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

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Rescue is Still On!


"The Rescue" (see my previous post) is still on! There are still cities (Chicago, IL and Richmond, VA) yet to be rescued. Of course, even after they are rescued, there will still be much work to be done to rescue Joseph Kony's child soldiers and create the conditions that will protect all children from future abuses.

Meanwhile, here is a brief slideshow from Saturday's Seattle Rescue. Double click the image to watch the full screen version.

You can click here to get updates on what's happening at The Rescue Website. To find out how you can financially support the ongoing efforts to rescue Joseph Kony's child soldiers, click here.

Be sure to tell others about the child soldiers so we can shine more light on the Invisible Children.



Sunday, April 26, 2009

Rescue the Child Soldiers!!!


"The rebels told me to join them, but I said no. Then they killed my little brother. I changed my mind" (quote from P.W. Singer's book, Children At War).

What if they came to our city, town or village, and took our children? What would we (as parents) do? If we lived in Northern Uganda the chances are good we would not be able to do much, if anything. When they came they would have not only taken our young boys and some girls, but also quite likely committed incredible, unspeakable atrocities on the rest of us.

In the United States (where such atrocities are unknown) photos of missing children started appearing on milk cartons in the 1970s. The U.S. also has a National Center for Missing and Exploited Children as well as the Amber Alert program, designed to galvanize communities to help recover children who have been abducted.

There are no milk cartons or Amber Alerts for children abducted to become child soldiers. There are no posters with children's photos stapled to telephone poles. There are no photos at all; these are quite literally the "Invisible Children."

On Saturday, April 25th, tens of thousands of (young) people in 10 countries and 100 cities came together to shine a light on the Invisible Children in THE RESCUE of Joseph Kony's Child Soldiers. I participated (along with the Mount Si High School Amnesty International Club) in the Seattle "RESCUE", "an experiential event meant to simulate what life is like for the child soldiers abducted by Joseph Kony", and his Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).

After our "abduction" we marched across the city roped together, finally arriving at the LRA camp where we set up camp and waited to be rescued. While waiting we wrote letters to our U.S. Senators and helped create a video that we hope members of the U.S. Congress will watch. A successful rescue required two things; "media coverage and the presence of a cultural leader or mogul." Late in the evening our camp was rescued.

Not every city was so fortunate. As we learned of our rescue sometime after 9pm, we were told that the camp in Spokane, Washington had not been rescued, so the Rescue Riders, people from our event, headed to Spokane to stand in solidarity with them and help in their rescue.

It is no wonder that this humanitarian topic is so invisible here in the U.S. when apparently the only media to cover the Seattle event was a newspaper from Tacoma, even as we sat (quite literally) in the shadow of the Seattle Post Intelligencer newspaper building down at the waterfront.

This is an important story, and while it is partly a story about the inhumanity of a world that creates and perpetuates the atrocity of child soldiers, it is also a story of young people saying, "enough!" It is a story of hope created by young people coming together in their common humanity on behalf of those with no voice; those who have been invisible for far too long. Thanks to these young people's dedication, Joseph Kony's child soldiers will be invisible no more.

What can the rest of us do? Whether young or old, everyone can do something to help rescue the child soldiers. To start, check out the Invisible Children Website and support their efforts. If you don't know about the plight of child soldiers, learn about it. Look up "child soldiers" on the Web, or read P.W. Singer's book, CHILDREN AT WAR, a comprehensive look at the use of children as soldiers.

Knowledge makes us accountable. Hopefully, the efforts of "Invisible Children" will bring knowledge of the issue of child soldiers to millions of people around the world who then will pressure their governments to work together to support existing efforts to rescue the countless victims whose childhoods have been stolen, and bring the perpetrators to justice. Bringing justice is an important step along the way to peace. Help Rescue the Child Soldiers!



P.S. - In select "Rescue" cities around the world, signs from the list below were filmed, and will be combined into The Rescue Video that will be presented to the U.S. Congress. It is a powerful and positive manifesto. Here is the complete anthem.



Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Trimming the Budget: or, What would you do with $75.5 BILLION???


It's safe to say that every man, woman (and probably child) in the United States knows that we are in pretty bad shape, economically speaking that is. Families are trimming budgets right and left, trying to make ends meet. Now President Obama is asking his Cabinet to do some cost cutting as well; he's looking for a total of $100 million in cuts. Wow! I am overwhelmed.

