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VIDEO: Dem Senate candidate wants “conversion” of BIW from shipbuilding to bridge repair, green energy

Bellows - Swanson
Shenna Bellows, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, addresses Peace Action Maine alongside author and activist David Swanson

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Shenna Bellows holds some controversial views about Bath Iron Works’ existence as a military contractor, according to a video of her speaking alongside a renowned liberal conspiracy theorist at a meeting of Peace Action Maine in Portland.

The video shows a Feb. 15 meeting Bellows, the former head of the Maine Civil Liberties Union, attended for unknown reasons. Late in the meeting, Bellows is offered an opportunity to address the group about “peace issues,” because she’s trying to oust Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins this fall.

Before she speaks, Bellows turns to David Swanson, the keynote speaker at the meeting, and says, “It’s such an honor to meet you.”

So what is Peace Action Maine and who is this David Swanson that Bellows is honored to meet?

Swanson is a “peace activist” and “author” who led a push to impeach President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney via his now-defunct website ConvictBushCheney.org.

Swanson has also entertained radical conspiracy theories about President George H.W. Bush. Writing in a 2008 op-ed, Swanson touts a new book by Russ Baker that supposedly provides evidence that the elder Bush was involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the Watergate scandal that derailed the presidency of Richard Nixon.

Wrote Swanson, “New research and newly highlighted information assembled by Baker presents at least the strong possibility that Bush was involved in assassinating President Kennedy, and that Bush was involved in staging the Watergate break-in (and the break-in at Dan Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s) with the purpose of having these break-ins exposed and the blame placed on President Nixon.”

For a peace activist, Swanson also has some unusual opinions about former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“I had dinner with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday night in New York, along with dozens of other peace activists…,” Swanson brags in a Sept. 26, 2012 op-ed. “When U.S. headlines tell us that Ahmadinejad will destroy Israel, we picture Hiroshima, or Dresden, or Fallujah,” he continues. “That’s how we think of a nation ceasing to exist.  We think of its people destroyed from above.  But Ahmadinejad says he wants to end killing and injustice.  He speaks of peace and love, fairness and kindness.”

So the man Bellows is honored to meet is a crackpot conspiracy theorist who sees his dinner pal Ahmadinejad as a champion of peace and love. This would be akin to Collins being caught on tape saying she is honored to meet an infamous birther who wants President Obama impeached and who brags about eating dinner with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

But what about Peace Action Maine (PAM), the group that provided an audience for Swanson and Bellows?

PAM is a twenty-five-year old organization that advocates for international peace. For example, the group recently staged a protest at Bath Iron Works over the celebrated christening of the U.S.S. Zumwalt Naval Destroyer. According to PAM’s website, “The purpose of the rally was not only to protest the spending of another $4 billion on militarization, but to illustrate alternative, human-friendly, job-creating possibilities for BIW, if converted to more positive uses.”

Back to PAM’s meeting in February: After Swanson gives a talk about his most recent book, Bellows is asked to stand up and take questions because she is running for the U.S. Senate.

“I think that the way to lasting global security is diplomacy and peace work,” Bellows begins.

That’s a rather uncontroversial statement, but the first audience question reveals the politically relevant nature of her position. An unnamed crowd member asks:

“The major obstacle is how we convert from a war economy to a peace economy. So many jobs in this country are dependent on the war machine, on weaponry. Even in Bath as we all know, but it’s worth repeating. The community was really panicked at the thought they would lose the Bath Iron Works. So how do we begin to make that conversion and not put so many people out or work and somehow find a way to move the economy towards a peace economy?

Swanson answers that the federal government, states and localities can provide money to “retrain and retool” so that no one has to get hurt during the conversion from a “war economy” to a “peace economy.” Bellows “echoes” Swanson’s remarks and further posits that infrastructure repairs and green energy are two areas where shipbuilders and engineers in Bath could be deployed in the absence of military contracts for BIW:

“There’s an extraordinary amount of infrastructure building we could do in our railroads and our bridges, and in the economy of the future – the clean energy economy. Maine could be a leader, for example, in solar and wind and conservation. So I think that conversion is incredibly exciting.

The issue – Bellows’ pro-“conversion” position versus BIW’s traditional reliance on military contracts – rises again when the last questioner asks Bellows to imagine that she has won the election and has been invited to a launching of a new destroyer at BIW, such as the one PAM recently protested.

“Would you accept [an invitation to a BIW ship christening] or not, and could you say what your response would be?” the questioner asks.

Bellows replies:

“I think if we’re going to change the world, we need to engage everywhere that we can. And we need to engage with people with whom we disagree. And we need to talk to people who are most directly affected in every sector and geography about these issues. So we are not going to be successful in achieving conversion unless we can convince the folks, the workers at Bath Iron Works, that that is the direction, that that’s the future of the economy.

Bellows apparent view that BIW should be re-purposed to fix bridges and build wind turbines will be controversial in southern-coastal Maine, where thousands of workers and their families, to say nothing of the surrounding businesses, depend on BIW’s shipbuilding.

Maine’s congressional delegation has historically included at least one member of either the House or Senate Armed Services Committees, the committees that oversee, among other things, contracts awarded to BIW. Collins formerly sat on that committee and independent U.S. Sen. Angus King currently sits on that committee. Maine’s representation on Armed Services has traditionally helped secure large military contracts for BIW, contracts that have provided substantial economic benefit to the Bath area. However, Bellows’ espoused view on the need to convert BIW away from shipbuilding raises the possibility that she could depart from a tradition first established by Margaret Chase Smith, who famously defended BIW and fought vigorously for shipbuilding contracts.

Watch the full video here: