Tuesday, March 30, 2010

If I Were President - The Budget

Disclaimer: I know I'm never going to be President of the United States, nor would I truly want to be. I also know much of what I'm going to say in this hypothetical musing is impractical and improbable to say the least. Get over it.

The President does not write the budget- congress does. But the President makes budget requests, gets to veto the budget if he/she doesn't like it, and is charged with keeping much of the budget that congress eventually delivers. In practice, most recent Presidents have had a strong hand in shaping the budget that comes out of congress. Knowing in advance that I would have to compromise and would not get it all my way, here would be my budget priorities:

I would want to decrease or even eliminate the national deficit primarily by dramatically cutting military spending. The military-industrial complex was kicked into high gear during WWII and it never got shut down. In all previous wars the spending increased for a short time and then was heavily cut back afterward. Not after WWII though and never since. Military spending has increased every year since then. It is out of control. Here is the conservative in me coming out - we should not have a standing army. Individual states should have militias and if congress decides it is necessary to go to war we should create the army through conscription.

Military spending is out of control, but it certainly isn't the only place we could make cuts. I would aim for a freeze on the salary of anyone and everyone in government who makes $100,000 or more. I would ask every office and branch for creative solutions in reducing wasteful spending. Can we do more video conferences and lower travel expenses? etc...

More than cutting costs within individual agencies I would want to take a close look at agency redundancy. Homeland Security? Gone. Solving a bloated bureaucracy that doesn't communicate well by creating the largest bureaucracy ever to oversee the others was a dumb idea. FBI, CIA, NSA, DEA, EPA, FDA, FCC and so on... merge them and pare them down. Perhaps create two agencies, one concerned with law enforcement & security, the other a regulatory body for overseeing various industries. In the first year of my presidency I would demand reports from every employee of every department justifying their job. I'd have a logistics and organization planning team going over all of these reports and determining the most efficient way to restructure, eliminating as much redundancy as possible.

To offset the many jobs that would be lost and the impact on our arms industry, I would invest in other areas of the economy. For example, I would aim to lower class sizes in schools by providing funding for more teacher's salaries (teachers, not administrators!). I would create jobs in construction and contracting by spending money on infrastructure, especially efficient mass transit. I would create jobs in the health care sector with a well-funded public option. I would provide federal money to pay for education for doctors and nurses to eliminate the shortage we currently have. I would create jobs in the sciences by increasing the amount we give for research. I would create jobs in the arts the same way.

In fact, one core responsibility of my logistics and organization planning team would be creating a temporary agency for job placement for all of the people formerly employed in the military, the arms industry, and various bloated government agencies, in new jobs created in the fields I described above. It would confound progressives and conservatives alike that when my tenure was finished more people would be employed in the private sector and government would be smaller than it has been in 50 years.


Anonymous said...

Okay, I have to ask -

How can you be a pacifist and still want conscription?


Aric Clark said...

Here is where I've admitted some flexibility to political reality into my absurd unrealistic hypothetical scenario. If I were president I would be president of a secular republic with many kinds of people in it and would not be at liberty to turn it into a pacifist theocracy. I think a strong argument can be made on our history and foundational documents for the kind of solution I've proposed here which would result in a huge reduction in our warfaring ways.

It's just how I've imagined the scenario in my mind.

On conscription vs. voluntary army = I think a voluntary army is a copout for pacifists like me. Most of us are enabled to go about our lives pretending we're pacifists when really we're just outsourcing our violence. Hiring mercenaries to do it for us with our taxes. I'd rather be faced with a draft notice and required to stand as a conscientious objector to test my convictions.

Anonymous said...

Why not volunteer as a chaplain instead? There are many jobs within the military that don't require you to carry a weapon. Medics, supply types, etc. Why not take those jobs while still embracing conscientious objection?


Doug Hagler said...

Dale, my answer would be that to work for the military in any capacity, one would be supporting what it is that the military does - kill people. (I'm aware they also do a lot of other things, but their primary reason for being, and where the money goes, is toward killing people).

If I were to be a military chaplain, for example, I would have to spend all of my time doing all I could to encourage everyone around me to renounce violence. I doubt they would want that in a chaplain. What I couldn't do is tell soldiers that they were doing the right thing - at least, not as a Christian.

If I worked in a support capacity, I would be contributing to the deaths of innocent people indirectly. I would be building up the violence in the world instead of trying to dismantle it. I would be failing to "render to no one evil for evil" or 'love my enemies'.

Nonviolence isn't a selfish thing where I won't commit violence myself, where I'm concerned with keeping my hands clean. It is a commitment to the idea that violence is wrong as a means, and to doing what I can to resist violence without resorting to it.

Doug Hagler said...

