Friday, February 24, 2017

The Hubris Of Endless Wars Brings Down Empires -- In The End

Image courtesy Anthony Freda
No war is really endless, though it can seem that way in comparison with the puny life span of humans. A span which wars typically make even more puny; just ask the relatives of nine babies, toddlers and children killed in Yemen by U.S. special forces on January 29.

Back in 2003 when Bush Jr. proposed to attack Iraq on the basis of lies about their offensive capabilities, millions around the globe poured into the streets to protest. The invasion happened anyway, and the U.S. is still there. 

During the Obama years, liberals in the U.S. went silent. We were still in Iraq and Afghanistan (and building bases as fast as we could in Somalia and Sudan, and bombing Libya, and arming "moderate" rebels in Syria and "pivoting" toward Asia) and the Pentagon's share of budget was still climbing upwards from 50% of the total. But the commander in chief was handsome and his wife and daughters were beautiful and, besides, "terror" and "9/11" were words often heard from his lips.

Image courtesy Anthony Freda

So with the ascendance of the demogogue with bad hair I've been curious to see if people would flood back into the streets to protest the crippling costs -- environmental, financial or spiritual -- of U.S. wars that now seem designed to be endless.

Not seeing it.

Masses of white middle class women whose reproductive rights are threatened will not come out against wars. They mostly supported Hillary or Bernie, both of whom had long pedigrees as warmongers. Their privilege and lack of initiative in finding real news for themselves will continue to blind them.

But there are glimmers of hope.

Alli McCracken and associates January 20, 2017 in Washington DC (photo: Nony Dutton)
A 20-something friend who recently left her job at an NGO reported that she has found plenty of young people in Washington DC organizing around anti-imperialism and committed to opposing wars and occupations. Pushing back against U.S. enabling of Israel's brutal occupation of Palestine is one aspect of their work, and this will surely become more important under the current regime.

Today I'm taking a meeting with two young people in Maine who responded to my "Open Letter to Young Organizers: I'm Against Imperial Wars, How About You?". My pitch was basically, I'll gladly support your issues and I invite you to consider supporting my opposition to wars.

Image courtesy Anthony Freda

Environmental advocacy is what young people care fervently about as they contemplate their future on a devastated planet. My job in my remaining years here is to connect the dots between militarism and pollution. 

Decades of failing to count the carbon output (and other pollutants) generated  by the Pentagon and its contractors has enabled the elephant in the room to evade notice. As Professor Tom Hastings of Portland State University noted, each time a new administration comes into office, advances in holding the Pentagon accountable for its carbon footprint are swept away by the "new" regime.

Plenty of signals indicate the waging of war will continue apace no matter whether the occupant of the White House has a D or an R after his or her name.

An inaugural promise by the demagogue with bad hair to "eradicate completely from the face of the Earth" the threat of "radical Islamic terrorism" is idiotic of course. For one thing, terrorism is a strategy and not a thing that can be eradicted. Secondly, our relentless bombing and invading of oil-rich nations and strategically located nations has only produced (as predicted) far more radical Islamic warriors. As intended. How else to keep the profit mills spinning so that the CEOs of war profiteers like General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin can continue to rake in the spoils of war? 

Conversion to a peace economy is the only path forward out of this wilderness, but that possibility will be squelched and silenced by squeals about terror.

cartoon by Will Park

My friend organizer Bruce Gagnon is convinced that the master plan is to cut social programs to the bone to continue funding Pentagon-affiliated profit centers. This is hopeful in the sense that most people will not rise up and demand change until it is their ox that is being gored.

Are the powers that be just waiting until the elderly voters of the baby boom generation are out of the picture? I predict they will be amazed at the rising generations of resistance.
Kecia Lewis as Mother Courage in a 2016 production by the Classic Stage Company 

German playwright Bertolt Brecht created his historical play Mother Courage and Her Children to comment on how a society at war makes everyone dependent upon the conflict even as it consumes its own young. Created in resistance to the rise of Fascism and Nazi warmongering, the setting is the Thirty Years' War that engulfed Europe from 1618 to 1648. It probably seemed endless to those who endured it. 

In 2002 then U.S. Ambassador Richard Haass laid out the master plan in effect to this day:

There can be no exit strategy in the war against terrorism. It is a war that will persist. There is unlikely to be an Antietam, a decisive battle in this war. An exit strategy, therefore, will do us no good. What we need is an endurance strategy.

