Tag Archives: Lobbying

Bestselling Pentagon Fiction

Image: Matt Wuerker -“Politico dot Com Gallery


Revolving-door hires and former defense executives in government remain a powerful force for the status quo in Pentagon spending.

They exert influence as needed to keep big-ticket weapons programs like the F-35 combat aircraft up and running, whether they are needed or not, whether they work as promised or not.


“This piece originally appeared on TomDispatch.com.

For the Pentagon, happy days are here again (if they ever left). With a budget totaling more than $1.4 trillion for the next two years, the department is riding high, even as it attempts to set the stage for yet more spending increases in the years to come.

With such enormous sums now locked in, Secretary of Defense (and former Raytheon lobbyist) Mark Esper is already going through a ritual that couldn’t be more familiar to Pentagon watchers. He’s pledged to “reform” the bureaucracy and the spending priorities of the Department of Defense to better address the latest proposed threats du jour, Russia and China. His main focus: paring back the Pentagon’s “Fourth Estate” — an alphabet soup of bureaucracies not under the control of any of the military services that sucks up about 20% of the $700 billion-plus annual budget.

Esper’s promises to streamline the spending machine should be taken with more than the usual grain of salt. Virtually every secretary of defense in living memory has made similar commitments, with little or nothing to show for them in terms of documented savings. Far from eliminating wasteful programs, efforts pursued by those past secretaries and by Congress under similar banners have been effective in only one obvious way: further reducing oversight and civilian control of the Pentagon rather than waste and inefficiency in it.

Examples of gutting oversight under the guise of reform abound, including attempting to eliminate offices focused on closing excess military bases and sidelining officials responsible for testing the safety and effectiveness of weapon systems before their deployment. During the administration of President Bill Clinton, for instance, the slogan of the day — “reinventing government” — ended up, in Pentagon terms, meaning the gutting of contract oversight. In fact, just to repair the damage from that so-called reform and rebuild that workforce took another $3.5 billion. Gordon Adams, former associate director for national security and international affairs at the White House Office of Management and Budget, noted accurately that such efforts often prove little more than a “phony management savings waltz.”

Secretary of Defense Esper has also pledged to eliminate older weapons programs to make way for systems more suited to great power conflict. Past efforts along these lines have meant attempts to retire proven, less expensive systems like the A-10 “Warthog” — the close-air-support aircraft that protects troops in combat — to make way for the over-priced, underperforming F-35 jet fighter and similar projects.

Never mind that a war with either Russia or China — both nuclear-armed states — would be catastrophic. Never mind that more effort should be spent figuring out how to avoid conflict with both of them, rather than spinning out scenarios for fighting them more effectively (or at least more expensively). Prioritizing unlikely scenarios makes for a great payday for contractors, but often sacrifices the ability of the military to actually address current challenges. It takes the focus away from effectively fighting the real asymmetric wars the U.S. has been fighting since World War II. It leaves taxpayers with massive bills for systems that almost invariably turn out to be over cost and behind schedule. Just as an infamous (and nonexistent) “bomber gap” with the Soviet Union was used by the Pentagon and its boosters to increase military spending in the 1950s, the current hype around ultra-high-speed, hypersonic weapons will only lead to sky’s-the-limit expenditures and a new global arms race.

Esper’s efforts may end up failing even on their own narrow terms. Reforming the Pentagon is hard work, not only because it’s one of the world’s largest bureaucracies, but because there are far too many parochial interests that profit from the status quo. Under the circumstances, it matters little if current spending patterns aren’t aligned with any rational notion of what it would take to defend the United States and its allies.

A Revolving-Door World

The Department of Defense regularly claims that it has implemented “efficiencies” to ensure that every penny of your tax dollars is being wisely spent. Such efforts, however, are little more than marketing ploys designed to fend off future calls for cuts in the Pentagon’s still-ballooning budget. Here are just two recent examples of this sadly familiar story.

In September 2018, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report stating that the Department of Defense had provided insufficient evidence that $154 billion in alleged “efficiency savings” from fiscal years 2012 to 2016 had been realized; the department claimed credit for them anyway.

Just this month, the GAO came to a similar conclusion regarding a proposed Pentagon reform plan that was to save $18.4 billion between fiscal years 2017 and 2020. Its report stated that the Pentagon had “provided limited documentation of… progress,” which meant the GAO “could not independently assess and verify” it. Consider that a charitable way of suggesting that the Department of Defense was once again projecting a false image of fiscal discipline, even as it was drowning in hundreds of billions of your tax dollars. The GAO, however, failed to mention one crucial thing: even if those alleged savings had been realized, they would simply have been plowed into other Pentagon programs, not used to reduce the department’s bloated budget.

Esper and his colleagues have argued that it will be different this time. In an August 2nd memo, his principal deputy, David Norquist, stated that “we will begin immediately and move forward aggressively… The review will consider all ideas — no reform is too small, too bold, or too controversial to be considered.”

Even if Esper and Norquist were, however, to propose real changes, they would undoubtedly run into serious interference within the Pentagon, not to mention from their commander-in-chief, President Donald Trump, a man determined to plough ever more taxpayer dollars into the military, and from members of Congress in states counting on jobs generated by the military-industrial complex. Inside the Pentagon, on the other hand, resistance to change will be spearheaded by officials who previously held jobs in the defense industry or hope to do so in the future. We’re talking, of course, about those who have made use of, or will make use of, the infamous “revolving door” between weapons companies and the government. Consider that the essence of the military-industrial complex in action.

