Electing the Pentagon's Man

Email Print

we read of the coming election, what we mainly read about is “the
horse race.” For the presidential part of it, polls go up and down
creating endless news (with Republicans thrilled by the President’s
10-point Time magazine lead and Democrats checking Rasmussen
Reports daily on-line
for reassurance); in the media, the dog
fight in the “battleground states” is laid out state by state, poll
by poll, week by week. Electoral votes are added up and then, a
few days later, added again, throwing the election provisionally
in one direction or another. And we know there’s money involved.
The treasuries and advertising budgets of the two campaigns in what’s
coming to be called our
first “billion dollar election”
are now news. Thanks to Moveon.org
and a few similar organizations, the “527” is a term that’s slipped
outside the Beltway and, if you’re a junkie or in the mood to check
out the Texans for Public
Justice website
, you can even learn much about George Bush’s
“Pioneers” and “Rangers,” those brave (and wealthy) folks who have
been willing to push onto the farthest frontiers of bundling money
to buy an election.

But how this all works institutionally still remains largely a media
mystery and, when it comes to Congress, little short of a blank.
Charts are regularly drawn up in the press that allude to the major
aspect of this mystery. Every two years we have Congressional elections
in which the number of seats which might possibly change hands comes
remarkably close to zero. You can, for instance, check out a very
graphic New York Times graphic on this by clicking
, then on “The House,” and finally on “CQ[Congressional
Quarterly] risk ratings.”

A recent USA Today piece by Chuck Raasch (In
2004, all politics is national
) put a version of this into words:

after the 2000 Census has left less than 50 of the 435 congressional
seats truly competitive… If you live in Hawaii, Idaho, Maryland,
Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont or Wyoming, you not only
will likely have a yawner of a presidential contest, you will
have no real contests for the U.S. House, Senate or governor.
You might as well be living in Brazil. California, which Kerry
expects to win rather easily, has one mildly contested House race
among 53. Ohio has 18 House seats but none now look like they
are remotely up for grabs. Ohio Sen. George Voinovich is expected
to breeze to re-election. So in Ohio in 2004, all politics is

And in his estimates on competitive seats, Raasch is distinctly
on the optimistic side. Jon
Kamman of the Arizona Republic
, who reminds us that in
his state, “no member of the U.S. House …has been unseated in a
primary in 92 years of statehood,” has the following comment on
a rare competitive House seat in a district that includes Coconino
County (home of Krazy Kat).
“The seat, representing a huge rural district across northern, eastern
and south-central Arizona,” he writes in passing, “is one of about
35 nationwide considered up for grabs.”

400 seats in the increasingly ill-named House of Representatives,
then, are considered essentially “safe.” But none of the reporters
ever quite seem to get around to explaining the why of it. Below,
Chalmers Johnson, who in his recent bestselling book The
Sorrows of Empire
, (part of the
American Empire Project series
at Metropolitan Books) ranged
the world tracking down American militarism in its 700-plus bases
scattered from Qatar to Okinawa, Uzbekistan to Greenland, returns
home to explain how one “safe” seat has been working all these years,
military-industrial dollar by dollar. (If you want to explore exactly
how your own congressperson or senator has created his or her comforting
aura of safety, you might start by clicking

On your way from the Pentagon and Washington down to Chalmers Johnson’s
district in San Diego, a few basics, a little military-industrial
background, might be in order just to give yourself a sense of where
all that PAC money is coming from and why there’s so much of it.
Start with a
simple chart
comparing our military budget to anyone else’s;
and, as you consider these numbers, keep in mind that the figure
being used is the official Pentagon budget, not the actual sum that
goes into all military and intelligence related affairs which, depending
on how you count, could
rise as high as $750 billion
for fiscal year 2004, or twice
our stated defense budget. On the other hand, you could just check
out the price tags of a
few hot items of weaponry
(and we’re talking Neiman Marcus-style
prices, not Wal-Mart ones here), or consider a little chart of congressional
‘add-ons’ for fiscal year 1999 (nothing’s changed since) –
that is, the billions added onto the Pentagon budget every year
beyond our military’s already gargantuan requests by powerful Congressional
figures who are intent on feeding pork to their districts. (Click
here first
, then on “Congressional “Add-Ons” FY1999.”) Or you
could look at the matter from another “safe” perspective entirely
by clicking here
and then on “What’s Good for Lockheed Martin: U.S. Security Policy,”
and consider the recent history of one of the major contributors
to “the military-industrial man” Chalmers Johnson describes below.

