Praying today for the people – THE CHILDREN! – of Syria! Praying our President acts with grace and wisdom.
A scary, uncertain time. Peace! In the ‘hood, Syria, Russia, America! pics: R.T.
McGovern, Pelosi Call for Congress to Reconvene to Debate Military Authorization for Syria
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Congressman Jim McGovern, a senior House Democrat and leading critic of the expanded use of military force by presidents in both parties, joined House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and other lawmakers calling for Speaker Ryan to immediately call the House of Representatives back into session to debate an Authorization of the Use of Military Force for military actions taken in Syria.
In February 2017, Congressman McGovern led a bipartisan group of 19 lawmakers calling for Speaker Ryan to hold a debate and vote on the authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) for U.S. military operations in the Middle East.
Following President Trump’s unilateral action to order airstrikes against Syria last night, Congressman McGovern is renewing that call with this statement:
“Every president must obtain congressional authorization to launch military strikes and President Trump is no exception. President Trump’s unilateral action to attack Syria without consulting Congress and obtaining authorization is an alarming violation of the checks and balances put in place by the Constitution – safeguards established to prevent presidents from taking our country to war without the consent of the American people.
“Americans must have a say when it comes to war. President Trump’s failure to work with Congress to achieve a bipartisan consensus on military action has shut out the voices of the American people and raised serious concerns about the possibility of military escalation without any input from their elected leaders. The time to debate U.S. military operations is before we drop bombs and send troops – not after.
“Today I am joining the growing bipartisan call for Congress to immediately reconvene to debate the path forward for U.S. military operations in Syria. If the President intends to escalate U.S. military involvement in Syria, he must to come to Congress for an Authorization for Use of Military Force which is clearly crafted to meet the threat and prevent another endless war. The American people and our men and women in uniform deserve nothing less.”
Full Text of Pelosi Letter to Speaker Ryan:
April 7, 2017
The Honorable Paul Ryan
Speaker of the House
H-232, United States Capitol
Washington, D.C. 20515
Dear Mr. Speaker,
I am writing to request that you call the House back in session immediately to debate any decision to place our men and women in uniform in harm’s way.
Bashar al-Assad ‘s chemical weapons attack on his own people places him outside the circle of civilized human behavior. Assad also continues to attack his own people with conventional weapons. Meanwhile, Russia props up the Assad regime and enables its brutal war crimes to continue.
The President’s action and any response demands that we immediately do our duty. Congress must live up to its Constitutional responsibility to debate an Authorization of the Use of Military Force against a sovereign nation.
As heartbreaking as Assad’s chemical weapons attacks on his own people was, the crisis in Syria will not be resolved by one night of airstrikes. The killing will not stop without a comprehensive political solution to end the violence. The American people are owed a comprehensive strategy with clear objectives to keep our brave men and women in uniform safe and avoid collateral damage to innocent civilians in Syria.
I look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible on this matter of grave concern to our national security.
The Long Game: How Obama Defied Washington and Redefined America’s Role in the World
By Derek Chollet, (2016, Perseus Books, 262 Pages)
Reviewed by Steven R. Maher
Journalism has often been called the first draft of history. With that in mind, former Obama administration official Derek Chollet has evaluated President Barack Obama’s foreign policy. Chollett covers an enormous number of issues, personalities, and events in a short 262 pages, a concisely written book and that will be a valuable resource for future historians.
Unexpected foreign events often arise during a Presidency. Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, drawing the U.S. into World War II, and changing the Presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Soviet Union installed nuclear missiles in Cuba, leading to the missile crisis and John F. Kennedy’s finest hour. 9/11 pushed George W. Bush into being a different President than the one he campaigned as. While Bush’s unexpected event was in his first year in office, two of Obama’s problems came late in his second term: the catastrophic insurgency of ISIS, and the ominous resurgence of Putin’s Russia.
Barack Obama inherited an America facing the abyss. As Wikipedia put it: “The bursting of the US housing bubble, which peaked at the end of 2006, caused the values of securities tied to US real estate pricing to plummet, damaging financial institutions globally. The financial crisis was triggered by a complex interplay of policies that encouraged home ownership, providing easier access to loans for subprime borrowers, overvaluation of bundled subprime mortgages based on the theory that housing prices would continue to escalate, questionable trading practices on behalf of both buyers and sellers, compensation structures that prioritize short-term deal flow over long-term value creation, and a lack of adequate capital holdings from banks and insurance companies to back the financial commitments they were making.”
America hovered on the edge of another Great Depression:
• By January 2009 the economy was shedding 800,000 jobs a month.
• American families were losing 100,000 homes a week as home values plummeted and entire neighborhoods, particularly in the inner cities, were devastated.
• The banking system seemed ready to implode, with major financial institutions like the Lehman brothers going bankrupt. Hard core conservatives urged the U.S. government to stay out.
• The automotive industry ran out of money. Cash burn was so bad that General Motors told the White House it had on hand only two weeks of money left to operate. The potential loss of jobs from this one problem alone could be counted in the millions.
Mitt Romney wrote a tome in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt”, saying the U.S. should not save the auto industry. That the “supply chain” – the subcontractors and factories manufacturing components for the auto industry, located mainly in the “Rust Belt” states that voted in 2016 for Donald Trump – would die and could not be revived, did not worry Romney.
The Long Game
It should be borne in mind that these were just the domestic issues Obama faced. It says nothing about the foreign affairs calamities facing the U.S., including ongoing wars tying up 175,000 American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It is hard to think of a president who entered office facing more challenges of historic magnitude,” commented Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Obama set out to play the “Long Game.”
“The defining element of Obama’s grand strategy is that it reflects the totality of American interests – foreign and domestic – to project global leadership in an era of seemingly infinite demands and finite resources,” writes Chollet. “This is playing the ‘Long Game.’”
Chollet describes Obama as a political version of Warren Buffett, who became a billionaire by buying up companies with a strong market base but which were financially weak. When the economy got better, the values of these investments skyrocketed. Buffett made his billions by looking not at these companies’ value at the time he bought them, but what he expected these entities to be worth over time.
“Games are won by players who focus on the playing field – not by those whose eyes are glued to the scoreboard,” observed Buffett.
Obama believed the U.S. overextended itself by pouring so much manpower, equipment, and money into Iraq, instead of hunting down Al-Qaeda and its leaders. Obama thought the U.S. should shift America’s focus from the Middle East to the Pacific Basin; rebalance America’s projection of power, putting as much emphasis on diplomacy and economic sanctions/assistance as Bush did on the use of military force; and reset America’s alliances with NATO and Russia.
To go into every topic Obama’s administration dealt with would fill up this entire newspaper. We’re going to look at some of Obama’s foreign policy successes, his failures, and draw some conclusions.
Historians are likely to regard the Iran nuclear treaty as a hallmark of Obama’s administration. When Bush left office, Iran was moving full speed ahead on its
nuclear program. Obama convinced the Russians, Chinese, British, and French to impose sanctions that devastated the Iranian economy. Since the July 2015 signing of the treaty, Iran has removed weapons grade uranium, reduced the number of centrifuges by two thirds, and removed the heavy water reactor at Arak and filled it with concrete. For the moment, Iran has been disarmed. That is no small achievement, and may be one a bellicose Trump could build upon.
In August 2013 Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad used chemical weapons against opposition held territory, killing 1,400 civilians, including women and children. Obama had warned Assad in 2012 that doing this would be crossing a red line. The only nation willing to back the U.S. in using military force was France (derided as the seller of “freedom fries” during the Bush era). Britain’s parliament voted against participation, and the American people overwhelmingly opposed involvement in a third Middle East conflict. Congress refused to authorize military action by Obama. The Republican Congressional war dogs made macho denunciations of Assad, but wouldn’t vote to authorize U.S. military action against the Syrian tyrant.
