Friday, July 25, 2014

HUDDLED MASSES YEARNING TO BREATHE FREE...

There is a knock on your door and you open it to discover a 7 year old child alone, cold, hungry and in shock.  What do you do?  Do you slam the door?...tell her to go away?...sic your dog on her?...call the National Guard?  Or do you invite her in and wrap her in a blanket, give her some food and drink?  Do you make her feel safe while trying to figure out where she came from?  You do call the police and social services in the hope they can find her family and knowing she will be kept warm and protected.  Questions about how she got to your door and why she is alone and where she came from would all be secondary to meeting her immediate needs.  Right?

     It’s baffling to me how a humanitarian crisis has morphed into an existential threat to our nation's security, and yet it is what is happening since thousands of unaccompanied minor children began washing up on the shores of this great country seeking asylum.  The rhetoric and hyperbole from regressives borders on the maniacal.  One Texas congressman likens the children to an invading army while invoking images of the invasion of Normandy on D-Day and calls on the state's governor to use all force, including warships, to stem this human tide.  Another southern member of Congress claims the children are carrying the Ebola virus and could cause an American pandemic.  Regressive talk radio talks in dystopian terms of the end of all our borders and the collapse of American culture if these children are not stopped and force used to deter any future attempts to enter this nation.  Our infrastructure and institutions are on the verge of imploding due to this children's crusade.

     Huh?  These flights of fancy and fact-less frenzy would be the stuff of great satire were it not for the serious crisis occurring and the fact some Americans are buying into this nightmare scenario.  The conspiracy theories are flying fast and furious.  These children are coming here at President Obama's behest to become a new voting block for the Democratic Party.  (considering the average age is about 9-11, those elections they will tilt Obama's way would appear to be quite a few years hence)  This human tidal wave is a result of a 2012 law signed by Obama slowing the deportation of some children by this nation.  (in reality it is a 2008 law signed by George W. Bush which mandates that undocumented children be protected and placed with any family which can be found in this country)  This crisis is a result of borders which are not secure and they are not secure because Obama wants more and more new immigrants to bolster his political power.  (under this president, the budget for the Border Patrol has increased dramatically to its highest level ever and there are more border patrol agents now than at any time in history and the numbers continues to climb)  There is even talk by the likes of Sarah Palin and others that this is an impeachable offense because Obama is deliberately undermining the strength and security of the nation by encouraging or ignoring all these children at our border.

     When the real facts are examined, the reason for this mass movement of children is readily apparent.  The highest percentage of children are coming from nations like Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.  These also happen to be the most violent and unstable nations in Central America.  The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says Honduras has the highest murder rate in the entire world.  Crime and mayhem from drug gangs and criminal wars, along with crushing poverty, has trapped these children and their families in the middle of it all.  (as proof look at a nation like Nicaragua which has a low homicide rate and rate of violence...very few of the children appearing at our borders are from there or from other more stable and less violent nations in the area)

     Texas governor Rick Perry wants to put the National Guard (with fixed bayonet's?) on the Texas border.  Under questioning on Fox News of all places, Perry had to admit the Guard could not arrest anyone or hold these children and it was unlikely they were going to shoot them (right?) so what good would they do?  Perry said they could scare the kids and send a message back to their homes so no more will venture forth.  I'm sorry?  These unaccompanied minors, some as young as three years old, have trekked over thousands of miles of mountains and deserts, against all odds, to escape abuse and violence, but the sight of some soldiers is going to frighten them enough to get them to turn back or not to leave in the first place?

     The U.S. has facilities to handle about 8,000 children and families at any given time.  There are not enough camps and bases and old prisons to hold them all right now.  There are not enough medical personnel to evaluate them for illness and disease and not enough food and beds.  Obama is asking for billions to remedy this, but regressives say it's too much money and are refusing to pass his request.  (Perry, along with El Rushbo have shouted about a looming health crisis because these children haven't been vaccinated against things like measles and chicken pox.  Ironically, because of free health care, the children from Guatemala are more likely to be vaccinated than children in Texas)

     Perhaps the most disturbing image among all the news footage, more disturbing than shoeless, hungry, emaciated children begging for help while some of their companions lie dead on the desert floor, is the picture of crowds of angry white Americans attacking buses carrying the children, screaming at them and refusing to allow them to be sheltered in their communities.  (this is happening all over the nation from California to Michigan)  What is it they are so angry about?  What threat do these children represent?  Who have they offended by risking their lives to escape violence, abuse and poverty?

