Monday, March 30, 2009

Bazookas, flintlocks & concealability: The handgun's role in the coming hard times

Last night my daughter Ashley's boyfriend got 'jacked for his backpack and her iPod. "That iPod contained 35,000 songs and 25 DVDs," my daughter wailed. I freaked out! What if this sudden upsurge of bad guys was the wave of the future? What if this was just the tip of the iceberg for a huge future wave in crime that was being escalated by the tanking economy? What if this is a trend? What if crime is now on the rise and this 'jacked iPod is only the beginning and we will no longer be safe in our beds!

"Calm down, Mom."

OMG! What if they 'jacked Ashley's iPod using a handgun! And now that the next Great Depression is upon us, what if everyone all starts carrying guns for protection and there's gonna gangs and wars on the streets!

But luckily for me, the Berkeley-Albany Bar Association came to my rescue (again). They had a professor at the UC Berkeley law school come and give us a lecture on the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms -- and gun control!

"In the case of Washington DC vs. Heller," said our speaker, "the Supreme Court dealt with the personal right of citizens to own firearms -- declaring that the Second Amendment included the right to own and use some kind of handgun." The Washington law had stated that NO handguns were to be allowed in the District of Columbia but the Supreme Court had ruled that the DC law couldn't be justified under the Second Amendment.

Good grief! Did Ashley's boyfriend's mugger have a handgun?

"The Supreme Court decided that the personal right to bear arms DID include the right to bear handguns," the speaker continued, "because in 1776, officers in the Revolutionary Army had been encouraged to carry flintlocks." Apparently, under the Second Amendment, shotguns and rifles have always been freely allowed but handguns are more tightly controlled. "Why? Because handguns are concealable. And this concealability has amazing criminological consequences. A handgun is nine times as likely to be used in a crime than a shotgun or rifle. And it is 80 times more likely to be used in an armed robbery."

So. Is the flintlock a concealable weapon? "I had my research assistant measure one," said our speaker. "It was 16 inches long. With THAT in your pocket, nobody is going to be glad to see you." So using the flintlock as the basis for the Supreme Court's decision was apparently not such a hot idea because concealability was definitely not a characteristic of flintlocks. "Justice Scalia didn't make a historic argument for his case -- he made a public opinion argument."

And what does this mean? "Does this mean that there is now also a Constitutional right for Americans to carry bazookas, tanks and antique cannons," if the Revolutionary Army had once carried them -- or if you can get one under your coat? The issue in this case is not about the right to bear arms but rather whether or not a firearm is concealable.

"Sawed-off shotguns have been made illegal. Why? It's the concealability issue. If concealability justified the 75-year-old law against sawed-off shotguns, then why did Scalia ignore that law here instead of making sawed-off shotguns legal too?" Apparently Scalia will do anything he can get away with, in order to form opinions that he likes. "Roberts on the other hand will avoid making distinctions in a particular case that will get the court in trouble later on."

Does this mean that if Ashley's boyfriend had gotten 'jacked by a bad guy carrying a sawed-off shotgun, then if said bad guy is caught then he would now have a valid defense? That he was entitled to carry one under the Second Amendment -- because Justice Scalia said so?

"We need to restrict the use of handguns to people who have special needs for handguns," said our speaker. Let cops use them but not bad guys. And keep them out of the hands of Mae West!

"There is also another un-analyzed issue regarding concealability. If you use handguns in your home, then they are NOT concealed." Apparently this issue was also not considered in the DC law. "Whoever writes these gun control laws seems to come out of the slums of American constitutional law. The DC law was written sloppily, was a terrible law."

The speaker also got on the cases of conservative judges. "They claim not to be activists -- but this Supreme Court decision was more activist than even Roe vs. Wade, which was based on earlier precedence. But here Scalia just set this up out of the blue, with no close reasoning. It was a court going out of its way to go as far as it could go to make one single case set law. That's not conservative at all. The real damage and radicalization of Scalia's decision didn't take place in this case but in the precedence of using court decisions to make radical changes in American law."

So. What have we learned? That it's now okay for Ashley's boyfriend to get 'jacked by someone carrying a flintlock -- or even a bazooka -- if he can disguise it under his coat?

