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, August 30, 2008

MINNESOTA BOUND

I am in the Atlanta airport headed for St. Paul, Minnesota where I will speak at a conference called Peace Island that will run counter to the Republican National Convention.

I flew out of Boston early this morning and am taking the southern route to Minnesota. Just a bit out of the way.

All the news is about McCain's surprise pick of Alaska governor Sarah Palin to be his V-P running mate. This has surely shaken things up. I had known of her after watching her during the Alaska governor race debates on C-SPAN a couple years ago. I noted then that she was smart and well spoken. She is going to spice up what would have been a lackluster McCain campaign. Up to this point there was not much inspiration in the Republican effort. I'm sure many women will give McCain a second look now.

Palin's politics are pretty bad, the media is calling her a reformer, but the truth is she is a conventional Christian fundamentalist right-wing choice. I'd venture to guess she will prove to be a quick study on the issues and a good campaigner.

Friday, August 29, 2008

ALL IS WELL AT LAST

The Rose Garden set
I watched the Obama speech last night with three other people. Our consensus was that it was a corporate funded display of nationalism and militarism. One housemate remarked that Obama never once talked about our place in the world in a real and holistic way.

The first thing I noticed when Obama approached the podium was that he was wearing the controversial flag pin. Everyone in our small group kept asking, "What is that stage set supposed to be?" Throughout the speech this question kept emerging. I kept responding that it was designed by Hollywood with some purpose in mind, but I could not "pin" it down.

Obama started with the domestic issues. He mentioned in passing that he supported nuclear power and that everyone who does not have health care today (that would be me) would be getting "the same health care that Congress has." I can see the long lines now at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington as those of us without health coverage stand at the locked doors saying, "Mr. Obama sent me."

Obama went on to his foreign policy track and mentioned the obligatory opposition to the war in Iraq and then of course said that he had "Argued for more resources and troops to finish the fight" in Afghanistan. Finish the fight or expand the fight into Pakistan? Small detail - no need to worry.

Obama also said he would "Rebuild our military to meet future conflicts." Just how much will that task cost us at a time when our nation is busted?

He took a rightward turn down the street called nationalism by declaring, "I got news for you John McCain, we all put America first. Our universities and culture are the envy of the world....We must always march ahead.....and never turn back." Wild cheers, just what are those convention delegates and guests thinking?

I have a confession. Watching the cheering crowd, waving their flags, some crying as they listen to Obama, my mind flashes to Hitler's famous speeches before flag waving and cheering hoards. There Hitler told the masses that they were god's chosen people. They were destined to liberate the world to bring them peace and prosperity - or as it is explained these days - freedom. When you are an American it is hard to see this similarity but if you can allow yourself to emotionally detach then you see that despite a few cultural differences, the end result is the same misplaced nationalistic frenzy. How else can you explain that self described "liberals" would cheer the declaration that we are going to send more troops and more military hardware to Afghanistan knowing that just this past week the U.S. military had killed 90 civilians, 50 of them children? "Yes, give me more," they seem to cry to Obama! No reflection allowed, this is a corporate coronation, and you my dear citizen, are a willing victim.

As Obama concluded, a country western song rang out over the stadium sound system with a chorus that went, "Only in America." Yes, I thought, only in America would we find such a corporate funded extravaganza of lights, fireworks, paper streamers, music, flags, color, totally scripted and choreographed. Even the ties of Biden and Obama were planned - Obama with red tie and Biden with blue. Bridging the red state-blue state divide I am sure. Nothing left to chance.

At the end the families of the two conquering candidates came onto the stage for hugs, kisses, and waves and then they moved toward the back of the stage and entered the subtly lit doorway that had a vague familiarity. Then it dawned on me.

The stage set was designed to remind one of the White House - the huge stone pillars of power on each end and in the center what appeared to be the Rose Garden where the president often holds news conferences. And after each news conference is over the president, and his guests, always move behind them to enter the French doors back into the halls of power.

