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, November 12, 2011


Republican candidate for president Michele Bachmann (R-MN) is a spokesperson for corporate capitalism. She believes that we should abandon the poor and unemployed to fend for themselves.....they have no work ethic she says. She wants to throw half the country off the island.

This kind of cruel hard-hearted talk is going to increase in the coming years as the unemployed will be pitted against those who are lucky enough to have jobs. It's dog-eat-dog feudalism.

How much longer can we stand for this mean-spirited economic system that fosters such greed and cruelty?


  • I am at the airport in Los Angeles with a six-hour wait for the red-eye flight to Philly and then home to Maine. It's a 24-hour trip back from Honolulu. Luckily I've got a good book (Blood on the Tracks: The Life & Times of S. Brian Willson).
  • The conference was a wonderful event (I'll write more about it once I get home). There were excellent speakers there from all over the Pacific and many indigenous people from across the Pacific as well. The indigenous message was continually weaved into the event which made it a remarkably moving experience.
  • We stayed in the only family-owned hotel in Waikiki which was about 4 blocks from the beach. One day I had the chance to walk down to the beach, step onto the sand, look around for a minute, and then head back to the hotel in time to catch the van for the start of the event. I never got in the water....rats.
  • Much of the conference tied together U.S. corporate and military policy of domination of the Asia-Pacific region. There is no doubt that the U.S. is going after China in a big way. China is being demonized in the minds of the American people (as the next great enemy) and many people were quoting Hillary Clinton's recent statement that U.S. foreign and military policy must now "pivot" toward the region which is code for "we've got to contain China." One person reported that Henry Kissinger's new book "On China" concludes that war with China is brewing.
  • My talk on U.S. expansion of "missile defense" in the region was well received. Got several requests for copies of it including from one Chinese woman who is regarded as a leading researcher/writer on her country.
  • I was able to make good connections with key organizers from Oahu and Kauai in preparation for our Feb 19-21 Global Network meetings with key Hawaiian activists when we stop there in 2012 on our way to Jeju Island.
  • I was also able to meet with fellow advisory board members Christine Ahn and Imok Cha from the Save Jeju Campaign yesterday to discuss where the effort should be going. Christine and I stood up in front of the conference yesterday and asked that the participants support a statement of solidarity being sent to the villagers on Jeju Island. They resoundingly applauded their support for such a statement.
  • Several people expressed interest in joining the Global Network's 20th anniversary space organizing conference on Jeju Island Feb 24-26.
  • I just spoke with Mary Beth and she put our dog Seamus to sleep today as his tiny frail body was increasingly in pain. He had a good long life and was buried next to our other dog Red on our friend Rosie's wooded land along the estuary near Reed State Park. We will miss the little guy. He was a spoiled brat but lovable to the end.

Friday, November 11, 2011


What If It Had Been Carrying Plutonium?
The Coming Crash of Phobos-Grunt

by Karl Grossman

The big problems Russia is now having with a space probe it launched this week to go to a moon of Mars underscores the dangers of the planned launch in coming weeks of a NASA mission involving a plutonium-fueled rover that is supposed to go to Mars.

Russia launched its Phobos-Grunt space probe Wednesday and it reached low Earth orbit, but then its engines, which were to power it on to Phobos, one of the two moons of Mars, failed to fire. As a result, the spacecraft has remained in low Earth orbit and, said an Associated Press account Thursday, “the probe will come crashing down [to Earth] in a couple of weeks if engineers fail to fix the problem.”

The AP reported that a spokesman for the Russian space program “said efforts to communicate” with the probe “hadn’t brought any results.” And, it added, “some experts said the chances of saving the $170 million craft looked slim.”

The probe has no nuclear material onboard. It is loaded with 12 tons of what AP described as “highly toxic fuel.” AP said: “Most experts believe the fuel will likely stay liquid if the probe comes down and would harmlessly blow up about 50 miles above ground, but some fear it may freeze, survive the fiery reentry and spill on impact.”

A similar problem with the Mars rover, which NASA calls Curiosity, not breaking out of Earth’s gravity and crashing back to Earth with its 10.6 pounds of plutonium would present a far, far more serious threat—the potential of wide dispersal on the Earth of plutonium, regarded as the most deadly radioactive substance.

