Sunday, November 2, 2008

If the Peace Economy Works for the Rust Belt, Why Not Vermont?

November 2, 2008
A Splash of Green for the Rust Belt
The New York Times


LIKE his uncle, his grandfather and many of their neighbors, Arie Versendaal spent decades working at the Maytag factory here, turning coils of steel into washing machines.

When the plant closed last year, taking 1,800 jobs out of this town of 16,000 people, it seemed a familiar story of American industrial decline: another company town brought to its knees by the vagaries of global trade.

Except that Mr. Versendaal has a new factory job, at a plant here that makes blades for turbines that turn wind into electricity. Across the road, in the old Maytag factory, another company is building concrete towers to support the massive turbines. Together, the two plants are expected to employ nearly 700 people by early next year.

“Life’s not over,” Mr. Versendaal says. “For 35 years, I pounded my body to the ground. Now, I feel like I’m doing something beneficial for mankind and the United States. We’ve got to get used to depending on ourselves instead of something else, and wind is free. The wind is blowing out there for anybody to use.”

From the faded steel enclaves of Pennsylvania to the reeling auto towns of Michigan and Ohio, state and local governments are aggressively courting manufacturing companies that supply wind energy farms, solar electricity plants and factories that turn crops into diesel fuel.

This courtship has less to do with the loftiest aims of renewable energy proponents — curbing greenhouse gas emissions and lessening American dependence on foreign oil — and more to do with paychecks. In the face of rising unemployment, renewable energy has become a crucial source of good jobs, particularly for laid-off Rust Belt workers.

Amid a presidential election campaign now dominated by economic concerns, wind turbines and solar panels seem as ubiquitous in campaign advertisements as the American flag.

No one believes that renewable energy can fully replace what has been lost on the American factory floor, where people with no college education have traditionally been able to finance middle-class lives. Many at Maytag earned $20 an hour in addition to health benefits. Mr. Versendaal now earns about $13 an hour.

Still, it’s a beginning in a sector of the economy that has been marked by wrenching endings, potentially a second chance for factory workers accustomed to layoffs and diminished aspirations.

In West Branch, Iowa, a town of 2,000 people east of Iowa City, workers now assemble wind turbines in a former pump factory. In northwestern Ohio, glass factories suffering because of the downturn in the auto industry are retooling to make solar energy panels.

“The green we’re interested in is cash,” says Norman W. Johnston, who started a solar cell factory called Solar Fields in Toledo in 2003.

The market is potentially enormous. In a report last year, the Energy Department concluded that the United States could make wind energy the source of one-fifth of its electricity by 2030, up from about 2 percent today. That would require nearly $500 billion in new construction and add more than three million jobs, the report said. Much of the growth would be around the Great Lakes, the hardest-hit region in a country that has lost four million manufacturing jobs over the last decade.

Throw in solar energy along with generating power from crops, and the continued embrace of renewable energy would create as many as five million jobs by 2030, asserts Daniel M. Kammen, director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, and an adviser to the presidential campaign of Senator Barack Obama.

The unfolding financial crisis seems likely to slow the pace of development, making investment harder to secure. But renewable energy has already gathered what analysts say is unstoppable momentum. In Texas, the oil baron T. Boone Pickens is developing what would be the largest wind farm in the world. Most states now require that a significant percentage of electricity be generated from wind, solar and biofuels, effectively giving the market a government mandate.

And many analysts expect the United States to eventually embrace some form of new regulatory system aimed at curbing global warming that would force coal-fired electricity plants to pay for the pollution they emit. That could make wind, solar and other alternative fuels competitive in terms of the cost of producing electricity.

Both presidential candidates have made expanding renewable energy a policy priority. Senator Obama, the Democratic nominee, has outlined plans to spend $150 billion over the next decade to spur private companies to invest. Senator John McCain, the Republican nominee, has spoken more generally of the need for investment.

In June, more than 12,000 people and 770 exhibitors jammed a convention center in Houston for the annual American Wind Energy Association trade show. “Five years ago, we were all walking around in Birkenstocks,” says John M. Brown, managing director of a turbine manufacturer, Entegrity Wind Systems of Boulder, Colo., which had a booth on the show floor. “Now it’s all suits. You go to a seminar, and it’s getting taught by lawyers and bankers.”

So it goes in Iowa. Perched on the edge of the Great Plains — the so-called Saudi Arabia of wind — the state has rapidly become a leading manufacturing center for wind power equipment.

“We are blessed with certainly some of the best wind in the world,” says Chet Culver, Iowa’s governor.

MAYTAG was born in Newton more than a century ago. Even after the company swelled into a global enterprise, its headquarters remained here, in the center of the state, 35 miles east of Des Moines.

“Newton was an island,” says Ted Johnson, the president of local chapter of the United Automobile Workers, which represented the Maytaggers. “We saw autos go through hard times, other industries. But we still had meat on our barbecues.”

The end began in the summer of 2005. Whirlpool, the appliance conglomerate, swallowed up Maytag. As the word spread that local jobs were doomed — Whirlpool was consolidating three factories’ production into two — workers unloaded their memorabilia at Pappy’s Antique Mall downtown: coffee mugs, buttons, award plaques.

“If it said Maytag on it, we bought it,” says Susie Jones, the store manager. “At first, I thought the stuff had value. Then, it was out of the kindness of my heart. And now I don’t have any heart left. It don’t sell. People are mad at them. They ripped out our soul.”

When the town needed a library, a park or a community college, Maytag lent a hand. The company was Newton’s largest employer, its wages paying for tidy houses, new cars, weddings, retirement parties and funerals.

As Whirlpool made plans to shutter the factory, state and county economic development officials scrambled to attract new employers. In June 2007, the local government dispatched a team to the American Wind Energy Association show in Los Angeles. Weeks later, a company called TPI Composites arrived in Newton to have a look.

Based in Arizona, TPI makes wind turbine blades by layering strips of fiberglass into large molds, requiring a long work space. The Maytag plant was too short. So local officials showed TPI an undeveloped piece of land encircled by cornfields on the edge of town where a new plant could be built.

Although TPI was considering a site in Mexico with low labor costs, Newton had a better location. Rail lines and Interstate 80 connect it to the Great Plains, where the turbines are needed. Former Maytag employees were eager for work, and the community college was ready to teach them blade-making.

Newton won. In exchange for $6 million in tax sweeteners, TPI promised to hire 500 people by 2010. It has already hired about 225 and is on track to have a work force of 290 by mid-November.

“Getting 500 jobs in one swoop is like winning the lottery,” says Newton’s mayor, Chaz Allen. “We don’t have to just roll over and die.”

On a recent afternoon, workers inside the cavernous TPI plant gaze excitedly at a crane lifting a blade from its mold and carrying it toward a cleared area. Curved and smooth, the blade stretches as long as a wing of the largest jets. One worker hums the theme from “Jaws” as the blade slips past.

Larry Crady, a worker, takes particular pleasure in seeing the finished product overhead, a broad grin forming across his goateed face. He used to run a team that made coin-operated laundry machines at Maytag. Now he supervises a team that lays down fiberglass strips between turbine moldings. He runs his hand across the surface of the next blade for signs of unevenness.

“I like this job more than I did Maytag,” Mr. Crady says. “I feel I’m doing something to improve our country, rather than just building a washing machine.”

Ask him how long he spent at Maytag and Mr. Crady responds precisely: “23.6 years.” Which is to say, 6.4 years short of drawing a pension whose famously generous terms compelled so many to work at the Maytag plant. “That’s what everyone in Newton was waiting on,” he says. “You could get that 30 and out.”

But he is now optimistic about the decades ahead. “I feel solid,” he says. “This is going to be the future. This company is going to grow huge.”

The human resources office at TPI is overseen by Terri Rock, who used to have the same position at Maytag’s corporate headquarters, where she worked for two decades. In her last years there, her job was mostly spent ending other people’s jobs.

