It seems like it was only just the other day - actually, it was September - that administration officials referred to the right-wing foreign policy lobby group AIPAC as "the 800-pound gorilla in the room" that would ensure Congressional support for the bombing of Syria. Yet now, the Forward reports, AIPAC is in "disarray" as it approaches its once-heralded March policy conference, unsure on what its agenda is after President Obama's supporters cleaned AIPAC's clock on its demand for new Iran sanctions that would have blown up his diplomacy with Iran.
If we could beat AIPAC, could we also beat the
military-industrial-Congressional complex? The MIC is AIPAC squared. If
AIPAC was an "800-pound gorilla," the MIC is 320 tons.
Here's how powerful the MIC is. The Pentagon was told to try to save
some money. So some people in the Pentagon said, well, maybe we don't
really need 11 aircraft carriers. Maybe we could squeak by with 10. If
we retire one, that would save billions of dollars, starting
immediately. Scale comparison: restoring the cut to military pensions
from the Ryan-Murray budget deal - which just sailed through Congress
against the complaints of some budget-cutters - is expected to cost $6
billion over ten years. Retiring the USS George Washington would save $3 billion in
just the next fiscal year, because that money would have to be put in
the 2015 budget to refurbish the USS George Washington. So, rough scale
comparison: savings next year from retiring the USS George Washington
would be five times as large as the foregone savings from the military
How do you think members of Congress responded to the Pentagon's idea
of retiring an aircraft carrier? Were they like, "Way to go, Pentagon!
Way to steward the taxpayers' money!" No way! They were like, "Oh, my
God! If we don't have 11 aircraft carriers, we'll have less "forward presence"
around the world! (Translation: "There might be less campaign cash for
us from Pentagon contractors!") And that would be totally unacceptable!
Here's how powerful the MIC is, compared with AIPAC. Occasionally,
Democrats will stand up to AIPAC, as we just saw. It's rare, but it does
happen. Here's how often Democrats stand up to the MIC: never. When
Republicans were looking for an offset for restoring the military
pension cut, they said, let's cut domestic spending more. When Democrats
want to protect food stamps, or Head Start, or women and infants'
nutrition, and Republicans say, fine, but you have to pay for it by
cutting elsewhere, how many Democrats say, OK, fine, let's retire an
aircraft carrier, like the Pentagon suggested? Crickets. Judging from
their public actions, Democrats in Congress love the 11th aircraft
carrier more than they love food stamps, Head Start or WIC.
How could we begin to turn this around?
What if we picked a target so egregious that even the cowardly Washington Democrats wouldn't be able to stay silent?
Last week, Gannet reported that
Wisconsin Republican Tom Petri had successfully gone to bat in Congress
and with Pentagon officials for a Pentagon contractor in which Petri
owned hundreds of thousands of dollars of stock, causing the value of
Petri's investment in the company to rise, possibly as much as $200,000.
House ethics rules prohibit members of Congress from using their office for personal gain.
Public Citizen has called for the
Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate, calling the situation a
"clear conflict of interest." This is "not just benefiting a major
campaign contributor, this is going into his own pocket," said Craig
Holman, senior legislative director for Public Citizen.
The very existence of the Office of Congressional Ethics is a key
ethics reform instituted by Nancy Pelosi when she was speaker. Prior to
that, reform groups slammed the House Ethics Committee as a bipartisan
protection racket where complaints go to quietly die. But the
independent OCE can start an investigation on its own. It has no power
to sanction; the Ethics Committee still controls the final disposition
of every case. But the existence of the OCE puts public pressure on the
Ethics Committee: If the OCE forwards a case to the Ethics Committee,
the Ethics Committee has to publicly report what action it took on the
case and explain why.
Conflict of interest, ethics committees, lobby groups, diplomacy, Democrats, Republicans, Pentagon contractors, graft and corruption - - - (insert your own country's political parties' names and departments here).
What difference does it make whatever public opinion says? Minimal difference!
How many column inches of exposure over how many years will it take for the penny to finally drop for the majority? The only way out of this mess is to remove its cause and scrap the system. That's the biggest gorilla in the room.