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Vermont progressives aim to shoot down F-35 stealth bomber


Vermont Democrats remain solid military boondoggle boosters for bomber base in Burlington

The latest high-ranking Vermont Democrat to push for prime military pork in her state is Burlington city attorney Eileen Blackwood, who released a slippery legal memo October 17 that is as cleverly political as it is narrowly legal, leading to widespread, obtuse media coverage along the lines of Vermont Public Radio’s simply false headline: “City Report: Burlington Can’t Block F-35.”

Blackwood’s “preliminary analysis” was a memo “responding to some of the legal concerns raised” in the course of three years’ “public discussion of the Air Force’s consideration of basing the F-35 jets at the Burlington International Airport (BIA).” Blackwood, a Democrat, said her legal memo was requested by Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger (the Democrat who appointed her) and “several City Councilors,” unnamed.

Blackwood’s 14-page legal memo comes to no such sweeping conclusion as reported by public radio, WPTZ-TV, the Burlington Free Press, VTDIGGER, and other Vermont media. News reports made the memo sound comprehensive and conclusive when it is very limited and inconclusive. Blackwood has delivered the best case she can for the views of her boss, Mayor Weinberger, just as other attorneys in similar but more serious circumstances offered legal support to presidents who wanted to torture people or assassinate them with drones.

Blackwood argues that the city’s position is legal. She doesn’t claim that it’s right.  Her page of “conclusions” is hedged with conditional language – things are “likely,” “would likely mean,” “would not seem to allow,” “would likely be withdrawn,” “appears,” “seems likely,” or “does not appear to apply,” a style all very lawyerly. The memo, as she says, “is not intended to serve as a final statement of the City’s legal position on any specific issue.”

In her last sentence, Blackwood acknowledges the essentially political (not legal) nature of the F-35 dispute, saying, “Voicing opposition would be a political statement that is protected speech” under the Constitution’s first amendment. But that’s not the whole sentence. The rest of the sentence gives her game away.  In what seems a clear move to head off any voicing of opposition, she concludes her memo by warning that protected speech “would carry with it a different set of risks and opportunities than those explored here.”  In other words: council members, be afraid, be timid.

Blackwood memo designed to influence council vote October 28 

The Vermont Progressive Party’s four members of the Burlington City Council (14 members in all) have been trying since early October to get the council to vote on measures aimed at delaying or blocking the Air Force from basing the controversial F-35 joint strike fighter at the city-owned airport. These Progressives are trying to protect the neighboring communities most at risk from this military escalation in the middle of Vermont’s most densely populated area. The smaller towns of South Burlington and Winooski would take the brunt personal and economic damage inflicted by the F-35, with no way to exercise any direct influence over their own destiny. Both towns have long been excluded from any representation on the five-member Burlington Airport Commission. By contrast, Mayor Weinberger, as a former commissioner who now appoints commissioners in his role as mayor, is loaded with potential conflicts of interest.

Everyone admits that basing 18-24 F-35 stealth bombers at the Burlington airport will do significant harm to South Burlington, where it’s located, and Winooski, which sits directly in the main flight path.  Most of the damage assessment comes from the Air Force itself in its environmental impact statement.  Opponents of the F-35 have raised additional concerns not addressed by the Air Force.

Proponents of the F-35, including all of the state’s top Democratic officials (there are few top Republican officials in Vermont), support the basing plan despite the damage it will cause, usually saying that they believe that the military spending is important to the Vermont economy.  Proponents of the F-35 typically say the cost is worth it, without addressing the fairness of the cost largely being borne by others, many of whom are lower-income and/or foreign born (including a significant refugee population).

The city council first scheduled a vote on at least two Progressive resolutions on October 7, with a public hearing to precede the vote. Four days before the event, the city council president cancelled it because Blackwood had informed her that the council was not insured against liability for any actions they might take regarding the airport they own.  According to Blackwood at the time, the city did not have any “public officials liability insurance for the airport that it routinely carries for other city business.”

City moves forward, insured against liability attorney implies is chimerical 

The city has since acquired the liability insurance, for up to $5 million in damages, as recommended by Blackwood.  The council has re-scheduled the public hearing and F-35 vote for October 28.  Blackwood’s legal memo argues at length the ways the city council should be legally immune from liability suits of various sorts.  The memo does not say why the city council therefore needed liability insurance before even voting on the F-35 and its assortment of potential harms to public health, safety, and property.

There are at least two resolutions, probably more, that will be presented at the October 28 council meeting. One resolution says the city will prevent F-35 basing at Burlington airport at any time.  Another says the city will prevent basing the F-35 at Burlington airport during the first basing sequence (beginning in 2020 at the earliest, according to the Air Force, which once said it might happen as early as 2015). Another resolution might be only a sense-of-the-council statement, without binding force of law (which Mayor Weinberger has said he expects).

Blackwood’s legal memo acknowledges quietly that a municipality that owns an airport has the legal authority to adopt health and safety regulations for that airport, including control of noise.  But mostly she describes all the ways Burlington might be limited in its exercise of that right.  Her political position is clear: that the city has the right to protect health and safety in a way that could bar the F-35 from the airport, but it shouldn’t even consider exercising that right because, well, someone might sue or something.

