Thursday, October 02, 2014

Adios Senadot Ben

In July of this year, the Marianas said goodbye to Senådot Ben Pangelinan, a longtime champion of the Chamorro people, their language and their rights. In the context of Chamorro struggles today, Senådot Ben was taiachaigua especially in terms of our elected leaders.

Senådot Ben was known for being an outspoken and highly principled person. One of the ways in which this manifested was through his and his office’s support for the decolonization of Guam and his work to help make possible a political status plebiscite. Senådot Ben was born in Saipan and traced his Chamorro lineage to Saipan. This made him ineligible to vote in a political status for Guam. This did not deter him from seeing decolonization as a critical issue and one he should take seriously in his life, as a matter of justice worth supporting and fighting for. Because of the efforts of his office, thousands of people were added to the decolonization registry, pushing it closer than it ever had been before to meeting the 70% registered threshold needed prior to the holding of a plebiscite.

Senådot Ben was one the few amongst Guam’s elected leaders today who could fluently speak the Chamorro language and would use it in his campaigning and in his speeches on the floor of the Legislature. He was well known for his passionate use of Chamorro while in session, reminding others, both Chamorro and non-Chamorro of the importance of Guam’s native language, especially when fewer and fewer people are using it. A’gang i bos-ña Si Senådot Ben, ya på’go mas suabi i bos Chamorro gi halom i leyeslatura.

I remember his presentation for the 2nd Marianas History Conference in 2013 held at the University of Guam. Titled “Galvanizing Past and Present Threats to Chamorro Homelands” he covered the importance of the Chamorro Land Trust, a GovGuam agency created through a mixture of government reform, grassroots activism and attempts at restorative justice. He presented the struggles to get the Land Trust implemented, but also the need to be vigilante in terms of keeping Guam’s land, the most sacred heritage of any native people safe. As he noted in his presentation, “Manteni I Tano’ ya ta susteni I taotao” hold onto the land and we will sustain the people.  A simple, but profound truth. Senådot Ben, a fine orator filled his articles and his speeches with many such powerful points. For his memorial service, his staff and friends gathered together portions of his writings and statements over the years and provided copies for those gathered.  His power and passion is still evident in these words. Some of them I’ve gathered below:

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“My prayer and wish for you today is that you will not let present day conventions and institutions mute your voices, clip your wings or keep you from flight. That when the walls of today’s institutions confine and obstruct your vision, that your imagination leads you to add new things to these institutions and when that is not enough, you find the courage and tenacity to raise them and build new ones. Don’t just think outside the box, dismantle the box and you will have real freeom in your revolution.”

“Today, in a time full of cynicism, political sound bites and press releases, we must remember who we are as a people. We once mastered the navigation of the seas; surely we can determine our political future. We survived a world at war; surely we can build an economy which leaves no hardworking families behind. We are the inheritors of an ancient land; surely we can leave this place better than we found it.”

“Despite hundreds of years of influence and suppression, the fundamental principles that make our people unique remain intact. The values of inagofli’e’, inarespeta, inaguaiya, ika and chenchule’ teach us a respect for oneself and for another – that we take care of one another, especially in times of need. Our values teach us that giving back is as important as standing up for truth and justice – that our actions are a reflection of the people who raised us, and the respect we pay them extends beyond their lives on earth.”

“We are no longer a generation rooted in the gratefulness of a liberation. We are a generation whose hearts have been hardened by unkept promises and transgressions unresolved. Knowing this, you have no reason to be surprised as you are met with arms raised in opposition, rather than arms open to accept your plans to take our lands again, change our way of life forever, to once again suit your needs.”

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The last time I saw Senådot Ben was at the movie theater a few weeks before he passed. I was taking my kids to watch “Edge of Tomorrow” and we bumped into him in the concession area. I had my kids fanginige’ him and we talked for a bit. My daughter Sumåhi had gotten a hotdog and in Chamorro, taking our cue from a prewar joke, we call it “maipen ga’lågu” which means literally a hot dog (as in the animal). As we added ketchup to it he overheard me refer to it as “maipen ga’lågu.” He started laughing and congratulated us for keeping the language alive. In my last image of him, he was walking away to watch “The Fault in Our Stars” with that “maipen ga’lågu” smile still on his face.

Adios Senadot Ben.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Chamorros at JATA


I have to write more about this at some point. It is interesting because for so many Chamorros, their self-perceptions are mired in feelings that we have nothing (especially in cultural terms) and that no one would every want anything that we have anyways. It is intriguing then to see how popular Chamorro style dance is at conventions like this, and to consider that there are multiple Chamorro dance groups in Japan and the United States.

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News Releases

 From the Guam Visitors Bureau

Chamorro Culture Makes Impact at JATA

September 28, 2014



(Tokyo, Japan) Team Guam continues to make a great impression at the JATA Tourism EXPO Japan with a plethora of activities lined up for the final day of this 4-day event. However, the island’s 4,000 year old Chamorro culture separated the Guam booth from the rest of the 150 countries and regions that are part of Japan’s largest tourism expo.

Led by Master Frank Rabon, nearly 100 Japanese dancers from the Guam Chamorro Dance Academy (GCDA) performed to thousands of consumers on the Guam stage, as well as on JATA’s main stage. GCDA is a program that was started by the Guam Visitors Bureau in 2009 to teach interested Japanese people the art of traditional Chamorro dance. Since the program began, Rabon has taught over 1,500 students in over six cities in Japan, including Tokyo and Nagoya. The program has also expanded to the U.S. mainland this year.

“They’ve enjoyed it. Every time I come over here, there’s always an addition to the numbers that are coming in to learn. It amazes me because they really don't have to learn our culture. They have their own culture. They’re Japanese. But they really want to learn,” said Master Frank Rabon. “A lot of them travel to Guam after getting a little bit of the practices. They get the interest to travel to Guam and they stay a little longer. They take in not just the beaches and the sights and the hospitality of the island, but they also take in the culture, which is something that is unique to us.”

 “We want to thank Japan for welcoming us and embracing the Håfa Adai spirit, especially through the Guam Chamorro Dance Academy,” said GVB Deputy General Manager Nate Denight. “Team Guam has worked hard these last few weeks to share our island’s story with the international community.  It’s definitely important for us to continue placing our Chamorro culture, I Kottura-ta, at the forefront of JATA because it has drawn millions of people for over 20 years to visit and learn more about Guam.”

