March 18, 2011

Yay for the new war?

Filed under: Guest Comment — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 12:23 pm

A friend in Concordia Kansas sent an e-mail to this columnist that we interpreted to mean that she was training her Chihuahua dog to participate in a Kansas based Iditarod style race for the breed of dog that we thought would be considered “illegal alien” status in her area. Do dogs need green cards?

It might seem irresponsible and frivolous for a columnist to consider writing a column on the dig topic at a time when the tree huggers are concerned about “an atomic plume” arriving on America’s West Coast and a new “It’s not about the oil” war being added to the gripes of the unpatriots who are celebrating the start of the Afghanistan phase of the perpetual war on terrorism.

We noted a story on the Romensko Media News page at the Poynter website that stated that the Wire Service Guild has asked writers to withhold content and honor the strike against the Huffington Post website. Obviously, the Huffing and Puffing Aggregator website isn’t going to cross post that story and so if we mention it in this column, there is a slight chance that some of our readers (the ones who don’t check Romenesko daily) might not be aware of that development in the strike. [This just in: On Friday, March 18, 2011, Uncle Rushbo reported that the use of by-lines on AP stories is now a labor issue.]

The ego boost allure of crossing the picket line and giving Arianna permission to cross post something isn’t the only dilemma facing bloggers today. Many bloggers will have to wrestle with their conscience and decide if they will recycle an old “It isn’t about the oil” conservative augment from the Bush era and update it to sound relevant to the “no fly” zone military adventure in Libya or will they merely declare President Obama to be the black sheep of the Bush family and consider any effort to protect British Petroleum’s interests in Libya to be a new item for the list of Bush family outrages? If Britain helped the US invade Iraq, doesn’t the USA owe reciprocal military support for BP? Aren’t they a major part of the petroleum industry in Libya?

The prudent thing to do would probably be to hold off on this column and listen to some liberal talk radio shows and take a measure of the depth of their commitment to everything President Obama does or says. Then, if they concur with the effort to send more troops to install democracy in Libya, add our voice to the choir of admiring sheep or should we just dummy up and join in the silence of the lambs?

If Randy Rhodes and the Daily Kos are very adamant in their support of a new Obama military venture, shouldn’t this column disregard the old question about “if all your friends were jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge” and bang out a “one state, one people, one leader” column offering unquestioning commitment to a new war? If they balk at the opportunity to rubber stamp approval of all things Obama, won’t they appear to be subscribing to some weird conspiracy theory cult belief if they don’t “go along to get along”?

It certainly seems that a stance, that would condemn aggression and torture by Hitler and George W. Bush, but not if Obama does it, is a bit of a stellar example of using convoluted logic to rationalize your political views.

For those who are partisan critics of the George W. Bush wars of aggression, it would seem that they are now (metaphorically speaking) caught taking a long lead off first and will fall victim to a pick off throw. If you condemn Hitler and Bush, but make allowances for Obama to do the same thing, you are inconsistent and sound like a conspiracy theory nut.

If, however, you subscribe to the Henry Louis Mencken philosophy that the only way for a columnist to look at a politician is downwards, then it will be perfectly acceptable to ridicule Obama just as enthusiastically as one did George W. Bush during his stint as commander-in-chief.

The squad of Obama cheerleaders will be a bit uncomfortable this weekend, equivocating about how the Libya situation differs greatly from the attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan. If they look to Bush fans for a show of sympathy, they might get a bit of the old “you’re on your own, pal” cold shoulder from the likes of Uncle Rushbo et al because no matter how much Obama tries to imitate George W. Bush, they will always hate Obama and never give him any credit or praise for his efforts to retroactively get the Democratic voters to approve of and support the Bush agenda.

Before this columnist plunges brashly ahead with a sarcastic column that asks what social services programs will have to be scrapped to pay for a new bit of jingoistic colonial empire deployment in the dark continent, we might postpone our efforts and go see the new movie, “Paul,” and see if there might be a few laughs and a way to mix a movie review with some political commentary on it.

Maybe we should send an e-mail to our friend in Kansas and ask for more details about this intriguing but Google search illusive topic of an Iditarod style competition for Chihuahuas?

Maybe we should go buy a Geiger counter and walk around Berkeley CA and see just how accurate the “nothing to worry about” assessments really are? Nah! That makes us sound like a conspiracy theory nut.

If some Americans are going to stage anti-war rallies on Saturday, perhaps we could make an appeal for funds to hold a pro-Obama rally? Aren’t their several really good automobile museums rather close to Nuremburg? If we could get some patriotic well funded organization to subsidize it, we could go over there and (perhaps) do the work necessary to have a picturesque pro-Obama rally of expats?

Hunter S. Thompson coined the folk advice: “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”

Now the disk jockey will play “Over there,” “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition,” and “Just before the battle, mother.” We have to go check out the rumor that the teachers unions, which want smaller classes, are funding the drive to give children the freedom to choose factory work (and $ $ $) over school. Have a “Cathedral of Light” type week.

December 17, 2010

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

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — Jane Stillwater @ 2:08 pm

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.


The Trumped-Up Espionage Case Against Julian Assange


December 9, 2010

WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange: Will the Truth Set Him Free?


Read the Reuters Special Report on the bogus Swedish charges here.

November 19, 2010

Afghans: Still on the edge of extinction?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Jane Stillwater @ 11:50 pm

It’s hard to write about Afghanistan with any kind of accuracy because only approximately 7% of Americans even actually know where the place is — let alone know anything about what is actually going on there. I mean seriously. How many of us have taken the time to read about Afghanistan in Wikileaks or even USA Today? And how many of us have even actually been there? It’s not as if Afghanistan was Hawaii or Cancun.

But I still want to write about Afghanistan anyway — even if it does mean having to do some actual research. But why would I want to do that? Easy answer there — because most of the taxes that Americans pay will eventually end up in Afghanistan, not Cancun. So let’s follow the money.

According to journalist Tom Engelhardt, “While Americans fight bitterly over whether the stimulus package for the domestic economy was too large or too small, few in the U.S. even notice that the American stimulus package in Kabul, Islamabad, Baghdad, and elsewhere in our embattled Raj is going great guns. Embassies the size of pyramids are still being built; military bases to stagger the imagination continue to be constructed; and nowhere, not even in Iraq, is it clear that Washington is committed to packing up its tents, abandoning its billion-dollar monuments, and coming home.”

And how is this huge tax investment in Afghanistan going? According to journalist Jeremy Scahill, it’s not going so good. “The US killing of civilians, combined with a widely held perception that the Afghan government exists only for facilitating the corruption of powerful warlords, drug dealers and war criminals, is producing a situation in which the Taliban and the Haqqani network are gaining support from the Pashtun heartland in communities that would not otherwise be backing them.” Good grief. No wonder nobody in America seems to want to know anything about what is happening in Afghanistan. It’s all just one big mess of bad news!

And, according to WaPo, even Afghanistan’s president is pissed off at the huge U.S. military presence there. “Karzai has long been publicly critical of civilian casualties at the hands of U.S. and NATO troops and has repeatedly called for curtailing night raids into Afghan homes. Under Petraeus and his predecessor, such raids by U.S. Special Operations troops have increased sharply, to about 200 a month, or six times the number being carried out 18 months ago, said a senior NATO military official, who requested anonymity so that he could speak candidly about the situation. These operations capture or kill their target 50 to 60 percent of the time, the official said.” That’s a whole freaking bunch of dead Afghans.

“Karzai said that he wanted American troops off the roads and out of Afghan homes and that the long-term presence of so many foreign soldiers would only worsen the war. His comments placed him at odds with U.S. commander Gen. David H. Petraeus, who has made capture-and-kill missions a central component of his counterinsurgency strategy, and who claims the 30,000 new troops have made substantial progress in beating back the insurgency.”

But I did manage to locate some good news as well. Apparently if you can’t find a job in America, you can always get a hot new job in Afghanistan, working with the US/AID. Check this out. “Looking for a challenge? The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is actively recruiting experienced officers to serve in Afghanistan. These are non-career Foreign Service Limited Appointments, for up to five years, requiring: Eight years of relevant experience, four of which must be overseas; Bachelor’s degree or higher; U.S. citizenship.” And did you notice that bit about America (and you) being there for the next five years? So much for a quick end to that war.

“There are about 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan [as of November 2010],” the Washington Post tells us. Talk about your job opportunities!

Next I read a book called “My Forbidden Face,” published back before Bush and Cheney started bombing the crap out of Afghanistan — back when the original “Taliban” were still in power in Kabul. Writing under the pseudonym of “Latifa,” its author vividly described how the Taliban back in the 1990s basically tried to kill off all of Afghanistan’s women — and apparently they almost succeeded. The Taliban imprisoned women in their homes, beat them with steel-tipped whips, hung them on gibbets in public, deprived them of all medical care, took away their jobs, starved them, raped them, mutilated them and did everything else that they possible could to make Afghan women extinct. Obviously the Taliban were not thinking ahead!

