Right in character: F-35 fails latest test

Look up in the sky! It is a bird or even superman —  but not an F-35. The troubled new jet fighter scheduled to be deployed to Burlington International Airport in 2019 continued right in character — performing poorly.f35csmp1

“The Air Force attempted two alert launch procedures during the Mountain Home deployment, where multiple F-35A aircraft were preflighted and prepared for a rapid launch, but only one of the six aircraft was able to complete the alert launch sequence and successfully takeoff,” the Pentagon’s top weapons tester disclosed in written testimony to Congress on 26 April.

Under development for 15 years the F-35 program has set records burning through $400 billion of our tax dollars. Currently the cost per aircraft is estimated to be of $412 million. And after all that time and money, the results of the recent deployment test are probably the last thing supporters of deployment to Vermont –notably Senators Leahy and Sanders, Rep. Peter Welch, Gov. Shumlin, and Mayor Miro Weinberger — want to hear.

Glitches that required system and/or aircraft shutdown and restarts that prevented launches were blamed on “immature software.”

For now at least, the F-35 is a fully mature employment program for some defense contractors. Currently these aircraft at one base require 60-90 industry tech reps per squadron. And in Senate testimony just last week Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan said the program needs about 2,600 people to oversee it at a cost of $70 million per year. One Senator said he had numbers indicating it was nearly 3,000 people and $300 million a year.

Now, seven years since its first flight hour, the F-35 has reached the 50,000 flight hours mark.  Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, F-35 Joint Program Executive Officer: “The next 50,000 hours will be achieved much quicker as we double the size of the F-35 fleet worldwide in the next three years alone.”

The 50,000 flight hours are comprised of two categories: System Development and Demonstration flights (SDD)  test hours (12,050) and Operational flying hours (37,950).  Therefore, the total for Operational flight hours is only 37,950 hours-about a quarter less than the total flight hours of 50,000.

When he was defending the safety of deployment to Vermont in 2013, Lt. Col. Chris Caputo said the new fighter would have 750,000 flight hours before it comes to Burlington in 2019. A lot more F-35’s will have to be flying  and an awful lot of Operational flight time (700,000) will have to be logged in three years if the Vermont Air Guard is  to receive a plane that meets that goal.

Another question for the brass hats — and the F-35 cheerleaders –how realistic (or affordable) is reaching that goal in three years considering all the “glitches” and “bugs” haunting the aircraft?

A GMD bonus fun-fact:

Lockheed Martin was the biggest federal contract in 2014, Lockheed’s Pentagon contracts alone are worth more than the federal government provides in grants to the state governments of North Dakota, South Dakota, New Hampshire, Vermont, Delaware, Wyoming, Montana, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Idaho, and Alaska combined.

A new ‘Zion” for Vermont?

Thanks to GMD reader, Jennifer Shaw for suggesting the topic and providing a timely link.

With the Q-Burke development scandal still playing out, attention should be directed toward another uber-ambitious development plan, by one David Hall of Utah, that has so far seen limited public discussion.

Here’s the latest skinny, as carried on AP:

“SHARON, Vt. — A Mormon Utah businessman who wants to build a massive, futuristic, utopia-like community in central Vermont says he’s about to buy 500 more acres of land for the project, bringing his total to about 1,400 acres.”

The plan is to build a massive community reflecting the founder of the Church of Latter Day Saints, Joseph Smith’s 1833 concept for a city called ‘Zion.’

To build this city, Hall aims to acquire a total of 5,000 acres of land in south-central Vermont. Clearly, once this current purchase is complete, he will be well on his way to the full acquisition and will have increased credibility with potential investors.

The proposed utopian development Hall envisions will include housing for 20,000 people, plus offices, gardens, forty-eight basketball courts and 48 Olympic size swimming pools! That works out to one pool and one basketball court for roughly every four-hundred residents.

With all that planned recreational real estate, I’ll bet Hall dreams of the rebellious youth of his ideal community sweating out their trouble-making on the court or in the pool.