Military-Industrial Man

Local Politics Works in America – or a “Duke” in Every District

by Chalmers Johnson

It is hardly news to anyone who pays the slightest attention to
American politics that Congress is no longer responsive to the
people. Incumbency is so well institutionalized that elections
generally mean virtually nothing. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay
approves the private ownership of assault weapons and machine
guns despite complaints from police around the country that they’re
outgunned by criminals, despite the 65% of the public who want
them banned, despite pleas from the relatives of murdered Americans.
On this issue, the National Rifle Association seems to own the

A similar situation exists with regard to munitions makers. In
one district after another the weapons industry has bought the
incumbent and the voters are unable to dislodge him or her. On
really big projects like the B-2 stealth bomber, contracts are
placed for pieces of the airplane in all of the 48 continental
states to insure that individual members of Congress can be threatened
with the loss of jobs in their districts should they ever get
the idea that we do not need another weapon of massive destruction.
The result is defense budgets of $425 billion per year (plus that
extra $75 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan, another $20 billion
for nuclear weapons, and $200 billion more for veterans and the
wounded), leading to the highest governmental deficits in postwar
history. It seems likely that only bankruptcy will stop the American
imperial juggernaut.

The California Fiftieth Congressional District in northern San
Diego County where I live is a good example of exactly how this
works at the local level. The constituents of the fiftieth district
have been misrepresented in Washington for the past fourteen years
by a wholly paid-for tool of the military-industrial complex –
the Republican incumbent, Randy “Duke” Cunningham.

The heavily populated Fiftieth District is an oddly gerrymandered
amalgam of rich (and Republican) Rancho Santa Fe and La Jolla,
more liberal coastal towns like the northern sections of San Diego
itself, Del Mar, Encinitas, and Carlsbad, and — inland – Hispanic
and working class Escondido and Mira Mesa. Although the district
includes much of La Jolla, it excludes the University of California
campus and the students who live and work there. It’s a district
whose character has shifted in recent years as thousands of biotech
researchers and other professionals have moved into the area and
as parts of educated, white-collar San Diego have been included
in it as well. The Fiftieth District is desperately in need of
new leadership in Congress more in tune with the political values
and interests of the people who now live there. This year, for
the first time, Cunningham is opposed by a candidate who is well
qualified and whose views – if they were better known – more
clearly match the interests and values of the people he claims
to represent.

On July 12–14, Decision Research, one of the most respected
polling firms in the country, conducted a telephone poll of 440
registered voters in the district. Among its findings were that
when they heard Cunningham’s voting record on abortion, school vouchers,
protecting the environment, the Iraq war, spending on weapons, and
many other issues, his lead dropped from 18 to 4 percentage points,
within the poll’s 4.7% margin of error. The relatively unknown Democratic
candidate running against him is Francine Busby, past president
of one of the district’s school boards, who has nonetheless put
together a powerful campaign, particularly among women, drawing
attention to the way Cunningham has sold-out the welfare of the
district to special interests.

Sources of information on Cunningham are his and his opponents’
reports to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) as well as accounts
of his record compiled by the three leading nonpartisan think-tanks
on Congress: the
Center for Responsive Politics
in Washington, Political
, and Project
Vote Smart
in Philipsburg, Montana.

Let’s start with money. As of June 30, 2004, Cunningham had raised
$608,977 for the coming election, spent $382,043, and as cash
on hand had an amazing $890,753. By contrast, on the same date
Francine Busby had raised $64,449, spent $32,937, and had cash
on hand of $31,511. Some 46% of Cunningham’s money comes from
political action committees, so-called PACs, 49% from individual
contributions, and none from his own personal funds. Two percent
of Busby’s money comes from PACs, 86% from individuals, and 6%
from the candidate herself. Some 68% of Cunningham’s money originates
in California, but 32% of it is out-of-state. Ninety-seven percent
of Busby’s minuscule funds come from within California and only
3% from out-of-state. She is raising money fast but Cunningham
can still outspend her 8 to 1, and he has declared publicly that
his is a safe district and that he will devote his time this fall
to helping George W. Bush.

The real differences show up when one examines who contributes what
to whom. By industrial categories, Cunningham’s
top contributors
, based on FEC data released August 2, 2004,
are defense electronics ($66,550), defense aerospace ($39,000),
lobbyists ($32,500), miscellaneous defense ($29,200), air transport
($26,500), health professionals ($24,700), and real estate ($23,001).
Busby’s top contributors are listed as “retired.” Cunningham’s number-one
financial backer is the Titan Corporation of San Diego, which gave
him $18,000. It has recently been in the news for supplying Arabic
translators to the Army, several of whom have been identified as
possible torturers at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. Titan’s $657
million Pentagon contract, which had to be approved by the House
Appropriations Committee’s National Security Subcommittee of which
Cunningham is a member, is the company’s single biggest source of
revenue so it’s a clear case of a political pay-off.

Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest weapons manufacturer, gave
Cunningham a whopping $15,000. Cunningham’s number-three source
of funds is MZM Inc. of Washington, DC, whose government clients,
in addition to the Pentagon, include the “U.S. intelligence community,”
the “Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force,” and the Department
of Homeland Security. MZM gave Randy $11,000 for his services. Next
in line is the Cubic Corporation of San Diego, which has numerous
multimillion-dollar contracts with the Pentagon to supply “realistic
combat training systems” and surveillance and reconnaissance avionics.
It gave Randy $10,000. General Dynamics ponied up $10,000 for the
Congressman, as did San Diego’s Science Applications International
Corporation, or SAIC as it is commonly known. SAIC’s largest customer
by far is the U.S. government, which accounts for 69% of its business
according to SAIC’s filings with the SEC. (SAIC was supposed to
build a new, pro-American TV and radio network in Iraq but bungled
the job badly.) The remainder of Cunningham’s top contributors reads
like a who’s who among the merchants of death: $9,500 from Northrup
Grumman, $8,000 from Raytheon (which makes the Tomahawk cruise missile),
$8,500 from Qualcomm, and $7,000 from Boeing. All this for just
one Congressman.

Busby’s biggest contributions are $2,000 from an outfit called
“Blue Hornet,” which designs web sites; $1,835 from members of
the Cardiff School Board, and $1,080 from employees of Mira Costa

One ingenious measure of how money displaces people in our political
system, compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, is the
zip codes from which each candidate gets his or her individual
contributions. For Cunningham the chief one is 92067, Rancho Santa
Fe, with $62,795 in donations. Rancho Santa Fe is well known as
a beautiful, underpopulated enclave of extremely wealthy people,
many of them foreigners. It is followed by 92037, La Jolla, not
a poor town, which chipped in $24,000 for Cunningham. The next
two zip codes are 20003 and 20007, both of which are in Washington
DC. Cunningham received the fewest donations from 92065, Carlsbad.
Busby’s are the direct opposite. Her best zip code is 92007, her
home town of Cardiff, the residents of which have given her $8,415,
followed by 92009, Carlsbad; 92014, Del Mar; and last 92091, wealthy
Fairbanks Ranch, which gave her a mere $1,000. Cunningham’s money
comes from the following localities, in descending order: San
Diego, Washington DC, New York City, and Orange County, California.
Busby’s comes entirely from the San Diego metropolitan area.

Cunningham knows with precision who gives him money and what its
providers expect of him. As the Japanese like to say, you don’t
have to tell a geisha what to do. He has 100% ratings from the
National Right to Life Committee (he is adamantly opposed to giving
women the right to choose), the League of Private Property Voters,
the Christian Coalition, the Business-Industry PAC, and an 80%
rating from the Gun Owners of America. Over the last decade he
has received $44,600 from the National Rifle Association, more
than any member of Congress except Representative Don Young, a
Republican from Alaska. There are no places in the fiftieth district
to go hunting, least of all with an Uzi or an AK-47.

Cunningham’s voting record likewise reflects the fact that national
neoconservatives and the munitions industry now own him lock,
stock, and barrel. As one might expect, he voted for the “No Child
Left Behind” and “Patriot” Acts. He also voted “yes” on the following
measures: the law banning partial birth abortion; the $350 billion
tax break for the rich, passed on May 23, 2003, by a vote of 231
to 200; a law prohibiting liability law suits against gun-makers
and gun-sellers whose products are used to commit crimes; the
Medicare Prescription Drug Act, passed in the middle of the night
on November 22, 2003, by a vote of 220 to 215; and the Emergency
Wartime Supplemental Appropriations Act of April 3, 2003, that
included $62.5 billion for the war in Iraq.

Cunningham talks a lot about patriotism and putting the country
first, but although his voting record in 2003 was 98% for what
President Bush wanted, in 1999 he had only a 20% record of supporting
President Clinton. Opposition to Clinton is, of course, almost
the functional definition of “patriotism” among Cunningham’s wing
of the Republican Party, which sought to impeach the president
for a venial sin but which is indifferent to evidence of mortal
sins committed by President Bush, particularly his leading the
country into war against Iraq based on a tissue of lies.

Within Congress, Cunningham is a member of the National Security
Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee, a forum the military-industrial
complex does everything in its power to control, and of the Permanent
Select Committee on Intelligence. The latter is the committee
headed by Congressman Porter Goss of Florida, a former CIA agent
who has recently been nominated by President Bush to be the next
director of the CIA. This oversight committee has not exactly
covered itself with glory, approving the work of the CIA even
as it was failing to warn the country about the attacks of 9/11
and deceiving Congress and the people into war with Iraq.

