Wednesday, December 1, 2004


Amazing! Truly amazing! Over 1,000 Americans and 100,000 Iraqis have died over the last year in a never justified and steadily worsening war, the Holy Land careens down a violent road map to nowhere, both create new terrorists faster than we can kill them, our federal deficit sets new records daily, unemployed workers watch their jobs head overseas and their health care disappear. Yet, 22 percent of Americans cited “moral values” as the paramount issue in this year’s election, and 80 percent of them voted for George W. Bush.

Moreover, 58 percent of those who attend church weekly, 64 percent of those who do so more than once a week, and 91 percent of those who said that “religious convictions were important as a quality in their leader” voted for President Bush - this, mind you, the President Bush who, at last count, had attended church only twice in the past year…on the two Sundays before November 2.

What, however, are the moral values of these voters and the religious convictions of the leader they elected? The simplistic exit polls didn’t explore such nuances. But Karl Rove and the President’s re-election team had. And they exploited the results of their research to craft a cynical symbiosis between a sizable bloc of evangelical Protestants, conservative Catholics, and Orthodox Jews, on the one hand, and a self-proclaimed “born again” President, on the other. The axis of that symbiosis is a narrowly-defined cluster of issues related to a “culture of life” – i.e., abortion and stem cell research - and the defense of “family values” against a “homosexual agenda.”

Never mind that capital punishment and unjust war are not mentioned when discussing the “culture of life.” Never mind that the real threat to heterosexual marriage is not the blessing of a church on a monogamous relationship between two people in love, but rather the prevalence of heterosexual divorce.

Never mind also that none of these issues touch upon the central themes of the justice that speaks to us through the prophets, of the love that comprises the Gospel of Jesus, or of the equality and inclusion that, together, they bespeak.

Never mind. For Rove and his team were concerned in this enterprise not with religion, but rather with the political uses of religion. They have tapped the negative, exclusive, judgmental instincts of a religion that values personal salvation over societal solidarity and that misunderstands how we are called to constructing the Kingdom of God “on earth as it is in heaven.” And they have sought to play on the fears of those who would keep the different and the questioning out of their private comfort zones of certitude – folks like that 7-year-old on a recent CNN special, who, having “accepted Jesus” when she was three, could say with certainty that all those who did not similarly “accept” him were doomed to hell.

And, during the God-awful election campaign we have just endured, the White House pandered to and manipulated the adults who think like that 7-year-old by insisting on a federal constitutional amendment “defending” marriage and by quietly ensuring that anti-gay marriage amendments appeared on the ballots in eleven states, most notably Ohio.

Politically, these efforts paid off handsomely. To many evangelical Christians, the GOP became the Party of God and George W. Bush its messenger. They turned out in droves to support this man who speaks their language and professes to share their convictions. There is, however, a scary difference between Rove and the President on this score. As Ron Suskind reported in the New York Times last month, George W. Bush apparently actually believes that God speaks to him and guides American foreign policy. Last year, for example, he told the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, that “God told me to strike al Qaeda and I struck, and then he instructed me to strike Saddam, which I did.”

One cannot object to the President’s apparently sincere religious views, outlandish though they may seem. Nor can one object to evangelical Christians or others voting on the basis of their sincerely held values, narrow though one might find them. As a Christian, however, I do object to Karl Rove or anyone else seeking to manipulate those values to create the impression that somehow God is on their side. It smacks of blasphemy – taking the name of God in vain for impious reasons, in this case, worldly political advantage. I do, moreover, object to the way in which the media has bought into this manipulation by accepting the suggestion that the religious right has some monopoly on “moral values” or speaks for all Christians.

Above all, I object to the way in which Christianity – my faith – has been distorted in the popular imagination into a narrow, judgmental, exclusionary brew that Jesus would simply not recognize. The Jesus I know opened his heart to prostitutes, lepers, Samaritans, Roman soldiers, and others on the margins. And he chided the prim and proper and oh so righteous guardians of the religious status quo of his time. He was concerned not with the forms, but rather the essence of religion. Like the prophets before him, he preached justice…a leveling of the playing field for all God’s children. Above all he preached love, full, unconditional love of God and of all our neighbors, not just those who look like us or who smell nice, but all.

Mainstream Christians must reassert their vision of that loving Jesus, that inclusive Christianity in the public debate. With those in other faith traditions, and none, we must join the discussion of moral values. We must make clear that we, too, find offensive the coarsening of our popular culture and civic dialogue. We must point out that morality concerns more than just sex and that there is out there a much broader moral agenda of peace and social justice, of poverty and inequality. And we must preach the good news of a love that is the very antithesis of the fear we have heard too much of this year.

The above originally appeared in the Vallejo Times-Herald November 21, 2004.
Posted by Vicki at 05:38 PM

Thursday, November 18, 2004


This is hard to say and will be hard, I expect, to read. In view, however, of the appointment to Justice of someone who finds the Geneva Conventions “quaint,” the ideological attacks on Senator Specter, the ongoing purges at the CIA and Department of State, the “Christianization” of America’s domestic policy, and the militarization of its foreign policy, it must be said.

My country has gone off a deep end. I no longer recognize the place and no longer feel I have a stake in supporting the wrong-headed decisions of its leadership. Like Neva Chonin writing in the Chronicle Sunday before last, I feel like I live in an occupied land. Now, two weeks after the election, however, the sense of urgency and agency is, in a sense, gone. The yahooism must still be resisted but now seems overwhelming, popping up round every corner, its smirking hubris now unbounded, its hands on every lever of power. But, there’s time – four years – to fall back, re-group, re-establish priorities. It doesn’t all have to be done by Tuesday.

Maybe I’ve lived too long overseas – twelve years? Maybe I’ve lived too long on the margins? Maybe I’ve just lived too long, experienced too much? I just find the people who run this place far too shallow, cynical, hypocritical, and patronizing to take seriously or have any truck with. Having lost touch with reality, they believe their own propaganda and, in this regard, are dangerously dumb, because they don’t know how dumb they really are.

Maybe because Germany’s been on my mind these past few days – the anniversary of 1989, watching “Goodbye, Lenin” – I find myself seized by two Germanic modes of distancing. Like my erstwhile friends in long-ago communist East Germany, I find myself tempted to slip into a “What me worry?” comfort zone of “inner-migration.” Let them do what they want in Washington. Life’s too sweet in this private, very blue patch of California. Much as I want to adopt that stance, however, I know I can’t. It’s all well and good for defiant New Yorkers to describe their city as “an island off the coast of Europe,” but the Bay Area is, I recognize, another threatened island, not nearly close enough to Tokyo and way too close to Fresno, Boise, and Spokane. Moreover, Paul Loeb (Soul of a Citizen) is right, it would hurt too much in the pit of my stomach to abandon the field to the yahoos and ideologues. But still the temptation exists.

The second stance that comes to mind – that of those heroic souls who, under Hitler, rescued the reputation of the “good Germans” – is one I find easier to adopt – that of divorcing my love of country and people from loyalty to an unjust government and policies that are wrong. Looking at the rubble of Fallujah – a “battle” begun just hours after the election - I find myself in the emotionally troubling but rationally and spiritually required position of praying for the survival of our individual soldiers, but praying also for the failure of their collective endeavor. For that endeavor – invasion, occupation, and the slaughter of tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis – is, to use the President’s favorite word, evil. It dishonors all I hold sacred about my country and trivializes the sacrifice of our sons and daughters sent to die for God knows what.

It is only a small leap from disengaging one’s loyalties to engaging in resistance. It’s a leap I’ve probably already made…now two years ago. It’s a decision I’m willing to live with.

I take great heart in the fact that I appear to be on the side of the best minds and most sensitive souls in this country; and there are still many. Perhaps the over-reaching we’ve already seen in Washington will yield a backlash of outraged sensibilities and produce an barricade of rationality against the looming disasters.

I fear, however, a deepening, ever more bitter Kulturkampf>. The “moral values” crowd seems to know no bounds. And the media is more cowed than ever, conceding to the fundamentalist right their claim to be the sole, God-ordained repository of moral rectitude. Where are the church leaders on the left? How strange, indeed, to find the social ethics of the Gospel of Jesus Christ labeled “leftist.” What sort of moral idiocy are we dealing with that reduces morality to issues of sexuality and ignores poverty, war, and state-sponsored killing?

As an American who believes that there is a “shining city on a hill” still to be had and as a Christian who believes in a Gospel that is truly revolutionary, counter-cultural, and liberating, I feel compelled to keep speaking for social justice, peace, and sanity. I have the sinking feeling, however, that if I keep it up – speaking truth to power – I’ll be reined in by my government, or, worse yet, by my church. Then what?

Let me be clear, we’re nowhere near where Germany was in 1937. But, in the record of our past four years and in climate of the moment, there are troubling echoes of an earlier time in Germany, when resistance in the form of solidarity and a well-placed word might have sufficed to fend off the disaster, the outlines of which were then already clear. How often, in this regard, I’ve thought of that belated lament by Martin Niemöller, that patriotic u-boot captain turned pastor:

First they came for the Communists but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists but I was not one of them, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews but I was not Jewish so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.

And, how often I’ve thought also of that other lament by Leo Baeck, the leader of German Jews from 1933 to 1943: “Nothing is so sad as silence.”

Please, please, don’t be silent. Speak truth loudly, bravely, now! And speak out for the weak, the vulnerable, the marginalized in our society. In this time ahead, we are all Jews.

Posted by Vicki at 08:03 PM

Monday, November 1, 2004


For several months, especially the last few, I’ve had a strange sensation of sitting in some state of suspended animation, waiting for something – anything - to happen to snap this nation out of the bad dream we’re all experiencing. That something, of course, is the election that’s now – at long last – upon us.

Now that it’s here, almost unexpectedly, I find myself out of time and out of words. There’s nothing more I can say to parse the issues, to counter arguments, or to sway your vote. I hope, however, you will allow me a few minutes, a few words to reflect on where we’ve been, my concerns about today, and my hopes and fears for what awaits us beyond tomorrow.

