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Investing in food, not fighter jets, for security
Mar. 07, 2014
By Joe Moran
A child of the “Cold War,” I grew up less than half a mile from where Republic Aviation Corporation was building and testing the Air Force’s F-105 Thunderchief fighter-bomber. When the jets took off we would stand looking straight up into the back of their engines watching the orange glow of the afterburners as the planes rocketed into the blue. In later versions of the aircraft we could hear the deafening, short, test bursts of their mounted 20mm, exploding shell, revolving cannons.
I was told by my father who worked there that this modern fighter would make America safe against the Communists. Those were the 1950s and 1960s.
Today, six decades later, we are again manufacturing a new generation of fighter planes, equipped with the latest computerized “cloaking” and targeting technologies.
The new aircraft is the F-35 Joint Strike fighter jet, and we are building 2,457 at an average production cost of $137 million a plane. It will cost $1.1 trillion on top of that to operate and sustain them (Pentagon report to Congress).
There is a feeling of deja-vu here, and it comes from the fact we seem incapable of thinking outside of defense paradigms in three critical areas: Who are our current enemies? In what does “security” consist? How can we best achieve it?
Some nostalgic politicians and pundits are fond of lauding late President Ronald Reagan — a former Hollywood actor who frequently portrayed military characters in his movies — for his national security bravado in facing off with the Soviet Union, for his bold “Star Wars” plan and for his oft-quoted, macho challenge: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
An earlier Republican president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, however — who, unlike his actor-turned-president successor, possessed bona fide military credentials — sounded a much more sober note just three months into his own presidency.
In an address to the National Association of Newspaper Editors on April 6, 1953, the decorated-general-turned-President did not mince words: “Every gun made, every warship launched, represents, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed… We pay for a single fighter plane with half a million bushels of wheat…This is not a way of life, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.”
Read more here.
February 5th, 2014
Coping with the Zimmerman Verdict, Through Letters from my Incarcerated Father
By Crystal Hayes
(We are reposting this essay in honor of Trayvon Martin’s birthday on Feb 5th.)
The first thing I wanted to do when I heard that George Zimmerman was going to walk free and clear in the killing of Trayvon Martin (besides scream, weep, and curl in a ball) was talk to my father.
I knew he would have some words of wisdom and truth to share about the pain and sense of betrayal I was feeling. Unfortunately, instead of talking to him I had to look to his letters from prison for comfort and support. As I sat with years of letters all over my living room floor, the painful irony of the moment had not escaped me. I couldn’t deal with my pain about the killing of black menwithout first dealing with my pain about the incarceration of black men.
I was forced to see how the system that produced Trayvon’s death, and the verdict that set his killer free, colludes with the system that stole my father. As a mother of a 21 year old college senior, my body ran cold as I dealt with the cruel reality that far too many Black mothers like Sybrina Fulton will need a prison or funeral fund before they need a college fund. It was a long hard night.
Drawing strength from years-old letters
I must have re-read more than a dozen of my father’s letters that night, but I eventually found just what I needed. As I poured through years of old letters, I was reminded that my father often signed his letters to me with the revolutionary rallying cry from Mozambique’s movement for independence: “A Luta Continua” — Portuguese for “the struggle continues.” I haven’t talked to my father in a long time, but his words and his message about freedom struggles meant everything to me after the verdict.
My father, Robert ‘Seth’ Hayes, is a former Black Panther Party member and political prisoner. He’s been incarcerated for 40 years — nearly my entire life. I don’t think I ever really paid much attention to those words before now, but there they are reminders to me that our fight for freedom and justice is never over.
His words were like a wave of tough love and hugs that pushed me to think critically past my pain. My father was always good with helping me to find my own power. Like all the other “behind the wall” parental lessons I’ve learned about life from him, this one felt special and particularly powerful in a moment when I was feeling extremely demoralized and helpless. His letters reminded me that we all have a responsibility to do something productive and meaningful about the senseless killing of thousands of Trayvon Martins and the entire system that refused to hold their killers accountable.
I know my father’s letters are the only reason I am even here today. Through my father’s example I grew up confident knowing that I am built to overcome struggle; and I have. I am so grateful that he drilled into my head, that no matter the challenges headed my way—and there have been plenty and will be plenty more—that what really defines our lives and gives us meaning is our willingness to push hard past our fear and fight for the project of justice and freedom in this country. He’s done this better than anyone I know, and if I’ve learned nothing else by watching his tireless fight over the past 40 years its that fear is more dangerous than any prison and some are living in their own cages everyday.
His life and example helps me to cope with my sadness about a world that discards black and brown children so fast that there’s no time to even mourn, or remember their names, before it happens again. I keep reminding myself that no matter how painful it is right now, that we’re “built and equipped” to struggle with it and make it through together. I’ve learned how to push past my rage, come face-to-face with evil, and do so with my humanity intact. Transforming ourselves, and our communities into a place where are children are protected and not policed depends on it.
This is real revolution that black and brown children fight everyday when they struggle to become more than the despised images that they see reflected at them in a world that denies all of their goodness and complex humanity. This is not the world my father sacrificed 40 years in prison for without his family, and it’s not the world we should settle for either.