Such ties start at the top. During the Trump administration, the post of secretary of defense has been passed from one former defense industry figure to another, as if it were literally reserved only for key officials from major weapons makers. Trump’s first secretary of defense, retired General James (“Mad Dog”) Mattis, came to the Pentagon straight from the board of General Dynamics, a position he returned to shortly after leaving the department. Interim Secretary Patrick Shanahan, who followed him, had been an executive at Boeing, while current Secretary Esper was Raytheon’s former chief in-house lobbyist. The Pentagon’s number three official, John Rood, similarly comes courtesy of Lockheed Martin. And the list only goes on from there.

This has been a systemic problem in Democratic and Republican administrations, but there has been a marked increase in such appointments under Donald Trump. A Bloomberg Government analysis found that roughly half of the Obama administration’s top Pentagon officials had defense contractor experience. In the Trump administration, that number has reached a startling 80%-plus.

That revolving door, of course, swings both ways. Defense executives come into government, where they make decisions that benefit their former colleagues and companies. Then, as retiring government officials, they go to work for defense firms where they can use their carefully developed government contacts to benefit their new (or old) employers. This practice is endemic. A study by the Project On Government Oversight found 645 cases in which the top 20 defense contractors hired former senior government officials, military officers, members of Congress, or senior legislative staff as lobbyists, board members, or senior executives in 2018 alone.

There is, of course, nothing new about any of this. The late Senator William Proxmire (D-WI) pinpointed the problem with the revolving door back in 1969:

“The easy movement of high-ranking military officers into jobs with major defense contractors and the reverse movement of top executives in major defense contractors into high Pentagon jobs is solid evidence of the military-industrial complex in operation. It is a real threat to the public interest because it increases the chances of abuse… How hard a bargain will officers involved in procurement planning or specifications drive when they are one or two years from retirement and have the example to look at over 2,000 fellow officers doing well on the outside after retirement?”

For his part, President Trump has repeatedly bragged about his role in promoting defense-related employment in key states, both from Pentagon budget increases and the sale of arms to repressive regimes like Saudi Arabia. In March, he held a one-hour campaign-style rally for workers at a tank plant in Lima, Ohio, at which he typically suggested that his budget increases had saved their jobs.

As for Congress, when the Army, in a rare move, actually sought to save a modest amount of money by canceling an upgrade of its CH-47 transport helicopter, the Senate struck back, calling for funding that the Pentagon hadn’t even requested in order to proceed with the program. The reason? Protecting jobs at Boeing’s Philadelphia-area factory that was scheduled to carry out the upgrades. Unsurprisingly, Trump seems fine with this congressional initiative (affecting the key battleground state of Pennsylvania), which still needs to survive a House-Senate conference on the defense bill.

The bottom line: Donald Trump is likely to oppose any changes that might have even the smallest impact on employment in states where he needs support in election campaign 2020. Defense industry consultant Loren Thompson summed up the case as follows: “We’re too close to the presidential election and nobody [at the White House] wants to lose votes by killing a program.” And keep in mind that this president is far from alone in taking such a stance. Similar reelection pressures led former President Jimmy Carter to increase Pentagon spending at the end of his term and caused the George H. W. Bush administration to reverse a decision to cancel the troubled V-22 Osprey, a novel part-helicopter, part-airplane that would later be implicated in crashes killing dozens of Marines.

“We Won’t Get Fooled Again”

What would a genuine Pentagon reform plan look like? There are areas that could easily yield major savings with sufficient political will and persistence. The most obvious of these might be the Pentagon’s employment of more than 600,000 private contractors, many of whom do jobs that could be done by government civilians for less. Cutting that work force to “only” about half a million, for example, could save more than a quarter of a trillion dollars over the next decade, as noted in a recent report by the Center for International Policy’s Sustainable Defense Task Force (of which both authors of this article were members).

Billions more could be saved by eliminating unnecessary military bases. Even the Pentagon claims that it has 20% more facilities than it needs. A more reasonable, restrained defense strategy, including ending America’s twenty-first-century forever wars, would make far more bases redundant, both at home and among the 800 or so now scattered around the planet in an historically unprecedented fashion. Similarly, the president’s obsession with creating an expensive Space Force should be blocked, given that it’s likely only to increase bureaucracy and duplication, while ensuring an arms race above the planet as well as on it.

Real reform would also mean changing how the Pentagon does business (not to speak of the way it makes war). Such savings would naturally start by simply curbing the corruption that comes from personnel in high positions who are guaranteed to put the interests of defense contractors ahead of those of taxpayers and the real needs of American security. (There are also few restrictions on former officials working for foreign governments and almost no public disclosure on the subject.) The Project On Government Oversight found hundreds of Pentagon officials leaving for defense industry jobs, raising obvious questions about whether decisions they made were in the public interest or meant to advance their own future paydays.

Real reform would close the many loopholes in current ethics laws, extend cooling-off periods between when an official leaves government and when he or she can work for an arms contractor, and make far more prominent information about when retired national security officials switch teams from government to industry (or vice versa). Unfortunately, since Esper himself has refused to pledge not to return to the world of the corporate weapons makers after his stint as secretary of defense, this sort of reform will undoubtedly never be part of his “reform” agenda.

One outcome of his initiative, however, will definitely not be money-saving in any way. It will be to boost spending on high-tech systems like missile defense and artificial intelligence on the almost laughable grounds (given the past history of weapons development) that they can provide more military capability for less money. Whether you look at the Navy’s Ford aircraft carriers — the first two costing $13.1 billion and $11.3 billion — or the Air Force’s aerial refueling tanker (which has taken nearly two decades to procure), it’s not hard to see how often vaunted technological revolutions prove staggeringly costly — far, far beyond initial estimates — yet result in smaller, less effective forces. As longtime Pentagon reformer Tom Christie has pointed out, to really change the acquisition system would require building in significantly more discipline. That would mean demonstrating the effective and reliable use of new technology through rigorous field-testing before advancing fragile weapons systems to the production stage, ensuring future maintenance and other headaches for troops in combat.

