Sunday, March 28, 2010

Jess cools down her first bite of Pollo al Horno at "Sol Food" Puerto Rican restaurant in San Rafael. (That's my Bistec sandwich waiting to be devoured.)

Another Commander in Chief as Chief War Booster

Photo by Staff Sgt. Susan Wilt

It pains me to see Barack Obama parading (this time in a bomber jacket) like all recent Commanders in Chief presiding over illegitimate wars. They promote "righteous wars" with a religious zeal, painting the political and moral landscape in blacks and whites.

Here he sounds no different than George W. Bush. I didn't think it possible.
Al Qaeda and the violent extremists who you’re fighting against want to destroy. But all of you want to build -- and that is something essential about America. They’ve got no respect for human life. You see dignity in every human being. That’s part of what we value as Americans. They want to drive races and regions and religions apart. You want to bring people together and see the world move forward together. They offer fear, in other words, and you offer hope.

One need only see the recently leaked military video of the 2007 massacre of civilians in Baghdad to know the absurdity of this statement. That one can speak of "respect for human life" and war in the same breath is ludicrous.

Please, Mr. Obama, get a new speech writer.

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
March 28, 2010
Remarks by the President to the Troops
Clamshell, Bagram Airfield

11:13 P.M. (Local)

THE PRESIDENT: How’s it going, Bagram? (Applause.) Well, you know, it turns out that the American people, they let me use this plane called Air Force One. And so I thought I’d come over and say hello. (Applause.)

Couple of people I want to thank, in addition to Sergeant Major Eric Johnson for the outstanding introduction and his great service. I want to thank Major General Mike Scaparrotti. (Applause.) Thank you for your great work as commanding general. I want to thank Ms. Dawn Liberi, who is the senior civilian representative of Regional Command East, for her outstanding work; and Brigadier General Steven Kwast, commander -- (applause) -- commander 455th Air Expeditionary Wing. Thank you all for your outstanding service. Give them a big round of applause. (Applause.)

Thank you for the unbelievable welcome. I know this was on a little bit of short notice.


THE PRESIDENT: No worries. (Laughter.) It is great to be here at Bagram, and it’s great to see all the services. We’ve got Air Force, we’ve got Army -- (applause) -- we’ve got Navy -- (applause) -- we’ve got some Marines in the house. (Applause.) And we’ve got a lot of civilians here too -- (applause) -- who are making an outstanding contribution to this effort, and I’m honored to be joined by America’s outstanding civilian military leadership team here in Afghanistan, Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, who’s doing outstanding work, and the commander of our 43-nation coalition, General Stan McChrystal. The two of them together have paired up to do an extraordinarily difficult task, but they are doing it extraordinarily well and we are proud of them. Please give your outstanding team a big round of applause. They’ve got my full confidence and my full support. (Applause.)

We’re also joined by troops from some of our coalition partners, because this is not simply an American mission or even just a NATO mission. Al Qaeda and their extremist allies are a threat to the people of Afghanistan and a threat to the people of America, but they’re also a threat to people all around the world, and that’s why we’re so proud to have our coalition partners here with us. Thank you very much for the great work that you do. We salute you and we honor you for all the sacrifices you make, and you are a true friend of the United States of America. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

And we also salute the members of the Afghan National Army who are fighting alongside all of you. They’re risking their lives to protect their country. And as I told President Karzai today, the United States is a partner but our intent is to make sure that the Afghans have the capacity to provide for their own security. That is core to our mission, and we are proud of the work that they are doing and the continuing increased capacity that we’re seeing out of Afghan national security forces. So thank you very much for the great work you’re doing to take responsibility for security here in your own country.

And to the Afghan people, I want to say that I’m honored to be a guest in your country. Now, the Afghans have suffered for decades -- decades of war. But we are here to help Afghans forge a hard-won peace while realizing the extraordinary potential of the Afghan people, Afghanistan’s sons and daughters, from the soldiers and the police to the farmers and the young students. And we want to build a lasting partnership founded upon mutual interests and mutual respect, and I’m looking forward to returning to Afghanistan many times in the years to come.

Now, I know for most of you, you didn’t get a lot of notice that I was coming. But I want you to understand, there’s no visit that I considered more important than this visit I’m making right now, because I have no greater honor than serving as your Commander-in-Chief. And it is a privilege to look out and see the extraordinary efforts of America’s sons and daughters here in Afghanistan. So my main job here today is to say thank you on behalf of the entire American people. (Applause.)

You are part of the finest military in the history of the world, and we are proud of you. And so I want you to know that everybody back home is proud of you. Everybody back home is grateful. And everybody understands the sacrifices that you have made and your families have made to keep America safe and to keep America secure in this vital mission.

