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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Looking for JIM HIGHTOWER's List

Early in my Liberal Indoctrination Period (LIP - as my parents used to threaten, "Don't give me any LIP, young lady!"), I read Jim Hightower's book, Thieves In High Places. If you're familiar with Hightower, you'll remember that when he first made an entrance on the Internets, he wrote only in CAPITAL LETTERS. It's as if he had to shout because he is so short. When I went to his website just now, I noticed he's STILL writing in caps, but somebody must have had a sit-down with him because thankfully, the entire website isn't written in caps, just 40% of it. But, he's OLD, so we must give him a break.

In contrast, there was this fascinating section of the book, hidden somewhere in the middle, that was written in the teeniest tiniest almost unreadable font - a list (pages and pages and pages) of all the sneaky legislation that the Bush administration had managed to slip past the sleeping or Nintendo-playing American voters and the completely useless (or completely useful, from BushCo's point of view) press. That list horrified me. Therefore, I've never forgotten it.

Now, let's speed-dial forward to the 2008 presidential election. For the last two years, in the back of my mind, I've been hoping that somebody, even a disgruntled Republican, would publish an equally horrifying (or completely delightful, from my point of view) list of sneaky legislation that No Drama Obama and his Marxist Minions had managed to pass, late on Friday nights, behind the collective back of the media, because by noon on Friday, they (the Media, not the Marxists) were all drooling over their whiskeys and slurrily lamenting to each other about the demise of the esteemed institution of journalism due to pajama-clad, teetotalling (or perhaps teatotalling) bloggers.

(Of course, I'm not insinuating that alcohol is behind the demise of journalism, because alcohol and journalists have been best friends for decades - those same decades where journalists actually researched and reported things and managed to write in long-form, an almost extinct style. But these days, true journalists are hard to find, and those left to do the reporting are asleep at the wheel and probably not from too much alcohol. More likely, they've drunk too much inside-beltway Kool-Aid or are very tired from chasing after Sarah Palin.)

Anyhoo! (Wow, I got a little sidetracked there.) No such list of Obama's stealth legislation, to my knowledge, has surfaced.

In 2007, while BushCo was still busy destroying the Middle East and the world's economy, Nancy Pelosi announced the 100-Hour Plan, detailing the actions her party would pursue in the 110th Congress. I got all excited, hoping that she had just Xeroxed Hightower's list and would start at the top and not sleep until all of BushCo's sneakiness was overturned. Alas, no such luck.

(But Nancy CAME THROUGH WITH HER PROMISE and passed all but one of the items on the list - recommendations of the 9/11 commission - IN 87 HOURS. I'm writing in caps not because I want to be just like Jim Hightower, but because I'm pissed off that Democrats fail so miserably at getting this positive information etched into the brains of the American people, including my own. Republicans can make "death panels" a nationwide household phrase, remaining top-o-mind to this day, even though it's a complete lie, but Democrats can't even get "Increased Minimum Wage" on a hand-written poster.)

Anyhoo! (Wow. I really got sidetracked there.) All of this blabbering is just a lengthy prelude to the current question on my mind... Now that Democrats lost their House majority, will they finally resort to sneakiness? Will they start shoving things through late at night and during recesses? Oh please please please? CAN I SEND THEM HIGHTOWER'S LIST TO USE AS A REFERENCE? (Maybe if it's in caps they might see it.) I imagine the real question isn't just will they get sneaky (as in, do they have the will), but also, can they?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Breaking My Silence on Meg Whitman

I've been tracking the 2010 political race almost as much as I've tracked previous races, but with one exception: California Republican candidate for Governor, Meg Whitman. Why did I ignore her race? Because my niece is working the campaign.

I'm already walking a thin line with my family when it comes to politics. It would be a huge understatement to say that my family and I don't see eye to eye. But I love and admire my niece, so I wanted to stay out of her way. But tomorrow is D-Day and I sincerely doubt that my tiny little blog will get enough attention to sway any votes.

My niece came out of the womb smarter than all of us (even if she didn't have any hair. :-) She graduated from Santa Clara with a double major in communications and political science. She has a passion for politics that seems to be in the genetic code of the females in our family. She's been in love with the same guy, a Democrat by the way, oh, since high school or maybe earlier. But she had the maturity to pursue her dreams - first by taking a semester in London and second by going to work in Washington, DC right out of college - even though these things took her far away from her boyfriend, now husband. Obviously, I'm proud of her.

I've scratched my head a few times, wondering how she could be so smart and still be a Republican. I just figured that she was of the fiscal conservative, pro-business type and not the fringe Tea Party ignorant hater type.

I was relieved that at least she's working for a candidate that isn't a freak show. Whitman isn't a religious fanatic with the burning desire to force Christianity upon America, its government or its people. She's not an experienced politician but she's an experienced business woman - and since big business has traditionally voted Republican, this is a major asset for her campaign. Especially since California is in a fiscal crisis and Whitman has a track record for growing businesses and charitable organizations and her own wealth. To me, the pursuit of wealth isn't bad, as long as it's balanced with giving. And Whitman has done a great deal of that. She's a woman and I want to see more viable women run for office, from both sides of the aisle. She has a brain, which is refreshing, compared to O'Donnell and Palin, who are an embarrassment to all women.

Even while avoiding any news about Whitman, I couldn't avoid one of the ugly ads that played over and over again, ad nauseum, while I was watching Jon Stewart's Daily Show online. I "spoofed" my browser to make it look like I lived in the US so that I could watch the full episodes of Stewart and Colbert. With this spoofing, came the ads before, during and after the shows. The ad is about "Bobble-head Meg." It pisses me off to no end. I don't even know the content of the ad, because I can't get past somebody making a candidate into a bobble head. It's sexist. It's personal. And it distracts from real issues. These kind of attacks have plagued all women candidates. I will look forward to the day when the press and opponents of female candidates can stop making attacks related to their gender, personal appearance or clothing. O'Donnell is a joke of a candidate, but this recent stuff about her one-night stand a million years ago was disgusting. I know, she's from the religious right and so, they aren't aloud to have one-nighters in their past, supposedly. (My God, I can never run for office.)

