Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Military Industrial Shenanigans and the GOP

The campaign of Katherine Harris, the Florida Congresswoman who's trying to take for the state's seat in the U.S. Senate from Democrat Bill Nelson, is sailing into shoal waters.

Many Americans first heard of Harris when she took part in the controversial 2000 presidential race vote recount while serving as Florida's Secretary of State under Governor Jeb Bush.

Now they're hearing about her acceptance of illegal campaign contributions from MZM Inc., the defense contracting outfit connected to former Congressman (R-California) Randy "Duke" Cunningham's bribery conviction.

As Jeremy Wallace of Southwest Florida's HeraldTribune.com reported Sunday, on February 24 of this year MZM founder Mitchell Wade confessed to giving illegal campaign contributions to Harris in 2004.

What was MZM's political interest in Congresswoman Harris?
Over a private dinner in Washington, D.C., Wade and Harris talked about "obtaining funding and approval" for a Navy counterintelligence program that Wade wanted to open in Sarasota, Justice Department records show.

After that dinner meeting, Harris put in a $10 million budget request to the Defense Appropriations subcommittee to fund the project. Days later, an employee in Harris' congressional office went to work for Wade at MZM.

That funding for the project was never approved is irrelevant. Harris took the $36 thousand and tried to give Wade a $10 million defense contract in return.

Justice Department probes into the illegal contributions are ongoing. Harris has given no press interviews on the scandal, but has told her supporters in a conference call that she did nothing wrong. "There is nothing to it except for the press trying to be negative," she assured them.

In the same conference call, Harris told supporters she's planning fundraisers in California, Texas, New York, and Illinois. She's also planning a campaign bus tour through Florida with conservative talk show host Sean Hannity.

Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, says that, "The best thing going for Harris that most Americans already believe Washington is so corrupt that Harris hasn't done anything abnormal." Sabato also says that most people already believe everyone in Congress takes bundles of cash from contractors, and may see nothing new or outrageous about a scenario in which a contractor asks Harris for favors over dinner.

A Few Things

1. She didn’t know it was illegal? MZM's Wade shouldn't have had to tell Harris that the $36 K in contributions from his employees were illegal. Even if Harris was asleep at the wheel at the time--a not unimaginable possibility--somebody on her staff should have noticed a couple fistfuls of checks from employees of a defense contractor dropping into the collection plate and said, "Hey, boss…"

Her staffers might have been overworked at the time, or they might have been incompetent. Or they might have realized they were working for a Florida Republican and figured that even if anybody ever questioned the contributions, no one would ever do anything about them.

2. Military industrial complexities. MZM is a tater tot in the grand scheme of America's addiction to defense contracting, but the company's fiscal pandering of politicians like Harris and Cunningham should give you a good idea of how the larger military industrial complex works. As I discussed several months ago in In an Arms Race With Ourselves, service secretaries like Gordon England and Donald winter are former executives of "big box" mega weapons producers General Dynamics, Lockheed, and Northrup Grumman.

The incestuous nature of the military industrial complex works the other way too. When Wade stepped down as MZM's executive officer after pleading guilty to bribing Cunningham, he was replaced by retired Lieutanant General James C. King. That a retired three star general would have no qualms about taking over a defense company that's known to have bribed a Congressman who is a former naval officer makes one tend to think the military industrial complex is nothing but a tax funded Ponzi scheme.

3. Getting to the bottom of things? The Justice Department probing Harris is the same Justice Department that declared Mister Bush has "plenary powers" to do whatever he wants, the U.S. Constitution and laws and treaties passed under it notwithstanding. It's also the same Justice Department that claims to be probing itself over the NSA domestic spying case.

Just how deeply can we expect it to probe into Katherine Harris's campaign hanky-panky?

