar we paid in our discretionary taxes went to support the military, our wars, weapons, and bases, including 800 military bases abroad and military operations in an estimated 150 countries.

A few pennies of each discretionary tax dollar went to support each of these essential human security needs: environmental protection, education, housing, public health, food and agriculture, research on renewable energy, road and bridges, public lands and parks, diplomacy, and more.

No wonder military readiness stayed intact during year 1 of Covid while most other sectors of national life suffered.

President Eisenhower captured this tradeoff in privileging weapons over people in his 1953 speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors:

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… This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense… it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

This timeless wisdom from a man seasoned by World War II was proffered as the Cold War with the Soviet Union was building ominously in the early 1950s. Has our government learned nothing in the ensuing 70 years as it continues to use the lion’s share of our tax dollars to ensure global military supremacy while neglecting our security and well being at home?

We know where national priorities lie when the military weapons’ contractors were thrown a lifeline and every other sector was doled band aids through whittled down temporary relief acts. This will only shift if the child social security becomes permanent, a living wage of $15 or more is mandated, we invest in an inspired, committed public sector, and we skill up to use and prize diplomacy in contexts of potential conflict.

— Patricia Hynes is a retired Professor of Environmental Health from Boston University School of Public Health and current Chair of the Board of the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice. She has written and edited seven books, among them “The Recurring Silent Spring.” She writes and speaks on issues of war and militarism with an emphasis on women, the environment, and public health.