Saturday, June 30, 2012

#NatGat: Occupy National Gathering Philly - Day 1

My first day at Occupy National Gathering in Philadelphia. It was good to see some familiar faces.
 An excellent sign that I had never seen before, which aptly summed up why we occupy.
The march to end corporate personhood took us to Wells Fargo Bank -- a big forecloser -- as well as Fox News, the Mint, and Dow Chemical. "Whose streets? Our streets!" chanting a rambling crowd of about 300.
At the very start of the march, who should I see but Capt. Ray Lewis (left), retired Philadelphia policeman who showed up at Occupy Wall St. back when the first police brutalities had occurred, to remind officers that force is only supposed to be used when people are in danger of getting hurt, or killed. Oh, yeah, that. I wanted to shake his hand and he wanted to say, "It's you people who brought me out here. You're the ones that did this."
Soon encountered my good peace friend from Maine Palma Ryan, who helped me hold a flag that was very popular with the photographers in Philadelphia in the run up to 4th of July.
Also very glad to see Vets for Peace there.
This occupier on the cot had several run ins with federal park police, who insisted that he remove his cot -- which he would then flip up to display big words saying, "Now it's a sign," or collapse one of the legs asking, "Now, is it still a sleeping structure?" As our wonderful hostesses arrived from picking up FreedomLA at the airport to whisk us home,  we left behind a lengthy debate on the fine points of occupying public space.  More to come tomorrow....

Barack Obama, Suzanne Nossel, and the Janissaries

Source: Wikipedia, U.S. Military bases in 2007
Empires come and empires go, and history shows that, while they try to stay, they will use a variety of methods to maintain their grip on power. Soft power, hard power or so-called “smart" power -- whatever it takes to keep tribute flowing in from the subjugated people and colonies, and to keep the populace at the heart of the empire placid.

The Ottoman empire ruled for five hundred years in the part of the world that the U.S empire has been focused on mastering for the last several decades. Southwest Asia with its fossil fuel reserves, Northern Africa with its access to that rich continent plus proximity to all that oil, and Europe on the northern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, a central waterway. The Ottomans losing their grip at the end of the 1800's was the catalyst for a scramble by European nations and the U.S. for the prize of the fading empire's colonies -- leading to WWI, which led to WWII, which led to the Cold War, which led to the long, long war on terror. The Ottoman decline is hardly ancient history, and I think of it from time to time as I watch the U.S. play clumsily at empire building.

To catalog the brutality and intrigue the sultans used to stay in power for so long would require a volume, if not several. For now, let's focus attention on their immensely successful scheme of co-optation. As a method of heading off the growth of viable resistance movements in the hinterlands, the Ottomans had a brilliant idea: have their provincial administrators identify promising young males in the colonies at an early age. These gifted youth would be taken from their families and communities and whisked away to the capital at Constantinople to be trained as janissaries. These were the elite palace gurads and government administrators who served at the seat of empire. They enjoyed prestige, privilege, an elegant life, and no doubt the sense of being on the inside of the most powerful empire on earth. They were playing on the A-team, as it were.

Barack Obama as the handpicked celebrity spokesman for the U.S/NATO empire would have made a fine janissary. With one African parent, he offers visible diversity. Brought up by a single mom on the white side of his family, he talks a good working class perspective. Scholarship-educated at elite private schools, he can talk that talk, too; as a tall, slim athlete, on television he looks like a star. Ditto the beautiful, brainy wife and darling children.

Elevating Obama to the highest office in the land represented a brilliant strategy on the part of the 1% doing business as the military-industrial-media complex. His position as figurehead of the Democratic Party provided unprecedented leverage to neutralize liberals and progressives while continuing to wage wars of domination across the globe. When Obama got elected, the millions who filled the streets during the Bush W. administration opposing the wars just went home. 

Relying on their sanitized information streams – NPR, the New York Times, the Washington Post – they know little of drones or of Bradly Manning, nor could they care less about what he represents. The passage of the NDAA 2012, and its signing by Obama, granting the executive branch the power to indefinitely detain anyone, U.S. citizen or otherwise, indefinitely without due process or right of habeus corpus, is not even a blip on most liberal screens these day.

Many of the pacified liberal class rely on human right organizations, to which they contribute regularly to be the watchdogs. Organizations like Amnesty International rely on their robust branding as watchdogs to solicit that trust and those donations.