And I know it’s not easy. You’re far away from home. You miss your kids. You miss your spouses, your family, your friends. Some of you, this is your second or your third or your fourth tour of duty. I’ll tell you right now the same thing that I said at West Point last December. If I thought for a minute that America’s vital interests were not served, were not at stake here in Afghanistan, I would order all of you home right away.

So I want you to know, I want every American serving in Afghanistan, military and civilian, to know, whether you’re working the flight line here at Bagram or patrolling a village down in Helmand, whether you’re standing watch at a forward operating base or training our Afghan partners or working with the Afghan government, your services are absolutely necessary, absolutely essential to America’s safety and security. Those folks back home are relying on you.

We can’t forget why we’re here. We did not choose this war. This was not an act of America wanting to expand its influence; of us wanting to meddle in somebody else’s business. We were attacked viciously on 9/11. Thousands of our fellow countrymen and women were killed. And this is the region where the perpetrators of that crime, al Qaeda, still base their leadership. Plots against our homeland, plots against our allies, plots against the Afghan and Pakistani people are taking place as we speak right here. And if this region slides backwards, if the Taliban retakes this country and al Qaeda can operate with impunity, then more American lives will be at stake. The Afghan people will lose their chance at progress and prosperity. And the world will be significantly less secure.

And as long as I’m your Commander-in-Chief, I am not going to let that happen. That’s why you are here. I’ve made a promise to all of you who serve. I will never send you into harm’s way unless it’s absolutely necessary. I anguish in thinking about the sacrifices that so many of you make. That’s why I promise I will never send you out unless it is necessary. Read more.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Morro Bay and Montana de Oro State Park

Photo ops on the beach at Morro Bay

Jackie, Ted and Bowser

Jess with her Grandparents

Cathie and Pete

Photo ops at Montana de Oro State Park

Haven't we seen her in movies?

Cathie and Jess

Pete and Cathie

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

War Tax Now

Inside the Hart Senate Office Building, CODEPINK activists struggle with Capitol Police to unfurl their "Stop Funding War" banner. (See January 2007 Archives)

In response to Republicans' eternal mantra "no new taxes", I and many others say it is time for the United States to resurrect an old tax - The War Tax. This era of elective warfare makes the case even more compelling.

By including in our Federal budget expenses for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (rather than funding war through an array of budgeted and unbudgeted "supplementals",) President Obama has made a token effort at creating transparency.

The argument still persists however, that except for the families directly impacted through having members engaged in the war, most Americans sacrifice without even recognizing the sacrifice they are making. Had they knowledge of their vast personal investment (Ralph Nader claims the military-industrial complex now consumes in excess of 50% of Federal taxes,) they might not support the venture, nor their representatives in Washington who have supported the exploit.

If we knew what portion of the taxes were going to war, we as activist citizens could refuse to pay that portion and take ultimate responsibility for our moral position.

Of course, a justified mobilization for the defense of our nation would require vast borrowing, but at the very least, the establishment of the War Tax Fund creates the mechanism for collecting taxes, repaying loans and beginning to account for the true costs of wars.

Monday, March 15, 2010

First, Israel must "come clean"

It is fascinating that the "international community" (meaning the United States, Israel and a few others) are outraged by Iran's lawful (if ambiguous) pursuit of nuclear energy. Governments, and their media mouthpieces, are so adept at pedaling peril.

Iran is surrounded by nuclear powers: Israel to the west, the former Soviet republics to the north, Pakistan and India to the east, American bases in Turkey, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Quatar and U.S. (and possibly Israeli) ballistic missile submarines patrolling the waters off its shores.

"But Iran is not a democracy" the shrill chorus proclaims. They cannot be trusted with nuclear energy. Yet the only nation to have weaponized nuclear power and used it against another was our "democracy". (And to this day, we use depleted uranium ordinance against our enemies.)

Israel threatens to preemptively attack Iran's nuclear facilities. If they do, the U.S. would certainly be drawn into armed conflict with Iran. "Terrorism" would increase worldwide. That much is certain.

By adhering to "nuclear ambiguity" Israel perpetuates the mistrust that exists throughout the Middle East. If transparency is expected, Israel - the largest nuclear power in the Middle East - must "come clean". They expect Iran to open itself to U.N. inspections, while concealing their own nuclear arsenal. What hypocrisy.