NASA intends to launch the plutonium-powered rover on what it has named its Mars Science Laboratory Mission from Florida during a window from November 25 to December 15.

NASA, in its Final Environmental Impact Statement for the mission, addresses the possibility of an accident similar to what the Phobos-Grunt is facing—a crash back Earth from orbit of the Curiosity rover in what NASA designates as “Phase 4” of the launch.

The rover would fall to Earth in “from minutes to years,” says the EIS, with the plutonium “affecting Earth surfaces” along a wide belt around the middle of the Earth.

NASA’s language for this in its EIS: “Phase 4 (Orbital/Escape): Accidents which occur after attaining parking orbit could result in orbital decay reentries from minutes to years after the accident affecting Earth surfaces between approximately 28-degrees north latitude and 28-degrees south latitude.” NASA gives odds of 1-in-830 for the “probability of a release” of plutonium in such an accident.

It says the cost of decontamination of areas affected by the plutonium would be $267 million for each square mile of farmland, $478 million for each square mile of forests and $1.5 billion for each square mile of “mixed-use urban areas.” The Curiosity mission itself has a cost of $2.5 billion.

Between 28 degrees north and 28-degrees south are much of South America, Africa and Australia. The prospect of the U.S. paying fully for loss of life, health impacts and property damage caused by such an impact is questionable.

That’s because in 1991, the U.S. declared that its space missions involving nuclear power would henceforth be covered by the Price-Anderson Act, a U.S. law that limits liability in the event of an accident involving nuclear power—initially enacted in 1957 and focused then on nuclear power plants.

The law, which was supposed to be temporary, running for 10 years, has been repeatedly extended and the limit of liability—how much people could collect—has been increased for U.S. domestic damage from an original $560 million to now $12.6 billion. But the Price-Anderson’s 1957 liability limit of $100 million for all foreign nations impacted by a U.S. nuclear power accident has stayed at $100 million.

In terms of space, this is illegal under the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, the framework for international space law, which the U.S. has signed. The treaty says that “states shall be liable for damage caused by their space objects.” This provision was reaffirmed by the UN General Assembly last year in a measure passed that set up a process for compensation.

The key issue in terms of effects is whether the plutonium remains as the marble-sized pellets fabricated for space use or vaporized and dispersed as fine particles that can be inhaled. A way this could occur is during a fiery reentry in the atmosphere of a space device falling back to Earth. A millionth of a gram of plutonium can cause lung cancer if inhaled. Also, the isotope of plutonium produced for use in space, Plutonium-238, is 270 times more radioactive than the more widely known Plutonium-239, used as fuel in atomic bombs.

NASA has used nuclear power on space missions since the 1950s and there have been accidents. Of the 26 U.S. space missions which used plutonium that are listed in the EIS for the mission involving Curiosity, three underwent accidents, the EIS admits. The worst, in 1964, was a satellite with a SNAP-9A plutonium system aboard failing to achieve orbit and dropped to Earth, disintegrating as it fell. The 2.1 pounds of plutonium fuel dispersed as fine particles widely over the Earth. The late Dr. John Gofman, professor of medical physics at the University of California at Berkeley, long linked this accident to an increase in global lung cancer.

Because of the SNAP-9A accident, NASA switched to solar energy on satellites. Now all satellites and the International Space Station are solar powered.

Although rovers that NASA has sent to the Earth’s moon and also Mars through the years have used solar photovoltaic panels to provide locomotion, NASA says in its EIS that for the Curiosity mission a “solar-powered rover…would not be capable of operating over the full range of scientifically desirable landing site latitudes.”

The EIS says “overall” on the mission, the likelihood of plutonium being released is 1-in-220. The danger begins with the launch itself and the potential of an explosion on launch of the Atlas 5 rocket that is to carry Curiosity up. Such an accident on launch, says the EIS, could “release material into the regional area defined…to be within…62 miles of the launch pad,” That’s an area including Orlando.

Opponents of the launch in Florida have created a Facebook page warning people not to visit Disney theme parks in Orlando during the launch window. “Don’t Do Disney brought to you by NASA,” the Facebook page is titled. There’s an online petition to The White House to stop the launch at:!/petition/cancel-launch-mars-rover-curiosity-nasa-which-powered-dangerous-plutonium-238/8HzzWHk9

Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space (, comments: “This Russian space mission failure should be a clear reminder to all of us—space technology can and does fail.”

