Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Spirit of Tommy Chong

By Dean Kuipers, LA CityBeat. Posted August 15, 2006.

The world's funniest stoner talks about meditation, surviving prison, and his new book, 'The I Chong'

For Tommy Chong to get straight, he's got to go to God. Not God as envisioned by, say, Jerry Falwell, not the God of hellfire, but the omniscient source of goodness and, yes, jokes. He's cultivated a meditative practice over the years of smash hit movies, Grammy-winning comedy albums, and woozy influence over decades of pop culture as half of the comedy duo Cheech & Chong. So when he was busted in 2003 for selling Tommy Chong bongs and sentenced to nine months in the federal penitentiary at Taft, California, one of the items he brought with him was the I Ching, the ancient Chinese Book of Changes.

While in prison, he started ruminating on life's lessons, and the result was his new book, "The I Chong: Meditations from the Joint." This book is a breezy vision of the man's essential "Chongness," as he writes not some preachy life lessons but about a life lived: growing up rough as the mixed-race child of a Chinese father and a Scottish-Irish mother in Western Canada; learning to tango with his wife, Shelby; and using his gentleness and wit to thrive in lock-up. "I met the warden one day. I swear to God, I've met fans but he was one of the biggest fans ever," says Chong. "He says, 'Are they treating you OK?' He turned out to be a really sweet guy."

DEAN KUIPERS: Each chapter leaf in the book starts with a hexagram from the I Ching.

TOMMY CHONG: I went through the I Ching and just picked out a heading that would best suit the chapter. And the I Ching -- I was just doing it -- it's three lines on top, three lines below. And they're either broken or straight. And it's based on an ancient book called the Book of Changes. You throw them -- they used to do it with bones, but then they evolved it to coins, and they used to do it with yarrow stalks [a common, long-stemmed white flower]. What you get is a good sense of how you're feeling, where you're at in your life.

KUIPERS: How is this a book of meditations?

CHONG: I'm a writer, I just write all the time. I hadn't planned it to be a book, I just have a compulsion. I tried to write a Cheech & Chong book, and I've been working on it for five years, and I just can't get it going. But this new book was so personal that, when I started writing it, I realized: no one knows who I am. So I started writing about who I am, and I picked out memories from my past and then I realized, damn, I'm almost 70 years old, so I've got a lot of memories.

KUIPERS: And those are meditative?

CHONG: Well, I'm into meditation. Actually, Cheech turned me on to meditation. When I first met Cheech, he followed that guru from India [Maharishi Mahesh Yogi]. Every once in a while I'd go over to meet with Cheech, and he'd be meditating. It wasn't 'til years and years later that I read a book by Joel Goldsmith, The Mystical I, and he went into the depth of meditating with your mind on God. And so when I went into prison, I thought: well, this is the best place in the world to put meditation to work.

KUIPERS: What was your meditative practice in prison?

CHONG: I ended up being the go-to guy with the I Ching. You have a lot of time in jail, so I read about how they did it with the yarrow stalks, and yarrow stalks were growing in the Indian garden at the prison. I did I Ching readings for the prisoners and it would blow people's minds. I was in a recreation room and I was throwing coins and doing mine and this guy, Mike, came up to me and he asked, "What are you up to, Chong?"

And I told him, and I said, "Do you want me to do your reading?" And he said "Sure." So I had him throw the coins, and when he read his reading, it blew his mind so bad he just handed me the book and he stayed the rest of the day on his bunk. I read his thing and it said that he had just suffered a terrible accident. And he had, like, a couple of months before, his wife and child were killed in a car accident coming up to see him. The book nailed it. And same with me, my first reading was, "You're in jail for a reason."

KUIPERS: Were you there for a reason?

CHONG: Yeah, absolutely. It was to reconnect with my spiritual self, with my job. The problem with me is that I've got this incredible ego, but I know that I was meant to do what I've been doing. From my earliest childhood, I knew I had something unfinished on this planet to do. And I got too comfortable in my life ... doing comedy, having a good time, collecting checks. And jail was like a little nudge, saying, "C'mon, let's get back to work."

KUIPERS: You went to prison for selling bongs, right?

CHONG: The official charge was "conspiring to sell drug paraphernalia over state lines." Supposedly, it was part of a nationwide sting, but everybody they busted is either back in business or going back in business.

KUIPERS: In the book you say that this is payback for all the movies, for laughing at cops, for Sergeant Stadanko.

CHONG: Yup. The Bush administration, Karl Rove, they just figure out who's got the media power. They mentioned that in the transcripts of the trial. They said that I had gotten rich, made millions of dollars off making movies about glorifying drug use and making fun of law enforcement.

KUIPERS: Well, that's true.

CHONG: Yeah, totally true. But it's also written in the Constitution that I have that right. And that shows you the extent of this administration, what outlaws they are. It's like the "weapons of mass destruction" reason to raid Iraq. It's the same mindset: they have an agenda and they will do anything to meet their goals.

KUIPERS: Do you view weed as kind of a sacrament?

CHONG: Yes, totally. It's a gift, and it's written that He gave us the seeds and the trees for our use. It's in, I forget which one, Genesis or something.

KUIPERS: Are you part of any church?

CHONG: No, I was never a member of any church. Now I'm a member of an Indian sweat lodge. That's my official church now. When we lived on a farm, the only entertainment was Sunday school. And then I ended up teaching Sunday school when I was really young, and then I went to bible camp when I was seven, eight years old. And it was an incredible experience because it was purely spiritual for me. And that's when I knew that I was somehow connected, because it all made sense at that age; I loved the praying, the singing, everything. That's how I got into show business: They used to put on little plays at that camp. It was the best two weeks of my life. And we would walk out into a field of clover and grass and sit down, and the teacher would tell us stories of Jesus, the beautiful stories. What really stayed with me is how to pray. You pray for wisdom, because if you've got wisdom you don't need nothing else.

KUIPERS: You mention in the book that you asked for wisdom and these stories are what happened.

CHONG: Exactly. That's how everything fell together. One of the guys, the Confucians or the Buddhists, they say when the pupil's ready, the teacher appears. And that's what happened to me. When I was standing there being sentenced to nine months in jail, in my mind I heard this phrase: "Thy will be done." When I was ready to do the book the editor appeared, the publisher appeared. Everything appears at the right time.

Dean Kuipers is editor of LA CityBeat and the author of "Burning Rainbow Farm: How a Stoner Utopia Went Up In Smoke."

In Love With Ourselves

By Silja J.A. Talvi, In These Times. Posted August 15, 2006.

American culture is full of narcissists of all shapes and stripes -- George W. Bush, Rush Limbaugh, Paris Hilton and any number of other public figures leap to mind.

"It seems like just yesterday I was at the White House staying in the Lincoln bedroom, and everything was wonderful."

These were the words of former Connecticut Gov. John Rowland to a group of teenagers in early July. Rowland was trying to explain his downward trajectory from one of the Republican Party's favored political "stars" to standing in line for toilet paper in a federal prison.

He described his "sense of entitlement" as a political persona. "Before you know it, you're doing things you never thought you'd do in the past. ... Then you send that message to others."

The former governor no doubt got the message from those who influenced him in his rise to power, including the president himself. "I can't tell you how important it is to have people who hold office who deliver," President Bush glowed about Rowland during the Connecticut Republican Committee Lunch in April 2002. "[O]ne of the jobs of a governor is to help restore faith in the political process of a particular state. And the best way to defeat cynicism is to accomplish things on behalf of everybody ... to rise above the traditional noise that tends to dominate the political scene and perform."

"Performing" indeed. The governor put on a great act as a public servant -- that is, until he had to resign from office in 2004 amid an embarrassing investigation into rampant corruption and influence peddling.

Rowland's myopic perception of endless omnipotence could be described as wholly narcissistic. But he is not alone. Building a public persona in America often amounts to a narcissistic exercise on the grandest of scales.

Narcissism is clinically defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV) as a "pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy." Although just about any person can possess certain narcissistic tendencies, the disorder can't technically be diagnosed until five out of nine criteria are met:

  • A grandiose sense of self-importance unsupported by reality;
  • A belief that s/he is special and unique and can only be understood by other 'special' people;
  • A preoccupation with fantasies of extraordinary success, wealth, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love;
  • An intense, excessive need for admiration;
  • A sense of entitlement;
  • A frequent tendency to exploit interpersonal relationships without guilt or remorse, including advantageous behavior to satisfy his/her own end goals;
  • A lack of empathy;
  • An envy of others, or the perception that s/he is the object of others' envy;
  • Regular displays of arrogant behavior or attitude.

