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Death Penalty Dying Out

4:39 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Most of the world’s governments no longer use the death penalty.  Among wealthy nations there is one exception remaining.  The United States is among the top five killers in the world.  Also in the top five: the recently “liberated” Iraq.

A candidate promises to end the use of the death penalty in Charlottesville.

Steve Deaton promises to end the use of the death penalty in Charlottesville.

But most of the United States’ 50 states no longer use the death penalty.  There are 18 states that have abolished it, including 6 in this new millennium, including Maryland this week.  Thirty-one states haven’t used the death penalty in the past 5 years, 26 in the past 10 years, 17 in the past 40 years or more.  A handful of Southern states — with Texas in the lead — do most of the killing.

The progress is slow and painful.  Mississippi is right now having trouble deciding whether to spare a man just because he might be innocent.  Maryland has perversely left five people waiting to be killed while banning the death penalty for any future cases.  Next-door in Virginia we hold second place behind Texas and continue to kill.

Virginia electrocuted a man named Robert Gleason in January.  Since then, Texas has killed four men, Ohio two, and Florida, Oklahoma, and Georgia one each — all by lethal injection.  Since 1973, there have been 141 exonerations from death row nationwide, including an innocent Virginian who came within days of being killed.

If you’re convicted of killing a white person in Virginia, you’re over three times as likely to receive the death penalty as you would be if the victim had been black.  The injustice and backwardness is staggering, but so is the lack of democracy.  Only a third of Virginians tell pollsters they favor the death penalty.

The evil of the death penalty is not limited to the instances in which it is used — or to the corrosive influence it has on our culture.  The death penalty primarily serves as a valuable chip in plea bargaining.  Want someone to plead guilty, whether or not they actually are guilty?  Threaten them with the death penalty.  Who needs trials by jury (now used in under 2% of cases) when you have that kind of tool?  And who has time for them when you’ve overloaded the system by treating drug use as a crime?

Remarkably, a former commonwealth’s attorney here in Charlottesville, Va., named Steve Deaton is campaigning for his old job with a commitment to never use or threaten to use the death penalty.

“I believe the death penalty is barbaric and has no place in modern Charlottesville courts,” Deaton says, reversing the electoral wisdom of many decades, which firmly holds that candidates must pretend to believe the death penalty is just and righteous and a deterrent to crime, even if the public thinks that’s nonsense.

“I am calling for a moratorium on death penalty prosecutions,” says Deaton.  “During the past 20 years — that is, the term of the incumbent Commonwealth’s Attorney — a number of capital murder charges have been brought against some people, almost all of them poor.  Then the charge is often used as a bargaining chip to get the defendant to plead guilty to murder and accept a life sentence.  This practice of using the threat of death to plea bargain is legal, and under current ethical standards, considered ethical.  However, I find such a practice appalling. By engaging in this practice the prosecutor is tempting fate: what if their threat doesn’t work and the case goes to a jury?”

Read the rest of this entry →

First City in U.S. Passes Resolution Against Drones

9:43 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Charlottesville City Hall

Charlottesville City Hall. The city just became the first in the USA to pass a resolution restricting the use of drones.

Shortly after 11 p.m. on Monday, February 4th, the City Council of Charlottesville, Va., passed what is believed to be the first anti-drone resolution in the country.  According to my notes, and verifiable soon on the City Council’s website, the resolution reads:

WHEREAS, the rapid implementation of drone technology throughout the United States poses a serious threat to the privacy and constitutional rights of the American people, including the residents of Charlottesville; and

WHEREAS, the federal government and the Commonwealth of Virginia have thus far failed to provide reasonable legal restrictions on the use of drones within the United States; and

WHEREAS, police departments throughout the country have begun implementing drone technology absent any guidance or guidelines from law makers;

NOW, THEREFORE, LET IT BE RESOLVED, that the City Council of Charlottesville, Virginia, endorses the proposal for a two year moratorium on drones in the state of Virginia; and calls on the United States Congress and the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia to adopt legislation prohibiting information obtained from the domestic use of drones from being introduced into a Federal or State court, and precluding the domestic use of drones equipped with anti-personnel devices, meaning any projectile, chemical, electrical, directed-energy (visible or invisible), or other device designed to harm, incapacitate, or otherwise negatively impact a human being; and pledges to abstain from similar uses with city-owned, leased, or borrowed drones.

