Saturday, November 04, 2006

Lurching toward Tuesday

For the next few days I will be in warp drive for the election so blogging may be even more irregular than my norm. I volunteer with much hope and no illusion: whatever their shortcomings Harry Mitchell and Jim Pederson will be far superior to J.D. Hayworth(less) and Jon Kyl. Polls show Arizona may be the first state to reject a same-sex marriage amendment. Turning out the vote against hate and discrimination is worth a few phone calls. And if it contributes to getting rid of one or two truly odious politicians, even better.

For what it's worth, I phoned banked for the governor's campaign the other night, calling independent voters . I probably reached about half of the 80 calls I made. Maybe 10 refused or did not support the Janet Napolitano, all the rest did. Some with real enthusiasm. That's hardly a random sample, but the results were satisfying. The governor stopped in and to thanked each of us. She commented on how cold the rooms were. My room (the quiet one so I could hear) was noticeably cold. I just kept moving as much as a telephoner can do.

Friday night I joined the Free Street Band and Billionaires for Bush at the Phoenix First Friday art walk to hoot and holler about the election at 2nd Street and Roosevelt. The Free Street Band is a bagpipe and four or five drummers. I wave a Veterans for Peace flag. The Billionaires demonstrate against Billionaire oppression and limited profits. We all join them singing songs like "George Bush Made My Wallet Grow" and "Home With Big Oil". We make a lot of noise for the passing crowd. Also on Friday night, Code Pink' Staged its Clean Sweep March, complete with brooms, and Arizona Together led a candlelight march in the area. It was a lively night among the art throng. Afterward a middle school theater arts teacher told my partner Maggie, one of the Billionaires, that the Billionaire appearance at the last art walk provoked her students into thinking about issues and using performance to instigate that thought and discussion. Her words were a very nice compliment. Imagine, encouraging a kid to think!

Tomorrow, I invite both of you to check out "About Face" on KPHX , Air America Phoenix. I am one of threle veterans, along with co-hosts Dennis Stout and John Henry, who discuss topical issues affecting active duty military, their families and veterans. Tomorrow's topic is the second show on the ethics of war. We're on at 11:00 am MST. If you're not in signal range, you can stream "About Face" at Air America Phoenix.
You can even call in toll-free. I invite you to do that, too.

On Monday, November 6 at 7:30 the Arizona End the War Coalition will host a candlelight vigil to honor Pat Tillman on his 30th birthday. The vigil is at ASU Main, Student Services Lawn by the corner of Lemon Street and College Avenue. The vigil is inspired by Kevin Tillman's statement in Truthout. Bring a candle if you can attend.

No doubt on Tuesday, I'll volunteer some more after hand carrying my mail-in ballot to my polling place. I would so very much like to see a massive Democratic sweep. Not just because I think a Congress led by a strong opposition is what this country needs desparately after six years of BushCheney (maybe the Democrats can do this) but also, in the spirit of George Allen, I want to enjoy watching fat wingnut heads explode, teeth and all.

I hope Tuesday's results exceed your wildest dreams.

Thursday, November 02, 2006


Markos has an interesting post at Daily Kos about his transition from Republican to Democrat. It’s always interesting to see how others made the same journey I did. The times were greatly different–almost 30 years–but the circumstances were similar. In both cases, the political beliefs that we developed as teenagers did not survive into adulthood. Markos says something that sounds very familiar:
...[A]s socially liberal as I am, I am still and always will be a strong supporter of fiscal responsibility and a healthy, robust entrepreneurial business climate. I was a Libertarian Republican in a party already moving toward its present authoritarian foundation.

Looking back 40 years, I see that my Republican sentiments were largely a product of my local environment. I was a white boy in the south during the civil rights era. My hometown was the scene of violent confrontations between civil rights demonstrators and local authorities. My father had died a few years earlier and my mother was spiraling into depression so I had little parental guidance. What I did have was a community that was highly resistant to demands for social justice and I bought into that.

When Barry Goldwater voted against the Civil Rights Bill of 1964, my path was set. I was one of his most vocal supporters. Of course, I couched my actions in the rhetoric of states’ rights but I cannot truly say that the words were anything more than window dressing for policies that aimed at denying fellow human beings their right to full participation in the political and social life of this nation. It’s always embarrassing to look back on those days.

