Tuesday, February 28, 2006

We're well and truly screwed

There is little doubt among Americans about Iran's intentions. Eight of 10 predict Iran would provide a nuclear weapon to terrorists who would use it against the USA or Israel, and almost as many say the Iranian government itself would use nuclear weapons against Israel. Six of 10 say the Iranian government would deploy nuclear weapons against the USA.

Looks like we can be pretty easily convinced that using those things is merely innocent self-defense.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Three women in three war zones

Guess where. This is not a test; it is a reality. The links will show you where.
I wouldn’t say my life is ”ordinary” by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, I think it's quite outside the entire realm of the ordinary.

Just ask my [2 year old].. He often mistakes ... helicopter gunships for birds, dances to the revolutionary songs blasted during political rallies marching by our house, and has learned to distinguish between ... tank shell fire and machine-gun banter.


Most commonly, they ingest a whole bottle of quinine pills, with castor oil…we try to get them to the ER before their cardiac rhythm is interrupted…Sometimes they douche with very caustic products like bleach. We had a patient, a teen, who burned herself so badly with bleach that we couldn't even examine her, her vaginal tissue was so painful….


I’m reading, and hearing, about the possibility of ... war. The possibility. Yet I’m sitting here wondering if this is actually what civil war is like. Has it become a reality? Will we look back at this in one year, two years… ten… and say, “It began in February 2006…”? It is like a nightmare in that you don’t realise it’s a nightmare while having it- only later, after waking up with your heart throbbing, and your eyes searching the dark for a pinpoint of light, do you realise it was a nightmare…
Perhaps we are all just watching and waiting.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Drowning in our own excess

Getting outside my ordinary routine jolts me into more appreciation of just how rich this country is. I have just returned from a weekend helping a good friend treat her two grandchildren and two friends to ski lessons and outdoor fun. A great time was had by all, at least most of the time, which is probably about the best that can be said of a group of seven and ten year olds.

But my goodness, what a lot of stuff these children have and consider necessary! They came with battery operated DVD players and multiple movies to watch during the drive to the ski area. They own ski clothes including bib overalls, goggles and helmets (understand, these kids ski maybe once a year, if that.) Their grandmother, a canny survivor, offered them multiple choices of dinner and breakfast foods, and made sure they got what they wanted.

I too have my stuff. And I too love having the freedom to drive to the mountains. But the bumper to bumper traffic both up and back made me wonder, how long can we sustain having private vehicles taking so many to the "country"?

I wish these kids all the best, but seen in a global context, the sheer excess of things within whose orbit they live leaves me gasping. The land whose appreciation such a weekend teaches can't take it. The planet can't take it. The other people on the planet won't take it forever. And we keep taking.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Make migrants pay!

Let's build a wall.

My friend Francis Calpotura at TIGRA passed on an obscure article reporting an anti-migrant initiative that we may see more of.

In Arizona, legislators want to put on the ballot a measure to build an impenetrable border fence. The origin of the idea is quite clear:

The ballot question asks voters to approve a Mexican border wall to be constructed by the state government. It piggybacks on federal plans to construct border walls and security fences along the 2,000-mile southern border.

Arizona Republican Congressman Trent Franks and Rick Renzi have voiced support for increased border walls and fences. Franks supports a measure building a wall along the entire border. Renzi supports Israeli-style security fences near border cities and well traveled crossing points.

But what is really special about this Arizona measure is how they propose to pay for it. Arizonans want grab 8 percent of international money transfers from Arizona to build the wall. That is, they want to charge Mexican workers who risk their lives crossing the desert seeking work to feed families at home for the cost of trying to keep them out. As Francis says, "twisted."

Georgia legislators hope to get into a similar act, though they don't have a border wall to finance. A recently passed measure aims to make banks collect a 5 percent tax from anyone who tries to wire money outside the U.S, but can't prove legal immigration status. There was opposition.

"What we're about to do is tax people who are doing the best they can to provide for their families," said Rep. Austin Scott, R-Tifton, the only Republican to vote against the bill. "I have a moral problem with that."

Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, lectured his Republican colleagues for pushing legislation to allow counties to display the Ten Commandments at the same time they're targeting illegal immigrants. "You can't insist on having the Ten Commandments hung if you don't live the Ten Commandments!" he said.

Nice to know someone in the Bible belt has actually read the book.

Wire transfers by migrant workers out of the United States are estimated to amount to $100 billion annually. If these measures are implemented, a 5 percent tax would yield something like $5 billion for exclusionary measures. Lovely prospect.

