Wednesday, January 1, 2020

In Memoriam: What didn't survive 2019 (besides the Constitution)

In Memoriam

The Spy's Obituary Page takes a loving look back at the people, institutions, and ideas that left us in 2019, for better or worse.

By Luke Reschuss
Obituary Editor

Boeing, Boeing, Gone

It was the greatest manufacturing success story of the 20th Century and still going strong in the 21st.  Its passenger planes ushered in the Jet Age (the 707) and the era of mass air transport (the 747).  It crushed or bought all competitors.  It offered high-paying jobs to tens of thousands of workers.  And it was the epitome of engineering excellence, producing safe, fast, efficient, reliable planes by the thousands.

What happened?  Short answer: one Chief Executive Officer, aided and abetted by the insane and falsified myth of the Godlike CEO, created by Ayn Rand and made flesh in American capitalism over the past thirty years.

The CEO in question is one Dennis Muilenberg, a Boeing lifer who successfully internalized the lesson for success of a modern CEO: maximize short term profit and ignore anyone or anything standing in the way.  According to The Daily Beast, Muilenburg had a “reputation as a man who delivered record profits to stockholders as fast as he delivered airplanes to the airlines.”  That performance netted him $23,000,000 in 2018 compensation but it lead to the avoidable deaths of 346 passengers, none of whom however were as well paid as he was.

The Boeing 707 was a success once engineers
realized the specs were in feet, not inches 
He inherited the decision to compete with Airbus by stretching the competitive Boeing model, the 737, to create what would essentially be a new plane but somehow would not require retraining existing 737 pilots.  This was done to satisfy customers such as Southwest, which only flies 737's.  The only problem was that such a plane was unflyable under the laws of aerodynamics, so Boeing engineers added an automated control system, unknown to the pilots actually flying the damn thing, which would avoid unsafe conditions.  Our guess is that Southwest might have wanted to know about that tidbit, too.

By 2016, Boeing's test pilots reported that the system, called MCAS, was creating mass casualties in the flight simulator.  In response, Boeing did nothing other than hide the report from the supine Government agency nominally charged with protecting the flying public, the FAA.

So the 737 Max was sent into service without pilot training or a properly-informed government assessment of a key safety system.  You know what happened next: “That software was implicated in the 737 Max crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia after it received faulty information from a sensor and pushed the planes’ noses down into a fatal dive.”  In other words, it took faulty data from one of the two sensors on the plane and instead of cross checking the bad data, Boeing's software sent two planes to their doom.

Finally, even Boeing's dozing Board of Directors had had enough of their CEO's endless misrepresentations and cutting corners on safety.  As a result, Muilenberg is out on the street with as little as $26.5 million (but as much as $58.5 million) in severance pay for a job badly done.  Nice work if you can get it but if you can't you really should vote Democratic.

The fate of Boeing's genius CEO is just another point in the endless line of self-important white men whose supposed mastery of the universe has made former business schools idols like ITT and GE what they are today (gone and almost gone, respectively).

You might think that the theory of the ├╝bermensch white CEO, having been repeatedly falsified, would be on the way out, but don't forget there's a lot riding on it.  In the case of “Crash and Burn” Muilenberg, up to $58,500,000, to be precise.



The Russian Menace

From 1917 through 1990, with a short break for World War II and Uncle Joe Stalin, the United States was consumed by the fear of (Godless) Russian Communism.  Remember Dean Acheson's College of Cowardly Communist Containment?  Remember Curtis LeMay trying to start a nuclear war in Cuba in 1962?  You probably don't, but that's why we have history books.

Indeed there was much to dislike about Soviet Communism.  It ignored basic human rights, like a free press.  It squashed dissent by monopolizing mass media and imprisoning or neutralizing political adversaries with at best trumped-up criminal charges and at worst an ice pick.  It invaded and occupied other sovereign states.  It tried to subvert freedom and democracy in other countries by interfering in their elections and bribing or blackmailing their leaders.  It passed off lies as truth and dismissed the truth as lies.  It broke up Lara and Dr. Zhivago.

Fortunately, as Alexandr Navalny, Pussy Riot, and the people of Ukraine, Crimea, Georgia, and Moldova can attest, at gunpoint, those kinds of things don't happen anymore.

Ukrainian language version not available
All it took was replacing the American political leadership that had maintained a consistent bipartisan consensus to oppose Russian nastiness with a Russian-paid stooge willing to live and let live as long as the payments from Kremlin-backed oligarchs and blackmail tapes remain well hidden.

So now we have peace in our time on the Eastern Front.  Better yet, we've replaced bipartisan consensus with a corrupt and decadent political party that refuses to condemn Presidential subversion of American foreign policy while quietly nibbling around the edges to send a few crappy bullets (but not effective and scary anti-aircraft missiles) to our beleaguered Ukrainian allies.

