Thursday, February 24, 2011

Iraq Veterans Against the War to Troops: “We Are Public Employees Too!”

Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) calls on all U.S. military service members to refuse and resist any mobilization against workers organizing to protect their basic rights. IVAW stands in solidarity with the multitude gathered in Madison, Wisconsin and many other cities to defend their unions.

by Iraq Veterans Against the War

We believe military service members are public employees too. It is dishonorable to suggest that military personnel should be deployed against teachers, health care providers, firefighters, police officers, and other government employees, many of whom are themselves serving in the National Guard.

Workers with prior military service often seek jobs in the public sector because government agencies are the only employers that follow hiring preferences for veterans as a matter of law. According to the Army Times, veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are unemployed at a rate of 15.2%, higher than the national average. The picture is even worse for African American veterans who face nearly double the rate of unemployment. Protecting the rights of workers in public sector unions ensures that veterans have a chance to secure a decent job, earning a living wage and good benefits.

Madison, WI is ground zero for a fight that will likely define the relationship between public sector unions and the governments that employ them for decades to come. Similar to the federal government's defeat of the 1980 Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) strike, which signaled the beginning of a thirty-year decline of real wages, benefits, and union membership for private sector workers. What happens in Madison today is likely to affect whether governments across the country can destroy a decent standard of living for public sector workers in the future.

Governor Scott Walker recently stated that he was preparing the National Guard to respond to “labor unrest” following the introduction of union-busting legislation in Wisconsin. Governor Walker has attempted to justify this attack on collective bargaining by pointing to state budget shortfalls. Missing from this explanation is an acknowledgment that these deficits have been created and exacerbated by the ongoing trillion dollar wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Meanwhile, federal and local governments across the U.S. are cutting back on the public sector.

Troops have been called out in the past against worker strikes, campus protests, and urban uprisings. However, recent events in Egypt and numerous examples from U.S. history have shown that service members have the power to side with the people and refuse to use violence against their fellow citizens. Troops activated for duty in Madison, WI will have to decide if public sector workers are really the enemy. IVAW says they are not and that troops should support workers fighting for decent jobs, wages, and benefits.

We know firsthand that the U.S. military is already overextended from a decade at war. Through our Operation Recovery campaign, we have been fighting for the right of our troops to heal, rather than being involuntarily redeployed with severe physical and psychological injuries. Adding another mission to an already overburdened military for the purposes of suppressing the rights of workers is irresponsible and not worthy of our service.

If you are a service member facing mobilization or know someone in the military who is you can contact IVAW via email at or by phone at (646) 723-0989, M-F 10am-6pm EST.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Friday, February 18, 2011

Pressing Reset on the Afghanistan Debate: Toward Ending the War and Upholding Women’s Rights

by Yifat Susskind

This week, policy circles have been buzzing with the news of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s appointment of Marc Grossman, a career diplomat and former US Ambassador to Turkey, as the new special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Coupled with speculation of General Petraeus’ impending departure, you might think that this leadership re-shuffling creates the opening to re-evaluate the course of US policy on Afghanistan.

But progressives may not be able to seize this opportunity.

Of all of George Bush’s discredited utterances, there is one that continues to constrain progressive debate on Afghanistan today. “You’re either with us or with the terrorists,” Bush told the world on September 11, 2001. That November, as the US was making final preparations to bomb Afghanistan, Laura Bush was dispatched to assure us that “The fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women.”

Nine years later, as the human rights crisis of Afghan women rages on, most progressives seem to have accepted the Bushes’ claim that there are only two viable positions on the war: either you care about the women of Afghanistan and support the war as a “humanitarian intervention,” or you oppose the war and are willing to “abandon” Afghan women.

This either/or debate has provided rich justification for US policies in the “war on terror.” It has also driven a wedge among progressives grappling in good faith to promote women’s rights and kept us from organizing to take advantage of opportunities, like this shifting leadership, to advance our goals with US policy-makers.

