Windchime Walker's Journal 70 Archive
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FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 25, 2005
What made my journey unique was not the geographical distances I traveled to get there, but the depths of intimacy I experienced once I'd arrived. It is one thing to view a country, its culture and peoples as a tourist, and quite another to live day-to-day as they live. To see things from the inside out rather than from the outside in. That was the gift Rabih, Sulaima, Sana, Sami, Rami, Oussama and Ibrahim gave when they welcomed me into their home and hearts as a member of the family. And it is this gift that will continue to unwrap itself in my consciousness as time goes on.
So what is day-to-day life like for my family-of-choice?
Since Sami, Rami and Oussama's Islamic school takes Friday and Sunday off, and Sana's American school takes Saturday and Sunday off, Sunday is the only day of the week when everyone can be together; it is the day for family outings. The two Sundays I was there we planned excursions: first to Rabih's family home in the mountains where my family spends their summer vacations, and secondly to Beirut to see some famous attractions.
The first Sunday's journey was blessed with perfect weather, sunny and warm, but the second Sunday we encountered the only cool rainy day of my trip, so we stayed warm and cozy at home. It was just as well. That gave me more time to hang out with the kids, see to my packing--that Sulaima graciously did for me--visit with two of Sulaima's friends who stopped by to see me, and continue to help Rabih put up his new blog, "Enduring Mercy." Besides, that was the day the children started to feel poorly. And it was my last day. We needed to get me to the airport--which, fortunately, was only fifteen minutes away--at 7:30 AM Monday morning.
I was going to share with you a typical day, but as I started to write it down, I realized that would violate the trust the family gave me. I must respect their privacy. Instead of going into great detail, I'm going to note just a few interesting facets of life in Lebanon.
Electricity is not a given as it is here in the U.S. Where we lived in Armoun, a community of highrise apartments about 15 minutes south of Beirut, the electricity would go off for about an hour--sometimes more, sometimes less--every day. After about 30 seconds of darkness--if it was the night--the building's generator would kick in. You could tell we were on the generator because the lights would occasionally flicker and they would not shine as brightly as usual. But it didn't seem to stop anything.
Not only is electricity iffy in Lebanon; it is expensive. For this reason no one except perhaps the very wealthy in Beirut, has a garbage disposal, clothes drier or electric dishwasher. Our apartment building and most of those around us--and there were hundreds--had balconies. Some balconies were screened with canvas curtains for privacy, and others--like ours--were open, but ALL of them had clothes lines with wash hanging outside almost every day. Clothes could also be seen drying on clothes lines on the flat roofs of a number of apartment buildings near us.
But don't think Lebanon is a third world country; it's not. The people I got to know have several TVs, DVD players, desktop computers, laptops, palm pilots (or whatever the latest gadget is called), digital cameras and cell phones. Their children play with Game Boys and save their money to buy more. Their teens want iPods. And even if the girls are scarved, they are fashion-conscious and dress like any teenager when they get together with their girlfriends.
Because Muslim society is generally gender-separated, the women get together with women and the men with men, even when visiting in the same home. This means that scarved women can literally let down their hair if they want, and the men can talk about whatever interests them. Don't we often see this played out informally in our American culture, where the guys will gather around the TV watching football and the gals will sit and talk in the living room or the kitchen?
In our home the main meal of the day--called lunch--was at 3 PM, about a half hour after the children had returned home from school. It was always served on the dining room table. While I was there, Rabih sometimes came home to join us, but I gather that is not his norm. Usually he and Sulaima eat together after Rabih returns home after sunset prayers. Later in the evening, we'd often raid the refrigerator and sit in the kitchen talking and laughing. This family, by the way, does a lot of laughing! They truly LOVE being together.
Weekday evenings were spent doing homework. The kids, especially those attending the Islamic school, had A LOT of homework...even Oussama who's only in the second grade. Sulaima, a former teacher in the States, would spend between 1-2 hours a night sitting with Oussama at the dining room table helping him with his homework. We all thought it was too much for a seven year-old.
These children are hard workers and very bright. They all brought home excellent quiz scores while I was there. Rami said it was BECAUSE I was there. When I asked why he said that, he replied, "We see you always working on your writing on the computer, and it makes us want to work hard too." Eleven year-old Rami, a truly original thinker, asked me one day, "If you cloned yourself, would you be able to get along with your clone?" I had to admit I didn't think so because I'm so opinionated! This young man comes up with some of the most unusal questions I've ever heard. I encouraged him to consider becoming an international investigative reporter like Robert Fisk.
Of all the details of day-to-day life I was privileged to observe, I'd have to say the place of religion impacted me most greatly. In this home of faithful Muslim believers, religion is not something they DO, but who they ARE. Prayer is not a Sunday (or Saturday or Friday) kind of thing, it is woven into the fabric of their lives. They don't talk about it, they simply do it. Five times a day, day in and day out. Rabih usually prays at the mosque--sometimes in the company of the boys--but Sulaima, who is home with 17 month-old Ibrahim, prays in the formal part of the living room. If the children are home, they might join her or not. As far as I can tell, no one is forced to pray. But they all do it as if they were born to it, even seven year-old Oussama.
As integral as religion is to this family, they never made me feel "other" or strange because I wasn't Muslim...wasn't ANY religion actually. The only time I felt someone was trying to convert me was at The Muntada in Beirut where I spoke last Saturday about the U.S. peace movement.
One of their organizers is a young man of 25 who'd converted to Islam five years ago. As is often true of converts, he is so enthusiastic about his new-found religion that he has trouble knowing when to hold back and when to come on strong. But I wasn't offended by his prosleytizing; I remembered doing just the same myself after I'd undergone a religious conversion in the mid-80s. It comes with the territory.
Of all the gifts I received during my ten days with this family, the most precious were the countless opportunities to spend time one-on-one with each individual.
Sulaima's and my heart-to-heart conversations sitting at the kitchen table while the kids were at school. Her warmth and welcome. Her always being there to help when I needed it...especially the first night when I had to wake her at 2 AM because I was falling out of bed. Her ingenious plan to put pillows under the outside edge of the mattress so that wouldn't happen again. The poise and beauty that shone from the depths of her being. Her humor and sense of play that was shared by all the family.
Rabih's and my deep conversation out on the balcony the night after I'd arrived, in his home office one evening later in the visit, and our time together putting up his blog my last few days there. His gentleness and strength, forged during those long months in solitary confinement. The deep bond that led us to call one another brother and sister.
Their shared dedication to being good parents, and their willingness to listen to any observations I offered about their children and how they seemed to be getting along. Their treating me like a beloved auntie.
Fifteen year-old Sana's readiness to share her innermost thoughts and feelings with me while we sat beside my laptop in my bedroom. Her unquestioned helpfulness in taking care of her younger brothers. Her authenticity and good heart.
Eleven year-old Rami--who chose to spend the most time with me of anyone--sitting beside me at my laptop and learning how to edit my photos using Adobe ImageReady CS2, listening TWICE to my speech before I gave it at The Muntada, asking me one probing question after another, and always being loving and respectful of who I am and how I live my life.
Thirteen year-old Sami's gentle spirit permeating the apartment, his sweet smile and loving kisses when he'd return home from school. His interest in and quick learning of the same photo-editing techniques that Rami learned. His willingness to do that work for me.
Seven year-old Oussama's conversations in which he expressed himself more fluidly than usual and seemed to appreciate my listening ear. His immediate acceptance of my apology for being too hard on him one night.The way he would suddenly throw his arms around me and give me three kisses on alternating cheeks, Lebanese style.
And, of course, the sheer delight of being around 17 month-old Ibrahim who would sometimes come up and tuck his little head on my lap and let me pet his soft wavy hair and whisper endearments, something his family said he NEVER did with anyone else. His way of making everything new and exciting.
Can't you see why I love this family so dearly? And why, when they begged me to return and stay longer next time, I said I'd do my best. Hey, Beirut isn't all that far away. Now I know how small the world really is.
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 26, 2005
Here are two more PowerPoint slide shows from Lebanon:
1) "Hammana home" takes up where "Aramoun to Hammana" left off. In this slide show, we are at Rabih's family's home in Hammana on Mount Lebanon. There are views both inside and out, and a few photos of the family. Sulaima took the inside shots and I took those from the outside. Since there were about 12 steep steps up to the front door, I stayed outside in Rabih's father's beloved garden.
2) "Hammana and beyond" is the final slide show of this series of photos I took on our beautiful Sunday drive up Mount Lebanon on November 13. These photos take us from Hammana, up past the timber line on Mount Lebanon, over to the Beirut-Damascus highway where we had to pass through a Lebanese military checkpoint--we were waved through without having to show our papers--to an overlook where we saw the valley that is known as "Lebanon's breadbasket" and the mountain range beyond which is Syria, then back down the mountain to Hammana where we had a sumptuous dinner at the Valley View restaurant.
As a reminder, to view these PowerPoint slide shows you can download the following software for free. For PC users, click HERE to do so; for Mac users, click HERE.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 27, 2005
My Lebanese bug was a real terror. Only today am I beginning to feel human. But the box of tissues has to be right here beside me. I'm like a dripping faucet.
Every time I get sick--even with a cold--I wonder if I'll ever get my strength back. But I do. And I'm sure I will this time too.
At least today I finally unpacked. That was a good sign. I'm beginning to feel like I'm really home again. Sweet.
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 28, 2005
I've finally finished typing the last of my handwritten journal entries here in my online journal. Both of them were written en route...the first during the flight from London to Beirut on Thursday, November 10, and the second during the flight from London to Detroit on Tuesday, November 22. The experiences I write about caused me varying degrees of stress.
I've been interested in the comments and questions that have come from my readers since I returned from my world travels, some by email and others posted in the "Comments" section of my blog.
Several readers have wanted to know how I responded to the questions that were asked by audience members after I'd given my speech at The Muntada in Beirut on Saturday, November 19. May I please hold off on answering that question until later? I want to give it the attention it deserves, and, to be honest, I'm just not yet feeling at the top of my form. Re-entry, especially with the addition of a flu bug, is not easy. I'm not all here yet.