To add to the island’s unique appeal at JATA, the Guam booth also featured the Håfa Adai Chamorro Dance Show, a Chamorro Craft School, a Miss Guam photo session and presentations by several island businesses that are part of Team Guam. Furthermore, consumers were very eager to find out more information on the Dusit Thani Resort Guam, Lotte Hotel/ Lotte Duty Free, United, Skydive Guam, JCB International Micronesia/Shift Guam and the Pleasure Island Group (T Galleria by DFS, Outrigger, the Plaza, Sea Grill, Sky Lounge, Hard Rock Guam, SandCastle and Mandara Spa).
The JATA Tourism EXPO Japan concluded today, but Team Guam’s efforts continue with the mission to make the island a better place to live, work and visit.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Marianas Indigenous Conference

I will be in Saipan for the next few days at this conference, the first annual Marianas Indigenous Conference. Here is the draft schedule for the event. I'm sure I'll be writing more about it in the coming week.

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A NORTHERN MARIANAS DESCENT CORPORATION (NMDC) SPONSORED EVENT

”Lessons Learned and A Way Forward”

2014 1st Annual Marianas Indigenous Conference
Multi-Purpose Center, Saipan
September 29th& 30th, 2014
7:30 AM – 4:30 PM


NMDC Vision:    A Self-Sustaining, Self-Governing Commonwealth whose destiny shall continue to remain in the hands of the Indigenous Chamorro and Carolinian people of Northern Marianas descent, in close partnership with other persons who are residents in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

NMDC Mission:    Empowerment of the indigenous Chamorro and Carolinian people in the CNMI’s economic, social & political development and the preservation & promotion of its language and cultural identity.

Purpose: To bring about increased awareness about the indigenous identity and rights and other critical issues of the Marianas for a more informed and empowered indigenous population.

Theme: “Lessons Learned and A Way Forward.”

Moderators:  John Gonzales, Gary Sword, Kodep Ogumoro-Uludong


DAY 1:  Monday, Sept. 29th

7:30 AM            Registration

8:00 AM            Prayer, National Anthems, Color Guard

8:15 AM              Welcoming Remarks
                                  -Herman Deleon Guerrero, NMDC President

8:20 AM              Brief Remarks
                                - CNMI Governor Eloy Inos

8:30 AM            Keynote Speaker
                                - Former Guahan Senator Hope Cristobal

9:00 AM             Questions & Answers

9:15 AMBREAK

PANEL DISCUSSIONS: SELF-GOVERNMENT & INDIGENOUS RIGHTS


9:20 AM    Political Status options: The Covenant and Decolonization
               i. Historical Background and Overview
               ii. SWOT

               Speakers:  Oscar C. Rasa, Atty. Horey, Vicente Santos, Selena Onedera-Salas (Guahan),
               Atty. Jesus C. Borja [5 minutes per speaker]

10:05 AM    Q&A


10:20 AM      BREAK

10:25 AM    Federalization
               i. Lessons Learned & Impact
ii. U.S. Immigration Modernization Bill (S.744) & Section 2109

                Speakers: Atty. Horey, Sec. of DOL Edith DLG, Chamber of Commerce Pres. Alex Sablan, USCIS
                Representative, Atty. Bruce Mailman [5 minutes per speaker]

11:45 AM    Q&A

12 Noon      LUNCH

1:00 PM   Article XII

               Speakers: Oscar Rasa, Atty. Vince Seman, Atty. Nicole Torres, DPL Sec. Pete A.              
Tenorio, Larry Cabrera, Fanai Castro (Guahan)   [5 minutes per speaker]


2:00 PM    Q&A

2:15 PM  BREAK

2:20PMSubmerged Lands & Adjacent Waters

               Speakers: Genevieve Cabrera, Atty. Rosemond Santos, Atty, Joe Taijeron , Atty. Julian   
James Hemsing Aguon (Guahan)  [5 minutes per speaker]

2:25PM  Q&A

3:50 PM   BREAK

4PM         Evaluation


DAY 2:  Sept. 30th

7:30 AM            Registration

8:00 AM            Welcoming & Overview

PANEL DISCUSSIONS

8:10 AM           Economic Self-Sufficiency:  Opportunities & Threats

 Speakers:  Sec. of Commerce Sixto Igisomar, CDA Executive Director Manuel C. Sablan, Tan Holding Representative, Best Sunshine Representative, Chamber of Commerce President Alex Sablan [5 minutes per speaker]


9:45 AM         Q&A

9:55 AM         BREAK

10:00 AM      Indigenous Language & Cultural Preservation

Speakers: Dr. Liz Rechebei, Dr. Michael Bevacqua (Guahan), Carmen Taimanao, CAO Executive Assistant Joe Limes, Kenneth Kuper (Guahan), Commissioner of Education Dr. Rita Sablan, DCCA Secretary Laura T. Ogumoro  [5 minutes per speaker]

11:40 AM        Q&A

12 NOON        LUNCH

1:00 PM          Formulation of Action Plan & Proposed Resolutions

3:45 PM          Evaluation

4:00 PM         Closing Remarks






Saturday, September 27, 2014

Impossible Seas

The way people conceive of Guam's economic health is mired in colonial feelings of inferiority and the contradictions that naturally emerge. As a small island in the middle of the ocean, Guam is naturally thought to have nothing according to the base epistemology of Europeans. Such a way of seeing the world and mapping its sense of value and naturalness is tied to the land. The land is safe, the land is secure, the land is what offers the chance to build, to horde, to make something. The ocean is the opposite. The ocean is the frightening infinite, the terrorizing endlessness, it holds the possibilities for imagining and perceiving that which is beyond the immediate and apparent, but the cost of this is that it cannot be trusted. The ocean and those places defined by it surrounding and connecting them, are the exceptions not the norm. Even if the land has its own inconsistencies and problems (kao manmaleffa todu put i linao siha?), the ocean is seen as impossible in contrast to the stable, reliable, sina un gacha', foundation of the land.