"None of these things alone are going to make a difference," Obama conceded, emerging from the meeting. "But cumulatively they would make an extraordinary difference, because they start setting a tone." If they cut "$100 million there, $100 million here," Obama said, "pretty soon, even in Washington, it adds up to real money." (Seattle Times)

Well, let's talk about "real money", and I don't mean in the way that conservative Republicans (or many Democrats) have been talking about it. Real money is the $75.5 BILLION dollars in supplemental spending that President Obama is requesting to cover the cost of fighting wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan for fiscal year 2009. That's right; we've added Pakistan to the list of lucky Drone War winners.

But that's not all. The President has requested a paltry $7.1 billion to support the international affairs budget to secure peace in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other nations. What will that $75.5 billion get us? Lots more drones, missiles, bombs and "aggressive new military tactics that could widen the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan." If you think this looks like the U.S. following its previous failed policies, but with new packaging, you're right! It's just going to suck us into and endless cycle.

The Friends Committee on National Legislation wants Congress to restructure the package to focus funding on the expanded diplomacy, development assistance, and international cooperation that are key to ending these conflicts and promoting a stable peace in the wider region. Bullets and bombs won't bring any kind of peace to the region. There is NO military solution!

If you agree, you can send an email urging your Representative to carefully examine the President's request for war funding, and consider how to better spend our money (on things like long-term diplomacy and development assistance). You know the old saying, "If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." Well, it's high time we put away the hammer, and start buying some new tools. They are a heck of a lot cheaper (in both the short and long runs), and perhaps we can free up enough extra cash so that we won't have to cut some really important things like health care and education.

Families are being forced to trim their budgets. Isn't it time to trim the military budget???



Read FCNL's letter to Congress on the president's war supplemental request.
Read the Seattle Times article, Obama's cabinet cuts would equal 1/10,000th of spending.
Click here to send a message to your Representative about the President's war funding request.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Buyer Beware, or What's In a Name?


Did you find the name for that organization representing big fertilizer, pesticide and herbicide manufacturers (in my April 12th post) as interesting as I did? Mid America CropLife Association (MACA). Doesn't it virtually ooze good, old fashioned American values. Doesn't it conjure up images of farmers walking through fields, crushing wheat kernels between their fingers? Well, think again. These farmers are knee deep in large scale chemical agricultural methods; and that is what MACA is pushing.

Such euphemistic names are no random thing. Organizations like MACA, also known as "front groups", carefully craft their names so that when you are first exposed to them, your brain creates a positive image. It's their way of getting in. It's easy to be lured by such friendly names in an era when everyone is selling something, and much of what they have to sell is not what anyone needs. So I thought I would share just a few organizations I've discovered that, just like MACA, have an agenda hidden by their fancy names.

Americans For Balanced Energy Choices: Formed in 2000 to develop support for coal based electricity.

Keep America Beautiful (KAB): ostensibly an anti-littering organization; actually funded by corporations including McDonalds, Coca-Cola and Anheuser-Busch, as well as major tobacco companies. It has refused to support legislation that would make companies responsible for recycling the bottles, cans and cigarette butts they produce. Keep America Beautiful; just let somebody else pay for it.

Americans for Prosperity: a (really) conservative advocacy group formerly known as Citizens for a Sound Economy, used Earth Day 2008 to launch “a nationwide hot air balloon tour” aimed at ridiculing what it called “global warming alarmism”. Those darn climate alarmists!!! (More info at Source Watch)

The Greening Earth Society: project of the Western Fuels Association; has claimed that greenhouse gas emissions are good because they will lead to greater plant growth and a greener environment. Now that's special. (More info at SourceWatch)

The Foundation for Clean Air Progress: Back in 2001 its Web site stated that the Foundation “was formed in 1995 to provide public education and information about air quality progress.” It is essentially a front group for a number of industry groups, including the American Petroleum Institute, American Trucking Institute and Chemical Manufacturer's Association. It lobbies against air pollution controls. Controls? Who needs em? (More info at SourceWatch)

The number of industry-funded organizations - some of them with wonderfully euphemistic names - is absolutely mind boggling. You can learn about them at the following sites:

SOURCE WATCH Source Watch also has profiles on industry think tanks and industry-friendly experts.

