Wednesday, February 27, 2013

"In The Context Of 1,000 Years Of War" Is Short-Sighted

Maine's newest Senator Angus King appeared on t.v. as a pundit on why flying killer robots are a "humane" weapon.

Domination of airspace by flying robots is well underway, with citizens speaking up to resist.

A Maine wise woman, the activist/artist Natasha Mayers, appeared before the joint Senate and House Judiciary Committee in Augusta, Maine yesterday. She was ordered to remove her hat and the sign around her neck in order to remain in the hearing room. Apparently all those eyes looking at the committee members made them uneasy. They were hearing testimony on a bill to require police to obtain warrants before conducting surveillance by drones.

Dominating the airwaves that bring citizens their information has been the primary method of controlling populations. It is far more pervasive and, really, more effective than the use of brute force. Which is of course resorted to whenever deemed necessary. But force is often not needed as the constant messaging around the supposed superiority of violent methods -- and the reminders of who wields them -- are the very air citizens breathe in the 21st century.

School kids tell me every year that violence always wins. What else would they think growing up on literally millions of images selling them on the false idea that violence is stronger than love?

Let's take the Academy Awards as just the most recent example. As reported by blogger Allison Kilkenny:
the first lady bizarrely showed up surrounded by military service personnel in dress uniform. 
She declared of the Best Picture nominees, “They reminded us that we can overcome any obstacle if we dig deep enough and fight hard enough and find the courage within ourselves.” Of course, the nominees included Zero Dark Thirty and Argo, two propaganda films widely criticized for manipulating true events, and in the case of the former, outright lying by suggesting torture led to the capture of Osama bin Laden. 
Having the first lady—and by extension, the White House—present an award to a pool that included propaganda films was, at best, creepy.
I am here to testify that once upon a time, long before Angus' 1,000 year window of prevalent violence, there were cultures upon the Earth that revered nature and respected fellow human beings. These cultures did not have mass media, the Internet, films or even photography to share their vision of what it meant to be human. We do see some of their artifacts and we do still hear some of their shared wisdom in the form of oral traditions that were passed down through the generations.

One of the most fascinating civilizations (a word that signifies, not civility, but the presence of writing, public works, and surplus food storage among other accoutrements) is that of the Indus River Valley. The harvest goddess statue above is believed to be about 4,500 years old.  In what is now Pakistan and was once India, a culture that showed no evidence of violence or warfare flourished. It had toys, very advanced water and sewer infrastructure, and writing that has never been deciphered. It disappeared in the historical record several thousand years ago, but no one really know why. Flooding? Disease? Invasion? There is little evidence of any of these, so historians are left to speculate.

Voices that are silenced in the din of modern civilization are those that respect the Earth, revere life, and believe that mindful love and cooperation are far more powerful than violence. Those voices are rising now.

If we all come together and stop cooperating with the systems of violence, they will fall in a matter of days. But first, we must believe it is possible.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Information Wants To Be Free And So Do Whistleblowers

White House Press Secretary turned journalist says he was instructed not to acknowledge any drone program even if questioned about it during press conferences. Robert Gibbs reportedly described this communications strategy as "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain" and further added
the White House's denial of the program "when it’s obviously happening, undermines people’s confidence overall in the decisions that their government makes."
The White House has refused thus far to release the legal memos they use to justify extrajudicial assassination. Apparently the fact that your taxes pay the salary of everyone in the White House, in the CIA, at the drone bases, and the special folks who prepare the "kill list" for Tuesday review doesn't buy you a right to significant information.

Robert Naiman of Just Foreign Policy believes the public has the right to know and has called on the Senate to conduct hearings where information could be brought to light:
The Senate Intelligence Committee is supposed to do oversight of the Central Intelligence Agency. Since the CIA is conducting drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, and since this is a controversial policy, the Senate Intelligence Committee should be doing oversight of that. 
But, as the Los Angeles Times recently noted, the Senate Intelligence Committee has never held a public hearing on CIA drone strikes. Indeed, for the year prior to the recent confirmation hearing of John Brennan to head the CIA, it never held a public hearing at all. 
Following Brennan's confirmation hearing, Politico reported that Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she was unaware of reports that U.S. officials assumed any male of fighting age killed in a strike was a combatant — a method likely to undercount the number of civilian deaths.
On the other side of the coin, what happens to those who dare to share the truth of what our government is up to?  CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou just began a 30 month prison sentence for his leaks about torture. Coverage by Democracy Now! notes the irony that Krirakou never tortured anyone, while those who did torture are not being sent to prison. Information sharing genius Aaron Swartz was hounded to death by prosecutors for merely giving folks access to academic journals, and Julian Assange has been in asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in London for months now rather than face extradition to the U.S. for Wikileaks' participation in sharing a wealth of information with the general public. 

Assange is justified in seeking to remain beyond the grasp of the U.S. government -- his most famous accomplice in the quest to bring some information about U.S. government doings into the light of day, Bradley Manning, has been incarcerated for 1,000 days and has yet to be brought to trial.

U.S. Army personnel shooting from a helicopter at a van rescuing injured civilians. (From the "Collateral Murder" video which is probably Manning's most famous leak.)
Again I must note the irony that Manning's crime is sharing information about acts of violence, such as military attacks on civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan -- yet he himself has done nothing violent.

Two t.v. news channels showed up in Portland, Maine on February 23 to record a rally organized by CODEPINK Maine marking Bradley's 1,000th day in jail. But the editors at both stations must have killed the story, because in the end all you get is my amateurish video. (Apologies to Occupy Maine's attorney John Branson for accidentally unsynching his audio -- what he had to say is well worth hearing.) 
Bellows looks on as Bradley Manning supporters sign a petition calling for his release. You can sign it online.
MCLU director Shenna Bellows also spoke about the implications for all of us of the trampling of our rights under the Constitution -- something that the president and members of the Senate swore to uphold when they assumed office, and something which the people of Maine have the right to know about. But corporate media do the bidding of those in power, and the people must become information workers on their own behalf if they wish to know what is done in their name by their government.

My CODEPINK associate Pat Taub distributed flyers in downtown Portland in advance of the rally. She said that every single person she encountered while asking in shops if she could post a flyer -- had never heard of Bradley Manning. (Go ahead, try it yourself. Search for Portland, Maine t.v. mentions of Bradley Manning. After all, he only shared the information that helped start the "Arab Spring" and Occupy Wall St. and...)

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Stand On The Side Of The Planet And Free Speech

When we become aware of a great moral issue, it's good for the soul to decide which side we will stand on: with the riot police, or with the defenders of the coral reefs? This anonymous woman visiting South Korea from Hawaii was honored by villagers of Gangeong village on Jeju Island. They gifted her with the traditional Korean robe she wears so beautifully here, and she responded by playing a concert to lift the spirits of the activists. They have been standing firm for years now against the entombment of their beloved coastline and fisheries, against the destruction of the natural resources that gave them life for so many generations.

The photo above was posted by one of the bravest of many brave activists, Sung Hee-Choi, who has been arrested as well as physically attacked for putting himself between the UN World Heritage Site and the trucks that the Samsung corporation is using to destroy it. 
South Korea has been required by the U.S. to build a deep water port from which to menace the South China Sea. It needs to be big enough to handle ships like Aegis destroyers.

Aegis nuclear-equipped destroyers are ships which are built far away, at Bath Iron Works in Maine. Maine's newest Senator Angus King visited the General Dynamics facility this week to pay homage to his campaign contributors, and to vow to fight cuts to the Pentagon's budget (currently at 57% of total discretionary spending) to save the 5,500 jobs there. "Jobs" being a mythically powerful word that is repeated like an incantation by politicians looking to deliver on the favors that corporations purchase at election time.

Angus was once a hippie who hung around in the north woods smoking pot and building geodesic domes. Somewhere along the line he succumbed to either greed (he became quite wealthy on industrial wind investments) or the lust for fame. Possibly both. 

Now Angus favors fracking because his aide told me "it can be done safely" and anyway we must do it because heating oil is too expensive and we need natural gas as a "transition fuel."
Source: 8020 Vision -- Use their inteactive diagram to see what fracking does to ground water.
The inspiring example of the Jeju Island resistance will be useful when Mainers are resisting the planned corporate looting of our own wealth of natural resources. Tar sands pipelines, an East-West Corridor with mining rights and hundreds of feet wide right of way, private-public partnerships to cash in on eminent domain, a mammoth (13 stories high) LP gas tank on the Penobscot Bay, mountain top removal open pit mining, and expansion beyond the seven already existing wells to pump out the spectacular Maine aquifer are all planned.

