A small memorial on a mountaintop

Corporal Schneider's memorial atop Mount Baker.

Corporal Schneider’s memorial atop Mount Baker.

It wasn’t until we reached the summit of Mount Baker on the 7th that thoughts of 9/11 came rushing back.  Saturday afternoon, threat of rain, and there I was finally at the top of this small Adirondacks peak on the northeast corner of Saranac Lake.  Huffing and puffing, I’ll admit to that.

There is a sweeping vista to the south from a gray-rock ledge, and I tarried there for a few minutes to look down on the lakes and the miles and miles of forested hills of the Adirondacks before going on up to the top which is closed in by trees. It was beautiful, and I was lucky to be there.

It was there, near the very top that I caught sight of it.

I saw the American flag first.  It was tied to the bottom of a small pine.  Then beneath it I saw the rest of it, a photo and a plastic card that read “Cpl. Kyle R. Schneider, Jan 8, 1988, June 30, 2011.”   A nice-looking kid.  I think it safe to say that it was a memorial to a fallen soldier.  He was only 23, about the same age my grandson died, a victim of the war in Iraq.

A ledge for contemplation just below the memorial.

A ledge for contemplation just below the memorial.

Schneider, I read later, was a Marine.  He was killed in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, by an IED, an improvised explosive device.  He was from Phoenix, northwest of Syracuse and had a girlfriend who lived in Texas.  A big parade was held in his honor at nearby Baldwinsville.

These little memorials say much more to me than big ones for they are more personal, more heart-felt.  Someone, a loved one no doubt, had an idea, took time to take a long road trip to Adirondak Park, pick a mountain, then climb up the rugged trail on the west to place the memorial there.  It may not last as long as granite, but it was more powerful.

Seeing it, the anger swept over me again.  Iraq, the unnecessary war created by the conniving Bush administration.  WMD, my aching tuts.  The war was not about 9/11.  It was tragically about neo-con ideology, oil and empire.

I don’t blame George W. Bush so much.  He was just a token President that the Republicans routinely toss into the ring.   Like Reagan.  A handsome face that will attract thoughtless votes so the real “brains,” the devils behind the throne, can latch onto power.  Bush was only a puppet to the Vice President, Dick Cheney, the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, and the heartless mind of advisor Karl Rove.  There were others.  They are war criminals, no less.  So many soldiers, so many Iraqi civilians killed and maimed.  And for what?

From what I read Corporal Schneider wanted to be a Marine.  No one dragged him to war.  Still, I am glad someone put his memorial where I could find it that afternoon.  I never want to forget what an atrocity Iraq was, and its continuing aftermath.


`Fair Game’ and a nose-dive into shallow waters

I could do just nicely, thank you, without a recounting of the Valerie Plame incident of 2003.  I know that song and dance too well.  I know that Plame, a CIA agent, was outed for the worst of reasons by the Bush administration.  I know Plame and her husband, Joe Wilson, were torched because they got in the way. They got in the way between truth of WMD and Bush’s mad march to selling that tragic war in Iraq.

What I have always wanted to know right up to this very day is Why.  Why did Bush pull the trigger on a needless war?

Take your pick of the nebulous possibilities.  Bush wanted to show up Daddy Bush, our fearless leader in the first Gulf War.  Or he wanted to do the oil companies a favor.  That he and his neocon associates wanted to build an American empire just as the U.S. began to stumble off the mountaintop.  Or that as “a war-time president” he could pull a subservient Congress’s reins to further his radical goal of creating a ruling class of rich mucks in this country and letting the rest of us go to hell.  Or even that it was a huge right-wing conspiracy.

Take one or all of those reasons.  Or make up one.  But if you’re an artist making a film about the Plame incident, surely you can do better than the recent docudrama, Fair Game.  Surely you can come up with something new in the telling.  Like give us a view of what made the crucifying of Valerie Plame, her family and some innocent Iraqi citizens she was trying to help out of their country so important. 

But instead Fair Game gives us a love story and a study of Plame’s character, of finding herself again and her strong nature.   But who would care except soap opera addicts?   This movie is just more fiddling while our Rome burns.  Engulfed in the flames of the government’s lies, smoke and mirrors and hidden agenda.   It is like so much in America anymore.  Flash but no substance, another distraction for the masses.

The director, Doug Liman, had so much to work with.  A great American actor in Sean Penn, who plays the whistle-blowing former ambassador Joe Wilson.  An attractive and engaging actress in Naomi Watts, who portrays the efficient agent Plame who loses her career.    And most of all a subject that after seven years is still explosive  —  Bush’s war in Iraq.   And yet Liman took the soft approach, an approach that, if lucky, might not lose for Fair Game as much money as I think it should.

Only those who know little or nothing of the Plame incident will find this film halfway engaging.  And, if you do not know anything about Plame at this late date, chances are you won’t profit from viewing this film.  It’s a waste of time.

