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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.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Weeping for Thirty-three: America's Passionate Death Culture

America's Passionate Death Culture

Two Glocks........One Troubled Man.......Thirty-three Dead

The sad rains of a cold April morning chill the Virginia air with a soundless, icy weeping.

Yesterday, needless deaths in the heart of Appalachia numbed a town and a people who undeservingly find themselves in the dark abyss where fate has flung them. The echo from the pit into which a melting Blacksburg has fallen resounds with dying voices screaming, "Why?"

As a nation we cry with them, and tomorrow, or the next day, or the next week, we move on. Half- staff flags will be raised and, as the poet at today's service intoned, even the Hokies will prevail. Let's go Hokies.

But who will answer for the killed? Who will answer for the killer?
Let's go, Hokies.

The fat line of fire goes through Columbine, of course, and the horrors before and since, and stretches back to Austin in 1966.

One rifle....One troubled man...16 Dead

But is that where it started? According to a Washington Post article, historians mark the beginning of what they classify as "spree killing" at Wounded Knee, in 1890.

Four Hotchkiss guns...500 US troops...300 Lakota dead

That doesn't include other Indian massacres, or mob lynchings or KKK killings, all committed with the knowledge or support of local government authorities.

So many people killed. So many times an unconcerned society has turned away, and people who say they care about justice and rights sigh and disappear behind the glowing cloud of their TVs.

But it doesn't really matter when it started. What matters is, when will it end?

They found a receipt for a gun in Cho's backpack, perhaps the same bag where he put his laptop, pens, notebooks and iPod. What was it like, I wonder, for him to feel the butt of a pistol when he reached in to where his computer's mouse usually was? Wasn't that enough to stop him? What if he would have reached in for a gun and pulled out the mouse? Click. You're dead. Scroll to rotate the round. Click.

We kill what bothers us. Cockroaches, mosquitos, BlacksChineseMexicansArabsJewsArmeniansIrishCommiesCatholicsMormons. We don't want them around, so we kill them. You can kill anybody you want to, if your willing to face the consequences, if there are any. The NRA says the Constitution guarantees it.

And murderers. We kill them too. Life is cheap, at least, your life is, if you kill someone. And yes, it is hard not to be cynical when you're American and know that your neighbor or your classmate or your twelve-year-old could shoot you. Life is cheap.

Tell me I am wrong. Prove to me that life is valuable. What's that you say? People are life? We can't replace them? Yes, but we can always sell someone another gun.


PS. The Peace Alliance is using this to show how important a Department of Peace would be to this country. Please visit them, if you don't know about them. Kucinich is a big supporter and Marianne Williamson is one of the principals.

PPS. For those of you who haven't seen it, John and Elizabeth Edwards sent a heartfelt letter regarding Monday's tragic events to their supporters. It's currently on the splash page of his website, but in case they take it down, here it is:

"We are simply heartbroken by the deaths and injuries suffered at Virginia Tech. We know what an unspeakable, life-changing moment this is for these families and how, in this moment, it is hard to feel anything but overwhelming grief, much less the love and support around you. But the love and support is there. We pray that these families, these students, and the entire Virginia Tech community know that they are being embraced by a nation. There is a Methodist hymn that gave us solace in such a moment as this, and we repeat its final verse here, in hopes it will help these families, as it helped us:

"In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity;
In our doubt there is believing, in our life, eternity,
In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

"Our dearest wish is that this day could start again, with the promise of these young people alive. Knowing that cannot be, our prayer is for God’s grace and whatever measure of peace can be reached on this terrible day.

John and Elizabeth Edwards"

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Barack in Atlanta: Real Deal vs. Real Ideal

There are many among us for whom political rhetoric is like a tampon commercial. We groan at the grossness and change the channel. Just like a tampon, the parties push their elite politicians on us whenever a new cycle comes around. They hope that we will buy into the promise of a worry free life, where pain, stain and embarrassment are things of the past. It's our rights as Americans not to have to worry, and, by God and George Washington (and Alfred E. Newman) the uncandid candidates insist that if we elect them, our concerns about money and health, war and education, will abate.

Then there's Barack Obama, the Democratic senator from Illinois whose rhetoric seems to be on an entire other level. He doesn't tell us not to worry. He doesn't tell us everything is going to be OK once we elect him.

This past Saturday, Barack Obama took his message to my backyard, and spoke in front of a crowd of over 20,000 people at Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

Whether he is, as his campaign claims "the real deal," I don't know. What I do get is that his ideals are in the right place. This is not some Pollyanna politico. This is someone who understands that change doesn't start when we "hold our noses" at the voting booth, as he put it. He understands that change comes through action.

"Change happens when people come together," he told the crowd. He said that politically, "we have a tradition that says we are united as a people," and that we have "mutual responsibilities to each other."

This is where I am turned on. The present administration, and many of the candidates in the 2008 Presidential race (including some popular Democrats), say that our responsibility is to support them, and their agenda, and believe they will take care of everything. But then they fail and they spin the failures. "And when we don't believe the spin," Obama said, they "blame it on gay people, on immigrants, on Democrats."