The idea is that the community should be self-sustaining (nothing wrong with that), producing sufficient food, jobs etc. to support all the occupants. How exactly that can be accomplished is yet to be fleshed-out, but with a timeline of “several decades” to work out the details, and a whole lot of money, Mr. Hall seems to think his dream could become a reality.

I wonder what kind of local permitting conversations are going on about that now? Act 250 alone should be a formidable challenge but we’ve all seen projects that should not have, by any reasonable understanding of Act 250, been permitted under the existing laws, but somehow managed to squeak through.

We have become so accustomed to the truism that ‘growth’ is the solution to all of our problemsthat some small communities have ceased to question whether it is indeed true in their case. It’s difficult to believe that a place as lovely as Sharon could be ripe for exploitation, but that’s apparently what Mr. Hall is relying upon. After all, someone is selling him the land.

At the right price, he observed, “Everything’s for sale.”

This proposal should ring alarm bells for anyone who recognizes the importance of preserving the open spaces and village character of rural Vermont, desirable qualities that are in extremely short supply everywhere else in America.

A city incorporated under Hall’s vision would be technologically very advanced but somewhat lacking in opportunities for individuality.

“In Hall’s “city,” people would live in energy-efficient modular homes within walking distances of heavy industry, farms and a central square consisting of 24 four-story buildings. Residents would deposit their assets in a communal fund upon arrival, though they’d be free to leave whenever.”

Vermont is now the most non-religious state in the Union. We pride ourselves on tolerance, but the majority of us prefer a personal spiritual journey to one that has been organized by others.

Even though Mr. Hall insists that the community would not be religiously exclusive, it is doubtful that the arrangement would attract many people outside the Mormon faith; and such a massive new enclave of homogenity is hardly going to enrich Vermont’s already feeble diversity.

I suspect that many Vermonters will hesitate to criticize the plan, lest they appear insensitive to a religious minority, but there is much to criticize about such a huge shift in land use away from rural, low-density uses, toward intense human habitation with all the environmental impacts that accompany such a change. Lawns, gardens, swimming pools, toilets and dishwashers all take their toll on the watershed. So do acres of concrete and new roads to service 20,000 new residents.

I say ‘new residents’ because there are currently only about forty-five hundred Mormons living in Vermont, and it is unlikely that all of them wish to up-stakes and move into a planned community.

20,000 people is greater than the population of South Burlington, Vermont’s second largest city.    All of Windsor County is only 56,000 people.

I’d like to hear from our readers who live in Windsor County what their thoughts are on Mr. Hall’s plans. Is this a change you can envision for your region?

Trump struts upon stage and the GOP frets

The Republicans are still digesting the news of Donald J. Trump’s latest primary wins. And for now they seem to be in disarray — and it’s ugly. How ugly is it? Well, former Speaker of the House John Boehner (R, Orangeland) must be smelling sulphur, as he thinks fellow Republican  candidate Senator Ted Cruz  is the devil in red or “Lucifer in the flesh”  as he claims.

On a less metaphysical level, a recent Roll Call’s Capitol Insiders Survey shows rising Republican pessimism about election prospects:

A majority of the GOP staffers who responded to the April survey now expect either Donald Trump or Texas Sen. Ted Cruz to win the party’s nomination and nearly half of them —  a solid plurality —  think the Republican nominee will lose.trumpdigest

And with Trump likely the one at the top of the ticket, fears that the GOP will suffer losses in Senate races and that their majority in the House may shrink are growing rapidly.

GOP fretting about the Senate majority has grown throughout the year. When CQ Roll Call asked aides in January, only 28 percent of Republican respondents were worried. That rose to 45 percent in March, and now it’s nearly half. By contrast, this month only 37 percent of the Republicans said they expected their side to maintain control.

Any hopes that incumbent Congressional Republicans have for passing major legislation to aid their coming campaigns before the election are apparently slim.

They [congressional staff] gave the best shot to pending legislation that would revamp criminal sentencing rules. And even on that they are not hopeful. Only a quarter of the aides said they expected Congress to act. That compares to nearly 4 in 10 when CQ Roll Call asked about the issue in December.

