A Would-Be Robber and The Power of Love to Overcome Fear and Desperation

24 10 2009

It was October 19, 2009. 23-year-old Greg Smith was out of work, desperate, and needed money. He held Angela Montez at gun point, fully intending to rob a cash advance store, but something miraculous happened. Angela, a mother and grandmother, started crying and began talking to Greg. She told him “‘No, you don’t have to do this. Nothing can be bad enough for you to lower yourself to something so bad.” Even though the cash register was open and Greg could have taken the money and ran, he didn’t. His heart softened and he got down on his knees and prayed with Angela for ten minutes. The two even hugged. He left without taking the money.

Oprah had Greg, who is now in Marion County Jail in Indiana, and Angela, who was in the Harpo Studios with Oprah, on her show on Friday. What Greg Smith - From Oprah websiteunfolded there…and what had unfolded during the planned robbery…was a testimony to what can happen when people let go of fear and see the good in each other.

Out of work for a year, Greg said that he felt like “less than a man” because he couldn’t provide for his family. His driver’s license had been suspended so he lost his job, which required him to drive. Feeling like he had no options, he robbed someone the week before and has since apologized to the woman he robbed.

Something really changed in him when he tried to rob the store where Angela worked. Greg said:

Honestly, it was a feeling when she started talking to me, like I told her, no disrespect to my mother or anyone in my family, but noone has ever talked to me the way that she did. She talked to me like a mother would to her child or a grandmother would to her grandchild. She made me feel comfortable and something just made me open up to her. I don’t know what it was. And I felt honestly something that I had never felt before. Honestly, I don’t even think it was Miss Angela talking to me; I actually think it was the man upstairs talking to me through her.

Upon hearing that, Angela said she wanted to give him a big hug, she forgave him, and that she understood. She told him to take the punishment for what he’s done and “…don’t let the past stop you from being great in the future.” Greg teared up and said “I”m sorry, Miss Angela.” He said he never meant to hurt her. During the encounter in the store, he even gave her the bullet in his gun.

Angela was touched and said “See that is remorse. He has a good heart and good love. You know he has served in the service. You have give four years of your life to our country; we love that. Thank you.” Greg’s mouth was trembling; he too, was touched at the power of forgiveness and love from Angela.

Oprah also had Donna, Greg’s mother, and Sherrie, Greg’s long-time girlfriend and mother of their two-year-old daughter, on the show. Donna saw the video of Greg walking out of the store after the attempted armed robbery on the eleven p.m. news and urged him to turn himself in.

Sherrie, Donna, Angela, and Oprah - Credit: Oprah.com

Sherrie, Donna, Angela, and Oprah - Credit: Oprah.com

Donna knew Greg was depressed and was suicidal at one point because he had no work. Yesterday was Greg’s daughter’s birthday and he was distraught that he had no money to buy her a present.

Sherrie works, goes to school, and pays all the bills. She and Greg are both 23 years old and have been together since they were 15. She said she never thought he would do this and partially blamed herself, saying she felt she pushed him over the edge with nagging him to get work.

Donna told her son she loved him and said that she knew he has a big heart. She was sorry she was so wrapped up in her own problems that she didn’t help him. Greg told her he was not mad at her, didn’t blame her, and loved her. He apologized to Sherrie for putting her through this. Their daughter Mya was there…on her 2nd birthday…so precious. She saw Greg on the monitor and gleefully exclaimed “Daddy! Daddy!” Greg said:

I’ve always been a firm believer in God and Christ, but I’ve never walked that walk. I’ve felt like for the longest time I was in control of everything and everything was supposed to go my way. I feel like a lot of the things that I did have before the situation I’m in now I took for granted and I lost it.

Oprah wrapped up the story and told Greg:

We’re hoping the best will come to you really. You seem to have a good heart and you didn’t harm Angela in that circumstance and allowed yourself to have your heart open enough that you could put the gun down and walk away. I know Angela is grateful and we all are grateful too that it worked out this way.

Greg, Sherrie, Mya, Donna, and even Angela have all had their lives impacted because of the economy and the desperation that people can feel from being out of work and not having money. It doesn’t help that Greg is a young black man without a college education and without the creativity and resources to get the help he needs. He is in jail now and is charged with six felony counts and two misdemeanors. On October 22 a judge entered a not guilty plea on his behalf; he does not have an attorney.

By letting go of fear, opening her heart, and seeing Greg as a human being who needed understanding rather than as a criminal, Angela forevermore changed her life, Greg’s life, and the lives of his mother, girlfriend, and daughter. Most likely, Angela’s love and forgiveness have impacted thousands or millions of others who have heard this story, which has been repeated on other shows in addition to Oprah’s. Angela and Greg are each testaments to us that love is a much more powerful force than fear and that what appears bad can be transformative for good in our lives.

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Does Barack Obama Deserve the Nobel Peace Prize?

9 10 2009

I was really excited to hear who the Norwegian Nobel Committee would choose today to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Would it be Three Cups of Tea author and Afghanistan and Pakistan builder of schools for girls Greg Mortenson (see my post on Greg here)? Or Dr. Denis Mukwege, the Congolese gynecologist who has repaired the damage done to 21,000 gang raped women and given them hope? Both were incredibly deserving and could certainly put the $1.4 million prize money to good use helping women and girls.

President Obama at UN Security Council Mtg (Doug Mills, NY Times)

President Obama at UN Security Council Meeting in September 2009 (Doug Mills, NY Times)

I was as stunned as anyone to learn upon waking today that President Obama had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The committee received 205 nominations and created a short list of between 5 and 20 nominees. A group of academics who are permanent advisers to the Nobel Institute examined these candidates, gave their input, and the committee made the final decision. They had this to say about why they awarded President Obama the prize:

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.

Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama’s initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.

Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.

For 108 years, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has sought to stimulate precisely that international policy and those attitudes for which Obama is now the world’s leading spokesman. The Committee endorses Obama’s appeal that “Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had this to say about President Obama’s win:

We are entering an era of renewed multilateralism, a new era where the challenges facing humankind demand global common cause and uncommon global effort. President Obama embodies the new spirit of dialogue and engagement on the world’s biggest problems: climate change, nuclear disarmament and a wide range of peace and security challenges.

There are many naysayers, though…mostly in the U.S….who ask what has he done to deserve this prestigious prize? After all, he’s only been president for 9 months. Go back even to the over two-year election period and you can see him already at work as a peacemaker. Some examples?

  • John McCain called him “that one” in an election debate and Obama turned the other cheek and did not react. He has been very gracious toward McCain and included him in many high-value decisions since he’s been president.
  • Hillary Clinton was snide and mocked Obama repeatedly during the election and Obama never responded in kind toward her. After her vitriol (and Bill’s) toward him, he had the grace to ask her to be his secretary of state.
  • Throughout all the Bill Ayers, Reverend Wright, and Acorn debaucles and Palin hate mongering rallies, Obama said repeatedly that he trusted the American people to see what was really important and not to get sidetracked or misled.

Not once did he let all of the ugliness directed at him cause him to act ugly in return. Many people saw him as weak and thought he surely would not win the election because he didn’t go on the attack, but the American people decided they wanted someone who was peaceful, positive, and projected a quiet calm.

Besides how he conducted himself during the campaign, President Obama, in just a few short months has already done a lot to promote peace. A few of his efforts include:

  • A commitment to nuclear disarmament even in the face of North Korea’s threats and launching missiles
  • Meeting with President Dmitri Medvedev to begin repairing relations with Russia
  • Meeting with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan to improve relations between their countries
  • Giving a major speech aimed at the Muslim world in Cairo where he spoke of a fresh start and a new relationship based on mutual respect and understanding
  • Working to restart peace talks by meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and Mahmoud Abbas of Palestine

Obama responding to Nobel Peace Prize win - Stephen Crowley - NYTimesPresident Obama’s spoke this morning about this honor; here are some of his remarks:

To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who’ve been honored by this prize — men and women who’ve inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace.