According to Cunningham himself, his most important lifetime achievement
is his twenty years of service as a naval aviator, including aerial
combat over Vietnam in which he shot down three communist jets
in one day (overall, a total of five during the war) and was himself
brought down by a surface-to-air missile. On May 10, 1972, he
was rescued by a helicopter from the South China Sea. Cunningham
has exploited this record into what one commentator calls “hero
inflation” and Shakespeare’s Henry V called “remembering
with advantages.” He now claims to have been a military hero deserving
of the Congressional Medal of Honor (which he didn’t get), even
though he acknowledges that his aerial dog-fighting had little
effect on the course of the war. Cunningham has created a company
called “Top Gun Enterprises” that sells lithographs of himself
in his pilot’s outfit and books he has written about his navy
exploits. His company’s web
, claims that the 1986 film Top Gun starring Tom Cruise
was actually about Randy “Duke” Cunningham.

Cunningham’s comments in the Congressional Record dwell
heavily on his Vietnam role and the military. For example, on
April 22, 2004, he said to the House of Representatives: “Mr.
Speaker, I was shot down over North Vietnam. I can remember the
anger and the disparaging remarks that John Kerry made about our
service. I remember the rage in all of us from his slander. .
. . Even today, John Kerry votes against defense, the military,
veterans, and intelligence bills that would enforce the safe return
of our men and women. We do not need someone that would vote like
a Jane Fonda as commander in chief.”

He has persisted in such attacks on the patriotism of Kerry, notably
in an interview with Rush Limbaugh on August 17, 2004. Here’s
an excerpt:

It’s not about Vietnam. It’s about what he did in 1971, bad-mouthing
all of us, calling us war criminals. It’s his votes since he’s
been in the Senate, he ran on cutting defense and intel, after
the first Trade Center bombing, he tried to cut intelligence
$9 billion. And it’s about who is going to protect my family,
my daughters, my son, my wife in the next few years, and to
me, it’s not Senator Kerry. Rush, if Senator Kerry was a Republican
running, I would oppose him.

RUSH: Congressman, thanks very much for the call. It really
is an honor to hear from you. I know your history and I’ve been
very impressed with it, and you’re one of the guys still taking
a lot of shots because of who you are in Washington. You stand
up to ‘em and we all appreciate it, we honor your service here.
Thanks very much.

DUKE: Life is good, Rush.

RUSH: It is. That’s Duke Cunningham, congressman from California,
the first fighter ace in Vietnam, five MiGs shot down.”

Cunningham’s most famous naval exploit actually occurred after
he left the Navy and was a freshman Congressman. In 1991, Cunningham
was a member of the board of directors of the Tailhook Association,
a private group of active duty, reserve, and retired Navy and
Marine Corps aviators, defense contractors, and their supporters.
(The name ‘tailhook’ comes from the device that halts aircraft
when they land on aircraft carriers.) The Navy used to provide
free office space for the association at San Diego’s Miramar Naval
Air Station, and lent out its fleet of passenger aircraft to fly
attendees to Tailhook’s yearly meetings in Las Vegas. At the 35th
Annual Tailhook Symposium (September 5 to 7, 1991) at the Las
Vegas Hilton, a meeting that Cunningham attended in an official
capacity, drunken fliers, joined by the Secretary of the Navy,
groped, stripped, and mauled some 83 women in the hotel, according
to the report of the Department of Defense’s Inspector General.

that time Cunningham has devoted massive amounts of time and energy
to arguing that what went on was just good clean fun and great male
bonding. In Congressional hearings, he has gone out of his way to
undercut official programs to combat sexual harassment and discrimination
in the military. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune
of March 11, 1998, he referred to such efforts as “B.S.” and “political
correctness.” In 1998, after Cunningham had been operated on for
prostate cancer, he commented to the press that “[t]he only person
who would enjoy a prostate biopsy is Barney Frank.” His fellow congressman
Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, who is openly gay, replied
that “Cunningham seems to be more obsessed with homosexuality than
most homosexuals.”

has only one string to his mandolin – the military-industrial
complex and its interests. He has virtually no record at all on
such issues as illegal immigration, water resources, ocean pollution,
agriculture, mass transit, renewable energy, and unemployment. Whenever
he takes up subjects such as environmental conservation and education,
it is to reduce or halt federal funds that might make a difference.
Citizens of the Fiftieth District are not uninterested in national
security but they have a much broader range of needs and concerns
than has ever crossed the mind of their current representative.
As one of Cunningham’s constituents, I hope we send to the House
of Representatives a person who actually knows something about the
communities of northern San Diego County. A Francine Busby victory
this November would cause a political realignment in San Diego County
comparable to Loretta Sanchez’s 1996 defeat of “B-1″ Bob Dornan
in Orange County’s 46th District.

Johnson is a retired professor of international relations at the
University of California, San Diego, and the author of The
Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic

(The American
Empire Project
, 2004) as well as Blowback,
The Costs and Consequences of American Empire

15, 2004

Tom Engelhardt [send him
] is editor of TomDispatch.com,
a project of the Nation

Email Print