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.