Below are six reasons to reset the terms of progressive debate on Afghanistan.

1. The US has not prevented massive human rights violations against Afghan women

* Deposing the Taliban in 2001 did open new spaces for women’s freedom, mainly in the capital city of Kabul. But securing women’s rights was never the primary objective.
* This became clear when women began exercising limited, new-found freedoms to work, travel, study and participate in public life.
* They quickly became the targets of deadly attacks by the Taliban and other ultra-conservatives. For all their bravery, Afghan women found little support from the US or the Karzai government it installed. In fact, the Afghan government is packed with warlords whose track record on women’s rights is hardly better than the Taliban’s.
* Years after the US invasion, the United Nations continues to characterize Afghanistan as “the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman.”

2. The US military presence threatens Afghan women and their families

* Women in Afghanistan are regularly killed, injured, traumatized, bereaved and displaced by the war. And women suffer disproportionately as those who are responsible for taking care of society’s most vulnerable members in a time of war. Last year was the most violent in Afghanistan since 2001, and the United Nations recently released a report warning that the humanitarian situation is likely to worsen in 2011. Estimates show that some 7000 people have been killed just since 2006.
* Moreover, because US troops are viewed by many Afghans as foreign occupiers, their presence allows the Taliban to claim legitimacy as they fight the invader. Paradoxically, the war is fueling the very ultra-conservatives whose vision for Afghanistan rests of denying women basic rights.

3. The US has set the bar low on women’s rights

* The Obama Administration is using allegiance to the 2003 Afghan Constitution as a litmus test for Taliban participation in future peace talks. It’s an easy test to pass since the constitution—brokered by the US—has no meaningful guarantees of women’s rights or any enforceable prohibition on gender discrimination.
* You’ve probably heard Hillary Clinton and other US officials praising the constitution for its provision that women and men are equal before Afghan law. But like any law, the constitution is only as good as its interpretation.
* Here is how the Chief Justice of the Afghan Supreme Court interprets women’s equality: “Women have two equal rights under the constitution, number one every woman has the right to obey her husband and two, every woman has the right to pray, though not in the mosque, which is reserved to men.”

4. The US has traded women’s rights in the search for “stability” in Afghanistan

* Unlike the Taliban, Hamid Karzai and his US sponsors are not hell-bent on denying women’s human rights: they just don’t care much either way. For them, the main value of women’s rights is that they can be traded in exchange for allegiance from fundamentalist leaders whose social vision does depend on the subjugation of women.
* That kind of horse-trading brought about the 2009 Afghan law that allows a husband to deny his wife food and shelter if she refuses sex. Karzai signed the law in exchange for political support from fundamentalist politicians in the August 2009 elections.
* The soon-to-be special envoy, Marc Grossman, has been commended for being a “discreet and reliable” diplomat, known as a “low-key backroom dealer.” We already know that, in the circles he will be negotiating, these “backroom deals” often spell danger for women’s rights.
* To the extent that promoting women’s rights is cost-free, a lucky side effect of other priorities, the US is happy to take credit. But just as easily, women’s rights become an inconvenience, brushed aside to smooth the way for the next warlord’s election.

5. The US has stopped talking about Afghanistan as a “humanitarian war”

* While progressives continue to argue about whether the US is upholding women’s rights in Afghanistan, the Obama Administration itself has dropped Bush’s neo-conservative rhetoric of “saving” Afghan women.
* As President Obama has said, “while improving conditions in Afghanistan is a commendable goal, people need to remember that the primary reason that US troops are fighting there is to protect Americans from terrorist attacks.”

6. The US is advancing policies based on military and political priorities, not human rights

* Progressives can continue to argue about whether the Taliban, with their misogynist ideology, should be allowed to participate in peace talks. And we can debate whether US troops should remain in Afghanistan as a bulwark against a new Taliban government. But without a powerful peace movement, we have little influence either way.
* Meanwhile, NATO and the US military are holding closed-door sessions on enticing “moderate Taliban” into negotiations. The oxymoron demonstrates that the biggest difference between US allies and enemies is not their position on women’s rights, but their willingness to cooperate with the US.
* The planned “phased withdrawal” from Afghanistan also inspires little confidence that the demands of the peace movement for an end to the war have been heard.

