What happens when the lives of citizens get in the way of political egos?

The politics of American imperialism are alive and well in Vermont, where elected officials are defending the military-industrial war-making machine against voters who reject ruling class priorities. At the symbolic center of this democratic confrontation is the notorious F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the world’s most expensive weapons system, designed to kill in many ways, including a nuclear first strike. And the few times Vermonters have had the chance to vote, they’ve voted against basing this loud, health-harming, housing-destroying offensive war machine in the state’s most densely populated area. Now it’s coming to a head in a people versus career politicians face-off.

At a Town Meeting on March 6, Burlington voters chose, by a 55% majority, to ask the Air Force to base the F-35 in some other state. On March 26, the Burlington City Council, by a 9-3 vote, forwarded that request to Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson to “replace the planned basing of the F-35 with a basing of a low-noise-level plane with a proven high safety record….” For whatever reason, the council request left out the rest of the ballot resolution’s request: “… proven high safety record appropriate for a densely populated area” (perhaps because that densely populated area is NOT Burlington). The City Council asked Secretary Wilson to respond by May 1.

Vermont’s quisling Congressional delegation – Democratic senator Patrick Leahy, Independent senator Bernie Sanders, and Democratic congressman Peter Welch – made what looks like a cheap shot effort to influence the council vote at the last minute. Late on the afternoon of March 26, Vermont’s “representatives” issued a joint statement saying they stood by their years of pushing for the F-35 basing at the Burlington Airport, which is in South Burlington (which has no voice in the decision).

Unable to justify their decision, the Vermont delegation stonewalls

Consistent with the delegation’s past behavior, their pro-F-35 statement addressed none of the substantive issues, and none of the three would answer questions from the media. The imperious attitude of these three is also consistent with the rest of Vermont’s bi-partisan leadership for the past decade. They have all behaved with imperial detachment, refusing to ask sensible questions, refusing to listen to opponents in any field (medical, educational, social, even military). They continue to act as if this were an imperial polity, in which they announce their decision, refuse to explain it or justify it, but expect everyone else to accept it. For Vermont, this anti-democratic policy-making has worked surprisingly effectively for a surprisingly long time.

And it’s not over yet. Before the city council resolution can go to the Air Force, Burlington mayor Miro Weinberger has to sign off on it, and the notoriously weaselly Democrat continues to ponder what, if anything, he will do in accord with the clear wish of his voters. Although the F-35 issue is many years old, Weinberger hasn’t indicated what new concerns could possibly be troubling him. He has till April 16 to sign or veto the resolution. In the event of a veto, the city council’s 9-3 vote would be enough for an override, if the votes hold.

As Mayor, Weinberger is at the crossroads of powerful contending forces. As a Democrat, he is among those talked about as a possible successor to Senators Welch and Sanders as they age out of office. How he goes on the F-35 could alienate either the Vermont electorate or the Democratic establishment and its military-industrial base, especially the vocal and endlessly self-serving Vermont Air National Guard. The mayor also owes his office partly to the power brokers of real estate and development in Burlington (that overlap with the Leahy circle).

Say it ain’t so, Bernie!

For Bernie Sanders to be aligned with forces he has railed against on the campaign trail is especially odd. When Sanders was Mayor of Burlington in the 1980s the city was affectionately known as “the People’s Republic of Burlington.” That was exaggeration for effect, but also reflected a basic human decency of the time and place. Now, as one Burlington voter put it at an F-35 hearing: “People have had enough of putting the interests of rich white dudes over average citizens.”

Sanders, whose record on issues of war and military has never been strong, is up for re-election this year (with no apparent opposition). He recently led a futile effort to get the Senate to pay attention to US participation in the US-Saudi genocidal war on Yemen, though he didn’t frame it that strongly. Why he has been so timid and quiet about the F-35 for all these years is a mystery. Like Leahy, Sanders voted for the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF), the legislation that still serves as the legal basis for all the wars the US is waging today. Only Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from Oakland, California, voted against that AUMF.

Like Sanders, Peter Welch is also up for re-election with a $2.1 million campaign fund already (he was unopposed in 2014). He hasn’t had serious opposition since 2006. This year Welch has two primary campaign opponents who have raised less than $30,000 between them. But Welch is also in the supposed line-of-succession for Vermont’s Senate seats, even though at 71 he is only slightly younger than Leahy, 77, and Sanders, 76. Welch’s official website says nothing whatsoever about the F-35, but he does have a 2013 story about his favoring regulation of private unmanned drones as a danger and a nuisance. Residents of South Burlington and Winooski might appreciate the irony of his unconcern for danger and nuisance that the F-35 will inflict on them.

All three members of Vermont’s Congressional delegation seem strangely unable or unwilling to challenge the political intimidation of the Vermont Air National Guard (VTANG). Their worshipful public adoration of VTANG is out of all proportion to any real-world accomplishments. VTANG, for reasons never satisfactorily explained, has fetishized the F-35, attempting to render it beyond criticism. But the Air Force never wanted to base the F-35 in South Burlington in the first place. Only the obsessive insistence of Leahy and guard leaders has brought it this close, and that requires considerable lying and disinformation along the way.

What did VTANG know and when did VTANG know it?

The city council’s March 26 resolution illustrates the dishonesty of the process that has surrounded the F-35 for years. The city council appends questions to its resolution that would not be questions at the end of a process that has any integrity. After years of supposed conscientious investigation by the Air Force and others, the city council still has no reliable information about how loud the F-35 is. The city council doesn’t know if there is an alternative mission for VTANG because VTANG says there’s not, but the Air Force has told the court there is (and common sense allows the obvious inference that the Air Force can make a new mission for VTANG any time it chooses). The city council doesn’t know what flying time the F-35 will have, what fuel it uses, or how dangerous its material components are to the environment. The city council is ignorant because the supporters of the F-35 have deliberately avoided objective, truthful answers to the hard questions. That’s the way it is in a corrupt system.

Have any of the responsible officials involved in the decision-making done due diligence on the F-35 over the past five years? Available evidence suggests not. They would rather force their totemic F-35 onto a community with no voice and take their chances with the consequences. Such political shuck and jive as the Vermont Congressional delegation, VTANG, the Pentagon, and others continue to peddle would be criminal negligence in any conscientious civil society.

Original at Reader Supported News: