Saturday, April 30, 2011

Epicenter 日本 in the info wars

TEPCO executives bow to apologize for continuing to lie to Fukushima area refugees. (Al Jazeera English, which cable t.v. in the US refuses to carry. Get it online, while you still can.)
Japan is kind of off the radar now that weeks have passed; beautiful people are having lavish weddings, the Arab spring shows no sign of peaking, we're bogged down in Afghanistan, and the clowns representing the false dichotomy are up to their usual antics.

But I'm still paying attention.

I'm not very knowledgable about science, but I know people who are. They tell me about what radiation dangers really exist and continue to loom over all of us as the result of the earthquake-tsunami-Fukushima disaster.

Information is my thing. So here is some for you all.

The Japanese Prime Minister's expert on radiation quit in protest over the government ignoring his advice by raising acceptable levels for children to unacceptable levels for scientists.

You may remember Yoichi Shimatsu's article a few weeks back suggesting that some of the contradictions and omissions in TEPCO's public statements could be explained if there were a secret nuclear weapons facility concealed within Fukushima's plant. He untangles some of the specific statements and contradictions he's talking about in a subsequent article on the website Global Researcher.

Japanese are crowd sourcing radiation data because they can't get good information from either TEPCO or the government. There is a website where you can join in contributing financially to support the effort.

Meanwhile I am just about through co-teaching the book Hiroshima to 9th graders. It was purely coincidental that their regular English teacher had planned this spring to guide them through John Hersey's historic account of the first mass radiation sickness event. She knew I'd lived in Japan and invited me to infuse some history and some literacy support into a unit she's taught before.
Barefoot Gen, a manga about the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima. Image from Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.
The students' excellent big question as they near the end of the book: Why was an atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima?

They already know about WWII and Pearl Harbor, but that doesn't seem to them sufficient to explain the level of suffering inflicted on civilians.

What's the best answer -- so the U.S. could colonize and permanently militarize a nifty archipelago just off China's eastern coast?

The students most likely don't know about the suspicions around what's really going on at the Fukushima plant, because they really have no news sources. And, even if they did, the ones they would be almost certain to encounter would NEVER cover a critically interesting investigative story like that.

A parent told me the other night that she was amazed that she, herself, had never heard of Rachel Corrie being killed by an Israeli bulldozer until her daughter came home talking about it. The mom is sure that if she had ever seen this news on t.v. or in the newspaper, she would have remembered.

Why isn't information allowed to be free? Because information is power. (Radiation data site here.)

And the Forces of Greed want to make sure the youth of the U.S., and the people of Japan, and the world, don't get their hands on it.

postscript: !Bravo! to Peru for passing legislation that Internet access is a fundamental human right.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Night Raids in Occupied Palestine

Move Over AIPAC needs you in DC May 21-24!
Latest report from CODEPINK Greater Boston's Ridgely Fuller in the West Bank right now:

Back in the Awarta area for the past four days I continue to feel so helpless and outraged by the daily army and settler violence inflicted on its residents constituting nothing less than unending collective punishment on the community. Every night  since I have returned either the settlers/ army or both have entered the town, broken into peoples homes, firebombed the mosque. dropped flares to terrify the population and keep it off balance. The girls report at school that the soldiers simply tell them during the breakins that they will be back night after night.As I mentioned earlier the women have been gathered in 'sweeps' ..called via sound systems to come into the the streets, walk to the army base, have a number  ( in Hebrew) secured to their shoulder, wait outside for questioning. One mother with no one to look after her 2.4 month old, stood outside the interrogation center with her baby in the cold for the entire night.

There is little we, as internationals can do..many residents are afraid to putting internationals in danger by letting them sleep in their homes and suffering even more consequences.The Palestinian Authority is seen as complicit with the Israeli army in that they have not visited, responded to calls from the community for an international investigation. So the plan is to carefully get peoples' stories and then go after media attention, both with in Palestine as well as abroad....I have been working on this and also on getting official permission for internationals to have an ongoing presence in the schools.

In addition to Awarta, time is spent trying to help a poor small farming community Izbet a Tabib where 32 of their 45 homes are under Israeli demolition orders for being located in an' agricultural zone'...Even more pressing is the Israeli army's imminent plan to take 15 dunums( around 4 acres) of their BEST land , heavily planted with old olive trees which runs along a' settler only' road. The Army has already taken 45 dunums of the land, for one farmer this additional confiscation would wipe out all his land. The Israelis say that stones have been thrown at settler cars from this area although  there has never been questioning or an arrest of anyone in the village for stone-throwing during the past ten years...if there has been (highly skeptical) any problem the solution would be to provide security to the cars..perhaps a patrol.. not confiscate private property. I got in touch with ..hope you know these miracle workers by now..Awad and our own Mazin.. .like calling on the cavalry in my estimation.
 Awad immediately took the head farmer to the lawyers and they will submit a 'stay' of the proposed fence in the superior court today....the reasoning is, at best, delay -delay- delay..cost the Israeli occupation (US tax payer) big bucks..as Mazin reminds us the Wall begun in 2002 was supposed to be completed in 2 years at a cost of around $ 2 billion and now,2011, 70% completed for a price tag of about $8 billion.

Also, potentially significant for the community: apparently, as an indication of how strong the Palestinian legal case is, the Israeli civil administration felt compelled to alert the farmers' lawyer as to when the start of the fence building....of course we will use this time table to the Palestinian advantage...more as it unfolds!

Take care,
Ridgely

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Torture USA

 Support Bradley Manning, click here.
In the gulag, it doesn't matter if you broke the law. The "decider" can say you broke the law, even though he is a constitutional law teacher who knows better, knows that you are supposed to get a trial to establish whether you did, in fact, break the law.

It also doesn't matter if you actually respected the spirit of the law by revealing evidence of highly illegal acts. The revelation being technically illegal, but morally superior by several upticks to the the beatings and psychological tactics administered at  Guantánamo  -- for being a journalist with info, or for having the type of Casio watch Al-Qaeda was experimenting with as a bomb detonator.

Not for having been tried and convicted in a court of law like the Constitution guarantees.

Used to guarantee.

We already knew about this stuff, at least since the Winter Soldier hearings in 2008. Here is veteran Chris Arendt on How to Become a Concentration Camp Guard Without Really Trying.


Now Wikileaks spills lots more, and the New York Times slaps Obama's wrist for opposing release of the information. The revelations on the complicity of medical personnel are so deeply horrible they arrest my breath, and I think of the irony of it happening in Cuba with all their good doctors.

I refuse to call it Gitmo, an ugly neologism like Af-Pak that reduces words to barked out orders. The word Guantánamo is lovely and graceful and sounds Cuban, not like a gulag for torture.

I would like to offer as an apology to all those who have suffered in the US secret prisons operated around the world by the Forces of Greed this recording of the song "Guantanamera," a song my mom used to sing when I was still an innocent kid. Here it is superbly performed by Celia Cruz.



And I offer new words:

You broke my heart when you tortured
The beautiful ones, and the bad ones.
You broke my heart when the young soldiers
Had to watch all this being done.
How could our Constitution
ever stand for something like this?
If there is such a thing as a court,
I hope all you torturers stand before it.

Guantanamera...oh women of Guantánamo
And may the indigenous
grandmothers save us.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Shock Doctrine in Your State Yet?

Because I am on Maine State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin's email list, I received this cheerful message about how the ship is going down and it's all the fault of the pension "debt" burdening Maine. And, by the way, Happy Easter.

I was expecting something of the sort since reading that the U.S. had received a negative rating from Standard & Poor on treasury bonds. Shock doctrine, as you may recall, is Naomi Klein's thesis that the Forces of Greed will jump on a crisis and use the opportunity to line their own pockets at the expense of the people because it's an "emergency."

The real emergency in our state is the failure to tax the rich, to make corporations pay their fair share of taxes, plus shortfalls in federal funds due to the steady drain of Congress spending and borrowing to finance outrageously expensive wars abroad.

The lies being promoted here by Poliquin are to be expected from someone who forgot to change out of his Wall St. dress shoes to attend a public forum at the Skowhegan Community Center when he was running in the Republican primary for governor last year. I am sharing them with you because these same lies are parroted constantly by Fox "News" and other right wing media outlets, and your neighbors are listening. Arm yourself with the facts and look for opportunities to have a conversation about the REAL cause of our fiscal woes.

Water carriers for the Forces of Greed are always going to make misleading arguments. Glaring in this message: that the LePage budget would help solvency of the state's public employee pension funds. In fact, the raids on state employee and educator pension funds are intended to reduce the state's contribution, not shore up the funds. Also that "everyone" will have to suffer to bring budgets into the black. Everyone except Bank of America, Exxon, and the wealthy of Maine who will get to keep an additional $1 million before having to pay any estate tax if LePage and Poliquin's budget passes.

Also, Poliquin is being disingenuous when he claims Maine can't solve the problem like Washington does by printing more money (true about the fed, see a hilarious grim video explaining it here). Maine passed a law requiring the pension fund to be in a certain state of solvency by a certain deadline, and it can pass a law to remove the artificial deadline, too. It can IF it chooses to take a path toward true fiscal health, rather than scaring people into stampeding to the right while slashing and cutting essential programs for the neediest among us along the way.

Here's the email from Poliquin. See if you can spot the conflict of interest as reader Jon Olsen did:
SHOT ACROSS OUR FISCAL BOW
On Monday, global investors delivered what Washington politicians have been unable, or unwilling, to deliver -- seriousness about our surging national debt.

Standard & Poor's, the prominent rating agency, surprised the financial world with its new credit assessment of U.S. Treasury bonds: the previous AAA "stable outlook" was dropped to a "negative outlook."  A negative outlook is not a credit downgrade, but it can lead to one if our federal government's financial situation doesn't improve.  A downgrade would likely cost taxpayers higher interest payments on Treasury bonds sold to raise money to fund government spending.  Investors typically demand a higher interest rate return for buying a lower-credit, higher-risk bond.

There's no free lunch. There's always a day of fiscal reckoning.

Washington has been spending taxpayer dollars at breakneck speed.  Our highly-regulated, highly-taxed domestic economy (vs. other industrialized countries) cannot generate the tax revenues needed to pay for this spending binge.  So, to pay the bills, Washington has racked up a $14 trillion tab -- $14 TRILLION!

To make matters worse, the feds have no plan to pay off the debt. They recklessly print more dollars to pay the interest and principal on the borrowed money (the U.S. Treasury bonds).  This rapid expansion of the supply of money cheapens the value of the dollar, and ultimately leads to inflation - the cruelest tax paid by everyone to purchase everyday needs.

Standard & Poor's critical eye toward the creditworthiness of the federal government pleads for fiscal sanity.  Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), who heads the Congressional Budget Committee, has offered a credible path to retire roughly $6 trillion of debt over the next decade.  Because the fiscal can has been kicked down the street for so long, the solution will be very painful.  Everyone will suffer for the past fiscal mismanagement: retirees depending on Social Security; seniors counting on Medicare; the most disadvantaged needing Medicaid; students hoping for a college loan; businesses looking to grow and hire more workers.  However, as we've seen for many years, not addressing our stifling national debt today means confronting an even bigger problem tomorrow.

What can Maine learn from Washington's mistakes?

First, our state government cannot live beyond its means without consequence.  Second, telling the unvarnished truth about our serious fiscal problems helps to solve them.  And, third, not looking at the next election keeps our priorities straight.

The Maine Legislature is now debating Governor LePage's proposed biennial budget.  It includes fair and reasonable reforms to address the $4.3 billion pension debt to pay the retirement benefits for teachers and state employees.  If adopted, these changes will reduce the debt and spiking annual payments (an updated $409 million this next fiscal year) by more than 50%.  This, in turn, will allow state government to live within its means and adequately fund core services like public education and road repair.

There's no silver bullet to save us from the $4.3 billion pension debt.  Unlike Washington, by law Maine must balance its state budget each year.  And, Augusta can't print money for those tempted to do so.

It's now in the hands of the Legislature.

The Legislature will likely vote on the Governor's proposed budget, with or without adjustments, by early June.  Let's hope everyone in state government has the good judgment and discipline to point this ship in a more fiscally prudent direction.  Maine is a small state.  It doesn't take much to change course.

Now, close your eyes and imagine a state government with its long-term fiscal house in order.  A Maine that spends only what it takes in and pays its bills on time, including the $4.3 billion pension debt.  One that borrows less and balances its books without gimmicks.  One of those handful of states that spends less, taxes less, and regulates less.  A fiscally stable Maine that attracts fiscally responsible entrepreneurs who create jobs for our young workers. A place where quality of life includes a healthy paycheck.
 
Thank you and Happy Easter!

Bruce L. Poliquin
Maine State Treasurer
 
(Bruce Poliquin's comments are as State Treasurer, and not as a trustee of the Maine Public Employees Retirement System)

Forces of Greed in action

The bad news is coming so thick and fast this week, it's hard to keep up, even on vacation.

Latest is this news shared by my sister in pink, Desiree Fairooz, on nurses, paramedics, ambulance drivers, and doctors disappearing in Bahrain. Security forces are cracking down brutally in that country, presumably because of the supreme importance of Bahrain remaining a friendly home for a massive U.S. Navy presence which supports, among other things, our occupation of Afghanistan.

Then yesterday in Syria pro-democracy demonstrators were gunned down in large numbers. A Syrian activist I heard on the radio yesterday explained that security forces torturing 13 year-olds for painting anti-regime graffiti was the spark that sent people into the streets a few weeks ago, starting a resistance movement that continues to build.

Then there is a new deployment of unmanned aerial vehicles by the US military, this time in Libya. President Obama completely owns this third undeclared, unsustainable and unaffordable war, which he wages on behalf of profits for his campaign contributors. Codepink says: Ground the drones!
West Athens 4th of July parade '09
Bradley Manning was in the news as he was moved to a different prison at Ft. Leavenworth in Kansas. Probably hoped to be further from potential protestors, but don't count on it: plans are already underway for a national level demo there on June 4. You can join the facebook Bradley Manning Support team here.

But keep in mind, you don't need to travel to (my husband's least favorite state) Kansas to protest the prolonged solitary confinement of Pfc. Manning, locked up for nearly a year without trial on suspicion of being brave enough to reveal the ugly truth about US military occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan. If you have big bucks you can buy your way in and creatively disrupt a fundraiser for Obama's re-election campaign. (Disappointingly, the lyrics to the song turn out to say they will vote for him anyway. WTF?)

Or, if no spare bucks, stand outside a make a ruckus about serving the Forces of Greed wherever the POTUS turns up.
Beverly Hills, CA  May 27, 2009 -- Go Pink!

Friday, April 22, 2011

A good reason to go to war?

April vacation, 2009, with Martha and Liz -- same problem, higher cost every day.
I am in Washington DC for some citizen lobbying during my week of school vacation. Ok, I'm also here because pea-size hail was falling on my husband in Maine as we spoke on the phone yesterday. I admit, the warmth and cherry blossoms do beckon in April.

To get up to speed on events around town I called Medea, and she pointed me toward a public policy discussion of the current situation in the graveyard of empires, Afghanistan War: Containing or Leveraging U.S. Power? The Afghanistan Study Group has a good report just out and executive director Matthew Hoh was one of the panelists; Ray McGovern was in the audience, and there were also a number of right wing types who hate the war in Afghanistan. That is, they hate it now that it's Obama's war; before that, they loved it.

CODEPINK wants to pressure the president to bring troops home in large numbers in July, like he promised. So I went to see who else wants to do the same.

Ann Coulter might say that's what she wants to do, but I doubt that she's clear on that point.

During the panel discussion previous to hers, wonky types served up the usual hash of conflicting priorities and unintended consequences. Hoh, a former Marine officer who resigned from the State Department in protest of U.S. policy in Afghanistan, was a beacon of clarity, describing the current situation as a "stalemate" and pointing out that the U.S. is neglecting political efforts in favor of just applying force -- which has not, and will not, get the job done.

Georgetown assistant professor C. Christine Fair participating via video link made some good points,  describing what she termed "the certitude surplus," ridiculous in the face of a lack of real intelligence about Al Qaeda or for that matter the Taleban in Afghanistan. She also wondered how apologists for the war could talk about supporting women's rights "when there are basic human rights lacking. And I say this as a full ovulator." LOL
Malalai Joya (with C.J. Minster) April 7, 2011 in Los Angeles: “War will never help Afghan women. If we have the opportunity, I am sure Afghan women will liberate ourselves with the support of progressive Afghan men.”
By the time Ann came on I'd been listening for a couple of hours, so although she was both as vapid and as snarky as the meanest cheerleader at your high school, her performance was good comic relief.

McGovern, a former CIA analyst, had earlier asked the panel if the fact that there are significant natural gas deposits north of Afghanistan might be driving policy. You think? If Ann believed him, she'd probably be all gung-ho for Afghanistan conquest (again) because she did say of the "good" war, Iraq: "Of course we shuld go to war 'just' for oil -- it's like going to war 'just' for oxygen."
Coulter's bewildered main message on Afghanistan (or maybe it was Libya): Could there be any explanation for why the Democratic party supports wars (she used to support) that serve no American interests? Other than that liberals are totally disloyal and hate our country?

I was pretty sure I knew a reasonable explanation so I put my hand up several times and eventually got called on. Did I mention that when I entered wearing a pink Bring Our War $$ Home t-shirt the event hosts became visibly nervous, and a journalist asked me point blank if I planned to create a disturbance?