It is tragic the way this extends to islands and how islands are seen as lost and isolated, regardless of where in the world they are located. An island may be close by other islands, it may be close to large land masses, it may be in a place that is ideal for a variety of things, whether it be strategic or economic. But all of these things are considered to be valuable to those outside of the ocean. Those who come from elsewhere have the ability to take advantage of these things. The islands and the islanders themselves rarely see any of this ability. They exist to be taken advantage of by others, to have their resources used or their islands turned into refueling or coaling stations. The ocean robs them of all possible value that could be inherent, intrinsic or self-sustaining, all those things come from elsewhere.

So much of this is colonial common sense. It isn't true. It doesn't reflect reality. It is dangerous to adhere to and it serves the interests of outsiders if you do accept it. But it is for this reason (and a few other ti para bai hu pacha guini) that even mere conversations about the economy in Guam can be so frustrating. It is inundated with ideas that one must look outside in order to survive and in order to prosper. It is a conversation skewed towards giving oneself up in order to bring someone or something into the island to save you. Notions of prioritizing things such as food security or economic sustainability rarely come up, and even if they are mentioned are easily drowned out by demands for more and more and more. Rarely is the question really asked and never is it ever answered, as to whether more, more, more is ever actually better better better for islanders and their islands.

One of the most fascinating things that I see about the contradictions in Guam's economy, is how two things which are contradictory and eventually could cancel each other out, are nonetheless both argued for in very passionate and aggressive ways. Guam's economy today is dependent upon both the US military presence and tourism from different Asian markets. At present both of these things align in a way that Guam does benefit. But in our daily discourse we see political and economic leaders pushing hard for an expansion of both of these things. We see leaders lobbying for more military on the island. We also see them lobbying for more Asian tourists, especially from Russia and China. In this editorial from the PDN below, we can see them advocating clearly for the ability to attract and accept more tourists from China and cite a US national strategy (with regards to tourism). The PDN routinely publishes editorials about the military buildup and military spending, which cite a different US national strategy, which indicates that China is a threat and an enemy.

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Deliver: China visa waiver for Guam is in line with US tourism strategy.
July 5, 2014
The Pacific Daily News


The United States needs to live up to the goals of its National Travel and Tourism Strategy by approving a visa waiver for Chinese visitors to Guam.

In 2012, the Task Force on Travel and Competitiveness stated: "Travel and tourism are critical to the American economy. This growing industry offers significant potential for job creation across all regions of the country."

To make that a reality, it came up with a strategy that federal agencies should take specific actions, including: reducing institutional barriers to the free flow of trade in travel services; and expanding the visa waiver program, among other initiatives.

Now is the time for the federal government to follow-through on this strategy by giving visa waivers to tourists from mainland China who want to travel to Guam. Doing so will greatly benefit the local economy and serve to introduce more Chinese to the United States. It also will open up other areas of Micronesia to China travel and benefit their economies.

According to Forbes, China had about 102 million outbound travelers from April 2013 to March 2014. Capturing even a small fraction of that would mean a huge boost to our visitor industry. And because tourism is the economic engine that drives the economy, that would translate into big benefits for the entire community.

The island's elected officials -- senators, the governor and the delegate -- need to work in concert to continually push for the federal government to finally make the China visa waiver for Guam a reality. They must press the matter with Congress, the White House, Homeland Security and other federal entities, reminding federal officials that the visa waiver falls in line with the National Travel and Tourism Strategy.

Welcoming more Chinese visitors is a major goal of the United States because of what it will mean for the economy, as well as relations between the two countries. And what better place to start making that happen than here in Guam, where America's day begins?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Psyche of Manson

The Fourth Guam International Film Festival is happening right now on Guam.

Here is an interview with Kent Velesrubio, one of the creative minds behind one of the more anticipated films this weekend "The Psyche of Manson."

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GIFF interviews Kent Velesrubio, writer/director/actor of Guam’s risqué indie feature film, “The Psyche of Manson”. (Screening Saturday, September 27, at 8:30PM. CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION )

GIFF: Congratulations again on your official selection into GIFF as well as your nomination for Best Made in the Marianas for your film “The Psyche of Manson”. How does it feel?

 

KENT: It feels totally surreal. Going to the movie theaters ritualistically every weekend since I was a kid always inspired me to go out and make something that I’d be satisfied with, and to finally have a privilege to showcase my work on the big screen which I’ve grown under, is just extraordinary. And not to mention the nomination for “Best in the Marianas” is just utterly unexpected and most importantly gratifying. I feel like I’m going to the Guam Oscars.

GIFF: I love the screenplay. I love the neo-noir. It’s the first thing that caught my attention. It’s brave and refreshing – especially for an indie film coming out of Guam. I like to think of it as if “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” was directed by David Lynch. Tell us how you came about developing the story.

KENT: That is a perfect description for the movie! John Hughes and David Lynch were huge inspirations for the premise! I wanted to make a film with a story that I thought would be slightly outside of everyone’s comfort zone, including mine. At first, it was hard to come up with a story that I’d be satisfied with, merely because the first few screenplay drafts of action narratives were too conventional and I didn’t feel a personal connection with them, so appropriately I took some time off of writing and did some contemplating. Consequently, I turned to “teen-hood” as a central theme; it was perfect since I myself, am a teen, and there are some issues that I thought needed to be dissected under a microscope.

Coming from St. John’s School, where the air is thick with competition and success driven motivation, I decided to focus on the ideals through a teen’s perspective. And what better era to display the quintessential teen life and the pinnacle of financial success than the 80s. On account of that liking for that era, I watched a ton of 80s teen flicks such as, The Breakfast Club”, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, “Risky Business” to grab some inspiration, however, I saw a recurring “cleanliness” in those movies that I thought I could veer away from then create my own sort of “dark parody”. So displaying the darker side of teen drug abuse caused by financial height was a form of breaking away from the cliché nature of those 80s teen films.  I knew that premise would be unique to show and questionable to watch. On a side note, the dialogue style is widely influenced by Stanley Kubrick’s (cinematography as well) and Woody Allen’s works.

As for the concept of renewal and realization from “greedy motivation”, as displayed by Marty Manson, I thought that putting his character under a nightmarish demise would be a great premise simply because I love the movies that contain that similar concept. Movies like Takashi Miike’s “Audition”, Coen Brother’s “Barton Fink”, and David Lynch’s “Eraserhead”, shared that means of changing a character in the most morbid way possible, which is messing with their psyche.

