tideshift

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Common Dreams and the Fire Just Waiting for Fuel

I've spent the last half-hour skimming the articles at Common Dreams, and there are some really excellent ones there, in addition to the two I posted previously.

Robert Reich on the wonders of private philanthropy replacing public decisions about human needs and plans to meet them.

Molly Ivins on RIP Habeus Corpus (1215-2006).

Gordon Clark on the anti-war takeover of the Hart Senate Office Building.

Niramjan Ramakrishnan on the parallels between America in 2006 and India in 1919 (and how much we political dissidents truly have to fear, now that the rule of law is dead.)

Ari Berman on the f---ed up internal debate among progressive funders, who can't seem to select a "vision" of the future outside of the Clinton version of "moderation" (moving the left to the right, to the right, further to the right, as though the right isn't managing that responsibility quite well all by itself.) And Ruth Conniff on the same thing - the sputtering, enraged DC insiders who cannot STAND left-wing bloggers and our populist (or pacifist) passion, and are terrified that our combined movements - 10, 15, 20 readers at a time - spell loss of control for the hereditary kingmakers of the two-party system.

Michiko Kakitani on Bob Woodward's new book, State of Denial, so oddly unlike the laudatory 2002 Bush at War. (What is up with Woodward's reading of the book-buying public's mood, and why should he have any credibility left? How could he not have seen then what so many have seen for years, and years, and years?

Robert Fisk on the Marwahin massacre in Lebanon.

Ed Kinane, rounding up again the reasons why torture is a completely BAD thing, not worthy of even a tiny little debate about how much is enough.

And JoAnn Wypijewski on the numbing, the deadly, deadly numbing, of an American population so tired and confused and hungry and tired and bored and tired and alienated that it cannot, cannot, cannot rouse itself to action.

Michael Socolow on how the activism forms being forged by us young-uns in the fires of our own era is not wrong, just different from those infernal, narcissistic Boomers, who can keep their sit-ins, God Bless Em, and stop criticizing our opt out-create alternatives-Jon Stewart-Stephen Colbert-build strength in the shadows until you've generated enough light to come out in a blinding blaze of indignant revolution strategies. Sarah Browning on poetry, and Garrison Keillor on photography, and on, and on and on.

Lyrics to Fuel, by Ani DiFranco:

they were digging a new foudation in Manhattan
and they discovered a slave cemetary there
may their souls rest easynow that lynching is frowned upon
and we've moved on to the electric chair
and i wonder who's gonna be president,
tweedle dum or tweedle dummer?
and who's gonna have the big blockbuster box office this summer?
howabout we put up a wall between houses and the highway
and you can go your way,
and i can go my way

except all the radios agree with all the tvs
and all the magazines agree with all the radios
and i keep hearing that same damn song everywhere i go
maybe i should put a bucket over my head
and a marshmallow in each ear
and stumble around for another dumb-dumb
waiting for another hit song to appear

people used to make records
as in a record of an event
the event of people playing music in a room
now everything is cross-marketing
its about sunglasses and shoes or guns and drugs
you choose
we got it rehashed
we got it half-assed
we're digging up all the graves
and we're spitting on the past
and you can choose between the colors
of the lipstick on the whores
cause we know the difference betweenthe font of 20% more
and the font of teriakiyi
you tell me how does it make you feel?
you tell me what's real?

and they say that alcoholics are always alcoholics
even when they're as dry as my lips for years
even when they're stranded on a small desert island
with no place within 2,000 miles to buy beer
and i wonder is he different? is he different? has he changed?
what's he about?
or is he just a liar with nothing to lie about?
Am i headed for the same brick wall
is there anything i can do aboutanything at all?
except go back to that corner in Manhattan
and dig deeper, dig deeper this time

down beneath the impossible pain of our history
beneath unknown bones
beneath the bedrock of the mystery
beneath the sewage systems and the path trains
beneath the cobblestones and the water mains
beneath the traffic of friendships and street deals
beneath the screeching of kamikaze cab wheels
beneath everything i can think of to think about
beneath it all, beneath all get out
beneath the good and the kind and the stupid and the cruel
there's a fire just waiting for fuel
there's a fire just waiting for fuel

The Military Commissions Act of 2006

"...this is a de facto admission of guilt."

How George Bush Admitted His War Crimes
by Richard W. Behan

It was brilliantly deceptive, trumping even his orchestrated dishonesty in leading us to war.
Buried in the 94 pages of the Military Commissions Act of 2006-the "detainee act" or the "torture bill"-the Bush Administration tacitly admits it has committed war crimes.

There is no question war crimes have been committed. Corporal Charles Graner, Private First Class Lyndie England, and several of their teammates are serving time, for mistreating prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad.

At the time these soldiers were tried and sentenced many people felt the culpability must extend above the ranks of enlisted personnel, up some distance into the chain-of-command, perhaps to the top. Many still do.

There are two pairs of dots to be connected. One is a pair of small dots, the other two are huge.
On December 28, 2001, a memo to President Bush from his Office of Legal Counsel made two claims: the US court system had no jurisdiction regarding the detainees at Guantanamo, and the Geneva Conventions did not apply to them.

Acting on this advice, on February 7, 2002 President Bush suspended Common Article 3 of those conventions-which, among other things, prohibits torture. Two years later, thanks to CBS' 60 Minutes and the New Yorker magazine, the prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib came to light. Connect those dots. These are the small ones.

Subsequent lawsuits addressing the detainee issue were considered and resolved by the Supreme Court. Rasul v. Bush found the US courts did have jurisdiction over the detainees. Hamdi v. Rumsfeld said detainees have a right to contest their detention: they are entitled to habeas corpus protections. Hamdan v. Rumsfeld tested the military tribunals President Bush created to bring the detainees to justice. The Supreme Court found the tribunals in violation of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, and their existence to be illegal, absent a basis in federal statute. The decision was handed down June 29, 2006.

Hamdan v. Rumsfeld put on display the Bush Administration's guilt in committing war crimes. This is one of the huge dots. It will be connected to another one shortly.

The Bush Administration wasted no time drafting a law to legalize the military "commissions," as they came to be called. Senators McCain, Warner, and Graham initially and vigorously opposed it-and then caved in.

A "compromise" was worked out in Vice President Cheney's office. Trivial tweaks.

The law signed by the President precludes federal courts from any jurisdiction whatsoever, in direct contradiction to the Supreme Court's finding. It denies habeas corpus protections, also in direct contradiction.

And it prohibits explicitly the detainees from claiming rights under the Geneva Conventions.

Here is the language that does so:

No person may invoke the Geneva Conventions, or any protocols thereto, in any habeas or civil action or proceeding to which the United States, or a current or former officer, employee, member of the Armed Services, or other agent of the United States, is a party, as a source of rights in any court of the United States or its States or territories.

This means that no detainee can bring suit for any violation of the Geneva Conventions, and this is the other huge dot. The Bush Administration already stands accused by the Supreme Court of violating Common Article 3, but the Administration wrote a law, and bulldozed it through a compliant Congress, to render prosecution impossible.

This also means the US simply is not bound by the Geneva Conventions. If detainees cannot claim rights under them the Conventions are moot.

The Military Commissions Act of 2006 is retroactive. It shall ".take effect as of November 26, 1997, as if enacted.[on that date]." Nothing the Bush Administration has done can be called into question.

Why would the Bush people write these several requirements into a law? Only if they are guilty of committing war crimes and know they will face prosecution. Though ingeniously obscured, this is a de facto admission of guilt.

The Military Commissions Act of 2006 is mostly smokescreen. The law's primary purpose is to immunize the Bush Administration, which explains the Administration's frantic anxiety to have it passed. The thrust of the bill, relating to detainee trials, is hardly a matter of top priority: the detainees have been languishing for years. Elizabeth Holtzman saw through the smokescreen in a recent essay in the Chicago Sun-Times, "Bush Seeks Immunity for Violating War Crimes Act."

Not many other commentators have noticed.

This new law shields the Bush Administration from their mistreatment of prisoners, but that issue is truly a marginal one. Still to be confronted is the illegality of the Iraq war writ large: sold to the American people on conscious lies and prosecuted at horrific expense in human lives and treasure. Crimes against humanity are involved here.

The Military Commissions Act was created by desperate people terrified of prosecution. Imagine George W. Bush taking the stand in The Hague, following in the footsteps of Slobodan Milosevic. Imagine Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Condoleezza Rice imprisoned.

Imagine.

Triumph of Evil

Democracy The Big Loser on Habeas Corpus

by Ralph Nader

The messianic, authoritarian George W. Bush and the minds of his cohorts have further collapsed the rule of law with his bulldozing through a divided Congress more dictatorial powers in his increasingly self-defined, self-serving and failing "war on terror."

The normally restrained /New York Times/ in an editorial titled "Rushing off a Cliff" condemned Bush's "ghastly ideas about antiterrorism that will make American troops less safe and do lasting damage to our 217 year-old nation of laws-while doing nothing to protect the nation from terrorists. Democrats betray their principles to avoid last-minute attack ads. Our democracy is the big loser."

Bush has concentrated so much arbitrary power in his Presidency that he can be described in the vernacular as the torturer-in-chief, the jailer-in-chief and the arrestor-in-chief. Who needs the courts? Who needs the constitutional rights to habeas corpus for defendants to be able to argue that they were wrongfully arrested or capriciously imprisoned indefinitely without being charged?

