Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Ides of March: A fire, winter soldiers, Barbara Lee & the squelch button

(Photos are of the elusive Rep. Lee, baby Mena (with my neighbor Gina) looking no worse for wear after the fire and of me on the squelch button, holding the official list of forbidden words)

So far, today has been one of those days -- the kind that you dread. What's up with that? It must be the Ides of March. Last night my apartment almost caught on fire. And things went downhill from there. Good grief.

There I was, sleeping away without a care in the world, when I heard my son pounding on my bedroom door and the whole room was suddenly enveloped in foul-smelling smoke.

There we were, at 1:00 a.m. in the freaking morning, my entire family including my son, his wife and my three-month-old granddaughter, standing out on the sidewalk and wondering what to do next as great waves of yellow billowing fumes poured out of our home. So we all street-hiked over to my daughter Ashley's apartment in our robes and nightgowns and bunny slippers and banged on her door until she let us in, handed us some sleeping bags and let us sleep on her couch.

This morning I called the poison control center and they said it would be safe to go back home after we aired the place out. Then I popped into my car and went off to hear Rep. Barbara Lee give one of her "State of the Congressional District" speeches in Oakland. But you know me. Every time I try to track Rep. Lee down, I seem to just miss her. I missed finding her at the South Carolina Democratic primary debates. I missed tracking her down at the event Teddy Kennedy gave for Barak Obama last month. And I missed seeing her at her last "State of the District" function because my car wouldn't work. I hadn't been having much luck. I hoped that the Ides of March wouldn't screw this one up too.

But, actually, I finally found her this time. "We must get out of Iraq," she said. "We cannot afford to stay in Iraq. We need those resources here at home. And we must trim the military budget as well. Sixty-five billion dollars is being wasted -- right now -- on buying obsolete Cold War weapons that we can no longer use. Congress needs to allot enough money to protect our troops and contractors in Iraq and then bring them home -- and with no long-term military bases left behind."

Apparently George W. Bush has signed six different congressional bills that would make it illegal for him to build long-term bases in Iraq. And Rice, Negroponte and Bush have all agreed to this. "But then Bush made a signing statement on this last bill saying that he was above the law. And you know what I have to say about this? 'See you in court, Mr. President [sic]!' They are also trying to get around these laws by signing side-agreements with Iraq without Congress's approval." That's illegal too.

"We need to prevent the invasion of Iran. And we need to impeach Vice-President [sic] Cheney. There is a long list of things that we need to do. But they have to get done. We have been misled about Iraq. They lied. This war has been going on for five years now. And now we also have to lead America out of a Bush-generated economic recession as well. We can't wait until November. We have to build the pressure NOW, to put on some street-heat NOW. We have to bring our troops and contractors home NOW." You gotta love it when Rep. Lee spells things out. I was glad I came even though I still smelled like toxic yellow smoke and no one would sit next to me.

That's the Ides of March for you.

Then Rep. Lee showed us a sneak preview of a documentary called "War Made Easy". According to Norman Solomon, Americans were lied to in order to get the Vietnam war going, lied to in order to get the Gulf War rolling and lied to in order to get the Iraq war off the ground. "The hardest part of a war is to get Americans to accept that the war is necessary and in order to achieve this end, we are bombarded night and day with media information touting the reasons for war. But once a war is actually started, then the war itself becomes its own reason for being and perpetuates its own self. 'We can't leave now' and 'support the troops' and 'stay the course' become rationale in themselves for continuing grim and illegal wars." At least I think that's what they said in the movie. It's really hard to take notes in the dark.

"We Americans are the ultimate innocents. We are always willing to believe that, this time, the government is actually telling the truth." But the real truth has become a hostage of the information that the government feeds us. And this information is censored according to the needs of the people in power -- or else access to truth is completely denied. Ha! I can identify with that. Do you KNOW how hard it is for a progressive reporter to embed in Iraq? It took me over a year to get accepted for an embed the first time. The second time, it took a whole battalion of Marines to get me embedded and the third time I was granted an embed okay but then apparently they found out that I wrote for a progressive media outlet,, and my embed was rescinded and I had to live at the Kuwait airport Starbucks until they sorted things out -- which they never did and now I gotta sue the Department of Defense on Judge Judy to get my money back! But I digress.

"In World War I," continued the movie, "the percentage of civilians killed -- as compared to the percentage of actual combatants' deaths -- was 10%. In World War II, that percentage jumped up to 50%. And in Vietnam, the percentage of civilians killed skyrocketed up to 70%." But do you know how many civilians were killed in Iraq in relation to actual combatants? "90%." 90%? Holy cow!

Enough bad news. To heck with the Ides of March. I'm gonna go home and hide under the bed.

But that didn't happen either. I ended up going over to KPFA and helping out during the station's "Winter Soldier" broadcast of stories told by veterans from the war on Iraq. My job? To hit the squelch button. "If anyone says one of these forbidden words," a station employee told me, "you just hit this button here and the word gets deleted." So I spent the afternoon waiting for my big moment when I could hit the squelch button and delete an obscenity. I heard lots of obscene things all right, as soldiers and Iraqis testified to the misery they had either seen or induced -- but none, unfortunately, that I could just hit a button and delete. If only. If only I could just hit a button and delete that whole "war".

I heard how soldiers in Iraq had been forced to torture innocent civilians, how Blackwater thugs were given free reign to shoot anyone they wanted, how school children were too terrified to go to school, how even the most basic medicines had become unavailable, how Americans tortured Iraqis to get information when all they really needed to do was just ask and how much Iraqis truly want Americans to just go home. Now. "Iraqis are perfectly capable of managing their own affairs when the Americans leave. We don't need them to protect us," stated one Iraqi. How sweetly naive. This "war" isn't about protecting Iraqis. This "war" is about oil.

When I was in Iraq this past October, two things became perfectly clear to me. First, I learned that our soldiers were doing a fantastic job (even though it was not the job they should be doing and approximately half of the soldiers I talked to had no respect at all for GWB). Our soldiers should be protecting America -- not Bush's oil. And, second, I discovered that some of the poorest people in the world live in Iraq, right over the richest oil supply in the world.

The next winter soldier stated, "I had no idea that I'd been over there fighting for corporate profit."

A retired colonel testified that, "[The Bush-Cheney-McCain axis] has undercut our military to the point where it may never be able to recover."

And then another soldier said, "The veterans and soldiers of the Iraq war are building a community of resistance to this war. And when soldiers stop fighting a war, that war is OVER. That is the real reason why the Vietnam war finally ended, you know. The soldiers simply started refusing to fight." Interesting. I didn't know that.

In another two hours, the Ides of March will be over. My apartment is habitable again. I finally got to see Rep. Lee. And KPFA served us a delicious take-away Indian food buffet. So things are looking up. Now if we can only get out of Iraq before America goes completely bankrupt and our military is completely destroyed....

PS: If you missed the Winter Soldier testimonials -- and a lot of people did because the event was not hardly mentioned in the mainstream media at all -- it's not too late. They are still available for streaming at