This election campaign has gone on for far too long and been far too bitter. In one sense it began ten months ago, when, in mid-winter, John Kerry sewed up the Democratic nomination and Republican attack ads made their first appearance already in February. In another, more important sense, it began on December 3, 2000, when, by a deeply partisan 5-4 vote, the United States Supreme Court ordered a halt to the on-going recount in Florida and declared George W. Bush President. Despite the popular vote nationally and the rampant irregularities in the Florida vote, many of us harbored the hope President Bush would govern from the middle and reach out to that majority of Americans who had voted against him. He had, after all, campaigned as a “compassionate conservative” and promised to be a uniter instead of a divider.

Instead he wrapped his Administration in secrecy, governed as if he had some overwhelming mandate, and soon put forward a radical domestic agenda that was corporatist rather than conservative, gutting energy and environmental regulations among others. It became clear that he intended to govern solely for the 49 percent who had voted for him, ignoring the majority who had not. The latter were told again and again “Get over it!”

What ensued were the ugly politics of “wedge issues” and triangulation – the politics of Lee Atwater, Dick Morris, Carville and Matilan, and, yes, Karl Rove and Karen Hughes. They would triangulate their way to a “majority” of 50 percent + 1 and pursue the still narrower interests of corporate insiders and “social conservatives” persuaded to ignore their interests in favor of “family values” and flag-waving. The Kulturkampf had begun in earnest.

This triangulation, designed to slice away chunks of “opposition” supporters, cut away instead the middle of the political spectrum. The country was divided into blue states and red states, the latter roughly corresponding geographically to the old Confederacy and the “fly over country” of the Great Plains. Congressional leaders, who used to socialize and even sing together (I remember Bob Michel and Charlie Rangel doing just that.), ceased even talking to each other. Invective replaced communication, with the Vice President of the United States even going so far as to tell a Democratic senator on the Senate floor to “Go f—k yourself.”

After September 11, our courage and maturity were discounted in favor of fear which became the tool of choice for the triangulators. They used that fear to whip up a purple rage that blinded us to unwise policies abroad and the erosion of our rights at home. In a sense, the terrorists had achieved their broader, longer-range goal beyond the destruction of two buildings and the killing of thousands. They had unbalanced the entire nation.

And big lies – WMD, links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda – were repeated over and over again until they were believed by a majority of Americans and formed the basis of disastrous policies. Even when the lies and failures became manifest, their authors showed no shame, took no responsibility. The President took pride in his “resolve,” while 1,100 Americans and 100,000 Iraqis died. As a result, I no longer trust my government to tell the truth.

The media not only evaded its responsibilities to report the true facts, it became complicit in the deceit, beating the drums for an unnecessary and unjust war of preemption and displaying its “even-handedness” by giving equal time to the lies and to the truth. Reasoned, civil discussion of the issues gave way to shouted arguments staged to entertain rather than enlighten. And it was left to an entertainer – Jon Stewart – to enlighten. As a result, I no longer trust the mainstream media to uncover the truth.

Pollster John Zogby has called this an “Armageddon election.” I certainly consider it the most important in my lifetime. For a continuation of current trends and policies portends only disaster for our country and the world. Like so many other voters, I will vote for John Kerry not because he was my first choice or because he represents my views on all or even most issues, but simply because he offers the only viable alternative to that impending disaster. After the election – should he win – it will be up to progressives to keep him honest.

Trouble is, this could be an “Armageddon election” in an even more basically disastrous way. For our election system, with its archaic, arcane, and undemocratic electoral system and its hodge-podge of ballot machinery in which few have any confidence, has become the butt of jokes around the world. And Americans are crying, not laughing.

When all is said and done, however, I remain a hopeful person. I have great hope, for example, in the good sense and goodwill of the American people. I refuse to believe that we are as dumb as the politicians and “journalists” believe. I am encouraged by the huge upsurge in registrations, particularly of young people, and by the long lines of people waiting hours to vote early. Perhaps there will be a landslide for Kerry. Perhaps we will wake up from our bad dream.

If we do, there will still be lots of work to do. It will be up to those of us who vote for him to insist not only on wise policies but also a return to civility in our national discourse and to sanity and decency in our international conduct. We must insist that he and we return to policies and modes of conduct that call upon the best in American character, that bring us together in true patriotism, and that motivate us to move forward not in fear but in courage and in wisdom.

Do you remember those weeks in the immediate aftermath of September 11? Yes, we were wounded. But in our shared grief, we came together as family. We supported each other and we had the support of the world. It was a time of pain, but also of great, unfortunately squandered, opportunity. I tried to capture the feeling in a short poem I wrote on October 11, 2001:

A month's gone by.
We're not the same
and no different from all the others.
We've found a certain comfort
in discovered vulnerability,
a sharing oneness in our grief,
compassion in the face of fear.

The little flags are everywhere.
But, now, they signal something new,
a loss of hubris,
and new found gravitas,
a sense that, after all these years,
we're finally growing up.

Have we grown up at long last? Can we recapture that unity and dignity? Or will we squander this opportunity too and find that we’re really out of time.

I hope you’ve voted. I hope, too, that whether or not you voted and regardless of whom you voted for, you will join me in a simple prayer for Election Day: God bless America.

Saturday, October 16, 2004


The attention-span of the American news media is exceedingly short and its professional competence in ferreting out answers to important questions almost non-existent. Bored with the important stuff and unable to bring themselves to call a lie a lie, our “journalists” have moved on to the latest nonsense of the moment. The truth about WMD? Al-Qaeda? Unemployment? Energy “policy”? Noooo! They’re now seized with White House apoplexy about reducing terrorism to “nuisance” levels and Mary Cheney’s sexuality – something they’ll likely forget day after tomorrow. No wonder we’ve forgotten all the questions out there still begging answers. Let me refresh your memory on just a few. Whatever happened to…

The Ready Reserve?

You know, the bottom of the barrel that’s now being scraped…good guys who served well and honorably and, having left even drilling reserve units, assumed they had done their duty. Now, some in their fifties, they’re being yanked out of civilian jobs – by the thousands - to fill the gaps created by the Pentagon’s poor manpower planning. Trouble is fewer than two-thirds have shown up on time.

The National Guard?

Another barrel to be tapped to augment our less than adequate active duty ranks. Having signed up as weekend warriors ostensibly under the command of the several state governors, they’re now serving year-long tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, coming back for a few months, and turning around again for yet another prolonged stint in a combat zone. So who’s guarding the homeland and standing by for crisis relief?

Many lucky enough to return home in one piece find their family and job situations strained to the breaking point. And just this week, the Republican-controlled Senate refused to include pay relief for Guard and Reserve personnel and their employers, preferring instead to shower tax breaks on importers of Chinese ceiling fans, NASCAR track owners, and tobacco growers. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) proudly proclaimed “Let the record show this bill is fair, this bill is balanced.” So that’s what “fair and balanced” means? So that’s what “Support Our Troops” means?

No wonder the Guard is 5,000 short of its recruiting goals. Who the hell wants to be an “Army of One” for a nation of slackers.

Bush’s National Guard Records?

Speaking of the Guard…and slackers, why are President Bush’s Guard records still dribbling out – in response to AP’s Freedom of Information suit - many months after we were assured that all those records had been released? Makes you wonder what revelations might be found after the election. We might even learn what he did in 1972. But, then again, we could care less. We want to know what he’s been doing these last few years.

Abu Ghraib?

The story’s buried now on page 24. The press and Congress and we have lost interest. Still, the investigations cough up disturbing revelations – murders of POWs, dozens of “disappeared” in an American gulag, out-of-control and unaccountable civilian “interrogators.”

We’ve forgotten. But the world’s Muslims have not. Nor has al Qaeda. It’s too good a recruiting tool.

Donald Rumsfeld?

You know, the author of an unnecessary war, an army too small to win it, and, yes, Abu Ghraib. Why is this man still occupying an office in the Pentagon?

Valerie Plame?

You remember her, the CIA agent outed last year by the Bush White House to get even with her husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson, for his refutation of the “yellow cake uranium” lie. Think our on-the-ball Justice Department would have tracked down by now the Administration culprit responsible for this egregious breach of national security. Think again. A year later, all they have done is turn their guns against New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who never reported on the subject, while giving a pass to neo-con insider Robert Novak who parroted to the public what he was fed by his White House buddies. Meanwhile, the lives of Ms. Plame’s sources in Africa are at risk.

Flash – Karl Rove’s just been hauled before a federal grand jury to answer questions on the matter. Stay tuned.

Larry Franklin?

Where does that FBI investigation of Franklin stand? Was this Pentagon protégé of Under Secretary of Defense and Likudnik Douglas Feith really passing U.S. plans on Iran to Israel through AIPAC? Will Israel really bomb Iran’s nuclear reactor the day before our election with the 500 pound bunker buster bombs we just sold them? Just asking.

The Road Map?

It appears to be in shambles after Ariel Sharon’s month-long rampage through the refugee camps of Gaza. More than a hundred Palestinians, twenty of them children, have been killed in this latest exercise in collective punishment and Jebaliya has been bull-dozed to rubble. And, in the wake of such excesses, Secretary of State Colin Powell sternly lectures the Palestinians: “It’s time to end the intifada!” No, Mr. Powell, it’s time to end the occupation.

Fearing no retribution by an American government which long ago gave up any pretense of even-handedness and knowing that candidate Kerry dare not take up the issue, “Bull-dozer” Sharon plows ahead, destroying homes and lives, thickening settlements on the West Bank, and pronouncing unilateral “solutions.” Dov Weinglas, described by AP as Sharon’s “point man with the Bush Administration,” goes a step further, declaring boldly that “Effectively, the whole package called the Palestinian state with all that entails has been removed indefinitely from our agenda. And all this with the authority and permission – all this with a presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress.”

And not a peep from the Administration, nor, for that matter, any meaningful condemnation from the rest of the world. This has led Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, America’s designated “leader” of the Palestinians, to cry out “This ugly Israeli crime is taking place in full view of the world, and so far we have not heard a strong word from the world community that can bring an end to this aggression.”

Eyeless in Gaza, Americans cannot see why people hate us, why people take up terror, the weapon of hopelessness.

Carl Cameron?