Friday cat blogging

Why do you point that thing at me?

A cat can look at a queen.

"I like pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals." Winston Churchill

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Iraq miscellany

Shiite Muslim women and children rally condemning the previous day's attack on Shiite shrine in Samarra, in Baghdad, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2006. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

As Iraqis protest, seethe and hunker down hoping to ride out the storm in the aftermath of the mosque bombing, several recent developments in that unhappy region are in danger of passing unmarked.

Did you know that that U.S. forces have been bombing Baghdad? Neither did I. But reporter Christopher Allbritton, recently returned to Iraq, reports that last week, they did. He's more than a little surprised:

I’m not sure, but I don’t recall air strikes in or near Iraq’s capital city for a long time. In fact, I can’t remember any since I got here in May 2004, although these things tend to blend together after a while. But if the war’s going so well, and the Iraqis are taking the fight to the terrorists, blah blah, why are the Americans resorting to air strikes here? That’s, like, so 2003.

We've been hearing plans for U.S. forces to get off the streets and into their secure (permanent?) bases for awhile. Guess this is what a U.S. pullback looks like -- just bomb those hajis.

Did you know "the West" is drifting toward negotiations with "terrorists"? Salem Adil at Asterism reproduces a British Foreign Office letter urging such talks because "engaging with movements such as the [Egyptian] Muslim Brotherhood will help increase our understanding of 'political Islam' generally, as well as in the specific Egyptian context" and "we should be trying to influence these groups." It goes on to suggest the Foreign Office should try to get the U.S. and the rest of Europe to join such conversations.

Adil observes:

Here is Britain telling the Americans to face up to some reality. What we see here is the start of the pathetic end to the 'War on Terror'. As any politician will tell you, the first step to peace is negotiation with the enemy. What could have happened to cause this change of heart? Well, simply put, Iran happened.

Bush's whole policy towards the Arabs has been to villainise Sunni Islam because of their opposition to direct American occupation of Arabia and, gee, because America needs an enemy in this world. So America turned a blind eye to Israel's humiliation of the Palestinians, ousted the Taliban in Afghanistan and forced the Sunnis out of power in Iraq by disbanding the army and 'de-Baathification'. America has also fought a three-year bloody war with politicised Sunnis in Iraq.

Now, the West is slowly waking up to the realisation after all these years that the Sunnis were their best allies. They were keeping a lid on popular independence movements, diverting Arab attention away from Israel and, most important, they were the real barrier against Iranian influence.

Iran is now emerging as the single biggest threat to Western domination of the region and America is powerless to stop it.

Well, maybe. And maybe we're just reading a particular Sunni Iraqi point of view here. But fixed realities are shifting in and around Iraq -- and then some force decided to blow the situation sky high.

The same blogger provides a round up of Iraqi blog opinion about the mosque bombing at Global Voices. The one point of agreement seems to be that no indigenous Iraqi placed those explosives: it must have been one of the foreigners swarming around, whether U.S. operatives, Al Qaeda jihadis, or even Iranians.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

"Campaign finance reform" and Martin Ludlow

Martin Ludlow is surrounded by family as he speaks at Tuesday's news conference. (Bob Chamberlin / LAT)

The news appeared this morning that Martin Ludlow is stepping down from his post as head of the Los Angeles County Labor Federation hoping to avoid jail time in a scandal involving union money that illegally helped his 2003 campaign for the City Council. No one seems to be contesting the prosecutor's core assertions: SEIU Local 99 put some campaign workers on its payroll and ran some phone banks, giving Ludlow $53,000 worth of help that it didn't report. That is the crime.

Now there is no doubt this is illegal. Multiple levels of campaign law, local and state, place limits on and require disclosure of sources of election help. And violating those laws frequently leads to stiff fines. There are very few career politicians who haven't at least been investigated for some reporting irregularity. But what makes Ludlow's case special is that union political contributions are governed by additional federal law giving the Department of Justice and the FBI authority to step in with criminal sanctions. The LA Times reports concerns about the federal involvement:

Ludlow has run afoul of a section of the United States Code titled "fiduciary responsibility of officers of labor organizations." In particular, according to sources, Ludlow was investigated by the federal government for conspiring to embezzle money, property or other assets from a labor organization.

The regulation of unions has long been the domain of the federal government. ...Labor unions have complained that they are being singled out and constrained in a way that their natural opponents, the business community, are not. Such protests have only increased under President Bush, some legal scholars say.

