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, February 07, 2009

BANK OF AMERICA SCREWS THE PUBLIC


NO U.S. BASES CONFERENCE COMING UP

An event called Security Without Empire: National Organizing Conference on Foreign Military Bases will be held at American University in Washington D.C. on Feb. 27–Mar. 2, 2009.

There is a sense of relief that many here in the U.S. feel after the presidential election, but we understand this is a time to step up our organizing for peace and economic justice - including the growing movement to close and withdraw the nearly 1,000 U.S. military bases located in foreign nations.

From Okinawa and Guam to Honduras, Germany, Iraq, and beyond people who have suffered from the abuses inherent to foreign military bases have been calling for their withdrawal. People in the U.S. have joined this call, outraged by the damage done by U.S. bases abroad and by their expense, which diverts $138 billion a year from addressing human needs and revitalizing our economy.

A broad coalition of groups from across the U.S. is organizing the conference including the Global Network, Veterans for Peace, FOR, CodePink, AFSC, United for Peace & Justice and Peace Action. Bruce Gagnon and GN affiliate Tim Rinne (Nebraskans for Peace) will be doing a workshop on space issues at the conference.

The conference will feature base opponents from many “host” nations and will include leading activists as keynote speakers, panelists and workshop facilitators. Monday, March 2, will be a lobbying day on Capitol Hill, in which we encourage as many conference attendees as possible to participate. The conference will begin with a protest vigil at the Pentagon on Feb 27 from 4-5 pm at the Pentagon Metro stop (take yellow or blue Metro line to get there).

For more information contact: GGold@afsc.org or (617) 661-6130. http://www.projectonmilitarybases.org/

Friday, February 06, 2009

THE REAL GREEN PLEASE


The stimulus package debate rages in the US Senate as a cadre of about 20 "moderate" Republican and Democrat senators (led by our two Maine women Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins) try to cut a $100 billion from the final bill. They say that funding things like Head Start and school construction won't create enough jobs. Really, hiring more teachers and teachers aides and workers to sustainably remodel or build new energy efficient schools won't create jobs? What planet have I been living on anyway?

The funny thing is that few on either side of the aisle are complaining about the $50 billion subsidy for the nuclear power industry that sits in the package.

I thought the whole idea was to create green jobs. We know that investing in alternative and sustainable energy technologies is the best way to create good jobs and deal with climate change.
Building more nuclear power plants is not green jobs. But it is "green washing" as the nuclear industry tries hard to sell themselves as a viable alternative. Obviously it seems to be working with the Congress.

Road building, which is slated to get $30 billion in the stimulus package, is not green jobs. Mass transit is though but is only going to get $10 billion.

So the big change is really small change.

I got a call from Washington last night, and have been getting tons of emails in recent days, from progressive groups telling me to go to the wall for the stimulus package. But I have to admit I am not very excited about the whole process.

Maybe my skepticism comes from looking at the crew that Obama has assembled that he calls his "economic team". To me they look like four retread tires on a car careening off the cliff. But that is just my opinion.

One guy I do respect though is activist and writer David Sirota who is best known for having organized the campaign to get a Democratic senator elected ( Sen. Jon Tester) in the conservative state of Montana.

In a piece today Sirota says, " Obama's economic team is filled with the same deregulating, pro-bailout, pro-NAFTA, pro-outsourcing hacks whose policies brought the economy to its knees. And that's not just at the top levels, as we see, it's all throughout the government's economic bureaucracy. And, of course, the new economic advisory board Obama announced today has just two representatives from organized labor, and is teeming with right-wing economists (Martin Feldstein of the Reagan administration); CEOs from corporate outsourcers (GE and Caterpillar) and Wall Street firms (UBS); and board members from bailed-out investment houses (Laura Tyson from Morgan Stanley). "

So excuse me for not busting my gut with pride and joy over the sausage making going on in Washington over the stimulus. In the end a massive bill will pass and it will essentially do little to change the real dynamic in America that is leading to our economic collapse. And just what am I referring to?