"Concealability isn't going to be an issue if there is a revolution. When people defend their right to bear arms in order to protect themselves from tyranny, they are really only defending their right to carry shotguns and rifles." That appears to be the original intent of the framers of the Constitution. "Was the Second Amendment designed to be personal? Or was it designed to give citizens access to guns to be used as instruments against oppressive government?" If there is the need for another Revolution in America, will it be fought with concealed weapons such as handguns? Hardly.

"What is the effect of this new Supreme Court decision on state and local laws? How will it effect California? No one knows." The speaker then went on to suggest an alternative to what we now perceive as gun control -- where a gun-control law not a matter of all or nothing, a choice between letting people drive tanks through the streets of our cities or else having no guns at all. "As things now stand, statewide registering and licensing cannot be taken over by municipalities." This is too bad because different parts of a state may have different uses for weapons. Country towns where hunting is common could be more pro-gun while cities could have more gun control.

"Gun control proponents go on these doomed symbolic crusades against all guns. But what we need is a well-drafted and non-punitive law that would give cities more power to legislate conditions for their own localities and also require gun dealers and sellers to be effected by these laws as well. This isn't rocket science." So we CAN have laws that control guns effectively -- laws that everyone could live with.

For instance, in states like perhaps Oklahoma, Wyoming or Minnesota where farmers and ranchers hunt as a way of life and are trained in safe gun use from childhood, the laws could be more lenient. But in urban areas where robberies are a problem, not so much. When the NRA screams, "Remember New Orleans," where people used guns to defend their property, NRA spokesmen conveniently forget to bring up that the looters had access to guns too.

"But what about knives?" asked young Ashley. "When knives are concealed, they are illegal." Like sawed-off shotguns? "So why is there such a big hullabaloo about controlling concealed handguns but nobody gives a hoot that there are laws to control concealed knives."

According to Carl Donath, "The California state law states that anything capable of ready use as a stabbing weapon is illegal. All concealed knives are a felony (except non-locking folders)." Holy sheep dookie. Concealed knives are more illegal than concealed Glocks! And what if you are a sushi chef on your way home from work with your knife and you get stopped by a cop? You're screwed.

So why isn't there a National Knife Association protesting this injustice as well? Could it be that because gun manufacturers make more money making guns than knife manufactures get paid for making knifes, the gun lobby has more billions to throw around in Washington and therefore has more effect on our laws? Good point, Ashley.

And speaking of laws designed to protect us Americans from bad guys, perhaps if there had been better laws in place regarding the possession of concealed weapons, there might be four more Oakland police officers alive today.

"Remember Oakland!"

The BABA speaker's main point appeared to be that if we had more well-thought-out gun control laws in America, we would still be able to defend ourselves -- yet also be able to cut down on handgun crime and to regulate the dangers of concealability. We could have it all. We could make everyone happy -- with the possible exception of Justice Scalia. And me. I want a bazooka!

PS: My friend Claudette just e-mailed me that gun sales have been rising extremely rapidly lately. "Over the weekend I spent time with some friends from Wyoming and they were telling me about how guns and ammo were just flying off the shelves there."

Claudette also sent me an article from the Associated Press stating, "Concern that the Obama administration could impose a new ban on some semiautomatic weapons is driving worried gun owners to stockpile ammunition and cartridge reloading components at such a rate that manufacturers can't meet demand."

However, according to my friend Larry, another reason for the accelerated sale of guns and ammunition might be due to their investment potential. With the dollar tanking right now and the price of gold being so high that people really gotta think long and hard before converting their IRAs to bullion in order to protect their investments, perhaps Americans are starting to think, "Hey, gee, I could buy some Rugers, Colts and Brownings instead. They will always have value. One can always re-sell one's guns."

PPS: Ashley is now in the market for a new iPod.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Glen Park neighborhood: Small-town San Francisco at its best

We wanted to throw a going-away party for my friend Bob last Sunday, so we decided to go visit my son Joe in San Francisco where he was house-sitting for a friend.

It wasn't a very large going-away party -- just me and Bob and Joe and my daughter Ashley and Joe's daughter Mena, but that's all the people that my 1990 Toyota Tercel hatchback could hold. "I'm hungry," I whined. "I didn't have any breakfast -- and now I'm about to miss lunch as well." Some going-away party this has turned out to be.