4. Power to which people? 2001 Federal Reserve Board statistics showed that one percent of Americans owned 32.7 of the country's wealth and five percent of the population possessed 57.7 percent of the U.S. national treasure. Given the vector of the Bush tax cuts, it's a safe bet that those wealth ratios haven't changed a gnat's whisker in the intervening five years.

Given the state of modern American electoral politics, this means that five percent of Americans own 100 percent of the politicians, and dictate virtually all of U.S. foreign and domestic policy.

Harris's projected fundraising tour through California, Texas, New York, and Illinois should tell you something else--something that supposed "campaign finance reform" candidates don't want you to think too much about. The unimaginably wealthy not only control national politics. Regardless of where they live, they control politics in your district and neighborhood as well.

I don't know how you feel about that, but I'm discomfited by the probability that the Republican candidate for my district's seat in Virginia's General Assembly is getting campaign money from some oil rich cowboy in Dallas.

6. Blame the media. The chairman of the defense company involved in one of the biggest congressional bribery scandals of the decade admit to giving illegal contributions to Katherine Harris, and Harris says, "There is nothing to it except for the press trying to be negative."

The disturbing aspect of this transfer of blame to the media is that Harris's diehard supporters will buy it, just like they've been programmed to do. They won't stop to consider that the press didn't make illegal contributions to Harris, the press didn't accept illegal contributions from MZM, and the press didn't launch the Justice Department investigation of the affair. All the drones in the far right need to hear is "media" and they'll nod, and go on marching in lockstep behind their party leaders.

7. Who Cares? Along those lines, University of Virginia's Larry Sabato may be right. The foot soldiers who are willing to blame the press for everything politicians do are probably equally willing to believe that everybody in politics is as corrupt as Harris appears to be. (I know people in San Diego who still think Randy Cunningham got railroaded.)

This is a key facet of the Rovewellian brainwash. If everyone is perceived as being corrupt, the politicians who actually are corrupt are assumed to be no worse than the ones who are on the up and up, so there's no reason to change, or vote anyone out of office.

Especially when they take bus tours with cool guys like Sean Hannity.


  1. Remember, the GOP really wanted Harris out of the race. Maybe now they can elbow her aside and field a stronger candidate.

    About the 2-party "system":

    Politicians rate just about the lowest on the perceived-integrity poll research anyway, right? Just below lawyers? "As long as they're the same, there ain't no difference"?

    Power corrupts, all by itself. Then throw in untold-millions in tax-free cash too...!

  2. Jeff:

    But the other thing politicians have in common with lawyers is the "my guy is OK" syndrome among the public. Most people rate lawyers and politicians low in terms of integrity, but if the same people are asked to rate THEIR lawyer or THEIR representative, the ratings get markedly better. It's very interesting to me.

  3. Familiarity breeds contempt -- sometimes. When it's someone you might seriously need help from (attorney; mechanic), you'd rather have the outlaw you know. Or something like that.

  4. Jeff:

    No doubt there is a lot of truth to that. I have to say that the legal profession has among the most honest, trustworthy, and flat out decent, honorable people I've ever met in my life. But by the same token, some of the least trustworthy people I've met are also in the profession. I figure that's par for most groups, however you want to separate them.

  5. William Bollinger4:40 PM

    You should hang around defense contractors sometime. They're either patriots or thieves, with no middle ground.

    I agree completely about the "my guy is OK" syndrome.

    Jeff, it's far more than an outlaw you know. It's a willingness to turn a total blind eye on the crooked politician (or lawyer) who supports your views. I want to bust out laughing when I hear either side talk about corruption, because I know that neither is serious about fixing it, just using it against the other parties.

  6. Shatner's unscrupulous-but-effective attorney character on Boston Legal, last night: "There are no facts, not anymore; only good fiction or bad fiction."

    He played the media better than his opponent; the case never even went to trial.

    "Sure, it's just exaggerated TV entertainment... but... wait, the true story's even crazier?!?"

  7. Like John Stewart says, you can't make this stuff up, but you wish to God you had to.