Yifat Susskind is the Executive Director of MADRE. Before joining the staff of MADRE, she was part of a joint Israeli-Palestinian human rights organization in Jerusalem, using journalism, advocacy and political organizing in her work for peace. MADRE's mission is to advance women’s human rights by meeting immediate needs and building lasting solutions for communities in crisis

Monday, February 7, 2011

Recognizing the Language of Tyranny

by Chris Hedges

Empires communicate in two languages. One language is expressed in imperatives. It is the language of command and force. This militarized language disdains human life and celebrates hypermasculinity. It demands. It makes no attempt to justify the flagrant theft of natural resources and wealth or the use of indiscriminate violence. When families are gunned down at a checkpoint in Iraq they are referred to as having been “lit up.” So it goes. The other language of empire is softer. It employs the vocabulary of ideals and lofty goals and insists that the power of empire is noble and benevolent. The language of beneficence is used to speak to those outside the centers of death and pillage, those who have not yet been totally broken, those who still must be seduced to hand over power to predators. The road traveled to total disempowerment, however, ends at the same place. It is the language used to get there that is different.

This language of blind obedience and retribution is used by authority in our inner cities, from Detroit to Oakland, as well as our prison systems. It is a language Iraqis and Afghans know intimately. But to the members of our dwindling middle class—as well as those in the working class who have yet to confront our new political and economic configuration—the powerful use phrases like the consent of the governed and democracy that help lull us into complacency. The longer we believe in the fiction that we are included in the corporate power structure, the more easily corporations pillage the country without the threat of rebellion. Those who know the truth are crushed. Those who do not are lied to. Those who consume and perpetuate the lies—including the liberal institutions of the press, the church, education, culture, labor and the Democratic Party—abet our disempowerment. No system of total control, including corporate control, exhibits its extreme forms at the beginning. These forms expand as they fail to encounter resistance.

The tactic of speaking in two languages is as old as empire itself. The ancient Greeks and the Romans did it. So did the Spanish conquistadors, the Ottomans, the French and later the British. Those who inhabit exploited zones on the peripheries of empire see and hear the truth. But the cries of those who are exploited are ignored or demonized. The rage they express does not resonate with those trapped in self-delusion, those who continue to trust in the ultimate goodness of empire. This is the truth articulated in Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” and E.M. Forster’s “A Passage to India.” These writers understood that empire is about violence and theft. And the longer the theft continues, the more brutal empire becomes. The tyranny empire imposes on others it finally imposes on itself. The predatory forces unleashed by empire consume the host. Look around you.

The narratives we hear are those fabricated for us by the state, Hollywood and the press. These narratives are taught in our schools, preached in our pulpits and celebrated in war documentaries such as “Restrepo.” These narratives humanize and ennoble the enforcers of empire. The government, the military, the police and our intelligence agents are lionized. These control groups, we are assured, are the guardians of our virtues and our protectors. They produce our heroes. And those who challenge this narrative—who denounce the lies—become the enemy.

Those who administer empire—elected officials, corporate managers, generals and the celebrity courtiers who disseminate the propaganda—become very wealthy. They make immense fortunes whether they deliver the nightly news, sit on the boards of corporations, or rise, lavished with corporate endorsements, within the vast industry of spectacle and entertainment. They all pay homage, even in moments defined as criticism, to the essential goodness of corporate power. They shut out all real debate. They ignore flagrant injustices and abuse. They peddle the illusions that keep us passive and amused. But as our society is reconfigured into an oligarchic system, with a permanent and vast underclass, along with a shrinking and unstable middle class, these illusions lose their power. The language of pleasant deception must be replaced with the overt language of force. It is hard to continue to live in a state of self-delusion once unemployment benefits run out, once the only job available comes without benefits or a living wage, once the future no longer conforms to the happy talk that saturates our airwaves. At this point rage becomes the engine of response, and whoever can channel that rage inherits power. The manipulation of that rage has become the newest task of the corporate propagandists, and the failure of the liberal class to defend core liberal values has left its members with nothing to contribute to the debate.

