» An estimated 14,000 people saw this sign «

31 05 2010

$1 trillion for war - NO MORE!

Today, May 30, 20 military families, veterans, and local activists held signs and banners along a major highway, Route 4 East, NJ – Out of Afghanistan NOW!, Health Care NOT warfare. Out of Iraq and Afghanistan. We also hung a 40 foot banner from a bridge above the highway – $ One Trillion for war – NO MORE! It was an especially good location as it’s where 3 lanes merge into 2, so the traffic slows down. There were honks, waves, and peace signs from passersby. At least 14,000 people saw those banners and the 20 peace activists along the highway in the hot sun. It was filmed by NY 1 for the evening news. Peace NOW.


» Bloomfield Public Square: Dialogue for the 21st Century «

31 05 2010

Fighting Budget Cuts at the Local Level

By Jane Califf, Green Party of Essex and Passaic Counties; Secretary of the Bloomfield Recycling Committee

Matt Ryan, the mayor of Binghamton, New York, is so fed up with all the painful budget cuts he has to implement that he has embarked on a very unusual project which he introduced at a press conference on April 14th.

He explained that he is putting up an electronic sign on the exterior of City Hall showing the daily ever-increasing costs to the citizens of Binghamton of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  He described how this relates to his city and cities and towns across our country:

“I am here today to say that dedicating 62% of our discretionary spending to the military is unsustainable.  I am here today to hopefully lend a small voice to an ever-increasing chorus of mayors…who are making the connection between our lack of ability, as the chief executives of our cities, to honor our responsibility to keep our infrastructure safe and well-maintained.  We are all making the connection that it is now impossible to provide the essential services that our citizens expect and deserve if we continue to spend so many of our tax dollars on one part of government, our military…

“I am here today to tell you that I am sick and tired of telling the three departments that comprise 90% of our City budget – police, fire and public works – that they have to do with less, and I see no end in sight to this scenario unless we change our national priorities.  I fear for the future of our city and all the cities, towns and villages that will struggle to provide essential services to their citizens unless we change our national priorities.”

NJ Taxpayers

After reading this, I decided to go to the website of the National Priorities Project, where Mayor Ryan said he found a lot of helpful information.  Once there, I clicked on “Federal Budget Trade Offs.”  I learned that taxpayers in New Jersey have paid $47.8 billion for total Iraq and Afghanistan war-spending since 2001.  This is our tax money that has not come back to our state for services we need.

I could not find statistics specifically for Bloomfield, but I found that in our Congressional District 8 (which is Bill Pascrell Jr’s) we have paid $3.4 billion for total Iraq and Afghanistan war spending since 2001. This money could have paid for:

  • 48,194 elementary school teachers for one year  OR
  • scholarships for 285,094 university students for one year OR
  • 57,863 public safety officers for one year

Not content with these startling numbers, I decided to click on “Interactive Tax Chart.”  I typed in how much federal tax I paid for 2009 to see where my money will go.  I was not happy with what I saw:  out of 13 categories, these four stood out:

  • military           $1,444
  • environmental energy and science $240
  • education         $109
  • transportation     $79

As a former public school teacher and professor in the Rutgers/Newark Urban Education Dept.,  I was especially shocked at how few of my tax dollars go to education.  Another source I checked said that out of every tax dollar, less than 1 cent goes to our school systems.  This is an incredibly sad commentary on what we as a society value.  I thought about how the military budget is rarely questioned and usually automatically passed,  and how money for our schools and other programs that could help us live a higher quality of life are called “too expensive” and then cut.

Military Costs Here and Abroad

I began to wonder how much other countries spend on their military.  Once again, I was flabbergasted.  I learned that while we spend about 50 % of our federal budget on military-related spending, Russia spends 5%;  China, 8%;  Middle East and North Africa together, 5%.  All the European countries together only spend 20% of their budgets on their militaries.  As a result of such low costs, these governments and others can focus on their domestic needs such as education, transportation, science, clean energy projects, thus making their economies stronger than ours.

I found out that the reason our military expenses are so high is not only due to the wars we are currently fighting, but that we have to spend billions each year on over 700 military bases we have in 63 countries!!

