Sunday, October 28, 2018

War Tax Resistance Can Look Like Opposition To State Tax Giveaways For Wealthy Corporations

Below is the text I prepared for remarks on a panel at Maine's annual war tax resistance gathering yesterday in Portland. Despite elaborate preparations with a helpful tech person from USM, when the time came I was unable to show the visuals I had prepared to go along with my talk. So here is the whole presentation as a blog post.

I was honored to meet fellow panelist Georges Budagu Makoko. A member of the Banyamulenge, a Tutsi tribe, George spoke of fleeing from the horrors of war in DRC Congo and then Rwanda. He was granted asylum in the U.S. and became a citizen and father of two young citizens. Now George educates people on how war drives immigration. He led a discussion where several of us considered how to move past fear and take an honest look at how the U.S. military contributes to conflict and suffering around the planet. I want to read his book, Ladder to the Moon

The third panelist, Bob Klotz of 350 Maine, spoke eloquently of the addiction and suffering he witnesses in his work as a physician's assistant, and the connection to the suffering of the environment under the carbon belching Pentagon.

War Tax Resistance Can Look Like Opposing State Tax Giveaways For Wealthy Corporations
by Lisa Savage    10/27/18

War tax resistance is usually thought of as refusal to pay federal taxes associated with the Pentagon's mammoth budget. But resistance comes in many forms, and a grassroots campaign here in Maine is one of them.

I was asked to speak today about the campaign to resist a $60 million tax giveaway by the state of Maine to the mega wealthy weapons manufacturer General Dynamics.

Graphic: Providence Journal "Defense firms spend big on lucrative stock buybacks"

The resistance to this piece of legislation, LD1781, succeeded in reducing the amount to $45 million. It also succeeded in changing the source of the giveaway from being excused from turning over state taxes withheld from workers' paychecks at Bath Iron Works, which is a subsidiary of General Dynamics. It also delayed the bill's passage -- thus driving up the cost of lobbying for GD -- and exposed the Democrat's caucus in the Maine House as liars. It galvanized public support, and drew Maine's big city newspapers into the effort to silence dissent around corporate welfare. It laid bare the bipartisan nature of corporate government we labor under at the city, state and national level.

Some background information is relevant. When "progressive" Democrat Chellie Pingree was still in the Maine legislature in 1997, the then-Senate majority leader spoke out against a tax giveaway for General Dynamics. The occasion? GD was threatening to close the historic Bath Iron Works shipyard it had recently purchased unless Maine taxpayers funded an expansion of the facilities there. Pingree was quoted at the time as saying, “I don’t think BIW would deny that General Dynamics could pay for the expansion. The question is, ‘Would they?’” 

By the time Pingree had ascended to Congress, she defended her support of Pentagon budgets by explaining to me personally that she had been threatened in Washington DC by an unidentified "they" i.e. "They say, do you want to be responsible for the loss of 3,000 jobs your first term in office?" 

The threat worked well, because Pingree's vote just recently helped pass the largest Pentagon budget in years.

Community organizers in the city of Bath have fought this kind of thinking for years now. They've opposed big tax breaks for BIW from Bath as well as from Maine. They've worked with the workers and the unions at BIW to oppose the warped thinking that relies on fear and arm twisting to squeeze tax breaks from cash strapped public entities while executives receive tens of millions annually, and billions are expended buying back General Dynamics' own stock.
They've shared the news that building weapons is actually an ineffective jobs program; studies show that thousands more jobs are generated by investing in health care, education, or other kinds of manufacturing.

Bath residents Bruce Gagnon and Mary Beth Sullivan outside General Dynamics' Bath Iron Works shipyard.
 So much for background. A chronology of this year's campaign against LD1781 goes something like this:

Democrats Jennifer DeChant in the Maine House and Eloise Vitelli in the Maine Senate agree to co-sponsor a bill written by lobbying firm Preti Flaherty on behalf of General Dynamics/Bath Iron Works.

Rep. DeChant blocks videographer Martha Spiess from attending an informational meeting requested by her constituents in Bath. She later admits this was wrong and apologizes. But, she subsequently blocks me from her account as a Maine legislator on Twitter.

