Thursday, November 21, 2013

New Journalism & the Alternative Press

By the mid-1960s most college towns had some nearby liberated zone where you could cruise and drink and dream, and along the way find out about what was shaking in the “outside world.” For most Orangemen, the innocently sexist nickname for Syracuse University students, the place was Marshall Street, a commercial strip a few hundred feet off campus, where you could find coffee and company and “underground,” experimental, downright radical books and periodicals of every kind.

     Building on a tradition that stretched back to nineteenth century literary social criticism, early twentieth century investigative journalism, utopian community newspapers, and early radical magazines like The Masses, the modern American alternative press had emerged in mid-50s New York with The Village Voice and Dissent. Within a few years, Paul Krassner launched the irreverent Realist, publishing “diabolical dialogues” that mixed fantasy and reality.
     But a truly counter-cultural underground press movement would not fully blossom until the middle of the 1960s on the West Coast, and then quickly spread back across the country. After the LA Free Press, which provided a passionate voice for “the other side” – specifically youth, leftists, gays, and disaffected locals – came the Berkeley Barb, San Francisco Oracle (and later Bay Guardian), and New York’s East Village Other.
     What distinguished the underground press and “new journalism” writing from their predecessors was a combination of style, focus, and values. Abandoning what looked like the pretence of “objectivity,” most alternative writers embraced advocacy or adopted a more intimate and personal prose style, concerned yet sometimes cynical, detailed and still selective. Many of the publications even looked different, merging print and avant-garde graphics in ways that the mainstream media found unprofessional and alienating to their “mass” audiences.
      Max Scherr started the Berkeley Barb in 1965 to coincide with a Vietnam Day demonstration to stop troop trains. Visually uneven, sometimes shrill but always provocative, it soon reached a circulation of 90,000. The next year saw an explosion of underground papers. The San Francisco Oracle took full advantage of offset printing, the emerging photographic plate technology, to further fuse print and graphics in presenting articles on LSD, orientalia, and peace. In New York, The East Village Other adopted a more conventional layout style, but offered everything from quasi-academic pieces on Timothy Leary and Ken Kesey to underground comics and local coverage of knife fights in the city’s crime-scarred tenements.
     With newspapers popping up across the country, notably Detroit’s Fifth Estate and Lansing’s The Paper, a clearinghouse for articles and ads called Underground Press Service was also established, starting with half a dozen members but reaching 200 papers and a potential audience of more than a million readers within a few years. That was followed by Liberation News Service, which sent out packages three times a week to about 360 counter-cultural and political outlets.
     The psychedelic and “Marxist” wings of this nascent media movement ultimately fractured. But for a glittering moment, as activists and "hippies" looked for ways to “do your own thing” and “change the world” at the same time, there was The Rag out of Austin, perhaps the first “movement” paper – anarchist-structured and strongly anti-sexist, and The Rat, a political alternative to the East Village Other, and The Bird, with its catalog approach to tracking and backing political causes, not to mention Space City, started before a Houston anti-war demo, featuring a rotating staff and strong identification with Black and Chicano militants, and The Berkeley Tribe, born out of sectarian-inspired strikes against The Barb.
     Devouring any new publication that came along, I was increasingly excited by the transformation underway in journalistic and fiction writing. Both were providing increased space for imagination, advocacy and speculation. Just as fiction drifted away from social realism, “new journalists” were breaking with the reporting of isolated events, and starting to consider context and broader social impacts. Adopting some techniques of realism, they were developing devices that gave their writings an immediacy and emotional power missing in both objective reporting and surrealist fiction.
     Subjectivity, which had been common and acceptable during the nineteenth century era of “partisan” press and the turn-of-the-century “yellow journalism” period, returned under the banners of “advocacy” and the “non-fiction novel.” According to Tom Wolfe, a move from news reporting to this field led naturally to the discovery "that the basic reporting unit is no longer the datum, the piece of information, but the scene, since most of the sophisticated strategies of prose depend upon scenes." The old rules no longer apply when a journalist takes this leap, said Wolfe, "it is completely a test of his personality."
    Reporters were turning from the exclusively "objective" concerns for verification, specificity and readability that dominated conventional journalism to the uniqueness of each experience and the writer's impressions and intentions in becoming a witness. The presentation ranged from the polemic to the dramatic, as pioneers pondered their subjects in various aspects and relations.
    Certainly, this social revolution didn't significantly alter the way the "mainstream" press dealt with events. It did, however, expand the range of permissible expression for reporters, paralleling trends in documentary film making, where the subjective point of view has since become a powerful audio-visual tool, as well as in non-fiction writing.
     In the '60s, only a few authors dared to bring their personal experiences into consideration when writing about politics, sociology, and psychology. By the '80s such "testimonial" touches were commonplace; in certain fields, notable pop psychology, they virtually became a requirement.
     At the same moment, speculative fiction – an outgrowth of science fiction and fantasy – moved from the margins to the mainstream. The merging of surrealism and sci fi had begun with writers like Kurt Vonnegut, Ursula LeGuin, Samuel Delany, Harlan Ellison, Romain Gary and others who explored current and potential realities. Since then, this has attained the status of a highly popular genre, often affirming the view that the arithmetically predictable model of the world and universe is only one of many possibilities.

