KC Peace Measure Wins Nearly One-Quarter of the Vote, Succeeds in Public Education

April 5, 2013

By Jane Stoever, PeaceWorks Kansas City

Kansas City, Mo., voters received a barrage of negative publicity from the “vote no” camp before the April 2 election, but 23 percent of the voters still said yes to stopping future KC financing for producing parts for nuclear weapons. The vote tally was 25,006 against and 7,559 for the measure.

“It’s a win!” said Rachel MacNair, campaign coordinator for “vote yes” proponents, after the polls closed April 2. “We’ve always said our strategy was to educate the public about the nuclear weapons parts plant, and our goal of making the plant and the nuclear weapons upgrade program more controversial has been achieved.” She said it was amazing to gain 23 percent of the vote in the face of the negative publicity from the opposition.

That publicity, focusing on jobs and national security, included three pricey mailers, robo calls from Mayor Sly James, handouts from paid workers at polls, and ads in local papers. For example, a promotional insert from Freedom Inc. in The Pitch in late March said of the ballot measure, “This is a rogue issue that was placed on the ballot by initiative petition, motivated by anti-nuclear extremists who want the United States to dispose of its nuclear weapons while other nations keep theirs.”

When, earlier, the second mailer from the “vote no” camp made the same charge, MacNair countered that peace groups are calling for multilateral, not unilateral, disarmament, and the third mailer carried revised language. However, that third mailing featured North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s threat to turn Washington, D.C., into a sea of fire—a way to call for strengthening the U.S. nuclear deterrent. Despite the fear-based mailers, many voters talked with peace activists outside the polls, and some voters said they’d vote yes because of those contacts. One voter who, on leaving the poll, said she had voted yes, was asked why. In a quiet voice, she replied, “It’s just terrible to make those weapons.”

Before election day, PeaceWorks members informed the community about the peace measure through multiple activities. KKFI community radio interviewed various proponents on four programs and played a public service announcement. KCUR, an affiliate of National Public Radio, played and replayed a segment quoting MacNair and City Councilman Scott Taylor, who opposed the measure. Local TV programs such as “Week in Review” discussed all the election issues. Although The Kansas City Star editors recommended a no vote on the measure, news reporter Lynn Horsley quoted heavily from MacNair in her story originally titled “David vs. Goliath in Measure on Weapons Manufacturing.” PeaceWorks members circulated flyers at churches, offered informational cards to “Disney on Ice” attendees and to community groups, and leafleted on sidewalks. Perhaps the most flamboyant stint was the dropping of three banners above highways 71 and 670. The banners flew a few days.

PeaceWorks committed $4,000 to the campaign as its major contributor. The opposition amassed more than $123,000, with donors including Honeywell, which manages the current and new KC plants for the National Nuclear Security Administration; J.E. Dunn Construction Co., which heads up construction for the new plant; and the Chicago law firm Richmond Breslin, home base to Kevin Breslin, lawyer for CenterPoint, the development company that worked with KC on the plan for public/private ownership of the new plant.

Ann Suellentrop of PeaceWorks shared election results with national peace leaders on behalf of the KC peace community. The American Friends Service Committee disarmament coordinator, Joseph Gerson, replied, “Thank you for all that you’ve done. Born Jewish in 1946, in many ways my frames of reference are from the Second World War and the Holocaust. It would seem that … the majority of voters in KC seem to care in the short term about their well-being but, in what Hannah Arendt once termed the ‘banality of evil,’ put jobs and comfort ahead of nuclear genocide or omnicide.”


On Inauguration/MLK Holiday, thoughts on our society’s “Triple Evils”

January 21, 2013

Lead article today on Foreign Policy in Focus. Would love your comments regarding our nation’s progress on Dr. King’s triple evils of racism, extreme materialism and militarism.

–Kevin

What Would King Say of the Obama Era?

By Kevin Martin, January 21, 2013

martin-luther-king-barack-obamaThe coincidence that the presidential inauguration should fall on Martin Luther King Day provides much food for thought. Certainly, Barack Obama’s decision to use King’s Bible for his swearing-in ceremony invites progressives to make an unflattering comparison between the two—Norman Solomon did it quite well with his piece “King: I Have a Dream. Obama: I Have a Drone.”

