May 4th, 2008

alan's marigolds

Good Morning!

It is gray this morning, a lovely contrast to the green.

I probably should have headed out for a walk first but the news drew me in.  I appreciate  this column by Thomas Friedman.  When I was in Hong Kong, I found it frightening to see what Hong Kong is doing with their infrastructure compared to our lack of doing.  In my opinion, Thomas says it well.  Now, if only the politicians have time to read the paper in the midst of showing us they are "one of us," when the us is so diverse it would be impossible to be one of each of us,  and I don't want them to be my pal anyway.  I want them to lead and make hard decisions and get this country back on track and regaining some of the ground that has been lost under the Bush administration.

Op-Ed Columnist

Who Will Tell the People?

Published: May 4, 2008

Traveling the country these past five months while writing a book, I’ve had my own opportunity to take the pulse, far from the campaign crowds. My own totally unscientific polling has left me feeling that if there is one overwhelming hunger in our country today it’s this: People want to do nation-building. They really do. But they want to do nation-building in America.

They are not only tired of nation-building in Iraq and in Afghanistan, with so little to show for it. They sense something deeper — that we’re just not that strong anymore. We’re borrowing money to shore up our banks from city-states called Dubai and Singapore. Our generals regularly tell us that Iran is subverting our efforts in Iraq, but they do nothing about it because we have no leverage — as long as our forces are pinned down in Baghdad and our economy is pinned to Middle East oil.

Our president’s latest energy initiative was to go to Saudi Arabia and beg King Abdullah to give us a little relief on gasoline prices. I guess there was some justice in that. When you, the president, after 9/11, tell the country to go shopping instead of buckling down to break our addiction to oil, it ends with you, the president, shopping the world for discount gasoline.

We are not as powerful as we used to be because over the past three decades, the Asian values of our parents’ generation — work hard, study, save, invest, live within your means — have given way to subprime values: “You can have the American dream — a house — with no money down and no payments for two years.”

That’s why Donald Rumsfeld’s infamous defense of why he did not originally send more troops to Iraq is the mantra of our times: “You go to war with the army you have.” Hey, you march into the future with the country you have — not the one that you need, not the one you want, not the best you could have.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I flew from New York’s Kennedy Airport to Singapore. In J.F.K.’s waiting lounge we could barely find a place to sit. Eighteen hours later, we landed at Singapore’s ultramodern airport, with free Internet portals and children’s play zones throughout. We felt, as we have before, like we had just flown from the Flintstones to the Jetsons. If all Americans could compare Berlin’s luxurious central train station today with the grimy, decrepit Penn Station in New York City, they would swear we were the ones who lost World War II.

How could this be? We are a great power. How could we be borrowing money from Singapore? Maybe it’s because Singapore is investing billions of dollars, from its own savings, into infrastructure and scientific research to attract the world’s best talent — including Americans.

And us? Harvard’s president, Drew Faust, just told a Senate hearing that cutbacks in government research funds were resulting in “downsized labs, layoffs of post docs, slipping morale and more conservative science that shies away from the big research questions.” Today, she added, “China, India, Singapore ... have adopted biomedical research and the building of biotechnology clusters as national goals. Suddenly, those who train in America have significant options elsewhere.”

Much nonsense has been written about how Hillary Clinton is “toughening up” Barack Obama so he’ll be tough enough to withstand Republican attacks. Sorry, we don’t need a president who is tough enough to withstand the lies of his opponents. We need a president who is tough enough to tell the truth to the American people. Any one of the candidates can answer the Red Phone at 3 a.m. in the White House bedroom. I’m voting for the one who can talk straight to the American people on national TV — at 8 p.m. — from the White House East Room.

Who will tell the people? We are not who we think we are. We are living on borrowed time and borrowed dimes. We still have all the potential for greatness, but only if we get back to work on our country.

I don’t know if Barack Obama can lead that, but the notion that the idealism he has inspired in so many young people doesn’t matter is dead wrong. “Of course, hope alone is not enough,” says Tim Shriver, chairman of Special Olympics, “but it’s not trivial. It’s not trivial to inspire people to want to get up and do something with someone else.”

It is especially not trivial now, because millions of Americans are dying to be enlisted — enlisted to fix education, enlisted to research renewable energy, enlisted to repair our infrastructure, enlisted to help others. Look at the kids lining up to join Teach for America. They want our country to matter again. They want it to be about building wealth and dignity — big profits and big purposes. When we just do one, we are less than the sum of our parts. When we do both, said Shriver, “no one can touch us.”


Book Cover

One wonders why -

What is gained in keeping Guantanamo open at this point?   Why is Cheney allowed to run the country against the desires of everyone else.  Read the last paragraph and shutter.  There is nothing gained and everything lost.  I don't understand.   And why are we allowing it?

Op-Ed Columnist

A Prison of Shame, and It’s Ours

Published: May 4, 2008

My Times colleague Barry Bearak was imprisoned by the brutal regime in Zimbabwe last month. Barry was not beaten, but he was infected with scabies while in a bug-infested jail. He was finally brought before a court after four nights in jail and then released.