“There was a lot of heartache,” she says. “This is a small town, and you’d have to let people go and then see them at the grocery store with their families. It was a real tough job at the end.”

Now, Ms. Rock starts fresh careers, hiring as many as 20 people a week. She enjoys the creative spirit of a start-up. “We’re not stuck with the mentality of ‘this is how we’ve done it for the last 35 years,’ ” she says.

Maytag is gone in large part because of the calculus driving globalization: household appliances and so many other goods are now produced mostly where physical labor is cheaper, in countries like China and Mexico. But wind turbines and blades are huge and heavy. The TPI plant is in Iowa largely because of the costs of shipping such huge items from far away.

“These are American jobs that are hard to export,” says Crugar Tuttle, general manager of the TPI plant.

And these jobs are part of a build-out that is gathering force. More than $5 billion in venture capital poured into so-called clean energy technology industries last year in North America and Europe, according to Cleantech, a trade group. In North America, that represented nearly a fifth of all venture capital, up from less than 2 percent in 2000.

“Everybody involved in the wind industry is in a massive hurry to build out capacity,” Mr. Tuttle says. “It will feed into a whole local industry of people making stuff, driving trucks. Manufacturing has been in decline for decades. This is our greatest chance to turn it around. It’s the biggest ray of hope that we’ve got.”

Those rays aren’t touching everyone, though. Hundreds of former Maytag workers remain without jobs, or stuck in positions paying less than half their previous wages. Outside an old union hall, some former Maytaggers share cigarettes and commiserate about the strains of starting over.

Mr. Johnson, the former local president, is jobless. At 45, he has slipped back into a world of financial hardship that he thought he had escaped. His father was a self-employed welder. His mother worked at an overalls factory.

“I grew up in southern Iowa with nothing,” he says. “If somebody got a new car, everybody heard about it.”

When Maytag shut down, his $1,100-a-week paycheck became a $360 unemployment check. He and his wife divorced, turning what once was a two-income household into a no-income household. He sold off his truck, his dining room furniture, his Maytag refrigerator — all in an effort to pay his mortgage. Last winter, he surrendered his house to foreclosure.

Mr. Johnson has applied for more than 220 jobs, he says, from sales positions at Lowe’s to TPI. He has yet to secure an interview. His unemployment benefits ran out in May. He no longer has health insurance. He recently broke a tooth where a filling had been, but he can’t afford to have it fixed.

When his teenage daughter, who lives with him, complained of headaches, he paid $1,500 out of pocket for an M.R.I. The doctor found a cyst on her brain. And how is she doing now? Mr. Johnson freezes at the question. He is a grown man with silver hair, a black Harley-Davidson T-shirt across a barrel chest, and calloused hands that could once bring a comfortable living. He tries to compose himself, but tears burst. “I’m sorry,” he says.

He signed up for a state insurance program for low-income families so his daughter could go to a neurologist.

ALTHOUGH the United States is well behind Europe in manufacturing wind-power gear and solar panels, other American communities are joining Newton’s push, laying the groundwork for large-scale production.

“You have to reinvest in industrial capacity,” says Randy Udall, an energy consultant in Carbondale, Colo. “You use wind to revitalize the Rust Belt. You make steel again. You bring it home. We ought to be planting wind turbines as if they were trees.”

In West Branch, Acciona, a Spanish company, has converted the empty hydraulic pump factory into a plant that makes wind turbines. When the previous plant closed, it wiped out 130 jobs; Acciona has hired 120 people, many of them workers from the old factory.

Steve Jennings, 50, once made $14 an hour at the hydraulic pump factory. When he heard that a wind turbine plant was coming in a mere five miles from his house, he was among the first to apply for a job. Now he’s a team leader, earning nearly $20 an hour — more than he’s ever made. Ordinary line workers make $16 an hour and up.

“It seemed like manufacturing was going away,” he says. “But I think this is here to stay.”

Acciona built its first turbine in Iowa last December and is on track to make 200 this year. Next year, it plans to double production.

For now, Acciona is importing most of its metal parts from Europe. But the company is seeking American suppliers, which could help catalyze increased metalwork in the United States.

“Michigan, Ohio — that’s the Rust Belt,” says Adrian LaTrace, the plant’s general manager. “We could be purchasing these components from those states. We’ve got the attention of the folks in the auto industry. This thing has critical mass.”

IN Toledo, the declining auto industry has prompted a retooling. For more than a century, the city has been dominated by glass-making, but the problems of Detroit automakers have softened demand for car windows from its plants. Toledo has lost nearly a third of its manufacturing jobs since 2000.

Now, Toledo is harnessing its glass-making skills to carve out a niche in solar power. At the center of the trend is a huge glass maker, Pilkington, which bought a Toledo company that was born in the 19th century.

Half of Pilkington’s business is in the automotive industry. In the last two years, that business is down 30 percent in North America. But the solar division, started two years ago, is growing at a 40 percent clip annually.

Nearby, the University of Toledo aims to play the same enabling role in solar power that Stanford played at the dawn of the Internet. It has 15 faculty members researching solar power. By licensing the technologies spawned in its labs, the university encourages its academics to start businesses.

One company started by a professor, Xunlight, is developing thin and flexible solar cells. It has 65 employees and expects to have as many as 150 by the middle of next year.

“It’s a second opportunity,” says an assembly supervisor, Matt McGilvery, one of Xunlight’s early hires. Mr. McGilvery, 50, spent a decade making steel coils for $23 an hour before he was laid off. Xunlight hired him this year. His paycheck has shrunk, he says, declining to get into particulars, but his old-fashioned skills drawing plans by hand are again in demand as Xunlight designs its manufacturing equipment from scratch, and the future seems promising.

“The hope is that two years from now everything is smoking and that envelope will slide across the table,” he says. “The money that people are dumping into this tells me it’s a huge market.”

In Newton, the tidy downtown clustered around a domed courthouse is already showing signs of new life, after the pain of Maytag’s demise.

The owner of Courtyard Floral, Diane Farver, says she saw a steep drop in sales after Maytag left, particularly around holidays like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, when she used to run several vanloads a week to the washing machine plant. Times have changed since that decline. When TPI recently dispatched workers to a factory in China for training, the company ordered bouquets for the spouses left at home.

Across the street at NetWork Realty, the broker Dennis Combs says the housing market is starting to stabilize as Maytag jobs are replaced.

“We’ve gone from Maytag, which wasn’t upgrading their antiquated plant, to something that’s cutting-edge technology, something that every politician is screaming this country has to have,” he says.

At Uncle Nancy’s Coffee House, talk of unemployment checks and foreclosures now mixes with job leads and looming investment.

“We’re seeing hope,” says Mr. Allen, the mayor.

The town is hardly done. Kimberly M. Didier, head of the Newton Development Corporation, which helped recruit TPI, is trying to attract turbine manufacturers and providers of raw materials and parts for the wind industry.

“This is in its infancy,” she says. “Automobiles, washer-dryers and other appliances have become commodities in their retirement phase. We’re in the beginning of this. How our economy functions is changing. We built this whole thing around oil, and now we’ve got to replace that.”

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Peace Economy Protest Media Coverage - Pt. 2

Anti-war protesters call for peace economy

By Lisa Rathke, The Associated Press • November 1, 2008

MONTPELIER — Three days before the presidential election, anti-war activists rallied in front of the Statehouse on Saturday calling for an end to the war and a continued fight for change after Nov. 4.

Both Barack Obama and John McCain support increased military spending at a time when there's an incredible economic crisis, said Eugene Jarecki of Waitsfield.

"There's a moment of real crossroads here," he said. "But it's a crossroad for all of us not to be happy and go to bed but for all of us to be absolutely unrelenting and dissatisfied until real change happens."

About 50 demonstrators marched down State Street to the Statehouse led by a single drummer. They carried signs saying "Vermonters Say No to War," "Share the Wealth! Cut the Military Budget!" and "How Much Longer."

