Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Madam Jane predicts the future: "No Country for Old Cows..."

(This photo is of Madam Jane pointing toward the Future while wearing her totally stylish -- but second-hand -- United Houma Nation T-shirt)

I have gone to the grocery store and purchased a quart of milk so many times during the course of my life that it would take me quite a while to add all those times up.

When I was around eight years old, my mother would give me a quarter and I would walk down to the Capuchino Food Mart, buy some milk and then walk back home. We lived on Park Blvd in Millbrae and the Food Mart was five blocks away. And my mother would always let me use the change to buy a piece of Fleer's Double Bubble.

Nowadays I just walk across the street to the Berkeley Bowl and buy my milk there. I've lived next to the Bowl for the last 28 years. I know every aisle layout by heart. I know all the clerks. And, hopefully, I will be buying a quart of milk there once or twice a week for the NEXT 28 years.

"Sorry but that's not going to happen," spoke up Madam Jane.

Excuse me?

"At the recent presidential primary debate in Cleveland between Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama, they talked about healthcare and fair campaign practices and being stalwart friends of Israel and NAFTA and the new Bush-McCain clone. But neither one of the debaters mentioned milk."

Milk? Huh? What were they supposed to do? Debate the merits of low-fat milk vs. fat-free?

"Let's take a closer look at that quart. What does the future hold for milk?"

Cheerios and oatmeal?

"First of all, what about the grass that cows eat? Does it need to be pollinated in order to re-seed? And if so, will it need to be pollinated by bees? Bees are in big trouble right now because of insecticides and paracites and all the bees in North America may be dead in a few years. That means that we will no longer be able to buy any fruits or vegetables that are bee-pollinated."

But grass is wind-pollinated. I think.

"Now let's talk about the weather changes coming up. Can you walk to the store to buy that quart of milk when there is five feet of snow on the ground? Or will your store still get supplied with milk during a tornado? Or can they get cows to produce milk in 145-degree heat?"

So you put the cows in a barn with air-conditioning and central heating.

"And where is the gas and electricity going to come from to run the A/C?"

The Middle East?

"And how will the milk get to the store? With gasoline and diesel prices averaging $20 a gallon?"

I don't like where this is going.

"And what about inflation? It's now rising at 1% a month. Pretty soon you will need a wheelbarrow to take all the dollars that you will need with you to the store to buy your one quart of milk."

Could I use a suitcase?

"And what about the milk itself? With our pastureland being all drained of soil nutrients and the cows being sickly from various diseases, you might as well pour water over your cereal. And as for sitting down at the kitchen table to eat it? Your home will be gone. Foreclosed upon. Did they mention that at the debate?"

Okay. So you are saying that in the course of just a few years, our world will be falling apart and even the simple reality of popping over to the grocery store to buy a quart of milk will no longer exist? "Pretty much."

Hmmm. No wonder nobody mentioned all this in the debate. They would never get elected if they had.

"So what should I do to prepare for this?" I asked Madam Jane. "Buy my own cow?" M.J. did not find that amusing.

"In order to change the future, you know what to do. Everyone knows what needs to be done. Stop over-consuming. Start recycling on a massive scale. Stop wasting insane amounts of money and fuel on 'war'. Appreciate what you have now, take a photograph of it, remember it fondly and then move on. Get ready to change toward a very different future -- one that is do-able but only if we start NOW. Decide what is more important -- democracy, good health, the ability to read and write and living in a society governed by the rule of law -- or a few more years of material bliss, followed by chaos. Gear down for the long run."

And stock up on powdered milk?

PS: Here's Woody Smith's excellent report on the debate between Hillary and Obama:

As I type this I am watching the Cleveland debate on MSNBC. Following are my running comments:

The first seventeen minutes were consumed by an unusually pointless and contentious exchange regarding health care. Hillary could not be pinned down on how she would enforce her mandates. Obama could not be pinned down on how those who opt out of his plan would be covered. All of this is inevitable because we seem to be compelled to avoid advocating the actual correct solution to our health care woes, which is to expand Medicare to the entire population and expand its coverage to cover all non-elective health procedures and products in their entirety. As long as private insurance remains part of the equation, all proposals will be nonsensical and partial and all debate will be the equivalent of arguing about the number of angels who can dance on the head of a pin, as we saw tonight.

Then Tim Russert decided to play gotcha with Hillary on NAFTA. You must understand that Tim Russert is a loyal employee of General Electric, which not only has a HUGE stake in NAFTA and other international trade agreements but has an even greater stake in ensuring that the Republicans retain possession of the White House, and I think that the Republican intelligentsia (such as it is) views Obama as the easier opponent to beat. But it certainly would be best if Hillary could honestly own up to her former support for NAFTA if for no other reason that it is so well documented on the record. She should state the obvious, that it is a very complex issue and its effects were very difficult to foresee, but now she recognizes her support as a mistake. At least she was clear in her intent to alter trade agreements significantly. Obama was more straightforward but he's not married to one of NAFTA's prime movers, so he has a built-in advantage on that subject -- the advantage of having no record to defend.

When the discussion turns to trade agreements, we have a really good line that we ought to stick to. "These trade agreements have only succeeded in exporting American jobs and expertise while importing third-world wages, and the result has been protectionism for multinational corporate profits at the expense of the American worker."

On Iraq (and Afghanistan), I am very disappointed in the increasing equivocation that I perceive in both of our candidates' stand against this tragic and ruinous war. This is a winning issue and we need to be forthright and crystal clear in our opposition.

Now it's the break, and I do like the way Hillary goes back into Tim Russert's face when he asks such loaded questions and gets so argumentative. Maybe to some it makes her appear petulant, but she's pointing out something about the treatment Russert subjects Democrats to routinely and I find it welcome and refreshing.

Both Russert and Brian Williams seem to be attempting to provoke the maximum level of internecine bickering, often, merely to provoke nastiness, harping on negative things each has said about the other during previous campaign appearances. They started right back on this tack after the break, but both candidates deflected it nicely with good humor and mutual kindness, and Obama turned it nicely against the current administration.

(Aside: I always find myself calling Hillary Clinton "Hillary" and Barack Obama "Obama." This is not meant as any disrespect to Hillary via untoward familiarity, and somehow "Clinton" to me means her husband. And I simply don't think "Barack" sounds or looks right standing alone. In other words, don't read anything into it. I am genuinely undecided between the two candidates and will wholeheartedly support whichever one wins our nomination.)

Hillary was right to point out that currently privileged industries and classes -- the "special interests" -- will not willingly forfeit or even compromise their privileges. Happily, Obama agreed. Russert then played gotcha with Obama on campaign financing. Obama should answer straight here and say that when he stated his desire to stick to public financing he had no idea his fundraising would be so successful, and that he is not so stupid as to forgo such an advantage now that it is on his side. He should then go on to advocate exclusive and total public financing of Federal campaigns and make it a plank in his platform. To liken it, as Russert did, to John McCain's acceptance of public financing and then ignoring the limits during the Ohio primary was blatantly unfair. Obama never accepted public financing during this campaign, while McCain is now clearly and unequivocally breaking the law even despite the fact that he doesn't need to, having clinched the Republican nomination already. What does he think he needs the money for?

