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Vermont F-35 base would be fat target, if democracy worked

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The military-industrial complex owns Vermont. The Vermont Congressional delegation and other elected officials still refuse to explain why they support basing the first strike nuclear-capable F-35 in the midst of Vermont’s most populated area even though the Air Force itself says the single engine jet is so loud it will destroy private homes as effectively as if they were bombed.

When 16 concerned, multi-denominational clergy wrote an open letter to Senator Patrick Leahy asking for a postponement of the fighter-bomber basing, he did not respond.  Democrat Leahy, Vermont’s senior Senator, has already spent years refusing to meet with the people closest to the Burlington Airport, where the Air Force has said it might base the F-35 even though Burlington is the only one of the Air Force’s preferred options where the impact on the surrounding civilian are will be severe, and the impact on some 1,300 families will be devastating.

While the focus has been on Leahy, who is perceived as the lead advocate of basing the F-35 in Vermont, his behavior has been duplicated across the political food chain.  Self-described socialist Senator Bernie Sanders hasn’t met with the people most directly in harm’s way, not has Vermont’s only Congressman, Democrat Peter Welch.  All have issued evasive, misleading, and sometimes false statements about the Air Force plan.

Even Letter From Clergy Goes Unanswered 

The clergy’s public letter of December 11, which was all but ignored by Vermont media of all sorts, urged the congressional delegation and other leaders to advocate for a postponement of the basing decision until such time as critical questions were honestly answered and the issue became less polarizing: 

“Given this uncertainty, given that this is not the last opportunity for the planes to come here, it seems to us unfair to place the burden of this doubt on those who already struggle the most to achieve social and economic security for themselves and their children.  

“This is not a pro-military or anti-military debate. Amongst those most affected are veterans of World War II and Korea for whom the value of their homes is the whole of their financial equity.” 

None of the elected officials involved, including two of the mayors, Miro Weinberger of Burlington and Michael O’Brien of Winooski, has credibly explained the social injustice of destroying the homes of people who are less well off for the benefit of  wealthier people, who also took several of these “democratic” representatives on a jaunt to Eglin Air Force base in Florida to listen  F-35s and their promoters extol their virtues.  That, as one wag put it, was akin to going to the Vatican for a critical view of Catholicism.

Request for Salient Argument, Civil Debate

There was no response to the 16 concerned clergy even though this group was asking only for a postponement of the decision:

“We are not asking you to oppose these planes coming to Vermont. We are asking you to advocate for a delay in such a decision by requesting that Vermont be removed from the first round of basing decisions so that we Vermonters can reach a consensus, based on clearing up so many of the questions that remain unanswered.  

“… it is time for this issue to be resolved, not by decree, but by salient arguments in a civil debate.”  

But salient arguments in a civil debate is just what Vermont’s leadership has been avoiding for years, ever since the idea of bringing the world most expensive weapons system to the state was first broached.   The F-35 is a decade overdue and one hundred per cent over budget, with the due date continuing to slip and the cost continuing to rise beyond the currently-estimated $396 billion.

The F-35 “was going to change everything,” notes the Harvard Business Review, before going on to suggest some of the reasons the botched F-35 program has been so disastrous right from the start, when everyone believed in the unassessed, unproven promise of a new plane that would be “the most affordable, lethal, supportable and survivable aircraft ever to be used.”   The F-35 was developed out of the same illusory thinking that persuaded some people that nuclear power would be “too cheap to meter.”

Lockheed Profits Guaranteed Despite Cost, Delay

Even as foreign buyers pull back on or cancel their orders for F-35s and even as the Pentagon is publicly critical of Lockheed Martin for the delays and cost overruns, the actual contract negotiated between the parties guarantees Lockheed a higher profit.

As a Boston Globe editorial recently noted, about the F-35:

“… the radar-evading aircraft that was once billed as a cheap and adaptable new piece of equipment for the Air Force. But the F-35 proved to be neither cheap nor adaptable. It is now the most costly weapons program in history.”   

Referring to the F-35’s economic impact, CBC News refers to the “super costly F-35s, a global wrecking ball.”  With the project’s cost and schedule so out of control, the United States is facing a global arms market where countries prefer, as India did recently, to buy cheaper but good-enough jets from Russia or France rather than shell out $150 million for an F-35.   This leads the United States to pressure its allies to buy planes that are too expensive, militarily unnecessary, that our friends can ill afford.

No Sacrifice Too Great for Someone Else to Make 

That’s not the official story, of course, but it is the official behavior, the fundamentally unprincipled, coercive unresponsiveness that Leahy and other leaders imitate in Vermont against Vermonters.   That collective flight from reality is reflected is a letter Leahy wrote to a constituent in December, saying in part:

“I am not willing to sacrifice any Vermont community for a new fighter jet. I have worked to obtain federal funds for community investments in both South Burlington and Winooski, and I would never support a new program that would harm those communities.” 

There is no disopute that basing the F-35 at the Burlington Airport will harm both Winooski and South Burlington.  The Air Force says so.  The South Burlington City Council says so (the Winooski city council doesn’t want to face it).  The only serious dispute is over the nature and the degree off harm:  the number of homes destroyed, the number of people debilitated, the amount of environment degraded.

But as attorney James Leas made clear in a December 21 op-ed, the public comments of Leahy and his ilk are deliberateltly obtuse and unresponsive to reality, while at the same time opaque about the economic interests and the political motivations.    In a long and tetailed analysis of Leahy’s letter to his constituent, Leas lays bare the bald intellectual dishonesty of Leahy’s claim to do no harm:

“Sen. Leahy has not bothered to demonstrate even an appearance of commitment to protecting Vermont communities by meeting with members of those communities and holding a hearing so all sides could give him information…. 

“Sen. Leahy is refusing to meet retired Air Force Col. Rosanne Greco, now chair of the South Burlington City Council, or other opponents of the F-35. Sen. Leahy needs to sustain his belief that all will be OK with F-35 basing. So he needs to avoid learning the facts about the destruction of housing in Winooski. He just does not want to know the facts about noise provided by the Air Force in its draft Environmental Impact Statement and by the FAA in its study of aircraft noise mitigation. Col. Greco is a highly skilled military analyst, illustrated by the fact that she was selected to work directly for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and for its chairman. 

“The senator may be correct that opening his mind to information from Col. Greco might put his current belief at risk that all is well with basing the F-35 in South Burlington.” 

According to the U.S, constitution, Vermont’s Senator Leahy, as president pro tem of the Senate, is now third in line for the presidency.  But on the evidence so far, he (as well as Sanders, Welch, Shumlin. Weinberger, O’Brien, and others) has shown no capacity for intellectual curiosity or integrity when it comes to civilian control of the military.

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