The Brain Trust, the Love Circle and the Seed Sowers

March 24, 2015

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–Kevin Martin, Executive Director

Last week I had a very enjoyable, short work trip to New York City. On Wednesday night, the indefatigable Judy Lerner (90+ years young!), who has served on the Peace Action national board for at least two decades, hosted a wonderful wine and cheese reception at her Manhattan apartment. Close to 30 Peace Action supporters turned up for a relaxed, social soiree, but we also talked a lot of politics as you can imagine (the picture above, taken by my Uncle, Todd Whitmer, who was there along with my brother, Kris Martin, shows just some of the assembled good folk) and raised a bit of much needed dough, thanks to a strong pitch by Joanne Robinson, Peace Action of New York State’s fundraising chair.

A few days before the event, I saw an RSVP list compiled by Sylvia Rodriguez Case, Peace Action of New York State’s superb administrator, and thought, wow, the brain trust of Peace Action in New York will be at the event, that’s great! And I got to thinking about the term “brain trust.” In Peace Action’s case, leadership is a collective, decentralized “brain,” and we have a lot of trust in our leadership to make the right decisions about priorities, strategies and tactics in our work.

Then I recalled Jim Anderson, board chair of Peace Action of New York State, from Buffalo, calling our national organizers’ meeting in DC two months ago a “Love Circle.” This wasn’t some hippie thing, he was encouraging a younger colleague to feel comfortable that her concerns would be heard and respected, even if they made some folks at the meeting a bit uncomfortable. Peace Actionistas certainly do form a trusting love circle where disagreements can be respectfully aired so we might reach higher ground together. I felt honored to be a part of that love circle last week at Judy’s, and also the following night at a chapter meeting of Peace Action of Staten Island, where I spoke to a terrific bunch of local supporters about the state of Peace Action’s work to support diplomacy with Iran, cut the gargantuan Pentagon budget, abolish nuclear weapons and end our country’s endless wars.

We also focused quite a bit on the April 24-26 Peace and Planet mobilization in New York City, which will bring together these issues as well as social, economic and racial justice and climate concerns. Right there at the meeting, Staten Island organizing powerhouse and Peace Action Fund of New York State board chair Sally Jones got firm commitments from over 50 people to turn out for Peace and Planet! And kudos to Peace Action of Staten Island chair Eileen Bardel for running a great meeting, keeping the agenda moving while also allowing space for everyone to participate, no easy feat!

Lately, some scholars and a few journalists have raised questions about why the peace movement isn’t as strong or visible as it was in the Bush error, I mean era, or why the peace movement isn’t as strong as the labor or environmental or human rights movements. Sometimes I get analytical about it (I could go on and on with my analysis but won’t do so here), other times I get a bit defensive, and other times I think, well if you’ll let me get off the phone I’ll get back to my job, which is to help organize and strengthen the peace movement.

Taking a long view, there are many social, political, economic and cultural factors (most out of our control) at play in why a movement catches fire or doesn’t in a particular place and time. One thing we can always control is sowing seeds that will lead to future growth in our organization and movement, and Peace Action of New York State is a leader in its investment in student/campus organizing. PANYS now has ten student chapters around the state, which didn’t just spring up by themselves. PANYS has invested in building those student chapters, and has a wonderful Student Outreach Coordinator Natia Bueno hard at work to spread this student chapter network even further (Natia will help lead a training session on student organizing for Peace Action affiliates and chapters next month, details TBA soon). Another crackerjack young organizer, Drew King, is working as our coordinator for Peace and Planet (and the apple didn’t fall far from the tree as his father, Jonathan King, is an MIT professor and Massachusetts Peace Action activist).

Peace and Planet will be an outstanding opportunity to build and support the Peace Action brain trust, embrace our love circle, and sow seeds that will blossom in myriad, wonderful ways we can’t fathom today. Please plan to join us!

 


Call Congress Now to Support Iran Diplomacy!

March 2, 2015

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The Boehner/Bibi circus is finally in town.

After weeks of media hype and legitimate debate Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress is tomorrow.
Simultaneously, another bad bill, by Sens. Graham and Corker, has been introduced that could block a deal. They plan to use the speech to build support for anti-deal bills.

Can you call today and make sure pro-diplomacy voices are not drowned out?

I know I’ve been writing to you a lot about Iran lately. But this is such a critical moment for diplomacy in this country – and that’s the best way to stop wars long before they start.

And isn’t that what the peace movement is all about: using diplomacy to solve conflicts. Wouldn’t a victory for peace like that be sweet?  That’s why we’re pushing so hard.

