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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.

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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.”

Campeones de Champiñones

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We are the Champions!  (of mushrooms)

Cuajimoloyas is a small village nestled in the mountains 3200 meters (10,500 feet)  above sea level, and 1645 meters (5400 feet) above the city of Oaxaca  P7140782 and the valley that surrounds it.  As a member of the Pueblos Mancomunados, the people of Cuajimoloyas are part of a project that combines sustainable farming and forestry, community-based enterprises, and ecological tourism to promote regional autonomy, cultural survival, and decent livelihoods for their citizens.

It is also an area of rich bio-diversity, including wild mushrooms.

Every July for the past 17 years, Cuajimoloyas has hosted a mushroom festival, the

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Feria de Hongos which includes lectures, workshops, great food, and a mushroom hunt.  Judy and I were participants in this year’s mushroom hunt, along with some students and faculty from the University of Washington studying food sovereignty, friends from Oaxaca, and a couple of other gringos we met along the way. 

Along with several other teams we set off mid-morning from the town center and headed uphill to the forest.

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Our team leader was Eustorgio, a community leader whom we had met on a visit to Cuajimoloyas 7 years ago.  Equipped with a basket and a Swiss Army knife, our team entered the forest and began our hunt.

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Each time we spotted a mushroom, Eustorgio would examine it to see if it was one we had already collected.  If not, he’d tap it on its head to release theP7150821 spores, slice it off with the knife, and drop it in the basket.  Along the way we joked about winning the contest by bringing back the collection with the largest number of distinct mushroom species.  

We found big mushrooms, tiny mushrooms, clusters of mushrooms, red mushrooms, gelatinous mushrooms, and translucent mushrooms.  Eustorgio would tell us if each one was edible or toxic.

As our basket filled, his ability to remember whether we already had a sample of each one we found amazed me.

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Here are some of my favorites.

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The forest was beautiful, with lots to appreciate in addition to the mushrooms and the members of our team.  But by around 1:30 PM, we started to worry about getting back in time for the judging deadline.

It being the rainy season, it was no surprise that a drizzle started as we hustled on a muddy trail to the final meeting place at the Comedor de Truchas.  There, we laid out our mushrooms on a blanket20170715_144732

and went off to stand in line in the rain to join a feast of tlayudas and mushroom tamales.

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We were all surprised, or at least I was, when Eustorgio told us our team had won, at least unofficially, with 137 distinct mushrooms.  But sure enough, the next day, we were the big winners!

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The competition was fun, the walk was great, but we were also reminded by speakers at the festival that mushrooms have great significance from cultural, dietary, economic, ecological, and health perspectives.  The annual Cuajimoloyas Mushroom Festival is a great way to celebrate and highlight their importance. 

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Oaxaca Pride March Aims to Link Struggles

Oaxaca’ ninth annual Pride Parade set off from the Fountain of the Eight Regions at  about 5:30 PM yesterday, w
P7080733ith perhaps 100 people marching behind a rainbow banner and a marching band. Prior to the march, Jesús Yoshio Morales Ramírez read a statement explaining that two additional colors had been added to the flag.

A brown stripe represented the struggles of indigenous peoples, whose land and  communities are threatened by mega-projects, the new guise of colonialism and an expression of racism. The flag also bore a black stripe, marking the struggles against racism of peoples of AfricP7080744an descent.

Oppression is “a long chain whose links will never be broken if we continue to look at it in isolation, if we think that machismo, homophobia, transphobia, lesbophobia, and so on are not related to class struggle, misogyny, racism, discrimination against people with physical or mental disabilities,” Morales said “It all forms part of a whole, it is the mortal alliance that puts us under and oppresses us and places us at the disposal of the elites and the dominant powers of the world.”

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The march proceeded down the hill through a major intersection into the city center, eventually reaching the crowded tourist zone, swelled with people typical of a Saturday evening in July. Along the way, the band kept playing at the front of the march while another group at the rear banged on drums and shouted chants. Several P7080853 people passed out condoms and information about HIV prevention along the way. By the end the number of marchers had doubled.

Morales read his statement again at the march’s conclusion, in the always busy plaza near the Santo Domingo church and museum. It’s not enough for Oaxaca to be “gay friendly,” he said, if people’s rights are not actually protected. “All of the rights, all of the people,” everyone chanted.

P7080824 You can find the statement, in Spanish, at http://www.laondaoaxaca.com.mx/2017/07/invitan-a-9a-marcha-calenda-por-el-orgullo-de-la-diversidad-sexual-e-identidad-de-genero/

More photos:

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