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The Balloonist

By MacDonald Harris and Philip Pullman

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Five Women Who Matter Most

Posted on Oct 4, 2011
AP / Rodrigo Abd

Female Afghan lawmaker Malalai Joya stands for justice in the face of death threats.

By Helen Redmond

(Page 2)

The Arab Spring was Clinton’s biggest test. She was flabbergasted and flummoxed. She flunked. In 2009, the secretary said, “I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family.” For decades her “friends” reigned over a vicious and corrupt police state that used torture and violence to thwart democracy. As for women’s rights, not so much. Clinton’s sisterhood didn’t extend to the millions of oppressed Egyptian women who lived under the misogynistic and murderous Mubarak regime or to the women who endured humiliating “virginity” tests at the hands of the military during the revolution. Not an indignant word from the secretary about that. Clinton visited Tahrir Square post-revolution and remarked, “It’s just a great reminder of the power of the human spirit and universal desire for freedom and human rights and democracy.”

FORUS: Malalai Joya, Afghan activist and author.

Joya’s speech in the loya jirga (national assembly) in 2003 rocked the world. For two minutes she ripped into the warlords responsible for murdering and raping thousands of civilians. Two minutes changed Joya’s life irrevocably. The 23-year-old was physically and verbally attacked after she left the microphone and has been living underground with bodyguards ever since. She survived five attempts on her life. But Joya won’t stop. She relentlessly condemns the corrupt government of Hamid Karzai and the U.S. military occupation.

The State Department denied Joya a visa to enter the United States to promote her book, “A Woman Among Warlords.” Hillary Clinton’s State Department doesn’t feel very sisterly toward Joya, because she argues publicly that 10 years of U.S. bombs and night raids haven’t liberated Afghan women.


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A national campaign eventually got Joya into the country. Her speeches at packed meetings were emotional and electrifying. She excoriated Clinton and President Obama for broken promises and lies. Recently, a senior Obama administration official, when asked about the plight of Afghan women, answered, “Gender issues are going to have to take a back seat to other priorities. ... There’s no way we can be successful if we maintain every special interest and pet project. All those pet rocks in our rucksack were taking us down.” Afghan women’s lives are just “pet rocks” to be pitched out like so much garbage. Joya knows how these things go, but her political activism to free her country from war and oppression will continue no matter what.

FORBES: Janet Napolitano, secretary of homeland security.

Forbes reminds us that Napolitano is “the first female head of the Department of Homeland Security, a position she took after serving as the first female governor of Arizona from 2003-2009.” As governor, Napolitano’s priorities were sealing the border between Arizona and Mexico, scapegoating and exploiting Mexican immigrants and deporting as many as possible. During her governorship, the number of men, women and children who died in the Sonoran Desert skyrocketed—more than 200 in 2007 alone. Napolitano wants to keep everyone out, including those fleeing natural disasters. She warned Haitians caught trying to enter the United States after the devastating earthquake in 2010 that they would be detained and deported right back to Haiti.

Napolitano’s job is domestic counterterrorism. In other words: spying on, investigating, arresting, incarcerating and deporting Mexicans and Muslims. In 2010, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents deported a record 400,000 people.

Napolitano’s mantra is “if you see something, say something.” But if you see that the Department of Homeland Security is a threat to your privacy and civil rights and say something, watch out. “Big Sis,” as she is nicknamed, is coming for you.

FORUS: Carla Navoa, a 21-year-old undocumented student, stood up to Napolitano, the caza-inmigrante (immigrant hunter).

In Chicago, Navoa, along with five other students, sat down in the street surrounded by hundreds of supporters and got arrested. She was protesting Secure Communities, a federal program to deport immigrants with criminal records. Navoa said, “I decided to do the action to get other youth and immigrant families to face their fears and stand up to the tyranny of the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). I’ve had enough of hearing stories about friends and community members losing family who have committed no serious crime. I’m not going to be bullied or accept anyone being terrorized by ICE. ... I was and am enraged.”

Navoa and hundreds of activists around the country forced the Obama administration to back down. They won a victory when the government announced that undocumented students will no longer be deportation targets. That is power that matters. The slogan of the movement to stop deportations is “undocumented and unafraid.” The students’ civil disobedience, their courage is sí se puede (yes we can) in action and an example to the undocumented who are still afraid that change is possible.

FORBES: Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of health and human services.