And then Russert, behaving not like a moderator in a debate but like a prosecutor cross-examining a hostile witness, turned on Hillary about her tax returns. He really should try to learn his place. And then he tried to brand Obama with Louis Farrakhan because Farrakhan endorsed his candidacy. Like somehow Obama can control Farrakhan. What a real slimeball Russert can be! To her great credit, Hillary chimed in to support Obama against the clear implication from Russert against Obama of antisemitism. You want antisemitism, go talk to St. Ralph [Nader]!

....Now Brian Williams is accusing Obama of being a liberal! Great gobs o' goo! Stop the presses! I really wish he was a liberal. And, as icing on the cake, he quoted a rating by the National Journal. To them, Joe McCarthy was a liberal.

Now I am really bored. What on earth does Vladimir Putin's hand-picking his successor have to do with the race for our nomination? Why is Russert harping on this? And why aren't either Hillary or Obama pointing out that the risks of Russian adventurism are much higher when our military is consumed by Iraq and Afghanistan rather than being reserved for needs more closely related to American security and the security of our allies?

When asked what vote he most regretted, I liked Obama's mention of his failure to oppose congressional intervention in that ridiculous Terry Schiavo case. I like someone who can recognize and admit mistakes, because the presidency itself is a brutal learning process.

Brian Williams then took a last stab at provoking a fight, this time frontally, asking each to critique the other. Obama didn't take the bait and fell to platitudes about Hillary's worthiness and his desire to bring us together (as I make the gesture of pushing two fingers in and out of my throat). Hillary, oddly, spoke about her campaign in the past tense. Now, what am I to make of that? Even the tone of her voice was one of resignation. It almost sounded like a concession.

Hmmm. Both of these fine people are so much superior to their opponents that I feel really bad about what is going to happen to whichever one prevails for our nomination. The Republicans will be far more savage even than they were the last time or the time before, because they have to be in order to have any chance to win. If you're dishonest, when you don't have the players, you fall to cheating.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Bush & McCain get their horoscope read: "In 20 years, you will own all the world's oil"

(These photos are of my fabulous 1990 Toyota -- with the "Bush Knew" bumper sticker -- that gets 35 miles a gallon and my alternate mode of transportation with the Kucinich bumper sticker which gets even MORE mpg.)

I've been trying to get to Cleveland in order to attend the Democratic primary debate between Hillary and Obama and have not been having any luck. Offers for housing have fallen through. The weather has turned nasty (they are now forecasting temperatures as HIGH as 36 degrees!) and I don't have enough frequent-flyer miles to pay for my flight. What should I do? Should I just go on ahead anyway? Or not....

"If money is a problem," a journalist friend just e-mailed me, "I recommend that you save your energy for the big show in August and September when the nominating conventions happen. I promise that you will experience the entire insanity and misery of the campaign trail even without going to Cleveland."

So. What SHOULD I do? Maybe my daily horoscope might give me a hint? Let's see. I'm a Cancer....

"Jane," said my horoscope, "don't bother going to Cleveland for the Democratic primary debate on Tuesday." Perhaps I should follow its advice. But you know how it is. Whenever someone tells you exactly what to do, you always wanna go and do the opposite.

"But I've GOT to be there," I wailed. "I've been media-credentialed! It's gonna be on national television! This is a big deal! And not only that, but one of those candidates at Cleveland State University tomorrow night is going to be the next president of the United States!" Wait a minute. What is happening here? Now I'm talking to a freaking newspaper? Oh dear. And the freaking newspaper is even answering back?

"Trust me," my horoscope replied. "I wouldn't count on Hillary or Obama becoming the next president if I were you. And besides, if you do go to Cleveland, not only will you bust your budget for the next two months and have to live on cheese and crackers until June, but it is COLD in Cleveland and with your moon in Aquarius and Scorpio rising, this trip could easily lead to pneumonia."

Don't you just hate it when your horoscope talks back?

"Stay home, Jane. Forget about Cleveland. Forget about Hillary and Obama. McCain is going to win this one. His Jupiter is opposite his Pluto. Done deal." Yeah and it also helps that the oil industry and the weapons industry pretty much own the media and McCain is their person.

"But if McCain DOES win, then what will happen?" I asked.

"That's a no-brainer. You don't have to be a star-gazer to predict that one. Here's the deal: The Bush-McCain coalition will continue to follow their proceed in the same direction that has been so successful for them so far. They will continue to attack, subvert and seize oil-producing countries all across the globe until, 20 years from now, they will control every single oil field in the world."

"But wouldn't that be a good thing -- that America would be in control of all the world's oil 20 years from now? Then won't all the other nations of the world have to come begging to us?"

"Aha," replied my Washington-insider, politically-hip horoscope (what ever happened to those horoscopes that merely predicted that we would be lucky in love?) "America won't be holding a lock on the world's oil. The Bush-McCain coalition will be holding a lock on the world's oil. There IS a difference. America will be just one more country standing in line, hat in hand, begging for crumbs."

Yikes! Can you imagine a "globalized" world in 20 years with the Bush twins running the show?

"Here's what it will look like," my horoscope continued -- although I wasn't really sure at this point that I wanted to know. "In 20 years, the world will be extremely polluted -- that's a given -- and there will be the 'Haves' and the 'Have-Nots'. The 'Haves' will drive around in tanks. And the 'Have-Nots' will all walk."

So I guess that my trip to Cleveland is definitely out?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

I just got media credentials for the Ohio primary debates! What now, punk!

The 2008 presidential primaries have been interesting and exciting so far. It's been like watching a horse race, where at first the field was all bunched up and no leading horses were clearly emerging until they entered the backstretch. But now, nearing the finish line, a few major candidates have obviously pulled ahead.

John McCain is winning the Republican primary race. Can you believe it? John McCain! Don't let me get started on that one! We'll be here all night.

McCain was involved in the Keating Five scandal, spent major time with a lobbyist for the telecom industry precisely at a point when he had the power to grant her three wishes. Perhaps she wasn't another Monica Lewinsky -- who knows? But he should never have had anything to do with her in the first place. And not to mention that McCain allegedly had an affair with another woman when he first got out of the Hanoi Hilton, cheating on his wife who had loyally stuck by him for all those years when he was in prison camp. But you just watch. All McCain's sins will be washed away by the media. No millions of dollars will be paid to Kevin Starr to investigate him!

McCain is a Republican. Republicans are allowed to do stuff like that.

The Hillary-Obama horse race has also been fun to watch. I covered their debate in South Carolina and it was totally a trip. Plus seeing the debate from inside the press filing room and the "Spin Room" was fascinating. One had access to the insights of the working press, got to meet media personalities, saw the candidates up close, watched the Secret Service in action, got caught up in the swirl of excitement, had access to various buffet tables, reveled in the ambiance and was given cute little CNN reporters' note pads and chocolate postcards of Myrtle Beach as well.

And while I'm off covering the Ohio debate, I will also have a chance to check out the story on Rep. Dennis Kucinich's hotly-contested defense of his Congressional seat. Due to his stance in favor of impeaching George W. Bush, Dennis has been under the gun a lot lately and, in an effort to eliminate a thorn in GWB's side, Bush's cronies have been funding Kucinich's opponents right and left. I could go check up on that action too.

And I could see snow for the first time in 20 years as well.