INTEGRITY in SCIENCE, a project of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, has an extensive listing of non-profit organizations receiving corporate funding. Once you find out who is funding the National Wetlands Foundation (and what they are really about) they won't sound so warm and fuzzy any more.

Bottom line - BUYER BEWARE! It's a jungle out there, and everyone is trying to exert influence on just about everything, particularly any legislation that isn't in their best (and the people's worst) interests. So do your homework before you support any organization that calls itself Citizens for Sensible Control of Acid Rain!



Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Healing - An elusive element for many veterans for so many reasons. For the physical injuries. For things they've seen. For things they've done. For things they will never get out of their heads. My brother-in-law, a veteran of the Vietnam War, was with us on Easter Sunday, and we all had a spirited discussion about veterans and healing.

The next day a friend sent me the latest issue of the GI Special, and among all the great material was this powerful poem about healing (and more) by Mike Hastie, a Vietnam Veteran.

A Few Bad Apples

An atrocity always begins by following orders.
The order in itself is an authority decision.
Which means those who carry out the atrocity,
are not held responsible.
But, if the atrocity is found out,
the authority orders were never given.
That gives birth to a "few bad apples."
It's a fail-safe system.
It always works, because the military always
convinces the public of Geneva Convention Rules.
In this case, a "few bad apples," committed murder.
Things like this happen in war.
But, it is incomprehensible that this would ever be
anything but a very, very, rare occasion.
When veterans die,
they carry a lot of secrets to the next world,
because it is only there that they can be healed.
They can't be healed by a public who thinks it is
only done by a "few bad apples."
An apple a day keeps the truth away.
Thank God there is another world where veterans
can make peace with their suffering.

Mike Hastie
U.S. Army Medic
Vietnam 1970-71
April 12, 2009
(Published in GI Special, April 12, 2009)

GI Special, a publication of the Military Project, is a news bulletin for service members. The Military Project reaches out to anti-war military personnel. Comments, arguments, articles, and letters from service men and women, and veterans, are especially welcome. Write to Box 126, 2576 Broadway, New York, N.Y. 10025-5657 or send email to contact@militaryproject.org. Name, I.D., withheld unless you request publication.

As it says in the GI Special:


Support the troops; send them GI Special!



Sunday, April 12, 2009

End The (Crop) Protection Racket


Food is sustenance. But food is also big business (and I mean very big business). At the end of World War II people were wondering what to do with a number of chemicals (particularly petro-chemicals) left over from the war effort. It didn't take long to find opportunities. Ammonia, used during the war to produce high explosives (ammonium nitrate), could once again be made into fertilizer. Thanks in part to the USDA's intensive promotion of industrial agricultural methods, the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides increased dramatically. The old ways of manure, cover crops and mixing crops fell by the wayside as U.S. farmers embraced the new ways.

Of course everything has a cost. And the costs of industrial agriculture include soil depletion, water pollution, depleted water tables, and human human exposure (of both workers and consumers) to a wide variety of chemicals (which have been demonstrated to have harmful effects on people depending on exposure). We tend to hear how the great strides in industrial agriculture have helped feed a growing nation (and world). What we generally do not hear is how so many farmers could not keep up as they kept trying to produce more, and in the process of farming more land, buying more (expensive) farm machinery, specialized seed, chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, ultimately accumulated so much debt that they lost their farms.

As small farms folded, larger farms bought up their assets at fire sale prices. In time the total number of farms in the U.S. decreased dramatically as large (and primarily corporate) farms operations bought up smaller operations. As of 1997 (most recent figures I could find) two percent of U.S. farms accounted for half of the nation's agricultural product sales, a reflection of corporate consolidation in farming. You can bet these giant operations are NOT farming using the old ways.

We have a new First Family in The White House, and they are digging up some lawn and putting in a vegetable garden. And guess what? It's going to be an ORGANIC garden! And that has the chemical industry's hackles up. Why do I say chemical industry? An industry organization called Mid America CropLife Association (MACA) has sent the First Lady a letter asking her to consider using "crop protection products" (can you say CHEMICALS???) in her garden. Don't you just love the euphemisms these folks come up with?

MACA is a veritable who's who of the chemical industry; it's members include Bayer, Dow, DuPont, and Monsanto. Of course it is in these companies' (and therefore MACA's) best financial interests to ensure that their "crop protection products" are used on every possible acre of every possible crop (and not just in the United States). So you can imagine that they are just a little concerned that Michelle Obama might not use something on her garden.

