Enlisting Michelle Obama—and the American Public—to Stop War on Iran

Medea Benjamin & Rae Abileah


Alice Walker. (Pls. sign the petition)

On Friday, March 30, First Lady Michelle Obama received an unusual request at her San Francisco fundraiser. Instead of “Can I have a picture with you?,” one major donor asked, “Will you use your leadership to prevent an attack on Iran?” Kristin Hull hand delivered to Ms. Obama a petition against war on Iran that was signed by prominent women including Gloria Steinem, Alice Walker, and Eve Ensler, and over 20,000 American women and allies.Hull implored the First Lady to think of the military families and veterans who have paid the price of war. Ms. Obama has championed veterans’ issues while in office and for this reason, in addition to her obvious proximity to the President, women’s groups have made her a focus of their peace efforts.

Ms. Obama thanked Hull for her advocacy and said, “Keep up the great work.” As Hull was walking away after her photo with the First Lady, Michelle Obama grabbed her hand, squeezed it and said, “We really need you.”

The petition implores three powerful American female politicians—Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Ambassador Susan Rice and First Lady Michelle Obama—to use their influence to push for diplomacy, not bombing, in US relations with Iran. The next step will be to hand-deliver the petition to Clinton. CODEPINK launched this petition online on March 20th, the 9th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq (coincidentally also on the Iranian New Year, Norooz), with a call from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker. “Nine years ago, I joined CODEPINK in front of the White House in an act of civil disobedience to try to stop our government from bombing Iraq,” said Alice Walker. “None of us could live with ourselves if we sat by idly while a country filled with children was blown to bits using money we needed in the United States to build hospitals, housing and schools. We must not let another tragic war begin.”


Obama Administration Silencing Pakistani Drone-Strike Lawyer

Medea Benjamin


Lawyer Mirza Shahzad Akbar (right)

When is the last time you heard from a civilian victim of the CIA’s secret drone strikes? Sure, most of them can’t speak because they’re deceased. But many leave behind bereaved and angry family members ready to proclaim their innocence and denounce the absence of due process, the lack of accountability, the utter impunity with which the U.S. government decides who will live and die.

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. government has increasingly deployed unmanned drones in the Middle East, South Asia and Africa. While drones were initially used for surveillance, these remotely controlled aerial vehicles are now routinely used to launch missiles against human targets in countries where the United States is not at war, including Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. As many as 3,000 people, including hundreds of civilians and even American citizens, have been killed in such covert missions.

The U.S. government will not even acknowledge the existence of the covert drone program, much less account for those who are killed and maimed. And you don’t hear their stories on FOX News, or even MSNBC. The U.S. media has little interest in airing the stories of dirt poor people in faraway lands who contradict the convenient narrative that drone strikes only kill “militants.”

But in Pakistan, where most strikes have occurred, the victims do have someone speaking out on their behalf. Shahzad Akbar, a Pakistani lawyer who co-founded the human rights organization Foundation for Fundamental Right, filed the first case in Pakistan on behalf of family members of civilian victims and has become a critical force in litigating and advocating for drone victims.


'Stability' Trumps Democracy in Egypt

Charles Davis & Medea Benjamin


Repression is worse now than under Mubarak, says AI report.

Confronted with popular protest, the country's unelected rulers have doubled down on repression, jailing peaceful activists and killing dozens of civilians who have the gall to exercise their rights. Those who state security forces haven't killed for demanding democracy have been tear-gassed and brought before the perverted justice of a military court, even as the ruling clique promises the world and its red-eyed subjects democratic reform. Eventually.

Were it Syria or Iran, the rhetoric from Washington would be stern, aggressive even. But since the repressive ruling clique is the military junta in Egypt, the lectures are timid – and coupled with a handout. Indeed, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton just announced, the Obama administration is waiving a legislative requirement that made military assistance to Egypt conditional on its rulers “implementing policies to protect freedom of expression, association, and religion, and due process of law.” This allows the U.S. government to send Egypt's rulers $1.5 billion in taxpayer money, more than 85 percent of which is explicitly set aside for the armed forces.

If one only pays attention to what politicians say, ignoring what they do, this may come as a surprise. President Barack Obama, after all, has voiced support for the Arab Spring. He gave a speech in Cairo full of lofty words about the people of the region's legitimate democratic aspirations. So why would his administration lavish a regime that cracks down on pro-democracy forces with money for weapons?


Busted for Busting Out at Bank of America

Medea Benjamin


Medea Benjamin being busted. (AIG demo)

Stripping Protestors In Pink Bras Crashed Bank Of America CEO Brian Moynihan's Speech,” declared Business Insider on March 8, showing Moynihan’s stern photo with a pink bra playfully dangling in the air beside him.

