Starve the Pentagon; Feed the Workers
The calls, from Christopher Hayes and Barney Frank, to “Cut the Military Budget” [March 2] point out how weapons contracts are being rebranded as jobs programs to fight military spending cuts. What Hayes and Frank miss, however, is the importance of these jobs to American high-tech workers. Most defense jobs require security clearances, available only to US citizens. Microsoft, IBM and others are free to outsource software development to other countries or to bring engineers here on H-1B visas. But military contractors like Lockheed Martin, L-3 and General Dynamics are among the dwindling number of employers who offer US engineers job stability.
That’s why weapons like the F-22 Raptor jet, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and Ballistic Missile Defense, spread out through byzantine subcontracts to as many Congressional districts as possible, continue to enjoy bipartisan support. For example, even though New Jersey’s 3rd District elected its first Democrat in years last November, cutting military spending will be a tough sell for the new incumbent, given that the district’s largest employer is Lockheed Martin.
Engineers at defense companies might be able to apply their skills to alternative energy, mass transit or electric cars rather than fighter jets and missiles, but they’re going to need retraining as well as the job stability currently provided by their security clearances. A federal agency for advanced research contracts, similar to DoD’s DARPA, could help. Without such a transition plan, efforts to cut the military budget will face fierce opposition, not just from the Pentagon but from the middle-class communities that depend on these US-only stimulus programs.
Looted & Booted
I’ve been a subscriber since 1937 because The Nation almost always illustrates my positions and augments my knowledge. This note is to congratulate whoever chose the photograph of Pete Peterson for the cover of the March 2 issue. The cliché is resoundingly true: a picture is better than a thousand words.