Tuesday Reads: Comedies and Errors

Every why hath a wherefore. 

William Shakespeare from Comedy of Errors

Good Morning!download (12)

I’ve found several stories worth following today.

First, it seems that Somaly Mam of the Cambodian foundation that rescues underage girls from sex work is under heavy scrutiny and criticism. Mam has been the focus of a series of articles in the NYT by Nicholas Kristof as well as documentaries and books.  It seems she got creative in her storytelling. Kristof has yet to write or speak on the matter.

In Nicholas Kristof’s columns in the New York Times, he portrayedMs. Mam in an extraordinarily positive light. He was not alone in doing so. Ms. Mam attracted many high-profile supporters, from Susan Sarandon to John Kerry to Sheryl Sandberg.

In a 2009 column, Mr. Kristof told the story of Long Pross, a teenager (also known as Somana) who said that her eye had been gouged out by a pimp, after she was forced into prostitution. Newsweek has reported, based on medical records, that the girl’s missing eye is the result of surgery to remove a non-malignant tumor when she was 13.

A great deal of money has been raised to combat sex-trafficking, in part as a result of Mr. Kristof’s writing about Ms. Mam on multiple occasions. And there’s little doubt that sex-trafficking is a problem worth paying attention to, and working to end. But now that Ms. Mam has stepped down from the foundation that bears her name — following not only the Newsweek story but the foundation’s internal investigation — many readers, on Twitter and in emails to my office, are asking what Mr. Kristof’s responsibility is for setting the record straight.

0a7b0e195b5ab0d257a2d3766332792dMam has quit her own foundation.

Somaly Mam’s story is incredible. Her autobiography, “The World of Lost Innocence,” detailed how she was born in a village in the Cambodian rain forest and sold into sexual slavery as a child by her “grandfather.” She was stuck in Southeast Asia’s sex industry for 10 years until she finally escaped in her early 20s (her exact age isn’t clear as she has no birth documents).

Mam began to settle into regular life, marrying a French man, moving to Europe and having children of her own. But her childhood experiences led her to save other girls who were suffering a similar fate. She returned to Cambodia and set up Acting for Women in Distressing Situations (known by its French acronym Afesip), a charity devoted to rescuing women and girls in Cambodia and neighboring Laos who are forced into prostitution.

Her efforts gained her international recognition – a 2009 appearance in the Time 100 was written by Angelina Jolie – and in turn raised millions for the protection of children and women from prostitution. But as incredible as that story is, its accuracy is now in serious doubt. On Wednesday, Gina Reiss-Wilchins, executive director of the Somaly Mam Foundation, a U.S.-based organization that acted as a fundraiser for Afesip, said that Mam had resigned from the foundation after being presented with the findings of an investigation by a California-based law firm, Goodwin Procter (Mam is not currently employed by Afesip).

While the exact details from Goodwin Procter have not been released, allegations of inconsistencies in Mam’s past have been around for years. Doubts went back at least as far as 2012, when Mam gave a speech to the U.N. General Assembly that said that the Cambodian army had killed eight girls after a raid on her organization’s Phnom Penh center in 2004.

Following an investigation by Simon Marks in Cambodia Daily, Mam admitted that the claim was inaccurate. “I had in no way intended to allege that girls were murdered during the shelter raid,” Mam told Cambodia Daily in an e-mail, adding that her comments had been “ambiguous.”

Later that year, Pierre Legros – Mam’s French ex-husband – came forward to describe another incident that had not occurred as Mam had described it. In 2006, Mam told Mariane Pearl, wife of Daniel Pearl, in an article for Glamour Magazine that her teenage daughter had been abducted by human traffickers as revenge for her activism. Mam mentioned the incident again in her U.N. speech, which prompted Legros to respond. His daughter had in fact run away with a boyfriend, he said, claiming that he wanted to protect her privacy and stop her being used as “marketing” for the Somaly Mam Foundation.

Other NGOs working on sex trafficking are trying to pick up the pieces.images (44)

What the Somaly Mam story highlights is a state of affairs that many of us in the social change movement bemoan, namely that simple stories of exploitation rarely grab the public’s imagination, the donors, or the press. Unless the overdone images of runny noses, torn clothing, or worse, naked children in a cage waiting to be sold, are splashed on glossy pages, the actual suffering of human beings too often fails to trigger widespread empathy or outrage.

In addition to this heightened need for sensationalism, our society craves numbers. Suffering in small quantities is rarely enough. Given the undercover and “hidden in plain sight” crimes of human trafficking, no entity has been definitively able to pin down the actual number of victims. From the United Nations to national statistics, the numbers range widely from 2.5 million to 20.9 million. Irrespective of the range, all agree that the majority of those estimated individuals are women and children with a majority of that group ending up in the sex trade. In a recent report, theInternational Labor Organization estimated that profits from human trafficking generated $150 billion, two-thirds of which, or $90 billion, stem from commercial sexual exploitation.

Cambodia is designated as a source, transit and destination country for labor and sex trafficking. The U.S. State Department also found that the sale of virgin women and girls continues to be a problem and that Cambodian men form the “largest source of demand for child prostitution.” Regardless of its founder’s personal failings, the Somaly Mam Foundation has plenty of urgent work ahead.

In collaboration with the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center, Dr. Melissa Farley, of Prostitution Research and Education, interviewed 133 Cambodian men who purchased commercial sex. The study shows that almost all of these male buyers interviewed in Phnom Penh stated that they witnessed extreme violence inflicted on the prostituted women, more often than not controlled by pimps. The men surveyed also saw children available for paid sexual abuse in brothels, bars and massage parlors. One of the “johns” astutely said that “prostitution is the man’s heaven but it is also those girls’ hell.”

The Somaly Mam episode cannot be used as an excuse to deny or ignore the undeniable exploitation of countless human beings in the sex trade

snake-oilTons of controversy surrounds the capture and release of American POW Bowe Bergdahl.  I’ve been reading some on this and there are several threads of outrage going on.  Some felt Bowe should have been left to the Taliban because of some evidence that he went AWOL.  Others believe that it’s a value of our country and are armed services to leave no one behind.  The right wing is going berserk over some twitters posted by Bergdahl’s father.  I’m not sure what the implication is supposed to be, but the entire thing is turning into a circus act.  Snow Flake Snookie has hit the grifting trail in search of outrage and funds.  Some how, she has decided the soldier’s guilt and fate so any potential military tribunal should just STFU.  I’ve been looking for less outraged and more informative sources.  Here’s the story from one soldier who was assigned to hunt for Bergdahl along with other soldiers.  Some of these soldiers were KIA.

Our deployment was hectic and intense in the initial months, but no one could have predicted that a soldier would simply wander off. Looking back on those first 12 weeks, our slice of the war in the vicinity of Sharana resembles a perfectly still snow-globe—a diorama in miniature of all the dust-coated outposts, treeless brown mountains and adobe castles in Paktika province—and between June 25 and June 30, all the forces of nature conspired to turn it over and shake it. On June 25, we suffered our battalion’s first fatality, a platoon leader named First Lieutenant Brian Bradshaw. Five days later, Bergdahl walked away.

His disappearance translated into daily search missions across the entire Afghanistan theater of operations, particularly ours. The combat platoons in our battalion spent the next month on daily helicopter-insertion search missions (called “air assaults”) trying to scour villages for signs of him. Each operations would send multiple platoons and every enabler available in pursuit: radio intercept teams, military working dogs, professional anthropologists used as intelligence gathering teams, Afghan sources in disguise. They would be out for at least 24 hours. I know of some who were on mission for 10 days at a stretch. In July, the temperature was well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit each day.

These cobbled-together units’ task was to search villages one after another. They often took rifle and mortar fire from insurgents, or perhaps just angry locals. They intermittently received resupply from soot-coated Mi-17s piloted by Russian contractors, many of whom were Soviet veterans of Afghanistan. It was hard, dirty and dangerous work. The searches enraged the local civilian population and derailed the counterinsurgency operations taking place at the time. At every juncture I remember the soldiers involved asking why we were burning so much gasoline trying to find a guy who had abandoned his unit in the first place. The war was already absurd and quixotic, but the hunt for Bergdahl was even more infuriating because it was all the result of some kid doing something unnecessary by his own volition.

Some of the contentiousness is due to the five Taliban who were swapped for the soldier.  None of these guys will ever be up for humanitarian awards wizard_oil_vintage_advertisement_postcard-r3fe2e7e522e74e558c2325b2424de59d_vgbaq_8byvr_324and some feel they are still a danger.

Below is information about each of the detainees released.

Khairullah Khairkhwa is the most senior ex-Guantanamo prisoner who comes from “the fraternity of original Taleban who launched the movement in 1994,” according the Afghanistan Analysts Network. He surrendered to President Hamid Karzai’s brother just before he was captured in January 2002. His most prominent position was as governor of Herat Province from 1999 to 2001. He served in various Taliban positions including interior minister and had direct ties to Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden.