Now, as Trump struts on stage and the GOP frets, it could it spell tragedy not comedy on a dramatic scale. You know, err… with the GOP lead by a poor player, an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.

Automatic voter registration comes to Vermont

For those (like Jon Margolis of VTDigger) who do not believe in the possibility of positive changes in the electoral process, Vermont now has a powerful rejoinder:

Automatic Voter Registration.

While other states are busy finding ways to circumvent the inconvenience of democracy by disenfranchising more and more people, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin signed into law H.458, which automatically registers to vote any driver in the state who obtains a valid driver’s license.

A measure so simple even a child might suggest it, automatic voter registration tied to driver’s licenses has only so far been adopted in Oregon, California and West Virginia (!)…and now Vermont.

At the signing, Governor Shumlin had this to say about the significance of the bill and the key role that Secretary of State Jim Condos has played in advocating for its adoption:

“While states across the country are making it harder for voters to get to the polls, Vermont is making it easier by moving forward with commonsense polices that remove unnecessary barriers and increase participation in our democracy,” said Gov. Shumlin. “I would like to thank Secretary Condos who has long championed important electoral reforms to help more Vermonters exercise this fundamental right to vote.”

To which Secretary Condos responded:

“As Vermont’s Secretary of State, I believe voting is a sacred right – one we must protect and encourage by removing unnecessary barriers. Automatic Voter Registration saves time and money, increases the accuracy of our statewide voter checklist, curbs the potential for fraud, and protects the integrity of our elections,” said Secretary Condos. “AVR saves time and money, increases the accuracy of our statewide voter checklist, curbs the potential for fraud, and protects the integrity of our elections.”

The most progressive state in the Union, Vermont already enjoys the distinction of being among the states with the highest rate of voter registration, per capita; and has permitted same-day voter registration since 2015.

Even though Automatic Voter Registration will not come into effect until 2017; when it does, it is expected to increase the volume of new voter registrations by 30,000-50,000 within the first four years of its adoption.

Now that really IS change we can believe in.

 

A movement, not just a campaign.

Not surprisingly, Bernie Sanders intends to remain fully engaged in the primary process right to the end. He has promised to focus on the issues, which suggests he may feel he’s devoted as much energy as he is prepared to invest in Hillary Clinton’s record.

If Democratic voters haven’t followed the bouncing ball of her reluctance to disclose the content of paid Wall Street speeches to its obvious conclusion yet, there’s little hope in this election cycle that they will. Likewise the implications of her judgement on Iraq, Libya, “Free” trade agreements, criminal justice etc. etc.

Faced with the seemingly insurmountable challenge of winning at the delegate game, Bernie needs to use his bully pulpit in the remaining primaries to advocate strictly on policy issues. The relatively few months that were available to him to introduce himself to the entire U.S. voter population and bring media attention to the issues about which he cares most deeply, were never going to be enough to realize a complete revolution in the Democratic Party, and now they are drawing to a close.

Bernie himself acknowledged that to the people who flocked to his rallies, from the very first one which we were privileged to witness in Burlington. A single election cycle would never be sufficient to change the politics that have condemned the U.S. to growing income inequities,declining opportunities, social injustice and the quashing influence of big money on any possibility of meaningful reform.

His candidacy is the vanguard of a new political movement that is still evolving on the left in the footprints left by Occupy Wall Street. It’s adherents are mostly younger, with much of their voting life ahead of them. If the Democratic party fails once again to live up to the progressive expectations of this base, like the Republicans before them, they can look forward to declining influence as young voters demand effective third and fourth party options within the primary process.

I look forward to the day when someone challenges the constitutionality of closed primaries in a voting system already dominated by two monopolies.

In the meantime, we are left with what can only be thought of as a caricature of democratic choice as reflected in the two likely nominees.

On the one hand, we have Donald Trump, a narcissistic billionaire, whom we can safely say will be the most unqualified nominee for President in the history of the office.

On the other hand, we have Hillary Clinton, a career politician and multi-millionaire, who, based solely on experience, must be one of the most qualified candidates in recent memory. Unfortunately, that experience is blotted both by her meathead of a husband’s own famously poor judgement, and costly mistakes that she herself has made in an official capacity.

