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The Tentacles of Empire

by RON JACOBS

This past week the world watched while Chicago police and their allies militarized the city of Chicago as part of what was primarily a show of force.  The only “terrorists” arrested in the entire operation were three men who had filmed police harassing them earlier in the week.  They were arrested in what appears to be a setup.  Indeed, the first photographs of the supposed bombmaking equipment turned out to be photos of a homebrewing operation.  While there have been very few details regarding the arrests, the National Lawyers Guild is quite adamant that any other materials found in the domicile where the men were arrested were planted by police.  Meanwhile, despite months of threats and millions of dollars spent on police equipment and training, somewhere around 20,000 people turned up for the protests and were able to make their presence known.  Naturally, there was some taunting of police that was met by police nightsticks and fists, resulting in some very graphic video footage of bleeding protesters and angry cops.

Inside the meetings, the rulers of NATO congratulated themselves on their continued domination of the world and discussed how to extend the alliance’s reach.  In addition, discussions regarding how to maintain a presence in Afghanistan while pretending to withdraw were also held.  Although little has been said regarding some of NATO’s other plans, it seems fair to assume that meetings about China and Iran were also on the agenda.

Like tentacles of an imperialist kraken, the policies of control and domination epitomized by NATO were interjected into the tranquil state of Vermont the past couple of weeks.  The more belligerent of these policies concerns the stationing of the F-35—Washington’s latest testimony to waste and warfare—at the Burlington International Airport Air National Guard Terminal.  This plane, estimated to carry a lifetime price tag of $618 million per plane, is currently in production, with twelve of them currently stationed at Eglin Air Base in Florida.  The plane’s development and construction incorporated the top firms in the weapons industry, including Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, and Northrop Grumman.  It is capable of carrying quite an array of murderous hardware including, but not limited to, the AIM-9X Sidewinder, the Brimstone missile, Mk.20 Rockeye II cluster bombs, Paveway series laser-guided bombs, and the upcoming upgrade to US nuclear weaponry, the B61 nuclear bomb.

The discussions over the basing of some F-35s in Vermont have been going on for a few years.  Until recently, opposition has been muted.  However, as the deadline for a decision by the Pentagon gets closer, the opposition has grown louder.  Opponents’ exception to the planes is primarily based on the incredible noise these jets make and the proximity of the air base to populated areas.  Currently, F-22s fly on the paths that would be used by the F-35s and their noise is already quite disruptive.  As part of the environmental impact process, the military and other officials recently held a public hearing.  The hearing was stacked with members of the military and their families, local business people who would profit from the presence of the F-35s, and various school officials and regular citizens whose homes are in the flight path.  Most speakers were in favor of basing the planes in Burlington.  The only exceptions were some school teachers, administrators and officials and a few citizens. One exception among the school officials was the local Catholic college, who had a representative of the college’s President tell the crowd that the college welcomed the F-35s flying over campus.  As for the politicians of Vermont, every single one in Congress and in the Governor’s Mansion have come out in favor, with Bernie Sanders even going so far as to call the Pentagon’s decision a sign of “national respect and admiration for the Vermont National Guard.”  Then, of course, there was the usual promise of jobs, a standard recitation of government and corporate officials that want to impose their will on a skeptical public.  Still, one local government recently passed a resolution asking the Pentagon not to bring the F-35s to Burlington.

Another tentacle of the Empire’s kraken was unleashed on May 22, 2012.  Vermont was told by the Department of Homeland Security that it can no longer remain outside the so-called Secure Communities (S-COMM) enforcement regime.  This program essentially gives local police the power to enforce federal immigration laws.  In fact, it requires them to.  Although it is presented as a crime fighting tool designed to deport hardcore felons who are in the US illegally, its implementation across the United States has seen a substantial increase in the deportation of undocumented workers whose only “crime” is being undocumented.  Furthermore, communities where local police had previously been instructed to not inquire about immigration status or turn in personal information regarding immigrants have seen a decrease in cooperation with police by immigrant residents.  This is attributed to the fear of police S-COMM’s implementation has intensified.  Although various local and state agencies are on record saying they will not change their enforcement techniques regarding immigrants, this remains to be seen.  Activists are naturally somewhat skeptical.

The same day that S-COMM was imposed on Vermont, a local immigrant rights group Justizia Migrante held a rally and march that began in front of the Burlington, VT Obama campaign headquarters.  The rally began with a short play from group affiliated with Bread & Puppet Theatre.  This presentation was followed by at least three short testimonies from migrant workers currently living and working on some of Vermont’s dairy farms.  Historically, the primary nationality of the migrant worker force in Vermont was Jamaicans who mostly resided in the region during the apple harvest season.  In the past several years, however, more and more migrant workers are from countries south of the US border.  After the rally, people marched across town to the Federal Building.

Meanwhile, north of the border in Quebec a student strike has been going on for over 100 days.  Recently, the legislative body of the province enacted a series of repressive laws designed to criminalize protest and end them.  Only the former has occurred.  The protests are continuing and support for the strikers seems to be growing.  Quebec Prime Minister Charest was scheduled to be in Burlington on May 24th but canceled his trip due to the unrest.  This was a disappointment, since a protest was planned.  He plans to be back.  So do we.

Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His collection of essays and other musings titled Tripping Through the American Night is now available and his new novel is The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press.  He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

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