Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The world's youngest profession: The sociology of a child prostitute village in India

Well, Jane, your last essay wasn't too bad," said the Chief. "Let's see what you can do with this new topic. Write about child prostitution in India." I can do that.


There isn't any child prostitution in India. There is no prostitution of any kind in India at all. Why? Because prostitution in India is illegal.


"C'mon, Jane," said the Chief. "You KNOW that isn't true. Prostitution in the U.S. is illegal also yet almost 90% of the girls in any given American juvenile hall are there for turning tricks. Get with the program. Write the freaking essay."

I can do this. I just need more research! So I watched "Born Into Brothels" four times, read the Encyclopedia Britannica backwards while standing on my head, subscribed to the Hindustan Times on-line, sat through seven hours of home videos I borrowed from my friend who just got back from a group tour of India and asked all my Indian friends over for dinner -- but I was STILL clueless. So I called up my old friend at Straitwell Travel Books and she helped me out. She wrote it and I typed it.

The Chief was very pleased with the result but now he wants HER to take the course instead of me!

The world's youngest profession: The sociology of a child prostitute village in India
By Jane Straitwell

Driving through the endless countryside of India on our way to the Taj Mahal, I got into a conversation with an Indian friend. "What is the AIDS situation in India like?" I asked.

"The unfortunate fact is that approximately five million people in India are HIV positive. In this respect, India is second only to Africa. But here it is not so much a problem with lack of medicine but with a lack of education on how to prevent it and how to get people to be tested."

From there, the conversation segued into the subject of prostitution in India. "Prostitution is illegal here but it still exists." Just like in the USA. India and America have cultural similarities. Men in both countries can't seem to keep their trousers zipped.

"In the cities, many times young girls get lured into the trade, thinking that they can earn quick money to go to college but then they get sucked into the life, can't get out and die at an early age from violence or disease or both." Yuck.

"And by the way," said my Indian friend, "on the road to Acra today, we will be driving through a village whose specialization is prostitution." I laughed. Each village that we had driven through so far offered a specialized skill or craft -- stone carving, iron work, weaving, whatever. Now there's a village with whore skills? Ha! I imagined Amsterdam's red light district, with women in lingerie beckoning customers in.

My Indian friend and I talked of other things and dreamed in anticipation of finally actually seeing the great Taj Mahal that very afternoon. Then my friend pointed out a funny-looking vehicle in front of us on the road. "Some people here take well-water-pump engines and turn them into motor vehicles." Amazing. They just chug right along, totally unaware that they are mongrels. "They cost about $1,200 to make, you don't need to register them with the DMV and they get 60 miles per gallon." I want one!

These "hybrids" do come with a few drawbacks however. They don't go very fast, the driver sits on a wooden board just behind the pump engine, you have to get out and hand-crank it to get it to start and it has no roof.

Then suddenly my Indian friend touched my arm. "Look," he said. "There is the prostitute village." And I was shocked beyond words. The road we were on was a major traffic artery but it was just two vehicles wide and it shot right through this wide-spot-in-the-road. There were trenches on each side of the road, with boards placed across the trenches at intervals. No side streets, no sidewalks, just a few dusty huts, some men squatting around, trucks and buses streaming by on the highway -- and beds. Rickety cots lined the roadside. And standing in front of the cots were -- children! Heartbreaking.

Sweet girls as young as ten years old.

We stopped driving and just stared in amazement. Several of the children approached us, waved at us and smiled. These were not hardened adult hookers. These were children -- children playing at dress-up, wearing their mothers' lipstick. Only there weren't any mothers around. One or two of them were even dressed in tomboy clothes. We are talking about sweet innocent girls who should be in school or out on the playground. Instead they are lovely flowers, standing in the dust of the roadside in front of broken-down bed frames, waiting to be plucked and thrown into the dust.

It made me want to cry.

"Many of these girls do not know who their fathers are. And they have been practicing prostitution here for generations."

"What happens to them after they get older?" I asked. "Do they just become housewives here in the village?"

"Many of them die." So. It was a village of pimps, older men and young girls -- sitting by the side of the road on cots, waiting for tricks.

"How much do they charge?"

"I don't know and I'm not about to find out." I would imagine it would be 500 rupees max. $8. But more likely 100 rupees. One dollar. Then some pimps started to approach our car in a menacing manner and we moved on. The girls themselves seemed to enjoy our waving and gawking for the most part but some of them looked sort of pissed that we were wasting their time. The younger girls looked all happy and innocent just like any other young girl. The older girls had started to look hard. But even the older girls couldn't have been much over the age of 15. Heartbreaking.