     All of these children need to be kept safe, warm, fed and clothed.  They then need to be evaluated to see if they have family in this country and why they fled and what dangers they would face if repatriated back to their homes.  It is not going to be quick or clean but it is the right moral choice to make in a "Christian" nation.


     The "invasion" of these children shows the real moral fault lines in this nation and again they fall along racial and economic concerns.  These are the same racial and economic concerns which created the No Nothing Party, the Klan, the Chinese Exclusion Acts, Japanese internment camps and the signs saying" no Irish need apply".  Lady Liberty carries a torch to light the way for those children.  Who among you wants to snuff that out?

THE VOODOO THAT YOU DO SO WELL...

When George Bush ran for the presidency in 1999, he promised to cut taxes resulting in "...a tax cut to sustain our nation's prosperity and reflect our nation's decency."  He went on to promise, "...a higher standard of living for all Americans."  Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter David Cay Johnston says that those tax cuts actually stole $48,000 from every American taxpayer, a total of $6.6 Trillion (yes with a "T") over 12 years.

     Where is the prosperity we are all supposed to be enjoying?  Unemployment and under employment are continuing drags on the economy which still cant shake off the last depression.  (except for the 1% who are richer today than before the depression of 2008 along with the hedge funds and Wall Street)  Students graduate now with debt levels the equivalent of a first mortgage resulting in their inability, as they go into the job market and marry and start families (maybe), to be able to purchase a first home. This undercuts one of the basic foundations of a healthy economy.  (much of this debt is the result of lost revenue on the federal and state level due to tax cuts and much of this debt is taken on by the children of the middle class for whom tax cuts were supposed to be a godsend)  The job market is dismal for most middle class Americans who watch their productivity increase but their wages do not.


     Johnston analyzed long term personal incomes as reported by American taxpayers from 2000-2012.  "...in 10 of those 12 years, when the Bush tax cuts were in effect, the average income was lower than in 2000.  The total net loss for the taxpayers over those 12 years was $48,000.” says Johnston.  He goes on to ask, "...after 12 years of tax cut mania real hourly wages are now 6% lower than they were in 1972-1973.  Hourly workers today make less than their counterparts 40 years ago.  Where did it all go?"

     According to Johnston, hold on to your seats, over 33% of that money went to just 16,000 households and about 95 cents of every dollar went to the top 1% while the 99% lost ground.

     When Al Gore debated George Bush, he accused him of "funny math" and even used the line Bush's father used against Ronald Reagan, accusing Bush of using "voodoo economics".  Bush laughed him off.  He repeated the mantra of trickle down theory that when the rich get to keep more of their money, all boats are raised.  (isn't it funny as we debate raising the minimum wage, the same argument doesn't work for regular folk.  Why isn't it good for America for the middle class and poor to keep more money in their pockets?)   Twelve years later it is clear by Johnston's analysis that tax cuts have become an albatross around the neck of most Americans and the only boats being raised are luxury yachts belonging to the 1%.

     Tax cut mania trickled down from the feds to the states as well.  The result is a loss in revenue necessitating cuts in most infrastructure projects resulting in a continuing degrading of roads, bridges and utility grids across the land.  The prime example of this is the state of Kansas, where Republican governor Sam Brownback dramatically cut personal taxes promising on explosion in economic activity and new job growth.  Brownback is now fighting for his political life as Kansas has had to take a butcher knife to the state school's budget and is running up debt as it borrows to cover the revenue shortfalls.  The state is unable to fund road projects or repair bridges and faces an increasing deficit.

