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When I began a review of notes from my early years with AFSC, I already remembered many of the details of the New Hampshire peace movement in the early 1980s. Following the lead of AFSC in Vermont, we coordinated the introduction of resolutions into dozens of Town Meetings in March of 1982 calling on the United States and Soviet Union to halt—or “freeze”–all further production, testing and deployment of nuclear warheads and the missiles and planes designed to deliver them to targets across the globe. The surprising success of the Town Meeting campaign, in communities which by and large voted Republican, caught the attention of national political leaders and changed the discourse over nuclear weapons at a time in which a popular president was leading a massive military build-up against a foe he termed “the evil empire.” Within three years, Ronald Reagan had shifted from a strategy based on waging and winning a nuclear war with the Soviet Union to one built around negotiations for nuclear limits. In 1985, Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev came close to agreeing to the abolition of nuclear weapons. The basic story is clear in my memory.

But there were a lot of details of the peace movement’s vibrancy which had slipped from my memory. For example, the month after Freeze resolutions were adopted in 48 of the 61 New Hampshire towns which considered them, my staff report mentioned plans for a “New Englanders for Peace” march in Portsmouth, with 1000 people expected. The following month, rather casually, my report said 2500 people marched from Pierce Island, across the Piscataqua River from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard to Pease Air Force Base in Newington. Fourteen busloads went from New Hampshire to New York for the massive peace rally in Central Park in May 1982, timed to coincide with a Special Session on Disarmament at the United Nations.

Meanwhile, seventeen organizations, including the NH People’s Alliance and the NH chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, were participating in a NH Fair Budget Coalition, which sought to get the attention of elected officials to skewed federal budget priorities. My notes report that among the 40 or 50 people attending an April 1983 “fair budget” forum were Congressman Norm D’Amours and Will Abbott, then state director for Congressman Judd Gregg. “I set up a ‘penny poll,’” my notes say, “where people got the opportunity to ‘vote’ on how they wanted their tax dollars spent; military spending proved very unpopular compared to health care, education, transportation, and housing.”

And as I contemplate our current situation, in which a president averse to diplomacy and enamored of nuclear weapons drives a mostly horrendous foreign policy with little public resistance and shifts the public treasury more and more to military programs, I have to wonder why we were able to mount an effective peace movement in the Reagan period and seem to be unable to do so now.

I offer some thoughts on this and invite yours.

“We are surrounded by wars and rumors of war.”

First, let’s look at the current situation. Paul Shannon summed it up recently in a talk at the conference on “The Next Two Years and Beyond,” held in Boston shortly after the 2018 election. After describing the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Yemen, with weapons sold to U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, Paul observed, “That’s just one war, Yemen.’ He went on:

But we are surrounded today by wars and rumors of war:

A new base in Syria

War in Afghanistan

Troops back in Iraq.

Drone attacks all over.

Our president withdraws from the Iran nuclear deal even though Iran lived up to all its requirements. Instead he imposes deadly sanctions on Iran that will kill many as they did in Iraq under Bill Clinton. And he builds a dangerous alliance with Saudi Arabia and Israel specifically to confront Iran. A massive new war is not out of the question.

Our president has announced he will withdraw from the INF nuclear treaty with Russia, the very treaty that ended the cold war in the late 1980s.

Meanwhile Washington continues Obama’s trillion-dollar modernization of our nuclear arsenal.

The Pentagon’s new nuclear posture review makes using nuclear weapons thinkable.

NATO conducts military exercises near the Russian border after Russia has conducted its own massive military maneuvers. And the demonization of Russia by liberals and the Democrats rolls on.

And tragically we see the growing glorification of the military as the only institution in the country that Americans feel proud of.

Paul says, “The peace movement is building itself up again to counter these dangers and offer alternatives.” I hope this is not just wishful thinking.

It’s not that there is no activism. Consider the 2017 “Women’s March,” considered “the largest single-day protest in U.S. history” (although the largest assembly, in Washington, was still smaller than the 1982 disarmament rally in New York). Or consider the Families Belong Together rallies of 2018, when mobilizations took place in some 700 cities and towns to protest the cruelties of the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement practices.

The Peace Movement is Hard to Find in “The Resistance”

And yet, the anti-war movement is hard to detect amidst the “resistance” to Trumpist assaults on democracy and human rights. Opposition to militarism and ranks low on the progressive agenda. Presented with a resolution my own town passed earlier this year calling for a shift of public resources away from the military, my liberal Congresswoman said the issue ranks too low among her constituents’ concerns for it to matter.

Imagine you are a high school junior, born in 2001. Your country has been at war in Afghanistan for your entire life, but you will rarely hear about it in what passes for the news. And while working class people continue to enlist in the military – perhaps out of a sense of patriotism, perhaps out of a need for gainful employment with benefits, perhaps for lack of other attractive options – you may not know there are people in your own community who oppose the war and want it to end. If you think about it at all, you might conclude that perpetual war is a normal state of being.

It might be said that the urgency of other issues – racist police practices, institutionalized xenophobia, climate disruption, toxic masculinity come to mind – distracts attention from international events and U.S. foreign policy. But when I think back to the 1980s, I recall a period disturbingly similar to the present period, yet with a powerful peace movement.