I'm sorry, if this had been a corporation, the activity of hiring campaign workers for a friendly candidate wouldn't have been treated as "embezzlement" from the stockholders -- it would have been applauded as a good investment. And I am sure Ludlow's being Black didn't help either.

Ludlow's departure from the LA County Fed is bad news. He's been a close ally of progressive mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. His accession to the job following the untimely death of Miguel Contreras signaled the strength of the "Black-Brown" alliance that is trying to set LA politics on a new course and model new possibilities for Democrats nationally. That current is so strong that it can likely survive the departure of one leader, but it is hard not to wonder whether we aren't seeing here that Republicans in power know a real threat when they see it.

The whole ugly mess should also be a warning to progressives enamored of various campaign finance gimmicks they hope will "level the playing field." Tinkering at the edges of how cash comes into campaigns with donation limits and partial spending caps simply disadvantages candidates and groups that start with less money. These campaign finance reform practices require people who run for office to hire armies of lawyers, accountants and specialist consultants to ensure that they stay legal. For rich candidates, this is just a cost of doing business. For insurgents, compliance with "ethics commissions" and "fair political practices" regulators is a drain on funds that should go to voter contact.

There are forms of "campaign finance reform" that would work better. The right of rich candidates to self-finance without limit (Buckley v. Valeo) must be made subject to regulation or we are further on our way to plutocracy. "Clean Elections" schemes that give state financing under regulated conditions (versions exist in Maine and Arizona) have shown promise.

But progressives need to be very careful about simply jumping on the latest "campaign finance" bandwagon. Elections are about who has power. Money will get into them because money is power. We'd be crazy to hamstring ourselves.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

National ID cards: is resistance futile?

There's a rumble about national ID cards in the air.
  • In the United Kingdom, Tony Blair's New Labour government has carried out a campaign pledge to "introduce ID cards, including biometric data like fingerprints, backed up by a national register." Overcoming some reluctance, they rallied their Members of Parliament to strip out a clause in a proposed ID card creation bill that would have made registering for the cards voluntary. Civil libertarians are now pressing the House of Lords to put the clause back in again. Curious Hamster has the story.
  • Meanwhile, in the U.S., the NY Times ran an op-ed today by Douglas McGray of the New America Foundation cataloging reasons why a national ID card would be good for liberal policy objectives in health care, voter empowerment, poverty, education, social welfare, and immigration. McGray's arguments are certain to be controversial and mostly seem pretty darn thin -- ID cards are unlikely to end intimidation of racial minority voters, for example. But what seems significant is the publication venue and the "liberal" cast to the argument.
The issue of national ID cards is clearly on the agenda in English speaking countries.

I first thought about national ID cards in 1994 during the campaign against Prop. 187, California's anti-immigrant initiative. Prop. 187 was going to bring questions of legal identity to the fore in every institution in the state by making hospitals, schools and all state bureaucracies into enforcers of restrictive immigration laws. Many civil liberties groups argued against the initiative because it would require new state ID cards to enforce it. Yet I quickly learned that this argument did not resonate with younger people involved in the campaign. They assumed that national ID cards were inevitable: since the technology existed to track everyone, everyone would be known and everyone would be tracked. Resistance to the ID cards was futile.

This horrifying perspective took awhile to sink in, but it has; I now believe that resistance to erosion of freedoms that counts on maintaining the inefficiencies of a bygone technological era is futile. Ain't gonna happen. We will all eventually switch to the automatic teller, adopt the radio-powered transponder that collects our tolls, browse the information super highway, or choose some other enticing, if intrusive, convenience. If we want to ensure personal liberties, we'll have to do so by creating a political culture that values such liberties, not by hoping "they" can't find us.

Perhaps, ultimately, we'll all just have RFID chips implanted in our bodies. Some workers in Ohio who need access to a particular secure room already do. George Monbiot of the U.K. Guardian paints a picture of future uses of RFIDs:

The company that makes these "radio frequency identification tags", the VeriChip Corporation, says they "combine access control with the location and protection of individuals". The chips can also be implanted in hospital patients, especially children and people who are mentally ill. When doctors want to know who they are and what their medical history is, they simply scan them in....

[A]nother implantable device emits a signal that allows someone to be found or tracked by satellite. The patent notice says it can be used to locate the victims of kidnapping or people lost in the wilderness. There are, in other words, plenty of legitimate uses for implanted chips. This is why they bother me. A technology whose widespread deployment, if attempted now, would be greeted with horror, will gradually become unremarkable. ...