GIFF: Describe Marty Manson. How much of you is Marty?

KENT: Marty Manson is a cynical and exploitive character who has unmatched cockiness, and carries the beliefs of an existentialist philosopher with the genius of Andy Warhol. I think to an extent, I do possess the qualities of Marty. I’m not as depressive as he his, but I am very success driven and I do see myself as different from others sometimes. We share the same ideals but have different ways of achieving them. In the movie, he begs his teacher, Mrs. Lisa Gallagher Warhol, if she can work as a liaison in order for his painting to be displayed in a prestigious art museum. He uses his talent of exploiting people in order to encapsulate an emotion that’ll be translated into canvas in the form of a painting. This is slightly reflective of me, because I wanted my artwork or film to be displayed at the GIFF, however, unlike Marty, I don’t exploit or beg anybody to increase my work’s value. I work for myself and the actors work for themselves, it’s a correlating win win situation.

GIFF: The characters are cocky, rich and Asian! We noticed that the St. John’s drama department made up the cast as well as some of the faculty (Karen Flores). Coming from such an esteemed school with a reputation for its privileged and/or wealthy students and alumni, did you feel the possibility of any sort of backlash with producing such a provocative project while utilizing some of St. John’s resources? Tell us about that.

KENT: I wouldn’t say that I used “St. John’s resources” for my own benefit, because the actors are all self driven and they do it for the sake of the art regardless of who or what they work for. They themselves committed wholeheartedly to the film, as they would for a stage play or improv, and that’s what made working on the set of “Psyche” even easier and more liberating. The Drama Department in St. John’s consists of a lot of kids who are open minded and ready for anything regardless of content. They all know it’s for the process and the art; and I’m more than gratified since they allowed me to showcase their talent. These kids want to act for the sake of acting, and I’ve never seen such a group so committed to what they do and they do it with incomparable audacity.  As for backlash, I know for sure that there will be some controversy based on the characters’ profanity, but I’m not one to make movies that are constrained or half-assed, I want my stories to be artistically truthful and gutsy.

GIFF: Describe the most challenging obstacle that you encountered while producing “The Psyche of Manson”.

KENT: The biggest challenges I faced during the  production process of the movie were scheduling shooting times for the actors and making that instant transition from the mindset of a Director to the mindset of Marty the character. As a lone Director, the whole technical aspect completely sent my mind into a frenzy since I had to change the lighting and camera angles while keeping the spirits high on set, so making that change in mindsets kind of blocked my acting sensibilities, consequently taking a little bit away from the character.  And since all of the actors’ schedules are incredibly tight, I had to make some compromises and cut out precious parts from the original script. However, I do try to give myself some appeasement by telling myself that “it is my first feature and this is just a filmmaker’s learning process”. I’m my worst critic and realizing that statement helps soothe the bashing dramatically.

GIFF: Random question:

KENT: Random Answers
 
GIFF: Will this be your first time to attend GIFF?

KENT: Yes, it is my first time. I’m really stoked for it this year.

GIFF: What do you hope GIFF audiences will get from “The Psyche of Manson”?

KENT: I hope the audience will accept the story for what it is, without any hope for gimmicks whatsoever. I want this to be an intellectual film that will develop the audience’s curiosity for character and in depth plot analysis. Just as an artists takes his liberties by the throat, the audience is free to form any judgements about the film, I think it allows for controversy which equates to a more memorable film.

GIFF: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

KENT: I’d like to thank everyone who is a part of GIFF for seeing the artistic rigor that was put into this film and allowing it to be presented on the big screen. Much gratification.

GIFF: Thanks for taking the time Kent and congratulations again. Is there anything you’re looking forward to most at GIFF 2014?

KENT: I’m looking forward to seeing the other films, especially the ones done by my competitors in the same category. Best of luck to everyone.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Parental Delusions

There are good parents and there are bad parents, but there are no perfect parents.

What I find intriguing from talking to public school teachers around the island, is the way in which they see many parents unable to deal with the reality of their children or their level of parenting. The students that are the most problematic are usually those where the family is hardly involved in their education. The parents are absent in the home life, discipline isn't taught and order and structure aren't laid down and so those kids become problem students in school.

Kids misbehave, kids make mistakes, families become busy, attention is divided, these are all normal things. But when some parents are confronted with the misbehavior of their children, rather than recognizing the realities of life, they choose to throw up a facade of being perfect parents. Perfect parents are always blameless and so are their children. The school system is the problem. Other kids are the problem. The teachers, most of all they have to be the problem.

The perfect parent above all defends their child against all potential threats, especially teachers, administrators and other parents trying to tell them that their might be something wrong with their kid. Good parents adapt and listen and understand their own limitations and see potential solutions to problems. Bad parents don't care. But perfect parents aren't much use to anyone because their fantasies keep them from seeing the truth of their own children, what their strengths might be and what their weaknesses might be.

Desiree Taimanglo Ventura talks about this from another angle in her post below from her blog. In Chamorro we say "tangga yan bachet i saina" or "the parent is blind and deaf. The parent loves their child and may not be able to see their limitations and their faults. As a result when the kid misbehaves or acts in a superlative manner, the parents may not be able to perceive it. Their love can create an unrealistic fantasy of their children, where they are geniuses and if people don't seem to think so, it is just because they don't understand how unique and special their children are.

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Delusional Mommy – Honest Teacher

My son got his first homework assignment yesterday. I thought it was the cutest thing. It was a little worksheet with images he was supposed to match together: kitties, mittens, eyes, and pencils. I’ve seen him do worksheets like this before. Many kids his age do them. Most of them find it pretty easy (maybe even boring). But I was excited. My baby had HOMEWORK! I took pictures for our family flickr album.

