A Tax Day Quiz – Your Tax Dollars at Work?

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With tax day upon us once again, it’s a good time to look at how our tax dollars are spent. As you can see by this chart, once again the military is taking the most significant chunk of your tax dollars, with about 45% of all discretionary dollars headed to the U.S. war machine (see a list of Tax Day events calling for renewed spending priorities).

But wait, you’re probably saying, “That Kenyan-born wimp Obama has been slashing our poor military’s budget (which still totaled more than all military spending by the next eight countries combined), surely he can’t be pushing for more weapons?”

But in fact, he is! Which brings us to the first question in our quiz.

How much military spending does Obama’s budget call for in 2016?

  1. $585 billion.

  2. $612 billion.

  3. $620.9 billion.

  4. All of the above.

OK, that was a trick question – the answer is (4), all of the above! Yes, it depends on who’s counting – but even the lowest figure, from the New York Times, represents the highest base budget for the Pentagon in history. As analyst Fred Kaplan points out, Obama is calling for a whopping 7.7% increase in military spending, mostly for costly weapons systems, including several that have been called unnecessary and/or faulty.

But surely that peacenik Obama must be calling for cuts to nuclear weapons? To find out, let’s go to question two.

President Obama and his military advisors have stated that the United States has more nuclear weapons than it needs for its security. Thus, Obama’s budget request for nuclear weapons spending:

  1. Calls for no change in spending.

  2. Calls for a decrease in spending.

  3. What are you crazy, we’re Americans! It calls for an increase in nuclear weapons spending, including on a new nuclear-armed air-launched cruise missile, the Long-Range Stand-Off (LRSO) missile, a weapon that the British Secretary of Defense said could “risk triggering a nuclear war at a time of tension.”

That’s right, the answer is (3)! In fact, Obama is calling for significant increases in spending on nuclear weapons systems. According to the Arms Control Association, “Obama’s legacy on nuclear weapons will now be as the president who set in motion plans to remake a nuclear arsenal …for decades to come.”

So sure, nukes are still going gangbusters, but what about other weapons? Here’s one: Obama’s budget calls for another $10.6 billion for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft, a program already known as the most expensive weapons system in history. The Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer called the $400 billion program “acquisition malpractice,” and Rand Corporation analysts referred to the F-35 as the plane that “can’t turn, can’t climb, (and) can’t run.” Which brings us to question three:

After the F-35 program was $163 billion over budget and 7 years behind schedule, what else was still not quite right with the airplanes?

  1. The light bulbs were the wrong shape, making it illegal to fly the planes at night.

  2. The “stealth coating” on the planes was uneven, making them not so stealthy.

  3. The tires wore out 4x faster than expected, making landings kind of scary.

  4. All of the above.

If you guessed (4), all of the above, you’re catching on!

Obama’s budget also includes $3.4 billion for more P-8 Poseidon aircraft – surely that must be a better plane? Well, a few years back the Pentagon did notice that the plane was made with counterfeit made-in-China parts that could have led to catastrophic problems. But that was a long time ago, bringing us to question four:

The P-8 Poseidon is intended for anti-submarine/large area reconnaissance missions, yet according to the Pentagon’s chief weapons tester, it’s still faulty because:

  1. It’s not effective at hunting submarines.

  2. It’s not effective for long range reconnaissance.

  3. It has faulty radar performance, faulty sensor integration and faulty data transfer.

  4. All of the above.

I think you’re too good at this – yes, it’s (4) again! Even still, with all of their problems, the F-35 fighter and P-8 Poseidon are doing better than the Marine One helicopter program, which took $3.2 billion of our tax dollars yet produced no helicopters before the program was shut down.

Of course, the companies who get your hard-earned tax money for these kinds of expensive weapons systems are surely valuable corporate citizens who provide essential jobs and economic stability to our communities, so it’s not like our tax dollars are going to coal companies or polluters like that, right? For question five, we take a look at three top military contractors, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman:

 For each statement, answer true or false:

  1. After fighting since the late 1970’s to get the company to clean up their mess, last year the town of Bethpage, New York sued Northrop Grumman for contamination of the town’s water supply from more than a decade of improperly disposing of cadmium, arsenic, chromium-tainted sludge and other chemicals in Bethpage Community Park.

  2. Lockheed Martin’s operations in Redlands, California resulted in contamination of groundwater and soil, after the company burned toxic chemical waste in open, unlined dirt pits for years. Lockheed decided they wanted to use your tax dollars to pay for the clean-up, so they factored the costs for their past pollution into new weapons contracts, to the tune of $208 million, more than 70% of the clean-up costs. Not satisfied with that figure, the company sued the government and won an additional $17.2 million from your taxes.

  3. Boeing was fined for 79 pollution violations around its Southern California facility, after years of discharging more than 118 million gallons of water laced with chromium, lead, mercury and other toxic chemicals into creeks that flowed to the Los Angeles River. Levels of cancer-causing dioxins in the company’s discharge were as much as 6,900 times higher than safety standards allow. Water safety authorities said the company’s chronic violations created an “exceedingly serious” risk to public health. Following the revelations, Boeing was awarded a no-bid government contract that paid them (out of your tax dollars!) to clean-up their polluted site.

I know it’s hard to believe, but yes, all of the above are true.

So Obama is proposing to spend billions more of our taxes on weapons that are proven failures and/or needless and dangerous, weapons that are made by companies that profit from polluting our communities. But at least Obama is restoring the EPA’s budget, right?

Well, not exactly: Obama is calling for EPA to receive its first boost under his watch, from $8.1 billion to $8.6 billion. But remember, the agency’s 2010 budget was more than $10 billion, so EPA will still be at its lowest funding level since 1989. Obama is calling for an additional $4 billion for EPA to fund state climate change efforts, but unless he can win approval from Congressional Republicans (who are not shy about their hostility to climate change solutions), this fund is pure fantasy.

If Obama’s spending priorities don’t reflect your values, you can take action. Check out the events around the country coordinated this Tax Day, Wednesday, April 15.

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