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Peace too ‘political’ for Veterans Day parade

When is a veteran not a veteran?

When he or she is a Veteran for Peace, according to the committee which runs Milwaukee’s Veterans Day parade.

According to the committee’s logic, inviting non-veteran politicians to march in the Veterans Day parade is not political, but having the word “peace” in an organization’s name is.

Members of Veterans for Peace have again been barred from participation in Milwaukee’s Veterans Day Parade, although the parade website says the event is “Honoring all Americans who have served.”

The committee has refused to allow Veterans for Peace members – many of whom are combat veterans with Purple Hearts – from taking part in the observance on Saturday, Nov. 7, saying Veterans for Peace is “a politically motivated group,” and therefore not welcome.

So much for “honoring all Americans who have served.”

Chapter 102 members (I am one) did not ask to participate in the parade to make a political statement, but to take our rightful place in the annual event saluting all who served our country in uniform.

Yet the committee, which finds us “political,” invites non-veteran politicians — Scott Walker, Gwen Moore, Tom Barrett — to march in the parade, and welcomes veterans groups which are outspoken in support of military action and war.

The committee’s reply, from Chairman David Drent, said,

“There is no doubt that your organization is a politically motivated group. One visit to the organization’s website makes your views perfectly clear.

“We don’t make judgment on your purpose. End the war or escalate it carries the same weight with the board. A political statement is being made and there is no room in the parade for it.”

“We thank you for your service in our Armed Forces, but our goal has always been to have a day of honor that is 100% politically free.”

The committee’s decision was unanimous, he said.

‘Death to no one’

By Bitta Mostofi

November 4, 2009

Today marks the 30th year since the 444 day Iran Hostage Crisis began in 1979. On this day the media traditionally offers us images of  Iranians burning American flags and effigies of Uncle Sam. We are reminded of the great chasm of mistrust and misunderstanding that has marked the last three decades of US-Iranian relations.

But, in the past year both Americans and Iranians have asked for something new. Americans  have elected a president that promises to pursue diplomacy and Iranians have given birth to a popular democratic movement. So, we should not use this 30th anniversary of the hostage crisis to simply re-live tragedy and tension. Rather, today Americans have an opportunity to honestly reflect on our relationship with Iran and think about how to move forward.

For the past 30 years our government has dealt with Iran through policies of isolation and sanctions.

As we all witnessed amidst post-election unrest, Iranians have created a new dialogue within their country about respect for human rights and the democratic process. Now, those of us concerned with human rights must drastically alter our own dialogue towards Iran. If we herald the bravery of the “Green Movement,” we should ask what effect crippling sanctions would have for Iran’s human rights prospects?

Days before the United Nations General Assembly opened in September 2009, Human Rights Watch, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi and thousands of Iranians standing in solidarity with the Green Movement, called on the United Nations to prioritize human rights in discussions about Iran. The Preamble of the Universal Declaration for Human Rights avows that all Member States have pledged themselves “to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Yet, in recent discussions regarding Iran, the United Nations Security Council plus Germany focused on the nuclear issue in every instance. In doing, so they have consistently neglected all critical and serious conversations about Iran’s human rights violations.

Furthermore, the negotiating states chose to threaten the very fabric of the domestic resistance with “crippling sanctions.” Economic sanctions that directly affect and isolate a civilian population weaken the ability of people committed to creating a better, more just governance.

Consider, for example, the effects of comprehensive sanctions imposed on Iraq for a period of 13 years. Those who bore the brunt of brutal and lethal punishment caused by economic sanctions were the elderly, the sick, the poor and the children.  The economic sanctions directly contributed toward the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children.  We should also remember that imposition of comprehensive, multilateral sanctions against Iraq proved to be a rallying cry for support of Saddam Hussein in countries where there was high antagonism against the United States. Saddam Hussein could claim to provide for the Iraqi people while the Americans insisted on starving them.

What effects would greater sanctions have on Iran? The Iranian regime has had years of practice in avoiding sanctions by relying on economic relations with China and Russia. The rising revenue and power of the underground economy has bolstered Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s allies who control it.

Meanwhile, sanctions leveled against Iran are creating hardships among the poorest communities in Iran. In 2007, the Iranian government announced fuel rations for private drivers. Due to Iran’s limited refining capabilities, Iran is not energy independent, despite its vast oil resources. The decision to create rations has led to massive uproar and protest for a people who have already suffered extreme rates of unemployment. Inflation has soared to twenty-five percent.

Also, in the last year, Iran has faced a serious drought. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has estimated Iran’s loss of wheat production at thirty-three percent. The USDA also noted that, due to the drought and reduced reservoir levels, Iran’s hydroelectric generation capacity and supply have been severely cut. These conditions will lead to severe agricultural problems and possibly to food shortages.

Furthering morally bankrupt policies that focus on the nuclear issue and greater sanctions against Iran will harm the Green Movement’s capacity to struggle for democracy and human rights.  

Iran has become the world’s poster child for the deficit of democracy that plagues many nations. Citizens of all nations understand justice and agree upon its terms with remarkable consistency across borders. “The arc of history is long,” Dr. Martin Luther King wrote, “but it bends towards justice.” For 30 years our policies have failed to stand up for truth or justice.

A flyer from Tehran University marking this anniversary declares “Marg bar hich kas”, “Death to no one”. The Green Movement is turning a page in Iran’s history, creating an opportunity for us to stand up for new policy based on human rights and the will of the people.

Bitta Mostofi is co-founder of Where is My Vote, New York. She is an immigrant and civil rights attorney who can be reached at bittamostofi@gmail.com. Kathy Kelly, a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, contributed to this article. Posted at Kelly’s request.

Report from Pakistan: Now we see you, now we don’t

By Kathy Kelly

June 25, 2009

In early June, 2009, I was in the Shah Mansoor displaced persons camp in Pakistan, listening to one resident detail the carnage which had spurred his and his family’s flight there a mere 15 days earlier.  Their city, Mingora, had come under massive aerial bombardment. He recalled harried efforts to bury corpses found on the roadside even as he and his neighbors tried to organize their families to flee the area.  

“They were killing us in that way, there,” my friend said. Then, gesturing to the rows of tents stretching as far as the eye could see, he added, “Now, in this way, here.”  

Down and Out in Shah Mansoor

Kathy Kelly (kathy@vcnv.org) and Dan Pearson (dan@vcnv.org) are co-coordinators of Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org).  With Gene Stoltzfus and Razia Ahmed, they are traveling in Pakistan.  This report is posted at their request.

by Kathy Kelly and Dan Pearson

In Pakistan’s Swabi district, a bumpy road leads to Shah Mansoor, a small village surrounded by farmland. Just outside the village, uniform size tents are set up in hundreds of rows. The sun bores down on the Shah Mansoor camp which has become a temporary home to thousands of displaced Pakistanis from the Swat area. In the stifling heat, the camp’s residents sit idly, day after day, uncertain about their future. They spoke with heated certainty, though, about their grievances.  

As soon as we stepped out of the car, men and children approached us. They had all arrived from Mingora, the main city of Swat, 15 days prior. One young man, a student, told us that bombing and shelling had increased in their area, but, due to a government imposed curfew, they weren’t allowed to leave their homes. Suddenly, the Pakistani Army warned them to leave within four hours or they would be killed. With the curfew lifted long enough for them to get out of Mingora, they joined a mass exodus of people and walked for three days before reaching this camp.

After being assigned to a section of the camp coordinated by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees(UNHCR), they were provided with tents and plastic mats. So far, 554 tents are set up in this section, with an average of 6 – 10 people living in each tent.  

Report from Pakistan: Visitors and hosts

Kathy Kelly (kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org).  She, along with Dan Pearson, Gene Stoltzfus, and Razia Ahmad, is part of a Voices delegation to Pakistan due back in the U.S. on June 13th. She sent this by email and asked that it be posted.

