Wednesday, August 31, 2011

"We persist in building these bases"

Veterans of the war on Afghanistan and their families are touring the U.S. right now, bringing out some of the truth that is said to be the first casualty of war.

Widow Ashley Joppa-Hagemann electrified us with the story of her husband's suicide. Army Staff Sargeant Jared August Hagemann killed himself in June "to free himself from the pain, and from the Rangers" after seven years and seven deployments, and a PTSD diagnosis. Ashley described how Jared would drink heavily before each deployment because "he wanted to distance himself, numb himself from what he was going to do." When he began threatening to kill himself he stated to other members of the Army Rangers, "Get away from me. I quit." He had been forcibly discharged from the hospital after he referred himself for mental health issues, according to Ashley, who now cares for their two young children without a dad.

Ashley blames the Rangers for Jared's death, claiming that they minimized his condition, pressuring him to stay in the unit,  and telling him to stay on base and stay away from his wife even as he repeatedly threatened suicide. She is angry that they would not hold a memorial because they wanted to keep the media away. Some of that anger showed Aug. 27 when she was dragged out of a book signing for war criminal Donald Rumsfeld after handing him a copy of Jared's funeral program and saying he joined the Army because he believed Rumsfeld's lies.

Afghanistan Veterans Against the War currently touring East coast cities should be deluged with media attention, but the talk at NYU I watched live on the IVAW-TV channel August 30 was sparsely reported in the mainstream press. The audio quality made it difficult to hear clearly, so I never caught the name of the third vet appearing with Brock McIntosh and Jacob George, and it was hard to tell which of the three was speaking at time. The men were reporting back on their tours of duty but also on a recent trip with a U.S. delegation for nonviolence. According to AVAW's blog: "Their mission was twofold: to gain a greater understanding of ordinary Afghans’ needs, fears, and desires for their country, and to discover ways U.S. activists can support indigenous nonviolent efforts to reach those goals."

They described their perception that the U.S. has been negotiating for about two years for a ceasefire with the Taliban, with the latter insisting any deal hinges on the U.S. removing its military bases. "But we persist in building these bases." Now word is that Taliban negotiators may have conceded the point and are demanding tanks, missiles and other weapons be supplied to them. These young vets are cynical enough about their own government to suspect that such a deal may be brokered.

Why would the U.S. military arm its own opponents? Follow the money. Democracy Now! reported this week under the headline Pentagon Use of No-Bid War Contracts Balloons to $140 Billion:
The Pentagon’s use of no-bid contracts has tripled since the United States was attacked on 9/11, in spite of promises to reform the controversial practice. According to a new investigative report from the Center for Public Integrity, no-bid spending has ballooned from $50 billion in 2003 to $140 billion in 2011. In addition... the independent Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan is preparing to release a report showing that one in every six contracting and grant dollars spent in Iraq and Afghanistan has been wasted, totaling some $30 billion lost.
While many in the U.S. continue to believe the lie from those elected on campaign contributions from war contractors -- that we must fight "terrorists" abroad to keep our own citizens safe at home -- I hope that economic distress will force us to admit that occupying Afghanistan indefinitely is unaffordable. As vets and their families continue to speak out, the public may be ready to stop construction at Bagram and other bases, and all our voices are needed to amplify the call: bring our war dollars home NOW!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Who's On The Verge Of Defeat?

Labeled MAP, the only one included with this AP story datelined Washington and hosted by Google. What country is missing from the picture?
Some official pronouncements cry out to be parsed. This is one of them.
Al-Qaida's No. 2 reported killed by US in Pakistan 
by Matt Apuzzo of Associated P-word
WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. and Pakistani officials said Saturday that al-Qaida's second-in-command, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, has been killed in Pakistan, delivering another big blow to a terrorist group that the U.S. believes to be on the verge of defeat. (emphasis mine)
Spinning the war as rock 'em sock 'em robots,  the writer goes on to report (i.e. repeat from a government news release) that U.S. forces believe al-Qaida is shaky since Osama bin Laden was captured. Something about his use of the phrase "unusually frank" makes me feel like I'm reading the Onion, as in: 
... the Obama administration has been unusually frank in its assessment that al-Qaida is on the ropes, its leadership in disarray.
But did the insurgency crumble once bin Laden was reported to have been executed? Hardly.
Senior al-Qaida figures have been killed before, only to be replaced. 
No kidding. Maybe because NATO and the CIA are creating terrorists by the cartloads with civilian bombing and night raids?
But the Obama administration's tenor reflects a cautious optimism that victory in the decade-long fight against al-Qaida could be at hand...Since bin Laden's death, counterterrorism officials have hoped to capitalize on al-Qaida's unsettled leadership. The more uncertain the structure, the harder it is for al-Qaida to operate covertly and plan attacks.
Thus the drone strikes in Pakistan week after week, month after month, year after year unto a decade. It's all justified, see? We have them on the run. Trust us. Go back to your MAP.

Don't look at any photos like this because we have it all under control.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Information Into Action

Do you like to inform yourself but also feel the need to put information into action?

You could read this informative article from Robert Naiman of Just Foreign Policy, Why the Jobs Argument Against Military Cuts Is Bogus. In a nutshell: because military spending is lousy at generating jobs, and the path to full employment lies elsewhere.

Then, you could spring into action and register to participate in the Federal Budget Activity I will be leading at a "Military Industrial Complex at 50" conference in Charlottesville, VA Sep 17.

Then you might go on to write a letter to the editor, op-ed, blog post, share on facebook or otherwise communicate with the increasingly bewildered U.S. public. To make this even more fun, you could get PINK and show up with your message at a large public event -- such as we did yesterday in Maine at the Blue Angels Air Show protest organized by Tom Sturtevant of Veterans for Peace.