The same City Council passed a resolution on January 17, 2012, calling for an end to drone wars, as well as ground wars, excessive military spending, and any possible attack on Iran.

The wording of Monday’s resolution comes largely from a draft suggested by the Rutherford institute. An initial line was deleted and two amendments were made to the final paragraph, one endorsing a two-year moratorium on drones (something that had passed in committee in both houses of the Virginia legislature as of Saturday in the House and Monday in the Senate), the other committing the City not to use drones for surveillance or assault.

The wording was not as comprehensive as the draft that had appeared in the City Council’s official agenda for Monday’s meeting, a draft I had authored.  See it here in the city agenda or on my website.

At the previous meeting of the City Council on January 7, 2013, I and a few other residents had spoken in support of a resolution, and three of the five city council members agreed to put it on the agenda for the February 4th meeting.  Some of the public comments were excellent, and the video of the meeting is on the city’s website.

On Monday, citizens speaking in favor of the anti-drone resolution dominated the public speaking period at the beginning of the meeting, shortly after 7 p.m.  Many were quite eloquent, and the video will be available soon on the city’s site.  The council members did not discuss and vote on the matter until shortly after 11 p.m.  The discussion was quite brief, coming on the heels of hours devoted to other matters.

The same three city council members who had put the item on the agenda voted in favor of the resolution, passing it by a vote of 3-2.  They were Dave Norris, Dede Smith, and Satyendra Sing Huja.  Norris and Smith negotiated the slight improvements to the Rutherford Institute’s draft with Huja, who initially favored passing that draft as it was written.  Norris and Smith favored banning the City from purchasing drones, but Council Member Kristin Szakos argued that there might be a positive use for a drone someday, such as for the fire department.  Kathy Galvin joined Szakos in voting No.

Norris has been a leader on the City Council for years and sadly will not be running for reelection at the end of his current term.

Following the January meeting, I submitted my draft to the city, asked people to phone and email the council members, published a column in the local daily newspaper, and organized an event in front of City Hall on Sunday, the day before the vote.  Anti-drone activist John Heuer from North Carolina delivered a giant model drone produced by New York anti-drone activist Nick Mottern.  Our little stunt produced coverage on the two television channels and in the newspaper.  I asked people to commit to attending the meeting on a FaceBook page.  The room ended up packed, and when I asked those who supported the resolution to stand, most of the room did so.

No organized pro-drone lobby ever developed.  We met and confronted the argument that localities shouldn’t lobby states or Washington.  And, of course, some people are opposed to drones in the United States but eager to see them used however the President may see fit abroad.  Charlottesville’s City Council ended up not including the section in my draft that instructed the federal government to end its practice of extrajudicial killing.  But there was no discussion on that point, and several other sections, including one creating a local ordinance, were left out as well.  The problem there, according to Smith, was that “we don’t own the air.”

Yet, we should. And Oregon is attempting to do so with its draft state legislation.

In the past, Charlottesville has passed resolutions that have inspired other localities and impacted federal and state policies.  Let us hope this one is no exception.

Read the rest of this entry →

Drones Are a Local Issue

10:39 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson

[Editor's Note: For more on this topic, see David Swanson's Resolution for Drone Free Skies. -MyFDL Editor]

Assorted Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

No city is an island, Entire of itself. Each is a piece of the continent, A part of the main.

I write from Charlottesville, Va., but am hopeful that this message applies to your city, town, or county as well.

In the absence of state or federal laws, localities around the United States are proceeding to put unmanned aerial vehicles in our skies as they see fit.  The federal government has authorized the flight of 30,000 drones, and the use of drones up to 400 feet by police departments, at least 300 of which already have surveillance drones in operation.

States and localities can ban or regulate such actions.  Or they can proceed to endanger our health and our civil rights.

In Montgomery County, Texas, the Sheriff showed off a drone to the media but crashed it into his armored vehicle (thereby, I guess, proving that he needed an armored vehicle).

When the Dept. of Homeland Security challenged the University of Texas-Austin to hack into a drone and take control of it, the response was “No problem,” and it was quickly done.

Drones are not safe.  Surveillance by drones cannot comply with the Fourth Amendment.  And the arming of drones with tear gas and rubber bullets, already underway in many U.S. localities, is an outrageous threat to our First Amendment right to assemble and petition our governments for a redress of grievances.

If Charlottesville were to remain silent while (how shall I put this delicately?) crack-pot cities continue setting de facto law, we would all be worse off.