"I am ready to lead this country and take responsibility for the challenges we face," he said.

The funny thing is, when he got to the typical, "but I can't do it alone" pitch, Barack Obama did not ask for money or time. He wanted us to understand that "all of us have a stake in a better America."

"When ordinary people stand up and do extraordinary things," he said, "We create American history." Sure, a cynic could see his rhetoric in describing the results of historic action as affecting all Americans (not just African Americans, or Native Americans, or Asian Americans, or European Americans), as an appeal to the historic moment his possible election portends. But it's equally true that we haven't had a leader this committed to change probably since Lincoln.

Make no mistake. The change is not that we would have our first ever African American president, though that's a huge thing. The change is that we could have a president that believes in activism in the way the Kenndeys did. There really is potential here for a new vision of being an American.

I've said in many recent posts that we need an activist candidate, and Barack Obama certainly has that credential, at least in his past. The cool thing is he is inviting all of us to be a cause for change, to take responsibility, whether we support him or not. That speaks to me.

"It's time," he said, "for us to kick off our bedroom slippers and put on our marching shoes."

Well, I'm letting my fingers do the marching for now. I hope, dear readers, that you are at least as motivated as I am.

One more thing: despite how impressed I was with the Senator's appeal, I am not necessarily ready to endorse him. HOWEVER, the beauty of the size of the field and the time until the election is that I can support the message of many candidates with the purpose of empowering them to reach as many ears and eyes and hearts as possible.

Endorsements get closed in a campaign's steamer trunk to show off along the trail. An empowered candidate gives back because they know that people like them and what they have to say. It's like a beautiful circle, where we acknowledge the possibility of their vision and they acknowledge the viability of a vision that has such broad support. They keep giving voice to it and we keep talking about it. It's ideal!


Monday, April 09, 2007

Manifest Destiny: The Crusaders in the Capitol

This is my response to the "Blog Against Theocracy" blogswarm that I missed this weekend. Please check out all the entries by following the link.

(Tengrain of Mock, Paper, Scissors designed the "Blog Against Theocracy" logo.)

When a government is allowed to hold its people hostage at the end of a crusader's sword, assembling armies of red-tie legislators and black-robed judges, spouting totalitarian, pseudo-religious, master race moral superiority, it is our own moral imperative to draw a line in the sand and hold it. Manifest Destiny may have been a convenient excuse to build this country, but it is a weak and insecure administration that uses a land grab policy as a way to take control of the moral compass line we toe.

I used to think that Americans were smart enough to know when this type of abuse of might had gone too far. I always thought there were enough of us who saw through political demagoguery to know the difference between political pandering and god-awful policy. It seems I was wrong.

Even the changes in Congress last year are only a burp, more about Iraq than anything related to God and morals.

The problem is we count on politicians to do right by us much in the same way some parents expect their children's teachers to parent their kids. It is a responsibility we cannot, must not, abdicate to those in power. They will only do as much as they can get away with, and maybe slightly more if there's enough money involved.

God, like good character, starts in the home, not on Capitol Hill. Like past mistakes, one's feelings toward God should inform one's actions, not control them. If those who would put our necks to the sword could understand that, perhaps they would stop trying to control the rest of us.


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Dialog for Peace

Thank you, Nancy Pelosi, for being forward thinking and courageous in visiting Damascus.

Political solutions are not properly presented on a dingy platter of empty diplomacy, especially when a reluctant administration only presents a pissed-on tray covered with the paper doily of dogmatic idealism.

It is true the al-Assad is more bitter enemy than best friend, and not undeservingly so. His interests and ours nearly always diverge. Yet Syria must be engaged in dialog, not in spite of its roles in Lebanon and Iraq, but because of them. This is not some banana republic-like "rogue" regime. The Assads have run Syria for decades. You'd have to be smoking some pretty cosmic Lebanese hash to think they are going anywhere.

Any diplomatic engagement must be viewed as a positive step. It's "a more practical approach," Ziad Haider, a Lebanese journalist, told the New York Times. Practical, he says, because it represents change, the prospect of a US foreign policy not "based on demands and ideology."

So thank you, Ms. Pelosi. It is a shame that the 2008 presidential candidates appear to be afraid to take the stand that you have taken here. I hope that in twenty months, when - God willing - we get back in the White House, we will be presenting attractive options to all the players in this seemingly intractable region.

Those who advocate the current paradigm of the silent treatment think that other countries quake to find themselves on our shit list. It's obvious to me that this policy prolongs distrust and potentially breeds more anger and resentment toward the United States, when we should be looking for ways to mitigate their powerful hatred. But more than resentment, I think they and the rest of the world are disappointed in the misguided policies we have allowed our government to pursue in our name. I know I am.

It is time to clean the idealistic crud from the diplomatic tray. I don't know what morsels of the diplomacy we proffer to the Syrians or Iranians they will find to their liking. What I do understand is that our commitment will be much better demonstrated by offers presented respectfully, on a gleaming silver tray, than by Bush's ridiculously parental tone in threatening to use the platter as a blunt object on our enemies' backsides. That's no offer at all.

If your cause is peace, your dogma must be dialog.