But beyond simply castigating the years behind us or prognosticating about the years to come, there is a broader, riper opportunity in this coincidence. Let’s challenge our society to look at how well we are addressing what King called the “giant triplets,” or the “triple evils,” of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism, which he enunciated most notably in his April 4, 1967 “Beyond Vietnam” speech, exactly one year before his murder. “When machines and computers, profit motives, and property rights are considered more important than people,” he thundered, “the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

Were King alive today, he would be astonished to see how much more exploitative our capitalist system has become. Witness the demise of American labor unions, the offshoring of middle-class jobs to low-wage countries to maximize corporate profits, the worst income inequality since the rober baron heyday of the 1920s, and our ongoing addiction to planet-destroying, unsustainable, and finite energy sources. Not coincidentally, the corporate takeover of our government—accelerated by the Supreme Court’s disastrous “Citizens United” ruling—would likely outrage King, as it ought to all Americans.

And while there certainly are some positive, glass-half-full indicators of racial harmony that we can be proud of—much higher rates of interracial marriage being a significant one, to say nothing of the reelection of America’s first black president—there are many more devastating facts that can’t be ignored. There are more black men in prison than in college, surely one of our country’s greatest shames. Wealth inequality, a more comprehensive measurement of economic health for an individual or family, is even worse for people of color than income inequality, which itself remains sky-high. Our failed policies on immigration, the war on drugs, persistent racial profiling—one could go on and on about the challenges of our deeply rooted sickness of racism.

Even President Obama’s two election victories and the visceral reaction to them are instructive. In 2012 Obama got less than 40 percent of the white vote, and in 2008 just a little more—meaning John McCain and Mitt Romney, two of the worst major party nominees in recent memory (and that’s saying something!) got a lot of votes just for being white. And the hysterical right-wing “We want our country back…” often means “…from that black guy in the White House.”

Meanwhile, most Americans remain in deep denial about the evil of militarism. By any measure, the United States is still, as King termed it in 1967, “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world,” and to further quote and appropriate King’s terrific phrase, the people of Iraq and Afghanistan must doubtless see U.S. troops as “strange liberators,” just as the Vietnamese did.

The United States is military colossus unmatched in history, spending almost as much on war and weapons as the rest of the world’s countries combined. We’re far and away the globe’s number-one arms dealer, and maintain somewhere close to 1,000 foreign military bases (even the Pentagon can’t give a precise number). For comparison’s sake, China just recently opened its first foreign base in the Indian Ocean island of Seychelles.

War has become normalized; ask anyone under the age of 20 if they can remember a time we weren’t at war.

Then there is our domestic culture of violence, which has too many manifestations to name. Our out-of-control gun violence, violence against women and LGBT persons and children, our startlingly violent movies and video games, and our incessant use of war and battle metaphors is just a start.

An extreme example of our country’s delusion about guns and violence was provided recently by Larry Ward, chairman of the “Gun Rights Appreciation Day” planned for inaugural weekend. When challenged about the irony of holding such an event on the MLK holiday weekend, Ward said he thought the event would “honor the legacy of Dr. King,” adding that if African-Americans had had guns, slavery might not have existed in this country. Brevity prevents a full deconstruction of these absurdities, but Ward evidently forgot that King was murdered with a gun.

Clearly the triple evils run deep in our society and don’t just stand alone. They are interlocking and mutually reinforcing.  U.S. military and foreign policy is manifestly racist (dating at least to the genocide of First Nations peoples), and mostly driven by corporate interests bound up in economic exploitation. Economic exploitation obviously has a strong racial component as well.

But the point of all this is not to concede defeat to King’s giant triplets—the point is to stimulate analysis, reflection, and ideas for action to address and overcome them. Racism, economic exploitation, and militarism are all human constructs, after all. We are not powerless before any of them.

For example, the Pentagon budget, while gargantuan, will soon begin to decline due to budgetary pressures and the end of the disastrous Iraq and Afghanistan wars. We can begin to rebuild by pushing for deeper cuts to Pentagon pork and putting the savings to work by investing in our communities. Moreover, creating a U.S. foreign and military policy based on widely held values of democracy, diplomacy, human rights, justice, sustainability, peace, and international cooperation—in short, a foreign policy for the global 99 percent—is not only possible; it’s the only antidote to our disease of militarism.

So as we celebrate Dr. King’s 84th birthday, let’s rededicate ourselves to building the Beloved Community he so clearly envisioned. Dismantling the triple evils and replacing them with positive structures and policies would be a great start.

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Kevin Martin has served as Executive Director of Peace Action and Peace Action Education Fund since September 4, 2001, and has worked with the organization in various capacities since 1985. Peace Action is the country’s largest peace and disarmament organization with 90,000 members nationwide.


We Won’t Be “Fiscal Stiffed!” No Deal! More information and resources for letters to the editor and op-eds

December 19, 2012

You’ve called the White House (202-456-1111) and Congress (866-426-2631) and told them “No Deal!” loud and proud, yes? No get your friends, family and colleagues to call too!

 

Okay, here is more information and resources, especially for writing letters to the editor or op-eds.

 

We at Peace Action have been meeting with labor and economic justice groups daily to share information and figure out how to respond to the current status of negotiations between the White House and Congress on sequestration and/or a “fiscal cliff deal.”.

 

Of course, the back and forth is hot and heavy, but one thing is clear. We need to exert maximum grassroots pressure to say, “No deal that cuts Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid or ends the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest. And move the money from the Pentagon to fund jobs and human needs.”

 

The  proposed $100 Billion is not nearly enough but it is a first step in the direction that is necessary to address the crisis in the economy (the real crisis of jobs and wages, not the phony fiscal crisis). While at the same time it is a missed opportunity to cut even more and change national spending priorities at a time of economic crisis.

 

And it is a mainstream idea! Check out the letter in the Green Bay Press Gazette: Cut Military Budget to Balance Budget.

 

The Duluth City Council passed a resolution on Monday night. They said military spending is hurting their economy.

 

 

Resource and background material for letters to the editor or op-eds:

 

Center for American Progress on how $100 Billion cut from the Pentagon is a “down payment” on what can and should be cut from the Pentagon budget.

 

Paul Krugman: The Deal Dilemma: how to evaluate the deal.

 

From Politica: Some Republicans OK with Defense Cuts.

 

From Alternet: 7 Shocking Ways the Military Wastes our Money


Towards a Foreign Policy for the 99%

December 18, 2012

published by Foreign Policy in Focus

Towards a Foreign Policy for the 99 Percent

By Kevin Martin, December 18, 2012

Relief, rather than elation, was probably the emotion most U.S. peace activists felt when President Barack Obama won re-election. While Obama has been very disappointing on most peace issues, Mitt Romney would have been all the worse. So what now to expect from a second Obama term?

Most likely, more of the same; anyone expecting Obama to be decidedly more pro-peace this time around is likely to be sorely dispirited. However, there is a diverse, growing peoples’ movement in the United States linking human and environmental needs with a demand to end our wars and liberate the vast resources they consume. This, combined with budgetary pressures that should dictate at least modest cuts in the gargantuan Pentagon budget, could lead to serious constraints on new militaristic ventures such as an attack on Iran, “modernization” of the entire U.S. nuclear weapons enterprise at a cost of over $200 billion, a permanent U.S. force of up to 25,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014, or an absurd military “pivot” toward the Asia-Pacific aimed at isolating Russia and especially China.

We in the peace movement need to be able to think, and act, with both a short- and long-term perspective. In the near term, swiftly ending the war in Afghanistan and ensuring no long-term U.S./NATO troop presence, stopping drone strikes, preventing a war with Iran and building support for a WMD-free zone in the Middle East, pushing for serious cuts to the Pentagon budget, and advocating progress toward nuclear disarmament will consume most of our energies. Renewed emphasis on a just and lasting peace between Palestine and Israel should also garner more attention and activism. Finally, peace activists will need to lend solidarity those working to save social programs from austerity-minded elites and to address climate chaos.