I also don't like how Whitman's referred to as "Queen Meg" in a song by the band SCHWARZENATOR. They like to dismiss her work track record as irrelevant and imply that it can't be translated into managing "the 8th largest economy in the world." Yeah, but the action figure movie star the band honors was perfectly qualified for the same job.

So, what are the real negatives about Whitman (caveat - I haven't researched them all)? In her pre-political life, she supported environmental causes with huge funding. Unfortunately (I say this from a Democratic POV), probably in order to maintain the business vote, she changed her stance in this area.

She also may have an anger problem, at least she did have (shoving a female employee), which cost her company a six-figure settlement. But after that size of a settlement, if anybody else had a legitimate gripe or had just been nudged by her in the hallway, they would have been coming out of the woodwork with lawsuits. So, this may have been a one-time mistake that she learned from.

She also is using the unfortunate Glenn Beckish Tea Partyish "Take Back" slogan: "My bus, right there, it's called the 'Take Back Sac Express' because we're going to take back California for our children and our grandchildren." Ugh. From whom? Who is the unspoken boogieman? Could it be insinuating that she needs to take back California from the scary brown (or gay) hoard? I hope not. perhaps she means that she, a Republican, is taking California back from Schwarzenegger, a Republican? I don't get it, probably because there's nothing to get. I would bet it's just a clever way to make the "thar tekkin' arr jobs!" people feel like Meg's on their side.

Her stance on same-sex marriage? She voted for Prop 8. Terrible. But probably strategic, politically. She needs the conservative hater vote (sorry, but that's the only way to put it). I don't know how she would get around this, except to a) be a Democrat or b) take a brave, compelling, humanistic stand. Her reason for voting against prop 8? She thinks marriage is a religious term that should be between a man and a woman. As Chris Kelly translates, "Marriage is strictly a religious idea, and that's why I voted to have it written into state law." (From queerty.com) She's also under the false impression (I'll be nice & assume she's just uninformed, which is STILL no excuse), as unfortunately many voters are as well, that civil partnerships give same-sex couples all the rights they need. There's a long list of rights that come with marriage that don't come with civil unions, starting with no social security benefits can be paid to the surviving partner of a civil union and federal immigration laws do not offer the foreign civil union partner the same visa or citizen path that is available to married couples. (Many more differences here.)

I can't believe that the Christian right hasn't attacked her as a secret gay lover, though. After all, she was the one who imported the Teletubbies TV show to America. She HAD to have known that Tinky Winky, with his purple color, triangular antenna and handbag was secretly indoctrinating America's children to turn them into The Gay. Luckily for Meg, Jerry Falwell died and there was nobody to take up his Tinky Winky Torch. (And soon, all those secret gay children will be grown up and with a radar beam from Tinky Wink's triangular antenna, they will begin to vote. Mwahahaha!)

And then, of course, there's the 8-year employment of an undocumented (or false-documented) immigrant as a housekeeper. It's hard for anyone to believe that Whitman and her husband "didn't know" that their long-time employee was in the country illegally. But if she did know, she fumbled by letting the housekeeper go (how this happened is still open to speculation). She would have gained much more respect if she, knowing she was going to run for governor and that an undocumented employee was a liability, helped her employee get a work visa and made this process public. She could have preached to big business about the benefits of assisting qualified workers to gain legal status. She would have gained the respect of Latino voters, who are often dismissed as liberals or as inconsequential to the campaign. But In 2008, Latinos represented almost 22% of the registered voters and turnout in California and also in California, in 2008, Latinos represented 29% of the Democratic votes for President and 13% or 317,610 Republican votes (Stats Word File). 300K possible Latino Republican votes probably shouldn't be ignored.

The undocumented worker conundrum is problematic. Since the far right has decided to use it as an emotional rabble-rousing fear and hate football, all normal, productive solutions-oriented discussion has become impossible and any candidate is in between a rock and a hard place on this issue. Undocumented workers, whose only crime is that they want to live in a better place and make more money, are hired all the time, by people of all political persuasions, including the loudest mouths in the anti-immigrant movement. Some of the biggest mouths have been busted (Dobbs for one, but there have been more) and then crucified for their hypocrisy, as they should be. Whitman's opposition to Arizona's recent anti-immigrant law and her choice of moderate, Latino Republican Abel Maldonado as her Lt. Gov. running mate, positions her as a more sane voice in this hot potato issue, but all this was drowned out by the salacious media story of her former housekeeper.

If I were really researching this candidate, I'd dive into some of the allegations that:
  • Her charitable trust has supported only environmental causes that are backed by big business (but I have to say, the group she supports, the Environmental Defense Fund, has a long list of amazing accomplishments)
  • One of her recipient organizations was preserving meadows in Telluride, Colorado, where she and her husband own a condo and a dude ranch (I guess this could be seen both ways - because she's part of the community, she wants to help that community or she only cares about the meadows because it would infringe on her land. I'd go for the former, based on her past environmental track record.)
  • Her trust has been used as an off-shore (Caymans) tax haven. This doesn't surprise me, because all billionaires (and their accountants) constantly look for tax havens. I don't like it. I wish billionaires would pay their fucking taxes instead of devising ways to avoid them, but there you go.
  • A too-close relationship to Goldman Sachs. I don't have time to dive into this, but she has promised to eliminate any investment conflicts of interest if elected, by using a blind trust. This is a common and viable path that has been and is still used by elected officials on both sides of the aisle.