It was great to be in action with a Libyan-American family from Portland, and to hear about the connection between militarism and environmental harm from Beth Adams, who was headed to the Tar Sands action at the White House next. Here are some of the disturbing facts Beth shared about the Pentagon's recruiter-polluter footprint:
The Navy requires local sponsors to provide 48,600 gallons of fuel per weekend show. In FY10 the Blue Angels used 97,610 barrels, or 4.1 million gallons of fuel, emitting 88 million pounds of carbon dioxide. The Pentagon uses more petroleum than any other agency on the planet---$13-18 billion anually, more than 80 percent of the U.S. government's total.
Besides wasting clean air, flying jets around to show off wastes a lot of tax $$ too. A point made here by our friends from Food not Bombs, who came to feed us.

Of course if you're really feeling ambitious, you could contact all the public officials who claim to represent you and share some information with them. Maybe get a local war $$ home resolution passed, or at least discussed. You could model it on the US Conference of Mayors resolution, which resulted from a whole lot of activism on the part of a large coalition of people nationwide. Report on the backstory in In These Times: Turning Strategy Into Victory by Dana Balicki. Go team!

Friday, August 26, 2011

O-bomba Addicted to War

Here is the "intervention" that CODEPINK did with "Obama" in front of the White House during the annual staff retreat this year. Clearly he is addicted to war, deeply in denial, and in need of these compassionate citizens trying to save our country from certain ruin if we don't get the monkey off our back.  Enjoy.

 (Oscar nominations for C.J. and Tighe are in the works.)

Prognosis for national recovery: quite poor, as indicated by how deeply the "Super Committee" is in the pockets of defense contractors. Great discussion of the details, and the result -- impending destruction of the social safety net -- in Bruce Gagnon's blog post today.

Ok, if the intervention doesn't work on O-bomba, maybe the looming figure of MLK on the Mall will do the trick. Let's rig it up to blare out his speech about the Vietnam war stealing the money for social progress. More on this in my post to the PINKTank blog about the need to heed:  MLK Tried to Warn Us, But Are We Listening?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Global elites "seceding into space"

Last night I watched this incredible interview with author Arundhati Roy where she spoke with Alternative Radio's David Barsamian about what a globalized military-industrial complex looks like in her home country of India. While discussing the particular case of Kashmir she observed that all over the world the young and the dispossessed are in revolt and rebellion against wealthy elites who distance themselves by "seceding into space."

The Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space is an international group keeping tabs on on what President Dwight D. Eisenhower famously warned Americans about, the for-profit weapons industry. In 2011 this looks more like a weapons-logistics-spying-reconstruction industry, a sector which is growing while the overall U.S. economy falters. Bruce Gagnon will address a conference on “The Military-Industrial Complex at 50” to be held September 16-18 at Piedmont Virginia Community College, where I will also be on hand to lead a federal budget activity. Here he answers questions about the upcoming conference:

Why are you going to the MIC at 50 conference in Charlottesville? What will you talk about, and why do you think a conference on this theme is worthwhile?

I will share what I know about the Pentagon's plans to make America's primary role under corporate globalization a thing they call "security export.” With three wars going on these days, costing $10 billion every month just in Afghanistan, I can't sit back and watch social progress in America wither on the vine of neglect and militarism. So I need to be with serious people who are engaged in trying to stop this domestic and foreign policy madness. We need to come together from all over the nation to share information and flesh out alternative, transformative visions for the future – rather than the present madness of endless war and corporate profits.

We are up against big corporate power that wants to control the declining resources on the planet, and they want our kids to fight their wars for them. I've got to stay in the thick of it because I want the next generation to have a future.

You mentioned the globalization of the MIC. Could you give an example?

The U.S. has determined that we won't be able to compete with China's economy. So the Pentagon has developed a strategy that says, if we can just control China's access to resources like oil, then we will control the keys to their economic engine. For the past dozen years the Pentagon has been doubling our military presence in the Asia-Pacific region.

A key element is the porting of Navy Aegis destroyers outfitted with so-called "missile defense" systems on-board, surrounding China's coast. They are made at Bath Iron Works where I live in Maine (the cost of the ships just doubled from $1.5 billion each to $3 billion), and the U.S. needs more ports near China to dock the growing numbers of ships.

The U.S. is twisting the arm of the right-wing South Korean government to build a Navy base on Jeju Island, which is just off the southern tip of the Korean peninsula, right smack dab in the Yellow Sea, along the water route China uses to import 80% of their oil. The farming and fishing village on Jeju Island is in revolt because construction of the base will ruin their way of life. People there are using hunger strikes, and sitting in front of trucks intended to cover the rocky coastline with cement. People are going to jail for their non-violent actions, and the Global Network has been helping to build support for them around the world.

Recently you were part of protests against the Pentagon's Blue Angels air show, which uses 48,600 gallons of fuel a weekend, and churns out tons of greenhouse gases into our already stressed environment. How much longer will people in a tight economy put up with this kind of blatant waste and pollution?

People are stirred up about all this war spending and severe cutbacks in human needs programs but we have a corporate arterial blockage of the heart of our democracy. We have mostly corporate-owned media, and Congress is largely under the control of these same corporate entities. So people are not sure what to do – they feel depressed and disempowered. That's why this conference is so important.

Last June the Global Network held a conference here in the U.S. with international participation. What came out of this event?

It was a chance for key activists from around the world to get together and share the latest info on U.S. space domination plans. The main thing that came home to us was the extraordinary cost of the Pentagon plan to militarize space. Some years ago, one of the aerospace industry publications said they were sending their lobbyists to Washington to "secure a stable funding source for their space plans" identified as the "entitlement programs." Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are the social programs the military-industrial complex identified for defunding so they could afford to pay for space-directed warfare.

It's like two trains heading toward one another on a collision course. Endless war, or social progress – which one do the people really want?

The Global Network is organizing Keep Space for Peace week Oct 1-8. What do you see as key events during this time period? Why are they important?

