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

Saturday, July 26, 2008

HAPPY BIRTHDAY BRUCE

Yes my birthday is Sunday and someone with a great sense of humor posted this greeting from Bush in the Comments section of my MySpace profile.

There is a backyard party for me and Jean Parker (who is also having a birthday) on Sunday at the home of Selma and Herschel Sternlieb in Brunswick. Selma is the one who just did the layout on our Space Alert! newsletter which is now at the printer. It was very thoughtful of her to organize the party.

Today I worked the Green Party table at the International Festival in Portland. Got some good interest from folks and it was a perfect Maine day - sun shining and nice and cool out.

On Monday MB and I go away for 5 days to stay in a cabin on an estuary in nearby Georgetown owned by a dear friend in the peace movement. It's a wonderful place, connected to a state park, and the ocean is just a short kayak ride away. We need some time off, my mind is nearly mush, and our friend was kind enough to offer us this place where we can relax, read, walk, swim, and just take it easy for awhile. Likely won't do much with the blog while away. You'll just have to look at Bush for awhile longer.

Friday, July 25, 2008

DISCORDANT SOUNDS FROM THE SUPREMES

I attended the hearing yesterday before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in Portland. The case was over Independent Senate candidate Herb Hoffman's ability to get on the November ballot. The Maine Democratic Party, after attempting to get Hoffman's 4,000 petition signatures thrown out, appealed the Secretary of State's decision to give Hoffman ballot status to the Maine Superior Court. That court ruled in favor of Hoffman as well. Then the Democrats took the case to the Supreme Court.

I'd never been to any Supreme Court hearing before - anywhere. It was an interesting experience. The courtroom had an old English-style ornate dark wood interior. Just to make it really quaint there was no air conditioning and the place was as hot and humid as could be.

Dan Walker was the attorney for the Democratic Party and he went first. (One local Maine political news outlet reported that no one was telling who was paying Walker's attorney fees. Walker himself was only saying that he was getting funding from "here and there".)

Walker told the court that Hoffman should be denied ballot status because he had violated the oath that one makes when they sign the petitions saying that they had witnessed the signatures on the sheet. In the previous Superior Court hearing the Democrats had subpoenaed three persons who had signed the petition and had them swear under testimony that Hoffman had not specifically witnessed their signatures.

Walker also claimed that the 4,000 signatures were a "minimal" display of public support and thus denial of ballot status should not be seen as a significant harm to voters.

John Branson, who made his legal services available to Hoffman as a public service, told the court that it all came down to the definition of "presence". Hoffman, he said, had visual contact with those signing his petitions which gave him confidence that he met statutory requirements. Thus his oath was true when he swore that petition signers were legal. Branson reminded the court that fundamental constitutional rights were at stake in this case - the issue was really about whether legitimate legal petition signatures would be honored.

Branson had a hard time being able to finish his thoughts as the chief justice continually interrupted his statements and kept trying to take the "legal arguments" off into wild hypothetical questions about mentally deranged persons gathering illegal signatures and knowingly swearing an oath that they were valid. Branson attempted to remind the supremes of the logic behind the ruling from the lower court but they did not seem at all interested.

As I sat there listening to this I kept asking myself: how far up does the Democratic Party political machine extend? How many of these supremes were appointed by Democrats? Are the supremes just looking for a wild-hair legal theory in order to protect the Democratic Party senatorial candidate (Tom Allen) from a challenger on his left-flank?

After the hearing about two dozen of Hoffman supporters went to lunch at a Greek restaurant near the court house. While there I heard two stories that got my attention. One local activist, and a Democrat who is supporting Hoffman, said he had spoken to one of the men who had been called as a witness to testify against Hoffman in the previous court hearing. The man said that he felt "entrapped" by the state Democratic Party to testify against Hoffman.

A second man, who testified in court that he had signed the petition but had not seen Hoffman, has since his testimony been given a job working for the Maine Democratic Party. Sounds to me like a fishy deal.

The court is to rule next Monday on this question. It will be interesting to see if there is truly justice in Maine. One has to wonder though because the evidence so far is that the arm of the Democratic Party seems to reach far and wide when it comes to ensuring that real democracy is not to be allowed in our state.

