Wednesday, December 2, 2009

HIV/AIDS and Global Arc of War

Two recent articles published in CounterPunch

Still Killing Millions- (December 2, 09)

African Realities in the Wake of World AIDS Day

The Casualties of Toxic Warfare- (December 1, 09)

Global Connections and the Arc of War

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A View from the Faultline

I met a Birther! Here, in the San Francisco Bay Area. My small island town is a mix of people and, until 1997, was home port to one of the largest naval fleets in the Pacific. Many of those who worked on the naval base still live here. Nevertheless, I was surprised to find a real, live person who seriously believes that Barack Obama was born in Mombasa ...and that his presidency will last only one year.

I was the only person at the bus stop about 6:30 pm last night heading to San Francisco. A tall, elderly, casually dressed white man, pulling what looked like an up-market milk crate, joined me. (The milk crate has wheels and a long retractable handle like up-market luggage. Later he explained that this manly version of a purse goes everywhere with him.) It was too dark to read the schedule so I said, “If you're heading to San Francisco the bus is scheduled to arrive in nine minutes.” We chit-chatted as he shed a jacket and switched it for a lighter garment in the crate.

I like to talk to strangers. Often those who look threatening to others are friendly and voluble – at least for the duration of a bus stop or casual car pool ride.

This fellow, Gary, quickly told me he'd been a naval commander, that he and his wife lived on a yacht, that they owned another yacht as well as a condo in Sausalito. (Metamessage: we are financially independent, we choose to live this way.)

We agreed riding the bus is superior to driving a car: no tollbooth to squeeze through with a hundred thousand other vehicles, no need to find parking or dig around for coins to feed the parking meter. A bus allows me to see over the bridge safety rail and admire the beautiful bay.

But Gary wasn't interested in my point of view. I was a target at which to aim words. Once he zeroed in on me: “I detect an accent. British?” I told him “It's South African.” Gary knew South Africans, had dated a South African beauty queen in his youth, planned to visit Cape Town next year. Did I know the Sloan-Smiths who lived in Cape Town? Could I guess how old Gary is? He didn't wait for my response. “Can you believe I'm actually seventy? Most people think I'm fifty-five. ...I tried on a topee the other day. I'm not the sort to wear a topee but it looked good!”

En route Gary continued talking. I could barely hear him over the engine sounds but I was fascinated: When would his stream of (un)conscious verbal diarrhea end? (As a writer I thrive on such interactions.) He quickly skipped around the world: Australia – he'd dated an airline stewardess. Also dated a South African once; her name was Annakie. Philippines. Japan. Then Israel. “I was there during the '67 war. Great place. Also visited in the mid 70s. I ventured, “I was there then, just before Begin's era.” He said, “I've got a great book for you: “Netanyahu's A Lasting Peace. Excellent analysis. Give me your phone number and come have dinner with me and my wife.” Then, “I believe Barack Hussein Obama was not born in the United States. He'll soon be found out. His presidency won't last long. I give him a year....I predict the Democratic Congress is trounced at the next election and the country throws out Barack Hussein Obama. McCain should be president.”
“You'd like Sarah Palin as VP?”

“Yes. She's smart as a whip...gets bad press because she's a small town girl. Now, Michele Bachman, there's a real candidate. Beautiful. Smart. Forceful.”
Bachman is the Republican Representative of Minnesota's 6th district who tried to set up a Charter school that taught classes on Creationism. As a school board member she advocated the '12 Christian principles' – a version of the 10 commandments. And she refused to allow the in-school screening of Disney's Aladdin, claiming it endorsed witchcraft and promoted paganism. She and Sarah Palin are peas in a pod; they're also beginning to stump together.

My flagging interest in Gary reawakens. Here is a man, by all outward signs, affluent, white, worldly, healthy, and sociable who lives in a cosmopolitan conurbation and maintains a worldview that is at odds with the reality around him. How does he do it?

I don't hold with the point of view that, “those folks are just nut-jobs” that can or ought to be dismissed. On the contrary, people like me – with progressive ideals and as much love of country and planet as someone like Gary – need to understand Gary's worldview.

As he talked I noticed the feelings our interaction evoked in me: annoyance, fear, a desire to flee, and curiosity mixed with repulsion. Also, determination to stick with it. People holding my worldview need to, must, remain in “conversation” with people holding Gary's worldview. Despite personal discomfort, progressives must make the effort to engage these worldviews and coax them into the light for real examination. It 's a difficult experience to endure yet it is at the heart of changing hearts and minds.

Try it. Let me know how you do with it.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Governor Goldie Myron – Family of War Series

(I share my unique art work to express a view of families affected by war. And I hold that the suffering of Iraqis and Afghans- and so many others - is not receiving much attention. This narrative is fiction based on my worldview.)

GOLDIE still can't quite believe that she's the Governor of her whole damned state...and that state's first woman governor at that! It took an enormous effort, not to mention a huge amount of funding, to get to where she is today: blood, sweat, tears, and lots of dollars but she is the Governor! Only she and God know what she had to give up. But it's worth it. America really is the land of opportunity for those who are prepared to work hard. Sure, a gal has to hustle but that's the American Way.

The first time she sat down at the Governors' Convention she could have burst with pride. One of only three women among all those white guys…the sort of guys who wouldn't look at her twice in college because her father was just a hard-working business man contracted to the military to supply a little gadget the detonates fuel air explosives. Since he wasn't the scion of a blue blood family who could move those guys' careers forward, why should they bother courting her? If they could see her now... she'd raspberry the lot of them.

Too bad the only other women governors at the Convention were stand-offish. Goldie felt they'd snubbed her. Maybe that's how it's done at this level of politics. Or maybe they're just threatened by Goldie. Back in the 60s and 70s there'd been a lot of exciting rhetoric about sisterhood, about women-supporting-women to shatter glass ceilings, and women gaining real positions of power. We called it Feminism back then but young women cringe at that word today. Turns out rhetoric is as American as apple pie and she sure is learning the benefits of good rhetoric: the funding just keeps rolling in. She's learning to play the game: go along to get along. She used to insist upon honesty as the best policy. Now she is, as she phrases it, “nuanced” about the definition of honesty. There are simply too many things that politicians cannot be honest about. If citizens knew half the stuff that politicians had to decide, Ms. Average Citizen would be too afraid to come out of her house and drive to the mall!

Be great if we lived in a simple world, one in which women like Goldie could just tell it like she sees it. But political life is too complicated for that. Goldie's job, as governor, is to guide the people of her state toward a way of being that may not be optimal for everyone but gives enough people jobs to keep their families fed and clothed and educated and get their kids through high-school, at least. After that, the kids can go into the military if they can't afford college. Military life is good. Not one she wanted but her dad did alright on it. Look where it got him. About to retire very well after a lifetime of honest work for the United States military. If he hadn't been in the right place at the right time to capitalize on it he'd never even have known about the bomb whose explosion disperses a huge cloud of burning hot gasoline just above ground level. An amazing design! It simply obliterates everything around it. And her dad's company manufactures the embedded detonator that makes the whole thing work! That's how he paid for Goldie's ivy-league college education and helped fund her meteoric political rise. His friends helped too, of course, folks like her dad who also made their fortunes building ingenious munitions.

Thank God for war: it keeps the economy going. A lifetime of listening to her dad explain his business taught Goldie how to spin a good story. Despite what the naysayers think his business is not only about making money, it is largely about love of country and ensuring that America stays on top. They don't call her Goldie for nothing. Everything out of her mouth is like gold and she's as good as gold.

See other pieces in the Family of War Series:
Daniel, Deployed! - Band of Buddies Series

Ryan, Recruited! - Band of Buddies Series

Bob, Burned in Combat

Luis, Corporate Warrior

Jerry and Candy, family of war

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Tea Party as Good Beginning

My "left-leaning" friends had persuaded me that "right-leaning" folk are successful at spreading their message because they know they how to tow the party line, how to follow, and how to obey. And that this is unlike those of us on the "left" who march to our own tune, squabble for meager media attention, and splinter off to form smaller and less effective groups when challenges arise.
So it is with rueful pleasure that I read Kenneth Vogel's article, "Tea Partyers Turn on Each Other." He writes, "a seemingly potent and growing political force, the tea party movement has become embroiled in internal feuding over philosophy, strategy and money and is at risk of losing its momentum."
These groups don’t play as well together as they should...“They’re fractured at the organization level...mainly because there are a lot of people who have not had managerial experience who [suddenly] are thrust into the limelight and become intoxicated with it. And when a potential rift comes up, instead of handling it and maybe agreeing to disagree, they splinter and go off on their own.”
Welcome to the real world of activism, Tea Partyers!
Nevertheless, I am impressed with the right's ability to rally their troops.. Notice how quickly they replaced the term "Tea Baggers" with "Tea Partyers". Didn't take long for word spread that they'd named themselves after a high school bullying tactic: tea bagging refers to someone stronger lowering his testicles -- tea bags -- into a victim's mouth.

