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Posts Tagged ‘military spending’

Stamp Stampede, an organization founded by Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry’s, held a rally at the State House in Concord on July 30 to bolster efforts to "stamp money out of politics."  I was one of the speakers.  The following is based on my prepared remarks.  Click here for a video of what I actually said.

Quakers say no one has all the truth and everyone has a piece of the truth, soP7300025

we need to look for truth in unusual places.  It’s interesting that one of the prophets we look to now is Dwight Eisenhower, a 5-star general, who warned about “the acquisition of unwarranted power by the military industrial complex.”

Pentagon contractors invested $27 million in candidates for Congress in the 2012 election cycle.

Just the top ten Pentagon contractors spent $23 Million on politics.  For that they received $202 billion in contracts last year.   Not a bad return on investment.

The Pentagon contractors spend $128 million a year spent on lobbying, conducted in many cases by former members of Congress, former Pentagon officials, former high-level Congressional staff members.  This is what we call the “revolving door.”

They hold job fairs for retiring generals and admirals looking for lucrative careers selling weapons back to their former colleagues. 

 

They sponsor trade groups, such as the Aerospace Industries Association, the Aircraft Carrier Industrial Base Coalition, the Submarine Industrial Base Council, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems (the trade group for drone makers), the Shipbuilders Council of America, the Surface Navy Association, the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association, and more.

They sponsor “think tanks.”

They sponsor the media, for example Politico’s “Morning Defense” newsletter, brought to me each day by Northrup Grumman.

They even donate to the pet charitable projects of spouses of members of the Congressional armed service committees.

P7300029This is a classic case of what we call “governing under the influence,” or GUI.

And it’s not just the military industrial complex:

It’s the Wall Street industrial complex, the prison industrial complex, the pharmaceutical industrial complex, the fossil fuel industrial complex, and more,

They are all practicing GUI to corrupt the political process and serve private interest at the public’s expense.

If DUI is a hazard to the people on our roads and sidewalks, GUI is a hazard to democracy.

If DUI needs to be approached as a public health problem of great importance, GUI needs to be seen as a political health problem of the greatest importance.

But while DUI is a crime, GUI is entirely legal.  And it’s gotten more legal due to the Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions which further opened the gates for floods of cash to flow into the political system from billionaires aP7300017nd corporations. 

The rich are getting richer.

The mega-rich are getting mega- richer.

The giga-rich are getting giga-richer.

And it is easy for them to recycle their wealth into the political system to generate policies that generate more wealth for themselves, leading to higher inequality, less democracy.   

Eisenhower said only “an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing” of industrial might with democracy’s needs.

Article 10 of the New Hampshire Bill of Rights says:

Government being instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security, of the whole community, and not for the private interest or emolument of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore, whenever the ends of government are perverted, and public liberty manifestly endangered, and all other means of redress are ineffectual, the people may, and of right ought to reform the old, or establish a new government.

We say people power can be stronger than corporate power and we say today we have not yet exhausted all other means of redress.  

We are calling on the candidates to tell us what they will do to end the GUI system.

We are asking:

What will they do to make sure the corporations that profit from building weapons of mass destruction are not determining our foreign policy?

What will they do to make sure corporations that own and manage prisons are not running our immigration and corrections policies?

What will they do to make sure our police departments don’t become just another profit center for the military industrial complex?

What will they do to make sure our political system is based on the principle of one person one vote, not the principle of one dollar one vote?

So far we have trained more than 500 people in NH and a couple hundred more in Iowa.  The GUI project is putting the candidates on the spot and documenting their responses.

The GUI system is strong, but not invulnerable.  It has a crack that opens in NH and Iowa.

We have a little over six months to make sure the candidates hear from us.

End GUI.

Stamp money out of politics.

P7300048

Ben Cohen, founder of Stamp Stampede

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“Even a Senator Can Learn Something”

I wrote this for the American Friends Service Committee’s “Governing Under the Influence” website.  See more at http://gui.afsc.org/

The Concord Snowshoe Club, a rustic and out-of-the-way venue in New Hampshire’s capital city, was the site of a kick-off event for Senator Lindsey Graham’s possible presidential campaign on Sunday afternoon, March 8.

Hosted by the City Republicans, the “Politics and Pies” event was free, open to GOP members and unaffiliated voters, and open as well to the press.  Senator Graham arrived on time, took a position by the fireplace, gave a short speech about his priorities, and responded to questions for more than an hour.

Graham is an aggressively hawkish critic of President Obama’s foreign and military policy, but at the same time takes a perspective on domestic issues that tends P3080063toward the pragmatic rather than the ideological.   Immigration is an example.

Graham was among the 14 Republicans who voted with the Senate majority for a complex immigration reform bill in 2013.  Had it passed the House, the bill would have increased funds for “border security” (i.e. more police, soldiers, weapons, and fences for the US-Mexican border) and created a tortuous path that would have enabled many of the country’s 11 million undocumented residents to gain legal status and qualify eventually for citizenship.  Graham described it as a “rational and practical” approach to immigration.