Chollet cited other problems related to using military force to destroy Assad’s chemical weapons. There were 50 sites containing 1,300 pounds of chemical weapons, dispersed around Syria. Neutralizing these would require heavy air and naval attacks along with 75,000 ground troops. There was a danger Assad’s military would collapse under such an assault, and hundreds of tons of chemical weapons fall into the hands of ISIS/Al-Qaeda. After U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry remarked that the matter could be resolved by Assad giving up his weapons, the crisis was resolved diplomatically.
Chollet writes: “Without a bomb being dropped, Syria admitted to having a massive chemical weapons program it had never before acknowledged, agreed to give it up, and submitted to a multinational coalition that removed the weapons and destroyed them in a way that had never been tried before.”
Obama lost face because he drew the red line and didn’t take military action against Syria. But he achieved the maximalist objective of disarming Syria. Reagan faced a similar situation when 250 Marines were massacred in Lebanon by terrorists in 1982. Instead of doubling down, Reagan prevented America from getting dragged into a quagmire by “redeploying” the surviving Marines to ships offshore. Both Presidents did what was best for their country, even if it meant a personal loss of face.
Bin Laden and the drones
Obama’s Presidency reached its pinnacle in May 2011 when Seal Team Six descended upon Osama bin Laden’s lair in Abbottabad, Pakistan and killed the Al-Qaeda leader. Few Americans knew that Obama had played a key role in planning the mission. The plan originally call for the Seals to go in without helicopter backups. Obama insisted that backup helicopters be situated in reserve not far from Abbottabad. These proved crucial when one of the Seal helicopters crashed while landing.
Obama used the same strategic approach to get America out of Iraq and Afghanistan that Richard Nixon used to get the U.S. out of Vietnam: advance the air power while withdrawing the troops. Nixon used B-52s and laser guided ordinance to bomb North Vietnam into signing a peace treaty. Obama sent American drones on hundreds of missions to kill Al-Qaeda and associated terrorist leaders. Some criticized this because of the civilians killed in the drone strikes. However, by and large, it did disrupt Al-Qaeda’s ability to launch mass casualty attacks on the U.S. homeland.
The Russian Reset, Part I
With all the noise being generated over Trump and Vladimir Putin, Obama’s “reset” with Russia has been widely viewed as a failure. However, when the policy was first implemented in 2009, it did lead to some successes. This was due to the fact that Putin was not the Russian President; Dimitri Medvedev was, and he wanted to work with the United States. With Medvedev’s help, the U.S. organized the sanctions against Iran; agreed to destroy one third of Russia’s nuclear arsenal; supported setting up supply lines to Afghanistan that avoided a volatile Pakistan; and voted with the U.S. during the U.N. debate authorizing the use of military force against Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Now, let’s look at some of shortcomings of Obama’s Presidency.
According to the mainstream media, upwards of 500,000 Syrians have been killed in the civil war and millions have fled to Europe. Obama appears to have done what he could diplomatically to stop the carnage. But faced with the obduracy of Syrian President Assad, the lack of allies who supported intervening in Syria, the U.S. had no good choices. If it supported Assad, the U.S. would be siding with a blood thirsty dictator. If Obama opposed Assad, ISIS and Al Qaeda might take control of the country. His critics charged that he could have supported moderate Syrians earlier, but there was a problem with vetting these groups.
What Obama should have done is establish no fly zones in Syria where Syrians fleeing the conflict could be protected. This would also have stopped large masses of Syrians from fleeing to Europe.
When America troops left in 2011, Iraq by and large was peaceful. The emergence of ISIS could not have been foreseen by any American President. It was with a few thousand guerillas that ISIS attacked and conquered huge swaths of Syria and Iraq. In Mosul, with its million residents, stated Wikipedia, “the Iraqi army had 30,000 soldiers stationed in the city, facing a 1,500-member attacking force.” With such favorable odds, the ISIS force should have been smashed. Instead, the 30,000 Iraqi soldiers abandoned their U.S. equipment and fled.
