Saturday, July 31, 2010

Dept. of False Dichotomy

Will Afghan women remain repressed,
or will they be free to buy beauty products?

The subject line most found in my email box the last couple of days is about who will get reporter Helen Thomas' coveted front-row seat in the White House press briefing room. Ms. Thomas was a career journalist best known for asking the hardball questions the big boys in the White House Correspondents' Association shied away from, e.g. on May 27: "When are you going to get out of Afghanistan? Why are we continuing to kill and die there? What is the real excuse? And don't give us this Bushism, 'If we don't go there, they'll all come here'." She resigned amid a furor caused by her suggestion in an interview that Zionists return whence they came.

So I am deluged with emails suggesting I take action so that NPR gets the front-row seat, not FOX “News.”

These are the choices we are offered in the declining days of the empire. As if NPR had not sold out years ago to the corporations that sponsor it, and was some sort of bulwark of the free press against the info-tainment fear mongering and race baiting of FOX talking heads.

It is analogous to the “choice” voters were offered in the last election: who would you rather have in the White House, Obama (“I'm not against wars, just stupid wars”) or McCain (“Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran”)?

Or you could vote for a third party candidate you really wanted, like Cynthia McKinney or Ralph Nader, and have your friends accuse you of throwing the election the wrong way. Our two-party system is the very essence of a contrived either/or choice that blocks out other possibilities.

False dichotomy is a reliable method of propaganda, effective in that it frames the question falsely, excluding the myriad possibilities that exist outside the either/or. I wrote about it here in the context of the media flap over Gen. McChrystal trash talking the president. False dichotomy as in: who's in charge of the war in Afghanistan, the Pentagon or the White House?

Another F.D. that's currently making the rounds of big corporate “news” outlets like the New York Times: will Afghan women be sacrificed, or will NATO stay the course in the the fight against the Taleban? Time Magazine is so shameless they put a photograph of a woman with her nose sliced off on their cover. The timing suggests that recent wikileaks revelations about US and NATO atrocities against civilians, including female children, must be a real threat to the manufactured consent for the war on terror.

Look for front page stories soon on repression of women's rights by the lunatic, theocratic government in Iran. “News” stories are sure to accompany the sabre rattling as we surround that piece of prime real estate controlling the eastern shores of the Persian Gulf.

, here we come.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Hope and Despair

New trees growing in Surkhrud, Afghanistan

Yesterday I heard that one of our best programs for helping high school students reach college and succeed there had huge cuts in funding. Upward Bound has been very successful with students I know, kids from families with one struggling single parent who works a lot, families in which no one has gone on to college yet.

During the summer, students who are accepted in the program spend several weeks living in a dorm at our local state university campus. They take classes on topics like how to write an essay or ace the SAT, and they work at part-time jobs (for pay) that connect to an interest area – hospital for those who intend to go into health care, etc. They go on outings to climb mountains and such. Last year they met after school once a month with their very fine mentor Elyse Pratt-Ronco who brought snacks and gave seminars in how to identify what you are really interested in, or how to get your scholarship applications in on time. The bulletin board they created to promote Upward Bound showed how much they love the program and the many ways it meets their needs.

A senior in a nearby school district has been in the program for three years. Her mom told me yesterday she could not afford the fees being charged this summer to make up for the budget cuts, so her daughter stayed home instead and looked for a job to save money for college. She hasn't found one yet.

Senator Susan Collins and Senator Olympia Snowe have shamed themselves by voting to borrow $37.12 billion for more war for oil in the Middle East. One minute of war in Afghanistan would have paid for forty kids to attend Upward Bound! NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote this week of "a sobering report from the College Board says that the United States, which used to lead the world in the proportion of young people with college degrees, has dropped to 12th."

Experts agree that Maine will never climb out of the economic doldrums we seem permanently stuck in without a more educated population. Of course those who do earn a college degree seldom return to live in my area, because there are no jobs here. How many jobs could be created next year with $37.12 billion?

My friend Mariam Raqib sent me hopeful news last week. Her project to help local people replant trees in Surkrhud District near Jalalabad City in eastern Afghanistan is thriving.

Afghanistan Samsortya (which means “re-vitalization”) has established nurseries for five drought resistant, fast-growing species of trees using seeds from the the New Forests Project World Seed Program.

One species, Moringa oleifera, is called “the magic tree” because its leaves can be food for both animals and people, and especially support lactation. According to the Samsortya website, “60-80% of trees in Afghanistan have been destroyed over the last thirty years. This affects not only people in Afghanistan, but people everywhere who share our global environment.” No kidding.

Fundraising to re-establish a viable irrigation system is ongoing. You can contribute to the project, and help grow some hope.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Rise of Right Wing "Populism" -- Coalition Building Ahead?

