Wednesday, December 29, 2010

America's Looted Generation: The kids are NOT alright!

Here in America today, Old White Guys tend to be rather angry at the way things are going -- but theirs is not the generation that should be getting truly pissed off. The OWGs are doing fine financially. They have nothing to complain about.

Their walkers and scooters are paid for by MediCare.

Their pensions come regularly in the mail.

Social Security buoys them up, they have lots of savings left over from the good times, they have home equity to fall back on and they don't have to worry about finding a job.

All that these Old White Guys have to do nowadays is take an occasional cruise to the Bahamas, enjoy their golden years and bitch about how hard life is -- until they die and can buy themselves a fabulously expensive new coffin. They got theirs. Why the complaints? They should be as happy as pigs in a trough.

It's the youth of America who should be really pissed off.

Their sweet little old grandfathers have just sold them all down the river without even a second thought.

"Hey, Grandpa! Where's my education, where's my job, where's my clean air, where's my future?"

"Sorry, sonny. I bought a war with that money instead."

You bought a war? A war? I mean seriously, grandpa. You didn't just splurge on one or two occasional wars. You bought a whole bunch of wars. "World War I, World War II,
the Cold War, the Korean war, the Vietnam War, the wars on Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan, the War on Drugs, the War on Terror...."

And now, Gramps, you are happily buying your grandchildren a war on Social Security.

"I got mine, sonny-boy. And now I want yours."

If I was a member of the American generation that is just graduating from high school right now -- if you are even that lucky -- I'd be out screaming in the streets, "I've been robbed!"

And then when the police come and ask for a description of the felon who robbed me, I would say, "It was an old guy, looked a bit like Alan Greenspan, about as tall as Ronald Reagan, sort of bald like Dick Cheney, appeared at first to be my friend like Barack Obama, shed crocodile tears like Rush Limbaugh and lied to me like Rupert Murdoch on Fox News...."

Don't trust anybody over 50.

PS: Speaking of being robbed, Princeton professor and former New York Times reporter Chris Hedges tells us exactly how this "Looted Generation" heist-of-the-century has been pulled off. In his recent article in TruthDig entitled, "2011: A Brave New Distopia", Hedges lays it all out.

"The two greatest visions of a future dystopia were George Orwell’s '1984' and Aldous Huxley’s 'Brave New World.'" And as we head into the greatest dysfunctional dystopia the world has ever known, who will be right? Huxley or Orwell?

"Would we be, as Orwell wrote, dominated by a repressive surveillance and security state that used crude and violent forms of control? Or would we be, as Huxley envisioned, entranced by entertainment and spectacle, captivated by technology and seduced by profligate consumption to embrace our own oppression? It turns out Orwell and Huxley were both right. Huxley saw the first stage of our enslavement. Orwell saw the second."

Then Hedges goes on to pretty much describe you and me -- and Gramps. "Our manufacturing base has been dismantled. Speculators and swindlers have looted the U.S. Treasury and stolen billions from small shareholders who had set aside money for retirement or college. Civil liberties, including habeas corpus and protection from warrantless wiretapping, have been taken away. Basic services, including public education and health care, have been handed over to the corporations to exploit for profit. The few who raise voices of dissent, who refuse to engage in the corporate happy talk, are derided by the corporate establishment as freaks."

I just love quoting Chris Hedges. Here's some more of his stuff: "The fa├žade is crumbling. And as more and more people realize that they have been used and robbed, we will move swiftly from Huxley’s 'Brave New World' to Orwell’s '1984'. The public, at some point, will have to face some very unpleasant truths. The good-paying jobs are not coming back. The largest deficits in human history mean that we are trapped in a debt peonage system that will be used by the corporate state to eradicate the last vestiges of social protection for citizens, including Social Security. The state has devolved from a capitalist democracy to neo-feudalism. And when these truths become apparent, anger will replace the corporate-imposed cheerful conformity."

PPS: I also really like Stephen Colbert's new satire, "Jesus was a Liberal Democrat,", wherein Colbert jokingly implores us not to end up like Jesus, who mollycoddled the poor. "Actually, we shouldn't be talking to the poor at all. They've got Unemployment Cooties!"

And America's "Looted Generation" has the most unemployment cooties of all. Good job there, Grandpa. Thanks a lot.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Guess what? Jesus ain't gonna save us

Richard M. Nixon is the only president in U.S. history to lose a war retroactively!

America lost its war with Vietnam back in 1973 -- on President Nixon's watch. But who would have thought that, approximately 35 years later, Nixon again would be losing us yet another war -- the war with China.

Back in 1973, America was still a major manufacturing nation, we still had a huge tax base and when you turned stuff over in the store before you bought it, it still read "Made in America" on the back.

Now when you turn stuff over in the store, it is all reads "Made in China".

America's public and private debt to China appears to be un-estimatible -- due to secrecy, unavailability of records, tax evasion, offshore banking hidey-holes, bribes and kickbacks. However, you could probably get a general idea of how much we owe China if you just add enough zeroes to practically any number you chose. I myself figure it this way: If America owes 8.68 trillion dollars in debt in total, then it's probably safe to say that a whole bunch of that debt -- if you subtract the part that has fluttered its way over to Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine -- has somehow managed to find its way over to China.

Nixon, when you opened up China's vast markets to the West back in 1972, I presume that you were hoping to exploit them to the advantage of American-based global corporations. However, what actually happened was that you somehow managed to fire the first shot in an economic war with China that was far larger and more serious than even the Vietnam war -- and possibly even World War II. And, if you look at all the bloody casualties in America's debit column today, it becomes immediately clear that Nixon's economic war on China has definitely been LOST.

Nixon in China. How ironic is that? The guy managed to lose what may prove to be the biggest war America has ever fought -- and to lose it 15 years after he died! Good going there, Dick. I think you just set a record.

But if America was to attempt to turn this war around, come from behind at the tail-end of the last quarter and actually try to win it, we would have to pay off all of our debts to China. And to do that, we would have to stop importing goods from abroad and manufacture almost everything here.

In addition, every man, woman and child in America
would, for approximately the next ten years, have to save every spare penny and live at the same economic level as a Cantonese peasant did during China's Cultural Revolution. And yet how are these same Cantonese peasants living today? They are driving cars, eating at KFC and shopping the malls -- thanks to Nixon.

But what, you might ask, do all of these economic disasters have to do with Jesus? That's easy. I keep getting e-mails from Teabaggers telling me that if we all just turn to Jesus, all of our problems will be over. Not.

But then I got to thinking -- perhaps those Teabaggers might be right!

If every man, woman and child in America began living like Jesus for the next ten years, then perhaps we could win that war with China after all. If all of us Americans all started to give up high-fashion and just wear sheets for clothes, started living in mangers, stables and Upper Rooms, started living on matzos and hummus and olives and fish, using no electricity and riding around on donkeys instead of SUVs, then, by golly, I think we could actually do it! We could actually win back all that ground that we lost after China won Nixon's war.

But that ain't gonna happen.

China owns America now. And the Teabaggers' Jesus -- the one who demands that we offer absolute fealty to WalMart and the Pentagon, the Party of No and a security state -- ain't never gonna save us from that fact.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

O Holy Night: Beaten and jailed in Bethlehem...

My local classical radio station is currently playing "O Holy Night" -- as I sit here in front of my computer and read an e-mail from a friend of mine in Bethlehem, the place where Jesus Christ was born.

"Israeli soldiers have just gassed, beaten and arrested eight Palestinians at a village just outside of Bethlehem where they were nonviolently protesting the IDF's illegal seizure and bulldozing of their land. And while being detained, the peaceful protesters tried to speak to the soldiers about international law, but the soldiers were saying that they don't give a f--- about international law and Palestinians, and that they only care about obeying orders." Then the IDF soldiers and some private security personnel released tear gas and pepper spray on the unarmed villagers.

"And then the soldiers arrested eight of the protesters, including an older gentleman, two teenagers, a woman and a university professor. Some of them were beaten. One of them was badly beaten on the back of his neck, shoulders and abdomen."

What would the Prince of Peace think of all this -- happening right there in His own home town? Even I myself am having big trouble wrapping my brain around all this violence in Christ's birthplace and can't even imagine what Jesus, a rabbi himself, would be thinking about all these violent, illegal and brutal actions and greedy land-grabs that are taking place within miles of the very spot where Mary gave birth in a stable.

And now my radio is playing "Ave Maria". I can't take much more of this. Hearing about all this illegal and vicious violence against unarmed people taking place in the very town where Jesus was born -- and just two days away from the day of His birth -- is making me very sad.

"Joy to the World" plays next.

But what is even sadder still is that as far back as 2002, I have been writing blog essays in protest against this very same type of authoritarian and illegal viciousness against unarmed protesters trying to protect their lives and homes in Bethlehem. And here it is, eight years later, and nothing has changed. How much more of this cruelty and oppression can these poor people take!

Here's a video of the arrested university professor's description of what happened to him a few days before Christmas, both while he was at the demonstration and when he was in jail:

"An Israeli soldier named Almog Kahalani was very rough with the prisoners," continued my friend's e-mail report. "He beat the two young Palestinian men, causing one of them to double over in pain. Three of the prisoners had metal handcuffs, and the rest were tied with plastic handcuffs that were very tight and causing circulation problems. One young man's handcuffs were unbearably tight but Israeli soldiers refused to loosen them. The prisoners were also sprayed with hoses and forced to remain cold and wet and hungry and without bathroom facilities."

And all these Palestinian villagers were doing was protecting their homes. And trying to be like Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi -- and like Christ.

Happy Christmas.

Then my radio started playing "Silent Night". May you also sleep in heavenly peace, all you citizens of Bethlehem, because you obviously aren't gonna get any peace here in Palestine -- or any sleep either. That is, not if you are a Palestinian Christian living in a small village outside of Bethlehem just three days before Christmas.

"O little town of Bethlehem, how still I see you lie...."

PS: I also just received another tragic eye-witness account of what is happening in Gaza this week. "Israeli F16s have been bombing Gaza (8+ times) since the early hours of yesterday and it continued till the early hours of 2day! Major explosions, many ambulances rushing 2 many places, 3 injured 4m which 1 is critical! Drones r roaming over us 24\7! I guess they wanna remind us that the attack on Gaza's 2nd anniversary is around the corner!"

Yeah, and so is the 2010th anniversary of the Prince of Peace's birth. Sigh.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

America unplugged: Our leaders' Christmas wishes are coming true this year

America's leaders seem to be really happy right now -- because all of their Christmas wishes appear to be coming true. "But, Jane," you might ask "which leaders are you talking about? Who exactly does lead America?"

"The rich lead America -- of course." Who the freak did you think led America? God? The government? Brad Pitt?

"But America is a democracy, Jane. The majority rules here and American citizens run the show. How can you even say something like that?" Easy.

If the majority indeed rules here in America and democracy is firmly in control and the wealthy have little or no say in politics, just answer me one question. How many members of our salt-of-the-earth, working-class American majority are currently serving in Congress right now? Or on the Supreme Court? Or in the White House? Or leading the Federal Reserve or the Securities Exchange Commission or the Federal Drug Administration or the Federal Communications Commission or the armed forces or... You can count the members of our working class in the upper echelons of power in America on the fingers of your two hands -- and not even get down to counting your toes. Heck, you can't hardly even find anyone in any of those places that even belongs to our middle class.

I rest my case!

And boy are America's leaders happy right now -- as they eagerly anticipate getting their fill of Christmas presents this year. "And what do you want in your Christmas stocking this year, rich people? What's on your Christmas list?"

"First of all, we'd love more government deregulations in our favor." Check. "And tax breaks for the wealthy." Check. "And a continuing steady flow of American jobs sent offshore so that we can continue to break the backs of America's unions by using cheap-labor scabs in Haiti, Honduras and China. And we also want more cheap labor scabs here at home too!" Check, check and check.

"And please Santa -- remember to stuff our stockings with all those wonderful ear-marks and subsidies for agribusiness. And keep up the good work with stuffing the Pentagon budget too. Americans don't need infrastructure, medical care and education -- not if it means making us unhappy on Christmas." Triple check.

