Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Other voices: American convicted of terrorism

TAREK’S SENTENCING STATEMENT
APRIL 12, 2012

Read to Judge O’Toole during his sentencing, April 12th 2012.

In the name of God the most gracious the most merciful Exactly four years ago this month I was finishing my work shift at a local hospital. As I was walking to my car I was approached by two federal agents. They said that I had a choice to make: I could do things the easy way, or I could do them the hard way. The “easy ” way, as they explained, was that I would become an informant for the government, and if I did so I would never see the inside of a courtroom or a prison cell. As for the hard way, this is it. Here I am, having spent the majority of the four years since then in a solitary cell the size of a small closet, in which I am locked down for 23 hours each day. The FBI and these prosecutors worked very hard-and the government spent millions of tax dollars – to put me in that cell, keep me there, put me on trial, and finally to have me stand here before you today to be sentenced to even more time in a cell.

In the weeks leading up to this moment, many people have offered suggestions as to what I should say to you. Some said I should plead for mercy in hopes of a light sentence, while others suggested I would be hit hard either way. But what I want to do is just talk about myself for a few minutes. When I refused to become an informant, the government responded by charging me with the “crime” of supporting the mujahideen fighting the occupation of Muslim countries around the world. Or as they like to call them, “terrorists.” I wasn’t born in a Muslim country, though. I was born and raised right here in America and this angers many people: how is it that I can be an American and believe the things I believe, take the positions I take? Everything a man is exposed to in his environment becomes an ingredient that shapes his outlook, and I’m no different.  So, in more ways than one, it’s because of America that I am who I am.

When I was six, I began putting together a massive collection of comic books. Batman implanted a concept in my mind, introduced me to a paradigm as to how the world is set up: that there are oppressors, there are the oppressed, and there are those who step up to defend the oppressed. This resonated with me so much that throughout the rest of my childhood, I gravitated towards any book that reflected that paradigm – Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and I even saw an ehical dimension to The Catcher in the Rye.

By the time I began high school and took a real history class, I was learning just how real that paradigm is in the world. I learned about the Native Americans and what befell them at the hands of European settlers. I learned about how the descendents of those European settlers were in turn oppressed under the tyranny of King George III.

I read about Paul Revere, Tom Paine, and how Americans began an armed insurgency against British forces – an insurgency we now celebrate as the American revolutionary war. As a kid I even went on school field trips just blocks away from where we sit now. I learned about Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner, John Brown, and the fight against slavery in this country. I learned about Emma Goldman, Eugene Debs, and the struggles of the labor unions, working class, and poor. I learned about Anne Frank, the Nazis, and how they persecuted minorities and imprisoned dissidents. I learned about Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and the civil rights struggle.

I learned about Ho Chi Minh, and how the Vietnamese fought for decades to liberate themselves from one invader after another. I learned about Nelson Mandela and the fight against apartheid in South Africa. Everything I learned in those years confirmed what I was beginning to learn when I was six: that throughout history, there has been a constant struggle between the oppressed and their oppressors. With each struggle I learned about, I found myself consistently siding with the oppressed, and consistently respecting those who stepped up to defend them -regardless of nationality, regardless of religion. And I never threw my class notes away. As I stand here speaking, they are in a neat pile in my bedroom closet at home.

From all the historical figures I learned about, one stood out above the rest. I was impressed be many things about Malcolm X, but above all, I was fascinated by the idea of transformation, his transformation. I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie “X” by Spike Lee, it’s over three and a half hours long, and the Malcolm at the beginning is different from the Malcolm at the end. He starts off as an illiterate criminal, but ends up a husband, a father, a protective and eloquent leader for his people, a disciplined Muslim performing the Hajj in Makkah, and finally, a martyr. Malcolm’s life taught me that Islam is not something inherited; it’s not a culture or ethnicity. It’s a way of life, a state of mind anyone can choose no matter where they come from or how they were raised.

This led me to look deeper into Islam, and I was hooked. I was just a teenager, but Islam answered the question that the greatest scientific minds were clueless about, the question that drives the rich & famous to depression and suicide from being unable to answer: what is the purpose of life? Why do we exist in this Universe? But it also answered the question of how we’re supposed to exist. And since there’s no hierarchy or priesthood, I could directly and immediately begin digging into the texts of the Qur’an and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad, to begin the journey of understanding what this was all about, the implications of Islam for me as a human being, as an individual, for the people around me, for the world; and the more I learned, the more I valued Islam like a piece of gold. This was when I was a teen, but even today, despite the pressures of the last few years, I stand here before you, and everyone else in this courtroom, as a very proud Muslim.

With that, my attention turned to what was happening to other Muslims in different parts of the world. And everywhere I looked, I saw the powers that be trying to destroy what I loved. I learned what the Soviets had done to the Muslims of Afghanistan. I learned what the Serbs had done to the Muslims of Bosnia. I learned what the Russians were doing to the Muslims of Chechnya. I learned what Israel had done in Lebanon – and what it continues to do in Palestine – with the full backing of the United States. And I learned what America itself was doing to Muslims. I learned about the Gulf War, and the depleted uranium bombs that killed thousands and caused cancer rates to skyrocket across Iraq.

I learned about the American-led sanctions that prevented food, medicine, and medical equipment from entering Iraq, and how – according to the United Nations – over half a million children perished as a result. I remember a clip from a ’60 Minutes‘ interview of Madeline Albright where she expressed her view that these dead children were “worth it.” I watched on September 11th as a group of people felt driven to hijack airplanes and fly them into buildings from their outrage at the deaths of these children. I watched as America then attacked and invaded Iraq directly. I saw the effects of ’Shock & Awe’ in the opening day of the invasion – the children in hospital wards with shrapnel from American missiles sticking but of their foreheads (of course, none of this was shown on CNN).

I learned about the town of Haditha, where 24 Muslims – including a 76-year old man in a wheelchair, women, and even toddlers – were shot up and blown up in their bedclothes as the slept by US Marines. I learned about Abeer al-Janabi, a fourteen-year old Iraqi girl gang-raped by five American soldiers, who then shot her and her family in the head, then set fire to their corpses. I just want to point out, as you can see, Muslim women don’t even show their hair to unrelated men. So try to imagine this young girl from a conservative village with her dress torn off, being sexually assaulted by not one, not two, not three, not four, but five soldiers. Even today, as I sit in my jail cell, I read about the drone strikes which continue to kill Muslims daily in places like Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. Just last month, we all heard about the seventeen Afghan Muslims – mostly mothers and their kids – shot to death by an American soldier, who also set fire to their corpses.

These are just the stories that make it to the headlines, but one of the first concepts I learned in Islam is that of loyalty, of brotherhood – that each Muslim woman is my sister, each man is my brother, and together, we are one large body who must protect each other. In other words, I couldn’t see these things beings done to my brothers & sisters – including by America – and remain neutral. My sympathy for the oppressed continued, but was now more personal, as was my respect for those defending them.

