The Real Obscenity

If your definition of “obscenity” is sexual, you can stop reading now.

Lockheed Martin recently held a conference for Defense contractors, at which they shared the “good news” about global conflicts.

Lockheed Martin Executive Vice President Bruce Tanner told the conference his company will see “indirect benefits” from the war in Syria, citing the Turkish military’s recent decision to shoot down a Russian warplane.

Executives of OshKosh and Raytheon reported equally positive business prospects, noting “significant upticks” for sales of military equipment due to ISIS and unrest across the Middle East.

The last bit of good news for the contractors is the latest budget deal in Congress. After years of cuts following the budget sequester, the deal authorizes $607 billion in defense spending, just $5 billion down from the Pentagon’s request, which DefenseNews called a “treat” for the industry.

America’s infrastructure—our roads, bridges, electrical grid, water utilities, rail—is dangerously deteriorated. Our cities are struggling to hire sufficient police. Our schools lack supplies, our teachers are underpaid, and we can’t find the money for universal kindergarten, let alone day care. We have nothing that can compare to Europe’s public transportation systems, or China’s high-speed rail. Our right-wing lawmakers are furious that we are finally making basic medical care accessible, and they insist we cannot afford to continue social security and other social safety net programs at current levels.

But we can evidently afford to spend more than the rest of the world combined for defense, and the military-industrial complex about which Eisenhower warned us. We seem able to find billions for the armaments that keep defense contractors fat and happy, while we starve the “homeland” and citizens we are supposedly protecting.

That’s my definition of obscene.

We talk a lot about the growth of American inequality, and the focus of those conversations is usually on income–wage stagnation, the incredibly bloated salaries paid to Wall Street “movers and shakers,” a tax system that allows mega-millionaires to avoid paying their fair shares.

All of those issues are important. But in a properly functioning society, where all taxpayers do pay their fair share, government is responsible for using that tax money to provide a physical and social infrastructure serving all its citizens, rich or poor.

We recognize third-world countries by inequalities of infrastructure; they are places where the wealthy hire their own police or bodyguards, live in gated compounds where they pave the streets and landscape parks for their own use, while segregating themselves from the wretched surroundings inhabited by the less fortunate. Those countries often support and valorize highly privileged military establishments.

If, as most knowledgable observers claim, the threats America faces are significantly different than in the past—if those threats come primarily from non-state terrorists—we need fewer tanks and bombs and missiles, and more targeted and surgical strategies.

We can defend the legitimate interests of the United States without unnecessarily enriching the military-industrial complex, and without maintaining the current bloated and obscenely expensive defense establishment.


  1. I live in a small neighborhood, with only one way in or out, which backs up on the Raytheon facility on North Arlington. I have tried in vain to find out what they do or produce there; even joined Raytheon Watch and questioned them but got no response. Over the past 5 years or so, they have added a large number of different size wooden outbuildings and continue adding; reading this blog I’m assuming that is due to the increase in whatever it is they are doing/selling. My friend whose yard backs up on the Raytheon property said she often sees emergency vehicles speeding through the facility with flashing red lights but never sirens.

    “We can defend the legitimate interests of the United States without unnecessarily enriching the military-industrial complex, and without maintaining the current bloated and obscenely expensive defense establishment.”

    The needless expense incurred is of course a great concern; living within one block of the Raytheon facility I have always wondered about a safety factor…especially because I get no answer to my question regarding what they do/produce there. Could this become a target for the anti-government so-called Patriot groups? We have a number of them locally. The infrastructure in the entire surrounding area is in need of maintenance or replacement.

  2. Thanks Prof. GREAT entry. A former presidential candidate once suggested that if we are going to provide military services to the rest of the world, then we should be getting paid for services provided. Japan for example, and Germany. They are able to out compete OUR workers because they are not burdened by the cost of a bloated military. The stupid Americans provide their defense for free. Just seems wrong.