In the longer term, we need to hasten what Professor Johann Galtung calls “The Decline of the U.S. Empire and the Flowering of the U.S. Republic.” We have an opportunity in opposing the outrageous “Asia-Pacific Pivot,” which the military-industrial complex has concocted without asking the American people if we support it or want to continue borrowing from China to pay for it (too weird, right?). We can point out the insanity of this policy, but we can also devise a better alternative, including building solidarity with the peoples of Okinawa, Jeju Island, Guam, the Philippines, Hawaii, and other nations in the region opposing the spread of U.S. militarism and advocating peaceful relations with China.

Defining the Democratic Deficit

This pivot is just the latest example of the fundamentally undemocratic nature of U.S. foreign policy.

The more we in the peace movement can point out that our tax dollars fund policies contrary to our interests, the easier it will be not just to build specific campaigns for more peaceful and just policies, but also to create a new vision for our country’s role in the world—to create a new foreign policy for the 99 percent.

So we peace activists need to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. We need to offer credible, sustainable alternatives on the issues listed above, with specific actions ordinary people can take that make a difference. But we must go further and advocate a foreign and military policy that is in the interest of the majority of this country, one that comports with widely shared ideals of democracy, justice, human rights, international cooperation, and sustainability.

It’s no news flash that elite and corporate interests have long dominated U.S. foreign policy. Illustrating this democratic deficit has two related aspects. The first is the question of access: “he who pays the piper calls the tune.” Currently, although it technically foots the bill, Congress—let alone the public—has barely any say in how U.S. foreign policy is set or implemented. On a second and integrally related note, in whose interest is it to perpetuate a gargantuan military budget, maintain a vast and expensive nuclear arsenal, or start an arms race with our banker, China? It’s hard to imagine that any ordinary person could conclude these policies serve anyone but the 1 percent.

Notions of justice and human rights are widely resonant in the United States, but they require careful consideration and explanation. “Justice” should not be invoked simply as it concerns parties to a conflict, but rather should entail racial, social, and economic fairness for all those who are affected by the grinding military machine. Emphasizing the broader social consequences of militarism will be key for growing our ranks, especially among people of color, community activists, and human needs groups. And while “human rights” is a no-brainer, it requires courage and commitment to communicate how U.S. foreign policy constantly contradicts this ideal abroad, even as our government selectively preaches to other countries on the subject.

International cooperation, while it can seem vague or milquetoast—especially given the neglect or outright stifling of “global governance” structures by the United States—is a highly shared value among people in this country and around the world. Selling cooperation as a meaningful value is fundamentally important for undermining the myth of American exceptionalism, which so many politicians peddle to sell policies that only harm our country in the long run.

Finally, while the environmental movement still has loads of work to do, the successful promulgation of the concept of sustainability is an important achievement, one we can easily adapt to military spending, the overall economy, and a longer-term view of what kind of foreign policy would be sustainable and in the interest of the 99 percent. Climate activists and peace activists need to know that they have a vital stake in each other’s work.

A glimpse of the power of democracy was in evidence on Election Day, and not just in the legalization of gay marriage and recreational marijuana in a few states. When given a choice, as in referenda in Massachusetts and New Haven, Connecticut advocating slashing military spending and funding human needs, people will choose the right policies and priorities; both initiatives won overwhelmingly.

Contrary to the hopes many people in this country and around the world invested in Barack Obama (which he didn’t deserve and frankly he never asked for), it’s never been about him. It’s about the entrenched power of the U.S. war machine, and about how we the peoples of this country and around the world can work together to create more peaceful, just, and sustainable policies. We can do it; in fact we have no choice but to do it.

Kevin Martin has served as Executive Director of Peace Action and Peace Action Education Fund since September 4, 2001, and has worked with the organization in various capacities since 1985. Peace Action is the country’s largest peace and disarmament organization with 90,000 members nationwide.

Recommended Citation:

Kevin Martin, “Towards a Foreign Policy for the 99 Percent” (Washington, DC: Foreign Policy In Focus, December 18, 2012)


Ignoring Climate Chaos, Sowing Disaster Relief Chaos are InSane!

