Saturday, September 23, 2006

Why We Fight in Iraq

The conversation on the last post has been terrific. I want to keep it going.

So, here's some more to chew on:
Last night, Jon and I watched the documentary Why We Fight by Eugene Jarecki. The film has a website (of course),, which I recommend.

The film and the website start with a video clip from President Dwight Eisenhower's last speech in office. This is the speech in which he coins the phrase "militaryindustrial complex." [Read the
full text of the speech.]

In the speech he argues that only in the 20th century has there been a military industry. This industry benefits from war, and if not kept in check, could influence every aspect of social and political life.

The film's narrative arc is to prove that Eisenhower's caution went unheeded - that we now have a government that is beholden to the industries that support and benefit from war.

As just one case in point, take the new B-2 Bomber. The B2 was originally designed as a Cold War terror device. The message to the Soviets was, if you screw with us, we'll fly one of our planes from our country to yours within hours, a plane that can't be detected by your radars, and with its massive nuclear payload drop tons of radioactive love on a target, and leave you glowing [Read a good history of the B2].

The cost of the B-2 was a major issue in its development.
The Air Force originally estimated the new planes to cost $45 million each, according to the GAO in 1995. The Air Force then revised the estimate, stating that it would cost more like $89 million in 1997. A fact sheet from the Air Force from this year estimates the cost of building future B2s at $1.2 billion dollars PER PLANE.

One might wonder why, today, we would need such a plane. The B-52 also is a large payload bomb dropper (love my technical military parlance?) originally designed to drop nuclear bombs on the Soviets. It has been used successfully in every war. The unit cost: $53.4 million. You could build 25 B-52s for the cost of 1 B2 Bomber. The government currently owns 21 B2s, according to Boeing, one of the companies that make the bomber (other companies included, Northrop Grumman, Hughes, Generl Electric, and Vought). Each of these first edition B2s cost tax payers $2.2 billion each.

The only military advantage of the B2 was that it was designed to circumvent enemy radar, particularly large conventional forces radar (i.e. standing armies of nation-states fighting each other). We don't dare land one in Turkey or any base outside of the United States, because they are too valuable. They have no armor, unlike the B52. Their only defense is their anti-radar detection capabilities. The B2 is usually not deployed until all ground based radar is destroyed. So, basically the planes are so expensive, we only use them when there's no risk that they'll be destroyed.

So, again, why are we building this plane? The answer is simple: because a piece of the bomber is being built in all 50 states.

Did you catch that?

So, if the B2 program were scrapped, Senators and Representatives would feel pressure from constituents who lose their jobs if the factory in their town closes. Since each state benefits from having the B2 in the form of jobs, then what's the harm in spending billions of dollars on a few planes?

The point here is this: the reason we are at war is because major corporations benefit from war, and these corporations are incredibly successful at pressuring government agencies and politicians to help them increase their profits. According to the film, the militaryindustrial complex is today a $740 billion dollar a year industry. That is a 25% profit. When most companies see 5-7% profitability, this is a staggering windfall. The new CEO of Boeing, James McNerney, receives $1.75 million in salary, and a bonus of as much as $4 million a year. The CEO of the bulletproof-vest maker DHB Industries made $70 million in 2004 compared with his 2001 salary of $525,000, according to CNN, because Congress approved major purchases in body armor. The profit from war is substantial.

Another point of the film is the relationship between politicans and the militaryindustrial complex. The film highlights Vice President Cheney's position in Haliburton after serving as Secretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush. Cheney who had strong government ties was a valuable asset to Haliburton. As Vice President he continues to be helpful to Haliburton. The film highlights that Haliburton received several no-bid contracts to support the war in Iraq. Although there is absolutely no smoking gun that Cheney helped Haliburton acquire those contracts directly, the loose association of friends and acquaintances that exist between the two (government and military corporation) are so intertwined that the influence is now in the very fabric of the relationships between the two.

The film also highlights that on 9/12/2001 President Bush discussed with his Cabinet the possibility of a pre-emptive attack on Iraq - even though Iraq had NOTHING to do with the attacks the day before.

So, there it is. It's not oil, it's not democracy or freedom (two of the most empty God terms bandied about these days), it's profit for militaryindustrial corporations. That's why we fight.

What do you think?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Bring Them Home?

As we move into the fall elections, one of the major issues if, of course the War in Iraq. Lawn signs have popped up along the side of the road on my way to work declaring "Support the Troops Bring Them Home Now." Yet, Republicans, especially President Bush (most recently in his speech commemorating 9/11) have argued that we must stay the course in Iraq.

I want to start a conversation here on this question. I am very curious to know what my friends and readers think on this issue. I will confess that I was against the war when we declared it, because I was very skeptical of claims of WMD in Iraq and connections between al Qaeda and Iraq. Now that we know both of those claims were false, reasons for being there have changed. Now, one of the primary arguments is that we are bringing democracy to the Middle East.

My gut instinct on whether we should pull out of Iraq is that we should not. My current feeling is that we have a moral obligation to help the Iraqis to at least establish the infrastructure they need to be a stable country (or countries).

But, I am very open to other perspectives. What do you think?

[Oh, and this time the question mark in the title is genuine!]

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Voter Turnout?

New York State had its primary this past Tuesday. Turnout was reported to be light. But, light is an understatement.

Today the official word is that only 5.5% of *registered* Republicans turned out to vote. The turnout for Democrats was higher - somewhere between 11% and 15%, according to the Times Union.

Part of the reason for the discrepancy in turnout is the number of high-profile contested races. For Republicans only the U.S. Senate seat was contested. The race between John Spencer and K.T. McFarland was at times really nasty. But, that was about it for Republican voters. For Democrats, there were contests for several offices, including Governor and U.S. Senator.

But, still: 5.5%? What kind of democracy do we have when such tiny slivers of the population turn out to vote during the primaries?

The primaries were established in the early 1970s to encourage a more democratic process for identifying who a party's nominee would be. Before that, most states' parties selected their leaders through back-channel and private negotiations - imagine the smoke filled room in the back of a bar somewhere with guys sitting around a table deciding who would be the nominee.

But, the revised primary system has failed to do what it aimed to do. With only an average of about 15% of registered voters of a party turning out to vote on a given election, it is still a thin slice of the electorate who is selecting their party's nominee. And, this is not a random sample of the electorate who turns out. People who vote in primaries are more ideological, better educated, and more knowledgable about the political process, the candidates, and current events - sort of like the old days with the men in back rooms picking the candidates.

I'm not sure there is a way to fix this broken system, and perhaps it's okay that such a small percentage of the people turn out. At least the primary system allows those who want to have a say to have one. The rest can stay home as they always have.

[The question mark at the end of this blog post's title is a nod to John Stewart, who last night, on the Daily Show, had a terrific piece about titles on the crawlers of CNN and Fox News. Why say it when you can ask it?]