Charlottesville City Council routinely informs the state general assembly of its wishes.  That state assembly has already been considering legislation on drones.  Charlottesville has a responsibility to speak up, as well as to act locally on its own behalf.

Moreover, Charlottesville’s influence spreads.  Its past resolutions on Iraq, military spending, uranium, and other matters have inspired other localities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors to raise their voices as well.  Some of these resolutions have been directed to the federal government, to which the residents of Charlottesville pay taxes and whose laws the residents of Charlottesville are subject to.

This is how our republic is supposed to work.  City council members in Virginia take an oath to support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Cities and towns routinely send petitions to Congress for all kinds of requests. This is allowed under Clause 3, Rule XII, Section 819, of the Rules of the House of Representatives. This clause is routinely used to accept petitions from cities, and memorials from states, all across America. The same is established in the Jefferson Manual, the rule book for the House originally written by Thomas Jefferson for the Senate.

In 1967 a court in California ruled (Farley v. Healey , 67 Cal.2d 325) that “one of the purposes of local government is to represent its citizens before the Congress, the Legislature, and administrative agencies in matters over which the local government has no power. Even in matters of foreign policy it is not uncommon for local legislative bodies to make their positions known.”

Abolitionists passed local resolutions against U.S. policies on slavery. The anti-apartheid movement did the same, as did the nuclear freeze movement, the movement against the PATRIOT Act, the movement in favor of the Kyoto Protocol, etc.

We are not an island.  If we become environmentally sustainable, others will ruin our climate.  If we ban assault weapons, they’ll arrive at our borders.  And if the skies of the United States are filled with drones, it will become ever more difficult for Charlottesville to keep them out.

Just over a year ago, the Charlottesville City Council passed a resolution calling for an end to “foreign ground and drone wars.”  U.S. drone wars are now under investigation by the United Nations as possible crimes.  We now know that individuals are targeted without so much as identifying their names.  We now know that hundreds of children have been killed.  We now know that at least three Americans have been targeted and killed.  The view of our city should be restated in the context of local and state actions on drones.  This is an action desired by local people, affecting local people, and costing the local budget exactly nothing.

Each man’s death diminishes me, For I am involved in mankind.  Therefore, send not to know  For whom the bell tolls,  It tolls for thee.

David Swanson’s books include War Is A Lie. He blogs at http://davidswanson.org and War Is A Crime and works as Campaign Coordinator for the online activist organization RootsAction. He hosts Talk Nation Radio. Follow him on Twitter: @davidcnswanson and Facebook.  Subscribe or unsubscribe from David’s email lists here. Read the rest of this entry →

The Statues in Our Public Spaces Lie

11:11 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson

There are lies of omission as well as commission, and the statues in Charlottesville, Va. — typical of other towns — do both.  We have statues of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, a generic Confederate soldier, George Rogers Clark, Lewis and Clark (with Sacagawea kneeling like their dog), and on City Hall a triptych with Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe.  We have a monument to the War on Vietnam.  And that’s it.

Here are some things not memorialized in any major statue or monument in Charlottesville: Queen Charlotte, for whom the town is named; any individual or generic native member of the people who lived here before the Europeans; any individual or generic settler or farmer or merchant or slave.  There is no commemoration of the genocide of the native races or the enslavement of Africans.  There is no individual or generic recognition of those who struggled against and ended slavery, those who advanced human rights following the Civil War, or those who took great risks to end Jim Crow.  There is no individual or generic recognition of those who struggled for labor rights, children’s rights, women’s suffrage, environmental protection, educational advancements, or peace.  There is no recognition of police officers, firefighters, or of those who have pioneered the nonviolent tools that during the past century have proved so much more useful than wars in changing the world for the better.  Charlottesville is a university town that has been home to brilliant and influential educators, authors, artists, scientists, and athletes.  They are not recognized individually or generically.  There is no park and statue for Edgar Allen Poe or William Faulkner.  Mary Chapin Carpenter and the Dave Matthews Band and many others have made music that enriched a lot of lives, but none of them apparently have ended enough lives through violence to get themselves so much as a little plaque.  Sam Shepard, Sissy Spacek, Jessica Lange and many other wonderful performers have either lived too recently or failed to slaughter enough Indians.