Tea Partiers awakened — too late

There is too a real Rip Van Winkle.  In fact there are many of them.  You see them everywhere in the sleepy hollows of America.  They are the Tea Partiers and other born-again conservatives.  Asleep for decades, now suddenly awake and full of fight and hate and all-knowing. 

You know who you are, you latter-day Rips.  You are the ones who say you want your country back.  You want an America as it used to be.  Whatever that was.

But I ask, where were you 30 years ago when “your country” began to unravel with the false-god of the right, Ronald Reagan?  Reaganomics and its corporate afterbirth have killed the soul of America.  We are little more now than a nation of sheep, following the bidding of giant corporations and try to amass personal wealth by slitting the throats of our neighbors. 

While you slept, Your Country grew a heart of ice, a mind more than ever filled with meaness and hatred and irrationality, its eye focused on material gain.  Your Country has become the epitomy of the  corporate world.  Dog eat dog.  It is all coming to fruitition now.  None of you knows about teamwork.

And where were you after 9/11 that you turned listless and scared, and sang “God Bless America” and did not ask for a full accounting of how a few fanatics with box cutters could commandeer airplanes and easily strike at the heart of Your Country, the so-called greatest country in the world?

Where were you when Your Country promised to bring down the perpetrators of 9/11 in Afghanistan, then suddenly veered to a needless and tragic war in Iraq, killing our children and grandchildren for no other reason than oil and political gain?  Iraq offered better targets, we were told.  Yes, while Bin Laden dwelled unpunished in Tora Bora.   

Where was your outrage when conservatives on the Supreme Court decided the presidential election in 2000? 

Where too was your outrage when Your Country used their corporate friends, the telecoms, to spy on you in the name of fighting terrorism?  Where was the outrage at torturing prisoners, at allowing one of the footstones of democracy, habeas corpus, to be swallowed up again in the name of terrorism?  If you were not asleep then you had pulled the pillow over your head.

Where was your outrage when in 2008 the Bush administration began doling out vast amounts of taxpayer money to save the big banks, the very institutions conservatives had allowed to go unchecked and were “too big to fail?”

Where were you all these years when Your Country’s addiction to drugs got so out of control that the cartels in Mexico threaten now to take over the U.S. border?

Where were you when the lawn needed mowing and you decided to hire it done, turning a blind-eye to the possibility the workers may be illegal immigrants?  Where were you when your neighbors, the small business owners, hired illegals to make their Reagan dreams come true?

Sean Hannity, the patronizing ultra-right wing propagandist and radio talk-show host, recently played a tape in which an 35-year-old woman in Pennsylvannia confronted her seantor, Arlen Specter, at what I believe was a townhall meeting.  She was new to politics, she said, and railed at Specter.  Liberals, she said, had raped the Constitution.

“You’ve awakened a sleeping giant. We want our country back.”

The gall of this woman, I thought, to think she had suddenly arisen from her deep sleep as a full-blown constitutional scholar. 

Where are you now as Hannity and the right-wing propagandists suck up to  you, eager to bring you into the fold, into the party of the few, the party of the big corporations, the GOP?  Where are you now that you don’t see whose policies really brought on the economic crisis, the huge deficits?   

It seems so very strange that the sleepers among you have developed into political activists only after Your Country elected a black president.  I understand  your fears, the panic of facing the fact that America is not as white as it used to be, that you may soon lose the superiority you once took comfort in, that you may have to blend in and someday, oh my god, racially inter-marry on a grand scale. 

I’m sorry.  You slept too long, you latter-day Rips.  You awoke naive and now, unable to think clearly, you do more damage to Your Country than you can imagine.  It is too late.  Even if your silliness and naivete win in the  short-term, you will never be able to take back Your Country.  It will never be the same.

No liberal media in `Green Zone’


Amy Ryan's portrayl of Lawrie Dayne was right-on, almost.

Lawrie Dayne, the Wall Street Journal reporter in the film “Green Zone,” is the worst kind of journalist.  She’s an insider.  She gets most of her information about the war in Iraq from one “trusted” and highly-placed source in the government.  A source, as it turns out,  with a hidden agenda, a source that uses her to further his aims.  Or in reality, the aims of the Bush administration.  Worse, she never questions the information given her.

Two forces drive Dayne, played admirably by Amy Ryan.  One is to get an interview with “Magellan,” the fictitious Iraqi source who knows where to locate the elusive and equally-fictitious weapons of mass destruction.   The other is to feed her ego.  She is overly ambitious.  She wants to be a star at all costs.  She no doubt wants to win a Pulitzer for her reporting.

 This is a film a day late and a dollar short.  Most knowledgeable readers long ago concluded  the war was concocted by Bush and his cronies for political reasons.  The war’s “shock and awe” was as much a high-dollar pyrotechnic display  for the gullible American public as it was to scare the Iraqis.  It was like the Fourth of July.  “America, the Beautiful.”   Wow, look at those bombs, baby.   