Almost all other countries in the world only have a military presence in their own countries while we seem to be everywhere.  It appears to me that this is a road to eventual bankruptcy.  And it can fuel anger at us from people around the world that we are an expanding empire encroaching on other countries’ sovereignty.

Bloomfield Cuts

Getting back to our town, I thought about how Bloomfield’s education programs will suffer due to a $6.5 million loss in school funding from all sources.  To deal with this crisis, the School Board  plans to lay off 18 custodians; 18 teachers could be fired;  12  cafeteria breakfast/lunch aides, 5 office aides, 3 secretaries, two school nurses and 2 coaches will be eliminated;   bus drivers, bus aides and instructional aides took pay cuts and the loss of benefits in order to keep their jobs.  This is not just a loss to our students but to the staff who will be receiving lower wages or who are laid off.  As we know very well, it is very hard to find any jobs these days.

The total estimated federal funds for New Jersey’s public schools for 2009-2010 is only a little over $1 billion.  (Remember, N.J. taxpayers gave Washington $47.8 billion just for the two wars we are fighting. And we paid much more taxes than this.)  State budgets all over the country are affected by the lack of sufficient federal funding.


We need to cut back on our military expenses if we ever expect to be able to meet our local budget costs. We need to end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq not simply to save money, but to save the lives and the mental and physical health of our soldiers, also  Iraqi and Afghan civilians.  We can bring an end to these conflicts by negotiating with all parties in each country and with our allies.

Money for our towns and cities could also come from:

1.     an end to bailing out the banks and other financial institutions with our tax dollars.  It is a national tragedy that the very institutions that sabotaged our economy by risky and greedy actions got rewarded with our money.

2.     carefully regulating banks and insurance companies so that they cannot rip off the American people.

3.     seeing that U.S. corporations pay their share of income taxes.  (Two-thirds paid none between 1998 and 2005 due to tax loopholes and deregulation.)

4.      a financial transactions tax.  This would be a 0.25% payment on a stock purchase or sale and 0.02 % on other transactions by the financial industry.  This would discourage speculation (i.e., buying a stock and selling it an hour later) and according to Dean Baker of the Center for Economic Policy Research, could raise $1.8 trillion over a decade.

I am seeing in our town a trend to fight over the crumbs we are being offered.  We need to focus on the real source of the problem – our country’s misplaced priorities – in order to assure that New Jersey will get the funds necessary to meet our needs:  support for schools, public transportation, job creation – especially green jobs, small businesses, environmental protection, health care and public works, i.e., fixing potholes, crumbling bridges and other infrastructures.

We can make it a priority to join organizations that are working to improve our lives in our community and to contact all of our legislators at the local, state and national levels to ask them to change our priorities from war funding to funding for programs we need to enhance our quality of life.  Find your representatives by going to the website of the League of Women Voters.

I am grateful to Mayor Ryan in Binghamton for leading the way in educating people on our society’s misplaced spending.  It would be great if Bloomfield could do something similar.

Additional resources for this article:  NJ Peace Action; True Majority; Binghamton, N.Y. website, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, War Resisters League, New Jersey School Boards Association and our two local newspapers:  Bloomfield Life and Independent Press.


31 05 2010


Subject: Riverside Church Conference

Date: May 1, 10:14 AM

I was at the first plenary last night, and it was exciting to be with so many from around the world who are working on the nuclear disarmament issue. All the speakers were great and so well informed. Zia Mian gave the perspective that nuclear weapons are only 10 percent of our bloated overfunded military budget, so our U.S. overspending on the military is an important issue to address in the nuclear disarmament issue–that along with economic inequality. I am at the conference now, waiting for the first workshop to start. I am attending “The Nuclear Weapons Convention: How to Prohibit and Eliminate Weapons of Mass Destruction. I am very interested to hear what the speakers have to say about prohibiting and eliminating nukes–can let you know what I find out. Madelyn is on her way in and plans to meet up at the George Washington Bridge with the peace marchers that marched here from Tennessee and then come from there to the conference. Peggy is coming in the early afternoon for the afternoon’s plenary and workshop and tonight’s speakers. Tonight Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of the UN will speak!
Hope to see you all at the march and rally tomorrow!Anna Subject: More from Riverside Church Conference

Date: May 1, 1:57:43 PM

We are sitting waiting for the second plenary to start. One of the speakers will be Kevin Martin. This morning’s workshop was excellent–all about HOW we can eliminate nuclear weapons!–a model for a nuclear weapons convention and an action plan to get to zero nuclear weapons called Global Zero–all great ideas and information. I also learned about a potential video for house parties and a potential speaker for a peace education event. More info on both to come. Now the plenary is starting. We are welcoming the walkers that Madelyn and others walked  with across the GW Bridge this morning. They walked here from the bridge. More later.