     Americas electrical grid is being compared these days to that of a third world country.  The loss of a few key pieces could shut down most, if not all, of the nation's ability to deliver electricity.  (in Gaza electricity is only on four hours a day...Egypt maybe 8 hours...Iraq about 12 hours maybe)  Civil engineers say thousands of bridges are in need of repair and the nation's interstate highway system is falling apart.  (Congress can't even come up with the revenue for that)  When asked about all of this, Washington, and regressives in particular, throw up their hands and bemoan the lack of money and site the rising deficit as the reason their hands are tied.  (a deficit of their making to a great extent)

     (In the master plan for education in California, the University of California system is supposed to be free to residents of the state.  Today, as tuition increases year over year, that goal is lost due to cuts in state funds due to lack of revenue)

     $6.6 Trillion is missing from the incomes of average, gum-chewing Americans while the rich continue to get richer.  (in just the last few days, the Wall Street Journal is reporting how one hedge fund, in collusion with banks, avoided paying over $6 billion in taxes...one fund)  In his new book, Thomas Picketty states the wealth of the 1% is approaching levels similar to the wealth enjoyed by French nobility just prior to the revolution.  The gap between the rich and everyone else is the worst in this country since the Gilded Age at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.


     Regressives are outraged and offended any time class is discussed or the gap between the rich and everyone else.  To bring this up is to be a Marxist, Communist, Pinko symp and it's a direct assault on capitalism.  Pope Francis, as well as his predecessor Pope John Paul II, both proclaimed free market capitalism to be immoral.  The Pope says it puts too much power into the hands of the wealthy and puts everyone else at their mercy.  Warren Buffet says there is a class war going on and his class is winning.  Johnston's research, along with PInketty, shows Buffet is right.  When you cut taxes for the 1%...when you tax investment income and carried interest differently than you do income generated by labor...when you create a code where a hedge fund can avoid $6 billion in taxes...when corporations are avoiding billions more in taxes by buying companies in other countries...when Mitt Romney can make over $50 million in one year but pay a tax rate of around 18% while middle class Americans are paying in the mid twenties range...when Wall Street creates more and more millionaires while Main Street is falling apart and behind, something is very wrong.  The fact is this is not a mystery.  We don't have to go looking for Professor Plum in the library with a candlestick.  It's clear what has happened and the only question is when will the 99% force some balancing of the scales.

Friday, July 4, 2014

COME AND SING A SIMPLE SONG OF FREEDOM...

On this Fourth of July, I sit behind fences covered in razor wire, watched over by guards whose job is to seriously curtail my freedom.  Tonight we may be able to glimpse fireworks from the local town, but what are we to think upon when they light up the night sky?  No one here is "free" in any sense of the word, but we brought this on ourselves.  We made choices which put us here.  What is your excuse?

     I once heard a speech in which a prominent Silicon Valley icon expressed his view that all freedom is economic.  It is only when a nation's economy is healthy and the widest swath of its population benefit from this, are the people really free.  If you are afraid to leave a job you hate...if you can't leave a city of state because you can't sell your house or don't have a job or have lost your house or can't afford to buy or rent one anywhere else...if your health is held captive by plans you only receive through your employer or because you are dirt poor...if jobs are so scarce or offer such low wages you can't afford to live where you are nor seek to relocate...if workers allow themselves to be pitted against one another in an economic race to the bottom by abandoning the one power they have-to bargain collectively-then how free is anyone in this land on this day?

     This nation was founded on a principle of representative government...a republic.  Does anyone feel today's government, whether in Washington, Sacramento or locally, represents us or our wishes?  Americans in poll after poll say they want more jobs...they want a more robust economy...they want educational opportunities and a chance their children will be able to achieve more than their parents...they want a foreign policy which is honest and which sees solutions outside of the brute use of military force...ironically President Obama is being constantly dinged in popularity because he seems to be listening on foreign policy)...yet, the grease which coats the wheels of government is not popular opinion or popular elections, but rather the billions of dollars ponied up by those for whom the word populist is an anathema.

     Would a truly free people allow one half of one percent of the population to keep to themselves 80% of the wealth produced in this country?  Wouldn't a truly free people storm the halls of Congress demanding change...demanding the end of special tax breaks...demanding that investment income be taxed at the same rate as income generated by labor...demanding, as they did at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, the capitalists share more of their profits with those who produce them?

