Media lapdogs are marked by stenographic tendencies, sympathetic frames and a reliance on industry jargon. Politico’s latest report about Congressional Republicans working to undo looming defense cuts meets all three criteria.
By the second paragraph, the story has begun parroting partisan talking points. The so-called Republican plan will “undo hundreds of billions of dollars in defense cuts by replacing it with budget savings elsewhere,” the article by Seung Min Kim says. However that’s the last we hear of the plan’s specifics until much later when the savings are pegged at $100 billion.
That’s a far cry from the original bipartisan plan that phases in several billion dollars more in budget savings (or cuts, depending on your point of view). Why the Republicans oppose the military savings they originally agreed to is obliquely mentioned in the sum of multiple paragraphs. A better and simpler way to report this would’ve been in a crisper “nut graf” that supports the article’s genesis: that after agreeing to across the board cuts as a way to force bipartisan agreements, Republicans are using Congressional purse strings to pick winners and losers.
By the third paragraph, there’s not much new information to report and the reporter’s forced into diving right into he-said journalism, which has the effect of elevating Republican senators onto an unchecked authoritative pedestal. There’s no caution that these Republicans senators could be misinformed (one of whom, Jon Kyl, coined the phrase “not intended to be factual statement“), under ideological and grassroots orders to oppose anything the White House favors, or anything that might help military families confront a 26 percent unemployment rate.
The article shifts halfway down and moves away from the issue of military cuts toward a showdown with Congressional Democrats. And voila: the reader is taken from a misleading overview of the story’s core issue to trite optics of hot potato budget knife fights. Favoring conflict more than the educational element inherent in the Fourth Estate is increasingly a systemic issue in journalism and one that threatens to accelerate the industry’s demise.
But that’s not Politico’s game. It sells papers on insiderness– something best thought of a Congress equivalent of Stephen Colbert’s truthiness, but with gridlock, name calling and deception in place of hypocrisy-busting laughs. It’s a drip-by-drip process that institutionalizes corporate jargon and ideological prisms into political factions and discourse.
“Child prostitution, gun-running, rendition– Blackwater has this history, but to this day, there’s been zero accountability,” Helvenston-Wettengel said. “I feel like I not only lost my son, but I lost my country.”
She spoke directly to company President and Founder Erik Prince in 2004, having got his number from a reporter. She requested Prince send her son’s contract and an incident report, which documented the mission that sent her son to his death.
“He said he’d send it Fed-Ex in a few weeks,” she said. “Blackwater said I was going to have to sue them to get it.”
She still doesn’t know why her son was sent into a death trap on that awful day in Fallujah. Blackwater has never come clean about why her son was without the proper armaments, maps, protections and manpower or why he was reassigned to this particular mission, she said. They had dispatched four men who had never been to Fallujah before, and if they at least had a map, they wouldn’t have gotten trapped in the fatal ambush, Helvenston-Wettengel said.
Scott Helvenston joined Blackwater because its founder was, like Scott, a Navy SEAL, his mother said. Scott Helvenston believed he could use his years of SEAL experience and training to save American lives in Iraq. Above all, Blackwater offered rare two-month contracts that let him provide for his two children at home.
Helvenston-Wettengel’s 2004 call with Prince sparked a tumultuous journey to try and bring her family a modicum of accountability. Fighting for justice for her son’s brutal death required bringing Blackwater into a courtroom, but the corporation has managed, or arranged, to duck any responsibility.
Despite White House claims that the war in Iraq is ending, Blackwater’s latest namesake is in play to employ some of the 15,000 war contractors slated to stay behind. Taxpayer dollars would also flow into the company’s legal department, which is tailored to dodge responsibility for the deaths of its employees– just ask Helvenston-Wettengel.
“They want to force me into a gag order [and] take away my constitutional rights,” she said. “They just don’t care.”
It was Nov. 28 and there was an email from her attorneys introducing a Blackwater proposal that left nothing for Scott’s grandchildren.