Fox News calls him “Campaign Carl.” His sister works for the Bush campaign and hangs with Laura, so he’s assigned to cover John Kerry. Bored silly by the assignment, Carl decided the morning after the first debate to post a story on the Fox website putting made-up quotes in Kerry’s mouth…stuff about nails and cuticles, metrosexuals and cowboys. Fox subsequently took down the story “written in jest…fatigue and bad judgement, not malice.” Whatever the reasons for this boyish prank that would have gotten any cub reporter fired, it reveals a lack of professionalism and the true attitudes of one Fox “journalist.”

The story went unreported on Fox’s broadcast news programs, which were seized at the time with something they called “Rathergate.” Meanwhile, “Campaign Carl’s” back on the Kerry beat serving up his usual “fair and balanced” distortions.

Baghdad Bob?

The old Baghdad Bob, that clown in a beret, has long ago retired to Dubai, where I’m sure he’s working on a book or a career in stand-up comedy. Fox, however, has a new clown they call “Major Bob.” To the uninitiated, that’s Major Bob Bevalaqua, who not only offers military opinions but “political analysis” in his role as a “Fox news analyst.” In the midst of last week’s attack on Baghdad’s Sheraton Hotel, a breathless Fox anchor asked Major Bob for his opinion about the political motivations behind the attack. Without hesitation, he replied that it was designed to help the Kerry campaign. “The terrorists,” he added, will stop at nothing to help Kerry.” Thanking Major Bob for that astute and fair and balanced comment, the anchor moved elsewhere without a word of comment.

Family Values?

Based on recent developments, one can be excused for becoming alarmed over the growing attack on family values from the right. What are we to make of Rush Limbaugh’s doctor shopping for controlled substances…or his recent divorce? Other than his dropping all references to Magda’s sleep number, it seems to have had no effect on his pontifications on national radio. And, then, there’s Bill O’Reilly, that married father of two, who allows he’s having a bad day or two, but sees no need to apologize for alleged phone sex and sexual harassment. Guess he figures he can bloviate his way out of this like everything else. Sue and shout “Shut up!!” Meanwhile, he’s out there peddling a children’s book and interviewing Dick Morris. Yes, speaking of family values, that Dick Morris!

While Rush has so far dodged a bullet, Bill’s counterparts on the other cable networks seem to be piling on the big guy with the big mouth and an even bigger ego. Seems they don’t like him any more than Al Franken does. That leaves us asking “Who’s Looking Out for You, Bill?”

Fiscal Conservatives?

The federal deficit just hit $413 billion, the largest in American history. This led Secretary of the Treasury John Snow (Now there’s a household name!) to proclaim “All of this shows that the President’s tax relief initiatives are having the intended effects.” You mean this is intentional?!

No wonder John Eisenhower, Ike’s son, has opted to support John Kerry? In his September 30 announcement of that support Eisenhower said that “today’s Republican Party is one with which I am totally unfamiliar. To me, the word ‘Republican’ has always been synonymous with the word “responsibility,” which has meant limiting our governmental obligations to those we can afford in human and financial terms. Today’s whopping budget deficit of some $440 billion does not meet that criterion.”

The Powell Doctrine?

As our adventure in Iraq spins out of control, one must ask where is the overwhelming public support, the overwhelming force, and the clear exit strategy demanded by the Powell Doctrine? And what do we do now?


And why does Colin Powell remain, sitting there silently, subjected to continuing humiliation, while American foreign policy and his personal reputation go down in flames in the hands of our latter-day Nero.

John McCain?

Why does John McCain, another wise and honorable man allow himself to be manipulated like some rag doll by Karl Rove and Karen Hughes, the hacks who dragged the senator and his family through the mud four years ago and who now – in his own word – dishonorably pick at the scabs of Vietnam?

I know he’s positioning himself for 2008. But one has to ask “At what price? When does party loyalty trump personal integrity?” Hopefully, never. If I could, I would address the following plea to Senator McCain: “Please, please, before it is too late, shake free of the grasp of these Lilliputians and show the same courage that saw you through those years in Hanoi. It is transparently clear what they are doing. Don’t let them do it again. Your country calls again. The need is bigger than any election.”

Scott Peterson?

Who cares?

Tony Green?

I, at least, care, though precious few others appear to. Green (aka Delicious), a transgender woman, was brutally killed in Bayview-Hunters Point two months ago. The police refused to treat her murder as a hate crime, and the story soon disappeared from the pages of the Chronicle. Who cares? Another piece of tranny trash. The SFPD can’t solve crimes against “normal” people. Why get worked up over Green? For the same reason I’m still angry over the delayed justice – now two years and one mistrial later – for those who killed Gwen Araujo in Newark. Gwen and Tony were human beings who loved and were loved. Green came from a large family, who accepted her as she was. In turn, she helped raise the five grandchildren – 4, 8, 11, 13, and 18 – of her sister who described her as “a warm, giving, warm-hearted person.”

For Gwen’s mom, Tony’s sister, and myself, I ask you to keep in mind that God don’t make no trash and that all God’s children – no matter how different they may appear on the surface – are created in God’s image and, therefore, deserving of love and respect.


He died this week, and all of Canada cried. We did, too.

Posted by Vicki at 07:14 AM

Wednesday, September 22, 2004


Even Orwell and Huxley would have a hard time understanding the vocabulary of this political season. 1984 is history and, in this brave new world - on the other side of some cosmic looking glass - it’s hard to tell a mad hatter from a queen of hearts without a dictionary. So, with apologies to William Safire and Crispin Miller, here’s my effort to meet that need.

Abu Ghraib. An evening of “Animal House” pranks carried out independently by a fun-loving gaggle of young soldiers and contractors. Not to be confused with or connected to similar goings-on at Bagram or Guantanamo.

Axis of Evil. Three bad countries, one of which did not possess WMD. Has spawned follow-on flippancies like “Honey, I think we attacked the wrong country.”

Bush Hater. Anyone who disagrees with the President’s policies. Someone with clear vision and capable of critical thinking.

Coalition of the Willing. That motley collection of mini-states (Sorry, Tony Blair.) like Micronesia who’ve lent us their names and flags for the duration. Unfortunately Spain and the Philippines are no longer willing. Their loss, however, has been more than compensated for by the continued growth of a private army of 20,000 of civilian “contractors” willing to do anything for a buck.

Cat Stevens. A dangerous alien and potential terrorist, who, according to Homeland Security spokesman Dennis Murphy, was “denied admission to the United States on national security grounds.” Formerly Stephen Georgiou and now Yusuf Islam, Stevens has heretofore craftily hidden his terrorist-related work as an agent of “Fear Itself” behind a lifetime of peace activism.

Conflation. The lumping together of disparate unconnected parts to form a useful albeit intellectually unsustainable whole. Examples? Repeated use of “Iraq,” “Al Qaeda,” and “September 11” in the same sentence or statements like “All terrorists are the same.”

Cross-dresser. Someone who regularly dons the clothes of someone he/she is not. Witness President Bush who has been caught cavorting in the uniform of a combat pilot on an aircraft carrier, wielding a chainsaw in blue jeans and cowboy boots, and falling off mountain bikes in Lance Armstrong look-alike lycra.

Dyslexia. A medical condition which causes one to see things backwards or sometimes, as in the case of President Bush, upside down.

Environmental Protection. Under this President’s EPA, an oxymoron.

Fear Itself. A phrase first used by Franklin D. Roosevelt to buck up fearful Americans in a time of crisis…as in “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” As currently used by Karl Rove and his team, a phrase meant to instill fear among Americans in the “Land of the Brave,” lest they make the “wrong choice” in November. Can also be used as a noun inter-changeable with, for example, Osama bin Laden, the Golem, and “Come Halloween, beware the ‘Orange Alert!’”

Fiscal Conservative. A Republican species, once native to the Midwest, now extinct, having been killed by the tax cutting axe and buried under a record deficit.

Flip Flop. Formerly a noun used to describe ultra-casual footware. Now used as a verb to characterize the actions of someone smart enough to change his/her opinion in the face of overwhelming evidence that one’s previously held opinion is no longer intellectually tenable. Antonym: To show steadfast resolve despite data that does not compute, a trait often interpreted as “leadership” when applied to our current commander-in-chief.

Get Over It! Shut up! We were duly appointed. We’re running the show. We’ll do whatever we want.

Iraq. Arabic for Vietnam (cf. quagmire). There are, of course, differences which detract from such a comparison. For example, South Vietnam had a government, army, and police force in place when we arrived, the Viet Cong never held any major cities to use as in-country sanctuaries, and Tet was a 48-hour spasm not an on-going daily event. Perhaps with such dissimilarities in mind, Karen Hughes, prefers to see Iraq as the “ultimate expression of compassionate conservatism,” bringing, as Newsweek reports, freedom to a benighted land.

Journalism. A once proud profession now on the verge of extinction in the United States.

Manichean. A heretical tendency to see the world in black and white, good and evil. To be shunned by those who profess to be Christians.

Old Europe. A group of substantial, cultured, democratic, economically dynamic countries that stood beside us for half a century as friends and allies.

Pre-Emption. A euphemism for an un-American concept of striking first (cf. aggressive war, illegal war).

Responsibility. A character trait seldom found in today’s Washington. Who me? WMD? Abu Ghraib?

Screed. A reasoned critique produced by someone who refuses to get over it.

Security Moms. Former soccer moms scared witless by Vice President Cheney who has convinced half of America that “Fear Itself” is at hand.

Stop Loss. Draft. Stop gap measure to see us through November 2.

Support Our Troops. Commendable patriotic sentiment usually displayed by large flags and yellow ribbons on yellow humvees driven by patriots whose priorities have kept them from volunteering or necessitated their checking the “Decline deployment to Iraq” box on their service preference cards.

Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. A typically-Texan oxymoron

Tax Cut. A tool useful in any electoral situation despite the real-world situation. Used liberally by conservatives, especially in wartime and times of fiscal crisis. Has replaced discredited notions like “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Synonym: Generational warfare.

Turning the Corner. Going around in circles on the economy. No longer used by President Bush, since he learned that it was last used by Herbert Hoover in 1932.

Twisting in the Wind. Adjectival phrase used by President Bush to describe Senator Kerry. Used by others to describe American policy in Iraq.