Since Obama's election we've seen the "right-wing" increasingly use "left-wing" tactics: creating signs and banners, forming networks of like-minded who fill the streets when called, and protesting with gusto. (Some of my friends ask: "do WE look like that?" Well, yes, we do...we just add more color.)
What can the “right" and the “left" learn from these experiences?
One thing is to recognize what I call "our mutual complex humanity."
We, the people have reached the cul de sac of "westward expansion." We have nowhere else to go. We must turn around and face...ourselves. Then we can begin the real work of recognizing our complex mutual humanity...and cop to our innate glory...and vainglory, intoxication with self, denial, egotism, and our less-than-perfect traits that cross political boundaries.
Despite the gloom about Obama's performance to date – change? what change? -- the man is correct about the need for 'bi-partisanship' (or whatever you call a very necessary coming together to work out differences). His ideals are humane but he avoids a central tenet of American culture: it does not promote self-reflection or collaboration. Indeed, the way in which he/his administration addresses our domestic threats communicates the opposite: grab what you can for you and yours...and tea-bag the rest.
The beauty – and the horror – of being human is that it cannot be sold by an advertising agency or purchased from WalMart. It comes only with hard work, practice, and deep acceptance and understanding. It is time for all of us -- right/left and “evil doers”/”do gooders”, and other dualistic separators – to face ourselves, our neighbors, and our mutual predicament . A tea party that addresses our cultural underpinnings is a good beginning.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Melissa - Raped! -- For Band of Buddies War Series

MELISSA stopped drinking water in the early afternoon so she didn’t have to walk to the latrines after dark. Women were being raped by members of their own battalion and she didn’t want to risk that. She knew the risk of dehydration in 120 degree heat but … raped by fellow troops? Wasn’t going to happen to her.

Some women joked about it but these came from fear of peeing. One said, “Hell, if I dehydrate at least I won’t be afraid of fellow Americans in the infirmary.”

Six years ago she’d joined the National Guard and her contract stipulated she’d never be in combat. She’d really believed she’d be building roads and fighting fires in Montana while saving money for college. Even without the risk of rape, life was a far cry from the recruiter’s promise: “You’ll build houses and orphanages. The Iraqis will love you and greet you with flowers and candy.”

Instead, she'd been stuck in a Humvee gun turret and she’d seen combat...she’d even killed people. Not to mention the tanks and armored vehicles, strewn in the road with bodies still inside. Worse, when she asked why the bodies were still there she learned people were afraid to approach because of chemical contaminants and depleted uranium. She’d been told, “Just don’t breathe the red dust”—but she wasn’t given a mask or protective equipment.

It finally happened because one woman actually died of dehydration and Melissa had stupidly thought things had been tightened up. She and her friend went to the latrines and both were attacked. Through the blanket thrown over her head Melissa heard her friend screaming but no one heard them over the sound of the generators. Then the tearing and the raping with her arms and head held so tight she couldn’t fight back.

Her friend wouldn’t file a complaint. “What good is that? The brass never do anything. No, I’ll take the medical care but I’m not filing a complaint.”

Her friend was so sure of the outcome of a formal complaint that Melissa wondered if she’d been through this before....

(I create the War Series -- mask and accompanying story -- to share the reality of war as I believe too many stories are not being told. The details in this story come from the story Brig. Col. Janis Karpinski shared with investigators regarding Abu Ghraib.)

See other pieces in the Family of War Series:
Daniel, Deployed! - Band of Buddies Series

Ryan, Recruited! - Band of Buddies Series

Bob, Burned in Combat

Luis, Corporate Warrior

Jerry and Candy, family of war

Governor Goldie Myron

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Way to go, Max Cleland....

Max Cleland, the secretary of the American Battle Monuments Commission, was a Democratic senator from Georgia from 1997 to 2003. He is the author, with Ben Raines, of “Heart of a Patriot: How I Found the Courage to Survive Vietnam, Walter Reed and Karl Rove.”

His op ed in the NY Times today is excellent.
The Forever War of the Mind

Daniel - Deployed! -- Band of Buddies War Series

DANIEL was on the radio at a FOB near Ramadi and Fallujah when the engineer unit called in a “sit rep”: several men had been hit by an IED explosion. Three were dead and two expectant, meaning they wouldn’t survive. The medics and Centurion tried to get a helicopter in the air but that got scratched: the military doesn’t put a bird up unless someone has a chance of surviving.

Daniel hoped they died quickly; there wasn’t much left of their M113 light armored tank, basically an aluminum can on a track: the largest piece was the rear ramp and the engine block, but the recovery crew didn’t need the M88 to lift anything. Over 500 lbs of explosives had been set and that much could have disabled an M1 Abrams tank. At the funeral ceremony Daniel figured that counting those five, they’d lost around 20 soldiers and officers since they’d arrived in Iraq.

Col. C. of Devil 6 came for the occasion, along with the 1st Engineers LTC and higher-level people. Daniel felt pretty cynical that those folks only came when it involved death but never came to see their toughest guys in action.

Actually, Daniel was getting pretty cynical overall: heck, he’d heard the guys in Fallujah were scared to do nighttime missions which was why IEDs exploded outside the gates each morning and why giant truck bombs rocked Champion base and Camp Junction City.

He didn’t write home anymore; how could he tell his family they were hurting bad, supply lines were compromised because of increased attacks, they’d lost services and supplies -- fuel, water, and food – and convoys got hit on the highways and back routes.

Everyone was scared to bring fuel up to the FOB; they were cutting back on everything including food because there wasn’t fuel to cook with. They ate MRE lunches and soon they’d be eating MRE dinners. The guys who delivered water hadn’t shown up.

What’ll happen when the extra 600 soldiers from 1st Armored Division arrived? Life was hard enough without extra guys making it worse.

(I created this piece with accompanying story to share the reality of war - holding that too many stories are not being told. The details in this story come from a young man deployed to combat after being told by his recruiter that he'd "never be sent to Iraq, no way, dude!")

See other pieces in the Family of War Series:
Daniel, Deployed! - Band of Buddies Series

Ryan, Recruited! - Band of Buddies Series

Bob, Burned in Combat

Luis, Corporate Warrior

Jerry and Candy, family of war

Governor Goldie Myron

Friday, November 6, 2009

Response from H Rep. Pete Stark on HR 867 - and the two-state non-solution

I wrote my representative, Pete Stark, and urged him to vote against HR 867. He responded,

Thank you for writing in opposition to H. Res. 867. I voted against the resolution, but it passed the House 344-36.

The Goldstone Report was commissioned by the United Nations in order to investigate alleged human rights violations occurring in Israel, specifically the Gaza strip. The goal of this commission was well-intentioned and their report shed some light on the severity of the ongoing conflict in Israel. I believe that both Palestine and Israel have committed wrongdoings against one another, and ultimately their people are the ones that suffer the consequences. Condemning the report because you do not like the outcome is completely unjustifiable and will not help rectify the current issues facing Israel and Palestine. Sustainable peace will only be reached with security for Israel and dignity for the Palestinian people. A two-state solution will be built on a foundation of good faith and honest commitment to peace.
Pete Stark, Member of Congress

Good on Pete Stark. However, a two-state situation already exists and it untenable. This whole discussion about a two-state "solution" maintains the status-quo while settlements continue to be built in areas that would fall to Palestinians IF there were a two-state solution. It is a sham and a place holder while the "real" work goes on... usurping all Palestinian land for Eretz Israel.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

No surprise on the House's support of Ros-Lehtinen/Berman resolution

(I'm finding it hard to place this article with progressive online publishers ... Is it the content d'you think?.)

Oy vey! So, what's new? Ros-Lehtinen/Berman resolution 867 passed: 344-36.

That it did so with such a wide margin is a bit surprising...certainly craven...and shameful. After all, this nonbinding resolution merely urged Obama and Clinton to oppose unequivocally any endorsement of the Goldstone report. If ever there's a time to placate the progressive population – and lose very little in doing so – a nonbinding resolution is it!

