Friday, March 30, 2007

A review of the US troop chow hall in Kuwait: Would Michelin give it three stars?

I'm currently at an unnamed US airbase in Kuwait and getting ready to fly out to Baghdad tonight.. But first things first. I mean visiting combat zones is nice and all that but..did your mother teach you ANYTHING? Nothing is more important than food! First let's talk about food.

My first impression upon walking into the airbase commissary tent was, "Wow!" They handed me a plate and then served me one-fourth of a chicken, broccoli, mashed potatoes and green beans. High-end cafeteria food but tasty and lots of it. I heaped up on that. Then I noticed the salad bar. Mama, I'm home! Vitamins. High fiber. Anti-oxidants. Fruit. Eat your vegetables, troops!

Then I discovered the salad bar. And the coffee bar. And the juice bar. And the soda bar and the cold bottled water. "But Jane," I asked myself. "What about dessert?"

Chocolate pudding and ice cream bars. Not Chez Panisse or nothing but good. And the ambiance was great. For an Army canteen, it was like Better Homes and Gardens -- red table cloths and silken flowers tastefully arranged in ceramic vases. Plus lots of really hot dudes dressed in khaki and camo walking around with automatic weapons slung over their shoulders.

I was about to give this place a whole bunch of Michelin stars for sure -- but when I finally sat down at my tastefully-decorated table and started to eat, I discovered that every wall in the chow hall had at least two giant plasma TVs nailed up next to the air conditioners and every single one of them was turned to Fox News! Eeuuww.

Watching Bill O'Reilly interviewing some lady from the Heritage Foundation while eating? That's just gross! Two big thumbs down.

But then the place almost kinda redeemed itself because when I was about to walk out, I noticed that I had missed something hidden over by the exit door -- the dessert bar! Four flavors of cheesecake, tubs full of all kinds of ice cream, a frozen smoothie machine including toppings and cones, three kinds of chocolate cake and my all-time favorite -- PUMPKIN PIE! Dump that loser O'Reilly and this place would definitely get two thumbs up from me!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Greetings from Kuwait! This post is gonna be quick and dirty and not very coherent because I'm writing to you from a Kinko's at the Kuwait City airport. After two days on the plane, I arrived here around midnight and, since I can't even begin to try to arrange to get picked up until 6 am tomorrow morning, I'll be spending the rest of the night in a Barca-lounger in the airport offices of Kellogg, Brown & Root. How surrealistic is that!

Here's my first dispatch:

The Great American Dream still exists -- in Iraq!

You know how we all thought that the American economy was going down-hill? It's not true! We're just not looking in the right places. Look closer -- the 1950s American economic miracle isn't dead. It's still going on. People are still getting well-paying jobs. Mortgages are still being paid off. Jobs are available everywhere. You can find one just for the asking. Three cars in your garage? No problem. No money worries, no debts. Decent jobs are out there begging. Yes, the 1950s American economic miracle is still happening.

Only it's happening in Iraq.

How spooky, how weird, how de-ja-voo. While American cities are rotting and American children go to sleep hungry at night, there still is a land -- far far away -- where everything is as it was before our present economic American Easter egg cracked.

Where is this simple, illusionary, holiday place? Iraq.

Yesterday, escorted by two large handsome bodyguard cameramen supplied by the San Francisco Chronicle, I took a BART train to the San Francisco airport and boarded a plane to Amsterdam.

"Jane, your flight from Amsterdam to Kuwait has been canceled," said the guy at the KLM check-in counter. "Would you mind spending a night in Holland?"

Would I mind? Hecka no! But when I got to Amsterdam, they told me something else. "Tomorrow's flight has been canceled but you can still get on yesterday's flight." Huh? "And it leaves in two hours." So I trundled off to Gate D-7 -- and while I was waiting for yesterday's flight, I chit-chatted with four really nice Department of Defense and Blackwater "contractors". They talked about perks.

"I'm making a fabulous salary."

"I've saved up enough to put my daughters through college. And also my wife!"

"We have a mini-van, a sedan and an SUV."

"I just got back from a week at Disney World and next year we're taking the family to Europe."

Sounds just like the good old days, doesn't it. Guys working hard, guys getting ahead.

On the flight from Holland to Kuwait, the entire PLANE was filled with contractors, pursuing the American Dream -- in Iraq.

