May 18-19 Chicago: Vision and Organizing

April 30, 2012

By Judith Le Blanc

Member countries of NATO in blue Česky: Člensk...

Member countries of NATO in blue (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When US officials met In Brussels with NATO countries to prepare for the May NATO Summit in Chicago, Australia announced it would withdraw its troops from Afghanistan a year earlier than planned. Depending on the outcome of the French presidential elections, France may do the same.

When the 15,000 NATO Summit diplomats and members of their entourages arrive, peace and justice activists and organizers  from the US and NATO countries will be in Chicago May 18-20 to greet them with the urgency of ending the Afghanistan war now and  building just and productive societies.

It is time for all the NATO and US troops to leave Afghanistan. Now only 32% of US people support keeping the troops in Afghanistan.

What is it going to take to move the majority opposition to the war into a politically empowered movement to press the Obama administration and Congress to bring the troops home now?

Vision and organizing! Come to Chicago to map out an alternative vision to NATO’s wars and the US driven global arms race. Join the training sessions at the Counter-Summit for Peace and Economic Justice.

Want to meet with leaders of the peace and disarmament movements from NATO countries, Afghans for Peace and Afghan war veterans and strategize about organizing the global anti-war movement? Register for the Counter-Summit for Peace and Economic Justice


•A New Economy Is Possible: Jobs & Economic Justice vs. Militarism

•Afghanistan: How Do Wars End?

•US/NATO Nuclear Weapons in Europe: Removal Long Overdue

•Wisconsin: Rebellion and Recall

•Resisting Militarization of Youth

•Know your rights (especially in Chicago!) and nonviolent direct action training

•PLUS 21 more workshops to choose from!

Why should you be in Chicago May 18-19 for the Counter-Summit for Peace and Economic Justice?

Because $523 billion has already been spent on the Afghan war, with more to be pledged during the summit.  Tens of thousands Afghan civilians have been killed or wounded. 2,000 US soldiers have been killed and another 15,300 wounded.  1000 NATO troops have lost their lives.

The human costs are unconscionable. The economic costs are shredding the lives of the youngest, sickest and oldest with cuts in crucial human services.

Organizers for  economic, racial justice and for immigrant rights will discuss the connection between the daily struggle for a decent life and militarism helping us break down the issue silos!

You Can’t Take What’s All of Ours! Breaking Down NATO/G8 and Rising Up Against Austerity and Militarism. Download training curriculum from our website to do popular education on NATO and it’s impact on the world:

March on May 20 with the Network for a NATO Free Future contingent (location to be announced) as we march in support the Afghanistan war veterans as turn in their medals to the NATO Generals.

Like NATO Free Future on Facebook.

Corporate War Profiteer Socialism – Lockheed Martin Throws Its Weight Around (Again)

April 26, 2012

Here’s a terrific article written by Peace Action national board co-chair and Montgomery County, Maryland Peace Action coordinator Jean Athey on the unmitigated chutzpah of the world’s biggest war profiteer, Lockheed Martin, published by our friends at Foreign Policy in Focus.

In Montgomery County, Maryland — just outside of Washington, DC — the county executive recently proposed, as a part of his annual budget, a no-strings-attached grant of $900,000 to Lockheed Martin, the largest military contractor in the world. Citizens of the county objected to the handout in public hearings that the county council held on the budget.

One member of the council, after hearing citizen testimony, commented that the county could probably find better ways of spending $900,000. This was the only public comment any member of the council made on the issue.

Yet The Washington Post immediately criticized the county council in a vitriolic editorial in which it accused the council of engaging in “demagoguery masquerading as social justice.”

Lockheed Bites Back

Lockheed Martin and its friends at The Washington Post are still outraged that in 2010 the Council refused to pass a special law to give Lockheed Martin a unique tax advantage that would have cost the county $450,000 per year — at a time when the county was faced with draconian cuts to critical services. The county executive, at the behest of Lockheed Martin, had asked the council to change the legal definition of a hotel, specifically to exempt the patrons of Lockheed Martin’s new luxury hotel in Bethesda, MD from paying the county’s 7-percent hotel tax. The proposed law would have applied to no other facility in the county.

After hearing from citizens on this outrageous bill, the council tabled it and never voted on it, effectively killing it. As a result, patrons of the hotel, called the Center for Leadership Excellence (CLE), must pay the lodging tax, just like the patrons of every other hotel in the county. The Washington Post and Lockheed Martin consider this situation grossly unfair. The proposed grant is designed to recompense Lockheed Martin for two years worth of the tax.

