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Glimpses of the 2016 World Social Forum

With 200 simultaneous workshops spread among a dozen university buildings in several Montreal neighborhoods,  it was a little challenging to recognize the scope of the 2016 World Social Forum.  Nonetheless, it was clear from day one that thousands of people were there, and that it feels good to be part of a global social movement bringing together people dedicated to human rights, social justice, alternatives to predatory capitalism, and a halt to climate disruption.

We couldn’t see or experience it all, but here’s a few glimpses we captured along the way…



“I Went Looking for Ghosts and Found Coffee”

At the Forum’s opening ceremony we were drawn to a group of people with a banner about the 43 students kidnapped and presumably killed by police 2 years ago in Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico.  They invited me to attend a session with David Schmidt. 

Although—or perhaps because—he was raised in a fundamentalist family with aP8110109 profound fear of demons, Schmidt says he’s been fascinated by ghost stories since he was a boy.  It was the stories about fantastic creatures and weird occurrences he heard from Mexican friends that prompted him to visit a village deep in the mountains of Oaxaca.  There, he not only learned about the spiritual lives of the region’s Mixtec residents, but he also learned why so many people are forced to emigrate and about the raising of coffee.

In later travels, he learned about the benefits of fair trade for coffee growers.   One could say he’s become an evangelist for fair trade coffee, which he says has been a great boon to the Mixtec village where he had lived.  “Now when I go back it’s not a ghost town anymore.”

He’s a good writer and an excellent story-teller.  You can find out more from his website, Holy Ghost Stories.



Dismantling Corporate Power

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There were dozens of sessions coordinated under the umbrella, “People and the Planet Before Profit.”  I tried to get into one called “A North-South Dialogue on Extractivism,” but all the seats were full and people were already standing in the doorway.

Instead, I went down the hall to “Corporate Rights or Human Rights? The case of Investor State Dispute Settlement.”  This forum on the impact of bilateral investment treaties and the investor rights provisions of multi-lateral “trade” agreements brought together three dozen well informed people from several countries.  As trade justice activists have been pointing out since NAFTA went into effect 22 years ago, P8110129these agreements allow investors to bring claims before private tribunals (also known as the Investor-State Dispute Settlement process) if they believe laws or regulations hamper their potential for profit.  The process is based on commercial arbitration practices, not on judicial review. A United Nations database lists 696 “Known treaty-based investor-state arbitrations,” 26% of which have led to rulings on the side of investors.  

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, which President Obama plans to put before Congress during the “lame duck” session after the election, includes an Investor Rights/ISDS chapter, as does the pending Canada-Europe Trade Agreement (CETA) and TTIP, the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership that the Obama administration has been quietly negotiating with the European Union.   

Given the dominant role played by Canada-based firms in the global mining industry,  it was no surprise that extractive industries merited a lot of attention.  The session was the first I heard of a global campaign called “Dismantle Corporate Power and Stop Impunity!”  This campaign critiques P8110133voluntary corporate codes of conduct and is calling for a “binding instrument” through the UN to hold trans-national corporations accountable for human rights violations.    

The concept is not just backed by radical NGOs.  It also has support from the UN Human Rights Council, which adopted a resolution in 2014 “to establish an open-ended intergovernmental working group on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights, whose mandate shall be to elaborate an international legally binding instrument to regulate, in international human rights law, the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises.”  The Working Group’s next meeting will be in Geneva in October.  



Wandering the Halls

In the evening we tried to attend one of the 22 “Grand Conferences,” or large lectures featuring major speakers.  Our choice was “Change the System, not the Climate,” with Naomi Klein and others on the agenda.  In the tunnel underneath the Judith Jasmin Building at the University of Quebec at Montreal,P8110145 we found a line of people waiting to get in.  Working our way to the end, we snaked through corridors, up stairs, around corners, walking for 5 or 10 minutes before reaching the end, where we introduced ourselves to an organizer from Quebec City who works on climate with retired public sector workers. 

After another 5 or 10 minutes moving forward in line we were told the crowd capacity of the hall had been reached. But we were also told we could stay in line and attend a different “Grand Conference,” this one called “Education, Environment and eco-citizenship: the art of living together.”  That sounded interesting.  But again, after a few minutes we were told the room was at capacity, so we wandered some more in the below-ground corridor that connected several UQAM buildings.  Soon we found ourselves back in a line, which we followed into an auditorium that turned out to be the forum on “eco-citizenship.” 

There, the program was in French, with no translation.  Given the limitations of our French comprehension, we decided to leave and spent an enjoyable hour browsing tables set up by left-wing (mostly anarchist-leaning) bookstores.  We also met Ricardo Levins Morales and bought a couple posters.  (Visit his Art for Social Justice website.)



Workers of the World Take on “Free Trade”

On Friday morning I decided to check out a forum on “unions and trade P8120176agreements.”  This time I got there early enough to get a seat and a headset; the session was going to have translation.  The panel had a French-speaking moderator and speakers came from Canada, Belgium, Switzerland, the Basque region, Tunisia, and Mexico. Then there were “interveners” from Argentina, Colombia, and Belgium.

Because the translation was not well done (especially from Spanish to English) I may have missed a lot.  What I got was a well-informed but pretty standard discourse on why “free trade” agreements are bad for workers.  A few key points:

  • Some Swiss communities have declared themselves “TISA-Free Zones.”  TISA is the “Trade In Services Agreement,” a profoundly dangerous proposal that obviously has gotten more attention there than in the USA.
  • The labor chapters of the trade agreements are weak.
  • There is a need for convergence of labor with different struggles, e.g. climate.
  • The advent of the neo-liberal trade agenda has created a need for unions to work together, including along North-South lines.  It’s about time!
  • There will be a “Continental Day of Action for Democracy and Against Neo-Liberalism” on November 4.  More info here in Spanish.

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There were several topics I would have love to hear more about:

  • How are labor movements responding to the opposition to neo-liberal trade agreements that are rooted in nativism?
  • What have we learned from successful and unsuccessful resistance to other agreements?
  • How is labor building alliances with other sectors that would be harmed by privatization and deregulation of services in a Trade In Services Agreement?

Unfortunately, there was no time left for questions or discussion after the 6 panelists, 3 interveners, and 5 more short speeches.



Border Struggles and Migrants Rights

The afternoon workshop on migration benefited from a good facilitator, 4 speakers who were able to deliver their comments clearly and briefly, and a good translator (once we got the proper headsets instead of the ones that were translating the speakers in the adjacent lecture hall). 

Stefanie Kron, the moderator, started out by noting the exclusion of hundreds of Social Forum participants from the Global South whose visas were denied by the Canadian government, an example of harsh policies targeting migrants.  She also noted the “externalization” of border controls by the EU and the US governments, such as the US push on Mexico to increase the number of migrants it arrests and deports crossing its southern borders (see my recent article).  On the other hand, she noted the rise of transnationally connected movements for the rights of migrants.

I was impressed with the comments of Mostafa Henaway, from the ImmigrantP8120224 Workers Center, a Montreal group that’s been around for more than 15 years.  He described problems with guest worker programs in which the rights of workers to migrate is tied to specific employers, a condition which makes it risky for workers to demand just conditions.  Nevertheless, organizing is going on, including a hunger strike protesting indefinite detention.  He also noted that Canada is the 2nd largest exporter of arms to the Middle East, giving the country some share of responsibility for the violence that has caused so many people to flee.  

Later, in response to my question about building alliances between movements for peace and movements for the rights of immigrant workers, he observed that the immigrants’ rights movement in Canada is rooted in anti-xenophobic sentiments that flowed from the beginning of the “war on terror” after the 9-11 attacks.  

P8120255Rosa Nelly Santos, from Honduras, talked about the large numbers of people who have fled due to hunger and terror.  Thousands of migrants have just disappeared; their families don’t know if they died on the road or what.  Her organization, COFAMIPRO, brings together mothers to search for their missing children. 

She also emphasized that the right not to migrate, i.e. the right to have a decent, secure life at home, has to be an emphasis along with the rights of migrants.   