I also see some dismay among readers--especially women--that 15 year-old Sana has chosen to wear the khimar, the black covering that only allows her eyes to show. She and I did talk about this subject, but I consider her answers confidential. Another area of concern is the gender-separated social code among Muslims.
Friends, as a guest of a Muslim family, my place was to accept their choices regarding such things, and to respect their right to make them. If I had questions, I asked them, but only to try to better understand why my friends did things as they did. These were asked as a friend not a critic. And I tried simply to listen to the answers instead of coming back with my take on things. I was a guest of these gracious people, and being a guest carries with it certain responsibilities. Especially a guest in a country that is not your own, among people who follow a religion that is not your own...both of which you know little about.
Sometimes it is best to enter into life as it is, not as you're used to it being. This, to me, is the crucial difference between a tourist and a guest. A tourist remains who she or he always was, whether at home or elsewhere. A guest makes an effort to enter into someone else's life in such a way that they are both comfortable. You don't give up being who you are at core, but you might bend the edges of your identity a bit so as not to stick out like a sore thumb. It's simply a matter of respect.
So, yes, I'm a feminist who believes with all my heart in the equality of women. Yes, I've chosen to make my own way spiritually, with no religion to mark my path. But I also consider myself a citizen of the world, not just of my country-of-birth. I believe we are all sisters and brothers, members of one family, who will learn to live in peace only when we give up our insistence that we're right about everything, that our way is the only way, that others need to change and become more like us. How boring that would be!
I revel in our diversity, but to do that authentically, I must step back from my natural tendency to judge everyone according to my standards. There's room for ALL of us here on this glorious planet, and each of us is an essential part of the whole.
By the way, I spoke often and honestly about my country, its president and his disastous choices. Cultural and religious subjects may have been handled with kid gloves, but NOT politics, war, Bush, etc. I considered it my responsibility to bring my perspective--and the perspective of millions of Americans like me--to the people of the Middle East. Rabih and Sulaima not only agreed with me on this, but set up numerous opportunities for these discussions to take place. Oh yes, we are definitely on the same page here!
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 29, 2005
Here are my PowerPoint slide shows in one easy-to-use format. By the way, these four slide shows have been renamed and revised (a little) since I first posted them here on my journal. Please use these new links if you want to send or post a link to my PowerPoint slide shows in emails or web sites. The original links will no longer work.
1) Our drive into and through Beirut on Saturday, November 12. We start in Aramoun, a suburb of highrise apartments 5 minutes south of the airport and 20 minutes south of Beirut. This is where Rabih and Sulaima's 7th floor apartment is located. In these 60 slides you'll be taken into crowded East Beirut where we dropped Sana off to visit a friend. Then back onto the main highway, past the huge UN Building with its entrance that has been barricaded since Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri's assassination on February 14, 2005, beside churches and mosques large and small--one mosque 600 years old--through traffic jams on the Ring, beside sparkling new buildings and others still bullet-ridden and shell-damaged from Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war, beside the old St. Georges Hotel where crime-scene yellow tape and rubble is still visible from the car bomb that assassinated Prime Minister Hariri, past people walking along the beach boardwalk near the new lighthouse (that went by too fast for me to photograph), past the famous Luna Park ferris wheel, and ending as night falls over the Mediterranean Sea looking south.
2) Our Sunday (November 13th) drive from Aramoun up Mount Lebanon to Hammana where Rabih's family has had a home for decades. Rabih, Sulaima and the children spend their summers there, and it is where Rabih and Sulaima first met when he was 19 and she 14. Sulaima's family also had a home in Hammana. These 55 slides take you up curving roads, through mountain villages, past magnificent overlooks of Beirut and, farther up the mountain, of valleys and hills within the range. We finish this show at Rabih's family home where Sana is carrying Ibrahim up the steep stairs.
3) "Hammana home" takes up where "Aramoun to Hammana" left off. In these 28 slides, we are at Rabih's family's home in Hammana on Mount Lebanon. There are views both inside and out, and a few photos of the family. Sulaima took the inside shots and I took those from the outside. Since there were about 12 steep steps up to the front door, I stayed outside in Rabih's father's beloved garden. Oh yes, the children--Sana, Sami, Rami and Oussama--took many of the more artistic photos in the garden.
4) "Hammana and beyond" is the final slide show of this series of photos I took on our beautiful Sunday drive up Mount Lebanon on November 13. These 40 slides take us from Hammana, up past the timber line on Mount Lebanon, over to the Beirut-Damascus highway where we had to pass through a Lebanese military checkpoint--we were waved through without having to show our papers--to an overlook where we saw the valley that is known as "Lebanon's breadbasket" and the mountain range beyond which is Syria, then back down the mountain to Hammana where we had a sumptuous dinner at the Valley View restaurant.
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 30, 2005
I've been working with my photos from Lebanon for most of the day. A series of sunsets over the Mediterranean just inspired me to make another PowerPoint slide show. This one only has 9 slides, but I think you'll enjoy it. So put up your feet, breathe deeply and watch the sun sink into the sea in front of you. Welcome to "Sunset over the Mediterrannean."
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 1, 2005
From my friend Joan Tinkess who lives in Windsor, Ontario, comes the following email message. Please hold Jim Loney and his companions in your heart. May they be treated in a humane way and released safely.
A former student and dear friend of mine, Jim Loney, was one of the latest group kidnapped in Iraq a few days ago. I recently received a letter from him as he prepared to leave for the Middle East. I hope you will keep him and the other three men and one woman in your hearts as efforts are made to rescue them. The violence of war leaves all of us wounded.
Below is Jim's general fund-raising letter of November 17.
A couple days ago I mailed my passport to the Jordanian embassy in Ottawa with my visa application. As I sealed the express-post envelope shut, a little tingle went off in my gut - a corporeal alarm clock signaling the next step closer to my departure for the Middle East.
And now the day has come - well almost; I leave tomorrow. It's arriving on my doorstep in much the same way as a dental appointment. I don't think about it very much until the examination light shines in my face and they tell me to open my mouth.
I must confess to some trepidation, a kind of nervous white noise in my chest that rises and falls but never quite disappears. Yesterday I learned that an errant mortar (otherwise intended for the Green Zone) hit the roof of the team's apartment in Bagdad. No one was hurt, thank God.
While my body cells cry danger! my soul feels eager - eager to briefly renew the friendships I made when I was last there (January to March 2004), to be a privileged witness to the suffering and the struggle of a people occupied by war, to be changed by the stories and the lives of those working to bring peace out of the unrelenting years of tyranny, economic sanctions and now occupation.
The current work of CPT's (Christian Peacemaker Teams) Iraq team is a complex mix of documenting torture, accompanying members of the Palestinian community in Bagdad who have no citizenship and endure xenophobic violence, and assisting an Iraqi human rights organization with the documentation of sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia. There are calls from the media, meetings in the Green Zone, (fortified seat of the US occupation and fledgling Iraqi government), trips to Kerbala to assist in the development of a Muslim Peacemaker Team, trips to Fallujah to document the excesses of the US occupation.
But as it turns out I won't be in Iraq very long. Only ten days, in fact. Just long enough to lead a delegation. Because of the shortage of people on the Hebron team, I was asked at the last minute to spend the month of December there instead of Iraq (my original plan). Hebron was where I was first introduced to CPT in 1999. I have not been back since. The past six years of Israeli occupation have turned Hebron's old city into a crumbling ghost town. They say I won't recognize the place, so much it's been changed by the landscape of occupation - razor wire, check points, earthen road barriers, homes abandoned in the face of unyielding in-your-face settler tactics designed to displace Palestinian residents. But the work, unfortunately, remains much the same: monitoring check-points; accompanying school children to and from school (a protection against Israeli army tear gas and settler provocations); responding to calls from rural families experiencing violence from Israeli settlers or security forces. And now there's a new CPT project in the agricultural village of At Tuwani accompanying its struggle to stop the Ma' on settlement from expanding into their pasture lands.
It has been over a year now since I assumed the role of CPT Canada coordinator with Rebecca Johnson. While most of my work is done at the phone and computer, it's also taken me three times to Kenora, ON. When I mention we have a project in Kenora, some people are surprised: what's going on in Kenora, they ask. This is an experiment for us, an attempt to get in the way of the invisible violence of normal: the disrespect, the lack of service in stores, the being ignored or harassed or abused by the police, the not-being-believed in the hospital emergency room, the stereotyping and prejudice Anishinaabe in Kenora experience every day simply because they are Anishinaabe. So, we've put away some of our traditional direct action tools and taken up the tools of community organizing. Our goal: to work with the white community and the churches (in partnership with a local activist group, the Anishinaabe Coalition for Peace and Justice) to take responsibility for undoing racism in Kenora.
It's a real joy and privilege to be part of this work, this gospel experiment in applied nonviolence, of imagining and making possible a world without war. I invite you to consider sharing in this work by keeping those of us on CPT projects in your prayers and, if you're able, making a donation to help us pay the $4,000 cost of this trip.
Peace to you,
P.S. (in his own tiny hand-writing)
and long time no talk to you; hope you are well - i still have your book in my "to read" pile -: i will read it.
joy every day
CHRISTIAN PEACEMAKER TEAMS
25 Cecil St., Unit 307,
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 2, 2005
WE MUST DO ALL WE CAN:
Join Arundhati Roy, Tariq Ali, Noam Chomsky, Cindy Sheehan, Denis Halliday, Rashid Khalidi, and Many Others in Calling for the Urgent Release of Peace Activists Held in Iraq.
An urgent appeal: Add your name to a petition calling for their release at:
Yesterday was my first day back at school since my trip, and Susan and the kids welcomed me home as if I'd been away for years. Susan even let me present my PowerPoint slide shows to the three 4th grade classes and the one 5th grade class who had Thursday art classes. The kids--even our most rambunctious--were attentive, engaged and full of interesting questions and comments.