After we drove on, I grilled my Indian friend some more regarding the prostitute village. He didn't really want to talk about it but I persisted. "What is the sociology of that village?" I asked. "Do the girls becomes the village’s wives and mothers after they grow up?"

"The men do not marry the girls after they grow up. In India, no man would ever let his wife be a prostitute."

"Then what are the relationships and social bonds that tie the village together? What would a sociologist's diagram of village interactions look like?" Jeez Louise. What happens if a prostitute gets pregnant and has a boy baby? What happens to him? Does he never find someone to marry? Does he leave the village? Does he become a pimp?

"One thing you need to understand is that these people are social rejects. Some of them are from other places or homeless. They gravitate to here from all over."

"And what about the johns and the tricks?" Truck drivers mostly. Some Asian men who like young girls. "Do they use protection?" However, at that point we both looked at the road in front of us and it was a solid wall of trucks, coming straight at us -- in a hurry to get to the prostitute village perhaps? My friend did some creative swerving while I just closed my eyes and prayed. No crash. Back to the prostitute questions.

"The great tragedy here is that those truck drivers catch diseases," said another friend who worked at a clinic in New York City, "and then take them home -- spreading them all over India. At our clinic in America, we treated wives that had been unknowingly exposed to HIV by their husbands. All kinds of wives -- rich socialites, orthodox Jewish women, middle-aged women from the suburbs...." Imagine their big surprise when they first found out that they had AIDS.

Boy would I love to do a sociological study of that village! Would anybody out there want to write me a grant?

PS: Recently all the newspapers in India have had headlines screaming, "Skeletons of 30 Children Found in Noida". It seems that a man had been systematically kidnapping, raping and killing children in this one Indian town for the last five years without being caught. But what got him started on this grisly path in the first place? Perhaps it was a visit to the child prostitute village?

What is WRONG with men that they must hurt, ravage, kill and destroy the budding flowers of the world's women and children?

PPS: Do I advocate that the government of India shut down the child prostitute village? No. Not unless they provide an alternative first -- education, healthcare and kindness for these fallen flowers.

PPPS: They say that India will change you. It's true. Yesterday I was frivolously chit-chatting about child prostitution but last night I paid a very stiff price for my flippant approach -- a nightmare. I woke up screaming. Someone was hurting MY child. And now I HAVE changed. Now I look on every child in the world that is suffering -- whether in Iraq, Africa, India or California -- as MY child.

It's time for the men of the world to stop hurting, raping, killing, napalming, torturing and abusing the children of the world. And it's time for the women of the world to stop them if the men can't manage to stop themselves.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

"Lost" and "September 11": A tale of two rigged plane crashes?

Scrounging up enough money to pay the rent each month is a big pain in the bootie -- but it has to be done unless one is fond of sleeping in the street. In order to keep a roof over one's head, it is always a good idea to have a J-O-B. I learned that the hard way last winter when I was unemployed and almost down to living on cat food and searching for a good spot under the freeway overpass for my cardboard box. Yes, like it or not, unless you inherit big bucks or win the lottery or rob a bank, having a job gets a really high priority slot on the to-do list of those of us who are not addicted to living outdoors.

I just finished working at a temp job that involved writing catchy slogans for web sites. Now I've got a job as a security guard. I like working as a temp. It's like traveling through businesses instead of traveling through foreign countries, except you don't have to bring your suitcase to work.

Anyway, during the down-time at my new job, us security guards are allowed to use our computers to surf the net. So I decided to take advantage of all this sudden free time and catch up with the last three seasons of "Lost".

"Lost" is really confusing!

So far, this is what I have figured out: At first there appears to be an out-of-control plane crash but then it turns out to be the result of a deliberately planned and staged attack on the plane by people who then try to pose as victims themselves -- plus there is always a lot of confusion regarding exactly who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. Trying to sort this all out is giving me brain freeze. But after watching 50 episodes of all these alternative versions of truth, who in their right mind would NOT be confused.

Then I saw an interview with the writers and producers of "Lost" and guess what? Even THEY are totally confused. Then I went to the Chicago Tribune's "Lost" chat room and everyone there was clueless too -- but speculating like crazy. Then I googled the word "Lost" and found hundreds of pages of even MORE speculation!

This whole phenomenon of "Lost" reminds me of another plane crash that has half of America and most of the rest of the world also speculating like crazy -- "September 11". Did those planes crash simply due to a terrorist plot like we were originally told? Or were those crashes also a result of serious behind-the-scenes manipulation by people posing as victims? What really happened on September 11, 2001?

Is there a similarity between the plane crashes on "Lost" and the plane crashes on 9-11? Yeah. They both are very confusing, they both appear to have been rigged -- and they both pose a LOT of unanswered questions.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

OMG! I just interviewed Sean Penn!

Today was a terrible day. Everything seemed to go wrong. First my cat Slim who is in the last throes of cancer got into a fight with a raccoon and the raccoon won. Then my best friend (the one who had almost died but managed to recover after ONE WHOLE MONTH in the ICU) stopped speaking to me because I got on her case about being too superficial -- but Geez Louise. I only pointed out to her that it seemed to me that if a person is THAT close to death, shouldn't a person come Back From the Light with better things on their mind than how to best scam up big bucks fast? Plus my brand new coat of nail polish got all chipped off.

Feeling all full of self-pity and down in the dumps, I forced myself to get out of the house and trudge over to San Francisco to hear Dennis Kucinich talk. You know what a great speaker he is. And Dennis, who is running for president in 2008, was in top form. So I sat back and let the Kucinich magic wash over me.

"We must all figure out what we ourselves stand for. We are all brothers and sisters. We share a common destiny -- to act upon a vision of an America and a world ruled by peace. Such a world is eminent. It is only waiting for us to step forward. And we are here not only to save ourselves and our families but to save the entire planet." Standing ovation!

"What kind of a world do we wish to create? I heard the President [sic] say the other day that he decides. But WE decide. Americans decide. And Congress has an obligation to stand up for the people of America!" Everybody stood up. Again. And clapped a whole lot. Go Dennis!

"When I grew up poor and sometimes homeless in Cleveland, you got a feeling when you are being hustled. I now get that feeling in Washington." And on the issue of funding the Iraq misadventure, Dennis was firm. "We need to demand that Congress cut off the funds. Our troops are silently suffering. And the world is being destabilized because of this illegal war. We need to stand up and say, 'Stop the funding.'" And if we can afford to write off the billions of dollars that Halliburton stole from us, we can surely afford to bring the troops home!

"We need to elevate the human condition out of the ashes of war. This is our moment. This is what our lives are for -- to evolve. To create a new world."

Just then a man brushed past me on the way to the stage and the guy next to me whispered, "There goes Sean Penn!" Wow. I hadn't even noticed.

Then Sean -- Mr. Penn? -- got up on stage and said, "I just stopped by, I didn't plan to get caught." Then everyone laughed and that was that. But as I was leaving, I saw him standing outside the building all by himself. He was wearing slacks and a windbreaker that looked like he had bought them from a second-hand store and he carried a plastic grocery bag filled with miscellaneous stuff. Good grief! Sean Penn looked just like any other Average American Joe, possibly just getting off work, tired and ready to go home.

"Hi," I said. "Will you say something for my blog?" How lame is that?

"Sure. What would you like me to say?"

"Just anything."

"No, it doesn't work that way. You've got to ask me a question." Oh dear. I don't think very fast on my feet.

" is your favorite food?" You know me. My mind is always thinking about food.

"That's what you want to ask me? What is my favorite food?" I had this golden opportunity to ask some fabulously meaningful question of a man known throughout the world for his acting ability and his ideals and all I could come up with was food? Jane!

At that point, I managed to forget about food for a moment and take a closer look at Sean Penn. Who exactly WAS this man? What was he all about? What was it like to be rich and famous and heroic? And was I bothering him? Was I being too pushy? I looked again. He had deep, nice, serious eyes. And then it hit me. Good grief! Sean Penn was a real person! And he was nice!

"I usually write about how much I really don't like George Bush...." I said.

"Well, then ask me something about George Bush," he suggested helpfully. But that question was even WORSE than the question about food. I mean, think about it. I'm here chit-chatting with Sean Penn and I'm gonna waste my time talking about George Bush? Yuck! C'mon, Jane. This is a really unique opportunity. Think of something profound!

"Uh, I write a blog...." I said next. But I'd already told him that. "I live in Berkeley?"

"How do you like that?"

"I like it!" Yeah, duh. Except for the ex-friend and the cat.... "Well, thank you so much for putting up with me," I finally said.

"No problem," he answered. And I got the sense that he meant it. I got the definite sense that Sean Penn was genuine, the Real Deal. And that the genuine Sean believed that other people were genuine too and that he had faith in people -- faith that they were also the Real Deal. And that he was a good person and actually assumed that I was a good person too.

After the interview, I walked down Geary Street through a crowd of out-of-town tourists and Saturday night bar-hoppers and I was TOTALLY excited and pleased. I had interviewed Sean Penn for my blog! And I had heard Dennis Kucinich speak too. This day was turning out to be a good day after all!

Now if only we can end that stupid slaughter in Iraq and put Bush and Cheney in jail where they belong, it might even turn out to be a good year!

Twilight Zone: Where even the lowly RUPEE is stronger than the dollar!

You want to know what's funny? This is what's funny -- I just paid GOOD MONEY to go to a writing seminar and what happened? The moment I got there, I developed writer's block! That's so unfair.

But then The Chief handed out a writing assignment that got me back on track. Why? Because it made me so PISSED OFF! "I want you to write an essay," said The Chief, "comparing the value of the American dollar with the value of the Indian rupee". What? What kind of an assignment is that?. Everyone knows that the dollar WAY out-performs the rupee. This is a stupid assignment. Give me a break!

But to keep The Chief happy, I just gritted my teeth and started doing the research -- but what I found out pissed me off so much that I totally FORGOT about writer's block! Geez Louise! Did you know that in just one week alone, the exchange rate between dollars and rupees has fluctuated a lot -- and it isn't the DOLLAR that is holding strong! "On Christmas Day, the exchange rate between rupees and dollars was 49 rupees per dollar." However, by January 3, 2007, the almighty dollar was only worth 42 rupees. It is the lowly rupee that is performing the best!

Seven years ago, before the neo-cons started messing around with our economic system, American tourists could go anywhere in the world -- from Amsterdam to Zimbabwe -- and find that people in ANY foreign country would be overjoyed to take dollars. Now even the most desperate bazaar hawker in the most desperate third-world backwater will now pause and say, "You got anything else besides dollars?"

Am I living in the Twilight Zone or what?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Ode to becoming a foster care parent: Changing the world one child at a time...

I am a foster parent. Being a foster parent is a lot of work but it also brings a lot of rewards. I highly recommend it!

Did you know that one of the best foster care agencies in the world is located right here in Berkeley? It's true. I went to a meeting at the agency last night and they said, "We really need new foster parents. If you know any people or have any friends who might consider becoming foster parents, please let us know."

I know people! I know people who use the internet! So. If you are reading this, consider yourself my friend. And here's a friendly suggestion -- because there is such an urgent need for foster parents, you could enrich your life by helping a child and helping save the world "One child at a time". Plus you will receive $23 a day to cover the child's expenses. Plus you will feel all good about yourself for having done good deeds. Both small children and teenagers (who are easier to take care of) are looking for homes. And there is also a foster-care-to-adoption program too.

If you live in California and want to know more, please call me at 843-0581 and I will gladly give you the 411 about this outstanding agency and foster care program.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Sherlock in India: Keeping an eye out for stolen uranium!

Nuc News just sent me an article with the following headline: "Police launch hunt for Stolen Uranium in India". What a coincidence! Even as we speak, I am online with a friend who works at an internet cafe on the main street of Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan. I'm on the case!

"So. Dr.Watson." I e-mailed Rajinder. "You're at the scene of the crime. What do you think? See any stolen uranium lying around?"

"Looking out the door of my small two-seater internet cafe," Rajinder e-mailed me back, "I see approximately 150 motor vehicles of various kinds, about 25 cycle-driven rickshaws, more people than you can possibly imagine, a whole bunch of trees and three sacred cows. Sorry. No missing uranium. But I'll keep my eye out. Thanks for the heads up!"
Author's note: I recently went to a writing seminar. It was excellent. Our instructor, aka The Chief, assigned us each a country to write about. I got assigned to INDIA! I am sending you the results of my hard work and research. Here is Essay # One and Essay # Two. I hope you enjoy them. And if you do, please tell The Chief to give me an A!
The miracle of India: Peace (and a good shave)

Poverty in India is worse than any poverty you have ever seen or can even imagine. There are people in India who are poor beyond your wildest dreams -- er -- nightmares. Really really really really poor. There are only a few places in America where you can find people this poor.