Without women to give birth to the next generation, all Afghans (not just Afghan women) faced the danger of becoming extinct.

And then the book’s author suggests that these brutal Taliban had been sponsored and financed by Pakistan — and that in fact many of the Taliban were even Pakistanis themselves.

Pakistan’s connection with the Taliban then got me to wondering how a small country like Pakistan could even afford to mount such an expensive campaign. The answer to that question lies in Washington too. I betcha dollars to donuts that most of the money to do this was pulled out of Pakistan’s deep pockets — pockets stuffed with American military aid.

And apparently, unlike the Taliban, Pakistan WAS thinking ahead. “Without all those pesky Afghans standing around and mucking it all up, the wealth of Afghanistan could be ours for the taking!” they apparently said to themselves — and started out on a campaign to annihilate Afghans in the above-stated manner, whether they were women or men (or even children). Then as more and more Afghans died, Pakistan happily started putting its plan into action by seizing the Afghan tribal lands next to their border, the area we now call “Af-Pak”. Yeah right.

“But Jane,” you might ask, “how does what happened back in the 1990s pertain to what is happening in Afghanistan today?” Good question. And since I couldn’t find an answer to that question anywhere else in my reading explorations, I’m going to have to make one up.

“If Pakistan thought it was such a hot idea to sponsor the Taliban before, then isn’t it like that they are probably sponsoring them again now?” Pakistan’s ploy to seize Afghan land worked for them before — so why change horses in mid-stream?

And what else has my research taught me? Hmmm. First Genghis Khan killed Afghans. Then the British killed Afghans. Then the Soviets and the Americans took turns killing Afghans. Then the Mujahideen killed Afghans. Then the Taliban killed Afghans. And Pakistanis killed Afghans. And now the Americans (and their allies from Europe and Canada) have jumped back into this hot game of “Let’s kill us some Afghans”.

Why is it that people from all over the freaking world seem so intent on killing Afghans? How come all of the players in this bloody game seem to be trying their level best to force Afghans into extinction? And you thought that the polar bears had it hard!

According to Jeremy Scahill, “The US strategy seems to be to force the Taliban to the table through a fierce killing campaign. According to the US military, over a ninety-day period this past summer, US and coalition Special Operations Forces killed or captured more than 2,900 ‘insurgents,’ with an estimated dozen killed a day.”

And if this new insurgence of Talibs is being sponsored by Pakistan too like the old one apparently was, wouldn’t it make sense to cut off all U.S. military aid to Pakistan and thus cut off the Hydra at its head?

But what if all U.S. military aid to Pakistan was to be suddenly cut off, Pakistan was then forced to stop back-dooring funds and money to the Taliban and as a result America finally began to get the upper hand in Kandahar and Helmand and finally started to win the longest freaking war in American history?

Would that mean that Americans would finally pack up their occupation and go home? Apparently not. Apparently Afghanistan serves as a buffer zone of influence between Russia, India, China and lord knows who else. Give up the Khyber Pass and the Oil (formerly Silk) Road? Not bloody likely.

Even if America does win its war against the Taliban (be they old or new) it will once again be the Afghans themselves (both men and women) who will lose because their country will still be occupied by Americans — and the Afghans, like the polar bears, will still be in danger of extinction.

I guess the main thing that i have learned from my research so far is that while everyone in the freaking world seems to be warring over this particular piece of the turf, it is the average Afghan who suffers.

PS: Here’s just one last piece of research that I did — running this essay past a friend of mine who is an expert on Afghanistan. And here’s his reply: “I don’t see any glaring errors per se in this article, Jane, but you might want to let readers know early on that while Latifa’s position might appeal to many Americans who still buy into the ‘Great White Saviors of Helpless Brown Women for Savage Brown Men’ concept because it is rather erotic and therefore difficult to unseat because it does not reside in the cerebrum but rather somewhere in the limbic system or reproductive glands, the same horrible things were being done to Afghan men as well as Afghan women during that time.” Check.

“And here are some further points your readers might not know about the 1990s Taliban: First, the Taliban beat both men AND women. They were focused on physical means of public discipline, like the Romans (and most historic cultures) were.

“Second, the Taliban were trying to restore order to a very chaotic situation. The U.S., Pakistan, the Saudis and the Iranians had all funded the mujahideen overthrow of the Najibullah regime, but the result by April 1992 was violent chaos. And the Taliban did succeed in restoring order where, since 2002, the combined U.S., ISAF and Afghan forces have failed to do so. Evidence: The Taliban could and did ban opium production in 2000.

“But while my comments mainly reinforce your points, those little factoids might still be a surprise, alas.” Yes, and it is also a surprise to me that the human race still hasn’t learned a better way to resolve conflicts than to resort to the old Roman (and caveman) tactics of violence and killing.

PPS: When I was in Kabul a few years ago, I met a whole bunch of REALLY NICE Afghans. And right at this very moment America, Canada, the Taliban, Pakistan, NATO, etc. aren’t just over there killing anonymous and nameless “Afghans”. They are killing real people who have families just like you and me and who are hard-working people who bleed when you hurt them and who are NICE.

In her recent book, “Peace Meals” ” war correspondent Anna B wrote about the real people, the innocent bystanders in Afghanistan who get killed in the wars. “We often dismiss the peopled landscapes of Afghanistan—and Iraq and Kashmir, Chechnya and Somalia—as merely a sere battleground of the global war against Islamist terrorism. We erect an emotional wall between ourselves and the millions of nameless, two-dimensional figures that move across our television screens, foreign and strange, almost cartoon-like, unsung. One goes up. One goes down. We switch to a different channel.”

I met Badkhen once at Camp Victory in Iraq, when we were roommates at Victory’s can city. Ever resourceful, she loaned me some masking tape so that I could repair a broken shoe strap. She looked just too young and innocent to be a hardened war veteran — but she was.

Badkhen states that, since the U.S. started keeping records in 2007 and the publication of her book, 7,324 Afghan civilians had died in the war. And a whole lot more of them have died due to lack of medical facilities, etc. “One in eight Afghan women dies during childbirth. One in four children dies before the age of 5, mostly of waterborne diseases. Only a third of Afghans have access to clean drinking water; fewer than one in 10 have access to sanitation facilities. Life expectancy, both for men and women, is 44 years.” Yet no one ever tallies these deaths that are directly related to war.

“‘Peace Meals’ is a tribute to all my host families who live, and perish, on the edges of the world. It is my invitation to connect with the ordinary people trapped in mass violence of the last decade in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East and in East Africa; to break bread with them; and to peer past the looking glass of warfare led or backed by the United States into the lives of the people who, despite the violence and privation that kill their loved ones and decimate their towns, somehow, persevere. Even if they are not mentioned in the daily news feed, they have names.”

PPPPS: Afghans aren’t the only ones getting killed over there. Americans are too. Journalist David Pratt has this to say about that: “…More recently, just a few weeks ago in fact, I met a 22-year-old British marine called Ryan Gorman in Helmand, Afghanistan. As a sniper with 45 Commando, his mental snapshots were of a different kind. ‘Lots of the lads here when they fire back are shooting at shapes and blurs, but I could draw you a picture of the men I see, even the features on their faces.’ Being a sniper is not something Gorman likes to talk about when back home in East Kilbride. ‘Even my closest mates wouldn’t understand,’ he confides.

“But then just who, other than soldiers themselves, could ever be expected to understand such experiences? How many of us can honestly relate to what it must be like to watch a close friend die horribly in battle, or carry the psychological weight of having ‘confirmed kills’ attributed to you?”

Who indeed?


October 21, 2010

Higher standards: What if Afghanistan was like Palestine?

One of the biggest gripes that the corporatists who rule Israel (sorry — nobody uses the term “neo-con” any more) have expressed lately is that so many Americans are now siding with Palestinians instead of with them. “And also how come you never hold any other countries in this region to the same high standard that you demand from us,” they complain. “Just look at the civil rights abuses in the Arab countries in the Middle East. How come you never get on their cases too?”

Okay. Here goes. Now I’m gonna get on Afghanistan’s case.

First of all, one of the major reasons that we don’t get on Afghanistan’s case as much as we get on the case of the corporatists currently ruling Israel and Palestine is that who the freak even KNOWS anything about Afghanistan?

What if we knew as much about Afghanistan as we know about Israel and Palestine? What would we think about Afghanistan then? Would our standards for Afghanistan be as demanding as our standards for Israel? And would we require the same solutions to problems in Afghanistan that corporatist-controlled Israel now comes up with? Hmmm.

What if it was as easy to travel to Afghanistan as it is to travel to Israel (or even Palestine) right now? Would we be getting as much correct information from eye-witnesses about what is going on in, say, Helmand, as we now get regarding what is going on in the West Bank? (Gaza is a different story. No one is allowed to go there. Not many people know what is going on in Gaza.) But who the freak ever travels to Afghanistan these days?