Few were clairvoyant enough to anticipate the total ineffectiveness of Iraq’s armed forces, equipped with billions of dollars in U.S. military equipment. From a few thousand fighters, ISIS grew to an armed force of 30,000 men as wannabe Jihadists from Europe and the Middle East swelled their ranks. They were armed with the American weapons left behind by the fleeing Iraqi army.
In 2011 there was yet another U.S. intervention on “humanitarian” grounds in Libya that turned into a mission to overthrow Gaddafi. After Gaddafi was killed, Libya descended into anarchy as warring factions fought each other. The U.S. was prodded into action on Libya by its European allies; Obama should have insisted on a post-war NATO occupation force from these allies to assist Libyans in setting up a stable government.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates opposed intervening in Libya, saying: “Can I just finish the two wars we’re already in before you go looking for new ones?”
The Russian Reset, Part II
In 2012 Vladimir Putin took back his old job of Russian President. Putin’s animus against Hillary Clinton stems from this episode; Putin apparently believes that Clinton ordered U.S. intelligence agencies to clandestinely block his return to the Russian Presidency. In any event, Obama’s measures to persuade Putin to stay out of Syria and the Ukraine were unsuccessful, and this must be regarded as another Obama shortcoming.
History will give a much fuller judgment on Obama when the facts become available. Since Obama’s foreign policy was set up with the intention of yielding long term benefits, a historical perspective will be necessary to evaluate Obama. The failures he had, particularly in the Middle East, rose from his fervent desire to keep the U.S. out of another war.
Obama may well be remembered by historians for two things that didn’t happen on his watch. First, he kept the economy from imploding. The car industry was saved, the banking system made solvent, and a slow but painful process of economic revival took place. Second, he didn’t get sucked into another quagmire like Iraq. The 175,000 American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have been reduced to 15,000. Yes, it wasn’t a perfect Presidency. But considering the near collapse of the economy in 2008, Obama did well in keeping America from falling into the abyss of a second Great Depression, and from being drawn into another grinding war. History is likely to view Barack Obama very kindly.
I’m the grand-daughter of immigrants… Rosalie and her Polish grandpa many moons ago🌃
All of us Americans, if we look far back enough, or just over our shoulders to our parents, have roots that lead back to other lands, places that often persecuted us, kept us down, treated us like second and third class citzens and worse …
These past few years the blood has flown in Syria – horrible oppression and chaos and war. Maybe President Obama should have sent troops into Syria, U.S. combat boots on the ground, especially after the country’s “leaders” began using poisonous chemicals to kill dissidents, killing the children, too. Horrific. Many Syrian families swarmed into inflatable “boats” to cross the ocean to leave their hellish country for new countries … They had hope. But they were poor…So many of the people, little children!, didn’t make it…
“Turkish media identified the boy as three-year-old Alan Kurdi and reported that his five-year-old brother had also met a similar death. Both had reportedly hailed from the northern Syrian town of Kobani, the site of fierce fighting between Islamic state insurgents and Kurdish forces earlier this year.” The Guardian
When Donald Trump bans Syrian refugees from American soil for months, this can happen…
“A Turkish police officer carries the young boy who drowned in a failed attempt to sail to the Greek island of Kos.” The Guardian. Photographs: Reuters.
And this …
Worcester City Councilor Michael Gaffney has sunk to a new low, and his toxic political shell game could have brought our city to its knees. But instead the people were glorious and rose up and rallied! – HUNDREDS IN A JANUARY SNOWSTORM OUTSIDE OUR CITY HALL! Where, in the snow and raw New England cold, they shouted, NO! NO! NO! NEVER IN OUR CITY! Refugees and immigrants ALWAYS welcome here!
