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.
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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?