Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Rally 'Round, America

President Obama made his much-awaited speech on Afghanistan this past week. His purpose: To rally America around the war effort. He failed. Fancy words and false emotions are never good rallying points.

First, he invoked 9-11. That was a shameful attempt to stoke a nation’s anger, and this from a president who is fond of saying, “I prefer to look ahead.”

Haven’t we killed and died enough for 9-11? To avenge the deaths of 3,000 Americans, we have killed over 100,000 Iraqis and Afghanis, and lost another 5,000 Americans besides. Enough of 9-11. Build your memorial and move on. Certainly, no more human beings need die for its sake.

Second, Obama seeks to blur the lines between the Taliban and Al Quaeda, to mislead as many Americans as possible into thinking the Taliban are responsible for 9-11. The Taliban are no more responsible for 9-11 than are the Americans, or the Saudis.

The people who brought down the Twin Towers—90% of whom sere Saudis; none of whom were Afghanis—were trained in the U.S., boarded planes in the U.S., with the express purpose of using U.S. planes against the U.S. Most Americans know this. Yet, Obama seeks to convince even these Americans that it is the Taliban (and the 100 remaining Al Quaeda in Afghanistan) who threaten the U.S. The Saudi, Osama bin Laden, may have plotted the 9-11 attack in Afghanistan (while he was a guest of the Taliban), but that plot could just as easily have been hatched in an Algerian bath.

How does our president hope to convince Americans that the people of Afghanistan pose a threat to us? Most reasonable Americans can look at a map and see that Afghanistan is landlocked. It has neither an air force, nor a navy. Threaten us? It is easier to get to America from almost any other place on Earth than it is to get here from Afghanistan.

And with all of the government workers in this country—CIA, the FBI, Homeland Security, Coast Guard, National Guard, air traffic control, Customs, local and stat police—if every one of them simply did the job they are paid to do, not one Afghan could get close to the U.S. without an invitation.

Then there is the matter of Obama’s offer to the Taliban: “Lay down your guns and renounce violence…” Are you serious? “Lay down your guns….” This from the president of a nation whose citizens’ right to bear arms is written into its constitution.

President Obama cannot tell his won citizens to “Lay down your guns…” Yet he goes to a foreign land and tells its citizens to “lay down” theirs. Does he believe Americans are so hypocritical as to rally ‘round that?

The Boys of Woodland Park

It is normal for young men to rise up against foreign invaders; it is normal for young boys to want to start early.

When I was a boy, I attended a one-room school in Woodland Park, Michigan, a small African-American village at the northern edge of Newaygo County. During recess, we had our games: baseball, wrestling, fishing, and in the winter, we went into the swamps to beak ice.

But no game mattered to us like our war games. We were Marines, and we held ourselves to that unique discipline. We even had to each learn the Marine Corp battle hymn, and be ready to sing it.

It was the late 50’s and early 60’s, and the enemy invader was the Germans. They lurked behind every tree, and beneath every knoll. Many a day—with rock grenades and guns made of sticks—we bravely charged mortar batteries and machine-gun nests in defense of Woodland Park. It was our job. We took it seriously.

No one told us to do this—we formed our battalion instinctively, and waged war on the imaginary enemy with the zeal of Spartans.

Today when I look into the innocent faces of Afghan boys on the evening news, I see in them the Boys of Woodland Park—the same spirit, the same yearning to fulfill a primal destiny.

As we wage our 21st century wars on these foreign soils, let us be wary of becoming the face of the eternal invader. For if it comes to that, the Boys of Afghanistan will dream of us. And, in their dreams, they will vanquish the invader. I know. I was one of them. It is their job.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

He Doesn't Know His Own Strength

The Obama administration is like the huge bodybuilder who is nonetheless convinced that he is small.

The other day, Valerie Jarrett, one of President Obama’s closest advisors, told CNN’s Campbell Brown, “It is our job to speak truth to power.”

No, Ms. Jarrett, it is the little people’s job to “speak truth to power.” Truth is all the little people have. It is your job, as occupants of the White House, to project power. You have had close to a year in the White House, and apparently you haven’t figured this out.

(If) and when you do “figure it out,” you might want to tell your boss. He is the one standing in the mirror wondering why his arms are so skinny.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Peace: The Height of Idealism

There is a reason why Americans are having a hard time reconciling with Barack Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize: Pure selfishness.

More than any other American president, Barack Obama is an international. He hails from Indonesia and Pakistan and Kenya; from Hawaii, Kansas, and Chicago’s southside. He is a man of peace if for no other reason than he inspires more oppressed and disenfranchised peoples worldwide than all of the other nation’s leaders combined. It is those Americans who think only of themselves who will fail to appreciate this.

I, too, was surprised at Obama’s selection for the Nobel Peace Prize, not because of his “lack of achievement,” but surprised that a world body (like Norwegian Nobel committee) could actually see.

Idealism aside, Obama appealed to the most basic instinct in human beings—that of being social creatures. He said to us: “Let’s talk.” Nothing promotes peace like “talk”; and no president has been more willing to talk to “the despised” than has Obama.

When he said, “I will talk with Chavez; I will talk with Ahmadinejad,” in one fell swoop, he sent a message—not just to world leaders, but to human beings worldwide: “Talk to those with whom you disagree.” The message is peace.

Not that there is anything wrong with idealism. (The concept of “peace” is the height of idealism.) That Barack Obama graduated from on of the most prestigious universities in America does not matter to many of the world’s dispossessed. They do not see in him, “ A man from Harvard.” In Obama, they see another “dispossessed”—spawned from the soil of a quaint and dusty Third World village. His story is more than an American Dream. To them, it is the dream of billions worldwide.

More than anything, Barack Obama has piqued the imagination of children. From ghettos to “favelas”, from Maui to Mozambique, a half billion Third World children are thinking about being presidents. They are believing now. That is peace.

Blood Droplets on a Phony War

There comes a time…when spending the last vestige of life’s blood on the enemy is what the last vestige of life’s blood is meant for you. -The King of Pearl

America has set November 7th as the date for Afghanistan’s run-off election. The weather has turned bad, and the Taliban is threatening bombs. So why should the Afghan people go to the polls and risk life and limb again when no matter who wins—Karzai or Abdullah—it shall

be America who calls the shots?

In seeking to prop up a corrupt regime, America has no choice but to call for a run-off

election, (considering the low turn-out and massive fraud in the last election). But with conditions being worse than before—with winter setting in—why would we, or the Afghans, expect a different result?

Meanwhile, Taliban spokesman, Azam Tariq, vows “The Taliban will fight to our last drop of blood…to defend our land.” That should be no surprise, either. For what is a man’s last drop of blood good for if not to defend what he holds most dear?

We call these men all sorts of bad names—terrorists, extremists, illegal combatants. But in the end, they are just men. They were born in Afghanistan, they lived their entire live there, and they expect to die there, comme il faut.

Only we are the misfits there: We were neither born there, nor have we lived there, and we don’t want to die there.

So, why are we there? National security? Chicken-sticks!! Most Taliban couldn’t find America if you gave them a map.