I could see working as a medic, trying to be on the front lines mitigating the destruction of human life in a direct way. The main problem I'd have would be that a military medic doesn't normally serve the wounded among the enemy, so it would still be a situation where one was selectively valuing life.

Aric Clark said...


Doug said much of what I would have said. I could not in good conscience draw a salary from the military. I could volunteer, but they would not want me. I have had long conversations with army chaplain recruiters and they've made it clear to me that my brand of the gospel wouldn't be welcome. One of the specific tasks of a military chaplain is to help soldiers deal in good conscience with killing. That is you are expected by the military to patch a soldier up (psychologically) and get him back into the field in a way useful to the military. I could never do that. I would be preaching peace every day and soon enough I'd be asked not to "help" anymore.

Anonymous said...

Doug - First, a military medic does absolutely serve enemy wounded. I don't know where you get the idea that military medics selectively value life, but I'm not surprised that you'd make that claim. That's disgusting, and you should apologize for it.

Aric, a payed voluntary military is not a mercenary army.

Further, our military chaplains are a blessing. They provide comfort in times of separation from families, and numerous hardships. In my many years in the military, I never fired a shot, and flew weeks on end over hostile areas looking for the worst sorts of genocidal lunatics. Funny, I never saw a pacifist protesting outside their doors. That is perhaps the most maddening part in listening to the idealism expressed by you both here - you protest in the complete safety of the umbrella that police and military personnel provide for you. There are atrocities on a grand scale taking place all over the world, but you stay in the relative safety of your blogosphere and perhaps protest on a safe U.S. city street if it happens to be a Republican President that is currently ordering the bombing.

Here's one more question - I am assuming that you are both well traveled. If you are traveling with your family and someone someone on an airplane attempts to light an IED or forcibly gain access to the cockpit, would you resort to violence or expect someone else to do it for you?


Aric Clark said...


If some guys on a blog on the internets make you angry, don't waste your time with them. This has a tendency to be an incendiary medium, but neither Doug nor I are trying to set you off. You are seeking us out to read what we write in this obscure corner of cyberspace, asking us questions, and then responding to our answers with some hostility. And you think we're wasting our time?

I have no doubt that military chaplains do many wonderful things. They are also required as part of their job description to provide the function of helping soldiers to be psychologically OK with killing people. I have spoken at length with recruiters on this subject when I was genuinely considering it as a career option. I refuse to do that and would therefore not be able in good conscience to do the job. If my having a conscience bothers you... oh well.

Furthermore, you push a very tired line of "if you have an opinion you must back it up with extreme action". So because I believe we should be working to end hunger I should dedicate my life to farming, and because I believe that we should care for the ill I should become a doctor too, etc... etc... I AM acting concretely on my beliefs everyday - I'm a pastor. I have opinions about many things, but am not in a position to act in equal measure on every subject. Neither are you or anyone else, so quit acting as if the only way to keep from being a total hypocrite is to dedicate one's entire life to acting out one opinion.

You assume way too much about people you have never met. I have plenty of family in the military and grew up with a Dad in the Army. I have lived (not just traveled) in 3rd world countries, experienced and worked around poverty and violence, and intend to do so again and again. I agree that there should be pacifists protesting outside the doors of every violent maniac around the world, and that it is awfully easy for some to claim nonviolence in the safety of American Empire. Didn't I say I preferred conscription for exactly this reason? To mitigate the hypocrisy of being a peace-lover in a war-mongering state. But you are also conveniently overlooking the many who have stood in danger's way without violence.

As for your hypothetical situation it is a rigged question - like asking "when did you stop beating your wife?" You assume from the outset that violence or inaction are the only options and present it as such. It is a complete mischaracterization of pacifism, and one I honestly get tired of addressing over and over and over.

In Brief: Pacifism is not quietism or inaction. Pacifism is the active promotion of peace. A pacifist must act to prevent violence in every way possible, including refusing to commit violence for any reason, even facing death.

If anything I've said above makes you angry, go play a game or something. Enjoy your day and forget about those fools you briefly interacted with on the internet. I'm not interested in constantly rehashing the same points or in defending myself from random accusations from complete strangers.

Doug Hagler said...

Yeah, what a surprise, a random stranger from the Internet is angry with me and jumping to conclusions. Let me mark my calendar.

I won't apologize for implying that every military selectively values life. This is fundamental to the existence of a military. I might be misinformed as to military medics caring for enemy wounded in combat. If we have military medics with stories of caring for enemy combatants, I'd be edified to hear them.

Look, Dale, you're probably not like this in person, but you're not in person. You're some random angry guy who found this blog. I'm not going to engage in the thousandth flame war about pacifism. If you want to have a conversation, cool. Pretend like were face to face and go from there.

Dale said...

Well I suppose that's the problem with the written word - most of the message is lost or misinterpreted. You both are wonderful writers, my ramblings tend to be heavily edited and choppy.