The likes of Donald Trump, George W. Bush, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rudy Giuliani, Donald Rumsfeld, Rush Limbaugh, Paris Hilton and any number of other public figures leap to mind. But narcissists come in all shapes and stripes -- you may even be living or working with a few or have one as a parent.

Addressing an audience of people desperate to understand the narcissists in their midst, a subgenre of self-help books have been written to help non-narcissists identify and extricate themselves from this kind of interpersonal "toxicity."

Some of these authors are beginning to insist that the preponderance of narcissists in our society did not develop in a vacuum. In an April 2005 interview in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Julia Sokol (co-author of Help! I'm in Love With a Narcissist) observed: "I think society places a value on narcissism and narcissistic values. We put an emphasis on the superficial. We put an emphasis on the people who sound as though they know what they're talking about, even when they don't. ... Narcissism forgives an awful lot that in an earlier time would have been considered obnoxious."

Sociologist Christopher Lasch's The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in An Age of Diminishing Expectations, first published in 1979, was the furthest thing from a self-help book. Written in a dense, unemotional style more suited to the classroom than to armchair psychology, the work was nonetheless groundbreaking. Lasch grasped an emergent sociopolitical trend: a societal push toward self-satisfaction and self-aggrandizement, to the near exclusion of a sense of collective responsibility and accountability. One of Lasch's greatest feats was to pinpoint the narcissistic by-products of our American culture of "competitive individualism." Our society, he argued, had carried the "logic of individualism to the extreme of war of all against all, the pursuit of happiness to the dead end of narcissistic preoccupation with the self."

Lasch's book is both illuminating and prescient, particularly as the author predicted what we would later come to know as the "cult of celebrity." In The Culture of Narcissism, Lasch alternated between clinical and casual observations of people who wanted not to be esteemed for their real accomplishments so much as they wanted to be admired and adored for their fortune, beauty, or social standing -- and politicians were not exempt from his scathing analysis. "Success in our society has to be ratified by publicity," Lasch writes. "[A]ll politics becomes a form of spectacle."

As a prime example of how narcissism had infiltrated the American political realm, Lasch used the still-fresh memory of the Vietnam War to argue that politicians had so concerned themselves with the image and the reputation of American power that they had, in essence, lost sight of reality -- that is, until a tremendous amount of unnecessary cost and casualty to human life had already been paid.

Comparisons to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are inescapable. But we need not look as far as U.S.-sponsored warfare on foreign soil to see the evidence of a disordered, sickened body politic. Increasingly, the nation's idea of collective welfare is defined by measures of individual attainment: house and condominium purchases; salaries, perks and bonuses; the availability of luxury goods and accommodations; and the purchase of gigantic, gas-guzzling vehicles decked out with "extras" unimaginable to the American drivers in the not-too-distant past.

University of Texas journalism professor Robert Jensen examined narcissism in an Alternative Press Review article, "Diagnosing the U.S. 'National Character.' " While political tendencies to self-aggrandize are hardly unique to the United States, the extent to which our nation has concentrated wealth and power should cause us to "worry most about the consequences of such narcissism here," Jensen wrote. Yet, Jensen cautions, we should be wary of conveniently ascribing abuses of power to the right-wingers or the obscenely wealthy in our midst.

"Part of our task on the left is to both critique the Bush administration, but also to remind people there's something fundamentally wrong with the structure of empire," writes Jensen. "We are the most affluent country in the history of the world, and that affluence breeds a pathological disconnect with the rest of the world."

At an August 2004 appearance in San Francisco, Indian writer and activist Arundhati Roy spoke of that pathological disconnect as an outgrowth of America's ratings-driven election process. "Unfortunately, the importance of the U.S. elections has deteriorated into a sort of personality contest," Roy said. "[The elections have become a] squabble over who would do a better job of overseeing empire. ... The U.S. political system has been carefully crafted to ensure that no one who questions the natural goodness of the military-industrial-corporate power structure will be allowed through the portals of power."

As Jensen puts it today, the confluence of "corporate capitalism with the media-centric nature of this world combined with the absence of the organized resistant left" has made it more difficult for those of us opposed to repression and greed to tame the beast of narcissism in our midst -- and in our own minds.

The path toward a more meaningful, collective-oriented future -- has to begin with an introspective re-evaluation of how narcissism has skewed our personal, social and political lives. Many of us have, consciously or subconsciously, rejected a society that requires incessant self-promotion for economic survival by refusing to center our existences around publicity-seeking approaches to our life and work. In that act of rejection we can find a bit of shelter from the dangers of a hyperinflated ego.

But in the absence of a cohesive framework that helps us understand exactly what we've rejected (and why), many of us simply retreat from public engagement in what Commonsense Rebellion author and psychologist Bruce Levine characterizes as a "passive-aggressive rebellion against a society that demands we be incessantly self-promoting narcissists in order to survive."

Perhaps the hope, then, lies in a fuller understanding of what we are reacting to, and a healthier, more humane sense of what we'd rather embrace, including seemingly antiquated notions of honesty, humility, collectivism, ethical conduct and moderation in material possessions.

Essential to this process, as psychologists like Levine suggest, is also developing a more finely tuned awareness of the role narcissism plays in society. When complete extraction is not possible, then boundary setting is a necessary practice for preserving a healthy, socially and politically-engaged life.

Lasch, in a 1990 afterword to The Culture of Narcissism, wrote, "The best hope of emotional maturity, appears to lie in a recognition of our need for and dependence on people who nevertheless remain separate from ourselves and refuse to submit to our whims. It lies in a recognition of others not as projections of our own desires but as independent beings with desires of their own."

Most importantly, Lasch said, "The world does not exist merely to satisfy our own desires."

True words, indeed. And now, to heed.

Silja J.A. Talvi is a senior editor at In These Times.

Public Stoning: Not Just for the Taliban Anymore

By John Sugg, Creative Loafing (Atlanta). Posted August 15, 2006.

Christian reconstructionists believe democracy is heresy and public school is satanic -- and they've got more influence than you think.

Two really devilish guys materialized in Toccoa, Ga., last month to harangue 600 true believers on the gospel of a thoroughly theocratic America. Along with lesser lights of the religious far right who spoke at American Vision's "Worldview Super Conference 2006," Herb Titus and Gary North called for nothing short of the overthrow of the United States of America.

Titus and North aren't household names. But Titus, former dean of TV preacher Pat Robertson's Regent University law school, has led the legal battle to plant the Ten Commandants in county courthouses across the nation. North, an apostle of the creed called Christian Reconstructionism, is one of the most influential elders of American fundamentalism.

"I don't want to capture their (mainstream Americans') system. I want to replace it," fumed North to a cheering audience. North has called for the stoning of gays and nonbelievers (rocks are cheap and plentiful, he has observed). Both friends and foes label him "Scary Gary."

Are we in danger of an American Taliban? Probably not today. But Alabama's "Ten Commandments Judge" Roy Moore is aligned with this congregation, and one-third of Alabama Republicans who voted in the June primary supported him. When you see the South Dakota legislature outlaw abortions, the Reconstructionist agenda is at work. The movement's greatest success is in Christian home schooling, where many, if not most, of the textbooks are Reconstructionist-authored tomes.

Moreover, the Reconstructionists are the folks behind attacks on science and public education. They're allied with proselytizers who have tried to convert Air Force cadets -- future pilots with fingers on nuclear triggers -- into religious zealots. Like the communists of the 1930s, they exert tremendous stealth political gravity, drawing many sympathizers in their wake, and their friends now dominate the Republican Party in many states.

Titus' and North's speeches, laced with conspiracy theories about the Rockefellers and the Trilateral Commission, were more Leninist than Christian in the tactics proposed -- as in their vision to use freedom to destroy the freedom of others. That's not surprising -- the founder of Christian Reconstruction, the late fringe Calvinist theologian Rousas J. Rushdoony, railed against the "heresy" of democracy.

A Harvard-bred lawyer whose most famous client is Alabama's Judge Moore, Titus told the Toccoa gathering that the Second Amendment envisions the assassination of "tyrants;" that's why we have guns. Tyranny, of course, is subjective to these folks. Their imposition of a theocratic state would not, by their standards, be tyranny. Public schools, on the other hand, to them are tyrannical.

North is best known to Internet users for his prolific auguring that a Y2K computer bug would cause the calamitous end of civilization. In the days prior to the advent of this millennium, North urged subscribers to his delusional economic newsletters to go survivalist and prepare for the end. Many did so, dumping investments and life savings, a big oops.

"I lost a million and a half dollars when I sold off real estate," one of North's fans, a home-schooling advocate from Florida, told me during a lunch break between lectures touting creationism and damning secular humanism. But my lunch companion still anted more than pocket change to hear North make more prophesies in Toccoa. "I believe Gary North on Bible issues," he explained. I suggested that false prophets often pocket big profits, but I was talking to deaf ears.

Hosting the "Creation to Revelation... Connecting the Dots" event was a Powder Springs, Ga., publishing house, American Vision, whose pontiff is Gary DeMar. The outfit touts the antebellum South as a righteous society and favors the reintroduction of some forms of slavery (it's sanctioned in the Bible, Reconstructionists say) -- which may explain the blindingly monochrome audience at the gathering.

The setting was the Georgia Baptist Conference Center, a sprawling expanse of woods, hills and a man-made lake in the North Georgia mountains. Four decades ago, the Southern Baptists officially declared, "no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state" and "the church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work."

Times change. The Baptists lust for power, and they demand the state to do their bidding. I guess that explains the denomination's hosting of theocrats no less rigid and bloodthirsty than the Taliban's mullahs.

DeMar christened the gathering with invective against science.

"Evolution is as religious as Christianity," he said, a claim that certainly must amaze 99.99 percent of the scientific community. Science is irrelevant to these folks.

Everything they need to know about the universe and the origin of man is in the first two chapters of Genesis. They know the answer before any question is asked. DeMar's spin is what he calls a clash of "worldviews." According to DeMar and his speakers, God sanctions only their worldview. And that worldview is a hash of enforcing Old Testament Mosaic law (except when it comes to chowing down on pork barbecue), rewriting American history to endorse theocracy and explaining politics by the loopy theories of the John Birch Society. (Christian Reconstructionism evolved, so to speak, from a radical variation of Calvinism, AKA Puritanism, and the Bircher politics of such men as the late Marietta, Ga., congressman, Larry McDonald.) For most of the four-day conference, DeMar turned the Bible over to others to thump. North blamed the Rockefellers and the Trilateral Commission for the success of secularists. Titus told of Jesus making a personal appearance in the rafters of his Oregon home.

At the heart of what was taught by a succession of speakers:

  • Six-day, "young earth" creationism is the only acceptable doctrine for Christians. Even "intelligent design" or "old earth" creationism are compromises with evil secularism.
  • Public education is satanic and must be destroyed.
  • The First Amendment was intended to keep the federal government from imposing a national religion, but states should be free to foster a religious creed. (Several states did that during the colonial period and the nation's early days, a model the Reconstructionists want to emulate.)
  • The Founding Fathers intended to protect only the liberties of the established ultra-conservative denominations of that time. Expanding the list to include "liberal" Protestant denominations, much less Catholics, Jews and (gasp!) atheists, is a corruption of the Founders' intent.

Education earned the most vitriol at the conference. Effusing that the Religious Right has captured politics and much of the media, North proclaimed: "The only thing they (secularists) have still got a grip on is the university system." Academic doctorates, he contended, are a conspiracy fomented by the Rockefeller family. All academic programs (except, he said, engineering) are now dominated by secularists and Darwinists.

"Marxists in the English departments!" he ranted. "Close every public school in America!"

Among North's most quoted writings was this ditty from 1982: "[W]e must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation...which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God." Titus followed that party line when he proclaimed that the First Amendment is limited to guaranteeing "the right to criticize the government," but "free expression is not in the Constitution." When I asked him if blasphemy -- castigating religion -- was protected, he shook his head.

Like North, Titus sees public education as decidedly satanic. Also, welfare. He contended the Founding Fathers -- and Americans today -- owe their "first duties to God. It's not just worship. It's education... welfare to the poor. Welfare belongs exclusively to God. Why do schools fail? They're trying to do the business of God. Medicaid goes. Education goes. The church gets back to doing what it should do." And what should the church be doing According to these self-appointed arbiters of God's will, running our lives. And stoning those who disagree.

At the Toccoa conference, DeMar organized several debates -- and he commendably invited articulate opponents of his creed.

One was Ed Buckner, a retired Georgia State University professor, unabashed atheist and a member of the Atlanta Freethought Society. He debated Bill Federer, who makes a living trying to prove America's founders intended this to be a Christian nation.

Buckner offered to concede the debate if Federer could disprove any one of four points: Americans don't agree on religion, human judgment is imperfect, religious truth can't be determined by votes or force and freedom is worth protecting. Federer ran from the challenge, and instead offered a litany of historic quotes showing that most of America's founders believed in God.

Federer never got the point that if, as he argued, government should endorse his faith today, tomorrow officials might decide to ban his beliefs.

The other debate featured University of Georgia biologist Mark Farmer versus Australian "young earth" creationist Carl Wieland. Farmer, religious himself, tried to explain that no evidence had ever damaged evolutionary theory -- at best, creationists point to gaps in knowledge.

"Yes, we don't know the answers to everything," Farmer told me. "That's what science is all about, finding answers."

It would be easy to dismiss the Reconstructionists as the lunatic fringe, no more worrisome than the remnants of the Prohibition Party. But, in fact, they have rather extraordinary entrée and influence with top-tier Religious Right leaders and institutions.

James Dobson's Focus on the Family is now selling DeMar's book, America's Christian Heritage. Dobson himself has a warm relationship with many in the movement, and he has admitted voting for Reconstructionist presidential candidate Howard Phillips in 1996.

TV preacher Robertson has mentioned reading North's writings, and he has hired Reconstructionists as professors at Regent University. Jerry Falwell employs Reconstructionists to teach at Liberty University. Roger Schultz, the chair of Liberty's History Department, writes regularly for Faith for all of Life, the leading Reconstructionist journal.

Southern Baptist Bruce N. Shortt is aggressively pushing his denomination to officially repudiate public education and call on Southern Baptists to withdraw their children from public schools. Shortt's vicious book, The Harsh Truth about Public Schools, was published by the Reconstructionist Chalcedon Foundation.

There are big theological differences between the Religious Right's generals and the Reconstructionists. Traditional Christian theology teaches that history will muddle along until Jesus' Second Coming. That teaching is tough to turn into a political movement. Reconstructionists preach that the nation and the world must come under Christian "dominion" (as they define it) before Christ's return -- a wonderful theology to promote global conquest.

In short, Dobson, Robertson, Falwell and the Southern Baptist Convention (the nation's largest Protestant denomination) may not agree with everything the Reconstructionists advocate, but they sure don't seem to mind hanging out with this openly theocratic, anti-democratic crowd.

It's enough for Americans who believe in personal freedom and religious liberty to get worried about -- before the first stones start flying.

John Sugg is senior editor of Creative Loafing Newspapers. He was the recipient of the 2005 Society of Professional Journalists "Green Eyeshade" award for serious commentary, and he has won more than 30 other significant awards.

Three Ways (Out of 100) That America's Screwing Up the World

By John Tirman, AlterNet. Posted August 15, 2006.

From the lack of body counts in Iraq, to drug wars to torture, the United States is making the world a worse place to live in.

100 Ways America Is Screwing Up the World (Harper Perennial, 2006), by John Tirman.

The following three subchapters are excerpted from John Tirman's 100 Ways America Is Screwing Up the World (Harper Perennial, 2006). Read another excerpt here.

Three ways America is screwing up the world:

1. "We Don't Do Body Counts"

When U.S. General Tommy Franks uttered those words in 2003, he was conveying the new sentiments of the American military and its civilian leadership, that counting the dead of "the enemy" was not necessary or useful. Franks, who may be remembered as the only general in the annals of American history to lose two wars, was simply repeating what his political handlers told him to say, as all active duty generals do. In this case, it was an attempt to deflect the moral consequences of a "war of choice," a lesson Frank's generation learned from Vietnam. But the "no body counts" policy reverberates around the Arab and Muslim world, to America's detriment.

