Letter from Egypt: On the Gaza Freedom March

December 30, 2009

by Jean Athey, Peace Action Montgomery County, Maryland

December 29, 209

Free Gaza actions occurred all over Cairo today, and so the police, who are often in riot gear, have had a busy day—they show up wherever we go. They are incredibly young, maybe 18 or 19. Typically, when the police work a demonstration, they surround us with moveable steel fences, which they line up behind– sometimes two deep–and they watch us with what seems to be curiosity, not malice.  However, their innocent appearance doesn’t mean they won’t become aggressive; for example, police today were very rough with several Spanish protesters. As internationals, though, we have great protection, not enjoyed by locals. Some Egyptians have joined in these protests, and we find their courage astounding.

This morning, I was at the U.S. Embassy with a group of about 40 other Americans. We went hoping to see the Ambassador, but instead we were surrounded by Egyptian police in riot gear and kept penned in for some five hours. The police told us that they did this at the behest of the American Embassy, but later the “political security officer” of the Embassy denied it. So, who is lying?  It is interesting that the French ambassador spent the night outside with the French protesters when they first occupied the sidewalk in front of their embassy, but the American ambassador refused to see us and apparently had us detained, and for no reason.

We went to the American Embassy to ask the U.S. to prevail upon the Egyptian government and allow our nonviolent delegation into Gaza. The U.S. has tremendous leverage with Egypt, of course, and if the U.S. asked Egypt to allow us to go to Gaza, the border would surely be opened immediately. Three members of our group were allowed inside the Embassy to speak to an American representative, while the rest of us were prevented from moving outside our temporary pen.  Our spokespersons reminded the political officer with whom they met that when Barack Obama came to Cairo in June, he spoke movingly of the power of nonviolence as a way to resist oppression. The President said,

For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America’s founding.

The Gaza Freedom March embodies that “peaceful and determined insistence” about which the President spoke.  I wonder if the Ambassador heard his speech.

In that same speech, President Obama acknowledged the dire circumstances of Palestinians in general, and Gazans in particular. He said,

So let there be no doubt: the state of the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own. . . Israel must also live up to its obligations to ensure that Palestinians can live, and work, and develop their society. And just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel’s security . . . Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.

And yet, it seems that we Americans have turned our backs on the people of Gaza: we are doing nothing to end the siege, which is creating unimaginable suffering. And we have done nothing to compel Israel to end the siege. Indeed, the U.S. is presently facilitating a strengthening of the siege: it was announced last week that the Army Corps of Engineers is assisting Egypt in further isolating the people of Gaza by helping in the construction of a huge underground wall. This wall will cut off the only remaining sources of food, clothes, medicine, and all other necessities of life, which now enter Gaza through tunnels from Egypt.  How shameful that the U.S. is working to increase the suffering of the people of Gaza rather than to diminish it.

In his Nobel acceptance speech, President Obama said,

As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King’s life’s work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there is nothing weak -nothing passive – nothing naïve – in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.

Our President thus applauds nonviolent action and recognizes its strength. The Gaza Freedom March was conceived as a nonviolent response to what President Obama characterized as an intolerable situation and a humanitarian crisis—a crisis that has become increasingly dire since he spoke here in June.

Thus, we are attempting to do exactly what President Obama recommended, and yet when we went to our own Embassy for intervention with the Egyptian government, we were surrounded by police and detained for hours in an open-air pen, an appropriate symbol for Gaza itself, actually.

President Obama said in Oslo,

It is also true that security does not exist where human beings do not have access to enough food, or clean water, or the medicine they need to survive. It does not exist where children cannot aspire to a decent education or a job that supports a family. The absence of hope can rot a society from within.

In Gaza, because of U.S. complicity with Israel in the blockade, people do not have enough food, clean water or medicine. There are no books or paper for school children, and the schools that were bombed cannot be rebuilt because building materials are not allowed into the Strip. Unemployment is at 75%. There is little hope in Gaza.

President Obama ended his eloquent Oslo speech with these stirring words:

So let us reach for the world that ought to be – that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls. . .  Somewhere today, in this world, a young protestor awaits the brutality of her government, but has the courage to march on. Somewhere today, a mother facing punishing poverty still takes the time to teach her child, who believes that a cruel world still has a place for his dreams.

Let us live by their example.