I myself have been trying to get to Afghanistan for the past three years by embedding with the U.S. military there — but with no luck. And do you know how hard it is to even GET to Afghanistan if you go there on your own? First you gotta come up with big bucks to fly to Dubai. Then at the Dubai airport you gotta get up at the crack of dawn to get in line at the Ariana Airlines check-in counter and elbow your way through a crowd of hundreds of Afghans who are, like you, also trying to get to Kabul. There are hundreds of people in the “stand-by” line, including you. Plus they don’t call Ariana the “Inch Allah” airline for nothing. Last time I flew Ariana, we landed in Tehran instead of Dubai — by mistake.

Flying into Kabul, you can still see ragged old airplanes and broken-up tanks lining the runway from back in the day, back from the Afghanistan-USSR war. And the airport’s baggage claim area? Craziness. Yes, even getting to Afghanistan is a big pain in the [bootie]. And once you are there? It’s not like they have grand hotels and tourist information bureaus at the airport — or even in town. And then you get mobbed by determined beggar children on Chicken Street — or perhaps even blown up. The ATM machines there are fortified with barbed wire, blast walls and checkpoints. Kabul is NOT Tel Aviv!

We all know that Afghanistan was brutally occupied by the United States under Cheney and Bush back in 2001, with lots of bombings and killings of civilians in a gigantic take-over that was pretty much illegal — no matter what the occupiers claimed. But the same thing happened to Palestine approximately 63 years ago. It was the exact same thing. So. What will Afghanistan be like in 63 years? Will there still be all that military occupation going on there like in Palestine today? And will us taxpayers still be paying for this occupation 60-odd years from now the same way that we now pay (and pay) for the occupation of Palestine? Yeah? Yikes!

In this respect, Palestine and Afghanistan are already very much alike — both of them have become military money pits that American taxpayers can’t seem to climb out of.

And there are other ways that Israel-Palestine is as bad as Afghanistan. In both Afghanistan and Palestine, money is being spent on weapons instead of medical care and schools. But, in that respect, America is pretty much as bad as Afghanistan and Palestine as well. You can’t make huge profits on medical care and schools– either there or here, not like you can selling weapons!

But enough of that. Let’s get back on-topic. How else can I get on Afghanistan’s case for being worse than Israel-Palestine? Well, I gotta admit that Palestine’s resistance fighters are pretty much wimps compared to Afghanistan’s Taliban. What if Palestine had radical Taliban-style insurgents fighting its occupation like the Taliban now do in Afghanistan? The Israeli corporatists who now run the Israeli government should thank their lucky stars that Palestinians are more patient and tolerant and not that violent and mean.

However, if the brutal Israeli occupation of Palestine keeps going the way it has been going for the last 60-odd years — with land theft and torture and aerial bombings of homes and unjustified civilian deaths and destruction of civil rights and huge concentration camps — Palestinians may finally get desperate enough to become like the Taliban too. And, from what I can tell, the Taliban seem to be winning in Afghanistan.

But in some ways, corporatist Israel-Palestine is actually worse than Afghanistan. What if Afghan Christians were persecuted and killed like Palestinian Christians have been persecuted and killed for the last 60-odd years?

What if Afghan refugees, like Palestinian refugees, were never allowed to return to the place where they were born, to their childhood home — never ever again?

And what if Afghanistan were to suffer a bloody and brutal occupation like Gaza’s, with tanks and bombs and guns giving children nightmares every night? Oops, too late. In that respect, Afghanistan already has.

So. When Israeli corporatists whine that we get on their case more than any other country in the region, now they won’t be able to complain about that particular issue any more — because I just got on Afghanistan’s case!

PS: This week, Israeli corporatists came up with yet another weird thing to complain about. Israeli corporatists have now started complaining about JEWS. Yep, you read that right. The Anti-Defamation League, an American organization that is highly influenced by Israeli corporatists and tends to follow their party line to the letter, has just condemned “Jewish Voice for Peace” for being antisemitic! Huh?

According to Michelle Goldberg at the Daily Beast, “…the ADL has also shown itself willing to smear human-rights activists when it thinks Israel’s interests demand it. It is in this context that the organization’s misguided new report on the ‘top 10 anti-Israel groups in America,’ which includes Jewish Voice for Peace…has to be understood.

“The ADL’s list also includes The U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, a coalition that aims ‘to change those U.S. policies that sustain Israel’s 40-year [sic] occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, and deny equal rights for all.’ Among its member organizations are the American Friends Service Committee-Iowa, Unitarian Universalists for Justice in the Middle East, and the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions-USA.” What? Quakers and Unitarians are now antisemitic too?

So. When is the Israeli corporatist government finally going to give up its assault on Muslim and Christian Palestinians’ civil rights and also their paranoid fear that Americans like me are all out to get them? Perhaps this will happen someday soon — but only if Israeli corporatists finally lose power in Israel, so that normal Israelis can finally stop worrying about all this corporatist intrigue and start getting on with their lives.


September 17, 2010

My year of living Americanly: Mt. Rushmore

I used to think that if only I could go off to all the hot-spots in the world where American troops or “advisers” are stationed, then I would be able to understand American imperialism better and thus be in a better position to explain to my fellow Americans that, despite all its glittery promises and John-Wayne-style bravado, American imperialism is essentially a BAD thing — one that will come back to bite them in the [bottom].

But after spending many years going to places like Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan, Myanmar and sub-Saharan Africa, I have finally come to realize that perhaps it is even more important to trace all these imperial catastrophes back to their actual source — the Americans who stand by, do nothing and allow all this [dookie] to happen in the first place.

So I set out to explore and discover the belly of the beast itself — America. Whew! That’s a very big job.

Of course we all know that the real heart of America is in Branson, Missouri, but I haven’t been able to afford getting there yet. But I did go to Detroit, Michigan — and was totally impressed by the courage its residents are showing as they try to pull themselves back from the brink of economic disaster. You can almost hear the sucking sound there — as the wealth of cities like Detroit gets vacuumed away to desolate places like Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan, and into the bank vaults of Wall Street.

And my main memory of Las Vegas was of its poor sweet over-worked cocktail waitresses — trying to look sexy when they have sore feet, hungry children at home and almost no chance of seeing sunshine except on their day off.

Then I went to Disneyland. Can’t get much more American than that. And in October I’m going to Boucher-con, the famous mystery writers’ and fans’ convention in San Francisco. And I also went up to Clear Lake last month — which isn’t clear any more. Nothing but algae. And I worked as a volunteer film extra in a bunch of Bay Area movies. That’s American too.

And now I’m going off to Mt. Rushmore. How American is that!

(Later — much later): Now I’m here at Mt. Rushmore — after having gotten lost at the San Francisco airport and having almost missed my plane to Rapid City. But I’m here now. And it was worth it. Mt. Rushmore is awesome. It is HUGE. And you just gotta love the Black Hills.

I also saw a monument to Chief Crazy Horse today. It’s about 20 miles away from Mt. Rushmore — but it’s even bigger yet. Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt AND Lincoln could easily fit onto just the side of Crazy Horse’s head. The largest sculpture in the world, it’s been a work in progress for the last 62 years and they figure it will take another 60 years to finish it. When completed, however, it will take up the space of a whole mountain.

“Where is your land now?” someone had jeered at Chief Crazy Horse after he had fought and then surrendered because his people were being killed by the U.S. military and because the buffalo they needed to live on were also being slaughtered by the occupying forces in order to starve the tribes into submission. Crazy Horse had begun resisting the U.S. military occupation only after he had been given no other choice.

And Crazy Horse answered, “My lands are where my dead lie buried.”

PS: Speaking of the Afghan money pit and where dead people lie buried, Scottish journalist David Pratt has just written another article about Afghanistan that I think is essential to read if you want to have ANY concept of what’s going on over there right now.

Bush, Cheney, Obama and Petraeus, please take note — especially of the article’s last sentence. “The third message came from an old Russian friend and former intelligence officer in the Soviet army who served in Afghanistan in the 1980s and who now works as a security adviser there. It read: “It’s like the rerun of an old movie for me, the same blunders, the same tactical mistakes … but at least we knew when it was time to get out.”

Here’s the article in its entirety, with Pratt’s kind permission (as originally printed in the Glasgow Sunday Herald):

Now civil war looms for the lost cause that is Afghanistan:

We are losing the war in Afghanistan. It’s as simple as that. If I were a Taliban or insurgency commander right now, I’d feel pretty upbeat about the way things are going. While you’d be hard pressed to notice it – given all the papal hullabaloo – Afghanistan faces a crucial parliamentary election tomorrow.

