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Iraq

dreaming in the grey light nolank winkler

dreaming in the grey light painting by nolan winkler

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser June 2014)

“One of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror.” George W. Bush

Shortly before George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq in 2003 to topple our former ally Saddam Hussein, a Sunni strong man, George invited a few learned English-speaking Iraqis to Washington to talk to him about the country he was soon to invade. One of the Iraqis explained that it was essential George understand the ancient enmity between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims that underpinned every aspect of political and social reality in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. To which our commander-in-chief famously replied, “There’s more than one kind of Muslim? I didn’t know that.”

Today, eleven years after George made his remarkable confession (remarkable for a President of the United States) and a rapidly escalating civil war engulfs Iraq, understanding the ancient enmity between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims is, indeed, essential to making even a little bit of sense of what’s going on in Iraq. The supranational corporations have manipulated this Sunni-Shi’ite enmity for a hundred years whenever such manipulation would enhance their sucking trillions of dollars worth of oil from Iraq and other oil-rich kingdoms of the Middle East.

A few years before George H. Bush, launched the first Gulf War against Saddam Hussein in 1990, National Geographic magazine ran a lush spread of photos of the beautiful thriving country of Iraq, including flattering portraits of the handsome Saddam and his beautiful wife. The text of the article hailed Saddam as a forward-thinking benevolent leader who had masterfully used billions of petro dollars to vault the formerly impoverished cradle of civilization to the forefront of modernity. In Saddam’s Iraq, women were college professors and doctors and business owners, and though Saddam was a devout Sunni, more and more Iraqis were casting off the shackles of Muslim orthodoxy, both Shi’ite and Sunni, to embrace the exciting possibilities of secularism and equality.

“Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.” George W. Bush

For the eight years Bill Clinton was President of the United States, from 1992 to 2000, Bill knowingly approved thousands of aerial bombings of Iraq by our unchallenged air force targeting power plants, water pipelines, water purification plants, schools, hospitals, bridges, roads and all basic infrastructure. Yes, Bill knowingly bombed the once thriving country of Iraq back into the stone age before George W. Bush’s puppeteers began promoting the lie that there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and the toppling of the World Trade Center, and further cooked up the myth that Saddam possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction, both fictions used to justify the second invasion of Iraq.

I am reminded of these sad and terrible facts as I read about Iraq today and recall marching against the first Gulf War in 1990, our signs reading No Blood For Oil, and marching again in 2003, our signs still reading No Blood For Oil. Both wars were spearheaded by the Bush family, and because the Bush family fortune was deeply enmeshed with the Saudi royal family via Chevron Oil, I thought Chevron would be the ideal corporate target for a boycott to give some teeth to the anti-war movement—a boycott I could never convince any anti-war leader or group to promote.

Now there are cries from reactionary politicians and pundits who want the United States to act militarily to prop up the incredibly corrupt and inept Shi’ite government the United States installed in Iraq. These not-very-bright politicians and pundits are urging Obama to strike from the air to…what? How will more death and destruction resolve the enmity between the Sunnis and Shi’ites that was, according to that 1980’s National Geographic article, fading away as Iraq emerged into modernity and peace?

How corrupt is the current Iraqi regime? Here is one example reported by Alexander Reed Kelly. “By 2014, the going price for command of an Iraqi army division was reported to be around one million dollars, payable over two years as the purchaser recouped his investment via fees levied at roadblocks and other revenue streams. Little wonder that when called on to fight the disciplined and ruthless ISIS, the Iraqi army has melted away.”

 “The Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measure it undertook. This task was given to me, and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success.” Daniel Moynihan

According to Noam Chomsky, the invasion of Iraq in 1990 by the United States and Britain to dislodge Iraqi troops from Kuwait, an invasion resulting in the slaughter of tens of thousands of Iraqi troops, was entirely unnecessary. Crippling sanctions against Iraq were working and the United Nations was preparing to oversee negotiations to peacefully resolve the border dispute between Kuwait and Iraq that had inspired Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in the first place.

But George H. Bush urgently wanted a war and so rushed to attack before non-military tactics might have defused the situation. While refreshing my memory about this moment in history, I found an online video made in 1991 of Noam Chomsky and Gore Vidal discussing the invasion of Iraq that had just occurred. In the course of their conversation, they reminded each other that shortly before the invasion, the national media was buzzing with stories about Neil Bush being sued (and nearly being indicted on criminal charges) for his part in the Savings & Loan debacle that cost American taxpayers, according to Vidal, as much as the entire cost of World War Two!

By using war to divert public attention from his Ponzi scheming son and the massive crime perpetrated by bankers who were then bailed out by Congress (foreshadowing the economic meltdown of 2008 and the government’s bailout of the perpetrators) President George H. Bush was using a strategy employed by despots for thousands of years. Domestic improprieties got you down? Create a foreign threat, preferably from a country that isn’t really a threat, and make a patriotic fuss about going to war to protect life, liberty, and the pursuit of pleasure.

