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The Political Round-Up

Weak dollar equals strong ally; investigate and arrest or vice versa; green eggs and red ham; Go fish; Here come da' judge; 60 Minutes for Siegelman; The royal treatment 

By Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times
A weak dollar may become a strong ally in Mobile's bid to soar in the international aerospace industry.

The situation is getting more interesting all the time, said Marc Pelham, director of the Brookley Complex which hopes to become a home to the aerospace industry.

With its manufacturing operations based in Europe, EADS/Airbus is the largest provider of commercial aircraft in the world.

"They sell their aircraft with prices in dollars and they manufacture the aircraft almost entirely in euros," said Pelham. "When the dollar and the euro were roughly one-to-one, that was okay."

With the Euro reaching nearly $1.50 last month, it adds a 50 percent premium on the company's bottom line, he noted.

"It's a horrendous impact," said Pelham. "So they've said, sensibly so, they must move production into what they've called a U.S. dollar location."

With the Brookley Industrial Complex already in EADS/Airbus's sights as the prospective location for production of its KC-330 advanced tanker, should it win the mammoth U.S. Air Force contract over competitor Boeing, Mobile seemingly is exceptionally well-positioned to figure in any EADS plans for a North American production facility for its popular A-330 commercial jet.

Pelham concurred, but quickly added that economic development interests in other areas of the U.S. would hardly concede such a prize to Mobile without a fight.

Should it win all or part of the $40 billion tanker contract, EADS would assemble its Airbus 330s here and hand them off to Northrop Grumman which would convert the plane into a tanker for the military.    

"Currently, the A-330 is their newest and one of their most popular jets throughout the world," said Pelham. "They recently developed a freighter variance and have over 60 orders for that. If they built a plant here, they could manufacture A-330s here or Toulouse or both places. They could shift production to reduce exposure to unfavorable exchange rates."

Regardless of the outcome of the tanker contract, Mobile's aerospace future is bright and may very well include EADS as a prominent player, said Pelham.

"If you ignore the tanker entirely, it still makes extremely good sense and is very logical for EADS to assemble A-330s here," Pelham added.

According to Pelham, he believes -- and current industry chatter supports -- the tanker contract will be split between Boeing and EADS.

"I still believe that is the most likely outcome of this competition," he said. "Politically, it's the most pragmatic and ultimately it's a political decision. (French President Nicolas) Sarkozy visited (U.S. President George) Bush last month for a bit of fence-mending; rapprochement, if you're French. Most observers think it was successful. It is inconceivable to me that Sarkozy did not say something about the tanker."

A decision on the contract is expected in February.

In Washington, Boeing remains as strong as an acre of garlic.

"Boeing may not have the best airplane, but they've got the best lobbyists," said Pelham. "Ultimately, it would be a shame if lobbyists decided this. It's inconceivable to me that the Department of Defense would give our soldiers anything but the best they could find."

Taking exception
Point Clear attorney A.J. Cooper took exception to a recent press conference during which officials touted their success in ridding Bishop State Community College of cheaters and engineering its turn-around.

"The fact is the district attorney spent a year investigating the alleged theft of $200,000 from Bishop State and then, seven months ago, arrested some 25, mostly middle-age and older, otherwise upstanding citizens who had no prior arrests," Cooper said. "Now over one year and a half from the start, there has not been one, single indictment ...

"In America and Alabama I thought we investigated and then arrested, rather that arrest and then investigate," Cooper said.

Cooper represents Lolita Woods, 60, who has been charged with theft.

Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson Jr. said Cooper's charges were consistent with those he would expect from an advocate for a defendant.

"I would say he's exactly correct on one count --  we've not indicted anybody; We've arrested a number of people and we're continuing our work right along through the past year," said Tyson. "Everybody is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Beyond that, there's not much to say, except that that's what you would expect a defense lawyer to say."

Green eggs & red ham?
Mayor Sam Jones will deliver a "State of Downtown" address at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 12 during a Holiday Breakfast in the RSA Battle House Tower, 11 North Water Street.

Admission is $20 for members of the Downtown Mobile District Management Corporation and the Downtown Mobile Alliance; $30 for all others.

The breakfast will be held on the 29th Floor in the Pharr Room of Regions Bank's new offices in the tower. Sponsors of the event are Gayfer Ventures, Global Tel*Link, Hargrove and Associates, Springhill Medical Center Clinic and Regions Bank.

For reservations and/or further information call 251.434.8498 by Dec. 7. Space is limited and reservations are required.

Go fish
The state's Marine Resources Division recently confiscated three, unattended gill nets about 4,000 feet long in Bon Secour Bay near Fort Morgan, according to MRD Director Vern Minton.

MRD officers released about 3,000 pounds of flounder, 50 bull reds, several birds, and a few speckled trout and other species, said Minton.

No arrests were made, but gear and fish valued at about $12,000 were recovered, Minton said.

Apparently, one of the culprits slipped in and retrieved a fourth unattended net while officers confiscated the other nets, according to Minton.     

"The confiscated gill nets had the permit numbers deliberately removed from the corks and the majority of the nets utilized floating cork line with no corks," said Minton "Whoever undertook this illegal activity anticipated the cold front and our enforcement officers being stretched to the limits to control illegal activities in other closed areas where the volume of net boats was extremely high."