Gagnon said the situation “reminds me of the Russian Mars 96 mission that also failed to achieve proper orbit and fell back to Earth with plutonium on board and burned up over the mountains of Chile and Bolivia.” There was nearly a half-pound of plutonium on the Mars 96 space probe that also failed and crashed back to Earth.

“A NASA scientist and his wife were on a star-gazing expedition” near the site where the probe fell in 1996 and “saw the fiery reentry,” he recounted. “Bill Clinton was president then and was asked to send in radiological teams to help detect the contamination swath, but he refused to help because he didn’t want to alarm the public. So that toxic mess was never cleaned up.”

Gagnon declared: “We are being warned—stop launching nukes into space or else we are going to have a calamitous accident at some point. Folks need to send a message to NASA and the White House—no more nuclear launches.”

The grunt in the name of the Phobos-Grunt space probe is the word for soil in Russian. The probe was to bring soil back to Earth from Phobos. An account yesterday by Reuters reported that it is believed that the “problems are linked to the craft’s on board flight computer, which failed to fire two engine burns to send it on its trajectory toward Mars.” It quoted Vladimir Uvarov, identified as a “former chief Russian military expert on space,” as saying: “In my opinion Phobos-Grunt is lost.”

Reuters said, too, that “Phobos-Grunt is also carrying bacteria, plant seeds and tiny animals known as water bears, part of a U.S. study to see if they could survive beyond the Earth’s protective bubble.”

Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College of New York, is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet (Common Courage Press) and wrote and presented the TV program Nukes In Space: The Nuclearization and Weaponization of the Heavens (

Thursday, November 10, 2011


Wednesday, November 09, 2011


AlJazeera documentary video about Jeju Island Navy base struggle.

Sung-Hee Choi reports from Jeju on the latest arrests:

Four of us were released from the custody cell of the Dongboo police station around 7pm. The charge against us was "refusal to leave." We had been arrested around 1pm yesterday.

We were very much welcomed in the village candle light vigil tonight.

We thank you so much to you, Regina, Matt, Benji and all. All of your response was so prompt and I think it helped a lot for our being released soon. The arrest itself was illegal. The police have given no prior Miranda notice before our arrest and the warning and arrest was done at the same time without giving us time to decide our departure.

Rebecca Johnson (UK activist) was at the police station when we were released along with friends including Regina and Benji. Her presence was great in the candle vigil tonight.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011



There were four arrests in Gangjeong village within the past day.
The arrested are:

Youngsil Kang (International Team Leader)
Brother Song (Resistance Leader)
Sung-hee Choi (International Team Leader)
Dunguree (Filmmaker)

Three were arrested at the UN-ROK Disarmament Conference during peaceful protest and one was arrested at the naval base gate. This conference is happening just minutes away from Gangjeong village and little connection is being made to the construction of the Navy base that will only escalate tensions in the region.

There are undercover police and military everywhere in the village.

These are four of the most effective activists. Some are facing very significant jail time and already on probation.

Please help spread the word to media and other organizations, particularly human rights groups.

In other related news from South Korea, 40 Catholic priests in Seoul have begun a hunger strike in protest at what they call a nation’s greed that is threatening the environment, peace and economy. Members of the Catholic Priests’ Association for Justice (CPAJ) held a Mass outside the National Assembly building yesterday to oppose the government’s plan to build the Navy base in Gangjeong village.

You can support the Gangjeong villagers by making a call to Mr. Kim Soo-Gwon. He is the minister of Human Rights Desk at the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Korea to the United Nations, located in New York. Telephone number is 212-439-4051 his cell phone is 646-831-7188 and email is

Monday, November 07, 2011


We gain rare access to a top-secret, Club Med style base in the vast Pacific which can 'see' everything that moves across a third of the globe and deep into space. But just across the lagoon lies a squalid third world.


Tomorrow I fly to Honolulu, Hawaii to speak at the International Forum on Globalization conference on People of the Asia-Pacific. I will speak on a panel called: Militarization & Resistance in the Pacific. Obviously I will talk about the Jeju Island Navy base fight but will also put that effort into the larger strategic picture of U.S. military attempts to contain China.

There will be a great batch of speakers at this event and they are paying my travel there. It should be a great experience.