Hearings where you can stand on the side of Mother Earth include Searsport High School on Monday, Feb 25 at 6pm with Thanks but no tank, and Fryeburg.
SAVE THE DATE - Mark your calendars!
There will be a PUBLIC HEARING in Fryeburg, Maine on Thursday, March 7, 6pm at the Fryeburg Legion Hall on Bradley Street across from the Fryeburg Academy gym next to the baseball field about Nestle having an unprecedented long term contract with the Fryeburg Water Company, a public utility.

Source: Defending Water For Life in Maine
Indigenous people of Hawaii have lived for generations with corporate degradation and pollution of their island paradise. Jeju Islanders have called on international solidarity in their struggle. Idle No More has connected the First Nations of Canada with earth defenders all over the planet.

Which side will you be on? I'm happy to say I will be on the side that has the best culture workers -- the artists and musicians and dancers and writers who lift our hearts while we struggle on in the face of the obscene wealth and greed of corporations who think they own the Earth.

Today I'll be standing in Portland, Maine for information hero Bradley Manning. February 23 is his 1,000th day in jail for sharing news of war crimes and U.S. State Department complicity in corporate hijacking of resources all over the planet. Here's the poster that Kansas artist/activist Marc Saviano made specially for the occasion:

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Angus Favors Fracking + No Photos Of Guards Allowed

We arrived a few minutes early for our staff meeting at Maine's new senator Angus King's office in Augusta, the state capital. The federal building has a metal detector and about seven middle aged guards at the door, and it took us considerably longer than we had planned to pass through security.

My friend Abby Shahn had to remove her belt, shoes, and get wanded by a metal detector.

I had to drink the water from my water bottle in front of the one female guard, to prove that it was actually water. No, she was not kidding.

Marge Kilkelly -- who was a Democratic legislator in Maine before becoming senior policy advisor to Angus -- was in state for the congressional recess week, and she said it took her a really long time to get through security, too.

Apparently the guards at the federal building have been told to give the order that no one is supposed to photograph "a guard doing his (sic) work." An aggressive older man ordered me to erase the photo I took of Abby getting wanded, and I did it because 1) I wanted to get to my appointment and 2) apparently the guards did not realize that when someone holds a pink rectangle up in the air, she is also taking a picture. So we still got the clandestine photos above.

We did our meeting, which we had requested soon after Angus got elected in November, by presenting a lot of information we thought might lead Angus to conclude that riding the "stop war spending, it's bankrupting the Treasury" platform might be a path to public acclaim. 

Some info was to show that the will of the people of Maine is overwhelmingly in favor of low spending on "defense"( Penny Poll article  from the Kennebec Journal). National Priorities project trade offs and charts showed that the federal government is seriously out of whack, currently spending 57% of the discretionary budget on military. We also left behind a case study of Bring Our War $$ Home campaign as a coalition effort in Maine and in many other parts of the U.S. and articles about the U.S. Conference of Mayors resolution pleading with the federal government to spend less on wars, and more investing in the cities where people live.

We had printed a copy of the Pollin & Pelletier report "The U.S. Employment Effects of Military and Domestic Spending," which refutes the claim that military spending is a good jobs program. I consider this the clincher because it refutes the b.s. that is always trotted out when there are threatened cuts to the Pentagon budget: But we will lose jobs locally if this funding is cut! Read the report to find out why investment in several other ways produces far more jobs -- more than twice as many, in some cases.

It fell to Codepink associate Pat Taub to get down to business on drones. Since Angus had made a splash in the news asking a few pointed questions about drones of John Brennan, nominee for CIA director. He had also suggested a special court to review the extrajudicial assassination plans, but only those targeting Americans, so Pat had brought Desmond Tutu's op-ed calling for a respect for all the humans on the planet. She had much documentation of the effects of drone strikes, including photographs, and a copy of Medea Benjamin's book Drone Warfare, which is well-researched and current. 
Buy one for your senator.
We also shared a copy of NYU/Stanford law school report "Living Under Drones" a most substantial refutation of the claim that drones are in Angus' words a "humane" weapon as currently used by the U.S. 

Abby, going as usual to the heart of the matter, wanted to ask: How can the people's voices can be heard in government? She observed that this has consistently failed to happen. She has a long memory so she started back at Vietnam naming all the wars people haven't wanted that the U.S. has waged anyway. (A large campaign contribution would no doubt amplify the people's voices just like it does for corporations.) I wondered aloud who Angus would be representing in Congress: the people of Maine, or General Dynamics?

Then we all talked about energy policy and we found out that because Maine is so dependent on heating oil, Angus favors natural gas as a "transitional fuel" and that he favors FRACKING!!!!!

