If you thought it impossible to top the image of Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-CA)
around a Rolls Royce and living on a yacht thanks to defense industry cash,
just stop and take a look Lloyd
Grove's story today in the New York Daily News. Yes, you are reading it
right – a defense contractor has gotten so rich off taxpayer cash
he actually held a $10 million bat mitzvah for his daughter, featuring 50 Cent,
Tom Petty and Aerosmith, among others. That's right - a $10 million. On a bat
What do the Cunningham and $10 million bat mitzvah stories have to do with
each other? In their own ways, they each touch on a subject that we rarely ever
discuss in America: defense industry profiteering.
We hear a lot out of Washington about how we need to cut programs for the poor
and middle class, in order to deal with the deficit or finance new tax cuts.
The rhetoric makes it seem as if these programs are the real culprit driving
our country into oceans of red ink.
But a quick look at the numbers shows that it is defense/security spending
that is soaring, while
non-defense discretionary spending has been flat. For a more local view
of how most of your tax dollars go to defense and not "social programs,"
this 2005 study by the National Priorities Project.
To be sure - there has been a real need to shift more resources into homeland
security and other specialized programs targeting terrorists. But few can argue
that the stink of defense industry profiteering hasn't been wafting out of Washington
since the Bush administration took over. We've heard countless stories of private
defense companies with connections to the Bush administration pocketing
multi-billion dollar contracts and then overcharging our government. We've
deals that have raised the ire of nonpartisan watchdogs. And now, with Cunningham,
we've gotten a glimpse at the pay-to-play auction that is going on the Defense
Appropriations Committees. Even many necessary defense programs get sucked into
this profiteering net, with defense contractors charging exorbitant prices for
their goods/services (for instance, the $10 million bat mitzvah sponsor produces
armor - but having that much cash means there's likely more going on there than
just "doing well by doing good").
Most politicians of both parties are either too bought off, or too frightened
of being labeled "weak" to even talk about defense industry profiteering.
They simply throw
more and more money at the defense industry, with almost no regard as to
whether what we are spending money on will actually help us effectively shore
up our national security in a 21st century where we face unconventional threats.
They are rewarded
with huge campaign contributions from a politically
well-connected defense industry swimming in cash.
But while politicians may be too corrupt or too pathetically wimpy to address
defense spending seriously, former Reagan
Pentagon official Larry Korb notes that there's one group of people who
clearly support a major reevaluation of defense spending: the vast majority
of Americans. As Korb
"[A] survey conducted by the Program for International Policy
Alternatives shows that 65 percent of the American public believes the federal
government should transfer tax dollars out of several areas of the defense
budget that have nothing to do with fighting the global war on terrorism."
And Korb points out there are ways to immediately start seeing savings - savings
that could be put either into more important national security priorities, or
other pressing priorities altogether:
"Over $40 billion in savings from wasteful Pentagon programs
could be achieved quickly – by cutting only the most egregious examples
of misplaced priorities. These programs include the F-22 Raptor fighter jet
and Virginia Class submarines, designed to achieve superiority over Soviet
jets and submarines that were never built; missile defense, proposed when
terrorists were not our primary enemy; bases in Asia, Europe and here at home
that are irrelevant in today's geopolitical reality."
Before anyone tries to paint these facts with the pathetically hackneyed "weak
on national security" brush, remember - it was none other than neoconservative
poster boy Donald Rumsfeld who recently advocated
for military "transformation" - including major
cuts to outdated weapons systems that contractors
were getting fat off of.
And though Rumsfeld has since backed off his efforts, the Cunningham fiasco
and the fact that a defense contractor has $10 million to throw around on a
bat mitzvah should remind us that the defense industry is getting hugely wealthy
off of America's misguided national security policy - a policy that allows defense
industry profiteering to go on with no restriction, a policy clearly pushed
by this industry as a way to make more money.
Whereas in eras past, courageous leaders like Harry
Truman opened up investigations into this kind of profiteering, today, lawmakers
go out of their way to actually prevent scrutiny. Remember, it was the Senate
last year that voted
down legislation to create stiffer penalties for war profiteers, and it
was Vice President Cheney who went to the Senate floor to curse
off the bill's sponsors for having the nerve to even raise the issue.
When will it end? When lawmakers of both parties start putting America's national
security concerns over the concerns of their defense industry campaign donors.
In an era where every politician wants to be "pro-national security"
- allowing defense industry profiteering is exactly the opposite. It drains
resources away from the programs that actually protect our troops but have been
underfunded, and it undermines
a more effective 21st century defense policy that would better protect America.
UPDATE: Joe Bua points out that the defense contractor
whose owner held a $10 million bat mitzvah actually produced potentially
defective products that may unnecessarily have put our troops in harms
David Sirota is a writer and veteran political strategist.
He just completed a book for Random House's Crown Publishers entitled "Hostile
Takeover" - it will be released in the Spring of 2006. Sirota is currently
the co-chairperson of the Progressive Legislative Action Network (PLAN).
- a position he took after finishing a two-year stint at the Center
for American Progress. Sirota is currently a Senior Editor at In
These Times magazine, and a regular contributor to The
Nation magazine. He is also a twice-weekly guest on the Al Franken Show.