There is, in addition, a larger issue underlying all this talk of spending reform at the Pentagon. After all, Esper’s “reforms” are visibly designed to align Pentagon spending with the department’s new priority: combatting the security challenges posed by Russia and China. Start with one crucial thing: these challenges have been greatly exaggerated, both in the Trump administration’s national defense strategy and in the report of the industry-led National Defense Strategy Commission. That document, when you analyze its future math, even had the nerve to claim that the Pentagon budget would need to be boosted to nearly $1 trillion annually within the next five years, reports Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Russia has much to answer for — from its assistance to the Syrian army’s ongoing slaughter of civilians to its military meddling in the affairs of Ukraine — but the response to such challenges should not be to spend more on ships, planes, and advanced nuclear weapons, as current Pentagon plans would do. In reality, the economy and military of Russia, a shaky petro-state only passing for a great power, are already overshadowed by those of the U.S. and its NATO allies. Throwing more money at the Pentagon will do nothing to change Russian behavior in a positive fashion. Taking measures that are in the interests of both countries like renewing the New START nuclear reduction treaty and beginning new talks on curbing their massive nuclear arsenals would be extremely valuable in their own right and might also open the door to negotiations on other issues of mutual concern.

China’s challenge to the U.S is significantly more economic than military and, if those two nations wanted to make the planet a safer place, they would cooperate in addressing the threat of climate change, not launch a new arms race. Genuine reform of the Pentagon’s massive budget is urgently needed, but rest assured that Secretary of Defense Esper’s claims about implementing real changes to save taxpayer dollars while making the U.S. military more effective are the equivalent of bestseller-list Pentagon fiction. The motto of Congress, not to speak of the White House and the public, with respect to the Pentagon’s latest claims of fiscal probity should be “we won’t get fooled again.”


Jon Kyl Replaces John McCain In Senate With Baggage As a Lobbyist


Lobbyist Revolving Door

“Cronkite News”

“Someone who 10 days ago was working on behalf of massive corporate clients from Walmart to Raytheon suddenly being in the Senate to represent constituents again, I think it brings us all to a place of pause,” said Lisa Gilbert, vice president of legislative affairs for nonprofit consumer advocacy organization Public Citizen.”

“When he named Jon Kyl to replace the late Sen. John McCain last week, Gov. Doug Ducey said that every day Kyl was in office would be “a day when our state is being well-served.”

But it’s the service Kyl has performed for the past several years, as a lobbyist representing an impressive list of multinational clients, that has government watchdogs concerned.

But Mike Noble, an Arizona pollster, said that although that might give some pause, he’s confident Kyl will behave ethically.

“I don’t think there’s ever been a question of his character or integrity,” said Noble, managing partner of OH Predictive Insights. “He’s a good guy, on a lot of levels.”

After leaving the Senate at the start of 2013, Kyl joined top Washington lobbying firm Covington & Burling in March 2013. The Senate Lobbying Disclosure Act Database includes dozens of reports that mention Kyl dating back to February 2015, representing millions of dollars in contracts for the firm.

Clients ranged from microchip and telecom firm Qualcomm to the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), from defense contractor Northrup Grumman to biotech firm Celgene Corp. to mining company Freeport-McMoRan.

In March, Covington & Burling issued a press release lauding a team that included Kyl for having “secured” an executive order from President Donald Trump that “marked total victory for Qualcomm” in its fight to fend off a takeover bid by Singapore-based Broadcom Corp.

Neither Covington nor Kyl’s Senate office – he was sworn in to McCain’s seat Wednesday – returned requests for comment.

But Jeb Barnes, a professor of political science at the University of Southern California, said Kyl’s situation points to a “broader question of how quickly we should allow the revolving door to turn.”

Kyl is not the first to move between public office and private lobbying. Eric Holder left Covington in 2009 to become attorney general under President Barack Obama and returned to the firm after leaving office in 2015.

But where Holder went through the door in one direction, Kyl is going in the other. For Danielle Brian, executive director for the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight, that is more than just the typical Washington revolving door but “a serious step into the swamp.”

“It’s a real shame that Senator McCain, who fought against the revolving door and the corrupting influence of lobbying and campaign finance, is being replaced by someone who left the Senate and stepped into that swamp,” Brian said in an email. “I can hear the contractors clinking their glasses right now.”

Arizona political consultant Jason Rose said he understands the concerns firsthand: Rose is representing one side in a fight over development near the Grand Canyon and Covington is representing the other. But he has faith in Kyl, who has only committed to serve through the end of this year.

“Notwithstanding those concerns, Jon Kyl has been known his entire career as an exceptionally ethical actor with great integrity,” Rose said. “Just because someone has a complicated untangling of lobbying relationships, doesn’t mean they won’t act as they have before in the Senate, with that same honor and integrity.”

John Wonderlich, executive director at the Sunlight Foundation, said it “would be wise for Senator Kyl to ask the Senate Select Committee on Ethics for guidance on when it would be appropriate to recuse himself given how recently he has been a lobbyist.”

That recommendation was echoed by Rose.

Paul S. Ryan, vice president for policy and litigation at Common Cause, said Kyl should release a list of his clients from the law firm.

“I’d want to see the client list, and I’d want to see the senator recuse himself from any matters pertaining to their former clients,” he said.

Requests for comment from the Senate Ethics Committee were not returned.

Noble, who just finished a poll on Ducey’s selection of Kyl, said most Arizonans seem to agree it was a “fantastic” pick.