In the Q&A session, I asked Senator Graham about the budget provision which mandates that federal authorities have 34,000 immigrants in detention on any given day.   “The big beneficiaries of this seem to be the private prison companies, the for-profit companies, which is where about half of the immigrants are housed.  And of course they turn around the profits and lobby for more prisons and immigration policies that benefit them,” I said, asking how we can get to a rational policy in the face of such realities.

“I thought I knew everything about immigration until now,” Senator Graham responded.  “Even a Senator can learn something.”

Without discussing the detention bed mandate, Senator Graham launched into an explanation of the need for immigration reform, starting with the fact that the reason so many immigrants are coming here is to work and that the country has a long-term labor shortage.   The Senator also believes GOP support for immigration reform will help the party woo Hispanic voters.

In response to a question from Rev. Dwight Haynes about a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, Graham said he “would like to control money in politics to the extent that it will destroy the political process.”

“Here’s what we’re going to lose in democracy if we don’t have control over the money.  The most influential people in the country will be the ones with the most money, and the ads you see on TV ad nauseum, you don’t know where they’re coming from, you don’t know who’s responsible for them.”  Graham said he wouldP3080048 support a constitutional amendment as long as it applies to union funds as well as funds from corporations.   Then he joked he wouldn’t walk as far as Granny D did. 

Senator Graham spent much of the time outlining his support for higher levels of military spending, aggressive action in the Middle East, and a “generational struggle to defeat radical Islam.”

“You could close Gitmo tomorrow and give the Palestinians everything they’ve ever hoped for and this would still be trying to kill us, Israel and everybody that disagrees with them because God commands them to do so,” he said.  “They’re crazy.”

Senator Graham has launched a political committee, Security Through Strength, to help him “’test the waters’ for a potential 2016 run for president.”  We can look forward to picking up where this discussion left off next time he’s in town. 

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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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New Hampshire Peace Action’s annual meeting today in Sanbornton featured a7-13-13 sanbornton 017 presentation by Mike Prokosch of he New Priorities Project on the national campaign to alter federal budget priorities away from militarism and toward social justice objectives.  

“We are not necessarily the prime movers,” Prokosch said to the assembly of more than 40 members of the statewide peace group.  “We need to be allies with the people who will benefit the most.”

Prokosch’s recounting of the movement to transfer federal spending from war-making to programs that meet human needs referred back to the 1970s “transfer amendment” and demands from black leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. for the government to turn away from war and toward the needs of poor communities.  

For me, his message conjured up memories of several decades of “fair budget coalitions,” “fair budget action campaigns,” priorities projects, and the like, none of which seem to have made much of an impact on the federal budget.

The new effort, 7-13-13 sanbornton 030which began in the period following the 2008 economic collapse, might be different, Prokosch suggested.  Bringing the peace movement together with community organizing networks, faith groups, and organized labor at a time when  competition for federal resources is fierce, the latest “move the money” movement is built on a “long term, grassroots, and big tent” approach, he said.

“It’s clear we have a long term fight on our hands,” he said, and “the peace movement doesn’t have the strength to do this alone.”

In fact, under its current leadership, the US House of Representatives is already trying to “move the money,” but in the wrong direction, from social programs toward more militarism.   But this creates an opportunity, Prokosch insisted, for peace activists to build relationships with people who care about the victims of austerity budgets.

The type of organizing that’s needed requires more than slogans and graphs.  It has to be done “in a deep way,” taking peace activists outside their comfort zones, for example building alliances with military production workers who might understand that budget politics and world changes will put pressure on the Pentagon to reduce spending.  The corporations that profit from weapons production won’t drive the transition to a new economy, he said, but workers who care about the futures of their communities have incentives to consider alternatives.  

A agenda focused on jobs, services, fair taxes, and cuts in Pentagon spending can provide common ground for a coalition that can achieve long-term c7-13-13 sanbornton 005hange.  To illustrate the potential, Prokosch described last years’ “Budget for All” referendum in Massachusetts, where voters endorsed a “move the money” resolution by 3:1 margins in diverse districts, including ones that chose Mitt Romney for President.  

NH Peace Action’s Will Hopkins said the organization is planning to bring similar  resolutions to NH Town Meetings next year.  (Contact him for  more information.)

The Peace Action members also held a brief business meeting at which they elected their board for the coming year.  NH Peace Action is lamperti 7-13-13 sanbornton 009a statewide membership group, affiliated with the NH Peace Action Education Fund.  Board Chair John Lamperti did a good job explaining the relationship between the two entities and the tax categories that limit what they can do and affect how they raise funds.   

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When is a “Town Hall Meeting” not a “Town Hall Meeting?”

When attendance is limited to employees of a self-interested foreign corporation that is playing host to a reverse lobbying event.

The event in question is the “Preserving America’s Strength” show being staged by U.S. Senators Kelly Ayotte, John McCain, and Lindsey Graham on Tuesday morning, July 31 at BAE Systems in Merrimack. The Senators say they are trying to “sound the alarm” about the economic impact of cuts in military spending if the Pentagon is forced to cut $500 Billion from its budget over the next ten years.