The only light at the end of this Bush tunnel comes from many law professors and knowledgeable members of Congress, such as Senator Pat Leahy (D-VT), who believe that when this law reaches the Supreme Court, its offending and vague provisions will be declared unconstitutional. But that will take two years and in the meantime King George can continue expanding his massively losing tally of arrests, detentions and imprisonment of innocent people who are tortured or mistreated, isolated and defenseless.

As both military attorneys and civilian pro bono attorneys for those imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba have declared-the vast majority of the nearly 700 "detainees" were innocent from the get-go, victims of bounty hunters in Afghanistan and neighboring countries who "sold" them for cash to intermediaries who turned them over to the U.S. military for transfer to Cuba. All these "catches" made George W. Bush look like he was really rounding up all those evil terrorists - like cab drivers, British tourists of Pakistani descent and so forth.

Timed for the November elections, Bush moves on Congress, complete with his minions there issuing McCarthyite press releases accusing opposing Democrats, in the words of House Speaker, Dennis Hastert (R - Ill.), of voting "in favor of MORE rights for terrorists." (His emphasis)

All this shameless, anti-American unconstitutional bile from the Bushites comes in the midst of his own top intelligence people reporting that their President's war in Iraq is providing a recruitment and training ground for growing numbers of terrorists in Iraq and from other countries. Earlier, Bush's own CIA Director, Porter Goss, told a Senate Committee the same thing. Bush's own generals in Iraq also agree. Critics call it pouring gasoline on a raging fire.

Nonetheless, the closed mind of Mr. Bush, whose foreign-military policies have upset his mother and father deeply, according to a new book by Bob Woodward, tells Americans that our country will be in Iraq doing what it is doing right through his Administration's term ending in January 2009.

Never mind the mounting American casualties, which Bush and Cheney deliberately undercount (see www.democracyrising.us); never mind the destruction of Iraq, its enormous civilian casualties and a growing insurgency and sectarian violence that would not be there without the Bush occupation. Never mind Bush's sectarian preferences, the Bush economic decrees, puppet politics and the widely reported Bush blunders and massive corruption-waste registered by his corporate contracting friends engaged in reconstruction-so called.

So long as the lawyers and their bar associations in America do not challenge the advancing dictatorial powers of George W. Bush, so long as citizen groups, labor unions and libertarians, conservatives and liberals avoid uniting together, these constitutional crimes against due process, probable cause, habeas corpus, together with torture and indefinite imprisonment at the whim of the Executive branch, will worsen and erode American jurisprudence with serious consequences for both the nation's security and its liberties.

The White House is on a rampage. The President is a documented lawless, reckless, arrogant politician whose policies are fueling more terrorism in the Middle East. Nonetheless, he then turns around and demands more flagrant over-rides on constitutional safeguards in order to let him fight terrorism. Quite a convenient vicious circle by him to hoist his daily politics of fear on the country.

Remember that telling thought by the British Parliamentarian, Edmund Burke, at the time of the American Revolution: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

Retroactive Immunity and the Futility of Staying the Course

CNN commentary on retroactive immunity:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MoRjbIQMXGQ

New Jersey Representative Steve Rothman questioning General William Odom and Dr. Paul Pillar:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rcuHw3hwkB0

What to do?

Brilliant at Breakfast over at Blue Jersey on the Lautenberg/Menendez sell-out, responding to someone who defended Menendez' vote as different from a possible Kean Jr. vote, because Kean was "pleased" with the bill, while Menendez voted for some of the failed amendments, and then voted for the bill anyway, saying he plans to do something to revise its worst excesses if Democrats gain control after the elections:

Oh, horsepuckey.

This is like Frank Pallone voting for the net neutrality amendment and then when it doesn't pass, voting for the telecom bill anyway. This kind of vote-splitting doesn't mean jack. I don't care one iota how he voted on the amendment. When the time came to put his money where his mouth is, he voted to give George W. Bush the power to snatch anyone off the street, at any time, name that person an enemy combatant, toss that person in prison without charges, outside the judicial system, with no recourse, no ability to consult a lawyer, no ability to see the evidence against him.

You can spin it however you want to, but Bob Menendez voted to make George W. Bush a dictator.

Of course the bill was going to pass anyway because the Democrats are not a majority. That doesn't mean Menendez had to switch sides. He could still do the right thing -- but rather than put out the effort to explain why this bill was so dangerous, he took the craven, chicken way out and sold our civil liberties down the river for what he believed would be short-term political expediency.

And in doing so, he made George W. Bush Der Führer of the United States of America.

I'm really at a loss to know where to go with my votes this November, after this Gestapo bill passed in Washington with 12 Democratic Senators voting for it.

I do think the time is rapidly approaching for a complete disbanding of the government and a new framers' convention with a new Constitution, new electoral system, and new leaders. Because I do think there is no way to "fix" the current system, full up as it is of people whose main goal is to retain power, not serve the public good. True enough, the Republicans are slightly "worse" than the Democrats, because their unchallenged position has made them more arrogant and hubristic. But I don't see any sign that the Democrats have any intention of fundamentally altering the conditions that allow the Republicans to be so corrupt.

A new Constitution would probably have many elements of the old Constitution, but would add term limits for Representatives, Senators and federal judges, while keeping the Presidential term limits. It would include provisions for fully publicly-funded campaigns, proportional elections - not winner take all - and Instant Runoff Voting using secure machines with verifiable paper trails. Perhaps it would require additional elections to be held anytime voter turnout is less than 75 or 80%. Some ideas just for starters. I could think of many other features of a new system, like a certain proportion (30-40%) of legislative, judicial and Cabinet positions reserved for women, since some evidence suggests women politicians don't bring their experience as women to bear in their law-making work until there is a critical mass of other women creating a more cooperative, less competitive work environment.

But dissolving this government peacefully, when Bush has indeed become Der Fuhrer through cooperation from Congress and the courts, seems so far away. Impossible until inevitable? I guess time will tell.

Amnesty International Responds to the Rubberstamp

I was especially shocked that New Jersey's senators - Lautenberg and Menendez - voted for this bill. -KW

It’s a sad day for America and a very disappointing outcome for those of us who devote ourselves to advancing the global cause of human rights.

Yesterday, the Senate joined the House in approving an ill-considered and sweeping piece of legislation, the Military Commissions Act of 2006, that discards key human rights protections – and our best American traditions.

This could have been a proud moment for America. Congress had the opportunity to correct the Bush administration’s profoundly disturbing human rights policies.

This was an opportunity for Congress to advance the America you and I believe in.They failed to do so. In effect, they gave their stamp of approval to human rights violations. In the face of this set back, you and I must commit ourselves to working as long as it takes until we reverse the damage done yesterday to the cause of human rights.

Our representatives in Congress have just passed legislation that:

  • Establishes a new judicial system to try a wide variety of people in military commissions that lack the minimal safeguards regarding coerced evidence and may deny the right of the accused to examine evidence against them. A person could be sentenced to death under this flawed system.
  • Strips prisoners in Guantanamo – and other alleged “enemy combatants” in U.S. custody -- of the ability to file a writ of habeas corpus and challenge their detention. Many of these prisoners have been held for almost five years without charges or meaningful judicial review.
  • Expands the definition of "unlawful enemy combatant" to allow the U.S. government to detain people – on or off the battlefield – indefinitely without charge or access to judicial review for an act as minor as writing a check.
  • Provides retroactive immunity to those who may have been implicated in creating policies or participating in abuse and other acts that most of us would consider torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

We appreciate the efforts of the members of Congress who voted against this legislation and in favor of human rights, the rule of law, and our standing in the international community. They took a principled stand. The first thing that we should do is thank the leaders who stood up for the America we believe in.

In the days ahead, Amnesty International will focus on holding the administration accountable for upholding its obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law - and also for fulfilling the expectations of Americans like you and me who believe the America leads the world on human rights.

I know you will stand with us for as long as it takes to prevail.

Thank you,

Larry Cox

Executive Director

Amnesty International USA

Thursday, September 28, 2006

More on CEOs

Guest post from my brother:

Being a CEO is a type of mental illness. A CEO is someone who makes $40 million in a year and doesn't immediately retire to more meaningful pursuits. Being a CEO actually requires a certain set of skills and is a valuable role to a corporation and society. I could believe that a CEO wouldn't retire because they felt needed by their companies. And there are lots of long-serving CEO's for whom this is true. Ironically, these long-serving CEOs are usually the ones earning less than $1 million.

The CEOs who make the enormous amounts of money live in a rarified world that is incomprehensible to normal people. The pressure is enormous and all of their work colleagues are also competitors likely to turn on them at the first sign of weakness. People who accept these work conditions do so because they have distorted motivations. For reasons, usually of personal insecurity or a messiah complex, they want this position in society. The money helps them with their personal insecurity issues. You have to fight for these jobs; society doesn't just pick you, like the next Dalai Lama.

The capitalist system is ultimately based on people. We see the CEOs and their pay because they are required to report it, but we don't see that surrounding them are the board of directors, the mutual fund directors, the endowment and pension fund managers, and the legions of vice-presidents whose income is less visible. Collectively, these folks form the environment in which CEOs dwell. Collectively, they control a large amount the world's resources.

Within that environment, however, common human psychology still comes into play. There's competition to be the leader of the pack, etc. This competition leads to the excessive salaries. It's the price we pay to have these people in these positions. Do we need them? Can we get more balanced folks? I don't know. There are many equally capable people who taste the atmosphere of the executive suite and immediately decide it doesn't suit them. A less competitive environment would bring a more balanced set of leaders, but would lack the constant drive for growth that we expect in our society.