One of the Taliban’s chief claims to fame, however, is that they fight corruption; they challenge corrupt Afghan rule. Though their ways are draconian—they want their women at home and their men sober—they reject government that preys on its people through bribes and police shakedowns. They would never sleep with Karzai and his cabal; neither with corrupt, money-flinging Americans.

It is ironic that America would send its precious sons to fight men who truly combat what we only pretend to combat—corruption. Welcome to Obama’s war in Afghanistan.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Write the Way You Referee

When people ask me, “How do you write?”, I tell them, “I write the way I referee.” That is, I call them like I see them. I can’t be right all of the time, but I can be fair. In the end, being treated fairly may be the best any of us can hope for.

They asked me, once, to referee a basketball game. I had never refereed before, but having played the game, I knew the rules. And for this particular game, I knew all of the players.

Funny how it all came over me the moment I took on the mantle of “referee.” I didn’t see the people any longer; I only saw the game. I called it like I saw it.

I write the same way. It doesn’t matter to me who is black or white; all that matters is who is right or wrong.

Of course, I am not always right, though I try to be. But being right is something we have less control over than being fair. At times, I may not be right, but I will stake my claim on being fair.

The Hamlet Presidency

"And thus the native hue of resolution is sicklied o'er with a pale cast of thought..." Shakespeare, Hamlet

Hamlet, for all of his good looks and intelligence, was known for being a waffler—someone who could not make the tough decision because he was too busy exploring both sides.

You might remember, it was Hamlet who asked, “To be, or not to be…”, perhaps the greatest question of them all. At one point in his soliloquy, he acknowledges, “And thus the native hue of resolution is sicklied o’er with a pale cast of thought…”

Has our president become the Hamlet of our time? Has this become the Hamlet Presidency?

Recently, Republicans excoriated President Obama for wanting to have a chat with America’s school children. In particular, Obama wanted to ask each of them, “What can you do to help the president?” The far right went visceral, accusing Obama of seeking to brainwash the nation’s children, among other ridiculous charges.

To appease this noxious lot, Obama retracted his question—which was perfectly wonderful in how it summoned each child to a public duty—and replaced it with this banal call to self-service: “What are your goals, and how will you achieve them?”

That is only the latest example of our president buckling to pressure rather than overcoming it with steadfast decision-making from the start.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Earth's Unforgiving


"The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed. It blesses him that gives and him that takes. 'Tis mightiest in the mighty..."
- Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

Adel Basset al-Megrahi, convicted bomber of Pan Am Flight 103—the one that killed 270 people over Lockerbie, Scotland—is free. The Scottish government, which prosecuted and imprisoned him, released him on humanitarian grounds. The man is dying of prostate cancer. Scotland sent him home to his 95-year-old mother to spend his final days. In summing up his decision to release Megrahi, Scottish Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, said, “…that justice be served, but mercy be shown.”

BBC News reports that British relatives of the Lockerbie victims are pleased with Scotland’s decision. “Americans,” on the other hand “are appalled.” President Obama, echoing the sentiments of his fellow Americans, called for further confinement for Megrahi, labeling his release “an outrage.”

Americans and their president are true to form. No other nation on Earth locks up more of its citizens than does the “Land of the Free.” America will deny its own children a good education for the chance to keep a man locked up. It will deprive its elderly of basic services to squeeze the last the last little bit of life out of its prisoners.

Hatred? That is part of it. It is money, too; and it is jobs. Corrections workers are fast replacing the auto worker (with his big salary and comparable lifestyle,) as the new “upscale” working class. The difference: America’s auto worker gave the world a great product. America’s corrections workers give the world nothing. ( A disturbing snapshot of what America’s economy has become.)

Today, a situation in Standish, Michigan, offers a glimpse of what is happening across America. As part of a cost-cutting move, the maximum security prison there is scheduled to close…but not so fast. To the locals of Standish, the thought of their precious prison closing is hateful, and they are determined to do something about it. Besides holding a prayer vigil, they—along with the Granholm administration—have gone so far as to lobby California for some of its prisoners to stock their facility for a $60 million fee.

Commenting on this desperate move, Russ Marlan, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections said in the August 18 (2009) edition of USA Today: “We can’t incarcerate people to create jobs; that’s not what prisons are for. But that is what it has become.”

It is a shocking admission by a top government official—one the entire world heard at once. Yet, America continues to commit this blatant crime against its own citizens; a crime we would decry as a “human rights abuse” if some other nation was doing it. But because it is done in America, we look the other way.

This is what America’s prisoners and their families are up against—not just an official here and a group there, but legions of Americans—coast to coast—engaging in the interstate trade of human beings, quashing freedom for profit,, choosing vengeance over mercy as a prerogative of power.

Mercy. Kenny MacAskill’s words were a singular shot across America’s bow, reminding us that mercy offers hope for us all; for we are all sinners and in need of it.

Obama’s words, on the other hand, rang hollow. They only appeased a nation consumed with endless retribution.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Cash For Clunkers

It may be one of the most ridiculous government-sponsored programs ever. What sets it apart—besides the government paying people to go into debt—is that so many people are thrilled about it.

“A new car for you!”

“A new car for you!”

“A new car for you!”

What is this, Oprah II?

Of course everyone wants a new car. But if you cannot afford a new car (on your own), then you do not need one.

Cash-for-Clunkers is a boon for people with money who yearn to buy a new car anyway. It is a bust for people who cannot—and never planned to –buy a new car. The latter end up helping the former, buy that which they, themselves, cannot afford. The cars they hope to afford—the used cars they traditionally waited for the “well-off” to discard—the government crushes.

The government calls if “getting less fuel-efficient cars off the road.” I call it, “waste”. Many of these “crushed cars” are solid vehicles, able to go another 80-100,000 miles. Here, “fuel-efficient” becomes a smokescreen behind which the government, tell “poor” taxpayers to “suck it up.” It is elitism: Make the poor help the wealthy get what they want, then, give the poor nothing in return.

Add this: Destroying good used cars, which are the staple of many working class communities, necessarily limits the choice of used cars on the market. Decreased inventory automatically raises the value (i.e. price) of the used cars left on the lot. So, not only do poor people get no help, but they end up paying more for what they need—a good used car.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

It's Visceral...You Wouldn't Understand

The one constant that underlies race relations in America is that the white man enslaved the black man, and neither can get over it.

Recently, Sgt. Crowley, a white officer with the Cambridge police, arrested a black man - a Harvard professor - in his own home. Followed a brouhaha, with claims and counter-claims.

We learned that Sgt. Crowley teaches a course on "racial profiling" at the Cambridge police academy. But for all of his fancy "sensitivity training" he could not understand the fundamental reaction a black man harbors when a white policeman enters his home, (which points up a fundamental flaw in Crowley's teachings.)

Twice, Crowley stated, "I don't understand why he wasn't glad that I was there."

One reason Sgt. Crowley "does not understand" is because Professor Gates' reaction was purely visceral - that is, it was not based on intellectual reasoning, which one might expect from a Harvard professor. Rather, it was elemental, spawned in a well so deep, it goes all the way back to the beginnings of slavery in America.

That well, apparently, does not run dry. Jim Crow replenishes it, as does the Gay Nineties - that American paradox, when more blacks were lynched during any other period of American history. Add the Civil Rights struggle - where images of police brutality against blacks - the dogs, the hoses - are seared into America's conscious.

The generation that absorbed those abuses have died away; and they will continue to die away. But the pain they suffered lives defiantly (and seemingly forever) within African-America, fed as it is by the contemporary images - fairly or unfairly - of beatings of the likes of Rodney King, and the shootings of innocents like Amadou Diallo.

There is no other relationship on Earth like the one that defines white and black America. Two powerful peoples who strengths hold us together; whose weaknesses hold us apart.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Desparate Duo

Two lame duck governors of two debt-ridden states are going into business. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California has the largest prison population in the country, (and the largest budget deficit.) Jennifer Granholm of Michigan has the highest unemployment rate—over 14%.

To help remedy their problems, Granholm is offering to house California prisoners in Michigan for a fee. (That’s right America human beings once more have become a commodity to be swapped and traded.) Theoretically, this proposal would save California money, while enabling Michigan to hire more prison guards, thus easing unemployment.

The rub: California is in such bad shape, it is now issuing billions of dollars in I.O.U.’s to its creditors. Not only is Michigan likely to receive an I.O.U. for its dubious services—housing prisoners; (is that all you got?)—but it will have to go to the back of the line to receive that.

"Blood Diamond"

Last night I watched the movie, “Blood Diamond”, a disturbing account of the diamond trade in West Africa. More compelling than the trade, itself, were the child soldiers of Sierra Leone—children forced to wage a war of devastating cruelty against their own people.

Interesting that two days earlier, in our own Detroit, young gunmen shot seven children in front of a public school.

Blood Diamond: On the face of it, Africa in all of its utter chaos. Beyond it, inner America and its own child soldiers, murdering and maiming on a similar scale.

We watch the movie and are appalled at the brutality of the child soldiers of Africa, like something out of the Dark Ages. But do we think our children are any better? They are the same children—the same senselessness, the same callous disregard for human life. The only difference: our children here in the States do it with less coercion.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

"Back, Back, Back..."

Barack Obama is “in a war of words with Ahmadinejad.” So says the media. And the Republicans are loving it. Obama has finally lowered himself to their level.

“I strongly condemn your actions!” Obama declares to the Iranian president. The Republicans say, “Go on.”

“Outrageous!” Obama cries out. The Republicans nod, “you’re getting warmer.”

“Barbaric!”

“Now you’re sounding like a real American president.”

No, Mr. Obama is sounding like someone he did not want to sound like.

The Republicans accused Obama of being weak when he refused to get into a shouting match with the Iranians. Now that he has—and in so doing, succumbed to the will of the Republicans—they feel assured that he is weak.

The Republicans know how to get at Obama. Whether he realizes it or not, he is consistently responsive to their negative pressure. The Republicans are a backward-thinking lot. They are determined to pull our president back into the past. The surprise is that our president continues to take the bait.



Monday, July 13, 2009

"Perhaps..."

North Korea’s Kim Jong II threatens to “wipe the U.S. from the face of the Earth.” Sounds amusing, even funny, at first.

Perhaps we should not take him so literally. Arrogance makes us do that—take things literally—because our strength (military, financial, etc.) is a literal matter. We are literally the most powerful nation on Earth. So, when someone makes such a threat as Kim’s, we prefer to take it literally because that makes it sound all the more ridiculous.

What if the danger Kim poses is figurative? Would we be so quick to laugh then?

9-11 proved our vulnerability and our fragility. Our psyche has been damaged by it, and by Iraq; and to an extent greater than we seem to realize, by Abu Ghraib. It is these types of blows that can change the face of a nation, and erode its confidence and its influence. Kim’s threat, when seen in this light, might not be as hollow as it first appeared. Certainly, no matter what Kim does, the U.S. could, literally, wipe North Korea off the map. But would we ever be the same?

Perhaps Kim has a coup in mind—something that won’t work, but that he thinks will work; something that will work, but not in the way, nor in the time that he has planned.

Perhaps we’d better stop thinking so literally, and star thinking figuratively—wondering if stopping a barge possibly loaded with millet for Myanmar is worth chancing being wiped off the face of the earth.

Perhaps we don’t believe we can be “wiped off the face of the earth.” Perhaps we’re not taking into account that our face could be so drastically altered that we won’t ever so readily want to show it again.


Saturday, July 4, 2009

Poor Man’s Posse

A stock of ballistic missiles is to today’s nations what the Colt .45 was to the Old West—“the Equalizer.” It is the poor man’s posse; his air force and artillery rolled into one.

The Germans engineered missile technology toward the end of World War II. And while it was too late to win the the war, its potential to wreak havoc terrified everyone.

Nothing is so frightening as the prospect of a missile—armed with Lord-knows-what—hurtling towards our homes. North Korea knows this, and it is that knowledge that drives their missile program. For them, it is a matter of survival. That they are a paranoid state is underscored. But perhaps we are all a bit paranoid, and if not, then perhaps we should be. Missile technology will proliferate, even if nuclear technology does not; (though I fear it will, too.) It is a matter of real (and imagined) threats that drive the development of both.

Today, America is bracing for a North Korean missile launch in the direction of Hawaii, likely around the Fourth of July. Secretary of Defense, Gates, has declared that the “U.S. is ready against North Korea strike.”

Before our paranoia starts to show, let us back p a bit and look at this in real terms: Look at the map, folks. North Korea is literally boxed in. China commands his northern and western borders: behind China, hulking Russia. South Korea straddles its southern border. And Japan, America’s main ally in the region, stretches across Korea’s entire eastern front.

To test-fire a missile, North Korea, basically, must fire it over Japan, and into the vast Pacific beyond. Of course, Japan doesn’t want missiles fired over its territory. That is reasonable. But what other option does North Korea have? They must test-fire their missiles. Why? Ask the U.S. why it must test-fire its missiles. Ask Russia and China and France the same question. Because test-firing missiles, is the only way to know if they work.

Why have missiles at all? Ask the aforementioned nations that same question. To a nation, they will respond, “National security.” So, the real question becomes, “Does North Korea have a ‘National security’ interest, too? Of course they do.

That we are pretending to fear a missile strike on Hawaii is as absurd as Sarah Palin claiming North Korea might try to strike Alaska. (What, to kill a moose?) Let’s be real. Any strike at American territory—anywhere—would virtually end North Korea’s existence as a sovereign state. They know this. If they were to strike American territory, (which they will not, unless America strikes them first,) it would be a real target—like L.A., New York, or Washington D.C. They do not yet have that capability.

There is, however, a narrow stretch of open water between Japan’s Hokkaido and Russia’s Sakhalin islands. It would go a long ways toward easing tensions in the region if North Korea simply advised all parties involved—China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the U.S.—of the exact coordinates of their missile launch. They might still make a mistake, but at least we would know their intentions.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Hitler called it "Lebensraum"

Israel is the only nation on Earth who can take land from its neighbor when it gets the urge to expand. No one else is allowed.

President Obama sees this, and on a world stage in Cairo, said to Israel: “No more settlements.” But already, the forces of irrationality are gathering against him. Friends of Israel in the U.S. House and Senate are saying, “The president has gone too far. He is asking too much of Israel.” One Israeli organization, Yesha Council, a settler lobby group, accuses the Obama administration of “political terrorism”. Others in Israel accuse Obama of seeking to overthrow the Netanyahu government. Are they all mad?

Nothing is so important to a man as his land—nothing except his family, itself, which without land, has no future. In the wild, animals stake out territory. Without territory, they know they cannot survive. When others intrude into that territory, they fight. It is a fight for survival.

So, how irrational is it to tell the Palestinians to, “be nice” while the Israelis steadily and systemically chip away at their small parcel of land? They are forbidden to fight back—which they must—and when they do, they are called “militants” and “Islamic extremists.”

Each one of us in America knows that if his neighbor decided that his yard was not big enough for his growing family and so began to extend his property into the neighbor’s yard, that neighbor would fight. That is the “nuts and bolts” of the settlement issue: Men taking the land of other men.

During Hitler’s rise to power, he called the German need to expand “Lebensraum” or living space. The Israelis call it “natural growth,” which is the exact same thing.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Floodgates Will Close

“The floodgates will close,” he said. It was the morning of May 26, 2009. And that was a prison guard reacting to a prisoner’s hopes that the climate had changed; that the floodgates will soon open for many Michigan prisoners to go home.

These “hopes” seemed to bring the guard’s temperature to a boil. He blurted out: “There’s a prisoner getting out on parole. When he gets out, he’s going to kill his brother. Then the floodgates will close.”

He spoke with a certitude that was chilling. He wasn’t finished. “Until then, I have stocked up on ammo, and dug a big hole in my back yard.”

Sociopathic designs aside, how could an employee of the state hope a prisoner of the state gets out and wreaks havoc on the state? Job security? Of course. But at what point does “job security” cross the line and become complicity in a heinous crime?

Then an officer is privy to such information—and speaks with certitude of its inevitability—must raise some concerns about him, and any other MDOC employee who may be involved—directly or indirectly—in the grisly prospect. Is it not his responsibility to help prevent such a deadly act rather than withhold information in order to perpetuate it?

This prison guard imagines his deliberate inaction will reverse the climate that demands prison reform in Michigan. And he is perfectly willing to be an accessory to fratricide to see it through.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

"This is no Kassam"

Under international law, a naval blockade is an act of war. Israel maintains a land, sea, and air blockade of Gaza. The Gazans respond by firing Kassam rockets into Israel.

The Kassam rocket—cartoonish in its simplicity—is a primitive (but scary) exaggeration of the rockets with which Americans celebrate Independence Day. Anywhere from 4-6 feet in length, it has a range of 30-50 miles. A direct hit can put a big hole in the average roof, or disable a car. After over 1,000 launches, they have actually killed a couple of people.

There is little use for coordinates when firing the Kassam. The Gazans simply position it in an orchard, point it toward the nearest Israeli town, and light the fuse.

The Israelis call the Kassam a “weapon of terror”. I suppose it is that. The Gazans call it “fighting back.”

Now Israel is contemplating air strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities. They have done it before—bombed the Osiris nuclear plant in Iraq, and again a site in Syria.

To give Israel pause, Iran has tested a surface-to-surface missile—one with a range of 1200 to 1500 miles. The test went well. Iran’s president, Ahmadinejad, declared to the Iranian people, “We hit the target.” U.S. defense secretary, Robert Gates, called it “a success.”

The BBC summed up it report by saying, "Iran sent a message to the world community." No, the message was straight to Israel. It simply said, "It's no Kassam."


Don't Look Now, But Your Face Is Swelling

George W. Bush brought about the deaths of over 100,000 Iraqis; he displaced four million more besides. In the end, they hanged Saddam Hussein and gave Bush $100 million to build a library.

That happens when one man is seen to win a war, and the other is deposed. Winners of wars, no matter how criminal they may be, are rarely called “criminals”, and are never prosecuted for the crimes. Only the losers are rounded up, tried and punished.

But for winners—those who lorded over places like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo—history has its own store, replete with shelves full of crimes that never go away. There, the courts that legislate executions are silent. People do the talking; children learn of atrocities committed by their leaders. And the stigma of “war criminal” attaches itself unshakably to those who thought they had gotten away.

The other day, a group of college students cornered Condoleeza Rice and grilled her about the Bush administrations penchant for torture. Even as she struggled to defend herself, her face literally swelled—a sure sign her punishment had begun.

This past week, even as Afghanistan’s President Karzai sat in Washington D.C. with our Obama, American planes were raining bombs on Afghan civilians. According to Karzai, over 125 men, women, and children were killed. “This must stop!” he said to Obama. “Regrettable” is one of the words Obama sounded in response.

A man as careful as President Obama is always on guard against the appearance of impropriety. Yet, he commands these atrocities as though no one can see. Does he truly believe it is enough to say, “We had ‘actionable intelligence’ that there were militants in that hut.”? So you blow up a family of ten to kill two “possible” militants?

Any man—including our president—should spend 100 years in jail for each child he blows to bits; if not “in jail”, then certainly in hell. Those must be the stakes.

There is no law on Earth that can protect a man against the murder of a child…none. If this is the best our president can, then it is time he scrapped his AFPAK policy and come home (before he sorely wishes he had.)

One day, Barack Obama’s face will swell at the mention of his crimes, and he will plead futilely against the weight of history. Inevitably, his cries and his legacy will be drowned in his acts.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Lemonade Stand

People think the decisions President Obama must make are difficult. They are not nearly so difficult as he makes them. Part of the problem is his advisers—he has a slew of them, but they have little to show for their grand appointments besides big paychecks and more George Bush.

Bush was a lemon, and Obama wants to make lemonade. He takes Bush policies—on Afghanistan, wiretaps, abuse photos, military tribunals—and sprinkles them with sugar. He hopes to sell it as change; it is not. It is the same product Bush sold, only sweetened. These policies serve another purpose, however. For Obama, they are his first line of defense against Republican attacks. He uses Bush policies to protect he right flank, and to shield against the uncertainties of change.

People say, “It is not easy to change.” I say, “It is not that difficult, either.” Just do it. You want to close Guantanamo. Close it. And if you must, bring the detainees to the States. For those who say, “We don’t want terrorists in America,” remind them the terrorists are already here. They are ensconced in cities across this land—running crack houses, doing drive-by shootings, and stealing America blind.

Close Guantanamo. What to do with the inmates? Find nations willing to assume some of the responsibility—not because we pay them, but because they want to do their part. If no one steps forward, remember that, and then house the detainees here.

How? America is the greatest jailer on earth. Figure it out. We lock up 2,000,000 of our own people—more than any other nation. Now, suddenly, we forget how to lock up 240 more?

Set up a secure facility—a super-super max, if you will, then deal with them. If we haven’t the guts to house “terrorists,” then we shouldn’t pretend to wage a war against them—certainly not one where we take prisoners.

Besides, we talk about these Guantanamo detainees as though they were not human at all, but diseased vermin who will contaminate entire communities if brought to America. (Is it only American communities that they can contaminate, or are we willing to contaminate our allies, but not ourselves?)

Let’s be real. These men are human beings. Some are dangerous, but none more so than men already sitting in prisons from Maine to California. And it is not like the president is going to bring them to America and set them loose on the public. There are many safeguards within our prison system.

Time to make a new stand, Mr. Obama, out of the Bush shadow. And a bit of advice from an armchair advisor: Don’t try to please everybody; don’t try to please anybody. (Leave the “pleasing” to itself.) You will get more done, and you will do it better.

Not Quite Einstein's "Theory of Relativity"

If “Knowledge is relative to the limited nature of the mind,” as Webster states, then pain is relative to what we have experienced, and to what we can imagine.

Such thoughts might cross a persons mind when he is about to have a tooth pulled without anesthetics. It happened to me.

After five days of excruciating (night) pain, I finally got the dentist’s call. He gave me the customary shot of Novocain, and ten minutes later, he went to work on my tooth.

He soon had to stop when it became apparent the anesthetic hadn’t taken. He gave me another shot; that didn’t take either. So he gave another and another, until he had given me six doses. The entire left side of my face should have felt like a bowling ball. Instead, except for the pain, it felt as normal as my right side.

Dentist and nurse were equally speechless. (Funny, how their looks of wonder, doubled my anxiety.) Finally, he said, “I can’t give you any more Novocain; neither can I stop pulling the tooth.” The nurse simply said, “Good luck.”

That is when I descended into a world of impossible pain. I suppose women know of it—they call it “childbirth.” But childbirth is worthy of such pain, and women prove it over and over by how they crave, then, exhilarate in the moment. This was pain on the far end of the spectrum. It produces nothing, but a glimpse of death.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

We Don't Get It (We just dish it out)

Central Asia is a tinderbox, and no nation in the region is as volatile as the nuclear-armed Pakistan. So, what does America do? America brings Pakistan the last thing Pakistan needs—money.

Of all places to pour money, America pours it on a country already afire—at a clip of six-million-dollars-a-day. Money. It is America’s answer to all peoples’ problems—money (and guns.) Yes, the guns follow the money, (or precede); it does not matter. Both are an offering desperate people cannot refuse.

What’s wrong with money? It complicates. And the last thing the people of Pakistan need is more complications. For one thing, money divides people (even more so than they are already divided), especially when it is free. The people who get the money are not just resented because they get it and others don’t. That they get it at all means they probably did ( or will do) something that the people who did not get it would not do.

Those who get the money in Pakistan were distrusted before. Now that they have taken money from “the Great Satan,” they are trusted even less.

We are raising the temperature in the hottest spot on Earth; we do it with our money and our guns. We can sure dish it out. We just don’t get it.

Punish Them All, Or Let Them All Go

The Obama administration continues to struggle in its search for a coherent law enforcement policy. Case and point: Attorney General Eric Holder recently dropped all charges against Ted Stevens, (ranking crook, and former chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.) Holder claims he does not have the evidence to continue the prosecution against the former senator.

How is that? The man had already been convicted, found guilty of corruption. He was awaiting sentencing at the time Holder dropped the charges. Not enough evidence to sentence? (Sentence him already!) Not enough evidence to sustain an appeal? If he is held to the same standard that two million other incarcerated Americans are held to, then that conviction would be rubber-stamped on appeal, and Stevens would serve out his sentence like everyone else.

Holder claims there was prosecutor misconduct in Stevens’ trial. So….? There is prosecutor misconduct everyday, in trials across this country. Is Holder prepared to start dropping many of those charges too? And while he’s at it, how about getting righteous over the ineffective assistance of counsel hundreds of thousands of indigent Americans receive daily in America’s courts?

Now Mr. Obama (and his attorney general) wants to forgive acts of torture committed by the Bush administration. He says, “We do not want to look back.” In that case, why ever mention “9-11” again? And why pursue “terrorists” across the mountains of Afghanistan for something that happened eight years ago?

Simply “looking forward,” Mr. President, is not an option. To prosecute any crime, you must do some “looking back.” But seeing that you are in a forgiving mood—willing to let Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the gang off the hook—how about relieving America’s overcrowded prisons of poor souls who committed their crimes 20, 30, and 40 years ago?

We can’t have it both ways. We can’t pursue Osama bin Laden for his past acts, then look the other way when the past acts of high-ranking Americans catch up with them.

One Obama official said: “The CIA agents (who committed those acts) are good men who were simply following orders.” So were Hitler’s henchmen. Another contends that those operatives cannot be prosecuted because the acts they committed “were not illegal at the time they committed them.” Wrong. Torture is never legal.

A word of advice, Mr. President: if it is good enough for the average citizen, then it should be good enough for everybody. When you tailor policy to conform to individuals, you inevitably stretch the law, (which is like stretching the truth.) It will break. Then, suddenly, you, too, will be under investigation. Don’t do it. Keep it simple. When they break the law—no matter who they are – punish them. Either that, or let them all go free.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

They Are Afghans; We're not

Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, has just signed a law giving Afghan husbands the right to rape their wives. At some point in early American history, husbands may have had a similar power over their wives, but no American president would have dared underline it.

This is a stark reminder of our inability to grasp the gulf between Afghan and American societies. Ye, we fight for Karzai’s government; we send our sons to die so that his government will survive. We are in over our heads.

Mr. Obama’s Afghanistan policy is just warmed-over Bush. Neither man understands these people, except they understand American imperialism, the weight of which, in their minds, trumps all indigenous cultures. Or, does it?

Interesting that Karzai would sign this decree at the same time our president was in Europe trying to convince European countries to help America prop up the Karzai regime. Of course, Mr. Obama did not use the name “Karzai,” nor “regime” in his European speeches. Rather, he focused on “Al Quaeda,” which, I suppose he thinks is scarier than Karzai. The Europeans aren’t so sure; neither are they stupid.

The Afghans are proud of who they are. They signed this decree in broad daylight. They want everyone to know that they are determined to remain uniquely Afghan.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Armed with Weapons that Wound Them...

Retired Russian general, Pavel Grachev, calls the American fight in Afghanistan, “pointless.” He says that, like the Americans, when he was fighting the Mujahideen in Russia’s Afghanistan War, he thought he was doing what was necessary to keep Russia safe. It was only later, he says, that he realized how “pointless” it was.

To counter that stark assessment, the Obama Administration has come up with a lie, similar to the Bush Administration’s “Weapons of mass destruction” lie; the one Bush used to justify the war in Iraq. Obama’s lie: The Taliban pose a threat to the entire world. And just like the media cowed to Bush and refused to challenge him, this media—which is the same media; they kept their jobs—seems ready to roll over for Obama and collect their paychecks.