“When you look at his favorables, he’s very well liked,” Noble said. “Very few people dislike him.”


A Never Ending Saga – The Influence Peddling “Revolving Door”


Revolving Door


“An elite Washington is comfortable with what it calls “the revolving door” ― the movement of government officials into lobbying, contracting or consulting jobs where they can exploit government connections for profit.

It’s not considered a particularly admirable career path, but it is nevertheless accepted as a normal part of life in the nation’s capital.”


“The last 18 months have been difficult for former members of the Obama administration. They’ve been replaced by a regime, which, in the words of former Domestic Policy Council director Melody Barnes, “shows virtually no respect for constitutional principles, or often, basic human decency.” And now they can do little more than complain about their successors’ parade of outrages.

“Our democracy is under attack,” warned former Attorney General Eric Holder. Former Assistant AG Lanny Breuer called the Trump administration’s immigration agenda, “contrary to the core values of this nation.” Conscientious public servants “cannot stay silent,” wrote former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who also said President Donald Trump’s separation of migrant children from their asylum-seeking parents is “immoral and un-American.” Former White House spokesman Jay Carney worried about “the country’s credibility” under Trump. “Donald Trump is sort of to politics what Bernie Madoff was to investment,” according to ex-Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. His birth control policy, said Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, is “unconscionable.”

And yet for all the damage the Trump administration is doing to American democracy, several prominent Obama alums seem to have quietly made their peace with a subtler attack on the legitimacy of U.S. institutions. Today, many are lending the prestige of their White House resumes to scandal-fraught organizations in return for large sums of money. Some are even doing business with the Trump administration.

Plenty of former Obama officials are leading scholarly lives as academics, working with nonprofits or in sectors of the corporate world far from the purview of their previous duties in Washington. Obama spokesperson Eric Schultz told HuffPost that Obama “implemented unprecedented ethics rules, including cracking down on the revolving door by prohibiting former lobbyists from working on issues on which they lobbied, and by preventing appointees from lobbying the White House after working there.”

Schultz added that “President Obama’s White House was the first in modern history to not have a major scandal.”

None of the officials named in this article would comment on the record.

These days, Johnson receives $290,000 a year to serve on the board of directors at Lockheed Martin, the largest American defense contractor and the world’s biggest weapons manufacturer. It has been fined over $767 million for various forms of misconduct since forming in 1995, according to the Project on Government Oversight.

Directors of large corporations are nominally responsible for pretty important stuff: setting executive compensation, managing risk and generally ensuring that a company’s management acts in the best interest of its shareholders. But American corporate governance has been weak for decades. In practice, serving on a board means attending a few meetings a year and collecting paychecks. The Lockheed Martin board met nine times last year.

Lockheed Martin sells rockets, missiles, bombs, “guided projectiles,” “laser weapon systems,” “integrated surface warfare,” fighter jets, attack helicopters and drones, along with tech support, systems operation and various training programs. All told, the company does $35 billion a year in business with the federal government, much of it contracted with the very department Johnson recently headed. The company’s sales are rising along with Trump’s defense budgets.

Johnson has been publishing opinion pieces in The Washington Post on DHS policy of late, presenting his cachet as Obama’s DHS Secretary as a relevant credential. The pieces have not disclosed the fact that he works for a defense contractor that stands to profit from DHS business.

Barnes is also working at a defense contractor, earning upwards of $210,000 a year serving on the board at Booz Allen Hamilton, which held eight meetings in 2017. Barnes, who recently penned an op-ed for The Hill calling “to build an inclusive, multicultural democracy that provides opportunity, community and security for all” through “community wealth building,” has been working for the firm since 2015. Last year, the company announced it was the subject of a Department of Justice criminal investigation over irregularities in its government billing and accounting. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, in 2016 and 2017 alone, the company received $63 million in contracts to work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement ― the militarized deportation agency at the heart of the Trump administration’s family separation scandal. Booz Allen Hamilton revenues are up almost 15 percent since Trump came to town.

Ride-sharing titan Uber also hired Barnes in May 2016 in an apparent effort to clean up its image as a stream of Uber scandals began to dominate headlines. Roughly eight months after she joined a new policy advisory board at the company, a major sexual harassment scandal broke, and Barnes has remained at the company as it has weathered a barrage of subsequent debacles far removed from her role, including the improper seizing of an alleged rape survivor’s medical records in an apparent attempt to discredit her accusations.

Uber seems to have been a preferred landing pad for Obama officials. Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood joined Barnes on the policy advisory board, and Obama’s 2008 campaign manager David Plouffe worked as a senior vice president at the company from August 2014 until January 2017. He was fined $90,000 by the city of Chicago for illegally lobbying the city’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, while working for Uber. Emanuel, who served as Obama’s first White House Chief of Staff, has distinguished himself as mayor by covering up the police shooting of Laquan McDonald.

Uber has also paid Holder for various legal work. After the sexual harassment story became front-page news, Uber commissioned Holder to conduct a study and issue a report detailing problems with the company’s workplace culture and management approach.

As attorney general, Holder refused to prosecute Wall Street crime related to the 2008 financial crisis, even as banks agreed to pay billions upon billions of dollars in settlement after settlement with the federal government. Even in cases where major banking institutions pleaded guilty to felony charges, Holder and the DOJ declined to prosecute any actual bankers for crimes.

So it makes a perverse kind of sense that Holder is now a partner at the law firm of Covington and Burling, a D.C.-based outfit that specializes in work on behalf of the banking industry. In a remarkable interview with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes this April, Holder downplayed the significance of financial misconduct, suggesting that law enforcement agencies have more important things to deal with.

