View from the Loft 

war and peace, politics, books, rants, the passing parade ...


Thursday, May 08, 2003

Salam Pax is back! Yes, the blogger from Baghdad survived and continues to give us his impressions of life in the post-war city.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

For Bushies, Wishing Makes It So

Okay, maybe it's more like "the political convenience of having the masses believe it" makes it so ...

Donald Rumsfeld, in Afghanistan: The bulk of the country is secure, and "we have moved ... to a period of stability."

Ret. Gen. Jay Garner: "There is no humanitarian crisis" in Iraq.

George W. Bush: When Iraqis look into the faces of American soldiers, "they see strength and kindness and goodwill.”

What universe are these people living in?


"Deadly Attacks Threaten Afghan Peace Process" ("Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. special representative for Afghanistan, said the central Asian nation was still unable to cope with the violence because an international security force is confined to the capital, Kabul, and its environs.")

"Taliban Fighters Infiltrating Back Into Afghanistan from Pakistan"

"First Anti-American Protest Held in Afghan Capital"

"Afghanistan: Fundamentalist Influences Resurging"

"Afghanistan is Not A-OK" ("The international community has allowed warlords and local military commanders to take control of much of the country," [Human Rights Watch] representative Loubna Freih told the UN Human Rights Commission, now ending its annual six-week session in Geneva. She said that instead of providing security, the warlords were terrorizing the local population in many parts of the country, with kidnappings, arbitrary arrests, armed robbery, extortion and beatings widespread.)

Humanitarian crisis: see my post of May 5.

American soldiers:

"The chick was in the way."

"13 Dead After US Troops Open Fire on Iraqi Protesters"

"U.S. Troops Fire on Iraq Protesters Again"

"The affair has angered British Army officials who believe that the US troops lack the vital experience which the British acquired – painfully at first – in Northern Ireland. 'Don't talk to me about the US army,' said one British military source. 'Let's just say that they face a very steep leaning curve.'"

"Unlike the American Troops, We Look the Iraqis in the Eye"

"Mosul Residents Tiring of US Presence" ("Other locals blamed the shootings on the jumpiness of occupation troops whose welcome in Mosul, as in other parts of Iraq, now seems to be wearing out.")

"Hostility toward U.S. troops is running high in Baghdad" ("In interviews, Baghdad residents say they regard the U.S. officials here as remote. The Americans — military and civilian alike — are barracked behind barbed wire inside Saddam's Republican Palace ... A soldier pointing a gun at residents whom he suspects of either looting or perhaps planning an attack is a common sight.")

It Can't Happen Here ... Can It?

Those huge anti-war protests we saw in Spain before the invasion of Iraq may soon look like a quaint throwback to the good old days of freedom of expression. An ominous change has been proposed to the Spanish military criminal code. Article 49 of the draft, produced by the Defence ministry and quoted in Spanish daily El País on 22 April 2002, reads as follows:

"A person who, in a situation of armed conflict of an international nature in which Spain is involved, with the aim of discrediting Spain´s participation in (the conflict), publicly carries out acts against it ... will be punished with a sentence of between one and six years in prison. The same penalty will apply to a person who ... divulges false news or information with the aim of weakening the morale of the population or to provoke disloyalty or a lack of spirit among members of the Spanish military".

The sanctions would apply not only to actions opposing Spanish military involvement, but also to actions carried out against the involvement of Spain's allies. Civilians could face military trials.

Well, thank goodness we're protected by our Constitution. Right? Right? We should definitely not be bothered by a few little unfortunate incidents that really don't erode our freedom of speech in the heinous way proposed by the Spanish.

Stuff like this and this. And remember this student? And this man? How about what happened to Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon?

Oh, you say, but those aren't the acts of the government; those are the acts of individuals. True. But if individuals are so loath to allow people the right to speak their minds--if they are willing to cancel appearances and impose censorship because of a person's expressed beliefs--won't they then be quite willing to have the government impose such censorship? I submit that we have to worry when so many U.S. citizens seem completely unaware of the value of freedom of speech.

And, in fact, the Bush administration, other government bodies, and even local authorities have acted to curtail the freedom of speech.