This time around there has been nothing like the political fanfare emanating from Kabul, Washington and London, as happened previously when we were told Afghanistan was taking its first tentative steps towards democracy. The reasons are simple. First, the election will be riddled with fraud and corruption. Secondly, the Taliban will show once again it can strike with comparative impunity. And, thirdly, those international bodies, such as the United Nations, tasked with helping Afghans realise what free and fair elections actually mean have bottled it and bolted.

Sound familiar? It should, given that this time last year we faced much the same situation with the presidential vote. The significant difference on this occasion, however, is that everyone is keeping their political heads beneath the parapet in the certain knowledge that once again we will fail to deliver for the Afghan people and no-one wants to be blamed.

Every day in the news from Afghanistan, in the comments from our military commanders and the evasive doublespeak of our political leaders on troop drawdown and withdrawal, you sense the tide is changing. And all the time the Taliban are gaining at every turn. Indeed, the evidence on the ground already shows that, far from being on the back foot, the insurgents are advancing and holding territory in provinces such as Wardak and infiltrating the north of the country in places like Kunduz and Badakshan, turning what until now have been comparatively subdued regions into resurgent battlefronts. In all, it seems a case of one step forward and two back.

Today, it’s not so much a sense of mission creep as a creeping sense that the mission is lost. Take tomorrow’s election as a single example. In the aftermath of last year’s presidential vote, as many as 1.2 million votes were said to be illegal.

In its wake, the UN and others swore they would do better next time. Yet, according to Johann Kriegler, one of only two foreigners on Afghanistan’s Electoral Complaints Commission, over the next few days we can expect pretty much the same, if not more, widespread ballot rigging and intimidation than before.

And where do we find the UN precisely at the moment we need it most? Heading for the hills. Well, not the hills exactly, given that they’re full of Taliban, more a case of over the hills and far away. Throughout the past week or so, the UN has evacuated what it deems as non-essential staff for fear they might be in harm’s way from Taliban violence during the elections. In all, that’s about one-third of its entire international workforce in Afghanistan. Or, to use UN speak, a “reduction in its footprint”.

“We are going to be particularly careful as the Taliban have announced they will attack anyone involved in this election and we are very much involved,” explained Staffan de Mistura, the head of the UN mission in Afghanistan. Really? Well, perhaps you’re not quite involved enough, Mr de Mistura. Why is it every time we put the Afghan people through the rigours of the democratic process, instead of standing its ground, the UN sticks to its wimpish last in, first out approach that has characterised so many of its international missions?

To be fair, though, the UN is not alone in bending to Taliban intimidation: many other international election monitoring groups have also given up on full “observation” missions, rendering tomorrow’s ballot next to useless. This is bad news at a time when, more than ever, ordinary Afghans need reassurance.

That said, many already sense we have all but thrown in the towel and are doing nothing more than going through the motions of leaving without losing face. While in the country last month, almost every Afghan I spoke with, from Badakshan in the north, to the capital, Kabul, was desperately pessimistic about the future.

Already people across the country have picked up on our own faltering sense of political purpose, and are psychologically steeling themselves for what is almost universally accepted as the coming civil war once we’ve packed our kit bags and left. And we’re not simply talking about the Taliban here.

Around Kabul’s more “fashionable” neighbourhoods, extravagant new houses built on the enormous profits of the illegal drug trade are testimony to the financial and political power of war lords who run private militias and “security companies”. It is these often bitter rivals, not just the Taliban, that ordinary Afghans believe will plunge them back to the dark days of the 1990s when civil war laid waste to much of Kabul and paved the way for the rise of the Islamic extremists.

Having been there many times during those anarchic years, listening to Afghans today draw parallels with those times, I well appreciate their fears.

Speaking earlier this week about tomorrow’s election, Major General Nick Carter, who commands NATO troops in southern Afghanistan, described Kandahar as resembling Moscow in the 1990s, with “mobs, mafia and protection rackets” running madrassas, boarding houses and private security companies.

General Carter has every reason to be worried, given that it’s probably fair to say much of the country, whether under government or Taliban control, is threatened by a similar incendiary brew.

They say that the devil is in the detail. If that’s true, then perhaps the detail in three email messages I received over the course of the past few weeks gives some intimate sense of the prevailing attitudes to the war in Afghanistan and where the country might be going in the future.

The first was from a US Army helicopter ambulance pilot, whose unit I spent time with in the country. As his deployment comes to an end, he told me of the physical and emotional toll the war has taken on him and his comrades, and how much he now just wanted to go home and never see Afghanistan again. The second email was from a young Afghan woman, who described how men with guns – not Taliban – are terrorising the neighbourhood in Kabul where she lives.

The third message came from an old Russian friend and former intelligence officer in the Soviet army who served in Afghanistan in the 1980s and who now works as a security adviser there. It read: “It’s like the rerun of an old movie for me, the same blunders, the same tactical mistakes … but at least we knew when it was time to get out.”


August 26, 2010

David Pratt: The role of heroin in sustaining the Afghan “war”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Jane Stillwater @ 11:19 am

I just got an e-mail from Scottish journalist David Pratt, asking me to please let people know about the insidious effects of heroin on Afghanistan — and on Scotland. Of course I will. The two articles that Pratt wrote on this subject offer huge new insights into why the Bush-Obama “war” in Afghanistan is still going on after nine long bloody years of both physical pain and financial disaster for both Afghanistan and the United States (not to mention Scotland).

I first met Pratt when we were both embedded in the Green Zone in Iraq in 2007, and it was love at first sight — I immediately fell in love with his writing style, his knowledge and his willingness to go WAY out on a limb in order to get an accurate story. He has spent the last 30 years as a war correspondent for Glasgow’s Sunday Herald, and his book “Intifada: The Long Day of Rage” is the ultimate eye-witness report on “The Troubles” in Palestine.

Pratt is a fabulous reporter and if he says that poppy cultivation and heroin sales are not only financing the Taliban’s weapon supply in Afghanistan right now but also has become its current favorite way of screwing up the U.S. occupation by destabilizing the government in Kabul, then I know that information is spot-on.

According to Pratt, one American drug-control adviser in Kabul stated categorically that, “Once the Taliban realized that narcotic control was a major goal of the international coalition and Afghan government, they OK’d it to the farmers to grow poppy because they know it destabilizes the government. That’s also the reason why we’re seeing even more opium and heroin production.”

These are the kind of insightful articles that make other journalists (including myself) drool with envy. I wish that I could have written that!

According to another Pratt source, Dr. Zemoray Amin of Doctors of the World, “cheapness and easy availability of drugs, joblessness, displacement and, above all, the effects of the war are the main reasons for heroin’s escalating impact in Afghanistan. But …there is another, even more worrying root cause. It stems from the widespread corruption among those within the top tier of the Afghan establishment, and complicity by the international community in ignoring that crookedness in exchange for political allegiance and strategical leverage in the fight against the Taliban.”

Gen. Petraeus might be better off spending his time fighting poppy growing rather than fighting small-time villagers who are caught between a rock and a hard place regarding the Taliban.

Here’s the rest of Pratt’s article, entitled “Trail of Destruction”:

Next, Pratt takes on the other end of the poppy chain — heroin in Scotland. Entitled “Made in Kabul — shot up in Glasgow,” This report is also grim. Drug addicts are now dying in Scotland in large numbers, thanks to Scottish soldiers who die in Afghanistan so that the drug trade there can continue to grow and prosper.

Here’s a quote: “Jawad was left for dead in a ditch. Stephen was found overdosed in a doorway. Though more than 3000 miles separate Kabul’s Karte Seh district and Glasgow’s Gorbals, the lives of these two men are inextricably linked by one thing: heroin. In the space of little over a month on opposite sides of the world, I listened to both tell of a hellish journey each had taken while trapped in the grip of a powerful and terrifying addiction.

“Jawad is no stranger to pain – in Kabul’s drug institutions, the methods used to detox heroin addicts come from the Middle Ages. Head shaved and stripped naked, on numerous occasions he has been locked in a cell and hosed down with freezing water. But it was the night when some policemen started beating Jawad that the agony became so great he found himself begging them to stop.”

Read the rest of this article at

If I don’t have the talent, insights, opportunity and/or knowledge to write important articles like these two, at least I’m glad to know that someone like Pratt is out there writing them for us — and it my pleasure to pass them on even though it makes me sad to know that the information they contain is verifiablely true.

August 2, 2010

Farewell to Kodachrome

Filed under: Guest Comment — Tags: , , , , — Bob Patterson @ 4:03 pm

On the last Saturday in July of 2010, this columnist stumbled on a yard sale in Berkeley CA, that provided a chance to purchase cassette tapes at the incredibly low, low price of a quarter each and since there were a good many tracks from artists who were synonymous with the sixties, we glommed on to almost three dozen. That evening, while listening to the music, we thought of the fact that the last place in the United States that offers development for Kodachrome film will cease that service at the end of this year. That, in turn, prompted this columnist to realize that an old way of looking at the world would soon be shut down. Hmm. We started to wonder if the commencement speaker at our college graduation ceremony had warned us about how grim things were going to be forty-five years later. The class of 1965 had every reason to believe and expect that the era of unlimited growth and prosperity was at hand and that we could record the spectacle on Kodachrome for posterity. With the death of Kodachrome, it seems that people will have to adopt (both literally and figuratively) a new way of seeing the world. In May of 1965, the uber-optimistic commencement speaker sure didn’t lay it on about “no more Vietnams” because it wasn’t until the start of the following month that LBJ decided to send some Marine Divisions there to straighten up the mess.