At the bottom of it all, isn't usury the problem? When we expect money to make money instead of labor making money, we get capitalism. Another thing I realized back in 1997: If you aren't providing the capital, you're the wage slave, even if you're the highest-paid wage slave. For me, the problem isn't that these people exist or even that we might use them to drive our capitalist system. The problem is that we also endow them with authority on issues outside the running of a large multi-national corporation.

The business-politics complex is currently scarier than the military-industrial complex described by President Eisenhower. I think that part of the problem with Thomas Friedman is that he doesn't perceive the danger that large businesses pose to national sovereignty, a situation which ultimately disenfranchises the population. What does it mean when a company asks its employees to contact their federal representatives supporting legislation beneficial to the company? Are the employees acting in their own best interests or in the interests of the shareholders? I'm a bit confused about the whole thing. Then again, why do poor people vote Republican?

From a physics perspective, I'm also fascinated by the ability of money to concentrate. In a natural system, entropy (disorder) is always increasing, for example, the oxygen in a room is naturally distributed evenly throughout the room. A higher concentration in one corner will quickly disperse. Why does this not happen with money? Obviously, someone with more money would be less careful in spending it than someone with less and the money would become more distributed. Again, I think the problem lies in usury. When money itself can be used to make more money, money accumulates. Also money translates into power, which can be used to make more money. Congressmen can be bought, giving up their power for less than it is worth. Or rather, their power is worth more to someone lobbying them than it is to the representative. It is sold too cheap. Individuals also sell their personal power too cheaply either through campaign advertising or their positions.

I'm still troubled by considering the actual interface where the money transitions from those with less to those with more. To make this work, there must be people like a slave overseer who is slightly elevated above the other slaves in exchange for essentially betraying them. Perhaps the telemarketers, the spammers, the collection agents, the rent-to-own proprietors. People who extract money from poor people to give to the wealthy for a small fraction of the proceeds. Do they know what they're doing? Do they have a choice? Would a stronger Christian ethic make this process more difficult? Who is my brother?

Then again, perhaps my zero-sum, redistributionist perspective on the economy is flawed. After all, a lower-middle-class person in America lives better materially than a king in medieval times. It isn't the rich who are ruining the environment; there just aren't enough of them to matter. It's the lifestyle of the average person.

Sometimes I think Christianity is the problem. There's a fleeting thought in my head that the sacred value of every human being with the directive to be fruitful and multiply leads to trouble. I'm still trying to reconcile the Catholic Church's ban on birth control with the fact that the energy footprint of each person is unsustainable. I'm also trying to figure out the whole religion thing. My daughter is very interested in joining a religious community. I think Catholicism has the strongest intellectual tradition even though our local church is completely wacko, probably due to trying to reconcile Catholic teachings with upper-middle class American values.

The Lutherans are the current frontrunners based on proximity and a reasonable theology. My wife is working hard to avoid the Mormons, who have an intellectual tradition that is too close to science fiction for my tastes and a very insular culture. The truth is that most people choose their religion based on community and merely accept the theology that accompanies the community. People don't think very much. Why don't the Catholics in our town have more than two children? How are they still practicing Catholics?

Am I the only person who thinks that accepting hypocrisy is the end of rational discourse? People who believe in UFO's are wacko, but people who believe in an active, personal God are considered upstanding members of the community. Why is that? Aren't the evangelical Christians dangerously deluded? I recall a college friend being so cynical as to suggest that many people would do well to rise to the level of hypocrisy, at least paying homage to the truth.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

National Intelligence Estimate

Something in the political and media winds tells me blogs may soon be shut down. Truthout has already shut down the Town Meeting section of their Web site, with no announcement and no explanation, and Congressmen are talking about blogger discussions of the April 2006 intelligence estimate as helping the "enemies" by showing the that there is dissent and weakening resolve among the American public.

In the meantime, on we go. Here's the declassified National Intelligence Estimate summary, emphasis added by me. Apparently, the experts think that encouraging "peaceful political activism" by moderate Muslims would really hamper the jihadist movement. Would that Bush could apply such wisdom either at home or abroad...

Declassified Key Judgments of the National Intelligence Estimate
Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States
April 2006

Key Judgments

United States-led counterterrorism efforts have seriously damaged the leadership of al-Qa’ida and disrupted its operations; however, we judge that al-Qa’ida will continue to pose the greatest threat to the Homeland and US interests abroad by a single terrorist organization. We also assess that the global jihadist movement—which includes al-Qa’ida, affiliated and independent terrorist groups, and emerging networks and cells—is spreading and adapting to counterterrorism efforts.

Although we cannot measure the extent of the spread with precision, a large body of all-source reporting indicates that activists identifying themselves as jihadists, although a small percentage of Muslims, are increasing in both number and geographic dispersion.

If this trend continues, threats to US interests at home and abroad will become more diverse, leading to increasing attacks worldwide.

Greater pluralism and more responsive political systems in Muslim majority nations would alleviate some of the grievances jihadists exploit. Over time, such progress, together with sustained, multifaceted programs targeting the vulnerabilities of the jihadist movement and continued pressure on al-Qa’ida, could erode support for the jihadists.

We assess that the global jihadist movement is decentralized, lacks a coherent global strategy, and is becoming more diffuse. New jihadist networks and cells, with anti-American agendas, are increasingly likely to emerge. The confluence of shared purpose and dispersed actors will make it harder to find and undermine jihadist groups.

We assess that the operational threat from self-radicalized cells will grow in importance to US counterterrorism efforts, particularly abroad but also in the Homeland.

The jihadists regard Europe as an important venue for attacking Western interests. Extremist networks inside the extensive Muslim diasporas in Europe facilitate recruitment and staging for urban attacks, as illustrated by the 2004 Madrid and 2005 London bombings.

We assess that the Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives; perceived jihadist success there would inspire more fighters to continue the struggle elsewhere.

The Iraq conflict has become the "cause celebre" for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement. Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight.

We assess that the underlying factors fueling the spread of the movement outweigh its vulnerabilities and are likely to do so for the duration of the timeframe of this Estimate.

Four underlying factors are fueling the spread of the jihadist movement:

(1) Entrenched grievances, such as corruption, injustice, and fear of Western
domination, leading to anger, humiliation, and a sense of powerlessness;


(2) the Iraq "jihad;"

(3) the slow pace of real and sustained economic, social, and political reforms in many Muslim majority nations; and

(4) pervasive anti-US sentiment among most Muslims,

all of which jihadists exploit.

Concomitant vulnerabilities in the jihadist movement have emerged that, if fully exposed and exploited, could begin to slow the spread of the movement. They include dependence on the continuation of Muslim-related conflicts, the limited appeal of the jihadists' radical ideology, the emergence of respected voices of moderation, and criticism of the violent tactics employed against mostly Muslim citizens.

The jihadists' greatest vulnerability is that their ultimate political solution, an ultra-conservative interpretation of shari'a-based governance spanning the Muslim world, is unpopular with the vast majority of Muslims.

Exposing the religious and political straitjacket that is implied by the jihadists' propaganda would help to divide them from the audiences they seek to persuade.

Recent condemnations of violence and extremist religious interpretations by a few notable Muslim clerics signal a trend that could facilitate the growth of a constructive alternative to jihadist ideology: peaceful political activism. This also could lead to the consistent and dynamic participation of broader Muslim communities in rejecting violence, reducing the ability of radicals to capitalize on passive community support. In this way, the Muslim mainstream emerges as the most powerful weapon in the war on terror.

Countering the spread of the jihadist movement will require coordinated multilateral efforts that go well beyond operations to capture or kill terrorist leaders.

If democratic reform efforts in Muslim majority nations progress over the next five years,
political participation probably would drive a wedge between intransigent extremists and groups willing to use the political process to achieve their local objectives. Nonetheless, attendant reforms and potentially destabilizing transitions will create new opportunities
for jihadists to exploit.

Al-Qa’ida, now merged with Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi’s network, is exploiting the
situation in Iraq to attract new recruits and donors and to maintain its leadership role.

The loss of key leaders, particularly Usama Bin Ladin, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and al-Zarqawi, in rapid succession, probably would cause the group to fracture into smaller groups. Although like-minded individuals would endeavor to carry on the mission, the loss of these key leaders would exacerbate strains and disagreements. We assess that the resulting splinter groups would, at least for a time, pose a less serious threat to US interests than does al-Qa.ida.

Should al-Zarqawi continue to evade capture and scale back attacks against Muslims, we assess he could broaden his popular appeal and present a global threat.

The increased role of Iraqis in managing the operations of al-Qa.ida in Iraq might lead veteran foreign jihadists to focus their efforts on external operations. Other affiliated Sunni extremist organizations, such as Jemaah Islamiya, Ansar al-Sunnah, and several North African groups, unless countered, are likely to expand their reach and become more capable of multiple and/or mass-casualty attacks outside their traditional areas of operation.

We assess that such groups pose less of a danger to the Homeland than does al-Qa'ida but will pose varying degrees of threat to our allies and to US interests abroad. The focus of their attacks is likely to ebb and flow between local regime targets and regional or global ones.