The set was designed to emotionally connect us with the notion that Obama-Biden do indeed fit in the White House, and in our hearts and minds, are already there. They have attained the crest of the mountain. Peace and prosperity are restored in the land.

We can now return to life as normal. All is well at last.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

THAT'S NOT CHANGE, IT'S MORE OF THE SAME

If you click on the Will Park artwork above you will see Sen. Joe Biden's name near the bottom of the "boys in the band." Will created this one in 2002. Talk about calling it right. You should remember that Biden, Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, supported Bush's illegal and immoral attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq.

Last night I watched the Joe Biden speech at the Denver Democratic party convention. Throughout his speech Biden would use one line when referring to John McCain, "That's not change, it's more of the same."

Biden's offer of change included the statement that Bush had "failed to face the biggest force facing the 21st century, the emergence of Russia, China, and India as great powers."

Again contrasting Obama from McCain, he boasted that the Obama-Biden team would make Afghanistan a priority - "We need to send two more combat battalions to Afghanistan." The crowd cheered.

Biden accused the Bush team of neglecting Georgia after their attack on the break-a-way provinces South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Biden warned that "We will end that neglect. We will hold Russia accountable for its actions and we will help the people of Georgia rebuild [their military]."

After hearing the Biden speech I can only come to the conclusion that what he offered last night was not real change but more of the same hardball U.S. militarism and empire building. Confronting Russia and China over the world's declining resources is exactly the wrong "strategy".

Biden said nothing about cutting our trillion dollar military budget or converting the military industrial complex so we can deal with the looming effects of global climate change.

That would be real change - just the kind of change we need.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

HISTORY AND CONTEXT - UNDERSTANDING NATO AND CURRENT WARS


Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo is a U.S. military base that cost one-half billion dollars to build and was opened in 2000. Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have visited the base that many believe serves as Gunatanamo II, where it is used to detain prisoners from the "war on terror" without any legal rights and serves as a strategic outpost to ensure U.S. control of the region. In his latest column for the New Statesman below highly acclaimed journalist John Pilger tells the story about the balkanization of Yugoslavia as a precursor to the war on Iraq and Afghanistan. Note the role of NATO as this was the beginning of the effort to create justification for an expanded military mission for the supposedly "defensive alliance."


DON'T FORGET YUGOSLAVIA

"The secrets of the crushing of Yugoslavia are emerging, telling us more about how the modern world is policed. The former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia in The Hague, Carla Del Ponte, this year published her memoir The Hunt: Me and War Criminals. Largely ignored in Britain, the book reveals unpalatable truths about the west's intervention in Kosovo, which has echoes in the Caucasus.

The tribunal was set up and bankrolled principally by the United States. Del Ponte's role was to investigate the crimes committed as Yugoslavia was dismembered in the 1990s. She insisted that this include Nato's 78-day bombing of Serbia and Kosovo in 1999, which killed hundreds of people in hospitals, schools, churches, parks and tele vision studios, and destroyed economic infrastructure. "If I am not willing to [prosecute Nato personnel]," said Del Ponte, "I must give up my mission." It was a sham. Under pressure from Washington and London, an investigation into Nato war crimes was scrapped.

Readers will recall that the justification for the Nato bombing was that the Serbs were committing "genocide" in the secessionist province of Kosovo against ethnic Albanians. David Scheffer, US ambassador-at-large for war crimes, announced that as many as "225,000 ethnic Albanian men aged between 14 and 59" may have been murdered. Tony Blair invoked the Holocaust and "the spirit of the Second World War". The west's heroic allies were the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), whose murderous record was set aside. The British foreign secretary, Robin Cook, told them to call him any time on his mobile phone.

With the Nato bombing over, international teams descended upon Kosovo to exhume the "holocaust". The FBI failed to find a single mass grave and went home. The Spanish forensic team did the same, its leader angrily denouncing "a semantic pirouette by the war propaganda machines". A year later, Del Ponte's tribunal announced the final count of the dead in Kosovo: 2,788. This included combatants on both sides and Serbs and Roma murdered by the KLA. There was no genocide in Kosovo. The "holocaust" was a lie. The Nato attack had been fraudulent.

