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: Brunswick, Maine, United States

I'm back to work for the Global Network. Will continue to help Lisa Savage for US Senate campaign on my free time. Trying to self-isolate as much as possible. Best wishes and good luck to you all.

Monday, April 27, 2009

DEBATING EMPIRE - FIREMAN OR FLAME THROWER?

I "debated" Bobby Reynolds this morning at the University of Southern Maine in Portland. It was in a Sociology class of professor John Baugher. There were about 40 students in the class. Each of us spoke for 20 minutes and then we took questions from the students.

Reynolds introduced himself as the liaison staffer between Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins and military contractors in the state. He said he had been in the Navy and then was a fireman in Portland and got involved in politics and eventually went to work for Sen. Collins. He spoke at length about all the good the US military does around the world, protecting democracy and freedom, and likened our military to a fire department, stepping in when there was great need. At one point, while talking about the former Soviet Union, he said that the US had armed the Taliban in Afghanistan. At another point he suggested that I might be critical of US military spending, which he said is now at the level of $444 billion per year.

After introducing myself I said I found it interesting that Bobby, while working as the "defense liaison" for Sen. Collins, did not seem to know the current level of military spending. I indicated that Obama was raising it 4% in 2010 to a level of $663 billion. That figure, I added, did not count the $23.4 billion for the Department of Energy nuclear weapons work; $25.3 billion in the Department of State budget given to foreign countries to buy US weapons; the $1 billion for military recruitment; or the Veterans Administration which gets $75.7 billion, 50% of which goes for long-term care for the most seriously injured among our 30,000 troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. Another $46.4 billion goes to the Department of Homeland Security. On and on the story goes......... (These figures are from the 2008 federal budget.)

By the time you add it up we are spending about $1 trillion a year on the military.

We are spending more than the rest of the world combined does on the military. It's not about putting out fires, it's about creating fires - control of declining oil and natural gas in the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa. Our job under corporate globalization, I quoted a former Pentagon source as saying, is going to be "security export."

I told the students that when I arrived on campus I picked up the student newspaper and saw an article about staff and faculty lay-offs at the university due to the state's fiscal crisis. I said that tuition increases were likely in the near future.

I referred to the study called "The U.S. Employment Effects of Military and Domestic Spending Priorities" by the Department of Economics at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst that was published in October 2007. I had passed around a one-page chart from the study that gave figures on the overall employment effects of spending $1 billion in 2005. The study shows that when $1 billion was spent on military 8,555 jobs were created. But if that same amount of money had gone into health care 12,883 jobs could have been created. Or if that $1 billion had gone into making mass transit systems 19,795 jobs could have been created. Home weatherization, something badly needed in Maine, would create 12,804 jobs per billion dollars. Which was the best path for dealing with global warming and our economy I asked?

After Bobby and I spoke we took questions from the students. One said she could not afford to get her teeth fixed. Another questioned why Bobby kept referring to "bad people" around the world....wasn't he just setting up the same old construct of the US being the good guys and everyone else the bad guys? One student said she was confused by Bobby's saying early on that we had funded the Taliban to fight the Soviet Union and now the Taliban were the bad guys in Afghanistan and Pakistan?

It was a good experience. I think the students learned some things today. Hopefully they come away with more questions in their minds about which direction our nation is heading. Hopefully they might pay more attention to these issues in the future.

My last words to the class were - you are going to pay for all this in the end.

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