“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” Winston Churchill

In 2003, when the anti-war movement in America vanished within days of the United States invading Iraq for the second time, I came to the conclusion that the disappearance of even symbolic resistance to the illegal war and occupation was directly connected to the unwillingness of any anti-war leader or anti-war organization in America to undertake a boycott of Chevron Oil.

I think such a boycott was never undertaken because the war in Iraq was the first major military operation launched by the United States that was obviously about securing and maintaining a constant supply of cheap gasoline for our cars, and we, the people of the United States, even so-called peaceniks, wanted and still want cheap gas more than we want anything else, even peace and freedom, even a habitable planet.

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He Is Us

Photo by Marcia Sloane

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser June 2011)

“When men are most sure and arrogant they are commonly most mistaken, giving views to passion without the proper deliberation which alone can secure them from the grossest absurdities.” David Hume

I may be wrong. I thought I’d begin with that disclaimer to defuse the notion I think I’m right. What troubles me most about zealots is that anyone who doesn’t agree with them is not only deemed wrong, but bad. Oh, get to the point, Todd. Well, but this is a big part of the point, this trouble I have with people who think they have the one and only true answer, true faith, true way to grow strawberries. There’s no way to have a meaningful discussion with them.

When I had my oh-no-we’re destroying-the-earth-we’d-better-change-our-ways epiphany in 1965 at the tender age of fifteen, even most of my fellow Sierra Club members thought I was either crazy or a dangerous radical. Forty-six years later, my assertion that radically reducing our individual resource consumption can help save the earth is scoffed at and ridiculed by a growing cadre of environmentalist celebrities who insist that personal lifestyle changes no longer matter. The only thing that can possibly save us now, they proclaim with absolute certainty, is violent or semi-violent opposition to oil drilling, coal mining, forest cutting, and other forms of large-scale resource extraction and resource combustion.

A recent email to me from a follower of one such environmentalist celebrity said, “You’re the problem. Your copout attitude that we can humanely reduce human population and make a difference by using less water and energy is the problem. Quit giving people excuses for not fighting the earth killers.”

Another email said, “We’ve tried to get people to consume less. It doesn’t work. We have to directly attack the corporations to keep them from raping the earth.”

These emails and the environmentalist celebrities they echo make me despair for humanity almost as much as the Fukushima nuclear disaster and people opposed to family planning.

Honestly, how hard have we tried, collectively, to consume less? I would say hardly at all. Have we done anything approaching the scale of tens of millions of people planting victory gardens during World War II? Have we had a serious several-years boycott of Chevron, the flagship oil company of the American and Saudi oligarchs? No. Have we, the people, embarked on a conscientious energy conservation program? Nope.

How is it that the connection between consumption and the rape of the earth is so difficult to comprehend for anti-corporate environmentalists? Why isn’t human overpopulation the centerpiece of every environmentalist celebrity’s stump speech?

“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” Sherlock Holmes

I recently happened upon an amazing, to me, video clip from German television (because such news was not available from American media) about the Japanese government’s plans for addressing their nation’s huge and potentially catastrophic energy shortage resulting from the ongoing Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdowns. Attractive male and female models paraded for cameras to show off the new “cool look” fashions the Japanese government hopes a large portion of the population will adopt to help immediately lower energy consumption fifteen (15) per cent.

For men: short-sleeved shirts or sleeves rolled up, open collars, no ties (a radical break with propriety in Japan) and lightweight pants. For women: loose blouses and short sleeves and modestly short skirts. These comfy outfits will, the Japanese government hopes, allow people to set their air conditioning thermostats at eighty-two (82) degrees and not suffer unduly. And if the people of Japan don’t reduce energy consumption by fifteen per cent, immediately, there will be unavoidable and massive power outages because, frankly, Japan doesn’t have enough energy to keep 130 million people cold in summer and hot in winter.

The Japanese government calculates that by setting home and factory and automobile air conditioner thermostats to eighty-two (82) degrees, there will be an immediate ten (10) percent energy savings for the entire nation. Add to this the fact that Japan is a nation of super-fast-food consumers with six million (6,000,000) big energy-guzzling refrigerated vending machines they could easily do with half of, and you can see the low lying fruit, so to speak, of energy conservation is abundant and in plain sight.

As for the eighty-two (82) degree thermostat setting: I lived in Sacramento for fifteen years. I was told when I moved to the capitol in 1980 that my days of treading lightly on the earth in terms of my personal energy consumption were over. I would definitely need a car to get around, and most definitely need air conditioning to survive the brutally hot summers there. When I asked how people had survived in Sacramento before the advent of air conditioning, no one knew, but everyone was certain the people must have suffered terribly because without air conditioning, life in that former swamp was unimaginable.