Given Congress, the Pentagon, and mainstream America's ongoing and uncritical support for Israel and its policies, what is new is Anti-Defamation League's Abe Foxman was threatened enough by the possibility of the House not backing H.R. 867 that he called on Judge Goldstone to repudiate his report.

Said Abe to the Judge: “I have had great respect for you over the years. Your work at the head of the South Africa Reconciliation Commission and in helping to find a just solution to the Bosnian conflict deserves the highest commendation....I know you to be a proud Jew who serves on the Board of Trustees of Hebrew University and who has a daughter living in Israel...[and] the Human Rights Council has repeatedly demonstrated its bias against Israel...”

When has the House, or the Senate, ever let Foxman and his friends down? This is the same Foxman who denies the Armenian genocide, who believes that issue should be resolved between Turks and Armenians, and who works behind the scenes to defeat a fair hearing about that genocide in Congress.

Ironically, at a San Francisco Jewish Community Center for a recent book event, Foxman said, “No one can dictate to you to use the word that you want us to use. We will use the words that we feel comfortable with.”

Accordingly, Foxman feels comfortable making thoughtful Jews feel uncomfortable with words such as anti-Semite, self-hating Jew, Israel-threatening Jew, Israel-bashing Jew, and so on.

Author and medical doctor Alice Rothchild grew up as a good American Jewish girl and came of age to the dominant narrative of Israel as heroic, courageous, standing bravely against all odds.... Since then, believing what her eyes show her, she's changed her views about the situation. This effort to grow, learn, and change one's mind based on new information is essential to adulthood. But it landed Rothchild on the Jewish S.H.I.T List, an alphabetized roll-call of more than seven thousand so-called Self-Hating and/or Israel-Threatening Jews.

In a recent radio interview I asked her about the moral underpinnings of her work.

She said, “One big moral dilemma for me is how the American Jewish community blindly supports everything the Israeli government does. My question is, what is the role of US Jews and the United States in this conflict? While it is difficult to paint American Jewry with one broad brush stroke, for the most part mainstream American Jewry walks in line with Israeli policy no matter what it does. It is very intolerant of any critical dissent. That is bad for us...and it is bad for Israel.”

She continues, “I believe that if we American Jews see our brothers and sisters in Israel doing things that we find morally indefensible, we have to say something. If we don't, it is bad for them...and it is bad for us. Let's face it, it doesn't get any better than having a Zionist, Jewish South African human rights lawyer like Goldstone reporting these facts. For the Jewish community to come down so heavily on his report makes me want to cry. For, if we don't face up to what is in this report, we as Jews and as Israelis are going to lose any moral credibility in the world.”

Rothchild makes a compelling analogy. “Just as we in the United States are made stronger by facing up to our history of slavery, the civil rights struggle – all the things that we are ashamed of in our history – Jews and Israelis need to do too.”

Rothchild concludes, “The US government sends Israel billions of dollars of aid every year...and for what? There is a huge intermix of the two military establishments. They try out our weapons, they do all our dirty work... Once you start researching this stuff it is very disturbing. It is a dangerous relationship and it raises difficult moral questions for all of us.”

Apparently, it raises no moral question for 344 members of the US House. Or Abe Foxman.

I imagine the day when that S.H.I.T. list becomes a roll call that honors the people whose courage and steadfast morality helped turn the tide in Israel/Palestine.

Meanwhile, Let's see what Obama and Clinton do. I'm afraid there will be no surprise there either. Oy vey!

(BTW, I grew up in apartheid South Africa, lived in Israel from 1975-1977 and learned to speak Hebrew while I was there (well, enough to get by).

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Economic Conscription: Of Veterans and Volunteers

This article was published in CounterPunch today (Nov 4, 09).

Economic Conscription

Of Veterans and Volunteers

Veteran's Day 2009 coming up November 11 and the United States economy founders on rocky shoals after decades of deregulation. It's messy out there...and, by most accounts, the unemployed flotsam and jetsam will only increase.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Ryan, Recruited! - Band of Buddies Series

RYAN had talked non-stop over dinner about the military recruiters in his high school…and the cool free stuff like t-shirts and video games! They said he could be a helicopter pilot and get a job anywhere. His little brother said helicopters were cool… His sister said a friend’s boyfriend died in Afghanistan. She was dumb…the recruiters said he wouldn’t even have to go to combat!

His folks said not to sign anything the night he and his friend went with the recruiter to visit a military base. But they’d stayed in a hotel and never got to the base - the recruiter said the CO had called to say it wasn’t a good time to visit.

Then the recruiter talked all friggin’ night about how cool the military was, how much they’d learn, how much people would respect them, what a great opportunity it was to get money for college…. They’d signed after he offered a $10,000.00 bonus!

His folks had been furious and asked the recruiter to tear up his papers. But the recruiter said it was all legal and binding and even a lawyer and a lot of money couldn’t break the contract.

So Ryan went to basic training where he learned he couldn’t train as a helicopter pilot as his test scores were too low. Now he’s an infantryman….

Basic was pretty weird… kinda like high school with buzz cuts and uniforms. There was funny shit too: a recruiter had promised a vegetarian guy that of course the military served vegetarian food. So at Basic he couldn’t eat anything! He just cried and cried; finally, when he couldn’t take it anymore -- everybody laughing at him and dragging him out of bed for another midnight blanket party – he slit his wrists at morning chow.

They stuck him in the brig for damaging military property – that is, he was the property!

Two weeks after Ryan arrived at his permanent duty station his unit got order to deploy to Iraq. When he told them his recruiter had promised he wouldn’t be in combat they’d just laughed and called him a “pussy.”

Now Ryan can’t reach his recruiter on the phone….

See other pieces in the Family of War Series:
Daniel, Deployed! - Band of Buddies Series

Ryan, Recruited! - Band of Buddies Series

Bob, Burned in Combat

Luis, Corporate Warrior

Jerry and Candy, family of war

Governor Goldie Myron

Monday, November 2, 2009

Oil Spill!

Day before Halloween, Oct 30, helicopters hovered over my home for much of the day. Not looking for me. Looking for an oil spill on the beach practically on my doorstep. Ironically, I live on a marine sanctuary... not so safe right now!
I didn't know about the spill until Saturday (no TV helps keeps this sort of news out of my immediate living space). I thought the air traffic was about the emergency closure of the Bay Bridge (a few iron bars fell off the old bridge onto traffic below - yes, life is precarious for all living creatures around here right now).
Bunker fuel pumped into the Dubai Star - Panamanian registration, what else? -- missed the slot and spilled into the bay...apparently for some time before anyone noticed.
A 3-mile long slick south of the Bay Bridge threatens the sea and shore birds -- about 300,000 in transit right now which is the middle of their migration. 
One woman, on learning that about 30 sea birds had been treated for oil contamination by Saturday said, "Oh, is that all?"
Perhaps my imagination is too active for I experience what it must be like to dive into clear water, eat some delicious greenery on the bay bed, then pop up into bunker fuel. It is the really heavy, sticky stuff. Hard to recover if you have feathers!
Pix below taken late afternoon on Halloween. Foggy pix taken morning after...the fog makes it tough for bird clean up crews to see our struggling feathered friends.

Blessing in Disguise...SF Chronicle Nov 2, 2009

My Letter to the Editor in San Francisco Chronicle today....

or read it here:

Blessing in disguise

A quarter of a million cars use the Bay Bridge each weekday. Much of the time, drivers and Bay Area residents, intent upon goals and destinations, take this for granted.

When something unique happens and the bridge closes for major repairs, many realize how profound is our interdependence. Yes, some complain loudly and blame the transit systems, other drivers - someone else. Others marvel at the treasured lesson inherent in these moments.

The truth is we depend deeply upon one another. We are not the individualized and atomized entities our culture promotes and valorizes. The more than 7 million people here - socially, economically, educationally, politically disparate - must reach beyond differences and toward similarities.

The bridge closure was our blessing in disguise. Use this opportunity to create interdependent futures. Look into your neighbor's eyes. See, feel, encounter that actual, real, live human being. She or he is not a hurdle in your path, an obstacle to your goal. That other human being holds a key to your mutual humanity, even survival.

The Chinese say chaos is opportunity. Horace said, Carpe diem! I say, there's no moment like this moment.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Bob, Burned in Combat - Band of Buddies Series

(Sharing my art work created to express the horror faced by families of those injured in war. And holding that the suffering of Iraqis and Afghans- and so many others - are not yet receiving much attention. Feel free to comment on the symbols used here.)

BOB had been completely surprised by the car that came outta nowhere and rammed into the Bradley Fighting Vehicle! All hell had broken loose.