And then, inside Worcester City Hall, people whose roots extend to countries all over the globe got up to testify – tell their family stories. Armenia. Vietnam. Central America. Italy. Ireland. Africa. They were saying: Listen to our stories. The refugee and immigrant stories of today are our stories! AMERICAN stories!
The Gaffney resolution went down to defeat tonight. So will City Councilor Konstantina Lukes’ miserable proposal. A toxic after-thought cobbled together by – get this! – the daughter of Albanian immigrants who owned and operated a diner in Connecticut! (What would your father think of your shit-sandwich, hold the compassion, Konnie? You were the apple of his eye!)
Worcester is not Trumpland! We are not a police state where people are bullied into doing what our impetuous, vindictive, dangerous new president wants them to do! As Worcester Mayor Joe Petty said to the peaceful, yet ebullient (cuz they were on justice’s side😇) crowd before the City Council meeting: He – WE – will not allow WALLS TO GO UP BETWEEN GROUPS OF PEOPLE. In Worcester, the walls COME DOWN!
Go, Mayor Petty, go!!!
No one, no child, should fear that he or she will be forced to leave Worcester, their home: friends, school, church, work, sports teams, a routine they call their own … a place where they’ve begun to realize their unique American Dream!
Power to the people! We, the people, can do amazing things! We did, here in Worcester, TONIGHT!!!
President Obama, Congressman McGovern and the Middle East
By Gordon Davis
President Obama is sending troops to Syria. This is an escalation of an already sorrowful conflict that has displaced at least one-half of Syria’s population – millions of people.
Those without wealth or power always lose in wars.
Don’t believe the proclamations that there are less than 50 US troopers being sent. There are many more troopers that are not subject to public disclosure. As with Afghanistan, President Obama has lied to us or has broken a promise.
In 2013 protesters opposed the bombing of the Syrian forces of President Assad. Hopefully, there will be opposition to troops being sent into Syria, Iraq, and the reduced draw down of troop in Afghanistan.
Peace in Syria demonstration
To his credit Congressman James McGovern is making an effort to subject the escalation of the US involvement in Syria to some debate and to the War Powers Act. Other democrats, such as Congressman Joseph Kennedy, are supporting this effort.
Congressman James McGovern 10-26-15. Photo by Bill Coleman
The recently acknowledged failure of the Unites States to create a mercenary army in Syria failed miserably. Almost all of the 5,000 fighters trained by the United States deserted and joined ISIS. This development is evidence that money cannot buy loyalty to imperialist countries. It is clear now that the United States has no or little credibility in the Middle East.
There is an effort now by the Obama administration to stabilize the Middle East with some factions in Syria allying themselves with the US. This is unlikely, despite the efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry. The population of Syria has already allied itself with President Assad or with ISIS. The factions that could join a US coalition have no popular base.
The current face of the Middle East was created by the Balfour Agreement dividing up the Ottoman Empire after World War I and the partition of Palestine after World War II. The global economy, the Iraqi-Iran Wars, Iraq War I and II, and the many iterations of the Israeli-Palestinian Wars have destabilized the Middle East. These conflicts have created extreme religion-based political parties in each country, except Kurdistan which has a strange Marxist government.
It is an absolute certainty that 50 special American operatives will not change the root and material conditions that fuel the Middle East conflicts and instability.
The Russians have removed any possibility that President Assad of Syria will step down or be otherwise removed. Like Iraq and Ukraine, Syria will be partitioned in a de facto manner, if not de juris.
It is time to rethink our National interests. It is in our National interest to have a stable Middle East without conflicts. It is no longer in our interests to support the feudalism of the so called royal families which sell us cheap oil or the Fascism of the ISIS state which the US had a hand in creating.
It is in our National interest to have a secular Israel-Palestine with special protections for the security of the Jewish people and economic and social justice for Palestinians. It is time we recognized the status of the Kurds and Kurdistan. It is time we recognized the Armenians in Turkey.
