Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Remembering Lenny

Note: I started writing this for his guestbook, but it ended up really long and I'm not sure it's gonna post. So, here it is. Feel free to share any memories you don't feel are appropriate for the guestbook.

I've never met anyone like Lenny. He was one of those rare people who brought laughter everywhere he went. I’ll never for­get his sense of humor or his contagious smile. No matter what was going on, no matter how sad you felt, if Lenny was around, you could look over at him and he’d make some goofy face to make you bust out laughing.

I’ll never forget the way he could take over a room (it’s hard to believe that we’ll never see him do the lawnmower or the worm again). Just a few weeks ago, all of our old buddies from high school went to Cincinnati for a road trip. The highlight of the trip was when we accidentally stumbled into a bar where we were the obvious minority. Some people left, but Lenny, Jimmy, Matt, and I stayed. I’m glad I stayed. By the end of the night, there was a giant circle on the dance floor around Lenny. Everyone in the place was cracking up. He was the type of guy who could make any night memorable. It was a common occurrence to laugh until your jaw hurt when you were around Lenny.

I’ll never forget his loyalty. When we were sixteen, I crashed my car with Lenny in the back seat. He broke both of his arms. It was a pretty traumatic event for all of us, but Lenny got the worst of it. He had casts on both of his arms all summer. A few weeks after it happened, I finally got the nerve to go over and see him to apologize. I was so nervous, but Lenny acted like it was no big deal. He made a few jokes, we laughed a little, and it was good again. He wasn’t angry at all. I don’t think many people would be so forgiving. I think that was when I knew we’d be good friends for a long time. From there on, he was always there when I needed him.

Most of all, I’ll never forget the way he lived his life. It seems cliché, but anyone who knew Lenny, knows that he followed his own rules. Lenny, Jimmy, and I roomed together our first semester of college. Although, college wasn’t really Lenny’s thing, we crammed a lifetime of experiences in that semester. Some of my favorite times were speeding in the Topaz down Highway 55 with Lenny and Jimmy singing Chili Peppers at the top of our lungs filled with the excitement of what was to come. He wasn’t afraid to try something and fail, then move on to something else.

Lenny made the most of every day. He did what he wanted, when he wanted. He was fearless. He has had, and will continue to have a huge impact on my life. I wouldn’t be the man I am today if we hadn’t been friends. I am so thankful that I was fortunate enough to be close to Lenny the past sixteen years.

For the rest of our lives, there will be a void where Lenny was supposed to be, where we expected him to be. It would be easy to be saddened by this, to shed tears over it, and curse the injustice of it all – I know I’ve spent the past two days doing exactly that – but in the end, I always picture Lenny across the room making some weird face at me and smiling that huge smile, and I feel a little better. In the end, we all just have to be thankful that we knew him when he was here—that we have so many adventures to tell our children about—so many memories to make us smile when the world seems like such a horrible place.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Keynote Address -- Fern Ridge High School, 2011

Editor's note: This Friday, May 25th will be my last day as a teacher. I am officially retiring. It's been a great run, and I gave it my all, but I'm ready to try something new--preferably something that does not involve teenagers.

Recently, I was excited to add a bunch of recent Fern Ridge graduates on Facebook. As I was looking through my list of Fernie friends today, I realized the amazing people I've been fortunate enough to meet in the classroom.

Two weeks ago, I had the honor of speaking to our most recent grads and their families at the wonderfully unique Fern Ridge High School graduation ceremony (Fern is the small, alternative high school I've taught in for the past three years). I want to share this with my family and friends, and all the Fern Alumni out there, because I know a lot of people are struggling right now. We live in a thankless world, and it's easy to get lost and forget what's important in life. Hope you enjoy it.

Fern Ridge Keynote Address, 2011

Chris Oliver

Ms. -----, Ms. -----, members of the Board, Fern Ridge and Missouri Options faculty and staff, parents, friends and family, underclassmen and future graduates, graduating seniors…Mom…I am honored to have the chance to speak to you today. As many of you know, this is my last year as a teacher. Yes, I am officially retiring from the classroom. This group of individuals in front of me had a lot to do with the timing of that decision. It’s not what you’re thinking Jake; your classroom behavior played almost no role in my decision. No, I’ve always known that teaching was just one stop in my journey.