Part Six of “In the 60s: Education of an Outsider.” Originally published April 9, 2008. Next: Birth of the Counterculture

Monday, November 18, 2013

Muckraking and the American Dream

As a teenager, my political epiphany came through literature. Although already leaning toward a liberal perspective, I had no core philosophy with which to connect my instincts until I began studying Jack London, the muckrakers, and the “Lost Generation” of the 1920s. Suddenly, I was immersed in business and government corruption, post-war expatriate society, surrealism and socialism. 
     On the record, it was English class. In reality, it was Political Science 101.
Upton Sinclair
      One of my early “teachers” was David Graham Phillips, who apprenticed as a reporter in the late 19th century for
The New York Sun and New York World and subsequently wrote about the quest for success, his characters usually finding the empty rewards of power and social prestige. Success, he concluded darkly, was "the accumulation of riches enough to make a stir even among the very rich."
    I also learned from Robert Herrick, who looked with passion at attempts to reach humane values in an industrio-capitalistic society. His heroes and heroines struggled through the "rat race," their antagonists not just individuals but the coarsening of competition for materialistic success. Idealism and materialism – those were the underlying values he dramatically juxtaposed in The Common Lot. His next novel, Memoirs of an American Citizen, published in 1905, traced the rise, work and character of a self-made executive and capitalist he named Edward Van Harrington. That early anti-hero's belief was that the strong must rule. His methods included ruthless competition and bribery without scruples, remaining faithful only to a personal code of individual responsibility and productive work. The reading public naturally made comparisons with two famous tycoons, John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie.
     Herrick's later books, published between 1924 and 1933, were even more cynical about humanity. In Waste, engineer Jarvis Thornton finds the progressive movement of his time a sham. His marriage is shattered by property-mad society. In this world, he realizes "a sense of corruption working at the very roots of life, turning it into some obscene joke, a meaningless tale told in the void - waste. All waste."
     The author's lost faith in Western civilization was mitigated only by his hope for a future in which "men will begin the search for the good life not by accumulating possessions, but by building personalities at once governable and creative."
    The first two decades of the twentieth century were riddled with indictments of corrupt, materialists and their destructive works. Upton Sinclair chronicled the exploitation of workers by corporate capitalism, beginning with The Jungle, his 1906 Chicago stockyard nightmare, and climaxing in Oil, a vision of the Harding era oil scandals, industrial warfare and corruption that was adapted for the powerfully atmospheric film There Will Be Blood.
     Frank Norris focused public attention on railroad control of rural life, Winston Churchill described large city business-political machines, and Ida Tarbell examined the Rockefeller system in her History of the Standard Oil Company.
     My personal touchstone was Lincoln Steffens, who told the sad story of the American cities in the pages of McClure's Magazine from 1902 to 1904. Perhaps the most philosophical and consistent of the muckrakers, Steffens had studied in Europe in the late nineteenth century, most notably in the laboratory of Wilhelm Wundt. Upon returning to New York he became a journalist. But by the time he began to unravel "the shame of the cities," his intention was clearly not the presentation of facts for public judgment.
   