I don't believe that you or I or most comfortable, mentally competent people will be forced to wear a tag. But it will become an increasingly acceptable means of tracking and identifying people who could be a danger to themselves, or who could be at risk of sudden illness or disappearance, or who are otherwise hard for companies or governments to control. They will, on the whole, be people whose political voice is muted.

There's the rub. This stuff creeps in when we let it be used on those who don't have the political power to fight it -- we have to ask ourselves, who's next?

And then, I believe, we can only fight for freedom and privacy by taking our heads out of the sand. There will be ID cards and numerous other intrusions on our property and even our bodies. What will count is whether we can win enough legal safeguards to outlaw their misuse to control anyone. Sure there will be violators of any restrictions, but it is up to us to create a political culture that makes these transgressions deeply taboo.

We are currently seeing how very difficult it will be to put spying and monitoring off limits to the powerful. And technological progress will only make it harder. But, as Carl Schurz, the German immigrant who ended up a Union Army general and U.S. Senator in the late 1900s proclaimed: "If you want to be free, there is but one way; it is to guarantee an equally full measure of liberty to all your neighbors. There is no other." There is no other, indeed.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Historians against the war:
Some activist observations

Howard Zinn, Andrea Smith, and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz at the conference plenary

Many years ago I was on track to become a professional historian, but I jumped off that train. I like to joke that I decided that it was more interesting to try to make history than to write it -- and this past weekend's Historians Against the War conference confirmed my understanding that I am better cut out for activism than for academia.

Aside from keynoter Rashid Khalidi, almost all the speakers made a point of insisting that attempts to predict the future on the basis of the past are an improper role for an historian. Okay, I know that "past performance is no guarantee of future results" as all prospectuses say, but I do study history to help me discern possible futures -- my activist gut growls: if I can't do that, what is the point? Besides, though historians claim to eschew prediction, in fact many of their papers easily lend themselves to it: neither John Mason Hart who sketched the trajectory of U.S. empire nor James Carter who outlined the history of profiteering in U.S. wars would ever suggest these trends were unlikely to continue.

I left the presentations (again Khalidi aside) feeling that a lot of issues that matter to me were unexplored. What follows are my musings on general issues at the intersection of academic history and activist intellectuals.

Some questions
Do the Bush administration's militarist and authoritarian activities and/or the war in Iraq suggest that we are now experiencing something new in U.S. history? Or is the predominant theme continuity with the long story of U.S. imperialism? Most presenters did not explicitly address this question, a distinction that seems to me crucial to activists hoping to accurately understand our challenges.

Should antiwar inquiry (and potential action) be focused on the objects of U.S. attack (on the "Middle East") with the implied need to prioritize "Middle Eastern" voices and scholars who can explicate those societies? Or, should antiwar scholarship aim predominantly to understand (and change) U.S. society -- an effort that points to lifting up different speakers? The study of history has some light to shed on this perennial challenge I think, but this conference both ignored and straddled the question.

Although the title of the conference was "Empire, Resistance and the War in Iraq," very few of the speakers addressed what seems to me a pretty critical question for popular resistance: are we faced with a U.S. empire still on the rise and feeling its oats or, perhaps even more dangerously, with a wounded beast struggling to arrest its decline? Our perspectives on that question color what we see and help determine what we do. I think I would have learned quite a bit if more panelists had addressed this other than tangentially.

Some observations:
What passes for legitimate knowledge as defined by academia over the last 100 years or more has been understood as existing across an unbridgeable chasm from the teachings of religion(s). It would not be an exaggeration to say that respectable contemporary ways of knowing, as much in the humanities and the social sciences as in the hard sciences, are based on an assumption that religious understandings of the world are in the process of withering away. Consequently, the conference confirmed that historians seem pretty much flabbergasted and certainly not very competent to describe the contemporary situation in which religious passions are moving populations as much in North America as in the Islamic world. This ignorance is not a good thing from the activist perspective.

Over and over, speakers seemed to run up against a wall created by a professional doctrinal imperative that academic knowledge must be only descriptive, not prescriptive. In history, that means we'll tell you what happened, perhaps acknowledging the point of view from which we observe it, but we can't tell you how we evaluate what happened, whether we approve or condemn it. The latter sort of interaction with the data is considered unprofessional. That is all very well, but this professional stance stymies social and political action even to defend the possibility of free inquiry, much less to combat empire. Adherents to this code are left unprepared for some inevitable challenges. For example, how to answer the student who admits that pursuit of empire is murderous, but if that is what it takes for people in the U.S., for our own families, to live a good life, what is wrong with empire?

