Sunday, July 31, 2011

Re-subscribe to the false dichotomy (no thanks)

Do you sometimes wonder if dramas like the debt ceiling crisis are manufactured in order to sway your sympathies? To keep you believing, for instance, that there's a huge, major difference between corporate Democrats and corporate Republicans?

For example, here are the sidebar ads that Google selected to show me next to results for my "debt ceiling crisis" search:


  1. The Debt Ceiling "Excuse"
    Don't Let Sen Snowe Use The Debt
    Ceiling To Cut Medicare. Call Her!
  2. Obama Debt Ceiling Plan
    Act now: don't let the GOP play
    political games with our economy.

Yesterday I found this letter in my inbox, and it made me think about the effects of false dichotomy and personification working in tandem to bewilder the American voter:

Got Obama’s back?

John Boehner and his Tea Party cronies will do anything – and I mean anything – to cripple President Obama and win an election. They don't care if we crash into the debt ceiling and ruin our economy. Their strategy is so transparent and cynical, Republican House leaders even showed their members a scene from a movie with the line, "we’re gonna hurt some people."

It's utterly shameful how far they're willing to go to stay in power. And it seems like the rest of the country is starting to notice.

Now is the time for Democrats like us to show that we will never, ever bring our economy to the brink of catastrophe – or worse – just to satiate the most unhinged members of the radical Tea Party fringe.

Republicans will stop at nothing to destroy President Obama. Give to the DGA today to show you have his back.

Click here to rush $5 or more to the DGA. We'll spend your money in the key swing states and show these Republicans that putting Tea Party fanaticism before patriotism is just plain wrong.

Critical Deadline: Less than 36 hours to raise $15,000. Stand with Obama - Don't let the Tea Party Destroy Our Values. Contribute Today.

Their hatred for our president has so blinded them that they're throwing centuries of American values out the window. They're willing to take a chance on crashing into our debt ceiling, plunging the economy into chaos, and costing us millions of jobs.

We have to fight back immediately.

Colm O'Comartun
Executive Director
Democratic Governors Association

© 2011 Democratic Governors Association

Paid for by the Democratic Governors Association. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee. Contributions are not tax deductible.
 Ah, the smell of money on the evening breeze as election season approaches.

And even though it was sent from just an info address, and even though I have no idea why I am even on their mailing list, I replied:

Dear Colm,
I do not have Pres. Obama's back. He is one of the worst presidents I've ever held my nose and voted for. His record is abysmal, especially in areas like the conduct of air strikes on civilians, and on civil liberties, education, and immigration -- all places where the executive branch has some room to act effectively.

I was thrilled to see a Black person in the White House because African-Americans really deserved that milestone, and because it encouraged more young people to aspire to higher education. But with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer at a galloping rate, there will be little opportunity for most youth suffering from institutionalized racism to ever achieve financial security. Or for our country to achieve domestic security, for that matter.


Why did I hold my nose in November '08? Because after he had clinched the nomination to run for president, Senator Obama voted yes on that year's war supplemental funding bill, voted yes to give immunity to telecom$ that helped the Bush administration spy on U.S. citizens, and tipped his hand about his intention to escalate in Afghanistan. Why didn't I vote for a third party candidate? Partly because Noam Chomsky warned that McCain was raring to attack Iran -- which I feel certain will be an utter catastrophe if it happens -- and partly because I overheard a high school freshman say to another freshman wearing a campaign button for McCain, "Do you want the world to come to an end?"

Now, with the bombing of Libya, and the extrajudicial punishment of whistleblower Bradley Manning, and the secret CIA prison in Mogadishu, and etc. piling up on Obama's watch, no amount of nose holding could contain the stench.

And the bleating of Democrats about the supposed big difference between their party and the other corporate party will become the background noise of the coming election season.

Who to vote for? I wish Ann Wright were on the ballot.
Retired Colonel and State Department officer Ann Wright, Washington DC, March, 2011.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

In the News

I promised to share coverage of the Al Jazeera bureau chief speaking event in Rockland, and am pleasantly surprised to find these articles from Bangor Daily News and Village Soup in agreement with my crowd guesstimate from yesterday's blog post: about 50 people, about 3 to 1 free speech supporters to Islam haters.
Village Soup article featured many photos, including one of my very favorite guy, with this caption: Mark Roman of Solon said he came to Rockland to make it clear that he supported free speech. He said Al Jazeera English was a "good source for news I can't get from corporate media." (Photo by: Shlomit Auciello)
Organizer Steve Burke of Mid-Coast Peace & Justice also sent a note with further info that Act! for America is a Koch brothers supported project. That does not surprise me, since their material smelled of money, and Maine has been targeted by right wing out of state money since at least the last election. Also the more I think about the vague reply I got from a reporter who was there with a professional cameraman, that they were a production company out of DC working for (wave of hand in general direction of the front of the theater) -- the more I think they were probably filming for Act! for America. For one thing, I never saw them interview anyone from the group most represented, but did interview several Islamophobes at length.