The policy is an insult and a mistake for two reasons. First, it lends the impression -- or is it a fact? -- that the United States does not care about civilian casualties. In the autumn of 2005, in a fairly typical sequence, the military announced that a sweep of Anbar province in Iraq had resulted in the death of 120 "terrorists." No civilian casualties were reported by the U.S. government, or by the American press. Al Jazeera, the Arabic news organization, had firsthand accounts of dozens of casualties. And it is inconceivable that major military operations of that kind would not result in casualties of the innocent. This is an embittering legacy of the war: not merely the fact of large numbers of war dead, but the neglect of even acknowledging that this could be occurring or is important enough to investigate.

Second, it is bad for the war effort itself. The American people have a right to know what is going on in their name. Learning about things like Abu Ghraib and casualties from foreign news sources or NGOs makes the revelations all the more troubling, as they think they are being lied to by their government. (Which they are, of course.) And military planners themselves should understand what the effect of operations is on civilian populations. Family ties are strong in Iraq, with close extended kinship networks; killing of family members, especially innocent family members, is likely to produce more resistance -- and more terrorists. It is one of the seemingly inexplicable things in Iraq -- how could the insurgency grow when America is so clearly a liberator, where even Sunni Arabs will ultimately be better off if only they would lay down their weapons? The answer is not only that they are former Saddamites or jihadists. The far more probable answer is that the insurgents are driven in part by acts of defense, in effect, or vengeful honor.

A military officer told me around that same time that "rules of engagement" for U.S. troops were so broad that civilians even faintly suspected of being insurgents were routinely "blown away." Men talking on cell phones, for example, while a U.S. military convoy was passing were fair game for shooting. Many anecdotes of this kind circulate, but have stimulated little curiosity on the part of journalists.

Most take at face value the estimates of Iraq Body Count, a noble effort to count, via press reports, the total number of Iraqi civilians killed in the war. Their estimate by the end of 2005 was about thirty thousand, but their method was incomplete, as they readily acknowledge, since they count only those who are reported dead in two or more reputable news sources. That's like doing the census of the United States by counting everyone mentioned in the news media.

A more complete estimate was provided by a team of epidemiologists, led by American and Iraqi health professionals, and published in the British medical journal, The Lancet. Using a well-tested method of random cluster surveys, interviewing more than 7,000 people, their midrange estimate was 98,000 dead in the first eighteen months of the war, with 80 percent of those likely to have been killed by U.S. and U.K. forces.

That report was widely dismissed in the United States as politically motivated or flawed, though the secretary of state and many others used the same method to estimate casualties in other wars, such as the Congo. (The method, by the way, while widely misunderstood, is perfectly sound.) The violence, by most accounts, increased in the next eighteen months, and one can safely assume that the actual dead in Iraq now exceed 100,000 by perhaps tens of thousands more.

The real reason why The Lancet study is ignored, and the whole topic of civilian deaths downplayed, is because that scale of mayhem is just too sickening to accept in a news media that largely supported the invasion, and by politicians who would pay a price for even indirectly criticizing the conduct of U.S. troops who, after all, do the killing.

The moral consequences of war are always inconvenient. They are especially troubling when a war has a veneer of righteousness. This attitude afflicts the media elite as much as the political leadership. "We don't do body counts" could have been uttered by the editor of the Washington Post as easily as the general in charge. That they are both morally bankrupt on this issue is obvious for all the world to see.

2. Getting High

Much of my professional time is spent studying armed conflicts around the world.

One can't help noticing that wars today are often mixed up with crime, and that crime is often about drugs -- heroin and cocaine, in particular. The production of opiates is connected to the wars and instability in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Burma. Cocaine is produced in the Andean countries of South America, particularly Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia, and all three have suffered from ongoing civil wars --Colombia's is almost forty years old -- and social unrest. Then there are the transit countries, like most of Central America. You add it up and a lot of countries are involved. Of course, one country is most involved, not as an exporter, but the consumer: the United States.

Getting high is an American tradition. Alcohol and tobacco consumption is as old as the Republic. The use of legal pharmaceuticals for depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, and the like increased markedly after the Second World War. The legal drug market set the stage for illegal drug consumption. Even now, after all the public service campaigns about these issues, the consumption of alcohol by American teens and pre-teens is astounding in scale: 20 percent of the alcohol imbibed nationwide goes down the gullets of kids between twelve and twenty years old, and in that age group, half of them drink. They account for $22 billion in booze.

So the stage is set for illicit drug consumption. Americans consume more cocaine than any other country, 300 million metric tons annually. In the 1990s, about $70 billion was spent in America on coke by 3 to 4 million "hard-core" users and some 6 million occasional users. Up to a million Americans were hooked on heroin, and that cost about $20 billion a year. Trends suggest that use of cocaine may actually be declining, but statistics in general are a little dodgy when it comes to these practices. It's still a very big business.

The industry that supplies the habits of Americans gives new meaning to the word globalization. West African couriers go to Bangkok to purchase Burmese-made heroin and run it through no-hassle airports in Africa and take their chances at border crossings in Mexico and Canada. Cocaine shippers, we know, have their own air fleet. The transit points for all this stuff reads like a who's who of failed states (or venues of the Reagan Doctrine): Angola, Cambodia, Guatemala, Nigeria, Honduras, Mozambique.

The drug money -- a little goes a long way in some of these countries -- feeds the corrupt and brutal, rogue cops and dirty politicians, ready to take the graft in one hand and U.S. "war on drugs" money in the other. They are often involved with the other contraband that fuels war and crime: gunrunning, diamonds, or even higher-end goods like nuclear technology. They sometimes have connections to the likes of al Qaeda. It all seems to go hand in hand. And drugs are at the center of it.

The war on drugs is generally considered to be a failed policy, and an expensive one, though it has its defenders. Our federal and state governments spend something like $50 billion annually, both at home and abroad, in the drug war. A million are arrested, many of them incarcerated, bringing on more billions in costs. In places like Colombia, the war on drugs is mixed up with the civil war itself. Local police and military elites use the drug war for other purposes -- not only old-fashioned graft, but as a way to settle scores and dispatch enemies. Eradication of crops only works if the local people want it and there are alternatives, which are rarely in the mix. Very few independent analysts regard the war on drugs as a success, mainly because it is being fought in the wrong places -- the problem is not abroad, but in ourselves.

Free trade helps the drug trade. The war on terrorism may hinder it in some places, but help it in others. In Afghanistan, the overthrow of the Taliban opened the door to new cultivators and exporters of heroin.

It's a very confusing picture. The one remedy that has not been tried, of course, is legalization. There is a ferocious debate about the harmful effects of drugs, and what legalization (controlled, taxed, etc.) might bring. But one thing is certain: the hunger for illegal drugs in the United States reverberates around the world. It is violent, corrupting, and enormously costly to millions of people on every continent.

3. Torture

I will keep this one short, because it is so obvious and hardly any rational and moral individual would disagree with me. In fact, there is so much unanimity on this matter among knowledgeable people worldwide that I thought perhaps this should not be one of the 100 Ways. But then I saw Condi Rice in Europe defending the "renditions" of "suspects," spirited off to secret prisons where no doubt they would come in for some serious hands-on interrogations, claiming these contemptible practices saved European lives -- almost certainly a complete falsehood -- and I thought, well, yes, torture deserves a few words.

America has overall been quite free of torture as an official state policy or practice, so it is perhaps a little premature to claim that the recent reliance on torture prisons for the massive detentions of fighters from Afghanistan and Iraq and others has "screwed up the world." Too soon, but not too far fetched. The revelations about the U.S. torture techniques and the persistence of Bush administration in defending and using them are a colossal national shame that has muddied whatever conceivable moral clarity guided the new crusades in the Middle East.

Apart from it being morally repugnant, a slap at the ideals the country tends to uphold, and a violation of international law -- often flimsy reasons in the minds of torturers -- the practice of maximizing pain doesn't work. People who actually know something valuable (unlike the thousands of low-level prisoners at Guantánamo and other prisons) are the least likely to talk. And some will talk and say anything to stop the beatings, burnings, poisonings and other methods in the torturer's quiver. Hence, the many false alarms and "orange alerts" since 9/11 (which, conveniently, also have political value). "No one has yet offered any validated evidence that torture produces reliable intelligence," notes General David Irvine, a specialist on interrogations. "While torture apologists frequently make the claim that torture saves lives, that assertion is directly contradicted by many Army, FBI, and CIA professionals who have actually interrogated al Qaeda captives."