Vietnam. A proper noun. A country not a war where a war that ended thirty years ago is being re-fought by those who can’t get over it and who, in their blinding pain, are being used to detract attention from an even worse on-going war in Iraq. They and their Texas handlers would have you believe that it is Vietnam, not Iraq that is the central issue of election 2004.

War on Terror. Useful conflation. Produces security moms and obviates need to distinguish among myriad forms of terrorism – a tactic not an enemy – or to examine causes. Just kill ‘em all!

Whining. Symptom of a failure to get over it.

Thursday, September 2, 2004


Has it really been a month? Well, Salsa (my very mellow Benji look-alike) and I are back in California after a pleasant time in Oregon and Washington where we enjoyed the sunny mountains and cooling coastal fog. It’s time to catch up on what’s happening in the Golden State and our little corner of the Bay. A lot’s been going on. Here’s but a small sample for a hot weekend.

Talk About Traffic Jams!

Just last November Bay Area voters approved increasing area bridge tolls from $2 to $3. Solano voters, who have to pay two bridge tolls to drive to The City, voted “No.” Be that as it may, we were all assured that a “Yes” vote would mean more money for local transportation improvements, including a new Vallejo ferry, the Vallejo Transit Center, and I-80 improvements in Solano.

But this summer we learned about an unbelievable $3.2 billion – yes, billion - cost overrun on Bay Area bridges generated by a terminally incompetent Caltrans and that hardy band of aestheticians in Oakland and San Francisco. Not only will all the money generated by the just approved toll hike be shoveled into the Caltrans sink hole, but, the Governator and his Southern California allies insist, Bay Area drivers will have to cough up another dollar per bridge crossing. That’s $16 for each roundtrip to The City for Vallejoans. And, poof, the promised monies for local Vallejo transportation improvements are up in the Governator’s cigar smoke.

Not content with even these outrages, we’re now asked to go back to the well again to approve the half-cent Solano sales tax we turned down two years ago to pay for transportation “improvements” we thought were already paid for. And these guys really know how to rub salt in fresh wounds. Putting this Measure A on the ballot had to be approved by the county’s cities. No problem, not in Vallejo. Unanimous! Go for it! Stick it to us again.

And then there’s that road builders’ friend, the Solano Transportation Authority (STIA), sending out multi-colored, glossy, four-page brochures at taxpayer expense urging us to vote for its Measure A. STIA says the brochures are “informational” and don’t call explicitly for a “Yes” vote, and the eunuchs in the Fair Political Practices Commission agree. How dumb do they think we are? What does the Solano Grand Jury do?

What can you do? Join County Supervisor Barbara Kondylis and vote No on A.

Las Vegas on the Bay

The Governator’s plan for balancing the state budget? Blanket the East Bay with Vegas-sized casinos and rake in a quarter of the take. The biggest such outrage is, of course, the monster casino Ahnuld would shove down our throats in San Pablo…astride our I-80 commute route…thus ensuring that Vallejoans’ commutes will not only be more costly but more infuriatingly slow.

Then, there’s Richmond’s Point Molate, which had been scheduled to be a regional park. Just last week the Richmond City Council voted unanimously in the face of heated opposition to sell Point Molate to Emeryville’s Upstream Development which would build a casino complex “recreat[ing] turn-of-the century San Francisco … Ghiradelli Square times ten.” This Disneyland North, which would be accessible by ferry to other parts of the Bay Area (Marin?), would be operated by Harrah’s ostensibly on behalf of the Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians. Strangely enough, the project is being opposed by Chevron which insists that the city must first offer to sell the land to a public agency for a park. It has obtained a temporary restraining order.

Here it gets even murkier…and more infuriating. Remember how Ahnuld made an issue during the recall campaign of Indian gaming contributions. Well, just after that election, as reported in the T-H, gambling king-pins Gavin and Joe Maloof organized a $1 million fund-raiser for the governator. And, - Surprise! - in mid-August, the Maloofs emerged as key players in the San Pablo venture…the same week Ahnuld announced his support for 5,000 slots in that tiny town. Now Ahnuld, using money funneled from the Maloof fund-raiser, is actively opposing Propositions 68 and 70 which would wildly expand gambling throughout the state. Why? Because he’s anti-gambling? No, because they would undermine the Maloof’s plans for San Pablo. If approved the San Pablo deal would allow the Maloof’s to skim 20 percent of the profits from an operation projected to take in $540 million a year. Not a bad return on a $1 million investment.

What’s an honest citizen to do? Vote “No” on 68 and 70. Then find other ways to express your outrage at what’s going down in Contra Costa and to ensure that it doesn’t happen in Solano. You might start by supporting Solano County Supervisor Duane Kromm (Fairfield) who’s fighting to keep a casino out of Suisun Valley and asking Supervisors Barbara Kondylis (Vallejo) and John Silva (Benicia) where they stand on casinos in Solano.

And, above all, don’t feel guilty about the Indians, at least on this issue. There are more dignified, honest ways to right the wrongs visited upon them by the United States government. This is not about helping the Indians. It’s about helping the Maloofs of the world.

What’s Good for Chevron, Is Good for California

Remember that old saw from the “I Like Ike” era “What’s good for General Motors is good for the USA?” Well, Ahnuld’s cribbed shamelessly from the concept, “re-inventing” California government to fit the needs of ChevronTexaco.

As AP has reported, he larded his California Performance Review board with a bevy of corporate lobbyists, chief among them a team from Chevron that “enjoyed immense success in influencing the report” of the board. The operative word in all such rip-offs is “streamlining.” Included among the stuff being “streamlined” are the permit process for construction and expansion of refineries, the environmental oversight of San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, and the regulatory process for siting new refineries, tank farms, and – Get this! – LNG facilities.

How much did Chevron have to pay for these goodies? A mere pittance for this giant which reaped windfall profits in the wake of the Iraq war - $200,000 to the Governator’s committees, $500,000 to the state GOP, and another $100,000 to a Schwarzenegger-controlled political fund three weeks after the release of the report. Isn’t there a section of the law that covers quid pro quos? Anybody out there good at connecting dots?

Mr. Schwarzenegger Goes to New York

So Ahnuld goes to New York, dusts off his oafish “girlie men” act, mangles the facts of Austrian history, and wows a crowd of Republicans and an ever-credulous national press corps now ready to amend the Constitution to prepare the path to the presidency for a third-rate actor. Oh, if they only knew his record of incompetence in California. That joke he cracked about being as good a politician as he is an actor is unfortunately all too true and – at least to Californians – no laughing matter

Neither is the fact that Chevron was one of some 20 companies that paid for the trip to New York for Ahnuld and his retinue. Quid pro quos? How about the closed door meeting last Wednesday at which Chevron executives and other corporate big wigs enjoyed Ahnuld’s undivided attention?

What’s Up with George Miller?

George Miller is an otherwise progressive representative in Congress for whom I urge you to vote. One has to wonder, however, why he supports that casino in San Pablo and the up-county commuter relief act otherwise known as Measure A. I look forward to his defining what a “modest” casino is, spelling out his “concerns about the new compact,” and explaining to Vallejo voters how we got into our Bay Area-wide traffic jam and why they should subsidize the descent of more commuters to and through our town.

Earth to Wal-Mars: “Go Away!!!”

One has to wonder how much money Wal-Mart will toss about to ensure approval of its plans to pave over Contra Costa and Solano with big boxes and even bigger parking lots.

In Solano, they started by waving their big bucks in front of the city council of a tiny village of 12,000 – American Canyon. Talk about David and Goliath. But they misjudged. The citizens of American Canyon may be few in number, but they are smart, smarter than their city council, and, now, energized. That abortive Am Can Planning Commission meeting last week was indicative of the growing opposition to this ill-conceived project.

The Planning Commission meeting has been rescheduled for Thursday, September 9. I hope the place will be packed with Am Can residents and, yes, “outsiders” like Vallejoans concerned about the effect of the proposed big box on our traffic, wages, and business viability. Wal-Mart and its few supporters would have you believe that the only legitimate “outsiders” are the beneficent blue suits from Bentonville and that the only discussable issue at this point is the design of their monstrosity. Not so! It may come as a surprise to the Wal-Mart execs and the Am Can council, but votes can be changed and council members can be replaced. The only laws written in stone are the ones carried down a mountainside by Moses.

In the midst of all this, there is still humor to be found. Witness, Tony Nijem’s letter to the T-H on Saturday. Tony waxes poetic about building a “central local gathering place,” a “downtown” consisting of “a three-story hotel…a “beautiful ‘town green’ – and, of course, the Wal-Mart Supercenter.” What a vision! What’s the hotel for? The tourists who will flock to gaze in awe at the Supercenter? The “town green?” Would that be the Wal-Mart parking lot where kids can gather after hours…for God knows what? Emmanuel D’Herrera, leader of the opposition to Wal-Mart’s plans for a Supercenter on the edge of Teotihuacan’s Temple of the Moon in suburban Mexico City, has an idea what they might use it for. Mexican “teenagers,” he reports, “want to go skateboarding in the parking lot, like in the United States.” Ah, that American Way of Life Wal-Mart so ably represents overseas. It’s enough to make one teary-eyed

You’ve Gotta Read the Small Print

Fortunately for us Joyce Scharf does. She spotted that August 20 notice in the T-H classifieds “City of Vallejo Notice of Public Scoping Session and Notice of Preparation (To Prepare an EIR).” Huh? The notice concerns a Planning Commission meeting at 7:00 p.m., Monday, September 20 application number SPL04-0001 on behalf of the City of Vallejo and Triad Communities, Inc. The purpose of said meeting is to “obtain public comments on the scope of study for preparing an Environmental Impact Report (EIR)” on the downtown area bounded by Capitol Street, Sonoma Boulevard, Napa Street, Curtola Parkway, Santa Clara Street and Mare Island Way and, in particular, Triad’s plans for multi-story mixed use building on Virginia Street.

While Marina Towers sits smack dab in the middle of this area, I doubt that its many residents will have been individually notified of this meeting. I hope that they and all of you will read the appropriate documents at the Planning Division in City Hall and attend this important meeting.

Sunday, August 8, 2004

Notes from a MAD, MAD WORLD

Honey, I Think We Got the Wrong Country

Both in terms of WMD and links to Al Qaeda it should be clear that Iraq was the wrong country to attack.

The right country? There are several to choose from. To be sure, Afghanistan tops the list, but, then, we sicked the mujaheddin “freedom fighters” on Kabul – and, by extension, the Soviets – twenty years ago, arming them to the teeth and applauding the anti-Soviet, anti-secular Taliban they ushered in. But even freedom fighters can become terrorists. Even anti-Soviet allies can become religious fanatics. Only the U.S.-supplied Stingers remain the same. It’s called “blowback.”

How about North Korea which sold long-range SAM missiles to Yemen – missiles we intercepted and let pass through after the attack in Yemen on the USS Cole? Indeed, how about Yemen where terrorists roam the hinterland?

How about Saudi Arabia and Egypt which produced all those 9/11 hijackers? How about all those bin Ladens who flew home to Riyadh on 9/12? Wonder when we’ll ever get to read those redacted pages from the 9/11 Commission’s report? Probably the day after the Bushes leave the White House.

How about Pakistan which still does not control its border with Afghanistan? And, then, there’s A.Q. Khan who operated his own private nuclear proliferation program out of Islamabad – an operation we knew about and did nothing to stop. We “needed” Pakistan.

How about Libya, that recipient of A.Q. Khan’s nuclear largesse, that plotter of the Berlin nightclub bombing of American G.I.s, that accomplice in the downing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie? Any sanctions there? Nooo. Qaddaffi gets diplomatic recognition and a boost to tourism. We get oil. All’s well. That is until Colin Powell allows – very factually - that the Libyan government is undemocratic. Libya responds by suing us for defamy. How do you say chutzpah in Arabic…or, for that matter, in American English.

Then there’s Iran! Anybody with an ounce of sense and two eyes has known for years that Iran has been mucking about in terrorism and nuclear proliferation. Having probably obtained its know-how and materials from the same infamous A.Q. Khan, Iran has been unabashed in seeking, contrary to its NPT obligations, to produce weapons-grade materials. It has, moreover, thumbed its nose at the inspectors of the UN’s IAEA. In terms of terrorism, Iran has long supported Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Kurdish terrorist group Ansar al Islam, which operated a base on the Iranian border in Kurdish-occupied northern Iraq. Ironically, the existence of that camp, which spawned that renowned beheader al Zarqawi, was used by the Bush administration in its run-up to the Iraq war as proof that there were terrorist camps “in Iraq.”

Now we learn via the 9/11 Commission that several of the 9/11 hijackers – the “muscle men” in the operation – transited Iran on their way from Saudi Arabia to the United States. Let me suggest another, probably on-going Iranian connection with al Qaeda. While we have been focusing our hunt for bin Laden on Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan, might its border with Iran be a better place to look? Or Iran itself? Wasn’t that sweet the way bin Laden’s side-kick Harqawi, who announced he was accepting the Saudi’s offer of amnesty (presumably to obtain medical treatment), was escorted like a VIP, first to the Saudi embassy in Teheran, then to a waiting jet to whisk him to Riyadh?

Yes, it looks like we attacked the wrong country. Just as well. Iran would have been a tougher nut to crack. And, besides, it’s now academic. Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t do anything to Iran. Our entire over-stretched Army is bogged down in Iraq…the wrong country.

Baghdad Dan

Remember Baghdad Bob? Sure you do. We all hope he’s doing well in retirement. (In Bahrain?) He deserves it, for he gave us so many laughs during a difficult time.

Remember Baghdad Dan? You know, Dan Senor, that civilian half of the daily Dan and Mark show of the CPA. I expect that Mark Kimmitt, that one-star, so full of patriotic bravado, is still there. Why shouldn’t he have his tour extended also? Some of his performances, moreover, were at least as good as Baghdad Bob’s. Remember his earnest assurances about how we would storm into Fallujah? Remember his soothing words on the turnover of “sovereignty” to Mr. Alawi? That, he said, made the then-880 deaths of our sons and daughters worthwhile. Breathtaking.

Mark’s a good soldier doing a thankless job with unusual zeal. Dan, however, is something else again. Now that he’s safe at home with “Jerry” Bremer and the rest of the CPA crowd, the truth can be told.

Baghdad Dan came out of the Bush White House, where he was deputy to press spokesman Scott McClellan. His sparse White House bio left out a few interesting facts. In 1993, for example, Dan, then an undergraduate at the University of Western Ontario and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, served as an intern for the Likud-affiliated American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). From 2001 to 2003 he was a venture capitalist with the Carlyle Group (Remember them?) and is currently a director of the US-Israel Business Exchange (USIBEX) among whose goals is “accelerating entry of Israeli technology companies into the US market.” Such are the dots. Got a pencil?

Palestine’s National Nervous Breakdown

What is currently happening in Gaza is nothing less than the national nervous breakdown of Palestine. A people occupied, lied to, shot at, and humiliated on a daily basis for decades is in a state of moral collapse. Pushed to the bottom of a cul de sac by the Israelis and betrayed by their own leaders, Palestinians are turning on each other in an orgy of violence. It is not pretty. And it is not something Israelis can take pleasure in. They and, by extension, we have denied a people their humanity and treated them as sub-humans. Why, then, should we be surprised when they lash out in unrestrained violence not only against themselves but against their tormentors. We have driven a people, out of desperation, into the arms of terrorists. As an American and a friend of Israel – not Sharon, not Likud, but Israel - I am horrified by the prospect of what may yet come. My government will yet again preach “restraint by all sides,” tout its “even-handedness,” veto even the mildest rebuke in the United Nations, and do absolutely nothing to promote peace.

Example – Last month the International Court of Justice condemned the Israeli wall that cuts deeply into Palestinian territory and pens millions of Palestinians into their Bantustan. Anticipating a US veto of enforcement action in the Security Council, Palestine sought two weeks ago a non-binding UN General Assembly vote to record the overwhelming nature of international outrage at the wall. The UNGA vote was 150-6 with 10 abstentions. Among the 150 “yes” votes were all the members of the European Union. So who were the six who voted “no?” The United States, Israel, and Australia, another real albeit misguided country, were three. The other three? The Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau…all members of the “Compact of Free Association” with the United States. Talk about tiny dots to connect!

Example – Not content with the implosion within Gaza, the Israelis this past week have gratuitously spiced the witches brew with repeated attacks by Apache helicopters, tanks, and armored bulldozers, destroying ever more houses…and ever more people. Americans may not see those attacks in our media, but Palestinians, who experience them first hand, also know how to connect dots. Why do they hate us? Follow the tracings of their pencils back to Bell and Caterpillar.

Want to learn more? Contact If Americans Knew at or at (510) 655-6384 and/or a Jewish Voice for Peace at or (510) 465-1777.


That’s the southwestern corner of Sudan where 30,000 black Africans have been killed and maybe a million displaced at the hands of an Arab militia known as Janjaweed. The U.S. Congress, spurred on by the outrage of Senator John McCain, has correctly called this genocide. The U.S. government, however, has done precious little to help the beleaguered blacks fleeing into neighboring Chad…other than dispatching Colin Powell to confirm the obvious.

Powell’s boss, President George W. Bush, seems to delight in striking a macho pose and deriding the “irrelevant” and presumably impotent United Nations and France. Well, last week they acted while Dubyah posed in Ohio and Pennsylvania. The UN Security Council passed a resolution demanding that the government of Sudan disarm the Janjaweed militias. And France dispatched 200 troops to eastern Chad to stabilize the border and protect fleeing refuges. French C-130 aircraft and Puma helicopters meanwhile began ferrying tons of humanitarian supplies to the refugees, seeking to avoid another Rwanda-like disaster. Yes, this is the France that Rumsfeld dismisses as “Old Europe” and Bill O’Reilly urges us to boycott.

As clearer thinking adults, won’t you urge the President and our elected representatives – Senators Feinstein and Boxer and Representative Miller – to do at least as much as the French to avert another humanitarian catastrophe in Africa. Please. As Leo Baeck said, as Hitler launched the Holocaust, “There is nothing so sad as silence.” Please, please, speak out, no, shout “Never again!”

Our Cuban Insanity

It is election year, Florida’s again in play, and George W. Bush is again running against Fidel Castro. American policy toward a Cuba already in transition is held hostage to the votes of upper and upper-middle class Cubans who fled the island with Batista and his mafia cohorts more than four decades ago. It is truly bizarre. Communism has disappeared in Europe, its demise hastened by the economic and cultural exchanges that subverted corrupt regimes and eased the path to democracy. In China and Vietnam, we are pursuing the same liberating policies, opening new doors and windows to the freshening breezes of change. And those policies are working just as they did in the Poland I knew during the Cold War and the Solidarity struggle. But in Cuba, we tighten the screws even tighter on a self-defeating policy of isolating the island and driving its people into the arms of Castro.

It is a policy that stifles the prospects for peaceful gradual change and increases the likelihood of a violent end to the Castro regime – a nightmare scenario for American generals. In its current tightening, it is particularly mean-spirited, restricting the possibility of family visits and imposing harsh limits on gift parcels to relatives. Indeed the limits imposed by President Bush are so harsh they have led to a backlash among younger Cuban Americans denied visits to parents and grandparents. Even in the House of Representatives Republicans joined Democrats in overturning the new restrictions on gift parcels. The vote was 221-194.

The winds of change may not have reached Havana, but they are at last being felt in south Florida.

UN Monitors for U.S. Elections

Speaking of Cuba and Florida, some of you may remember that in the immediate wake of the Supreme Court appointment of George W. Bush in 2000, the Cuban Foreign Minister offered to send monitors to observe our 2004 election. While he may have had his tongue in cheek, the 13 members of the Congressional Black Caucus did not when they appealed last month to the UN to actually provide such monitors. In light of the latest shenanigans in Florida and the California suits surrounding Diebold’s malfunctioning and trackless electronic voting machines this is no longer a laughing matter.

Our Bobble-Head Governator Discombobulated

Okay, Arnold Schwarzenegger is small potatoes measured against such life and death, existential issues. But Ahnuld, our very own Austrian, wants to be president. Now, there’s a scary thought – four more years of Dubyah and eight of Ahnuld. The very fact that a personal constitutional amendment to make that possible could seriously be considered should be enough to convince even the greatest doubter how far we’ve slid down a darkening socio-political slope.

