On May 28th, 2019, anti-war activists from Rhode Island, some affiliated with the burgeoning Rhode Island Peace Alliance (RIPA), met with Sen. Jack Reed (D., RI) to discuss US foreign policy. Reed is the ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee and is known for his support for Rhode Island military industry –notably manufacturers of nuclear-armed and -powered submarines–and his calls for a return to pre-Trump defense protocol.
For example, Reed has called for more briefings on the US’s increasingly aggressive posture towards Iran, though naturally has not declared anything approaching unequivocal opposition to war with the besieged nation of 82 million. Similarly, both Reed and his colleague Rep. David Cicilline (D., RI) have demanded that any invasion of Venezuela be approved by the congress, effectively reiterating what is already the constitutional procedure for warmaking. Neither of them has questioned why the US regularly discusses the invasion of a distant, sovereign nation unfortunately ensnared by US orbit since the Monroe Doctrine. Adherence to procedure is as far as Reed and Cicilline seem to go.
In light of these and other concerns, the aforementioned activists delivered the following letter to Reed during the course of a long conversation:
Contrary to his campaign rhetoric and to no one’s surprise, President Trump has continued and intensified his predecessor’s attacks on whistleblowers and publishers. In the span of a few weeks, both Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange, the sources of perhaps the most significant revelations about American warmaking in the last fifty years, have been thrown in jail to the cheers of the mainstream press. Meanwhile, the violent abuses that Manning and Assange revealed continue apace across the globe.
In solidarity with Manning and in preparation for similar events for Assange, Brown War Watch is hosting “Chelsea Solidarity Weeek” from April 22nd to 26th. The week will feature two main events and several smaller events spread across New England. First is a panel discussion on April 24th from 5:30 to 7:00 pm in Smith-Buonanno Rm. 106 entitled Whistleblowing in American Empire. The panel will feature legal and academic experts Naoko Shibusawa, Lida Maxwell and Sonali Chakravarti and will treat Ms. Manning’s centrality to the whistleblower movement.
On the following day, April 25th, from 5:30-6:30 pm, students and activists from across New England will demand Manning’s immediate release during the #StandOutForChelsea protest. Activists near Providence will convene on the Faunce Steps on Brown’s main green.
We hope you will join us for these important events and help us resist the corrosive foreign policy consensus. Please look forward to related updates here on the website.
Please join Brown War Watch on February 11th, at 5:30 PM in Friedman Auditorium at 190 Thayer Street on Brown’s campus for a screening of The Nuns, the Priests and the Bombs, a documentary about daring Catholic anti-nuclear activists. A panel will follow featuring the film’s director, Helen Young, investigative journalist Alex Nunes, and activist Frida Berrigan. Admission is free.
Are they criminals or prophets sending a wake-up call to the world?
The Nuns, the Priests and the Bombs, which has been shown across the country including at the UN, follows several religious activists, even an 82-year-old Catholic nun, who risk long jail terms in their efforts to move the world away from the nuclear brink.
Since 1980, activists in lay and religious life have undertaken dramatic Plowshares protests, derived from the biblical injunction, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares,” incurring long prison sentences in an ongoing campaign to deter nuclear disaster. Two cases are documented: the July 2012 break-in at a site known as America’s “Fort Knox of Uranium” where the intruders were an 82-year old Catholic nun and two fellow peace activists, and the 2009 Plowshares action at a US naval base near Seattle, WA. The film follows the activists’ legal efforts to justify their actions under international law and highlights the power of their moral conviction.
We hope that you will consider joining us for this important event sponsored by the Department of Middle East Studies and Department of Religious Studies.
Helen Young is an Emmy award-winning broadcast journalist who has forged a career as a filmmaker and writer by blending a passion for investigative reporting with a commitment to illuminating critical issues of the day. Over the course of an esteemed career, Helen has directed and produced documentary films on subjects ranging from the childhood obesity crisis in America and illegal gun trafficking, to the U.S. space program. She has won a National News Emmy award and three New York Emmys for her work, as well as awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, United Press International, the National Commission on Working Women, and the Red Cross. She is currently a contributor to Huffington Post.
Frida Berrigan is a writer, activist, and mother whose work has appeared in The Nation, Waging Nonviolence, and TomDispatch. She is the daughter of Philip Berrigan and Elizabeth McAlister, a former priest and nun whose lifelong peace activism has made them central to the American anti-war movement. Frida’s book, It Runs in the Family: On Being Raised by Radicals and Growing into Rebellious Motherhood, details growing up with her activist parents and her own experiences becoming a mother in a violent world. Frida lives in New London, Connecticut, with her husband Patrick and their three children.
Journalist Alex Nunes is an adjunct professor at Rhode Island College and a producer for The Public’s Radio, an NPR affiliate for Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts. He is well-known for his coverage of Rhode Island’s close alliance with Electric Boat, a General Dynamics subsidiary and manufacturer of military submarines. He is currently researching and interviewing sources for “Mosaic,” a 30-part podcast series on immigration told through the individual stories of local immigrants and their descendants. Alex is based in Westerly, Rhode Island.
The USS Fitzgerald is an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, a large ship designed to carry out many different types of missions. It is one of over 400 ships in the U.S. Navy’s arsenal.
The U.S. war industry, the corporations that manufacture and market weaponry to the U.S. Armed Forces and allied foreign nations, has sold many goods and services to the U.S. Navy for use on Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. These include, but are not limited to: Argon ST Inc. anti-torpedo systems, Boeing anti-ship missiles, Northrop Grumman navigation software and control systems, Lockheed Martin radar, Lockheed Martin vertical launch systems (VLS), General Electric engines, propulsion systems from Philadelphia Gear and Timken Gears & Services, and Honeywell and Northrop Grumman torpedoes (featuring L-3 electro-optical sensors). Raytheon missiles like the Standard Missile 2 (SM-2) and the Tomahawk also feature prominently on Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. The USS Fitzgerald is stacked.
On 17 June 2017, the high-tech USS Fitzgerald collided with a container ship southeast of Japan. What followed was a classic case of war industry greed and Pentagon complicity.
On September 30th, The Brown Daily Herald ran an article about an analysis of an alleged Russian disinformation campaign on Twitter. The analysis was performed by two undergraduates, Ethan Fecht from Brown University and Jack Nassetta from George Washington University, as part of a report issued by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, California. The authors examined the sudden appearance of seemingly fake pro-Trump Twitter accounts after the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syria, on April 7th, 2018. The Nassetta-Fecht report, totaling 50 pages, claims these accounts were created by the Russian Federation to discourage US intervention in Syria after the attack. Evidently, this supposed disinformation campaign was not enough to prevent a US-British-French coalition from bombing three Syrian government installations on April 14th.
Nassetta and Fecht call the reader’s attention to what they claim is the grander Russian “counternarrative” campaign to “defame Western institutions”, and for this they have received national acclaim. On September 17th, Nassetta and Fecht published an article in The Washington Post which included a “cheat sheet” which can be used to identify Twitter trolls seeking to deceive Americans. Later, The Brown Daily Herald spoke approvingly of the report, one of the authors being a Brown student. The Herald article quotes William Potter, head of the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, who lauded the two students’ “significant contribution” to our understanding of social media.
There would seem to be no questioning the merit of the Nassetta-Fecht report, which, like other recent attempts to detect propaganda and “fake news” used statistical and supposedly objective methods. Searching through a data set of 850,000 tweets, the authors discovered the alleged Russian disinformation campaign by examining graphs of Twitter account creation, tables of word frequency and a very Trumpian “word cloud” with a large “MAGA” in its center. Accordingly, their report uses some technical terminology: the authors conclude that “synthetic actors” displaying “inorganic activity” on Twitter used “counternarrative messaging” to engage with political leaders on a “linear plane”. This is a far cry from the vague and imperfect methods of traditional journalism, relying instead on objective measures, “big data”, and convincing “visualizations”.
Yet, closer inspection reveals that the methods of Nassetta and Fecht are a thin veneer covering what is a remarkably explicit endorsement of American military interventionism. Indeed, the report’s unsubtle premise is that wholehearted support for the anti-government opposition seeking to oust President Bashar al-Assad at any cost is the only sensible and safe resolution to Syria’s beastly war. Until recently, this was essentially the White House line on Syria, a position treated with rolling eyes by serious journalists and basically anyone outside of highly indoctrinated American foreign policy circles. Though claiming to use new and fashionable methods, the Nassetta-Fecht report is actually a very traditional exercise in American foreign policy discourse: a myopic endorsement of US military domination and a disregard for its victims. Continue reading Russia, Syria and the New Political Objectivity
Anyone who has ever read coverage in The Providence Journal of a keel laying at General Dynamics knows there’s a better chance of being struck by lightning while riding a unicorn than seeing Gov. Gina Raimondo and our congressional delegation pass up a photo opportunity at the Quonset submarine shipyard.