Alas, we don’t treat our own inmates in Guantánamo with even that much respect for law. On Thursday, America released Sami al-Hajj, a cameraman for Al Jazeera who had been held without charges for more than six years. Mr. Hajj has credibly alleged that he was beaten, and that he was punished for a hunger strike by having feeding tubes forcibly inserted in his nose and throat without lubricant, so as to rub tissue raw.

“Conditions in Guantánamo are very, very bad,” Mr. Hajj said in a televised interview from his hospital bed in Sudan, adding, “In Guantánamo, you have animals that are called iguanas ... that are treated with more humanity.”

Al Jazeera’s director general, Wadah Khanfar, said by telephone from the hospital that Mr. Hajj was so frail when he arrived that he had to be carried off the plane and into an ambulance. Guantánamo inmates are not allowed to see their families, so that evening Mr. Hajj met his 7-year-old son, whom he had last seen as a baby.

Reliable information is still scarce about Guantánamo, but increasingly we’re gaining glimpses of life there — and they are painful to read.

Murat Kurnaz, a German citizen of Turkish descent, has just published a memoir of his nearly five years in Guantánamo. He describes prolonged torture that included interruptions by a doctor to ensure that he was well enough for the torture to continue.

Mahvish Rukhsana Khan, an American woman of Afghan descent who worked as an interpreter, has written a book to be published next month, “My Guantánamo Diary,” that is wrenching to read. She describes a pediatrician who returned to Afghanistan in 2003 to help rebuild his country — and was then arrested by Americans, beaten, doused with icy water and paraded around naked. Finally, after three years, officials apparently decided he was innocent and sent him home.

A third powerful new book about Guantánamo, by an American lawyer named Steven Wax, is summed up by its title: “Kafka Comes to America.”

The new material suggests two essential truths about Guantánamo:

First, most of the inmates were probably innocent all along, but Pakistanis or Afghans turned them over to America in exchange for large cash rewards. The moment we offered $25,000 rewards for Al Qaeda supporters, any Arab in the region risked being kidnapped and turned over as a terrorism suspect.

Second, torture was routine, especially early on. That’s why more than 100 prisoners have died in American custody in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantánamo.

One of the men still in Guantánamo is Abdul Hamid al-Ghizzawi. He is a Libyan who had been running a bakery in Afghanistan with his Afghan wife. Bounty hunters turned him over to the United States as a terrorism suspect, and he has been in custody for more than six years.

Mr. Ghizzawi was taken before a “combatant status review tribunal,” which ruled unanimously in November 2004 that he was not an “enemy combatant.” One member of the tribunal later scoffed that the supposed evidence against him was “garbage.” But a later tribunal reversed the first one’s finding, and Mr. Ghizzawi is being held indefinitely, though he is unlikely to face trial.

Candace Gorman, a lawyer for Mr. Ghizzawi, says that his health has sharply deteriorated since she first saw him. He is in constant pain from severe liver disease resulting from hepatitis B that first manifested itself in Guantánamo, Ms. Gorman said, adding that he also contracted tuberculosis there.

Worse, a doctor at Guantánamo twice told Mr. Ghizzawi in December that he has H.I.V., she said. Ms. Gorman believes that officials were just trying to torment him.

A Pentagon spokesman, Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, denied that any doctor ever told Mr. Ghizzawi that he had H.I.V., or that Mr. Ghizzawi contracted tuberculosis or first suffered from hepatitis while in Guantánamo.

Granted, it can be hard to figure out what version to believe. When I started writing about Guantánamo several years ago, I thought the inmates might be lying and the Pentagon telling the truth. No doubt some inmates lie, and some surely are terrorists. But over time — and it’s painful to write this — I’ve found the inmates to be more credible than American officials.

Both Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates have pushed to shut down Guantánamo because it undermines America’s standing and influence. They have been overruled by Dick Cheney and other hard-liners. In reality, it would take an exceptional enemy to damage America’s image and interests as much as President Bush and Mr. Cheney already have with Guantánamo.



barack obama

oh, no, not more -

So, now, I read Maureen Dowd and I will only excerpt here, but I realize I won't vote for Hillary if she does win with her horrible tactics.  I just can't do it, and does that mean handing it to McCain?   Well, I don't want that either.  I just find it unfathomable that the Clintons would sink so low.  I also wonder why the Clintons think it is okay to insult the "voignier and volvo set," whoever they might be.  What is going on?  They pander, pander, pander.  I really hope Barack can hold it together for unity and sanity.  Some people will not vote for a black.  Let them go.  I personally think that Bill and Hillary are looking pretty racist right now.  Imagine what the Republicans can do with Hillary and Bill's insults to so many if they run against her.  I've never had a Volvo and I don't drink Viognier very often, but I certainly don't look down on those who do.  I also don't look down on those who drink a Bud.  What happened to a united country?  We are not all the same.   That used to be our claim to fame.   What is it now?   Torture, and part of that torture is what is done to the citizens of this country with the election campaign.