If you were the Ottomans and it was 2012, which threats might you be focused on neutralizing? Possibly you would be looking over your shoulder at any sector of society likely to mount a credible resistance to your legitimacy as the self-proclaimed champion of democracy, with a special emphasis on women's rights, around the globe.

Enter Suzanne Nossel. The new executive director of Amnesty- USA worked at the U.S. State department (think Hillary Clinton, Suzanne Rice, and Madeleine Albrigh)t. Before coming to AI-USA Nossel published in journals such as Foreign Affairs and Dissent, articles defending, among other things, “RECLAIMING LIBERAL INTERNATIONALISM,” “smart power,” sanctions, and the cover of diplomatic engagement prior to attacking Iran. She also gave an interview, which you can see here on Mondoweiss, debunking the Goldstone report which found human rights violations during Israel's Operation Cast Lead intensive bombing of Gaza.
Operation Cast Lead victims. Source:
Nossel's advertising campaign “NATO: keep the progress going!” ran in Chicago during the NATO summit last May, supporting a shadow summit on maintaining the alleged progress there for women, with panelists such as Albright and current State Department staff, and an open letter on the subject to presidents Obama and Karzai, signed by Albright and various other celebrity liberals.

This dovetailed nicely with NATO's official proclamation signed by heads of state in Chicago, claiming “In the ten years of our partnership the lives of Afghan men, women and children, have improved significantly in terms of security, education, health care, economic opportunity and the assurance of rights and freedoms. There is more to be done, but we are resolved to work together to preserve the substantial progress we have made during the past decade.” 

Nothing subtle about NATO's propaganda approach: tell a big lie, loudly and often. Even better, get others to tell it for you.

Nossel's role in getting Amnesty-USA to play a more subtle game providing a pretext for military force on behalf of women's rights requires a bit more investigation to be discovered. The 21st century version of janissary recruitment may very well consist of luring young, talented players like Nossel into the fold under cover of do-good, feel-good, non-profit organizations. This provides good cover and keeps lots of well-meaning people busy writing checks and feeling useful while the real powers meet discreetly in Tokyo in July to hash out who is splitting the bills for continued “development" in Afghanistan.

Development as in 300,000 Afghan troops and national police, consuming 90% of the funds flowing towards continuing to secure the graveyard of empires.

There will be many Nossels and Obamas in the years to come. Until the end of an empire there is never any shortage of fat checks for serving empire, never any shortage of ambitious young people, whether willingly or reluctantly, to play the only well-funded game in town.

A strong effort by several national organizations, including CODEPINK (of which I am a member) to pressure Amnesty-USA to re-examine their policies and Nossel's leadership, may or may not succeed. She has already made a lot of enemies recently by removing 20% of Amnesty-USA's staff, including all the regional directors, and the staff who headed up work on Guantanamo. (Word is that new hires will be working more on "women's issues.") 

Even if it does work, Nossel will find another job, and Amnesty will find another executive director, and that person may also enjoy close ties to the US government or other branches of the empire.

Why write and talk about the whitewash of U.S. global ambitions by Amnesty-USA? So a few more liberals may wake up, smell the oil burning, and turn off the propaganda feed. They would do well at that point to consider joining those who Occupy public spaces to witness for the power of non-cooperation, civil disobedience, and solidarity over prestige, creature comforts and a shiny resumé

Thursday, June 28, 2012

"Protecting" Afghan Women: Longest U.S. War About To Get Longer

June 6, 2012: Afghan villagers with the bodies of children reportedly killed in a NATO air strike. (Photo: Sabawoon Amarkhil/AFP) BBC news
For U.S. citizens, Afghanistan flip flops between being the forgotten war -- during the invasion and occupation of Iraq, for instance -- to being the "smart" war with lots of rah rah around surges, signature strikes with drones, and faux "progress" for security. And for women. Lots and lots of progress for women and girls, if you believe NATO and the U.S. State Department's official pronouncements on the matter.

I spent many hours last week with people who feel, as I do, that U.S. presence in Afghanistan is a festering sore at the heart of that post-9/11 disease, the war on terror. We were looking into what evidence there is for progress, or the lack thereof, for women's rights, health and prosperity. 

(It is hard to use the word prosperity right now because the vast majority of Afghans are extremely poor. The children collect scraps of plastic to burn for cooking. The average life expectancy is 48 years for all, 51 years for women. We are not talking here of the wealthy elites with millions in offshore bank accounts, or even holding citizenship in other countries, who are in Parliament and other branches of the national government. Whose daughters fly to Dubai to get their wedding make-up professionally done.)