Take, for example, the Orwellian-sounding "First Amendment Zones" insisted upon by our president. These fenced-off zones, usually far from where the president is speaking, are the only places where demonstrators are allowed to express their disagreement with the president's policies. The distance of the zones from the actual speech-making ensures the protestors' invisibility.

A man in Colorado was threatened with a charge of criminal action if he did not remove an upside-down flag from his store window. Action by the ACLU resulted in the protection of this man's "peaceful symbolic expression." But once again, an amendment to prohibit flag-burning is being proposed, sponsored in the Senate by Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and in the House by Reps. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA) and John Murtha (D-PA). Go here to e-mail your elected officials and urge them to oppose such an amendment!

Visit the Electronic Frontier Foundation for a sobering analysis of the proposed "Patriot Act II."

The FCC is about to allow more media mergers, with the result, write Jeffrey Chester and Don Hazen of AlterNet, that "it will then soon be possible for a single conglomerate to control most of a community's major media outlets, including cable systems and broadband Internet service providers." This is bad news for those of us who believe in the freedom of the press. Rupert Murdoch is poised to buy Direct TV, the country's most powerful satellite provider (the one we use, in fact), and use it to expand his control of broadcast and cable markets. What are the chances of any liberal or progressive channels getting access to the airwaves? Without freedom of the press, democracy simply cannot survive. Visit MediaReform.net to voice your opposition to the FCC's proposed rule changes.

I could go on, but I'd wear out your patience. How ironic that Mr. Bush and his ilk are so bent on establishing democracy in Iraq while simultaneously trashing it here at home.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Looking for other PeaceBlogs?

Also, try the "virtual peace rally," Faces for Peace.

Mother's Day

I've always regarded Mother's Day with skepticism.

The cards, flowers, "take your mom to Sunday brunch," and sentimentality leave me cold, particularly when this culture doesn't seem to find child-rearing a worthy occupation. Oh, the lip service is there, but Mother's Day and all the other superficial trappings that purport to honor the role of Mother fall flat compared to the realities of the everyday lives of many women who are mothers. Low pay, lack of subsidized child care, a government increasingly hostile to reproductive rights, lack of health insurance, the threat of homelessness for many mothers and their children, lack of sufficient maternity leave: all these and more give the lie to the idea that this society honors its mothers beyond the Hallmark slogan or the Kodak moment.

But I've discovered that Mother's Day in the United States actually has an honorable history, and I've had to re-think and adjust my attitude.

One call for a Mother's Day came from Julia Ward Howe, who wrote "Battle Hymn of the Republic," and was meant as a global appeal to women to stand against war. Having lived through the Civil War and then the Franco-Russian War, Howe believed that women must unite for peace. Her Mother's Day Proclamation envisioned "a general congress of women without limit of nationality" that would come together to promote "the great and general interests of peace." "Why," she asked, "do not the mothers of mankind interfere in these matters to prevent the waste of that human life of which they alone bear and know the cost?"

Another woman who saw the establishment of Mother's Days as a way to improve the lives of people was Anna Jarvis. Around 1860, she organized a number of Mother's Work Days and then Mother's Day Work Clubs in West Virginia with the purpose of raising money for medicine, inspecting bottled milk and food, hiring women to work in families in which mothers had tuberculosis, and generally improving sanitation in order to prevent deaths from insect-borne illness and the seepage of polluted water.

During the Civil War she organized brigades of women to provide relief to both Union and Confederate Soldiers, urging women to maintain neutrality. Her community suffered bitter rifts because of the war, and she attempted to help heal these rifts by establishing a Mother's Friendship Day to bring together soldiers and civilians of all political beliefs. The event was a success, and it remained an annual event for many years.

It was her daughter, also named Anna, who worked so hard to establish Mother's Day as a nationally-recognized holiday. Her mother had once expressed the idea that there were plenty of days for men, and that there ought to be one for women; she'd like to see a day that would honor the contributions of mothers. Jarvis worked hard and finally saw the establishment of an official holiday in 1914.

Ironically, Jarvis came to regret that she'd ever started Mother's Day. She felt that Mother's Day had been corrupted and hated the commercialization of the holiday, even filing a lawsuit to stop a 1923 festival and getting herself arrested for disturbing the peace at a war mothers' convention.

I wouldn't go that far, but I understand how she felt about the commercialization of the day. Luckily, today there are many actions planned that go back to the roots of Mother's Day. Mothers Acting Up is planning Mother's Day parades for peace in cities all over the U.S. Code Pink plans a rally in Santa Monica on the beach. United for Peace also lists some of the actions planned for Mother's Day.

The original spirit of Mother's Day is restored by these actions. Yes, we all love our moms, but Howe's and Jarvis's actions go beyond the individual, urging mothers to think big, to do what we can, as Mothers Acting Up says, to "interfere in the loss of humankind." Promoting peace, caring for all human beings, demanding that all children, everywhere, be spared the brutality of war--that's what Julia Ward Howe and Anna Jarvis had in mind.

What will you do to honor the spirit of the day?

Monday, May 05, 2003

Have you seen Dubya's resume?

This has come to my mailbox a couple of times, but I thought I'd post it in case you hadn't seen it yet. Pretty scary stuff, when you think about it ....

Humanitarian Crisis in Iraq

Before the war in Iraq, 800,000 of Iraq's 13 million children suffered malnutrition, and only 41% of the population of Iraq had access to clean water. The U.S. invasion killed somewhere between 2200 and 2700 civilians, injured thousands more, and killed unknown thousands of Iraqi soldiers, many of them young conscripts (the U.S. military refused even to estimate the number of Iraqi soldiers killed, let alone civilians). In addition, Iraq's infrastructure has been devastated, with power generators and water plants severely damaged. Telecommunications, health care, schools, transportation, and the financial system have all broken down. And the United States so far has not carried out its duties in caring for the population it has left bereft of even the most basic necessities.

On May 2, eight relief agencies issued a statement declaring that much of Iraq now faces a "critical" situation. They called upon the coalition to step up security efforts so that humanitarian aid can get through. "Hospitals are overwhelmed, diarrhoea is endemic and the death toll is mounting," the statement said. "Medical and water staff are working for free, but cannot continue for long. Rubbish, including medical waste, is piling up. Clean water is scarce and diseases like typhoid are being reported in southern Iraq."

But according to retired General Jay Garner, the U.S. civil administrator for Iraq, "there is no humanitirian crisis ... and there's not much infrastructure problem here, either."

Tell that to the children of Sadr City, an impoverished Shia suburb northeast of Baghdad. At Qadisiya Hospital there, 100 children lie in wards with a capacity of 80, and 90% of the cases are gastroenteritis, often with complications of dehydration, due to the lack of clean water. That same hospital is admitting 6 to 16 children a day injured by cluster bomblets. That same hospital can no longer perform surgery, lacking parts needed to replace a generator.

Tell that to the residents of Baghdad's only psychiatric hospital.

Tell it to UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy, who labors under what Garner would certainly call a misapprehension that "thousands of Iraqi youngsters will die and hundreds of thousands more will be injured, fall prey to disease, suffer abuse and exploitation or fall behind in school, unless all involved in shaping the post-war future make the battle to protect children the number one priority."

UNICEF outlined the dangers facing Iraqi children: "insecurity stopping aid from reaching needy communities; degradation of the water system with widespread health hazards like diarrhoea, cholera and other killer diseases; unexploded munitions with daily reports of injuries and deaths; enormous stress on hospitals, including insufficient medical supplies; insufficient emphasis on opening schools, leaving children on the streets exposed to hazards; and ongoing malnutrition with more than a quarter of all children under age five already malnourished."

No humanitarian crisis? Ramiro Lopes da Silva, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, must just be a party pooper. He says there is "a humanitarian disaster in the sense basic services have collapsed or are at the risk of collapsing if we don't put them back into shape rather quickly."

Well, at least the oil fields have been protected and the oil is flowing again--ahead of schedule. There's no more National Library, the National Museum has been looted and vandalized, the hospitals are still being attacked by armed militiamen, and aid workers are not being protected by the military, but after all, you have to prioritize.

Want to run a country?

You can call the shots for a whole nation when you play Jennifer Government: NationStates.

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