Saturday, November 12, 2005

Thank You, Vallejo

Thank You, Vallejo


As someone else once said, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. And I want to thank all Vallejoans who came out to vote last week. The turnout – far heavier than normal – was heartening and bodes well for democracy in this city we all love.

I especially want to thank those of you who opened your hearts and your homes and who supported me with your time, your talents, and, yes, your hard-earned dollars. You were the wind beneath my wings and I am deeply grateful.

I also want to thank those thousands of you who put your trust in me – and Stephanie - on election day. Your votes and her election have sent a strong and hopeful message. It is morning in Vallejo and change is coming.

That change, however, will not come easily and not without our continued involvement. Please, please, stay involved – for a better Vallejo, for our children. I pledge to be there with you.

Thank you, again. Maraming salamat. Gracias.


Wednesday, October 26, 2005

An Elegy for Rosa and a Dream

Last night, October 25, 2005, a 92-year-old lady died in Detroit. We never met, but she changed my life…and all our lives. She was 42, when she boarded that Montgomery bus in 1955. I was 16, a sophomore in a New York City high school, coming of age at the end of an age, oblivious, as was she, of the shape of the new age just dawning.

I’m speaking, of course, of Rosa Louisa McCauley Parks, who, of a December day in 1955, refused to give up her seat at the front of a bus to a man – a white man – and who for that “crime” was arrested, booked, and photographed, her “mug” shot numbered 7053.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was then but 24, fresh from Boston University, full of himself and Reinhold Niebuhr, and intent not so much on social justice as on balancing the budget at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church as a brand new pastor. Dr. King had been at Dexter but a year and, as Charles Marsh noted wryly, “understood that ministerial success depended on polish in the pulpit and people in the pews.” And, so, he preached…forty-six times that first year at Dexter, seven guest lectures at other churches, and another thirteen at colleges around the country.

Montgomery at the time was the same size as Vallejo – 120,000 – but, although forty percent of the population was African American, not one sat on any city board or commission. The average annual income for a black family in Montgomery was $908 and every aspect of life there was strictly segregated by the Jim Crow laws that ruled the South of the time…including where one could sit on a bus.

Two days after Rosa Parks, already a ten-year veteran of the NAACP, got herself arrested on that bus, plans were launched for a boycott of Montgomery’s buses by the city’s blacks. Ralph Abernathy set about organizing the city’s black clergy behind the effort and focused on recruiting the new young preacher at Dexter. Dr. King resisted, citing the need to tend to Dexter’s annual meeting and preparing the church budget. Abernathy prevailed, however, and, on December 5, 1955, Martin took the reins of the Montgomery Improvement Association and the Montgomery bus boycott. His and our lives would be changed forever.

And our lives – Martin’s and mine – would come together in August 1963, when, beneath a tree near today’s Vietnam Memorial, I listened to Martin’s Dream.

Recalling the youthful optimism of that dream, I shed a tear tonight for Rosa Parks, for Martin, and, yes, myself, as I remembered what Rosa said in 1988: "I am leaving this legacy to all of you ... to bring peace, justice, equality, love and a fulfillment of what our lives should be. Without vision, the people will perish, and without courage and inspiration, dreams will die - the dream of freedom and peace."

That’s a dream we can’t let die, I won’t let die. On my desk, in constant view, there’s a short poem by Langston Hughes. It reads:
I take my dreams and make of them
a bronze vase and a round fountain
with a beautiful statue in its center
and a song with a broken heart
and I ask you:
Do you understand my dreams?

Sometimes you say you do,
and sometimes you say you don’t.
Either way it doesn’t matter.
I continue to dream.

Won’t you, too, continue to dream…of that “fulfillment of what our lives should be"?

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Watch Vicki Run!

We’re nearing the home stretch and Vicki is running faster, stronger than ever. Here are a few events along the way at which you can catch up with her and share with her your thoughts on how our city should be run:

Sunday, October 16, from 2:30 to 5:00 p.m. – Join Jill Cress and her friends at 34 Sandy Beach Road for an afternoon soiree – a fundraiser for Vicki - hors d’oeuvres, beverages, d’jour, a view to die for, and a chance to exchange views with our next council member. Suggested donation $25. Please RSVP to Vicki at 554-0672.

Sunday, October 16, from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. – Race Vicki from Jill’s to the candidates forum at the Vallejo Masonic Hall, 101 Temple Way, sponsored by the Sierra Club/Solano Group, Vallejo Heights Neighborhood Association, and Vallejoans for Community Planned Renewal. This forum, moderated by the League of Women Voters and taped for later broadcast on channel 27 or 28 by Vallejo Community Access Television (VCAT), will focus on issues related to the environment and land use. The event is free but please RSVP to Jeff Kingman at 642-2100.

Thursday, October 20, from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. – Vicki’s Glen Cove neighbors are especially invited to this forum at the Glen Cove School, Glen Cove Parkway at North Regatta. Another free chance to grill all the candidates.

Friday, October 21, from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. – Vicki, a senior herself, will join other candidates at a forum at the Florence Douglas Senior Center, 333 Amador Street. Free and open to all.

Saturday, October 22, from 3:00 to 5:00 – A meet-up with Vicki and concerned Mare Island residents who are of one mind that Vallejo is not a dump! Discuss with her what we have to do to save our regional park on Parcel 12 and stop Weston’s plans to dump toxic Bay sediment literally in the backyard of Mare Island’s pioneers. Call Wendall Quiqley at 557-2526 for details.

Monday, October 24, 7:00 p.m. – Join Vicki at the Planning Commission to oppose plans to amend the Mare Island Specific Plan to allow use of Parcel 12 – our regional park – for ancillary dredging operations and re-opening of the dredge ponds bordering new residential areas and the San Pablo Wetlands.

Tuesday, October 25, 7:00 p.m. – Pack City Hall, 555 Santa Clara Street, as Vicki and many others seek to thwart a hurried vote on the Waterfront EIR. Demand revisions contained in alternatives and postponement of a Council vote until after the election. Make your vote count.

Thursday, October 27 – Possible NAACP candidates forum. Details TBA.

Friday, October 28, from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. – With the finish line in sight, let’s party to ensure that it marks the end for all those good ole boys who’ve ruled this town for far too long. Moka Davis and John Walker provide the wine, cheese, and good vibrations for this fundraiser at JoMoka House, 637 Georgia Street, designed to put Vicki over the top. Suggested donation $25. Please RSVP to John and Moka at 554-0567.

Sunday, November 6, from 11:30 to 12:30 – Vicki takes a final breather to offer an insider’s take on running for office – the physical toll, the ethical challenges, and the spiritual opportunities. St. James Episcopal Church, 4620 California Street (at 8th Avenue), San Francisco. Call Vicki at 554-0672 for further details.

Tuesday, November 8. Election Day. Please vote! And look for details on Vicki’s victory party. That will not be one to miss.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
2 Timothy 4:7
Posted by Vicki at 09:37 PM | Comments (0)
October 09, 2005
Where I Stand

Recently someone who had read my literature asked “I know what you’re against. Now tell me what you’re for.” Fair enough, and deserving of a thoughtful answer. For all Vallejo voters deserve to know who and what they’re voting for and are right to demand that the candidates state clearly where they stand on the issues of importance to the city.

I have tried to do just that in countless one-on-one conversations, in letters-to-the-editor, in op-ed pieces, and through vehicles such as this. Sometimes, however, such attempts at clarity and specificity get lost in a cacophony of meaningless 30-second sound bites and buried beneath the mounds of trashy signs. And they certainly don’t get reported on the news pages of the Times-Herald.

So, what to do? Let me list, as clearly, as succinctly as possible, where I stand on the issues facing Vallejo today and tomorrow, for and against. If you want more detail or have a question, just send me an e-mail at All I ask is that you ask the other candidates where they stand on these issues. Mull over the answers – theirs and mine – and, then, vote.

The Good Ole Boy Network.

The bottom line in this campaign really is best summed up by that question I’ve posed: “Had Enough?”

I pledge to open the doors and windows at city hall to let in the fresh air and bright light of scrutiny that have too long been absent in the backrooms where sweetheart deals have been concocted for favored insiders. No more “auto malls,” no more bail-outs of private speculators, no more bargain basement sales of downtown properties, no more waiving of developers’ fees and sales taxes, no more lavishing of city funds – your money – on a do- nothing chamber of commerce.

A key element of breaking up the ties that bind among the good ole boys will be breaking the link between the City Council and the Redevelopment Agency. Most of the dirty work with developers and speculators gets done when the council adjourns and reconvenes a few seconds later as the Redevelopment Agency. It will take revisiting the city charter to break this link. But there may be other reasons for opening the charter, for example, to get a handle on GVRD, the Greater Vallejo Recreation District, and to staunch the firefighters’ draining of our city budget.

Kurt Henke and the Firefighters’ Union

I pledge to vote with the growing consensus on the City Council to reopen negotiation of the contract with the firefighters’ union. The current salary scale and staffing requirements are simply unsustainable. Without such a renegotiation, the city faces bankruptcy.

This is not an anti-union position and I consider myself the strongest pro-union person running. In Vallejo I have stood with the UFCW and the SEIU…as I did – physically – with Solidarity in Poland. I know what solidarity means. Moreover, other city employee unions like CAMP and the IBEW have reached equitable agreements with the city without the threats and histrionics of the IAAF’s Kurt Henke.

For far too long Mr. Henke, who does not live in Vallejo, has used such threats and tens of thousands of dollars funneled through United for a Better Vallejo, the erstwhile fire/police PAC, to influence election outcomes in Vallejo. With a seat on the chamber of commerce board, the firefighters have also ensured that the chamber, through its PAC, VALPAC, would funnel additional thousands of dollars to the same candidates. And this year, in a feat of backroom legerdemain, the firefighters have folded themselves into the Napa-Solano Central Labor Council, thus assuring themselves a veto over an independent labor voice that might diverge from theirs.