Then we all piled into the Toyota, crossed the Bay Bridge, took 101 south to I-280 and got off on Alemany Blvd -- except that we took the wrong exit and almost ended up in Stonestown. Then we back-tracked a few miles, finally located Alemany Blvd, turned right onto Joe's street and parked. It was a cute little neighborhood. It was a cute little street. And Joe lived in a cute little house.

"I designed and built this house myself," said a man standing out in the front yard and clipping the hedge. The inside of the house was all Architectural Digest, with hard-wood floors, a kitchen to die for, a view of Twin Peaks out the rear window and a private secret garden in the backyard. Joe had a room. Mena had a closet. Someone had a dog. "I'm scared of dogs," I complained, "and I'm hungry. Let's roll."

The Glen Park area of San Francisco where Joe house-sits is like a jewel of an American small town -- carefully hidden inside of a big city. You really get a sense of neighborhood here. I kept expecting to run into Mr. Rogers or King Friday. Today was sunny and lovely and everyone was out walking their dogs. I've never seen so many dogs. We walked about six blocks over Diamond Street, Glen Park's main street -- asking everyone who we ran into on the way if they had any recommendations for good places to eat.

"Go to Tyger's for brunch," a man walking his dog (and his baby) suggested, but there was a long line outside of Tyger's so we crossed the street and got a table outside at a place called "Higher Grounds: A Nice Little Place to Eat." on the corner of Diamond and Chenery. It was nice. It was little. I had a chicken-spinach crepe. I took photos of my crepe. Mena played with a dog.

Walking back in the sunshine to Joe's temporary home, it occurred to me that I could write a story about Glen Park and how it was such a sweet little neighborhood and such a friendly place to take a stroll -- but then I decided not to. "Writing about this would be too easy," I told Bob. "I would start to feel like I was sluffing off, selling out, getting lazy, going commercial." There are just too many life-or-death stories out there in the cold hard real world, waiting to be written about right now. Between the disaster in Gaza, the one-in-50 homeless children in the United States, the "wars" in Iraq and Afghanistan and all the other debris floating around from George W. Bush's political and economic fallout, I'd feel guilty just writing about a pleasant sunny Sunday afternoon in a small town inside San Francisco.

"Go ahead and write about anyway," replied Bob. "Just think of it as taking some journalistic R-and-R."

PS: We finally got Bob onto the train to Los Angeles on time. And his going-away party was a big success.
Note to self: was at Obama's press conference and I wasn't....

I couldn't believe it! At his press conference tonight, Obama answered a whole bunch of questions from a whole bunch of right-wingers, including even one from -- but no one from OpEd News or Smirking Chimp had even been invited.

I wouldn't have been surprised if even Rush Limbaugh had showed up.

Not only that, but the word "Healthcare" was bandied around a lot tonight -- but none of the members of the press in the audience even mentioned "Single-Payer" healthcare. If I had been in that audience, I woulda asked about single-payer healthcare. You KNOW that I would.

Note to self: "Get over it, Jane. No one in Washington is even INTERESTED in inviting us liberal bloggers to Presidential press conferences." But maybe they should. We correctly predicted that the Iraq invasion would be a disaster. We correctly predicted the fall of the U.S. economy. And we elected Obama.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

  • Israel's dilemma: How to calculate the risks of getting un-Chosen

    Israel's current hard-liner government is now being forced to face a very real dilemma. At what point does its behavior become so outrageous that it risks pissing God off?

    How far can the current government in Tel Aviv go before the Chosen People of Israel start running the risk getting un-Chosen?

    If the Promised Land keeps getting trashed with too many high-rise condos soaking up all the natural resources in Eden, too much use of questionable eminent domain over the olive groves where Christ walked, too much depleted uranium used too liberally, too many obnoxious settlers committing hate crimes in the Holy Land, too much saber-rattling intimidation of the meek, too many more false-flag operations than even Samson ever dreamed of and too frequent massacres of Arab and Christian Palestinians in a land where Moses preached that "Thou shalt not Kill" seemed like a pretty good idea -- might God begin to start reconsidering His choice?

    According to a BBC News report, "The spiritual leader of Israel's ultra-orthodox Shas party, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, has provoked outrage with a sermon calling for the annihilation of Arabs." When one of the most powerful rabbis in Israel is openly calling for wholesale genocide, perhaps it's time for Israel to start worrying that it might be pushing too many of God's buttons?

    According to one of Britain's leading newspapers, The Independent, the latest casualty figures in Gaza "list the names of 1,434 dead of whom they say 926 were civilians...." 926 of the 1,434 dead in the recent invasion of Gaza were simply "collateral damage"? How is God gonna feel about that?

    According to a recent AFP report, soldiers invading Gaza were told that they were fighting a holy war. "Many Israeli troops had the sense of fighting a 'religious war' against Gentiles during the 22-day offensive in Gaza, according to a soldier who has highlighted the martial role of military rabbis during the operation. The soldier testified that the 'clear' message of literature distributed to troops by the rabbinate was: 'We are the Jewish people, we came to this land by a miracle, God brought us back to this land and now we need to fight to expel the Gentiles who are interfering with our conquest of this holy land.' The [journal of the Yitzhak Rabin pre-military academy], which quoted graduates of the college, also cited the case of an elderly Palestinian woman killed as she was walking 100 metres (yards) from her home. Soldiers also spoke of civilians being abused, acts of vandalism and destruction of homes. 'Those were very harsh testimonies about unjustified shooting of civilians and destruction of property that conveyed an atmosphere in which one feels entitled to use unrestricted force against Palestinians,' academy director Dany Zamir told public radio."

    I really don't think that God is gonna be pleased with Israel using His name as an excuse to gun down and/or barbecue innocent women and children.

    And then there's that sticky matter of home demolitions. How is God gonna feel about that one? Is it really wise for the Israeli government to use their illegal eminent domain powers and then claim that these illegal powers are used only according to explicit operating instructions from Him?

    According to the Israeli Committee Against Housing Demolitions, "In 1948 and for years after, Israeli governments systematically demolished more than 500 entire [Muslim and Christian] villages, towns, urban centers and neighborhoods, both to prevent the return of the Palestinian refugees and to take their lands and properties. Since the Occupation began in 1967, another 24,000 Palestinian homes have been demolished, including 4000 in the latest attack on Gaza. And in 2004, the Israeli government announced the establishment of a Demolition Administration within the Ministry of Interior; targeted for destruction are 20-40,000 homes of Israeli (Arab) citizens...."

    Are the Chosen People being foolish to risk God's wrath by continuing to tear down historic Palestine, the birthright that He granted to His only Son? It might be a good idea for the Israelites to remember what happened when God got pissed off at the Egyptians....

    Israel's YnetNews just reported that "research by an Arab human rights group shows a ten-fold increase in Jewish attacks on the Arab population in Israel over the last year." Are those pesky settlers at it again? Someone over in Israel seriously needs to ask God what He thinks about hate crimes.
    Like a young child constantly testing the limits of its parents' toleration, the current government of Israel seems to be constantly skating on the edge of invoking Divine disapproval. Just exactly how far can God be pushed? And at exactly what point is God gonna have to tell the Israelites, "Go to your room!" And if He doesn't, will He then start to lose respect in Israelis' eyes -- for being too weak? Maybe God should start demanding an eye for an eye -- just to show His children that He's not gonna be manipulated by no uppity kids!

    The big debate in the Israeli Knesset right now -- or at least should be -- is this: "Just exactly how much Ugly can we get away with before God starts to notice?" And another big question the Knesset should be considering is whether or not, once Israelis are Chosen, they will remain Chosen forever -- just because they were born lucky? Or do they gotta constantly keep working at obtaining Parental approval?

    How far does Israel need to go in order to keep the Promised Land from getting un-Promised? This is a very real dilemma now facing Israel's government.

    Guys, might I suggest that you consider re-reading your Talmud?

    PS: "But why do you always just keep attacking the United States and Israel?" asked a friend of mine recently. "Why not Somalia, Sudan or Zimbabwe? Or Rwanda? They're just as bad -- or even far worse." Why? Because America and Israel are supposed to be CIVILIZED countries, above and beyond such medieval nonsense as torture, genocide, assassination squads, land-grabs, political prisons and major "collateral damage". We sort of expect that kind of behavior from countries just barely out of the Dark Ages -- but not from so-called western democracies with a tradition of encouraging civilized behavior.

