Sub Zeroes

Last Friday, the nuclear submarine USS Alaska quietly pulled into Bremerton's Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, beginning the largest military project in Washington State in 25 years: the upgrading of four subs with larger, more accurate, and longer-range Trident II (D-5) nuclear missiles.

And when it arrived, it had an escort: the small, but persistent, cadre of antinuclear activists from Kitsap County's Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action. Ground Zero, operating out of a house on property adjacent to the Bangor submarine base where the Tridents are housed, has been at it for 23 years. It was the organizing force behind the white train protests during the early '80s heyday of the nuclear freeze movement, and its members are still at it.

In their objections to the D-5 upgrade, they've got a good case. The project will cost anywhere from $6.5 billion (Navy estimates of short-term costs) to $14.6 billion (estimates from critics comparing it to the cost of decommissioning the subs). That money appears to be sheer pork being funneled to the military contractors profiting from the project. Few, if any, new local jobs will be created by the upgrade; the Naval Shipyard's Mary Anne Mascianica says the D-5 conversion "will not create additional jobs" at the shipyard, though certain workers will get "a limited amount" of overtime. Workers will simply be shifted from other projects to cover the person hours needed.

As for improved sub capacity, it flies in the face of both existing and potential US disarmament commitments. The US currently has 18 Trident first-strike capacity submarines; eight are in the Pacific, home ported at Bangor, and 10 are in the Atlantic, based in Georgia. The newer Atlantic subs already have the D-5 missiles. During the Bush administration it was determined that only 10 subs were necessary to carry the number of warheads allowed under START II. In 1994, the Clintonites unilaterally raised that number to 14 subs. The US could in fact meet its START II treaty limit of 1,728 warheads with only nine D-5 Trident subs. By canceling the Bremerton backfit entirely and retiring nine Trident subs, the US could save billions of tax dollars.

That narrative points out the first rule in nuclear armament math: Numbers of vessels, missiles, and warheads are a political decision, not based on national security but on pork. Bangor's (and Bremerton's) congressman, Norm Dicks, is nothing if not devoted to greasing the wheels for his friends. Yet the money, none of it needed under the Bush administration (back when we had the Soviet menace to contend with), won't be staying home in the form of jobs; it will go with the contractors. Second rule of nuclear armament math: Its primary proponents are the people who stand to get rich. That's why the lack of a credible enemy hasn't led to any decreases—in fact, it's led to increases—in the US nuclear arsenal. Of course, this also applies to conventional weapons. (Boeing fans, take note.)

Poised against this juggernaut, the task of the folks at Ground Zero seems hopeless. Bangor is only 30 miles from Seattle, but nobody here seems to notice, or care, that the country's largest concentration of nuclear weapons is right nearby. Despite a core group of only six to 10 people, member Brian Watson says Ground Zero's immediate goal is nothing less than "to stop the backfit to the D-5 missile . . . that goal in itself is a long shot. Our bigger goal is to abolish Trident and nuclear weapons systems altogether. That's even more of a long shot."

Watson says they'll do it as the result of "the persistence of some very stubborn people"—by flyering, public education, and direct action. In the last two years, three sets of arrests at Bangor demonstrations have resulted in either acquittals under international law (using the 1996 World Court ruling that possessing nuclear weapons for nondefensive purposes is illegal) or in the refusal of Kitsap County prosecutors to file charges for fear of losing further cases. According to Watson, those acquittals prove "people respect us a great deal, whether or not they agree with us . . . I think that's because we all live here in Kitsap County, and all have to live with the consequences of our actions."

Under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, currently being reviewed at the United Nations in New York, the US would be legally obligated to take steps toward complete abolition of nuclear weapons, similar to the worldwide ban on chemical weaponry. The D-5 upgrade, besides being a complete waste of taxpayer money, also demonstrates that beyond START II or START III, the US military complex will be unwilling to make any moves at all in that direction. Ground Zero will need a lot of help in order to change that.

Pirates sinking

The US House of Representatives has passed Representative Mike Oxley's bill that would overturn the FCC's decision to legalize pirate radio, a.k.a. low-power FMs. The bill, now in the currently recessed Senate as S. 2068, is being pushed hard by the National Association of Broadcasters, the lard-filled special interest that gave democracy a trillion-dollar slap in the face with the merger-friendly gift of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

Oxley's bill has another friend: It is backed by National Public Radio, those liberalism-at-its-worst yuppoids who fear the competition a real media alternative could provide. The info-muzak provided by NPR (locally, on KUOW and KPLU) studiously avoids any stances that might be hostile to or even mildly questioning of government power, as demonstrated by their patronizing, snide coverage of the IMF/World Bank protests last month. When the alternative is just as corrupt as the rest of the mainstream, it's no wonder listeners want something else. How telling that Congress, at the behest of special interests, is afraid of it.

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