Thursday, July 29, 2010

Timtraveler responds to Victor Davis Hanson

Military historian and conservative think tank scholar Victor Davis Hanson was interviewed today on KQED radio's "Forum" program. Hanson refutes the "left's" claim that the War in Iraq was fought for oil. I responded with the following commentary:
Mr. Hanson stated "we have to look at the proof of the pudding...after we went in there, we had an open transparent auction and guess what: the Chinese, some European companies and the Russians bid and were accepted and they're in there now and no U.S. company is. I can't think of any so-called imperialistic venture that was intended to get oil...would then get no oil and allow all of its rivals to bid and get the concessions after we did all the heavy lifting..."

This is inaccurate, misleading and disingenuous. It may however serve Mr. Hanson's agenda. In a recent auction for oil field development in the south, it is true that American companies did not get contracts. That is because they did not even bid. But this concern about "American" companies is a straw man.

Development of oil fields is only one facet of the oil supply chain. The "winning" international bidders will receive per-barrel profits from the Iraqi state. There are still many fields to develop, many auctions yet to be run. If you are concerned about American companies, rest assured that Exxon-Mobil and Chevron are heavily involved in negotiations with the Iraqi government. Halliburton and other oil field services companies are profiting handsomely from operations in Iraq.

The United States is currently the largest importer of Iraqi oil. Expanding Iraqi oil production benefits the U.S., regardless who develops the fields. We will buy the oil whether the Russians, Chinese, Dutch or Indonesians "do the heavy lifting". Plentiful supply helps moderate the global oil market.

It would be naive to think that the United States does not have substantial influence in the Iraqi state-run auctions, which accept or reject bids and set the price oil field developers will be paid.

The more critical question is "who controls and manages the petroleum marketplace in Iraq?" You can be sure the U.S. government and the global (not just American) oil companies it depends upon are well-represented at the table. The wars are about controlling oil and establishing a powerful military presence in the midst of this volatile and resource-rich region. Cloaking this campaign in "freedom and democracy" just makes it more palatable to the American people.

Keystone: America's link to our "gentle" neighbor to the north, and their dirty, not-so-little, secret

Syncrude's oil sands operations, Fort McMurray, Alberta. Photo by: David Dodge, CPAWS

In June Congress conducted public hearings on the expansion southward into the U.S. of the Keystone pipeline, which is already delivering oil from Alberta's tar sands mining operations to Illinois.

Plans are to continue this pipeline to Oklahoma and, eventually to the Gulf of Mexico and perhaps Houston. More long-range plans extend the exploitation of tar sands into the Yukon's Mackenzie River Basin and the "North Slope" along the Arctic Ocean. As our nations, at each decision point, commit resources to these projects we are further locking in our fate, and narrowing our options to develop alternatives.

The industrialization of the Arctic and Subarctic ecosystems, elimination of arboreal forests, warming of the planet, contamination of pristine waters and endangerment of wildlife populations and indigenous cultures - all this must be considered when we fill up our gas tanks.

Industry is here to satisfy our "needs". We define those "needs" are and the value we place on them. Industry simply responds to the challenges, serving both customers and their bottom line. (Of course, when I say "we", I particularly target the richest 10% of Americans, who control most of the country's wealth. Our profligate consumption of fossil fuel far exceeds the "average American".)

These projects are being marketed as providing "energy security" and reducing our reliance upon "foreign oil".

Canada has been America's largest oil supplier for some time now. Fifty years ago, the U.S. had no need for foreign oil, now our reservoirs have been so depleted that we can supply only about 25% of our requirements, and increasingly this oil is coming from higher-risk operations, such as deep water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, Alaska's North Slope and planned Arctic Ocean operations, and increasingly from much more inefficient sources, such as the tar sands in Alberta or the oil shales of the Rocky Mountain States.

For oil and engineering companies, such as Bechtel, the Keystone pipeline general contractor, profitability favors continuing those operations you do best and most efficiently, that is building new pipelines and wells. Diverting energy to explore renewables, in the short term, hurts the bottom line.

For some background on this project, see:

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) PR page (Note the soft, soothing colors.)

Another industry PR machine: Consumer Energy Alliance

The resistance: and photos from the Alberta oil sands project. (Link no longer active:

And, in breaking news, one of Calgary-based Enbridge Inc.'s  many aging pipelines has spilled nearly a million gallons of oil into Michigan's Kalamazoo River.

U.N. General Assembly Adopts Resolution Recognizing Access to Clean Water, Sanitation as Human Right

122 nations voted in favor, none against, and 41 nations abstained. Among the abstentions were the U.S., United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Israel. For text of U.N. press release, see: U.N. General Assembly Press Release

It is argued that some nations oppose such a proclamation because it may interfere with "free markets" seeking to promote privatization and commercialization of fresh water resources.

