Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Support Peace Corps

With master embroiderer Marta outside of Starobelsk.
To Budget Makers for 2014 and 2015, 

I just learned that my Peace Corps regional manager Vasyl Steferuk, based at Peace Corps headquarters in Kyiv, has been let go in a downsizing made necessary by funding cuts.  Programs in far-eastern Ukraine, Vasyl's region, where some would argue the need is greatest, are being cut too. 

There were 300 PCVs across Ukraine when I lived there, from Starobelsk to Lviv, from Konotop to Odessa to Crimea, and every one of them made a difference in the communities they served. There are now about 180 volunteers.
Drone, yahoo image, calmspeace.com

One drone costs between $1 million to $4.5 million, depending on the type of drone, under a current $11.1 billion contract to Northrup-Grumman Corporation.  The corporation spends over $10,000,000 a year in lobbying for the program.  We lost one $4 million drone over Lake Ontario a few months back.  It just disappeared.

The total Peace Corps budget is $375 million. Less than one drone.  It supports 8,073 volunteers in 76 countries.


President Obama has conducted at least 380 drone attacks over the last few year, costing billions upon billions of dollars, with no end in sight.  It has cost the US about $2.1 million per year for each soldier deployed in Afghanistan.  The cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is in the trillions of dollars, and future costs for medical care will skyrocket.  

Huge defense contracts with the likes of Blackwater (mercenary troops) and Halliburton continue.  In Iraq alone the cost to taxpayers is $3.5 billion a year.  The basic appropriation to the Defense budget is over $700 billion per year, more because lots of items for the military are added in different parts of the overall budget.  I don't think this includes NSA. for example, and the cost of anti-terrorism, spying and out-of-control cyber-surveillance programs that lack accountability and oversight.  


The PC budget of $375 million has been the same for the last two years, after the agency suffered a $50 million cut in 2011. That's a huge cut for a small agency with a large mission.  

Billions for drones, pennies for Peace Corps.

Meanwhile, we are learning that the secret drone war is killing more innocent civilians and creating more terrorists than it is killing.  

We know that one PCV can change for the better a whole community's negative attitudes toward Americans and result in enduring friendships across political and cultural boundaries. 

We are learning that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan hardly made a dent in the politics of those countries.  The Taliban, al-gaeda and extremists flourish, peace is elusive, the extent of death and destruction boggles the mind.   

We know that 8,073 volunteers in 76 countries this year have served as "grassroots ambassadors," empowering local people to improve their quality of life and resulting in the kind of cross-cultural understanding that is the foundation for peace.  It's hard to remain enemies when you have become friends.  It's hard to kill friends, when you have learned about their families, their communities, their hopes and dreams.   


With friends in Starobelsk, Ukraine, 2011.
My friend Jud in Konotop started leadership training seminars.  Barb, in Simferopal, helped upgrade the Crimean Tatar library and worked with Windows on America, as did several other volunteers elsewhere. Wyoming and Caroline in Lugansk worked to help nonprofits (NGOs), one of dozens of critically important grassroots projects.   Suzanne, out West, started an English Club, a popular type of project, for people who wanted to learn English or improve their conversational skills, essential tools for participation in the global economy, securing jobs and increasing opportunities. Ilse and Carl worked on business development near Odessa, as did Robin and Jim in Ivano-Franco.  Young volunteers like Rachel, Megan, and Jesse worked at summer youth development camps for young girls; many young men and women were TEFL volunteers in public schools, at colleges and evening classes.  Community development PCVs raised funds for human rights, worked hard on HIV prevention and education projects, and ignited efforts to computerize libraries and bring internet access to their towns. 

Every one of these projects leaves a mark. Everyone of these projects is a building block for peace.  

I believe the Peace Corps way is more powerful than guns. More cost-effective, too, and with more enduring positive results, than the military way.   
PCVs  focus on helping communities achieve their own self-defined goals.  They model what is best about America, our "can do" attitude, our enthusiasm, openness, diversity, tolerance.  People who once feared America and distrusted Americans begin to change their long-held views.  New friendships develop, and with them, new possibilities.  It's a powerful process, slow but transformative.   
That's why cutting the Peace Corps budget or just maintaining its current low level of funding is so short-sighted, so counter-productive to our foreign policy goals.  The Obama administration, in the name of Christopher Stevens, whose Peace Corps experience defined his work as ambassador to Libya prior to his tragic murder, should advocate for the largest budget possible.  At the very least, the Peace Corps budget should be comparable to the cost of a few drones or the defense contracts to Northrup-Grumann, Blackwater and Halliburton. 

For some good information see:
http://www.npr.org/2013/05/05/181403067/the-hidden-cost-of-the-drone-program
http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2013/4/5/report_cost_of_war/
http://www.afghanistanstudygroup.org/tag/war-costs/
http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-03-28/world/38097452_1_iraq-price-tag-first-gulf-war-veterans
http://files.peacecorps.gov/manuals/cbj/peacecorps_cbj_2014.pdf
http://www.opensecrets.org/news/2013/11/northrop-grummans-lobbying-campaign.html
http://newsjunkiepost.com/2011/12/18/iraq-war-us-troops-are-out-but-blackwater-and-halliburton-will-stay/

To contact your elected officials (it takes time and patience but is worth it,and it's never too early or too late to inundate your representatives, ceaselessly):
http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/submit-questions-and-comments 
http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm
http://www.house.gov/

For information on current advocacy efforts contact National Peace Corps Association at http://www.peacecorpsconnect.org/advocacy/peace-corps-funding.
     




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