Monday, May 28, 2007
A well-heeled uncle gives a small boy a ten-dollar bill. "Go buy something nice for your dad for Fathers Day," he tells the boy. But what does the little boy do instead? He runs down to the candy store and spends that ten dollars on licorice whips. And eats every one of them. And gets sick.
A father of five receives his weekly paycheck. He thinks momentarily about his wife and children at home without food -- but just for a moment. Then he goes down to the neighborhood bar and gets drunk instead.
Given George W. Bush's past history of lying, diverting funds, fondness for bombing foreign countries, disrespect for Congress, stretching the US military beyond all reason, disregarding the Constitution and other inappropriate patterns of behavior, perhaps you are starting to get a bit of a clue as to what Bush's more-than-likely plans are for that 100-billion-dollar blank check that he just received from Congress....
The other day, House minority leader John Boehner begged his colleagues to give Bush, a man with the most sleazy reputation in Washington, a 100-billion-dollar carte blanche. With tears in his eyes, Boehner pleaded with Congress to give Bush this insanely large amount of money -- and to give it to him on complete faith. "I think at the top of our list is providing for the safety and security of the American people," sobbed Boehner. "That's at the top of our list."
Sorry, John. Your tears were in vain. Keeping America safe is not what George Bush has in mind for that money -- and neither is supporting our troops. And apparently Congress didn't particularly have those goals in mind either. If it did, Congress would have voted to have our troops home by the Fourth of July -- if not by Father's Day!
So. Why do I think that Bush is about to hit the bar stool and drop that 100 billion on booze from a bottle labeled "Iran"? Or run out to Weapons-R-Us and foolishly squander his new 100-billion-dollar allowance on frivolous stuff like an attack on Iran? That's a no-brainer. Just look what Bush has done already with our trust -- and our treasury -- since he stole the presidential election in 2000. Is anybody in America who has seen Bush in action over the last seven years still naive enough to think that he is actually planning to use this new-found 100 billion dollars to "support the troops" in Iraq and/or "keep America safe" here at home? And not on a new "GI Joe in Iran" doll?
Can anybody in America still be that naive?
Face it, guys. Iraq was last year's toy. Bush is no longer interested in playing with last year's toy -- or in spending any money on repairing it either. Bush wants to buy a NEW toy this year. And Congress has just handed Bush the money to pay for his new toy -- with no strings attached.
That's just not right. Let's give Dubya a new "Bush goes to Jail" doll instead. And a bottle of "Leavenworth XXX" too.
(The May 2007 edition of a monthly newsletter from me)
More and more we notice that George W. Bush and his cohorts in Washington are breaking laws right and left -- and yet they still expect us average citizens to play fairly and obey all the rules. This is how the Rule of Law starts to break down – first people see their leaders breaking the law and then they start to think it’s okay for them to break laws too. And the next thing you know, civil society starts to break down.
And what is true on the national level is true locally as well.
At Savo Island Cooperative Homes’ last Board meeting, it once again became clear to me that our co-op’s bylaws -- which are applied strictly to mere Savo residents – are not necessarily being applied to Board members and their cronies as well. After years of watching Board members and their friends move family members into units without permission, house whole families of people for long periods of time without putting them on their lease, move from unit to unit without paying cleaning costs, under-house themselves, tamper with the waiting lists, etc., why am I always surprised when Board members and their friends break yet another bylaw? But if George W. Bush, members of Congress and the co-op's Board members can break laws with impunity, then so can we!
After May’s Board meeting, it became even more obvious that any resident at Savo can feel free to break any bylaw we want! All we gotta do is run a slate of our cronies for the Board of Directors, get a Board majority and then do pretty much whatever we please. And to heck with the other residents, the management company and even HUD. Or we don’t even have to run for office. All we gotta do is kiss Board members [toes] and we’re in!
However, I just realized that now we don’t even have to run for office or even kiss [toes]. All we gotta do is do whatever we want and if the Board doesn’t like it, we’ll just say, "Hey, you did that. You set the precedent. We can do that too." And if they still don’t like it, we can take them to court.
But getting back to the May 2007 Board meeting. There was a lot of unit-shuffling going on. Most of it was legal and necessary -- but pay close attention to this shell game and see if you can spot the shell that still holds the pea. First the resident of the two-bedroom unit at 30 Ward Street was moved to a three-bedroom unit at 33 Milvia because she is now eligible to take foster children, a laudable thing to do. Then one of the two residents of the three-bedroom unit at 26 Ward Street was moved into the two-bedroom unit at 30 Ward Street because she has trouble going up and down stairs. Then the disabled resident of 29 Stuart Street was finally moved into the downstairs unit at 42 Ward Street after waiting for almost a year to get permission to move while a Board member tried to convince HUD Fair Housing to give the unit to her instead. But HUD stood firm and the 29 Stuart Street resident got the 42 Ward Street unit at last – it was either that or go to court. Then the resident of the two-bedroom unit at 10 Ward Street was allowed to move to the three-bedroom 16 Ward Street unit because of an increase in family composition. So far so good.
But that night nobody on the Board mentioned the elephant in the Boardroom. Nobody pointed out that the Board member who was downsized from a three-bedroom unit to a two-bedroom unit had left her relative behind in the three-bedroom unit, thus creating an illegal lateral transfer and leaving just two people to occupy five bedrooms of HUD-sponsored housing.
Do you know what this means? It means that lateral transfers, illegal under our bylaws, are now legal. A precedence has been set. If they can do it so can we. You think that your unit is too small for your family? Want to move your adolescent children into a unit of their own? No problem. Just do it. That’s what Board members do. Why shouldn’t we?
Also at the May meeting, I asked the Board president if it was finally okay to release important information that residents had a right to know -- that Board members have fired our re-hab general contractor and project manager in executive session a while ago -- seeing as how these actions have delayed our re-hab yet another summer building season (we are working on our fifth year of programed delays). The president said yes to the one firing being okay to finally become public knowledge and no to the other. So. You didn’t hear it from me.
Also at this meeting, with regard to getting a Board member transferred to a downstairs unit, the president stated that "the need for medical accommodation trumps everything". So I asked how come my doctor’s request for medical accommodation was still being denied – and also how come after I had asked for this item to be place on the agenda, they hadn’t even done that? Guess I don’t have enough friends packing the Board.
Then we interviewed a wonderful Muslim family for the 44 Ward Street unit and their management-approved request was turned down, allegedly for technical reasons – and perhaps because a Board member’s friend has her eye on the place for her relatives? – but during the discussion, one Board member actually said something to the effect that (the secretary has the actual wording on tape), "We need to select proper people who will fit this co-op." Was she indicating that Muslims are not? Oops.
And exactly who, you may ask, are the proper people to move into our co-op? You got it! Board members’ relatives!
Then the meeting came to an end with us interviewing a possible new management company – our eleventh? Or is it our twelfth? Or thirteenth? I forget. We have trouble keeping them once they find out how all the bylaws are being broken. But a Board member then told us what the real cause of this problem actually was. "People slither into the office and try to get in good with the management companies and that’s the problem." So. What does this mean? All you residents out there, when you go into the office to file your maintenance work requests or to pay your rent or to get re-certified, please don’t slither. It upsets the Board.
Well, it’s nice to know that my very own housing co-op is following a national trend. As goes the nation, so goes Savo Island. Bye-bye, Rule of Law.
PS: My son and his family will be moving back home soon. I am so delighted to have them. And in December or January, I will become a grandmother again!
Friday, May 25, 2007
According to the United States Joint Forces Command, "Millennium Challenge 2002 (MC02) brought together both live field exercises and computer simulation July 24-Aug. 15, 2002. Sponsored by U.S. Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM), MC02 focused on how a U.S. [joint forces command] explores the military ability to conduct Rapid Decisive Operations (RDO) against a determined adversary." And just as soon as humanly possible, these war game exercises segued into Shock and Awe and the war on Iraq.
"We are exploring the future of national defense in order to provide better information for national security decision makers. National defense transformation begins with aggressively setting the joint context for concept development and robust joint experimentation," stated the United States Joint Forces Command in an article posted on its website in August of 2002.
As you may or may not remember, Millennium Challenge was a dismal failure for the Blue Team, representing the Joint Forces Command, when the Red Team, representing a dictator closely resembling Saddam Hussein, whupped the Blue Team's arse immediately after the war games started. But that's not my point.
My point is that the Millennium Challenge war games in the Middle East were George W. Bush's opening move in his war on Iraq. And now Bush is staging war games again in the Middle East. Are these war games intended to be Bush's opening move in his war on Iran too? You bet!
"Joint experimentation fosters an operational, decision-making culture in the defense of our nation by exploring the threats of tomorrow today. The basic premise is that critical decisions on future military doctrine, organization and technology should be based on solid empirical results." The United States Joint Forces Command pretty much spells it out for you here. Expect a war on Iran ASAP.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
I have three daughters and not ONE of them called me on Mothers Day! But I also have an honorary daughter and she not only called me on Mothers Day but also took me out to dinner too. Humph.
The other day my honorary daughter called me up and said, "I have to be at court early tomorrow to help present a motion so I was wondering if I could spend the night at your house tonight in order to cut down on travel time tomorrow." Sure. And that's the true story of how I got forced into watching the final episode of "Dancing with the Stars".
As we were settling in for the evening with our jammies and bunny slippers and a big bowl of strawberries, my H.D. confessed. "I just LOVE 'Dancing with the Stars'. We gotta watch it. I'm voting for Joey."
Okay, okay. I'll grit my teeth and watch it. Anything to keep peace in the family. And then Leila Ali came out and danced and totally won my heart. Good grief she was good! And then she LOST! Rigged vote! I demand a recount! Of course the judges were wrong! Plus we never got to see what the call-in vote totals were either. Who did their vote-counting? Diebold?
The judges said that Leila's "free style" wasn't elegant enough. What! Since when is freaking "free style" supposed to be ELEGANT? It's freaking hip-hop! It's SUPPOSED to be fluid and original and out-there. That's why they freaking call it freaking "free style"!
