Money can’t buy you everything

Tim Paluch

I doubt it would come as a big surprise if I were to tell you that money buys you lots of cool stuff. And I am not just talking about the new O-Town CD or those Nike shoes with the springs on the bottom of them. I am talking about good stuff: pardons, access to government, voice in legislation and the like.We all know Slick Willy needed some cash to build himself a library, and we all know Denise Rich donated a couple of hundred thousand dollars in exchange for the pardon of her ex-husband, Marc Rich. We all know pharmaceutical companies feel the need to donate big bucks to both parties in exchange for corporate-happy policies that protect their profits. And we all know that oil companies who hope to maximize profits and who oppose clean-air standards throw a few hundred thousand dollars in Dubya’s direction, knowing they’ll get a Gale Norton.What I didn’t know, however, was that with a couple of thousand dollars, my lifelong dream of manning a nuclear submarine can come true, thanks to the U.S. Navy.It’s true, they are like a big underwater Make-A-Wish Foundation. It turns out there is a chance all those years of staying in the tub until my hands shriveled playing with my toy submarine weren’t for nothing. I remember firing imaginary torpedoes at the Nazis and the commies and the Iraqis and whomever else the military told me to hate. It was good, clean, safe fun in the privacy of my own home.Although I didn’t own any toy Japanese fishing boats, I don’t think I would have destroyed them even if I did. Unfortunately, the accident that occurred on Feb. 9 didn’t occur in the safety of my parent’s bathtub. Nine people died when the USS Greenville, a Navy nuclear submarine, collided with the Ehime Maru, a Japanese fishing vessel, a few miles south of Pearl Harbor.Who was at the controls of the sub when it performed an emergency surfacing operation and collided with the vessel? Civilians. No, they weren’t alone, they were being supervised by the sub’s officers. The Navy, as part of its public relations strategy aimed at developing public support, regularly invites civilians on backstage tours of a submarine in action. So who were these civilians on board during the fatal crash? And how does a U.S. Navy submarine, a powerful and revolutionary piece of military technology, crash into a fishing boat?I’ll answer question No. 2 first. At first, the Navy adamantly denied that civilians played a role in the collision, but recent evidence seems to counter that claim. The Washington Post reported that the Ehime Maru had been tracked by the USS Greenville’s sonar for at least one hour before the collision. It also reported that Commander Scott Waddle was fully aware of its presence. Waddle told investigators he wasn’t warned about the boat’s proximity to the Greenville by his fire control technician. His fire control technician told investigators that he was unable to do his job effectively because the control room was too packed with civilians, whom he said were “distracting.”So why did the submarine perform the emergency surfacing operation? Was it a routine drill? Or maybe to give those civilians a little thrill?Now to the 16 civilians on board. One of the passengers, Hellen Cullen, comes from a family with business ties to recently pardoned fugitive Marc Rich. Cullen’s father-in-law, Roy Cullen, owns Quintana Petroleum, which had a business partnership in Argentina with Rich’s Suedelektra Holdings in the 1980s. The Cullen family has also donated tens of thousands of dollars in soft money to the Republican Party, and Roy Cullen gave $1,000 to Dubya’s campaign.Also on board — and actually involved in the surfacing — were John Hall and Todd Thoman, who told NBC’s “Today” that they were allowed to participate in the surfacing procedure that resulted in the collision. Their company, Fossil Bay Resources, donated $7,500 to the USS Missouri Memorial Association and their trip was arranged by former Admiral Richard Macke, a volunteer for that same organization. Former president George Bush serves as the honorary chairmen of the Missouri Memorial Association.Macke was discharged from the service in 1995 after remarks he made concerning the rape of a 12-year old Japanese girl by U.S. servicemen.It is quite odd that two men contributing to the memorial association were at the helm of a nuclear submarine at the time of the accident, and yet the mainstream media has paid little attention to the news. All over such “fair and accurate” news channels such as the blatantly biased FoxNews Channel, the word is that the civilians played no role, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Even Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfield said the accident had nothing to do with a control room cluttered with civilians.A Navy document leaked to the conservative Washington Times confirmed that the Navy’s longtime practice of bringing civilians on board for these joyrides may pose a threat to safety. Who would’ve thought?The report went on to say the visitors on the Greenville interfered with the ability of the OOD (Officer on Deck) and the commanding officer to use the fire-control system.In March, there will be a rare public court of inquiry on the accident, and some may face criminal charges, all while the military is getting away with its PR scams.Could you imagine if the crash happened during the Clinton administration? We wouldn’t hear the end of it. I am not a Clinton backer and never have been, despite what people say, but I have a hunch Clinton would have been blamed. I don’t know how the right would have done it, but they would have. Nonetheless, the Bush administration has stayed pretty silent, even in the midst of these possible scandals. For all its worth, sleepovers in the Lincoln bedroom never killed anybody.Tim Paluch is a junior in journalism and mass communication from Orland Park, Ill.