Donald Trump’s Political Ancestry

In a sense, Reagan can be seen as Trump’s closest political ancestor. Coming out of the world of entertainment, with little interest in policy details and an understanding of the world based on the plots of movies in which he starred, he was known as “the great communicator” for his ability to sway people with platitudes and a promise to return America to a (white) paradise that never was. Reagan’s domestic policy priorities were tax cuts, deregulation, and increased military spending at the expense of human welfare programs. Sound familiar?

Reagan brought with him into his administration a troop of ideologues who would be right at home in the Trump White House. There was Attorney General Ed Meese, a Reagan confidante who was forced to resign in the midst of a corporate bribery scandal. As top law enforcer, Meese believed there was no need for police to inform suspects of their right to remain silent. “The thing is,” he told US News and World Report, “you don’t have many suspects who are innocent of a crime. That’s contradictory. If a person is innocent of a crime, then he is not a suspect.” (Meese later served on Trump’s transition team.)

There was James Watt, the Interior Secretary who believed environmental destruction was a sign that the second coming of Jesus was at hand. There was Oliver North, who ran arms to Nicaraguan counter-revolutionaries out of the National Security Council after Congress barred the CIA from doing it themselves. There was Chester Crocker, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, who engineered the “constructive engagement” approach to South African apartheid as a friendlier alternative to the Carter administration’s human rights focus. And there was General T.K. Jones, head of civil defense planning in the Pentagon, who famously said of nuclear war, “If there are enough shovels to go around, everybody’s going to make it.”

Resistance in the Reagan Era

The people rose up. When the AIDS crisis emerged, gay activists protested the administration’s callous disregard for their lives and forced the pharmaceutical industry to produce affordable drugs. The anti-apartheid movement spread from city to city, state to state, and campus to campus, forcing governments to withdraw economic cooperation with the South African regime, aiding in its eventual collapse. Nearly half a million people joined the AFL-CIO sponsored Solidarity March in Washington after Reagan fired more than 11,000 striking air traffic controllers.

A massive solidarity and anti-intervention movement grew up in response to the administration’s aggression against Nicaragua and its support for brutal right-wing regimes in El Salvador and Guatemala. People of faith flocked to the border between Nicaragua and Honduras to “witness for peace.” Churches offered sanctuary to immigrants who had fled violence only to be denied a lawful right to remain in the U.S. Activists developed a “pledge of resistance,” a plan for nationwide sit-ins at local Congressional offices in the event of a Nicaragua invasion. When the administration declared an economic embargo instead, “Pledge groups across the country planned and executed acts of civil disobedience across 80 cities in 16 states, with over 10,000 demonstrators and 2,000 arrestees,” according to the Global Nonviolence Data Base. Pledge of Resistance actions expanded to 42 states by 1985.

The nuclear disarmament movement, which had been quiet since atmospheric testing was banned in the early 1960s, sprang back into life. With the 1979 “Call to Halt the Nuclear Arms Race,” the short paper by Randall Forsberg that outlined a demand for a US-USSR nuclear freeze, as a rallying point, the movement spread rapidly in response to the Reagan administration’s nuclear build-up, its doctrine calling for the USA to “prevail” in an all-out nuclear war, and the president’s inclination to see the US-Soviet conflict as a battle between good and evil. It wasn’t just the Freeze Campaign itself. There was Women’s Action for Nuclear Disarmament, inspired by Dr. Helen Caldicott’s apocalyptic warnings. Beyond War, a California-based group including ex-CIA officials, reached professional class audiences with the message that war was “obsolete” in the nuclear age. Physicians for Social Responsibility provided clinical warnings about the actual health implications of nuclear war. Bridges for Peace, Promoting Enduring Peace, and others promoted people-to-people exchanges with communities on the other side of “the iron curtain.” Ground Zero, founded by a former National Security Council staff member who didn’t even support the Freeze, ran educational programs on nuclear dangers alongside the rest of the movement.

Within a rather short time, the movement grew large enough to affect pop culture. I remember the “Bloom County” comic strip making friendly fun of the New England town meetings with a character introducing a resolution to fill missile silos with pudding. “99 Luftballons,” a German pop song, became “99 Red Balloons,” a warning about the danger of accidental nuclear war in a hit English language version. The movement reached its biggest cultural impact with the 1983 release of a TV film, “The Day After,” depicting the aftermath of a nuclear war. According to my staff reports, I joined the publisher of the right-wing Union Leader newspaper and a few others for a live, post-film panel discussion afterward at the local ABC affiliate.

By 1985, Reagan’s attitude had been adjusted. A new Soviet leader, determined to find a way out of endless conflict, made it possible for the US and USSR to get back on track for nuclear arms control if not on a path toward abolition. By the end of the decade, the Cold War was over, leaving too many people with the impression that the danger of nuclear war was in the past. But we had made a mark on history.

Why were we able to build such a powerful movement?

For one thing, Reagan was elected barely five years after the United States was booted out of Vietnam. By 1975, the war there was not only massively unpopular, but the resistance movement had developed a powerful critique of the U.S. policies which got us there in the first place. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had put it at Riverside Church in 1967, “the war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit.”