This inter-locking directorate has not served the best interests of the working men and women and taxpayers of Vallejo, but rather the well-heeled firefighters who have drained the city treasury to maintain their six-figure salaries and who, in their majority, live out of town. It’s resulted in lowered expectations and diminished possibilities for our people. This has got to stop. As I’ve said elsewhere, enough already!

Downtown and Waterfront Development

Yes, I support the long-overdue development of our downtown. Dense in-fill housing in a commercially and culturally vibrant downtown core is exactly what we need

And, I support the development of our historic and scenic waterfront in ways that would preserve the broad swath of green along Mare Island Way, minimize traffic-generating housing on Parcel A, and mesh with the downtown development in ways that would draw tourists from the ferry landing into the cultural/commercial heart of Viejo Vallejo. That means preservation of our green spaces for our festivals and children and a widened vista at the foot of Georgia Street lined on either side by restaurants, cafes, and shops beneath dense blocks of apartments and condos. And, as a former bookseller, I would be the first to applaud the arrival of a quality bookstore in our city.

Under no circumstances should Georgia Street be closed in by a hotel and convention center (more on that in a moment) or Mare Island Way lined with more cookie-cutter, cheese box office buildings like that State Farm monstrosity. Offices can and should be located in commercial areas (e.g., along Sonoma Boulevard). They do not generate the after-dark pedestrian traffic we want downtown.

Housing downtown and on Parcel A should contain an adequate share of low and moderate income units. Elevations of buildings should reflect the historic/architectural character of Vallejo and not, as State Farm does, Emeryville. And, under no circumstances, should any future housing on Parcel A or anywhere else in Vallejo be allowed to lock itself behind fences and locked gates. Gated communities are antithetical to a healthy Vallejo.

None of this is rocket science nor anti-business. Sound waterfront development can be achieved reasonably quickly by Callahan-DeSilva and with a reasonable profit.

After three-decades of to and fro on the waterfront, it is time to move forward on its development. But, let’s do it together, with adequate citizen input and considered council consideration, and with goodwill on all sides. And, as we approach this realization of our long –dreamt dreams, let’s not blow it with a mad dash to the finish. In this regard, let me state, as forcefully as I can: We’ve waited thirty years. Won’t you wait three more weeks to vote in council members who represent your views on this definitional issue for Vallejo. Please, don’t let the city council pass the waterfront EIR before the November 8 election. Make this election count!

Mare Island

I’ve been accused of “romanticizing” Mare Island. As a Naval Academy graduate and combat veteran, I plead guilty. Mare Island is the historic heart of this city and it deserves preservation as a national treasure and a tourist attraction that will put Vallejo on the map – not as a “gateway” to somewhere else but as a job-creating destination Vallejo.

To that end I fought to protect Mare Island from the LNG facility and power plant proposed by Bechtel, Shell, and our city officials. And I’m fighting now with the new residents of Mare Island to protect our regional park, our San Pablo wetlands, their children, and the students at Touro from Weston’s plan to re-open the dredge ponds on the island’s western edge – a hare-brained, small-minded scheme apparently concurred in by our city government, its eyes fixated on a quick and pitifully small buck. I know from my association with Oakland’s Breast Cancer Action, which focuses on the environmental causes of cancer, that the Bay sediment has been poisoned by the runoff from refineries and Central Valley pesticides. Do we want to truck that toxic muck through our regional park and residential neighborhoods? I don’t think so. Please send a message to the city council: Vallejo is not a dump for the rest of the Bay Area!

My vision for Mare Island is the development of our promised regional park on Parcel 12, that hill at the south end; a “Seaport Village” of shops and restaurants on Parcel 11, the Vallejo-facing waterfront strip zoned for waterfront-commercial (where Bechtel and Shell wanted to put their power plant); a living history museum comprising the drydocks, Civil War-era red brick buildings, and cranes; and, in those red brick buildings, our hotel and convention center. Having lived near Baltimore for many years, I know how respectfully, tastefully, successfully one can proceed with such development. Fells Point is a key tourist attraction on Baltimore’s waterfront. Mare Island can be the key tourist attraction on Vallejo’s waterfront. And tourism is a job-creating, pride-inducing industry worthy of this can-do Navy town.

And Mare Island should be home also to new industries in Vallejo – not the trash of LNG or dredge ponds, but clean, well-paying, future oriented high tech jobs. We’ve lost Genentech to Vacaville, Lucas Films to the Presidio, and any number of computer-oriented businesses to Silicon Valley. Vallejo has, as a Triad rep said at city council, “great DNA” – its people, buildable space on Mare Island and location, location, location. We don’t have to accept whatever comes down the pike. We need to seek what we want!

Environmentally Sound Development

Look at our hillsides. When I arrived here a decade ago, they were green. And we had, I thought, a master plan. Over the last decade, however, I’ve seen that master plan ignored, as we’ve filled every last hillside, every last green space with service-starved ticky-tacky developments, my own included. And now they’re plowing Bordoni Ranch, the last green space between Vallejo and Benicia. There will be houses chock-a-block, just feet apart. But what about schools, public safety, water, parks, markets, churches – all the things that make a city a city.

Isn’t it time to put a stop to runaway sprawl, to dust off the master plan, and consider the costs of new housing to the city and the costs to new residents deprived of basic services? Hiddenbrooke should get a fire house, Glen Cove should get a park, Northgate should get a market, and we should all get adequate schools and churches.

Wal-Mart and Other Big Boxes

Need I say more? You can browse “Vicki’s View” for these past several months and plumb all the reasons why I think Wal-Mart is bad for Vallejo and bad for America. Simply put, it is anti-labor, anti-competitive business, and an exporter of American jobs. For Vallejo, a “supercenter” on Redwood and Sonoma and eight within 13 miles would be the kiss of death for downtown and waterfront development and mean the loss of hundreds of good union jobs and existing businesses.

I understand the desire for senior citizens (of which I am one) for one-stop shopping. I understand also the desire of the unemployed and under-employed for any job. But, in the sense of solidarity I mentioned earlier, I ask you to consider the price for “low prices always” and our shared obligation for a new generation of workers trying to raise a family in the Bay Area.

Bottom line? Wal-Mart is a bottom feeder. And we don’t have to sink to their depths.

I will continue to oppose Wal-Mart or any other non-union chain (e.g., Home Depot) that seeks to expand in Vallejo. I and others will be aided in that effort by the big box ordinance passed last month by the city council.

I promise, moreover, that I will not stop at seeking to keep Wal-Mart out. I will seek a desirable tenant business for the old K-Mart site at Redwood and Sonoma and seek to develop that site in accordance with the environmentally-sensitive White Slough Area Plan which envisages mixed residential/waterfront commercial development and rehabilitation of the White Slough Lagoon as a fully tidal, nature-sustaining estuary.

Crime and Public Safety

There is no more meaningful charge we can lay on a public official than to demand accountability for the public safety of all our citizens. I will not skimp on that score be it with regard to police or fire protection or emergency services. Indeed, I will seek to fund a fire house at Hiddenbrooke, not out of the city’s reserves but out of savings achieved from a renegotiation of the firefighters’ contract, and will seek to put more police on the street, including if possible, reinstitution of the downtown bicycle patrols.

The North and South Vallejo Police Sub-Stations should be maintained. And, let me assure you, I will never vote for silly proposals such as those last spring to turn out street lights in the middle of blocks or to levy 911 fees for emergency calls.

Nor should we skimp on ensuring adequate community-based development grants (CBDG) for effective violence-preventing, hope-inducing programs such as Fighting Back, the Omega clubs, and grassroots neighborhood programs such as Gail Williams’ Stop the Violence campaign.

Arts and Culture

Vallejo has a vibrant – and varied – arts and culture scene of which we can all be justifiably proud and which we and the city government should support. I have sought to do my part, purchasing the works of Vallejo’s artists, occasionally reading my own poetry at Listen & Be Heard, and serving on the board of V-CAT, our fledgling public access TV station which should be on the air this month.

The city government, however, has fallen flat on its face on any number of occasions in terms of its support of arts and culture. Witness its near-decision this spring to zero out funding for the Naval and Historical in favor of turning the entirety of the TOT or tourist occupancy tax over to the Visitors and Convention Bureau. The TOT should be shared evenly among our tourist-generating cultural institutions such as the museum.

Equally egregious toward the end of August was the decision to look the other way while Comcast and an overly eager Lincoln School principal committed cultural vandalism by painting over the beloved historic mural that has for years graced the school’s wall on Sonoma Boulevard. That mural should be restored to its original condition – something that can be done by Harold Beaulieu and his student artists working from Harold’s detailed photos of the original.


The city council is separated from and has no jurisdiction over the school board. I pledge, however, to develop good relations with our elected school board officials and teachers and administrators throughout the school system.

I will seek also to maximize areas of cooperation between the city, schools, GVRD, and our cultural institutions to reduce costs and enrich the learning environment.

And I urge you to take an interest, especially as parents, in the school board elections and in the daily running of our schools. Go to PTA meetings, talk with your children’s teachers, and, above, talk with your children.


One thing I have had difficulty understanding is why Vallejo, with essentially the same population as Fairfield and Vacaville, has half the parkland as those cities, most of it not nearly as well maintained. I have the impression that GVRD is broke and broken.

I am open to other suggestions, but wonder why GVRD cannot be absorbed into the city government. However it is done, GVRD has to be made more responsive to the needs and desires of Vallejoans. Perhaps something as simple as making the appointment of board members more competency-based and more transparent would suffice. I look forward to discussing possible solutions with citizens and, consistent with the Brown Act, with officials of GVRD.


