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

Friday, November 23, 2012

Getting in the Spirit...

Greetings of the (shopping) Season my Friends,

It is that magical time of year when people's blood pressure goes through the roof as they engage in the seasonal madness known as HOLIDAY GIFT SHOPPING!!! 

I have no doubt that hospital emergency rooms see a vast increase in admissions of people suffering symptoms of anxiety, chest pains and other symptoms associated with the stress related to finding the right gift(s) for people on our list.

Besides the obvious benefits of creating a "naughty or nice" list (that can really cut down on the number of gifts one needs to give), we can simplify our shopping exploits as well as do our shopping in a way that reflects our desire to make the world a better place.

My personal favorite is giving the gift of time and presence.  It can be as simple as making a certificate or writing a card promising someone the gift of your time to do something (or go somewhere) together - taking that person to a museum, gallery, hiking or any number of activities.  Or maybe helping with gardening or other household tasks.

OK; so you still want to buy something you can put in a box and wrap.  You probably have lots of sources, although here just a few of my favorites.

I'll start with one I recently discovered. From War to Peace turns weapons meant to destroy us into art meant to restore us. They create jewelry and accessories from disarmed and recycled nuclear missile systems, "transforming swords into plowshares, hate into love and war into peace." The Nuclear Resister receives 20% of the price of your From War to Peace purchase when you use the coupon code "RESIST", and you receive an additional 5% savings yourself.Now that's a win win situation!  

SERRV.org - Fair trade, handmade gifts from around the world.  SERRV has been around for 60 years, and works to eradicate poverty through our direct connections with low-income artisans and farmers in the U.S. and around the world.  One of the first alternative trade organizations in the world, SERRV is a founding member of the World Fair Trade Organization (formerly IFAT) and a founding member of the Fair Trade Federation (FTF).  I love their beans soups, and organic olive oil from Arab farmers in Palestine working in partnership with Israelis.

Speaking of handmade things, depending on where you live you can probably find local artisans making all manner of things including soaps, honey and other food items, jewelry and clothing.  Nothing better than shopping (really) local (cutting out the "middleman") to stimulate the local economy.

 For me there is nothing quite like giving the gift of self reliance.  Heifer International represent gifts that literally keep on giving (and giving, and giving).  The recipients of Heifer's various animals receive support to ensure success with their animals to create sustainable income for their families, and agree to "pass on the gift" - to give at least the first offspring of their animals to another family.  Heifer's efforts have been responsible for helping rebuild the connections within communities torn apart by war and civil strife. Although you can't fit a water buffalo under the tree, Heifer has very cool gift cards.

Of course, there are countless other possibilities.  These, of course, come from my own experience.  But you get the point.  It's about being intentional, and a nice added benefit is ramping down the stress levels that seem to inevitably creep into our Holidays.

And just think of all the time saved not fighting for a parking space at the mall... ahhh; Holiday bliss!!! 

Peaceful Holiday Season to All,


Monday, November 19, 2012

Jeju Island: A Pawn in the Imperial Struggle

A truly heroic citizens' struggle continues on the tiny island of Jeju Island where the South Korean government is building a naval base that will serve as yet another outpost in the vast array of U.S. military bases around the world

This particular base is of particular note because it represents the massive shift in focus by the Pentagon to the Asian continent, and of course CHINA!!!  Just 500 miles off the Chinese mainland, a base at Jeju will give the U.S. a new choke point in the East China Sea to control China's strategic access to resources and commerce.

The base being constructed by the South Korean government will directly support U.S. ships - including Aegis missile defense destroyers, aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines.  The Commander,U.S. Naval Forces, Korea has specified design specifications to accommodate U.S. submarines and aircraft carriers.

Art meets protest on Jeju Island
With over 1000 military bases around the world (even the experts differ in the exact number), the last the U.S. needs right now is another one, especially one that will only inevitably ratchet up tensions between the U.S. and China in what could become the newest  clash of superpowers.

But beyond the talk of superpowers and their petty land and resource grabs, this is a story about people struggling to hold onto what is rightfully theirs.  To maintain a way of life.  To be left alone, and not be made pawns in the disinterest of empire. 

To call the struggle of the Jeju Islanders "heroic" is not hyperbole.

Father John Dear sums up the situation on Jeju in a single paragraph:
The base is being built near Gangjeong village. These heroic villagers have maintained an impressive public stand against nuclear weapons, U.S. imperialism, environmental destruction and basic injustice. They’ve been arrested, imprisoned and had their land and civil rights taken from them. Nonetheless, they keep at it. They are demonstrating one of the most brilliant instances of active, engaged nonviolence on the planet, but they have to: South Korea, at the request of the Pentagon, is about to destroy one of the world’s natural wonders.
The struggle to extricate Jeju Island from the jaws of militarism and empire is one that affects not only this small, peaceful island, but the entire world.