I lived on the island of Oahu for 15 months in 1973-74 while in the Air Force. I spent alot of time in the water while living in Hawaii and was lucky I never drowned when body surfing in the big waves on the north shore.

Hawaii has been a U.S. military colony and a corporate agri-business plantation for many years. But the independence movement there has been strong for a long time and appears to be growing. Here is a video from the movement.


What people are saying about Swanson's new book:

"David Swanson is a truth-teller and witness-bearer whose voice and action warrant our attention." — Cornel West.

“David Swanson has written a fascinating account of how peace once became the law of the land, through the Kellogg-Briand Pact. It is particularly pertinent in the era of the Endless War, by giving encouragement and suggestions of a path forward to those who want to give peace a chance.” — Liz Holtzman, former member of the U.S. Congress.

"David Swanson has done it again with this new book – unearthing history they don't tell you about in mainstream media." — Jeff Cohen, founder of FAIR and author of Cable News Confidential.

"David Swanson brings his laser focus, brilliant writing, and incredible intelligence to bear in this book, where he makes the case that the Kellogg-Briand Pact was a major step -- as yet unrecognized -- on the path towards eliminating war. He tells a wonderful story, shines light on the unknown peace activists who refused to be deterred by what was considered possible or reasonable, and makes a compelling analogy with slavery -- like war, a worldwide activity deemed unstoppable -- and like war, an immoral crime that must be ended. I have been active in the antiwar movement from Vietnam through Iraq. I have done political work for some of the most antiwar candidates of the modern era -- McGovern, Jackson, Nader, Kucinich. I have marched and petitioned, organized and strategized, and played a part in peace demonstrations from Las Cruces, New Mexico, to London and New York. And I am a history buff. But until I read David Swanson's book, I had never heard this story before -- and certainly never understood why it was important." — Steve Cobble, former political director of the National Rainbow Coalition, advisor to Jackson, Nader, and Kucinich presidential campaigns

“Swanson has done it again. This is a masterful account of how Americans and people around the world worked to abolish war as a legitimate act of state policy and won. Swanson’s account of the successful work of those who came before us to insist that war be outlawed compels us today to rethink the cost and morality of cynical or weary inaction in the face of our repeated resort to military threats and warfare to achieve policy goals.” — Jeff Clements, Author of Corporations Are Not People.

"David Swanson's fascinating new history of the development of the much neglected campaign in the 1920s to outlaw war has many lessons for anti-war activists today. An essential read." — Andrew Burgin, Stop the War Coalition.

"David Swanson predicates his belief that nonviolence can change the world on careful research and historical analysis. This compelling and wonderfully readable narrative examines pacifist developments in the U.S., dating back to the 1920s. Swanson then examines contemporary anti-war efforts. He writes from a particularly advantageous perspective because he is firmly rooted in plans and actions designed to put an end to war. Drawing from historical examples of success and failure, he help readers imagine achieving the U.N.’s eloquent mandate: 'to eliminate the scourge of war.'" — Kathy Kelly, Voices for Creative Nonviolence.

“From Daybreak to War Is A Lie to When the World Outlawed War to a prodigious number of essays (and that’s just since the ’08 election) David Swanson combines the timeliest scholarship and logical elegance in a call to action: ‘to learn how to enjoy working for the moral good for its own sake.’” — John Heuer, Veterans for Peace.

“One of the best ways to radicalize someone’s thinking is to force the person to look at a cherished ideal in a fundamentally new way. David Swanson does that with War, an ideal cherished by too many Americans. Can the United States ever be weaned from its love affair with war — Endless War? This book provides the background for dealing with that question.” — William Blum, author of Killing Hope, and of Freeing the World to Death.

“How many Americans know that an American peace movement in the 1920s mobilized millions of people, and eventually the U.S. government, to get the world’s major powers to formally renounce war? Or that the Kellogg-Briand Pact is still on the books making our current leaders guilty of the same crime that we hung people for at Nuremberg? It’s time for a little education! David Swanson has written a wonderfully well-documented history of a time when Americans discovered their own power to organize and impact their government on the most vital issue facing the world, then and now: the abolition of war.” — Nicolas Davies, author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.