We can do better
We don’t have to live like this. We can do better, but we definitely won’t get there unless we’re willing to struggle for it and this means a willingness to talk honestly and openly about race, racial bias, and the systems that perpetuate and support it. As President Obama said today, in an unplanned, televised discussion of the Trayvon Martin verdict, we have a very long history of racial wounds and trauma in this country that keeps scabbing over but never truly heals.
If we don’t start having substantive courageous conversations about systemic racism and change our antiquated thinking that still sees Black men as bogeymen and monsters, nothing will change. The fight my father’s generation fought was a racial battle that looks a little different today. We have to stop trying to use those same tools and thinking to address 21st century racial issues.
This is the work of my generation. Future racial justice workers would see the absurdity in a system that hold someone more accountable for a racial slur than it would for killing another human being. It would also change our laws to reflect implicit racial bias not just conscious intent.
As a social justice activist and college educator, when I teach or run workshops on racial justice one of the first things that I do is talk about unconscious bias. In fact, in my social justice class, one of the first assignments I give my students is the Harvard Implicit Association Test or AIT, which measures our subconscious feelings and thoughts. The AIT data is pretty clear on racial bias. More than 70 percent of whites and 40 percent of African-Americans hold anti-black racial bias. I use this test to talk about that and what it means to live in a world saturated in stereotypes, prejudice, and biases outside of our control.
It’s not easy, because we’re so conditioned to believe that someone (the boogey man) or something can only be racist when it’s an overt act that most “good” people would condemn as wrong, like using the n-word. This is how our culture can blame Trayvon Martin’s death on a hoodie while defending George Zimmerman’s action as justifiable.
I don’t know Zimmerman, but my guess is that he’s not unlike most of the country. He’s probably a regular guy who loves his family and believes that everyone should be treated “equally.” Unfortunately, the night when Zimmerman saw a black kid he didn’t know, none of this mattered. Zimmerman made a set of assumptions that led to the death of another unarmed black man.
In his own words, Trayvon was a “punk” and “up to no good.” Zimmerman, like all of us, lives in a culture that conditions us to devalue and dehumanize black lives everyday. We’re all walking around with unconscious racial biases, that when allowed to go unchecked and unexamined in a country addicted to its guns, and dangerous policies, like “stand your ground” laws it can turn even the most law abiding citizen into the monsters we condemn. The only monster to fear today is the hidden one of racial bias and it’s hiding out in our interactions, policies, politics, and practices.
My father was right. We must use our collective pain and grief to transform our communities and our culture into a world that values the complex humanity of all children and people, no matter their race, ethnicity, faith traditions, who they choose to love, or the borders they crossed to get here. The one thing I know for sure is that, if my father can continue to fight for his freedom after 40 years of being behind bars, we can all fight for the freedom to live in a racist-free world. We just have to find the moral and political will to do it.
We’ve buried and incarcerated enough black men and women. For now, the first thing I plan to do is write my father a letter to thank him for teaching me how to fight and for staying strong for the both of us even when I wanted to give up.
‘A Luta Continua’
This essay was originally published by MSNBC’s The Grio on July 20th, 2013
February 9th, 2014
Betsy Crites’ reflections on her Moral Monday arrest
Betsy Crites is a member of Durham Peace Action, and former director of NC Peace Action
After attending several “Moral Monday” protests at the NC Legislature, I finally decided to join the ranks of those who “trespass” and “fail to disperse on command.” I was by no means a ground-breaker. I may have been the 800th to face this encounter with the law while expressing disagreement with policies that punish the poor and reward the wealthy.
On top of refusing federal unemployment benefits and Medicaid to people who are economically vulnerable, our legislators are setting up obstacles to voting that will cost millions of dollars to enforce while disenfranchising those who fail to jump the additional hurdles.
Those who object to this flood of extreme legislation have sought ways to respond. The NAACP, a major force in NC ever since Rev. William Barber found his voice, has opened a dynamic but carefully managed path for our anger, “Moral Mondays.”
One branch of the path is to risk arrest as a consequence of defying the police request to leave the building where we most want to make our voices heard.
In preparation, my internal work was to understand my anger, recognizing my own failings, and cultivating feelings of compassion towards our elected leaders. They love their families and experience doubt and frustration like all of us. I value and respect them as persons. It is their policies that I object to so strongly. This central tenant of nonviolence, to separate the behavior from the person, takes practice.
During the civil disobedience and arrest, of course, those officials were nowhere in sight. Instead, my attention was focused on staying cheerful through the long hours of processing, being stoic with the pain in my handcuffed wrists, and trying to exude calm for my chatty co-arrestees. At times, I admired the professional, sometimes thoughtful treatment, and silent restraint of the police going through their paces.
The day after, I thought more about the hot dark fortress-on-wheels they called a bus, which transported us from the legislature to the detention center. The locked bus windows were reinforced with heavy metal mesh. I recalled my shock at being shackled together with six others to walk 100 feet to a waiting room.
Next we moved to “holding cells.” They were clean and had painted cement benches. On one wall was a stainless steel toilet and attached sink-fountain. The cell had large windows so if we needed to relieve ourselves it would be in full view of our cellmates and the staff in the hallways. Security measures override dignity in jailhouse architecture.
Of the 101 people arrested that Monday night, I just happened to be the last to walk through the detention center door at 11:30 p.m. During those hours, I met teachers, a school counselor, a social worker, a professor, an art gallery owner, a college student, and several retirees and grandmothers like myself. A teacher arrested with me said she could not face her students as a presumed role model if she didn’t stand up for better public schools.