But what is most important about this trip is that I would have something interesting and exciting to write about, served up on a silver platter. And I would have a story that would be almost as good as my Kuwait airport story or the time I got to ask John McCain about his plans for attacking Iran. A good journalist lives for these moments!

So yesterday when I got my e-mail from Cleveland State University saying that they had credentialed me to report for the media, I was totally thrilled! A story! A story has just dropped down out of the sky into my lap! This debate could be a crucial rallying point for Hillary or the turning point for Obama's confirmation. And I was going to be there! At the making of history!

Or was I?


I had planned to use frequent-flyer miles to get to Cleveland and, once there, another journalist was going to pick me up and let me stay in his hotel room for free. This trip was affordable. I could do it. But then this morning I got another e-mail from the journalist. "My car just broke down and I'm not going to be able to drive to Ohio in time." There goes that story. I can't afford airfare, a hotel room and a rental car. I can't even afford to pay for dinners at Subway and breakfasts at IHOP.

Lately, all I do is worry about money. What's wrong with me? "Snap out of it, Jane!" It's not as if I'm starving and homeless or anything. It's just that I've become addicted to journalism and journalism costs money and Social Security payments just aren't enough to finance my Jones for covering the next hot story.

What to do? I've got a plan!

I'm gonna rent a motel room here in Berkeley, put on my bunny slippers, bring my own freaking buffet selection of tuna-fish sandwiches and Fritos, get out my laptop and do some top-notch on-the-scene reporting on the Ohio presidential primary debates from my Spin Room right here at the local Motel 6! Problem solved.

Sigh. Who am I kidding. I really would have loved to have gone to that debate. I would have got a really hot story -- and a media press kit and a CNN badge and everything.

PS: Does anybody know anybody in Cleveland who could pick me up at the airport and put me up for two nights? I won't be a bother. Honest.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

(These photos are mostly of the various closets in my home)

Spending more money, buying less stuff: The new "Stealth" recession

"What is the difference between a Recession and a Depression?" I asked an economist friend of mine recently.

"Public relations," she replied. "A recession doesn't sound quite as fierce." Okay. Next question. Why is everyone is talking about America being in a recession right now? I look around me at my neighbors and friends and they all still have jobs. They all still have places to live. No one is living out on the streets. No one is unemployed. Then how come everyone is still talking about us being in a recession?

"This is a STEALTH recession, Jane," replied my economist friend. "Unlike the huge stock market crash of 1929, this one is sneaking up on us gradually. Americans still trudge off to work every morning. They still come home to the kiddies each night. But now you have nothing extra to spend and worrying about money is replacing baseball as the national pastime."

According to a recent article in the Portland Oregonian, "Consumers are cash and credit constrained. They're out of purchasing power.... Retailers across the sector have been laying off staff and closing stores as consumers cut back on discretionary spending."

Oh, I get it. You used to go shopping at the supermarket, spend $200 - $300 a week and come home with lots and lots of grocery bags filled with salmon and steak. Now you still spend $200 - $300 a week on groceries but now you don't even need a courtesy clerk or a shopping cart to get your bags to the car. In fact, to save on gas, you don't even drive your car to the store any more. You walk. Hey, walking is healthy. Nothing wrong with that?

You used to do what is called "Recreational Shopping". Now you shop victoriously at the flea market. You used to go to the movies at night. Now you just go to matinees. And you used to have cable.

There used to be cute little gourmet shops down the street from you. Now you just have dollar stores and Wal-Mart. Your kids used to go to private schools. You used to go on vacations. You used to donate to charity, take in the symphony, get a massage.

And now? You still have a roof over your head. You still have food on the table. You still can afford clothes from the Good Will. Stop complaining. There are starving children in Africa. You still got it good.

But what happened? When did everything change? One day our economy was strong and then one day it wasn't. One day even those of us on the fringe of the American economy could still live off crumbs falling from America's economic table -- work a job here, stay with relatives there, panhandle when desperate, sell stuff on eBay. But now you can't find any crumbs left anywhere.

"Stealth recession."

PS: Why am I writing about this? Because it is effecting me too. I need money like I never did before. I can't remember ever having been this strapped for cash. I need to sell a whole bunch of stuff.

"What kind of stuff?"

Household stuff. Knick-knacks. Old bicycles. Some oil paintings of flowers that my mother left me. An out-of-date globe. Nothing special. Day-to-day stuff. But I don't have a clue as to how to sell it. What should I do? Any suggestions?

If any of you yard-sale junkies out there want to stop by, cart this stuff off, sell it at the flea market and give me 30% of the profit, please let me know. I live in Berkeley. The Ashby Flea Market is just three blocks away.

Yes, I know that money is tight right now. But it is about to get a hecka lot tighter. So I need to get rid of my stuff NOW -- and avoid the rush.


How humiliating! Now I'm being forced to work it on eBay to pay for my reporting jaunts. Here's the listing for my father's antique Japanese Samurai sword so that I can help pay for my next trip to Iraq, my trip to Cleveland for the primary election, my trip to North Korea in April and my trip to Burma in December.

And here's my eBay listing for an oil painting I inherited from my mom.

Good grief! Do New York Times reporters have to do stuff like this too? Are Paul Krugman, Frank Rich and Maureen Dowd being forced to hold garage sales in order to cover their beats also?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Bring your own flak jacket: Helpful tips for touring today's Middle East....

Well I'm back home from the Middle East and after spending my latest trip living in the Kuwait City airport Starbucks while waiting for a promised embed in Iraq that never came through (and, yes, I'm still really pissed off about that one!), I don't seem to be all that much worse for wear from the trip -- aside from a sore throat, a runny nose and a maxed-out bank account. But I also need to revise my book. I need to add a chapter entitled "Kuwait on Five Dollars a Day".

Guess what, guys. A more realistic title would be "Kuwait on 500 Dollars a Day". Kuwait is EXPENSIVE! In fact everywhere you travel these days, any place in the world, everything is expensive -- as expensive as it is to stay home.

So. Money is an issue with me right now. Is it an issue with you too? If your answer is yes, I'm not surprised. And if your answer is no, then you are one of the lucky ones. You can afford to go out and buy my book. Good for you.

When I got back to Berkeley, I found that Peter Barus had written a review of my book. This is a wonderful review! I will be forever grateful. Thanks, Peter. Please read this review and then go out and buy my book so that I can pay my rent, buy food, etc. (of course), but also so I can afford to go back to the Middle East and bring you even more news from the Kuwait City airport Starbucks! And from the North Korea Starbucks too. I plan to go on Global Exchange's tour of North Korea in April. Sign up yourself and come on along.

Do you think they'll have a Starbucks at the Pyongyang airport?

Here's the review:

Don't look for Jane Stillwater on Charlie Rose: she is not sitting around doing talk shows and flogging her book. She is, at this writing, stuck in Kuwait at the Starbucks in the airport, after the 'embed' she had been granted by the US Government was rescinded.

'Bring Your Own Flak Jacket' is a heart-rending book about what American policy has really done to the Middle East. Ms. Stillwater went to Palestine, Mecca, Iraq and other places to see first-hand what is going on, and being a woman, a grandmother and a Muslim, and having a certain gift for connecting with ordinary folks, she has been able to provide a view of life in the war zones of the Middle East that most reporters never see, and fewer will trouble to write about.