"And for the next Christmas present on our list, we want compliant Americans who are afraid of their own shadows and are at each others' throats over petty stuff so that they won't notice us as we happily pick their pockets." Double-check. "And ownership of all major media -- no one needs to hear the truth, especially not at Christmas!" No problem. Check. "And please get rid of all those pesky bloggers, whistleblowers and net-neutrality freaks while you're at it. Capitalism hates competition." Check, check, check, check.

"Then please send lots of drug money our way -- both legal and illegal. Let's keep Americans drugged. They're happy. We're happy. And don't forget about climate change either -- please hold it off until we've made our profits and moved on. Let the kids deal with it. No Green Christmas for us!"
Just name it, it's yours.

"And we want profits from endless wars too. Those Middle East disasters and fiascos? Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine? Keep 'em coming! Thank you, Santa. America may be losing its lifeblood on those wars but WE are making a mint!" No worries, rich people. You can check that one off of your wish-list too. "And we also want a government that hemorrhages money in our direction, endless deficits, access to the Social Security vault..." It's definitely coming your way.

It's almost Christmas morning. All this good stuff is about to slide down your trillion-dollar chimneys. Get out the milk and cookies! Yuletide cheer!

"But basically, Santa, what we rich people really want for Christmas is an oligarchy -- preferably like the one that sprang up in Russia after the Soviet Union fell. We want the United States of America to fall too, just like the good old USSR. And please, Santa, let us be the ones who pick up the (gold) pieces as America's 'socialist' government falls apart --
the one that the American people took for granted so much and spent so much time griping about. And please please please replace yesteryear's worn out old American democracy with a shiny spanking new surveillance state."

Check off everything on your list, rich guys. This year you'll be getting it all.

"But I thought that Santa only brought presents to those who were nice," you might comment.

Sorry, Virginia. It doesn't work that way in America any more. In America today, Santa only brings you presents if you are naughty -- or greedy, mendacious, evil, violent, hypocritical, underhanded, slimy, thieving, back-stabbing and/or cruel.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Afghanistan: What the freak are our troops doing out in the middle of NOWHERE!

I just finally got around to renting "Restrepo," Sebastian Junger's excellent DVD documentary describing one U.S. Army platoon's deadly year-long experience in the high mountain wilds of Afghanistan. This movie won the grand jury prize at Sundance. Here's a link to its trailer:

And at one point early on in the movie, our brave Army platoon members pop into their various helicopters, tanks and Hummers and move off into the Korengal Valley -- out in the middle of freaking NOWHERE. And I'm looking at this movie and I'm asking myself, "What in the freaking hell are our troops doing HERE!"

Then there's that one first scene in the movie where an American tank is negotiating a narrow rocky mountain pass that had been obviously built originally for camels. Rock walls run straight up on your left side and absolutely nothing runs straight down on your right. This place makes Death Valley look civilized. You might as well be on the frigging surface of the MOON.

And I'm sitting here, in Berkeley, in front of my computer, watching Netflix, and I'm asking myself, "How the freak does having our troops over in THAT god-forsaken place make America any safer?" Like those primitive tribesmen over there are gonna jump onto their camels, lock and load their RPGs, swim the Atlantic ocean, take the I-80 across middle America, arrive in Berkeley unnoticed and endanger ME? Yeah right.

But what is really endangering me and my family right now? And your families too? Everyone here knows. It's Wall Street and the banks, raids on Social Security. The military-industrial-academic complex, war profiteers, corrupt lobbyists and corrupt congressmen in Washington. A president who has sold out his base. Unemployment. Media that is owned by oligarchs. Lack of decent, free college education for our children. Subsidized agribusiness. And bleeding out in an over-crowded ER.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Kabul vs. St. Louis: Boom town vs. Ghost town

When a friend of mine recently returned from six months in Afghanistan where he had been teaching school in Kabul, I jumped at the chance to grill him. At first he told me a lot of generalized stuff -- such as how the young Afghans he talked with felt about the future of their country and how President Karzai's brother Wali is the biggest heroin dealer in the world (that is if you don't count Oxycontin manufacturers, the CIA and George Bush).

And then my friend started getting more specific about what he had seen and learned in Afghanistan, and the big differences between there and here. "In the past ten years, I've watched American cities turn into ghost towns -- and the city of Kabul turn into a gold rush town, a boom town."

Apparently jobs for Americans in the United States have become scarcer and scarcer but jobs for Americans in Afghanistan have really blossomed. "In Kabul, it's almost impossible to get fired."

While in Afghanistan, my friend had worked for an international NGO, teaching school to the children of Kabul's educated class in a posh district over near the Makroyan, a former Soviet-style housing block, and a few blocks away from the U.S. embassy. He had also worked with Kabul's beggar children and street rats as well.

"The Makroyan, which sports a fairly good water supply and electrical wiring, used to be a highly sought-after place to live before the giant housing boom that began in 2008 changed all that -- as Kabul began to get all prettied up and the housing market became flooded with fancy new high-end high-rise apartment complexes. Now even the airport no longer looks all bombed out." And don't forget the giant new multi-billion-dollar prison complex just constructed by Americans out at Baghram as well.

"America has now been occupying Afghanistan even longer than the Russians were there," continued my friend, "although you can still find plenty of evidence left from the Russian occupation, including several Soviet-style housing blocks and many Russian helicopters that are still in the air."

Then my friend talked about the last 50 years of Afghan history. "Americans here at home really don't know much about Afghanistan or about its ten-year Russian occupation, its current American occupation, the huge American airbase in Kandahar built in 1963 or that the British also occupied Afghanistan back in the 1950s, when the Brits designed several extensive irrigation systems which later failed -- making many sections of arable land in Afghanistan too salty to grow anything except opium poppies.

"What Americans are doing in these areas now is rehabbing those old British projects from the 1950s -- and also rehabbing projects that Americans built in Afghanistan back in the 1950s and 1960s while trying to recreate images of suburban America in the Afghan outback." And, from what I have heard, they're also protecting Afghanistan's poppy crops.