On a June 27 conference call, we heard from some speakers who had been to Afghanistan multiple times in the past decade. Fahima Vorgetts of the Afghan Women's Fund shared her observations: 
  • Violence against women has escalated in the last two years. 
  • Women are attacked from 3 sides: by NATO, by insurgents, and by their own government which has many warlords in positions of authority, some with private militias.
  • There are now laws protecting women’s rights, but they are not implemented or respected.
  • There will likely be no meaningful withdrawal in 2014, because right now the U.S. military is buying large parcels of land and expanding construction of huge bases in various parts of the country e.g. a dining hall that will seat thousands. There are now 400 bases (my note: HOLY CRAP! JUST IN AFGHANISTAN?) but many of those will be turned over to the Afghan military.
Lots of contractors with big fat contracts paid by the American taxpayer will try to continue extracting wealth and keeping transport corridors open, no doubt. Worked splendidly in Iraq didn't it? Now the U.S. has Iran surrounded, and gives the appearance of beginning to circle in for the kill. Prize? Control of the Persian Gulf.
Fahima's observations seemed to accord with the findings in “Progress for Afghan Women” a WAND webinar by David Cortright on June 27 in the area of rights for women:
  • De jure important legal & political rights are now guaranteed to women in Afghanistan, including 25% representation in Parliament.
  • Except: Taliban has regained control in some areas, and women's rights have suffered.
  • Also, the national govt is full of misogynist warlords.
This reminds me of reading descriptions of the Afghan police taking bribes, practicing extortion, and routinely brutalizing prisoners.  Lt. Col. Daniel Davis made a year long-study traveling in Afghanistan, interviewing and observing at multiple locations, hoping to conclude that the army and police were doing a credible job of security. Although it was his job to do so, he was unable to find evidence for this. Quite the contrary.

This makes me think, Is it any wonder women in Afghanistan are in jail for adultery after being raped? 

Rules of law is on paper only, was the consensus of all three sources.

Mariam Raqib, of Afghanistan Samsortya spoke on the conference call primarily of environmental degradation:
  • Sever negative impacts of landmines, IEDs, unexploded bombs from NATO, and the effects of aerial bombing that penetrated deep into the ground.
  • Miscarriages and birth defects are reported on the rise by women in eastern Afghanistan, possibly due to the type of weapons being used there.
    Crop dusting the poppies also poisons people. 
  • Poor record keeping and health research amid the ongoing disruption of civil society makes health issues hard to quantify or study systematically.
  • Children gather scraps of plastic from enormous trash heaps that are everywhere, and women burn plastic to cook food for their families -- a highly toxic health hazard.
  • Samsortya establishes tree nurseries to support reforestation due to dramatic loss of forests and orchards over 30+ years of war, and the resulting dust and lack of cooking fuel.

Yup, big progress for the environment after ten years "stewardship" by NATO, the biggest polluter on the planet.

There was some evidence for progress presented in Cortright's webinar. He said that education has been a huge priority of the Afghanistan government and of international donors.
  • 900,000 students enrolled in primary and secondary schools in 2002, all male
  • 8.4 million enrolled in 2012, 39 percent female
  • Possible because of $$ from World Bank, UN, donor states, and USAID.
I question the statistics for 2002, because to say that zero girls were being educated in school in 2002 is implausible. Schools during the Taliban era were held in households secretly so they could appear to be doing something else if militants arrived. People never stop trying to educate their children. Again, nearly impossible to quantify, because of the continuous disruptions of war.

There were no sources on the slides, but David mentioned a recent major national health survey conducted with rigorous scientific methodology, which seemed to him to be the most reliable current source. He noted that most statistics on public health in Afghanistan are irregular, coming from various sources.
  • There are now 22,000 trained healthcare workers, including 3,275+ trained midwives. Skilled birth attendance now is at 34 percent, up from 14 percent
  • Child mortality has been cut by half, and there are 1 in 50 maternity deaths, a decrease.
In economics, a so-called National Solidarity Program offers microfunding to local Community Development Councils, has 35% female participation. 

(Smell the whiff of World Bank there? If you can't get on the gravy train of taking protection money for not attacking NATO supply convoys, maybe you can get credit to start a bakery.)

David's outlook on security were as dismal as the other experts: Leaders say it is improving, but the facts are to the contrary. He estimated insurgents number around 20,000. He noted that Gen. Petraeus stated in 2010: We're facing an industrial strength insurgency – there is no win here on a military basis.  