Me: "In attempting to understand U.S. foreign policy under a succession of administrations, I'm curious why you overlook the role of the immense profits for corporations that build weapons systems, contract security services, and so forth? It seems to be a very large factor, yet I'm not hearing that."

Coulter's snappy comeback: "That would be one of the advantages of the war." Then apparently sensing that she had just dealt Obama a backhanded compliment, she added: "Obama's spending all this money on, on, on stimulus bills -- oh we're providing jobs for public school teachers, if that were true I'd be more in favor of it --  except, alas, it doesn't serve the United States national security interests."

How did she know I was a teacher? Perhaps because mean cheerleader types have a 6th sense for potential areas of vulnerability. Then again, maybe it was my apron.
Joan, Josie, Larry, and my apron March 19. 2011 Wash DC
5/1 NOTE: Amended my blog to more accurately quote myself and Ann Coulter after I was able to view an online video of our exchange here, starting at 49:41.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Ridgley: Still in Awarta

More news direct from the West Bank from Ridgley Fuller, Codepink Greater Boston:
...
Yesterday started off early, bringing the parachute and Project Joy to the primary girl's school in Awarta. The teacher who translated, Najah, told her own compelling story. Her family lives in a  fairly isolated house close to the Itamar setllement and has been invaded twice by the Israeli army in the past two weeks. The soldiers had the family wait outside (the 13 year old boy had a broken leg) while they ransacked the house, destroying all the food supplies in a 3rd floor storeroom, urinating on the clothes they pulled into piles.

Najah tells us that based on the manner  in which the soldiers questioned family members she believes  they did not believe a Palestinian from the town had committed the murders of the settler family but that they were under orders to be as destructive a possible. Her youngest child, Kareem, is terrified refusing to go into the kitchen, bathroom after dark without his mother. We offered to stay in the house for the night and she eagerly accepted. Nijah and her husband are remarkable people, they have lost 10 dunums of olive trees (2.5 acres) inside the electric fence of the Itamar settlement and another 50 dunums behind. Yet for the past 6 years the couple walked alone to the settlement to demand that they be allowed to pick their olive trees. Najah says even if there are no olives on her trees because of the settlers, she needs "to sit underneath them and breath their air."
Itamar settlement view from Awarta
Given the history of violence perpetrated on Palestinians, especially by this extremist settlement populated with many from the US, their courage is absolutely astounding. (Last year the settlers killed two boys collecting scrap metal on 'mothers day' one of the boys earlier had told his mother he was going to earn money to buy her a present.)

The settlers often walk the narrow road by her house. The family has a collection of stones on the roof in case the settlers attack but now wants to build a stone wall. As she and her husband showed us the lights on the new hill claimed by the settlement since the family's death, she remarked, "they steal our land, they steal or trees, and they call us their enemies."

This is an inspiring family in so many ways. All siblings of Nijah are doctors and engineers living near the Israeli border, she in turn is determined to provide the same level of eduction to her children. On the one dunum left in their possession, she and her husband have planted vegetables and every imaginable fruit tree, including a grafting strawberry tree that produces both red and green strawberries. The family has no piped source of water so she has rigged her own grey water system from the kitchen drain to water the trees. (The water tanked in weekly is stolen from Palestinian aquifers by Israeli companies then sold back to Palestinians.)
Nijah, Saeeb and Mahmoud
Saeeb, the husband, has been arrested multiple times for participation in the PFLP, an old school Marxist political party not favored by Fatah. He has physical problems as a result and tells of years of getting to work as a plasterer in Israel by hiding in a water tank pulled by a tractor across the international 'green line' marking the border between Israel and Palestine. He says the some 30 men in the tank left a foot of water in  the tank in case the spigot was turned on at a checkpoint. Now he has a permit to work in Israel, costing the family about 3000 (roughly $1000) shekels for four months.

After typical warm Palestinian hospitality and a wonderful meal, we had an uneventful night, but awoke to discover that about ten settlers had driven into the town during the night throwing stones and marking doors of houses where arrests had taken place (according to local reports about 5000 people from the northern West Bank have been taken for questioning by the Israelis in the past 40 days and, for the first time many women have been included in the sweeps. This is especially disconcerting to the children who are used to their fathers being out of the house, but never their mothers.

The town is visibly so frightened. Many men remain in jail, so any organized solidarity effort to spread alarm when the army or settlers come in is difficult to effect. Today in the news Itamar announced plans to build additional homes. The mayor's office tells us that of the 22 thousand dunums belonging to Awarta, Itamar has taken 12.5 thousand. And the lights on the hilltops surrounding the town at night are truly scary. No one is getting any sleep.

As I sit in the mayor's office writing this email..the men are staring into space, pacing relentlessly and SMOKING.

Also yesterday, we continued to try to understand the situation surrounding the arrest of the two 19 year olds for the murder of the Itamar family of five. In talking with family members of one of the accused, the way the army questioned the boy who 'confessed' is really difficult to describe: they had him in the bathroom from 4am til noon with his head in the toilet flushing it repeatedly while forcing his mother  to watch. The other, as I mentioned in a previous email, is recovering from an operation making it difficult for him to walk. It is very difficult ( at least!) to imagine that, according to Israeli reports, these two "on impulse" walked to the settlement. We decided to understand the distance by walking toward the settlement, and spent 45 minutes in that direction and made little headway.

In addition there are two electrified fences around the settlement, 15 meters in between the two. A bird would set off the alarms, cameras, and snipers...so many other inconsistencies..but Human Rights Watch was in town yesterday and is issuing a report hopefully this weekend.

Doctors without Borders personnel, in town to deal with childrens' trauma, told me that there is an Israeli pattern whenever there is a violent death in a settlement. In Alon Moreah several years ago, a settler was killed, a Palestinian arrested, more land taken from the Palestinian town of Azmoot, and some time later the Palestinian was released with no charge for the murder -- but the town's land remains in the settlement's hands.