But I also know that throughout history the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement; it’s also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes.

That is why I’ve said that I will accept this award as a call to action, a call for all nations and all peoples to confront the common challenges of the 21st century. These challenges won’t all be met during my presidency, or even my lifetime. But I know these challenges can be met so long as it’s recognized that they will not be met by one person or one nation alone.

This award — and the call to action that comes with it — does not belong simply to me or my administration; it belongs to all people around the world who have fought for justice and for peace. And most of all, it belongs to you, the men and women of America, who have dared to hope and have worked so hard to make our world a little better.

President Obama will go to Oslo, Norway to accept the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10. He has announced that he will donate the prize money to charity.

Kenyan Wangari Maathai, the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner, said:

Many people are waiting for miracles, when miracles have already happened. The getting of the senator into the Senate, the way he conducted his campaign, the way he won… In America it may not look as big a thing as it was to the rest of the world, the hope and the aspiration it provides for the rest of the world.

Think back to election night and inauguration day. Barack Obama…even before he became president…lifted not only the American people, but people all over the world. He gave them hope, he made them believe again in decency, respectfulness, dignity, honor, honesty, openness, civility, inclusiveness, and the power of trusting and communicating with people all over the world. To me, these are the hallmarks of what creating peace is all about.

Alfred Nobel stated in his will that he wanted the Nobel Peace Prize to be awarded to…

the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.

Does Barack Obama deserve the Nobel Peace Prize? For me…and the committee upholding Alfred Nobel’s wishes…the answer is YES, he does. I cannot think of a single other person who is more the active embodiment of what Alfred Nobel sought in a peacemaker worthy of this award. Congratulations, President Obama and thank you for your example and your peaceful tone as a man and as our president.

Here’s Geir Lundestad, Secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, speaking to senior editor Simon Frantz about why President Obama was chosen for this high honor.





Using the Lost 2016 Olympics Bid to Sow Hatred in America

3 10 2009

Ha ha ha! We didn’t get the bid for the 2016 Olympics. What a loser that President Obama is. That’s what we’re hearing from many conservatives today. Here are some actual statements made today with derisive gleefulness:

  • Rush Limbaugh – “Our president, Barack Hussein Obama, has been running around the world for nine months telling everybody how much our country sucks…. Why would anybody award the Olympics to such a crappy place?…Obama demeaned the office of the presidency, going on this sales pitch….He doesn’t understand how delighted the world is to make him look foolish in order to take a swipe at our country. We’ve got a two-year-old manchild with a Mars-sized ego, which today crashed and burned.”
  • The Drudge Report – “THE EGO HAS LANDED. WORLD REJECTS OBAMA: CHICAGO OUT IN FIRST ROUND”
  • The National Review Online – “Wow, what an embarrassment for Obama. If he can’t work his personal magic with the Olympians, why does he expect it to work with the Iranians?”
  • Michelle Malkin – “Goodbye, ‘Yes We Can.’ Hello, ‘No, You Can’t.’ Like Icarus, President Obama’s giddy ego flight has ended with melted wax and fallen wings.”

This is downright disturbing to see Americans gloating because the U.S. lost the bid for the 2016 Olympics and laughing out loud at President Obama because of it. Lately there have been a lot of outrageous, mean-spirited, derogatory, and frankly anti-American statements made that indicate the speakers of those words hope our country and President Obama fail; Limbaugh even outright said so.

If you are one of the people laughing at our president and hoping our country fails, do you call yourself religious? Do you claim moral authority? Are you a member of the party whose election campaign motto was “Country First”?  If so, I ask where is your decency, your Christ-like spirit, and your caring for and loving fellow Americans including BLACK ones like our president? When you ask the question What would Jesus do? do you seriously think he would behave this way?

Instead of gleeful derision, why not celebrate with Rio de Janeiro on their win today? Why not be grateful for a president who made a huge personal effort and sees this as an opportunity to reestablish relations with people all over the world after they were so damaged by the previous president? Why not be thankful to all the people who spent countless hours putting together the bid for Chicago to host the Olympics? Wouldn’t all that be more Christian, more decent, more American?

I’m really tired of certain factions…incited and egged on by certain media personalities…doing everything they can to tear down our country. Consider the source of your information….it is from opportunists who don’t care about our country and the people in it. These opportunists make a lot of money being outrageous and hateful. They worship the almighty dollar.

Instead of what we saw today, I’d like to see glee being shown when people extend kindness, lift each other up, care for one another, and contribute to the good in the world. 13th century Persian poet Rumi says it so well:

Tender words we spoke to one another are sealed in the secret vaults of heaven. One day like rain, they will fall to earth and grow green all over the world.

What words are you saying? Are they kind? Encouraging? Caring? Loving? Will they fall to the earth and grow green all over the world or scorch the earth with dissension and hatred?

UPDATE 10/5/09: Paul Krugman has an excellent New York Times Op-Ed on this entitled “The Politics of Spite,” which was published 10/4.





Roman Polanski: Brilliant Director and PEDOPHILE

2 10 2009

In 1977, 44-year-old Roman Polanski drugged and vaginally and anally raped 13-year-old Samantha Geimer even while she repeatedly pleaded with him to stop. He fled the country in 1978 before his sentencing and has never returned to the U.S., not even when he won the Academy Award for Best Director for his movie The Pianist in 2002.

Besides that amazing movie, he has directed other noted movies such as Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown. Polanski hasn’t just led a charmed life, though; he has experienced tragedy in his life. He escaped the Krakow ghetto in 1943 at age 10. His mother was executed in a concentration camp. His 8 1/2-month pregnant wife, the beautiful actress Sharon Tate, was murdered in 1969 by followers of Charles Manson.

But all of that doesn’t excuse a man…any man…of raping a child. Polanski was arrested on 9/26/09 at the Zurich, Switzerland airport; he was to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Zurich Film Festival. Lots of famous Hollywood types (many directors themselves) like Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Woody Allen, Mike Nichols, Michael Mann, and Whoopi Goldberg (who had the audacity to say “It wasn’t rape rape”) are DEFENDING Roman Polanski and THEY are acting outraged that he is being detained in a Swiss jail.

The man is a pedophile. Around two years before he raped Geimer, he had a “romantic relationship” (that’s how it’s reported on Wikipedia…folks, he’s a PEDOPHILE) with 15-year-old actress Nastassja Kinski.

This reminds me of the case of R&B singer R. Kelly. He’s probably most known for the song “I Think I Can Fly” and has a beautiful voice, but R. Kelly is also a pedophile. He has escaped being sent to jail several times even though he’s been found in possession of child pornography including a tape he made of him “having sex” with an underage girl. He also married his protege, the 15-year-old singer Aaliyah (who had to lie about her age to get married)…who he had worked with since she was 12 years old… in 1994.

The response in these two cases is outrageous. In both cases people have closed ranks and supported the guy who was one of them. The Hollywood types are supporting Polanski and African-Americans supported R. Kelly. I checked a forum where African-Americans post and the people speaking out on Polanski almost uniformly believe he should go to jail. People on that same forum stood up for R. Kelly (and also the batterer hip-hop singer Chris Brown) and thought he was being racially targeted when he was being tried for being a pedophile.