  Even as I write this post, President Obama is in Southeast Asia to ensure military and economic dominance thoughout the region.  Secretary of Defense Panetta confirmed last Friday that the U.S. will be increasing the numbers of military exercises in the Pacific in conjunction with Southeast Asian allies, and of course "devoting new funding to this goal."  And guess what huge country lies just North of all those Southeast Asian countries???

There are many ways people can support the people of Jeju Island.  Go to Save Jeju Now to learn more and get involved.  And - Check out the Save Jeju Island Facebook page.

Say NO to Empire!  Say YES to Peace!  Save Jeju Island!!!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Empires Go To Hell: A Poem by Dennis Serdel

For Veterans Day, 2012

By Dennis Serdel, Vietnam 1967-68 (one tour) Light Infantry, Americal Div. 11th Brigade, purple heart, Veterans For Peace 50 Michigan, Vietnam Veterans Against The War, United Auto Workers GM Retiree, in Perry, Michigan

Empires Go To Hell

the heat seeps through the helmet
boils the sheet metal on all the desert
camouflaged trucks and vehicles
the oversized rucksack pulls
on the shoulders
grinds away on the gut
everybody is not fighting the war
only a few considering
all the Soldiers around the world
this long war is taking its toll
like sores eating the brain
the body is beginning to ache
the head the back the legs
grind on but the pain pills
only help but canʼt cure exhaustion
they canʼt give back
the days the months the years
who canʼt count all the steps
nobody can count the miles
and waiting feel the minutes
the hours the days then go on
wasting a life for this battlefield
that goes back to blood on the soil
to every invasion by all sorts
of empires in the past
where only cemeteries
and memorials remain
the world must get rid of empires
all they do is invade and rape
small countries for any type
of gold the little countries have
but the empires may be
brought down within
and work against the empires
of the world until there
are no empires anymore.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

A Last Word on the Election!!!

Yes, I've voted for Nader in previous elections (and caught a lot of flack for it).  As much as I understand (and agree with many of) people's reasons for voting for a third party candidate rather than obama this November 6th, I also see the potential (and highly probable) consequences of a Republican victory (and its NOT a pretty picture; even far uglier than the current one).  My peace and justice work, and in particular my work on nuclear weapons, has given me a particularly pragmatic view of our current situation along with the challenges that lie ahead.

This is one very, very scary Republican party (think Invasion of the Body Snatchers), and should we end up with both a Republican White House and Republican controlled Congress I fear the worst.  All that being said, I am agreement with Daniel Ellsberg (and others) who see Obama as the "lesser of two evils."  The difference this time is the magnitude of the other evil.  Here is Ellsberg's take:

Daniel Ellsberg, Pentagon Papers Whistleblower: Obama The Lesser Of Two Evils

It is urgently important to prevent a Republican administration under Romney/Ryan from taking office in January 2013.

The election is now just weeks away, and I want to urge those whose values are generally in line with mine -- progressives, especially activists -- to make this goal one of your priorities during this period.
An activist colleague recently said to me: "I hear you're supporting Obama."

I was startled, and took offense. "Supporting Obama? Me?!"

"I lose no opportunity publicly," I told him angrily, to identify Obama as a tool of Wall Street, a man who's decriminalized torture and is still complicit in it, a drone assassin, someone who's launched an unconstitutional war, supports kidnapping and indefinite detention without trial, and has prosecuted more whistleblowers like myself than all previous presidents put together. "Would you call that support?"

My friend said, "But on Democracy Now you urged people in swing states to vote for him! How could you say that? I don't live in a swing state, but I will not and could not vote for Obama under any circumstances."

My answer was: a Romney/Ryan administration would be no better -- no different -- on any of the serious offenses I just mentioned or anything else, and it would be much worse, even catastrophically worse, on a number of other important issues: attacking Iran, Supreme Court appointments, the economy, women's reproductive rights, health coverage, safety net, climate change, green energy, the environment.

I told him: "I don't 'support Obama.' I oppose the current Republican Party. This is not a contest between Barack Obama and a progressive candidate. The voters in a handful or a dozen close-fought swing states are going to determine whether Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are going to wield great political power for four, maybe eight years, or not."

As Noam Chomsky said recently, "The Republican organization today is extremely dangerous, not just to this country, but to the world. It's worth expending some effort to prevent their rise to power, without sowing illusions about the Democratic alternatives."

Following that logic, he's said to an interviewer what my friend heard me say to Amy Goodman: "If I were a person in a swing state, I'd vote against Romney/Ryan, which means voting for Obama because there is no other choice."

The election is at this moment a toss-up. That means this is one of the uncommon occasions when we progressives -- a small minority of the electorate -- could actually have a significant influence on the outcome of a national election, swinging it one way or the other.

The only way for progressives and Democrats to block Romney from office, at this date, is to persuade enough people in swing states to vote for Obama: not stay home, or vote for someone else. And that has to include, in those states, progressives and disillusioned liberals who are at this moment inclined not to vote at all or to vote for a third-party candidate (because like me they've been not just disappointed but disgusted and enraged by much of what Obama has done in the last four years and will probably keep doing).

They have to be persuaded to vote, and to vote in a battleground state for Obama not anyone else, despite the terrible flaws of the less-bad candidate, the incumbent. That's not easy. As I see it, that's precisely the "effort" Noam is referring to as worth expending right now to prevent the Republicans' rise to power. And it will take progressives -- some of you reading this, I hope -- to make that effort of persuasion effectively.

It will take someone these disheartened progressives and liberals will listen to. Someone manifestly without illusions about the Democrats, someone who sees what they see when they look at the president these days: but who can also see through candidates Romney or Ryan on the split-screen, and keep their real, disastrous policies in focus.

It's true that the differences between the major parties are not nearly as large as they and their candidates claim, let alone what we would want. It's even fair to use Gore Vidal's metaphor that they form two wings ("two right wings," as some have put it) of a single party, the Property or Plutocracy Party, or as Justin Raimondo says, the War Party.

Still, the political reality is that there are two distinguishable wings, and one is reliably even worse than the other, currently much worse overall. To be in denial or to act in neglect of that reality serves only the possibly imminent, yet presently avoidable, victory of the worse.

The traditional third-party mantra, "There's no significant difference between the major parties" amounts to saying: "The Republicans are no worse, overall." And that's absurd. It constitutes shameless apologetics for the Republicans, however unintended. It's crazily divorced from present reality.

And it's not at all harmless to be propagating that absurd falsehood. It has the effect of encouraging progressives even in battleground states to refrain from voting or to vote in a close election for someone other than Obama, and more importantly, to influence others to act likewise.That's an effect that serves no one but the Republicans, and ultimately the 1 percent.

It's not merely understandable, it's entirely appropriate to be enraged at Barack Obama. As I am. He has often acted outrageously, not merely timidly or "disappointingly." If impeachment were politically imaginable on constitutional grounds, he's earned it (like George W. Bush, and many of his predecessors!) It is entirely human to want to punish him, not to "reward" him with another term or a vote that might be taken to express trust, hope or approval.

But rage is not generally conducive to clear thinking. And it often gets worked out against innocent victims, as would be the case here domestically, if refusals to vote for him resulted in Romney's taking key battleground states that decide the outcome of this election.

To punish Obama in this particular way, on Election Day -- by depriving him of votes in swing states and hence of office in favor of Romney and Ryan -- would punish most of all the poor and marginal in society, and workers and middle class as well: not only in the U.S. but worldwide in terms of the economy (I believe the Republicans could still convert this recession to a Great Depression), the environment and climate change. It could well lead to war with Iran (which Obama has been creditably resisting, against pressure from within his own party). And it would spell, via Supreme Court appointments, the end of Roe v. Wade and of the occasional five to four decisions in favor of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

The reelection of Barack Obama, in itself, is not going to bring serious progressive change, end militarism and empire, or restore the Constitution and the rule of law. That's for us and the rest of the people to bring about after this election and in the rest of our lives -- through organizing, building movements and agitating.

In the eight to twelve close-fought states -- especially Florida, Ohio, and Virginia, but also Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin -- for any progressive to encourage fellow progressives and others in those states to vote for a third-party candidate is, I would say, to be complicit in facilitating the election of Romney and Ryan, with all its consequences.

To think of that as urging people in swing states to "vote their conscience" is, I believe, dangerously misleading advice. I would say to a progressive that if your conscience tells you on Election Day to vote for someone other than Obama in a battleground state, you need a second opinion. Your conscience is giving you bad counsel.

I often quote a line by Thoreau that had great impact for me: "Cast your whole vote: not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence." He was referring, in that essay, to civil disobedience, or as he titled it himself, "Resistance to Civil Authority."

It still means that to me. But this is a year when for people who think like me -- and who, unlike me, live in battleground states -- casting a strip of paper is also important. Using your whole influence this month to get others to do that, to best effect, is even more important.

That means for progressives in the next couple of weeks -- in addition to the rallies, demonstrations, petitions, lobbying (largely against policies or prospective policies of President Obama, including austerity budgeting next month), movement-building and civil disobedience that are needed all year round and every year -- using one's voice and one's e-mails and op-eds and social media to encourage citizens in swing states to vote against a Romney victory by voting for the only real alternative, Barack Obama.

Daniel Ellsberg is a former State and Defense Department official who has been arrested for acts of non-violent civil disobedience over eighty times, initially for copying and releasing the top secret Pentagon Papers, for which he faced 115 years in prison. Living in a non-swing state, he does not intend to vote for President Obama.