Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Forget about Dance Wars: "Court Wars" is the show we should be watching in 2008!
(This photo is of Soop restaurant at 1511 Shattuck in the Epicurious Gardens food court -- patronize them please. Their clam chowder heavenly!)

Everyone knows about the new TV show called "Dance Wars: Bruno vs. Carrie Ann". Well, at least most people do. But how many American television viewers know anything about a new show coming up called, "Court Wars: Alito vs. Bader-Ginsberg"? I've never heard of it. And apparently neither have any of the candidates running for President this year, let alone any of us voters. It hasn't even been mentioned on Extra this week.

But apparently "Court Wars" is going to be a very big show -- even bigger than "Dance Wars". Why? Because the very future of democracy in America may depend upon the outcome of "Court Wars". You can't get bigger than that!

Ryan Seacreast, eat your heart out. I gots the first scoop!

At the monthly meeting of the Berkeley-Albany Bar Association this week, held at the La Rose Bistro (across the street from the Marine recruiting station -- my guilty pleasure. I LOVE the Marines. Sorry, Code Pink, but they really are an excellent group), we were served broiled salmon, artichoke hearts, the best creme brule I've ever tasted (not that I've tasted all that much but still....) and treated to attorney James Broznahan's annual report on the doings of the U.S. Supreme Court. I hope I got his quotes right -- I was writing as fast as I could -- but here's what I think he told all those attorneys and me:

"One major campaign issue that is not being mentioned that much this year is that whoever becomes our next president will be in a position to appoint one or more new Supreme Court justices." And this is a VERY big deal.

"Currently," attorney Broznahan continued, "there are four justices on the court who you might call legal realists. And the other five are more interested in legal procedure. And of the 60 cases that the Supreme Court heard this year, the vote has usually been five to four -- but sometimes Justice Kennedy voted with one group and sometimes he voted with the other. I bet he gets taken out to lunch a lot. The court is fractured right now and so Kennedy has a lot of power." And, hopefully, some salmon and creme brule as well!

"The most interesting cases decided by the court this year dealt with Guantanamo directives, the Washington DC ban on hand guns, the voter ID requirement and sentencing guidelines. The new voter ID can be a hardship on people who cannot afford to travel 30 miles to a DMV to get an ID card. And the sentencing guidelines now involve a presumption of reasonableness -- that a judge must consider the guidelines but can proceed in a manner he or she considers appropriate. Justice Roberts liked that one."

Also decided was that school children do not have the right to free speech. "When one high school student showed up for class wearing a T-shirt that read, 'Bong Hits for Jesus' -- how many of you know what that means?" I raised my hand. This was Berkeley after all. "-- the principal sanctioned the kid for wearing the shirt. And according to the Supreme Court, the principal does have the right to stop the student from wearing the shirt." Although it seemed to Mr. Broznahan that principals should have better things to do with their time than to take T-shirt slogans up to the Supreme Court.

"In a case where a corporation gave money to a pro-life group, it was ruled that corporations can pay for ads on political subjects and that donation limitations only apply to the candidates themselves." Now there's an interesting "Court War" result. We now have the right to be politically brainwashed by the big-money guys as long as they don't mention a specific name.

"In another case, an agnostic group objected to faith-based funding being allowed but not agnostic-based funding. The agnostic group lost because of their lack of standing." Government still cannot establish religion -- but apparently it's now okay to fund it.

"Another case involved the search of a vehicle by law enforcement officers wherein a driver was seized because of his passenger. The proceduralists favored this one because they generally tend to vote in support of government agencies. And also, in another case, it was ruled that the police can now ram your car -- but only with probable cause."

Then there was the hilarious case of the naked couple. "The police came through the door with guns drawn and lined a naked couple against the wall for 20 minutes. But it was the wrong house and the couple was of a different race than the suspects." Apparently the court ruled that the police were not guilty even though it took them 20 minutes to sort out that the naked couple were of the wrong race. Apparently 20 minutes is an admissible time to allow police officers to get their brains in gear. The "Court Wars" are on!

The next case involved whether or not it is admissible for your lawyer to represent you via speaker phone. "How many of you, if you were being sentenced, would want your lawyer to actually be there?" asked Broznahan. "But in the age of electronics, speaker-phones are okay. Even in a homicide conviction."

Here's another important procedural question. "Is it fair to ask the jury if they believe in the death penalty when they are trying a capital case? Some jurors really really like the death penalty." So will they be unbiased? That's for them to know and us to find out. "And what about lawyers who fail to investigate their client's case? Or what about mental incompetence? And race issues? You can consider race if you narrowly tailor it. The votes here were generally four to five. The same old same old."

Then there was a hearing on the Congressional act challenging partial-birth abortion. This focused on the centrality of choice. "When Congress passes a bill that effects all sorts of people nation-wide in all kinds of ways, it's a hard decision to make." Mr. Broznahan also talked about the standing of individual states regarding the EPA. "Massachusetts as a state has standing because a lot of people live there." Good. I just got an e-mail from my friend Jim that said the polar icecaps are melting at an alarming rate and global warming is something we all need to take seriously NOW.

And then there was the case of someone who was discriminated against at a job from the day they were hired but did not quit at that time, yet is now claiming that the statute of limitations clock did not start ticking back at the time of the first incident. But I didn't get to hear how that one turned out because I was being served the creme brule at that point and got majorly distracted.

"Justices Roberts and Alito have a conservative vision. Alito has remained true to the vision of the law that he presented at his confirmation hearings. Roberts appears to want to limit Supreme Court cases by procedural means, and also he appears to believe that it's not a judge's job to second-guess the government -- whether at Guantanamo or with the police stopping the car. Roberts has always been a prosecutor, not a plaintiff's attorney and this seems to effect his POV." Siding with the government is a Conservative thing to do? Apparently so. Apparently all is fair in love and "Court Wars".

"As to which justices will need to be replaced by the incoming President, it's hard to say. Stevens is 80 years old but seems to be healthy and hard-working and writes great descents." But if America does get stuck with another neo-con who President who stacks the Court in favor of the mega-corporations and such, then Kennedy will no longer have the swing vote. No more salmon and creme brule for him! And no more "People's Court" for us.

Please remember that whoever wins the 2008 presidential election will be shaping the lives of our children and grandchildren for the next 50 to 100 years. I TOLD you that this was going to be a BIG show! So, America, it is very important that we the viewers make sure this show has winners that we can all live with for a long, long time.

We need to vote wisely and well.

PS: Who am I voting for in the California primary? Obama speaks well, has some ideas that I agree with and also has the race factor going for him. It would be nice to have an African-American as President. And Hillary also presents herself well, she's a woman like me and has several platform points that I agree with. Plus there is the Bill factor. Sorry, guys, but as much as I hate that he screwed American workers with NAFTA -- Ha! You thought I was gonna say Monica? -- I still like the guy and hate that he just got Howard Deaned by the media. Right now, I'm leaning toward Hillary.

And as for the main election in November? Four more years of Republicans? Eeuuww! McCain is another Bush and Huckabee and Romney think that REAGAN was a hero. REAGAN? The guy that brought us dead babies in Nicaragua and that mess in Afghanistan that brought Osama to power? America just can't afford four more years of that. Plus either Obama or Hillary would do better by far on their worst day than Bush and Cheney ever did on their best! Although I did enjoy the day that Cheney got drunk and shot the duck hunter....

Friday, January 25, 2008

Special "Big Brother House" issue of my housing co-op newsletter

(Photo is of Tim on his last day at Walgreens, across the street from Savo)

More and more, it seems to me that living at Savo Island is like living in a reality show. Living here at Savo is like living in the Big Brother House. Lots of gossip, lots of intrigue. If only we could get Julie Chen to move in!

"Hi, Julie."

"Hi, Jane. There's something I'd like to ask you. Have you formed any alliances yet?" Everyone knows that in order to survive on a reality show, it's crucial that you form alliances from the very beginning. Have I made any alliances here? No. "Jane, you're screwed."

Of the 11 members now serving on our Board of Directors, eight of them are in an alliance. How do I plan to survive here up against those kinds of odds? Out-wit, outlast and outplay!

"Let's take a look inside the Big Brother House," sez Julie. "There are 57 units here in our HUD-funded housing project. Of those 57 units, two are vacant, most receive Section 8 subsidies and approximately 12 are over-housed."

"What does it mean to be over-housed?" I asked Julie.

"That's when fewer people are living in a HUD-subsidized unit than are required by law. For instance if only one person is living in a three-bedroom unit, he or she is over-housed." Oh.

"And here at Savo Island, of the 12 units that are over-housed, ten of them are either occupied by an alliance member currently on the Board, by alliance members who used to be on the Board or alliance members' relatives."

And the way that the Board alliance continues to keep themselves and their relatives over-housed is by using their Power of Veto. "Savo's transfer policy states that the Board must approve all transfers. So when it comes time to downsize an alliance member, they simply fail to approve the transfer -- or else they just never bring it up." That's clever. Why didn't I think of that?

"Jane, if you plan to stay in this game, you need to start playing more strategically and form an alliance yourself."

Gee, it's great chatting with Julie. She knows everything that goes on in the Big Brother House. "And what about this new maintenance situation?" I asked her. "What's up with that?"

"Jane, this is total hot gossip," Julie replied. "Apparently the Board alliance is trying to re-hire a former maintenance employee." But that makes no sense. The former employee left the House several seasons ago because the Board alliance hounded him out. And now the current Head of Household wants him back? Why?

"Apparently when he left before, he stripped the maintenance building of most of its heavy equipment." Good grief. And he was allowed to get away with that?

"Yes." But why? Because, according to rumors inside the Big Brother House, the former employee knew too much and this was the way he was bought off." Could that be the reason that the alliance wants to bring him back for this season? To shut him up? Wow!

But wait. There's more. Its time for a Veto challenge. Let's see who will win the Power of Veto. "And the winner of today's challenge is the house-guest who charged the co-op for three nights in a hotel while her unit was being fixed. That's $200 a night! She wins." That's impressive. She must have stayed at the Ritz. But when I asked her a question about how she achieved her exciting new Veto win, she got all pushed out of shape and then turned around and used her Power of Veto on ME.

And you bet that after that experience, I started trying much harder to save my [bottom] and cozy up to the alliance so I wouldn't get voted off next. But my strategy is not working. At the latest Board meeting, I asked the alliance very politely if they would approve a transfer for me so I could downsize to a ground-floor unit because of my painful knees and foot. Me actually offering to downsize? That should make me some allies. It didn't. Not at all. But one alliance member was very nice about it. He leveled with me and told me flat out, "Jane, no one on this Board is going to make that motion." And no one did.

"But this is a medical accommodation issue!" I cried. "I've got medical records to prove it. You HAVE to do this!" Well apparently they don't.

Could it be that I got turned down because I want to leave my son and his family in my beloved current unit -- the one with all the stairs?

"No, Jane, it's not because of that," replied Julie. "An alliance member just did the exact same thing and got away with it. She downsized because she couldn't go up and down stairs and SHE left only one person behind in her old three-bedroom unit. No, Jane, they turned you down because nobody likes you. You have stepped on too many toes." Oh.

So. Will I be the next person voted out of the Savo Island Big Brother House this season? Probably. But in the meantime, I've got one more strategic move to make that might save me after all -- I just filed another HUD Fair Housing complaint, a genius move! Can I possibly manage to form an alliance with HUD, Savo Island's REAL Head of Household? If so, game on!

PS: We have just been told that the re-hab probably won't start until July or August -- oops, yet another spring/summer building season is gonna be missed. However, our loan officer, project manager and architect are working their tails off to see if they can get started sooner despite all the alliance's clever strategies to apparently stall it off. Let's cheer our construction team on! They need to WIN this challenge.

And in order to get HUD to sign off on our re-hab documentation, we need to retain the same Board members until March. For this reason, the annual meeting and election will have to be put off until April. But in April, you know what to do! Make ME the new Head of Household!

What would Jesus do? Tear down the wall between Jerusalem & Bethlehem!
  • (Photos are from the famous Green Zone press conference with John McCain that I attended last April -- plus one of me in a Humvee because I'm so cool!)
Joshua blew his horn and the wall between Gaza and Egypt came down -- which gave me a great idea. "Let's blow down the walls separating Israelis and Palestinians too!"

Let's start by enforcing all those international mandates calling for justice in Israel/Palestine -- the Geneva conventions and all that. And while we're at it, let's make all the laws in Israel/Palestine apply equally to Palestinians and Israelis both. If Palestinians need 200 signatures to get a building permit, let's have Israelis need 200 signatures too!

Then let's turn Israel into an actual democracy by giving the vote to EVERYONE in Israel/Palestine -- and giving everyone equal education opportunities too. PhDs for all.

And let's abolish all those Israeli neo-con Jim Crow laws against "non-believers". (Did you know that in Israel today, a non-believer is not a non-Jew. In Israel today, a non-believer is simply anyone who doesn't believe that God gave Israel to the Israeli neo-cons! In Israel today, you can be an Orthodox Jew, keep Kosher, have faith in the G-d of the Torah and still be considered a non-believer. Isn't that a bit weird?) And if a Palestinian has to sit for six hours at a checkpoint and carry ID papers at all times, then let's have Israelis sit at checkpoints for six hours and carry ID papers at all times too.

"And every time an Israeli kills a Palestinian child in cold blood, then a Palestinian gets to...." Oops, forget about that one. Palestinians would have to spend too much time killing Israeli children to even that score. And besides, we are striving toward justice, non-violence and WWJD here. And Jesus definitely would NOT do that!

And then let's tear down the actual physical wall between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. You just know that this is what Jesus would have done. He wouldn't have wanted to walk through all those checkpoints on his way to visit the Temple or go home to Bethlehem to visit His mom. You can [West B]ank on that!

But what is actually happening here is that I have lured you into reading this essay under false pretenses, using lurid headlines about Jesus liberating Bethlehem as bait in order to talk about something else -- something even more important. Israel and Palestine are on the other side of the world. Sure, I care about what is going on over there. But I care about what is going on here in America a hecka lot more. Why? Because I live here, not there. I'm selfish that way. Get over it.

"So, Jane. What's on your mind now?"

That's a no-brainer. "John McCain." Who do you think is going to win the 2008 presidential election in November? John McCain, of course.
I just got an e-mail from Sterling Greenwood, the editor of the Aspen Free Press. Greenwood is a bona fide member of the Hunter S. Thompson school of Gonzo journalism -- Gonzo journalism is making a comeback by the way because us bloggers can actually say what we want online. We don't need no stinking badges! The corporate media hates us. But we have ALL THE FUN. Us and Jack Kerouac and Mark Twain and Molly Ivins. But I digress.

"Can you believe," e-mailed Greewood, "that John McCain is being trumpeted as a possible GOP front-runner because he won South Carolina? No one mentions that some sixty-seven percent of the voters in that state voted against him." That's right. Most people split their vote between Huckabee and Thompson because they were all pissed off with McCain because of his pro-globalization immigration stance. Much of South Carolina's textile industry was out-sourced to Latin America on McCain's watch. Even South Carolina didn't like McCain. But he will still be our next President.

"Not only that," continued Greenwood, "but on the same day that McCain won South Carolina," -- sort of -- "he came in third in Nevada behind Mitt Romney and Ron Paul." What? McCain can't even beat Ron Paul? "Plus earlier McCain came in fourth in Iowa behind Huckabee, Romney and Thompson. And McCain also got trounced in Michigan by Romney and didn't come up to scratch in Wyoming either." Greenwood does present a good case that McCain might be a loser. So WHY are we being stuck with him? Probably for the same reason that the spiritual tradition of Jesus is being ignored and He is being stuck with The Wall. "War" produces pork. Idealism does not.

"Granted," went on the editor, "John McCain won New Hampshire but figure this: If Hilliary Clinton had lost as often as McCain has, the talking heads on TV would have long since have buried her candidacy. But the TV-heads were all set to tout McCain as having 'big mo' if he'd even finished Iowa as high as third. Gimmie a break!"

Sorry, Gonzo. No break for you. John McCain -- not Hillary or Obama or Edwards (and certainly not Kucinich, Richardson, Paul or Gravel!) -- is headed toward sleeping in the Lincoln bedroom, rolling Easter eggs on the White House lawn and cruising around in Air Force One.

"But why John McCain?" you might well ask. Because of who he is and what he does. I'm currently reading Terry Pratchett's latest novel, "Making Money," and it is about the actual physical act of MAKING money -- wherein our hero, Moist Von Lipwig, goes off to work at the Ankh-Morpork mint. And said money is being turned out by golems, those ceaseless hard workers who never stop working for their masters. Well. John McCain is a hard-working golem too -- working tirelessly night and day to turn out money for the weapons industry. And from sad past experience with the elections of 2000 and 2004, we have all learned the hard way that corporations like General Electric, Lockheed, Raytheon and Halliburton get to pick the next President. Not us.