Related story: Israel official defends nuclear ambiguity as 'strategic advantage'

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Soul of Capitalism

Excerpts from William Greider's 2003 book:

P. 29

(On reforming capitalism)

The Federal Government cannot do this for the people. That is hard for many to digest, but anyone who takes seriously the possibility of reforming capitalism in fundamental ways has to start by abandoning some inherited political reflexes. The government has the power to articulate society’s larger aspirations, but it is not equipped to execute this deeper kind of economic transformation or, at this point, even lead the way...If an activist president set out with good intentions to rewire the engine of capitalism - to alter its operating values or reorganize the terms of employment or investment or tamper with other important features – the initiative would very likely be chewed to pieces by the politics. Given the standard legislature habits of modern government, not to mention its close attachments to the powerful interests defending the status quo, the results would be marginal adjustments at best and might even make things worse.

P. 52

Elaine Bernard of Harvard’s trade union program explained the connection: “As power is presently distributed, workplaces are factories of authoritarianism polluting our democracy. Citizens cannot spend eight hours a day obeying orders and being shut out of the important decisions affecting them, and then be expected to engage in a robust, critical dialogue about the structure of our society. Indeed, in the latter part of this [past] century, instead of the workplace becoming more democratic, the hierarchical corporate workplace model [came] to dominate the rest of society.”

P. 61

(On what exactly makes the modern system so different from serfdom?)

“Workers may not be bought and sold, only rented and hired,” Alfred Marshall, a preeminent economist in his time, wrote in 1920. Paul Samuelson, author of a standard textbook for present-day Economics 101, sticks to the same distinction, “Since slavery was abolished, human earning power is forbidden by law to be capitalized [bought and sold as property],” he wrote. “A man is not even free to sell himself; he must rent himself at a wage.” The “rented” worker is certainly much better off than the “owned” worker, no question. Yet, as their language suggests, the distinction between slavery and freedom is narrower than supposed, and aspects of property still heavily influence the transaction. Human labor is treated as an input of production no different from other inputs – machines, raw materials, buildings, capital itself - and these inputs are interchanged routinely in organizing the elements of production. Employees are now described as “human resources,” the oddly dehumanizing usage adopted by modern corporations.

The trouble is, people are not things. They are autonomous human actors, not mere “resources.” They cannot be reduced to physical inputs, even if they assent, because they are conscious, responsible agents of self, endowed with inalienable rights and inescapably liable for their behavior, legally and otherwise.

P. 64

The real basis for the insiders’ power and their legal claim to the profits is their acceptance of responsibility for the firm, their contractual commitments to pay the costs of production and to absorb the negative consequences of losses and liabilities as well as the positive results. Employees, in a sense, are awarded the opposite status: irresponsibility in the fortunes of the company and, thus, no share in its success unless management decides to grant one. In exchange for this privileged irresponsibility, workers are rendered powerless. They accept the master-servant status, are subject to the command of others, and have no voice in the company’s management or any claim to its returns.

P. 185-6

Industrial capitalism, notwithstanding the great accomplishments of human invention, has never approached the functional efficiency of nature – not even close. To the contrary, the wastefulness is prodigious and often deliberate, especially in American capitalism. Waste is designed into many products to create an allure of luxurious excess. Witness the tanklike sports utility vehicle that intimidates the other human-scale cars or a restaurant’s overflowing servings of food intended to gratify rather than nourish (the uneaten heapings wind up in the Dumpster). Less visible to consumers but more fundamental to the ecological problem are the systems of production where things get made. These processes are also massively inefficient and neglectful of long-term costs, despite management’s suppose obsession with efficiency.

Only 6 percent of the materials that flow through the U.S. production system actually wind up in products, as (Paul) Hawken and coauthors Amory Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins noted in Natural Capitalism. The daily physical inputs consumed by the metabolism of industry amount to twenty times the body weight of every American citizen. The automobile, ostensibly modernized with its computer controls and other electronic charms, actually loses 80 percent of the energy it consumes, mainly through engine heat loss and exhaust. The other 20 percent moves the car.

One is accustomed to hearing such grim facts from ecological activists, but Hawken and the Lovinses are trying to get people to see the good news. This problem is solvable. Americans can do this.


“Waste equals food.” The world in which we live, (William McDonough and Michael Braungart) explain, has two operating metabolisms – the biological and the industrial – so every substance produced, consumed, and discarded must be able to serve as "food” for one system of the other. Spent materials become either "biological nutrients” fully digestible in the earth or “technical nutrients” that will be fed back into the industrial system.

“To eliminate the concept of waste means to design things – products, packaging, and systems – from the very beginning on the understanding that waste does not exist,” they wrote in Cradle to Cradle.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Are you feeling irradiatated yet?

