Air Force F-35 boondoggle: Boon for officials in the VT boonies?

The Governor of Vermont and the Mayor of Burlington have decided to flaunt their sleazy behavior as they engage in a private, lobbyist-paid trip supported by a directly interested party in a charade of investigation designed to bring the F-35 boondoggle nuclear weapons system, to Vermont at the expense of the health, welfare, and homes of thousands of Vermonters.

That’s not exactly the way Governor Peter Shumlin put it at his news conference December 6 when he announced that he would be taking a trip to Florida, in a private jet paid for by the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation, to visit the Eglin Air Force Base, in order to listen personally to an F-35 nuclear-capable stealth fighter bomber that has created significant controversy in Vermont because of the Air Force’s potential plan to base the world’s most expensive weapons system in the midst of Vermont’s most populated area.

Accompanying the governor on the December 12 Florida trip, he said, would be Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger and Winooski Mayor Michael O’Brien.  All three elected officials are Democrats and the mayors endorsed the governor’s 2012 re-election.  Shumlin and Weinberger endorsed the F-35 as Burlington’s own WMD last May.

Although the F-35 would be based at the Burlington Airport in South Burlington if it comes to Vermont, the governor has excluded South Burlington officials from his Florida trip.  The South Burlington City Council recently voted unanimously to reaffirm its opposition to an F-35 base that would devastate the city.  City Council chair Rosanne Greco is a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and former Pentagon planner, whose concise and wide-ranging critique of the Air Force plans have gone unrefuted.

Vermont Governor plans trip with Air Force, lobbyists and interested parties, wants to make “informed” decision without talking to opponents of an F-35 nuclear fighter base that will destroy thousands of homes.

Air Force Stonewalls on Releasing Information

Rather than rebut Col. Greco’s analysis, the Air Force has so far chosen to stonewall requests for data on which its plans are supposedly based.    To date there has been almost no transparency to what is supposed to be a public review process.

Misrepresenting the nature of his trip at his news conference, Governor Shumlim said:

“I’m honored that it’s possible for me and the mayors of the cities – the closest cities – that would be impacted and others to listen to them”¦. Â Â  I do think when you’re making a decision of this magnitude it’s important that you know what you’re talking about.”

Besides ignoring the absence of anyone from the closest city, South Burlington, when the governor talked about “making a decision of this magnitude,” he was talking about a decision that was out of his hands and would be made by the Air Force and others at the Pentagon.  The Governor chose to rubber stamp the plan in an unofficial manner when the Air Force presented its environmental impact statement that, among other things, finds that the F-35 is twice as loud as the planes now based in South Burlington and that the impact of the base will render thousands of homes around the airport “unsuitable for residential use,” in the Air Force’s sanitized phrase.

“I think I owe it to Vermonters to listen to an F-35 as compared to an F-16 and see what it sounds like,” the governor said, without addressing his lack of training in sound engineering or any other relevant expertise.

Have Any Officials Read the Air Force Report? 

At the “F-35 in South Burlington” blogspot, longtime F-35 opponent Juliet Beth Buck suggested that if the governor wanted to be “informed,” he might read the Air Force’s environmental impact statement.  It is not clear whether the governor has read the report or not, but back in May he expressed “unconditional support” for the F-35 at the first hearing on the report, as reported in VTDigger blog, which has mostly stopped reporting on F-35 opposition.

On Vermont Public Radio, where the early online comments mocked the governor’s jaunt, the main story quoted Juliet Beth Buck:

“My first thought was, ‘Oh good. We have three people who know nothing about noise going somewhere to not measure noise and spend the taxpayers’ money doing it”¦.’  [Shumlin] is going to be standing up there with a large group of people who approve of this project. Nobody who’s opposed to this project is invited. Nobody who can actually evaluate the quality of that noise has been invited.”

While the Industrial Corporation has said it would pay the travel costs of about $23,000, none of the officials have yet said they would return a pro-rated part of their salaries, and any involvement of the Vermont National Guard or the Air Force would mean further expenditures of tax dollars on a one-sided travelling show.

Exploring the one-dimensional nature of the Florida contingent in Seven Days, Paul Heinz talked to the head of the Industrial Corporation, Frank Ciofffi, himself an ardent supporter of the F-35 who organized a misleading petition drive aimed at coercing the South Burlington City Council into backing down on facts he couldn’t disprove.  Asked about the make-up of his air show audience, Cioffi explained the deliberate omissions this way:

“Basically everyone on the South Burlington City Council has their mind made up one way or the other”¦.I didn’t invite them because their minds are made up already. They’ve already staked out their position and their position is their position.”

Contingent’s Pre-Trip Bias Goes Unexplained

Cioffi had no explanation why the trip includes so many people on record in favor of the F-35 – not only Shumlin and Weinberger, but National Guard Brig. Gen. Ernie Cray and Burlington real estate multi-millionaire Ernie Pomerleau. Â  The only member of the delegation who appears possibly outside the military-industrial complex is Winooski mayor O’Brien, whose city council passed a temporizing resolution several month ago, seeking “more information,” so it makes sense to head south with people who can offer both “information” and future campaign support.

When Heinz asked Col. Greco about her exclusion from the info-gathering expedition, she responded:

“I’d like to go only because I’d like to have the opportunity to sit down and talk with the governor and both mayors about the F-35”¦.  Going to hear aircraft in another location that is still in testing to see if I personally find the noise too loud, too soft, just right, is, I think, a waste of time.”

Bad faith permeates this dog-and-pony exercise, leaving the governor and other elected officials apparently thinking the public is stupid enough to accept a pointless “investigation” that is structurally anti-democratic and without intellectual integrity. Â  On the other hand, that’s not really new news.