“It was an insult,” Helvenston-Wettengel said. “I wanted a closing statement. I want to know who’s getting what.”
It was neither justice nor accountability. It was cowardice and a departure from the America she grew up in, Helvenston-Wettengel said. She declined to say more, knowing that her words could spark another round of litigation. (She has been sued by Blackwater previously for her attempt to read her son’s employment contract and the incident report.)
She was a few pen strokes away from putting an end to a journey that led her to testify before Congress and take on the most secretive military-industrial complex: the cadre of war contracting companies that took root around the time the U.S. invaded Iraq.
“How dare they,” she said. “I can’t in my conscience sign it.”
Blackwater’s aggressiveness in and out of the courtroom has contributed to Helvenston-Wettengel’s exhaustion. The Florida realtor suffered a stroke last year and said she’s tired of taking on what journalist Jeremy Schaill said was the most powerful mercenary army ever.
“The government is protecting Blackwater” she said. “With all the lawsuits against them, how can that be possible?”
The existing counter insurgency operation in Afghanistan is hurting the American economy, and there is data to prove it.
Job Creation Per $1 Billion Spent:
-Tax Cuts for Personal Consumption: 15,100
-Clean Energy: 16,800
-Health Care: 17,200
If we really want a society where people who want to work can enjoy a moderate standard of living, says Robert Pollin, co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, “the best thing to do is to start cutting the military.”
Congressional allies for big war contractors at Lockheed Martin and Boing justify the bloated, corruption-filled war budget on the backs of job creation and security. But, unlike the war industry, people whose livelihoods are not dependent on weapons of mass destruction agree that military spending is the worst performing job creation program. Like Upton Sinclair says, “It is difficult to get a man understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
The data proves education and infrastructure spending create 50 percent more jobs than building tanks and jets, which by the way, will not see one iota of combat.
Afghanistan hawks clamor that victory can be bought abroad, and even the voices who have most adamantly insisted on a balanced budget amendment have still supporting pouring taxpayer money into the quagmire. Afghanistan has usurped many good-paying jobs at home.
But why is it the national blue ribbon panels and commissions tasked with budget reduction have identified the corruption-filled military budget as a meaningful target for cuts? There’s widespread political support from the Bowles-Simpson fiscal commission, budget hawk Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) and the Center for American Progress. And it’s good policy: we can save almost $1 trillion by ending our foreign entanglements, which would free job creating programs from undue pressure.
There’s momentum on our side that’s making job creation the No. 1 priority in Congress. This month, the Senate passed an amendment that would accelerate the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and save billions in the process. It’s a strong first step, and hurdles remain, but it’s a sign that we need to do our part to give Congress and the White House support to trim the war budget and focus on sustainable job creation.
Since the deficit committee officially failed to produce a plan as of last week, expect the war profiteer spin to hit the fan. Here’s an early warning of what to expect, courtesy of Reuters last week:
Failure of a special congressional committee to strike a deficit-reduction deal is expected to unleash desperate lobbying by U.S. arms makers to get lawmakers to block $600 billion in automatic cuts.
Their weapon of choice: jobs.
Unfortunately for them, War Costs’ new video exposes the truth about massive military budgets and employment: military spending is a job killer.
But, don’t expect the truth to get in the way of a good propaganda campaign.
The profiteer’s agitprop push is already underway. Searching for “defense cuts” on Google early this morning already brings up articles high in the search feed from paid war-industry shills in the top results, notably a lengthy piece from Loren Thompson, perennial paid defender of massive military budgets (himself on the war industry dime). His argument, that Obama could lose the election due to job losses from military cuts, is one you better get used to seeing.
This argument is part of a coordinated effort headed by war industry CEOs and their advocates on Capitol Hill to push elected officials to protect the massive, corruption-filled war budget by slashing social safety nets. This would be a disaster for our economy. As we show in our latest War Costs video, military spending costs jobs compared to other ways of spending the money, and Congress must cut this spending if we are to get out of this unemployment crisis.
