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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Something New Comes Along

Just when I think there is nothing left to be old, something new comes along.

I wonder what creates a memory. When I wake in the morning, and there is nothing left to hold, nothing new to see, to comprehend, to learn, when there is nothing left to remember about time, will I really be awake or will I actually be dead? Is that the final samadhi I see before me, or just another aimless hallway lined with the disposable images of a past I watched while in repose in front of my television?

I spent the past week in the DC area, and went to the National Portrait Gallery one day. There we saw portraits of presidents, Civil War personalities and other American icons, like Jimi Hendrix and Gore Vidal, Jackie O. and Josephine Baker, Angela Davis and Katherine Hepburn. I remember a lot of the individuals, captured in paint pigment and photo emulsion, from my own lifetime. Here they are with the legends of a young nation, captured in time as if they too were cornerstones of proud nationalism and not temporary soda pop bubbles rendered into Styrofoam pylons supporting an age of plastic time. How Warholian!


So this is how history is written now. As 2007 slips into 2008, I guess we all need to pay better attention. The dimly lit Chinese restaurant on the neighborhood street corner, or the half-moon hanging over the leafless-tree that grows from the broken concrete stoop of a run down tenement, are all images I carry with me that - in some future context - could hold historical value, and those are only a couple of the ones my mind captured in the last 48 hours!

That anything from our living past can become grist for the historical mill is both ridiculous and overwhelming. For example, one could say it is ridiculous that 2007 could be remembered as a the year when a well run football team's glory will overshadow the glaring mismanagement of a poorly run nation. Likewise, it is overwhelming that tragic events, from Darfur to Pakistan, can crack the shell of our otherwise oblivious Humpty Dumpty lives, so that by the time we muster our horses and men, we will have fallen off the wall, leaving the hungry inconsolably weak, the weak uncontrollably desperate, and the desperate unalterably dangerous.

I'm sorry. It's hard not to be cynical. There's a lot of possibility for 2008, though. I don't know if hope alone is enough, or experience, or justice, but I do believe that we can move to heal the inconsolable, the uncontrollable, the unalterable, if we first resolve to heal ourselves.

Revolution only succeeds through resolution. The only way to create a new story is to commit to being a force for changing the current story.

Look at a recent picture of your family. Is there anything you could do to change the current story of your relationship to them?

Look at your bank statement. Is there anything you can commit to, to change the story of your relationship to money?

Look at your front lawn. Is there anything you can choose to do that will change your relationship to landscaping?

If you resolve to create change in your life in those or any small, personal area, then you can choose to play bigger in your next commitment. The new revolves when the old resolves. Rather than revering the past for its own sake, maybe we should venerate it only as the source for what we have become, are becoming, can become.

As we approach the fortieth anniversary of a notable year of joy and horror, it is appropriate to quote Bobby K. (also in the National Gallery) in his famous call to action, as a way to help us add context to history, "There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why... I dream of things that never were and ask why not."

Happy New Year! Why not make it a historical one?

-PBG

Saturday, December 22, 2007

An Undigested Bit of Beef: Fear, Reality and Scrooge

" '...You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!'


"Scrooge was not much in the habit of cracking jokes, nor did he feel, in his heart, by any means waggish then. The truth is, that he tried to be smart, as a means of distracting his own attention, and keeping down his terror; for the spectre's voice disturbed the very marrow in his bones."

-Scrooge's reaction to the presence of Marley's Ghost
from
"A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens, Plain Label Books, pp. 35-36.


Like Scrooge's unwelcome visitor, it comes as no surprise that George Bush's and Dick Cheney's chains are weighted with a 21st century version of old fashioned corporate greed, but they have added to Marley's burden of "cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds and heavy purses wrought in steel."

They also drag on the floor the shears that shredded our rights and our values, and their shoulders hunch from the weight of the coffins of the more than 6,000 American dead of September 11 and the Iraq War. Shattered lives dangle from the tattered cuffs of their muddy blue suits, which reek from the mildewed walls of New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward.

Like Scrooge, we sit incredulously in fear, pouring out our wit through pen and punditry to try to cope with the chill rattling through our collective bones. Were that we could dismiss it as "an undigested bit of beef." But cuisine plays no cameo in America's misfortune these last seven years. Fear is now an institution in our country. The scary status quo from semi-transparent politicians is a warning not to make our institutional fear Constitutional.

Like Bob Cratchit, the faithful buy their turkeys and hams and plea with us to reform our waggish ways. They hold up their children, their future, and ask us to embrace it. "God bless us, everyone." It is important to them that we hold that ideal closely.

Last year's election was our "Bah, Humbug" to the Bob Cratchits of this country, but after a year it seems that the halls of Congress are haunted by ghosts who take our representatives into a nightmare scenario, leaving them terrified of lying beneath the lonely headstone of un-Americanism or worse: un-electability.

It seems so unreal, this nightmare of congressional capitulation. Thank God, there's still some sanity in Washington. You won't see Russ Feingold or Dennis Kucinich running out into the snow Christmas morning looking to appease the fearful. If not for the few who act fearlessly to extinguish the flames of unreasonable paranoia, we would be the goose Scrooge brings to Christmas dinner.

-PBG

Monday, December 17, 2007

Voting in the Shampoo Aisle

"Political marketing is a fairly pure analog to commercial marketing. I'm looking at a package of shampoo the same way I'm looking at my next leader."
- David Remer, chairman of Lucid Systems, from a recent Wall Street Journal article.




Perhaps Mr. Remer can be forgiven for his glibness. His company is trying to sell a program that tracks certain biological responses of people to the stump speeches and debates of the 2008 presidential candidates. According to the WSJ article, several of the campaigns are using this kind of uber-focus group technology to try to hone the scope and delivery of their message.

It's like turning trial balloons into biometric reporting weather balloons.

It seems that we just want to feel good about our candidates. It's not just a candidate. It also cleans your hair. My scalp is all tingly just thinking about it.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

America in the Outhouse

A De Facto Empire under a De Facto Siege

America's transcendence to empire did not happen all at once - not when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 in the waning days of the Cold War, not with a mushroom cloud over Hiroshima in 1945, and not with the Rough Riders on San Juan Hill in 1898. Even in the case of the latter, "winning" Puerto Rico and the Philippines was at least as much a bullish attempt to consolidate power for ourselves in the world by exacting revenge on the Spanish as it was an exercise in expansionism and empire. Teddy's audacious actions were just a wink-and-a-nudge, the soft speech compared to the big stick approach to global assertiveness that our country takes in the world now. When is the last time that any rhetoric out of Washington was emblematic of the counsel to "speak softly" (other than the relatively meek reactions to General Musharraf's declaration of martial law last week)?

We spent the first fifty-five years after World War Two gorging on what we believed was the admiration of the planet, the illusions of banal nationalism. We swallowed it whole, and spent the last seven years squeezing out lump after stinky lump of stars-and-stripes shit that we offer back to the world as manna. Clearly there are those who are looking around because they can't believe the stink is ours. Our shit doesn't stink. To believe that it does would be un-American to Mr. Cheney and his minions, traitorous to Ms. Coulter and her ilk.

Why can't we get off the pot and create something more beneficial? Because we have made it a critical component of our foreign policy to turn assholes into allies. The sad thing is, if we were actually doing that, things might be going better. What we are doing instead is trying to turn assholes into Americans (though it's arguably easier to turn Americans into assholes) in some warped notion that if we could get them to think like Americans they wouldn't want to hurt us. Obviously we don't know ourselves very well.