Investigative journalist Alex Nunes of Rhode Island contacts Maine resistance organizers to offer his expertise on General Dynamics' strong arming of state governments in Rhode Island and Connecticut. He provides data on executive compensation, earnings, and stock buybacks by General Dynamics.

Nunes' freedom of access request turns up email exchanges between Rep. DeChant and BIW vice president John Fitzgerald. The two discuss strategy to pass the bill, including not engaging with her constituent Gagnon whom Fitzgerald mis-characterizes as "a one man band."

I share a cartoon with legislators which names 80 people who stand with Gagnon in opposing LD1781. Seventeen organizations in Maine endorse the resistance campaign. Letters to the editor and op-eds pour in to Maine's newspapers opposing LD1781, so many that the Bangor Daily News and the Kennebec Journal stop printing them all (I know this because one of mine was among those not published).

Gagnon begins a hunger strike at the gates of BIW and vows to continue until the bill is voted up or down by Maine legislators. He encounters Fitzgerald, who yells at him. Supporter Mary Kathleen organizes solidarity fasting by 27 folks in Maine and beyond. Regis Tremblay makes a series of videos about the hunger strike which he publishes on YouTube to be shared on social media.

Hundreds of us contact our alleged representatives in the Maine legislature to express opposition to the tax giveaway bill.

LD1781 stalls in a series of contentious hearings in the Maine legislature's Taxation Committee. BIW vice president Fitzgerald testifies and makes the fatuous statement, "For us to be punished because our owner has capital seems unjust!"

I create a cartoon showing real injustice: 43,000 children in Maine growing up in poverty while the bloated wealthy feed from the public trough. The cartoon is shared widely via email and social media.

Bloggers and alternative media run articles opposing the tax giveaway. Community radio station WERU interviews several resistance leaders. 

The Bollard, a Portland monthly, runs a cover story titled "Ship Of Fools" by editor Chris Busby that features the chilling subhead "Tax breaks for BIW, World War III for us."

Citizen lobbyists throng the halls outside the taxation committee hearing with signs and leaflets expressing their opposition to LD1781. 

They attempt to speak with legislators who pass by deep in conversation with BIW executives and Preti Flaherty lobbyists. Eventually the public is excluded from the taxation committee hearing room as BIW fills the seats with employees it busses in and pays to attend.

Constituents are sidelined into a separate room where they can watch the hearings on closed circuit television.

The bill is revised to reduce the ask to 75% of the original, and to restructure the source of the tax giveaway from payroll tax withholding to state income taxes BIW owes.

BIW's largest union, S6, declines to endorse the bill. 

The bill finally emerges from committee with an "ought to pass" that at least one member of the committee admitted was wrong but voted for anyway (you may well speculate on Rep. Ryan Tipping's motivations for that choice).

Citizen lobbyists against LD1781 who were present in the State House for the Senate vote.
The Democratic Caucus in the Maine House falsely tells members that all  unions at BIW are in favor of the tax giveaway bill. My husband Mark Roman gets a panicky reaction from our Republican representative Bradley Farrin when he mentions that S6 failed to endorse; Farrin does some hasty research on his phone (presumably, looks for an email from Preti Flaherty) and assures Roman that S6 just hasn't endorsed the bill "yet." At least one rep expresses anger that she has been lied to in caucus.

On medical advice, Gagnon ends his hunger strike on day 37 just prior to the floor vote on the bill. A handful of legislators voted no, and the tax giveaway passed into law granting $15 million less than General Dynamics and its wealthy executives and shareholders had asked for.

Was it worth it?

Courthouse support for Aegis 9 civil disobedience trial in Bath featured resistance to LD1781

 Scores of people in Maine and beyond collaborated on this resistance effort. Environmental activists who know war is not good for climate. Educators who know war budgets aren’t good for schoolchildren. Grandparents who know war is not good for anyone’s children. This campaign was beneficial in that it brought people together to work for the common good.

It also provided a good platform for communicating beyond the choir about where our tax dollars go and about who really deserves to benefit from public support.

Graphic: Jason Rawn

Sunday, October 14, 2018

If Protesting Doesn't Do Anything, Then Why Are The Powerful Determined To Eliminate It?

