Sunday, May 11, 2014

Hashtag Histrionics

Michelle Obama, self-anointed mom-in-chief and ambassador of feel-good neoliberalism, has used the occasion of the star-studded #BringBackOurGirls Twitterblitz to implicitly scold a nation full of youthful American slackers. Because what's Mothers Day for, if not for the infliction of guilt?

From her White House address:
The (kidnapped Nigerian) girls themselves also knew full well the dangers they might encounter. Their school had recently been closed due to terrorist threats…but these girls still insisted on returning to take their exams. They were so determined to move to the next level of their education…so determined to one day build careers of their own and make their families and communities proud.  
That was the standard lead-in to the scold pivot. To wit: In Nigeria, the kids are saints who do not let fear of bodily harm stand in the way of exam-taking, parent-pleasing, nation-building, plutocrat-enriching and career-starting. Unlike in Spoiled Bratsville, USA. So here comes today's lesson:
Yet, we know that girls who are educated make higher wages, lead healthier lives, and have healthier families. And when more girls attend secondary school, that boosts their country’s entire economy. So education is truly a girl’s best chance for a bright future, not just for herself, but for her family and her nation. And that’s true right here in the U.S. as well…so I hope the story of these Nigerian girls will serve as an inspiration for every girl – and boy – in this country. I hope that any young people in America who take school for granted – any young people who are slacking off or thinking of dropping out – I hope they will learn the story of these girls and recommit themselves to their education.
Got that, slackers of America? Get off your butts. If the Nigerian kids can withstand mayhem and murder, so can you. The education-impeding terror of pediatric casualties by gunfire,  and gang war collateral damage on the streets of Chicago and other blighted cities are nothing compared to what other kids in other parts of the world have to go through. So feel the guilt, and get educated -- not so much for the love of learning, but to please others and boost the economy. Bootstraps, people. Bootstraps!

Michelle Obama is getting a lot of criticism for her speech. But not for its being part of the serial scolding that she and her husband indulge in whenever they talk to (mainly minority) youth audiences. Rather, FLOtus is being scolded for her rank hypocrisy in concern-trolling a terror campaign against Nigerian girls without acknowledging her own husband's state-sponsored terror campaign of drone strikes against thousands of girls, boys, moms, dads, grandmas and grandpas. While she waxed rhapsodic about her meeting with brave young shooting victim Malala Yousafzai at the White House, Michelle failed to mention that Malala had also bravely confronted Barack about his Kill List.

In Pakistan's "tribal areas," families aren't buying the phony bravery lectures. They're wisely keeping their children out of schools because schools are often targets of drone strikes. People complain of not being able to sleep because of the constant buzzing of American drones overhead. The kids can't concentrate nearly enough to make their folks and their communities proud and use, as Michelle says, their "god-given" talents to make money and boost the economy.