In a brief, preliminary response to Blackwood, attorney James Dumont writes:

“Eileen Blackwood’s memo accepts the most basic point we have been making for months – that unlike South Burlington, Burlington is the proprietor of the airport and therefore it has authority that South Burlington lacks. Federal noise standards preempt South Burlington’s authority to regulate through zoning or other regulations. The caselaw we submitted and that Blackwood found all agrees that a city that owns an airport can set noise or other standards as proprietor, not regulator.”

Does Vermont still know what it means to be a good neighbor? 

Although Dumont leaves it implicit, the fundamental question is whether Burlington, unlikely to feel much negative impact from the F-35, has the integrity, conscience, neighborliness, or the will to act to protect the health and safety of South Burlington. A corollary question is whether, Burlington will face any consequences if the city fails to act, and South Burlington suffers the grievous harm the Air Force and others predict.

Dumont, who represents the Stop-the-F-35 Coalition, argues that Blackwood’s memo is, in effect, mostly smoke and mirrors:

“None of the cases cited in the memo address the situation in Burlington. Uncited cases and scholarly articles explain that in the Burlington situation local action is acceptable if the purpose is within the traditional purposes of local government – protection of the public health of the local public — and if the effect is not to directly control military affairs. For example, there is the case of Arthur D. Little v City of Cambridge, decided by the highest court in Massachusetts. The City there adopted a regulation, like the proposed resolution here, which had the purpose of protecting local public health. The regulation banned all manufacture of chemical weapons inthe city.”

When the chemicals weapons maker, Arthur D. Little, sued to continue making chemical weapons in Cambridge, the Massachusetts Supreme Court forcefully rejected Little’s claims and emphasized the city’s right and duty to enact laws “to protect the public health and welfare…. municipal health and safety regulations, such as that at issue here, carry a heavy presumption of validity, and are only rarely preempted by Federal law.”

According to Dumont, there will a resolution of this sort offered to the city council on October 28: “it is explicitly a public health measure.”

In addition to the four Progressives on the city council, there is one Republican, two independents, and seven Democrats.  The Democrats are all under pressure from their party leaders – including U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, Rep. Peter Welch, and Gov. Peter Shumlin – to support the F-35, although none of these “leaders” has offered a coherent argument as to how this nuclear-capable bomber serves the common good.

Ultimately the question comes down to whether Democratic loyalty to Pentagon extravagance is some kind of justification for Burlington to impose damage on its neighbors against their will.  It should be unconscionable. 

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.

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Burlington VT city council may block F-35 base from being built



Democratic “leaders” Push For “national scandal” to come to Vermont.  Vermont city to consider protecting neighbors from Air Force F-35 base.

With Vermont’s highest elected officials still deep in Defense Dept. denial over the disaster that is the Air Force’s F-35 strike fighter, a local city council threatens to bring some military sanity to Vermont (but nowhere else) by exercising its landlord right to reject as a tenant a weapon of mass destruction that will wreak havoc on the local neighborhood.

This initiative comes from four members of Vermont’s Progressive Party on the Burlington City Council, who plan to introduce a resolution on October 7 effectively barring the F-35 from being based in the middle of Vermont’s most populated area. In contrast, Vermont’s official “leadership,” almost all Democrats, still thinks basing nuclear-capable warplanes in a Vermont community is a dandy idea.

Whatever they say – which is next to nothing – Vermont’s governor, two Senators, lone Congressmen, Burlington mayor, and most of the legislature remain effectively committed to a fool’s errand on behalf of the military-industrial complex, one that will do nothing good for the vast majority of their constituents and will do real harm to many of them. These representatives consistently refuse to meet with their constituents for serious discussion of health, safety, cost, and other issues. This is what the breakdown of American representative democracy looks like up close.

John McCain calls F-35 fighter-bomber “worse than a disgrace”  

In Washington, at a Senate Armed Services Committee meeting on September 19, Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona was telling Pentagon officials that continuing cost overruns have made the F-35 the first trillion-dollar weapons program and “have made it worse than a disgrace….  it’s still one of the great, national scandals that we have ever had, as far as the expenditure of taxpayers’ dollars are concerned.”

Not only is the F-35 roughly ten years behind schedule and 100% over budget, it’s still years from being operational. At Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, where F-35’s are being tested, its current safety limitations are severe: “the squadrons at Eglin are prohibited from flying at night, prohibited from flying at supersonic speed, prohibited from flying in bad weather (including within 25 miles of lightning), prohibited from dropping live ordnance, and prohibited from firing their guns,” according to a September 16 article in Vanity Fair.

The story also notes that one of the chronic problems is F-35 software.  The plane requires some 18.6 million lines of code to function at its operational specifications.  Currently, according to the Pentagon’s chief weapons tester, if the F-35 went into combat with its current software package, it would need protection in the air from the F-16s and other planes it is supposed to replace.

Vermont leaders lead by silent evasion of dangers to Vermonters 

None of Vermont’s elected leaders – not Sen. Patrick Leahy or Rep. Peter Welch, not independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, not Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin or Democratic Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger – none of them has anything serious to say about the F-35’s multiple shortcomings. Nor do any Republicans. And they all have even less to say about the health, social, and environmental punishment the plane will deliver to thousands of mostly low income Vermonters.