In today's Press Democrat, I read an article about Pacific Gas & Electric switching over to wireless meters in the local area. It seems that some residents in nearby Sebastopol are up in arms over the new technology, fearing the effects of additional electromagnetic radiation. Of course, such people are routinely labeled "wackos". We are told by the corporations that what they do is safe, and it is up to us to prove otherwise.

Though the community defeated the plan to install free wi-fi downtown (stemming from the same fears,) PG&E officials essentially told residents "tough", the plan is moving forward despite these objections.

So who is responsible for proving the increased presence of microwave, radio, and other electromagnetic fields in our environment is harmless for humans?

Who was responsible for proving lead pipes and lead paints were safe?

Who was responsible for proving DDT was safe?

Who was responsible for proving asbestos was safe?

Who was responsible for proving tobacco was safe?

Who was responsible for proving "Agent Orange" was safe for the humans who were doused with it?

Who was responsible for proving Bovine Growth Hormone was safe?

Who is responsible for proving Syngenta's atrazine herbicide, now linked to hormone disruption, was safe?

Who was responsible for proving chlorofluorocarbons, Bisphenol A and pthalates were safe?

Who was responsible for proving Toyota throttle and braking systems were safe?

Whenever possible, powerful corporations shirk their responsibility for the safety and welfare of the communities they "serve". By declaring "we have no evidence our product causes harm," they shift the burden of proof to the community and government regulators. In this way, they routinely externalize the costs to society.

Monday, March 08, 2010

What just happened?

I'm reminded of Michael Moore's eloquent words, "Dude, where's my country?"

The battle to try 9-11 terror suspects in military tribunals rather than in civilian courts is, above all, a thinly-disguised effort to maintain the perception that America is a nation at war. Maintaining this illusion is crucial to the continued public support and funding of our war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the curtailing of freedom and democracy at home.

Under "wartime" conditions, the defense, security, intelligence and petroleum industries flourish and consolidate power. These industries offer executives a "revolving door" into the world of Washington politics and "encore" careers as advisers, consultants and board members.

The deployment of full-body scanners in airports across the nation, and the world, is just one more nail in freedom and democracy's coffin. (I hope that these security devices are also being used against the very real terrorist threats from corporate and private jets - as demonstrated by the recent attack on IRS headquarters in Austin!) And who pays for these $170,000 machines (and the even more expensive next-generation machines that will inevitably follow?) Of course, the traveling public and taxpayers will. Our faith in technology is boundless.

Indeed, it seems the 19 guys with box cutters have won.

As for me, I won't be flying. I think I'll just hang around and get to know my neighbor. It's better for the environment, better for the local economy and actually better for freedom and democracy! The airline, oil and security cartels don't need my money.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Earthquake in Chile

This photo, posted on the Facebook page of my friend Max Mills, shows the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that hit the town of Curanipe, Chile. The small fishing village was at the epicenter of the magnitude 8.8 quake.

In January 2006, I visited Curanipe and stayed with Max at his home just south of town.

For additional photos of the devastation in this and other Chilean communities, see's "The Big Picture".

Donate to Relief Efforts

Sprint, T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon are all waiving fees and charges for users who want to reach out to victims of the massive earthquake that hit Chile last week. The extremely successful text-to-donate campaign during the Haiti disaster has is also back in full swing.

The Red Cross made huge waves with its text-to-donate initiative after the massive earthquake in Haiti. By sending a text message to a special Red Cross number, users could send a $10 donation, which was simply tacked on their monthly phone bill. More than $25 million was raised from text donations.

Chile now faces its own devastation after a magnitude-8.8 quake ripped through the country last week. The death toll currently stands at 711, while over a million homes have been destroyed. To do their part in helping with relief efforts, mobile phone companies have made it easier to provide aid.

Sprint, AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile have all announced that they will waive the standard texting charge for any text message donation. Verizon and T-Mobile have both gone a step further, eliminating all charges for calls between the US and Chile.

"We want to help alleviate some of the agony being experienced by our customers trying to reach loved ones in Chile," said Verizon VP Susan Retta. "Waiving the calling charges will help our customers focus on tracking down and keeping in touch with their family and friends without having to also worry about the cost of the call."

Users can send texts to the following numbers to donate to Chile earthquake relief efforts:

- Text "Chile" to 90999 to send $10 to the American Red Cross
- Text "Chile" to 52000 to send $10 to the Salvation Army
- Text "Chile" to 25383 to send $10 to Habitat For Humanity
- Text "Chile" to 20222 to send $10 to Wold Vision
- Text "Rebuild" to 50555 to send $10 to Operation USA
- Text "Youth" to 20222 to send $10 to UNICEF

Max also suggests contacting:

Cruz Roja Chilena (Red Cross Chile)