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.”


July 24, 2010

Believe it or not: Nancy Pelosi’s speech to Netroots Nation

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Jane Stillwater @ 1:38 pm

The water here in Las Vegas sucks eggs. My tea tastes like metal. And the sad thing is that the water power to the 27th floor of the Rio hotel is so weak that I have to run my bath water for 15 minutes before it becomes even warm — let alone hot. What a waste of the Ogalala aquifer. It breaks my heart to see all that water go down the drain. But will I just break down and take a cold shower? Would you? Er, no.

With a shower or not, it was still time to go listen to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi talk. Would she convince me that Congress isn’t being run by special interests and theat she, Harry Reid and President Obama haven’t sold out? Will they convince you? Let’s see. Here are my quickly-typed-up notes — from the front row. They may not be completely accurate, however. Blame that on my tenth-grade typing teacher.

When Nancy Pelosi came onstage, the first big question was whether her right-wing detractors were correct and she did have a face-lift. It was hard to tell. She does have a big smile. Maybe she was born that way?

“Pushing the gate open on healthcare was a big job but we did it. The leverage in Congress had to change from being in favor of the insurance companies to being in favor of the people. And we couldn’t have done it without you.” Without me? Am I finally getting some recognition? That would be nice.

But wait. Has Rush Limbaugh gotten a face-lift? Do I get the right to ask that about him? And what about Dick Cheney? How come I don’t look as good at that age? “Because Cheney eats babies…” someone once said. But I digress.

OMG! They are gonna play a tape sent to us by President Obama! “We’ve been working hard for the past 18 months but I know that, for many of you, change hasn’t come fast enough. But it took a long time to get here and it will take a long time to make it happen. But in ways large and small, we are working to make changes happen.” Then the Pres showed a tape of Rachel Maddow listing all of this administration’s accomplishments.

“We’re moving America forward,:” the President continued. “And that’s the challenge we face in November. Keep holding me accountable. Change doesn’t come from the top down. It comes from the bottom up. Let’s finish what we’ve started.”

At the news stand here, the Globe (a National Enquirer wannabe) is pushing a front cover story that Obama was actually born in KENYA. They are still pushing that story? Give me a break.

“Will we see passage of ENDA any time soon?” someone asked Pelosi.

“It’s almost embarrassing that it took Congress so long to pass a bill eliminating hate crimes. We’re very proud that we passed a repeal of ‘Don’t ask Don’t tell’ in the house. When we started work on hate crimes, it was 22 years ago and we’re still against any form of hate crime.”

Pelosi then encouraged us to be leaders in this field of ending all discrimination in this country. “We won the ‘Don’t Ask’ repeal by 40 votes. That’s a big majority.” And there’s an education bill in the works too — the Promise Act. Good.

“Republican senators have held up many job-creation bills, so we never know what will go on in the Senate — so we been pushing education bills into other bills as well. But we are still pressing for a comprehensive education bill.”

Pelosi is also pressing for comprehensive immigration reform. “What is happening in Arizona shouts out for getting a comprehensive bill passed. We have to keep the heat on for that.”

Protecting Social Security? “I am opposed to raising the retirement age. Here’s the context. We must be fiscally responsible and subject our spending to harsh scrutiny and are moving on all fronts to remove the deficit. But talking about Social Security and the deficit is like between apples and oranges. To change Social Security in order to balance the budget, they aren’t the same thing in my view. As we make it more solvent, it will have a positive impact on the deficit. But we support Social Security. Our senior citizens should know that. This is its 75th anniversary.”

When Social Security was first implemented, Frances Perkins went to Pres Roosevelt and told him about her plan, and he replied, “You’ve convinced me completely. Now make me do it.”

“We can do only so much maneuvering,” Pelosi continued, “but we really do need outside persuasion. Just ourselves alone can’t make this happen. If you want these changes to come, make us do it.”

In 2008, the president was inaugurated and he called for swift action. One week and one day after that, this congress passed the recovery act that saved 1.6 million jobs. “And we are going forward, not going back. Our goal is to reduce the deficit, reduce taxes for the middle class and to create jobs around climate change.”

The House passed the unemployment bill last December but the Senate held it up until now. “We have a whole list, all of it paid for, but they dropped all the job incentives and just sent us back the bare bones. They demanded cuts to this unemployment bill but then demanded 700 billion dollars in unpaid-for tax benefits for the rich. Thank God we made the bill retroactive. But how many people can wait the additional six weeks for that check to arrive? This delay was due to the obstructiveness of the Senate. But. We are going forward, not going back. Obama has created more jobs so far than Bush did during his entire eight years in office.

‘Jobs are important but people need to see what the Republicans are doing about this. Nothing.”

“We want more manufacturing in America — as a way to develop more jobs in America. Where our manufacturing heartland had been, we must stop the erosion of these jobs. 39 Republicans voted against our ‘Fairness to American Manufacturers’ bill. Anyone can bid on contracts here in the US so we are trying to get some reasonableness on this. In China you can’t bid on contracts if you are from outside the country. We need to do that here too. This is very exciting.”

The House is also working on a bill that will differentiate between crack and powdered cocaine.

“When I became Speaker, my flagship interest was energy self-sufficiency and climate change legislation. This is not an issue the Senate can walk away from. It is a national safety issue, a health issue. We are either going to lead the world on this issue or be left behind. We have a moral commitment to pass this planet onto the next generation.” Billions of dollars go out of the country each day because of foreign oil. The emissions continue. We have to continue this fight.”

