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Living in Society

Retro Post – On Sept. 11, 2001

United Airlines Flight 175 hits World Trade Center south tower on Sept. 11, 2001. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

First published at Blog for Iowa on Sept. 11, 2011.

I was scheduled to fly from Moline, Illinois to Philadelphia on Sept. 11, 2001. My flight was cancelled. I returned to the office, and with the other office employees watched the twin towers burning and then collapse on television. I neither understood what happened nor knew what to do. But I turned to a president, one I believed stole the 2000 election, and said that I would support him after this act of terrorism. We all did.

What I remember most from the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001 was my trip to Philadelphia a few days later. The plane was almost empty. As I approached the Eastern Iowa Airport, the radio announcer said President Bush was also heading to Philadelphia on an unannounced trip. Air Force One was already parked at Philadelphia International Airport when I arrived and I drove past it in my rental car heading to Interstate 95. There were hundreds of law enforcement officials stationed along the presidential route.

As I headed North, I passed the presidential motorcade returning to the airport. It was 10:30 a.m. On the radio I discovered that the President was in town fulfilling a campaign promise to visit a women’s shelter. He couldn’t have been in Philadelphia three hours. I shook my head, disappointed that after all that had happened, we were back to politics.

As the hope of getting something done in Washington D.C. this year wanes, and our attention turns to “jobs,” the “Super Committee” and the 2012 Presidential election, we are approaching the tenth anniversary of the event that brought almost everyone in the country together. I am referring to Osama Bin Laden’s successful hijacking of four aircraft and the deaths, destruction and economic damage it brought. It did bring us together, if only for the briefest of moments. Whatever consensus may have existed then, devolved into political gridlock unlike any in living memory.

We know about the deaths that day, and the illnesses of workers at Ground Zero. What we don’t consider enough is the death, destruction and economic damage caused by the United States reaction to Sept. 11, 2001. Hugh Gusterson reports in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, “the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and his collaborator Linda Bilmes estimate that, in funds already disbursed or committed, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have so far cost the American taxpayer… $3.2 trillion.” It is noteworthy that this amount includes $200 billion in interest incurred after the decision to pay for the war with deficit spending. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the United States will incur another $800 billion in interest charges on the war debt by 2020. The wars are costing a lot.

In this month’s issue of The Lancet, Vic Sidel and Barry Levy published an article titled, “Adverse health consequences of U.S. Government responses to the 2001 terrorist attacks.” The article reminds us of the fact that there were more than the dollar costs of these wars. According to the article, as of July 26, 2011 there were 1,568 US Military deaths in Afghanistan and 4,408 in Iraq. There have been tens of thousands of US casualties. Likewise there were many times this number of Afghan and Iraqi deaths. Estimates are that 655,000 Iraqis died in the first 40 months of the Iraq War. Millions of refugees in both countries are on the move as a result of the wars. The health care infrastructure in Iraq was damaged, much of it destroyed. Thousands of villages in Afghanistan and their environs have been destroyed. Of 222,620 US military personnel who returned between May, 2003, and April 2004, 42,506 (19%) reported mental health problems and 68,923 (31%) used mental health services over the first year after they returned home. The article continues, but I have made the point: the cost of our reaction to September 11 was in more than dollars.

As we honor the lives lost and damaged by the terrorist attacks, I hope that for a moment we can include those lost and damaged by our political decision to invade Iraq and to prosecute a war with Afghanistan that no one has been able to win after more than thirty years of fighting.

Once we understand the true cost of war, it seems too high a price.

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Living in Society

Afghanistan Persists

War is Not Healthy

The headline in today’s Washington Post was “Afghanistan to be ruled under sharia law, Taliban commander confirms.” No surprises here. What did we expect if not that?

As the coronavirus surges in the county where I live, people have become more isolated. If we don’t stay on media constantly, we are checking it often and the news about Afghanistan is grim.

NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel began yesterday on Twitter by tweeting, “At kabul airport, military side, more order than before. Evacuations picking up. Seeing more Afghan families being taken through. Planes taking off. Base well guarded.” That was reassuring news midst the media claims of “chaos” in the country. I am deeply skeptical about media claims.