Yesterday Mark and my mom and I traveled to Bangor, invited by super organizer Ilze Peterson of the Peace & Justice Center of Eastern Maine to join an emergency demo against spending cuts to social programs during the debt "crisis" drama. We brought the banner and the Bring Our War $$ Home message and got some coverage from WABI Channel 5 tv news as well as a photo with caption in the Bangor Daily News.
GROUP PROTESTS PROPOSED CUTS TO SOCIAL SERVICES Lisa Savage of Solon, an activist with CODEPINK, speaks with the crowd during a protest in front of the Margaret Chase Smith Federal Building in Bangor on Friday, July 29, 2011. Organized by the Peace and Justice Center of Eastern Maine, the protest called for cutting military spending as an alternative to proposed cuts to social services in order to reduce the deficit.  Kate Collins | BDN
I wish you could see Mark's sign more clearly in this photo. It reads: SEN. COLLINS VOTES $2 MILLION PER WEEK FOR AFGHAN WAR. This is a timely message during a budget crisis and the week when Obama's former Intelligence chief Dennis Blair gave an interview saying drone attacks, and maybe the whole war on terror, should stop as they are ineffective and fantastically expensive. As reported by Noah Shachtman in Wired:
The reconsideration of our relationship with these countries is only the start of the overhaul Blair has in mind, however. He noted that the U.S. intelligence and homeland security communities are spending about $80 billion a year, outside of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Yet al-Qaida and its affiliates only have about 4,000 members worldwide. That’s $20 million per terrorist per year, Blair pointed out. “You think — woah, $20 million. Is that proportionate?” he asked. “So I think we need to relook at the strategy to get the money in the right places.”
You think? Meanwhile the Brits are doing some re-thinking of themselves, with the Guardian reporting Costs of British military operations in Afghanistan estimated at £18bn. That's about $29 billion, versus our

Friday, July 29, 2011

Which Side Are You On?

Yesterday approximately 50 people milled around in front of the Strand Theater in Rockland, Maine, parting to make way for the swells arriving for a fundraiser of the General Henry Knox Museum. Because the museum had invited Al Jazeera's Washington DC bureau chief Abderrahim Foukara to speak, they were being protested by around a dozen ACT! For America activists who were furious that the museum would honor such an un-American guest. Mr. Foukara hails from Morocco and previously worked for the BBC and the Canadian Broadcasting system. Probably other angry Americans would see him as one of those immigrants allegedly taking our jobs, but that wasn't the agenda on display at the Strand.

Because the call had gone out to stand against racism, hate speech, and Islamophobia, about 30 of us were on hand with messages of support for free speech, tolerance, peace and love in general, and specifically for the journalists of Al Jazeera. One woman, a Quaker, carried a sign that said: “Thanks Al Jazeera for the Arab spring reports.” Although what propelled me there was alarm over the rising tide of hateful thoughts and words that might lead to horrible deeds, I decided to go with a Founding Father quote that tied in to the issue of whether democracy requires an unfettered press: “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.” - Thomas Jefferson. This was a crowd pleaser, especially with the bow tie crowd going in to hear the talk. Numerous museum supporters called out “thank you” to the assembled peaceniks as they passed by, and one, a young woman wearing a keffiya, said she was thrilled to see CODEPINK there, and posed for a photo with us.

The hating ranters appeared to be attracting the lion's share of press coverage at the event (so what else is new), but more interesting was that they appeared to be deliberately trying to engage the witnesses for peace in public argument. (Someone who is aggressive at many peaceful events got into a shouting match with them – but that is another story.) It was my impression that the women targeted women, and the men targeted men. Their group had a commercially produced banner with the stars and stripes logo of ACT! For America, expensive glossy color brochures, books, and numerous other handouts. I overheard a reporter from the political blog Dirigo Blue telling another reporter that a Tea Party organizer in southern Maine (Rockland is in the midcoast region) had started this particular anti-Islamic ball rolling, but I see from their literature that they give a P.O. Box in Penascola, Florida as their mailing address. The spokespeople on hand were well-rehearsed, and what I overheard of their statements to reporters and to those they tried to engage in argumentation, they stayed on message and were consistent with the key points of their literature.