“These are revolutionary times,” Dr. King said. “All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born.” For growing numbers of participants in the anti-war movement, the United States wasn’t just wrong, it was on the wrong side. In other words, the war was not just built on lies, it was built on a deeply rooted and largely bi-partisan policy of aggressive imperialism. And with the ideology of the war system based in extreme anti-communism, the ideology of the peace movement was generally anti-anti-communist if not decidedly leftist.

By the mid-70s, the peace movement was looking at the U.S. role in the Caribbean, in Central and South America, in South Africa and the “frontline states,” and in the oil-rich Middle East. That Reagan’s election came before such lessons had been forgotten made it easier to mobilize the public to oppose a reprise of Cold War militarism.

Another development was the rise of the movement against nuclear power, especially in New England where the Freeze movement would find its first active expressions. After years of largely ineffective anti-nuclear intervention by mainstream environmental groups, the shift to nonviolent direct action at nuclear construction sites in Montague, Massachusetts and Seabrook, New Hampshire gave mostly young “No Nukes” activists a chance to apply lessons learned from anti-war, civil rights, and feminist struggles of the previous period. The Clamshell Alliance, the network of locally based New England groups which led the Seabrook protests, was unhesitant about linking opposition to nuclear power and weapons. It was internationalist in orientation, actively seeking ties to the anti-apartheid movement and to groups challenging the pro-nuclear, anti-communist Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines.

Although the Clamshell peaked in 1978, New England was still peppered with local No Nukes groups when Reagan was elected two years later. Not only did those groups provide fertile ground for a revived nuclear disarmament movement, they provided leaders with community and political organizing experience. Here we might single out for special attention Randy Kehler, the Vietnam era war resister credited with inspiring Daniel Ellsberg to release the Pentagon Papers. Kehler later settled in Franklin County, Massachusetts, where he was active in the local Alternative Energy Coalition opposing the Seabrook and Montague nukes. In 1980, he was the lead organizer of the referendum campaign that first put the nuclear freeze to a popular vote.

Why Not Now?

What I’m trying to understand is why a similar form of resistance, focused on U.S. foreign and military policy and especially the danger of nuclear war, has not arisen since Trump’s election. It’s not like we weren’t warned when candidate Trump revealed he had no idea what the “nuclear triad” is, or when he reportedly asked about the nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal, “if we have them, why can’t we use them?”

Could it be that the intense anti-war sentiment aroused by George W. Bush’s war in Iraq has thoroughly dissipated? At the time, it seemed like anti-war sentiment was not based just on reaction to American body bags but to a fuller critique of U.S. policy in southwest Asia. Didn’t significant parts of the anti-war movement develop an analysis that probed deeper than W’s personal animus against Saddam Hussein and the orchestrated campaign of lies about weapons of mass destruction?

Could it be that the trauma induced by the 9/11 terrorist attacks was so deep that the American public has been cowed into accepting anything done in the name of national security? That’s a tempting theory, but what, then, do we make of the massive movement that opposed the Iraq war? Recall the demonstrations in 150 U.S. cities and hundreds more across the globe on February 15, 2003, termed “the largest protest event in human history.” The NY Times equated the anti-war movement to a “superpower” rival of the U.S. and its military allies.

Yes, the “baby boomers” who grew up under the shadow of The Bomb and who hid under their desks in civil defense drills were more sensitive to nuclear dangers than the millennials who grew up after the Cold War had ended. But where is the foreign policy agenda of the baby boomer progressives who make up such a large component of the anti-Trump resistance?

Did the election of Barack Obama, who ran for president as an anti-war candidate and left office as droner-in-chief, cast a magic spell over the public? Can the fact that the massive nuclear build-up began with Obama’s approval account for the fact that Trump’s policy – largely an extension of his predecessor’s – make it immune from serious scrutiny? Were progressives that reluctant to criticize Obama that their critical capacities were wiped out?

Which brings me to the relationship between progressives and the Democratic Party. Could it be that progressive activists find it harder to distance themselves from the Democrats than they did in earlier generations? The 1960s anti-war movement arose in resistance to a Democratic president with liberal tendencies on the domestic front. While the movement later found champions among Democratic Senators like McCarthy and McGovern, and some of its leaders (e.g. Tom Hayden) found their way into Democratic politics, it did not lose its ability to critique a bi-partisan foreign policy consensus rooted in Cold War ideology and the dictates of capitalism.

That Hilary Clinton was a hawk offers little explanation, for foreign policy played little role in the 2016 campaign and her support was largely based on anti-Trump sentiments.

What of Bernie Sanders, who led a serious (he called it a “political revolution,” after all) alternative approach that almost captured the Democratic Party? I recall one of his earliest campaign stops in Concord, New Hampshire, months before the first-in-the-nation presidential primary, when he was asked about the power of the military-industrial-complex. Acknowledging its unwarranted influence, Bernie was quick to shift to more comfortable territory. “The military-industrial-complex is enormously powerful, no question about it,” he said, adding “You have on Wall Street six financial institutions that have assets that are equivalent to sixty percent of the GDP of the United States. You have big energy companies who are unbelievably powerful. So, I think what you have is a ruling class in America.” Then he was back to the power of insurance and drug companies to block progress toward single-payer health care.