Drove home from the United National Peace Conference in Albany in a hopeful mood. Marching with 100+ folks on the last day was uplifting to our spirits, despite the distressing news of special prisons just for Muslims subject to "preemptive prosecution" by our government. The Muslim Solidarity Committee & Project SALAM had invited us to Masjid As-Salam where we were warmly welcomed and heard remarks from family members who are not able to visit or communicate with their fathers, sons, uncles and brothers who are whisked away in the night for crimes they "might" commit. A 12 year old girl has not seen her father in a year. The mother of a mentally challenged teenager recently learned his trial has been postponed for a year.

Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK said, since our host stated the belief that the mosque is under surveillance by the FBI, she had a message for her government: if you want to make me safer, stop bombing civilians abroad and violating civil rights here at home.

On the way out the door Mark and I were lucky enough to run into Nellie Bailey of the Harlem Tenants Council. We walked a ways with her and then her brother was nice enough to give us all a ride back to the conference hotel. Nellie wanted to know more about the last workshop, "The Rise of Right Wing Populism and the Tea Party: Do We Need a Right-Left Coalition?" which I had moderated. Nellie's Black Agenda radio co-host Glen Ford had been a speaker and she was curious about how the discussion went after the panelists spoke.

I told her about 100 people had attended, and that the overwhelming majority of those who came to the podium during discussion period agreed with Glen: if you invite tea party type groups to join an antiwar coalition, you will drive away people of color, indigenous people, LGBT people who are frightened by racist, anti-gay rhetoric. The history of right wing movements with white supremacist beliefs is a violent one. A white woman with an African American husband aptly summed up the consensus view: “Are you out of your minds?”

Medea was a panelist and shared that she was not interested in forming a coalition, but she had gone into the field at a tea party rally in Washington DC to find out more about what participants were thinking. She and other PINKs were spat on and called “code stink” while conducting their April 15 survey. Drawing tea partiers out about their antiwar sentiments exposes the hypocrisy of tea party leaders who focus on lowering taxes and reducing the deficit without addressing out of control spending on wars and occupations. Also, 80% of those surveyed favored continuing aid to Israel, the 5th richest country in the world, which receives a $3 billion credit for weapons each year at the U.S. taxpayer's expense.

Coalition building was on everyone's minds at the conference (videos here). Blanca Misse, graduate student and activist from UC Berkeley, called for grassroots organizers and activists in workers rights, peace, immigration, and other movements to come together. Dr. Margaret Flowers of Physicians for a National Health Program and Baucus 13 fame was there with her family. Veteran Ethan McCord came to share “facts on the ground” from the now infamous Collateral Murder video. His statement at the press conference stays with me. An 18 year old asked what happened in basic training to make soldiers capable of acting as those in the video did, laughing while mowing down civilians and even children. McCord: “First, let me just say that nobody who is in the military in Iraq wants to be there. Nobody.”

On the way back into Maine we drove by a trailer with a lot of signs on the lawn facing the highway, including a 6ft high cartoon of President Obama smoking a cigar labeled “Constitution” and lighting it from a burning paper labeled “Bill of Rights.” While photographing this display we were greeted by Patrick, the creator. He had a lot of other signs on his lawn as well: praising Arizona's SB1070 law, pleading for jobs, and suggesting all racists be deported (white racists to South Africa, etc.).

Patrick said he was unemployed, and his wife was no longer a teacher because she didn't get along with the administration. He seemed to assume we were socialists for some reason, though we had had said nothing about our beliefs. “If you're a socialist you want to help people. I used to be a car mechanic. Lost my job and can't find a job and don't have no car. If you believe in socialism, then you should give me your car.”

He also had painted a sign of a black man about to strike a white infant with a long stick. This was about the “new Black Panther party which will kill all the crackers” according to Patrick.

Here's an exchange we had about his big cartoon:

Me: What has Obama done against the constitution that you're mad about – is it renewing the Patriot Act? (He acted unsure what that was.) Is it about the 2nd amendment? (“You all gotta be liberals.") Your sign here shows Obama burning the Bill of Rights. What's that about?

Patrick: That's what he's done, he's shredded the constitution. It's as good as gone. He's put all his eggs in energy basket. When you go out there those windmills -- half of them don't work. They don't tell you that.

I asked how he felt about U.S. aid to Israel.

Patrick: Israel is a great ally. They're our best friend. But it's like that friend that every time you go to a bar together, they get in a fight.

After we drove away my husband said Patrick was parroting a lot of incoherent stuff from right wing hate radio. I rode home thinking of Chomsky saying we ignore the authentic distress of the non-working poor at our peril (because the fascists will organize them instead of our doing it). Also wondering what Patrick's isolation without a car way out in the sticks would lead to. In my fantasy world I have the funds to buy a decent used car, and I leave it in his driveway with a note, “You're right, Patrick, I have socialist tendencies.”

