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The University of Virginia research park, across Rt. 29 North from the National Ground Intelligence Center, is hosting a conference on weapons technologies that has been promoted as dealing with economically beneficial matters.
And why not? Both the military facility and the research park provide jobs, and the people who hold those jobs spend their money on things that support other jobs. What's not to like?
Well, one problem is what those jobs do. A Win/Gallup poll of 65 nations earlier this year found the United States by far most widely considered the greatest threat to peace in the world. Imagine how it must sound to people in other countries when we talk about the U.S. military as a jobs program.
But let's stick to economics. Where does the money come from for most of what goes on at the base and the research park north of town? From our taxes and government borrowing. Between 2000 and 2010, 161 military contractors in Charlottesville pulled in $919,914,918 through 2,737 contracts from the federal government. Over $8 million of that went to Mr. Jefferson's university, and three-quarters of that to the Darden Business School. And the trend is ever upward.
It is common to think that, because many people have jobs in the war industry, spending on war and preparations for war benefits an economy. In reality, spending those same dollars on peaceful industries, on education, on infrastructure, or even on tax cuts for working people would produce more jobs and in most cases better paying jobs -- with enough savings to help everyone make the transition from war work to peace work.
The superiority of other spending or even tax cuts has been established repeatedly by seminal studies out of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, frequently cited and never refuted over the last several years. Not only would spending on trains or solar panels or schools produce more and better paying jobs, but so would never taxing the dollars in the first place. Military spending is worse than nothing, just in economic terms.
Add to this the impact on foreign policy that massive military spending has had since before President Eisenhower warned us on the day he left office: "The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual --" he said, "is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government." Today even more so, so much so perhaps that we notice it less, so routine has it become.
Connecticut has set up a commission to work on transitioning to peaceful industries, largely for economic reasons. Virginia or Charlottesville could do the same.
The U.S. government spends over $600 billion a year just on the Department of Defense, and over $1 trillion total every year on militarism across all departments and debts for past wars. It's over half of U.S. discretionary spending and about as much as the rest of the world's nations combined, including the many NATO members and allies of the United States.
It would cost about $30 billion per year to end starvation and hunger around the world. That sounds like a lot of money to you or me. It would cost about $11 billion per year to provide the world with clean water. Again, that sounds like a lot. But consider the amounts being spent on economically detrimental programs that also damage our civil liberties, our environment, our safety, and our morality. It wouldn't cost much for the U.S. to become seen as the greatest threat to suffering and poverty instead of to peace.
David Swanson is a Charlottesville resident and organizer of WorldBeyondWar.org.
Daniel Hyslop is research manager at the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) where he coordinates research and manages IEP’s research team (see http://economicsandpeace.org ). IEP produces the Global Peace Index (see http://visionofhumanity.org ). He discusses the economic costs of war and violence.
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A unique conference is planned in Charlottesville, Va., featuring the latest technologies for the practice of large-scale killing. The Daily Progress tells us that,
"to allow participants to speak more freely about potentially sensitive topics, the conference is closed to the media and open only to registered participants."
Well I should think so! Registered participants? How does one get registered for such a thing?
"From a local perspective, this industry is really growing in Charlottesville," says one expert, speaking with great objectivity, as if this growth were a matter of complete moral indifference.
Exactly how many people will be there?
"About 225 people are expected to attend the inaugural event, which is attracting government, business and academic leaders, said conference chairwoman and organizer Joan Bienvenue, who is also the director of the UVa Applied Research Institute."
Wait, what? The University of Virginia has an "applied research institute" for applying research to the practice of mass murder?
Is there no shame left in any institution?
"Sen. Timothy M. Kaine and Rep. Randy Forbes, R-4th, are also scheduled to give key speeches at the conference."
I guess that answers my question.
And where exactly will this blood-soaked confab take place?
"Located in Albemarle County, Rivanna Station is a sub-installation of the Army's Fort Belvoir. The local base employs mostly civilians and houses operations of the National Ground Intelligence Center, Defense Intelligence Agency and National Geospatial Intelligence Agency."
The National Ground Intelligence Center, previously downtown in what became the SNL Financial building, is now north of Charlottesville, and the University of Virginia has built a "research park" next door, where this conference will be held. The NGIC famously played an utterly shameless role in marketing the war on Iraq that took at least a half a million lives and destroyed that nation.
When the experts at the Department of Energy refused to say that aluminum tubes in Iraq were for nuclear facilities, because they knew they could not possibly be and were almost certainly for rockets, and when the State Department's people also refused to reach the "correct" conclusion, a couple of guys at the NGIC were happy to oblige. Their names were George Norris and Robert Campus, and they received "performance awards" (cash) for the service.
Then Secretary of State Colin Powell used Norris' and Campus' claims in his U.N. speech despite the warning of his own staff that they weren't true. NGIC also hired a company called MZM to assist with war lies for a good chunk of change. MZM then gave a well-paid job to NGIC's deputy director Bill Rich Jr, and for good measure Bill Rich III too. MZM was far and away the top "contributor" to former Congressman Virgil Goode's campaigns, and he got them a big contract in Martinsville before they went down in the Duke Cunningham scandal. Rich then picked up a job with a company called Sparta, which, like MZM, was conveniently located in the UVA Research Park.
Local want ads in Charlottesville offer jobs "researching biological and chemical weapons" at Battelle Memorial Institute (located in the UVA Research Park). As you may know, researching such weapons is rarely if ever done without producing or at least possessing them. Other jobs are available producing all kinds of weaponry for all kinds of governments at Northrop Grumman. Then there's Teksystems, Pragmatics, Wiser, and many others with fat Pentagon contracts.
From 2000 to 2010, 161 military contractors in Charlottesville pulled in $919,914,918 through 2,737 contracts from the federal government. Over $8 million of that went to Mr. Jefferson's university, and three-quarters of that to the Darden Business School. And the trend is ever upward. The 161 contractors are found in various industries other than higher education, including nautical system and instrument manufacturing; blind and shade manufacturing; printed circuit assembly; real estate appraisers; engineering services; recreational sports centers; research and development in biotechnology; new car dealers; internet publishing; petroleum merchant wholesalers; and a 2006 contract with Pig Daddy's BBQ.
Have we at long last no sense of decency? War has taken 200 million lives in the past 100 years, costs the world $2 trillion a year and the United States half of that. It is the top destroyer of our natural environment and undergirds all the removal of our civil liberties and the creation of mass surveillance. Military spending produces fewer jobs that other government spending or even tax cuts. Numerous top officials say it produces more enemies than it kills.
And who does it kill? Over 90% are civilians of all ages. Over 90% are on one side of conflicts between wealthy and poor countries. These one-sided slaughters leave behind devastated nations: Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya. A poll of 65 nations found the U.S. most widely viewed as the greatest threat to peace. For 3% of what the United States spends on a program of killing that endangers us, impoverishes us, and erodes our way of life, starvation could be eliminated worldwide. It wouldn't take much to become the most beloved nation rather than the most feared.
And wouldn't it be nice to live in a society where our top public program didn't have to be kept hush-hush to protect "sensitive topics"?
The most patriotic Fourth of July celebration I've ever been to was not in Washington, D.C., but at a little lake in Virginia. We were picnicking on the shore of the lake along with about 75 not very close friends and family. This was a few years ago. I must have been 8 years old.
The lake was packed with boats almost the way the Beltway gets packed with cars, but this fact wasn't slowing them down. The boats were mostly, if not all, decorated with red, white, and blue, and mostly, if not all, had motors and were using them. Predictably enough, every once in a while two boats would collide. It sounded like the end of a car crash, without the screeching before it.
The first time two boats crashed into each other, my Dad jumped into panic mode, ready to call 911, eager to coordinate a rescue, but my Uncle and some other grownups standing around waved him off. This was normal, they said. Everyone would be all right. "Are you sure?" asked my Dad. He seemed worried, but by about the third crash he didn't even look up.
It was about 90 degrees out in the bright sun of early afternoon when the fireworks started. There was a floating platform out in the lake, and a bunch of kids on it began setting off fireworks that were no doubt smaller than those on the National Mall but really didn't seem it. Some of the boats slowed down to watch, but watched from as close as immediately against the platform.
You should know that my Mom has always been horrified of fireworks. When they began going off in the daytime, she assumed something was wrong. And when it was kids, some of them younger than I, setting them off, she -- in her turn -- went into panic mode. She was quickly reassured by all around her that nothing was amiss. I'll admit I thought this was all pretty cool.
But when a little boy on the fireworks platform began screaming as if in horrible pain, I started to worry. The fireworks continued, uninterrupted, but there was a bunch of hurried movement, and a few minutes later a man carried a boy up the grass away from the lake, blood dripping from his arm, which was wrapped in what looked like an American flag. The kid had "just lost a pinky" everyone said, and had some "minor burns."
