Ho-ing for Boeing

In April, Boeing made a killing in Rio de Janeiro. During the four-day Defentech arms bazaar, executives from the world's mightiest defense contractor (which maintains offices and plants in Anaheim, Huntington Beach and Seal Beach) offered their deadliest wares as thousands of defense officials from around the world shopped till they dropped.

According to a July Mother Jones report, Boeing offered Harpoon missiles—which the company says can put a fiery hole in a warship 85 nautical miles away—in package deals of 20 for $40 million; Apache helicopter gunships capable of blowing apart the latest tanks for a scant $24 million apiece; and the company's latest jewel: the F/A-18 Super Hornet jet fighter. Although the U.S. government hasn't yet authorized that particular model for foreign sale, Boeing representatives were upbeat, telling a Mother Jones reporter that getting permission would be a "slam-dunk."

Thanks to the U.S. government, which picked up the tab, Boeing's total costs for the show amounted to precisely nothing. Though Boeing political-action committees did hand out $1.2 million in political contributions between 1997 and 1998, the company—the 78th richest economy in the world—didn't have to pay for the U.S. soldiers who provided free jet transportation for Boeing employees to and from the show or even insurance. Nor are Americans likely to benefit even indirectly through payroll and related taxes: like all the major defense contractors, Boeing typically agrees to manufacture whatever weapons it sells overseas in the customer's country. Of course, all profits from sales at the bazaar go straight to the Boeing company and its shareholders.

But a bill introduced a month after the Rio show by Representative Pete Stark (D-Fremont) would change that. House Resolution 1935 prohibits Department of Defense involvement in foreign arms shows unless the contractors pay all expenses.

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"This means that taxpayers pay for the cost of industry participation at air shows and arms bazaars," said Stark in the Congressional Record. "If taxpayers are not sharing in the profits made during the air shows and arms exhibitions, why should they share in the cost?"

Stark's office estimates that cost at roughly $34 million per year—certainly a drop in the Pentagon's $250 billion-per-year bucket, but it's not hard to imagine what the Republican Party would make of $34 million in welfare payments to single mothers in Anaheim. That $34 million is up a third over 1995 costs, and the actual figure may be higher still: Stark's Congressional Record remarks outline how the Clinton administration underreports costs such as transportation. For the 1995 Paris Air Show, for example, the Pentagon approved flying a B-2 to France in a 24-hour roundtrip that should have cost $330,000. But the Pentagon reported total costs of just $342,916 for the entire military presence at the show.

The history of Stark's bill isn't encouraging; previous versions died quickly. Even Stark's Congressional Record comments are identical to those he made last year.

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