Living with Palestinians, making her own Hajj, and embedding herself with military and civilian people in Iraq, she brings us into the intimate lives of ordinary people living under the most terrifying conditions of foreign occupation. We learn what it is like to be bombed and shot at, to have no running water or access to medical care, to live under worse-than-Apartheid conditions, to be a refugee in one's own homeland.

Jane Stillwater takes us into the private places where women struggle to maintain their families against frightening odds, day after day for years on end. Speaking as only a grandparent living on very modest means can speak, she opens hearts and minds for us that no other media source has bothered to ask: the hearts and minds of ordinary people living under brutal oppression, the source of which is in Washington, D.C.

This courageous journalist was present when the Iraqi Parliament was bombed, and interviewed wounded officials while the dust and debris from the blast was still hanging in the air. Despite obstruction from U.S. officials, she has gone where no man has gone before to bring us the real human facts from under our own guns.

Stillwater's free, authentic, conversational writing style is disarming and engaging, and made this reader understand -- no, feel intensely -- the unimaginable pain of life in places my own country has made a vast ruin. Through her spare descriptions of fact, we come to know people as they are: so like ourselves, so like our own families, that it brings up outrage and calls us to action.

Don't read this book if you do not want to become a writer of letters to legislators and newspapers, a blogger, a marcher, a thorn in your Congressperson's side, or anything you can discover that you think will make a difference. Stillwater will connect you to the rest of our world, heart to heart, and there is no getting over it.

Reading 'Bring Your Own Flak Jacket', you will understand that the title refers not only to the armor Stillwater had to buy for herself in Iraq, but to the other kind of armor you will have to acquire when you realize what a constant torrent of assaults on reason, democracy, justice and truth we are subjected to daily about how necessary it is that we fund all this horror in the name of fear. Buy this book, and extra copies for everyone you know, and get your flak jacket on. It is your duty as a responsible human being. Jane Stillwater has provided the courage and the insight there are no more excuses for blissful ignorance.

PS: My book is available at or you can special order it at any independent bookstore.

PPS: The Pentagon still owes me $1,775 for Breach of Promise. Humph.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Embedded at the Kuwait airport Starbucks, part 2: Here come the Marines!

Here's an update on my current attempt to embed in Iraq. As some of you may already know, I've been stranded at the Kuwait international airport for the last few days and living at the local 24-hour Starbucks.

So. Why am I here? Hanging out at the Kuwait airport without any luggage, washing up in the rest room and looking more like some elderly bag lady than your typical large-and-in-charge high-speed journalist about to bring you news from Iraq? The reason is that the U.S. military's CentCom operation and their CPIC (Combined Press INFORMATION Center) in Baghdad are still steadfastly refusing to embed me -- or even to put me up in a tent on one of the military's many Kuwait airbases while I wait until March 5 for my return flight. And CPIC has been steadfastly polite-but-nasty regarding their refusals too. So, despite my many desperately humble pleas for the reinstatement of my embed, CentCom and CPIC have left me stranded here at the Kuwait international airport Starbucks for days now. Officers and gentlemen? Ha.

Guess what, CentCom? After fortifying myself with bunches of lattes, frapichinos and cheese danishes, this worm is going to turn! No more humiliating myself and begging and pleading for an embed, you guys. I was in a sorority when I was in college. I know how to do polite-but-nasty too!

"Dear Sirs," I just wrote the guys in the Green Zone. "I would like to request that CentCom please try harder when attempting to come up with excuses for canceling my embed request after they have already granted it. The excuses that you have offered to me so far (such as 'We couldn't find any units willing to embed you...' and 'You don't have the readership...' and 'This is a combat zone...) are not valid." Hey, I'm a reporter. My readers want to know what the freak is going on over in Iraq. CentCom has got to come up with better excuses than that!

But then I got to thinking about this further -- after going five days without sleep, one has a whole bunch of time to think -- and I decided to can the "polite-but-nasty" approach and go straight for "really nasty" instead. These people have humiliated my professional reputation, insulted little old ladies everywhere and bankrupted my piggy bank. This is war!

However, one can't fight a war with no sleep. So I decided to go look for slightly more comfortable accommodations than Starbucks and asked the Kuwaiti chap at the table next to me if he knew of any cheap hotels around here. "The Intercontinental in the downtown area is not too expensive. They charge $75 a night," he replied. $75? I could afford that for one night. I could sleep for 24 hours, take a bath and come back to the Starbucks refreshed. Okay.

"And are there any buses here that would get me downtown?"

"Nothing that you would want to take." Hmmm. I've been on some truly funky buses before. Let me be the judge of that.

But while I was walking out to the bus stop, a short stocky man brushed up against me and whispered "Cab?" in my ear and I whispered back, "Sure!" So we went off in his gypsy taxi and he drove me into downtown Kuwait -- which looks pretty much like downtown Los Angeles frankly -- and dropped me off at the hotel. But it was the wrong hotel.

"I'm sorry, Madam," said the clerk, "but our least expensive suite is $135." Suite? Yikes. I can't afford that! But then I remembered what my friend Parween had told me about the Muslim tradition of mosques taking in poor stranded travelers.

"Er, is there a mosque around here," I asked. So the clerk directed me to a pedestrian overpass across an expressway and I walked over to what looked like the women's entrance of the mosque to ask someone for aid -- only unbeknownst to me this wasn't a mosque. It was a high school for girls.

"Hi," I said brightly. "I'm here to see if you can find me accommodations for a few weeks." At first the principal of the high school looked sort of confused. But then her Islamic habit of helping strangers kicked in, she called a meeting of her staff, they huddled and conferred in Arabic and kept pointing at me and frowning for about ten minutes but then finally decided that, yes, they would adopt me and find me a home. "I can do babysitting in return," I added. Since my granddaughter was born two months ago, I have totally honed my childcare skills. "I can stop a colicky newborn from crying in less than five minutes!"

Then the principal gave me an unofficial tour of the school. I was very impressed. Both the students and the teachers seemed intelligent, motivated, dedicated and professional. Plus they offered me tea and some cute little pastry thingies. I wonder if I could borrow their internet for a few minutes too....

But that was not to be. After trying to figure out exactly what would be the best thing to do with me, they finally decided to turn me over to the International Islamic Charitable Organization and assigned a teacher to drive me across town to their offices, where I met with one of their top guys. "What exactly is it that you want us to do for you?" he asked. "What is your plan?" Well, I don't suppose he could help get me embedded in Iraq? No, probably not.

"Find me a place to stay until my plane ticket is valid? And give me a chance to meet some of the people of Kuwait?"

"We can do that. But first, tell me if you have checked in with the American embassy yet. We must always try the embassy first. It is the protocol." Good grief! Do I have to do that? They will probably just put me in jail or something for hatin' on Condoleeza Rice! But there was no stopping the IICO rep, he made some phone calls and the embassy staff immediately agreed to see me. As well they should. IICO is a billion-dollar operation, supporting schools, job training and healthcare programs throughout the Middle East and Africa. For them, helping out some destitute American lady was a piece of cake. "But we must follow protocol first." Oops.

I could feel my big opportunity to spend time in Kuwait meeting REAL Kuwaitis start slipping away.

