Tag Archive | "Vermont F-35 base"

Vermont progressives aim to shoot down F-35 stealth bomber

stopthef35

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with conditional language – things are “likely,” “would likely mean,” “would not seem to allow,” “would likely be withdrawn,” “appears,” “seems likely,” or “does not appear to apply,” a style all very lawyerly.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

Credit: socialistworker.org

Credit: socialistworker.org

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

Credit: stopthef35.com/

Credit: stopthef35.com/

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

Credit: stopthef35.com/

Credit: stopthef35.com

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.

hooked-on-f-35

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

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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 DefenseWorld.net 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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How Government Fails. Faced with F-35 failures, Congress says push on

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Waist deep in the Big Muddy

And the big fool says to push on.
Waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.
Waist deep! Neck deep! Soon even a
Tall man’ll be over his head, we’re
Waist deep in the Big Muddy!
And the big fool says to push on!
                          — Pete Seeger

WHAT IF ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL FITS NOBODY?

According to one of its supporters, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is not “what our troops need,” is “too costly “ and “poorly managed,” and its “present difficulties are too numerous to detail….”

The F-35 is a case study of government failure at all levels – civilian and military, federal, state, local, even airport authority.  Not one critical government agency is meeting its obligation to protect the people it presumably represents.   Senator Patrick Leahy, D-VT, who wrote the F-35 critique above, is hardly unique as an illustration of how government fails, but he sees no alternative to failure.

Up for re-election in 2014 and long a supporter of basing the F-35 in Vermont, Leahy put those thoughts in a letter to a constituent made public March 13.  This is Leahy’s most recent public communication since December 2012, when he refused to meet with opponents of the F-35 and his website listed a page of “public discussion” events mostly from the spring, including private briefings with public officials, without responding to any substantive issues.

The F-35 is a nuclear-capable weapon of mass destruction that was supposed to be the “fighter of the future” when it was undertaken in 2001.  Now, more than a decade overdue and more than 100% over budget, the plane is expected to cost $1.5  trillion over its useful life, of which about $400 billion has already been spent.

100TH F-35 BEING BUILT, NONE YET OPERATIONAL 

In January, the Lockheed Martin production facility in Fort Worth, Texas, reported it was well along “in the final phase of building the wings” of the 100th F-35 constructed by the Bethesda, Maryland, [3]company[3].  Of the first 99 F-35s, none is yet operational.

The F-35 isn’t even close to fully operational – it can fly only on sunny days.  It can’t fly at night.  And it can’t fly in clouds or near lightning.  We know this because the Pentagon tells us so, in a report written for the Secretary of Defense by the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, J. Michael Gilmore, dated February 15, 2013.

Although some media hyped the report as a “leaked document,” Gilmore clearly expected the report would become public, since he included description of its wide distribution within the government, concluding with the reminder: “By law, I must provide Congress with any test-related material it requests.”

By March 5, Gilmore’s report was on the internet and giving the Canadian government pause about buying the plane at all.  Of the other ten countries partnering in F-35 development, Italy has already reduced the number of planes it will eventually buy.  Norway, Turkey, and others are also having second thoughts – as is even the U.S.  Leahy indicates in his letter that “the jet is too costly to proceed

with purchases at today’s planned levels,” which are about 2,400 planes at a currently projected cost of $120 million each, give or take $30 million.

Gilmore’s report covers the F-35 training program at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida for two months in the fall of 2012, a program originally scheduled to begin in August 2011, but the F-35 wasn’t ready then.  Even a year later, the training program “was limited by the current restrictions of the aircraft.”  The program partially trained 4 pilots in 46 days.

IF THE PILOT CAN EJECT, HE’LL BE LUCKY NOT TO DROWN

The report’s executive summary gives a sense of what some of the “current restrictions” of the F-35 are:

*  Aircraft operating limitations prohibit flying the aircraft at night or in instrument meteorological conditions, hence pilots must avoid clouds and other weather….   These restrictions are in place because testing has not been completed to certify the aircraft for night and instrument flight. 