Over the last three years I’ve grown very close to these graduates. I’ve never felt more proud of a graduating class in my eight years of teaching. As I watched you guys sprinting to the finish line, I realized that it was my time too. Seeing you all here today, this amazing and talented group of young adults, I feel a natural sense of closure and an overwhelming excitement for what the future brings for us all.

Thinking about what I wanted to say today has made me realize the many ways I identify with this senior class. I, too, am embarking on a new and unpredictable journey. I, too, am leaving a place and saying goodbye to people that have made a significant impact on who I am today. I, too, don’t know what I’m going to be when I grow up.

When I came here three years ago, I didn’t think I wanted to be a teacher anymore. I originally got into teaching because I hated my high school teachers, and I hated high school. I wanted to give students what I didn’t have. After five years teaching at a so-called “traditional” high school, I realized I had become one of the very teachers I hated. My classes were overcrowded, my curriculum was prescribed, and my creative freedom was undermined on a regular basis. By the time I got to Fern, I was disillusioned, burned out, and dreading another year as a cog in a hopelessly flawed machine. I no longer believed as I once had that I could change the system from within, so I wanted out.

I will never forget my first day of class at Fern. I was hired very late in the summer and only had a week to prepare, but I was ready. I had my first semester all planned out, all I needed was the students. As the first bell approached I anxiously went over my lesson, making sure it was perfect. I looked with pride at my posters and bumper stickers and thought excitedly about everything I had planned.

Then the bell rang. I stood at the door with a huge smile admiring the beautiful ceiling tile art, the unique, but welcoming green carpet, the pictures of past graduates hanging on the wall. I stood with that goofy smile and waited….and waited…and waited some more. No one showed up. I had a roster of ten, and not a single student showed up on the first day. I thought I had made a huge mistake.

I was wrong though. And the students did show up, eventually. As they slowly trickled in, one by one, and the days passed, I began to get to know them. I quickly realized, just as every new Fernie does, that I didn’t need to play the part anymore, I could just be myself. As the days turned into weeks, I began to understand how special this place is, and that spark was lit again. Fern Ridge restored my passion for teaching. The classes were small enough that I could get to know each one of my students. I could teach what I wanted to teach. I could say ridiculous things without fearing an angry phone call from a parent. I could have fun.

What really makes Fern Ridge great though, is its students. Sitting to my right are some of the most unique and talented individuals in the district. They may not blow you away with their test scores or wow you with their attendance, but I can guarantee you this right now, they will be among the most successful students to graduate from Parkway this year.

I have always been a Fernie. I think that’s why, from my first day, I felt like I fit in here.
When I was in high school, I always felt lost in the crowd. I felt miserable and alone. Nobody cared what I thought. Nobody valued my voice. I was just another face in a sea of faces and I got lost. It wasn’t until college that I learned what many of the students sitting here today know. Many of you here may not know what it means to be a Fernie. If you’re sitting here you probably know one though and some of this will probably sound very familiar.

A Fernie marches to a different beat. Unafraid of what others think, a Fernie will walk down the hallways singing at the top of their lungs. A Fernie will hold protests, and write letters and schedule meetings when they feel something is not right. A Fernie is PROUD to be a nerd. A Fernie creates amazing works of art, and isn’t afraid to call themselves an artist. A Fernie will tear up reading a poem in front of the whole class, or the whole school. A Fernie lends a hand to a fellow student when they need it. A Fernie fights for social justice. A Fernie is brutally honest. A Fernie tells you how it is. A Fernie tells you who they are, sometimes very loudly. A Fernie knows how to use the darker side of the English language, both for good and for evil. A Fernie will take the stage alone and without fear and dance or sing or act or play the ukulele. A Fernie will be a perfect angel for a week, just for a blowpop on Friday. A Fernie is a leader in community service, even if they can’t sit still in the classroom during the week. A Fernie isn’t afraid to fight for their beliefs, whether that fight come in the form of the marines, the college classroom, or the workplace.

