Organizing Notes

Bruce Gagnon is coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. He offers his own reflections on organizing and the state of America's declining empire....

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Location: Bath, Maine, United States

Saturday, November 16, 2013

DRONE ART



This artist is at the drone conference in Washington DC and his sign is sitting on the stage, leaned up against a mock up of a weaponized drone.....

WORDS FROM DRONE SUMMIT

The Drone Summit: Proliferation & Resistance conference in Washington DC began this morning with more than 400 people packed into a hall at Georgetown University Law School.

After opening words from CodePink co-founder Media Benjamin we heard from keynote speaker Dr. Cornel West from Princeton University.  Here are a few of his words:

  • The use of drones to kill people are imperial crimes
  • We are creating a love movement, we love our brothers and sisters in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and around the world
  • We are being pushed into an authoritarian soft fascist regime
  • 43% of profits these days go to big banks
  • We have privatization of public education and escalating levels of ignorance across the country
  • Rich kids get taught and poor kids get tested
  • I come from a tradition that says 'lift every voice'
  • The only option for more and more of us is to hit the streets and go to jail
  • If we connect with others and straighten our backs we might be able to turn our nation around
  • You can't drop drones on children and not have it effect your soul
  • We are so obsessed with our interests that we've forgot what our principles are
  • W.E.B. Du Bois asked these four questions:
How does integrity face oppression?
What does honesty do in the face of deception?
What does decency do in the face of insult?
How does virtue meet brute force?

You can see Cornel West's full talk aired on C-SPAN here

Friday, November 15, 2013

GERMANY & DRONES


RT reports that Berlin has suspended the purchase of armed drones on the grounds that it “categorically rejects illegal killings.” This follows a report by Amnesty International that accused Merkel’s government of aiding the US with drone strikes in Pakistan.

A draft agreement between the Social Democrats and the Conservatives obtained by Der Spiegel condemns the use of drones for targeted attacks.

"We categorically reject illegal killings by drones. Germany will support the use of unmanned weapons systems for the purposes of international disarmament and arms control," said the statement. The government says that before acquiring the remote-controlled craft, it must thoroughly examine “all associated civil and constitutional guidelines and ethical questions.”


Global Network board member Regina Hagen from Darmstadt, Germany writes:

Yes, that's true. BUT...

Many of the deadly drone attacks are controlled from the US base in Stuttgart, the German secret service BND provides information about (human) targets, and US spies can operate freely in and from Germany. So Germany is actually involved in drone warfare even thought not buying armed drones.

The daily newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung launched an article series today, and hurray, you can find some of it in English at http://international.sueddeutsche.de/post/67044574634/germany-ally-and-accomplice-in-u-s-war-on-terror.

You can also find an interactive map about US spy posts in Germany at http://www.geheimerkrieg.de/ (secret war) - and that can't be all, the Darmstadt "Dagger Complex" e.g. is missing in the map.

THE STORY BEHIND THE IRAN CONFLICT



US, Israel, France and Saudi Arabia are working overtime to make sure that any deal with Iran is killed.

Saudi Arabia is holding out huge arms sales to France in exchange for their agreement to help gum up the works with Iran.  So much for the Socialist government in Paris - they've turned out as bad, if not worse, than the conservatives.

The US and UK are likely to extract some big weapons contracts from the Saudi monarchy as well before all this is over.  Israel is still itching for a chance to launch an attack on Iran.

I read years ago that the primary reason Iran wants nuclear power is because they sell much of their fossil fuels to fund their economy.  Since those fuels are increasingly getting scarce they want to use nuclear power for domestic purposes and continue to sell oil for profit.

After the current mess in Fukushima it is hard to imagine why any country would want to continue with nuclear power.  Use the sun - its free and abundant.

KILLING THE GOLDEN GOOSE

Vietnam-vet Bob Anderson standing outside Kirtland AFB in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  The base is a major space technology development center



