news commentary
April 10, 2009


Fight to stop a new KC Plant
isn’t over

by Bruce Rodgers

It’s been decades since this nation’s peace movement, which under that broad umbrella includes anti-nuclear and anti-war activism — be it one or all wars — had any real political clout domestically. Not since the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations of the 1960s and early 1970s has the ruling establishment seriously considered policy changes based on public sentiment in dealing with efforts to stop or prevent war, and with that attention from the media.

Consider the news coverage of the “Day of Action” held March 21. Demonstrations in Washington DC and across the country were held, including Kansas City. What many people read or watched — if there was coverage — were rehashes of wire service reports focusing on the number of demonstrators and noting it was the 6th anniversary of the Iraq War. Telling is the fact that Google News lists nearly twice the number of news accounts for the April 9 Baghdad demonstrations against U.S. military personnel in Iraqi than the March 21 anti-Iraqi War demonstrations in this country.

Locally, the media has paid some attention to KC peace activists, a little more so in the electronic medium than in print. For example, WDAF Fox 4 news reported on the April 7 PeaceWorks pizza party event, one to illustrate in a “pie chart” that “54% of the United States’ discretionary budget goes to military spending.” Of course, the defense spending part was downplayed. Instead, the report focused on the proposed building of a new Kansas City Plant, which manufactures components for nuclear weapons.

PeaceWorks, along with the Greater Kansas City Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, are against the construction of a new Kansas City Plant to replace the current Bannister facility. Last year, the groups opposed a city ordinance and Planned Industrial Expansion Authority (PIEA) blight designation on 186 acres of former farmland in south Kansas City. The city council, in a 11-1 vote (with Councilman Ed Ford against), passed a supporting resolution clearing the way for a $500 million development, built by a private developer and leased back to the government, which included $40 million in tax incentives.

Anti-war and community activist Mike Murphy with PeaceWorks member Kris Cheatum at the pizza pie party on April 7 that brought attention to defense spending. (photo by Bruce Rodgers)
Ironically, the PeaceWorks pizza party was held the same day The Kansas City Star announced on the front page, “$500 million Honeywell project gets final OK.” Absence from that news report and a similar news story posted online the day before was any mention of a lawsuit against the GSA (General Service Administration) and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which oversees the management of nuclear weapons facilities.

Kristopher Paine, director of the Nuclear Program for the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the organizations involved in the lawsuit, emailed the newspaper with this:

“Your April 6 (online) story, ‘Developer selection secures jobs at Honeywell,’ neglected to mention a crucial detail regarding plans to close the existing government-owned Kansas City Plant and construct a $600 million privately-owned industrial park to produce parts for nuclear weapons. The General Services and National Nuclear Security Administration, the two federal agencies involved in the complex $1.2 billion, 20-year lease-back scheme, are being sued by a coalition of regional and national organizations and local citizens, because they have pursued this project without first meeting their obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).”

A few days later, Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico (another group involved in the lawsuit), wrote Ann Suellentrop, with the Greater Kansas City Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, that on April 15, “We are scheduled to file a motion for summary judgment … Plaintiffs are beginning to examine the case’s Administrative Record (provided by DoJ) for evidence of predetermination contrary to the National Environmental Policy Act and any improper financial schemes that might violate the Anti-Deficiency Act.”

The Anti-Deficiency Act is one of the major laws through which Congress exercises its constitutional control of the public purse. Under its “fiscal principles, government officials may not make payments or commit the United States to make payments at some future time for goods or services unless there is enough money in the ‘bank’ to cover the cost in full,” according to the GSA website.

Henry Stoever, a member of PeaceWorks, a party to the lawsuit and an attorney, said the summary judgment would “get the federal court to declare our suit has merit and force the GSA to redo some of the work done.” Stoever added that a favorable ruling would block “everything going on presently.” He and others plaintiffs contend the GSA failed to hold public hearings on the KC Plant development and an environmental impact statement was not completed. A summary judgment is a determination made without a jury trial.

While local news coverage avoids mention of the lawsuit, what is repeatedly stressed is how the new development keeps 2,100 jobs in Kansas City where the average salary is $95,000. The Fox 4 newscast made such a point, stating:

“A new $500 million project to build a new weapons plant in the metro promises to save thousands of high-paying jobs, but critics say that it’s a waste of money that could be used on more peaceful pursuits.”

Suellentrop, in talking with retired workers from the KC Plant, questions the $95,000 figure and points to health problems some of the retired workers say they are experiencing. Still, it’s clear economic development reporting — consciously and unconsciously — reigns over any efforts at pursuing peace-related avenues dealing with less emphasis on weapons building. Could the Fox 4 news lede instead have read?

Critics of a new $500 million project to build a new weapons plant say it’s a waste of money where funds could be spent on more peaceful pursuits while supports say the development promises to save thousands of high-paying jobs.

Not likely in the corporate press. How a news article is worded most often indicates the status quo bias. Many peace advocates would agree, pointing to the superficial way in which complicated issues such as nuclear weapons’ policy and U.S. military overseas involvement are reported. And, said Suellentrop, how the media many times paints peace activists as “wackos.”

Still, long-time peace activist Kris Cheatum with PeaceWorks, who helped organize the pizza pie party, remains optimist. “Maybe we’re getting closer with peace efforts as people get more educated and with the economic connection,” she said.

The discretionary budge refers to the part of the federal budget proposed by the President, and debated and decided by Congress each year. It constitutes more than one-third of total federal spending. (Source: Budget of the U.S. Government, FY 2009, Analytical Perspectives, [1] Table 27-1)

PeaceWorks’ information points out, “The United States accounted for 43% of the world’s total defense spending in 2007.” Even with Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ want to reduce Pentagon spending by $1.4 billion, The New York Times reports that spending will rise in the upcoming fiscal year from $513 billion to $534 billion. Also, the newspaper stated in a April 8 editorial: “The Pentagon’s procurement system has so run amok that 70 percent of the weapons were over budget last year by a total $296 billion.”

Cheatum wonders, “I don’t know why we’re continuing to have that place (Kansas City Plant) open. Mass transit, health care, weatherization each create more jobs than defense contractors. They’ve got the government by the nose.”

Despite the lack of serious news coverage or meaningful support from the area’s congressional delegation, peace advocates believe the majority of the public supports their efforts. Long-time peace activist Mike Murphy, who faithfully attends the weekly anti-Iraq War demonstrations on the Plaza and along Ward Parkway, said the majority of those who react to the demonstrations are supportive.

With a smile, both him and Cheatum do admit that some individuals are “digitally challenged” in only using only one finger when trying to give the peace sign.

“Many opponents aren’t thinking about the it (the Iraq War), and here you are reminding them about it,” said Murphy.

That and going to court seem to the best tactics being used by peace advocates working on an overall strategy of lessening the need for war.

“Economic development is reported on every day,” said Suellentrop. “The peace movement has to fight for media attention. Media likes protesters.”

Yes they do. Too bad the media doesn’t report as well on facts behind why people are protesting.

Bruce Rodgers can be contacted at


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