“There’s a lot of crime that happens I think generally that doesn’t get reported ― people are stealing things out of grocery stores, people are doing things in banks that they shouldn’t be doing,” Holder said. “But when it comes to the things that are truly consequential that are truly important, I think that law enforcement … generally holds people to account.”

Former Assistant Attorney General of the U.S. Justice Department's Criminal Division Lanny A. Breuer

Former Assistant Attorney General of the U.S. Justice Department’s Criminal Division Lanny A. Breuer

Breuer, who was in charge of DOJ’s criminal division during the Obama years, is also a partner at Covington and Burling. He currently spends his time “helping clients navigate financial fraud investigations, anti-corruption matters, money laundering investigations, securities enforcement actions, cybercrime incidents, Congressional investigations, and other criminal and civil matters presenting complex regulatory, political, and public relations risks,” according to the firm’s website.

Obama’s first Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Schapiro has also found her way into Wall Street’s good graces. She now advises financial firms for the consulting firm Promontory Financial Group, and serves on the board of Morgan Stanley ― an investment banking behemoth that has settled 24 separate allegations of misconduct with the federal government since her departure from the SEC. This includes a multibillion-dollar case for defrauding investors with toxic securities during the financial crisis. Schapiro just started at Morgan Stanley and her compensation hasn’t been disclosed, but according to a recent SEC filing, the bank’s directors receive between $338,333 and $378,333 a year. The Morgan Stanley board met a total of 16 times last year.

Former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, meanwhile, is now president of the private equity firm Warburg Pincus, which owns Mariner Finance, an installment lender that targets poor families with high-interest loans. A devastating Washington Post story published last week detailed the case of one Mariner customer who borrowed $2,000 from the firm, only to find himself owing over $3,200 in less than a year, even after making a few payments on the loan. Mariner initially got in touch with the man by mailing him a check for $1,200 “out of the blue,” labeled as loan with a 33 percent interest rate.

Former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is now advocating for some of the country’s biggest dairy interests, including Schreiber Foods, Sargento, Hershey and YUM! Restaurants (better known as KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut), as president of the U.S. Dairy Export Council.

Ex-White House Chief of Staff Pete Rouse is now chair of the Public and Strategic Affairs Group at the law firm of Perkins Coie, where he, “provides policy analysis and offers strategic advice on navigating Congress and the executive branch” and “counsels senior level executives on federal and state policy issues and related public communication challenges.” Such activity is known to the general public as “lobbying,” but ― conveniently ― does not need to be described as such for legal purposes.

And then there’s Carney. Prior to Trump’s election, perhaps no American in the 21st century had displayed greater ingenuity when attempting to discredit legitimate journalism than the former White House spokesman. Carney worked for Time magazine as a political editor before joining the White House, and he joined Amazon as a senior vice president in March 2015 after leaving the administration in the summer of 2014. When the New York Times ran a story detailing a host of problems with Amazon’s harsh workplace culture, Carney authored a lengthy reply on Medium publicly challenging the company employees quoted in the story (why Amazon thought this would contribute to an image as a supportive employer was not clear) and accusing the Times of journalistic malpractice.

Big, prestigious corporations just didn’t do this sort of thing at the time. Read Carney’s piece and ask yourself if the final paragraph doesn’t read like a memo from Sarah Huckabee Sanders. It’s a masterpiece of innuendo and half-truth, of molehills presented as mountains and unsubstantiated accusations. Carney even attacked lead reporter Jodi Kantor by name, devoting nearly 400 words to a narrative suggesting that her months of communication with the company for the story were really just an underhanded campaign of deception.

The Times stood by their story, and a month after Carney published his piece, Amazon spontaneously announced it would be implementing a more generous maternity leave policy. Kantor went on to share the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for breaking the Harvey Weinstein sexual misconduct story.

In a statement provided to HuffPost, an Amazon spokesperson noted that the paper’s public editor had called the Times story “unbalanced.” “The Medium article outlined the facts about the individuals mentioned in the New York Times story, and the information in it is all correct,” the spokesperson said.

This isn’t a full accounting of everything everyone in the administration has done since leaving office. Holder is chairing a the National Democratic Redistricting Committee to combat gerrymandering, for instance, while Barnes is vice chair of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation that oversees Monticello.

And elite Washington is comfortable with what it calls “the revolving door” ― the movement of government officials into lobbying, contracting or consulting jobs where they can exploit government connections for profit. It’s not considered a particularly admirable career path, but it is nevertheless accepted as a normal part of life in the nation’s capital.

But much of what passes for normal in Washington is considered grotesque in the rest of the country. If the Trump administration weren’t bumbling between different crimes against humanity, it’s hard to imagine anyone getting nostalgic for the era when these folks ran the free world.”


Who Are the Biggest Corporate Welfare Moochers?




“Overall, the lion’s share of federal subsidies and other financial support meant to spur domestic job creation and investment has gone to a relatively select group of banks, energy companies, and government contractors.

Two-thirds of the $68 billion in business grants and tax credits awarded by the federal government since 2000 went to 528 companies. Nearly 80 percent of the hundreds of billions of dollars in federal loans, loan guarantees, and bailout assistance awarded during that period went to just 12 American and foreign banks.

Many of these companies also have track records of questionable business practices, contract fraud, and other instances of misconduct. Several are notorious tax dodgers.

The federal contractor with the most grants and tax credits is General Electric with $836.5 million, mostly from the Energy and Defense Departments. General Atomics comes in second with $614.7 million from Energy. Other major defense contractors—United Technologies, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Honeywell, and Raytheon—have each received tens of millions of dollars in Pentagon grants.