We judge that most jihadist groups, both well-known and newly formed, will use improvised explosive devices and suicide attacks focused primarily on soft targets to implement their asymmetric warfare strategy, and that they will attempt to conduct sustained terrorist attacks in urban environments. Fighters with experience in Iraq are a potential source of leadership for jihadists pursuing these tactics.

CBRN capabilities will continue to be sought by jihadist groups. While Iran, and to a lesser extent Syria, remain the most active state sponsors of terrorism, many other states will be unable to prevent territory or resources from being exploited by terrorists.

Anti-US and anti-globalization sentiment is on the rise and fueling other radical ideologies. This could prompt some leftist, nationalist, or separatist groups to adopt terrorist methods to attack US interests. The radicalization process is occurring more quickly, more widely, and more anonymously in the Internet age, raising the likelihood of surprise attacks by unknown groups whose members and supporters may be difficult to pinpoint.

We judge that groups of all stripes will increasingly use the Internet to communicate, propagandize, recruit, train, and obtain logistical and financial support.

Ariel Dorfman in the Washington Post

September 24, 2006

It still haunts me, the first time -- it was in Chile, in October of 1973 -- that I met someone who had been tortured. To save my life, I had sought refuge in the Argentine Embassy some weeks after the coup that had toppled the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende, a government for which I had worked. And then, suddenly, one afternoon, there he was. A large-boned man, gaunt and yet strangely flabby, with eyes like a child, eyes that could not stop blinking and a body that could not stop shivering.

That is what stays with me -- that he was cold under the balmy afternoon sun of Santiago de Chile, trembling as though he would never be warm again, as though the electric current was still coursing through him. Still possessed, somehow still inhabited by his captors, still imprisoned in that cell in the National Stadium, his hands disobeying the orders from his brain to quell the shuddering, his body unable to forget what had been done to it just as, nearly 33 years later, I, too, cannot banish that devastated life from my memory.

It was his image, in fact, that swirled up from the past as I pondered the current political debate in the United States about the practicality of torture. Something in me must have needed to resurrect that victim, force my fellow citizens here to spend a few minutes with the eternal iciness that had settled into that man's heart and flesh, and demand that they take a good hard look at him before anyone dare maintain that, to save lives, it might be necessary to inflict unbearable pain on a fellow human being. Perhaps the optimist in me hoped that this damaged Argentine man could, all these decades later, help shatter the perverse innocence of contemporary Americans, just as he had burst the bubble of ignorance protecting the young Chilean I used to be, someone who back then had encountered torture mainly through books and movies and newspaper reports.

That is not, however, the only lesson that today's ruthless world can learn from that distant man condemned to shiver forever.

All those years ago, that torture victim kept moving his lips, trying to articulate an explanation, muttering the same words over and over. "It was a mistake," he repeated, and in the next few days I pieced together his sad and foolish tale. He was an Argentine revolutionary who had fled his homeland and, as soon as he had crossed the mountains into Chile, had begun to boast about what he would do to the military there if it staged a coup, about his expertise with arms of every sort, about his colossal stash of weapons. Bluster and braggadocio -- and every word of it false.

But how could he convince those men who were beating him, hooking his penis to electric wires and waterboarding him? How could he prove to them that he had been lying, prancing in front of his Chilean comrades, just trying to impress the ladies with his fraudulent insurgent persona?

Of course, he couldn't. He confessed to anything and everything they wanted to drag from his hoarse, howling throat; he invented accomplices and addresses and culprits; and then, when it became apparent that all this was imaginary, he was subjected to further ordeals.

There was no escape.

That is the hideous predicament of the torture victim. It was always the same story, what I discovered in the ensuing years, as I became an unwilling expert on all manner of torments and degradations, my life and my writing overflowing with grief from every continent. Each of those mutilated spines and fractured lives -- Chinese, Guatemalan, Egyptian, Indonesian, Iranian, Uzbek, need I go on? -- all of them, men and women alike, surrendered the same story of essential asymmetry, where one man has all the power in the world and the other has nothing but pain, where one man can decree death at the flick of a wrist and the other can only pray that the wrist will be flicked soon.

It is a story that our species has listened to with mounting revulsion, a horror that has led almost every nation to sign treaties over the past decades declaring these abominations as crimes against humanity, transgressions interdicted all across the earth. That is the wisdom, national and international, that has taken us thousands of years of tribulation and shame to achieve. That is the wisdom we are being asked to throw away when we formulate the question -- Does torture work? -- when we allow ourselves to ask whether we can afford to outlaw torture if we want to defeat terrorism.

I will leave others to claim that torture, in fact, does not work, that confessions obtained under duress -- such as that extracted from the heaving body of that poor Argentine braggart in some Santiago cesspool in 1973 -- are useless. Or to contend that the United States had better not do that to anyone in our custody lest someday another nation or entity or group decides to treat our prisoners the same way.

I find these arguments -- and there are many more -- to be irrefutable. But I cannot bring myself to use them, for fear of honoring the debate by participating in it.

Can't the United States see that when we allow someone to be tortured by our agents, it is not only the victim and the perpetrator who are corrupted, not only the "intelligence" that is contaminated, but also everyone who looked away and said they did not know, everyone who consented tacitly to that outrage so they could sleep a little safer at night, all the citizens who did not march in the streets by the millions to demand the resignation of whoever suggested, even whispered, that torture is inevitable in our day and age, that we must embrace its darkness?

Are we so morally sick, so deaf and dumb and blind, that we do not understand this? Are we so fearful, so in love with our own security and steeped in our own pain, that we are really willing to let people be tortured in the name of America? Have we so lost our bearings that we do not realize that each of us could be that hapless Argentine who sat under the Santiago sun, so possessed by the evil done to him that he could not stop shivering?

I wrote the following essay on December 2, 2002; I think Americans certainly can and should stand up against the torture policies and practices of Commander-in-Chief Bush and US military personnel and contractors. But I think we should also be prepared to care for those who have been tortured, and forgive and heal those who have tortured.

Mercy is the key.

In the November 4, 2002 issue of The Nation, Hector Timerman quoted Bosnian diplomat Sven Alkalaj:

"It cannot be stressed enough that the punishment of the guilty and some measure of justice are absolutely necessary for forgiveness or reconciliation even to be considered. If genocide goes unpunished, it will set a precedent for tomorrow’s genocide. Without justice, there can never be reconciliation and real peace."

But human life is not a machine into which the input of A and the process of B will yield the product C. Justice is not a real thing, separate, that we humans can pick up and hold, or stand around and point to. Justice is an idea in each person’s mind, identical to fairness, rightness, or goodness, and it only exists fleetingly, in the moment in which we act with justice. Justice is like freedom, which is not a thing the Founding Fathers gave to some of our white male ancestors and John Ashcroft can now take away from us and our children.

Like justice, freedom can only exist in the moment it is expressed, in the instant when a soldier refuses an order to shoot, or when a neighbor refuses an invitation to report a neighbor’s comment against war and pulls his hand away from the telephone. Freedom exists in the daily choice a prisoner makes, over and over, to keep his mind and heart open, to continue to live and learn all he can, to refuse to give in to anger and hatred toward his jailer.

Alkalaj sets up a logical circle broken at two intervals by thick walls.

He assumes we want peace. All people want peace. No one, given a free choice, would ask to live in a war zone or freeze to death in the rubble of her bombed-out home. No one would request that his sons and daughters be conscripted to fight and die, or that her grandparents starve to death when supply roads are blockaded by military envoys. I assume this also. All people, all living creatures, want to live in peace.

Alkalaj then says that without punishment and justice, we cannot have peace. But this hurdle is too great; these walls are too thick. Who among us can remember all those who have committed an injustice against us? We can remember a few perhaps. I can remember a professor who manipulated me into physical and emotional violations of my integrity. I can remember an unscrupulous used car salesman who sold us a car that did not run. I can remember injustices my mother and father inflicted upon me as a child, decisions they made about my life in which I had no say.

But what would appropriate punishment look like? My professor manipulated another student. She reported him. Her testimony, with mine, was enough to put a letter in his file and prevent him from getting a raise for one year. It did not bring back the years of depression and uncertainty I endured while trying to recover from the experience. Was it justice? What if I had been able to report the car salesman, and he had been fined or ordered to pay us back the money we lost? It would not make the car run. It would not have gotten us to places we needed to be those several months, or brought back that lost time. What if I could punish my parents for their years of criticism and contempt? What would I do? Subject them to being children of cruel and tyrannical parents of their own? It’s already been done: I know from whom my parents learned to parent. And now I am a parent myself.

What of the injustices I have committed, I commit? I have been angry. I have hurt peoples’ feelings. I have neglected responsibilities. I have been tired and frustrated and manipulative too. What should my punishment look like, for justice to be served? Clearly, I should be subjected to the anger, neglect and manipulation of others. I already have been. We all have.

To believe the words of Alkalaj, to set justice as the precondition for reconciliation, is to negate the power, the freedom, of each individual to choose to act with generosity of spirit. People can and do, indeed we must, forgive small and large atrocities without seeking or finding justice beforehand. Forgiveness is something we do for our own sake -- not to live with the eternal torment of anger and despair, waiting for a prior wholeness impossible to regain. And we do it for the sake of those who have harmed us -- not to burden them with the eternal torment of guilt, humiliation and regret, hoping incessantly for a release from pain which we alone can offer them.

Hector Timerman went on to write: “Pardon is a decision that belongs only to the injured party,” explaining that he cannot pardon the Argentinean military and government for crimes committed against his parents. His parents are now dead, and with their bodies, buried is all chance for reconciliation.