I mentioned Paul Revere – when he went on his midnight ride, it was for the purpose of warning the people that the British were marching to Lexington to arrest Sam Adams and John Hancock, then on to Concord to confiscate the weapons stored there by the Minuteman. By the time they got to Concord, they found the Minuteman waiting for them, weapons in hand. They fired at the British, fought them, and beat them. From that battle came the American Revolution. There’s an Arabic word to describe what those Minutemen did that day. That word is: JIHAD, and this is what my trial was about.

All those videos and translations and childish bickering over ‘Oh, he translated this paragraph’ and ‘Oh, he edited that sentence,’ and all those exhibits revolved around a single issue: Muslims who were defending themselves against American soldiers doing to them exactly what the British did to America. It was made crystal clear at trial that I never, ever plotted to “kill Americans” at shopping malls or whatever the story was. The government’s own witnesses contradicted this claim, and we put expert after expert up on that stand, who spent hours dissecting my every written word, who explained my beliefs. Further, when I was free, the government sent an undercover agent to prod me into one of their little “terror plots,” but I refused to participate. Mysteriously, however, the jury never heard this.

So, this trial was not about my position on Muslims killing American civilians. It was about my position on Americans killing Muslim civilians, which is that Muslims should defend their lands from foreign invaders – Soviets, Americans, or Martians. This is what I believe. It’s what I’ve always believed, and what I will always believe. This is not terrorism, and it’s not extremism. It’s what the arrows on that seal above your head represent: defense of the homeland. So, I disagree with my lawyers when they say that you don’t have to agree with my beliefs – no. Anyone with commonsense and humanity has no choice but to agree with me. If someone breaks into your home to rob you and harm your family, logic dictates that you do whatever it takes to expel that invader from your home.

But when that home is a Muslim land, and that invader is the US military, for some reason the standards suddenly change. Common sense is renamed ”terrorism” and the people defending themselves against those who come to kill them from across the ocean become “the terrorists” who are ”killing Americans.” The mentality that America was victimized with when British soldiers walked these streets 2 ½ centuries ago is the same mentality Muslims are victimized by as American soldiers walk their streets today. It’s the mentality of colonialism.

When Sgt. Bales shot those Afghans to death last month, all of the focus in the media was on him-his life, his stress, his PTSD, the mortgage on his home-as if he was the victim. Very little sympathy was expressed for the people he actually killed, as if they’re not real, they’re not humans. Unfortunately, this mentality trickles down to everyone in society, whether or not they realize it. Even with my lawyers, it took nearly two years of discussing, explaining, and clarifying before they were finally able to think outside the box and at least ostensibly accept the logic in what I was saying. Two years! If it took that long for people so intelligent, whose job it is to defend me, to de-program themselves, then to throw me in front of a randomly selected jury under the premise that they’re my “impartial peers,” I mean, come on. I wasn’t tried before a jury of my peers because with the mentality gripping America today, I have no peers. Counting on this fact, the government prosecuted me – not because they needed to, but simply because they could.

I learned one more thing in history class: America has historically supported the most unjust policies against its minorities – practices that were even protected by the law – only to look back later and ask: ’what were we thinking?’ Slavery, Jim Crow, the internment of the Japanese during World War II – each was widely accepted by American society, each was defended by the Supreme Court. But as time passed and America changed, both people and courts looked back and asked ’What were we thinking?’ Nelson Mandela was considered a terrorist by the South African government, and given a life sentence. But time passed, the world changed, they realized how oppressive their policies were, that it was not he who was the terrorist, and they released him from prison. He even became president. So, everything is subjective - even this whole business of “terrorism” and who is a “terrorist.” It all depends on the time and place and who the superpower happens to be at the moment.

In your eyes, I’m a terrorist, and it’s perfectly reasonable that I be standing here in an orange jumpsuit. But one day, America will change and people will recognize this day for what it is. They will look at how hundreds of thousands of Muslims were killed and maimed by the US military in foreign countries, yet somehow I’m the one going to prison for “conspiring to kill and maim” in those countries – because I support the Mujahidin defending those people. They will look back on how the government spent millions of dollars to imprison me as a ”terrorist,” yet if we were to somehow bring Abeer al-Janabi back to life in the moment she was being gang-raped by your soldiers, to put her on that witness stand and ask her who the “terrorists” are, she sure wouldn’t be pointing at me.

The government says that I was obsessed with violence, obsessed with ”killing Americans.” But, as a Muslim living in these times, I can think of a lie no more ironic.

-Tarek Mehanna

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Tony Bing (8/24/35 - 3/20/2015)

Tony Bing died peacefully in Swannanoa on March 20, surrounded by family and friends, books and music. Through the books, songs and people he loved, Tony came to know a world beyond his hometown of Hudson, Ohio - and he became convinced that changing the world was both necessary and possible. Locally he is fondly remembered as esteemed visiting professor of Middle East studies at Warren Wilson College, dauntless organizer of Western North Carolinians for Peace and Justice in the Middle East, adventurous cook in his Black Mountain neighborhood international food group, wisecracking member of the formidable "Geritol Gang" at Black Mountain golf course, dependable community volunteer with Swannanoa Valley Friends Meeting, and devoted caretaker of his wife of 57 years, June Woodward Bing, who died earlier this winter of Alzheimers.
  
Tony always was both bookish and brave. Coming of age during the Korean War and civil rights era, Tony became a student activist who led protest sing-a-longs in a clear, uplifting tenor voice.   His passionate pursuit of global understanding earned him a lifelong career as a peace activist, as well as a BA from Haverford College, BA & MA from Oxford University at Christchurch College, and MA & PhD from University of Michigan. Generations of students who took Tony's classes in literature and cross-cultural studies at Kenyon College, American University of Beirut, Earlham College and Warren Wilson College vividly recall his gift for introducing challenging ideas from around the world. Most can also imitate the thoughtful way Tony listened, his chin in hand, as they found their own voices to address urgent social issues. To further these discussions, Tony co-founded Earlham College's Peace and Global Studies program and served until his retirement as executive director of the Peace and Justice Studies Association. He also led groups of college students abroad to gain international perspective, and founded the Great Lakes College Association's Jerusalem Program and Northern Ireland Program.
  
Tony's calm, steady call for human rights and reconciliation has yielded breakthroughs in seemingly intractable conflicts, including the Cold War, the Balkan crisis, both Iraq wars, and the Palestinian Israeli conflict. He was named Peace Educator of the Year in 1992 and was recognized in 1993 by Northern Ireland for his work to end hostilities and reconstruct civil society - but his legacy is perhaps most keenly felt in grassroots service organizations he supported that continue to flourish against the odds in MidEast conflict zones. Tony generally preferred singing protest songs to publishing his own writing, but he did author two notable books about peacemaking: Israeli Pacifist: The Life of Joseph Abileah (Syracuse Press, 1990) and, together with an international working group, When the Rain Returns: Toward Justice & Reconciliation in Palestine & Israel (AFSC Press, 2004). 
  
