Chris Murphy is Selling Us On ‘Empire Lite,’ and We’re Falling For It

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This story plays out consistently in American politics: a lawmaker or candidate comes along and advocates for one or a few positions activists of some sort have been waiting years for a public figure to get behind.

Encouraged, those activists whole-heartedly embrace the politician without first looking closely into the nuances of his or her record and positions.

That’s what’s going on right now with Chris Murphy, the Democratic U.S. senator from Connecticut. He took the lead on challenging the U.S. military’s role in the Saudi war on Yemen, something few other members of Congress were willing to do, and he’s backing that up with calls to rethink U.S. policy abroad.

He’s started a website titled “Chance for Peace” and positioned his political brand around “A Progressive Foreign Policy.” The reaction, from what I’ve seen, has mostly been applause.

But, if you talk to peace activists in Murphy’s home state—people much more familiar with his track record—they’ll tell you to be much more skeptical.

“Progressive doesn’t mean pacifist,” Joanne Sheehan, a Norwich, Conn., activist with the War Resisters League, told me recently. “It doesn’t even mean anti-militarist.” Continue reading

Connecticut’s General Dynamics Giveaway and Its ‘Astroturf’ Supporters

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The term “astroturfing” comes to mind when reading recent testimony given in favor of a bill under consideration in Connecticut, titled, “An Act Establishing the Apprenticeship Connecticut Initiative,” a proposal with a seemingly well-intentioned name and an obscured agenda: to handout government money to the highly lucrative defense contractor General Dynamics-Electric Boat.

The Trojan Horse here—the bill, among other “investments,” would result in the allocation of $100-million in state grants to fund infrastructure projects at the submarine maker’s Groton shipyard—is not lost on skeptical and genuinely grassroots organizations such as the Connecticut Association of Smaller Manufacturers, which said taxpayers have reason to “fear the complexity of this bill is masking a hidden agenda.”

“The Federal government pays submarine manufacturers billions of dollars to deliver and service their products and these manufacturers can well afford their own capital spending,” the organization said in written testimony recorded April 2. “During a time of fiscal distress, this is an insult to the Connecticut taxpayer. Imagine what we could accomplish if we gave our technical highs schools a $100M grant.”

The organization concluded: [T]he deck seems heavily stacked toward large corporations.”

But you’d never get that sense from reading testimony given by the innocently titled Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology, which never mentions Electric Boat by name or the $100-million grant to subsidize “acquisition of lands, buildings, machinery, equipment or any combination thereof.” Continue reading

The Myth of General Dynamics-Electric Boat and Its ‘Middle Class Jobs’

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The author Joan Didion famously wrote, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”

In Rhode Island and Connecticut, we tell ourselves myths about Electric Boat in order to justify building war machines.

There are the obvious myths: that a fleet of nuclear-armed submarines costing upwards of $104-billion will be a force for peace in the world; that executives at parent company General Dynamics gobbling up millions of dollars in compensation each year on the taxpayer dime are “patriotic”; and that some other community will build these weapons systems anyway if Southern New England doesn’t—so why shouldn’t we?

The fourth myth, which might be the most rich, is that the top brass at General Dynamics-Electric Boat actually care about our community, that they’re people committed to providing us with “good middle class jobs,” the kind of “blue collar” work that still provides an income you can raise a family on. Continue reading

Bath Police Chief Says He Does Not ‘Characterize’ Peace Activists as Potential Terrorists

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Michael Field, chief of police for Bath, Maine, clarified his position on activists who have staged protests at Navy contractor Bath Iron Works, in an email one day after a story published on this website reported his invoking of an exemption for anti-terrorism planning in denying a recent state Freedom of Access Act request.

“I do not characterize the protestors as terrorist,” Field wrote Tuesday. “Having said that, the planning and operational details that go into the events at BIW are more broad than just protestors.”

The Freedom of Access request sent to Field and his administrative assistant earlier this month sought “an opportunity to inspect or obtain copies of public records that show communications between the Bath Police Department and Bath Iron Works concerning policing of protests at the Bath Iron Works shipyard” over the past two years. Continue reading

Bath Police Chief Denies Freedom of Access Request, Citing Terrorism Exemption

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Bath Police Chief Michael Field has denied a Maine Freedom of Access Act Request seeking communications between his police department and security personnel at Navy contractor Bath Iron Works regarding the policing of protests at the company’s shipyard.