Now that I know the mayor's office has wireless, I hope I can be in touch more! We are waiting to be assigned to new families for this evening...thanks for all the replies and support!
take care,
Ridgely

The Right to Listen

Who knew the 1st amendment protected our right to listen as well as to speak? Makes sense, I just never thought about it that way before.

In that spirit here's a video by Art Mayers of a selection of speakers and performers at Tuesday's rally about the Maine Labor Mural's day in federal court, followed by the text of my remarks at the rally.


MAINE MURAL RALLY SPEECH 4/19/11 Bangor
by Lisa Savage, CODEPINK Maine Local Coordinator

Information control is where the real battle for hearts and minds is being fought in the 21st century.

History is a particular kind of information, often highly contested. What do you mean when you say history? Is it just what's written down, or documented, somehow? Does it stretch back into the prehistoric, before writing? Before painting?

And especially: how do you know about it?

How DO we know that there was child labor in the mills in Maine? That there have been strikes in which labor prevailed, and in which labor was crushed?

Partly because of documents like the mural. Hooray for artist Judy Taylor! You did your homework! I'm sure you did not want to become a target and a cause celebre, however, we are especially grateful that you worked so hard, and made the mural both an elegant, dignified painting and, at the same time, an accurate historical document.

When I see the mural in my mind next to other art in state buildings, I see that the mass of people in the mural are as one in contrast to the highly individual portraits of one person, usually a rich, white, male employer.

And though the mural's palette is somber, the people do not look downtrodden. Their posture lends them dignity. And there are many of them.

If they stopped cooperating, who knows what might happen?

Threatening indeed. Best not have art around that might give them ideas. Or boost their morale by nourishing their souls.

Maine's labor mural is emblematic of the attacks globally on working people, their pension funds, working conditions, and ability to live. It's a thread running through the whole world now – government by kleptocracy, and the little people pay.

It cries out to be banned, because it is the history of the people. As has been said, the victors write the history books. Capitalism and its exploits intends to win. Books like Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States were written as correctives, because every history textbook that a teacher picked up was full of wars, glorious wars, with the United States military and the corporations it supports ever victorious. Who told about the times when regular laboring people triumphed?

What if the governor suddenly decided to take down the statue of Samantha Smith, the young anti-nuclear activist who died in a plane crash? She helped thaw the Cold War, some would say. And I have a question for the governor: was Samantha an employee or an employer?

We already know where censorship leads: people with Magic markers going through all the library books. Computer bots that search out banned memes. Surveillance. Suppressed news. Thought control.

The US has thought control prisons now. They're in the midwest and they're called Communication Management Units and Muslims get sent there. In order to balance out the appearance of racial profiling against Arabs, animal rights and environmental justice prisoners also get put in CMUs. Where they aren't allowed contact even with their families. Kind of like Bradley Manning in the Quantico brig for hundreds of days, in solitary confinement.

So by chance the Maine labor mural has assumed symbolic proportions far beyond its intentions. Being real and therefore nourishing, the mural is a threat because it communicates about history. The history of the people.

And information control is where the real battle for hearts and minds is being fought in the 21st century.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Labor Mural Wants to Be Free

3 of 11 panels from the mural: The 1937 Strike Scenes from an unsuccessful strike attempt to create better conditions for women workers. Frances Perkins FDR's  Labor Secretary, and untiring labor activist, a Maine Labor icon. Rosie the Riveter Maine's version of WWII women workers participated as ship-builders.
Control of information is where the battle for hearts and minds is being waged in the 21st century. That's why Bradley Manning is being tortured for allegedly leaking the Collateral Murder video and other raw truths about military occupation. That's why Julian Assange of WikiLeaks is a wanted man for distributing the information. And that's why Maine's governor took down the mural depicting labor history created by Judy Taylor for the lobby of the Department of Labor.

The Maine labor mural had a hearing in Federal District Court in Bangor today on a charge that the governor violated citizens' First Amendment right of access to the mural by removing it.

Appropriately enough, the court proceedings were open to the public, and we were treated to an entertaining show. Judge Woodcock was clearly enjoying himself, and he hinted broadly that it would not have been unwelcome if either the plaintiffs or the defendant had filed for discovery in order to produce the mural in the courtroom. The judge rightly noted that few present had actually ever seen it, and that they are unlikely to now that it is believed to be stored “in a broom closet.”

The case seems to hinge on whether or not the mural's removal can be considered “government speech” which the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously upheld 1st amendment rights for; as a legal concept, the judge noted, government speech is pretty freshly minted. Would a person viewing the mural reasonably think that it contained a message from his or her government? Or just a personal vision expressed by the artist? He speculated that portraits of the founders of giant paper companies and ship builders may be planned to replace the mural, according to the governor.

The plaintiffs argue it is the latter, while the state argued through its lawyers that it had spoken (perhaps less than eloquently) when the mural was removed last month under cover of darkness.

Despite expressing the reluctance of federal courts to interfere in state business, the judge had prepared  some interesting questions for both sides. To the plaintiffs: Doesn't each successive administration remove art from the walls of public buildings, and put up other art, and doesn't this constitute a benefit of democratic governance, wherein the people are supposed to have spoken at the ballot box that brought the administration to office?

Counsel for the plaintiffs: If the art had been removed because the color scheme was displeasing, yes. If it is removed because the content is deemed unwelcome – as the governor clearly stated in the verbal pissing match that led up to the mural's removal – then that is a violation of the right, not just to speak, but to listen.

Judge Woodcock then asked counsel for the defendant: Suppose the governor were to enter the state library, find a number of books there on the history of labor objectionable, and burn them? Would that be permissible?

In a room full of oldsters, it's pretty clear what that hypothetical referred to.