* * *

Visitors and Hosts in Pakistan

by Kathy Kelly

June 10, 2009

In Jayne Anne Phillips’ Lark and Termite, the skies over Korea, in 1950, are described in this way:

“The planes always come…like planets on rotation. A timed bloodletting, with different excuses.”  

The most recent plane to attack the Pakistani village of Khaisor (according to a Waziristan resident who asked me to withhold his name) came twenty days ago, on May 20th, 2009.  A U.S. drone airplane fired a missile at the village at 4:30 AM, killing 14 women and children and 2 elders, wounding eleven.  

The previous day, some travelers had come to Khaisor, and the villagers had served them a meal.  “This is our custom,” my friend relates.  “It is our traditional way.”  But these travelers were members of the Taliban, and their visit was noted by U.S. forces.  It is possible they were identified through pictures taken by unmanned U.S. drones.  Although the visitors had left right after their meal, the U.S. responded to this act of hospitality by bombing the homes of the hosts early the following morning.

For Afghans, a lifetime of war, life expectancy of 44


By Abdul Malik Mujahid

According to the CIA World Factbook, an Afghan’s life expectancy is merely 44 years.

That's 20 to 30 years less than neighboring Pakistan and all other surrounding countries. It is just one result of the ongoing devastation in that country.

The war in Afghanistan did not start in 2001 with the US invasion. It began 30 years ago in December 1979, when the former Soviet Union invaded the country. The human toll of the conflict is staggering: more than a million Afghans have been killed and 3 million maimed.

Five million (one third of the pre-war population) were forced to leave their country and became refugees. There are still 3.1 million Afghan refugees today, making up 27 per cent of the global refugee population. Most of them live in Pakistan.

Another two million Afghans were displaced within the country. In the 1980s, one out of two refugees in the world was an Afghan. Most Afghans alive today have seen nothing but war.

Daily life in Afghanistan is miserable.  

Bombs in Pakistan kill civilians, make more terrorists

By Abdul Malik Mujahid

During the last thirty years of wars in Afghanistan, Afghan civilians have had one safe place to escape to: Pakistan.

They fled the Soviet invasion. They fled civil wars. They fled US bombing.  Pakistan took care of millions of these Afghan refugees.  

Now that safe haven with its lush green valleys is burning with bombs.

And the hosts, the people who themselves welcomed Afghan refugees, at times literally into their homes or into campsites on their farms, are on the run. They are streaming out of Swat, Dir, and Buner, and registering as refugees in Mardan and the fertile valleys of Pakistan. The UN says about two million Pakistanis have been displaced during the last year of drone attacks, bombing and fighting.

Pakistan is bombing its own land and its own people who are caught between the Taliban and the Americans.

Whomever I talk to among Pakistanis, it seems, there is an emerging consensus. They hate both the Taliban who blast schools and the Americans who bomb Madrasahs. Both kill civilians.  

Six years of war sparks hundreds of actions this week

Thursday marks six years since the "shock and awe" invasion rocked Iraq and the US kept the world safe from Saddam Hussein's non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

Dick Cheney continues to insist we "won" the war in Iraq because there is a new democratic government there. There's also a new Democratic government here, and that, too, is in large part a result of the invasion and occupation.

The Obama administration isn't talking about a 100-year war, as John McCain did. Right now, it's not quite three more years until all US troops leave — and move to Afghanistan.

So why are the antiwar groups demonstrating? Are they never satisfied?

Well, I'm not, and I hope you're not, either. We need to keep the pressure on, to speed the Iraq withdrawal that currently plans to leave 50,000 troops there, and to stop the escalation in a guaranteed losing effort in Afghanistan.

Events across the country this week will mark the anniversary itself on Thursday. Friday is the Iraq Moratorium observance held on the Third Friday of every month, and Saturday is the day for marches in Washington, California — and Milwaukee.

Wisconsin, where I live,  is a hotbed of antiwar activity, and organizers have planned at least 24 events that I know of, and others that I don't.

Around the country there are hundreds of events.  Many are listed on the Iraq Moratorium website and others at United for Peace and Justice or ANSWER.

Join them if you can.

It ain’t over till it’s over.  