  • I am heading today to Washington DC to participate in the Drones Around the Globe: Proliferation and Resistance conference being organized by Codepink. It is being held at the Georgetown Law Center and will include drone survivors and families of victims from Pakistan and Yemen.  This evening I am lucky to arrive in time to attend a concert featuring folksingers Charlie King and Karen Brandow at a local church.  I'll be staying with my usual hosts at the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker House.  Then on Sunday I'll get to have dinner with cousin Bob Gagnon and his wife at my favorite restaurant in DC.  Should be a good weekend.
  • Yesterday members of our group Bath Citizens for Responsible TIF Action heard extensive coverage of our Wednesday night public forum on a couple of Maine's top radio stations.  Letters to the editor continue to appear in leading papers and the weeklies in the mid-coast region are now giving greater coverage to the BIW tax giveaway issue.
  • This process of corporate threats to move unless they get more money has become an epidemic.  A hot fight is going on in Seattle as Boeing has demanded wage cuts and dramatic retirement program concessions from the Machinists Union.  Boeing has also demanded more tax breaks from the state of Washington.  The state government buckled under pressure and is offering Boeing $8.7 billion in tax incentives to stay.  Union leadership called the Boeing demands "crap" and then 67% of their membership voted against the company proposal.  Boeing is threatening to move to an anti-union southern state to build their new 777X long-haul aircraft. Buckle up we are hitting turbulence!
  • Days ago while going door-to-door in Bath I met one woman who had recently moved to Maine from Connecticut.  She told me the story about Pfizer that demanded tax breaks from the state or else it would move.  Under corporate pressure the state granted a 10-year tax break worth over $60 million.  After nine years and nine months of receiving the tax "incentives" Pfizer announced they were moving more than half of their workforce out of the state.  The greedy corporations are bleeding the American people in this race to the bottom of the barrel.  It is indeed a coordinated corporate strategy of capital accumulation.  The corporations don't care what impact they have on local communities and the workers who have literally given their lives to make the companies wealthy.  This is how revolutions get started.
  • It's always fascinating to see the places people live who are reading this blog.  The past week's top ten are:  United States, Ukraine, China, Bulgaria, Germany, France, Canada, United Kingdom, South Korea, and Russia. Welcome to all of you - even if you work for some government security service.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

I REMEMBER A PARADISE




BIG TURNOUT AT FORUM IN BATH


We counted right at 90 people last night at the forum our local committee organized here in Bath.  The event, sponsored by Bath Citizens for Responsible TIF Action, was held in the city hall auditorium and featured three speakers.  We had to use the balcony for seating as the auditorium was packed.

The speakers included a retired college law professor who has studied corporate tax breaks for 30 years, an economist from a leading Maine organization, and a city councilman from nearby town of Brunswick.  In the end they all agreed on the need for greater transparency and disclosure by Bath Iron Works (BIW) and their parent General Dynamics Corporation.  Since BIW's primary justification for the $6 million tax break (after already getting $197 million of public subsidies since 1997 from the state and city of Bath) is that they need the money to stay competitive, it would indeed seem appropriate for the company to open their accounting books at least to the city.  One of the speakers commented that any local taxpayer who applies for any public subsidy from the state must fully disclose all of their financial information.  As my mother used to say, what's good for the goose is good for the gander.

Two state representatives showed up as did most members of the Bath city council.  Since this was a citizens forum they just sat and listened.  Radio, TV and several newspapers covered the event.  One local TV station coverage can be seen here

BIW and General Dynamics are not hurting.  The new Zumwalt "stealth" destroyers are costing about $4 billion each.  Contracts have been signed for BIW to build three of them.  Previous destroyers were costing $1.5 billion per copy.

One BIW union member told one of our committee members after the event that the company does not need the $250,000 tax break for the next 25 years.  It's chump change to the corporation and would likely be used for top executive bonuses anyway.  He said that most BIW workers understand this.

Another BIW worker told us that their union has tried, without success, to get BIW to publicly disclose their financial information at the time of union contract negotiations.  The company of course resists this request and instead continues to squeeze the workers pay and health care and has reduced their work force by 2,000 since they began getting the tax giveaways in the late 90's. 

The meeting began last night with a history of TIFS (Tax Increment Financing).  They came into existence to help communities fund job creation efforts in poor and blighted areas.  Over the years the big corporations have jumped into the TIF game.


In BIW's latest request they don't even promise to create a single job if given the corporate welfare.  That is not going over well with the public.

The city council is scheduled to make the final decision next Wednesday, November 20.  But if councilors really listened to the speakers last night they heard strong recommendations for more information, more transparency by BIW and General Dynamics.  It would seem to me that this issue rates as controversial enough that the city should put it to public referendum.  After all, the public has to pay the freight, they should be given the chance to say Yea or Nay.

