Aiming to Shoot Down F-35 Stealth Bomber
By William Boardman -- Reader Supported News
Vermont Democrats remain solid military boondoggle boosters
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with conditional language -- things are "likely," "would likely mean," "would not seem to allow," "would likely be withdrawn," "appears," "seems likely," or "does not appear to apply," a style all very lawyerly.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.