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.