Fortunately, those benighted beliefs did not survive even the first few years of college. What survived my conservative past, however, was my interest in public affairs and the realization that government does matter. And even as I veered far left in my social beliefs, I did not give up the idea that, as much as possible, government should leave individuals alone to make their own decisions insofar as those decisions do not harm others. Like Markos, I still retain a strong libertarian streak. That’s why I am still undecided about the propositions to ban smoking in Arizona bars and restaurants. I can and do chose non-smoking establishments.

As for economics, I am still uneasy about federal deficits. Not so much that they exist as the fact that the deficit seems out of control, piling up a debt that will saddle future generations and putting America in debt to foreign nations. I recognize the utility of deficit spending but would like to see some proportion and sanity to federal economic policy. Unlike Markos, I gave little thought to the business/entrepreneurial climate for many years. I have been more concerned with the economic injustices and polarization of wealth under capitalism. These days, however, I recognize value of entrepreneurship and wealth creation so I understand the need to encourage business. But my concern for social and economic justice are not at all lessened; I am still skeptical toward economic policies that favor large corporations and fortunes over small business and modest incomes.

As a Goldwaterite I was ready to pound North Vietnam into rubble and confront the evil Soviet Communists at every turn. My beliefs changed dramatically between 1964 and 1970, partly because I began to understand Vietnamese nationalism (they would have fought us from the rubble) and came to see the Soviet Union and international Communism in the broader historical context of Russian chauvinism/imperialism. Perhaps the greatest influence on my thinking in this area came from my study of diplomatic history where I saw the stark contrast between the informed realism of America’s founders and the messianic dreams of their 20th century successors.

And then I went to Vietnam. I’ve written a lot about that experience and won’t repeat all that here other than to say that in my five months as a combat infantryman, I learned the ultimate truth about war: it’s wrong, wrong, WRONG! Looking through gun sights at my fellow human beings, their villages and their land, not caring what became of them as long as I survived, was about as degrading an experience as I can imagine. I’ve spent three and a half decades arguing with myself about it. And even though I have come to some resolution about that experience, it will always inform my opinion and actions.

All this is to say that I am very much a product of my environment but also that I can learn and change. Maybe that’s why I describe myself as politically liberal, personally conservative and philosophically anarchic. It makes life interesting as I sort my way around and through my contradictions.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Exiting in Good Company

No sooner had I articulated my exit strategy than others started piling on. Well, maybe it was more like great minds thinking alike. How about me parrotting what I've been reading. More like the latter, actually.

I write primarily to clarify my thoughts which are the product of many influences. I find that writing forces me to think hard about all the information that I take in. Little that I write in this blog is orginal; my goal is to understand the ramifications of ideas and how they are or are not consistent with my fundamental beliefs. I also recognize that the world is complicated and messy, that clean, neat solutions rarely exist in reality. Nothing is clean or neat about my exit strategy. I regret the death and desctruction that will surely ensue. My hope is that the death and destruction will end sooner rather than later which I believe is the consequence of BushCheney's "staty the course" policy.

Nonetheless, I was pleased to see that I have some excellent company. George McGovern, whom I still consider to be one of the most decent men ever to run for president, has offered a similar exit strategy. So has former ambassador Gerald Helman. Today I read that many American military officers share my thoughts. We all recognize that the policy will be difficult but we also see the very real possibility for bringing this star-crossed adventure to a close.


[Update 31 October at 11:46 am MST: I just read where retired Lt. Gen. William Odom is part of this same chorus.]

[Cross-posted at Mockingbird's Medley.]

Sunday, October 29, 2006

A Father Speaks for His Son

This past week it was my privilege to host Bob and Rosa Watada during their visit to the Phoenix area. Bob and Rosa are the father and stepmother of Army Lieutenant Ehren Watata, the first commissioned officer to refuse service in the Iraq war. Lt. Watada is hardly alone in his refusal–many enlisted soldiers have previously refused to serve in Iraq–but his action dramatically escalates the military resistance to BushCheney’s illegal war in Iraq. For the first time an officer has refused to follow what he believes is an illegal order. More important, Lt. Watada has spoken out eloquently against the war. He is currently facing court-martial for missing deployment and for conduct unbecoming an officer.