The British Invasion back then meant Herman’s Hermits, the Dave Clark Five (how many members of that group can you name?), and Petula Clark, and not oily tar balls and dispersants.

The marvel of Kodachrome was that it used dyes and not an emulsion that produced grain which was a primitive chemical based form of pixilation. The difference between Kodachrome and Tri-X was similar to the difference between analogue (no pixels) and digital (grainy) music.

If the commencement speaker had told the class of ’65 that the United States was going to suffer a metaphorical Dien Bien Phu in the next ten years, he would have been laughed off the stage. If he has told this columnist, that within six months he would walk the streets of Casablanca, the young man would (most likely) have said: “Of all the gin joints in all the world . . . .”and had a good laugh.

One member of that particular class had been killed in a car wreck that happened between the end of final exams and the Sunday ceremony. At least one more was killed in Vietnam before the class of 1966 got to hear their commencement speech. Another fellow from the class of 1965 came back from Vietnam, used some of the money he had earned there to buy a high performance Corvette and learned it was more car than he could handle. Over the ensuing years, one recurring though has been to wonder (if time travel were possible) what it would be like to travel back in time to Berlin for the Christmas of 1938 and warn the German’s what lay ahead.

As July of 2010 became August, we read a piece by Ted Rall grumbling about how he is having a difficult time getting editors interested in stories relating to their audiences, just how things are going in Afghanistan. We realized that any time travel trip back to Berlin for the 1938 Christmas season would be an exercise in futility. “I’d sing out danger, I sing out warning . . .” and get the Sounds of Silence.

If you search diligently into the history of television, you will find that in Germany from 1936 to (approximately) 1943, there was a nightly newscast featuring officially state sanctioned information available to the few owners of TV sets in that city. The US has Fox News and they had lies from Wolfschanze.

One of the items we picked up was a copy of a Roy Orbison album titled King of Hearts. If we like Orbison so much how could we have missed a whole album? We wondered what else may have slipped under our cultural radar in the last forty-five years.

In college, we had used a 4X5 Speed Graphic to get photos for the 64 and 65 yearbooks. We had spent some time making extreme enlargements from small (about the size of a 35mm negative) portion of the image on the piece of sheet film (remember the notches code?) and so when we now say that carrying a Nikon Coolpix around in our pocket makes us feel like we have a portable studio with us at all times, we realize it sounds like hyperbole. Obviously the newer bigger more expensive digital Nikons would be commensurately better than the Coolpix, but the basis for this comparison is a very heavy and bulky fifty year old state of the art piece of camera equipment.

Listening to the pure voices of Joan Baez, Mama Cass, and Patsy Cline, counter pointed by the raw raspy sound of Janice Joplin, we got to wondering if the young DJ’s on KALX and KLXU could assert that artists like this Lady Gaga person (to the best of our knowledge, we’ve never heard her sing) has a voice that can deliver a song on key let alone has perfect pitch. Perfect pitch? Isn’t that what a baseball team gets when they deal with only 27 batters from the opposing team?

The famous Philadelphia curmudgeon W. C. Fields has been quoted as saying: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again . . . then quit because there’s no use looking like a damn fool.”

Is that all there is to say after a weekend soaked in musical nostalgia? Oh, no, my faithful readers, let’s break out the travel brochures and apply to the Gonzo Journalism Foundation (AKA my bank account) for a grant to subsidize a summer of 2011 trip to Berlin and let the roster of younger bloggers write about reviving the draft, a possible war with one of Iraq’s neighboring countries, and/or the possible existence of a pesky foreign student loan application from the past.

In May of 1965, all graduating classes were (I assume) promised a big wide wonderful world full of appealing possibilities unlimited opportunities and now forty-five years later, after attending the Academy Awards twice, having a Seven Up in Hemingway’s favorite bar in Paris and a diet Pepsi in Skimpy’s Saloon in Kalgoorlie, having a ride in the Goodyear blimp, chatting with a former co-worker at the Playboy West Coast Mansion (which gives us a chance to slip in a plug for Hugh Hefner’s new work-safe website called “The Smoking Jacket” here), giving my autograph to Paul Newman, asking John Wayne for his, and having Twilight Zone writer George Clayton Johnson ask if he could use a story line I had brought into the conversation, it might seem like there’s nothing left to anticipate but the impeachment proceedings that the Republicans are anxious to initiate in January.

Oh, no, my faithful readers, after a weekend of discovering never-before-heard songs by Patsy Cline, the Mamas and the Papas, and Sonny and Cher, it’s obvious that even though there were no guarantees given to the class of 1965, there might be (just might mind you) be some additional new thrills in this old world left to discover. Thrills? What if there are some unheard Janis Joplin tracks left to find? Are we sure that we have heard every Doors song in existence?

Look out, Isle de Levant, I’m on my way! Well, next summer, if I live that long. Is there any chance of bumping into any fellow members of the class of 1965, in a hostel in Prague, or Munich, or . . . Amsterdam? Most of my classmates went the family and house with a white picket fence route so they should be wealthy and retired now. What’s to stop them from going? Don’t think twice; it’s all right. Retirement’s just another word for nothing left to lose . . . by going on the road just one more time.

[Note from the Marvelous Co-inky-dink Department: at the same time this columnist was buying cassette tapes, Bard Pitt and Angelina Jolie were (according to the Berkeleyside website) also enjoying a relaxing day in Berkeley CA.]

Berlin on Christmas Day of 1938? Graduation Day 1965? January 2011? Janis Joplin summed it all up: “. . . because, as a matter of fact . . . as we learned on the train, ma-a-a-n, tomorrow never happens. It’s all the sa-a-a-me fu-u-u-cking da-a-ay, ma-a-a-an!”

Now the disk jockey will play Roy Orbison’s “Heartbreak Radio,” Sonny and Cher’s “Sing C’est la vie,” and Paul Simon’s “Kodachrome.” We have to go look for a copy of “Europe on $5 a day.” Have a “U. S. out of Vietnam now!” type week.

July 23, 2010

Decision time in Las Vegas: Governor Schweitzer or Big Brother?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Jane Stillwater @ 7:48 pm

I love watching Big Brother on TV. Why? Because all the lying and scheming, back-biting, greed and general nastiness that happens on the show reminds me of the way that Republicans tend to act. Watching Big Brother is definitely helping me to become a better progressive blogger.

And so when a conflict arose Thursday night between me watching Governor Bob Schweitzer speak to the Netroots Nation convention in Las Vegas or me hightailing it up to my hotel room to see if Matt or Monet would get voted out, I was torn — that is, until Governor Schweitzer actually started speaking. And then I became riveted. A herd of elephants couldn’t have dragged me out of my seat. The man is a born orator — or at least the best raconteur that I’ve ever heard.

First the governor spent a slow and leisurely ten minutes telling us about his 112-year-old friend Walt. Then he told us all about how he won the 4-H competition at the county fair when he was nine years old. Then he told us in colorful detail about how his grandmother had come over from Ireland all by herself at the tender age of 17. “Her name was Hannah — and she was the original Hannah Montana.”

Unlike the kind of “country folk” who live in suburban tract houses outside of places like Houston, Atlanta and Nashville but still try to pass themselves off as rural cowboys and who listen to multi-millionaire Rush Limbaugh as he too tries to act “down-home,” Governor Schweitzer has been a farmer and rancher all his life and actually is the real thing. And, even better, the governor doesn’t have to build his own self up by putting other people down.

Governor Schweitzer wants the best for Montana — and for America too. And he didn’t need to sell out his American ideals and become a narrow-minded bigot or a cold-hearted compassion-challenged “me-first” scrounger or a greedy corporatist in order to get elected either. Go him!

However. Would the governor’s true American values of honesty, integrity and hard work have won him a place in the Final Four on Big Brother? Probably not.

And when I finally did get back to my hotel room that evening, I turned on the TV in vain hopes of getting at least a tail-end glimpse of Matt and Monet on the block. Too late. But I did get to see a commercial paid for by Sharon Angle, a senatorial candidate here in Nevada. Angle looked like some sincere-but-seedy Sally Fields wannabe as she told a roomful of sweet-looking old people that government interference was ruining their lives.

Yeah sure, Sharon.