And yet, when we U.S. citizens attempt to speak with representatives of our own Embassy–in a client state–about our desires to help alleviate a dire humanitarian situation, we are detained for hours like animals and refused an audience.  Is this the audacity of hope? Is this change we can believe in?

We ask our government to live by the words of our President and to help us end the illegal and immoral siege of Gaza.


Your Contributions Needed for NPR (No, Not National Public Radio)

December 21, 2009

Published on Thursday, December 17, 2009 by CommonDreams.org by Lisa Putkey and Kevin Martin

NPR (also) stands for Nuclear Posture Review. The Obama administration is required by Congress to draw up a Nuclear Posture Review to outline U.S. nuclear weapons policy for the next five years. For months the Department of Defense has been leading efforts in the administration to finish the NPR by mid January. The contents of the NPR should reflect President Obama’s Nobel Prize-wining vision for a nuclear weapons-free future, and will show whether the Administration is ready to take concrete steps towards disarmament, turning impressive anti-nuke rhetoric into reality.

The NPR will specifically lay out the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. foreign policy, determine the size of our nuclear arsenal, and shape the role and size of the nuclear complex (research, production, and waste sites across the U.S.). The Bush Administration’s Nuclear Posture Review was a disturbance internationally as it revealed U.S. plans to advance nuclear technology with the creation of smaller, more “usable” nuclear weapons to be potentially used against seven named foreign countries. The current NPR is expected to break with its predecessor, yet the Pentagon and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) have been pushing for increased resources to the nuclear weapons complex for “modernization,” which would enhance nuclear warhead production capabilities and further entrench the primacy of nuclear weapons in U.S. foreign policy.

Read more at http://www.commondreams.org/view/2009/12/17-7


Op-Ed News: Nuclear Disarmament Deeds, Not Words, Could Help Obama Earn his Nobel

December 13, 2009

The generous view of President Barack Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize is that it honored his stated intentions to promote international peace and was meant to spur him to significant achievement. His actions leading up to next May’s UN Review Conference on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), will test the validity of this view and the wisdom of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

Two of Obama’s promissory notes mentioned in the committee’s award citation were his call for a world free of nuclear weapons and his promotion of “multilateral diplomacy . . . with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play.” He can redeem these notes if, by next May, he has taken actions demonstrating his realization that averting nuclear disaster can only be achieved by international, not national or even bi-lateral actions.

Read more at Op-ed News


Credit-through-Examination Guide

December 10, 2009

Introduction to Credit-Through-Examination

Poverty Draft

Counter-recruiters use the term “Povery Draft” to refer to a broad set of circumstances that the military exploits for recruitment purposes. Limited access to college funding and scholarships for low-income and minority students is one of the most pressing issues the counter-recruitment community struggles to solve. Fortunately, many students are finding solutions to these obstacles.

Examination Programs

College-level examination programs are a great alternative way to earn college credit. Many colleges and private companies offer examinations that can stand in for a single class or for requirements. These little known options have been available for decades. Colleges generally accept up to sixty credits obtained through examination for a traditional bachelor’s program.

Paths to Success

With a little planning, students can use these to fulfill almost any goal they might have. For an idea of your options, look at the examples below.

The “One-Class Option”: Introductory Courses

Learning happens everywhere – not just in the classrom. As such, many people end up in a required class being taught a subject they already know a lot about. This a textbook example of how credit-through-examination can work for you. Many colleges offer their own tests created by department heads for exactly this purpose. But if they don’t, CLEP tests are a great solution. For $72 and an hour at the testing center, you can earn three or six credits in the subject of your choosing.

The “One-Class Option”: Extra Credit

Older students often find themselves scrambling to make up a few credits before graduation. This could be for all sorts of reasons – administrative error, busy schedule, early graduation, or just some plain ol’ slackin’. Whatever the case, an examination can often be used to make up a class, even an upper-level one.

The “One-Class Option”: World Languages

Students have diverse backgrounds and interesting lives. If you speak a language besides English you should consider earning credit for it. Many schools call this “credit for experience.” Testing companies often provide exams only for Western European languages. Still some institutions will provide as many as 18 credits for good scores. If your college does not provide a credit alternative for your language, but does for others, ask for a credit alternative to be crafted for you.

The “Get a Headstart” Option

Many students would like to enjoy the “college experience,” but may not want to spend their first semester taking required courses. “They’re not connected to my major,” many will say. Others would prefer to study the material on their own and save time and money. While there is certainly something to be said about leaving our comfort zones, testing out of a semester of introductory courses should always be a possibility to consider. Check the College’s policy with an administrative office—then ask around at different departments. They may offer their own exams, and they may not be publicized well.

The “Get a Headstart” Option: Advanced Placement

High school students have been trying to start college with as many credits as possible. Unfortunately, most high schools limit access to these programs by restricting the number of children who can enter, and then labeling them as “Advanced Placement Programs.” But the joke’s on them! The AP program comes with lots of homework, possible entry fees, an expensive final exam, and no guarantee that credit earned in these classes will be honored. Oddly enough, the same company that administers these tests, the College Board, also adminsters the CLEPs. As a quicker, easier, cheaper exam that is accepted for more credit in more institutions, what is not to love?

The “Transfer” Option

Many people often wish to attend college, but aren’t comfortable making the time and money commitment to go for four or even two years. By accumulating thirty, forty-five, or even sixty credits on their timeframe, potential students can transfer their credit into an instiution to finish the last half of a degree program. One of the best parts about this path is that this can demonstrate to grantmakers and scholarship funds that a student really is capable of college-level work and committed to success. The best way a student can do this is to work with a staff member at the instiution to create a program that works for everyone.

The “Transfer” Option: Supplement Your Diet

People sometimes trap themselves within a “this or that” or “all or nothing” framework. But those who have chosen to use credit-through-examination don’t have to do this. CTE is a tool to be used just as often in four-year colleges as two-year. If you are attending a two-year school, but are planning on transferring into a bachelor’s program, you can still work with your school to test out of credits before your transfer. Be smart, attend community college, save money, and supplement your diet.

The “Degree” Option

For some people, they do not have time, money or interest to attend college. Those with the resources often do so because without a degree it can be difficult to find meaningful work. Unfortunately, that means a lot of people wind up out of luck – and often in the military. But some colleges offer programs with no residency requirement, allowing you to combine credits from many different sources into your degree program. Testing completely out of a degree takes time and dedication, but it can save students tens of thousands of dollars, years of time and leave them with a sense of accomplishment.

To start this process, a student needs to research to find a school that is fully accredited, respected, and can offer support. The student must then work with the school to plan out a degree program in a chosen major.

These programs require nontraditional students to fulfill the same requirements as traditional ones. For example, a degree program at Excelsior college requires that all students majoring in history earn three credits in a US history course. This could then be fulfilled by a test-taker through the use of CLEP US History I.

The Types of Tests

CLEP: According to the College Board, “The College-Level Examination Program® (CLEP) gives you the opportunity to receive college credit for what you already know by earning qualifying scores on any of 34 examinations.” As a super low-cost alternative to freshman and sophomore year classes, the CLEP is the most popular starting place for those seeking credit-through-examination.

DSST: Slightly more expensive than the CLEP, the DSST exams are still an affordable alternative to college courses. Many of these exams are also accepted by the American Council on Education as appropriate substitutes for upper-level exams.

ECE: Excelsior College has a long and successful history working with nontraditional students throughout the country. The college also provides over forty exams which are accepted by more than 2,000 colleges nationwide. The ECEs are administered at Prometric testing centers.

TECEP: Similar to Excelsior College, Thomas Edison State provides its own examination program consisting of over fifty rigorous exams on a variety of subjects.

GRE Subject Exams: The GRE subject exams cover only a handful of topics and are meant to test students preparing to enter graduate school. However, some schools also use the scores to test knowledge gained outside of the classroom. An 80% on a GRE subject exam can net you as many 30 credits at select schools across the country.

Colleges:

Excelsior College (http://www.excelsior.edu): “Excelsior is among the top ranked colleges for transfer students.” It is also a top choice for students over 25 and members of the military. The college offers a variety of progrmas with a flexible, professional staff.

Thomas Edison State (http://www.tesc.edu): “Thomas Edison State College has a national reputation for academic excellence and educational integrity. The College is one of New Jersey’s 12 senior public institutions of higher education and one of the first schools in the country designed specifically for adults. The College provides flexible, high-quality, collegiate learning opportunities for self-directed adults and offers degree programs and certificates in more than 100 areas of study.”