The budget cuts, taken from a ten-year budget of about $5.5 Trillion, would be matched by an equal amount of cuts in non-military spending under a process known on Capitol Hill as “sequestration.” This would come after a decade in which Pentagon spending has risen by more than 35 per cent, even after accounting for inflation and excluding the costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Members of the public are not invited to the “Town Hall Meeting.”

That means the Senators are not likely to get questions about the job or economic impact of cuts in areas such as housing, nutrition assistance, health care, education, and environmental protection.

Nor are they likely to hear that canceling the Pentagon budget cuts will either mean deeper cuts in human needs programs, higher taxes, continued deficit spending, or some combination of the three.

It’s possible that no one present will point out the United States military spending is already almost as much as that of all the other nations of the world combined and that many of the big-spenders among them are our allies.

While cuts in weapons production — not to be confused with cuts in pay or benefits for active duty and retired members of the armed services — would lead to job losses in those industries, a recent report from Senator Tom Harkin says “the economic effects of cuts to nondefense programs could be worse than cuts to Pentagon spending.” According to Sen. Harkin’s analysis, sequestration would cut $3.5 million from special education funding in New Hampshire, costing the state 44 jobs and reducing services to infants and children. $1.2 million in Head Start cuts would cost 41 jobs and eliminate services for 194 more children. Cancer screening for women, low income heating assistance, family violence prevention, assistance for unemployed workers, and dozens of other programs assisting people in New Hampshire would suffer.

Even the Aerospace Industry Association says cuts in non-defense programs would have a more harmful effect on the nation’s economy than would cuts in defense spending.

“$1 billion spent on each of the domestic spending priorities will create substantially more jobs within the U.S. economy than would the same $1 billion spent on the military,” according to a recent report from the UMASS Political Economy Research Institute.

“Dollar for dollar, clean energy and health care support 50% more jobs than defense spending, and education supports more than twice as many,” says Heidi Garrett-Peltier, co-author of the UMASS study. “Cutting the budget for education, then, results in twice as many jobs lost as cutting the budget for defense.”

Surely “America’s strength” is built on more than just weapons. A strong country requires a strong domestic economy, educated youth, a healthy population, and clean air and water. And a vibrant democracy needs actual public dialogue on pressing issues, not staged roadshows by elected officials who are supposed to be working for the people.

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reprinted from the Concord Monitor, Nov. 14, 2010

Senator Gregg:

The recommendations from Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, co-chairs of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility, released last Wednesday, include some interesting ideas. But they stray from the major factors which drove up the deficit over the past decade. As you and the other members of commission complete your work in the next two weeks, we hope you will focus on reversing tax cuts, decreasing military spending, and ending the recession.

Let’s start with the recession, which has forced millions of people nationwide onto the unemployment rolls. Even with New Hampshire’s unemployment rate far below the national average, 40,070 of our neighbors were not paying income taxes in September, nor were they contributing to the funds for Social Security and Medicare. Even with the economic picture brightening a bit, use of food stamps in New Hampshire has risen every month for the past year. Getting people back to work has to be the top priority of any effort to reduce deficits in the long-term, even if it costs money in the short run.

Today, military-related programs, including operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, account for more than half of the federal discretionary budget, those items that are affected by annual congressional votes. According to the Sustainable Defense Task Force, a group of experts convened by U.S. Reps. Ron Paul and Barney Frank, increased defense spending accounts for nearly 65 percent of the increases in federal discretionary spending since 2001. Serious deficit-cutters need to look there for savings.

The defense spending recommendations from Bowles and Simpson, including cutting our overseas military bases by one-third, are a good place to start. The Sustainable Defense Task Force has more, adding up to $1 trillion that can be saved over the next 10 years without harming our fundamental ability to defend the country from 21st-century threats.

The federal tax cuts enacted during the George W. Bush administration are the third major contributor to the deficit and will cost the federal treasury another $3.4 trillion over the next 10 years if they are allowed to continue. While no one wants to pay more in taxes, the wealthiest Americans can afford to see their rates return to the levels of nine years ago. That would reduce the deficit by about $70 billion a year over the next decade.

Some areas should be off the table. Social Security is not in need of a major overhal. Rising costs of Medicare and Medicaid are tied to the rising cost of health care in general and should be addressed by steps that put halth care costs under control.

Our state saw a record number of home foreclosures this year, and personal and business bankruptcies are taking place at a rising pace, despite some positive indications of economic recovery. Unless they can propose a way to cap layoffs, foreclosures and illnesses, the deficit cutters should stay away from food stamps, unemployment benefits, child care, housing subsidies and other programs that aid the neediest Americans.

Senator Gregg, the report of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility, expected Dec. 1, will be one of your final acts in the U.S. Senate. We hope you will agree that the deficit can be addressed by putting Americans back to work, cutting military programs that do little for our actual defense, and eliminating unnecessary tax breaks, all without cutting into the programs that keep people fed, housed and healthy.

After all, the budget is an expression of our moral values, not just our economic needs.

(Arnie Alpert is New Hampshire program coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee.)

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