One woman told me her son depends on Medicaid to get his medications for mental illness. She is unemployed. While we waited, in fact, we witnessed a red-faced barefoot woman scream and rage against her detention, frantic at being restrained. We guessed that she must be on drugs or perhaps off her medications. Families losing their jobs and their safety net have few resources to handle such problems. I fear that the punitive policies we object to will lead more people on the path to detention centers.
My own thoughts were of my three little grandchildren who will face more crowded classrooms, declining universities, and job insecurity. If they have the misfortune of ill-health and/or unemployment, their home state will not help them and will even block the federal government from helping them. If they have a learning disability or behavior disorder, their schools will have fewer staff to intervene and support them.
Those of us arrested are privileged in a way. Most are still in the middle class and have never been arrested, but we are by no means immune from the effects of this legislature’s policies.
Rev. Barber called on us to “stand our ground,” playing on the meaning of the infamous Stand Your Ground law that justified the killing of young Trayvon Martin.
I felt the power of those words. We were standing our ground out of love and concern for young Blacks, like Trayvon, who face racism every day on the streets and in the incarceration system, for teens who can’t afford college and can’t find a job, for the 500,000 poor who will be denied even the minimal healthcare of Medicaid, for the women who won’t have a choice about their own health and well-being, and more.
We were standing our ground for everyone’s children and grandchildren, and for ourselves, lest we all be swept away in the rush to regress.
MORAL MONDAY EXPERIENCE
By Barbara Clawson is a member of Alamance Peace Action
During the winter and spring, I grew increasingly frustrated with the newspaper reports of actions being taken by the NC legislature. I was disheartened when earned income tax credits for low-income families were cut, federal Medicaid funds were rejected, and unemployment insurance payments were both decreased and cut. In addition, legislation related to education, the environment, voting rights, women’s rights—the list goes on and on–followed more rapidly than I could keep up with.
In response to what was happening, I made phone calls, sent emails, and shared my concerns with others. However, it didn’t seem like enough. When I learned about the Moral Monday rallies, I attended one as soon as I could. I felt the need to join with others in making my voice heard and was grateful for the leadership provided by the NC NAACP.
On June 23, I called friends I knew were going to Raleigh the next day to ask for a ride. When they said they were going early to participate in the training session for those who wished to “exercise their constitutional rights,” i.e., get arrested, I was eager to join them.
Our experience began with a training session at a church prior to the gathering in the mall. We were given papers to sign and instructions about what would happen. This was followed by comments from Dr. Barber, NAACP president, speeches from those who would be speaking during the rally, songs, and prayer. For me, the most significant comment made by Dr. Barber was that our actions might not change the decisions made by the current legislators, but that we were forming a movement and that change would come. Having been involved in social justice issues for years, I know this to be true. Change takes time; sometimes it seems like longer than my lifetime. I also believe it is important to be faithful in doing what is right for the common good regardless of the outcome rather than to focus on the immediate outcome which can often be discouraging.
We then boarded the bus to attend the rally. Around 6:00 the crowd was asked to split and form a path for those of us planning to go to the legislative building to walk down. I was surprised at the support expressed by people as they clapped, sang, and called out “thank you.”
As we gathered in the central area of the first floor of the building we sang, chanted the usual things, and listened to remarks by some of the participants. Eventually, the police announced that anyone not leaving the premises in two minutes would be arrested. One by one we were then handcuffed (plastic handcuffs which were uncomfortable) and led to a room downstairs. Since there were 121 of us, that was time consuming. We then had to sit with our hands cuffed behind us for what seemed like a long time. One of the participants started a variety of songs and people also began to talk with one another. Eventually they called us into another room by pairs where our belongings were put in manila envelopes and our mug shots taken. More sitting (still handcuffed) until that step was completed for everyone.
The next step in the adventure was to be transported by bus to the brand new detention center in Raleigh. I was amazed that some of the people from the rally had stayed to cheer us on as we got on the bus. When we got to the detention center, I couldn’t help but think of the money spent on that but lacking for schools, health care, etc. As we entered, the cuffs were removed and more waiting followed. I guess they were processing all of our paperwork. Police with badges saying General Assembly, Capitol Police and the Sheriff’s Office were there. Most of them were not dealing with us.
We were then divided into groups of about 8-10 people and put in holding cells which contained tiled seats built into the walls, a sink and a toilet that flushed twice an hour and was out in the open. How much dignity does that allow? Before long, we left the first holding cell, were handcuffed with metal cuffs in pairs of six to walk through a door and down a hall to another holding cell where the cuffs were removed. Following a brief wait, we were taken in small groups to the office of the magistrate. During my wait there, four people arrested for other reasons were also brought in and dealt with by someone other than the person who took care of us. Interesting to observe and sad to see a 17-year-old and two other young people.
We were called one by one to meet with the magistrate who gave us our paperwork, told us we were charged with “second degree trespass, failure to disperse on command and violating legislative building rules.” We were given a court date, released on our written promise to appear in court and were to stay away from legislative property until the final disposition of the case.
About five hours after entering the legislative building we were released in small groups. As we walked out of the Center we were greeted, once again, with clapping and shouts of “Thank You” as we made our way to meet with the lawyers who are donating their time to go to the first court appearance for us. The first group arrested made their first court appearance that day. The hearing was postponed until September. How long it will take for all of this to play out is uncertain. What the court will decide is also uncertain.
Local “Good Samaritans” then provided rides back to the church where we were again warmly greeted and fed. Kudos to the NAACP and local volunteers in Raleigh for their excellent organization of the experience. It was a positive and meaningful experience. I am grateful I had the opportunity to be a part of this movement.
AIDING AND ABETTING WAR, IGNORING THE NEEDS OF AMERICA’S POOR
By Khalilah Sabra
In the midst of a seeming continual swarm of uncertainty sweeping the Middle East, now more than ever is the prudent time to reexamine the decades-old policies surrounding US military aid to the Middle East.
In fiscal year 2011, the Obama administration requested from Congress $7.1 billion in foreign aid for distribution in the Middle East. In the fiscal year 2012, the Obama Administration requested even more.
Approximately $3b. was designated as military financing for Israel, while over $4b. was earmarked as economic and military financing for Arab countries – countries whose military programs are in large part designed to prepare for potential hostilities with Israel.
Egypt is now strafed with violence since conflict erupted when Egypt’s top general overthrew Egypt’s first democratically elected president in June 2012. Any aid distributed for “peaceful” co-existence should be viewed as highly suspect. Still, Egypt remains the single largest beneficiary among Arab countries, having been allocated $1.58b. last year alone.
The conventional wisdom in US foreign policy circles is that these massive financial gifts are beneficial to both the United States and the recipient countries. In fact, the policy is deemed so important that advocates contend it must be maintained even in the face of a $16 trillion national debt and a $1t. yearly budget deficit.
But as is often the case with government funding programs, US financial aid to the Middle East has good intentions with bad results.
Most fundamentally, US military aid to the Middle East harms Israeli and regional interests by fueling an arms race that threatens to spiral out of control.
Recent Israeli-produced estimates reveal that for every dollar in US aid received by Egypt, Israel must spend between $1.60 and $2.10 to maintain its qualitative military edge.
Since Israel is usually granted $1.50 for every $1 in aid to Egypt, each American dollar given to Egypt costs Israel between 10 and 64 cents out of its own pocket.
Of course, the net cost to Israel of US aid increases further when one takes into account the additional $1.5b. in economic and military aid transferred each year to Jordan, Lebanon and the Palestinians. Since aid is well known to be fungible, it makes little difference if US assistance is packaged as economic or military aid in the congressional accounting books but only what recipients end up doing with the money – something far more difficult to regulate.
The implications of these sobering estimates are clear.
Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and the Palestinians would clearly find it difficult to maintain the same level of military might without US aid.
Without such funding, therefore, Israel would be able to significantly downsize its military capabilities and invest less of its own money defending against military threats which are remarkably financed by her closest ally.
An oft-heard counter-argument is that China or Russia would step in to fill the void if the US ceased providing funds to Arab countries in the region. However, China and Russia were always free to top up US aid to Egypt so that it reached parity with the higher amount provided to Israel. Yet, these countries never found it in their interest to do so.
The growth of the debt in the last three decades certainly has been a bipartisan enterprise, with only Clinton reducing debt as a percentage of the U.S. economy.
Why Are We Funding Foreign Military Power and Ignoring Homegrown Poverty?
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2011 Current Population Report, 46.2 million Americans are considered impoverished – 15 percent of the country’s population. Approximately 16.4 million American children – 22 percent of the population younger than 18 – live in poverty. The rate for people 65 and older is 8.7 percent.
Among the most impoverished are:
Those living in female-headed households with no husband present (31.2 percent).
Young adults without a high school diploma (31 percent overall; 43 percent for blacks).
Those living in a family whose head is unemployed (32.9 percent).
Minorities (27.6 percent for blacks).
Measuring the extent of poverty does nothing to ameliorate the lives of the poor, but compiling and understanding poverty statistics is essential to solving, or at least addressing, the problem.
Impoverished families tend to have less education, more health problems and less access to nutritionally adequate food. They also are more likely to live in high-crime areas.
The majority of Americans said they favor cutting U.S. foreign aid, but more than 6 in 10 opposed cuts to education, Social Security, and Medicare. How do we get out leaders to follow the people’s will. The Defense Department long ago realized that closing specific military bases is difficult because local politicians always push to keep their area’s bases open. This realization led to the creation of a special commission that recommends base closures without directly involving Congress — an idea that may need to be replicated to achieve broader government spending cuts, particularly in the area of military spending!
Supporting Talent, Not Terror!
The United States spends far more than any other country on defense and security. Since 2001, the base defense budget has soared from $287 billion to $530 billion — and that’s before accounting for the primary costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. But now that those wars are ending and austerity is back in vogue, the Pentagon will have to start tightening its belt in 2014 and beyond. In case they haven’t noticed, public education budgets are being cut to the extremes by the state and federal government. Some of our best young, talented teachers are being furloughed, and some of our extremely worthwhile programs are being cut from the curriculum.Public universities nationwide are facing challenging decisions in response to budget cuts. In the current economic climate, university administrators must consider the long-term implications of their decisions. These decisions will greatly impact the future of students, the institutions they attend and the quality of education they provide.
The last place budget cuts should be made is in education. Education is the most important part of our society. Without it, we wouldn’t have a society altogether. Communities need to come together to stand against any more cuts to education in order to save our kids from struggling once they become adults.
A revamping of the federal budget to increase instead of decrease the money going toward education is what we need. If we want our children to be successful enough to take care of themselves, they need the best possible education.The lack of a quality education will directly lead to increases in crime, poverty, drug use — the list goes on and on.
We need to get our priorities straight and stop thinking about how one nation can achieve the capacity to destroy another. This generation is going to be the best, but only if we plan for it now by supporting talent, not terror.
Khalilah Sabra is Director of the Muslim American Society Immigrant Justice Center, the author of An Unordinary Death… The life of a Palestinian, and is a member of the NC Peace Action Board of Directors.
Notes from Veterans For Peace Madison Convention
By John Heuer
In early 2011, pro-democracy activists occupied the Wisconsin Capitol to protest the radical assault on labor rights by Governor Scott Walker. After they were expelled by police, activists launched a noon weekday protest sing in the Capitol Rotunda. I learned about these protests from press reports, and from my cousin Gabby, who works at the U. Wisconsin Law School. Having participated in several Moral Monday protests at the NC Legislature in Raleigh, including a May 20 arrest for, among other things, singing in the Legislative Building Rotunda, I was excited by the prospect of attending the 2013 Veterans For Peace National Convention in Madison, August 7–11.
This was my 6th convention, and my first as a member of our national board of directors. During the lunch break from our day long board meeting on Wednesday, we walked the 2 blocks from the Madison Concourse Hotel to the Capital, and joined in the noon day sing.
When we arrived in Madison on August 6, we were cautioned that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker had issued orders that tourists could be subject to arrest for taking photographs of protesting singers. In this topsy turvy world, it is more than a little ironic that state and federal authorities here in the US mimic the repressive practices of the old Soviet Union KGB, while today, Russia grants asylum to American whistleblower Edward Snowden.
On Aug 7, dozens of veterans and others braved Governor Walker’s threats and joined in the Rotunda sing.
The Solidarity Singers have produced a songbook with some 40 songs, traditional songs with updated lyrics to reflect the Wisconsin governor’s war on women, children and working people. Coming from Moral Mondays in Raleigh, I felt right at home, especially since the Madison Raging Grannies, like our own Triangle Grannies, helped lead the singing.
Unlike Raleigh’s Moral Mondays, the Wisconsin Capitol Police did not warn protestors that a failure to disperse would result in mass arrests. Rather, a phalanx of police men and women knifed through the crowd and selected a few protestors, including our VFP treasurer, Mike Hearrington, to be handcuffed and led away to the police station under arrest.
The spirit of resistance and protest is still strong in Madison, and Wisconsinites have been heartened to learn of the Moral Monday protests in North Carolina. In fact, it was difficult to find anyone attending our national convention who had not heard about, and been inspired by the North Carolina protest movement. It is no small coincidence that this year’s convention was held in Madison, and that the 2014 VFP convention will be held in North Carolina, July 23—26 in Asheville, hosted by VFP Chapter 099 representing western NC. The conference planning committee is hoping that our NC NAACP Conference President, Rev. William Barber, will accept our invitation to be the keynote speaker during our 2014 Veterans For Peace Convention. Rev. Barber’s pleas for fairness, to establish justice, and to promote the general welfare, are aligned with Veterans For Peace and Peace Action’s missions to build a culture of peace.
The Connecticut state government is showing us the way, in establishing a commission to convert the economy of Connecticut from being focused on military contracts, to a productive civilian economy based on job creation and building sustainable energy generation.
In North Carolina, most of our military infrastructure is concentrated in large Army and Marine bases. We need to establish collaboration with base commanders and local communities to plan for the eventual conversion of our military bases for productive civilian purposes of agriculture, education, health care, housing, and renewable energy generation.
Our military has contingency plans for war in every conceivable theater world-wide. But we have no plan for peace. We need to team up with local base commanders, community leaders, state and federal officials, to begin the long overdue process of planning for peace. If we don’t believe that peace is possible, then we will condemn future generations to a world that knows no peace.
John Heuer is Director of NC Peace Action and serves on the national Board of Directors of Veterans For Peace
September 6, 2013
Open Letter to Representative Price
Dear Representative Price
Reports of chemical warfare being waged in Syria are troubling, as are reports of tens of thousands who have perished in the civil war, which has produced millions of refugees in the greatest humanitarian crisis since the US invasion of Iraq. Even more troubling are statements from President Obama, beginning over a year ago, that Syrian President Assad must step down from the Syrian government. By what right does a US president have to order another nation’s president to resign? And by what right does the US government have, with or without Congressional approval, to make war on a nation that has neither threatened nor attacked us?
President Obama has asserted that the Syrian government is responsible for chemical attacks on its citizens. But after fraudulent claims of WMD to justify the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the US bears a very heavy burden of proof in this regard, a burden as yet unmet by a reliable and certifiable trail of evidence.
It is implausible that the Syrian government would deploy chemical weapons once President Obama declared a “red line” which would trigger US military reprisals for such actions. More plausible (and there have been numerous reports to support this theory) is that rebel forces in Syria used chemical weapons in order to bring the US to intercede on their behalf.
And who are these rebel forces? Can they be trusted as much as we trusted the Mujahadeen we recruited to expel the Soviets from Afghanistan, only to see al Qaeda emerge to attack its next rival, the United States?
If we attack Syria we will forfeit future opportunities to engage in diplomatic efforts to arrive at a political resolution of this tragic conflict, while making the current humanitarian crisis worse.
On the other hand, if we call for international investigation and adjudication of allegations of chemical weapons use, in accordance with international laws and treaties, we would enhance our diplomatic leverage to encourage a political resolution to the conflict.
If we focus our resources on addressing the refugee crisis, we would demonstrate true devotion to our stated “responsibility to protect” vulnerable populations. US military intervention cannot solve the Syrian conflict. But US humanitarian intervention is desperately needed to relieve the suffering of refugees.
NC Peace Action
Veterans For Peace
Enclosure: Dr. Lawrence Wittner, The Syrian Problem – and an International Solution
History News Network, September 4, 2013
The Syrian Problem – and an International Solution
By Lawrence S. Wittner
Let us consider the worst: that, in violation of the 1925 Geneva Protocol and the subsequent Chemical Weapons Convention, the Syrian government has used chemical weapons to massacre large numbers of people. If true, that is a real problem, for it is not only a dastardly act, but a clear violation of international law that, if left unopposed, will encourage further use of these abhorrent weapons.
But will the U.S. government’s lobbing cruise missiles into Syria provide a solution to the problem? That seems unlikely, for that action will not topple the Syrian government, eliminate that regime’s large chemical weapons stockpile, or hasten an end to the brutal Syrian civil war which provided (and still provides) the context for their use. Indeed, unilateral U.S. military action seems likely to add to the bloodshed in Syria, worsen U.S. relations with the Syrian regime’s major arms supplier and defender (Russia), and further inflame the volatile Middle East. Once again, the U.S. government will be acting like a Wild West vigilante and will face very dangerous consequences.
In recent decades, many people around the world have grown accustomed to seeing the United States behave like a trigger-happy nation, intervening militarily whenever its officials feel U.S. “national interests” are threatened. Rallying around the flag, many Americans have come to perceive the United States as a uniquely virtuous country — the savior of the world or, at least, the world’s policeman. At the same time, many other people, often in foreign lands, have concluded that the United States is the world’s bully.
But however one views the unilateral employment of U.S. military power, it is unsustainable. No nation has sufficient worldwide credibility or resources to rule the world. Despite the demagogic, flag-waving ranting of many cynical U.S. politicians and pundits, increasing numbers of Americans realize this and, consequently, are willing to pass along global responsibility and burdens to a global organization.
For better or worse, that global organization is the United Nations, to which the nations of the world (including the United States) have granted the formal authority for enforcing international law. In response to the international anarchy and vast destruction of World War II, the United Nations came out of the war with the official goal of providing the world with some degree of governance, especially in relation to matters of war and peace. Thus, the United Nations is the organization that should be calling the tune in Syria — not only responding to the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons, but facilitating an end to Syria’s terrible civil war, which has expanded into a regional conflict.
Yes, the United Nations is pathetically weak, largely because, in the post-1945 era, the “great powers” have clung greedily to their bloated national prerogatives on the world scene. Crippled by this very limited support to it from the major military-industrial powers, the United Nations has all too often been unable to enforce international law or to carry out the many other tasks of a world organization. But it does have worldwide credibility and an internationally-recognized voice that individual governments cannot entirely ignore. In addition, if the major powers threw their support behind a strengthening of the United Nations, that organization could become a very important force for disarmament and peace.
In the Syrian situation, for example — as one of the world’s oldest peace organizations, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, has proposed — U.N. inspectors could be empowered to complete their investigation of whether chemical weapons were used and, then, to determine who used them. Meanwhile, a U.N. Security Council resolution could be sought to secure the turnover to the United Nations of any chemical weapons in possession of the warring parties. The Russian government, although a strong supporter of the Syrian regime, might well agree to this, as it has long supported prohibiting the use of chemical weapons. Furthermore, the Security Council could refer the issue of chemical weapons use to the International Criminal Court, which could further investigate and indict the perpetrators. At the same time, the United Nations could convene a peace conference that would bring together representatives of all groups on the ground, countries in the region, and the United States and Russia to negotiate a ceasefire and a political resolution to the bloody Syrian conflict.
Would this kind international approach work? Perhaps so; perhaps not. But it seems at least as promising a route toward the enforcement of international law and the implementation of a peaceful settlement to the war in Syria as simply raining more bombs upon that nation. And it would be considerably less destructive. Finally, it is the kind of approach to which the nations of the world have at least given lip service — unlike a military attack upon Syria without U.N. authorization, which would itself be a violation of international law.
Of course, this sort of international approach would require that nations, particularly the major powers, stop their military meddling in other lands and turn over a bit of their precious sovereignty to the United Nations, as they had promised to do when creating it back in 1945. But a more peaceful, better-governed world would be well worth that price, wouldn’t it?
Dr. Lawrence Wittner (http://lawrenceswittner.com) is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany.
October 28, 2013 News & Observer
US embargo on Cuba must end
By Anne Cassebaum
When I recently visited Cuba on a Witness for Peace people-to-people tour, I had my own share of predictable expectations from salsa and jazz to palm trees and smiles. All verified, though some smiles were muted as we arrived on the anniversary of the Bay of Pigs invasion with a hunger strike by U.S. prisoners underway at Guantanamo.
To visit Cuba is to face the brutal contradictions of the American empire. It is to love one’s country and want badly to right it so our principles shape our policies. In the case of Cuba, our policies were worse than I thought.
I learned that in the 1990s, during what Cubans call the Special Period, Cubans lost an average of 10 pounds per person. The collapse of their trading partner, the Soviet Union, also brought down their oil-driven agriculture, and the U.S. responded by tightening a trade embargo imposed decades earlier to sink their economy and Fidel Castro.
On Tuesday, the Cuban government will ask the United Nations to condemn the embargo. Each year, we get only one or two needy allies to join us in backing the embargo. The vote last year was 188-3. Why do we still maintain it?
As the representative at the U.S. Embassy in Havana explained to our group: “These things have a life of their own.” If you’re thinking there is no U.S. Embassy in Havana, that’s technically correct. There is, however, a seven-story building on Havana Bay, a Swiss embassy with no Swiss in it, where our Interests Section is lodged, displaying U.S. power. In answer, a mass of Cuban flags rises as high as the embassy and rip and roar in the gulf wind.
There we got confirmation that Americans and Cubans want to visit and trade. About 400,000 Americans visited Cuba last year legally, and the U.S. is Cuba’s sixth-largest trading partner (some say fourth) despite the embargo that penalizes others who trade with Cuba.
Our embassy representative spoke dismissively of Cuba as having a mid-size U.S. city’s economy while celebrating U.S. economic and military force. However, the people in the room cared more about America as a force for justice. For us, the most American thing one can do is work for what Cubans want: an end to the embargo, a return of Guantanamo, their deepest harbor, and normalized relations.
Our nations stand to learn from each other.Cuba’s struggle is inspiring. Faced with the loss of oil and chemical fertilizers in the 1990s, farmers, professors and the government made strides in organic farming that are noted the world over. While North Carolina rejects federal medical funds for 500,000 low-income people, Cuba’s medicare-for-all puts the country ahead of the U.S. in health results. Excellent and free university education makes their technicians in science, medicine and agriculture valued throughout South America. A food coupon system secures 10 days of meals for each Cuban.
Some would be troubled by the slow email and dearth of malls, commercials and stores. There is a wealth gap that may widen as dozens of categories of businesses opened for private enterprise. Our youthful Cuban guide longed, like others, for America’s consumer culture that his father had disappeared into. That was until he served in Nicaragua and saw the unaddressed poverty there; then he said he understood the Cuban Revolution.
We spoke also with a farmer who enjoys a simple, thriving life, his sons living on adjacent fields. He recalled for us the Batista years with quotas on the tobacco sharecroppers could sell. His father had to sell their surplus to the landowner who resold it for four times more, right before their eyes.
Despite their poverty, Cubans are working together for a society where everyone matters and resources are well used. Meanwhile in America, the world’s richest nation, the few hoard wealth, and possibilities for the vast majority shrink as resources are squandered. We need not fear a successful Cuba – unless we are afraid of rediscovering American values or addressing the excesses of capitalism.
With so much to gain through trade and exchange, why don’t we normalize relations with Cuba and end the embargo? Let’s agree with the rest of the world today when it votes once again to condemn the U.S. embargo.
Anne Cassebaum is an associate professor emerita at Elon University.
Read more here.
By Anne Cassbaum
To the Editor:
Your editorial last week suggested that the Board of Education should not even discuss a Resolution to the President and Congress to move money from the Pentagon to local needs.
Yet this year 17 teachers and 35 teachers’ assistants positions were lost because of budget cuts; federal cuts of $5.4 million played a role in this. Problem solving demands that we address the causes of our underfunded schools where teachers’ salaries stagnate even as they spend more on school supplies. One primary cause of this local budget crisis is excessive military spending which this year gets 57% of the discretionary federal budget.
Is this the Board’s business? Yes, because Pentagon spending further affects cuts in state and local budgets. The US Conference of Mayors does not consider Pentagon matters their business either, normally. It had been 40 years since they passed a resolution about war spending; however, in 2011 and again in 2012 and 2013, they called on Congress and the President to bring the war dollars home because their communities’ needs could not be met otherwise. Their Resolution spawned the Bring the War Dollars Home national campaign which has been taken up by Peace Action, America’s largest peace group, and by New Priorities.
Another organization, National Priorities, which wants to help Americans understand the budget, estimates that if the FY 2014 Defense Department budget were reduced by just 10% and that money redirected to education, Alamance County’s share could pay for all of the following: 91 more elementary school teachers, 634 new openings in Head Start, and 883 Pell Grants of $5550 for students. In other words, more teachers, programs, and some raises and school supplies.
Far from being a left wing or partisan issue, there are those both on the Right and Left who want Pentagon spending and military actions overseas reduced. Dick Armey, Ron Paul and Walter Jones, hardly left wingers, are among them.
In their FY 2014 proposed budget, the Administration requested more funds for Iraq and Afghanistan [$79.4 billion] than for all federal education programs [$65 billion]. Surely, the Board of Education is entitled to tell them we need to reconsider our priorities. Strong schools are vital to the welfare of our children and our democracy.
Honduras: Presidential Pre-election Observations
By Kim Porter
More than four years ago there was a coup in Honduras. An unofficial government was put in power. Last year there were primary elections for the next Presidential elections. On November 25th of this year, the Presidency is up for grabs again. But, there are many differences in the Honduras of four years ago and today.