Date: May 1, 6:31 PM

We are waiting on line for the evening program where we will hear Ban Ki-moon, UN Sec. Gen.! It’s great to be with such an international group. We are getting instructions in English, Japanese, and French. The GLOBAL nuclear abolition movement is strongly evident here today! While we are waiting people are doing the wave on line–lots of solidarity. We’ll be going in soon–the room will be at full capacity. More later.


» The Mourning After «

30 05 2010

by Charles Bivona

Memorial Day remains my least favorite holiday. It is my least favorite holiday because it commemorates men and women who died while in the military service. That limitation bothers me. We observe a moment of silence before we barbecue for the people who lived through, and died in, a war. This unsettles me, because, according to this very limited existential either/or scenario — one either survives or dies in war — according to that formula, my father survived the Vietnam War.

I don’t remember specifics from my life with him.  My memories are fragmented. As the oldest son, I took the brunt of my father’s traumatized paranoia. I protected my younger brother and sister; they were both so small. I saved my mother’s life on several occasions. The memories spurt in my mind—flashes of violence in a white noise darkness.

By college, sophomore year, the signs of my first major depression were showing. I was twenty-two-years old — three years older than my father in Vietnam. I was empty. I was angry. I felt abandoned, and I had nowhere to focus any of this. I started drinking, a lot.

When I finally found my father — after twelve years of silence — I verbally attacked him. This was my demon father, the man who had almost killed my mother, the man who had repeatedly threatened to kidnap me — and what if I don’t ever take you back to your mother? What then, Charlie?

You fucking asshole! I was screaming and sobbing. I grabbed him by the shoulders. How could you do this to me? You’re my father!

He just took it. He sat there, limp in my hands, staring at the floor. He accepted my hatred, because he agreed with it.

I was shocked.

He sighed. You should kill me. Killing me will make you feel better, son. He shook his head, but his eyes remained focused, dead-straight ahead of him. His wide eyes were always watching.

I’d understand if you did. He shrugged. And I’m going to hell, anyway. He was so sure of this. I killed people, so…

I cried harder. I was lost. I decided to try.

We started meeting for lunch. We sat in diners. We drank coffee. We tried to talk. I still hated him. He still thought I had every reason to.

In the end, his self-hatred so vastly outweighed my anger that I started to lose my taste for it. Slowly, I realized my father was not a monster; he was the victim of one.

He was born on December 13, 1945. Five years prior to his arrival on Earth, the Secretary of State of the United States issued this statement:

Events are transpiring so rapidly in the Indochina situation that it is impossible to get a clear picture of the minute-to-minute developments. It seems obvious, however, that the status quo is being upset and that this is being achieved under duress. The position of the United States in disapproval and in deprecation of such procedures has repeatedly been stated.[1]

Five years before my father’s birth, a political monster was cooking up the monstrous war that would destroy his nineteen-year-old mind. Five years after his psyche was slaughtered, I was born on July 22, 1972.

I grew up in my daddy’s flashback jungle. I watched him beat a gas station attendant over a gas price, viscously attack our neighbor over a sarcastic comment, and attempt to strangle my mother to death with the bottom of his foot. Put your foot here, Charlie. Right on the artery. See?

He was laughing the entire time.

A ten-year-old boy should not have to face his mother’s mortality. Act now, or mommy dies. She’s turning blue. Get him off her now! A ten-year-old boy should not be pushed to attack his father.

I lost my father again in 2002. He called me in a paranoid rage. I know you’ve been spying on me for the past eight years, Charlie. You and your mother and the FBI. Did you think I wouldn’t find out?!