Ergo. Thus. Here's my conclusion: In 2008, somehow or other, John McCain will get shoved down our throats. John McCain WILL be our next President. He's as good as sitting in the Oval Office right now. And the aforementioned throat-shoving has already begun. American voters have even started to overcome their gag-reflexes already. "McCain is a centrist," they are already starting to chant. "He is a uniter." Now where have we heard that one before?

The New York Times, that legendary gray lady who already helped shove Shock and Awe down our throats, has just endorsed John McCain -- once again sacrificing America's common good for the good of the weapons industry. "What's good for [the weapons industry] is good for America...." Yeah right. But those guys drive Mercedes-Benzes. And we don't.

America is already facing a bone-chilling recession brought on by over-spending on guns while underspending on "butter" and if the dollar continues tanking at its current rate of self-destruction, we'll be lucky to be driving donkey carts in a few more months. But manufacturing a million more Humvees is NOT going to save you and me.

So. Is President John McCain going to be able to save us from walls and guns and checkpoints and starving children right here in California? Hell no. But he'll save the weapons industry. And, in the end, isn't that what really counts?

PS: Someone just asked me, "Jane, what exactly is the connection between your snappy headline, the first paragraph, and the long article on John McCain?"

That's easy. The connection is this: When McCain gets into the White House and America continues down its insane road to militarization, the Roadmap that he will use will lead us to the Promised Land alright -- and California will start looking just like Israel/Palestine. The whole point of this parable? That Jesus was right! Violence does not work.

PPS: Rep. Dennis Kucinich has suggested the following plan of action to get America back on track. I like it. And Jesus would probably like it too:

* Immediate withdrawal of all troops from Iraq.

* No war with Iran.

* A national, not-for profit health care system.

* Repeal of the Patriot Act and a restoration of civil liberties.

* The cancellation of NAFTA and the rebuilding of the U.S. auto, steel, aerospace, shipping and manufacturing industries.

* Carbon-free and nuclear-free energy policies.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

"I'm still drunk!": A visit from a member of Generation X-Box....

(The photo is of Ashley's other friend PJ, a genuine member of Generation X-Box)

I was happily bouncing baby Mena up and down to keep her from being all colicky this morning when the doorbell rang. It was my daughter Ashley and her friend Kevin who was visiting from Indiana. And Kevin was hung over. Boy was he ever. "I drank so much last night that I blacked out. And even this morning, I'm still drunk." Oh dear.

Kevin is a bona fide member of Generation X-Box and he has repeatedly promised to take me on a tour of Beverages And More. BevMo is PERFECT for the X-Box Generation. They sell all kinds of vodka and whiskey and rum that all taste more like soda-pop than alcohol. UV puts out a brand of vodka that tastes just like lemonade. Or so I'm told. Forget about Martinis. Try the pre-packaged margaritas, the tropical blue lagoon, the Jack Daniel's watermelon punch, the Kahlua banana mudslide, the tequila orange smoothie, Long Island iced tea, chocolate vodka, blueberry vodka, grape vodka, red cherry vodka, green apple vodka, ginger vodka, raspberry vodka.... Chocolate vodka?

There's all kinds of sweet girlie drinks for sale at BevMo, all geared and marketed to remind Gen X-Box of their favorite childhood treats. I'm surprised that Kool-Aid doesn't put out a brand of vodka too. Or Gatorade put out a brand of bourbon. Or Coke gets together with rum. Oops, that one's already been done. And all these sweet drinks are readily available at almost any liquor store (I don't mean to be hatin' on just poor old BevMo). And Generation X-Box is hooked! Especially Kevin.

"I got so drunk last night that I fell asleep in the shower!" said Kevin. "And my girlfriend came banging on the bathroom door. Boy was she angry!"

"Because you fell asleep in her shower?"

"No! Because, apparently, I peed in her bed." Whoops. So Ashley and Mena and Mena's dad and I decided to hold an intervention.

"We're not letting you out of the bathroom until you get potty trained!" said Ashley. Then we all got into a discussion about our potty-training memories.

"Everyone in MY generation," I told them, "was totally potty-trained by the time we were nine months old. They just sat us down on a ducky chair strapped to the toilet all day until we did 'Number 1' and 'Number 2'."

"I had one of those little-kid-sized toilet chairs," said Kevin, "and they wouldn't let me use the big one until I was older. Except for the time that my goldfish died...." And in the end we decided to let Kevin out of the bathroom -- but only if he promised that if he ever drank again, he would wear Depends.

So Kevin has seen the light. He's given up on the Generation X-Box trend to drink large amounts of alcohol-disguised-as-soda. Good job, Kevin! "The Moral of this Story," he told us, all repentant, "is to not drink until you pass out because if you do you'll pee in your girlfriend's bed." Eeuuww.

I also learned that in Indiana, a lot of the kids there drink A LOT. "There's not that much else to do there," said Kevin. You wanna find something else to do? Get involved with politics, Generation X-Box. Be idealistic. Your lives may depend on it. "We live in the best of times right now," I preached, "and the worst of times too. Terrible things are happening in the world today. Yet at the same time there are also so many more things that one can do to make a difference, to give hope, to create sustainability, to bring peace...." If ever the help of a new generation was so desperately needed, it is this one. To stop corruption. To stop violence. To stop drinking girlie drinks?

Then Ashley and Kevin went off to McDonalds.

To all parties concerned with regard to Savo Island's 2001-2008 rehabilitation project:

This letter is in response to memos from Savo Island's rehabilitation project manager Ronnie Turner (dated January 18, 2008) and our property manager Dave West (dated January 22, 2008). Both memos were in reference to the current progress and status of Savo Island's rehabilitation project. One sentence in Mr. Turner's memo caught my eye immediately and my reaction to the information provided was one of shock and dismay on behalf of the residents of Savo Island that I represent on this Board.

"Over the next month be prepared to have a standing meeting during this same time frame as we ramp up the activity to meet our stated goal of a construction start of July or August of 2008."

July or August? What does this mean? It was announced at a board meeting in mid-2007 that the re-hab construction would start this March and that our construction team would have all summer to complete the project during this period of good weather. But if the project is being put off yet another four to five months and we end up going into yet another winter characterized by shabby conditions and leaking roofs, we will be in even worse shape than we are now.

Residents simply cannot afford to endure yet another winter like we have survived during the last few years. I personally have had unrepaired water damage to my unit since the winter of 2005.

Based upon past experience with the proven rate of efficiency of Savo Island's current Broad of Directors, I am assuming that "August 2008" will soon translate into "August 2009" -- or perhaps "August 2010". Yet this construction was originally scheduled to start in approximately 2001.

The current majority of members now serving on Savo Island's Board of Directors have controlled the majority of its votes for most of the last 15 years. During this time, they have failed consistently to fill units, approve policy agreements, keep management companies on-board, obey bylaws, obey HUD guidelines and mandates, maintain our property, keep us solvent and schedule our annual meeting annually. Therefore, I am not surprised that they have not been able to get a re-hab on the table even though they have been given seven years to make this project viable. Be that as it may, I now expect this re-hab to go forward with all due speed ASAP, if by no other means than to request current Board members to voluntarily -- or involuntarily -- step down from micro-managing every small detail and let our excellent and efficient current team of management and construction professionals do the jobs that we are paying them to do.

Let's work together and do whatever we have to do in order to make this July/August deadline happen.

Very truly yours,
Jane Stillwater
Board Member

Attachment: Photos of the water damage in my bathroom, 2005 to present

Monday, January 21, 2008

In 2009, who would you want in the White House when the spit hits the fan? The SC debate, Episode 4

(Photos: The story-filing room and me and Rep. Clyburn)

I was still in South Carolina, hanging out at the CNN filing room, waiting for the Democratic primary debate to begin. Oh, and last night the Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce representative recommended that I eat dinner at The Sea Captain's House seafood restaurant. Crab soft as butter! Scallops, flounder, oysters, shrimp salad. And did I mention the incredible key lime pie? But I digress.

Back to the debate.

I was still looking for a story that had a good hook. So I called the Kucinich headquarters in Columbia. They were planning a show of support for Dennis outside the Palace Theatre right before the debate. Good. I'm glad that Kucinich hasn't given up and bowed to media pressure to abandon the race. Chuck Norris should be supporting Kucinich instead of Huckabee because Kucinich is definitely a "Force of One". But Kucinich wasn't in town at this time and I needed a story hook NOW. Hillary was nowhere to be found and Obama was in Georgia or something. Maybe John Edwards was around?

"Take me over to the Edwards headquarters," I begged a CNN driver. She did. At the Edwards headquarters, however, I still couldn't find a good story. Edwards' parents were in town and they were amazing. Maybe I could interview them. Maybe I could write something from the senior citizen angle. Hey, I'm old!