Bernie’s campaign, consistent with his Congressional career, was built on economic issues: jobs, wages, health care, education. For Sanders (and much of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party), even international trade is considered primarily as a domestic issue. Despite Hilary’s reputation as a hawk, Bernie never tried to make an alternative to the bi-partisan national security consensus a significant component of his campaign. Could that be why his legions of followers have failed to do so as well?

Two months before the 2018 election, Katrina Vanden Heuvel of The Nation wrote “the progressive left’s national security policy has been mostly missing in action.“ That opinion is hard to argue with, and there are plenty of good outlines for what such a policy would be. But without some clamor from below, we can’t expect an agenda to have much clout.

Earlier this week, the town council in Durham, New Hampshire, approved a resolution calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Seacoast Peace Response, a local group formed after the 9-11 attacks, is working with activists in other communities to bring similar resolutions before City Councils and Town Meetings in the coming months. With the 2020 New Hampshire Presidential Primary about 14 months away and the tide of possible presidential candidates visiting the Granite State starting to rise, the timing is excellent.

Another ray of hope comes from the Poor People’s Campaign: a national call for moral revival. Following Dr. King’s lead, the campaign sees militarism, along with racism, poverty, and ecological devastation as inter-related pillars of an unjust system that needs radical change. As a new Congress takes office, this is a good time for a new peace movement to make its voice heard.

What do you think it will take?

December 7, 2018

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It was a typical Sunday in the Oaxaca zócalo, the busy plaza at the city’s center. Balloon vendors and peddlers of handicrafts and plastic toys plied their wares while tourists and local families strolled by or stopped for meals at the restaurants which line the outside of the square. At PB250079one end, the radical teachers union was holding a rally—complete with a brass band and traditional folk dancers–marking marking the International Day Against Violence and Exploitation of Women and calling for an end to impunity.

At the other side of the zócalo, close to the walls of the Cathedral, a student brass band was setting up for a concert. Huge trees kept everyone mostly sheltered from the hot sun.

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One element was new: over where seats had been set up for the brass band’s audience, a line of about 100 people snaked around the plaza headed for a shaded spot where a table held two big, white boxes, labeled “Consulta Nacional.” It was voting day for thPB250048e second plebiscite organized by Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Mexico’s president-elect. His inauguration still a week off, AMLO, as he is known, appears to be already running the government. The “consulta nacional,” or national consultation, is one example of how the popular leader is keeping attention on his assertive agenda.

 

At the top of his agenda, or at least at the top of today’s ballot, is a proposal to run high speed trains over a 1500 kilometer track to be built from Cancun south through the busy tourist corridor of the Mayan Riviera, across the Yucatán peninsula alongside the borders of the Calakmul Biosphere ballot and programas from website (2)Reserve to Campeche, south through Tabasco (AMLO’s home state), ending in Palenque, home to a major archaeological site in the Chiapas jungle. The project is known as the Maya Train.

According to the background information posted on the “Mexico Decides” website, the train would promote tourism at a cost of about 150 billion pesos, or $7.5 billion US dollars at current exchange rates. It would follow existing rights of way. Moreover, “it will not affect the environment.”

Questions on the “ballot” include others aimed at spurring development in the generally poor south and southeast of the country, including a proposal for another transportation corridor across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and modernization of industrial facilities on both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. AMLO also proposes major investments in fruit orchards, which he says would restore the environment and create 400,000 jobs.

AMLO’s plans for big projects in the south and southeast are reminiscent of older plans from recent neoliberal administrations, as well as the US-backed “Plan Puebla Panama” development corridor.  His campaign, however, was largely based on a pledge to end corruption and respond to the needs of ordinary Mexicans.  

The people waiting in line with their cedulas, or voter ID cards, ranged in age from those barely old enough to vote to old timers. Their spirits appeared to be high. “They are taking us into account,” several people told us. Unlike his predecessors, who were mostly thieves, they said AMLO “isn’t going to rob us.”

We did not ask them how they intended to vote, but from their pro-AMLO enthusiasm, we expect the votes to be positive.

Others aren’t so sure.

At the other end of the zócalo, close to where the teachers were rallying, three young women were peddling notebooks to raise money for their collective. The notebooks carried pictures of iconic rebels, including Emiliano Zapata, Frida Kahlo, Charlie Chaplin, and Mafalda, an Argentine cartoon character whose image is popular with Oaxacan radicals. When we asked if they planned to vote in the consulta, they all shook their heads. The first people who should vote on the megaprojects, they agreed, are the indigenous people in the areas where the projects will be built. Even to vote “no,” they said, is to legitimize a development path that is already underway.

That does seem to be the case. In fact, AMLO outlined the details in a July 12 letter to President Donald Trump, in which he stated “this project will be carried out without detriment to our sovereignty and will be promoted with the participation of the public, private and social sectors. In this case, as in any other project, environmental impacts will be taken into account and the rights of the villagers and land owners will not be overlooked, on the contrary, they will be taken into account, consulted and incorporated as substantive part of the project.” As the incoming president put it, the development projects will create opportunities for young workers, thereby reducing pressure to migrate.

tren maya map excelsior

map courtesy of Excelsior.