Then the head guy summoned his driver and we went off to the embassy which, like most other American embassies in the world, was surrounded by blast walls, guards and security gates. So much for our friendly relations with our allies in Kuwait. But much to my surprise, the people that I talked with in the consulate section were some of the nicest, most helpful people I have dealt with, ever. I was totally impressed! They were, er, totally DIPLOMATIC.

"This is what we can do for you," they said. "We will work with United Airlines and change you to an earlier flight. We can have you going home by tonight!" Oh dear.

"PLEEZE don't send me back tonight," I begged. At this point, I was completely freaking sleep-deprived and another 24 hours in the air right now -- I can't sleep on planes! -- would just about do me in forever. And then I'd never get a chance to embed because no one wants to embed a dead body. Humph. So they changed the flight date to a few days from today and directed me off to a place to stay for the night that was supposed to be within my budget.

"Just take a taxi to the Crown Plaza Hotel. It's right near the airport." A bath! A bed! OMG!

"I'm sorry, Madam," said the clerk, "but our least expensive suite is $300." Sigh. Back to the Starbucks. But the barristas were glad to see me. And maybe I could still get an embed. Wearily I turned on my laptop to see if there was any good news from CentCom yet. But said laptop was a ten-year-old Dell and it needed some jankity portable antenna thingie in order to receive wi-fi and somehow its cheapo plastic self had broken in two. "No! No! No!" No bath, no bed, NO WI-FI!

If I had been thinking clearly at the time -- but it's hard to think clearly when one has gone without sleep for five days -- I would have gotten down to business, staged a media event and gone on a hunger strike at the Kuwait airport Starbucks until CentCom finally agreed to either keep their promise to embed me or at least give me my money back for the air fare, using the airport Starbucks as my base of operations to make the WORLD aware of my plight! Well, maybe not a hunger strike. But a bath strike for sure. And international media from all over the world would come to my table in the back room of Starbucks next to the window and interview me and help get me embedded. "Attica! Attica!"

But when my cheapo wi-fi antenna broke, all the fight just leaked out of me and I decided to pack it in and fly back to Berkeley instead. Too bad. The Kuwait airport Starbucks staff loves me, they make a great chicken Caesar salad, there's a beige couch near the counter that I could possibly sleep on and I could support freedom of speech, freedom of the press and a decent and humane end to this "war" in Iraq all at the same time.

"But Jane, you haven't told me where the Marines come into the story yet." I haven't? Well, here's what happened. Before the wi-fi disaster, I had managed to check my e-mail one last time and there was not only one but THREE offers from the Marines to embed me in Anbar province! Seriously. They had written to CentCom on my behalf. Semper fi!

"Jane," wrote one battalion commander, "who are you dealing with down there [at CentCom]? Was your plan to come to Iraq? Let me know and I'll see what we can do from this end. Too bad you are not here today as we are having a huge ceremony and parade as we turn over the primary responsibility for security in Hit to the police. I'll get some pictures to you."

Wow, that's great! But too late for me. United Airlines had not only found my luggage for me but they offered to get my ticket changed to an earlier flight. Thank you, United.

But then I got to thinking about what the battalion commander had actually said. "Too bad you are not here today as we are having a huge ceremony and parade as we turn over the primary responsibility for security in Hit to the police." That's really important. That is one colossally important statement. That statement is BIG. I need to go back to Iraq just to cover that story.

"But Jane," you might ask. "What's so big about that?" Well, I'll tell you. It means that the Marines are keeping true to their word about trying to fix things up in Iraq and then leave. Permanent occupation is NOT the Marines' goal. It may be the goal of the "gollems for the weapons industry" in Washington but it is not the goal of the Marines. And here is proof that the Marines are keeping their word.

The Los Angeles Times ran a story on the ceremony. "City of Hit Demilitarizes: Iraqi Security Forces assumed responsibility of the city of Hit from Task Force 1st Battalion, 7th Marines yesterday in the largest demilitarization of an Anbar city to date. 'This town is whole again,' said Gov. Mamoun Sami Rashheed, the governor of Anbar Province. 'I ask the [Iraqi Police] and the [Iraqi Army] to be honest. It's the people's right. They own their lives.'" Isn't this the sort of thing that Bush and Cheney claim they have been fighting for all this time -- not all that oil or the billions of dollars now sitting in their Swiss bank accounts?

This small, mostly-ignored ceremony in far-away Hit is totally big news for Americans. Why? Because it points us at last toward a viable middle ground between "one hundred years of war" on the one hand and "pulling out right now" on the other. It shows us that there are other options on the table these days and that loyal Americans seeking to do the "right thing" in Iraq don't have to go for other loyal Americans' throats and call each other traitors for supporting or not supporting this "war". We CAN pull out of Iraq. We DON'T have to stay there forever. But we can do it in an orderly fashion that won't leave chaos behind.

Iraq is not a "war" -- to be lost or won. Iraq is a country that is trying to find its way and the American military should be helping them to do just that. And the sooner CentCom can concentrate on getting this done --and not just spending all their time and energy on keeping sweet innocent lady reporters trapped in the Kuwait airport Starbucks! -- then the better for everyone involved. Let's help Iraqis with schools, healthcare, police training, sewage, etc. Let's invest in the infrastructure of Iraq instead of investing in the infrastructure of Bush, Cheney and other "war" profiteers. And then let's get the Hell out!

If this happens, no one loses. Everyone wins.

I also like this third alternative because it solves a very painful dilemma for me personally as well. I'm tired of endless amounts of American dollars being pounded down the rathole of Iraq -- it is bankrupting our country -- but at the same time I respect and admire our American service men and women and do not want to diss them either. This dichotomy has been tearing me apart -- and it is tearing America apart too. Enough of this. Let's turn Iraq back to the Iraqis and get out -- but with honor.

I talked to one Army colonel at the Kuwait airport and what he said made sense too. He was running off to catch a plane and didn't have much time to talk but this is what he said to me before he disappeared into the security checkpoint at Airport Zone 3. "If good things are ever to happen in Iraq, they must come from the ground up. We must start with developing trust and motivation with each individual Iraqi. Sure, there are terrorists who will never change and of course there is a government at the top level in Iraq to be dealt with. But a lasting peace must come from the people themselves. Iraqis are educated. They can do this. And communication is the key."

Communication. Communication between Iraqis and Americans. And communication between conservative Americans and progressive Americans is also desperately needed too -- we all (should) want the same thing: To make our country strong and proud and not just another banana republic writ large; not just some pseudo-democracy/failed dream run by men who have never EVER asked themselves, "What can I do for my country?"

Another small example of how communication between factions could help solve problems is one that also effects me personally -- the rift that is now taking place in my home town of Berkeley between local Marine recruiters and the ladies of Code Pink. I respect both organizations and it breaks my heart to see them in discord. Try communication, guys!

If both of these groups could but spread their wings a bit, they might be able to come up with an agreement to work together in common cause, as the Marines endeavor to strengthen America's military in order to be ready to protect us against foreign attacks and Code Pink stands up for democracy and works to make sure there will be no more useless slaughter-for-profit and preemptive war. The Marines and Code Pink's ends are the same -- to do what they can to maintain a stronger, freer, better America. They need to start working together on this.

Well, that's my story for today. I've got no more to say right now because I need to concentrate on analyzing United Airline's list of available inflight movies -- and scheming on how to get my plane ticket money back from CentCom.... Hmmm.