This, too, is a dead end. If we cannot forgive those who commit atrocities for the harm they inflicted on those who lived before us and live no more, then we may as well give up the universal dream for peace right now, right here. The atrocities have always already been done, and the survivors are the only ones able to move on and make choices. We can forgive on behalf of others, and we can even believe that such forgiveness is what they would want, were they still alive. “The anger must stop with you,” they would say, they who have nothing left to lose. “Not the buck. The anger. And the fear. What are you afraid of, that you refuse to forgive? What do you think will happen if you set your oppressors free?”

Ah, but Alkalaj tells us what we are afraid of. We are afraid of the slippery slope, which we always imagine leading down, not up. We worry that allowing abortions will open the floodgates to infanticide and euthanasia, pretending that those things do not already happen and have not happened forever. We do not seem to consider what might happen if all people were free to make all choices from birth onward, whether arranging families and work and homes to meet basic human needs would set us off on a slippery slope upward, to a time when “unwanted pregnancy” becomes an oxymoron.

Alkalaj tells us we are afraid that “if genocide goes unpunished, it will set a precedent for tomorrow’s genocide.” And Timerman writes: “the rabbis tell us that ‘he who is merciful to the cruel will feel indifference for the innocent.’ ”

Perhaps. But if genocide goes punished, and the punishment is more genocide, more killing, or if the punishment is more imprisonment, more humiliation, then that too will set a precedent for tomorrow’s genocide.

What if genocide goes forgiven? What if a group commits mass murder, thousands of people lie bloody in the fields and streets, and the world stands by, not idly, but with forgiveness? Would such a stance set a precedent for tomorrow’s forgiveness? Would such an attitude, on the part of the whole world: US, UN, whatever you like, establish a firm and unyielding example of mercy for the mass murderers to see, and perhaps follow? Have any group of mass murders ever been shown such respect for their inescapable humanity? How could they keep their balance, their momentum for killing? What would be the point? From which tortured group would they find fresh recruits?

There are people on this earth who refuse to kill other people and destroy the handwork of other people. There are people on this earth who refuse to dump poisons into the air, water and land. There are people on this earth who spend all their time and energy growing, tending and healing the living things around them. What makes these people so special? Why do they refrain from abuse? These people are most of us. What do we know about ourselves, and what keeps us striving to grow, care and heal? How can we teach what we know to those who feel compelled to cut down, injure and destroy?

It has been done before, this radical forgiveness. Jesus urged listeners to endure suffering without retaliation. Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. set the same example. Radical forgiveness is not new, but neither is terrorism new. People have always been afraid of something. Life is fragile. We have always had good reasons to feel insecure. Terrorism is not new, and knowing about terrorism is not new. Even without newspapers and the Internet, even without political treatises and satellite television, people have known that marauders would kill and rape and burn homes, that the plague would strike them down, that floods and famines would destroy their villages and families.

Knowing about human injustice and greed is not new. People have always known that when we have something, we have a desire for something more, and a fear of losing what we have. People have always known that the fear of not getting what we want, or losing what we have, drives some people to violence in a briefly satisfying but ultimately useless attempt to find security in gathering quantities of stuff. Land. Gold. Oil. Water. It doesn’t matter what the stuff is: the underlying greed and fear have always been the same.

We have been told not to judge others, lest we be judged as harshly as we judge each other. Yet we have built up a “justice” system filled with judges whose job it is to judge others, in the name of society. We have been told: “Let the one that is without sin cast the first stone.” Yet we have built up a military system filled with huge stones and trained people whose job it is to throw those stones at other people, in the name of society.

If there were a wise person among us today, of the caliber and reputation of Jesus, or Gandhi, or Martin Luther King Jr., he or she would paraphrase Luke 6:27:

“But I tell to you who hear me: Love Saddam Hussein, do good to Al Qaeda, bless those who suicide bomb you, pray for those who send anthrax though the mail. If someone destroys two skyscrapers and the Pentagon, turn to him two more skyscrapers and the Department of Justice. If your employer takes your pension fund and retirement account, do not stop him from taking your savings account also. Give to every charity that sends you a request letter and if George Bush and Dick Cheney steal your social program and education budget to build nuclear bombs, do not demand your social programs back. Do to others as you would have them do unto you.

If you love those who give you fat bonuses and promotions, what credit is that to you? Even corrupt politicians love those who give fat donations and corporate board seats. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even megabanks lend to multinational corporate polluters and human rights violators, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back...Then your reward will be great...Be merciful.”

What are we waiting for? So many of us seem to insist that salvation must come from without, or above, while
we lie here passively on earth. We resist recognizing that salvation can only come from within, from actively transforming each of ourselves into homo sapiens merciful-us: the thinking monkeys who prize mercy equally with intellect. Mercy: kindness in excess of what may be expected or demanded by fairness.

Mercy has always already been rising within us, and we are always already free to let it out into the world around us. It is equally true that fear and greed are always already rising within us. The things we fear and the things we desire may change from time to time, but not the fear and desire we experience.

What if peace is only a matter of reaching a critical mass of mercy? What if that critical mass is the only form of energy powerful enough to overcome the critical mass of hatred and nuclear radiation?

Shakespeare passed the message on through the lips of Portia:

"The quality of mercy is not strained, it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blest, it blesseth him that gives and him that takes. ‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest, it becomes the throned monarch better than his crown. His sceptre shows the force of temporal power, the attribute to awe and majesty, wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings; but mercy is above this sceptred sway, it is enthroned in the hearts of kings, it is an attribute to God himself, and earthly power doth then show likest God’s when mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew, though justice be thy plea, consider this: that in the course of justice none of us should see salvation. We do pray for mercy, and that same prayer doth teach us all to render the deeds of mercy..."

Some of us may be angry at the Powers That Be for taking us into war, but forgive them we must: before, during and after the war. The Powers That Be may be jealous of the leaders of other nations, for holding onto power, weapons, land, resources. But forgive them they must: before, during and after the war. Without mercy, the eternal war in which we have always already been born and now live will never end. It has always already been going on, and it will always already be within our power to step out of the circle and stop it.

Public Discourse on Morality

I actually don't think the progressive movement is heading fast enough in this direction, what with the Democratic members of the Senate saying they need to make sure there's no distance between them and the Republicans on national security - by refusing to filibuster the new legislation to abandon habeus corpus, human rights protections, and other hallmarks of public restraint on government abuse.

As Bush and Big Media gear up to provoke Iran...

Phyllis Bennis on Democracy Now on September 20, 2006:

"[T]he U.S. may be in the process of giving up a focus on the United Nations as the key venue for working out their escalating attacks on Iran, if they feel that they are simply not going to get the support they want, do what they did regarding Iraq, which was to deem the Security Council and the UN as a whole, in general, to be what they called irrelevant and go ahead on a unilateral basis.

That would be reflected in the new stories that have come out in the last couple of days in Time magazine and elsewhere, indicating that there have in fact been orders preparing to deploy U.S. Navy warships towards Iran with the goal being not necessarily a direct military strike, but rather a naval blockade of Iranian oil ports, which, of course, constitute an act of war. In that situation, the danger, of course, is that if there was, for example, imagine, a week or so of a U.S. blockade of Iran’s ports, Iran knows, its government and its people know, that that's an act of war. Most Americans don't know that a blockade is considered an act of war. And if Iran responded militarily, which unfortunately would be their right under Article 51 of the UN Charter calling for self-defense rights, the Bush administration would very likely call that an unprovoked attack on peaceful U.S. ships and would respond militarily, claiming to be responding in self-defense. That's, I think, a very serious danger that we face right now. And seeing Bush at the United Nations choosing not to use that rostrum as a podium for escalating threats, direct threats, against Iran, it makes the danger of a unilateral military move right now all the greater. "

An e-mail I sent March 27, 2003 to New Jersey 101.5:

I was on a New Jersey Transit bus at about 11:30 a.m. today, and the driver had the radio tuned to 101.5 FM. A male announcer and a female announcer were having a conversation. At first, it was a series of racist remarks about the production of little swarthy Italian men from a back room, where the general manager was at work.

The discussion then turned quickly into a discussion of how the two announcers thought something needed to be done about those peace protestors…that they should be gassed. The government should round them up and gas them.

I am a peace activist, so naturally, this caught my attention rather sharply. The pair then proceeded to talk about the war in Iraq. They said a peace protestor in New York City, stopping traffic to protest Ariel Sharon and the Israeli troops’ attacks on Palestinians, should be run over by the traffic. They made some derisive comments about Rachel Corrie, an American woman killed when she was run over by an Israeli soldier driving a Caterpillar bulldozer, in Rafah refugee camp, in Palestine, but they didn’t talk about what they would want a bystander to do if a soldier were about to bulldoze their homes. They talked about how ridiculous it is for peace protestors to consider Ariel Sharon a war criminal, and the woman mused aloud that if that were true, then George W. Bush would be a war criminal too, and surmised that that must be what peace protestors think.

They talked about how there must be something about those Arab people, they must not value life very much, since Saddam Hussein has “gassed his own people.” They didn’t mention how Saddam Hussein came to power with US support through the CIA. They didn’t mention how Saddam Hussein obtained his chemical and biological weapons from US suppliers, with US State Department support. They didn’t mention how Donald Rumsfeld met with Saddam Hussein during Reagan’s presidency, as an ally. They did talk about how silly it was for "those Arabs" to be spreading “propaganda” about the pale-faced Anglo-Saxon invaders, since America is not a pure Anglo-Saxon society. But they didn’t talk much about Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Franks, Tony Blair and the other main proponents of the war, who are all white, Anglo-Saxon men, even though they command troops of all colors to carry out their orders to kill.