Tony retired to Black Mountain in 2001, but remained active until his death as founder of Quaker Palestine Israel Network and volunteer with American Friends Service Committee, where his daughter Jennifer heads the Middle East program for the Midwest region. Tony's legacy is also carried forward by daughter Rebecca, a public high school teacher; daughter Alison, a travel and arts writer; granddaughter Hanaan, soon to graduate Haverford College; brother Steve, a pioneering advocate for child welfare; and all others who resolve to leave the world a more peaceful, just and kind place.
  
In lieu of flowers, donations in Tony Bing's name can be made to Swannanoa Valley Friends Meeting and American Friends Service Committee.

Monday, April 20, 2015

For event at Pack Square at 5 PM on 04/26/15


Photo came from Facebook post by the Center for Diversity Education.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Upcoming events in the Asheville area this week


Photo came from Facebook posting by Center for Diversity Education.

UPCOMING EVENTS

04/20/15 INTERNATIONAL DAY OF PEACE MEETING
Next meeting for the International Day of Peace Activation Team will be on Monday, April 20, 6 PM at the Community Room at Vanderbilt Apartments, 75 Haywood St., Asheville. Lots of exciting news to talk about. All are welcome. Contact Rachael at 828-505-9425 or WNC4Peace@yahoogroups.com for more information and to let her know you are coming so she can let you in the building. 

04/20/15 VISITING WRITER AT UNCA
Hoke shares sublime tales — sometimes comic, other times heartbreaking — of sacred moments in unlikely situations: singing with someone who attempted suicide in the jail’s isolation cell, dodging immigration and airport security with migrant farmworkers, and fly-fishing with tattooed gangsters. Hoke offers a new vision of the forgotten souls who have been cast into society’s dumpsters, helping us see that beneath even the hardest criminal is a fragile desire to be wanted. Chris Hoke is a jail chaplain and pastor to gangs and violent offenders in Washington’s Skagit Valley. Through his work with the organization Tierra Nueva he cofounded a coffee-roasting business, Underground Coffee, which employs men coming out of prison and addiction, and connects them to agricultural partners in Honduras. Time is 6 to 9 PM and location is Laurel Forum in Karpen Hall at UNCA. Free and open to the public. Contact Rick Chess at 251-6576 or rchess@unca.edu for more information.

04/20/15 TAKE BACK THE NIGHT AT UNCA
Take Back the Night 2015 is here! TBTN is a march and speak out against sexual violence held on college campuses across the country. Join us at Mullen Park at 6:30 PM for a rally and making signs to be used in the march around campus starting at 7 PM. From there, we will head to the Mountain Suites at 7:30 PM for the Speak Out. During the Speak out, people can discuss sexual violence and share their experiences [as such, this can be triggering]. You may attend any/all portions of the event.

04/20/15 EXHIBIT ON ACCESS TO HEALTH CARE
“Access to Health Care for African-Americans of Buncombe County 1860-1960” For many years, Sharon Kelly West, delivered the message of the lingering and profound disparities around health care in the African American community in the local community and across the state. At every event she decried the data sets and shared “It is important to reflect on the limited health care access for African Americans of Buncombe County, N.C. in the 19th century and compare with our current status of access to medical expertise. Compelling data points to a protracted state of health and health care inequity in African Americans which further reinforces the sense of urgency to move forward with due diligence towards parity achievement.” At the same time, her talks lifted up all those individuals and community members who labored to give their patients the best care and at the same time fought for greater equity and full dignity. The goals of this exhibit are to remind us all of the legacy of those courageous individuals and their collective visions and to inspire us all to further their work of full access and equality for health and well- being. This exhibit is free and runs until 05/30/15. It is open during regular business hours at the YMI Cultural Center on South Market Street in Asheville.

04/21/15 LECTURE AT UNCA
Dr. Pedro Noguera, Professor of Education at New York University, will be delivering a keynote address at the Sherrill Center from 4:30 - 7:30 PM.  His address will focus on the research from Schooling for Resilience: Improving the Life Trajectories of African American and Latino Males.

04/21/15 AUDUBON SOCIETY PRESENTATION
Audubon North Carolina Executive Director Heather Hahn will present “Save the Songs: Birds and Climate Change”.  Join Ms. Hahn and the local Audubon chapter to learn how Audubon’s recently released Climate Report is addressing the greatest threat to our birds. Save The Songs: Birds And Climate Change will be presented at 7 PM at the Reuter Center at UNCA by the Elisha Mitchell Audubon Society.

04/21/15 JUST ECONOMICS MEETING
Just Economics hosts a general meeting every other month where our members and supporters join us, share a meal, talk about some general updates about our work and our community, and then break out into committees to strategize and create plans to bring about a more just and sustainable local economy. This is a great time to get engaged with JE! Our next meeting is Tuesday, 4/21 at 6:30 at the United Way building at 50 South French Broad Avenue in Asheville. Everyone is welcome. We will have food, however anyone able to bring a dish to share is encouraged to do so.

04/21/15 LECTURE AT UNCA
“Schooling for Resilience: Improving the Life Trajectories of African American and Latino Males” will be held in Sherrill Center at UNCA. Time is 4:30 to 7:30 PM.

04/22/15 HOUSE OF BALANCE EARTH DAY FEST
This event includes music, eco-centric activities and workshops and vendors. Free to attend. Held at New Mountain at 38 N. French Broad in Asheville. Time is 1 to 8 PM. We invite you to Earth Day Fest! Adorned with bamboo and color, visit our Creation Station: paint a birdhouse for the installation piece: "Feather Hostel", plant native seeds and take them home for your garden, make a necklace, or paint on the community canvas mural. Fun for all ages. Enjoy live music, local food trucks and dancing. Explore over 20 local vendors, including jewelry, metal-smith art, plant starts, handmade clothing, ceramics, tinctures, oils and more. Experience henna, tea pours, chair massage, dry stone wall demonstration and even sign up for Bollywood-Latin fusion dance workshops! Proceeds contribute to the fundraising goals of House of Balance. We thank you for your support. Who is House of Balance? We are a new, independent nonprofit cultivating community through arts and agriculture.

04/22/2015 EARTH DAY MOVIE: GROWING CITIES FILM & PANEL /GREEN DRINKS
In their search for answers, filmmakers Dan Susman and Andrew Monbouquette take a road trip and meet the men and women who are challenging the way this country grows and distributes its food, one vacant city lot, rooftop garden, and backyard chicken coop at a time. Join them as they discover that good food isn’t the only crop these urban visionaries are harvesting. They’re producing stronger and more vibrant communities, too. Cost is by donation at the door. No advance sales. First come first serve. Sponsored by Transition Asheville and Organic Growers School and Green Drinks. Time is 6:30 to 9:30 PM and location is The Boardroom (2nd floor) at Lenoir Rhyne at 36 Montford Avenue in Asheville.

04/22/15 PRITCHARD PARK CLEAN UP
Wild South, Asheville Greenworks and Asheville Downtown Association will host a downtown clean up starting at Pritchard Park. Time is 11 AM to 3 PM. 