But what is even more amazing about India is that, despite having hundreds of millions of people living in poverty, there is still civil order. If I was THAT poor, that close to not knowing where my next meal was coming from, would I be that docile too? Or would I just go Berserkers, break the window of the next bakery I came to and at least have one decent meal -- chocolate eclairs! -- before they came and dragged me away? I can understand the horrid violence in Africa -- born of desperation -- but the fact that India is so peaceful is nothing short of a miracle.

And the situation of the poor in India also pertains to India's dogs and cows. There are really hungry, really big dogs on the street all the time but they never bark or bite. And the freaking cows wander through downtown traffic as casually as if the main drag of Jaipur was a pasture or something. And these cows are skinny as rails and have huge horns -- starving cows should be dangerous, right? Nope. They're not. Not at all.

I think that all this stoical and peaceful acceptance of life's miseries is nothing short of a miracle. We've already discussed the effects of poverty on Africa. And when the people of Iraq became suddenly poor, they too struck out in violence. And how would we Americans act if we too were suddenly poverty-stricken? May I never find out!

I have nothing but respect for the forbearance and tolerance of India's poor. And I am totally amazed.

PS: The second miracle of India is that, as starkly poor and obviously without access to "rest rooms" as the poverty-stricken men of this country are, most of them still manage to shave every day!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Not fact-based enough: Why GWB won't be hired as an embedded reporter in Iraq

After MONTHS of trying to get embedded in Iraq so I could go over there and help save our brave American troops from a fate worse than death -- being led to the slaughter by that Judas goat in the White House who lies to them through his teeth -- CentCom Baghdad finally coughed up with their main reason for not allowing me to embed.

CentCom Baghdad sent the following statement to my senator when I requested her aid in helping me become an embedded reporter: "After reviewing Ms. Stillwater’s request for an embed," wrote the MediaEmbed dude, "I denied Multi-National Force – Iraq credentialing and support based upon her work being OPINION-BASED, rather than FACTUAL REPORTING [emphasis mine], and that she is not backed by an organization that can be held responsible for her journalistic standards or, more importantly, her welfare in case of emergency. This does not stop Ms. Stillwater from entering Iraq commercially and providing for herself, but it does prevent her from being embedded with troops, using MNF-I facilities and covering MNF-I activities."

Wow! Do you know what this means? Not only should the New York Times IMMEDIATELY be kicked out of the "embed" program because their treatment of the run-up to the war on Iraq was DEFINITELY not fact-based, but also that poor old George W. Bush, the most opinion-based person you would ever want to meet this side of Josef Stalin or Captain Hook, will NEVER be able to consider embedding in Iraq as a second career choice once he gets out of jail.

After the Downing Street memos surfaced a few years ago, there was one thing that those of us who were focusing on fact-based reporting learned for sure -- that Bush's decisions in Iraq and the New York Times' coverage of said decisions were definitely opinion-based -- totally unrelated to facts. Weapons of mass destruction? Niger cake? And pixie dust and the tooth fairy....

So. Does CentCom Baghdad actually think that I am going to go over to Iraq and follow Bush's and the New York Times' example and fib? Tell bouncers? Make things up? Lie like a rug? Hell, no!

If I am disqualified from being embedded because I promise to tell "The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth," then too bad for them. I didn't want to go anyway.

But if I promise to lie a lot and make a LOT of stuff up, will CentCom Baghdad let me go then? Or will I just get sent straight to the White House? Or be given a job with the Times?

PS: But dispite all of the above-mentioned CentCom SNAFU stuff, I really do want to go over there and see for myself what is going on -- and maybe even meet Riverbend. C'mon, CentCom, don't make me beg!

Oh, okay. I'll beg. "CentCom, PLEEEZE let me embed?"

You won't be sorry. My stories will be so fabulously truthful and fact-based that I PERSONALLY will end the war and get all you guys home here where you belong instead of just being led to the slaughter like sheep by that sociopath in the White House who just likes to see people get blown up -- including but not limited to Y-O-U.

PPS: You better get me over there FAST. If the new Congress has any sense at all, they'll end Bush's bloody fiasco now, offer our troops a BIG apolgy for being duped and send them back home where they belong -- guarding American soil -- before I even get a chance to ship out!

And here's one final warning to CentCom, Congress and the American people: The LAST thing in the world that George W. Bush wants is for people like me to go around telling the truth.

PPPS: Here's an e-mail from a friend of mine now serving in Iraq: "To go 'unilateral' in Iraq is to go dead! That statement is irresponsible -- actually murderous. You should lodge a complaint. Hey, if the US military had not f*cked up the country with raging hate against Americans, you could have gone unilateral. But not now. BTW, what the hell was that team of Canadian journalists who just got blown up doing at the central market? Since no US military were killed in that monster explosion, the Canadians were obviously not embedded.