It is not in our National interests to have millions of people displaced and in refugee camps and hundreds of thousands of people trekking across Europe looking for haven. The United States which has been a major cause of the refugee crisis has a moral, if not legal, responsibility to provide asylum to more refugees than it has now done.
Thank you, Mr. McGovern, for seeking transparency and open discussion on our involvement in the Middle East and elsewhere.
The greatest newspaper in the world was shut down (on line) by some losers who didn’t want the world to read The NYT’s reports on the Syrian government’s chemical gassing of their citizens (kids and women included) and President Obama’s most likely military intervention.
PLEASE VISIT: http://www.nytimes.com/ to learn how we intend to save the little kids of Syria … R. T.
Dear New York Times Reader,
As you may be aware, on Tuesday, access to our Web site was impacted by a malicious attack at our domain name registrar.
This resulted in many users being redirected to a bad domain address instead of NYTimes.com.
We resolved the issue by early Tuesday evening but there have been some lingering problems due to some Internet Service Providers not yet updating our Domain Name System records.
We fully expect that all access will be restored by the end of the day today and we deeply regret any inconvenience this may have caused.
SYRIA: THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF ASSAD By David W. Lesch
Reviewed by Steven R. Maher
“[British Prime Minister David] Cameron indicated within hours of Obama’s victory that he was eager to sit down with the American president to address the civil war in Syria. ‘One of the first things I want to talk to Barack about is how we must do more to try to solve this crisis.’” – Newsweek, November 19, 2012.
David W. Lesch has written a timely book about a little understood civil war in his 2012 “Syria: The Fall of the House of Assad”. It is an excellent book, well written, well documented, and an easy read.
There is a paucity of books about Syria. About a month ago, as the civil war raged, this writer went to the Worcester Library to find a book on the country that would broaden one’s understanding of the Syrian situation. The most recent book was a 2006 publication by an Israeli think tank. It provided an interesting perspective.
Dictator Bashar al-Assad was then at the height of his power. Syria was actively supporting insurgents who were killing Americans in Iraq and sparking a gruesome war between Israel and Hizbullah in Lebanon. The more Assad misbehaved, the greater were his rewards: popularity at home, pleas for “understanding” by the soft-headed useful idiots, and petrodollars from the Persian Gulf sheikdoms.
Fighting for his life
Today Bashar al-Assad is fighting for his life. What happened in the last six years to put the Syrian tyrant in such a situation? It can be summed up in two words: the Internet.
Lesch said he met Assad before he came dictator of Syria, and, like many others, had high hopes that when Assad succeeded his father Hafiz Assad in 2000, he would bring democracy to Syria. He describes how Assad, an ophthalmologist by training, was corrupted by the near absolute power he held.
When the “Arab spring” materialized after the overthrow of the Tunisian and Egyptian regimes. Assad drew the wrong lessons from history. He believed that the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions took place because their governments did not respond with force when peaceful protests occurred.
When peaceful protests began in Syria, Assad sent in his military with orders to bloodily suppress the demonstrators. But instead of quickly making the problem disappear, the response spread civil disorder around the country.
“Dissidents used popular media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter to organize opposition activity,” writes Lesch. “A number of social media websites, such as ‘Syrian Revolution 2011’ and ‘Syrian Revolution News Round-ups’ were created to coordinate protests throughout the country and to act as clearing-houses for information and updates on the uprising. In a way, the social media have allowed ordinary citizens to counter the decades of censorship in Syria, inspiring an attitude of defiance among tech-savvy youths that will most likely be impossible to rein in again. The social media have allowed people to escape the culture of fear…a rebel’s computer and tech knowledge may be as or more important than his or her weapons.”
In 2007 Syria banned Facebook and imported from Iranian cyber tools to hunt down dissidents. The Obama administration has begun to train Syrian dissidents in computer encryption, circumvention of government firewalls, and secure use of mobile phones.