But as I got to talking with the campaign volunteers, another idea for a hook started to form in my head as we talked. "You know that the European stock market went negative on us this morning?" I asked. "And things are starting to get violent again in Iraq...." And then it hit me. I've found my hook. The way to determine who to vote for during Campaign 2008 was simply to ask yourself the following question: "If things fall apart in America in 2009 as a result of us having to endure eight long hard years of total Bush-Cheney neo-con mismanagement and the entire Middle East finally explodes and the economy finally tanks, who would you like to see in the White House?" Assuming of course that GWB is safely off in Leavenworth, Diebold keeps their hands off the ballot boxes and we have an actual President once again?

The first person I came across to ask this question to was a reporter in the CNN spin room. "I think Hillary could handle a major crisis," he said. "Obama? Not enough experience. McCain? Not flexible enough. He's got a one-track mind -- supporting the weapons industry. Manufacturing weapons just isn't a solution to any real problem. Not in the long run. And Huckabee may be a nice guy but you know what they say about nice guys. Edwards could do it. Hillary and Edwards. I'd say either of those two."

Then I asked another reporter -- hey, there are 412 reporters in the filing room. I do what I can with what I've got -- about that and got another answer altogether. "I disagree with the question because who I want in the worst of times would be the same person I would want in the best of times. The question still is who do I think would be the best person. And who would that be? To quote the bartender at the Stony Creek bar in Iowa, "I'll wait until the final election comes and then I'll only have to chose between two of them.' All the candidates have significant drawbacks. I haven't the foggiest idea. Ask me again after the debate is over and I've been at the open bar for a few hours."

Another reporter said, "I'd want McCain." Why? "He's older. He's seen it all. But I'm voting for Obama. He doesn't have as much experience but he has the good sense to hire good advisers and to listen to them. Hillary doesn't have all that much experience but she's got Bill -- and he's actually been there and done that and done a good job at it too. Huckabee scares the hell out of me."

But then Rep. James Clyburn, the House's majority whip, walked by my desk and I asked the same question of him. "Who would I want in the White House during a time of great crisis?" he replied. "Me!"

PS: After a while I got bored with hanging around the story-filing room, crossed the expressway, passed the NASCAR Bar and Grill and walked over to watch the debate in the flesh. And what I saw was inspiring -- not the candidates themselves, we all know what they look like and what they have to say. No, the inspiration came from the audience. 45 years ago, the South was a segregated place where Jim Crow ruled supreme. In the spring of 1964, eight months pregnant with my daughter Lorraine, I marched in Montgomery with Martin Luther King and we all dreamed of a time and place where there would be no segregation.

Today, Dr. King, on a day honoring you, I want you to know that your dream has finally come true. Today, the audience at the Palace Theatre was completely and totally integrated. And I found myself standing in that audience with tears in my eyes.

But then someone noticed that I didn't have a ticket and the Secret Service threw me out of the venue and I was totally humiliated and slunk back to the story-filing room with my tail between my legs. But there, for just one brief moment, I STOOD ON THE MOUNTAINTOP with the spirit of Martin Luther King! We all stood on the mountaintop.

May the non-violent spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King watch out after all of us -- because if we are to live up to the full potential of America's history of democratic idealism, we are going to need all the help we can get.

And then the debate actually started. Fireworks! Wow! Better than a reality show. And then the debate actually started. Fireworks! Wow! Better than a reality show. And then CNN announced that Hillary and Obama "dominated" the debate. Maybe. But Edwards won it.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Meeting the House whip & CNN's DC bureau chief: The SC debate, episode 3

My friend Stewart arrived at my hotel this morning in his red van and drove me over to the Palace Theatre for a press conference and tour of the debate venue that had been organized for us media reps by the Congressional Black Caucus and CNN. Rep James Clyburn spoke. "He's the House of Representatives majority whip," someone said. I put on my "www.ImpeachBush.org" truckers cap and sat down to listen.

This press conference took place in the foyer of the theater. There were lots of sound trucks parked outside and lots of cameramen and reporters within. Good grief. Those are REAL reporters here! It was just like playing dress-up. I loved it. I was BORN to do this! Me and Mary Tyler Moore!

Then Rep. Clyburn introduced Rep. Benny Thompson and Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick, also of the Congressional Black Caucus. "Barbara Lee is MY Congressperson," I proudly whispered to the guy next to me. "She's in the Black Caucus too!" Then I pulled off my sweater and showed him my "Maudelle Sherik" T-shirt. Was he impressed? No. But I was. This was truly a special day for me. It was like walking into Black History Month. These three Congressional representatives are legendary heroes in Congress.

"I bring you greetings from 41 members of the Congressional Black Caucus, representing over 40 million Americans," said Rep. Clyburn. And then he introduced David Borman, the CNN Washington DC bureau chief, who talked about Martin Luther King Jr. "The Martin Luther King holiday is not to be forgotten." Hear, hear. "At this debate, there will be no rules and no time limits. People will be able to call in and e-mail questions from all over the world. And it is going to set the tone for the rest of the primary season. Any questions?"

"Yes," I replied. "Will Rep. Dennis Kucinich be in the debate?"

"No. He didn't meet the criteria." Oh. But at least Edwards will be allowed to debate. Whew. That's a relief. And then we were given a list of names of who had been invited to be in the debate's audience. Hmmm. Howard Dean. Al Sharpton. Martin Luther King III. Dave Chapell. I felt like a kid in a candy store. So much hot gossip. So much news.

Then everyone at the press conference in the foyer trooped off to tour the stage set and I cornered poor David Borman and asked him if he would help me get back into Iraq. "I've been to Iraq," he jokingly replied. "And I like Myrtle Beach much better."

"Ah, but have you been to the dining facility at Camp Al Asad!" We both laughed. And then I pointed to my "Impeach Bush" truckers cap and we both laughed again.

Then Borman totally surprised me by giving me a ten-minute exclusive interview onstage at the debate venue. Stewart had asked me to ask Borman who had been responsible for setting the criteria for who would be allowed to debate.

"This will be a big issue for the future," Stewart said. "Allowing media organizations the power to to determine who will be in the presidential debates is not a good idea. The debates establish who are the legitimate candidates and who are not. And that essentially says who will be our next president. Sure I don't want a thousand morons up on the stage; we would never find out anything about the candidates. There has to be a criteria for who are allowed in the debates. But my question is, 'Who is making that criteria'?"

During my interview with him, Borman's basic message was, "In the beginning, CNN had as many candidates as possible at the debates because the field was wide open. But now the voters have spoken and we are following their lead."

"But do you think that you are following their lead or creating it?" And remember that during the debates, Hillary and Obama were asked the meaty questions and candidates like Kucinich got questions thrown at him like, "Do you believe in space aliens?" I mean, really. Give me a break.

"No, we really do try to not influence the process and we listen to what the voters have to say."

Borman seemed to really want to talk to me after I had asked the question about Dennis Kucinich and to clear this all up. But I hadn't had anything to eat since that KFC I bought the night before while researching hookers, except for another bag of Fritos (my favorite) given to me by an extremely helpful member of Rep. Clyburn's staff and I was totally starving at the time and can't remember word-for-word how our conversation went but here's what I think I remember that he and I said.

"I liked Kucinich," said Borman. "I also liked Gravel. He was serving in Congress during the Vietnam war and he brought a sense of history to the debates. Also he's a very intelligent man. But he was eliminated at the beginning. I myself was sorry to see him go. And as for Edwards, he ran on a strong union platform and expected to do well in Nevada which is a strong union state, so we were keeping our eyes on that primary to see how he did. But despite Nevada's strong union stance, Edwards got his ass kicked."

"But but but but..." I said.

"But the Democrat voters seem to be focused on just three candidates whereas the Republican voters are less certain." Yeah. And here's why. They got nothing but war-mongers and cretins to chose from! But McCain just won the SC Republican primary so maybe the choice is gonna be "warmonger" instead of "cretin". But if the Repubs play their cards right, they will get to have both. Again. For another eight years.

But back to the Democrats. I wonder which candidate will win the final nomination? Which reminds me of a rumor that Obama may chose Edwards for a running mate if he wins. That would be good -- if Edwards would actually go along with running for VP again. And my friend Nancy from Iowa just e-mailed me that Hillary wasn't half as bad as I think. But whatever. From past experience I have learned the hard way that no matter who the Dems put up for President, somehow or other America will still end up with a Republican warmongering cretin in the White House. Mark my words. But maybe I should try to be more objective and stop being so mean. Nah.