I have to say that the sophistication of their messaging strategy impressed me. It is neatly summed up by a cartoon from one of their handouts that specifically targeted Al Jazeera (which I heard described several times as “a mouthpiece for the Muslim Brotherhood”). A strung out, depressed looking Uncle Sam is holding a pillar labled Western Civilization in his right hand while his left hand inserts a gun labeled Liberalism into his mouth. Guess what label is on the finger about to pull the trigger for him? (Answer below.)

Islamic jihad and political correctness are equal in threating bedrock American values, according to this group. Both are portrayed as equally dangerous; because political correctness tolerates Islam, and sees extremists as hijacking what is essentially a peaceful religion. One handout included the number of deadly terror attacks by Muslims since the fall of the World Trade Center towers (17,447 in case you were wondering). It included a quote from Rep. Mike Pence claiming that Al Jazeera in March '03 “paraded five American POW's, including one woman in front of TV” and then went on to ask, “So Why is the Knox Museum giving our sworn enemy a venue to speak?” It also claimed Al Jazeera serves as an outlet for propaganda produced by al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah. This would explain why one of the group told my husband after he admitted he reads or watches Al Jazeera daily, “That just shows how sick you are.”

The organization producing the slick brochure has a photo of a possibly Black woman named Brigitte Gabriel as its face, another clever move to address possible charges of racism I suppose. A little online research turned up the author statement on Amazon: "Brigitte Gabriel (a.k.a. Nour Saman, born October 21, 1964) is the pseudonym, of a Lebanese American journalist, author, and activist." She also claims four languages, one of which is Hebrew. The folks in Rockland had signs about how all women will be slaves if we let Islam take over, so a female face works that way, too. Then, while equating “the evil scourge of Islamofascism” with Nazism and Communism (which America rose up and defeated), it invokes the statement often used by social justice workers that what is required for evil is triumph is for good men (sic) to do nothing.

Did I mention that the crowd also included several police officers in uniform, several plainclothes officers, and a sprinkling of curiousity seekers and tourists, some of whom seemed a tad too well dressed and a tad too curious to blend in well?

A woman who tried to nudge my husband off the curb into the street was visibly angry that the peaceniks had showed up at all, demanding that he move because her group had initiated the protest and felt that the sidewalk belonged to them. Luckily it was a wide sidewalk and the police were content with keeping a corridor open for pedestrians and those entering the theater.

A woman with a handmade sign claiming that your tax dollars paid for the Al Jazeera bureau chief to speak could not explain why this was, just that we could look it up online. (Me, politely: “What websites do you suggest?” Her, irritably: “I don't know, I got it from a news outlet. A reliable news outlet.”) Another woman badgered me about whether and why I was a rude person as I held my pink sign aloft behind the head of one of the Christian fundamentalists being interviewed on camera. Interestingly, though many of those present self-identified as Christian, there is not a trace of reference to that religion in the literature we brought home; this may indicate something about the money behind the organization at the national level versus where they are recruiting the boots on the ground who will take two hours on a gorgeous summer evening in Maine to picket outside a theater.

I will be interested to see how the event is portrayed in the corporatist mainstream press. More on that tomorrow.

(Answer: Islam, of course. Feel free to use this image yourself, substituting Banksters for the label on the trigger finger, and inserting Neo before Liberalism on the gun.)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Obama Drones On

Independence Day parade West Athens, Maine 7/4/09
Drone is a word that means lots of things -- it's a nickname for the au courant drug also known as "bath salts" that causes paranoid delusions and violent attacks. Hey, maybe that's what the big boys at the  head of the multinational corporations that really rule the world are high on! (I figured it was just money and greed.) It's a worker bee that dies when the frost comes. It's a continuous monotone that lulls people to sleep, like a speech composed of words not backed by substance.

And it is one of the most evil and destructive inventions of man, the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). It is used extensively right now in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, and Yemen. Drones strikes are estimated to kill about 1 militant for every 10 people, most of them innocent bystanders or, in the amoral parlance of your tax funded military-industrial complex, "collateral damage." But that's old news.
From a Between The Lines interview with Kathy Kelly on civilians killed by drones (contains links to many other good sources on drones, democracy, and terrorism).
In new news this week, Israel just shipped jumbo drones to France, ending a 42 year arms embargo.

And India began deploying drones against the Maoist rebels, indigenous people of the jungles who fight to defend their land from capitalist exploiters and thieves. Those drones were made in Israel also.

Meanwhile international journalists investigated and refuted the claim by the CIA that no civilians are killed by drones in Pakistan. And a journalist on the ground noticed how drone strikes are reported as successful at killing terrorists -- but never seem to mention the women and children whose ribbons of flesh festoon nearby trees after the attacks. So Noor Behram took his camera on the road in Waziristan and started counting.