When will we stop defending child molesters? I don’t care if you’re rich or poor, famous or not famous, black or white, from the U.S. or from Saudi Arabia, Christian or Muslim, it is NEVER OKAY to molest children. And I am sick of the press saying that an adult “had sex with” a child or that it was “consensual.” It is NEVER consensual and it is not “having sex” when a child is involved. It is RAPE. Children are never responsible and they cannot freely consent to sex with an adult. It is always about adults using their power (and in the Polanski case also drugs) over children.

Bottom line? No matter how wonderful Roman Polanski’s movies have been, he is a fugitive from the law and a child rapist. He belongs in prison. PERIOD.





NBA Star Tracy McGrady Creates a Darfur Dream Team

7 09 2009
Tracy McGrady Houston Mansion

Tracy McGrady's Houston Mansion

30-year-old NBA Houston Rockets star Tracy McGrady, who makes an estimated $21.1 million a year, is an unlikely advocate for refugees in Darfur. He could just live a cushy life in his 35,000 square foot mansion with his four children and wife. Instead, he heard about the plight of Chad and Sudan refugees in Darfur, wanted to see for himself, thought that surely there was something he could do, and traveled there with John Prendergast and Omer Ismail from the Enough project, which bills itself as “the project to end genocide and crimes against humanity.”

Tracy grew up in a rough neighborhood in Auburndale, Florida where he witnessed shooting, robbing, and dealing drugs. He said that when he got aTracy McGrady - Credit NBA website well-paying job, he wanted to have nice things, but said that “…those things don’t really mean anything to me anymore.” Before he went to Darfur, in the western region of Sudan and bordering Chad, in the summer of 2007, he said he had no idea what genocide was and was nervous about what he would see…and he saw a lot.

His trip resulted in the documentary 3 Points, which has just been released and can be seen on Hulu. Tracy is so passionate about the film and his work that he has changed his jersey number to 3 to remind people of the three goals for the Darfuris: peace, protection, and punishment (of those who have harmed them).

Tracy goes there with a big heart and a lot to learn. He…like most of us…has no idea what the life of the refugees…all 2.2 million of them…is like…that the women are being raped, the men are being killed, and their villages have been burned down. He sees children running and wants to build them a soccer field (which would cost just $1,000) and an indoor swimming pool (which would be considered extravagant), but learns that these children have more basic needs such as clean water, food, safety, and schools and supplies. There are no secondary schools (high schools). The people tell them that they have nothing…NOTHING.

He sleeps in a tent for the first time and displays a lot of naivete, but a willingness to learn about the Darfuris. He learns that children and families walked 200 miles to be in the camps, that the women choose to go out to get firewood because they will only be raped; if their husbands go out, they will be killed. Refugees are bombed by planes that look like United Nations planes, are surrounded by land mines, and eat once a day if they are lucky. People are attacked, killed execution-style, and even buried alive by Sudan’s military and Janjaweed, the government-backed militia. Children watch their parents being killed and are instantly orphaned and traumatized. Even small babies being carried on their mothers’ backs are shot.

Tracy asks questions that reveal a lot about the refugees:

  • “Who is protecting you?” No one
  • “What did you [young children] do when your village was attacked?” We ran, hid in the bush for a month, and walked for 10 days to get to a refugee camp.
  • “What do you want to be when you grow up?” 3 boys: I want to be a teacher. A girl:” I want to run my country.
  • “What kind of help do you need?” We have nothing. Everything was burned.

These are brave people, courageous people, strong people, survivors. They have seen unspeakable atrocities and injustice…the worst from their own government. Tracy reflects…

Tracy McGrady with Darfuri Children - Credit Darfur Dream Team

Just imagine that this could be us. What if the roles were reversed? What if the dice were rolled another way? This is not a joke…it’s not a game…this is real. This is our people we’re talking about. I guess that I am beginning to feel that I was put on this earth to really like help people. There’s more to me than just playing basketball, doing Adidas commercials. This is who I am and who I’m going to be. This is the beginning stages that we’re in. There’s definitely a lot more that needs to be done.

After returning from Darfur, Tracy visited with the State Department with his teammate Dikembe Mutombo and got input about how he can make a difference in Darfur. He recruited several other NBA stars to help in this effort as well as other non-profit organizations. He started a Darfur Dream Team Sister School program, which connects middle schools, high schools, and universities with students in the refugee camps of Darfur.

Tracy also visited his alma mater high school in that rough neighborhood of Auburndale, Florida with his Enough project allies who told the students that by being passive and nothing, they help evil triumph. Omer Ismail, the human rights activist from Darfur who joined Tracy on his travels there, said this to the students:

One day somebody is going to look you in the eyes and ask you “When Darfur was declared genocide, what have you done? I want you to look them in the eyes and say “I knew about it then and I’m proud to tell you that I’ve done something about it.”

Here’s a trailer about the 3 Points movie. Watch it. It will touch you. If it moves you, consider donating to the Darfur Dream Team’s Sister School program. Refugees in Darfur need all the heroes…like Tracy McGrady and you and me…they can get to help lift them up and into a better life.





Michael Jackson: The Sad Legacy of Child Abuse

27 06 2009

No doubt the music was superb, the dancing mesmerizing, the videos innovativeMichael_Jackson_1984, the costumes eye-popping, the energy unbelievable. After his death this week, Michael Jackson, the proclaimed King of Pop, leaves a legacy of 13 Grammy awards, 13 number one singles, the best selling record of all time (Thriller), 750 million records sold, and many other accolades and awards. He also leaves behind three children, $500 million in debt, a tangled legal mess, and the sad legacy of child abuse.

Michael Jackson was an abused child and he was (allegedly) an abuser. It’s easy to forget all this because we are so stunned at the death so young of someone who has made such an impact on music. We must remember, though, that his life story is a cautionary tale.

When Michael was a child, his father Joseph did things like:

  • Held Michael upside down with one leg and “pummeled him over and over again with his hand, hitting him on his back and buttocks,” per brother Marlon.
  • Sat in a chair with a belt in his hand while the Jackson brothers rehearsed and that “if you didn’t do it the right way, he would tear you up, really get you,” per Michael.
  • Tripped and pushed the boys into walls and called them names.

[NOTE 6/30: The Wall Street Journal reports that it appears that Michael’s father Joseph was cut out of what is purported to be his latest will, written in 2002.]

The abuse took a toll. Michael often cried from loneliness and even vomited upon seeing the father he so feared. He went from an adorable and impossibly talented little boy to a bizarre-looking and irrevocably scarred middle-aged man. And still lonely. Very lonely.

Perhaps to ease his loneliness and to try and create the childhood he never had, he often invited children over to his fairytale and theme park-like Neverland Ranch. He admitted to the stunned British journalist Martin Bashir, in a 2003 documentary entitled Living with Michael Jackson, that he often had children sleep in his bed.

Just this sort of thing is what got Michael in trouble in 1993 and 2005 when both times he was accused of sexual abuse of a child. In 1993 he suffered deteriorated health from being addicted to three painkillers as a result of the stress he felt from dealing with the accusations and settled out of court. In 2005 the boy who was seen holding hands with Michael and discussing sleeping arrangements with him in the documentary accused him of sexual abuse. The People v. Jackson trial ended with Michael being found not guilty, but left a shroud of suspicion around him that never ended. Mental health professional Dr. Stan Katz, who evaluated Michael and the accuser for the trial, declared Michael a “regressed 10-year-old” and not a pedophile.

Perhaps that’s so. Perhaps Michael was 10 in his thoughts and actions and doing the normal exploratory stuff that 10-year-olds do. Maybe he was innocent and taken advantage of by greedy fortune-seekers. At the very least, Michael was naively inappropriate to allow children in his bed. He was an adult and a public figure. He should have known better.

But this is what severe child abuse does. It can delay or thwart emotional development and contribute to a 50-year-old man regressing to being 10 years old. It can lead to life-long problems.