What we can do: every bottle of water we buy promotes privatization and commercialization of fresh water resources. It in turn erodes the publicly-owned utilities that provide population access to fresh water.

Support local, state and federal measures to assure free access to safe drinking water. Encourage local communities to provide and maintain public water fountains. Use environmentally sound, long-lasting refillable containers for water. Discourage the mass distribution of bottled water.

See also: Blue Planet Project

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Now it's getting personal...

On July 17th, this story appeared in the British newspaper The Telegraph: "Mystery trader buys all Europe's cocoa".

According to The Telegraph:
Even Willy Wonka might struggle to use this much chocolate. Yesterday, somebody bought 241,000 tonnes of cocoa beans.

The purchase was enough to move the entire global cocoa market, sending the price to the highest level since 1977, and triggering rumours and intrigue in the City.

It is unclear which person, or group of traders, was behind the deal, but it was the largest single cocoa trade for 14 years.

The cocoa beans, which are sitting in warehouses either in The Netherlands, Hamburg, or closer to home in London, Liverpool or Humberside is equivalent to the entire supply of the commodity in Europe, and would fill more than five Titanics. They are worth £658 million.

Analysts said it was very unlikely that a chocolate company, such as Nestle or Kraft, or even their suppliers, would buy such a huge order in one go and that is was probable that one or a number of speculators, possibly hedge funds, had attempted to corner the market. By doing this, they would have control of the entire supply in Europe, forcing the price yet higher.

Eugen Weinberg, an analyst with Commerzbank, said: “For one buyer it would likely be a little bit too large. It would be a crazy number. That said, if you’re cornering the market ...”

“If it looks like cornering, feels like cornering and the price difference between Europe and the US is so large, it probably is cornering.”
This is the kind of speculation that has led to such volatility in world markets in recent years. Gamblers seeking "something for nothing." In the end, it's "the little people" who pay the price. Those not playing the markets, those who merely depend upon "free markets" to establish a fair price. That's most of us.

To all those who rage against President Obama and his "socialist agenda" I really have to ask, "is Capitalism working for you?"

See also, an interesting Democracy Now discussion of Frederick Kaufman's article "The Food Bubble: How Wall Street Starved Millions and Got Away With It." He tells how Goldman Sachs entered the wheat futures market on a purely speculative basis and helped push a four-fold increase in worldwide wheat prices. The story appears in the July edition of Harper's

Thursday, July 22, 2010

National Peace Conference to Bring the Troops home Now!

The National Peace Conference to Bring the Troops home Now will take place in Albany, New York this coming weekend. This announcement from Voters for Peace provides details:

We'll be offering live and recorded video coverage of the National Conference to Bring the Troops Home Now! taking place at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in downtown Albany this weekend (7/23-7/25).

The conference will bring together antiwar and social justice activists from across the country to consider what can be done to end the U.S. wars, occupations, bombing attacks, threats and interventions that are taking place in the Middle East and beyond.  See where the antiwar movement is today and where it is headed!

Our audio and video coverage starts Friday evening at 7 PM with the opening panel called "Strategies and Tactics in the Struggle to End the Empire's Wars and Occupations," featuring Medea Benjamin (CODE PINK), Glen Ford (Black Agenda Report), Teresa Gutierrez (International Action Center), Kathy Kelly (Creative Voices for Nonviolence), Kevin Martin (Peace Action), David Swanson (, Deborah Sweet (World Can't Wait) and more.

We hope your summer is going well and look forward to seeing you soon!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

North Pole Global Refuge (NPGR)

BP-built Endicott Island, in Alaska's Beaufort Sea, site of the "Liberty Project", an example of what the petroleum industry terms a low-impact "small footprint". Flaring of natural gas is just one of the "natural features" of the Arctic contributing to Global Warming.

Fresh from its stellar performance in the Gulf of Mexico, BP is preparing to commence drilling at its "Liberty" platform off the Alaska's North Coast. The incompetence, criminal disregard, hubris and contempt that BP demonstrated in addressing the Deepwater Horizon blowout should raise alarms wherever the oil industry is operating, and especially in remote wilderness environments.

According to a recent New York Times article (see BP Is Pursuing Alaska Drilling Some Call Risky)
Because of its location on the artificial island, (the Liberty Project) has been exempted from the moratorium on offshore drilling.

But about three miles off the coast of Alaska, BP is moving ahead with a controversial and potentially record-setting project to drill two miles under the sea and then six to eight miles horizontally to reach what is believed to be a 100-million-barrel reservoir of oil under federal waters.

All other new projects in the Arctic have been halted by the Obama administration’s moratorium on offshore drilling, including more traditional projects like Shell Oil’s plans to drill three wells in the Chukchi Sea and two in the Beaufort.

