Organizing Notes

Bruce Gagnon is coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. He offers his own reflections on organizing and the state of America's declining empire....

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Location: Bath, Maine, United States

Friday, April 14, 2006

TOWN HALL MEETING ON IRAQ-IRAN


A week from today there will be an important event in Portland. Everyone who can attend should do so. The groups listed below are hosting a Town Hall Meeting on the Iraq war. The event will be held on Friday, April 21 beginning at 6:30 pm at the Hannaford Lecture Hall on the campus of the University of Southern Maine (USM) in Portland.

We’ve invited our entire Congressional delegation and the Governor of Maine (who sends the National Guard to Iraq) to come to this event. We think the time has come for them all to come together to listen to the people. Polls show that the Iraq war is the top issue on the minds of the voters. With growing talk of U.S. bombing Iran, the need for such a public gathering of concerned citizens could not be more timely.

Just this week six retired Pentagon generals have called for Donald Rumsfeld to resign as Secretary of War. One of them, I heard on the news today, said the U.S. should not have invaded Iraq in the first place. What is so amazing to me is how silent the politicians are as these generals speak out. We hear nothing from our Senators about this…..and we hear nothing from our Congressmen about this incredible new development. It is like they are all hiding together in a fox hole with their hands covering their heads.

It is unlikely that our Maine Congressional Delegation will come listen to the people. Why? They won’t come because they fear the growing wrath of the public. They’d rather side-step the issue as best as they can for as long as they can.

Another top issue for the voter today in the U.S. is health care. Over 46 million Americans do not have any kind of health insurance. Many, like me, pay enormous amounts for policies that have very high deductibles (mine is $15,000). We have been told for years that there is no money for a national healthcare plan. But the fact that Republicans and Democrats alike keep voting for war spending, now over $8 billion a month, shows that they somehow feel we have money for that insanity.

We expect a great turnout for the April 21 Town Hall Meeting at USM in Portland. We are going to give every person who comes, whether they support the war or not, three-minutes at the microphone to say how they feel about the war. We will video tape the event and send copies of our Congressional Delegation and to the Governor.

It’s sad when the “elected” officials fear the public. In this case it is obvious why. They don’t want to be held directly responsible for their votes that continue an illegal and immoral war. They don’t want to have educated, informed, passionate, involved people standing in front of hundreds of their fellow citizens speaking the truth about how our nation has been hijacked. Democracy is a frightening thing to people who don’t really believe in it.

April 21 Town Hall Sponsors:

· NAACP Portland Branch
· Maine Veterans for Peace
· Peace Action Maine
· Forest Ecology Network
· Maine Women's International League for Peace & Freedom
· Greater Brunswick PeaceWorks
· Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space
· Midcoast Peace & Justice Group
· People Organizing to Win Economic Rights - POWER
· Witness for Peace
· Portland Women in Black
· Pax Christi Maine
· Sociology Student Association-USM
· Asian American Association-USM
· Philosophy Symposium-USM
· Maine Council of Churches
· AFSC Maine Program on Youth & Militarism
· Resources for Organizing & Social Change
· Maine People's Alliance
· USM College Democrats
· Bridges for Peace
· Citizens Offering New Alternatives
· York County Progressives
· Biddeford City Democratic Committee
· Social Action Committee of the Allen Avenue Unitarian Universalist Church
· Maine Campaign for a U.S. Department of Peace & Nonviolence
· League of Pissed off Voters
· Kennebunkport Democratic Committee
· Kennebunk Democratic Committee
· York County Green Independent Party Committee
· Waldo County Peace & Justice Group
· Maine Coalition for Peace & Justice
· The Eleuthero Community
· Clean Maine Coalition
· Maine Progressive Caucus
· Radio Free Maine
· Let Cuba Live
· Green Horizon Foundation
· Southern Maine Labor Council
· Social Justice Committee First Parish UUC of Kennebunk
· Faith in Action Committee of the NE District Unitarian Universalist Association
· Cumberland County Democratic Committee
· Social Justice Committee of the UUC of Belfast
· Physicians for Social Responsibility Maine

Thursday, April 13, 2006

PRIVATIZING FOR PROFIT


While recently on the road I picked up a copy of the Washington Post and read an article in the business section that got my attention. The headline read “Infrastructure: A Road to Riches?” It is a story about how big corporations are now buying up the roads, bridges, water systems, and other public infrastructure in the U.S.

For the next 75 years, more than 150 miles of Interstate 80 running through Indiana, will be run by Spanish and Australian corporations that will collect the tolls, operate the pit stops, do highway repairs, and make a profit.

Near Washington DC, the Dulles Greenway was bought for $533 million by the same two foreign firms. They also have taken over the Chicago Skyway.

The Carlyle Group, known as a Bush family controlled entity that specializes in weapons and war, recently created an entity to get into roads, bridges and the like. They are using their excess profits from war making to begin to buy up the everything else.

Goldman Sachs & Co, which made $9 million advising Chicago on the Skyway sale, will collect $20 million in fees for engineering the Indiana Toll Road sale. Wall Street knows there is money to be made by getting into infrastructure. Stock and bond investors who put up the capital will make profits too. Who will lose on these deals?

The public will. Privatized toll road workers and maintenance crews will make less money than public employees doing similar work. Private managers though will likely draw higher salaries than government managers would get. Prices on toll roads will increase and there will be little political leverage to keep these private corporations from fleecing us.

If England is any example, we can expect more costs for the average person and less service. When Maggie Thatcher privatized the once revered British rail system it was broken into bits and sold out to various companies. Service got worse and maintenance of the system declined. Profits increased for the corporations and railway fares increased for the public.

This is just one more sign that we are returning the industrial world to a form of feudalism – the 21st century variety. Government’s role is being reshaped to ensure that the rich will be protected by government rather than the other way around. This will sour the public on government, meaning less people will participate in the electoral system making it even easier for the rich to control the levers of power. With that control in place we will see greater use of tax dollars to create a militarized society where the power of the “state” is used to suppress opposition to feudal control. The military will grow in power and influence as it will be used to keep the boot on the necks of people worldwide as the corporations grab resources like oil and water and extract even more concessions from labor.

I had an e-mail from a woman who works with a Global Network affiliated group in Australia this morning. She described this same situation to me as it is happening in her country. She said, “We are right back in the early 20th century as far as human rights, industrial rights, involvement in war, weapons production, eagerness to set up nuclear power stations, eagerness to open more uranium mines and sell it, willy-nilly - to anyone who'll buy it . . . Makes me weep when I think of how my grandfather, my mother, and so many of their and my generations gave their whole lives to gradually making things a little better and a little better -- and it's all swept away by this bastard government we've got.”

The reality of our times is corporate consolidation globally. We have two choices. We can go along with it or we can resist it. In order to resist it we must expand our working relationships with groups around the planet. We now have to connect our local issues with the larger international picture. We have to see ourselves as part of a larger international anti-corporate movement.

We have to clearly see that the governing political parties in our countries are now under the control of the multi-national corporations. We have to quit thinking that we can “influence” the Dems or the Repubs in the U.S. or their facsimiles around the world. The time has come for “independence day” from these corporate powers.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

A SURPRISING HISTORY OF JAPANESE/U.S. BIO-WARFARE


I just finished reading an amazing book called “A Plague Upon Humanity” by Daniel Barenblatt. It tells the story of the hidden history of Japan’s biological warfare program before and during WW II.

Barenblatt begins by revealing how Japan created a phony pretext in order to start the Manchurian war. In September 1931 Japanese army engineers secretly blew up the Japanese-owned South Manchurian Railway near Shenyang. The Japanese government then immediately blamed the explosion upon Chinese soldiers garrisoned nearby. Japan then attacked the Chinese troops, sleeping in their barracks at the time. A war was underway.

Early on Japan set up a biological warfare (BW) unit led by Shiro Ishii. BW units were established throughout Manchuria and China in Japanese army occupied territory. At these locations Chinese freedom fighters and civilians were used as lab rats and were given lethal doses of bubonic plague, cholera, smallpox, typhus and typhoid. Bodies of infected prisoners were cut open, often while people still lived, to study the effects of the biological contamination. Japan’s BW program used infected rats and fleas, dropped from airplanes, to spread the deadly diseases killing entire Chinese villages. Hundreds of thousands of innocent Chinese civilians were killed by Japan.