Cortright's own conclusions: The longer we pursue this war the more it seems to strengthen the insurgency. As long as foreign forces are in Afghanistan, this provides a boost to the insurgents. Women told us: it's the presence of foreign forces that is one of the driving forces in the insurgency.

And if that weren't enough to keep the longest war in U.S. history going, I bet we could pledge to hang in there in an "advisory" capacity until Afghan women finally get their rights. Which at this rate could take another 1,000 years.

Besides, if women got their rights, and sat down at the tables where peace treaties and post-hostilities are hammered out, the chances of war continuing would decline drastically. That's why the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1325, based on studies of conflicts around the world, in which it called for full participation by women in peace talks and negotiations. 

Like the rights of Afghan women, UNSC Res. 1325 remains, at this point in time, empty words on paper.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Occupy the Roads at Summer Camp: Whose V? RV!

Source: Occupy The Roads, posting from Occupy Maine Summer Camp

When the big RV pulled in to camp on the evening of Day 1, I was most enthralled by the Wikileaks and Free Bradley Manning messaging on the starboard side.

Once I got a chance to talk with V owner and roads occupier Janet Wilson, I realized that the V is one big Occupy scrapbook: the side I loved was contributed by Occupy Newark, while the other sides of the boxy rolling encampment are a montage created in visits to 104 sites as of Kennebunkport.

Janet started out in Seattle, where she sort-of lives, purchasing an RV owned by an elderly couple and taking to the road. Occupy Portland, OR gave her the slogan, "Whose V? RV!" The arrest of 700 people on the Brooklyn Bridge gave her the motivation to cross this great country of ours, "uniting American communities for change."

She has a bookkeeping job she can take on the road, especially after being wired for connectivity by Occupy friends on the east coast. She has a husband back home who sighs over the credit card bills, and who talks her back from the edge of the cliff when the going gets tough.

Mostly she has fun connecting with everyone, though. She told me, "The great thing is, every encampment that I've gone to, when I leave I say, Those are the most amazing people! But then I get to the next camp and I feel the same way!"

As she prepared to head out again from Occupy Maine Summer Camp, Janet took a group of campers over to the gated compound of the Bush dynasty, a site of frequent protests by large crowds back in the day. 
Source: Jen Drury of Occupy New Haven, now Occupying the Roads!
Maybe it was even a little bit nostalgic for the Kennebunkport police.
I hope I meet up with the V and its denizens again at Occupy National Gathering in Philadelphia this coming weekend! 'Cause they really know how to have a good time.
Another photo lifted from Jen Drury, of the great banner produced at summer camp and now adorning the front of the V as it heads to Philly by way of Worcenster and a whole lot of other places. Check out where they've been and where they're going at OccupyThe

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Feminist GA at Occupy Maine Summer Camp

Occupy New Haven, Maine, The Roads, Our Neighborhoods, TV, and Farms exchanging ideas.

Young, old and in between, we've all got to feed ourselves. Consensus: Local food as the basis of local economies is an idea whose time has arrived in a big way.
I was able to be part of three good discussions during day 2 at Occupy Maine summer camp. We started on the patio surrounded by fields sprinkled with tents, and the bugs weren't too bad as long as you slathered up with fragrant oils that bugs hate.

In the morning we heard from local farmers and transition town planners, and talked about how how we can work together to make our food supply sustainable, healthy and democratic. Diverse models of engagement between people and their food were considered. The people in the group were of varied ages, life work and, to some extent, geographic origin, which made for a rich discussion about the all important questions of what to eat and how to live.

Potluck lunch followed and who should appear but The Stolen Mural, a band from the area, high school students that totally rocked the neighborhood, performing revolutionary songs with verve. One could still talk if one shouted as if at a night club, so I listened and ate while having some interesting talks with people as I look forward to anywhere I am able to Occupy. When the band ended to loud applause, as it faded away the neighbors could be heard singing "God Bless America."

After lunch the subject was local citizens fighting corporate polluters and water miners. Activists discussed  ongoing efforts to exercise the right to Home Rule and stop Canadian Tar Sands from entering our bio-region! Successful campaigns to block corporate development of local water supplies, and to clean up a river so polluted that the mist peeled the paint off buildings along its shores were described. By now large and engaged group had crowded into the upstairs floor of the barn where antique fans were moving hot, humid air around. (The first four days of summer have hit at least high 80's and often 90's around Maine. Scary hot for this part of the world. How do we stop global warming before it's too late?!)