The recall now history, our bobble-head governator finds that actually governing is tougher than he anticipated. You don’t just tell the legislature what to do and wait for them to do it. And, when they don’t, you don’t revert to the campaign trail by going to shopping malls in Orange County and the Central Valley to call your partners in government “girlie men.”

The governator’s misogynistic, homophobic, sophomoric (high school, that is) remarks were, it turned out, no substitute for sitting down with legislators to work out the serious issues still on the budget table. Those issues related to minimum wages for school bus drivers, the right of school employees to sue for sexual harassment, and more reasonable ways of funding cities and local governments. Ahnuld claimed such issues were being raised by “special interests” which he, as our self-styled “warrior for the people,” must “terminate.” He derided the legislators for not getting out to shopping malls to tell the people they would not stand up to such “special interests.”

Fact is, the legislators were in Sacramento legislating. That’s what we pay them for. And we pay Ahnuld for being in Sacramento…governing. It wasn’t till he got back there to do that – to sit down with “girlie men” to negotiate “special interests” - that the people’s business started getting done. And, when a less-than-perfect budget passed - balanced on the back of another $2 billion debt our children will have to pay and another $2.6 billion out of the pockets of the cities - he praised the “bipartisan effort” that produced it. How do you say chutzpah in Austrian-accented German?

I wholeheartedly agree with Cathy Edgett of Mill Valley who when asked by the SF Chronicle “Is Arnold’s star starting to dim?” replied:

A movie star is a moon, not a star. They reflect what they are given – light and script – rather than shining out from within. Though we don’t see the backside of our Earth’s moon, it seems we are beginning to get that experience with this cleverly elected movie moon.

I also agree with the Chronicle that “The ‘Mr. Schwarzenegger Goes to Sacramento’ act is wearing thin.” Very, very thin.

Posted by Vicki at 10:33 PM

Monday, August 2, 2004

Our late great Fourth Estate

Now that it’s over, you’ve discovered that, had you wanted gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Democratic National Convention, you would have had to watch C-Span. If you watched network television all week, you got only one-hour’s coverage each night on ABC, CBS, and NBC and none at all on Fox’s KTVU. They deemed it more important for you – and certainly more profitable for them – to broadcast such bread and circus as “Trading Spouses,” “Fear Factor,” “Hollywood Squares,” and “Seinfeld” repeats. “Why?” you ask. Read on. It’s a sad story.

Since the founding of the republic, a free and aggressively curious media has operated as the advocate of the people and as one of the main bulwarks against would-be tyrants. Over the past three years, however, the media has been curiously silent. There have been a variety of factors behind the decade-long taming of the once-proudly bold Fourth Estate. These have included the consolidation of corporate power in fewer and fewer hands, FCC rulings that have cleared the way for ever greater consolidations, the profit-driven rush to the bottom of journalistic and societal standards, and outright manipulation by neo-fascist ideologues.

Thus radio has become a cesspool of racist hate talk. Cities, once home to a variety of local viewpoints in competing newspapers and broadcast outlets, have become single-medium outlets purveying one national perspective. Once proud and independent network news operations – Remember Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, Ted Turner, Bernie Shaw? – have been gutted and subordinated to profit-driven entertainment divisions. Unwilling to sustain any monetary loss to serve the public, corporate moguls have fired knowledgeable and hard-working foreign correspondents, replacing them with stringers with dubious credentials; replaced respected anchors with vacuous pretty faces – male and female; transformed news magazines that held promise of in-depth treatment of serious issues into little more than “Entertainment Tonight;” and generally succumbed to the basest forms of group think. The most obvious and important questions go unasked. And accountability and responsibility go begging.

Examples? Take those Pentagon briefings last year where Rumsfeld tamed a pliant press corps with scorn and ridicule? Take the continued dissing of Helen Thomas, the respected dean of the White House press corps, and the dismissal of her perceptive questions by spokesmen who haven’t the slightest idea of what journalism is about. Take the decline of the once-respected New York Times, which for far too long tolerated the biased and unsound WMD reporting of fear-monger Judith Miller, only last week issuing a tepid mea culpa for its two-year failure to ask the right questions about the Iraq war.

The result? On TV, there is that Rupert Murdoch/RogerAiles monstrosity called Fox News, which, over the past several weeks has dropped all pretense of being “fair and balanced” and become little more than a broadcast outlet of the RNC. The home of wild-eyed blowhards and bullies like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, wide-eyed “reporters” like Linda Vester who seem surprised even by the daily sunrise, and “experts” like Ollie North and Geraldo Rivera who seem locked in some macho mano-a-mano, Fox is but a parody of journalism. Want the inside scoop? You’ve got to see “Outfoxed.” Go to, order the DVD for $9.95, and invite your friends over for a good laugh.

Then there are the Fox wannabes – MSNBC and CNBC. The latter has morphed news into Saturday Night Live, turning itself over entirely to Dennis Miller, Tim McEnroe, and much of the SNL cast. Where, we’re left to ask, does comedy end and news begin? Nowhere, I fear, and there is precious little of either. At least the sports fans of “Monday Night Football” understood that Miller knew nothing about football. How long until the powers that be at CNBC realize that Mogley knows more about news than Miller ever will. (Now there’s a spin-off possibility!) MSNBC, the self-styled “serious alternative,” has tried to turn itself into a video version of talk radio, hiring the right-wing likes of Michael Savage, Joe Scarborough, Pat Buchanan, and yellow dog Democrat Chris Matthews. But even the “fair and balanced” viewers of MSNBC couldn’t stomach the venom of Michael Savage in prime time.

Oh, for the CNN of Ted Turner and Bernie Shaw. Now we get Barbara Starr sonorously passing on the latest Pentagon press release, the latest political analysis of retired colonels, and Wolf Blitzer breathlessly shouting over the daily drumbeat of ominous martial music. CNN even touted Wolf’s late night appearance on Jon Stewart’s comedy show, oblivious to the invidious comparison. Stewart came across as a serious-minded journalist, Blitzer as a clown.

The networks? Forget it. No longer “loss leaders,” network news now dishes up embedded flag-wavers, wall-to-wall trials, and Barbara Wawa’s pompous puff pieces with her favorite celebrities.

PBS? Goodbye, Bill Moyers. Hello Tucker Carlson. Need I say more?

If you want to learn more about the sorry capitulation of the American media, check out the trenchant commentary by Orville Schell in the latest edition of Mother Jones. Schell, dean of Journalism at UC Berkeley, is eminently more qualified, eminently more even-handed than I could ever be.


Monday, July 26, 2004

On the brink of fascism

There’s a scary word now making the rounds in Washington and small town America – fascism. It’s time to say the awful truth…before it’s too late. America is on the brink of fascism.

As someone who lived outside my country for a dozen years and who served that country as a political observer of other societies and governments, I tend to look at America as an objective outsider might. But I can’t claim complete objectivity, for I love this country, wish it well, and have a profound stake in the outcome.

I am frightened by what I see and find that I am not alone in that harsh judgment. Far better judges of society and government agree. Doris Lessing, for example, detected in the post-9/11 atmosphere a “contagion of extremism” sweeping the country. Norman Mailer saw in it an “identity crisis” and concluded that ours was now a “pre-fascist society.” While not using the “F” word, Senator Robert C. Byrd has raised similar alarums in his aptly titled new book Losing America: Confronting a Reckless and Arrogant Presidency.

How cavalierly we threw away - in the October 2002 vote on Iraq - the separation of powers that for more than two hundred years has protected the people from non-democratic tyranny. How blithely we dismissed the constitutional protections of unlawful search and seizure, habeas corpus, and the like, positing in their place the frightening provisions of the frighteningly named Patriot Act and the whims of John Ashcroft, a fundamentalist ideologue.

How could that happen? George W. Bush was right. September 11 did change everything! There was, to be sure, a moment – maybe a month – of shared introspection, grief, and resolve…a healthy patriotism that asked “How could anyone hate us so much?” But, we were quickly assured by our President – nay, our Commander-in-Chief, our supreme “Leader” – that there was no need for messy questioning. The truth was manifestly clear and divinely delivered. “God,” the President told an Israeli newspaper, “told me to strike al Qaeda and I struck, and then he [sic] instructed me to strike Saddam, which I did.”

What the “Islamo-fascists” hated, we were assured by Michael Savage and George W. Bush, was our “freedom” and our “way of life” (Would that be money, Britney Spears, the “Terminator,” or “reality” TV?) No, no need to examine our policies or the shortcomings of our society. Much too complicated. The answers were far simpler. We were good. They were evil. The “civilized” world would have to “hunt them down” in their “caves” and “kill” them…before they killed us. We were on a divinely ordained Crusade. It was a recipe for “endless war for endless peace.”

Already in October 2001 the President and his neo-con handlers were plotting their attack on Iraq…under cover of September 11. Already in January 2002, Karl Rove was boasting to RNC political operatives that September 11 was the issue that his “war president” would ride to re-election.

And so the campaign was launched. It relied on a steady drumbeat of well-calibrated fear – meaningless color codes, amorphous “chatter,” strategically timed leaks, the evocation of the shallowest modes of patriotism, repeated and very big lies, and the cowing – almost physically cowing – of anyone who would question, object, oppose. We were at war against an enemy at once undefined and broadly defined for an unknown duration. Anyone who opposed the president’s policies opposed America and was unpatriotic. And, with laws like the Patriot Act, the tools were put in place to ensure conformity and/or silence.

As the lies that led to Iraq grew bolder and louder in their repetition, the opposition Democrats and the media knuckled under. The Senate, including the nominees of the Democratic Party and our two California senators, voted to give the president a carte blanche that surpassed that of even the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. When the president reiterated the big lies in the run up to war – linking Saddam Hussein to September 11 at least nine times in his last press conference in March 2003 – not one reporter called him on it.

Some of us marched – in October, December, January, February, and, yes, March – in our hundreds of thousands to shout “Not in My Name!” But on the eve of war, our media and our “opposition” politicians remained silent, as Fox’s Bill O’Reilly snarled: “Once the war begins, we expect every American to support our military and, if they can’t do that, they can shut up!”

