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, ME, United States

The collapsing US military & economic empire is making Washington & NATO even more dangerous. US could not beat the Taliban but thinks it can take on China-Russia-Iran...a sign of psychopathology for sure. @BruceKGagnon

Saturday, December 27, 2008


Dennis Blair, former four-star Navy admiral, has been selected by Obama to be his Director of National Intelligence (DNI). The DNI is a position that was created after the Sept. 11 attacks to improve coordination among the 16 agencies that comprise the U.S. intelligence community.

Blair served as head of the Pentagon's Pacific Command (CINCPAC) while in the Navy and is likely to face questions about his role in maintaining U.S. ties with Indonesia's military during a period in which it engaged in human rights violations, and about his corporate ties to a company involved in the F-22 Raptor program. There are also members of Congress who remain uncomfortable with giving the top intelligence job, with its range of priorities, to a former military officer.

Blair, who has had stints with the National Security Council, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Institute for Defense Analysis (IDA), would be the third recently retired four-star officer nominated by Obama for a top post, an unusual trend for a Democratic administration and one that has surprised both political camps. Former Marine Gen. James L. Jones is the nominee for National Security Adviser, and former Army chief of staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki has been tapped as Secretary of the Veterans Administration.

Blair, a 34-year Navy veteran, helped turn the Joint Intelligence Center in Hawaii into the largest such center in the world. After the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, he led an interagency effort to identify, capture or kill members of the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group in the Philippines. He organized a team of special operations forces and CIA agents that worked closely with the Philippine army on tactical operations.

After retirement Blair joined the board of directors and owned stock in EDO Corp., then a subcontractor for the F-22 Raptor fighter program. His corporate ties became the subject of a Defense Department probe after IDA issued a study endorsing an EDO contract for the program. The department's inspector general found that Blair had violated IDA's conflict-of-interest rules.

Bradley Simpson, an assistant professor of history and international affairs at Princeton and Director of the Indonesia and East Timor Documentation Project, has written extensively about Blair. In a recent article he outlined Blair’s role in the US-Indonesian military alliance. “For in the period leading up to and following East Timor’s August 1999 referendum on independence from Indonesia, Blair, from his perch as US Commander in Chief of the Pacific (CINCPAC) from February 1999 to May 2000, ran interference for the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) as they and their militia proxies committed crimes against humanity on an awesome scale.”

“He went on to insist that US training of the Indonesian Armed Forces had paid dividends, with ‘many of those officers who did have training and education in the United States … are leading a very strong reform movement within TNI.’ As Dana Priest of the Washington Post later reported, however, fully one third of the Indonesian officers indicted by Indonesia’s national human rights commission for ‘crimes against humanity’ committed in East Timor in 1999 were US trained. The links between US training and TNI terror clearly did not trouble Blair, who spent much of his remaining time as CINCPAC fighting to restore the military ties to his allies in Jakarta that grassroots activists and their Congressional allies had worked since 1992 to sever, finally winning their resumption in 2002.”

“Blair’s apologetics for murder and torture by the Indonesian armed forces in East Timor, and his opposition to trials, international or otherwise, for the high level perpetrators of mass violence, offers a sobering indication of the positions he is likely to take as Director of National Intelligence. President-elect Obama’s choice suggests that he will resist - as Blair almost certainly will - demands for the prosecution of high-ranking Bush Administration officials, much less lower level employees in the Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency, for torture, rendition and other crimes carried out in the name of the so-called War on Terror.”

Friday, December 26, 2008


Retiring Illinois Republican Congressman Ray LaHood, a 14-year veteran of the House, has been chosen by Obama to be Secretary of Transportation.

Hood has a lifetime League of Conservation Voters score of 27% on his key environmental issue votes. Except for voting to expand Amtrack last year, and not wanting to see it privatized in Illinois, I have not been able to find any real transportation background that he might have had.

Rep. Hood was the chairman during most of Bill Clinton's impeachment in the House of Representatives a decade ago.

LaHood’s appointment should translate to sales opportunities and benefits for Caterpillar Inc., which is based in his Peoria, Illinois district. Caterpillar is a serious supplier of road building equipment and would stand to make big money from the Obama stimulus package that will put alot dollars into road work.