One final thought. I've been to many meetings where candidates for office pass around clipboards with their petitions to get on the ballot and have people sign them. The candidate was "present" but not exactly witnessing each and every signature. I've seen Democrats do this too. I have no problem with the practice. The Democrats don't seem to have a problem with the practice either - that is until someone who is running against them does something similar. Then it becomes a Supreme Court case.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

JFK'S CONVERSION FROM WAR

I have previously written briefly about a new book I recently read entitled JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died & Why It Matters. Long-time peace activist James Douglass wrote the book and worked on it for 12 years.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. You should read it, you will be shocked and moved by this story, and you will want to tell others about it.

In a few words, this book tells the story about why and how the military industrial complex (MIC) had JFK killed. This book is part history, part mystery story, and part moral lesson. James Douglass does a phenomenal job of researching and documenting the story. I’ve known Douglass for years. He was a founder of the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action in Bangor, Washington and is a highly respected writer and Christian activist. Orbis Press, a Maryknoll enterprise, published the book. I first heard about this book when Catholic Bishop Thomas Gumbleton mentioned it in his speech in Omaha last April during our annual Global Network space conference.

JFK admittedly ran for president as a cold warrior. Most people know that. What they don’t know about JFK is how shaken he was by the whole Bay of Pigs invasion fiasco and the Cuban Missile Crisis. We had narrowly averted war with the Soviet Union and the Pentagon was not happy about that fact. Kennedy understood afterwards that the CIA-Pentagon-MIC plan was global domination and it would likely lead to a nuclear war. Kennedy had experienced enough death (his own family history) and war (his participation in WW II) and wanted to find another way.

Early in the story Douglass points out that, “What Eisenhower in the final hours of his presidency revealed as the greatest threat to our democracy Kennedy in the midst of his presidency chose to resist. The military-industrial complex was totally dependent on a ‘Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war.”

Following the Cuban missile crisis JFK set out to do three things. First he began negotiations with the Soviet Union on a nuclear test ban treaty. Douglass reports that “The Joint Chiefs and CIA were adamantly opposed to Kennedy’s turn toward peace.”

Kennedy and Soviet leader Khrushchev (who carried on a secret pen pall relationship for some time) eventually signed the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. They wanted to go much farther but there was a push back. The August 5, 1963, U.S. News & World Report carried a major article headlined, “Is the U.S. Giving up in the Arms Race?” The article cited “many authorities in the military establishment, who are now silenced,” as thinking that the Kennedy administration’s “new strategy adds up to a type of intentional and one-sided disarmament.”

At the time JFK confided “One of the ironic things about this entire situation is that Mr. Khrushchev and I occupy approximately the same political positions inside our governments. He would like to prevent a nuclear war but is under severe pressure from his hard-line crowd, which interprets every move in that direction as appeasement. I’ve got similar problems.”

Testifying against the test ban treaty US Navy Admiral Lewis Strauss said, “I am not sure that the reduction of tensions is necessarily a good thing.”

Another of JFK’s sins was to begin to open up back-door communications with Fidel Castro in Cuba. By doing this JFK wanted to reduce the chance of another severe miscalculation like that which happened during the missile crisis. After JFK’s death, Lyndon Johnson put on permanent hold any dialogue between the White House and Cuba. No president since has dared to restart serious talks with Cuba.

Kennedy’s third mistake, as seen by the MIC, was Vietnam. JFK was tortured by the early deaths of American GI’s in Vietnam. He began looking for a way out. On October 11, 1963 he signed his presidential order for an initial withdrawal of 1,000 US troops from Vietnam by the end of the year, anticipating a complete troop withdrawal by the end of 1965.

Douglass eloquently says about those troubled times, “What is unrecognized about JFK’s presidency, which then makes his assassination a false mystery, is that he was locked in a struggle with his national security state. That state had higher values than obedience to the orders of a president who wanted peace. The defeat of Communism was number one.”

Today one could substitute the word terrorism for communism and the story would remain much the same.

JFK’s Congo policy was also being subverted by the CIA, which had been arming the Congo’s secessionist regime in Katanga in order to promote Belgian mining interests.