Indigenous people led a protest at the White House during the Obama years, holding a die-in to illustrate the effects of the proposed Keystone oil pipeline on multiple forms of life. Source:

I'm going to take a step back from considering the accelerating madness of current events to ponder a question that dogs me and other dissenters: what can we do about it? "It" being, for me, the wars on Afghan people, Palestinian people, Yemeni people, Syrian people, Iraqi people, indigenous people, black people, immigrant people, female people, etc. Also the destruction of Earth's life support system by unhinged capitalist exploitation, wars being a major factor.

Anti-Vietnam war protesters march down Fifth Avenue near to 81st Street in New York City on April 27, 1968, in protest of the U.S. involvement in the Vietnamese war. The demonstrators were en route to nearby Central Park for mass “Stop the war” rally. (AP Photo) Source:

It may be that what sparked this blog post was watching a bit of archival footage of thousands of young people -- my generation -- in the streets chanting "no more war." This was in the intro to a documentary about mythology and hero's journeys. I had switched it on expecting to see a lot of art from various cultures but instead found myself watching two old white men talk about people, using all male pronouns and 99% male examples. Ho hum, I turned it off.

Let me just say that I don't like to be one of those elders who dwell insistently on the past. It's a mistake because it closes off our minds to learning what perspectives younger humans are bringing to this long, strange trip we're on. Maybe it's just because I'm on the tail end of the baby boomers and thus not old enough yet to dwell primarily in the land of memory. In any case, perhaps ironically for a history buff, I find people insisting on living in the past to be extremely boring.

Bath, Maine resident Bruce Gagnon's hunger strike against a tax giveaway to a weapons manufacturer drew supporters who fasted with him, press coverage from a local newspaper, and probably influenced eventual reduction of the giveaway to $45 million. Source: Joe Phelan photo / Portland Press Herald

Another thing that jogged my thinking about what kind of resistance is actually effective was some negative feedback in response to a War Tax Resisters annual gathering that I was invited to speak at. The requested topic is something I know about intimately since, while I wrote about opposing LD1781 and then went to do my paid job, my husband went to his unpaid citizen lobbyist job at the Maine legislature earlier this year. The mega wealthy corporation General Dynamics was twisting arms and telling lies to get a big tax giveaway from our very poor state on top of the largesse from the Pentagon and the city of Bath where they operate a shipyard that builds weapons of mass destruction.

So the WTR folks asked if I would talk about that resistance. Another activist in Maine contacted me to say that he was dismayed that a particular advocate of war tax resistance had shilly shallied on the question of whether the IRS can or will go after a war tax resister's social security checks. I can attest that they can and will because they did so to my husband's check after we refused to pay the hefty balance owed to the war machine even in addition to the thousands they had already deducted from my paycheck. "Make them come after it," is a slogan of WTR and make them we did. However, when it was all paid back and the monthly SS deposit was restored, my husband said he didn't want to do that anymore. So, full disclosure, I am a bit of a fraud as a war tax resister at this point.

 A helicopter used by the U.S. military in Afghanistan Source:

The other thing that has been stuck in my craw lately is the request by a local mom that we have schoolchildren send messages to her son who is on a helicopter crew in Afghanistan. I remember this student as a sweet, bespectacled boy with acne, and gentle soul who was respectful to his teachers even in adolescence (fairly rare around here). His mom and he are not doing well emotionally. He enlisted because of his love of helicopters, but now he's battling the horror and depression of picking up dead and mangled humans and flying them elsewhere.

The possibility that little children be put on the road to thanking him for his service filled me with horror and dismay. In the political vacuum that a public school in a conservative rural area creates so that civil war doesn't break out in the lunchroom, it is considered fine to bring up supporting a local boy without any hint of concern for the thousands of mangled Afghan boys and girls that the 18 year long occupation of that country has produced.

So I just had to raise my hand.

I said, let's be careful when we're speaking to students about this request not to glamorize the prospect of enlisting in the military. We're speaking to an audience that has seen thousands of hours of sophisticated advertising designed to make them believe that enlistment is glorious and heroic, that hides the ugly reality from them. And recruiters lie, all the time.

It was quiet as everyone contemplated this turd in the punch bowl.

Then one brave soul spoke up and said, I have a son who did that, enlisted, and he is not the same as he was before.