So I say to you graduates here today, be thankful for the opportunity you were granted by the district to attend a school that allowed you to be yourself. Go out and live your life like a Fernie. Then, tell people about your experiences. Stop a board member and shake his or her hand. Write a letter. Speak at a meeting. Every year this place has to fight for its survival and it’s a horrible shame. Every year administrators and educators are forced to quantitatively justify the need for a small community like this.

As I said before, I came here disappointed because I failed to change the system from within, but what I didn’t realize was that some parts of the system don’t need to be changed at all, people just need to open their eyes and see them. Fern Ridge should be a model, not just for alternative schools, but for all schools. A school should be small enough to give each and every student a voice. The staff should be compassionate enough to make sure each and every student feels like someone cares about them. The classroom communities should be tight enough, that each and every student feels capable of doing the extraordinary. Nobody should EVER feel invisible and alone in their school.

We live in a society that has forgotten the value of creativity, compassion, independence, and standing up for what you believe in, even in the face of punishment. It is no longer acceptable to forge your own path. We are asked to submit, bend our morals, and chase money and material possessions over our dreams.

But success is not about money and possessions. Success is about living a full life. It’s about finding something you love, and putting your entire soul into it. And when that thing no longer makes your heart race with excitement, moving on to something else. Who said we had to stay in the same place for twenty years to be successful. Success is about finding someone you love. Listen to me now, that person is out there for each of you. Be patient. Surround yourself with people who make you feel beautiful and smart and amazing. No matter what, remember that success is about following your dream, whether that dream is fixing cars, teaching school, performing stand up comedy, or becoming the first female president of the country. Happiness has nothing to do with money. It has everything to do with being proud of who you are and what you do.

You all come here today at the end of a journey. For some it was relatively easy. For some it was long and trying. No matter what your experiences and memories of high school are, go out into the world confident—without fear. Believe me when I say this, you can do anything. No matter what problem gets thrown at you, you can figure it out. You’re ready.

I want to take a minute talk a little about fear. Everyone, regardless of how successful they are, regardless of how experienced they are, regardless of how brave they are—everyone—knows the unforgiving face of fear. It’s that little voice that plants a seed of doubt in everything you do.

It starts when we are young. Don’t paint during reading time, you might get sent to the corner. Don’t draw during math class; you might get a call home. Don’t speak without raising your hand, you might get yelled at.

It’s still there as we get older. Don’t ask her out, she might say no. Don’t take that class; you might not be smart enough. Don’t read that poem, they might make fun of you.

By the time we’re in high school, sometimes that little voice grows to angry yell. Don’t act like that, they might laugh at you. Don’t dress like that, they might not hang out with you. Don’t speak in class, they might embarrass you.

By the time you get to senior year, it can be hard to even get out of bed in the morning. But now, your decisions matter. Don’t go for that scholarship, they might reject you. Don’t choose that major; it might be too hard for you. Don’t go into that career, you might fail.

We all hear that voice every day. It’s the source of everything we didn’t do, everything that we wish that we had done. It doesn’t matter what you choose to be when you grow up, as long as you don’t submit to that angry little voice of doubt. To be successful, you have to live without regret. The only way to do that, is to go out into the world defiant and unafraid.

So my message to you today is go out and fail. Nobody succeeds in everything. We are a society obsessed with winning. We cry when we lose. We get angry. We turn to television and video games and partying to forget. Don’t forget. Instead, reflect on your failures. Write in a journal. Create a website. Run a marathon. Paint a painting. Sing a song. Build an engine. Do something that allows you some time to reflect. To learn. To grow.

These ceremonies are important, and it is an honor to speak today, but this is such a small moment in the amazing adventures you are about to embark on. Each of you has an important story to tell, a verse to contribute to this powerful play.

Take the lessons you’ve learned here at Fern and apply them to your lives. Don’t conform. Stand up for what you believe in. Don’t be afraid to have an adventure. Take risks. Change the world. And if you ever wake up one day and look back over the past two, three, five, ten years and every day seems the same, and you don’t like where you’re heading, RUN! If you feel trapped, just realize that you hold the key. All you have to do is open the door and walk away.

Thank you.

Monday, December 14, 2009

I'm Sick of Living in the United Corporations of America

It looks like the Democrats might strip Medicare expansion out of the health care bill. No public option, no Medicare expansion, and MILLIONS of new clients for the insurance companies.