Michael Jackson is both a talented and tragic figure. It leaves us wondering if he would’ve been less troubled and if he would have left a less sullied legacy if he had been treated with kindness and love as a child and not ridicule, threats, and harm.

This brings to my mind the 1954 poem by Dorothy Law Nolte that has hung in my home since my now-grown children were small. I looked at that poem several times a day and tried to live by its tenets as I raised my daughters. Here is the poem, entitled “Children Learn What They Live”:

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.

If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.

If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.

If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.

If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.

If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.

If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.

If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.

Thanks for the music, Michael. Like so many creative giants, your flame extinguished way too soon. The torture you felt in life is now silenced, but the music lives on. Here’s one of my favorites of his. Enjoy.






Rage Against the Machine: Protests in Iran

21 06 2009

This is a POWERFUL video of Iranian protests. It is posted on Huffington Post with the accompanying description:

Rage against the machine. An Iranian-American writes: “In my spare time, I make short documentaries and music videos, and my 22 year old cousin in Iran asked that I make a video for him with his favorite song. I just spoke with him and he told me that his friends and him are watching it before they go out to protest. He was stepping out the door to protest when I spoke with him just a few minutes ago. A lot of Iranians from Iran rely on huffingtonpost.com for their information. If you could somehow post this on your website and get this out to the youth in Iran, it would mean a lot.”





Celebrating World Refugee Day by Becoming a U.S. Citizen

20 06 2009

June 20 is World Refugee Day. 42 million people worldwide are refugees. Angelina Jolie serves as UNHCR (United Nations High Commission on Refugees) Goodwill Ambassador. She and Brad Pitt have donated $1 million to help Pakistani refugees displaced because of war. Angelina says that the number of Pakistani refugees is jumping at a really high rate…as much as 100,000 people a day…and 2 million Pakistanis are now refugees.

Austin, Texas (where I live) takes in about 500 – 600 refugees per month; the most challenging thing is helping them find work. Here’s an article that is currently online and will appear in Sunday’s Austin American-Statesman newspaper about 21 refugees who became U.S. citizens today in Austin.

Refugees who fled horrors of war, famine now call Austin home.

Jeremy Schwartz
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Sunday, June 21, 2009

They’ve fled war, famine, genocide and concentration camps. But in an intimate ceremony Saturday at the Bullock Texas State History Museum, 21 refugees from 11 countries took an important step on their roads to a new life: They became U.S. citizens.

The naturalization ceremony took place on World Refugee Day and marked the second consecutive year that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has commemorated the day in Austin with a citizenship ceremony for refugees.

“They’ve gone through so much,” said Mario Ortiz, the San Antonio district director for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. “So it’s only right that as an agency and as a country we recognize the contributions they will make to this country.”

For Amir Causevic, a 34-year-old who left his hometown in Bosnia-Herzegovina when war broke out in the early 1990s, Saturday’s ceremony was the culmination of nearly two decades of struggle.

“This is the biggest day in my life so far,” said Causevic, who lives in Hutto with his wife and son and works as an installer for Time Warner Cable. “You have so many bad memories of your country that you want to start your life over again.”

John Mohinga and Wife (with family) become Citizens in Austin 6/20/09 - Credit: KUT's Erika Aguilar

John Mohinga and Wife (with family) become Citizens in Austin 6/20/09 - Credit: KUT's Erika Aguilar

John Mohinga, a 52-year-old from Congo, urged his fellow newly anointed citizens to take advantage of their second chance.

“Here you can live in peace and see your children go to school and get degrees and so on,” he told the crowd during the ceremony. “Here, you can be whatever you want to be.”

Mohinga, who works as a security guard and is the assistant pastor at North Austin Christian Church, fled Congo during a civil war that killed about 5 million of his countrymen more than a decade ago. He and his wife were forced to leave, he said, because she was an ethnic Tutsi originally from Rwanda, putting her on the wrong side of local militias.

The couple and their children were rescued by Red Cross workers who delivered them to United Nations forces and ultimately to a refugee camp in Cameroon. They came to the United States in 2000.

“I want to thank the great people of Texas for this peaceful welcome,” Mohinga said.

After the 21 refugees — all of them Austin-area residents originally from places such as Sudan, Afghanistan, El Salvador and Cambodia — took their oath of citizenship, immigration officials handed out certificates. The new Americans held them as if they might break or fly away and posed for pictures with smiling family members.

“Thank you for inspiring us,” Ortiz told them. “Thank you for humbling us.”





The Audacity of Having a Voice

17 06 2009

We have so villified the Iranians. Made them to be the enemy. Bush called them part of the “axis of evil.” We have feared them, mistrusted them, hated them, wanted to harm them.

Credit: Huffington Post

Credit: Huffington Post

I am in awe of the Iranian people. These are people standing up for freedom and for having a voice. Would you have such courage to protest as they are doing now?

Why, when Bush stole the election in 2000, did people in the United States not stand up and protest? Why, when Bush tortured people and we knew about it, did we not cast him and Cheney out of office? Why, when we knew that the Bush Administration was monitoring ordinary citizens, clamping down our human rights, and creating legal documents to make themselves a monarchy with absolute authority did we do nothing?

Where is our moral courage and passion to march, protest, and demand an end to child trafficking or sexual abuse or violence against women? What about children going hungry even in our own country or people living in tents or elderly people who can’t afford their prescriptions? Do we stand up and say ENOUGH!? Do we write our lawmakers who make light of these situations and spend more money on weapons than feeding people and helping the afflicted? Do we do ANYTHING? 

Would you march silently to give voice and to stand up for something you strongly believe in? Is there anything so important to you that you would risk arrest, injury, or even death as the Iranians are doing? 

Consider spending 10 minutes each day in meditation for healing in our world. It’s the least we can do.

Here is a video of people in Tehran peacefully protesting the election results today. This brings tears to my eyes. This is courage and conviction in action. I hope that we can all begin to see the Iranians…and so many other people speaking out all over the world for freedom from violence and freedom for a voice…as our brothers and sisters who are to be loved and applauded and not enemies to be feared and hated.

 





The 1979 Iranian Revolution: A Personal Story

13 06 2009

We were all set to move to Tehran, Iran in 1978. My (then) husband was a software engineer with Ross Perot’s Electronic Data Systems (EDS) and we had the opportunity of a lifetime to move there (and him to work there) with our one-year-old baby girl.

Shah Pahlavi and Queen Farah 1977

Shah Pahlavi and Queen Farah 1977

Iran seemed stable then.  Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi was the leader and had been since he came to power in 1941. He had put in place a lot of positive reforms, called the White Revolution, in Iran such as giving women the right to vote, advancing the country technologically and economically, guaranteeing children the right to go to school, allowing share croppers to own land, etc.

There was no Internet then, but I researched Iran the best I could. EDS gave us a packet of information on what to expect about living there and I learned more at the library. I knew it would be really different from living in the U.S. Things like celery and iceburg lettuce and other foods were hard to get and expensive when you could find them. I wouldn’t be driving there, but would have some freedom of movement. There was no email so contact with my family would be mostly through letters and the rare (and expensive) phone call. Still, I was ready for the adventure.

Ayatollah Khomeini

Ayatollah Khomeini

Things happened to change all that. Previously the Shah had Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who was critical of his regime, imprisoned for 18 months and then deported in 1964 after Khomeini’s release and criticism of the U.S. government. Khomeini continued to speak out against the Pahlavi regime from exile. The Iranian (also called the Islamic) Revolution began in January 1978. A few months later, EDS asked if we would consider going to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia instead of Tehran. We didn’t really understand why, but they explained it would be safer. We changed course and agreed…and my research began anew. I became pregnant with our second child and had to hold back on going to Jeddah. Their father went around the beginning of November 1978. I, and our two children, didn’t go over until July 1979.

