Sunday, October 30, 2005

Palestine goes to the Olympics: Winning the checkpoint-crossing event

Palestine goes to the Olympics: Winning the checkpoint-crossing event
By Jane Stillwater

"Palestine needs a soccer team so they can go to the Olympics and win recognition as a sovereign state," I told my friend Cathy.

For the last 40 years, Palestinians have tried everything they could possibly think of to stop the Israelis from appropriating their lands. Using legitimate avenues of petition hasn't worked. Appealing to the UN hasn't worked. Asking America to be an impartial referee hasn't worked. Taking their case to Israeli courts hasn't worked. Armed resistance hasn't worked. Non-violent marches, strikes and boycotts haven't worked. Begging the international community for help hasn't worked. Nothing has worked. The Israeli walls, bulldozers, home demolitions and "settlers" just kept on coming and coming. In desperation, some angry youth have even turned to suicide bombing but that didn't work either.

Maybe having an Olympic soccer team would be the way to go -- to make the world more aware of the sad plight of the Palestinians as their land is being invaded and taken over by 450,000 "settlers" illegally squatting in MASSIVE housing blocs that dominate the Palestinian landscape like gigantic malevolent alien androids, stretching as far as the eye can see on the ridges of almost every hill in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

"No," said a friend of mine from Ramallah. "Forget about soccer. The Olympic Committee needs to introduce a whole new sport to the Games -- checkpoint crossing! According to, there are approximately 750 obstacles to Palestinian movement on any given day. Palestine would surely take the Gold Metal on that one!"

Have you seen the Qalandia checkpoint crossing just outside of Ramallah? My friend described it to me. "Imagine an area approximately four football fields square. The temperature is sizzling and the air is filled with exhaust fumes and dust. There are approximately 200 taxis waiting to get through. All of their passengers have to get out and walk into narrow holding pens where they are thoroughly searched before being allowed to cross to the other side of the checkpoint. The whole area is filled with the noise of construction -- with quarries, earth-movers and dump trucks everywhere. And of course there is the ever-present Wall.

"Poor sweet Israeli soldiers stand out in the hot sun for hours in full riot gear, their Kalashnikovs at the ready as they check passports and papers. Hundreds -- if not thousands -- of people are constantly waiting. People are resigned to spending their whole day at this Disneyland of all checkpoints. Even the babies have stopped trying to cry. It is an unbelievable waste of time and money.

"This is already a billion-dollar checkpoint -- and all the while the Israelis are building, building, building to make it larger still."

"Do you think," I asked my friend, "that getting through the checkpoint at Ramallah should be an Olympic event?"

"Most definitely. It is a sport of skill, patience and luck. But mainly it is a sport of endurance. Yes, it deserves to become an Olympic event."

Why even try to get out of Ramallah and into Jerusalem or one of the illegal settlement blocs? You got a no-brainer question there. Those places are where the jobs are at. With the construction of enough new settler blocs to hold almost the entire population of Los Angeles, getting to the blocs is on every Palestinian's must-do list if they want to work and feed their families.

PS: What about the Wall? Imagine the wall surrounding San Quentin Prison -- only 450 miles longer and two billion dollars more expensive. But this Wall is NOT about security. If it was about security, it would be a simple direct line along the 1967 demarcations. Instead it goes out its way to snag land and resources away from Palestine and to fragment, isolate and disenfranchise Palestinians -- forcing people who have been farmers for thousands of years to move into Warsaw-like urban ghettos where they have no housing and no jobs.

PPS: My friend Mary Ann said, "Palestinians need to put in their OWN checkpoints." That's a wonderful suggestion -- to make the Israelis go through checkpoints too so they too can be ready for the 2008 checkpoint Olympics!

The Olympic committee could also establish a special "home demolishing" event just for Israelis. So far, 12,000 Palestinian homes have been demolished and 40,000 more have demolition orders already issued on them. The Israelis would do really well on this one.

My only concern is that when it comes to Olympic events such as checkpoint crossing and home demolition, the Israelis may no longer be qualified because they are no longer amateurs.

PPPS: But what about the tragedy of the 1972 Munich Olympic games when two Israeli athletes were killed by Palestinians seeking the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails and nine more athletes appeared to have been killed by the German SWAT team sharpshooters trying to rescue the athletes? No, this is NOT the kind of Olympic event I had in mind. ANY killing of innocent civilians is an abomination -- be it in the Munich Olympic village or during the destruction of 450 Palestinian villages in 1947-48.