If this past year has proven anything, it's that we only have one political party in power, the corporation. The revolving door from Congress to K Street, the housing crisis, the health care reform debacle, the military industrial complex, the failure of corporate media to inform the public on anything, Big Oil and Big Coal's influence on global warming and alternative energy legislation, etc., etc., etc.—all evidence that the elected officials in the House of Representatives and United States Senate represent corporate, not public interest. They are in it to maximize profit, not run a country.

Each election, we go through a sham process. The discourse is kept at an eighth grade level so that all issues can be avoided. The news cycle bounces from distraction to distraction. In the end, we get a corporate representative at least three quarters of the time. Just a different flavor of the same kool-aid. And it all tastes like aspartame.

Kucinich and Paul are good examples of the possibilities outside of a corporate run government on both sides of the aisle, but obviously they are in the super-duper minority…and that’s not working out too well for the country.

I like Nader. I would vote Green every election if I could. The Green Party brand has failed though. Green with a capital G has taken on a meaning almost completely outside of the political party.

My new Party would be similar, but with a huge emphasis on anti-corporate governance. The primary platform would be based on the goal to eliminate corporate interests from government influence ENTIRELY. I'm still thinking it through and debating it with good people, but let me know if you have any ideas.

I've never been a Democrat, but I vote with them most of the time because, well, look what happened the last time the other guys were in power. This next election, I might begin casting protest votes. It would be nice if I didn't have to write in a candidate.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Health Care Reform...It's Gonna Happen!

Whoa...where am I??? This place is kind of scary. No wonder nobody likes to come around. Anyway, I was going to blow this entire place into cyber-oblivion, but since the Summer of George has officially ended, I decided to ease my way into politics. My only rule has been no cable news. I'm just not ready for all out stupidity yet.

It's going well so far. No hyperventilating. I haven't punched any walls, and I only verbally assaulted one person (sorry Doc). I'm planning a head-first dive into FOXMSNBCCNN in a week or so. For now, I'm sticking with the Times, Rolling Stone, HuffPo, and Reddit; and I'm starting each day off with a little Stewart and Colbert.

The reason I'm getting back into this mud fight is because we're living in a very important period in the political history of the United States. Health care reform is only going to happen once. There will be college classes covering it. Books will analyze it. And, just like with welfare reform in the 90s, we will be living with the results for the next generation. Unlike many who are allowing themselves to be brainwashed by the steady chorus of fear mongering from the Right, I'm excited about the possibilities. There is a real chance we can finally fix one of the most morally inexcusable failures of this broken country we live in. I don't care how much money I have to throw in, if we can provide the 50 million uninsured with coverage, I'm on board. If we can free the middle class from the slavery of employer-provided health insurance, I'll turn over seventy-five percent of my paycheck. I'm not kidding.

The last few days, I've been trying to educate myself as much as possible on the ideas they're throwing out there. For those of you who don't want to wait for me to make sense of it and put my biased opinion out there, here are two great resources you can go to. First, Talking Points Memo just posted the Congressional Budget Office's Analysis of the House Health Care Bill. It's worth the hour or so it will take skim through it. I guarantee that you'll be able to better follow the complex Health care debate over the next month after reading this document.

For those of you who don't have the time to read through a 14-page report, watch Jon Stewart's interview with Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius from The Daily Show last night. Almost everything she says makes a lot of sense no matter how terrified you are of socialized medicine (I'm writing this small so as not to alarm you).

Part I:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Kathleen Sebelius Pt. 1
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorJoke of the Day

Part II:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Kathleen Sebelius Pt. 1
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorJoke of the Day

I hope you learned something. Feel free to explain to me why you're so afraid of a public option or what sense you've made of this 1000 page document that the Senate is reading over. I don't want to hear any bullshit socialism/communism fear mongering. Think with your brain for once. Buzz words and talking points are for the weak minded and uninformed.


Friday, January 23, 2009

Fox News is Scared Shitless and So Should YOU!

Okay, I had to share this. Fair and balanced Faux News wants you to be afraid--very, very afraid. So, lock up the house, turn on the alarm, arm yourself to the teeth, and hide under the bed 'cause Obama's comin' for yuh!

