April 8, 2012

The F-35 program is “Military Keynesianism”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Cancon, Economics, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:25

Wayne K. Spear explains the ordinary and the extraordinary parts of a military procurement process, as illustrated by the F-35 project:

A straight-shooting bureaucrat will admit that procurement processes are often initiated with the final selection a foregone conclusion. If you know in advance what you need, and you furthermore know who’s most qualified to deliver, then formalities intended to promote transparency and accountability are at best inconveniences to circumnavigate — and every public servant knows well how to steer that ship. That this occurs regularly within the bureaucracy is an open secret.

The Joint Strike Force program, at the centre of which is a proposed purchase of F-35 fighters, introduces disturbing wrinkles to an otherwise unremarkable bureaucratic occurrence. On military matters I refer to the self-described “prolific Ottawa blogger” Mark Collins , who has been training his keen eye on this fiasco for years. At his site you’ll find links to a range of useful resources, for example a DND PowerPoint which makes it clear that military leaders chose the F-35 and only later manufactured the selection criteria. Again, not unusual in procurement. The department however did so on grounds no one has yet admitted, never mind defended. That’s only one of many problems.

Reviewing the Auditor General’s report and the media coverage of this issue, I infer that the F-35 achieved the status of a foregone conclusion for the following reasons. 1) Canada had invested millions of dollars into the F-35 program as early as the 1990s; 2) Lockheed Martin Aeronautics lobbied aggressively, and more effectively, than its rivals (and employed Prospectus Associates, a consultancy firm with the inner track to Defence Minister Peter MacKay); and 3) the F-35 series of fighters — although years from completion and with many important details unclear and ever-changing (including year of completion, engine cost, cost to maintain) — were the only “fifth generation” fighters on the table. As the Auditor General points out, fifth generation “is not a description of an operational requirement.” My own research suggests this phrase means something like ”Ooo!” — which is what I often say when I see a jet fighter in action.

It’s a given that the Royal Canadian Air Force needs to address the rapidly aging CF-18 fleet before 2020 (the estimated end-of-life for the current fighters). The choice had appeared to be simple: follow on our pre-existing development deal with a purchase of F-35 fighters. The problems were that the development schedule had slipped multiple times, the estimated costs had climbed and climbed again, and the technical “teething” issues were still promising longer delays and higher costs. Canada had intended to buy 65 aircraft — in my opinion at least 33% less than the RCAF actually needed — at a “fixed” cost.

The F-35 is still years away from being in service in any air force, there’s no way to be sure that the government’s budget will be enough to buy the minimum number of aircraft, and the CF-18 isn’t getting any younger.

We need (some) new fighter aircraft in the next eight years, but the F-35 is no longer the automatic choice to fill that role.

There’s another root problem, and it’s also to be found in the 2012 federal budget. This document superstitiously relies on the notion that everything the feds do creates jobs. Every spending initiative in the budget creates jobs. Every departmental trim, and every restraint, ditto. Having gone through the budget, I wonder if Mr. Flaherty thinks a job is created when he sneezes. At the same time I was reading the budget, I was reviewing the federal government’s 2010 F-35 sales pitch — which, coincidentally, was the DND’s and Lockheed Martin’s sales pitch. Again, it’s all about “industrial benefits.” Lo and behold: the F-35 program creates jobs!

One name for this line of argument is “Military Keynesianism,” the idea that a brilliant and effective way to create jobs and boost the economy is to give folks like Lockheed Martin billions of dollars of public money. In the 1980s, the American public heard many Pentagon procurement stories concerning $40 staplers and $200 hammers, all part of a federal stimulus effort which by 1988 had tripled the nation’s deficit. There are distinctions to be made between this and the present case. Nonetheless, these staplers and hammers came to my mind as I dug down into the bogus F-35 procurement process and my shovel chipped the Reagan-era bedrock.

The Military-Industrial Complex lives

Filed under: Military, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:55

From Strategy Page, where the US Army doesn’t want any more tanks right now, but the politicians (and their crony capitalist “friends”) want the tanks to continue to be built and upgraded:

The U.S. Army is fighting the politicians to avoid having to buy more M-1 tanks, or upgrade some older ones that do not need upgrades. What it comes down to is that the politicians want to keep the only American tank manufacturing plant open. It’s all about political posturing, votes and getting reelected. But the army wants to spend its shrinking budgets on things that will save lives in the next battle. At stake is several billion dollars. The generals cannot openly say that this is about buying votes versus buying lives, but that’s what it comes down to.

So far, over 9,000 American M-1 tanks have been produced and most of them subsequently updated at least once. But the army, seeking to save a billion dollars, wants to close the plant that builds and modifies the M-1. The closure would be for three years, and when it was reopened there would be a backlog of upgrades and parts orders to fill to keep the plant open until, perhaps, an M-1 replacement comes along. At the moment the generals do not have any firm plans for an M-1 replacement.

Politicians and the operators of the plant want to keep the plant open in order to save jobs, votes, and operating profits. This is basically a largely political decision that involves getting the money (from the taxpayers) to stay open by pretending that the army wants this. But the army leadership has not cooperated and has openly opposed this plan. How long the plant will remain in business is uncertain, as is the future of the M-1 tank.