Having pointed to all these big questions, I certainly don't want to trash this conference. This activist was glad to have the opportunity to step back and think about these questions with a room full of smart, informed, committed people.

Flight Security

Well, I may, or may not, still be on the no fly list, but I was not too surprised to find the document that follows when I opened my suitcase after flying into town last night.
I suppose this kind of surveillance might detect a bomb, though I tend to suspect that, like the no fly list, this is really just the Theater of Fear. There was no evidence that anything in the suitcase was disturbed. I don't lock, so they didn't have to break in. I hope they found my dirty underwear and socks fascinating.

It may have been a good thing that I threw the book I'm currently reading, When Victims Become Killers by Mahmood Mamdani, in my carry-on.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Historians against the war
Panel highlights

Over the past weekend, my partner and I attended "Empire, Resistance and the War in Iraq," a conference put on by Historians against the War, at the University of Texas at Austin. The well-attended three-day event featured four keynoters, Andrea Smith, Howard Zinn, Irene Gendzier and Rashid Khalidi. I may write more about the conference and their presentations in the future.

In this post I'm just going to share a few highlights from some of the more thought provoking panelists. These are based on my notes and I may have erred in interpreting what I heard. You are reading here what I took away which I can only hope accurately portrays what the speakers said.

Alan Dawley, College of New Jersey. In U.S. history, three elements that have brought U.S. imperial wars to an end (short of annihilation of the "natives"); none of these factors have been sufficient to end wars, but all three taken together have ended our imperial adventures. They are:
  • 1)a favorable balance of power internationally, meaning real opposition from countries with some power;
  • 2) significant resistance within country attacked;
  • 3) rising US domestic resistance to the war.
As all these factors are present in relation to the Iraq war, he is mildly hopeful about ending the current adventure, though optimism is no reason for the U.S. antiwar movement to reduce its efforts. Nor does the failure of our regime's Iraq war preclude other imperial follies.

Magnus Bernhardsson, Williams College. After 2000 years, the U.S. invasion may have managed to kill off Iraqi Christianity. One of the oldest Christianities on earth, the faith community had survived isolation from both Rome and Constantinople (Eastern Orthodoxy), Islamic rule, the Ottoman empire, European colonialism, Ba'ath rule, and the xenophobia that the Israeli-Palestinian war has excited in the Arab world. But since the Bush administration's incursion, the Christian community is simply fleeing the insecurity that is contemporary Iraq.

Rahul Mahajan, New York University. In the 1980s the US stopped cementing its domination of weaker countries by imposing plutocratic dictators and turned instead to imposing "democracy." This democracy is a debased polity named by the scholar William Robinson "poliarchy." In poliarchy, democratic forms become a sort of play acting rather than an exercise of political power. Elites rule, enlisting the masses of people only as extras in their dramas. The U.S. is rapidly being reduced to a poliarchy itself. Because the people responsible for Bush's policies really believe they can (and should) implant this debased "democracy," they are genuinely surprised when its forms yield unexpected results such as an Islamic fundamentalist government in Iraq and a Hamas majority in Palestine.

Nada Shabout, an art historian, explored how "liberation" by the U.S. occupation is disconnecting Iraqis from their historical experiences. Though an exile herself from Saddam Hussein's tyranny, she is worried and angered that the ongoing project to destroy all monuments from the Ba'ath leader's era is tearing up vital historical memories for many families who lost children in the conscript armies that fought the Iran-Iraq and Gulf wars. She speaks up for preserving some of the many cast bronze heads of Saddam that were such a feature of pre-invasion Iraq; "after all the Roman emperors were tyrants, but we are glad to have sculptures of their heads."

Walter Hixson, University of Akron. "There is no United States. Over and over the country has had to have its identity reaffirmed and recreated by wars. The U.S. historically has affirmed itself by naming some people the Other and killing them. Without our wars, we have no history." Within the country, war creates and maintains hierarchies; successive wars preclude reforms. "The nation state has got to go. The nation state is incompatible with a future."