Massive Military Budgets Cost Jobs
“If we’re really serious about building anything approximate to a full employment economy, or at least getting us out of the damn recession, the best thing to do is to start cutting the military.”
Robert Pollin is the co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He and his colleague, Heidi Garrett-Peltier, are working on a new update to an employment study that discusses the jobs impact of various kinds of government spending. PERI has a strong message for elected officials: if you are going to cut, cut the Pentagon budget.
Brave New Foundation’s War Costs project spoke with Pollin and other experts several times over the past several weeks as press reports indicated a disposition among the many elected officials to spare the Pentagon from the cuts required to the budget by the debt ceiling law. The consensus of these experts–as opposed to those funded heavily by military money and war profiteers–is that the U.S.’s massive military budgets are terrible for job creation, and that the talking points coming from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and the war-profiteer front campaign, “Second To None,” are specious propaganda.
PERI’s study uses Department of Commerce data to determine how many people are employed by various kinds of spending, including military, health care, green energy and education. They also examine the employment effects of basic consumer spending. Their discoveries, validated repeatedly as they’ve updated the study every two years since the original study in 2007, might startle those who bought the Washington consensus on military spending. In short, among the kinds of spending examined, military spending actually costs jobs compared to any other form. It’s the only spending that scored worse than basic consumer spending, and it created far less than half the jobs created by education spending.
Here are the numbers from their latest available study (.pdf):
Job Creation Per $1 Billion Spent:
Tax Cuts for Personal Consumption: 15,100
Clean Energy: 16,800
Health Care: 17,200
In short, at bare minimum, every billion dollars spent on the military costs at least 3,900 jobs compared to other spending types, and if compared to the best job creator from the study, education, $1 billion in military spending costs 15,500 jobs.
And, according to some experts, the actual jobs costs of massive military budgets over the past several decades could be in the millions.
“Large military budgets are very bad for job creation especially in the long run, and actually responsible in my view for much of the loss of American industrial jobs…that’s a job killer. …As a matter of fact, cutting defense spending is absolutely crucial to revitalizing American industry and creating millions of jobs that we’ve already lost–getting them back and getting more on top of that.”
Military contractors and their advocates, desperate to prevent cuts to the bloated Pentagon budget, point to critical technological developments that spring from military research. For example, the head of the Aerospace Industries Association, Marion Blakey, said in a recent press conference:
“For decades we’ve seen how investments in military aerospace endeavors lead to breakthroughs that benefit all of us – the Internet and GPS that grew out of DARPA research come to mind.”
Not so fast, according to Dumas. While he concedes that some spill-over effect exists, Dumas pointedly rebuts the implication that we should fund military R&D because of asserted benefits to civilian life. That way of obtaining innovative products is highly inefficient because military application drives research, experiment design and which results get attention. This means that discoveries that could have civilian application come at a much, much higher cost to society than if society sought those innovations directly through civilian research.
Despite the fact that economic data clearly suggest that military spending is a terrible priority for a government supposedly concerned with job creation, and despite the negative effect of this spending on the United States’ long-term competitiveness in the world market, an astounding number of representatives in Congress, Pentagon officials and war industry executives want to protect the military budget from cuts. Even worse, they are trying to wrap their campaign in the one word that certainly should not be applied to military spending: jobs. Add a healthy dose of fear-mongering about security into the mix, and you have a killer message campaign run largely with taxpayer dollars to protect war industry revenues.
The Fear Campaign
War industry CEOs have allies all over Capitol Hill pushing Congress and the administration to protect the bloated military budget from cuts.
For example, House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) recently sent a high-temperature letter to the deficit committee, including the mind-blowing assertion that less military spending will result in longer wars–irrespective of the fact that we’re spending all this money on the longest war in U.S. history in Afghanistan. He’s continued his agitation after the committee’s failure, which isn’t all that surprising considering his massive campaign cash take from the war industry.