We can't even pay them to think like us. They just don't want to. Despite that reality, and despite that our "verbal support" for Musharraf may be waning, John Negraponte says we will continue to give Pakistan millions of dollars, according to an article in yesterday's New York Times. But the money isn't helping. In America, power is just another commodity that we are trying to buy (at outsourced, bargain rates), which will be used to intimidate and strong arm and waterboard a culture passionate about living their own lives their own way, thank you very much.

Instead of hiring Neanderthal mercenary organizations like Blackwater to muscle them into submission, we should be investing in programs like CARE, the Peace Corps, Doctors Without Borders and organizations with experience in conflict resolution, like the Carter Center.

All the saber rattling engenders nothing except louder protests which brings more saber rattling. "My way or the highway" is a signpost on the road to hell. Let's flush the holier-than-thou threats, elect a sane government and have some movement toward meaningful dialogue.

-PBG

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Rendered to the Mob

How J. Edgar Hoover Found a Way
Not to Implicate the Government In Torture


Gregory Scarpa, Sr. was a Mafia "tough guy," an assassin back in the days when television was still in black and white and a curmudgeonly bulldog (that had a penchant for wearing women's clothes) named J. Edgar Hoover ran the FBI. Scarpa died in prison in 1994, with his nom de guerre of "The Grim Reaper" still intact.

Besides being a murderous thug, Scarpa was something else: an FBI informant. His contact at the Bureau, R. Lindley DeVecchio, is now on trial in New York, charged with helping Scarpa in planning the murders of four members of the Colombo crime family by supplying Sacarpa with inside information that compromised other investigations. In exchange, the agent got the usual swag: jewelry, money, favors, etc. The key prosecution witness is Scarpa's former girlfriend, Linda Schiro. The articles about the trial are a fascinating, Sopranos-like retelling of some of the most gruesome actions of the mob in the eighties.

During the trial this week, Schiro talked about an incident involving Scarpa that has long been considered a legend in Mob circles, that is, Hoover calling on Scarpa to assist in finding the bodies of three young civil rights workers murdered in Mississippi in 1964 by the Klan.

According to the AP story about her testimony, using a gun given to him by the FBI, Scarpa met with with one of the suspected Klansmen, " 'put a gun in the guy's mouth,' " and threatened to kill him. Later, she says, the FBI retrieved the gun from Scarpa and gave him "a wad of cash," the article says.

What Hoover's motivation was in calling on a mobster to do what the FBI was unable to is, of course, speculation. Oliver Stone might note that this is less than a year after President Kennedy's assassination, and Hoover's ties to the mob did not die at Dallas' Parkland Hospital with JFK.

What is clear, is that this mentality of getting a criminally corrupt organization to do the government's dirty work hasn't gone away; it's just been outsourced to Egypt and Saudi Arabia (among others). In Washington, DC, you can't say Department of Justice without saying Hoover. The building is named after him. That a man reviled by so many people of my generation is so venerated that his name is equated with justice is like naming the White House press room the Dick Cheney Wing. Nothing says openness and candor like Cheney.

So choose your heroes carefully, America. Reserve your veneration for the people in your own community who work everyday to end poverty, refute racism, and clean up the planet. Those are the people who should be celebrated. Who would you name your house after, if you could? What about the White House? (No, Mr. Colbert, not the Doritos White House.) Is there a real national hero for whom this country's name could be changed? "The United States of Oprah?" I kid, but you know, there are people out there for whom the Constitution tolls. It tolls for us.

-PBG

Monday, October 22, 2007

Pavillions of Promise: A Religious Conversation for Peace

"God is no one's pigment, no one's gender and no one's flag."
Sister Joan Chittister
October 21, 2007
Atlanta, Georgia


In the dusk of my dreams I have wandered through pointy roofed pavillions spilling across a shallow hillside, reaching the darkened road that runs below. It is a fair, the greatest exhibition of humankind's noblest pursuit, born out of a quest for the meaning of being alive. These are the laboratories in which different cultures have have created the social alchemy called religion, a construct of humanity that is valued for its endowment of purpose and plagued by the folly of its zealots. Which shelter will I enter? Who will I be when I come out the other side? What if I must chase my soul down the dark road and it hides behind damp brick walls?

If there were a sign over the entry gate to this campus of religious thought, it might say "Teach me to be good, and I will be good." This is the awareness we assume as we enter life. So it seems that in this equation, Karl Marx did not quite have it right. Good is the opiate of the people; religion is just the opium den. Go in and see the guy in the robes. "Hey man, is this where I can score some good? Can you hook me up with some good? I need some good, bad."

And this is what he tells you, or some variation: "Submit yourself to education, and busy yourself with practice, and don't substitute artifice for belief (Thou shalt have no other gods before me)."

How important is this quest? "We want examples of how to behave," but "education alone is not the answer," said the Dalai Lama, in Atlanta, yesterday. "All religions are human religions. All religions carry the message of love and compassion."

Because of that, "Religion has the obligation to feel compunction for its position in the world," according to Sister Joan Chittister, an author and activist who writes for the National Catholic Reporter. We must examine, she said, what we have "contributed to the conversation of love."


His Holiness and Sister Joan were speaking at a summit hosted by Emory University, called The First Emory Summit on Religion, Conflict and Peacebuilding. Joining them on the dais were: Professor Rajmohan Gandhi, a human rights activist and grandson of the Mahatma; Rabbi David Rosen, an activist in the arena of interreligious dialogue; and Professor Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im, a law professor at Emory and scholar of Islamic law and politics.

When minds like that get together, it is moving, inspiring and sparky. Rabbi Rosen called them all "religious personalities," and I suppose the title fits. I mean, the Dalai Lama is a rock star (and we are all groupies - just what religion needs).

Mischievous People who Cast a Bad Light

Like the title of the summit suggests, it was just a conversation. No pacts were made. No treaties were signed, and despite the larger than life presence of the Dalai Lama, no religion took the lead over any other. The discussion was not about good vs. evil, God vs. the Devil, or do-gooders vs. evil-doers. Instead, there was an instant understanding that, "It is not the traditions; it is the believers," as Professor An-Na'im said. As for the President's "evil-doers", His Holiness forgivingly called them "mischievous" people who cast a bad light on their faith.

Sister Joan was the most direct, talking about how religion is responsible for "a bloody history of oppression in the name of God."

"We have been following the apostolic tradition [of] 'those who aren't with us are against us,' " she said. "That's the seed of division and war."

The Arab-Israeli conflict is the dark forest that has grown from that seed of intolerance. Rabbi Rosen, in speaking about his interfaith work in the Middle East, pointed out that all the parties there feel like they are the victims, and he pleaded with us to have a sense of responsibility, to "get past the victimization." Like Abraham, he said, we should "see the angel, the divine image, in every living being."

"If you make an issue out of every principle," he added, "in the end, you don't have any principles."

Professor Gandhi seems to agree."When you set out to destroy what you dislike, you also destroy what you love," he said, relating the story (from his brother Ramchandra's book Sita's Kitchen) of a group of Hindus that took hammers to an ancient mosque and ended up destroying an even more ancient Hindu holy site known as Sita's Kitchen.