Local events around the world will help build a public consciousness about how space technology directs all warfare on the Earth today -- no matter whether you are a troop on the ground, in a tank, on a plane, or on a ship, everything is directed from military satellites in space. The Space Command is saying that the U.S. must "control and dominate" space and "deny" other countries access to space so that we can be the "Master of Space." The next step is to build anti-satellite weapons so the U.S. can destroy other countries' satellites. It's all very expensive, dangerous and provocative.

It's creating a new arms race in space – which is just fine with the aerospace industry. In the end they make a lot of money while the people lose funding for public education, health care, and infrastructure. The only jobs left will be fighting in wars for the corporate oligarchy – unless we stop this. The Achilles heel is the cost, but I've learned never to underestimate the MIC.

You've been focusing on the need to “keep space for peace” for 27 years now. How do you understand the importance of this goal, at different levels?

It's the future....we either stop the arms race into space or we become a feudal society, it's really quite that simple.

I owe my own personal transformation to those few activists holding signs outside the gates of my base in California on weekends during the Vietnam War. I saw how it energized the 15,000 GI's on my base to debate the war endlessly in the barracks at night, in the chow hall, and on our jobs during the day.

I believe in protest and I believe that creating experiences for people through public actions helps them think and grow. Nothing changes people like their own personal experiences. So I remain dedicated to creating opportunities for ordinary, good-hearted people to have political experiences.

Your work on the Bring Our War $$ Home campaign continues at the local and national level. How does this campaign connect the dots?

We are making people think about where their money is going, and at the same time giving them information to help them imagine how their wasted money could have been used doing something good. Taxpayers in State of Virginia have paid $31.1 billion for total war spending (Iraq plus Afghanistan) since 2001. Just imagine how that money could have been used in Virginia.

It's the same all over the nation. We wouldn't be in this fiscal mess if we hadn't been in these wars for the past 10 years. I just read they want to extend our troops in Afghanistan until 2024. How will we pay for that? It's insane. People are waking up to this nonsense. It's time for folks to rattle their chains. We've become slaves to the military-industrial complex.

For more information on “MIC at 50 - A National Conference in Charlottesville, VA” visit

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Time When Silence Is Betrayal

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "There comes a time when silence is betrayal.

I think that time has come for U.S. citizens. They must now face up to the fact that their super expensive, superior force military does not intend to withdraw from either Iraq or Afghanistan, no matter what lies to the contrary are offered to by President Obama to appease the public.

Speaking of the public, what ever happened to the referendum the people of Iraq were promised by the Constitution imposed after the U.S. invaded their country in 2003? This week the U.S. Secretary of "Defense" announced -- and Iraqi officials denied -- a behind the scenes deal to stay on in Iraq that could be characterized as "puppet government asks puppeteers to stay."

Of course if the public knew that the U.S. built an embassy compound in Baghdad as large as Vatican City, they probably would not be surprised to find that there was no real intention to abandon that investment. The U.S. occupation of Iraq stands at approximately 45,000 troops and 60,000 private contractors today.
Then came news from the war Obama had promised to continue waging, the decade long occupation of Afghanistan. That country still refuses to be subdued, and this month has seen spectacular attacks by insurgents in many key areas of the country. Very recently the British Council was attacked in Kabul,  on a date chosen to mark a special anniversary of imperial decline much older than a decade. From the Daily Telegraph:
A Taliban statement said the attack was timed to mark the 92nd anniversary of full independence from the British. In 1919, Afghanistan regained control of its foreign policy from Britain after the brief Third Anglo-Afghan War. The day is now a national holiday.
The insurgents said: “Today is our independence day from Britain. They recognised our independence 92 years ago. Today’s attack was marking that day. Now the British have invaded our country again and they will recognise our independence day again.”
So why is the U.S. indicating it may stay in Afghanistan until 2024? Again, who would believe the plan was anything different in light of the construction of Bagram air base and numerous other permanent, highly expensive military outposts.

My fellow U.S.ians, your silence will not protect you. Wake up and add your voice to the growing chorus: bring our troops, and our war dollars, home.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Domestic Insecurity

One in five children in the U.S. officially live in poverty now. In cities, the figure climbs to as high as two out of five. How shameful this seems to me, in light of the money pouring out of our pockets and into the highly profitable business of war. In Charlottesville, VA, for example, taxpayers will be asked to contribute $63.3 million to the Pentagon budget, which would provide 27,933 low-income kids with health care next year.

The mainstream press is increasingly taking notice of the high costs of endless war, as if it had taken a decade to wake up and smell the red ink. Many who don't believe in social progress are joining the antiwar chorus. They don't want to save money in order to, for instance, give 6,414 university students scholarships for a year -- they just want to save money, period.

But how will young people ever pull themselves up by the proverbial bootstraps if they can't read and write competently? For the two decades I've been a public school teacher, every national assessment of future needs concludes that, to compete successfully for the dwindling number of jobs available, students will need at least a high school diploma plus some kind of post-secondary training. Yet public education, chronically underfunded for decades, is again on the chopping block -- with schools closing, teachers laid off, and class sizes climbing. University tuition is skyrocketing from New York to California. Summer job training programs for youth were also cut in lots of the most economically disadvantaged places. (As had been done also in London, Liverpool and Manchester, with riotous results.)

Food insecurity is already at the doorstep of many who thought they were educated enough, or secure enough -- homeowners with careers that brought the elusive health care benefits, suddenly laid off after decades, unable to find a job in their field. Students with enormous debt from their college degrees, working for minimum wage at jobs with no benefits, barely able to make the rent and their education loan payments. Families who had a member with a disease or injury they could ill afford, in foreclosure. Soup kitchens and food cupboards are swamped like never before. And the federal food stamp program, morphed into something called SNAP, now takes weeks or months to apply for.