Someone asserted, “the reason all these people are stuck in Afghanistan right now is because the visa program that was created to get them here was purposely shut down by Donald Trump and Stephen Miller.” Like most Americans, I don’t recall enough of the last administration to remember this. What I do remember is the national news media, for the most part, gave Trump a pass on any hard questioning. This is being resolved by President Biden saying he assumes responsibility for the mess. Exiting our long-standing war was never going to be easy. Four presidents made the problems we see, and all of them are culpable for where we are today.

I don’t want to write about Afghanistan, yet it is on everyone’s mind. There is no avoiding the conversations, so we have them. It is not what we want to be talking about, yet we are considering a lock down again, leaving home only to exercise nearby and to secure provisions. We are stuck talking about what dominates the national news media.

A few people in the public eye take some of the pressure from us. Heather Cox Richardson writes an almost daily newsletter which explains what’s going on in the news from a historian’s perspective. Justin King, who goes by Beau of the Fifth Column, reacts to the news on YouTube almost daily from the perspective of a “Southern journalist” and former military contractor. Octogenarian and former CBS news person Dan Rather publishes an almost daily newsletter in which he brings perspective to news events. None of these writers are perfect and I suppose each has their issues. The calm demeanor with which they put things in perspective, what they choose to get upset about, and what they publish goes a distance to bring perspective to a cyclone of news that is terrible more because the reporting is inept than because events in Afghanistan are concerning.

Afghanistan persists and it is difficult for Americans to get a grip on it. Partly this has to do with the bubble in which most of us live our lives. What seems clear is the news media plays an active role in creating a narrative about ending our war. Some of these narratives are not accurate. Many of them distort the view we get of what’s going on on the ground there. Some of them are plain false. It is difficult to understand the relevance of daily events. Not all daily events presented by the news media are relevant.

As Afghanistan turns again to sharia law it is assured Westerners will not like it. To the extent our culture penetrated Afghan society, it will create problems for local citizens with the Taliban in charge. What is our responsibility? Like it or not, we have to stop propping up values that are not shared by locals and as effectively as possible withdraw our military from the country. We also need to protect those who supported us over the last 20 years. From Iowa it appears President Joe Biden is doing that. It’s messy, yet we have to support him in this endeavor.

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Living in Society

Is Jessica Reznicek a Terrorist?

Jessica Reznicek Photo Credit: Twitter @FreeJessRez

Jessica Reznicek, a 39-year-old environmental activist and Catholic Worker from Des Moines, Iowa, was sentenced in federal court June 30 to eight years in prison for her efforts to sabotage construction of the Dakota Access pipeline.

In November 2016, Reznicek and Ruby Montoya, a former preschool teacher, set fire to heavy construction equipment at a pipeline worksite in Buena Vista County, Iowa.

Over the next several months, the women used oxyacetylene torches, tires and gasoline-soaked rags to burn equipment and damage pipeline valves along the line from Iowa to South Dakota. Their actions reportedly caused several million dollars’ worth of damage and delayed construction for weeks.

Catholic activist sentenced for Dakota Access Pipeline vandalism by Claire Schaeffer-Duffy at NCROnline.com. To read the rest of the article, click here.

Reznicek’s criminal penalties were substantial. In addition to jail time, U.S. District Court Judge Rebecca Goodgame Ebinger included $3,198,512.70 in restitution and three years’ post-prison supervised release after she plead guilty to a single count of damaging an energy facility, according to Common Dreams. It’s hard to argue her protest was intended to be non-violent. She used an oxyacetylene torch to damage the pipeline without knowing if fuel was in transit.

Reznicek is being prosecuted as a terrorist. Is that what she is? It seems unlikely the board of directors or billionaire Kelcey Warren of Energy Transfer Partners felt terrorized. They had reason to know there would be protests during construction, and likely built defense from them into their operating, overhead, and risk management budgets. For ETP, pipeline protests represented business as usual. In 2018 there was a “protect the protests” direct action in Dallas, Texas where demonstrators accused ETP at its corporate headquarters of attempting to silence them with lawsuits.