"A lot of kids beg in the streets around where I taught because the embassy and the ISAF are near here and offer a possible steady stream of people to beg from. The ISAF, the International Security Assistance Force, is composed mainly of Italians, Bulgarians and Turks and has been nicknamed 'In Sandals And Flipflops' by U.S. forces.
But the street kids know U.S. and ISAF troops only in battle gear and with their guns pointed everywhere, and the attitude of the Americans is by far the most hostile on a routine basis. American military convoys are a huge annoyance on the streets of Kabul.

"While in Kabul, I worked with both the street kids and the educated kids, teaching English and sports to them both. And almost all of them, from every economic class that I taught, expressed a clear desire for Afghanistan to form a national identity, one that would break down barriers of race, culture, education and economics -- and barriers between opportunities for boys and girls as well. The girls in Kabul also badly wanted to come out and learn."

I find it ironic that Afghans seem to want to unify themselves so badly -- at a time when all too many Americans seem to be trying to head in the opposite direction, to break down into special interest groups based on "Screw the Other Guy vs. Me First" ideologies and "Us vs. Them" mentalities instead of trying to strengthen our current national identity when the going gets tough.

"But is it safe in Kabul now?" I asked. "I've heard stories about kidnappings and bomb threats. Is this true?"

"Kabul is now basically safe because there are now checkpoints everywhere -- checking for whatever, looking for Pashtuns from out of town, bombs, guns. And they have been really effective too.
For instance, they found five suicide bombers complete with vests during the peace meetings that Karzai held last spring. The Afghan National Police are manning the checkpoints and they have been trained by German police."

"And what about President Karzai? Is he popular in Afghanistan -- or not?"

"There are both good and bad things to say about Karzai. He does have a power base and is not completely unpopular, but word over in Kabul is that he's a junkie. Plus his brother Wali is the biggest heroin driver in the world. But Wali is also a power broker who secures the roads and gets paid millions in protection money from everyone, including Americans."

Then my friend told me a joke about Karzai that is currently making the rounds.
"The Taliban kidnapped President Karzai and issued a ransom note saying, 'If you don't come up with five million dollars, we are going to burn him up with petrol. Give all you can.' So I gave two gallons." Afghans apparently really like this joke.
According to my friend, there are two major factors involved in the American occupation -- the September 11 war and the drug war. "Drug dealing is the thing that keeps it all going over in Afghanistan, where there are actually two wars going on. And the drug war is costing us more.

"In addition, we're also creating more enemies because we burn poppy fields in order to take drug money away from the insurgency and smoke out the Taliban's funding. And that's not just in Helmand and Kandahar. It's in the north too. Poppies are growing everywhere in Afghanistan and farmers rely on poppy crops for income. But it's hard to find out what's going on in these drug wars -- for instance, why burn one field and not the other? I have no idea. They're having a big offensive in Marja right now, to burn poppy crops there."

Interesting. I've heard that it is the policy of American troops NOT to burn poppies as well. So. Whose poppies get burned and whose poppies don't burn -- and who decides that?

"How do the street kids that you worked with feel about Americans and the Taliban?" I asked next.

"Before we talk about the Taliban, let's first talk about education.
There is a ton of money going into schools in Afghanistan and there are more Afghan girls in school right now than ever before. But the main issue regarding education is the lack of schools for the 'working children' or street kids because the public schools cost money to attend. And like so many development schemes over there, the school buildings have been built but their operation has not been funded. All that the funders are required to do is to spend their money on hard-asset infrastructure/ school buildings -- because it's easier to track the progress and the skim.

"Likewise, it's difficult to chart the progress of kids who can't spend full days in school because their families require the money they can make on the street. And at one point someone decided that all the kids in Kabul were going to have been shipped out to the provinces.

"New schools are being built everywhere but t
here are almost no education programs in Afghanistan right now -- and no one has been able to successfully address this problem at all." Sounds like what is happening here in America too -- with regard to our subtle economic war on teachers.

"A lot of Afghan families have a lot of kids, and these families are poor. And the parents need their kids to help support the families so the kids beg, wash cars, sell gum, carry water or whatever. Most kids there are unable to afford to attend school -- either the boys or the girls."

Plus girls don't have access to sports in Afghanistan either. "Girls can't play soccer in public. The Taliban has a hard line on that. And it is against the law for a woman to ride a bike on the street. And now there are more women wearing burkas than ever. One NGO, Skatistan, is building a skate park in Kabul now and actually went to the mullahs and asked them to issue a fatwa allowing girls to use skateboards. And the mullahs actually did -- which opened up the Skatistan program to girls."

Here's more information regarding the Taliban. "Nobody likes them because almost all of the students I worked with live in a way that the Taliban wouldn't approve of. And my students are all far-removed from the old Taliban times so don't know much about that. But I've noticed among the adults I've talked with that, regarding which time-period in their recent history a particular Afghan prefers will depend on when he or she was doing well and on their skill sets. For instance if you did well during the Soviet times, you liked that time. However, no one looks back to the mujaheddin
civil war time with nostalgia. That period was pretty much a nightmare for everyone."

"So did some people like living under the old Taliban regime?"

"The generally-held view in Afghanistan is that the Taliban rose to power to bring justice and peace to a war-torn and lawless country. And for better or for worse, their justice system was more consistent than what had gone before it. Few people were above the law under the Taliban. Even if one of their own stepped out of line, they were usually punished. But now they have many who are above the law. The Taliban policed their own even. Karzai's government fails in this way -- it's inconsistent. Some poppy fields are spared while others not. All kinds of stories circulate as to who is illegally doing what."

And apparently Afghanistan has its own web of stories regarding what people believe is happening there now. "Some of these stories are crazy but people still believe them. 79% of all Afghans didn't know about the 9-11 attacks and think America just came there to control Afghanistan's mineral and strategic wealth."

Ha. No wonder Afghans don't know about 9-11! According to the latest WikiLeaks documents, it was Saudis who sponsored and paid for 9-11. So why didn't Bush invade Saudi Arabia instead?

My friend then returned to the subject of national unity. "Afghan kids in Kabul are really into nationalism -- into being one country instead of being divided into tribal groups. They want peace, along with stable systems of education, justice and economics. And they want Islam. Almost all Afghans are very devout Muslims and do the prayers. Adults, of course, pray regularly as required. But the teens pray also, and while kids are not expected to pray, fast, etc., many of them do. Alarmingly, even many really young kids participate in Ramadan. Afghans take Islam seriously."

As for knowledge of the outside world's view of Afghanistan, "Afghans are aware of the recent Christian fundamentalist Quran-burning episodes in America. They saw that on TV. Many get satellite TV reception in Kabul. And locally there are about five stations there, including Ariana TV and Tolo News. Tolo News can be accessed here in the U.S. at Tolo News is in English and covers all things Afghan. It's a good source if you want to know what is going on over there."

Here's a sample headline of the kind of story you can find on "Two End States in Afghanistan: Somalia of Asia or the Turkey of the East?"

As for international news coming out of Afghanistan, according to my friend all media there is completely blocked down. "If a journalist reports news stories adverse to U.S. interests, he or she will never work for the networks again. Even Tolo News doesn't cover these kinds of stories because if they do, they are left out from access to U.S. bases. Journalists are under complete threat about never having a job in news again. Here's an example: The number of people killed in an incident will be stretched out so that instead of reporting that 18 troops were killed by a suicide bomber, they will report that a few troops died one day and then perhaps three more died on the next day. And it's also the same as what happened in Vietnam -- where the number of enemies killed were multiplied and exaggerated. The news media here now is as highly filtered and filtered in the same way as the USSR news media was filtered back when the Soviets were here."

And as to the Af-Pak area? My friend highly recommended that I watch a video on the subject called, "Down at the Gun Bazaar". "Definitely the largest firearms market in the world. They make a thousands guns a day here," says the narrator.

"Kabul is currently a gold rush town, a boom town," my friend continued. "A lot of building is going on there -- mostly homes that they call 'poppy palaces'. The best place to invest poppy money right now is in Kabul real estate. The poppy-palace mirrored-dome style of architecture has spread like wildfire. But the biggest difference between 2006 Kabul and 2010 Kabul is the lack of bomb craters and bullet holes in the walls. The new levels of growth and development from when I was there before and my recent trip to Kabul really freaked me out. And this new boom-town financing is coming mostly from U.S. military money, poppy money and development money from the US."

Another big change in Afghanistan has been the improvement of its infrastructure. The road out to Bamiyan was being rebuilt and was the biggest public works project my friend had ever seen -- and why not? American contractors make far more money installing roads than they do creating functioning hospitals and schools.

"This new Bamiyan road tears indiscriminately through villages and farmlands. But in a way it is a good thing because it has helped to modernize the country and has escalated the ability to move things around. And all of this has happened within in the last year, under Obama. But the fact that it has taken so long to complete just this one road should serve as Exhibit A in a trial of George W. Bush. They didn't build hardly any formal infrastructure in Afghanistan under Bush. Money was going to road builders under Bush but the roads weren't being built for the infrastructure. They were being built in order to further the war -- or else Bush siphoned off money earmarked for Afghanistan and sent it off to Iraq."

"Why did Bush do that?"

"Apparently Bush and his advisers thought that the Taliban would put up a bigger fight than they did -- and so when they rolled over, Bush wanted a bigger war and he picked Iraq to perpetuate a lasting war, leaving our troops in Afghanistan hung out to dry, and thus creating the war we have now in a big way. Perhaps Obama is taking care of the business now that Bush should have taken care of years ago."

But Obama is no saint in my friend's eyes either. "The way that Obama is now dealing with Pakistan is bad. And by continuing the drug war as well, Obama is also doing the same thing that Bush did -- so that ten years after the American invasion, American money and drug money is still poring into Afghanistan." And out of America's cities.

"The original pre-2001 Taliban sold poppies to western pharmaceutical companies legitimately but the current Afghan government sells NO poppies to drug companies. And there is a reason for that. Oxycontin, which is one of the U.S. pharmaceutical companies' best-sellers, is basically synthetic heroin -- but if western drug companies were forced to buy Afghan poppies instead of selling Oxycontin, the drug wars would be over in a minute. The entire problem in Afghanistan would be eliminated because it would set a standardized price for opium poppies there. Right now the price of heroin fluctuates according to how many fields are being burned, how many dealers are being arrested, how many facilities are being raided, etc."

And if you want to know about how the heroin system works in Afghanistan, rent a copy of that DVD movie called "Winter's Bone," which describes how the methamphetamine production system works in Missouri. "Raising and manufacturing illegal drugs is currently a major way to survive
in both Afghanistan and America."

When my friend left St. Louis last spring,
there were no jobs available at all. "No jobs and no prospects of finding one no matter what your educational level. People with masters degrees were working in fast food places, work trades, etc. And then I arrived in Kabul -- and the difference between St. Louis and Kabul was astounding.

"In Kabul, there is nothing both Americans and Afghans can do to lose their jobs -- but in St. Louis, they can't even find jobs. I hadn't even seen one help-wanted sign in St. Louis during the whole year and a half before I left. But in Kabul, westerners with any kind of skills had unbelievable pay packages, vacation days and benefits."

"What kind of vacation days?"

"A conservative estimate is that a lot of people have vacation rates of four months on, six weeks off. They are then flown home or to Dubai. For instance, the UN staff is in catastrophic mode now and so receives many benefits. Workers in Afghanistan are defensive about the perks that they get but they get a lot compared to what they would get working in the US."

But things have apparently picked up around St. Louis since my friend's been back. "People used to be so scared and hunkered down that they wouldn't spend any money. There was a collective petrification due to the economic downturn, which in turn was due to so much capital leaving our country without being accounted for -- not only job-outsourcing money and offshore corporate money being laundered to avoid paying taxes but also the huge amounts of profits from what Americans spend on drugs that has been going off to Mexico, Afghanistan, South America. This has been a VERY big drain on our economy."

Another big money drain here, according to my friend, has resulted from Americans buying illicit pharmaceuticals -- which are not taxed and not counted. "In America, drug companies sell their products to distributors who then sell the product on to the doctors. And a lot of people who use illegal drugs also have real medical problems, for which they also get prescription drugs -- but then they trade their legal prescription drugs off for meth, which they like more than Oxycontin." Yikes! I didn't know that. I just assumed that everyone else in America was like Rush Limbaugh.

