Until this past Saturday, I perceived Secretary of Defense among the worst jobs in America, particularly in these troubled times.  As the nation’s chief defense policy maker, I imagined the job required 24/7 attention communicating with top-ranking military officials around the world and updating President Biden at least once a day about potential national foreign threats to America and its allies. While Biden has sole authority to launch nuclear weapons, the Secretary of Defense is supposedly his go-to guy for counsel before punching up the codes to fire the missiles.

Turns out, the Biden Administration believes the responsibilities of defense secretary can be carried out by a deputy on vacation in Puerto Rico and Biden’s defense secretary can be out of commission for three days without the president and his White House aides having a clue.

Politico, Jan. 7, 2024

It’s been reported that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who is sixth in line of presidential succession, was in the intensive care unit of an unidentified hospital for four days because of complications of a publicly unknown elective medical procedure just before Christmas. On January 1, Austin was admitted to the hospital because he was experiencing considerable pain and wound up in the ICU, supposedly because of space and privacy issues.

Politico reported that national security adviser Jake Sullivan and other senior White House aides didn’t know of Austin’s Jan. 1 hospitalization until the Defense Department sent over word Jan. 4. Sullivan informed Biden shortly after DOD’s Thursday notification.

When the defense secretary is unable to perform his duties, he is expected to transfer his authorities to someone with “constant secure communications capabilities.” USA Today reported that Austin authorized the transfer to Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks on Jan. 2, but the publication didn’t explain why Austin waited a day given his complications required hospital admission.

In any case, Hicks was on vacation in Puerto Rico, and was blissfully unaware that her boss was in the hospital. One might expect that Hicks would have inquired why Austin transferred his powers to her, but I guess she was trained in the Sgt. Schultz way of military leadership. Meanwhile, the first two days Austin was convalescing in the hospital, Biden was on vacation in the U.S. Virgin Islands.  

Austin was supposed to return to work on Friday, but USA Today reported that as of Monday morning, he was still in the hospital.

CNBC screen shot

Republicans are understandably clamoring for Austin’s resignation, but even Democrats concede his mishandling of the matter is serious.

“Heads have to roll,” Brett Bruen, a former diplomat and expert in crisis communications who worked in the White House under then-President Barack Obama, told USA Today. “This is not a minor miscommunication. It’s about the confidence that our national security structure has in its leadership and that the leadership is acting in a transparent way.” 

Austin, of course, isn’t the only known Biden cabinet member of questionable competence. There’s also transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg, who has failed to address repeated airline delays and other crises, energy secretary Jennifer Granholm, who authorized questionable taxpayer loans to Ford Motor Co., and FTC chair Lina Khan, the ineffective thirtysomething academic who has caused irreparable harm to that agency.

The Biden Administration also badly damaged the credibility of the FDA and CDC during the pandemic, thanks to then Covid czar Jeffrey Zients, a former Obama aide who now serves as Biden’s chief of staff and who I’ve previously warned about.

Bloomberg, Jan. 7, 2024

Boeing, a company that once represented American manufacturing might, this weekend suffered yet another disgrace. The Federal Aviation Administration ordered a temporary grounding and immediate inspections of dozens of Boeing 737 MAX jets, after one of the planes flown by Alaska Airlines made an emergency landing when a section of the aircraft ripped away in midair. The grounded planes are bigger variants of aircrafts previously involved in fatal crashes that claimed 346 lives.

Among the suspected causes of the emergency landing were poorly secured bolts. United Airlines said Monday that it found loose bolts on door plugs of several of its Boeing737 Max 9 planes in wake of mandatory inspections spurred by the Alaska Airlines near disaster.

Loose bolts. On an airliner.

Bloomberg reported that Boeing’s 737 Max 9 fuselages are manufactured by SpiritAeroSystems Holdings, which it said has struggled with quality issues, high worker turnover, labor strife and financial stress since the Covid pandemic and 2019 Max grounding. New CEO Pat Shanahan is supposedly shaking up operations and has struck a new pact with Boeing to put its top supplier on better footing.