Honduras has the highest homicide rates in the world (massacres, killings, and on-going systemic targeting of political opponents and social activists). Gross human rights abuses are rampant and intimidation is at every corner. Karen Spring, of Rights Action, says there is a “context of violence, insecurity and apparently politically motivated killings occurring.” And all of this is happening with the United States, Canada and the European Union standing behind the present unofficial government.
Four years ago two parties dominated the government, as they have for decades. After the coup, the opposition went to the streets and demonstrated for almost a year. Then they organized a third party of educators, compesinos, unions, human rights workers, LGBTI advocates, and women’s groups – the marginalized in Honduras. A third has emerged: the LIBRE Party, challenging the present and past leadership.
With such a polarized nation, how can a safe, true election happen? Lisa Kubiske, the US Ambassador to Honduras said she wanted a “clean, credible and reliable” elections. Yet nothing tangible over the last four years has been done to encourage this to happen. In fact, candidates, campaigns and families continue to be killed or harassed.
Will the present government call off the election at the last minute, or will they allow the LIBRE win (polls show them ahead), but limit their power? Hundreds, maybe thousands of international election observers will take part in the elections. Hopefully this will provide some safety, solidarity for the voters, and a keen eye for fraud.
June 5, 2013 News & Observer
Joe Burton, Raleigh
In his speech on counterterrorism, President Obama acknowledged that drone assassinations risk “creating new enemies” (May 24 news story). We know this is not only a risk but a fact.
As frequently reported, and as the president admitted, drone strikes result in civilian casualties, including women and children. So why continue a policy that creates the very problem they are trying to solve?
The president justified drone assassinations as needed to combat terrorist “networks that pose a direct danger” and said that “right now would kill as many Americans as they could if we did not stop them first.” But why should there be such hatred for Americans? Could it be a result of two Gulf wars, 12 years of occupation in Afghanistan and Iraq, hundreds of thousands of casualties and millions displaced from their homes?
The Obama administration needs to develop a just, even-handed, non-militaristic foreign policy in the Middle East that does not favor some states over others and does not support regimes that regularly violate human rights. That would be much more likely to dissipate hatred for Americans than continued drone assassinations of suspected terrorists.
MOVE THE MONEY SPREADS
Orange County Peace Coalition launches campaign to Move the Money, Fund our Communities, Not War. Read more here.
March 21, 2013, Durham Herald Sun
The March 21 letter by G.E. Woodlief states that, “due to the nature of warfare today, we could close at least a couple of large military bases in the country without jeopardizing our national security.”
I would agree, and add that we could also close just about all, if not all, of the approximately 1,000 military bases our taxes maintain outside our country. Why are they there, if we are not trying to control other countries, i.e., function as an empire? What other country has even one military base on U.S. soil?
An article dated March 13 discussed the sequester’s effects on the Durham Housing Authority, which must now take Section 8 rental vouchers out of circulation after former clients turn them in, denying housing assistance to about 187 Durham families, reducing by 7 percent the number of vouchers in circulation and refusing them to people on its waiting list. The sequester is expected to cost DHA about $3.5 million.
So we have money for 1,000 military bases in other lands, but we don’t have money to help our neighbors keep roofs over their heads. Does this make sense? Sen. Hagel, Sen. Burr, Congress members Price and Butterfield, are you doing all you can to change this bizarre distribution of our tax dollars?
We are still the wealthiest country in the world. Why can’t we curb our insanely voracious “defense” budget, and instead house, feed, and provide health care – including mental health care – for everyone who lives here?
March 8, 2013, News & Observer
Ole R. Holsti
The deadlock between Congress and the White House has resulted in sequestration. The Department of Defense budget will share in the cuts, but that need not harm national security. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program has seen constant delays and overruns that have driven the cost per aircraft up by more than 50 percent, with a lifetime projected cost of $1.5 trillion. A Pentagon study in 2011 revealed 11 major problems. If the F-35 were vital to national security, cost considerations should take a back seat, but a 2012 Foreign Policy magazine survey of 76 top military experts rated the F-35 as the best candidate for immediate elimination. It won’t be easy to do so as prime contractor Lockheed Martin has contributed vast campaign funds to a bipartisan congressional caucus to protect the F-35. Dwight Eisenhower’s warnings about the “military-industrial complex” were very prescient.
February 25, 2013, News & Observer
Joe Burton, Raleigh
The U.S wants an “enduring presence” of up to 12,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan after 2014 to keep the Taliban in check (“Troops many stay in Afghanistan,” Feb. 23). This would prop up an admittedly corrupt government until its forces are “strong enough to hold off the Taliban.”
Meanwhile, we are using drones to assassinate suspected Taliban leaders (“U.S. drone strikes increase sharply in Afghanistan,” Feb. 23) in the belief they can be stopped if enough of them can be killed.
An analysis by the Brookings Institution, of drone attacks in Pakistan, has shown that for every militant leader killed, 10 civilians have died. What could be a better recruiting tool for the Taliban than a foreign nation that invades your country and then begins killing innocent people?
Imagine what it would be like to live in a land where you or a family member might be killed at any time of the day or night, by a drone missile aimed at a suspected Taliban leader. That is terrorism by any definition.
One thing known for certain, violence begets more violence. Using drone warfare, in an attempt to pacify Afghanistan, will be self-defeating. And keeping NATO troops in the country will not prevent that.