Sebelius championed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the 2,000-page incomprehensible piece of legislation better known as Obamacare. The legislation mandates everyone buy insurance (except the undocumented—they’re left out entirely), discriminates against women by restricting abortion coverage, and still leaves 23 million people uninsured. Advocates of single-payer were shut out of the health care debate, and Sebelius worked overtime to assure Republicans that single-payer wasn’t on the table. She told a reporter, “This is not a trick. This is not single-payer. That’s not what anyone is talking about—mostly because the president feels strongly, as I do, that dismantling private health coverage for the 180 million Americans that have it, discouraging more employers from coming into the marketplace, is really bad ... is a bad direction to go in.”

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By christian96, October 6, 2011 at 11:59 am Link to this comment

Good article.  If the word “mattered” was in the
headlines of the article I would have nominated
Mother Jones.  She was a real mother to coal miners
when they were fighting coal corporations.  My
father worked 40 years in the mines and many of his
benefits were correlated with the work of Mother
Jones.  We need a Mother Jones today in the coal

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examinator's avatar

By examinator, October 5, 2011 at 9:53 pm Link to this comment

Come on people, Forbes is about celebrating all things rich and those who are. Their definition of power et al is through that “C19th, prism” .

In simple terms it’s the supermarket magazine of the above demographic! Even they have the odd worthwhile article but this list simply isn’t one.

I rankle at the notion that there can be objectively a top 100 powerful or influential people, male or female .
Show me a perfect person male or female ….one can’t! No one is objectively, inherently greater than anyone else. In reality it’s confluence of factors that spawn the great action(s). Ergo there are great action that should be admired.
e.g. Martin Luther King Jr said some great things even did some good ones but by his own standards was a deeply flawed individual. 
Would it have mattered if MLK had been a woman? Given that the person behind the slave railway was both a woman and….um…

The whole notion that one can meaningfully categorise people in this way simply perpetuates the stereo typing (by playing to base prejudices and selfish interests)

All that is ‘different’ in the Forbes article is that they’re targeting (pandering to the egos of) another superficial demographic for profit.  Substituting another sub group ....and that improves the whole human race how?
In this context gender is irrelevant. What is relevant is that some people aren’t getting equality!(last time I looked women are people too), not to closely mind you.

The notion that in any society that all men have the same access, opportunities is preposterous. 
Fact….for every female who tries and is stopped by a glass ceiling there are 10 males who have hit the glass ceiling too. 
Gender discrimination isn’t the real issue in the western world it’s the plutocratic notions including religion, culture that is the issue .
Consider this , if the western world changed tomorrow and gender bias (?) disappeared would the human race be objectively better off? emphatically no! See the blue eyes V brown eyes experiment.

I would put it to you that the real issue isn’t gender per se but rather that we tend to identify with those who are nearest ourselves and ever smaller groups. While the sisterhood is inwardly focused on women’s rights over the starving (men & women) in say Bangladesh….
It is this ever inward focus that is the true blight of the human race.

Finally consider this wisdom.
Great minds discuss ideas, average mind discuss events and small minds discuss individuals.
Any guess where I see the Forbes article

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By gerard, October 5, 2011 at 2:35 pm Link to this comment

A cynic’s definition of “power base points”

points based on power
base power, as opposed to honorable power
base power points in the wrong direction
points awarded for the baseness of one’s power

Any way you shake it, it still rattles.

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By miru, October 5, 2011 at 11:44 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I think so sincerely that Americans love to READ and MAKE lists of the top 10, 50 or 100 of the WORLD.

Of course, Ms. Redmond’s list of the world’s most powerful women is better than the Forbes’ one. But after all, her list is based on Americans’ standpoint. Does she realize that it forces non-Americans, especially non-westerns to look on the world from the US-centered viewpoint?

Even if lists of the WORLD are made by some conscientious Americans, they are usually occupied by Americans practically, not because there are few non-Americans who are appropriate to them, but because they are omitted or slipped over. In such lists there aren’t the people of countries that the American public are not concerned with, even though for decades they have been strenuously resisting against exploitations and stealing by American multinationals and by Wall Street, against military occupations, and against various violations of human rights by their own governments, which are often rooted in American imperialistic foreign policies.

These lists prevent Americans from listening for those activists’ powerful voices. Instead, they propagandize that the US is central to the world and has many good influences who have the most distinguished power to change the world. As a result, they engender complacency in Americans without making them feel the necessity for expanding their fields of vision and struggles in countries that Americans look away from or are unconcerned with are regarded as trifles forever in the US, even if they have been most powerful.

Whenever I read these lists of the WORLD, I’m disappointed at Americans’ tunnel vision, unconcern with the world and tenacious American exceptionalism.