My son looked at the sheet, quickly pointed out the answers, cheered for himself, and then tried to wiggle out of the situation. He wanted to take the crayons elsewhere and color something more interesting (and maybe eat a shit load of Elmo crackers while sticking leggos together). He didn’t want to pause and draw the lines connecting the images. A relative noticed and said, indignantly, “that homework is too easy for him. He doesn’t want to do it because he’s too smart. What’s wrong with that teacher? This is boring for him.”  But I didn’t view his boredom with it as a moment to marinate in my son’s exceptional mitten-matching abilities.  I figure there are other kids in the class that this is cake for, too.  I think there is something questionable about assuming every thing your kid does is a mark of genius. And I always listen quietly, a little embarrassed for other parents, when they go on forever about something really basic that their child does (that they are convinced makes their kid ready for NASA).

I’m an educator; so, when I hear comments like that (about kids being “too smart), I process them differently. I paused and thought a little bit. Yes, this assignment was kind of lightweight, but he’s three.  What the hell do you want? Yes, there is some merit to complaints brought forth about classrooms not challenging children the way they need to be, but in many instances, there’s a lot more to it. He was still learning something that would help him become a more successful student in the future. He was learning the importance of sitting down to tackle a chore he might not be in the mood for, a task that he might initially feel is beneath him. As a college instructor, this is an important life-skill that I believe many young adults are struggling with today. The inability to do something mundane is getting in the way of student-success for many young people.

Naturally, we Professors try to keep the instructional content as lively as possible, but at some point, you’re going to have to sit down and focus on a task that seems lame. Many times, the assignment or paper isn’t that difficult. What makes it FEEL difficult is the discipline it takes to sit down and get it done. Some students feel these mundane tasks are beneath them because they have been told, all their lives, by their very loving parents, that they’re brilliant. They know they’re amazing because it’s all they’ve heard growing up. Their knowledge of their alleged brilliance has become a handicap in their young adult lives. It worries me. I like to see my students do well. When some of them struggle, it’s seldom because they’re “too smart.” And yet, very routinely, I hear many parents (and students) claim the struggle is due to an over abundance of intellect.

Here’s the thing, parents: teachers deal with hundreds of kids every day. Almost all of them are amazing and exceptional in some way or another (some, not so much).  However, the ones that are routinely told they are too exceptional to function usually end up struggling in a number of other ways, ways that could have been prevented. “Too smart for this” becomes a crutch they lean on when the job doesn’t look fun or interesting enough (or when they simply aren’t in the mood to do it). I have seen many intelligent students drop out of their college programs, not because they were too smart, but because they couldn’t be bothered to pull it together and perform the mundane when it was required of them. I come from a long line of educators. After being dragged to many classrooms as a bystander, then sitting in them as a student, and ultimately ending up with a classroom of my own, there is one thing I have noticed about parents: we can be delusional about our children (yes, me too).

The individual we think we have raised is not always the individual the rest of the world interacts with. Our children are capable of being little assholes. They are capable of being lazy and obnoxious. They are capable of lying. They are capable of simply refusing to cooperate when it’s not a good day. And yes, teachers have an obligation to create a learning environment that rises above many of those challenges, but the fact remains that schools operate in the real world and hope to prepare your kid for life in the real world. Functioning in the real world requires a certain amount of doing what you don’t feel like doing. Throughout my teaching journey, I have encountered a handful of parents that simply refuse to believe the person in my classroom is the same person living with them.  Unfortunately,  we end up watching these enabled kids struggle.

If I had a dollar for every time I heard a parent claim their child was not doing well in school because he or she was just “too smart” or “bored,” I’d be a rich woman. If you added another dollar for every college freshman that said, “but I was in all AP classes in high school,” I’d be doubly wealthy. It’s not that I don’t want to praise my child or let him know that I think he’s a sharp little guy, but I do want to temper my praise with a little bit of perspective. Being an educator has made me more conscious of the way I view my child and his capabilities. I find myself thinking of the excuses I might make for him, the excuses I hear other parents making for their children. I listen to girlfriends go on about how exceptional their child is (all the while noting that the kid is usually right where he should be in terms of intellectual development, as opposed to light years ahead of his peers as his doting mom suspects).
So, last night, my response was that “No, he is NOT too smart for his homework. He has a great teacher.”  Before assuming that the teacher wasn’t “challenging” him, I took an honest step back and thought about the curriculum and where children his age should be emotionally, socially, and intellectually. I decided that it was a perfectly fine assignment. Obviously, he knows what a fucking cat is and where it is on the worksheet. I’m pretty sure his teacher knows he knows what a cat is, too. Emotional and social intelligence, as well as the ability to complete a task are important to nurture. Sometimes, your child’s teacher is trying to reinforce a greater life skill, one that will take your child very far if mastered.

Don’t be so quick to run around claiming things aren’t working out at school because your child is just “too smart.” Honestly, as a teacher, I’m tired of hearing it. I refuse to say it about my kid, even if sometimes, I think he’s ready to run for President.  When I feel like that, I remind myself to get a grip.  It’s good to be proud of your child, but there’s something scary about lapsing into delusion.  You’ve all heard a delusional parent before.  Who wants to be “that mom?” If your child truly is “too smart” for a particular grade, most teachers will find a way to have them tested, then push him / her to the right level, or actually adjust the curriculum. Sometimes, children who score high are kept in their grade anyway, because they don’t have the social skills and maturity needed to advance (that’s a whole other kind of intelligence). Yes, some kids are “too smart” for a particular classroom (and that can be addressed), but half the time, it’s not really the case.  The truth is, many kids test above their grade levels.  Many don’t.  Just because you have a kid that is testing a little higher does not mean they can’t be bothered with learning to function in the classroom. It’s not always the teacher’s fault. Sometimes, it’s not just because your kid is “too bright.” Sometimes, our kids need to be pushed to explore different manifestations of intelligence.

A friend shared this article with me and it gave me a lot to think about, too. I appreciated the author’s perspective. I thought I’d share it here:  The Learning Myth: Why I’ll Never Tell My Son He’s Smart, By Salman Kahn

Sunday, September 21, 2014

A New Chamorro Champion Emerges



The Chamorro language has lots of fans. This is something to applaud. Two generations ago, the Chamorro language was being used by more people, but had very few fans. Most people who used it didn't speak it to their children or those younger than them. So even if it was being spoken, it was not being passed on and so its death sentence was already being prepared. It had few fans, most of the older generations of Chamorros, who were World War II survivors and veterans of American colonialism, were not big fans of Chamorro. They saw it as something that was a relic of the past, tied to a stagnant and penniless way of life, and something to be gotten rid of to make way for English.