In late afternoon it was time for the Feminist GA, co-led by myself and Pat Taub, CODEPINK Maine's newest Local Coordinator in Portland. We went back to the patio, hoping for a cool breeze.
Feminist GA note taker and facilitator at work.
Twenty-eight people, nearly as many men as women, gathered and introduced ourselves. We each commented on why we had chosen to take part in a Feminist GA. Options for a meeting structure were considered briefly and there was a strong consensus in favor of breakout sessions. This turned out to be a very productive arrangement in that it created supportive space for people to talk about how they experience gender, and what that has to do with the patriarchal systems that all people and the Earth suffer under. 

Men and women held their own circles for about 40 minutes, and then after a short break reconvened as a whole group for another 30 minutes, hearing reports from the breakout sessions, and continuing discussions.
Occupy Freeport, MDI and Maine come together at Feminist GA
Wonderful notes were kept thanks to Diane, Ian, James and Susan. Just some of many interesting ideas:
  • Coming together as women is an opportunity to recognize the power of our intuition, and the wisdom of collectively listening to it. This experience builds trust, which also strengthens connections among people. Occupy is about horizontal democracy, and Fem GA is about changing relational dynamics of power that we are all conditioned to, replacing them with trust. Equality can be expressed by “Level Glance” when people are on the same level, eye to eye. Also, we can aspire to listening without being afraid there won't be time to speak, and to not rush when it comes our time to speak.

  • Women tend to hide their light under a bushel, to defer, and to deprecate themselves in relation to others. Getting over this tendency and celebrating our best qualities and strengths would be good for the pool of ideas. Women supporting other women is a good way to help them step out and speak up, even if their voice shakes a little. Supporting younger women is a way of bearing witness to the strength of their individual contribution, and will tend to encourage their participation. Women are very under-represented in media, even more than in government or other decision making roles.

  • Raising decent, healthy sons in a vicious patriarchy is a challenge. The culture is against you. Men suffer as much under patriarchy as women and children do. It's an inhumane system that would benefit everyone and the Earth if dissolved.

  • Men reported their families influenced their understanding of what is is to be masculine. Sometimes groups they are in make them feel they don't belong if they are not masculine in an “acceptable” way. Some men felt listening and observing carefully would be a masculine strength if this was valued. Men reported a lack of any opportunities at all for discussing these issues, and that being able to do so at Occupy summer camp was appreciated.

  • There has been so much loosening up of masculine gender requirements. It's all over the map how you can choose to be a man now. Paradoxically, at the same time as that has been changing, patriarchy has gone out of control, with dominance, violence, war and destruction of the environment everywhere. (I was intrigued by this point and have been mulling it over ever since.)

  • Gender roles are in flux – don't make assumptions. Accidentally hurt feelings made us realize we had erred in offering only two choices, male or female, and we need to remember than gender identity is fluid, and multi-faceted.
As a wrap-up each person was invited to share one thing they would be doing to bring about the better world that is possible. Many people voiced the wish for more opportunities to have conversations around ending patriarchy. As the meeting ended, little conversations broke out all over the room. We had now taken refuge in the barn again because....

There came an enormous thunderstorm and torrential rain -- followed by a

 A good omen! 

And after that I met up with Occupy the Roads, a story that deserves its very own post.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Report back from Occupy Maine Summer Camp - Day 1

Occupy Maine Summer Camp got underway yesterday in Kennebunkport as campers began setting up tents, activity stations (banner painting! button making! and drumming circles, natch).  

Signs I brought along: the assephant that Occupy the NH Primary folks gave me, and the No East-West Corridor sign that my friends Abby and Fang gave me. Their friend Bozin made many of them to help us protect our state and its natural resources from the private-public partnership our governor and the CEO of Cianbro Corp. are in cahoots to build across the Maine wildnerness.

Some people really have this encampment thing down!

Following a terrific communal dinner, we held a GA with about 35 people participating. Hearing why everyone was there and seeing the generational diversity was very inspriring. A Norwegian artist named Una Hunderi who is traveling in the US to investigate "idealistic communities" came from the farthest away to be with us. We were also grandparents, young farm interns, and several videographers and writers. Something we all had in common -- the desire to occupy mosquitos!


As the GA wound down, who should arrive but a NYC contingent bringing activists from the New School to talk about resisting mountain top removal coal miming in Appalachia. It was so exciting to see the big van I've only seen in photos pull into our bucolic camping site.

