Sunday, August 17, 2014

Laughing at the Moon

I will not write about Gaza and Israel; I will not write about Iraq or Syria; I will not write about income inequality or militarized police forces or racism. We’re in the dog days of summer here on the Platinum Coast and State Street is full of European tourists -- strolling, shopping, eating, gawking, bumping into and annoying us locals. What can one expect when one lives in a prime tourist destination? The world arrives here by plane, train, bus and rental car, eager to check us out, experience the fabled Santa Barbara lifestyle, whatever that is.

My son leaves for college in Oregon in about a month. We’ve been sorting out financial aid and loans, learning the definition of subsidized and unsubsidized loans. Like many 17-year-olds my son is hard to read; he rides his emotional train up and down, sleeps prodigiously, and tells his parents as little as possible about what he’s doing or where he’s going. We give him space, confident that when he needs to talk to us, he will. He’s facing a large change in his young life and although he claims it’s no big deal, we know better. The kid is nervous, as he should be. Is he ready or not? I don’t know. I fret a bit about his work habits and wonder if he has it in him to make the social connections that could make or break his college experience.

I have to stop and remember myself at my son’s age. I had the same hubris when I joined the Air Force and was sent to Japan; like my son, I couldn’t get out of provincial Santa Barbara fast enough. Aching for adventure, I landed at Haneda International Airport on a rainy night, the neon lights reflecting off the slick streets. On a long bus ride to Yokota Air Base I realized how alone I was – and how far from home. I had no idea what I didn’t know. Older hands tried to school me but of course I never listened.

My 12-year-old daughter has had an uneventful summer; she stays up late, watching TV on her laptop, and wakes up around 10 or 11 a.m.; she hangs with friends, paints her nails, fusses endlessly over the clothes hanging in her closet. Her moods alternate between sweet and demonic – and change without warning. We know one has changed to another when she slams her bedroom door and screams that she hates us. Our transgression? Unknown. Our very existence, I suppose, the fact that we say no when she wants – demands – we say yes. She watches lame shows on the Disney channel and their theme songs get into my head. Dog with a Blog? Really.

I do a lot of laundry, wash and dry a lot of dishes; I pick shirts and socks and underwear from the floor, uncertain if they are clean or dirty; I corral shoes, pair them up with their mates, and return them to the closet where they belong, wondering, always, why my children cannot put anything back where they found it. When I lay my head down to sleep at night the kitchen is clean, the sink empty, everything is in order and in its place, but when I wake up in the morning and switch on the light there are several plastic cups on the counter, crumbs on the counter, and banana peels in the sink.

One kid going off to college, another about to enter eighth grade, their dad has gray in his beard and worries in his head, a case of the blues. Tonight I’ll stand in the doorway and laugh at the moon.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

We’re Back in Iraq…Real Patriots Engage in Torture…Pariah State…Foodies and the Idle Rich…

I guess President Obama couldn’t resist giving the Air Force and the Navy the green light to lay down some bombs in Iraq. When it comes to Iraq, US presidents can’t resist a military option. Obama’s trigger finger has been itching ever since the Islamic State began gobbling up huge swaths of territory, in the process routing Iraqi troops the US spent millions of dollars training and equipping. When the going turned dicey, those troops dropped their weapons, stripped off their uniforms, and scattered.

What does Obama hope to achieve with this latest round of US aggression in Iraq? There are strategic and military calculations to be sure, but with mid-term elections on the horizon domestic political considerations take precedence over those. Obama doesn’t want another Benghazi on his hands.

Late last week President Obama admitted that in the aftermath of 9/11 the US tortured “a few folks,” and the Prez admonished those of us who see torture as an abomination under any circumstances from becoming too sanctimonious and judging too harshly the motives of “patriots” who water-boarded innocent Muslims. Wow! How far the US has fallen. That Americans tortured human beings is proof that Osama Bin Laden won the so-called War on Terror. Bin Laden won precisely because he made the most powerful nation on earth adopt his twisted methods. Whatever moral standing the US once had in the world – albeit standing that was always situational and strategic – is gone now. No matter how you slice it, the US is a brutal, hyper-militarized nation.

Bibi Netanyahu blames Hamas for the civilian casualties in Gaza because Hamas refused to accept a ceasefire proposal put forward early in the one-sided conflict by Israel and Egypt. Bibi fails to mention that Hamas wasn’t consulted about the proposal; Hamas was expected to gratefully accept the terms dictated by its adversarial neighbors, sight unseen. Aside from the US, which will be the last nation on earth to abandon Israel, the world isn’t buying Israel’s horrific behavior or Bibi’s Big Lies. Among them: Hamas is responsible for the latest conflict in Gaza; Israel has a right to defend itself and that’s all it has done for the past month, defend itself; the Palestinians are morally bankrupt and don’t care if their children are murdered; Israel truly cares about Palestinian civilians and does everything in its power to minimize civilian casualties, including notifying people in advance that their homes are soon to be blown to shit; Israel only wants peace.

In an interview on Democracy Now the other day I heard Noam Chomsky say that the reason most people in the world either hate or fear Israel has nothing to do with anti-Semitism and everything to do with Israel’s policies: the outright theft of Palestinian land and water, the endless settlement building, the inhuman siege of Gaza, the belligerent militarism and utter disrespect for international law, and the blatant racism against non-Jews within Israel. In the eyes of most of the world, all these transgressions make Israel a pariah state.

I was walking along De la Guerra Street the day after the end of Santa Barbara’s annual Fiesta, that venerable five-day homage to the town’s Spanish heritage and major tourist magnet that draws thousands of people each year – who can resist a parade, Flamenco dancing, Mexican food, Mariachi bands, and plenty of drinking? – when I overheard a couple of workmen talking. One of them said, “This was a nice town before it got ruined by all these rich fucks from LA.” To which his partner replied, “Yeah, rich fucks and foodies. What the fuck is a foodie anyway?”

And there you have it.

Saturday, August 02, 2014


I think it was the American writer, James Baldwin, who said something to the effect that the reason he was such a harsh critic of America was because he loved this country so much. I think what Baldwin meant was that he loved what America could become – if the nation came to its senses about race relations and accepted African-Americans as full citizens. If you have read the Fire Next Time you know that Baldwin was a devastating critic of racism.

Since 9/11, when we Americans lost our collective minds, I have had a hard time accepting this country’s behavior on the world stage. We reacted to being attacked by a stateless band of terrorists by invading and occupying Afghanistan, a mess we are still not free of. We then pivoted abruptly and attacked Iraq on totally manufactured pretenses, one of the most monumental blunders this country has ever committed. We enthusiastically traded our civil liberties for “security.” We began kidnapping suspected terrorists and spiriting them away to secret black sites, where we – or our proxies – tortured them. We occupied Iraq and proceeded to create the conditions for a brutal civil war between Shiite and Sunni Muslims. We put military forces on the ground in Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia and other African countries. We killed innocent people with drones.

But one thing we didn’t do was ask why.

George W. Bush sputtered on about how Muslims hated the freedoms enjoyed by people in the West, an argument I never bought for a second because it was obviously absurd. Hate our freedoms? No, what some Muslims hated in 2001 – and hate to this day – is our political, economic and military behavior in their part of the world, primarily our blind support of Israel.

That support is on full display now, in both US government circles and the fawning American media, which has eyes and ears only for how Hamas is terrorizing poor Israelis. When Israel needed more ammunition to kill more Palestinians the US was quick to throw open the doors of its strategic stockpiles in Israel. Take what you need with our compliments, and good hunting. I find this action to be incomprehensible and reprehensible. As it stands, Israel has total military superiority over Hamas and requires no additional assistance from the US. Despite its many pronouncements that it takes every precaution to avoid civilian casualties, the fact is that Israel is targeting and killing innocent civilians, and putting a collective hurt on the people of Gaza.

Why is the US helping Israel commit war crimes? Why are billions of American tax dollars handed to Israel year after year in the form of loans, grants and military assistance? Congress cannot spare a dime to help the city of Detroit, but it has no problem allocating billions for Israel. And do we receive Israel’s cooperation and everlasting gratitude in return for our generosity? No, Israel routinely thumbs its nose at its primary benefactor and continues building settlements in the West Bank, erecting walls to separate Jews and Arabs, passing Draconian laws to solidify its apartheid system, and, of course, periodically bombing Gaza.

Like James Baldwin, I expect better from my country.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Waist Deep in Blood

Almost every weekday for the last twenty-two days the first thing I do when I get home from work is look at Al Jazeera, the Electronic Intifada or Democracy Now to learn the latest news from Gaza. I don’t bother with American media outlets because they are a disgrace.

I don’t personally know a single Palestinian so readers might wonder why an American guy who lives in California keeps writing about Gaza and Israel. I can’t quite explain it myself, except to say that I find Israel’s hubris shocking and its inhumanity in Gaza appalling. The displaced in Gaza reportedly number ten percent of the population; electric power is sporadic at best and may soon be non-existent; fresh water is scarce; hospitals are overwhelmed; and worst of all, hundreds of innocent children have been killed by Israeli bombs.

I can’t get one image out of my mind. I saw it first on the UK’s Independent and again tonight on Democracy Now, a two and a half or three year old girl with a fractured skull and broken nose, horrific bluish-purple rings around her dark eyes, lying on a hospital gurney. She was injured when her home was bombed. I look at her image and ask myself what crime against Israel she is guilty of. Can this little girl be a hardened terrorist at two and a half or three years of age? Is she an arms smuggler? An assassin? A top Hamas leader? No, her crime, if we can call it that, was being born in the wrong place, nothing more than that.

Bibi Netanyahu and his American enablers stand waist deep in the blood of innocents. The death toll is way north of 1,000 and Bibi, badass Jewish avenger with an insatiable appetite for death, vows that Israel isn’t done yet. Oh no, Israel is in this one for the long haul. Most of the casualties on the Palestinian side are civilians, with a significant portion of those being children, like the little girl with the fractured skull and broken nose.

I don’t know a single Palestinian, and yet, staring at these images and video footage I feel sick to my stomach, tears well in my eyes, and I am outraged that the world stands silently by while Israel rains more death on Gaza. The UN tries to act, but as always is stymied by the US; Bibi Netanyahu merely laughs, secure in the knowledge that Israel is untouchable.

Writing in the Independent over the weekend, Robert Fisk, one of the most intrepid journalists ever, wondered what world reaction would be if the tables were turned, if more than 1,000 Israelis were dead and the Palestinians were dropping precision bombs on Israeli homes, schools, hospitals, parks, and apartment blocks. All the hemming and hawing and posturing and obfuscating would go straight out the window. The US would marshal international support and launch a full-scale military deployment on “humanitarian” grounds. American film stars and directors would stage star-studded fundraisers for Israel. Politicians in Washington D.C. would be apeshit.

Dead, wounded, maimed or homeless Palestinians don’t matter. Old or young, male or female, the world simply doesn’t care. Maybe this is why I keep looking at the news day after day, maybe, down deep, I refuse to believe that the world isn’t going to lift a finger to help the Palestinians, that people are so cowardly and craven and callous. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Gaza Scorecard

“Editors around the world are requesting their journalists to be ever softer, ever more mealy-mouthed in their reporting of any incident which might upset Israel.” Robert Fisk, The Independent, August 2001

The New York Times keeps a running scorecard of the latest Israeli-Palestinian madness in Gaza. According to the Times, Israel has struck 3,209 targets in Gaza, and Hamas has fired 2,233 rockets into Israel. It’s interesting that these numbers are reported side-by-side, as if to show there is some equality between the Israeli Defense Forces and Hamas. But it’s one thing to attack a target in a densely populated territory with sophisticated weaponry, and another to launch a rocket indiscriminately in the hope it will find a target.

The death count is the true indicator of the one-sided nature of this latest round of conflict: 856 Palestinians, many of them children, 40 Israelis, most of them soldiers. It’s also telling that the Times chose not to report the number of wounded on either side, or the number of people displaced from their homes – those numbers fall overwhelmingly, and almost exclusively, in the Palestinian column of a grim ledger.

I look at photographs of destruction on Aljazeera and wonder how the people of Gaza will ever rebuild their homes, businesses, schools, and neighborhoods, not to mention the water and sewage system and electrical grid. For the third time in six years, the infrastructure of Gaza has been smashed. How are Palestinians supposed to rebuild in the face of Israel’s blockade? Where will the enormous quantities of steel, cement and other building materials come from? Not from the sea – the Israeli navy won’t allow it; not from the air -- Israel controls the airspace; not by land from Egypt because the Egyptian dictatorship despises Hamas almost as much as Israel’s political leaders do.

Israel has a right to exist. Israel has a right to defend its territory and population. But Israel doesn’t have the right to occupy land taken from the Palestinians by armed force, or to evict Palestinians so Israel can build more settlements, or to indefinitely imprison Palestinians, and on and on. 

What most irks me about the constant turmoil in the Middle East is the role played by the United States. For decades we’ve blindly backed Israel, allowed Israel to call our diplomatic tune, and provided buckets of military aid and diplomatic support so that Israel can maintain a stranglehold on Gaza and the West Bank. Along with unconditional support of Israel, the US supports the junta in Egypt and the despotic rulers of Saudi Arabia. We sure know how to pick our friends. And lest it be forgotten, we once considered Saddam Hussein a stand-up guy.