“Do you plan to challenge big money’s special interests?” someone asked.

“No use bringing up a bill unless you can show strength. You can’t show weakness. Get up and show Congress how much this is of interest to you. It’s fundamental to a democracy. Make your voices known on this subject. We can maneuver and persuade and this and that — but remember Pres Roosevelt. Citizens United was a horrible decision. Foreign countries can now be having a large influence because of this, because there is now no full disclosure. PEOPLE [not corporatists] need to be in charge of our government. So let’s grab that ball and run with it. I like to show strength going to the floor. In 2006 and 2008, the leverage changed — to the consumers. The finance bill was the most important financial change in decades. And the most consumer protection in history. The leverage has changed. And in health too. For instance, it’s no longer a liability to be a woman.”

Regarding energy? “The oil patch, coal patch, every patch in the world was coming against us. This next election is very important. We need to have no regrets — that we took responsibility. One in fifty kids in America is homeless. We need to bring education and jobs to every level in America. Prosperity on Wall Street at the cost of jobs on Main Street? How dare they?”

Some Senators look with fondness on the Bush administration, according to Pelosi. “But we are not going back. We now represent the American middle class.”

Someone asked Pelosi about the role of women. “Running for office is not for the faint of heart. It’s all about power. Know your power. If you go out there to run, it’s difficult. But know who you are and don’t let anybody diminish your knowledge or experience. Women hold the key to our future. I was a mother of five kids in six years — so I got a sense of discipline and organization that way. We need young women at the seat of power. Some may not chose to go the family route but whatever your path, do it. Your presence at the seat of power is very important. Know YOUR power. What you bring to it. There is a whole change in what your daughters can do now. Young girls can go on to do anything and everything. And it’s their patriotic duty to step up.”

Pelosi is inspired by the women who went before her. “I went to the White House for my first meeting as a representative of the Democrats. I had no apprehensions because I’d been there before. I was sitting at the table of power and I felt packed and jammed on my chair. Sitting on the chair with me was Susan B. Anthony, Carrie Stanton, [etc.] All on that chair. And I could hear them say, ‘At last we have a seat at the table.’ And then they were gone. My first thought was, ‘We want more.’ We all understand our responsibility to women. We have every difference among us that we can name — but because we are different, we build a very strong fiber listening to each other. We all want to do great things for our country. We all strive for common ground. But if we can’t get bipartisanship, if we can’t get it, we are still not going back!”

And the speech was over and we applauded. But what did her speech mean? Did it mean that she is still a progressive and is merely being held back from creating a true American democracy by Republican fossils who regret that they can no longer live off of America’s blood and sweat like the vampires they are (no wonder vampire flicks are so popular among our youth!) Or has Pelosi, like so many of our other legislators, sold out to the corporatists who think that they own America — and probably do.

Time will tell. But for right now. Nancy Pelosi is pretty much all we’ve got standing between us and complete oligarchy and the total end of our American Dream. For this reason alone we may need to give her more support — and more snaps.

And last night I went to the Rio Hotel’s fake Mardi Gras celebration and caught two strings of beads from the krews. I would have caught another string but just as I reached out, so big young muscular guy elbowed me aside and snagged it for himself. Hmmm. Was he going to end up becoming a Republican senator too? More than likely. Edging out Social Security recipients is already his specialty it seems.

July 22, 2010

Las Vegas: This place will be dead without cars

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Jane Stillwater @ 10:27 am

I finally made it to the Netroots Nation convention in Las Vegas — even after some [clumsy person] knocked my glasses off my head and stepped on them on the plane, forcing me to stumble blindly through the Las Vegas airport. But some kind soul directed me to a hotel shuttle and, well, here I am — in what has got to be the car capital of the world.

On The Strip they have bunches of 50-story hotels but the most amazing buildings I drove by on the shuttle were the ten-story parking garages. Ten stories high and two blocks long, they were hotels for cars. Cars only. Only cars!

Twenty years from now, when the world runs out of oil, won’t people be SO embarrassed about having spent so much of their capital and infrastructure investments on cars. And wars. And other disposable consumer goods that nobody really needed.

Then I got to the Rio hotel, got my room on the 27th floor, admired the view of all those freeways, wandered down to the casino floor to watch hundreds of people gambling, regretted that I didn’t have the $54 necessary to attend the Chippendale show (just kidding) and tried to register for the convention.

Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid will be speaking here on Saturday. And they will have a lot of explaining to do. Why are Republicans still setting the agenda for Congress? Why are we still spending all that money that we don’t have on all those stupid “wars” on the Middle East? And why are we still bailing out Wall Street but not Main Street?

Also Alan Grayson will be speaking here on Saturday as well — that is if he survives the death threats he’s been getting after Fox News stirred up all the wingnuts against him this week because he spoke out in favor of bailing out the jobless instead of the oligarchs. Sigh.

The keynote speaker tonight will be Governor Brian Schweitzer of Montana. Plus I just scored a free ticket to the hotel’s all-you-can-eat buffet.

Stay tuned.

April 28, 2010

Heavily-Regulated Las Vegas Turns a Profit from Gambling; Why Can’t Wall Street?

Filed under: Commentary,Opinion,Toon — Tags: , , , , , , , — RS Janes @ 3:26 pm


Powered by WordPress