Back to David Borman. I was really impressed with him. He not only seemed to know what he was talking about but also to be a real person too. Not a fake. Not just a talking head. He knew his issues and had his answers down cold. Maybe HE should run for President.

Then I shamed some other reporter into taking a photo of me sitting on stage in one of the candidate chairs -- the one in the middle -- and then Stewart and I went to Denny's for dinner. Stewart had the meatloaf. I had the turkey senior citizen special. With salad and fries. And we talked about the Iraq "war."

"I think that when we pull our troops out of Iraq -- and the sooner the better works for me -- then my guess is Iraq will be okay," said Stewart, a Marine. "After our troops withdraw, Iraq will probably form into three loosely connected 'soft' states. The Kurds should have an area of their own. And then the Saudis and the Sunnis will have a second area and the Shia and the Iranians will have the third one." Sounds like a plan. Then America will be able to avoid going bankrupt from all the pork that goes toward keeping our military contractors happy . Oops. That's already happened. Too late.

The SC debate, episode 2: Cruising for prostitutes in an evangelical town

Gee it's cold here in Myrtle Beach. "The radio said it might snow," said the clerk at my hotel. Snow? I came all the way to the Sunny South for snow? Not! But then I went up to my hotel room and wrote a story on American politics and economics and that made me happy. Having something to write about makes me happy. And do you know what else makes me happy? Being well-fed and warm!

My hotel room was cold and the only available food was a vending machine full of unhealthy stuff on the 11th floor but I took a hot bath, bought some Fritos and was happy again for a while. Until I started to get really hungry again.

"Is there any place around here that I can walk to and buy a sandwich," I asked the hotel clerk. She looked at me like I was nuts. "Walk somewhere? This is strip-mall country, lady. Get over it. It's 9:30 at night and it's cold and it's raining. Either pay for a taxi or order out." Or words to that effect. And then she handed me a menu for Domino's Pizza. No thanks.

So I decided to walk around in the rain and check out my options. And the hotel clerk was right. There was nothing. I have been told that Myrtle Beach during the spring and summer is a jamming place full of people and action but during the off-season, it's dead. And it was dark and cold outside. You couldn't see the ocean and I was getting all rained on and soaked.

So in the cold, in the night, with my wool scarf pulled over my head, I crossed the street back to the hotel. But then suddenly a new-model gray car pulled up beside me, driven by a middle-aged man who rolled down his window and asked, "Do you want a ride?" I nodded my head and, without thinking, jumped into the car.

And as soon as I had done that -- what was I THINKING! -- it dawned on me that in the rain, in the dark, this man had taken me for a prostitute! Crossing the road at night, with my scarf over my head, he hadn't been able to tell that he was dealing with the 65-year-old grandmother of a one-month-old child. The guy had taken me for a streetwalker. But he was a Southern gentleman and, like Rhett Butler, masked his disappointment well -- that I was obviously no Scarlett, er, lady.

"Hi. I'm Jane. I just got into town to cover the Democratic presidential primary debate and I'm looking for something to eat. Know any restaurants around here?" And then Rhett Butler took me on a two-hour tour of the streets of Myrtle Beach. Did you know that in January, Taco Bell and Subway close at 10 pm but Dennys and KFC stay open until midnight? Word.

"You know," stated Rhett, "there are lots of prostitutes in Myrtle Beach." Nope. I didn't know that. I had assumed that, judging from all the church buildings I'd seen so far, that this was a clean, evangelical town. But that sentence was a great conversation-opener. "Some men drive all up and down Ocean Blvd. looking for them." But not you?

"No, not me. When I get restless and can't sleep at night, I just drive around."

"So. Who are you going to vote for in the primary?"

"No one. I'm an independent." That surprised me.

"And what do you like about Myrtle Beach?" The whores?

"The golf courses. I'm a golfer. There are 100 golf courses in Myrtle Beach. Even if you golfed twice a week, it would still take you six months to play all of them. My handicap used to be 11 but then my back went out. I've been playing golf since I was a kid." Then we passed another bunch of churches and he got back to talking about his other favorite sport.

"A lot of the prostitutes around here are on drugs. They work to pay for their drug habits. They'll earn $40 for a trick and spend 30 of it on drugs."

How much of what Rhett told me do you really want to know? He read me the full menu of prices and services but I'll try to clean it up a little bit. After all, this is an evangelical town.

"A BJ is $40. Done right in the car while driving around." Isn't that a bit of a traffic hazard? "If you want the full service, it's $120. For two minutes. During the high season, a girl can clear $1,300 a night." Two minutes? Two minutes?

"And then there's the escort services. They come right to your hotel. But they cost a lot more." Naturally. If you want quality work, you gotta pay more.

"The police are trying to clean up the town so sometimes the girls work on the side streets." We drove up and down a lot of side streets, presumably still looking for a McDonalds.

"I befriended this one girl named Mandy. Her father had raped her when she was 14 and she'd been working the streets for the last ten years. I've been helping her clean up." That's nice. But actually Rhett was a really nice man. And kind of sexy. Hell, I don't think this guy needed to have to pay for sex. So he must be doing it for the excitement. Or for the social work aspect.

Rhett drove me up and down the coastal highway. "This is what is called the Grand Strand and it runs along the beach for 60 miles." Then he drove me through a huge complex of condos, malls and shops. "This area is called New Town. It's under construction." But it was dark and empty out there and I nervously re-directed Rhett back to our search for food. We drove back up and down Kings Highway for a while. There were a LOT of pancake houses. But they were all closed.

"Some of the girls work for guys who protect them," said Rhett. You mean pimps? "But they're all nice girls. They hate what they do. But they need the money. You gotta feel sorry for them." Yeah and just how sorry do you feel? I myself feel sorry for the prostitutes for having to be out in the freaking rain in the middle of the freaking cold night in mini-skirts. That's gotta hurt.

"Oh they don't wear mini-skirts in the middle of winter. They bundle up." Then how the freak do you tell they are whores?

"The way they look, the look in their eyes." Had I also had "The Look" in my eyes as well? Or could he even tell from behind my glasses and wrinkles? Probably not.

So we drove around Myrtle Beach for another ten or 15 miles, found a KFC, got some dark meat, biscuits, synthetic mashed potatoes and corn on the cob and then drove back to my hotel. I thanked Rhetta lot -- no, not THAT much -- and went back to my hotel room, secure in the knowledge that the Southern gentlemen of South Carolina were being well-serviced and taken care of and could continue their fight for Christian morality in politics with more vim and vigor, thanks to an occasional refreshing night out.

But we never did see any prostitutes.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Madam Jane Predicts: There will be a one-person war on the loss of America!

I arrived in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, this morning in order to cover the Democratic primary debates. The weather was cold, wet and rainy and there was no public transportation so I had no choice but to take a taxi to my hotel. My taxi driver was nice, hadn't yet decided on who to vote for in the primary and had a son stationed in Iraq.

"Oh, interesting," I replied. "I'm going back over to embed in Iraq on February 12. And don't worry about your son. It's pretty peaceful over there right now and he's probably not in any danger."

But Madam Jane was about to prove me wrong!

"You are just about the most naive person I know," she started scolding me the moment we got to my hotel which, incidentally, was right next to the ocean. "Not only is this poor man's son in danger, but every single other person in American is in grave danger too. Watch out, my friend. We are ALL being screwed -- and headed toward an early grave too."

What! "Isn't that a bit melodramatic, Madam Jane?" But M.J. would say no more. Not even promises of southern barbecue at the rib shack down the street or a trip to the local NASCAR shop would get her to spill, leaving me scratching my head and wondering what in the world is Madam Jane talking about. Danger? America? Us? When I flew through the air hub at Charlotte, the code level was only at "Orange". Hell, it's ALWAYS at "Orange". No danger there.

But then my friend Woody Smith e-mailed me and shed some light on the kind of danger that The Madam might have been talking about -- danger from within. America's greatest danger doesn't come from terrorists. And we're not gonna get any relief from just employing more TSA guys and bomb-sniffing dogs and X-ray machines. "The dollar is falling at a frightening rate," said Woody. "The stock market is highly volatile and sinking, unemployment is high although the true extent of it is masked by statistical sleight-of-hand, most consumer spending is on credit, and the only reason we haven't been in a recession since shortly after Bush took office is that the falling dollar cleverly masks the true extent of our shrinkage."