It’s true, things did get a bit wild at Citi's Financial Services conference at New York’s Waldorf Astoria when Brian Moynihan got on stage and began flipping through his tedious powerpoint.

While the hotel security was busy watching anti-bank protesters rallying outside, CODEPINK cofounder Jodie Evans, dressed in a hot pink bustier, burst into the conference room. “Bust up Bank of America before it busts up America”, she shouted, before being hauled out by security guards. “As I was saying,” continued a deadpan Moynihan to the laughter of the crowd, returning to the dreary slides that tried to put a rosy spin on this dinosaur of a company whose share price has plummeted while it continues to foreclose on families’ homes and faces tens of billions of dollars in damages from lawsuits over mortgage investments.

Little did Moynihan know that the excitement at what is normally a bankers’ snoozefest had just begun.


Julia Gillard’s rise marks the triumph of machine politics over feminism

John Pilger

In 1963, a senior Australian government official, A.R. Taysom, deliberated on the wisdom of deploying women as trade representatives. "Such an appointee would not stay young and attractive forever [because] a spinster lady can, and very often does, turn into something of a battleaxe with the passing years [whereas] a man usually mellows."

On International Women's Day 2012, such primitive views are worth recalling; but what has happened to modern feminism? Why is it so bereft of its political, indeed socialist roots that any woman who "achieves" within an immoral system is to be admired? Take the rise of Julia Gillard as Australia's first female prime minister, so celebrated by leading feminists such as writer Anne Summers and Germaine Greer. Both are unstinting in their applause of Gillard, the "remarkable woman" who on 27 February saw off a challenge from Kevin Rudd, the former Labor prime minister she deposed in a secretive, essentially macho backroom coup in 2010.

On 3 March, Greer wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald that she "fell in love with" the "matter-of-fact" Gillard long ago. Omitting entirely Gillard's politics, she asked, "What's not to like? That she's a woman, that's what. An unmarried, middle-aged woman in power - any man's and many women's nightmare".


10 Reasons Why the Israel Lobby AIPAC is So Dangerous

Medea Benjamin

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is one of the most powerful lobby organizations in the country. On March 4-6, AIPAC will be holding its annual policy conference in Washington DC. The speakers include Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. President Barack Obama, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Republican candidate Newt Gingrich and a host of other powerful politicians.

AIPAC has tremendous clout but its influence has been disastrous for U.S. foreign policy and U.S. democracy. Here are ten reasons why AIPAC is so dangerous.

1. AIPAC is lobbying Congress to promote a military confrontation with Iran. AIPAC - like the Israeli government - is demanding that the U.S. attack Iran militarily to prevent Iran from having the technological capacity to produce nuclear weapons, even though U.S. officials say Iran isn't trying to build a weapon (and even though Israel has hundreds of undeclared nuclear weapons). AIPAC has successfully lobbied the U.S. government to adopt crippling economic sanctions on Iran, including trying to cut off Iran's oil exports, despite the fact that these sanctions raise the price of gas and threaten the U.S. economy.

2. AIPAC promotes Israeli policies that are in direct opposition to international law. These include the establishment of colonies (settlements) in the Occupied West Bank and the confiscation of Palestinian land in its construction of the 26-foot high concrete “separation barrier” running through the West Bank. The support of these illegal practices makes to impossible to achieve a solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict.


Police Chief Timoney, Meet Bahraini Mothers

Medea Benjamin
 

John Timoney is the controversial former Miami police chief well known for orchestrating brutal crackdowns on protests in Miami and Philadelphia- instances with rampant police abuse, violence, and blatant disregard for freedom of expression. It should be of great concern that the Kingdom of Bahrain has brought Timoney and John Yates, former assistant commissioner of Britain’s Metropolitan Police, to “reform” Bahrain’s security forces.

Since assuming his new position, Timoney has claimed that Bahrain has been reforming it brutal police tactics in response to recommendations issued by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry. He says that there is less tear gas being used and that while tear gas might be “distasteful,” it’s not really harmful.
I have no idea what country Chief Timoney is talking about, because it’s certainly not the Bahrain I saw this past week, a week that marked the one-year anniversary since the February 14, 2011 uprising.

I was in Bahrain for five days before being deported for joining a peaceful women’s march. During my stay, I accompanied local human rights activists to the villages where protests were raging and police cracking down. Every day, I inhaled a potent dose of tear gas, and came close to being hit in the head with tear gas canisters. Every evening I saw the fireworks and smelled the noxious fumes as hundreds of tear gas canisters were lobbed into the village of Bani Jamrah, next door to where I was staying. The villagers would get on their roofs yelling “Down, Down Hamad” (referring to the King). In exchange, as a form of collective punishment, the whole village would be doused in tear gas. I went to bed coughing, eyes burning, wondering how in the world the Bahrainis can stand this.

Tear gas is supposed to be used to disperse violent gatherings that pose a threat to law and order. It is not supposed to be used on unarmed protesters who are simply exercising their freedoms of expression and assembly.


Obama's Pentagon Strategy: A Leaner, More Efficient Empire

Charles Davis & Medea Benjamin

In an age when U.S. power can be projected through private mercenary armies and unmanned Predator drones, the U.S. military need no longer rely on massive, conventional ground forces to pursue its imperial agenda, a fact President Barack Obama is now acknowledging. But make no mistake: while the tactics may be changing, the U.S. taxpayer – and poor foreigners abroad – will still be saddled with overblown military budgets and militaristic policies.

Speaking January 5 alongside his Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the president announced a shift in strategy for the American military, one that emphasizes aerial campaigns and proxy wars as opposed to “long-term nation-building with large military footprints.” This, to some pundits and politicians, is considered a tectonic shift.


Ten Good Things About a (Not So) Bad Year

Medea Benjamin


Medea Benjamin with demonstrators in Cairo.

I had the privilege of starting out the year witnessing, firsthand, the unfolding of the Egyptian revolution in Tahrir Square. I saw people who had been muzzled their entire lives, especially women, suddenly discovering their collective voice. Singing, chanting, demanding, creating. And that became the hallmark of entire year–people the world over becoming empowered and emboldened simply by watching each other. Courage, we learned in 2011, is contagious!

1. The Arab Spring protests were so astounding that even Time magazine recognized “The Protester” as Person of the Year. Sparked by Tunisian vendor Mohamed Bouazizi‘s self-immolation to cry out against police corruption in December 2010, the protests swept across the Middle East and North Africa—including Egypt,Libya, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, Algeria, Iraq, and Jordan. So far, uprisings have toppled Tunesian President Ben Ali, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi–with more shake-ups sure to come. And women have been on the front lines of these protests, highlighted recently by the incredibly brave, unprecedented demo of 10,000 Egyptian women protesting military abuse.

2. Wisconsin caught the Spring Fever, with Madison becoming home to some 100,000 protesters opposing Governor Walker’s threat to destroy collective bargaining and blame the state’s economic woes on public workers. Irate Wisconsinites took over the Capitol, turning it into a festival of democracy, while protests spread throughout the state. The workers managed to loosen the Republican stranglehold on Wisconsin state government and send a message to right-wing extremists across the country. This includes Ohio, where voters overwhelmingly rejected Governor Kasich’s SB 5, a measure designed to restrict collective bargaining rights for more than 360,000 public employees. A humbled Kasich held a press conference shortly after the vote, saying: “The people have spoken clearly. You don’t ignore the public.”


Obama Must Condemn Egyptian Military

Medea Benjamin & Jodie Evans

As we watch the Egyptian police and military viciously attack democracy activists on the streets of Cairo, using U.S. weapons, it is outrageous that the Obama Administration has failed to issue a strong condemnation of this latest attempt to crush a revolution that has inspired people around the world, including millions of Americans.

During the fateful 18 days in January and February when Egyptians took to the streets by the millions to topple the brutal Mubarak dictatorship, President Obama remained largely silent, refusing to call directly for democracy until it was clear that young Egyptians were about to topple the dictator’s three-decade-long rule.

In the months since then, as thousands of Egyptians have been attacked, imprisoned, sexually assaulted and murdered by their government, the United States has not merely remained silent, but has continued to provide crucial diplomatic, economic and military aid to the regime responsible for these crimes.

The latest Egyptian protests were sparked by growing anger over signs that the military leadership plans to hold on to power indefinitely. The military rulers say they will relinquish power once presidential elections are held, but have refused to commit to a plan and a timetable for handing over power to a democratically elected government.

The first of many rounds of voting for parliament is scheduled to begin November 28, but the military has not agreed to form a new government based on these elections. Moreover, it is trying to limit any civilian government from having control over the military’s budget. And it has postponed a presidential election to an indefinite time late in 2012 or in 2013.

Now that the façade of a democratic transition has been ripped away and Egyptians are once again battling the military government in Tahrir Square for the future of their country, with at least 35 civilians killed since Saturday. The Obama administration remains as quiet as it was in the early days of the revolution. Such silence is both morally indefensible and politically and strategically disastrous for the United States.


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