"If I were you, I would keep pushing for an embed. And how about a lawsuit for slander? You are a journalist, right?"

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Sidetracked: Why I am NOT in Iraq

I should be in Iraq. I should be in Baghdad. I should be sending back eye-popping stories to The Black Commentator about how our money is being misused, mismanaged, misspent and morally misdirected to kill women and children whose only crimes are to be born in an oil-rich country and to not be born the same color as George W. Bush.

Bush had no business invading Iraq. Now he has killed 665,000 (and still counting) Iraqis and 3,020 (and still counting) U.S. soldiers in cold blood. If he can kill them without any conscience, what's to keep him from killing us next?

Yes, I've been sidetracked from observing the occupation and reporting back to you exactly what is going on over there. And who has sidetracked me? Who is keeping me from reporting to you from Iraq? Let me tell you. It is extremely difficult to get to Iraq as a reporter unless you are officially sanctioned and "embedded" by the U.S. military. Knowing this, I dutifully applied through the proper channels for embedding media personnel in Iraq and wrote to the U.S. Army CentCom in Baghdad. "I want to go over there so that I can tell our readers exactly what is going on in Iraq," I said.

"Sorry," they wrote back. "We don't embed bloggers." So. The Black Commentator doesn't count as REAL journalism? Nor does Counterpunch, OpEd News, CLG News,, the Online Journal or TruthOut? It's only when the New York Times lies through its teeth to America that it's real? Yeah, sure you're sorry. Me too.

Then I wrote to Senator Barbara Boxer to see if she could help me to embed. But it's been four or five months now and I haven't heard back. "Senator, I need your help," I wrote. "They are not letting me into Iraq. Apparently you do not get allowed over there unless you PROMISE to write what they want you to write -- about how well the illegal occupation, killing, torture, bombing, napalming, hanging, embezzling, etc. is going and how Bush has to Stay the Course as long as there is one drop of oil left in Iraq...." And you KNOW that I can't make that promise.

But I will promise this: I will do every single thing humanly possible to stop this insane and bloody "war" on the people of Iraq. And on Afghanistan, Lebanon, Palestine, Darfur, Somalia and anywhere else where there is power or land or oil that the Bush murderers covet.

Martin Luther King Jr. risked his life to stop the war on Vietnam. We must follow his example. Why? Because our future is at stake here. We cannot afford to be sidetracked again.

PS: "In the future...they can do it to us." What am I talking about! They already have. Perhaps I should just go embed in New Orleans...or South Central.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Calling the Bad Guys' bluff: If you are DETERMINED to have WW III, let's just do it & get it over with!

After all those years of being forced to listen to Ronnie and Bill and George I and George II pontificate about bringing peace to the Middle East ad nauseam, here we still are -- with more "war" in the Middle East than ever. And it has cost us taxpayers at least a trillion dollars so far-- money COMPLETELY wasted. And the issue is STILL Palestine. Only now it's also Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan and Somalia too. And Syria and Iran.

WHEN will all of this this craziness (not to mention inefficiency and off-the-charts fiscal irresponsibility) finally end? When you have blown up the entire Middle East? When we have World War III? Or when every single person on the planet is dead? Including me? It certainly looks like our guys in the White House, Congress and the New York Times editorial office are heading in that direction.

But almost even worse than enduring these pointless, fruitless and expensive exercises in futility called "wars" is having to slog through all the weeks, months and YEARS of propaganda justifications that the maniacs in the White House, Congress and the New York Times cram down our throats and bombard us with first. Guys! You have put me through the escalation and justification wringer too many times. I'm tired of that. Stop wasting my time with foreplay. This time just go for it! Just blow up the freaking world now instead of doing it piece by piece and driving me nuts in the process.

You KNOW that you want to. Do it now instead of later. End the suspense.

I'm sick and tired of constantly having to WORRY about all this stuff. And then after having worried myself sick about whether or not you are actually going to blow up [name the country], worry incessantly about how someone as insignificant as me might possibly be able to stop this insanity and then to STILL have it happen? Forget about that.

You've heard of Texas Hold 'em? Well, guess what. All you Dr. Strangelove types? I'm calling your bluff. Either go down into your bunker under the White House and hit the red button right now or SHUT THE FREAK UP!