I followed up with an email to the group providing a link to the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, in case they wanted to know more about what's going on in Afghanistan. One person responded and I'll bet she will follow up because she is a life long learner with a keen interest in other cultures, and in learning about what she does not know.

So here's what I'm thinking does and does not "work" in terms of resistance to the kleptocracy that seems intent on destroying the world in exchange for a bit of transitory "wealth."

Voting Are you kidding me? I could paste in 1,000 links here to show that free and fair elections and true representation for people like me and thee is a thing of the past in the USA. One will suffice: Maine's Senator Susan Collins received hundreds of thousands of dollars in "dark money" campaign contributions after her support for the loathsome Brett Kavanaugh to ascend to the Supreme Court.

Protesting/Demonstrating Remember that film clip of thousands of young people chanting "no more war" and ask yourself if that's what ended the war on the people of Vietnam. If your answer is No or Maybe not, there were a lot of factors, ask yourself this: did it end the draft?

Ending military conscription forced the Pentagon to rely on the economic draft which has always pushed young people who grew up in poverty to enlist. Relying on volunteers has led to paying the NFL and other sports franchises to stage patriotic pro-military shows at games, beefing up the recruiting budget, going after increasingly younger students during the school day, and stop-loss which forces traumatized veterans back into combat again and again and again. A sobering thought from this baby boomer: a tour of duty in Vietnam was a year, then you got to go home. The fact that the rest of your life might be ruined by what you saw and did there was of little interest to those who sent you, but it has led to one of the highest suicide rates for any group in our country.

Wendy Bergeron-Laurence staged a 13 hour lone demonstration in Waterville, Maine July 9, 2013 to show her support for theTexas legislator who had staged a 13 hour filibuster on behalf of women's reproductive freedom.

Protesting in person, sometimes all alone, goes on all the time -- though it is mostly ignored by corporate media. Just how much the ruling elite fears outpouring of political action from the people was illustrated this week when it unveiled extensive new restrictions and fees for protesting in the nation's capital. The National Park Service has jurisdiction over many of the spaces used for protests, and it is required to gather public input before imposing the new regulations. You can learn more about the details and weigh in here.

War Tax Resistance This has been going on for centuries, with the American Friends Service Committee (aka Quakers) leading and educating. There are a lot of forms of withholding the tax dollar that Congress spends about 65% of on military these days (more if you include the Veterans Administration budget). You can hide income so it isn't taxed, you can become too low income to owe taxes, or you can simply fail to pay up. Advice is to do it honestly and with full disclosure so that the IRS can't convict you of tax fraud. Not enough people have done this to be able to tell if it is effective. Certainly borrowing to fund wars that exceed the public purse is galloping, and servicing that debt may be a crucial factor when this empire falls.

Communication  I like this one the best. Lots of protesting/demonstrating operates in this arena. Because it really is about people's hearts and minds, because information is power, and because the dissemination of misinformation has become turbocharged in the age of mass media and the Internet. Just this past month all of us cell phone users got a mandatory text message from FEMA so that the executive branch of the feds can warn us about emergencies. The effects of 9/11 are wearing off; students in 9th grade today were not even born when it happened. Can't wait to see what kind of terror our rulers come up with next to justify even more surveillance, repression and wars for resources.

Women and supporters in Poland protesting abortion ban in 2016 Source: The Bubble

Civil Disobedience / Women's Strike  When this comes up somebody always has to reference Lysistrata. Did I mention that I'm old? So, I don't think a sex strike is going to be nearly as impactful as would the women of this country simply withdrawing their labor. (If sex seems like work, then by all means refrain from that, too.) I do think this has a better and better chance of occurring, but it won't be in response to wars, because the empire's wars are largely invisible except to working class and poor families with loved ones involved (see Communication above). It probably won't be in response to rape culture, either, although that's an issue more and more young women are refusing to remain silent about.

A women's general strike will probably come about in response to the loss of reproductive freedom. The women of Poland and Ireland have set an example for U.S. women to follow, and I hope I live long enough to see us do it. Is the future female? Stay tuned.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Any Kleptocracy Strives To Capture The Judiciary

In a system of government of, by and for thieves, capturing the judiciary is key. Doing so reduces the possibility that the thieves will be held accountable to the rule of law.

When a drunk man steals a young woman's sense of personal safety and scars her emotionally for life, an independent judiciary might hold the man accountable for his deed.

When a white police woman shoots and kills an unarmed black man (rest in power, Botham Shem Jean) in his own apartment, because she is "scared" by him not complying with her shouted demands, an independent judiciary might hold the woman accountable for her deed.

When a corporation poisons an area and causes the cancer rate among residents to soar,  an independent judiciary might hold the corporation accountable for their deed.

When a nation attacks another nation without provocation, claiming that their preemptive strike is because the other nation intended to attack with "weapons of mass destruction," an independent judiciary might hold that nation accountable for their deeds.

At least, this was the theory of checks and balances functioning in a democracy that I and others of my generation were taught in school.

It has been a colossal failure.

People in my home state are distraught that our female Senator Susan Collins gave a speech yesteday exonerating the Republican Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in advance of voting to confirm his appointment today. People are urging that we donate to a Democratic candidate who will unseat her from a long tenure in that office. This is such a weak response to the problems of our day that I would laugh if it were not so sad. Collins has shown moderation in the past when it was expedient for courting voters, and she is showing fascist loyalties now ever since the demagogue with bad hair moved into the White House without his wife. She sucked up to blatant racist Jeff Sessions for attorney general, and she supported the uneducated, anti-education billionaire Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education.

Now the battle cry is to punish Collins by voting her out as senator. Clearly, she has much higher offices in her sights -- like governor or vice president.

Cigar strike, Detroit, 1937

Only a women's general strike would bring this rotten system to its knees and pry loose the stranglehold of wealth on what was once described as a government by, of and for the (white, male, propertied) people.

Frederick Douglass famously observed, "Once you learn to read, you will be forever free." A formerly enslaved man that bought back his own freedom, he saw literacy as the foundation of freedom. I once believed that, too. Now, I'm not so sure.

Maybe it's political literacy that is really that foundation. May we find our way there, somehow. Until then, it's onward, kleptocracy.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Entertainment Division

Image source: A Thousand Words Graphic Arts

When Frank Zappa commented that "politics is the entertainment division of the military-industrial complex" we laughed through our tears about the Vietnam War. Now that the horrors of our complicity in killing so many innocent Vietnamese people have been sanitized by a Ken Burns documentary that is being used in high school history classes as a sort of war porn that blames no one, we go on ignoring our complicity in killing so many innocent Yemeni, Afghan, Syrian, Somali, and Iraqi people. It's easier now that contemporary imperial wars are not shown on tv.

Source: The Atlantic "A man walks through the rubble of an air strike on a college in Saada, Yemen. NAIF RAHMA / REUTERS"

And where do we find ourselves today? On the one hand is the shit show that Supreme Court nominations have become, where one corporate party refuses to hold hearings for the other corporate party's nominee -- only to bring forward its own wretchedly unqualified candidate and try to ram him down the people's throats. But talk about great ratings for televised coverage of this show!

On the other hand is the vastly unequal dark, dark sources of campaign funding for elections where the people are presented with a choice of two corporate-controlled candidates or else. This is why I won't waste my time on elections anymore. Sure, I'll vote because I'd be ashamed not to. But the system of representation is broken beyond repair and pretending that "resistance" is meaningful when it consists only of electing the other warmongering corporate party's candidates is beyond my capacity for denial.

This entertaining show may come to an end even for the empire's citizens if massive Pentagon budgets and borrowing to fund them tank the economy sooner rather than later.

Image source: Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space 

Even more ominous is the specter of star wars for real, along with vast increases in spending for nuclear weapons. The Union of Concerned Scientists is worried about this, and we should be too. You can sign their petition here. Petitioning the government is probably about as effective as voting at this point but old habits die hard.

The best antidote to all this unwholesome entertainment is finding some real information while we still can. I recommend this recent essay by the insightful Caitlin Johnstone, an Australian who is particularly able to see the U.S. empire from afar, "Any effective antiwar movement must readjust its understanding of what war is."

Johnstone is routinely blocked by Google's search engine, has subscribers removed in the tens of thousands by YouTube, and her Twitter and Spybook accounts are often suspended for telling a little bit too much truth. The thing about Johnstone is: she's not only truthful, she's entertaining. Kind of like Frank Zappa.