Be patient with Obama on Iraq? While how many die?

We were at an Iraq Moratorium vigil in downtown Milwaukee last week when a young man stopped to say, with a rueful smile, "Can't you give him a little time?"

He was referring to the sign a couple of students were holding, calling for an end to "Obama's occupations."

The vast majority of the people at that vigil voted for Barack Obama. There may have been a few Green votes. I'd bet my bottom dollar there weren't any McCain backers in the crowd.

So, should we be patient?

I pointed out to the young man that while it's true Obama's only been in office a month, that's been enough time for him to decide to send 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, he's waffled on his campaign pledge to bring US troops home from Iraq in 16 months. And the report today is that he is leaning toward a 19-month withdrawal.

What's three more months when you've already been there for six years?

Not much in the grand scheme of things, right?

Unless, of course, you are one of the people who will lose their lives during those extra three months, or be wounded, or widowed, or have a loved one killed or maimed or permanently damaged psychologically.

Depending upon who's counting, more than a million Iraqis have died, several million have become refugees, and 740,000 or more women have been widowed — almost 10 per cent of the female population between the ages of 15 and 80.

We don't know for sure how many Iraqis have been killed, because we don't even care enough to count their dead.

This is not a time to ask the antiwar movement to be patient, to quietly wait an extra three months.

It's time to ask the question John Kerry asked about Vietnam: Who will be the last one to die for this mistake?

We might add: How many will die for this mistake after Obama had said it would be over?  

Congress members urge us to lobby them on Moratorium day

This is not exactly a man-bites-dog story, but at least three members of Congress have expressed their support for a campaign to contact members of Congress and urge them to end the occupation of Iraq.

And a fourth has joined protesters at their regular vigil.

Representatives Barbara Lee, Lynn Woolsey, and George Miller — all California Democrats — have written the Raise Hell for Molly Ivins campaign to encourage it to continue raising hell.  Meanwhile, Rep. John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, joined a vigil in Wyandotte, MI. (He’s at left in photo)

The Ivins campaign has been urging people to use the Third Friday of every month — Iraq Moratorium day — to contact Congresspeople in their home offices and ask them to get US troops out of Iraq. Friday, Feb. 20, is Iraq Moratorium #18.

“Please keep fighting,” wrote Lee, a longtime opponent of the Iraq war.

Late last fall, Woolsey, Lee and Maxine Waters organized 92 members of Congress to sign a letter putting then-President Bush on notice that “we will only authorize funding for Iraq that is used for the safe and orderly redeployment of our troops and military contractors,” Woolsey said.  “We will have many serious issues to deal with in the coming months under a new President, but I will not forget that ending this occupation must be a priority for this Congress and for this nation,” her letter said.

Gaza report: US arms would require ‘Grand Canyon of a tunnel’


(Kathy Kelly (kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence.  Twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, she has often put herself in harm’s way as a witness for peace, most recently in Gaza.)

By Kathy Kelly

People have asked me, since I returned from Gaza, how people manage. How do they keep going after being traumatized by bombing and punished by a comprehensive state of siege? I wonder myself. I know that whether the loss of life is on the Gazan or the Israeli side of the border, bereaved survivors feel the same pain and misery. On both sides of the border, I think children pull people through horrendous and horrifying nightmares. Adults squelch their panic, cry in private, and strive to regain semblances of normal life, wanting to carry their children through a precarious ordeal.

And the children want to help their parents. In Rafah, the morning of January 18, when it appeared there would be at least a lull in the bombing, I watched children heap pieces of wood on plastic tarps and then haul their piles toward their homes. The little ones seemed proud to be helping their parents recover from the bombing. I'd seen just this happy resilience among Iraqi children, after the 2003 Shock and Awe bombing, as they found bricks for their parents to use for a makeshift shelter in a bombed military base.

Children who survive bombing are eager to rebuild. They don't know how jeopardized their lives are, how ready adults are to bomb them again.

In Rafah, that morning, an older man stood next to me, watching the children at work. "You see," he said, looking upward as an Israeli military surveillance drone flew past, "if I pick up a piece of wood, if they see me carrying just a piece of wood, they might mistake it for a weapon, and I will be a target. So these children collect the wood."