So even if you’ve already spoken out on Iran, can you call again today?

The Netanyahu speech is just one part of a well-oiled machine. Right now that machine includes Republican party leadership, neocon think tanks, Netanyahu himself, and the hawkish, right-wing lobbying group AIPAC which has its annual D.C. lobby push this week.

So let’s make the phones ring and gum up the works of that machine. Most Americans support diplomacy. We can’t let the right-wing noise machine drown out our voices.

Can you click here to use our special call-in tool today? The tool lets you know:

1) Who to call; 2) What to say and 3) If you want … it lets you jot down a couple notes on what you find out from the office. That information is invaluable for our lobbying work.

Thanks so much for all you do for peace,

 

Humbly for Peace,

 

Kevin Martin
Executive Director
Peace Action

P.S. For background you can check out (and share) Peace Action West’s Jon Rainwater’s piece in the Hill on the anti-diplomacy legislation


More Cowbell? Yeah! More Economic Sanctions on Iran? Nah!

January 30, 2015

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After weeks of rumors, Iran sanctions legislation has materialized in Congress. The philosophy behind the bill is reminiscent of a certain iconic Saturday Night Live sketch.

As you may remember, in the sketch a stern Christopher Walken plays the music producer that eggs on Will Ferrell as the over-exuberant cowbell player. In the studio, Walken declares “I’ve got a fever and the only prescription is … More Cowbell!”. In take after take, the cowbell grows louder and louder. The band members are scratching their heads.

For Congressional Iran hawks the only prescription for fevered relations with Iran is “More Sanctions”. As the clang of “more sanctions” emanates from D.C. and is heard in capitols from London to Berlin, our allies are scratching their heads.

U.S. diplomats have spent long hours in negotiations that are as complex technically as they are politically. They are in a far better position than electeds on Capitol Hill to know whether Congressional action weakens their hand.

Comments from some Senators have displayed a lack of knowledge about how negotiations have already made the world safer. Iran has stopped enriching uranium to the more problematic 20% level, capped overall uranium enrichment, and took steps to neutralize its stocks of 20% enriched uranium.

As importantly, U.S. negotiators got Iran to agree to intrusive inspections – in some cases daily inspections – at nuclear facilities. If Iran wanted to use their programs to build a weapon — a decision that the intelligence community says they have not yet made – it’s stringent inspections, verification, and intelligence that can to prevent that. Congress has crucial role to play in oversight and compliance with any deal and they need turn their focus to that role.

Despite progress, ten hawkish Democratic Senators broke with the President and pledged support for a triggered sanctions bill if there’s no framework deal by March. That’s a slap in the face of U.S. allies after British Prime Minister David Cameron, and the foreign ministers of France, Germany and the E.U. all spoke against Congressional meddling.

Our allies know that Iranians will be unlikely to make compromises with a negotiating party from a house divided. Why should Iranian pragmatists like President Rouhani drain political capital by making controversial concessions when it looks like Congress could undermine the administration’s promises?

The credo of more-cowbell diplomacy is this: Since sanctions brought Iran to the table more sanctions will result in a stronger deal. It’s the kind of logic that makes sense if you don’t think about it too deeply. Simply upping pressure will not cause a proud nation of 77 million people to knuckle under. Endless sanctions didn’t bring Cuba democracy or eject Saddam Hussein from power.

These Senators are half-right. Years of sanctions against Iran play a role in Iran’s motivation. But during the 2005 to 2013 period of ratcheting up sanctions Iran’s nuclear technology program sped up. Overreliance on sanctions is as responsible for Iran’s nuclear advances as it is for “bringing Iran to the table.”

If a return to a sanctions-first derails negotiations gone will be the daily inspections and rollbacks in enrichment and other nuclear technologies. Iran would then be likely to retaliate by ramping up their programs.

Both of the main Congressional interventions into negotiations are dangerous. The sanctions bill by Senators Kirk and Menendez could cause Iran to walk away from the table. If all the parties stay at the table and finish a deal, the “up-or-down vote” approach championed by Senator Bob Corker could amount to a hyper-politicized veto of a deal. Congress would be vetoing almost the entire international community. Then what? Senator Elizabeth Warren was right when she said this week, “undermining negotiations risks escalation and the possibility of war”.

A solution to the nuclear issue could address a major piece of the Middle East puzzle. As with Nixon’s opening to China, détente around the nuclear issue wouldn’t solve all tensions with Iran. But as China and Russia’s constructive role in current Iran diplomacy proves, smart diplomacy can reap dividends on issues of converging interest — even in the tensest relationships. In just one example, Iran could play a role in addressing the conflict engulfing Syria.