But when people’s elected representatives get captured by hostile interests, sometimes people react with something like direct democracy.  And sometimes that democratic coalescing gathers enough momentum to make a difference at least for a moment.  For example, broad national opposition to waging a one-sided war on Syria seems to have kept that from happening, at least for awhile.

Popular Vermont resistance to the F-35 basing has been building since the Air Force first announced its plans more than three years ago.  The city councils in South Burlington and Winooski, the cities closest to the proposed base at the Burlington International Airport, have both voted to oppose the F-35 (although South Burlington later reversed its vote after a corrupt election).

Will Burlington take responsibility for damaging others?

Even though Burlington owns the airport located in South Burlington, the Burlington city council has been a hotbed of inaction on the F-35 so far, passing only a resolution to seek more information. In early September, the four Progressive city councilors announced their plan to put the council on the record by offering a resolution to block the F-35 basing at the city-owned airport.

The city council has 14 members.  In addition to the four progressives, there are two independents, one Republican, and seven Democrats, making the outcome on the resolution uncertain, given the Democratic pressure in the state to support the American war machine.  Approaching the vote, it appears that there are four votes in favor of the resolution, four opposed, and the rest probably worried that voting either way could be a big mistake.

A month ahead of the vote, Progressive city councilor Rachel Siegel said of the outcome: “I’m unsure, to be totally be frank. I’m going to work my tail off to try to get there. It’s going to be a lot of work I believe because a lot of them [Democrats] follow the state leadership and our administration at the city level who are proponents of basing [F-35s] here for God knows why.”

At the time of their announcement, the Progressives were joined by three new, Democratic state legislators: two House members and the Senate majority leader, Philip Baruth, the highest-ranking Vermont Democrat yet to oppose the F-35.  The Vermont Natural Resources Council has also joined the F-35 opposition, sending a letter to the mayor and city council saying that the expanded militarization of the airport would come at the expense of community housing and growth. F-35 opponents plan to support the Progressives’ resolution with a door-to-door leafleting campaign, as well as several continuing legal challenges.

Lack of accountability can be hilarious, albeit unintentionally 

In what has the earmarks of a politically-timed response to the increased opposition to its warplane, the Pentagon announced September 12 that it would study another Vermont site as a potential base for an anti-missile missile system, part of the Ballistic Missile Defense System’s effort to protect the country from Iran, which does not yet have any missiles that could reach the United States.

The Pentagon announced the site study for Camp Ethan Allen, a federally-owned Vermont National Guard post near Burlington, without giving any advance notice to the Vermont Congressional delegation.  This combination of events inspired each member of the delegation to issue an unintentionally hilarious objection to the anti-missile missiles, since each response was just as applicable to the F-35:

Leahy issued a statement saying: “I’ve always felt that the multiple billions spent on missile defense are a monumental waste of money, on technologically challenged systems, and I am emphatically against putting one of these sites in Vermont.” Leahy once questioned the $400 billion and counting spent on the F-35, although he stopped short of calling that technologically challenged weapons system “technologically challenged.”

Sanders supported Leahy, saying: “My first impression is that this is a very bad idea and, for a wide variety of reasons, I do not believe that it will ever happen.” For reasons he has yet to explain, Sanders has not pointed out that the bad idea of the F-35 is a “bad idea.”

Welch supported Leahy, saying: “This is absurd. It’s the wrong location for a bad idea and dead on arrival.” So implicitly, Welch thinks the Burlington Airport is the right location for a bad idea.

Shumlin supported everyone, saying: “Vermonters are well-served by our federal delegation’s thoughtful involvement and deep experience in these issues, and I agree with Senator Leahy, Senator Sanders and Congressman Welch.” Translation:whatever.

The missile-system-formerly-known-as-star-wars still doesn’t work 

As the New York Times reported in July: “A test launching of an advanced missile-defense interceptor failed to hit its target high over the Pacific Ocean, the Pentagon said on Friday, four months after the Obama administration announced that it would spend $1 billion to increase the number of interceptors along the West Coast in response to verbal threats from North Korea.”

The report went on to say that the Pentagon didn’t know why the missile failed and that this particular missile system has had no successful test in five years. Prior to that, “the interceptors had a mixed record, hitting dummy targets just 50 percent of the time.”

In September, the chief executive officer of Boeing Defense, Space and Security, the missile’s maker, called for more testing to make the missile system reliable.

After almost two decades in development, the unreliable F-35 strike fighter is not yet far enough developed to subject it to any reasonably realistic operational tests.

As the Daily Beast summarized the Vanity Fair report:

“Vanity Fair dove deep into the troubled Joint Strike Fighter program, and what it found isn’t pretty. The $1.5 trillion plane that was supposed to be the next generation in fighter jets is years over deadline, billions over budget, and might not be able to safely fly.

“A helmet that uses cameras to give pilots 360-degree vision, one of the centerpieces of the F-35, was supposed to be its crowning achievement, but Lockheed still hasn’t finished the software for it. Furthermore, pilots who’ve tested the F-35 have found it laggy, disorienting, and blurry.

“The plane has been grounded repeatedly for broken parts, it can’t fly near lightning, and the stealth coating burns off when it goes supersonic.”

 Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.

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Vermont government rots from the top. F-35 destroys democratic process



Written before the public meeting on July 8, about F-35 basing in Vermont, this piece predicts the outcome.  The prediction is correct, but most of the post-meeting coverage has less detail, background, and context than this pre-meeting exercise.  The meeting drew about 250 people, lasted almost four hours  — see end for outcome.]