Sister Joan, of course, put it more bluntly: "Quit trying to convert each other like a 'Commie for Christ!' God is no one's pigment, no one's gender and no one's flag."

Be the Change

So what do we do to move the conversation past "mischievous" zealotry? "Be the change you want to make," implored Prof. An-Na'im, quoting Mohandas Gandhi's famous call to action. Right action is up to each of us. "It is my responsibility [to create change]," he said, "not our responsibility."

It is the responsibility of each of us to "be part of the solution," is how Rabbi Rosen put it. By standing up and doing that, perhaps we can satisfy Prof. An-Na'im's call to lead by example (especially in regards to human rights), and "raise our country's commitment and standing to that which we expect of others."

Then, perhaps by the work of each of us who were blessed to attend this summit, and the work you do, dear reader, we can bring alive the light sparked by this amazing event. As the Dalai Lama said, "Light will come from this center, and will reach a more, wider area."

Then no one's soul will have to be coaxed out of dark, damp alleys, for mischief cannot hide where faith will bear no darkness.

-PBG

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Words Taken Down

The Murky Puddle Left Behind When Terrible Truth
and Corrupted Consequence Collide



I was watching C-Span Tuesday and California Congressman Henry Waxman got up to speak on behalf of a resolution condemning the State Department's obstruction of the investigation of Iraqi government corruption. This malfeasance not only jeopardizes the future of the people of Iraq, but also presents extra risks and deadly challenges to the U.S. service personnel fighting and dying there.

In voicing his frustration with the Bush administration, Waxman drew an easy parallel between the corrupt intelligence the administration used to get us into this war, and the way the State Department has been stonewalling congressional inquiry by classifying publicly released reports retroactively and refusing to testify publicly about the allegations.

The rebuke passed overwhelmingly, by a vote of 395 to 21. But in his argument for the resolution, Waxman committed a congressional faux-pas. This is what he said:

"We must stop the pattern of dissembling and the misuse of
classified information. President Bush is now asking
taxpayers for an additional $150 billion to support the war
and to support Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. But he
is not being honest about the level of corruption in the
Maliki government."
(from the Congressional Record: October 16, 2007 (House)]
[Page H11576-H11586])

Instead of railing solely against the actions of the administration, he off-handedly referred to the administration as "he." Apparently, you can't say things like that during a congressional debate. No sooner had the words left his lips, then California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa jumped up.

"I ask that his words be taken down," he declared, "for
disparagement of the Bush administration."

"Words Taken Down" is an objection to words uttered in debate, according to House rules. A representative cannot say anything disparaging , of a personal nature, against the president or vice president. It's alright for David Letterman or Keith Olbermann to call Bush a liar on TV, but they can't do it on the floor of the House of Representatives. Freedom of Speech has rules, I guess, but since they didn't make "a law," it probably doesn't violate the First Amendment. Anyway, the rule says that if, after the clerk reads the passage in question back to the Chair, the words are indeed found to be objectionable, the representative who made the offending statement is disallowed from participating in debate for the rest of the day.

Waxman was forced to sit while the record was recounted, but before a determination was made, he declared that he misspoke, that indeed he intended to say "the Bush administration," and not "he." Indeed, if you check the Congressional Record, you will see ellipses where the "he" was originally spoken.

The Chair checked with Issa to see if that was okay with him, Issa said:
"I have no objection as long as the admonishment of the Chair
would be that, in fact, there is a caution as to disparaging
or appearing to disparage the office or the person of
the President or the Vice President under our rules."
The chair acknowledged the "caution" and Waxman was allowed to continue.

In watching that parliamentary bizzareness, I wondered if the Senate has the same rules. If they do, is it reciprocal? That is, when Cheney said to Senator Pat Leahy in June, 2004, on the floor of the Senate Chamber, "Fuck yourself," was he admonished? Probably not, but that could be for lots of reasons. Maybe the senate has no rule similar to "words taken down." Also, since the Veep's unfortunate remark happened during a photo shoot, and not during open debate, it's not part of the record. Still, what would the consequences be for the Vice President if that were the case? Since he hardly ever takes his presider's chair anyway, what good would it have done to make him sit for a day?

What is clear, and always has been, is that Cheney feels as free to fire insults at his political opponents as he is firing buckshot at his friends, all without fear of consequence. He feels that there are certain powers granted to the executive branch of government that allow it to remain aloof and in charge, privileged and, when necessary, impenetrable. It's all part of his grand plan to expand and consolidate the power of the presidency.

According to the new book Takeover: The Return of the Imperial Presidency and the Subversion of American Democracy, by Charlie Savage:

"[T]he vice president was...immersed...in an agenda he had been developing for thirty years.

"...He wanted to reduce the authority of Congress and the courts and to expand the ability of the commander in chief and his top advisers to govern with maximum flexibility and minimum oversight. He hoped to enlarge the zone of secrecy around the executive branch, to reduce the power of Congress to restrict presidential action...and to impose greater White House control over the permanent workings of government." (pp. 8-9)

It seems that ever since Congress imposed greater oversight on the presidency in reaction to the executive abuses of Watergate and the misleading way the war in Vietnam was sold to the American people, Cheney, himself an aide in the Nixon White House, has been talking about restoring the President's power. In 1996, according to Savage, Cheney said:

" 'Congress has begun to encroach upon the powers and the responsibilities of the President,' " and that he wants to, " 'go back and try to restore that balance.' " (p. 9)

It seems to me that the vice president must have some inner ear problems because the lack of balance is in his mind. The "encroaching" Congress gave this administration everything it asked for in the first six years. If Dick Cheney wanted this administration to be an example of what the presidency should be, what powers it should have, then he has left a sad and broken legacy that Congress once again will have to fix. They won't be able to fix it now. Some of the most important reforms that Cheney regrets took place with a Democratic Congress and a Democrat in the White House. This Congress is hampered by not having a clear enough majority, a veto-proof majority - not that it should be an excuse for disappointing congressional capitulation we have seen this year.

I have heard that there are many who are vying for the presidency in 2008 - in both parties - who relish the idea of expanded power, but I urge all of the candidates to keep this in mind: you may become the President of the United States, but this is still a representative government, and if Congress can remain true to its constituency, then their word is the will of the people. "Thy will be done" is a humble obeisance to a god, not a license to a leader to indulge a personal agenda.

PBG

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Back Rooms and Back Doors: The N.Y. Times Torture Story

Rationalizing the Secrets that Define a Presidency
and 'Shock the Conscience' of a Country


Continuing to leave the gashes of my once great country bleeding and unchecked has left a festering wound on the future of our nation. The long-fingered fist of war has crushed thought and trust in this country, and too few have recognized the need for social action against a government that in brazen secrecy "shocks the conscience" of its people.

In 1953, the Supreme Court threw out the evidence, in Rochin v. California, against Richard Rochin and his appeal of a conviction for morphine possession. It seems the cops took him to the hospital and induced vomiting in order to obtain the evidence. The Court said that using evidence obtained in this manner "shocks the conscience" of a society's "decencies of civilized conduct." The "shocks the conscience" test is often applied to cases where there is a question as to whether evidence is admissible or actions permissible under the law.

When the McCain Anti-Torture Bill went through congress in late 2005, there was talk about including the "shocks the conscience" text to the bill, but it never made it. Instead, it was added as part of the record through a maneuver called a colloquy by Georgia Congressman Jim Marshall.