Congress shouldn’t let sanctions monomania blind them to a historic opportunity in the toughest of neighborhoods. If Iran hawks don’t hold their fire and let U.S. negotiators do their jobs, the only thing drowning out the cowbell will be the all-too-familiar drums of war.


Peace Action Op-ed and letter to the editor on Iran in the Cleveland Plain Dealer today!

January 21, 2015

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Quite a two-fer, unusual to have an op-ed and letter to the editor in the same paper on the same issue on the same day! Well done Norman and Nina!

Letter to the editor: Imposing new sanctions on Iran would scuttle nuclear program negotiations

To the editor:

Via patient, persistent diplomacy, the Obama administration and its international partners are in the home stretch of negotiations with Iran to resolve concerns over its nuclear program. A framework agreement to ensure Iran doesn’t develop nuclear weapons, in exchange for lifting punishing U.S. and international economic sanctions, is within reach by the July 1 deadline.

Unfortunately, some senators are now introducing a bill to impose new sanctions on Iran if negotiations fail. This bill will almost certainly scuttle negotiations and lead to calls for military action against Iran. Why would any reasonable person want to risk another Middle East war when a peaceful resolution is possible?

While Senator Portman will vote for sanctions, Senator Sherrod Brown has not yet taken a position. An agreement to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue peacefully could well have other benefits in improving U.S.-Iranian economic and political relations, including working together more closely to bring badly needed stability to the region, a key shared interest of the U.S. and Iran.

Senator Brown would be wise to support the President and stand up for diplomacy, not more war.

Nina McLellan,

Shaker Heights

McLellan is Co-President of Cleveland Peace Action.

###

Op-ed: Brown and Portman should not support Iran sanctions that would derail critical nuclear weapons negotiations

Negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program are fast approaching a major battle — not with Iran, but within the United States.

On one side, the Obama administration has created conditions for productive talks with Iran, with tougher sanctions, an agreement that Iran could continue to enrich uranium for peaceful nuclear power, and outreach to a new more moderate Iranian president. The strategy by President Barack Obama is apparently to negotiate a final package that provides far better insurance against Iran developing a nuclear weapon than any obtained during the previous 12 years of futile negotiations. Since polls of Americans (including American Jews) have consistently supported a negotiated solution, the Obama strategy would make it difficult for hard-liners to wreck a reasonable final agreement.

On the other hand, a senatorial challenge is taking shape: A bill which would impose new sanctions if negotiations fail includes a “Sense of Congress” section demanding that Iran “reverse” its development of nuclear infrastructure so that it is “precluded from a nuclear breakout capacity.” Since any peaceful enrichment of uranium or related technology could be considered building “capacity” and thereby could be “precluded,” the clause amounts to a poison pill. The same section of the bill preserves other sanctions unless Iran opens up its military facilities to inspection, improves its human-rights record, and stops supporting Hezbollah and the Syrian government. Thus, the extent of presidential waivers of sanctions could be greatly constrained.

If this bill achieves a veto-proof majority of 67 votes, administration officials believe Iran will consider this a violation of the interim understanding that promised no new sanctions during negotiations. In addition, the bill delays any new sanctions relief for a number of months (per the bill’s timetable), and it indicates to Iran that most sanctions will not be relieved for the foreseeable future. If, as a result, Iran walks away from negotiations, many of our sanctions partners would blame the United States and might resume trade with Iran.

This potential disruption of negotiations is of no concern to many senators who are not interested in any agreement with Iran. Freshman Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas summarized that view, saying that ending the negotiations “isn’t an unintended consequence of congressional action; it is very much an intended consequence.” But the biggest problem with this hard-line position is that it takes no account of the consequences of scuttling the negotiations.

First, the gains in security already agreed on under the interim agreement will be canceled. During this interim period, Iran has fully complied with its commitments to freeze its stock of low-enriched uranium, to eliminate or make less usable its stock of higher (20 percent) enriched uranium, to stop construction and alter the design of a plant that could generate plutonium, and to allow more inspections. If the new Senate bill passes and Iran leaves the table, these major concessions would be lost. Worse yet, if negotiations collapse, Iranian leaders have threatened to respond to new sanctions by ratcheting up uranium enrichment. Will the hard-line senators argue that losing the gains already achieved through negotiation and facing a recalcitrant Iran increases the security of the United States or Israel?

