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.