I don't live in California anymore, but if I did, I'd vote for Jerry Brown. I'm a Democrat, after all. But if I did live in California, I wouldn't be terrified and looking for an escape route, if Brown lost and Whitman were elected. It's why I'm voting (at the last minute, of course) in the Arizona race, since Governor Jan Brewer has made Arizona a pariah state and is a menace to sane Arizonans, especially those with brown skin. I have to vote, because the alternatives are frightening.

But Meg Whitman doesn't scare me. I just disagree with her. I'm sure that those in the know can add other negative issues or educate me on those issues that I've dismissed. But the bottom line - she isn't a freak show. And that's refreshing in this insane campaign.

I also really like that she once managed Mr. Potato Head. Since Meg Whitman and I are only one year apart in age, I imagine that she and I were sticking eyes, ears and noses into potatoes at around the same time. She in Long Island, me in Philly. She, like me, also graduated from high school in three years instead of four. High five!

You see, after attending Stewart and Colbert's Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear (in Paris - couldn't go to DC), I'm looking for sane candidates and trying to find the common denominator on which we as individual citizens, along with our elected representatives, can begin to build trust and discover solutions. I can see me, Meg and my niece (unless she's horrified at this idea), casually chatting at Meg's conference table, playing with Mr. Potato Head. We all might be surprised at the outcome.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Loathing of Juan William's Fear

I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia. My dad had guns and ammo ready for the inevitable day when The Blacks would enter our home to kill us. Years later, after we moved to Arizona where The Blacks were and are still hard to find, I helped my dad sell his guns to a hunter-cowboy (as in hunter-gatherer, since cowboy hunter could have more than one meaning). My mom feared communists more than black people (evidenced by the proud hanging of a portrait in her living room of a black New Orleans clarinetist - her appreciation of music trumped prejudice) but had a special loathing for The Black Communist, Martin Luther King.

So, I was raised in the world of fear and loathing of The Other, which I don't think was an exceptional experience in the 60s and 70s. Somehow, I knew that this fear wasn't right. But there's a difference between the visceral fear of the outsider that rises from the primitive nether regions of our being and the (hopefully) secondary impulse of reason or (hopefully not) knee-jerk, thoughtless action. Rational thought overcomes irrational fear. If we're conscious of the fact that all humans have irrational primitive fears, then we know that reasoned thought should always sit between the irrational fear and any action we choose to take.

At the age of 13 or so, I snuck out with my friends, dressed in my forbidden jeans and fringed tie-up knee-high moccasins and wandered around Philly's hip 69th street - full of record stores, head shops and, um, black people. I was fearful, but fascinated. Was I a little hipster wannabe hypocrite (admiring soul music but fearing the soulful)? Well, yes.

What I'm getting at here is that I'm guilty. Yes, I'm a liberal and a progressive and I support movements to protect "outsiders" or the disenfranchised from abuse. But, I'm still guilty of having primitive fear of The Other. Hell, I'm afraid to leave my apartment to go to the grocery store sometimes, which is irrational. But I know, after much thought, that there really is nothing to fear and because of this, I doubt I'll ever picket the grocery store or join the anti-grocery-store movement. (Just for fun, substitute New York Mosque for grocery store in the last two sentences.) I also hang on to things my ex boyfriend used to say to me about lesbians (there's a lot of unreasonable jealousy and domestic violence in lesbian relationships and lesbian hairdressers will make me look gay) and have a hidden fear of hanging out with lesbians. But I vehemently and actively support the gay marriage movement and follow gay blogs and have lots of gay friends who follow my blogs. Am I a gay-wannabe hypocrite (admiring the gay life but fearing the gayness [uh-oh!])? Well, yes.

One day this summer, while going through security at Charles de Gaulle airport on my way to Athens, I was behind a guy who refused to unzip his carry-on for the security lady. She kept demanding in French, and demonstrating with her hands, that he unzip his bag. He just kept babbling in another language and then got his phone out and turned away from the guard and nervously started dialing. She asked in French, "What language do you speak?" and he mumbled Italiano and ducked away again for some more furious dialing. I couldn't help him with the Italian, but he wasn't looking for any help from me. I just kept thinking, "This isn't rocket science, just unzip the bag like the big getting-annoyed guard is asking you to."

I moved around him and started to put all my clothes and jewelry back on and gather up my bags. My travel companion was still going through security, so I leaned against the wall next to another security guard to watch the show. By now, the guard was summoning other guards and the crazy guy was ducking and dialing and walking in ever-larger concentric circles. Finally, as he swept by me, I heard him frantically talking to someone on his phone...in Arabic. How do I know this? Because I have neighbors who speak Arabic all the time, while the three daughters (one in full burqa and the other two in tight, sexy Western clothes) translate my English or lousy French into Italian and then Arabic so their mother can get my jokes.

My travel companion came up to me and we walked towards the gate. I joked that a terrorist had been trying to get through security ahead of me. We laughed. And then I surreptitiously kept an eagle eye out for the guy for the entire time we waited for our plane to board. I didn't want him to be on my plane.

I looked for his fellow conspirators in the waiting area. What was I looking for? Young men, with or without beards, who looked like terrorists. Go ahead, you can call me Jan Brewer or Sheriff Joe Arpaio or... Juan Williams.

This nervous guy was somehow allowed to enter the boarding area. I was sure he'd be carted off to the dungeon under the airport. But there he was, still nervous. He stayed at the far end of the boarding area so I was praying to The-God-I-Don't-Believe-In that he would board another plane. I didn't jump up to board our plane first (which is what I always do). I waited until the last person boarded and then saw him coming our way. I boarded, but in the process of getting into my seat, I didn't actually see if he got onto the plane. I worried, a little, throughout the flight. I felt the fear, then used rational thought to stop me from making a fake trip to the bathroom to see if I could spot him and then heroically dive on him before he could ignite his underpants.