04/22/15 PRIDE MONTH EVENT AT UNCA
“From the Margins to the Middle: Exploring Experiences of LGBTQ People of Color” will be from 6 to 8 PM at Brown 217. Presented by Multicultural Student Programs. Contact ssnyder@unca.edu for more information.

04/22/15 ASHEVILLE TOOL LIBRARY MEETING
This will be held at Open Space AVL at 285 Haywood Road in Asheville. Time is 6 to 8 PM. Please join us for our weekly Tool Library Meeting/‘Working'. Members of the community have stepped up to lend a hand and we will be forming working groups to tackle the necessary tasks to get this thing open. In the coming months we'll be launching our initial tool and membership drives, creating the front end of our website, building out our space and making the final preparations to open this Summer! Building off of our progress the last 2 weeks, after a short all group meeting, we'll separate into project groups and start getting to work. Learning about the Asheville Tool Library for the first time? Come on by at 5:30 for a tour and Q&A about the project. Feel free to bring food or drinks to share. Light snacks will be provided.

04/23/15 PRIDE MONTH EVENT AT UNCA 
Trans Student Union: Poetry Showcase. Time is 6 to 8 PM and location is Hyannis House. This is presented by the Multicultural Student Program.

04/23/15 FILM SCREENING AND PANEL AT UNCA
The film is “Hunting Ground” and is being held as part of April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Time is 6:30 to 9 PM and location is Lipinksky Hall. SPEAK Up! presents a free viewing of a documentary from the makers of The Invisible War discussing the rampant issue of sexual violence on college campuses, failures in institutional response, and the effect it has on victims and their families. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion including representatives from Our Voice, Helpmate, and the Health and Counseling Center regarding the issues covered in the film. Free refreshments! This event is free and open to the public.

04/23/15 HOOD TALK / STAND AGAINST RACISM
Developing positive energy to restore greater communication and strength throughout our community. Time is 7 to 9 PM and location is YWCA at 185 South French Broad Avenue in Asheville. 

04/24/15 PESTICIDES: USE, MISUSE AND ALTERNATIVES
This free, four-part series will take place on the last Friday of March, April, May and June. This is the second part of the four-part series. The series runs as follows: April 24: Pesticides Kill More Than Pests: Keeping Bees and Other Wildlife Safe; May 29: Towns That Are Reducing Their Pesticide Footprint; June 26: It All Starts At Home: Alternatives to Chemical Pesticides. Sessions are being held at the Center for Graduate Studies of Asheville - Lenoir-Rhyne University from 6:00 to 9:00 PM on the above dates. It is our intention to celebrate Asheville as a city in transition, a city willing to take a hard look at what it’s going to take to create the kind of resiliency necessary for a sustainable future.In addition to educating our citizenry – and no doubt learning from you all as well – we want to draw attention to the need for city governments to set an example and model best practices in pest management. Light refreshments will be served each evening. We are looking for volunteers and additional sponsors to cover refreshments. Tabling is free, so please do consider sharing your passion with like-minded folk. Time is 6 to 9 PM and location is Lenoir Rhyne University on Montford Avenue in Asheville. They will be using the second floor boardroom. This is a facebook event, and since it is multi-day, you probably want to sign up if you are interested in this topic.

04/24/15 ASHEVILLE GREENWORKS ARBOR DAY CELEBRATION 
Come out to French Broad River Park to help us celebrate everything trees and Asheville's designation of Tree City USA. This is an all ages event. Activities are: Tree City USA proclamation from the City of Asheville's Mayor; tree plantings at the French Broad River Park; activities for the kids; walking riverside cleanup. Interested? Please email: volunteer@ashevillegreenworks.org to register. Time is noon to 3 PM. 

04/24/15 STAND AGAINST RACISM EVENT AT JCC IN ASHEVILLE
The Asheville JCC is having a stand against racism event in partnership with Jewish communities throughout Western North Carolina. Their stand will feature music, arts, and a brief presentation. Asheville JCC is at 236 Charlotte Street in Asheville. More at www.jcc-asheville.org. Time is 10 AM.

04/24/15 ASHEVILLE WRITERS IN SCHOOLS STAND AGAINST RACISM EVENT
Asheville Writers in the Schools will take a stand against racism in conjunction with its annual youth spoken word poetry competition, “Asheville Wordslam". The event is at the Wesley Grant Center, 285 Livingston Street in Asheville. Time is 6:30 to 9 PM. 

04/24/15 JUST PEACE FOR ISRAEL/PALESTINE MEETING
Meeting will be at 3:15 PM at Brooks Howell Home on Merrimon in Asheville. The next meeting will be in the Activities Building at Brooks-Howell Home.  Enter the front entrance and go down the hall to the outside door--keep going to the building on the left. 

04/24/15 RELIGIOUS GROUP STAND AGAINST RACISM EVENT
Jubilee Community and The Episcopal Cathedral of All Souls will host “Rootwork: A Path to Liberation” at 9 Swan Street in Asheville. The two-part workshop on racial healing will feature Vanessa Jackson, author, speaker, licensed clinical social worker and therapist. More at jubileecommunity.org. Time is 6:30 to 9:30 PM on 04/24/15 and noon to 2 PM on 4/25/15. 

04/25/15 RELIGIOUS GROUP STAND AGAINST RACISM EVENT
This is from noon to 2 PM. More information in the listing directly above.

04/25/15 STAND AGAINST RACISM EVENT IN BLACK MOUNTAIN
Black Mountain Stand Against Racism is planning a community potluck picnic, with music and speakers on the town square. Time is noon to 2 PM. 

04/25/15 STAND AGAINST RACISM EVENT
Spellbound Children's Bookshop will create an in-store display of books featuring characters of diverse races and ethnicities. Saturday morning storytime (for ages 3-7 years) will focus on diversity. There will be giveaways of Stand Against Racism buttons and stickers. The bookstore is at 50 N. Merrimon Ave., #107, Shops at Reynolds Village. Time is 11 AM. 

04/25/15 ICE CREAM SOCIAL WITH ELECTED OFFICIALS
Ice Cream Social with Elected Officials. Join us for a FREE ice cream sundae bar and celebration of democracy! This year we are hosting an ice cream social at The Hop Ice Cream (640 Merrimon Avenue) with a sundae bar. Children and non-members welcome. Please bring a friend or family member who might like to get involved, meet their representatives, and learn more about civic engagement in our community. Time is 2 to 4 PM and location is The Hop at 640 Merrimon Avenue in Asheville.

04/25/15 BLOCK PARTY WITH ENVIRONMENTAL TWIST
A Block Party with an Environmental Twist – Saturday, April 25, 2015 from 2 to 5 PM.
In honor of Earth Day and the YWCA’s Stand Against Racism month, the Everybody’s Environment Action Group will host a free Family Fun Spring Festival on Saturday, April 25 from 2 to 5 PM at the Arthur R. Edington Education and Career Center, 133 Livingston Street in Asheville. “The Everybody’s Environment festival is a space for families and friends to gather and enjoy music, entertainment, games, and delicious food,” said Kana Miller, AmeriCorps Conservation Education & Volunteer Associate with the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy. “You don’t have to know anything about environmental work to enjoy the festival. It’s an opportunity to have fun, meet new people, and explore the outdoors in your own neighborhood.” Participants can look forward to performances by DJ Superman, a bouncy house, scavenger hunt, food prepared by the Green Opportunities Kitchen Ready Program, and hands-on crafts and activities from participating community and environmental organizations. For more information, contact Deborah Miles at (828) 232-5024.

04/25/15 HARD TO RECYCLE EVENT
This will be at the City Tailgate Market (on South Charlotte Street) in Asheville. Time is 8 AM to 1 PM. Sponsored by Asheville Greenworks. Accepting: Styrofoam, Electronics, Appliances, Metals, Books, Batteries, Cooking Oil, TV’s & CRT monitors with $6.00 recycling fee, LCD monitors; Desktop/laptop computers, all peripherals, printers, scanners; copiers Audio/video equipment, small electronics; AC adapters; medical equipment; white goods. Not accepting the following items: Paint, stains, sealers, CFL / Fluorescent / incandescent bulbs; Chip & snack bags; petroleum products; hard plastics; vinyl / PVC; / VHS / cassette tapes; plate glass, foam; wooden items or cement. Wanna help us out with this H2R? These events are super fun and run only because of the volunteers. Contact volunteer@ashevillegreenworks.org or call 828-254-1776 if you wish to volunteer. 

04/25/15 CELEBRATE EARTH DAY IN HENDERSONVILLE
MountainTrue, formerly the Environmental and Conservation Organization, will host a community Earth Day celebration in partnership with the Hendersonville Community Co-op from noon to 3 PM on April 25 at the new Co-op store, located at  the intersection of S. Grove and Spartanburg Highway in Hendersonville.  As part of the Co-op’s grand opening week, April 22 -25, Earth Day activities are planned for Saturday.  The theme, “Kick the Disposable Bag Habit!” will highlight the Co-op’s “Bring Your Own Bag” program. During the afternoon there will be a Bag Monster sighting, a make-a-pledge table to “Kick the Disposable Habit,” an art table where cloth bags can be personalized, and a seed planting table where kids can plant sunflower seed starter pots to take home. The community can visit the MountainTrue table to learn more about the organization, and register to win a $100 gift basket provided by the Co-op.  The Todd Hoke & Paul Songy Band will perform from 1:30 to 3 PM. 

04/26/14 ARMY OF LIBERATION - 150TH ANNIVERSARY AT PACK SQUARE
On Sunday, April 26, from 5:00 - 6:30 at Pack Square, there will be a commemoration of the liberation of the African American slaves in Asheville. Scholars will be on hand to share what they know of the monuments, space, and events that took place a century and a half ago and still hold sway over much of our downtown landscape as well as the interior landscape of our minds.  Asheville - From Slavery to Freedom - Remembering April 26, 1865 - A Teach-In with Story & Song. The Union Army of General George Stoneman, led by Brigadier General Alvan Gillem, approached Asheville on April 23, 1865. After signing a truce with the home guard, the General led 2,700 troops and hundreds of newly freed slaves along the Main Street of Asheville (now Biltmore Avenue). As they proceeded to leave town on April 26, they were joined by newly freed slaves from Asheville who sought safe passage out of the mountains to a new life elsewhere. We'll look back on this day 150 years later. For more information, contact Deborah Miles at dmiles@unca.edu. This is sponsored by UNCA Center for Diversity Education.

04/26/15 TOOL LIBRARY BUILD-OUT WORK PARTY
This will be held at Open Space AVL at 285 Haywood Road in Asheville. Time is 10 AM to 4 PM. The Asheville Tool Library is coming to (east) West Asheville this Summer! Work Party to: Build a wall and hang a door, paint, set-up shelving, hang peg board, cut down a fence, remove metal/concrete pillars. Additional tasks include: Making Posters, research and design of print materials, prep for the Tool Drive and more! Lunch will be provided. Materials Wish list: 2/4's (to frame out a wall), Plywood, Sheet Rock, "Mud", Tape, Screws, etc., Mudding Tools, Metal Mesh (For extra Security behind drywall), Peg Board, 2/2's (to anchor to cinder blocks so we can hang the peg boards), Anchors (Special screws that can go into concrete). Please drop all materials off at 285 Haywood Rd by Friday April 24th. Contact Ben@realcooperative.org for more information.

04/26/15 BENEFIT FOR LITERACY COUNCIL
It's back and better than ever! Live music from one of Asheville's most popular bands, Lyric. $5 cover charge with proceeds to benefit Literacy Council of Buncombe County. Come join us for a beautiful evening of live music and great drinks for a cause. Time is 4 PM and location is Aloft Hotel on Biltmore Avenue in downtown Asheville.

04/27/15 UNITE FOR MARRIAGE VIGIL
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear four marriage equality cases on Tuesday, April 28. These cases will likely end in a nationwide ruling on the freedom to marry. The Unite for Marriage coalition is working with local leaders across the country to organize candlelight vigils leading up to oral arguments. Campaign for Southern Equality is proud to be hosting this vigil in Asheville, and providing backend support for many vigils across the south as part of the coalition. Please join us on Monday, April 27th at 5:30 PM at First Congregational UCC located at 20 Oak st. as we stand in solidarity with hundreds of organizations across the country in support of marriage.

04/28/15 WNC PHYSICIANS FOR SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY PANEL
WNC Physicians for Social Responsibility will focus on what people in WNC have been doing over the last year to engage with global nuclear weapons policy and to work for complete nuclear disbarment. This event is entitled “Nuclear Weapons: Our Prevention is the Only Cure” and will feature Terry Clark, Mary Olson and Steve Gilman. The location is MAHEC Biltmore Campus, just off Biltmore avenue, above TGIF and the Double Tree / Sleep Inn. Arrive at 6:30 PM for Hors D’ouevres and 7 PM for the program, which is free of charge. For more information, contact Mary at maryo@nirs.org.

04/29/15 PUBLIC HEARING ON PERMIT FOR DUKE / GREEN DRINKS
A public hearing has been scheduled for Wednesday, April 29, 6 PM at the  Erwin High School Auditorium (60 Lees Creek Road) in Asheville for individuals to comment on the announcement by the Western North Carolina Regional Air Quality Agency (WNCRAQA) of its intent to renew a Title V permit for Duke Energy’s coal-burning electric plant in Arden. The primary purpose of the Title V permit is to consolidate and identify existing local and federal air quality requirements applicable to the plant and to provide practical methods for determining compliance with these requirements. This permit will be enforceable by the WNCRAQA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and citizens as defined under the Federal Clean Air Act. Individuals may register to speak at the hearing and/or submit written comments. Participants who wish to speak at the hearing should plan to limit their comments to three minutes or less. The hearing officer will have the discretion to limit speaking times, if necessary, to accommodate the number of speakers. Written comments will be accepted until April 30 and can be submitted at the hearing or sent to: Betsy Brown, Air Quality Supervisor, WNC Regional Air Quality Agency, 49 Mt Carmel Rd, Asheville, N.C. 28806 or email betsy.brown@buncombecounty.org. All comments received on or prior to that date will be considered by the WNCRAQA in making its final decision to issue the Title V permit. The draft permit, permit application, compliance plan, monitoring and compliance reports, all other relevant supporting materials, and all other materials available to the WNCRAQA that are relevant to the permit decision are available for public review at the following address: Western North Carolina Regional Air Quality Agency, 49 Mount Carmel Road, Asheville, NC 28806. Materials are available for review during the hours of 8:30 am to 5:00 pm, Monday through Friday. The office phone number is 828-250-6777. For additional information, please contact Betsy Brown, Air Quality Supervisor, at (828) 250-6787 or betsy.brown@buncombecounty.org.