*  The aircraft also is currently prohibited from flying close formation, aerobatics, and  stalls, all of which would normally be in the familiarization phase of transition training….  

*  The F-35A does not yet have the capability to train in these phases, nor any actual combat capability, because it is still early in system development. 

Also, little can be learned from evaluating training in a system this immature…. 

 The radar, the pilot’s helmet-mounted display (HMD), and the cockpit interfaces for controlling the radios and navigational functions should be improved. 

The report also notes that the pilot escape system is not yet reliable, especially if a pilot were to eject over water.

On the blog of the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), Winslow Wheeler takes a closer look at the full report under the headline:  “The Air Force’s F-35A: Not Ready for Combat, Not Even Ready for Combat Training.”

WHAT DO YOU EXPECT FOR $400 BILLION?  SOMETHING THAT WORKS? 

So for $400 billion (and counting), the U.S. has bought an “immature system,” a combat fighter still unfit for combat, a plane that has spent much of 2013 grounded for various malfunctions.  The General Accounting Office (GOA) report issued this month offers good news of the it’s-not-as-bad-as-it-used-to-be kind, as in the finding that production costs are “trending” downwards toward targets.

The program continues to make design changes in the F-35 at the rate of about 200 per month, even as the plane continues in production, creating what amounts to a permanent process of retrofitting.  The GAO projects that F-35 flight testing may be complete some time in 2017 and the plane might not be ready for combat before 2019.

No wonder the F-35 Program Executive Officer, Lt.-General Christopher Bogdan, has expressed dissatisfaction with the companies making the plane.  The general, who has been with the program since July 2012 and became director in December, didn’t use the word “profiteering” to call out two major defense contractors for their shoddy-but-profitable performance on the F-35, but he came close: 

“What I see Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney [subsidiary of United Technologies Corp.] doing today is behaving as if they are getting ready to sell me the very last F-35 and the very last engine and are trying to squeeze every nickel out of that last F-35 and that last engine….  I want them both to start behaving like they want to be around for 40 years, I want them to take on some of the risk of this program, I want them to invest in cost reductions, I want them to do the things that will build a better relationship. I’m not getting all that love yet.”

CONGRESS ISN’T DOING ITS JOB IN THIS AREA, EITHER 

Congressional oversight, which is intended to keep debacles like the F-35 from happening, has failed utterly.  Instead, according to Leahy who, as the senior Democratic Senator, is the president pro tem of the Senate and third in the line of succession to the Presidency, leadership is no longer possible.

Like the rest of the Vermont Congressional delegation, which includes Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, and Rep. Peter Welch, D-VT, Leahy has struck a pose of self-imposed helplessness when is comes to basing the world’s most expensive and not-yet-operational weapons system in the middle of Vermont’s only significant population center, suggesting that the decision is entirely up to the Air Force and civilian control of the military is an outmoded concept of some other America.

At present, the Air Force has twice postponed making a final decision as to whether the F-35 should be based at the Burlington (VT) International Airport, even though the Air Force’s own environmental report warns that the F-35 is four times as loud as current fighters in Burlington, and that this increase in noise is likely to render at lease 1,300 homes – and perhaps more than 3,000 homes — “unsuitable for residential use.”

None of Vermont’s congressional delegation has addressed these or other serious issues with any intellectual integrity.  Welch has no reference to the F-35 on his website and Sanders has nothing more substantive than links to a few brief news stories.

FORMER PROSECUTOR TRUSTS BELIEF OVER EVIDENCE 

“I am concerned that some fears have become exaggerated throughout this debate,” Leahy wrote in December, relying on the unscientific, unsupported opinion of an Air Force officer.  In the same letter, without providing a factual basis, the former county prosecutor added, “I would strongly oppose basing the F-35 in Vermont if I believed its noise would make Winooski or South Burlington unlivable.”

