July 14, 2009 • Bastille Day
Story and Photo by Ken Krayeske • 11:15 PM EST
War is in our DNA. On a Saturday afternoon at Chuck E. Cheese, two boys play the hi-tech fighter jet video game "After Burner Climax," and a couple plays a shoot 'em up target game in the background.
If Sen. Chris Dodd and Congressman John Larson sought to replicate the Top Gun glory of Maverick and Goose, standing together to drum up support to save funding for the F-22 Raptor, they ended up looking more like Laurel and Hardy.
Suave Maverick Dodd and goofy Goose Larson have been shilling for the threatened F-22 since April. This past Monday, July 14, they lined up their talking points before a 1:15 p.m. press conference phone call.
A press e-mail from Dodd advertised special guests John Harrity, Connecticut Machinists Official and President of GrowJobsCT and Gen. Mike Dunn, a retired three-star Air Force commander.
Both the Senator and the Congressman hit the high points of their arguments for shielding the F-22 Raptor from President Obama's budget ax.
The F-22 Raptor is an aptly named Cold War dinosaur. But Maverick and Goose argued to maybe eight press people on the phone that the single-seater stealth fighter will help the United States maintain global air superiority, deter our enemies and maintain the production line.
The production line, which represents more than 1,000 subcontractors and 25,000 workers spread across 44 states, needs to stay active for three years until the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter comes on line, lest production of that weapons system be slowed.
Panhandling for the war machine falls onto Dodd and Larson because Hartford-based United Technologies manufactures the super hi-tech jet engines for the F-22 through its subsidiary of Pratt and Whitney. The engines mean 2,000 jobs for Middletown.
Aside from the $339 million price tag per F-22, Bush/Obama Defense Secretary Robert Gates wants to cut the F-22 because the radar-invisible fleet of F-22s has not seen a day of action in Afghanistan or Iraq.
The $6 billion for 20 new planes could be better spent on a more mobile military, Gates claims. Obama has an ally in Sen. John McCain, who sees the program as worthless.
Dodd led off the presser by stressing the critical importance the F-22 has in our arsenal.
"This is essential to national security and our competitiveness in this world," Dodd said. "I wouldn't be making a case to you on the basis of a parochial issue."
Of course not, Senator. It's a corporate issue. UTC chairman George David needs his puppets in Congress to help finance his massive legal bills from his messy divorce, and his spoiled brat countess ex-wife’s $53,000 a week lifestyle.
Dodd has his own spending habits, and he needs corporate moguls and unions to finance them. A few hours before the conference call, Dodd announced a $1.2 million haul for his campaign war chest in the second quarter of 2009.
While the FEC contribution chart listed nothing from either the Machinists or UTC, other unions like firefighters, electrical workers and boilermakers gave healthy sums and defense contractors like Raytheon contributed to Dodd as well.
The whole thing seems like a charade to me anyways. Obama wants to appear like he is challenging the military-industrial complex and reigning in military spending while expanding a costly war, and then blame this on Congress. The members of Congress will face no electoral repercussions because they brought the bacon home.
Larson sounded like the imperialist he must be if he wants to succeed Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House.
"We need this technology now," Larson said. "We need to keep the dominance of the aerospace industry in the United States where it belongs."
While I wanted to ask why, when dynamic Dem duo invited questions, I asked something like this:
In the July 13 Hartford Courant, writer Grace Merritt described the exodus of teachers taking early retirement from state-funded vocational technical schools. You say we need to maintain a production line of skilled workers, how will we insure skilled workers if we continue to divert funding away from schools?
"You describe a Catch-22," Dodd said.
"If we train people and there are no jobs, we are creating a hollow workforce," he said. "You want to be able to have this kind of work that this production line produces."
Perhaps Dodd appreciated the subtle allusion to a biting satire of war, written from the perspective of fighter pilots, to explain the impossible task of shifting funding from war to education. I didn't grasp the irony until I wrote this.
So I followed up by inquiring if anyone seriously doubted the global military dominance of the United States, considering that the U.S. spends $711 billion a year on war, or 48 percent of the world's total military spending.
Why can't we shift this money to peace time production? I wondered. When will we stop funding machines that kill people?
A bellicose Larson, like a good wingman, stepped in to save the squad leader from indignity.
"I think you heard that General Dunn talk about this," Larson said. "We are still the only power in the world that the world looks to when threats emerge. We cannot maintain parity and have an equal level of funding with the rest of the world. That is not what previous generations have done."
Me: "Listening to previous generations is what has gotten us in the mess."
Larson rebuffed, repeating his talking points. In Russia last week, Obama worked to scale down the nuclear threat. In that context, to create a safer environment we need expensive weapons to scare bogeymen like the cancer-stricken Kim Jong-Il.
"Wouldn't it be great if peace would break out?" Larson asked. But that won’t happen unless we have strong deterrence.
So, stockpiling (and using) killing machines will stop people from attacking us? Yes, Congressman Larson, that's the strategic thinking that prevented 9-11.
Dodd stressed that the rare dissension in the ranks between Gates and the Air Force over the F-22 shows its importance.
Then radio reporter Steve Kalb probed the politics of Sen. McCain blocking this funding. NPR followed, peppering General Dunn over the Washington Post's recent expose on F-22 repair and cost overruns.
The last exchange with Dodd and Larson belonged to Hartford Courant reporter Eric Gershon, who represented UTC's bottom line.
Congress says seven F-22s, the Senate says 11. How do we get to the 20 that UTC says we need to maintain the production line?
Dodd added it up: "Seven plus four in the supplemental means 11."
Larson chimed in, dropping Jack Murtha's name. The Pennsylvania Dem chairs the appropriations committee. Larson promised F-22s will hit the budget process again if we don't get 20 now. (More begging for the poor defense contractors to come?)
Dodd threw in eight C-17s cargo planes for the workers.
Gershon wasn't buying.
"UTC has been unambiguous," Gershon said. "The number it needs to be effective is 20."
Dodd reiterated that the C-17s will make 20 planes.
And then Dodd's aide dropped the curtains on the vaudeville act. Unfortunately, the laugh is on us as the bipartisan military empire marches on, to the woe of social justice globally.