In its Eight Lessons of Torture, the Center for the Victims of Torture, an experienced, Minneapolis-based NGO, notes in lesson number one (that torture does not yield reliable information) that "nearly every client at the Center for Victims of Torture, when subjected to torture, confessed to a crime they did not commit, gave up extraneous information, or supplied names of innocent friends or colleagues to their torturers." And as many people have argued, including former interrogators, torture has a corrupting influence on the torturers.

The big "what-if" in the debate is "what if a captured terrorist knew of a plan to detonate a nuclear weapon in Manhattan, should we use all means to stop that?" Such what-ifs depend on many implausible scenarios converging. The simple fact is that suicide bombing has shown that the most politically violent people will die for their cause; this is not exactly news. So if in the unlikely case (getting a nuclear device is an extremely low-probability event) someone did know of such a thing about to happen, and we're pulling out their fingernails, we can rest assured they won't talk, because they would have committed to dying anyway. People who argue otherwise are not only morally corrupt but naïve. We could, however, pose a more likely what-if: What if a would-be terrorist becomes a deadly fighter because America is torturing his compatriots? That"what-if is already under way. Some people -- American torturers -- have blood on their hands as a result.

Case closed. The torture, the illegal detentions, the unnecessary killings, the grisly prisons -- not a single benefit has been shown from this tawdriness and moral depravity. It is likely to outlive its alleged purposes and brand the perpetrators forever.

John Tirman is executive director of MIT's Center for International Studies.


August 15, 1961

Two days after sealing off free passage between East and West Berlin with barbed
wire, East German authorities begin building a wall--the Berlin Wall--to
permanently close off access to the West. For the next 28 years, the heavily
fortified Berlin Wall stood as the most tangible symbol of the Cold War--a
literal "iron curtain" dividing Europe.The end of World War II in 1945 saw
Germany divided into four Allied occupation zones. Berlin, the German capital,
was likewise divided into occupation sectors, even though it was located deep
within the Soviet zone. The future of Germany and Berlin was a major sticking
point in postwar treaty talks, and tensions grew when the United States,
Britain, and France moved in 1948 to unite their occupation zones into a single
autonomous entity--the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). In response,
the USSR launched a land blockade of West Berlin in an effort to force the West
to abandon the city. However, a massive airlift by Britain and the United States
kept West Berlin supplied with food and fuel, and in May 1949 the Soviets ended
the defeated blockade.By 1961, Cold War tensions over Berlin were running high
again. For East Germans dissatisfied with life under the communist system, West
Berlin was a gateway to the democratic West. Between 1949 and 1961, some 2.5
million East Germans fled from East to West Germany, most via West Berlin. By
August 1961, an average of 2,000 East Germans were crossing into the West every
day. Many of the refugees were skilled laborers, professionals, and
intellectuals, and their loss was having a devastating effect on the East German
economy. To halt the exodus to the West, Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev
recommended to East Germany that it close off access between East and West
Berlin. On the night of August 12-13, 1961, East German soldiers laid down more
than 30 miles of barbed wire barrier through the heart of Berlin. East Berlin
citizens were forbidden to pass into West Berlin, and the number of checkpoints
in which Westerners could cross the border was drastically reduced. The West,
taken by surprise, threatened a trade embargo against East Germany as a
retaliatory measure. The Soviets responded that such an embargo be answered with
a new land blockade of West Berlin. When it became evident that the West was not
going to take any major action to protest the closing, East German authorities
became emboldened, closing off more and more checkpoints between East and West
Berlin. On August 15, they began replacing barbed wire with concrete. The wall,
East German authorities declared, would protect their citizens from the
pernicious influence of decadent capitalist culture.The first concrete pilings
went up on the Bernauer Strasse and at the Potsdamer Platz. Sullen East German
workers, a few in tears, constructed the first segments of the Berlin Wall as
East German troops stood guarding them with machine guns. With the border
closing permanently, escape attempts by East Germans intensified on August 15.
Conrad Schumann, a 19-year-old East German soldier, provided the subject for a
famous image when he was photographed leaping over the barbed-wire barrier to
freedom.During the rest of 1961, the grim and unsightly Berlin Wall continued to
grow in size and scope, eventually consisting of a series of concrete walls up
to 15 feet high. These walls were topped with barbed wire and guarded with
watchtowers, machine gun emplacements, and mines. By the 1980s, this system of
walls and electrified fences extended 28 miles through Berlin and 75 miles
around West Berlin, separating it from the rest of East Germany. The East
Germans also erected an extensive barrier along most of the 850-mile border
between East and West Germany.In the West, the Berlin Wall was regarded as a
major symbol of communist oppression. About 5,000 East Germans managed to escape
across the Berlin Wall to the West, but the frequency of successful escapes
dwindled as the wall was increasingly fortified. Thousands of East Germans were
captured during attempted crossings and 191 were killed.In 1989, East Germany's
communist regime was overwhelmed by the democratization sweeping across Eastern
Europe. On the evening of November 9, 1989, East Germany announced an easing of
travel restrictions to the West, and thousands demanded passage though the
Berlin Wall. Faced with growing demonstrations, East German border guards opened
the borders. Jubilant Berliners climbed on top of the Berlin Wall, painted
graffiti on it, and removed fragments as souvenirs. The next day, East German
troops began dismantling the wall. In 1990, East and West Germany were formally

Constitutional Amendment: Right to Privacy update Weekly Update August 14, 2006
Your Ideas: Constitutional Amendment: Right to Privacy

As part of our focus on activists and their ideas, we present this proposed idea for legislation from Bonita Springs, Fl.

A "Privacy Amendment" to state and the U.S. Constitutions that guarantees a right to privacy in all areas of our lives. This would impact things such as telemarketeing calls, medical records access, gun registration, abortion, gay rights and many other areas of personal behavior and activity. Most of these issues were impacted by courts' interpretations of a right to privacy and the debate as to whether the U.S. Constitution has an implied right to privacy as was decided for example in Roe v. Wade. By passing an amendment, this issue and others would be decided once and for all.

Should your elected officials support or introduce a constitutional amendment that guarantees a right to privacy? Write to President Bush, Congress and your governor and state legislature to let them know your views on this idea. Start by selecting your view:

I Support A Right to Privacy Amendment to the Constitution

I Oppose a Right to Privacy Amendment to the Constitution

Post your letter for others to see with the "Letters to Leaders" option and share a picture of you or your issue and a bit about yoruself for your elected officials and others to see by using the "See Me" option.

Look at the gallery of activists to see what people are interested in
or read letters that others in your city or state have sent. Weekly Update Editors

(Please add the e-mail address to your address book or buddy list to ensure prompt delivery of this newsletter.)


by Greg Palast

Monday August 14, 2006

So, Osama Walks into This Bar, See? and Bush says, "Whad'l'ya have, pardner?" and Osama says...

But wait a minute. I'd better shut my mouth. The sign here in the airport says, "Security is no joking matter." But if security's no joking matter, why does this guy dressed in a high-school marching band outfit tell me to dump my Frappuccino and take off my shoes? All I can say is, Thank the Lord the "shoe bomber" didn't carry Semtex in his underpants.

Today's a RED and ORANGE ALERT day. How odd. They just caught the British guys with the chemistry sets. But when these guys were about to blow up airliners, the USA was on YELLOW alert. That's a "lowered" threat notice.

According to the press office from the Department of Homeland Security, lowered-threat Yellow means that there were no special inspections of passengers or cargo. Isn't it nice of Mr. Bush to alert Osama when half our security forces are given the day off? Hmm. I asked an Israeli security expert why his nation doesn't use these pretty color codes.

He asked me if, when I woke up, I checked the day's terror color.

"I can't say I ever have. I mean, who would?"

He smiled. "The terrorists."

America is the only nation on the planet that kindly informs bombers, hijackers and berserkers the days on which they won't be monitored. You've got to get up pretty early in the morning to get a jump on George Bush's team.

There are three possible explanations for the Administration's publishing a good-day-for-bombing color guidebook.