PHOTO: Occupy at Lee Park, Source

The dominant thrust of the statues in our public spaces suggests that the core of our history can be condensed into a five-year period of war a century and a half ago.  Our public spaces tell us that the only thing worthy of commemoration since that horrific episode was the senseless slaughter of millions of Vietnamese.  The history books in our schools play the same game as our public statues, jumping from war to war, as if nothing useful or interesting happened in between.  We glorify a war because it ended slavery, even though most nations ended slavery without wars.  And then we celebrate only the side of the war that was defending slavery.  We prop up heroes who were not from Charlottesville because of their connection to that war.  We ignore the fact that many people from Charlottesville have done the world more good than Robert E. Lee did, and that in many cases they have done so with courage to be surpassed by no one.  It is not easy to face angry racists nonviolently.  It takes courage, determination, and discipline.  It builds solidarity, character, and public spirit.  It carries with it everything positive about war, without the negative.

Charlottesville City Council Member Kristin Szakos recently raised the possibility of adding or removing some public statues in our town.  Here are some of the resulting comments from a local television news website.  Despite such websites filtering out the ugliest comments, see if you can detect an unpleasant theme or two:

“Yes, it is time to replace these racist Confederate statues with statues of Jesse and Al, Farrakhan, Reverend Wright, and of course, The Chosen One, the Omnipotent, the Apologizer-in-Chief Himself; Barack Hussein-as-salaam-alaikum Obama; mmm, mmm, mmmm!”

“Szakos, it’s something called part of this area’s history. You want to replace it with a statue of Farrakhan? About 620,000 people died in the War between the States. Almost all of them were white.”

“while we’re at it lets have a discussion about tearing down monticello and replacing it with a statue of TJ and Sally making love to each other under a rainbow, then we can dig up all the confederate tombstones in the area and replace them with statues of city council members, wasting so much money in the process that they will have to assess your property at five times it’s actual value to pay for it all.”

“more tax money to tear it down!! maybe barrack hussein can send some ‘relief money’ our way to help us get a newer, more friendly statue. Hey, maybe we can just get a large stone constitution!!!”

“Lets remove all statues related to Thomas Jefferson and replace them with statues of George Jefferson. Then we can have a sing along to ‘Movin On Up’.”

“Maybe blacks and whites alike figured out slavery was more economically viable than Obamanomics and it’s welfare state?”

“Replace the statues with figures of people that have been arrested over 50 times, live in public housing, pay no taxes and serve as a reminder of what Charlottesville now wants to put on a pedestal.”

“I guess they can put up a monument for Ralph Sampson or Arthur Ashe to appease everyone.”

“Those vermin must be booted out of the USA. Kikc ‘em to Hungary The thing is – Hungary doesn’t want that sort of vermin either. The Hungarians sre slowly but surely removing the fangs of the Nation Wrecking International Bankster Vampiyres – and I mean J E W S – out of their National throats. “The Federal Reserve” is a Rothschilds J E W fiat debt counterfierting scam. The Hungarians are removing them – so they won’t want this vermin either. FYI Co mu nism is STRAIGHT outta the Talmud.”

It may surprise you to know that Szakos is white, and that she made no mention of Farrakhan or any of the rest of this nonsense.  One commenter on that site actually said they’d planned to speak against Szakos’ proposal but had changed their mind after seeing so much bigotry from other commenters.  Another comment, I think, hit the nail on the head, albeit unintentionally:

“Denial of this community’s ancestors does not — and will never — cause them to simply disappear.”

Really?  Most decades, most movements, most ethnic groups, most areas of intellectual endeavor, the work it took to bring about almost every social advancement: these have simply disappeared from our conceptions of our local history.  Nothing causes information to disappear like refusing to talk about it.

The local newspaper, the Daily Progress, ran this article and this editorial on the topic.  The editorial defends the propriety of discussing the possibilities, defends the idea of adding more statues, but insists that the existing Confederate statues remain.  And on the topic of adding more statues, the editorialists wonder:

“Is there a modern philanthropist out there who would balance Mr. McIntire’s commemorations of the Confederacy? Who will step up?”

Mr. McIntire is the rich guy who created some of the existing statues and parks (one of them on condition that it include a school for white children).  That we rely on the super-wealthy to determine what we memorialize from our past ought to cause even those who believe we’re treating the past correctly to stop and question that assumption.