As WW II widened throughout the Pacific, Japan took their BW campaign to Japanese occupied islands. Japan also sent disease laden animals into Russia in hopes of spreading disease into that country. American prisoners of war were experimented on in Japanese labs as well.

Following Japanese surrender at the end of WW II one would have thought that these crimes against humanity would have been exposed and punished, similar to Nazi war crimes at the Nuremberg trials. But this was not the case. General Douglas MacArthur made a deal with Japan’s chief BW expert, Shiro Ishii, protecting him from prosecution by literally covering up the entire BW story. Ishii and his BW team gave their expertise to the U.S. According to Barenblatt, “Not only did they escape war crimes proceedings and public scrutiny by virtue of their cooperation with the U.S. occupation authorities, they also became prominent public health officials and respected academic figures in Japanese university and government circles. A few became quite wealthy as executives of pharmaceutical companies.”

The Soviet Union knew about Japan’s BW program and in late 1949 called for Ishii to be apprehended and tried by the U.S. occupation forces in Japan as the ringleader of the secret Japanese program. In response, Gen. MacArthur’s office in Tokyo denounced the Soviet charges of Japanese biological warfare and a U.S. cover-up as evidence of communist propaganda.

In fact on March 13, 1948 the U.S. War Department cabled instructions to Gen. MacArthur in Japan to give “immunity” to Japanese BW operatives. “Information retained from Ishii and associates may be retained in intelligence channels,” the instructions concluded.

There were war crimes trials in Japan after WW II. B.V.A. Roling, the last surviving judge from the Tokyo trials, who represented the Netherlands on the international tribunal, learned of this American deception many years later. “As one of the judges in the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, it is a bitter experience for me to be informed now that centrally ordered Japanese war criminality of the most disgusting kind was kept secret from the Court by the U.S. government,” Roling wrote. The U.S. should be “ashamed because of the fact they withheld information from the Court with respect to the biological experiments of the Japanese in Manchuria on Chinese and American prisoners of war,” he said.

In the 1950’s Ishii was secretly taken to the U.S. to lecture at Fort Detrick, MD on how to best conduct germ warfare. And as the Korean War heated up, Ishii was used by the U.S. to advise on how to spread deadly disease in that war against North Korean and Chinese forces. North Korea, China and the Soviet Union all claimed in 1951-52 that the U.S. Pentagon was using germ warfare on a large scale in the Korean War.

The Chinese showed footage and photographs of metallic U.S. shells that snapped open upon hitting the ground, releasing a swarming cargo of insects that unleashed bubonic plague, smallpox, and anthrax. This method of delivery had been a favorite of Japan’s BW program.

Barenblatt notes that an international scientific investigating team, headed by a highly noted British biochemist from Cambridge University, did research in Korea and issued a report saying that sudden appearances of insects and spiders, of species not normally known in the region, in winter, and in association with the dropping of strange containers and objects by U.S. military planes were evidence of bio-warfare. Lab tests performed on fleas discovered in such unusual circumstances, positively showed the presence of bubonic plague bacteria.

In some cases, U.S. military jets, usually F-86 fighters, had flown over Korea dropping masses of fowl feathers tainted with anthrax.

In 1956 American journalist John Powell was charged with 13 counts of sedition for trying to expose the U.S. BW campaign in Korea. In 1953 former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover brought Powell before congressional committees charging him with “un-American activities.” Years later, in the 1980’s, Powell’s story was finally aired in an article in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.

So as we today hear China warning about the re-arming of Japan, with full support and encouragement of the U.S., can we not see some historical precedent for their worry? Both Japan and the U.S. have shown, since WW II, that they will use extreme measures to subdue Korea and China in the quest for control and domination of the Asian Pacific. As the U.S. today doubles its military presence in the Asian-Pacific region, can there be any doubt that China and Korea have not forgotten the stories of the past? Stories that to most Americans are unknown and long covered up.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

REPORT ON COLORADO TRIP


This trip began on April 2 with a very early morning drive to Portland so I could catch the bus from there to the Boston airport. After a three-hour wait in Boston I flew to Chicago where I ended up with a seven-hour delay due to major thunderstorms throughout the Midwest. I finally arrived in Colorado Springs at 12:30 a.m. and gratefully Bill Sulzman still came to the airport to pick me up.