Not one to make a public fuss, my Mom spoke quietly to me, but more seriously than I can ever recall: "Don't ever go near fireworks. Do you understand?"
I said that I did, and it was actually true. I did.
Uncles and others were firing up grills when the fireworks finally stopped and the sound of boats motoring and crunching into each other returned. I was actually feeling hungry. Nobody had consumed anything yet, except soda or beer.
As soon as the smoke had all cleared from the sky, the air show began. There was a buzzing noise that drowned out all the boat motors. A shadow passed over our picnic table. A predator drone, flying very low and carrying two very visible Hellfire missiles, circled over the lake. Drunk guys started telling their girlfriends that the drone was going to blow some people up, so that when it turned toward us there was lots of screaming, followed by uproarious laughter.
Luckily, the drone finally left without firing. I wish it hadn't. Left, I mean. As soon as it was gone, all concentration seemed to focus on food preparation. I've never been much of a meat eater, and there appeared to be nothing but hot dogs and hamburgers. I asked one of my cousins if there were any veggie-dogs and he acted like I'd said something rude. "Only other thing is war meat," he said. Whatever that meant.
I found out soon enough. The man at the grill by our table shouted for everyone to listen up. He pulled a metal container, like a large curved lunchbox, out of a freezer. "Are you ready?" he asked. For what, I did not know, but everyone nodded. "One," he said. "Two. One. Two. Three. Four." And our whole table started singing the Star Spangled Banner, and I mean bad enough to make a dog cry in agony, which a couple of them did.
When the song was finally over, the man opened the metal container like he was opening a birthday present. People started asking, "What'd we get? What'd we get?" The man pulled a big red chunk of raw meat out with his hand and said, "Pakistani." And after a pause, "Again." He seemed a bit disappointed, but then quickly seemed overwhelmed with pleasure. "Pakistani!" "Pakistani!" our whole little bunch started shouting. Although how the chunk of flesh had actually been identified or recognized I couldn't tell.
"Pakistani!" "Pakistani!" Other tables were shouting it too. Word was passed up and down the picnic grounds, tables telling each other what they'd received. The tally seemed to include almost entirely Pakistani meat, with one or two Yemeni, a few Afghans, and a Libyan. But then a rumor spread that actually caused a hush. One table at the far end of the area, down around a curve in the lake, had apparently been so fortunate as to pull out a piece of "U.S. troop."
"This is a really sick joke!" my Dad said, turning to our table from my Mom, to whom he had apparently been talking and who was apparently crying. "This needs to end right now," my Dad said quite firmly and impressively. But people didn't respond the way I hoped. They just edged away from me and my parents. "What's the matter with you?" a woman asked. There was a lot of whispering. I heard the words "pacifist" and "socialist."
Then a big commotion in the parking lot up the hill took attention away. There were lights of numerous police cars. A crowd of people clumped closely together began drifting in our general direction, stopping at each picnic table for a moment or two before moving on. As they drew closer they took on the look of a celebrity encircled by body guards and swarmed by paparazzi. Then a strangely familiar voice was saying "Good afternoon! How are you all doing this fine day?"
And there was President Obama, grinning and shaking hands. Our crowd seemed delighted and respectful, but not at all surprised. However, one guy spoke up kind of loudly: "I hear we're not having any more wars next year, Mr. President."
Obama turned on him, not unlike that predator drone turning toward us, and with a somewhat similar reaction. "That's all right," he said. "That's all right. Let me repeat a principle I put forward at the outset of my presidency. Let me be clear. The United States will use military force, unilaterally if necessary, when our core interests demand it -- when our people are threatened, when our livelihood is at stake, or when the security of our allies is in danger."
The President grinned as though he were in possession of a wonderful secret. "Let me let you in on something," he said, almost whispering. "We've got troops permanently stationed in 175 countries. Our people can be threatened any time we want." He laughed and glanced around appreciating the knowing nods and smiles. "So, how's the meat?"
Renato M. Reyes, Jr. (pictured at right) is secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan). He has been with the organization since 2001. He was also the founding chair of the youth group Anakbayan in 1998. He blogs here and was involved in protests when U.S. President Barack Obama recently visited the Philippines. I asked him about it.
Was Obama unwelcomed in the Philippines?
The PH government rolled out the red carpet for Obama. In the streets however, thousands marched to protest Obama’s PH visit. The protests were aimed at the unequal relations between the US and the Philippines, in particular, US military intervention and economic impositions such as the TPPA. The visit also coincided with the signing of a new agreement called the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement which would bring back US military facilities in the Philippines.
We had a two day protest, the first was a march near the Presidential Palace where we burned a giant effigy of Obama on a chariot and Aquino as his running dog. There were protests in different parts of the country as well. On the second day, we marched near the US embassy where we were met by a phalanx of policemen. The police used their shields and water cannons to disperse the protesters but we stood our ground. It was our indignation regarding the signing of the EDCA.
What agreement have the governments signed?
The EDCA is an agreement that allows US forces to use our PH facilities, to build their own facilities within these facilities and to preposition their equipment in PH territory. These facilities will function as bases where US forces can station troops as well as deploy troops and weapons systems such as armed drones. The EDCA is consistent with the US strategic rebalancing towards Asia, and is in furtherance of US economic and security interests in the region.
What do people of the Philippines think about it?
There are different opinions. Some welcome the EDCA thinking that it would help the Philippines against China’s incursions. They wrongly believe that the EDCA will result in the modernization of the PH armed forces. Those in the mass movement are very critical of the EDCA. Lawmakers from the Senate and Lower House have also raised serious objections. Two petitions have been filed before the PH supreme court questioning the EDCA. Lawyers, academicians, lawmakers, church people and activists have united to oppose the EDCA.
How is a dispute with China over some islands being used here?
The dispute with China is being exploited by the US to justify its permanent military presence in the Philippines. The US gives the false assurance that it would support the Philippines in the event of an armed attack by China. When Obama was confronted with this question during his PH visit, he avoided answering it and instead claimed that the US was interested in cooperating with China. The US is not likely going to war with the US due to the disputed areas in the West PH Sea. The US uses the Philippines as a footstool in Asia but would not come to the aid of the Philippines. The PH government meanwhile shows utter mendicancy and puppetry when it thinks that its sovereignty can be upheld through a foreign power.
I like to think of the Philippines, along with Ecuador, as a success story, a place that told the U.S. military to get out (in 1991) -- how did that happen and what has happened since? How is this connected to U.S. military presence back to 1898?
The Filipino people have a long history of resistance to US colonial occupation and neo-colonial domination. The resistance includes armed struggle against US colonialism and currently, neo-colonialism.
The Filipino people struggled for decades against the presence of US bases and were finally successful in 1991 when the PH senate rejected a new basing treaty. The US basing agreement was so lopsided in favor of the US and constituted an affront to our sovereignty. The treaty rejection was possible only because there was a strong mass movement that campaigned for several decades.
Are you working with people opposed to bases in Okinawa, Jeju Island, elsewhere?
We are in solidarity with the anti-bases groups in Okinawa, Jeju, Australia and Korea. We have joined actions in opposition to the construction of new bases as well as the abuses of the US troops. We are part of the Ban the Bases global network which shares information and conducts campaigns on bases issues.
I'm speaking with the Mayor of Nago City, Okinawaw, who was elected to stop a base and is coming to the United States to try to stop it. What would you like me to say to him?
To the people of Okinawa, we are in solidarity with you. Never give up the struggle to boot out foreign bases. A nation cannot be truly free if foreign troops continue to be stationed on its shores.
What would you like to say to the people of the United States?
To the American people, do not let your taxes be spent for war and occupation, for US bases and intervention. Please support the campaign to shut down these bases and to get the US troops out of Asia and other continents.
Philippines climate chief Naderev Yeb Sano made a plea to the world? Is that effort connected with the effort against bases? Do these movements work together?
I met Yeb Sano when we were in the university during the 90’s. His plea may not be directly related to the bases movement. However, there are many environmental groups campaigning against the bases, including for compensation for the environmental damage wrought by US forces in their former bases in Subic and Clark as well as the recent destruction of a part of the Tubbataha Reef.
You are a musician: How does that fit into your activism?
I’ve been playing music since I was seven. I play the piano, guitar, blues harp or harmonica and the ukulele. Music is another outlet where we can express ourselves and help amplify the message to a broader audience. We did a series of recording two years ago when a friend got arrested in a remote province. We called it Prison Sessions, and we did videos of our sessions. We used the recordings to raise awareness of the plight of political prisoners and imprisoned artists. My friend was eventually released after two years of detention. We now play during events…outside the jail of course.