The game has changed. Chamorro now has more fans. The Chamorro language has more than 10,000 likes on Facebook. Attitudes have shifted so that people say the language should be saved and should be used. They admit to a beauty to it and it being an important part of the heritage of the Marianas. Only a handful of people, some who are Chamorro and some who are not Chamorro will openly say the Chamorro language is useless and shouldn't be saved.

But if the saving of the Chamorro language is a game, it is important to remember that fans don't win games. They are an important part of the atmosphere in which games are won and lost. But players win games, teams do, and all great successful teams need champions. Champions are those who take the fight to the next level, who can see further than others. They can adapt, take advantage of what is there, help influence what should exist. The Chamorro language has lots of fans today, but it needs champions, groups and individuals who take seriously the game of saving it and are not content to just sit on the sidelines wearing Guahan Soldier shirts and drinking Budweiser.

The kids show Nihi, created by my cousin Cara Flores-Mays, is one possible champion. It is something which can change the game, which can be a force that others rally around, that can affect everything that comes after. I am hoping that it will, para Guahu, lao mas para i famagu'on i famagu'on-hu siha.

Here is a PDN article about the potential that Nihi represents.

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"New show champions Chamorro language: targets kids age 5 - 9."
by Lacee A.C. Martinez
Pacific Daily News
September 19, 2014

In the brief preview to the upcoming kids local TV show "Nihi!," little Sumahi curls up next to her dad, Michael Bevacqua, under a make-shift blanket fort while introducing him.

"We do a lot of fun activities," the child says.


This could be any other kind of children's show, but Sumahi utters the sentence in Chamorro.

On Sept. 29, the first season of "Nihi!" premieres on several local television stations, aiming to perpetuate the Chamorro language and culture while encouraging environmental stewardship, healthy choices and character development.

Community support through sponsorship and volunteer work has finally gotten the nonprofit Duk Duk Goose Inc. project off the ground.

"Most of our topics are cultural and scientific," explains Cara Flores-Mays, director of the nonprofit, who also is featured on the show. "One of the first episodes will be on i pilan, the moon and the tides,"

Three months of original programming in the first season also will touch on farming, respect, native birds and other Guam aspects, with a target age range of 5 to 9.

"But we actually find that kids as young as 2 or 3 enjoy the program and my grandfather, he enjoys it as well," Flores-Mays says. "It's for the entire family."

While Bevacqua and his daughter are both Chamorro speakers, most involved aren't, but are learning through the show.

Skits involving language are coordinated and instructed by the Hurao Academy, and Flores-Mays says the show is in need of more kids who do speak the language.

"We're actually learning ourselves, so we coordinated with Hurao Academy and most of the skits you see are instructed by Hurao."

There are other instances with native speakers, including a segment with Michael Bevacqua and his daughter, who both are fluent Chamorro language speakers.

"It's actually been fairly difficult to find kids who are willing to be on TV," she says. "Finding kids, and then ones who have the patience and the ability to go through multiple rehearsals and also the filming (is hard). We are always happy to find new talent."

The show is expected to run seven days a week, twice a day except for Mondays, when it will air once, says Kristine Lujan, who sits on the nonprofit's board.

"In other words, we're going to be engaging our kids all week long," she says. "This is the only children's program of its kind. We have nothing like it on Guam. It engages children while inspiring the preservation and protection of Guam's story.

"And what is that? That is our language, our culture, our values. That is our organization's mission, first and foremost."

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Week in American Militarism

 The website Common Dreams is a very good resource for those interested in a wide range of progressive topics. You'll find Democrat politics articles, which aren't very critical or radical. You'll find pieces that both support Israelis right to defend itself but also condemn it as a nation that is perpetuating genocide and colonialism. There is plenty of environmental coverage and economic justice news on everything from unions, to climate change, to resource wars. For me personally, as someone who comes from an island in the Pacific that is known as the tip of the spear and an unsinkable aircraft carrier, I truly appreciate the coverage that Common Dreams provides on militarism, in particular American militarism. Naturally, their lens for filtering through the possibilities of news focuses primarily on the hotspots where Americans troops are currently bombing, fighting and occupying and so it doesn't attend much to places where the bases have existed for a long time and where the violence that persists has long been naturalized. Despite this it is a very good site for those wanting to know more about the wars that American is planning and prosecuting. 
Here are some recent articles from the site.
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Damaging Our Country from Wars of Choice

The drums of war are beating once again with the vanguard of U.S. bombers already over Iraq (and soon Syria) to, in President Obama’s words, “degrade and destroy ISIS.” The Republican Party, led by war-at-any-cost Senators Lindsay Graham and John McCain, wants a bigger military buildup which can only mean U.S. soldiers on the ground.

Here they go again. Another result of Bush’s war in Iraq. Washington has already expended thousands of American lives, hundreds of thousands of American injuries and illnesses, and over a million Iraqi lives. The achievement: the slaying or capture of Al Qaeda leaders, but with that came the spread of Al Qaeda into a dozen countries and the emergence of a new Al Qaeda on steroids called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) which has nominal control over an area in Syria and Iraq larger than the territory of Great Britain.

Still, no lessons have been learned. We continue to attack countries and side with one sectarian group against another, which only creates chaos and sets in motion the cycle of revenge and sparks new internal strife. So if slamming a hornet’s nest propels more hornets to start new nests, isn’t it time to rethink this militarization of U.S. foreign policy? It only increases the violent chaos in that region with the risk of a blow back affecting our country, such as suicide bombers attacking heavily populated public spaces. This kind of attack is very hard to stop, as we have seen thousands of times overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan.

According to Richard Clarke, former White House anti-terrorism advisor to George W. Bush, Osama bin Laden wanted Bush to invade Iraq, so that more Muslims would take up arms against the U.S. and more Muslims would hate our country for its destruction of their land and people. Similarly, ISIS would like nothing better than to embroil the U.S. and our soldiers in a ground war so that it can rally more people to expel the giant U.S. invader.

Then there is the massive over-reaction by our government and its ever-willing corporate contractors. Political turmoil ensues and our democratic institutions, already weakened in their defense of liberty, due process, and the rule of law, are further overwhelmed by the policing dictates of a profitable national security state.