McKeon and Panetta have both included in their scare-mongering the theme that cuts to the military budget would “hollow out” the military. Of course, they always fail to mention that the Pentagon’s budget would only be drawn down to roughly 2007 topline number for the military budget (which, by the way, McKeon enthusiastically voted for–twice), after which it would resume growing again.
The real lipstick that McKeon, Panetta and others put on their propaganda pig, however, is the jobs fiction cooked up by the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), a “nonprofit” governed by executives from the major military contractor organizations which advocates for their businesses on Capitol Hill. AIA paid Dr. Steven Fuller from George Mason University to write a paper about job losses that would occur if sequestration–the across-the-board cuts triggered by deficit committee failure–took place. Fuller’s estimate checked in at roughly 1 million jobs.
Pollin, however, takes strong issue with AIA’s methods in the debate, pointing to their study’s total lack of context.
“The real point is to compare the relative employment impacts of military spending versus spending on domestic infrastructure, on the green economy, on health care and on education. …It is fair to say that every time we take money out of these alternatives, it is costing the economy jobs by putting money into the military.”
Long-time war industry observer Bill Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, had a simple description for the Panetta/McKeon/war industry media push around jobs. He called it simply, “a propaganda campaign.”
“To me there’s no question that this scare campaign about jobs by the Pentagon and the industry is a propaganda campaign. And the reason I say that is, first of all, it’s coordinated. So for example, one day an executive from the Aerospace Industries Association says we’re going to increase unemployment 1 percent if we make significant cuts in military spending. The next day, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta calls congress and says, ‘Guess what? We’re going to gain 1 percent in unemployment if we make significant cuts in military spending.’ So they’ve obviously sat down and gotten their stories straight. They’re working shoulder-to-shoulder to scare people into spending more on the military than we need.”
Hartung pointed out the industry’s penchant for inflated jobs numbers, urging readers to take them with a healthy dose of skepticism. (See our latest video for more information.)
Right now, Congress and the administration are the target of a coordinated propaganda campaign involving war industry allies in Congress and the administration, funded in large part by huge corporations whose executives rely on the taxpayer for lavish lifestyles. This spin campaign flies in the face of what economists know to be true: that military spending costs jobs compared to other ways of spending the money. If Congress acts on the “information” they’ve obtained during this propaganda push, there’s a real chance they will protect the worst kind of spending for job creation–the military budget–by slashing other kinds of spending that create far more jobs. This would be a disastrous decision that would prolong and deepen our economic woes.
We’ve got to push back with the truth: military spending costs jobs compared to other ways of spending the money.
Congress departs for the Thanksgiving holiday having left us a gift. With the deficit committee failing to produce a plan to cut the deficit and with across-the-board cuts now the default, there remains a real chance for us to untie the Congressional straightjacket and refocus the national conversation on sustainable and constructive job creation.
The war industry knows this, and its allies in Congress are already moving to stop cuts to their piece of the federal budget, a total of $500 billion over 10 years. We’re certain the war industry’s Congressional allies are one among many things contractor CEOs are thankful for.
But as Americans take stock this Thanksgiving holiday, we thought it appropriate we expose some other turkeys that the war industry is celebrating this holiday season.
1. The V-22 Osprey
Not even then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney could spike the V-22 Osprey. Each $70 million unit takes off like a helicopter, flies like a plane, and despite being responsible for the deaths of 30 test pilots, the $54 billion program is still business as usual for Congress. Free flight demonstrations for politicians and influential columnists (flights that manage to not spontaneously combust mid-air), as well as the Marine Corps insistence to institutionalize the aircraft have sustained the Osprey contract into one of the biggest black holes of taxpayer money.