This may have run on a bit too long, but I thought you deserved to know where I stand. You will probably disagree with some of my positions but at least you’ll know what they are and what you’re voting for. I hope, however, that you’ll agree with most of what you’ve just read and that you will appreciate this effort at candor and plain speak. And I hope that you will seek similarly clear statements from the other candidates and vote with your head and your heart for a better Vallejo. Together we can do it!

Finally, I sincerely solicit your comments and questions. I can be reached at 554-0672 and Thank you very much for listening to me. I promise to listen to you.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Had Enough?

I’ve been going around town asking people one simple question about how their town is run: Had enough?

For my part, I’ve had enough with the stranglehold the firefighters’ union has had on our city’s finances and politics. And I’ve had enough with Kurt Henke playing politics with our money.

The city is broke only partly because of reduced revenues from the state and other sources. In far greater part, it is broke because of the inflated and no longer sustainable salary scale of our firefighters – set in a time when our city was far better off financially and based on a spurious comparison study with far more affluent Bay Area communities. It is time to get real.

It is time to get real also about overtime. Last year, when the reality of our fiscal situation started to come into focus, the City negotiated supplemental agreements with its employee unions. The aim of those agreements was to rein in costs on an across-the-board, share-the-pain basis. To their credit, the police and the city’s civilian workers have fulfilled their undertakings. The Fire Department, however, has completely ignored its undertakings, asking for an additional $750,000 to cover overtime expenses and racking up $200,000 in overtime in July alone.

What’s Mr. Henke’s response? He storms into the August 9 Council meeting and accuses the Council and, in particular Councilmembers Cloutier and Pearsall of playing politics, saying we could cut overtime by hiring new firefighters. Talk about Chutzpah! They know that, I know that, and Mr. Henke knew that when he agreed to the supplemental last year. And we all know that, under current circumstances, we cannot make those very desirable new hires – not until and unless we get the overall Fire Department budget under control.

I applaud Messrs. Cloutier and Pearsall and Ms. Schivley for having the courage to face up to that imperative. It is high time for the City to re-negotiate its contract with the firefighters to adjust salary scales and staffing patterns to levels reflecting current realities. If that means re-opening the City Charter, so be it!

It is also high time for Mr. Henke to get off his high horse from which he threatens Vallejoans with cuts in essential emergency services and seeks to bully our elected officials. For too long, the firefighters, through their PAC, United for a Better Vallejo, have played an unhealthy role in electing those officials – officials they then come back to, a thumb to their collective nose and their other hand out in expectation of another bailout.

Enough already!

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Sliming of Cindy Sheehan

A Vacaville mom grieves her son and seeks to ask the President why. It touches a nerve and other Gold Star parents and average Americans join the chorus. The question grows louder, more insistent: "WHY?"

The response? Compassion? Honest dialogue? No, the right wing slime machine swings into high gear, Karl Rove's chubby fingers on the throttle. Chickenhawks Matt Drudge and Bill O'Reilly toss the first clumps of mud. She had her "audience" with our naked emperor and should gratefully shut up. To them, her disheveled appearance in that roadside ditch suggests a deteriorating mental situation...rather than the heat and filth of a central Texas summer.

Then came the gutter mouths on KNEW. Cindy, a noontime stand-in for Jeff Katz opined, is probably mentally disturbed or on meth. Isn't that what Vacaville's famous for? To Glen Beck, that Limbaugh wannabe, she's nothing more than a "tragedy slut."

Then came the violence. The shotgun blast on the edge of a Sunday prayer service. The midnight ride of a self-styled Paul Revere at the wheel of a chain-dragging pick-up truck, plowing the white crosses and American flags into the Texas mud. Oh, what a Christian! Oh, what a patriot! Oh, what bravery! What, one wonders, comes next?

And, all the while, our Chicken-in-Chief huddles in his ranch, playing cowboy in his boots and mirrored glasses, chainsaw at the ready, occassionly venturing out for a fundraiser, speeding silently by the desecrated flags and the broken crosses, each bearing the name of a dead young American.

And, still, the questions remain. Why? And what, Mr. President, is the "noble cause" that demanded young Casey's life...and the thousands upon thousands of other American and Iraqi lives? We're waiting Mr. President, we're waiting. "Freedom's on the march" won't cut it anymore.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Wal-Mart's Push Poll

Just a week after their Sacramento spinmeister Kevin Loscatoff stood before the Vallejo Planning Commission and asked for a debate that would not get personal, Wal-Mart has begun a push poll that begins with "What is your opinion of Vicki Gray who is running for city council?" Not to worry, Kevin, I'm flattered and deeply appreciate Wal-Mart's getting my name out there.

Typical of such polls, it touts the myriad glories of the two - you heard right, two - supercenters Wal-Mart plans for Vallejo - ranging from tree-lined sidewalks to buildings that are "14 percent more energy efficient." "Than what?" is not disclosed. Neither is the identity of the poll's sponsor. It does goes on, however, to reveal a lot about Wal-Mart's plans for Vallejo, its tactics, and its target audience…and just plain targets.


Let's begin with targets, audiences and otherwise. First, Wal-Mart doesn't want to hear from women. Its pollster insists on talking to the "eldest male in the household." Why would we expect otherwise from an outfit being sued by its female "associates" for gender inequality?

After asking for your opinion of Vallejoans for Responsible Growth and the city council as a body, the pollster will seek your views on three sitting council members - Pamela Pitts, Joanne Schively, and Tom Bartee. Might that be a supporter, an opponent, and a swing vote? Any way you cut it, these three can expect to hear from Wal-Mart.

In a soaring moment of chutzpah, this poll by a pathologically anti-union firm touts good jobs for those in the building trades unions but fails to address the union-status of the 400 sales and service jobs it claims it will create. One hopes that those in the construction unions will stand by their brothers and sisters in the UFCW in their life-and-death struggle for decent wages and benefits. As Andy Stern and the SEIU underscored this week, "solidarity" is more than just a word; it's an attitude that seems to have fallen out of style.

Perhaps with another union in mind, the pollster suggests that its planned supercenters would mean more funding for police and firefighters. Given the closure of other stores - Safeway? Raley's? Seafood City? And Wal-Mart's existing store at Meadows Plaza. - that would surely follow this invasion of the supercenters, such putative tax benefits are just as problematic as Wal-Mart's job projections. Singling out the police and firefighters shows, however, that Wal-Mart understands who runs this town.

And despite its opposition to any big box legislation that might discriminate against Wal-Mart or limit your God-given "freedom to shop wherever you want," the poll will ask for your views - very specifically - on Nugget and Food-4-Less.


There were two numbers - two and 160,000 - that caught my attention and that should seize yours. The latter, the pollster says, is the square footage of the supercenter planned for Redwood and Sonoma - waaay beyond the 90,000 sq. ft. ceiling currently in the big box ordinance wending its way through the Planning Commission. Two is actually the bigger - more important - of the two numbers, for, you will be informed that Wal-Mart plans a second supercenter to be located at Admiral Callaghan Lane and Columbus Parkway (Whatever happened to that "auto mall"?) Speaking of numbers, Wal-Mart's second Vallejo supercenter would be less than two miles from the first on Sonoma. Why not build one on every block? Don't we all deserve our very own corner supercenter?

Seriously, however, I hope that the City's traffic engineers are taking a cold hard look at what's coming down the pike. I hope, too, that the local business members of the Chamber of Commerce will stand up for their interests in the face of such blatantly predatory saturation marketing tactics.


One of the questions toward the end of the poll asks what you would think of putting Wal-Mart's "right" to do business anywhere it wants - and, presumably, any way it wants - on the ballot…thus overriding whatever your elected city or county government might do to fend off the invasion of big boxes and protect our community. Wal-Mart has done this elsewhere - in, for example, Contra Costa and Inglewood. Wal-Mart does not take "No!" for answer. As one of its senior executives said on television, "Wal-Mart is like a speeding train. It wants to hit something!" That, unfortunately, would be us.

Wal-Mart wants to work its will on Vallejo and will spare no amount of money to do just that. Witness this telephone poll, conducted I've been told by a marketing firm out of Houston; the door-to-door polling that I understand has also begun; the front group - CAN or Citizens Action Network - taking shape just inside the door of the Meadows Plaza Wal-Mart; and the increased volume of Wal-Mart advertising on our local cable channels.

This will be a long and probably nasty fight. Friends have warned me "You can't win. Wal-Mart's too big, too powerful." My response? They don't know Vallejo. We beat Bechtel. We beat Shell. And we will beat Wal-Mart!

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Okay Folks, It's Crunch Time

The warmth of summer has finally arrived and many of us are heading for the hills – or ocean – or just lolling in our gardens at home. Just where Wal-Mart wants us, as the “Supercenter” fight heats up. Unfortunately, however, there’s work to be done, if we’re to have any hope of heading the Bentonville Bullies off at the pass. The first battle looms on Monday, July 18, when the Planning Commission holds a hearing to consider Code Text Amendment #05-0002 governing the operation of big box stores in Vallejo.

We will need a big crowd at that hearing and a lot of grunt work prior to it. Now is the time to let our elected officials and the larger public know the level of our opposition. Now is the time to flood the desks at city hall and the pages of the Times-Herald with expressions of opposition to Wal-Mart and of support for Vallejoans for Responsible Growth. Above all, we need thousands of signatures on our petition of opposition.

Earlier in this space, I promised to keep you up to date. Here is where we stand as of Thursday evening. Stay tuned. The train is moving, and, as one Wal-Mart official put it, “it wants to hit something.” That would be us.