Randolph Bourne, a hundred years ago, wrote an essay with these words about war:
“It automatically sets in motion throughout society those irresistible forces for uniformity, for passionate cooperation with the Government in coercing into obedience the minority groups and individuals which lack the larger herd sense… Other values such as artistic creation, knowledge, reason, beauty, the enhancement of life, are instantly and almost unanimously sacrificed…”
Benjamin Franklin understood this collective panic, when he said that people who prefer security to liberty deserve neither.

The fundamental question is whether our civil society can defend our institutions critical to maintaining a democratic society.

Will our courts fold before the over-reaching panic by the Executive Branch and its armed forces?
Will our Congress and state legislatures stand firm against sacrificing our liberty and our public budgets that serve our civil society’s necessities in the face of a police/military state’s over-reacting ultimatums?

Will our media resist hyper-focusing on the “war on terror” and give us other important news about ongoing American life?

Will our government pay more attention to preventing the yearly loss of hundreds of thousands of American lives from hospital infections, medical malpractice, defective products, air pollution, unsafe drugs, toxic workplaces and other domestic perils?

Not likely. The aftermath of the 9/11 atrocities resulted in brutal reaction. In devastating two countries and their civilians, far more American soldiers were injured and killed than those lives lost on 9/11, not to mention the trillions of dollars that could have been spent to save many lives here and repair, with good-paying jobs, the crumbling public works in our communities.

Sadly, our democratic institutions and civil resiliency are not presently prepared to hold fast with the forces of reason, prudence and smart responses that forestall a national nervous breakdown – one which happens to be very profitable and power-concentrating for the few against the many.

Consider what our leaders did to our democracy during their “war on terrorism.” Secret laws, secret courts, secret evidence, secret dragnet snooping on everyone, unauditable, massive secret spending for military quagmires abroad, secret prisons and even censored, judicial decisions that are supposed to be fully disclosed! Government prosecutors often have made shambles of their duty to show probable cause and respect habeas corpus and other constitutional rights. Thousands of innocent people were jailed without charges and detained without attorneys after 9/11.

The Al Qaeda leaders wanted to not only instill fear about public safety in America, but also to weaken us economically by tying us down overseas. Why are our rulers obliging them? Because, in a grotesque way, power in Washington and profit on Wall Street benefit.

Only the people, who do not benefit from these wars, can organize the exercise of their constitutional sovereignty to shape responses that promote safety without damaging liberty.

One percent of the citizenry diversely organized in congressional districts and reflecting the “public sentiment” can turn around, perhaps with the funding support of an enlightened billionaire or two, the Congress and the White House. Are you up to this challenge?
Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer, and author. His latest book is The Seventeen Solutions: Bold Ideas for Our American Future. Other recent books include, The Seventeen Traditions: Lessons from an American Childhood, Getting Steamed to Overcome Corporatism: Build It Together to Win, and "Only The Super-Rich Can Save Us" (a novel).


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US Senate Approves $500 Million to Arm Syrian Militants

Lawmakers back president's plan to expand new war in the Middle East
Despite loud warnings from many quarters—including foreign policy experts, the anti-war left and dissenting CIA analysts—that such a move could prove disastrous, the U.S. Senate on Thursday voted overwhelmingly to approve $500 million in government funds to help arm, train, and support so-called moderate military forces inside Syria.

The 78-22 vote—which came packaged as part of a continuing resolution for broader government spending—received bipartisan support with only 9 Democrats,  12 Republicans, and one independent (Sen. Bernie Sanders) voting against it. (See the full roll call vote here.)

Approved earlier in the week by the House of Representatives, the legislation is now headed for President Obama's desk where he is likely to sign it.

Obama has said that he does not think he needs Congressional approval for his overall strategy to confront the militant group known as the Islamic State (or ISIS) that has no taken over large swaths of territory in both Iraq and Syria. Simultaneously, however, the president has tried to garner as many visible signs of support from lawmakers as possible. The votes this week offer him plenty of cover as the Pentagon continues to make plans for expected, though deeply controversial, airstrikes against ISIS targets inside Syria.

As Obama has deployed increasing numbers of ground troops back into Iraq in recent weeks and expanded the U.S. bombing campaign, lawmakers have largely stood aside.

Explaining his vote against Thursday's measure, Sen. Sanders said, “I fear very much that supporting questionable groups in Syria who will be outnumbered and outgunned by both ISIS and the Assad regime could open the door to the United States once again being dragged back into the quagmire of long-term military engagement.”

On Thursday, filmmakers at Brave New Films released a succinct anti-war video arguing against Obama's flawed strategy in Iraq and Syria, saying that the president and those who back him are making the very same mistakes that have plagued U.S. foreign policy for decades.

"Since 1980," the narrator of the films states, "we have militarily intervened at least 35 times in more than 27 countries. We keep bombing, we continue spending trillions of dollars, but we're no safer as a result."


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The God of War is on the Verge of Another Victory

Addressing the complexity of others’ brutal behavior means facing our terrifying complicity in it
Barack Obama’s central dilemma last week, when he tried to sell a new war to the American public on the eve of the thirteenth anniversary of 9/11, was to speak convincingly about the wisdom and effectiveness of U.S. foreign policy over the last decade-plus while at the same time, alas, dropping the bad news that it didn’t work.

Thus: “Thanks to our military and counterterrorism professionals, America is safer.”

Hurray! God bless drones and “mission accomplished” and a million Iraqi dead and birth defects in Fallujah. God bless torture. God bless the CIA. But guess what?

“Still we continue to face a terrorist threat. We cannot erase every trace of evil from the world, and small groups of killers have the capacity to do great harm.”

So it’s bombs away again, boys—another trace of evil has popped up in the Middle East—and I find myself at the edge of outrage, the edge of despair, groping for language to counter my own incredulity that the God of War is on the verge of another victory and Planet Earth and human evolution lose again.

Obama ended his executive declaration of more war with words that the military-industrial shills have slowly managed to turn into an obscenity: “May God bless our troops, and may God bless the United States of America.”

God bless another war?