Objections to the folly of polluting ground water were waved away by Marge with the mantra "transitional fuel." 

We pointed out that we had been in "transition" since Jimmy Carter wore that cardigan and turned down the thermostat in the White House, which was so long ago it was the first presidential election where I was old enough to vote. Also that there is vast hydropower leaving the state on long distance lines, leaking energy as it goes, for the profit of wealthy people, while the Mainers whose rivers were dammed to make the electricity do not benefit from it. Also that many of us heat with renewables, use solar energy, and want to see sustainable sources like tidal and geothermal and wind explored.

As we were leaving I thanked Marge because she had supported all middle school kids and teachers in Maine getting laptops through a learning technology grant when she was in the state legislature and Angus was governor. Amazingly enough, this program is still in place years later, and it did revolutionize middle school. (It didn't solve the equity problem, though, because the local school districts were supposed to fund the high school end of the program, and if they were poor, fagedaboudit.)

In the absence of meaningful congressional oversight of the executive branch waging wars both overt and covert, it is hard to justify teaching kids about checks and balances as if they actually existed. I probably shouldn't have said that because it's one more black mark in my file.

I know many will think we were fools to waste our time and probably get iris scanned and who knows what else to meet with a representative of a broken government that no longer represents the people. We are all grandmothers and idealistic and we did once believe in the democracy we supposedly lived in. We're worried about the future for our grandchildren, like pretty much everybody is nowadays. So we visit our senators. But since money equals political speech, and we don't leave behind a big fat check, it mostly amounts to going through the motions.

We do it because you still can. That is, if you can get past Homeland Security.

Codepink associates with Angus King's senior policy advisor Marge Kilkelly in Augusta today.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Things They Carry: Heroes And Their Medals

Another kid from Maine died in Afghanistan. 

Here's how my hometown paper reported it.

Humble hero from Maine honored for a final act of valor

My paper, along with the papers of record in the state capital Augusta and in our state's largest city, Portland, is owned by S. Donald Sussman, the husband of our representative on the House Armed Service Committee, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree.
Source: Chellie Pingree's facebook page. I think this photo needs a few more flags, don't you?
Here we see Chellie in a photo op this week with another Maine veteran, Ruth Moore. Moore took 23 years to receive VA benefits after she was twice violently sexually assaulted by an officer, and her name has been borrowed for the bill Pingree is sponsoring to fast track VA benefits for the 1 in 3 women attacked during tours of duty, if they turn out to need them. Never mind The Invisible War. See how much your government cares about women in the military?

This is the same week as we found out that joystick killers going for the "bugsplat" kill by drone were going to get a special medal of their own. This news was moderately absurd, sounding like an Onion article from a time when drones were just hovering into view of the general public.

The most incredible part was that the medal would outrank other military decorations for valor in actual combat. This pissed off a lot of veterans and I'm sure active duty people also but they are not supposed to speak about it.

The same way that a teacher is told she is not supposed to speak out about about schools allowing recruiters to use the infrastructure paid for by taxpayers to deliver a captive audience of teens with low economic prospects. (Believe me, I know.)

Here's the caption that ran under the photo of the 31 year old man from Maine who died:
Staff Sgt. Eric Shaw, here in his dress uniform, had planned to be a history teacher after graduating from the University of Southern Maine, but he couldn’t find work and joined the Army instead.
Here's the article's conclusion, provided by his widow:
"My oldest told me she wants to be in the Army," she said, "because she wants to be a hero, like Daddy."
See how equal women are now?

What I would like to see is a pie chart displaying data on how many messages this soldier's young daughter has seen glorifying being in the military as compared with how many messages she has seen glorifying teaching history. Would that slice of the pie even be visible?

The article devoted 2,700 words to the story of how the young Maine father was posthumously decorated with the Distinguished Service Cross after he died protecting Afghan soldiers from the fire of insurgents on the border with Pakistan. Yup, it was really called Operation Strong Eagle (no scent of Onion here).

An officer named Tangen was excited by the special medal explaining he believed:
... the award will help Shaw's story be retold. 
"Some soldier, someday will be just like him because of what he did," he said. (emphasis mine) "You can't ask for really much more than that." 
For now, Audrey Shaw said she's keeping the cross in a trunk with her husband's other medals. She'll put it on display once her daughters are old enough that they won't take it down or try to color it. 
At least one of them, however, has already grasped the significance.

She'd have to be pretty thick to miss the significance wouldn't you say?