PS: While running off to catch his plane, the Army colonel also told me something else very interesting. "One of the reasons that the Marines are so strong is because they have a rotation policy of six months in Iraq followed by six months in the States," I told him. "Why doesn't the Army have that policy too? Their current 15-month deployment policy is too hard on military families."

"Basically," he replied as he rapidly proceeded toward his flight gate, easily hefting two large standard-issue duffel bags that looked like they weighed at least 60 pounds each, "we don't have any one else to replace the ones that we've got." That's truly scary. "Bush's War" has depleted our Army.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Help Help Help! I'm stranded at the Kuwait airport Starbucks and they won't let me embed!

I still do not understand why the military is not letting me embed. I have written articles favorable to our troops that have been read by approximately 700,000 readers. Of course I have expressed a strong interest in seeing GWB go to jail -- but then 3/4 of America agrees with me on that one and so do half of our troops. I went to bat for the Marines in Berkeley regarding their conflict with Code Pink regarding recruiting, causing me great loss of credibility with the American Left.

I came here because the US military said I could embed and then retracted their offer after I had already purchased my plane ticket but the Pentagon told me they were going to look into this matter so I came on ahead. At the very least, the military should let me stay at an American Kuwait airbase until my my return flight is due or refund my plane fare or GET ME A HOTEL.

OpEd News readers, please call the Pentagon and ask them to come to my rescue! It's midnight here in Kuwait! I'm desperate! And also, it might be a good idea to never trust the military to not go back on their word. Thank you.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Why vote for Hillary: She'd be the one most likely to put Bush in jail.

(This photo is one I took of some Marines in Haditha, Ambar province, Iraq)

A friend of mine keeps pushing me to get involved in the Obama campaign but I steadfastly refuse. Why? Because for the last eight years, every since George W. Bush stole the 2000 election and 9-11 happened on his watch, my one major goal in life has been to see that punk in jail. And that goal has been the measure of all things for me since good old Dubya violated our Constitution and used his money and family connections to screw America. Don't get me started on that one!

Another friend wants me to get involved in the confrontation between Code Pink and the Marine recruiting station here in Berkeley. Once again, I am not getting involved. That's not my fight. My fight is to incarcerate the sadists and thieves who sent the Marines to Iraq and Afghanistan in the first place, shamelessly wasting our nation's well-trained and capable fighting men just for the sake of making GWB the world's first trillionaire at the expense of the Marines' blood, sweat and tears. But don't get me started on that one either.

"So. Jane. Who are you going to vote for in November?" I would greatly prefer to see Dennis Kucinich in the White House but that's not going to happen. He is pro-American, pro-labor, pro-taxpayer and pro-working class. The poor guy doesn't stand a chance. But don't get me started on that one either!

So. Who does that leave me to vote for? Obama, Clinton or McCain. McCain is a Bush-Cheney clone. We've already been down that primrose path once and can't afford to go down it again. So scratch McCain. Obama? Sure, he's a nice guy and all but he's young. He could run in 2012, with more experience under his belt. Or maybe he could succeed in 2008 by energizing the X-Box Generation to come out and vote in the remaining primaries -- and maybe he could capture the White House too. But if Obama won, would he make every effort to put Bush (and Cheney) in jail? In my mind, that's still up in the air.

Ah but Hillary. She's my person. After all the things that the neo-cons have done to her and her family over the last 16-odd years? More than any other candidate, I can count on her to put Cheney and Bush into the shackles and jump suits where they belong. "Revenge is a dish best
served cold." And boy do I want revenge! I want George W. Bush to PAY -- for 9-11, for violating our Constitution, for advocating torture, for Katrina, for bankrupting our treasury, for scamming on Christianity, for the slow and painful death of the American working class....

PS: Today is the day that I'm supposed to fly off to Kuwait to (hopefully) embed in Iraq. Rep. Barbara Lee is actively trying to help get my embed reinstated and a very helpful public affairs officer at the Pentagon is also looking into my case. But in the meantime, I'm a nervous wreck. A complete and total nervous wreck. You would be too. If I don't get embedded as promised, then it's gonna be "Kuwait City on Five Dollars a Day" for three weeks for me. Is it legal to beg on the streets in Kuwait? If CentCom Iraq doesn't make good on their initial promise of an embed for me (I never woulda bought that non-refundable plane ticket if they hadn't), I'll soon find out!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Does prayer really work? "No."

(Sorry that I couldn't get this photo of the church in Yelapa Mexico to face right side up)

When I was a tousle-headed toddler back in 1943, my father went off to war and my mother, sister and I lived in an old two-story home on Charles Street in Point Loma, near the San Diego/Coronado naval base. And while their men were away in the Pacific, the war-widowed women of Charles Street banded together and formed support groups and babysitting exchanges and went to church together -- and I learned how to pray.

"Jane is very serious about her Sunday school," my mother wrote in my baby book. "She loves going to church!" And now, over 60 years later, I'm still praying my heart out. But do my prayers work? Not so you'd notice.

"Maybe you are praying for the wrong thing, Jane," said a friend. Yeah, maybe I should start praying for a new car or a new microwave. But there is only one thing I want in this world. And I have prayed for it daily since as long as I can remember.

"Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me."

Here's my daily prayer shopping list: "May all beings be blessed with peace, love, joy, equanimity, abundance, treasure, enlightenment, health, flowers, trees, fresh air, sunshine, happiness, beauty, silence, simplicity, grace, compassion, hope, wisdom, courage, calm, clarity, creativity, adventure, truth and good work in this lifetime -- even me."

I've prayed this prayer in English, Spanish, Latin, Arabic, Chinese and even Setswana. But have my prayers been answered? "No."

Is there peace in the DRC, Darfur or Kenya? Is there fresh air in Houston? Is there abundance in Afghanistan, where almost one-fourth of the population has died unnecessarily since 2001? Is there happiness in the Great Mall of America? Do we have wisdom in Iraq, compassion in Gaza, hope in our homeless shelters, equanimity in the minds of the millions of first-world people with roofs over their heads and food on their tables who still must take anti-depressants because they are so miserable in their own souls if they don't? Or does enlightenment guide Congress, the White House, our local city councils and the Supreme Court? "No."

I have to admit that there is lots of sunshine on the polar ice caps these days. But is that really in answer to prayer?

My knees are worn out from praying for a better world. I want to see people get along. All this war and greed and hostility and anger and lack of trust is tearing me apart. But are my prayers working? "No."

PS: "Jane, do you think that our troops should withdraw from Iraq?" someone asked me yesterday.

"I wouldn't use the word 'should' here if I were you," I answered. "The only word we can use here is 'must'. America must withdraw our troops from Iraq." Why? "Because we simply cannot AFFORD Iraq any more. And we cannot afford to interfere in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Gaza, the West Bank, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria or Iran any more either. We just can't. We simply do not have the money." Wishes are NOT horses here. We MUST withdraw.

Here's an analogy. Suppose that a man with a very low income wanted to buy his wife a five-karat diamond solitaire pendant on Valentines Day. Well perhaps he "should" buy it. But can he AFFORD to buy it? No.