That was not all, says Del Ponte in her book: the KLA kidnapped hundreds of Serbs and transported them to Albania, where their kidneys and other body parts were removed; these were then sold for transplant in other countries. She also says there was sufficient evidence to prosecute the Kosovar Albanians for war crimes, but the investigation "was nipped in the bud" so that the tribunal's focus would be on "crimes committed by Serbia". She says the Hague judges were terrified of the Kosovar Albanians - the very people in whose name Nato had attacked Serbia.

Indeed, even as Blair the war leader was on a triumphant tour of "liberated" Kosovo, the KLA was ethnically cleansing more than 200,000 Serbs and Roma from the province. Last February the "international community", led by the US, recognised Kosovo, which has no formal economy and is run, in effect, by criminal gangs that traffic in drugs, contraband and women. But it has one valuable asset: the US military base Camp Bondsteel, described by the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner as "a smaller version of Guantanamo". Del Ponte, a Swiss diplomat, has been told by her own government to stop promoting her book.

Yugoslavia was a uniquely independent and multi-ethnic, if imperfect, federation that stood as a political and economic bridge in the Cold War. This was not acceptable to the expanding European Community, especially newly united Germany, which had begun a drive east to dominate its "natural market" in the Yugoslav pro vinces of Croatia and Slovenia. By the time the Europeans met at Maastricht in 1991, a secret deal had been struck; Germany recognised Croatia, and Yugoslavia was doomed. In Washington, the US ensured that the struggling Yugoslav economy was denied World Bank loans and the defunct Nato was reinvented as an enforcer. At a 1999 Kosovo "peace" conference in France, the Serbs were told to accept occupation by Nato forces and a market economy, or be bombed into submission. It was the perfect precursor to the bloodbaths in Afghanistan and Iraq."

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

THE HAMMER COMING TO "EURASIA"

Click on map for larger view
The U.S. and NATO forces have been pounding the hell out of the people in Afghanistan. The bombing campaign is relentless.

Just days ago nearly 100 more innocent civilians were killed, including 50 children and 19 women, when a U.S. led air strike hit them.

It's interesting to see that in Europe the peace movement is becoming increasingly critical of NATO's expanding and lapdog role alongside the U.S. in Central Asia. In Canada the peace movement is extremely outspoken in opposition to their country's role in Afghanistan.

But in the U.S. the peace movement has been slow to speak out against the seven-year war in Afghanistan. One major reason is likely because the Democrats, like their candidate Barack Obama, calls Afghanistan the "right war."

I've previously commented that Zbigniew Brzezinski's book "The Grand Chessboard" lays out the strategy for this part of the world in the coming years. Brzezinski is one of Obama's leading foreign policy advisers. In the book Brzezinski says, "America is now the only global superpower, and Eurasia is the globe's central arena. Hence, what happens to the distribution of power on the Eurasian continent will be of decisive importance to America's global primacy and to America's historical legacy.

"Moreover, as America becomes an increasingly multi-cultural society, it may find it more difficult to fashion a consensus on foreign policy issues, except in the circumstance of a truly massive and widely perceived direct external threat."

Thus we today have the "war on terror" and the comeback of the "Russian bear" as the external threats.

Those only fixated on Iraq, thinking that we can get the U.S. out of that country and the "war" will be over, are in for a big surprise. U.S. policymakers from both corporate parties intend to keep us in the region indefinitely so that they can control the extraction of oil/natural gas and have control over the pipeline routes.

Brzezinski lays out the strategy with these harsh words: "...To put it in a terminology that harkens back to the more brutal age of ancient empires, the three grand imperatives of imperial strategy are to prevent collusion and maintain security dependence among the vassals, to keep tributaries pliant and protected, and to keep the barbarians from coming together."

This is why we need to start paying more attention to Afghanistan and NATO. The plan is to widen the war throughout "Eurasia" and is going to cost a whole bunch of money and many lives. Not to mention likely war with Russia and China at some point.

