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Posts Tagged ‘Governing Under the Influence’

This article was first published in the Concord Monitor on November 27, 2016.

$1 trillion for nuclear weapons

The 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, passed by Congress and recently signed by President Obama, includes in its 1,320 pages plans for an entire new generation of U.S. nuclear weapons. It’s a big – and expensive – step in the wrong direction.

The NDAA establishes policy and spending guidelines for actual appropriations. It calls explicitly for the United States to redesign our nuclear weapons and “modernize or replace” the submarines, missiles, and bombers designed to deliver them to targets all over the world. The price tag for the whole package is estimated to be in the vicinity of $1 trillion dollars over 3 decades.

How such commitments get made, at a time when our president received the Nobel Peace Prize because he pledged to work for a world free of nuclear weapons, shows that what a previous President, Dwight Eisenhower, called the “military industrial complex” is as powerful as ever.

Take the Long Range Strike Bomber as an example. The Air Force has just awarded a $21 billion contract to Northrop Grumman to build 21 of nuclear-capable plane. According to the Center for Public Integrity, “Lobbyists and officials at Northrop Grumman have spent years greasing the wheels on Capitol Hill to ensure congressional support for the program and for the firm’s central role in it.”

Since 2010, individuals associated with the Virginia-based corporation have contributed $4.6 million to 224 members of Congress who sit on key committees, such as Armed Services and Appropriations. The company has laid out another $85 million for a troop of 100 lobbyists, among them five former members of Congress.

Another program would design and build a new submarine, generally known as the “Ohio-class replacement,” or SSBN(x). The Navy wants 12 of them, at a cost estimated at $100 billion. Each sub will be able to launch 16 missiles, each missile with up to 8 independently targetable nuclear warheads, each warhead ranging from 100 kilotons (or nearly 8 times the size of the bomb that demolished Hiroshima) to 475 kilotons (more than 36 times the size of the Hiroshima bomb).

In other words, we are talking about a range of 12,000 to 55,000 Hiroshimas.

Unsure where they would get the money for this nuclear overkill capacity, Navy officials hatched an idea called the “National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund,” a budget gimmick which enables the Defense Department to shift money from other accounts into the submarine construction budget. The plan had an ally in a key position to help.

“The Navy’s effort to find non-Navy offsets to pay for its new ballistic missile submarines was thought a hopeless cause when it began last year, Breaking Defense reported. “But with the help of House Armed Services Committee seapower subcommittee chairman Randy Forbes (R-VA), the Navy has so effectively lobbied Congress that the plan received a strong vote of support earlier this year on the House floor and made it through conference unscathed.” Breaking Defense called the funding mechanism “a naked budget grab at the expense of sister services.”

Congressman Forbes’ district, in southeastern Virginia, sits next to the Norfolk Naval Station, the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, and Huntington Ingalls’ shipyard in Newport News. OpenSecrets.org lists “Miscellaneous Defense” and “Defense Aerospace” as the two business sectors most devoted to his election campaigns. Among Forbes’ most faithful donors over his 13-year Congressional career are shipbuilders Huntington Ingalls and General Dynamics, as well as Lockheed Martin, which builds the Trident missiles (at a cost of $37 million each). Other Forbes backers include Leidos, Honeywell, Northrup Grumman, and BAE.

In addition to the new bomber and new submarines, the NDAA also includes funds for new missiles and “modernized” nuclear warheads to be built by companies including Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and others, all with PACs and teams of lobbyists working hard to win access to the taxpayers’ money.

Eisenhower Warned Us

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex,” President Eisenhower warned in his farewell speech in 1961. He could not have been more prophetic when he added, “The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

There is no presidential power more awesome than authority over the nation’s arsenal of nuclear weapons. For the chief executive, there is no responsibility greater than the need to prevent global nuclear holocaust. Yet the topic rarely comes up on the presidential campaign trail.

That can change if voters and reporters pay heed. Candidates for president should be asked how they will make sure the military industrial complex does not have unwarranted influence over our foreign and military policy. As Eisenhower said, “Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

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“War is good business for those in the business of war,” write William Hartung and Stephen Miles in a recent Huffington Post article.  Noting estimates of $12 million a day in outright waste, fraud, and abuse during the recent (or ongoing?) wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, they suggest the new (renewed?) war in Iraq and Syria will be a “prime opportunity for outright corruption and malfeasance.”

