"War is the greatest threat to public health." - Gino Strada, Italian war surgeon and founder of the UN-recognized Italian NGO Emergency

Saturday, October 31, 2009

(Affordable and Universal) Health Care For All!!!


I have avoided getting into the health insurance fray; there are enough people battling over that one, and we've got enough problems trying to stop more than one occupation of a foreign land, and prevent the next war. But since you asked - YES, we need universal health care! At very least we need to ensure that any legislation coming out of Washington, D.C. at least:

  1. has a national public health insurance option,
  2. ensures that health care is affordable,
  3. funds any programs through progressive taxation,
  4. requires employers to pay some fair share of employee health benefits, and
  5. reigns in abusive practices by insurance companies.

O.K., that's it. I've said it. Isn't it time to take the GREED out of health care? How about Health Care instead of Warfare? Is it my imagination, or are people questioning and challenging health care/insurance issues far more than the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan??? I will close with something from the One Poster Is Worth A Thousand Words department. It makes the point, don't you think???

For all the money that is being thrown around to resist the "public" option and ensure that the insurance industry (and other big players) get what they want, we could probably help provide health care to millions of people in need. It's simply a function of the Biblical question: "Where is our treasure?"

To Everyone's Health (and Peace of Mind),


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Like Mice Walking Into The Same Trap... Over, and Over, and Over...


It was in the fall of 2002. The U.S. had invaded Afghanistan the previous fall, and the drums of war were steadily beating, signifying the Bush administration's intention to invade Iraq. The most potent image of that time (that is still etched into my consciousness) is that of a poster much like the old World War II vintage Uncle Sam posters. But what is striking about this one is that instead of Uncle Sam, it is the image of Uncle Osama. Yes - my old friend Osama bin Laden with his finger pointing straight out as he says, "I WANT YOU TO INVADE IRAQ."

In small print below that it says, "Go ahead. Send me a new generation of recruits. Your bombs will fuel their hatred of America and their desire for revenge. Americans won’t be safe anywhere. Please, attack Iraq. Distract yourself from fighting Al Qaeda. Divide the international community. Go ahead. Destabilize the region. Maybe Pakistan will fall -- we want its nuclear weapons. Give Saddam a reason to strike first. He might draw Israel into a fight. Perfect! So please -- invade Iraq. Make my day."

This was a brilliant, creative work of political art, designed to make us step back and think about the consequences of such an insane action as that being cooked up within The White House. What is tragic is that just about everything in that brief statement has come to fruition over the course of the past eight years. And now, even as we see the disastrous combined effects of the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, President Obama seems prepared send more troops to Afghanistan and finish fulfilling the prophecy.

Not only is Pakistan dealing with serious internal problems directly related to the U.S. action in Afghanistan, but Israel may yet be drawn in to the maelstrom, not by Iraq or Afghanistan, but by Iran, which is pushing the envelope with its nuclear gambit. This is a critical time to think about nothing else but stabilizing a seriously unstable region, and as there is absolutely no military solution to any of the problems in any of these countries, it is time for the U.S. civilian leadership (think Commander In Chief) to take charge and start listening to people with a full understanding of the history of the region and not simply the experts in military strategy.

The self-proclaimed greatest military power in the world made Osama bin Laden's day when it invaded Iraq, and now, as it contemplates escalation in Afghanistan, bin Laden must be absolutely jumping for joy. This is the time to keep up the pressure on the President and Congress to de-escalate and work towards ending the occupation of Afghanistan. We can do better (and smarter).

Read the Friends Committee on National Legislation's 4-point strategy for ending the madness in Afghanistan. It's a sound strategy that can work, but it will require strong support from the people working in opposition to the current strategy (or should I say lack of strategy).

Then I Want You To Let Obama and Congress know what you think (if you haven't already)! You can use the links at the top (right column) of this blog under "Actions You Can Take Right Now!"