Those who have been paying attention all along have a United Against Drones website, and some, including my CODEPINK sisters, will vigil at bases where drones are flown by remote control. They will stand outside the bases with signs pleading with the drone operators to stop and think about what they are doing, to consider that killing people via joystick in not just "a job" no matter what your commanding officer tells you. Join them on July 26 at Beale Air Force Base in Marysville, Calif.

Of course, there is no remote control way to fix our national karma. The U.S. will have to stop doing wrong, and make amends.
Mark Roman and friends at Raytheon in Northampton, Mass., June, 2011.
One thing for individuals to do: contact the White House and your reps in Congress (202-225-3121) to let them know how you feel about slashing Social Security and funding for the homeless and the hungry, in order to keep buying and using drones.

Oh, and maybe think about getting rid of that game system that trains your youngsters to be joystick killers.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Information at Work

Yesterday Islamophobia reared its ugly head in the form of a crazed killer who fed on hate language and then began bombing and shooting people in the name of cultural purity. Paul Woodward blogging on War in Context does a good job of tracing the ideological currents feeding the particular sociopathic acts of Anders Behring Breivik yesterday in Norway.

Note that the poster for a cross-Atlantic meeting of Islamophobes features graphic images reminiscent of pro-war posters of the 20th century, and that the flag of Israel is prominent in the toxic stew of nationalism depicted. The image reminds me of all kinds of antiquated, idealistic notions -- like the melting pot, and a U.S. fueled by the strength of its successive waves of immigration. Also why propaganda needs the talents of artists.

Hot on the heels of that news came an email link to a thrashingly good op-ed in Truthout by Barbara Ellis calling for Works Progess Administration II. I am embarrassed to admit that this is exactly what I expected Obama to do in his first week in office. I even expected him to sweep aside the writers who pen crap like "winning the future" and go with a proven successful brand name, WPA. There was already tons of awareness to build on. (A friend I grew up with told me she asked her mother what the mom's brother would have done if he had not gone into the WPA work force during the Great Depression. "Starved," said her mom.) And WPA artists were the best!
Ellis did her homework and includes lots of fun facts about WPA as it was, and she details the infrastructure needs here at home right now that could be addressed. She also notes that a likely reason for the tepid drawdown from Afghanistan is fear of bringing home tens of thousands more to join the ranks of the 15 million already unemployed in the U.S. today.

The problems of employing some of those PTSD suffering returnees is the subject of a young adult novel that a fellow teacher and I finished this summer, now available on Amazon as a Kindle book (you can also download reading software, and read the first few chapters, for free).
But the Obama administration may think they have the jobs problem i.e. the economic Great Depression II problem solved. Check out their exhaustive list of great job opportunities OVERSEAS! Blogger Martha Shelley wrote about all the many employment opportunities "servicing" the military via cake decoration, clerking at a hotel desk or store, and much more. Thanks to Martha for sharing this link to the full list of jobs online.

No need for a new poster. The old WPA produced the perfect one already:

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Power of Letters

On July 28 at 5pm I will be in front of the Strand Theater in Rockland, Maine, standing against the racism and Islamophobia that broke out in response to a local history museum inviting Al Jazeera's Washington bureau chief to speak at their annual fundraiser. (Thanks to Midcoast Peace and Justice for organizing.) Tickets for the evening with Abderrahim Foukara are $35, and I probably won't be attending his talk; I'll read about it in the press later. Isn't that what journalism is for?

The event has raised the hackles of hundreds who voted in a depressing Bangor Daily News poll that asked: Do you agree with the decision to have Al-Jazeera’s Washington, D.C., bureau chief speak at a fundraiser for the General Henry Knox Museum? After my vote the count stood at YES 468 (25%) versus NO 1,374 (75% of 1,842 total votes). This from a paper described by the more rabid posters as "liberal."

The event raises money for the General Henry Knox Museum. Henry was a class warrior who triumphed, a buddy of George Washington and land speculator, who died allegedly choking on a chicken bone.

From the museum's website emerge hints of a social history begging to be told:
"He dabbled in many of the emerging businesses in midcoast Maine: He shipped timber, quarried lime, made bricks, experimented with agriculture, built canals on the Georges River and got involved with land speculation. Most in Thomaston welcomed him, despite what was perceived as his wife's haughtiness and fondness for gambling, as well as his struggles with squatters."
Appropriately enough, earlier in the season the museum invited Dr. Konstantin Dierks, Associate Professor of American History at Indiana University (Bloomington) and Associate Editor of The Historical Review, to discuss his work on the cultural, social, economic, and political history of communications. Dierks: "The American Revolution and the War of American Independence were fought over paper and with paper, over letters and with letters."

