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Grieving the loss of Ismael, Lama, and Hayya

And I am thinking about Ayda, and wondering what I or anyone else can do to help the mothers of murdered children everywhere. 

from the New York Times:

But there were several children in another intensive care unit on Tuesday. Among them was Ismael Hamdan, 8, who had severe brain damage as well as two broken legs, according to a doctor there. Earlier that day, two of his sisters, Lama, 5, and Hayya, 12, were killed.

“I prepared them breakfast that day in the garden,” said their mother, Ayda, 36. “They had the tea, bread and thyme. Lama wanted a second pita, but we all teased her saying, ‘Keep it for lunch.’ She told us, ‘Don’t worry, God will provide us with bread.’

“She made all of us laugh,” the mother said. “I cleaned after them and collected the garbage. Ismael volunteered to dump the garbage, but Hayya and Lama joined him. The garbage can is in front of the house, a five-minute walk away. All of a sudden I heard the news from a neighbor, and I ran barefoot to the hospital. A relative collected the bodies of Lama and Hayya on a donkey cart.

“The neighbors ran trying to save Ismael, who was the only one breathing,” she said. “They say my kids flew 40 meters before hitting the ground.”

Ismael died Wednesday night.

January 1st, 2009

In case you haven't seen this...

December 31st, 2008

From Newsweek: The Global Elite

Interesting piece in Newsweek on the history of power and the new global elite. 

The Top 10 of 50:

 
Who would you add? 
December 28th, 2008

Art and Commerce: How To Make It Work Now

This is a great interview on the issues of copyright and monetization on the Web. Lessig is refreshingly open and optimistic about the way the Internet supports creatives and creativity, and the conversation is a great example of two paradigms working together to give birth to something brand new.

From the NPR site:

December 22, 2008 · In his new book Remix, law professor Lawrence Lessig explores the changing landscape of intellectual property in the digital age — and argues that antiquated copyright laws should be updated.

Lessig is a columnist for Wired and the chair of Creative Commons, a nonprofit organization that promotes the legal sharing, repurposing and remixing of creative work.

 Listen.

December 24th, 2008

More Slaves Today Than Any Other Time in History

"All prostitutes are not slaves and not all slaves are prostitutes."

Foreign Policy, March/April 2008

By E. Benjamin Skinner
 
There are now more slaves on the planet than at any time in human history. True abolition will elude us until we admit the massive scope of the problem, attack it in all its forms, and empower slaves to help free themselves.

Standing in New York City, you are five hours away from being able to negotiate the sale, in broad daylight, of a healthy boy or girl. He or she can be used for anything, though sex and domestic labor are most common. Before you go, let’s be clear on what you are buying. A slave is a human being forced to work through fraud or threat of violence for no pay beyond subsistence. Agreed? Good.

Most people imagine that slavery died in the 19th century. Since 1817, more than a dozen international conventions have been signed banning the slave trade. Yet, today there are more slaves than at any time in human history.

And if you’re going to buy one in five hours, you’d better get a move on. First, hail a taxi to JFK International Airport, and hop on a direct flight to Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The flight takes three hours. After landing at Toussaint L’Ouverture International Airport, you will need 50 cents for the most common form of transport in Port-au-Prince, the tap-tap, a flatbed pickup retrofitted with benches and a canopy. Three quarters of the way up Route de Delmas, the capital’s main street, tap the roof and hop out. There, on a side street, you will find a group of men standing in front of Le Réseau (The Network) barbershop. As you approach, a man steps forward: “Are you looking to get a person?”

Meet Benavil Lebhom. He smiles easily. He has a trim mustache and wears a multicolored, striped golf shirt, a gold chain, and Doc Martens knockoffs. Benavil is a courtier, or broker. He holds an official real estate license and calls himself an employment agent. Two thirds of the employees he places are child slaves. The total number of Haitian children in bondage in their own country stands at 300,000. They are the restavèks, the “stay-withs,” as they are euphemistically known in Creole. Forced, unpaid, they work in captivity from before dawn until night. Benavil and thousands of other formal and informal traffickers lure these children from desperately impoverished rural parents, with promises of free schooling and a better life.