Those are the key findings of the nonprofit watchdog Good Jobs First, which expanded its Subsidy Tracker database to include information on 164,000 awards from 137 federal programs over the last 15 years. Subsidy Tracker, launched in December 2010, also includes information about 277,000 awards from 567 state and local government programs. The database tracks more than 1,800 parent companies.

Of particular interest to the Project On Government Oversight are the findings pertaining to federal contractors. Nearly half of the 100 largest federal contractors have received allocated tax credits or federal grants, 30 have received loans, loan guarantees, or bailout assistance, and 24 have received both. At the same time, these companies were awarded billions of dollars in federal contracts.

GE has also received $28.5 billion in loans and loan guarantees, most of which is bailout assistance from the Federal Reserve. (Since loans are eventually repaid, and the government sometimes makes a profit on the lending, Good Jobs First tallied the loan and bailout amounts separately from grants and allocated tax credits.) The contractor with the most in loans and loan guarantees is Boeing, with $64 billion from the Export-Import Bank. Boeing’s hundreds of billions of dollars in federal contracts and nearly $65 billion in federal subsidies and other financial support since 2000 make it one of “Uncle Sam’s favorite corporations,” according to a report accompanying the revamped database.

Energy services contractor McDermott International has the dubious distinction of being one of the largest federal subsidy recipients that have “inverted,”—reincorporated or merged abroad in order to avoid U.S. taxes. McDermott—now incorporated in Panama but based in Texas—received $12 million in Energy and Defense grants and tax credits and $36.8 million in Export-Import Bank loan guarantees. Subsidy Tracker links to Citizen for Tax Justice’s Corporate Tax Explorer database, so you can quickly see what many recipients of government largesse pay in federal and state income taxes. GE, for example, currently has an average federal tax rate of -9%.

To complete the picture, Subsidy Tracker also links to the Sunlight Foundation’s Fixed Fortunes report, which compares the amount in federal contracts and subsidies (grants, loans, financial assistance) received by 200 large corporations with their federal lobbying expenses and campaign contributions. POGO blogged about the report when it was released last fall, highlighting the federal contractors among the 200 with the largest returns on investment. For example, we discovered that Lockheed, Boeing, Raytheon, General Dynamics, and Northrop received a combined total of $1,540 in federal contracts and support for every $1 they spent on lobbying and political donations.

The new-and-improved Subsidy Tracker is a great way to celebrate Sunshine Week. This free and easy-to-use database opens up a vast trove of information about the “corporate welfare” being doled out around the country by governments at all levels.”


Our Navy Is Big Enough


Diseno-art.com“THE NEW YORK TIMES”

“The $3.3 billion Zumwalt destroyer uses all-electric propulsion, employs stealth features, carries a huge arsenal of guided missiles, and mounts advanced cannons that can hit targets 63 miles away.

Most likely it will never be tested in battle, because no other nation is even attempting to build a warship like the Zumwalt, which symbolizes the gigantic advantage the United States Navy enjoys.

The Pentagon’s new budget request asks that the Navy receive a large increase: $161 billion for the 2016 fiscal year, versus $149 billion in the current fiscal year. Last month, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus told the House Appropriations Committee that the Navy must get bigger — increasing to a total of at least 300 ships, versus the current 275.

Both houses of Congress are now under Republican control, with the Senate Armed Services Committee headed by John McCain, a Navy veteran. Desire for a larger, more expensive Navy has been a Republican political theme since the Reagan presidency. The Republican presidential aspirant Jeb Bush, who favors higher military spending, has called Navy budget restrictions “really severe.” Another potential Republican White House candidate, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, told the American Enterprise Institute in October that if cuts were made to the defense budget, “America will not have a global Navy anymore.”

Yet no naval expansion is needed. The Navy has 10 nuclear-powered supercarriers — 10 more than the rest of the world. No other nation is even contemplating anything like the advanced nuclear supercarriers that the United States has under construction. China possesses one outdated, conventionally powered carrier, and is believed to be building two other carriers, neither of which is a nuclear supercarrier capable of contesting the “blue water,” or deep open oceans, where the United States Navy dominates. In aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines, naval aviation, surface firepower, assault ships, missiles and logistics, the United States Navy is more powerful than all other navies of the world combined.

Some commentators engage in fearmongering regarding China’s carriers, new submarines and its anti-ship ballistic missile. But the carriers are modest compared with America’s, the submarines far less capable than ours. And there’s no evidence that its anti-ship missile has had a realistic test.

China’s neighbors are unhappy that the growing Chinese Navy may back Beijing’s claims regarding the South China Sea. But Chinese naval expansion does not pose any direct threat to the national security of the United States, or to its dominance of the oceans. For the United States to think there is something sinister in China’s projecting power in its own nearby waters would be like China’s asserting there were something sinister in the fact that the United States Fourth Fleet operates in the Caribbean. South China Sea jurisdictional disputes are an issue to be resolved by negotiation. Making the United States Navy even more powerful won’t matter to such clashes.

For many centuries, naval rivalry was a central aspect of great-power relations. Yet for more than half a century there has been no great-power naval rivalry — because the United States Navy rules. The last major sea battle was at Okinawa, in 1945. Piracy still occurs, but in the main, global trade has flowered because sea lanes are open and commercial vessels ply the oceans unthreatened by warships. Free commerce upon the oceans brings nearly all nations, including developing nations, higher living standards and less poverty.

Since Navy operations take place far from home, Americans may be unaware of their country’s nautical strength and of the progressive role the Navy plays in world affairs. Many Americans have never seen an active-duty United States warship; ships can’t march in Fourth of July parades or fly over football games. But arguably, naval hegemony is among the greatest American achievements, and one that makes all nations better off. That hegemony is secured by such a dramatic margin that no naval buildup is needed.”