Tom Engelhardt, writing a few days ago at TomDispatch, called it “Iraq 3.0,” noting: “Nowhere, at home or abroad, does the obvious might of the United States translate into expected results, or much of anything else except a kind of roiling chaos. . . . And one thing is remarkably clear: each and every application of American military power globally since 9/11 has furthered the fragmentation process, destabilizing whole regions.

“In the twenty-first century, the U.S. military has been neither a nation- nor an army-builder, nor has it found victory, no matter how hard it’s searched. It has instead been the equivalent of the whirlwind in international affairs, and so, however the most recent Iraq war works out, one thing seems predictable: the region will be
further destabilized and in worse shape when it’s over.”

Obama’s speech is addressed to a nation with a dead imagination. Doing “something” about the Islamic State means dropping bombs on it. Bombing runs don’t inconvenience a politician’s constituents and always seem like stalwart action: a squirt of Raid on an infestation of bugs. They never kill innocent people or result in unintended consequences; nor, apparently, do they provoke an instant sense of horror, the way a beheading does.

Indeed, declarations of war always seem to lift people up. This is because they separate us from the evil that our enemies are committing. Addressing the complexity of others’ brutal behavior means facing our terrifying complicity in it—which is asking far too much of any Beltway-entrenched U.S. politician. Obama hasn’t broken in any way from his inarticulate predecessor in attempting to exploit the simplistic emotional safe haven of war and militarism.

“How do I respond when I see that in some Islamic countries there is vitriolic hatred for America?” George Bush asked during a press conference a month after the 9/11 attacks (quoted recently by William Blum in his latest Anti-Empire Report). “I’ll tell you how I respond: I’m amazed. I’m amazed that there’s such misunderstanding of what our country is about that people would hate us. I am—like most Americans, I just can’t believe it because I know how good we are.”

Obama is trying to extract the same public acquiescence to military aggression from the IS beheadings of two U.S. journalists and a British aid worker as Bush did from 9/11. Bush had the distinct advantage of not having himself—and the disastrous mess he created—as his predecessor. Nevertheless, Iraq 3.0 is going to become a reality, even though bombing Iraq will just strengthen IS and likely open the door to the next multi-year military quagmire.

As David Swanson laments on the website World Beyond War, speaking of the first journalist IS brutally murdered, “James Foley is not a war ad.”

“When 9/11 victims were used as a justification to kill hundreds of times the number of people killed on 9/11, some of the victims’ relatives pushed back,” Swanson writes. Linking to a video in which Foley talks about the hell and absurdity of war with filmmaker Haskell Wexler during the NATO protests in Chicago two years ago, he adds: “Now James Foley is pushing back from the grave.”

He invites us to watch Foley talk about “the dehumanization needed before people can be killed, the shallowness of media coverage” and other toxic realities of war that usually don’t show up in presidential speeches.

“We cannot erase every trace of evil from the world . . .”

I can’t believe I live in a country that still tolerates such simplistic, knife-edged rhetoric. Oh, so much evil out there! The U.S. government, in all its might and purity, has no choice but to go after it with every weapon in its arsenal. What Obama doesn’t bother to say, though perhaps in some helpless, futile way he knows, is that engaging in the game of war is always an act of defeat. And the opponents, in their brutal aggression toward each other and everyone else, are always on the same side.


Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His new book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound is now available. Contact him at koehlercw@gmail.com or visit his website at commonwonders.com.

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The Next Round of an Unwinnable War Beckons

Bombing raids on Islamic State targets in Iraq may just make things worse.
Once again, a U.S. president vows to eliminate an extremist militia in the Middle East to make the region, and Americans, safe.

And that means it’s time again for a reality check. Having failed in its bid to destroy the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, the United States is still trying to dismantle both organizations. Over the course of 13 years of war, that mission has spread to Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Mali, and West Africa, as militant groups on two continents have adopted the al-Qaeda brand.

Contrary to normal logic, the White House wants everyone to see this failure as a badge of expertise. As President Barack Obama vowed in an interview on Meet the Press, fighting the Islamic State forces “is something we know how to do,” mainly because we’ve been battling similar groups “for five, six, seven years.”

Years of air strikes, drone-operated killings, and covert operations have brought neither peace nor safety to the region and its people. Estimates of the death toll from U.S. attacks in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia alone range from 3,100 to 5,400, including 570-1,200 civilians. Precise figures are impossible to obtain since the strikes remain classified, and investigating drone attacks is difficult and dangerous work.

Nor has the drone campaign halted the proliferation of groups seeking to link their — usually local — agendas to the idea of a global struggle represented by al-Qaeda. Indiscriminate killing — and the constant fear of death from above — has only destroyed communities and provided easy recruitment material for extremist groups.

Obama promises that his plan to combat and destroy the Islamic State forces will also address the underlying political problems in Iraq and Syria. Such claims are tenuous, at best. What’s far more certain is that all military campaigns have unintended consequences, some of which don’t appear for many years afterward.

The Islamic State itself is largely a product of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. Dismantling the Iraqi state and rebuilding it along sectarian lines produced an authoritarian government dominated by Shiite Islamists who ignored minority grievances and often suppressed dissent with bullets. The result? An entrenched civil war with no end in sight.

Although U.S. media coverage of the violence in Iraq subsided following the withdrawal of combat troops, sectarian attacks against civilians have continued. Car bombs, street assaults, and kidnappings have transformed Baghdad into a city segregated by sect. Large parts of the country, including the Sunni majority areas in the west and north, feel abandoned by the central government.

These political tensions are the reason why the Islamic State has found some support in the areas it has taken over. Bombing Islamic State targets — especially where they are embedded in communities and liable to cause civilian casualties — carries no promise of changing this dynamic for the better. It’s more likely to change it for the worse.

The Islamic State is indeed a danger to the people of the region and to efforts to resolve the political conflicts in Iraq and Syria. Yet the past decade has shown, again and again, that American firepower doesn’t solve these problems. Even if Washington manages to help destroy this al-Qaeda spinoff, the grievances that give rise to groups like it can’t be bombed out of existence.

The campaign formerly called “the War on Terror” has only proven to perpetuate both war and terror.

No amount of rebranding or wishful thinking will change that reality this time around.
Amanda Ufheil-Somers is the assistant editor of Middle East Report, published by the Middle East Research and Information Project. MERIP.org

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