F-35, at $400 Billion and counting, is a symptom of much greater disease

When the city council in a city of just 18,000 people reverses a vote it took a year earlier, it’s not usually off national significance, but if the South Burlington City Council votes as expected on July 8, in support of basing the F-35 strike fighter in Vermont, it will illustrate how deep the tentacles of national power reach into local government in this country.

The F-35 nuclear-capable bomber, designed for aggressive war, is one of the more obvious tumors of the military-industrial-political cancer that has metastasized throughout the American system, from Congress and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., all the way, now, to the five member city council in South Burlington.

In 2012, the city council was led by a retired Air Force colonel who at first  supported having the F-35 as a noisy neighbor — until she researched it carefully.   After Col. Rosanne Greco, a former Pentagon planner, presented her findings to the council (and the public), the council voted on two separate occasions – 4-1 and 4-0 – that the F-35 should be based elsewhere.

F-35 Boosters Bought the Government They Wanted in South Burlington 

And then there was an election in March 2013 in which councilor Pam Mackenzie – who had been the lone vote in favor of the F-35 – helped bankroll perhaps the most expense local election ever, supporting two candidates who are now poised to vote with her and in favor of basing the world’s most expensive weapons system in a city where it will have significantly destructive effects on the civilian population.  If it happens, this will be a deliberate and callous vote in favor of inevitable collateral damage, without redeeming social importance.

According to the Air Force’s own study, the F-35 is much louder than the F-16s presently based at Burlington International Airport, and those quieter planes have already made more than 200 homes uninhabitable. The F-35 would render another 1,300 or more homes uninhabitable because of noise – a wholesale destruction of affordable housing in a market where affordable housing is already scarce enough.

None of the public officials who support basing the F-35 in Vermont’s most densely populated area – not the Air Force, not Vermont’s Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy or independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, nor Democratic Rep. Peter Welch nor Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin, nor Democratic Mayor of Burlington Miro Weinberger, nor any other statewide elected official – not one of them has even expressed serious concern over the destruction of housing for lower income Vermonters, much less put forward a serious plan to mitigate the destruction.

It’s Military Pork, It’s a Career Boost, Why Should We Talk About It?  

Most Vermont political office holders duck the issue entirely, or, like Democratic Speaker of the House Shap Smith, hide behind the fiction that the decision is up to the feds – at the same time the feds are inviting public comment. Smith and his allies have been able to block those House members who oppose the F-35 from getting a serious vote on the issue.

And now the city council of South Burlington includes people who, like Sen. Leahy’s relatives, stand to gain personally from an Air Force decision in their favor.

As soon as Pam Mackenzie, daughter of an Air Force veteran, had funded the successful election of two allies, she enjoyed their support in replacing Greco as council chair, with herself. In May 2012, when Mackenzie was trying to block public discussion of the F-35, a reporter described her publicly stated reasoning this way:

“Pam said that she supports the guard in anything they want to do because her dad was in the air force. That’s it. She voted against providing the public with a forum to question and discuss the impacts of the F-35 because of personal bias.”

Conflicts of Interest Outweigh The Harm The Public Will Suffer 

Mackenzie is the CEO of the DeckerZinn management consulting firm. Although she has Air Force ties and spent lavishly to elect allies to the council, she has not apparently made any formal disclosure of conflicts of interest, nor has she apparently recused herself from involving her official duties with her personal interests.

One of her new allies was an opponent when Mackenzie was first elected in 2012.  But this time she supported Chris Shaw who describes himself on Twitter as a “husband, hockey dad, teacher, city councilor, justice of the peace, lax bro and responsible renegade — just your average brainy, brawny, balding badboy!”

Shortly after his election, Shaw said: “I don’t have a specific policy change agenda. My agenda is to be a respectful listener.”

What These People Say Has Little Relevance To What They Do 

Shaw ran as a supporter of local basing of the F-35, as did the other Mackenzie beneficiary, Pat Nowak, an investment advisor who refused to disclose her party affiliation during the campaign. But they ran as a team, with Mackenzie’s largesse and support of the F-35 in common.

By all accounts, significant outside money also helped make this campaign roughly ten times more expensive than the usual city council races, but Vermont’s campaign reporting laws are such that demonstrating the exact dimensions of a candidate’s spending is difficult.

According to Seven Days, “Shaw and Nowak are representative of a South Burlington ‘old guard’ aligned closely with developers and other business interests.” The Burlington Free Press reported that Nowak and Mackenzie “agreed, for instance, that a new vote on the F-35 is not high on their agenda. 

During the campaign, Nowak said in an interview:  “The single most pressing concern for our city is the degree of divisiveness that has entered the everyday processes of operation and decision making. It could be said that great issues are at stake and disagreement is normal and healthy. I don’t believe the atmosphere derives from the issues — they could be settled with research, analysis and civil discussion.”  

With An Opportunity to Hear New Health Information, Council Stonewalls  

At the July 1 council meeting, four women, three of them elderly and living at a facility within the zone the F-35 will make uninhabitable, asked the council to delay its July 8 meeting for 48 hours.  As reported in Vermont Commons:  

“All four of the women who addressed the South Burlington city council where soft spoken, polite and brief….