Codepink Maine members Curtis Cole and Pat Taub posed in front of my favorite side of the first vehicle in the Occupy Caravan. There will be many more assembling over the next few days to head to the National Gathering in Philadelphia. Occupy the Roads!

Today we'll hold a Feminist GA at camp, in advance of the national one at NatGat on July 1.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

In 10 years security conditions have worsened for Afghan women

Tree nursery worker, Surkhrud --  Source:
by Dr. Mariam Raqib 
Dr. Raqib's work conducting forest and orchard restoration projects as director of Afghanistan Samsortya took her to Kabul, Jalalabad and Surkhrud during Sep.-Nov., 2011. During the trip she also interviewed clients of the Afghanistan Women's Council, which provides basic goods and training to people around the country, including in Ningrahar province where she interviewed villagers.

Women in Afghanistan are concerned with issues that are universal in nature. They want their basic needs and the basic needs of their loved ones satisfied. Food, shelter, clothing, security, and the freedom to be mobile are of primary importance. They want to feel safe, they want to feed their children, provide them with medication, and send them to school. But Afghan women are not in control of their destinies; others – the Taliban, NATO, the U.S., and other international aid agencies -- are self appointed guardians, and advocates of women.

Health indicators are dismal. Life expectancy for men is 49 and for women 51 years. According to UNICEF, 68% of children under five suffer from either stunting or wasting due to malnutrition. One in five children die before their fifth birthday. Access to clean water is very limited.

Literacy rates are among the lowest in the world, 28% overall and 13% for women. This is closely related to lack of security and safety in the country. Yes, there are schools. But where is the security to leave the house to go to those schools? Many schools also existed during the time Afghanistan was ruled by the Taliban also, but in secret. What keeps people at home not going to school? Lawlessness, gender related violence, threats from fundamentalist elements, including the Taliban and Northern Alliance gangs and militias, suicide bombings, land mines, and bombings by foreign militaries prevail and continue to threaten the population.

PTSD is not a disease that exclusively plagues soldiers. Women complain of extreme levels of stress regarding uncertainty in their lives and in the lives of their family members. They fear for their children, husbands, fathers, sons and brothers. They are not safe from atrocities from the Taliban, nor from the occupiers.

House to house searches are brutal, dehumanizing, and they instill fear in the population, including young children. Soldiers break into homes in the middle of the night, yelling and screaming obscenities at the residents, separating fathers from their children. The children are traumatized as they watch the soldiers rummage through their belongings, breaking things, disregarding the impact on the people.

Other hardships regarding women include cooking food using plastics, like bits of old slippers and other items that children collect from trash piles. While cooking they inhale the poisonous smoke, and which also contaminates the food. Lack of wood and fuel can be addressed, and in fact, an inspiration for establishing Samsortya's tree nurseries was when I witnessed women cooking in such conditions.

Women report having miscarriages at high rates, and this is likely connected with both pollution and the use of various weapons such as depleted uranium. I was told of fetuses with such strange defects that they are unrecognizable as human. In addition, people say Afghans are dying of cancer at a much higher rate than before. Sadly, there is very little documentation – scientific, or otherwise -- regarding these tragedies, due to the disruptions of war.

One of the worst effects of the war for women and everyone is pollution. Dust fills the air all the time because of the lack of trees and bushes. But even worse is the noise pollution. For example, drones make a very penetrating noise that goes on and on.

Helicopters make an enormous roar traveling in pairs. Helicopters, because the elites do not travel by roads, they go by air. They are especially large and very dark, like vultures. Also there is the noise of tanks and trucks rumbling by, which rattles the buildings you are in. Lines of sand colored trucks as big as a room go by, with modern day cannons on top. The soldiers have on helmets and body armor, but one can still sense their fear. Something about the posture. Everywhere is tense.

Now women do not feel safe leaving the house, and if they do leave the house, they don't feel safe without wearing the burqa. Even in Kabul this is now the case. My friend and I went to meet a woman from the U.S. State Department and she said to my friend, “Why do you wear the burqa? Why not be modern?” She had no idea how bad the security situation is for women in Afghanistan.

Bottom line on whether women have made progress under NATO? The United States is in Afghanistan to promote its own policies, and establish military bases from which they can control Asia. Afghan women, and children are not of any concern. They are used as political tools to pacify and, even more importantly, to deceive the American public.

The United States has done a fantastic job of building alliances with warlords, purchasing them with money and using them as proxies. In ten years security conditions have not improved and have, in some cases, even worsened for women.