The two announcers talked a little bit about how those Arabs shot some American POWs through the forehead, and left them to lie next to live American POWs, in violation of the Geneva Conventions. But they didn’t talk about the Middle Eastern prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, or detainees in New York, New Jersey and other prisons in other states, held without charge, without access to lawyers, without international supervision and in violation of the Geneva Conventions. They didn’t talk about the torture of Al Qaeda suspects as a violation of the Geneva Conventions against torture. And though they talked a little about the lack of American media coverage of the American POWs, and how the male announcer only knew about those POWs because his son had accessed Al Jazeera news through the Internet, and they talked about how the woman announcer believed “there’s a reason why they don’t show that footage to us Americans,” without saying what that reason was, they didn’t seem to see any similarity between the “propaganda” Saddam Hussein uses to mobilize Iraqis and the “propaganda” information American citizens are either given or denied, depending on who wants us to know what. In fact, the woman referred to what American citizens learn as “truth.”

The two discussed a little bit the poverty, oppression, and lack of democracy that they believe makes “those Arabs” so angry. They expressed great shock over how “those Arabs” treat “their women.” They didn’t talk about the growing divide between the American poor and the American rich, the crumbling schools and public health systems here, the growing prison population here. They didn’t talk about the fact that America has one of the highest homicide rates in the industrialized world, how many Ameircan women are raped and beaten every day, most often in their own homes, in America, nor how much higher the rate of woman abuse is in military communities than in civilian communities. They talked about a photograph of an American soldier holding an Iraqi child, and expressed outrage that Saddam Hussein would put women and children near military sites as human shields, rather than evacuate them. But they didn’t talk about how Iran and other countries in the area have closed their borders to refugees, nor about the fact that Baghdad is a city with 5 million people living in it, not one huge military ammunition depot, and that US troops have been bombing this city. They didn’t talk about the fact that more than half of the Iraqi population is under the age of 15.

It was an interesting, if one-sided conversation to listen to. I think it would be good if you would invite peace activists on, to present our views, how we came to hold those views, why we think that American citizens killing Iraqi citizens isn’t much of an improvement over Saddam Hussein killing Iraqi citizens, what other ideas we have about how international conflicts and genocide can be stopped in the present and prevented in the future, and many other issues. For example, I thought France and Germany presented a good alternative to war when they proposed 50,000 UN weapons and human rights inspectors should be sent there. It seemed like a way to stop one set of violent acts without committing more in the process. War is not the same; I do believe war is a crime against humanity, a human rights abuse, a weapon of mass destruction.

I would be happy to come on and discuss these issues, or refer you to other peace activists who could discuss these issues.

-KW

P.S. This web-site is apparently keeping track of how many Iraqi people the US military has so far killed.

A Soldier's Peace

Again, Bush thinks and says that we, who believe making war can never end war, are naive.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Heroes

August 4, 2003

At church yesterday, the guest speaker was the Rev. Fletcher Harper. He is the executive director of Partners for Environmental Quality, Inc., “an interfaith coalition seeking to strengthen the commitment of the religious community for environmental stewardship and justice.”

His topic was “Nature, Stewardship, and Spirituality,” and like all good public speakers, he had funny, insightful anecdotes to tell. He talked about his 7-year-old son willingly relinquishing a tightly-gripped Nintendo at the breathtaking sights, sounds and smells of the Montana wilderness.

He described Jane Goodall’s eye-opening grasp of the perspective non-humans (chimpanzees) bring to their experience with the world and with humans. He reported on the people of Long Branch, New Jersey, struggling to regain their community’s health, by painstaking, time-consuming negotiations with the corporation that owns the sickening toxic site in their midst.

And he described his own encounter with a young African woman at the World Conference on Sustainable Development that took place last year in South Africa. She was 16 or 17 years old, he said, and when a group of experts at a round table discussion had finished congratulating each other, and the conference organizers and attendees, for the wide variety of populations and perspectives represented in Johannesburg, she stood up.

She said there was one group that had no voice, no place at the table, and couldn’t be heard, and yet would be more affected by the decisions made at the conference, that week, and around the world, these decades, than any other group.

“Those who are not yet born,” she said.

I was thinking of her courage and insight today, while I took the Could You Make It to CEO? quiz. I did well on the test, missed only one question. But the questions and guidelines seemed more geared to good living – once known as ethics – than to being a CEO.

  • Take seriously the gift of your own life, and build it carefully while remaining aware of the context and relationships in which you do.
  • Persistence pays off, and reframing personal views to be intelligible and relevant to others with different backgrounds will help you be, and feel, more understood.
  • Say thanks, and try to do kindnesses for others.
  • Don’t brood about possible setbacks; do a reality check so you can plan your next steps with accurate information.
  • Look for, choose, and follow role models, while continuing to build your own life as your own, not as imitations of theirs.
I have many role models. Jane Goodall has been one for a while; her picture hangs above my computer, and Alice Walker’s poem about her moves gracefully through my mind when I look at it: “She never seems to have heard of a makeup that wasn’t character.”


The girl at the Sustainability conference is another hero to me, because she stood and “spoke her truth quietly,” as Max Ehrman urged; she refused to number herself among Thoreau’s mass of men leading lives of quiet desperation.

And these two, Jane Goodall and the Girl-Who-Reminds-of-Generations-to-Come, point to the missing elements in the CEO quiz, the transcendent questions of what kind of person wants the power a CEO has, and just what are the goals of those above you in the Organization?

Are they worthwhile goals, goals you should be helping your superiors achieve? Are they goals Those-Not-Yet-Born would share with Those-Choosing-For-All, right now?

I doubt that the goals of the two People converge; there is no profit in sustainability, and to be a CEO is to be a profit-generator, by definition.

I don’t know what drives CEOs; each one is different and complex, like each worker at the bottom of the hierarchy. And I don’t presume to judge them as a class, even though I am deeply concerned, and occasionally frightened, when I see environmental degradation and environmental racism, and the breakneck global race to find the lowest-paid labor, to fuel ever-increasing consumption, all at play in my neighborhood and around the world.

I was home from work today, watching Star Wars movies with my 4-year-old son, who was taking a sick day. I don’t judge CEOs for the same reason Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda warn Luke Skywalker not to come at Darth Vader with hatred, while they urge him to use the Force only for defense, never for offense.

Just as Luke discovers Vader is his father, and therefore the Dark Side is inextricably within Luke himself, I know there is a part of me that craves the form of “power” CEOs wield, and would fall victim to the same short-sightedness that plagues those in the business of business, were I to gain that form of power.

I also know there’s is a Jedi Knight in every CEO: I know that at the core of these decision-makers, whose choices level ancient forests, and poison streams, and scatter families to search for work, there is a man or woman. I know those men and women are aware, at a very deep level, of their duty to choose wisely, not merely cleverly, on behalf of the born and unborn generations, on behalf of the human and non-human creatures of the Earth, and on behalf of their own souls.

Turning the Tide, Turning the Tables

Congressman John Lewis, in the conclusion to Jonathan Kozol's Shame of the Nation:

Sometimes, you have to ask for something that you know you may not get. And still you have to ask for it. It's still worth fighting for and, even if you don't believe that you will see it in your lifetime, you have got to hold it up so that the generation that comes next will take it from your hands and, in their own time, see it as a goal worth fighting for again.

A segregated education in America is unacceptable. Integration is, it still remains, the goal worth fighting for. You should be fighting for it. We should be fighting for it. It is something that is good unto itself, apart from all the other arguments that can be made. This nation needs to be a family, and a family sits down for its dinner at a table, and we all deserve a place together at that table. And our children deserve to have a place together in their schools and classrooms, and they need to have that opportunity while they're still children, while they're in those years of innocence.

You cannot deviate from this. You have to say, 'Some things are good and right unto themselves.' No matter what the present mood in Washington is like, no matter what the people who are setting policy today believe, or want us to believe, no matter what the sense of temporary hopelessness that many of us often feel, we cannot give up on the struggle we began and on the dream that brought us here.

You cannot give it up. We cannot give it up. As a nation, as a people. I don't thingk that we have any choice but to reject this acquiescence, to reject defeat.

Me, writing August 19, 2004:

Make Room at the Table

I understand the terrorists.

I have no trouble imagining how a Palestinian mother wakes up in her refugee camp shanty, smells the raw sewage running in the ditch down the street and watches the diarrhea pour from her dysenteric children. I have no trouble understanding why she would decide one day to go to the people who outfit suicide bombers and request a string of explosives to sling over her own shoulder.

It makes sense that in her torment, she would learn to want to inflict pain on the vicious and apathetic Israelis who silence her and her children, who silence Israeli voices for peace and justice, who choose instead to nurture the hatred, festering in the squalor, decade after decade.

It makes complete sense to me that a group of mostly Saudi Arabian men would take box cutters onto an airplane and fly those planes into tall buildings, killing thousands, and themselves.

And I get why young men and women in America walk into their local Army recruiting offices and sign up for training in the use of automatic machine guns.

I understand it. I am willing to explain it, endorse it, condone it and forgive it.

It’s despair. I feel it too.