1. God is on Osama's side.

2. George is on Osama's side.

3. Fear sells better than sex.

A gold star if you picked #3.

The Fear Factory

I'm going to tell you something which is straight-up heresy: America is not under attack by terrorists. There is no WAR on terror because, except for one day five years ago, al Qaeda has pretty much left us alone.

That's because Osama got what he wanted. There's no mystery about what Al Qaeda was after. Like everyone from the Girl Scouts to Bono, Osama put his wish on his web site. He had a single demand: "Crusaders out of the land of the two Holy Places." To translate: get US troops out of Saudi Arabia.

And George Bush gave it to him. On April 29, 2003, two days before landing on the aircraft carrier Lincoln, our self-described "War President" quietly put out a notice that he was withdrawing our troops from Saudi soil. In other words, our cowering cowboy gave in whimpering to Osama's demand.

The press took no note. They were all wiggie over Bush's waddling around the carrier deck in a disco-aged jump suit announcing, "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED." But it wasn't America's mission that was accomplished, it was Osama's.

Am I saying there's no danger, no threat? Sure there is: 46 million Americans don't have health insurance. IBM is legally stealing from its employees' pension plan and United Airlines has dumped its pensions altogether. Four-million three-hundred thousand Americans were injured, made sick or killed by their jobs last year. TXU Corporation is right now building four monster-sized power plants in Texas that will burn skuzzy gunk called "lignite." The filth it will pour into the sky will snuff a heck of a lot more Americans than some goofy group of fanatics with bottles of hydrogen peroxide.

But Americans don't ask for real protection from what's killing us. The War on Terror is the Weapon of Mass Distraction. Instead of demanding health insurance, we have 59 million of our fellow citizens pooping in their pants with fear of Al Qaeda, waddling to the polls, crying, "Georgie save us!"

And what does he give us? In my own small town, the federal government has paid for loading an SUV with .50 caliber machine guns to watch for an Al Qaeda attack at the dock of the ferry that takes tourists to the Indian casino in Connecticut. The casino dock is my town's officially designated "Critical Asset and Vulnerability Infrastructure Point (CAVIP)." (To find the most vulnerable points to attack in the USA, Al Qaeda can download a list from the Department of Homeland Security -- no kidding.)

But that's not all. Bush is protecting us from English hijackers with a fearsome anti-terrorist tool: the Virginia-class submarine. The V-boat was originally meant to hunt Soviet subs. But there are no more Soviet subs. So, General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin have "refitted" these Cold War dinosaurs with new torpedoes redesigned to carry counter-terror commandoes. That's right: when we find Osama's beach house, we can shoot our boys right up under his picnic table and take him out. These Marines-in-a-tube injector boats cost $2.5 billion each -- and our President's ordered half a dozen new ones.

Lynn Cheney, the Veep's wife, still takes in compensation from Lockheed as a former board member. I'm sure that has nothing to do with this multi-billion dollar "anti-terror" contract.

Fear sells better than sex. Fear is the sales pitch for many lucrative products: from billion-dollar sailor injectors to one very lucrative war in Mesopotamia (a third of a trillion dollars doled out, no audits, no questions asked).

Better than toothpaste that makes our teeth whiter than white, this stuff will make us safer than safe. It's political junk food, the cheap filling in the flashy tube. What we don't get is safety from the real dangers: a life-threatening health-care system, lung-murdering pollution production and a trade deficit with China that's reducing mid-America to coolie status. Protecting us from these true threats would take a slice of the profits of the Lockheeds, the Exxons and the rest of the owning class.

War on Terror is class war by other means -- to keep you from asking for real protection from true menace, the landlords of our nation give you fake protection from manufactured dangers. And they remind you to be afraid every time you fly to see Aunt Millie and have to give up your hemorrhoid ointment to the underpaid guy in the bell-hop suit with a security badge.

Oh, hey, you never got the punch line.
So, Osama Walks into This Bar, See? and Bush says, "Whad'l'ya have, pardner?" and Osama says, "Well, George, what are you serving today?" and Bush says, "Fear," and Osama shouts, "Fear for everybody!" and George pours it on for the crowd. Then the presidential bartender says, "Hey, who's buying?" and Osama points a thumb at the crowd sucking down their brew. "They are," he says. And the two of them share a quiet laugh.


Greg Palast is the author of the just-released New York Times bestseller, "ARMED MADHOUSE: Who's Afraid of Osama Wolf?, China Floats Bush Sinks, the Scheme to Steal '08, No Child's Behind Left and other Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Class War" from which this is adapted. Go to

Lt. Ehren Watada's Speech:

Lt. Ehren Watada's Speech:
"Soldiers Can Choose to Stop Fighting"
Veterans for Peace Convention - August 12, 2006
A Film by Sari Gelzer

Part I
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Part II
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Ehren Watada
By Dahr Jamail
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Monday 14 August 2006

On Saturday night, I was lucky enough to be at the Veterans for Peace National Convention. For that night, Lt. Ehren Watada was able to give the following speech, which I've just received permission to post here. The speech was met with a powerful, standing ovation from the vets who've been there.

Lt. Ehren Watada, for those who don't already know, became the first commissioned officer to publicly refuse deployment to the unlawful war and occupation in Iraq. While doing this on June 22, 2006, Watada said, "As the order to take part in an illegal act is ultimately unlawful as well, I must refuse that order."

Just as Watada took the stage and began to speak, over 50 members of Iraq Veterans Against the War filed in behind him. Watada, surprised by this and obviously taken aback by the symbolic act, turned back to the audience, took some deep breaths, then gave this speech:

Thank you everyone. Thank you all for your tremendous support. How honored and delighted I am to be in the same room with you tonight. I am deeply humbled by being in the company of such wonderful speakers.

You are all true American patriots. Although long since out of uniform, you continue to fight for the very same principles you once swore to uphold and defend. No one knows the devastation and suffering of war more than veterans - which is why we should always be the first to prevent it.

I wasn't entirely sure what to say tonight. I thought as a leader in general I should speak to motivate. Now I know that this isn't the military and surely there are many out there who outranked me at one point or another - and yes, I'm just a Lieutenant. And yet, I feel as though we are all citizens of this great country and what I have to say is not a matter of authority - but from one citizen to another. We have all seen this war tear apart our country over the past three years. It seems as though nothing we've done, from vigils to protests to letters to Congress, have had any effect in persuading the powers that be. Tonight I will speak to you on my ideas for a change of strategy. I am here tonight because I took a leap of faith. My action is not the first and it certainly will not be the last. Yet, on behalf of those who follow, I require your help - your sacrifice - and that of countless other Americans. I may fail. We may fail. But nothing we have tried has worked so far. It is time for change and the change starts with all of us.

I stand before you today, not as an expert - not as one who pretends to have all the answers. I am simply an American and a servant of the American people. My humble opinions today are just that. I realize that you may not agree with everything I have to say. However, I did not choose to be a leader for popularity. I did it to serve and make better the soldiers of this country. And I swore to carry out this charge honorably under the rule of law.

Today, I speak with you about a radical idea. It is one born from the very concept of the American soldier (or service member). It became instrumental in ending the Vietnam War - but it has been long since forgotten. The idea is this: that to stop an illegal and unjust war, the soldiers can choose to stop fighting it.

Now it is not an easy task for the soldier. For he or she must be aware that they are being used for ill-gain. They must hold themselves responsible for individual action. They must remember duty to the Constitution and the people supersedes the ideologies of their leadership. The soldier must be willing to face ostracism by their peers, worry over the survival of their families, and of course the loss of personal freedom. They must know that resisting an authoritarian government at home is equally important to fighting a foreign aggressor on the battlefield. Finally, those wearing the uniform must know beyond any shadow of a doubt that by refusing immoral and illegal orders they will be supported by the people not with mere words but by action.

