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Monday, November 28, 2005

Suspicious Minds

Today, the AP reported this unfortunate news about a Republican member of Congress, forced to resign because of his illegal links to a defense contractor:
Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham pleaded guilty Monday to conspiracy and tax charges and tearfully resigned from office, admitting he took $2.4 million in bribes to steer defense contracts to co-conspirators....

Cunningham answered "yes, Your Honor" when asked by U.S. District Judge Larry Burns if he had accepted bribes from someone in exchange for his performance of official duties.
Cunningham pled guilty to a variety of charges, including conspiracy to commit bribery, mail fraud and wire fraud, and tax evasion. Cunningham, in a related statement, admitted to receipt of $2.4 million in bribes, including $1 million in cash.

Cunningham was apparently paid by defense contractor Mitchell Wade of MZM Inc., which provides various battlefield intelligence support to the Pentagon worth tens of millions of dollars.

The Defense budget is enormous -- perhaps as much as one-third of the federal budget if every defense-related expenditure is included. The amount is a staggering $840 billion!

Frankly, academics pay too little attention to the political power of the so-called "military-industrial complex." The kind of evidence revealed in the Cunningham case is only too rarely made public and academics need empirical evidence to fuel their theoretical musings.

Of course, the implications of the oversight are enormous.

Cunningham, a decorated Vietnam pilot, served as chair of the House Intelligence subcommittee on terrorism and human intelligence. Did he ever make statements that inflated threats posed by terrorists or rogue states? Should his loyalty to the Bush administration's "war on terror" be viewed cynically? He obviously gained personally and sold out his office. How many votes and voters did a hero like Cunningham influence?

And Cunningham is certainly not alone even in the current investigation. Florida Senate candidate and current House member Katherine Harris has also received lots of suspicious campaign donations from MZM employees. Likewise, Republican Representative Virgil Goode of Virginia received "bundled" MZM employee contributions that may prove to be illegal.

And this is just related to one relatively minor defense contractor -- not a giant like Lockheed Martin ($30 billion in 2003), Boeing ($27 B), Northrop Grumman ($18.7 B), BAE Systems ($17 B), Raytheon ($16.9 B), etc.

Is it naive to think that many members of the Congress -- and perhaps officials in the executive branch as well -- are "bought off" by campaign donations and other perks from these companies?

Thomas Jefferson wanted to prohibit a standing army in the Bill of Rights because he worried about democracy's ability to work under such a strain.

Former five-star general and President Dwight D. Eisenhower, explicitly warned against the dangers posed by the "military-industrial complex" in his "Farewell Address," January 17, 1961: we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence-economic, political, even spiritual-is felt in every city, every state house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
The "iron triangle" linking the Pentagon, the Congress, and defense contractors is potentially quite dangerous. The machine needs the continual infusion of cash to churn out weapons, whether those arms are needed for war or not.

Sometimes, of course, it is easier to convince the public of the need for weapons if they are frightened.

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