You say that you want to help all of America’s old people by getting rid of MediCare and Social Security? And just exactly HOW is that going to help us? If you truly want to get rid of Big Government, then just get us out of those pointless and meaningless “wars” in the Middle East — those bloody sink-holes that are eating our budgets and our souls alive. And you could also help us get rid of all those bailouts for bankers.

Then Van Jones spoke this morning and he said that progressive bloggers need to take the high road and set good examples for others by living up to America’s highest ideals. What? You want me to stop bashing those lying corporatists, neo-cons and talk-show hosts who have stolen our country, our morality and our ideals? Me? Nah.

Well, maybe I MIGHT consider being just a little bit nicer. Because, after all, I do want to get into Heaven — if for no other reason than because there won’t be any corporatists, liars, bigots, hard-hearted “me-first” types or right-wing radio talk-show hosts in Heaven at all.

PS: I just stuck my head into a room where the “Afghanistan: Where do we go from here?” workshop was being held. “How many Al Qaeda operatives are there in Afghanistan right now?” the moderator asked.

“50 to a hundred.”

“And we are spending one billion dollars a year in Afghanistan on capturing these 50 to a hundred Al Qaeda operatives?”

“That is correct.”

Then another reporter in the media room commented that when the U.S. military offered to give arms training to Afghan women, 10,000 women showed up. Those women are truly pissed off at Afghan men. Maybe we should send Afghan women out to Kandahar instead of the Marines. Just a thought.

July 4, 2010

Islamic Terrorists: Creating a Frankenstein monster

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Jane Stillwater @ 12:51 pm

Back in approximately 1528, when the very first black man was snatched from a village in Africa and shoved onto a slave ship, somehow a ball got rolling that has consequences even down to this day. That single act of brutality began a long, slow process that eventually resulted in the proliferation of violence and crime in America’s inner cities four centuries later.

Cruelty always gets the ball rolling, gets the party started — but in a bad way.

So. What cruelties, exactly, got the Islamic terrorist ball rolling? Was it when Mohammad (PBUH) wrote the Qu’ran? And if it was, then why aren’t most American Muslims now terrorists too? And why don’t their teenagers run in violent gangs like so many Christian teenagers here do? Dearborn, in Michigan, for instance, has a very large Muslim population and the largest mosque in America. So why aren’t the Muslims of Dearborn all terrorists? Obviously it’s not their religion per se that is turning Muslims into terrorists. So it must be something else.

“But what could it be?” you might ask. I think you could get an answer to that question from any competent psychologist since Freud. Terrorists aren’t shaped by their religion. And terrorist aren’t just born that way either. Terrorists are created by their childhood experiences. Terrorists are created by cruelty.

Take Afghanistan for instance — a country that’s known for its terrorists. Those terrorists didn’t just suddenly spring full-grown from the head of Zeus. No, they were systematically created by centuries of systematic cruelty.

First the Brits brutally invaded Afghanistan. Then the Russians brutally invaded Afghanistan. Then the Americans brutally invaded Afghanistan. Brutality. Cruelty. Injustice. And now we wonder why that poor country is overrun with terrorists? Duh.

And then there’s Iraq. The Brits systematically destroyed democracy in Iraq. And Americans gave Iraq three gifts that kept on giving: Saddam Hussein, Shock and Awe and Abu Ghraib. In Iraq, Brits, Americans and their European allies created a Frankenstein monster — step by step, day by day.

And during approximately the last 90 years, Palestine has been systematically invaded by various forms of Europeans — not to mention the Crusades. Whether it was Lord Balfour, King Richard or David Ben Gurion who invaded the Holy Land, these Europeans have all worked really hard to create Frankenstein monsters in Palestine too — and America to this day still keeps footing these invaders’ bills.

Sure, a few Palestinians have hijacked some airplanes in protest — but Europeans and Americans have hijacked their entire region.

And remember how British Petroleum and the CIA worked in tandem to violently destroy democracy in Iran and to replace it with the West’s own bloody Shah, king of torture?

Face it, guys. The whole Middle East has been under the jackboots of American and European colonialism, imperialism and cruelty for a long, long, long time. And, keeping that thought in mind, you might also consider the suggestion that perhaps we are looking at Islamic terrorists from the wrong perspective. Perhaps if it hadn’t been for the calming and civilizing influences of Islam, all these Frankenstein monsters that the West has cheerfully created in the Middle East might have turned out even worse.

Consider what happened when Europe and America unleashed their cruelty on the Congo, Rwanda and Zimbabwe. At least the Middle East didn’t turn out as badly as all that. Maybe Islam actually helped give Muslims something hopeful to cling to in the face of all that Shock and Awe.

PS: As you may have already noticed unless you’re brain-dead or watch Fox News, the military-corporatist structure that brought us Rwanda, Afghanistan and Abu Ghraib is still in the driver’s seat in Washington now and still happily doing all its usual cruel nasty stuff. Which can only make me wonder — as our democracy dies and so does our economy — what kind of Frankenstein monsters are they happily creating here at home too?

PPS: And what, exactly, is the justification for all this cruelty? Apparently the justification is greed. Geez Louise! Just how many extra yachts do you guys need? Is it true that Dick Cheney is the world’s first trillionaire? And has all this endless supply of big bucks flowing seamlessly into his coffers from faulty oil platforms and endless wars made HIM happy? Yeah right.

PPPS: I am assuming that you do know that the oil spill in the Gulf could be worse than anything even the most fiendish terrorists could ever have done to us, right?

I just read somewhere that there are billions of teeny-tiny little crustaceans in our oceans and they are using all that excess carbon dioxide in sea water (which would otherwise be harmful to us) to build their sweet little teeny-tiny shells. And if they didn’t build these shells, there would be too much carbon dioxide in the oceans, it would be released into the air and we would all die. So if the oil spill kills off all these cute little guys in the same way that it is now killing off dolphins and turtles, we will be doomed.

To quote Wilbur the talking pig, “I don’t wanna die!”

And speaking of pigs at county fairs, me and my family are going off to the Alameda County Fair next Wednesday. Joe and Ashley are going to buy me a chicken — to eat all the snails in my postage-stamp-sized yard so that I can plant a victory garden. I’ll let you know how that goes.

June 30, 2010

Screw Iraq, Afghanistan & Gaza: Let’s invade Detroit!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Jane Stillwater @ 2:36 pm

Returning from the 2010 Social Forum in Detroit, I saw several soldiers at the DTW airport, waiting for their flights. And once again I was struck by the thought that every American soldier seems to be a whole autonomous unit unto himself or herself. Every American soldier truly IS an “Army of One”. Highly trained, efficient, skilled, confident and respectful — these men and women in uniform are just the kind of people that Detroit really needs to get itself out of its slump. And every other city in America needs this caliber of person too.

So please tell me why, exactly, are these walking human resources being wasted way over on the other side of the world when their dedication and skill sets and — let’s face it — salaries and healthcare benefits are so desperately needed here at home?

No, we don’t need our soldiers’ weapons skills in places like the Gulf Coast states or the Rust Belt. But we do need their dedication and heart.

We need the Marine Corps’ skill sets. “The few, the proud.” We really do. And we need that kind of bravery and willingness to get the job done here rather than there.

Second Marine Regiment in Al Anbar. Tarawa. “Keep Moving.” I was there. I saw for myself what our Marines can do to help re-build a country.

We need our soldiers’ ingenuity, dignity and courage here at home, helping to put America back on track — not over in Afghanistan, not over in Iraq and not even over in Gaza — where the corporatists who run America pay the cream of Israeli youth to do their dirty work for them, wasting their young lives being thugs to the brutal Occupation instead of being honorable men who refuse to shoot babies at point-blank range.

When I see a soldier at an airport, I just want to go up and hug him. Or her. You think that our boys aren’t doing a good job? Then go see Sebastian Junger’s new documentary movie “Restrepo” ( That’s the kind of ability and dedication I saw demonstrated again and again and again when I was in Iraq.

These guys are good.

But we need these men and women’s dedication and skills here at home, not over on the other side of the world.

And we need to be paying these men and women to be using their skill sets here, in America, in civilian life — in a job corps as well as a Marine Corps.

Screw bailouts for bankers, oil executives, Wall Street schemers and global corporations with no ties or loyalties to our country. They have done nothing with the money that Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Obama gave them except to use it to rip us off even more.

Let’s take back all that money — and give it to our returning soldiers instead. Let’s fill up ALL of our airports with returning soldiers. We truly need this lost generation’s abilities here at home. Now.

PS: While I was at the Social Forum representing the Free Palestine Movement, my booth was next to a booth manned by Peggy Logue and her husband. Logue is another dedicated Marine Mom. And she was selling her new book, “Skin in the Game,” all about her Marine son’s experiences in Haditha and her conflict between wanting to support her son’s efforts and her moral obligation to try to stop the needless bloodshed caused by global corporate wars. “Intense, raw, and profoundly honest, ‘Skin in the Game’ illustrates the human side of war and the daily struggle for peace.”