One commenter on the POGO Blog story wondered:  “When will we bring to justice the flag officers and SESs [senior executive service], past and present, who presided over this abortion? Courts martial, criminal indictments, please? And what about the contractor’s violations?

So while some observers are calling for criminal investigations of a boondoggle, Vermont’s congressional delegation is still calling for basing the plane in Burlington.

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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F-35 failures pile up

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Grounded yet again by the Pentagon as unsafe to fly, the Air Force’s most expensive warplane, the experimental F-35 nuclear-capable stealth bomber is under increasing attack around the country, but especially in Vermont where citizens trying to protect local health and welfare are taking actions against the Air Force in federal court, in the state legislature, and before a state environmental board.

[Note: On Feb. 28, 2013, F-35 once more “cleared for flight.”  According to the official statement: “The engine in question is part of the F-35 test aircraft fleet, and had been operated at extreme parameters in its mission to expand the F-35 flight envelope. Prolonged exposure to high levels of heat and other operational stressors on this specific engine were determined to be the cause of the crack.”   Sounds like it cracks under stress.]

The F-35, a weapon of mass destruction with a lifetime cost of  $1.5 trillion dollars, has already cost the U.S. some $400 billion and is considered a target of opportunity by some budget cutters and deficit reducers.  With the March 1 sequester focusing minds across the federal government, a fancy warplane plane with outdated technology and an obsolete mission, is looking like an easy way to save more than $500 billion, especially if it can’t fly anyway.

Others suggest that the world’s most expensive weapons system is “Too Big to Kill, even though it’s a decade behind schedule and 100% over budget, with both measures getting worse.   And as the Pentagon acknowledges, the country would be getting less for its money with the final plane, since it can’t meet its promised performance specifications.  For the second time in a year, the Pentagon has lowered F-35 specs to a level the brass hope the plane will be able to meet.

And even as some national media like Time bring more attention to the failures of the F-35 program to live up to its promise  in performance, cost, or delivery, a group of dedicated Vermonters are fighting their state and federal leadership to prevent hundred of Vermont homes from being destroyed as surely as if the F-35 had bombed them into oblivion.

Air Force Refuses to Reveal Relevant Data

For almost a year, the Air Force has refused to reveal relevant data that it used to pick Burlington, Vermont, as one of its top choices for basing the F-35, even though the Air Force’s own published analysis demonstrates that Burlington will suffer more than any other location socially, economically, and environmentally from any F-35 base established at the Burlington Airport, which is owned by Burlington, but actually located in two other cities that have no say in how it’s run.

For almost a year, Vermonters have appealed to the state’s Congressional delegation, all Democrats, to meet with them, review the issues, get the hidden data from the Air Force.  Both U.S. Senators, Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders, as well as Vermont’s lone Congressman Peter Welch, have all endorsed the F-35 without showing any detailed understanding of the program.  They have all refused to meet with opponents who have spent years studying the issue.  They have been unwilling or unable to shake loose the information the Air Force holds secret.

Now the issue is before the United States District Court for the District of Vermont, where four plaintiffs are asking a federal judge to order the Air Force to release the relevant material.  The complaint describes a pattern of Air Force stonewalling since the plaintiffs’ first Freedom of Information Act (FOIA, 5 U.S.C. 552) request in mid-September 2012, as the Air Force, delayed, missed its own promised deadlines, and ultimately denied the request, and then repeated the pattern when considering the plaintiffs’ appeal.

With the Air Force saying it would decide the F-35 decision in the near future, the plaintiffs waited till mid-February for a decision on their FOIA request appeal.  Having heard nothing further from the Air Force since mid-December, the parties took their case to federal court.

Comparison Depends on Seeing All Scoring Sheets 

Although the Air Force provided some material in the plaintiffs’ initial request, the Air Force has refused to comply with this part of the request:

Please provide copies of the scoring sheets used to rate each potential site for basing the F-35s, including but not limited to the Burlington Airport.”