One market research company forecasts the worldwide pesticide market to reach $75 billion by 2013. There's BIG money in them thar chemicals! And I can just imagine that the folks in the MACA boardroom totally freaked when they saw that the high profile White House veggie garden would go organic. Let's face it; to chemical people the word "organic" is enough to make them implode. Perish the thought that someone would actually use MANURE on a garden.

Industrial agriculture is not going away anytime soon. But we do need to re-evaluate our heavy reliance on such methods that have not only effects on the health of the environment and people, but also require large energy inputs to produce, transport and use (and many are produced from oil). Perhaps The White House engaging in organic gardening will help initiate a national dialogue on the future of agriculture, something on which we need to focus.Well, enough of my ramblings. CLICK HERE to read the letter from MACA to Michelle Obama. If you think that an organic garden at The White House is a good thing, then CLICK HERE to sign the petition (courtesy of CREDO Action) telling those pesky pesticide peddlers to back off. After all, as the petition states, "Michelle Obama has done America a great service by publicizing the importance of nutritious food for kids as well as locally grown produce as an important, environmentally sustainable food source."

Organic isn't THE solution to all our food problems, but it IS a major element. And it also an important contributor to sustainablity. Read Mother Jones food issue to read some interesting perspectives on the future of agriculture.



Note: Photo of The White House vegetable garden groundbreaking courtesy of The White House Blog.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Droning On - or, "The Look of Wars to Come"


It is a new age indeed! However, I am not speaking of channeling, crystal healing or crop circles. I'm referring to the new age of the American battlefield. Ex-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld may have gotten it wrong when he tried to create Army Lite, but he did have a vision of the future battlefield that is in line with the Pentagon's current direction.

A National Public Radio news story (on April 7) on the Pentagon's new budget said that it "suggests the look of wars to come." It spoke of predator and reaper drones, and cutting some programs (like the F-22 Raptor) while "accelerating" others (like the F-35 Lightening II Joint Strike Fighter). Secretary of Defense Bill Gates was quoted as saying the "spectrum of conflicts include an insurgent with an AK-47 and his counterpart with a ballistic missile." His message is clear - The U.S. military had better be prepared to respond to a huge range of possible scenarios. Can you say, "blank check?"

There was great fanfare (in the mainstream press) as everyone anticipated Gates "major cuts" in the military's budget. When the dust settled and the press conference was over, it turns out that "the base budget request is $533.7 billion, up from the $513.3 billion appropriated by Congress in 2009." The key word here is "base". You can read about all the added costs at a previous post, Our Runaway "Defense" Budget. So much for Representative Barney Frank's 25% cut in military spending!!!

Just the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a Cold War relic like the F-22,, is a one trillion dollar program, with a different version for the Marines, Navy and Air Force. With the cost of each aircraft as much as $140 million, that is going to get pretty pricey for the Pentagon. Of course, it will be a veritable gold mine for Lockheed Martin, which could sell over 2000 of these babies to "export customers". That means just about any foreign country that isn't on the latest terrorist watch list. The sky's the limit!

Since it is Tax Time in the U.S., I thought it might be interesting to see just how much of our income taxes pay for war. The Friends Committee on National Legislation report that "43.4 percent of our 2008 tax dollars were spend on the military, both for current military programs and past military spending." That's a pretty big chunk of change. And what are we getting for all that spending? You be the judge.

Is it remotely possible that if we shifted even a small percentage of what we spend on the military to non-military foreign assistance and diplomacy efforts, that we might see a better return on that investment? What have we got to loose? The military option hasn't had a very good track record. Hunting down "terrorists" with unmanned drones and the associated collateral damage (also known as killing innocent civilians) just doesn't seem nearly as effective as working cooperatively with other nations, and creating good will through foreign aid.

And perhaps by cutting back on military spending, we would free up enough money so that we wouldn't have to hold bake sales to be able to afford enough teachers for our schools. Just imagine what good we could do if we were able to reduce U.S. military spending by 25 percent (as Rep. Frank has proposed).