I am referring to the fact that the powers that be have reduced our economic role in the world to one where we build weapons and export violence. We don't make our own clothes anymore nor do we build much of anything else. But we are the world's best at making machines to kill people.

When I hear Obama and the Congress start talking about converting the military industrial complex so that we can build wind turbines, rail systems, a solar society, and the like then I will get really excited about what is going on in Washington.

In the meantime I will keep banging my drum and chanting my mantra - jobs are best created when we go green. And I'm talking real green not the phony baloney stuff that is being pedaled as green these days.

Peace out.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

IRAN'S TV SATELLITE LAUNCH WHIPS FEARS

The February 2 launch of a television satellite by Iran has got the juices flowing in “pro-missile defense” quarters in the US.

Former professional football player Riki Ellison, who now leads the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, used the launch as another opportunity to frighten people into thinking that Iran was now poised to fire one of their non-existent nuclear weapons at the US.

In an email alert to his list Ellison declared, “The time is now, to accelerate our country's deployment and development of missile defense both domestically and internationally. We as a nation and a world cannot be held hostage by an Iranian or North Korean long-range ballistic missile with a weapon of mass destruction targeted at one or more of our cities. Furthermore, deployment of missile defense renders Iran's and North Korea's future ICBMs useless and dissuades Iran and North Korea from investing and building these long range missiles while increasing stability in the region with our allies and giving our diplomatic initiatives more time to succeed.”

Similar dire warnings were sounded from the freshly painted interior of the White House as President Obama’s spokesman Robert Gibbs told the nation: "Efforts to develop missile delivery capability, efforts that continue on an illicit nuclear program, or threats that Iran makes toward Israel, and (Iran's) sponsorship of terror, are of acute concern to this administration."

If necessary, Gibbs threatened, the U.S. "will use all elements of our national power" to deal with Iran's nuclear plans.

But once you get outside of the borders of the US most experts are not so alarmed about the dangers of Iran’s TV satellite launch. After all, countries all over the world these days are getting into the launch business and putting their own communications satellites into orbit. But when Iran or Venezuela joins the space race, then suddenly it is a big threat to the US because we claim to be the “Masters of Space” and only those we anoint are “allowed” to have access to space.

Andrew Brooks, at London's Royal Institute of International Affairs, said the Iranian satellite launch is "a simple act of propaganda within the framework of a civilian programme. This will not have any impact whatsoever on their nuclear capability.”

He said they want to put a television satellite into orbit "that could carry their message throughout the Middle East."

Iran's government spokesman Gholam-Hossein Elham on Thursday reiterated the scientific purpose of launching the country's first domestically made satellite, the official IRNA news agency reported.

"The launch of Omid (Hope) satellite into orbit is totally scientific and has nothing to do with military purposes," Elham was quoted as saying, adding that remarks made by “certain countries” are aimed at diverting the discussion.

The proponents of “missile defense” in the US are feeling fortunate that Iran has launched the satellite. It will surely help provide some political cover for a program that is now walking the budget tightrope during a severe economic crisis.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), who serves as chairman of the Armed Services Committee, recently told reporters that Congress would focus on the existing missile defense program early this year. He notes the program "has problems" and needs to be put up against a more rigorous testing program that deals with real-world scenarios.

One of the places where George W. Bush deployed missile defense systems was in Alaska. Reacting to the words of Sen. Levin, newly elected Alaska Senator Mark Begich, a Democrat, told newspapers in his state that any proposed reductions in the program must be accompanied by “military-focused justifications”. He noted many in Congress and the White House are looking to cut spending in some areas to finance an economic recovery plan and called the missile defense system, an “economic powerhouse” in Alaska.

“For now, no one in a position to know has shown me that reducing Alaska’s missile defense system makes any sense for our state or nation,” Begich said.

It should be noted that Sen. Levin is not opposed to missile defense systems. In fact he, through the last 20 years, has regularly supported the Pentagon’s requests for research and development (R & D) spending during both Republican and Democrat administrations. Levin has just taken the traditional Democratic-party line that deployments should not be rushed and that fully funding R & D and testing should continue. Once a system proves workable, then Levin supports deployment.