Let’s put this tax exemption proposal in perspective by taking a quick look at Lockheed Martin’s finances. In 2010 the company took home $3.9 billion in profits from the portion of its business that is paid directly by taxpayers (84 percent). Lockheed Martin’s CEO, Robert Stevens, received $21.9 million in compensation in 2011.  So this company is doing quite well for itself, thanks to the taxpayers, and our largesse will continue into the future. One example: It is now estimated that the F-35, a Lockheed Martin product, will end up costing taxpayers a total of $1.5 trillion dollars. If you laid out $1.5 trillion end-to-end in $100 bills, you could circle the Earth at the equator 59 times.

Despite the extraordinary wealth of this company, The Washington Post believes that council members are being “craven” in requiring the CLE to remain subject to the county’s hotel tax, given that only Lockheed Martin’s personal invitees can stay at the CLE — that is, members of the public can’t make a reservation there. Let’s consider this argument a bit more closely.

When Lockheed Martin’s own employees stay at the CLE, according to the Post, the corporation passes on the costs of the hotel tax to the appropriate federal contract. In other words, Lockheed Martin is already compensated by the federal government for any lodging costs the company incurs, and given federal procurement regulations, the company can charge indirect costs on top of the local taxes it pays. This means that Lockheed Martin gets its money back, with interest, on its employee lodging costs.

Even if Lockheed Martin didn’t get that money back, it would still make no sense to exempt this extremely wealthy company from paying a tax on employee lodging costs. The company also invites contractors and vendors to stay at the hotel. Why should these people not be required to pay a tax that they would pay if they instead chose to stay at the Marriott?

In reality, Lockheed Martin rents rooms to more than its employees, contractors and vendors. It uses its world-class conference center for . . . conferences. For example, the law school of the University of Southern California will hold a conference at the hotel in October. A registration form, available online until recently, asked conference participants to indicate whether they intended to stay at the CLE and pay a nightly rate of $225 during the conference or whether they would find their own accommodations. Since Lockheed Martin claims that the hotel is used almost solely for its employees—the bizarre rationale for the proposed tax exemption—this conference looks a bit suspicious. After citizens presented a copy of the conference registration form to the Montgomery county council during the public hearings on the budget, documenting that Lockheed Martin’s definition of “employee” is quite expansive, the form was removed from the website.

It is extraordinary that the company would make an issue of this tax. Although the amount of money—$450,000 per year—is significant to Montgomery County, it is essentially a rounding error for Lockheed Martin.

There’s more: not only are Lockheed Martin and The Washington Post furious at the county council for questioning the wisdom of a special million-dollar gift to Lockheed Martin to compensate it for having to pay the tax. They are also still irate that in 2011 the council briefly considered a non-binding resolution asking Congress to support the needs of local communities and cut military spending. Lockheed Martin suddenly had a job for a few of its 91 lobbyists: kill the resolution, which they did. Within a few days of Lockheed Martin bullying the council, a couple of council members were “persuaded” that the resolution was a bad idea. Since the resolution no longer had majority support, it was not brought up for a vote.

The Politics of Jobs

In its recent editorial, the Post once again castigated the council for having had the gall to briefly consider a resolution that never even came up for a vote. “Last fall,” the Post editorialized, “council members flirted witha resolution urging Congress to spend less on national defense. They backed down once it dawned that defense contractors such as Lockheed are among Montgomery’s biggest employers. In effect, council members were advocating layoffs for their own constituents.”

Contrary to The Washington Post’s assertion, the council did not decline to pass the resolution because it suddenly dawned on them that Lockheed Martin employs about 7,200 people in the county. Council members backed down under extreme political pressure, brought to bear on them from Lockheed Martin. In fact, the county is home to NIH, FDA, and other large federal agencies that employ far more people in the county than does Lockheed Martin. Without a reprioritization of federal spending, many people working in these agencies are quite likely to lose their jobs.

Even worse, the Post’s argument implies that the availability of local jobs supported by federal military contractors should deprive citizens of the ability to advocate a change in foreign policy and a say in the allocation of federal resources. Large military contractors, in fact, have distributed their subcontractors and their factories throughout the country in a politically astute manner. Economist and former Pentagon official Alain C. Enthoven once observed, “The ideal weapons system is built in 435 congressional districts and it doesn’t matter whether it works or not.” In the 2009 fight by a coalition of advocacy groups to kill the F-22, a plane made by Lockheed Martin that no one in the Pentagon wanted—from Rumsfeld to Panetta—Lockheed Martin placed several full-page ads in The Washington Post that consisted solely of a list of every congressional district in the country, alongside Lockheed Martin’s estimate of how many jobs would be lost in each district if the F-22 was cancelled. So much for subtlety. The plane doesn’t work, it’s extremely expensive, and we don’t need it for our “security,” but note to Mr. or Ms. Congressperson: fund this plane or we’ll see that jobs will be lost in your district—one of which will be yours.