Still the movie was right-on with the war and right-on with the media’s role in abetting Bush as he led us down that primrose lane from 9/11, all fueled by Big Oil, big corporations, and profiteering.

Dayne symbolized the media’s own gullibility and the sense of superiority and arrogance that their stars exude.  Think of TV’s talking-heads.   Dayne has every resemblance, by actions and looks, to the discredited New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who had a pipeline to the White House and used it not only for “news” about Iraq’s WMD but the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson as well.  It does not seem strange then that the real truth-seeker and Dayne’s polar opposite in “Green Zone,” is also named Miller.  The Matt Damon character, Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller.  He is what she as a reporter should be.

I have only one objection to Ryan’s Dayne.  No star reporter would risk career suicide by confessing her reporting sins to the likes of Chief Miller.  Never.  She would do as Judith Miller did in real life.  String it out, never fully admit to wrong-doing.  Save some measure of the career at all costs.  The flaw is not Ryan’s.  The confession served director Paul Greengrass’s script.

Those bombastic conservative propagandists (Limbaugh, Hannity, Savage et al)  have only to take a hard look at Dayne, and ultimately Judith Miller, to see there is no “liberal media” to chastise.  If anything, reporters play along with those in power and their bosses, those powerful right-wing CEOs that run a great majority of America’s news outlets.   It’s called career preservation. 

And, in the case of the war in Iraq, the media swallowed the swill of the most dangerous president of our lifetime.  Most dangerous so far.

In a perfect world . . .

In a perfect world we would not need Big Government.   We would not need government at all.  We certainly would not need government to administer healthcare.  But it is not a perfect world.  It is not even close to a perfect world.

One of the founders of America, Benjamin Franklin, signed on to the U.S. Constitution with doubts that democracy would work.  He saw too many crooks.  The system could be gamed.  And that is what has happened.  That is why healthcare reform in America is needed.

Anyone who believes here in the 21st century we even live in a real democracy is a fool.  What we live in is something quite different.  It is called an oligarchy.  It is government by the few, for the selfish and greedy benefit of the few.  Most Americans live as slaves to the whims of corporations and their bought-for politicians, be it Republican or Democrat.  The few dictate to us from thrones on high.  They say take it or leave it.  And that’s what has happened to healthcare in this country. 

Health is something most people have no control over.  Disease and horrible injuries happen. And the  healthcare corporations have answered the bell with this.  They raise rates to the extreme in the name of profit.  They make insurance all but unaffordable.  They cut you off when you become too sick, your bills become too high.  The corporations do not care about you.  Many in the oligarchy do not even pay a fair share of taxes.  They do loophholes and off-shore banking through shady schemes and high-dollar lawyers.  They lie about their income with arcane bookkeeping.  They do not even care about America. 

That is one of the most amazing things about the healthcare debate.  The protestors are the same ones getting the screw.  Just like most of us.  They are so passionate it boggles the mind.  They bleed rancor and hate.  

The so-called debate was not about issues of substance.  It was about something else.  It was colored by racism and hate, fear, I suspect,  that minorities and the poor might gain a leg up on the club of rich white men that dictate our lives.

 I do not recognize these protestors of healthcare-reform who spit in the face of black politicians and yell, “Kill the bill, nigger.”   Or those who shout “homo” at the lawmaker Barney Frank.  Or taunt and scream at a man in a wheelchair with Parkinson’s.  Where do these protestors come from? Not America surely.   Are they paid by the conservatives and their handlers?  What has happened to this country in the last 30 years?   Whatever it is, it is not good.  Whatever it is, it is tearing America apart.

I for one am encouraged by the passage of healthcare reform.  It is not perfect, I know.  But it is a start, yes.  A change in direction for a country that so dearly needs a new wind, a movement in an upward direction.  I do not want to live in a country that looks more and more like a Third World nation everyday.  

And I have come to this realization.  Our oligarchy has lied to us, stolen from us, let the sick die too early and killed our children in needless wars, like in Iraq, pre-emptive wars generated for only corporate profits.  Think oil.  Iraq had “better targets,” Donald Rumsfeld told us.  Yes, while the perpetrators of 9/11 ran free in Tora Bora.  “I don’t think about him much anymore,” W said of Bin Laden.  More than that, the oligarchy will continue to inflict harm on this country unless it is checked, regulated.  Only government can do that.  The oligarchy will not police itself.

Our oligarchy’s strategy is simple.  Keep the pot stirred with their talk-show propagandists.  Limbaugh, Hannity, that crowd.  They intend to make sure that Americans do not unite.  Divide and conquer is the goal.  And they are very good at division. 

If I have a choice, a choice between the corporate oligarchy that has disgraced this country for decades and the many unknowns of socialism and healthcare, I will take my chances with socialism every time.  The oligarchy and capitalism had a chance, a wide open door, to make a better America, and failed.  Failed miserably.

Call me a Commie if you want.