Nowadays such struggle are fought over bytes, with bytes.

According the the BDS,
The annual gala fundraiser is one of the museum’s biggest events, (Executive Director Ellen) Dyer said, adding that tickets are still available. Foukara follows in the footsteps of philanthropist Doris Buffet, last year’s speaker, and CBS newsman Bob Schieffer, who headlined the event in 2009. “I anticipate that this will be a success as well,” she said of Foukara’s speech. “We’re trying to promote an open conversation about what’s going on in the world now. Free speech is very much in keeping with what the Founding Fathers were trying to fight for.”
         The comments on the BDS article about the controversy are a Rorschach ink blot test of 21st century U.S. racism and jingoism, managing to slur everything from European-style single payer health care to "libtards" who allegedly supported Sadaam Hussein. Only a couple of posters seemed to have awareness of where Al Jazeera is based (Qatar) and whether it can really be considered a non-biased news source for the Arab spring uprisings, especially those taking place in oil rich Libya. Posters included birthers and several who self-identified as Vietnam vets, while topics ranged from the role of journalism in the age of Rupert Murdoch and phone hacking, to 9/11 as a false flag operation, the tax exempt status of churches vs. their role as political advocates, and the bill of rights, specifically the 1st amendment right to free speech. A recurring theme was what language we would all be speaking if certain posters had not sacrificed (self-appointed to speak for those who made the ultimate sacrifice, by the way) e.g. I gave you four years on the ground so you aren't speaking Russian right now.  

Posters argued, often at length, over freedom of religion, federal control of food production, the intricacies of Islamic applied theology, U.S. immigration policy -- and its history, and several revolutions besides just the successful tax revolt by a powerful bunch of aspiring landowners back in 1776. Posters urged that Mecca be nuked, and wished for Harry Truman to come back (Truman's name came up several times, actually). They discussed how to recognize propaganda, and debated when and where it is properly deployed. In a thread arguing that no WMDs were ever found in Iraq, and that even the CIA and the Republican Party admit it, is found this typical post: maybe not but they sure do have al queda and train their babies to kill Americans. duh!

Others that attracted my attention out of the 700+ posts:
Al-Jazeera has an agenda -- that is world-wide Sharia. It's funny (that's ironic) how people will scream "free speech" when the enemies of our freedoms want to talk, but if anyone pro-Israel wants to talk, they get death threats and hate speech and canceled.  Yet we give platforms to the worst sort of hate-mongers in the world. 

We have killed million around the world just because they wouldn't let American corporations screw them and steal their resources...all sold to the American public as 'protecting American interests' b.s. Don't post on things of which you clearly know nothing about...another proud product of our public indoctrination system.

As usual these days, public education took several hits. One poster contemptuously asked of someone who attributed the attack on Pearl Harbor to the U.S. denying oil to imperial Japan, did you learn that in public school?

Everything I need to know about Islam I learned on 11 September 2001.
End of discussion.  

Fact:  Muslims have started far fewer wars in the past 1000 years than Christians have.
Also:  It was a christian who led the holocaust.  

...although he (Hitler) made public statements which seemed to affirm religion, it was purely for political purposes. 

How much do you people hate America? Are you for real, inviting our enemy to speak. I can only hope enough protesters will show up and drown out his speech. Oh I forgot that's a liberal tactic.

There was some reasonable dialogue:
How exactly is a journalist from a multi-national news organization our enemy
it's like a house of cards.  if this speaker makes any sense, is human and in front of us, we might not hate him.  if we don't hate *him* then all Muslims aren't terrorists and that would blow our collective minds. 

HeartofSky  commented A nation afraid of...a journalist. Interesting. And also added this to the discussion: DirecTV satellite in Bangor carries Al Jazeera now. 
And some funnies:
Not every organization named Al ______ is a terrorist organization. If that is the criteria for a terrorist organization than Mr. Yankovic better run for the hills before the lynch mob comes to get him.

If there were two sides to the posting "debate" they might be characterized as:

I couldn't care less about Arabs or Al Jazeera or Isreal for that matter.  I care about America.  Islam, Sharia, Arabs and Al Jazeera should stay on their side of the planet! 


If we continue to play the ostrich and hide our heads, the world will eat us alive. We need to be more open and listen. If we just keep killing everyone we do not agree with, people will realize we are the problem and get us... just a thought.