But even the congressman was pessimistic about its application to this bill. In an op-ed piece in the Macon Telegraph, dated December 24, 2005, he said:

"No, 'shocks the conscience' is not the bright line test we would all prefer. One is not possible here as in so many other conflicts between societal need and individual rights. Ultimately appropriate treatment of our prisoners and detainees requires judgment, control and leadership in many different circumstances."

The New York Times today reports that regardless of Congress' anti-torture legislation, regardless of what the Supreme Court said in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the Justice Department has issued secret memorandum after secret memorandum to the CIA telling it that its methods are OK:

"[In 2005], as Congress moved toward outlawing 'cruel, inhuman and degrading' treatment, the Justice Department issued another secret opinion, one most lawmakers did not know existed, current and former officials said. The Justice Department document declared that none of the C.I.A. interrogation methods violated that standard."
"Secret U.S. Endorsement of Severe Interrogations,"
S. Shane, D. Johnston and J. Risen,
New York Times, October 4, 2007


If signing statements weren't enough, secret memos redefining the reach and permit of the Executive Branch beyond the law are enough to wonder just which of us our government will go after next. They have created an environment where they are no longer bound by Constitution or law. Naomi Wolf, former editor of The Nation, has written a fascinating book documenting the abuse and abandonment of America's commitment to the rights and ethical treatments of her citizens. In the book, called The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot, Wolf asserts her belief that fascism is already upon us, that it is only a matter of time before a journalist (or a blogger) is declared an enemy combatant, and after that, there is no turning back.

"The Bush administration has started to use the notion of treason in its Stalinist sense," she says on page 133, "as a weapon designed to harass critics and to frighten opposition leaders."

Blaming the Messenger

Indeed, on CNN's Situation Room tonight, Fran Townsend, the White House Homeland Security Adviser, railed against the published reports, saying, "it is incredibly irresponsible to leak classified information that threatens our national security and the effectiveness of the techniques we do have at our disposal." She implied that the New York Times was to blame for the disclosures of Republicans who actually have a conscience.

Our only salvation is that our national legacy of an open, honest and free society is (for the time being) stronger than the blind loyalty of a few corrupt men who, despite all decency, rationalize their movements in the shadows.

Call to Action

The call to action is once more laid at Congress' door. I'm sorry, Senator Leahy, but the time for civil discourse, of waiting for the White House to deliver documents so that you can come to an "understanding" about what they are doing is long past. The House and Senate Judiciary Committees must file contempt charges against the AG's office and the White House for circumventing the law signed by Bush in December 2005 that said that the US does not torture.

Even now the Executive denies it, using the euphemism "harsh techniques" when they mean "torture." The secret memos, you see, said that despite the law, what the CIA was told it could do was not a violation of the law, even though the law was passed months after the memoranda were written.

We can either stand up to yet another illegal abuse of power, or let our freedoms be swallowed by it. Frankly, I think prison is too good for them. They should not only be thrown out of office, but out of the country as well - them, their children and their grandchildren. Otherwise, they will continue to be the kind of god-driven, self-righteous, greedy, militant opposition that we all dread.

-PBG

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A Sabbatical for War

Letting the Killing Fields Lie Fallow
After the Autumn Harvest


So the seeds sown in the spring surge have been cut, and baled in flag covered coffins. The noble Petraeus, in the regalia of an honored soldier, and the honorable Crocker, intent hidden behind the skirts of his diplomat's robes, pay homage to the lords of state who put up the treasure of the people that they may do the king's bidding and return in glory and praise.

They bring gifts to the lords of the House and the stone walls of the Senate, those same bales of bodies of the honorable and the innocent, piled against the mark on a marble column etched MMI. They bow low as they present the lords with the grisly gift. "My lords, I bring you the promise of military progress," says the noble Petraeus, eyes still on his shoe tops. But from the bench, the chair merely clears his throat.

"This," says the chair as he glances at his fellow legislators, "this is what he calls progress?" The disappointed dais shakes its collective head.

"But my lords," says Petraeus, edging his eyes up from his still bent head, "You cannot call this anything but a good sign. The enemy is at least partially, somewhat subdued. See how our divine guidance has enabled us to shrink his harvest! Why, by next summer, we will even be able to give him fewer seeds to sow."

"Correct me if I am wrong, Petraeus," responds the chair, "but aren't you the one who recommended giving the enemies of our republic the extra seed with which to sow their killing fields, those self-same seeds that you now say you will soon rescue from the scythe of our country's foes?"

Petraeus shuffled his feet together and examined his chest of medals. "I never said it would be easy," he offered meekly. "I am merely a soldier in service to my king."

At this point, the court jester and her friends began their taunts in an allegro chorus:


"Ah. Ah. Ah. Ah.
You brought the seeds.
You brought the knife.
You dared the enemies to take more life.



"Oh. Oh. Oh. Oh.
You say in Anbar
The enemy scurries,
But here you bring us our children to bury!


Owww. Owww. Oww. Owww."

Showing bemusement, the chair calls for the jesters to leave, lest he reveal his amusement with their song and incur the wrath of the king. "Get them out," he shouts, and when they are gone, turns to the ambassador. "Do you see the clamor of the people, Mr. Crocker? Surely you can guarantee them that all this blood and treasure is worth the cost."

"Well, it is worth it to those our deaths and money protect," says Crocker proudly. "But," he adds, "I cannot guarantee victory."

"Then woe to our country and God bless our people and its vacuous leadership," concludes the chair. "Woe to us all."

And in the hallways, someone is singing, "Woe. Woe. Woe. Woe."

-------------------

So goes the conversation after six years of conflict, six years of sowing the killing fields with dedicated, patriotic men and women for our enemies to harvest "over there so they don't kill us over here."

Rare is the harvest that cuts down life to no purpose.

For whose consumption do our brothers and sisters bleed and die? For us or for our enemies?

If it is for me that they die, as we start the seventh year of the conflict of a generation, let's give the war a sabbatical. I wish that by next September 11, we allow the killing fields to lie fallow, to sow no more seeds, that we may allow honor to recover. Then, after another year, we can plant the seeds of peace, that we can all eat of its fruit and restore the devalued soul of our great nation.

-PBG

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Dimples and Craters: Acheiving MAXIMUM IMPACT

"I shot an arrow into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where..."
From "The Arrow and the Song"
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow



I find the term "meteoric rise" to be somewhat oxymoronic. After all, meteors don't rise. Well in space they might, if there is an "up" up there.

The term references a brilliant, streaking light in the night sky that comes out of nowhere and bounces with a fiery glow across the edge of our atmosphere before fading into nothingness. In that sense, "meteoric rise" is a metaphor for an individual whose soaring achievement similarly comes out of nowhere, but burns so brightly that it attracts everyone's attention and is hard to miss. And, unfortunately, like their namesakes, this moment of personal glory burns to a fizzle and is quickly gone.

But streaking meteors aren't actually rising. They are hurtling at tremendous speeds towards the earth. Where the metaphor falls apart is, well, where the meteor falls apart - on re-entry - and that's just the climax of its journey. It's still around until -

KABLOOEY!! It slams into the ground! What impact is left in it's wake? It depends on the size of the meteor. Arizona's Meteor Crater is a huge impact site, 4,000 feet across, 550 feet deep! They dug a 1,400 lb. meteorite out of that crater. OMG, as the kids say.

