In his farewell address 60 years ago President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned against what he called “unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.” Since he was a military hero, perhaps only Eisenhower could give such a warning during the Cold War without risking denunciation as a communist.
But Eisenhower’s warning has never been heeded, and President Biden, with his nominee for defense secretary, is essentially proclaiming the victory of the military-industrial complex. The new president’s nominee is retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, who upon leaving the Army a few years ago joined the Board of Directors of military contractor Raytheon Technologies Corp., which recently acquired Connecticut-based United Technologies Corp. If confirmed by the Senate, Austin will have to sell Raytheon stock he received for serving on the board. It may net him as much as $1.7 million.
Acknowledging what will be his continuing potential for conflict of interest, Austin pledges to avoid decisions involving Raytheon for a year. But this can’t worry Raytheon much about its investment in the general, since the corporation plans to be doing government business a lot longer than that.
With Austin at Defense and former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen becoming Treasury secretary after receiving at least $7 million in speaking fees from big banks and investment houses in the last three years, the federal government’s two most lucrative agencies will have been securely captured by their primary beneficiaries.
With the exception of Sen. Richard Blumenthal, the members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation — all supposed liberals — are fine with this exploitation. After all, the state is full of investment bankers and military contractors and what’s good for them may be considered good for the state. As for the country, that’s something else.
Even Blumenthal’s concern about Austin probably will become a mere quibble. Federal law prohibits military officers from becoming defense secretary until they have been out of uniform for seven years, so Austin will need a waiver from Congress. Such waivers have been granted twice before. Blumenthal says that to uphold the principle of civilian control of the military, he opposes another waiver. But few other members of Congress are objecting to it, and Blumenthal and those others still could have it both ways, voting against the waiver and then voting to appoint Austin once the waiver is granted.
Besides, with the Democrats in full control of the federal government, conflicts of interest and civilian control will barely register against the party’s new highest objective in Cabinet appointments — racial, ethnic, and gender diversity. Austin is Black and so meets the decisive qualification.
* * *
PAY AS YOU THROW?: The Lamont administration seems to have determined that state government no longer can make any money by burning trash to generate electricity at the state Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority’s facility in the South Meadows section of Hartford. Such generation apparently is now much more expensive than electricity generated from natural gas, and the facility’s equipment already needs renovation estimated to cost more than $300 million.
So the authority plans to close the facility by July 2022, turning it into a trash transfer depot and shipping to out-of-state dumps the trash now being burned. This is not only retrograde environmental policy; it likely will raise costs for the authority’s 70 client towns. As a result the authority and the towns are discussing how to reduce their “waste streams” — possibly by charging residents a fee for every bag of trash collected, a system called “pay as you throw.”
There would be some sense to this, since it would cause people to take more responsibility for their trash, the packaging of what they buy, and recycling. But this also would increase the risk of illegal dumping, even as Connecticut’s roadsides and city streets are already strewn with trash.
It might be best for state or federal sales taxes or fees to recover in advance the disposal costs of everything sure to wear out, as the state already does with beverage containers and mattresses and used to do with tires.
Government needs to teach people more about the trash issue. But all that roadside litter suggests that many people are unteachable slobs.
Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Connecticut.