"Selling Oxycontin is a huge business for the drug companies and they want this practice of trading Oxycontin for meth to continue. For instance, drug companies just spent billions lobbying Congress about keeping pseudoephedrines for sale over the counter."

"Why is that?"

"So that you can make meth out of it. Meth dealers cook pseudoephedrines down with ammonia -- like the ammonia in fertilizer. That's how it's done. Crank is also made with aluminum from beer cans -- the aluminum bonds with the drug. Then it is snorted, smoked or shot up."

But what's so hot about meth? "It's a long, long high. You can be high for four days on just a small amount. You don't dream while you are high and you go into sleep derivation, wherein the body releases chemicals that are hallucinogenic almost. It's the sleep deprivation factor. No amount of coffee can give you that. The brain needs its sleep. And meth won't let you sleep." Yuck.

"Jefferson County, right outside of St. Louis, is the meth-plague capital of the world. Meth is a cheap high."

It seemed to me that my friend had gotten sidetracked into stories about meth production and I told him that. "No. I was just making another analogy between St. Louis and Kabul. A lot of drug companies here in America are unregulated cesspools and the same holds true with the unregulated use of drugs in Afghanistan."

What goes on in Afghanistan doesn't stay in Afghanistan however.
"For another thing, the war in Afghanistan is basically fueled on Red Bull and up pills -- so when troops come home, they are susceptible to becoming meth-heads.

"The first time people use meth, they get really really high and are unable to function, but then after they use for a while, they start to blend in -- and can hold down a job. And then, after continued use, they can't function as a normal person any more. They lose a lot of weight, and the life goes out of their eyes. They start to look older than they are. Less alive. Like zombies. And you can always tell a meth-head because of the sores. They start having big sores -- because meth is basically a poison and the sores are caused by the poison being released into the bloodstream." Double-yuck. And so perhaps America's Afghan vets have become vulnerable to the illicit lure of crank after a couple years of living on uppers and Red Bulls.

"If you want to know more about meth use in America and how it supports the local economy while destroying the fabric of local society at the same time, watch the movie, 'Winter's Bone'. I recommend it."

Here's another example of how Kabul has become a boom town while St. Louis has become a ghost town. "In the 1960s, Northwest Plaza here was the biggest shopping mall in the world. Now it only has only one store still open -- a shoe repair shop. And in the meantime, luxury malls in Kabul are going full blast. The Kabul City Center mall, owned by Wali Karzai, sells diamonds, electronics, iPods, and iPhones that you can't even get in St. Louis. No development money being spent here but it is being spent in Afghanistan like water. All that money, along with the drug profits, is obviously going out of our economy."

And apparently Kabul is actually physically safer for its average citizen than is St. Louis. "Kabul is safe in the context of using St. Louis as a standard -- but it's still pretty dangerous." Hey, even Berkeley is relatively dangerous these days.

"85% of the cars driven in Kabul are Toyota Corrollas," my friend added -- but I forgot to ask him about which type of cars are being driven in St. Louis.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

"And what have YOU done with your life?": The most important question there is

On the day that you die (and everybody does finally die, you can count on that), will you be able to look back on your life and be proud? You know that old saying, "Life is a competition and the winners are the ones who do the most good deeds"? Well. They're not talking about how much money you've made or how many trophy husbands or wives that you've had or even how many times you have bombed Iraq or tried to set up Julian Assange.

And you will not even be allowed to count all those tax breaks you have given out to the rich.

In order to win the life-competition, you gotta be able to look yourself in the eye and say, "I helped those less fortunate than me." If you can't do that, nothing else counts. Every religion on earth worth its salt teaches us that -- and they even sometimes actually practice what they preach.

I just met a man who I am totally positive will be able to look back on his life with absolutely no regrets. His name is Yangthan Rinpoche. He's 80 years old. He was born in Tibet and is one of the last of those Old Skool lamas that were trained there before the Communist Chinese overran Tibet in 1959. You have NO idea what this man has gone through during his life -- and yet he is still both hopeful and kind. No one who has met him can imagine Yangthan Rinpoche even thinking about giving orders to fly deadly drones over happy wedding parties in Afghanistan.

Here's what Google says about this man: "In 1959, when the Communist Chinese invaded Tibet, Yangthang Rinpoche fled Dhomang. He was later captured by the Chinese, and imprisoned for 22 years. He helped many fellow prisoners who could not bear the hardship to die peacefully by performing Phowa, transferring their consciousness to Pure Lands. Though he witnessed and experienced much torture, he bears no resentment to his captors, only compassion. In fact, he became a spiritual advisor to some of the guards."

Good grief and crap on a cracker! How many of us could even survive 22 years of torture, let alone come out of that nightmare feeling all compassionate and forgiving? Not me! I'm still totally pissed off at one of my daughters just because I don't like her. Hey, at least she hasn't pulled out any of my fingernails or forced me to live on stone soup for 22 years!

Yangthang Rinpoche is currently conducting three whole months' worth of Tibetan Buddhist liturgies out in Alameda, CA -- of all places. This series of liturgies, called wangs in Tibetan, will continue until February 15, 2011, are open to the public, cost $30 a day and entail receiving over 550 separate empowerments. This is an amazing event, usually only performed every five or ten years in mountaintop monasteries in Bhutan or something.

But enough of the commercials.

I've been to several of these liturgies in the past week and what can I say? Here's a 80-year-old man who is not only able but willing to spend five or six hours a day for the next three months chanting a whole bunch of stuff which he believes with all his heart will bring peace to the world.

That's what this great man has been doing with his life.

"And what have YOU done with your life?"

PS: And speaking of great men, I always thought that Santa Claus was also a great man. And, apparently, Santa Claus will be coming to Berkeley on December 22. And not only that, but my three-year-old granddaughter Mena has become pretty much nutzo about Christmas tree lights lately. So here's a sort-of secular list of places in the San Francisco Bay Area where you can go to see Santa and/or get your twinkle-light fix taken care of:

-- There used to be a Dickens Faire every year in San Francisco and then they stopped doing it. And now they are doing it again! Hurray. The Dickens Faire is totally cool.

-- Apparently they light up the Oakland Zoo every night in December. and We just gotta do this!