The negotiation to buy a child slave might sound a bit like this:

“How quickly do you think it would be possible to bring a child in? Somebody who could clean and cook?” you ask. “I don’t have a very big place; I have a small apartment. But I’m wondering how much that would cost? And how quickly?”

“Three days,” Benavil responds.

“And you could bring the child here?” you inquire. “Or are there children here already?”

“I don’t have any here in Port-au-Prince right now,” says Benavil, his eyes widening at the thought of a foreign client. “I would go out to the countryside.”

You ask about additional expenses. “Would I have to pay for transportation?”

Bon,” says Benavil. “A hundred U.S.”

Smelling a rip-off, you press him, “And that’s just for transportation?”

“Transportation would be about 100 Haitian,” says Benavil, or around $13, “because you’d have to get out there. Plus [hotel and] food on the trip. Five hundred gourdes.”

“Okay, 500 Haitian,” you say.

Now you ask the big question: “And what would your fee be?” This is the moment of truth, and Benavil’s eyes narrow as he determines how much he can take you for.

“A hundred. American.”

“That seems like a lot,” you say, with a smile so as not to kill the deal. “How much would you charge a Haitian?”

Benavil’s voice rises with feigned indignation. “A hundred dollars. This is a major effort.”

You hold firm. “Could you bring down your fee to 50 U.S.?”

Benavil pauses. But only for effect. He knows he’s still got you for much more than a Haitian would pay. “Oui,” he says with a smile.

But the deal isn’t done. Benavil leans in close. “This is a rather delicate question. Is this someone you want as just a worker? Or also someone who will be a ‘partner’? You understand what I mean?”

You don’t blink at being asked if you want the child for sex. “I mean, is it possible to have someone that could be both?”

Oui!” Benavil responds enthusiastically.

If you’re interested in taking your purchase back to the United States, Benavil tells you that he can “arrange” the proper papers to make it look as though you’ve adopted the child.

He offers you a 13-year-old girl.

“That’s a little bit old,” you say.

“I know of another girl who’s 12. Then ones that are 10, 11,” he responds.

The negotiation is finished, and you tell Benavil not to make any moves without further word from you. Here, 600 miles from the United States, and five hours from Manhattan, you have successfully arranged to buy a human being for 50 bucks.

The Cruel Truth

It would be nice if that conversation, like the description of the journey, were fictional. It is not.

More


December 21st, 2008

Rick Warren v Jerry Brown via Facebook

I've gotten a lot of questions about my thoughts about Warren--a FB thread from today.  

YA at 8:00pm December 18
Can a government function with so many rivals in interdependent positions to each other?


RC at 8:17pm December 18

I am asking myself the same question. I am also very disappointed with his choice regarding Warren. What is your take on that Rebecca?


Rebecca Walker at 8:51pm December 18
YA-The 1,000,000,000,000,000 dollar question. Literally. But as a microcosm of the world, let's hope so. I'm moved, at the very lest, by the audacity of it. RC: Still percolating. But you can't say it's not a bold choice.


ST at 3:11pm December 19

I think we need to say it, and say it loud: warren, no matter how you cook him, is anti-woman, anti-gay... and anti-obama. yes, he's allowed his views, and isn't it neato we can all acknowledge that. but irregardless: I'm beyond disappointed.


Rebecca Walker at 3:51pm December 19

We will see what we shall see. The real question is whether he can pull it all off. Safeguarding individual rights and forging greater freedoms and more equitable distribution of wealth while maintaining openness and civility is what needs to happen. We will know more about whether or not it's possible in the next two to two hundred years--if we have that long.


ST at 4:46pm December 19

I'm not sure i follow... to me, warren is not about what you write in yr 3rd sentence.


Rebecca Walker at 4:56pm December 19
The inauguration is not the thing. the thing is what happens after. Can obama pull off sentence three and include voices and views like warrens in the social fabric of our country and, more importantly, the world. That is the question.


MM at 5:55pm December 19
Do you per chance have concern over why Lowery isn't getting any press or even thanks for being supportive of the LGBT community? This is such multilayered spin with the media that I can't begin to unpack it or reframe...I'm trying. I hope you will share a bit your thoughts when you gather them..


Rebecca Walker at 9:17pm December 19

Yes, the Lowery choice is being oddly overlooked--a black, pro-lgbt christian civil rights leader. in the black christian often homophobic community, he is not a choice pick. I think folks need to stay calm and, ironically, have faith. to doubt ourselves so soon after all that work....undermines our own power. We believed. Give him some time.

He's going to have to make many, many more decisions that are uncomfortable. and in terms of what is about to happen to the country financially, this kind of peacemaking between camps may be essential to keeping the country from devolving into a civil war. There are global concerns much larger than gay marriage. Like china's cannibalization of africa and penetration of southern asia. Like fundamentalist islam bringing sharia law to the west.


Rebecca Walker at 9:20pm December 19

My feeling is he will not abandon any group--but he's got to be able to play ball not just on behalf of gay marriage, but America and beyond that, the separation of church and state and the global fundamental rights of sovereign nations. i mean really. I could go on, but i think you get my point. stay calm.


Rebecca Walker at 9:26pm December 19
I think this is one of the many ways obama is managing this situation and i think he's moving in the right direction.

December 20th, 2008

Obama the younger, from Newsweek

December 19th, 2008

One Big Happy Family, Starred Kirkus Review!

So happy to share this starred review of the new book in today's KIRKUS:

A moving, wildly diverse collection showing how radically different familial configurations can work.

Prompted by her experiences growing up in a family "fragmented and haunted by unfulfilled longings," Walker (Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood After a Lifetime of Ambivalence, 2007, etc.) looks beyond her well-publicized estrangement from her mother, novelist Alice Walker, to the lives of other writers "searching for authenticity through experimentation" in their domestic situations. The essays she assembles smash class, race and gender stereotypes to collectively demonstrate the fluidity of the contemporary family unit. Resisting the traditional boundaries of coupledom, Jenny Block, on the one hand, celebrates the openness of what she calls a "polyamorous marriage" with her husband and her girlfriend. On the other hand, Judith Levine and her boyfriend, together for 17 years, never married for a number of practical and philosophic reasons. Writes Levine: "A marriage may or may not be a union of love. It is always a union of property...I'd like the state to get out of the sexual-licensing business altogether, actually, for couples gay, straight, bi, or none of the above." Essays by Dan Savage and Dawn Friedman lay bare the highs and lows of open adoption. Savage details the difficulty he and his partner have in deciding what to say to their adoptive son when his homeless, substance-abusing biological mother drops out of touch for more than a year: "Which two-by-four to hit him with? That his mother was in all likelihood dead? Or that she was out there somewhere but didn't care enough to come by or call?" Friedman, while admitting to occasional twinges of jealousy and guilt evoked by having her daughter's birth mother integrated into their lives, trumpets openness for her daughter's sake: "She will never have to wonder why her first mother chose adoption; she can ask her." Rebecca Barry closes the anthology with a frank, humorous exploration of how she and her sister ended up in couples therapy.

Eye-opening and sometimes shocking, as it brilliantly explodes traditional notions about the nuclear family.

(A  star is assigned to books of unusual merit, determined by the editors of Kirkus Reviews.)

Pre-order and help put our book on the list its first week out!

December 18th, 2008

Mothers Do Envy Their Daughters

This is from a piece on a Psychology Today blog, that references Baby Loveand mothers who envy their daughters. It's good to see professionals who understand the subtext of complex relationships.   

"Half a century after Deutsche, Susie Orbach, Kim Chernin and others argued that young women's expanding career opportunities can (albeit not always) arouse a mother's envy. A daughter may hold herself back, terrified that, if she does surpass her mother, she will be forced to eat of those proverbial poisoned apples - in the form of maternal disapproval, disdain, guilt. Or, she may hope to win approval by her success, only to find that success does not give her mother pleasure; instead, her mother responds with envy, which a daughter experiences as disapproval."