But BP’s project, called Liberty, has been exempted as regulators have granted it status as an “onshore” project even though it is about three miles off the coast in the Beaufort Sea. The reason: it sits on an artificial island — a 31-acre pile of gravel in about 22 feet of water — built by BP.

The project has already received its state and federal environmental permits, but BP has yet to file its final application to federal regulators to begin drilling, which it expects to start in the fall.

Some scientists and environmentalists say that other factors have helped keep the project moving forward.

Rather than conducting their own independent analysis, federal regulators, in a break from usual practice, allowed BP in 2007 to write its own environmental review for the project as well as its own consultation documents relating to the Endangered Species Act, according to two scientists from the Alaska office of the federal Mineral Management Service that oversees drilling.

The environmental assessment was taken away from the agency’s unit that typically handles such reviews, and put in the hands of a different division that was more pro-drilling, said the scientists, who discussed the process because they remained opposed to how it was handled.

“The whole process for approving Liberty was bizarre,” one of the federal scientists said.
The article goes on to say
Extended-reach drilling has advantages. Drilling at an angle might be less threatening to sensitive habitats. But engineers say that this type of drilling is riskier and more complicated than traditional drilling because it is relatively new and gas kicks are more frequent and tougher to detect.

And because of the distance and angles involved, drilling requires far more powerful machinery, putting extra pressure on pipes and well casings.
Here you can view the BP-authored Material Management Services: Liberty Project Environmental Impact Analysis.

As some interested parties view the melting of Arctic sea ice as heralding an unexpected opportunity to exploit this formerly inaccessible "resource" (as exploit we must!), it is time to create an international ecological preserve, a North Pole Global Refuge (NPGR) that restricts development, industrialization and exploitation of the Arctic Ocean and adjacent coastlines. The notion of creating a refuge expands upon measures already undertaken by the United States and Canada in establishing a joint Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

Writing in the New York Times on March 28, 2009, Scott Borgerson ("visiting fellow for ocean governance at the Council on Foreign Relations") and Caitlyn Antrim (executive director of the Rule of Law Committee for the Oceans) propose such a preserve:
The Arctic’s pristine waters are a leading indicator, and an important regulator, of global climate health. They are the beginning and the end of the so-called great ocean conveyor, the mighty current that connects all the world’s oceans. And they are home to a vibrant ecosystem that supports whales, polar bears and terns.
But their almost laughable vision suggests a quaint-sounding "international marine park" surrounding the North Pole above the 88th parallel.  (Prudhoe Bay, center of "North Slope" operations along the Arctic Ocean, is just above the 70th parallel.) Such a "scientific research park" would protect perhaps 2% of the Arctic Ocean from exploitation. In contrast, the Antarctic Treaty System governs all land and ice shelves south of the 60th parallel.

America, they write has
a vested interest in the peaceful development of the Arctic as a region. As citizens of a shared earth, we also have a stake in the greater good that can come from exploring the depths of the fastest warming part of the planet.

American leadership on a polar park would send a clear message that we are attuned to the climate crisis.
While visiting Prudhoe Bay in 2005, one of the features that struck me most (besides the obvious industrial complexes), was the brown haze that hung over the Arctic Ocean. Increasingly, we are dumping toxic wastes into the Arctic atmosphere, soil and water. This in an environment far less able to absorb, convert and mitigate the impacts of this damage.

According to the Times article

“The overall Liberty Project has been planned and designed to minimize adverse effects to biological resources,” BP wrote in 2007 in the development proposal to federal regulators. “Impacts to wetlands have been significantly reduced including shoreline and tundra habitat for birds and caribou.”
Since the 1990s, our now-notorious Materials Management Services has been conducting research on how to “respond to oil spills in ice infested waters”. (The methods include mechanical skimming, burning in place and use of chemical dispersants and “herders” – all benign inputs into the delicate Arctic ecosystem, I’m sure.)

The most effective solution so far, burning oil in situ, is only effective under specific conditions.

Near the end of their report, MMS cites concerns about the noise caused by seismic exploration ships and drilling operations such as Liberty – which impact marine life. Of course, all they offer is more research into mitigation of these negative impacts. Meanwhile, the industrialization proceeds…

Like other stuff, spills happen. They're inevitable. The Ixtoc blowout in the Gulf of Mexico in 1979. The Exxon Valdez in 1989. Iraq's intentional destruction of Kuwaiti oilfields in 1991. The Prestige oil tanker spill off Spain in 2002. The continued despoiling of Nigeria's Niger Delta. Deepwater Horizon in 2010. These are just a few of the big ones that have made headlines.

In 2006, BP was fined for a large on-shore oil spill at Prudhoe Bay in Alaska's tundra. Then there was BP's Texas City refinery disaster in 2005.

The Exxon Valdez disaster occurred in the relatively-mild Prince William Sound. In the event of an at-sea oil blowout in the Arctic, who will mobilize forces to mop up oil and restore the environment - in the middle of Arctic Night? And at what cost?

For decades, the oil industry has fought to literally undermine ANWR and exploit its significant potential. It is fascinating to observe the suicidal drive to extract and consume the earth's oil and gas resources with absolutely no regard to future generations. It is simply stunning in its stupidity. Oil companies and other profit-seeking enterprises fail to understand: you minimize the environmental impact by leaving pristine wilderness alone.

As we watch the pitiful efforts of Tyvek-clad clean-up crews walk Gulf beaches picking up individual globs of oil and depositing them in petroleum-based plastic bags, we fail to draw the connections. Responsibility for such scenes rests largely with America, the world's leading consumer, and compels us to reduce our dependence upon ever-dwindling nonrenewable resources. We may not lead the revolution, but without our committed involvement, it cannot possibly succeed.

September 2 update: Greenpeace attempts to disrupt British-owned Cairn Energy's Arctic drilling off Greenland.

Related story: The Arctic Oil Rush

Friday, July 16, 2010

Opportunity Cost

The Defense Department recently requested a $30 Billion "Supplemental" infusion for the War in Afghanistan. This was tied to the 30,000-troop escalation the Obama Administration began last December. It has been estimated (and these figures tend to confirm) that it takes $1 Million annually from American taxpayers for each and every warrior we place in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One American warrior fighting in a foreign land consumes more resources than 1,000 Haitian citizens.

Six months after the earthquake, Haitians still struggle to meet their most basic survival needs, while our Administration and Congress debate whether to funnel another $30 Billion into opportunistic wars. If this is not a crime against humanity, what is?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Haiti, six months later, and a portrait of an American hero

Actually, this Democracy Now broadcast features a couple of American heroes: Amy Goodman and Sean Penn.

Penn co-founded J/P Haitian Relief Organization and is now camp manager, at a tent camp in Petionville, in Port Au Prince. The camp houses 55,000 Haitians made homeless by the earthquake.

With only about 10% of funds that were "promised" by donor nations thus far received, donations are still desperately needed to fund the clean-up and rebuilding in Haiti.

Saturday, July 03, 2010


At a time when the BP oil spill is constantly in the news, it is useful to reflect upon our wider impact across the planet. Watch the movie Home on YouTube for some spectacular glimpses of this incredible world.

Frida Berrigan, "Dismantling Peace Movement Myths"

A speech for Peace Action Maine on April 26th, 2008. Although Berrigan's address was then focused on the war in Iraq, her comments apply equally to the current quagmire in Afghanistan.

Thanks so much for inviting me and for making me feel so welcome. I have spent a lot of time thinking about what I was going to say this evening.
Frankly, it is a tall order to stand up in front of a group of people who have just eaten and be expected to say anything that can compete with the natural digestive process. And it is tough to fly from New York and assume that what I would prepare to say would automatically be relevant or interesting to this Maine community as you come together to celebrate and honor a few of your own.
Oh, just to add to my challenge, this is not a college auditorium or a lecture hall. This is a peace supper, not the right venue for a simple recitation of the broad array of depressing and demoralizing statistics with which you are all already too familiar.
So, what I am trying to say is: I did not want to risk winging it. This moment in time contains so much hope and possibility and so much death and destruction. These are not easy times and they are not getting easier — and so I thought that I would take on some of the myths that burden, complicate and undermine our peace movements.
We have internalized some of these myths pretty deeply. We even reinforce them with one another. So, I thought it might be a valuable exercise to spend some time together dismantling a few of them.
What follows is my high subjective (and certainly incomplete) compilation of the myths of the peace movement.

  • In the 1960s, the peace movement was so much more powerful and so much cooler than we are.
  • There are no young people active in the peace movement. Don’t they care?
  • We are marginalized and we are not having an impact.
  • We’re not smart enough to oppose the war.
  • All we need to do is get the right person in the White House and then they’ll enact our solutions.
Does any of this sound familiar? This is what I hear from brothers and sisters over and over again. Now, these myths are not equal — some are bigger than others. And some have a kernel of truth (which is why they are myths and not lies) but cumulatively this constant bombardment is a real bummer.
So, I’m saying they are not true — I’m saying that there are young people, and we are having an impact, and that no one person in any position of power is going to offer any answer automatically or just because they promised they would.
I’m saying we are the ones we have been waiting for, that we are creating the alternative. If that is what we are doing, not just going through some exercise of opposition, some knee-jerk resistance or recalcitrance, then we have a lot of work ahead of us — and need to take the work more seriously, and ourselves less so.
And that starts with dismantling myths.
Myth One: In the 1960s, the peace movement was so much more powerful and so much cooler than we are today.