Amidst the backdrop of our changing personal saga, chaos had broken out in Iran and the Shah and his family had to flee the country in January 1979. His regime collapsed two weeks later. EDS employees fled the U.S.-friendly regime with the clothes on their back. Many of them came later to Jeddah and we were regaled with harrowing and heroic stories.

Khomeini returned from 15 years of exile and on 4/1/79, the people of Iran voted to become an Islamic Republic. In December of 1979, the people approved a theocratic (where God is considered the supreme civil ruler) constitution and Khomeini became the Supreme Leader, the highest ranking political and religious figure in the country. He has authority even over the president of Iran. Tens of thousands of loyalists to the previous regime were executed after Khomeini took office.

At this point, the U.S./Iran relationship deteriorated. On 11/4/79 Iranian students seized U.S. embassy personnel, accusing them of being CIA agents plotting to overthrow the Iranian government.  Khomeini supported them. Most of the women and African-American hostages were released after a few months, but the remaining 52 hostages were held captive for 444 days. They were set free in January 1981 in exchange for promises that included the U.S. removing a freeze on Iranian assets and not interfering with Iranian affairs.

While my family and I were spared the drama, tension, and danger in Iran, we were living in Jeddah when the Grand Mosque was seized and held for two weeks by Islamic terrorists on 11/20/79.  I wrote about this in a post entitled “Pilgrims to a Deadly Hajj.” I witnessed on the streets what an area under siege in a Middle Eastern country looks like.

Once again we seemed to escape potential danger unwittingly. We returned to the United States around mid-September of 1980. On 9/22/80 Saddam Hussein and Iraq invaded a weakend (from the revolution) Iran and thus began the Iran-Iraq War. It lasted until 1988 when Khomeini begrudgingly accepted a truce negotiated by the United Nations. 500,000 – 1 million Iranians died in this war; 100,000 of them from Iraqi chemical weapons.

Ali KhameneiKhomeini reigned as Supreme Leader until he died on 6/3/89. Ali Khamenei became Supreme Leader in 1989 and remains so in 2009. Iran had two additional presidents before Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president in 2005.

I was a 25-year-old, wide-eyed, ready-for-anything young woman when my family was going to move to Iran. Things were pretty peaceful then. It seemed really exciting.

Today, in the aftermath of what looks like a rigged election, there is rioting in the streets of Iran. The people are crying out for freedom and representation and being heard. It’s a dangerous place to be. I could’ve walked amongst these people 30 years ago, but it would’ve been a different Iran, an Iran that was making progress and restoring rights to women and children and peasants.

Today, and the last 30 years, seem to have been a setback for the Iranians. I wonder when their country will be restored to peace and to being a place where another wide-eyed, brave young U.S. mother would dare to go undaunted with her family to have the adventure of a lifetime.





Hatred in Action at the Holocaust Museum

10 06 2009

Tragic. Today an 88-year-old white supremacist walked into the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. and killed a 39-year-old security guard before being fired on by other guards. The Holocaust Museumkiller was known to hate Jews, Catholics, and African-Americans and on the radar of those who study fringe extremists who devote their lives to hatred. He wrote a book denying the Holocaust and praising Hitler. He spent more than five years in prison for the 1983 conviction on charges of attempting to kidnap members of the Federal Reserve Board with a hunting knife, revolver, and 12-gauge shotgun. He even invoked others to kill people who threatened what he saw as the supremacy of white people.

These kind of people terrify me more than any Taliban or jihadist. These are people living on our own soil who at any moment in any location and without provocation can take someone’s life…or many lives. These people walk amongst us. They look like us. They may be our grandfather, our son, our uncle, our boss. We usually don’t have a clue as to the level of depravity and hatred they harbor. Their souls are dark places where light never enters.

And yet people like Palin, Limbaugh, Cheney, O’Reilly, Beck, and Hannity fuel the flames that burn in these in-grown terroists’ hearts. These very public people tell lies and make insinuations that inflame the ignorant, the uninformed, the uncurious, and the gun-toting racists. They speak with seemingly innocent irresponsibility and then act surprised and are in denial when their words produce predictable results.

I am disgusted with the talk of these people and the talk of any person who promotes hatred. I am alarmed and saddened by the results of their hate talk.

Credit: MSNBC.com

Stephen Tyrone Johns Credit: MSNBC.com

Stephen Tyrone Johns was the man killed. He had worked as a security guard at the Holocaust Museum for six years. He was doing his job to protect the school children and others who come to the museum to remember the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust. He didn’t deserve to die.

The other news today? Carrie Prejean, Miss California, was fired by Donald Trump. She is the contestant in the Miss USA pageant who spoke out against gay marriage and preached intolerance toward gay people. Is it any accident that these two incidents headline the news in the same day? I think not. They, along with the killing last week of the abortion doctor by a right-wing extremist, speak of intolerance, of people claiming their way is the only right way, of excluding others who are not like you.

We need healing, love, and inclusion. These are what President Obama is practicing and teaching. Why are these positive principles so threatening to those who hate? We must hold the light and shine that light into the dark corners of the extremist corners of the dark hearts in our society. Our country, its citizens, and the citizens of the world need our light.

Here’s “This Little Light of Mine” sung by the African Children’s Choir. I heard them sing in Austin a few months ago. These children shine light and love into our hearts with their singing, dancing, and ebullient spirits. We can learn a lot from children…they remind us to be about joy and love.





Celebrating Diversity at a Gay Pride Parade

7 06 2009

Outlandish. Festive. Convivial. Celebratory. My first gay pride parade ever. My good friend (a gay guy) had invited me years before…this year I said yes. After a dinner of fine Mexican food downtown, we walked over to 4th and Colorado and staked our spot near the reviewing stand to watch the Austin gay pride parade last night.

Attendees at Austin Gay Pride Parade June 6 09 - StatesmanThe crowd of several thousand grew as the 8:30 starting time approached. The streets blocked to traffic, this was people watching at its finest. Lean young men in black briefs wearing white feathery angel wings with a five foot span. Lots of tattoos. Women who looked more like men than some of the men did. Bleached blond…and even green… spiked hair.
Tranvestites…men dressed as women…with full makeup, hair, and dresses. Men with bare chests and tight leather pants. Androgynous women. Men holding hands with men. Women holding hands with women. Lots of dogs on leashes. Children. Rainbow flags and leis. A rowdy but controlled crowd of people of all ages, sizes, and looks.

And then there were the usual Saturday night Austin club hoppers…the 20-something women in 5-inch heels, short tight skirts, skin-tight tops, and tons of makeup. Their male dates in sloppy shorts, Birkenstocks, and shirts that hung over their beltless pants. And of course the rest of the hetero crowd that came down to check out the action, but wasn’t out to find “love” for the evening. A lot of these people stared blankly as they walked by, not Best Buy Austin Gay Pride Parade - Statesmancomprehending what they were seeing.

The crowd roared when the parade wound its way through the streets of downtown to where we were standing and sitting. As for every gay pride parade (per my friends), it was kicked off by the “dykes on bikes.” What followed was a 1.5 hour procession of people from church groups, clubs, arts groups, bands, restaurants, bars, retail stores, and miscellaneous organizations. Some marched, some rode in cars or trucks, and some rode on cheesy (and definitely not Rose Parade material) floats.

Particularly impressive was the sight of Austin Chief of Police Art Acevedo marching with his gay police men and women and Austin Fire Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr, one of only 30 women fire chiefs in the nation, marching with her gay fire men and women.