If we were not nationally dumping over a trillion dollars a year into war-making, we could build new parks and statues with public money and public decision-making.  But nothing keeps the war dollars flowing like the war-glorification in our public spaces.  President Kennedy said that until the conscientious objector receives the respect and prestige of the soldier war will go on.  But even if we defunded it a teeny bit, we could use a teeny bit of the savings to honor those we most appreciate from Charlottesville and beyond.  In my ideal fantasy, we would begin the process of choosing individuals or movements to honor by reading the late historian Howard Zinn, and in the end we would be wise enough to include a little statue of him somewhere, not god-like super-sized on a horse, but life-like, the same size as the rest of us, the same size as our young people who must understand their own potential for greatness.

Why Students Are Hunger Striking in Virginia

4:51 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Twelve students at the University of Virginia on Saturday began a hunger strike for a living wage policy for university employees.  They’ve taken this step after having exhausted just about every other possible approach over a period of 14 years.  I was part of the campaign way back when it started.  I can support the assertion made by hunger-striking student A.J. Chandra on Saturday, who said,

“We have not spent 14 years building up the case for a living wage.  Rather, the campaign has made the case over and over again.”

UVA Living Wage Hunger Strike 1

This is the latest in a long series of reports making the case.

Another striking student, David Flood, explained,

“We have researched long enough. We have campaigned long enough. We have protested long enough. The time for a living wage is now.”

UVA was the first campus with a living wage campaign back in the late 1990s, but many campuses that started later finished sooner.  UVA has seen partial successes.  In 2000, the university raised wages to what was at the time a living wage.  But those gains have been wiped out by inflation.  Local businesses have voluntarily met the campaign’s demands, and the City of Charllottesville has both implemented a living wage policy and called on UVA to do so.

When we started, no one dared to say the word “union,” but by 2002 a union had formed.  It lasted until 2008, and now a new organizing drive is underway.

Workers, however, still fear being fired for joining a union or for joining the living wage campaign.  (Does anyone recall the Employee Free Choice Act from way back yonder in 2008? It would really come in handy.) With workers fearing retribution, students and faculty are the campaign’s public face, and even some students (especially those with scholarships) and faculty are afraid to take on that role.

In 2006, UVA students tried a sit-in as a tactic to pressure the University’s Board of Visitors.  The students were arrested after four days, and wage policies unaltered.  But now they are looking to the model of Georgetown University’s successful hunger strike in 2005.

Since 2006, the campaign has been building support among workers, faculty, and the Charlottesville community whose economy is dominated by UVA and almost a quarter of whose population is below the federal poverty line.  Here’s a debate on the topic from 2011. A petition has been signed by 328 faculty members. Read the rest of this entry →

Charlottesville, Va., City Council Passes Resolution Against Attacking Iran

6:28 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

(image: thsant, flickr)

(image: thsant, flickr)

The City Council of Charlottesville, Virginia, home of Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and the University of Virginia, passed on Tuesday evening, January 17, 2012, a resolution believed to be a first in the country, opposing the launching of a war on Iran, as well as calling for an end to current ground and drone wars engaged in by the United States and urging Congress and the President of the United States to significantly reduce military spending.  Below is the text of the resolution, followed by an account of how it came to be.  As other towns and cities have been inquiring about how they can do the same, this may prove helpful.

RESOLUTION

Calling on Congress and the President to Redirect Military Spending to Domestic Priorities

WHEREAS, the severity of the ongoing economic crisis has created budget shortfalls at all levels of government and requires us to re-examine our national spending priorities; and

WHEREAS, every dollar spent on the military produces fewer jobs than spending the same dollar on education, healthcare, clean energy, or even tax cuts for household consumption; and

WHEREAS, U.S. military spending has approximately doubled in the past decade, in real dollars and as a percentage of federal discretionary spending, and well over half of federal discretionary spending is now spent on the military, and we are spending more money on the military now than during the Cold War, the Vietnam War, or the Korean War; and

WHEREAS, the U.S. military budget could be cut by 80% and remain the largest in the world; and Read the rest of this entry →

Can We Love Both Peace and War?

5:09 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson

By David Swanson | The Hook

The general who led the Allies at D-Day used his farewell speech as a two-term president to decry "the military-industrial complex" (And deficit spending)

If I told you I would support women’s rights as long as I didn’t have to oppose rape, you’d think I needed lessons in both logic and basic human decency. If I said I would favor freedom as long as I didn’t have to be against slavery, you might start backing away slowly.