“These women were petitioning for a delay because they wanted citizens to have the opportunity to attend another public meeting, this one regarding the effects of aircraft noise on the health of children, before making up their minds on the F-35 basing. This July 9th public meeting will feature doctors and researchers sharing their knowledge of the health effects of airplane noise on children’s physical and mental health and learning ability.”  

At that July 1 meeting, Nowak was absent and unable to support any further “research, analysis and civil discussion.”  

Shaw showed little capacity for being “a respectful listener,” as he made personal attacks on his fellow council member, Greco.  He adamantly opposed hearing any new information about the F-35 and refused to discuss it rationally, according to the transcript of the meeting.  

Mackenzie and Shaw refused to postpone the July 8 meeting. Their minds were apparently made up, their decision made, information of any sort would just waste their time.

As Mackenzie put it, “I don’t have to justify my reasons.”

POSTSCRIPT:  Predetermined Vote Plays Out as Pre-Scripted

More than 150 people turned out for the meeting in the stifling local elementary school gym located a quarter mile from the airport runway.

Most of the audience opposed basing the F-35 in their small city.  For reasons that are unclear, people in favor of the F-35 got to speak first.  Some 70 people in all spoke, overwhelmingly opposed to the $400 billion strike fighter, but council chair Mackenzie called for a vote before all the speakers were heard.  Greco objected to this as a violation of the rules of order.  Mackenzie plowed ahead.

Mackenzie continued to refuse to explain to her constituents why she was voting as she was.  He refused to explain why she was the only council member who wasn’t explaining her vote.  She said she would explain something later.

The council voted 3-2 in support of the F-35, as had been decided well in advance.

 Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.

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Air Force admits critics were right about Vermont F-35 base



F-35 May Come to Vermont on Wing and Prayer – or Mostly Prayer, and Deceit.  Air Force Acknowledges Critics Were Right About Impact of Vermont F-35 Base.

The Air Force has admitted that it’s critics in Vermont have been right all along – that basing the F-35 strike fighter in Burlington, the state’s only area with population at urban-concentration levels, will render thousands more homes “unsuitable for residential use” than originally estimated.

The faulty first estimate in the Air Force’s environmental impact statement resulted from the Air Force’s use of outdated 2000 census data, even though 2010 census data was easily available at the time the statement was prepared.

The 1,100-page environmental impact statement has been challenged on factual grounds since its release in 2012.  The Air Force is currently reassessing it, with a full revised edition expected in the fall of 2013.   There is now a 30 day public comment period on the revised report.

The revisions made public on May 31 all related to the Air Force’s erroneous population figures for the several towns surrounding the Burlington International Airport (which is in South Burlington, but owned by Burlington).  Burlington suffers little negative impact from airport while reaping most of the benefits.  The Air Force also corrected population data for other F-35 bases under consideration in other states.

F-35 Would Sacrifice Poorer Vermonters to Benefit Wealthy

Most of the people directly harmed by the airport, and the potential F-35 basing, live in South Burlington, where city councilor Rosanne Greco has been an outspoken, analytical critic of the Air Force plans based not only on the human impact, but environmental and economic damage, as well as military waste and futility.  Greco is a retired Air Force colonel who served for years as a Pentagon planner.

‘‘Kudos to the Air Force for taking our concerns seriously,’’ Greco told the Associated Press, referring to the more accurate data.  ‘‘My major concern with this document is that this document will also be ignored by our senior decision makers. They pretty much ignored the last document. They ignored the people. They ignored the facts.’’

In this she was referring to Vermont’s two Senators, Democrat Patrick Leahy and independent Bernie Sanders, as well as Democrats Cong. Peter Welch, Governor Peter Shumlin, Mayor Miro Weinberger, and others.  These officials all have in common a reflexive support for basing the F-35 in Vermont, without displaying even rudimentary understanding of the range of issues raised by basing an advanced war machine in the state.

Media coverage of the F-35 issue has been notoriously soft, with few reporters doing more than superficial reporting, generally biased toward the Air Force and supporters of militarization.   WPTZ-TV’s short report on May 31, for example, began with a snide anchor woman saying, “F-35 opponents have their say, once again, in Burlington” (emphasis in original).

Senator Leahy Gets to Mock and Demean His Constituents on TV 

The short report than went on mention a “citizens hearing” and interview a jet fighter designer who spoke in sharply critical terms of the F-35 at the hearing.  But the report gave roughly equal time to Sen. Leahy at some unspecified time when he was mocking his constituents who are F-35 opponents.

After claiming the F-35 as an honor for the Vermont National Guard, Leahy ignored substantive issues in favor of demagoguery:  “I’ve heard a lot, and I heard one of the opponents say, ‘This is terrible, we’ve got five minutes too much noise coming from this.’  Five minutes?  For national defense?”

Sen. Leahy also denigrated those who, like the Boston Globe, claimed the Air Force “fudged” its report to make it come out the way the Senator wanted.  The Air Force has admitted errors in the past, as it did again on May 31, but it has not said it was pandering to Sen. Leahy.

More than 300 of the people caricatured by Sen. Leahy showed up for a “citizens hearing” at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Burlington May 30, organized by the Stop the F-35 Coalition and 13 other sponsors including the Peace and Justice Center, Burlington Quakers, and the Vermont Progressive Party.