  3. JoAnn, Wasn’t this site that is now “Raytheon” what used to be called Naval Avionics? If so, it is a naval base. Really! Here in the middle of landlocked Indiana. Can anyone out there verify this?

  4. “Make more money regardless of the cost to others.” Why would anyone expect that to be an adequate foundation for anything substantive in the absence of competition?

    As a Professional Project Manager I have great respect for the procurement skills of the US military in managing huge defense contracts in a very limited competition market; so that’s not the problem.

    The problem is politicians who need local short term economic results (jobs) in order to obtain campaign financing from those whose jobs in defense (an obsolete term, it’s now offense) industries.

    Said politicians dangle war and military adventure in front of hungry oligarchs and the bucks come rolling in.

    How to create the appetite among voters to fund these adventures? Fear, God old fashion there’s a threat behind every tree keep ’em awake at night nightmare causing anxiety producing made in Hollywood fear. The kind that destroys whole cultures.

    The making of a massive mess.

    No matter. Conservatives get lucrative political jobs and thus avoid productive work.

    We are such suckers that many just don’t deserve democracy.

  5. Theresa; yes, that facility was Naval Avionics for decades. A friend of mine worked there for years; said they manufactured electronics for Navy planes. The obvious lack of “transparency” is cause for alarm when it comes to manufacturing military weaponry and/or materials.

  6. Yes, I did an Engineering project at Naval Avionics about 20 Years ago.
    Being an old sea dog, the name Raytheon, to me suggests, Navigational
    equipment and (and old word from way back when) “Telemetry” (electronic
    communications etc). Perhaps, plus other super secret stuff ?

  7. Raytheon is a for profit corporation and its list of top ten institutional shareholders reads like a Hillary campaign donors list. How this corporation got to take over a Naval base in Indianapolis is beyond me. For more info go to Wikipedia, it is an eye opener.
    Red, I was there too back in 1981. That “super secret stuff” was the design, development, testing and manufacturing of guided missiles, including the Tomahawk. I witnessed their collection of “mad scientists” on the top floor using a nearby school yard for “sighting” practice. “Obscenity” is not a strong enough word.

  8. Got to defend my profession.

    Technology is opportunity. We are safe in America because we invest in it.

    How politicians choose to use it is the problem. The technology itself is neutral like all reality, but is developed as a solution.

  9. Theresa and Red; your comments make me wonder just how safe those “war games” were and why Ballard would OK them in this residential neighborhood. Especially those ground bombs during tornado warnings. Forget that; why the hell would I wonder about why Ballard and any Republican would approve any questionable action?

  10. Theresa,

    “I witnessed their collection of “mad scientists” on the top floor using a nearby school yard for “sighting” practice. “Obscenity” is not a strong enough word.”

    How about MASHUGANA?


    From Yiddish (meshugener)

    mashugana (plural mashuganas)
    l. nonsense, silliness, craziness, garbage (or useless)
    2. (pejorative) a person who is nonsensical, silly or crazy, a jackass

  11. Pete; before you jump on my comments, we all know technology is opportunity and is vital to the salvation of this and every other major country in the world. You redeemed yourself with the comment, “How politicians choose to use it is the problem.”

    Unlike the atomic bomb testing in the Nevada desert; we had front row seats on these “war games” with no invitation to bring the family out to watch the action. Ever wonder what the later death toll was from that technology for the picnicking families who accepted the invitation?

  12. “How politicians choose to use it is the problem.” Really? I’m more inclined to think that how ANYONE going along with the obscene use of technology is the problem.

  13. I like Bernie’s take…if you are going to send them to war, make sure you provide education and health care for them for the rest of their lives afterwards.
    I’m a pacifist so I don’t like war. I don’t want any part of it. When we lived in AZ, there was a Raytheon plant there and I didn’t even want to apply for a job there. I thought about joining the military when I was young but I didn’t want to go to war because…Vietnam.
    Thanks for your post Professor.