The next eight years are going to be fun.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

People Who Don't Walk Their Dogs are Oppressors!

A couple of months ago I was walking my dog, Asher. He's a 7-year-old black lab. He grew up down in Cape Girardeau where I rented a house next door to a huge fenced in chunk of land owned by my fraternity. He was raised without a leash around a lot of people. His best friend growing up was a goat named Duke (a goat I ultimately got stuck taking care of). He's completely socialized and has never so much as growled at anybody or anything. The rabbits that hang out in our South City yard rarely even flinch when he comes lumbering out the back door. I know everyone says this type of shit about their dog, but ask anyone who's ever met Asher, the most violent thing he's ever done is accidentally knock over a beer with his whip-like tail.

KBO and I like to take him on walks without his leash. He never goes more than ten feet ahead of us and doesn't chase after animals or people when he sees them. It's pretty safe. Anyway, Asher and I were minding our own business listening to some Ryan Adams (Jacksonville City of the best albums of the decade and closest I've ever gone to embracing country music), when some dude pokes his head of his house. The yard was littered with pink bikes and large plastic things of varying degrees of obnoxiousness.

"Hey! Hey you!"

Asher stopped and turned around, so I took off my headphones.

"Excuse me!" The voice behind me was definitely hostile. I hate assholes.


"You know there are leash laws!"

"Don't worry, he's harmless. I've had him for seven years and he's never bit anyone or anything."

My words echoed deep within the corridors of this dude's icy stare.

"Okay, yeah...sorry."

I called Asher, he came running and sat down next to me, I put his leash on, and we walked quickly away. Looking back on it now, I wish I had something more clever to cut this guy off his "I have four kids so I'm better than you" pedestal. But I didn't.

On the way back we walked up the ally. It runs right aside old Leash-Law's fenced in back-yard. His dogs freak the fuck out. He has three of them and they bark like they want to rip your throat out when you walk past. There's a gap in the fence where these caged Cujo psycho-beasts broke through in a desperate lung for the blood of some poor innocent leash-less dog-walker. Fuckers.

I remembered this sequence of events when I walked past the yard today, Asher fully leashed, and tried to discard some poo in the ally dumpster. As I stared into the eyes of the crazed creatures, I began to feel sorry for them. And all of the other dogs in South St. Louis that are permanently imprisoned in their back yards. Leash-Law never walks his dogs. He lives twenty feet from my house and I've never seen his dogs outside of his yard. I mean, the dude has four kids at the perfect age to walk their three dogs. Why don't you walk your dog Leash-dude?

South city folks love dogs. Not just one dog, but three or four. Between the house next door and the one right across the alley, there are a combined SEVEN dogs. All of them bark with passionate intensity at any movement. I'll be working in my backyard for hours and they will bark and bark until the neighbor sprays them with a hose. These dogs are never walked either.

I know we have more important matters to attend to with Israel on a genocidal rampage in Gaza, and the economy recovering from eight years of irresponsible conservatism, but this is something I really need to get off my chest. Dogs need to be walked. They need to be socialized. They should be taken to the park. They should be allowed to run around. Anyone who buys a dog just to imprison in a small backyard or chain to a tire should be sent to asshole rehab. Fucking oppressors.

So, the next time you cringe at the site of a leash-less dog, Dude-on-the-Corner, you better recognize. Not all dogs have been caged to the point of insanity. Chill the fuck out.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Why Did You Vote Republican?

We all have our reasons for the votes we cast. Some vote out of fear. Some vote out of hope. Some vote out of ignorance. While some don't vote at all. Sometimes it's hard to understand why people vote with such idiotic intensity. It's great when someone can come along and make sense of it all.

This nice little video really helped me understand the oft misrepresented men and women of America who decided to cast a vote for a Republican in November.

In the spirit of Ralph Waldo Emerson who once said, "speak what you think today in words as hard as canonballs, and tomorrow think what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict everything you said today," I have an apology to make.

Republicans, I was wrong about you. See, I thought you were voting against your own self-interest out of sheer ignorance and blind faith in a paradoxical ideology. It's turns out you just enjoy the suffering. You sly devils, you knew the votes you cast were bad for the country. You fully realized the policies of your beloved party drove the country into the ground. You long ago grasped the reasons religion is separated from government. Yet, you can't help yourself. Once that seductive red-white-and-blue elephant starts to whisper in your ears, you melt. So much more could be ruined if we just had four more years. Just think of the possibilities. Mmmm...corporate despotism.

Anyway, I'm sorry. All is not lost though. Now is a perfect time to reexamine the way you look at the world and this country. Take a look around at some new ideas. Social justice, environmental responsibility, compassion--these are not ideas to fear. Who knows, maybe you'll find you enjoy watching your neighbors and your country prosper. It's a thought. Next time you're feeling down because President Obama is doing something that makes sense and benefits you in some way, instead of cursing and getting angry, recall the wise and timeless words of Mr. RW Emerson, and go with what tomorrow thinks. We won't hold your past affiliations against you.

Why did you vote Republican? Go ahead, let it all out. We're here to listen.

*Check out the fine folks that made the video.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Abstinence Only Education = Kids Making Dumb Choices

Don't know if you got the memo, but anal sex is the new cool thing. Yep, kids are all about the two-hole these days. While there's nothing inherently wrong with this, a study out of Bradley Hasbro Children's Research Center in Rhode Island revealed that this increase is the result of a general lack of sexual knowledge among teenagers. Most striking was the fact that many didn't realize you could get an STD from anal sex and only 29% said they used condoms. This is not good.

What the hell did we think was going to happen? In another edition of Yet Another Thing Bush Fucked Up, adolescents are not properly educated about sex. Well, that's what happens when you base public policy on religious dogma rather than scientific studies. For eight years schools have had to forfeit any sex-ed funding if they didn't implement abstinence only programs.

They call it abstinence only education but let's be real, it's not education. It's the opposite of education. We're telling kids not to have sex because it's bad. That's it. You're going to hell, so don't even think about it. Ever. Don't talk about it. Don't read about it. Don't acknowledge its existence. That's the only way to save your soul and prevent a life of degradation and promiscuity.

Needless to say, there are problems with this. First of all, the more taboo you make something, the more enticing it is to a teenager. They're wired to rebel. You just tell them what not to do, and they'll do it. You learn this quickly as a teacher. This may not be true of every student, but it's true of the majority. Even the best of students search for ways to rebel.

Second, human beings are wired to desire sex. The #1 thing on the mind of every teenage boy is that smart girl with braces who sits in the front row in Biology class. They're bombarded by images of sex everyday. Just turn on MTV for a few hours and you'll quickly see what it means to be "cool." One's worth as a person is defined by the amount of girls he can hook up with and the amount of money he spends on them. Every day, teenage boys are pushed to prove their masculinity and live in fear of homophobic taunts and public emasculation.

With all of this going on, kids desperately need someone to educate them about the complexities of sex. They need help understanding the emotional, psychological, and physical risks that go along with it. While parents should play a role in this education, we cannot simply assume it's going on at home. This is a public health issue. The government should play a role in eliminating unwanted teenage pregnancies and preventing abortions. Isn't that what the Christian right wants? Doesn't everybody win with a comprehensive sex education program? If anything, we should create an new sex-ed position in all high schools staffed by a specially trained counselor.

Never fear though, in just over a month, at long last, we will have a president that will use reason and scientific evidence to make decisions. It won't take much to bring about dramatic change on this issue. With just a little common sense, schools will be able to fund much needed sex education programs; comprehensive education will be a strong part of AIDS assistance programs in Africa without attaching abstinence only strings; and we will no longer be wasting $204 million spent in the US on a method proven to be ineffective.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Watch Out!

I'd like to take this opportunity to personally thank the outgoing shithead Republican Senators for screwing us over one last time. Glad to see you handling the defeat with class guys. Good luck on K Street!

At least now we know what to expect from the GOP assholes still lucky enough to be clutching to their Senate seats: eight years of whatever it takes to fuck the country over. We know most of them will blindly cling to their ideology no matter what direction common sense may point. We know power is more important to them than the well-being of the country. And they know that a successful Obama administration might signal the death of their kind. They have no message, no leadership, no new ideas...all they have left is desperation. It ain't gonna to be pretty, my friends.

In a preview of future douchebag behavior, Senate Republicans blocked the auto industry bailout last night. Why? Apparently, middle class blue-collar workers are making too much money. Let Ms. Maddow break it down for you.

Yes. You heard her right. They are so ideologically opposed to everyday American workers who organize and fight for their rights, they would rather see the industry collapse than pass up an opportunity to cripple the evil unions. Never mind that the income gap is wider than ever. Never mind the massive layoffs occurring all across the country. Never mind the fat pockets of CEOs all across the country. Never mind the fact that the collapse of the auto industry IS NOT Joe the assembly line worker's fault. Never mind the fact that these very Senate Republicans are more responsible for the collapse of the economy than ANYBODY ELSE. None of that matters. It's the union's fault because Rush said so. After all, these Grand Old Pieces of shit love nothing more than blaming people who work two jobs to support their family.

I'm not going to lie, I was skeptical of the auto bailout for a while. There is nothing that makes me angrier than the arrogance American car companies displayed in the late 90s and early 00s. The endless bombardment of testosterone-pumped commercials for giant SUVs and trucks made me nauseous. When I see a Hummer, I want to throw something through it's window. The demise of the EV1 is one of the greatest tragedies in the history of industry. The guys who have been running the show for the past 10 years are idiots, and they need to go.

But the more I hear from people on the ground in Detroit, the more I understand why action is so important. People need jobs right now. The economy cannot grow if the current job loss trend continues. Manufacturing has almost completely dried up in the US. Now is not the time to watch more jobs head overseas. Republicans have been gambling taxpayer dollars on Wall Street for the past eight years, why not gamble on the middle class for once.

Ultimately, this is a gamble. It might not work. We have to accept this fact, grab our collective nut sack, and have faith in the people. At least this time we are betting on something we believe in. As we have found out many times in the past, when we invest in hardworking Americans, they come through. It's the only way we'll get out of this recession alive.

*I stumbled upon the Maddow clip at Bob Cesca's Awesome Blog!, so you should check it out.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Scapegoats and Scoundrels

In September 2007, a group Blackwater USA mercenaries contractors opened fire on a busy Baghdad street killing 17 innocent Iraqis and wounding numerous others.

"None of the victims of this shooting was armed. None of them was an insurgent," U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Taylor said...

...the slain included young children, women, people fleeing in cars and a man whose arms were raised in surrender as he was shot in the chest.

Twenty others were wounded in crowded Nisoor Square, including one injured by a grenade launched into a nearby girls' school. Another 18 Iraqis were assaulted but not wounded.

After over a year of outrage and protest from the Iraqi victims of this slaughter, five Blackwater mercenaries security guards were indicted earlier this week. A sixth plead guilty and in exchange will testify against his former colleagues.


The 35-count indictment charges each of the former guards with 14 counts of manslaughter, 20 counts of attempted manslaughter and one count of using a firearm in the commission of a violent crime.

If convicted, the defendants would face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for each manslaughter count, seven years in prison for each count of attempted manslaughter and a 30-year mandatory minimum sentence for the firearms charge.

While this may distract and pacify the masses, if we are serious about real justice in Iraq, this cannot be the end of the investigation. What these men did was horrible, but they did not act alone. Huffington Post's Lee Stranahan made an excellent point a few days ago at
We're again haunted by the ghosts of Abu Ghraib - kids gets hauled into court and blamed for being part of a situation that wasn't really entirely of their making. Old men and war profiteers say tsk-tsk and cash their paychecks. It's only partial justice, which is almost worse than no justice.
Fucking right. I'm tired of this shit.

While the men who fired upon and threw grenades into that crowd of innocent people should be investigated, just like the men and women who committed the atrocities at Abu Ghraib were investigated, there is more to the story than the actions of those at the bottom of the command structure. People are capable of horrible things when brainwashed to believe that the "enemy" is less than human. Dehumanization is a huge part of creating any killing/war machine. If you are taught that your "enemy" is shit, you don't hesitate to follow orders that require you to kill or torture. The United States has openly embraced this type of training for years, and there is no reason to believe that US military-trained Blackwater guards were trained any differently.