In Peace,


P.S. - The Uncle Osama poster was created for/by TomPaine.common sense, and was run in U.S. major print media during September 2002. You can view the large (pdf file) version by clicking here.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Malalai Joya - "The Bravest Woman in Afghanistan"


In the United States we tend to hear (at least from the mainstream, corporate press) few options for the Afghan people after eight years of occupation by U.S. and NATO (a bit player) - either increase the numbers of U.S. forces or pull out and leave the country to the evil Taliban. It is, as are most of the arguments laid down by the U.S. foreign policy elite, simplistic, and demonstrates either a vast disregard of history and the current situation, or utter and complete ignorance, or perhaps both.

The situation that the foreign occupiers have created in Afghanistan owes much to the legacy of empire and its illegitimate child, colonialism, and the way the Western world has done business for hundreds of years. The only difference today is that the U.S. leads the way in conducting this dirty business, but it is essentially the same old ugly game, and the results for the Afghan people have been tragic.

Enter a dissenting voice, but not one from the United States; rather a voice from Afghanistan itself, and what is most incredible is that it is a woman's voice. Malalai Joya has been called "The Bravest Woman in Afghanistan" by the BBC, and I do not doubt that she, and countless other Afghan women, have bravely stood up to the male-dominated, fundamentalist power structure.

After spending her early years in Iranian and Pakistani refugee camps, Malalai returned to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan where she worked with underground organizations helping women. She was elected to the Loya Jirga that wrote Afghanistan's constitution, and then to the Parliament in 2005. She was suspended from Parliament in 2007 "after saying it was worse than a stable, because at least 'in a stable we have animals like a cow which is useful in that it provides milk, and a donkey that can carry a load.'" Now that is speaking truth to power!

Malalai continues to speak out just as forcefully, and always for the good of the Afghan people, as when she was in Parliament. You can read an interview with her at Foreign Policy in Focus, in which she gives an exceedingly clear picture of the mess we have created in eight years of occupation, and why the U.S. military (or any other military) cannot be part of the solution .

Malalai will soon be in the U.S. on a speaking tour; you can check the schedule by clicking here. If you are interested in the Canadian leg of her tour, click here. I know that the majority of you reading this blog are in Washington State, and YOU are in luck! Malalai will speak in both Seattle (Nov. 11) and Bellingham (Nov. 12). This is an extraordinary opportunity to hear the uncensored truth from one who recaptures the true essence of patriotism.

Meanwhile, go to United Against Afghanistan Escalation to see your Legislators' positions on increasing troops in Afghanistan, and call on them to oppose escalation. Time is short! Act NOW for Peace!



Read the interview with Malalai Joya at Foreign Policy in Focus.

Check out: A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice, C2009, by Malalai Joya.

Read the special issue of The Nation that takes on the rationale(s) for escalation in Afghanistan.

Bonus Reading: How to get out of Afghanistan, By Hugh Gusterson 12 October 2009, in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Convergence of Mercy and Justice


Tent City 4, a mobile encampment of homeless people on the east side of the Seattle area, is about to move again. The encampment, started in 2004 by Seattle Housing and Resources Effort (SHARE) and Women's Housing Equality and Enhancement League (WHEEL), provides shelter for up to 100 people, and is hosted solely by various faith communities in east King County, Washington.

As Tent City 4 is a "temporary encampment", it moves approximately every 90 days to a new location. Its next location will be Bellevue First United Methodist Church (BFUMC). Joe Matsen, who co-chairs the church's tent-city committee, spoke of his church's desire to host the encampment saying that, "we are admonished to look out for less fortunate people - that's part of the Biblical background. And we think this is a crying need, particularly now" (Seattle Times, October 4, 2009, Page B5).

Joe is absolutely right that there is "a crying need" to house the homeless, and he is also correct in saying that looking out for the less fortunate is only "part of the Biblical background." And there is where things often get messy. Dom Hélder Pessoa Câmara, a Roman Catholic Archbishop in Latin America, once said, "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist." The situation with homelessness is much the same. Feed them, temporarily shelter them, but God forbid we should ask why they are homeless and try to change the conditions that put them out on the street.

