Category: History

I beg to disagree

 While Obama has shamelessly pandered (along with the rest of them) for the American Jewish vote, he has at the same time demonstrated a grasp of Middle Eastern realities that I have not heard from any other candidate.  And while he has made some errors (in my opinion), he got it right on the big question of our time — Iraq.  What he said about that impending fiasco, what he has said recently about race, and what he wrote (in one of his bestseller books) about his willingness to talk to those who disagree with him all point to an uncommon amount of empathy and common sense that we haven’t seen in an American president in a long, long time.  I sure don’t see those characteristics in any of the so-called proven commodities out there.

 If the election were thrown open to all people on this planet who care about the tyranny of American Empire, then Barack Hussein Obama would win by an epic landslide.  They long for that shining example that once regarded all men as equally created and divinely endowed with inalienable rights.  Whether that America was real or imagined is something historians and retired CIA agents (who know better) can debate for years to come, but there is no doubt that the ideal was a light that pierced the darkest corners where liberty and equality seemed like an impossible dream.  The last thing the rest of the world wants, or needs, is an America that resembles their own oppressive regimes, an America stoned on the cheap opiate of raw power, exercised at the point of a gun, that only offers brutality and unrequited injustice.

 That’s the America that we’ve allowed Prince George to turn us into.  We cower in fear at every threat.  We are mezmerized by every “breaking” event that our once-vaunted Fourth Estate castrati proclaim as newsworthy.  We are rapidly becoming that Orwellian state that another George predicted more than fifty years ago, where…

War is Peace
Freedom is Slavery
Ignorance is Strength

 Or, as Pogo famously said, “we have met the enemy and he is us.”  I don’t know about you, but I’d like to think we can be better than this.  And only one candidate is out there telling us, “Yes we can!”

From: [deleted]
Sent: Sunday, May 18, 2008 11:58 AM
Subject: Sentinel Record letters submission, with thanks

Half the country does not trust or does not like Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barak Hussein Obama, while articulate and charismatic, is hardly a proven commodity.  Both herald from the socialist fringes of the political spectrum and see new government programs (and taxes and spending) as the answer to all ills. 

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A century of willful ignorance

 A friend of mine just sent me an interesting article by Ramzy Baroud, about Johns Hagee and McCain:

 Here’s the first paragraph from Baroud’s article:

 A memorable quote in Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer Abroad (1894) still carries a wealth of relevance. He writes, “They own the [holy] land, just the mere land, and that’s all they do own; but it was our folks, our Jews and Christians, that made it holy, and so they haven’t any business to be there defiling it. It’s a shame and we ought not to stand it a minute. We ought to march against them and take it away from them.”

 Never having read “Tom Sawyer Abroad,” I was horrified to read such foolishness.  Fortunately there is more; I did a bit of looking around and found the entire passage.  It’s from the first chapter, titled “Tom seeks new adventures,” and so brilliantly skewers contemporary American thinking about Israel and Palestine that I immediately copied it (it’s in the public domain) and added it to my online collection of flummery.  I think you’ll enjoy:

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 Either Prime Minister Siniora studied at the George Bush – John McSame School of Diplomacy or he is suffering profound memory loss.  According to Haaretz, he has today branded Hezbollah as worse than Israel, saying “even the Israeli enemy never dared to do to Beirut what Hezbollah has done.”

 According to Wikipedia, it is estimated that around 17,825 Arabs were killed during Israel’s 1982 march to Beirut. There are different estimates of the proportion of civilians killed. Beirut newspaper An Nahar estimated that 5515 people, military and civilian, were killed in the Beirut area only during the conflict, and 9797 military personnel (PLO, Syrian, and others) and 2513 civilians were killed outside of the Beirut area.  Approximately 675 Israeli soldiers were killed.

 Siniora also seems also to have forgiven or forgotten Israel’s 2006 rape of Lebanon.  The majority of the Lebanese killed were civilians, and UNICEF estimated that 30% of those killed were children under the age of 13.  The Lebanon Higher Relief Council (HRC) put the Lebanese death toll at 1191, citing the health ministry and police, as well as other state agencies.  They also estimated the number of Lebanese injured to be 4409, 15% of whom were permanently disabled.  The death toll estimates do not include Lebanese killed since the end of fighting by land mines or unexploded Israeli cluster bombs.  So far, these have killed 29 people and wounded 215 — 90 of them children.  Hezbollah rockets killed 43 Israeli civilians, including four who died of heart attacks.  According to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 4262 civilians were injured: 33 seriously, 68 moderately, 1388 lightly, and 2773 (more than half) were treated for “shock and anxiety.”