There are times and places in the world where real people make large decisions, on behalf of many other people, about how we humans live from day to day. They decide when and where the wars happen, who will own what land, water and oil, who will not have a claim on anything at all, and which children will be used for which dirty jobs.

Those times and places include meetings of President Bush and his advisors, meetings of the National Security Council, the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, the Arab League, the World Economic Forum, the Central American Free Trade Area, the North American Free Trade Area, the Free Trade Area of the Americas, the Group of 8 summits.

Meetings of the World Bank, the Federal Reserve Bank, the Brookings Institute, the American Enterprise Institute. Meetings of corporate leaders in China, Japan, India, Russia.

Board meeting at weapons manufacturing plants like Boeing, McDonnell-Douglas, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon.

Board meetings at financial institutions and investment firms like Citigroup, Solomon Smith-Barney, PriceWaterhouseCooper, Carlyle.

Board meetings at media conglomerates like AOL-Time Warner, Viacom and General Electric.

To a lesser degree, these meetings of people who matter also include the U.S. Congress and the European Union.

The people at these meetings are virtually all men, and the pink ones hold virtually all the power.

When these men meet, or at least when they meet in public, they meet in beautiful places: lovely hotels and conference centers in resort towns or global cities. Servants change the sheets on their beds and the towels in their bathrooms. Servant-police stand guard at the doors and the street corners, keeping at a long distance those who do not belong, anyone the pink men do not wish to hear from.

At the banquets, servants cook the food and servants serve the food at long tables of gleaming china, silver and glass, of white linens, slabs of chicken, beef and fish, mounds of string beans, carrots and potatoes, wedges of decorated cakes and pies.

At these beautiful tables, and in the conference rooms where speeches on world politics and economics are given and received, there is no place for the frantic mother and father suicide bombers. There is no place for the tormented, tortured people blowing each other up in Iraq. There is no place for the poor grinding through their poverty in America. There is no place for pacifists.

We stand in the streets outside, and when we get to the table, the table is long-since emptied of respected guests. The servants clear the plates and wash the dishes, launder the napkins and the tablecloths. They vacuum up the crumbs until dawn is almost upon them, and then they climb wearily into a bus for a two-hour ride to their tenement homes and sleeping children.

While the table is full, those eating and drinking and talking there all wear beautiful suits and pretty cuff links. Their skin is pink and shiny, their hair neatly combed, their pricks erect. The food is plentiful and good, the conversation stimulating: stock prices up and down, oil prices up and down. Contracts bid upon, or not; contracts won, anyway. Labor costs: cheap. Pollution: permitted. Bomb orders, munitions orders, mess tent ration orders: the money is pouring in. Profit? They turn to each other and smile knowingly. Stupendous profits, they say. Things couldn’t be going better.

But there is no seat at that table for a Palestinian mother to make her case that checkpoints and walls, racism, Stinger missiles, unemployment and dysentery are not good for her children, if they are good for any children at all.

There is no seat at that table for a young Saudi Arabian man to make his case that decades of corrupt oil-protected monarchies left him well-fed, well-educated and hollow. There is no way for him to tell anyone that he wanted his life to have meaning, that he wanted to do something with the gift of his life, and that he finally found a little meaning in radical Islam when no one else was there with any other way to fill that void.

There is no seat at the table for the young American men and women who grow up in violent inner cities going to school in overcrowded, run-down, ill-supplied buildings with ill-supported teachers. There is no seat for the farm children whose parents or grandparents lost the family farm to corporate agribusinesses and genetic engineering advocates like Monsanto and Archer Daniels Midland. There is no seat for the disillusioned suburban kid, numbed with antidepressants and Nintendo.

There is no way for them to talk about their instinctive love for human freedom, and how that love sought a means of expression, and how the only way to be part of something bigger and better than themselves, the only way to feel real and alive and whole, was the military voice on television, on the radio, on the billboards by the highways and onscreen at the video arcade. The voice told them to “see the world…” without mentioning the other part of the deal: “…at gunpoint.”

Now they are killing and dying and losing limbs every day; the deaths enrich the old pink men at the meetings, using up the missiles, knocking down the buildings to be built up again. The deaths impoverish everyone else - the families and the friends of the families. I am 30; the dead are mostly my generation, and I miss each one. I am lonely for them.

At those lavish banquets of pink men and their cohorts, there is no seat for pacifists to tell about their experiences of witness and inspiration, their heroes and their methods, their hope and their energy. There is no room at the table, but the pain and the hope must both find a way out.

So the way out comes from the way in: the lonely, stifled-voice pain turns inward, to despair, and the despair moves back outward, into rage and violence, blood and maiming and death, homicide, suicide, apathy and fanaticism.

We need a bigger table, big enough for everybody.

On Geese and Ganders: Hindsight for the Hawks Was Foresight for the Doves

The Warrior and the Sage

This is a puppet show I wrote for my church's vaudeville show last spring, and helped perform at the Peace Fair in Cranford in August. - KW

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, in a small village in China called Quxu, in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains, near the Brahmaputra River, there lived a Ninja Warrior named Tan Lu.

He was very brave, and his bravery came from his noble righteousness – he loved what was good, and hated what was bad. In every fight, he strove to defend the good against the bad, and defeat the bad as best he could.

But after many difficult battles against other warriors large and small, Tan Lu had come home, to his village. He was sad and tired. He sometimes tried to pick up his sword, but it felt too heavy to lift. He did not know what was wrong, but it was very, very wrong.

So Tan Lu decided to seek counsel from the oldest, wisest person in the village – the Sage named Shiao Shie. She lived in a tiny hut at the edge of the forest, and when she saw him coming, she poured an extra cup of tea, and waited for his footstep in her doorway.

“Hello, Shiao Shie,” the Ninja Warrior said.

“Hello, Tan Lu,” Shiao Shie replied. “Come and have some tea.”

Tan Lu came and sat down, and drank some tea, and told the Sage about his love for good, and how much he hated the bad, and how many brave battles he had fought, and how many other warriors he had defeated. Then he told her about how he had come home, sad and tired, and how heavy his sword had become.

“I cannot find my way to a battle I want to fight anymore,” Tan Lu said. “But I am a warrior – my sword skills are all that I know and all that I have. What is to become of me?”

Shiao Shie sipped her tea and set down the cup gently. She nodded her head slowly, three times.

“I know what will become of you, but I cannot tell you,” she said. “You must go on a quest, to find out for yourself. I will tell you who to visit. You will know what to ask when the time comes. Pay close attention to what each person says, and to what they do, and to the things you see and do on your travels. All four people live near our village, so the distance will not be far, but you will find the answer you seek.”

Shiao Shie wrote the four names on a piece of parchment and handed it to Tan Lu. He thanked her, and walked away.

The first person was Wen Li. She was a young mother and she lived halfway up the mountain with her husband and three children. Tan Lu set out right away, climbing the narrow path to Wen Li’s home.

“A mother!” Tan Lu said to himself. “What can I learn from a mother, who has never been anywhere or done anything except bring water, cook and clean, and chase children about?”

Suddenly, in the middle of the path, a huge, ferocious dragon appeared, with big sharp teeth, leathery wings and a spiky tail. His skin was black with white stripes. Tan Lu stopped and hid behind a rock, but the dragon had already seen him. So Tan Lu pulled out his sword, and sliced and poked and parried and thrust, and the dragon flew away.

Wen Li heard the noise, and met Tan Lu on the path.
“Did you see that big dragon?” Tan Lu asked her.

“Yes,” she replied. “He lives in a cave nearby. When I first had children, it was very hard for me to have to stay close to home, and not walk so much in the forest and build so much in the village. I missed the things I used to do, and I thought my new work was boring and pointless. The dragon came every day, and every day I had to fight him off, until I finally started to walk in the forest and bring my children with me. Then the dragon stopped bothering me.”

Tan Lu thanked her, and turned to go back down the mountain. The next person was Chang Po, a fisherman. His home was on the other side of the Brahmaputra River, and Tan Lu jumped in and began to swim. The river water flowed swiftly, and Tan Lu was pushed downstream while he swam across. Finally, he reached the other bank, far below the fisherman’s house, and started to walk up along the river.

“Stupid fisherman, living on the opposite side. I’m tired, and hungry, and cold, and wet from that terrible swim, and I still have to walk up to his house!”

Suddenly, another dragon appeared. She had long sharp teeth, and big leathery wings, and a sharp spiky tail, and her skin was green with gray stars all over it. Once again, Tan Lu pulled out his sword, jibbed and jabbed, shuffled and scuffled, and the dragon flew away.

Chang Po had seen Tan Lu swimming across the river, and had made some extra fish soup. When Tan Lu came to the door, Chang Po handed him a towel and a bowl of hot, steaming soup, and led him to a chair to sit down. Tan Lu dried himself with the towel and sipped some soup. When he was warm enough to speak, he said:

"Why do you live on this side of the river, opposite from the village? There’s no bridge. The water is cold and swift. It’s hard to visit you!”

Chang Po put down his soup bowl and looked out at the river. “For many years, I did live on the other side of the river. But I am a fisherman, so I must go where the fish go. I must move at the pace the fish set, and by the seasons of their migrations up and down the river. The fish like the slower water on this side, and the shadows along the bank, and the eddies where the river bends. So I moved here to follow their rhythms, and I built myself a boat to go to the village with my catch on market day.”

Tan Lu nodded and stood up. “Thank you,” he said. “For the soup, and for your answer. Will you take me back across the river in your boat?”

