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Thursday, 05 September 2013 07:52

Homeowners Ask Why Feds Have $52.6 Billion for Clandestine Spy Programs and Syria but No Money for Fighting Wildfires

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JACQUELINE MARCUS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

ForestFireFormer intelligence contractor Edward Snowden has leaked a new top-secret document that for the first time ever publicly discloses how the United States spends tens of billions of dollars annually on clandestine spy programs.

The Washington Post revealed the so-called "black budget" on Thursday and reports that $52.6 billion was set aside for operations in fiscal year 2013.

Call it a "war on terrorism" and the White House will instantly allocate billions of tax dollars. Call it a "war on wildfires" and, well, you're flat out of luck...

While the president signs off on more surveillance-drone contracts, vast acres of forests through the western states of Idaho, Colorado, Oregon, and California are going up in flames. Watch this video of Colorado's raging fires. And Yosemite Fire Threatens San Francisco Water and Power.

As of last week, 51 uncontained fires spread uncontrollably, making demands on fire crews extremely challenging primarily because the feds are running out of money to fight wildfires at the peak of the season. The U.S. Forest Service is diverting $600 million from timber, recreation and other areas to fill the gap. $50 million is only enough to pay for a few days.

Firefighters work sixteen hour work shifts. Exhausted, they need more workers and equipment than what is normally expected. Firefighters are paid on the cheap, and insurance benefits have been significantly and unfairly reduced. Last month, 19 firefighters in Arizona fires burned to death.

AP reported that wildfire spending by other federal agencies takes the total to $1.2 billion so far this year, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. That is more than half last year's total of $1.9 billion. There have been 33,000 fires that have burned more than 5,300 square miles—an area nearly the size of Connecticut.

Homeowners want to know why multibillion dollar contracts for unnecessary drones, spyware and weapons are more important than protecting their homes, water and power supplies from raging fires.

Did drone surveillance help to prevent those forest fires? No. Did Homeland Security or the NSA help to prevent those homes from burning up in flames? No. True, a drone was used to take aerial pictures of the fires, but the cost of that single drone ($5-10 million dollars) could have paid for hundreds of more firefighters and equipment; the additional help would have possibly stopped the fires from spreading. The president talks a big game on climate change, but that's all it is to him: a game. How many disasters will it take, how many wildfires, how many floods, how many hurricanes, how many tornadoes before this government puts as much time, money and effort into climate change preparation as they do for wars? Worse, this government has exploited the National Guard for selfish war profiteering goals when the National Guard is supposed to be protecting our own citizens from disasters that threaten their lives and homes. There is some fire assistance from the National Guard, but the majority of soldiers have been sent to the Middle East regions to protect military bases and US oil interests.

The US government said that they're running out of money for fighting fires, but they have plenty of money for Syria, for drone surveillance and for weapon contractors. Consider the company where NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden worked, Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp. (BAH). BAH relies on the U.S. government for 99 percent of its revenue. The federal government is the source of almost all its $5.76 billion in revenue for 2013 alone. That's merely one surveillance company for merely one year's contract. BAH is the 13th-largest federal contractor competing with Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT), SAIC Inc. (SAI), CACI International Inc. (CACI) and other firms for U.S. intelligence contracts. The Carlyle Group acquired Booz Allen in 2008 and still holds 67 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

US government spending on drones has increased to an estimated $11 billion from 2007 to 2013. Now we know that the feds spent nearly $53 billion dollars for surveillance in 2013 alone. Companies benefiting from this spending include Northrop Grumman, General Atomics, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Textron. The numbers were provided to CNN Money by IHS Jane's Principal Analyst Derrick Maple.

How that money is being spent and where it exactly goes are questions that the mainstream media reporters never ask.

Billions of dollars are spent on surveillance and weapons in the name of "national security" but ironically when it comes to fighting wildfires or protecting American communities from wildfires, the feds say that they're "out of money."

When the federal government and the corporate media talk about defense spending and billions of dollars in the name of national security, they expect Americans to bleep in resignation like sheep under hypnosis, as if the words national security were a magic charm that is supposed to put Americans in a dumb trance. National security, national security, billions of dollars for national security... Wake up!

All the more reason why it's important to question how much money the federal government spends on private corporations via Pentagon, Homeland Security, NSA contracts that have nothing whatsoever to do with supporting public services such as fire crews and wildfires.

There's nothing abstract about giving away billions of dollars in the name of national security. How many thousands of dollars does it take to make $1 million dollars? How many millions of dollars does it take for $1 billion dollars: One million, two million, three million, 50 million, 100 million, 700 million...keep counting, keep counting, keep counting...

How many millions of dollars does it take to make Booz Allen Hamilton's $5.76 billion dollars? Start from one million, two million...

Has anyone ever heard the president say: We're running out of money for surveillance, weapons and drones? Congress also approves of these multibillion dollar contracts as though they were handing out candy to a baby. How many billions will it cost tax payers for US involvement in Syria? The cost is irrelevant. No problem: "Approved".

But when it comes to using those tax dollars to hire professional firefighter crews to save the nation's forests during climate change droughts, to protect thousands of homes from being consumed from intensely catastrophic wildfires—oh sorry, feds have no money.

After all—fighting fires is for the public good, and as Robert Reich pointed out in a recent editorial, this is a government that is intent on eliminating public services. Tax dollars are going to private companies instead of public goods and services. There's a word for that: Corruption.

What it boils down to is if you're wealthy enough to hire your own fire fighting crew to protect your house, most likely your home will be saved from encroaching flames. But if you're counting on federal public services such as Conservation, Forest, Parks and Fire crews – sorry—no money. Those billions of tax dollars are on reserve for CEOs at the Carlyle Group, Boeing, etc. And by the way, while American homes are going up in flames, CEOs and their congressional friends of x, y, and z firms are sailing into the sunset off those multibillion dollar contracts, making toasts. It's what Chris Hedges called the "rape of Americans."

Here's a suggestion: If the federal government is going to screw the states out their fair share of public funding for fire services, park management, schools and so forth, then the states should be allowed to grow marijuana for the extra revenue to pay for these desperately needed services such as climate change drought preparation—and whatever it takes to protect our forests and communities.

In fact, Washington and Colorado legalized the recreational use of marijuana essentially because the revenue would help to pay for schools, teachers, state parks, fire and police departments, you know—public services. In addition to ending thousands of small-scale drug arrests that allow law enforcement to focus on larger crimes, taxing marijuana will bring in millions of dollars of new revenue, and will save court systems and police departments millions of dollars as well.

Legalizing marijuana probably scares the hell out of the old industrial oligarchs that run the federal government. The last thing they want is to see hemp replace petroleum, and the emergence of peace-loving hippies again. After all, they have to keep the masses angry, struggling and in a state of fear to perpetuate the illusion of terrorism in order to fund their criminal defense spending.

But they can't stop progress. If history has taught us anything, it's that all things rise and fall—especially corrupt governments.

(Photo: USDA Forest Service)

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Jacqueline Marcus is the editor of ForPoetry.com and EnvironmentalPress.com. Author of Close to the Shore by Michigan State University Press, she taught philosophy for twenty years at Cuesta College.