In their exhaustive study on the physical and mental health affects of drones on civilians in North Waziristan, a team of Stanford University researchers report:
One man described the reaction to the sound of the drones as “a wave of terror” coming over the community. “Children, grown-up people, women, they are terrified. . . . They scream in terror.”[202] Interviewees described the experience of living under constant surveillance as harrowing. In the words of one interviewee: “God knows whether they’ll strike us again or not. But they’re always surveying us, they’re always over us, and you never know when they’re going to strike and attack.”[203] Another interviewee who lost both his legs in a drone attack said that “[e]veryone is scared all the time. When we’re sitting together to have a meeting, we’re scared there might be a strike. When you can hear the drone circling in the sky, you think it might strike you. We’re always scared. We always have this fear in our head.”[204]
A Pakistani psychiatrist, who has treated patients presenting symptoms he attributed to experience with or fear of drones, explained that pervasive worry about future trauma is emblematic of “anticipatory anxiety,”[205] common in conflict zones.[206] He explained that the Waziris he has treated who suffer from anticipatory anxiety are constantly worrying, “‘when is the next drone attack going to happen? When they hear drone sounds, they run around looking for shelter.”[207] Another mental health professional who works with drone victims concluded that his patients’ stress symptoms are largely attributable to their belief that “[t]hey could be attacked at any time.”[208]
When [children] hear the drones, they get really scared, and they can hear them all the time so they’re always fearful that the drone is going to attack them. . . [B]ecause of the noise, we’re psychologically disturbed—women, men, and children. . . Twenty-four hours, [a] person is in stress and there is pain in his head.[241]
Noor Behram, a Waziri journalist who investigates and photographs drone strike sites, noted the fear in children: “if you bang a door, they’ll scream and drop like something bad is going to happen.”[242] A Pakistani mental health professional shared his worries about the long-term ramifications of such psychological trauma on children:
The biggest concern I have as a [mental health professional] is that when the children grow up, the kinds of images they will have with them, it is going to have a lot of consequences. You can imagine the impact it has on personality development. People who have experienced such things, they don’t trust people; they have anger, desire for revenge . . . So when you have these young boys and girls growing up with these impressions, it causes permanent scarring and damage.[243]
An article about Michelle Obama's speech in The Guardian has drawn hundreds of reader comments, a huge proportion of which have been deleted by moderators. Here, though, is a "fair and balanced" sampling of surviving public opinion:
Michelle see's her daughters in the kidnapped girls, that's nice.Any chance she can also see the innocent children her husband butchers on a weekly basis?
From drone attacks across the globe to 'empire building' in Venezuela, Ukraine, Egypt etc the body count just keeps piling up doesn't it.
Apparently the world is full of scumbags with large guns who get off slaughtering the innocent and try to justify their actions. Whether it's religion or 'freedom and democracy', the result is the same horror.
### (the hashtags are for comment-separation purposes only, not for sloganeering. Just so you know.)
Surely it is a good thing that someone cares about these missing 300 girls and what has happened to them. Too, it is humanitarian to use what resources the US government has to bring them back to their homes and parents. Hopefully that can be done without politicizing the issue and with no other agenda, but that the phrase "the battle against terrorism" has been added to the discussion by Wiwa raises for me feelings of unease, though.
It's also positive that Michelle has mentioned the conditions and lives of girls world wide, that they face many challenges and obstacles and that their hopes, aspirations and potentials are often truncated -surely unacceptable and unnecessary. In contrast, closer to home, there are over 60,000 [sixty thousand] homeless children in New York City alone, countless tent cities across America and in many communities near 25% of school children are homeless. Near 50% of American children are in families living below the poverty line and the only meals they get are those provided by school lunches and breakfasts. In DC, homelessness and homeless children are very visible and growing in number; many families sleep in abandoned cars, under bridges, in parks and doorways. This is not to say that one group of children are more deserving than another; all children everywhere should be protected from conflicts and the consequences of war, nurtured, protected, cherished and given a chance to reach their full potential. But I am disappointed that Michelle feels called to action about children on another continent, while saying nothing about the homelessness, hunger and poverty of children literally and virtually in her own backyard.
Horrible and brutal what happened to these girls, chilling - I have a daughter myself and one on the way. BUT
With all this military intervention, now all these neo-colonial powers will have armed forces on the ground in another oil-rich nation. Sad that my mind turns cynical thoughts like this, no doubt. Am I out of line or is this what could be happening - an opportune moment to begin the next round of colony-building?
'Nigeria also has a wide array of underexploited mineral resources which include natural gas, coal, bauxite, tantalite, gold, tin, iron ore, limestone, niobium, lead and zinc. Despite huge deposits of these natural resources, the mining industry in Nigeria is still in its infancy.'
The Whitehouse clearly thinks most people are idiots. Maybe they are.
Jesus. You all sound like a bunch of guardian-readers. Is it not blindingly obvious that civil society is thick with politics, and politics not only cannot exist without hypocrisy, but that hypocrisy is practically its definition?
Perhaps you'd rather live in China or Russia. Perhaps they are helping too, but we haven't heard about it.
Michele Obama is right - it is an affront to any civil society that 200 girls - people's daughters - can be loaded into trucks and be driven off. And education is a massive problem across vast swathes of the world. Pity she looks like such a finger-wagging school marm, and telling Americans to finish their eduction is really about appealing to the less imaginative of her public.
But 200 families are missing their daughters, sisters, cousins etc, who are probably being subjected to some fairly blood-curdling abuses. The issue is not Michele Obama! Surely anything that can be done to focus attention is good.
It is shameful that the Nigerian government has been powerless to act. It must for them be the very worst kind of humiliation, exposing as it does the limitations of their state apparatus, and therefore any purpose in having a state at all. There will be far-reaching ramifications, not least further raids, which have happened already. But also there will be other groups of war-mongers who see in these actions a brilliant idea, and wonder if it's easier than they had imagined to procure sex slaves in such numbers.
Is this not a dark prospect? And surely any other claim by Boko Haram is brazenly insulting.
I am a father, and I have a daughter. I don't care about Michele Obama's personal PR efforts. If she lacks style, isn't getting it right in how she delivers it, it doesn't matter. It is a political issue, for all of us, and politics work by precedent and through public relations. What slips away from the agenda gets forgotten.
Or does the outcome not matter to any of you who are carping so visciously? Is there an implied racism or sexism there? Hypocrisy, maybe?
Meanwhile, the best analysis of the #BringBackOurGirls phenomenon I've read is by Margaret Kimberley of Black Agenda Report:
While Americans wring their hands over the abducted teens, they know nothing about the African strong men supported by their government who do the very same thing. American allies like Yoweri Museveni in Uganda and Paul Kagame in Rwanda have kidnapped children and forced them to become soldiers. Both are also responsible for the deaths of six million Congolese. Americans not only have to be better informed, but they must stop thinking that their government and its allies are good and beneficent when they are anything but.
Sometimes the answer to the question, “What can we do?” is “Nothing.” There is nothing that the average American citizen can do to get these girls released and those with the power to do something aren’t very interested in internecine warfare in Nigeria. Their machinations created this and so many other tragedies around the world.
 There's just something so insidiously destructive about the entertainment industry's Hashtag fetish, and its evil cousin, the celebrity Selfie, juxtaposed with the latest outbreak of banana republic butchery. This is all about suppressing nuance, and history, and the decoupling of learning for the sake of learning from corporatized education for the sake of the unfettered, free market economy.