Dr. Mariam Raqib conducted research trips to Afghanistan over six years of graduate studies in Political Science at Northeastern University, 2005-2011. She is working on a book about the success of the Taliban movement in using religious symbolism to channel the frustrations of a grieving population.

Monday, June 18, 2012

"Hidden under the blue scarf, her eyes are black with hot shouting"

Photo: Massoud Hossaini/AFP/Getty Images
Revisiting the Afghan Women's Writing Project as part of my research into the real state of affairs in that NATO infested country, I found this gem posted December 6, 2011 by an anonymous member of the Kabul Writing Collective:

Violence Against Women Feels Like…

Violence burns like a piece of wood in the wood stove
Hidden under the blue scarf, her eyes are black with hot shouting
Sounds like there has been a lot of "progress" for women doesn't it?

Here's another author, writing in January, 2010 I Am For Sale, Who Will Buy Me? about her struggle to escape a forced marriage: "Running away is not an option because girls who run away here are raped by men and spend years in jail, and I am not such a girl."

Overblown claim? Not according to MADRE's December, 2011 blog post "US No Help to Afghan Rape Survivors."

And a recent Al Jazeera article on photographers in Afghanistan included the shadowy portrait of just such an unfortunate woman -- raped, and then jailed for adultery. (All under NATO's "protection" of course.)
Farzana Wahidy published this photo which Al Jazeera ran with the caption "An Afghan woman in Parwan prison, convicted of adultery. Wishing to remain anonymous, she says she was raped by a man in her neighborhood, and gave birth to her child in prison."
In a related article, "Q&A: Al Jazeera meets photojournalist Reza", author D. Parvaz wrote:  
After witnessing inequality, veteran photojournalist Reza started Aina, a media training NGO to empower Afghan women...
Parvaz: What is the future for women in Afghanistan? 
Reza: It will be very tough. They were given false signals by the coalition forces that they would get freedom - same for Afghan men, but women suffered more.   

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Why We Occupy: Feminist GA To Gather Collective Wisdom

SOURCE: Print 'em yourself, buy printed sets, or donate to help them reach others.
One of the chief delights of being alive in the second half of the 20th century, and the first half of the 21st, has been the explosion of ways to share information.

Who knew about OccuCards before, say, five minutes ago? I did not, but a CODEPINK sister on the left coast emailed me a link, and I shared it with a fellow organizer who lives in a house named for Melman and then I got inspired to showcase this particular card in my blog.

And who knows who may see it here, and share it with even more people...

This is why the authorities kick Occupy out of public spaces for no worse a crime than camping. Because our coming together to share ideas is very, very threatening.

One of the chief ways we've been kept from coming together is by systems of control where some people, the very wealthy, have way more power than other people. They control the banks, the Congress, the courts, the White House, and the mass media. Their paid hacks trivialize, marginalize and attack anyone who tries to take their head out of the sand and speak up about what's wrong and what to do about it.

Unfortunately, we all get brought up in this system. We watch "debates" where people shout each other down. We are flooded with false messages so loud, so flashy and so constant that it become a radical act just to shut them off.

We remain silent -- sometimes to save ourselves from annihilation, sometimes out of habit.

One of the amazing features of indigenous communities around the globe is inclusion of all the voices. Collectively humans are far more wise than any one individual. When citizens have to shout and get arrested just to be heard in bodies that allegedly represent the people, it's time for a new order.

I will be supporting and helping to organize Feminist General Assemblies (#FemGA) at various Occupy events this summer. This is not because I am mad at men or think they have nothing to contribute. It is because I know how many young women are silenced by the oppressive powers that be. They are ridiculed for not being gorgeous enough, they are marginalized for not being aggressive enough, they are forced into industrialized labor and childbearing in order that they may never discover the awesome power they embody.

It's time for the patriarchy to step down, and I have no doubt that righteous brothers everywhere are hoping and working toward this end just as women are.

I'm going to do my part to hear from the young women, the women of color, the low income women, the older women--those whom the patriarchy shouts down. I'm excited about the ideas they will share with the rest of us when they get into a space where their voices can be heard.

We can't have it be a contest to get your voice the loudest. That's what we have now, and look where it's gotten us.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Have Afghan Women Made "Progress" Under NATO?