Organizers urged the state to pursue what they called a peace economy, and not give tax breaks to military weapons manufacturer General Dynamics of Burlington, which they said received $3 million in tax breaks last year.

"We don't want Vermont's taxpayer dollars going to war. We want it spent here to help with health care. There's over 60,000 Vermonters who don't have health care. That's where we need to be spending our money," said S'ra DeSantis of Burlington.

The event was attended by several Iraq war veterans, political candidates and University of Vermont Students Against War, who are working on a campaign for the school to divest from companies that build weapons systems for the U.S. military, including General Dynamics.

The demonstration was organized by the Vermont Peace Economy Coalition, whose mission is to work to promote a Vermont economy that advances social and economic justice, enriches the natural environment, enhances the ability of future generations to flourish and opposes business practices related to weapons and legislative policies that support the military industrial complex, representatives said.

"In the eve of the election we're asking all candidates to support a peace economy and not a war economy," said DeSantis.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Peace Economy Protest Media Coverage - Pt. 1

Associated Press - November 1, 2008 4:25 PM ET
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - Three days before the presidential election, anti-war activists rallied in front of the Statehouse on Saturday calling for an end to the war and a continued fight for change after Nov. 4.

Demonstrators urged Vermont to pursue what they called a peace economy, and not give tax breaks to military weapons manufacturer General Dynamics of Burlington.

Eugene Jarecki of Waitsfield said Tuesday's election is a moment of real crossroads.

He said both Barack Obama and John McCain support increased military spending at a time when there's an incredible economic crisis.

He says the crossroads is for those against the war to be unrelenting and dissatisfied until real change happens.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

20 Years of Resisting GD: One Night Only!

20 Years of Resistance: One Night Only!
Shutting Down the War Profiteers/Building a Peace Economy:
A Conversation from Vermont's Frontlines

Monday October 27th at 7pm
Black Sheep Books
5 State Street
Montpelier, Vermont

The struggle of Vermonters against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting

Come to the new Black Sheep Books for a night of discussion about why your friends and neighbors are using community organizing, legislative pressure and civil disobedience to kick out war profiteers like General Dynamics and build a Peace Economy for Vermont's future. Hear several generations of Vermonters' stories of non-violent civil disobedience at Burlington's General Dynamics from the 1988 to 2008. It's time to move Vermont's economy from supporting the military industrial complex, towards a green, peacetime economy, come to the Black Sheep on the 27th to find out how you can help.

Brian Tokar - Author, Intitute for Social Ecology Faculty
Joseph Gainza - American Friends Service Committee
Rachel Ruggles - Vermont Peace Economy Coalition
Will Bennington - Food Not Bombs
Robin Lloyd - Women's International League of Peace and Freedom
More Speakers TBA

Free! All welcome!

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, represents, in the final analysis, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, who are cold and are not clothed. -Dwight D. Eisenhower
more info:

Monday, October 6, 2008

This Should Be Incredible

Peace Economy Protest: Montpelier, Vermont 11/1/08 1:30pm at the Statehouse

A day of education, community organizing, and legislative pressure to move Vermont away from supporting the military industrial complex, and towards a green, peacetime economy

Host: VT Peace Economy Coalition
Time and Place: Saturday, November 1, 2008 - 1:30pm - 3:00pm
Location: the Statehouse - 115 State St Montpelier, VT 05602
Street: State Street
City/Town: Montpelier, VT

Why in Vermont is their always "socialism for the rich" and never money for a Peace Economy?

Bring the family and friends, pack a sandwich and come to beautiful Montpelier to demand the Statehouse stop funding the Military Industrial Complex and start funding just, peacetime, sustainable jobs for Vermont's future.

I know you're probably thinking such cold hearted ideologues could never construct a Facebook page to get the message out, well buddy, you couldn't be more wrong.

Endorsed by: VT Peace Economy Coalition, Iraq Vets against the War, Peace and Justice Center, and American Friends Service Committee

Friday, June 20, 2008

The "GD 10" Needs Your Support in Court

While we are still planning our course of action for the court system, we welcome any and all support. Feel free to call the District Attorney’s office in Burlington if moved to do so to tell them you support our cause! And please come to our change of plea court date on June 26th at 1PM in the Chittenden District Court (2nd floor). We need to show the state that its intimidation will not stop us from taking the steps necessary to end the wars and develop a peace economy in Vermont.

GD out of Iraq! Peace Economy Now!


Will Bennington
Jen Berger
Dana Demetri
S’ra DeSantis
Ciara Devozza
Chantelle Fisher-McKane
Nate Joseph
Nick Parrish
Rachel Ruggles
Kylie Vanerstrom

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The "GD 10" Speak Out

May 2008

Greetings Fellow Peace and Justice Activists,

We, a group of peace and justice activists in the Burlington area, decided we needed to share with the wider community recent experiences and thoughts that have come out of our recent civil disobedience at war-profiteer General Dynamics. We hope this letter will articulate our concerns with the State of Vermont’s reaction to non-violent protest.

Our Story

On May Day a group of activists living in Burlington: students, farmers, artists, teachers, social workers, stone masons, and others, organized a peaceful occupation of the lobby at General Dynamics’ Armament and Technical Products Burlington branch headquarters. Acting in solidarity with the International Longshore and Warehouse Unions west coast port shut-down and in reaction to the mass murder and ecological destruction in Iraq, we entered General Dynamics with three demands.

The first demand was to give back all state tax breaks to the people of Vermont; General Dynamics, despite posting earnings of $573 million in the first quarter of 2008, has received over $3.6 million in tax breaks from the state of Vermont in the last five years. Millions of dollars that could better go to feeding, housing, and providing healthcare to those Vermonters who are in desperate need. Secondly, we asked GD to stop the manufacturing of gatling guns, missiles and other weapons of mass-destruction; since the 1980’s war profiteers (it was General Electric before General Dynamics) have been designing and manufacturing the gatling guns and missiles that have murdered men, women, and children all around the world, from El Salvador to Iraq. Vermonters want an economy based on peace and justice, not a recession cased by war and war-profiteering. Lastly, we asked GD to stop contributing money to political campaigns; our own anti-war Congressman Peter Welch has received at least $3500 from GD. War-dollars and the influence they bring have no place in our political landscape.

From 3:30 in the afternoon to 8:15 we peacefully sat-in the lobby of General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products, asking to speak with a representative of General Dynamics. “No comment” was the official line from the GD corporate bosses, and after reading the “notice of trespass” the Burlington police, Chittenden County Sheriff and Burlington fire department removed us from the lock-boxes, processed, and released us.

While, for the most part, our interactions with the Burlington police department were professional and even quite amicable (some police even voiced support for our cause) our dealings with the state’s prosecutor have been less so. Threats and needless acts of intimidation greeted us at our arraignment. While the district attorney’s office was not successful in forcing $1000 in bail to four of those arrested District Attorney Donavan expressed his desire to seek from us over $6000 in “restitution” costs: $4043 to pay for City of Burlington police and fire personnel, $890 for the Chittenden County Sheriff and (outrageously) $1228.17 in cleaning costs to General Dynamics themselves. We have yet to see what, if any, plea bargains the state will place on the table for this trespassing charge but it seems obvious to us that we are to be made example of through the court. The State wants to send a message to Vermonters working for peace and justice that civil disobedience will no longer be tolerated.

Our Questions
Why has the state decided to pursue this action more vigorously? How much pressure is the District Attorney under from war-profiteers and other war-mongers in our state?

How will heavy and burdensome ‘restitution costs’ impact dissent in Vermont; how will they effect war resistance and the fight for social, economic, and ecological justice?

Thank you for reading reading this letter. While we all knew the possible consequences of partaking in Non-violent Civil Disobedience at General Dynamics, and are willing to accept the consequences to ourselves, we all felt that raising our case to the wider community could help everyone better prepare for the action needed to end the war and bring peace and justice to Iraq and Vermont.