The federal government's response? Start practicing for urban warfare, apparently. The Jamaica Plain Gazette reported that the U.S. Special Operations Command landed a military helicopter on the roof of a closed elementary school after dark last week in a poor residential area of Boston. No notice was given to the alarmed neighbors, watching men in combat gear descend onto the roof of the building where their children used to go to school.
“We’re from Special Operations,” (spokeswoman) Tiscione acknowledged, referring to the umbrella organization of all four military branches’ special forces. “I’m kind of being vague on purpose. It’s more of a challenge for us when people know who we are.”
(Hey, aren't they the same Special Ops reported to  be carrying out assassinations and renditions in 70 countries worldwide -- without any Congressional oversight?)

Domestic insecurity*, indeed. What are people to do? Burning down buildings doesn't solve much and leaves a poor neighborhood even poorer. Some young people are getting organized, mobbing sites of police brutality like BART subway stations in San Francisco-- and having their cell phones shut down by authorities (but that's another story).

Then there are vibrant cultural responses to rage. CODEPINK's campaign to Create, Note Hate supports artful expressions of what ten years of "war on terror" has brought, and what alternatives might look, sound and feel like, part of a national effort called 10 Years and Counting. Maybe you could get a few hundred friends together and create a dance expressing your yearning for the opportunities offered by higher education like these college students in Chile:

You could write a book, like Buggy, the young adult novel I co-authored about about the poverty draft, and what really turns kids on. You can read a sample on Amazon.

You could help occupy Freedom Plaza in DC this October 6 and beyond. You could organize a Bring Our War $$ Home Care-a-Van to tour your state, finding out what budget cuts have done to your neighborhoods, and how small those are in comparison to the funds lavished on building weapons.

You could study and teach about nonviolent methods of effecting change. Because children living in poverty need ALL of us to pull together and create a better future for the world.

* Domestic Insecurity is a name I lifted from my creative friends the Three Monkeys Art Collective, from their 2004 installation at Fitchburg Art Museum. Grateful for the artists!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Crossing Zero: book review

Crossing Zero: The AfPak War at the Turning Point of American Empire by Elizabeth Gould & Paul Fitzgerald (City Lights Books, 2011).

Things have not gone well for the NATO occupation since the publication in 2009 of Invisible Afghanistan by wife-and-husband journalist team Gould and Fitzgerald. Drones are now crossing "zero” (intel speak for the Durand line) every few days, and there has been progress on construction of some massive military bases the U.S. is hinting to be invited to help operate with the Afghan military, but little else. The death of Osama bin Laden was largely symbolic, and insurgency rages on. Maybe President Obama should have checked out Invisible's final chapter containing practical suggestions such as #4: Start helping Afghans in a way they can understand, see, and appreciate. Instead, three more years of occupation have produced a country where ¾ of people lack access to clean water, and one in five children dies before reaching adulthood, mostly due to water-borne diseases. Kabul, the capital, still has no sewer system, so pollution seeps into the water pumped from wells.

In their latest book Crossing Zero: The AfPak War at the Turning Point of American Empire, Gould and Fitzgerald not only present the NATO nation-building project as failed, but they join a growing of chorus of voices reporting that the effort to subdue insurgency in the region is rapidly losing ground. Their explanation of why this might be so focuses primarily two factors: the role of Pakistan, and the Pasthun tribe straddling the Durand Line. They also hint at a third factor rising: the U.S. may simply run out of money to continue.

Students of history will remember that Brittania drew a boundary west of which they ceded influence to Russia in the so-called Great Game. The boundary landlocked Afghanistan by keeping the port of Karachi in British imperial India, and split the Pashtun homeland. Pakistan fell heir to these territories when it was partitioned from newly independent India after WWII.

Our own country's love-hate relationship with Pakistan is neatly summed up by the U.S. record of alternately bestowing and withdrawing military aid eight or nine times over the last twenty years. The authors discuss how the U.S. looked the other way at crucial junctures in Pakistan acquisition of nuclear weapons capability. They offer some gritty detail about what is now general knowledge: that Pakistan's intelligence agency ISI trains, equips and otherwise supports fighters who attack NATO forces with regularity. Subsequent to the book's publication the trend has continued, with Taliban spokesmen claiming responsibility for downing a NATO helicopter full of Navy SEALS, and for deploying suicide bombers to the Afghan governor's office in Parwan, a usually quiet area north of the capital, and home to the immense Bagram Air Base.

If you are like me, you wonder why the U.S. pays billions each year in aid to a regime that funds and trains the insurgents who fight it. Besides providing a pretext for endless war, that is. Claims by their congressional enablers that Pakistan's cooperation is key in the war on terror fall on increasingly deaf ears, especially as many citizens in the U.S. believe Osama bin Laden lived in Pakistan unmolested for years.

As for Pakistan's motives, Gould and Fitzgerald make a convincing case that the regime in Pakistan fears it will be made redundant if NATO succeeds in pacifying Afghanistan. As long as war against militant elements persists, NATO needs the cooperation of Pakistan – for fuel transport, among other logistics. Arch enemy India might become an even better friend of the U.S., and Pakistan's fate would be uncertain, especially in light of historic aspirations by Pasthuns to establish a nation of their own.

The increasing influence of CIA drone strikes in the region is also noted. These have accelerated rapidly on President Obama's watch, and recently an independent research team in the U.K found 168 children have been killed by bombs dropped from remote controlled drones since 2004. Gould and Fitzgerald remain unconvinced that the war for Afghan (and/or Pashtun) hearts and minds can be won in this fashion. And they speculate on the effect of discrediting the current government and driving Pakistan's nuclear-capable military establishment into the arms of fundamental Islamist extremists such as the Pakistani Taliban who have vowed to remove the "infidels" running Pakistan.

Drones are crossing "zero" to bomb Pakistan's tribal areas weekly, and the authors see this as a probable location where the American Empire passed the zenith of its imperial overreach. We now begin our descent, into a period of declining influence and strength worldwide, falling into the trap laid thirty years ago by funding mujahadeen homefield advantage fighters against the Soviets. The authors note the emergence of a new generation of insurgent leaders on both sides of the zero line that are more urban and tech savvy. If the 21st century version of the Great Game means countering the influence of the rising economic power of China, they see draining the U.S. treasury to fight the very terrorists our policies create offering little hope for a "win" on the playing field AfPak.

Book website:  Crossing Zero The AfPak War at the Turning Point of American Empire.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Olympia Snowe intervention: Bring our war $$ home now!

"Olympia Snowe Thinks / Speaks" by Elizabeth Kelley, from Draw-a-thon I to Bring Our War $$ Home. Interactive: you fill in the blanks.
On Thursday 8/11 I had voicemail from my sister in PINK Pat Taub saying that today she had a chance encounter with Sen. Olympia Snowe, and had about 5 min. to "do an intervention" with the senator. Sen. Snowe has voted for every military funding bill ever, and refuses to meet except accidentally with campaigners from the Bring Our War $$ Home coalition in Maine.

Pat wrote in an email later: "I recognized Sen. Snowe because she was sitting right behind me on the plane.  When I got up to collect my overhead bag I turned and noticed her.  I immediately decided that I had to use this opportunity to address my anti-war concerns and BOW$H.  I got five minutes or more with her because we were stuck waiting for the plane to disembark.  She was a captive audience and uncomfortable but forced to listen to me because she had no where to go! I introduced myself as a member of Codepink Maine."
CODEPINK Maine Interventionist Pat Taub (right) with keynote speaker co-founder Medea Benjamin and Local Coordinator Lisa Savage at Peace Action Maine annual supper, Portland, Maine  May 7, 2011
Pat said she talked up the Bring Our War $$ Home campaign and Olympia said she had NEVER HEARD OF IT. Wow, who does our senator think is buying this b.s.? Bruce Gagnon just had a conversation with her at a parade last month, I delivered letters to her Bangor office twice in the last three weeks, plus there have been numerous visits to her offices by various BOW$H activists over a two year period.
Dud Hendrick looks on as Sen. Olympia Snowe hears from Bruce Gagnon about the Bring Our War $$ Home campaign in Maine, Old Hallowell Days parade, July 16, 2011
Then Pat said we'd better start funding needs at home before we end up like London. Of course the senator said, but we need to fight terrorists. And Pat said, we're creating more terrorists every day with our policies.

Pat writes: "I felt great, empowered at being able to speak my truth to her, to deliver an anti-war message in the context of our budget deficit, growing social cut-backs, etc.  I wish now that I had challenged the Senator with the fact that considerable BOW$H materials have been left at her office. Essentially she said very little except to nod in a concerned way; she was speechless without a rebuttal to my comments.  Her very tall aide looked annoyed.  I loved that I had them trapped with nowhere to go until the plane disembarked."

Here I am having a conversation with Sen. Olympia Snowe at the Old Hallowell Days parade in July, 2010. Guess what the banner that Mark Roman and I are holding says on it in bold letters? (Mary Beth Sullivan and Cat Erdman are witnessing the fact that this conversation really happened.)
Why not let Sen. Snowe hear from you? 202-224-5344 Toll-Free in Maine:800-432-1599

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

What is the weak underbelly of corporate government?

Like Al Jazeera anchor, this BBC anchor appears bewildered by information that does not fit into her frame: Darcus Howe, a West Indian Writer and Broadcaster, speaking about systematic police harassment of his grandson and other youths in England.

Great Common Dreams article from Londoner Laurie Penny had this quote in it:
In one NBC report, a young man in Tottenham was asked if rioting really achieved anything: "Yes," said the young man. "You wouldn't be talking to me now if we didn't riot, would you?"
"Two months ago we marched to Scotland Yard, more than 2,000 of us, all blacks, and it was peaceful and calm and you know what? Not a word in the press. Last night a bit of rioting and looting and look around you."
It's time to really study and promote what we know about nonviolent methods. Some of the most salient points for the times ahead:

* Nonviolent methods are not about getting attention from corporate owned media; they are about sapping a regime of its strength by not cooperating with it.

* You do not have to feel peaceful inside to successfully employ nonviolent methods.

* Nonviolent methods are effective more than twice as often as violent methods when used by groups of at least 1000 people, 46% versus 20% in research by non-pacifist Erica Chenoweth.

* Nonviolent methods do not require charismatic leaders. In fact, such leaders may be detrimental -- because if one is nabbed, the movement loses momentum.

* Albert Einstein theorized that if a tiny percent of a population stopped cooperating with authorities, a system could be brought to a standstill. Was he correct? We'll only know if we try.

There are 198 nonviolent methods listed here, everything from being your own media to occupying the streets, from supplying real needs of the masses e.g. food AND medicine, to civil disobedience. Sometimes these methods overlap, as when activists were arrested for feeding homeless people in public parks in Florida recently.

The most important point of all is that nonviolent methods are effective when used as part of an overall strategy that includes assessment of the strengths / weaknesses of one's opponents as well as the strengths / weaknesses of one's own organization -- and capitalizes (sic) on them accordingly.

This summer I asked several people what they thought the strengths and weaknesses of the corporate government system in the U.S. are. One of the most interesting weaknesses: how corporations treat our fellow animals. (Not sure of what the implications of that are for planning, but it has continued to intrigue me.)

I would love it if you would comment on this blog telling what you think some of the strengths and weaknesses of the corporate system are. Here's just a few items for my starter list:

  • owns the mass media and has them well under control
  • uses air and water free of charge for profits
  • able to block wishes of majority of citizens (e.g. for universal health care, to stop waging wars abroad)
  • polarizes people in the U.S. via racism, constantly promoted by entertainment and "news" media
  • rapidly privatizing schools, after decades of successful underfunding of public schools
  • male dominated, lacks women's collective wisdom
  • adult dominated, lacks youth & children's collective wisdom
  • white dominated, lacks collective wisdom of indigenous people and other non-white groups
  • cruelty to animals
  • most citizens in U.S. understand that the groups controlling their government do not mean them well
  • hubris and blindness to facts on the ground, characteristic of dominant groups
  • assumes and depends upon continued passivity of the masses
Please add to the lists!

ADDENDUM: Just ran across this paper by researchers Ponticelli & Voth, "Austerity and Anarchy: Budget Cuts and Social Unrest in Europe, 1919-2009" reporting a high correlation between budget cuts and subsequent turmoil. Posted online a week before riots broke out in the U.K.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Mob

source: Two Thumbs Fresh on Flickr
No, not organized crime. Disorganized crime. The real mob, the one that can rise up and sweep tyrants from their thrones.

Live coverage of the London (and Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol Liverpool, and Leeds) riots on Al Jazeera last night had anchors, reporters, and eyewitnesses alike stunned and insisting that the riots were senseless. Last fall British officials pooh-poohed the idea that cutting police might leave London vulnerable in the face of the risks of riots by disaffected, unemployed youth. "They just want to get as much as they can for free," I heard from several commentators. "There is absolutely no justification for this level of violence and this level of theft. They aren't particularly interested in justice for one man," a reference to the shooting death of 29 year old Mark Duggan as the spark that ignited the flames.

Much was made of the fact that riots were happening in "very nice" areas where you wouldn't "expect" such things to happen. Anchor Felicity Barr said again and again that the neighbors must be furious that the police are absent while youth gangs destroy things without interference. The head of Scotland Yard calmly told parents to call their children's cell phones, find out where they were, and tell them to come home. Barr noted it was young women looting as well, and several observers commented on how young the crowds appeared to be. Security expert: "Crime is all about greed -- it's not about need whatsoever."

London is a riotous old town. Remember back in December when Prince Charles and Camilla had a run in with a youthful mob during a serendipitous enounter on the way to the theater? They do, I'll wager.
The heir to the throne and his consort, the Duchess of Cornwall, react as their car is attacked by student tuition hike protesters in London. Photograph: Matt Dunham/AP
Mike Hardy, from the Institutue of Community of Cohesion, was one of the few who did not find the riots senseless. "Disassociation between the haves and the have nots...have led them to disassociate from the very values that you and I might share...disassociated and disconnected." Pressed by the  anchor to join the "senseless" consensus he admitted some of the looting and arson represented "opportunism" and added he could not condone the violence. He also spoke of "influences, I won't call them leaders" working through social media like Twitter via Blackberries.

It left me wondering if a mob is just a mob unless they are carrying signs and shouting slogans. In other words, do rampaging teens need to know their own politics in order to be politically motivated?

With the Olympics scheduled to come to town, commenters bemoaned "the PR cost to London." Like race rioters in US cities' riots in the 1960's, mobs were even attacking fire fighters when they try to put out buildings that went ablaze.
 One thing is fairly certain: as understaffed police let the looting continue, they planned to use London's ubiquitous video surveillance and "pick up a huge number of these young people later on at home" according to Al J's security expert.

Other views worth noting. From Twitter: Gregor Smith RT : So basically the can be boiled down to this: when you destroy peoples lives and then cut the police bad stuff happens.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Bring Our War $$ Home Game proposal

Bring Our War $$ Home Game SURVEY -- click here to add your ideas!
Rae Abileah of CODEPINK on how she would redirect war funds.
I am excited by the opportunity to present my game idea at an upcoming conference, the Military-Industrial Complex at 50 in Charlottesville, VA in mid-September. This idea came to me when college students who are peace activists lamented the apathy of fellow students who were unaware of wars abroad or at home but spent a lot of time "fooling around playing Farmville on Facebook." I've discussed my idea with many game players plus a few game designers, and so far everyone has been positive about the idea. Also very gratifying is support from Jo Comferford of the National Priorities Project about using NPP's amazing data base of federal budget info in this way. Kickstarter turned me down but I will keep trying! Here is a link to use if you want to support the game or help with ideas to improve it.

I am seeking seed money to create an offering in the web-based “serious game” category, based on federal budget data from the National Priorities Project. Players would convert military funds to spending on social needs and infrastructure in an enjoyable, interactive game. The goal: create awareness of the enormous potential of conversion.

The target audience for this game is primarily 14-35 year olds, and secondarily anyone who uses social networking sites to entertain him or herself.

The projected cost of hiring qualified designers and programmers for initial game development is $100k (based on consultation with experienced game designers). The faster the game development, the higher the cost, as more people would be brought in to work on a design team. Most I've spoken to felt it would be feasible to build the game on an existing platform, such that programming for the project would not be starting from scratch.

  • Build on existing platforms and/or the popularity of simple games such Farmville.
  • Provide a social networking aspect to the game.
  • Provide a clear metric so that performances by individual players can be compared.
  • Use highly attractive aesthetic elements to attract a following, with periodic updates to this aspect of the game used to freshen its appeal.
  • Employ experienced, creative game designers to execute this basic strategy.
Beyond funding and developing the game, the biggest challenge would be distribution. Research into what has worked, and brainstorming about what new methods might be effective, could be conducted while the game is being developed. Once established as a web-based game, Bring Our War $$ Home aims to become an application that would run on iPhones, Facebook, and other popular platforms.

People in a democracy ought to be informed enough to have meaningful input into their own governance, and disposition of public funds. Today many in the U.S. consume almost no factual news, relying instead on faux news, infotainments, and in many cases abandoning news gathering efforts altogether to fiddle around on Facebook, or send tweets.

A good communication strategy finds people where they are, and delivers messages that they are prepared to receive; it also responds, adapts, and provides feedback to the user. Games are appealing because of this responsiveness, also because they are fun, and sharing them is fun. Building on these aspects of games could result in a powerful educational tool, where the concept being taught – that conversion is both possible and potentially very rewarding – would be inherent in the game system.

Games continue to be used extensively to recruit young people into enlisting in the military, and to train the general public to believe that all conflicts are to be resolved via the superior application of force. We can see how successful this effort has been. It is time to help turn things around.