The US coup d’etat was about corporate control. A shadow government was taking over. As evidence to that fact Douglass unearthed the words of Washington Daily News reporter Richard Starnes alarming article on the CIA’s “unrestrained thirst for power” in Vietnam. Starnes had cited a “very high American official” in Saigon who “likened the CIA’s growth to a malignancy, and added he was not sure even the White House could control it any longer.”

Douglass reports, “The consequence in the early 1960’s, when Kennedy became president, was that the CIA had placed a secret team of its own employees through the entire US government. It was accountable to no one except the CIA.”

Douglass shares the mystery part of the book by thoroughly documenting the conspiracy to convince the public that Lee Harvey Oswald was the “lone gunman” who killed Kennedy. In fact “Oswald was a CIA asset” first trained by the agency at Atsugi Naval Air Station near Tokyo, a plush super secret cover base for special operations.

Douglass takes the reader through the entire operation to kill Kennedy and then the brutal cover-up that followed. This is the part of the book that read like a compelling mystery story, keeping one riveted to each page. This section hit me hardest – as I found a link between me and my peace work and the assassination of JFK.

I was 11 years old when JFK was killed. I was living with my family at Ellsworth AFB in Rapid City, South Dakota at the time. I was in the school lunchroom when we were informed that “our president” had been shot. I was devastated at the time. In a way my youthful innocence died right along with Kennedy that day.

In his book Douglass outlines how the CIA moved Oswald around the country in order to set up a storyline that made the case for him being JFK’s killer. Oswald had CIA handlers in New Orleans where they had him become publicly identified with a “pro-Cuba” group in order to eventually set the notion in people’s minds that Castro wanted Kennedy dead. Later Oswald was moved to Dallas where a Quaker woman by the name of Ruth Hyde Paine became his host. When I read this I nearly fell out of my chair.

I knew Ruth Hyde Paine, or at least I thought I did.

While living in Orlando, Florida in 1983 I became the first staff person for the Florida Coalition for Peace & Justice. The organization was actually created in 1982 as a loosely organized network of peace groups in the state and the initiating organization was the St. Petersburg, Florida office of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), which was based in the Quaker Meeting House. Ruth Hyde Paine was a leader of the St. Pete Friends Meeting and I had occasion to sit in peace meetings with her over the years. What could she have had to do with the assassination of JFK?

Douglass reports that the controversial Warren Commission’s star witness against Lee Harvey Oswald was Ruth Hyde Paine. Ruth Paine took Oswald’s wife into her home when they moved to Dallas. It was Ruth Paine who arranged for Oswald’s job at the Texas School Book Depository in October 1963. It was Paine’s car that was used as a get-a-way car after the deadly shots were fired. Was Ruth Hyde Paine just an innocent victim here?

Come to find out Ruth Paine’s husband Michael worked at Bell Helicopter in Fort Worth, Texas. His stepfather was the inventor of the Bell Helicopter and the corporation made enormous profit selling the weapon system to the Pentagon for use during the Vietnam War. Michael’s mother, Ruth Forbes Paine Young, was closely connected to Allen Dulles who hated Kennedy. Dulles was appointed by Lyndon Johnson to serve on the Warren Commission to investigate the assassination. (JFK had asked CIA Director Allen Dulles to resign after the Bay of Pigs disaster. Kennedy then tried to cut the CIA budget by 20% and had threatened to “splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds.”)

Ruth Hyde Paine was the daughter of William Avery Hyde who worked for the Agency for International Development - a known CIA front-organization. Right after Kennedy’s death William Hyde received a three-year government contract with AID in Latin America to promote the US insurance industry. Ruth’s younger sister also worked for the CIA.

Assassins in Dallas, Texas killed JFK on November 22, 1963. At the very moment Fidel Castro was having lunch with JFK’s secret emissary, Jean Daniel, in Varadero Beach, Cuba. Douglass reports that when they received news of Kennedy’s death Castro said, “Everything is changed. Everything is going to change.”

Just months before JFK had delivered the commencement speech at American University in Washington DC. The speech was hardly reported in the U.S. In it Kennedy said, “Some say that it is useless to speak of world peace or world law or world disarmament – and that it will be useless until the leaders of the Soviet Union adopt a more enlightened attitude. I hope they do. I believe we can help them do it. But I also believe that we must reexamine our own attitudes – as individuals and as a Nation – for our attitude is as essential as theirs. And every graduate of this school, every thoughtful citizen who despairs of war and wishes to bring peace, should begin by looking inward – by examining his own attitude toward the possibilities of peace, toward the Soviet Union, toward the course of the cold war and toward freedom and peace here at home.”