  14. Republican Presidential candidates love to tell Americans how unsafe we are and how they will protect us with high tech weapons and anger and fences.

    On the other hand we have a former Sec State who once made a living at diplomacy telling us that perspective and context is essential in understanding threats and risk.

    There is hardly any exclusively military technology in our mix. Almost every technology has both civilian and military application but is typically developed for the military first and paid for that way. Think GPS a technology that was central to our military superiority for decades that’s now in everyone’s pocket pocket cell phone.

    So military development contracts do help what creates prosperity, innovation.

    It’s fighting wars that’s unaffordable.

  15. Pete, If the only way for us to develop technology is through the military then we are indeed a sorry lot. And exactly what is the final goal? Technology does not make any of us more human, only more dependent on gadgets and devices that enslave us in a world controlled by those who manufacture and sell the things. No one needs an IPhone. Period. No one. But the devices do allow the masses to keep themselves entertained so that they do not have to look at the reality of the world we have made: the poverty, the hunger, the mayhem, the brutality. Just keep those candy games coming! As for all those medical devices that supposedly help mankind, they have replaced medical training and understanding. If the machine says the test is negative, well, by golly it is. No need for doctors. Really, just technicians and internet medical advice. The human removed from healing. What technology is really doing is removing the human from all activities, driving us further from nature, further from our souls. And that is a tragedy.

  16. Theresa, you raise good points but I don’t see any way for mankind to stop thinking and solving problems. Our hope in my mind is for our adververtising befuddled culture to redefine what we want which will direct the application of what we develop towards sustaining rather than ending us.

  17. Reading this sets lights off in my head. Carry on, Bernie. I do like my iPhone. I play no games on it. I use the alarm, map, address bk, phone, txt, camera. I feel like guns are what nobody needs. Great article, discussion.

  18. Pete, If only this were limited to mankind’s penchant for thinking and solving problems. I do not believe that it is. I think that mankind makes its own problems, most of them anyway. And it isn’t that we do not know better; it is that we want what we want and do not care about the immediate cost to others much less the long range costs to future generations.
    It isn’t the fault of advertising or politicians. They only tell us what we want to hear. “Take this new drug and you will no longer be burdened by that ingrown toenail”. In a weak, fast voice they mention that you may experience diarrhea, headaches, blurred vision and suicidal thoughts, but no matter, you want that toenail thing to go away. You never question how in the hell this ever got on the market. Or your home gets flooded out for the third time in five years but you insist on re-building … in the floodplain. You want what you want and the hell with the consequences. The government will save you… or you will sue someone.
    The common thread in all of this is that the majority make decisions for which they take no responsibility. Our society is overflowing with a kind of magical thinking that allows one to not take responsibility for anything. We blame the media, the government, religion, the schools. We blame any and all except ourselves for our own decision to participate in activities that we know will bring harm to others. We refuse to see ourselves as part of the problem, and so the problems persist. For too many the solution is technology. Technology will save us they tell themselves.
    What I am trying to say is that the solution to our many problems starts with each of us taking full responsibility for our own actions. That includes the kind of work we do, the friends we keep, the votes we cast, the items we buy, the religion we choose to believe in. It includes where we build our house and even what remedy we employ to cure an ingrown toenail.

  19. “An obscenity is any utterance or act that strongly offends the prevalent morality of the time.[1] It is derived from the Latin obscaena (offstage) a cognate of the Ancient Greek root skene, because some potentially offensive content, such as murder or sex, was depicted offstage in classical drama. The word can be used to indicate a strong moral repugnance, in expressions such as “obscene profits” or “the obscenity of war”.” [from Wikipedia]
    This was an interesting discovery of word origin during my college studies of Shakespeare and theatre history in the early 60s. “Offstage” and “out of sight” perfectly describes the negotiations in the hidden rooms of DC and various state legislatures. Since ‘all the world is a stage’ and ‘every exit is an entrance somewhere else’, it is no longer clear how to be undetected. The Wizard behind the curtain MUST be exposed.