The bomber dude must have been sitting on a huge pile of explosives because the impact killed our tank commander right off and hurt two of our guys, one of them burned even worse than Bob….

It was cool that his mom flew to Germany to be there even though Bob was unconscious for the first few days. She told him that he’d been able to breathe only with a respirator. Funny thing about being hurt that bad, you don't feel that much. Even burns are not as bad as he imagined. Drugs are great… although too much of a good thing also means you can’t think straight or do physical therapy.

Man, when he saw his arms and hands on fire right after the explosion - what he could see out of his messed up eyes and his bloody face - he thought for sure he was dying. Next thing he was being e’vaced to Brooks burn unit in San Antonio. That was after the emergency craniotomy to release pressure on his brain.

In Brooks he learned the extent of his injuries: burns on his hands, arms, face, multiple injuries to his neck, torn cheek muscles, severed artery in his wrist, metal and shrapnel lodged in his skull and brain, and unknown injuries to his eyes. The silver-dollar-sized hole in his cheek healed from the inside and the long-term prognosis looked good. The eye surgeons removed shrapnel from his right eye and still worked on his severely injured left eye.

The TBI [Traumatic Brain Injury] is tough: sometimes Bob can't remember things from the day before. Some days in class he can't remember shit – other days are okay. He hopes the dizziness will just go away so he hasn’t told the doc about it. At least his teacher understands what’s up: his kid brother is in Iraq. Anyway, Bob's gone through some rough shit before… but will he ever get back the life he left behind?

See other pieces in the Family of War Series:
Daniel, Deployed! - Band of Buddies Series

Ryan, Recruited! - Band of Buddies Series

Bob, Burned in Combat

Luis, Corporate Warrior

Jerry and Candy, family of war

Governor Goldie Myron

What goes around, comes around....Olmert hounded in San Francisco

Former Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert may have hoped for a victory lap around the US during his recent visit. Instead, in several cities, including San Francisco, he met with calls of "war criminal," and calls for his arrest.Olmert's visit to San Francisco was courtesy of and hosted by the World Affair Council.
As you watch this video clip, keep on eye on the audience... a lot of young people look mystified by the protests and the protesters. A sad comment on how little young folks know about how the world works these days. On the other hand, some of the older audience members look as if they're ready to explode with anger. Nothing like this sort of firm reminder to agitate folks who prefer not to believe the physical evidence right in front of their faces. In this case, that Olmert - and Israel - presided over a slaughter of Palestinians in Dec '08 and Jan '09 while too many in the world looked on.
Ehud Olmert accused of war crimes in San Francisco - video clip.

Then there are folks like Laura Abraham of The Peace Cycle who see the physical evidence in front of their faces...and vow to do something about it. Laura co-founded The Peace Cycle and just wrapped up another annual trip, this one from Amman to Jerusalem and visiting many towns in the West Bank. Listen to Laura Abraham describe this trip on Raising Sand Radio.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Moscow, mon amour...

Moscow, Idaho, that is! (Pronounced Mos-co, not, as a friend pointed out, Mos-cow as I mispronounced it.)
From the SF bay area, fly to Seattle then Pullman, WA. Sally Perrine and Jerry Swenson, of The Palouse Peace Center, met me at Pullman and we drove together to Moscow.

Flying over The Palouse for the first time was sheer wonder. As far as the airborne eye can see, contoured farm land without the unsightly circles indicating irrigation. Instead, a landscape of golds, beiges, assorted browns, even shades of black in some places. Here are natural hieroglyphics that communicate directly with the heart.  I'm still searching for words to describe how seeing The Palouse affected me. This is more about feelings and less about logic though; the geomorphic message bypasses the head and goes directly to my...well, yes, soul. I look forward to seeing it in the green shades of spring- and growing-season -- although these shades of fall are soothing and spectacular.

Moscow is small, coherent, university town that has its peace and justice people as well as its more extreme religious and militant (yes, the right word is "fundamentalist") factions. In other words, it is like most other places in the world where people strive to make sense of their lives as they make a living and, at the same time, mesh conflicting worldviews.

An aside about small towns and big cities. 
I like small towns because they are suited to what humans beings can "manage" about community life and still feel like they are managing. It is not easy to get lost in a small town. This, of course, is what so many of us like about city life - "getting lost" allows us to experiment, try out different ways of being, try on new ideas, all the things that small towns, often, disallow.

City life is excellent if people feel as if they city is serving them and not that they are serving the city. It is very easy to get lost in a city.  As has been said before, "small is beautiful" and I see "small" coming back in vogue. Our cities will become more neighborhood oriented - more like small towns - and still allow experimentation of various sorts.

A story about Moscow. 
Recently the town decided it was okay for residents to keep chickens in their  backyards - chickens,  not roosters. (This is happening in other US towns and cities too. Some bay area cities now allow households to re-use gray water - essential to fight our ongoing drought and to encourage backyard vegetable gardening and so on.) The family that hosted me in Moscow added five chickens that contribute an egg a day to the household.

One morning, I overheard a brief exchange between daughter Mattie who trains dogs for sled races, and her mother.
Matiie: "I'm going out to visit the girls."
Her mother: "You mean the chickens?"
Mattie: "No, I mean the dogs."
That snippet said a lot to me about the seamlessness of life, that other creatures - here dogs and chickens - are part of our family, that we are part of a larger whole, that each creature contributes to the coherent community of our planet. And that is something I like to get behind.

Thanks for Sally Perrine, Jerry Swenson, Corrie and Lynn of U of I Social Forum and to Martha and Dan who shared their house and their hospitality. And to Moscow.

Leigh and Sallie - the faces behind the voices of Radio Free Moscow.

Jerry, Susan, Sallie, Dahr, and two friends

Jerry, Stephanie, Dahr, Susan, and Jack, veteran of The War on Terror.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Remembering things past,...and future

Way back in 2004, in the Agadeer Hotel, Baghdad, I met a number of folks I want to recognize here.

Mike Ferner, currently Veterans for Peace president, former corpsman (that's a medic for the US Navy) drafted into the Vietnam War. Mike helped me understand the lay of the land in and around Baghdad and Balad, the huge US military base where my son was deployed. He also helped me contact the Public Affairs Officer at Balad. I emailed her, told her I was coming to visit my son, and never heard back from her although the lads in uniform at the gate to the base seemed to expect me. (My hijab threw them off and one did threaten me with an M4 or M16 until I removed the hijab and showed my US passport.) Mike's book is "Inside the Red Zone: A Veteran For Peace Reports from Iraq."

Dahr Jamail was there in January 2004 too. He and I just did an event sharing our work and our books at the University of Idaho. His latest book, The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan , shares the stories of US troops refusing to fight.
Listen to our combined event on Raising Sand Radio or visit the Raising Sand Radio web site for all archived shows.

David Martinez was making a film in Baghdad. He and Robert Eischelman tried to help me get online so I could continue to find my son and await his email. (That didn't really work - for some of the reasons Christian Parenti outlines in his book below, particularly the sections about the informal power structure in the Agadeer Hotel.) Anyway, after a big anti-war rally in San Francisco Civic Center, someone called to me on Market Street. Turned out to be David. We've run into one another here and there - usually after long passages of time. He just turned up again through another friend. These days David is busy with all kinds of things you can find out about at his blog, Cafe DMZ. Check it out.. 

Christian Parenti describes the scene in the Agadeer Hotel in his book, The Freedom: Shadows and Hallucinations in Occupied Iraq. The Agadeer Hotel, I hear, is shut down and has been since about 2004 or so.

I would like to know what happened to Staff Sgt. Juan. I met him, first, at a lovely coffee shop near the fully fortified Sheraton Hotel in Baghdad. He came into the cafe in full BDU with an M16 or M4, took off his helmet and ordered coffee. I was there for the online internet cafe - again, looking for my son. I struck up a conversation with Juan and learned his wife was deployed to the Baghdad Airport. Their kids - 2 and 4 at the time - were living with Juan's folks in the SF Mission District. The next time I saw SSgt Juan was on the main drag in Baghdad after an IED had been discovered at Firdos Square. I'd gone into an internet cafe - a different one - and came out half an hour later to a cordoned off street and US military everywhere with tanks at the ready. I describe this scene in my book including SSgt Juan's description of an 18-year-old member of his unit who shot and killed a civilian. The young man was not able to function after that, wouldn't touch his weapon, wouldn't go out of patrols. He was sent back to the US with PTSD.

So this posting acknowledges a few of the brave and creative folks I've met over the last few years working for peace and  toward understanding who and what we are as human beings.