In keeping with my minimalist modus operandi, I decided to give life in Sacramento a try without air conditioning and without a car. Incredibly (not really) I did okay. The old house I lived in was built in 1910, long before the advent of air conditioning, and was possessed of a six-foot deep basement. If I opened my windows in the late afternoon on days when the outside temperature exceeded 95 degrees, and left those windows open all night, the house cooled down wonderfully. I would close the windows around nine in the morning, and the house stayed cool until the afternoon, at which point I would open the windows. Those very hot (over a hundred degrees) afternoons, I deduced, must have been the times when our ancestors suffered so terribly from lack of air conditioning, because those were the times I often resorted to bicycling to the river for a swim or standing in the garden holding the hose over my head while simultaneously watering the tomatoes.

Amazingly (not really) my body became accustomed to the heat, so those days when the temperatures rose to only 95 degrees seemed cool, and those days when the temperatures rose to 82 degrees (the temperature at which the thermostats of all the air conditioners in Japan are being set) called for a sweater until the zenith of the so-called heat.

You see where I’m going, don’t you? Upwards of two million people live in the Sacramento area, and another eight million live in the hot central valleys of our golden state. Nearly all of these people have their air conditioner thermostats set much lower than eighty-two (82) degrees. Another fifteen million people live in southern California, and most of those people use air conditioners, too. Indeed, the Enron scandal heist of our recent past that knocked Gray Davis out of office and ushered in the reign of Arnold Schwarzenegger was predicated on energy demand from…wait for it…air conditioners.

Shall we call it ironic or idiotic that a huge chunk of the energy being consumed today all over the world, energy contributing mightily to global warming, is energy being used to artificially cool down naturally warm air? As I said at the outset, I may be wrong, but I remain convinced that, in the famous words of Pogo, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

The worst part for me about living in Sacramento, environmentally speaking, was not the heat but the toxic quality of the air and water. For several of my years in Sacramento, I attended meetings of a group of concerned citizens hoping to do something to improve local air quality. Consequently I learned many distressing facts about Sacramento air pollution, one of which is that upwards of eighty per cent of all the air pollution in Sacramento does not originate there, but comes from the Bay Area borne on powerful easterly winds, and from agricultural field burning outside the metropolitan area.

So. Here is a scenario I’d like us to consider. As a matter of national and global security and to ensure a livable future of our children and grandchildren, the people of the United States, with or without the cooperation of our government, agree to set all the air conditioning thermostats in the country to eighty-eight (88) degrees, including automobile air conditioners because running a car’s air conditioner drastically reduces fuel efficiency. This unanimous effort of the people will immediately save billions of barrels of oil and billions of gallons of propane and natural gas, a sudden savings that will cause the prices of crude oil and gasoline to tumble, which will immediately cause food prices to fall, too.

But we won’t stop there. Turning down thermostats and wearing skimpy clothing is easy. We want to save the earth, so we’ll take on the hard stuff, too. We, the people, each and every one of us, will consciously and demonstrably eliminate not one but two automobile trips per week. This might mean one less trip to the store per week or making one commute per week to work or school by bus or bike or on foot. Or it might simply mean occasionally resisting the impulse to jump in the car and zip to the store for that six-pack. Hey, there’s always tomorrow, and this is the earth we’re saving.

Okay. Two less car trips per person in America a week along with not turning on the air conditioner unless absolutely necessary, and we’ll have an instant and gargantuan global oil glut. An emergency meeting of OPEC ministers to discuss the precipitous decline in demand will result in the price of oil being lowered to almost nothing. But demand will continue to fall because people around the world are waking up to their collective ability to create a new and regenerative environmental paradigm, thus fulfilling the mandate of the hit song from the musical Hair.

The demand for genetically modified corporate-grown corn to concoct environmentally disastrous bio-fuel disappears overnight, and farmers all over the world are encouraged to reclaim the land stolen from them by multinational corporations that no longer need that land to grow stuff no one needs. With hundreds of millions of people growing their own food again, food prices continue to plummet, which frees families in the so-called Third World to educate their daughters, which in a single generation will lead to a vast decline in birth rates. It has long been known that the fastest way to swiftly and humanely reduce population is to educate the population, especially the girls, about everything, not just birth control.

We’re on a roll now, aren’t we? Empowered by the success of turning down thermostats and driving less and consuming less and turning off lights we aren’t using, twenty million exuberant people descend on Washington D.C. and surround the capitol until Single Payer Healthcare becomes the law of the land, not just in Vermont. Euphoric about that great victory, bills (with teeth) are passed ending our military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, and everyone, including corporations, making more than a million dollars a year is asked to please pay at least a little income tax.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? So how do we begin? I could be wrong, but I think the first step would be to locate our thermostat(s), and the second step would be to meditate (for more than a minute) on the concept of less is more.

Todd’s new piano CD Ceremonies is available from iTunes and Amazon and UnderTheTableBooks.com