Yet on September 1st, in a statement that’s anything but out of the ordinary, the Daily Progress reported Charlottesville School Board Member Ned Michie’s objection to a resolution in support of events celebrating the International Day of Peace:

“I’m all in favor of peace and non-violence,” Michie said, “but, for instance… to the extent that any of the events are really sort of anti-war events, I’m not necessarily comfortable with supporting that.”

It’s a funny thing about peace and war: you really do have to choose between them.  They don’t mix any better than freedom and slavery. You can’t favor peace without opposing war. In fact, you can’t support peace without opposing the machinery that makes wars likely.  And that machinery is all over Charlottesville, where it provides many local residents with jobs.

Nonetheless, job creation is something else you can’t support without opposing what President Dwight Eisenhower 50 years ago warned of as the “military-industrial complex.”

How can that be? Let me explain.

Charlottesville is home to the National Ground Intelligence Center, now north of town but previously downtown in what became the SNL Financial building. The new location for NGIC also accommodates the National Geo-Spatial Intelligence Agency and the DIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency. The University of Virginia has built a research park next door. There’s a Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center attached to UVA Law School as well. Then there’s the Virginia National Guard, which does tend to guard nations, just not this one. Read the rest of this entry →

Us or the War Machine

6:07 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson

An upcoming Charlottesville conference highlights the importance of whistleblowers when addressing the corruption present in military contracting

By David Swanson, Guest Viewpoint on August 31, 2011, Cavalier Daily

Bunnatine “Bunny” Greenhouse 

YOU MAY have heard something about a budget crisis in Washington this summer. Were you aware that in the midst of it the House of Representatives passed a military spending bill larger than ever before?

U.S. military spending across numerous departments has increased dramatically during the past decade and now makes up about half of federal discretionary spending. Yet the Defense Department has not been fully audited in 20 years, and as of 2001 it could not account for $2.3 trillion out of the $10 trillion or so it had been given during that time. More recently, President Obama has been waging his “days, not weeks” war in Libya for months without a dime appropriated by Congress, relying instead on the loose change lying around at the Pentagon.

The United States could reduce its military spending by at least 80 percent and still be the world’s top military spender. If the purpose of all this profligacy were truly defensive, wouldn’t a military merely as large as any other country’s do the job? When little cuts around the edges were forced into the discussion, wouldn’t the top priorities for elimination be unpopular wars, foreign bases, nuclear weapons and space weapons rather than health care for veterans? If something shameful were not motivating our self-destructive imperial overreach, wouldn’t the wonders of market competition be given a chance, instead of the current practice of handing out cost-plus contracts to cronies for jobs they are never expected to complete?

Paying our debts
When someone inside the military contracting process gives us a peak at what is done with half our income taxes, we owe that person a debt of gratitude. And the person who has opened the widest crack in the wall of secrecy around Pentagon spending in recent years is probably Bunnatine “Bunny” Greenhouse, who will be speaking in Charlottesville along with more than 20 other experts Sept. 16-18.

THE CONFERENCE IS HERE: http://MIC50.org Read the rest of this entry →

Mass Murder in Charlottesville, Virginia

6:18 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson

By David Swanson

During the past five years since I moved back to Charlottesville, Virginia, I had yet to observe the slightest violent incident, prior to the recent spree of horrific mass murders. There was crime, but I hadn’t ever seen it. I had only heard about it in the local media. First there was a young woman picked up hitch hiking and murdered. That was many months ago now. Then there was a man from Charlottesville attacked out of the blue up in the mountains, not actually in Charlottesville. Most recently, a University of Virginia student was alleged to have killed his girlfriend; this made national news, apparently because they were both Lacrosse players.

That was the situation before the blood started flowing. Charlottesville was the kind of town where murder was so rare that any occurrence of it was publicly discussed and mourned in detail. Everyone felt for the victims, whether they knew them or not. All of that has changed.

The change came when I learned that the good people of Charlottesville, some 40,000 strong, had gotten together, pinched pennies, pooled their resources and come up with a fund of $345 million for murdering strangers. How did this happen? No great initiative and organizing was required. It was more an act of absent-mindedness. In fact, if asked, a strong majority of the people of Charlottesville will tell you that they oppose what they’re doing, and most of those will explain that they aren’t entirely clear what it is they’re doing in any detail. Nonetheless, they’ve been pouring their money into this fund at an increased rate this past year and a half.