As of this afternoon, Wal-Mart had not yet filed an application. But, as Kevin Loscotoff, Wal-Mart’s “community relations spokesman,” said in the Contra Costa Times June 26, “the formal permit application is ready for the Vallejo Supercenter,” and, as the flyers in its Meadows Plaza store assure us, “The proposed Supercenter will be located at the former Kmart site on Sonoma Boulevard and Redwood Street.” Wal-Mart doesn’t recognize the subjunctive, nor understand “No.”

When that application is filed, it will be for a use not permitted on the site in question under the White Slough Specific Area Plan of 1995. That plan calls for the environmental rehabilitation of the White Slough Lagoon and mixed-use housing and waterfront commercial development. Plopping another ugly big box onto the Kmart site is contrary to the existing plan and would require public hearings to change that plan.


Faced with the prospect of a monster “Supercenter” and the possibility of others, the City Council directed staff to present to it legislation that would regulate all such big box stores within Vallejo.

The first step in that process will be consideration by the Planning Commission of a big box ordinance – Code Text Amendment #05-0002 – which “will revise the Zoning Ordinance to regulate large retail establishments that sell a combination of discounted merchandise and groceries and other non-taxable merchandise.” That meeting will take place at City Hall, 555 Santa Clara Street, at 7:00 p.m. on Monday, July 18.

The city’s lawyers are still in the drafting process, but it is my understanding at this stage that the amendment could limit non-club big box stores of this variety to 90,000 square feet with a sub-limit of 10,000 square feet for the sale of groceries and other non-taxable merchandise. While the size limits seem reasonable, I remain troubled by the “non-club” reference being floated about. That could open the door for a “Sam’s Club.”

The ordinance would probably also include fairly stringent requirements for an economic analysis as part of any big box application. This analysis would have to include trade-offs related to jobs, taxes, and city services and the overall impact on the city and community.

In the first instance, you should direct your comments in writing to the project planner, Katherine Donovan, Planning Division, City Hall, P.O. Box 3068, Vallejo, CA 94590.


If we are to have the desired impact, we need many more signatures on our petition opposing a Wal-Mart “Supercenter” in Vallejo and supporting the White Slough Specific Plan. To that end, we need to expand our efforts beyond the Saturday Farmers’ Market and into the neighborhoods.

We now have permission to canvass customers at several supermarkets around town. I hope that those of you who can staff a table at a market in your neighborhood or circulate a petition where you live will contact Joe Feller (415-902-3395), Gary Wettstein (707-642-1873), or me (707-554-0672 or at We will put together a schedule.


I don’t shop at Wal-Mart, since I consider doing so crossing a picket line. Today, however, I did slip into their Meadows Plaza store to check out a rumor I had heard. Sure enough, Wal-Mart has a front group forming. As you enter the store, there’s a big sign “Want to Buy Groceries at Wal-Mart” and a table containing flyers, stacks of cards, and a bucket to put them in.

The cards start out with a cheery “Yes! Please include me as a Supporter of a Wal-Mart Supercenter coming to Vallejo. You can use my name and count on me!” They end with a box to check and, next to it, “I support Wal-Mart! Please sign me up as a member of the Customer Action Network!”

Those of you who had some experience with a similar effort by Bechtel and Shell might have some fun with this. At very least, please call Wal-Mart at 1-800-630-9226 to ask for more information on “CAN.” Tell them you’re from CANNOT.


Kevin Loscotoff is Wal-Mart’s "community affairs manager” who resides in Sacramento – close to our bobble-head governator – doling out the Walton’s money in $50,000 chunks for Arnold’s favorite anti-union initiatives. He, Loscotoff, is yet to be seen in Vallejo. From behind his wizard’s veil, he issues pronouncements and bad mouths average citizens – the community that wants to talk with him.

I wrote an open letter to Lee Scott asking, among other things, to do just that – talk with Mr. Loscotoff. Unfortunately, when the Times-Herald printed portions of that letter on June 23, it omitted three paragraphs related to Mr. Loscotoff. I objected to that omission as follows:

“Those paragraphs are substantive, dealing with Wal-Mart's bullying tactics, the availability of Wal-Mart's "community affairs manager, Kevin Loscotoff, and Mr. Loscotoff's scurrilous accusations against local labor leaders. Mr. Loscotoff has yet to answer any questions from members of this community. I hope that you will now print the omitted paragraphs which I hope Mr. Loscotoff will read - as they were intended - as a public challenge to a public debate. Those paragraphs, which refer to several questions addressed to Mr. Scott, read as follows:

"These are simple requests for factual information which we would have, in the normal course of events, addressed to Kevin Loscotoff, who has been described in the press over the last year as the 'community affairs manager for Wal-Mart.' Unfortunately, however, despite his myriad conversations with the press, he has not been in touch with anyone that I'm aware of in the Vallejo community. Nor is there any information available about how to contact Mr. Loscotoff. Address? Telephone number?

Were I able to contact Mr. Loscotoff, I would tell him, among other things, that it does not help Wal-Mart's case in this community which places high value on the dignity of honest labor to throw about one-liners characterizing considered opposition to Wal-Mart's 'Supercenters' as a "classic example of labor leaders using the court to subvert the will of the people as expressed by their elected leaders." Has Wal-Mart never sued or otherwise sought to overturn "the will of the people as expressed by their elected leaders" in California city councils (e.g., Inglewood, Richmond, Hercules, Turlock, Lodi)?

I would also tell Mr. Loscotoff, as I tell you now, that I and/or others from the community would be available to appear with him before community organizations to discuss the issues surrounding a possible Wal-Mart 'Supercenter.'"


Readers of the Times-Herald might be forgiven for asking such questions. Though we’ve been active for months, Vallejoans for Responsible Growth are words you have not yet seen on the news Pages of the Times-Herald. You might ask them why? 644-1141 or 553-6827.


Whoever we are, we are not alone. As I've said elsewhere, Wal-Mart plans EIGHT "Supercenters" within 17 miles of downtown Vallejo. It's called "saturation marketing" - drive out the competition, close your then "superfluous" stores, jack-up the prices.

I've tried to connect the dots and good folks are coming together. And last Thursday - thanks primarily to Brent Schoradt of the Greenbelt Alliance - several groups from around Solano, Napa, and Contra Costa counties got together to connect those dots.

There has already been follow-up. Monday, I was at the Napa County Courthouse, where I felt the Am Can United case against its city council and Wal-Mart got a fair hearing and will hopefully get a positive decision in the next ninety days - for the citizens of American Canyon. And, on Wednesday, Joe Feller of Vallejo's Greens was there to lend support to Linda Faivre and her efforts to halt Wal-Mart's efforts to convert Fairfield's Mission Villagle Mall into yet another "Supercenter" a scant three miles from the one planned for Suisun City. Enough already!

This is a county-wide, Bay Area-wide fight. If you're ready to join, contact Brent at or just reply in comment to this column.

Happy Fourth of July! Isn't freedom great?!


Friday, June 17, 2005


Who is Lee Scott? He would probably prefer to be known simply as just another Wal-Mart “associate.” To the rest of us, however, he is well known as the very arrogant president and CEO of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. which is intent on opening forty so-called “Supercenters,” each the size of several football fields, in California, six of them within 17-miles of my home in Vallejo. There are many things one could call such plans – “greed” and “megalomania” come quickly to mind.

In the process of pushing forward with its slash-and-burn tactics of bullying, suing, and greasing the local skids with money stained by the sweat of non-union sweat shop laborers, Wal-Mart is gobbling up the green spaces between our communities and trashing them from within.

“Wal-Mart doesn’t take ‘No’ for an answer,” one Vallejo city council member warned. Well, neither Lee Scott nor Wal-Mart knows Vallejo very well. Haven’t they heard we’ve got a citywide campaign going: “Don’t Trash My Town!”?

We don’t roll over easily for the big boys, be they from Bechtel or Bentonville, Shell or Shenzheng. We roll up our sleeves. And, as the following letter should suggest, we’ve just begun to fight.

VALLEJO, CA 94591-8039

June 14, 2005

Mr. Lee Scott
President and CEO
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
Bentonville, AR 72716-8611

Dear Mr. Scott:

This is an open letter – i.e., copies to the press - on behalf of the hundreds of Vallejoans, who have already signed our petition to this effect. I would like to inform you that Vallejoans for Responsible Growth:

Opposes any Wal-Mart “Supercenter” within the Vallejo city limits
and, in particular, at the old K-Mart site at Sonoma Boulevard and Redwood Street.

Urges Strict Adherence to the White Slough Specific Area Plan as approved by the Vallejo City Council on November 28, 1995 and the Solano County Board of Supervisors on January 9, 1996.

Simply put, a Wal-Mart “Supercenter” does not, in our view, comport with the economic interests of our city, proper land use, nor our vision of Vallejo as a desirable place to live in and to visit. We will do all in our power to ensure that Vallejo remains “Supercenter”-free.

In this regard, might I ask:

1.Whether and when Wal-Mart might apply for a building permit for a “Supercenter” in Vallejo?

2.Why does Wal-Mart feel it is necessary or might be profitable to open a “Supercenter” in Vallejo, given its already stated intentions to open such stores in Richmond, Hercules, Suisun City, Fairfield, American Canyon, - all within a 17-mile radius of the planned Vallejo store - and several other cities only slightly further afield? In particular, how would you differentiate the market served by the planned Vallejo store and that under construction in American Canyon, a city of maybe 4,000 families only 3.5 miles away?

3.How does Wal-Mart define “predatory” or “saturation” marketing?

4.Has Wal-Mart or its representatives hired or paid a fee to Al Lavezzo?

5.Have Wal-Mart’s public affairs representatives contacted any Vallejo City Council members ad seriatum or otherwise?

6.With whom, if anyone, in the Vallejo City Government have Wal-Mart’s representatives been in contact?

7.Will Wal-Mart be assigning a public relations representative to Vallejo? If so, what is the name of that person and when will s/he be arriving?