Trumped by: They are desecrating our historical heritage - don't they know there is a war going on?

'Nuff said. See you in Rockland on July 28, or wherever else Islamophobia rears its ugly, un-American head. 
April 9, 2011 New York City rally of thousands against wars & racism

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Rebuild The Dream That People's Voices Matter

While Congress and the President play chicken with the nation's solvency, house parties in thousands of communities around the country will convene this weekend to consider what is to become of our hopes for economic recovery. In an attempt to generate a consensus on our collective future, the grassroots group that helped catapult Obama from the Senate to the White House is meeting again in towns like yours under the rubric “Rebuild the American Dream.”

Cynics will recall that, in the run-up to the 2008 election, MoveOn gathered small contributions that amounted to a sweeping mandate for change – one that few of us continue to believe in. Widespread disgust with the warmongering of the Bush Jr. administration pushed people in the U.S. to demand an end to occupation of Iraq. Alarm at the shredding of funding for public education, health care, alternative energy, environmental protection and the like sent us to the ballet box in droves. There, many held their noses and voted for a platform that promised social spending, an end to at least one war, and the return  of said Dream i.e. the expectation that future generations might be able to work their way to home ownership, health care, and a decent retirement.

Now while debate swirls around the debt ceiling and whether or not the super wealthy ought to be able to buy clever accountants and lawyers to avoid paying taxes, we, the people, are again invited to gather.
That's why CODEPINK is calling on members to “bring the PINK” by their vocal presence demanding recognition for the imperative to bring war dollars home if there is to be any hope of economic progress. Using crowd sourcing, MoveOn generated a short list of what it might take to rebuild a durable promise of prosperity for most. Job creation topped the list, while redirecting military spending to social needs stood at #4.

Building things rather than destroying them is an obvious corrective in lean times. A typical smart (sic) bomb of the type that the Obama administration has dropped on thousands of civilians costs about the same as employing 25 school teachers for a year. Even as a jobs program, building weapons of mass destruction is an epic fail; light rail or energy efficient housing construction would generate employment for twice as many people.

None of this is mentioned by the change agent MoveOn put in office. In fact, in his Twitter town hall recently the President insisted that cutting the military budget was just not an option. In a nod to his campaign contributors the POTUS wrote:
I announced that we were going to begin drawing down troops in Afghanistan and pivot to a transition process where Afghans are taking more responsibility for their defense. 
But we have to do all of this in a fairly gradual way.  We can’t simply lop off 25 percent off the defense budget overnight. We have to think about all the obligations we have to our current troops who are in the field, and making sure they’re properly equipped and safe.  We’ve got to make sure that we are meeting our commitments for those veterans who are coming home.  We’ve got to make sure that -- in some cases, we’ve got outdated equipment that needs to be replaced.
Just prior to Obama's tepid announcement of a gradual drawdown (of the troops he had already surged in) a White House spokesman asked what role the souring of public opinion on the war in Afghanistan would play replied that "it really doesn't play a role."

This was astonishingly honest, if spectacularly ill-informed.

With Noam Chomsky reporting that "80% of the population of the United States believes that the government is 'run by a few big interests looking out for themselves,' not 'for the benefit of all the people,'" can regime change be far behind? Obama will, of course, continue to pretend like his forefathers that we can safely be ignored.
When ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz cited polling data showing majority opposition to the Iraq war, Cheney responded, "So?" Asked, "So--you don't care what the American people think?" he responded, "No," and explained, "I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls."
But pretending will not erase shocking disparities in net worth that cannot be ignored by most of us. In a recent analysis of women's economic status is a much needed reminder that, for many, the Dream never arrived in the first place. In a metric that reflects home ownership still out of reach for many in the U.S., sociologist Mariko Chang found:
“...while white women in the prime working years of ages 36-49 have a median wealth of $42,600 (still only 61% of their white male counterparts), the median wealth for women of color is only $5.”
So get to a Dream house party and say your piece, for what it's worth. Then get into the streets and stay there until our voices cannot be ignored.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Do you call Congress more than you call Mom?

Office visits are good, too. Here a group of us meet with Rep. Chellie Pingree in her Portland office.
Sometimes we activists ask ourselves: how many times do we need to contact our elected representatives to let them know how we feel about out of control spending on the military?  When we call their offices, are they even listening? The staffers who answer their office phones are polite and assure us they will pass along the message. We can often develop a relationship with policy aides if we work at it. But are we really getting through?