The judge promised to render a decision quickly, but he's known for writing long opinions – so don't hold your breath. Other avenues remain, including a pending demand from the U.S. Dept. of Labor for a refund of its $60k contribution via grant whose terms have now been violated; the fact that the state museum actually has responsibility for the art in state buildings; and the breach of contract with the artist, who is entitled to be consulted in the event of her work's removal, and wasn't.

At a rally that followed the hearing, in Peirce Park under a monumental statue of lumberjacks at work, artist Nathasha Mayers spoke dressed as a truck with Maine open for  business  exploitation painted on the side. Artist Rob Shetterly said the mural deserved to be seen because it showed the truth  about labor history in Maine. And several speakers represented labor, none more eloquently than retired RN Kathy Day. The nurses at Eastern Maine Medical Center have been struggling for a contract that guarantees adequate staffing levels, and Kathy clearly explained how society as a whole often benefits from workers' struggles.
Kathy Day, Food AND Medicine, Bangor, April 19, 2011
Not enough nurses to provide adequate care? Not enough air traffic controllers to spell each other through the wee hours? Weak protection for child laborers? Eventually, somebody's going to get hurt.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Military spending doubled since 9/11

"As a percentage of GDP, U.S. military spending has increased from 3.1% in 2001 to 4.8% last year.

(Swedish think tank SIPRI) report notes that, “even in the face of efforts to bring down the soaring US budget deficit, military spending continues to receive privileged treatment.” Indeed, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and others on the right are passing legislation increasing defense spending. At the same time, they are insisting on massive cuts to social programs that provide vital assistance to the elderly, the poor and the middle class." --ThinkProgress
How's this strategy working for USians? For the environment? (80% of BP's output is gobbled up by the military machine.) For the future of the children we all are charged with nurturing?

Please set aside some of your free time and join the campaign to bring our war dollars home. There may not be much free time left if we don't succeed in converting the war machine to peaceful purposes.

Deadline approaching: the national council of mayors annual meeting, in Baltimore this June. Mayor of Los Angeles Villaraigosa will submit a resolution from the council to Congress, demanding they stop spending on the military and redirect resources to struggling cities in the U.S., IF he is joined by ten other mayors. There are six already on board (this is, only counting mayors of cities with at least 30,000 population thus part of council of mayors organization). May 17 is the deadline for Mayor V. to submit a resolution to the conference, so please contact your mayor today! Tools here.

Please note: Electing Democrats to the White House and to majority positions in both houses of Congress did NOTHING to slow this destructive trend. Wasting time and energy on elections that celebrate the false dichotomy between Dems and Repubs is just that -- wasted time. Both parties serve the Forces of Greed. The Forces of Greed do NOT wish the people well.
CODEPINK protests the president's tax day speech at George Washington U. "I will never accept cuts that compromise our ability to defend our homeland or America's interests around the world," Obama said.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Green Intifada: Real News from the West Bank

Addressing workers on the Wall in Al Walaja
Ridgely Fuller of CODEPINK Greater Boston is in the West Bank, occupied Palestine, right now. She sent us this encouraging message of hope and cooperative determination amid injustice.

Hi All,
It is so hard to believe that this trip is half over today! The time is passing so quickly and there remains so much I want to do in the days left. No matter where I have been since the last email I keep being drawn back to the village of Beit Ommar...captivated when I walk a path to buy bread on a sunny morning, stick my head in an open door along the way saying "marhaba" and have the folks inside laughingly respond 'Hi 'Ridgely' without even seeing me..and then when  returning via a wrong route be  redirected by groups of smiling (unsolicited) children...guardian angels?

I have tried to describe how much this Town has and continues to suffer at the hands of the Israeli settlers and their military backup...yet despite this daily oppression, wonderful things have happened during the past year. The Popular Committee in Beit Ommar has secured a Center for Freedom and Justice which holds committee meetings of farmers, students, women and the popular committee. This is a beautiful building high on a hill whose location was purposefully chosen as it  is counterpoised and overlooks the Israeli military watchtower at the entrance to the village. A recently acquired bullet hole in a window testifies to these 'dueling' symbols.
Center for Freedom and Justice, Beit Ommar
During the past year the Center and the Committee have planted 3000 trees, held a women s conference with over 400  Israeli and Palestinian women, organized a large Land Day Festival  with a cultural display and run a summer camp for over 300 children. Currently the Center is writing 3 grants for a library,a womens run honeybee cooperative and a green house program that will not only provide income to  families but also grow olive seedlings to replace those uprooted by settlers.
 
Finally, since last year there have been weekly nonviolent demonstrations organized against the settlements. One was supposed to be held yesterday but  was canceled as in the morning a farmer died when his tractor turned over. Last time there was a death in the village the settlers shot two Palestinians in the funeral procession and the military punished the town (never the offending settlers!) by closing off access and egress...so yesterday was spent not knowing what would happen. As the family did not want the military to have an excuse to close the town, they quietly buried the farmer themselves.

I have also spent time with amazing Awad whose single handed 'Green Intifada' dream organizes farmers to reclaim their land through Israeli courts, then helps them through massive cooperative replanting. Last year we speedily replanted a hill in Umm Salamuna,preventing it from being absorbed by the Efrat settlement. Since then he has helped secure water and electricity for the area! Last week we went to Al Walaja, very near Bethlehem, whose remains are rapidly being swallowed up by the Wall. He spoke with the Palestinians working on the Wall telling them about the PA providing alternative jobs, where to access them, and that by August 25 any Palestinian worker on the Wall or in settlements will face arrest.
 
Awad and Beit Ommar show that resistance to Israeli occupation and land theft takes many creative forms! Awad is tireless; after our visit to Al Walajah we go  visit a farmer whose children on a lame donkey he met the previous day. Awad discovered the subsistence farm was cut off from any water supply and is now arranging to bring in water tanks and permaculture ideas to help this very proud man provide for his family. I got to lend a hand by helping the farmer examine his donkey's lameness .. .thanks to time on the farm in Sherborn!