But then I got to thinking, "Just because America's presidential elections are so totally rigged, do I gotta start suspecting that EVERYTHING in America is corrupt and crooked and rigged? Even 'Dancing with the Stars'?"
Okay, okay. So maybe Apolo DID dance up a storm. Maybe Leila Ali DID lose the call-in vote. And maybe the Bush legacy of corruption hasn't tainted America to that deep of an extent.
America may be more corrupt than Hong Kong, according to http://www.transparency.org/, but we are still less corrupt than Barbados! That's a positive thought.
But the Bush legacy of corruption has tainted Iraq and Afghanistan to such an extent that American-occupied Iraq has been voted the third most corrupt nation in the world -- second only to Myanmar and Haiti. And in Afghanistan? American contractors and U.S. economic hit-men are like pigs at the trough over there. And as for the Afghans themselves, I have heard from many reliable sources that you can't hardly do anything over there without having to slip someone a bribe -- not even to get your appendix taken out. According to Dr. Mohammed Daud Miraki, "[Even] doctors – the last people in the world you would expect -- want to take bribes and perform surgery and at the end of surgery you will hear 'Where's my gift?'"
America! Beware! Bush's legacy of bribery, extortion and corruption is heading our way. And we must rally and fight corruption now! Or else who knows where it will spread! And the next thing we know, even "Dancing with the Stars" won't be safe from its evil grasp -- let alone "American Idol".
PS: Leila, I was cheering for you!
PPS: Our election system has already been thoroughly corrupted. So. What kind of fancy footwork are they gonna use on us during the 2008 election in order to once again stick America with yet another bunch of suave crooks who are fast on their feet? According to Jan Brunwasser, Greg Palast, an expert on the American voting system, "casts his eyes ahead to 2008, where he predicts more of the same, but on an even larger scale. He calculates that there were around two million votes in 2000 that were cast but never counted. That number jumped to over 3.6 million in 2004, and he anticipates five million 'spoiled' votes in 2008."
Note: I'm still waiting for my application to re-embed in Iraq this June to get processed. And waiting. Maybe if I gave up on all my naive illusions regarding that quaint little out-of-date concept called "Freedom of the Press" and stopped trying to put Bush and Cheney in jail where they belong, I'd probably get embedded in Iraq much faster -- but it wouldn't be as much fun (or as patriotic).
Sunday, May 20, 2007
Good grief! I just found out why I'm having so much trouble embedding in Iraq! GEORGE W. BUSH doesn't like me. Wow! I guess he finally noticed that I've been calling him an anti-American corrupt crook all these years. How impressive is that. I'm being noticed right at the top. Me and Jimmy Carter and the Dixie Chicks! Who'd have thought it. Should I be flattered or not?
Bush's military strategy in Iraq has failed miserably, his economic strategy in Iraq has failed miserably and his diplomatic strategy (he has one?) in Iraq has failed miserably too. However, not to worry. Bush's new strategy for winning the "war" on Iraq is apparently fool-proof -- and it only took him four years and 400 billion dollars to think it all up. So. What IS this dynamite new strategy? "Keep that [freaking] blogger Jane Stillwater out of the Red Zone -- and don't let her in the Green Zone either! If we can just keep that [censored] bleeding-heart hippie blogger from embedding again, we will have won the [freaking] war!" Hey, that's some policy. I'm impressed.
Here's the whole story: When I first decided to embed in Iraq, it took me almost a year to get my application approved. I had all the correct press credentials and sponsors. I had demonstrable writing ability. I had support from my senator and my congresswoman. I even brushed my teeth regularly, avoided partially-hydrogenated French fries and changed my socks once a week without fail. But still I got stonewalled. "We cannot allow her to come over here," they wrote to my senator. "She is opinion-based, not fact-based." Yeah, well. So is Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Dick Cheney and Tony Blair . Get over it.
Then about two months ago I finally got permission to embed in Iraq -- but only in the Green Zone. It was so frustrating. I went all up and down the MNFI chain of command, begging to be sent out beyond the wire. "But, Jane," they kept telling me, "we are doing everything we can to get you out into the Red Zone. Honest." But in the meantime other reporters came and went with no problem while I was stuck hanging out underneath a glass ceiling reserved especially for me.
Then word started to spread around the press room that the US embassy itself was the one giving orders to keep me in the Green Zone -- by any means necessary. So finally I gave up and went home, having never set foot in the Red Zone. "What exactly IS the Red Zone?" you might ask. It's any place in Iraq that's not in the Green Zone. "And what is the Green Zone?" It's a US military base set down in the middle of what used to be the federal district of Iraq. So. You gots your monuments, broad avenues, government buildings -- all mixed up with Humvees and pre-fabs and a PX. It's a strange hybrid mongrel "Emerald City" -- with me in the middle of it, longingly lusting after "Hometown Baghdad" just across the Tigris.
So reluctantly I waved goodbye to the wizards behind the curtain, took the midnight Rhino armored vehicle convoy ride to the Baghdad airport and went home. But once safely back in Berkeley, I started to get all righteous and "Freedom of the Press" and all that and decided to give embedding in the Red Zone one more last shot. But guess what? Now I can't even get embedded in the freaking Green Zone! First they told me three weeks ago that I had applied too late to get embedded in May because I had to apply at least a month in advance. Okay. So I changed my request date to the end of June. No problem. But now they are telling me that I can't embed because I've applied too EARLY. What?
Why are they not embedding me again? Has word from the embassy come down from on high not to let me back in? Hummm.... So I got out my little reporter detective kit, followed the chain of command one more time and guess what I found out? You are not going to believe this! George Bush himself is blocking my embed! He's actually been reading my blogs -- or at least having someone else read them to him. Maybe Alberto Gonzales?
I just got word from reliable sources about a recent conversation in the Oval Office that went something like this: "Karl, that freaking Stillwater person is dawging me again. Ever since I stole the 2000 election, she's been on my case. Who does that cow think she is? Molly Ivins?"
"Correct as usual, King George," replied Rove. "We gotta get rid of that [censored]. Let's swift-boat her. Get me Gannon, O'Reilly and Beck."
"Do what you gotta do, Karl, but I want that Stillwater woman stopped." And that is the true story of how Bush's strategy in Iraq switched from pilfering its oil and decimating America's military to keeping me from getting embedded. Apparently I'm an Army of One.
"Do you think if we got AT&T to crash her computer, she'd shut up?"
Sorry, George. Your new strategy isn't gonna work. But maybe we can cut a deal -- you embed me in Iraq in June and I'll come visit you in jail when I get back.
PS: From what I can tell from the Iraq Slogger, General Petraeus' new strategy is to reign in our troops' "boys behaving badly" behavior out in the field. This is a good strategy. I approve. Let's just hope it doesn't come too little and too late. Four years ago, this "friendly cop on the beat" approach in Iraq might have won hearts and minds, but after four grim and bloody years of an occupation more resembling "Animal House" and "The Sopranos" and "Lost" than "Boston Legal" or "Deal or No Deal" or "West Wing," it might be too little and too late. But, General, I wish you all the luck in the world. And here's some further advice from me: Do this now. And then get the hell outta Dodge as soon as you possibly can. Just say, "I won the war, the Iraqis all love me!" and then get the hell out.
When Bush hears that I complimented Petraeus, I can pretty much guess his reaction. "Just listen to that little suck-up bleeding-heart hippie pacifist [person]," he'll say. "I bet she's just saying all those nice things about Petraeus to get herself embedded again so she can diss me!" Yeah.
Let's get George Bush out of Iraq, out of the White House, out of our Treasury and into jail ASAP. THAT'S the strategy for winning in Iraq that I would recommend if I was in charge.
Saturday, May 19, 2007
Well, I'm busy typing up my chapter on Afghanistan for the book that I'm writing. I've got 19 pages typed. I've got 40 pages left to go. My fingers hurt! But here's what I've go so far, FYI. It's a lot of information about Afghanistan but I'm hoping that you'll be entertained as well as informed....
PS: I'm still waiting for my embed assignment to come through so that I can return to Iraq on June 16.
February 14, 2006: It’s Valentines Day. I gotta do something heart-felt this year. Nothing to do with chocolate however. I did that last year. Chocolate cake, chocolate ice cream, chocolate candy, chocolate mousse, chocolate cream pie, chocolate brownies.... But Global Exchange has a trip to Afghanistan planned for this June. That sounds really heart-felt. Hummm....
March 18, 2006: The Oakland Tribune actually did an article on me. "Please help Jane Stillwater go to Afghanistan." It looks like I’m going for sure.
April 20, 2006: Well, the donations haven’t been exactly pouring in, but one nice man called me all the way from Minnesota and offered to donate $500. Plus I set out a table at a political event last night and collected 17 whole dollars.
May 10, 2006: I called the Global Exchange rep. "I sent away for a new passport on April 4 and it hasn’t come back yet! What if it doesn’t come back on time and I can’t send to Washington for my Afghan visa!" I was really panicked. I had already gotten my airplane tickets.
"It only takes a week, max, to get the visa," said the rep. "Don’t worry. You’ll be fine." Fine? Stuck in Dubai until it’s time for my return flight to leave? Maybe if I win the lottery. But otherwise not. Dubai is expensive.
I’d gotten my flight to Dubai on Emirates Air and then will fly on to Kabul with Arianna Airlines. The tickets were pricy because I couldn’t use my favorite travel connection, because they didn’t sell Arianna tickets. But why would they? How many of your average tourists want to fly to Kabul?
I also went to Expedia.com and made reservations at the Meridien Hotel in Dubai. "Dubai is amazing," someone told me. "It’s the resort of choice for Europeans right now and it’s sort of a combination of Las Vegas and Hawaii." Wow. I leave on June 17 and come back on June 28. I spend two days in the air on the flight over, including a stopover at Heathrow.
I’m getting too old for all this flying to the other side of the world. Next time I’m just gonna fly to Los Angeles.
May 19, 2006: My passport came back from the State Department. Yea! And I sent it off immediately to the Afghan visa office. With fingers crossed.
May 22, 2006: My landlord just called. "We have a rug installation team available on June 1. Can we do your unit that day?" The good news is that I get new rugs which I desperately need. The bad news is that I have to move everything I own and all the furniture I’ve accumulated in the past 25 years out of my home.
May 28, 2006: I held a yard sale. I made $32! And I got rid of 25 boxes of junk. "How much is this comforter?"
"How much is this chair?"
June 1, 2006: The ruggers came today. They were amazing! They laid down wall-to-wall carpeting throughout my apartment in less than eight hours. Me and a young neighbor moved stuff like beds and desks and the piano like we were the strongmen at the circus. The whole thing was like having one’s house hit by a cyclone. I don’t want to talk about it any more.
June 3, 2006: My visa arrived! I’m all set to go!
June 5, 2006: No I’m not. They just had big riots in Kabul. "14 people were killed as rioting broke out all over Kabul." The general theme of the riots seemed to be, "Death to Americans". This is not a good thing. Not at all.
"We have our people in Kabul researching whether it is safe for you to go there," said the GX rep. I could always spend that time in Dubai instead. Flexibility is the key to travel. I made out a new will.
June 7, 2006: "Things are calming down in Kabul," said the GX rep. "I think it’s still safe to go there. But we had to drop all our plans to travel to the north or to see the former site of the giant Buddha statues that were blown up by the Taliban." No sight-seeing jaunts through Taliban country? Oh well.
The internet has been filled with horror stories about how Afghanistan is falling apart. I just hope it can hold together until after I get back!
A friend of mine called. "Please, when you go there, don’t tell anyone you are Muslim!" she said. "If you make any mistakes in your prayers, they will get really angry about it. It’s better that you keep your mouth shut, Jane. I mean it."
The advantage of being a writer is that one can take one’s anxiety out on the page. So I worked everything out on my blog. Here’s the result:
Madame Jane Predicts: I will return from Afghanistan alive!
Three months ago, it seemed like going on a fact-finding tour of Afghanistan was a good idea. I wanted to see what an American colony looked like up close so I could point with pride and/or view with alarm. Nobody would let me into the jewel in America's colonial crown -- Iraq -- so I figured I would have to settle for Afghanistan, the Iraq wannabe.
I wanted to see, up close and personal, the money pit where our children's future is being eaten alive. And I also wanted to get a sneak preview of what America under the Bush neo-cons will look like in 20 years. Make that ten years.
But Madame Jane can't predict the future without a cheat sheet!
So. I happily applied to go off to Afghanistan with Global Exchange -- including a stop-over in Dubai, the Las Vegas of the Middle East.
Then, a few weeks ago, all hell broke loose in Kabul. "Hundreds of people have been killed in Afghanistan in anti-American riots and conflicts with the Taliban," internet blog headlines screamed (the mainstream press, of course, quoted Bush reassuring us that everything in Afghanistan is just fine -- and it is, as far as he is concerned. Bush loves violence and he is successfully bringing it on).
In the face of all this new danger, should I still go? Sure. Someone has to come back to tell America what is going on in Iraq, er, Afghanistan and how the Bush policy of killing everyone in sight in his colonies isn't working for the rest of us Americans because injustice always leads to resistance and true Americans are supposed to be opposed to injustice. It's a flag, Mom and apple pie thing. Bush would not understand.
But, despite all the violence in Afghanistan, I will be perfectly safe on this trip. Why? Because I'm a female and I'm older and no one ever notices me. (If they did, I woulda become a famous writer and been invited to the "Yearly Kos" convention -- and to George Bush's trial for treason.) So. I'll be okay.
I'm going to Afghanistan for the last two weeks in June. And I'll bring back a story. And I'll send it to you.
But just in case my prediction is wrong (I'm never wrong!), I did re-write my will. "I want to be buried in the back yard." With my DSL connection by my side....
June 8, 2006: "We just heard from Kabul," said the GX rep. "The trip is on!" Good. I’ve been really bored with my daily routines lately. Going to a bomb-torn country that hates Americans should get me un-bored really fast.
"You are only supposed to take 20 pounds of luggage on Arianna," said the rep, "but usually there’s so many people trying to get on the flight from Dubai that the airline tends to be fairly flexible about this." That’s okay. I never travel with more stuff than I can carry for six blocks by myself in luggage without wheels. Only wimps use wheels.
June 15, 2006: My neighbor came over to see me. "I’m bored," I told him. "Bored." He sighed. I sighed. "Let’s paint my kitchen." And that’s how the true story of how I ended up with a yellow, orange and red kitchen – and why I am leaving for Afghanistan in two days with paint on my hands.
Just two more days. And I will no longer be bored! Especially if I get shot at.
June 17, 2006: I’m on the road at last! Or at least at the Ashby BART train station. I’ve really felt under pressure for these last few days. I don’t know why. I’ve traveled before. It’s never been this bad however. I keep getting e-mails from people saying, "Don’t go to Afghanistan! It’s really really dangerous over there!" But is it as dangerous as staying here and dying of boredom? Who knows. I don’t.
"Want to go to the movies with me before you go?" asked my son Joe three hours before I was scheduled to leave for the San Francisco airport.
"Sure!" We went to see a comedy – something to occupy my mind so I’d stop stressing out. And it worked! We went to the movie theater where my daughter Ashley works because it was the one with the right starting times. I’m still hecka angry with Ashley for quitting college and running off with her cheesy boyfriend who hates me.
"Do you mind that Ashley is working at the movies today?" asked Joe. Nope. I was going to wear a disguise. Shades and a watch cap. I looked like a gangsta. Ashley would never recognize me.
I had the gangsta walk. I had the gangsta talk. I made gang signs. It all went well until I bought my ticket and said, "One senior ticket please." Ashley was working at the candy counter and I was able to sneak past her with no trouble. "What up, mon!" I’ll fit right in with the warlords.
9:00 pm: Every time I get off a BART train, I always look back to see if I left anything behind. Wouldn’t you know that this one time I didn’t look back, I left something. Something really important! "I left my jacket on the train!" I wailed to the station agent. "It’s my favorite jacket! I’ve worn it every single day for the last six years!" It’s like a part of me.
The station agent was a jewel. "This train will be coming back this way in 20 minutes. You can catch the train, walk through the coaches until you find it and then get off at the next station in time to catch the next airport train. No problem." A plan! We had a plan.
I caught the train going away from the airport. I started to search the cars. Three cars, no jacket. But then the fourth car’s door was broken! I couldn’t get through. I had to get off! If I didn’t, I’d miss the next train to the airport, I’d miss my flight to Afghanistan and I’d have to go back home and paint the rest of the freaking kitchen! I got off the train. The train pulled away from the station. And as the cars flashed by, there it was! I saw my jacket.
"Noooo! Stop the train!" The train of course didn’t stop. Sigh. There went my little jacket, happily riding on BART. Sigh. The airport train arrived from the other direction and, broken hearted, I got on. Well at least I got to say one last goodbye to my jacket. Sigh. And there’s still time to catch my plane. This trip is not starting out well. It’s a good thing I’m not superstitious.
I coulda gotten that jacket! If only the freaking door had worked.
June 18, 2006, 6:30 am, New York time: I love airports! They are always full of people that you can watch; people from all over the world; people who are going places. And every time I fly, I treat myself to a paperback book from the news shop on the concourse. But this time I couldn’t find anything I wanted to read and I was reduced to reading the inflight magazine.
But there is one thing I hate about airports: Automatic flushing toilets. Modesty demands that I don’t go into details on this particular point. Use your imagination.
On the flight to New York, the guy next to me put his yarmelke over his eyes, secured it with his glasses and slept like a freaking log for the entire trip, locking me into my seat for five whole hours. And after around three hours, even access to an automatic flushing toilet would have been a welcome relief.
As usual, my boarding pass had the dread "SSSS" written on it – selected for special security screening. "I always get this," I joked with the screener. "It’s because I’m a Democrat." She laughed. Every single flight I have taken since I started blogging six years ago has had the dread "SSSS" stamped on my boarding pass. They take me to a separate room, search through everything I own, send me into a little closet that sends out puffs of air – what’s that about – and wave little pads through my purse. Then they put the pads in some machine that can apparently detect gunpowder. I passed all the tests. That’s me. Safe as houses.
I am an American patriot. Why would I want to hurt Americans? It’s absurd. Just because one is a Democrat doesn’t mean one is a mad bomber. I’m just in a grouchy mood because we just landed in New York and I got no sleep last night. It’s 7:30 am. And I still have 24 hours to go before I land in Dubai. For me, sleeping on airplanes is almost impossible. I envy the man in the yarmelke.
June 19, 2006, 5:00 am: OMG, Emirates Air has individual digital movies – 150 of them! I’ve already watched five entire movies plus parts of three more – and we’re only over Scotland. Wow! I love Emirates Air! If you can’t sleep on planes, it’s nice to be able to fry your brains with movies for 12 hours.
OMG! Now we are flying over Kiev and the Caspian Sea! I never been to the former USSR before. OMG! Now we’re flying over Turkey! Are we gonna fly over Iraq? Yeah. And Iran too. Who sez I’ve never been to the world’s troubled hotspots!
June 19, 2006, 3:30 pm, Dubai time: I’ve already found an internet café. It’s in the Dubai City Center mall. "It’s over in the bowling alley," said the person at the information counter. "You can’t miss it." And it was run by some guy who also sold Movenpick ice cream. I wrote an article for my blog. Here it is:
Lost luggage: Was I in Iraq this morning or not?
I am writing this from an internet cafe/bowling alley in a shopping center in Dubai while eating sushi and Movenpick ice cream. The last 48 hours have been rough -- most of it spent on airplanes watching in-flight movies. Emirates Air had a choice of 150 movies. I was in hog heaven.
But as we flew over the former USSR, a handful of Central Asian Republics and the Caspian Sea, my thoughts turned to oil. Then, on our way to Dubai, there came a point in time when I realized that we could be flying over the airspace above Iraq. Then I know that we spent a long time in the airspace above Iran.
How bizarre -- to think that commercial airliners are that above-it-all. At 30,000 feet, it doesn't really matter to anyone on our plane whether or not there's a war going on down below and people are getting blown up even as I watch Big Mama's House 2 and Memoirs of a Geisha and Failure to Launch....
PS: Somewhere between Delta Airlines and Emirates Air, my luggage got lost. But EA gave me a free toothbrush.
After my adventures at the bowling alley/internet café/ice cream parlor, I went back to my hotel and ate the best Middle Eastern food I’ve ever had in my young life. They even managed to make pita bread taste good.
And did I mention that I got lost? "Which way is the Meridien hotel?" I asked 20 different people. And managed to get 20 different answers. Finally I just took a cab. But he went in about five different directions to just stretch out his billable milage. But it was worth it. He gave me a lot of good information. "The education system here is good and there are a lot of jobs but the pay isn’t very high compared to the rents. The cost of living here is really high." He also said that gas was about a dollar a litre. "And this is the off-season. There are many more tourists here in the winter. From Europe."
I asked the driver where Michael Jackson lived but it was too far away. And it turned out that my hotel was only two or three blocks away from the mall and I had been walking in circles in 90-degree heat for an hour for no good reason.
7:00 pm: When I got back to my hotel, one of the members of the tour was there. "I am the mother of two children and a doctor," she told me. That was surprising because she looked more like a college student than a mom. She and I went down to dinner and then I logged in on the hotel’s computer and happily checked e-mail until bedtime.
June 20, 2006, 6 am: "There is no room left on the plane and they don’t have our reservations listed in the computer." Welcome to the way things are done in Afghanistan? The doctor/mom performed some sort of magic on the ticket agent. I think she gave the agent her one-two combination doctor/mom intensive stare or something. I don’t know what she did but suddenly all of us – two more people had joined us from our tour group – were booked on the flight.
"You understand," said a British contractor security guard returning back to his job in Kabul, "that when the gates open, you forget all about your seat assignment and run for the plane. This isn’t America." Oh. So that’s how the seats suddenly became available – they’ve opened them up to battle-by-combat-on-the-runway. Cool.
"Are you one of those security guards," I asked the Brit, "who works for Blackwater and does all those torture thingies?"
"No. I’m not that kind." Good. He seemed like a nice chap.
At the airport, there was a small mosque and I was really glad. I needed to slow down and catch my breath. Me and this other lady were having trouble figuring out which way was Mecca but our hearts were pure. She prayed toward the airport. I prayed facing the street. Afterwards I saw a sign pointing toward Mecca. We were both wrong.
Everyone at the gate lounge looks very, er, Afghan. This is it. We’re finally going to Kabul.
"Back in the States, I met a man from the US embassy," said Dr. Mom. "He is going to give us a tour." Getting a tour of the U.S. embassy is a really big deal. I’m really glad we finally got our tickets. If I wanted to hang around Dubai for another day, I could go to L.A. or Las Vegas instead and get the full effect.
In the waiting area, after I got my latte, we met a young couple who had lived up in northern Afghanistan for three years, working for a NGO. "We only came back to America to have our baby," the wife told us. The aforementioned baby was four months old. "I work as an organizer for a women’s sewing collective. I love it there." They had no fears about going back and appeared to be ready to spend the rest of their lives in Mazar-i Sharif. I hope that they can.
"We’ve become addicted to solar power," said the husband. "And we have a generator." Then another couple joined us. They too had an interesting story.
"Both our parents were missionaries in Nepal and we met each other again by accident about three years ago. Now we work with an NGO. I used to work in the south but now I work in the north. The warlords fight each other occasionally there but in the south the Taliban are getting much more active." Then the guy said that he had actually read my blog. Wow!
9:00 am: Ha! We got on the plane and after all that talk about the booking being full, there were a lot of empty seats. What was that all about? We immediately started flying over rows and rows of eroded mountains, the kind you see through plane windows passing over the Rockies or the Himalayas. I want a window seat! The bathrooms were jankity but the toilets worked. And they served chicken kebabs for breakfast too.
Now we are flying over flat, barren terrain. Desolate. Miles and miles of desolation. Sand dunes and rocky out-croppings. Escarpments. From up here I can’t see any roads. Just lots and lots of shades of tan. One or two empty river beds, erosion. Then a big helping of desert. Afghanistan seems to be very isolated, hard to get to, hard to invade. I don’t know if that’s Pakistan or Afghanistan down there but either way if anyone lives there, it’s gotta be a hard-knock life.
"Is that Pakistan or Afghanistan," I asked a man standing by my chair waiting to use the restroom.
"That’s Iran." So. Iran owns a desert the size of New Mexico? Or Texas.
This flight has no inflight movies! And the mountain ranges have started up again. And there’s more flatlands. Look! There is actually a road! Then more tan flat stuff. Out in the middle of nowhere, this is truly the land before time. Then more tan rows of mountains. If we have crossed over into Afghanistan by now, this is obviously not the poppy-growing region!
"Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to begin our descent into Kabul. The weather is 33 degrees Celsius." They gots a major city out in the middle of all these mountains and all this sand? Then, like a ribbon, a patch of green began to run through the tan landscape. It was divided into farms. And like an arrow, it pointed toward Kabul. The airplane followed this green strip through the desert and wasteland for 50 to 100 miles. And as we approached the city, one other major feature stood out. Everything – from farms to houses to industrial sites to army bases – was surrounded by high walls, usually concrete or adobe.
Oh, what’s that? I just saw my first major bombed-out ruin. Army vehicles, construction vehicles, trucks. Walls. Lots of walls. This place is different, slightly off. It’s like finding lots of lawn furniture or library shelves in someone’s front room. And there are rows and rows of helicopters at the airport. I’ve never seen that before.
We’ve landed. We’re here. Something tells me this trip is gonna be real different. "Almost all the people on this flight are men," I commented.
"That’s because they go to buy, sell and work in Dubai and then come back. Oh, and after you leave the arrival area, keep a close eye on your luggage," said a woman who now lived in London but who had come back to visit her mother. "I tried to get my mother to move to London but she won’t because all of our extended family lives here."
The luggage carousel was a madhouse. I got shouldered out of the way by a lady wearing a burka. I saw my first burka! She kept adjusting it and it was clearly obvious that she couldn’t see out through the eye screen. I expected to see her start cursing it out at any minute.
"You know that Kabul is at an altitude of around 5,000 feet." I didn’t know that. "And you know this place has been invaded on a regular basis for the last 5,000 years." Why? What exactly would they expect to find here? What would be so important to fight over? Not a clue.
We were met outside the airport by our Kabul guide. "How many people live here?" I asked him.
"Around five million." We drove past some tents. "That’s a school for girls." It looked really hot in those tents! The buildings looked like the poorer parts of Tijuana – one-storey buildings made of adobe and concrete. Dusty. And the traffic was disorganized and chaotic.
"In this area are many embassies," our guide said a mile later. "Japan, Turkey, China, Britain, Germany, the United States." The area was surrounded by walls, sand bags and accordion barbed wire.
"Here is the economic and foreign ministries." Lots of lawn behind barbed wire. "Next is the downtown." Again, a few ladies in burkas are on the street but mostly we see boys and men.
"During the Taliban years, women were not allowed in the mosques at all. But now they are legally allowed. But the women still pray at home because they don’t feel safe yet. But it is getting better."
We passed the burned-out shell of a large movie theater. "The Taliban blew it up." You can see the kind of bricks there that most of Kabul is built of: Adobe. Then we pulled into a side street, drove into the gate of a walled compound and arrived at our guesthouse. Once inside, the temperature was cooler. Why? Two-foot-thick walls.
"During the civil war after the Russians left, around 1992, this house was hit by two rocket grenades and also the whole block was demolished. Now, after we built again and the neighbors saw that our NGO was here to stay, they decided it was safe for them to re-build too."
Then our host riffed on Arianna Airlines. "The pilots are very good which is reassuring because the planes are old and not very reliable. We call them the ‘Inshallah’ airline." Our host is a historian and he has been out collecting stories from the far corners of Afghanistan. "We were up in the northern mountains recently -- not like the sand mountains around here. They are very green. They grow opium up there."
"Did Afghanistan traditionally grow opium?"
"No. But now they grow it everywhere." There is also a land mine program here. "But they only set off the mines once a day, at noon so people won’t be scared by the noise because there is an old Kabul tradition of firing a cannon at noon." Then we had lunch – naan bread, cucumbers, tomatoes, an eggplant casserole and some dill-flavored yogurt. Delicious!
So far Kabul does not seem dangerous at all. "But there is a lot of tension just below the surface." Our host also lectured us on security. "The State Department says that if anything happens to you, they are not going to come and rescue you. They warned you that Afghanistan is unstable. And they won’t take responsibility for you. My suggestion is that you keep a low profile." What? No happily tripping down the street getting lost and asking people for directions like I usually do?
"Try not to take photos conspicuously or do anything else that will draw a crowd. We have two guards at the guesthouse, so it is fairly safe here." He said that going outside the city was definitely not a good idea. And apparently there are a lot of checkpoints on the roads. "Last month when we were driving outside the city, we were stopped and offered $4,000 for one of the American women in the car. And there are long stretches of open road outside the city and the police are corrupt. People get kidnaped. There are bandits out there. We don’t feel comfortable outside the city, in circumstances that are uncontrolled."
The security situation doesn’t look good for now. "We hope it’s going to get better but we are not holding our breath." There are many reasons why. "People had hopes for Afghanistan four years ago but hope is wearing rather thin these days because the money and the job sources are drying up. So Afghans, especially government officials, are vulnerable to corruption. And people are unhappy because the government is becoming so corrupt."
4:30 pm: A female member of parliament from a nearby province just arrived at the guesthouse. "There was an attack near my house last night," she said, "with guns and rockets, for 40 minutes. I woke up, heard the noise, figured there was nothing I could do to stop it and went back to sleep."
Our house has a garden. I am sitting in the garden, waiting for someone to go to the internet café with me. Women can’t go anyplace alone. I’m bored while I’m waiting. But at lease I’m not home in Berkeley painting the kitchen. But as one person said, "These imposed restrictions give you a chance to experience what Afghan women experience." What? The feeling that I’m under house arrest? Okay. I’ve experienced it. Now let’s move on.
8:30 pm: We went to the internet café! Imagine the most slow modum dial-up internet from 20 years ago and you pretty much got a picture of how fast my connection was running. Two minutes between screen changes. The "save as draft" function didn’t work. And there was no "reply" feature at all. It took me two hours but I finally got an article out to my favorite online magazine. Here it is:
The Taliban did it: If anything goes wrong in Afghanistan, we know who to blame!
We left Dubai this morning and finally arrived in Kabul after flying over a desert as big as New Mexico and a mountain range as big as New Mexico too. And for two whole hours, everything we flew over was either khaki-colored or tan.
Kabul itself is like that Sesame Street "What's wrong with this picture" game. Kabul is just like the other cities except...except for the occasional bombed-out building, the tall thick razor-wire-topped walls that surround every home, the grinding poverty and the absence of women on the streets. Little things are missing or seem out of place. Good roads are missing. People are missing a leg....
Otherwise the city looks pretty much like Tijuana -- one-storey buildings made out of concrete or adobe bricks. And the whole place, like the mountains around it, is tan.
"Thee million people live here. And the place has constantly been invaded for the last 5,000 years." What for? If you had a choice, wouldn't you want to invade a place that was more accessible? And more green?
"I heard that the Taliban killed 30 people last week," I told my Afghan friend.
"The Taliban?" he replied. "They blame everything here on the Taliban. There are warlords, corrupt officials, tribal fueds, drug lords, bandits and private armies all over Afghanistan but whenever anyone gets shot at or blown up, Bush and the American media blame it on the Taliban."
So far, the "Taliban" doesn't seem to be a problem in Kabul. I've been here eight whole hours and haven't seen anyone gunned down or blown up yet. "But there are a lot of tensions running just below the surface here," said one Afghan.
Another Afghan stated, "But there is a lot of hope here too." Which road will the future Afghanistan go down? The road of hope? Or the one we will have to blame on the Taliban....
PS: Just at this moment, a member of Parliament who lives about an hour away from Kabul rushed in the door. "The police station near my house was attacked last night. Guns and rockets hit it for about forty minutes. At first I was trying to figure out what to do and then I realized there was nothing I could do to stop it so I went back to sleep."
"Was it the Taliban?" I asked.
"There are very few Taliban left in Afghanistan," said the MP. "You want a message to America? Tell them this! Don’t help Pakistan. Pakistan trains the people who attack us. Pakistan arms the attackers. Pakistan finances the attackers with money it gets from America. The people who attacked the police station last night were NOT Taliban. There are very few Taliban. These people also burned down an orphanage. Who are 'They'? 'They' are the Americans. The Americans did it -- by giving money and support to Pakistan. Please tell people in America this -- and ask them to stop!"
10:30 pm: We had a fabulous dinner tonight. The guesthouse chef is a jewel. We had greens grown in the backyard garden. And a wonderful pilaf. After dinner, some American guy who is staying here sat me down and tried to explain Pakistan to me. "The country itself was formed by war. Then the Soviets invaded Afghanistan which scared the Pakistanis. Then Iran had that big revolution. Then Iran started fighting Iraq. At this point the Taliban offered to help Afghanistan to stabilize, which they did. But then thugs took over the Taliban and they got out of hand, scaring Pakistan even more." Then I lost the train of thought. But I think that what he said was that Pakistan is now funding thugs who call themselves Taliban. But in current times, the thugs are growing poppies and burning down orphanages. That’s not Taliban behavior. Apparently, at this point in time, whenever there is confusion in Afghanistan, Pakistan benefits.
"But," said the guy, "I still have hope for Afghanistan. The people here seem to know what to do to survive whether they have leaders leading them or not."
June 21, 2006, 5:30 am: It’s the world’s most beautiful morning. The guesthouse has a well-tended vegetable garden that actually produces the food that we eat. Imagine that. "Kabul is the pivotal point, the bottleneck, on the Silk Road," said someone last night. "You gotta go over the Khyber pass to get to China. Period." Oh. That’s why Afghanistan was always being invaded. It certainly wasn’t for its lush greenery – although the vegetable garden seems to be doing quite well.
There’s a lot of rebuilding going on here on our street. The buildings on both sides of us are new. To the rear of us are piles and piles of bombed-out ruins. The guesthouse itself was flattened during the civil war after the Soviets left and before the Taliban took over. In Kabul, history is right in your face!
Well, I shouldn’t be sitting out here in the garden in my nightgown. But it is such a lovely morning and I am the only one up so far. Or maybe not. I can smell that someone inside the house is making coffee.
I should write about the Afghan guy at the internet café next to me viewing serious pornography but if I do, I’m worried that excited uber-Muslims might blow up the café or -- more than likely -- make a run on it and occupy all the terminals so that I will have to stand in line and wait while they check out the naked girls.
"In Afghanistan, everything works by kinship – extended families. That’s why gossip spreads so rapidly here. For instance, a teacher arrived at the guesthouse and within the hour, 50 potential students showed up at the door."
9:00 am: "This is the women’s ministry," said our guide. "The head of the ministry was the first woman to run for President – and lost to Karzai by a surprisingly small amount of votes." Next door to the relatively small ministry was a large bombed-out building. "That was another cinema." Strange when operating a cinema has become a revolutionary act.
Then we met with this living legend – but only after having been body-searched twice. "We want positive change in the lives of Afghan women – better health and education, less oppression and violence. Women need to be able to live like human beings with their rights respected. This takes resources." The ministry needs a special budget for these purposes – and it is just not there.
"Let’s be frank. We can easily find out what the problems of women are but the men are the strong ones and they get the resources from the national budget and those who are weak cannot get them. Therefore we need a special budget just to help women." Women in Afghanistan are hurting so much. This really needs to be done!
"The ministry’s annual budget is $57 million." This is not very much because 50% of it goes just to salaries. And the fact that Afghanistan has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world shows that not hardly anything is being done. "If we had unlimited funds, we would first get communications services up and going so we could work more closely with the provinces." And then go from there.
I commented that the Bush bureaucracy only cares about making money for its friends and that weapon sales make money. Solving women’s problems does not. The Bush bureaucracy doesn’t even care about American women let alone Afghan women. "Can you think of a way to make the Bush bureaucracy want to give money to Afghan women?" I can’t.
"Zagat, the Muslims’ obligation to give to charity, needs to go to women too." That’s a good idea. Despite all the tightness of money, the women of Afghanistan still really support the idea of advancing the conditions of women here. Right in the middle of "Taliban" country, women’s groups are forming right and left; all done on a shoestring. "If we had money, we could do so much more. Hundreds of thousands of women would come together in these councils." The women of Afghanistan are ready to step up to the plate! Any money given to Afghan women will bring much more bang for the buck.
I started to cough and suddenly someone appeared with a glass of water for me. This is the kind of attention to needs that the Minister is famous for. I was very touched.
The Afghan government wants really badly to shut the ministry down. However, "Giving strength to women is giving strength to the community."
The minister then told us about some of the things women go through on a day-to-day basis – torture, abuse, starvation. Not a pretty picture. "In many houses in this country, women are treated like slaves – beaten, insulted, killed. No one knows what goes on between four walls but these things happen here. A lot." They need laws to make maltreatment of women illegal. The meeting was a big success even despite the inadequate air conditioning.
Then I found the cutest little lapis shop next to where we went for lunch and our guide bargained for me. "Two pairs of earrings for $8 each. And $5 apiece for the lapis stones. Okay?" Okay! The earrings had a silver and lapis heart design and the stones were large chunks with gold flecks in them; as large as a tablespoon with a huge scoop of ice cream on it! Perfect. Now all I need to buy is my burka.
2:00 pm: Our next stop is an interview with the Minister of Health. "And he’d better not talk for two hours," said someone in our group who was in a big hurry to get somewhere else. But I wouldn’t mind at all. There’s air conditioning! In this hot weather, that’s definitely a big plus. But it didn’t matter anyway because the Minister was running late and we only got to see him for a few minutes.
"We are helping to start up a clinic for women," said Dr. Mom, "and we would like it to go under the Ministry of Health’s umbrella. Is that possible?"
"I suggest that you meet with the provincial director of the area where you want the clinic," the minister replied. "One of the goals of our ministry are to reduce the high maternal mortality rate by at least 15% by 2010. The infant mortality rate we would like to reduce by 20%. Also inoculations are important and also we want to improve the basic package of primary health services, including mental health. And the mental health problem in Afghanistan is huge. 70% suffer from the results of war, poverty, etc. There is much depression here and suicide is all too common. Treating these problems is one of our very top priorities." Good. Fine. In and out in five minutes. But it was a very effective and productive five minutes. And his aides brought us tea too. Goodbye, air conditioning.
Our NGO host’s father used to work for the Ministry of Health back in the 1970s and he told us about coming to visit here when he was a little boy. His father’s photos are still in the archives. We also saw a map of Afghanistan on the wall. "Look," said someone, "Here’s the site of the Buddhist statues. That’s not too far away."
"It’s supposed to be 100 miles."
"But we were told that it’s not safe to go there. That’s really sad – that it’s not safe to travel 100 miles outside of Kabul." Yep.
3:30 pm: We went to see the roses at a local women-only park. "Doesn’t that big plant growing in the middle of the roses look like marijuana?" I asked.
Everyone said no, of course not. But someone later said, "It was hashish." Oh. There’s a difference?
At the internet café, things got interesting when the power failed and everyone lost what they were working on. "Will someone please move their car," said the proprietor. "It’s blocking access to the generator." Power failures are quite common in Kabul. Here’s my dispatch:
Nightmare in Kabul: The Soviets, dysentery and dial-up instead of DSL!
I arrived in Kabul three days ago. Last night I came down with dysentery. Not a pretty picture. Very undignified. Not since I was a hippie in Mexico in 1965 have I had such a memorable relationship with a bathroom.
But the worst part of all was that I couldn't just pop down to the internet café.
On April 28, 1978, the Soviet Union ruthlessly invaded Afghanistan. It was just like Pearl Harbor here in Kabul -- lots of shock and awe. Then after the dust subsided over the rubble, approximately 12,000 of Afghanistan's teachers, doctors, engineers, judges, writers, lawyers, etc. were marched off to Abu Ghraib, er, I mean Pul-e-Charkhi prison where they were tortured and buried alive in long, narrow pits because the Soviets didn't want to waste bullets on them.
At first I took Po Chai pills – Hong Kong's equivalent of Alka Seltzer – for my "dilemma". It usually works at home but would it work here? Nope. No luck.
Pepto-Bismo? Imodium? Nope.
The Soviets ruthlessly hurt people here in 1978. It was like they had an unstoppable thirst to inflict pain. Not just your run-of-the-mill mass slaughter. They wanted to hear their victims scream first. These people were the evil Hell-spawn from Hell. What's with that? No wonder the Afghans resisted. You would have too.
"Drink plenty of water, Jane." Yeah right. It was the freaking water that did this to me in the first place. 3 am. 4 am. 5 am. Yikes!
For ten long, brutal years, the Soviets slammed Afghanistan with an iron fist, finally leaving the country in shambles, with its excellent base of educated professionals and its high-quality infrastructure totally destroyed. Then there was civil war. Then there was the Taliban. Then that idiot George Bush thought it would be a good thing to hit what was left of the rubble with Shock and Awe. Good one, George. Ignore the fact that the Taliban who hid Osama bin Ladin came from Pakistan and just join the line of blood-thirsty bullies waiting to kick Afghans while they are down.
Finally, around 5 am, I broke down and broke out the Ciprofloxicin that I'd brought from Berkeley just in case. Dr. Lovett? God bless you! Now I'm finally well enough to stumble off to the internet café!
Afghanistan today is a sad place. How the people here have survived 25 years of absolute horror and can still walk and chew gum at the same time is a mystery to me. 80% of the country can't read or write – and yet there is hope. The people here have a tremendous work ethic, an contagious enthusiasm and a drive to make their lives better and to find a future for their children if not for themselves.
You cannot believe how slow the internet connections here are. I can play half a game of Free Cell solitaire between each screen change. Like Afghanistan itself, the internet connections are slow. However, the connection is being made!
PS: You don't have dysentery," said an American staying at our guesthouse. "You merely have 'The Taliban's Revenge'. But dysentery is a major problem here, especially for babies. The mortality rate for infants in Afghanistan is 16%. And the maternal mortality rate is 16.7%.
"One in ten Afghan mothers die in childbirth? "With over a one-in-ten chance of dying in childbirth, why would anyone even want to get pregnant?"
"Jane, sometimes they don't have any choice." Oh. Right.
4:30 pm: "We need to rush home and see if we are on the news," said our guide. Apparently we were filmed at the ministry of Women’s Affairs, especially the part where I declared on camera that George Bush was a corrupt crook. Works for me. "But Jane, we are supposed to be keeping a low profile here -- not inflaming the populace." Oops.
Back at the guest house, our host sprayed our room with nerve gas, er, bug spray. The place now smells like the San Quentin gas chamber. And I’m really tired.
June 22, 2006, 1:00 am: Suddenly we heard rocket fire and screams. This is it! We’re under attack! We’re all gonna die.
"Relax. It’s only a party next door." Whew.
9:00 am: We’re off to visit a school sponsored by our NGO hosts. You couldn’t tell it was a school from the street. All we saw was a high wall with a bullet-pocked steel door. "The first location of the school was damaged by an earthquake and then we moved here. We have a director, a principal and 11 teachers. It is a school for older girls who were not able to get an education under the Taliban." The girls’ ages ranged from seven through 18, with some as old as 20. They are taught Dari, Pashtun, art, geography, mathematics, the Qur’an, etc. as specified by the Ministry of Education but also English, computers and some vocational training.
"This school receives a lot of applications from government school students because the level of education is better here but we just cannot take all of them. Some students here occasionally drop out because their families move away but mostly students start here at the first grade level and stay until their sixth grade graduation. After sixth grade, they go on to government secondary schools. There are currently 162 girls at this school but the class sizes are small. After they graduate, the job prospects are poor due to the economy but they are trained for whatever jobs are available." And apparently the curriculum is intensive in order to catch the girls up quickly.
"We really need computers. We used to have eight but power surges from the generators burned out seven of them." The school is funded through private funds, the UN and the NGO, which goes around begging for money any place that they can.
We talked with one of the students who had been injured in one of the wars. "I have three brothers and two sisters. I live at the edge of the mountains." She looked very nervous but was a real trooper, facing all of us gamely. "I was injured during a mortar attack in the civil war when I was a baby; at the end of the civil war." There was nerve damage in her leg and one leg was now shorter than the other. "I like studying English and computers. I want to become a teacher when I grow up." She looked like she was about 13 years old, but had only started school here three months ago and has never been to school before. Talking with her made the terrible damage caused by war more personal. She gave a face to war.
Then we went to a classroom with seven students in it. The room itself was small but airy and you couldn’t help but love the girls. They looked really sincere. The classrooms were the size of a small bedroom and there were four classrooms downstairs, four classrooms upstairs, a vegetable garden and a volleyball court.
We went to four or five more classrooms and it was very moving because we all knew we were seeing the future of Afghanistan before our very eyes. This is a school that is truly serious in its attempts to educate girls. The buildings might be old and funky – with the most basic squat toilet latrine I have ever seen, a one-holer shared by all 162 girls – but some serious learning was going on here. Bravo!
"Every morning we assign one girl to check all the backpacks for bombs." No comment.
Also childhood obesity is not a problem here and neither is tooth decay. No one can afford sugar.
Then we drove through "Old Kabul". Wow! There were all kinds of on-the-fly stores made out of old container-ship boxes; selling used tires, used tools, used bicycles, everything you can imagine made out of metal. And scrap metal like you couldn’t believe! It looked like the ultimate flea market. I loved Old Kabul! And right in the middle of all this was another school run by our host NGO. It is the custom in Afghanistan to always offer guests tea but this school offered us Fanta. Yea!
One of the students at the school had a crippling disease and begged us to send him to Germany so he could be cured. I felt really bad that we couldn’t help. Another student asked for a ceiling fan for the classroom. "It’s 12:45," someone said. "Weren’t we supposed to be meeting with the US-AID rep at 12:15?" Yeah. That’s stupid. Getting that appointment was like pulling hens’ teeth. I was really angry about that – but probably it was just that we were all really tired and hot.
On the way to the US-AID office we passed the stadium where the Taliban had held their executions. That was a chilling experience.
Next chilling experience: The US embassy. Major barrier blast walls. Lots of sand bags, parapets and barbed wire. Impressive. Our tax dollars are really working hard here. The AID office was in its own compound across the street from the embassy. "No photography. Violators will be apprehended."
Once inside the compound, it was like stepping back into America. I took off my headscarf. I had a wonderful conversation with a US-AID program administrator. "I was here during the Taliban, working for an NGO, and I’ve been here ever since. We try to strengthen social, educational and community networks." Go you. I was very impressed with the programs the rep talked about.
"Only 40% of Afghans are able to read and write. This is one of our top priorities as well as improving mental health by giving the people things to do with themselves – getting men jobs and getting women out of the house."
And apparently the Bush bureaucracy wants to solve all these problems by giving money to American contractors for fixing the roads; continuing to do the same thing that has been going on throughout the world for the last 50 years -- foisting roads and power off on countries that don’t need them.
We heard a lecture from the health specialist. "The maternal mortality here is 60%." 60%? Holy cow! You wouldn’t even want to get pregnant at a rate like that. I must have heard her wrong.
"There were only 400 midwives in all of Afghanistan under the Taliban. We’ve gotten it up to 900. But we need 4,000. The Ministry of Health is excellent. They are really working hard to end the polio problem." Polio? "Yes, polio. It comes over from Pakistan."
And lack of clean water is also severe problem. People are dying because of the contaminated water supply. "Another problem is the six-year gap in women’s education. "We have to teach women to read and write before we can teach them midwifery, etc." Thousands of villages even now have no schools. And the demand for educating women far outstrips our ability to fund schools. 90% of women are illiterate; 60% of men."
In 2000, three million students went back to school, including many accelerated learning programs for the children who are behind. "Imagine a village with no literate females yet girls over age 13 can’t be taught by a man. What can you do?" Girls, women and young men who have just learned to read love to turn around and teach others.
"One big problem here has been the fractionalization of Afghanistan by war. How do you get people together who have spent years trying to kill each other." Grassroots empowerment of local people through local councils has been helpful. There are now over 12,00 local councils.
There is also a new youth volunteer program, sort of an Afghan AmeriCorps. "Afghanistan is really different from most countries in the world. It is the fourth or fifth poorest and has the second most unstable government. Only Somalia is less stable." Plus the HIV epidemic is about to explode due to the heroin drug trade.
Winter is also a problem here. Schools get cold in the winter. Plus there is the lack of latrines. "There is a negative influence coming to Afghanistan from Pakistan, bringing instability and lack of security. The reach of the central government down into the southern provinces is not very long so these areas that are most vulnerable are not getting the services they need to make them more stable."
In Afghanistan, the improvements need to come from the bottom up. "The US-AID programs now emphasize development to promote stability." But the Bush bureaucracy’s new military emphasis now makes NGOs and aid programs into targets for the first time. "US-AID’s mission has always been to represent the U.S. government – as compared to NGOs such as CARE. But US-AID is still trying hard to bring basic services to the people of Afghanistan."
And I politely refrained from adding, "despite the blunders and blood-thirstiness of Bush and his friends."
According to the US-AID person, dire poverty is the major problem in Afghanistan. "A farmer may say something like, ‘I can’t think about making my wife’s health better when she gives birth five months from now. I have to think about feeding my children today."
Here’s my next dispatch from the slow but steady internet café:
Opium in Afghanistan: Nobody wants to talk about it...except me!
In Afghanistan there are some things you talk about and some things you don't. For instance, the government just issued a press release stating that the newspapers must stop calling warlords "warlords". Very clever. The "warlord" problem can now be safely talked about because it has just been eliminated with a stroke of the pen.
Theses guys must have either been taking spin lessons from the White House or George Orwell.
In Afghanistan everyone talks about the next major earthquake. The Kabul valley is surrounded by mountains that seem to shoot straight up from the valley floor. And each of these mountains is covered with adobe-brick huts, clinging on to the mountainsides for dear life because this is the only area where the ultra-poor (Afghanistan is something like the fourth poorest nation in the world) can afford to build. "The precariousness of this housing is very much like last year's pre-earthquake situation in Pakistan," one Afghan explained to me. If the Big One ever hits here, 100,000 people could be killed.
Everyone in Afghanistan talks about corruption. It's becoming a way of life. "Government employees are paid rock-bottom wages, only a few dollars a day. Common laborers sometimes get paid more than we do," an Afghan friend in the Interior Ministry told me. As a result, corruption is rife.
"They have 'ghost workers' here. And in some departments, as many as 20,000 to 30,000 imaginary employees are on the payroll."
Apparently, poor Afghans are as honest as the day is long and seem to have the same approach to morality as Americans back in 1910 did. "I dropped my cell phone on the street," said one American, "and someone ran after me for a whole block in order to give it back."
It's only among the rich and powerful here that theft and corruption are rampant. Hey. That sounds like America in 2006.
Everybody talks about Condoleeza Rice's new policy for Afghanistan. The US-AID program here has been totally successful in winning the hearts and minds of Afghans by funding local schools and health clinics. But Condi has other ideas. "We need stop all that and put our money into roads and hydroelectric construction." Looks like she's been reading "Confessions of an Economic Hitman" again. Money that goes to the betterment of Afghans doesn't go to Halliburton, Bechtel and KBR. Forget about hearts and minds! Taxpayers' money that's not going to Bush's friends is money wasted. Period.
Corruption in Afghanistan? "Imagine Enron times ten."
Everyone here in Afghanistan talks about Pakistan. Everyone here loves to talk about Pakistan. "Pakistan is falling apart. Its four regions are in conflict and it's always fighting with India! It's just a matter of time before Pakistan fails as a state. But it thinks that if it can seize Afghanistan, it will gain 'strategic depth' in case of a war with India," said one diplomat I talked with. "Pakistan has been working to destabilize Afghanistan for decades for this reason. Everyone in Afghanistan hates Pakistan."
People here like a lot of the things that US AID and various American NGOs are doing here. But universally and to a man Afghans hate Pakistan as far as I can tell.
And while there is not hardly any of the hatred of America that I thought I would find here, Afghans hate all the money the Bush bureaucracy pours into Pakistan.
In addition, Pakistan's policy toward Afghanistan is the same as Israel's policy toward Palestine -- subtly undermine it, destabilize it and then, when things fall apart, go for the land grab. Also Pakistan's policy toward the various Afghan tribes is the same as America's policy toward the Shi'a and Sunnis and Israel's policy toward Hamas and Fatah: Get them fighting among themselves and then just stand back.
Everyone in Afghanistan talks about all this other stuff going on but nobody likes to talk about opium, the country's major source of revenue. Even George Bush doesn't talk about it. Why should he? Opium production has sky-rocketed here on his watch.
American drug companies don't talk about it. Why should they? If all the opiates in Afghanistan were sold as a legal medical cash crop, the drug companies wouldn't make all that money by selling morphine.
The "Warlords" who make more money from the drug trade than you or I will ever see in a lifetime even if we won the lottery once a week for a month -- they definitely don't talk about opium. They are too busy growing, packaging and shipping the stuff.
In the Northern Alliance region, opium poppies grow everywhere -- on the farms, in the schoolyards, in the park. And 25% of the North is strung out.
The Russians and Iranians don't talk about heroin -- which needs to be processed from the raw opiates grown here. Why should they talk about it? The Russians and Iranians own most of the labs.
The people of Kabul don't talk about opium either. At least not to me. "What about opium?" I keep asking officials. Dead silence.
"Can I buy some here in Kabul? How many people use opium here? Is it illegal? What does it look like? Is it a problem with the young people? Where is it processed? How much does it cost?"
Shut up, Jane. No one wants to talk about opium. No one. Yet it is Afghanistan's largest source of income. It's the elephant in the living room that must be talked about if you want to understand anything going on here.
3:00 pm: We’re off to the Land Mine Museum!
[Sorry but this is as far as I've typed on my poor bleeding, numb fingers...]
With all the millions and millions of people in this world who are hurting and dying, why does the one of world's largest industries keep manufacturing a product whose only goal is to make sure that even MORE people are hurting and dying? What's the point?
It seems to me that deliberately manufacturing even more ways to create misery in this world is a bad business practice. Get a clue! The misery market has already been overstocked and swamped. What about the law of supply and demand? Doesn't anyone read Adam freaking SMITH any more? There is more than enough misery in this world to go around already as it is. Why deliberately go out and manufacture cluster bombs, depleted uranium ammunition, nuclear weapons, rocket-propelled grenades, suicide belts and improvised explosive devices? Why bother? It just doesn't make sense -- when we already have our warehouses and stockyards and supply depots bulging to the seams with all KINDS of high-quality misery-producers like starvation, drought, famine, global warming and AIDS.
The misery market is already glutted! Get a clue!
Just look at Iraq, Dafur, Afghanistan and Palestine. You can find misery on every corner -- and it's for sale at bargain prices that you wouldn't believe. Guys! Enough already. It's time to DIVERSIFY.
My suggestion? There's still an wide-open market in other areas. This is your chance to get in on the ground floor. There's still a tremendous shortage of healthcare, education, food, medicine, housing, etc. -- and a very high demand. Let's move our production capabilities over to THIS almost untouched consumer market -- one that hasn't already been saturated.
And here's another suggestion. Let's recommend to the weapons industry that they have just one more big sale -- a GOING-OUT-OF-BUSINESS sale. I know a guy here in Berkeley who will buy off your weapons, melt them down and cast their metal into sculptures. It's time to recycle our arms -- while we still have any arms -- and legs, fingers and toes -- left to recycle.
And here's a word to the women. "Ladies, do your sons, husbands, fathers and/or significant others lack enough business acumen and self-control to stop manufacturing a product that no one needs any more? Then perhaps it is time for you to take away their credit cards -- and even lay them off -- until they stop their obsession with manufacturing misery, come to their senses and go into a more productive line of work.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
FYI, I've just finished writing a book about my experiences in the Middle East -- from Egypt, Palestine and Mecca to Afghanistan and Iraq. It is an on-the-ground eyewitness report of my personal journey through one of the major regions of the world most adversely effected by George Bush's disastrous foreign policy. If you have any suggestions regarding a major publisher and/or distributor, please let me know. Thanks. Here's the outline:
Chapter 1: My adventures in Egypt directly after Bush's 9-11 disaster
Chapter 2: My adventures in Israel and Palestine after Bush's Road Map disaster
Chapter 3: My adventures in Mecca and on the Hajj during Bush's successful campaign to be voted the most disastrous presence in the Muslim world -- ever
Chapter 4: My adventures in Afghanistan five years after Bush's disastrous assault on that country
Chapter 5: My adventures in Iraq four years after Bush's Shock & Awe disaster
Epilogue: My adventures as a progressive journalist trying to embed in Iraq....
Saturday, May 12, 2007
I shouldn't be writing this -- but you gotta admit that it's just too tempting to pass up. Tonight I went to a wonderful memorial for my friend Kenny Kessler and when someone told me the story of how he got melanoma cancer and it spread because he couldn't get medical insurance, I just couldn't resist. "They killed Kenny!"
Back in the 1970s I worked at a folk music coffee house in Berkeley, CA for almost an entire decade. The Freight and Salvage was its name. I'd take the kids to work with me and they would sleep under the kitchen table while I poured the coffee, made the brownies, sold six kinds of tea, adjusted the sound system and cheered up the musicians. I remember the night that I went into labor with my son Joe and had to call up one of the other Freight employees from my hospital bed. "Jamie! Can you work for me tonight! I won't be able to come in!" The Freight and Salvage was that kind of place. Plus we had lots of blues musicians, folk music guitarists and bluegrass.
My boyfriend during some of that time was a bluegrass musician named Pat Enright and he was really good. "I'm going to move to Nashville and try to make it in the bigtime," he told me after a couple of years of playing at the Freight.
"No, please don't go," I begged him. "You'll just bang your head against a wall trying to get noticed and never get a break and then you'll be all disappointed." Well, two Emmies later.... I guess I was wrong.
Anyway, one of the people who worked at the Frieght and Salvage was Kenny Kessler. Kenny had been a Red Diaper baby in New York City, had gained 150 pounds in the 1960s in order to escape the Vietnam draft -- he didn't have a rich daddy like George W. Bush and so he did the best that he could -- and then moved to the west coast after his best friends got blown up in a Weatherman safe house in Manhattan. And he and I became good friends. However, in the 1980s the coffee house moved to a different location and then I got a job in a law office and we lost touch.