A large percentage of our children are of Lebanese descent. Many spend their summers there. And, in each class there were at least 6-7 who had been born in Lebanon. Some had only recently come to the U.S. So when I spoke of crazy drivers in Beirut, Prime Minister al-Hariri's assassination, the 1975-90 civil war, the beauty of Mount Lebanon, and the rigors of Islamic schools, they knew more about it than I. A few children shared harrowing tales of dangers and injuries their fathers had survived during the civil war.
For me it was like being back in Lebanon. And it helped me see why I'd felt so comfortable in Rabih and Sulaima's home. This school where I've been privileged to volunteer for five years, is truly a world community. Each child has taught me something here. And not just about their religious and cultural heritage either; these children have taught me that the world is a large, fascinating place that deserves to be explored.
I now doubt if I would have considered taking this journey were it not for the example of these young citizens of the world. Their courage and resilience in the face of life-changing decisions made for them by their parents is what inspired me to push my way out of the American-centered box into which I'd been born. How grateful to them I am.
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 3, 2005
If the American people were to come to me, a former social worker, with the presenting problem of having a president who lived in a fantasy world of his own and his advisors' making, a president who refused to hear anything that did not agree with his take on things, yet held unchecked power to wage wars and occupy countries across the globe, I would suggest it was time for the "family" to intervene.
In lay terms, intervention means confronting the addict/abuser with the truth of his/her actions and the consequences they have on others. Intervention must be carried out face-to-face, and it should not be done with punitive or malevolent intent. The goal of intervention is not to shame the addict/abuser but to help him/her see what their behavior is doing to others. Then, through family dialogue, to agree upon specific steps for change.
It is time for the American people to intervene with President George W. Bush. If our senators and representatives were not part of the problem, I'd recommend asking them to mount this intervention, but I'm afraid partisan politics would get in the way.
So how to proceed? I believe we should ask the world community for help. After all, they suffer as much if not more than anyone from Mr. Bush's refusal to see things as they really are, from his obsession with "staying the course" in Iraq even if it means thousands (hundreds of thousands?) more deaths and the destruction of a civilization where human history began.
Anyone who saw our president last Wednesday speaking from that stage plastered in gaudy "Plan For Victory" banners knows what I mean. His flight-suited "Mission Accomplished" landing on that aircraft carrier was nothing compared with this latest PR-staged extravaganza. On May 1, 2004 there were still enough Americans who believed that the mission to either rid Iraq of its WMDs or "liberate" the country from that fiend Saddam Hussein--take your pick--had indeed been accomplished. But now?
On December 1, 2005, after one year and seven months of escalating violence with no end in sight, how can the Commander-In-Chief say things are going well in Iraq and keep a straight face? Either we have the most consummate lier ever born, or we're seeing the face of a man who has lost all touch with reality. I'd opt for the latter.
Of course if you refuse to have anyone around you who dares to disagree or who wants you to believe everything's OK for their own nefarious purposes, if you do not read newspapers or watch any TV news that might offer a different perspective, and if you only speak publicly before carefully-chosen audiences who promise to cheer your every pronouncement, then living in a fantasy world is easy.
As a former social worker, I see the above description as a recipe for disaster. I also see that intervention is the only way out. We can't afford to wait three more years for this man to leave office. Too much can happen. Not only that, his problems with reality seem to be escalating. Do we really want a psychotic president? Psychosis, by the way, is defined as losing touch with reality.
As I say, I believe we need the help of the world community to mount this intervention. People like Kofi Annan of the UN, Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, Arundhati Roy and Vandana Shiva of India are just a few individuals who come to mind. We need to start focusing right now on this very special work of intervention. There is no time to waste.
If we just sit back and let this dangerously out-of-touch man--George W. Bush--lead us all into early graves, it will be our own fault. Complaining, whining, protesting and criticizing can go only so far: it is time for action. Nonviolent, creative intervention is our best option. Let's start thinking of ways to accomplish this most necessary task. Our lives depend on it.
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 4, 2005
Re-entry is hard. Especially after such an amazing journey, one I'd been anticipating and preparing for since last April. I find myself reluctant to enter too completely into my life here in Michigan. If I do, I'm afraid I'll lose touch with all that I experienced during those magical ten days with Rabih, Sulaima and the kids. Even now, after 12 days home, I sometimes feel I'm more there than here. Now I know what my family in Lebanon is doing at different times of the day, and even though we're seven hours apart, it's easy to place myself in their time zone, in their world. It's a world and a family I miss very much.
Of course it's sweet to be with my Eddie again. I value every minute we're together. Being so far away from my dear one helped me appreciate him all the more. And I love being in my home, in my own bed...all of that. But I still miss my life in Lebanon. And my family there.
I'm more fortunate than most, though, because I can visit Lebanon any time I want. I just drive 20 minutes west on I94, exit onto Addison Road, turn left on Ford Road...and there I am, in East Dearborn, Michigan, the Middle East of the Midwest.
My friend Pat Kolon and I did just that yesterday evening. We ate a yummy Lebanese dinner at the PineLand restaurant on Michigan Avenue just west of Schaeffer. Our server, Miyah, was born in Beirut and got tears in her eyes when I talked of having just been there two weeks ago. She, like everyone I've ever met, adores Beirut and longs to visit there as soon as possible. Maybe in January, she hopes.
After dinner, we drove a mile over to Fordson High School where the Palestine Office-Michigan was putting on a fundraiser featuring El-Funoun, Palestine's popular dance troupe. We'd been advised to get there an hour early and it's a good thing we did. Even though it was an 1100-seat auditorium, they'd oversold and there must have been 100 people standing! I'd worn the Palestinian-embroidered dress Sulaima's sister had given me, and I was right in style. A good number of women were wearing Palestinian dresses and even more men and women had the kuffiyeh, the Palestinian black-and-white scarf, draped over their shoulders. I got lots of compliments on my dress and was able to say where I'd gotten it. That led to a number of interesting conversations. I felt so at home there; it was like being back in Lebanon.
MONDAY, DECEMBER 5, 2005
I've spent much of the day putting up a web page called "My 2005 Journey to Beirut, Lebanon" in which I have posted journal entries relating to my trip. This is a work in progress because I will be adding reflections/stories as they occur to me, as well as more PowerPoint slide shows, and--the most time-consuming project of all--photo links within the text of the journal entries. Stay tuned...
I'm beginning to suspect that my journey to Beirut, the time I spent living with Rabih, Sulaima and the children, the conversations and dialogues I entered into with Sulaima's women friends and at The Muntada where I spoke about the U.S. peace movement, have all served to move me even further out of the American "mainstream" than I was before. Being exposed to such different attitudes and priorities has expanded my views in ways large and small.
For instance, on my way to swimming tonight I drove by two lakefront homes that had enough Christmas lights out front to power a small city. It made me gag. When I see such obvious misuse of energy resources, I can't help judging those responsible--in this case, the homeowners--as self-centered and clueless.
What immediately came to my mind were the residents of Baghdad who are now lucky if they get one hour of electricity a day. I also thought of the hundreds of thousands of refugees in the mountains of Pakistan where even a tent and sleeping bag--forget electricity--would be a priceless treasure. And what about the persons whose homes--if they even survived--are still not inhabitable in most parts of New Orleans? What does electricity mean to them? Even my friends Rabih and Sulaima in Lebanon have to watch their use of electricity--it is very expensive and not all that dependable. As I've written before, every day brought at least one hour without electricity. Thank goddess for apartment-sized generators.
Do the folks who festoon their lawns with hundreds of thousands--it actually looked like billions--of Christmas lights and spotlights think of any of these people who come to my mind? And if not, why not? Yes, my knowledge of Lebanon is from personal experience, but anyone can read Riverbend's blog and find out about the impossible electricity situation in Baghdad. And doesn't everyone know about those individuals and families freezing in the mountains of Pakistan, and the suffering people still without homes in New Orleans?
Or maybe they simply see those situations as separate from them and their way of life. Do they not see that every day-to-day choice they make impacts people around the globe?
I'm not saying I'm innocent of making poor choices either. It's just that mine are a bit less egregious. At least I hope they are.
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 6, 2005
Sorry folks, I'm afraid I went over the top in yesterday's journal entry...especially in my mean-spirited judgement of the homeowners. As a reader said, "...you have a self-righteous streak that is, frankly, getting annoying." She's right. Time to step back and consider more carefully how I present my views here and on my blog. Being opinionated is one thing, but being self-righteous quite another.
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 7, 2005
Tomorrow, December 8, is the day the kidnappers of the four men from the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) in Iraq have set as a deadline. Please please hold these good men in your hearts. May those holding them have a change of heart. May Jim, Norman, Tom and Harmeet be released safely. May it be so.
I just heard the news that the deadline has been extended until Saturday. Hope lives...
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 9, 2005
According to an editorial published in The New York Times on December 5, 2005,
"Poverty has risen across the past four years to 37 million and counting, by the government's own measure, while the number of homeless children in public schools is at 600,000 and up. In 2004, some 38 million Americans - including nearly one in five children - lived in households that found it difficult to afford food, 6 million more than in 1999."
Yet, before its Thanksgiving recess, the U.S. Congress held a midnight vote on a budget-cutting bill that slashed safety nets for the poor including Medicaid, food stamps and child care for mothers who are forced to work in order to receive Welfare assistance. This bill, that the NY Times editors called "draconian," passed by two votes. The editorial went on to say that these slashes in spending would mean that "more than 200,000 poor Americans each face the loss of food stamps worth $140 a month in nourishment."
Today we read that the very same lawmakers passed the last and biggest part of $95 billion in tax cuts for the wealthy.
"Voting 234 to 197, almost purely along party lines, the House approved $56 billion in tax cuts over five years, one day after it passed other tax cuts totaling $39 billion over five years. The biggest provision would extend President Bush's 2001 tax cut for stock dividends and capital gains for two years at a cost of $20 billion."
"All the maverick Republican conservatives in House, who had pushed party leaders to pass $51 billion in spending cuts, voted enthusiastically for tax cuts costing nearly twice as much."