In the end, Stefanie Kron outlined 4 points for further attention:

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  1. Opening and preserving legal channels for migration,
  2. Strengthening trans-national organizing,
  3. Raising the visibility of the migration issue within the Social Forum process, and
  4. Organizing additional trans-national gatherings.

Sounds like a good agenda to me.


“People and Planet Over Profit”

The final official event we attended was a Convergence Assembly on free trade and extractivism.  In Forum-speak, a “convergence assembly is a gathering focused on presentations of initiatives for action.  These assemblies aim to broaden the coalitions of civil society that work in related fields and wish to act together.  They are a step to build or reinforce an international network of actors of change that give themselves priorities of action.”

What that meant in this case was a lively program with short speeches touching on resistance to pipelines in Canada, tailings dams in Brazil, mining in Guatemala, and “free trade” agreements everywhere.  The November 4 Day of Action for Democracy and Against Neo-Liberalism was promoted, as was the call for a week of action to confront corporate impunity when the inter-governmental working group on transnational corporations meets in Geneva in October.

This assembly had good translators, effective facilitators that kept the program moving at a quick pace, a few minutes for participants to meet people in nearby seats, and even an open mic time for participants to speak about their own projects.  Throughout the program, one activist added to a global map every time a new campaign was described and the projectionist located relevant web pages as actions were announced.  

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This was one of 22 convergence assemblies that took place during the week.  It was a good way to end the day.


When the Forum ended, organizers reported

The World Social Forum (WSF) is very proud of this 12th edition of the WSF, the first to be held in a Northern country.  The event counted 35,000 participants, including 15,000 who were present at the opening march, where 125 countries were represented. Let’s remember that at the first World Social Forum held in Porto Alegre in Brazil in 2001, 20,000 people took part in the event. Therefore, considering such numbers, the organizers are more than satisfied as to the results of a first World Social Forum held in a Northern country.

In total, 1,300 self-managed activities took place, as well as 200 cultural activities and 6 parallel forums, the organizers said.  In addition, the planning involved 26 self-managed committees. 

By next week we should be able to find a calendar of initiatives posted on the World Social Forum website.  See you there!

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After delivery of a couple thousand petitions to Governor Maggie Hassan, supporters of offshore wind energy development held a rally today at the State House in Concord.

Doug Bogen, Executive Director of the Seacoast Anti-Pollution league, who has P8250059been promoting the concept for several years, believes there is so much potential for energy from wind in the Gulf of Maine that it would be possible to “phase out fossil fuel and phase out nuclear power and replace it with this.”

Offshore wind projects already in operation in Europe, and one about to be put online off Block Island, show the technology is already available, he said.  “We know how to do this,” Bogen stressed.   

One important step is for Governor Maggie Hassan to make a formal request to the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to form a Task Force and stakeholder process to plan for regional offshore wind development.  That’s the point of the petition.P8250069

“The Federal Department of Energy has determined that the Gulf of Maine has a total potential wind power capacity in excess of 200,000 Megawatts within 50 miles of the coasts of New Hampshire, Maine and northeast Massachusetts,” the petition states. 

“Utilizing just a small percentage of this potential, combined with other renewable resources, could provide most of the future power needs of these states,” says Kaity Thomson of 350NH, which organized today’s rally. 

Representative Renny Cushing, who lives almost in sight of the Seabrook nuclear P8250079plant, chaired a legislative study of offshore wind already.  Now, he says he is “wildly enthusiastic about the potential.” 

Stephanie Scherr of Fossil Free 603 says she was energized by the successful struggle against the NED Pipeline proposed by the Kinder Morgan Corp.  After months of saying “no” to fracked gas, she emphasized how important it is to have something to say “yes” to.  Scherr gave an ironic “thank you” to Kinder Morgan for pushing people to think seriously about alternatives.

After the rally, participants went up to Governor Hassan’s office, where they wrote additional messages.

If you haven’t signed the petition yet, you can find it here.

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Despite sweltering heat and the apparent denial of visas to more than 200 activists and diplomats from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, the World Social Forum kicked off its first full day of activities today in Montreal, with more than 200 workshops on topics such as “Struggles for the defense of land: feminist resistance and solidarity against extractivism,” “Strategies for creating spaces for social engagement and participation in monitoring and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in the Americas,” and “Fair Trade Hot Topics.”