Like many in the Des Moines Catholic Worker community Reznicek has been willing to break the law in peaceful protest and has been arrested. In 2014, she was detained for nearly 48 hours and then deported after flying into Israel to support Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, according to the Des Moines Register. It seems obvious the Iowa Legislature had people like Reznicek in mind when they recently increased penalties for protesters.

I received the first of a series of emails from Reznicek during the Occupy Movement in 2011. She was an organizer for Occupy Iowa, Occupy Des Moines, Occupy the Caucus, Occupy Monsanto, Occupy the World Food Prize, and other direct action protests. She was arrested at some of these protests. It seemed like boilerplate organizing. Whatever cache the Occupy movement may have had, the work she did was straight forward with transparency. It was not a terrorist plot the way in 1995 Timothy McVeigh plotted to bomb the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. It would be better for the peace and justice movement if Reznicek did not have to spend her time serving time and defending herself in this prominent case. It goes with the territory, though.

The answer is no. Jessica Reznicek is not a terrorist. Society needs more people like her to call attention to injustice. If there is a cost to her protests, she has been willing to accept responsibility. If asked, my neighbors would say justice was served with Reznicek’s prosecution and sentencing. As it plays out in the judicial system, some of us wonder who will step in to fill her shoes in the peace and justice movement. It may be someone, but it won’t be her for a while.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

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Living in Society

In the Mix Again

Iowa City Community Band float in the July 4, 2021 Coralville parade.

I walked in the Coralville Fourth of July parade with two different groups: the first half with the Johnson County Democrats, and the rest with The People’s Coalition for Social, Economic & Environmental Justice. It was the first post COVID-19 vaccine social event I attended with people I know.

Regulars from previous years were missing, notably the World War Two veterans from Veterans for Peace, but also many my age or older. My cohort is stepping back from parade walking, even though there was a trailer with straw bales for anyone who wanted to sit during the two-mile route. Ambient temperatures reached the high eighties, so it was probably best for septuagenarians and older to stay indoors.

The community was out in force. Coralville is diverse and much different from the rest of Iowa. I enjoy the informal socialization that is part of walking in a parade.

Group photo of the Johnson County Democrats at the Coralville parade. Photo from Zach Wahls.

It is positive the Democrats are transitioning to younger people. State Senator Zach Wahls will turn 30 in a few days, and State Rep. Christina Bohannan just turned 50. State Rep. Dave Jacoby was the oldest of the state legislators present at 65. The contingent was made of about half elected officials and half local political activists. Our presence was less than it has been during general election years.

The People’s Coalition is comprised of Physicians for Social Responsibility, Veterans for Peace, PEACE Iowa, 100 Grannies for a Livable Future, and other peace and justice friends. A characteristic of our local activities is collaboration when working on projects. I’ve been with Physicians for Social Responsibility since I was on the board of health, served on the board of PEACE Iowa, and am a charter member of our Veterans for Peace chapter. It was good to catch up with old timers like myself.

T-shirt I wore in the July 4, 2021 Coralville parade.

I received many compliments for the t-shirt I wore. I bought it from J.C. Penney for pride month yet didn’t attend any public events at which to wear it. The messaging, “love is love,” was very popular at the parade. People said, “I like your t-shirt,” multiple dozens of times. I said thank you when I could and Happy 4th of July. Someone shouted out, “go gay people!” I’m not sure what the sincere statement of support meant but acknowledged it.

It’s hard to say if I will attend future parades. I made it through yesterday and it was enjoyable. As long as that’s the case there is a reason to participate.

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Sustainability

UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons Ratified

The weekend has been a stream of emails from friends leading to ratification of the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).

On Oct. 24, Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), reported Honduras became the 50th state to ratify the treaty. This started a 90-day clock for the treaty to enter into force and become international law on Jan. 22, 2021.

Congratulations to everyone who worked to achieve this significant milestone.

What we have known all along is the nine nuclear states have scant interest in eliminating nuclear weapons, even if most of them give lip service to Article VI of the Non-proliferation Treaty which calls for it.

During the Obama administration activists fully understood the United States would not lead on abolition of nuclear weapons. ICAN, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and others took the cause to the international stage and yesterday set the world on a more definitive path by making nuclear weapons illegal. The hard work now begins.

