Tuesday, March 27, 2007

"An Open Letter to the President...Four and a Half Years Later" by Sean Penn

This was published March 24, 2007 in the Huffington Post. It is "from remarks at Congresswoman Barbara Lee's March 24 Town Hall Meeting on the 4th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq." (Thanks to Tim Storvick for passing it along to me.)

Four and a half years ago, I addressed the issue of war in an open letter to our President. Today I would like to again speak to him and his, directly. Mr. President, Mr. Cheney, Ms. Rice et al: Indeed America has a rich history of greatness -indeed, America is still today a devastating military superpower.

And because, in the absence of a competent or brave Congress, of a mobilized citizenry, that level of power lies in your hands, it is you who have misused it to become our country's and our constitution's most devastating enemy. You have broken our country and our hearts. The needless blood on your hands, and therefore, on our own, is drowning the freedom, the security, and the dream that America might have been, once healed of and awakened by, the tragedy of September 11, 2001.

But now, we are encouraged to self-censor any words that might be perceived as inflammatory - if our belief is that this war should stop today. We cower as you point fingers telling us to "support our troops." Well, you and the smarmy pundits in your pocket, those who bathe in the moisture of your soiled and bloodstained underwear, can take that noise and shove it. We will be snowed no more. Let's make this crystal clear. We do support our troops in our stand, while you exploit them and their families. The verdict is in. You lied, connived, and exploited your own countrymen and most of all, our troops.

You Misters Bush and Cheney; you Ms. Rice are villainously and criminally obscene people, obscene human beings, incompetent even to fulfill your own self-serving agenda, while tragically neglectful and destructive of ours and our country's. And I got a question for your daughters Mr. Bush. They're not children anymore. Do they support your policy in Iraq? If they do, how dare they not be in uniform, while the children of the poor; black, white, Asian, Hispanic, and all the other American working men and women are slaughtered, maimed and flown back into this country under cover of darkness.

Now, because I've been on the streets of Baghdad during this occupational war, outside the Green Zone, without security, and you haven't; I've met children there. In that country of 25 million, these children have now suffered minimally, a rainstorm of civilian death around and among them totaling the equivalent of two hundred September 11ths in just four years of war. Two hundred 9/11s. Two hundred 9/11s.

You want to rattle sabers toward Iran now? Let me tell you something about Iran, because I've been there and you haven't. Iran is a great country. A great country. Does it have its haters? You bet. Just like the United States has its haters. Does it have a corrupt regime? You bet. Just like the United States has a corrupt regime. Does it want a nuclear weapon? Maybe. Do we have one? You bet. But the people of Iran are great people. And if we give that corrupt leadership, (by attacking Iran militarily) the opportunity to unify that great country in hatred against us, we'll have been giving up one of our most promising future allies in decades. If you really know anything about Iran, you know exactly what I'm referring to. Of course your administration belittles diplomatic potential there, as those options rely on a credibility and geopolitical influence that you have aggressively squandered worldwide.

Speaking of squandering, how about the billion and a half dollars a day our Iraq-focused military is spending, where three weeks of that kind of spending, would pay the tab on a visionary levy-building project in New Orleans and relieve the entire continent of Africa from starvation and the spread of disease. Not to mention the continued funds now necessary, to not only rebuild our education and healthcare systems, but also, to give care and aid to the veterans of this war, both American and our Iraqi allies and friends who have lost everything.

You say we've kept the war on terror off our shores by responding to a criminal act of terror through state sponsored unilateral aggression in a country that took no part in that initial crime. That this war would be fought in Iraq or fought here. They are not our toilet. They are a country of human beings whose lives, while once oppressed by Saddam, are now lived in Dante's inferno.

My 15-year-old daughter was working on a comparative essay this week (you can ask Condi what a comparative essay is, as academic exercises fit the limits of her political expertise.) My daughter's essay, which understood substance over theory, discusses the strengths of the Nuremberg trial justice beside the alternate strategy of truth and reconciliation in South Africa, and I quote: "When we observe distinctions between one power and another, one justice and another, we consider the divide between retribution and reconciliation, of closure and disclosure." I can't do her essay justice in this forum, but at its core, it asks how, when, and why we compromise toward peace, punish for war, or balance both for something more.

This may focus another soft spot in the rhetoric of both sides. We're told not to engage in the "politics of attack." To "keep away from the negative"...Well, Mr. Bush, when speaking of your administration, that would leave us silent, and impotent indeed.