I want to start with the 1960s one. 2008 is a big year for revivals and recollections and reunions for the historians and the academics and the activists. 40 years since: the police riot in Chicago, the assassination of Martin Luther King and of Bobby Kennedy, Tommie Smith and John Carlos giving the black power salute as they received their Olympic medals, since Catonsville. And those are just a few of the things that happened in the U.S. that year — around the world there was Prague Spring, the massacre at Tlateloco, the Paris uprising, the Biafran war. Here we are forty years later, and it is a potent moment for reflection.
But, the demonstrations at the Democratic National Convention in Denver this summer are happening under the slogan “Recreate Sixty-Eight.” Disclaimer: Now, I don’t mean to undermine or disparage the work of activists and organizers in Denver and all of the friends who will go to Colorado this summer to demonstrate, and at the same time implore the democratic party to be the party of the people.
I like the rhythm of language a lot. And I love alliteration. In that way — Recreate Sixty Eight is AWESOME. I love how it sounds. The organizers have their reasons for choosing it beyond how cool it sounds. There are a lot of lessons to learn from that era, and a lot of good things that happened that year.
But “recreate sixty-eight”? We cannot and should not recreate sixty-eight. The parallels between today and forty years ago are clear and compelling, and as I said there is a lot to learn from that period.
But here we are in 2008 and we need to be building a movement and building bridges between movements (because we are not a monolith) that is rooted in an analysis and understanding of this moment, this place, this context.
I was struck to read recently that at the beginning of 1968, less than half the American people believed the war in Vietnam was wrong, 45%, and that more than 15,000 U.S. soldiers had been killed and nearly 100,000 wounded. So the Vietnam War was both more bloody and more popular than the war and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan are in 2008.
In every way, this nation is less homogeneous than it was 40 years ago: we are racially, ethnically, religiously more diverse and more stratified. We are so much poorer, and so much richer than we were forty years ago. We are less innocent. We are less naïve. In short — we are different. And this war is different. And so our movements must also be different.
But the media compares ‘68 and ‘08, the peace movement then and now. Some activists then and now compare us, some leaders (those who survived) compare that time to now as they seek new relevance.
But, we must not fall sway to this comparison.
We live in the United States of America — a deeply nostalgic and deeply ahistorical nation saddled with a case of amnesia that approaches pathology. My SAT prep teacher would be so proud of that sentence. This is a dangerous and counterproductive combination — nostalgic amnesia. And it infects our peace movements. We are tempted to fetishize the past instead of learn from it. The past is constantly being rewritten and repackaged and then sold to us as a distorted reflection in a house of mirrors. So, we don’t want to recreate sixty-eight; we want to harness some of that energy, that sense of power and possibility and apply it to our very different context today.
Myth Two: There are no young people active in the peace movement. Don’t they care?

And that leads to an interconnected myth: “Where are the young people?” I was at a college in Connecticut a few years ago and I think I was talking about war profiteering. It was a Friday afternoon and one of those early spring, warm days where the flip-flops get dragged out of the back of the closet.
Needless to say, there were not a lot of students there — but those who were there were active, engaged and very, very earnest. The dialogue was going great until a professor stood up and asked me: “Where are the students? Where are the young people? They don’t care. In my day, we were so radical. If there was a draft, man, then they’d know.”
“If there was a draft…” It struck me as so spiteful. That would teach ‘em. They’d be sorry they never paid attention in my class. I did not hear from him a sense of responsibility as a professor. No understanding of who these young people are he has made it his career to teach. And, no sense of agency, that he could help them do or be anything different.
So, I responded in a few ways: 1) There is a draft — it is a whole series of backdoor drafts, the people who are fighting these wars don’t want to be there and they cannot easily and legally leave — they are drafted. 2) There will not be another draft — so hoping that instituting a draft will catalyze a new generation of resistance is a non-starter (as Cheney would say) 3) The draft during the Vietnam war turned out lots of people against the war, but organizing under the banner “bring our boys home” meant that when Nixon “Vietnamized” the war, the mass anti-war movement packed up and went home — long before the war was over, long before the killing stopped.
It was for many people a movement based on self-interest — which may be bigger, but is in many ways less powerful than one built on principle and solidarity. The average “lifespan” of a 60s activist was about six months — from tuning on at their first protest to tuning out and going back to Middle America. You don’t end war in six-month increments — no matter how much you rage during that period. Can we see ourselves today — in 2008 — building an anti-war movement founded on the idea that war is a failure of the imagination, that war is wrong, and that it must be resisted and opposed even if it is not affecting one personally? I think we can.
This question — where are the young people? — is heart-breaking. It misses all the incredible and courageous work that young people are doing all over this country. It says that young people are not doing peace and justice work because they are not doing it with us.
And it misses the fact that young people today have so much more to lose — unless they are from very poor or very wealthy backgrounds, young people graduate from college saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in debt and no guarantee of a job. That debt is a kind of draft — college grads are drafted into a life-cycle of taking on more debt, working two jobs, having little time for friendships or community. And all the time the culture whispers: go ahead and buy it –you deserve it — and a little more debt doesn’t matter. But, step out of line, miss one payment, and the house of cards collapses. We need to understand our young people and what they are up against.
But, we are at war and young people are at the forefront — not just of the college-educated, debt-burdened variety. But urban and rural high school students are finding the new Students for a Democratic Society and creating a new legacy for that 60s-era organization. And there is something else that is missed by that “where are the young people?” question. More and more young people are in uniform. And they are calling cadence of the anti-war movement. And the war is not an abstraction for them: they know what 138-degree heat under Kevlar feels like. They see the lies up close. They have tasted fear and witnessed and participated in war crimes. They are paying the price for this administration’s hubris and imperial designs with part of their bodies. They come home haunted and broken and hopping mad.
So, there are young people. And they need support and guidance, not condescension. One of the best things the War Resisters League has done in the last 10 years or so is to sublet space to Iraq Veterans Against the War in New York City. And over coffee and at the copy machine a dialogue between principled pacifists and people who volunteered for military service begins. It is a dialogue that will need to continue for years. It is a dialogue that makes us stronger, and it ensures that the next generation of peace activists will be more powerful and more sophisticated than the last — understanding the past, but looking and moving forward, never back.
Myth Three: We are marginalized and we are not having an impact.
At the War Resisters League, we have had to relearn the fine art of the press release, because a few years back we realized that not only was the media coming out to our demonstrations, but they were lifting whole sections from our press releases — warts and all, and we had better write better ones if we wanted better coverage.
We were so used to being marginalized and written off and now there we were on the front page. It took some adjustment. Starting in 2003, just about every demo we’ve organized has gotten great press coverage. Sometimes the tone is snarky, and reporters always ask why we did not have more people — but we got covered.
Eventually, I realized we were getting press coverage not just because of our cutting edge, awesome demonstrations. But because we were manifestations of popular sentiment against the war. At a time when the administration is desperately trying to distract the American people from the war and the economy those two things are becoming fused in people’s minds, and we are part of triggering, directing and sustaining that discussion. And that discussion turns the wheel of action.
We are still small. But, we speak for the majority of Americans every time we go into the streets. And it leads to this interesting sense of accountability. I am not just here for me. I am here for many people who cannot be here because they are working or they are afraid or they don’t know this is happening — but would be happy if they did.
We are having an impact. So let’s use it while we have it. Because it will not always be that way. Whenever I am at a protest and it is all thumbs up and honking horns, I think about World War II, and what it would have been like to be a peace activist then.
Two of the peace activists I most admire — my mother and father — both supported the war in their own way. My mom was just a girl then, and talks about collecting cigarette and gum wrappers that they turned in. They were told that the wrappers would be made into ammunition. Everyone was part of the war effort. People planted victory gardens — and at one point during the war, 40% of people’s food came from those gardens, even in urban areas. I am staying at a friend’s house and they have a sign from that era that says: “Save waste fats for explosives. Take them to your meat dealer.”
My dad served in the Army in WWII. He was a field-decorated lieutenant. My uncles Jerry, Tom and Jim all served in WWII and my Uncle John was in the army, but did not go overseas. Of six brothers, only one — my Uncle Dan who had already entered the Jesuits — did not enlist.
People in the U.S. suffered because of WWII. Sacrificed was demanded and expected. Food and gas were rationed and Americans were called on to buy war bonds. At the height of the war, 40% of gross domestic product went to fund war.
Ralph DiGia, Bill Sutherland, the others who refused to serve in the military during World War II had to withstand that propaganda, and I cannot imagine how difficult that was.
So, today we are not opposing a popular total war.
We are resisting a war that barely registers on many peoples’ radar screens. But — when it registers — the war is profoundly unpopular. The latest polls about the war have more than 70% of Americans opposed to the war, and when the question gets more general — 80-something percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the direction this country is going.
But, we risk falling into a moebius strip logic trap: the war is unpopular; people oppose the war, war ends. But, it has not ended. It has ground on for five long years in Iraq, for seven for the long global war on terrorism.
Myth Four: We are not smart enough to end the war.

