Signs and Wonders: When pigs die

Newsworthy | Warren Cole Smith

Signs and Wonders: When pigs die

Lockheed Martin's Tom Burbage and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
Getty Images/Photo by Tom Pennington

Joint Strike Fighter. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program has been a procurement disaster. According to Reuters, it’s “70 percent over initial cost estimates, been restructured three times, and is now years behind schedule.” Official estimates now place the program at about $400 billion, but analysts say that with additional delays now likely, the cost of the program will almost certainly exceed $500 billion, and could even approach $1 trillion. That will make it by far the most expensive fighter in the history of the world. Tom Burbage, the general manager of the program for Lockheed Martin, will retire in March, but he stands by his work, saying the high-tech warplane will “transform the aerospace industry.” He’s right about that, though probably not exactly in the way he intended. Transformation is almost guaranteed, since almost no one wants to do things this way again.

Gay marriage inevitability? There’s been much talk about how Americans have shifted on the gay marriage issue in a very short time. But if you set aside over-heated media rhetoric, there’s precious little evidence. More than 30 states, by fair and open vote of either the people of those states or their legislatures or both, have affirmed traditional marriage in the past decade. Only four states have voted for homosexual marriage. Despite the publicity Republican Sen. Rob Portman received for his “change of heart” on the issue, he remains the only sitting Republican senator who has made such a public statement. Also, while national public opinion polls seem to show a narrow majority of Americans favor gay marriage, I would point out that these polls vary widely based on who is surveyed and how. I would also point out that in almost every state where a vote has taken place, the last survey taken before the election showed much stronger support for gay marriage than the actual vote. In North Carolina last May, that discrepancy was between 6 and 8 percent. In other words, people will respond to a survey one way, because they don’t want to appear “close-minded” to a pollster who they assume is judging their responses, but in the privacy of the voting booth, they express their true beliefs.

Amazing ex-presidents. American taxpayers spent about $3.7 million on our ex-presidents and their wives last year. Now, I realize that $3.7 million is a drop in the bucket compared to the overall size of the budget. I also know that we have more ex-presidents than at any time in American history. But in an era when ex-presidents are rock stars who can command $100,000 speaking engagement fees, do we really need to be spending this kind of money on them? It seems to me that the American people do have a responsibility to our ex-presidents (for security, for example, and to care for their widows, if necessary), but why should we be paying for Jimmy Carter’s postage or George W. Bush’s cell phone?

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Plague of pigs. Shanghai has been trying to re-make itself into a global financial center in recent years, but that effort took an embarrassing detour this week when more than 16,000 dead pigs floated down the Huangpu River. The river provides nearly a quarter of the city’s drinking water. No one is quite sure where the pigs came from. Shanghai officials accuse farmers in Jiaxing, in neighbouring Zhejiang province, of dumping the dead pigs. The accusations came after officials found more than 5,000 pigs in that upstream province. Whatever the source, the porcine problem has highlighted how far China has to go to achieve developed world standards of sanitation, and it’s given new urgency to the travelers’ warning, “Don’t drink the water.”

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