Lesch believes that the problem of Islamo-fascists taking control of the Syrian revolt is much overblown. There are Al-Qaeda elements among the rebels. Many of them are the same thugs Assad helped to infiltrate Iraq to kill Americans. Maybe it’s karma, but Assad’s use of extremists is coming back at him like a boomerang. The suicide bombers Assad sent into Iraq to kill Americans are now “martyring” themselves in Damascus, blowing themselves up and taking Assad’s supporters along with them.
The fall of Bashar Assad is inevitable. This is something all Americans should welcome. It will weaken Iran, cut off Hizbullah from its suppliers in Tehran, and free the Syrian people from a totalitarian tyranny. In today’s global village, the Internet makes it impossible for the Gaddafis and Assads to maintain their praetorian regimes.
There are only a few places in the world where women have some semblance of equality. The U.S. is one of them, thanks to the brave work of feminist scholars and researchers who helped bring about this seismic shift in our cultural understanding of what it means to be a man or a woman. Moving toward more egalitarian relationships hasn’t been an easy transformation, but the gains made have greatly enhanced the well being of American families and institutions and it has also given hope to others in the world struggling for equality.
The so-called “war on women” playing out in the media has served to heighten awareness of potential threats to women’s rights. Powerful coalitions between religious conservative groups, including Catholics, with the blessing of the Vatican, are working together over issues relating to sexuality in particular. Adding to the concern is the recent attacks on women religious in the U.S. who have been ordered to reform their statutes, programs and affiliations and conform to “the teachings and discipline of the Church.” However, before you dismiss this matter as a Catholic problem with little consequence for the rest of us, please consider that the Catholic Church has worldwide influence over the lives of women throughout the world and many of them are depending on that influence to hopefully bring some semblance of equality into their lives too!
And, what are these statutes, programs and affiliations these women religious have engaged in that have given rise to so much criticism? They are programs supporting impoverished Americans, antiwar efforts, social justice issues including abolishing the death penalty, health care for all people, etc., and, according to the Vatican, not enough on abortion, contraception and gay marriage. And, heaven forbid, some of their affiliations were in support of the ordination of women! Now that will get you in trouble with Rome!
What women religious have done is really quite extraordinary for they moved way beyond outdated patriarchal constraints, and transformed themselves into models of egalitarian non-hierarchal communities. And unlike their brothers in Rome they have applied what Vatican II encouraged 50 years ago, more collegiality and a decentralization of power.
Perhaps Rome has demonstrated something here that is worth noting, because the way in which they stepped in without regard for the sensibilities or accomplishments of these women, with such remarkable disregard for their feelings and needs, serves as a chilling example of patriarchal thinking and entitlement and how it leads to abuse.
Although the Catholic Church has never been a democratic institution, the recommendations of Vatican II for greater collegiality and shared decision-making were an invitation to at least “open the window” in that direction. It is not surprising that Rome would have problems with the idea of shared decision-making and shut the window. Believing in their own superiority, most men in the world have done the same. One of the problems with power is that it is so hard to let go of. This is the same type of resistance that occurred in so many families throughout the U.S.
Growing up in Worcester in an Italian American family, I recall my father struggling with this shift in thinking that questioned his authority as head of the family as he insisted that he had to be in charge because he reasoned someone has to make the final decision. To his credit when his three daughters questioned this logic with hands on hips insisting on shared decision making between he and our mother, he changed.
Whether you are for or against abortion, contraception or gay marriage – we need to ask why conservative religious groups place so much emphasis on matters of sexuality? Abortion and gay marriage in particular have rallied so many conservatives. Yes, these issues are part of what they believe to be true. The question is, why isn’t there the same fervor and concern for issues related to nonviolence? Jesus was all about nonviolence. Love of neighbor. Sell all you have and give it to the poor. You would think war making, economic injustice, corporate greed, climate change and its catastrophic consequences, to name a few, would get the attention of conservative religious institutions. Perhaps the focus on sexuality and “traditional family values” may have more to do with a longing to return to the past, where male dominance was the rule?
Nonviolence and equality go hand in hand. What happens to women when cultural, familial and religious values do not promote equality? Women suffer. Some of the horrors include acid in her face, beatings, coercion, and female circumcision. She can’t drive, she can’t go out, and she can’t speak. You know this list.
Inequality also harms women’s psyche. As a young woman coming out of the Worcester public school system in 66 career options were very limited for women and there were constant reminders of my inferior status. A few examples include my guidance counselor who said, “You don’t need math because you are a girl.” Getting a job meant I had to endure the humiliation of being asked if I intended to get married and if I did would I use the pill. At home it was clear that my father was in charge (it was a slow transformation for all of us) and at church a male hierarchy would not allow women to come near the altar. In so many ways, like so many women I put myself last and believed I was less. It is shocking to remember how much I believed these cultural messages. 46 years later, it is shocking to note that most women in the world probably still do.
However, the real problem IS NOT MEN! The real problem is power. Women are just as likely to abuse power and act with aggression if they have the power to do so.
We have been studying women’s anger in Worcester at UMass Medical Center. There is ample research on interpersonal violence showing that if there is aggression in a relationship it is bilateral –unfortunately, women are “manning up,” and acting tough as men has done. This is bad news for women, because men are generally more physically powerful, which means women are still suffering and dying due to male aggression. The bilateral nature of the aggression suggests that women feel more empowered in their relationships and they are also using aggression just as men have done to try and get their needs met. In other words, it seems that equality has given women an equal opportunity to be aggressive. We certainly do not want this to be the end product of women’s rights!
There is also evidence that the perpetrator suffers as much as the victim. Acting out with verbal or physical aggression will generally cause an increase in cortisol levels, heart rate, blood pressure, stomach acid, etc. We are in fight or flight mode and this causes stress to our vital organs and we suffer psychologically. Did you know that almost 60% of men and women coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? That’s moderate to severe PTSD! We are just beginning to catch on to the fact that the human species may not be designed to do harm!
Equality is a fundamental human need – women’s rights, gay rights, civil rights, Palestinian and Israeli, Bahraini, Egyptian, Libyan, environmental justice, animal rights, etc. All beings have an intrinsic value and they have their own needs, which also means there will be conflicting needs. Power struggles are inevitable and using aggression to try and win the argument, to make others comply by force is ultimately self-defeating. Conflict resolution skills / nonviolent communication / anger management – these skills are giving men and women the tools they need to navigate conflict safely.
We can’t afford to wait for Rome, Wall Street, Corporations or the Dictator, to change. The church belongs to the people of God – that was also recognized by the Second Vatican Counsel. We the people are the 99% who own the government, not the other way around – The Occupy Wall Street Movement showed us how to remind those in power of that fact with their awe inspiring, radically egalitarian, non-hierarchal and nonviolent methods.
We have other examples in Worcester that are also showing and teaching us how. The Center for Nonviolent Solutions in Worcester is an amazing resource and Professor Michael True, who helped found it, has been one of Worcester’s most preeminent teachers of nonviolence. The Goods for Guns program founded by Dr. Michael Hirsh is another. The Quakers at Worcester Friends Meeting House, with their emphasis on the peace testimony, The SS. Francis & Therese Catholic Worker House, along with Scott and Claire Schaeffer-Duffy and Annette Rafferty who started Abby’s House in Worcester and Rose Tirella who had the guts to start this newspaper and keeps those in power locally accountable. That’s just a few. Worcester is an awesome place to work for peace.
Why are China and Russia – two of the most repressive countries on earth – allowed to be voting members of the United Nations? Why is it that what they think carries the same weight as the opinions of the USA, England, France? Amazing! Secretary of State Clinton will have none of their nefarious games – especially when the roads of Syria are littered with corpses of women and children – many beheaded.