Amnesty International ran ads and sent a letter signed by Madeline Albright supporting the absurd claim signed by the heads of state at the NATO summit in Chicago: “In the ten years of our partnership the lives of Afghan men, women and children, have improved significantly in terms of security, education, health care, economic opportunity and the assurance of rights and freedoms. There is more to be done, but we are resolved to work together to preserve the substantial progress we have made during the past decade.”
Recent facts to the contrary include:
  • In country organizations that work for women's empowerment disagree. From RAWA: There has been no improvement in lives of this the most miserable and ill-fated portion of Afghan society since the establishment of transitional government...    
  • Today, Afghans have an average life expectancy of 48 years. According to UNICEF, 68% of children under five suffer from either stunting or wasting due to malnutrition
The United Nations has said that "Inclusion of protections for women and girls" is central to transition security sector framework for Afghanistan -- a completely different matter than claiming their health or that of their children has improved!
Amnesty International ad during NATO summit in Chicago, May 2012

Concerned activists will hold a one hour conference call to discuss: Have Afghan women made "progress" under NATO? Thursday, June 27 at 8pm EST. The Conference Dial-in Number: (949) 812-4500 and Participant Access Code: 583293#

The purpose of this call will be to sort through what we know about the effects of military occupation on women's quality of life, and how we might shape this part of the narrative as the war "ends" and there is more media attention paid to Afghanistan.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Davis: U.S. Policies Are A Guaranteed FAIL In Afghanistan

Source: Scott Olson/Getty Images from USA Today coverage of NATO summit protests in Chicago May, 2012.
Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis just spent a year in Afghanistan, and now he just can't shake off the feeling that our government is lying to the troops, lying to the people, and lying to itself. Davis came home to the vast indifference of a Congress that won't even hold hearings on the USA's longest war, and he turned to press outlets like the Armed Forces Journal to carry some reality to those with ears to listen.

In "Truth, lies and Afghanistan: How military leaders have let us down" Davis has a different perspective than do peace activists who are concerned about harm to all the Earth's people. His job, which he seems to take seriously, is to advocate within the system for proper deployment of the troops we are always being urged to support. He writes:
When it comes to deciding what matters are worth plunging our nation into war and which are not, our senior leaders owe it to the nation and to the uniformed members to be candid — graphically, if necessary — in telling them what’s at stake and how expensive potential success is likely to be. U.S. citizens and their elected representatives can decide if the risk to blood and treasure is worth it.
Obviously he is reading but not buying the official NATO line on Afghanistan. From the statement signed by heads of state at the recently concluded NATO summit in Chicago.
“In the ten years of our partnership the lives of Afghan men, women and children, have improved significantly in terms of security, education, health care, economic opportunity and the assurance of rights and freedoms. There is more to be done, but we are resolved to work together to preserve the substantial progress we have made during the past decade.”
One of the most damaging effects of lying to yourself is how badly it hampers ones ability to make decisions based on evidence.
Source: BBC article on childhood mortality rate of Afghanistan (#3 in the world).
Davis quoted several experts to back up his analysis, among them Foreign Policy analyst Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who wrote in Afghanistan: The Uncertain Economics of Transition: “Credible transition planning cannot be based on systematic dishonesty and omission of key variables...”

Davis again in a longer piece he posted online:
If the vast and diverse body of work I have included here is right, our official policy will not only fail to accomplish our national objectives, it may perversely contribute to its failure. [empahsis mine] Of greater concern to me personally, however is this: the men and women of our Armed Forces will pay with their lives, their body parts, their flesh and blood, and suffer continued degradation to their emotional and psychological well-being in pursuit of a strategy that will not benefit our country.
As far as paying with their lives, the President has a solution: just use drones. The cross border  bombing of civilians while attempting to assassinate presumed militants is the hallmark of the second decade of NATO's war on Afghanistan.

The horror of bombing mourners at funerals in Pakistan was expressed by many commenters along the lines: What kind of vicious tyrant would use such tactics? (My answer from 5th grade civics class: a tyrant with no checks and balances in place.)

Medea Benjamin  had a piece in Truthout this week about what people on both sides of the world really want. She quoted drone expert, Shahzad Akbar, a Pakistani lawyer suing the CIA on behalf of drone victims:
[Akbar] thinks its time for the American people to speak out. "Can you trust a program that has existed for eight years, picks its targets in secret, faces zero accountability and has killed almost 3,000 people in Pakistan alone whose identities are not known to their killers?," he asks.
"When women and children in Waziristan are killed with Hellfire missiles, Pakistanis believe this is what the American people want.
I would like to ask Americans, 'Do you?'"

Source: American Free Press "CIA Drone Attacks Murder Civilians, Rescuers, Mourners"