USING TYPHOON TO STAY IN PHILIPPINES



Earlier this month, negotiations between the United States and the Philippines to sharply increase the number of US troops regularly rotating through Philippine bases hit a snag. Critics claimed American demands, if met, would undermine Philippine sovereignty. Increasingly, it seemed, prospects for an accord this year looked shaky.

Then typhoon Haiyan hit.

Since the ferocious storm blasted the archipelago and laid waste to the city of Tacloban Friday, the Filipino media have carried images of US military personnel aiding relief operations.

Will the US use the humanitarian aid excuse to stay in the Philippines as they continue the Pentagon strategy of surrounding China?  Peace activists in the Philippines and throughout the world fear this will be the case.

Until the US renounces the use of violence to settle conflicts, and renames the military the Natural Guard, suspicions will continue to grow.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

BIG STORY IN LOCAL PAPER TODAY

BIW getting larger break than agreed
by Gina Hamilton, Times Record staff 
 
BATH, MAINE

As Bath Iron Works [owned by General Dynamics] pursues new tax breaks, an analysis provided by city officials shows the defense contractor has received tax benefits in excess of what was projected from an existing 1997 tax-increment financing pact. The 1997 TIF established two districts that were to produce a total projected revenue for BIW of $78.5 million and for the city of approximately $35.1 million on new taxes generated by construction at the shipyard.

Records show that in 2012, the latest tax year available, the projection was for BIW to receive $3,305,991. In fact, it received $4,068,787 -- $762,796, or 23 percent, more than projected. On the city’s side in the same year, expected TIF revenue was $1,481,614. In reality, the city received $927,386.

Based on the TIF figures alone, the city has averaged only 66 percent of projected TIF revenue, while BIW has received, on average, 136 percent of projected revenue from the deal. 


Two “clawback” provisions that weren’t part of the city’s analysis have brought in more money to Bath’s coffers. With the "clawbacks" factored in, “by my best calculations, BIW got 14.6 percent more than projections,” city tax assessor Paul Mateosian said, “and the city received 6.8 percent less than projections" over 15-year life of the TIF. Officials said there is nothing in the 1997 pact that allows the city to renegotiate the TIF, even once it was clear BIW was exceeding its projections and the city was getting substantially less.

The city lost projected some TIF income because of state rules governing business equipment tax exemptions — or BETE, Mateosian said. The state Department of Economic and Community Development, at the beginning of the TIF period, was rebating 100 percent of BETE funds Bath was refunding to BIW. But that percentage decreased over several years, he said, beginning in the early 2000s. The city is now receiving only 58 percent of the BETE funds it was receiving in 1997.

The 1997 TIF was approved in order for BIW to construct its Land Level Transfer Facility, a state-of-the-art facility that permits work outdoors on a large concrete block and a dry dock, allowing the company to release newly constructed vessels safely by filling the container and floating the vessel at river level, rather than using the old slipways. The dry dock also was built that can be used to work on ships outdoors in all seasons. In the new facility, BIW retained 100 percent of the new value. That is, Bath refunded all property taxes for the new structure.

Bath retained 50 percent of the business equipment tax and other personal property taxes.

On the LLTF, BIW got a refund of more than 45 percent of all its Bath taxes in the last 15 years of the existing TIF. If the city had not entered into the TIF agreement in 1997, and BIW had not done the improvements at the shipyard, Bath would have brought in a little more than $28 million more than it did in the last 15 years, according to city figures. If BIW had done the improvements anyway, and paid full freight, Bath would have brought in more than $106 million from BIW over the same period, according to figures provided by the city.

Mateosian said additional figures that aren’t on the city analysis include two safeguards built into the 1997 TIF agreement that could restore the funding back toward the original agreement. The first safeguard, according to Mateosian, is a provision that if the tax value of the old part of the shipyard drops below $128 million, some funds would be taken back for the city. That provision was to ensure that BIW didn’t abandon the older part of the shipyard, which was paying the full tax share. Over the last 15 years, that safeguard provision has brought $5,045,250 back to the city, bringing its total to $17,613,986 to date.

There is a second safeguard provision as well, according to the assessor, which may kick in during the last portion of the TIF, which expires in 2023. This provision says that, should BIW begin to receive more than $85 million in refunds, the value of the real property in the TIF would drop to the 2002 base value, which is before the revaluation that occurred in Bath in 2005. This could occur as early as 2020, if current trends hold.