He wouldn’t listen to reason. He threatened violence. I tried one more time. Dad, wait, talk to me. He hung up the phone.

It was April. It was raining outside. I remember thinking, it’s humid. He hates the humidity. It reminds him of the jungle. He’s told me this. He’ll get over it.

He hasn’t. I haven’t spoken to him since. I’ve tried. He’s lost. It’s a tragedy.

My family was lost in the Vietnam War, even though my soldier father survived it. I grieve for it, every day. I memorialize it with every day I survive it. I don’t know what else I can do.

A friend of a relative was close with my dad, after my parents divorced. We had stopped seeing him. He lost visitation rights, due to his erratic outbursts of public violence, so he vanished from my life entirely. It was shortly after my eleventh birthday.

The friend’s story was heartbreaking. After he lost his entire family, my father lived in someone’s basement for upwards of four years. It wasn’t a basement apartment; no, he lived in a basement. Someone was letting him squat there. His “front door” was a rummaged sheet of plywood.

He screwed it into the foundation wall with some rusted old hinges he found. Your father could build anything. His “door” only had one of those eye-hook locks on it, ya know? the friend—another Vietnam Vet—was telling me, but he never locked the door...

The man drifted off into a daze, stared intently into space—dead straight ahead of him, wide eyes, watching—and continued.

Your dad always said he wanted someone to break in and kill him — put him out of his misery.

He said he would never forget the day my father told him that. I’ve never forgotten the story. It is tragic. And it is not fair.

But the past is the past, and this isn’t really about me, or the story I have to tell. My personal struggles and reconciliations are my problems. My karma, if you will.

This article is about the people in Iraq, and Afghanistan, and all the other war zones on our planet. It’s dedicated to another generation of young adults forced to survive an ordeal so stressful, it shatters human minds. Some of these women and men are bound by pride and a sense of honor, dedication, and duty. That astounds me. They are motivated by a love for their family and a desire for the freedom to pursue their own happiness, or worse, by economic desperation and hardship.

They are soldiers. And whether I support their fight, or not, I support them as people. I support them as people because they are also the current and future parents of children.

And since many of these battered soldiers are already speaking out against the horrors of war, and doing it far better than I can — obviously — I will speak out for the unborn children. I will speak as an adult survivor — a former child of war trauma.

This unborn, future generation, will be thrust into a heightened risk of  domestic violence, into highly plausible environments of deep insecurity, and an all-too-common level of crippling fear and confusion. The family of a psychologically traumatized soldier can possibly—and often does—stunt the psychological and emotional development of a child. Some of these children may even suffer permanent damage to their personalities.

Many of these babies will struggle through adolescence, into adulthoods of anxiety, depression, and nightmares — the classic signs of post-traumatic stress, fall-out of a childhood in a microcosmic war zone.

And it isn’t the fault of the parents/soldiers.

It is not.

The soldiers, the families, the townships, the states, the entire nation, the planet, all of us — we are all the victims of the same old monster. In the service of an outmoded, misguided, and ever-growing thirst for profit, war is still eating our families.

[1] U.S., Department of State, Publication 1983, Peace and War: United States Foreign Policy, 1931-1941 (Washington, D.C.: U.S., Government Printing Office, 1943), pp. 571-72

» Nuclear Disarmament: Rhetoric or Reality? «

13 05 2010

by Madelyn Hoffman, Director of NJ Peace Action

May 2010 is a significant month in the history of nuclear weapons and nuclear disarmament. Beginning May 3 and continuing through May 28, delegates from 189 countries are meeting at the United Nations to review the progress made toward global nuclear disarmament under the terms of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) first signed in March 1970. The NPT is regarded as the main treaty establishing rules for global nuclear disarmament, by preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology. In order to avert the danger of a nuclear war, the signatories of the NPT are convening now.

The nearly month-long NPT Review Conference happens every five years. This year’s is the culmination of several years of organizing by grassroots groups throughout the world, including the United States. Peace Action, the nation’s largest grass roots disarmament organization, provided much of the leadership and direction of this organizing, including a two-day international conference at the historic Riverside Church in New York City attended by 1000 delegates and a march and rally for nuclear abolition attended by more than 10,000 people (including nearly 2000 Japanese) that wove from Times Square to the United Nations on Sunday, May 1st.

