Friday, October 07, 2011

The Pinon Canyon / Wall Street Connection

As we watch the "Occupation of Wall Street" on TV it would seen that the open ranges and isolated canyons of Southeastern Colorado are literally and figuratively thousands of miles away from the financial district in New York City. But the reality is that the tentacles of corporate power reach into every nook and cranny of America, including Colorado’s economy, and there is a strong connection between the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site and Wall Street’s plundering of America."

It is a mistake to assume that the motive driving efforts to expand the 238,000 acre Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site to as much as 6.9 million acres is military necessity. America’s military-industrial complex does not function in such a way that defense contractors simply meet the needs of the military. It is often the other way around, with the military serving the needs of defense industry.

The acquisition of more land by the Department of Defense is completely unnecessary in military terms. The DoD is already a huge bureaucracy. It’s vast holdings include 6,000 bases in the U.S. and its territories, and 30 million acres of real estate in the continental United States and even more around the world; 702 bases in 130 in foreign countries. Every one of these bases is a conduit, moving half of our national budget from our households, through our tax system, to Wall Street and the military-industrial complex. In the name of "national security" we dutifully fill and refill the troughs at which defense-contractors feed. Some are excited young wieners squealing at the prospect of federal contracts. Others are huge old swine with a dozen little wannabe sub-contractor piglets hanging from their tits. But all of them grow fat at the same federal trough.

One of the reasons why China is overtaking the U.S. economically is that the Chinese are not expending as much of their national treasure trying to match our military power. Instead, they are investing in their infrastructure, thus creating jobs. China, with a population of 1.3 billion people spends a little over 100 billion annually on defense. The U.S. with 1/4 of China's population spends seven times as much on defense. Where does all of that money go? It goes to corporations which manufacture weapons and since 9/11 to a huge and growing, mostly secret, for-private security industry, and to their Wall Street investors.

The defense and security sectors have become such a huge part of our economy that unending wars have become necessary in order to justify their growth. The invisible fat cats behind the defense industry need the military because it is the justification by with wealth is transferred from our pockets to theirs.

The State of Colorado has become dangerously dependent upon the military-industrial complex. As the state's second largest employer Fort Carson in Colorado Springs wields a lot of power with elected officials, and elected officials, doing the bidding of the corporate contributors whose campaign contributions got them elected, wield a lot of power over the military. They work hard to get more money for bases in Colorado and more money for defense contracts in our state. As a result, while many areas of the state endure economic stagnation, there are islands of prosperity like Fort Carson, a beneficiary of a bloated federal military budget. At the same time that the private sector is shrinking, Fort Caron is expanding. With recently addition of a Combat Aviation Brigade the base will grow by 2700 troops who'll be flying 100 helicopters.

Efforts to expand Piñon Canyon have less to do with the Army’s need for more training lands than with defense contractors need to build more helicopters and make more profits. While ordinary people struggle, the corporations which make these helicopters are getting rich.

Tony Magliano of the Catholic News Service observes that "Weapon-producing corporations such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics are reaping huge wartime profits at the expense of the poor and war-torn. And with their expensive campaign contributions, these corporations are lobbying politicians in Washington to keep America’s war machine rolling on and on!"

Too much of our national treasure goes to paying for wars. Not wars to defend U.S. citizens but wars to sustain U.S. defense industry. Three of the top beneficiaries of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Boeing, corporations with have operations in Aurora, Colorado.

Many of us scratched our heads when Representative Mike Coffman jumped into the Piñon Canyon controversy, arguing for expansion, and even accusing former Governor Bill Ritter of being a "terrorist sympathizer" because he signed a law which protects property owners around Piñon Canyon. Coffman was simply working for the people who got him elected. His 6th Congressional District is the home of Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Boeing. These corporations are involved with the development of drones, the expensive new robotic weapons of the new "chAir Force" and they foresee the future need for a big, easy to access testing range; an expanded Piñon Canyon. They view Southeastern Colorado as a convenient sandbox.

But the takeover of Southeastern Colorado by Wall Street corporations, through their military partners comes at the expense of the people who live there. While military contractors in Colorado Springs and Aurora benefit from the federalization of the region, it is at the expense of the poorer and politically less connected people who live there. Piñon Canyon has been an economic black hole for three decades now, and its expansion would suck what's left of the regional economy into the abyss.

When Piñon Canyon was first established in the early 80s approximately 3000 cattle were removed from the economic equation of the region. Over the course of decades that adds up to millions of dollars of lost revenue. The ranchers who used to live on the land paid property taxes and spent money at businesses in towns like Trinidad and La Junta. The Army does neither.

Southeastern Colorado also lost a lot in terms of potential tourism. Before the Army took the land the Department of the Interior was poised to designate the canyon lands of the region as a National Natural Landmark. The land is an archaeological treasure trove which according to the Army holds 4,100 prehistoric and historic archaeological sites, 524 of which have been determined to be eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. An additional 239 sites are still being evaluated. But all of this is off limits to the public and excluded from regional heritage tourism efforts.

There are also potentially valuable mineral resources at Piñon Canyon. Within the maneuver site is the Model Dome, a very rare geologic formation which has trapped a large reserve of helium. The national helium reserve at the Bush Dome near Amarillo, Texas is almost gone and prices for the gas have been rising dramatically. Ironically, the Army is having a hard procuring enough helium for their fleet of spy balloons.

Wind energy projects have considered but rejected sites near Piñon Canyon for wind farms. Once they learn that the area is threatened by expansion they are unwilling to invest. An added deterrent is the fact that the military doesn’t like wind farms in general. They have pressured the Federal Aviation Administration to disapprove wind farms in other parts of the country because they interfere with military radar.

Piñon Canyon is enriching military contractors at the expense of people, who for four and five generations have worked hard to sustain themselves on the land that they love. It is a sobering example of how the unholy alliance between Wall Street corporations, compromised legislators and an over-grown military is impoverishing American.

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