The flags again sprouted from the yellow humvees and critical thinking disappeared or was shouted down as “unpatriotic.” It was time to “support our troops,” “support our president,” stand up for America, right or wrong…or just plain dumb.

A year later, more than 900 American deaths later, many billions of dollars later, and ever deeper in the quagmire of terrorists proliferating exponentially in their numbers and in the gruesomeness of their atrocities, over 60% of Americans still trust President Bush to lead us in our foreign policy and our war on terror. The big lie and the manipulation of fear have worked their effect.

I know I tend to hyperbole, but we are truly at a crucial tipping point. I don’t recognize my country anymore, and I am worried by the strangeness of the place. Is this is to be the fascist moment or democracy’s proudest moment? Remember Sinclair Lewis’ response to the assertion that “It Can’t Happen Here” – It can and, if it does, he warned, “it will come wrapped in the American flag.”

Indeed, I fear, it is already happening here. Witness the physical attacks upon the person of Lori Haigh and her Capobianco gallery in North Beach for daring to display art depicting Abu Ghraib. The perpetrators are un-apprehended (It is San Francisco.), the gallery is closed, and Ms. Haigh and her young children remain in hiding

Witness Americans being dragged away handcuffed from a Bush rally in West Virginia by gray-shirted West Virginia state troopers? Their crime? Wearing t-shirts with anti-Bush slogans.

Witness would-be demonstrators – loyal Americans all – confined to a caged internment camp well out of earshot of the Democratic National Convention. Why? Because Homeland Security has declared the convention a “Special Security Event.” What, one wonders, happened to the people’s right to peaceful assembly?

Witness the riot at Las Vegas’ Aladdin Hotel, when Linda Ronstadt dedicated her rendition of “Desperado” to Michael Moore. A few hundred well-heeled but ill-mannered customers booed, shouted, tossed their drink glasses into the air, and stormed into the hotel lobby, where they defaced placards for the performance and otherwise made themselves obnoxious. Upshot? The British owner of Aladdin had his private security force escort, not the unruly guests, but rather Ms. Ronstadt from the hotel, not even allowing her to return to her suite. I wonder if they were wearing brown shirts.

Most frightening of all, however, was an AP photo of a week or so ago showing our new Leader being greeted by students at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Michigan. Looking at it, I felt an uneasy queezy feeling in my stomach. It evoked something I had seen before in another picture…something that, decades later, gave the lie to the contention of Germans that, in the thirties, they really didn’t know what was going down around them. There in Marquette, as on the streets of Nuremberg, beaming blond maidens swooned in the throes of some psycho-sexual Leader worship, their equally enthralled male counterparts raising their right arms in an eerily familiar salute.

And there at the rallies awash in red-white-and-blue, all covered live by Fox, the shouted “USA, USA, USA”s were also redolent of an earlier time and place. I covered my ears, but still I heard the familiar echo – “Sieg, Sieg, Sieg!”

Remember that closing line from “Fahrenheit 9/11” – “Was it all a dream, these last four years?” I want to shout “Please wake up! Please wake up, before it’s too late.”


Thursday, July 15, 2004

You've Got to be Kidding!

Sometimes the news out of Vallejo is maddeningly mind-boggling. How many times have you opened your morning Times-Herald and felt the need to pinch yourself, to shout “You’ve got to be kidding!”? How dumb do they think we are? Evidently they – the good ole boys who run this town – have concluded that we are very dumb, very supine, or both…because they keep coming back with schemes that would be laughed out of any other town. Maybe it’s time to tell them we’re not laughing, because it’s ceased being funny .

Here are a few examples of recent outrages. But please scroll through all the words. There is, at the end, an optimistic note and a personal plea.

More Wal-Mart? Wanna Bet?!

Remember that Saturday morning T-H headline two years ago “Welcome to Energy Island?” Last Saturday we got another one: “Wal-Mart Eyes Old Kmart Location.” And, we were assured in the sub-heading, the new Sonoma Boulevard megastore “would be in addition to, not instead of, [the] new AmCan supercenter.”

Our new downtown Wal-Mart would be located about a mile Down Sonoma Boulevard from the existing store at Meadows Plaza, 2.5 miles from the planned supercenter in “downtown” American Canyon, and just a few miles from an another existing store in Napa. Even Napa’s Rick Wells expressed some surprise, saying it was “intriguing” that Wal-Mart would want to locate a string of stores so close to each other. The Spanish located their missions a convenient day’s ride apart. Our Wal-Marts will be located a half-hour’s walk apart. Now that’s convenient!

Is that because Wal-Mart is so user friendly? No, it’s because, in the eyes of the boys from Bentonville, Vallejo is an easy target. If Wal-Mart has its eyes on you, you are in their sights.

Already we hear the same arguments deployed on behalf of LNG – tax revenues and jobs. Mayor Tony Intintolli is “glad they are interested in Vallejo” and, according to the T-H “touted the importance of the revenue, jobs and community support Wal-Mart provides.” Noting that a new megastore could lead to a “strengthening of the job base,” the Chamber’s Wells cited the “potential for a positive impact on the economy.” So, there we are, the same old cast of characters, the same old mantra – revenue, jobs – and the same lack of critical questioning about what’s really best for Vallejo.

Even the mayor admitted to some fears that a Wal-Mart megastore on Sonoma Boulevard would doom the rehabilitation of the city’s commercial corridor and, specifically, the mixed use plan for the Kmart site that would include housing as well as retail. What, for example, would happen to other stores like Mervyn’s and those struggling at Redwood Plaza. Wal-Mart has a record for gobbling up such competitors. Are the Chamber of Commerce’s current members aware of that predatory record?

Jobs? Herein lies what should be our most telling objection to this unworthy scheme. Wal-Mart is not only anti-competition. It is virulently anti-union, anti-labor, offering only minimum wages, woefully inadequate health care and retirement benefits, exploiting women and migrant workers, and profiting off the export of American jobs to overseas sweatshops in places like China, Bangladesh, and Honduras. Wal-Mart is not the sort of business Vallejo wants or needs. Hopefully, our trade unions and women’s groups will voice that message loud and clear.

What can you do? Get the facts and then express your views forcefully to the T-H and to the mayor and city council members. The ugly facts about Wal-Mart are available on any number of websites. Here are just a few worth your attention.

* Wal-Mart’s record of discrimination against women and subsequent class action litigation are documented on , , and .

* Its exploitation of foreign sweat shop labor is the subject of “How Wal-Mart is Remaking our World” on , while horror stories from China, Bangladesh, Honduras, and other places are featured on .

* FastCompany, a business-oriented site offers a cautionary tale, “The Wal-Mart You Don’t Know,” to businesses inclined to do business with Bentonville. It’s at

* A good site for tracking day-to-day news stories about Wal-Mart and its practices is .

* PBS recently did a story, “Store Wars,” about what happened when Wal-Mart came to a small Virginia town. You can learn about it on .

Please, don’t let Wal-Mart destroy our town just as it’s poised to leap to a brighter, more prosperous future. Organize to stop this predator before it gains any traction. You did once before. You can do it again!

There You Go Again.

The Callahan/DeSilva waterfront “redevelopment” plan is another rip-off that must be stopped in its tracks, and the Vallejo Waterfront Coalition is doing a commendable job in educating the public about the manifest pitfalls of this flawed good ole boy scheme. You can find out the facts by contacting the Coalition at or 645-3186 or stopping by their booth at Sacramento and Georgia – the “Free Speech Corner” – next time you’re at the Farmer’s Market.

The good ole boys at the Chamber of Commerce, however, would have you believe that the facts are not in and that they have not taken a position on the Callahan/DeSilva rip-off. In their latest full page infoganda piece in the T-H, they insist that “there has been no updated plan or amended Environmental Impact Report (EIR) submitted by Callahan-DeSilva to the city recently” (italics mine) and call upon the public to “withhold specific judgment and criticism of a plan that has not yet been presented.” My reaction to that sophistry is “There you go again!”

It is the same tack the Chamber took when it threw in its lot with Bechtel on LNG. There on the masthead of the Chamber blurb is the same smiling (?) Sam Holton who posed as the front man for “Citizens for LNG,” that wholly-owned subsidiary of Bechtel that flooded our airwaves and mailboxes with their disingenuous plea to withhold criticism until “all the facts are in.”

Fact is, we had all the facts the day LNG scheme was unveiled. Fact is, we had all the facts, when Callahan/DeSilva announced its plan years ago to cover our waterfront with high-rise, high price condos and industrial strength office buildings. Fact is, both plans were sent back to the drawing board for cosmetic revisions only after public criticism revealed the facts of their shortcomings. Thus, Bechtel’s 1500 megawatt power plant became the many-month “up to 950 megawatt” mantra of T-H articles. A pig is still a hog is still a sow, and no amount of tweaking is going to change the abomination we were presented with by Callahan/DeSilva.

As someone who “truly” feels the need to “immediately” criticize the plan that was and will be before the Council, I urge Messrs. Holtan and Wells to be equally “honest and forthright” concerning your motives and ultimate position on this matter. You came pretty close in your T-H infoganda piece in which you admitted “The Chamber has supported previous plans to develop the Waterfront, and it is extremely likely (italics mine) that we will support future plans to develop the waterfront.” Bottom line? You support “development” of the waterfront in the abstract absent concrete facts. Now, please, don’t bother me with pleas to “get the facts.”

The Chamber’s “Money Maker”

At the Council’s depressing budget hearings last month, young Mr. Wells had the chutzpah to stand before the Council and claim that the Chamber’s sister organization, the Vallejo Convention and Visitors Bureau, is the only city-funded entity that “makes money for the city.” How so? Now get this, it does so by bringing in recently increased tourist occupancy taxes (TOT). Huh? Wasn’t the TOT increased to fund the Visitors Bureau at an even higher level than in 2002-03? Doesn’t the incremental increase go into the coffers of the Visitors Bureau, rather than the general fund? Have the Bureau or the Chamber ever provided the Council or the citizens of this city with a concrete accounting of what they have brought to the city in terms of businesses, conventions, jobs, dollars, cents? Maybe the Chamber, in its next T-H blurb, could provide such an accounting. I doubt it would take much space.