Brian Imus, director of the public interest group Illinois PIRG, said LaHood would face a difficult task rebuilding "a federal [transportation] system that is truly broke," adding, "It appears as though others with longer, more distinguished resumes were bypassed [for the job of Transportation Secretary]."

Among those LaHood maintained a friendly relationship with over the years is White House chief of staff-designate Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., whose aggressive style infuriated many Republicans but whom LaHood praised publicly for competence and pragmatism.

President-elect Obama should make it a top priority to build a national mass transit network. But early indications are he is talking about rebuilding roads and bridges which are fundamental to the car culture in the U.S. I’ve yet to hear him utter the words mass transportation – but coming from Chicago public mass transit should not be a foreign concept to him.

The Progressive reports that such a major expansion of mass transit would be keeping with his pledge to jolt the economy back to work and to take seriously the crisis of global warming. Economically, a coast-to-coast high-speed rail network would put Americans back to work in big numbers.

In California alone, planners estimate creating nearly 160,000 construction-related jobs to build such a system, with an additional 450,000 permanent jobs by 2035. Overall, the state anticipates more than $1 billion in annual revenue could come from such a rail system.

The University of Mass-Amherst Economics Department study in October, 2007 showed that investing $1 billion of our tax dollars in mass transit production would create 19,795 jobs but if that same $1 billion is instead spent on military production only 8,555 jobs would be created.

Your call - which shall it be? More and wider roads or a national rail system. Speak up now please.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


I'd like to wish all my friends and readers a happy holidays and only the best in the coming year. Know that I appreciate that you come and graze in this pasture called Organizing Notes now and then. I hear from some of you and am happy to know that you place some value on this meager blog. God knows I love selecting the photos (if you only knew how much fun that is), writing the bits and correcting the bad grammar and punctuation after I've posted them (thanks to the few of you who send me notes tipping me off to my mistakes), and then hearing from you that you've learned something from my ramblings on occasion.

It's kind of like a community gathering spot - long distance - where friends can come and visit and check in.

It's been a tough year, a hard eight years of Bush-Cheney, and my feet are sore from it all. I feel like taking off my shoes and flinging them at someone. I am in complete harmony with my friends at who are pushing for the prosecution of the Bush pirate team. Go get em!

But with that said, I am also feeling like a dog with a bone when it comes to making sure we are on the case when Obama swears in on January 20. Not soon after his inauguration the Congress will begin working on the next fiscal year budget and I will be one of those demanding that we cut the damn Pentagon budget that now, in reality, is running at $1 trillion a year. People are hurting out here in the real world and we need to get off the dime!

MB has been helping the Good Samaritan Club at her neighborhood church this winter. They raise money and give it to poor folks to help them heat their homes, keep from getting evicted, and recently have been giving money and gifts to people so they can provide their kids with a few Christmas presents. MB told us recently that the majority of the children in the city of Bath qualify for free lunch at school, which means their families are poverty level. And we need to "rebuild the military"? Bullshit, please excuse my French.

It's a hard time for people here in Maine. The state will cut $140 million from their budget by next June. Education and poor people's health care will feel the most cuts. Then in the next two years the state will slash $800 million more and Maine will begin to look like a Third World country. This is our future I am sad to say. It really pisses me off as I see the Republicans in Maine cheering as our compliant Democratic governor swings the sharp axe. It's like frick and frack. You can hear the politicians saying, "We feel bad but we have to do this....." It reminds me of a paddling in elementary school. You are trying to figure out what you did that deserved four big whacks.

What's an organizer to do? I keep trying to do my bit by organizing locally, statewide, nationally, and internationally. I do my cable TV show, I do a radio show with a good friend, and I write letters to the editor as often as possible. But we are sliding down the hill and there is a pit of vipers waiting for us when we land head first in their nest.

What keeps me going is knowing that I am not alone. I know that all over there are good folks working hard, doing their best to be living examples that humanity is not all a bunch of greedy war making thieves. And to each of you that give of yourself I bow and thank you for your grace, your kind hearts, and your gentle spirits. I thank you for your inspiration and your friendship. You are the stars in the dark night.

As they say in the commercials, this blogs for you.

Peace dear ones.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Fundamentalist pastor Rick Warren is in the news. Obama has picked Warren to give the opening prayer before a world audience on his inauguration day.

Warren has a big church in Southern California and was active in his state's recent referendum (Proposition 8) to outlaw gay marriage. Warren is opposed to abortion, believes women should submit to the authority of their husbands, and a whole lot more. The good reverend recently gave George W. Bush "The International Medal of Peace." First, one is inclined to wonder how he came to decide that he, Rick Warren, has the authority to bestow an "international medal" on anyone? Secondly, what does it say about his politics that he would give such an award to Bush?

Recently appearing on Fox TV News, Warren endorsed conservative commentator Sean Hannity's statement that the U.S. should kill the president of Iran. Warren said that stopping evil "is the legitimate role of government. The Bible says that God puts government on earth to punish evildoers." OK, now I see why he gave Bush the award.

Obama's decision to have Warren pray for his presidency and the nation has created a firestorm of criticism, particularly from the gay and lesbian community. One writer, Joan Walsh, had this to say about Warren: "Beyond his noxious political views -- Warren has compared homosexuality to incest and bestiality, and supports the Iraq war.....I have come to distrust Warren personally. He looks to be from a long line of religious leaders more concerned about their own glory than the glory of God. I didn’t like him high-fiving with Obama about their million-dollar book deals, or complaining with McCain that $250,000 isn't rich in Orange County [Southern California]. . . . I object to the full Warren package, I think he's a force for division, not inclusion, and a terrible symbol for this inspiring new administration."

The first openly gay member of Congress has remarked that it was a mistake for President-elect Obama to invite the Rev. Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration. "Mr. Warren compared same-sex couples to incest. I found that deeply offensive and unfair," said Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA).

"If he was inviting the Reverend Warren to participate in a forum and to make a speech, that would be a good thing," Frank said on CNN. "But being singled out to give the prayer at the inauguration is a high honor. It has traditionally been given as a mark of great respect. And, yes, I think it was wrong to single him out for this mark of respect."

Obama's response to all of this controversy is that he is trying to reach out to Christian fundamentalists in order to bring the country together. But Obama seems to miss the point that for many Americans, both gay and straight alike, taking such an insensitive decision does not bring the country together but in fact rakes hot coals over many festering wounds. Obama appears to be so obsessed with "unity" that he shows no boundaries. His "reaching out" is pushing away his friends and embracing those who have shown no hesitation in repressing millions of our gay brothers and sisters. This is not leadership that Obama is displaying but in fact is pandering.

Kate Clinton, writing on the subject in The Progressive, says, “We, the 70% of the gay vote for Obama, are told it’s no big deal. It’s not a cabinet appointment; it’s just a prayer. And p.s. we didn’t get a gay cabinet appointment. We are told to wake up and smell the political coffee. This is what it means to reach out to the other side. We are told to grow up.”

Monday, December 22, 2008


Last night housemate Levi and I were outside shoveling our long and wide driveway in this kind of weather. The wind was slashing snow against our faces. I loved every minute of it. I spent about four hours at different times shoveling yesterday. Levi spent even more. MB did a couple hours with me.

This morning we had 18 inches of snow in some places that had to be cleared away. Luckily our main driveway only had about 2 inches that needed to be removed. There is still alot more that could be done.

Last week we had an ice storm in Maine that knocked out half the electricity in the state, some for several days. We were lucky and never lost ours. Yesterday I heard on the radio that some places in Massachusetts still have no power from that storm - 10 days later.

Housemate Maureen had to clear out her car this morning (from our second driveway) so she could get to work. The city snow plows come all during the night and pile up walls of snow that block our driveway entrances. That is what Maureen was struggling with at 7:00 am. She said when she got to work she was going to have to shovel snow to unblock the way there. She teaches art at a program for developmentally delayed adults.

Housemate Karen was clearing the way this morning to the wood pile that sits in the far corner of our back yard. Must keep that path open. MB and I were finishing up the opening to our main driveway.

Our two dogs are not eager to venture out. Little Seamus, just five pounds, has to be forced out the door. Red, a bit bigger, will reluctantly go outside but lifts his leg and goes back in pretty fast.

MB, Karen and I went across the street for breakfast this morning to a place called The Galley, a nice little working class neighborhood joint. It was quiet when we walked in but by 9:30 am the second shift of customers were rolling in. You hear the stomping of feet as everyone enters.

As we trudged back and forth to The Galley we saw neighbors out shoveling snow, one older woman said, "You have to love Maine to do this." Kids, home on school break, were playing in the snow. Trees are filled with the clean white stuff, mounds are piled on each side of the road, driveways are mostly still under cover of the fresh white, and the spirit of aliveness and community fills me with joy. This time of year everyone in the neighborhood shares a common fate - we must deal with the cold and snow. It is a bonding time that makes this place special.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Chicago teacher Jesse Sharkey writes, "In the past couple years, Arne Duncan [Obama's pick for Secretary of Education who hails from Chicago] has been turning public schools over to private operators--mainly in the form of charter and contract schools -- at a rate of about 20 per year. Duncan has also resuscitated some of the worst 'school reform' ideas of the 1990s, like firing all the teachers in low-performing schools (called 'turnarounds'). At the same time, he's eliminated many Local School Councils and made crucial decisions without public input."

"To me, the thing that made Duncan's role clear came after three months of organizing at Senn High School, the community school where I teach, against the Chicago Board of Education's proposal to install a Naval Academy."

"After an inspiring campaign that involved literally hundreds of people in the biggest education organizing effort in the area in decades, we forced Duncan to come up to our neighborhood to listen to our case for keeping the military out of our school. More than 300 of us -- parents, teachers, and community supporters -- held a big meeting in a local church and, at the end of the meeting, we asked Duncan to postpone the decision to put the military school at Senn."

"Duncan's answer was a classic. He said: 'I come from a Quaker family, and I've always been against war. But I'm going to put the Naval Academy in there, because it will give people in the community more choices.' " [The word from Chicago is that there are now three Army public schools, soon to be the Navy one, and an Air Force one on the way.]

Arne Duncan is an advocate of Bush's No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and is closely associated with the Daley family political machine in Chicago. Duncan has a market view of education – the business model of schooling. Many education experts claim that he made no real progress in the last 7-8 years in Chicago leading that public school system. Real education comes when we teach kids to play with ideas, to learn to think. This Duncan corporate model on testing, “reform," teaches kids to take tests, to memorize, and to become automatons.

Educator Jim Horn, who has written extensively about Duncan at School Matters, notes, “If Obama is committed to moving backwards to a time when the most that public schooling could do was to ‘rake a few geniuses from the rubbish,’ as Jefferson would have it then the stupidifying corporatization of public education is just the ticket ..... Arne is entirely capable of leading the charge.”

Greg Palast, who devoted part of his instructive book Armed Madhouse to NCLB, describes its workings : “At the heart of the program is testing. And more testing. Testing instead of teaching. When tests go badly, the solution is to push the low-test-score kids to drop out of school. If the triage isn’t enough, then attack their teachers.”

“Here’s how Duncan operates this program in Chicago at Collins High in the Lawndale ghetto. Teachers there work with kids from homeless shelters from an economically devastated neighborhood. Believe it or not, the kids don’t get high test scores. So Chicago fired the teachers, every one of them. Then they brought in new teachers and fired THEM too when, surprise! test scores still didn’t rise.”

The bigger view is necessary here. I have written and spoken extensively in recent years about the Pentagon saying that America's role under corporate globalization will be "security export." We aren't going to have jobs making things in our country anymore. Our job will be building weapons and waging endless war to grab declining resources around the world. In order to pull that off you need a growing cadre of young people who have no ambition, no dreams, no ability to get into college -- you need a dumbed-down generation.

My friend Richard Rhames, a vegetable farmer in Biddeford, Maine writes an award winning column for his local newspaper. He wrote about education last week and had this to say: “The US educational system has, since working class kids gained entry in the early 20th century, functioned largely as a sorting mechanism, where children were indoctrinated, trained in docility, but sometimes, through the work of motivated teachers, exposed to a world of ideas, and perhaps the subversive minefield of independent thought.”

The days of teachers having the time and the ability to motivate and inspire kids to expand their minds is under frontal attack.

Obama has made another pick that benefits the corporatization and militarization of American culture. His children have always attended, and will continue to attend, private schools where the elite ensure their kids get a stimulating education.