The non-uniformed marchers were in various states of dress and undress…with men in speedos seductively dancing getting the most cat calls. Some people dressed in costumes…the moLove Peace Equality Sign at Gay Pride Parade - Statesmanst memorable being two women in wedding dresses who held hands and walked together to make a point about gay marriage. In the spirit of a mardi gras parade, marchers flung cheap yet colorful beads into the crowd as well as t-shirts and condoms.

It was a fun evening, but in the midst of the hilarity and raucousness, the seriousness of the Sign at Gay Pride Parade - Statesmanoccasion was not lost. Many of the marchers held signs that proclaimed messages of equality, which reminded us in a quiet way why we were all even attending a gay pride parade.

I feel proud to live in a town (Austin) that is accepting of the diversity of people who came out for the parade. I think I’ll go back next year. Gay or straight, it doesn’t get much better than that.

Note: All photos are from the Austin American-Statesman’s online website www.statesman.com.





We Can’t Afford To Turn Away

31 05 2009
We pay a high price for refusing to look at the atrocities being committed all over the world. The atrocities continue…bodies, minds, and hearts are destroyed…and we bear a collective responsibility and guilt for allowing them to continue.
 
My family members and friends rarely visit my blog and read my posts. Most never have. They don’t want to read about what I write about…particularly the abuse and injustice toward women and children all over the world. I try and talk with them about it and they don’t want to hear.

To refuse to see and acknowledge what is going on winds up hurting all of us at a very deep level. We deny the humanity of others who have less opportunity and more injustice than we do. How can we live with that? By staying incredibly busy and tuning out the inconvenient and raw truth? How authentic are our lives when we constantly do that? How authentic is our humanity?
 
Here’s an excellent New York Times op-ed column on this posted May 30. What are your thoughts?

“Holding On to Our Humanity” by Bob Herbert

Overload is a real problem. There is a danger that even the most decent of people can grow numb to the unending reports of atrocities occurring all around the globe. Mass rape. Mass murder. Torture. The institutionalized oppression of women.

There are other things in the world: a ballgame, your daughter’s graduation, the ballet. The tendency to draw an impenetrable psychic curtain across the worst that the world has to offer is understandable. But it’s a tendency, as Elie Wiesel has cautioned, that must be fought.

We have an obligation to listen, for example, when a woman from a culture foreign to our own recalls the moment when time stopped for her, when she was among a group of women attacked by soldiers:

“They said to us: ‘If you have a baby on your back, let us see it.’ The soldiers looked at the babies and if it was a boy, they killed it on the spot [by shooting him]. If it was a girl, they dropped or threw it on the ground. If the girl died, she died. If she didn’t die, the mothers were allowed to pick it up and keep it.”

The woman recalled that in that moment, the kind of throbbing moment when time is not just stopped but lost, when it ceases to have any meaning, her grandmother had a boy on her back. The grandmother refused to show the child to the soldiers, so both she and the boy were shot.

A team of female researchers, three of them physicians, traveled to Chad last fall to interview women who were refugees from the nightmare in Darfur. No one has written more compellingly about that horror than my colleague on this page, Nick Kristof. When I was alerted to the report that the team had compiled for Physicians for Human Rights, my first thought was, “What more is there to say?”

And then I thought about Mr. Wiesel, who has warned us so eloquently about the dangers inherent in indifference to the suffering of others. Stories of atrocities on the scale of those coming out of Darfur cannot be told too often.

The conflict has gone on for more than six years, and while the murders and mass rapes have diminished, this enormous human catastrophe is still very much with us. For one thing, Sudan has expelled humanitarian aid groups from Darfur, a move that Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, recently told Mr. Kristof “may well amount to genocide by other means.”

Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in the conflict and the systematic sexual attacks on Darfuri women have been widely reported. Millions have been displaced and perhaps a quarter of a million Darfuris are living in conditions of the barest subsistence in refugee camps along the Chad-Sudan border.

The report by Physicians for Human Rights, to be released officially on Sunday (available at darfuriwomen.org), focuses on several dozen women in the Farchana refugee camp in Chad. The report pays special attention to the humanity of the women.

“These are real people with children, with lives that may have been quite simple, but were really rich before they were displaced,” said Susannah Sirkin, a deputy director of Physicians for Human Rights.

The conditions in the refugee camps are grim, made worse by the traumas that still grip the women, many of whom were witnesses — or the victims — of the most extreme violence.

“I don’t think I was prepared for the level of just palpable suffering that they are continuing to endure,” said Dr. Sondra Crosby, one of the four interviewers. “Women were telling me they were starving. They’re eating sorghum and oil and salt and sugar.”

Dr. Crosby and her colleagues had a few crackers or cookies on hand for the women during the interviews. “I don’t think I saw even one woman eat the crackers, even though they were hungry,” she said. “They all would hide them in their dresses so they could take them back to their children.”

The women also live with the ongoing fear of sexual assault. According to the report, rape is a pervasive problem around the refugee camps, with the women especially vulnerable when they are foraging for firewood or food.

“It is so much easier to look away from victims,” said Mr. Wiesel, in a speech at the White House in 1999. “It is so much easier to avoid such rude interruptions to our work, our dreams, our hopes.”

But indifference to the suffering of others “is what makes the human being inhuman,” he said, adding: “The political prisoner in his cell, the hungry children, the homeless refugees — not to respond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude by offering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory. And in denying their humanity, we betray our own.”





Saudi Arabia: A Bread Delivery Makes a Criminal out of Khamisa Sawadi, 75

9 03 2009

Her crime? Mingling with two 24-year-old men – one the nephew of her deceased husband – when they delivered five loaves of bread to her home north of the Saudi Arabian capital city of Riyadh last April. 75-year-old widow Khamisa Mohammed Sawadi is from Syria, but was married to a Saudi man. After her March 3rd sentence of 40 lashes and 4 months in prison is carried out, she will be deported back to Syria.

The men were arrested by the religious police after delivering the bread to Sawadi. They, too, will be lashed and serve time in prison. The court based its decision on “citizen information” from the father of one of the young men, who accused the woman of corruption. The court verdict said:

Because she said she doesn’t have a husband and because she is not a Saudi, conviction of the defendants of illegal mingling has been confirmed.

Khamisa Sawadi says she even breastfed one of the young men who delivered the bread…which would normally establish a degree of maternal relation and would save her from the charge of mingling. Because she can’t prove it, the charge stands. Her lawyer is appealing the sentence.

Saudi Arabia prohibits men and women who are not immediate relatives from mingling and practices some of the strictest interpretations of any Islamic country. I know…I lived there many years ago. When I, or any woman, would go to the main market (the souq), I had to have my arms and legs covered. I couldn’t drive…even as an American woman…and had to have a man with me everywhere I went.  

One morning when I was waiting outside a store for it to open. My driver was sitting in the car right in front of me and I had my baby in my arms. An Egyptian man came up to me and started a conversation about politics. After a few minutes, he asked me if I’d like to go with him to his house. Stunned, I just said no. I did my brief shopping and returned to the car (usually the driver would come in with me, but he could see me from the car and remained there this time). I told the driver what the man said and he was upset and said I should’ve immediately come and told him. I asked him what would have happened. He said the police would’ve come and gotten the Egyptian man and beaten him. I was glad I didn’t tell.

The outrageousness of the religious police in Saudi Arabia is reaching new levels and causing outcries. Recently King Abdullah fired the chief of the religious police and a cleric who condoned killing owners of TV networks that broadcast “immoral content.” When I lived in Jeddah many years ago, there was only one English-speaking television station that ran really old very wholesome shows and had 15 minutes per day of news – 10 of which was what the king did that day.