And I'm with Nellie and Glen. Right wing populism scares the crap out of me.

CLOSED June, 2010

The connection between the economy and out of control military spending was a theme of this year's National Peace Conference in Albany July 23-25. Several speakers mentioned it, and the very words Bring Our War $ Home were heard from the podium both at the news conference and the opening plenary. Our banner hung in the large ballroom throughout the conference, and was carried in the rally and march that ended the conference.

About 36 people attended a workshop on BOW$H, offered by Mark Roman along with representatives of the Northampton, Mass. BOW$H campaign, the 25% campaign in Massachusetts, and the National Priorities Project. The audience was highly engaged and curious to know more, with many sharing similar efforts they are making in their own communities: a Binghamton, NY group raised money to have a cost of war sign that shared a different fact each day about war spending displayed on city hall; a socialist candidate for state legislature in Connecticut is using campaign materials listing the things that their state's contribution to war costs could have bought instead.

The workshop flyer (pasted in below) was also shared at a potluck supper for about 60 people, sponsored by the local group Women Against War. CODEPINK co-founder Medea Benjamin had been invited to speak about becoming more active at the local level, and she asked me to talk about our campaign in Maine. The flyers CODEPINK used at the conference said “Rebuild America, or Bomb Afghanistan?” and on the back: "Bring our War $$$ Home CODEPINK chapters are making noise about the cost of war and impacts in their own communities. Taking leadership from our rockin’ Maine local group, tools, tips and action ideas posted soon!" They are linking our flyer to their national website. So word is getting around.

With sadness I add the postscript that our Congress, which does not make even a pretense of representing the will of the people, vote another $33 billion to escalate the war in Afghanistan in the coming year. Another “emergency” supplemental bill has been maneuvered through the system, for more blood stained corporate profits. Both Rep. Michaud and Pingree voted “no” but overall there were more than twice as many yes votes as no, even while more than half the public is now opposed to continuing the war.

We are looking for more locales in Maine to bring resolutions / hold public forums on the war spending issue. Please think about doing this in your town.

Bring Our War $$ Home

Maine's campaign to generate conversations in our communities
that connect the dots between military spending and
economic crisis in the U.S.A.

Towns, cities, and school districts facing budget cuts
call on their representatives in the House
to redirect spending from military
to solve funding shortfalls faced by
schools, health services, infrastructure, etc.

Americans Who Tell the Truth, CODEPINK Maine, Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space, The Kennebunks Peace Department, Maine Green Independent Party, Maine War Tax Resistance Resource Center, Maine Veterans for Peace, Midcoast Peace & Justice, Military Families Speak Out - Maine Chapter, Pax Christi Maine, Peace Action Maine, Peace & Justice Center of Eastern Maine, PeaceWorks, Peninsula Peace and Justice (Blue Hill), Rockland P&J, ROSC (Resources for Organizing and Social Change), Union of Maine Visual Artists, Waterville Area Bridges for Peace & Justice.

  • Download and edit a BOW$H resolution that fits your audience.
  • Contact your town office or school board district office to find out when their next public meeting is, and how to get an item on the agenda.
  • Dowload and print out a flyer with key points about the effects of military spending on your local budget. Use the National Priorities Project website to find data for your state, which can be used with population data to get a rough estimate of the cost of wars to individual towns and cities. Make copies of the flyer.
  • Go to the meeting, and pass out flyers to others in the audience while you wait for it to begin. Keep any conversations light at this point – you are just raising the issue for now.
  • Wait until the citizen's delegation part of the agenda (get a copy of the agenda when you come in so you will know where in the line up this occurs).
  • When you are recognized by the person chairing the meeting, stand up and hand the clerk or each of the selectmen, councilors or school board directors a copy of the resolution.
  • Speak briefly, calmly and clearly asking them to consider adopting a resolution calling on the House reps from the area to reallocate funds from military to other areas that are struggling to find adequate funding.
  • Very likely they will respond by saying they will put your request on the agenda for a subsequent meeting. In that case, thank them and sit down.
  • Go to the meeting where you are formally on the agenda with another, more detailed handout for the audience and the decision makers.
  • Speak on behalf of the resolution (see resources for a sample of what you might say).
  • Organize some other community members to also speak in favor of adopting the resolution.
  • Remain calm if criticized or rebuked. Repeat the BOW$H mantra silently: “I am opening a space for this discussion to occur. Good for me!!!”
  • In some cases, it may be best to contact potentially friendly decision makers in advance and invite their input into both the wording of the resolution and the process for trying to get it adopted.
  • In some cases, it may be a good idea to notify the press that the matter will come before the decision making body.
  • No matter what the outcome – the resolution passes, is tabled to a later date, fails, or they vote to “pass over” and not consider it – congratulate yourself on your effort and repeat the BOW$H mantra: “I am opening a space for this discussion to occur. That is the goal.”
  • Download and edit a BOW$H resolution, then craft it into a letter from your state representatives and senators to your representative in the House.
  • Contact your state rep and state senator and ask them to sign on to the letter.
  • Ask your friends to do the same with their state reps and senators.
  • Collect all the original signatures, then make a photocopy and send it to your rep in the House.
  • Follow up with a phone call to find out if they received it, and what they plan to do about it.
ONLINE COMMENTS 5 minute action:
  • Find an article or letter to the editor about budget cuts, funding shortfalls, lack of essential services in your community.
  • Write a comment or response letter pointing out that there is a solution: bring our war $$ home.
  • Connect the dots for readers by estimating how many minutes of war in Afghanistan (at around $48,000 per minute) would solve this particular funding crisis.
PHOTO OPPORTUNITY 10 minute action:
  • Download and print out a BOW$H message that fits your audience (see example above and longer list below).
  • Take the message to a location where a school or business has closed, or a budget cut meeting is being held.
  • Create a photo or video of the message in the location.
  • Upload your images to flickr or YouTube and share, share, share.