The Air Force had released the Burlington scoring sheets to Senator Sanders in June 2012, and he had shared them with some constituents, but in response to the FOIA request for scoring sheets, the Air Force provided only blank pages – 205 of them.

Explaining the importance of seeing all the scoring sheets for all the locations, the federal complaint stated:

“… the scoring sheet for the Burlington International Airport was released to United States Senator Bernard Sanders, who provided it to members of the public. The scores assigned included purely factual information such as whether there are homes within the noise and safety areas and such as the total score assigned to each of the other airports. 

“The scores released for Burlington are unambiguously erroneous — at the Burlington site, there are thousands of such homes but the scoring sheet erroneously stated there are none. 

“The total score Burlington received thus may have put it at the top of the chart – in error. Thus it is necessary for the public to compare Burlington’s total score, which was released, to those of its competitors, which have not been.” 

Air Force Neither Admits Nor Denies Errors 

The Air Force has not publicly responded to or corrected its manifest error on the scoring sheet, even though its environmental impact report does not make the same error.  The federal complaint also criticizes the Air Force for releasing some scoring sheets but not others, calling this a violation of the law:

“…there is no basis upon which the Air Force may lawfully refuse to produce the scoring sheets or any part of them, having released the Burlington scores… 

“The decision to release only the Burlington scores transgresses the rule that ‘FOIA was designed to preclude a government agency from cherry-picking the materials to be made public. FOIA operates on the premise that government will function best if its warts as well as its wonders are available for public review.’ “

The Air Force is expected to answer the federal complaint by mid-April.   The Air Force has also indicated it would announce a decision about the F-35 basing some time in the spring, although it has postponed that announcement twice already.

Meanwhile, it remains a fact on the ground that if the F-35 base were to become a reality, it would be in the in the midst of Vermont’s only urban area, where it would render upwards of 1,300 current residences “unfit for residential use.”

Vermont’s Democratic leadership – Leahy, Sanders, and Welch, as well as governor Peter Shumlin, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, and various Democratic state legislature have all expressed “concern” about the people whose homes will become uninhabitable due to jet noise – but none of them has yet shown any public interest in knowing the exact number of houses or the people who live there.

Committee on Military Considers F-35 Relevance

Appearing before the Vermont House Committee on General, Housing & Military Affairs on February 14, attorney James Marc Leas presented himself as a candidate for the open position of Adjutant General of the Vermont National Guard and addressed the F-35 basing question which affects the future mission of the Vermont Guard.  He urged the committee to hold hearings and make recommendations regarding the F-35 before the Air Force announces its decision.

Leas held up a copy of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement that the Air Force paid $2 million to produce and emphasized that its is this document that provides the fact that are used by opponents of the F-35.  Urging the committee to address the facts, he noted that

“It’s the Air National Guard that won’t discuss the facts that are in here and that are devastating to the people of Winooski, Williston, Burlington and South Burlington…. 

“The Guard has a mission statement, and I think the challenge for the Guard is to implement its own mission statement, which says that it will protect lives and property in Vermont, and that it will contribute to the community, and that it will protect the health and safety of Vermonters.  That’s the mission statement of the Vermont National Guard.  

“Having a National Guard that is attempting to bring in an airplane, that it knows from its own environmental impact statement – that it refuses to discuss – is going to destroy almost 3,000 homes and is going to tear up the lives of more than 6,000 people in Vermont is not consistent with that mission…. 

He urged the committee to hold hearings on the issue, as well as two resolutions submitted by legislators and referred to this committee, one resolution supporting the F-35 and the other suggesting that the state take the time to determine the impact of the base before making a decision.

New General Avoids Predecessor’s Fear-Mongering

The Committee on General, Housing & Military affairs later decided that the question of the F-35 and its impact on Vermont low income housing was not relevant to the committee.   The committee is headed by two Democrats, Helen Head of South Burlington and John Moran of Wardsboro.

Leas was not chosen adjutant general for the Vermont Air National Guard, nor did he expect to be.  He did get four votes.  As he told the committee somewhat ruefully,“We have the facts.  We have the arguments.  But somehow our political leaders are immune to facts and arguments unless large numbers of people come out.”

The new adjutant general, Brig. Gen. Steven Cray, said publicly after his election that even without the F-35, the Vermont Air National Guard base won’t close, though its mission and size might change.  This is a sharp change from his predecessor, Gen. Michael Dubie, who frequently warned the public to be afraid that, without the F-35, the base would close.

A little more than a year ago, Senator John McCain, R-AZ, commented on the F-35, also known as the JSF – Joint Strike Fighter, in remarks on the Senate floor: “In a nutshell, the JSF program has been both a scandal and a tragedy.”

McCain has softened his rhetoric since then, but he hasn’t retracted the characterization.  And the F-35’s performance has not improved.

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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Compensate victims of F-35 Base? Vermont prefers sacrifice zone

f-35viper

Vermont’s highest elected officials continue to promote class warfare in their reflexive support for an  F-35 base for the stealth nuclear-capable strike fighter in the middle of Vermont’s only urban area even though the world’s most expensive weapons system, $396 billion and counting, has been grounded since mid-January because it’s unsafe to fly.

Directly challenging the state leadership’s willingness to let poor and minority communities bear the greatest cost of putting an F-35 in the middle of greater Burlington, a state representative is introducing a bill in the Vermont legislature that, while it would not protect people against harm, would at least compensate them for whatever damage the government decision does to their property or health.

The Air Force draft environmental impact statement of March 2012 is unambiguous in its finding that the detrimental impact on Vermonters near the base in the categories of noise, land use, and environmental justice are far worse for the Burlington base than for people living near any of the five alternative choices, some of which would suffer no such negative impacts at all, in the Air Force assessment.

As the Air Force puts it, when it comes to noise, land use, and environmental justice, if the F-35 were to be based at the Burlington airport, “Analysis has identified unavoidable adverse environmental impact” from excessive noise, land degradation, and harm to the most vulnerable base neighbors.

When Government Hurts People, Then What? 

Given the unavoidable negative impact promised by the Air Force, a state legislator elected in 2012, Rep. George Cross, a Democrat of Winooski, has drafted a bill that addresses “environmental injustice,” which is the Air Force euphemism for the disproportionate harm inflicted on poor and minority citizens, the effect some characterize as class warfare.

Winooski is one of two communities that would suffer the most impact from the F-35 basing, and its city council has taken no position on the F-35, but has asked the Air Force for more information before the Pentagon makes a decision.  That request has not yet been fulfilled.

South Burlington is the other community that would bear the brunt of an F-35 basing impact.  The South Burlington city council has voted twice to reject the F-35, the second time unanimously.  The city council chair, Rosanne Greco, is a retired Air Force colonel who worked for years as a Pentagon planner.  She has taken an active role not only in speaking out against the F-35 as harmful to South Burlington, but also pointing out errors in the Air Force impact statement that made the impact of the F-35 seem less severe than the data demonstrated.

If The F-35 Doesn’t Harm Anyone, There’s No Cost 

Rep. Cross’s bill is as direct as it is uncomplicated in addressing any possible future distress that Winooski or South Burlington residents may suffer as a result of the F-35’s impact.   First, the bill would establish a seven member F35A Adverse Impacts Compensation Board,

“… for the purpose of awarding compensation to property owners, landowners, and other persons harmed or damaged by the noise and other adverse impacts generated by the basing of the F-35A or any other military aircraft by the Vermont Air National Guard at the Burlington International Airport.”

The seven members would include representatives from each of the four closest towns, as well as an airport representative, a medical professional, and a financial professional.  This board would have the authority to compensate people for damage inflicted by the F-35, including loss of property value, costs of relocating to a safer place, or costs of treatment for physical or psychological harm “caused or aggravated” by the F-35 “or any other Vermont Air National Guard military aircraft” based at the airport.