Charter Oak (http://www.charteroak.edu): “Charter Oak is a distance learning college established in 1973 to assist adult learners in completing their college degree. Due to student demand, in 1998, the College began offering courses online.”

Resources

Minnesota: In 2008, the Minnesota school board passed legislation to provide funding for any Minnesota high school student to take up to six approved CLEP exams. Look for more programs like this in the future and check out the Minnesota School Board’s statewide policy on CLEP: http://education.state.mn.us/MDE/Academic_Excellence/College_Career_Readi/CLEP/index.html

The Free University Project (http://www.freeuniv.com): The Free University Project is a great resource for CLEP and DSST test-takers. It provides lessons, videos and study guides for the exams for free.

InstantCert (http://www.instantcert.com): InstantCert is a subscription service providing targeted study aids to test takers for an assortment of examinations. The InstantCert community alone is worth the price, with hundreds of members coming together to share their credit-through-examination experiences.

Testing Out of College (http://www.testingoutofcollege.com): This website is a great resource which walks students through the process of testing completely out of an associate’s or bachelor’s degree via credit-through-examination.

Endnote:

I created this resource to show others credit alternatives which they may not be familiar with. My knowledge of these options comes from my own experience. It has taken two years and less than four thousand dollars to complete an entire BA in history program. For more information or assistance, please contact me at dkunes@peace-action.org.


Paul Kawika Martin and Col. Ann Wright: Don’t Escalate a Failing War

December 2, 2009

Peace Action’s Political Director Paul Kawika Martin and Colonel Ann Wright respond to Obama’s decision on CNN. The pair, who had just traveled to Afghanistan in October, tell the US “Don’t Escalate a Failing War.”

The first step in providing Afghans security and weakening the Taliban and violent extremists is to remove recruiting incentives. It’s time to stop air and Predator drone strikes that tend to kill, injure and terrorize civilians. It’s time to stop arbitrary detentions and harsh treatment of prisoners that would be unacceptable here.

Paul and Ann in Afghanistan

Paul and Ann this Autumn in Kabul, Afghanistan.

While those in major cities live in relative security, rural Afghans fear violence from insurgents or U.S. and NATO forces. Many fear civil war or the return of the Taliban. Afghanistan requires more trusted Afghan police and security forces. These forces are paid only $110 dollars a month — not a living wage — and payments are regularly late. Little wonder these forces are corrupt, poorly motivated and have a high rate of desertion. The Taliban pays its foot soldiers far better.

Investing in a living wage and pressuring Hamid Karzai’s government to punish corruption swiftly will pay more security dividends than the $1 million a year it costs to send one U.S. soldier.

Read the rest of the article at CNN…

Support peace by donating now to Peace Action here.


“200 hold anti-war rally outside West Point gates”

December 2, 2009

Last night at West Point, President Barack Obama announced the new course for the US military presence in Afghanistan: escalation. At the same time, Peace Action New York State joined other peace organizations outside of the West Point gates to protest his decision.

From Mid Hudson News:

Cheryl [Wertz] from Peace Action New York State said the American people are mad because they need $30 million for health care, jobs and infrastructure. America cannot afford to send more troops into Afghanistan and that there are “better and more important things to do with our money and with our young men and women,” she said.

“We are out to say something tonight, to tell the President that this is not the change that we voted for, that this is more of the same,” she said. “We want to see the change that we voted for and we are expecting him to include us in this conversation.”

Read the full article…

Watch a video of the protest…

Visit Peace Action New York State’s website…


“Local protesters rally against troop surge”

December 1, 2009

The Rev. Robert Moore and the Coalition for Peace Action in New Jersey is interviewed by the Trentonian about the troop escalation in Afghanistan.

The Rev. Robert Moore, executive director of CFPA, said President Obama risks repeating the mistakes made during the Vietnam War by pouring more troops into Afghanistan. Moore called for an increase in humanitarian aid to coincide with a gradual drawdown of U.S. troops in the country.

“There’s no military victory in sight,” said Moore. “Even Gens. Petraeus and McChrystal say it’ll take at least 10 years to stabilize Afghanistan. That’s almost 20 years including the eight we’ve already been there. People didn’t tolerate Vietnam and forced the military to withdraw. The same will happen with Afghanistan.”

Read the rest of the article…

Or check out the Coalition for Peace Action’s website…


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