I do all this worrying under the guise of a perfectly calm, liberal face.

You know what else I'm guilty of (if you missed it, read above)? This: "Me? Prejudiced against lesbians and Muslims? That's impossible. Didn't you just hear me say I have lesbian and Muslim friends?"

Anyway, enough (for now) about me and my hypocrisy. Let's talk about Juan Williams. As I listened to him make his job-losing statement about his fear of people in Muslim garb, I first thought, "Yup. Me too. Thanks for being honest." Then I thought, "This could be a Shirley Sherrod moment." You know, where she was telling a story about her own prejudice and how she came to terms with it and changed her behavior. But, unfortunately, that wasn't the case.

The sin here, with Juan Williams, is not that he has such thoughts, but that he, as a respected American journalist, legitimized irrational fears in a public forum, on a network which is known for right-wing inflammatory rhetoric, to an audience that is known to be gullible, without offering a path towards redemption for having these irrational fears. He did clarify that America must protect the constitutional rights of all citizens and prevent bigotry, but, and of course there's a but, we can't forget the connection between 9/11 and Islamic radicalism. So, he rationalized his fears and gave them legitimacy. And anyway, the hate cat was already out of the bag.

What was missing in his non-apology? Oh, discussion of and outreach to non-radical Muslims.

How do we get past irrational fears of The Other? By getting to know The Other. There are two paths we can all take after 9/11. Batten down the hatches, sound the alarms, be ever watchful against this vague enemy and wait for the ever-impending doom. (This is a great way to keep Americans off balance, by the way, and distracted from what our government is really doing and also fills the coffers of the military industrial complex.) Or, we can, as a government and a nation of people, go meet every Muslim we can find and put together a plan, in partnership, where the voices and actions of sanity drown out the voices of radicalism and terror. There is huge power in partnership and positive, forward movement based on greater understanding. It is also a lot cheaper, and it causes fewer lasting wounds, to get to know The Other, than to bomb them.

Will Shirley Sherrod ever forget her prejudice against white people? I doubt it. After all, it wasn't just a slight or insult here and there. It was generations of abuse that exists in her individual consciousness and in the collective unconscious of her people. Will Jews forget The Shoa? Should Native Americans forget how we purposely killed them and forcefully moved them to reservations? Should anyone ever forget that America, in concert with Iraqis and in collusion with other nations, tortured people? No. But instead of hating the past, we eventually need to learn from it and move towards healing the future.

Will I ever evolve my irrational fears of The Other? Probably. Because I don't have a generational abuse issue in my DNA. Some Americans would disagree with me on that - the ones who pretend to be victimized (i.e. reverse discrimination, Fred Phelps and Juan Williams claiming their constitutional right to free speech has been violated, and "we want our country back!" and "thar tekkin' arr jobs!" and "that Mosque is on hallowed ground!!"), but in truth, we have no Shoa, no small pox blankets, no enslavement that could hinder our evolution from irrational prejudice to enlightened oneness with all human beings.

Just living in my ethnic neighborhood in Paris, full of Muslims, Halal shops and restaurants (especially my favorite Terrorist Pizza place) has opened up my eyes and heart. (Not quite enough yet to stop me from counting swarthy bearded men in airports and train stations - but give me time.)

I think that redemption is within me, if I choose to apply the light of reason to my darkest thoughts and reach out to The Other.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Review: Charlie Wilson's War (book)

After I read three books about Afghanistan (Taliban, Stones Into Schools, Three Cups of Tea), Jayne Martin of injaynesworld, suggested that I read George Crile's 2003 book Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History.

So, what do I say? I've been pondering it for days. I guess I'll start by talking about what I thought and felt as I read it...

I wondered, throughout the book, about the author's political leanings. But this was as hard to discern as Charlie Wilson's (Wilson's Wiki). Wilson was a Democratic US representative from Texas (of all places) and an advocate of typically liberal issues such as utility regulation, ERA, the pro-choice movement, Medicaid and minimum wage. At the same time, he was an unapologetic and even proud womanizer, drug user and alcoholic. But he was also a fervent anti-communist with a strong dislike of the Soviets and a friend of right-wing dictators like Nicaragua's Somoza and Pakistan's Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. Nobody is a purist, but this guy seemed to be all over the map. But what lured him into the plight of Afghanistan's insurgency against the Soviet occupation was his strong passion for the underdog, particularly his own. His childhood dog, that is. A politician poisoned his dog, so Charlie drove to the black neighborhoods and picked up enough voters to make the politican lose by just 16 votes. That was when Charlie first learned, at the age of 13, how to kick somebody's ass through politics.

It's interesting, my use of the words "kick somebody's ass." Ass kicking seemed to be the overriding theme of the book and such an attractive phrase in America (just look at our film industry) and yes, in my own mind. Because once, I was the underdog and was saved by a couple of ass kickers.

From 1985 to 1991 I worked for a Huntsville, Alabama engineering software and hardware firm called Intergraph. Intergraph is and was a major defense contractor and while there, I gave some electronics design demonstrations to several nameless US government or military "spooks." Intergraph was heavily involved with NASA and the space program but also involved in mapping, GIS and Patriot missile systems for the first gulf war. It was full of the swashbuckling, cowboy, no-holds-barred kind of guys - starting with the company owner. I was saved twice, by two different guys, from abuse and harassment on the job. In addition to having a kind of slavering admiration of manly men men, I was really grateful to these two for helping me.

So, when I started reading this book about Charlie Wilson, I could feel all those old feelings bubbling up inside of me. Awe. Attraction. Admiration. But I'm older now. And not so easily seduced. I now know the down side of hanging out with these types of guys and it's not pretty. After the victory and glory, they still are fallible, sometimes dangerous, human beings.

Charlie Wilson and his counterpart in the CIA, Gust Avrakotos, were portrayed as the quintessential stereotypical American cowboys: fearless, rough necks, socially crass, rule breakers, straight talkers (i.e. no bullshit), patriots and manly men. They cussed, they worked around obstacles or pushed them roughly out of the way and they crusaded fearlessly to help the underdog Afghans defeat their mutual enemy - dirty commie Soviets. Using politics, spy-novel secrecy and American money and technology (i.e. Military Industrial Complex), they dual-handedly fought and won a proxy war against the meanies by helping Afghan tribesmen shoot down Soviet jets and helicopters who were implementing a scorched-earth policy: destroy everything (people, homes, dogs, crops...) in their path, from the air.

It's a high, being a cowboy. It's like cocaine - short spurts of genius followed by longer periods of depression and neurosis, which makes us want more cocaine. It's like sex - the more perverse we get, the more we seek out bigger perversions. And war is just as addicting as cocaine and sex. It's an adrenaline rush. It's manly. We get to kick some (insert enemy here) ass! We get to rule over our sex partners. Compared to this, peace is a sad and dull replacement. It's no wonder that the peace movement is looked upon as ineffective and weak. I suppose you could get high meditating, but I've never gotten THAT high meditating.

I may be anti-war, but I have war inside myself. I don't fight with guns, just words. But words can be as harmful as bullets and my anger can sometimes be nuclear. In the face of my declared enemies (neoconservatives, Bush, Cheney, AIPAC/Zionists, fundamentalists of all types, organized religion, Palin, Beck, Limbaugh, Malkin, Colter, Fox News...), I don't wish them dead, but I want them to just "go away." I seek their annihilation from public discourse. I want MY world view to be THE world view and everybody who doesn't agree with me just needs to get the fuck out of my way. It's why I and the author of this book and many Americans, secretly or openly admire ass kickers. I suppose I'm tame, since I'm just an unknown blogger and not bombing buildings, but I'm not productive. I'm not getting anything done. I'm not helping people evolve towards peace.

According to the book, the unsung hero of the Afghan/Soviet war was a low-level, nerdy (meaning, not a swashbuckling, sexy cowboy) CIA desk jockey named Michael Vickers. Avrakotos was smart enough to know that Vickers was smarter than him and thus employed him in Charlie Wilson's War. Vickers was the antithesis of Wilson and Avrakotos: quiet, polite, calm, methodical, a friend of numbers, taking the time to analyze all possible facets of a situation and then defining the perfect, and I mean perfect, strategy. Then he could quietly and methodically sell that strategy, anticipating every objection and backing up all premises with facts and numbers. If it wasn't for Vickers, Wilson would have made an expensive mess of things, crashing through the world visiting weapons manufacturers, both viable and not so viable, until he found the right camel-mounted heli-killing cannon. Avrakotos, even though he pushed the CIA way beyond their hands-off approach, leaned in the direction of secrecy. Vickers was smack dab in the middle. He took big risks that were backed up with facts instead of Charlie-style emotion and he convinced CIA elite to more openly support the fight.

The book didn't really say whether Vickers joined in on all the emotional war dances inside Avrakotos' CIA war room. I don't know if he too had life-sized posters above his desk of romantic, exotic, Lawrence of Arabia-style Afghans sitting on camels toting their Stinger missiles. But, I doubt he did. The interesting thing about Vickers is that he knew the precise moment when his plan began to work and because his plan was perfect, he knew when he was finished. He also looked around at the structure and history of the CIA and knew he would never go anywhere there. He was not just a war strategist. He applied his skills to his own life. He quietly and calmly left the CIA and left Avrokotos feeling like he'd lost his right arm.

Where would the world be if somebody hadn't kicked Hitler's ass? Would the Soviets still be in power and currently running the Middle East if the Afghans and our Stinger missiles hadn't kicked their collective ass? Where would I be if my two Intergraph anti-heroes hadn't kicked some ass to save me? I don't know the answer to the first two questions. I'm not a scholar of history, international relations or war. But I do know the answer to the last question. I might not have needed to be saved, if I had developed my inner Vickers. I didn't need to kick anyone's ass or find someone to kick ass for me. I just needed to pluck the war out of my own body, set aside my emotions and calmly, like a nerd, plot my career strategy and leave that crazy place.

I don't blog much anymore. I got too emotional. I didn't feel like I was moving anything or anybody towards any kind of new world view. With a little time and some deep thought, I've achieved a broader vision. Like Charlie and his addiction to self-destructive behavior, today's world is addicted to the myth of the Charlie Wilson style warrior. Charlie Wilson and his pals unquestionably assisted in the downfall of the Soviet Union, so there is some merit in this story. But until the world evolves towards a more peaceful approach to world affairs and takes the war needle out of its arm, nothing much will change. When the mystique of the peaceful warrior becomes more powerful in the world's collective consciousness, more time and money and energy will be spent building than destroying.

Until then, I need to go inward, point my finger back at myself and replace my hidden but waning admiration for war power and my addiction to the false power behind my own war of words, with the attitudes and building blocks of peace.

As an interesting aside, when I entered keyword tags for this post, all the keywords I needed to use - war, Afghanistan - had been used before in my previous posts. Except for peace.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Wendy's: Real? Not Really.

I don't watch TV very often. I don't own one. I owned one for a while when I lived in the states, but it sat like a boat anchor on my bedroom table or on a cabinet in my living room and never had cable juice coursing through its veins until two momentous occasions: 9/11 and the arrival of a new boyfriend. Both occasions temporarily got me all riled up, but now, not so much.