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Warning: this is obscene!

 Next month America will have been in Iraq for five years – longer than it spent in either world war. Daily military operations (not counting, for example, future care of wounded) have already cost more than 12 years in Vietnam, and twice as much as the Korean war. America is spending $16 billion a month on running costs alone (ie on top of the regular expenses of the Department of Defence) in Iraq and Afghanistan; that is the entire annual budget of the UN.

 George Bush on the cost of the Iraq war: “We don’t go to war on the calculations of green eye-shaded accountants or economists.”


$16 billion

The amount the US spends on the monthly running costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – on top of regular defence spending


The amount paid by every US household every month towards the current operating costs of the war

 $19.3 billion

The amount Halliburton has received in single-source contracts for work in Iraq

 $25 billion

The annual cost to the US of the rising price of oil, itself a consequence of the war

 $3 trillion

A conservative estimate of the true cost – to America alone – of Bush’s Iraq adventure. The rest of the world, including Britain, will shoulder about the same amount again

$5 billion

Cost of 10 days’ fighting in Iraq

 $1 trillion

The interest America will have paid by 2017 on the money borrowed to finance the war


The average drop in income of 13 African countries – a direct result of the rise in oil prices. This drop has more than offset the recent increase in foreign aid to Africa

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Who would Jesus water-board?

 This is one of those rare occasions where I agree with some of what Dershowitz had to say.  Water-boarding IS torture.  The real question is not whether or not a particular technique is torture, but whether or not torture harvests useful intelligence or is just indulging the sadistic impulses of some of our freakier interrogators.  The conduct of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (and make no mistake, they are ours, not just George Bush’s) suggests that after more than five years, we still do not have high-fidelity information about those who we have chosen to fight.

 Beyond that, once we come to terms with the reality of torture, and quit playing word games to mollify our sensibilities, our national conversation needs to be about whether we’re ready to give up the pretense of having any ideals, of holding any truths to be self-evident: 

…that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

 On this eve of Veteran’s Day, when we pause to remember the human cost of wars past and present, those famous words ring hollow to me.

PS — there was a long opinion piece in our local paper today by Bill White, titled “Honor our armed forces.”  It is his account of returning home from Korea in 1953.  I was expecting a rah-rah piece of patriotic fluff, so what I actually read was a bit of a shock.  Apologies for the length of this, but I trust you’ll enjoy reading it as much as I did:

 Korea, January 1953: What a bunch of haggard-looking old men, ages 18-26, we were, waiting by a railroad track in a snow storm. Most of us had that too-long-in-combat stare from sunken emotionless eyes. The Marine Corps said we were going home. It had said that a month ago when our “tours of duty” were up.

Well, maybe this time it was true, yet we still carried our weapons and ammo. When a battle-scarred miniature train appeared heading south, we had hope. Bullet holes, probably made from strafing by our planes or theirs, perforated both sides all along the cars. Inside the passenger cars, some seats had been blown out along with the doors. There were jagged holes in the roofs where snow floated in.

We boarded a few miles south of the Imjim River headed toward Seoul, Korea. Most of us had seen more death and destruction in a year than we would see the rest of our lives, and we had survived! None of us would ever be the same. We would carry the horrors with us forever. Even though it was 15 degrees both outside and inside the passenger cars, some sullen faces actually smiled when the sun began to shine through the falling snow. No one cared about the cold, as long as the train kept moving south toward Ascom City near the port of Inchon where we were to board ship.
Ascom City was a barbed wire enclosure, consisting mostly of six-man tents aligned in typical military fashion. Each of us was assigned to one. But first we went through a delousing line where we were all sprayed like livestock with a white powder that was supposed to kill any vermin we had brought with us and then sent to nice hot showers to wash off all the other crud we carried.    We exchanged our filthy dungarees for clean ones and Marine Corps chickens…s began immediately saluting, marching to chow, guard duty and all the other military nonsense. The next day we had a formation where we stood at attention while some Army general spoke. “Gen. George S. Patton said to his troops in 1943 that ‘Battle is the most magnificent competition in which a human being can indulge.’ Now all of you know the significance of that remark,” the general said. “You have done your job, and you have done it well, and you have survived. Your efforts have made the world a better place by stopping the spread of communism. You.”

What BS that was! I cut him off about then. I was freezing. I should have worn my overcoat over my field jacket. Finally, he shut up. But then a Marine colonel made a speech about how we had upheld the “glory of the United States Marine Corps.” More bull. Then a Navy chaplain gave us his. He held sort of a memorial service for “those who had not died in vain.” What utter baloney this was! He went on about how we “had made this a better world!” For whom? Certainly not for the starving Korean peasants who did not survive the harsh winters because we and enemy forces destroyed their means. I thought about the civilians accidentally killed, and my friend blown to bits in what would have been surely my place. For most of us the whole tour had been in vain, especially the deaths. We just followed orders. None believed in or cared about what we were fighting for, just our survival. And I have some words for General Patton: “George, you were one insane son-of-a-you-know-what!”

Early the next morning, we boarded the same troop ship we came over on, the USNS Weigel, and headed for home. Strange, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, but I would never want to do it again. Happy birthday, Marines. Semper Fi! God bless our troops.

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Pathological stupidity

 On September 6th, there was an op-ed piece in the New York Times by L. Paul Bremer (the 3rd) titled “How I Didn’t Dismantle Iraq’s Army.”  I trust you already know this, but in case our national obsession with OJ and Britney has lapsed your memory, Bremer was head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq from 2003 to 2004.

Bremer’s tale is a classic political dodge to avoid finger-pointing.  Regardless of who ultimately laid off half a million armed men, the decision had devastating results for the Iraqi people and their American occupiers (we buried one of them yesterday in a small town near here).  On September 14th, the New York Times posted a video rebuttal to Bremer’s op-ed that features both his subordinates and superiors more or less saying the man is a liar:

There is also a link to Bremer’s original op-ed at this site.  The video, by Charles Ferguson, runs around 10 minutes.  Ferguson is the producer of “No End In Sight” (, “the first film of its kind to chronicle the reasons behind Iraq’s descent into guerilla war, warlord rule, criminality and anarchy, … a jaw-dropping, insider’s tale of wholesale incompetence, recklessness and venality.”

 Is there not any way to impeach a war criminal President and his war criminal cronies for pathological stupidity?  Remember the scenes in that old TV show where Barney Fife had to hand over his single bullet to Andy Griffith every time he did something stupid?  Seems to me we’re way, way past that point with this Barney Fife president…

 PS —

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A Moment of Silence

A poem for 9-11

By Emmanuel Ortiz, September 11, 2002


Before I begin this poem, I’d like to ask you to join me in a moment of silence in honor of those who died in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11th, 2001.

I would also like to ask you to offer up a moment of silence for all of those who have been harassed, imprisoned, disappeared, tortured, raped, or killed in retaliation for those strikes, for the victims in Afghanistan, Iraq, in the U.S., and throughout the world.

And if I could just add one more thing…

A full day of silence… for the tens of thousands of Palestinians who have died at the hands of U.S.-backed Israeli forces over decades of occupation.

Six months of silence… for the million and-a-half Iraqi people, mostly children, who have died of malnourishment or starvation as a result

of a 12-year U.S. embargo against the country.

…And now, the drums of war beat again.

Before I begin this poem, two months of silence… for the Blacks under Apartheid in South Africa, where “homeland security” made them aliens in their own country

Nine months of silence… for the dead in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where death rained down and peeled back every layer of concrete, steel, earth and skin, and the survivors went on as if alive.

A year of silence… for the millions of dead in Viet Nam­—a people, not a war—for those who know a thing or two about the scent of burning fuel, their relatives bones buried in it, their babies born of it.

Two months of silence… for the decades of dead in Colombia, whose names, like the corpses they once represented, have piled up and slipped off our tongues.