Field cited an exemption in the law, which allows law enforcement authorities to block public access to documents related to the “purpose of preventing or preparing for acts of terrorism.”

“This is in response to your e-mail to me and my Administrative Assistant sent March 7, 2018 with regard to written communication between the Bath Police Department and the Bath Iron Works regarding policing of protests at the Shipyard, from January 1, 2016 to the present,” Field wrote in a letter to this reporter, dated March 12.

“The document relating to the planning and communications between the Bath Police Department and the Bath Iron Works were related to security planning and procedures and risk assessment,” he continued. “As such, these are not public records and are exempted under the provisions of 1 M.R.S. Section 402(3)(L).” Continue reading

Bruce Gagnon Is Right; Maine Has Been ‘Outsourced’ to Bath Iron Works

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I’m skeptical of bold claims.

That’s why I wondered last week if peace activist Bruce Gagnon was indulging in a little hyperbole when he sent me an email alleging a local newspaper, the Maine legislature, and the city of Bath’s police department were all abdicating their duty to the public and instead doing the bidding of Navy contractor Bath Iron Works.

Gagnon is currently leading the campaign against a proposed $60-million tax credit to BIW, a builder of Navy destroyers and a subsidiary of defense industry behemoth General Dynamics.

“The Bath PD was outsourced to BIW/GD,” Gagnon’s email read, “the Times Record newspaper has been outsourced to BIW/GD, and the Maine state legislature has been outsourced to BIW/GD.”

But, after looking into each of these claims, I can’t say I disagree. Continue reading

Jingoism From the So-Called Left

[NOTE: A version of this opinion article was published on RIFuture.org.]

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There are many people on the left who think “Russiagate” merits wall-to-wall news coverage and MSNBC’s near-singular focus.

I’m not one of them. In fact, I’m beginning to find the rhetoric coming out of the Democratic Party on Russia, with its comparisons to the deadly attacks of 9/11 and Pearl Harbor, more than misplaced. They’re irresponsible and frightening. Continue reading

Maine State Rep. Jennifer DeChant Sought Corporate ‘Talking Points’ to ‘Counter’ Activists

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When faced last year with growing criticism over her plans to propose a $60-million tax deal to one of Maine’s largest private employers, state Rep. Jennifer DeChant turned to an apparently reliable ally: the very company she was advocating for.

“Jon- I am sure you have seen the Op Ed piece below,” DeChant said in a Dec. 4 email to Bath Iron Works attorney Jon Fitzgerald, following the publication that same day of a commentary in Portland’s Press Herald by peace activist Bruce Gagnon, titled, “General Dynamics has no business asking for more tax breaks.”

DeChant continued, “I am looking for some talking points to counter this.” She suggested they would be used in an upcoming meeting with constituents. Continue reading

General Dynamics Doesn’t Need Money From Connecticut or Maine

[NOTE: A version of this opinion article was published in The Day newspaper, of New London, Conn.]

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General Dynamics is not a poor company.

Far from it.

Like all of the country’s top defense contractors, its stock is trading at record highs. As of this writing, one share in the Falls Church, Virg.-based company costs more than $226, nearly $55 more than tech giant Apple.

General Dynamics’ current market capitalization, a measure of a company’s value, is $67.2-billion, up $14.6-billion from 2016. To put that into context, Maine’s entire gross domestic product was $59.3-billion in 2016.

On a recent earnings call, CEO Phebe N. Novakovic told analysts the company’s revenue last year exceeded $31.7-billion, outperforming the prior year by $412-million. Cash flow for the year was $3.45-billion.

And things should only get better. Continue reading

General Dynamics CEO Calls Republican Tax Law a ‘Happy Event’

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Top brass at defense contractor General Dynamics, owner of New England subsidiaries Bath Iron Works, and Electric Boat, say they are buoyed by the anticipated reduction in their company’s effective tax rate under the sweeping “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” pushed into law last month by Republican members of Congress and Pres. Donald Trump.

On an earnings call earlier this week, Chief Financial Officer Jason W. Aiken told analysts the company, based in Falls Church, Virg., will likely see its 2017 full year rate of 28.6 percent drop to 19 percent in 2018.

According to a transcript of the call available online, Chief Executive Officer Phebe N. Novakovic characterized the passage of the tax overhaul as “a happy event.” Continue reading