So. The greatest danger facing America now is economic. But we all knew that. Nobody needs Madam Jane's crystal ball to know that. And then Madam Jane smugly went off to take a nap, to recover from jet-lag. And I checked my e-mail. "Jane," said the e-mail from the people in Iraq who had just approved my embed less than 24 hours ago, "I was just told by our PAO office at Corps, MNC-I, that they will not facilitate your embed request." What the freak does that mean? Can one actually get UN-embedded after having been promised something like that? In writing? Just like that? But I've already bought my plane ticket! They can't DO that to me! That's so UNFAIR! So I ran off and shook Madam Jane awake.

"Help me here, M.J." I blathered. "They've taken away my freaking embed. WHY?" But Madam Jane just shrugged and rolled back over to sleep. What good is having a freaking psychic in my hotel room if she's going to just sleep all day. Wake up! This is an emergency!

"Look," said Madam Jane. "I've been warning you for YEARS that merciless blood-sucking corporate conglomerates have taken over our government, our media, our White House, our Constitution, our economy, our schools, our healthcare and even our churches. And no one did anything about it while there was still time. And now the America that you and I used to know is Gone Gone Gone. Forever. Either get over it or do something about it. I was up all night on the red-eye. Go away. I need more sleep."

Merciless blood-sucking conglomerates? And I'm supposed to put on my Superman cape and go out and battle merciless blood-sucking conglomerates all by myself? That's whacked! "I heard that!" said The Madam. "Stop whining. You got yourself into this mess. Either do it or shut up."

But what can I do? What can any of us do? Nothing. "But," mumbled Madam Jane in her sleep, "sooner or later, when things get so bad that they simply cannot ignore it any more, Americans ARE going to wake up, are going to wise up and are going to act. And when that happens, the merciless blood-sucking corporate conglomerates that have stolen OUR country had better watch out! I predict that in 2008 there is going to be a one-person war on the loss of America -- and this one-person war will start with you. And there are also going to be 300 million other one-person wars on the loss of America, fought in the trenches by all us normal, average" -- since when did M.J. suddenly become average? -- "non-wealthy Americans who are finally gonna be totally pissed off when they finally discover that they have been had!" Good grief. Maybe I should never have woken Madam Jane back up!

But will this 300-million-strong army-of-ones then get me re-embedded back into Iraq? Or at least get me a refund on my plane ticket? And exactly HOW pissed off do these Americans have to BE before they get off their butts?

"Madam Jane predicts that they are gonna get pissed off enough REALLY SOON."

But will they do it before the coming presidential elections? Dennis Kucinich, the top candidate now running on a platform to protect American freedom and put the skids on corporate greed, has already been totally silenced in the media. And now John Edwards, another hero who was willing to take on corporate power, is also being cut out of the debates. Good grief. The next thing you know they'll be telling us that Huckabee is a do-gooder dragon-slayer on our side, that Giuliani is the ultimate family man and that McCain is truly the people's friend and not just a shill for the arms industry.

But will this ever happen? Madam Jane predicts that it will.

But will they ever let me get embedded back into Iraq or at least give me my plane ticket money back? And will people suddenly start running out to buy my book on my last embedding experiences, entitled 'Bring Your Own Flak Jacket' and available at Amazon or special-ordered at your local independent bookstores? "Sorry, but my crystal ball has gone dark."

PS: Here's Woody's simple eight-point plan to put a stop to all this mess:

1. Forbid by law past or present corporate officials from contributing to our regulatory processes. Public service and private interests ought not be combined. This works both ways -- legislators and regulators must be forbidden -- FOR LIFE -- from joining private sector industries whose interests came under their purview. This separation should be at least as bright-line as that between church and state.

2. Re-institute and zealously enforce regulation of our broadcast media, most significantly through stricter ownership restrictions and the restoration of the Fairness Doctrine, dismantled by Reagan, that ensured that news over the airwaves is reported and researched fairly.

3. Finance our political campaigns completely and exclusively publicly. There is no place for bribery in a democratic society, at least not without the risk of getting caught.

4. Restoration of steeply progressive income tax rates, combined with implementation of progressive FICA taxes extended to all income. End the favorable treatment of unearned income, a nonsensical thing in the first place. It is in society's interests to redistribute wealth. Big fish eat little fish, and once all the little fish get eaten, the big ones starve too. We're at that point right now.

5. Massive, labor-intensive public works. This both puts more money into the hands of more citizens, it makes life better for everyone in the long term.

6. End these ridiculous wars. No consequences of ending these wars are as serious as the consequences of continuing to fight them.

7. National health care. This would IMMEDIATELY render our manufactured products more competitive on the world stage.

8. A crash program to increase energy efficiency in cooling/heating, transportation, and consumer electronics and electrical appliances. This would include direct subsidies to industries for R&D and marketing, in return for sharing any resulting technological benefits with competitors and other industries for which they may be relevant.

Strangely enough," added Woody, "all of these things are really just tweaks around the edges that would not really have a whole lot of day-to-day impact on the activities of our citizens. But all go against powerfully entrenched interests that profit at the rest of our expense from the status quo. but one thing for sure: It is NOT 'government spending' that got us into this mess."

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Who gave Israel and Pakistan The Bomb? "The Rosenbergs did it!"

How the freak did the Soviet Union develop an atomic bomb so suddenly after America invented it back in 1945? Surely scientists in the USSR couldn't have thought it up all by themselves. They must have had help from traitors and spies.

"The Rosenbergs did it!"

And in 1953, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed for alleged treason and for allegedly giving away state secrets because a nuclear bomb is so totally complex that the Soviets couldn't have possibly dreamed one up by themselves -- yet a New York housewife could.

Then in 1969, when Richard M. Nixon was President, Israel suddenly developed The Bomb. Now how did that happen so fast? It was claimed that Soviet scientists couldn't think that fast and yet Israeli scientists could? And come up with all that uranium too? Amazing.

"The Rosenbergs did it!"

Then in 1987, when Ronald Reagan was President, Pakistan suddenly developed The Bomb too. Now how did that happen so fast?

"The Rosenbergs did it!"

Okay. Let's try to understand this. Allegedly, North Korea and Iraq and Iran have tried for YEARS to develop The Bomb. These three countries all have -- or had -- top scientists, access to stuff that glows in the dark and the will to make nuclear weapons -- yet they all failed.

But tiny little Israel and insignificant Pakistan -- they don't even have any oil -- managed to come up with The Bomb all by themselves? Hmmm....

When the Soviet Union came up with The Bomb, U.S. prosecutors all screamed bloody murder that SOMEONE in the U.S. had to have given them the secret -- and that whoever did it was a traitor who needed to be executed. Am I correct so far? Yeah.

But when Israel and Pakistan come up with The Bomb, no one even bats an eyelash. There were no spies? There were no traitors? Israel and Pakistan just dreamed all this stuff up by themselves?

Or did the Rosenbergs come back from the grave?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Campaign 2008: The world's strangest debate -- where only one side gets to speak
(Photo is of a painting by artist Op Das. Yes I know it has nothing to do with the article but it's Art for Art's Sake!)

Imagine that you have a teenage daughter -- it's a stretch, I know, but bear with me. Then imagine that your teenage daughter is on her high school debate team.

"Mom," says your adolescent progeny, "next week we are going to debate about NAFTA. Me and Amanda and Justin will be taking the opposition point of view -- that NAFTA is a bad thing. We need to come up with reasons why the U.S. should get out of NAFTA."

You are aware that NAFTA is a really important issue and you are all excited and pleased that she even knows what it is -- let alone that she will actually be studying up on the subject. "NAFTA is taking away too many American jobs," you tell her, "and I'm glad to hear that such an important issue is being discussed." Then you hand her an article from the Berkeley Daily Planet about the dangers of globalization and start making plans to take a few hours off work to go watch the debate.

"The U.S. government from the Reagan administration on," states the BDP article, "has provided subsidies to major industries to move to low-wage areas, and produced agreements in many countries for establishing export production zones — that is, zones in which production is only for export; they add little to the local host economies, and create international assembly lines whose only coherence is the multi-national corporate structure that controls it. The effect of this process has been to gut the industrial base of the U.S. economy." That's news the debate team can use!

"The subsidiary internal effect," the article continues, "was that the military, the one industry that could not run away because it was strategic, gained economic hegemony by default. The U.S. economy fell into the hands of the military-industrial complex." That's a great argument against NAFTA. It has left us with only one major industry -- killing, murder and death. How can you argue against that one? You can't. Now your offspring is good to go.

The day of the big debate arrives. You, the proud parent, go find a seat in the front row -- but then you can't spot your daughter! However, just as you are starting to panic, her teacher steps onto the stage of the cafetorium and announces, "We have a nice surprise for you. This NAFTA debate will be broadcast on national television!" You get all excited! Your daughter is going to be on ABC, NBC and Fox News -- live! You beam with motherly pride.