The proceedings were marred by the absence of the delegates whose visa applications were rejected by the Canadian government, despite months of work by the Forum organizers.  According to an article published in TruthOut, “at least 234 community organization leaders and representatives were denied visitor visas to attend and give presentations at the international conference, including persons who were invited and had Canadian sponsors.”

Organizers estimate that as many as 70% of those who needed visas – mostly people from places other than the USA and Europe – were blocked from attending.  Some U.S. visitors reported annoying treatment by Canadian immigration officers at the border, but they were allowed in.

Given the dispersed nature of the events, spread out among dozens ofP8100077 locations, it was hard to tell how many people were present.  I spent the morning with a couple dozen activists, mostly from the USA and Canada, discussing the imperative of nuclear weapons abolition. 

Just back in the western hemisphere from the World Conference Against A&H Bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Joseph Gerson of the American Friends Service Committee reported that the Japanese peace movement is excited about diplomatic initiatives that may lead to talks next year at the United Nations on a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons. 

P8100064 The nuclear powers, it must be said, are not ready to go along.  But 127 nations have already signed the “humanitarian pledge calling for such a ban, which could ”create a new international atmosphere for negotiations against nuclear weapons,” commented Reiner Braun of the International Peace Bureau. 

Kevin Martin of Peace Action finds in the humanitarian pledge the stirrings of a re-born movement against nuclear weapons,P8100070 which must be  delegitimized by any mechanism we can find.  He also called for following the counsel of Martin Luther King, Jr., and linking struggles for peace and disarmament to those against racism and what Dr. King called “extreme materialism.”

I also sat in on a discussion of “Militarism and Climate Change,” put on by Voice of Women for Peace, a Canadian group.  This featured a call for world military spending to be drastically cut, with the liberated funds used to invest in fossil fuel alternatives.  That’s a good idea, but I hope it’s not the limit of our imagination for addressing the urgent need to rapidly move away from putting more CO2 into the atmosphere.

Afterward, I biked across town to a small theatre for a showing of “Mirar Morir,” a documentary about the disappearance and presumed murders of 43 Mexican college students two years ago.  (You can watch the trailer here.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This story was published in the Concord Monitor on July 28, 2016.

to detention

U.S. and Mexico Respond to Desperation with Detention and Deportation

(Editor’s note: In order to protect the identities of those profiled for this article, their names have been changed.)

Ricardo sounded desperate when we met him at a shelter for migrants in the southern Mexican city of Oaxaca six years ago.  He was traveling north, trying to get to the United States for the second time.  The first time, he said, he was arrested by Mexican authorities and deported back to El Salvador.  “If I could stay in my country and make money, I’d never leave,” he said.

The dangers of the trail were well known: thieves, kidnappers, police, and perhaps a risky trip across the desert where plenty of people have perished from thirst and starvation.  “I could die on this journey,” he said, but he was willing to try one more time.  If he failed, Ricardo said, he would return to his mother’s home in El Salvador and “we’ll starve to death.”

In the past six years, the situation appears to have grown even more desperate for people like Ricardo.  But instead of taking action to support human rights and peaceful development, the United States is putting its weight behind enforcement and deportation on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.

When unaccompanied children from El Salvador,  Honduras and Guatemala, also called the Northern Triangle, began showing up in large numbers at the U.S. border with Mexico two years ago, the Obama administration recognized “a humanitarian crisis,” to which it responded by opening new detention centers and stepping up the deportation of children and families.

In addition, according to the Washington Office on Latin America, “U.S. officials and members of Congress called for increases in U.S. assistance to help Mexico fortify its southern border, building on construction, equipment deliveries, and training support that began with the post-2007 ‘Mérida Initiative’ aid packages and intensified after 2011.”  gabriela with

“As you look at these children, they are all coming from Central America. If we can close the southern border of Mexico, that stops 99 percent of our problems here,” is how Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), Chairman of the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee, characterized the situation at a hearing.

Speaking at a House budget hearing, Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), Chairwoman of the State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, stated, “Our neighbor, Mexico is on the front lines of combating the illegal migration issue and we must do all we can to help Mexico strengthen its borders.”