The faith communities that host Tent City 4 create a convergence of charity and justice. Justice - that other "part of the Biblical background." Tent City is a very visible - although actually very low key in its physical presence in the community - symbol of homelessness, and forces people to face and think about the issue. The thinking and subsequent dialogue are needed to change attitudes, and ultimately bring about an end to homelessness.

Everywhere Tent City 4 goes at least some people voice concerns that crime will increase and that their children will be in danger. In some cases there has been vocal dissent in surrounding neighborhoods, and various cities as well as King County have established land use codes specific to Tent City 4 in order to balance the desire of faith communities to host the camp with the concerns of some of its neighbors. With the upcoming move to BFUMC, there has been "considerable dissent" in the quiet neighborhood surrounding the church. If you ask the police in communities that have hosted Tent City 4, you will hear that crime did not increase, and in fact, "crime usually goes down during a tent-city encampment." I have been to Tent City 4 (when bringing supplies for its residents), and can attest to how well its residents take care of their camp and each other, and respect their neighbors.

Any preconceptions I may have had about homelessness were washed away on a visit to Tent City 4 on a very cold December day in 2005. Some residents invited me for coffee, and through the conversations I got to see them as much more than the homeless statistics we always see in the news. It was almost dinnertime, and many residents were arriving back at camp from their day's work or looking for work, but what struck me was the resident returning wearing a United Parcel Service uniform. He was a seasonal employee helping during the holiday rush; another version of the working poor.

It doesn't surprise me that BFUMC will be hosting Tent City 4. With the wise leadership of Reverend, Dr. Beryl Ingram and a receptive congregation, BFUMC is creating a convergence of mercy and justice that is the essence of Christianity. And that is no small thing in a world where most of us (Christians) think we are doing great things when we engage in charity (to the exclusion of justice). The prophet Micah reminds us that we are "to do justice, and love kindness" (Micah 6:8 paraphrased).

Watch the video to get a more personal look at Tent City 4. You can learn more about homelessness and what we can all do about it at the National Alliance to End Homelessness. And support your local tent city. We can (and must) do better!



Saturday, October 10, 2009

Bases Loaded (But This Ain't No Game)


A Chinese proverb says that "one picture is worth a thousand words." One map, however, can be worth thousands of military bases, in this case U.S. military bases. At one time it was said that the sun never set on the British Empire; well, the sun finally did set on that one. Another empire took its place, and judging by the map, the sun never sets on the U.S. Empire these days. But as with all empires, the sun will, indeed, set one day on the U.S. Empire, as desperately as the warmakers try to sustain this global militaristic beast.

I thought it would be valuable to show in graphic fashion just how large the U.S. military empire has become, with nearly every continent hosting the U.S. military. The most recent data used for this map was from 2007. I would hazard a guess that there are at least a few more dots on the map since then; it is highly unlikely that we would give up any of those "strategic" assets we have worked so hard to acquire (even though a nation occasionally threatens to throw us out).

(Click on the map for the full size version.)

The government's aspirations for AFRICOM, the U.S. military's long arm reaching deep into Africa, most likely include one dot on the map for each of the 53 African nations!!! The official AFRICOM 2009 Command Brief (very slick marketing here folks) makes the U.S. military look like some kind of humanitarian organization instead of a massive, global oil protection force. Even though we don't yet have all the actual bases in place, it looks (based on the Command Brief map) like we have a presence in at least 35 nations already; definitely the proverbial foot-in-the-door!

One has to wonder just how much all this is costing us, and just how sustainable it all is. After all, it sucks huge amounts of human and financial capital, and natural resources. We spend a fraction of the total national budget on things like education,health care and energy, yet anywhere from 43 to 57 percent (depending on whose numbers you trust) is free flowing to the military, and is increasing under the Obama administration!

Ask your Congressperson to cut the military budget. You can personalize the email message at Voters for Peace (and while you are at it, ask why we need so many overseas military bases).
Click here to send your message. I hear that Aruba is a nice place to go on holiday, but do we need a military (counter-narcotics) base there???



You can view the full-size map of U.S. military bases by clicking here.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Peace IS the Prize!


PEACE, that elusive commodity, is something for which we all hope, but for which only some work. The announcement of the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 came as a shock for many of us in the peacemaking community. The statement from the Norwegian Nobel Committee said that this year's prize "is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons." Click here to read the full press release.

Although President Obama has, indeed, made progress in mending international relations after the debacle of the previous 8 years, I would argue that his first nearly 9 months in office does not constitute any yet significant work towards a world without nuclear weapons. Yes, he has started in the right direction, but has a long way to go. Perhaps we will be able to better judge his "work" once the results of the 2010 Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty Review Conference are in.

I always thought that John F. Kennedy should have been given the Nobel Peace Prize posthumously for giving so much of himself (and ultimately his life) to prevent nuclear Armageddon during his time in office. If not for his heroic efforts working with Soviet Premier Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis, you would most likely not be reading this blog, and heaven knows whether humanity would have survived the massive exchange of nuclear weapons that would have ensued had his efforts failed. His sacrifice gave us a second chance; I can only hope we are using it wisely.

The day before I heard the Nobel Committee's announcement, I spent some time with Father Bill "Bix" Bischel, a Jesuit Priest from the Tacoma Catholic Worker. If you are familiar with the Catholic Worker Movement, you know that it is grounded in a firm belief in the God-given dignity of every person. 76 years since its inception, "over 185 Catholic Worker communities remain committed to nonviolence, voluntary poverty, prayer, and hospitality for the homeless, exiled, hungry, and foresaken. Catholic Workers continue to protest injustice, war, racism, and violence of all forms" (source: catholicworker.org).

The Catholic Worker is unique among "religious" communities (at least as I have experienced them) in as much as it truly embodies the words of Micah 6:8, "and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (source: New Oxford Annotated Bible) I have found that most Christian communities are good at charity, but when anyone even whispers the word "justice", the people cringe in the pews. Charity feels good, but when asked to pick up the cross and carry it, the people get squeamish. Justice is messy!

And that has been the problem of the church for roughly 1700 years. It has mostly practiced charity, while the word "justice" is rarely uttered, or is practiced when convenient. The Catholic Worker, however, has embodied Micah 6:8 in its purest form, serving the poor while working to change the conditions that often make them poor, and all the while doing it with humility.

When Bix is not working at Guadalupe House, which is itself a full time job, he can be found working for justice, including engaging in nonviolent resistance to nuclear weapons at the nearby Trident nuclear submarine base. Bix understands that nuclear weapons, and the militarism surrounding them, sucks money from desperately needed programs of social uplift. Bix would much rather lift up the poor than a bunch of weapons makers.

As I look at the photo of this humble peacemaker, knowing his history as well as the history of the movement of which he is part, I nominate the Catholic Worker for the Nobel Prize, and I trust the Nobel Committee will give them due consideration next time. They would surely put the prize money to good use. At any rate, I know the prize is unimportant to them; the good people of the Catholic Worker Movement don't do this work expecting anything but the joy they receive from the work itself.

The prize they want (and everyone should want) is simply PEACE!

Working for Peace,


Note: The photo of Father Bix was taken on October 7, 2009 in front of the U.S. District Courthouse, Tacoma, Washington, while bannering and leafleting for Keep Space for Peace Week. Photo by Leonard Eiger.

For a thorough analysis of Kennedy's journey from Cold War Warrior to Peacemaker, I highly recommend James Douglass' book, JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters.

Click here
to learn more about the Catholic Worker Movement, and click here to check out the Tacoma Catholic Worker.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Afghanistan - Peace at the Point of a Gun?

Long enough have I been dwelling among those who hate peace. I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war. (Psalm 120:6-7)

Today is the anniversary of the day (October 7, 2001) the United States, under the presidency of George W. Bush, invaded Afghanistan. It was a monumental blunder that has resulted in the loss of lives (particularly Afghan civilians and U.S. and allied soldiers), destruction of the environment, a resurgence of the Taliban, and the potential destabilization of Pakistan. Not bad for 8 years of occupation, eh???