According to the United Press International, “The final goal is a layered architecture in which ballistic missiles launched against U.S. territory, forces, or allies will face several lines of defense that cumulatively thin out or completely eliminate the threat.

“The Missile Defense Agency does not expect any particular layer or weapon system to function perfectly.”

So those of us who oppose the dangerous and wasteful Star Wars program need to begin gearing up now for the coming debate in Congress. We should build our case by saying that continuing “missile defense” funding will only serve to create a new arms race at a time when our national economic collapse calls on us to invest in real job creating energy programs like rail, wind, solar, home weatherization, and more.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

KEEP WATCH ON CENTRAL & SOUTH ASIA

This map is very important. (Click on it for a larger view)

Look for Kyrgyzstan (in orange just next to China). The US has an "air-mobility" base there called Manas where tanker planes that refuel warplanes flying over Afghanistan are stationed. It also is a major airlift supply base, medical evacuation center, and houses troops heading to and from the Afghanistan war.

Manas is also in a strategic spot in the great game of surrounding Russia and China that is now underway. The base would also a key operational hub for any war on Iran.

The government in Kyrgyzstan has just submitted a bill to its parliament that would close the US base. The Obama administration is not happy about this development.

Today China imports the vast majority of its oil and natural gas via ships through the Taiwan Straits. The US has been doubling its naval presence in that region in an attempt to have the ability to choke off China's importation of these resources which are vital to its economy. Thus China wants to build land-route pipelines from the resource rich Caspian Sea region eastward into China. Again Kyrgyzstan sits right in the middle of the whole show.

The New York Times reports, "President Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced the decision to close the facility on Tuesday during a visit to Moscow to seek financial support. The closure would be a victory for Russian leaders, who saw the base as an American attempt to assert control in the region. And by eliminating a vital refueling and transport point for NATO forces, it would present a blunt challenge to President Obama’s highest foreign policy priority: the war in Afghanistan."

One issue is money. The US has only been paying $63 million a year in rent for the Manas base. The Russians have just offered Kyrgyzstan billions in loans and aid as an inducement to kick the US out of their country.

Popular opinion in Kyrgyzstan is also turning against the US. The US obstruction of an investigation into the fatal shooting in 2006 of a Kyrgyz truck driver by a US soldier during a security check has not helped matters one bit.

The US moved into Manas in 2001, soon after 9-11, as part of the "war on terror".

With things heating up in Pakistan, which is another major US transit supply route for the Afghanistan war, the closure of Manas would be a major strategic setback.

The Associated Press reports, "The threat of closure comes at a time when increasing attacks on transport depots and truck convoys in Pakistan have raised doubts about the country's ability to protect vital supply routes — and increased the necessity for alternative routes through Central Asia. Some 75 % of U.S. supplies to Afghanistan currently travel through Pakistan."

Serious hardball is going on these days in Central and South Asia. We've got to learn more about the region and keep our eyes closely on the happenings there.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

OBAMA PICKS ANOTHER BUSH MAN

Obama has chosen another Bush loyalist for his cabinet. Republican Sen. Judd Gregg from New Hampshire is Obama's pick to run the Commerce Department after his first nominee, Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, had to withdraw his name due to a criminal investigation over a pay-t0-play scandal.

Sen. Gregg is a well known conservative who has long been an advocate of "reigning in" the entitlement programs like Medicaid and Social Security. Sen. Gregg has been opposed to Obama's economic stimulus package in the Senate because it does not have enough corporate tax cuts and is a major proponent of "free trade".

As Secretary of Commerce Gregg would have responsibility to oversee the International Trade Administration whose job is to "ensure fair trade and compliance with trade laws and agreements."

The Commerce Department is also in charge of the population census which will again be taken in 2010. This process happens every ten years and the resulting population figures are used to apportion the Congress. Ten years ago, as chair of the Senate subcommittee in charge of census funding, Sen. Gregg worked to limit the counting of low-income urban districts. (Yes, we are talking about Obama having appointed a man who has tried to limit the counting of people of color so they have "less" representation in Congress. Hello, are we paying attention?)