    Recently the Berkeley Daily Planet printed the following information about Israel: "An Israeli company has developed a simple blood test that distinguishes between mild and more severe cases of multiple sclerosis.... An Israeli-made device helps restore the use of paralyzed hands. This device electrically stimulates the muscles, providing hope to millions of stroke sufferers and victims of spinal injuries.... Young children with breathing problems will soon be sleeping more soundly, thanks to a new Israeli device called the Child Hood. This innovation replaces the inhalation mask with an improved drug delivery system that provides relief for child and parent.... Israel has the highest ratio of university degrees to the population in the world. Israel produces more scientific papers per capita—109 per 10,000—than any other nation. Israel has the highest number of start-up companies per rata. In absolute terms, the highest numbers, except the U.S., are in Israel, which has a ratio of patents filed. Israel has the highest concentration of hi-tech companies outside of Silicon Valley in the U.S.A. Israel is ranked no. 2 in the world for venture capital funds, behind the U.S.A. Israel has more museums per capita than any other country. Israel has the second highest rate of publication of new books per capita."

    Does this description of Israel sound like it is a primitive country run by blood-thirsty dictators? No. This description sounds like Israel is a civilized country that has no business dropping white phosphorus bombs on women and children, destroying thousands of homes solely on the basis of religious intolerance, running what appears to be a medieval Inquisition, and intimidating and terrorizing any of its citizens who do not agree with it.

    This description of Israel sounds like it is a country whose citizens should know better than that.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The special "Ugly Betty" issue of my housing co-op's newsletter

Photos are of baby Mena inspecting Savo Island's run-down facilities -- while taking her first steps.

Here's the plot of one of the latest episodes of the TV show Ugly Betty: Its filthy-rich co-editor Willamina Slater takes off her chinchilla coat, deigns to ride a bus in New York City and goes off to a government hearing to ask for bailout money for Mode magazine. That reminds me of the actions of most of the board members at my housing co-op. They too are busy asking for bailout money.

Savo Island Cooperative Homes, Inc. is located in Berkeley, CA -- which is definitely a high-rent city. The rents may not be as high as what Willamina pays for her penthouse in Manhattan but Berkeley's rents are definitely up there. The average rent for a three-bedroom apartment here is currently $2,475 a month.

When Savo was built back in 1979, the whole idea behind this HUD project was to provide housing for low-income working-class families, seniors, the disabled and homeless families -- people who might otherwise not be able to afford to live in Berkeley. The place was designed specifically to "racially and economically integrate the neighborhood" by offering Section 8 rent subsidies.

And then the "Willaminas" of Savo Island -- those tenants who pay market rate rents instead of getting HUD subsidies because their income is too high to qualify for Section 8 -- took control of our board of directors. And then Savo's whole reason for being became toast.

From approximately 1996 onward, the sole apparent purpose of Savo Island's board of directors has been to keep market-rate rents here down. And our board has succeeded admirably at this task -- even if it meant that our housing project is now almost bankrupt, very few repairs have been made and the re-hab has already been put off for eight long hard years and there is still no sign of it commencing any time soon.

In 2001, the average Berkeley rent for a three-bedroom apartment was $1,872. At that time, market-rate board members here paid only $933 per month. That's a savings to them of $939 a month -- or $11,268 for the year, paid for by US taxpayers instead of them.

In 2007, the average rent for this area was $2,852. Market-rate board members paid $1,408 per month, saving themselves $1,444 per month, even after the board had been harassed by HUD for years to raise Savo's rents in order to pay for much-needed repairs and also for the re-hab that was badly needed because basic repairs hadn't been done for approximately a decade and a half.

In 2007 alone, the rent savings for market-rate board members came to $17,328.

Neither Wilhelmina nor I have access to all the rent data for the city of Berkeley over the past nine years but, based on rough approximations, it appears that serving on the Savo Island board of directors has saved every market-rate board member approximately $86,000 each between 2001 and now.

But why am I telling you this? Am I hinting that a handful of Savo board members got a bailout at the rest of the residents' expense? Yeah. And am I also suggesting that, with the 2009 board member elections already past due, other residents should run for the board so that they too might be in a position to receive tens of thousands of dollars in government bailouts? Ugly Betty would never do that! And neither would I.

What I am suggesting, however, is that it might be a really good idea for us to put some pressure on the current board members to actually HOLD the freaking election -- it should be held immediately -- and to also pass a new bylaw stating that board members can only be allowed to serve two consecutive terms at a time.

PS: On June 30, 2009, Savo will be getting its fourteenth -- or is it fifteenth? -- new management company, thanks to our current board of directors, who keeps firing companies that disagree with them. And exactly what management company worth its salt WOULD agree with a policy that causes Savo Island to lose approximately $89,000 per market rate unit? Not only that, but because $86,000 per unit wasn't coming in from the Section 8 units either, Savo also lost approximately $1,892,000 in revenue from all 22 of its three-bedroom units since 2001 -- on this board's watch.

Ugly is as ugly does.

PPS: Whatever happened to our re-hab? Nobody seems to know. It has now been eight long years since the re-hab plans first were put on the table. And I still think that the board may be blocking the re-hab in order to tear down our garden apartments and build high-rises instead. Don't do that! Why not? Because if the economy keeps getting worse, we may need our open space to grow cash crops!

PPPS: Do you know what the number one cash crop in California is right now? Take a guess.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Tearing down historic Jerusalem: Urban removal hits the Holy Land too

Photos are of Bill Tatum, my tenement on the Lower East Side ca 1965, me seven months pregnant in front of St Patrick's cathedral, scenes from Jerusalem and lots and lots of Israeli bulldozers.

My friend Bill Tatum died two weeks ago. Bill was the man who was personally responsible for saving New York City's Lower East Side from destruction. Without him, all the delightfulness, diversity and all-around wonderfulness of that area would no longer exist. There would be no Second Avenue clothing boutiques, no interesting shops to poke around in, no small off-off Broadway theaters, no artists' lofts linking the L.E.S. with SoHo and Tribeca, no colorful Ukrainian community, no primo Jewish delicatessens, no famous B&H rice pudding and no St. Mark's Place. There'd just be long boring rows of wall-to-wall sterile unaffordable condos everywhere you look. The historical Lower East Side of Manhattan woulda been toast. New Yorkers owe Bill Tatum a lot.

When I was six months pregnant with baby Lorraine back in 1965, I was desperate -- and so I took a train from San Francisco to New York, with only a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter, a jar of jam, a ball of yarn and two cardboard boxes. By the time I got off the train at Penn Station, I had knitted a sweater but had nowhere to go. "Rents are cheap on the Lower East Side," someone had told me and so I headed down there.

After a few days, I ran into Bill on Second Avenue and he found me a place to live -- a two-room rent-controlled walk-up with a toilet in the hallway and a bathtub in the "kitchen". I paid $28 a month. The same place rents today for over $3,000 a month. I will forever be grateful to Bill Tatum for finding me that home.

But wait. There's more. Bill and his rag-tag little group of Second Avenue survivors then took on City Hall. At that time, Robert Moses' NYC Slum Clearance program was in full swing and it was Moses' most cherished ambition to tear down my little tenement hidey-hole on the Lower East Side and replace it all with swank condominiums, thus leaving me pregnant and homeless in the middle of winter. But Bill was determined to stop that from happening and save the Lower East Side (and, of course, me and baby Lorraine too).

Bill and his wife Susan assembled an unlikely crew consisting of some Swedish tourist who had adopted our cause, a med student from Detroit named Tolbert, the head of a church that fed down-and-out types on the Bowery, a victim of the 1950s HUAC witch hunts for communists, a Chock-Full-a-Nuts waitress and her sister, an artist who was poor as dirt and a recovering alcoholic, his ex-wife, his current wife -- and me. We manned the mimeograph machines, alerted the neighbors, organized demonstrations, spoke at City Council meetings and picketed City Hall.

And somehow, miraculously, thanks to Bill, we won.

A small handful of ragamuffins and our fierce Captain Bill saved the Lower East Side from destruction. And aren't you glad that we did?

Now, in 2009, there is another Lower East Side that needs saving -- East Jerusalem. Gigantic bulldozers are operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week to destroy this historic neighborhood, home to Arabic and Christian Palestinians since the time of Christ. The race is on. Soon historic East Jerusalem will be toast too -- and won't the entire world regret it when this legendary area where Christ Himself walked and taught is replaced with row upon row of sterile condominiums.