Rep. Cross’s bill would also establish the “F-35A Adverse Impacts Compensation Fund” for the compensation board to administer in carrying out it’s purpose.  The bill proposes to support the compensation fund with 20 per cent of the state appropriation to the national guard and a 5 per cent surcharge on the cost of each ticket to or from Burlington airport.  The bill also allows for private gifts and other state funding.

Although supporters of the F-35 basing in Vermont have been saying for months that the F-35 would do no harm to person or property, they promptly objected to the compensation bill.  Speaker of the House ShapSmith, an attorney and a Democrat, was immediately non-committal about what committee might look at the bill.  The speaker’s website contains no reference to “F-35,” “joint strike fighter,” or “Burlington airport.”  Smith did not reply to inquiry on the subject.

Reaction Among Politicians Has Been Timid

From the Congressional level on down there has been bi-partisan reticence about the F-35, though it’s mostly Democrats who make vague statements of support without demonstrating any mastery of the details of the problem.  More often than not, elected officials of the two major parties say little more than that they support the Vermont Air National Guard (VTANG) and that they hope any difficulties can be worked out.

Rep. Kurt Wright, Republican of Burlington told WCAX-TV: “I think it’s important to our guard and our economy that they [F-35s] are based here.”  This is a commonly repeated opinion that has little evidence to support it.  Even the Air Force says that basing 18 F-35s in Burlington “would not impact regional employment, income, or regional housing market,” although that changes with 24 F-35s based in Vermont.

What the view expressed by Rep. Wright and many others apparently references is their fear that, without the F-35, VTANG will have no mission and dissolve.  No Air Force or Pentagon official has said such a thing, but National Guard generals and commercial supporters of the F-35 base have been using this fear as a tactic at least since 2010, even though there’s no evidence to support it.

Rep. Clement Bissonnette, Democrat of Winooski, like Rep. Cross, captured the VTANG loyalty when he toldFOXnews44, “I was proud on 9-11 when our jets took off and protected the east coast.”  When asked about jet noise possibly causing hearing loss or other medical problems, Rep. Bissonnette replied, without offering support, “There are people who say that, there’s also studies out there that say just the opposite.”  The reporter added that

“Representative Cross plans to present a bill asking the state to compensate people who would be impacted by the noise. Representative Bissonnette says there’s no money available.” 

While this response ignores the bill’s content, that includes proposed funding means, it does encapsulate the apparently widespread indifference of Vermont’s political leaders to any hardship imposed on their constituents by a warplane that is already 100% over budget, a decade overdue, cannot yet fly safely, and is expected to cost more then $1 trillion over its service lifetime if it ever is deployed.

Vermont Progressives Opposed the F-35 Early

 In May 2010, the Vermont Progressive Party adopted a resolution titled “Stop the F-35” that said in part:

“We oppose the installation of F-35 fighter jets at the Vermont Air National Guard base in South Burlington. The health, safety, and quality of life of all Vermonters will be harmed by these fighter jets. Our environment will be degraded. Removal of more rows of affordable houses near the airport will likely be required….

“In town meetings Vermonters voted overwhelmingly that the best way to support our soldiers is to bring each and every one of them home now. These planes are counter to those votes, and they will not benefit Vermont. We say to the Federal Government: cancel the F-35, and send the money to Vermont instead.”

In contrast, Vermont Democrats have yet to express doubt about the worth of the F-35.  Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, recently went to Florida to listen to the F-35 with earmuffs on and concluded it wasn’t too loud.  During the 2012 election campaign, a questioner asked him about compensating those harmed by the basing if it happens.  Shumlin flipped off the voter, saying casually that he “didn’t have the coin.”

Some 200 houses are already vacant and condemned in South Burlington because they were within the area where jet noise is so loud that the Air Force labels it “unsuitable for residential use.”  With the arrival of the F-35s, the Air Force estimates that another 1,300 houses or more will be rendered “unsuitable for residential use.”

Why Rush to Judgment Amidst Uncertainty? 