Who am I to try to put an end to this perfect world -- just because it is based on the quicksand of a million dead bodies?

"Not I," said this little white duck.

On the way to Kuwait, I watched an in-flight movie entitled "Bobby" -- about the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. And what RFK said in that film hit the nail exactly on the head. "Too often, we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of other human beings."

PS: While I was flying across the Atlantic, getting leg cramps, eating rubber chicken and watching "Casino Royal," I also read an article in The Guardian about the ghastly slaughter that is happening right now in Darfur. Don't even get me started on that one -- wondering who else is making a profit off of all those grisly deaths.


Here's an article on me featured in the San Francisco Chronicle!


Got any extra Kevlar for my trip to Iraq? If you wanna contribute to my Kevlar fund, I now have a PayPal account. Go to, click on "send money" and type in where it says "to". Thanks

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Woman of Steel: I'm off to Iraq & need Kevlar by Wednesday!

When you are a reporter, you gotta go where the good stories are. And everyone knows that the hot stories today are in Washington DC and Iraq. Well, maybe in the Bahamas too -- but mostly in DC and Iraq.

I've been trying to embed in Iraq with the Department of Defense since last July. At first my senator, when she inquired on my behalf, was told that I couldn't be embedded because I was "opinion-based and not fact-based" but as America's goddess of accurate-yet-fun reporting Molly Ivins used to say, "That dog don't hunt" -- not after the DoD itself got caught telling bold-faced lies about Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction! But when the Dems took over Congress last November, I was informed by several sources that, under pressure from above, the DoD has now developed a whole new policy wherein progressive reporters are no longer being actively discriminated against and that I had a good chance of being embedded if my credentials were good.

After getting four online news services, a nationally-known crusading regional editor, my hometown newspaper and a major metropolitan media giant to sponsor me -- The Lone Star Iconoclast just sent me the most beautiful press pass in the world -- I finally got the green light from DoD! Sorta.

To get to Iraq, you fly into Kuwait and the Department of Defense's MNFI comes to pick you up. So I went online to, the best source of cheap international airfare there is, and scored a fabulously inexpensive round trip flight to Kuwait for a price that even I could afford! I was all ready to go, leaving on Wednesday, March 28, 2007. Sorta.

"Sorry, Jane," the DoD media guy just wrote me. "We haven't finished processing your paperwork yet." Oops. So here I am with a non-refundable ticket to Kuwait and no green light.

What to do?

Whether or not I have DoD clearance, I HAVE to leave for Kuwait on March 28. I can't afford to waste that kind of money. I lived off peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for a YEAR to save all that up. And when I get to Kuwait, either the MNFI will have completed the paperwork and I will be whisked off to their training and staging area near Kuwait City and then off to Baghdad to write fabulous stories for YOU all about how our brave troops are doing a bang-up job over there despite the fact that their bosses in the White House are sadistic bastards, terribly inefficient crooks and totally nuts -- or I will spend three weeks wandering the streets of Kuwait City waiting for my flight home, searching for internet cafes and trying to sell boot-leg Girl Scout cookies.

If, however, I do get embedded in Iraq, I will need a Kevlar bullet-proof vest. Can anyone loan me one by Wednesday? I'm serious! Would you send me into a combat zone without Kevlar? Who do you think I am? The Woman of Steel?

PS: Of course the main reason I'm going to Iraq is to bring you back stories about what it is actually like over there -- but there's also another special bonus inducement: I hear that the commissaries over there serve a dynamite (to-die-for) chocolate cake.

PPS: Just because George W. Bush happily sends our troops into combat without adequate body armor, this doesn't necessarily mean it's a good idea.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Not smarter than a 5th grader: How runaway inflation has slipped under our radar

In 1975, there was this cute little two-bedroom house for sale on Grant Street in Berkeley. I loved that house! I wanted to buy that house! But I dithered around and missed my chance because I couldn't come up with a down payment for its outrageously expensive asking price -- $25,000.

I'd be extremely lucky today, even in the middle of the current housing slump, to be able to purchase that same house for less than $600,000.

I hate math but here goes. $25,000 goes into $600,000 how many times? 24 times? That's a hecka lot of inflation!

Remember back in the late 1970s when we had all those big long lines at the gas pumps? When gas went from 60 cents a gallon to $1.10 a gallon and we thought that was outrageous? "President Carter has caused runaway inflation," we were told. So we had an election and got stuck with Ronnie Reagan instead -- and suddenly "inflation" disappeared, never to return.

Remember back in 1968? By living at home and working during the summer, I was able to save up enough money in just three short months to put myself through U.C. Berkeley for the rest of the year. Tuition was $150, rent was $75, utilities cost $10 and peanut butter was cheap. I didn't live like a goddess but still -- I didn't have $150,000 in student loans to pay off upon graduation either.

Remember when peaches at the Berkeley Bowl Marketplace cost 69 cents a pound and strawberries were 89 cents a basket and hamburger was $1.75 a pound? Then suddenly about two years ago the price of peaches went up to $2.00 a pound, strawberries were suddenly $2.50 a basket and a pound of hamburger suddenly cost $3.25? And gas went from $1.80 a gallon to $3.30 a gallon?

In approximately the last two years, almost everything we need to survive has jumped up in price by at least 100%.

When this same incredible jump in prices occurred in 1979, everyone screamed bloody murder about "Runaway Inflation". Heads rolled. But when the exact same thing is happening now, NOBODY talks about inflation....

What's the difference between then and now?

Here's the difference.

In 1979, every media outlet in America was constantly letting us know that our country was suffering from inflation. Now we have to figure all that stuff out all by ourselves. According to a graph supplied by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rate of inflation in 1980 was 14%. And today the rate of inflation is only between two and three per cent. So. Technically, we are NOT suffering from inflation right now. BUT. What does it feel like to you?

Here we are, scurrying around, tightening our belts, doing all of the desperate things we did in 1979 (and much more) -- only now we are doing it individually and gratefully, grateful as heck that our misery is of our own doing and NOT because America is suffering from inflation!

We need to stop being sidetracked by statistics and to start learning to trust our own experience at the grocery store and the gas pump instead. We need to start flying by the seat of our pants.

Remember that old adage, "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it still make a sound?" Well, here's a new adage. "If a price raises at the supermarket and the media doesn't report it, does inflation still exist?" You bet!

If inflation cost Jimmy Carter the presidency after only one term, how come Bush wasn't thrown out of the White House in 2004? Two reasons. First, the rate of runaway inflation since GWB took over the White House wasn't hyped in the news constantly like it had been during the 1980 presidential election race. And, second, "If election fraud steals an election, does the winner still get to be President?"

PS: Instead of using the Consumer Price Index to measure inflation rates, we now rely on the Core CPI, which doesn't record dramatic changes in housing and energy costs. According to economist Ann Berg, the Core CPI only reflects that we are now buying more stuff at dollar stores. Dollar store purchases are now keeping inflation down? What? The once-mighty American economy is now being kept safe from inflation because low prices in DOLLAR STORES are forcing the CPI down? That's pathetic.

According to Berg, "Core CPI reveals no inflation because it tracks manufactured goods that have cheapened over time, the result of the entrance of a billion third world workers since 1990."

But still and all, the difference between the CPI and the Core CPI isn't all that great. If you really want to know what is going on in our economy, forget about the CPI and the Core CPI. The true measurement of current inflation rates can only be accurately determined by one thing -- what happens to you and me at the gas pump and the grocery store check-out line. And that news is NOT good.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

America's Next Top Spin: "The sooner we defeat Al Qaeda, the sooner we can come home"

I was supposed to rush off to a meeting tonight -- they were luring me there with promises of free pizza -- but I took a few minutes before leaving to set my VCR timer to tape America's Next Top Model while I was gone.

While I was fiddling around with the buttons on the remote, I caught a section of the evening news. They were running a story on Iraq that stopped me dead in my tracks. Even thoughts of Free Pizza flew from my brain. Why? Because the Department of Defense official being interviewed on the news had just actually said with his mouth, "The sooner we defeat Al Qaeda, the sooner we can come home". My jaw just dropped.

Let me get this straight. First Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney claimed that they had been forced to invade Iraq because Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and was harboring Al Qaeda. Then all that proved to be untrue and there were no WMDs in Iraq and Saddam was a staunch opponent of Al Qaeda so there had been no members of Al Qaeda in Iraq either.