Six MRD officers spent about 10 hours releasing the fish and seizing the nets. A catfish fin broke off in one officer's hand. He had to be taken to the hospital where medical workers removed about one inch of the fin from his hand.

Commercial gill net fishing was one of the hottest issues earlier this year during the state legislative session. Recreational fishing and conservation interests led an effort to bring an end to gill net fishing in Alabama waters, much as other states on the Gulf Coast have done in years past. The session ended, however, with a proposed voluntary buyout compromise still on the table.

State Rep. Spencer Collier, R-Bayou la Batre, championed the commercial gill netters' right to pursue their livelihood and maintain their cultural identity.

But Collier condemned the recent incident.

"I'm not ever going to defend someone who breaks the law," he said. "If they were out there doing wrong, they need to realize that they are their own worst enemy. I support their being fully prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I do think it's fair to say these individuals represent a small number operating as outlaws in that business. They are giving the guys in this business who are doing it right a bad name."

Alabama Coastal Conservation Association Director Ed Williamson suggested Collier was overly generous in his appraisal of the gill netters' regard for rules and regulations.

Though he was ridiculed last spring for the observation, Williamson still likens gill netters to a modern times version of buffalo hunters who harvested a natural resource in such an indiscriminate and depredatory manner that extinction was the logical end.

With only 100-110 gill netters split about evenly between Mobile and Baldwin counties, both Williamson and Collier acknowledged that "outlaws" could be identified and dealt with if the gill netters decided to police themselves.

Here come da' judge
Gov. Bob Riley plans next week to interview the three finalists in the process of  filling a vacancy on the Mobile County Circuit Court bench, according to a close Riley ally here.

A circuit judgeship opened up with the resignation of former Circuit Judge Herman Thomas, who reportedly remains under investigation for alleged ethical transgressions. 

The Judicial Selection Committee narrowed the field of applicants to Randy Crane, E.J. Saad and Michael Youngpeter

Quick hits
A CBS 60 Minutes piece on the prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman is reportedly slated to air either Dec. 9 or Dec. 16.

Mobile attorney Jim Johnston has joined local lawyers Pete Mackey and Frankie Fields Smith as nominees to succeed Ken Nixon as one of the Mobile Bar Association's two representatives on the five-member Judicial Selection Committee.

Mobile native and filmmaker Margaret Brown, 36, whose feature-length documentary about Mardi Gras in Mobile, "The Order of Myths," is set for screening at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah next month, brings a unique point of view to her subject, one not likely to be matched by any other documentary filmmaker. Five years before young Margaret's birth, her mother Margaret Wilson Luce, the daughter of Margaret and Dwain Luce and now married to Milton Brown, reigned as queen over Mardi Gras here in 1966 with King Felix III, a/k/a Angus Royal Cooper, II.

News from Carol Hunter at the Downtown Mobile Alliance:

"Downtown's third sushi restaurant will open soon at the corner of Joachim and Conti Streets, in the former Alabama Contemporary Dance studio. House of Sushi is promising 100 varieties of the colorful, tasty rolls.

... the Walker brothers have expanded the offerings at the OK Bicycle Shop by adding the Dauphin Street Taqueria, featuring traditional Mexican dishes. Currently the "South of the Border" fare is available only on weekends, but expect week day service before Christmas.

The former Megginson's Snack Bar in the former AmSouth Building is now Paradise Popcorn in the Regions Bank Building. Bill Kivette has stocked an assortment of treats and snacks.

Ann Bedsole's renovated Franklin Fire House on Bienville Square is now home to the Hearin Chandler Foundation. Tom Van Antwerp moved its offices from west Mobile to the prime downtown spot that was originally renovated as a large apartment.

Jackson Street between Government and Conti Streets will be closed on Saturday, Dec. 8 from 7 a.m.- 4 p.m.

Leslie McDonald of the Mobile Group Sierra Club, USA Sierra Student Coalition is trying to organize a local symposium on global warming late next month in conjunction with a national initiative called
"Focus the Nation."

"We would plan a symposium on a weekend around Jan. 31, with USA (University of South Alabama), Spring Hill (College), and other college faculty giving 20-minute talks, have a round table discussion with a local politician, a workshop to vote on the top five solutions to global warming, and the two percent solutions webcast on Jan 30," said McDonald.

For more information, email McDonald at lulufee@hotmail.com.

Small business owners affected by the 2005 Gulf Coast hurricanes have until Dec. 31 to apply for Small Business Administration Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL), according to U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby

“The 2005 hurricane season was one of the most destructive on record,” said Shelby. “It is critical that we aid the people, businesses and communities of Alabama and the Gulf Coast who were affected by these natural disasters. I encourage eligible small business owners who suffered financial losses as a result the 2005 Gulf Coast hurricanes to apply for these loans before the deadline ...”           

Small business owners in Baldwin, Choctaw, Clarke, Escambia, Green, Hale, Marengo, Mobile, Pickens, Sumter, Tuscaloosa and Washington counties can apply for EIDL until Dec. 31.

To apply, small businesses can visit the SBA’s website at www.sba.gov/disaster to download an application, or they may contact the agency’s Customer Service Center at 1-800-659-2955. Local Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) are available to help small business owners complete their disaster loan applications. For more information on SBDC locations in Alabama, please call 205-307-6510.
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