I saw the work of the religious police everywhere…a can of beans with serving suggestions of “with pork” would have those words marked out (pork is unclean and illegal there). A magazine ad showing a woman’s bare midriff would have the midriff blacked out. Some pages would be ripped entirely from magazines and some magazines – with news the religious police didn’t want us to know – would not even make it into the country. As I entered the country and waited in the Jeddah airport, a man was trying to smuggle a can of ham in his suitcase and the police were stabbing the ham and screaming at the man. I heard of an American man accused of dealing drugs in Jeddah. He was offered the choice of having a hand cut off or spending 10 years in a Saudi prison.

Justice is harsh in Saudi Arabia. Beheadings, advertised in even the English newspaper, were held in the public square for anyone to watch. For more on “justice” in Saudi Arabia, read my recent post on how being gang raped is considered adultery – a crime with a harsh sentence.

I never felt unsafe in Jeddah and the people were very nice to me, my two tiny children, and my then husband. It saddens me to see these helpful young men treated as criminals because they showed kindness to an elderly woman and to see her treated as a criminal for accepting their kindness. This is not religious. This is not just. This is not right.

Here’s a report from CNN on this:





Connie Keel: Battered, Raped, Imprisoned, Innocent

3 03 2009
Connie Keel and Her Daughter - Courtesy Keel Family

Connie Keel and Her Daughter - Courtesy Keel Family

Regularly raped and beaten by her husband, sexually abused by uncles, neighbors, and friends, and physically abused by her mother, 21-year-old battered woman’s syndrome victim Connie Keel was threatened by her husband and forced to stay in the car in 1980 while her armed husband and his cousin made a non-planned stop at a liquor store to buy cigarettes.  While inside, they robbed the store and killed the clerk.

 Connie, who had nothing to do with what happened, was charged with armed robbery and murder. She has worked hard and taken a lot of  classes to become a new person, but at 50 years old and after 29 years and six parole hearings, she is still in prison.

Adam Reich - Photo by Maria Iacobo

Adam Reich - Photo by Maria Iacobo

Second-year and 25-year-old USC Gould School of Law student Adam Reich has taken up her cause and is doing everything he can to get her released. He created the http://freeconnie.com to raise awareness about Connie’s plight and to urge people to contact Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to ask him to free her. According to that website:

“On October 29, 2008 a parole board determined that Connie Keel is ‘suitable for parole and would not pose an unreasonable risk of danger to society or a threat to public safety if released from prison.'”

According to the USC Gould School of Law web page about Adam’s participation in this case, he said that “When I first decided to go to law school I thought I would be on the corporate track. Once I got here, I learned I could be engaged in promoting justice and having a big impact on someone’s life.”

Governor Schwarzenegger has 20 days now to decide whether to free Connie. You can email him using this State of California governor contact form. The FreeConnie website has made it easy for you by posting a letter you can copy and paste into the contact form.

The ACLU of Southern California also has a web page about this and a form you can send as does the FreeBatteredWomen website. You can view a short WeTV video that features Connie Keel and can read more about battered women’s syndrome at the Divorce and Family Law Center.

Connie Keel, a battered woman and an innocent woman has served 29 years in prison for a crime she did not commit. She was a victim of an abusive husband and family. Please let Governor Schwarzenegger know that you join others who care about nonviolence and justice for women in asking that this woman be at last set free.

UPDATE 3/27/09: San Francisco Chronicle online reports today this great news!

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger today upheld the state parole board’s decision to release a woman who has spent 29 years in prison for taking part in a murder that her abusive husband committed at a Campbell liquor store while she sat in a car outside.

An aide to the governor notified Connie Keel of his decision in a letter faxed to the California Institution for Women in Corona (San Bernardino County). It did not state his reasoning.

Keel, 50, will be freed next week, said Adam Reich, a University of Southern California law student who represented her before the parole board and has collected thousands of signatures on support petitions through an Internet campaign.

“Both I and Connie’s family are ecstatic at the governor’s decision,” Reich said. He added that it “proves that in the end, justice will always prevail.”

UPDATE 4/1/09: Connie was released from prison today. She said:

I’ve waited a long time to hug my children, to hold them in my arms without prison guards around me. No one is there to tell me you’re hugging them too long. It makes me really, really happy.

According to the Oroville Mercury-Register, Connie will live in a half-way house for about six months.





Life as an Iraqi Refugee

24 02 2009

Imagine what life would be like as an Iraqi refugee. I did some research on what refugees are experiencing. Here is a realistic story you could hear from one of them.

I am one of 5.5 million Iraqi refugees. I watched as my husband was killed by a suicide bomber in a revenge killing. A Sunni insurgent leader forced me and my children from our home at gunpoint.

Iraqi woman and child in refugee camp

Iraqi woman and child in refugee camp

We fled on foot to the holy Iraq Shiite city of Najaf and live in a camp with 200 other people. It is one of many camps in Iraq. 1.2 to 1.5 million of us fled to Syria and hundreds of thousands to Jordan after our homes were destroyed, our lives were threatened, and our family members were killed. One in five Iraqis are refugees…ONE in FIVE.

The water we drink is polluted. I fear being attacked if I go outside our tent and so my children and I urinate and defecate inside…in the place where we eat and sleep and live. Every time I venture out to collect firewood or to get some of the polluted water, I risk being raped.

My children had to drop out of school and there is no school in our camp. Sometimes we get meager rations of food to eat. Other times, I must prostitute myself to get money to buy bread and water for my children and me. Every day I pray that God will send us food and clean water. I pray that my children and I will not fall ill to cholera or typhoid, which is rampant in many of the camps.

I also pray that the United States will rescue us from this living hell. I have always heard that the United States was a very powerful and rich country and that they help people in other countries. They helped create the violence in my country by attacking us. Now they need to help those of us who were forced from our homes due to their aggression.

President Obama has pledged to create an international working group to address the crisis that we refugees face. He has pledged $2 billion in aid to expand services and help provide a decent place to live to refugees in Iraq and in neighboring countries. Every day is a struggle to stay alive physically and emotionally. Please hurry. We are dying.

Those who fled to Syria hope that President Obama will appoint an ambassador to Syria to help with their situation. They are not allowed to work and many of them are forced to allow their young daughters to dance in clubs and even serve as prostitutes to make money to feed their families.

I am barely holding on to hope and to the physical and emotional well being of myself and my children. I fear they will not develop properly because of lack of food and pure drinking water. I wonder if I will ever be able to have my own home again, hold a job, and find a man who would take me as his wife. I want a normal life. I want out of this camp. I am a refugee in my own country. I cry to God and ask for help for my family and my fellow Iraqis from someone…anyone. Please help us.

This post is written to recognize and give voice to those 5.5 million Iraqi refugees who want and need to be heard. Refugees International wants you to be aware of this situation and sign a petition to urge President Obama to take swift action to help Iraqi refugees. Here is a short clip from their website about Iraqi refugees in Syria:





Finally…Moral Leadership and NO MORE TORTURE

22 01 2009

Finally. An ethical President. When we hear “The U.S. does not torture,” this time it will not be a lie. Today President Obama (I love the sound of that!) issued an executive order that orders that any prisoner being held at Guantanamo must be be treated humanely in accordance with the Geneva Conventions (which Bush totally ignored). He also ordered the closing of Guantanamo no later than one year from today. Some prisoners have been held there as long as 7 years without a trial.

Obama with Retired Generals Signing Order on 1/22/09 to Close Guantanamo

Obama with Retired Generals Signing Order on 1/22/09 to Close Guantanamo

 One of the retired generals accompanying President Obama as he signed the orders was Retired Major General Paul D. Eaton. He was interviewed by Keith Olbermann and Eaton had this to say about today: “It’s been a blockbuster day. The performance of our President was nothing less than terrific…great courage. It was a wonderful, wonderful session with him.” He also said that he and other retired generals and admirals  have been working with Human Rights First on how to restore our moral standing in the world. He said a critical component of that is how you handle your detainees.