Does anyone wonder who stands to benefit from this Republican-dominated Congress and its Republican president?
Yet does anyone stop and look at the Federal Deficit? I just did and found that as of yesterday, December 8, 2005, the U.S. government coffers were $8,131,033,535,598.31 in the red. In case you, like I, have trouble understanding all those numbers, that means we are over 8 trillion dollars in debt.
In January 2004, The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) had projected that under current policies, the federal deficit would be $535 billion in 2005. Of course that was before anyone knew that President Bush's occupaton of Iraq was going to cost the American people $5.8 billion a month, or a total of $225,321,941,328 and counting. It was also before most of President Bush's proposed tax cuts for the wealthy had been passed by Congress.
Even though the wealthiest one percent of our country's population will personally benefit immensely from the Bush-initiated tax cuts, I can't help but wonder how this spiralling federal debt will affect us all. We have certainly seen in New Orleans what happens when the federal government cannot honor its commitments to care for its citizens. Having more cash in your personal bank account will not help a whit if the infrastructure upon which we all depend fails due to lack of funds and/or poor management.
And what kind of legacy are we leaving our children and grandchildren? It is painful to imagine.
Yet what can we do when those individuals who are supposed to be representing our best interests make poor choice after poor choice after poor choice? Call and let them know what we think--Do they listen?--but beyond that, I wish I knew. For now, perhaps the best we can do is wake up to the realities of what is being done "in our names" and sound the alert to our families, neighbors, co-workers and friends. Awareness is the first step to change.
Three quotes of Mohandas Gandhi speak to me today:
"Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth."
"Healthy discontent is the prelude to progress."
"If I seem to take part in politics, it is only because politics encircles us today like the coil of a snake from which one cannot get out, no matter how much one tries. I wish therefore to wrestle with the snake."
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 10, 2005
I've been on pins and needles all day knowing this was the deadline set by the Swords of Righteousness Brigades for their demands to be met in the kidnapping of the four Christian Peacemaker Teams members in Iraq. But it is now 11:30 PM Saturday in Detroit--7:30 AM Sunday in Iraq--and there's been no word from them. May Jim, Harmeet, Norman and Tom be safe. May they be released unharmed.
Tomorrow I'll be in Ann Arbor for a much-anticipated Racial Justice workshop facilitated by Jona Olsson, the founder and director of Cultural Bridges with whom I took a White Privilege workshop at the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival in August. The workshop is from 3-7 PM, and afterwards Jona and I will go out to dinner and then spend the night at the Michigan League. On Monday I'll drive her to the airport outside of Lansing so she can return home to rural New Mexico where she is the Fire Chief(!).
I'm quite impressed that 36 women and men have signed up for this workshop during a time when most people are running around doing holiday things. We even have a waiting list.
So I'll be away from my computer until Monday evening. Until then, please continue to keep the peacemakers, their families, friends and communities in your heart...and their captors too. May they choose life.
MONDAY, DECEMBER 12, 2005
At 4 PM today I returned home after having driven Jona Olsson, our Racial Justice workshop facilitator, to the Lansing airport. Yesterday's workshop was excellent, and so was the time Jona and I spent at dinner afterwards and staying overnight at the Michigan League last night. Whenever I'm in the presence of someone like Jona, an individual who has consistently used her considerable gifts and talents to benefit the world, my own commitment to change is deepened. It waters my roots.
Then less than an hour ago I turned on my computer for the first time since yesterday (Sunday) morning. I immediately clicked onto my favorite news sources, first to see if there was any news of the four CPT hostages in Baghdad--there wasn't--and then to see what had happened in the world since yesterday.
I was shocked and saddened to read of the assassination of Gebran Tueni, a journalist and current publisher of Lebanon's leading newspaper Al-Nahar. He was also a respected politician and an outspoken critic of Syria. The article I read on Aljazeera.net reported that Mr. Tueni had left the country in August after learning he was #1 on an "assassination list," and had only returned home to Beirut on Sunday night. Less than 24 hours later, he was dead.
The explosion that destroyed his vehicle and killed two men in addition to Mr. Tueni, came just hours before the chief UN investigator Detlev Mehlis was to submit his final report to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the investigation into the February 14th assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri. The report reiterates Mr. Mehlis's initial finding that top Syrian officials are the primary suspects in this assassination that continues to be on everyone's mind in Lebanon.
I don't know if I'd mentioned before that every place I went in Lebanon there were pictures and remembrances of Prime Minister al-Hariri. It seemed like every shop had his picture in the window with a message in Arabic that his death would be remembered and justice would be done. His picture was on the bulletin board at The Muntada where I spoke in Beirut. There were banners hanging from the sides of buildings, many with pictures of both Rafiq al-Hariri and his son, Saad, a recently-elected member of Parliament. Coming into the Hamra district in Beirut there was a huge billboard all lit up with a picture of the former PM Rafiq al-Hariri with flashing numbers noting the number of days since his death.
And now this. Another assassination of an individual who means a lot to the Lebanese people. I gather that Gebran Tueni was highly admired for his vocal opposition to the Syrian domination of Lebanon. Many are already seeing his assassination as part of an ongoing attempt to silence Lebanese media criticism of Syria.
It's important to know that the 29-year Syrian military occupation of Lebanon only ended last April. Their historic withdrawal is seen in Lebanon as a direct result of the people's outraged response to the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri, an assassination that many felt had been planned and carried out by Syria. PM Rafiq al-Hariri was also an outspoken opponent of Syria's military and political power in Lebanon.
And now I gather that, even though the UN investigation into former PM Rafiq al-Hariri's assassination is going to continue, Detlev Mehlis has asked to be released from his position as chief UN investigator. I can certainly see why. It seems like a very dangerous investigation in which to be involved. There is a lot at stake, especially for Syria. If it can be proven that top Syrian officials masterminded that assassination, President Bashar al-Assad could bear the cost, especially if Syria were hit with economic sanctions, as has been threatened. My main fear is that the Bush adminstration would use this as an excuse to bring military action against Syria. We all know that Syria is already on their "axis of evil" hit list.
After having spent time in Lebanon, I can no longer read news like today's without feeling deeply involved. May the cycle of violence be broken. May the people, pro- and anti-Syrian factions alike, learn to live in peace.
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 13, 2005
When you have 5000 people, most of them young white men, descend on a beach in Australia--or anywhere for that matter--"chanting racial slogans and attacking people of Middle Eastern appearance," you are obviously seeing the ugly face of racism. For Australia's prime minister to refuse to call these attacks by their rightful name belies his own bias.
How do you find a solution to a problem you refuse to name?
A simple google search turned up evidence of a long history of racial unrest in Australia. White discomfort with the differences between them and the Aboriginal population, coupled with the influx of large numbers of immigrants from the Middle East, Asia and Africa has unfortunately led to longstanding tensions between the races. I cite just a few articles about this problem at the end of today's entry.
But the point I want to make is not to criticize Australia for its current and historic racial shortcomings; my own country has more than its fair share of racist attitudes and actions. No, my point is one that was brought up by Jona Olsson, the facilitator of the Racial Justice workshop I attended in Ann Arbor on Sunday, and that is the necessity of naming racism when you see it. Skirting around that most unpleasant word simply allows racism to remain alive and well in society.
Isn't this true of any problem? You must recognize and name it directly before any change can be made. None of us wants to do this. We seem to feel if we downplay its importance, any negativity will simply pack up its bags and leave. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. If we ignore the elephant in the corner, it grows in power and influence. If we shine the light of truth on it, its power diminishes. And then we have a chance to work with the problem that it represents.
We have to go head-to-head with the beast.
I see this need in Australia, but Australia is not my country and their problem(s) are not mine to tackle. But the United States IS my country and the racism I see here IS my responsibility. And not just the institutionalized and group-to-group racism either; I must acknowledge and deal with my own personal racism. For you can't be raised in a racist society without becoming racist yourself. All the good intentions in the world won't protect you from that toxic legacy.
But I don't need to stay there. It's up to me to keep peeling away the onion skins of racist attitudes and actions that all white Americans share. And to replace those hurtful ways of being in the world with ways that respect and celebrate our wondrous differences. And this, my friends, is what they call the "college of lifelong learning."
As Jona repeated throughout our hours together on Sunday, shame and guilt do no one any good. If anything, they block change and growth. I may not be responsible for the racism that I took in with my mother's milk, but I AM responsible for what I do once I see it for what it is. Change is not only possible but expected.
What follows are a few articles and links to articles dealing with Australia's current and historic racial difficulties:
PM condemns racial violence
December 12, 2005
ATTACKING people on their basis of their race is totally unacceptable, Prime Minister John Howard says.
But Mr Howard today refused to call Australians racist following the mob violence in Sydney yesterday. He condemned
incidents in which up to 5,000 people descended on North Cronulla Beach, chanting racist slogans and attacking people
of Middle Eastern appearance.
The violence sparked apparent reprisal attacks late last night, with cars damaged at Maroubra Beach.
"Mob violence is always sickening," Mr Howard told reporters.
"Attacking people on the basis of their race, their appearance, their ethnicity, is totally unacceptable and should be repudiated by all Australians irrespective of their own background and their politics," he said.
"I believe yesterday's behaviour was completely unacceptable but I'm not going to put a general tag (of) racism on the Australian community.
"I think it's a term that is flung around sometimes carelessly and I'm simply not going to do so."
Mr Howard also dismissed any suggestion his government's warnings about home-grown terrorists had fuelled the rampage.
"It is impossible to know how individuals react but everything this government's said about home-grown terrorism has been totally justified," Mr Howard told reporters in Sydney.
"It is a potential threat. To suggest that one should remain silent ... knowing what I know because that might antagonise someone else is a complete failure of leadership."
Mr Howard said he fully supported the actions of police at Cronulla and anybody who broke the law yesterday or on the
previous weekend, when two lifeguards and a camera crew were assaulted, should be apprehended and prosecuted.
Mr Howard warned anyone considering further violent behaviour they would face the full force of the law.
"Nobody in this country has a right to take the law into their own hands.