October 29, 2012

A pox on both presidential tickets for their shameful ignoring of climate chaos in the debates and the campaign overall. Hurricane Sandy seems timed to remind us all this issue is real, denial by candidates focused on other concerns notwithstanding. Here’s hoping folks on the East Coast can ride out the storm safely, and a hearty early thanks to all first responders, emergency crews and utility workers who will have huge jobs ahead of them.

My guess is at some point the shape shifting Mitt Romney will say something about these brave folks, and like most things that escape his lips it will be drenched in hypocrisy. Romney and Ryan want to privatize emergency relief services, or at least they have said so plainly in the recent past. Is this another position Romney will, at least rhetorically, change in his desperate attempt to appear reasonable? Whatever, his advocacy of privatization of disaster recovery services was and is InSane. (Especially considering his plan to increase Pentagon spending would require across the board cuts of 34% in all domestic discretionary spending. Is he going to tell the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea to churn up 34% fewer hurricanes?)


Mitt Romney sounded like Gandhi last night, and Au Revoir to a true man of peace

October 23, 2012

Mitt Romney sure mentioned the word “peace” an awful lot in the last presidential debate Monday night. While my take is that he did so in a pretty cynical way, trying to make folks think he is less of a dangerous guy than he really is, it was interesting, and I think good sign, perhaps counterintutively.

Now I don’t for a moment want Mitt Romney to be president. His proposals to amp up Pentagon spending, his hawkish views regarding Iran, his desire to build up U.S. nuclear forces instead of reducing them, his kowtowing to Bibi Netanyahu and conservative Jews in the U.S., to name just a few policies that are out of whack with the interests of the American people, speak much more loudly than his kumbaya-ing last night.

However, it’s clear that Romney and his campaign handlers want to at least appear to be breaking with some of the policies of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney (and with some of his own previous bellicose positions), to appear kinder and gentler, more acceptable as a possible commander in chief. And even if it was cynical, the fact that he thought he had to appear to be more of a peacenik is a good sign. “Peace” shouldn’t be a dirty word in presidential campaigns, especially in a country nearly always at war (and where the current Nobel Peace Prize-winning president presides over drone strikes to get folks on a “kill list,” yet who is also talking like he wants his second term to be more peaceful, many contradictions with his current policies notwithstanding).

I guess for me it comes down to being somewhat surprised, but glad, that the two main presidential candidates are talking about peace, even when we know their policies don’t live up to their words. Peace is one of the values that human beings hold dearest, but it shouldn’t be used cynically. And of course our job is to hold them accountable to actually carrying out more peaceful policies after the election.

How did you react to Romney’s peace prose last night? Please share your thoughts and feelings.

Remember the last true peace candidate for president (of the “major” parties that is)? Senator George McGovern passed away at the age of 90 over the weekend. I couldn’t add anything to this moving tribute by William Greider at The Nation, so I won’t try, except to say he was the first candidate I can remember. My mom volunteered for him, and in the straw poll in my 5th grade class (I think it was 5th grade), I may have been the only McGovern “supporter.” Rest in peace, good man, and thanks for all your peace-and-justice-mongering and truth-telling. Would that we had some leaders like you today.


Excellent Op-Ed by Jon Rainwater of Peace Action West – Two Questions for Obama and Romney on Afghanistan

October 18, 2012

Published by The Hill, an influential Capitol Hill publication

By Jon Rainwater, executive director, Peace Action West and the Peace Education Fund – 10/18/12 02:30 PM ET

When voters mark their ballots on November 6th, there will be 68,000 U.S. soldiers stationed in Afghanistan. In spite of a long campaign, it’s still unclear what each candidate believes should happen with those soldiers after Election Day.

Nothing captures the ambiguity better than Tuesday’s news from the State Department about the formal opening of negotiations to extend the US troop presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014. This follows on the heels of Vice President Biden’s much-noted statements in the vice presidential debate that, “We are leaving in 2014, period.” President Obama has also been trumpeting the coming end of the war, with a partial withdrawal completed this summer. But the U.S.-Afghan strategic partnership agreement he signed this year, along with statements from the Pentagon, leave the door wide open to a large troop presence as far out as 2024.