     Would you like something to smile about...a note of optimism...a lesson from history on this Independence Day?  Would you like some hope?  At the beginning of the 20th century, the so-called Gilded Age, the gap between the rich and poor was as dramatic as it is today, perhaps worse.  Congress was bought and paid for by the Morgan's, Rockefellers, Carnegies, Stanford's, Hopkins, Crocker's and Huntington's who also owned most of the media.  Yet, people rose up...they elected Progressive politicians...they passed laws making it easier to form unions, outlaw child labor, create a 40 hour work week even the beginning of an environmental movement and the creation of national parks and nature sanctuaries.  Monopolies were broken and worker's pay began to rise.  The people demanded and got government to mandate cleaner food and drugs and safer places to work.  Safety nets were created to keep people from falling so far into poverty it could kill them.  All of this was done by Americans, populists who demanded change and received it from the Roosevelt's, Taft's, Lafollette's and others.  It can be done.
     I am not free today.  However, I'm not sure how free I was before I became a guest of the federal government.  How free are you?  How much do you feel in control of your life or the lives of your children and neighbors?  Are you free to express any opinion you wish?  Are you free to change jobs, or move to a better city?  How free are you to affect the direction of this nation?  Are you free from fear and anxiety?  Is this a nation where everyone has a shot or has it become a collection of oligarchs where only the privileged few get to participate freely in all the benefits this nation has to offer?  Am I significantly less free than you on this 4th of July behind my fences and razor wire?

  It would be nice if on this day if we engaged in a few moments of reflection, in between the beer, burgers, dogs and fireworks, on the promise this experiment represented on July 4, 1776.  We appear to be at a similar crossroads as were the founding fathers.  Will we continue to be oppressed by a far off government which doesn't represent us, or will we again declare our independence and throw off the economic and political chains shackling us at the direction of those who want to preserve an oligarchy very similar to the one in place in London 238 years ago?


     I hope you have a glorious holiday and hope even more, after the last sparkler and piccolo Pete is fired, you will step up and demand this nation change for the better from sea to shining sea.

Monday, June 30, 2014

THEY DIED FOR WHAT?

In a small town in Pennsylvania, parents and friends of Americans killed in Iraq are joining the ranks of Cindy Sheehan and asking what possible reason could there be for the sacrifice of soldiers from their town in the war in Iraq?

     They are reacting to the swift collapse of Northern Iraq in the face of aggression from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) forces...attacks which resulted in Iraqi army personnel refusing to fight, running away, stripping off their uniforms and banging on doors begging for civilian clothes to disguise the fact they were in their own nation's army.  These are the same Iraqis that American taxpayers spent billions training and equipping only to see them fold like a house of cards at the first sign of danger.

     It would appear Americans died to set up a sham-democracy so corrupt and venal that Sunni citizens would rather be conquered by al Qaeda-like forces than be governed by the central authorities in Baghdad led by Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki.

     Ironically, all of this was predicted by President George Herbert Walker Bush (Bush 41) when he rejected pleas by national security advisors like Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Pearl, Douglas Feith and politicians ranging from John McCain to Lindsay Graham to Mitch McConnell who all wanted him to keep American tanks rolling into Baghdad in the first gore in the Gulf.  Bush famously proclaimed Saddam Hussein wasn't worth one more American life and added taking Baghdad would leave a power vacuum which America would have to fill to prevent civil war.  Unfortunately for almost 5,000 American soldiers, those same voices were able to con Bush's son (Bush 43) into thinking he was wiser than his daddy and America could impose democracy in an area where Sunnis and Shiites had not shared power since 950 CE.

     Now these same American parents and friends, who lost sons and daughters in a war to prevent Iran from controlling the entire region, face the prospect of America coordinating and cooperating with Iran to try and save Iraq.  They have to watch as Iran increases its influence over Iraq, and at the same time props up the Assad government in Syria and attempts to control Lebanon, while pursuing a nuclear weapons program and yet might end up as an ally with America in an attempt to stabilize a nation on the brink.  What?  We are imposing crippling economic sanctions on Iran to force it to give up its nuclear ambitions yet now want, or have to beg? for their help?  This is through the looking glass sort of stuff.

     While Iraq is in crisis, in this country the same voices who got us into this situation...who cost America over $ 1 Trillion, 5,000 dead, hundreds of thousands wounded...who created a deeply divided nation which is now decisively isolationist...are at it again.  John McCain wants airstrikes and boots on the ground now.  Cheney attacks a weakened President Obama as Lindsey Graham accused the president of being soft on terrorism, all laying the current disaster, one of their creation, at Obama's feet.

     Columnists in the Wall Street Journal are harkening back to the scare tactics of Vietnam creating a new "domino" theory which goes if Iraq falls there goes Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt and eventually ISIS will be on the border with Texas.