Bill Sulzman was one of the founding members of the Global Network when it was created in 1992. At that time I was the state coordinator of the Florida Coalition for Peace & Justice. Bill's group, the Colorado Springs-based Citizens for Peace in Space, had been working with us in Florida since the 80's. For some time the two groups were really the only local organizations in the country doing on-going space organizing. It became clear to us by 1992 that we needed to grow this movement, and with the help of journalist Karl Grossman, we created the Global Network to do just that.

This year marked the 22nd annual meeting of the Space Symposium, an event put on by the aerospace industry. It was reported that this year almost 8,000 military personnel, aerospace industry executives and technologists were in attendance. In addition the Space Symposium brought in hundreds of students from elementary, middle schools and high schools as a way to recruit them to work in the industry.

This event draws a protest each year by Citizens for Peace in Space. The symposium is located at the very posh Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs. I was told that a membership to the Broadmoor Golf & Country Club has a $100,000 entry fee and there is a waiting list to join. The setting for the protest could not be more ideal. We were able to stand with banners on the sidewalk directly in front of the main symposium auditorium thus every person entering the event passed directly by us.

The theme of the protest this year was "Only You Can Prevent Truth Decay" and T-shirts were made with that message on the front and the schedule of protest events for the week was listed on the back similar to a rock-and-roll concert tour. The sub-theme was "Blow the Whistle on Crime and Corruption!"

The theme could not have been more timely as the New York Times reported in its April 2 edition that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in Washington has been covering up a scientific fraud among builders of the expensive "missile defense" system. The Times reported that the GAO ignored evidence that the two main contractors for the program (Boeing and TRW) had doctored data, shewed test results and made false statements in a 2002 report.

Our first protest at the symposium began at 5:00 p.m. on April 3, just as the confab was to begin with a banquet. Our group of about 25 folks blew whistles and handed out leaflets urging the vast assemblage entering the building to "blow the whistle on the deception that is rampant in the military space program." We even handed out baloney sandwiches to those willing to take one, suggesting our baloney was better than the baloney being passed out inside the space symposium.

On April 4 we got to the symposium at 7:30 a.m. just as the crowd arrived. I held a banner that read "Beware of the power of the military industrial complex. - Dwight Eisenhower" and would routinely ask military officers passing by if they would like to take a turn holding it for awhile. I got no takers.

From the space symposium that morning we drove north to Aurora, Colorado where Buckley Air Force Spy & Space War Base is located. We held a vigil outside the main gate with the huge white golfball looking "radoms" in view. Loring Wirbel explained how these systems "suck in" all phone, fax and e-mail communications from throughout the entire world as part of the U.S. program called Echelon. I told the story about how Global Network affiliated groups in Australia, Germany, England and the like continually protest at U.S. "downlink facilities" that collect this information regionally and then send it via satellite in "real time" to Buckley AFB for final processing.

We were met at the Buckley vigil by the three Dominican Nuns, Ardeth Platte, Carol Gilbert and Jackie Hudson who were found guilty in 2003 for having symbolically "disarmed" a Minuteman nuclear missile silo in northeastern Colorado. Their action, called Sacred Earth and Space Plowshares, put them in jail for a considerable amount of time and Ardeth was the last to get out just a couple of months ago. This was the first time they had been back in Colorado since their trial. Following the vigil at Buckley we made the two hour drive further north to Weld County where the sisters had done their act of disarmament at the N-8 missile silo.