While we are still planning our course of action for the court system, we welcome any and all support. Feel free to call the District Attorney’s office in Burlington if moved to do so! And please come to a meeting to plan our effort to stop GD’s weapons manufacturing.

GD out of Iraq! Peace Economy Now!


The GD10

Will Benning
Jen Berger
Dana Demetri
S’ra DeSantis
Ciara Devozza
Chantelle Fisher-McKane
Nate Joseph
Nick Parrish
Rachel Ruggles
Kylie Vanerstrom

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Even More Media Coverage

Seven Days Coverage of 5/1/08 General Dynamics Civil Disobedience


May Day Musings

Posted by Mike Ives on May 06, 2008 at 02:49 PM in Serious News | Permalink

Last Thursday, May 1, thousands of workers from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union in Los Angeles stopped working in protest of the Iraq War. The strike, according to Democracy Now!, was the largest since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

"It's astonishing and wildly encouraging that a West Coast labor union would show more guts and determination than the U.S. Congress," wrote a Los Angeles writer on the web newsletter CounterPunch, "in publicly defying a Republican administration."

Meanwhile, back in the only state president Bush hasn't visited, the Vermont AFL-CIO issued a statement of support for the striking West Coast workers. And on Saturday, May 3, the Old Labor Hall in Barre filled up a for a lecture by Amy and David Goodman.

Amy is the acclaimed host of labor-friendly Democracy Now! Her brother, a Waterbury resident, is a freelance journalist who's married to Democratic House Rep Sue Minter. Amy and David are now touring the country in support of their third co-written book, Standing Up to the Madness, which documents the work of unlikely citizen activists.

Like, for instance, Connecticut librarians who take on the Patriot Act.

On Saturday, before ceding the stage to his intrepid "big sister," David informed his audience that the Old Labor Hall's current name is incorrect. It used to include the word "socialist," he insisted. A UVM grad student essay confirms that the building, which was built in 1900, was originally named the "Socialist Party Labor Hall."

In other May Day news: Two local journalists had their reporting featured nationally. Benjamin Dangl's story on a recent protest at the General Dynamics facility in Burlington, "Vermont Students Join May 1 Protests," has been posted at The Nation's website. Dangl is the author, most recently, of The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia. A video by Sam Mayfield, community relations coordinator at CCTV, was featured yesterday on — you guessed it — Democracy Now!

For more info about those two, check out Dangl's website and Mayfield's blog, Sam Land.

Moore Good News:

Michael Moore's website has linked to the Alternet coverage as well as Sam Mayfield's video from his website:
Peace Activists Occupy General Dynamics Weapons Plant (VIDEO); 10 arrested

Monday, May 5, 2008

Independent Media Coverage of Burlington General Dynamics Civil Disobedience

Democracy Now coverage of the 5/1/08 Burlington, Vermont General Dynamics protest. The talented activists of this on going campaign sure knows how to grab headlines.

Please watch the Democracy Now coverage, organize your community around building a Peace Economy instead of War Profiteering, find your local war profiteer, and take them down! Here's a quick list of War Profiteers to start with: Boeing, Blackwater USA, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, General Electric, CSC/ DynCorp, Science Applications International Corporation, Raytheon, United Technologies, Halliburton, and Lockheed Martin.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Independent Media Coverage of Burlington General Dynamics Civil Disobedience

Benjamin Danl's Article on the 5/1/08 Protest at General Dynamics Burlington WMD Development Facility is generating quite the buzz. Give it a read, it's pretty incredible journalism.

New 5/5/08:

As you can see in the previous entry, formatting Dangl's article with Blogger's crude tools proved quite challenging. Sorry, Mr. Dangl.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Independent Media Coverage of Burlington General Dynamics Civil Disobedience

Demmocracy Now Coverage
Alternet Coverage

Independent Journalist Sam Mayfield's Video Footage

Independent Journalist Benjamin Dangl's Coverage
reprints of the same article in various new sources:

Vermont Peace Activists Occupy General Dynamics Weapons Plant Print E-mail
Written by Benjamin Dangl
Friday, 02 May 2008
ImageOn May 1st, International Workers’ Day, ten peace activists in Burlington, Vermont entered General Dynamics and locked themselves together in the main lobby of the building in protest against the company’s weapons manufacturing and war profiteering. University of Vermont student Benjamin Dube, one of the dozens of other activists present at the event, leaned out a window of the lobby, and pointed to the GD building, explaining, "This is the gas tank of the war machine, and we are the sugar."

The demonstrators entered the lobby at around 3pm, and proceeded to lock their arms together with PVC piping, duct tape and other materials. According to a press release put out by the group, the activists were demanding that "General Dynamics stop giving campaign contributions to the politicians responsible for regulating it, stop making Gatling guns, missiles and other weapons of mass destruction and give back the $3.6 million dollars in Vermont tax breaks General Dynamics received in 2007."

ImageWhile activists at GD chanted slogans such as, "Hey GD, what do you say, how many kids did you kill today" and "GD out of the Middle East, No Justice, No Peace," banners against GD and the Iraq War were set up on three major streets and highways in the area. This anti-war action in Burlington took place at the same time thousands of dockworkers at 29 major ports across on the west coast refused to go to work in protest against the Iraq War. In March, Vermonters in Brattleboro and Marlboro passed a measure in town meetings to arrest George W. Bush and Dick Cheney for crimes against the constitution if they ever arrived in either town.

Rachel Ruggles was one of the activists locked down in the GD lobby. Wearing a green bandana and glasses, this 19 year old from Vergennes, VT, and student at the University of Vermont, said "we are participating in this non-violent direct action to get attention and make a statement against the Iraq War, to say we don’t support GD’s war profiteering... GD is not contributing to the peace economy. The money from their tax breaks should go back to the Vermont community."

Hydra-70 rockets (Wikipedia)
General Dynamics is a national company whose branch in Burlington produces, among other things, Hydra-70 rockets and missile launchers. Mike Ives, a journalist with VT based Seven Days, wrote in March of this year that, according to General Dynamics company spokesperson Tim Haddock, GD employees in Burlington "manufacture the "Goalkeeper Close-In Weapon System." The "Goalkeeper" is a 14,000-pound gun that's mounted to ships and can fire up to 4200 shots per minute of "missile-piercing" ammunition."

According to Time Magazine, St. Louis-based General Dynamics is the top defense contractor in the US. The Bush administration’s "War on Terror" has been good for GD business. In 2007, GD’s revenues were $7.8 billion, with $382 million in profits, an increase of 33% since 1983. GD also has a particularly close relationship with the Pentagon; 94% of its contracts come from the US government.

During 2007-2008, Vermont Democratic House Representative Peter Welch received $3,500 in donations from General Dynamics. An online petition in protest of this campaign contribution to Welch is available to sign here.

ImageWhile holding a bag of bread and fruit for those inside the lobby, bearded, 20 year old activist, Dube said "it’s becoming clear that after five years people are against the war. And throughout New England there are weapons manufacturers making it possible for the US to subjugate the Iraqis." He participated in the protest at GD in part because in spite of all the economic needs in the US, hundreds of billions of dollars are being spent in on the wars abroad. "Our government is not dealing with the problems in our economy and global warming, and at the same time we’re giving tax breaks to weapons manufacturers like GD." Regarding the importance of the group’s tactics, Dube said, "We are trying to renew the focus of anti-war activism more on the complicity of our communities in war."

ImagePeace activist Jonathan Leavitt was quoted in the press release as saying. "While our state struggles with [Governor] Jim Douglas’ budget cuts and layoffs, gas prices, affordable housing and lack of health coverage, war profiteers like General Dynamics steal tax breaks from working families. We’re here today as Vermonters to say no more handouts for war profiteers."

ImageDozens of activists remained in and around the GD lobby for over six hours, chanting slogans, waving signs and sharing food. The protesters in the lobby said they would not leave the building until their demands were met. However, officials from GD refused to speak with the activists. Burlington Lt. Emmet Helrich said "Nobody from General Dynamics is going to talk to you, that’s a fact." The activists in the lobby were arrested at 8:45 when the police went in to cut them loose.