Big Data At Its Best – The Federal Contractor Misconduct Data Base


6a00d8341c68bf53ef0147e3484f33970b-800wi                                                              http://www.contractormisconduct.org/

A clear, easily accessed, record of judgment proceedings and judgment payment amounts since 1995 against the nations, largest federal contractors, most of whom are continuing to receive billions in government work.


“About POGO’s Federal Contractor Misconduct Database (FCMD)

“The government awards contracts to companies with histories of misconduct such as contract fraud and environmental, ethics, and labor violations. In the absence of a centralized federal database listing instances of misconduct, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is providing such data.

We believe that it will lead to improved contracting decisions and public access to information about how the government spends hundreds of billions of taxpayer money each year on goods and services.”




A Road Map of SPECIFICS to Reduce the Risk of Tyranny in US Government


Watchdogwire                                                                   Image:  “Watchdogwire”

Consider passing the following guidance on to your elected representatives.  They are “Driving the bus.”  The specifics have been developed by The Project On Government Oversight (POGO), who for over 30 years has championed good government reforms as a nonpartisan, independent watchdog.


“The following recommendations will help the country achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical government—one that is truly responsive to the needs of its citizens.

Furthermore, while it is always a goal to have the best possible government at the lowest feasible cost, our troubled economy makes it even more imperative that Congress shrink the cost of government thoughtfully. The place to begin to save billions of taxpayer dollars is to reduce waste, fraud, and abuse.

Our recommendations focus on 13 critical areas that we think need Congress’ immediate attention:

  • Shining a light on the influence of the revolving door between government and the industries that it regulates.
  • Making Inspectors General more independent and accountable.
  • Strengthening whistleblower protections for federal employees and contractors.
  • Expanding incentives and protections for private sector whistleblowers.
  • Reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs.
  • Modernizing the Freedom of Information Act.
  • Increasing transparency and oversight on the legal interpretations issued by the Office of Legal Counsel.
  • Stopping wasteful national security spending.
  • Enacting pro-taxpayer contracting reforms.
  • Tackling military acquisition reform.
  • Opening the Senate markup process of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to the public.
  • Ensuring taxpayers get a fair return on publicly owned natural resources.
  • Addressing problems and loopholes in the Foreign Agents Registration Act.”

Read the full report.












                                                   Image: “9Buzzdotcom”

Pentagon Tells Congress to Stop Buying Equipment it Doesn’t Need


Endless war “MILITARY DOT COM”

“Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va. – ‘When [President] Eisenhower said ‘beware of the military industrial complex,’ man he knew what he was talking about … We force stuff on you all that we know you don’t want.’

Army Chief of Staff General Raymond Odierno agreed with Manchin. “We are still having to procure systems we don’t need,” Odierno said, adding that the Army spends “hundreds of millions of dollars on tanks that we simply don’t have the structure for anymore.”

The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said Wednesday he wants the U.S. Military’s service chiefs to have more power to prevent the Pentagon from buying weapons it doesn’t need. Sen. John McCain, SASC’s new chairman in the new Republican-run Senate, said one his top priorities for this session is to ensure that the service chiefs have more input into the acquisition and procurement process.

For three years, the Army in numerous Congressional hearings has pushed a plan that essentially would have suspended tank building and upgrades in the U.S. for the first time since World War II. The Army suggested that production lines could be kept open through foreign sales. Each time, Congress has pushed back. In December, Congress won again in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 that funded $120 million for Abrams tank upgrades.

The Army and the Marine Corps currently have about 9,000 Abrams tanks in their inventories. The tank debate between the Army and Congress goes back to 2012 when Odierno testified that the Army doesn’t need more tanks. Odierno lost then too. Congress voted for another $183 million for tanks despite Odierno’s argument that the Army was seeking to become a lighter force.

“When we are talking about tight budgets a couple of hundred million dollars is a lot of money,” Odierno said. “There are lots of people that have looked at procurement reform. And the one thing that has been frustrating to me is as the chief of staff of the Army is how little authority and responsibility that I have in the procurement process. I have a say in requirements, to some extent, but I have very little say.”

Adm. Jonathan Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations, said that there needs to be clarity on the chain of command when it comes to procurement. “There are too many people involved in the process,” Greenert said. “If I say ‘I need a thing’ … there are a whole lot of people telling us ‘no, this is what you really need.'” In many cases, the technology is not mature and even essential programs become delayed and end up costing more than they should, Greenert said.

If it won’t be ready on time, it becomes too expensive. “Cost and schedule need to become a much bigger factor in this process than it is today,” Greenert said.

Manchin told the chiefs he is “really interested in finding out how many ideas come from you all and what you need vs. from those on the outside and what they think you need.”


The US Trillion Dollar Nuclear Weapons Gamble



                                                               A Better Idea and Less Costly


These plans will cost $348 billion over the next 10 years, according to a Congressional Budget Office estimate released last week.   Nuclear weapons do precious little to address the real threats we and our allies face today, and do nothing to address the threat of terrorism.

Nothing to counter Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria. Nothing to counteract the growing risk of cyber attack.  And, while recognizing the very problematic behavior of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the truth is U.S. nuclear forces did not stop the Russian military from invading Ukraine either.

Spending more money on nuclear weapons would not turn them back. The conventional forces that the United States and its allies have at their disposal are more than sufficient to respond to any Russian provocation, should policy makers decide to use them.