At least after you blow us all to smithereens, I'll be in Heaven and you'll be in Hell and I won't have to listen to any more of your freaking propaganda justifications on why it is freaking NECESSARY to blow up the world's women and children.

Fashion Statements: Pink is the new black -- and Iraq is the new base camp

Bush and Cheney are at it again. First we had the Gulf War, using Saudi Arabia as a base camp. Then we had the War on Iraq, using Kuwait as a base camp. Guess what happens next? Iraq is now the new base camp for the attack on Iran.

And guess what else? Pink is NOT the new black.

We've been duped again.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Madame Jane Predicts: In 2007, GWB will send HIMSELF to jail!

Madame Jane predicts that soon -- very soon -- sooner than even Nancy Pelosi would expect, President [sic] George W. Bush is gonna issue yet another Special Executive Order -- or perhaps one of those Presidential Signing Statement thingies that he so proudly invented -- wherein he will actually sentence HIMSELF to 25 years in jail. And with no time off for good behavior either!

"Now why did he go and do something like that?" you might ask. Don't ask me. Ask John Grisham. He has the answer. I just finished reading Grisham's book about a Washington wheeler-dealer who had cheated too many people and stepped on too many toes and thus ended up PLEADING with the Justice Department to PLEASE put him jail! And solitary confinement would be even better! Why? So that all the enemies this dude has made over the years and all the people he has cheated and all the people who hate "The Broker" won't be able to get their hands on him.

Well. Madame Jane predicts that, in the year 2007, something very similar to that will also happen to George W. Bush.

Americans tend to be rather naive -- dare I say gullible -- and we tend to believe what we are told most of the time. BUT. If and when we finally ever DO find out that we have been tricked, used, conned, swindled, defrauded and/or cheated, we also tend to get angry. Very very angry -- angry enough to even indulge in tarring and feathering. Hey, it's happened before.

Madame Jane predicts that when it finally does become clear to even the most naive American in even the most hard-core Red State in the USA that Bush has systematically schemed us out of our wealth, our reputation, our land, our honor, our patrimony, our democracy, our justice, our way of life, our freedom and the very life-blood of our treasured sons and daughters, then America is gonna blow and blow bigtime!

And when this happens, GWB is going to start desperately looking around for any kind of spider-hole he can get his hands on in order to protect himself from the wrath of the American people. And when that happens, trust me. Paraguay is NOT going to be far enough away.

Have you ever SEEN anyone tarred and feathered? Not a pretty picture. And the people in charge of administering said tar don't just sit around waiting for it to cool to room temperature either.

Madame Jane predicts that in 2007, Americans are FINALLY going to wake up. And when they do, it might be with barrels of tar and pillows filled with goose-feathers close at hand. And when that happens, GWB is going to get down on his knees and BEG the Department of Justice to put him in jail.

It's called "protective custody".

Madame Jane predicts we will soon be saying goodbye to George W. Bush -- and Condi and Dick and Rummie and Karl and Halliburton...and all of his other "feathered friends".

PS: Am I advocating violence? No no no. Violence is WRONG! However, as a soothsayer, it is my unfortunate duty to predict -- and to warn.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

HUD "Section 8" housing: The revenge of the Trailer Trash?

I live in a HUD-subsidized "Section 8" housing project. Section 8 is a good thing. If it weren't for all the Section 8 vouchers and projects supplied by HUD, millions of families here in America would be homeless. If HUD's Section 8 program was to be suddenly canceled tomorrow morning, on the first day of next month when all the Section 8 people get evicted for non-payment of rent, America would suddenly have thousands of homeless camps and hobo jungles stretching from coast to coast and this place would look like the Great Depression was being re-enacted all over again.

So. What are we buying when we spend our hard-earned tax dollars on housing subsidies? We are buying an illusion -- that America is NOT a third-world country after all and that we are not even close.

Here are two facets of Section 8 housing -- the good and the bad. First, here's an essay I wrote regarding the good part:

Section 8 Housing: An important issue for African-Americans

For the African-American community, Section 8 has been a very important way to help people pull themselves up by their bootstraps. I myself can be a witness to this. I live in a HUD-subsidized Section 8 housing project and if there is one thing I have learned from living here it is that the benefits of Section 8 housing go far beyond just paying cheap rent.

The 57-unit project that I live in has been in existence for 27 years. How do I know? Because I moved into my unit when I was nine months pregnant and gave birth to my son the very next day. So. My son and the project are the same age -- only one day apart. And did you know that there is a HUD Section 8-based project just like this one in every city and town in America? All built in 1979. Thank you, Jimmy Carter! But I digress.