Then again, the underlying agenda of some hard-liners is really regime change — using Iran’s refusal to accept draconian terms for relief of sanctions as a justification to bomb Iran. For instance, without repudiation by their parties, a major Republican funder, Sheldon Adelson, proposed dropping nuclear bombs on Iran, and a major Democratic Party donor, Haim Saban, reportedly said he would “bomb the living daylights out of Iran.”

Unfortunately, the possible Iranian reaction to a military attack has been heedlessly downplayed by those who would undermine the negotiations. Iran’s population is three times Iraq’s, is highly nationalistic when it comes to outside attack, is heavily armed and adept at unconventional warfare, has 30,000 American sailors and soldiers within range of its missiles and attack boats, and could temporarily block transport of 20 percent of the world’s oil through the Persian Gulf.

Thus, if hard-liners win this Senate battle with the administration, the result will be far less security for the United States and Israel, and far greater risk of another ruinous trillion-dollar war. Ohio Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman should take heed and vote against the new sanctions bill.

Norman Robbins is an emeritus professor at Case Western Reserve University and an Iran consultant for Cleveland Peace Action.


Tell the Senate to support patient, persistent diplomacy with Iran

January 16, 2015

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The U.S. and its international allies are within reach of a peaceful resolution to the issue of Iran’s nuclear program. Negotiations about Iran’s nuclear program look very promising, with a framework agreement likely by March and a final deal possible by a June deadline. You may have seen promising media reports in the last day or two about negotiations in Geneva between Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, which is very good news.

However, conservative senators and even some supposed liberals are dead set on imposing new economic sanctions on Iran, which will risk scuttling the talks and putting us on a reckless path toward yet another Middle East war.

Contact your senators today and tell them diplomacy is the only answer, not more sanctions and threats of war.

We stopped sanctions last year, and intend to do it again, but your senators need to hear from you today. The new sanctions bill is scheduled to move through the Senate Banking Committee starting next week, with a full Senate vote expected in February or March. That may sound like we have a bit of time, but, unfortunately, pro-sanctions forces are lobbying hard, and senators may well decide their positions on this issue very soon, so this alert is extremely urgent.

While some senators claim their push for new sanctions is intended to support diplomacy, Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) let the cat out of the proverbial bag, stating “The end of negotiations isn’t an unintended consequence of congressional action; it’s an intended consequence.”

Please take a few minutes to contact your senators today.

This may be one of the most important actions for peace you could take this or any year. After you’ve sent your email to your senators, if you want to do more, please visit our Peace Blog for a target list of Democratic senators and sample letters to the editor for you to write a letter to your local newspaper, still one of the best ways for us to get our views out to a wide audience (and to senators as well, their staffs monitor the letters to the editor pages religiously).

Humbly for Peace,

 

Kevin Martin
Executive Director
Peace Action

P.S. – When you go to our action page please take a few minutes to edit the letter to your senators in order to personalize your message.


Promote Peace in the Press! Tell Senate Dems to support diplomacy with Iran, not sanctions and war – Target List and Sample Letters to the Editor

January 15, 2015

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Senate Republicans, aided and abetted by some (even supposedly liberal) Democrats, are dead set on passing legislation to impose new economic sanctions on Iran, which will almost surely scuttle the promising negotiations around Iran’s nuclear program. Senators Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) will introduce their new sanctions bill next week in the Senate Banking Committee. We stopped new sanctions last year and plan to do it again, but we need Senate Dems to hear loud and clear they must support patient, persistent diplomacy, not more sanctions and a push for another Middle East war.

Below is a target list of Democratic Senators, and then two sample letters to the editor you can use to write a letter to your local paper. Please edit and add your own points, but keep it short and sweet! Also please post any letters you get published on this blog.

Senate Democrats Target List:

Tier 1 – Dems who supported sanctions last Senate (13)

Michael F. Bennet (D-CO)

Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)

Cory Booker (D-NJ)

Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) [BANKING]

Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-PA)

Christopher Coons (D-DE)

Joe Donnelly (D-IN) [BANKING]

Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D-NY)

Joe Manchin, III (D-WV)

Robert Menendez (D-NJ) [S 1881 Sponsor]  [BANKING]

Gary Peters (D-MI) [New Senator, made strong statement supporting new sanctions]

Charles E. Schumer (D-NY)

Mark R. Warner (D-VA)  [BANKING]

 

Tier 2 – Dems who did not support or oppose sanctions last Senate (14)

Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)

Sherrod Brown (D-OH) [BANKING]

Al Franken (D-MN)

Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)  [BANKING]

Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI)

Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)

Edward J. Markey (D-MA)

Claire McCaskill (D-MO)

Jack Reed (D-RI)  [BANKING]

Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)

Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)

Jon Tester (D-MT)  [BANKING]

Tom Udall (D-NM)

Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)

 

Tier 3 – Banking Committee Dems who opposed sanctions last Senate (2)

Jeff Merkley (D-OR) [BANKING]

Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) [BANKING]

Please note Democratic senators not listed here are not considered priority targets, mostly because they firmly support continued diplomacy and oppose new sanctions. Senators Boxer and Feinstein from California and Durbin from Illinois, for examples, are in this category, it’s fine to write an attagirl/attaboy letter if you like!