But opposition appears to be building among indigenous community leaders and human rights defenders. In a recent column in the Mexico City daily La Jornada, Carlos Beas Torres, director of the Union of Indigenous Communities of the Northern Isthmus, said the Isthmus has been the object of development schemes going back to Herman Cortes and has received three billion dollars in outside investment in the past decade. “So why do 70 percent of the Isthmians live in poverty?” he asked. “The explanation lies in the fact that investment projects have been designed from the outside to serve interests foreign to those of the inhabitants of the region. In the Mexican Isthmus, a model of extractive development has been imposed for centuries, based on the plundering of resources and the excessive exploitation of the work of the regional population.”

AMLO’s consulta is not the first, Beas Torres observed. All the others, sponsored by neoliberal governments, have been intended to “legitimize plunder and looting.”

As for the Mayan communities in the Yucatán, they seem less than impressed with the train which would carry their name. In a recent letter rejecting the megaprojects and rejecting the consulta, a dozen indigenous groups from several states told the incoming president they have been following the proposed Maya Train for some time and hoped AMLO would come in with more respect for their perspectives . “With respect to the so-called consultation, from this moment we reject any result whether it is for or against. It is not permissible for anyone, any person outside the Yucatán Peninsula, to decide what to do or not to do in our territories,” they said. “No to megaprojects that strip us of our territories,” the letter concluded. Similar statements have come from indigenous communities in Oaxaca.

And yet another letter went to the president-elect from a group of influential artists and intellectuals, reminding him that the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169, on the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples, to which Mexico is a party, requires the government to consult directly with affected indigenous communities before going ahead with projects like the Maya Train or the trans-Isthmus transportation/industrial corridor. No “national consultation” can substitute for that process, they pointed out.

Regardless of the outcome of this weekend’s vote, debate over the Maya Train and other massive development projects is far from over.

POST SCRIPT – About a million people, or 1% of the electorate, cast ballots nationwide, with all the proposals gaining approval from about 90% of voters.   See the official results here.

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This was first published as an AFSC Blog on May 23 2018 in conjunction with the third “week of action” of the Poor People’s Campaign.

Fifty-one years ago, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King warned that “a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

Dr. King’s moral equation, spoken at the time the U.S. was raining bombs and napalm on the people of Vietnam, still applies today.

“Since Vietnam,” according to a detailed report on poverty from the national Poor People’s Campaign, a new movement inspired by King’s vision, “the United States has waged an ongoing war against diffuse enemies, siphoning massive resources away from social needs. The current annual military budget, at $668 billion, dwarfs the $190 billion allocated for education, jobs, housing, and other basic services and infrastructure. Out of every dollar in federal discretionary spending, 53 cents goes towards the military, with just 15 cents on anti-poverty programs.”

That’s one reason why poverty has actually gotten worse in the five decades since Dr. King died while standing alongside striking garbage collectors in Memphis. In other words, excessive military spending equals worse schools, deteriorating housing, decaying infrastructure, and a frayed social safety net. President Eisenhower described the equation this way in 1953, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”

We also know that aerial bombardment equals civilian deaths, mostly for women and children. Consumption of fossil fuel by naval vessels and military aircraft equals tons of carbon injected into the atmosphere. War equals ecological devastation. And extreme violence equals lasting trauma for both the perpetrators and the surviving victims.

But there’s another equation, impossible to avoid in hundreds of communities spread across the country, which says military spending equals jobs.

For a case in point, I need look no farther than Nashua, New Hampshire, home of BAE Systems, which with 5400 employees is by far the largest industrial employer in the state. Not only does BAE employ more than three times as many workers as the number two, but it matches charitable donations from employees and provides grants in the areas of education, including sponsoring the First Lego League and a Women in Technology program. It states that it is “committed to working to high ethical, safety and environmental standards, retaining and attracting a diverse and talented workforce and making a positive contribution to the countries and communities in which we operate.” A BAE representative sits on the board of the United Way of Greater Nashua. In other words, BAE presents itself as a good corporate citizen with a $982 million annual impact on the New Hampshire economy.

BAE’s largesse, like the wages it pays to its workers, is a product of the war economy, more specifically the sale of electronic components for missiles, bombs, aircraft, and other military technology to the Pentagon and other weapons makers.

BAE, a subsidiary of the firm formerly known as British Aerospace, is currently the third largest military contractor in the U.S., with more than $23.6 billion in Pentagon sales, an amount which makes up 91% of its total revenue, according to Defense News. It spent nearly $4 million on lobbying last year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and $1.2 million on political candidates in the 2016 campaign cycle.

Its former president was the Republican candidate for governor of New Hampshire20160601_074659_resized in 2014. Its former director of public affairs served until recently as the head of New Hampshire’s Department of Resources and Economic Development, the state agency charged with promoting local business. The agency (now renamed NH Economic Development) provides support to the NH Aerospace and Defense Export Consortium, a trade group that encourages foreign sales of NH-produced military hardware.  [See my 2016 article on the NH arms export promotion conference.]