I am not a random angry guy, nor do I find pacifism intellectually troubling other than when it is approached as a choice that every Christian should make. I don't mind either one of you extolling the virtues of pacifism, but I consider the idea that military members are mercenaries to be intellectually dishonest and at least mildly insulting (I am not yelling or angry.)

I have no problem with either one of your statements of personal conscientious objection. I will try to take your posts less personally, and maybe you can do the same for mine.

Dale said...

Doug - Here's a link to the Marine Corps Field Medical Training Battalion website -


"Treatment of wounded
Sailors and Marines have a duty to collect and care for the wounded. Prioritize treatment according to injuries. Make NO treatment distinction based on nationality. All soldiers, enemy or friendly, must be treated the same."

If you want numbers of enemy combatants treated, you can probably find that easily by a web search, but you won't find many media stories on specific combatants because doing so would violate the Geneva Conventions.

Doug Hagler said...

Ah, see, that sounds fair, and I learned something that I found heartening. I did not know that even officially no distinction was to be made except based on severity of injury. Given that, I think that being a military medic is something a conscientious objector could do. I can imagine it would be a pretty crushing job sometimes, but like i said, I learned something, which is one of the things that makes this blogging thing worthwhile.

I will probably continue to put pacifism forward as a fundamentally Christian position because I can't think of another way to love our enemies than to, at minimum, commit ourselves not to kill or permanently harm them.

As for the classic terrorist-on-a-plane question, there are tons of ways to restrain someone without injuring them. There are whole martial arts built around that principle. Unless someone was really strong or armed with a knife and knew how to use it, I'm actually pretty sure I could restrain them without hurting them. That's actually what I spent three years in college learning how to do, specifically.

(One of my gripes is that police do not make use of the incredible array of non-lethal force available - I realize it's probably a funding thing, but I'd pay taxes for that)

Just a personal example of how the violence/inaction dichotomy is false.

I also don't think force is necessarily the same as violence, as implied above. For those who are not pacifists, I think that the principle of "minimum force" to accomplish a goal is a good halfway point. There's almost nothing, for example, that a bullet can accomplish which a ranged taser or pancake round cannot. The difference being, if I hit the wrong person with a taser or pancake round, I can apologize later.

Doug Hagler said...

So yeah, I apologize to any combat medics out there. I didn't know that your triage didn't involve ally/enemy distinctions, and I think that's actually very cool. Keep up the good work.

Dale said...

Thanks for keeping an open mind.
Minimum force is something that we can agree on.

I'd like everyone to consider one more important point as well. Whatever you think of our military personnel, there is always a judgment call to be made with what is an adequate level of force. As a rule, the less force our military uses in combat, the more peril our troops face in that mission. They are not martyrs or mercenaries or war-mongers, they are soldiers and sailors that have the same hopes and fears as anyone else would.

I realize that there are courageous pacifists out there too.


Doug Hagler said...

I don't want to give the impression that I have a low opinion of military personnel. Quite the opposite. War is about old men talking and young men dying, isn't that the saying? And I know that the modern military seems to do a lot more than fight - I mean, they're busy building two nations at once, right? And most of the distribution of humanitarian aid falls to them in the warzones we've created.

I buy into Gandhi's idea of a hierarchy of courage. Everyone beings afraid of conflict. The next step in building courage is the ability to violently resist and defend one's self or others. Higher than that is the self-sacrificial courage where one seeks to resist violence without resorting to it. But even Gandhi said that he would rather see someone who had the courage to be violent rather than being paralyzed by fear.

He would say that he could make a nonviolent person out of a violent person any time, but could not make a nonviolent person out of a fearful one.

Dale said...

Maybe another edifying story of
a pacifist that was awarded the medal of honor.


Here's a whole list of army medics that were awarded the medal of honor.


Here's the story of Desmond Doss:

Gandhi served in the Boer War as a medic:

Here's another one about chaplains that have been awarded the medal of honor:

Aric Clark said...


We've gotten somewhat off track from the original post which happens in these discussions. Rest assured I don't hold any kind of blanket low opinion of those serving in our armed forces. Like any walk of life there are real heroes and real jerks. My problem is more at the systemic level. No matter how much of a hero you are you are caught in a web you didn't make which draws battle lines and requires you to shoot at certain people and defend others. The military itself is a sign of brokenness. It matters not if every single person in it were a saint. So long as humans are going to war against other humans we are still falling short of God's Shalom.

My comment about hiring mercenaries wasn't meant to be derogatory toward service members. Rather it was meant to be derogatory toward people like me who preach peace, but pay taxes to fund the military.

Doug Hagler said...

This is of course in reference to soldiers in our volunteer army. Military contractors who fight are in fact, literally, mercenaries; and I think it's fair if the connotations that go with "mercenary" are applied there.