Sunday, September 20. 2009
Picked up the newspapers this morning. The Wichita Eagle had better things in it than the New York Times. First, Richard Crowson's editorial cartoon:
The cartoon was also reinforced by a letter from Chris Darnell, titled "What Choice?":
They also have a long piece by Les Blumenthal of McClatchy, Tanker bid rhetoric heats up in Congress. This is the $35 billion boondoggle contract to build new tankers for the Air Force, a scam that was originally cooked up by Boeing to extend the life of their obsolete 767 airliner assembly line, which has now turned into a political tussle between Boeing and Northrup, the latter the US front for Airbus. Kansas politicians have always dutifully lined up behind Boeing and its promise of 500 (originally 1000) jobs for Wichita. (I mean, where else can you get a jobs program for only $70 million per job, a feat so awesome even Republicans get stimulated.) Each side has their bought representatives -- Sen. Richard Shelby the most vocal for Northrup, while Kansas Rep. Todd Tiahrt, a Boeing employee until he was elected to Congress, is so obsessive about Boeing tankers that Bush nicknamed him Tanker Todd. On the other hand, Tiahrt's stock at Boeing seems to be dropping: recently Boeing announced that if they get the contract they may do the work somewhere else than in Wichita -- depends on where they find the political clout to land the deal. In that case the jobs payola for Wichita will probably turn out to be negative: once the Air Force decomissions its aging KC-135 tankers (and even older B-52 bombers), there will be no reason to keep Wichita's McConnell Air Force Base going. No one here seems to grasp the jobs-value of keeping old planes flying where the only skills to do that are here, versus buying a bunch of unneeded new planes that can be built and serviced somewhere else.
Still, nobody's asking the real question, which is why do we need or want a new generation of tankers in the first place? The main thing they do is make it easier to get involved in foreign wars. You would think that a president who promised to change the way we think about war would start by changing the way he thinks about subsidizing the war machine.
Speaking of which, the New York Times has an op-ed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, A Better Missile Defense for a Safer Europe. The tanker deal is small potatoes compared to missile defense, the grandaddy of all war industry scams. It has been a bad idea ever since Melvin Laird put it on the Republican agenda: insanely expensive, brazenly aggressive, and flat-out unworkable. Obama could have killed it off once and for all, but instead he merely scaled it back and tried selling that as "smarter missile defense." Gates, who's done his share over the years to keep it going, puts it this way:
He then goes on to hype the Iran threat, at a time when the usual hawks are clamoring again for bombing Tehran. While many progressives are elated that Obama cancelled installation of missiles and radars in Poland and Czechoslovakia that Bush had planned for little purpose other than to irritate Russia, I find Obama's relatively sane plan disappointing. Strategic missile defense is one of the weakest pillars of US defense posture, a clearcut case where one can explain that the technology cannot and will not work, and that the only viable options are non-military. In playing along with this game, Obama is missing a prime opportunity to effect the sort of change he was elected for promising. Plus c'est le mÍme chose, jamais change.