"It applied to the behaviour of people yesterday, it applied to the behaviour of people on the beach the previous weekend.
"Any action the NSW Police take in response to that has my full support."
"We don't want to see Australia become like this â€“ it's not the Australia we know, it's not the Australia we want," he told the ABC.
"We don't want gangs fighting each other in public places, what we want is we want the opportunity for people to safely go about their business and enjoy the beach."
KKK pic 'no joke'
11/11/2004 21:41 - (SA)
Canberra - The defence department is investigating allegations of racism in its ranks after a photograph was taken of soldiers wearing Ku Klux Klan-style hoods as they stood behind dark-skinned colleagues.
The photograph, published on the front page of Sydney's the Daily Telegraph newspaper on Thursday, was condemned by defence chief General Peter Cosgrove as galling, and by Prime Minister John Howard as bad taste.
The newspaper said victims of racist abuse at Australia's largest army barracks in Townsville, in Queensland, were planning court action against the army about the photograph and other acts of victimisation.
The newspaper also reported claims that a dark-skinned soldier had the armour removed from his flak jacket while serving in East Timor while others had offensive slogans written on their gear. Read more...
Racism alive and well down under
03/12/2001 09:13 - (SA)
Canberra, Australia - Racism remains a problem in Australia and is making life a misery for many immigrants and Aborigines, the government's human rights watchdog said on Monday.
Releasing a report from a six-month study of racism in Australia, Federal Race Discrimination Commissioner William Jonas said the marginalisation felt by some segments of the population was striking.
"It is clear that racism is still alive and well in Australian society. People spoke of the covert and systemic racism they experience in employment, education and in the delivery of government services," he said.
The report, titled "I Want Respect and Equality," was prepared by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission from six months of community consultations with people from non-English speaking backgrounds and indigenous Australians. Read more...
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 14, 2005
I hope my brother Rabih Haddad will not mind if I quote his most recent entry on his blog, "Enduring Mercy."
Yesterday I called Rabih and Sulaima to share my sadness over the assassination of the MP and well-known journalist, Jebran Tueni, in Beirut on Monday. During our conversation I encouraged Rabih to write a blog entry sharing his insights into this tragedy. He told me he didn't see where he could find the time to do so.
This morning I received an email from my brother saying, "Thanks to you, dear sister, I couldn't go back to sleep after the dawn prayers. I just had to make an entry on my blog!!"
Even though I know he needs his sleep, I think the perspective Rabih brings to the worldwide discussion of who might have planned this dastardly act is worth any tiredness he might have suffered later. So here are Rabih Haddad's words exactly as they appear on his blog:
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Lebanon: Death's Name and Address
Our fate and destiny,it seems, in this beautiful little country on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean is to grapple with endless violence and death, the latest manifestation of which was the assassination of Jibran Twayni, MP, and managing editor of the longest running and most prominent daily newspaper in Lebanon: Al-Nahar (pronounced: annahar which means 'the day').
Watching the live T.V. coverage of the aftermath cast a gripping surreal feeling over me as the cameras reflected the devastation caused by the explosion and the pointless death and injuries of the victims. My heart was saying enough already, but my brain was asking who's next?
The fingers of accusation immediately pointed at Syria. Twayni had been an outspoken critic of the Syrian regime and its policies in Lebanon. His last editorial was a well-articulated, bold dissection of Syria's foreign policy with regards to Lebanon and the region. In the past few months, he had toured Europe and had met with a number of Western officials rallying support for the UN Security Council's Resolutions 1559 and 1595 that targeted Syria for the most part. He had received numerous death threats eventually causing him to leave Lebanon last August. So yes, Syria is the obvious suspect in this latest assassination. But here in the Middle East, and especially in politics, nothing is as it seems and nothing should be taken at face value!
The question that any objective observer should ask is: who else has a stake in this? Who else would benefit?
Syria is already in international 'hot water' because it was implicated in the assassination of our late Prime Minister Rafik Hareeri, G. W. Bush has Syria in his sights for a possible sequel to Iraq, the UN is threatening sanctions, are the Syrians that stupid? Maybe, but not likely.
But if Syria was to be slapped with sanctions or invaded by the Americans, and if the political and security situation was to spiral downward in Lebanon, who stands to benefit the most on all fronts? The answer is not that hard. A quick overview of recent history in the Middle East will reveal that there has always been, by far, a single beneficiary of US foreign policy there. One who spares no effort in de-stabilizing the whole region for its own ends. One who has benefited the most, so far, from the tragic events of 9-11.
Need I say more?
by Rabih Haddad
I also encourage you to read the rush transcript of the interview Juan Gonzalez of "Democracy Now!" conducted today with Robert Fisk, the Independent/UK's Middle Eastern correspondent who has lived in Beirut for the last 30 years. The interview is titled "Robert Fisk on The Murders of Gibran Tueni, Rafik Hariri and the Changing Tide in Lebanon." You can listen to it on streaming audio if you prefer. I suspect Robert Fisk's perspective is shared by the majority of people in Lebanon. But who knows the truth? I wonder if we will ever know.
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 15, 2005
Heavy wet snow started falling before I left the house to go to school at 7:45 AM, kept coming down all day, and was still at it when it was time for me to leave at 2:45 PM. Sean, the school custodian, kindly came outside and shoveled a path for me to my minivan, then brushed Sojourner's windows clear of snow. I then had a long, slow, slushy drive home. When I arrived, my sweet Eddie, who by the way is suffering from a painful, arthritic hip, had come home early to shovel and salt my ramp into the house. Talk about feeling cared for!
Later Ed received his share of help. In his case it was our neighbor's daughter Jenny who came over unasked and shoveled our long walk up to the front door. And she didn't even know about Ed's painful hip. She just did it to help us out.
But this is an adult talking about snow. The kids were like puppies playing in the school playground at recess. No worries about shoveling or driving for them...just fun! Maybe they'll even have a snow day tomorrow. But I'll bet you they don't want it. Tomorrow (Friday) is their last day of school before the two-week holiday break and most classes are having parties. And kids LOVE parties!
Susan, the wonderful art teacher I help, gave me a very special holiday gift--a handknit scarf that is not only colorful but soft and warm. It makes me smile every time I look at it. I told Susan it reminds me of spring. Hold that thought...
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 17, 2005
It always takes me awhile. As I wrote early this morning about the latest chapter in our President's successful attempts to secretly eviscerate our civil liberties, it never occurred to me that I might have been--and perhaps still am--one of those being spied upon by NSA. But now I'm beginning to wonder.
After all, I've been communicating internationally by phone and email since August 2003 with a man whom the US government jailed for 19 months in its determined--yet unsuccessful--attempts to prove he had "terrorist ties." As you all know, I even traveled to Lebanon to visit him and his family. And while there, I spoke publicly at a Muslim-run center in Beirut where I was openly critical of Mr. Bush, his war on Iraq and his dealings with the Middle East. Then, after returning home, I posted my speech word-for-word on my blog, and just this week the center where I spoke sent a copy of my speech out to everyone on their group email list.
If wiretaps are being conducted on Americans with suspicious international contacts, wouldn't you put me on that list? Am I being paranoid or simply realistic?
But if they have listened in on Rabih's and my phone calls and read our emails, I fear they've been bored to the point of exhaustion. What a waste of taxpayer's dollars, not to mention being totally against the law. This, my friends, is what Orwell was talking about in "1984." Big Brother is watching you...
A lot has been going on in Washington, DC these past few days.
First I'd like to congratulate the US Senate for blocking the reauthorization of the US Patriot Act on Friday afternoon. But I fear Mr. Bush and the Republican senators who support his desire to continue to curtail Americans' civil liberties are not done fighting for their favorite legislative tool. My hope is that those Democratic and Republican senators who won the battle today will not lose the war tomorrow...or next week or next month. I know the US Patriot Act is essential to business-as-usual for Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Rumsfeld. But we can't let them have it. Unfortunately the House of Representatives rolled over and gave it away. Shame on them.
Am I the only one who is not at all surprised to learn that, since 2001, our President has been secretly authorizing unlawful wiretapping by the National Security Agency--that is supposedly prohibited by law from engaging in domestic spying--of the international phone calls and emails of thousands of Americans and other individuals in the US?
What does surprise me is our senators' and representatives' shock that this has been going on. I often wonder if we're living in the same country. Why do these almost daily examples of Bush's overreaching his presidential powers seem to catch the members of our Congress by surprise? Don't they see what we're dealing with here, or are their eyes blinded by that crazy inside-the-beltway world in which they live? Do they really believe they are being told by Bush & Co. what the executive branch is up to? Gosh, folks, wake up and smell the sewage.
The New York Times
December 17, 2005
Behind Power, One Principle as Bush Pushes Prerogatives
By SCOTT SHANE
WASHINGTON, Dec. 16 - A single, fiercely debated legal principle lies behind nearly every major initiative in the Bush administration's war on terror, scholars say: the sweeping assertion of the powers of the presidency.
From the government's detention of Americans as "enemy combatants" to the just-disclosed eavesdropping in the United States without court warrants, the administration has relied on an unusually expansive interpretation of the president's authority. That stance has given the administration leeway for decisive action, but it has come under severe criticism from some scholars and the courts.
With the strong support of Vice President Dick Cheney, legal theorists in the White House and Justice Department have argued that previous presidents unjustifiably gave up some of the legitimate power of their office. The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, made it especially critical that the full power of the executive be restored and exercised, they said.
The administration's legal experts, including David S. Addington, the vice president's former counsel and now his chief of staff, and John C. Yoo, deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel of the Justice Department from 2001 to 2003, have pointed to several sources of presidential authority.
The bedrock source is Article 2 of the Constitution, which describes the "executive power" of the president, including his authority as commander in chief of the armed forces. Several landmark court decisions have elaborated the extent of the powers.
Another key recent document cited by the administration is the joint resolution passed by Congress on Sept. 14, 2001, authorizing the president to "use all necessary and appropriate force" against those responsible for Sept. 11 in order to prevent further attacks.