This is not to say U.S. nuclear weapons have no role. Their job is to deter a nuclear attack on us and our allies. Today, the United States has some 2,000 deployed nuclear weapons and more than that in reserve. The New START agreement with Russia will reduce the number of long-range warheads each country deploys to 1,550 by 2018. Yet the U.S. military has already concluded that the United States does not need more than 1,000 such weapons.

In fact, the United States could maintain a fully capable deterrent without the unnecessary and redundant weapons or spending. No current or conceivable future threat requires the United States to maintain more than a few hundred survivable warheads. As a first step in this direction, the Obama administration should limit its total nuclear arsenal to 1,000 weapons, including both long- and short-range weapons, deployed and reserve.

Not only would reducing our bloated arsenal save U.S. taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars, it would make us safer. Nuclear weapons are the only threat to the survival of the United States. By reducing the role they play in global affairs, we increase our security. Specifically, U.S. reductions also enhance our efforts to eliminate North Korea’s limited arsenal, head off potential increases in China’s stockpile and limit Iran’s potential program. As they have in the past, U.S. cuts could prompt Russia to reduce its stockpile, particularly as the tumbling price of oil wreaks havoc on its economy. Even Putin’s decision to end cooperative programs to lock down Russian nuclear material and U.S. statements that Russia has violated the Intermediate Forces Treaty do not rule out such an outcome.

The Obama administration plans to develop and build new kinds of warheads rather than refurbish and rebuild the ones we already have. Again, not only is this an unnecessary expense, it undermines national security. The United States can maintain an effective and reliable arsenal at a reasonable cost, for as long as needed. But spending money on new types of warheads undermines efforts to stop additional countries from pursuing these weapons. Rather than an asset that increases national security, nuclear weapons are now our greatest security liability.

It is too late to improve this budget request. And sadly, this Congress is unlikely to make sensible changes to it. But as the limited value of nuclear weapons becomes clearer, smarter budgeting will involve budgets with smaller, more reasonable investments in our nuclear arsenal.”


Secretive Private Intelligence Contractors Need Better Oversight




“A Washington Post investigation in 2010 identified almost 2,000 companies working on counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence. The Office of Management and Budget revealed in 2014 that more than 5.1 million people — including over a million contractors — held security clearances.

Intelligence agencies entered into secret agreements with private companies to illegally obtain customers’ communications, and weaken encryption standards. that protect the internet from hackers and cybercriminals. When whistleblowers exposed the telecommunications companies’ role in these illegal schemes in violation Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights, the Justice Department failed to prosecute and Congress passed a statute immunizing them from private lawsuits.

The possibility of waste, fraud, and abuse exists in any government program. We minimize this risk through transparency, independent oversight and public accountability.

Secret intelligence programs, however, are a different story. Not only do secret programs suffer from an obvious lack of transparency, but since 9/11, the United States has drastically expanded and changed the way it conducts intelligence, defense and homeland security operations. That growth, without transparency, threatens not just the American taxpayers’ bottom line, but ultimately our national security.

Nowhere is this risk more apparent than in the government’s outsourcing of sensitive national security and intelligence operations to private contractors, whose share of the intelligence budget has reached up to 70 percent.

Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), a nonpartisan watchdog organization, recently articulated the risks this outsourcing poses to public accountability, civil rights and democratic control over national security programs:

“You now have…millions of people who are getting clearances that are not working for the federal government. And they are working for entities whose purpose is not the public interest but the bottom line,” Brian said.

“The capacity for secrecy is even deeper in the private sector,” she said, where contractors are not subject to public tools like the Freedom of Information Act, and independent watchdogs, like POGO, cannot evaluate contractor job performance. “So, what’s already mostly secret in the government is that much more secret when it’s in the private sector.” That, Brian argued, causes a conflict between profit motives, such as the data collected by telecommunications companies, and the real intelligence value of that data deemed valid for national security gathering despite privacy concerns.

As Brian suggests, giving profit-motivated companies access to incredibly valuable and sensitive information held by the intelligence agencies poses a number of grave risks.

The first and most obvious is the risk of misuse of the volumes of sensitive information the intelligence agencies collect. Intelligence officials’ claims that their agencies closely guard these databases were belied by National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden’s leaks. That his intent was to expose these secrets to journalists as a public service, rather than sell them, is what makes his case stand out. But several cases of espionage demonstrate that his access to sensitive information and ability to abscond with it was not unique.

That the companies that engaged in intelligence and surveillance operations also provided campaign contributions to the members of Congress charged with overseeing these intelligence activities only raised more public skepticism about integrity in government.

Without the legal tools to uncover these secret deals, it is impossible for watchdog groups like POGO to hold intelligence agencies, contractors and our elected representatives accountable, absent whistleblowers willing to risk their freedom.

Waste, fraud, and abuse in defense programs raise serious security concerns as well. Clark Kent Ervin served on the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, which issued a 2011 report identifying between $31 and $60 billion in U.S. taxpayer money lost to waste and fraud. In an interview, Ervin made the startling connection between ill-spent money paid to contractors in Iraq and the fall of the Iraq army at the hands of ISIS.

The U.S. government has long claimed that stopping the flow of money to terrorist groups is one of its highest priorities. It has aggressively targeted American Muslim charities, often without public charges or due process, chilling the provision of humanitarian aid to conflict zones around the world and the free exercise of religion. Yet the second largest source of income for Afghan insurgents, behind only drug dealing, wasn’t diverted charity, it was U.S. tax dollars contractors paid for protection. The Commission concluded these funds posed a direct threat to the U.S. war effort.

As the U.S. renews its military engagement in Iraq, and initiates a new one in Syria, it will again heavily rely on contractors. Ensuring our tax dollars aren’t funding our enemies should be among our highest priorities. It can only be accomplished with rigorous oversight and public accountability.”