Meanwhile, GD continues to reap enormous profits on the Bush administration’s wars. On May 2, the national company was awarded a $51 million dollar Abrams Tank contract.

See this video of the May 1st action at General Dynamics in Burlington, VT. Filmed and edited by Sam Mayfield:

For more information, see

Photos by Benjamin Dangl

Fox News Coverage
Burlington Free Press Coverage

Channel 5 Coverage

Channel 5 Coverage 
click link for video

Demonstrators Arrested At War Protest
Unlawful Trespass Charges Issued At General Dynamics' Burlington Plant

POSTED: 11:34 pm EDT May 1, 2008
UPDATED: 12:05 am EDT May 2, 2008
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BURLINGTON, Vt. -- Burlington police were called to the General Dynamics Armaments and Technical Products plant on Lakeside Avenue Thursday afternoon after a group of war protesters locked themselves inside the lobby of the building.

There were 10 protesters inside the building and an additional 10 to 15 outside.

Officers said they repeatedly and unsuccessfully asked the demonstrators to leave the interior of the building.

Additional personnel, and several members of the Burlington Fire Department were called to the scene.

The demonstrators inside the plant were eventually placed under arrest.

They had placed devices on their arms, locking them together. Police had to extract them before removing them.

They have all been processed on charges of unlawful trespass, and released.

They will be in court next week.

Have a comment about this story? E-mail our newsroom.

Copyright 2008 by All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Fox 44 Coverage of May 1 action at General Dynamics

Ten Burlington Protesters Arrested, Face Trespassing Charges

May 1, 2008

Ten war protesters arrested outside a Burlington business Thursday night. Forty people for "Peace Economy Not War Profiteering" staged themselves at General Dynamics. The company makes military equipment.

Some even broke in and chained themselves together inside the building. Police ordered them to leave, warning they'd be arrested otherwise.

"I feel like the much greater crime is General Dynamics theft of taxpayers money that money needs to be put back into public schools that desperately need it," Protester Jonathon Leavitt said.

Nearly 25 officers the Burlington fire department and the Chittenden County Sheriff's office were all on scene. Now those ten protesters arrested all face trespassing charges.

For those who refused to give police their information, they will be locked up overnight.

Fox 44 video

Fox 44 Coverage

Fox News Covers Burlington General Dynamics Protest

Burlington Free Press Coverage

Burlington Free Press Coverage of Burlington, VT General Dynamics Civil Disobedience

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Maine Protesters Blockade General Dynamics in Tax Day Protest

Published on Wednesday, April 16, 2003 by the Portland Press Herald (Maine)
by Jen Fish

SACO — Fifteen activists bound together by a mixture of roofing tar, chicken wire and nails wrapped around PVC piping were arrested Tuesday after trying to block the entrance to General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products Co.

Protesters play music and chant as state police move in to arrest them for blocking the entrance to General Dynamics. Many in the group are students at Colby College. (PPH Photo/John Patriquin)

Police lead Tennessee Watson, left, and two other protesters away from the entrance of General Dynamics in Saco on Tuesday. (PPH Photo/Gregory Rec)

Protesters Emily Posner, left, Susan Ellsworth, center, and Maia Campoamor embrace Tuesday after being released from the Saco Police Department. The women, roommates at Colby College, were charged with criminal trespassing. (PPH Photo/Gregory Rec)
No one was hurt in the protest, which lasted about four hours. More than 30 police officers and firefighters used scissors and wire cutters to untangle the protesters enough to load them onto a waiting bus. Nearby, several dozen protesters chanted and sold cookies by the road for Veterans for Peace.

The activists said they were there to raise awareness about the disparity between military and educational spending, as well as Maine's dependency on defense spending in its economy. Tax dollars, they argued, should be spent on teachers and social services, not the grenade launchers and machine guns produced by companies like General Dynamics.

"We need an economy to support Mainers that doesn't produce weapons," said Tennessee Watson, one of the 15 arrested. "They have great union jobs at (General Dynamics), and I'm glad for the workers, but why do all the good jobs (come) tied to the military complex? What kind of future is that for kids and for this world?"

The protesters, many of them students, came from various places in Maine and denied they were part of any organized group. Most of the arrested students attend Colby College in Waterville.

Saco is unaccustomed to anti-military demonstrations despite General Dynamics' long-standing presence in the community. The plant has operated in Saco for more than 50 years, formerly under the name Saco Defense, but gained new attention recently because many of the weapons manufactured at the plant have been used in the war against Iraq.

Although Maine has seen dozens of demonstrations since the war began, Tuesday's event involved a more elaborate form of civil disobedience than most other protests.

"We knew that in order to cut through the news of the war . . . we had to do something undeniable," said Rob Fish, a protest organizer from Bar Harbor.

The protest began shortly before 7 a.m. as workers were getting ready to report for another day at the plant. Traffic to the building was impeded, officials said, but not stopped. Many trucks simply drove around the protesters, leaving tire tracks in the ground along the pavement.

Protesters chanted messages such as "Taxes for education, not militarization." The group numbered more than 40 people at one point and drew many onlookers, including students from Young Elementary School across the street.

About 20 Maine state troopers were called to the scene and stood in riot gear in two lines around the protesters. Saco Police Chief Bradley Paul said he called for the troopers so police would be prepared for every contingency when they moved in to separate the group.

Paul told the protesters at about 10:30 a.m. that they would be arrested if they did not move. The group tried to negotiate, asking to stay until 4 p.m., but Paul said that was not an option.

"You have to leave now, I'm sorry," Paul told them.

As police and firefighters prepared to separate the group, each person in the circle reaffirmed they were prepared to be removed and face charges of criminal trespassing. In the background, other activists sang and yelled encouragement to the 15 sitting on the ground.

Police used a saw to cut through two metal drums that the protesters had linked their arms through. Towels were brought out to protect the faces of those sitting next to the drums.

The bindings that the protesters used to attach themselves were decorated to look like crayons. Underneath were layers of duct tape and chicken wire mixed with roofing tar covering a piece of PVC pipe. Inside the pipe, the protesters were bound together by chains linked with spring-loaded rings so they could release themselves at any time.

It took police about an hour to separate the group. In many cases, groups of three or four people were still attached to each other by one arm as they were put on a school bus to be transported to the police station.

"It's worth it," Alec Aman of Ellsworth said as he sat on the bus. "It's worth it to draw attention to the fact that our federal government uses our federal tax dollars in outrageous disproportion toward the military compared to education."

Aman's father, Tony Aman of Penobscot, snapped a picture of his son as he was put on the bus.

"I support him absolutely," Tony Aman said. "He's standing up for what he believes in."

Ken Morgan, a spokesman for General Dynamics, said another protest was held at the company's division headquarters in Burlington, Vt., on Tuesday afternoon. Neither protest disrupted the company's operations, he said.

"Obviously, in our business, we're big believers in democracy and free speech," Morgan said.

The 15 arrested protesters were released on personal recognizance, and are scheduled to appear May 22 in Biddeford District Court. As each emerged from the Saco police station Tuesday afternoon, they were greeted by cheers and singing from their fellow activists.

"We accomplished what we wanted to do," said Fish. "Today was definitely not a normal day for General Dynamics. We got the word out that Mainers would rather support the schools than build another grenade launcher."

Copyright © Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.


Thursday, April 3, 2008

General Dynamics Theft of Taxpayer's Money: Ain't No New Thing

Time Magazine
Monday, Apr. 08, 1985
General Dynamics Under Fire
By Charles P. Alexander.

At first glance, David S. Lewis would seem to hold one of the most enviable positions in corporate America. As chairman of St. Louis-based General Dynamics, he presides over the top U.S. defense contractor and No. 1 beneficiary of the Reagan military buildup. Megabuck contracts to build weapons such as the Trident nuclear-missile submarine, F-16 fighter plane and M-1 tank helped General Dynamics reap revenues last year of $7.8 billion and profits of $382 million, up 33% from 1983.