Let me finish with a letter from M'kesha, a National Guardswoman of Jordanian Arab descent, who has had a very hard time with the US NG. From her deployment to Iraq she wrote:
"...I may not be able to change the situations I face or the world here but I hold true to things that make me who I am. I will change. I'll return home a different person but I"ll not let go of my joy in life. I will not let go of my ability to find beauty in squalor. I can't explain the faith that surges through me but I know that I will return whole. I will not let this tear me apart."
M'kesha has a child today. He's about 5 and suffers from dyspraxia - an inability to use language - believed to be a result of the toxics M'kesha was exposed to in Iraq.

When people ask me how I keep doing the work for peace and understanding I share M'kesha's letter. She found that life is not one thing OR the other - beauty or squalor, for example, that it is BOTH beauty AND squalor, BOTH good AND bad, BOTH evil AND heavenly, BOTH warlike AND peaceful. It is our work as humans to become more human and more humane in understanding and practicing BOTH this AND that, simultaneously.

Do try this at home!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

"If we can't close it by legislation we'll close it by attrition"

Maura Clarke, Ita Ford, Dorothy Kazel, and Jean Donavan. Remember these women? They were the nuns raped and murdered in El Salvador in 1980 by death squads supported by the US. (John D. Negroponte was US ambassador to Honduras at the time. Remember him? He was US ambassador to Iraq in 2004-2005, President G.W Bush's first intelligence czar, and, today, a research lecturer at a Yale 'think tank'. The more things change the more they stay the same.)

Father Roy Bourgeois was friend to the four women. When hard questions about their deaths went unanswered – other than the Honduran government's response that it was a “common crime” – Fr. Roy looked deeply into what had happened. He discovered that the large majority of high level military officers were trained at the School of the Americas located on the base at Ft. Benning, GA.

Initially established in Panama in 1946, SOA was kicked out of that country in 1984 under the terms of the Panama Canal Treaty. Over 59 years, SOA has trained over 60,000 Latin American soldiers in counterinsurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence and interrogation tactics. These graduates have consistently used their skills to wage a war against their own people. Among those targeted by SOA graduates are educators, union organizers, religious workers, student leaders, and others who work for the rights of the poor. Hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans have been tortured, raped, assassinated, “disappeared,” massacred, and forced into refugee by those trained at SOA, often dubbed the School of Assassins.

In the 1980s, Fr. Roy and ten others decided it was time to shut down SOA. They began by carrying a boombox into a tree on the base and, at nightfall, blared out the voices of the victims of torture, beatings, and other mayhem conducted by trainees of the SOA.

That action has led to an annual pilgrimage to the gates of Ft. Benning. These days about 20,000 people join Fr. Roy to demand the closure of the SOA, in 2001 renamed the “Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.” Fr. Roy says, "If we can't close SOA by legislation we'll close it by attrition."

One member of Fr. Roy's team is Lisa Sullivan, a community organizer originally from Virginia, who has spent most of her life working in Venezuela. Lisa's story epitomizes those I love to air on Raising Sand Radio as it brings to a wider audience the every day goodness of people doing extraordinary things in big ways and and in small ways, and connects humanity through caring for our fellow man.
Listen to Lisa Sullivan on this week's radio show or get involved in School of the Americas Watch: org.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Luis, Corporate Warrior - Family of War Series

(Sharing my art work created to express the horror faced by families of those injured in war. And holding that the suffering of Iraqis and Afghans- and so many others - are not yet receiving much attention. Feel free to comment on the symbols used here.)

LUIS was on his way to Ramadi for his brigade’s combat patch ceremony when he started wondering again if the War on Terror really was a war for oil.

He remembered when, during this first deployment and all those crazy ragheads were looting Baghdad, Col. C. told them that their job was to protect the Ministry of Oil, to forget about stopping the looters, that they were soldiers, not cops, that looting wasn’t a military problem…. At the time he didn’t think too much about it, He was just trying to stay alive so that Brandy could pay the rent and feed Troy, their two-year-old.

Brandy hated getting those food coupons but, hey, he was in this shithole and couldn’t make any more money here. Sometimes it seemed as if she didn’t understand anything about him, about what it takes to succeed in this world, like her eyes were physically open but she couldn’t see the way things are that are right in front of her… like her heart doesn’t see the real world…or how hard he is trying to provide the goods for them.

As received his patch, Luis wondered, again, about the oil connection. What about the time when they convoyed from Kuwait to Mosul escorting contractors for Kellogg Brown and Root [KBR], the subsidiary of Halliburton – whoever they are – and the KBR guys had all the best equipment while US military personnel were writing home asking family to send protective amour? Luis and guys like him took all the risks and did all the fighting, shooting, and killing…and for what?

For peanuts…. Hell, the Company had been sent to Mosul undersupplied in weapons, armor, and basic support. Sometimes they’d had no water or ammunition for days at a time and ate just one meal a day. Then, after KBR set up their kitchens, some of the troops got sick from tainted meat; even Luis dropped about thirty pounds in weight.

What about the names of companies that he kept seeing in Internet chat rooms: DynCorp? Raytheon? CACI? He knew Exxon-Mobile and Chevron, of course, but he didn’t see signs of them on the bases in Mosul or in Habiniyah.

Luis was pissed about those Blackwater guys who made more money in a day than he made in a week. Maybe he could contract with Blackwater when he got out the military…. Brandy would like that, and Troy would love the extra toys and shit.

As he returned to the unit wearing his combat patch, Luis regretted sending that letter to his folks back home where he’d written, “I can’t stand this hellhole. I’m feeling as if this place will drive me insane.” It would freak them out. They were so proud that he was serving the greatest military in the world. Come to think of it, he’s pretty proud right now, too. At least the official patch ceremony would show all his buddies back home that he’d been front and center of ceremonies with the unit colors.

He’d had experiences that most people never had. Best not to think about all that other shit….
See other pieces in the War Series:

See other pieces in the Family of War Series:
Daniel, Deployed! - Band of Buddies Series

Ryan, Recruited! - Band of Buddies Series

Bob, Burned in Combat

Luis, Corporate Warrior

Jerry and Candy, family of war

Governor Goldie Myron

Thursday, September 24, 2009

About says it all...

Jerry and Candy - Family of War Series

(Sharing my art work created to express the horror faced by families of those injured in war. And holding that the suffering of Iraqis and Afghans- and so many others - are not yet receiving much attention. Feel free to comment on the symbols used here.)

JERRY and CANDY hadn't understood why JASON wanted to join the military in the first place. True, his education fund hadn't grown as they’d expected so the GI Bill would help… add to that that signing bonus the recruiter promised.... More than anything, though, Jason was thrilled to be part of, as he put it, "something bigger than myself, working for the good of the country and all its people, they’ll know that we did our best to keep them safe here at home..."
Neither Jerry nor Candy could argue with that. Isn't that what so many of us want after all, to feel we've contributed something positive and left the world a better place?

All of that is beside the point now. Jason's injuries are such that it is hard even to picture him in a regular job. It really takes it out of a family when a child - an only son - is injured like Jason.

He has many surgeries ahead –just reconstructing the muscles around the hole that used to be his mouth will takes months. Jerry fell apart just once and that was the night Jason's friend, Frank, was found floating in his family’s swimming pool. Frank had swallowed all his pain killers -- god knows the military is not shy when it comes to handing out medications --downed a few beers, knocked himself out by diving into the shallow part of the pool, and drowned.

Frank's father found his son’s note apologizing for taking "the easy way out" but that he “couldn’t stand being a freak – and no woman would ever love him again.” That night Candy awoke with Jerry sobbing in bed. Then it all poured out of him: how he'd not protected his only son; how he’d failed as a father, a husband, a man…he felt he’d failed as a citizen and betrayed his kid in the process….

Candy knew Jerry was terrified Jason might kill himself too. Frank and Jason had been in the same IED explosion. Frank’s face had also been burned but he’d lost his vision - at least Jason could still see using those awful glasses. The boys had comforted each other throughout the skin grafts, the reconstruction surgeries, the physical therapy, and the rap sessions.

When Jason learned of Frank’s suicide he’d just nodded his head and stared off into space – but now he refuses to come out of his bedroom. Jason is only 22 years old…what will he do with the rest of his life?

As for Candy, well, each time she tries to understand her own feelings her heart squeezes and pain radiates over her body. She’s afraid she’ll faint or start screaming and never stop. Her friends are so careful with her now, as if they’re afraid they’ll say the wrong thing. She’s sorry that she only has fears and worries to share now but isn’t that what friends are for? Support? Understanding? How could this have happened to her? To her son? To her family?

How will they ever recover?

See other pieces in the Family of War Series:
Daniel, Deployed! - Band of Buddies Series

Ryan, Recruited! - Band of Buddies Series

Bob, Burned in Combat

Luis, Corporate Warrior

Jerry and Candy, family of war

Governor Goldie Myron

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

History repeats itself: first time as tragedy, second time as farce

Uri Avnery is an Israeli, a Two-State Solution proponent, a progressive...and I don't always agree with his views. His voice is important though and here it is, shared in its entirety, on freezing "all" settlement activity.
Sigh, Avnery is right. What does Obama do for the next 3 years after these sorts of (continuing) collapses? Lame-duck-i-tude after nine months is alarming....

The Drama and the Farce by Uri Avnery

NO POINT denying it: in the first round of the match between Barack Obama and Binyamin Netanyahu, Obama was beaten.

Obama had demanded a freeze of all settlement activity, including East Jerusalem, as a condition for convening a tripartite summit meeting, in the wake of which accelerated peace negotiations were to start, leading to peace between two states – Israel and Palestine.

In the words of the ancient proverb, a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. Netanyahu has tripped Obama on his first step. The President of the United States has stumbled.

THE THREEFOLD summit did indeed take place. But instead of a shining achievement for the new American administration, we witnessed a  humbling demonstration of weakness. After Obama was compelled to give up his demand for a settlement freeze, the meeting no longer had any content.

True, Mahmoud Abbas did come, after all. He was dragged there against his will. The poor man was unable to refuse the invitation from Obama, his only support. But he will pay a heavy price for this flight: the Palestinians, and the entire Arab world, have seen his weakness. And Obama, who had started his term with a ringing speech to the Muslim world from Cairo, now looks like a broken reed.

The Israeli peace movement has been dealt another painful blow. It had pinned its hopes on the steadfastness of the American president. Obama’s victory and the settlement freeze were to show the Israeli public that the refusal policy of Netanyahu was leading to disaster.

But Netanyahu has won, and in a big way. Not only did he survive, not only has he shown that he is no “sucker” (a word he uses all the time), he has proven to his people – and to the public at large – that there is nothing to fear: Obama is nothing but a paper tiger. The settlements can go on expanding without hindrance. Any negotiations that start, if they start at all, can go on until the coming of the Messiah. Nothing will come out of them.

For Netanyahu, the threat of peace has passed. At least for the time being.

IT IS difficult to understand how Obama allowed himself to get into this embarrassing situation.

Machiavelli taught that one should not challenge a lion unless one is able to kill him. And Netanyahu is not even a lion, just a fox.

Why did Obama insist on the settlement freeze – in itself a very reasonable demand – if he was unable to stand his ground? Or, in other words, if he was unable to impose it on Netanyahu?

Before entering into such a campaign, a statesman must weigh up the array of forces: What power is at my disposal? What forces are confronting me? How determined is the other side? What means am I ready to employ? How far am I prepared to go in using my power?

Obama has a host of able advisors, headed by Rahm Emanuel, whose Israeli origins (and name) were supposed to give him special insights. George Mitchell, a hard-nosed and experienced diplomat, was supposed to provide sober assessments. How did they all fail?

Logic would say that Obama, before entering the fray, should have decided which instruments of pressure to employ. The arsenal is inexhaustible – from a threat by the US not to shield the Israeli government with its veto in the Security Council, to delaying the next shipment of arms. In 1992 James Baker, George Bush Sr’s Secretary of State, threatened to withhold American guarantees for Israel’s loans abroad. That was enough to drag even Yitzhak Shamir to the Madrid conference.

It seems that Obama was either unable or unwilling to exert such pressures, even secretly, even behind the scenes. This week he allowed the American navy to conduct major joint war-games with the Israeli Air Force.

Some people hoped that Obama would use the Goldstone report to exert pressure on Netanyahu. Just one hint that the US might not use its veto in the Security Council would have sown panic in Jerusalem. Instead, Washington published a statement on the report, dutifully toeing the Israeli propaganda line.

True, it is hard for the US to condemn war crimes that are so similar to those committed by its own soldiers. If Israeli commanders are put on trial in The Hague, American generals may be next in line. Until now, only the losers in wars were indicted. What will the world come to if those who remain in office are also accused?

THE INESCAPABLE conclusion is that Obama’s defeat is the outcome of a faulty assessment of the situation. His advisors, who are considered seasoned politicians, were wrong about the forces involved.

That has happened already in the crucial health insurance debate. The opposition is far stronger than anticipated by Obama’s people. In order to get out of this mess somehow, Obama needs the support of every senator and congressman he can lay his hands on. That automatically strengthens the position of the pro-Israel lobby, which already has immense influence in Congress.

The last thing that Obama needs at this moment is a declaration of war by AIPAC and Co. Netanyahu, an expert on domestic American politics, scented Obama’s weakness and exploited it.

Obama could do nothing but gnash his teeth and fold up.

That debacle is especially painful at this precise point in time. The impression is rapidly gaining ground that he is indeed an inspiring speaker with an uplifting message, but a weak politician, unable to turn his vision into reality. If this view of him firms up, it may cast a shadow over his whole term.

BUT IS Netanyahu’s policy wise from the Israeli point of view?

This may well turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory.

Obama will not disappear. He has three and a half years in office before him, and thereafter perhaps four more. That’s a lot of time to plan revenge for someone hurt and humiliated at a delicate moment, at the beginning of his term of office.

One cannot know, of course, what is happening in the depths of Obama’s heart and in the back of his mind. He is an introvert who keeps his cards close to his chest. His many years as a young black man in the United States have probably taught him to keep his feelings to himself.

He may draw the conclusion, in the footsteps of all his predecessors since Dwight Eisenhower (except Father Bush during Baker’s short stint as hatchet man): Don’t Mess With Israel. With the help of its partners and servants in the US, it can cause grievous harm to any President.

But he may also draw the opposite conclusion: Wait for the right opportunity, when your standing in the domestic arena is solid, and pay Netanyahu back with interest. If that happens, Netanyahu’s air of victory may turn out to be premature.

IF I were asked for advice (not to worry, it won’t happen), I would tell him:

The forging of Israeli-Palestinian peace would mean a historic turnabout, a reversal of a 120 year old trend. That is not an easy operation, not to be undertaken lightly. It is not a matter for diplomats and secretaries. It demands a determined leader with a stout heart and a steady hand. If one is not ready for it, one should not even start.

An American President who wants to undertake such a role must formulate a clear and detailed peace plan, with a strict timetable, and be prepared to invest all his resources and all his political capital in its realization. Among other things, he must be ready to confront, face to face, the powerful pro-Israel lobby. 

This will not succeed unless public opinion in Israel, Palestine, the Arab world, the United States and the whole world is thoroughly prepared well in advance. It will not succeed without an effective Israeli peace movement, without strong support from US public opinion, especially Jewish-American opinion, without a strong Palestinian leadership and without Arab unity.

At the appropriate moment, the President of the United States must come to Jerusalem and address the Israeli public from the Knesset rostrum, like Anwar Sadat and President Jimmy Carter before him, as well as the Palestinian parliament, like President Bill Clinton.

I don’t know if  Obama is the man. Some in the peace camp have already given up on him, which effectively means that they have despaired of peace as such. I am not ready for this. One battle rarely decides a war, and one mistake does not foretell the future. A lost battle can steel the loser, a mistake can teach a valuable lesson.

IN ONE of his essays, Karl Marx said that when history repeats itself: The first time it is as tragedy, the second time it is as farce.

The 2000 threefold summit meeting at Camp David was high drama. Many hopes were pinned on it, success seemed to be within reach, but in the end it collapsed, with the participants blaming each other.

The 2009 Waldorf-Astoria summit was the farce.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

"Fraying at the edges...."

"Richard Goldstone, former judge of South Africa's Constitutional Court, the first prosecutor at The Hague on behalf of the International Criminal Court for Former Yugoslavia, and anti-apartheid campaigner reports that he was most reluctant to take on the job of chairing the United Nations fact-finding mission charged with investigating allegations of war crimes committed by Israel and Hamas during the three week Gaza war of last winter. 

Goldstone explains that his reluctance was due to the issue being "deeply charged and politically loaded," and was overcome only because he and his fellow commissioners were "professionals committed to an objective, fact-based investigation," adding that "above all, I accepted because I believe deeply in the rule of law and the laws of war," as well as the duty to protect civilians to the extent possible in combat zones."

Quote from The Goldstone report and the battle for legitimacy by Richard Falk in The Electronic Intifada, 22 September 2009.

It is folks such as Richard Goldstone stepping up as leaders with integrity and honesty that make me think human cloning isn't such a "slippery-slope" technology after all! Thank you Mr. Goldstone...I only wish there were a few more of you sprinkled in various other cabinets and administrations  (and, since I'm on a roll imagining good things that could happen, that if there were more of you, you'd all speak up before invasions, occupations, and wholesale cultural destruction).

Now to keep an eye on how this all pans out. We will almost certainly NOT see Israel in the ICC... and we most certainly are seeing, as Falk writes, "the solidity of Jewish support for Israel ...fraying at the edges".
Dare I say that this is not just Jewish support but also the support of other important communities too. Falk continues that support will, "likely now fray much further."

To be "even-handed" and "fair and balanced", a good case can be made that there's a place on the ICC docket for ALL the architects of the invasion of Iraq too. I interviewed former Iraq Ambassador to UK during the lead up to war last week. Dr. Mudhaffar Al-Amin describes eloquently his struggle to persuade the Brits to avoid war. Alas, he quickly realized that avoiding the war was not the point. Listen to that showed archived right here.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Enough of the bitchin'...

Next week on my radio show, Raising Sand Radio, I'll air an interview with Daniel Volman, director of the African Security Research Project. Daniel will discuss AFRICOM as it is currently constituted ....

One thing Volman says that resonates with me is that many of the US military brass that he has talked to about AFRICOM agree that it leaves a lot to be desired.

For example, there are many war scenarios and exercises regularly conducted over US air space. (Think back to 9/11/2001... VP Cheney said that it took so long for air traffic controllers and USAF to align because of military exercises conducted over DC that day. I'm not suggesting anything fishy, just reminding ....) At any rate, these continue and in a recent batch of military exercises earlier this year, military brass began to realize that certain contingencies were simply not dealt with at all. This because they cannot be solved militarily. I'll not go into it here - listen to the show - but what stuck with me is how little many of those in the military want to commit our youth to war when contingencies are ignored.

Then there is the other side: the "chicken hawks" like Rumsfeld  (who, btw, was instrumental in AFRICOM) who can't wait to get our youth into war (remember "you go to war with the army you have, not the army you want"?) ...and "bring 'em on" Bush (remember "mission accomplished"?)

Life is so much easier when the "bad guys" are easy to identify and one can, sans guilt, pick a side and stay with it rather than have to think through all the complexity and "flip flop". (I'm in favor of flip-flopping when accompanied by well thought out and articulated reasons to do so.)

All this to say that I (sort of) repudiate my last posting (below titled "It's happening again..and again...) ...that I feel bad that I felt bad about our collective failure...and that I'm ready to stop feelin' bad and "fight back" again. So, I'll be at the next boring meeting bringing creative thinking instead of downer energy. See you there?

BTW, this week's radio show presents Dr. Michael Parenti on acculturation and assimilation and IAVA's Patrick Campbell on the New GI Bill.
 (Sign up to get on the radio show's listserv)

Another excellent move by the Yes Men on the NY Post - watch the editor of the actual NY Post decry Yes Men propaganda.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

it's happening again...and again...and again...and....

Einstein said, "You cannot solve problems with the same level of consciousness that created them."

Pres Obama has even used Einstein's aphorism in his speeches. Turns out the prez is more of a motivational speaker than a transformative leader. For he and all the other American politicians and civic leaders with any clout continue to follow the same tired old, inept, deadly pattern: same jargon, same bickering, same lame old politics...same old urgings to consumers to "spend our way out of debt" while bailing out the "too big to fail" institutions, spending enormous sums on war, and ignoring the worldwide climate crises....

Meanwhile, members of "the peace movement" continue to meet, discuss, strategize, and carry signs in the street. Our strategies are so old and tired that they've even trickled down to the "the right" - who is using them quite successfully for the time being. What more glaring indication that new and creative directions are needed than "the right" - aka "the right wing nuts" -- emulating progressive tactics and getting 60,000 or 70,000 protesters into the street in short order? (True, these numbers are disputed...but 60,000 to 70,000 are the low end of the scale. The accusation that 'the right wing media' inflated the numbers - another post-street protest cliche - is missing the point. When was the last time 60,000 to 70,000 war protesters showed up in San Francisco?)

Robert Fisk addresses this theme in his article, ""Everyone seems to be agreeing with bin Laden these days". He closes, "More troops will not guarantee success in Afghanistan," failed Republican contender and ex-Vietnam vet John McCain told us this week. "But a failure to send them will be a guarantee of failure." How Osama must have chuckled as this preposterous announcement echoed around al-Qa'ida's dark cave.

Parsing "Failure"

I don't have the energy to attend strategy meetings anymore. I'm tired of the same old thing: just figuring out a date for the meeting takes a week of emails going back and forth about why the various potential attendees cannot make that date. Finding a venue is tough. Tallying who will or will not show up then fretting about changing dates and venues to accommodate changes goes on for more weeks. Finally, about a third of those confirmed actually show find a sub-meeting already occurred somewhere else and all the significant decisions have been made.

How is this different from meetings held in corporate or bureaucratic workplaces? Both are showpieces to present roles and get "buy in" rather than practices in democracy.

And, yes, I feel bad about all of this. I feel bad about myself. I feel bad feeling bad. I feel bad that I recognize that "the peace movement" - or the anti-war movement - is a failure... and I feel bad that I sound blaming when I admit our failure to hardworking "comrades".

We, the People are stuck in our individualized, atomized worlds.

Alas! A change of consciousness is needed...but how? And who? And when?

Monday, August 24, 2009

It's happening again...or, the truth will out

In Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice" Launcelot says:
Well, old man, I will tell you news of
your son: give me your blessing: truth will come
to light; murder cannot be hid long; a man's son
may, but at the length truth will out.

August 24th, one of the premier US mainstream newspapers, the New York Times, presented the headline, "Could Afghanistan Become Obama’s Vietnam?"

The article suggests that Obama's presidency ought perhaps to be compared to that of Lyndon B. Johnson.

To be sure, the L.B.J. model - a president who aspired to reshape America at home while fighting a losing war abroad - is one that haunts Mr. Obama's White House as it seeks to salvage Afghanistan while enacting an expansive domestic program.

Then on August 22, in Columbus, GA. former Lt William Calley of the infamous My Lai Massacre stood in front of a gathering at the Kiwanis Club and spoke publicly for the first time about that massacre in Vietnam on March. 16, 1968.

Forty years later, Calley said: "There is not a day that goes by that I do not feel remorse for what happened that day in My Lai...I feel remorse for the Vietnamese who were killed, for their families, for the American soldiers involved and their families. I am very sorry."
(See a more nuanced and thoughtful piece in The Lede.)

Indeed, the truth will out.

Deborah Nelson, author of The War Behind Me uncovered evidence that, in fact, My Lai was only the most publicized of the American-perpetrated atrocities that occurred in Vietnam.

I contend, in my own book, Long Time Passing: Mothers Speak about War and Terror, that, as long as we continue with the atrocity that is war, we will continue to have events such as My Lai in Vietnam, the bombing of refugees in UN facilities as in Qana, Lebanon, Mutla Ridge and Nissour Square in Iraq, the slaughter in Gaza in 2008-09 - and this is just contemporary history!

Put armed men in situations where they're angry, fearful, far from home, un-acculturated, psychologically traumatized, and ideological prepared to think in binary "us vs. them" modes and atrocities are guaranteed.

Sure, we can finger a fall guy or two (or gal as in Lindy England's case) but the whole mess resides on the shoulders of those who create policies that inevitably lead to war, valorize weaponry, and evolve financial systems that depend on arms manufacturing and selling.

And us...the ordinary Joe-in-the-street who allows it to happen and beats the drums of war with the rhetoric of patriotism and exceptionalism and "civilization" and so on...

Since we're all of us guilty for some of this, none of us is guilty for all of it.

Yet, "at the length truth will out." I only hope that we survive the madness of war in the meantime.

Listen to my radio show this week on how the Armenian genocide plays out in this political arena.

Monday, August 17, 2009

It's the System, Stupid!

Remember the days of, "It's the Economy, Stupid!" and political parties called KISS (Keep it Simple, Stupid!"?

Here is another: It's the System, Stupid!
The writers of the following letters haven't yet realized that the American Dream is really a System to Milk All but the most greedy and ego-maniacal of the fruits of her/his labor.
While American ideology promotes The Individual as the ultimate in human evolution The System actually divides and conquers and makes the individual feel as if/believe s/he is responsible for not having a job, that her/his life is simply a product of her/his "hard work."
Instead, we humans are social beings longing to contribute to one another
Alas, today this longing is denigrated as "Socialism"...the newest "-ism" used as a psychological baseball bat to mug us in broad daylight.
Read it and weep.
"I'm not exactly sure where I went wrong"

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Rallying the (storm)troopers?

At Ali Abuminah's recommendation on my Facebook page I read Lizzy Ratner's blog posting. It is, as he suggests, a thoughtful essay that concludes:

- Instead of tours that whisk young people from Auschwitz to Israel, I would like to see trips that go from the Warsaw ghetto to the Jabaliya refugee camp.

- In place of a Jewish mainstream that looks only – and mistakenly – to Israel for its identity, I would like to see Jews who reach across time and space, to old countries and new countries, for a sense of who they are – and might be.

- ...[I would like to] see the true lessons of “never again” enshrined in a single, consummately-inclusive Israeli-Palestinian state....

In return, I recommend Andrew Bacevich's blog piece, "Farewell, The End of the American Century." (The text is a transcript of the included video clip.) To progressives, Bacevich is airing ideas that have been our guiding principles for some time. Yet to his audience these ideas are revolutionary. It is revolutionary to call for a public admission that We the People have been propagandized with the nomenclature of Freedom and Democracy to perpetrate deeds whose results are the polar opposite of freedom and democracy. For some, to seek the admission that "the greatest" anything (father, mother, teacher, or history book) makes mistakes is revolutionary. For others, to admit that the "the greatest country in the world" made -- and continues to make -- mistakes is almost beyond flirts with treason!

It is dizzying just thinking of the ensuing chaos as the concentric layers of different communities within the American frame of reference accept such admissions!

Ratner's and Bacevich's pieces have in common the underlying assumptions that recognizing and acknowledging past mistakes is essential to re-orienting the planet's current disastrous trajectory to one that is more just, equitable, and sustainable. The other assumptions are that a "we" exists ...and that that "we" can come to a common understanding about why and how we went off course... and that we can agree upon why and how we might re-orient.

I appreciate the need to surface and acknowledge these assumptions; and implementing them is easier said than done. Just a cursory scan of today's "mainstream" and/or "alternative" media's reporting on the state of American health care plans suggests how difficult it is to even broach these assumptions (that there is, #1, a "we" who can, #2, recognize and acknowledge mistakes and, #3, re-orient, and #4, that something "just", "equitable" and "sustainable" could, or should, exist).

For the sake of simplicity, let's remain within the American frame of reference and imagine, if you can, the majority of current Republican leaders accepting that there are any assumptions to examine...and if there are, that there is a need to admit they're unjust and inequitable.

Not easy to imagine, is it? Indeed, that party appears increasingly unhinged and incapable of anything other than whipping up their stormtroopers' emotions. (As an aside, is the messaging coming out of folks like Limbaugh and Gingrich and Palin expected to rally their base? If so, then their base consists solely of two extremes: a mob of Joe-the-Plumbers on one end -- wanna-be-rich, wanna-be-celebrity, and intellectually under-endowed -- and a mob of Bushies on the other -- already obscenely rich, over-privileged, and intellectually under-endowed.) Instead of functioning from political pragmatism, that party seems to be operating from a shrill ideological mono-culture whose driving force is "I can drink the Koolaid faster than you" powered by the fear of scarcity. Is there anything the Republican leadership wouldn't say, nothing they wouldn't do, to sabotage Obama no matter what he says and does? (While I'm not thrilled with Obama's direction at least the man appears mostly sane and appears to be working toward a more sane future given the political realities. Frankly, his central vision is flawed: "we" cannot save ourselves with more shopping. The era of capitalism and consumerism is over...instead of politicians, "we" need visionaries able to implement sustainable futures.)

Now, imagine the ensuring complexity if we broaden American assumptions and frames of reference to include European assumptions and frames of reference. Now add, say, the Arab world's assumptions and frames of reference. Then, the Asian, and African, the Native American worlds' and cultural frames of reference. Dizzying, eh?

Lizzy Ratner and Andrew Bacevich are offering something along the lines of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Committee. That was something unique in the world. It succeeded in putting some new concepts and operating principles on the sociopolitical map. And, it has not been able to forward them in any practical, consistent, and lasting way. Many still point to the TRC as an example to emulate - progressive Israelis particularly like to do this - but its real contribution is not that it accomplished tangible changes. This was not due to lack of trying but because revolutionary ideas need time to soak into the sociopolitical culture.

The TRC's overarching and lasting accomplishment was allowing -- then popularizing -- a new nomenclature of reconciliation.

Humankind simply does not evolve simultaneously en masse -- especially when those who benefit from chaos rely on the the very dumb...and for whom the very word "evolution" is taboo -- to maintain the status quo.

New ideas need time to soak into old cultures...and new language makes this possible. This takes time...and a critical mass of patient individuals introducing new ideas via a new language. Ratner and Bacevich come at this work from different angles. More importantly they represent two variants of a consistent, passionate, and courageous cohort committed to forwarding and popularizing a new nomenclature of reconciliation.

It may take another century or at least another generation or two to enact reconciliation but, with hard work and lots of luck, even the Republican Party will change; it will have to....

Monday, July 27, 2009

"...the biggest issue is the profit motive...".

Use the problems with health care as a measure of the problems with other areas in American life and you cannot help but come to the same conclusion: "the biggest issue is the profit motive that drives US health care".

As in health care, so goes the "defense industry" and auto industry, the banking and financial industries, the higher education and student loan industry, the pharmaceutical industry, the media industry, the under-the-radar "fear and scarcity" industry, and until recently, the mortgage industry.

Kudos to Wendell Potter, former senior executive at giant US health care firm Cigna. He did not need a heart transplant to find his own heart. Read the article.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Human Rights Yes! Intervention No! - Iran Rally, July 25, 2009

(I delivered this short rallying call at the Human Rights Yes! Intervention No! - Iran Rally, in San Francisco today, July 25. About 7,000 people showed up at SF City Hall. See the list of speakers, etc. And Listen to interviews recorded by KPFA Radio, too.)

Thank you for being here. That you are here today is a testament to a saying in Iran, “It might seem quiet to an outsider, but there is fire below the ashes .” Today, the fire is in all of our hearts.

For over seven weeks now -- for 52 days -- the fire below the ashes has been reigniting. For over 7 weeks, the freedom loving people of Iran have demonstrated to one another and to the world that they will not be silenced, they will not go home and shut their doors and they will not shutdown the spirits.

One of the most touching features of this movement for civil and human rights in Iran is hearing peoples’ voices echoing across the neighborhoods at night. When I first heard those calls I was deeply touched by the peoples’ determination to have a say, to not be silenced. I heard the dignity and the deeply human need to reach out to one another through the uncertainty, the fear, and the anger.
Through the dark these voices encouraged one another to keep going, they called out to boost one anothers’ spirits in the face of brutality and repression, they called out to one another to stay the course for their civil rights, for the right of the people to choose their own direction and their own leadership, a leadership that is responsive to them, the people. These nightly calls through the dark, from one neighborhood to another , expressed the essence of the peoples’ courage and fortitude.

These messages were sent to all of us – to those in their neighborhoods and to those listening from so far away, was a heartfelt message of hope and of determination to keep on struggling to express their full humanity.
And here today, 52 days later, in San Francisco, we join with hundreds of thousands of voices from over 100 countries around the world, and we send a message back the people of Iran.

We hear you ……we are inspired by your determination. …We support you in your struggle for civil rights and justice …..And we reach out to you, from human spirit to human spirit, from around the world. …..We support you with a light touch, a deeply respectful touch, a deeply human touch.
Today, We will do our part to ensure your peace and your safety. And soon, perhaps it will be you, the people of Iran, showing the world’s people of peace how to win the struggle for civil rights.

Today, we the people of the world are living in a time when we can reach out to one another and with this reaching out comes the real power to change the world, to change the status quo, to really change hearts and minds, and to change our leadership. But we need courage to do that. And we need good examples. Today, Iranians are lighting the way.

Perhaps, when the day comes that, we The People of America , need to wage a real struggle for our real freedom the people of Iran will show us how to do it.
Remember, there is fire below the ashes.
So, I invite you to add your voice and let’s call out to Iran:
We are with you…

The whole segment . (My 3 minutes is the last half hour of the audio segment.)