- By Blake Hounshell
Blake Hounshell is managing editor at Foreign Policy, having formerly been Web editor. Hounshell oversees ForeignPolicy.com and has commissioned and edited numerous cover stories for the print magazine, including National Magazine Award finalist "Why Do They Hate Us?" by Mona Eltahawy. He also edits The Cable, FP's first foray into daily original reporting, and was editor of Colum Lynch's Turtle Bay, which in 2011 won a National Magazine award for best reporting in a digital format.
Blake joined Foreign Policy in 2006 after living in Cairo, where he studied Arabic, missed his Steelers finally win one for the thumb, and worked for the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies. Blake was a 2011 finalist for the Livingston Awards prize for young journalists for his reporting on the Arab uprisings, and his Twitter feed was named one of Time magazine's "140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2011." Under his leadership, in 2008, Passport, FP's flagship blog, won Media Industry Newsletter's "Best of the Web" award in the blog category. Along with Elizabeth Dickinson, he edited Southern Tiger: Chile's Fight for a Democratic and Prosperous Future, the memoirs of former Chilean president Ricardo Lagos, published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2012.
A graduate of Yale University, Blake speaks mangled Arabic and French, is an avid runner, and lives in Washington with his wife, musician Sandy Choi, and their toddler, David. Follow him on Twitter @blakehounshell.
The latest tempest in a teapot in this season of austerity? Congressional outrage over the Justice Department’s spending on food and beverages at one of its conferences in 2009. An inspector general’s audit report found that the department paid $4,200 for 250 muffins and $2,880 for 300 cookies and brownies.
"By itemizing these costs, with service and gratuity, muffins cost over $16 each and cookies and brownies cost almost $10 each," the report reads.
Never mind that this analysis is not necessarily accurate. Chuck Grassley, the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, issued a statement decrying the muffin-spending: "The Justice Department appears to be blind to the economic realities our country is facing."
Frank Wolf, whose committee oversees the Justice Department in the House, chimed in with his own letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder:
"It is clear that while American taxpayers were tightening their belts and making difficult financial decisions, the department was splurging on wasteful snacks and drinks as well as unnecessary event planning ‘consultants.’"
OK, let’s stipulate that spending $16, or even $10, for a muffin is excessive, and a waste of taxpayer money. But give me a break — this kind of spending is hardly the problem.
Not only are spiraling health-care costs the real cause of America’s long-term budget woes — something Congress has done hardly anything to address — but defense spending is by far the biggest chunk of annual discretionary spending. The Pentagon can’t even pass an audit, and won’t be able to do so until 2017, according to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s Senate testimony today. With the enthusiastic patronage of Congress, the U.S. military spends tens of billions of dollars on weapons systems that either don’t work as adverstised (Future Combat Systems, anyone?), cost far more than budgeted (all of them), or are wholly unnecessary (remember the Kafkaesque fight over the Joint Strike Fighter’s "alternate engine"?).
The Justice Department’s entire budget request for 2012 is $28 billion — less than what the U.S. spends in Iraq and Afghanistan in three months. Before it was cut to only $200 million in July, the Pentagon’s budget for military bands was $325 million. Military bands!
But by all means, rant about the muffins…