Yet Lewis these days could hardly be more uncomfortable if he were the target of a barrage of his company Tomahawk cruise missiles. Fleets of investigators and critics are challenging General Dynamics' integrity and its fitness to be a pillar of the nation's defense, raising charges far more extensive than those leveled against General Electric last week. The Pentagon attack on General Dynamics' expense reports and the Justice Department probe into overruns on the company's SSN 688 Los Angeles-class submarines are only the most publicized of many investigations. The Securities and Exchange Commission is studying whether the company may have manipulated its stock price, and the Defense Department is looking into possible national security violations.

For the second time in a month, Lewis was publicly grilled last week by a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee chaired by Michigan Democrat John Dingell. Among other things, Dingell and his colleagues demanded to know why General Dynamics charged the Government for such "overhead" costs as a $14,975 party at a suburban Washington country club and the babysitting expenses of one of its officials. Lewis admitted that some of the billings were improper and announced that General Dynamics was withdrawing $23 million | of its expense claims for the period from 1979 to 1982, or about one-third of the $64 million the Pentagon's Defense Contract Audit Agency is questioning.

Another accusation made during the House hearing was that General Dynamics had discussed a submarine deal with a top Navy official while simultaneously talking to him about his leaving the Pentagon and coming to work for the company. Lewis revealed that in March 1983 he telephoned George Sawyer, an Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Having heard that Sawyer intended to take a job in private industry, Lewis suggested that the official might want to learn more about General Dynamics. Later that month Sawyer spent a day at the company's St. Louis headquarters. On May 3 Lewis called Sawyer to say that General Dynamics had "developed a job that we thought he might be interested in that would have no conflict of interest." All the while, Sawyer was continuing his official dealings with General Dynamics, and on May 5 he authorized the Navy to negotiate a sub-building contract with the company. In June he became an executive vice president of General Dynamics. Responding to criticism of the Sawyer affair, Lewis contended that General Dynamics had not started job negotiations with Sawyer until after he had disqualified himself from doing Pentagon business with the company. Sawyer has denied that there was any conflict of interest.

For a decade, critics have charged that the actions of General Dynamics exemplify the greed and mismanagement they think pervades the defense industry. A federal grand jury first started investigating the company's cost overruns on submarines in 1979, but dropped the probe in 1981 for lack of enough evidence of fraud. Now the Justice Department has reopened the case in light of new information from P. Takis Veliotis, who in 1977 became head of Electric Boat, the company's sub-building division in Groton, Conn. His word is hardly unimpeachable. In 1983 he fled to his native Greece to avoid being tried on charges of perjuring himself before a grand jury and taking $1.3 million in kickbacks from a subcontractor (see box). Veliotis has produced tapes and company documents that he claims reveal a pattern of waste, corruption and cover-up at General Dynamics. In a tape of one talk he had with Lewis, for example, the chairman suggests that Veliotis reassure James Ashton, a discontented Electric Boat executive, that he is still in the running for a promotion in order to keep him from "popping off" about shoddy work at the yard.

Lewis maintains that Veliotis' tapes are unreliable evidence and his accusations merely a personal vendetta against his old bosses. Said the chairman to the Dingell committee: "It is incomprehensible that the word of Veliotis, indicted for lying under oath, has been so eagerly accepted by newsmen and investigators, while accurate explanations given by General Dynamics people have been largely ignored."

The charges that Veliotis and investigators have made against the company, none yet proved in court, constitute a catalog of almost every type of chicanery that critics say is rampant in the defense industry. Among the allegations:

-- Dubious Government billings. In 1982 alone, General Dynamics asked the Pentagon to pay $18.9 million in overhead costs run up by company headquarters. Among the charges: $491,840 for Lewis' personal flights on corporate jets, often to and from his farm in Albany, Ga.; $538,781 for contributions and memberships, including country-club fees for top executives; and $155 for the kenneling of a dog named Fursten while its owner, a General Dynamics executive, attended a company conference at a South Carolina resort. At last week's hearing, Dingell quizzed Lewis about a $571.25 charge for a king-size Serta Perfect Sleeper mattress and box-spring set, which was delivered to the Clayton Inn in suburban St. Louis. "It was for Mr. Veliotis," said Lewis, who explained that the executive said he needed the bed for the times he came to St. Louis for meetings. Added Gorden MacDonald, a General Dynamics executive vice president: "Mr. Veliotis, being a very large man, complained so much to the secretary of the company that he got tired of hearing it and bought the bed." Veliotis denied that the bed was for him.

-- Questionable entertainment and gifts. In 1982 General Dynamics headquarters maintained a $1.24 million account, which was used, against Government rules, to entertain Pentagon officials. Gifts have flowed freely. In 1977 General Dynamics gave a pair of diamond earrings worth $1,125 to the wife of Admiral Hyman Rickover, who until 1981 headed the Navy's nuclear-propulsion program. The company argues that the gift was made with no "intent" to get favors in return.

-- Stock manipulation. Veliotis has given the Justice Department a 1977 tape of a talk he had with MacDonald. In it, MacDonald told Veliotis that the company had decided to issue an overly optimistic delivery timetable for the + first Trident submarine because Lewis wanted "to keep our stock price from sliding." The sub was eventually finished in 1981, two years behind the original schedule.

-- National security violations. The Pentagon is looking into allegations of lax security at meetings of the General Dynamics board of directors, where top-secret subjects are supposedly discussed without adequate safeguards against leaks. Questions have been raised about how Veliotis, after leaving the company and losing his security clearance, obtained classified photographs of the interior of the newest Trident. Veliotis has turned over the sensitive pictures, which Soviet engineers could use to gauge the Trident's capabilities, to the Justice Department.

-- Questionable payments to foreigners. Representative Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, asked Lewis last week about "a whole host of questionable payments being made overseas," including a $250,000 annual fee to a South Korean consultant. Lewis vehemently denied that the money was being funneled to the South Korean government as a bribe to win contracts for F-16 fighters. The chairman rejected a charge made by Veliotis that he had received permission from Lewis to go after contracts to sell natural-gas tankers to Burma and Indonesia by offering kickbacks of $1 million a ship. "I have absolutely no knowledge of that," Lewis said.

The most vivid example of the problems at General Dynamics can be seen in the decade-long controversy surrounding its work on the Navy's crucial nuclear-powered SSN 688 attack submarines. In 1971 the company won a contract for seven of the submarines with a bid of $61 million each. In an interview with TIME, Veliotis maintained that the bid was absurd from the beginning. Said he: "Electric Boat completely underestimated the difficulties and costs of building an entirely new sub."

The company quickly began to suffer cost overruns. Even so, in 1973 Electric Boat offered to build eleven more attack submarines for only $77 million each, which, adjusted for inflation, was roughly the same price as that of the first seven ships. Veliotis claims that General Dynamics' management knew it would never come close to the $77 million cost. The bid, he says, projected that it would take only about 4.5 million man-hours to build each sub, even though experience with the first set had shown that 6 million man-hours was more realistic.

In 1976 General Dynamics filed a claim with the Navy for $843 million in current and projected cost overruns on the attack-sub program. That worked out to a staggering $46 million surcharge on average for each of the 18 boats. The company contended that costs ballooned primarily because of design changes imposed by the Navy. But Veliotis says that most of the changes were requested by the company and that gross mismanagement was the real culprit. When he took over Electric Boat in 1977, he found the shipyard to be plagued by poor supervision, sluggish productivity and chronic absenteeism.

The Navy was not eager to pay the $843 million extra charge, but General Dynamics threatened to halt production of the submarines if the Pentagon refused to absorb the overrun. Company documents reveal that Lewis told Assistant Navy Secretary Edward Hidalgo that "it might well become necessary to close down those operations at Electric Boat relating to the 688 program." Charges Veliotis: "General Dynamics was prepared to hold the nation's vital submarine program hostage in order to squeeze more money out of the Government."