What if the meteor's impact were just a dimple, a pockmark on the planet, neither bigger nor more impressive than the hole left behind when when you pull a skipping stone from the clay? If it were your brilliance hurtling towards the earth, what would be its maximum impact?

"I breathed a song into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where..."

Ibid, 2nd verse

So I guess not all impacts are from arrows. Some are indeed from beautiful songs. Either way, I think Longfellow would agree that whatever we issue to the world, be it through fisticuffs or Facebook, bombs or Brahms, Bush or Buddha, they land with an impact that has more permanence than we realize. As for me, I hope that my impact is, as the people gathered on the mountaintop for the soda commercial sang (or would have sung, had they not been selling soda pop): "a song of peace that echoes on and never goes away."

"Long, long afterward, in an oak
I found the arrow, still unbroke;
And the song, from beginning to end,
I found again in the heart of a friend."

Ibid, 3rd verse


I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing-The Shaw Brothers
-PBG

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Behind the Curtain

Pay No Attention to the Politician Behind the Curtain

There is a shadow play going on behind the shroud, and like the characters in an old cartoon, the shaded shapes creep in apparent self awareness, while we cheer and jeer the performances of those who cast them. The hidden machinations of the players bear little resemblance to what they choose to show us.

It works something like this. In any political goings-on, there are three kinds of curtains that drape the stage where our politicians play: opaque, translucent and transparent. Then there's the performance upstage, in front - the one they play out to dazzle, distract or otherwise numb us into obeisance. Occasionally, the sharp observer can discern a movement not quite right in the narrow, transparent panels, that belies the otherwise unrevealing obfuscators.

For example, let's say Bush is standing in front of a crowd of foreign war veterans, comparing the chaos under which Saigon fell with the potentially worsening dissolution of order when we leave Baghdad, and saying that it would have been different had we stayed in Vietnam and "finished the job."

He wants us to see brave men and women fighting to victory, but instead in the transparent panel directly behind him we easily see a drunken, AWOL flier from the Texas Air National Guard, circa 1970. He wants us to see the genocide of Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, but behind the wider translucent panel we can discern the shadowy images of bullets and bombs felling American soldier after American soldier, the piling bodies and flag draped coffins and weeping Gold Star mothers. He wants us to see an America responsible for squashing terrorism like a foot crushes a cockroach, yet we know that somewhere behind the very wide, opaque curtain America is enabling the torture and rendition of perceived enemies while it supports the governments of those who harbor our real enemies.

Meanwhile every shout is greeted with applause, every wag of the finger greeted with cheers.

Status Quo or Quid Pro Quo

Some of those cheers are our own, fellow lefties. Karl Rove leaving? Sure, shout for joy. Hooray! But now that he is no longer in government (officially anyway), will there be as hard an effort to expose his malfeasance? He is not leaving because any threat of exposure that we know of, so it looks like this is his own decision, status quo for the waning months of a lame duck administration. But what don't we know? Is it possible that this is part of a deal? The weak Congress seems unwilling to pursue any sort of retribution against an administration that continues to abuse its power. This could be more quid pro quo than status quo.

I really don't know. I'm just saying that things are not always what they seem, especially in First World politics, so we have to be willing to look past what is presented as truth and find the real truth. We can't rely on just the Washington Post or the New York Times. We have to make our congress-people be accountable to holding the Executive accountable. That, sadly, is the one thing they seem unwilling to do.

So for those of you who give money specifically to the DCCC (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee), I'm asking you to stop. They are not working for us. They want to continue to do business as usual. I'm asking that you give money directly to the campaign coffers of the legislators who actually seem to stand against the status quo.

Send money to Russ Feingold's re-election campaign, or any of the 28 other senators or 183 members of the House who stuck to their convictions and voted against the Wiretapping bill that was passed just before the August recess. Why did the Democratic led Congress end up passing this bill? Well, CNET has an interesting and uncomplicated answer: it was political.

See, the Democrats want to appear strong in the "War on Terror." But just behind them you can see them through the transparent curtain shaking in political fear. Behind the translucent curtain, their shadows are stomping on the Bill of Rights while they hold out their hands to the "military industrial complex," who hide just out of sight, behind the opaque curtain.

-PBG

Friday, August 24, 2007

Russ Feingold's Presidential Homesick Blues



If you cannot play the video from here, click here.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Baaaaad Leadership

This is the ACLU's ad deriding the Democrats in congress for their meakness:



Sunday, August 05, 2007

A Nightmare of Naivete: The Lulling of a Nation

Sleep-walking Through the President's Daily Briefing

Sometimes you wake up dead. Sometimes you wake up and wish you were. That's how it must have been for the Germans morning after gray morning, decade after decade, following the long, filthy, deadly nightmare of World War Two. A national narcosis swam behind their eyeballs, dissociative episodes brought on by feelings of guilt, and the trauma of worthless denials and feigned naivete. No one heeded the few who warned that while one hand of the Fatherland was cradling its swastika'd lemmings warmly, the other hand was waging an icy, unfeeling war on social outcasts and the most easily vilified. Those who questioned became outcasts and enemies themselves .

The German campaign against decency began in 1933 and lasted twelve years. We are only six years into our own national nightmare, lulled to sleep by lullaby lies that spin cotton candy dreams of conspicuous consumption. Some say that September 11, 2001 was our wake-up call, but it was just another opportunity to hit the snooze button. Just roll over and go shopping and everything will all be alright.

The alarm actually went off on August 6, with the now infamous "Bin Laden Determined to Attack" Presidential Daily Briefing. Yes, I know there were other warning signs over a period of years, but none were dismissed as easily as the Bush administration choosing to ignore the threat from al-Qaeda. (There was no angle there for them to play. Iraq has an angle or two: revenge and oil come to mind.)

Before I go any farther, I have to say that I'm not comparing the Bush/Cheney administration to the Nazis, though many of my compatriots do not share my hesitation to do so. My comparison is with our apparent complacency while the integrity of the United States' stand on civil rights and justice are damaged by allowing rendition, condoning torture, suspending habeas corpus, and collecting data on any of us without a warrant. The problem is them, but as long as we don't say something about it, it is also us. Just like a cobbler in Munich may have ignored the winds of death from Dachau, it seems that not enough of us are willing to come out of this deep sleep where our government wants to keep us.

Eventually, this will all end, and when it does, the great respect and position into which America was vaulted after WWII will be gone. Someone else will stand in our place. I am sad to say I think it is inevitable. In the next year, if we don't close down Guantanamo Bay and stop renditions and at least begin to leave Iraq, someone will come in and make us, and they won't be alone. By the time it's all over, in six years or so, we will be sleepwalking through our own dawn of denial, remembering this foreign policy disaster as the kind of bad dream that won't fade away until long after the sun creeps under our eyelids.

The nostalgia for an America that the world respects and wants to be a part of is just that - a fond and faded memory. To that end, we must begin rebuilding a country we can live in first. We can do that by holding our incumbents responsible for their votes. Who are they trying to impress by giving Bush his warrantless wiretapping and data mining program? Does the party leadership really think this will help them next year? Congress has become the dark forest in which the administration monster hides, and from which he can attack with impunity. If we are to walk into tomorrow's daylight aware, then we must not let this forest stand. There will be plenty of time for sleep later.