Douglass concludes that JFK had a conversion. He had turned away from the Cold War. The MIC came to the conclusion that Kennedy had betrayed the goals of empire. He had become a traitor. He had to be killed.

Rejecting the goal of a “Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war,” Kennedy asked the nation in his American University speech to reexamine our attitudes toward war, especially in relation to the people of the Soviet Union, who suffered incomparable losses in World War II. Now nuclear war would be far worse: “All we built, all we worked for, would be destroyed in the first 24 hours.” Douglass reminds us that then Kennedy called for “general and complete disarmament.”

His fate was sealed.

Near the end of the book Douglass reports that former President Harry Truman had an article published in the Washington Post on December 22, 1963, one month to the day after JFK was killed. Truman wrote:

“I think it has become necessary to take another look at the purpose and operations of our Central Intelligence Agency - CIA…..

“For some time I have been disturbed by the way the CIA has been diverted from its original assignment. It has become an operational and at times a policy-making arm of the Government. This has led to trouble and may have compounded our difficulties in several explosive areas.

“We have grown up as a nation, respected for our free institutions and for our ability to maintain a free and open society. There is something about the way the CIA has been functioning that is casting a shadow over our historic position and I feel that we need to correct it.”

Douglass writes that Truman’s warning was met with total silence. The coup d’etat had happened. There was no turning back for those now running the nation. Eisenhower’s, and now Truman’s warning to the American people seemed to fall on deaf ears.

It is my belief that since the JFK assassination the secret government, the CIA and the MIC, have been running the show. They have not allowed anyone to become president, from either party, that was not under their control.

This remarkable and moving book raises serious questions about the time we live in today. How do people of good will who truly seek peace operate when we live under a government that is run by the MIC? How can we support candidates for Congress or the president who are under the control of the oligarchy?

To me these are the real questions that must be debated and be answered if we are to re-establish the idea of democracy in America. As long as we delay having this discussion we will remain like a small boat drifting aimlessly at sea.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

SADNESS AND MORE

I went to get a haircut today from Maria Holt who cuts my locks for free. She lives here in Bath, and has been cutting my hair for the past couple of years. Maria, a nurse by profession, is in her late 70's and is recovering from cancer and now faces knee replacement surgery. She lives in a small but cozy house up on a rise with a great view of the Kennebec River. Her son, a gardener with magical hands, has created a wonderous assortment of colors in her park-like back yard. Imagine sitting on a stool, with garden in view and frogs croaking in the garden pond, looking at the river in the distance. Heaven on Earth it is.

Maria has been a peace and environmental activist for many years. During the Vietnam War she, and a few others, opened a storefront in our small town to organize against the war. She started an alternative school, campaigned for many years against the nuclear power plant just up the road (which was finally closed down), and represented Bath in the state legislature.

Maria asked me today to share with her the latest news. I told her I didn't have any good news to report and we proceeded to go through all the bad news that is fit to make the print these days. She suffers deeply worrying that the world she is leaving the future generations is not the one she would have picked for them to face.

The photo above really speaks to me of this suffering. The expression on the young GI's face in Iraq, just weeks ago on the 4th of July, is one of sadness, depression, home sickness, and more. The hot dog and hamburger, token symbols to make the soldier feel close to home, lack the necessary condiments of family and a real sense of purpose.

As I was leaving Maria's house today she asked me about Obama. I had intentionally not brought up the issue because I did not want to burden her with my severe doubts about him. But she knows me well enough now to scratch the surface just enough to elicit my true feelings about a subject. After I shared my thoughts she expressed deep emotion about having once been idealistic but now being more pragmatic. I could hear the pain in her voice, the pain of a woman who has given her entire life to making things better only to see it all slipping away in her later years.

I know quite a few elderly activists who are in the same boat. They are seeing the drowning of democracy, one that they've worked so hard to resuscitate, and they are frantic to save it now. They know that Obama won't be the lifeguard to do the job, but have not much else to offer as a solution. They are frustrated, broken hearted, angry, and feeling desperate.

