Federal Helicopters Overhead 24-7: Do You Feel More Secure?Permalink +
Mon, Sep 19, 2011, 7:42 am // David Camp
Besides being a taxing authority with a public mandate to provide access to its facilities for all, the Port of Bellingham is a commercial operation which leases land, buildings, dockage, and airport facilities to a wide variety of tenants. The Real Estate department has had to adjust to the recession; vacancies are up, market rents are down, and construction projects scaled back or deferred.
However, one bright spot in the Port's real estate operations is the continuing growth in revenue from one key tenant: the federal government. Recently, the feds increased the number of helicopter tiedowns they lease at the airport from four to fourteen. If you were wondering where on earth all the helicopters flying overhead were from, here is your answer: they are mostly Homeland Security (Customs and Border Patrol;) but also DEA, Coast Guard, and whatever other proliferating federal agencies have a helicopter budget and a pilot to fly missions over Bellingham and Whatcom County.
Now what these missions are is very difficult to ascertain. I called 911 over a surveillance helicopter flying low over my neighborhood (others have seen the same machine flying systematically over town - it is red with a white stripe and a pod containing surveillance devices on its belly,) and was informed it was "Homeland Security." When I finally reached an agent who identified himself as being with Homeland Security, he told me the helicopter was "checking the power lines."
If this explanation is true, it raises several questions: How is "checking the power lines" a federal matter? How is it even of interest to the feds? What is the cost of this apparently redundant activity, considering the power lines are maintained by a regulated utility paid for by electricity consumers? Why is the federal government spending vast sums on maintaining helicopters in Bellingham to do jobs already being done by local utilities?
Is it not more plausible that Homeland Security is actually systematically spying on Bellingham? What are they looking for? Why do they find it necessary to lie to a concerned citizen about the nature of their "mission?" And shouldn't we be concerned about such secret government "missions" against its own citizens?
There are Constitutional issues here, as well. The Fourth Amendment guarantees freedom from unreasonable search and seizure by government. Shouldn't we therefore be free from federal government spying on us in our homes with sophisticated devices? Isn't this a textbook invasion of privacy?
And finally, there is the fiscal issue - the federal government is in a desperate state of financial mismanagement. In August, they came within a day or two of shutting up shop over the debt limit, but miraculously came to a deal which allowed the presses to continue printing dollars. Our "representatives" in the legislature are busily seeking to cut spending and not raise taxes - but they are only seeking to cut programs that actually benefit the people. The Imperial Machine is sacred: military spending is at record levels, as is "Homeland Security" spending, and continues to increase at rates higher than inflation. And we can see directly what they're dumping money on: each helicopter costs about $10,000 per hour to keep aloft (according to an Oregon Wildland FIre Chief - this is what it costs to keep a firefighting helicopter aloft). So, that Homeland Security or DEA helicopter buzzing your neighborhood and making you feel safe costs about $240,000 PER DAY of your money. Multiply that by the fourteen federal helicopters tied down at B'ham Aiport, and it costs $3.4 million PER DAY to keep them all flying. This is about the same amount as the County's budget gap - solving which will result in real hardship to some of your neighbors. But it's small change to a federal government whose "representative" from our county, Mr. Larsen, refuses to hold town hall meetings with the people he is supposed to represent, choosing rather to focus on his real job: servicing the wealthy interests who purchased his job for him and focusing on maxing out his solid gold pension for doing such a fine job as a party functionary.
Now I'm the first to admit that we live in a very benign empire; no one starves in America; we can froth at the mouth and rail freely thanks to the first amendment; we live at unparalleled levels of prosperity and material comfort. Consider this: the Greeks of the golden age that produced Athenian democracy, the philosophy of Plato and Socrates, Euclidian Geometry, and classical architecture, among other great achievements, referred to a heavenly place called "the land of milk and honey." They knew it to be fictional, since how could one ever have an abundance of milk and honey? We, by contrast, live in a literal land of milk and honey - with the proceeds of one or two hours of labor, I can buy three pounds of honey and a gallon of milk, day in and day out, from any of twenty stores within a short distance of my home. We live in luxury the ancient Greeks could only dream about.
But I fear the imperial machine no longer represents the people of America. When I see a spy helicopter from the federal government flying over my town I cannot avoid the thought that it is the agent of a power that considers its own citizens to be a threat. A power that is impoverishing its citizens in order to maintain its budgets and privileged positions. And a power that is unreachable except by those with millions of dollars to buy influence. As a citizen and a taxpayer, I find it hard to respect this government which claims to be "of, by, and for the people" but actually appears to be parasitic, if not predatory upon them.
Mon, Sep 19, 2011, 7:42 am // David CampThis article was originally printed in Whatcom Watch's September Issue - In Newstands Now!
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