Allow me to explain. With the full support of Charlottesville’s and Virginia’s representatives in Congress, the people of Charlottesville have been billed or put into debt for payments of $115 million to cover the illegal wars being conducted in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. This price tag does not include interest payments on the debt, the cost of caring for veterans, or the impact of the wars on the price of fuel and the larger economy. By a very conservative estimate, we have to multiply the direct cost by at least three to arrive at a complete tally. Adding reparations for what we’ve done would increase the total further.

These wars have killed over a million people already. Charlottesville’s proportional share in that scalp count is at least 115. For $345 million, we’ve killed 115 people. That’s one person for every three million dollars, or one person for every million dollars in direct payments into the wars. Imagine if the local Charlottesville media gave us saturation coverage of the life stories of each of those murder victims. Imagine if we knew their faces, their childhoods, their friends and loved ones. Imagine if rewards were offered on billboards for tips leading to the prosecution of their murderers.

Then there are the many people we could have saved from easily preventable deaths, in the United States and abroad, for each $3 million. There are kids without clean water, diseases without cures, and workplaces without safety standards. We’ve killed millions of people we haven’t even thought about. Imagine if we were thoroughly introduced to all of their stories. What if we’d put our whole $345 million into green energy and banned BP stations from Charlottesville? The National Priorities Project offers these alternatives for what Charlottesville has spent thus far. (I’ve multiplied all the figures, which were based on $115 million, times three to get a more complete count.) Instead of pointless, murderous, illegal war, Charlottesville could have chosen:

69,579 People Receiving Low-Income Healthcare for One Year OR
5,871 Police or Sheriff’s Patrol Officers for One Year OR
6,435 Firefighters for One Year OR
36,411 Scholarships for University Students for One Year OR
64,764 Students receiving Pell Grants of $5550 OR
125,637 Children Receiving Low-Income Healthcare for One Year OR
47,424 Head Start Slots for Children for One Year OR
63,840 Households with Renewable Electricity – Solar Photovoltaic for One Year OR
5,055 Elementary School Teachers for One Year OR
170,241 Households with Renewable Electricity-Wind Power for One Year

Remember, this is a town of 40,000 people. We don’t have 170,000 households to provide with green energy. We could have funded more than one of these categories to full capacity. We could have given solar and wind energy to every home and set a national standard, and still given all our kids college scholarships. All of them. Should we have done that or aided those least well off in the world? We would have to choose. Instead we’ve chosen mass murder.

But, I can hear Charlottesvillians remarking, we oppose the wars, there’s nothing we can do about it, and wars aren’t the same as murder. But, legally these wars are precisely the same as mass murder. Article VI of the US Constitution makes treaties that we are party to the supreme law of the land. One such treaty is the United Nations Charter. That charter makes war illegal except under two extraordinary circumstances. One would be if the Iraqis or Afghans or Pakistanis came here and attacked us. Then we would have the right to self-defense. (Hence the propagandistic need to portray a crime by a handful of Saudis as an act of war by Afghanistan and Iraq.) The other would be if the UN Security Council authorized an invasion, but in the cases of Afghanistan and Iraq it refused, and in the case of our drone war on Pakistan we’ve never asked.

Do the people of Charlottesville oppose what is being done with more of their money than anything else? We’re dumping ten times the war money into the Pentagon for its day-to-day affairs, and the war money is extra on top of that. There’s no money for schools or libraries, housing or parks. Why? Because more than half of every federal tax dollar that comes out of Charlottesville goes into the killing machine. The same is true for all the surrounding towns and counties, but internationally Charlottesville stands out as extraordinary. We pay more of our money into war-making than the rest of the world combined. This is why wealthy countries other than ours have healthcare, paid parental leave, paid vacations, free college, and so many other things we don’t even dream about or calculate the possible trade-offs for. And it’s why some poor countries have advantages our wealthy one can’t afford.

Do we oppose this? Well, some of us used to. When our congressman was a Republican, we denounced this course of action in the media, phoned his office, picketed his office, and went to jail for sitting in his office. But for the past year and a half, while the military budget and the war budget have both increased, we’ve said almost nothing. A small group of us have begun organizing protests at the new Democratic congress member’s office, but we’re the only ones he hears from. We’ve spent a good deal of time in his office on two occasions, and I think I have heard his phone ring there a total of twice. Nobody’s calling. And everyone who is not calling is communicating their approval of the mass murder of individual and remarkable and precious human beings.

Congressman Tom Perriello is about to vote for another $33.5 billion to escalate the war in Afghanistan. His phone number is (434) 293-9631.