CALL-A-THON 1 hour action:
  • Download and print out a BOW$H message that fits your audience (see example above and longer list below).
  • Download and print out flyer with key points about how military spending affects federal, state, local and school budgets.
  • Take the message to a nearby public space such as the sidewalk in front of your local post office or grocery store.
  • Ask passersby how they feel about defunding wars in order to fund education, bridge repairs, or another hot button issue for your community.
  • If they agree that this is a workable solution, ask them if they would be willing to phone their congress critter using your cell phone. Provide them with a brief description of what will happen (e.g. “An operator will answer, you ask for Rep. George Martin, and a staffer will answer and take your message.”)
  • You can also have printed out simple talking points to support them in making the call.
PUBLIC CONTACT 2 hour action:
  • Download and print out a BOW$H message that fits your audience (see example above and longer list below).
  • Crash your congress member's fundraiser or other public appearance.
  • Display your message, hand out flyers, and engage the critter in discussion if possible.
  • Download and print out a BOW$H message that fits your audience (see example above and longer list below).
  • Take the message to your congress member's nearest district office.
  • Ask the highest ranking staff member you can talk to to explain their boss's position on defunding wars in order to fund education, bridge repairs, or another hot button issue for your community.
  • Create a video of the question and the answer.
  • Upload your video to YouTube and share, share, share.
DRAW-A-THON 2 month action (this one is extra fun):
  • Contact some artists and invite them to a Draw-a-thon to create images envisioning how the ____ billion your state has contributed to the wars so far could have been spent.
  • Organize a venue and refreshments for the artists to work together for a day, if possible.
  • Organize a pot luck supper for the public to view their work and celebrate their accomplishments. Invite poets and musicians to participate also.
  • Contact the clerk's office of your state capitol building and reserve the space kept for delegations from the public.
  • Organize a press conference with testimony from diverse groups – health care workers, social workers, educators, labor, students, indigenous groups, veterans, immigrants and other advocacy groups – about the effect of military spending on cuts to essential programs.
  • Send a press release two weeks in advance of the conference, then remind them a couple of times before the date.
  • Display the work of the artists in the state capitol building public space.
  • Ask a few artists to hold a Draw-in to create images based on requests of passersby (“What would you spend $2.5 billion on instead of war?”), especially kids if any are around, because kids have very cool ideas like hot air balloon rides.
  • If possible, create a 'zine or brochure using some of the images and calling on state legislators to contact Congress about the need to cut military spending to fund other programs.
  • Deliver the publication to the legislators. Let the press know you are going to do this, too.
These taglines can be customized to be effective with target audiences in your community. The fear of appearing (or being) unpatriotic may be a concern for your audience, for example.

Bring Our War $$ Home

How's the war economy working for you?

Bring Our War $$ Home
for real national security

Bring Our War $$ Home
invest in U.S.A.

Bring Our War $$ Home
to make America strong

Bring Our War $$ Home
to strengthen America

Bring Our War $$ Home
balance the budgets

Bring Our War $$ Home
budget cuts? problem solved!

Bring Our War $$ Home
balance your town budget today

Bring Our War $$ Home
spend for peace

Bring Our War $$ Home
fund human needs, not corporate greed

Bring Our War $$ Home
No more debt for military spending.
Bring our troops home now!

Bring Our War $$ Home
so there's a future for the U.S.A.

Bring Our War $$ Home
fund green jobs and other needs

Bring Our War $$ Home
military spending is bankrupting U.S.

Bring Our War $$ Home
U.S. military budget not sustainable

Data to compute the price tag of war spending for your community:

To see more images from Maine artists envisioning what our war $$ could have bought: