Friday, February 25, 2011
Pentagon Dumps Alabama at the Altar on Air Force Tanker Deal
Perhaps the nastiest competition in American history concluded yesterday when the Pentagon announced that it had awarded a $35-billion Air Force refueling-tanker contract to Boeing, over the European Aeronautics Defence and Space Company (EADS).
The process had dragged on for 10-plus years and involved apparent scandal on both sides. Greed, fraud, and subterfuge seemed to mark a battle that left scars on our political system, especially here in Alabama, where EADS had planned to build a manufacturing facility in Mobile.
How close to home does this hit? Our blog, in a nutshell, is about the befouling of Alabama government by what amounts to an organized-crime syndicate--and how that criminal mindset has been spread by Karl Rove and his minions throughout the American political system. We suspect the battle for the Air Force tanker contract has played a pivotal role in soiling our democracy.
EADS can appeal the decision that was announced yesterday, but published reports indicate it is unlikely to be overturned. And Alabama's right-wing political machine seems resigned to the fact that it has been outflanked. Books and movies surely will be produced about the tanker deal, and it's impossible at this point to fully grasp what it all means. But with the help of a source who has followed the process for years, we have developed a few thoughts about different angles in the tanker story:
* The Libya Connection--It's been clear for some time that EADS has connections to some pretty seedy folks. No. 1 on the list is Libya, which signed a weapons contract with EADS in 2007. Given the current uprising in Libya and recent revelations about the sleazy behavior of Moammar Gaddafi's children, this probably did not help EADS' cause. Did the Pentagon get cold feet about a company that rubs shoulders with the Gaddafi clan? The answer, we think, is yes.
* The Russia Connection--The Gaddafi family reportedly developed ties to EADS through big-money interests in Russia. Prime among them is Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire who partly owns a company that was to provide aluminum for the EADS planes. Deripaska has close ties to Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin, and Russian interests reportedly have a significant stake in EADS. Was the Pentagon comfortable with this arrangement, given the rise of organized crime in Russia? Probably not.
* Richard Shelby Is A Reptile--Alabama's senior U.S. senator was in the middle of the tanker battle, and his reptilian ways were on full display yesterday. After news broke that Alabama failed to land the EADS facility, Shelby blamed it on "Chicago politics." This from a guy who happily lapped up cash from EADS--and who repeatedly put presidential appointments on hold in order to apply pressure regarding the tanker deal. Boeing plans to assemble its planes mostly in Washington and Kansas, so it's hard to figure what "Chicago politics" had to do with anything.
* Barack Obama Might Be Growing A Spine--Shelby's words clearly were a shot at President Barack Obama and his home base of Chicago. Does that mean Obama extracted payback on Shelby and fellow U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) for their obstructionist tactics on presidential nominations? It's possible, and if that's the case, it means Obama finally is growing a pair. That is welcome news in these quarters. Now maybe Obama can get his worthless Justice Department to clean up the ethical cesspool Shelby and Sessions have helped create in Alabama.
* Don Siegelman Must Be Smiling Today--The prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman was driven largely by the tanker competition, according to reports from D.C.-based lawyer/journalist Andrew Kreig. Siegelman was seen as pro-Boeing because he had helped the company expand its facility in north Alabama. Our state's right-wing power structure wanted a governor who would be pro-EADS, and it settled on then U.S. Congressman Bob Riley. The 2002 gubernatorial election ended with Riley edging Siegelman when votes for the incumbent mysteriously disappeared overnight in conservative Baldwin County. Was this apparent election theft driven by the tanker competition? We suspect the answer is yes. Was the Siegelman prosecution in 2006, apparently designed to ensure the Democrat would not win back the governor's office, also driven by the tanker chase? We suspect the answer to that, too, is yes. Did any of this help sleazy Alabama Republicans win the tanker contract? No.
* What About Alabama Jobs?--The pro-EADS crowd cited the contract as a possible jobs bonanza for Alabama. But our source says that is way overstated. Most of the jobs in Alabama would have been in construction and would have been over in two to three years, our source says. The actual manufacturing would have been done mostly by workers in France, Spain, and Italy, with aluminum from Russia. About 2,700 permanent workers would have put those parts together in Mobile. But the Boeing deal, our source says, means about 50,000 jobs in America--from Washington to South Carolina and several points in between. Boeing has a major presence in north Alabama, and the contract is likely to mean a growth in jobs for that part of the state.
* Bob Riley Takes a Body Blow--Former Alabama Governor Bob Riley was planning to finance a presidential bid with money he was likely to pocket from the tanker deal, our source says. When the EADS bid fizzled, that probably means that Riley's presidential hopes took a punch. Riley is a pro at finding dirty money from the likes of Jack Abramoff, Michael Scanlon and the Mississippi Choctaws, and he might find a way to resuscitate his national political dreams. But our source says the Good Ship Riley, for now, is reeling.
* Will Ethics Actually Return to Alabama Government?--This is the big question for us. We think yesterday's news offers a glimmer of hope that the forces who have corrupted our state are in a weakened state. We feel certain that sleazy Birmingham law firms such as Bradley Arant and Haskell Slaughter were anxious to get their claws on that EADS money. These dirty elites are deeply entrenched, but yesterday's news might offer a slight opening for everyday Alabamians to take back their state.