About the effort to attack the entitlement programs, the Washington Post reports, "Key senators in both parties are backing a plan put forward by [Sen. Kent] Conrad (D-N.D.) and the Budget Committee's senior Republican, Sen. Judd Gregg (N.H.), that would create a task force of lawmakers and administration officials. The task force would wrestle with the details of Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare and the tax code, and deliver a reform plan to Congress for a vote later this year.

"Under the proposal, the task force's recommendations could not be amended; the House and Senate would be required to accept or reject them without changes or additions, similar to the process lawmakers use to close military bases."

A few, with emphasis on the word few, have said that Obama has made a shrewd move by appointing Sen. Gregg because the Democratic Governor of New Hampshire will now be able to appoint Gregg's successor and he could put a Democrat in the seat thus giving the Senate a 60-seat Democratic filibuster proof majority. But this argument holds no water as Gregg made it a condition of his taking the Commerce Department job that the New Hampshire Governor had to appoint a Republican to take the open seat.

So all you get is the third Republican in Obama's cabinet with no real change in the structure of the Senate. Is this the change that people worked so hard and voted for? I don't think so.

On some blogs I have found quite a bit of anger about the Obama decision to put Sen. Gregg into his cabinet.

At one site, called Open Left, one person wrote, "It is especially galling for activists here in New England....we faithfully march up to New Hampshire during election season....make the calls (and go door-to-door) asking for Democratic support all along the ballot and then Gov. Lynch [N.H. governor] and Obama do this.... who do you think makes the most dependable phone bankers? Union people. Often chartering buses, getting the halls and phones for the phone banking effort. This is a slap in the face with the extra added sentence 'and what are you going to do about it' thrown in to really make it sting."

Another offended soul wrote, "It is almost as though we believed the right wing when they said over and over during the campaign that Obama was America's Most Liberal Senator, and now we're surprised to find out that it wasn't really true."

With each day we are finding that the Obama hope ship is sinking fast into the murky corporate waters of Washington DC. His promise not to allow lobbyists to become part of his "clean administration" has been betrayed as the new president issued 17 waivers on his own rule in less than two weeks.

Who is being fooled by all of this? Are you?

Sadly we are hearing that many Obama supporters still find it hard to reflect deeply on the mounting evidence that "change" really means "more of the same". This time around the same-old-song will be delivered by someone who is articulate and can effectively sell the corporate dominated government to a sadly spiritless American people.

Monday, February 02, 2009

IRAQ AIN'T OVER

We sometimes forget about the Iraq occupation. It's still costing US taxpayers about $10-12 billion a month. An election was held there in the last few days - with the lowest turnout for a "free election" yet.

Obama has promised to get us out of Iraq in the next 16 months but we've always known that the military industrial complex, and their partners in the oil industry, are in no such hurry. Designs are still being made for the US and Israel to take down Iran. Bases in Iraq will likely be there for years to come.

The Inter Press Service News Agency is reporting that in a January 21 meeting with Obama, "CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus, supported by Defence Secretary Robert Gates, tried to convince President Barack Obama that he had to back down from his campaign pledge to withdraw all U.S. combat troops from Iraq."

Let's face the facts. The Iraq occupation is great for weapons industry profits. The weapons factories are pouring out orders to replace guns, bombs, missiles, ammo, flak jackets, vehicles, helicopters, and the like. New weapons like robot warriors, advanced satellite communications devices, new generations of ordinance, and more are being funded by Congress. The weapons industry does not want to end this gravy train of profits.

In the end it won't just be Obama though who has to make this tough decision. It will also be the Congress who has the power to stop funding the Iraq occupation and the accelerated war in Afghanistan.

For those out there who thought the peace issue was dead now that Obama has won the presidency the time has come to rethink that position. Obama will need massive grassroots pressure to have the courage to stand up to the Pentagon. Congress will also need tremendous pressure from their constituents telling them to cut the war funding and spend the money on health care, education, green jobs, and other such human needs.

There is no rest for the weary. It's time to lace up the boots, grab the signs, hit the streets, get on the phone to Washington and make some noise.

If we wait for someone else to act it will be too late.