This is a hotly debated subject, amd many experts deny and reframe what looks like maternal envy as maternal concern. And yet I hear from so many women who have felt undermined by their mothers. And mothers who have struggled with their jealousy of their daughters.

My feeling is not enough light has been shed on the subject, and, like mental illness, the kind of wounding that occurs in many mother daughter relationships is even more devastating because daughters are considered ungrateful for voicing their feelings, and punished accordingly. Especially in the black community, when so many mothers have had to work so hard for so long. The idea of expressing any kind of upset is  unthinkable. And yet, as Audre Lorde wrote, "Our silence will not protect us."

What about you? Have you experienced any of these kinds of maternal conflicts? Either as a mother yourself or as a daughter?

Time to talk, to open the doors. We all have something to gain.

 

December 16th, 2008

ADHD, The Check-out Line, and Me

Todays post from TheRoot

There is a lot to talk about, like:

What a great job Obama is doing (and how saddened I am by how many are so critical so soon), the auto company bailout and why it's not "cost effective" for the big 3 to go green, the staggering number of people losing jobs, and the theme I've hit several times since the Olympics: China's devastating invasion of parts of Africa. 

But right now I want to have a moment about ADHD, Ritalin, and prevailing attitudes about mental health.

Today at the health food store I overheard a conversation between a Dad, the person ringing up his groceries, and a woman on line.

The Dad said his daughter was diagnosed with ADHD, and Ritalin was working well. He said she's been experiencing a lot of success in school and at home and "her turn-around" was "like a miracle." The checker gave an enthusiastic high-five. "Hey man, that's so great."

Then the woman chimed in with anecdotal information about an Omega 3 supplement that "helped the son of a friend." She tried to remember the name of the supplement, and while reaching for the name, suggested Dad try it. 

Dad suddenly looked ashamed and embarrassed. He said he had "read some studies" about the supplement and was hoping to "get some soon." He really wanted to get his daughter off the Ritalin, he said. Because although she was doing better, he "hated being duped by the drug companies," who probably "invented ADHD in the first place."

The woman nodded, and agreed. "It's worth a shot," she said, offering no further information about her clinical credentials or the supplement she suggested Dad try on the daughter who responded to Ritalin as if it were "a miracle." "The overmedication of children in this country is a crime," she said. "Have you tried taking her off wheat and sugar?"

At which point I had to tune out or risk an intervention.

Listen, I agree big pharma is problematic. I agree all kinds of illnesses are "created" by drug marketers, a lot of kids are over medicated, and the whole world should be focused on preventive care, and living holistically in organic environments.

But sometimes illness actually responds to Western medicine, and when it does, I for one am happy to have access to it, not just for bone marrow transplants and the shrinking of brain tumors, but for schizophrenia and bi-polar disease, clinical depression and Tourette's.

I left the store wondering when we as a culture will decide once and for all that mental wellness, like any other kind of health, is worthy of pharmaceutical support. When mental illness, like cancer or lupus or HIV, will finally be deemed legitimate enough to warrant medication.

Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. Like any other disease, it's something to treat. Whether it's with herbs, meds, beets, or yoga doesn't matter. What matters is that people--regardless of ideology, religion or cultural taboos--get better, feel happier, and are more able to make healthy decisions for themselves and the people they love.

Right?

I'd like to hear your thoughts.

 

December 9th, 2008

His Holiness the Dalai Lama: War is Out of Date

December 4th, 2008

The Power of Power

To continue our discussion of different kinds of power, I am thrilled Obama has brought Samantha Power, who was forced to resign from Team Obama during the campaign for calling Hillary Clinton "a monster," back on board as part of the transition team--for the office of the Secretary of State. 

If you don't know about Samantha Power, here is an excerpt from Esquire:

Power, a journalist and now a professor at Harvard, who won a Pulitzer prize for her 2003 book on America's response to genocide, A Problem from Hell, and who helped kick-start the Save Darfur movement, has a vision that will help shape 21st-century American foreign policy. What Norman Podhoretz is to the neocon movement Power is to this as-yet-unnamed force. (Neo-internationalism? Moral interventionism? Machiavellian idealism?) She espouses talks--firm talks--with rogue states, a respect for international law, and a moral and pragmatic duty to intervene--with troops if necessary--in cases of genocide.