The American soldier must rise above the socialization that tells them authority should always be obeyed without question. Rank should be respected but never blindly followed. Awareness of the history of atrocities and destruction committed in the name of America - either through direct military intervention or by proxy war - is crucial. They must realize that this is a war not out of self-defense but by choice, for profit and imperialistic domination. WMD, ties to Al Qaeda, and ties to 9/11 never existed and never will. The soldier must know that our narrowly and questionably elected officials intentionally manipulated the evidence presented to Congress, the public, and the world to make the case for war. They must know that neither Congress nor this administration has the authority to violate the prohibition against pre-emptive war - an American law that still stands today. This same administration uses us for rampant violations of time-tested laws banning torture and degradation of prisoners of war. Though the American soldier wants to do right, the illegitimacy of the occupation itself, the policies of this administration, and rules of engagement of desperate field commanders will ultimately force them to be party to war crimes. They must know some of these facts, if not all, in order to act.

Mark Twain once remarked, "Each man must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, which course is patriotic and which isn't. You cannot shirk this and be a man. To decide against your conviction is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country …" By this, each and every American soldier, marine, airman, and sailor is responsible for their choices and their actions. The freedom to choose is only one that we can deny ourselves.

The oath we take swears allegiance not to one man but to a document of principles and laws designed to protect the people. Enlisting in the military does not relinquish one's right to seek the truth - neither does it excuse one from rational thought nor the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. "I was only following orders" is never an excuse.

The Nuremburg Trials showed America and the world that citizenry as well as soldiers have the unrelinquishable obligation to refuse complicity in war crimes perpetrated by their government. Widespread torture and inhumane treatment of detainees is a war crime. A war of aggression born through an unofficial policy of prevention is a crime against the peace. An occupation violating the very essence of international humanitarian law and sovereignty is a crime against humanity. These crimes are funded by our tax dollars. Should citizens choose to remain silent through self-imposed ignorance or choice, it makes them as culpable as the soldier in these crimes.

The Constitution is no mere document - neither is it old, out-dated, or irrelevant. It is the embodiment of all that Americans hold dear: truth, justice, and equality for all. It is the formula for a government of the people and by the people. It is a government that is transparent and accountable to whom they serve. It dictates a system of checks and balances and separation of powers to prevent the evil that is tyranny.

As strong as the Constitution is, it is not foolproof. It does not fully take into account the frailty of human nature. Profit, greed, and hunger for power can corrupt individuals as much as they can corrupt institutions. The founders of the Constitution could not have imagined how money would infect our political system. Neither could they believe a standing army would be used for profit and manifest destiny. Like any common dictatorship, soldiers would be ordered to commit acts of such heinous nature as to be deemed most ungentlemanly and unbecoming that of a free country.

The American soldier is not a mercenary. He or she does not simply fight wars for payment. Indeed, the state of the American soldier is worse than that of a mercenary. For a soldier-for-hire can walk away if they are disgusted by their employer's actions. Instead, especially when it comes to war, American soldiers become indentured servants whether they volunteer out of patriotism or are drafted through economic desperation. Does it matter what the soldier believes is morally right? If this is a war of necessity, why force men and women to fight? When it comes to a war of ideology, the lines between right and wrong are blurred. How tragic it is when the term Catch-22 defines the modern American military.

Aside from the reality of indentured servitude, the American soldier in theory is much nobler. Soldier or officer, when we swear our oath it is first and foremost to the Constitution and its protectorate, the people. If soldiers realized this war is contrary to what the Constitution extols - if they stood up and threw their weapons down - no President could ever initiate a war of choice again. When we say, "… Against all enemies foreign and domestic," what if elected leaders became the enemy? Whose orders do we follow? The answer is the conscience that lies in each soldier, each American, and each human being. Our duty to the Constitution is an obligation, not a choice.

The military, and especially the Army, is an institution of fraternity and close-knit camaraderie. Peer pressure exists to ensure cohesiveness but it stamps out individualism and individual thought. The idea of brotherhood is difficult to pull away from if the alternative is loneliness and isolation. If we want soldiers to choose the right but difficult path - they must know beyond any shadow of a doubt that they will be supported by Americans. To support the troops who resist, you must make your voices heard. If they see thousands supporting me, they will know. I have heard your support, as has Suzanne Swift, and Ricky Clousing - but many others have not. Increasingly, more soldiers are questioning what they are being asked to do. Yet, the majority lack awareness to the truth that is buried beneath the headlines. Many more see no alternative but to obey. We must show open-minded soldiers a choice and we must give them courage to act.

Three weeks ago, Sgt. Hernandez from the 172nd Stryker Brigade was killed, leaving behind a wife and two children. In an interview, his wife said he sacrificed his life so that his family could survive. I'm sure Sgt. Hernandez cherished the camaraderie of his brothers, but given a choice, I doubt he would put himself in a position to leave his family husbandless and fatherless. Yet that's the point, you see. People like Sgt. Hernandez don't have a choice. The choices are to fight in Iraq or let your family starve. Many soldiers don't refuse this war en mass because, like all of us,, they value their families over their own lives and perhaps their conscience. Who would willingly spend years in prison for principle and morality while denying their family sustenance?

I tell this to you because you must know that to stop this war, for the soldiers to stop fighting it, they must have the unconditional support of the people. I have seen this support with my own eyes. For me it was a leap of faith. For other soldiers, they do not have that luxury. They must know it and you must show it to them. Convince them that no matter how long they sit in prison, no matter how long this country takes to right itself, their families will have a roof over their heads, food in their stomachs, opportunities and education. This is a daunting task. It requires the sacrifice of all of us. Why must Canadians feed and house our fellow Americans who have chosen to do the right thing? We should be the ones taking care of our own. Are we that powerless - are we that unwilling to risk something for those who can truly end this war? How do you support the troops but not the war? By supporting those who can truly stop it; let them know that resistance to participate in an illegal war is not futile and not without a future.

I have broken no law but the code of silence and unquestioning loyalty. If I am guilty of any crime, it is that I learned too much and cared too deeply for the meaningless loss of my fellow soldiers and my fellow human beings. If I am to be punished it should be for following the rule of law over the immoral orders of one man. If I am to be punished it should be for not acting sooner. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period … was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people."

Now, I'm not a hero. I am a leader of men who said enough is enough. Those who called for war prior to the invasion compared diplomacy with Saddam to the compromises made with Hitler. I say, we compromise now by allowing a government that uses war as the first option instead of the last to act with impunity. Many have said this about the World Trade Towers, "Never Again." I agree. Never again will we allow those who threaten our way of life to reign free - be they terrorists or elected officials. The time to fight back is now - the time to stand up and be counted is today.

I'll end with one more Martin Luther King Jr. quote:

One who breaks an unjust law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

Thank you and bless you all.

The only thing Watada said that I would disagree with is that he claimed that he is not a hero. He is a leader, yet again, by taking this stance. And he may never know how many lives he has already touched.

Today, it is up to the anti-war movement to make sure his leadership touches as many soldiers' lives in Iraq as possible. Watada is making his stand. He needs continued support.

As he said, if more American soldiers in Iraq know that they, along with their families, will be supported if they stand up against this illegal occupation, countless more will follow, and this repulsive war will end.

Dahr Jamail is an independent journalist who has reported for the Guardian, the Independent, and the Sunday Herald. He now writes regularly for Inter Press Service and Truthout. He maintains a web site at

Week in Review

This is a little late but I'm still working through that backlog. I just felt that there were some intereting facts and figures that could be used as fuel for the November elections................PEACE................Scott

Women's Week in Review


In the wake of an unfolding terror plot and their own plummeting poll numbers, Republicans in Washington have once again dusted off their tired campaign playbook in a desperate attempt to stay alive politically. Party leaders and even White House officials have again begun engaging in fear-mongering to distract from their failed record and salvage their dwindling campaign prospects in November.

With no record to run on, the President's poll numbers in the tank and polls showing Americans' willingness to put their trust in Democrats to keep them safe, Republicans are resorting to smear tactics and fear-mongering in their efforts to win votes in November.

The American people want real leadership, not more mean-spirited, partisan propaganda. Democrats have a new direction for securing America that includes protecting our airports, ports and borders, implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 commission, and a real plan for success in Iraq.

The GOP's Real Record Of Failure To Keep America Safe

  • 9/11 Commission Gave Bush Administration An "F" On Improving Airline Passenger Pre-screening.
  • 9/11 Commission Gave Bush Administration A "C" On Improving Airline Screening Checkpoints To Detect Explosives.
  • Republicans Voted Against $1.1 Billion for Aviation Security and $720 Million for Airport Security.
  • Bush Administration and Republican Congress Underfunded Border Security Called For By 9/11 Act.