  20. This brings to mind the Billions of dollars that have been spent on the F35 fighter jets that the Pentagon did not want and said they did not need. Of course, we are making them anyway.

    Unfortunately, members of congress that have defense contractors in their states producing parts for those jets were able to push through billions of dollars into the defense budget anyway. They were protecting very good paying jobs for their constituents at a huge expense to the rest of the country. I believe that Rolls Royce in Indy may have (or originally had) a contract to produce engines or engine parts for the F35.

    The geographic area surrounding Washington DC has become the wealthiest area in our nation due to lobbyists moving there to lobby 24/7 and the military lobbyists are among the largest spenders, if not the largest spenders. They continue to rake in more and more tax revenue from us and there seems to be no one in DC interested in stopping it.

  21. Theresa; my 16 year old grandson has an autistic-type disability because his mother was prescribed Terbutaline to prevent premature labor when she was pregnant with him. It had been approved by FDA to treat asthma – but doctors were prescribing it for pregnant woman. The source of that usage wasn’t listed in the research I did on line. The first problems to appear were in the mothers; many developed heart problems. It has been in the past few years that they have been interested – or honest – enough to study effects of Terbutaline on the fetus. Resulting in a laundry-list of problems and disabilities for which no one is yet to blame. It was also being used by vets as birth control in dogs. This is medical technology turned loose in the hands of supposedly qualified medical doctors…it isn’t only the politicians, in this case the FDA, who misuse our technology. Like the hypothetical toenail medication with the whispered side effects…has it been approved by the FDA for toenails…or for any medical use?

  22. This comment is regarding Sheila’s post yesterday about HB 1082 regarding regulations on pollution.

    I attended the meeting in Wabash with Rep. Dave Wolkins. He authored this bill.

    Here is a brief synopsis of his reasoning. He believes the EPA is completely out of control with regulations. He spoke about Janet McCabe who is currently the Acting Asst Administrator for the Ofc of Air & Radiation in DC. He said she formerly ran IDEM and imposed numerous rules and regs in our state to control pollution that was unnecessary (in his opinion).

    He mentioned that he doesn’t think Pence will be re-elected as our Governor and he worries that if Gregg becomes the Gov that Janet McCabe will be brought back to run IDEM. She still lives in Indy and flies back and forth to DC.

    So, he wants to get this bill passed to eliminate any chance for her to come back to IDEM and create more regs.

    I also spoke to him briefly about ALEC (he is the Indiana State Chair). We did not have enough time to really discuss it but he claims that it is not a corporate bill mill at all and is only a conservative organization that ‘discusses’ issues about the bills they want written. I will be contacting him soon to set a time to meet with him to be able to talk more.

  23. Getting back to “Mashugana,”

    Last week I checked out from the Jacksonville Public Library a DVD entitled “The Unknown Known” a conversation with Donald Rumsfeld who served as U.S. Secretary of Defense and as the principal architect of the Iraq War. The personal interview was conducted by Errol Morris-winner of the Academy Award, Best Documentary Feature for “The Fog of War (2003).

    The term unknown known: it’s a noun 1. things you think you know that it turns out you did not.

    It’s Rumsfeld’s term but when he first used the term he didn’t even know its correct definition. He admits it in the interview with Morris.

    After watching this interview, I believe you will see that the problem was a combination of a mashugana and the obscene.

  24. All of our great institutions are there to address the inadequacies in our physical, animal selves. We are as far from free thinking, rational intelligences as are earthworms. If we were cats, we would have a National Yarn and Laser Pointer Institute and a Department of Mouse Census. Primitive tribesmen we are, with nuclear weapons.

  25. “He believes the EPA is completely out of control with regulations.”