When we arrived we decorated the missile silo gate with yellow crime scene tape and hung an eviction notice, signed by all who were there, on the gate. A team of reporters from several newspaper and radio outlets listened to the sisters make a statement about what motivated them to do the action in 2002. They spoke about their Dominican order being one of preachers who were obligated to tell the truth. The non-violent Jesus called on them to publicly witness against weapons of mass destruction. Their mission at the N-8 silo in 2002 was to open the gates so the world could see that the U.S. had WMD's as Bush lectured the rest of the world about the evils of nuclear weapons. Having worked with the poor all their lives, the sisters insisted that the funding of WMD's was a theft from the poor.

Next we drove back to the nearby town of Greeley where the sisters had been taken to jail following their 2002 action. On this April 4 evening we were to show the new documentary video called "Conviction" that told the story about the nuns and their peace witness at N-8. The only place that would host the event in Greeley was a Mexican restaurant - and fortunately they had a wonderful buffet. Following dinner the filmmaker introduced the film and a good crowd of local people, in addition to those on the protest caravan, watched the documentary. The film not only featured the sisters but also included extensive interviews with the Rev. Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals who is based in Colorado Springs. During the film Haggard explains how U.S. military technology keeps the world free and called the disarmament action by the nuns misguided and criticized their theological interpretations.

On April 5 we were back out to the Broadmoor Hotel for a lunch time vigil. Bill Sulzman remarked that he had never seen so many military personnel as this year. Many generals (one star, two stars, three stars, four stars) walked past us. Former Republican Congressman Robert Walker, a 20-year veteran of the House of Representatives, where he served as Chairman of the House Science Committee, passed by us on three different occasions. While in Congress he was a big critic of "liberal big spending" so each time he walked by I would ask him why we were not reading any quotes from him in the newspaper about the "big spending" Bush administration. He groaned and gruffed as he slinked by. At one point I also noticed former Sen. Chuck Robb (D-VA) enter the symposium. Robb, a former Marine, became the first senator ever to simultaneously serve on the Senate Armed Services, Foreign Relations, and Intelligence Committees. All these politicians are now working as consultants and lobbyists for the military industrial complex. I also noted their business suits were cut from very expensive cloth these days.

Following this mid-day vigil I was invited to speak to a Philosophy class at Pikes Peak Community College. The class, I was warned, had a couple of recent Iraq war veterans in it and some wives of soldiers at nearby Fort Carson, an Army base that regularly sends troops to the war in Iraq. About 20 students were in the class and I was asked to speak about Ethics and the Military Industrial Complex. My talk went quite well with no real opposition expressed during our lively question and answer period. It was clear to me that this working class group of students clearly understood that the rich were getting richer in today's America and that the war in Iraq was a war for control of oil that would only benefit the big corporations. It gave me confidence that the public increasingly has figured out the big picture.

The primary question posed by one student was, "What do we do now?" I answered by saying that as I walked from the parking lot to the main building on campus, I was nearly blown over by the powerful wind. Why, I asked, can't you have some windmills here providing power for this college? Think of the money and energy saved, the oil not needed, and the jobs that could be created in America building windmills. Why not solar too with so much abundant sun in Colorado? Why not a public transit system, here in Colorado and across the U.S., giving you an option other than your expensive car? Why can't we build these sustainable technologies instead of weapons and endless war? And why can't the peace movement, the environmental movement, and the labor movements create a unified campaign and political demand around this issue? The students got it.

My trip to Colorado ended with another early morning vigil at the Broodmor Hotel on April 6 as the symposium was wrapping up "business." On my first day in Colorado Springs the local newspaper had carried an article about the event and one space symposium organizer was quoted as saying the whole event was about "business." He said the aerospace industry sponsors would be cutting business deals during the week. There is huge money to be made moving the arms race into space and the rats are gathering around the cheese. In order to pay for, what the weapons industry calls the "largest industrial project in the history of the planet Earth," the aerospace industry has targeted the "entitlement programs" for defunding. The space business community wants Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and what is left of the Welfare Program, to be defunded with the money moved into the new space arms race.

The open question is how will the American people respond? If my talk to the Philosophy class was any indication they are not eager to see the dismantling of social progress. But first they must learn about the issue. The week-long protest at the 22nd Annual Space Symposium in Colorado Springs was an important contribution to this much needed public debate. I'll be back next year for more. I hope more of you will join us.