Eaton also said that the Bush Administration “…allowed Guantanamo to become a recruiting poster for Al Qaeda.” This statement is similar to one made by “Matthew Alexander” (an assumed name) who is a former U.S. interrogator. I wrote about him in this post and his assertion that as many Americans have died because of the U.S. practice of torture as died in 9/11.

Obama also signed today an executive order to establish an interagency task force on detainee disposition to “… identify lawful options for the disposition of individuals captured or apprehended in connection with armed conflicts and counterterrorism operations.”

A third executive order President Obama signed was “Ensuring Lawful Interrogations.” He revoked previous regulations issued to or by the CIA from 9/11/01 to 1/20/09, which gave them power to ignore the Geneva Conventions and other U.S. laws regarding treatment of prisoners and torture. The executive order asserted that detainees are not to be tortured and are to be interrogated using the Army Field Manual guidelines.

Yesterday President Obama ordered that military prosecutors halt all Guantanamo war crimes tribunals for 120 days so that the cases can be reviewed. The military had been serving as judge and jury in these cases.

I have written several blogs about torture after hearing New Yorker writer Jane Mayer speak in Austin and then reading her riveting book “The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals.” I had a recent conversation with my mother about how Bush and Cheney had personally authorized torture and she seemed to be totally unaware this was going on. I’m sure there are millions of other Americans who have been blissfully unaware. They are most likely the same people who voted for Bush for president again in 2004…the same year the photos of the abuse at Abu Ghraib came out.

President Obama is a different man. He is caring, compassionate, has a strong moral compass, and believes there are other ways to deal with our enemies rather than torture them to partial or complete death or to bomb them and go to war on false pretenses.

Finally the U.S. can begin to assume our position as the leader in human rights and equal rights for all people. It’s about time.





A Brand New Day – The Inauguration of Barack Obama

20 01 2009

Instead of a rah-rah campaign speech, Barack Obama’s inaugural address was one of a leader during difficult times…sobering, direct, forceful, confident, and often parental.

obama-taking-oath-of-office

Instead of trying to make us feel good, he spoke to us honestly about the challenges ahead and of how we must all do our part. The massive crowd seemed a bit stunned. They were in a party mood and wanted to cheer during his speech. They had a few opportunities…but mostly listened somberly to his call to each of them…to each of us. If you didn’t see or hear the speech…or just want to watch it again, here it is.

The interviews with people who came to the inauguration were heart-warming and tear-producing. They each had a personal story to tell of why they had to come to the inauguration, no matter the hardships in getting there or the discomfort of standing in 15 degree cold for hours.

Barack and Michelle…now the President and First Lady…and Vice President and Mrs. Biden showed courage (another trait of leaders) in walking several blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue on a day when many feared for their safety.

Obama was gracious in thanking Bush for his service, but appropriately did not gush and did not mention Cheney. The sight of Cheney bowed in a wheelchair…the formerly all powerful vice president…now not able to walk on his own two feet seemed apropos. The sight of Bush leaving in a government helicopter while the crowd booed and sang “Na Na Na Na, Goodbye” also seemed apropos. The two war criminals were diminished and dismissed by a people eager to get on with forgetting the destruction they left behind.

Senator Kennedy, even with brain cancer, looked fit and delighted as he took his seat in the viewing stand at the swearing in…and later suffered a seizure at lunch. He, like so many of us, was so moved by Obama that he put his own (health) issues to the side and showed up, which is what Obama is asking us all to do.

Malia and Sasha were poised and charming and their mother Michelle was beautiful, elegant, lovely, graceful, and supportive. Barack was intimate with his wife and children and made the day as much about them as it was about him.

The planning of the day was superlative…except that more wiggle room could have been built into the schedule. It was a beautiful day, a memorable day, a joyful day, and a day to remember.

Celebrities such as Beyonce (beautifully and tearfully singing “At Last” as the Obamas danced their first dance), Alicia Keys, Oprah and Steadman, Kanye West, Mariah Carey, Will.I.Am (he of the incredible video that contributed so much to the campaign), Mary J. Blige, Faith Hill, Usher, and so many more were thrilled to participate in the day and at the balls. Aretha Franklin sang “My Country Tis of Thee” masterfully during the swearing in ceremony.

Barack Obama brought change today…to our country, our minds, and our hearts. I leave you with Will.I.Am singing a song so appropriate for the day…”It’s a New Day”…a day an African American became the most powerful person in the world and moved into the WHITE House…built on the backs of black slaves.





Bush Ducks as an Iraqi Takes Aim

15 12 2008

Disrespectful? Yes. Understandable? Also yes. Bush had two shoes thrown at him today by Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zeidi during a press conference in Iraq. Showing the soles of shoes is a sign of contempt in Arab culture.

When the first one was thrown, the Iraqi journalist throwing it said: “This is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, dog.”

When he threw the second shoe, he said: “This is from the widows, the orphans and those killed in Iraq.”

Zeidi knew first-hand about the violence in Iraq: he was kidnapped last year by Shiite militiamen, tortured, and later released. He has also had relatives killed in fighting in Iraq.

Reports vary wildly of how many Iraqis have been killed since the U.S. invaded in 2003. The website http://www.IraqBodyCount.org lists 89,878 – 98,139 documented civilian Iraqi deaths in that time period. Other counts are much higher. On October 10, 2006, the New York Times reported that the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study said that over 600,000 Iraqi deaths had occurred…and that was over two years ago.

With so many innocent Iraqi citizens killed, it’s understandable that they would feel hatred toward Bush. Saddam Hussein was responsible for over 2 million people being killed (many of these Iranians). Bush’s decision to take the U.S. into war in Iraq on false pretenses has not had the reign of terror that Saddam Hussein had, but to the Iraqis, it may feel like it…and the numbers are startling.

Bush seems to have no remorse or any feeling at all over the havoc he has created in the world and the many many lives that have been lost, destroyed, or forever changed because of his actions. Throwing shoes at him, while disrespectful, is mild considering the damage he’s done. When he’s out of office, will there be repercussions for his having authorized torture? For lying repeatedly to the American public? Will people be standing in line to “throw shoes” at him?

 





What the World Needs Now: R-E-S-P-E-C-T

10 12 2008

“It’s not my problem,” you say? Maybe you’d like to swap places even for a day with those with little or no basic human rights. We have lost respect for the basic human rights of our brothers and sisters throughout the world. We allow atrocities to continue or commit them against our fellow human beings: rape, slavery, human trafficking, starvation, torture, rendition, genocide, horrendous work conditions, refugee camps, battered women, child molestation, child abuse, less pay for women, “honor” killings of women, female genital mutilation, racism, sexual violence as an instrument of war, and so many more.

Today is the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Eleanor Roosevelt chaired the committee that drafted these rights and they were adopted in December, 1948 as a response to the brutality of World War II. Here she is addressing the United Nations on the ratification of the UDHR:

So many of us bury ourselves in busyness and complacency. We are quick to express anger, to battle, to go to war. We are slow – or unable – to express love, acceptance, compassion, inclusivity, and peacefulness. Remember Dionne Warwick singing “What the World Needs Now is Love, Sweet Love”? Take a listen and  remember that every person on the planet is deserving of basic human rights. Do your part to respect, care for, and love your brothers and sisters on the planet.

 And if that doesn’t do it for you, take a listen to Aretha singing her classic “RESPECT”…that and love are what we all need.