There remains $18 billion left unspent in the fund behind the Osprey, one of two pools of war contractor projects the Project on Government Oversight identified as “cuts that could save taxpayers billions without putting American lives at risk.” But the House committee chairman who oversees the project also represents a rural Texas district where the aircraft is assembled.
War contractors are toasting their lawyers and lobbyists who made this legal.
2. Rep. Buck McKeon
Rep. Buck McKeon is another Congressman who enables war industry CEOs and corporations to both enjoy record paydays and low tax rates. As the Chair of House Armed Services Committee, McKeon is the most powerful link between the war contractors and the power of the purse in the House of Representatives.
Earlier this month, McKeon defended the war contractors’ bloated budget and broke into tears during a hearing about soldiers in Afghanistan. His tears were misplaced: war contractors enjoy a much larger slice of the pie than the troops. Almost on the same day, a Stimson Center study (.pdf) demonstrated how the U.S. military had used money, pegged for soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, on $1 trillion on tanks, ships and jets since Sept. 11, 2001.
Twenty-two percent of that $1 trillion came from “supplemental” war spending bills. In other words, $232.8 billion of taxpayer money that would’ve provided soldiers with better body armor, for example, was spent on Abrams tanks and jet fighters, both projects enrich war contractors while doing nothing to bolster the safety of our troops or our nation’s safety at home.
The Osprey is a Cornish game hen compared to the 49,500-pound mashed potato keg that is the largest war contract in the history of the Pentagon.
The F-35 Airplane Joint Strike Fighter has never seen one day of combat. It’s, at best, questionably safe for human testing. The Aero News Network reported it was the latest in a long history of FUBAR cranberry sauce.
As those who have followed the program know, the JSF program has been plagued by cost overruns and delays. The test fleet was recently grounded due to a power supply problem, and had only just been returned to operational status. Back in January, then-defense-secretary Robert Gates had put the program on notice by imposing a two-year probation after discovering other structural flaws. Budget hawks have long viewed the program, often described as the most costly defense acquisition in history, as a tempting target. A major program review is also reportedly planned as pressure grows on Congress and the President to cut spending.
The first real flight was pegged for 2016, with a program cost of $40 billion to $50 billion. An independent government report found $28 billion of F-35 spending has been a waste. The aircraft’s makers, Lockheed Martin, like to point out the myriad of ways their profits could be lowered on the project, and we’ve demonstrated how money earmarked for Lockheed Martin executives would create more jobs were it spent on education or infrastructure.
Dear F-35, you make the war profiteers’ belly warmer than a poor man’s glass of whiskey. And for that, Lockheed Martin loves you.
4. Sen. Jon Kyl
There’s failing to lead and leading to failure, and the Senate’s No. 2 Republican is an expert at both.
You might remember Kyl’s knack for making disparaging remarks on the Senate floor that were not intended to be a “factual statement.” But what really makes Kyl the stuffing at the Boeing holiday party is his insistence that millionaire war contractors be spared the same economic pain as middle class families.
Despite adhering to an ideology that equates corporations with living human beings, Kyl sees every reason to exempt war contractors from the belt tightening that’s being forced upon families across the U.S. While favoring austerity elsewhere, Kyl is doing all he can to stop a 15 percent cut to the war budget.
Technically, it’s our elected officials who transform our tax dollars into self-perpetuating riches for Lockheed Martin CEO Robert Stevens ($21.89 million salary last year), Northrop Grumman CEO Wes Bush ($22.84 million) and Boeing CEO James McNerney ($19.4 million).
The war industry stood back with glee when it released a shoddy study that produced the sought-after deceptive headlines about defense spending, the magic sauce of job creation. There was no balance to these reports, and the War Industry should know, because they funded it!
Your and your neighbors’ jobs, or lack thereof, are of no concern to Second To None, an association funded by the Aerospace Industries Association. Their bogus “analysis” links job creation to military spending, but it is, like so much of the Pentagon’s hawkishness, detached and devoid of context and reality (.pdf).