But then what the teacher says next absolutely floors you. "The side that is debating pro-NAFTA will be broadcast live onstage from here. But the side debating against NAFTA will have to debate from the school parking lot. And with no cameras at all." What! And they call this a DEBATE? I don't think so.

But wait. It gets worse. The week after that, the same thing happens again, when the topic is the effect of war on the American economy. "Can the U.S. military afford to stay in Iraq?" Once again the side supporting spending trillions of dollars on war gets to debate on national television but the opposing side -- the one that debates that we should spend that money more wisely or that we don't have that amount of money to spend at all -- is once again stuck in the parking lot.

Your daughter quotes the Berkeley Daily Planet again. "The Army burned 40 million gallons of fuel in three weeks of combat in Iraq, or almost two million gallons per day, an amount equivalent to the gasoline consumed by all Allied armies combined during the four years of World War I." She states that the U.S. military is the largest user of petroleum in the world and for this reason alone America cannot afford to keep up funding its various wars. But to no avail. No one is listening to Amanda and Justin and your daughter who are way out in the freaking parking lot. Everyone -- except for you, the Mom -- is back in the cafetorium where it's warm and comfortable and they can be on TV.

Your daughter gets very discouraged. And she learns a very unwanted lesson -- that when the side in the parking lot continually losses the debates because the judges are in the school cafetorium with the TV cameras and no one is out in the parking lot, then it's not really a debate at all. And you complain to the school board but to no avail. The networks are paying them for use of the cafetorium. Choose between money and truth? Which do you think they will choose?

So. Where am I going with this little parable? You know where -- the 2008 presidential primary debates. How can they actually even be called "debates" when the basic issue they are debating is so critically important to the very existence of our country if not to our planet -- whether or not globalized mega-corporations own America outright or whether "We the People" are still in the game -- but yet despite the crucial importance of this issue to everything we hold dear, the debaters who represent the mega-corporations parade themselves time after time in front of ABC, NBC and Fox News and get their say ad nausea -- while the critically crucial interests of the American people, the American economy, democracy and the U.S. Constitution are all out in the parking lot getting cold.

PS: What would I recommend that the American people do to protect their own interests? That's a no-brainer! Let's all put on our jackets and coats and go out into the parking lot too. Let's listen to the other side of the story, OUR side of the debate. We will be glad that we did -- and so will our children and grandchildren. And then my next recommendation? Vote for Dennis Kucinich, of course!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Desperate (voting) Housewives: No matter who wins in 2008, women get screwed!

(Photo is of female American voters, this article's co-author and friends)

I got up this morning, turned on the computer and this is the first thing I saw: "The economy skidded to a virtual standstill in the final three months of last year, raising fears the country could fall into a recession, unable to withstand the multiple blows from the prolonged downturn in housing, a severe credit crisis and soaring energy costs." Yikes!

But wait. It gets worse. "Wholesale inflation last year shot up by the largest amount in 26 years while retailers suffered their worst December shopping season in five years as mounting economic woes caused consumers to put away their wallets." The worst inflation in 26 years? Why am I not surprised. The Bush neo-con government has been spending money like water. It was bound to come back on us. But what does this mean for us average Americans? And especially how will it effect the way people vote in the presidential elections this year? Hmmm....

I've just been credentialed by CNN to cover the South Carolina Democratic primary debates in Myrtle Beach on January 21 and, once there, I plan to size up every candidate from the female voter's point of view. But without even having left California yet, I'm already starting to develop some theories regarding this POV -- and what I am coming up with is really scary. From what I can tell, the average American female voter is gonna be way up in arms this year. But if she isn't, then she should be.

"Is it the economy, Stupid?" Yes. That and a whole lot more.

I just got an e-mail from an irate woman in the Midwest. "Jane, when you wrote about John McCain, were you aware of his marital history?" Not really. "I think if most women knew how he cheated on his first wife and then left her for a much younger trophy wife who had lots of family money to advance his political ambitions, they would be appalled and never support a man like this."

Good grief. Don't tell me that McCain is yet another staunch Republican family-values man who has deserted said family when the chips are down. That is definitely not going to sit well with female voters. Us housewives are desperate enough without hearing that.

Ladies, always beware of politicians who talk about family values. It's usually just another cheap ploy to lure you into their, er, voting booth. And once you've marked their ballot and you are all ready to cozy up for an entire term of office, they'll all run out the door yelling, "I'll call you in the morning!" over their shoulder -- and you'll never hear from them again. But I digress.

What other issues are effecting women? Let's see. Education? Healthcare? Those are the biggies. And high mortgages on their homes -- if they can actually afford to buy one. When women vote, they will probably be looking for candidates who speak to these issues. But I don't have to go all the way to South Carolina to figure that one out.

But the most important voting issue for me -- and ain't I a woman too? -- is making sure that our votes will actually COUNT. Who even cares if the ladies of Wisteria Lane vote for McCain, Rudy, Huckabee, Romney or Ron Paul on the Republican ticket or Hillery, Obama, Edwards or Kucinich on the Democratic side or the Green Party candidate or the Libertarian guy or even if they stay the freak home on election day -- if our votes aren't counted correctly.

In my humble opinion, the Desperate (voting) Housewives of America have far more to worry about than merely who we chose to vote for and/or whether or not they keep their promises to us after the election or just jilt us at the threshold of the White House. Now we also have to worry about if our votes even count -- and if our fabulously legendary history-making idealistic world-shaking American democratic process still even works.

And while I'm at it, here's another thing about the elections this year pisses me off -- and will hopefully piss off other female voters too. From what I can tell, the media is screwing us over too. If you look at "Campaign 2008" as a media online "dating service" that we have hired to find us our future political soul-mates, it's clear as glass that they are now trying to hook us up with incompatible blind dates. Just look what NBC did to us in Nevada!

"Kucinich? You can't date that guy!"

But Kucinich and American women have so much in common. And he's cute too. But instead we get stuck with blind dates with McCain, Romney, Obama, Huckabee and Hillary -- whose main goals seem to be to make sure that the pipeline to military spending remains forever clear. Us women don't want that. We want less inflation. We want better schools!

You would think that a woman who has to worry about making ends meet and feeding her family and educating her children would prefer to be matched up with pro-middle class candidates like Dennis Kucinich or pro-labor candidates like John Edwards or fiscal conservatives like Ron Paul. But no. Our online dating services -- ABC, NBC and Fox News -- are deliberately sticking us with losers who can only babble on about "one hundred more years" of war and how wonderful our current sicko healthcare system is and how globalizing our jobs out to third-world countries will eventually trickle down more jobs for us (working in dollar stores) and other irrelevant stuff.

In my opinion, the main reason that American (voting) housewives are desperate is because deep down inside of us, we instinctively know that it doesn't even matter who we care about or vote for -- not McCain, Romney, Giuliani or Huckabee or even Hillary, Obama or Edwards or even Kucinich or Ron Paul -- because the corporate powers-that-be who now own America are gonna give us, either by jury-rigging electronic voting or by censoring media access, whoever they want us to have. Period. End of discussion.

I can't believe that Americans are actually letting global corporations, who are not committed to anyone's welfare but their own, grab the controls of our government. "Patriotic" Americans are always ranting on and on about how the UN is usurping our country's independence yet these same people are totally silent when globalized corporations steal our very country out from under our noses. A corporation is a person? With the same or more rights as all us millions of Desperate (voting) Housewives? Corporations are gladly given trillions in welfare from the government but none of us little guys are allowed to even humbly petition, hat in hand, for affordable healthcare, decent roads, well-trained police and fire departments and good schools? Give me a break!

"Jane, get back on topic." Yes Ma'am.

Like Mike Whitney says, "This year we can choose from a slate of eight candidates; all of whom are members of the secretive Council on Foreign Relations; and all of whom are wholly committed to the off-shoring of businesses, the outsourcing of jobs, the expansion of police-state powers, and the obscene enlargement the already over-bloated War Machine. The only exceptions are Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich who are treated like pariahs by the establishment media."

But, to me, the truly sad thing about the 2008 election is that, even against their own interests, millions of American women will still do what they are told, dutifully march out and vote for candidates who do not have their interests at heart on machines that will not even count their votes.

This is how I currently see the American woman's point of view -- that women are used to being told what to do and so they go out and do it. And, because the media tells them to do it, the women of America will willingly end up voting for McCain. Or Hillary. Or Giuliani. Or Huckabee. Or Obama. Or whichever flavor-of-the-day American women are told to vote for this year. And they will willingly do it on election machines that don't work.