This week a coalition of peace and justice workers teamed up to send a targeted message on the eve of the FY 2012 Defense Authorization vote. More than one hundred organizations, both national and grassroots, from all over the country, signed a letter to the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) urging support for Rep. Barbara Lee's amendment to restrict spending on Afghanistan to getting out now in an orderly fashion, and demanding a NO vote on the $648.7 billion defense bill, including $118 billion to continue the wars.

The letter, which can be read online, called on the CPC to lead the way out of the wilderness of economic distress by bringing the war dollars home and reinvesting them in jobs, schools, and other real human needs. It pointed out that the U.S. Conference of Mayors overwhelmingly passed their own war dollars home resolution last month in Baltimore.

Rep. Lee referenced the historic resolution – the first time the mayors had addressed war spending since the height of the Vietnam War in 1971 – in her remarks on the floor of the House prior to the vote. CODEPINK played a leading role in drafting the resolution, and gathering mayoral support for its passage – so we were very excited to hear Rep. Lee mention it in the Congressional debate!

CODEPINK helped draft the CPC letter and the press advisory announcing it, and of course gathered many of the signatures. And we committed in the letter to support Progressive Caucus members of Congress who stick their necks out to speak against war funding demanded by the Obama Administration.

We know our representatives are pressured by their party leadership to toe the line and vote yes on legislation that continues to pour tax dollars into the coffers of weapon systems manufacturers. Reps who listen to their constituents rather than their own party face the threat of losing campaign funding for re-election.

How better to support your rep than by letting her or him know you're paying attention and you support them when they do the right thing, and vote to bring our war dollars home?

One sign that you're getting through: a return call like the one I had last week from Willy Ritch, Policy Advisor & Communications Director for Rep. Chellie Pingree. Willy wanted to send me links to media coverage of the Congresswoman from Maine speaking out about the need to bring the troops and the money home from Afghanistan. Her message made the front page of the Portland Press Herald, and re-reading it made me realize that I hadn't called her office today.

So I just did. Why not join me? Congressional switchboard: 202-225-3121
Pat Taub, C.J. Minster, me and Willy Ritch in Rep. Pingree's office April 4, 2011.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Declare Independence from Military-Industrial Complex

Independence is a myth. We life forms are all inter-dependent and related to one another, whether we acknowledge it or not. A tax revolt by some rich landowners resulted in an attractive document and an appealing ideology: no monarchs, and an educated (read: literate) and well-informed populace engaged in self-government. Unless they were female, indigenous, African, underage, or just plain poor. (RIP Howard Zinn.)

People sometimes wonder, why do I care so much about Afghanistan? Because I've been there? Maybe because I've paid taxes for decades now, and they are mostly used to bomb people, and for ten years many of those people were Afghans.
No, it's mostly because the students in the schools where I teach are used as cannon fodder. The school board allows the recruiters right in the lunch room. The poverty draft is blowing so hard at this point it sweeps a lot of people right off their unemployed feet.

My friend and I will publish a novel for teens this week that looks at another aspect of the long war: living with family members after they come back from deployment suffering from PTSD. This is also a fact of life for many of my students, and the surrounding community.

My husband and I refused to pay part of our federal income taxes this year. That was an act of rebellion, of dissent and, yes, independence. The amount we refused to pay was far less than 56% of what we owed, which would have represented the portion of everyone's federal spending on military this fiscal year. But most of what we owed had been deducted from my paycheck already. So we just refused to write a check for $600 or so. The IRS sent us a letter claiming we had filed a frivolous 1040 form. Au contraire, I have seldom done anything that was less frivolous.

Why do my friends who were arrested in Athens fasting at the U.S. Embassy care about Gaza? It is far away from where they make their homes, and practically invisible to most USians.
Medea Benjamin & Ann Wright on the US boat to Gaza "The Audacity of Hope" as it tries to sail from Greece to escape sabotage during weeks of bureaucratic delays & false accusations.
They care because they know that people are being collectively punished; Gaza has been blockaded since its people elected Hamas candidates back in the free and fair elections of '05. The corruption and collaboration of the Palestinian Authority may have been revealed to the rest of the world via Wikileaks this year, but to the largely refugee population in Gaza it was old news. And after Israel's Operation Cast Lead attacks in '08 destroyed so much and so many lives (detailed in a report by Amnesty International) -- the blockade of construction materials, medicine and school supplies continues.

Medea and Ann don't launch rockets into Israel. They signed a pledge to uphold the principles of nonviolent methods. Besides, the pen really is mightier than the sword. Flotilla 2 -- Stay Human has been a public relations battle of epic proportions, one Israel is losing.