But even using those figures, there is a large variance between BIW’s return on the TIF and Bath’s expected return. Mateosian said projections are not exact, and many things, including a property revaluation that affected the amount the city took in from the TIF, took place during the last 15 years to affect tax calculations. He defended the apparent discrepancy by saying the 21.4 percent difference between what was expected to be paid to BIW and what BIW actually received is “within the TIF ballpark.”

He also says that the numbers are likely to turn around in Bath’s favor during the remainder of the TIF if the second safeguard provision kicks in.

Tax-increment financing has become an increasingly popular way to finance development using public funds. Municipalities agree to forego some of the property tax that would be generated, rebating it to companies in exchange for projects that would create jobs, redevelop derelict sites or generate future tax funds.

“I don’t know of anyone who believes the improvements at BIW were a bad idea,” he said. “Would BIW have built the drydock anyway? No one knows. Would BIW be here today without the [1997] TIF? I don’t think anyone knows that, either. But ask anyone in Millinocket or Lubec what they’d be willing to pay for $30 million of economic development,” he said, referring to the TIF proposal currently in front of the City Council.

BIW is requesting a new tax-increment financing package it says is necessary to remain competitive. The company wants to use sheltered property tax funds to invest $32 million into its Ultra Hall. The company expects the building will generate $500,000 in tax liability every year; it wants the city to share that liability for the next 25 years in a 50-50 split — an arrangement much more straightforward than the 1997 TIF.

A second official public hearing on the proposal is slated for Wednesday, Nov. 20, at a City Council meeting where the TIF is expected to be decided.

Meanwhile, a group of Bath citizens is holding a public forum at City Hall tonight at 6:30 p.m. to discuss the proposed new TIF. Bath Citizens for Responsible TIF Action envisions the program as a moderated forum. Panelists include Orlando Delogu, professor emeritus at University of Maine School of Law; Joel Johnson, economist from the Maine Center for Economic Policy; and Benet Pols, Brunswick town councilor.

Delogu took Bath and the state to court in 1997 to determine whether the process of taxpayer funding of TIF districts -- specifically, the BIW TIF districts-- was constitutional. The state supreme court ruled it was.

Bath city councilors have been invited to tonight’s forum, but City Clerk Mary White said not all will attend because if all did, it would become a public meeting that would require the city to announce it in print a week in advance. Some state legislators are also expected to attend.

BIW officials declined the invitation. “We are extremely disappointed that BIW has refused to attend the forum,” said Lorry Fleming, a Bath Citizens for Responsible TIF Action representative. “There are pointed questions that only BIW can answer.”

Some of the "pointed questions" the group wanted to ask were posed at a Nov. 6 City Council public hearing, when Jon Fitzgerald, lawyer for BIW, hinted broadly that BIW might not survive without the additional $250,000 per year tax break from the city — a concern echoed by a number of BIW employees in attendance.

Jerry Provencher, a member of the citizen’s group, said he was happy someone was asking questions about BIW’s TIF funding. “We have long thought there was a real problem when the largest corporation in the city is getting millions of dollars back in tax dollars but the schools need a special bond to just keep the doors open.”

- Another similar article from the Bangor Daily News can be seen here

THE BIG PICTURE



The Last Hours of Humanity: Warming the World to Extinction

CORPORATE CONTROL OF OUR FOOD

Click on graphic to enlarge


The solution?  Buy local, eat local....boycott the corporate brands.  
Free ourselves from corporate domination of our food supply.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

STOPPED FOR SAYING HELLO



The police in Philadelphia stop a black man for walking down the street.  His crime, he said hello to someone on the street.

You can hear how the cops feel about black people and how they treat people.

How much have things changed for blacks since slavery days?

I WAS A FREE MAN



MB and I went to see "12 Years a Slave" last night and everyone should go see this important film.  It shares the deeply sad and sadistic story of slavery in the US in pre-Civil War times. 

I am always struck in such stories by the total disruption of the African-American family and psyche.  How can anyone of good conscience not see how several hundred years of slavery bears a multi-generational scar on the backs of black people to this day? 

Cotton fields have now been replaced by jails as the majority of black youth find themselves shackled inside prisons.  There is no doubt to me that our nation can never be whole until we deal with this ever present reality of cruelty and brutality toward the black people in our nation.