-PBG

Friday, August 03, 2007

The Best Defense: Protecting the Constitution

Come Down From the Battlements

I am not inclined to follow my leaders blindly. To those who say, "Yes. But there's a war on. We have to support the president," I say, only God deserves that kind of attention from me. But even God gives us permission to ask questions, and He/She's been locking horns with Evil for millenia!

Questioning God is a tradition for my people. Abraham questions God at Sodom and Gomorrah; Moses questions God at the burning bush; even Jesus questions God as he is dying on the cross. They required no credential to ask. They sought no permit. They asked because as human beings we have the gift of giving voice to reason, and a hungry mind yearning for understanding.

As surely as America's Founding Fathers questioned the will of King George, I am allowed to ask for redress from my government.

"We the People" are the heart of the Constitution. We breathe life into it at the ballot box; we bleed life into it on the battlefield. Yet the old document's heart has been pierced by the arrows of an army of elitists. They have mounted an assault on progressive nationalism and individual liberty.

The Fight as It Is

Those who stand in our defense, stand atop a tall, broad and deep stone wall emblazoned with the Constitution. From their battlements, they fire down on to the megalomaniacal marauders' merciless attack. Somewhere on the battlefield, Cheney eats grapes and shouts orders from his litter, as his mind plots how to make the Constitution a classified document (along with the Declaration of Independence).

Though we stage our fight from high on the wall, we remain behind the great document. But this is not a position from which our defense will succeed. By keeping the Constitution between us and them, we are allowing them to take pot shots at it, daring them, really, to destroy it. We treat it like a talisman, like a cross to a vampire, but they don't shrink away. They won't stop until they have turned our Constitution into an instrument of control.

I Will Not Be Controlled

I will not be controlled by this administration. The president tells Congress he wants this. The president tells Congress he wants that. He is not in charge of me, and despite what his first six years in office may have been like, he is not in charge of Congress. He cannot tell the Congress what to do; he can only ask. He is only the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces - not the people.

The Way Forward

The way to protect the Constitution is to come out from behind it, for it is a poor shield against those who hunger for power and wealth. We must come down from the battlements, because the only way we can defend our constitutional guarantees is by standing between Bush-Cheney's sleepwalking minions and the codified liberties we strive to protect. That is where we must draw the line.

That is why we elected the Congress we did last year. They were supposed to take that ground for us, but now they buzz about in parliamentary disarray, and serve neither people nor party. So it is up to us. The only recourse we have left, the only government forum in which we can at least get our arguments a fair hearing, is in the courts.

The courts are all there is between the Constitution and those who violate her, so this is where we must choose to fight. We fight with words and with reason - the principals of our Founding Fathers. We fight because those on whom we counted, those who vowed to "protect and defend the Constitution of the United States," have broken their promise.

So open your mouth, people of reason. Ask some questions, people who seek understanding, and maybe, just maybe, God really will bless America.

-PBG

Sunday, July 01, 2007

For God and Country


"I do solemnly swear..."
"Hear O Israel the Lord our God,
the Lord is One."

"...that I will faithfully execute..."
"I believe in God, the Father Almighty
...
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord;
Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary..."
"...the office of President of the United States..."
"There is no God but Allah
and Muhammad is His prophet."

"...and will to the best of my ability..."
"This is suffering;
this is the origin of suffering;
this is the cessation of suffering;
this is the path to the cessation of suffering.
"
"...preserve, protect and defend
the Constitution of the United States."

SO, HELP ME GOD.*
*comma optional

SO HELP ME GOD: Washington, DC is not Jerusalem.
SO HELP ME GOD: The Constitution is not the word of God.
SO HELP ME GOD: The President of the United States is not descended from the House of David.

Meanwhile, the evangelical voice of the U.S. charges forward
with a programmed zeal, droning in an Orwellian trance:

Sunrise in America. It's another chance to face the light.
Why wouldn't you want to? Who wants to keep walking in darkest shadows
when one need but turn around to change direction and go toward the light?


Honestly, I hate that drivel. It is presented as if we are all bats in the shadows, flitting through the darkness after sinful and misguided prey. Sadly, they fear us, because to them, we operate hidden in a veil they cannot penetrate. It's like on those cop shows, where the suspect is interrogated in a bright room behind one-way glass, while the minions watch from a darkened space. We can see them, but they can't see us. We could be corrupting their children, and they wouldn't know it. We could be sinning and they wouldn't be able to see us, that they might save us.

I suppose it bothers them that we are blessed (you should pardon the expression) by the Constitution with a right: the right to choose how we live our lives. The door to the church is just as accessible as the door to the bar (though only relatively recently on Sundays).

With all the talk recently about the three branches of government, it is still somewhat comforting to know that Theocracy is not the fourth. Citing God as the "creator" in the Declaration of Independence does not automatically mean that we have been deified. I know there have been many polls recently that have dealt with Americans' beliefs about the existence of God. The Founding Fathers believed in God too. That doesn't mean that they wanted to establish a holy and sacred country.

In fact, the founding principle is that God loves the entire creation, that we are all imbued with rights by virtue of being a piece of that creation. The architects of our republic understood that the moment we begin to raise ourselves, to declare ourselves as better in the eyes of God and first in the heart of Destiny, we will no longer tolerate the possibility of God's blessing in others.

These days, other countries, their regimes and their people are non-grata unless and until our government bestows a "most favored" knighthood upon them. The result: what our leaders hope is setting the devil to quivering in his boots, is actually a descent into global resentment.

Humility. You were wondering how we counteract the resentment? Humility must replace blind Texas machismo. It also happens to be the one quality that defines Moses, Jesus, Muhammad and Buddha. Truth and strength will out with just a little introspection. Otherwise we're just big gorillas with small guns and lots of money.

-PBG

Monday, June 25, 2007

14th in the Arcana of Government Baddies

A Foot in Two Worlds:
Dick Cheney's Dark Journey into Temperance



Throw away your Iraqi "Most Wanted" deck and break out the old tarot cards. Thumb through the Major Arcana, and just past the 13th card - Death - and the 15th card -The Devil - stands a winged alchemist mixing potions along a river bank. One leg toes the firm ground while the other tests the water, as if about to enter. The tarot calls this card "Temperance." In the arcana of political baddies, though, he goes by another name: Dick Cheney.

The Veep has been caught squeezing the two branches of the federal government he straddles between his chubby legs, moving his butt around the saddle to whichever side suits as a support to his nefarious undertakings. If we looked hard enough, we would also see him wrapping his leg tightly around the Judiciary, if he had an extra leg. (Don't even go there. His balls may be enormous, but despite his name, his microscopic, er, manhood will never reach - I mean attain - leg status.)

The fact is, Cheney's mercurial claims of where he belongs in the arcana of our government's hydra are only a fog, meaningless arguments that only distract us from the examination of his dangerous, possibly criminal, actions. While he is talking out of the side of his crooked mouth, he is manipulating everything inside, outside above and below our constitutional, legal and social order.

Dick Cheney is a virus. To be sure, his virus-like behavior thrives in government because it is fed by corporations like Haliburton, but he is also fed by voters who - by the millions - took Cheney's unchecked, fear inducing words and actions as the strict parenting that passed for love when they were children. Tough love, indeed.