However, to maintain my sense of humor while sorting through the moldy cheese, rotten vegetables, wormy meat scraps and bloated fish guts of the vast rotting wasteland of American politics (Wow, even I'm impressed by that sentence), I need to watch Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Somehow, it gives me hope that those two brilliant guys (and their brilliant writers) can still manage to make jokes - 4 days a week! - about the compost bin of American media and the mostly-pasty-white-guy world of America's corporate-owned politics.

I also like to watch Rachel Maddow. She's not as funny, but she's so smart, like genius smart, that she makes me proud to be a woman.

But, let's get back to America being corporate-owned. I'm including our illustrious media in this sweeping but true generalization, of course. So, for me living in France, that means I'm blocked from watching American TV shows online. The Comedy Central mouthpieces say it's because they don't have advertising rights in my country. Because, ya know, advertisers really dictate where these independent (hahaha!) television companies can show their ads, er, I mean, independent TV shows.

But, I'm a geek. So I found a way around those bastards. I installed an add-on for Firefox that makes me look like I live in Ohio (or maybe Wasilla, right on Sarah Palin's Russia-gazing porch). It's called "X-Forwarded-For Spoofer" or spoofing, for short. This online anarchy allows me to watch the full episodes of Stewart and Colbert, instead of having to watch tiny, edited-down segments.

It also means that now, like all patriotic American consumers, I also have to watch the ads. So, I guess there's no way to get around those bastards after all. But at least I can catch up on  the audacity of corporate propaganda and actually be hip to the latest Old Spice mania. Old Spice. The cologne that Jim Gardner, my first-ever date, bathed in prior to donning his Inspector Clouseau trench coat, climbing into the back seat of his dad's Mercury, directing his dad to my house, where he didn't have to face my mother or father, but just our babysitter, Mrs. Schick. From there, his dad dropped us off at the movies, where Jim yawned in order to put his arm around me and then, before the credits rolled, escorted me out back behind the theatre so he could steal one fat, lolling tongue kiss. All I remember is how giant his tongue was and how disgusting his perfume.

But, with the power of clever and humorous advertising with a deep-voiced handsome dude named Isaiah Mustafa, Old Spice is having the revival of its life. It still smells like crap, though.

Meanwhile, Wendy's - a giant, global, fast-food restaurant - has a brand spanking new campaign with the tag line: You know when it's real. And yet again: You can't fake real.

Oh, yes you can.

Having written advertising copy most of my career, I went to Wendy's's (I couldn't resist making fun of the name they came up with that will be so "unique" in it's pain-in-the-assness, that it will surely be "memorable") website and recognized the time-honored technique: use words and phrases that suggest or imply what you want consumers to believe about your product, but never actually say anything that might be construed as a lie. Or, use all the emotional keywords you can find, in sentences that seem like they mean something, but actually mean nothing.

After all, in a country where fake is the norm, why not start an ad campaign trashing fake and implying that you, alone in the wilderness of fakedom, are the only one who is real. Brilliant. Except for the fact that Wendy's food is STILL not real. But, why dither with the details?

Because, I enjoy dithering. And because the very same people who believe Wendy's's's and other corporate bullshit also believe political propaganda and vote for snotty little ignoramuses like George W. Bush.

So, here's the run-down...

So, do they slaughter the cows behind each restaurant? Or do they contract with a slaughter house in each city where there's a Wendy's? Or, do they fly freshly slaughtered beef to each city every morning? And what do the cows eat, may I ask? Are they still injected with growth hormones? Are they force-fed and kept in pens, never to wander or graze upon the great plains of our nation? Do they eat pesticide-laden grain?

Who gives a damn if they freeze their beef if it's poison to begin with? They're just making all this shit up. People will start saying to their friends, while discussing which fast-food joint they want to visit to assuage their hangover pangs or stoner munchies, "You know, Wendy's beef is never frozen!" Like this is a startling, undeniable, life-changing fact, along the same lines as, "George Bush made America safe."

And what does "cut, chopped and prepared with the same dedication to quality" actually mean? Well, nothing. How do you chop with quality in mind? I suppose avoiding the addition of your fingertips into the tomato bits is a start. But other than that, I can't imagine. And the fact that another mega-corporation, Heinz, is the exclusive maker of Wendy's's's ketchup means what, exactly? Why is that a benefit to me? If the mother of the Wendy's day manager made the ketchup, I'd probably go there just to try it. But some big-ass corporation making the ketchup is supposed to be a selling point?

And of course, there's chicken.


I guess I should be happy to know that their chicken isn't mystery meat. But the only time that "finest quality meats" is true is when the chickens are pesticide-free, hormone-free and free-range. Oh, and notice that they don't say anything about whether their chicken is as unfrozen as their beef. And what about us poor sods who like dark meat? Even their "wings" are made from breasts. Oh, I forgot! It's America, where white is right and brown should be drowned in the Rio Grande before it can sneak across the border.

But then, there are the apples. Just say this out loud a few times and try and think about what it means: Always-In-Season Fruit. Are they saying that they only serve fruit when it's in season? No, because the apple-pecan chicken salad is on the menu year-round. They're saying that their red and green apples are "rotated seasonally." What does that mean? Are they trying to say that they use green apples when they are in season and red ones when they are in season? I can only guess that since apple season (no matter what the color) is in the Fall, that they either pick the apples and store them and use them or they buy apples from other parts of the world when they are in season there. But again, they aren't sayin' that the apples are pesticide-free, so, in-season, no matter how they slice it, is a moot point.

I DID notice that Wendy's's website says that they offer Marzetti's all-natural salad dressings but they didn't say "organic" so I'm not sure they are actually using Marzetti's line of certified organic dressings, or not. At this point, I don't trust Wendy's's's. But, I really should. After all...