One year ago this month, President Bush signed the Republican energy bill, giving $8 billion in tax breaks to energy companies. Since then, the American people continue to struggle just to fill up their gas tanks (Yikes! gas prices are up 65% since Bush's second inauguration.) One year after passing the Republican energy plan, America is no closer to becoming energy independent. Adding insult to injury, now we hear about British Petroleum's (BP) closure of a key Alaskan oilfield due to infrastructure problems. Seems Republican oversight of our critical resources is severely lacking. Once again, Republicans in Washington are favoring their special interest friends over the American consumer. It's a kick to the gut just as millions of American families are hoping to take a summer's vacation before the kids return to school.

Energy companies, which have given generously to the Bush White House and rubber stamp Republican Congress, have raked in record profits. In fact, this year, three of the largest oil companies reported nearly $30 billion in income, and their CEOs made millions. And don't forget that the oil industry helped write the Republican energy bill. The White House still refuses to reveal who was part of the Bush-Cheney Energy Task Force - doesn't that say it all?

Who is standing up for the American consumer? Democrats have a plan to make America energy independent by 2020 that includes investment in alternative fuels and energy conservation.

Record Prices...
Since Bush's 2nd Inauguration, Gas Prices Have Risen $1.20, a 65 % Increase. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the price of regular, unleaded, gasoline has risen by $1.20, or 65%, since Bush's 2nd inauguration. On January 17, 2005, just before Bush's second inauguration, the average price of gasoline was $1.84 a gallon. As of August 7, 2006, the average price of gasoline is $3.04 per gallon. And Since Bush's 1st Inauguration, Gas Prices Have Doubled. [Energy Information Administration,]

...And Record Profits
ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco and ConocoPhillips Reported Net Income of $27 Billion for First Half of 2006. ExxonMobil reported net income of $18.76 billion for the first half of 2006, with second quarter earnings of $10.36 billion. ConocoPhillips reported second-quarter net income of $5.186 billion, bringing its net income for the first six months to $8.48 billion. ChevronTexaco reported second quarter net income of $4.35 billion, bringing its six month total to $8.35 billion. [ConocoPhillips Press Release, 7/26/06; ExxonMobil Press Release, 7/27/06; Chevron Texaco Press Release, 7/28/06]

...And Record CEO Salaries
ConocoPhillips CEO Received Nearly $31 Million in Bonuses and Stock Options. ChevronTexaco CEO Received Nearly $9 Million in Bonuses and Stock Options. ExxonMobil CEO Received Nearly $4 Million in Bonuses and Stock Options. [Forbes, accessed 8/8/06]

...And Bush Is in the Oil Companies' Pockets
Energy Bill Rewards Bush Fundraisers. According to the Washington Post, the 2004 Republican energy bill, nearly identical to the current one, provided billions of dollars in benefits to companies run by at least 22 executives and their spouses who were either "Pioneers" or "Rangers," as well as to the clients of at least 15 lobbyists and their spouses who have achieved similar status as fundraisers. The energy bill provides industry tax breaks worth $23.5 billion over 10 years aimed at increasing domestic oil and gas production, and $5.4 billion in subsidies and loan guarantees. [Washington Post, 11/24/05]


This month marks the fifth anniversary of President Bush's decision to ignore sound science, play partisan political games and deny hope to millions of Americans. Five years ago, President Bush declared that his Administration would ban federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Bush used his first prime time address, and five years later, exercised his first veto to stop expansion of life-saving research. Democrats strongly support increasing federal funding for stem cell research.

The actions by the Bush Administration haves a clear impact on Americans: Patients and families with loved ones who suffer from diabetes, spinal cord injuries and Alzheimer's cannot trust Republicans to put their health and well being ahead of partisan politics and ideology. Democrats support investments in life-saving research like stem cells and the hope of new cures and treatments that it offers.


Election Day is Tuesday, November 7, 2006.

Start planning for Election Day by taking November 7th off work. You can't help get out the vote if you have other obligations, so take a minute to clear your schedule early.

We are less than 90 days away. It's a Tuesday. If you have the time and can manage it, plan to take off Monday, November 6th too. Check your schedule for medical appointments or commitments with your parents or children (?-xism:-) and then, reschedule now!

Election Day needs are many and are varied, beginning as early as 5 a.m. with a morning literature drop (leaving a reminder to vote on the doorknob so voters see it as they leave for work in the morning) to a late night stint at the Board of Elections while the votes are counted. In between, volunteers are needed on the phones, at the doors, at the polls, at busy intersections with signs and smiles, on the road driving voters to and from the polls, running between precincts delivering "care packages" to fellow volunteers, etc...

If you are able to work on Election Day there is a job that will need to be done. If you have vacation time available as an employee, be thankful as many women around the country do not have paid vacation or sick leave. Remember them as you submit your time-off request. We are fighting for candidates with a platform of issues that includes ensuring all workers have the benefit of a vacation or sick day when needed!

Learn more about the 100 Actions! Project and get ready for Election Day. In an effort to support Democrats up and down the ballot, the website provides a new daily action through Election Day and provides resources focused on empowering every American with the tools he or she needs to become involved with the Democratic Party. The site also connects people wanting to volunteer with local campaigns through their state parties or coordinated campaigns as a way to provide the people-power that's vital to effective get-out-the-vote efforts in November.



Each week, we are adding more women candidates to the list of Federal and Statewide Democratic nominees. This week we feature winners in Connecticut, Colorado, Georgia, Michigan and Missouri from our August 8th primaries and runoffs. Look for a complete list of women Democratic nominees running for Federal and Statewide office in late-September, following the September 28th primaries. * indicates candidate is an incumbent.

Federal Office

CT - Rosa DeLauro (C-3)*
CT - Diane Farrell (C-4)
CO - Diana Degette (C-1) *
CO - Angie Paccione (C-4)
MI - Debbie Stabenow (Senate) *
MI - Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (C-13) *
MI - Sharon Renier (C-7)
MI - Nancy Skinner (C-9)
MO - Claire McCaskill (Senate)
MO - Sara Jo Shettles (C-6)
MO - Veronica Hambacker (C-8)

Statewide Office

CT - Mary Glassman, Lt. Governor
CT - Susan Bysiewicz, Secretary of State *
CT - Denise Nappier, Treasurer *
CT - Nancy Wyman, Comptroller *
CO - Barbara O'Brien, Lt. Governor
CO - Fern O'Brien, Attorney General
CO - Cary Kennedy, Treasurer
GA - Gail Buckner, Secretary of State
MI - Jennifer Granholm, Governor *
MO - Susan Montree, Auditor

Visit their websites, support their candidacies, and share their stories with your friends and family! And get ready to vote in these upcoming primaries: Nevada - August 15, Alaska and Wyoming - August 22.


Another woman has joined the Democratic Party - after realizing the Republican Party has no room for her and her moderate views. As a State Senator in Oklahoma, Sen. Nancy Riley's focus in the State Legislature has been on "families, children and the average Oklahoman."

A former teacher and now a former Republican, Riley joined the Democratic Party Aug. 7th, surrounded by half a dozen Democratic Senators who believe that Democrats have a positive vision for the state of Oklahoma and our country. State Democratic Party Chair, Lisa Pryor, said Riley's defection indicates growing dissatisfaction with Republican leadership.

Riley recently ran for statewide office in the Republican primary, garnering nearly a quarter of the primary vote - which proves that other Oklahomans are dissatisfied with the special-interest governing of the Republican Party. We are thrilled to have Sen. Nancy Riley, her ideas and her vision in the Democratic Party!


Kudos to Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano! Governor Janet Napolitano was recently named as the chairwoman of the National Governor's Association (NGA), where she will serve as the organization's first female chair. The NGA is a policy and lobbying organization that has represented the interests of the states' chief executives for 98 years. Napolitano is also seeking reelection as Governor of Arizona this November.


August 17-19: DNC Summer Meeting; Chicago, Illinois

August 26: Women's Equality Day

September 4: Labor Day

September 22-24: DNC African American Leadership Summit; Detroit, MI

September 28-29: DNC Women's Leadership Forum 13th Annual Issues Conference; Washington, DC

September 30 - Oct. 1: DNC Hispanic Leadership Summit; Washington, DC

October 7: State Partnership Program National Organizing Effort: Election Day Team Training

November 7: Election Day

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