Friday, February 17, 2006

On elections far and near

A Palestinian policeman protects ballot boxes at an election commission center. Photo: AP MOHAMMED BALLAS

Helena Cobban has just written the most cogent discussion of elections on the contemporary international scene that I could imagine. Read it: How to deal with an uncomfortable vote.

Cobban concludes "God help the peoples of Haiti, Palestine, and Iraq." I'd add the United States.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Three years ago today...

An American in Paris: Gerald Lenoir carries a message on February 15, 2003.

Hard as it may be to remember now, on this day only three years ago, 10 to 15 million people worldwide marched to try to prevent the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Out of the meetings of the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in December 2002, came a call for a worldwide protest against U.S. plans. Email networks helped facilitate what became demonstrations in 800 cities worldwide. Just a few of the locations and numbers (where two figures appear, the first is what the police said, the second what the organizers claimed):
  • London: 750,000 people (police) to 2 million (organizers)
  • Paris: 100,000 or 200,000
  • Berlin: 300,000 or 500,000
  • Barcelona: 1.3 million
  • Madrid: 660,000
  • Other European cities: Oslo, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Brussels, Amsterdam, Vienna, Oviedo, Bern, Zagreb, Prague, Budapest, Warsaw, Istanbul, Athens
  • Canada: Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa
  • South America: Buenos Aires, Havana, Santiago, Rio de Janeiro, Caracas
  • Africa: Lagos, Nairobi, Kigali, Johannesburg, Cape Town
  • Asia: Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Calcutta, Seoul
  • the "Middle East": Tel Aviv, Ramallah, Damascus, and of course Baghdad
Oh yeah, and we didn't stop the war. The world said NO and GWB said yes.

Three years ago, at least 63 percent of the U.S. people felt threatened enough by Iraq to believe an attack was justified. Just about no one else in the world believed that. A BBC poll showed that the population of nearly all countries opposed a war without UN mandate, and most viewed George W. Bush and the United State as a danger to world peace. Currently a USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll finds the U.S. public is getting it about the Iraq war.

A 55% majority say the war in Iraq was a mistake. Just 31%, a record low since the question has been asked, say the United States and its allies are winning there.

I guess that's progress, 2300 dead U.S. troops, about 200 dead other "coalition" troops, and uncounted -- maybe 100,000 or more -- dead Iraqis later.

It is worth remembering that the worldwide anti-war movement is the largest popular movement in history. Able to field the February 15 demonstrations with only a few months lead time, it has grown since and dwarfs the international anti-Vietnam war movement that grew up over a decade.

Probably its most concrete accomplishment was preventing democratic governments from jumping on the U.S. band wagon (Canada) and making it impossible for those who went along initially to stay on board (Spain and gradually several Eastern European states). Additionally, like all genuinely popular movements, it has also showed a quasi-anarchic creativity, continually generating new forms in order push aside the dams those in power set up to block popular expression. Three years ago, we'd never heard of Code Pink, Christian Peacemaker Teams in Iraq, Cindy Sheehan's demand that George W. Bush tell her why her son had to die, After Downing Street, and thousands of other actions and organizations that work to end the war.

And of course, the work of the anti-war movement is not over. Demonstrations are planned in London, Rome and other European cities on March 18, the anniversary of the Iraq invasion.

For a list of local March 18 events, mostly in the United States, visit United for Peace and Justice.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Grandmothers protest war, part 2

As I was photographing the protest in part 1, I realized that the event presented an extraordinary opportunity. In general, women "of a certain age" avoid the camera. I know; I am one. But by putting on their own event in their very own style, the grandmothers and friends at the Oakland recruiting station were volunteering to be looked at and captured by the camera.

I think we are beautiful. Here are some of us who were out there today.

Valentine's Day:
Grandmothers say "take us instead"

The "Armed Forces Career Center" (aka the Army recruiting office) in Oakland, California was closed today. In a Valentine's Day themed protest, Grandmothers against the War offered themselves to replace young folks as cannon fodder.

"...we are demonstrating our love for this country and its young people by enlisting in the U.S. military....This is not a show of support for our military action in Iraq....Rather, it is a Valentine's Day gift to our children and grandchildren.

"We grandmothers have had long, full lives. Our young men and women deserve the same. We are prepared to take their place and by that action to help bring an end to this destructive occupation. We want our brave young people home -- alive and whole."

Army recruiters had enough sense to hightail it for greener pastures when about 200 determined women showed up on their doorstep.

On the march.

Huge puppets stood in for grieving Iraqi mothers.

Now there's a sign for many of us. It seems to be available here. No endorsement of seller implied.

