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

I grew up in a military family and joined the Air Force in 1971 during the Vietnam War. It was there that I became a peace activist.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Chomsky on Russiagate


 Noam Chomsky says on Democracy Now!

"Take the huge issue of interference in our pristine elections. Did the Russians interfere in our elections? An issue of overwhelming concern in the media. I mean, in most of the world, that’s almost a joke. First of all, if you’re interested in foreign interference in our elections, whatever the Russians may have done barely counts or weighs in the balance as compared with what another state does, openly, brazenly and with enormous support. Israeli intervention in U.S. elections vastly overwhelms anything the Russians may have done, I mean, even to the point where the prime minister of Israel, Netanyahu, goes directly to Congress, without even informing the president, and speaks to Congress, with overwhelming applause, to try to undermine the president’s policies—what happened with Obama and Netanyahu in 2015. Did Putin come to give an address to the joint sessions of Congress trying to—calling on them to reverse U.S. policy, without even informing the president? And that’s just a tiny bit of this overwhelming influence. So if you happen to be interested in influence of—foreign influence on elections, there are places to look. But even that is a joke."

"[Trump's] perfectly right when he says we should have better relations with Russia. Being dragged through the mud for that is outlandish, makes—Russia shouldn’t refuse to deal with the United States because the U.S. carried out the worst crime of the century in the invasion of Iraq, much worse than anything Russia has done. But they shouldn’t refuse to deal with us for that reason, and we shouldn’t refuse to deal with them for whatever infractions they may have carried out, which certainly exist. This is just absurd. We have to move towards better—right at the Russian border, there are very extreme tensions, that could blow up anytime and lead to what would in fact be a terminal nuclear war, terminal for the species and life on Earth. We’re very close to that. Now, we could ask why. First of all, we should do things to ameliorate it. Secondly, we should ask why. Well, it’s because NATO expanded after the collapse of the Soviet Union, in violation of verbal promises to Mikhail Gorbachev, mostly under Clinton, partly under first Bush, then Clinton expanded right to the Russian border, expanded further under Obama. The U.S. has offered to bring Ukraine into NATO. That’s the kind of a heartland of Russian geostrategic concerns. So, yes, there’s tensions at the Russian border—and not, notice, at the Mexican border. Well, those are all issues that should be of primary concern. The fate of—the fate of organized human society, even of the survival of the species, depends on this. How much attention is given to these things as compared with, you know, whether Trump lied about something? I think those seem to me the fundamental criticisms of the media. " 

Friday, July 27, 2018

How'd your Dem vote on Trump's war bill?



  • My Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (Maine District 1) was one of 139 Democrats in Congress who voted in favor of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The NDAA stipulated that Trump can't withdraw serious amounts of troops from the Korean peninsula without Congressional authorization.  That means the weapons corporations are calling these shots today in Washington.  Ike's warning to us has come true - democracy has been drowned in the tub.

"Of the total $717 billion, the bill would authorize $616.9 billion for the base Pentagon budget, $21.9 billion for nuclear weapons programs under the Energy Department, and another $69 billion in war spending from the special Overseas Contingency Operations account," Politico reported following the 359-54 vote. View the full roll call here.

Pingree is one of those otherwise progressive Democrats who votes correctly on women's issues, the environment and other social issues.  But she loves destroyers being built at Bath Iron Works and like so many others in her party are just fine with the US-NATO encircling Russia and China in a military dragnet.

Most liberals say they want peace and want the military budget cut but they are historically unwilling to put real skin in the game when it comes to doing the organizing to stop the metastasizing Pentagon budget. One friend here in Maine wrote me the other day after attending an 'Indivisible' rally in Bangor.  A speaker, trying to gin up the crowd, yelled out, "Yes we are at war with Russia."  I guess when a Dem front group says we are at war with Russia, then the Dems in Washington are gonna vote that way.  The Hillary wing of the party is in firm control.

