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Top 5 Taxpayer Turkeys Fattening War Industry CEOs

By   Published: Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

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.

It’s no surprise then that Lockheed Martin’s biggest political benefactor is Rep. Buck McKeon, who made this all possible. For that, he’s a gravytrain-enabler who lets war contractors parade around in America’s wealthiest 0.01%.

3. F-35 Jet Fighter

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.

Even with a 15 percent cut factored in, that would be about half the cuts of Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon and less than cuts made by George H. W. Bush, according to Lawrence J. Korb, an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration. Moreover, a 15 percent cut is a child’s plate of peas when the war budget has increased by 50 percent since 2001 and will still be $37 billion more in 2021 than it is in 2011.

5. You and me

We enable the war profiteers. We pay for war contractor pensions, their vast network of lobbyists, and the salaries for top executives.

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).

These companies use our tax dollars to further spin the system toward their corporate advantage. In many cases, the war contractors are bigger villains than CEOs at Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase.

Does that make us the war contractors’ juiciest turkey?

It makes me mad and that’s why I’ve stopped whispering and started shouting.

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