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Gibson writes: "The Lockheed Martin F-35 is the epitome of Pentagon waste. The program has already cost taxpayers roughly half a trillion dollars."

Senator Sanders speaks out against cuts to Social Security outside the U.S. Capitol on Oct. 9, 2013. (photo: Bernie Sanders)
Senator Sanders speaks out against cuts to Social Security outside the U.S. Capitol on Oct. 9, 2013. (photo: Bernie Sanders)

Bernie Sanders Doubles Down on F-35 Support Days After Runway Explosion

By Carl Gibson, Reader Supported News

03 June 14


Me: “You mentioned wasteful military spending. The other day ... I’m sure you’ve heard about the F-35 catching fire on the runway. The estimated lifetime expense of the F-35 is $1.2 trillion. When you talk about cutting wasteful military spending, does that include the F-35 program?”

Bernie Sanders: “No, and I’ll tell you why – it is essentially built. It is the airplane of the United States Air Force, Navy, and of NATO. It was a very controversial issue in Vermont. And my view was that given the fact that the F-35, which, by the way, has been incredibly wasteful, that’s a good question. But for better or worse, that is the plane of record right now, and it is not gonna be discarded. That’s the reality.”

hat was the exchange I had with US senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) at a town hall in Warner, New Hampshire, this past weekend (skip to the 45:30 mark of this video to hear my question). Sanders came to New Hampshire to gauge the local response to his economic justice-powered platform for a presumed 2016 presidential campaign. While his rabid defense of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid and takedown of big money running politics was well-received, he contradicted his position of eliminating wasteful military spending while defending the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.

The Lockheed Martin F-35 is the epitome of Pentagon waste. The program has already cost taxpayers roughly half a trillion dollars, with $700 billion or more to come during the program’s lifetime. During an interview, Pierre Sprey, a co-designer of the F-16, went into great detail about how the F-35 was a lemon aircraft. Sprey explained that the fighter is an excessively heavy gas guzzler with small wings, a low bomb-carry capacity, low loiter time, is incapable of slow flight, is detectable to World War II-era low-frequency radar, and costs $200 million apiece. And just a little over a week ago, the F-35 caught fire on a runway at Eglin Air Force Base.

To his credit, Sanders acknowledged that the program was “wasteful” in his defense of it. The contention over the F-35 in his home state of Vermont is that the program is now responsible for jobs in his hometown of Burlington, where he served as mayor before running for Congress. Some front doors of homes in the Burlington area are adorned with green ribbons, signifying support for the F-35. Sanders, like his colleagues in 45 states around the country, doesn’t want to risk the wrath of voters angry about job losses related to F-35 manufacturing, assembly, and training if the program were to be cut. And that’s where Lockheed Martin’s political savvy comes into play.

War hawk John McCain (R-Az.) has called the F-35 program a “scandal and a tragedy” in the past. But when an F-35 squadron came to the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, McCain changed his tune to say the program was “moving in the right direction.” Lockheed Martin, which draws 82 percent of all revenue from taxpayers (Lockheed’s information systems department gets 95 percent of its money from taxpayers), knows that by spreading out manufacturing as widely as possible, the program is more likely to be funded by politicians beholden to voters who draw their livelihood from the F-35. Lockheed spent $15.3 million on lobbying politicians in 2012, a year in which the company made $47 billion in revenue. That’s a return on investment in the thousands of percentage points. Lockheed gets paid, and politicians get re-elected. That’s how Washington runs.

So, while Bernie Sanders is saying we should cut military spending to fund free college for everyone, his defense of the F-35 means that despite everything else, Sanders is still just a politician. Sooner or later, the F-35 will eventually be replaced by something even more expensive, while the F-35 joins the thousands of other unused fighter jets in the boneyard. But rather than lying to people and saying the program is already a done deal and that there’s nothing he can do, Sanders could stand by his principles and introduce an amendment in the next National Defense Authorization Act to strip the F-35 program of its funding. That remaining $700 billion could make college tuition-free for everyone for at least a decade.

Carl Gibson, 26, is co-founder of US Uncut, a nationwide creative direct-action movement that mobilized tens of thousands of activists against corporate tax avoidance and budget cuts in the months leading up to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Carl and other US Uncut activists are featured in the documentary "We're Not Broke," which premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. He currently lives in Madison, Wisconsin. You can contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , and follow him on twitter at @uncutCG.

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