-- Sunol has a whole Christmas train full of lights:

-- Then there's Ardenwood farm but I think that event is now over for the year. Next year?

-- And there's always my daughter Ashley's Christmas tree -- plus she doesn't even charge admission.

-- Historic Dunsmuir House in Oakland goes all-out with their lights and decorations every year -- no holds barred.

-- And Santa will be at Frances Albrier Park on December 22, from 11 am to 1 pm in South Berkeley, 2800 Park Street. "Tots will come meet and greet Santa
before he zooms away on his sleigh! Visit Santa and receive a gift. There will be snacks, fun, and holiday cheer for everyone!"

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Sadness: When "Plant a Tree for Israel" goes awry

It always saddens me when I hear about the destruction of human life and property for no reason. And I have been completely saddened and dismayed to learn about all the horrible wildfires that are currently tearing through northern Israel unchecked. These out-of-control blazes have destroyed up to one-eighth of the entire state of Israel so far -- and with no end in sight. At last count, over 40 people have been killed and thousands more have been left homeless.

To me, it is particularly sad that the exact same trees that are now burning so intensely are the very same trees that were planted so many years ago during the extensive 1950s "Plant a Tree for Israel" campaign that allowed for the purchase of over 260 million trees. And each one of these trees may have been purchased with small, precious sums of money eagerly and hopefully donated by schoolboys and schoolgirls in America.

Each pine tree now in flames may have been purchased with some little boy's allowance that he had saved up for weeks, months or years, or with some little girl's birthday money or babysitting money or paper route money. (Hey, my sister had a paper route back in 1955 -- girls did that kind of stuff too -- just think of Rosie the Riveter!)

All these precious trees up in flames.

People and property needlessly destroyed.

This tragic loss also reminds me the tragic losses that have happened in southern Lebanon, Beirut, Jordan, Syria, the West Bank, Jenin, Hebron, Gaza, the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Manhattan.

It is always a sad tragedy and waste to humanity when people and property are needlessly destroyed.

PS: I just got an e-mail from an expert in that area to the effect that I was being way too subtle here and that although things certainly have gone awry in Israel/Palestine recently, things in that area actually began to go awry far earlier than this current wildfire situation.

"Things first began to go awry in that area when the very first 'Settler' killed the very first Palestinian solely for his or her land."

"And when was that?"

The expert who e-mailed me stated that this may have happened as far back as the 19th century -- long before even the beginnings of all that horribleness began occurring in 20th-century Germany.

PPS: Here's my account of having visited that area of northern Israel back in 2006:

Today we drove up into northern Israel, to see the remains of a Palestinian village that had been destroyed by the Israeli army approximately 60 years ago. As we drove along the freeway toward the Lebanese border, we passed a McDonalds sign. And a sign for KFC. It reminded me of when I used to take my children on trips. They would see a McDonalds and say, "Are we there yet?"

Finally we arrived in a relatively large Israeli city near the Lebanon border. Mostly it seemed to consist of miles and miles of strip malls. The best of American architecture! I felt right at home. Then we drove out through the countryside on the far side of the city and then up into the mountains, finally arriving at a hilltop somewhere near the Lebanese border. Lots of trees. Nice view. "Oh, look! There's a cow." There was a bunch of cows.

We arrived at the site of the former Palestinian village, apparently one of 450 Palestinian villages destroyed at the time. But I couldn't see nothing but trees and grass and cows.

"Some of the original inhabitants of the village will be meeting us here," said the Israeli man I had driven up with. He, like many other Israelis, strongly objected to the drunken use of force by the IDF and he, like many other Israelis, has made a point of learning some of the true history of what had gone on way back then. When he had offered to bring me here, I had jumped at the chance.

"This is one of over 500 Palestinian villages that were destroyed by the Israeli army back around 1948-49." Wow. They certainly did a good job on this one! There was nothing left but stones -- and cows.

"All record of what the Palestinians call the Nakba -- the catastrophe -- are absent from Israeli school curricula, from most history and geography books and even from maps of Israel itself. The sites of the old Palestinian villages have even been erased and re-named on all of the maps. And even today there is no official Israeli recognition or commemoration -- let alone apology -- for the Nakba."

We got out and walked around the land where the village used to be. There was nothing left. Just a lot of scattered stones. Another bunch of cows appeared as we walked down a dirt road. Photo op! Except that these cows had horns. Big horns. Lots of horns.

"In the Zionist collective memory," continued my Israeli friend, "the Palestine of 1948 was a 'A land without people for a people without a land'. Yet the place where Israel was founded was never empty. This was home to almost one million Palestinians living in over 700 villages and cities, most of which were depopulated and re-named in the period during and immediately following 1948." Now all there was here was cows. And cow poop. Opps.

It was a peaceful afternoon in the country. We walked up the path to the top of another hill. Terrific view -- almost like the Sierra foothills near Auburn and the California gold rush country up before you get to Lake Tahoe. "Here is an old fortress that was bombed by the Israeli air force back in 1949. 99% of the houses were still standing in 1950 but the Israeli army returned and blew up everything that was left. You are now standing on the site of the elementary school and the high school. The village used to make its living by growing bees and harvesting honey." Not any more. Nothing was left. It looked like even the bees had left town.

"And here is the Muslim cemetery and across the road is the Christian cemetery, dating back from the time of the Crusades." Now a small stone building was all that was left. "It used to be the minister's home. For hundreds of years, Muslims and Christians had lived -- mostly -- in peace in this village. And over there was the village pool and the village green."

On that day in 1950 when the rest of the villagers had been driven away by the occupying Israeli army, one family had been down in the fields during the seizure and occupation of the village. "When they came back and one of their boys had a wound that he had gotten while farming, the Israeli soldiers said that it must have come from resisting the invasion so the soldiers tortured him and killed him. His parents were too scared to even come out of the trees in order to collect his body. The rest of the surviving villagers had run and hidden in their olive orchards but after a few days without food, two old men went back to the village to try to get supplies from their homes. They were shot."

The Israeli army wanted to hide any evidence of destroying the village. "But they were stupid. They left all the stones."