According to Press TV, "Israel plans to evacuate and demolish at least 1,700 Arab-owned homes in East Jerusalem" -- unless we also step up to the plate and save Jerusalem's Lower East Side too.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Springtime for Obama and Afghanistan

During his stay at the White House, George W. Bush accomplished what Adolph Hitler could only dream about doing -- bringing the American economy to a standstill. My friend Bob just told me that there are now actual tent cities forming up outside of Sacramento, CA, and that the people there call them "Bushvilles".

If you could pick through the ruins of the American economy, one of the main artifacts you would find would be the pork barrels left over from the invasion of Afghanistan.

It's gonna be interesting to see what Obama is going to do with the Afghanistan disaster that he has inherited from Bush, Cheney and a Republican Congress full of Dittoheads.

Obama is now sending 17,000 additional troops to Afghanistan -- but will that strategy work? Here's my opinion on the subject: It's all going to depend on how those troops are used.

When the Marines in Anbar province in Iraq finally stopped shooting everything in sight and went to work helping the locals to rebuild Anbar's infrastructure, economy, healthcare and educational systems instead, the results were immediate and obvious. This policy worked.

Yesterday on TV, the video footage that accompanied a news segment on our withdrawal from Iraq showed U.S. soldiers firing away at miscreants. That's bad reporting. The TV station must have just sent some page down to get this out-of-date footage from their storage vaults. They shoulda shown the current reality instead, wherein the U.S. military's main task right now is to help get Iraq's schools, hospitals, power lines, agricultural programs and water systems back on line after Bush and his Dittoheads wantonly destroyed them.

And that's what should be going on in Afghanistan right now as well. In fact, that's what should have been going on in Afghanistan (and Iraq) all along. When I was in Kabul a while ago, I talked with both Afghans and Americans -- and they all agreed with me on this point. "We offered the Bush administration a series of workable plans and ideas for community-building in Afghanistan and they told us no," said one US-AID worker, speaking off the record. "The Bush people told us flat-out that they wanted the American money supply in Afghanistan to go for weapons and roads only." Why only weapons and roads? Because that's where the pork for all Bush's friends comes from.

One Afghan I talked with told me that, "The U.S. used to pay me to perform my job as a road-repair specialist -- and I did it well. But then the U.S. policy switched around 2005 and they started hiring American contractors only to do my type of job. But then the contractor turns around and hires ME to do the exact same job -- only he pays me half of what I was getting before and pockets the rest for himself."

Another Afghan told me that he was forced to grow opium poppies because "the Americans support the warlords and the warlords want us to grow poppies -- and so we grow them. We would rather grow other crops if we had protection from the warlords and markets to sell them in. But we don't." Where's the pork in disarming the warlords and growing tomatoes instead? There isn't any.

Many Afghans that I spoke with are hungry for education for their children. Education is highly respected in Afghanistan. But there has been very little money channeled toward schools in Afghanistan for the same reason there has been very little money channeled toward schools in America. Where's the pork in paying teachers decent salaries? There's none.

"We hate the Taliban," said another Afghan I met, "but we have no choice but to do what they say or to chose them. The Americans are not offering us any alternative except for military solutions. If we were stronger economically, people would willingly turn the Taliban away. As it is now, however, we cannot afford to do that."

So. Bush had his "Springtime for Afghanistan" -- and now it's Obama's turn. How can Obama succeed where Bush failed? It is my opinion that perhaps Afghanistan can still be turned around -- by the same methods that helped stabilize Iraq. Sure Iraq is a different story because of the oil money that the Iraqi government has to work with, but the principal is the same. Less guns, more butter.

By putting the emphasis on community-building in Afghanistan and with an eye on stabilizing the country and then getting the hell out rather than continuing to stage an endless string of pointless shoot-em-ups, America might just stand a chance of defeating the Taliban.

Anyway, these are my recommendations and I would hope that Obama might consider following them. As things stand now, it might not be such a hot idea to send even more foreign troops into a country where its citizens truly resent foreign occupation. But. If you ARE going to send in the troops, you owe it to the Afghan population, the troops themselves and the American people to maximize their effectiveness.

And if the President doesn't know how to begin to establish successful community-building mechanisms in Afghanistan, I happen to know a few Marine lieutenant-colonels, some State Department agricultural experts and a couple of Marine battalions in Iraq who do. I have seen them in action and these men and women do a good job. So. Mr. President. Please let me know if you want me to send you their names and e-mail addresses so that you could punch them into your BlackBerry.