   A new poll says the majority of Americans disapprove of Obama's handling of foreign policy.  So, are these Americans saying he shouldn't have ended our involvement in Iraq?  Do they want a continued military presence in Afghanistan?  Do these recently polled Americans want U.S. military forces introduced into the Syrian civil war and are they also in favor of a military strike and war with Iran?  Aren't these the same Americans who tell pollsters America should fix problems at home and stop trying to be the world's cop and stay out of foreign adventures?  House Speaker John Boehner accuses the President of napping while Mosul burns, but when asked what he would do differently, he runs for cover saying he doesn't have enough information to offer a solution.  What?  This is the mantra of all the regressives and the regressive corporate media...Obama is a weak-kneed sissy-boy, a modern Chamberlin presiding over a new Munich, but when confronted with questions about what the foreign policy of the GOP would be, the silence is deafening from most and positively frightening from McCain, Cheney and Graham among others who want to use a broken military and young Americans as cannon fodder to prop up a government in Iraq so hated and corrupt people would rather be conquered than continue to live under Maliki's oppression.

     Maliki has been told unless he reforms his government...unless he includes Sunni officials in key positions...unless he stops persecuting minorities...unless he puts Sunnis and Kurds in top positions in the military, America will not act.  So far he has refused to do any of it.  Now, Obama is saying Maliki needs to go even though he was just re-elected.  This is nuts.  Iran is sending troops into Iraq to fight and diverting more from Syria while refusing to yield on its nuclear program.  Should American military assistance be used to help Iran solidify its control over this Islamic crescent?

     Critics of Obama want airstrikes in Iraq and the use of American Special Forces.  (boots on the ground)  They want America to arm "moderate" rebels in Syria even though no one can define what is a moderate and the so-called moderates in Syria can't fight any better than the Iraqi army.


     To his credit, Obama refuses to be stampeded like Bush 41, and perhaps can avoid another disaster.  He is actively listening to his constituents who tell him they oppose the use of military force in foreign adventures while at the same time knocking him for listening to them.  America is schizophrenic right now on this subject and Obama knows it.  Whatever he does it has to be measured and limited and not capable of drawing us back into the quicksand which is Baghdad.

Friday, June 6, 2014

THE RHODES LESS TRAVELLED...

  A number of people have written to me to let me know Randi Rhodes is going to retire.  According to their accounts, she has decided to move to Costa Rica, what a wonderful place to live, with a male friend.  One writer claimed she had just signed a new three-year deal to do her show, but decided to pull the plug anyway.  All who wrote expressed both sadness and dismay about her departure.  I share those feelings.  It also seemed to them Rhodes left feeling defeated and cynical and convinced America is going to hell in a hand basket.

     I was jealous of Randi for a long time.  She was tapped by Air America as one of their national "liberal" hosts and I thought I was as good, if not better, than Randi.  (I thought I was better than all the Air America hosts, but then again I didn't get to where I am today due to a regular sized ego.)  However, when I began to listen to Randi I saw what they saw and realized how good she was and how the information she relayed daily to her audience was solid and prescient.  She did great research and uncovered facts and perspectives which put events into the proper context...a context you were not going to get from the corporate media.  She was also funny and acerbic and summoned up outrage which revealed a passion for her work.  It was clear she wasn't just getting a pay check...these issues were vitally important to her and she wanted her audience to care as much as she cared.

     Perhaps in this way we see the essential difference between progressive and regressive talk shows.  On the regressive side, whether it's Hanbaugh, O'Reiley, Coulter, Ingram, Beck et.al., it has always seemed clear that at the end of the day they were performers who figured out a good gig and milked it for all it's worth.  Perhaps the best example of this is "the Weiner".  The "Weiner" came to San Francisco as a Berkeley educated professor, sponsored and championed by the left of the left including people like Alan Ginsburg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti and fit in nicely with the beat generation.  He was going nowhere until he got a shot on KSFO.  He quickly discovered vitriol and hate and bigotry sold and it was a recipe for making allot of money.  What gets ratings is extreme regressivism, anger and bombast.  He never looked back and has been irate all the way to the bank.  In this same vein, Glenn Beck has now admitted he was making up and faking the attacks and the propaganda he spewed forth and apologized for his performance.