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By Textynn, October 5, 2011 at 11:09 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“Walton’s fortune of $21 billion was made off the backs of millions of female workers at Wal-Mart who are discriminated against in pay and promotions.”

Not to mention that Walmart receives millions in subsidy laundered through their underpaid employees.  Walmart employs 1.6 million workers, most of which they pay at below living wages.  In turn, the American taxpayers make this possible by providing food stamps and in many cases health care for these employees.  In this way, the American taxpayer foots the lion’s share of the pay for Walmart employees thus allowing the profits of Walmart to be much higher than they would be if they paid their employees what they are worth. 

At the same time the onus is put on these working people as being lazy and needy and a burden on society because they are welfare recipients. It also puts them in a position of answering to the system on an ongoing basis and under excessive oversight by the state which tracks everything they do and every cent they get and where it goes. Yep, it’s true.

What’s wrong with Walmart.

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By SarcastiCanuck, October 5, 2011 at 10:59 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

They matter the most only to themselves and the rest of the idiots who idolize the rich.They are insulated shells and ultimatley uninspiring to everyone but the superficial…Love the Gucci bag dawling.

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By JDmysticDJ, October 5, 2011 at 10:28 am Link to this comment

I am, for the most part, in agreement with the spirit of this article, but the article by my appraisal is tinged with demagoguery and what I believe is counter productive radicalism.

Malalai Joya is far and away my favorite Afghan and I have referred to her several times in comments here at truthdig. Hilary Clinton is the quintessential liberal elitist, Geo-Political opportunist and Machiavellian American exceptionalist. Hilary is the personification of all that is perceived as evil regarding liberal elitists and is the legitimate object of scorn from both ends of the political spectrum, and Janet Napolitano is not far behind Hilary in those respects, but I have some objections to Ms. Redmond’s excoriation of Michelle Obama and the examples she used as a reason to also excoriate Kathleen Sibelius. Defending the affordable Health Care Bill is not a reason to be excoriated in my opinion. As I have attempted to point out many times the Affordable Health Care Bill is woefully inadequate but the best that could be passed into law under the current political realities of Republican/Tea Party/Corporate obstruction and Blue Dog treachery.

I would be the first to agree that Michelle Obama is pampered, spoiled, completely disconnected from the reality of ordinary Americans, and incredibly naïve, but I do not believe she is villainous. Not being privileged to the details of the ins and outs of “First Family” life, and Michelle Obama’s daily schedule I can only offer my impression that Michelle Obama is primarily a loyal wife and mother who supports her husband and who is engaged in advancing initiatives she deems to be worthwhile, however trivial those initiatives might appear to be.

Let’s not lose our perspective here. The greatest villains are those who ascribe to the political and economic perspectives of Forbes Magazine, and those who ascribe to Forbes Magazine’s constant criticisms of the governance of Obama and the Democrats. It is Forbes Magazine that seeks to glorify the corporate culture and supports Republican anti-tax, anti-government, Corporatism.

I suspect that Michelle Obama was only included on Forbes list because she is an occupant of the Whitehouse and because Forbes Magazine disingenuously wanted to discourage perceptions of corporate bias.

I feel confident that dogmatic counter productive radicals here will be incensed by my comments, and remain totally oblivious to the distinctions I’ve pointed out here. I can only reiterate my perception that Ms. Redmond’s article is an example of counter productive radical demagoguery in respect to Michelle Obama and to Kathleen Sibelius’ defense of the Affordable Health Care act. It never ceases to amaze me that some fail to see: the ideological harm Republicans and corporatists will do to our democracy and to the welfare of ordinary Americans, that the first order of business for right-wing ideologues is to remove Obama from office,  the second order of business for right-wing ideologues is to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act, but those are merely the first orders of business; the right-wing ideological agenda is to destroy all aspects of the Social Safety Net, allow unfettered capitalism, pursue U.S. hegemony and Capitalist imperialism, institutionalize racism and xenophobia, and diminish any prospect for progress in favor of reactionary regress. Is such a contention exaggeration, I think not, and a fear that we will see this contention become a reality, and that this reality will be aided into existence by irrational, presently unachievable utopian dogma, and a political strategy that serves no purpose other than dividing cohesive opposition to the Right, thus leading to left-wing political impotence.

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By lasmog, October 5, 2011 at 10:26 am Link to this comment

Good article.  I think the women’s movement was hijacked by corporate interests long ago.  Its important to hear about women actually doing important things to help humanity rather than simply accruing money and power for themselves.

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