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Defense industry owns Congress: That practice needs to end | READER COMMENTARY

Thank you for the commentary by Charlie Cooper, “Big money is the root of our evils but Congress has the power to unmask wealthy donors” (June 17). Mr. Cooper correctly identified what is surely the biggest threat to democracy in this nation — the way in which members of Congress are bought and owned by big corporations and wealthy individuals, all of whom are able to hide the amount of money that they have donated.

Mr. Cooper includes a discussion of the vast amount of money weapons manufacturers dole out to Congress leading to numerous wars and huge expenditures for weapons we don’t need. These wars and weapons have not enhanced our security, but they have made enormous profits for the companies that make the weapons.

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In the last 20 years, $7.2 trillion went to military contractors. We spend more on the military than the next 11 countries combined — and very little of this goes to the soldiers. But while we spend big on militarism, in terms of meeting the needs of the American people, we don’t do so well. The nonprofit Social Progress Imperative has developed a “Social Progress Index” that measures the extent to which countries provide for the social and environmental needs of their citizens. On this index, the U.S. ranks 28th among nations. Both Cyprus and Greece do a better job than the U.S. We are number one in war and militarism, and number 28 in meeting the real needs of our people.

While the American people are suffering, the weapons manufacturers are making a killing. Let’s just take Lockheed Martin. In 2020, 70% of Lockheed Martin’s profits were derived directly from U.S. taxpayers (the rest from foreign arms sales in collaboration with the Pentagon). And over the last 20 years, the return on Lockheed Martin stocks was 1,236%. Despite the fact that Lockheed Martin is practically an arm of the Pentagon, it’s CEO made $26 million in 2020 — that’s a whole lot more than the salary of the president of the U.S. ($400,000), and it is us taxpayers who are footing the bill. In addition to direct payments to campaign coffers, weapons manufacturers employ over 700 lobbyists to influence Congress, about double the number of members of Congress.

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If we want real security for Americans, we should dramatically cut the Pentagon budget and use the savings to protect the climate and to address systemic racism, the lack of access to health care for so many, and economic inequality. But as Mr. Cooper so eloquently said, it is “big money” that prevents this. Congress should, at a minimum, pass the DISCLOSE Act so that we can finally tell where the money is coming from.

— Jean Athey, Baltimore

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