"Why can't we all just get along?"

Friday, October 28, 2005

How to survive 11 years of solitary confinement: Tips from Mordecai Vanunu

"How did you survive seven years of solitary confinement," I asked Mordecai Vanunu this afternoon. Vanunu is an Israeli nuclear whistle-blower who spent 18 years in jail. Considering the way that the Bush bureaucracy is hacking and hewing away at the U.S. Constitution, this is JUST the sort of thing that we Americans need to know about.

"It wasn't seven years," answered Vanunu. " It was 11 years." (I was writing down what he was saying as fast as I could and I hope I wrote down his words correctly. If I didn't, blame it on my leaky pen.) "They kept me in a cell with the lights on for two years. They tried to break me. They took my freedom in the body but they couldn't take the freedom away in my mind. I read aloud from the Bible so that I could hear the sound of a human voice. I structured my day." Gotta remember that one. I would probably just lie around in my cell bunk for at least the first five years. That, and go through internet withdrawal symptoms.

"They allowed me to read books." Whew. I'd go crazy without the latest Janet Evanovich novel. "I read about history, philosophy and health. I tried to stay healthy. If you are weak, you are more dependent on your captors. I thought that after five years in solitary that I was starting to die so I watched what I ate. They were hoping I would die or go mad before I got out but I didn't. I also sang opera." We'd all better start memorizing LaBoheme just in case.

I asked Vanunu if he still kept up on nuclear weapons issues. He has a court date in January and there is a possibility that Israeli judges may send him back to jail, claiming that they needed to protect Israel's nuclear security. "As for nuclear weapons," he said, "I know nothing more than what I learned in 1985 and that knowledge is all obsolete. And if you are looking to find nuclear weapons in Iran, you won't find them. You would be better off to look for them here." In Israel.

One of the conditions of Vanunu's being released from jail is that he would have no truck with foreign journalists. No worry about ME being a foreign journalist -- although I do get an occasional letter to the editor published in my hometown rag, the Berkeley Daily Planet. Does that count?

"I am not allowed to leave Israel but I tried to go to Bethlehem last Christmas," continued Vanunu, "and they arrested me. The charge was that I tried to run away from the state by going to Bethlehem -- as if it was another state." Israelis are always claiming that it isn't. Palestine is a big issue with Israel. It is with Vanunu also. He lives in the Arab part of Jerusalem now. "The Palestinians here watch out for me and protect me," he said -- probably because they too know what it is like to lose their freedom.

Why is Vanunu speaking out even after being threatened not to? Because he is a man of great courage. "They monitor my cell phone and e-mail. They know my every move. They want to keep me paranoid but that is no way to live. And publicity is helping me. That is one reason I'm talking -- to keep my face before the public." I guess he doesn't want to fade way in some unknown cell again. "I am telling you my story in order to come back from my exile from freedom of speech. I want to have freedom of speech." It means a lot to him. Duh.

This may sound old-fashioned and corny but we too need to protect our freedom of speech. Freedom of speech was worth 11 years of solitary confinement to this heroic man. And yet here in America we are throwing it away like the Bill of Rights was some candy bar wrapper.

Hopefully, Americans will follow this man's courageous example and start to stand tall like Mordecai Vanunu. And hopefully it will happen soon -- while we still have some shreds of the Bill of Rights left to stand by. I don't know if I could survive 11 years of solitary confinement in order to defend my right to freedom of speech. But who knows? Could you?

Monday, October 24, 2005

Foreclosing on Gaza: Why Ariel Sharon can't afford the mortgage on his three homes

Why did Ariel Sharon pull out of Gaza? Despite what anyone says, the truth is that he had to leave because he defaulted on the mortgage.

Let's stop looking at Sharon as a head of state and start picturing him as a victim of the immutable laws of property ownership. He's like a man who could afford to own a home in Beverly Hills but then got greedy and started to live beyond his means -- buying a second home in Aspen and then another one up at Lake Tahoe. Then he was forced to give one up 'cause he couldn't afford it. Seen in this light, the situation "on the ground" in Israel/Palestine becomes crystal clear. Ariel simply over-extended his line of credit.

After his family complained about having to give up their lovely second home in Gaza, Sharon explained it to them this way: "Sorry guys but I just couldn't keep up the payments on our pre-1967 home in Israel, the West Bank digs and the Gaza house too. The maintenance on the Hummers and the F-16s alone was killing me -- not to mention all those free-loading settlers plus feeding and clothing the IDF. It all added up. I had to dump the Gaza place in order to keep the West Bank property afloat."