With the community dependent on it for employment and charity, with millions invested in politics, and with its leaders embedded in its community’s social and political infrastructure, BAE is as good an example as we might find of what Eisenhower called the “military industrial complex.”

While the jobs it creates are real, the military spending equals jobs equation doesn’t hold up when we ask what would happen if the funds were spent elsewhere. According to Heidi Garrett-Peltier, a UMASS economist, “over the past 16 years, by spending money on war rather than in these other areas of the domestic economy, the US lost the opportunity to create between one million and three million additional jobs.” The reason: Government spending in any other area is a better job creator.

We might say that the equations which joins military spending to jobs can be disproved. But that is not just a mathematical process, it’s a moral and political one. That’s the point of the Poor People’s Campaign, to recast our nation’s politics in a moral framework.

Fifty years after the first Poor People’s Campaign it is well past time to tend to our spiritual health by changing our nation’s priorities. We don’t have as much to lose as we might fear, and we have a lot of ground – moral and economic – to gain.

doris hampton 2018 town meeting

More than Half the Budget is “Way, Way Too Much”

Voters at the annual town meeting in Canterbury, New Hampshire, meeting in the town’s elementary school gym on March 16, approved a resolution calling for a shift in federal spending away from the Pentagon and toward other purposes.

The resolution was the final item on the agenda of the annual exercise of direct democracy still practiced by small town in New England. It calls on the United States Congress to “cut the Pentagon budget and to use that money to fund education, public and private sector family-sustaining job creation, environmental and infrastructure restoration, care for veterans and their families, and human services that our communities and state desperately need, and create tax cuts for working families.“ The resolution also directs the town’s Board of Selectmen to forward it to the state’s two US Senators and the district’s US Representative as a statement of the town’s views.

After the Ted LeClair, the Town Moderator, read the full resolution aloud, Bill Taylor, a retired worker in the state’s transportation department, explained the idea came from a subcommittee of the Canterbury Citizens for Democracy (CC4D), a grassroots group formed after the 2016 election. “We all looked at what the federal government is spending on our military,” he told the crowd of nearly 200 people. “It’s over 50% of the federal discretionary budget. I think that’s way, way too much. We can get what we need for less. We’re asking our representatives to start talking about it.”

Five “whereas” clauses gave the facts:

· the U.S. spends in excess of $600 billion a year on its military programs, which is well over half of federal discretionary spending, and which in 2016 cost the average New Hampshire taxpayer $3,069; and

· the U.S. spends more on its military forces than the next eight countries combined, and five of them are close U.S.  allies; and

· research shows that tax dollars spent on health care, education, clean energy, and infrastructure create more jobs per dollar than does spending on military programs; and

· the United States has a stockpile of 6,250 nuclear warheads and is in the process of spending $1.2 trillion on a whole new generation of nuclear weapons that would have the ability to annihilate life on earth; and

· the U.S. is the wealthiest nation on earth but trails many other nations in life expectancy, infant mortality, education-level, housing, and clean air and water.

The resolution was printed in the town’s Annual Report, which voters consulted during the course of the meeting. The CC4D members also produced a 4-page fact sheet, with colored charts illustrating the points in the resolution, and placed them on chairs throughout the gym before the meeting started.

“There’s very little debate in Congress over military spending, and there should be a lot more. That’s the purpose behind this resolution,” Taylor told the roomful of Canterbury residents.

The practice at town meeting is for any resident to take the microphone and offer an opinion or a question on each item. By the time Taylor introduced the federal spending resolution, the meeting had already approved the leasing of police cruisers, the purchase of a new truck for the highway department, creation of a committee to advise the town on how to reduce use of fossil fuels, and the town budget for the coming year, including a raise for the Town Administrator. Voters rejected a proposal from the Board of Selectmen to make the town treasurer position an appointed one rather than an elected office.

With the hour late, only three people took the microphone to speak to the budget resolution.

Fred Portnoy, a radio engineer and retired tech worker from Plymouth State University, said, concisely, “This is an issue the federal government is not going to solve on its own without leadership from us.”

Doris Hampton, a retired social worker and the coordinator of the Canterbury Citizens for Democracy, told townspeople that when she saw a chart showing how much more the United States spends on its military than any other country, “I thought, what is it going to take for us to feel safe in this country?”

“What we need to feel safe is for our citizens to feel like they have a Iivelihood that will support them, that they have health care, that their children can have a future. The only way I can see that we can start doing that and start feeling safe in our lives is to start this discussion about tipping the balance of our spending,” she added.

There was one dissenter, who began his speech by saying, “I love the internet, I can pretty much find anything to support any view I take.” He then cited an alternate set of statistics he said showed that Russia and China actually spend more on their military programs when issues like the differing costs of weapons production are taken into account.

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Ted LeClair, Canterbury’s Town Moderator, read the resolution

Following a motion to “move the question” and end debate, the moderator read out the resolution’s conclusion one more time. “You’ll forgive me if I don’t read the whereases,” he said, drawing chuckles from the crowd. Then he asked voters to raise green “yes” cards to support the resolution or red “no” cards if they opposed it. The green cards were clearly in the majority. “The motion passes,” the moderator declared.