These are simple requests for factual information which we would have, in the normal course of events, addressed to Kevin Loscotoff, who has been described in the press over the last year as the “community affairs manager for Wal-Mart.” Unfortunately, however, despite his myriad conversations with the press, he has not been in touch with anyone that I’m aware of in the Vallejo community. Nor is there any information available about how to contact Mr. Loscotoff. Address? Telephone number?

Were I able to contact Mr. Loscotoff, I would tell him, among other things, that it does not help Wal-Mart’s case in this community which places high value on the dignity of honest labor to throw about one-liners characterizing considered opposition to Wal-Mart’s “Supercenters” as a “classic example of labor leaders using the court to subvert the will of the people as expressed by their elected leaders.” Has Wal-Mart never sued or otherwise sought to overturn “the will of the people as expressed by their elected leaders” in California city councils (e.g., Inglewood, Richmond, Hercules, Turlock, Lodi)?

I would also tell Mr. Loscotoff, as I tell you now, that I and/or others from the community would be available to appear with him before community organizations to discuss the issues surrounding a possible Wal-Mart “Supercenter.”

In closing, allow me to refer to your February 23 speech to Town Hall, Los Angeles. This is, indeed, “an auspicious moment” in which to engage in “the vital debate the country needs in the years ahead about the proper role of business and government in assuring that capitalism creates a decent society.” Let me echo your pledge: “When it comes to playing our part in these emerging debates, we intend to deliver.” Vallejoans for Responsible Growth will be there. Will Wal-Mart?


Vicki Gray
Vallejoans for Responsible Growth

Monday, May 23, 2005

Wal-Mart County

Wal-Mart County, formerly known as Solano County, used to be a decent place to live, a place with rolling green hills and an occasional marsh, lagoon, or lake separating our communities strung along I-80 between the Carquinez Strait and the Yolo wetlands.

No more, I fear – not since the bullies from Bentonville rode into town, flashing their cash in the faces of small-minded small-town mayors and council members strapped for revenue. They picked them off, one by one, starting, just a mile across our Napa border, with American Canyon, population 12,000. Then came Dixon, population 16,000. And now Suisun City, a veritable metropolis of 27,000. Each will have its very own Wal-Mart Supercenter, each the size of seven football fields.

In the case, of Suisun City, that rustic four-square-mile “Gateway” (to?) whose admittedly handsome downtown development was recently touted as an environmentally-friendly wave of the future on “Bay Area Backroads,” the Wal-Mart parking lot may prove bigger than the town. But, then, the town will have to grow to accommodate Wal-Mart and the rest of the 650,000 square-foot project on the Gentry property northwest of town. In order to do that, however, Suisun City will have to annex that last greenbelt between it and Fairfield…and give up its vision of being something different in the midst of the spreading sprawl of Wal-Mart County.

That other “Gateway” – this time to the Napa Valley – American Canyon has given Wal-Mart permission to bulldoze the land east of Napa Junction, the town’s new “downtown.” That bulldozing continued until just a day or two ago despite a court order to stop, only because Wal-Mart convinced the judge to insist that its opponents in this town of maybe 4,000 families post an indemnification bond of $180,000. Well they posted that bond and a hearing is now set for June 23. If, however, Wal-Mart prevails, it will resume paving its football-field-sized parking lot, which will forever define “downtown” American Canyon.

But what about the big boys – Vallejo and Fairfield? Not to worry, Wal-Mart has “Supercenters” for us too, in both cases, right downtown.

In the case of Fairfield, Wal-Mart, according to the Daily Republic, “told” Fairfield that it planned to open a “Supercenter” at Mission Village on North Texas Street – a scant three miles from the “Supercenter” that will be built on the “windswept grassland” bordering the marshland between it and Suisun.

And, in Vallejo, another “Gateway” (Is there no “here” here?), Wal-Mart, which, as one council member warned, “does not take ‘no’ for an answer,” intends to build another “Supercenter” on the old K-Mart site at Sonoma Boulevard and Redwood Street. That’s a mere 3.5 from “downtown” American Canyon, across the street from Seafood City, two blocks from Raley’s, and maybe half a mile each from our downtown and waterfront for which Vallejoans harbor truly visionary hopes.

Does this strike you as a dream come true? There are, let me assure you, neighbors who welcome the prospect of wall-to-wall Wal-Marts and the sweet assurance of picking up the next Wal-Mart sign ahead of them before losing the last one in the rear view mirror.

Others of us, however, wake up in a cold sweat from the nightmare of driving north across our soaring Al Zampa Bridge and hitting that first sign before the toll booths “Welcome to Wal-Mart County” and, just beyond the booths, just before that first Vallejo exit, “Welcome to Cheap Town.” It’s like being caught in Rod Serling’s black and white “Twilight Zone.”

But, like the endings of those “Twilight Zone” episodes, there’s still Rod’s soothing voice – “Does it have to end this way?”

Hell, no! Not if we wake up in time to look at the green hillsides and our multi-hued, uniquely beautiful downtowns that reflect our vibrant past and even brighter future in the sunshine of the present of this spring morning.

We don’t have to accept the dull, downward-looking mantra of “Low Prices, Always.” These are our towns, our greenbelts, our lives. They are not cheap. They are a treasure we want to hand up to our children and grandchildren.

What do we have to do to ensure that we wake up in time…and still in one piece, our integrity and heritage intact?

First, we have to recognize that Wal-Mart wants us to keep dreaming our isolated, short-sighted dreams. They don’t want us to see the inter-connected big picture of their county-wide, state-wide plans. They don’t want us to see the long-term, broad-ranging consequences of the short-term, shallow gains they dangle before us.

Consider the big picture, the adverse consequences.

Jobs? Oh, Wal-Mart touts jobs, and the unemployed and under-employed are enticed. But, by what? For Wal-Mart offers only non-union, minimum wage, low benefit jobs that depress the area-wide job market and denigrate the dignity of honest labor. Their use of the patronizing term “associates” to describe their employees is but a subterfuge to deny those employees the right to organize themselves in unions. Whenever they attempt to so organize, as in Quebec, Canada, Wal-Mart closes the store and fires all its “associates.” The only union it has ever recognized is the communist front organization which works with the communist government of China and Wal-Mart to suppress workers’ rights.

Locally, Wal-Mart has publicly announced that, when it opens its “Supercenters” in Dixon, Fairfield, and Vallejo, it will close its existing stores in those communities. Thus, the 400 “new” jobs it touts for each “Supercenter” may be half that number, maybe less if competitors like Raley’s, Albertson’s, and Safeway flee the coop in the face of Wal-Mart’s predatory practices. And, what happens job-wise, when good paying union jobs are lost with the closing of competitive markets and other stores.

Tax revenues? According to the Daily Republic, Suisun’s pie-eyed Mayor Jim Spering estimates his city’s sales tax revenue of $800,000 would double once Wal-Mart’s “Supercenter” is built. Don’t hold your breath. It will probably prove a wash at best when other markets leave and worse when others shy away.

Cheap prices? Always! And always on the back of cheap sweat shop labor in places like China, Bangladesh, and Central America – American jobs shipped overseas by the folks with the red, white, and blue signs and smiling happy faces. And the goods brought in? Cheap…always! The results: lost American jobs and a ballooning trade deficit. This is not sound economics. And it is certainly not patriotism. All those magnetic yellow ribbons – you know, “Support Our Troops” – Wal-Mart peddles? Made in China!

So, what can you do? Wake up! Shake off this nightmare, learn the facts, and fight off these predators.

You can begin by attending the study session sponsored by Vallejoans for Responsible Growth (VRG) which will be held at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, May 26 in the Joseph Room of the JFK Library at Santa Clara and Georgia Streets. We will show a 10-minute video, provide an update on what’s likely to happen next, and organize our citizen opposition. Vallejo City Council Members Gary Cloutier, and Joanne Schively have already announced that they will be there to field questions.

For further information, please contact VRG at 554-0672 or or by writing us at Vallejoans for Responsible Growth, 164 Robles Drive Box #125, Vallejo, CA 94591-8039. You may also keep up-to-speed by checking regular updates on

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Be Very Afraid

Be afraid, be very afraid. Freedom of the press and, with it, your right to know is under frontal assault.

I know whereof I speak. I worked for three years in communist Poland with the United States Information Agency and some of my best friends at the time were Polish communist journalists who, despite that second adjective, sought to report truthfully, helpfully to their fellow Poles on what was happening in their country and the world.

Those journalists, struggling to be honest, shared with me their thoughts on dealing with censorship. It was a time – in the mid-1970s – when rules were being “loosened.” Prior to that time, they wrote the truth as they saw it and let the censors do their dirty work. Pieces of the truth would leak out, and they were not responsible. Afterward, however, prior censorship was removed. They were “free” to print what they wanted within the loose guidelines of what was and was not acceptable. If, however, their stories discomfited the government or party, they could be fired or jailed.

Those communist journalists, testing the limits of the system, confided to me that they preferred the old way of doing things. They could test those limits boldly with little fear of retribution. Under the new rules, however, they had to exercise judgment and be prepared to accept the consequences of any misjudgment. They became more timid, more gun shy, pulling their punches in advance.

American journalists, I fear, are now in that same uncomfortable situation and headed rapidly in the opposite direction, not toward greater freedom, but toward a priori enforced censorship. American media, as Bill Moyers said in a courageous speech May 15, is now being cowed into what he called “preventative capitulation.”

What began a couple of years ago as a drip by drip draining of the life blood of our freedom of the press has been transformed almost overnight into a life-threatening hemorrhage.

The American media, especially the broadcast media, are being transformed – before our very eyes – into a sycophantic propaganda arm of our ruling government and party.