In his recent foreign policy address, Gov. Romney tried to distinguish himself from the president on the war, but offered little proof of a real difference between them. Both candidates are keeping their options open, essentially only committing to figuring it out as they go.

 

 

After 11 years, that’s not good enough. Next week’s foreign policy debate could be voters’ last opportunity for answers before November 6. Here are two questions about the war that voters should be asking.

First, what are we waiting for? Neither candidate has publicly considered withdrawing before the end 2014. But they have also failed to offer a compelling case that another two years will strengthen US and Afghan security.

There are fewer than 150 al Qaeda operatives left in Afghanistan, and Osama bin Laden has been dead for more than a year. The original rationales for military action are no longer relevant.

The main thrust of current U.S. strategy is the operation aimed at training Afghan security forces. But there has been widespread evidence of problems with that program. Nothing exemplifies this better than the huge spike in insider attacks by Afghan security forces. Just this year, more than 50 US and NATO troops have died in attacks orchestrated by insurgents infiltrating the training program. Those attacks have sent shockwaves throughout the entire operation. As U.S. General John Allen, Commander of U.S. and NATO forces, put it, “You know, we’re willing to sacrifice a lot for this campaign. But we’re not willing to be murdered for it.”

We are losing lives and spending billions to at best spin our wheels, and at worst, arm and train insurgents. The candidates need to clarify how long they plan to keep troops on the ground, and if they want more time, offer evidence that it will make a difference.

The second question we should be asking is, if there are gains to be made, are they worth the cost? In Romney’s terms, is this war worth borrowing even more from China to pay for? And the far more serious question: is this war worth dying for?

The federal government is facing looming spending cuts due to a financial crisis partially driven by more than eleven years of off-books war spending. Neither candidate has detailed how much the taxpayers will shell out for an extended military presence in Afghanistan, but we’re already looking at $88 billion for 2013. Can either candidate argue that this spending is worth it, when the $1 million it takes to keep just one soldier in Afghanistan for a year could create 14 jobs in health care or 15 in public education here at home?

In addition to the financial cost, our armed forces have been overworked and stretched thin, and we have not adequately cared for our veterans. More than 2,000 soldiers have died in Afghanistan; 1,000 were killed in the last 27 months of an eleven-year war. More than 17,000 have been wounded. The presidential candidates have flown under the radar on this issue, but the stakes continue to be great for Americans, and for Afghans. In recent surveys, 66 percent of Americans say they oppose the war, and 49 percent want it to end immediately. The presidential candidates owe us an answer as to why neither of them has made a clear commitment to making that happen.

Rainwater is executive director of Peace Action West and the Peace Education Fund.


Afghanistan – the Who Cares War?

October 9, 2012

Not Exactly, But it Fails the Real Definition of a Just War

–Kevin Martin 

Amid all the grim news in Afghanistan as the war enters its 12th year, a new initiative by the youth-led Afghan civil society organization Afghan Peace Volunteers called 2 Million Friends for Peace in Afghanistan (http://www.2millionfriends.org) looks like a ray of hope. The two million refers to the approximate number of Afghans killed in forty years of war. The campaign aims to find two million friends or supporters worldwide, and to deliver its call for a cease fire and negotiated end to the war to the United Nations on December 10, International Human Rights Day. 

 

Here in the U.S., the war in Afghanistan is hardly mentioned by the presidential or congressional candidates (Mitt Romney completely omitted it from his acceptance speech at the Republican Convention). With only about one percent of the population directly involved in the war, with a family member in the service, the war is so low on the public radar screen that Council on Foreign Relations analyst Max Boot dubbed it the “Who Cares?” war, and many in the military fret about the seeming indifference to the sacrifice and hardships of our troops and returning veterans. This angle was prominent in 9/11 anniversary news coverage.

 

Such a narrative is too shallow, as there are many ironies and contradictions regarding public support, or lack thereof, for the Afghanistan war, and as to how the public feels about the troops and veterans.  