Mullah Norullah Noori served as governor of Balkh Province in the Taliban regime and played some role in coordinating the fight against the Northern Alliance. He was a senior Taliban commander in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif when the Taliban fought U.S. forces in late 2001.

Mohammad Fazl commanded the main force fighting the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance in 2001 and served as chief of army staff under the Taliban regime. Human Rights Watch says he could be prosecuted for war crimes for presiding over the mass killing of Shiite Muslims in Afghanistan in 2000 and 2001 as the Taliban sought to consolidate their control over the country. Fazl joined the Taliban early, never held a civilian post, and rose through the ranks because of his fighting ability, ending up up as one of their most important and feared military commanders, according to the Afghanistan Analysts Network.

Abdul Haq Wasiq was the deputy chief of the Taliban regime’s intelligence service and the cousin of the head of the service, Qari Ahmadullah, who was among the Taliban’s founding members, according to the Afghanistan Analysts Network.

Mohammed Nabi was a Taliban official in Khost Province. He served as chief of security for the Taliban in Qalat, Afghanistan, and later worked as a radio operator for the Taliban’s communications office in Kabul.

images (45)Conveniently forgotten US history includes huge numbers of deals like this.  Ronald Reagan’s arms for hostages deal is only one among many.

The US has all along negotiated with the guerrillas it has fought on the battlefield. William Howard Taft (later president) in the Philippines was all for negotiation with Filipinos who rejected US rule, and he created “attraction zones” to win them over. At the conclusion of the Aguinaldo resistance to US occupation in 1902, Teddy Roosevelt declared a general amnesty for the resistance fighters. These resistance fighters had committed some atrocities, including on captured US troops, but Roosevelt just let them walk free. Talk softly, carry a big stick, and let all the terrorists go, seems to have been his motto.

The US negotiated with the Viet Cong in South Vietnam, who were very much analogous to the Taliban and whom the US would now certainly term “terrorists.” In 1973, the US used intermediaries to negotiate with the Viet Cong for release of captured US soldiers at Loc Ninh. Americans on the political right made a huge issue about 1300 US soldiers never having been released by the Viet Cong (only about 400 were), and the shame that these men were left on the battlefield by the Nixon and Ford administrations. Conservatives seem to want to have it both ways. If you negotiate the release of US captives with the enemy you are “negotiating with terrorists.” If you don’t, then you have left soldiers behind on the battlefield. The fact is that the only way to have freed them was to have offered something for them in detailed negotiations. As for the Viet Cong “terrorists,” many of them are in government now and the US has cordial relations with them.

In the 1980s radical Shiites in Lebanon took American hostages. In order to free them, the Reagan administration not only negotiated with I han’s Ayatollah Khomeini but actually stole T.O.W. anti-aircraft munitions from Pentagon warehouses and shipped them to Tehran, receiving the money for them in black bank accounts and sending it to right wing death squads in Nicaragua. Khomeini and his government were listed as terrorists by the State Department at the time, and selling weapons to Iran was highly illegal. Not only that, but the US was allied with Iraq at the time, so Reagan screwed over Baghdad this way. Reagan did it, in part to free US hostages in Lebanon (Iran put pressure on its clients for their release).

One of the big gag reflexes from the right appears to be the label of “terrorist” as compared to insurgent.

images (46)So, what are some other stories that you may want to check out?

Football Hall of Famer Dan Marino sues NFL over concussions

We’ve talked about the horrible damage caused by concussions before.  Other players have settled suits but this one is from a big name player.

Female-named hurricanes kill more than male hurricanes because people don’t respect them, study finds

Yes, you read that right.  Female named hurricanes don’t get any respect.

Montana House GOP candidates want to impeach Obama 

Can I ever get to the point where I can’t say that the GOP is just bug fuck crazy?

So, those are the items that caught my interest.  What’s on your reading and writing list today?





Friday Morning Reads: Let’s hear it for the girls!

Good Morning!

Well, after an intense VEEP debate last night, I’d like to focus on topics related to something I care about.   So, I’ll let Kirk over there phone in the political news,

I deeply care about the future of the world’s girls.This week, we celebrated the first day specifically for girls. Here are some updates on some of the challenges that girls around the globe face. There are many.

One of the most horrifying futures for girls in many countries is becoming a child bride.  I’ve written about this before since seeing a Maria Hinojosa special on PBS called “Child Brides, Stolen Lives”. This was in 2007. I’m proud that our SOS Hillary Clinton has made ending  this a priority for the US.

Part of Clinton’s initiative includes tackling these core causes through education, underscoring a study that reveals that girls with a secondary level education are six times less likely to marry as children.

