At $34 billion, you’re already counting pretty high. After all, that’s Harvard’s endowment; it’s the amount of damage the triple hurricanes — Charley, Ivan, and Jeanne — inflicted in 2004; it’s what car crashes involving 15-to-17-year-old teenage drivers mean yearly in "medical expenses, lost work, property damage, quality of life loss and other related costs"; it’s the loans the nation’s largest, crippled, home lender, Countrywide Financial, holds for home-equity lines of credit and second liens; it’s Citigroup’s recent write-off, mainly for subprime exposure; it’s what New Jersey’s tourism industry is worth — and, according to the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, it’s the minimal figure for the Pentagon’s "black budget" for fiscal year 2009 — money for, among other things, "classified weapons purchases and development," money for which the Pentagon will remain unaccountable because almost no Americans will have any way of knowing what it’s being spent for.

Now, imagine that, due to a little more Pentagon/Bush administration wizardry, even this black budget estimate is undoubtedly a low-ball figure. One reason is simple enough: The proposed $541 billion Pentagon 2009 budget doesn’t even include money for actual wars. George W. Bush’s wars are all paid for by "supplemental" bills like the $162 billion one Congress will soon pass — so the Department of Defense’s $34 billion black budget skips "war-related funding." This means that even the overall figure for that budget remains darker than we might imagine (as in "black hole"). The Pentagon not only produces stealth planes, it is, in budgetary terms, a stealth operation. If honestly accounted, the actual Pentagon yearly budget, including all the "military-related" funds salted away elsewhere, is probably now more than $1 trillion a year.

There is, however, another stealth side to the Pentagon–the corporate side where a range of giant companies you’ve never heard of are gobbling up our tax dollars at phenomenal rates. Nick Turse, author of the single best account of how our lives are being militarized, our civilian economy Pentagonized, and the Pentagon privatized–I’m talking about The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives–just offered us all a glimpse into the stealth corporate side of the Pentagon, the ever larger black hole into which our tax dollars pour. He did a portrait of five companies–he calls them "billion-dollar babies"–that take in more than a billion dollars yearly from the Pentagon, but whose bland names will be utterly unfamiliar to all but the most inside of insiders. What, after all, do you know about MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings Inc. (Total DoD dollars in 2007: $3,360,739,032) or DRS Technologies, Inc. (Total DoD dollars in 2007: $1,791,321,140)?

He concludes: "When the history of the Iraq War is finally written, chances are that these five billion-dollar babies, and most of the other defense contractors involved in making the U.S. occupation possible, will be left out. Until we begin coming to grips with the role of such corporations in creating the material basis for an imperial foreign policy, we’ll never be able to grasp fully how the Pentagon works and why we so regularly make war in, and carry out occupations of, distant lands."