The Belgian King Leopold, promising to abolish slavery and usher the Congolese into the “modern” era, was permitted by his European allies to form the Congo Free State in 1885. It was touted as a humanitarian gesture, as was the Spanish conquest of the Americas, as was our own occupation of Iraq. Leopold organized a ruthless force of native and foreign overseers—not unlike our own mercenary armies—to loot the Congo of ivory and rubber. By the time the Belgian monarch was done, some 5 million to 8 million Congolese had been slaughtered. It was the largest act of genocide in the modern era until the Nazi Holocaust. Leopold, even in the midst of his rampage, was lionized in Europe for his virtue. He was loathed in the periphery—as we are in Iraq and Afghanistan—where the Congolese and others understood what he was about. But these voices, like the voices of those we oppress, were almost never heard.

The Nazis, for whom the Holocaust was as much a campaign of plunder as it was a campaign to rid Europe of Jews, had two methods for greeting arrivals at their four extermination camps. If the transports came from Western Europe, the savage Ukrainian and Lithuanian guards, with their whips, dogs and clubs, were kept out of sight. The wealthier European Jews were politely ushered into an elaborate ruse, including fake railway stations complete with flower beds, until once stripped naked they became incapable of resistance and could be herded in rows of five under whips into the gas chambers. The Nazis knew that those who had not been broken, those who possessed a belief in their own personal empowerment, would fight back. When the transports came from the east, where Jews had long lived in fear, tremendous poverty and terror, there was no need for such theatrics. Mothers, fathers, the elderly and children, accustomed to overt repression and the language of command and retribution, were brutally driven from the transports by sadistic guards. The object was to create mass hysteria. The fate of the two groups was the same. It was the tactic that differed.

All centralized power, once restraints and regulations are abolished, once it is no longer accountable to citizens, knows no limit to internal and external plunder. The corporate state, which has emasculated our government, is creating a new form of feudalism, a world of masters and serfs. It speaks to those who remain in a state of self-delusion in the comforting and familiar language of liberty, freedom, prosperity and electoral democracy. It speaks to the poor and the oppressed in the language of naked coercion. But, here too, all will end up in the same place.

Those trapped in the blighted inner cities that are our internal colonies or brutalized in our prison system, especially African-Americans, see what awaits us all. So do the inhabitants in southern West Virginia, where coal companies have turned hundreds of thousands of acres into uninhabitable and poisoned wastelands. Poverty, repression and despair in these peripheral parts of empire are as common as drug addiction and cancer. Iraqis, Afghans, Pakistanis and Palestinians can also tell us who we are. They know that once self-delusion no longer works it is the iron fist that speaks. The solitary and courageous voices that rise up from these internal and external colonies of devastation are silenced or discredited by the courtiers who serve corporate power. And even those who do hear these voices of dissent often cannot handle the truth. They prefer the Potemkin facade. They recoil at the “negativity.” Reality, especially when you grasp what corporations are doing in the name of profit to the planet’s ecosystem, is terrifying.

All tyrannies come endowed with their own peculiarities. This makes it hard to say one form of totalitarianism is like another. There are always enough differences to make us unsure that history is repeating itself. The corporate state does not have a Politburo. It does not dress its Homeland Security agents in jackboots. There is no raving dictator. American democracy—like the garishly painted train station at the Nazi extermination camp Treblinka—looks real even as the levers of power are in the hands of corporations. But there is one aspect the corporate state shares with despotic regimes and the collapsed empires that have plagued human history. It too communicates in two distinct languages, that is until it does not have to, at which point it will be too late.

Copyright © 2011 Truthdig, L.L.C.

Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. His most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.