I told Maria as I was leaving that I would never criticize her for voting for Obama. I told her that I though, having spent my entire adult life doing this work, could never forgive myself if I did not stand for what I know in my heart to be right.

Maria lovingly, with a smile on her face, told me to go home. I did and I carried her in my heart.

I don't mean to keep writing about Obama but this is the subject that people are thinking and talking about. The Obama question keeps intersecting my life no matter how I try to avoid it. Since I see my blog as essentially my daily political journal, this is what I have to share. But I must also try to put the Obama issue into a larger context.

After all, I can only mention baseball just so often.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

BIG MONEY AND A FEW LITTLE THINGS

* It's all about money. The "business" of America they like to say is "business." And oh man, the corporations are sure giving us the "business" these days.

The media is reporting this morning that Wachovia Corp. lost a staggering $8.9 billion in the second quarter of this year, leading the nation's fourth-largest bank to cut its dividend and slash 6,350 jobs in response to mortgage-related losses.

Look for some kind-hearted politicians to soon be calling for us to "bail out" Wachovia Corporation because after all - what is good for "business" is good for America.

We've all been taught that the "free enterprise system" is the most efficient system, the best system that is available. The market system corrects itself and plows ahead we are told making discussion of any other way of ordering our societies off the table.

* In recent days I've been working hard to get our GN (Space Alert!) newsletter done. This next issue will be larger than usual, 16-pages, and has just been layed out by Selma Sternlieb who lives in nearby Brunswick and volunteered her time to do the job. It's a huge task and many thanks to Selma. Next it goes to the printer and then to the mailing house. If you are not on our mailing list, and would like to receive a copy of the newsletter, drop me a line right away with your mailing address.

* We did a window washing spree here at the Addams-Melman House this morning. Mary Beth, Karen and I all took two hours to do the zillions of windows in our big community house. I was on the ladder outside and MB and Karen on the inside. Tomorrow we will be up in the attic making some space for our good friend Maureen Block who will join our intentional community in mid-August. Maureen now lives north of here in Lincolnville and is an artist, a strong activist, a gardener, and a true great mystical soul. She will be a wonderful addition to the community.

* We've been eating squash (zucchini and yellow) the last couple of nights as our garden is now popping with it.....cucumbers are next. Of course, I will keep you posted.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

BOMBS AWAY

* Worthy of note that the Air Force Times just came out with a story about escalating bombing over Afghanistan. They say that "For the first half of 2008, aircraft dropped 1,853 bombs — more than they released during all of 2006 and more than half of 2007’s total — 3,572 bombs."

* Speaking of Afghanistan (America's forgotten other war) Sen. Obama arrived there yesterday for a visit and accused John McCain of waffling on whether to send more troops to the war zone. Obama has called for another 10,000 troops to be sent to Afghanistan - the right war he calls it.

* Here in Maine the Democratic Party saga continues. They lost their recent appeal to keep Independent Senate candidate Herb Hoffman off the November ballot and are now appealing to the Maine Supreme Court. In a related matter the Maine State Democratic Executive Committee has kicked two anti-war activists (Lu Bauer and David Bright) off the committee for supporting Herb Hoffman's Senate run. Both Bauer and Bright are Kucinich Democrats and could not stomach supporting the Democratic Party Senate candidate Rep. Tom Allen from Portland.

* Our Addams-Melman House mates are all going out into the woods today, on land owned by a friend of ours, to cut down a tree for firewood. Let's hope we don't do any serious damage to life or forest. Wood is getting so expensive that our friend has said she'd donate a tree to us if we cut it down/up. T-i-m-b-e-r!

* Impeachment action nationwide is heating up again as we get closer to the November elections. On July 25 Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) is going to get a chance to appear (at last) before the House Judiciary Committee although there is some concern they might try to limit the scope of his testimony. A call has been put out for all hands on deck. Do want you can to throw a log on the fire.

* My Baltimore Orioles (now 2 games under .500) won a thriller last night in extra innings. They came back from a 7 run deficit and won 11-10 in the 10th inning. I turned the game on when they were losing 7-2, went for a walk, and came back to see the score was 9-9. Very tough on the heart.