Speaking of Taxes

What’s this silliness about the City Council voting July 20 to support a half cent sales tax increase measure on the November ballot? The purpose? To raise $140 million for transportation – read up-county highway expansion for commuters to our ferry – “expanded” ferry service, and “more” commuter trains. Wasn’t that what the $1 bridge toll increase was for? Why transportation? Why not schools, social services, and the likes?

Community Television

Speaking of the July 20 Council meeting, I hope many of you will be there to applaud the launch of Vallejo’s community cable television channel and to ensure that its board will be truly independent and broad-based, representative of the entire community. We have waited six years for this happy moment. Kudos to Bev McGain and all the others who worked so hard to bring this to fruition.

Should you want more information about the promise of community television and how to get involved, please contact Bev McGain at 645-7006.

I look forward to hearing Shannon Lacy’s amazing artistry on the drums, our local poets, and a diversity of independent views on “our” community TV station. It will be a breath of fresh air.

Triad Downtown

Isn’t it time for some sort of update on what Triad is doing downtown? Any new elevations for that seven-story block of “upscale” condos on Virginia Street? The ones we saw a years ago inspired comments like “Looks like Stalinist architecture.” Frankly, my visit to Triad’s website doesn’t inspire much confidence of a happy improvement.

If you’d like some insight into what we might expect, go to that website, , and check out the Bellevue complex. Architecturally, it’s right up there with that shoebox that State Farm’s putting up down on Mare Island Way where the park used to be.

By the way, has anyone seen Curt Johannson about town? Must be spending a lot of time in Hiddenbrooke and Lagoon Valley.

Save Lagoon Valley

Kudos to the defenders of our open space - the Friends of Lagoon Valley, who forced a November referendum on Triad’s plans to develop Lagoon Valley, and the Greenbelt Alliance, who brought suit in Solano County Superior Court to halt the project, claiming that the Vacaville city government violated state requirements in approving the development.

I’ve been to downtown Vacaville north of I-80 and I’ve been to Lagoon Valley. They are places worth conserving, lest all of Solano County become a numbing, soulless mall surrounded by ticky-tackys – yes, like mine – on every surrounding hillside. I am so glad also for friends in Benicia, including our Sierra Club, who have fought to save Sky Valley. Would that they and others had put up a fight for the Bordoni Vineyard. Is it too late?

For its part, Triad allows it will only develop 27% of Lagoon Valley, the rest remaining “open space for perpetuity.” Sure, just like the “perpetuity” about to end. In the current post-perpetuity phase, Triad assures us a maximum of 200 homes a years will be built under the June Vacaville City Council- approved plan that envisages transforming the now pristine Lagoon Valley into a tract of 1,300 homes, a golf course, and other commercial development.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s what our city council and Triad did to another hollow off I-80 called Hiddenbrooke. I mention the two – Lagoon Valley and Hiddenbrooke - together, because they share the same developer – Triad. Members of the Vacaville City Council and the would-be residents of Lagoon Valley might want to talk to their neighbors in Hiddenbrooke about their experience with Triad and the Vallejo city government. Did they get the promised school, firehouse, park, I-80 interchange that go with a real community?

Want to learn more about how Hiddenbrooke got shortchanged? Check out

It’s Summer. Get Out and Enjoy.

For heaven’s sake don’t let all this crap get you down. It’s summer and life is beautiful here in California and, especially, Vallejo. God is good and generous.

I hope you all enjoyed the Fourth of July as much as I did. That ride in the United Democrats “moving rally” in the parade started the day on an upbeat note. I got to Vacaville in time for an early evening ordination and home – to Glen Cove – in time to watch the fireworks not only in Vallejo, but in Richmond, San Rafael, and, out my front window, Benicia and Martinez. The dog was frazzled, but I was dazzled. Do we have a great town or what?!

And it’s about to get better. It’s time for the Solano County Fair which begins next Friday, July 16 with Chaka Khan. Being an oldie but hopefully goodie, I look forward to seeing you later with the Motown and Oldies Forever bands, the Commodores, and Four Tops. During the day, you’ll find me around the border collie round-ups and racing pigs.

And, as the fair winds down, don’t forget the Vallejo Inter-tribal Council Pow Wow on our still green waterfront. It’s a fun and moving event.

And, as befits summer in Vallejo, there’s the Vallejo Main Street celebration on Georgia Street every Wednesday from 4:00 to 8:00 p.m. There’s something for everyone. This week on July 14 Five Point O presents their R&B and Rock and Roll stylings. Next week, on July 21, the California Cowboys offer a palette of country and top 40 offerings. And back to R&B and rock on July 28 with Time Bandits.

And don’t forget to spare some time to get down and dirty in the garden. Then, kicking your heals up, read a good – no, lousy – book or, lying back, contemplate the shapes of clouds and think deep thoughts.

Relay for Life

Life! Now there’s a deep thought. We have it and hopefully enjoy it. In our joy, we all remember others, once close to us, who are no longer here. I remember Mimi. There’s a plaque at UCSF Mount Zion – it bears a flowering cactus like the one in our garden – that won’t let me forget. It reads:

We were women of homes and gardens.

Now one is gone – one still digs.

And we are both not so far apart.

Cancer, as a bumper sticker reminded us, sucks. But it cannot deprive us of a fighting spirit, hope, or love. And we are getting tantalizingly closer to a breakthrough. It’s up to us who are still digging to help make it happen…soon…for each other..

To that end, I will be participating in the American Cancer Society Relay for Life at Sts. Patrick and Vincent August 7 and 8. I hope to raise $1000 for us – for Mimi, for you, and for me. Won’t you help? You can call me or e-mail your pledge to 554-0672 or Or you can mail me a check at: Vicki Gray, 116 Bayhurst Drive, Vallejo, CA 94591. Checks should be made out to the American Cancer Society and are fully tax deductible.

I will be glad to walk in honor of or in memory of someone you love who has been touched by cancer. I will, moreover, make sure that that person’s name is included in the Luminaria Ceremony on Saturday night, when candles are lit and we remember those who have been touched by cancer.

My plea is simple. Please help.

Peace, love, shalom, and God bless,


Monday, June 21, 2004

Our bobble-head governator and the trickle-down pain

By now you’ve heard of the Ohio company that’s produced a bobble-head doll of Governator Schwarzenegger to add to its line of other such dolls that include George W. Bush, Moses, and Jesus. You would think that Ahnuld would be pleased to be in such company. But, no, he is very protective of his screen image and objects to its “unauthorized use.” He may be governor, he proclaims, and as such a public figure whose image is in the public domain, but he is, he adds, first and foremost, an actor…a real baaaad actor. Some would say a clown who’s made our state a worldwide laughing stock.

But how he became governor and what has happened since raises questions far too serious for laughter. Take his “election” last year, another signal that, if Republicans don’t like the results, they’ll just overturn them. Why should California be any different than Florida? Disappointed by the election of Gray Davis? No prob. Gather big bucks from the billionaire crowd, send out an army of professional signature-gatherers, put up a booble-head-in-a- humvee candidate, and – Poof! – recall the person we elected four months earlier. The grounds for recall? Buyer’s remorse? Terminal dullness? Whatever! The world laughed – “They must let 14-year-olds vote out there!” And, we ooohed and aaahed.

Still ooohing and aaahing? Enjoy those daily headlines in the Times-Herald about cuts in services, under-funded schools and the like? The governator’s “plan?” Take it out of the hides of the most vulnerable, including, he tried, our dogs and cats. Slough it off to future generations. Our kids can pay off that $15 billion bond. Act responsibly? Raise taxes? No way!

It’s all part of the Republicans’ new plan of trickle down pain. Dubyah comes to Washington, heir to a healthy Clinton surplus. Three years later, we have the largest deficit in history and are pouring money down a rat hole called Iraq at a rate of about $10 billion a month...not to mention the lives of young Americans at a rate of 60 a month. So what to do? Cut the money going to states for a host of necessary programs ranging from education – Remember “No Child Left Behind?” – to public safety. Homeland Security? The states can pay.

But the trickle down doesn’t stop in Sacramento. We’re still dealing with a state budget disaster caused not only by federal cutbacks to the states, but by California’s special indignity - the deregulation foisted on us by the PG&E blue suits in The City and manipulation of the energy grid by Dubyah’s buddy Kenny Lay and their foul-mouthed grandma muggers. Ahnuld’s answer? Cut back funding to counties and cities. Let them deal with it. The Governator has bigger things to tend to…like his image. No need to deal with the legislature or “interest groups” representing the schools, the arts, public safety, or the homeless. “Over their heads,” he cries, ignoring the people’s representatives and going “directly to the people” with puerile sound-bite public appearances. Seems to be working. Last I looked, Ahnuld’s approval rating stood at 65 percent, the highest for any governor in 45 years. Must be those 14-year olds again.

Oh, it’s working all right…for Ahnuld, that is. Trouble is it’s not working for us. All the pain has finally trickled down to us. The buck stops here…in Vallejo. And it does so with a big thuuud! Layoffs throughout the city government, cutbacks in essential services, a bankrupt school district, no money for community-based activities or festivals, rate hikes, new “fees” everywhere. Pay-as-you-go 911 responses? Now there’s a new low!

But there is a real solution. We could start paying the taxes to pay for the services we demand and, yes, need. Problem is the obvious has been short-circuited by class warfare in Washington and generational warfare in Sacramento. You’ve probably pent your $600 federal refund to pay your state taxes? You can be sure, however, that the Kenny Boys of the world are still raking in their billions in refunds. If you object, you’re guilty of “class warfare” and, worse yet, envy, the truly unforgivable sin in the Republican catechism. Meanwhile, back in California, older, childless voters – like me – continue to block needed tax reform for education, welfare and those generally less fortunate than us. Ever since Prop 13, California schools have gone to hell in a hand basket. That has to end! A new system for financing schools has to be found. And the super majorities required for tax increases have to be eradicated. We all have to carry our fair share and demonstrate a concern for the most needy in our midst. Failure to do so would be a real sin. It’s called greed .


June 21, 2004