Rather than call the company's bluff, Hidalgo and Navy Secretary W. Graham Claytor tried to negotiate an agreement. The Navy even invited General Dynamics' help in persuading Congress to authorize funds for the overruns. In June 1978 the two sides made a deal. In the largest settlement of its kind in Navy history, the Pentagon agreed to swallow $484 million of the company's $843 million claim. Veliotis recalls that it was a "wonderful deal" for General Dynamics. Says he: "The Navy gave us the money up front for overruns we had yet to incur, so we had the use of those millions at a time when interest rates were high."

Hidalgo became Secretary of the Navy in 1979 and left the Pentagon when the Carter Administration departed in 1981. Within eleven months he was hired as an outside consultant for General Dynamics. Veliotis says that the company never specifically offered Hidalgo a reward for helping get it a good overrun settlement. But Veliotis contends there was an unspoken understanding that General Dynamics would take care of the Secretary in the future. Responds Hidalgo: "If anyone says that, I would call him a confounded and blasphemous liar."

Despite the $484 million settlement, the troubles at the Electric Boat division were not over. In 1981 the company's own inspectors discovered that workers had neglected to make critical welds in several submarines and covered up the errors with faked welding reports. The fiasco forced Electric Boat to reinspect all the welds and make repairs costing about $100 million. To recoup its loss, General Dynamics decided to turn to, yes, the Pentagon. The company argued that the Navy was liable for paying the repair bill under an obscure but standard clause in the submarine contract that called for the Government to act as an insurance underwriter in cases of worker negligence.

John Lehman, the new Secretary of the Navy appointed by Reagan, called General Dynamics' claim "preposterous." But Lehman found that General Dynamics had a strong legal case and soon began negotiating with Lewis. One of the Veliotis tapes contains Lewis' account of an inconclusive meeting that the chairman had with Lehman in the Secretary's office. As Lewis was leaving the Pentagon, Sawyer (the Assistant Navy Secretary who later took a job at General Dynamics) rushed up to the chairman's chauffeur-driven car and hitched a ride. According to Lewis, Sawyer said, "This is just between us. We've got to figure out a way to sit down here and negotiate some contracts." Two months later General Dynamics dropped its $100 million claim against the Navy. In turn, the Pentagon accepted the company's bid to build an additional attack submarine. Veliotis contends that a deal had been struck, but General Dynamics denies that there was any quid pro quo.

The submarine saga illustrates several of the alarming trends in the defense procurement business. The sheer size of the stakes--$100 million or more for a single sub--was enough to excite the greed and test the integrity of even the most well-meaning contractor. Says a former top Pentagon official: "Whenever you have so much money, you are going to have people doing a lot of reprehensible things to get the money. The sums are so huge now they pretty much defy control."

In addition, General Dynamics, more than perhaps any other company, has a tight symbiotic relationship with the Pentagon. It relies on Government contracts for 94% of its business, unlike other contractors, such as Boeing, that depend on the private sector for a sizable percentage of sales. Free from the competitive discipline of the marketplace, General Dynamics has found that pulling strings at the Pentagon can be more important than making products efficiently. The Pentagon, in turn, is dangerously dependent on General Dynamics. It is the only supplier of the Trident submarine and one of two contractors for the SSN 688 attack sub.

As last week's allegations against General Electric and United Technologies show, the charges against General Dynamics are not unique. But the company's pattern of problems indicates that those plaguing the entire industry are more complex and deep rooted--and far more important to solve--than an occasionally overpriced toilet seat or coffee maker.

With reporting by Christopher Redman and John E. Yang/Washington

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Iraq, $5,000 Per Second

The New York Times

March 23, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist

Iraq, $5,000 Per Second?

The Iraq war is now going better than expected, for a change. Most critics of the war, myself included, blew it: we didn’t anticipate the improvements in security that are partly the result of last year’s “surge.”

The improvement is real but fragile and limited. Here’s what it amounts to: We’ve cut our casualty rates to the unacceptable levels that plagued us back in 2005, and we still don’t have any exit plan for years to come — all for a bill that is accumulating at the rate of almost $5,000 every second!

More important, while casualties in Baghdad are down, we’re beginning to take losses in Florida and California. The United States seems to have slipped into recession; Americans are losing their homes, jobs and health insurance; banks are struggling — and the Iraq war appears to have aggravated all these domestic woes.

“The present economic mess is very much related to the Iraq war,” says Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning economist. “It was at least partially responsible for soaring oil prices. ...Moreover, money spent on Iraq did not stimulate the economy as much as the same dollars spent at home would have done. To cover up these weaknesses in the American economy, the Fed let forth a flood of liquidity; that, together with lax regulations, led to a housing bubble and a consumption boom.”

Not everyone agrees that the connection between Iraq and our economic hardships is so strong. Robert Hormats, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs International and author of a book on how America pays for wars, argues that the Iraq war is a negative for the economy but still only a minor factor in the present crisis.

“Is it a significant cause of the present downturn?” Mr. Hormats asked. “I’d say no, but could the money have been better utilized to strengthen our economy? The answer is yes.”

For all the disagreement, there appears to be at least a modest connection between spending in Iraq and the economic difficulties at home. So as we debate whether to bring our troops home, one central question should be whether Iraq is really the best place to invest $411 million every day in present spending alone.

I’ve argued that staying in Iraq indefinitely undermines our national security by empowering jihadis — just as we now know that our military presence in Saudi Arabia in the 1990s was, in fact, counterproductive by empowering Al Qaeda in its early days. On the other hand, supporters of the war argue that a withdrawal from Iraq would signal weakness and leave a vacuum that extremists would fill, and those are legitimate concerns.

But if you believe that staying in Iraq does more good than harm, you must answer the next question: Is that presence so valuable that it is worth undermining our economy?

Granted, the cost estimates are squishy and controversial, partly because the $12.5 billion a month that we’re now paying for Iraq is only a down payment. We’ll still be making disability payments to Iraq war veterans 50 years from now.

Professor Stiglitz calculates in a new book, written with Linda Bilmes of Harvard University, that the total costs, including the long-term bills we’re incurring, amount to about $25 billion a month. That’s $330 a month for a family of four.

A Congressional study by the Joint Economic Committee found that the sums spent on the Iraq war each day could enroll an additional 58,000 children in Head Start or give Pell Grants to 153,000 students to attend college. Or if we’re sure we want to invest in security, then a day’s Iraq spending would finance another 11,000 border patrol agents or 9,000 police officers.

Imagine the possibilities. We could hire more police and border patrol agents, expand Head Start and rehabilitate America’s image in the world by underwriting a global drive to slash maternal mortality, eradicate malaria and deworm every child in Africa.

All that would consume less than one month’s spending on the Iraq war.

Moreover, the Bush administration has financed this war in a way that undermines our national security — by borrowing. Forty percent of the increased debt will be held by China and other foreign countries.

“This is the first major war in American history where all the additional cost was paid for by borrowing,” Mr. Hormats notes. If the war backers believe that the Iraq war is so essential, then they should be willing to pay for it partly with taxes rather than charging it.

One way or another, now or later, we’ll have to pay the bill. Professor Stiglitz calculates that the eventual total cost of the war will be about $3 trillion. For a family of five like mine, that amounts to a bill of almost $50,000.

I don’t feel that I’m getting my money’s worth.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Even More Media Coverage

Burlington Protesters to General Dynamics:
Get Out of Town

Just before 7 this morning, a few college-aged students blocked the entrance of a Lakeside Avenue parking lot belonging to General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products. Its parent company, General Dynamics, "is the sixth largest defense contractor in the world," reports Sam Maron, a University of Vermont senior who coordinated the event. Maron showed up today "to make a stand and show that, as Vermonters, we want a peace economy, and not one based on war."