Begin to recognize the links between the earlier NATO war on Yugoslavia and breaking up of that nation into "pliant" tributaries, something that Sen. Joe Biden calls for today when he suggests balkanizing Iraq into three separate countries. Or the recent building of new U.S. military bases in Romania and Bulgaria or recent NATO base expansion to Russia's borders. Understand that the grand strategy is now underway.

The feel good scene happening in Denver right now belies the coming hammer of reality.

Monday, August 25, 2008

HONEST OBAMA TO CONTINUE SURROUNDING RUSSIA

The Democratic national convention (DNC) begins today and many are getting excited and hopeful about Obama's new pick for V-P, Sen. Joe Biden. They both spoke in Springfield, Illinois on Saturday (subtly bringing back memories of honest Abe Lincoln).

I've been a close follower of Joe Biden's career for many years. I'll never forget watching him on C-SPAN deliver a speech in 2000 at the time of the DNC in Los Angeles that chose Al Gore for president. Biden was speaking to a Jewish organization during a pre-convention luncheon and he talked about "missile defense". The first half of his speech was an articulate and fascinating overview of why "missile defense" was dangerous and destabilizing. Then he stopped mid-stream and switched horses. The second half of his speech was a defense of U.S. participation in "missile defense" and the need for U.S. military space technology superiority. I was momentarily stunned but then recovered after reminding myself that this is what the Democrats do. They play both sides of the street. They have the anti-war rhetoric down to an art but then they walk away from that position by climbing onto the war horse and riding off with the sheriff's posse.

You might have heard that Dick Cheney will be heading to Georgia this week to help stoke the fires of war on Russia's border. And if that is not enough the media is reporting that, "NATO says it is holding long-planned exercises, involving US, German, Spanish and Polish vessels, in the Black Sea and that this is not linked to the conflict in Georgia. The exercises, which will include visits in Bulgaria and Romania, began on Thursday and are due to end on September 10."

Count on the U.S. quickly rebuilding Georgia's military and continual U.S. military maneuvers in this part of the world. The intent of these will be to constantly pressure Russia while, after each military "training exercise," loads of military hardware will be left in the region for future operations against Russia.

Sen. Biden recently went to Georgia himself to beat the war drums and threaten Russia with "consequences" if they don't leave Georgia alone. "When Congress reconvenes, I intend to work with the administration to seek Congressional approval for $1 billion in emergency assistance for Georgia, with a substantial down payment on that aid to be included in the Congress' next supplemental spending bill," Biden said.

So it appears that "Honest Obama" will continue the provocative military encirclement of Russia if he is allowed to win the presidency.

One final note: I must acknowledge that I had predicted the Democratic party race wrong. Many months ago I said Hillary Clinton would win the Dems presidential nomination and would pick Obama as V-P.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

PRAYERS FOR A DEAR FRIEND

We just learned this morning that our dear friend Dennis Apel has had a heart attack and is in critical care at a hospital in Santa Maria, California.

Dennis and his wife Tensie have for a long time run a Catholic Worker house in the farm worker town of Santa Maria, very near Vandenberg AFB where Star Wars systems are regularly launched.

Dennis has been arrested many times for his acts of non-violent civil disobedience at the base and spent many nights in jail. You might notice the black cloth covering the base name on the stone wall in the background. Since Dennis poured his blood on the wall, just after the U.S. "shock and awe" attack on Iraq in 2003, the base now covers up their name each time a protest is held.

Just months ago Dennis invited me, along with John Dear, to come to California to speak in Santa Barbara at the annual gathering of west coast Catholic Worker activists. And then just a couple days ago I got an email from him saying he was going to organize a protest at Vandenberg during Keep Space for Peace Week.

Dennis and Tensie have created a health clinic in Santa Maria so that immigrant farm workers can get medical attention. They have fully embraced the teachings of the non-violent Jesus - take care of the poor and confront the war makers in a spirit of love.

I am hoping that Dennis will fully recover. I ask you to please include him in your thoughts or prayers. Dennis is a good man - a good husband, father, friend, and activist. He deserves to live. A nicer guy does not exist.