But last week I got a call from the Freight's former MC, Mug Muggles. "Kenny just died of melanoma and we're having a memorial for him on Saturday. Can you come?" Good grief yes. And I went. And there were lots of the old Freight musicians there. And Mug, Marc Silber and Will Scarlett jammed the blues. Kenny would have loved it!!!!!
Anyway, at the memorial, Kenny's friend Teesha was telling me how he discovered a mole that wouldn't stop bleeding and how he had gone in for a diagnosis and how he had been told that he indeed did have cancer and then how he couldn't get medical coverage and.... "Do you think he might have lived if he had had medical insurance and been treated earlier?" I asked Teesha.
"I can't honestly say," she replied. But having to make all those phone calls to insurance companies and being turned down by even Medi-Cal when he knew that he had serious cancer must have been a REAL bummer. And then it metastasized into his lungs and his brain.
"They killed Kenny!" I cried. Just one more reason to impeach George Bush -- and to light a fire under Congress to get their priorities straight. Do they represent the drug companies and the insurance companies -- or do they represent US! Don't answer that.
With all the money that we now spend on healthcare in America, we should be getting our money's worth. With a decent healthcare plan in place here, there would be no reason in the world why every man, woman and child in America couldn't be insured for far less money than we are now paying for our current jankety old health care system.
To quote Marilyn Clement's article in the Black Commentator, "[John] Conyers's bill H.R. 676 will provide healthcare for everyone in the United States by eliminating the profits of the insurance companies and negotiating drug and other treatment costs. It will be paid for on a sliding scale by all of us together. We will have no bills, co-payments, deductibles, denials, or bankruptcies. And we will be paying less than we are now."
PS: I talked with my friend Ron this morning and he said, "Janie, Bush is planning to hold on to this 'war' in Iraq and keep it going for as long as he can. Why? Because if he can leave office with our troops still in Iraq, then he can claim that the DEMOCRATS lost that war." Yikes! And are the Dems gonna let Bush get away with that? Yeah.
PPS: I think Kenny would have really enjoyed his memorial service from up in Heaven. And I think he would have enjoyed my South Park tribute to him as well because Kenny loved music and had a great sense of humor. And a good heart.
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
Madame Jane has been very busy lately, predicting all kinds of stuff about Iraq. Yeah, well. If she's all that good about making predictions then how come she didn't predict that I was going to have a flat tire on the way home from work this afternoon? It would have saved me a hecka lot of trouble and gotten me home safely too. Humph. And now I gotta explain to the highway patrol why I swerved and hit that post....
Prediction # 1: Madame Jane predicts that Bush's chaos theory will win in Iraq -- and here too...
Nobody ever listens to Madame Jane. "A prophet is without honor in [her] own country." But even though I know that nobody is gonna listen, I'm still going to warn everybody about the dangerous times ahead. Then a few years down the road, I'll be able to say, " See. I told you so!" But will that make me happy? No.
Last night I had a dream that the "war" in Iraq had spread. Chaos is like whooping cough or the flu -- it easily spreads from one person to another. And the chaos that Bush created in Iraq is spreading our way. And in my dream last night, it had even spread to my own home town.
Suddenly there were National Guard troops and Marine sharpshooters ranging up and down University Avenue. Military chaos. And my neighbor was beating his wife. Moral chaos. And there was no food in the stores. Financial chaos -- right here in my own home town.
Wherever there is chaos, it spreads. Bush and Cheney have created a festering sore in the Middle East and Madame Jane predicts that gangrene will soon be setting in. But we can still save the rest of the body if we act fast.
Will anybody listen to me? No. The disease of chaos and war is already eating away at the flesh of Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq, Somalia, Darfur and half of Africa. And that sky-rocketing body-count is heading our way.
And there IS a vaccination against all this infection and disease. It is administered in a series of three shots. But will we use it? No. Not until it is too late -- and the patient has died.
Vaccination # 1: Close down every arms and munitions factory in the world -- let the bad guys fight it out with sticks, knives and clubs. Then spend all the money that we will have saved on education, music and ART.
Vaccination # 2: Practice the Golden Rule. Practice Hindu tolerance, Buddhist patience, Christian mercy, Jewish wisdom, Muslim generosity and the agnostic's love of freedom.
Vaccination # 3: Be an idealist. Dream of a better world. Then follow your dream. We don't HAVE to live in a world that panders to our worst impulses. The human race CAN evolve. And if it can't, then we freaking deserve the sorry-arse end of our species that is rapidly heading our way. And it ain't gonna be no sweet little delusional Armageddon where all you cult followers ascend into Heaven with a smile on your face and contempt for the rest of us mere mortals in your hearts. There will be NO rapture involved.
Madame Jane sees all. Madame Jane has spoken. "Bush's chaos theory is going to be playing at a home town near you soon...unless...."
PS: My friend Stewart Nusbaumer, an embedded reporter in Iraq who was at the scene of a ghastly car-bomb explosion moments after it happened a few weeks ago, witnessed a whole market square covered with body parts and raw human flesh. Stewart has this to say about Iraq: "Jane, I agree with you. The war has to stop. And it will. But before how many are dead? Horrible. I think this all the time, that Americans here in Iraq live in their own little worlds. The professional army is particularly bad in this aspect. I want the draft. I want to see the young soldiers raising hell because they know they shouldn't be here. I want their parents in the States raising hell. I want all parents terrified that THEIR kid will be sent to Iraq, so they are stopping the war now -- I want people screaming at the elected representatives to stop the war." It doesn't take a crystal ball to see that happening.
"Wars can be stopped by re-instituting the draft. Overnight the college campuses would explode. I want that, rather than the explosions I saw here. Peace marches? No one is really listening, are they? The draft is the only answer."
Pundits predict that there will be a bloodbath in Iraq if our troops pull out. Well, Madame Jane doesn't even have to use tarot cards to see that there is already a bloodbath there NOW.
PPS: Here's a video of poor MJ being called a "ranting" Cassandra. I TOLD you that nobody listens: http://youtube.com/watch?v=eUD6szocTik
Prediction # 2: Extra! Madame Jane goes to war! (again)
"There's something rotten in the State of Denmark," said Hamlet.
"There's something rotten in the State of Iraq," Madame Jane replied, "and I predict that I, the great Madame Jane, foreseer of the Future, predictor of Things to Come...."
Oh shut up and get to the point.
"Disbeliever," Madame Jane muttered darkly. But then she peered into her crystal ball and hit me with her best shot. And it was a bulls-eye. "I just got a clairvoyant message from a doctor stationed in Diyala province," she said. Yeah right. A clairvoyant message that was delivered by Yahoo I'll bet. "Here's the message. Listen up."
"Madame Jane," wrote the doctor, "the Combat Support Hospitals in Iraq are excellent, absolutely top-of-the-line. They are the reason that there are so many fewer fatalities in Iraq than there were during the Vietnam war." Aside from not counting deaths of contractors and mercenaries? "We have an excellent med-evac system here that allows us to get injured soldiers to a hospital really fast."
So. There is better medical care. I was really glad to hear that. "But does better medical care truly effect the death count THAT much," I asked Madame Jane. "My friend Helen just e-mailed me that only one in ten soldiers' deaths are being reported. Could that be the real reason that death counts in Iraq are so much lower than they were in Vietnam? Are these soldiers being med-evaced to Germany ASAP so that if they die outside of Iraq, they can't be counted as a statistic, a bona fide death in Iraq? What really is the truth? Get out the tarot cards! What do you SEE?"
Madame Jane bent down, turned around and gave me a wink. "Are you or are you not an investigative journalist?" she asked. I do try to be.... "Well if you are then you need to investigate this here: Are our heroic soldiers being accorded a hero's death -- one where they 'either come home with their shields or on them'? Or are they just being forced to experience a sordid little death all alone as they are being dragged onto and off of helicopters and C-130s in order to down-play the statistics?"
You're kidding. Do you think that the Bush war machine would actually stoop that low? To try to keep its "numbers" down at the expense of the brave men and women who are making the ultimate sacrifice for their country? To actually make it a POLICY to push these soldiers across international boundary lines while they are in their last moments of dying just so that Bush would look good? To leave our brave soldiers alone to close their own eyes while they face their Maker -- in order to put a more benevolent spin on an unjustifiable "war"?
That's just sick.
And how will the spouses and parents of dying soldiers feel when they hear about this? That their sons and daughters and husbands and wives were hurried along at their last moments for convenience's sake? And what will our troops think when they hear that THIS is the way they will be manhandled in their dying moments? Like meat on an assembly line? So much for "Rest in Peace".
That's just ghoulish. But is this sort of thing really actually happening? Or has Madame Jane just sprouted yet another crack in her, er, crystal ball.... And would our wonderful military doctors and nurses allow such a thing to happen? What do THEY say about this?
"There's only one way to answer that question," stated Madame Jane. "You, my little ducking, need to strap back on your Kevlar, click on http://www.bargaintravel.com/, get your arse back over to Iraq and RESEARCH all this. ASAP. If Americans are being duped (again), then Americans needs to know about it!"
"Oh no you don't," said me. "You've got the wrong little white duck! I can't go back over there! I've been over there once. Once is enough! I gots post-traumatic stress."
"Madame Jane has spoken." Oh okay. Pass me the Kevlar.
"Think about all those dashingly handsome soldiers in their cute little Humvees. Think about the DFAC pumpkin pie!" War is hell.
PS: Madame Jane also wanted me to go to Washington DC and report on the demise of America's traditional "Citizen Soldier" in favor of Bush's new cold-hearted "Area 51" mercenary armies. "I predict that unless we do something about this now," stated MJ, "we're gonna have Brown Shirts overrunning our country pretty soon." But I put my foot down on the idea of going to DC. It may be okay for Madame Jane to live in a world of her own that doesn't involve holding down a job and paying the rent. But I still have a landlord and a boss.