Lincoln Steffens
 "This is all very unscientific," he wrote, "but then, I am not a scientist. I am a journalist. I did not gather with indifference all the facts and arrange them patiently for permanent preservation and laboratory analysis. I did not want to preserve, I wanted to destroy the facts. My purpose was no more scientific than the spirit of my investigation and reports; it was....to see if the shameful facts, spread out in all their shame, would not burn through our civic shamelessness and set fire to American pride. That was the journalism of it.
I wanted to move and to convince. That is why I was not interested in all the facts, sought none that was new, and rejected half those that were old."
     As the country drifted on a sea of expedience, Steffens realized that fact-finding alone would not change the direction that the emerging "American Dream" was taking. He looked at the world through eyes of zealous advocacy, and concluded that the "master methods" of "despised businessmen" and "braggart politicians" were practiced also by the population at large. 
     "The boss is not a political, he is an American institution,” he claimed, “the product of a freed people that have not the spirit to be free. And it's all moral weakness; a weakness right where we think we are strongest....We are responsible, not our leaders, since we follow them. We let them divert our loyalty from the United States to some 'party'; we let them boss the party and turn our municipal democracies into autocracies and our republican nation into a plutocracy."
     Steffens moved from city to city – St. Louis, Minneapolis, Pittsburg, Philadelphia, Chicago, New York. Some of them had already acquiesced under competition, power-brokering and the success and excess of the most unscrupulous. His characters weren’t fantasy visions; they were pillars of city life, still in power when he wrote about them. 
    In St. Louis, for example, he learned the history of Edward R. Butler and saw the indifference of residents to his "boodling." Colonel Butler was an Irish horseshoer who had transitioned from handling mules to arranging elections. His "boodling" involved influential citizens, capitalists and great corporations, Steffens wrote, "for the stock-in-trade of the boodler is the rights, privileges, franchises and real property of the city, and his source of corruption is the top, not the bottom of society." Working with corporate managers, the colonel "organized and systematized" the special-interest capitalism of his city.
     When circuit attorney Joseph Folk exposed the Butler system, the people of St. Louis remained silent: "When Butlerized tickets were announced, there was no audible protest. It was time for an independent movement. A third ticket might not have won, but it would have shown the politicians how many honest votes there were in the city, and what they would have to reckon with in the force of public sentiment. Nothing of the sort was done. St. Louis, rich, dirty and despoiled, was busy with business." 
     In a postscript, written only a year later, Steffens reported the Supreme Court's reversal of the "boodle" convictions Folk had obtained. "The whole machinery of justice," he wrote, "broke down under the strain of boodle-pull."
     As a study of interest-group dynamics, Steffens' reporting demolished the myths that corruption came from the bottom of society, that it was merely a sign of "growing pains," that the immigrant was lawless, the politician innately bad and the businessman innately good. The Shame of the Cities was a devastating progress report on the American Dream.
     While the business manager emerged as villain, the reform politician appeared as potential savior. Theodore Roosevelt was Steffens' model leader in the opening days of the century, and his program of reform looked like a way out of shame. The nationwide adoption of Roosevelt reforms, he wrote, "would result in a revolution, more radical and terrible to existing institutions, from the Congress to the Church, from the bank to the ward organization, than socialism or even anarchy."
     A century ago progressive journalists made an articulate case for government intervention and regulation. However, Roosevelt's attempts to challenge the power of business met with resistance in Congress. Steffens eventually labeled it a "chamber of traitors," and along with other advocates turned his eye toward corruption at the Federal level. Ultimately, the journalists and the President parted company when Roosevelt found himself and his congressional allies under fire.
     In February, 1906, David Graham Phillips' new series of articles on political corruption began to appear in Cosmopolitan. It was called "The Treason of the Senate."
    President Roosevelt fired back. "In Pilgrim's Progress,” he noted, “the Man with the Muckrake is set forth as the example of him whose vision is fixed on carnal instead of on spiritual things. Yet he also typifies the man who in this life consistently refuses to see aught that is lofty, and fixes his eye with solemn intentness only on that which is vile and debasing. There is filth on the floor, and it must be scraped up with the muckrake; and there are times and places where this service is the most needed of all the services that can be performed. But the man who never does anything else, who never thinks or speaks or writes save of his feats with the muckrake, speedily becomes, not a help to society, not an incitement to good, but one of the most potent forces of evil."
     As Steffens saw it, Roosevelt the reformer had become a "careerist on the side of the people." A revolution in moral concern, he decided, would not come from the White House or Congress. By 1908 he had turned away from muckraking journalism. It seemed to him like pointless shouting, and offered no viable solutions. Instead, he moved toward a form of socialism founded on Christian ethics, and began a series of personal trials which took him through World War I, brief optimism about the Russian Revolution, and finally back to advocacy journalism in the 1930s.
     Steffens' change was paralleled by the shift in American literary sensibilities. After World War I altruism gave way to skepticism. Idealism had failed, and many writers and artists, those who didn't physically leave the continent, began to openly sneer at capitalism and its elite competitors.