It's also, I suspect, about #ParanoiaStrong and keeping the populace compliant as we are lulled into projecting the plight of the Nigerian victims onto our own (and of course Michelle's) precious children. According to a recent poll, fully 40% of American parents are already afraid to let their kids play outside unsupervised, lest they get kidnapped by strangers. The chance of this actually happening is extremely remote. But bring back our girls. Don't fear the ruling elites in your own country. Be afraid of the Other, instead. Keep fear of the unknown alive.

  How about we bring back some honesty. How about we bring back some  humanity.


James F Traynor said...

Humanity? Your'e kidding, right Karen? Shit, they wouldn't know what it means.And I'm not sure I do.
Does it mean solving a quadratic equation for it's roots? Or the solution to a differential equation, if it has one? Or proving or disproving string theory?
To me it means a shaman pointing the way for a hunter through the spring ice or feeding hungry children left behind. All the rest is superficial bullshit. But it is pretty. I think Epicurus knew that.

Zee said...

def: humanity: humaneness; benevolence.

"He praised them for their standards of humanity, care, and dignity.”

synonyms: compassion, brotherly love, fraternity, fellow feeling, philanthropy, humaneness, kindness, consideration, understanding, sympathy, tolerance


I can't speak for Barack, Michelle and their subordinates, who routinely and casually accept the collateral deaths of innocents in their hunt for, and execution of, “terrorists”—without benefit of a trial— but based on what you write in this forum, I think that you have a better understanding of “humanity” than you care to let on.