Lisa Savage
CODEPINK Maine Local Coordinator
Maine Bring Our War $$ Home campaign co-coordinator

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Hiroshima and Nagasaki

From Barefoot Gen, graphic novel about Hiroshima by Keiji Nakazawa, author and illustrator (Hadashi no Gen).
Today, August 6, is the one Japanese people remember from WWII. When my oldest child was born in Tokyo on December 7, I remarked on the irony to a college-educated Japanese friend who replied, "What's Pearl Harbor?" (kind of like Afghan men responded when asked their views on 9/11).

On August 6, 1945 the US dropped the first nuclear weapon on the city of Hiroshima. It had been developed without the help of Austrian scientist Lise Meitner, who declined to participate despite having been one of those who discovered fission, and despite having been a Jew hounded from her university position by Nazis.

This event, plus the bombing of the city of Nagasaki a few days later with a different kind of atomic bomb, was always sold to the U.S. public as having been "necessary" to end WWII without a invasion of the Japanese mainland that was sure to cost the lives of many in the U.S. military. But the Japanese were already negotiating to surrender, and knew the war was lost for them. Some have speculated the U.S. went ahead anyway in order to both test the weapons, and intimidate their WWII ally the U.S.S.R. in a spectacular kick-off to what would become the Cold War.

U.S. citizens knew that some kind of catastrophic weapon had been deployed, and that the Japanese emperor soon surrendered, but it wasn't until John Hersey's long piece in the New Yorker in August, 1946 that many learned the gruesome details. Even then, the protracted suffering from radiation poisoning of the surviving hibakusha (a term that had to be coined) was largely unknown.

My own grandfather, drafted into WWII, was among the first U.S. troops to enter Nagasaki after the bomb. Despite pestering by his daughter (my mother), he would never talk about it.

Now we watch in horror as the Fukushima nuclear power plant continues to spew radiation into the atmosphere and groundwater, and attempts to clean it or contain it prove futile. Just last week TEPCO announced radiation levels instantly lethal to humans had been detected, presumably from fuel rods that we already know melted down after cooling failed in the wake of earthquake and tsunami damage.

We of the baby boom generation have lived under the threat of nuclear annihilation our entire lives. We've watched in horror as nuclear weapons and energy have proliferated, despite the best efforts of the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Protocol and many other efforts to have humans swear off nuclear before it is too late for everybody.

When young people find out about the disaster visited on Hiroshima, they ask an essential question: Why did the U.S. drop an atomic bomb on the people of Hiroshima? I think this propaganda film made by the Army about Okinawa is a succinct explanation of the overall strategy, though it leaves out the build-up to Pearl Harbor engendered by blocking oil shipments to rapacious Imperial Japan.

My neighbors in Tokyo saw Japanese as the victims, not the aggressors, in WWII. Their view in the early 1980's when I lived there: a cabal of businessmen and highly ranked government officials conspired to drag Japan into building an empire in the region, profiting mightily, while the people paid the price. Japanese starved their way through the war (kamikaze planes were designed in part to save yen by not having to build landing gear), and then suffered conscripted labor and fire bombing of many of their cities even before nuclear disaster struck.

In our times Japanese are leaders in the movement to ban all nuclear weapons -- and, increasingly, the ill-fated attempt to harness nuclear power as an energy source. Today, my thoughts and prayers are with 日本.

Friday, August 5, 2011

30 day Care-a-Van to Bring War $$ Home

From CIA head to the Dept. of "Defense"          (image source: blog Who Is IOZ?)
A person could spend all day reading bad news: about the debt ceiling "crisis" "resolution" and how unlikely it is to result in military spending cuts of any significance at all. Despite the deal (whose so-called Super Committee remains unappointed, whose provisions remain unspecified) providing the pretext for hawks like Leon Panetta to sound the alarm that reducing military is a danger of the red alert level.

Israel's best friend U.S. senator Joe Lieberman even announced that the U.S. can't afford Social Security as we have known it because funds are needed for the fight against "Islamist extremists." Who besides AIPAC would believe this kind of nonsense?

I say the writing is on the wall. Regular working people all over the world are waking up to the fact that privatization of common resources doesn't create jobs or housing or educate anybody. It creates massive profits for a tiny percentage of the people, falling expectations for the middle classes, and dire poverty amounting to virtual enslavement for the poor. Israeli young people busted out with tent cities all over the land, and ten of thousands demonstrated in front of the prime minister's residence in Tel Aviv this week. Chilean students took to the streets and braved police water cannons to demand an end to voucher and co-pay based education that leaves them with debt three times the size of their annual salary once they earn a degree.

In Maine plans are underway to embark on a 30 day Care-a-Van to Bring Our War $$ Home, and the line up of events shows an excitingly broad reach. Three college campuses, big cities and small towns, and a chance to organize with Maine's indigenous people await your participation. Here's the lineup to date:

  • Sept 10 WERU Maine Grassroots Media Conference at the Unity Center for Performing Arts, Bring Our War $$ Home T-shirt silkscreening workshop
  • Sept 11 Portland Linking hands around Back Cove; Orono Peace Group and Peace & Justice Center of E. Maine are planning to do an all day penny poll at the Orono Fair
  • Sept 17 Bangor Teach-In collaborative event with the First Congregational Church of Brewer.  Keynote speaker will be Terry Rockefeller from Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. 3-6 p.m. 
  • Sept 20 UMFarmington event featuring singer/songwriter David Rovics, focus on tuition hikes and student debt
  • Sept 21 Waldo film showing; Belfast film showing
  • Sept 23-25 Common Ground Fair Bring Our War $$ Home tabling (with Veterans for Peace) + Program in speakers tent
  • September 25 P&J Center of E. Maine, Bangor film "Scarred Lands and Wounded Lives" 7pm
  • Sept 30 Afghanistan war Teach-In "10 Years of war in Afghanistan: What have we learned, what can we do?" Bowdoin College, Brunswick
  • Oct 1 BIW vigil in Bath emphasizing drone warfare during Keep Space for Peace Week
  • Oct exact date tbd event with tribal community of Penobscot people, focus on environmental and economic justice
And this week our campaign published results of a survey of what people everywhere, including every county in Maine, want public funds spent on:
Mainers Want Tax Revenues Spent on Education, Health Care

Education, health care, and veterans’ benefits were the top choices for federal spending among 1,552 Mainers, according to a “penny poll” conducted in each of Maine's sixteen counties.