The event lasted about five hours and was attended by some two dozen supporters. Maron says he and others intended to cause "disruption" and "financial damage" to the company's operations. No arrests were made, and aside from a "brief traffic congestion," protesters didn't interrupt any business, according to Burlington Deputy Police Chief Walt Decker.

The Lakeside Avenue facility, which is located off Pine Street near the Burlington Department of Public Works, employs about 500 people and is the main facility among three Burlington-area offices. Other General Dynamics employees work a two nearby Burlington laboratories and the Ethan Allen Firing Range in Jericho. The building has been owned at various points by Queen City Cotton Mills, General Electric and Lockheed Martin, another major defense contractor.

Company spokesperson Tim Haddock reports that while the Burlington facilities are primarily used for engineering, company employees also manufacture the "Goalkeeper Close-In Weapon System." The "Goalkeeper" is a 14,000-pound gun that's mounted to ships and can fire up to 4200 shots per minute of "missile-piercing" ammunition. According to the Center for Media and Democracy, General Dynamics spent over $9 million in lobbying during 2006. Ssecurities and Exchange Commission filings confirm that between 2003 and 2007, the company's annual net earnings doubled, from about 1 to 2 billion.

Jennifer Berger, who directs the Burlington Peace & Justice Center's "Recruiting for Peace" campaign, says the protest was intended to raise a larger issue. In her view, General Dynamics' presence in Burlington contradicts the spirit of the town's reputation as a peaceful, environmentally responsible place. Haddock of General Dynamics declines to respond.

This morning's event was also intended to point a finger at Vermont's congressional delegation. In a few days, Maron will be sending a letter to Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) asking him to withdraw his support for General Dynamics. Over the years, Leahy, a senior member of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, has secured millions of dollars worth of defense contracts for the company.

Ever since the Iraq war began in 2003, Burlington activists have questioned the Vermont congressional delegation's stance on war funding. While all the candidates, including Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), are vocal critics of U.S. defense policy, they have all signed legislation that enables defense-related spending. House Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) who is up for reelection this November, has thus far accepted $3500 from General Dynamics in the 2007-2008 election cycle. "If Peter Welch wants to really live up to his words and show that he is against the Iraq war," says Maron, "he should return the money."

"I don't deal in any of that arena of campaign matters," says Welch Spokesperson Andrew Savage. "The congressman believes this war is a travesty and agrees with the protestors that it must be ended. Every chance he gets, he'll be voting on that."

"General Dynamics provides good Vermont jobs" and ensures "that our country has the defense it needs," he adds. Peter "completely agrees with the protesters that we have to end the war and the price tag associated with it. But the troops that don't have a vote in the war have to have what they need.'' Welch is a co-sponsor on a new bill, the Government Contractor Accountability Act of 2007, that "would impose oversight on contractors," Savage says.

Earlier today in Montpelier, activists broadcasted audio from the ongoing "Winter Soldier" hearings that were held last weekend in Washington, D.C.. "Winter Soldier" is an anti-war campaign being undertaken by anti-war Iraq veterans that closely mirrors a similar campaign from the 1970s. Earlier this month, four members of a local chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War held a pre-D.C. event at the University of Vermont.

At 7 p.m. tonight, the Langdon Street Café in Montpelier hosts a community discussion entitled, "Beyond Iraq." For more information, call 476-3154.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

New York Times Runs AP Story Includes Mention of VT GD Action

Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

An antiwar protester jumped over a barricade in front of the Internal Revenue Service building in Washington.

Published: March 19, 2008

Filed at 2:37 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Police arrested more than 30 people who blocked entrances at the Internal Revenue Service building Wednesday morning, part of a day of protests to mark the fifth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Demonstrators converged in big cities like Miami and San Francisco, and smaller towns in Vermont and Ohio, among others, to add their voices to a call to end the war.

A marching band led protesters down the street near the National Mall and around the IRS building before about 100 gathered at the main entrance. As police began the arrests, some protesters shouted ''This is a crime scene'' and ''You're arresting the wrong people.''

Brian Bickett, 29, was among the first arrested. The high school theater teacher from New York City said he had never engaged in civil disobedience before.

''We need to find lots of different ways to resist the war, and I decided to try this,'' he said.

The demonstrators said they were focusing on the IRS because it gathers taxes used to fund the war. A spokeswoman for the Federal Protective Service said 32 people were arrested.

About 150 people, mostly with the group Veterans for Peace, marched in Washington, many carrying upside-down American flags.

''That is the signal for distress at high sea and we feel the nation is in distress,'' said 68-year-old George Taylor, a Navy veteran from Takoma Park, Md. Taylor said he had been against the war in Iraq from the beginning.

''I'm proud of my country,'' he said. ''I'm proud of my service to my country. But I'm not proud of what my government is doing now.''

The marchers' first stop was the National Museum of the American Indian, where they were met by singer Buffy Sainte-Marie, who sang her Vietnam-era peace anthem ''Universal Soldier.''

Anti-war protests and vigils were planned around the nation. In Ohio, more than 20 vigils, rallies, marches and other events were planned.

At the American Petroleum Institute in downtown Washington, dozens of protesters held signs reading ''Out of Iraq'' and ''No war, no warming,'' and chanted ''No blood for Oil!''

Craig Etchison, 62, a retired college professor from Cumberland, Md., and a Vietnam veteran, said he has been protesting the war for years.

''I've watched with horror as Bush has lied about this war,'' he said. ''I'm appalled at the number of civilians we've killed just as we did in Vietnam.''

Protesters tried to block traffic, sitting in the street and linking arms. At least once, they were dragged away by police.

''This is the first time coordinated direct actions of civil disobedience are happening,'' Barbra Bearden, communications manager for the group Peace Action, said earlier of the Washington protests. ''People who have never done this kind of action are stepping up and deciding now is the time to do it.''

Meanwhile, a handful of people gathered at a nearby armed forces recruiting center, holding signs such as ''We support our brave military and their just mission.''

''We're out here to show support for our troops on the anniversary of the liberation of Iraq,'' said Kristinn Taylor, 45, of Washington.

In Miami, half a dozen anti-war protesters dressed in black placed flowers outside the U.S. Southern Command during rush-hour Wednesday morning.

''What happens in South Florida is part of what happens in Iraq,'' said Warren Hoskins, president of Miami for Peace, as he gestured toward the Southern Command. ''People who come through here may go to Guantanamo Bay but next they may go to Abu Ghraib.''

In Vermont, about 30 people protested in rain and sleet in front of defense contractor General Dynamics Corp. in Burlington on Wednesday morning, some locking arms to block workers from entering the parking lot.

Protester Jonathan Leavitt, 29, said he showed up ''to say no to war profiteering and yes to building a peace economy.''

The Iraq war has been unpopular both abroad and in the United States, although an Associated Press-Ipsos poll in December showed that growing numbers think the U.S. is making progress and will eventually be able to claim some success in Iraq.

The findings, a rarity in the unpopular war, came amid diminishing U.S. and Iraqi casualties and the start of modest troop withdrawals. Still, majorities remain upset about the conflict and convinced the invasion was a mistake, and the issue still splits the country deeply along party lines.

Activists cite frustration that the war has dragged on for so long and hope the more dramatic actions will galvanize others to protest.


Associated Press writers Karen Mahabir in Washington, John Christoffersen in New Haven, Conn., and Jennifer Kay and Laura Wides-Munoz in Miami contributed to this report.

Yahoo France Runs AP Story on Vermont GD Protest

Kelly Riel, left, of Burlington, Vt., and Cassy Gardner, center, joined about 30 protestors comprised of university students, high school students and

Kelly Riel, left, of Burlington, Vt., and ...
AP - Mercredi 19 mars, 19h15

Kelly Riel, left, of Burlington, Vt., and Cassy Gardner, center, joined about 30 protestors comprised of university students, high school students and community members blocking the driveway to General Dynamics in Burlington, Vt., Wednesday, March 19, 2008, in protest of the war in Iraq and to launch what the group is calling a "Peace economy and not war profiteering" campaign. (AP Photo/Alden Pellett)