publisher's note
October 17, 2008



Political lemmings, save one
by Bruce Rodgers

Few of the anti-nuke activists in the City Council Chamber had much hope on Oct. 15. The feeling of victory, however fleeting, as was felt on Oct. 1 when the Planning and Zoning Committee decided to propone a vote on ordinance #080913, wasn’t there. (“Activists challenge building of new nuke plant — lawsuit a new element,” They knew their opponents had been working hard during the two-week lag to make sure $40 million in taxpayer money would be committed to help move the Bannister nuclear weapons plant to an empty field in south Kansas City. The city council chamber was full, and the activists were in a minority. But with enough fight, maybe they could get another delay on the vote.

Committee Chair Terry Riley from the 5th District and especially Councilman John Sharp from the 6th District weren’t even going to chance that. Sharp, seemingly caught flat-footed on Oct. 1 with the show of opposition to the ordinance, wanted to bury the activists. Sharp was so upset after the Oct. 1 hearing, he ducked down to the 25th floor to catch an elevator presumably so he wouldn’t have to deal with the “citizens” catching elevators on the 26th floor when leaving the hearing. The 6th District was his fiefdom and KC Plant, both old and proposed new location, were in his territory.

Official testimony for support of the tax-subsided redevelopment came from officials of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)and General Services Administration (GSA). It was a rehash of the testimony on Oct. 1 — saving 2,100 jobs, increasing tax revenues for the school district and a growth in nearby businesses

Bradley Scott with the GSA got a laugh when he said building the new nuclear weapons plant was about “how to make nuclear weapons safer.” Whether Scott understands why that remark bought laughter isn’t known. And it is a little unclear how a weapon that can kill hundreds of thousands of people in less than a second and made from materials that can contaminate the earth for thousands of years can be made safer.

Patrick Hoopes, with the NNSA, in seeking to dispel activists’ arguments about contamination at the old Bannister KC Plant, said that $64 million had been spent on cleanup and “no further cleanup is required.” Hoopes may have to back up that statement in court with facts considering the Natural Resources Defense Council, Physicians for Social Responsibility and others have filed a lawsuit charging the Bannister site is still contaminated with toxic materials.

After those justifications, Chairman Riley then added a bit of theater to the proceedings. He stated he wanted the pro and con statements from the public to alternate, as in pro/con, pro/con. Maybe Riley wanted to keep score, declaring just before the committee vote the number of pros versus the number of cons, like in a ballgame. If a count was kept, it proved Riley and Sharp had done their job. Pro-business advocates packed the chamber and took turns strolling to the podium before the committee, saying roughly the same things over and over.

But from them also, as from the committee too, were displays of moral circumvention and intellectual underachievement.

MO state Rep. Jason Holsman, a Democrat from the Grandview area, set the subterfuge in play by reminding the committee the vote “is not on nuclear proliferation but on good-paying jobs.” Riley immediately backed up Holsman by saying the KC Plant is “not a nuclear facility” and nuclear proliferation is “beyond our control.”

Both Riley and Holsman are wrong. By the fact the KC Plant makes essential elements for nuclear weapons makes the committee vote one on nuclear proliferation, and if we live in a democracy, any public policy is within our control.

Holsman was followed by other state representatives, the president of the Grandview School Board, the superintendent, and a march of chamber of commerce spokespersons, union leaders and various business representatives.

Bridgette Williams, on the executive board of the Missouri AFL-CIO, voiced her support saying, “We’re not here to remake nuclear policy.” She was speaking for the ad hoc labor/business alliance that was on hand, her statements of support for the tax-supported redevelopment demonstrating why union membership continues to decline and why progressives have lost faith in viewing organized labor as an ally.

The vote of the Planning and Zoning Committee is making nuclear policy either by affirming the current policy or starting a process — on the local level — of changing it.

As the pro/con dialogue continued, Sharp would occasionally interject a comment about how this is a debate on an ordinance and “not on nuclear policy.” When an opponent rose to read a poem, Sharp call for a point of order from the chair. Yet, later Sharp made the argument that if the country “abandoned efforts (in keeping nuclear weapons), it could be a suicidal mission for this nation.”

The contradictions continued. A representative from the electricians union claimed nuclear weapons were not offensive weapons. “It’s the Department of Defense not the Department of Offense,” he declared. Apparently, he believes that when this country dropped two nuclear weapons on Japan it was a defensive tactic designed to protect our overwhelmingly superior naval and air power posed to invade the island.

Riley feared that by not building the plant, “We would have more homeless people out on the streets of Kansas City.” Supporters contend the average wage at the new plant would be $95,000 annually. No statistics were presented on how many of the current homeless in KC once held jobs in that wage bracket.

Overall, the pro-nuke parade was a tiring procession of the status quo thinking. No talk from supporters of letting the Bannister plant close and investing $40 million in green jobs. No acceptance that the nuclear threat to this country is now found more from a carry-on bag that in an intercontinental missile launch. No acceptance that the new incoming administration may set out to change the nation’s current nuclear policy, leaving the KC Plant unneeded or without full funding. No outrage that an open, former wheat field, where the property owner seemingly tolerated dumping, is declared blighted and eligible for tax money when whole swaths of the city are in ruin with residents under siege from criminals. No sense of moral grounding in asking if passage of this ordinance benefits future generations or is “good for the children.”

Except for 2nd Dist. At-Large Councilman Ed Ford. Like on Oct. 1, Ford again voted against the ordinance.

“This is about our country’s nuclear policy,” he said. And in referencing Dwight D. Eisenhower’s farewell address when leaving the White House in January 1961, Ford said that what Eisenhower warned against is “more apparent from what I heard today.”

In that address, President Eisenhower said:

“This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

The ordinance passed out of committee on a 4 to 1 vote and was passed by the full council the next day, Oct. 16, on an 11 to 1 vote.

Surrounded by cowards, thank you Councilman Ford for your courage.

Bruce Rodgers can be contacted at


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