    What does this even mean? I suspect that it means that business feels like their dumping of waste into what we breath, drink, eat, and live in should be generally allowed with only a few exceptions.

    After all there’s a slim chance that it will only hurt the poorest among us and only some of them.

  26. So, in coming years, we will have this fantastic military, designed to fight almost anyone, but especially WW II, whose purpose is to protect the 100 zillionaires who spend most of their time in Europe and scattered Caribbean islands. Meanwhile, nobody will want to attack us, because 90% will be poor people many of whom use the money they have to buy advanced weapons to murder their friends, relatives and be prepared for imaginary invaders. The roads will be unusable, the water undrinkable, the air unbreatheable and the food inedible because regulations will be viewed as being against jobs and may serve to discourage polluters–owned by the 100 zillionaires–from “developing” more “job opportunities” where people can work for consignment wages. No health care or pensions will be necessary, because nobody will live long enough to need them. Somehow, the churches will develop a rationale for this scenario, but “freedom” will be somehow involved. I wonder if there is a way to re-think this.

  27. Pete, that is what I took his comment to mean. He said that the energy corporations can’t afford to meet the EPA’s pollution regulations. This is probably a true statement if you want to consider the stockholder profits and multi-million dollar salaries and bonuses for executives.

  28. Another aspect of this that doesn’t get discussed even close to enough is also a large part of President Eisenhower’s famous farewell address that he gave immediately before leaving office in January 1961. He didn’t just discuss the impact of the military industrial complex and its impact on our economy as still another aspect of doing business in America. He also eluded to something that he saw as being far more disturbing. “Ike” was very concerned about what the constant preparation for war would do to the moral and social fabric of this country. This is the part of that speech that rarely, if ever, gets quoted when people use it to bolster their take on the evils of war production profiteering in this country. That’s not to say that it shouldn’t be a huge cause for concern but that there is something more ominous, more insidious, at work as well that he tried to warn us about.

    Dwight David Eisenhower spent nearly his whole adult life in the service of his country. He went from graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point as a lowly second lieutenant in 1915 to a General of the Army, a five-star flag rank that only six men have ever held, at the end of the Second World War II. He went from being a Kansas farm boy to commanding the largest, most technically complex, war-fighting machine in the history of mankind. His service and his own personal journey from being that farm boy to being a supreme technocrat mirrors the same journey that his country took from being primarily rural agrarian to a urban-centered industrial titan during the course of his life. He was both a spectator and an active participant in all of those changes this country went through during his adulthood which make his observations in that farewell address very important.

    For all of us baby boomers that grew up during the Cold War, and all that it entailed, we know nothing else than an America obsessed with the constant preparation of war that he warned us all about. It all started in the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack and our quest to never be caught flat footed again that continued into the Cold War with the Soviet Union and the shift to our now longstanding policy of nuclear deterrence from the more traditional forms of military thinking that preceded it. By the time a lot of us were born that shift in thinking of how America protected itself had already occurred with phrases such as “Massive Retaliation”, “Flexible Response”, “Limited War”, and “Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD)” being added, along with the advent of nuclear weapons that led to those labels being added, along with many others, to our collective lexicons for good measure. All of us, whether we realized it or not, lived under the threat of near instant obliteration for decades. It became “normal” in a sense but also remained the unthinkable at the same time. We as a society chose to not think about it. To be quite honest, we still don’t think about it. Psychologists have had a field day studying this abnormal behavior ever since.

    Fifty-five years later we live in a country where the dangers he eluded to that fell outside the realm of those he described in regard to the military industrial complex and the actual threat of global war have all come home for us. We have national leaders that are prone to think of military responses to crises first instead of using the diplomatic tools that are also at our disposal which is “bass-ackwards” from long established and also effective tradition. We have elected leaders that twist partisan politics together with our foreign policy and try to act as brokers themselves with foreign governments just to one-up and circumvent a sitting President. Some of these same elected leaders also wonder out loud why our nuclear retaliatory “triad” hasn’t been used up until now which is by far the most reckless statement that I have ever heard, or thought that I would ever hear, in regard to the potential use of strategic nuclear weapons. The “cooler heads” that used to keep things like this in check have been replaced over time by those that exhibit no where near the depth of knowledge or clarity of thinking that their predecessors had. It also seems that the vast majority of the body politic in this country have no desire to look for leaders that perhaps think a little deeper than they do in regard to extremely complex issues such as war and peace.