Facts on the ground? After almost 40 years, is the War on Palestine finally making a dent in the limitless Israeli pocketbook? Is this the first hint that Sharon is being forced to -- gasp -- economize?

America can no longer afford to bail out their prodigal son. America can't even afford its second home in Baghdad. What's with this "Gotta have a condo in the Middle East" fad anyway? Can't these people just be happy with a home in one place like the rest of us?

"To keep my three houses running," lamented Sharon, "I had to pay all those settlers. Hey. Settlers don't come cheap. Then there's all that military equipment and manpower. Then there's the cost of importing a couple million tons of cement to build a Wall with. The cost of upkeep was outlandish! And with all those Palestinians going through all those checkpoints 24/7 -- I bet they have people who do nothing all day long but go back and forth through those checkpoints just to cost me money so I'll have to pay the freaking IDF overtime -- I just couldn't afford the Gaza upkeep."

At the rate that Sharon is defaulting on his mortgage, I bet he won't be able to maintain his West Bank money pit for long either. And if he doesn't stop over-extending himself financially, his mortgage company might repossess his pre-1967 home as well.

Ariel Sharon has gambled that he can afford to keep three households running but his creditors are finally starting to wonder if he is a good financial risk after all.

PS: I just got an e-mail from a friend of mine in Israel. "Jerusalem is wonderful -- all the good points of San Francisco, Washington DC and Los Angeles and none of the bad points. What's not to like! It's paradise. But the people here are like the people of, say, Kansas. They don't realize what a good thing they have and are ready to risk losing it all by electing fifth-rate leaders who are endangering them by starting stupid and unnecessary wars that cost too much and put the federal budget at risk." I believe it. Just like the U.S. has elected that idiot George Bush, who is happily squandering all our credit on that money pit in Iraq.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Write THIS on your Absentee Ballot: "Better, safer & more accurate than Diebold!"

For the California residents who are voting absentee this November because we think that the Diebold machines are rigged, here's some good advice: Since we gotta mail in our "Official Absent Voter Ballot" anyway, we might as well let our county Registrar of Voters know why we are doing it.

Please consider writing "Better, safer and more accurate than Diebold" directly after the big red-letter words on the front of your ballot envelope. Note: Avoid writing on the ballot itself because extraneous marking could make it invalid.

Hopefully, the Registrar of Voters will take the hint.

PS: If you also object to having an expensive "Special Election" forced down your throat, I would recommend voting "No" on every proposition except 79 and 80.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

The Great Depression: What will we do when we no longer have Bush to kick around?

When the kids are acting out and my bank account registers zero and the house is a mess, I can always make myself feel better by saying nasty things about George Bush. But my friend Wendy just e-mailed me the results of a recent AOL poll. "It says that 92% of America thinks the country is headed in the wrong direction and 84% think Bush is doing a poor job." 84%! That man is history! That man is toast. Soon he will be wearing an orange jump suit. Good.

But what will I have to complain about after Bush is off under lock and key and rooming with Gabrielle's husband Carlos? Ohhh there'll be plenty left! Trust me on that one. Bush has made such a hash of the planet that I will be up to my eyeballs in "e-mail therapy" for the next ten years -- but by that time there won't be any more electricity so it won't really matter will it? But I can always go back to yelling at the kids. You don't need electricity for that.

Then my friend Robert e-mailed me that most Americans are in debt way over their heads and that the government is 44 trillion dollars in debt too. And if China ever calls home its markers, our economy is doomed, doomed, doomed. Then I won't have to worry about MY depression. I'll have The Great World Depression Part 2 to worry about.

Then my friend MA e-mailed me an article about how the permafrost in Siberia is melting and releasing methane into the air, causing massive greenhouse effects. "The prospects of a worst case scenario, with a temperature increase approaching or exceeding 5.8 degrees Celsius, are increasing dramatically, with all the attending disasters that would entail -- inundated coastlines, extreme storms and drought, disease pandemics, collapsing agriculture, massive environmental refugee flows."

Then my friend Gary reminded me of the dangers from bird flu and how we are totally unprepared for that -- although there is a lot of anthrax vaccine lying around. But it's the BIRDS we are worried about, FEMA. Not the sheep.

Jeeze Louise. You can see by this only-partial list that five years of absolutely terrible governance by the current [illegal] tenants of the White House have left me -- and all the rest of America too -- with enough disasters to bitch and moan about FOREVER. I won't be dependent on George Bush after all! Whew.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

The Simpsons: Who will Homer & Marge vote for in 2006?