While the high-tech drone collected information,– "intelligence" that helps determine targets for more bombing, –toddlers collected wood. Their parents, whose homes were partially destroyed, needed the wood for warmth at night and for cooking. Because of the Israeli blockade against Gaza, there wasn't any gas.

With the border crossing at Rafah now sealed again, people who want to obtain food, fuel, water, construction supplies and goods needed for everyday life will have to rely, increasingly, on the damaged tunnel industry to import these items from the Egyptian side of the border. Israel's government says that Hamas could use the tunnels to import weapons, and weapons could kill innocent civilians, so the Israeli military has no choice but to bomb the neighborhood built up along the border, as they have been doing.

Suppose that the U.S. weapon makers had to use a tunnel to deliver weapons to Israel. The U.S. would have to build a mighty big tunnel to accommodate the weapons that Boeing, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Caterpillar have supplied to Israel. The size of such a tunnel would be an eighth wonder of the world, a Grand Canyon of a tunnel, an engineering feat of the ages.

Think of what would have to come through.

Imagine Boeing's shipments to Israel traveling through an enormous underground tunnel, large enough to accommodate the wingspans of planes, sturdy enough to allow passage of trucks laden with missiles. According to UK's Indymedia Corporate Watch, 2009, Boeing has sent Israel 18 AH-64D Apache Longbow fighter helicopters, 63 Boeing F15 Eagle fighter planes, 102 Boeing F16 Eagle fighter planes, 42 Boeing AH-64 Apache fighter helicopters, F-16 Peace Marble II & III Aircraft, 4 Boeing 777s, and Arrow II interceptors, plus IAI-developed arrow missiles, and Boeing AGM-114 D Longbow Hellfire missiles,

In September of last year, the U.S. government approved the sale of 1,000 Boeing GBU-9 small diameter bombs to Israel, in a deal valued at up to 77 million. Now that Israel has dropped so many of those bombs on Gaza, Boeing shareholders can count on more sales, more profits, if Israel buys new bombs from them from them. Perhaps there are more massacres in store. It would be important to maintain the tunnel carefully. Raytheon, one of the largest U.S. arms manufacturers, with annual revenues of around $20 billion, is one of Israel's main suppliers of weapons. In September last year, the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency approved the sale of Raytheon kits to upgrade Israel's Patriot missile system at a cost of $164 million. Raytheon would also use the tunnel to bring in Bunker Buster bombs as well as Tomahawk and Patriot missiles.

Lockheed Martin is the world's largest defense contractor by revenue, with reported sales, in 2008, of $42.7 billion. Lockheed Martin's products include the Hellfire precision-guided missile system, which has reportedly been used in the recent Gaza attacks. Israel also possesses 350 F-16 jets, some purchased from Lockheed Martin.

Think of them coming through the largest tunnel in the world.

Maybe Caterpillar Inc. could help build such a tunnel. Caterpillar Inc., the world's largest manufacturer of construction (and destruction) equipment, with more than $30 billion in assets, holds Israel's sole contract for the production of the D9 military bulldozer, specifically designed for use in invasions of built-up areas. The U.S. government buys Caterpillar bulldozers and sends them to the Israeli army as part of its annual foreign military assistance package. Such sales are governed by the US Arms Export Control Act, which limits the use of U.S. military aid to "internal security" and "legitimate self defense" and prohibits its use against civilians.

Israel topples family houses with these bulldozers to make room for settlements. All too often, they topple them on the families inside. American peace activist Rachel Corrie was crushed to death standing between one of these bulldozers and a Palestinian doctor's house.

In truth, there's no actual tunnel bringing U.S. made weapons to Israel. But the transfers of weapons and the U.S. complicity in Israel's war crimes are completely invisible to many U.S. people. With the border crossing at Rafah now sealed again, people who want to obtain food, fuel, water, construction supplies and goods needed for everyday life will have to rely, increasingly, on the damaged tunnel industry to import these items from the Egyptian side of the border. Israel's government says that Hamas could use the tunnels to import weapons, and weapons could kill innocent civilians, so the Israeli military has no choice but to bomb the neighborhood built up along the border, as they have been doing.