Maine is the state with the highest per capita death rate in Afghanistan. Why? Because a lot of people are out of work, that's why.

Average U.S. cost in 2010 of educating a K-12 student: $10,050.

Cost of 2011 military recruitment and advertising budget per high school student: $112.26

Cost of 2,700 word puff piece on a hometown hero and his medals: Priceless.

Monday, February 11, 2013

What's In A Name? @SenFeinstein And Her "CODEPINK Associates"

Homework by Codepink to prepare for the Brennan hearings.
Since CODEPINK is the most visible presence among anti-drone lobbying citizens, Sen. Diane Feinstein presiding over the Intelligence (sic)  Committee of the U.S. Senate said:
I am going to ask that the room be cleared and that the Codepink associates not be permitted to come back in.
This delayed the confirmation hearing for torture and drone czar John Brennan who is the current president's pick to head up the CIA. Most citizens who don't want their government to torture, or to drone bomb children, with their tax dollars oppose Brennan's nomination.
Codepink at a candlelight vigil for civilian drone victims outside John Brennan's house in Herdon, Virginia.
My attention was snagged by Feinstein's use of the word associates. Was it pre-meditated? Why did she not say disruptors if she didn't want to say demonstrators or protestors? Or for that matter, why not just call them those rude people?

What does "associates" connotate?

It is the sort of bland bureaucratic word that lends itself to the distortion, even perversion, of language that occurs under oppressive regimes. The kind of language that George Orwell warned us about. It has the root to associate which is a vague concept if there ever was one. It could just mean people you are around on a regular basis; in the old days, it meant "and company" as appended to someone's name who was the head of a business firm. Nowadays the strongest connotation for "associate" would be as a term for someone working at Walmart or a place like that.

When jobs became McJobs, clerks became associates.

Really, anyone can become an associate. They are the endlessly interchangeable cogs in the machine of low-wage, no-benefits jobs. They are the worker bees, so to speak. (Drone bees, by the way, are not worker bees. They just hang around and eat a lot, mating occasionally.)

Codepink has worker bees, mostly volunteer, who stand in line for hours to exercise the rights of a citizen to witness the show confirmation hearings where senators pretend to ask hard-ball questions (ok, sometimes they don't even pretend to do that much) and the nominee gives vague non-answers without being challenged.

Chairing such a committee is usually not that difficult. It's a chance to appear as a senior statesman in charge of something terribly important, where everyone is super polite and deferential, with C-Span and networks covering the non-news event.

It can become a big headache however, like it did for Sen. Max Baucus when doctors and nurses had the audacity to stand up in the audience and demand to know why the hearings on reforming health care had no voices for universal healthcare seated among the insurance industry representatives.
Retired Col Ann Wright speaking outside the hearings about drone deaths: "And don't forget the Afghans!"
Sen. Feinstein had an especially thorny problem because she could only identify disruptors and potential disruptors as "Codepink associates" but they were mostly a bunch of adults in unremarkable clothing who blended in reasonably well with the lobbyists and policy wonks. I spotted a couple of people I know in the aidence that are perennially active around issues like torture , closing Guantanamo, or the trampling of the rule of law. They are not members of Codepink and I have never seen them wear that particular color while in action. Are they, therefore, Codepink "associates"? How would one determine who was, or was not, an "associate"?

Sen. Feinstein, as a bona fide Codepink associate in the SF Bay area told me, tends to speak in a "fusty old-fashioned way." We speculated about whether she coined the term on the spot (my Bay area friend added: "She probably wanted to call them those fools") or whether her staff came up with the word in advance.

Because when you're holding a hearing to confirm the man widely viewed as the architect of the president's CIA drone assassination program, you can be pretty sure Codepink will be in the house.

Expect us.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

@SenAngusKing, Are Drones "Creepy" Or "Humane"?

Candidate Angus King already heard from CODEPINK associate Mark Roman last July 4th in Bath, Maine. Mark asked Angus, "If you are elected will you help to bring our war dollars home to fund human needs like education and health care?" and Angus answered, "It sounds like a good idea."
Our U.S. Senators have been coining some interesting terms this week as they consider whether to make torture apologist and drone czar John Brennan head of the "CIA death squad." That's what Medea Benjamin called our national intelligence gathering agency in an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! citing the thousands killed or maimed and the multiple thousands terrorized by living with the possibility of death-by-robot hovering noisily overhead.