Part three of “In the 60s: Education of an Outsider.” Originally published April, 2008

Monday, November 11, 2013

MIND GAMES: Cyberspace and Psychiatric Drugs

At least 10 percent of all Americans over six-years-old are on antidepressants. That’s more than 35 million people, double the number from less than two decades ago. Meanwhile, anti-psychotics have eclipsed cholesterol treatments as the country’s fastest selling and most profitable drugs, even though half the prescriptions treat disorders for which they haven’t been proven effective. At least 5 million children and adolescents use them, in part because more kids are being diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

This raises some troubling alternatives: Are a growing number of people experiencing psychological troubles? Have we just become better at recognizing them? Or is some other dynamic at work?

One possibility is that the criteria for what constitutes a mental illness or disability may have expanded to the point that a vast number appear to have clinical problems. But there’s an even more insidious development: the drugs being used to treat many of the new diagnoses could cause long-term effects that persist after the original trouble has been resolved. That’s the case made by Robert Whitaker in his book, Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America.

Speaking of long-term impacts on the brain, we’re also heading toward a world where humans are directly linked with computers that profoundly influence their perceptions and ideas. Despite many potential benefits, there is danger here as well. Rather than simply augmenting our memories by providing neutral information, the brain-computer connection may lead people into separate realities based on their assumptions and politics.

Brain-altering drugs and digital “indoctrination” – a potent combination. Together, they pose a potential threat not only to the stability of many individuals but of society itself. Seduced by the promise that our brains can be managed and enhanced without serious side-effects, we may be creating a future where psychological dysfunction becomes a post-modern plague and powerful forces use cyberspace to reshape “reality” in their private interest.

Do prescription drugs create new mental problems? And if so, how could it be happening? For Whitaker the answer lies in the effects of drugs on neurotransmitters, a process he calls negative feedback. When a drug blocks neurotransmitters or increases the level of serotonin, for instance, neurons initially attempt to counteract the effects. When the drug is used over a long period, however, it can produce “substantial and long-lasting alterations in neural function,” claims Steven Hyman, former director of the National Institutes of Mental Health. The brain begins to function differently. Its ability to compensate starts to fail and side effects created by the drug emerge.

What comes next? More drugs and, along with them, new side effects, an evolving chemical mixture often accompanied by a revised diagnosis. According to Marcia Angell, former editor of The New England Journal of Medicine, it can go this way: use of an antidepressant leads to mania, which leads to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, which leads to the prescription of mood stabilizers. Through such a process people can end up taking several drugs daily for many years.

What may happen after that is deeply troubling. Researcher Nancy Andreasen claims the brain begins to shrink, an effect she links directly to dosage and duration. “The prefrontal cortex doesn’t get the input it needs and is being shut down by drugs,” she explained in The New York Times. “That reduces the psychotic symptoms.” But the pre-frontal cortex gradually atrophies.

Anyone who has been on the psychiatric drug roller coaster understands some of the ride’s risks and how hard it can be to get off. But the new implication is that we may be experiencing a medically-induced outbreak of brain dysfunction caused by the exploding use of drugs. One big unanswered question at the moment: What does Big Pharma really know, and when did they learn it?

Drug companies are not the only ones experimenting with our brains. Bold research is also being pursued to create brain-computer interfaces that can help people overcome problems like memory loss. According to writer Michael Chorost, author of World Wide Mind and interface enthusiast who benefited from ear implants after going deaf, we may soon be directly connected to the Internet through neural implants. It sounds convenient and liberating. Ask yourself a question and, presto, there’s the answer. Google co-founder Larry Page can imagine a not-too-distant future in which you simply think about something and “your cell phone whispers the answer in your ear.”

Beyond the fact that this could become irritating, there’s an unspoken assumption that the information received is basically unbiased, like consulting an excellent encyclopedia or a great library catalog. This is where the trouble starts. As Sue Halperin noted in a New York Review of Books essay, “Mind Control and the Internet,” Search engines like Google use an algorithm to show us what’s important. But even without the manipulation of marketing companies and consultants who influence some listings, each search is increasingly shaped to fit the profile of the person asking. If you think that we both get the same results from the same inquiry, guess again.

What really happens is that you get results assembled just for you. Information is prioritized in a way that reinforces one’s previous choices, influenced by suggested assumptions and preferences. As Eli Pariser argues in The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You, environmental activists and energy executives get very different listings when they inquire about climate science. It looks and feels “objective” but they’re being fed data that fits with their existing view – and probably not seeing much that conflicts.

A study discussed in Sociological Quarterly looked at this development by following attitudes about climate science over a decade. Here’s a strange but significant finding: Although a consensus emerged among most scientists over the years, the number of Republicans who accepted their conclusion dropped. Why? Because the Republicans were getting different information than the Democrats and others who embraced the basic premise. In other words, their viewpoint was being reflected back at them.

