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,