Under a new administration we are hearing the same old party line based on the adage, "If your only tool is a hammer..." And so, the U.S. keeps trying the bigger hammer, but with unsatisfactory results. No matter what arguments the President, Pentagon and members of Congress roll out to justify increasing troop levels and increasing the use of drones and other technology, they ring hollow, just like those who speak them.

These hollow men (and a few women) who sit safely in Washington, D.C. are unable to think beyond the need to "save face", even as they condemn those they send to do their bidding, as well as the innocent afghans, to the horrors of war. As with wars past they will continue to throw good after bad, until finally one day they will be forced to withdraw in defeat (even though they will find an acceptable euphemism). The only real question is "HOW LONG???"

If history is any indicator of the folly of our actions in Afghanistan, the U.S. war there was doomed from the beginning. Afghanistan has (sooner or later) beaten its invaders and sent them off well bloodied, whether the British who from 1839 to the early 1900's tried to control Afghanistan and were defeated each time, or the Russians who were defeated after just over 9 years (Dec. 1979 to Feb. 1989) of fighting. This is surely a case where the third time is not the charm.

I suspect that those of us who will be standing in front of Federal buildings (and other places) today, speaking out against this war (and all war), will register as no more than a blip in the news. But we will do what we can to rouse our fellow citizens out of their malaise, and perhaps one day (hopefully not too far off) we will shut down the wheels of commerce with our numbers, and bring the war makers to their knees.

Let us never stop testifying that true peace is not won at the point of a gun.

Peace, Peace, Peace,


Credit: Cartoon found at http://www.brandywinepeace.com/calendar.html.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Take Time for Peace


There is a lot going on this week. For one thing, it is the International Week of Protest to Stop the Militarization of Space, also known as Keep Space for Peace Week. Coinciding with Keep Space for Peace Week is the anniversary of the United States invasion (8 years and no end in sight) of Afghanistan (October 7th). Members of Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action will be leafleting outside the the U.S. District Courthouse in Tacoma, Washington for Keep Space for Peace Week on October 7th.

One of the visual aids we will have is a long, narrow strip of paper graphically showing the vast discrepancy between U.S. military spending and every other spending category. The One Minute for Peace campaign is a project of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) to raise awareness of the 57 percent of the U.S. budget devoted to systems of violence, aggression, and military might. The campaign also hopes to raise $1.9 million, the equivalent on ONE MINUTE of what the U.S. military spent last year.

Just think - in a little more time (one minute) than the average visitor spends on this cheesy blog, the U.S. government spends $1.9 MILLION!!! The immorality of squandering our treasure, both economic and human, while there are very real, unmet needs both at home and abroad, is beyond comprehension. While we allocate 57% for the military, here is how much goes to a few other areas:
  • 6% - Health and Human Services
  • 4% - Housing and Urban Development
  • 4% - Education
  • 2% - Energy
  • 2% - Agriculture
  • 1% - Environmental Protection Agency

With the increased spending on militarizing space, which includes missile defense and the rapidly growing use of unmanned drones, there are no signs that military spending will decrease in my lifetime. And each of us pays for it. If you made $50,000 last year, approximately $2440 of your taxes went toward military spending (source: AFSC). Where would you like to see those tax dollars go??? Click here for more budget details.

Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) is a Quaker Lobby in the public interest. That's right; there is at least one lobbying organization that you can trust. They "seek a world free of war and the threat of war, a society with equity and justice for all, a community where every person's potential may be fulfilled, and an earth restored." You won't find a defense industry lobbyist anywhere with those values!

So here are your assignments for this week:

  1. Check out Bruce Gagnon's Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space.
  2. See how much of our money is going down the rabbit hole at One Minute for Peace.
  3. Take Two Minutes for Peace in Afghanistan at FCNL.

Taking Time for Peace,