 

Version #1 – Democratic Senator not yet taking a bad position re Iran sanctions or position unclear (Tiers 2 and 3 above)

To the editor:

The Obama Administration and its international partners are in the home stretch of negotiations with Iran to resolve concerns over its nuclear ambitions via patient, persistent diplomacy. A framework agreement to ensure Iran doesn’t develop nuclear weapons, in exchange for lifting punishing U.S. and international economic sanctions, is within reach over the next few months, and a final deal could be reached by a June deadline.

Some Senators, even some thought to be liberal Democrats, are supporting a bill to impose new sanctions on Iran, which will almost certainly scuttle negotiations and lead to calls for military action against Iran. That’s right, just what we don’t need, another Middle Eastern war!

Senator X has wisely [stood with the president, or not yet announced support for new sanctions] taken the position to give diplomacy a chance. An agreement to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue peacefully could well have other benefits in improving U.S.-Iranian economic and political relations, including working together more closely to bring badly needed stability to the region, a key shared interest of the U.S. and Iran.

None of that is likely if new sanctions are imposed by Congress and negotiations with Iran are scrapped. Senator X is wise to stand up for diplomacy, not more war.

Sincerely,

[Your name and address]

Version #2 – Democratic Senator supporting increased sanctions on Iran (Tier 1 above)

To the editor;

What is Senator X thinking regarding diplomacy with Iran? He/she is supporting new economic sanctions on Iran, which might well scuttle the negotiations with Iran led by the Obama Administration and the P5 +1 countries (U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Russia and China). If the talks, which show great promise of reaching a deal to peacefully resolve concerns over Iran’s nuclear program by this summer, fall apart, Senator X will have helped lay the groundwork for yet another war in the Middle East. Surely the senator must understand this.

The American people [or the people of your state] don’t want another war. Neither do Iranians. Iranian President Rouhani, dealing with his own difficult domestic political constituencies, has floated the idea of taking a prospective nuclear deal to his people via a referendum. What a terrific show of democracy that would be! And it would no doubt win in a landslide. Iranians want an end to the severe economic sanctions crippling their economy and, like the majority of the world’s people, have no use for nuclear weapons.

It’s clear some powerful Iranian hardliners oppose a deal. Why is Senator X making common cause with them, instead of standing with their own party’s president, and the people of [your state]? The Senator needs to hear from [Marylanders, New Yorkers, Michiganders, New Jerseyans etc.] to get on the right side of this issue by supporting diplomacy, not further sanctions and a push toward war.

Sincerely,

[Your name and address]


Tell Congress: No Backtracking on Iran Diplomacy

January 9, 2015

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The 114th Congress convened in Washington this week, with many Members eager to express their hawkish foreign policy views, especially when it comes to Iran.

We need your help to explain to Congress why diplomacy matters. Many new Members of Congress are also new to foreign policy. They don’t understand their constituents care about nuclear negotiations with Iran. I often hear from frustrated Congressional staffers that politics gets in the way of policy, meaning that Congress won’t oppose sanctions and support diplomacy unless they hear from us, loud and clear. Let’s flood Capitol Hill with a clear and unwavering pro-diplomacy message!

Peace Action leaders from around the country will converge on Capitol Hill for lobby meetings in just over two weeks, so this is a particularly timely alert. Your emails will help lay the groundwork for that lobbying effort.

Email your Senators today and explain why they must support diplomacy.

Republicans in the Senate have made clear that one of their first orders of business will be to scuttle talks with Iran by passing new sanctions. Unless we act now, these new sanctions would violate the interim nuclear deal, push Iran away from the negotiating table, and put us on the path to war with Iran.

With stakes this high, every single email is important. Can you take a moment right now to email your Senators?

Thank you for your support and action.

 

Humbly for Peace,

Kevin Martin
Executive Director
Peace Action

P.S. – Thank you to our colleagues at Win Without War for helping with this alert.


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