Item: The literal drumbeat of cheerleading by the media for the Iraq war, coverage marked by the “political analysis” of colonels, breathless reports from “embedded” “journalists,” flapping American flags in the corners of your TV screens, and freedom of information requests needed to see the American flags on the coffins of our heroes.

Item: The manipulated chicanery last year of Swift Boat Vets, “Rathergate,” and the pre-election stand-down before the gates of Fallujah, giving the insurgents there months to prepare for the assault that began two days after the election.

Item: Planted stories by Armstrong Williams and planted questions by Jeff Gannon (aka James Guckert), whose White House pass has gotten a press pass.

Item: Taxpayer funded “infomercials” touting Administration programs circulated as “news” clips to small town TV stations.

Item: The Administration outing of Valerie Plame, the undercover CIA wife of an Administration critic, the recipient of the leak, Administration-insider Robert Novak, going untouched, while reporters who didn’t report the story are being threatened with jail time.

Item: Staged “town hall” meetings covered as “news” by Fox and CNN.

Item: The Pentagon Channel, a military propaganda outlet, being piped into American homes by satellite dish providers.

Item: Kenneth Tomlinson, a veteran of Charles Z. Wick’s Voice of America, now dispatched by Karl Rove to whip PBS and, now, NPR, into “preventative capitulation.”

It is against this background that the White House brow-beating of Newsweek over its story about the alleged desecration of the Qu’ran in Guantanamo Bay engenders such fear. Never mind that the story is probably true, having been reported months earlier by released detainees. Never mind that Newsweek had floated the story by the Pentagon without eliciting a denial. Never mind that the Department of State had promised to investigate the allegations. Never mind the still oozing scab of Abu Ghraib.

Violent protests erupted across Afghanistan and the Muslim world – precisely because the story, which is so in line with our already demonstrated behavior, is so believable. But, according to White House spokesman Scott McCllelan, the image of the United States, had been “tarnished” – not by substance of the allegations, but the fact that they were reported. He demanded a retraction by Newsweek. There was Rumsfeld of Abu Ghraib lecturing the American media about their “responsibility” to be “careful” and “cautious.” Never mind addressing the content of the story, attack the messenger! Beat the reporter, the respected Michael Isikoff, and his editors into submission. And so they have, shamelessly.

And, at the end of the day, Newsweek could not take the pressure. Watching Isikoff’s editor, Newsweek Washington bureau chief David Klaidman, playing back Rumsfeld’s words on Charlie Rose, my thoughts drifted back to communist Poland. “You can always be more cautious,” he said, “We will redouble our efforts to be careful.” The way in which he swallowed the lump in his throat, like a chastised child, was as instructive as his words. The chill made its way up my spine. Suddenly I was very afraid.

Friday, May 13, 2005

My Friend Lily

Last Friday Lily Heyen Withrow passed away at John Muir Hospital. Benicia and Vallejo lost an advocate, this country lost a patriotic daughter, and I lost a friend. Above all, however, Miko lost a devoted mom and Lew a loving wife. I do know how he feels today and won’t cheapen his grief with inadequate words.

But words were important to Lily and to those of us who were privileged to know her. She was the best damned writer in the county and the most aggressively honest reporter in the Bay Area. It was that honesty, that reportorial skill, and a keen sense of right and wrong that drove Lily to bring Vallejo’s LNG story to statewide and, indeed, national attention…when others were content to publish half the story or let it slide entirely. Whenever out-of-town reporters wanted to get up to speed, I always referred them to Lily’s many stories on For those stories were always accurate, thorough, and balanced. And, when, it was over, I recall saying – very seriously – that, if there were a Pulitizer Prize for internet reporting, Lily would have won it hands down.

I will also remember Lily as a solid patriot who understood that the best thing she could give her country was not unthinking acquiescence but the benefit of her critical thinking and her love. Her obituary was devoid of the little American flag that the Times-Herald reserves for military veterans. Funny, however, that flag still appeared right next to her ever-smiling face. One of my favorite sayings is: “Serendipity is just God’s way of keeping a low profile.” She – God – knew just where that flag belonged.

Lily imparted to the word “Liberal” the same respectability she did to “patriot.” To her it was not a dirty word, but a proud calling to stick up for the little guy in the face of sometimes outrageous odds.

And she practiced her politics the way she lived her life – strongly advocating her positions, always listening to the other person, always striving for win-win pragmatic solutions, and conducting herself always with her quiet smile and her often boisterous humor.

In Europe I learned an unusual salutation, not often or lightly given. It fits so well tonight. Farewell, dear friend, RESPECT.

Saturday, April 30, 2005

What's with those Five Stones?

At the April 26 City Council meeting, I emptied five smooth stones – from our garden – into my left fist and, referring to 1 Samuel 17, suggested that that’s all we need to defeat Wal-Mart. The mayor quipped – nervously, I thought – that he was glad I didn’t have seven stones. “Seven Stones for Seven Council Members,” now there’s an idea for a musical!

So, what, you ask, was that all about…the five smooth stones, I mean? What did I have in mind? As a student at Berkeley’s Episcopal School for Deacons, I usually have in mind my next sermon…at the school or at the church I’m interning at. Were that sermon here in Vallejo, I might well choose 1 Samuel 17:32-49:

And David said to Saul, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine. And Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are but a youth.” But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and smote him and delivered it out of his mouth; and if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and smote him and killed him. Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, seeing he has defied the armies of the living God.” And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.”

And Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!” Then Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a helmet of bronze on his head, and clothed him with a coat of mail. And David girded his sword over his armor, and he tried in vain to go, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, I cannot go with these; for I am not use to them.” And David put them off.

Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the brook, and put them in his shepherd’s bag or wallet; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine.

And the Philistine came on and drew near to David with his shield-bearer in front of him. And when the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him; for he was but a youth, ruddy and comely in appearance. And the Philistine said to David,”Am I a dog that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field.”

Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down, and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with the sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.

When the Philistine arose and came and drew near to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine.

And David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone, and slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground.

Thus endeth, one might say, today’s Bible study, with perhaps a slight addition: “My, those Old Testament writers were bloody minded.” But so too are our 21st century Philistines from Bentonville. A good preacher might also add a word of explanation relating the Scripture to the ethical issues of the world of today we live in.

This one’s rather simple, a “no-brainer” I’m inclined to say. Saul? David? Israel? They are a community – our community – Vallejo. The Philistines? They are that mob of anti-union, anti-woman, anti-minority, anti-immigrant, and, yes, predatory anti-business purveyors of the cheap, the mediocre, the unworthy, the stuff produced by non-union, non-American, unregulated workers in overseas sweatshops in China, Central America, and on tiny Pacific atolls. They go by the collective name of Wal-Mart.

Unfortunately, they’ve got allies –sycophants – in Vallejo – the voices that the Times-Herald likes to trumpet – those satisfied with “cheap town” and that shopper who reports that “(At Wal-Mart) I can get a lot of cheap stuff.” Is that really what we want – a “lot of cheap stuff” in “cheap town.” Have we no self respect, no compassion for the down-trodden foreign workers who produced our “cheap stuff,” no solidarity with our fellow American workers displaced by the exploitive practices of Wal-Mart’s minions worshipping at the altar of a rapidly shrinking Almighty Dollar…minions whipped into a semi-religious frenzy by their champion, their Goliath, Lee Scott.

Take heart. You’ve already beaten those earlier “lions and bears” - Bechtel and Shell. You’ve proven your dignity and worth. You – we – can do it again. The only question is: How many stones? The Biblical five? The seven demanded by a six-member city council? Or that one flung by David? Not wanting to tempt the Lord, I’m inclined to say “One is enough…one well-chosen, highly polished, well-aimed stone.”

Friday, April 22, 2005


And Vallejo needs you…now!

Okay, friends, here we go again. Quiet back-room behind-your-back bargaining. Big out-of-town boys in dark blue suits, money bulging from their pockets, local good ole boy lawyers in their tow. Another deal about to go down.

Maybe the Times-Herald will dribble out a few details this weekend. You'd think they might. After all, the City Council meets on it Tuesday, April typical Vallejo fashion at 5:00 p.m. Got the kids home from school yet? Home from work yet? Had your dinner? Had a chance to get up to speed on the details? To define your position? Prepare your talking points?

Have we got a deal for you! "We" are the Wal-Mart boys from Bentonville and we want you. We want Vallejo. We want a new big box "supercenter" on the old K-Mart site on Sonoma Boulevard in addition to, not instead of 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 and one down the road in Fairfield. Even the Chamber's Rick Wells has 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 the crosshairs of a very big blunderbuss.

Already last year, when rumors about this first surfaced, we heard the same arguments that were deployed earlier on behalf of LNG - tax revenues and jobs. Mayor Intintolli said he was "glad they are interested in Vallejo" and, according to the T-H last August "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, however, 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 K-Mart 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 and anti-labor. It offers only minimum wages, woefully inadequate health care and retirement benefits. It exploits women and migrant workers. And it profits 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.

Were You Aware:

Here are just a few more facts you may wish to consider before Tuesday's City Council "study session." Were you aware

…that Wal-Mart, which creates its low prices on the backs foreign sweatshop laborers and non-unionized American "associates," has targeted California for dozens of its big box "supercenters?"

…that wherever Wal-Mart drops its super-sized parking lots, local businesses are put out of business, local workers lose decent jobs and benefits, and, over the long-haul, local city coffers come up short?

…that, having picked off American Canyon, Wal-Mart now has downtown Vallejo in its sights and seeks to build just such an enormous, nightmare-traffic-generating monstrosity on Sonoma Boulevard on the old K-Mart site?

…that, in order to do so, Wal-Mart seeks to force the city and county to rewrite the 1995/96 White Slough Specific Plan which restricts development on this environmentally sensitive site to low density mixed use planned development?

