Welcome to Behind the Lines, a weekly conversation with Salt Lake Tribune cartoonist Pat Bagley and BYU economist Val Lambson.
Lambson: I admire your "trillions for defense" cartoon. A quibble: I support some spending on weapons that will never be used. The best outcome is to be strong enough to deter aggression without having to fight. But we spend far too much, and spending on wars that are none of our business concerns me even more than wasteful spending.
Bagley: I have to endorse the following comment, " ... if they were actually developing driveable dinosaurs with missiles on the side, I would absolutely support that program."
Lambson: Definitely high on the coolness scale. And perhaps consistent with my view of the proper role of government. In some contexts they might be more effective than tanks for defending our borders. Especially the amphibious dinosaurs.
Bagley: Are you suggesting that giant reptiles be unleashed on those attempting to enter the country illegally?
Lambson: Absolutely not! Let peaceful people immigrate to this nation of immigrants. However, if people come as part of an armed invasion, then unleash the reptiles! (That is, if we had them.)
Bagley: Moving right along ...
The inspiration for the cartoon is the F-35, a hi-tech fighter/bomber meant to replace various other attack aircraft at a cost of about $300 million each the most expensive weapons program ever. There have been the usual delays, technical problems, cost overruns and it could end up costing about half a trillion. In an age when America's enemies prefer suicide vests, the practical use of the F-35 is in question. Congress, however, dearly loves this jet. Not because it is the hottest thing since Shiva the Destroyer, but because it is the pork-bellied incarnation of Job Creator. (Job Creator is a jolly D.C. deity who dispenses campaign contributions and military/industrial jobs to good little congressmen and congresswomen).
Lambson: Has the Pentagon taken a public stand on the desirability of this aircraft? I wouldn't be surprised to learn that trying to create laser-toting dinosaurs would be about as cost-effective for dealing with our current enemies. Okay, perhaps a little surprised, but allow for some hyperbole.
Bagley: The short version is that Congress tried to force a second engine for the F-35 on the Pentagon that even it didn't want. The reason? Jobs.
Is this any way to run a national defense?
Lambson: Well, no, but it is a rather common way. Special interest groups capture government, both parties, time after time, pretty much everywhere it is worth doing. One might hope that national defense would be different. Sadly, no.
Bagley: No, I think we Americans have an uncommon way with creating our current Rube Goldberg defense policy. The U.S. spends about as much on its military as the rest of the world combined. Recently retired Secretary of Defense Robert Gates pointed out that the U.S. Navy is as big as the next 13 navies combined and 11 of those navies are our allies. In fairness, I should credit the military for giving us, at virtually no cost to the taxpayer, the useful and versatile acronym FUBAR.
I know it's long, but the following comment from last week moved me.
As a 56 yr old woman who has succumbed to multiple debilitating illnesses that have wiped out my 401k and all savings that I accumulated I am grateful that I have paid into social security. I have a college degree and I work in the IT field. I have a great job but it can't make up for the losses that I have suffered. I can't replace all of my 401k money in time for retirement. I have worked for 40 years and have little to show for it. I don't want to be the old woman in the alley with no place to go. My health has not rebounded, but I am capable of working. I just can't compete with the younger versions of myself that I am working with. Those days are gone for me. As hard as I try I cannot be as bright or durable as I once was. Thank goodness I have a safety net.