Though jubilant at their almost certain victories in the nomination process, both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton share the distinction of being the most unpopular candidates in either party… practically, ever!

Each is also campaigning under a false flag of ideology: Donald Trump insists he is a Conservative, but his positions are rarely conservative in any sense of the word. They range from neo-facist, through cracker-conservative, all the way to conventionally ‘liberal.’

Hillary Clinton’s own politics have mirrored those of her husband and surrogate Bill, who was more right of center than left when he held the reigns of power. She now styles herself a “progressive” with Bernie’s personal comb. Since her days in the White House, she’s remained pretty much dead center with a dash of social liberalism, hawkishly veering right on many foreign policy issues. One gets the impression that the very word “progressive” was anathema to her until Bernie rolled into town and started getting all the attention.

The distrust for Hillary that is felt by some of Bernie’s supporters stems from her inconsistency over the years and her reluctance to ‘fess up to glaring errors in judgement.

In fairness, if Donald Trump were running for ‘President of American Enterprise,’ the only higher office for which he might arguably be qualified, he would be dogged by his own equally glaring failures of judgement over the years.

The fact remains that, all things being equal, come election day, American voters will be limited in their choice to a highly competent but ethically challenged Hillary Clinton or that wholly incompetent, wholly unpredictable, self-serving loose-canon, Donald Trump.

She might say one thing now and then do something else once in the Oval Office.

…But with Trump as Commander in Chief? There is a real possibility that he might wake up one morning feeling petulant over a sleight  by some other bellicose demagogue, and exercise his command of the nuclear codes.

I’ll hold my nose and vote for the competent, sane choice every time.

Get to the bottom

It has been a busy week since the SEC locked up Q-Burke and cracked down on Stenger and Quiros’ “Ponzi like” EB-5 scheme.

One thing that has grabbed a lot of attention is a “batch” of emails from the Shumlin administration that had been slated to be deleted.  Speculation is rampant about the timing – why in early April, prior to the SEC action, this batch of correspondence was slated to be wiped.EB-5 chart 1

They reportedly may contain correspondence between Shumlin’s former staff member Alex MacLean, who was then working for Jay Peak’s Bill Stenger, and the governor’s office. Administration officials say the request to delete was routine. And they want them made public however Attorney General Sorrell is said to be reviewing the issue.

Now The Vermont House has scheduled a debate for Friday to consider a proposed resolution calling for the release of the emails, joining several candidates for governor and others requesting the contents be made available to the public.

Rep. Chris Pearson (P-Burlington), who heads the House Progressive caucus, says there’s an easy way to put to rest any lingering questions.

“I agree with a whole lot of Vermonters that something seems very fishy here,” he said. “But I’m not asserting anything. I’m saying: Show us the emails and prove it to us.”

To that end, he and four fellow Progressives have introduced a resolution asking Shumlin to deliver the emails to a House committee by May 1.

Maybe it is worth asking this: Is it more likely the email batch is simply an embarrassment (a big one perhaps) for the Shumlin administration, or could it be a smoking gun?  I’d bet on embarrassment over smoking gun. So good: “show us the emails” because the longer it hangs fire the more suspicion gathers.

But if the point is to get to the bottom of how the state allowed this Ponzi scheme to happen, why not start at the bottom rather than the top?

Not exactly the bottom, but how about at the state Agency of Commerce and Community Development(ACCD). This would be the state agency that had the schizophrenic task of promotion and oversight of approved EB-5 programs until February 2015 when oversight began to be shared actively with the Department of Financial Regulation (DFR).

The ACCD’s directors of the Regional EB-5 Center for both the Douglas and Shumlin administrations had day-to-day dealings and traveled extensively overseas in support of Jay Peak and Q-Resorts’ team.

In their designated role former Regional Center Directors James Candido (Douglas’ man) and  Brent Raymond (Shumlin’s former Director) were the faces Vermont presented to foreign investors. Their attendance at worldwide EB-5 conventions signaled Vermont‘s stamp of approval for Jay Peak /Q-Burke, helping  Stenger and Quiros gather funds.

Considering the scale of fraud alleged could state officials so familiar with the operation not have expressed some worries or had suspicions? And just what was the calculus that weighed in favor of ignoring the tell-tale signs, of favoring the developers-cum (alleged) robber barons over their responsibilities to the people of Vermont and the (alleged) foreign-investor-victims?

At some point Vermont’s  combination “watchdog” and enabling agency – going back to the Douglas daze – deserves as much or more attention than Shumlin’s batch of emails is now getting. The Regional EB-5 Center was there helping sell the snake oil from the start. What did the directors know and when might they have known it ?

Zuckerman Claims Key Endorsement

With the New York primary, we’ve just had an object lesson in the fallibility of the national “two party system.”

What better time to celebrate the candidacy for lieutenant governor of perennial Progressive (that’s, with a large ‘P’) Senator David Zuckerman of Chittenden County, who is running as a Democrat in the primary?

And celebrate we should, since Mr. Zuckerman has just received the notable endorsement of former Lieutenant Governor Doug Racine. While a respected Democrat throughout his years in office, Racine was enthusiastically endorsed by Vermont’s Progressive Party in his own primary run against Peter Shumlin (and three others) for Governor in 2010.

Senator Zuckerman gained the endorsement of Brandon Riker, who was himself a candidate, when Mr. Riker announced his departure from the race in March.  A successful sustainable farmer, Zuckerman has also been endorsed by environmental advocate Bill McKibben.

Now, only Senator Zuckerman and Rep. Keisha Ram, also of Burlington, remain to compete for the Democratic nomination.

Boots Wardinski (P) is also running for Lt. Governor, but under the Progressive banner.

The ironic lesson in civics from the national primary race has a faint echo here in Vermont.

Senator Zudkerman has a good chance of winning the general election against Republican Randy Brock, who has already tried and failed to defend his seat as Auditor of Accounts in 2006 and lost the governor’s race in 2012. However, Zukerman shrewdly grasped that, in order to not suffer attacks for being a ‘spoiler,’ he must necessarily compete as a Democrat.

I well understand that decision because I am a big ‘P’ Progressive who counts herself lucky to be given any choice at all in the primary. I’m supporting Dave Zuckerman, not because of his party affiliation, but simply because I believe he is the best choice to defeat Randy Brock and bring some substance to the office of Lieutenant Governor that has too long been little more than a convenient staging area for Republicans contemplating a run for the roses.

Unlike current Lt. Governor Phil Scott (R), who used his opportunity as a Senate tie-breaker to kill a bill that would have protected Vermont children from toxins, we can trust David Zuckerman to put community health and the environment before corporate interests.

RIP: Two-Party “System”

The Democratic primary is beginning to descend into more or less the same hell as is the Republican primary.

Are we approaching the final act of the two party system? Isn’t it about time?

In the U.S., we’re given to enshrining arbitrary social constructs, such as capitalism=good and socialism=bad, in the pantheon of sacred truisms that simply will not be challenged. The primacy of our two party system is one of those enshrined assumptions that deserves renewed scrutiny.

This system emerged in the infancy of our nation when its population was more or less homogenous and the practical value of cooperation was pretty generally accepted.

While growth and economic expansion was the primary goal of the young nation, unbridled immigration was a way to maintain a cheap labor force and gain entrepreneurial preeminence in the modern world.

As the population inevitably grew more and more diverse, there was never any thought given to retooling the one-size fits all, conservative vs. liberal divide represented in the rigid two party system.

We limped along, giving one side and then the other control in pretty rapid succession, leaving more and more individual viewpoints out of the conversation or dissatisfied with the available parameters.

Polarization within the two parties and distrust of government has resulted in a crippled process.

The party system has come close to going off the rails on a few occasions, but the 2016 primary race has taken us to a new low, with both parties seeing meaningful challenges to the party elite from an unyielding base on the perimeter.