Mr. Yoo, who is believed to have helped write a legal justification for the National Security Agency's secret domestic eavesdropping, first laid out the basis for the war on terror in a Sept. 25, 2001, memorandum that said no statute passed by Congress "can place any limits on the president's determinations as to any terrorist threat, the amount of military force to be used in response, or the method, timing and nature of the response."
That became the underlying justification for numerous actions apart from the eavesdropping program, disclosed by The New York Times on Thursday night. Those include the order to try accused terrorists before military tribunals; the detention of so-called enemy combatants at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and in secret overseas jails operated by the Central Intelligence Agency; the holding of two Americans, Jose Padilla and Yaser Esam Hamdi, as enemy combatants; and the use of severe interrogation techniques, including some banned by international agreements, on Al Qaeda figures.
Mr. Yoo, now a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, declined to comment for this article. But Bradford A. Berenson, who served as associate counsel to President Bush from 2001 to 2003, explained the logic behind the assertion of executive power.
"After 9/11 the president felt it was incumbent on him to use every ounce of authority available to him to protect the American people," Mr. Berenson said.
He said he was not familiar with the N.S.A. program, in which the intelligence agency, without warrants, has monitored international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of people inside the United States. He said that he could not comment on whether the program was justified, but that he believed intelligence gathering on an enemy was clearly part of the president's constitutional war powers.
"Any program like this would have been very carefully analyzed by administration lawyers," Mr. Berenson said. "It's easy, now that four years have passed without another attack, to forget the sense of urgency that pervaded the country when the ruins of the World Trade Center were still smoking."
But some legal experts outside the administration, including some who served previously in the intelligence agencies, said the administration had pushed the presidential-powers argument beyond what was legally justified or prudent. They say the N.S.A. domestic eavesdropping illustrates the flaws in Mr. Bush's assertion of his powers.
"Obviously we have to do things differently because of the terrorist threat," said Elizabeth Rindskopf Parker, former general counsel of both N.S.A. and the Central Intelligence Agency, who served under both Republican and Democratic administrations. "But to do it without the participation of the Congress and the courts is unwise in the extreme."
Even if the administration believes the president has the authority to direct warrantless eavesdropping, she said, ordering it without seeking Congressional approval was politically wrongheaded. "We're just relearning the lessons of Vietnam and Watergate," said Ms. Parker, now dean of the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law.
Jeffrey H. Smith, who served as C.I.A. general counsel in 1995 and 1996, said he was dismayed by the N.S.A. program, which he said was the latest instance of legal overreach by the administration.
"Clearly the president felt after 9/11 that he needed more powers than his predecessors had exercised," Mr. Smith said. "He chose to assert as much power as he thought he needed. Now the question is whether that was wise and consistent with our values."
William C. Banks, a widely respected authority on national security law at Syracuse University, said the N.S.A. revelation came as a shock, even given the administration's past assertions of presidential powers.
"I was frankly astonished by the story," he said. "My head is spinning."
Professor Banks said the president's power as commander in chief "is really limited to situations involving military force - anything needed to repel an attack. I don't think the commander in chief power allows" the warrantless eavesdropping, he said.
Mr. Berenson, the former White House associate counsel, said that in rare cases, the presidents' advisers may decide that an existing law violates the Constitution "by invading the president's executive powers as commander in chief."
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 typically requires warrants for the kind of eavesdropping carried out under the special N.S.A. program. Whether administration lawyers argued that that statute unconstitutionally infringed the president's powers is not known.
But Mr. Smith, formerly of the C.I.A., noted that when President Carter signed the act into law in 1978, he seemed to rule out any domestic eavesdropping without court approval.
"The bill requires, for the first time, a prior judicial warrant for all electronic surveillance for foreign intelligence or counterintelligence purposes in the United States" if an American's communications might be intercepted, President Carter said when he signed the act.
By asserting excessive powers, Mr. Smith said, President Bush may provoke a reaction from Congress and the courts that ultimately thwarts executive power.
"The president may wind up eroding the very powers he was seeking to exert," Mr. Smith said.
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 18, 2005
I was recently asked by an email correspondent to articulate my "Philosophy of Existence" and my place in it. There were specific questions regarding life and death, an afterlife, humanity's purpose for being, my views about a Creator/God, how my philosophy of life impacts my actions, and more. This is how I answered:
I will do my best to answer your questions, but please be aware that these subjects do not lend themselves easily to articulation with words. Let me give you a little background first.
I was born in 1942 to a mother who was Protestant (Presbyterian) and a father who was Roman Catholic. My mother converted to Catholicism a few years later. Growing up, we went to church every Sunday, to confession and communion once a month, and to children's Catechism classes every Saturday. My two sisters and I always went to public school instead of the Catholic parochial school where the classes were overcrowded.
In 1984 I had what can only be called a "mystical" experience of prayer. That led me to become a much more committed Christian. I joined an inner-city Detroit Catholic church where the parishioners were primarily African-American and the pastor was a charismatic priest who wrote popular books on prayer and travelled the world giving retreats. Unfortunately he also had a weakness where women were concerned, and I'm afraid I fell into his web. In 1989 I extricated myself from his unhealthy orbit, and joined another church in the inner city.
The pastor of my new church was Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, a well-respected peace advocate who is known around the world. Tom has made many trips to Iraq, worked hard to have the economic sanctions lifted, and did all he could to stop George W. Bush's war on and occupation of Iraq. I joined his church in 1991 immediately following the first Gulf War, a war that deeply traumatized me. It was during that war that I became a committed peace activist.
By 1993 I was discovering my feminist values and was no longer comfortable in what I saw was a male-dominated religion with beliefs that made little sense to me. I left Christianity at that time and since then have had no inclination to pursue any other religion. The beliefs I will try to articulate here are those that have naturally evolved in me over the past 12 years. To someone else, especially a believer in an established religion, my beliefs may well seem overly simplistic, but to me, they are all I need to try to keep my life "on track."
Regarding the Existence of the Universe and Humanity's place in it, I see the Universe as a Symphony with each species--humans included--having their own uniquely beautiful place in the song. As a human, my responsibility is to add harmonious notes by my every word, attitude and action. As with any piece of music, though, a dissonant note can add interest--thus my comfort with being outside of the "mainstream" American cultural value system and their nationalistic way of being in the world. As we say, I march to my own drumbeat. But that drumbeat must add to the symphony, not draw attention to itself or destroy the rhythm of the whole.
My life and its meaning can only be seen within the context of the Whole...the whole of humanity, the whole of the planet, even the whole of the galaxy. We are all One in this symphony, each with unique gifts and responsibilities. Mutual respect is essential to our relationship with one another, especially respect for our differences. For it is these differences that give our symphony texture and dynamic grace.
In relation to the fleeting nature of Life, birth and death are merely two ends of the continuum. Where others might need the comfort of a belief in an afterlife, I do not. I believe this short life holds more than I can ever recognize or appreciate. How could I need any more than this? Those who have died stay alive in my heart and memory. The love we've shared is a strand that will never break.
I do not use the words Creator, God, Allah, or Higher Power, but see everything as sacred. I do not differentiate between the sacred and the secular, but find Divinity in all. Actually, that is my greatest challenge, to see the divinity in persons who make choices that harm others, our world and our planet. To see another as Evil is not how I choose to relate to my sister and brother humans. It is here that my political awareness intersects with my spiritual consciousness. It often creates a paradox that is hard for me to tolerate. But I believe it is that Paradox that holds the key to our humanity.
How I personally choose to act depends upon my willingness to look beyond myself to the whole. Everything I think, say and do must benefit the whole. This is where truth and justice, respect and dignity, authenticity and love manifest themselves. It is what defines my humanity. Living this way requires self-reflection, self-discipline, concern for others, and a willingness to admit when I've made a mistake and try to rectify it. Humility, compassion, tolerance and a sense of humour are essential tools that I must always have at my side.
MONDAY, DECEMBER 19, 2005
I know I'm becoming a pest, but I can't help it. Every time I read the New York Times--which is every day since I returned home from Lebanon--I get more and more disturbed. So what do I do? I fire off a letter to the editor. Two in the past two days! Here they are:
December 18, 2005
As an individual who may well be one of the thousands being spied upon by the NSA--I communicate regularly by phone and email with a Muslim cleric who was detained for 19 months in U.S. jails on the suspicion of having "terrorist ties" until he was secretly deported (with no charges ever having been made against him) to Lebanon in August 2003--I support everything you say in your editorial "This Call May Be Monitored..."
Yes, we obviously have a president who seems to feel he is above the law and can do as he pleases in his "War on Terror." And yes, the Congress must find a way to check Mr. Bush's misuse of his presidential powers, especially his disregard for laws that were enacted to protect our civil liberties.
My question to you, though, does not regard Mr. Bush's overstepping his bounds, but your "understepping" yours. Why did it take The New York Times an entire year before you made this information available to the public? Of course the White House "requested the article not be published." Wouldn't you if you were in their place?
I certainly understand Mr. Bush's desire to keep his actions secret, but your willingness to help him keep not only the people, but the Congress in the dark, leaves me baffled. Why did you do it?
December 19, 2005
How long before the American people realize their president has committed impeachable offense after impeachable offense with no checks and no balances?
Is it not enough that he has sent our children off to die in a war based on lies? That he allowed the torture of prisoners by U.S. military, CIA agents and private contractors in violation of the Geneva Convention? That he supports the practice of the secret rendition of prisoners by CIA operatives who establish secret prisons in foreign countries where they can do what they want with no oversight by Congress or the American people? And now we find that since 2002 our president has been secretly authorizing the National Security Agency to spy on Americans at home with no court warrants, warrants that are required by law?
Doesn't this list, partial though it is, make former President Bill Clinton's impeachment seem like a bad joke? Since when is a private indiscretion worse than mounting a war based on lies, unlawful torture and illegal spying? Impeach him!