This is who supports Hillary. 

Paul Gipson, president of a steelworkers local in Portage, Ind., hailed her “testicular fortitude,” before ripping into “Gucci-wearing, latte-drinking, self-centered, egotistical people that have damaged our lifestyle.”

If she wins, why then, would anyone who might drink a latte, who, I note if I were to judge by my local Starbucks includes the entire CHP for my area, is going to vote for her.  And who is wearing Gucci., and why is that a sin?   Hillary is not shabbily dressed.   She may not be able to vote for herself.  Speaking of people who've damaged our lifestyle, the amount of money the Clinton's have made these last seven years seems a wee bit suspicious to me.

Excerpts from Maureen Dowd today:

Then came the Big Dog, (Bill Clinton) crazy like a fox, for the coup de graceless. Campaigning in Clarksburg, W. Va., he said that his scrappy wife can win working-class voters, as compared with Obama’s Viognier-and-Volvo set.

“The great divide in this country is not by race or even income, it’s by those who think they are better than everyone else and think they should play by a different set of rules,” the former president said. “In West Virginia and Arkansas, we know that when we see it.”

Oh, well, at least Bill didn’t use the word uppity. And don’t you love this paean to rules coming from a man so tethered and humbled by rules that he invented an entirely new sexual etiquette to suit his needs in the Oval Office?

Why does Obama, the one with the bumpy background and mixed racial heritage, the one raised by a single mother who was on food stamps, seem so forced when he mingles with the common folk?

Karl Rove and other Republicans say he comes across as the snooty product of a Hawaiian prep school, Cambridge, Columbia and Hyde Park, and that is what led to the damaging anthropological “bitter” disquisition. Yet George H. W. Bush’s attempts to paint over his patrician style with a cowboy veneer was a silly sort of masquerade, obviously engineered by Lee Atwater, who brought the props of pork rinds and country music.

Voters also don’t seem to mind Hillary, with her $109 million bank account, selling herself as the champion of the little people. The blue-collar queen shared her thoughts about the “outrageous” Rev. Wright with the blue-collar king, Bill O’Reilly, last week. In reality, as first lady, Hillary was renowned for her upstairs-downstairs tussles in the White House, and her high-handed treatment of the little people in the travel office, on the switchboard and on the residence staff. The reports were legend about the Clintons’ problems with the Secret Service, and I once saw Bill dress down an agent in a humiliating way over a couple of autograph seekers who got past a rope line in Orange County, Calif.

Obama, on the other hand, may seem esoteric, and sometimes looks haughty or put-upon when he should merely offer that ensorcelling smile. But he is very well liked by his Secret Service agents, and shoots hoops with them. And I watched him take the time one night after a long day of campaigning to stand and take individual pictures with a squadron of Dallas motorcycle police officers on the tarmac.

It must be hard for Obama, having applied all his energy over the years to rising above the rough spots in his background, making whites comfortable with him, striving to become the sophisticated, silky political star who looks supremely comfortable in a tux. Now he must go into reverse and stoop to conquer with cornball photo ops.

“I do think that one of the ironies of the last two or three weeks was this idea that somehow Michelle and I are elitist, pointy-headed intellectual types,” he said, adding sincerely, “I filled up my own gas tanks.”

I find it very sad to contemplate.  There may have been some idealism in the two Clinton's at one time, but all that is left is ego, distortions, and lies. 
barack obama

Love -

I am reminded now of the old saying that "All is fair in love and war."   That is how the Clinton's are excusing what they do.  This is war for them.  Obama was trying to start a new dialogue, and say, "Let's unite and elect who best represents us."  He is diverse himself, and so is a good representative for a diverse country.

I hope his way works and overrides those who are mired in the past where the only solution is war, rather than listening, compromise, and peace. 


Now, Hillary dismisses "elite" economists who criticize her on the gas tax.  Elite is her new word.  Yep, someone who lived in the White House for eight years and has been a senator is certainly not an elitist.  No siree!  One of the "common" folk.  Yep!

I attended a wedding shower today for Frieda, and had a wonderful time.  I am absorbing the pleasure of spending the day with a group of people who think just like I, and who are as excited as I am about the wedding of Chris and Frieda.  It is going to be such a wonderful event.  Everyone I meet who is involved is so warm and friendly, and we shared a beautiful day.

It is certainly cold in the city today though.  It is cold here, but the winds of fog howling through the hills by UCSF are bitter.  It must be summer. I saw people in shorts.  Oh, my!!

the sea ranch chapel

Jane Hirshfield


More and more I have come to admire resilience.
Not the simple resistance of a pillow, whose foam returns over and over to the same shape, but the sinuous tenacity of a tree: finding the light newly blocked on one side,
it turns in another.
A blind intelligence, true.
But out of such persistence arose turtles, rivers, mitochondria, figs--all this resinous, unretractable earth.


    - Jane Hirshfield