And if the former have any doubts or regrets or guilt about what they are doing, then perhaps they still have some shred of humanity clinging to them, too. Moral consistency is a difficult thing for us humans. It's really all shades of gray, unless one is a total psychopath without any “humanity” whatsoever.

Which, perhaps, Barack et al. could be. I've never met the family or the administration lackeys, and I don't much like psychoanalysis at a distance.

I, too, understand and resent the hypocrisy of the Obama administration in seeking to make political hay of the kidnapping of those 200+ Nigerian schoolgirls: Why shed crocodile tears for these particular schoolgirls when you're doing serious damage—up to and including disfigurement, dismemberment and death—to so many others? Well, the answer to that is as reprehensible as it is obvious: there's political capital to be accrued here.

Still, not being a pacifist, and having a visceral, white-hot, burning hatred of the very thought of one person enslaving another, it would not bother my conscience a whit were Obama to send in Seal Team Six—or the Brits, their SAS—and free those schoolgirls at whatever the cost to the soldiers of Boko Haram.

Where's the “humanity” in that?

Pearl said...

People who live decently with compassion and caring for their fellow human beings don't hide their activities. This adminstration under Obama, has hidden all the rotten things they do behind the curtains: drones, supporting spying on everyone, "global" arrangements such as the PTT, illegal and unconstitutional decisions, ad infinitum; and if reporters try to speak out they are censored or threatened, to say nothing of ordinary people who try to change things.
There is more and more angry reaction to the hypocrisy going on in Congress, the Supreme Court and the White House which is a healthy sign to be supported by all those who sense danger ahead. There is going to be a reckoning coming up before too long which we should be prepared for.
Thank you Karen for an inspiring column for Mother's day.

Jay - Ottawa said...

Whole villages in Pakistan and Yemen live under the buzz of drones overhead around the clock for weeks. It doesn’t take long for kids and adults to become pretzeled from fear or, in the lingo of psychologists, from “anticipatory anxiety.” The constant strain of worrying about the next hellfire hit is said to be sufficient to scar the lives of the children indefinitely.

Informed, compassionate and fair-minded mother that she is, FLOTUS will no doubt engage POTUS in serious momtalk that will put an end to American drones’ destroying other people’s children.

annenigma said...

Off topic but an important heads up!

Here is my comment to the Public Editor's piece about 'Where Are the Women?"


The Times should bring on Karen Garcia, a consistently top rated commentator. She's got the biting wit and political breadth and depth of knowledge to draw a multitude of readers - which she already does, for free.

Why the NYT hasn't recruited her yet is a mystery to me. Maybe because they don't have to pay her but still get the benefit of readers who go directly to the comments section to read hers?

Hire Karen Garcia for the opinion page!

annenigma said...

Oops, my comment is still pending approval since I am a questionable character, a lowly Un-Verified, but when it does appear please join me in casting a vote for Karen!

annenigma said...

Re: NYT Public Editor

It's been hours and they haven't added a single comment. I think they went home for the night.

annenigma said...

I;m still on my soapbox and the comment is finally posted, along with new comments.

Recommend Karen for the NYT Opinion page!

Will said...

Greenwald is so right: Hillary's next in line for the Presidential throne, and if you don't like it, you're a misogynist. Super yuck. (Almost as yucky as posting a link to newsbusters, but not quite.)

Karen Garcia said...

Thank you, anneenigma. But my habitual dissing of the Gray Lady is probably not endearing me to Her Majesty!

They won't even give Gretchen Morgensen her own column. They bury her in the business section, and elevate Joe Nocera. Their next woman columnist, if there is one, will be another centrist or conservative. Or somebody from the "Style" section to replace MoDo if she ever retires.

msnandover54 said...

Right on, as they (and I) say:

"... How about we bring back some honesty. How about we bring back some humanity."

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