I am now off to another town to visit a friends in Bayt Ta'mar..a great family I  met and stayed with last year. Zenab kind of taught me to make flat bread in an outside beehive oven fueled by the sheeps dung. Hope she has no expectations re my culinary skills today..

take care all,   Ridgely

Al'Masara, symbol of Palestine. We take the 'high road' but they have the weapons

Friday, April 15, 2011

plant a row for the state house

An interesting discussion on national vs. local organizing strategies on the listserve this week.  Reinforced my feeling that state houses are where it's at and that led to more thoughts. 

Chicken Marengo is a special dish that my husband cooked for me on the night of our first date. Legend has it Napoleon dined on it at the eponymous battle, he who famously said that an army marches on its stomach.

Local supply lines will provide good support for the peace workers in capitals.
As it happens, local food is coming on strong in these days of looming food insecurity. A grist mill is opening up in Skowhegan. We are planning to grow some grain ourselves.
 
State houses are a low carbon plan also.

Plant an extra row to feed the state houses this summer!

 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Why fear the power of art?

Fear of art stalks the muddy land. As if piles of snow in April weren't bad enough, we Mainers, like masses of other people in the world, are besieged by the Forces of Greed (F.o.G.) hacking and slashing their way through the structures of civil society. 

That fearful art, Judy Taylor's now-famous mural depicting Maine labor history, will have a day in court next week. On Tuesday, April 19 there'll be a hearing at 10:00am in the Federal Courthouse in Bangor on a suit charging that Governor LePage violated citizens' First Amendment right of access to the mural by removing it. 

From the press release:
The court proceedings are open to the public. Those who attend the hearing will march at its conclusion in a parade from the courthouse to the rally about 11:30 at Pierce Park,  next to the Bangor Public Library. Everyone who supports the First Amendment, labor rights, and ethical governance is invited to join in. Bring signs and musical instruments if you can.
Why fear the power of art? I'll let these images from the most recent Draw-in at the State House in Augusta April 4 speak for themselves.

"Babe in Arms" by Nora Tryon. Additional powerful images here.
 “Whatever happens at the hearing,” notes artist Joan Braun, one of the plaintiffs in the suit against the governor, “we know that we will ultimately prevail. The will of the people of Maine cannot be disregarded without serious consequences..."
These attacks on working people globally are all of a piece.

Chris Hedges laid out cause for serious consequences in his discussion of the wholesale destruction of public education. He was talking about  the U.S.A. but he could just as well have said in the Americas considering what's going on in Honduras and Oxaca, Mexico.

Since the '09 coup in Honduras that Obama and the F.o.G. supported, the privatization of public education -- and the destruction of the powerful associations of public school teachers -- is on. "Rob the teachers' pension fund; buy tear gas and ammunition" a familiar F.o.G. strategy world-wide is reported here by Karen Spring & Annie Bird of Honduras Regime Impunity Watch.  The 3.2 million members of my union, the National Education Association, have yet to rise -- but they did send a letter. So can you.

Attacks are a lot more violent in other places where the struggle is more advanced. Instead of hiding a mural, F.o.G. violently attacks community radio stations and broadcasters in Honduras. Or, if the stakes are very high, people simply disappear.

In Bahrain, disappearances and torture are increasingly being brought against nonviolent pro-democracy activists, with the help and collusion of our mutual good friend Saudi Arabia. How hard will the Forces of Greed fight to keep Bahrain functioning as host to an enormous U.S. navy base? Pretty damn hard.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

"the public is stunned and listless"

A quote from one of my favorite blogs, Organizing Notes by Bruce Gagnon:
At the same time we witness the "big deal" that was cut in Washington DC last night to "save the federal government from shutdown". The deal will slash another $40 billion from social programs as the Republican controlled House of Representatives, the Democrats, and Obama continue their relentless assault on social progress. This $40 billion is equal to what the Pentagon spends on the Afghanistan occupation in about three months. But we are not supposed to notice. 
In many respects the public is stunned and listless.
Abu Graib prisoner tortured by U.S. troops, as ordered by their officers. The release of these photos is what sent my husband and I back to vigil every week on the bridge where we first met, just before Shock & Awe.
I was stunned this week when a colleague invited me into his class to observe a lesson that is part of a unit on WWII. Studying the rise of Nazi Germany, the students were taking up the question, How can people participate in horrors like being concentration camp guards? Or just stand by silently while their government does such things?

One of the things the class considered was research psychologist Philip Zimbardo on the nature of systemic evil. Here you can see his lecture which raised the central questions: Are there intrinsically bad apples? Do bad barrels make bad apples? And if so, who or what makes the bad barrels?
My colleague warned the class, both at the beginning and then again right before the video, that they would be seeing graphic images of torture and abuse from Abu Graib prison in Iraq. The students were given permission to not view the images; no one left the room, but I did notice one girl looking down at her desk.

Most of the students are in the 10th grade and by chance this section of the class on Modern World Studies was full of able students who value their own learning. I've had them all in class before, and I knew this about them. They were relatively quiet during the class I observed, but there was some discussion, and it appeared they were paying attention.

At the end of the period there were a few minutes left, and I wondered aloud how many were seeing the Abu Graib photos for the first time. Answer that left me stunned: all of them. The whole class of about twenty teenagers had not only never seen any of the Abu Graib photos but THEY HAD NEVER HEARD OF ABU GRAIB. At all.

I am stunned. But I will be damned if I am listless.

Most of the teachers I've discussed this with reference the fact that they grew up discussing current events with their parents. That was back in the days when families had dinner together. Also the days when the news had a little bit more real information in it.

Nowadays, ten thousand Muslims and their allies could march down Broadway in the middle of a Saturday in NYC, and the New York Times could completely ignore it. (The Portland Press Herald completely ignored a large immigration march I joined in Maine a couple of years ago, also.)