Suppose that the U.S. weapon makers had to use a tunnel to deliver weapons to Israel. The U.S. would have to build a mighty big tunnel to accommodate the weapons that Boeing, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Caterpillar have supplied to Israel. The size of such a tunnel would be an eighth wonder of the world, a Grand Canyon of a tunnel, an engineering feat of the ages.

The United States is the primary source of Israel's arsenal. For more than 30 years, Israel has been the largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance and since 1985 Israel has received about 3 billion dollars, each year, in military and economic aid from the U.S. ("U.S. and Israel Up in Arms," Frida Berrigan, Foreign Policy in Focus, January 17, 2009)

So many Americans can't even see this flood of weapons, and what it means, for us, for Gaza's and Israel's children, for the world's children.

And so, people in Gaza have a right to ask us, how do you manage? How do you keep going? How can you sit back and watch while your taxes pay to massacre us? If it would be wrong to send rifles and bullets and primitive rockets into Gaza, weapons that could kill innocent Israelis, then isn't it also wrong to send Israelis the massive arsenal that has been used against us, killing over 400 of our children, in the past six weeks, maiming and wounding thousands more?

But, standing over the tunnels in Rafah, that morning, under a sunny Gazan sky, hearing the constant droning buzz of mechanical spies waiting to call in an aerial bombardment, no one asked me, an American, those hard questions. The man standing next to me pointed to a small shed where he and others had built a fire in an ash can. They wanted me to come inside, warm up, and receive a cup of tea.  

What did you do to end the war, Daddy?

When your child asks, in 10 years, “What did you do end the war in Iraq, Daddy? (Mommy?), what are you going to say?

“Well, we worked really hard at it for years.  We marched, and wrote letters, and held vigils, and called up Congress, and did a lot of other stuff — oh, and a lot of meetings, too.  

“So did you keep it up until you made them end the war?”

“Well, not exactly.  See, we worked to elect this guy who was running for president and said he would end the war if he got elected.  And he won.

“So he ended the war and then you could quit protesting?”

“Something like that.  More like we quit protesting and hoped he would end the war.”

“Did it end?”

“Yes, but not right away.  It took a few years.  Quite a few, actually.”

“Do you think maybe you quit too soon?”

“It’s getting pretty late.  How about a bedtime story?”

* * *

Friday, Feb. 20, is Iraq Moratorium #18.

It is not the time to opt out of the effort to end the war and occupation of Iraq.  It is a time to turn up the heat, or, at a minimum, to keep things simmering.  Do something, large or small, to show you want US troops home.  

And, whatever you’re planning, please list it here.

Members of Congress are going to be home next week for a recess.  It’s a great chance to tell them face-to-face that we want our troops home.  And talk to them about spending priorities, using the billions we are wasting in Iraq to do something constructive.

From United for Peace and Justice, the nation’s biggest antiwar coalition:

The time is now to mount a campaign to cut the military budget by ending the war and occupation of Iraq and redirect the spending of our national budget.This is also an opportunity for the antiwar movement to work with economic and social justice groups in organizing joint delegations.

Don’t go to their offices alone!  Join with labor and community groups to make the first recess of the new Congress the beginning of a surge to compel them to end the war, cut the military budget and fund human needs.

If your Congressional representatives refuse to meet, or opposes the need for urgent emergency government action to respond to the economic crisis or bringing all the troops home: picket or vigil outside their office and call the press!

The opening of the debates on priorities for the next Federal Budget will follow this Congressional  recess. We need to make our priorities clear! Ending the wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan are the first steps to making larger cuts in the military budget and change the priorities of Federal spending.

That’s just one idea.  There are hundreds of things you can do to observe the Iraq Moratorium.  Need ideas?  Visit the website:   IraqMoratorium.com.

What are you and me gonna do to end the war, Daddy and Mommy?

 

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