After some more discussion on the re-building of the Sam Lake House, where the town offices are located, and a report on the results of a survey about the town’s recycling center, the 2018 Canterbury Town Meeting was declared over. Canterbury voters will meet again on the first Friday after the second Tuesday of March, 2019. By then, their two US Senators and their US Representative will have heard that voters in this small, New Hampshire town want them to make a dramatic change in how their federal tax dollars are spent.

Weapons of Mass Distraction

Concerned about militarism? Watch the budget, not the parade.

This was published first in the Concord Monitor on February 15, 2018.

President Trump’s proposal for a massive military parade has aroused bountiful criticism, including from 89% of the 55,000 Military Times readers who responded to an online survey. But if we’re concerned about a slide into military rule, I’d suggest looking away from the parade and paying more attention to the budget just approved by Congress.

“There is widespread agreement in both parties that we have cut the military too much,” observed Speaker of the House Paul Ryan just prior to the vote adding some 165 billion dollars to the Pentagon budget over two years. Of the bi-partisan consensus, the Speaker was correct. The Democratic Party’s talking points seemed to be that they, too, wanted a higher military budget although they would insist on a boost to non-military spending, as well. Even the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which to its credit has put forward an annual alternative budget that shifts funds from military programs to domestic priorities, issued a statement about the parade but said nothing about the budget its members had just voted on.

As to cuts in the military budget, Ryan’s analysis needs scrutiny. While the military budget has indeed dropped from its peak at the most intense times of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, inflation-adjusted defense spending levels are now higher than they were during the U.S. war in Vietnam and most of the Cold War. The FY 17 level of spending, $634 billion, takes up more than 50% of the discretionary spending approved by Congress. And that doesn’t even count the money going to veterans’ affairs, homeland security, the secret budgets that fund the CIA and National Security Agency, or the portion of the Energy Department’s budget devoted to nuclear weapons.

The deal raises the level of military spending by $80 billion in 2018 and $85 billion in 2019. As Politico reports, over two years, “the military will receive at least $1.4 trillion in total through September 2019 to help buy more fighter planes, ships and other equipment, boost the size of the ranks, and beef up training — a level of funding that seemed a long shot just months ago.”

The non-military part of the budget gets boosted by a lesser amount: $63 billion the first year and $68 billion the second, bringing its share to $605 billion. If you do the math, that means military programs will continue to capture 54% of the funds in the “discretionary budget,” that is, the budget Congress controls with annual appropriations. It’s that figure, more than the number of generals in the cabinet and the size of Trump’s parade, that I find alarming.

The details of the budget still need to be worked out, but there’s little doubt it will include down payments toward a new generation of nuclear weapons. Not only is the Trump administration continuing the Obama administration’s plan to replace the entire array of nuclear warheads and the planes, missiles, and submarines designed to deliver them, the recently released Nuclear Posture Review calls, as well, for new mini-nukes that could be deployed and presumably used on the battlefield. The official price-tag for the package is now $1.2 trillion, but some analysts, including former Defense Secretary William Perry and General James Cartwright, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, think $1.7 trillion is a more realistic estimate.

Perry and Cartwright believe we’d be safer by spending less. “If we scale back plans to replace the nuclear arsenal, we will actually improve our security,” they wrote recently in the Washington Post. They advocate cancelling plans for new land-based and cruise missiles, for starters.

I’d go further, and suggest the militarized approach to security needs to be re-thought. Martin Luther King, Jr. put it this way a little over fifty years ago: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

Our actual security is better protected by reducing nuclear threats through multi-lateral reductions consistent with the terms of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, global attention to climate change, creation of civilian jobs that pay living wages, ending racist and patriarchal violence, and prioritizing housing and health care. That would be worthy of a parade!

Remember a few years ago, when those talking about “tax reform” said they wanted to lower corporate tax rates, but would close loopholes to balance the impact? That’s not what’s in our stocking.

NPR says, “Trump might get the gift he’s been wanting for a while right before Christmas.” It’s not just a political gift; it’s a gift to the investor class, of which the president is, of course, a member.

But maybe “gift” is the wrong term. After all, the tax bill Congress will vote on this week is the result of untold hours of work by literally thousands of corporate lobbyists. Think of it more as return on investment, investment in political influence, that is.

According to a recent report from Public Citizen, “a total of 6,243 lobbyists have been listed on lobbying disclosure forms as working on issues involving the word “tax” in 2017. That equals 57 percent of the lobbyists who have reported any lobbying activity in 2017 and is equivalent to more than 11 lobbyists for every member of Congress.”

“Many of the discrete tax issues that these lobbyists and organizations have sought to influence are at the heart of the debate over the current legislation,” the group founded by Ralph Nader said in its report, “Swamped.” Corporate tax rates, repatriation of corporate profits, intra-organizational transfers of assets, depreciation rules and deductibility of interest were among frequently listed topics by the organizations that have hired the most tax lobbyists.”