Hearing Presents Devastating Assessment of F-35 and Its Impact

The citizens hearing was organized to respond to the failure of the congressional delegation, governor, mayor, and others to hold responsive public hearing or to address the myriad concerns of F-35 opponents.  One of the organizers, realtor Chris Hurd, welcomed these officials to the hearing and invited them to stand and be thanked – causing laughter, as none of them was there.

One of the speakers was aviation engineer Pierre Sprey, who was a co-designer of the F-16 that the Vermont Guard currently flies and that Sprey sees having a useful life of another twenty years or more.

His critique of the F-35 was devastating as reported by the Burlington Free Press: “He said that despite Air Force claims of its stealth capability, [the F-35] will be easily visible to enemy radar, is vulnerable to ground fire, lacks maneuverability because of its weight and small wings, carries only half the bombing payload of the F-16 and, again because of its small wings, must fly too fast and high to be successful in its close support role.”

Perhaps most damaging to supporters of the F-35, who trivialize its noise, like Sen. Leahy, Sprey argued that the plane’s undeniable bulk will mean it will have to use afterburners during takeoffs.  Planes using afterburners will make substantially more noise than those without them, which implies that the F-35 would destroy even more habitable housing than the Air Force and its adherents are now admitting.

F-35 Would Destroy American Communities Before Bombing Foreign Ones

“We are deeply pained by their support (of the F-35) because it would destroy the quality of life for our most vulnerable neighbors,” said another speaker, Rabbi Joshua Chasan of the Ohavi Zedek synagogue in Burlington.  “Common sense would direct the placement of these airplanes to airports with far fewer people in the vicinity.”

Noting that the threatened neighborhoods included immigrant communities that have been welcomed by their neighbors, the rabbi underscored the irony in displacing these people with a useless war machine:

“Where is our hospitality now – to bring in yet to be properly tested jets to fly over our new neighbors, raining upon them the roar of powerful engines of war as if refugees below were homesick for the fearsome sound of these instruments of war.”

Rabbi Chasen spoke for himself and 14 other members of the local clergy who, some months ago wrote to their elected representatives expressing their concerns.  They are still awaiting an answer.

Air Force Co. (Ret.) Says Pentagon Policy Is “Hardware First, People Second” 

Another, perhaps much larger group of innocent victims of the F-35 may be the hundreds of thousands of military and veteran families.  According to Col. Greco: “A few categories of people will pay way more than their fair share.  The Pentagon intends to pay for the F-35 by cutting military personnel and by cutting military personnel benefits, including health care and benefits for military families….

“This is nothing new. The military has been paying for weapons systems by cutting people programs for decades.  Hardware first, people second.”

Already living in the shadow of the F-35, Janice Brousseau moved into her house in 1950.  In recent years Brousseau, who is known as “Gramma,” said she has seen the airport buyout of uninhabitable houses leave them shuttered and empty, turning her area into a “little Detroit.”

She plans to sell her house – if she can – before the F-35 makes it as worthless as if it was bombed.

So How Much Damage Can a $400 Billion Fighter-Bomber Do? 

The panel’s lone businessman, Ben Cohen, the co-founder of Ben K& Jerry’s ice cream, encouraged the supporters to continue to resist the Air Force’s plans.  “I really believe we can do it,” he said.  “This plane and the Pentagon mentality this plane represents is bankrupting our country.”

Rabbi Chasan agreed:  “Let us be strong in the face of facile flag waving and fear-mongering.”

Summing it up, Sprey said his years of experience with Pentagon informed his conclusion that the opponents were right and F-35 supporters were mostly blowing smoke:

“Whether you have the Air National Guard unit at the Burlington Airport or not has only to do with horse trading among senators and congressmen. It has nothing to do with what airplane is here….

“When people tell you that you’re opposing defending America if you’re against the F-35, I suggest you laugh in their face.  The quicker it gets canceled, the better off the defense of the nation is.”

It Won’t Be really Ready for Six More Years, But at Least It’s Expensive  

F-35 is already the most expensive weapons system in history, and it is still at least six years from being fully deployed.  That’s the best case as stated by the Pentagon in publicity released May 31.  The news coverage was generally more along the lines of “F-35 Combat-Ready in 2015.”  And all three of these statements are true.

The discrepancy lies in the selection of available facts, facts that may be best understood in the context of another fact: the last time the Pentagon predicted F-35 combat-readiness, the plane was supposed to be able to go on the attack in 2010.  So far, the $400 billion F-35 program is 100% over budget and a decade behind schedule, and losing ground by all criteria.

Reporting to Congress one day ahead of the Congressionally-set deadline of June 1, the Pentagon told Congress, according to Bloomberg News, referring to the schedule as “combat-ready dates”:

“… the initial short-takeoff and vertical-landing model for the Marine Corps will be ready no later than December 2015. The target for the Air Force’s version of the jet is December 2016, and the date for the Navy model, designed to take off and land on aircraft carriers, is February 2019.”

Explaining further, Reuters reported that:  “Those are the dates that Lockheed Martin’s F-35 will achieve initial operational capability – the point when the services have enough planes on hand to go to war if needed.”