“Yes,” Chang Po replied, and the two men got into the boat and crossed back over the river.

Tan Lu set off toward the fields, where the farmer lived among the rice stalks. The sun had come out full force, and the road was hot; his sword felt heavier with every step.

“I am so tired of the quest, and this sadness weighing me down,” Tan Lu thought to himself. “I don’t think I will ever figure out what is to become of me. No one has the answer I seek, and trudging along from place to place is just wearing me out more.”

Suddenly, a third dragon flew up in Tan Lu’s path. He had long sharp teeth, and big leathery wings, and a sharp spiky tail, and his skin was red with an orange bolt of lightning on it. Exhausted, Tan Lu groaned and pulled out his sword again. His movements were slower, but he sliced and diced, crouched and sprang, and the dragon flew away.

Finally, he saw the farmer, Zhang Yimou, standing in the rice fields, shading his eyes and looking at the sun.

“Hello, Zhang Yimou!” Tan Lu cried out loudly, for he knew the farmer was a little hard of hearing. The farmer turned and waved.

“Do you have any water I could drink?” Tan Lu asked. “The road was very hot, and I am very thirsty.”

Zhang Yimou pulled out a jug of cool, clear water, and Tan Lu took it gratefully and drank.

“How are things?” Tan Lu asked.

“Not very good,” Zhang Yimou answered. “There has been no rain in a long time. The rice harvest is right between thriving and failing, unless some rain comes to the mountains soon, to fill the paddies.”

“What will you and your family do if the crop dies?” Tan Lu asked.

“Well, it has happened before, to me, and to my ancestors. Somehow, we have always found a way for some of us to survive. We keep some rice stores for emergencies. We have family in the village; they might take some of us in. But mostly, we wait and see. Sometimes the rain comes at the last possible moment, and the crop is fine. Sometimes it doesn’t. But all we can do is plant, and wait, and watch, and know that some change will happen, for better or for worse, and we will know what to do next.”

Tan Lu handed the water jug back to the farmer and said “Thanks,” and then turned toward the village, the bakery, and the bakerwoman who worked there.

In the village, the dusty paths were quiet. The villagers were inside their huts, napping through the afternoon heat. Tan Lu passed the local magistrate’s house, the largest in the village, with ornate decorations on the gates and fancy red tiles on the roof.

“The magistrate and the emperor!” he fumed. “Other people cook and clean for them, and make them fancy clothes. Scribes write for them. They go on trips to fancy palaces in faraway cities! I just fight battles, sleep on the ground, and then come home to my lonely hut.”

Out of nowhere, another dragon reared its ugly head. She had long sharp teeth, and big leathery wings, and a sharp spiky tail. Her body was as black as darkness, and she had eyes as red as blood. Tan Lu was irritated by this time, and drew his sword and leaped at the dragon yelling “Begone!” And the dragon turned tail and flew away.

Tan Lu went into the bakery, and looked at all the beautiful rice cakes, and suddenly felt very hungry. The baker, Shen Li, appeared and offered him a cake, and he accepted it and ate it quickly.

“Shen Li,” Tan Lu said. “How can you stand it, living in the shadow of the magistrate’s wealth and having only this bakery to support yourself?”

Shen Li looked around at her bakery and answered:“I had dreams of great wealth when I was a young girl. I was to marry the magistrate’s son, and be dressed every day in fine red silks, and have my hair combed every night by maids. But the month before my wedding, the magistrate’s wife came to me and told me she had heard of my great baking skill, and my love for baking. She told me that sometimes, the price of great wealth is giving up what you love to do. I thought about what she said, and decided I could not give up baking. So I told the magistrate’s son I could not marry him, and opened this shop instead. I earn enough to live, and while I do what I love and share it with others, that’s enough. The magistrate’s son and his wife send their servants to buy cakes here, and sometimes they visit; we are good friends, content with our choices.”

Tan Lu wiped cake crumbs from his chin and thanked Shen Li, and left the bakery to head back to the hut of the Sage, Shiao Shie. As he passed the last home in the village and headed out on the road to the edge of the forest, the largest, most frightful dragon he had ever seen swooped down from the shadows. His teeth were as big as bananas, and his claws were like fish-knives. His leathery wings beat ferociously and his spiky tail whipped so fast, the dust blew up from the road. His skin was a deep, dark blue, shot through with silvery green threads, and he roared like the ocean beating against cliffs.

Tan Lu drew his sword, and strove mightily to drive the dragon away, but the dragon would not leave, and swooped and flapped at Tan Lu until he was turned around, backing up the road and then running as fast as he could to the hut of the Sage.

She was standing in her doorway, completely still, looking at the dragon, and when the dragon saw the calmness in her eyes, he flew away.

Tan Lu was shaking badly with fright and could barely speak. He finally managed to stammer:

“Why didn’t that dragon go away when I fought it? What’s going on? What is to become of me?”

Shiao Shie asked Tan Lu if he had been to visit the people.

“Yes,” he said. “On the way to each one, I fought a different dragon, and each person gave me a different answer to different questions. I don’t understand.”

“I will help you,” Shiao Shie said. “Each person told you how they overcame the dragons, how they struggled and found balance by sacrificing what they loved and holding onto it at the same time: staying true to themselves while serving their larger purpose.”

“The mother gave up some of her independence, but kept her pride in her work and her love for the forest, and shared them with her children. The fisherman gave up his nearness to family and friends to follow the fish, but built himself a boat stay connected. The farmer knows he cannot control the sun and rain his crops depend on, but he keeps his faith in the generosity of the earth. And the baker gave up her dream of great wealth, but uses her skill and shares its fruits with all who enter her bakery.”

“What does it mean for me?” Tan Lu said.“You must take the next step,” Shiao Shie replied. “You must give up your fear, and your sword, to better serve your passion for justice. Do you know why the first four dragons fled from your sword but the last dragon wouldn’t? It is because you have worked nobly all your life to overcome pride and arrogance, anger and impatience, despair and greed. But you have not yet worked to overcome your fear, because without your fear, you could not fight.”

“Discipline gives you courage,” she continued. “But it cannot teach you how to love. Without your fear, you will want the dragon near you, so you can understand him, and so you can feel how tautly you stretch between heart and mind. You will struggle for justice by seeking to heal your enemies’ wounds, and by helping your enemies heal the wounds they have inflicted on others. But you will no longer be able to inflict wounds yourself.”

Tan Lu nodded and turned to go. But he stopped a few steps from the hut, and turned back, and gently handed his sword to the Sage.

Doubts

United Professionals

I wonder if any of my activities qualify me as an eligible "worker?"

They do, I suppose, since I'm technically unemployed or underemployed, and such folks are apparently welcome:

"UP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization for white collar workers, regardless of profession or employment status. We reach out to all unemployed, underemployed and anxiously employed workers -- people who bought the American dream that education and credentials could lead to a secure middle class life, but now find their lives disrupted by forces beyond their control."

There's a nice book list at the site too.

Child Hunger

"If we have even 10 million truly hungry children in the United States, even five million, we have a crisis, and if they are the world's most miserable children - hungry while the computer age whirls about them, denied entry into that age of plenty - we have a treble crisis."

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Earth Ball

A couple of weeks ago, I found out that the soldier son of one of the teachers at my son's elementary school gave an assembly last year; he talked to the children about what it's like to live and fight in Iraq. Two teachers have sons in or returned from Iraq, that I know of, and I stare at both of those teachers, and the photos of their sons on the school walls, and wonder what it must be like to live with that kind of fear, and how those parents might feel about pacifists.

A couple of years ago, I got a 1970s game book out of the local library, all about the Earth Ball, and non-violent games large groups can play.

So I'm thinking of donating an Earth Ball, and a game book to the school, and of writing a pacifist assembly presentation, all about Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Dorothy Day, Cindy Sheehan, and a few others. Not too many. Just enough to get the idea across.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Executive Pay

CEOs must hate what they do so much, that they wouldn't do it for anything less than the unfathomable sums of money they are paid. I guess that's not surprising, given that what they do destroys so much of Creation.

Solar Cookers at Iridimi Refugee Camp



"Solar cookers are a win-win technology in sun-rich, fuel-scarce areas: they reduce smoke and lung diseases, pasteurize unsafe drinking water, and spare women and children the burdens and hazards of collecting ever-scarcer firewood for cooking."

Car Sharing

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Nice hat.

Litigiousness

As I get to know more people in my neighborhood, town and larger community, and to know them better, I've been thinking about how long it takes to build up the relationships and trust that hold tribes like these together.

And I've been wondering if people in America would sue each other less if we felt more confident that our neighbors really would want to, and have time to help us out when we hit the rough patches in our lives.

Partly, it's prompted by a friend - also a mother, with children my children's ages - who is going through a particularly tough mental health crisis: she's been hospitalized, intensely medicated, lost a lot of weight, and looks haunted whenever I see her.

I want desperately to help, but I don't know how, even though I've been there, standing on those same brinks, tottering on similarly shaky legs, looking out at other people from a similarly deep, dark hole. Should I call? Drop by? Invite her to a movie? What is intrusive and what is comforting? I don't know her or her family well enough to be able to tell.

Multiply her situation times the millions of other families in such crises every day - financial, medical, legal, whatever - and we are all bouncing around alone, adrift, amok.

I think we just keep trying to build up the trust, a little at a time, trying, trying, trying to make it easier to ask for help, and easier to give it.