I'm happy she's back for a number of reasons: she's passionate about human dignity and has a complex and pragmatic view of how to secure it. In other words, she's tough and smart. Heart and head. Has a plan. A view. And her Pulitzer Prize winning book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, is endlessly relevant, and gives her unique insight into seemingly intractable hostilities, like the one between Israel and Palestine.

Though she's been lambasted by Zionist groups who say she wants to do everything from fund islamic terrorists to invade Israel, apparently her official position is the US should engage in an immediate and intensified involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. In her view, the situation "has to be resolved first of all for the benefit of the parties involved, but also to prevent "cynical Arab leaders" from exploiting the conflict as a tool for justifying their policies."

I'm no expert, but this sounds like a rational approach to me. 

But mostly I feel good about Power's return because Obama's ability to bring her back in a leadership role in HRC's realm says he feels free as POTUS to make controversial decisions and continue to mix up ideological perspectives in the hopes of reaching different conclusions. He's apparently using the power vested in him to follow his agenda of change, rather than kowtow to personal gripes, party lines, or general consensus.

Power should be an excellent and necessary counterpoint to Hillary. Obama appears to believe the two women, though different in approach, are stronger together than apart.

What do you think?

December 1st, 2008

Shift Happens: Preparing our children for the 21st century

Deep.

November 30th, 2008

House vs. Field Negro Controversy, from Italy's Corriere della Sera

November 21st, 2008

A journalist from Corriere de la Sera called yesterday with an urgent request for an interview about the Al-Qaeda claim that Obama is a house negro. My comments hit the first page--with full spread on page 3.

Translation below the Italian.

November 29th, 2008

What Michelle Obama is Giving Up: A Question of Power

Hey all,

I have an essay in The Root today about Michelle Obama and feminism.

Yesterday afternoon, in tandem with the essay on Michelle Obama, I joined a group of exceptional women including Anna Perez, the former Press Secretary for Barbara Bush, Leslie Morgan Steiner, the editor of the best-selling anthology Mommy Wars, and Jolene Ivey, co-founder of Mocha Moms, on Michel Martin's NPR show Tell Me More to talk about:

What Michelle Obama is Giving Up.

It was a fascinating conversation, but five intense women talking about Michelle Obama for thirty-five minutes? We could have been there for hours. I left the studio thinking about all the things I wished there had been more time to say.

I wish the show had been called "What Michelle Obama is Gaining."

There was certainly more to say about the question of "power" vs "influence." It's my view that Michelle has the opportunity to have a tremendous amount of power--political, personal, ideological, symbolic, financial, social, maternal, emotional, psychological-- but Anna Perez opined Michelle will have influence, but because she can't write legislation and doesn't have a vote on key issues, she won't have power. 

But there are different kinds of power. Laws change administration to administration, but transforming the consciousness of a generation is forever. Did Martin Luther King, Jr. have power or influence? Did Jackie Kennedy want more power and less influence? How about Eleanor Roosevelt? And what about our former First Lady, Hillary Clinton? She almost because POTUS in large part as a result of her "influence." What about the Nobel committee? Do they have power or influence? Freud and Jung? Moses?

I was taken aback by Anna Perez's view, her privileging one realm, the political, over what could be called the personal or communal, a view that has disempowered women for centuries. And I was struck by how difficult it seemed for many of the women in the conversation to see Michelle as anything but a victim. Incredibly, they seemed to think she was more powerful as a hospital administrator than First Lady.

We denigrate Michelle by denigrating her choices. Projecting an idea of her as a deer in the headlights rather than a lioness on the plain reflects a crisis of the imagination, and speaks volumes about what we think is possible for a woman, or any human being, to negotiate.

People working to create a better world dismiss their accomplishment at their own peril. They resign themselves to a lifetime of disappointment.

What do you think? Do you have power or influence, power and influence, or no power and no influence?

How do you define power? 

November 28th, 2008