  • Today is my birthday and MB drove me to the VA for a knee check-up.  They took the bandage off, said it looks good, and urged me to keep trying to straighten my leg.  I go back again in a couple more weeks.  It's a bit boring being laid up - there is so much work I'd love to be doing now and I can't get at it.  So while walking today MB and I talked about how I need to get some patience and be present in this moment.  Rest and exercise (slowly but surely) is what will make it possible for me to do more later on.  The nice part is all the calls and visits from friends and relatives.
Bruce 

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The Space Mess


  • I've been working with the Global Network's two boards (directors and advisers) for the past week to come up with a final poster for our annual Keep Space for Peace Week which will run from October 6-13.  The theme this year will be 'No Space Force'.  We've held this week of local events around the world on the space issue since 2001.  We ask local folks to show a space film, hold an educational event with a speaker or organize a protest at a military base or production site that is involved with the Star Wars program.  Please feel welcome to organize something in your local community this year and be sure to let us know of your plans.

  • Once the poster is ready for print I'll be sure to post it here.  We are seeing alot of interest in Trump's proposed Space Force and it is reassuring that people appear to be getting the cost issue as well as the provocative nature of the plan.  Remember that the full Congress must approve of the Space Force - so far only the House of Representatives has done so (last session) while the Senate declined to act on it.  There is alot of regional competition going on as the Army Space Command (Huntsville, Alabama) is directly up against the Air Force Space Command (Colorado Springs, Colorado) for control of this new military service branch.  You can count on the fact that the aerospace industry is driving this thing as they know they stand to make massive profits if they can push the taxpayers into their waiting arms.

  • Both the US and Russia are finding that their once revered generations of rocket scientists that first took their respective nations into space are retiring and that issues of transferring knowledge and quality control are becoming problematic.  The US has in recent years had to rely on Russia to launch its astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS).  That is beginning to change now as the winds of privatization of the launch industry sweep more launch providers into the market.  

  • Russia’s Proton rocket has suffered more than half a dozen full or partial failures this decade, and was sidelined for much of 2016 and 2017 for an anomaly review and the subsequent unrelated discovery of incorrectly built engines. Proton’s launch troubles have caused International Launch Services, the U.S.-based commercial sales arm of rocket manufacturer Khrunichev, to lose business to European and American launch providers. According to the Kremlin’s published transcript of Putin’s remarks during a July 18 meeting with the state-run space corporation Roscosmos, Putin said it “is necessary to drastically improve the quality and reliability of space and launch vehicles” and to preserve Russia’s increasingly threatened leadership in space.
  • All of this is costing space-faring nations big money to build, launch and maintain satellites and rockets.  India, with more than 250 million people living in poverty, has become one of the world's leading space technology programs. And all of these programs for space - even if initially intended for peaceful space exploration - are becoming militarized.  That means great chances for conflict in space as nations attempt to 'control and dominate' the heavens for military and commercial (mining) operations.  Thus we need a global discussion (and movement) about the kind of seed we carry with us as we move off into space.  Let's don't carry the bad seed of greed, war and environmental degradation with us into space.
 Bruce

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Priorities?



Trump says the Space Force will be "great not only in terms of jobs" but "great for the psyche of our country." At least 13,870 Puerto Ricans still don't have power.

Monday, July 23, 2018

It’s Time For A Little Perspective on Russia



Any Russian interference is only a small part of the “election meddling” we should care about…


by Lyle Jeremy Rubin
Current Affairs

I think we are due for a little perspective on Russia.

I was trained at NSA headquarters as a signals intelligence officer in the Marines. This was about a decade ago, and I was by no means an area specialist. That said, I was privy to relevant briefs. At the time I learned that U.S. cyber operations in Russia, across Russia’s periphery, and around the world already dwarfed Russian operations in size, capability, and frequency. It wasn’t even close, and the expectation was that the gap was about to grow a whole lot wider.