‘Closed’ primaries, superdelegates, coin-tosses and all the rest are reflections of how undemocratic and arbitrary the two party system is. Somehow, these two ‘clubs’ have been allowed to seize the system, and because they are autonomous unto themselves, they are allowed to make all their own rules. Anyone who wants to play must join one of the two clubs or be reviled as a spoiler.

Sometimes, as in the case of the New York primary, it’s made very difficult for independents to gain a vote in either club.

While a closed primary may protect the establishment candidate on his/her path to the nomination, in the long run, it doesn’t do the party any favors. Independents can and will vote in the general election, so taking their preference into consideration in the primary would seem to be an essential first move.

We frown on business monopolies but have surrendered our democracy to a similar scheme.

Now we have come rather abruptly to the logical conclusion of such exclusivity, with both parties moving to opposite polls and gridlock resulting in Congress.  There is no possibility of coalition, as there is in the Canadian Parliament where several parties successfully compete and collaborate in the process.

If we gain nothing more toward reforming the election process, job one should of course be  reversing the Citizens United decision. Job two? Challenge the constitutionality of closed primaries.  In a nation where the majority of voters identify as ‘independents,’ closed primaries represent good ol’ fashion voter suppression.

Aren’t we better than this?

Former Governor Jim Douglas goes to John!

John Kasich’s presidential campaign that is.  Former Governor Jim Douglas has officially endorsed John Kasich and joined his Vermont Leadership Team. Douglas joins Vermont State senators Peg Flory (R-Rutland), Kevin Mullin (R-Rutland), and Rich Westman (R-Lamoille) who signed on to the Ohio Governor’s campaign earlier.

In his statement Douglas said: “Among the candidates left standing, only John Kasich demonstrates the leadership ability needed in the Oval Office. From balancing the budget in Washington to turning Ohio’s economy around, he knows how to solve problems and he knows how to bring people together.”

Before becoming governor Kasich was a Newt Gingrich Republican in Congress for nineteen years, with a brief spell prior to becoming governor earning big bucks  at Lehman Brothers (before they went belly-up). kasichthewall

Curiously Kasich says if elected president he would try to reunite Pink Floyd for a concert.

(What is it with Republicans and walls?)

 

And how about that record the Ohio Governor has that Douglas admires? In brief here are four items thinkprogress.com singled out from his time as Governor.

~ Enacted sweeping tax cuts that devastated Ohio’s poor.

~ Signed a budget that included restrictive anti-choice measures.

~ Dealt a blow to labor by supporting pro-business legislation.

~ Pushed through charter school reform while ignoring failing schools.

And Progress Ohio Executive Director Sandy Theis says bluntly:

“John Kasich is nowhere near as likable or as moderate as he makes out, and I think it won’t take long for that to become apparent in this campaign. He’s a flash in the pan,”

Sounds as if Jim Douglas has lot in common with Governor Kasich — except the Pink Floyd thing.

But who’s gonna tell Donald Trump and Ted Cruz they lost Governor Douglas’ and Vermont State Sen. Peg Flory’s coveted endorsement?

Scott to visit community affected by toxic chemicals

Republican gubernatorial candidate Phil Scott will attend, according to his published schedule the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation community meeting for residents of Bennington, North Bennington, and Shaftsbury.

When the PFOA well contamination first came to light, Lt. Gov. Scott initially referred to the contamination as a “spill” and did not mention monitoring private or public wells and only suggested “We should start by helping municipalities upgrade systems to prevent spills of raw sewage and untreated wastewater.”

I’d be surprised if Scott has any legislative recommendations to propose that might help prevent a disaster like this happening to Vermont families. That is because the Lt. Gov. had a chance in 2015 to improve regulation of toxic chemicals and chose not to.Philscottphilscott

Scott cast a tie breaking vote last session in the legislature that killed a bill designed to expanded existing rules governing chemicals allowed in children’s toys. The lieutenant governor said he sided with the business community, which opposed the changes, so as not to create uncertainty for them.

No small irony then that he is on the road today to campaign …err I mean to visit a community suffering from toxic chemical exposure. I wonder if Scott would go back and change his veto on chemicals in children’s toys -or maybe he just hopes voters won’t look back too far at his record on chemical regulation.