In the tarot, the Temperance card calls on us to be patient, and also to pay attention so we know when the time is right to step forward. In that I am reminded of what civil right leader and Congressman John Lewis told me in early 2005 when I complained to him about the slow pace of political change in Georgia. "Be patient," he said. "Be patient."

Temperance also indicates a new chance, an opportunity for change. This is the point in our journey when we can look forward. What journey, you ask? Well, the Major Arcana of the tarot is often described as the journey of the Self, represented by the Fool card, through life's travails, "from innocence to enlightenment."*


So if things are moving forward, that's great, right? Well, except that the next card in the arcana is The Devil, but that may not be as bad as it sounds.

Here is the good news. If we go back a few cards earlier ("Previously, on Major Arcana..."), we see the Justice card. Shining a light on Justice, as personified by the Attorney General's office, has been shadowy since John Ashcroft, though Alberto Gonzales' interpretation of justice has left a visible stain on that office.

Next on the Fool's journey comes the Hanged Man, which could be our attacking Iraq, culminating, albeit a bit literally, with Saddam's execution.

After that comes the Death card. Now that could be just about anything good that this administration touches, but what if it's the 2006 elections and the end of the Republican led Congress?

That brings us up to Temperance, this point of choice. We now, finally many would say, begin to examine Cheney. We must keep moving forward and clean this mess up.

And if, as Hugo Chavez believes, wafts of sulfur and brimstone spill from the White House, we should definitely be looking forward exposing the Devil card, for that is the confrontation even he has been waiting for all along.

-PBG




*The Everything Tarot Book - 2nd Edition, by Skye Alexander, 2006, F&W Publications, Inc., Avon, MA

Friday, June 08, 2007

Freedom in Chains

Refute Apathy
Rebuke Bush
Repatriate Freedom


What remains of Freedom's robes are threadbare, and her scalp is scabbed and scarred between clumps of matted, thinning hair. Her humid, windowless cell is an oven, where crawling cockroaches pull peeling plaster off the blistered, wet walls. Sitting on the dirty floor, in a dark corner, with her knees to her chest and her head hanging low, Freedom distresses in her exile.

It has been months since she stood hopefully by the prison door, waiting for the click of the jailer's key card, the metallic clunk of the bolt sliding back. She was waiting for the AG to greet her outside, to hand her a paper signed by the People and tell her this had all been a horrific mistake. But the door never opened. The apology never came.

"They must be very afraid of me," she mumbled in her despair. She had given them so much, even up to the very moment that, disguised as patriots, they burst into her infinite light of grace, pulled her lamp away like it was a weapon of destruction, toppled her from her ancient pedestal, loaded her on a military transport and threw her in this Caribbean dungeon.

Yet, she is not angry with them, even though she has heard that they covered the old, clear lenses of her lamp with a milky filter and stuck it in the hand of an impostor, a poser in drag, whose other arm is holding a rifle.

She cannot hold malice because Freedom knows her gift is either accepted or rejected by choice, and by her own nature, she cannot challenge choice. She leaves it up to us to do it for her. That is not her demand, but she does want us to know that we have a choice. We can challenge. In this, she is more loving and patient than the most devoted mother.

But for Freedom to even have a chance, we first have to repatriate her brother, Habeus Corpus. Without being asked if he wanted it, he is carrying something we thought might have been locked away in a secret CIA prison sometime over the last six years: the integrity of our nation.

Over the last week, the People have chosen to instigate the processes necessary to rebuke the status quo. The "Habeus Corpus Restoration Act" just came out of committee, there is bipartisan support for adopting more of the Iraq Study Group's report than the dopes in Executive want to, and the AG is about to face a no-confidence vote.

As for the fate of Freedom's evil twin, we need not concern ourselves with that, for like the cockroaches on the wall of a Guantanamo cell, it will scurry away, back into its dark hole, when Freedom's light is finally restored. I do hope we make the right choice and step up soon.

-PBG

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Presidents and Irrelevance

How quickly do the blustery storms of windy bravado become the squawks of a cold little man in the last throws of leadership!

Below thirty is not only chilly on a Fahrenheit thermometer. It's also a frosty place to be in an opinion poll, and that's where the President of the United States finds himself these days. The White House this weekend dismissed Jimmy Carter's opinion of the present administration's foreign policy as the "worst in history" by arguing that the former president and recent Nobel laureate is becoming "increasingly irrelevant." The question is, with Bush's numbers in the deep freeze, just who's opinion exactly is "irrelevant?"

The world stopped listening to George W. Bush four years ago when he launched an unprovoked, negligibly supported war in Iraq. Despite what the media called a "mandate" following the close 2004 elections, the confetti at the inauguration had not even stopped falling when the President's numbers began their slide. After getting us into an endless war and showing blind support for Michael Brown after Hurricane Katrina, does anyone really care about his opinion about what the Lebanese are doing to the Palestinian refugee camps, or whether or not he is confident of Alberto Gonzales?

We have a low opinion of the President because, like the drug addict he once was, he has shown horrible judgement. If he has poor judgement, his assessment of any situation (other than, perhaps, what his Scottish Terriers' poop smells like) is completely without weight or merit.

For some presidents, strong presidents, honorable presidents, opinions can be easily converted to calls to action. Recommendations are considered, coherent arguments are made, and a good government functions. But a president with a track record of mismanagement on - literally - a global scale, is weak and has no honor, and deserves (arguably) only the honorific of his office as a modicum of respect. He is not just a lame duck. He's just lame.

The problem is, if one day he realizes the level of his impotence, and graciously removes himself from office, we may no longer have a screaming Lilliputian on our shoulder, but we will still have to deal with the Cheney in our shoe.

But the high office of leadership is bigger than one man. Each of the three branches of government strives for the permanence of its opinions, and each wields a pen to imbed those ideas into the foundation of our government and the fabric of our society. I hope one of them has the wisdom to build the necessary consensus that will help us recover from this time of the worst US government in history.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Taking a Train to Dachau


Timeless Messages of the Past

It has recently been reported that, according to scientists, time travel into the past is probably not possible. So we are stuck with the tried and true ways of touching history: a book, a movie, a play, and travel.

Sometimes, some coins in a slot is all you need. They buy you a story, an eyeful of strobing shadows through the binocular lenses of a nickelodeon. There is also the story that unrolls itself on railroad tracks, paid for with some Euro coins in a ticket machine, and revealed through the strobing light and color of the German countryside zipping by the windows of an S-bahn train from Munich.

I took a train into a story of the past. I took a train to Dachau.

Before I left to meet my wife for a week in Germany, my brother asked me, in that goofy, cynical way he has, "Oh. Germany. Are you going to a concentration camp?" I cannot wait to tell him that I did, that I actually took a train there. It's a quirky dark irony to which, I think, perhaps only children of Holocaust Survivors can relate.

But in the interest of full disclosure, we did not actually step off a steaming train by the old gate house, waiting to be marched past the "Arbeit Macht Frei" ["Work Will Set You Free" - a cruel Nazi joke] sign in the gate door. We had to take a public bus, along with loads of other tourists, from the town of Dachau's main train station.

But this is not a travelogue. This is about a journey, a pilgrimage to a horrible place from a horrible time. It is about where the unimaginable started, and it presents an opportunity to talk about the political and social relevance to our time. After all, what began in Dachau is the scale by which all unsavory, modern political and military actions have been measured. Some say such comparisons tend to dilute, or even disrespect, the magnitude of the death of compassion those terrible times signify for so many. They may be right.

