Shhhh. Don't talk about the Military Industrial Complex
Mother Jones featured an interesting little story on defense contracting (originally posted at TomDispatch)that seems to me to be pertinent to today's budget battles:
The C-130 Hercules is a mid-sized transport airplane designed to airlift people or cargo around a theater of operations. It dates back to the Korean War, when the Air Force decided that it needed a next generation ("NextGen") transport plane. In 1951, it asked for designs, and Lockheed won the competition. The first C-130s were delivered three years after the war ended.
The C-130 Hercules, or Herk for short, isn't a sexy plane. It hasn't inspired hit Hollywood films, though it has prompted a few photo books, a beer, and a "Robby the C-130" trilogy for children whose military parents are deployed. It has a fat sausage fuselage, that snub nose, overhead wings with two propellers each, and a big back gate that comes down to load and unload up to 21 tons of cargo.
The Herk can land on short runways, even ones made of dirt or grass; it can airdrop parachutists or cargo; it can carry four drones under its wings; it can refuel aircraft; it can fight forest fires; it can morph into a frightening gunship. It's big and strong and can do at least 12 types of labor—hence, Hercules.
Too Much of a Good Thing
Here's where the story starts to get interesting. After 25 years, the Pentagon decided that it was well stocked with C-130s, so President Jimmy Carter's administration stopped asking Congress for more of them.
Lockheed was in trouble. A few years earlier, the Air Force had started looking into replacing the Hercules with a new medium-sized transport plane that could handle really short runways, and Lockheed wasn't selected as one of the finalists. Facing bankruptcy due to cost overruns and cancellations of programs, the company squeezed Uncle Sam for a bailout of around $1 billion in loan guarantees and other relief (which was unusual back then, as William Hartung points out his magisterial Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex).
Then a scandal exploded when it was revealed that Lockheed had proceeded to spend some $22 million of those funds in bribes to foreign officials to persuade them to buy its aircraft. This helped prompt Congress to pass the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
So what did Lockheed do about the fate of the C-130? It bypassed the Pentagon and went straight to Congress. Using a procedure known as a congressional "add-on"—that is, an earmark—Lockheed was able to sell the military another fleet of C-130s that it didn't want.
To be fair, the Air Force did request some C-130s. Thanks to Senator John McCain, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) did a study of how many more C-130s the Air Force requested between 1978 and 1998. The answer: Five.
How many did Congress add on? Two hundred and fifty-six.
As Hartung commented, this must "surely [be] a record in pork-barrel politics."
I'm fairly sure this has happened oh ... hundreds if not thousands of times. I urge you to read the whole thing to remind yourself of just how incestuous these companies and our government really are.
The sequester was designed to make these companies pressure their congressional minions to end it. Maybe some enterprising young journalist could do some digging and see how these companies are positioned economically and who they might be pressuring. It could be an informative story.
Read the whole piece to get a sense of just how huge these numbers involved are. These companies have a lot of influence. Oh, and by the way, the CEO of Lockheed made $20,538,981, in 2011. But let's make sure we hit the 90 year olds up for their $1200.00 a month. They're takers, you know, not makers. Of useless aircraft.