There remains a growing danger of nuclear weapons proliferation. In an Oct. 24 statement, reacting to the 50th state ratification of the TPNW, IPPNW laid out the risks:

The treaty is especially needed in the face of the real and present danger of nuclear war climbing higher than ever. The hands of the Doomsday Clock stand further forward than they have ever been: 100 seconds to midnight. All nine nuclear-armed states are modernizing their arsenals with new, more accurate and “useable” weapons; their leaders making irresponsible explicit nuclear threats. The cold war is resurgent—hard won treaties reducing nuclear weapons numbers and types are being trashed, while nothing is being negotiated to replace them, let alone build on them. If the Trump administration allows the New START Treaty to expire, then from 5 February 2021, for the first time since 1972, there will be no treaty constraints on Russian and US nuclear weapons. Armed conflicts which could trigger nuclear escalation are increasing in a climate-stressed world. The rapidly evolving threat of cyberwarfare puts nuclear command and control in jeopardy from both nations and terrorist groups. Close to two thousand nuclear weapons remain on hair-trigger alert, ready to be launched within minutes of a leader’s fateful decision.

~ Tilman Ruff, Ira Helfand, Arun Mitra, and Daniel Bassey—Co-presidents of IPPNW

This milestone is a moment for celebration as the plan to eliminate nuclear weapons comes together as well as it has since the United Nations was established 75 years ago. Whatever uncertainties there are in our global civilization — the coronavirus pandemic, economic injustice, and armed conflict — today there is hope for a better world. That’s worth noting.

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Sustainability

Physicians Release ‘Body Count’

Body Count CoverDoctors group releases startling analysis of the death and destruction inflicted upon Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan from the “War on Terror” in Body Count.

WASHINGTON, D.C.– On March 19—the 12th anniversary of the onset of our country’s ill-fated military intervention in Iraq—Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) released the latest edition of Body Count for North American distribution.

The report, authored by members and colleagues of the German affiliate of the Nobel Prize-winning International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), is a comprehensive account of the vast and continuing human toll of the various “Wars on Terror” conducted in the name of the American people since the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

This publication highlights the difficulties in defining outcomes as it compares evaluations of war deaths in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Even so, the numbers are horrific.  The number of Iraqis killed during and since the 2003 U.S. invasion have been assessed at one million, which represents five percent of the total population of Iraq.  This does not include deaths among the three million refugees subjected to privations.

Dr. Hans-C. von Sponeck, UN assistant secretary general and UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq (1998-2000) calls the report, “a powerful aide-mémoire of their legal and moral responsibility to hold perpetrators accountable.”

“With the U.S. and Canadian governments now poised to escalate its military  involvement in Iraq and Syria to counter the real and exaggerated threat posed by ISIS, the lessons of Body Count can contribute to a necessary conversation  regarding the extreme downsides of continued U.S./NATO militarism,” said Robert M. Gould, M.D., Physicians for Social Responsibility. “Hopefully it can help the North American public better understand the links between the devastation caused abroad and the escalating military budgets that lead to  increasing detriment of our communities and social fabric at home.”

Body Count takes a clear and objective look at the various and often contradictory—reports of mortality in conflicts directed by the U.S. and allied forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The result is a fuller picture of the devastation and lethality to civilian non-combatants throughout these regions. Unfortunately, these deaths have been effectively hidden from our collective consciousness and consciences by political leaders seeking to pursue military solutions to complex global issues with little, if any, accountability.

Body Count underscores the scope of human destruction that helps fuel widespread anger at the Coalition Forces. It similarly provides the context to understand the rise of brutal forces such as ISIS thriving in the wake of our leaders’ failures. After an estimated cost of at least three trillion dollars over a decade of warfare, we need to fully account for our responsibility and learn the appropriate lessons to avoid a tragic exacerbation of the explosive situation we face today.

To download Body Count at the Physicians for Social Responsibility web site, go to: http://www.psr.org/resources/body-count.html

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Social Commentary

An Iowa View of Syria

War is Not the Answer(UPDATE: Sept. 4, 2013, 3:30 p.m. CDT: A new report from Russia, including a 100-page United Nations report on the chemical attack at Aleppo, Syria, indicates non-standard Syrian chemical weapons used in attack. Russian analysis suggests Syrian rebels may have launched a chemical attack, rather than the Syrian government. Click here to read more).