On the other hand, all those horrors that my parents and millions of others went through were allowed to happen because each call for counteraction was ignored and unheeded. In this extreme case, ignorance was not just bliss; it was murder. State sanctioned discrimination, then arrests and deportations, then pogroms and finally genocide - each happened with barely a murmur of shock from the world community.

If one defines a "holocaust" as any one of those actions being allowed to happen by an apathetic world, then it is easy to see the tragedy in the former Yugoslavia in the same terms as Darfur and in the same terms as George Bush making political arrests without due process and allowing torture. After all, the Nazis did these things too. Therefore, regardless of where one stands on the issue of comparisons, we still have a responsibility to speak against all these things, whenever and wherever they happen.

That the Nazis were permitted to commit all of these, and so many more, unimaginable horrors, shows how important it is to pay attention to each act an unrestrained government takes on its own people (or others) on their own behalf.

But using a page from the Nazi playbook does not make Cheney into Goebbels or GW into Hitler (Putin's recent allusions notwithstanding). Still, if we continue to allow any branch of our government to support and fund these bad policies, we will be just as guilty as the Germans who were mostly silent while their government ran a cold scythe across Europe. In this there is no breakdown of comparisons. Apathy is apathy.

When I stepped through the gate into Dachau, and I saw the reminders of the murder, torture, political arrests and medical experiments, I was in that time seventy years ago, feeling the dust blowing across the enormous assembly ground. Then, when I read about shipping people to a prison camp at a former armory, holding them without due process, arresting them for their political and religious beliefs, of course I thought of Guantanamo Bay and no habeus corpus and renditions that our happening while we watch.

When I got on that train to Dachau, I was traveling to a place in time that I was able to feel, to see, to learn about. When I returned to my own time, I came back with the sad, certain knowledge that the apathy that allowed Dachau to happen is still in the world.

The Universe, it seems, called on me to take notice of the timelessness of the experience. You see, the exact minute I dropped my coins into the ticket machine in Munich for that train trip back in time, my watch literally stopped.

-PBG

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Dear Texas Homeland Security Partner

The Ongoing Saga of the Love Between a Government and the State That Made Her

(based on the actual letter from Homeland Security to ranchers on the Rio Grande portion of the Texas/Mexico border)



Dear Texas Homeland Security Partner,

I know that you love the good ole' USA, and you want to support your president and favorite son in protectin' our borders. Seein' as how your land abuts right there at the Rio Grande, I'm remindin' you, in case I forgot to tell you, that, well, we gotta fence off the river. Wall it off, really. Keeps them illegal, law breakin' alien varmints out.

Rememberin' you most fondly,

Homeland Security

xxxooo

...

Dear HS,

I miss you somethin' fierce. Your letter, though, kinda rattled me. I thought we had an understanding. How can this relationship be successful if you won't give me the space to be the rancher that I am and let me water my cattle once in a while? I love you. You know I do. But we talked about this. We talked about our future together, where drones and sensors and radars in balloons would protect what we have forever. We held hands and you made promises. If I can't trust you, where does that leave us?

Your dearest partner,

Texas Rancher

...

My dear T.R.,

I am touched by your devotion, and I know I sometimes take it - and you - for granted. I am looking forward to the romantic border future of which you spoke, but I know what's best for both of us. After all, what's more important to our future than a safe, secure, impenetrable home? Surely not a few measly head of cattle. Surely not some flea bag beasties that just drink and keep migratin'. I'm looking out for our survival, not theirs. Don't you trust me? They don't love you like I do.

Can't wait til we are together again. Meanwhile, here's a little somethin' to show you just how much I care.

xxxooo, Homeland

...

Dear HS,

Please think about what you are askin' me! I'm a Texan, and I have a hard time submittin' to anyone, and no, I don't trust you! But I can't quit you neither. My ranch is your ranch; my border is your border. I know you'll do right by me. Thanks for the generosity of your little, er, gift. But say, won't the rest of the country be pissed that they're not gettin' what I'm gettin'?

I love you more,

Texas

...

Dearest TR,

I knew you'd see what was best for all of us. As for the others, they don't control me. Fact is, they don't control much (heh heh). Guess that won't keep 'em from wantin' to try to take back my recent gift to you. They are nasty that way, never wantin' you to have what you so rightly deserve. We won't let 'em come between us though. Will we? Seriously, I'm askin' you. I mean, we won't. I mean I won't if you won't.

Please?

In glory,

Your Texas Homeland Security Partner

...

Dear Homeland,

You are mine forever, as long as you keep me happy. A cowboy could get used to this. You don't think this makes me a sissy, do ya?

TR

...

Dear Texas,

Your only a sissy if I say so, and I won't call you a sissy, unless... well, you're my good bitch- I mean feller, and I and gonna let anything happen to you or your sweet backside. (Wait. did I say that? Whoa. Don't hit send. Don't hit sen--- shit!)

...

pbg

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Power Failure

Last Power Standing

Rockets and bombs, tank tracks and bullets, leave blood-soaked boots standing burnt and empty. In the flash of mortar fire, a fallen, legless marine loses his hold on purpose, and lets his life go, seeping, into the sand. "I will not be the last to die," his mind says when he finally releases. "I will not be the last."

Meanwhile, a half a planet away, the Superpower says that more are needed. More must go. More will die. They see honor in turning cannon fodder into heroes. They are doing them a favor. It's a slam-dunk.

The war goes on. The bullets cost money. The money is borrowed. I will not be the last to pay. I will not be the last. We were not asked if we wanted to pay for this war, this failure. To finance a war, we are usually asked to sacrifice. That's why in World War Two everyone had a chance to be a hero, whether you held a rifle or a rivet gun, because everyone sacrificed. So this is not stopping Hitler. This is a slam dunk, a walk in the park. It's Grenada. It's bombing Libya. Only it's not.

They want us to think this is a different kind of war. It is not, except that with this one, each death does not lead us closer to victory. These soldier's sacrifices just disappear into invisible coffins, hidden under the tainted banner of a country led by stubborn and greedy fools.

Even now, NOW, that two-thirds of the country thinks this hole thing is a colossal mistake, that we are tired of young people dying and killing for a mistake in which none of us want to share, even when the administration's integrity is smaller than the debris in a super-collider, they are still afraid to let us see and honor the soldiers' coffins. What do they have to lose by giving us at least that?

Children who have yet to be born will be paying for this war, and not just with money. Bush, Cheney, Rice and Rumsfeld didn't just send the military to war; they sent our country to war, all of us. When we finally turn off the lights on this thing, we will limp home, a weak and wounded nation. In less than ten years, the enemy we are so hot to destroy will have more political clout than we do now, and all the money will be in Russia and China.

We may have won the Cold War, but somehow, in the smoke of the World Trade Center we got turned around and did a face-plant into the hottest war in modern history.

It's time to learn that we don't have to be the biggest or the strongest or the richest country. That is not what makes us the best. It's the simple, human things that make us great, like a sense of community, a drive toward tolerance and equal opportunity, and a work ethic that revolves around creative solutions. It's all of those things coming together that make this country one of the best. Those are the reasons people still come here from all corners of the planet, even from our own backyard.

I don't care if we are powerful. I just want us to be good.

-PBG