The Watadas are making a nationwide speaking tour sponsored by Veterans for Peace. Since Lt. Watada cannot speak for himself, they are doing it for him and raising money for his defense.. I already knew of Lt. Watada’s refusal but meeting his parents gave me a new appreciation for his courage.

Keep in mind, it takes real courage to refuse an order as a matter of conscience. Lt. Watada, who joined the Army in 2003 because he wanted to serve his country. He served a year in Korea–a war zone–and took his responsibilities as an officer seriously. His father said that he volunteered for early deployment to Iraq but was told to wait and spend the time learning about his pending deployment to Iraq so that he could explain to his men why they should risk their lives, so that he could honestly lead them into battle and ensure that they were fully prepared for that task. Lt. Watada learned more than the Army bargained for. His father says that as a result of his studies, his son came to question the war and the orders he was being asked to follow. The more he studied, the more he came to see that the war was illegal and that by participating in it, he would violate his oath to preserve and protect the Constitution of the United States.

Mr. Watada says that his son did not come to his decision lightly but once he made it, he was fully prepared for the inevitable consequences, which could include up to eight years in military prison. Perhaps the greatest testament to his courage came when he spoke at the Veterans for Peace convention in August. As he stood at the podium, he was joined by about 50 Iraq Veterans Against the War. These men and women who did follow orders and returned to bear witness against the war offered the greatest tribute an officer can receive: a soldiers’ respect.

All this resonates with me. I sure as hell didn’t have Lt. Watada’s courage. I followed orders because I was too afraid to say no. Amazing that I was more willing to risk my life, to kill others rather than tell my country it was wrong. So when the opportunity to assist the Watadas in spreading the word about their son arose, I was happy to offer them and their Veterans for Peace representative, Doug Zachary, a place to stay for a couple nights. It was a small gesture for a courageous man.

If you live in one of the cities the Watadas will visit on their tour, please go hear them speak. Mr. and Ms. Watada are quiet individuals but their message and support for their son is eloquent.

From Worse to Even Worse

Anthony Shadid has a chilling story in today's Washington Post. Returning to Baghdad after a year's absence, he finds the city convulsed by hatred, paralyzed by suspicion, a "city of ghosts".

Well into 2005, Wamidh has bristled at the notion of a sectarian divide, even as the very geography of Baghdad began to transform into Shiite and Sunni halves divided by the Tigris River. Like many Iraqis, he blamed the Americans for naively viewing the country solely through that sectarian prism before the war, then forging policies that helped make it that way afterward. He ran through other "awful mistakes": the carnage unleashed by Sunni insurgents affiliated with al-Qaeda, the assassination of a Shiite ayatollah in 2003 who may have bridged differences, the devolution of Sadr's movement today into armed, revenge-minded mobs.

As Wamidh finished, he flashed his customary modesty. "Perhaps you could correct me?" he offered.

I asked him whether it would become worse if the American military withdrew.

He looked at me for a moment without saying anything, as though he were a little confused.

"What could be worse?" he asked, knitting his brow.


"This is a civil war now," Harith Abdel-Hamid, a psychiatrist, had told me, trying to diagnose the madness. "When you see hundreds of people killed every day, corpses of people tortured in the streets every day, what else does it mean?"

"Call it what you will," he said, "but it is a civil war."

Perhaps. But I felt as though I was witnessing something more: the final, frenzied maturity of once-inchoate forces unleashed more than three years ago by the invasion. There was civil war-style sectarian killing, its echoes in Lebanon a generation ago. Alongside it were gangland turf battles over money, power and survival; a raft of political parties and their militias fighting a zero-sum game; a raging insurgency; the collapse of authority; social services a chimera; and no way forward for an Iraqi government ordered to act by Americans who themselves are still seen as the final arbiter and, as a result, still depriving that government of legitimacy.

Civil war was perhaps too easy a term, a little too tidy.

Whatever you call it, Iraq is devastated. Mission accomplished.