Before I begin this poem,
Seven days of silence… for El Salvador
A day of silence… for Nicaragua
Five days of silence… for the Guatemaltecos
None of whom ever knew a moment of peace in their living years.
45 seconds of silence… for the 45 dead at Acteal, Chiapas…
1,933 miles of silence… for every desperate body
That burns in the desert sun
Drowned in swollen rivers at the pearly gates to the Empire’s underbelly,
A gaping wound sutured shut by razor wire and corrugated steel.

25 years of silence… for the millions of Africans who found their graves far deeper in the ocean than any building could poke into the sky.
For those who were strung and swung from the heights of sycamore trees
In the south… the north… the east… the west…
There will be no dna testing or dental records to identify their remains.

100 years of silence… for the hundreds of millions of indigenous people
From this half of right here,
Whose land and lives were stolen,
In postcard-perfect plots like Pine Ridge, Wounded Knee, Sand Creek, Fallen Timbers, or the Trail of Tears
Names now reduced to innocuous magnetic poetry on the refrigerator of our consciousness…

From somewhere within the pillars of power
You open your mouths to invoke a moment of our silence
And we are all left speechless,
Our tongues snatched from our mouths,
Our eyes stapled shut.

A moment of silence,
And the poets are laid to rest,
The drums disintegrate into dust.

Before I begin this poem,
You want a moment of silence…
You mourn now as if the world will never be the same
And the rest of us hope to hell it won’t be.
Not like it always has been.

…Because this is not a 9-1-1 poem
This is a 9/10 poem,
It is a 9/9 poem,
A 9/8 poem,
A 9/7 poem…
This is a 1492 poem.
This is a poem about what causes poems like this to be written.

And if this is a 9/11 poem, then
This is a September 11th 1973 poem for Chile.
This is a September 12th 1977 poem for Steven Biko in South Africa.
This is a September 13th 1971 poem for the brothers at Attica Prison, New York.
This is a September 14th 1992 poem for the people of Somalia.
This is a poem for every date that falls to the ground amidst the ashes of amnesia.

This is a poem for the 110 stories that were never told,
The 110 stories that history uprooted from its textbooks
The 110 stories that that cnn, bbc, The New York Times, and Newsweek ignored.
This is a poem for interrupting this program.

This is not a peace poem,
Not a poem for forgiveness.
This is a justice poem,
A poem for never forgetting.
This is a poem to remind us
That all that glitters
Might just be broken glass.

And still you want a moment of silence for the dead?
We could give you lifetimes of empty:
The unmarked graves,
The lost languages,
The uprooted trees and histories,
The dead stares on the faces of nameless children…

Before I start this poem we could be silent forever
Or just long enough to hunger,
For the dust to bury us
And you would still ask us
For more of our silence.
So if you want a moment of silence

Then stop the oil pumps
Turn off the engines, the televisions
Sink the cruise ships
Crash the stock markets
Unplug the marquee lights
Delete the e-mails and instant messages
Derail the trains, ground the planes.
If you want a moment of silence, put a brick through the window
of Taco Bell
And pay the workers for wages lost.
Tear down the liquor stores,
The townhouses, the White Houses, the jailhouses, the Penthouses
and the Playboys.

If you want a moment of silence,
Then take it
On Super Bowl Sunday,
The Fourth of July,
During Dayton’s 13 hour sale,
The next time your white guilt fills the room where my beautiful brown people have gathered.

You want a moment of silence
Then take it
Before this poem begins.
Here, in the echo of my voice,
In the pause between goosesteps of the second hand,
In the space between bodies in embrace,
Here is your silence.
Take it.
Take it all.
But don’t cut in line.
Let your silence begin at the beginning of crime.

And we,
We will keep right on singing
For our dead.


Emmanuel Ortiz is a third-generation Chicano/Puerto Rican/Irish-American community organizer and spoken word poet. He is the author of a chapbook of poems, The Word Is a Machete (self-published, 2003), and coeditor of Under What Bandera?: Anti-War Ofrendas from Minnesota y Califas (Calaca Press, 2004). He is a founding member of Palabristas: Latin@ Word Slingers, a collective of Latin@ poets in Minnesota. Emmanuel has lived in Minneapolis, Minnesota; Oakland, California; and the Arizona/Mexico border. He currently lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the “buckle of the Bible Belt,” with his two dogs, Nogi and Cuca. In his spare time, he enjoys guacamole, soccer, and naps.

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