The fact that a giant chain of fast-food restaurants can spend a fortune to purposely design an ad campaign that pretends they are not selling factory-raised and factory-processed animals, fruits and vegetables and that this Big Lie goes unchallenged in the media and in the minds of most American consumers, is a testament to the fact that corporate marketers and Madison Avenue advertising agencies believe that American consumers are ignorant sheep.

They're laughing at us sheep (Baaahhh!), all the way to the bank.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Send In The Clowns

I've been traveling around France for the last few weeks, in the company of two lovely friends. I can't really say that there were long stretches of empty road, when the three of us had run out of funny things to say and I could drift off and contemplate life like I used to do when I drove through the silent, hot desert from Phoenix to Los Angeles. But even amidst the lovely distractions - tiny little villages and large fortified cities, châteaux and Roman ruins, delicious lunches and dinners, interesting and strange people, comfy and not-so-comfy B&B beds - I was able to separate myself from my tiny Paris apartment where I tend to hole up and hide from various bogeys - both real and imagined.

Our surroundings can free us or constrict us, but even in the most peaceful places, we can constrict ourselves - if we don't escape once in a while. I guess it's called "gaining perspective."

When it comes to American politics, I've been sorely in need of perspective. During the presidential campaign, the practical side of me resisted falling starry-eyed for the Hope & Change slogans of Obama's candidacy, while my heart wished for those very things. Hope, while derided by the right as fanciful and weak, can be a powerful force in inspiring peoples and nations towards a better society and can lead us all out of our darkest times. I wanted to hope. So much. But, I tried to maintain a healthy cynicism.

Obviously, I wasn't successful. I cried when Obama declared an end to the shameful nightmare of Guantanamo, but this week, I read headlines that the closure is no longer a priority. I've watched as my biggest fears became reality - with the mortgage-backed securities fiasco, raging unemployment, massive home foreclosures and the BP oil disaster - sad confirmation that it's the corporations who really run America, not We The People or our elected representatives.

What was I thinking, anyway? Did I imagine that a righteous administration would swoop into Washington and fend off the insidious infiltration of the religious right into every level of our government? That corporate greed would be checked by oversight and regulation? That coalition building would become the first priority and war would become the last option? That corporations would profit from the building up Iraq and Afghanistan and winning the hearts and minds of their people rather than profit from the horrible destruction of war? That the orphans and displaced families of war-torn countries would not be forgotten? That my tax dollars, instead of fueling the war industry, would go towards building real schools - for girls and boys, males and females - to outnumber radical, extremist Madrasahs? That Obama, in his unique way, would guide us all by example (like he did during his amazing Philadelphia speech about race) to rise above inflammatory, fearful, sensationalist, sound-byte histrionics and replace it with well-informed, factual, open and respectful political dialogue? That America would stop selling white phosphorous to Israel after they used it to kill and maim innocent Palestinians and destroy their homes and buildings? That America would stop sending millions of dollars in aid to Israel to support zionist neo-con agendas? That America would demand an outside inquiry into murders by Israel on the recent Gaza aid flotilla?

Yes. That's exactly what I was thinking. And more.

You must admit, as I do, that my agenda is probably impossible. It can't all be done at once. It can't all be done in four years. And it can't be done by anyone if our elected representatives must pay the powerful corporate piper in order to be elected, stay in office and get re-elected.

It was during my scenic drive through France, that I had a few profound (or perhaps not so profound) realizations. I saw Roman walls and fortresses that stood the test of time, yet Rome did not ultimately win over France. I saw war memorials in every tiny village we drove through that were honoring those who died - children who were taken to Nazi death camps, soldiers who died before and after occupation, civilians who died defending their homes. I knew then that Americans don't have this in our DNA. Other than Pearl Harbor and 9/11, we have not tasted death and destruction in every small town and large city of our country. We see war in movie theaters and play war with paint balls and in massive multiplayer electronic games. To most of us, except our soldiers who have gone to Afghanistan and Iraq and returned to be silent or silenced, it's romantic, war. And the only stains we get are from popcorn falling into our laps.

Most of all, I realized that politics, across the globe, is a charade. Every movement is choreographed, every word scripted, to please the snaggle-toothed, slavering masses. It's an intellectual, elitist game, played by people whose favorite attack is to call their opponents intellectuals and elitists. Some puppet masters own the dogs and they're running, panting, circling, nipping at the heels of all of us sheep. The only thing to do is huddle together, move in the direction they're pushing and hope for a rest before the slaughter.

Meanwhile, to keep us all so busy we can't do the research and comparisons to find a kernel of truth in the silo of fertilizer, they push consumerism through advertising, mollify us with fantasy movies and keep us just so close to the teetering edge of debt that we are afraid to break free. And if any of us become black sheep and stray from the herd, they send in the clowns - Beck, Limbaugh, Malkin, Imus, etc. - to snarl and laugh derisively at us and urge the rest of the sheep to do the same.

I don't know what the solution is. I know it's not just one president. I know it's not just making sure that the right Progressives, Democrats, Republicans or Independents get elected. It's a consciousness change. It's a movement, in the hearts and the minds of the people, towards the light. If disaster brings on consciousness, then there's plenty of that out there now. But instead of waiting for the world to change only when it gets a baseball bat up the side of the head, couldn't we get it right, right now?

One man, Barack Obama, could have and perhaps could still influence that shift in consciousness. I saw, first-hand, the hope in people's faces here in France during the election - from the little old man at my local bakery to the plump woman who owned the cafe down the street. He said to me, "You're American? Ah! George Boosh (grimace, thumb went down). Heellary Cleentone! (thumb went up, big smile)." The cafe owner said nothing. She just posted every front page of the French papers on her cafe windows when Obama won.