Veterans from Iraq and Vietnam can help to add some perspective to the wider picture. After watching listening to Iraq veterans testify about some of the things they witnessed in combat, this Vietnam veteran recalls the methods of dehumanization and their effects on the soldiers he served with and the civilians they encountered:
A critical part of this training involves dehumanization. The idea here is to make trainees think of the enemy, not as opposing soldiers but as less than human. Animals if you will. There is far less of a possibility that an American soldier will balk at the order to kill when he believes that what he is killing is not a person at all, but a lower form of life deserving only disgust and hate. The problem with this training is that it does not stipulate a difference between enemy soldiers and local civilians. All are lumped into one category, given derogatory names and on the battlefield are ultimately treated the same.
It gets worse:
Those of us who were trained to go to Vietnam learned that the Vietnamese, whether they were civilians or combatants, were Dinks, Gooks, Slopes or Slopeheads and Slants. They were just little bastards that lived like animals in the jungle and it was ok to treat them accordingly. There was no place for respect for any member of the population and thus, the civilians became victims, not only of the VC, but of the American forces as well. The result was the same as in Iraq today. Greater numbers of civilians were killed than the actual enemy. And no matter what the military public relations folks say, this is condoned and encouraged behavior.
He goes on to give some examples of the blatant disregard for life that he observed in Vietnam. You should read it.

I'm sure you're familiar with stories like his from Vietnam, but this is happening in Iraq and Afghanistan right now? In November, several Iraq and Afghanistan veterans traveled to Washington to testify before Congress about the injustices they witnessed while deployed. Democracy Now! aired several of the testimonies on their November 28th program. One of the most revealing testimonies came from Vincent Emanuele who served in the Marine Corps from September '02 to January '06. He was deployed to Iraq in August 2004.

Another mission our platoon was tasked to take on was that of transporting prisoners from our detention facility on base back to the desert. The reason I say the desert and not their town is because that is exactly where we would drop them off, in the middle of nowhere. Now, most of these men had obviously been deemed innocent, or else they would have been moved to a more permanent detention facility and not released back into the local population. Our unit engaged in punching, kicking, butt stroking or generally harassing and abusing these very prisoners until the point at which our unit would be take them in the middle of the desert, miles from their respective homes, and at times throw them out of the back of our Humvees, all the while continually punching, kicking and at times even throwing softball-sized rocks at their backs as they ran away. This, once again, was not an isolated incident.

Possibly the most disturbing of what took place in Iraq was the mishandling of the dead. On several occasions, our convoy came across bodies that had been decapitated and were lying on the road, sometimes for weeks. When encountering these bodies, standard procedure was to run over the corpses, sometimes even stopping and taking pictures, which was also a standard practice when encountering the dead in Iraq—this, along with neglecting to account for many of those who were killed or wounded. On one specific occasion, after I had personally shot a man attempting to flee while planting a roadside bomb, we drug his body out of the ditch he was laying in, and we subsequently left that body—slide please—we subsequently left that body to rot in the field, where we saw this man up to a week later.

These are just a few of the disturbing and unacceptable stories I could share with you from my time in Iraq. Others would include continually dehumanizing Iraqis by referring to them as “hajis” or “sand niggers.” Even the racist and sexist nature that exists within the military itself, which was obviously—overtly obvious on a daily basis.
Go to the DN! link above and listen to the entire show if you want to get a full picture of some of the widespread abuse going on over there. For testimony from more Iraq veterans at March's Winter Soldier gathering in Maryland, click here and here.

Whether it be Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Bagram, or the streets of Iraq, when trained killing machines go too far, it's a direct result of the policies set by commanding officers. The trainers, along with the executives/cabinet members/vice presidents that approve the training and create the conditions that result in the crimes, should be investigated and prosecuted. These prosecutions should follow the trail all the way up the power structure, and punish those proven guilty. The true criminals of this irresponsible war of on terror must be exposed and brought to justice if we are ever to restore our credibility at home and throughout the rest of the world.

UPDATE: Ironically, just minutes ago, AP ran a story on a newly released bipartisan Senate Armed Services Committee report that DIRECTLY links the BUSH ADMINISTRATION widespread use of torture in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo. More to come soon.

Photo: Reuters