Second post to follows here with more pictures from this inspiring event.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Ethics and conscience said no way!

Do we have to start this up again? The text above reads in part:

I pledge to uphold my professional principles and the right to privacy. I will continue to provide services to all who request them; I will refuse to verify immigration status. ... I will support others who refuse to cooperate and I will urge others to do the same.

The Immigrant Rights Action Pledge (IRAP) was a response to the passage by California voters of Proposition 187 in 1994. That measure, never put into effect because of a series of legal challenges, would have required educators, doctors and social service workers deny help to undocumented persons. That's right: the people who work with them were supposed to rat on kids, sick patients, and desperate people.

IRAP wasn't the only or perhaps even a very important part of the broad push back inspired by that recent episode of xenophobia, but it mobilized an important source of resistance: people whose professional code of ethics mandated that they resist discrimination and criminalization of the innocent. The consciences of service workers were outraged. Thousands signed on to say a loud "no." They supported immigrants, advocates, and the attorneys who eventually squashed that measure. Along with religious people whose faith traditions locate holiness in welcoming the stranger, these professionals are the most likely source of citizen resistance to current anti-immigrant efforts.

HR 4437, passed by the House last fall, included a provision that makes it a crime for anyone to assist undocumented immigrants to "come or remain" in the United States. The bill makes 'soliciting, aiding, abetting, counseling, commanding and procuring' undocumented workers an aggravated felony, according to a recent Pacific News service article. Any number of humanitarian organizations that try to meet the needs of poor people and low-wage workers could find their work has been turned into an offense.

Migra Matters has a good discussion of the bill. The law has yet to clear the Senate and some of the most horrible provisions may be stripped out. But some kind of immigration "reform" that creates additional obstacles to migrants hoping to become members of our communities with full legal protections is almost certain to be passed this year.

Meanwhile, people trying to save lives along the Mexican border already find themselves at legal risk. Two aid workers with No More Deaths; No Mas Muertes, Shanti Sellz and Daniel Strauss, face felony charges of transporting "illegal aliens" for the crime of medically evacuating 3 people in critical condition from the 105-degree Arizona desert in July 2005. Amnesty International, religious leaders, the local AFL-CIO, and the antional NAACP have all come out in support of the accused. Recently former Arizona Supreme Court Justice Stanley Feldman joined the defense team. No trial date seems to have been set.

Facing rising U.S. xenophobia, teachers, medical workers and social service providers should be badgering their professional organizations to take a lead against what amount to outlawing their professional ethical obligations. Panicked attacks on immigrants have been a staple of U.S. history; repeatedly, people of goodwill (abetted by the labor needs of employers) have overcome the fears of exclusionists. Can we do so once again in the 21st century?

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Torture is a moral issue

The National Religious Campaign against Torture writes:

Torture violates the basic dignity of the human person that all religions hold dear. It degrades everyone involved --policy-makers, perpetrators and victims. ...

The President's signing statement, which he issued when he signed the McCain Amendment into law, implies that the President does not believe he is bound by the amendment in his role as commander in chief. ...

Furthermore, in a troubling development, for the first time in our nation's history, legislation has now been signed into law that effectively permits evidence obtained by torture to be used in a court of law. The military tribunals that are trying some terrorist suspects are now expressly permitted to consider information obtained under coercive interrogation techniques, including degrading and inhumane techniques and torture. ...

Nothing less is at stake in the torture abuse crisis than the soul of our nation. What does it signify if torture is condemned in word but allowed in deed?

Follow the link and join up now.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Pill pushers will have to try harder

This couldn't be happening to a nicer group of folks: An Los Angeles Times story about increased seizures of prescription drug parcels sent from Canada to U.S. seniors hides its most interesting aspect at the very end.

Yes, it looks like the Feds are trying to prop up enrollment in their preposterous Medicare drug scam by harassing those who could get cheaper drugs by importing them.

And yes, apparently Canadian shippers view replacing seized shipments for free as a necessary cost of keeping their U.S. market.

And yes, big U.S. drug companies want to suppress any competition to their overpriced products.

But most fascinatingly, globalization is working to blunt pharmaceutical companies' ability to get their way by using the U.S. government:

Canadian pharmacies, which are able to purchase brand-name drugs at low wholesale prices negotiated with the purchasing power of the Canadian government, already had been adapting to increasing political and market pressure.