 

As a peace activist, invariably opposed to this country’s many, many wars, I do care about the troops and returning vets (my brother is a psychologist at the Veterans Administration hospital in the Bronx, meaning unfortunately he has a job for life dealing with the trauma our endless war making inflicts on those who fight them), as do all the peace activists I know.

 

I knew a wonderful young man, a Marine reservist who died in Iraq. He was opposed to the war, but felt he had to go, that he couldn’t have claimed conscientious objector status (as I and others counseled him to do, and I believe he had a pretty good case). He felt he couldn’t let the others in his unit down, though he vehemently opposed the war. The military counts on that type of coercion or guilt to keep troops in line and returning to combat time and again.

 

In terms of nobody “caring about the war,” there are many dynamics at play. Polls consistently show a solid majority of the US populace is now against the war, but there are neither widespread protests nor large-scale organized war tax resistance (although I was proud to march in Chicago last May at the NATO protest with veterans returning their medals to protest the wars). Certainly there is some partisan politics at play here, with anti-war liberals not wanting to criticize President Obama, or feeling “okay” with his promise to end the war by the end of 2014 (though a Foreign Policy article recently speculated up to 25,000 U.S. troops may remain for a decade as part of an agreement with the Afghan govt.).

 

The Pentagon can’t have it both ways. Military brass and civilian leaders don’t want a draft, understandably, as they don’t want to deal with hassles from soldiers who don’t want to be in the service (that is a lesson the Pentagon learned from the Vietnam War and the rampant resistance and anti-war organizing by conscripts). The poverty draft, whereby urban and rural youth with poor job and educational prospects in their communities see the military as an attractive career option, especially in a week economy, suits the Pentagon just fine.

 

Moreover, the Department of War gets an endless supply of our tax dollars to fight its wars and maintain the largest military in human history. They want us to “care” more? Even with multiple “support the troops” programs and manifestations all over society (Michelle Obama and Jill Biden are constantly stressing this, as do many others)? Which is not to disparage such efforts, we do need to support the troops, and the best way to do that is to get them home to their families as soon as possible. Even longtime hawk U.S. Rep. Bill Young, Republican from Florida who chairs the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and is Congress’s longest serving member, now advocates this.

 

If there were a draft, the war would be over in a month if not sooner. The public wouldn’t stand for it, because this war fails miserably in meeting the real definition of a just war (the horse sense definition, not the Catholic Church’s official Just War theory regarding using force as a last resort, with proportionality and protection for noncombatants and other criteria).

 

The real definition of a just war is one you’d send your kid to.

 

So mark me down as caring about the troops, and about getting them the best possible medical, psychological, financial and career services we can provide when they get home. I don’t see how Pentagon brass can ask for more than that, unless their real goal is to continue the war indefinitely.

Kevin Martin is the Executive Director of Peace Action, the country’s largest peace and disarmament organization with approximately 90,000 members and 70,000 online supporters nationwide. www.peace-action.org


Romney’s China Zinger Offers an Opening for a Serious Debate on U.S. Asia Policy (not his intention I’m sure!)

October 4, 2012

So I have to admit that when I heard it last night during the presidential debate, I thought this was a clever zinger by Mitt Romney (or his speech writers more likely):

“What things will I cut from spending? Well, first of all, I will eliminate all programs by this test, if they don’t pass it: Is the program so critical that it’s worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? And if not, I’ll get rid of it.”

This needs a bit of unpacking (and my few points about this quote are far from comprehensive, I’m sure others have very different takes in it).

First, Romney’s “test” is somewhat appealing, purposely so I’m sure, to folks who are concerned about the U.S. debt, much of which is owned by China. However, one could have made the point in a generic way, leaving out the fact that China is our largest banker (“Is the program worth continuing to borrow money to pay for it?”). That would still be a good test, yes? In addition to judging government programs by that standard, people make that judgement in their personal lives all the time, determining whether to borrow money to buy a car or a house or to go to college is a smart move.

So was Romney’s mention of China just an off-hand remark? I don’t think so. “China” to many Americans can mean very different things, but many of them are, in my observation, unfortunately pejorative. So my guess is this was intentional, meant to raise unhelpful and maybe even racist stereotypes about China, and concerns about the U.S.-China economic relationship.