04/30/15 CREATION CARE ALLIANCE OF WNC MEETING
Our friends at the Creation Care Alliance of Western North Carolina will have a general meeting on April 30 from 5:30 - 7 PM. The meeting will be held at First Baptist Church, located at 5 Oak Street in Asheville. All are welcome.  Call (828) 258-8737 for more information. The Creation Care Alliance is a network of people of faith and congregations who have united around a moral and spiritual call to preserve the integrity, beauty and health of God’s creation. They work to bring practical and hopeful solutions to congregations and broader secular communities by engaging hearts and minds through inspiration, education, service and advocacy.

04/30/15 COMMUNITIES OF COLOR TOWN HALL FORUM
The YMI’s rescheduled Town Hall Forum, “Communities of Color” will focus on exclusionary housing and the Extra-Territorial Jurisdictions (ETJs)—unbounded lands and communities not included in towns, municipalities, etc.—that exist throughout North Carolina. The Town Hall-style forum will draw on “The Inclusion Project,” a report by UNC Chapel Hill’s Civil Rights Center, which offers a statewide perspective of areas where ETJs exist, where many residents are also considered “unbanked” or “underbanked”—lacking access to credit and other banking services. Panelists for the forum are Dr. Dwight Mullen and Dr. Gwendolyn Whitfield of UNC Asheville’s faculty; Mark Dorosin, Managing Attorney at UNC Chapel Hill’s Civil Rights Center; Gene Bell, CEO of the Housing Authority of the City of Asheville (HACA); and Rodrick Banks, Vice President of Community Development at Wells Fargo Bank. Professors Mullen and Whitfield will discuss the social, political, and economic impacts that result from exclusionary housing—and the importance of immediate, comprehensive community action to address the wide-ranging problems that result. Free admission, and time is 6 to 8:30 PM. Location is the YMI Cultural Center at South Market Street in Asheville.

04/30/15 LECTURE AT UNCA ON FREE SPEECH
“Free Speech vs Hate Speech” will be a lecture/panel discussion from 7 to 9 PM at Highsmith University Union 143 - Grotto at UNCA. The group sponsoring this is The Free Speech Society. Contact Eric King at eking1@unca.edu for more information. Everyone is invited and there is not cost to attend.

04/30/15 FILM SHOWING AT FINE ARTS THEATRE
The film “Sweet Dreams” will be shown at 6:30 p.m. April 30 at the Fine Arts Theatre, 36 Biltmore Ave. The film is presented by Africa Healing Exchange and is appropriate for young audiences. It documents Rwanda’s rebirth. This is a benefit for Africa Healing Exchange and to raise awareness about the work of resilience training in Rwanda. The film features Ingoma Nshya Women’s Drumming Troupe, guest speakers on subjects of AHE and resilience training in Rwanda, sweet treats at screening, and sponsorship opportunities.Tickets are $10. To learn more, contact Michael Weizman at 828-778-8330 or visit africanhealingexchange.org.

05/01/15 MAY DAY CELEBRATION
There will be a celebration and rally for May Day at Vance Monument in downtown Asheville. This is in honor of the working class movement’s history and failure. No war but class war. Time is 5 PM.

05/01/15 CHILD WATCH TOUR IN ASHEVILLE
Children First/Communities In Schools and the Junior League of Asheville present the 2015 Success Equation Child Watch Tour. This field trip for adults focuses community attention on important child and family issues. This year, we will explore the Child Care Subsidy Program that promotes opportunity and success for working parents and their children. The program serves over 2,200 children in Buncombe County. Tour participants will:  hear from parents and providers about the recent eligibility changes' negative impacts on working parents with school aged children; learn about new federal guidelines that will help improve this long-standing program; get involved in advocacy that supports working families and child development. More information and registration details are coming soon. Time is 2 PM. For more information, including how to register, contact Greg Borom at gregb@childrenfirstbc.org.

05/01/15 DOCUMENTARY FILM SHOWING AT YMI CULTURAL CENTER
This documentary film presents and up-close and personal portrait of vocalist and musician Nina Simone (from Tryon, NC). The singer herself and a number of friends, relatives and connoisseurs tell excerpts of her path in music and life. Time is noon to 3 PM and admission is free. This will be held at the YMI Cultural Center on South Market Street in Asheville.

05/02/15  WALK A MILE IN HER SHOES
This event is to raise awareness of sexual assault, and is hosted by Our VOICE. Time is 10 AM to noon, location is Pack Square.

05/02/15 FAIR HOUSING TESTER TRAINING
Do you want to get paid to fight housing discrimination? Become a Fair Housing Tester. Testers only need to attend one paid training class and complete a practice test. This training will be on 5/2/15 from 9 AM to noon at the United Way Building at 50 South French Broad Avenue in Asheville. Registration is required. Contact Fair Housing Project of Legal Aid NC, Amberly Dattilo, Testing Coordinator at amberlyd@legalaidnc.org or 919-861-1885.

05/03/15 AMERICANS WHO TELL THE TRUTH PARTY
Join us as we gather to celebrate Kendall’s birthday and to honor her 65 years as a committed truth-teller. Please come and share a wish, a story, a poem, a word, anything that is meaningful to you about Kendall’s chosen birthday theme of ‘truth’. A powerful art exhibit is coming to Asheville with 50+ portraits known as “Americans Who Tell the Truth” in September. Please bring a potluck dish. Beverages provided, no gifts please. Donations to “Americans Who Tell the Truth” project will be accepted. Time is 2 to 6 PM and location is 372 Sharon Road in Fairview. Call Kendall at 828-768-7816 for more information and to RSVP.

05/03/15 ASHEVILLE CITIZENS CLIMATE LOBBY TRAINING
We need to know how many people will be attending this training so please RSVP. Call 828-367-6360 for instructions on how to register. Also please spread the word to your friends and family in the area. We need to connect with and influence our members of Congress, as well as spread the idea that each one of us can address climate change. Share with them the idea of Carbon Fee & Dividend. Time is 9 AM to noon, and location is Kairos West Community Center at 742 Haywood Road in west Asheville.