The horrific use of chemical weapons in Syria is a violation of international law and a crime against humanity. President Obama was right when he said, “in a world with many dangers, this menace must be confronted.” Where he was wrong was when he said, “the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets.”

A couple of things don’t matter about the American response to Syria’s use of chemical warfare against its citizens.

The commentary from the right is the usual anti-Obama anything parade of made up crap. Former U.N. ambassador John Bolton said to FOX News, “the White House candy store is open,” meaning the Syria vote agreed by Democratic and Republican leadership in the U.S. house and senate will become yet another round of congressional political swaps of votes for pork. Some on the fringe even say Obama is using Syria to distract from fake scandals in his administration. The whining voice of the right and its fringe don’t matter because the public is tuning in.

President Obama differentiates between an aerial bombardment and boots on the ground. Only the most cynical or naive among us don’t understand these are two aspects of the same thing. He said, “our action would be designed to be limited in duration and scope.” All wars are, and this one would be no different in that regard.

What matters, that isn’t being said much, is as my colleague at Physicians for Social Responsibility, Dr. Robert Dodge, wrote in the Huntington, W.V. News, “the military intervention being debated is not intended to end the violent conflict that has killed more than 100,000 Syrians. It won’t help the nearly two million Syrian refugees return home or get the more than 6.8 million people in need access to humanitarian aid.” These are real people with real needs, and little assurance that an American air strike will benefit them in tangible ways. Our recent and costly invasion of Iraq stands as an example of how U.S. military adventurism does little for people outside a small group of war profiteers.

It must be tempting to think U.S. intelligence knows where Syrian weapons of mass destruction are located, enabling the targeting and destruction of their government’s capabilities. But things go wrong, more often that we would like.

Individuals in the Syrian government committed a crime when they used chemical weapons against a group of Syrian citizens that included children. We have courts to prosecute such criminals, beginning with the International Court of Justice. The International Court of Justice is where this crime should be confronted.

An invasion of Syria, and that is what a target air strike would be, would perpetrate more violence in an already war torn country. Iowans may be able to tune out the world for a while, but we must resist what our government does in our name. For my part, I join with the Quakers who wrote, as one of 25 non-governmental organizations, this open letter to President Obama reiterating the notion that war is not the answer:

August 28, 2013

Dear President Obama,

We, the undersigned organizations, are writing to express our grave concerns with your reported plans to intervene militarily in Syria. While we unequivocally condemn any use of chemical weapons along with continued indiscriminate killing of civilians and other violations of international humanitarian law, military strikes are not the answer. Rather than bringing an end to the violence that has already cost more than 100,000 lives, they threaten to widen the vicious civil war in Syria and undermine prospects to de-escalate the conflict and eventually reach a negotiated settlement.

In the course of more than 2 years of war, much of Syria has been destroyed and nearly 2 million people- half of them children- have been forced to flee to neighboring countries. We thank you for the generous humanitarian assistance the US has provided to support the nearly 1 in 3 Syrians- 8 million people- in need of aid. But such assistance is not enough.

As the U.S. government itself has recognized, there is no solution to the crisis other than a political one. Instead of pursuing military strikes and arming parties to the conflict, we urge your administration to intensify diplomatic efforts to stop the bloodshed, before Syria is destroyed and the region further destabilized.

Sincerely,

Friends Committee on National Legislation
American Friends Service Committee
Church of the Brethren
Code Pink
CREDO Action
Democrats.com
Fellowship of Reconciliation
Global Ministries of the United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Historians Against the War
Institute for Policy Studies
Just Foreign Policy
Oxfam America
Peace Action
Peace Education Fund
Physicians for Social Responsibility
Presbyterian Church, USA
Progressive Democrats of America
RootsAction.org
Shomer Shalom Network for Jewish Nonviolence
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society
USAction
Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity
Veterans for Peace
Voices for Creative Nonviolence
Women’s Action for New Directions