Even better, at least if you're Putin or his BTangerine-FacedFF, you've succeeded in fulfilling the long-held Russian strategic goal of cleaving the United States from its Western Allies, and ousting it from influence across a wide expanse of the Middle East.

So let's raise a memorial bucket of fried chicken to the death of the Russian Menace and cheer our new policy, which can be described in one word: winning!



The National Debt

Next to the Red Menace (see supra), the most dangerous adversary this Republic faced, at least during the Clinton and Obama Administrations, was the national debt, representing the aggregate of all money borrowed by the United States Government to fund its operations, including the huge military expenses once needed to deter said Red Menace.

The fear of the debt consumed all right-thinking individuals across a surprisingly wide spectrum of the American polity.  The supposedly exploding debt was so terrifying that we had to starve grandma to bring it under control.  Don't believe me?  Just ask Alan Garber's famous classmate, Freddie Hiatt '76, who, from his perch atop the Washington Post editorial page, thundered about a menace second only to Saddam Hussein's Weapons of Mass Destruction. Here's a representative sample from 2006: “If entitlement programs [by which Freddie meant Social Security and Medicare] are not reformed, they will squeeze out other spending programs that Democrats care about; they will create a budget crunch that no responsible party could want. But some Democrats do not appear to understand this.”

Remember when rich sh*ts used to whine
about the National Debt?
Real economists like Paul Krugman, who went beyond Ec 10, pointed out repeatedly over the years (and as recently as today) that starving granny (or otherwise stinting on programs to help the unfortunate) to reduce the not-so-crushing debt was a counterproductive load of bollocks: 

In 2010, however, policy discourse was taken over by people insisting, on one side, that we needed to cut deficits immediately or we would all turn into Greece and, on the other side, that spending cuts wouldn’t hurt the economy because they would increase confidence. 

The intellectual basis for these claims was always flimsy; the handful of academic papers purporting to make the case for austerity quickly collapsed under scrutiny. And events soon confirmed Macroeconomics 101: America didn’t turn into Greece, and countries that imposed harsh austerity suffered severe economic downturns.
In any event concern about the National Debt was holed below the waterline by last year's Republican tax cut for the rich – 100% paid for with borrowed money.  Have you heard Republicans or very serious pundits like those financed by Pete Petersen's ill-gotten gains say boo about the exploding debt?

So leave a stone on the grave of fake concern about the debt, and come back to visit when and if a Democratic Administration attempts to fix our crumbling infrastructure, succor the poor and ill, and postpone climate catastrophe and the Republicans and Freddie Hiatt once more starts whining about the national debt.



The New York Times Op-Ed Page, RIP

Although it had been failing for many years, it nonetheless came as a shock to learn of the death of The New York Times Op-Ed page in December, at the not at all ripe age of 53.  [Get an intern to check this before we post – Ed.]

The fatal blow was struck by Bretbug Stephens in a column so rancid that it had to be citechecked and rewritten after publication by the Op-Ed Page in its death throes.  The ostensible subject of the column was that not-at-all dubious bit about how smart Ashkenazi Jews are, based on, wait for it, the number of chess champions of that ethnic persuasion (probably totally unrelated to the prevalence of Russians in the field of chess), and an insane study claiming that such Jews, unlike their Middle Eastern brethren, who are apparently regarded by Bretbug as morons, are smarter than the rest of us.  When the study was revealed to have been an integrity-free product of racist pseudo-science, the Times dropped the reference to the study but kept the rest of the horsesh*t about Jews.

Jews – they're so smart!
The Times [no link; you can look up racist crap for yourself] emasculated the column on line, dropping the references to Ashkenazim, and told its credulous readers that Bretbug “was not endorsing the study or its authors’ views, but it was a mistake to cite it uncritically.”  So he was citing a study he didn't agree with in support of his argument just for sh**ts and giggles?

At that point, the credibility of the Op-Ed Page breathed its last.

At the funeral, consider what's left of Bretbug's argument.  To help you, our editors made a few modest edits to clarify why here on Planet Earth in the 21st Century he and his bosses are so appalling:

How is it that men, who never amounted to more than one-half of the world’s population contributed so seminally to so many of its most pathbreaking ideas and innovations?  The common answer is that men are, or tend to be, smart. But the “men are smart” explanation obscures more than it illuminates. Aside from perennial nature-or-nurture questions, there is the more difficult question of why that intelligence was so often matched by such bracing originality and high-minded purpose.

Notice that even from the grave the Op-Ed page continues to give credence to the theory that intelligence is genetic (that's the “perennial nature-or-nurture question”), a theory propounded for years in places as supposedly respectable as The Atlantic, The New Republic, and the Harvard Department of Psychology until the one piece of research supposedly validating the hypothesis – Burt's twin study – was proven to be a fraud.

We expect that Bretbug will continue to grace the deceased Op-Ed page.  In fact, we hear he's already working on his next column, in which he claims that those who criticize his dangerous and fact-free views are no better than Joseph Goebbels.  Hey, he's done it before.


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