The Washington Post and Lockheed Martin are working in lock-step to intimidate anyone who questions the idea of a reallocation of federal resources away from the current excessive level of military spending. Moreover, they are also using their extraordinary power to coerce a local council to do their bidding in a blatant corporate welfare scam.

Appeal to the Youth of the World from Nobel Peace Laureates Summit in Chicago

April 26, 2012

A smart and inspiring appeal from the Nobel Peace Laureates Summit in Chicago, which our National Field Director Judith Le Blanc is attending on behalf of Peace Action and International Peace Bureau, which won the Peace Prize in 1910 (Peace Action is a long-time member of IPB, and we were honored to be asked to send a representative to the Summit by IPB).

The Appeal quotes one of my favorite sayings by Martin Luther King, Jr., a Nobel Peace Laureate, “those who love peace must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war,” still so true today.

The appeal is attached here as a pdf


Moving to a Culture of Peace

April 25, 2012

New Jersey Peace Action Executive Director Madelyn Hoffman had a terrific op-ed in the Bloomfield Life last week, titled Moving to a Culture of Peace linking local gun violence, military spending and how it is robbing our communities of needed investments in human needs, at the federal, state and local levels, and the endless war in Afghanistan. Madelyn cites recent polls showing public support for that war at an all-time low, yet the Obama Administration announced over the weekend an agreement to keep U.S. forces in Afghanistan until at least 2024 (more on that agreement, and what we can do to prevent its implementation, will be coming soon).

And speaking of a culture of peace, our National Field Director, Judith Le Blanc, is currently in Chicago representing Peace Action at an international conference of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates (no, Judith didn’t win the Nobel Peace Prize – not that she isn’t deserving! – she was invited to attend as Peace Action is the largest U.S. member of the International Peace Bureau, which won the peace prize in 1910, yes, over a hundred years ago!). IPB was also the coordinator for the Global Day of Action on Military Spending, which many Peace Action affiliates around the country participated in last week with Tax Day actions.

Watch this space soon for posts from Judith from Chicago. In the meantime, the Chicago Tribune had an interesting story yesterday about the Nobel Peace Laureates conference, it’s worth a read.

Only a Month Away, Won’t You Please Come to Chicago…for Peace, Justice and a NATO-Free Future!

April 16, 2012

–Executive Director Kevin Martin

In just over a month, peace activists and allies from other social justice movements from around the country and around the world will gather in Chicago (where I lived and worked for ten terrific years) to call for peace, economic justice and the end of NATO when that alliance convenes for its annual meeting. Please plan to join us May 18-20 for what will be an illuminating, action oriented Counter-Summit conference, and a march of veterans of the Afghanistan war returning their medals to U.S. officials to call for an end to our country’s longest war and just treatment for returning veterans and the people of Afghanistan who have suffered immeasurably over the last several decades of nearly endless wars.

More information, including registration and speakers can be found on the NATO-Free Future website (Peace Action is a founding member of the national and international coalitions on this issue). I’ll be there and hope you will join us!

Also, WBEZ-FM, Chicago’s public radio station, hosted a thought-provoking live public town meeting on NATO and the upcoming summit, featuring Kathy Kelly, co-founder of Voices for Creative Non-Violence, a longtime friend and ally and a principle speaker at our conference in May. It’s long, and hour and a half, but worthwhile. Kathy, who has traveled many timed to Afghanistan in solidarity with the people of that war-weary country, is excellent as always on the show, and the audience Q and A session with host Jerome McDonnell (the last 30-45 minutes or so) is very interesting, great questions and comments from the attendees.

April 18 Eyewitness Kabul – Kathy Kelly

April 16, 2012

Brother and sister in the street of Qala-i-Sha...

Join a Peace Action briefing conference call with Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence.