So, in conclusion, I address my remaining remarks to the choir: We all played nice recently at the sad passing of former President Ford. Pundits and players on all sides re-visited his pardoning of Richard Nixon with praise, stating that a divided nation found unity. But what of that precedent on deterrence now? Where is justice now? Let's unite, not only in stopping this war, but holding this administration accountable as well. Without impeachment, justice cannot prevail. In our time, or our children's. And let's make it clear to democrats and republicans alike that we are not willing to wait on '08 to hear them say again: "If I'd known then, what I know now."

Even in a so-called victory, what we saw yesterday was a House of Representatives that couldn't bring itself to represent either conscience or constituents. It's a tragedy that the Democratic Party's leadership in Congress refuses to allow the House to vote on Barbara Lee's amendment for a fully funded, orderly withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of this year. Elites circled the war wagons against this proposal, and postponed the day of reckoning that must come as soon as possible - a complete pullout of U.S. military forces from Iraq.

There are presidential candidates who understand this. We do have candidates of conscience. As things stand today, I will be voting for Dennis Kucinich, who has fought this war from the beginning. You might say Kucinich can't win. Well, we have an opportunity to re-establish the credibility of democracy as viewed by the world at large.

We can fire our current president. We can choose the next president. You and me, the farmer in Wisconsin, the boys at Google, and Bill Gates.

It's up to us to choose. Why don't we choose?!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Iraq War Anniversary Vigil - Santa Rosa, CA

(And yes, I did count. Walking the lines of demonstrators, I counted 196. James Dickson, the organizer counted 230 - at a different time during the vigil.)

James Dickson, a local organizer for "MoveOn.org", kneels before his "organizees".

Linda Russell of the "Sonoma County Democratic Party" makes a little racket.

Ruth Pollard (center) is 95 years old. She's accompanied by Jim and Suzanne Cowan.

Iraq War Anniversary March - San Francisco, CA

After Sunday's rally, I was talking with friends who had also participated. They asked how large I thought the rally was. "Under 100,000..." (I was thinking about the size of a baseball stadium - something like that, maybe 60,000.) They thought the number was closer to 50,000.

(Just to establish some sense of scale for myself, I had briefly stepped outside the procession and stood by, roughly counting off the marchers in tens, as they passed. After a few minutes I had counted several hundred. I wasn't trying to be precise at the time. It was more of a habit - I often count things!)

Today, the “San Francisco Chronicle” reported "about 3,000" attended the march in San Francisco, and they went on to say the estimate was made by a reporter stationed along the parade route who counted people passing by. They admitted this number did not account for people approaching Civic Center Plaza from other routes, but the 3,000 number stood. I was incredulous. How could they be so far off the mark?

In an effort to test my own perceptions, and perhaps the credibility of event organizers, media and police, I spent several hours researching studies of crowd-size estimates. The first challenge to my perception was “well, what’s the capacity of a stadium?” The AT&T stadium (San Francisco Giants) is around 40,000. So, I could see my “yardstick” or point of reference was already off by 50%!

One of the most interesting studies was commissioned by the “San Francisco Chronicle”. It evaluated the size of the March 16, 2003 anti-war march and rally in San Francisco. Organizers and police had placed the number of participants at around 200,000. The “Chronicle” (perhaps in response to earlier challenges,) set out to scientifically estimate the crowd size. Using aerial photography taken at the peak of the event and applying a common analysis method (one I had used for estimating star field sizes in Astronomy), they concluded the crowd numbered about 65,000 (plus or minus 10%.)

In one frame, they showed what they identified as about 20,000 people in the Civic Center Plaza. I studied this aerial photo and tried to visualize how crowded the plaza was on Sunday, compared to this event in 2003. It was clearly less-crowded this weekend. But one-seventh as crowded? No. Maybe a quarter, maybe a third. Who knows.

What this little lesson did show is that my perception was off by an order of magnitude (10x)! This makes me wonder, of course, about numbers tossed around after the “March on Washington” (500,000?) If I had been thinking there were maybe 300,000 there, might the number have instead been 30,000?

Bob Beadle forwarded this one on to me. It certainly expresses my sentiments.

Photo by Nick Merrill

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Iraq War Anniversary March - San Francisco - Photos

Sound advice

Ted Sexauer of Sonoma, California is a member of "Veterans for Peace". He served two tours as an Army combat medic in Vietnam.

A couple of the "Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill"