Thursday, April 9, 2009

Permanent War Economy Redux

I just came from a coffee with Congressman Jim Cooper and a few other bloggers--the first of many, I’m told, so if you’re a Nashville blogger who didn’t get word of this meeting, don’t feel left out, as there will be others.

Our conversation hopscotched around a variety of topics, but one issue of interest to me was Defense Secretary Gates’ plan to halt production of the F-22 in late 2011. It’s a decision Cooper supports--I liked his statement earlier this week that "we no longer have the luxury of running the Defense Department as a hometown jobs program”--but it’s significant that Cooper and Sen. John McCain were the only members of Congress to signal support for the plan.

It of course all comes down to politics, and Cooper told us that of the 60 people on the Armed Services Committee, “I may be the only one who doesn’t have a major defense contractor or base in their district.” It’s why Lockheed Martin's F-22 is assembled from parts made in 44 states, he noted; that's not a manufacturing necessity, but a political one. It spreads their sphere of influence over a broad swath of congressional districts.

What’s alarming is that our snooze media has done its usual half-assed job of reporting on the proposed Pentagon budget, framing it as a budget cut when it is in fact a budget increase. And while lots of attention has been given to the phase-out of the F-22, not too much attention has been given to the part of Gates’ budget which calls for accelerating production of the F-35.

Republican Senators Chambliss and Isakson have vowed to keep F-22 production going, and they will make an economic argument, which I find morally reprehensible:
His tactic likely will be to target union-state Democrats and convince them that the F-22 is a "shovel-ready" jobs program and a necessary deterrent.

Excuse me, but if you base your economy on building weapons, then aren’t you also basing your economy on war? Aren’t you pretty much guaranteeing more unnecessary debacles like Iraq? What are we building all of these weapons for, if not to use them? If they're just for "show," as a "deterrent," then how many of these damn things do we need?

It’s a popular saying these days that America no longer manufactures anything; I’ve probably said it myself. But it’s not true. We make weapons. Lots of ’em.

Isn’t this the “permanent war economy” we’ve all said we don’t want?

Over in Fort Worth, Texas, Lockheed Martin expects to do very nicely under Gates’ proposed budget, the F-22 notwithstanding:

Even with no additional F-22 work, Lockheed Aeronautics, which is based in Fort Worth, should "be a $20 billion company within five years," Stevenson said. It was worth $11.5 billion last year.

Wall Street analysts were nearly unanimous in the view that Lockheed should fare well under Gates’ plan.

Gee, that’s nice. Too bad about that ethanol plant that just declared bankruptcy, though. Ditto these biofuels producers that also declared bankruptcy in recent weeks.

I’m trying to remember the last time a defense contractor went bankrupt.

It’s certainly disappointing to me that our best argument supporting the phase-out of an expensive and obsolete fighter jet is that “we’re still increasing the Pentagon’s budget, so quit yer whining!” Why is there never a conversation about slashing the size of our military, period? And by the way: Why are we still spending $10 billion a month on Iraq?

I can certainly foresee a future in which political pressure on "union-state Democrats" wins out, and we keep manufacturing the F-22 so Georgia doesn’t lose any jobs while at the same time boosting production of the F-35 for the people in Texas. And this is how we grow our military and maintain the power and influence of the military industrial complex. The permanent war economy is here and it's, well, permanent.

I don't have any answers but I sure do have some questions. Rep. Cooper told us he's the ranking Democrat on a panel looking into reform of the defense contracting process. I eagerly anticipate hearing what this panel has to say. Because right now, the defense contractors have far too big an interest in making sure we're building more and bigger weapons, which means they have an interest in making sure we are always under threat. It's now part of our "economic stimulus." People forget we were attacked on Sept. 11 by some individuals armed with no more than boxcutters. All of the fighter jets in the world wouldn't have prevented that.

With that in mind, for those who missed Jon Stewart's smackdown on the media misinformation surrounding the Defense budget, enjoy:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Full Metal Budget
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