“Polls show a large majority of U.S. citizens oppose current U.S. wars, but many Americans’ reluctance to engage in antiwar activism is in part due to their sense of impotence at having any impact on their own government. This book tells the story of how the highly energized Peace Movement in the 1920s, supported by an overwhelming majority of U.S. citizens from every level of society, was able to push politicians into something quite remarkable — the Kellogg-Briand Pact and the renunciation of war as an instrument of national policy. The 1920s War Outlawry movement was so popular that most politicians could not afford to oppose it. If any one piece of American history can re-energize the American people to again push their politicians, then this book can do it.” — Bruce E. Levine, author of Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite.

“‘Ahhh, peace, that would be so nice,’ an Afghan grandmother whispered after recounting how 30 years of war had devastated her family. The world community has failed her miserably, as it has failed so many millions from the Congo to Iraq to Sri Lanka. But David Swanson’s book gives us a glimpse of another possible reality, a world that says no to war. By recounting the heroic efforts of a generation in the 1920s that actually did pass a treaty banning war, Swanson invites us to dream, to scheme and most important, to take action.” — Medea Benjamin, cofounder of CODEPINK.

“David Swanson is on a mission to end war. In his latest book he brings to life an important story about a time when a national peace movement raged across our nation. The media covered this movement, and members of Congress were active participants. Through this movement a treaty was signed that outlawed war. Sadly today few know about this significant moment in our history, but Swanson’s book will help change that.” — Bruce K. Gagnon, Coordinator, Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

I WANT.......

The older woman in the video is long time Global Network member Carole Abrahams in New York City. She has been giving support to the Occupy Wall Street movement from the start. During Keep Space for Peace Week she did her best to educate those in the park about our annual week of protest to demilitarize space.

Knowing Carole I'd bet she has been bringing them abundant amounts of food donated from local shops.


Click on photos for better viewIt was a good day yesterday for the Occupy movement in Maine.

We had our first such event in Brunswick when about 75 people (half of whom were new to local protests) gathered on the town green and marched to the Bank of America on Maine Street. We stayed in front of the bank for 45 minutes as the cars streamed by along the busy street - many of them honking. We chanted and heard some words from a young man from Occupy Portland as a van load of them had come north for our event on their way to Augusta.

When we first gathered in a circle on the green several people made statements. I told folks about Bank Transfer Day (Nov 5) which was a national day to move your $$$ from the big banks to local credit unions and small community banks. The Credit Union National Association (CUNA) reports that over 650,000 people have joined credit unions in the last four weeks. In 2010 only 600,000 moved their accounts into credit unions all year long so this is an astounding response to the call to pull our meager resources out of the mega-banks.

“Our struggling economy is not the disease, it’s the symptom,” says CUNA. ”There is mounting evidence to prove that big banks, with their profit-at-all-costs agenda, are actually making our collective disease worse by systematically making choices that undermine the efforts of regulators and ordinary people like us to make changes and get back to a state of health.”

Following this event I grabbed the big banner that we used (made by Maine artist Natasha Mayers) and drove north to Augusta to join the protest at the state capital planned by Occupy Augusta. When I arrived young occupiers were banging on a large drum on the steps leading up to the capital building and people lined both sides of the street with signs. We stood in vigil for about an hour before marching to the federal building and back.

The Occupy Augusta camp is in a lovely park along the Kennebec River just across the street from the capital. They have port-a-toilets and a large iron wood stove for cooking. Work was being done while we were there to winterize their tents. One terrific thing they did was to acquire two of those very large "big top" tents and have their small camping tents inside the big tents which will do much to protect them from the wind, cold, and snow that will soon be coming.

The question on everyone's mind is how long this Occupy movement will last? No one has a clue but I met a man at the protest yesterday in Augusta who is 55 years old and was recently laid off from his carpentry job after 16 years. He can't find more work. You add to that the legions of young people who have no future, many of them are saddled with massive college loans to repay, and you've got the ingredients for a long-lasting movement. People have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

In the meantime I saw much of the key leadership of Maine's peace movement in Augusta yesterday. There is a clear understanding amongst these folks that we have to be there supporting this effort. Earlier in the day in Brunswick, peace activist Karen Wainberg told the crowd at the concluding circle that this anti-corporate "Occupy" movement incorporates all our movements that have been working separately for so many years. She was exactly right and we all need to do all we can to keep connecting the dots and throwing logs onto the fire to keep this thing blazing.