Sweet home Alabama

Three years ago, the US Navy celebrated Seafair by bringing a Trident nuclear submarine, the USS Ohio—192 warheads and all—into Elliott Bay for Seafair festivities. It was the first time in the history of Seafair that the Navy's nuclear arsenal had been featured. To make matters worse, the sub sailed into Seattle on the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. It was as if, in the words of one critic, the city had decided to unveil an admiring memorial for the institution of slavery on Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.

The response was predictable. The sub was met by a large demonstration and a four-day peace encampment in Myrtle Edwards Park. Activists dropped banners, disrupted receptions, and hurled a red "bloodlike substance" (paint) onto the Ohio.

Subsequently, the city made a vague commitment to demonstrators to involve church and peace groups in the process of Seafair ship selection—a process entirely in the control of the Navy and the private Seafair commission that runs the event— in the future.

Here we go again. Last month, the Navy quietly announced that to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the modern submarine, the Trident-class nuclear sub USS Alabama would be one of the 11 featured ships the Navy would provide to Seafair this year. Once again, there was no consultation with the city or community groups.

"I think there's a real parallel between the Navy's decision to bring the Trident to Seattle with no process that's even remotely democratic and the way military policy itself is made," says Mary Hanson, an activist with the Northwest Disarmament Coalition. The NWDC, an alliance of peace and religious groups, is asking the city to disinvite the sub and preparing to protest if it does not. Both the Navy and Seafair officials say they expect protests; they don't seem to care.

The Navy normally swaps ships in and out of the Seafair roster up until literally days before the festival, but in the case of the Alabama they say their decision is final. Seafair pointedly told an inquiring City Council member that the festival receives no city money—it in fact pays the city some $150,000 annually in permits and fees— and what it does is therefore none of the city's business.

"The real question," says Martin Fleck, executive director of Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility, "is whether it is appropriate to showcase this genocidal weapon as part of Seattle's family-oriented festival." Indeed, the Navy's 18 Trident subs, eight based a few miles away in Bangor, are quite probably the most lethal war machines ever designed.

With 192 warheads among its missiles, the Trident C-4 "Fleet Ballistic Missile" blasts upward from the underwater sub in an enormous compressed air bubble. Bursting from the water, the engine ignites and complex guidance systems point the rocket toward its target. It can travel up to 4,000 miles in 25 minutes or less. The missile uses three stages to get to space, where precise maneuvers steer each of the eight "reentry vehicles" to their separate targets. Dropping back through the atmosphere, each warhead lands with amazing accuracy—some within 300 feet of their target.

Pretty cool, huh? On arrival, a thermonuclear explosion five times more powerful than the one that destroyed Hiroshima assures that the target will be obliterated, military and civilian populations alike. And four of the Tridents, including the Alabama, are presently scheduled for a massively expensive ($6.5 billion or $20 billion, depending on how you count your tax dollars) post-Cold War upgrade of their missile systems that would make them even faster, more accurate, and deadlier (see Impolitics, 5/4).

"It really seems like the military wants to normalize nuclear weapons, to get people to react to nuclear weapons as they would react to any other military equipment," says Hanson. There are, of course, other goals. These weapons, with no particular purpose beyond nuclear blackmail and corporate welfare, are slated for expensive upgrades at a time when there are no credible threats to US security that warrant such firepower. They need to be sold to taxpayers; Seafair is their commercial.

This year, once again, the nuclear sub will be in port during the anniversary of Hiroshima. For the Japanese, it must seem as though we're dancing on their ancestors' graves.

Towing the line

City Council watchers now say the council lacks the spine to reform City Attorney Mark Sidran's towing law that unfairly targets poor and minority drivers. Substantive reform, once thought to be a shoo-in to pass, may now die for lack of a fifth vote.

What happened? The reform flag, which is at or near the top of the list of political priorities these days in the African-American community, has been raised by the council's only person of color, Richard McIver— no flaming liberal—and has received support from Nick Licata, Peter Steinbrueck, and Judy Nicastro. But of the likeliest fifth votes, Richard Conlin continued his record of hostility to the poor by voting to uphold Darth Sidran's injustice in committee, while Heidi Wills, counted by the papers as an undecided swing vote, is perhaps harkening back to her acceptance of campaign money conditional on her public support for Sidran's "civility" agenda. She also formerly worked for County Exec Ron Sims, who is reportedly lobbying behind the scenes on Sidran's behalf.

Conlin and Wills are also—like Licata, Steinbrueck, and Nicastro—erstwhile members of the Green Party, and it's troubling that a party that has been criticized for its lack of diversity can't keep its own members from bolting on an issue of key importance to the black community. It's not really the Green Party's fault, though; Conlin can't be counted on for anything, and as for Wills—well, let's just say it's touching that she prospectively cares more about circus animals than African Americans or the poor.

 
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