…that, to this end, Wal-Mart's agents have been in conversation with city officials for nearly a year and have engaged the services of local attorneys well-known in development circles to facilitate the process?

…that another developer is interested in building a more upscale, pedestrian-friendly mixed use project at the same location - one that combines housing and human-scale commercial development comporting with the beauty of the White Slough lagoon and the city's vision for a rehabilitated Sonoma Boulevard commercial corridor?

…that the Bullies from Bentonville seek to drive off this other developer and to strong arm the city council to knuckle under to their demands? "Don't get in their way," we've been warned, "They don't take 'No!' for an answer."

…that, if Wal-Mart gets its way with Vallejo, we can kiss off the upscale, forward looking development of our downtown, our waterfront, and Sonoma Boulevard itself? Vallejo's now bright future would slip into the darkness of the "cheap town" image that one Wal-Mart shopper described to the Times-Herald on March 24.

Does all this sound familiar? We've shown the out-of-town blue suits once before that Vallejoans don't take this sort of thing lying down. We can do it again!

What Can You Do? You Can:

...educate yourself by typing "Wal-Mart" into your computer search engine. You will be amazed by the flood of information about the predatory business practices of, the pending lawsuits against, and the settlements offered by this anti-union, anti-woman, immigrant-exploiting, local-business-busting monster.

…call Mayor Anthony Intintoli at 648-4377 and Council Members Gary Cloutier, Gerald Davis, Anthony Pearsall, Pamela Pitts, and Joanne Schively at 648-4575.

…express your views to the Vallejo Times-Herald which can be reached at: Readers Opinions, Times-Herald, P.O. Box 3188, Vallejo, CA 94590; 643-0128 (fax); or, via e-mail at

…contact us, Vallejoans for Responsible Growth, at (707) 554-0672 or, for information, petitions, and/or signs to place on your lawns or in your windows - residential and/or business.

…watch for up-to-date information.

…above all, attend the Vallejo City Council Study Session on the "Big Box" Issue, Tuesday, April 26, tentatively set for 5:00 p.m., at the City Council Chambers, 555 Santa Clara Street (at Georgia).

…at that meeting, thank especially Council Members Joanne Schively and Gary Cloutier for making it possible for us to express our views in the study session they helped bring about.

…and make it clear that Vallejoans don't want any more big boxes, but rather worker and consumer friendly businesses that jibe with our positive image of Vallejo's future. We are not "cheap town," but a vibrant city on the cusp of positive change consistent with our proud heritage.

VALLEJO, CA 94591-8039

"Preserving Vallejo's Future"

Monday, February 7, 2005


Sunday before last, I visited the Oakland Museum for a trip into my past – that splendid, moving, troubling exhibit on Vietnam and California called “What’s Going On?” “What, indeed?” I thought, having turned off the headset narration, as I walked through 1965. I didn’t need the interpretation offered a new generation; it was in my bones. I found myself staring at the faces of those my age, American and Vietnamese. The past rushed in midst all those artifacts, especially those tiny “Things They Carried” – the dog tags, scapulars, Zippo lighters – displayed between montages of 1965 departures…from Travis and the Oakland Army Terminal.

Leaving via a long hallway devoted to the “legacy” of it all, I overheard a woman at the far end call to her husband “Did you leave a comment?” The man, my age, growled “Yeah, ‘Let’s put Bush in charge and do it right this time!’” I exchanged a pained glance with the young attendant, as if to say “He didn’t get it, did he? The ‘legacy,’ that is.”

Later, in the gift shop, I was in a more playful mood, when a visitor asked a clerk if they had a Bush cut-out doll book to go with those on Kennedy and Reagan. “No,” she said, “he wasn’t Vietnam era.” “Right,” I shouted across the room, “he’s Iraq-era.” In truth, the parallels – between eras, between my war and that going on now - were clearer than ever at afternoon’s end. Before heading home in the bright, warm sunlight, however, I paused to lose myself in the play of the multi-colored koi in the courtyard pool – a watery zen garden – and to smile at the two young Vietnamese Americans embracing at its side.

Two days later, I visited a friend, Carol. I arrived upbeat and smiling. But, soon, I began to speak of “What’s Going On” and that war so long ago and lost myself in tears. The pain burst out, as I spoke of the “gnawing, gnawing, gnawing….” In an instant, I faced up to the ancient pain, a pain I hadn’t understood or wished to acknowledge. I used that trite phrase with Carol – post-traumatic stress disorder – and paused to ask plaintively midst the tears: “Why does it always have to be disorder? Is it normal, is it sane, to see the pain and horror…and not react?”

Yesterday, I tried to work it out in poetry. Isn’t that the role of poetry…to make sense of the insane, the absurd, to heal, to enable one to walk forward with one’s wounds? I called it “What’s Going On?” What’s going on, indeed!

Still it tears
at this broken heart,
a shadow on a sunny afternoon,
that war so long ago.

The war I fought in paddies,
on more familiar streets,
and in a place that’s deep inside
and now so deeply scarred.

The stench of napalm, of burning human flesh,
aromas strange of nuoc mam and sandalwood,
they mingle with the smell of pot, tear gas,
and mildewed dusty pages,
pulled last night
from forgotten hiding places.

Chuck Eddy in the Saigon Post,
the Koelper circled on a map,
a yellowed May Day flyer,
a note to Mike Gravel,
a box of letters, all so old,
so full of love…of fear and hope,
a manuscript unfinished.
a story yet untold.

“Support Our Troops”
and “Bring ‘Em Home!”
“Aye, Aye, Sir.”
“Hell, no we won’t go!”
Green duffel bags,
the tiny things we carried,
squished between displays
of ’65 departures.

Travis, Oakland,
Tan Son Nhut and Camp Alpha,
a bar at Villa Roma,
a cry once stifled in the throat,
still there, still there,
gnawing, gnawing, gnawing.

Down a long last hall called “Legacy,”
a woman near my age
calls an aging husband:
“Did you leave a comment?”
“Yeah!” shouts back the angry man,
“Let’s do it again.
Put Bush in charge.
And do it right this time.”

“Some ‘legacy’,” I cry inside.
Is that the lesson
we’re meant to learn?
I, too, would like to do it again,
but, unlike some angry old men,
I’ll live with what’s done.

The sun is blinding,
sparkling on koi
darting about
their limpid Zen garden.

On its edge, just to the right,
two lovers – Vietnamese,
no, Viet Kieu –
embrace in their dream,
a dream so universal,
so private, so old…so new.

The scar, just picked open,
is healing again.

I urge you all to make the effort to take in this exhibit. It runs till February 28. Those of you who took part thirty or forty years ago – fighting, resisting, “supporting the troops,” or, as in my case, all of the above - will learn as much about yourself as about the era. And bring your kids and grandchildren. They too need to learn how to look at Vietnam…and at Iraq.

And, if you get a chance, hop on one of United’s new flights to Saigon, you will learn, as I did in 1996, that Vietnam at peace is a beautiful country with beautiful people. And you will learn, as the Vietnamese will tell you, “Vietnam is a country, not a war.” You will learn finally that half the people there were born after “The American War” ended in 1975. They are eager to get on with life.

Ah, life. It is good. It is beautiful…like a sunny afternoon in Oakland…beside a glimmering koi pond.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005


Was that a party or what?! I mean, of course, that “celebration of freedom” on January 20 and the $40 million spent to take our minds off dark distractions like Iraq. And what a speech! “Freedom” 22 times, “Liberty” 15, and “Iraq” not once. But, not to worry, there are endless possibilities for new wars and other adventures contained in the President’s rhetoric and the Vice President’s jocular interviews. Let’s talk about those possibilities and other idiocies leaking out of their echo chamber on the Potomac.

“Outposts of Tyranny”

In her January 18 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State-designate Condi Rice sought to broaden the horizons of the senators, challenging them to look beyond Iraq – already the “last war” – to the exciting new possibilities that awaiting our over-stretched citizen soldiers. “To be sure,” she said, “in our world, there remain outposts of tyranny, and America stands with oppressed people on every continent, in Cuba and Burma, and North Korea and Iran, and Belarus and Zimbabwe.” Breathtaking! In a throwaway line not questioned by the press – or the senators – the “axis of evil” just doubled in size.

The “enemies of freedom” are everywhere – on every continent, save Australia and Antarctica – but, alas, not in China, Sudan, or Saudi Arabia. One can only assume that the latter countries are free. The main criteria for making our hit list seem to be oil or constituents in South Florida. One wonders, on the other hand, how Saudi Arabia slipped under our screen. Might it be friends in high places…like Crawford?

Ah, surely, Rummy’s radar will catch those trying to slip through our tyranny detectors. Indeed, according to Bart Gellman in the Washington Post, JCS Chairman General Richard Myers has reportedly sent Rummy “an early planning document” focusing on emerging target countries such as Somalia, Yemen, Indonesia, Philippines, and Georgia.” The Philippines an “emerging target?” (Yes, I know, Moros in the south. But has anyone asked Manila?)

According to Gellman, Rumsfeld has created a new, undisclosed unaccountable organization, the Strategic Support Branch (SSB), that has been operating “off the books” for the last two years in Iraq, Afghanistan, “and other places [DOD] declined to name.” In his January 17 New Yorker article, Seymour Hersh has named Iran as one of the countries where these cowboys are mucking about.