Suppose America wants to keep funding hostilities in Iraq, Afghanistan, Gaza, Lebanon, Iran, Pakistan, etc. for the next 100 years. "Wanting" to keep these operations going isn't good enough when, financially, we don't have a prayer.

But then maybe my prayers for peace ARE being answered after all -- because, ultimately, no one can afford war.

PPS: Regarding my upcoming embed in Iraq, I still haven't gotten any word back from the three congressional representatives in Washington who are working on my behalf or from my appeal to the Pentagon about whether my embed will be reinstated even despite my progressive views and my hopes (and prayers!) that the neo-cons who support wholesale genocide in the Middle East for fun and profit will end up in jail where they belong. Or if the Pentagon will reimburse me for my wasted plane ticket because CentCom changed its mind after I bought it. Or whether Desperate Housewives will be back on the air again any time soon....

PPPS: Some reporter friends of mine and I are thinking about starting a blog describing what it is like to be on the campaign trail and we are looking for a good name for the blog. So far, I'm thinking of going with, "More of the Same: Notes from Outside of the Campaign Trail Bus". What do you think?

PPPPS: I'm back to listing my father's antique Japanese Samurai sword on eBay again. I need to pay for my trip to (hopefully) embed in Iraq on February 12 through March 5, my trip to North Korea in April and my trip to Burma in December.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

"Mom likes you better!": Living on the government teat in Iraq

When I was embedded in Iraq last year, one reporter pulled me aside and carefully spelled out the U.S. military's "Rules of Embedment" for me.

"Don't say anything negative or they will withhold your access to news or even send you back home." Oh, okay. Nothing negative. Check.

And so I praised our brave troops to the heavens -- and that was really easy to do. Those guys are doing a great job! But it still didn't do me any good. I still got no access to news. And I still got unceremoniously sent home. Why? Because I couldn't keep my mouth shut about George W. Bush. Hey, my mentor-reporter never warned me about that!

The first time I was embedded in Iraq, I got watched like a hawk because of my unfriendly attitude toward the White House (and also apparently because, at John McCain's famous "stroll through the market" press conference, I couldn't keep my mouth shut and actually asked him some actual important and news-worthy questions such as was anyone planning to invade Iran. Hey, I thought Americans might want to know this sort of stuff.) And after that, Condi's State Department apparently started reading my e-mails and I was sent home without ever being allowed to leave the Green Zone -- while other, more compliant, reporters were granted access to come and go as they pleased.

The second time I went to Iraq was a fluke. I truly believe that someone let me back in purely by accident. But then they sent me off to Anbar province, the one place in Iraq that was safe. I loved Anbar. I loved the Marines. I sent home GLOWING reports about how the Marines were helping with the reconstruction and working hand-in-glove with the Iraqis and...all of it true. The Marines ARE doing a good job in Anbar. But Bush ain't doing a good job in the White House. The man is a thief and a war criminal -- and I wrote about it. My bad. Oops.

Then, in January of 2008, I applied to go back to Iraq one more time. Hey, what can I say? I'll go to anywhere for a good story. Plus I'd only seen the Green Zone and Al Anbar so far and I still wanted to see what was happening in the rest of Iraq.

"Come on over," said one of those guys who sit in pre-fab cubbies in the Green Zone all day and routinely rubber-stamp reporters' embeds. "We'll send you out with the Third Infantry Division. They cover Iraq from the north to the south. They are your one-stop shop for embedding! You'll love it here." Or words to that effect. Yea for the 3ID!

Based on this enthusiastic invitation from CentCom in Baghdad, I ran out and bought a plane ticket for February 12, pulled my helmet out of the closet and dusted off my Kevlar. I was good to go.

But what happened next? Someone in the CentCom front office must have read some of my articles from OpEd News or the Lone Star Iconoclast or something. "Yikes!" he must have screamed. "She doesn't like George Bush!" I bet you could have heard him all across the Green Zone. "Cancel that embed!" And they did.

Now I am sitting here in Berkeley with my non-refundable plane ticket to Kuwait City in my hand, lamenting about all that money that I've just wasted -- money that I can ill-afford to just throw away. But my flight leaves from SFO on February 12 -- and I am going to be on that plane. Why not? At least this way I'll get to see some inflight movies and eat some free food and the ticket won't be a total waste. And when I get to Kuwait, I can sleep in the mosques, hang out at the internet cafes (if they still work after four underwater cables were mysteriously cut in the past week) and be there in the Middle East when the action heats up.

"What action, Jane?"

"The action that will happen when Iran opens its non-dollar-based oil bourse next week and all Hell breaks loose." And I'll be right there when it happens, watching the Kuwait economy inflate and the American dollar collapse and...." And when the spit hits the fan, you had better believe that I will have lots of really really really nasty things to say about George W. Bush.

"Jane, why are you all hatin' on GWB this time?" Because there are all too many signs these days -- like Dubya's recent trip to the Middle East to browbeat his allies into submission, the mysteriously-cut internet cables connecting Tehran to the rest of the world, the US anti-missile ships now in Israeli harbors and the Iranian navy in the Mediterranean -- that all point out that Bush is probably planning something stupid (again) such as another disastrous Shock and Awe.

What did JFK used to say? "Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country." That thought has NEVER crossed our George's mind. Trust me on that one. What America means to him apparently is that it is just another good bank to rob. But I digress.

The Green Zone guy wrote me again. "Jane, you can't come back to Iraq because it's a battlefield over here." Duh. That's why I want to go over there! Why else would I want to go to some war-torn country, spend three weeks wearing Kevlar and live in a tent? That statement didn't wash. So the guy thought up another one.

"Jane, you can't come over here because you don't have enough readership to justify the expense." What! Arggh. The Bushies misplace SIX BILLION DOLLARS in Iraq, spend something like two million dollars a minute over there trying to justify Dubya's brain-dead decision to go ahead with the invasion of Iraq -- the worst military blunder since Hitler invaded Moscow in the middle of winter -- and now they can't afford to put me up in a tent for three weeks? Because I don't have the readership? Well. YOU are reading this, aren't you? I rest my case.

Which gets us back to my main point again -- "Mom likes you more than me." There is far too much bias going on in Iraq regarding who gets access to the news stories over there and who does not. For instance, there is one reporter in Iraq right now who has almost no readers, who is almost unknown, who has been over there living off the government teat for YEARS now and who, rumor has it, even has his own freaking office.

What is the difference between this guy and me? We both are willing to live in a tent (or at least I am). We both write wonderful things about our heroic troops. But this guy knows how to kiss Condi's [bottom] and how to give GWB good [PR]. Whereas I just write about what goes on.

Is this guy doing a service to America by keeping his mouth shut about the terrible blunders that he sees Bush committing at the expense of a whole generation of the finest fighting men and women ever to serve in our country's military? Is this guy helping our troops? No. Not at all. But this guy knows how to make "Mom" like him better and I don't. And that's what counts these days. Hence he's there and I'm not.

So. What's my ultimate point? That the grand and glorious tradition of Freedom of the Press is in danger here in America? Well, sure, that. But also that, under the thumb of Bush and his friends, freedom of access is being lost as well. And America, my wonderful and idealistic country that used to be the light of the world, has not become a better place from its loss.

To quote embedded journalist Michael Yon, "The media [is] far from perfect. War reporters, like everyone else, get things wrong. Some of them, unsympathetic to the war aims, undoubtedly try to twist the news. But no coverage at all is even worse. It does a disservice to American soldiers. It is cruel to their families. It leaves the American public in the dark."

