- The Washington Times - Friday, October 29, 2010


What does today’s sluggish U.S. economy have in common with a controversial, $35 billion Air Force contract? In both cases, working Americans feel as if they’re playing a rigged carnival game.

American workers are the most productive in the history of the world, but they find themselves the victims of layoffs, cost-cutting and obstructionists in Congress who can’t even seem to extend unemployment benefits to struggling families. “It’s easy folks, just throw the hoop on the milk bottle. I’m sorry. Thanks for playing.”

At the Pentagon, foreign influence and illegal subsidies might send a $35 billion Air Force refueling-tanker contract and more than 50,000 American jobs overseas. “Toss the ball in the basket and win a prize. Awww, too bad. Better luck next time.”

It’s no surprise that many American workers think they can’t win in today’s economy. That’s why we need accountability for big business and on the banks of the Potomac.

Two companies vie for the Air Force tanker contract: America’s Boeing Co. and Europe’s Airbus. Both manufacture airframes, but that’s where the similarity ends.

Most aviation experts say Boeing’s 75 years of experience designing and constructing tanker aircraft using state-of-the-art refueling boom technology and proven airframes makes it the Air Force’s clear choice. Additionally, Boeing’s tanker would create or sustain more than 50,000 American jobs.

Airbus, in contrast, has no experience building what are known as “commercial derivative” aircraft like tankers. Its tanker fails to meet the requirements of the Air Force, which requested a midsized, fuel-efficient aircraft rather than the very large design Airbus is attempting to sell.

If you’re scoring at home, Boeing’s tanker is the clear leader. That’s why Airbus called in a political heavyweight - French President Nicolas Sarkozy - in an attempt to influence the contracting process. It also gave its plane extra punching power with the help of illegal government subsidies.

Mr. Sarkozy even took a break from being pummeled by the French press for his failed economic policies to travel to the White House and lecture President Obama on the matter of fair trade. He complained that tanker requirements were unfair to Airbus. But the Air Force outlined the tanker requirements based on the needs of war fighters, not French politicians. It was a curious charge, considering that France and Europe effectively bar American firms from even bidding on their defense contracts.

The coup de grace came when the French president accused the United States of protectionism, despite the recent World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling that found France and other European governments guilty of boosting Airbus’ fortunes with $178 billion of illegal subsidies.

Even after the WTO decision, Mr. Sarkozy was shamelessly attempting to turn the victim into the criminal, saying recently of the United States, “If they want to be heard in the fight against protectionism, they should not set the example of protectionism. There is what you say, and then there is what you do.” Don’t talk about it, be about it.

Oui, oui. France and Airbus should be judged by their actions, not their words. The WTO found them guilty of protectionism. According to the U.S. Trade Representative, their illegal subsidies have already destroyed 65,000 jobs in U.S. commercial aviation. And the Airbus tanker benefited from $5 billion of protectionist subsidies. Therefore, France and Airbus should face the consequences of their actions.

Mr. Obama and the Pentagon should ensure a fair tanker competition for American workers by taking the market-distorting effects of these illegal subsidies into account when evaluating the tanker proposals, thus discounting Airbus’ unfair advantage. That would guarantee that U.S. workers could compete on a level playing field, upon which most industry experts predict they would win the tanker contract and the more than 50,000 jobs it would support.

Americans feel battered by today’s economy, and justifiably so. Whether it’s big business layoffs, Wall Street wonder boys destroying their retirement savings or foreign firms cheating workers out of their jobs, 2010 must be the year of taking a stand for accountability. If we don’t, even more Americans will find themselves on the losing end of a rigged game.

Clayola Brown is president of the A. Philip Randolph Institute.

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