We have to dismantle the myth that only experts can get us out of Iraq, and unless we can formulate a rock solid plan for withdrawal from Iraq, we cannot really oppose the war.
Why? Why? Why does the war go on if the American people don’t want it? There are many answers to this question and I don’t have all of them — but the one I see most often and most clearly is this: even good people who would like there not to be a war don’t see a clear way out. And they don’t understand the complexities — you start talking Sunni, Shiite, Awakening, Badr Brigades, Nouri al-Maliki, Sadr City, phased redeployment and you have lost them one, two, three, seven times over. And not seeing a clear way out, and not being completely fluent in the language of deadly quagmire on an epic scale, they tune out.
We have a role and a task here as peace activists and organizers. And our role is not to teach them the grammatical nuances of the language of deadly quagmire on an epic scale.
Our role is to say: you do not need to have a PhD in foreign affairs to say that the war is wrong, to say that withdrawal needs to be immediate and complete, to say that we should not be spending our blood and treasure on wars of preemptive aggression based on lies. In fact, it is the PhDs and the experts, the arm chair warriors who got us into this war.
It takes courage, and moral and political clarity to reject the “pottery barn” maxim of foreign policy — we broke it, we bought it. No, we need to say: Iraq is not a vase or a candelabra. We need to say to Washington: you broke it. And we did not buy it. And, at the same time acknowledge that we will be paying for Iraq forever — $3 trillion and counting is the estimate that Stiglitz and Bilmes are using these days.
But we cannot occupy that country forever. The U.S. occupation is a catalyst and cause of violence, not the deterrent. The immediate and complete withdrawal is not a process; it is an executive order.
Myth Five: We can elect our way to an end to war.
But, if we can’t stand up for all of that, we fall back on another myth — the myth that we can express our anti-war sentiments through candidates. That the democratic majority in Congress — the so-called revolution of 2006 — or an Obama or Clinton in the White House — will fulfill our anti-war agenda. The myth is that the right politician will say the right thing at the right time. Those magical incantations will part the quagmire like Moses parted the Red Sea and allow a new administration to do right what Bush did so wrong. It is a myth.
It is a myth. And I am not just saying this because I have found the last two years of campaigning emotionally and physically exhausting. And I’m not even running. Just watching it is irritating at this point.
Politicians will not save us. Democracy is not lever pulling or chad punching. It is not branding and messaging and framing and divining the new micro-interest group. It is not one day every two or four years. And it certainly is not the elaborate and vicarious puppetry spectacle and pageantry of the last eight years. It is hard, sustained, incremental, engaged work.
The name plate on the desk in the Oval Office is a very very small part of what we need to be working for. And yet the election sucks all the oxygen out of the room — especially this one when there are racial and gender milestones at stake. And it sucks all the money out of the room. And it sharpens the lines that divide us.
And when we cede the answers to some politician, we invest in other people and in other systems what we really need to be investing in ourselves, in one another and in our movements. It puts our hope and our energy in the hands of people with other agendas and other masters.
And that brings me to my stirring conclusion — it is us. It is you and I. It is Peace Action’s platform to Reclaim Maine (a great — and meaningful — name). We are the alternative. This room is full of good people who work so hard — war tax resisters making a principled decision not to pay for war and philanthropists who are generous and dependable, carpenters and green thumbs, computer whizzes and luddites, visionaries and implementers.
We are the alternative. We are the answer. And if you are looking around this room thinking “uh-oh,” that’s a good thing. Because coming to grip with this truth in the midst of all these myths means we need to be self-critical and challenge each other. It means we should do more — be more — reach out more and welcome more in.
We cannot wait. We cannot wait for a leader. We cannot wait for “the plan.” We cannot wait for things to get worse. We cannot wait for the answers.
We have the answers, and it is us.
What is the alternative to depression and recession? Sharing.
What is the alternative to subprime mortgages crisis? Collective ownership.
What is the alternative to hunger? Farms and gardens.
What is the alternative to war and terrorism? International cooperation, universally accepted and enforced norms for nation-states, development that meets peoples’ needs.
What is the alternative to prison, to soulless schools, to militarized borders? to capitalism and market driven globalization? to cluster bombs?
We answer these questions together and we create the alternatives together. We enact news truths that replace the myths.
Peace Action Maine invited Frida Berrigan, who serves on the board of the War Resisters League and works for the New America Foundation’s Arms and Security Initiative, to speak at their annual Peace Supper in Portland, Maine.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Support the Out of Afghanistan Caucus

Out of Afghanistan Caucus Calls for NO VOTE on War Funding
Published on Thursday, July 1, 2010 by

by Medea Benjamin

With a vote scheduled tonight on the $33 billion supplemental for the Afghan war, members of the Out of Afghanistan Caucus held a press conference today, July 1 to express their opposition to the war funding. The Caucus, chaired by Congressman John Conyers, is an informal group of 21 members dedicated to reorienting US policy towards diplomacy and the swift redeployment of the US military.

Speaking at the press conference were Rep. John Conyers, Bob Filner, Alan Grayson, Barbara Lee, Judy Chu, Sheila Jackson Lee and Mike Honda. Cong. Maxine Waters arrived late and didn’t get a chance to speak.