Raimondo, along with fellows Democrats Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Sen. Jack Reed, Rep. Jim Langevin, and Rep. David Cicilline, have trumpeted GD’s subsidiary Electric Boat as a valued corporate “partner,” a “jobs creator,” and a reliable ticket to the “middle class” for “hardworking Rhode Islanders.”
Their PR messaging, of course, ignores the company’s role in producing advanced weaponry, submarines included, that intimidates nations and destabilizes the globe, while simultaneously pushing said countries to pursue nuclear weapons programs in hopes of maintaining some sense of security against the U.S. war machine—never mind General Dynamics’ status as a corporate welfare giant that’s secured, through political strong-arming, nearly $480-million in state subsidies nationwide on top of the billions it gobbles up in federal taxpayer dollars every year. Meanwhile, much of that money—nearly $11-billion since 2013—has gone to dubious share repurchasing that inflates executive compensation at the expense of workers.
But the extent to which Rhode Island politicians are willing to turn their heads to General Dynamics’ rapaciousness and the moral bankruptcy of the company’s leadership took on a new dimension this week, when it was widely publicized that GD holds a lucrative contract to track detained immigrant children separated from their parents under Donald Trump’s deplorable immigration policy. Continue reading The Hypocrisy of Blasting Trump While Cheerleading For General Dynamics
I first came across the work of Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, while reporting a series for The Providence Journal on the new fleet of ballistic missile submarines due to be built by General Dynamics-Electric Boat at its Connecticut and Rhode Island shipyards. The Navy currently has 14 nuclear-armed Ohio-class submarines in service and plans to replace them with 12 Columbia-class ships. Kristensen, however, had analyzed publicly available information and found the Navy may need only eight operational subs, with an additional two in refueling, to meet the demand of its deterrence missions—a conclusion that, if acknowledged and acted upon, would mean cost savings for taxpayers and lost revenue for Electric Boat. “Of course, the Navy vehemently denies that [its submarine fleet is too large],” Kristensen later told me in an interview.
I quickly discovered Kristensen’s work—which includes the comprehensive FAS “Nuclear Notebook”—was among the most detailed and fact-based analysis on worldwide nuclear weapons arsenals available to the public. His reports are empirical and objective, to a degree that seems almost detached given the implications of the subject matter. Consider, for example, this passage from a 2017 article he co-authored with Matthew McKinzie and Theodore Postol on advancements in U.S. nuclear warheads and their potential impact on perceptions of possible nuclear scenarios: Continue reading An In-Depth Look at the U.S. Nuclear Arsenal and Modernization Program With Weapons Expert Hans Kristensen
Paul Roselli has worn many hats in his life: documentary filmmaker, environmental activist, land steward; he’s even worked stints in corporate America and university relations. Now he wants to add the title Governor of Rhode Island to that list. Prior to announcing his candidacy last September, Roselli was best known as a leading opponent of the fracked gas power plant in Burrillville, where Roselli runs a local land trust. The Democratic challenger to Gov. Gina Raimondo says his decision to enter the race was initially inspired by his disappointment in Raimondo’s “arrogant” and disingenuous response to the concerns of Burrillville activists opposed to the power plant and her acceptance of campaign contributions connected to Invenergy, the Chicago-based company behind the project. But, Roselli says, his message has since broadened, and his goal is to fix Rhode Island’s transportation, healthcare, economic and environmental challenges through a “holistic” approach no longer stuck in the 1940s.
When Roselli and I sat down recently to discuss his campaign, we began by talking about Gov. Raimondo’s focus on building the state’s military-based economy, including her awarding of millions of dollars in subsidies to nuclear-armed submarine maker Electric Boat, a division of General Dynamics, a Fortune 100 company and one of the nation’s largest Pentagon contractors. Below is an edited and condensed version of our conversation. Continue reading Paul Roselli Wants to Fix Transportation, Healthcare, and the Environment—and Get Rhode Island’s Economy Out of a ‘1940s Mode’
When writing the headline for this piece, I initially went with: “Corporate Accountability Is an Afterthought in Rhode Island.”
But I quickly realized that would be a little misleading to readers, as the word “afterthought” implies a person, or group of people, actually starts thinking of something at some point. And I don’t get the impression our governor and her administration ever became too concerned about holding accountable the corporations that have leaned on taxpayers for years.
Take for instance the case of Navy contractor General Dynamics-Electric Boat and its use of jobs training funding in Rhode Island. Continue reading Corporate Accountability Is Not a Priority in Rhode Island