No joke. A little innovative thinking and economic calculation, and someone has come up with a model in Niagara Falls that could restore the U.S. economy and every economy influenced by it, not to mention the natural environment and what's left of our miserable souls.
The Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station has long been an economic drain (military spending produces fewer jobs than energy or education or infrastructure spending or even tax cuts), an environmental disaster (with the ground poisoned, what can replace this airport?), and a symbol of corruption (with the military trying to get rid of it, Congress members have insisted on keeping the base around as a make-work jobs program protected from charges of Socialism purely by its connection to war).
Charley Bowman of the Western New York Peace Center has come up with an idea that could generate jobs, increase the area's clean energy production by 60% (and that's saying something in a place already benefitting from a fairly largish waterfall), avoid killing anybody anywhere in the world, and last as long as the sun shines, rather than as long as the Pentagon pigs out. (Playing along with the general pretense that the Pentagon is already facing big cuts may be a strategic move in getting these sorts of projects going, but the Pentagon is almost guaranteed to really face enormous cuts before the sun does.)
Bowman's idea is to cover the airport with solar panels. Covering 8 million square meters would produce 546 ongoing jobs maintaining the panels, plus power for 110,000 homes. Bowman has laid out various options and their costs and savings. The cost to the public would be no more than we now spend. Instead of one more military airport, we'd have all that clean energy and a model for the country showing how to develop a local economy. (What locality in this country doesn't have a military boondoggle that could be put to better use?) And if we kill fewer Pakistanis and Yemenis and Afghans and Iranians and Somalis in the process, generating a bit less hatred for our country, who's going to complain? The newly employed? I doubt it. Those benefitting from the clean electricity? We're talking about much of Western New York being powered by sunshine via panels that make a lot less noise and air pollution than military jets. We could try this in Eastern New York and Northern Pennsylvania and Southern Massachusetts, and " 110,000 houses here, 110,000 houses there, and pretty soon you're talking real money.
Does this solution make sense? Does it in fact make so much sense as to threaten the Pentagon's bureaucrats? "Bureaucrat" is, of course, a French term meaning "We'll do things the way we've always done things even if it kills you." Never fear, bureaucrats! The Secretary of War is on the case. Leon Panetta, who 20 years ago favored exactly the kind of conversion proposed by Bowman, swooped in to the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station on August 9th waving around giant bags of cash. "We're committed to maintaining this base for the future," Panetta said. "It's important geographically, it's important to our mission going forward." Aha! Bet you didn't see that coming! We need an Air Reserve base in Niagara Falls to hold off the Canadian menace and suppress the growing violence between New York and Ohio. It's the geographic importance! Or Congresswoman Kathleen Hochul is a Democrat. One or the other. The solar lobby just doesn't buy campaigns the way war and oil profiteers do. Bowman is proposing 546 jobs at $50,000 each, but for a mere $52,950 total dumped into Hochul's campaigns (according to OpenSecrets.org), the "defense" industry seems to have out-bid him.
Senator Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., ($194,403) has come to the principled conclusion that the base should remain a military base, and the Pentagon should figure out some way to waste money on it. Schumer assures us that Panetta is a "thoughtful, perceptive and caring" man who understands the base's importance to the Western New York economy, according to the Buffalo News. But, Panetta warns, if Congress doesn't undo by next January the "cuts" to the military that it passed last year, heads will roll, jobs will be axed, and Western New York will be forced to employ more people at a lower cost while generating clean energy for its residents. Are you scared yet? Panetta's dire warning of $487 billion in cuts is, as he sometimes mentions, "over 10 years." This means that the cuts sound bigger if you multiply them by 10. That's all it means. The annual cuts are $48 billion. But not really, because the cuts are smaller while Panetta and his boss are actually around, with most of the cuts pushed off into the latter part of the 10-year period. On top of which, the cuts are to dream budgets, not to actual budgets. Panetta's teasing of the people of Niagara Falls (You'll lose your jobs! You'll keep your jobs! You'll lose your jobs!) is the equivalent of Lockheed Martin's sending out phony pink slips to scare its workers, and both are the equivalent of a hot steaming pile of what comes out the far side of a well-fed bull.
Following Panetta's shakedown of Western New York for the war profiteers in Northern Virginia, Charley Bowman responded:
"The August 9 performance at the Niagara Falls Air Base by our elected representatives -- and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta -- can be summed up: jobs at the air base are only available through war or military research. They should know better. Following a 'lengthy' speech about the need for defense cuts, Panetta promised the frantic search will continue to discover a new military mission for the air base. His intended message was: no third world country is off limits, as we continue our struggle in the war on terror. With serious expressions on their faces, Schumer, Hochul and [Congressman Brian ($52,500)] Higgins nodded in agreement. Secretary Panetta did bring $6 million with him saying a flight simulator will be built at the air base. None of our elected leaders brought up the fact that flight simulation does not need a functioning airport. Such simulation could be done just as well in an urban setting, such as Buffalo's East Side or downtown Niagara Falls. (During the 2.5 hour long vigil outside the Niagara Falls Air Base that day, I counted 3 planes landing -- barely surpassing the flight activity at grass landing strips in rural Western N.Y.)"