The congresspeople addressed the hypocrisy of the fiscal conservatives in Congress who are concerned about the out-of-control deficit but support the war supplemental. Cong. Conyers labelled his Out of Afghanistan group the “fiscally-conservative doves” and called on fiscal conservatives of all political stripes to vote against the war supplemental. Cong. Honda complained that the administration said last year would be the last time the war budget was presented as a supplemental, outside the normal budget, but then the administration turned around and requested another supplemental. “Supplementals are always deficit spending and if fiscal conservatives are serious, they must vote against this,” Honda said.

Congressman Filner, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, painted a grim picture of the cost of the war for U.S. soldiers. While the official figures talk about 5,000 dead and 45,000 wounded, he said the true cost was exponentially higher. “Close to one million soldiers have visited VA hospitals for war-related injuries. Hundreds of thousands have brain injuries or PTSD,” he said. “We can’t keep this up. It’s time to bring our children home.”

Congresswoman Chu said that Congress was first told by Secretary Gates that we needed 2,500 more soldiers in Afghanistan, then Admiral Mullen called for 20,000 more, then McChrystal said 30,000 more. “What is the correct number of troops we need in Afghanistan?”, she asked. “Zero. More troops just means more trouble.”

Congressman Nadler said we had every right to target bases where people were plotting against to attack us, but not to make war against those countries. “We have no business intervening in an Afghan civil war,” he said. “It’s a fool’s errand. If the Afghan soldiers don’t have the will and motivation to fight the Taliban, we can’t instill that in them. And without the will and motivation, there’s no winning.”

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee related the war funding to the BP disaster. “We have a crisis of tsunami proportions in our own Gulf with the BP disaster that will require billions, perhaps trillions, of dollars. We need our resources to fight this war at home,” she said.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee talked about her amendment to strike war funding from the Supplemental, and the hopes that her amendment will be voted on tonight. The other anti-war amendment is the one presented by Cong. Jim McGovern, which calls for a detailed withdrawal plan and has 100 co-sponsors.

Before the vote tonight, we need an all-out push for more no votes. The following list of “liberal Democrats” must be pressured to vote no: Yvette Clarke, Steve Cohen, Jim Cooper, Jerry Costello, Barney Frank, Luis Gutierrez, Jay Inslee, Steve Kagen, John Lewis, Edward Markey, Doris Matsui, Jim McDermott, George Miller, Grace Napolitano, Richard Neal, James Oberstar, Jan Schakowsky, Mike Thompson, Edolphus Towns, Nydia Velázquez, and Anthony Weiner.

While Afghanistan Caucus members spoke passionately today about ending the war, unfortunately they, and the anti-war movement, don’t have the clout to stop this round of war funding. Even though the majority of Americans now oppose the war, the majority in Congress will probably still vote for it. While we must make every effort possible today to get more anti-war votes, we have to build a stronger movement if we are really serious about ending this war!

Medea Benjamin ( is cofounder of Global Exchange ( and CODEPINK: Women for Peace (

Today's Democracy Now broadcast is devoted to a discussion of the U.S. strategy and policy in Afghanistan:

Ambassador Eikenberry's Cables on U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan

In the above-linked secret November 2009 cable from U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan (and retired lieutenant general) Karl Eikenberry discusses his misgivings about America's counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan.

Press Release from the Institute for Public Accuracy:

Another $33 Billion for War in Afghanistan Today?

July 1, 2010

By Rebecca Griffin

Political director of Peace Action West, Griffin said today: "It’s happening now. After weeks of stalling and amidst growing dissent from the public and Congress, the House will vote on $33 billion for escalating the war in Afghanistan.

"The McChrystal debacle has fueled a larger debate about the failing counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan. Thirty members of Congress wrote to Nancy Pelosi asking to delay a vote and raising concerns about the possibility that the military could ask for even more troops. Another group wrote to Obama calling for an end date for the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. Rep. John Conyers has started a new Out of Afghanistan Caucus in Congress to keep the momentum going."

Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, Rep. Michael Honda, Rep. John Conyers and Rep. Alan Grayson just released a statement: "Progressives Issue Challenge to Conservatives on War Spending: If You're Serious About Fiscal Responsibility, Oppose Afghan Funds," which states: "Our challenge: if you oppose deficit spending, debt dependency on China, cuts to Social Security, and are concerned about a debt-threat to our national security, then oppose this supplemental war funding request."

Also see: "McGovern, Obey Lead House Showdown on Afghanistan War."

Background: Obama had stated there would be no more supplementals. He wrote in April 2009: "This is the last planned war supplemental. Since September 2001, the Congress has passed 17 separate emergency funding bills totaling $822.1 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. After 7 years of war, the American people deserve an honest accounting of the cost of our involvement in our ongoing military operations.

"We must break that recent tradition and include future military costs in the regular budget so that we have an honest, more accurate, and fiscally responsible estimate of Federal spending."

For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020