    All of this fixation with our security has led to parts of it becoming part of our daily lives as aspects of our contemporary culture. Among these are us using “military speak” and its incorporation into our take on the English language, being akin to a one-off strange, to many, acronym-laden dialect. Support for our military, which has been always needed since we truly have a “people’s” military, has gone overboard today in comparison to the great dip that it took during the Vietnam War to where it’s used as an political and ideological weapon against those that urge logical caution and reflection in regard to dealing the external threats we face today as a nation. The loose talk regarding quick and easy wars of choice permeates a lot of public discussion today with our veterans, including yours truly, being referred to as “warriors” and puffed up as if all veterans are eager for war, easy war, when they, particularly combat veterans, should know better than anyone else that there is no such thing. It’s one thing to say “nuke ’em” in jest but a lot of those people that are prone to say this today, including some politicians, aren’t joking. They really mean it.

    Far closer to home we also have police departments that are better equipped for urban close quarter combat than for gaining the trust of the people they are tasked with policing for the common good. Even the flashlights we can buy are of mil-spec quality. This is not to say that all of this is bad or harmful but perhaps someone at some point should reflect on all of this and determine what in regard to all of this should be embraced and what, on the other hand, we should be wary of.

    All of this that we are all so familiar with now is a vast aberration from what this country, the country that Mr. Eisenhower knew as a young man, or even as a 71 year old soon-to-be former President. “Ike” tried to warn us 55 years ago what might happen to us if we didn’t think about the issues that he raised but I doubt if he could have foreseen or even imagined where we would be all these years later with his warning going essentially unheeded by anyone. Given that he felt it necessary to speak up in regard to the concerns he had about our future and to do so as his last official message to the citizens of this country perhaps those that were old enough at the time to be able to ponder what he was saying should have paid more attention to what he said. Very clearly they didn’t since the import of what he said is new found knowledge a half century later and the problems he foresaw are far worse and getting even more worse in the inane game of “can you top this?” that is being played today.

  29. The ALEC model legislation proposed by the Koch brothers and the other contributors they solicit to finance ALEC always has been anti-environmental legislation and regulation. The Kochs have a long history of flouting environmental regulations knowing that the fines cost less than environmentally sensitive preparation and shipment of toxic chemicals and fossil fuels. I wish the Kochs had to live near one of the pipeline leaks for which they’ve been responsible and drink the water supply they’ve poisoned.

  30. Nancy Papas – I was truly surprised when Rep Wolkins told me that ALEC is not a corporated bill mill at all. All I could think was that he has been completely bought and brainwashed by the polluting energy sector.

  31. Nancy,

    The Republican Party is now owned by the Tea Party. That was always the objective of the John Birch Society and it is now complete. Sheila’s old Republican Party is “dead as a doornail.” Bob Dole recently alluded to the fact.

    Your trip was worthwhile. It’s best to see and feel things first hand. You’re one strong woman.

  32. Do you think you had Republican obstructionism? Stay tuned. Antonin Scalia is dead. Beware of the fallout. After the bios and documentaries, the President will propose a candidate from a list of qualified Americans to bring SCOTUS up to nine again. Then the Republican Senate will shift to obstruct the confirmation until after the November election. You know why so you know how critical it is that either Bernie or Hillary is elected
    Elect one of those Republican debaters and suffer with another Scalia or Clarence Thomas for the rest of your life. Which one would you trust with this responsibility?

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