Does this sound dangerous? Pariser thinks so, and suggests that the type of reinforcement made common by search engines is leading to inadvertent self-indoctrination. For democracy to function effectively, people need exposure to various viewpoints, “but instead we’re more and more enclosed in our own bubbles,” he writes. Rather than agreeing on a set of shared facts we’re being led deeper into our different worlds.

Whether this is a problem depends somewhat on your expectations. For some people it is merely a bump in the road, a faltering step in the inevitable evolution of human consciousness. Techno-shamen and other cosmic optimists see the potential of drug-induced enlightenment and an Internet-assisted “hive mind,” and believe that the long-term outcome will be less violence, more trust, and a better world. But others have doubts, questioning whether we’ll really end up with technological liberation and a psychic leap forward. It could go quite differently, they worry. We could instead see millions of brain-addled casualties and even deeper social polarization.

How will current trends influence democracy and basic human relations? Increased trust and participation don’t immediately come to mind. Rather, the result could be more suspicion, denial and paranoia, as if we don’t have enough. In fact, even the recent upsurge in anger and resentment may be drug and Internet-assisted, creating fertile ground for opportunists and demagogues.

In False Alarm: The truth about the epidemic of fear, New York internist Marc Siegel noted that when the amygdala — the Brain’s central station for processing emotions – detects a threatening situation, it pours out stress hormones. If the stress persists too long, however, it can malfunction, overwhelm the hippocampus (center of the "thinking" brain), and be difficult to turn off. In the long term, this "fear biology" can wear people down, inducing paralysis or making them susceptible to diseases and delusions that they might otherwise resist. Addressing this problem with drugs that change the brain’s neural functioning isn’t apt to help. Either will the Internet’s tendency to provide information that reinforces whatever one already thinks.

More than half a century ago, Aldous Huxley – who knew a bit about drugs – issued a dire prediction. He didn’t see the Internet coming, but other than that his vision remains relevant. “There will be within the next generation or so a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude,” he wrote in Brave New World, “and producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies, so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them but will rather enjoy it, because they will be distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda, brainwashing or brainwashing enhanced by pharmacological methods."

Pretty grim, but there’s no going back. Despite any dangers posed by computer algorithms and anti-psychotic drugs, they are with us for the foreseeable future. Still, what we’ve learned about them in recent years could help us to reduce the negatives. Not every illness listed in the DMS – that constantly growing, Big Pharma-influenced psychiatric bible – requires drug treatment. And the results of your online searches will very likely tell you what you want to know, but that does not mean you’re getting a “balanced” or comprehensive picture.

(Originally published on 6/15/11, based on a radio broadcast)

Monday, November 4, 2013

How Lockheed and Sandia Came to Vermont

On October 2, 2009 Senator Bernie Sanders made one of his classic fiery speeches on the floor of the US Senate. This time Vermont's independent socialist was taking on Lockheed Martin and other top military contractors for what he called “systemic, illegal, and fraudulent behavior, while receiving hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money.”
     Among other crimes, Sanders mentioned how Lockheed had defrauded the government by fraudulently inflating the cost of several Air Force contracts, lied about the costs when negotiating contracts for the repairs on US warships, and submitted false invoices for payment on a multi-billion dollar contract connected to the Titan IV space launch vehicle program.
     A month later, however, he was in a different mood when he hosted a delegation from Sandia National Laboratories. Sandia is managed for the Department of Energy by Sandia Inc., a wholly-owned Lockheed subsidiary. At Sanders’ invitation, the Sandia delegation was in Vermont to talk partnership and scout locations for a satellite lab. He had been working on the idea since 2008 when he visited Sandia headquarters in New Mexico.
     In January 2010 he took the next major step – organizing a delegation of Vermonters. The group included Green Mountain Power CEO Mary Powell; Domenico Grasso, vice president for research at the University of Vermont; David Blittersdorf, co-founder of NRG Systems and CEO of Earth Turbines; and Scott Johnston, CEO of the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation, which runs Efficiency Vermont.
     Despite concerns about Lockheed’s bad corporate behavior Sanders didn’t think that inviting Sandia to Burlington meant helping the parent corporation to get away with anything. Rather, he envisioned Vermont transformed “into a real-world lab for the entire nation” through a partnership. “We're at the beginning of something that could be of extraordinary significance to Vermont and the rest of the country,” he promised.
     When the project was publicly announced in December 2011, Sanders challenged the description of Lockheed as Sandia’s “parent company,’ and turned to Sandia Vice President Rick Stulen, who explained that “all national laboratories” are required to have “an oversight board provided by the private sector. So, Lockheed Martin does provide oversight, but all of the work is done by Sandia National Laboratories and we’re careful to put firewalls in place between the laboratory and Lockheed Martin.”
     Gov. Peter Shumlin credited Sanders for bringing the new multi-million dollar Center for Energy Transformation and Innovation to the state. Vermont’s junior Senator was “like a dog with a bone” on the issue, recalled the governor at their joint press conference. The project, a partnership between Sandia National Laboratories, the University of Vermont, Green Mountain Power and Vermont businesses, would create “a revolution in the way we are using power,” Shumlin predicted.
     To achieve that, the center has up to $15 million to accelerate energy efficiency, move toward renewable and localized sources of energy, and make Vermont “the first state to have near-universal smart meter installations,” Sanders explained. Sandia will invest $3 million a year, along with $1 million each from the Department of Energy and state coffers.
     On Nov. 4, Sanders and Shumlin held another press event, this one in Williston with representatives of IBM, Sandia, and the US Department of Energy to launch a Vermont Photovoltaic Regional Test Center. The new center, one of only five in the country, will research ways to cut the cost of solar power and integrate solar energy into Vermont’s statewide smart grid. 
    For Sandia, having a Vermont presence provides “a way to understand all of the challenges that face all states,” Stulen explained in 2011. Vermont’s size makes it more possible “to get something done,” he said, revealing that considerable integration had already occurred with the university, private utilities and other stakeholders.
     Vermont’s reputation for energy innovation also attracted $69.8 million in US Department of Energy funding to promote rapid statewide conversion to smart grid technology. This is being matched, according to Sanders, by another $69 million from Vermont utilities.

Flying High: How Lockheed Happened

Lockheed Martin is one of the top US government contractors, bringing in $36 billion in 2008. That’s roughly $260 per household, known in some parts of the country as the Lockheed Martin Tax. It is also a top US weapons contractor (about 80% of its revenue comes from the Pentagon), as well as high among Departments of Energy and Transportation contractors, and in the top five with the Department of State, NASA,and the Departments of Justice and Housing and Urban Development.
     Beyond producing planes, subs and weapons systems it has supplied interrogators for the prison at Guantanamo Bay, trained police in Haiti, run a postal service in the Congo, and helped write the Afghan constitution. In the US, it has helped to scan mail, design and run the Census, process taxes for the IRS, provide biometric ID devices for the FBI, and played a role in building ships and communication equipment for the Coast Guard. Its more than 100,000 employees have a presence in 46 states.
     Despite – or, maybe because of – its scope and size, however, Lockheed executives sometimes feel the need to violate rules. As a result, as Bernie Sanders often mentioned in speeches until a Sandia lab for Vermont took shape, it is also number one in contractor misconduct. Between 1995 and 2010 it engaged in at least 50 instances of misconduct and paid $577 million in fines and settlements. 
     In the mid-1990s then-Rep. Sanders objected to $91 million in bonuses for Lockheed-Martin executives after the defense contractor laid off 17,000 workers.  Calling it “payoffs for layoffs” he succeeded in getting some of that money back.
     The corporation has come a long way from its beginnings before the First World War. Two brothers, Allen Haines and Malcolm Loughead, formed their first aircraft company in 1916, after building a plane a few years earlier. When their charter service foundered, they turned to government work with plans for a “flying boat” known as the F-1. The Navy passed and the plane was used only for flight demonstrations, but the brothers managed to survive in business by marketing tourist flights.
     A decade after the war they incorporated Lockheed Aircraft Corp. in Nevada. Its first plane, the Vega, made possible explorer George Wilkins’ first flight over the Arctic Circle. Due largely to the publicity surrounding that event Lockheed’s stock value rose fast enough at the end of the 1920s to make it an attractive takeover target. It soon became part of Detroit Aircraft, then touted as “the General Motors of the Air.” Detroit Aircraft went belly up within a few years, however, and Lockheed was purchased by a group of investors for only $40,000. By 1935 it was back in the black, bringing in more than $2 million in sales.
     Even before World War II most of its planes were being built for the military, at home and abroad. Britain had purchased 1,700 by 1941. The scale of the UK deal, along with the 10,000 twin-engine fighter planes it subsequently sold to the US during the war, turned it into the largest company in the industry.
     Although Lockheed also produced commercial airplanes – notably the Constellation, used by TWA and Pan Am – after WWII its bread and butter became fighter planes and patrol aircraft for the Air Force and Navy. It was simple math. Post-war military sales to the government averaged about ten times the sales to airlines.
     Lockheed succeeded in part by equating its own interests with the national interest. During the Cold War the rationale wasn’t just competition with the Soviet Union but also building up the exciting aeronautics industry, keeping skilled personnel, and promoting jobs directly and through various vendors. All this required long-term planning and sustained government funding. The US had a global responsibility, argued Lockheed’s executives, and that meant rapid transport of people, food, energy and weapons.
     The development of its C-5A Galaxy – a Vietnam-era, over-sized transport craft with a 223-foot wingspan – illustrates the company’s actual approach to partnership with the government. At first, they submitted low bids and talked about the national interest. By the time the project was close to delivery, however, the price was up by billions, plus a steady income for years to come supplying replacement parts --at open-ended prices. With the only real downside the risk of a small fine if they broke the rules, it was well worth the price.
     The SEC later found that Lockheed and the Air Force concealed the overruns, and Lockheed executives sold off their own stocks while withholding information from shareholders. As Rep. Otis Pike recalled, the C-5A scandal illustrated Lockheed’s sales tactics. Once government buys in and the overruns begin, “they make up their hole by laying it on the spare parts. There’s not a damned thing the Air Force can do about it…Once they start buying equipment, they have to get their spare parts.”
     As the industry evolved, adding missiles, exotic aircraft and space vehicles, Lockheed was at the forefront with its Polaris missile and high-tech spy planes for the CIA. The most famous was the U-2, a fast, high altitude aircraft that was top secret until one was shot down. The real important of the U-2 was that it revealed the exaggeration of Soviet military might. But few people were allowed to see what the U-2 photos actually proved. Instead military spending hit a new high to combat the alleged threat.
     Beginning the 1990s Lockheed was a winner in the long-term effort to privatize government services. In 2000, it won a $43.8 million contract to run the Defense Civilian Personnel Data System, one of the largest human resources systems in the world. As a result, a major defense contractor consolidated all Department of Defense personnel systems, covering hiring and firing for about 750,000 civilian employees. This put the contractor at the cutting edge of Defense Department planning, and made it a key gatekeeper at the revolving door between the US military and private interests.
     For the past decade Lockheed’s largest project has been the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the largest project in the history of military aviation. One Lockheed executive has called it “the Super Bowl” and the “program of the century.” Early plans called for the US and Britain to buy more than 3,000 planes.
     The initial idea was to create a capable plane without the performance problems that had plagued earlier efforts. But as the R & D proceeded, various capabilities and requests collided. The Navy version turned out to be seriously overweight. National partners meanwhile quibbled over who should get what lucrative production work. One faction in the military publicly criticized the plane, especially the idea of its so-called “multi-role.”
     Maintenance and support would carry a high price tag – $700 million over the lifetime of a plane. The engines reportedly ran so hot that they could melt the decks of aircraft carriers on vertical takeoff and fatigue the metal beneath.
     On October 28, the Burlington City Council defeated two resolutions that would have opposed a proposal to base F-35s at the Burlington International Airport. The first was designed to block the F-35s from the Vermont Air National Guard facility at the airport. The second would have created "health and safety standards" applying to all planes.
     The votes were the latest in a series by communities near the airport on whether to support bedding the planes in Vermont. In South Burlington, councilors earlier this year voted in favor of the F-35, reversing an earlier decision. In July, the Winooski City Council voted to oppose the basing plan.

Strange Bedfellows: Sandia and the Senator

Most of the revenue for Lockheed’s Sandia National Laboratory comes from maintaining nuclear weapons and assessing defense systems. Its primary headquarters is on Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, NM, and employed about 7,500 people. The other is in Livermore, CA, employing another 1,000. If the Pentagon ever decides to make the F-35 capable of dropping nuclear bombs, not an impossible development, Sandia is very likely where it will be made.
     But not at the Vermont lab. Bernie Sanders has repeatedly pledged that Vermont’s facility will strictly avoid defense work. Instead, it will focus on energy technology and cyber-security issues, and examine "how to bring these technologies to bear and to use Vermont as a test bed," explained Les Shephard, Sandia's vice president for energy, resources and nonproliferation. To do that, Shephard added, the Vermont satellite lab will have access to Sandia resources to develop innovations that could, ideally, be spun off into new companies.
     Some resulting enterprises might even be based in Vermont.
     The state was appealing, according to Shephard, because it was already "a national leader" in energy efficiency. But it was also small enough to serve as a manageable site for a variety of experiments. At around $20 billion Vermont’s total GDP is less than half of what Lockheed makes in a year.
     In addition to Vermont’s reputation for energy efficiency and “cooperative utilities,” Sandia also appreciates the region’s challenging climate. "We could develop, deploy and assess various types of technology in cold weather," Shephard explained. "Our test facilities are in the bright skies of New Mexico, where we have over 300 days of sunshine."
     Another stated focus of the center is to ensure reliable service. That means “anticipating any cyber challenges that may be opened up, or vulnerabilities that may be opened up as we move to this new future,” Stulen said. “Sandia is very much in the forefront of cyber research.”
     Joint efforts between Green Mountain Power and Sandia began at least two years ago. The long-term goal is to make Vermont “a national example of how to deploy smart grid technology across a state, along with renewable generation and really demonstrate that we can handle the security issues that come with that.” notes Mary Powell, Green Mountain Power’s CEO.
     One of those issues is that having numerous interactive devices on two-way networks creates new risks. According to Kenneth van Meter, manager of energy and cyber services for Lockheed Martin, “By the end of 2015 we will have 440 million new hackable points on the grid. Nobody’s equipped to deal with that today.” Asked about cyber threats, Stulen has acknowledged that use of “more portals” creates more potential threats, but adds that “we think this is a manageable situation. In fact, the benefits far outweigh the risks.”
     In the category of benefits, Stulen points to the potential for lower utilities bills by being able to monitor home energy use in detail. But security is also a focus. “We don’t see it as an overriding issue right now, but as a national laboratory our job is to anticipate the future,” he said.
     “The federal government has invested $4 billion in smart grid technology,” Sanders notes, “and they want to know that we’re going to work out some of the problems as other states follow us. So Vermont, in a sense, becomes a resource for other states to learn how to do it, how to overcome problems that may arise.
     “In many ways, we are a laboratory for the rest of this country in this area,” Sanders adds. To that end, an exchange program was launched between Sandia and the University of Vermont in 2011, with nine students and several faculty members working on smart grid-related project. The center also began offering short courses on smart grid modernization for Vermont utility staff and energy-tech company management.
     Earlier the same year, however, a dispute erupted over a related development agreement between the City of Burlington and Lockheed Martin. After months of study and debate, the City Council adopted a community standards resolution, largely in response to public criticism of the deal with Lockheed signed by Progressive Mayor Bob Kiss.
     Kiss vetoed the Council's resolution. But three weeks later, Rob Fuller, a spokesman for Lockheed, said the deal was off. "While several projects showed promise initially and we have learned a tremendous amount from each other," he wrote, "we were unable to develop a mutually beneficial implementation plan. Therefore Lockheed Martin has decided to conclude the current collaboration." 
     It read like a Dear John, and a silent bow to public pressure.
     Sensitive to local criticisms of Lockheed and the F-35, Sanders bristles at the description of the corporation as “a parent company” of Sandia, which was founded in 1949 and has roots in the development of the atomic bomb during World War II. The company’s website describes its work during that period as “ordnance engineering,” which involved turning the nuclear innovations of the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore labs into functioning weapons.
     Revenue figures indicate that most of Sandia’s revenue continues to come from maintaining nuclear weapons and assessing defense systems. Its primary headquarters is on Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, NM, where about 7,500 people are employed. The other big lab is in Livermore, CA, employing another 1,000. Known in the past as a “national security lab,” Sandia’s 21st century mission has expanded to include “security of the smart grid.”
     A statement by Sanders released at the 2011 press conference stressed that although the US has 17 national labs doing “cutting edge research,” none of them were located in New England. That was what he hoped to change after visiting Sandia’s New Mexico headquarters back in 2008.
     “At the end of the day,” recalled Les Shephard, “he turned to the laboratory director and said, ‘I’d really like to have a set of capabilities like Sandia in New England — and very much so in Vermont.’ And that’s how it all evolved.”
     “It occurred to me,” Sanders recalled later, “that we have the potential to establish a very strong and positive relationship with Sandia here in the State of Vermont.” His hope is to make the current thee-year arrangement “a long-term presence” between the lab, UVM, utilities and other businesses.
     “This is a really exciting development for Vermont,” said Shumlin, calling the partnership “a huge opportunity and a huge accomplishment.”
     Sanders added that “working with Sandia and their wide areas of knowledge – some of the best scientists in the country – we hope to take a state that is already a leader in some of these areas even further.” Lockheed’s past offenses didn't come up.