On almost the same day as the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office revealed the smoke and mirrors employed in the most recent budget agreement left the Pentagon $440 billion richer, military contractors are renewing their chokehold on Congress.
The story rightfully reports how Congress is doing the military contractors’ bidding. Congressional leaders are on the cusp of taking military contractors’ cuts off the table and upending the not-so-grand bargain, which raised the debt ceiling earlier this year.
But what’s missing is muckraking that demonstrates the absurdity, on its face, that military spending is the holiest of holy spending. This in particular is a well-documented and well-sourced fairy tale. As Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research has demonstrated (emphasis mine):
Under the military spending fairy story, if the government spends $1 billion dollars paying people to do research or to build items related to the civilian economy it is just a drag on the private economy; however if the same spending goes to military related purposes, then it creates jobs.
…For people who don’t believe in the military spending fairy, the story is simple. During a downturn where there are lots of unemployed workers, any government spending will create jobs, regardless of whether or not it is on the military. In fact, military spending is likely to create fewer jobs than spending in most other areas (e.g. education, health care, conservation) because it is more capital intensive.
More intellectually dishonest is how the report assumes idyllic conditions for job creation and weather patterns alike. It omits the scenario created by the debt ceiling increase, wherein the so-called Congressional supercommittee faces across the board cuts to defense cuts on one hand and programs for students, seniors, the disabled and the poor on the other.
Thomas Jefferson wrote in a 1786 letter that, “Our liberty cannot be guarded but by the freedom of the press.” In that vein, it’s the mission of War Costs to debunk Pentagon spin everywhere it appears. The first step is denying the war profiteers any public relations or make-believe victories.
There’s the top 1% of wealthy Americans (bankers, oil tycoons, hedge fund managers) and there’s the top 0.01% of wealthy Americans: the military contractor CEOs.
If you’ve been following the War Costs campaign, you already know that these corporations are bad bosses, bad job creators and bad stewards of taxpayer dollars. What you may not know is that the huge amount of money these companies’ CEOs make off of war and your tax dollars places them squarely at the top of the gang of corrupt superrich choking our democracy. These CEOs want you to believe the massive war budget is about security — it’s not. The lobbying they’re doing to keep the war budget intact at the expense of the social safety net is purely about their greed.
In many areas, including yearly CEO salary and in dollars spent corrupting Congress, these companies are far greater offenders than even the big banks like JP Morgan Chase or Bank of America.
Considering how they stack up to financial sector heads, war industry CEOs aren’t just members of the 1%; they’re the super-elite among them, the one-hundredth of a percent.
Disgusted by the overwhelming corporate influence in Congress? Look no further than the big military contractor companies, whose flagship companies spend enough on lobbying to dwarf even financial sector titans.
Want to know where all the money went that could be putting people back to work or keeping U.S. manufacturing industries competitive? The war industry CEOs dumped lobbying cash on Congress and diverted all that wealth to their private bank accounts.
Striking a blow for democracy
The war contractors’ iron grip on the wealth and politics of our country has caught the attention of our friends at Occupy Wall Street, who are targeting war profiteers in its draft list of demands with a call to bring home “all military personnel at all non-essential bases” and to end the “Military Industrial Complex’s goal of perpetual war for profit.”
We’re allies of the Occupy movement, which swells from the 99%’s disgust and dysfunction with our system. A democracy for and of the people that favors the 0.01% at the expense of the 99.99% of us is no democracy at all.
We here at Brave New Foundation and the War Costs campaign have been inspired by the incredible work of the Occupy movement, so we created our latest video to help push this critical piece of their message: war for profit has to end. We’re asking viewers to share our video with their local Occupy groups and organize a guerrilla screening at an Occupy protest in your city.
The Occupy protests have a lot to teach us, and the leaderless movement is at minimum an indictment of our political system. They’ve stopped whispering, and we’ve all started shouting.