However, Romney gave us an opening, unwittingly I presume, for deeper analysis and conversation about the U.S.-China relationship, especially in the “security” realm (others could certainly go much deeper than I into the economic interdependency, not always healthy, between the world’s two largest economies).

Josh Rogin, blogging for Foreign Policy, captured this very nicely: “Is Romney saying it’s worth borrowing from China to build more ships to contain China?” This is so brilliant and succinct because this is exactly what the U.S. is doing now, and planning to increase in the future, under the military’s much-ballyhood but little understood “Asia-Pacific pivot.” (For example, and speaking directly to Rogin’s point, the U.S. Navy has announced it plans to station 60% of the overall fleet in the Pacific.)

While Romney won’t publicly say this (and neither will Obama), the U.S. war machine needs an enemy to continue to justify its raison d’etre and its stranglehold on the lion’s share of our federal tax dollars. “International terrorism” just doesn’t cut the mustard. China is the only plausible “enemy” that might fit the bill.

Except China, which certainly has many economic, environmental, energy, human rights and democracy challenges, has no real interest in an arms race or global competition for military hegemony with the U.S. China certainly has regional interests that are of serious concerns to its neighbors, but it is simply not an expansionist power to anything like the degree the U.S. is. A few factoids on this are instructive:

-The U.S. has somewhere between 800 and 1000 foreign military bases (there is no agreement on the number or even the definition of a “base,” which is why the number is so imprecise). China has one, a relatively new one at that, in Seychelles (which is telling, representing as it does a key Chinese concern, keeping open shipping lanes).

- At $711 billion per year, the U.S. spends about as much on the military as the rest of the world combined (and the full “national security” budget is over $1 trillion per year). China, with the number two military budget, spends about one-fifth of what the U.S. does, at $143 billion (figures from SIPRI, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute).

-The U.S. has a dozen aircraft carrier battle groups, able to project fearsome military might worldwide (to say nothing of our nuclear arsenal). China just recently inaugurated its first aircraft carrier, which experts say is at least several years away from minimal combat readiness, according to a recent Wall St. Journal article. At present it is fit only for training purposes, and China doesn’t have any jets that can land on it. So by U.S. standards, the number of Chinese aircraft carriers would be “none.”

-The U.S. military divides the entire planet into regional “commands,” with forces and power projection plans covering basically the whole planet. Neither China nor any other country has any such structure or capability.

So the wisdom and advisability of “pivoting” in order to economically, militarily and politically isolate your main banker is a head scratcher. Why would China want to underwrite that? Especially when its biggest economic interest will soon probably be to stimulate domestic consumer demand.

And why would this pivot, offering only a pointless, counter-productive military competition with China, be in the interests of the people of this country? It would certainly fail this test – should we spend our tax dollars on an idiotic, open-ended military buildup to “contain” China (when the best policy would be to rely on non-coercive diplomacy to balance the interests of all the peoples of the region), instead of on schools, sustainable energy and jobs, affordable housing, infrastructure and addressing climate change?


An hour into the debate…

October 3, 2012

Very little new ground has been broken. A few observations:

Moderator Jim Lehrer – voting is already underway in 34 states already

Obama – winding down two wars – not exactly! Wants to keep up to 25,000 US troops in Afghanistan for a decade after supposed end of war at the end of 2012

Economic patriotism – new phrase by Obama? no follow up on that

Obama – nod to bipartisanship re ideas for education reform

Obama  – wind/solar/biofuels energy investment

Obama  – Romney proposes 2 trillion in additional military spending Pentagon hasn’t asked for – Obama mentioned three times

Romney – middle income families being crushed – effective blows by Romney

Romney – not trying to reduce federal revenue? Really?

Middle class love a thon

Every program — test — is it worth borrowing money from China to pay for — good one! Romney

Romney – can’t have banks in garages – why not?

Romney – the cost of health care is too high – why we need single payer national health insurance like every other industrialized country!

Romney scoring points on obama’s focus on health care instead of jobs.

Hard to say how any of this is changing any likely voters’ minds.


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