“Actual deployments usually lag initial operational capability (IOC) dates by about a year,” Reuters added.  “Friday’s [May 31] congressional rollout made the dates official, despite ongoing concerns about the cost and technical maturity of the world’s most expensive weapons system.”

Officially, no one will say that the F-35 will never be combat-ready, but the possibility remains, and is less than remote.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.

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Vermont F-35 base called political pork for Senator Leahy


What Happens When You Get Too Invested in a Disaster Like the Vermont F-35 Base? 

While it’s too soon, perhaps, to say that the over-budget, overdue, and under-performing F-35 joint strike fighter is in a political tailspin, having its biggest Senate booster accused of pushing for political pork at the expense of his poorer constituents hasn’t made the controversial stealth bomber’s flight path less bumpy.

According to the Boston Globe, the Air Force “fudged” its assessment of the Vermont Air National Guard Base in Burlington, Vermont, in order to give Vermont’s senior Senator, Patrick Leahy, D-VT, a political plum that could not be justified on its merits.  Despite three years growing local opposition to basing an F-35 squadron of nuclear-capable stealth bombers in Vermont’s most densely populated area, Leahy has spent more years cheerleading the Air Force plan while at the same time refusing to meet with his unhappy constituents.

The Air Force first planned to announce its final Burlington basing decision in the fall of 2012, then pushed it back to the winter of 2013, and then to the spring.  On April 18, four days after the Globe story went largely unrebutted, the Air Force announced that the decision would not be made until the fall and that there would be yet another public comment period during the summer.

Sen. Leahy, 73, who is legally blind in one eye, did not serve in the military.  He is co-chair of the Senate’s National Guard Caucus, which has 88 members.

F-35 Getting Too, Late, Too Expensive, and Too Dysfunctional? 

Outside of Vermont, the F-35 program continues to struggle in more basic ways.  Its cost is already 100% over budget, having cost more than $400 billion since 2001, with the plane still in the testing phase.  Technical problems have grounded it for extended periods this year.  And foreign buyers, having planned on a $70 million plane, are reducing or cancelling orders as the cost has risen above $200 million each (although reported that the U.S. offered F-35s to South Korea at a discounted price of $180 million).

Whether the Air Force decided to delay its F-35 basing decision due to the Globe’s allegations against Sen. Leahy is presently unknown, but the Senator has supported basing the F-35 at the Burlington Airport since long before the Air Force made Burlington one of its top basing candidates.

And Sen. Leahy has remained adamantly in support of the Air Force plan as it has become increasingly controversial over the past three years.  He has consistently defended the F-35 while refusing to respond substantively to its associated problems, including excess noise, loss of property value, human health impairment, and environmental degradation.

No One Has Said Senator Leahy Has Done Anything Illegal

The charges against Sen. Leahy, made in a front page story in the Boston Globe April 14, are not charges of criminality, but rather of the familiar political corruption that passes for business-as-usual in Washington.  In response, Leahy issued a brief non-denial denial, saying dishonestly:

“The Air Force selected the Vermont Guard as its preferred choice for the F-35s on the merits, based on the Vermont Air Guard’s unsurpassed record, its top-flight personnel and facilities, and its strategic location. Vague, anonymous, uninformed and rehashed conspiracy theories cannot change those facts.”

Elements of dishonesty in this statement include:

(1) The first sentence blurs the distinction between selecting the Vermont Air Guard as the first Guard unit to have the F-35, and the basing decision not yet made with regard to the Burlington Airport.  That decision will at least purport to be based on other criteria entirely, include those in the environmental impact statement that assesses social, environmental, and health issues, among others.

(2) The case for a “strategic location,” in northern Vermont, next to the Canadian border, has yet to be made.  Leahy and others typically praise the Air Guard for “its voluntary and near-constant response to the 9/11 attacks for 122 consecutive days.”  While true, this omits the reality that the Air Guard responded only after the attacks.  Earlier, when one of the hijacked airliners came up the Hudson Valley near Vermont, the F-16s in Burlington sat on the ground.

(3) “Vague” is just false.  The critiques of the Air Force plans have been detailed and precise, whether presented by a former Pentagon planner, lawyers, reporters, or others.  Leahy’s responses, when he has responded, have mostly been as vague as this one.

(4) “Anonymous_ — while the Globe story refers to two or more anonymous sources, it also quotes acting assistant secretary of the Air Force Kathy Ferguson and Air Force chief of staff Gen. Mark Welsh III, both of whom acknowledge fact and processes errors that the Air Force needed to correct.

(5) “Uninformed” is almost laughable, since the most germane critiques of the basing proposal are derived from information provided by the Air Force in its environmental impact statement of March 2012, which is currently in the process of being finalized (a necessary element of the basing decision).

(6) “Rehashed conspiracy theories” is a wing nut straw man argument, since the core arguments against the F-35 require no conspiracies to be correct.   All they require is bad judgment of one sort or another.

(7) Taken as a whole, Leahy’s statement actually means nothing.  Although it’s constructed to push emotional buttons that could distract the casual reader from its emptiness, the careful reader will notice that it lacks relevant content.

The Record Opposing the F-35 in Vermont is Long and Detailed

Those who oppose basing the F-35 in a densely populated argue that that’s just a bad decision — as public policy, economic policy, military policy, or environmental policy.  Their arguments largely go unanswered by any rational counter-argument.