New Jersey Peace Action (NJPA), based in Bloomfield, participated in all of these events and also sent an official NGO representative to the 2nd day of the Review Conference. That representative was seated in the General Assembly of the United Nations when Peace Action and other international organizations presented petitions with 7 ½ million signatures for a nuclear weapons free world. To sign a similar petition addressed to President Obama, download a copy off our website.


or sign on-line at


Another group that worked hard in preparation for the 2010 Review Conference is Mayors for Peace, founded in 1982 by the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to promote the total elimination of nuclear weapons and the realization of genuine and lasting world peace. Today, Mayors for Peace is an international non-governmental organization accredited by the United Nations with 3,880 member cities in 143 countries and regions, up by almost 1000 new cities and 11 new countries since last August, with 87 new cities and mayors joining on May 1st alone! As of April 9th, every mayor of every town in Nicaragua joined Mayors for Peace. NJPA calls upon Bloomfield Mayor Raymond McCarthy to add Bloomfield to the ever-growing numbers of cities and mayors joining Mayors for Peace.

One nuclear weapon exploded in one city – be it New York or Moscow, Islamabad or Mumbai, Tokyo or Tel Aviv, Paris or Prague – could kill hundreds of thousands of people. And no matter where it happens, there is no end to what the consequences might be – for our global safety, our security, our society, our economy, to our ultimate survival,” said President Barack Obama in Prague on April 5, 2009. “…as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act.”

On April 29th, 10 residents of Bloomfield participated in a “Sign Up for Nuclear Disarmament” vigil at the Bloomfield Post Office. Vigils took place at 14 other New Jersey locations at the same time. Each resident held a sign in a line which read: Nuclear Weapons Are/65 Years Old/It’s Time to Retire Them/UN Conference May 2010/www.njpeaceaction.org. Residents lined both sides of Bloomfield Avenue by the main post office. In an hour and a half, they distributed more than 100 fliers about nuclear disarmament. Participants reported that a very positive response from passers-by.

It is important to note that despite President Obama’s lofty rhetoric, provisions in the 2011 budget for nuclear weapons run counter to it. NJPA encourages Bloomfield residents to participate in a national week of action from May 31 – June 4 to push for crucial cuts to the nuclear weapons budget.

While the budget for next year being considered by the U.S. Congress imposes a spending freeze for most domestic programs, there is money to spare when it comes to nuclear weapons. The budget request for nuclear bomb activities next year is $7 billion, which is a 14% increase over last year’s budget for the same programs, and a whopping 40% over the $5 billion (in 2011 dollars) spent on average each year for these activities during the Cold War era.

Worse, the budget has hundreds of millions in nuclear pork for new bomb plants that would enable the U.S. to increase its capacity to create new nuclear weapons in the future. For example, the budget proposes funding a new plutonium facility in New Mexico to enable a huge increase in the production of plutonium pits, which are the radioactive cores of nuclear weapons. This will cost taxpayers $225 million in 2011, and about $4 billion by the time construction is complete. Moreover, the costs to non-proliferation and disarmament goals are incalculable.

Lastly, the budget request includes $252 million for a study in 2011 to upgrade the B61 nuclear bomb. While Congress considers whether to spend our tax money on plans to “modify” and “life-extend’ this nuke, Germany, Poland and others are pressing for its removal from Europe.

Since every member of Congress will vote on this budget, we ask everyone to call Senator Frank Lautenberg at (973) 639-8700, Senator Robert Menendez at (973) 645-3030, and Representative William Pascrell at (973)523-5152 in opposition to these proposals. .

The proposals are dangerous, unnecessary and expensive and they run counter to President Obama’s pledge to work toward a nuclear weapons free world. The United States must begin to have its actions match its rhetoric, but it will take an even stronger grassroots movement to accomplish this. Please join us!

*NJPA was founded as New Jersey SANE in 1957 with the primary mission of nuclear disarmament. NJPA is affiliated with Peace Action, the nation’s largest grassroots organization, with affiliates and chapters in thirty different states. As an organization we believe that every person has the right to live in a world free of nuclear weapons.