Wednesday April 18 at 9 pm Eastern, 8 pm Central and 6 pm Pacific
Kathy Kelly recently returned from Afghanistan where she lived in a working class area of Kabul and gained firsthand insights into how families tried to get by during the harshest winter on record.
Conference call number: 712-432-1690 Code: 130282#
Kathy Kelly co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence, a campaign to end U.S. military and economic warfare.  She has traveled to Afghanistan five times in the past two years.  Voices organizes small delegations intent on learning more about conditions faced by ordinary people in Afghanistan. They work closely with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers in search of non-military solutions to end the war.

Kathy will also be one of the featured speakers at the NATO Counter-Summit  for Peace and Economic Justice in Chicago May 18 & 19.

In 2009, Kathy and a small delegation visited Pakistan, aiming to learn more about the effects of U.S. drone warfare on the civilian population and to better understand consequences of U.S. foreign policy in Pakistan. With a second delegation to Pakistan, in 2010, Kathy visited with refugees in the Swat Valley and also traveled to Peshawar, close to the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Power to the peaceful,

Judith Le Blanc

Field Director

Give U.S.-Iran negotiations time to succeed, Op-Ed by Peace Action West’s Rebecca Griffin in the Sacramento Bee

April 9, 2012

I was in Iran in 2009 when a family invited me into their home for dinner. Over kebabs and rice, I chatted about school and video games with their 6-year-old son. He and his mother sang us a song about flying like a balloon, and I struggled to keep up with his uncle’s many American movie references.

The family lives in Esfahan, a likely target of any Israeli or American military attack. Esfahan is home to part of Iran’s nuclear energy program and less than two hours from another potential target, the Natanz uranium enrichment facility. Whenever I hear talk of war with Iran, I think of these kind people.

On April 13, the United States and its allies will resume negotiations with Iran aimed at resolving the conflict over Iran’s nuclear program. Congress should give diplomacy time to work, rather than pushing the United States closer to a military confrontation nobody wants.

Last month, American officials conducted a classified war simulation that showed that military strikes on Iran could spark a wider regional war and leave hundreds of Americans dead. American officials predict that Iran would retaliate with missile strikes on Israel and attacks on U.S. personnel overseas. As Gen. Anthony Zinni, the former commander of Central Command, said, “If you follow this all the way down, eventually I’m putting boots on the ground somewhere. And like I tell my friends, if you like Iraq and Afghanistan, you’ll love Iran.”

Politicians love to promote a fantasy of swooping in with fighter jets and rescuing helpless Iranians from a repressive regime, but democracy activists in Iran don’t see it that way. As renowned Iranian journalist Akbar Ganji explained, “Even speaking about the possibility of a military attack on Iran makes things extremely difficult for human rights and pro-democracy activists in Iran.”

Unpopular regimes like Iran’s relish the rally-around-the-flag effect created by a military confrontation, which allows them to marginalize dissidents. The threat of action is damaging enough. The reality would be devastating to all Iranians, especially for those who have been speaking out for justice and democracy.

Many in Congress are undermining prospects for a peaceful solution by pushing to lower the threshold for military action. A resolution sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn.; and Robert Casey, D-Pa.; and Reps. Ilena Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., and Howard Berman, D-Calif., would draw the “red line” for military action against Iran at a nuclear weapons capability, not an actual weapon. However, “nuclear weapons capable” is a dangerously vague term that could also apply to dozens of other countries that, like Iran, have nuclear energy programs. All 16 of America’s intelligence agencies have reported that there is no proof that Iran has decided to build a nuclear weapon.

This is more than congressional grandstanding. As the United States and its allies engage in delicate negotiations, lowering the threshold for war could rule out diplomatic alternatives and back the United States into a corner. Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff for SecretaryColin Powell, warned, “This resolution reads like the same sheet of music that got us into the Iraq war, and could be the precursor for a war with Iran. … It’s effectively a thinly disguised effort to bless war.”

Disrupting diplomatic efforts on the eve of talks is highly counterproductive, but that’s not stopping politicians on both sides of the aisle who seem ready and willing to ignore the advice of national security professionals like Gen. Zinni and Col. Wilkerson.

The Iranian mother who welcomed me into her home told me that she watches BBC Persian with her son and struggles to answer when he asks her to explain the violence on TV. We should think twice before rushing into another war and bringing that same horror to his doorstep. It’s time to commit to serious diplomacy with Iran, and Congress must give President Obama the space to conduct it.


Rebecca Griffin is political director of Peace Action West, 2201 Broadway, Suite 321, Oakland, Calif. 94612; email:; website:

This essay is available to McClatchy-Tribune News Service subscribers. McClatchy-Tribune did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of McClatchy-Tribune or its editors.


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