At the Social Forum, I also talked with Kyle Kajihiro, a representative of the American Friends Service Committee ( in Hawaii, and he told me how the entire Pacific Rim area has become just another highly-militarized “American Lake” — to the benefit of global corporatists, not us.

Screw that.

We need skilled men and women here at home, not hunkering off somewhere in faraway places like Guam or Okinawa, defending rich people’s interests — not ours — because that’s the only job that our young men and women can get.

PPS: The Detroit airport is the only airport I have ever seen besides, of course, the Norita airport near Tokyo, where all signs are printed in both English and Japanese.

June 22, 2010

The Tattlesnake – It’s McChrystal Clear: The General is Running for President Edition

By publicly making derogatory comments about his superiors in the chain of command – President Obama, VP Biden, Defense Secretary Gates, White House National Security Adviser Gen. Jim Jones — US Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal has committed an act of rank insubordination, and I think he did it intentionally.

Subsequent apologies for his loose-lipped Rolling Stone interview notwithstanding, McChrystal knows Obama must, in order to maintain what little credibility he has with the military as commander-in-chief, relieve McChrystal of his command and he should break him in rank down to a Colonel or, at least, Brigadier General, but, considering Obama’s reticence in such matters, he likely won’t do the latter.

McChrystal well knows that if he wants to criticize his superiors there is a legitimate and honorable way to do so – resign his commission and fire away as a civilian. Instead, the wily general has manufactured a situation wherein Obama must relieve him or lose all respect with the military establishment and a good portion of the public, as well.

Why would McChrystal set up such a situation? The easiest answer is that he’s planning on running for president as a Republican in 2012 and he can use it to a) play the aggrieved victim of a president and administration that doesn’t know what it’s doing in the Middle East; and b) insulate himself from charges of incompetence when we are forced out of Afghanistan. “I told the president the strategy he was pursuing to defeat the Taliban was naïve and wrong and that I had a better plan. This so angered him he found a flimsy reason to dismiss me.”

This is the line I believe McChrystal will employ following his resignation after Obama has relieved him of his command. Such criticism dovetails nicely with the GOP’s probable angle of attack on Obama in 2012 – arrogant, incompetent, headstrong, vengeful, naïve – and McChrystal will go to the head of the class of potential presidential candidates in a so far thin field for the Republicans — Romney’s no barn-burner; Palin’s a sour joke; Gingrich is stuck in the mud of 1994; Pawlenty’s a calamitous bore, and no one else is really on the radar.

Of course, the GOP establishment would welcome McChrystal with open arms as the second coming of Dwight Eisenhower, but even the various Teabaggers, quasi-Libertarians and Christian zealots who are now the party’s foundation would most likely not much contest nominating a ‘military hero’ such as the general. His campaign would also provide some lengthy (and stable) coattails for other Republicans to ride, a surcease from the almost daily factional friction of a minority party in turmoil.

The question: Will former Pentagon black-ops chief McChrystal’s new strategy to gain the White House work any better than did his plans to tame Afghanistan?

The answer: For a man as arrogant, incompetent, headstrong, vengeful, and naïve on public matters as Stanley McChrystal — who also, according to Rolling Stone, thinks Bud Light Lime is a great beer – is a resounding no.

Read more:

“The Runaway General” – Michael Hastings, Rolling Stone, June 8-22, 2010.

Stanley A. McChrystal’s Wikipedia bio.

“New Afghanistan Commander Ran Secret ‘Executive Assassination Ring’ Under Cheney”
– Tom Englehardt,, May 21, 2009, by way of The Huffington Post.

© 2010 RS Janes.

May 16, 2010

Our Marines: Ridden hard & put away wet

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Jane Stillwater @ 1:34 pm

Now here’s a touchy subject — recently there’s been spate of suicides by Marines who have just returned home from Iraq and Afghanistan. But here’s the really touchy part: These suicides have all taken place on stateside Marine bases. One Marine recently escaped from a hospital at Camp Lejeune, got hold of a gun somehow and shot himself right there on the base. And another Marine at Quantico jumped in front of a train.

However, the Marine high command at these bases is fully aware of this problem and is doing something about it. According to one official Marine publication, “Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the Marine Corps. Even one death by suicide is too many. It is a tragic and preventable loss, causing untold grief to loved ones and units, and is of highest concern to the public, legislators, the Commandant, and all Marines. In addition, suicide and suicidal behavior at all levels can take a tremendous toll on the readiness and resources of the unit involved. For all these reasons, suicide awareness, prevention, and intervention must be of highest priority to all Marines, and especially Marine leaders.”

Returning troops at the major stateside Marine bases are now being routinely shown training films and PowerPoint presentations regarding how to deal with suicidal tenancies — but still. You gotta be pretty damn desperate to jump in front of a train. How many more of our Marines are that desperate? And if so, how did they get that way?

Here’s my personal opinion, based on time spent in Iraq embedded with the Marines. I may be wrong about this, but here it is. “American Marines compose the finest fighting force EVER. Forget about Romans and Spartans. Our guys are the best.” So what happened? Why all the suicides? “Because our Marines are being stretched far too thin. American Marines are being asked to defend the interests of an international corporate structure that has its octopus-like tentacles spread out all over the entire globe. That’s far too much territory to expect even our fabulous Marines to defend.”

But what inflames me even more is that the international corporate structures that our Marines are so gallantly defending aren’t even American corporations! Perhaps one day long ago they USED to be American corporations — but that was back in the days before outsourcing.

Our Marines are being asked to stick their fingers in [dams] all over the world so that wealthy international corporations all over the world can reap the profits. It’s not even Americans who are reaping the profits any more. No wonder our Marines are so stretched. They are daily and constantly fighting the never-ending battles of Endless War so that men who owe NO allegiance to America — or American workers or American Marines either — can make grossly disproportional profits off of others’ pain.

Our Marines are being ridden hard and put away wet so that corporations who don’t even pay taxes in America can still have their billionaire bottom lines protected.

And our Marines do this, day after day, year after year, serving hard time in places like Iraq and Afghanistan and Kenya. And WHY do they keep doing it? Because they are Marines — the best fighting force EVER. And our Marines’ abilities are not only being wasted by being spread too thin throughout the world to the point that when (not if) we will someday need them here at home, there may well be too few of them left to defend America proper and it will be too late.

The international corporations benefit from our Marines’ presence. And the Marine Corps pays the price. And, apparently, individual Marines are paying an even greater price. This fractured practice of using and misusing our Marines has just got to stop.

PS: According to the Jacksonville Daily News, “Camp Lejeune Marines…in the aftermath of the death of a colleague who shot himself during a police chase aboard base Monday said instead of the needed psychiatric treatment they sought they were given a cocktail of antidepressants and sent back to work.” Yes, nine long years of constant war does have a tendency to grind our troops down. Even World War II didn’t last that long.

And we may have unearthed just the tip of the iceberg here. According to Jacksonville’s, “A total of 48,086 mental health related visits for all Naval Hospital clinics aboard Camp Lejeune were recorded in fiscal year 2009. In fiscal year 2010, there have been 26,609 mental health related visits through March 31, said Lt.j.g. Tony Skrypek, department head for TRICARE Operations at Naval Hospital.”

Also, according to Salon magazine, PTSDs may still not be getting properly treated at Camp Lejuene — despite all the recent PowerPoint presentations going on. “Internal documents and e-mails show that Navy officials unfavorably doctored a psychiatrist’s performance record after he blew the whistle on what he said was dangerously inept management of care for Marines suffering combat stress at Camp Lejeune, N.C.”

PSS: And here’s a quote from my usually reliable Marine Mom source: “I’ve heard several Marines say that Afghanistan is the ‘Worst place on earth’. So instead of sending our Marines out to fight in the countryside over there, let’s start sending out the Afghan Army and Afghan police troops that we have been training for approximately 10 years — and leave the U.S. troops back on base.”

Marine Mom also sent me this video about the recent Nashville flood disaster: “Shouldn’t some of our money have gone to help Nashville — instead of pouring billions into Afghanistan?”

PPPS: The Marines aren’t the only ones being ridden hard and put away wet. The American people are too. While corporatist lobbies are happily siphoning America’s wealth off in order to protect their own interests, we could have used all that money on preventive infrastructure measures back here at home, so that the Nashville flood could have been prevented — not to mention the Ohio flood and Katrina.

May 1, 2010

Lost in Juarez: Everything America touches turns to death?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Jane Stillwater @ 5:27 pm

Every day when I open my inbox, I get at least one press release from various American armed forces in Iraq, letting me know that some insurgent there has just been killed or some AQI group has just been captured. Even now, over seven years after the Iraq occupation began, our troops are still out hunting and capturing insurgents and rebel groups there — and the bombings are still going on. Does that mean that Iraq is still unstable? What else am I supposed to think? That constant stream of e-mails seals the deal.