What’s more, more war means higher profits for arms manufacturers like Raytheon, which makes “Tomahawk” cruise missiles.  “The stock prices of the Pentagon’s top contractors have hit all-time highs since the recent wars in Iraq and Syria started two months ago,” Hartung and Miles report.

This is not some kind of coincidence.  It’s Governing Under the Influence. #GUI

Take the example of Stephen Hadley, former National Security Advisor to President George W. Bush.  He chairs the board of the US Institute of Peace (this is a true fact!).  

Hadley sits on Raytheon’s Board of Directors and chairs its public affairs committee.  For his service he was paid $253,482 last year.stephen hadley

Hadley also writes pro-war op-eds for the Washington Post, reports littlesis.org, and has backed Israel’s aggression in Gaza, where Raytheon profits from sales to the Israeli military.  

Hadley’s connection to Raytheon is not disclosed in his bio at the Institute of Peace, nor was it revealed in various columns and interviews cited by Littlesis.org.

Littlesis.org calls this a “conflict of interest” for Hadley.  It sounds to me that his interest is pretty straightforward.  

(Disclosure:  the author of this piece is a salaried employee of an anti-war organization.)

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But will the debate over the influence of mega-corporations continue to animate political debate?

This article was first published in New Hampshire Business Review.

Passage last month of a bill to keep the federal government running also extended the life of the Export-Import Bank, a controversial federal agency, until June 2015. The measure may also extend the life of an inside-the-GOP debate over “corporate cronyism” and mega-corporations that succeed in business due more to their political connections than their entrepreneurial prowess. Such debate is welcome.

In case you haven’t paid attention to discussions going on among conservative members of Congress and in the conference rooms at conservative think-tanks, right-wingers have taken to denouncing the cozy ties between big government and big business. The Ex-Im Bank, which provides loan guarantees to U.S. corporations peddling their goods and services in other countries, may provide the political context, but the principles reach far into other sectors of the economy and federal policy.

Speaking about the Export Import Bank and the “conservative reform agenda” in April at the Heritage Foundation, Senator Mike Lee of Utah, a possible Republican

2014 04 12 mike lee @ freedom summit

Senator Mike Lee at the “Freedom Summit” in Manchester

presidential candidate, denounced “America’s crisis of crony capitalism, corporate welfare and political privilege: In which government twists public policy to unfairly benefit favored special interests at the expense of everyone else.”

This is the stuff of fire-breathing populism, not what we expect to hear at Heritage.

But Senator Lee continued: “The more power government amasses, the more privileges are bestowed on the government’s friends, the more businesses invest in influence instead of innovation, the more advantages accrue to the biggest special interests with the most to spend on politics and the most to lose from fair competition.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, another conservative Republican considering a run for president, has made similar statements. “Big companies may not like big government, but they can afford to deal with it,” he said at a GOP fundraiser in New Hampshire.

The senators remind us of President Eisenhower warning the American people to “guard against the unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial-complex.”

Take Boeing, the aerospace company that ranks second among Pentagon contractors and has also attracted the ire of Ex-Im Bank critics.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Boeing’s hangar houses 85 lobbyists. Its annual tab for lobbying runs to about $15 million a year, and more than $9 million already in 2014.

That amount may be understated. Political scientists believe actual lobbying expenses are three times the amount disclosed on official forms

There’s more to cronyism than money spent on lobbyists. There’s the issue of the “revolving door,” people who go from elected office and jobs on Capitol Hill or the Pentagon to more lucrative careers at lobbying firms. Boeing’s lobbyists include four former members of Congress plus a firm founded by former House Speaker Richard Gephardt. In Eisenhower’s terms, Boeing’s influence is definitely “sought.”

Big companies also grease the wheels through campaign contributions, especially to incumbent members of Congress in leadership roles.

CQ Roll Call reported last month that “four of the top five candidates for the chairmanships of the House Armed Services and Intelligence panels have raised considerably more money this election cycle than they did at a similar point in 2012. The same four have also raised much more money from the defense industry than before – in some cases, more than doubling their takes.”

Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, is a contender for the chairmanship of the House Armed Services Committee. According to CQ Roll Call, Thornberry has more than doubled his take from defense firms compared to the previous election cycle. Number five on Thornberry’s campaign committee donor list is Boeing.

The federal government and the Export-Import Bank have avoided shutdown for the time being. But the notion that mega-corporations have too much influence over federal policy has found new champions and should outlast the Ex-Im debate. Perhaps even the Democrats will join in.

Governing Under the Influence, #GUI

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