05/06/15 GREEN DRINKS / SIERRA CLUB MEETING / MOUNTAIN TRUE MEETING
Asheville Green Drinks, Sierra Club and Mountain True (formerly WNC Alliance) will present Drew Jones of Climate Interactive leading a hands-on interactive session where participants will work together to create a global scenario for addressing climate change, which has been used by the US State Dept, the UN, and the Chinese government. Drew will also share his reflections on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations, which are leading up to a summit meeting of 196 countries in Paris IN December 2015.Come early for community connections and refreshments. Socializing: 7:00 PM. Presentation: 7:15 PM. Location is the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Charlotte and Edwin Streets in Asheville. Contact Judy for more information at judymattox@sbcglobal.net  or 828-683-2176.

05/06/15 SIERRA CLUB MEETING
Drew Jones will present on “Climate Change Interactive Simulation”. Join us on Wednesday, May 6 to welcome Drew Jones of Climate Interactive who will lead a hands-on, interactive session where participants will work together to create a global scenario for addressing climate change and then test it in the simulator his team has built for a wide range of decision makers from the UN to the Chinese Government. Socializing begins at 7 PM and program begins at 7:15 PM. Location is the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville on Charlotte Street and Edwin Place in Asheville. Contact: judymattox@sbcglobal.net, or 828-683-2176 for more information.

05/07/15 YWCA’S BLACK & WHITE GALA
The Stand Against Racism campaign will culminate with the YWCA's annual Black & White Gala at the Crest Center & Pavilion, 22 Celebration Place in Asheville. More information about this gala at www.ywcaofasheville.org/gala. Time is 7 to 10:30 PM. 

05/08/15 LECTURE AT UNCA
What has the Supreme Court Wrought? by Carl Peterson. The outcome of opinions issued by the United States Supreme Court from the controversies presented to it has a tremendous impact on the lives of each and every person in this country. Judge Peterson will provide a synopsis, and the potential impact, of significant opinions that were published by the U.S. Supreme Court in the October 2013-2014 term and in the current term to date. The discussion will include the controversies that remain pending and will likely be resolved by the Court by the end of the session in June 2015. Carl Peterson is a retired trial judge with experience as a prosecutor, 20 years as a practicing lawyer, and 20 years on the trial bench. He has provided numerous classes and seminars on the U.S. Supreme Court and landmark cases decided by this Court. Time is 11:30 AM to 1:15 PM and location is Reuter Center, room 102A, at UNCA.

05/11/15 TRANSITION ASHEVILLE MEETING
Imagine using wood gas, at only 25 cents per gallon, to power any modern gasoline or diesel engine and producing cleaner emissions at the same time. Hear a basic overview of how wood gasifiers can help mitigate climate change while building soil fertility for food production. No modern fuel does a better job of closing the loop of energy, nutrient, and carbon cycles more than wood gas when it is combined with biochar and coppice (pruning) systems. Come, learn, and sign up if you’d like to plug into hands-on wood gasification projects. Brian Winslett is a co-founder of Blue Ridge Biofuels, located in Asheville and serving the Western North Carolina region. Snacks and socializing will begin at 6:30. Location is Parish Hall at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church on Charlotte Street in Asheville. For more information, contact transitionAsheville@gmail.com.

*******************************************
ONGOING EVENTS
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TUESDAY
Veterans for Peace have a weekly vigil at 5 PM at Pack Square, Vance Monument

WEDNESDAY
Haywood Peace Vigilers have a weekly vigil at 4 PM at Haywood County Courthouse in Waynesville

THURSDAY
Asheville Homeless Network meeting at 1 PM at A-Hope on North Ann Street in Asheville.  
Youth Outright Poetry Night at United Church of Christ in Asheville at 5 PM

FRIDAY
Women in Black have a weekly vigil at noon at the City Hall in Hendersonville
Women in Black have a monthly vigil at 5 PM at Vance Monument in Asheville (first Friday only)

SATURDAY
Transylvanians for Peace and WNC Physicians for Social Responsibility have a weekly vigil at noon in front of the courthouse in Brevard
Third Saturdays – Asheville’s Green Grannies invites the public to “sing for the climate” at Pritchard Park at 5 PM.

SUNDAY
Youth OUTright meeting from 4 to 6 PM at First Congregational United Church of Christ at 20 Oak Street in Asheville. Ages 14 - 23 only.

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ACTIONS AND READINGS
*******************************************

From local activist Steve Norris:

“These groups are active in every FERC docket… as well as in my email inbox seven days a week, in my Twitter feed, at our open meetings demanding to be heard, and literally at our door closing down First Street so FERC won’t be able to work. We’ve got a situation here.”—former Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chair Cheryl LaFleur speaking to the National Press Club on 1/27/15

Dear _____________,

Beyond Extreme Energy (BXE) has been in existence for only seven months, but it’s amazing how much we’ve accomplished over that time. We urgently need your support now, however, so that our upcoming actions May 21-29 in DC are as powerful as we know they can be, as powerful as they need to be given the deepening urgency of the climate crisis and the impacts of the fossil fuel corporations on our people, land, air and water.

BXE has shined a spotlight on FERC’s role as an enabler of the gas industry. We’ve made public their role as essentially a rubber stamp for interstate pipelines, compressor stations, storage terminals and export terminals that are expanding fracking and hurting people and the planet. We did this with our week of action at FERC’s doors the first week of November, and we’ve done it since with visible actions at every monthly meeting of the FERC commissioners.

FERC is one of the least known but most powerful regulatory agencies in the United States. BXE’s exposure of this gas-industry-captured agency is very timely and very critical given the effort by powerful political players to pass off shale gas as a key part of the answer to climate change. It isn’t, not at all!
By our actions we are not just impacting the regulatory structures of the fossil fuel empires, we can potentially impact those empires themselves. We can drain energy from the entire natural gas/fracking tsunami that is sweeping the country and open more space for renewables and energy efficiency. There is arguably no more important and vulnerable target in the country right now.
These BXE actions have garnered a continuing series of media stories. You can see the most recent ones by going to http://beyondextremeenergy.org/bxe-in-the-news/.

Our actions have emboldened others to speak out publicly, like Robert Kennedy, Jr. did on MSNBC last month, calling FERC a “rogue agency, a captive agency.” A link to his interview and the context for it can be found at: http://ecowatch.com/2015/03/02/constitution-pipeline-keystone-of-natural-gas/.

We aren’t just raising a ruckus about FERC; we’re putting forward concrete proposals for how it needs to change: http://beyondextremeenergy.org/outline-for-ferc-reform/.

Just last week as this is written, a prominent story in Greenwire reported on how “employees at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission have deep ties to the industry they regulate, according to agency documents detailing their job negotiations and stock holdings:” http://www.eenews.net/stories/1060016380. FERC’s corruption is going public.
And BXE keeps growing and building while taking action and organizing for our biggest one yet May 21-29 at the FERC headquarters. Over 60 organizations, many of them local frontline groups fighting fracking or gas infrastructure expansion, have endorsed our efforts so far, and the list keeps growing.