In the midst of debates in Washington DC about debt, budget cuts, and tax increases, a series of surveys were held throughout the state of Maine to get local responses to the issue. A “penny poll” was held in every Maine county asking participants, “How would you like your federal tax dollars spent?”

The results from over 1,500 participants in Maine diverge considerably from the actual spending by Congress, but were relatively consistent in different parts of the state.

Participants at shopping centers and post offices were given ten pennies, each representing ten percent of the money in income taxes that goes each year to the federal government. They were asked to put pennies in jars representing the ten largest parts of the federal government’s discretionary budget, the monies that Congress allocates each year. How many pennies participants put in each jar indicated where THEY wanted to see their tax dollars spent, not where the federal government currently spends tax money.

Results showed that education (21%), health care (19%) and veterans’ benefits (12%) were the top choices among the 1,552 people who participated. Those were followed by environment/science at (11%), food/agriculture (9%), both transportation and interest on the national debt (7%), housing (6%), defense (5%), and general government (2%).

“What the public wants its tax money to go toward is very different from where Congress is actually spending it. Education, health care, veterans’ benefits, and the environment/science all received a lot more money than Congress actually spends for them,” stated Larry Dansinger, who compiled the figures. “Defense, including our current wars, nuclear and conventional weapons, pay for our armed forces, and homeland security, gets about 50% of the discretionary budget now, but in the survey that category got just under five percent.”

The penny polls, sponsored by the Bring Our War $$ Home campaign, were conducted by volunteers in a number of Maine towns during the months of May, June, and July. The polls were held at post offices, supermarkets, downtown areas, and other venues frequented by a broad cross section of the public.

“Congress is out of touch with the priorities of most people in this country,” said Lisa Savage, CODEPINK Maine Local Coordinator. “It's time to stop pouring tax revenues into making weapons manufacturers even richer than they already are. The people know this, and they also know that their needs are not being represented in Washington DC.”

For more information on these polls, including individual poll by poll results and locations, contact Larry Dansinger, 525-7776 or Lisa Savage, 399-7623.

General Government                    
Health Care                             
Housing/Urban Dev.                        
Interest on Debt                             
Veterans' Benefits                     
Total Pennies: 15,377        
1,552 people took the poll
Tent city in Tel Aviv, one of many protesting declining housing conditions as the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer after years of privatization of public resources. Tent 1948 has a facebook page, and this to say about its intentions: We want this struggle to deal with housing shortage among Arabs and Mizrachi Jews in Israel, both in large cities and in the villages

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Dismal Science

Who can understand the bizarre congressional response to the so-called debt ceiling crisis anyway? They build this elaborate model of triggers and super committees and defense spending "reductions" as a pretext for the squawking of hawks, and then wait to see what happens. As the meager social safety net in this country is further shredded to continue massive tax cuts enjoyed by the wealthy.

A path to security it's not.

I live in a conservative, blue collar/lucky to work at all part of the country, but I am hearing from people who hear from people at work: if they cut Social Security, we'll finally start fighting back.

For those of us who agitate for cutting out military spending, it's difficult to keep watch over the right hand while simultaneous watching the left hand shuffle the coconuts rapidly to create confusion. Jean Athey did a good job of making sense of where the bottom line could fall after the show has subsided:
The bill just passed offers two possibilities for potential cuts in military spending...
(1)  Budget caps: This covers FY 2012, which begins in October. The budget caps require that spending not exceed a certain level throughout the government. The budget cap for military spending is contained within the so-called “security” category consisting of the Pentagon, State Department, Homeland Security, and the discretionary part of Veterans Affairs. For FY 2012, the budget cap for “security” spending is a grand total of $5 billion below the 2011 level; analysts have suggested that total “security” spending exceeds $1 trillion. If it is $1 trillion, we are talking about cutting one half of one percent of our “security” spending.  

You can safely bet that the Republican-dominated House and the weak-kneed Democrats in the Senate will ensure that the miniscule $5 billion reduction in “security” spending does not come from the Pentagon, but from our Veterans, from our already hobbled and much-needed diplomatic resources, and from foreign aid. In short, the budget cap will not lead to reductions in bloated military spending... (2) Automatic spending cuts:  If the new Joint Committee fails to reach agreement, the bill calls for automatic 15% across-the-board cuts in discretionary spending, including Pentagon spending. The White House claims that, under this scenario, Pentagon spending could be reduced by as much as $500 billion over a decade. The catch here is that the 15% spending “cuts” for the Pentagon are computed by looking at planned spending (from the Administration’s February 2011 budget submission), not current spending...I don’t know about you, but in my family budget, I define a spending cut as “less than what I spent last year,” not “less than what I was hoping to spend next year.”  But in the Alice-in-Wonderland logic of this bill, money going to the Pentagon could actually increase but be called a “cut” if the increase was less than Obama proposed in his 2011 planning document.

The maximum real cut to Pentagon spending even remotely possible under the bill is less than 1%.
Bring Our War $$ Home is needed now more than ever. Our economy appears to be staggering, and cutting social spending while it does so is reckless. Is capitalism committing suicide? Stay tuned.

Join us in talking to your neighbors about the need for war dollars to come home, and get to work. Do whatever you can do: show a film, hold a discussion, get out in the streets.

Or write a great op-ed like Codepinker Elizabeth Barger, who under the headline CYNICAL DEBT CRISIS RAISES TAXES ON MIDDLE CLASS AND WORKING POOR wrote: "I wonder what it will take for us to get organized?"
source: Changing Winds blog