By Robert Scheer
“The gift that keeps on giving” should have been the headline on the Pentagon’s decision to award the Boeing Co. a $35 billion defense contract. Defense of the nation, of course, had nothing to do with it, since the end of the Cold War also ended the need for midair refueling of the nuclear-armed bombers intended to retaliate after a Soviet first strike, a scenario brought to the public eye in the 1964 movie “Dr. Strangelove.”
Indeed, at a time when drones seem to be bypassing the need for manned military bombers and fighters of any kind, and when schoolteachers and firefighters are being terminated across the country, the awarding of this long-delayed and always questionable military-industrial-complex scam is simply perverse.
There has always been vast bipartisan support for spending upward of a trillion dollars a year on the various items that claim to enhance our national security. For Republicans, their attacks on big federal spending rarely include the more than half of the federal discretionary spending gobbled up by military programs. For Democrats, defense pork has always been defended as a jobs program, and that was the theme of what the Seattle Times headlined as a “victory rally” in the historical home of Boeing operations, where the new plane is expected to create about 11,000 jobs.
At the rally, Washington’s liberal Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell was cheered by the crowd when she said, “there could be no better economic news” for the region and “Boeing will maintain their superiority in making the best airplanes in the world.” She and fellow Democratic Sen. Patty Murray were hailed by “workers shout[ing] `thank you’ and ‘my children thank you.’ ” There is not a word in the article quoting anyone as to why this new plane is needed other than as a jobs program.
Actually, it isn’t a new plane at all, but rather a militarized retrofit of the wide-body Boeing 767, the passenger plane that is to be replaced by the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which has had all sorts of problems. Bloomberg News’ report on the rise in Boeing stock after the Pentagon awarded the contract made the connection between defense and profit quite clear:
“Building the tanker means Boeing can continue to make the wide body 767 jet on which the plane is based. The backlog on the 767 has dwindled to 50 orders as customers await the 787 Dreamliner, the composite-plastic plane now about three years behind schedule. … The news is an antidote to Boeing’s struggle in recent months with the Dreamliner and the 747-jumbo jet. The passenger version of the 747-8 is a year late, and Boeing is running two years behind schedule on the freighter model.”
So, faced with major problems in developing the next generation of civilian aircraft, Boeing has been blessed with a massive Defense Department contract that will allow it to use an old, about-to-be-discarded assembly line to refurbish the 767 at enormous cost to the taxpayer so that it is fit to haul fuel and serve as a gas station in the sky for planes that no longer have a pressing strategic mission requiring such refueling.
This is the same plane that Republican Sen. John McCain killed some five years ago when his staff sparked an investigation that sent to federal prison Boeing’s chief executive officer and a former Pentagon official who had been given a $250,000 vice president’s job at Boeing; the company also hired her daughter and son-in-law. Boeing’s CEO resigned and Boeing’s contract to build the plane was cancelled. The Pentagon had not asked for the refueling tanker, but top Air Force officials in collusion with Boeing lobbyists did an end run to Congress that resulted in passage of an appropriation to lease the planes.
McCain described the situation in a Nov. 19, 2004, speech: “Nearly three years ago, behind closed doors, the Appropriations Committee slipped a $30 billion rider in the fiscal year 2002 defense appropriations bill. Before the rider appeared in the bill, Air Force leadership never came to the authorizing committees about this issue. In fact, tankers never came up in either the President’s budget or the Defense Department’s unfunded priority list. … The rider was, in fact, the result of an aggressive behind-the-scenes effort by the Boeing Corporation with considerable effort from [a] senior Air Force procurement official … and others.”
At that time, post-9/11 hysteria was the fuel that drove this egregious waste of taxpayer dollars. Today it is the stalled economy and the jobs and profits that military contractors spread throughout the land. But the result is the same; for all of the talk by politicians from both parties about cutting waste, the military boondoggles remain sacrosanct and hardly provide the tempting target for savings afforded by a schoolteacher’s salary.
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AP / Ted S. Warren
From left, Machinists Union President Tom Wroblewski, U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., and Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, both D-Wash., at a rally last week in Boeing’s 767 assembly plant in Everett, Wash.