Then we have Afghanistan, the world’s most productive narco-state by far, source of most of the heroin on the market today. Heroin is deadly. Worldwide, how many addicts have died from overdoses or AIDS or violence resulting from their use of heroin that has been supplied by American-occupied Afghanistan? One million? Two million? I can’t even begin to guess.

Palestine is another killing field that America finances. “Why are you always running off at the mouth about Palestine,” I’m always asked. Why? Because Israel and Palestine would have worked out all their problems in a manner acceptable to both sides decades ago if America hasn’t kept pouring gasoline on the fire in the form of weapons, weapons, weapons and more weapons.

And let’s not forget to mention Pakistan, America’s good ally which is now yet another killing field. And then there’s Columbia, home of Latin America’s longest-running bloody war on farmers and trade unionists, bought and paid for by America the beautiful.

“I would really like to go back and embed in Iraq,” I keep telling my son Joe and my daughter Ashley, “but, frankly, I’m just not up to it physically — the flight there is just too long for me. 20 hours in the air? Followed by days and days of jet-lag? Forget it. And I’d like to embed in Afghanistan too. And also go and report on the brutal siege of Gaza as well. I’d like to be everywhere in the world that the action is. I want to be able to see for myself — up front and personal — all of the places where America’s treasury and America’s future are all being pounded down into a bunch of bloody rat-holes.”

I want to go where the blood flows, to bear witness and to send messages back to America that all this warfare and bloodshed and killing is not necessary, is a waste of time and money, does NOT make us safer, goes against every religion we believe in — and doesn’t even make sense.

But I’m getting less and less willing to face all the hassle of interminable plane rides across the globe and wearisome jet-lag that lingers for weeks.

“Hey, no problem,” replied my friend Larry, who lives in Texas. “No need to travel to the other side of the world to see American violence and American weapon sales and American bloodshed in action. You can always just go down to Juarez.”

Ah. So now there’s also Juarez, bloody Juarez, to consider — where people die as violently on the streets of Juarez as they die on the streets of Kandahar or Baghdad.

According to one CNN report, “Tim Crockett, head of the security firm Pioneer Consulting and security adviser for CNN, described Ciudad Juarez as ‘probably more dangerous for journalists than the Middle East’.” Probably more dangerous for journalists than even the Middle East? Yikes!

Remember back in 2007 when I embedded in Iraq and the Army told me that if I left the fortified Green Zone area and walked across the 14th of July Bridge into Baghdad itself, I’d most likely be dead within five minutes? Well, according to several articles that Larry just e-mailed me, there’s almost exactly the same situation happening in Juarez right now. Juarez is a war zone. Juarez is a failed-narco-state. Juarez has insurgents, a military build-up of American weapons, American occupation advisers who run a surrogate war from DC and terrified citizens who keep turning up dead.

“But the beautiful thing about Juarez, Jane,” continued Larry, “is that Juarez is only five miles from Texas. You could hop a plane in the morning, fly to El Paso without getting jet-lag, be inside a war zone in time for lunch — and be getting your head blown off by dinnertime.” Plus it wouldn’t be too hard on my poor knees — and I wouldn’t be required to bring a flak jacket either. Sign me up!

PS: Here’s a headline from a Los Angeles Times article that Larry sent me on the subject, just in case you think I might be exaggerating: “Mexico under siege, the drug war at our doorstep.”

The Times then goes on to state that 45,000 troops have been deployed so far and that 10,031 people have been killed. “That’s more than the U.S. fatalities in the Iraq war.”

And here are some more articles from Larry:

From the Overseas Security Advisory Council: The U.S. State Department has issued a warning about Juarez. “Mexican cartels battling for control of drug trafficking routes cause widespread disruption in the city and state.”

From Current News: Gunmen murdered 19 people this weekend, including two U.S. citizens associated with the American consulate.

And here the Huffington Post seems to be hinting that America is losing the drug war in Juarez as well. Shades of Afghanistan! I wonder how many drug addicts in the U.S. have died from drugs illegally imported by the Juarez cartels?

“Sinaloa takes over Cuidad Juarez: After a two-year battle that has killed more than 5,000 people, Mexico’s most powerful kingpin now controls the coveted trafficking routes through Ciudad Juarez. That conclusion by U.S. intelligence adds to evidence that Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman’s Sinaloa cartel is winning Mexico’s drug war…. [The] Sinaloa cartel has edged out the rival Juarez gang for control over trafficking routes through Ciudad Juarez, ground zero in the drug war.


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December 28, 2009

The Joe Namath Lesson for Political Pundits

Filed under: Guest Comment — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 2:28 pm

Back in the (Rolling) Stone Age (AKA the Sixties), the late lamented publication Editor & Publisher reported that a study had produced the fact that reporters, who are “on deadline” every day, had a more stress producing job than a jet test pilot and that may explain why newsies have the reputation for having some very enlightening conversation at a nearby gin mill, after they clock out from work.

In those days, when there was such a concept called journalistic ethics, some of the participants may have prefaced their information with the admonition: “this is off the record but . . .,” which explains why there are some things from the Sixties which this columnist still feels honor bound to disregard when it comes time to pound out a new effort.

For instance, when Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey was running for President, he complained to his staff that folks perceived him as being short. After hemming and hawing, his staff found the courage to explain why that was. He was told that it was so because he had a big head. The staffer explained that if you park the Goodyear blimp on top of the Washington Monument, that would make it look short.

Sometimes journalists, after several hearty libations, may kid around and test their coworkers’ limits of credibility. When a fellow who would later become Time magazine’s White House correspondent told this columnist about the strange fans that are part of the Hollywood scene, he believed it when he was told that there was one person who had a collection of genuine authentic stars’ fescues. When we got the chance to try and validate that story with a contact at Playboy magazine who knew the fellow in question, the reaction was: “that sounds like something Doug would say.” He had never heard our mutual acquaintance utter that outrageous bit of (supposed) Hollywood lore. He added that Doug always did love putting people’s credulity to the test.

One sports writer, in the waning days of the Sixties, told a story, in a Carson City Nevada watering hole, about an argument he and another writer had, in his cub reporter days, about the legendary horse “Man of War.” The disagreement was deadlocked. The bar tender turned around and settle the dispute by giving them the answer in a very definitive and authoritative voice. Since the barkeep had actually been that famous horse’s trainer, he not only ended the bickering, he became a source for some freelance work that earned handsome monetary remunerations.

One sports editor in Pennsylvania, solemnly admonished a rookie reporter that if he were ever to work on the sports desk (sometimes sarcastically referred to as “the Toy Department”) as a reporter, he must never (as in NEVER) say that something can’t happen.

Common sense would dictate that the writer must say “very unlikely” or “a long shot possibility” but that infallible predictions were an invitation to a humiliating journalistic lesson.

After having that journalistic commandment engraved into his memory by rote, this columnist, while working at a truck company headquartered in New York City, noticed that many, many sports reporters and commentators were assuring their audiences that Joe Namath and his team could no way, no how, ever even hope to defeat the future Hall of Famer, Johnny Unitas and his (almost) invincible Baltimore Colts team.

With the “never say never” dictum in mind, an attempt to make an illegal off track wager backing the much maligned quarterback was unsuccessful. Bookies didn’t have Yellow Pages ads, so we watched the chance to cash in on the old sports editor’s advice go by without any bet being placed.

The day after Superbowl III was broadcast; the guy at the next desk over called in sick. Rumor had it that he had been a bookie who didn’t lay off bets since the outcome was a sure thing. He never came back to the office. We can never think of that curious bit of office lore without thinking of the line in a Jerry Reed song that wondered about a guy who went into the swamp and never came out.

Dang! A modest $10 wager would have produced a lucrative January bonus, but alas it was not meant to be.

A recent column by Carl Hiaasen brought these memories alive again because it seconded the assertion made in Foreign Policy magazine that Obama’s surge was futile effort.

It seems that all the commentary and stories about the fact that no one has ever successfully conducted and invasion of Afghanistan make us wonder do the casinos in Vegas let folks bet on wars? If so, perhaps, just for old times’ sake, it’s time to see if the sports editor’s wisdom also applies to politics. Who knows? Maybe Obama can make the surge seem more like the Jets’ victory moment than a bit of Vietnam déjà vu?

Since everyone seems to be discouraging any opinions in President Obama’s favor, how can folks object if a columnist just wants to make a wager backing the President of the United States?

It could be that all the pundits who are strenuously insisting that it’s never been done before, just haven’t had contact with a sports editor who would have advised them to never say: “never, can’t, won’t, or impossible” in a column that is speculating about a future turn of events.

At two a.m., the bartender at Hurley’s bar in Rockefeller Center, used to say: “It’s closing time! You don’t necessarily have to go home, but you do have to get out!”

Now, the disk jockey will play Frank Sinatra’s “Quarter to Three” and we will get out of here. Have the kind of week that sounds like it came straight out of a Bukowski novel.

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