And now, after hearing me blow off steam, let me send you to the transcript of today's "Democracy Now!" program with Amy Goodman where she interviews James Bamford, author of several books, including the first book ever written about the National Security Agency, Martin Garbus, First Amendment attorney, and Christopher Pyle, Professor of Politics at Mount Holyoke and former military intelligence analyst. This segment of the show explores the topic, "An Impeachable Offense? Bush Admits Authorizing NSA to Eavesdrop on Americans Without Court Approval."
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 20, 2005
As I read President Bush's and Attorney General Juan Gonzales' rationale for authorizing the NSA to spy on Americans without getting the FISA warrants required by law, I recall my concern when Congress passed S.J. Resolution 23 on September 14, 2001 authorizing the president "to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons."
At the time I feared Mr. Bush and his gang would see it as a blank check to spend any way they pleased. And so they have.
It obviously didn't matter to them that they were breaking the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act enacted in 1978 to curb just such an abuse of power as Mr. Bush has been indulging in since 2002. Nor did it bother them that the warrants they now say would have taken too long to get can actually be obtained in five minutes, or even within 72 hours after the fact. So this song and dance about the War on Terror needing more "agile" (their word) means to intercept phone calls and emails between suspected al-Quaeda terrorists (like Rabih and me?) has as many holes as a slice of swiss cheese (to thoroughly mix my metaphors).
The best part about the revelations this week of 1) the Department of Defense database being full of such "threatening" groups as the Quakers and the Raging Grannies; 2) George W. Bush's unlawful secret surveillance by the National Security Agency of persons within the US; and 3) the FBI's monitoring Catholic Workers, Greenpeace and animal advocacy groups is that we can see it for what it is.
I'm sure there are more "secrets" to come, but you know, I'm beginning to believe the old adage that the truth always prevails. And that is comfortng.
No President Is Above the Law
by US Senator Robert C. Byrd
December 19, 2005
Americans have been stunned at the recent news of the abuses of power by an overzealous President. It has become apparent that this Administration has engaged in a consistent and unrelenting pattern of abuse against our Country's law-abiding citizens, and against our Constitution.
We have been stunned to hear reports about the Pentagon gathering information and creating databases to spy on ordinary Americans whose only sin is choose to exercise their First Amendment right to peaceably assemble. Those Americans who choose to question the Administration's flawed policy in Iraq are labeled by this Administration as "domestic terrorists."
We now know that the F.B.I.'s use of National Security Letters on American citizens has increased one hundred fold, requiring tens of thousands of individuals to turn over personal information and records. These letters are issued without prior judicial review, and provide no real means for an individual to challenge a permanent gag order.
Through news reports, we have been shocked to learn of the CIA's practice of rendition, and the so-called "black sites," secret locations in foreign countries, where abuse and interrogation have been exported, to escape the reach of U.S. laws protecting against human rights abuses.
We know that Vice President Dick Cheney has asked for exemptions for the CIA from the language contained in the McCain torture amendment banning cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment. Thank God his pleas have been rejected by this Congress.
Now comes the stomach-churning revelation through an executive order, that President Bush has circumvented both the Congress and the courts. He has usurped the Third Branch of government - the branch charged with protecting the civil liberties of our people - by directing the National Security Agency to intercept and eavesdrop on the phone conversations and e-mails of American citizens without a warrant, which is a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment. He has stiff-armed the People's Branch of government. He has rationalized the use of domestic, civilian surveillance with a flimsy claim that he has such authority because we are at war. The executive order, which has been acknowledged by the President, is an end-run around the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which makes it unlawful for any official to monitor the communications of an individual on American soil without the approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
What is the President thinking? Congress has provided for the very situations which the President is blatantly exploiting. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, housed in the Department of Justice, reviews requests for warrants for domestic surveillance. The Court can review these requests expeditiously and in times of great emergency. In extreme cases, where time is of the essence and national security is at stake, surveillance can be conducted before the warrant is even applied for.
This secret court was established so that sensitive surveillance could be conducted, and information could be gathered without compromising the security of the investigation. The purpose of the FISA Court is to balance the government's role in fighting the war on terror with the Fourth Amendment rights afforded to each and every American.
The American public is given vague and empty assurances by the President that amount to little more than "trust me." But, we are a nation of laws and not of men. Where is the source of that authority he claims? I defy the Administration to show me where in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or the U.S. Constitution, they are allowed to steal into the lives of innocent America citizens and spy.
When asked yesterday what the source of this authority was, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had no answer. Secretary Rice seemed to insinuate that eavesdropping on Americans was acceptable because FISA was an outdated law, and could not address the needs of the government in combating the new war on terror. This is a patent falsehood. The USA Patriot Act expanded FISA significantly, equipping the government with the tools it needed to fight terrorism. Further amendments to FISA were granted under the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2002 and the Homeland Security Act of 2002. In fact, in its final report, the 9/11 Commission noted that the removal of the pre-9/11 "wall" between intelligence officials and law enforcement was significant in that it "opened up new opportunities for cooperative action."
The President claims that these powers are within his role as Commander in Chief. Make no mistake, the powers granted to the Commander in Chief are specifically those as head of the Armed Forces. These warrantless searches are conducted not against a foreign power, but against unsuspecting and unknowing American citizens. They are conducted against individuals living on American soil, not in Iraq or Afghanistan. There is nothing within the powers granted in the Commander in Chief clause that grants the President the ability to conduct clandestine surveillance of American civilians. We must not allow such groundless, foolish claims to stand.
The President claims a boundless authority through the resolution that authorized the war on those who perpetrated the September 11th attacks. But that resolution does not give the President unchecked power to spy on our own people. That resolution does not give the Administration the power to create covert prisons for secret prisoners. That resolution does not authorize the torture of prisoners to extract information from them. That resolution does not authorize running black-hole secret prisons in foreign countries to get around U.S. law. That resolution does not give the President the powers reserved only for kings and potentates.
I continue to be shocked and astounded by the breadth with which the Administration undermines the constitutional protections afforded to the people, and the arrogance with which it rebukes the powers held by the Legislative and Judicial Branches. The President has cast off federal law, enacted by Congress, often bearing his own signature, as mere formality. He has rebuffed the rule of law, and he has trivialized and trampled upon the prohibitions against unreasonable search and seizures guaranteed to Americans by the United States Constitution.
We are supposed to accept these dirty little secrets. We are told that it is irresponsible to draw attention to President Bush's gross abuse of power and Constitutional violations. But what is truly irresponsible is to neglect to uphold the rule of law. We listened to the President speak last night on the potential for democracy in Iraq. He claims to want to instill in the Iraqi people a tangible freedom and a working democracy, at the same time he violates our own U.S. laws and checks and balances? President Bush called the recent Iraqi election "a landmark day in the history of liberty." I dare say in this country we may have reached our own sort of landmark. Never have the promises and protections of Liberty seemed so illusory. Never have the freedoms we cherish seemed so imperiled.
These renegade assaults on the Constitution and our system of laws strike at the very core of our values, and foster a sense of mistrust and apprehension about the reach of government.
I am reminded of Thomas Payne's famous words, "These are the times that try men's souls."
These astounding revelations about the bending and contorting of the Constitution to justify a grasping, irresponsible Administration under the banner of "national security" are an outrage. Congress can no longer sit on the sidelines. It is time to ask hard questions of the Attorney General, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, and the Director of the CIA. The White House should not be allowed to exempt itself from answering the same questions simply because it might assert some kind of "executive privilege" in order to avoid further embarrassment.
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 21, 2005
As the New York City Transit Strike begins, I remember the last Transit Strike that hit that city...
It was April 1980. My friend Mary Aljian and I were part of a group of students and former students of Detroit's Center for Creative Studies who had come to New York City to attend the opening reception of our painting professor Aris Koutroulis' show of paintings at the OK Harris gallery on West Broadway. He'd arranged for us to stay at the famed Chelsea Hotel where Welsh poet Dylan Thomas had met his end (after 18 whiskies in a row) and such diverse luminaries as Mark Twain, Janis Joplin, Arthur Miller, Leonard Cohen, Jimi Hendrix and Thomas Wolfe had stayed and/or lived for varying amounts of time.
What we saw when we entered this cultural icon on W. 23rd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues was a dark, dirty lobby smelling of marijuana, with paintings hung floor-to-ceiling, a dark-haired rather intimidating fellow behind the desk and unsavory-looking folks wandering around like lost souls.
From there, things went from bad to worse. Instead of Mary and me sharing a double room as promised, we were put with four other women in a second floor room stuffed with cots, french doors (with no locks) leading directly onto 23rd Street via an easy-to-climb fire escape, a bathroom so grimy there was a dirty dried-up washcloth stuck to the bathtub drain. Oh yes, I almost forgot. On the stairs going up to our room we'd been met by a dead rat. Not a mouse; a rat. The desk clerk laughed it off as just part of the hotel's beatnik ambience. Right.
My friend Mary, a can-do sort of person as well as a bit of a neatnik, went right to the phone to call her husband Andy in Michigan to see what he could do about getting us a room at any other hotel in town. After all, we'd be staying in NYC for five nights and this place was unacceptable for five minutes.
But guess what? The Transit Strike was due to start at 12:01 AM that night and there was not one room available in all of Manhattan.
So Mary found a nearby store where she bought cleaning supplies including LOTS of disinfectant, and took to scrubbing our shared bathroom. To "protect" us from whomever or whatever might decide to climb up the fire escape and sneak through our unlocked french doors, we placed an open umbrella on the floor in front of the doors. We figured at least one of us would hear anyone who bumped into it, and that person would set up a scream. I don't know how West 23rd Street looked when Mark Twain had stayed there, but by 1980 it had the air of an anything-might-happen kind of place.
By the way, Mary and I at 38 were 15-20 years older than anyone else on the trip. The resident "elders" so to speak. So our younger roommates looked to us for advice and counsel. But, as I remember it, we weren't feeling particularly wise at the moment. Spooked would be more like it.
The longer we stayed at the historic Chelsea Hotel the more we saw. For instance, many of those "lost souls" in the lobby were dealing drugs and who knows what else. And the hotel policy that you had to ask the desk clerk for your room key didn't make us feel any more secure.