Sunday, February 03, 2008

"In America -- without George Bush": Teddy Kennedy visits Oakland....

I know several journalists who have been on the 2008 campaign trail since way back in Iowa and they all got me hooked on following the various presidential primary election contests. And they knew exactly how to get me hooked too. They found my weak spot. They talked about food. Apparently Mitt Romney's buffet table for journalists is the best, followed by Hillary's and then CNN's. But no one served ANY food to the journalists at the Reagan Library debate. Cheap Republicans. Humph.

Anyway, all this talk about debates and hot stories (and the food) finally lured me out of my bunker here in front of my computer and onto the campaign trail. But just working the Myrtle Beach debate for one weekend totally frazzled me. Looking for candidates to interview, hitting the after-parties, schmoozing with campaign workers at the Hard Rock Cafe and searching everywhere for Congresswoman Barbara Lee wore me right out. Trudging around Iraq with the Marines wasn't as hard as all this.

"How do you keep up with all this, week after week?" I asked one reporter in the spin room. "You gotta be made of steel to keep up this pace. And if you guys are made of steel then the candidates themselves must be made of titanium." Sorry, guys. That's the end of the campaign trail for me.

But it wasn't the end of the campaign trail for me, not at all. the other day, while I was "stacking" my daughter Ashley's now-purple hair into pin-curls, my son Joe popped his head in the door and said, "Hey, Ma, want to go hear Ted Kennedy speak at an Obama rally in Oakland today?" No, not really. I had just watched the L.A. debates on TV and they were boring. "I'm trying to save my energy to go off to Iraq on February 12." Go away.

But then I realized that this was a good opportunity to spend quality bonding time with my son, so we drove off to Oakland anyway. And it turned out that I was really glad I went. What a speaker Teddy Kennedy is! That man is all fire and brimstone. That man is a national treasure, a true Kennedy. All the reporters in the Myrtle Beach spin room would have been proud of me. (But there wasn't any food.)

We got to the Beebe Memorial Cathedral on Telegraph and 39th Street and there was a line all the way around the block. Oops. We shoulda planned our timing better and come earlier. But then we saw Anton Mohammed, Joe and Ashley's old jujitsu teacher, doing security and he told us to use the press entrance which we did and ended up getting front-row seats. Well, actually, we sat down on the floor in front of the front row, which was even better. And I whipped out my pen and camera and tried to look official. The Green Zone military press center in Iraq is all accusing me of not being a REAL reporter. They shoulda seen me now!

Unlike the South Carolina debates where everyone was all dressed to the nines and politely well-behaved, this crowd was from Berkeley and Oakland and everyone here was dressed casually, cheering their hearts out and -- good grief! -- even doing a wave. This was definitely an Obama crowd and Oakland was definitely an Obama town. I was probably the only person in an audience of 1,500 who was going to vote for Hillary.

In any case, Congresswoman Barbara Lee introduced Senator Kennedy. Good. I hadn't been able to track her down in South Carolina but maybe I could interview her after the rally. "Here are MY priorities," she said. "Ending the occupation in Iraq, ending poverty in America, fighting HIV/AIDS, decent housing, responsible government and civil rights. So when I was looking at the candidates for President, it became clear to me that there had been only one Senator in this race who opposed this war from the start." Big round of clapping and cheers.

"We have to bring our troops home and Senator Obama is the candidate to do it. This candidacy isn't about race. It's about the past vs. the future. And Senator Obama is the future of this nation, leading us in this young century into a POSITIVE future. This is about inspiring our young people -- with democratic progressive values. We've got to do it differently." More cheers. And she's right. If we don't do things differently than the Bush-Cheney-McCain generation did things, we're screwed. Heck, we're probably already screwed beyond redemption even now, thanks to them.

Up to this point I had been taking notes on the back of a campaign flier but then I ran out of space. Why oh why had I left my official-looking CNN reporter's notebook at home! But that didn't stop me. Your intrepid reporter Jane has skills! I started taking notes on the palm of my left hand. Then someone gave me one of those envelopes you put church donation money into that they store next to the hymn books in the front of the pews and I was good to go. And just in time too.

Senator Kennedy took the stage and the crowd went wild! Me too. "Do you know where we will be one year from today?" he asked us. "In America -- without George Bush!" That statement got him a standing ovation. Me too. I even considered jumping up on a pew so I could yell and scream louder! Down, Jane.

Then Senator Kennedy read us the MapQuest directions on how to get to the Beebe Memorial Cathedral that Senator Obama had given him. Everyone laughed.

"It is important that we support this amazing candidate." I guess he wasn't talking about Hillary. Not with a thousand Obama signs in his face. Sigh. "I feel change in the air." Then he talked about Martin Luther King Jr. and Brown vs. Board of Education. "King challenged this nation to knock down the walls of discrimination in this country. We made progress. Women, the disabled, Latinos, gays and lesbians -- we have not knocked down all the walls but we've made progress.

"And now we can elect someone who can electrify [I think that's what he said. I was writing so fast that now I can't read what I wrote] this nation. Obama will do this." The crowd roared again.

"In the 1960s," continued Kennedy in a deep, mesmerizing tone that made me think of Williams Jennings Bryant, "I was having lunch with the first Peace Corps volunteers to return home and one of them turned to me and said, 'This was the first time anyone asked me to do something for my country.' And we need the young people to get involved in politics. We need our young people. We need them. And they are going to get their parents and grandparents and uncles involved too, returning to the time of my brothers..." and suddenly I realized that I was only ten feet away from the last remaining Kennedy brother and that he was every bit as dynamic as JFK or Bobby. "...when we as a community, state and nation take on the challenges we will face after we get rid of George Bush and we need to get out of a war that we should never gotten into." Yep. The next generation is going to be stuck with cleaning up Bush's mess -- from restoring the treasury and the economy to rebuilding America's wonderful armed forces, the ones that Bush wasted on petty wars as if our honorable soldiers were his own private toys.

"We are going to do what is necessary to fund education. The Republicans say we don't have the money but remember this -- for every dollar that we spent on education for GIs returning from World War II, we got seven dollars back in taxes." No soldier left behind!

"The Republicans in Congress say 'No, we don't want socialized medicine.' But if it's good enough for the Republicans in Congress, then it's good enough for the people of America! And when Barak Obama raises his hand, it's going to be a new day in America. Are you fired up and ready to go?" That was a rhetorical question. The entire cathedral was totally fired up. Even me. If only Kennedy hadn't been politically assassinated at such a young age -- was he set up too? -- he might have been president as well.

Good grief, I still miss JFK.

Anyway, the rally was over and everyone was totally moved by Senator Kennedy's oratory and I tried to go backstage to see if I could finally have some luck in tracking down the elusive Rep. Lee but it was not to be. I guess I'll just have to break down and go visit her in her office in downtown Oakland.

Oaktown was out in force today and Kennedy did not disappoint.

PS: Here's a YouTube video of Joe and Ashley's jujitsu instructor, Anton SA Mohammed. Ashley studied with Mr. Mohammed for eight years, from the age of four until she grew big enough and had honed her martial arts skills enough so that I couldn't make her go to class any more.