L. Neil Smith’s Open Letter to Rush Limbaugh

Filed under: Economics, Liberty, Media, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:44

From today’s edition of the Libertarian Enterprise, L. Neil Smith’s open letter to Rush Limbaugh:

Dear Mr. Limbaugh,

I began listening to you early in the Clinton Administration. For years you’ve said you’re playing with half your brain tied behind your back “just to make it fair”. For the same number of years, I’ve been saying (admittedly to a much smaller audience), that if you ever untied and started using the other half of your brain, you’d be a libertarian.

That was all in fun (although I do believe it). But what I have to tell you now is intended quite seriously. I’ve been involved in the libertarian movement for 50 years, since 1962, when I was 16 years old — almost before the word “libertarian” was in common currency. In all of that time, we libertarians have learned to handle the Left, better, I think, than the Right does. Partly that’s because we aspire to many of the same things that they do — except that we really mean it.


The chronicle of the declining “old media” empires

Filed under: Liberty, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:32

Matt Welch explains why, even though more reporting is being done now than ever before in human history, the “old media” portrays the situation in the same way the dinosaurs might view the end of their era:

Imagine for a moment that the hurly-burly history of American retail was chronicled not by reporters and academics but by life-long employees of A&P, a largely forgotten supermarket chain that enjoyed a 75 percent market share as recently as the 1950s. How do you suppose an A&P Organization Man might portray the rise of discount super-retailer Wal-Mart, or organic foods-popularizer Whole Foods, let alone such newfangled Internet ventures as Peapod.com? Life looks a hell of a lot different from the perspective of a dinosaur slowly leaking power than it does to a fickle consumer happily gobbling up innovation wherever it shoots up.

That is largely where we find ourselves in the journalism conversation of 2012, with a dreary roll call of depressive statistics invariably from the behemoth’s point of view: newspaper job losses, ad-spending cutbacks, shuttered bureaus, plummeting stock prices, major-media bankruptcies. Never has there been more journalism produced or consumed, never has it been easier to find or create or curate news items, and yet this moment is being portrayed by self-interested insiders as a tale of decline and despair.

It is no insult to the hard work and good faith of either newspaper reporters or media-beat writers (and I’ve been both) to acknowledge that their conflict of interest in this story far exceeds that of, say, academic researchers who occasionally take corporate money, or politicians who pocket campaign donations from entities they help regulate, to name two perennial targets of newspaper editorial boards. We should not expect anything like impartial analysis from people whose very livelihoods—and those of their close friends—are directly threatened by their subject matter.

This goes a long way toward explaining a persistent media-criticism dissonance that has been puzzling observers since at least the mid-1990s: Successful, established journalism insiders tend to be the most dour about the future of the craft, while marginalized and even unpaid aspirants are almost giddy about what might come next. More kids than ever go to journalism school; more commencement speeches than ever warn graduates that, sadly, there’s no more gold in them thar hills. Consumers are having palpable fun finding, sharing, packaging, supplementing, and dreaming up pieces of editorial content; newsroom veterans are consistently among the most depressed of all modern professionals.

Sexual humiliation as a tool of political control

Filed under: Government, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:15

Writing in the Guardian, Naomi Wolf discusses the ways the US government has incorporated sexual humiliation into their toolkit for dealing with both prisoners and innocent people:

In a five-four ruling this week, the supreme court decided that anyone can be strip-searched upon arrest for any offense, however minor, at any time. This horror show ruling joins two recent horror show laws: the NDAA, which lets anyone be arrested forever at any time, and HR 347, the “trespass bill”, which gives you a 10-year sentence for protesting anywhere near someone with secret service protection. These criminalizations of being human follow, of course, the mini-uprising of the Occupy movement.

Is American strip-searching benign? The man who had brought the initial suit, Albert Florence, described having been told to “turn around. Squat and cough. Spread your cheeks.” He said he felt humiliated: “It made me feel like less of a man.”

[. . .]

Believe me: you don’t want the state having the power to strip your clothes off. History shows that the use of forced nudity by a state that is descending into fascism is powerfully effective in controlling and subduing populations.

The political use of forced nudity by anti-democratic regimes is long established. Forcing people to undress is the first step in breaking down their sense of individuality and dignity and reinforcing their powerlessness. Enslaved women were sold naked on the blocks in the American south, and adolescent male slaves served young white ladies at table in the south, while they themselves were naked: their invisible humiliation was a trope for their emasculation. Jewish prisoners herded into concentration camps were stripped of clothing and photographed naked, as iconic images of that Holocaust reiterated.

[. . .]

The most terrifying phrase of all in the decision is justice Kennedy’s striking use of the term “detainees” for “United States citizens under arrest”. Some members of Occupy who were arrested in Los Angeles also reported having been referred to by police as such. Justice Kennedy’s new use of what looks like a deliberate activation of that phrase is illuminating.

Ten years of association have given “detainee” the synonymous meaning in America as those to whom no rights apply — especially in prison. It has been long in use in America, habituating us to link it with a condition in which random Muslims far away may be stripped by the American state of any rights. Now the term — with its associations of “those to whom anything may be done” — is being deployed systematically in the direction of … any old American citizen.

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