In responding to the Globe story, the Senator’s office circulated a dozen or so supporting documents of limited relevance as well as one that outlines several basic issues to which Leahy apparently never responded substantively.

In February 2010, the chair of the South Burlington City Council, Mark Boucher, wrote to the Air Force, with copies to Leahy, Senator Bernie Sanders, Congressman Peter Welch, Gov. Jim Douglas, and others involved then in the F-35 planning process.  Among other things, Boucher noted that the Burlington International Airport  (BIA) was confined entirely within the borders of South Burlington, but that South Burlington had not even been informed of meetings of the interested parties, never mind invited to take part in a process whose impact would be felt most directly by South Burlington.

Boucher noted that: “For the last several years, the BIA has been purchasing and removing homes adjacent to the Airport using federal FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] noise mitigation funding.”

He discussed the impact of the “unfit for residential use” zone on city housing, putting more than 150 homes at risk.  He described the area as comprising “the largest inventory of affordable housing in South Burlington.”  (The 2012 Air Force environmental impact statement says that a minimum of 1,300 homes will become “unfit for residential use” as a result of the smaller of two F-35 basing plans.)

Do Their Elected Representatives Care Where or How People Live? 

Anticipating the impact of an F-35 base in South Burlington, Boucher said in his 2010 letter:

“The City strongly opposes the loss of additional housing, especially without the replacement of similar housing….  The BIA is not only located in a residential neighborhood, but within close proximity to a neighborhood elementary school and a land development designed to be a new downtown for South Burlington.”   

No high elected official in Vermont – not Sens. Leahy or Sanders, not Rep. Welch, not Gov. Douglas or his successor, Gov. Peter Shumlin, has even responded to this concern for people to have the peaceable enjoyment of their homes, much less has any of them proposed even the slightest solution.

By contrast, the Air Force at least acknowledges the issue and scores Burlington low for “environmental justice” because of “disproportionate effects on minority and low income individuals.”  In other words, the Air Force acknowledges that the disadvantaged would once again be forced to subsidize the advantaged with their property or quality of life, or both.   But the Vermont officials who are supposed to represent them do nothing.

There is no indication that anyone, including the Air Force, responded to council chair Boucher’s letter.  Over two months later, in May 2010, Leahy followed up with the Air Force, beginning by assuring them that “I have long supported the Vermont Air National Guard and as a Vermonter am proud that the Air Force has selected Burlington….”

Lacking a Good Argument, Try Chasing a Chimera or a Shibboleth 

In the fourth paragraph of his letter, Leahy gets around to expressing “my support for Councilman Boucher’s recommendations for future communications,…” without expressing support for anything specific.   Then he adds:

“There has been a lot of information – and unfortunately, some rumors – circulating on websites and in the community about the F-35.  Certainly, the more the Air Force can do to reach out to residents, businesses, and local officials to set the record straight and have a reasonable discussion about the facts, the more satisfied everyone will be with the process.”

The Senator does not give any further indication of what he thinks was not factual, and his own website does not offer any clarification of what he’s now apparently calling “vague, anonymous, uninformed and rehashed conspiracy theories.”   In this respect, he’s no different from Sanders, Welch, Douglas, or Shumlim, although Shumlin made a show in the fall of 2010 of junketing to Florida to listen with ear muffs on to the F-35 taking off – he said it wasn’t as loud as he’d expected.

None of these elected leaders have requested an obvious, straight-forward, transparent idea – or even supported it three years ago when Council chair Boucher proposed it: “We request that the Air Force bring an operational F-35A to BIA so residents can judge the noise at landing and take-off for themselves….  I also believe such a visit would be quite popular.”

There is no indication the Air Force ever responded to this request.

Maybe the Question Should Be:  Who Gets Hurt if There’s No F-35 Base? 

More characteristic of the Air Force practice in this process is that it continues to withhold scoring sheets on which it based its original evaluation of Burlington Airport.  While the Air Force has admitted some errors in the scoring, it has stonewalled any opportunity for an outside review.

Among the most active supporters of basing the F-35 in Vermont is a Burlington real estate mogul Ernie Pomerleau, whose firm is one of several that promoted a specious study by the Greater Burlington Industrial Corp., that argued that that the F-35 base would have no significant financial impact on homeowners near the airport in South Burlington.

Speculation in Vermont is that the Pomerleaus and other real estate interests stand to gain directly from depopulating the area around the airport and turning it into a commercial zone for an expanded airport.  Pomerleaus are among Leahy’s in-laws.

Senator Sanders, whose support for the F-35 has often been more gingerly than Leahy’s, had this quote in a news item on his website on April 20:

“I’m not sure how accurate the Boston Globe’s article really was raising questions about Sen. Leahy’s role. I think he has denied that and I think he’s right. So I don’t agree with the basic tenet of the article. On the other hand I do believe that what we have always wanted is as much input as possible. We are a state where we think people have a right to be heard.” 

That doesn’t sound like wagons that are circling.

[Update:  On April 24, opponents of the F-35 called a press conference in front of Leahy’s office in Burlington.  The speakers included a grandmother who has lived next to the airport for 40 years and Ben Cohen, the co-founder of Ben&Jerry’s Ice Cream.  Leahy staffers responded with insults conveyed to reporters.]


Reader Supported News  is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News 

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