You think that I'm wrong about this? Prove it. Elect someone that the globalized corporations don't like. But that won't happen now will it?

But I also see something else happening during the 2008 election cycle -- and this gives me hope. Most women, despite all of the above, still instinctively realize on a deep inner level that they ARE being seduced and abandoned and used -- and while we women may readily swallow all the usual lies forced down our throats once again, always remember that even though us women are used to getting ordered around, we also have women's intuition on our side and sooner or later we are bound to wise up. And when that happens, Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

And I think that this time you globalized corporate guys may have crossed that line once too often.

You guys had better watch out!

Us women may nod our heads at the appropriate moments when the guys in Washington tell us how to act and what to do -- because a lot of us have been inbred for generations to be scared of the consequences if we don't. However. Women have also learned, after centuries of experience, how to be passive-aggressive and secretly subversive. And on the sly, in the background, us women go commando.

So what I am thinking regarding Desperate (voting) Housewives is this -- that on the day after the final election of 2008 and the corporate "candidate" wins, those guys behind the curtain who pulled the strings on elections will all be patting themselves on the back and thinking that they have everything under control because they think that they have successfully elected yet another stage-managed puppet like George W. Bush who will allow global mega-corporations to continue raping the taxpayers with ease. And wars can successfully continue to be their source of great income. And inflation can continue to rise -- right into their pockets. Yeah, well. They probably have. They probably do.

But from my point of view, no matter WHO the powers-that-be "elect" and put into the White House in 2008, they are still gonna be in trouble -- just like GWB is now. Why? Because of us passive-aggressive women. You can fool some of us some of the time, but eventually we women somehow always sniff out the truth. And we instinctively know that bad things are happening despite all those cheery Orwellian messages we are always getting on the news.

For instance, we know that the price of hamburger has tripled since Bush was "elected", no matter how much his advisers jimmy the cost-of-living index by not including the price of food and gasoline in their calculations. And we also know stuff because we pay the bills. We pay the new off-the-charts mortgage bills. We pay the skyrocketing utility bills (mine has doubled within the last year). We know when our friends lose their jobs. And we know that we send our kids to shabby schools and bury our sons because of illegal wars.

And because we know all these little day-to-day details of life on Wisteria Lane, we sooner or later KNOW that we are being screwed.

The average American guy may be able to ignore all this stuff or put a macho spin on it and talk about everything being the fault of the terrorists and if we just blew them all up, everything would be fine. But we women can't ignore any of this or blame it on terrorists in turbans who live in the Middle East. Because the bad things that are happening to us women aren't happening over in Baghdad. They are happening here. Over 50% of all homeless Americans are women and children. It's too close to home.

Okay. So now we have nailed the motivations and actions of all those slimy corporate freaks who now run our lives. But are they afraid of us women? Absolutely not. "Just exactly what harm can a passive-aggressive woman do? She can do nothing!" the powers-that-be are saying as they laugh up their sleeves at the women they've just screwed. But we women will think of something. We always do.

"Hell hath no fury...." Every guy knows that.

Women, however, are always ready to negotiate, ready to cooperate and ready to make a deal. So here's our deal. "If you just give us back our Constitution, our democracy, our jobs, our children's safety and our future, we will stop having headaches at bedtime, over-salting your food and over-starching your tighty-whities!"

PS: This was written in conjunction with my three-week-old granddaughter Mena asleep on my arm while I typed it out with one hand. And whenever I would read her a part that she didn't agree with, she'd wake up and scream.

If this little bundle of joy could talk, I'm sure that she would say, "I'm Mena and I approve this message."

Friday, January 11, 2008

Special "Dorothy Visits the Wizard of Savo!" issue of my housing co-op newsletter (Photos are of the community room roof, dry rot, holes in the siding, the infamous window and me and baby Mena)

Savo Island Cooperative Homes Inc. is supposed to have its annual meeting and Board member election every January. And it's the middle of January already and the Board hasn't even set a date for them yet. Hello!

Our California state rules of incorporation call for Savo's annual meeting to be held ANNUALLY but that's never stopped the alliance in control of our Board before. One time the alliance actually managed to put the elections off for three whole years -- that was their greatest triumph. But last year they still managed to put it off until March. This year, however, let's surprise ourselves and see if we can have it at least by February. Hey why not.

Did you know that at an annual meeting of Savo residents -- or even at ANY meeting of Savo residents -- a simple majority of us can vote to fire the entire Board and start again fresh? Now why would we want to do that? Just because the place is falling apart? If just theSavo residents with leaks in their units this winter voted to dump this Board, I bet we'd come up with a majority in an instant. And this same simple majority can also vote to un-incorporate the co-op altogether if we want to and then there'd be NO Board at all. And it's looking more and more like that might be a good thing. Being run by a professional management company who knows what they are doing instead of by a handful of self-interest-driven amateurs? Is that really such a hard decision to make?

"I've got a leak in my ceiling," one resident told me.

"How can that be?" I replied. "You live on the ground floor." Well apparently the rain goes through a hole in the roof of the unit above him, pours down the walls and ends up in this resident's bedroom. Who knew that rain could do that?

Then another resident complained to me about flooding. And several other residents complained to me about mold. To paraphrase Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, "Raindrops, flooding and mold -- oh my!"

My roof is actually holding up okay this winter but during last week's storm, my unit came within one-half-inch of flooding. I opened my front door and there was a good-sized pond of water floating up to my sill. Weren't we supposed to have a new drainage system installed back in 2001? Or did we not have the money because the Board refused to raise the rents, apparently because it would effect those of them paying market-rate rents? Oops.

Another resident's heater is broken. Several residents have leaky plumbing. Leaky roofs. Flooding parking lots. Deteriorating storage units. Falling plaster. Warped outside doors. But don't worry, Dorothy, we haven't had any tornadoes.

What else can I tell you about the people behind the curtain who run Savo with an iron hand, apparently letting the replacement reserves slide in order to protect their own market-rate rents, breaking the bylaws whenever it suits their own interests, granting extra perks to their flying monkeys and punishing any of us lions, tin men or scarecrows who dare to open our mouths and object. "Pay no attention to the people behind that curtain!" they tell us.

Ah, there's no place like home.

The alliance didn't have time for the monthly public Board meeting in December due to the holidays but apparently they managed to find time to fit in several secret meetings instead. But do we (or the State of California laws that incorporate us and do not allow secret meetings) appreciate all their sacrifices? No.

I wouldn't mind dealing with the Board alliance so much if they were sweet and well-mannered people but they are not. At Board meetings, they take turns being argumentative, vindictive, intimidating, accusatory, abrasive, bellicose and even mendacious. They pound on the tables, say nasty things about others and generally lower the tone of our meetings. You almost expect one of them to burst out yelling, "I'm going to get you and your little dog too!"

And speaking of dogs, maybe I should ask Toto to sneak in and find out what went on at all those secret meetings. Were they plotting how best to keep getting all the best perks? Were they plotting on how best to try to drop a house on me yet again? Or were they getting ready to dump yet another management company for trying to keep them firmly upon the Yellow Brick Road to HUD good housing and not off smelling the poppies?

We sent Toto off to the meeting. Here's his report. "Arf! It looks like they are trying to dump our management company." Again? Isn't this the 13th management company they've dumped? Or is it number 14? I lose track.

"But for what reason? Why?"

"Because this management company employs relatives. Woof!" No. Really? A family-owned-and-operated management company employs relatives? Duh.

But forget about Dorothy and Oz. I've got problems of my own. I need a lateral transfer to a downstairs unit because my poor knees and foot really hurt every time I go up and down my current unit's stairs. And for these documented disability reasons, I requested a downstairs unit back in November of 2006. But obviously my son, my daughter-in-law and their three-week-old baby who now live with me can't move into the smaller unit too and so they need to stay here. Plus my foster care agency wants me to start taking foster children again and I could do that if I lived in a two-bedroom downstairs unit. "But that type of transfer is illegal," I'm told.

"But the Board alliance granted a lateral transfer to one of its members based on almost exactly the same situation. Surely they will vote one for me too. Because if they don't that would be discrimination, just like when they discriminated against me on my window. They're all complaining about my window while letting the rest of Savo go to pot. You don't hear them complaining about all those wobbly stairs to second-floor units or shingles falling off the roofs or the mold. No. It's all about hatin' on my window while the rest of Savo falls apart! That's discrimination! I'll sue!"

"Yeah, right, Jane. As if anybody at Savo, HUD or anywhere else actually even cares...."