In November, with 37 endorsing groups, we organized close to 200 people to take part in our week of action at FERC. As we say at our website, “we marched, sang, lay in the street, shouted, acted in silence, shared stories, made a mess of traffic, and got arrested. While FERC employees were on the sidewalk, blocked from their offices, our friends from fracked Pennsylvania told them their stories of harm and misery.”  http://beyondextremeenergy.org/november-2014-week-of-action-at-ferc/
Several weeks later, a lawyer at FERC, meeting by coincidence an old friend who works with BXE, told her that our actions were effective and everyone inside FERC was talking about them.

But there is a very real and pressing need for donations if our actions in about a month and a half are going to do all that we know they can. We need money to pay for the salaries of the two young people working long hours coordinating and helping to lead our work. We need it for housing, food, legal fees, meeting spaces, props and art supplies, nonviolence trainers and more. We need to raise $20,000 this month of April to make sure we can keep our organizing momentum going and pay the bills.
Please donate generously to Beyond Extreme Energy now. You can do so electronically by going to https://environmental-action.webaction.org/p/salsa/donation/common/public/?donate_page_KEY=8373 or by sending a check, earmarked for Beyond Extreme Energy, to our non-profit sponsor: Environmental Action Research Center, 294 Washington St., Suite 500, Boston, Ma. 02108.

We hope to hear from you soon!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Other voices: Representative Grayson


Payable in Dollars, and in Lives.

So we had a hearing a week ago on ISIS ("we" being the House Foreign Affairs Committee), and the witnesses were three experts on U.S. policy in the Middle East, all dues-paying members of the Military-Industrial Complex. They were James Jeffrey, who was Deputy Chief of Mission at our embassy in Iraq; Rick Brennan, a political scientist at the Rand Corp.; and Dafna Rand, who was on the National Security Council staff. The White House had just released the President's draft Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) against ISIS, and I felt that I needed a good translator, so I asked them what the ISIS war authorization meant. Their answers were chilling: the ISIS war authorization means whatever the President wants it to mean. If you don't believe me, just listen to them:

GRAYSON: Section 2(c) of the President's draft Authorization for the Use of Military Force reads as follows: "The authority granted in subsection A [to make war on ISIS and forces 'alongside' ISIS] does not authorize the use of US armed forces in enduring offensive ground combat operations." Ambassador Jeffrey, what does 'enduring' mean?

JEFFREY: My answer would be a somewhat sarcastic one: "Whatever the Executive at the time defines 'enduring' as." And I have a real problem with that.

GRAYSON: Dr. Brennan?

BRENNAN:I have real problems with that also. I don't know what it means. I can just see the lawyers fighting over the meaning of this. But more importantly, if you're looking at committing forces for something that you are saying is either [a] vital or important interest of the United States, and you get in the middle of a battle, and all of a sudden, are you on offense, or are you on defense? What happens if neighbors cause problems? Wars never end the way that they were envisioned. And so I think that that's maybe a terrible mistake to put in the AUMF.

GRAYSON: Dr. Rand?

RAND: Enduring, in my mind, specifies an open-endedness, it specifies lack of clarity on the particular objective at hand.

GRAYSON: Dr. Rand, is two weeks 'enduring'?

RAND: I would leave that to the lawyers to determine exactly.

GRAYSON: So your answer is [that] you don't know, right? How about two months?

RAND: I don't know. Again, I think it would depend on the particular objective, 'enduring' in my mind is not having a particular military objective in mind.

GRAYSON: So you don't really know what it means. Is that a fair statement?

RAND: 'Enduring,' in my mind, means open-ended.

GRAYSON: All right -- Section Five of the draft of the Authorization of the Use of Military Force reads as follows: "In this resolution, the term 'associated persons or forces' means individuals and organizations fighting for, on behalf of, or alongside ISIL or any closely-related successor entity in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners." Ambassador Jeffrey, what does "alongside ISIL" mean?

JEFFREY: I didn't draft this thing.

GRAYSON: Nor did I.

JEFFREY: Nor did you, but I would have put that in there if I had been drafting it, and the reason is, I think they went back to 2001, of
course this is the authorization we're still using, along with the 2002 one for this campaign, and these things morph. For example, we've had a debate over whether ISIS is really an element of Al Qaeda; it certainly was when I knew it as Al Qaeda in Iraq in 2010 to 2012, and these semantic arguments confuse us and confuse our people on the ground, in trying to deal with these folks. You'll know it when you see it, if it's ISIS or it's an ally of ISIS.

GRAYSON: How about the Free Syrian Army, are they fighting alongside ISIL in Syria?

JEFFREY: No, they're not fighting alongside ISIL, in fact often they're fighting against ISIL, and ISIL against them in particular.

GRAYSON: What about Assad, is he fighting "alongside" or against? It's kind of hard to tell without a scorecard, isn't it?

JEFFREY: It sure is.

GRAYSON: Yes. What about you, Dr. Brennan, can you tell me what "alongside ISIL" means?

BRENNAN: No, I really couldn't. I think that, what, you know, it might be. The 9/11 Commission uses the phrase "radical islamist  organizations." I think maybe if we went to a wording like that, it includes all those 52 groups that adhere to this type of ideology, that threaten the United States. But we're putting ourselves in boxes and as you said Senator - Congressman -- I'm trying to understand what that means, what the limits are ... who we're dealing with, and it's very confusing.

GRAYSON: Dr. Rand?

RAND: Well, first of all, I believe that the confusion is probably a function of the fact that this is an unclassified document, so it's not going to specify exactly which groups are considered associates; that would be for a classified setting. But second, as I said in the testimony, the nature of the alliances within ISIL are changing and are fluid, and those who are targeting, the military experts, know exactly who is a derivative or an associate or an ally of ISIS, at any given moment.

GRAYSON: Why are you so confident of that? It seems to me that it's a matter of terminology, not a matter of ascertainable fact.

RAND: Based on my public service, I've seen some of the lawyers, and some of the methodologies, and . . . .

GRAYSON: Okay. Here's the $64 billion question for you, Ambassador Jeffrey, and if we have time, for you others. If you can't tell us -- you three experts can't tell us -- what these words mean, what does that tell us? Ambassador Jeffrey?

JEFFREY: That it's very difficult to be using a tool basically designed to declare war or something like war on a nation-state, which has a fixed definition, against a group that morphs, that changes its name, that has allies, and other things. Do we not fight it? We have to fight it. Are we having a hard time defining it? You bet.

GRAYSON: Dr. Brennan?

BRENNAN: I'd agree with the ambassador. I think the issue we that need to be looking at is trying to broaden terminology and understand that it is a tenet, or organizations and groups that adhere to this ideology, and make it broad enough that if one pops up in a different country that is doing the same thing, that is a sister of this organization, the President has the authority to act.

GRAYSON: Dr. Brennan, I think that you just described a blank check, which I'm not willing to give to the President or anybody else. But thank you for your time.

+++++++++++++

So that's what the experts had to say. Now I have a question for you:  How do you spell the word "quagmire"? Answer: I-S-L-A-M-I-C S-T-A-T-E.

Courage,

Rep. Alan Grayson

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.” - Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass ch. 6 (1871).

[This came to me via a United for Peace & Justice email.]