In the last 27 years that I have lived here, I have watched my African-American neighbors put the money they have saved on rent to very good use. Sure, some of them have used this opportunity to run up credit card debt or purchase a brand new Lincoln Navigator but for the most part they have used this opportunity wisely. They have used Section 8 as a springboard to send their children to college.

Because of Section 8 and HUD and Jimmy Carter, there are now at least 30 more African-American college graduates today that I personally know of than there would have been without Section 8.

As I write this, I'm looking back in my mind's eye, thinking about the 57 families who moved in here back in 1979. Many of us were on welfare. Some of us were on drugs. A couple of prostitutes, a handful of working single mothers desperately struggling to hold things together. Grandparents raising their abandoned grandkids. Battered women running away from brutal spouses. Some homeless types. Redneck meth freaks. We were a sorry lot.

But slowly, surely, all of us started to relax and unwind. With a decent roof over our heads, we began to recover. And to focus. Now three out of four of my children are college graduates. Of the five families who are my immediate neighbors, we have nine college graduates, including one PhD and a girl who lived her dream -- graduating from UCLA with a degree in dance and going on to dance on Broadway in the cast of The Lion King.

Lately, neo-cons in Washington have been systematically attacking HUD-subsidized Section 8 housing programs. "It's just more welfare," they say. "It's just giving our hard-earned money to a bunch of lazy slackers." No. The war-profiteering that is going in in Iraq is "just more welfare". Unlike our tax money that has been "invested" in war profiteering, tax money invested in Section 8 housing, like tax money invested in education and healthcare, is an investment in America's future and the future of our children and grandchildren -- African-American, Latino, Asian and white alike.

But for African-Americans, Section 8 housing is an especially important issue -- an issue well worth fighting for.


Now here is an essay I wrote about the bad part of Section 8 -- wherein the Board of Directors of my Section 8 housing co-op got a little too zealous and started to think that their poop didn't stink like everyone else's:

An Ode to HUD Section 8 Housing -- and a Word of Caution for those who mess with it!

Did you know that the housing co-op where I live is a 100% Section 8 HUD-sponsored housing project? I am so proud of this fact – that I live in a place that offers hope, a chance for improvement, a roof over one’s head, safety for children, a helping hand to people so that they can take a step upwards toward being a part of the American Dream and the opportunity to make the most of one’s life without worry or fear.

In addition, Section 8 housing provides the City of Berkeley – now in the throes of gentrification – with much-needed diversity. Berkeley used to be a guiding light and sanctuary that was known all over the world for progressive ideas and civil rights. But now it is becoming merely just another bedroom community where heroes and idealists can’t even afford the rent.

But apparently Section 8 subsidies are not looked upon so kindly by the people who now control the majority vote on our housing co-op's Board of Directors. For example, I recently heard one market-rate resident [a market-rate resident is one who pays "full market" rent – which is still $200 to $500 less than Berkeley’s average rent, thanks to HUD subsidies] state that she was tired of our co-op being referred to as "public housing". Well, duh. If market-rate residents don’t like the idea, they can move and make room for others who are dying – sometimes literally – to live in "public housing". What? She thinks that the rest of us are just welfare queens and/or trailer trash?

"Market-rate people don’t have to follow HUD rules," one Board member stated recently. Yeah they do. Our housing co-op was not conceived so it can serve people who simply live here because it is close to shops and BART. We are in the business of helping people, helping children and saving lives! Get over it.

Regarding our co-op's up-coming $6,000,000 rehabilitation project that some market-rate Board members are trying to block so that their monthly rents won't go up, HUD and the bank that is sponsoring our loan just informed our co-op's Board members that if they have not selected a building siding material by January 31, 2007 so that the contractors can finally get to work on the rehab, the rehab will be canceled. And we will owe the bank and HUD their seed money of $330,00 as well – not to mention that our co-op will then lose Section 8 because without the rehab it will very quickly become sub-standard housing. This Board has truly screwed up.

What to do? At our co-op's up-coming February 2007 annual meeting and election, we residents have the right – according to the bylaws – to get rid of the entire co-op Board and vote in a whole new Board; one that is more interested in representing our needs rather than putting all of their energy into blocking the rehab, moving themselves/their relatives/their friends into vacated units, turning one of Berkeley’s few sources of affordable housing into "garden apartments" and forgetting our co-op's true purpose and roots.