» Phil Donahue Gave Me Writers Block «

3 05 2010

by Charles Bivona

I walked into the NJ Peace Action annual dinner, a notebook in my hand, my head full of activism. I wanted to talk about the things I’ve noticed in America. “I’m a trained cultural theorist,” I boasted to my own mind. “I have important analyses to offer.”

It’s true; I do, as did the people I met there. The discussion at my table was lively. We talked about the US culture of war. We shared video clips on our camcorders and our iPhones. We ate our salmon, or chicken, or ratatouille. We listened to folk music. I felt righteous. I felt like I knew what was up. I’m no fool, I thought. I’m one of the good people.

Click on the Image to Purchase the DVD

Then Phil Donahue spoke. His tone was easy. He was self-deprecating and humble. He took himself to task for taking so long to speak out, while he praised the bravery of others—the activists who’ve been struggling since Vietnam, or earlier.

“That couple over there is in their 90s,” someone told me.They’ve been activists all their lives.”

It was a lesson in perspective. Donahue was a man against whom I’ve measured my own activism. When he spoke out against the Iraq War on MSNBC, my friends and I cheered him on. “Yeah. Tell those Hawks what’s up, Phil!” When he slapped down Bill O’Reilly, I stood up in my living room and applauded. “Loud doesn’t mean right, Billy.” I quote that line often.

Yet here he was, feeling late to the struggle, expressing true remorse, and sharing the story of his difficult road to activism. I felt my own inaction and my own political silence sharply. It was painful and inspiring.

“After this dinner,” I told myself, “I’m going to type my fingers raw. I’m going to howl against the Iraq War.” I was already typing notes on my iPhone.

Then the film clips started. Donahue’s new documentary, Body of War, is the story of Tomas Young, a disabled Iraq War veteran paralyzed from the nipples down. The film documents his struggles with impotence, pain, humiliation, and ultimately divorce—all the direct result of a bullet to the spine delivered just one week after he had arrived in Iraq.

Tomas’ story is heartbreaking enough, but Body of War is more than a personal narrative. Juxtaposed and interspersed throughout runs the congressional debate that ultimately led to the war. Legislator after legislator regurgitates Neo-Con talking points and scoffingly disregards any peaceful opposition. In the end, only twenty-three Senators voted against sending people like Tomas to war.

The film was an emotional metronome. I was swung between Tomas struggling to achieve an erection and senators barking about weapons of mass destruction. Tomas sat in his bed, ran through his daily medications; politicians repeated W. Bush’s mushroom cloud sound bite. It was disgusting.

When Senator Robert Byrd finally appeared on the screen, pointed his finger at the American media audience, and told us—with a voice cracked with emotion—to fight for the sanity of our country, my stomach dropped. I sobbed into my napkin. Those poor soldiers. Those poor families. Those poor children, I thought.

After the film, I limped up to Donahue, my eyes bloodshot and watery. I shook his hand, introduced myself as a doctoral candidate in Modern History and Literature, and told him my father is a psychologically-disabled Vietnam vet. I told him I admired his efforts and wanted to help. He asked me for my card. Thankfully, I had some.

As I left, I told him about NJ Peace Blog, and that I would be writing about his talk. He said he would be watching for it.

But now I’m stuck. I’m blocked because Body of War was a visceral experience that words cannot approach; it has to be felt in the gut to be grasped. I’m blocked by the impact of Phil Donahue, a powerful voice of reason and ordinary human compassion amid a storm of corporate media whores—that means you, Billy.

I am blocked because I realize that I’m just a poet who grew up in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. My father’s spirit died in the jungle; his body came home and conceived me. I am the son of a human shell—a child of war. These horrors require new metaphors, but I am too shaken to coin them.

So, for now, I’ll take solace in the belief that the most profound response is a stunned silence, and the best review of a film is a nod of appreciation and action for change.  Body of War and Phil Donahue inspire all this.  They rattled me to my foot soles. I’m wide awake in the United States. I can see the Iraq War and my government with crystal clarity: the war machine has eaten too many children; war trauma has swallowed generations of families; and the drum beats on. I, for one, am tired of it. I’m outraged and  grief-stricken to silence, sure, but I will not stay silent much longer.