Fruits of our Labors

Image by Michael Afonso.

It’s budget season on a permanent basis now. When I was a full-time community organizer I used to love to go to Washington DC in time for the cherry blossoms and the hog slopping.

Hog slopping?

That was just one of the terms used by many hill staffers (and even some administration figures in places like the Office of Management and Budget). The cherry blossoms were such a delight for those of us from the cold country close to the Canadian border. Learning about the hogs was less delightful.

The budget process is all fouled up, of course, thanks to the “Freedom Caucus in the House, but even without their culture war-Putin-loving shenanigans, it’s massive mess that few Americans understand.

Just this week, for instance, hundreds of $billions went out in Pentagon contracts. If the government shuts down, though, not to worry if you are a war profiteer; your gush of taxpayer money diverted into your bloated bank accounts never stops.

Samples of just a couple from just one typical day:

“General Dynamics Mission Systems Inc., Scottsdale, Arizona, was awarded a $239,300,000 ceiling, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract…”

“Lockheed Martin Corp., Grand Prairie, Texas, was awarded a $219,705,220 modification (P00002) to contract W31P4Q-23-C-0052 for the Precision Strike Missile Early Operational Capability Lot 3 requirement.”

While some of the massive contracts are awarded on a competitive bid basis, many are sole-source acquisition–no bid, just awarded to one Pentagon contractor without any competing bids allowed. Some are firm price and others are cost-plus–the corporation can just add to the billing as they see fit. What could possibly go wrong?

This is largely a US war profiteering environment. Indeed, of the most lucrative 25 weaponeering corporations on Earth, 11 are US. Of the most heavily funded six in the world, four are US war contractors.

If you are a US taxpayer, you are covering US military aid to literally 180 countries on a global list of about 200. Your tax money is used to send $70 billion to these countries, either in funds to purchase weapons from US corporations or in direct military materiel from US military stocks. Either way, you pay.

The aid to Israel, just as the aid to other warring countries, is not tied to any observance of human rights laws, international laws of warfare, or anything else that might protect civilians from the awful misuse of these weapons. This means, since we live in a democracy, we are all complicit citizens–with the possible exception of those who educate themselves and others, and who seek to influence our national policies toward more peace and more justice.

If I live in Russia, my ruler is not fairly elected, so I am not so responsible for his orders, his conduct, nor his violations of the humanitarian laws of our world. If I am North Korean, my complicity is moot because I am a subject, not a citizen.

But here we have independent groups that monitor voting records of our federal elected officials and we can learn if we believe they are practicing the sorts of values we hold and we hope they also hold.

If they are not truly representing us, there may be another candidate worth supporting in our contentious Congress. PeaceVoter 2024 is worth a look.

Our democracy is in peril, as we all know. It will take so many more of us getting more knowledgeable, more involved, and helping others to do the same.

Tom H. Hastings is core faculty in the Conflict Resolution Department at Portland State University and founding director of PeaceVoice