Obama could actually take a huge risk and say no to special interests and make decisions that build instead of destroy. He could focus on the people - human beings of his country and of the world - who, no matter how cynical we are, no matter how well informed we are or are not, deep inside of all of us, we long for truth and fairness. We long to be included in the solution more than in the problem. In a microcosm, I saw this in the best managers I had when I was working. And I saw it when Obama gathered online grassroots support from individuals during his campaign. It's why I secretly hoped. I knew that when a leader rises up and tells the truth, tells it like it is, with respect and integrity, we will follow.

But does Obama know that the power of integrity trumps political games? That getting hundreds of millions of people in the United States on your side can be more powerful than thousands of corporate lobbyists? I hope he gets it...soon. Until then, enjoy the circus.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Mortal Sin Of Permission

Since I'm a recovering Catholic, I've been following the sexual abuse scandal closely. I have to say that Andrew Sullivan has some of the best coverage out there, including the fact that history of such abuse goes back hundreds of years, that it isn't just the Catholic church and it isn't just males who have been victimized. He posted emails from readers that have ranged from fascinating historical research, psychological profiles of abusers and personal stories of victims.

The one thing I haven't heard anyone talk about is the sin of permission. Let me explain...

When someone does something wrong and gets away with it, other people see that and decide that they can do the same thing. This happens when you parent, when you teach and when you manage people. It's human nature.

When individuals and organizations try and hide things, people on the inside talk, sotto voce, to each other. They can't help it. There has to be an outlet for the craziness, so that they don't start feeling crazy themselves.

So we can safely assume, in the case of the Catholic church's sexual predators, that other priests knew and talked to each other about it. They knew about the nice place in New Mexico where the Vatican sent the bad boys for rehab. They knew that this was probably the worst thing that could happen to them, if they ever transgressed. They would never be brought before a court of law. They would never go to jail.

The Vatican's consistent inaction, or inadequate action, their now-obvious choice of maintaining the reputation of the church to the detriment and total dismissal of the victims, the many times that victims were threatened to stay quiet, not just by the predator, but by his superiors, the patriarchal attitude towards the faithful (we are the lions and you're the dumb sheep, so shut up and say another act of contrition)...all these things added up to the Vatican creating an atmosphere of permission. Ratzinger and all of his predecessors, through their actions, gave a very clear message to predator priests that they could indulge in and continue their abuse.

I'm no Catholic scholar, but I'd say this qualifies as a mortal sin.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Labels Be Gone

I've been thinking a lot lately about all these labels that are being bandied about: fringe left, lunatic liberals, those darn Progressives, etc.

I, like you, am an individual and I, like you, defy all labels.

That's why I scratch my head when pundits and government representatives talk about issues as if they're only about the labeled groups behind them. As if the issues are simply liberal or Progressive and the conversation stops there. It has become a way to neatly derail debate and dismiss issues before they can be addressed. It's a tactic and it sucks.

What makes me a liberal and what makes me a Progressive? As I sit here in my apartment, with my comfy Afghan shoes and Target corduroys, with my cleanly shaved and washed body (finally!) and my Mac. Alone by choice. Straight by who knows what genetic mishap. I sit here aware of a greater force than me - within me and all around me and within all those I happen upon - that can enlighten me if I listen, yet I am also fervently against organized religions. All of these and much more define who I am. So, what am I? Simply a liberal? Simply a Progressive?

It's never that simple. But it seems like everyone keeps trying to make it that simple, so they can make it or me or my issues go away.

What I want for myself and the world is pretty simple. I want individuals of all shapes and sizes, all orientations and backgrounds, all economic levels and abilities - to have a voice and most importantly, to have rights. I want people to be able to choose their own destiny, their own future, their own lovers, their own path. I want those who've lost their way to be given a hand, whether it be my own, some other individual or organization, or the government's. I want the assault of women around the world to stop. I want children to be safe and protected. I want our governments to serve their people and at the same time, to serve the greater good of all nations and all people. I want conflict, at every level, to be resolved through words and laws and actions and concessions which have been fueled by the fire of righteousness and truth. I don't want war to be the answer, ever. I want commerce to be driven by customer needs, not the greed of the self-serving. I want even the most "evil" of criminals or prisoners to be treated with respect, be given the right to a fair defense and trial, no matter what crime they have committed or have been accused of comitting. I don't want torture or the death penalty to be practiced anywhere in the world, by anyone, at any time. There is no ticking bomb scenario that can convince me otherwise. I want government money to be spent to raise up its people, so that the country and the world will be a better place. I want countries like Haiti to be governed by people who won't rape and plunder, who won't keep the riches for themselves while their people live in squalor and ignorance. I want everyone to have the opportunity to be educated and make a life for themselves and their families and I have absolutely no problem with those who attain wealth. But I want all of us to share our wealth - of money, knowledge or experience - to make a better world.

I don't see any of this as laughable. If there are snickers and derision, then I don't know what kind of world those who snicker or deride can possibly want.

Haitians have been the victims of greedy dictators and opportunists, Gordon Gekkos of the Caribbean. I suppose there are people who think this is just fine, but now that an act of nature has leveled this already-bleeding country, these same people probably are angry that we are sending money and aid to Haiti.

If Haiti and her people had been nurtured and built up and given education, opportunity and sustenance, then when the earthquake hit, the world would not have had to come to its aid in such a massive way. We would be there, of course, yet the government of Haiti would not have hidden, cowering somewhere without communicating, without leading its people out of the darkness of destruction. The UN and President Clinton and the US Army and health care professionals and newscasters and rescue squads and cameramen and radio DJs and movie stars from all over the world wouldn't have to fall into that vacuum of leadership and figure out how to steer the way.

I'm not just a liberal, not just a Progressive, not just a woman. I'm an individual human being and I want what's best for me, my family, my friends, my enemies, all living things, my country of origin, the country I'm living in now, my planet and the universe, such as it is. I want to grow, change, evolve. I want to learn to live without fear, so that I can give more of myself.

Go ahead, label me now.