It would go like this: We'd walk--I was able bodied at the time--up as close to the desk as possible and say, "Room 215" in a soft voice. The clerk would yell "Whatdya say? Room 215?" All eyes would turn in the direction of these obviously innocent out-of-towners, and we'd scurry as fast as we could up the stairs past the rat to our room.
My most vivid memory is of the night Mary and I had returned late after going to a dance performance uptown. We hadn't had time to eat beforehand and were starved. So we decided to walk to the all-night diner at the corner and get some scrambled eggs. By then it was about 1 AM.
We got there with no problem, sat down at the counter and picked up the greasy menu. There were perhaps five other people sitting around the U-shaped counter and one bored-looking frizzy-haired woman serving them. Think of that famous painting by Edward Hopper and you'll know what I mean. Before we'd had a chance to order, a man came in off the street, stomped over to the counter near the cash register, picked up a catsup bottle, slammed it down, breaking it against the countertop, and started yelling and cursing as he waved the broken bottle threateningly overhead.
Luckily Mary and I were closer to the door than he, so we slipped out as quickly and quietly as possible, and practically ran back to the hotel. But when we looked behind us, we saw we were being followed by another man. He didn't have a broken bottle in his hand, but he still made us nervous. Breathess, we rushed into the lobby, up to the desk and asked sotto voice for our key. By then the fellow who'd been following us had come in the front door and was standing there looking at us. Of course, the desk clerk said in his loudest voice, "Whatdya say? Room 215?" We nodded our heads, grabbed the key and ran up the stairs. Once there, we put an extra umbrella in front of the french doors. I don't remember sleeping very soundly that night.
So, for us, the 1980 NYC Transit Strike was less of a bother in terms of getting around the city--we walked every place and even managed to snare the occasional taxi--and more of a test of our ability to survive.
New York is not for the faint of heart.
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 22, 2005
There couldn't be a worse time for a Constitutional crisis. Americans are busy. They're shopping, wrapping, decorating, writing cards, cooking, cleaning, entertaining, traveling and/or dealing with children who are underfoot for the next week and a half. How could they be expected to care about the Constitution; they barely have time to catch the nightly news. Domestic surveillance without a warrant? So what. Emily's been begging for the Magic of Pegasus Princess Barbie doll and it's not to be had anyplace. Now THERE'S a crisis!
But here we are, ready or not, right in the middle of a full-fledged attack on our Constitution, the Fourth Amendment, our system of federal checks and balances, our society based on law. Maybe it doesn't look like that on the face of it. So the president authorized our super-spy National Security Agency to wiretap hundreds, maybe a thousand, international phone calls and emails made by individuals within the United States to persons in other countries who have "suspected ties to terrorists." So he didn't bother to get the court-approved warrants required by the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act.
What's the big deal?
The big deal is that we have a man holding the most powerful office, not only in our country but in the world, who says openly that he is above the law, that any law that does not serve his purposes can be ignored. And he has "legal experts" like Prof. John Yoo and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales who back him up with opinions based on their interpretation of the Constitution, of acts passed by Congress, and of decisions handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court. This president justifies his actions by saying the law "tied his hands" and was not "agile" enough to deal with HIS war, which is unlike any other war in the history of our country.
What he fails to mention is that the warrant needed to conduct such surveillance can be obtained AFTER THE FACT. If the government feels the need to spy on someone, they can just go ahead. All they have to do is apply for the warrant from the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act court within 72 hours. And getting that approval is almost a sure thing. Since 1979, the FISA court has declined to issue warrants only four times out of the 18,747 times the government has sought one.
So why is President Bush (with the vocal support of the most powerful vice-president in America's history) openly thumbing his nose at the law? What's he up to? These fellows (Mr. Bush's advisors) aren't dumb. Everything they do is carefully planned...except for the occasional unscripted statements out of their advisee's mouth. So why are they supporting the president's admitting to an impeachable offense?
I have a theory. Don't I always?
My theory rests in large part on what Vice-President Cheney said in his interview with the press on Air Force Two as he rushed back to Washington, DC to cast the deciding vote in favor of the draconian budget-cutting bill. Tim Harper of the Toronto Star reports Cheney's remarks as follows:
"Watergate and a lot of things around Watergate and Vietnam, both during the '70s served, I think, to erode the authority ... the president needs to be effective, especially in the national security area," Cheney told reporters aboard the Air Force Two aircraft after a visit to Pakistan.
But the vice-president said he thought the Bush administration has been able to restore some of "the legitimate authority of the presidency."
He also said he believes that the U.S. War Powers Act, which gives the U.S. Congress the power to be fully engaged in a president's decision to go to war is unconstitutional.
"I am one of those who believe that was an infringement on the authority of the president," he said.
"I believe that the president is entitled and needs to have unfiltered advice in formulating policy. He ought to be able to seek the opinion of anybody he wants to and that he should not have to reveal, for example, who he talked to that morning.
"That issue was litigated all the way up to the Supreme Court and we won."
The Supreme Court decision to which Cheny refers was his own successful court case regarding his refusal to name the participants in the task force he appointed to form U.S. energy policy.
I don't think it's a stretch to read between the lines and figure that Messrs. Cheney, Bush, Gonzalez and Yoo want to take this issue about FISA court-mandated domestic surveillance to the Supreme Court, a court soon to be dominated by Bush I & II appointees who give every indication of deciding in favor of expanded powers for the executive branch. Iraq hasn't gone so well, so let's up the ante. Let's give this president--and all the Republican presidents who are sure to follow--unlimited power. Forget checks and balances. Forget the messy Congress. Let's go for the prize: a dictatorship masquerading as a democracy.
But is anyone watching? Does anyone except constitutional experts, members of the independent media, and radical peace activists like me even care? After all, it's just three days till Christmas.
Now where did I put that wrapping paper?
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 23, 2005
I realize my readers are probably getting sick to death of my endless belaboring this domestic surveillance issue, but I can't stress how important I think it is, not just to Americans but to the world.
If we let Messrs. Bush and Cheney get away with turning the executive branch into what The New York Times referred to in today's editorial as an "Imperial Presidency," we are in deep manure. The position of President of the United States is already at the pinnacle of power worldwide. Can you imagine what would happen if we let Mr. Cheney and his neo-con friends have their way? That position would soon be a dictatorship in everything but name--a dictatorship that sees the world as its realm. Think of the Holy Roman Empire...with nuclear weapons instead of swords.
One of the important players on the team that espouses the expansion of presidential powers is a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Yes, Berkeley! How's that for an anachronism? Mr. John Yoo has been quoted in the Bush adminstration's justification of torture, their insistence that if they call prisoners at Guantanamo Bay "foreign combatants" instead of prisoners-of-war then they don't have to abide by international conventions in their treatment, and now their defense that the Congress gave them the right to authorize NSA to spy on Americans at home when they passed the War Authority Act soon after 9/11. Besides, Mr. Yoo maintains, if the President is the commander-in-chief during a time of war, that includes "signal communications."
Just who is this John Yoo?
Thanks to a front page article in today's New York Times, we finally have some idea. OK, my ageism is going to show here, but this man who has been so important as a legal advisor to Mr. Bush, was born in 1967. That's right. The man who maintained the Geneva Convention was outmoded in the war on terror, that "United States law prohibited only methods that would cause 'lasting psychological harm' or pain 'akin to that which accompanies serious physical injury such as death or organ failure" is now 38 years old! When he wrote that memo on torture, he was 35!
I'm sorry but this appalls me. If he were some aide working behind the scenes it would be one thing, but John Yoo has been quoted by the president, by the vice-president, by the Secretaries of State and Defense, the U.S. Attorney General, and by media all over the world, as if he were a proven expert in Constitutional law. He isn't. He has never even practiced law. He's been a deputy to important men for sure, has managed to be in the right place at the right time more than once, and has taught at a respected law school, but that's it.
What does this say about our government, our media and our people? Why hasn't anyone asked " Who is John Yoo?" before now? Why didn't I ask? Assumptions are SO dangerous.
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2005
The following poem came into my life as a Winter Solstice gift from Elaine Morse via Pat Schwing...I send it on to you, my unseen yet always valued, friends.
In Praise of Earth
by Joy Harjo
We kept on dancing last summer though the dancing had been called
We weren't alone at the end of this particular world and knew
it wouldn't be the last world, though wars
had broken out on all sides.
We kept on dancing and with us were the insects who had gathered at
in the grasses and the trees. And with us were the stars and
a few lone planets who had been friends
with the earth for generations.
With us were the spirits who wished to honor this beloved earth in any
manner. And with us at dawn was the Sun who took the lead
and then we broke for camp, for stickball
We all needed praise made of the heart's tattoo as it inspired our
feet or wings,
someone to admire us despite our tendency to war, to terrible
stumbles. So does the red cliff who is the heart
broken to the sky.
So do the stones who were the first to speak when we arrived. So does
mountain who harbors the guardian spirits who refuse to abandon
us. And this Earth keeps faithfully to her journey, carrying us
around the Sun,
All of us in our rags and riches, our rages and promises, small talk
As we go to the store to buy our food and forget to plant, sing so
that we will be nourished in turn. As we walk out
into the dawn,
With our lists of desires that her gifts will fulfill, as she turns
into rivers of sweet water, we spiral between dusking and
dawn, wake up and sleep in this lush palace of creation,
rooted by blood, dreams, and history.
We are linked by leaf, fin, and root. When we climb through the sky to
new day our thoughts are clouds shifting weather within us.
When we step out of our minds into ceremonial
language we are humbled and amazed,
at the sacrifice. Those who forget become the people of stone who guard
the entrance to remembering. And the Earth keeps up her
dancing and she is neither perfect nor exactly in time.
She is one of us.
And she loves the dance for what it is. So does the Sun who calls the
beloved. And praises her with light.
© 2005 Patricia Lay-Dorsey. Please use with attribution.
Windchime Walker's current journal
Journal archive 71 (12/25/05-1/24/06)
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