When major drug makers began curbing sales to Canadian pharmacies that shipped to the U.S., many began ordering in bulk from drug factories in Europe, India and Israel.

There may be a few benefits to individuals as the empire discovers it is simply another deadbeat debtor in a big world full of a lot of smarter, more realistic players.

Culture of life

Damn I love my city! I ran out to the store yesterday to get supplies for a potluck. Went by a busy intersection and vaguely noticed a poster on a bus shelter. The city sells advertising space on them; naturally no one looks at them. The intersection is one of the city's main transit stops in a rundown, mostly Latino neighorhood.

And then I did a double take. Here's what I saw:

If you can't quite read the writing, go visit Condoms4Life.

Somehow I don't think the hierarchy is quite as happy with this campaign as I was.

There's also a whole country to celebrate:

The Brazilian government will distribute 25 million free condoms to promote safe sex during the country's Carnival holidays, the Health Ministry said on Monday....

"It's that time of year when we boost distribution because of the increase in demand," an official from the Health Ministry's anti-AIDS program said....

The Roman Catholic Church in Brazil -- the world's largest Catholic country -- routinely denounces such programs as encouraging sex and contravening its stand against contraception.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Time for some laughs

The other day Reddhedd at firedoglake asked how we could "effectively cut through that pee-your-pants fear that Rove and company have been stoking in this country since 9/11." Right question.

Actually, we know one of the answers -- when the sky is falling, laugh a little. A previous generation of activists took this to brave lengths. The two guys below, Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman, were on trial in 1970 for conspiracy and inciting to riot, facing serious prison time. So they came to court dressed in judicial robes. Abbie blew kisses at the judge and offered to set him up with a good LSD dealer. Jerry tried to run a pig for President (some ideas are timeless.) On a serious plane, their antics helped delegitimize the culture of fear that supported the anti-Communist rationale for the Vietnam war.

Confronted with our current wannabe King, we need all the laughs we can get. Fortunately, Photoshop and the web have made satire a lot easier to circulate than it was 35 years ago. Some borrowed gems:

From the Onion, via War and Piece.

From The BEAST blog.

From everywhere -- with thanks to Rep. Rangel.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Facing the gaggle:
U.S. Muslims and those cartoons

American Muslim Voice, the Council on American-Islamic Relations--SF Bay Area, and friends met the press this morning in a Congregational Church in Fremont, providing a local angle on the raging controversy over the Danish drawings of the Prophet. To no one's surprise, speakers condemned publication of the offensive cartoons, repudiated violent demonstrations against those who published them, and urged us all to realize that Islam is a religion of peace. The Oroville Mercury Register provides a thorough account.

While photographing the speakers, I found myself mulling the ritualistic quality of the event. How many times since 9/11 have U.S. Muslims and friends had to go over similar ground? Journalists kept asking whether they believed in free speech; the Muslims, all women, kept repeating that they practiced respect for others and deserved respect in their turn.

Samina F. Sundas of AMS shared one of the many hate mails they have received since the present fuss started; it proclaims "If you do not like my country, please leave." But this is Sundas' country.

Safaa Ibrahim, executive director of local CAIR, vented her frustration: "I think there is an 'us versus them' mentality. I'd rather not be on the defensive. I'd rather just educate people about our faith."

Interfaith allies duly spoke up for sanity. Pictured here are Chris Shriner, a Unitarian Universalist minister, and Fr. John Butcher, an Episcopal priest.

Does this ritual do anyone any good? In the end, I think yes, it does.

On the world stage, Muslims have real grievances. We, the U.S. and friends, run our economies on their oil, overrun their lands by force when we wish to, support authoritarian governments that repress them, and, above all, usually treat their way of living as inferior. The cartoon flap is a natural result; Eugene Robinson got it right in the Washington Post:

People don't normally burn down embassies over a few cartoons in a newspaper they've never even heard of, much less ever read. The widespread hair-trigger outrage, I think, grows out of a sense that the world of Islam has been used and abused for many years by a powerful and evil entity called "the West" -- and that this mistreatment is getting worse, not better.

But our local Muslims aren't part of that nasty stew. Their plaint is that they too are Americans -- why can't the rest of us understand that?

When spokespeople from the Muslim communities talk to the press, they are getting us accustomed to their presence. They are here. They aren't terrorists; they are simply people. They probably value freedom of religion more than some of our homegrown Christian theocrats; they have need of it. We rub against each other; we all change a little. That's just the way this country works, so long as we don't give in to the haters in our midst.