Rep. Cross has also introduced a non-binding resolution asking the Air Force to take Vermont out of consideration for F-35 basing during this initial round of basing decisions.  Vermont is one of six bases currently under consideration, with others located in Idaho, Utah, Florida, and two in South Carolina.  According to Vermont Public Radio, Cross’s resolution has “more than 30 co-sponsors” in the 150-member Vermont House.  He has five as of February 8.

The House voted on a similar non-binding resolution in 2010, expressing support for having the F-35 in Vermont.  As Cross points out, this vote was taken before anyone had seen the 2012 environmental impact report that shows how much more impact the plane will have on Vermont compared to the other bases under consideration.

“Of all the other bases being considered for the F-35, only our community will suffer such terrible consequences,” South Burlington city council chair Greco told a news conference at the state capitol on February 7, appearing with Rep. Cross in support of his resolution.

A day earlier, Rep. Jim McCullough, Democrat of Williston, introduced a non-binding resolution of his own in support of basing the F-35 in Vermont.

Whether the Speaker of the House will let any of this legislation come to a vote is anybody’s guess, but the longer the delay, the more people will see reporting from sources such as the Defense Industry Dailysuggesting that the F-35 “Can’t Turn, Can’t Climb, Can’t Run” or Business Insider explaining “How The F-35 Turned Into Such A Disaster” as bad news about the F-35 continues to accumulate.

The Air Force initially planned to announce its basing decision in late 2012, then early 2013, and now the decision is expected some time in the spring.  Meanwhile the Air Force continues to keep secret the data on which its draft environmental impact assessments were base.   The Air Force has denied Freedom of Information requests and internal appeals, which are now in federal court.

Meanwhile, at least for the time being, none of it matters, because the world’s most expensive weapons system still can’t fly.

Posted in News

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

stopthef35logo

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.

Posted in News

Vermont ‘leaders’ run away from debate on Burlington F-35 base

But wait, isn't there less noise when wearing ear protection? "Gov. Peter Shumlin and Vermont National Air Guard Brigadier Gen. Steve Cray wait to hear F-35 fighter jet" at Eglin AFB in FL. Vermont Public Radio / Kirk Carapezza

But wait, isn’t there less noise when wearing ear protection? Yet Burlington area residents won’t have that luxury, will they? “Gov. Peter Shumlin and Vermont National Air Guard Brigadier Gen. Steve Cray wait to hear F-35 fighter jet” at Eglin AFB in FL. Vermont Public Radio / Kirk Carapezza

Judging by their behavior, Vermont’s highest elected officials don’t much care if a thousand or more Vermonters lose their homes to the world’s most expensive weapons system and a Burlington F-35 base

That level of residential destruction is what the U.S. Air Force anticipates in its own environmental impact statement:  basing the F-35 nuclear capable fighter-bomber in Vermont will render at least 1,366 houses “unsuitable for residential use.”  That’s a scale of human disruption on a par with 2011 Hurricane Irene, but the reaction of public officials couldn’t be more different.

Given the unresponsiveness of their representatives, numerous landowners in the three cities around the Burlington Airport have hired attorney James Dumont who, on December 12, initiated a legal review of the Airport’s plans under Act 250, Vermont’s comprehensive environmental land use law.

Where elected officials rushed to help those harmed by the weather last year, the same people won’t even engage in substantive discussion of the F-35 base now.

U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy again refused to meet – or even speak on the phone — with Vermonters most affected when more than 100 of them showed up at his Burlington office, as announced a week in advance.   Leahy was in Washington, but his aide in Burlington stonewalled the delegation with open hostility as shown on WPTZ-TV.

Leahy to F-35 Opponents: Drop Dead

Leahy has never met with Vermonters most in harm’s way from the F-35 and came out in support of the $400 billion-and-growing WMD before the Air Force impact statement was made public.  (Vermont Public Radio said its cost would be more than $1 trillion.)

