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Ben Cohen's Pentagon Dream

This weekend on Ezra Klein's blog, Nicholas Beaudrot posted a neat picture of a pie graph affixed to a car that showed relative levels of discretionary federal budget spending. The graph-mobile is effective at making its point: Pentagon spending dominates half the chart, dwarfing all other expenditures. It was designed by Caucus4Priorities, a nonprofit on a mission to cut about 15 percent of the Pentagon's budget--$60 billion--and invest it in social programs such as providing health care for children and rebuilding public schools.
The campaign was founded by Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, who's come up with some creative ideas to raise awareness: stacking Oreos to show how Congress divides the budget, handing out free ice cream in Iowa, and making the case for spending reduction on 'The Colbert Report.' The campaign, which endorsed John Edwards on Friday (despite Biden and Richardson's superior scores on the group's issue scorecard) is hoping to turn out the 10,000 supporters who've signed a pledge to support a candidate with their priorities in the democratic caucus. Whether or not they'll actually be able to get those 10,000 supporters to the caucus for Edwards is definitely suspect, but in a state with roughly 124,000 Democratic caucus-goers, any significant fraction would be a much-needed boost.
It's interesting to watch how the Democrats are negotiating the military overspending issue. In 2000, Al Gore was in favor of more military spending than Bush, and John Kerry, though never entirely precise on the figures, supported military expansions that were likely to keep the defense budget at levels as high as they were under W., if not higher. Evidence of antiquated weapons programs and rampant mismanagement in Iraq are unlikely to move the needle; the fear of being painted by Republicans as an effete, weak-on-defense peacenik isn't going to go anywhere. At the moment, none of the top-tier candidates are proposing any significant cuts to military spending. In fact, most are proposing expansions to the military, which will of course create new expenses, and receiving donations from defense contractors. The questionnaire Edwards filled out for the group is telling: he left over half the answers blank, leaving one to wonder how much the "Iowans for Sensible Priorities" are going to be able to get serious treatment on the issue.

 --Marin Cogan