"Marge, Ned Flanders just told me that we need to vote in the next election," said Homer. Doh!

"Well, Homer, maybe you should consider doing it."

"But Marge, I don't know who to vote for. Lisa! Who should I vote for?"

"I recommend voting for people who are strong on the environment so we will still have fresh air and no more Category-5 hurricanes when I grow up. And vote for people who support labor unions and healthcare and education and debt reduction and world peace," replied Lisa. "That would be voting for your own best interests."

"Don't bother me with all that fancy talk. I'm voting for that guy they show on television." You mean Krusty the Clown? Or Sideshow Bob?

Mr. Burns put in his two cents worth. "Vote for the man in the suit with the most money, Simpson," he said. "Smithers! Get me that list of Congressmen who allowed me to store my radioactive waste in the Springfield municipal swimming pool!"

"Were they Republicans or Democrats, Sir?" asked Smithers.

"It doesn't matter, Smithers. We own them all."

Who will Homer Simpson vote for in 2006? Will he vote in his own best interests or will he vote for Mr. Burns' clones? Or will he vote at all? Or, with Diebold counting the votes, will his vote even get registered?

"Dad," said Lisa, "you gotta stop thinking that voting at the polls is the only way to vote. There are other ways to vote as well. Start voting with your money. Only buy things from local businesses. Demand the passage of election finance reform bills. Send five dollars to every candidate who supports the working class so that the grass roots can buy back the White House and Congress."

"Doh! Can't I just have my Congressperson over to Moe's for a beer? That would be supporting local businesses."

Meanwhile, as Homer continues to struggle mightily in the unfamiliar swamp of election ethics, as usual Bart Simpson has the last word. "Tell those dudes in Washington to eat my shorts."

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Why is ANTARCTICA is the only continent whose residents are not furious with the Bush bureaucracy?

Since the New Orleans tragedy, there has been a new phenomenon taking place in my inbox. The number of e-mails that I have been receiving lately -- regarding how corrupt, inept, inefficient and/or greedy the administration in Washington is -- has increased by at least 500%. Only these e-mails are all referring to the CLINTON administration.

Like a little kid who cannot bear to face up to the possibility that his abusive father is to blame for making his life miserable, many Americans are also unable to face the fact that the Bush bureaucracy is a total disaster and so they are vehemently blaming someone else for this abuse -- someone who has not been in a position of power for almost five years.

Too bad that the rest of the world isn't blaming Clinton too.

All of Latin America is really really really really angry at us for sending U.S. warships to hover threateningly off the coast of Venezuela.

Two billion Muslims -- along with the majority of the population of Russia, China, Asia and Europe -- think that the Bush bureaucracy is composed of dangerous miscreants intent on blowing up the world and bringing on Armageddon for fun and profit.

In North America -- from Canada to the USA to Mexico to Guatemala -- George Bush's opinion poll ratings are sinking daily. And last month over 300,000 really really really really angry U.S. citizens completely surrounded the White House in order to express their very low opinion of him. That's scary.

There are far too many people in the United States who actually believe -- based on strong evidence -- that 9-11 was an inside job and that things were deliberately allowed to go too far in New Orleans in order to give the Bush bureaucracy an excuse to use occupation troops on American soil. After observing the Bush bureaucracy's track record since the Florida 2000 election theft, Americans are beginning to suspect that the ultimate goal of the Bush League is to re-create the Baghdad model of governance here in America -- with luxuries, bottomless bank accounts, bullet-proof bunkers and five-star hotels inside their "Green Zones" and martial law, misery, poverty, fear and exploitation for the rest of us bothersome "insurgents".

When the Bushies took charge of New Orleans and Baghdad, they followed the same pattern, clearly demonstrating what their concept of good government is -- to set up a catastrophic situation and then get down and dirty: Withdraw humanitarian aid to the point where looting is inevitable, get out the tanks, get everyone under martial law, have their media dehumanize the victims and then -- most important of all -- start sending billions of dollars off to their cronies as soon as humanly possible. And I am beginning to suspect that the initial testing ground for this concept may have been New York City.

No wonder Americans are angry!

Then there's Africa. What was Bush THINKING when he promised a whole bunch of countries there a whole bunch of money to help fight their AIDS epidemic and then delivered absolutely nothing -- except of course to send help to the baby-killing Janjaweed in the oil-rich Sudan area. Did that make him popular in Africa? Not.

