Tilting at Windmills

September/October 2014 Religious criminals belong in jail … Use Amazon to order an X47B … Nowhere to go by up

By Gregg Easterbrook

Fire Mary Barra

Early last winter, the Justice Department fined Toyota $1.2 billion for failing to disclose a possible electronic defect that turned out not to exist. Shortly afterward, it became clear that General Motors had spent years covering up an all-too-real defect that, by the Reuters count, killed seventy-four people. If $1.2 billion was the proper fine for regulatory error, the fine for GM’s grotesque disregard of human life should be far higher. And there should be clawback of the roughly $145 million in bonuses conferred on Richard Wagoner, Ed Whitacre, Dan Akerson, and Mary Barra, CEOs during the period of the cover-up. Wagoner got an $8 million severance even though the company lost $65 billion under his leadership; he also made the biggest auto blunder since the Edsel, investing billions in the Hummer brand fiasco. CEOs say their extravagant paydays are justified because the buck stops with them: then, when something goes wrong, they claim they knew nothing and had no responsibility. Yet after running what the company’s own report called a management culture of “incompetence and neglect,” GM’s CEOs keep the money they awarded themselves.

Cleaner air later

The White House has unveiled commendable fuel-efficiency standards for automakers—but the rules will not become strict until after Barack Obama leaves office. Whether they ever actually take effect, only time will tell. For now, the government-favored GM continues to build such monstrosities as a fifteen-mpg Camaro and a fourteen-mpg Escalade, both of which emit ten tons of greenhouse gases annually.

Religious criminals belong in jail

Recently Pope Francis told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica that 8,000 priests—about 2 percent of the Roman clergy—are pedophiles. The first step in recovery is to admit the problem, so this is progress. The number ought to shock. There are bad apples in every organization, but could it really be that 2 percent of elementary schoolteachers or camp counselors grope or rape kids? In the United States, about half a percent of men are registered sex offenders. This suggests clergy are four times more likely to be sex offenders than adult men in general.

The Vatican has said the Catholic Church has paid $2.5 billion in civil settlements involving the sexual abuse of children. But almost none of the priests’ names have been reported to law enforcement—meaning that, unlike other kinds of rapists, godly rapists don’t face prison time. Why should there be no prosecution of crimes by clergy? If a priest were raped, the church would be outraged if the offender were only assigned a period of prayer and penance.

Since 2002, Bernard Law, former head of the Boston archdiocese, has lived in Rome to avoid answering Massachusetts charges regarding obstruction of justice for child rapes during his administration. Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, defrocked for sexually abusing children, faces only a Vatican City tribunal. They and the thousands of child-abusing priests who hide from the law are doing something both morally wrong and cowardly. The Christ-like act would be to surrender and accept the consequences.

BP can’t stop spills of oil or money

BP is being bilked in the distribution of Deepwater Horizon settlement money—poetic justice for an arrogant company that killed workers and thumbed its nose at the environment. It is a double dose of poetic justice that for all its power and pounds sterling BP was too dumb to realize that Louisiana’s Napoleonic-rooted civil code is notoriously crooked. The company freely agreed to a distribution procedure that was just asking the Louisiana bar to pick BP’s pocket. Other beneficiaries include the New York Times and the Washington Post, which have received millions of dollars’ worth of full-page BP ads whining about the bilking.

Use Amazon to order an X-47B

Defense-bill markup time in Washington annually leads to military contractors purchasing local advertising. The Northrop Grumman X-47B was touted in Post ads, while the news station WTOP ran spots extolling the P-8 antisubmarine aircraft. Military funding ads feature flag waving and misrepresentation. Boeing bought full pages declaring that ending construction of the EA-18G electronic warfare jet would “leave the U.S. Navy without future Growlers.” Classic half-truth: the Navy already has 100 of the planes, more than needed for any contingency. If patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels, defense contracting is the last refuge of crony capitalism.

At the start of a defense budget cycle, the White House and the Pentagon propose dramatic cuts. Once members of Congress have maxed out campaign donations and promotional appearances at military bases, they add back everything, a process known on the Hill as “plus-up.”

The United States has ten supercarriers—versus zero for the rest of the world. Five years ago the Enterprise, the oldest carrier in the fleet—christened in the Eisenhower administration—was slated for decommissioning. Congress insisted on a $662 million plus-up. Even afterward, the Enterprise was barely functional, and now she is being scrapped, the extra money pure waste. When this budget cycle kicked off, the White House proposed to dry-dock the George Washington, leaving the United States with a 9-0 advantage over the rest of the world, with two super-advanced supercarriers under construction. House and Senate members plussed-up the Washington. That will keep the Austrian navy in check!

Important procurement fights concern the Air Force’s A-10 antitank plane, the Navy’s littoral combat ship (LCS), and the Army’s years-long bungling of the need for modern armor. The A-10 has been praised in these pages, and in James Fallows’s 1982 National Defense—a book that has stood the test of time well—for being a relatively inexpensive, reliable jet based on rugged low tech. Its design is dated, but proven: in Iraq and Afghanistan, the plane performed well. Soldiers love the A-10 because its mission is close-air support of Army and Marine units in battle. The Air Force dislikes the A-10 for the same reason. Flyboys want to soar high in the sky, not come down to the deck to aid grunts.

Now the Air Force proposes to retire the A-10, leaving the United States without a close-support jet. Getting rid of the A-10 would allow the Air Force to argue that the F-35 is needed for the air-to-ground role—though this plane was designed for air-to-air missions. The F-35 is the Air Force’s number-one funding priority, and the treasure chest of Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defense contractor.

Adjusting for inflation, F-35 program cost has grown 71 percent in the past decade, to $400 billion, the largest defense contract ever. Yet the F-35 sputters in trials; in July, F-35s were grounded after one caught fire on the runway. The F-35 has been in production for eight years, but still is not ready for combat. The Air Force so yearns to rationalize blank checks for this clunker—it’s the Spruce Goose of stealth—that the two-star James Jones told a congressional committee that if the service doesn’t win permission to junk the A-10, it will respond by retiring all B-1 bombers.

Gregg Easterbrook is a contributing editor of the Washington Monthly and the Atlantic. He's also a columnist for ESPN.com.


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