Some of the steps to empower girls through education include a $15 million initiative through nonprofit USAID and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) tackling cost and safety issues that prevent girls reaching post-primary schooling.

Clinton’s plan also includes tracking every country’s legal minimum age of marriage, providing more training for consular staff to respond to child marriage cases and specifically tackling child marriage in Bangladesh. Here, a pilot program will promote sensitivity through the government, media and other outlets.

Within the private portion of Clinton’s plan, the Ford Foundation also launched a five-year $25 million commitment to end child marriage by pushing local governments to fight child marriage, fund new research on interventions and work to expand girls’ rights.

Here’s some updated information from CARE.

“Child marriage is a violation of human rights whether it happens to a girl or a boy, but it represents perhaps the most prevalent form of sexual abuse and exploitation of girls,” says UNICEF – Child Protection Information Sheet. “The harmful consequences include separation from family and friends, lack of freedom to interact with peers and participate in community activities, and decreased opportunities for education. Child marriage can also result in bonded labour or enslavement, commercial sexual exploitation and violence against the victims,” continues UNICEF.

Advocates say early marriage can be devastating to young girls who do not have the ability to stop inequalities in marriage. Lack of safety and personal power to stop forced sexual activity in marriage can also place young girls in dangers to exposures with HIV/AIDS. Girls who marry early are also more likely to skip school or discontinue their education all together.

“By forcing a child into premature adulthood, early marriage thwarts her chances at education, endangers her health and cuts short her personal growth and development,” says CARE’s “From Aid to Impact” action report. “Maternal health risks are particularly troubling as risk of death in pregnancy and delivery for girls under the age of 15 is five times higher than for women in their 20s,” added CARE.

But can we change conditions for girls who face early marriage? Advocates say YES.

“That’s what we need to commit to: to end child marriage by 2030,” said Mary Robinson, former United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights and one of the global human rights leaders known as The Elders, in a recent October 4, 2012 Google+ Hangout (sponsored by The Elders).

I learned about The Elders from a wonderful TV program on Jane Goodall called “Jane’s Journey” on Animal Planet. Jane has started working with children in a program all over the world called “Shoots and Roots” that is absolutely amazing. It works closely with The Elders.

Goodall’s life and her efforts to save the communities of chimps she first encountered decades ago are front and center in the TV premiere of “Jane’s Journey” at 8 p.m. Tuesday on Animal Planet

She’s behind some of the latest discoveries, like the raising of twin chimps to adulthood and the ability to determine a wild paternity.

Goodall said about 20 years ago that she had figured out the best way to save the chimps would be to help people who live on the land.

“When we talked to the village elders, they told us they wanted better health facilities and education for their children.”

In return, villagers — now living better lives — have turned their attention to preserving at least some of the jungles where the apes live.

But the effort has taken years for Goodall and an army of like-minded individuals to build infrastructure and promote sustainable livelihoods — like growing and exporting coffee.

Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots program is one of those programs that simply amazes me.  Again, I learned about it last week when the program aired.

Roots creep underground everywhere and make a firm foundation. Shoots seem very weak, but to reach the light, they can break open brick walls. Imagine that the brick walls are all the problems we have inflicted on our planet. Hundreds of thousands of roots & shoots, hundreds of thousands of young people around the world, can break through these walls. We CAN change the world.
– Dr. Jane

You should watch the Goodall program, the Hinojosa program, and the PBS program “Half the Sky”--promoted by Mona last weekend on Saturday–if you care about girls and boys all over the world.  We’ve promoted the Somaly Mam program for some time on this blog. Her story and the other women’s stories are so inspiring as is the work they do.

Somaly Mam was born in an ethnic minority community in Cambodia’s Mondulkiri province, and grew up as an orphan living in extreme poverty. A man posing as her grandfather sold Somaly as a young girl into sexual slavery.

Forced to work in a brothel, Somaly was repeatedly tortured and raped. One night, she was made to watch as her best friend was murdered. Fearing she would also be killed, Somaly escaped her captors and set about building a new life for herself. She vowed never to forget those left behind and has since dedicated her life to saving victims and empowering survivors.

In 1996, Somaly established a Cambodian non-governmental organization called AFESIP (Agir Pour les Femmes en Situation Précaire), and in 2007 launched theSomaly Mam Foundation.

She quickly gained international attention for her anti-trafficking efforts, and is the recipient of the Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation and Glamour Magazine’s 2006 Woman of the Year Award. She was featured as a CNN Hero and named as one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2009.

