File Under: Another Major Campaign Promise Broken

If the Trump Regime were running up mega-deficits by improving the country's healthcare system or educational system or by improving the infrastructure-- all promises he made during his campaign and then tossed away as soon as he got into the White House in favor of massive tax cuts for the wealthy (another campaign promise broken)-- I wouldn't mind the nearly trillion dollar deficit this year. But that's not how he ran up the gargantuan deficit. He ran it up by slashing revenues with a tax cut for the super-wealthy and by wasting money on personal projects that enriched himself and his cronies. The Associated Press reported that "The $984 billion deficit tally for 2019 came in more than $200 billion more than last year's, despite very low unemployment and continuing economic growth." Conservative economists "have long taken the position that deficits and the nation's $22 trillion national debt are unsustainable. CBO noted that deficits have been growing faster than the size of the economy for four years in a row, ending 2019 at 4.7 percent of gross domestic product."

There's no appetite in Washington to try politically painful medicine to deal with the deficit. Democrats have noted the spike in deficits since President Donald Trump's tax cut plan was passed in 2017, while Trump has promised not to touch popular retirement benefits like Social Security and Medicare.

Trump has already proposed a budget that violently slashes Social Security, Medicare and other parts of the tattered social safety net. So that was stupid reporting from AP. They should have shown examples of how Trump is misappropriating funds. Major Danny Sjursen did at Truthdig this week. He's a retired U.S. Army officer and former history instructor at West Point. He served tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan and his piece for Truthdig, Secretary of Defense, Incorporated, is completely typical of how the entire Trumpist Regime functions. "Trump," Sjursen points out, "has installed faceless bureaucrats to run the most powerful national security state in human history. And the rest of us hardly notice. Trump’s appointment of Mark Esper as head of the largest and most active Cabinet department, and the new Defense Secretary’s near unanimous approval by the U.S. Senate, is no less of a scandal than Trump’s apparent efforts to seek foreign interference in the 2020 elections. Only it isn’t. Still, the nomination of Esper, a recent lobbyist for the defense contracting corporation Raytheon, ranks as one of the most egregious illustrations of the 'revolving door' between lobbyists and the Defense Department. It’s crony capitalism in fatigues, and while nothing new, a clear indication that things have only worsened under our reality-show-mogul-president." Bernie was out of town that day but he opposed Esper's confirmation, as did the other senators running for president, other than the Republican pretending to be a Democrat, Michael Bennet (CO).

Of course, seen through the rose-colored glasses of American empire, Esper is highly qualified to head the Defense Department. He’s a West Point graduate, former Army infantry officer, recipient of a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard and a doctorate in public policy from George Washington University, and has past experience working in the Pentagon.

If one digs further, however, Esper is wildly problematic-- loaded with conflicts of interest, a veteran of the (should be) discredited neoconservative Bush-era DOD, and little more than a corporate “company man.” He didn’t just work for Raytheon, he lobbied on the defense contractor’s behalf only recently. Under rather sharp questioning by Sen. Elizabeth Warren during his confirmation hearings, Esper refused to recuse himself from participating in government business involving Raytheon. In typically lifeless language, Esper replied that “On the advice of my ethics folks at the Pentagon, the career professionals: No, their recommendation is not to.” How’s that for accepting responsibility? No matter, he was swiftly and quietly confirmed by a vote of 90-8 in the Senate.

Expect another banner year for Raytheon. It’s already the third-largest U.S. defense contractor, and produces, among other tools of destruction, Paveway precision-guided missiles-- the very weapons that Congress recently sought to stop shipping to Saudi Arabia due to (rather tardy) concerns about the heads of Yemeni civilians upon which they’re dropped.

I predict more deals and more taxpayer billions for Raytheon with Esper at the Defense helm. Not that the company has done poorly during the Trump years. In 2018, Raytheon CEO Thomas Kennedy candidly quipped that “It’s the best time that we’ve ever seen for the defense industry.” Not for indebted taxpayers, bombed-out Middle Easterners or U.S. soldiers still dying in endless wars, it’s not. But sure, it truly is the best of times for what prominent American leaders-- once upon a time-- labeled the “merchants of death.”