Then -- correct me if I am wrong -- the Bushies started to tell us that we were in Iraq to bring democracy to the country and freedom to its women. Okay. Well, we all know what happened there. Since the American occupation, women have been tortured, beaten, raped and forced to hide indoors for fear for their lives if they dare venture out on the street. Plus with all that militia thug nonsense currently going on over there, Iraqis probably had MORE democratic rights under Saddam.

And now GWB is telling us that the reason we are occupying Iraq is to defeat Al Qaeda? NOW there is Al Qaeda in Iraq? Let me get clear on this. There was NO Al Qaeda in Iraq under Saddam. And now after four years of American occupation, Iraq is now in danger of being overrun by Al Qaeda? And we can only leave Iraq if we defeat the Al Qaeda that is there now but which wasn't there before but now that WE are there is spreading like cancer?

But what does all this mean? I myself think it means that "The sooner we defeat Al Qaeda, the sooner we can come home" is now the hands-down winner of the "America's Next Top Spin" contest!

Does it also mean that Bush thinks we Americans are all morons? Don't answer that.

PS: The pizza was great. And I never did get to tape ANTM because I forgot to change the timer on the VCR to daylight savings time. But I got back from the meeting in time to watch the last 15 minutes so I know which girl is going home.

Now if we can only bring our troops home too -- before Al Qaeda overruns the whole Middle East!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Girl Scout cookies: The true story of how our troop sold 60,000 boxes!

Well, it's Girl Scout cookie season again. You gotta love Girls Scout cookies. Totally unhealthy, sure, but BOY are they good! I never liked Thin Mints all that much but good grief I would DIE for a Samoa. Chocolate, caramel and coconut. What's not to like? I could go through one whole box in three minutes. Two boxes? No problem. Three boxes? Don't even ask.

When my youngest daughter was a Girl Scout, our troop was HOT. We were legendary. We sold MORE Girl Scout cookies than any troop in Girl-Scout-cookie-selling HISTORY.

"Jane, " asked my friend JoAnne, "how did your troop manage to sell SIXTY THOUSAND BOXES?" I'll tell you how! We worked our tails off! That's how.

There were eleven girls in our troop so we divided up into groups. One group was assigned to the University of California. Those Cal students LOVE their Samoas! We'd drop some girls off in front of Sproul Plaza with twenty cases of cookies and come back three hours later and they would ALL be gone.

Then there was our Berkeley BART station girls. The commuters liked Thin Mints the most. Hot sellers. Sales were highest during rush hours and when the lunch crowd came out of the office buildings at noon. "Get your Girl Scout cookies! Only $3.50 a box!" One day some wannabe crook stole our money box. How slimy is that? To rip off a troop of Girl Scouts? That's pathetic.

Then there was the third group of scouts, headed by me. On every weekday after I got off of work and every weekend during March, I'd force my poor sweet daughter to go over to sit in front of the Berkeley Bowl Marketplace for hours on end, set up our ironing board and beg people to buy cookies. In the rain, in the heat, in the cold. The girls would sell their hearts out while I ran inside for change or for burritos or for hot chocolate to encourage them to go on. We weren't exactly breaking any child labor laws there but it was close.

"Girl Scout Cookies!" we sang, we shouted, we rapped.

All in all, our troop must have sold at least two tons of Girl Scout cookies. The entire first floor of one troop leader's house was totally stacked from floor to ceiling with cases of freaking cookies every year. Plus she owned a Chevie Suburban and we used to load it up with 50 or 60 cases and make trip after trip after trip. We counted our money at her kitchen table. And most of the girls were on the water polo team too and this leader was the coach so every year we sold cookies, ate cookies and swam. It was CRAZY!

Finally we sold 60,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies. And the girls learned a lot. I will be forever grateful to the Girl Scouts for giving our girls so much training in confidence, math, selling ability, business techniques and how to milk a sale for all it was worth.

One woman alone bought TWO cases of Thin Mints.

Every girl in our troop won an award for selling over 1,000 boxes -- every single year.

And, finally, we saved up enough money -- it took us TEN YEARS -- to take the whole troop on a Caribbean cruise. And that cruise was totally worth all the time and trouble and effort. Totally worth it. And our girls freaking took over the boat! The waiters loved them. And the boys who had been forced to go on the cruise by their parents all were just totally blown away by our magical troop. And the Bahamas will never be the same. When I rounded the corner of a street in Nassau one afternoon on shore leave, there was our entire troop, helping some guy sell T-shirts and key chains at the open-air market.