Mexico apparently got the message.  Since it introduced a new “Southern Border Program” (or “Plan Frontera Sur”), apprehension and deportation of Central American migrants has gone up.  In 2015, Mexico apprehended nearly 172,000 migrants from the Northern Triangle, up from 118,000 in 2014.  Apprehensions by Mexico of unaccompanied children from those countries went up by 70% during the same time. Meanwhile, U.S. apprehensions of unaccompanied minors went down by 42% from 2014 to 2015. 

So, while the program may reduce the number of migrants who reach the U.S. border, it worsens the real crisis.

Sandra’s case is disturbingly typical.  After her husband was killed by gang members in El Salvador, she fled to Mexico, where she was picked up and jailed for seven months.   Speaking recently in the safety of a church-related human rights group’s office in southern Mexico, she said she had produced proof that her husband had been murdered, even providing a letter from the local mayor.  Despite the evidence that her life, too, would be in danger if she went home, her request for asylum was denied and she was deported.  But with the gang threats still real, she was giving it another try.

We met Juan near another border crossing in southern Mexico.  He had fled Honduras with his pregnant wife and little boy.  After armed gang members stole the motorcycle he used for work, he filed a complaint with the police.  The gang responded with threats to kill him and his son.  

According to a recent report from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), “Increasing violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras forced thousands of women, men, and children to leave their homes in 2015, mainly to Mexico and the United States. The number of refugees and asylum-seekers with pending cases in Mexico from these three Central American countries increased from 20,900 people in 2012 to 109,800 people in 2015.”

“The situation is so bad that people have no other choice but to flee,” a UNHCR representative told us.  By her estimates, some 400,000 Central Americans were crossing the Mexican border every year.  Half of them were probably in need of protection, but only 1% were even seeking refugee status in Mexico.  And of that small fraction, most would fail to get protection.  According to a staff member at the Mexican federal agency responsible for vetting refugee claims, only 3423 people filed applications for refuge in 2015.  Of those, only about 1100 were granted some form of protection by the Mexican government.

In addition to providing the Mexican military and police with millions of dollars of armaments, the U.S. is also stationing Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents in Mexico to provide “mentoring” for members of the country’s immigration enforcement agency.

With stepped up enforcement by Mexico authorities, including shutting off the option of travel on the tops of trains, migrants have been forced into more dangerous routes.  According to Amnesty International’s latest report on Mexico, “Migrants and asylum-seekers passing through Mexico continued to be subjected to mass abductions, extortion, disappearances and other abuses committed by organized crime groups, often working in collusion with state agents.”

If they evade the odds and make it as far as the United States, they still run the risk of getting jailed rather than granted asylum.  Take Mario, a recent detainee at the Strafford County Jail in Dover.  He first came to the U.S. from Honduras when he was 14 years old, fleeing gang violence and direct threats to his life if he didn’t join. After he was deported back to Honduras and his father was killed, he returned to the U.S. and was deported once more.

Deportation did nothing to provide security from criminals at home, so Mario tried once again to make it to the United States.  This time he succeeded and not only found work in construction, he also fell in love, got married, and had 3 children.  But when he was arrested again, our legal system saw him only as a felon for crossing the border after deportation.  Once again he was sent back to Honduras, leaving his wife and children homeless and his own life in jeopardy.

The stories go on, each one unique but together painting a picture of widespread violence and governments focused on blocking migration instead of protecting those fleeing for their lives.

Though the recently announced expansion of the Central American Minors program is a step in the right direction, it will affect only a small number of the people fleeing violence in Central America and will not prevent the thousands of perilous journeys through Mexico each year.

Responding to past humanitarian crises, the U.S. has recognized and welcomed large numbers of refugees, successfully meeting our international obligations and often strengthening the communities where they settle.  There’s no reason we can’t do that once again with Central Americans instead of sending refugees back to their deaths.

Arnie Alpert is Co-Director of the American Friends Service Committee’s New Hampshire Program.  He recently participated in a two-week fact-finding trip to Mexico focused on human rights.