Somaly was also featured in the film Not My Life, an unflinching documentary depicting the horrors of modern slavery on a global scale, which released in 2011.

So, instead of watching something that is meaningless this weekend, please, take time to learn about the life of girls around the world. There are some really inspiring programs that you can learn about in the links that I’ve provided for you this morning.

I wanted to update you on Malala–a young girl who just wants to go to school in Pakistan–who JJ covered in her news post earlier this week.  She has been shifted to AFIC Rawalpindi in serious condition.

The doctors had conducted surgery on Malala’s head and neck to remove a bullet on Wednesday. They advised complete rest for her in the hospital. Col Dr Junaid, who handled the 14-year-old Malala from the first day after she was shifted to the CMH from Swat, told this correspondent outside the ICU where she was fighting for life, that it was now the unanimous decision of the doctors to transfer her to AFIC Rawalpindi for better care.

“A joint team of doctors from the Pakistan Army and civilians held a meeting and found that the surgery done on Malala in Peshawar was outstanding but felt that she now needed better care. The team said the AFIC was a better place for post-operative care for patients suffering from trauma and head injuries,” Col Dr Junaid said.

He said the two British doctors also expressed satisfaction on Malala’s surgery and congratulated the Pakistani neurosurgeons for doing such an excellent job with limited resources.He said Malala would remain at the paediatric unit of AFIC where foreign doctors would assist Pakistani doctors in her treatment.

Before Malala’s shifting, extraordinary security measures were made in and outside the CMH and the Pakistan Army commandos were seen escorting a brief motorcade of two ambulances and military vehicles.

Malalal’s father Ziauddin Yousafzai, her mother and close relatives and Dr Junaid accompanied her in the military helicopter.Though worried for his patient, Col Dr Junaid said he was optimistic she would recover soon. “It’s a critical injury. We are keeping her on a ventilator,” he said. Asked as to when she would regain consciousness, he said it would require at least 15 days.

The military sources, however, said the decision to shift her to AFIC was taken on the advice of two British doctors called for Malala’s treatment. One of them was identified as Dr Fiona and the other her Pakistan-born husband. The couple visited Malala at the CMH and advised her shifting to the AFIC.

“Fiona has experience in post-operative care in neuro-surgery and head injuries. She and her husband offered their services to Malala and agreed to attend to her if she is taken to the AFIC,” the officials said.

Yesterday in Peshwar, the ruling Awami National Party (ANP) staged a protest rally to condemn the recent attack on Malala Yousafzai and the two other school students in Swat.  People in Pakistan have been outraged at the attack on the young teen.

Speaking on the occasion, Bashir Bilour termed Malala Yousafzai an icon of peace, education and prosperity. He said the bold and courageous girl had even spoken against the militants when they wielded power in Swat. “The militants have shown their cowardice by targeting an innocent teenaged girl,” he said and added that neither the Muslims nor the Pakhtuns could even think of attacking women and children. “The militants cannot stop us from our struggle to establish peace on this soil,” he vowed.

The participants prayed for the early recovery of Malala Yousafzai and her injured friends. The ANP central deputy general secretary Tajuddin Khan, Peshawar district president Arbab Najeeb and other leaders attended the rally.

Meanwhile, students of the Bacha Khan Model High School in Nauthia staged a protest rally at the Fawwara Chowk in Peshawar Cantonment to express solidarity with Malala Yousafzai.Prof Khadim Hussain, who heads the schools project of the Bacha Khan Education Foundation, was leading the rally which began from Nauthia and ended at the Fawwara Chowk.The students in their collective prayers prayed for early recovery of Malala Yousafzai.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard in Australia lauded Malala in Islamabad even as she fights her own fight against sexism and misogyny in Australia. She was backed today by the New Speaker Anna Burke. There was quite a verbal exchange between the PM and the minority party at parliament.  Gillard accused the opposition leader of misogyny and sexism directly.

But the new Speaker, Anna Burke, said Ms Gillard’s prime ministership had triggered a wave of public and political sexism.

Days after she was confirmed as Peter Slipper’s replacement in the chair, the Labor MP condemned the tone and subject matter of much of the debate in the current parliament.

“I think there is obviously some sexism and misogyny that goes on in the parliament, as it does in a lot of workplaces, tragically,” Ms Burke told ABC radio.

“And I think that one of the disappointing parts about having the first female prime minister is that unfortunately that has brought out the worst in some people in the parliament and some people in the public.

Here’s PM Julia Gillard’s Speech.

Let us also not forget about the assault on the rights of women in this country either.  So, that’s a little change of subject for me this morning. What’s on your blogging and reading list today?