This should hardly come as a surprise. Just compare the defense budgets of the United States and Russia. The president recently signed a gargantuan $700 billion gift to the Pentagon, with marginal dissent from either party or their affiliated media outlets. The budget increase alone ($61 billion) exceeds Russia’s entire annual expenditure ($46). The U.S. military budget now equals more than the combined budgets of China, Russia, Britain, Japan, Saudi Arabia, India, and France. As Vice concluded, “it’s 14 times larger than the Kremlin’s budget.”

Furthermore, covert American operations are deeply invested in interrupting democratic processes not only in Russia, but everywhere else. This includes the heart of Europe, where corporate media is now pretending the United States has always respected happy norms and decorum. It is as if the Snowden leaks never happened. The Defense Department’s tapping of Angela Merkel’s phone never happened. The Obama administration’s spying on the German press, including Der Spiegel, never happened. The same administration’s outing of German government whistle-blowers never happened.

Electoral meddling in particular happens all the time, both to us and by us. The U.S. government rigged the Russian election for Yeltsin in 1996, and then they bragged about it in a cover story for Time. (The cover to that story is above.) This followed the disastrous capitalist “shock therapy” of the early nineties and preceded the rise of the Russian oligarchs. Putin’s brand of nationalist resentment grew out of this moment of extreme collective humiliation. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is happily on record pushing for the tampering of Palestinian elections in 2006.

As the political scientist Dov H. Levin has shown, between 1946 and 2000, the United States government conducted at least 81 electoral interventions in other countries, while Russia conducted at least 36. This does not include the U.S. government’s violent overthrow of dozens of governments during this same period, including democratic governments in places like Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Congo (1960), Brazil (1964), and Chile (1973). As recent as 2009, Hillary Clinton’s State Department played a complicit role in the brutal deposition of democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya’s government in Honduras. No other country, including Russia, even approaches this level of wanton disregard for the norms of sovereignty. Around the world, organizations that the U.S. “fund[s], support[s] and direct[s] are openly dedicated to manipulating foreign elections, creating U.S.-friendly opposition movements and even overthrowing governments that impede U.S. interests worldwide.” In 1999, President Clinton sent three advisers to Israel to try to swing the country’s elections for Ehud Barak. The New York Times reported that they were “writing advertisements, plotting strategy and taking polls” for the candidate. Imagine what the reaction would be if Putin had literally dispatched three top deputies to join the Trump campaign.

Of course, a few dozen wrongs don’t make a right, and the fact that U.S. outrage over Russian interference is comically hypocritical doesn’t make tampering with our elections unobjectionable. But anyone who sees the Russian activity as an antidemocratic outrage should be condemning the United States just as loudly, and treating the Russia story as some kind of unprecedented act of covert control is laughable.

That said, just because the United States leads the world in meddling of all kinds, that doesn’t mean we are immune to it. In fact, meddling from abroad comes in many forms. Prominent think tanks in Washington are funded by the Gulf states. The United Arab Emirates contributes generously to the coffers of the Middle East Institute (MEI) and the Center for American Progress (CAP). The Brookings Institute graciously accepts millions from Qatar. The Atlantic Council and Center for Strategic and International Studies enjoy similar arrangements with other oppressive regimes like Saudi Arabia. The same can be said for numerous other repressive governments beyond the Gulf. And then there are the defense contractors, Wall Street banks, and Silicon Valley behemoths, all of which have joined such governments in capturing intellectual real estate in academia as well.

Our politicians, of course, are being flooded with cash from foreign-related interests. Pro-Israel billionaires like Sheldon Adelson and Haim Saban have bought themselves outsized influence in both parties, with Adelson successfully financing Trump’s rise to power and Saban effectively blocking Keith Ellison’s bid for Democratic National Committee chair. The Turkish lobby, likewise, continues to prove itself another bipartisan force, with everyone from former House leader Dick Gephardt to disgraced national security advisor Michael Flynn being enlisted to secure Ankara prerogatives while whitewashing various crimes against the Armenians and Kurds. As for explicit electoral interference, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been implicated in foul play in the 2016 election. Same goes for Ukraine. Same goes for Israel in 2012. And these are just the instances so brazen that they have made their way into Wikipedia.

Lastly, our entire corporate media is owned and run by a global capitalist elite who could care less about us and our schoolkid patriotism. There are essentially five multinational corporations that now own the news media. This is down from six just a few years ago. In 1983 it was 50. This rapid consolidation is thanks to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, itself a bipartisan bill purchased by the donor class. The few dozen billionaires with the largest shares in these companies are almost all white men. They are also almost all tied up in business investments around the globe. And almost all their investments bear zero regard for the needs or desires of Americans or non-Americans alike.

For Russian interference to be a threat to our democracy, we would have to have a democracy to begin with. But our elections are already so heavily manipulated by corporations and foreign governments that it’s hard to take seriously anyone who sees Russia as a singular threat to our system of government. The issue needs to be kept in perspective, and seen in the context of both our country’s own actions and the other, even greater, barriers that prevent us from having a true democracy that reflects the will of the people rather than corporate and government interests.

Look, by all means, let’s protect the integrity of our voting systems. As Seth Ackerman just counseled in Jacobin, let’s follow Europe’s lead in a practical, guarded response to Putin’s authoritarian machinations, free of hysteria. Let’s keep pushing for independent investigations into Trump, his team, and their possibly criminal involvement with the Russian government and other unsavory entities. Let’s hold them accountable accordingly. But let’s also stop swallowing state and corporate propaganda hook, line, and sinker. Let’s stop being blind to military-industrial stakes in escalating U.S.-Russia tensions in Syria, Yemen, Iran, Ukraine, and the Russian periphery, never mind the cyber arena altogether. Let’s spend more time exposing the ways the conversation around Russia points to liberal and progressive acquiescence toward (one might say collusion with) imperialist narratives that only guarantee further death and destruction for poor and working people everywhere.

Beyond all that, let’s finally start doing the hard work of fleshing out a left foreign policy. Aziz Rana has an urgent piece in N+1 arguing that the left lacks a coherent approach to international affairs, and needs to spend its time articulating a clear response to the “bipartisan cold war ideology that has shaped American elite thinking since the 1940s, organized around the idea that the US rightly enjoys military and economic primacy because its interests are the world’s interests.” Rana lays out a set of principles that can guide the creation of an alternative approach and answer difficult practical questions like “If the US should not be the enforcer of Saudi and Israeli led dictates in the Middle East, what are alternative regional orderings?” and “What would demobilizing significant elements of the national security state look like?” We should do our best to make sure that everyone reads Rana’s piece, and faces up to the challenge he poses. Doing so will require us to be thoughtful and consistent, and to make sure that instead of following the corporate media’s lead on what to be outraged about, we work it out for ourselves and keep things in perspective.

~ Lyle Jeremy Rubin is a PhD student in history at the University of Rochester and a veteran of the United States Marine Corps.

The border crossed us


Sunday, July 22, 2018

Walking for relief


Walking in the neighborhood yesterday in Bath, Maine.

MB is taking great care of me - foot and leg massages, good food, wonderful company, and keeping the ice wrap going after my various exercises are done.

Laying in bed with laptop is giving me the chance to watch my Baltimore Orioles who are currently the worst team in major league baseball.  They are selling off many of their good players in hopes of rebuilding.  Might be a good idea to get rid of their lousy management too. 

The Orioles are my 'escape' from the harsh realities of the world - oops!

I start physical therapy on Tuesday here in Bath - that will be interesting and likely painful.  But I knew all that before I had the operation.

My five friends in Maine who have had knee replacement surgery during this past year are all doing quite well so that is an inspiration.

I'll keep giving it my best.

Bruce

Sunday song