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As we walked into Manchester’s Veterans Park, where yesterday’s Black Lives Matter march would begin, the first person we saw up close was a white man carrying a large rifle.  He was approached right away by Matt Lawrence, one of the activists who had volunteered to be peacekeepers (or “ushers”) for the march.

Organizers of the march had asked people not to bring weapons, Matt calmly explained.  The rifle-bearing man said he was there to help the police with security.  He would be joined by others openly carrying weapons throughout the next two hours. 

As the Back Lives Matter crowd swelled to more than 200, the number of counter-demonstrators grew as well.  By the end, a group of men who were apparently members of a motorcycle club were attempting to goad activists into heated arguments about whether or not “all lives matter.” 

Several members of Manchester’s police department stood by, generally on the edges of the crowd. 

For the duration, a small group of peacekeepers, identified by their white arm-bands, kept an eye on the counter-demonstrators, often walking and chatting with them.  At other times they placed themselves between the two groups as way to provide a buffer, diffuse tensions, and discourage the anti-racism activists from engaging in the types of heated arguments that could have easily escalated into violent conflict that would put lives at risk and interfere with the march’s purpose.

Given the recent events in Dallas and provocative statements from the city’s police chief, this was not an idle concern. 

By the time we left at about 9 pm, most of the demonstrators and counter-demonstrators had already departed.  Two activists were still arguing in a generally calm manner with a young woman carrying a large rifle.  But by then it was clear that the march had successfully created an opportunity for people to express outrage against the pattern of police killings of Black people.  Participants, many of them young, felt the strength of people coming together in a call for change.  It was loud, spirited, and peaceful, which had been the organizers’ intent. 

A few observations:

First, it was constructive for the organizers to be clear that the march was intended to be peaceful and to post guidelines on Facebook:

-if confronted by a counter protestor or violent person, remain calm and peaceful and try to keep moving

-if someone comes at you with their fists, weapon, etc, step back and call for one of the ushers to take control of the situation until law enforcement arrives

The explicit guidelines made it easier for peacekeepers to do their jobs.

Second, peacekeepers demonstrated several techniques that proved to be effective. 

– Talk one-on-one with people who appear hostile.  Introduce yourself.  Try to make a human connection.  Keep them busy talking to you. 

– Remind activists that the purpose of the action is best served by refusing to take the bait from hostile counter-demonstrators looking for a fight. 

– Stay calm and help others do the same.

In a Facebook post after the march, Alex Fried reflected on peacekeeper training he had received several years ago.  “I’ve never had to use the skills I gained in that training until tonight,” he wrote.  “I went up to one of them and introduced myself. I kept my hands open and in front of me at all times. We shook hands and spent the march together. I talked with him about his life, his political opinions, his childhood growing up in NH, and his job working for a weapons manufacturer. As much as possible we kept the armed protesters separate from the march.”

I’ve seen plenty of counter-demonstrators over the years, but last night is the first time I’ve seen them show up with weapons.  If that’s a sign of things to come, let’s get more peacekeepers trained.  

 

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Business is Booming

Projections for slow growth in US government spending on military weapons are sending firms looking across the border for new markets. And our government is ready to help them peddle “aerospace and defense” products all over the globe.

It’s not just the federal government getting behind the global arms trade. What Dwight Eisenhower called the “military industrial complex” reaches into state economic development offices, at least in New Hampshire. That’s one of my takeaways from the second annual New Hampshire Aerospace and Defense Conference, which drew about 200 people to the Radisson in Manchester on June 1.

Perhaps I should not be surprised. After all, the state’s largest industrial employer is Jeff Rose_001 BAE, a British firm that was the Pentagon’s third largest contractor last year. And the state’s Department of Resources and Economic Development (DRED) is headed by Jeff Rose, who worked as director of public affairs for BAE Electronic Systems prior to entering state service and who served as one of the conference’s opening speakers.

Rose’s department, through the Division of Economic Development, hosted the conference in partnership with the NH Manufacturing Extension Partnership, a private group that happens to be housed at the DRED office on Pembroke Road in Concord.

Federal officials, both elected and appointed, were there, too. The keynote speaker was Kenneth Hyatt, Deputy Under Secretary for International Trade at the US Department of Commerce, who said he had recently attended a meeting of the Aerospace Industries Association, the biggest lobbying group for firms that sell missiles, bombers, and other weapons. They were talking about “flat or declining defense sales in the US,” he said, and that’s why “the US government needs to support exports.”

It’s a “competitive mandate that you’ve got to export,” Hyatt advised.

Kling’s comments were reinforced later in the day by Paul Kling, Deputy VP for Operations and Supplier Partnerships at BAE, who said, “Keep your eyes open to the world.”

New Hampshire’s Congressional delegation stands at the ready to help.

20160601_082304-1_resized “You have to gain access to new markets around the world,” Senator Jeanne Shaheen said via a video shown at the opening session. “Don’t hesitate to reach out to me,” she stressed.

“I will do everything I can to make sure New Hampshire’s aerospace and defense industry continues to be successful … in the global marketplace,” pledged Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster, also via video.

Senator Kelly Ayotte, who was there in person, said she was working on making it20160601_082559-1_resized “easier and more efficient” to sell products overseas, a top level demand of arms traders held back by government regulations that require them to jump through various hoops before their products can reach foreign markets.

“If there is anything you need from us, do not hesitate to reach out,” Congressman Frank Guinta offered.

“Opportunities for Aerospace and Defense Products, Technologies and Services in the International Marketplace” was the conference theme. The opportunities are abundant, explained Diane Janeway, who spent 30 years at Northrup Grumman and now works on market forecasts at Jane’s IHS. “Global defense spending will increase as perceived threats to stability grow in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East,” she projected.

According to Janeway, growth in Russia’s military spending will end due to fiscal realities, presumably drops in the price of petroleum. And China’s rapid growth in military spending will slow to single digits. But NATO spending is trending upward, she said, and overall, “the global aerospace and defense industry has a solid future.”

Granted, the industry is not all about armaments. But little distinction was made by conference speakers.

Camilo Gonzalez, Senior Regional Commercial Specialist with the US and Foreign Commercial Service in Bogota, Colombia, expressed hope for that country’s peace process, but reassured listeners that ongoing civil strife still requires “a lot of government spending in the defense sector.”

“There’s a lot of helicopters,” he said, pointing out that the billions of dollars in US aid to the Colombian government to fight the FARC insurgents was “a big plus for you guys.” Not only that, but “all these aircraft are being shot at on a daily basis, so there’s a lot of parts needed,” Gonzalez explained. War means market opportunities.

For BAE, Jeff Rose’s former employer, nearly 93% of its revenue came from the military sector in 2015.

That military sales might pose special risks seemed to be of little concern. In a session called “Global Markets: the Big Picture,” I asked Diane Janeway and Scott 20160601_074659_resized

Kennedy, an official with the US Department of Commerce, about a recent decision by the Obama administration to cut off sales of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia. “It’s the first concrete step the United States has taken to demonstrate its unease with the Saudi bombing campaign that human rights activists say has killed and injured hundreds of Yemeni civilians, many of them children,” Foreign Policy reported on May 27. The decision will have a significant impact on Textron, which has sold millions of dollars’ worth of cluster bombs to the Saudi government.

Do staff in Kennedy’s office at the International Trade Administration advise US businesses to watch the human records of countries where they are considering doing business? Nope. Human rights “is a State Department angle,” Kennedy responded.

Do forecasters need to understand the downside risks that revelations of human rights abuses might affect markets? Apparently not, based on Janeway’s answer. “That’s nice that the Obama Administration did that, but who are they going to get them from, somebody else? I understand if you don’t want people bombing Yemen but military balance is the name of the game.”

After all, she said, “Saudi is still one of our allies whether we like it or not.”

A lunchtime conversation with a manager of a Connecticut firm which services machine shops in the aerospace industry was revealing. He’d love to get contracts with firms that build components for the superconducting supercollider, he said. But he’ll take contracts working on components of cluster bombs or nuclear triggers if that’s where the business is.

And business is booming.

[The Concord Monitor published this on May 8, 2016.]

[In the original published version of this story, I confused two interactions that Erin Placey had with Senator Barack Obama in 2007.  This is the revised, corrected version.]

News that President Barack Obama is considering a trip to Hiroshima brought back memories of meeting him on his first trip to Concord, early in his presidential campaign. Given a heads-up that the Illinois Senator was headed for the Eagle Square Deli, colleagues and I went there in time to order lunch, find a table, and wait for his still small entourage.

Obama worked the room, escorted by Ann McLane Kuster, then a local attorney, now our Representative in Congress. When he reached our table I asked the Senator a critical question about “free trade” agreements, but that’s a story for another day.

As Kuster was trying to get him to the next table, Erin Placey, my 24-year old colleague, grabbed Obama’s hand for a shake. Once she had his attention, Erin said she wanted to know if Obama would pursue the abolition of nuclear weapons should he become president.

Obama responded quickly that he had dedicated considerable attention to halting nuclear proliferation, but Erin was not satisfied.

“Under Article 6 of the Non Proliferation Treaty,” she said in no uncertain terms, “we are obligated to work for the elimination of all nuclear weapons.”

The former law professor was a bit taken aback by Erin’s directness and the specificity of her statement.   He let on that he needed to look into it more deeply.

Look into it he did.

Six months after meeting Erin Placey in Concord, Barack Obama delivered a speech at DePaul University where he pledged, “Here’s what I’ll say as president: America seeks a world in which there are no nuclear weapons.”

Five days later, Erin Placey saw Obama again at an apple orchard campaign stop in Londonderry, New Hampshire.   By then, she had been to Hiroshima and Nagasaki as a delegate to the World Conference on Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs. There, she met peace activists from all over the world, including several “Hibakusha,” as the survivors of the atomic blasts are known in Japan. The Hibakusha, dwindling in numbers as the years pass, are the moral leaders of a movement that demands nuclear weapons must never be used again and must be abolished.

For Erin, who grew up in southern Maine with family members employed at the local nuclear submarine base, the trip had a profound effect.

“Thank you so much for your comments at DePaul, and also for your comments about applying and adhering to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty,” she told Obama in Londonderry. She continued to say how moved she had been by meeting with Hibakusha and learning first-hand about “the horrible atrocities that they went through.”

After taking office as president, Obama still seemed to be paying attention and took his nuclear-free vision to the world stage. In a much-heralded speech in Prague, Obama told the world, “as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act. We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, but we can lead it, we can start it. So today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”

Despite a promising start, the president has not lived up to his stated commitment. He did complete negotiations and won ratification of the New START Treaty, which achieved modest reductions in U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons. He initiated a series of “nuclear security” summits aimed at lessening nuclear dangers. And against serious political odds he reached a deal with Iran that can prevent another country from joining the nuclear “club.”

But instead of continuing on the path toward “a world without nuclear weapons,” his administration is now backing a trillion dollar plan for an entirely new generation of nuclear warheads, along with new bombers, submarines, and missiles that could deliver them to targets across the globe. “When Obama stopped pushing his nuclear policies in 2011 (save for Iran), the nuclear-industrial complex took over,” Joseph Cirincione of the Ploughshares Fund commented in a recent article.

Speaking recently at MIT, former Secretary of Defense William Perry said, “The danger of a nuclear catastrophe is higher today than at any time during the Cold War.”

“It may not be too late,” Cirincione says. “Before a new arms race begins in earnest, Obama could move to delay or cancel some of the new weapons, notably the new nuclear cruise missile and the new ICBM, as former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry urges. There is no shortage of other recommendations. But he will have to be bold, as bold has he was at the beginning of his presidency.”

And that brings us back to Erin Placey.

Erin still wants Obama to have an experience like the one she had in Hiroshima ten years ago. “Don’t just visit ground zero,” she wants to tell him. “Spend time with the people. Make time to meet publicly and privately with the A-bomb survivors, the Hibakusha. Allow your soul to be moved by their life-long unwavering commitment to ensuring that this level of human atrocity never happens again.”

“Allow your resolve to be strengthened by theirs and use your remaining time in office to get us back on the path toward a nuclear free world,” Erin advises.

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