Tactics include publicizing the effort to sail to Gaza with thousands of letters of support to the people there; inviting the press to an open inspection of the boat "Audacity of Hope"; sailing and then having their boat forced back to port as seen in this video, and their captain arrested; fasting and then being arrested in front of the U.S. embassy in Athens (since the Greeks have told flotilla passengers they are not allowed to sail because their own government has demanded it); and calling on people like you and me to contact the U.S. State Department after it told the flotilla passengers if they got hurt it was their own fault for being provocative.

If you like to study history as I do, you will have noticed that acts seen as provocative at the time -- and roundly condemned by those in power -- are often revealed as revolutionary in hindsight. Because they offered an analysis that was missing from the received wisdom of their day.

Here's the most revolutionary thing I know: nonviolent methods are effective; they do not require a peaceful disposition to practice; they work whether or not practitioners and observers believe in them; they do not require charismatic leaders; and they are sure to be opposed with violence. I believe they are our last best hope for saving the world from endless warfare and environmental catastrophe.

I invite you to join me in studying nonviolent methods.
Suffragettes released from jail, 1909

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Power of Money vs. Love, News

Is it love or is it money that makes the world go round?

This week money appeared to be winning as the Greek government was congratulated by Israel's PM Netanyahu on helping to extend the blockade of Gaza around the Mediterranean.

As quoted by Barak Ravid in Ha'aretz (via Mondoweiss):
“The flotilla organizers did not take into account that Greece of July 2011 is not the Greece of May 2010...and now they are paying the price,” said a top Israeli official that worked intensively in the past few months to prevent the Gaza flotilla mission from taking place.
The reference, of course, is to the economic collapse of the Greek national economy at the hands of international bankers. The threat of defaulting on loan payments, and the pillaging of public coffers once used to feed penshioners, has spawned austerity measures on top of belt tightening, plus resistance in the form of demonstrations that continue unabated.

The irony of a seafaring nation like Greece enabling sabotage of seagoing vessels – vessels ironically languishing in port on the pretext that they need to be inspected for safety! It will be topped only by the irony of a nation, supposed to have been the cradle of democracy, caving to bullying by oligarchs dangling purses fat with gold. ("Netanhayu has become Greece's lobbyist to the E.U.," Ha'aretz reported an Israeli diplomat commenting on the situation.)

As for who will pay the price, it may be that PM Papandreou of Greece does not believe in the Hindu concept of karma. That is his prerogative, certainly. But in the short term he may find himself one of the unlucky ones who ignore history and then are forced to repeat it. The last head of state who had the curtain pulled back to revealed his complicity with the U.S. and Israel in enforcing the siege of Gaza – ex-president Hosni Mubarak of Egypt.

The Gaza Freedom March, as you may recall, followed Operation Cast Lead, Israel's brutal attack on the population of Gaza and its schools, hospitals, and water treatment infrastructure. An international effort, the GFM brought various delegations to Cairo to plead with Mubarak's government to allow them to cross by land at Rafah and bring relief to the blockaded people of Gaza. Rafah remained closed except to a token few, but the effort focused attention on Egypt's complicity in enforcing the blockade – very much againt the will of its own people, and those of surrounding nations.

The last Freedom Flotilla sailed but was attacked in international waters as it approached Gaza. Israeli naval commandos boarded the ships; they opened fire on the Mavi Marmara, killing nine people outright and wounding many more. (Eyewitnesses report they ground women's faces into broken glass on the deck of the ship.) Much bad press followed, and international Boycott Divestment & Sanction (BDS) efforts to pressure Israel increased.

This year's Freedom Flotilla 2 – Stay Human has revealed intense pressure by the U.S. and Israel to prevent the delivery of, among other relief cargo, thousands of letters to Gaza. Pulitzer prize winning author Alice Walker anticipated that a promised attack by Israel's military on the US boat “ Audacity of Hope” would be akin to biting the mailman.

No one is surprised by Israel or U.S. bullying. When your own government threatens you with harm and announces in advance that it will fail to protect your safety and human rights in international waters, you know you have passed the stages of being ignored or ridiculed. At that point your activism is starting to threaten the success of manufacturing consent, and they will fight you.

But there has been some surprise that the current regime in Greece has now become complicit in mass punishment of Gazans.

Demo outside Greek embassy in Ldn, for preventing #flotilla2 ... on Twitpic
Demonstration at Greek Embassy in London: let the flotilla sail!

And that is why the flotilla organizers have already succeeded in their quest to shine a light on the dark underside of the siege of Gaza. Whatever they decide in their big meeting today – set out for Iceland, scrap the effort and declare p.r. mission accomplished – they have brought some truth even to those who receive all their “news” from corporate media sources.

Because sometimes money isn't enough to silence the voices of love.