The first question to Obama should have been: “With what do the Taliban threaten the world?” They have neither a single airplane, nor a single ship, nor a single port; (Afghanistan is landlocked.) They have no long-range missiles, nor short-range missiles, yet we are to believe that they will destroy the world unless we send thousands of troops and billions of dollars to destroy them.

It could be a matter of pride: can’t be run off by a bunch of farmers. Imagine its biblical connotations: “nation of farmers and goat herders defeat superpower.” The likely conclusion would be that God is on their side. That would never do.

So, America assumes the role of liberator, and savior of mankind. In that drama, the people opposite us must be evil and bent on mankind’s destruction. Farmers? Goat herders? Destroyers of mankind? And with what will they destroy mankind—our own weapons of mass destruction?

In Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, ‘brigands” of Paris rise up and are summarily put down by the authorities. These “brigands” have no weapons to begin with; they have only their passions, and they come to fight “tooth and nail”. After being beat back, they surge again, this time “armed,” as Hugo writes, “with the weapons that wound them.”

This is the nature of the people we fight. They are poor, and except for some foreign fighters who have joined their cause, they are local. These “locals” are of Afghanistan; they are grounded there. They do not want to destroy the world. Anyone who tells you they do, is lying. These men only want to rule their own land, Afghanistan, like every other man on Earth wants to rule his.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Obama Commits Quid Pro Quo Faux Pas

President Obama made a rookie mistake. He sent a letter to Russia’s President Medvedev suggesting that if Russia puts pressure on Iran to end its missile systems and nuclear program, the U.S. will consider abandoning its plans to put a missile defense system in Eastern Europe. Wrong. That is a veiled threat, no matter how Obama tries to deny that it is not a friendly quid pro quo. Medvedev’s terse response: “The two should never have been combined.” He is right.

President Obama’s “friendly” message is skin to saying, “If you do not do what we say, we will do what you will not like.” Literally, and figuratively, that is “Bush,” (as in “Bush league”).

In a strange and unnecessary way, Obama is trying to use Bush in a “Good cop-Bad cop” scenario. Again, not good. And why is it that he hesitates to disentangle himself from Bush’s disastrous foreign policy initiatives?

For instance, he continues to send unmanned drones into Pakistan, chasing Taliban and killing innocent Pakistanis. Every time we send a “killer drone” into Pakistan, we further destabilize Pakistan; we compromise that country’s sovereignty and drive it and its population closer to the extremists.

During the Vietnam War, we ventured into Laos and Cambodia in the same way—on bombing runs to kill Viet Cong who had slipped across that border. Pakistan ain't Cambodia. Cambodia was an agrarian society. Pakistan is an agrarian society with nukes.

If we think we cannot win the Afghanistan war without going into Pakistan, then we cannot win that war, period. To continue to destabilize a nuclear-armed nation is a (war) game where everyone loses, (except the extremists).

Sunday, April 12, 2009

It Can Happen, But...

President Obama is trying to fix the economy by filling it up with money. Yes! (We like it like that.) Some are complaining - the rich who don't want the poor to get it, the poor who don't want the rich to get it, and the middle class who don't want either of them to get it.

Shut up! We're all getting it - because we're all Americans, and Americans are supposed to have it. It is all about the dream, baby - the American Dream - and the eternal possibility that it can happen.

Of course, it can happen. Almost anything "can happen" although most things happen in accordance with the laws of nature, and gravity, and mathematics - laws like, "zero multiplied by any number equals zero."

America seems to be playing a game with zeros, hoping that a "quark," or some such mythical variable "out there" will find its way "in here," and impose itself on our troubles and turn our zeros into dollars.

It's much like trying to exceed the speed of light. Einstein said it can't be done. The weight of the fuel necessary to propel an object faster than light is the very thing that holds it back. But Obama and his crew may have come up with something.

Ben Bernanke, Obama's man in the Fed, pumped two trillion dollars into America's economy. When one economist was asked, "Where does it come from?" he replied, "Thin air." Interesting.

Riddle this: How much does a trillion dollar bills weigh?
Answer: Nothing if it springs from thin air.

Imagine the potential propulsion inherent in a trillion dollars, then double it. Now imagine all of that fuel being weightless. This is the new science President Obama employs. It is beyond quantum physics. Not even Einstein could have imagined it.

We ordinary folks have never quite understood Einstein, anyway, with his Quantum Physics and Theories of Relativity. We just assumed he knew because his name is synonymous with "what we don't know." Now we home his work was a bit unfinished, and that our president has tapped into that quantum magic - the stuff that will propel us at light speed beyond the gravity that holds us back, and on to everlasting prosperity.

A quantum leap? You can call it that; and it can happen...but it won't.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Again with the Elephants?

I got this toothache. It only hurts when I lay down. All day long, I'm fine. Come ten o'clock, I go to bed; it starts. It throbs all night long. It get up at five the following morning, and it stops.

Remember The Elephant Man? He couldn't lay down, lest he would die. (Something to do with is deformity that severely restricted his circulation.) Anyway, he slept sitting up.

Well, I thought maybe I can do it - sleeping sitting up...to avoid the pain. It might have worked. I didn't do it, though; didn't want to look foolish.

Isn't that something - how we fear looking foolish? Fear of embarrassment can be a great motivator.

Then we die. How foolish is that? We will be embarrassed in the end. (Death is embarrassing.) We're "found", usually in some awkward position. (Isn't dying bad enough? We have to be embarrassed, too?

The Elephant Man laid down, and died. Sitting up all night would not have killed me.

(Some of) This President's Men

Fed chairman, Ben Bernanke, has just pumped two trillion dollars into America's economy, just by pushing a button. One economist described it as creating two trillion "out of thin air." How scary is that? When asked about the prospect of inflation after such an immense infusion of dollars, the economist said, "We should hope to get to the point that inflation is our concern." Scarier.

Meanwhile, the debate over the AIG bonuses rages on. Now we hear that Senate Banking chairman, Chris Dodd, added the clause that assured the AIG fat cats get their bonuses. He say he did it at the behest of Obama's Treasury department. Seems the administration hopes to avoid a lawsuit by the same "fat cats" it is bailing out. What?

A few weeks ago, Eric Holder, the new US Attorney General, called us a "nation of cowards." Now, when it comes time for him to stand up to the very people this country wants on a slab, he folds like a cheap tent to avoid a fight. Perhaps it was not his call. Perhaps, but he is the attorney general. Dealing with threats from corporate gluttons must be in his wheelhouse. "Sue us?" The attorney general should have said, "Make my day."

Then, there is the matter of the Council for Women and Girls, established by President Obama last week. It will be run by Valerie Jarrett, Obama'a senior adviser. It is pure politics. (What better way to solidify the female vote?).

If there is not an alternate Council for Boys, then there should be no council at all. There certainly should be no council that relies on gender discrimination for its charter.

Set up a Council for Children, Mr. President, and demand the most of that council, across the board. But don't play politics with the children. And never leave out my boys.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Let Them Have Their Damned State! (That'll fix 'em)


On Fareed Zakaria's "GPS" (Global Public Square), a guest correspondent, indignant at the suggestion that America should pull out of Afghanistan, cried out, "What, just leave it to the Taliban?"

Well, they are Afghans; we're not. Besides, what is the alternative? We keep it? And once we've made Afghanistan ours, do we seek out other failed states - say Somalia - to keep? (Can't have the Somali militants running a state, either.) And, after Somalia, what's next? Zimbabwe? Pakistan? Mexico? Just how many failed states can we handle before we finally say, "Okay, you have that one?"

I say, "Let them have their damned state!" (That'll teach them to be careful what they pray for.) They will find running a state is a lot more difficult than destroying one. So, let them have the responsibility for once. Let them be held accountable. IF nothing else, we will know where they are.

And there's the rub: They terrify us because we do not know where they are. Give them a state; pin them down. Of course, they can still cause mischief. But they will think twice before they do, considering they will have more to lose, and will lose it quicker.

Besides, it is not a matter of "giving them a state" so much as it is yielding to a larger paradigm. If a sitting government is indifferent to the needs of its people, then that government exists as a virtual vacuum. When we pose as guarantors of such regimes, we go against the natural order and become part of the problem.

And while we chase the Taliban back and forth across Afghanistan, we might want to stop for a moment and consider who are these people we so desperately want to kill?

The Taliban took control of Afghanistan because the sitting government could not. Certainly, the Taliban were not the most popular of regimes. (They don't exactly party.) But, then, they did not promise their people a party. In many ways, they are a lot more adult than we are. (Compared to the Taliban, we are a bunch of wild-eyed frats looking to get high and get laid.) It was the Taliban that virtually ended the opium trade in Afghanistan. It was America's invasion that brought it back.

The Taliban are not terrorists. They are Muslim fundamentalists who provided safe haven to terrorists. For that, we punished them. If necessary, we can punish them again. But, let's not do it continually, as though we, were caught in some endless nightmare.

Let 'em have their damned state, Mr. President. Then, let them know that if they cause anymore trouble, there will be hell to pay.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I Am Bound

The greatest story of sacrifice, (besides the story of Jesus, himself) is the story of Abraham and Isaac. Isaac was Abraham's beloved son. God said to Abraham, "Sacrifice him."

Many parents today still hold their children above all else. Except, there is a fraying there. More and more, parents are elevating their personal freedoms above their children. That is, they are willing to sacrifice their children's welfare for the sake of indulging their freedoms - freedom to pamper themselves, freedom to party, freedom to pursue the emotion of the moment.

Think of time. Time is precious. How often do we hear parents say to their children, "I don't have time" - time to play with that child, time to read to that child, time to take that child for a walk? Why? Because to indulge that child would be to infringe upon that adult's freedom to indulge himself.

How many married men still value their freedom to look at other women; even to pursue and fornicate with other women? How many married women, now more than ever, flex those same muscles.

Freedom. Freedom to indulge my lusts, my greed, my anger. Stop it, and try sacrificing that freedom for the good of your spouse, you child, and your community.

We earn money, and then we declare, "I'm free to spend my money as I please." Sacrifice. Say, "I am not free to spend my money as I please; I am bound to think of others and how I can help my fellow man."

Sacrificing freedom has a broad range of applications - in the home, in the community, and worldwide. That's right, we can go big! There are many things we do out of might rather than right. When we sacrifice the prerogatives of might, we make way for the tenets of right. (The piece, Terminators V: Release of the Drones, is an example of the prerogatives of freedom.)

Freedom can go awry. In the piece, "Cowards, Followers, and Fools" local office workers mirror the actions of congressmen and senators in a headlong rush over the falls. A couple of days after writing the piece, I share it with a broad cross-section of that office. I guess you say I was looking to pick a fight - not for personal reasons, except ti was time we challenged ourselves. But, there were no fights. In fact, they came to me later, one by one - not all, but a cross-section - shook my hand, and apologized. I accepted their handshakes and apologies, but that had never been my objective.

All 44 men had failed to respond to a common courtesy - the posting of a bookmark announcing the publication of my latest book. Featured on the bookmark, a message - one that foretold the workers' behavior to the 100th percent. I was not nearly so bothered as I was absolutely amused.

The bookmark speaks of an "uncommon distance between humans" in terms of light years. It should not be such an impossible distance, yet, more and more, it is becoming a distance only God can traverse.

If we will surrender, however - if, in fact, we were to sacrifice ourselves, our freedoms,; if we were to say, "I am not free; I am bound," - then we could yet realize our benevolent designs.

Monday, March 9, 2009

They Are Still Gods

There are terrorists among us - econo-terrorists - whose crimes against the state amount to treason. Yet, we do not lock them up - we pay them, in fact because they know money.

Nothing scares us like losing our money. These econo-terrorists take our money while holding over us the prospect that if we give them more money, they can undo the damage.

We succumb to that "illogic" out of greed. (It certainly cannot be out of mercy. We have no mercy for those who commit "crimes." We hold more people in prison than all other nations on earth, and in many of out states, we keep them longer than the law allows. No mercy there; no mercy anywhere, except where there is no money.)

Amazingly, these people do not promise to get our money back. they seem, rather, to promise that if we give them more, they may squander more - call it "good business" - but in the end, they will make us money from the ransom paid, so much so, that we will forgive their transgressions and feel rich again.

That is what we want - we want to feel rich again; (we despise poverty). It not "feel rich," we at least hope to feel the illusion of wealth, which is credit. And they have the credit; they have the credit kings.

No one can give credit like the big banks and money lenders - the Wachovias and Bear Stearns' of the world. They are giants. Among us, they stride like Greek gods. Even in disgrace, these gods reek of wealth, and we remain infatuated by their mere names.

Wake up, Americans! These people knew what they were doing to America's economy; they are not fools. They knew the housing bubble - which was the levy that held back this perfect storm - would burst. It was inevitable to the trained eye; especially to the instincts of men and institutions who breathe money.

We trust them anyway. Why? Because they are gods. They protect our money; they make us more money; they are money incarnate.

We are burned now; many of us are razed. Yet, we still believe. Faith, sad faith.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Cowards, Followers, and Fools

On January 28, 2009 Republicans in the House voted against President Obama's stimulus package 177-0. The following day, the Illinois Senate voted 59-0 to remove Governor Blagojevich from office. About the same time, another shut out occurred, one that completes the trifecta.

Seems a local office worker wrote a book. As is customary - that is, as a courtesy to his co-workers, he posted a notice on the bulletin board. (To have done otherwise would have been rude.) It turns out that out of an office of 44 other employees, not a single one uttered a single word of congratulations. 0-44. That, folks, is what we call a "January hat trick."
So, what gives? 0-177, 0-59, 0-44. Are you serious?

How is it that not a single Republican congressman supported Obama? Certainly, there was one, two, (at least 20) whose districts stand to benefit directly and immediately from the package. Another ten must like Obama. Still another ten must wonder that the entire package can work. Yet, they all said "no." Why? ("How?" might be a better question.)

And what of Blagojevich? He was a Democratic Governor in a traditionally Democratic state presiding over a Democratic legislature. Yet, they all turned their back on him. Surely, there must have been one, two, (at least 10) whom he campaigned for, endorsed, or in some other way helped to elect. Certainly five of them, at least, must have benefited from his favors. Was there not one among the 59 who simply liked the man with the thick, dark curls? Not a one. Why? (Better yet, how?).

Then there is the curious case of the writer who went 0-44. He is special because he is one of us - average "Joe" trying to do something noteworthy before he dies. Yet, all that is worth noting is that no one of his fellow average "Joes" gave a damn.

Cowards, followers, and fools. If that is the absolute majority of us, then we are in deep trouble.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Elephant Walk: Crossing the Rio Grande

They say, "Elephants never forget," a thought crystallized in the movie, Elephant Walk, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Peter Finch. Set in colonial Ceylon, it is a tale of migrant elephants - "illegal migrants," you might say - who insists on returning to their ancestral grounds. Only a sprawling tea plantation blocks their way; that, and a cement wall the English owner erected decades before to insure the elephants could never return.

The elephants continue, nonetheless, to rail against the wall - to demand their right of way - until one day they overcome it, literally smashing the wall and mansion behind it.

America's so called "illegal immigrants" are like the elephants of Ceylon. Certainly not to be confused with beasts, they are men and women of great dignity and character whose people once claimed those lands that stretch from California to Texas, and all of the Southwest in between. Though many of them have never seen this land, they are pulled by it; it is in their blood. And even as the U.S. government erects its own wall between the land and them, deep down we sense such wall belie a simple truth: Instincts prevail.

We call them "illegal" today. Tomorrow, amidst the rubble of another shattered wall, we will say to them, "Welcome home."

They have been here before. They will never forget.

Friday, February 20, 2009

What is this, "Terminator V: Release the Drones"?

On January 23, 2009, the Obama administration lobbed a missile into Pakistan’s tribal region of Waziristan, killing 22 people. Of the dead, only 8 were militants. The rest, I suspect, were simply poor villagers eking out an existence in one of the most inhospitable places on Earth.

I wonder if Obama has inquired into the dead. I would not be surprised to find that there are children among them, some no older than his own two daughters.

And how is it that we can fly killer robots (drones) over a sovereign nation (Pakistan) and execute its people at will? We see a gathering. We don’t ask these people who they are; we don’t ask their names—can’t see their faces! We only know that they are people, and we lob missiles into the thick of them to kill them all. We call it our war on terror. I call it a license to kill poor people who don’t speak English.

And how would we like it if killer robots patrolled the skies of our neighborhoods—in Appalachia, Harlem, or the southside of Chicago? We have terrorists, too—gangs terrorizing entire communities, crack houses distributing poisons to our children, drive-by shooters, Madoffs, Madoffs, Madoffs…. I guess our terrorists are too good for killer robots.

The War on Terror—let’s face it—is a war against poor people. (We pit the most advanced technology on Earth against men in sandals.) There are those among Hezbollah and Al Quaeda who are doctors and lawyers. Osama bin Laden, himself, is a multi-millionaire. But these people do not epitomize the soul of “terrorism” so much as they seek to champion the cause. The soul of the terrorist abides in his disenfranchisement. Though the stakes have risen, the game has remained the same—a revolt against the “haves” by the “have-nots”. Most of these people are not terrorists at all. They are simply men and women fighting for what they believe in; some are fighting with all they have. We chose the word “terrorists” to re-define and villanize, and further disenfranchise their cause.

After the killing of the dozen or so villagers, President Obama sat at a table with a group of Washington bigwigs to discuss America’s financial crisis. There was no mention of the dead Waziris. It was as if they had never existed.

That folks is disenfranchisement. That is why they fight: because their lives mean nothing to us and that is unacceptable to them. It should be unacceptable to us all.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Shame, Shame, Shame...

Under the Bush administration, the flag-draped coffins of our fallen soldiers entered the country under the cover of darkness. When asked at his first press conference where he could could continue that practice, President Obama responded, "I'll have to review the policy... and the implications (of changing it)."

Implications? What "implications" could matter? These are our sons and daughters who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan in defense of this country. What could possibly make you continue a practice that suggests that America is ashamed of them?

If you can declare: "We don't torture," and without hesitation say, "I'm closing Guantanamo," then you can say, "The practice of flying our fallen sons and daughters in under the cloak of night is despicable, and it ends today."

Say it, Mr. Obama; say it now. Do not allow another day to pass that we dishonor the families of those who have given everything. If you don't do it, then I'm telling Michelle.

Monday, February 9, 2009

"Missed me..." (No, that was a direct hit)

If the world could throw a collective shoe at any one man on Earth, it would be George W. Bush as he walks out the door. Funny how the world works: When one man has the guts to do what the world would, that man is thrown in jail.

As Bush...has a bigger child ever wandered the White House? His response to the "shoe-throwing" was a childlike - not the ducking; the ducking is instinctual. Any creature on Earth, seeing an object fly toward its head will duck. We learned that playing dodge ball, if nowhere else. No, it is the insipid smile as he ducks like a child who, once out of immediate danger, taunts his assailants: "You missed me...missed me again."

Later, Bush compared the "shoe-throwing" to getting "the finger." No, Mr. Bush - even in America, getting a shoe thrown at you is worse than getting "the finger." In Iraq, showing a person the bottom of your shoe is an insult; throwing the shoe is akin to someone spitting in your face, only worse. and then, he called you "a dog." The only thing worse than being called a "dog" in Iraq is being called a "shoe."

Now, Muntadhar al-Zeidi, the man who threw the shoe at our president, is a celebrity, if not a hero. and try as the Bush administration might to spin this as "simply one Iraqi trying to get attention," it will not work.

This "one" Iraqi had access to our president for a reason: He is skilled; he is trusted. al-Zeidi chose to use the window that skill and trust afforded him to show the world that millions of Iraqis truly thing of the self-proclaimed "liberator", George Bush. As he threw his shoes at Bush, he cried out, "This is a gift from the the Iraqi people; this is a farewell gift, you dog!"

Today, al-Zeidi is cooling his heels in an Iraqi jail cell. He has apologized to Nouri al-Maliki, the president of Iraq, (but not to Bush). It doesn't matter. The die has been cast - it is not about al-Zeidi anymore; it is about what happened to an American president. Long after the players are gone and the stage has turned to dust, al-Zeidi's shoes will be flying, and Bush will be forever ducking. A more fitting finale to Bush's Iraq policy could not be drawn in fiction.

Still, Bush's childlike inability to realize how deeply he has been insulted troubles us. That was not a game show contestant dodging a shoe; that was our president. Never in the history of this country has a US president suffered such public dishonor. What an ignoble end.

And to America's everlasting chagrin, that moment will reverberate throughout the halls of history.