     In contrast, people like Randi and Rachel Maddow and Keith Oberman, Peter B. Collins and Stephanie Miller, Ray Taliaferro and even myself, did what we did because we looked out on a landscape dominated by corporate interests and a news environment where every debate started in the center and moved away from us.  No one has or is in it for just a paycheck and no one shape shifted like their counterparts on regressive radio.

     If you perceive a world in which the audience is misinformed or lied to or truth is covered up and obfuscated, it almost gets to feel prophetic.  A prophet, in Hebrew scripture, acted as the conscience of the people reminding them what is true and valuable and calling them back to ethical and caring behavior.  This is why a prophet is never accepted in his or her own country.  People don't want to hear what they may be doing wrong or how they may have screwed up or that they need to clean up their act and governments and the 1% hate it even more.  (there is nothing prophetic about regressive radio...it's a call to retrench and re-turn to a time of dominance by white males.  It's why it goes down so easily for most ditto-heads.  None of their values or prejudices are challenged.)

     Since 2001, Randi watched a nation stampeded into two wars by the use of lies and faux patriotism and fought off criticism she was soft on terrorism or hated her country or was a commie or socialist and any other number of attacks.  She railed against a Patriot Act which eviscerated the 4th amendment and a government which cut taxes for the rich, put two wars on a credit card and then used the excuse of the debt and deficit to gut the social safety net, crush the labor movement and increase the financial distance between most of America and its moneyed elite.  While she was on the air, an entire generation went to college and graduated with debt equivalent to a first mortgage and no jobs.  She watched as Bill Clinton and George Bush deregulated Wall Street leading to a depression surpassed only by 1929.  Then she had to watch Obama bail out Wall Street and destroy Main Street.  (have you read Geithner's book yet?  It is an admission of exactly what Randi and so many said was really going on) The war on terrorism morphed into a war on civil liberties and privacy.  (thank you Edward Snowden)  Randi has a 2016 presidential race to look forward to between Clinton and Bush again?

     Despite the first 14 years of this century, which would render any optimist moot, I do not share Randi's's cynicism, if that is accurately how she felt, about the direction of the country.  All is not lost and knowledge is still power.  The American people will respond when given the information.  If it isn't going to be on terrestrial radio then it may be through pod-casts and Internet streaming, but there is a thirst which needs to be slaked.

     I sit in a prison where I have experienced random acts of kindness convincing me of the goodness of so many people.  It is also a system which begs for reform and when the average American finds out how their taxes are wasted and how this system just perpetuates itself, they will demand change.  When they are informed about the need to change the college system...change the tax code so it treats the 1% the same way the other 99% are treated...resists the building pressure to export domestic oil and natural gas and the war drums beating again...is informed enough to resist the call for military force to replace diplomacy and demands a government who cares about the middle class more than the uber class, change will come.

     There is still a need for prophetic talk and information, but being a prophet takes its toll.  You paint a target on your back and you fight every day and lose more fights than you win.  One day you wake up and long for someone else to come along and take up the cause and let you rest.  Randi Rhodes gave her all and says she has had enough.  She has served her nation and audience well.  The thought of living in Costa Rica is very attractive.  In her stead others will have to continue the fight...continue to entertain and inform...continue to inspire...continue to expose the truth about capitalism and the 1%...continue to call on the best of people rather than appealing to selfishness and greed...continue to progress into the future and not champion a regression into the past.  You will have to support them and listen and rally to causes so cynicism does not triumph.

     Please email or tweet or write to Randi and thank her and wish her well.  She is a class act who deserves a "well done."


PS Would one of you be kind enough to email her, or whatever, and send her my best wishes.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

REMEMBERING...

Memorial Day is an opportunity to remember Americans who gave their lives in defense of their country.  Ceremonies will be held at all national cemeteries, at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, flags will be prominently displayed and the president will give a speech honoring the fallen.  All this pomp and attention is nothing more than sentimentality unless we truly remember what this day is and isn't about.

     We should remember the over 5,000 Americans who lost their lives in two wars over the last decade which were immoral and unnecessary.  As we wind down our involvement in Afghanistan, and acknowledge the disaster which was Iraq, we need to remember how jazzed, gung-ho, emotionally charged, Americans were to go to war after September 11, 2001.  The country was jingoism central, egged on by a White House where the end justified the means, and we wanted a chance to get at those "rag-heads", "sand-niggers", "A-rabs" and get our pound of flesh.  Voices of opposition, moderation, caution were drowned out by the martial music introductions of the latest on CNN and the corporate media and accused of being soft on terrorism, unpatriotic, traitors.  Americans ignored the colossal incompetence in Afghanistan which allowed Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Omar to escape at Tora Bora.  (Omar still alive and well and leading the Taliban and killing Americans)...ignored the fact Saddam Hussein and Iraq had nothing to do with September 11th (over 70% of Americans thought Hussein had a hand in the planning and execution of the attack at the time we invaded)...ignored the lies and propaganda from the White House and Congress (don't forget Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and John Kerry were among the Democrats who voted to go to war.  What would President Hillary Clinton do today about Syria, Ukraine, Nigeria and China?)

     Young Americans were used as cannon fodder for political gain.  They were used to "force" democracy on the Middle East.  They were sacrificed on the altar of political gain.  In Afghanistan, they had their legs cut off as resources were diverted to prepare to invade Iraq while still fighting a war in Afghanistan.  (at one point Special Forces troops who spoke local languages were sent to Iraq replaced by forces that spoke Spanish)   In Iraq, despite testimony by the joint chiefs it would take as many as 500,000 troops to successfully invade and pacify the country, the war was conducted on the cheap.  Calamitous decisions were made to disband the Iraqi army and to fail to impose security and civil order leaving an inadequate American force caught in the middle of a growing civil war.  All of this based on lies emanating from the White House and amplified by a corporate media more interested in profit than truth.  (does the name Judith Miller ring a bell?)

     On this Memorial Day, it isn't enough to remember the dead...to put flags on their graves...to play TAPS and give 21 gun salutes if that is all we do.  We need to remember.  We need to refuse to be stampeded and act like sheep.  We need to be much more cynical and realistic about the use of force and what it can and cannot accomplish.

     President Obama is getting whipsawed in public opinion polls for not being tough enough in his foreign policy.  Americans tell pollsters they want a more muscular president and don't like his over dependency on diplomacy.  These same Americans are the ones who also say, by more than a 60% margin if the Wall Street Journal poll is to be believed, we should fix what needs to be fixed here at home and not get militarily involved in new foreign conflicts.  So on Memorial Day which is it?

     Should we send troops to Syria to depose the Assad regime?  (there are reports they are still using chemical weapons to attack their people)  Should NATO, which means us, station troops in Eastern Ukraine to oppose Russian forces?  Should we somehow force Russia to give back Crimea?  Should we be planning a military assault on Iran to stop their nuclear weapons production?  What about American boots on the ground in Nigeria to rescue the kidnapped girls or as peacekeepers in Mali, South Sudan or Somalia?  What about China?  Should we be signing mutual defense pacts with Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines or Taiwan promising to come to their aid, which means sending young Americans into harm's way, if they get into a conflict with China?  Should we go to war to protect Israel?  (Senator John McCain says if he were president he would have sent troops into Nigeria to find the girls whether the nations leaders agreed or not.  Really?)

     It is so easy to get into wars, but as we now know not very easy to end them Cindy Sheehan once asked President Bush why her son had to die in Iraq. (a nation falling apart at the seams as we speak)  On Memorial Day do we have any better answers as to why Americans died in Afghanistan, Vietnam, Lebanon, Grenada et.al.?

     There are drums beating again in this country.  Despite annual reminders on Memorial Days, Americans once again have forgotten the cost associated with foreign adventures.  Obama is pilloried for not being tough enough.  (which means being willing to sacrifice American lives)  Yet, because of previous political/military failures, he commands a broken military with skyrocketing suicide rates, sexual assaults, and posttraumatic stress and, despite national rhetoric about honoring the nation's soldiers, a Veteran's Administration which can't meet the medical needs of those who have already served let alone those in the future.


     Perhaps the best and most moral response we could make on Memorial Day is to remember not to treat the military like it’s a video game and protect those who serve their country.  Perhaps our leaders might remember not to use American's soldiers to make political points or to rise in polls.  Perhaps we need to decide which it is...fix what needs to be fixed at home and reduce a bloated military budget or police the rest of the world while everyone else sits back and watches.  One thing is clear.  We insult the memories of those who made the ultimate sacrifice if we don't learn from our mistakes and promise to be more careful in times to come.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

PEACE...

Modern life is anything but peaceful.  We are on edge and on the go constantly.  Our waking hours, and perhaps even in our sleep, are dominated by concerns about how to pay bills...care for, or be a part of, family...work (which we may not like nor have passion for or find fulfilling) or searching for work at a time when the economy is in limbo and a job, any job, is a keeper.  We are bombarded with cultural messages to spend and consume.  (which means acquiring the money to do so)  Do we have the latest phone, TV, car, dress, purse, Jimmy Choo shoes, skinny jeans or the latest styled jacket?  We are on edge over a love life, or the lack of one.  Adolescents are tweeting about fears of what they will be when they grow up and adults self-medicate because of how their lives have unfolded.  Add to all of this the sheer, real, ear-splitting, nerve-jangling noise which is a constant of modern life and the last thing that one can say is we know a lot of peace.  (is it any wonder anti-depressants are a multi-billion dollar industry and a new study says depression among adolescents is up over 60%)

     As we approach the celebration of Easter, we do so fragile and splintered yet the whole point of Easter is we have a chance to restore peace to our lives.  What the apostles, and others, discovered that Sunday morning is an insight...a hint...an epiphany about life and how to have a peaceful one where you do not have to be afraid.  See, this is the key to the good news.  Jesus' message was not about heaven, or afterlife, or kingdoms to come.  From His baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist, to His appearance in the upper room, Jesus consistently told those around Him to be at peace and not to be afraid.  Why was he so sure?  Why was He seemingly fearless and peaceful?  What did He know that we didn't?

     Jesus knew how close He was to God...the more He trusted in God...the more He let go of things, the more peace flowed over Him.  He describes this closeness as like that between a mother or father and a child...intimate...Abba.

     Now comes the good part...Jesus proclaimed this same relationship with God is ours for the taking.  We too could be so close to God that peace will flow like a river.  We too can take all the noise, pressure, stress, which is day-to-day life and let it roll off of us like water off a duck's back.  We can trust in God so implicitly that not even death can stop us nor do we have to fear it.  Resurrection, which we celebrate on Easter, is ours too.  This is the good news.

     It sounds so easy.  Who wouldn't want to be at peace and not to be afraid anymore?  Yet, when we look around we don't see allot of peace...don't feel peaceful...we worry and fear...the world certainly isn't peaceful, so what happened?  Sin is what happened.  We have freely chosen to attach to things...to this world...to our basic desires for pleasure and satisfying our desires...for ego and pride...and the result is not intimacy but rather separation.  (since God created all "things", God by definition cannot be a "thing", God must be "no-thing"...nothing.  When we hold on to things...prioritize things...seek out things...we lose intimacy with God) There is no clearer reason why I am in prison and why I chose to hurt my family and myself than an obsession with things and a failure to trust in God.  (interestingly, this is the same message of Buddhism  which teaches the more you let go of things, the better you can handle the suffering which life throws at you)

     Jesus' message is constant.  Love your neighbor.  Love your enemies.  Turn the other cheek.  Forgive an infinite number of times.  Whatever you do for the least of your brothers and sisters you do for God.  Implied in all of this is a focus on others, developing a closeness with God which promises you two things...you will be at peace and don't have to be afraid any longer.

     Have you ever had a genuine moment of peace?  A moment of living without fear?  If not why not?  If so, how badly did you want to experience it again and again...seek it out...try to replicate it if you could?  In the upper room, on His first appearance after Easter, Jesus breathes on them (recalling God breathing on Adam and Eve in Genesis) and says, "...peace, my peace I give to you."  This is the central message of the gospel.  We can do what Jesus did.  We can be intimate with God.  We can experience peace because we trust in God.  Sin sews doubt and fear, but Easter is the celebration of a man who was at peace and wasn't afraid...even when faced with his own death...sin lost.

     This is my last Easter in captivity.  I will come out of this place, and this experience, less afraid and more at peace than at any time in my life.  All I needed to achieve this was to have my ego crushed, pride stripped, every "thing" taken away and the time to contemplate the state of my relationship with God.  I was forced to let go and to trust, which was so, so hard, in God.  I am still a work in progress, and I still love certain things, most especially my wife and children, and can be filled with fear, but the Easter message, ..."Alleluia, Alleluia, He is risen," fills me with joy and I wish all of you that same joy.


     Happy Easter, and please remember the world is alive with the grandeur of God.