Despite their left-leaning images, both Senator Bernie Sanders and Rep. Peter Welch have kept very low profiles on the F-35, though both have expressed public support.  Vermont congressional delegation comprises all Democrats.

The same day Leahy’s office was turning away his constituents, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin was making fun of his.  That was while he was flying to Florida, surrounded by military and other F-35 supporters to make a show of personally listening to the plane take off and land in the rain.

“I’m shocked at how quiet the F-35 is,’’ Gov. Shumlin said, according to an Associated Press report that omitted the fact that the governor was listening with headphones on.   AP also reported, erroneously, that “the trip was funded for [sic] by the Greater Burlington Industrial Corp., which supports basing the F-35s in Vermont.”

In fact the Industrial Corp. picked up only the cost of the private jet ferrying cheerleaders for the plane to Eglin Air Force base.  The cost of respective state, local, and federal employees, as well as the cost of using the F-35 and other equipment for the show-and-tellt was borne by the appropriate taxpayers.

While most media coverage of these official performances was insubstantial, Paul Heintz in Seven Days had a more probing view in his weekly listing of the week’s winners and losers.  Among the losers, he listed: 

F-35 proponents 

It’s hard to see what politicians backing the basing of F-35 fighter jets in South Burlington gained from their trip this week to Eglin Air Force Base, other than a lot more flack from skeptical opponents. Gov. Peter Shumlin’s remark to VPR’s Kirk Carapezza that the jets’ critics have “fertile imaginations” seemed particularly insensitive to those whose livelihoods are wrapped up in houses on the planes’ flight path. 

And why exactly won’t Sen. Patrick Leahy personally meet with F-35 opponents, as they demanded this week?

Florida Fly-by More Show Biz than Science

The Governor fared no better in the Green Mountain Daily online, where J. V. Walt wrote:

my goodness, Governor Shumlin’s little Florida junket was a complete waste of time and the GBIC’s money, wasn’t it? The best he can hope for is that this event will be quickly forgotten. It certainly won’t change anyone’s mind, and it displayed one of Shummy’s less endearing political quirks — his inability to appear plausibly concerned with the opinions of people who disagree with him.

None of those opposed to basing the F-35 in Vermont were even invited on the trip, even though those opponents include lawyers, engineers, legislators, and a retired Air Force colonel who was a Pentagon planner for years.  That’s Rosanne Greco, chair of the South Burlington city council that has twice voted (by 4-1 and 4-0) to oppose basing an advanced war machine in a residential neighborhood in Vermont’s most densely populated area.

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger went on the Florida trip and commented that “there is a good deal of conflicting information out there,” without giving any indication of what he’d been doing to resolve those conflicts, or sort out opinion from information.  Weinberger has been reflexively but not knowledgeably supporting of the warplane.  The Burlington City Council appears divided and has so far taken a position of needing more information.

Winooski Mayor Playing Hamlet-of-the-F-35

That’s the same position taken by the Winooski City Council, whose mayor Michael O’Brien was the only official who travelled to Florida without having previously taken a position of public support for the F-35.  Winooski is in the airport flight path and O’Brien says he still hasn’t made up his mind, although Green Mountain Daily reported his geeky side in play at Eglin AFB:

Winooski Mayor and amateur audiologist Mike O’Brien, the only F-35 agnostic on the trip, performed a scienterrific evaluation of the noise with his iPad. Which unfortunately showed the F-35 blasting 114 decibels to the F-16′s 101. (Decibels are logarithmic units, so a difference of 13 dB is quite substantial.) And then he proceeded to make excuses: the F-35 may have seemed louder because it flew closer to him.  

According to the Centers for Disease Control, it’s unhealthy to be exposed to sound at 106 dB for as little as four minutes.  The CDC also notes that “for every 3db the energy doubles.”  That suggests that O’Brien’s measurement of a 13 dB difference, if correct, represents a fourfold doubling of the sound.

According to the Air Force environmental impact study it takes sound of only 65 dB to create an area “unsuitable for residential use.”

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