Ours is not the first empire to fall prey to this kind of hubris. Romans, Ottomans, Persians, Nazis, Japanese imperialists: all thought they were mighty unto eternity, and all wheezed to a halt when their resources had been exhausted.

Image courtesy Anthony Freda

This time the resource we exhaust may be the capacity of the planet to support our form of life. Earth may have the ultimate endurance strategy, and it many very well not include us.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Hiding From Constituents During Recess

A sign of the times is elected "representatives" hiding from the very people they were elected to represent. 

Voters in Maine mounted a campaign to find their elusive representative Bruce Poliquin during the congressional recess this week. Ridgely Fuller of Belfast wrote:

For the last two months 2nd District voters have been visiting, calling and writing to Rep. Bruce Poliquin’s offices requesting  Town Hall meetings during the congressional recess. Constituents want to share their concerns and understand Bruce Poliquin’s vision for the future of Maine. Despite assurances that we would receive a response last Friday were told that his home recess schedule was “completely booked”.  His office staff in Wash DC informed us that Rep. Poliquin does not hold Town Meetings for “security” reasons. They also won’t release his schedule for “security” reasons.
An automated response to a request for an appearance told us [Poliquin] uses visits in the 2nd  District only to meet with “job creators” and “local leaders”.

Meanwhile I was with another group of constituents who turned up at the Portland Public Library yesterday because of an email they had received stating that Senator Angus King would be on hand to respond to his constituent's concerns.

Instead they were met by part time office staffer Dan Reardon who was bewildered at their misunderstanding. Queried about when King would be holding town hall meetings during the recess, he responded that none were scheduled. But, he would be happy to convey our questions to the senator.

Here's what Eric Poulin of The Soapbox on WMPG, Southern Maine's Community Radio Station wanted to ask:

When it was my turn I asked how the senator reconciled his proclaimed advocacy for environmental health with his years of funding for the Pentagon, the biggest fossil fuel consumer of any organization on the planet. Reardon responded, "That's a good question." 

If King himself had been there I expect that he would have answered my question by citing the need for "security" as a top priority, and then dodged my follow up question, "But senator, isn't our greatest security threat climate chaos and rising sea levels?" These are inconvenient truths that those in power believe are best not aired in public.
"Protest at Arctic Council events in Portland" October 5, 2016

King, who hosted an arctic council in Maine last year to plan how to capitalize on opportunities offered by thawing northern shorelines, would probably rather not have to answer my question.

Meanwhile, just up the road, a different group of constituents was chasing down Maine's other senator, Susan Collins, following a street action opposing the North Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) outside major investor TD Bank. Activists Starr Gilmartin reported:

We went down the street with Morgana [Warner Evans] to do an impromptu town hall meeting with Collins lunching at restaurant down the hill. She refuses to go to town halls to meet with the community, the community will meet her on the street.

In a related development, the juiciest troll bait on my twitter feed this week was the demand that my rep should meet with his constituents. It seemed like the talking points had already gone out to attack anyone who called out a rep for failing to meet with the public.

(Note that Chellie Pingree is not my representative, and I am unable to find if she is or isn't holding any community meetings during recess as she usually does.) 

A tempest in the rather small teapot that is the state of Maine, but part of an international trend where public agencies stop even pretending to be accountable to the public they serve. A concerned Australian shared this tidbit from a letter she recieved from Greenpeace recently:

we asked a government agency - the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) - for information about a proposal to give $1billion of taxpayers’ money to kick-start the Carmichael coal mine. Denied. Why? It might generate community protests and questions from journalists. 
This behaviour from our government is secretive and undemocratic. They're ready to spend billions of public dollars funding dirty energy and endangering a national treasure - the public has every right to know about it.
This seasoned environment activist further noted:
hitting a brick wall in my efforts to encourage Westpac bank, one of Australia's ' Big Four' not to support Adani.  A submission through their suggestions and feedback page met with a ' we are unable to respond to your email, please ring..' I did and was advised that the online form was the only way to communicate with them, with further suggestion that perhaps there were problems with their website. I tried again later with the same result. 
Despite being told that they do not have a mailing address, I have discovered one, so the next step will be posting a snail mail letter and lodging a copy in person at a branch.  
So there's another tactic -- give people the run around until they give up.
But guess what? We're not giving up.