[NOTE: This opinion article was published simultaneously on RIFuture.com.]
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A couple months back, I was emailed by South County, R.I., activist Jonathan Daly-LaBelle, who wanted to know if I’d seen Rep. Jim Langevin’s press release announcing the rationale behind his recent yes vote on a nearly $700-billion Pentagon budget.
It “is really quite disturbing,” Daly-LaBelle wrote.
No argument from me on this one.
Langevin, Democrat of Rhode Island’s Second Congressional District, has embraced a bizarre and increasingly dangerous stance on “defense” issues in recent years, and that attitude was on full display in his prepared statement.
Among his many points in support of a monstrous Pentagon budget that will go unaudited, as it always does, and undoubtedly lead to waste, was the contention that Congress must make certain “our nation’s warfighters are never sent into a fair fight.”
But maybe Langevin should consider asking all those innocent civilians in the numerous countries we’ve dropped bombs on since 9/11 what it feels like to be on the receiving end of an “unfair fight.”
In typically sanctimonious fashion designed to deflect criticism from sensible dissenters, Langevin also claimed he voted for a Defense Authorization Act that “addresses the needs of our brave service members.”
Sen. Jack Reed, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee and Rhode Island’s other leading hawk, released a statement that lacked the quasi-macho braggadocio but employed the same “you’re with us or you’re against us”/”support our troops” approach.
He made sure to point out in his first paragraph—Langevin waited until paragraph two—that the Pentagon budget for the 2018 fiscal year calls for a 2.4 percent pay raise for all service members and will “increase total active duty and reserve end strength by about 20,000 personnel.”
But the pay raise argument isn’t so altruistic when you stop for a second to think about all of its implications.
By raising salaries, Reed, Langevin, and others are effectively ensuring that military service will remain one of the few—sometimes only—halfway decent employment options available to some of America’s most marginalized and disenfranchised citizens.
Keeping troop levels high is also convenient for Pentagon officials whose stature depends on it, and weapons manufacturers whose profits rely on warm bodies ready to man their nuclear-armed submarines, fly their drones, and guide their destroyer ships.
Mind you, swelling ranks of service members will become increasingly necessary if the Navy is to expand its fleet from 275 to 355 ships, as Reed and Langevin insist it should at the benefit of General Dynamics.
Of course, there’s another story behind the narrative presented in their official statements, and it’s what Reed and Langevin never dare speak of: their more than cozy and lucrative relationships with the war profiteers who will see a business boon from this Pentagon budget.
Go to the website for the Center For Responsive Politics, the well respected nonprofit that tracks campaign finance and lobbying spending, and you’ll see that Reed has accepted nearly $785,000 in campaign contributions from the defense industry over the course of his career. Langevin has accepted just under $750,000.
Politico Magazine once highlighted both “public servants” in a detailed article about lawmakers “remarkably beholden to the private defense companies whose profits depend on their decisions.”
The Center for Public Integrity, winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, includes Langevin—our state’s self-styled cybersecurity prophet—among the “intelligence watchdogs in Congress” collectively accepting millions from intelligence contractors.
Spokespersons for both lawmakers did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
But legalized bribery doesn’t explain everything here. There’s also the culture Reed and Langevin decided long ago to warmly embrace at the expense of their constituents.
I’m referring to the virtual wall erected by military brass and corporate opportunists that average Rhode Islanders will never break through so long as either man is in office.
Go listen to Reed or Langevin speak to a group of defense contractors, and you’ll understand what I mean.
Here is Reed from last year’s “Defense Innovation Days,” a euphemistic name coined by the Southeastern New England Defense Industry Alliance (SENEDIA) that roughly translates to “three days each year for corporate sharks, key members of Congress, and military decision-makers to get together and scheme up ways to fleece American taxpayers”:
“Raytheon is one of the Platinum Sponsors here; they do a terrific job,” Reed informed the audience on day one of the conference at the Newport Marriott. “I also want to recognize the folks at General Dynamics, who are another Platinum Sponsor.”
Is this a U.S. senator or corporate pitchman?
Maybe next year Reed will save his breadth and just start launching General Dynamics and Raytheon t-shirts from an air cannon.
Sadly, that scenario is more likely than him disclosing to constituents that General Dynamics and Raytheon are two of his Top 10 campaign donors.
Believe it or not, Langevin found a way to outdo Reed’s corporate genuflection with his own effusive introduction to “keynote speaker” Wesley Bush, CEO and Chairman of the Board of Northrop Grumman.
“I’m really particularly pleased that my good friend Wes Bush could join us here this year to impart his wisdom,” Langevin told the crowd. “[M]ore than just a strong leader of his company, Wes is a thought leader who’s constantly pushing the envelope.”
On this occasion, Langevin, who can’t seem to make up his mind on whether he supports single payer health insurance or thinks it’s just “one of many options” worth considering, is able to muster an unequivocal endorsement of the B-21 Raider.
Northrop Grumman is building this weapons system through an exclusive contract aimed at “modernizing” a key Air Force component of the U.S. nuclear triad. One analyst places the expected price tag at $100-billion, according to the Washington Post.
“The new long-range strike [of the B-21] will be a game changer when it comes to our power projection in increasingly contested environments,” Langevin said, “and I’ve been proud to follow its progress and support its development since the very beginning.”
In case you’re wondering what “power projection in increasingly contested environments” means, that’s code for: “I use vague but impressive-sounding terms to convince Americans they don’t know enough about this scary stuff and, therefore, need to let me and my corporate buddies build war machines the U.S. doesn’t need and can’t afford.”
It should be noted that, as CEO, Langevin’s “good friend Wes Bush” pulled in $233-million in total compensation between 2010 and 2016, according to figures provided to me by the UMass Lowell Center For Industrial Competitiveness.
That 2.4 percent pay raise to service members doesn’t really look all that impressive anymore, does it?
Bush and his wife have personally donated close to $27,000 in campaign contributions to Langevin since 2013, according to data published online by the Federal Election Commission.
In fact, just six days before Bush spoke at “Innovation Days,” Langevin’s campaign filed receipts for $10,800 in donations from Mr. and Mrs. Bush.
Rhode Island Democrats still don’t get it, but there are many reasons why Donald Trump’s pronouncement in 2016 that “the system is rigged” resonated so strongly with voters.
People like Reed, Langevin, and Bush are among them.
Because, when it comes time for deciding our nation’s priorities and where to put our money, guys like them always make sure average people like you and me “are never sent into a fair fight.”
Alex Nunes is an independent journalist based in Rhode Island. He has contributed reporting to NPR, Rhode Island Public Radio, The Providence Journal, and The Day of New London, Conn., among other news organizations. He holds a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and a bachelor’s in sociology from Rhode Island College.
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