Medea was one of the eight "CODEPINK Associates" whom Senate Intelligence Committee chair Diane Feinstein called out and finally kicked out for staging a sequence of disruptions. They were arrested for loudly calling on the committee -- which allegedly represents the interests of U.S. citizens -- to reject Brennan on the basis that he has been responsible for the deaths of so many innocents, including numerous children in various parts of the world. They repeatedly interrupted Brennan's recitation of his own family members ("my 91 year-old mother" and so on) to present lists of children killed by drones under his regime. Feinstein finally stopped the proceedings and cleared the room.

You can call Feinstein's office and let her know you want her to ask Capitol police to drop the charges against these citizens for exercising their 1st Amendment right to free speech: 202-224-3841.

A network news correspondent covering the hearing tweeted:
Which term did one of the two Maine senators on the Intelligence committee coin? Angus got right on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" show to parade a feeble understanding of U.S. imperial history and make that claim that drones are "a more humane weapon" and "a lot more civilized," though he didn't offer much support for this claim beyond positing that they are not like firebombing entire cities. Here's the entire quote:
To be honest, I believe that drones are a lot more civilized than what we used to do. You know, when Sherman shelled Atlanta or when the Allies firebombed Dresden in World War II, it was all collateral damage. It was virtually all civilians. And that's the way -- that was the way of war until very recently. 
The drone, although there is some collateral damage, basically is a very smart artillery shell. And we've been shooting artillery shells over miles and iles for many years and hoping they hit the right target. I think there's just something creepy about drones that they can be controlled and people are uneasy about it. But if you put it in a context of 1,000 years of war, I think it's actually a more humane weapon because it can be targeted to specific enemies and specific people. (Source where you can see the entire clip: The Daily Caller.)
I think the unspoken reasons he and other deluded imperialists think drones are humane is that they don't put the warriors for our side at risk. This retreat to remote control killing would have been seen as cowardly by most soldiers in times gone by. And in fact until the U.S. got into the show of deadly force game, warfare mostly resulted in the death of warriors. Angus apparently needs to do some homework. He might start by reading scholarly studies like the NYU and Stanford Law School report "Living Under Drones" which documents extensive civilian deaths and civilian terror in the border region of Pakistan near Afghanistan. He also might want to extend his understanding of the word "history" back to, say, 1,000 years ago -- rather than myopically limiting it to the relatively brief, very bloody few hundred years reign of the U.S.

I also think that Angus asked a few pointed questions (with no follow-up, causing Wired for War author Jeremy Scahill to coin yet another term when he dubbed this display "Kabuki oversight") and suggested a "secret court like the intelligence court that has already been set up" to review the president's kill list because Angus is a newbie in the Senate and hopes to make a name for himself at the national level. Also, he has a lot of progressive constituents in Maine and it's important to fool some of the people some of the time. He's counting on them caring as much as he does about the distinction between targeting a U.S. citizen under the Fifth Amendment, and about the check the Senate is supposed to exercise over a policy he described as "whatever the executive decides is ok" which he says he thinks is a problem.
Source: Excellent article by Nicola Abé "Dreams In Infrared: The Woes Of An American Drone Operator".                Photo credit: Gilles Mingasson / DER SPIEGEL
If a sniper can sell a lot of books bragging about all the people he has personally killed because "I'm not over there looking at these people as people" will a joystick operator soon be writing his memoir about how tough he is for sitting in an air conditioned trailer in the Nevada desert sending hellfire missiles down on little children and grandparents in Yemen?

All of this is progress in the sense that mainstream media have now discovered the killer drones story and the general public is now hearing dissenting voices. Unfortunately almost no one asked the questions Medea, who last year authored the book Drone Warfare: Killing By Remote Control, posed in her article on Common Dreams last week.

Here are the questions I am going to ask Angus as soon as we get to meet with him again:

What is the profit motive for Maine weapons manufacturers if the CIA and the Pentagon continue buying and using drones?
Source: Glenn Greenwald writing in The GuardianTariq Aziz (centre, second row) attending a meeting about drones strikes in Waziristan, held in Islamabad, Pakistan oin 28 October 2011. Three days later, the 16 year old was reported killed by a drone-launched missile. Photograph: Pratap Chatterjee/BIJ
Why are drones are only used to kill people with dark skin? People in countries with large Muslim populations?

What do you think of such inhumane practices as "double tap" which targets those who go to the rescue of the humans whose bodies are crushed and burnt by drone bombings?
Source: "Drones: Instruments of State Terror" by Steven Lendman on the blog Another World Is Possible.
How could terrorizing entire civilian populations with a death machine that makes a distinctive noise and is overhead 24/7 be called "humane"? What is your definition of "humane"?

What did you think that you swore to do when you took your oath of office?

Where do you think this kind of death-dealing by the CIA, which is supposed to be a civilian organization, will lead?

How much safer are you making your constituents in Maine by supporting a program that even Gen. Stanley McChrystal admitted stirs a "visceral hatred" among victims toward the U.S. and its people?
Source: The Guardian which ran this photo with the caption,  A protest against US drone attacks in the Pakistani tribal regions. Photograph: SS MirzaAFP/Getty Images

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Forgetting To Remember Afghanistan In School

Afghanistan, graveyard of imperial treasuries. No one in the U.S. really wants to talk about it. Reasons include: they are making a huge profit from it, they are making a career from it, it might bring the president's popularity ratings down, it's too painful to face up to how many loved ones have been irreparably harmed or killed there for no good reason, and we are too ashamed of our government's role in the human suffering inflicted on Afghans.
Photo source: DailyMail.UK which ran it with this caption: "Heartbreaking: The tiny body of eighteen-month-old Saiyma Gadazai is carried to her final resting place after she froze to death in a refugee camp in Kabul."
My husband suffers from frustration when he is stonewalled by acquaintances at the local Farmer's Market if he mentions Afghanistan. He's not a teacher, so he hasn't had a lot of practice with waiting for the teachable moment. He thinks everyone who is worried about jobs, or cuts to education funding, or health care, or climate change, or veterans' care should be interested in what's going on in the U.S.'s longest combat mission. Because he sees these things as connected. He think if the U.S. would bring our war dollars home we would be able to fund all these very real needs of human beings.

But keeping things disconnected is the full time job of the mainstream media disinformation corporations.

An uninformed public will swallow official "news" out of Afghanistan without having enough background knowledge to question it. They will believe it when a talking head says we are withdrawing while in actuality we are building the infrastructure for permanent occupation.

A passive, consuming public will lack the critical thinking practice to question what passes for "news" and this is the primary criticism of public schools that I hear all the time in the alternative circles I travel in. Parents say say: I am homeschooling my child because schools kill critical thinking.

I consider myself very lucky to have had an education that was sporadically wonderful, and to have had parents who were readers and who fostered critical thinking around the dinner table. With my own kids I figured I'd send them to the best quality nearby public schools I could get them into, continue educating them at home and on trips during vacations and weekends, and hope that the combination would equal an adequate preparation for the thinking life.

When I became a teacher late in life I was amazed that parents considered homeschooling vs. public schooling as an either/or proposition.

Keep in mind that corporate forces like ALEC want to kill public education even more than Occupy parents do.

Because while you are teaching your children not to forget about Afghanistan (and Mali and etc.), people that get their ideas from listening to right wing radio will be teaching their children stuff like this:

Who remembers the real history of the United States? Howard Zinn did, and his education foundation lives on. Kids in high school in my area literally do not know the word Holocaust or what it means. Never mind the word Nakba and what that means. (Heck, the chair of the history department at Bangor High School told me last year that he didn't know what it means.) My elective on genocides got canceled a few years back without so much as an explanation. And so it goes.

Until the day I leave my body behind I will remember to remember about Afghanistan, and how my government used the 9/11 attacks to justify the invasion and now permanent occupation of that strategic location in the great continent of Eurasia.

I will remember how we went broke doing it, too, long after we as a failed state arrive at austerity, after our creditors have mopped us up and put us in our places. Even then, I will remember the trees I am helping to plant there.
Photo source:
A few more education notes: a parent at my school threw a fit this year over the geography teacher telling his kid that "state" had more than one meaning. In the geopolitical sense. Another parent threw a fit because her child was asked to do an oral history project choosing an elder person in the community to interview about changes they had seen over their lifetime. She said it was a stupid project, and should be banned.

The brave father of the New Delhi rape victim came forward to release his daughter's name because he wanted people to become educated about the class and gender-related violence that cost Jyoti Singh Pandey her life. Scooter rickshaw drivers would not take the young couple to the woman's neighborhood, thus the two of them boarded the van where their attackers lay in wait.

The father noted that people who described her as engaged to the high caste male friend who was with her on that fateful night are "confused" because those two castes could never marry. He also made this comment from the perspective of an impoverished parent who sacrificed to see his children have the chance to be educated:
"Boys cry when you send them to school," says her father, "but she would cry if you didn't let her go to school."
Finally, lest you accept the official narrative that we are in Afghanistan so that girls can go to school, I'll leave you with the words of Ann Jones who has been remembering to remember Afghanistan all along:
Relying on the military, the U.S. neglected the crucial elements of civil life in Afghanistan that make things bearable -- like education and health care.  Yes, I’ve heard the repeated claims that, thanks to us, millions of children are now attending school.  But for how long?   According to UNICEF, in the years 2005-2010, in the whole of Afghanistan only 18% of boys attended high school, and 6% of girls.  What kind of report card is that?  After 11 years of underfunded work on health care in a country the size of Texas, infant mortality still remains the highest in the world. 

Friday, February 1, 2013

Feminist Values: Making Our Non-Violent Homes

The beautiful faces of people exploring feminist values.
One of the more interesting discussions I've been in lately occurred last Sunday, January 27, 2013 in Augusta at the Pine State Arboretum. It occurs to me now that this was about a month into the beginning of the new great cycle of the Mayan calendar. (For those who say who cares about an ancient calendar I say, check your facts: plenty of Mayan people are still alive today. Also, the ancients who made the calendar had a genius grasp of astronomy.)

A Feminist Values discussion was organized as part of the 19th Changing Maine Gathering which occurs about once a year bringing together progressive dreamers from around the state. This year CODEPINK State of Maine and Portland local groups co-sponsored with ROSC (Resources for Organizing Social Change) and proposed the topic. No, not feminism: feminist values. One participant summed these up as: Respect for the Earth, and for everyone. Amen to that
Someone had suggested we introduce ourselves as descendants of our moms and their moms. About a third of the 40+ people who attended were male; for many, especially the younger people that also made up about one-third of the group, this type of identifying may have been a first.

I chose to be in the breakout session discussing Reclaiming Domesticity: Abundance or Scarcity? We took turns sharing how we live right now, and why we have made the decisions we've made around how to live. It was a diverse group: young parents who live on a land trust and are constantly on the defensive, being criticized for choosing to spend a lot of time with their children (ages 3 months and 4 years) and as little time as possible earning money; a thinker with a degree but no job who sleeps on friends' couches; a single mother of five; a grandmother who lives with her husband in the house he and his friends built on land they cleared; and a bachelor labor organizer who is tired of living alone and tired of society's message that he must "get a woman" in order to live comfortably and correctly.

Much of the discussion during the day centered on commodification: of natural resources, of women's bodies. There was a general consensus that feminist values reject this, and that the era of commodification is coming to an end.

I described how I live on land that was stolen from the indigenous people and turned into a commodity to be bought and sold, along the Kennebec River, within the Penobscot Nation homeland. Some of those people are still neighbors of mine. The large group acknowledged the importance and hope of Idle No More and the earth-defending resolve of initiatives led by First Nations people in Canada and other indigenous communities.

After a lengthy potluck lunch where conversations and new friendships flourished, we re-convened as a large group to hear reports from the breakout groups and continue our discussions. The entire day for me was characterized by deep, respectful listening. One of our group was a woman activist who is over 90, and a special hush fell on the room when she spoke.

In one of the breakout sessions there was some trouble with interrupting, and the vibe felt a little hostile. This caused a 10 year-old girl to leave the discussion and return to the childcare group. After her mom explained why, the participants made a new plan for taking turns speaking, and the facilitator of the group described it as a successful "self-correction."

We all go astray from our ideals many, many times in life. Just look at the formerly (allegedly) idealistic Hillary Clinton, outgoing Secretary of State. Can we find the courage to examine the road we're on, and make a "self-correction" if necessary? We had better be able to if we hope to continue human life on this planet.
THE UGLY FACES OF PATRIARCHY: A screen grab from a video of last week's State Department dinner for Mr.  and Mrs. Hamid Karzai. Hillary Clinton has placed herself firmly in the service of the patriarchal empire that is ruining the Earth and killing children and women and men wantonly every single day,  making "defense" contractors so wealthy they are sometimes referred to as the 0.01%. Afghanistan and its people in particular continue to suffer under this regime.
One breakout session was about violence and the One Billion Rising movement which is spreading globally like wildfire. Here's a great video I watched yesterday of people in the EU Parliament rising up to dance against violence on women. Eve Ensler, a leader of the movement, speaks at the end to explain why one billion women and the men who love them dancing could just be a revolution. Maine events on V-Day will be held in Portland & Belfast. Non-violence is a feminist value.