Yes, our ship, the Explorer of the Seas, is still afloat after hosting Troop 3983 for a week -- but just barely!

PS: The girls all graduated from high school and went on to other things. But there will never be a troop like ours. Never ever again. 60,000 boxes! And it will take at least a generation before the sugar and cholesterol levels of the citizens of Berkeley to go back down.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Our youth in crisis: Where is Tookie Williams when we need him!

Recently two four-year-old girls were playing in the front yard of a tract house on a quiet street in Hayward, California.

A car full of gang-bangers slowly rolled down the street. What happened next? One can only speculate.

"Turn around, let's go back."

"Why? They're just two stupid little girls playing dolls."

"Target practice."

Punks in our streets, punks in our neighborhoods, misguided, misconnected, misdirected punks. Punks who know they have no future and no longer care.

Who can reach these kids? Who can get to them, talk to them, teach them, convince them, give them hope? Change the direction of their lives before it is too late?

Tookie Williams.

And where is Tookie Williams now? When we really need him? California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger killed him last year. Offed him, fried him, executed him, took him out. It was pathetic -- a legal, official, government-sanctioned drive-by shooting, using a hypodermic needle instead of a gun.

Who could have talked to these kids on their level? The gangs of Hayward? The Norteños, the Border Brothers, the Scraps, 510? "Stay in school. Get a job. Tough it out. You are our future. America needs you."

Tookie Williams could have done that. He was a powerful man, a strong roll model for young men who are crying out for roll models, a man who had been to Hell -- and come back.

And what happened to Tookie Williams? Where is he now when we really need Him? Don't ask.

The official tally came out this week. It's now official. 148 people were murdered in Oakland last year. We need strong, clear roll-model leaders to help and guide our kids back from the jaws of death, back from the mouth of Hell. Tookie Williams could have SAVED LIVES.

"Who shot those little girls," I asked a kid I know who is into the gang-banger scene.

"I think it was the Border Brothers."

"But why!"

"It was just something to do."

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Bad Karma: Scalping Dalai Lama tickets & front row seats to World War III

"Jane! What are you thinking!" said my friend Mike. "Are you REALLY going to put your Dalai Lama tickets up for sale on e-bay? If you do that, you'll probably get reborn as a COCKROACH!"

Go away, Mike. I've had a bad day, a bad week, a bad month. Being reborn as a cockroach will probably just be a relief.

Besides, aren't cockroaches supposed to be able to survive a nuclear war? "Are you aware that George W. Bush is about to start manufacturing 20,000 nuclear bunker busters?" asked Mike. "Plus he's authorizing the production of even more full-sized nuclear warheads?"

Yes, I know that Bush is seriously considering getting nuclear implants in his flight suit. And, yes, I know that if Bush has his way the only species that is going to be safe on this planet in the near future is gonna be cockroaches. And if Bush uses nuclear bunker busters on Iran, their fallout is going to be giving Russians and Europeans mutant babies for the next 10,000 years. And how will the fallout effect us here in America? Lung cancer? Radiation sickness? Losing our hair? So much for the marketing future of Pantene Pro-V and L'Oréal. Everyone will be out buying Rogaine!

As long as George W. Bush remains in the White House and not in jail, the entire world is in danger of getting an instant genetic make-over -- to say nothing of getting a front-row seat for World War III. Forget that!

If Bush isn't going to play by the rules, then neither am I. I'm scalping those tickets. Roach Motel, here I come!

PS: The Dalai Lama will be giving a two-day seminar in San Francisco on April 27 and April 28, 2007. Spending two whole days with the Dalai Lama? One of the most highly-evolved people on the planet? This is unheard of! What a unique and wonderful opportunity for Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike.

The Dalai Lama is a true world leader -- not like the dog-poop-for-brains Count Dracula wannabe we have in the White House right now.

I have two extra tickets which I am scalping at an outrageously high price (so I can save up to go embed in Iraq and benefit sentient beings that way). If anyone is interested, let me know at

"Jane, you really shouldn't be doing this," warned my friend.

I know that. But this month has already been the Bad Karma Month from Hell. How can it possibly get any worse? "You could get reborn as an Iraqi in Fallugah. Or as a villager in Darfur. Or as a Bush twin in Crawford!" Eeuuww....