If you think the Congress and the President should reduce military spending, stop killing civilians with drones and other weapons, and end the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, then send them a message to CUT THE WASTEFUL AND BLOATED MILITARY BUDGET! As it asks at the Voters For Peace Website, "Does the U.S. really need to spend as much as the whole world combined on weapons and war?" Perhaps its time to create a budget that suggests the look of PEACE to come!



Take Action at Voters For Peace: Tell Congress and the President to Cut The Military Budget -- Don't Expand it.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Gandhi and The Seven Social Evils


I spent the other (Sunday) morning in contemplation and reflection, thinking on the events of recent days. As I considered many of the issues, some overwhelmingly large and some relatively small, I found myself remembering Mahatma Gandhi's Seven Social Evils. I spent some time in a sort of lectio (a classical monastic practice of deep, prayerful reading of sacred scripture) with Gandhi's work; it left me refreshed and focused, and with continued strength for the journey.

It also left me with the realization that as peacemakers, we are called to be constant in our lives, embodying Gandhi's characteristics of work, conscience, character, morality, humanity, sacrifice and principles, while calling on those who "control" the political sphere to avoid Gandhi's Seven Social Evils.

The Seven Social Evils:
Wealth Without Work
Pleasure Without Conscience
Knowledge Without Character
Commerce Without Morality
Science Without Humanity
Worship Without Sacrifice
Politics Without Principles

I challenge you to find something negative involving human-caused problems (O.K., maybe there are one or two things) in the news where one of Gandhi's Social Evils does not apply. The world economic crisis? The development and amassing of nuclear weapons over the past 6 decades? Automakers scratching their heads about why they are failing???

Perhaps we should consider sharing Gandhi's Seven Social Evils with our elected officials, and just about anyone else one might think of. Perhaps we can get everyone not only contemplating these fairly comprehensive (though brief) moral principles, but actually understanding and applying them to their lives. What do you think???



Thursday, April 2, 2009

Is AFRICOM Just Another CON?


In my last post I introduced you to the newest United States Department of Defense (DOD) Unified Command - U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM). If you remember the phrase "The sun never sets on the British Empire", the following map showing the (not so) new and improved American Empire should make you sit up and take notice. It seems that the U.S. learned the lessons of classical colonialism early on, and decided that a different approach was in order. Rather than occupying countries in the traditional way (except in cases like Iraq and Afghanistan), the U.S. has established a massive web of military bases on nearly every part of the globe (with the agreement of the governments of the nations in which they reside), each one under the umbrella of one of these Unified Commands.

Click here for a full screen version of the map.

The DOD Unified Command Website states that, "the main goal of the new U.S. command in Africa will be to develop a stable environment on the continent to promote civil society and improved quality of life for the people there..." I don't doubt the military's (or the U.S. government's) desire for a "stable environment", but is the military the appropriate tool for helping develop (long term) stability, or "civil society and improved quality of life"???? Is there just possibly another way?

Having navigated around the DOD Unified Command Website, I finally understand what it must have been like for Alice when she fell down the rabbit hole. It is a dizzying journey through acronyms like PACOM, EUCOM, CENTCOM, SOUTHCOM, NORTHCOM, and AFRICOM. Of course we can't forget STRATCOM, JFCOM and SOCOM. And now with addition of AFRICOM, we have a nice round number of (10) Unified Commands that cover just about everything (and everyplace) you can imagine (and quite a few things you don't want to).

I have no doubt the the U.S. military is doing some fine humanitarian work around the world - looking over the SOCOM home page might convince you that it is just a humanitarian organization - but you have to wonder if the U.S. military, which spends billions to operate SOCOM, is the best vehicle for supporting "security and stability" (as it's Website states) "in the Americas", particularly when one considers that the U.S. military (through its School of the Americas) has been responsible for much of the insecurity and instability throughout Latin America.

And just what will AFRICOM bring to the African continent? Security? Stability? Is there a better way to help nations become secure and stable? Are decision makers in Washington, D.C. asking such questions. At least a few are. Read what Representative John Murtha has to say about AFRICOM at Stars and Stripes. And are they listening to those with experience in foreign policy? Read a detailed analysis of AFRICOM, that focuses on the history of SOUTHCOM in Latin America, by retired Ambassador David Passage. And then, as I mentioned last time, keep informed (and get involved) at Resist AFRICOM.

Let's work to help bring real security an stability to the African people through compassionate and just (non-military) foreign policy, and work with other nations (through the United Nations) to help bring this about.