The NY Times reported that the Business Roundtable, “desperate to remove the corporate alternative minimum tax, worked behind the scenes, calling lawmakers and raising concerns about how it would effectively kill the ability of companies to utilize the prized research and development tax credit.” They succeeded.

Remember Donald Trump saying on the campaign trail that “hedge fund guys are getting away with murder,” by using a tax break commonly known as the “carried interest loophole?” The loophole survived the “reform.”

The GOP bill ends taxation on most of the foreign-profits gained by so-called “American” firms, a measure that has long been on the agenda of the multi-national corporate lobby. Take a look at this 2013 report from the Heritage Foundation, which says a “territorial tax system would create jobs and raise wages.” The argument goes something like this: if multi-national corporations are taxed less on their foreign operations, they will have more incentive to invest in job-creating enterprises in the USA, and that will create jobs. In other words, take a walk on the supply side.

Not only could this have been predicted, it was. I’m currently reading People Get Ready: the Fight Against a Jobless Economy and a Citizenless Democracy,” by John Nichols and Robert McChesney, who single out the tax system as an example of the rigged system. “Americans are told that tax cuts for the wealthy and for multi-national corporations must simply be accepted on faith as the necessary cost of doing business in modern times,” they write.

“Speaker of the House Paul Ryan” they write, “has long been a supporter of the ‘territorial tax’ scheme, which would let US-based multi-national corporations avoid paying taxes on dividends they receive from foreign affiliates… Ryan is always pitching proposals to balance budgets on the backs of working people while opposing tax hikes for wealthy campaign donors and corporations.”

If you didn’t look at the title page, which says the book was published in 2016, you might think you were reading the morning news.

It’s not all over; there’s still a chance that two or more GOP Senators could rebel. If you live in Maine or Arizona, pick up the phone and call your Senators.

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“I’ve learned that words really do have power,” writes Shane Claiborne in  Executing Grace, subtitled, How the Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why It’s Killing Us. “So do stories. And so does the Bible,” he writes, adding, “And so do facts.”

Claiborne, a prominent speaker, activist, and best-selling author, heads up Red Letter Christians, a group that aims “to take Jesus seriously by endeavoring to live out His radical, counter-cultural teachings as set forth in Scripture, and especially embracing the lifestyle prescribed in the Sermon on the Mount.” He was in New Hampshire for talks in Manchester and Durham on November 11, both organized by the NH Council of Churches.

Before both audiences, Claiborne showed his ease sliding back and forth from theology to history to journalism, blending stories of murder victim family members, death row prisoners and exonerees, biblical characters, and the occasional public official.

“It’s hard to talk about the death penalty divorced from race,” he began, noting that in the USA, the death penalty belt overlaps the areas where states hung onto to slavery the longest, where lynching was commonly practiced, and where racial segregation was the law of the land. It’s also the “Bible Belt,” the region with the highest percentages of practicing Christians, and where what passes for “religious conservatism” has the most political influence.

“Why do we still have the death penalty?” Claiborne asks. “It’s because of Christians.”

But what if Christians – and others – took seriously the idea that “there’s a way to transcend evil without mirroring it?” And what if we adopted an approach to justice rooted in righteousness and healing the wounds of the world rather than vengeance? OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA It wouldn’t be just the death penalty that would left behind, it would be the whole punishment-based approach to criminal offenses. It’s a big reach for many, but Shane Claiborne can make as compelling a case for it as I’ve heard.

But what about New Hampshire, which is far in miles and politics from the Bible Belt, and is thought to be one of the least churched states in the country? Here we are, still hanging onto the death penalty nearly 80 years after the most recent execution. We might start by making the case that even here in the “deep north,” racism has a disturbingly persistent impact on attitudes and public policy. Can it be just a coincidence that the one person sentenced to be executed in New Hampshire in recent decades is a black man who killed a white man, while a rich white man on trial at the same time for hiring people to kill someone against whom he held a grudge escaped a death sentence?

But even here, there’s an anti-death penalty argument for just about anyone, and that’s where the facts bolster the theological approach, or vice versa. For example, anyone suspicious of a too-powerful state ought to be more than skeptical about a politically driven system for determining who should live and who should die. The jury in a capital case is the real “death panel.” Anyone who wants our tax dollars to be used carefully should scorn a system that bogs down the courts and ultimately costs more than lengthy imprisonment. Anyone who wants to deter crime should look at the studies which show the death penalty has little impact on promoting public safety or protecting the lives of law enforcement officers.

And anyone who wants to show compassion for people who have lost loved ones to homicide should, like Shane Claiborne, spend some time listening to them. “The more victims I have gotten to know and love, the more I have realized that there is not just one way to heal from trauma,” Claiborne writes.

“When it comes to the family members of the murdered, some of the most amazing stories of healing and closure I have heard or read are from families who found alternatives to execution for the offender. In contrast, some of the folks who still seem overcome with pain and anger and resentment were able to witness the execution of the offender. In other words,” Claiborne concludes, “the idea that an execution will bring closure or final justice is a mirage.”

“The death penalty extends trauma, exacerbates wounds,” he told the four-dozen people clustered in the parish hall at Brookside Congregational Church. “And any time we call for death, we undermine the possibility of redemption.”