I know that inspires confidence in the fear-filled minds of my red state friends. But still I worry, when I learn that Deputy Undersecretary for Intelligence Lt. Gen. William Boykin and Assistant Secretary (for special operations policy) Thomas O’Connell are running these “black” activities. Boykin, who you may remember as the God-is-on-our-side, Bible-toting loose cannon, admits that Rummy has arrogated to himself functions formerly performed by the now-gutted CIA. For his part, O’Connell brushes aside historic restrictions on such activities, noting in the Post article that Rummy has no patience with the “hidebound way[s] of thinking” and “risk-adverse mentalities” of his predecessors. Boykin and O’Connell, by the way, are the deputies, respectively, of the morally-challenged Under Secretary for Intelligence Steve Cambone and that arch neo-con Under Secretary for Policy Doug Feith.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon’s “denials” of Hersh’s article on Iran are, in fact, nothing more than obfuscatory non-denials. Far from denying it, our soft-spoken Vice President shows up on the Don Imus show on Inaugural Day with a variety of worrisome statements. The President, he says, is “very concerned” about Iran and has placed that country “right on the top of the list,” presumably of “emerging targets.” Might Israel do the job for us – bomb Iran? The Vice President smiles and continues: “Israel might do it without being asked,” and “leave it to the international community to pick up the broken china.” (One wonders: Is that how he views our dead young men and women in Iraq – so much “broken china?”) Another “green light” for Sharon? Or, as more charitable commentators put it, is he seeking merely to “rattle Teheran’s cage?” Trouble is, he’s rattling my cage, our allies’…and maybe yours.

What are these people thinking? Why is this crowd that launched an aggressive war, killed and maimed tens of thousands, stained our honor by ordering – or, at very least, explicitly countenancing - the torture of prisoners, and broken a once proud and effective army still running things?

Meanwhile, Back in Iraq

What do you call an election where no one knows who’s running or where the polling places are? Where hardly anyone is registered? Where gun-toting U.S. soldiers pass out election flyers? Where there are no foreign observers? Where you might be killed if you show up at a polling place? The President calls it “freedom on the march,” and Fox and MSNBC breathlessly promise minute-by-minute results on Sunday. I wonder what the exit polls in Fallujah will say?

The Price of Freedom

Our election was almost three months ago and today we learn the President is asking for another $80 billion “supplemental” for Iraq – now nearly $320 billion for our burgeoning overseas “war on terror.” In the face of another record budget deficit, the President, who promised in October to half the deficit in four years, also wants to tack on another $600 billion by making his tax cuts permanent.

We also learned today that the Pentagon estimates that we will need 120,000 American troops in Iraq for at least two years. Others claim that that is a conservative estimate and that we will actually need more like 150,000 for six years.

For his part, the President claimed this week that the 2004 election was our “accountability moment.” Iraq was debated, and, he says, “the people chose me.” Oh? Do you remember the President mentioning figures like these in October? Is that light at the end of the tunnel looking brighter? Or is the darkness deepening?

Our Abu Ghraib and Others’

Speaking of darkness, have you noticed how stories about Abu Ghraib and other American torture centers (like Bagram and Guantanamo) have migrated to the deep inside pages of your papers and disappeared completely from your television news. Frank Rich, the New York Times media critic has noticed. In addition to the efforts of the Administration to pin all accountability on a few hapless NCOs and the ideologically-motivated efforts by folks like Fox and MSNBC to hit the “erase” button, Rich, in a January 23 story, cites two non-ideological factors that, although seemingly contradictory, are, in fact, reinforcing: TV’s perceived need for pictures and the FCC’s campaign against “indecency.”

Noting that no cameras were allowed in the courtroom of Spec. Graner’s court martial, TV turned instead to much more visual legal proceedings such as the circus surrounding the Michael Jackson case. Obversely, the networks, cowed by the FCC, “are unlikely to go into much depth about war stories involving forced masturbation, electric shock, rape committed with a phosphorescent stick, the burning of cigarettes in prisoners’ ears, involuntary enemas, and beatings that end in death [Some 30 such deaths are under investigation,].”

The result is, as Graner’s lawyer explains, the turning of Nuremberg on its head: [In Nuremberg] we were going after the order givers. Here the government is going after the order-takers.”

Fact is, as Rich notes, our government has been allowed to get away with “strictly quarantin[ing] the criminality to a few Abu Ghraib guards” and insulating itself from any charge that that criminality derives from U.S. policy that permits torture. And the authors of that policy – Rumsfeld, Cambone, Alberto Gonzalez, and others – continue, unchastened and unaccountable to plot new outrages.

Meanwhile, recent reports reveal that – Whew! – we’re not alone. British and Danish soldiers have, it turns out, similarly abused Iraqi prisoners – a fact that led the BBC news on cable last week, but didn’t get a mention on American network or cable news.

The Continuing Shame of the American Media…and Signs of Hope

The American media – especially the telegenic airheads on TV – have been AWOL since September 11, “choosing,” Rich says, “to look the other way rather than confront the evil committed in our name” in Iraq. With precious few exceptions, television has assumed the role of Administration lap dogs, be it CNN’s “Defending America” nonsense, Chris Matthews’ “Heroes Tour,” or Brian Williams “journalism-free ‘Road to the Inauguration’.”

That said, there are voices out there that give rise to hope. On TV, ABC’s Ted Koppel and a compassionate and perceptive team that includes Chris Bury and Dave Marash cover real news on “Nightline;” Keith Olberman is a refreshing breath of fresh air in the midst of MSNBC’s smog alert; PBS still offers “Frontline,” “The Lehrer News Hour,” a slightly truncated “Now,” Charlie Rose, and, after Rose signs off at midnight on KRCB, Amy Goodman and “Democracy Now.” The best newscast of all these days is Comedy Central’s “Daily Show” with Jon Stewart. I encourage you also to search out the BBC and Germany’s Deutsche Welle on cable (usually KRCB). Their reality-based take on the world stands in refreshing contrast to the unreality of American television “news.”

On the radio there is good ole KPFA, FM 94.1, and – Here’s the really good news! – Air America on KQKE, “The Quake,” AM 960. Air America’s big names – Al Franken and Janine Garafolo – leave much to be desired. Its real stars, however, are shining more brightly every day. They are the intelligent, passionate, and witty Ed Shultz (noon to 3:00 p.m.) and Randi Rhodes (sp?) (3:00 to 7:00 p.m.). Watch for Ed Shultz on this Sunday’s George Stephanopoulos show.

Profiles in Courage

Under the guise of considering Condi Rice’s nomination, the Senate held an historic debate today on Iraq policy. You had to watch C-SPAN, however, to catch it. There were wise and courageous words uttered by folks like Robert Byrd, Ted Kennedy, Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander, and our own Barbra Boxer, who forced the debate. There was also more craven fawning over Rice by Dianne Feinstein.

I urge you to contact Senator Boxer at and express your appreciation. I also urge you to contact Senator Feinstein at or at (202) 224-3841. I called today and told her staffer that I intended to vote against Feinstein for any office she sought. Better to have an upfront Republican senator than the one we’ve got now.

Be Scared, Be Very Scared

I for one am very scared. You might be too after you re-read Animal Farm and compare its plot against the bizarre one we’re now living through. God help us. I mean that…God help us.


Thursday, January 6, 2005


Today the Vallejo Times-Herald wondered whether “Three Kings Day” had been forgotten by Mexican-Americans, taking it for granted that the rest of us didn’t even care.

I don’t know what Epiphany and the Wise Men do for you, but for me they call up memories of a childhood in New York, of happy Christmases past, of a Christmas Eve blizzard, of the smell of mittens wet with caked snow drying on a radiator, of Christmas carols sung in the living room, of decorating the tree, of setting out those Lionel tracks, and, best of all, setting up the creche.

Jesus was always there in the center of the manger…but oh so tiny and hard to see in the shadows. The shepherds were close by, but kind of dull in their gray robes. Like my sister and, later, my brother, I was most entranced by the three Wise Men – they were always three. They were, after all, KINGS…or so I thought. They were resplendent in red and purple robes and golden turbans. And, best of all, they had camels…not your garden variety animals, but the kind you could only find in the circus or in the Bronx Zoo. Mary Ann, Larry, and I took great care in finding a suitably prominent place for the Magi, though I never remember calling out to my parents the way one child once did: “Where should we put the Wise Guys!?” For us, they were the colorful, flamboyant stars of our crèche set. They had to be seen…and admired.

Epiphany was an especially important part of my New York Christmases. We German-Americans called it “Little Christmas,” the last of the twelve days of Christmas, the closing scene of the story. It was the day when we ritually – without fail – took down the tree and “put Christmas away.”

But New York was a very diverse place. Across the hallway of our apartment building lived Ira Balogh, a Jewish-American. From him I learned about menorahs, lattke, and dreidels. And, I learned that, when his family started lighting their menorah, Christmas was not too far behind. And upstairs lived Patty Panos, a Greek-American, who tried to explain – not very successfully - why she celebrated Christmas so late.

The Orthodox, I do remember, had a very strange way of celebrating Epiphany. We’re talking January in New York, here! A crowd of Russians would gather at the Battery at the southern tip of Manhattan where an ornately robed and mitered bishop would toss a strangely shaped cross into the harbor. Several pasty white and overweight men in black speedos and rubber shower caps would then dive into the frigid green waters to fetch the cross. The “winner” wrapped in several woolen blankets would then kneel before the bishop to receive his blessing. Go figure!

I’m sure there are still kids – and overweight Russian men – who are carrying on these traditions this week in New York. For me, however, they are now decades and thousands of miles away.

But the nice thing about Christmas is that it is never-ending, constantly repeating…and renewing, and, wherever Christians – cultural or practicing - gather, always the same. The Wise Men got their same prominent place in my crèche this year. And, once again, I dutifully took down my now tiny tree today…but not without remembering those Christmases long ago and just gone by and reflecting on their timeless message of hope and joy.

As I pack those boxes in the garage tonight, I feel compelled to pause and, looking back…and forward, wish you all a very Happy New Year. We’ve got lots to do. Let’s get on with it!

Vicki Gray