WEATHER & WAR


  • The typhoon that battered the Philippines with winds almost 200 mph should remind us that there is an emergency at hand.  More than 700,000 people were displaced. Yes climate change is real.  Yes our Mother Earth's body is in a state of toxic shock and she is thrashing about in pain.  Yes we must change the way we live immediately if we hope to offer our children and their children any real chance of life.  Yes that means we have to get off our fossil fuel addiction.  Yes that means that the Pentagon, with the largest carbon boot print on the planet, must be included in every discussion when talking about dealing with climate change.  Yes that does in fact mean we have to stop making weapons and instead we should be building solar, wind, rail and turning the military into the Natural Guard.  The military should be trained to do disaster relief as there is going to be a great need for alot of it in the coming years.
  • Instead of looking at the real "enemy" we face, ourselves and the climate mess we have created, our mis-leadership in the US continues its military encirclement of Russia and China provoking new tensions and new arms races.  NATO is pushing hard to bring Georgia (right along Russia's border) into the alliance just as they are also pushing to bring Finland into the cancerous military arm of corporate globalization.
  • Vietnam war veteran, and Veterans for Peace member, S. Brian Willson wrote yesterday about Veterans Day (originally called Armistice Day):
    "Thank you for your service." For more than the three decades that I have publicly acknowledged being a veteran, I continue to hear over and over this professed appreciation. Recently I was admitted to the Portland, Oregon Veterans Administration hospital and once completing her medical intake interview the attending physician made sure she thanked me for my service. I cringed. My service? She had left my room before I could compose an honest response. Nothing I did while in my 3 years, 11 months and 17 days of military functioning could be even closely defined as service - not to the US people, not to the people of the world, and certainly not to myself. And the implicit, if not explicit message is a thank you to veterans for preserving "our freedom."

    In 2012 the Pentagon (Department of War) launched a thirteen-year national Vietnam War Commemoration public relations project (until 2025) explicitly designed to justify, glorify and honor the Vietnam War, including its soldiers. In fact, it is a poorly masked effort to obliterate from our memory the egregiously criminal US war, and the popular GI and citizen opposition to it. This effort has likely made such thank yous a more pronounced ubiquitous policy. Eradicating memory is a long historical pattern of imperial powers.

    It is a shame that the public seems unwilling to grasp that virtually all our military adventures are lawless, imperial barbarisms, violently robbing others of their freedom and autonomy enabling the US people to continue living in fantastic opulence justified by a sense of exceptionalism while we callously outsource the consequential pain and suffering inflicted on innocent others and the sacred earth. Our veteran "service" does not protect our "freedoms", though it does preserve freedom to rob, pillage, and rape, destroying and repressing others devoid of genuine diplomacy or "democracy".

Monday, November 11, 2013

FALLING LEAVES


We've got a yard full of leaves with still more to fall in the many trees surrounding our house.  I did some raking and cleaning up of the flower gardens this morning but much more yet needs to be done.  Bit by bit.  Still have several of the vegetable garden beds to clean out.  My door-to-door work last week has set me back but hopefully will get caught up in the coming days.

The last two nights were fun for MB and I as we took a couple neighborhood girls to a play at Bowdoin College.  One of our Bowdoin student friends was in the play and we all were excited to see her in action.  Not disappointed one bit as the play took on the issue of exploitation of people in the US, China, and Bangladesh who work(ed) in the garment industry.

Then last night MB and I went to Camden to see singer/songwriter David Dodson's 25th annual show.  He brought along many of his friends to play with him including his wife Mary Kate Small who joined us during our recent Maine Drone Peace Walk.  Mary Kate is an excellent singer and one day brought David along and they both sang to the walkers during one of our breaks along a rural highway.  She also sang at our walk closing event in Augusta and then at BIW on the final day of the walk.  I called her the magician because she kept during a disappearing act throughout the walk but then would reappear over and over again.

MB and I are going to see the highly acclaimed movie "12 Years a Slave" tonight in Brunswick. I'll likely write something about the film afterwards.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

DON'T WANT YOU TO KNOW......



A US-led trade deal is currently being negotiated that could increase the price of prescription drugs, weaken financial regulations and even allow partner countries to challenge American laws. But few know its substance.

The pact, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), is deliberately shrouded in secrecy, a trade deal powerful people, including President Obama, don’t want you to know about. Over 130 Members of Congress have asked the White House for more transparency about the negotiations and were essentially told to go fly a kite. While most of us are in the dark about the contents of the deal, which Obama aims to seal by year end, corporate lobbyists are in the know about what it contains.

And some vigilant independent watchdogs are tracking the negotiations with sources they trust, including Dean Baker and Yves Smith, who join Moyers & Company this week.

SUNDAY SONG