Conflicts of interest, sliding seamlessly between defense contracting boards and the Pentagon, and securing post-government largesse on corporate boards, that’s an old story indeed. Looking back to 2001, most Defense Secretaries have troublesome private sector connections. Donald Rumsfeld entered the Pentagon after a 24-year business career; Robert Gates was on the board of directors of Fidelity Investments and the Parker Drilling Company; Chuck Hagel served on the boards of Chevron and Deutsche Bank; Ash Carter-- an exception-- was mostly an academic and a bureaucratic wonk, but still consulted for Goldman Sachs. All made millions.

That covers the Bush and Obama years. What we’ve seen in the Trump administration, is, however, something far more brazen. His three Secretaries of Defense (one of whom, Patrick Shanahan, was only acting head) have been unapologetically ensconced in the world of defense contracting and corporate lobbying.

“Saint” Jim Mattis had, while still a general, encouraged the military to buy the blood test products of Theranos, then dropped the service and joined its corporate board. But Theranos’ products did not work, the deal described by the Securities and Exchange Commission as an “elaborate, years-long fraud.” Mattis also served, both before and after his Pentagon stint, on the board of General Dynamics, the nation’s fifth largest defense contractor. Nonetheless, Mattis easily slid through his confirmation and was praised by all types of mainstream media as the administration’s “adult in the room.”

After Mattis resigned, he being unable to countenance even Trump’s hints at modest withdrawal from the wars in Syria and Afghanistan, Patrick Shanahan stepped in as interim defense chief. Unlike his predecessor, Shanahan didn’t emerge from the military, but rather from yet another defense contractor, Boeing, for which he’s worked some 30 years. Trump thought that was dandy and nominated him to officially replace Mattis, but Shanahan decided to withdraw due to alleged personal scandals. Enter Mark Esper, Raytheon lobbyist extraordinaire.

Esper’s in good company in Washington’s military-industrial swamp. Recent reports by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO)-- a vital organization that hardly any American has heard of-- identified “645 instances in the past 10 years in which a retired senior official, member of Congress or senior legislative staff member became employed as a registered lobbyist, board member or business executive at a major government contractor.” POGO also noted that “those walking through the revolving door included 25 generals, nine admirals, 43 lieutenant generals and 23 vice admirals.”

All of which begs some questions and provides some disturbing answers. Perhaps we ought to ditch the myth that the Defense Secretary simply heads the Pentagon, and admit that Esper is really the emperor of a far grander military-industrial complex that includes a veritable army of K-Street lobbyists and venal arms dealers. Maybe it’s time to concede that unelected national security czars, and not a stalemated bought-and-sold Congress, run national defense and set the gigantic Pentagon budget. Perhaps we should confess to ourselves that the nation’s vaunted soldiers are little more than political pawns in a game that’s far bigger, far more Kafkaesque, than those troopers could begin to fathom. And, finally, let’s admit one last thing: Few of us care.

Goal ThermometerAt Blue America we care very much and we look for candidates who we feel will never sell out to the military industrial complex and who will, in fact, push back against it in the strongest possible ways. Progressive Nebraska congressional candidate Kara Eastman told us today that "You'd expect that Rep. Don Bacon would apply his military background to maintain a patina of oversight over this brazen wholesaling of the defense budget. However, and despite his tenure on the House Armed Services Committee, Bacon has traded oversight and review for campaign cash and ignorance. Case in point are the cost overruns at Offut Airforce Base, which used to be under his purview. Costs for repairing the base from climate change-induced flooding has gone through the roof and Bacon has signed off on diverting key funds supporting the 55th Wing to the Southern Border Wall."

Eva Putzova, a progressive Democrat from Flagstaff running for an Arizona congressional seat held by Republican-turned-Blue Dog Tom O'Halleran, one of the most right-wing Democrats in Congress, told us that " The appointment of Mark Esper, the former lobbyist for Raytheon, as Secretary of Defense, demonstrates the total corruption of our military-industrial complex. Raytheon receives billions of dollars from the Pentagon and nations like Saudi Arabia to manufacture weapons used to kill civilians in Yemen and elsewhere. My opponent, the incumbent blue dog "Democrat," takes campaign contributions from Raytheon and is silent on the influence of arms dealers in the Pentagon budgeting process.  Besides the enormous waste of taxpayers money which adds to our deficit in an unproductive manner the waste in human lives is even greater. When I am in Congress I will endorse legislation to outlaw the revolving door between private contractors and government service. I will also oppose all wars of choice and our role in the arms trade that fuels wars in which we are not directly involved."

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