I trust Shanahan remains committed to the DEI initiatives the company proudly touts on its website.

Boeing’s latest travails should come as no surprise to readers of this blog. I’ve written quite a bit about the company (see here and here) and David Calhoun, its controversial CEO (see here).

Calhoun is an accountant hailing from the private equity world who played a major role as a board member in Boeing’s cost cutting that likely contributed to the fatal crashes of 737 Max planes when they were first approved for service. Rather than hold him accountable, the U.S. government, which subsidizes Boeing more than any other American company, and investors allowed him to become CEO.

The Wall Street Journal reported in September that Boeing is overseen by a management that spends little time at the company or its plants. The Journal said Calhoun uses private jets to hopscotch across the country from two homes, one a sprawling waterfront house at New Hampshire’s Lake Sunapee, the other in a gated South Carolina resort community.

The Journal said Calhoun, who was paid $22.5 million in 2022 compensation, made 400 trips to and from airports near his homes in the past three years.

Boeing’s CFO Brian West works out of an office in New Canaan, CT, about five minutes from his home where a Journal reporter on a midsummer Monday morning found him parading around in shorts, a polo shirt, and slip-on shoes. The office is diagonally across the street from the former office of a charity run by West’s spouse Sheri. West sits on the board of the charity.

Another New Canaan occupant is Treasurer David Whitehouse, who oversees a Treasury staff mostly ensconced in Chicago. Two senior Boeing executives are based in Orlando: Michael D’Ambrose, the company’s HR chief, and Brian Besanceney, who oversees communications.

Calhoun is preaching that safety is now Boeing’s primary focus, much like GM CEO Mary Barra, who says safety is the primary focus at her troubled Cruise robotaxi business after regulators yanked the company’s license because of safety issues.

Calhoun should be promptly fired for Boeing’s latest near disaster, and as I recently argued in Deadline Detroit, Barra should be fired for her Cruise debacle, as well as her failed EV strategy.


Meanwhile, the once esteemed Harvard and MIT universities will continue to erode thanks to the poor leadership and judgment of those responsible for overseeing those institutions.

Business Insider, a clickbait publication responsible for publishing one of the sleaziest stories in recent American journalism history, last week published a couple of stories revealing that Bill Ackman’s wife Neri Oxman plagiarized portions of her doctoral MIT dissertation. Ackman, a billionaire hedge fund manager who was at the forefront of calling for the resignations of former Harvard president Claudine Gay and MIT president Sally Kornbluth, has alleged that BI’s investigations editor is anti-Israel, and that the publication targeted his wife because she is Israeli.

Ackman, who seems to have good journalism industry sources, also says the plagiarism allegations about Oxman were peddled to other publications but no one was interested. Business Insider didn’t disclose that a source had tipped it off to its story, making it appear that it independently found the instances of Oxman’s plagiarism. By comparison, the NYPost disclosed that a source was responsible for its story alleging Harvard’s former president committed plagiarism.

If a source tipped off Business Insider, it was no doubt to embarrass Ackman. But payback’s a bitch, and Ackman has pledged to investigate the scholarship of MIT’s faculty and board. Allowing Kornbluth to remain in her job will ensure more scrutiny that the university most certainly doesn’t want.

According to an analysis conducted by the Network Contagion Research Institute (NCRI), MIT received $859 million “undocumented foreign contributions” between 2014 and 2019 from authoritarian regimes, including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, China, and the UAE. Qatar is a major financial backer of Hamas and provides sanctuary to its terrorist leaders. MIT admitted that it reversed plans to suspend pro-Palestinian students who broke the university’s rules during their participation in a Hamas war rally over concerns that some of them would be deported because they are on student visas.

At Harvard, expect more scrutiny of Penny Pritzker, the university’s controversial chair I’ve previously written about. Here’s a taste, published by the New York Post.

It’s a wonder how anyone can have confidence in the U.S. government and the leadership of major corporations and universities these days. The institutions that Americans long have trusted and took pride in are fast declining.

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