Then somehow we got into a discussion of eye-wear and I gave someone with me my famous "glasses as accessories" speech. "Nobody manufactures yellow glasses," I lamented. "Do I have to do everything myself? Now I have to manufacture glasses too?"

Then we toddled off to what was left of the village church. I met an Arab-Israeli man there who was also touring the ruins and he told me his story. "My grandfather was a Palestinian and he had a very high regard for education. When I was a boy, he made each of his grandchildren learn a different language. Unfortunately I got stuck learning English," he joked. "The others learned French, German, Spanish and Chinese." Chinese? "Yes but unfortunately the only textbook he had was Chinese to English so he was forced to learn English too."

Apparently when the Israeli soldiers stormed the village back in 1950, they confronted the headman, who was a Christian. "Why are you defending these Muslims," the Israeli commander asked and the headman answered that, "in this one moment, we now are all belonging to the same religion -- and it is God, not us, who will sort out who is good and who is bad."

The air today smelled of pine trees. There were stone blocks everywhere. Thousands of them. One of the villagers who had survived the massacre and who had come back for the day spoke to us. "Every year since the Nakba, those of us who are left feel so empty inside. The horrible violence seemed so senseless. It has split our bodies and minds. Our bodies stand here 57 years later but our souls are still back in our village, so long ago, in this beautiful place. And no matter what the Israeli history books say, this village did once exist." That man survived. And he remembers.

"We thought at first that we might be allowed to come back to our village," said the man. Who could blame him. This place was -- and is -- beautiful. "Other villages took us in but then they too were destroyed. But we will never give up our dream of someday coming back here, back to our home."

Apparently after 1950, this village was declared to be a "military area" and so the villagers were never allowed to return. And even today, even with all the trees and the cows, this village is still labeled a "military zone". The sun was beginning to set so we walked back to our car and drove back to Tel Aviv. And we didn't stop by McDonalds for dinner on the way back.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Hang 'em High?: Tariq Aziz & other war criminals I have known

Is this really a good time to be sentencing former Iraqi diplomat Tariq Aziz to death -- especially when WikiLeaks has just exposed a whole bunch of the dirty laundry stuffed into America's and Britain's diplomatic pouches regarding their "Coalition of the Willing" and its underhanded role in initiating and sustaining a brutal and unnecessary war on Iraq?

"But everyone knows that Aziz worked for Saddam Hussein and Hussein gassed the Kurds," you might argue, "and Aziz was also found guilty of condoning torture." Like I said, be careful about pointing your finger on that one. It could very easily boomerang back to hit certain American and British leaders in the arse. How many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been "gassed," tortured and killed due to American and British failed diplomacy? According to Information Clearing House, the current number is 1,421,933.

And speaking of executing former leaders such as Aziz, do we really want to hang former Congolese vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba because he didn't stop his troops from killing all those women and children in the Central African Republic? If we do that, don't we also have to take a look at all the women and children who have been killed in Afghanistan by American and British troops too?

"Jane, just exactly where are you going with this?" I don't know. But it just seems unfair to me that Tariq Aziz and Jean-Pierre Bemba both face hanging while George W. Bush gets to go on talk shows and actually brag about how he approved torture.

PS: Speaking of war criminals, according to professor Paul Larudee in an article recently published in "Redress,", whole bunches of Israeli security guys are currently madly scurrying around all across the internet, frantically trying to block the publication of a document that names 200 alleged Israeli war criminals.

"When unknown elements in Israel leaked the name, rank, identification number and other information about two hundred Israeli military personnel who reportedly participated in the 2008-2009 invasion of Gaza, the effect was sudden and profound, according to sources in Israel. Although the first site on which it appeared was taken down by the host, it has continued to circulate via email, and has appeared on at least one other site, The Israeli military and other Israeli agencies are reportedly doing all they can to shut down every site on which it appears, and to prevent it from 'going viral.' At least one popular blog that links to the site has received a record number of death threats."

Why has this list of only "alleged" war criminals seem to have gotten so many of Israel's muckety-mucks' knickers in a twist? Let's find out. According to Larudee, "The publication of the list of two hundred changes everything. The list contains the names of a few high-ranking officers, but many of those named are in the lower ranks, all the way down to sergeant. The effect is to make ordinary Israelis concerned that they, too, may be subject to arrest abroad, and without the protection that well-connected higher officials might enjoy. They know what they have done, or been ordered to do, or have ordered others to do, and they suspect that they may be held accountable by foreign laws, over which their government has little control."

And there are other ramifications here too. If Israeli soldiers as a whole can be held accountable by the international community for their actions in Gaza and the West Bank and for agreeing to serve in a trumped-up "war" that is against Geneva Conventions, then perhaps American troops can also be held accountable by the international community for agreeing to serve in those chaotic shambles that Bush, Cheney and Obama so cheerfully call the Afghan and Iraq "wars".

PPS: World opinion is sometimes like a snake on a cold day. It moves slowly -- but it does move. And while most western media has been working its butt off for the past one hundred-odd years to try to make war seem sexy -- ever since Kaiser Wilhelm was first portrayed as a Hun back in 1914 -- way down below all their continual bombardment by war hype over the past one hundred years, ordinary people everywhere are finally and at last getting truly sick of all this war, war and more war -- no matter what the alleged justification for it may be.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Protest the TSA: Go naked!

If the TSA really wants to see us naked that badly, let's just help them along. The next time you go through airport security and they tell you that in order to be allowed on your flight, you MUST let them either pat you down intimately or view your "junk in the trunk" on the screen, be supportive of their demands in an even more efficient manner -- just strip off all your clothes!

I'm thinking that nothing will make the TSA re-think its new barbaric strip-search-by-proxy procedure than the sight of hundreds of old guys and fat ladies standing around a big airport naked.

And while we're on the subject of protests,
I just read where many Europeans are planning to pull all of their savings out of EU banks on December 7, 2010 -- in protest of how banks there have been routinely using and abusing their customers for fun and profit. We could do that here too -- and put our savings into credit unions instead. Credit unions do what banks are SUPPOSED to do, but without screwing us over.

PS: It's probably not a good idea to withdraw your money from a bank while naked however -- if for no other reason than that America's top ten big-box banks have already striped many of us of everything already.