So before I go off to my day job, I will do my second job, spreading real news. This report is from Peter Titus, who attended both the April 9 NYC antiwar march full of Muslim families for peace, and a same day labor rally in Times Square. I think it was scheduled for the same time deliberately to compete with the antiwar march, which began being organized last July when a date was set, and was attended largely by those who didn't vote for Obama the first time -- and have no intention of even pretending to support the Democratic Party.
Having attended both events (I stopped by the Times Square labor event around 12:30 PM) my observation is that the short, punchy labor gathering attracted around 6,000-7,000.  I counted about 1,500 per packed "pen" of which there were three between 42nd and 39th streets, plus 500 in the way-back "pen" and another 1,500 along the other side of the street comprised of "pen-free" people.  The participants were overwhelming union members. The theme was "stop the war against workers". I don't recall any of the speakers offering a way to actually stop this war, however the audience was big, militant, and ready for action. By comparison, our antiwar march an hour later  was attended by a huge throng, easily twice the size of the labor event.  I could not say it was more energetic or more willing to put up a fight because both groups scored hight points here according to my unofficial scorecard. The large turnout was probably the result of extensive outreach, especially involving at the Muslim community. In contrast to the labor event, our event also offered a way forward for working people by demanding an end to the wars and occupations. Both events shared one thing in common: they were completely ignored by the N.Y. Times which failed to mention either milestone event.
The mainstream press ignored this event also. Maine State House Hall of Flags, April 4, 2011 rally to bring our war $$ home.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

across the land is the call: war $$ home!



Mary Richmond speaks about the U.S. as an international, and domestic, abuser. "I will not accept the America that we show the rest of the world."

other bow$h news:
Welcome news from CT:
A resolution of the Central Connecticut State University Faculty Senate calling upon the U.S. government and President Obama to Bring Our War Dollars Home Now
Whereas,
the economic collapse has exhausted the financial resources at the local, county, state and federal levels of the US; and the U.S. government since 2001 has spent well over 1 trillion dollars nationally on the wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Connecticut nearly 28 billion dollars has gone to war spending; and more than 5,700 US troops have been killed, more than 40,000 wounded; and
hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed or wounded and the ongoing warfare poses great and unnecessary harm to the nations of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan and elsewhere in the world; and billions of tax payer’s money is spent to prop up repressive regimes in the Middle East and elsewhere around the world; and education at all levels is in crisis due to the diversion of billions of dollars to wars and occupations. College tuition and student debt is increasing while university programs and courses are cut; and budget deficits, largely due to war spending, have been used as a pretext to force concessions from public sector unions from California to Wisconsin to Connecticut; and communities of color in Connecticut have been hardest hit and are heavily targeted for military recruitment,
Be it resolved that the Central Connecticut State University Faculty Senate calls upon the U.S. government and President Obama to end the wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan and bring our war dollars home now. Now be it further resolved, that the Central Connecticut State University Faculty Senate support informational events regarding the cost of the wars and occupations to our campus and community; that the Central CT State University Faculty Senate support the right of public sector unions and all other unions to collectively bargain and defend the interests of their members
that the Central CT State University Faculty Senate urge students, staff and faculty to participate in peaceful protests to demand an end to the wars and occupations and bring our war dollars home; and to further demand money for education, not for war.

 WERU radio coverage of Maine state house rally to BOW$H April 4

Austin TX rally on April 6 to Save our State

Sunday, April 10, 2011

No to Islamophobia

UNAC march NYC April 9, 2011
There are tools, and then there is wealth. I have a tool made for me by my friend Peggy Lovejoy. It is the silliest shade of pink ever with swirls and sparkles. A young man in Union Square asked: "Is that a protest apron?" It has extra long apron strings and extra deep pockets the full width of the garment, each so wide it will hold a regular sheet of paper without folding. What it mostly holds are half sheets printed on both sides, one side telling what Maine or Connecticut or wherever I happen to be could have bought with the funds wasted on war e.g. four years of undergrad tuition for the next 21 entering classes at U Maine. Now that would be wealth.

My apron also holds my camera and phone and lip balm and everything else I need to march for 1.7 miles helping to hold a banner in one hand, a pie chart on my outside hand (54% military for FY10 draws the comments: "It's more now.").

I was honored to march yesterday holding a banner with Pardiss Kebriaei who advocates for prisoners in limbo at Guantanamo, and two school age girls in headscarves whose mom and dad walked behind and popped snacks into their mouths like birds. The UNAC banner we carried said: Stop Government Attacks On Unions, Muslims, Immigrants and Communities of Color. On this day the NYPD was on its best behavior, and the legions of officers were polite and respectful in their attempts to keep us on one half of Broadway while the hipster shopping crowd had their phones out snapping away, looking at us like they had never seen a protest march before. Maybe it was the legions of moms, dads, kids, grandmas and grandpas that had turned out to represent for the Muslim peace community. Such a variety of clothing, languages, chants and messages. One handmade sign read: Islam Means Peace.

A hug from Ann Wright is always welcome, and I was able to shake Cindy Sheehan's hand and thank her for her work. Both were among at least 50 speakers who had 90 seconds at the mike to deliver their message. NYC Codepink coordinator Cristina Castro and I went up together while Denise and Starr held BOW$H banner on the steps down front.

Lots of dot connecting in the remarks. The war against the poor at home and abroad, the war against the environment that is our collective home, and the insane waste of resources all around. I cannot even count how many times I heard or read a reference to the need to bring our war dollars home. On my very early morning drive home after the convivial bus (thank you Steve Burke) dropped me off in Portland I was parsing our demand like this.

Bring: resolutions, op eds, speeches, teach-ins
Our: public forums, big tent marches like this one
War: Libya, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, aid to Israel, aid to dictators, 800+ military bases around the world, drones, recruiting budgets
$$: taxes the working poor and middle class pay, but corporate "citizens" don't -- cause they're not part of us
Home: green energy, fully funded schools K-post grad, health care, public transportation, jobs / job training, housing, legal aid, infrastructure upkeep