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The People versus the Military-Industrial Complex

3-year campaign comes to a head this Monday

The improbable campaign against the basing of the F-35 in Burlington began as early as 2010.

That year, a local official described himself to a Seven Days reporter as “100 percent receptive” to having F-35s at Burlington International.  He infamously said, “I hear the noise the F-16 makes, I think it’s exciting.  I think it’s part of being in a lively community. If you want quiet all the time, you should move to Montgomery.”

This was Gene Richards, a former chair of the Burlington-run Airport Commission—who has now been promoted to Airport Director.  Media reports described Richards as a local mortgage broker, banker, and real estate entrepreneur.  Regional officials, downtown business leaders, airline representatives, and the Vermont National Guard all endorsed Richard’s nomination by Burlington Mayor Weinberger to Airport Director. He has no doubt continued to work closely with Mayor Weinberger and other F-35 boosters, including the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation, the Chamber of Commerce, and Commercial Real Estate baron Ernie Pomerleau.  All these boosters share 2 things in common: They all stand to economically or politically benefit from the basing, and they all had taken for granted they can decide important matters like the F-35 basing without public involvement and without suffering any of the negative impacts.


The campaign against the F-35 basing has proved them wrong on these last points.  Recently, Mayor Weinberger used an incomplete and one-sided legal opinion from his City Attorney to launch into an attack on F-35 opponents for spreading “inaccuracies”.  It should be understood as an act of desperation.  Weinberger and the warplane’s chief advocate in Vermont, Senator Leahy, both claim they have no role to play in the basing decision.


But we know that Senator Leahy directly intervened to secure the preliminary basing decision even though the Air Force wanted to base the plane elsewhere.


And then, Burlington Mayor Weinberger rushed to embrace a position for the City that contends that the military has total discretion on the F-35 basing despite the devastating environmental consequences.  In other words, he is happy with the legal and anti-democratic equivalent of a military dictatorship as long as the F-35 basing can proceed.  Fortunately, his legal understanding is as lacking as his principles, and the City Council will vote on a legally supported resolution to bar the basing on October 28th.


This is a campaign that we can fairly call “The People versus the Military-Industrial  (Congressional-Real Estate) Complex”.  We are where we are today due to the efforts of thousands of people fighting for dignity, democracy, safety, their homes, and their health, against a group of elites with bottomless pockets and a self-interested drive to suppress dissent and truth about the F-35 basing, as well as the boondoggle program itself.


This week in a Burlington media conference, international critic Pierre Sprey talked about the “spin-meisters” at the top ranks of the Vermont Air National Guard.  Pierre Sprey is a defense analyst who spent 20 years working at the Pentagon.  Sprey was part of the team that initiated and designed the F-16 and brought it to fruition.  He is a leading international expert on and critic of the F-35, which he describes as “inherently a terrible airplane” and describes the real mission of the plane being to send money to Lockheed Martin.


An Air Guard pilot told the press that the Guard has “an entire PR department” to respond to Mr. Sprey.  The local F-35 boosters have spent many $100,000’s on media, advertising, and the Green Ribbons for the F35—all doing their best to turn this issue into a patriotic litmus test rather than a decision about human rights and priorities.  The Mayor’s office, the Congressional offices, and the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation all have professional staff working at taxpayer expense to promote the basing.  We have hundreds of volunteers, credit cards, and a shoestring budget.  Despite the odds, we are planning to make history on October 28th when the Burlington City Council votes to bar the basing.  An amended resolution will be introduced that has been vetted by the City Attorney.  This is one of the most important local decisions of a generation.  This is a fight not only against a disastrous basing plan, but also for basic democracy:  a community trying to protect itself from the ravaging priorities of the military-industrial  (Congressional-real estate) complex.  On Monday, there will be a rally at Burlington City Hall at 5:15 pm – “People Before Planes”—and the City Council public hearing on the resolution begins at 6:00 pm.  Come to express your support for priorities that support human rights and the planet.

–Paul Fleckenstein, Burlington