Even the average Australian thinks that America is in the hands of crazy bullies with no sense of moral self-control.

19 out of every 20 human beings on this planet actually believe that the Bush bureaucrats are murderous extortionists.

Only the residents of the continent of Antarctica are not TOTALLY PISSED OFF at the greed and ineptitude of the Bush bureaucracy.

Is the Bush League's American fan club at all worried that this intense world-wide hostility -- unprecedented in history except by the antagonism shown to Nazi Germany in the 1940s -- is going to bring down our economy and place America in grave danger? Not at all. Bush fans just blame all this horrible mess on Bill Clinton.

And I have the e-mails to prove it.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Flight plan: Discovering that Social Security isn't the parachute I thought it was

"I've retired!" I beamed. "Now I will have lots of time to do all the things I always wanted to do!" Boy, was I wrong.

"When I retired," said my friend John, "We bought an RV and followed the trail of Lewis and Clark -- all the way from Washington DC to the Pacific. It was the dream trip of a lifetime. Then we bought a boat and sailed around the Caribbean." Drool. I wanted to do that sort of stuff too.

Then reality struck. "Your Social Security allotment will be $249 a month," the nice lady at the end of the Social Security 800-number phone line informed me. Hey, that's okay. I still got my pension.

"Your pension plan does not go into effect for three more years," the nice lady at the end of the pension plan 800-number phone line informed me. "And if you take it out early you will lose two-thirds of it." Hey, that was okay. After a week of being retired I was getting totally bored anyway. Sitting around the house all day doing nothing after being an active professional for so long sucked eggs.

I got a temp job in my field. It paid well. My hot-spit job was in a luxury suite on the 45th floor of some building in the San Francisco financial district. They made me wear nylons and heels. They paid me well. I couldn't travel but I could pay the rent, go to the movies, keep Ashley, Jordan, Nathan and our new foster child clothed and fed. And I LOVED my new job. "It's all good," I said.

Then the temp job came to an end. Great. I could hardly wait to see where they would send me next! I called the temp agency's 800-number. "I'm here. I'm back. What else do you have for me?"

"Nothing." Nothing? "We have nothing." Oh.

Hey, no problem. I waited a couple of days before calling them back. "Got any legal assistant jobs lined up for me yet?" Nothing.

I waited a few more days. "Do you have ANY kind of job," I asked, swallowing my pride. "Anything?"

"We have nothing."

By this time a house full of teenagers -- who naturally assumed that, since I wasn't working, I would have more time to cook, do dishes and drive them places -- was starting to drive me nuts! I checked Craig's List. I sent out resumes. I got a couple of interviews. I waited to hear back. Nothing.

Now I started to panic. "With Social Security and any kind of job we'll be just fine," I told the kids. "Just fine." The bakery down the street had an opening for a dishwasher. I applied. Nothing. Now I was seriously worried. Seriously worried. My mood changed. I paced. The kids gave me hugs and told me not to worry, something would show up. Nathan even promised to hook me up with his buddies at the flea market and Jordan told me that he would search for an after-school job -- but even the thought of him toiling away on behalf of our family made me want to cry.

The foster child even offered to give up her cell phone and my daughter offered to buy us all pizza with her after-school job money too (she was realistic enough not to offer to give up her cell phone however.)

So. I'm still looking for work. And I have NO idea how to find a job. I have never had to go look for one before. Today I humbled myself and bravely went off to every shop in the neighborhood. Nothing. What will I do? What will become of me?

Will we all be eating canned cat food soon?

Well, at least I know that I'm not alone. I Googled "Unemployment" and found out that, in my county alone, there are 40,100 other people who are out of a job as well.

"I went out and applied for a job today," said Jordan, all proud of himself.

"We have seen steady job gains for each of the last 26 months and more Americans are working than ever before," said George Bush. But what does he care if this is the actual truth or just supposed to sound good or whether or not people are actually employed or have just fallen into the ranks of the -- shudder -- permanently unemployed? The ones who are no longer counted in the Department of Labor surveys....

Why should Bush worry about whether or not us Americans are actually employed or only representing doctored statistics that make him look good on paper -- as long as his own job is safe. HIS job comes with fabulous heath care, a pension plan like you wouldn't believe, a multi-billion-dollar stock option from Halliburton and a 12-month paid vacation -- no nightmares of having to live off of canned cat food for him!

I am certain that Mr. Bush will totally agree with what they say at my local bakery. "Let them eat cake!"