Monday, January 30, 2017

The Eagle and the Fox

This is my favorite of Aesop’s Fables. I posted it on this blog almost ten years ago. It suggests the relationship between the United States and the Middle East over the last fifty years. It seems more appropriate than ever.

An Eagle and a Fox became close friends and decided to share a home. The Eagle built her nest in the uppermost branches of a tall tree, while the Fox crept into a hole at its foot, where she raised her young. Not long after, the Eagle, needing food for her own offspring, swooped down, seized one of the Fox’s cubs, and carried it back to her nest. The Eagle did not fear retribution because of her lofty dwelling, but the Fox snatched a torch from a nearby altar and set the tree on fire. The helpless Eaglets were roasted in their nest and fell down dead at the bottom of the tree, where the Fox gobbled them up in sight of their mother.

The tyrant may not fear the tears of the oppressed, but he is never safe from their vengeance.


If you were a soldier ordered to commit a war crime,
would you risk court martial and disobey?

If you were a government employee seeing official corruption,
would you risk your career to expose it?

If you were a witness to the rape of a child,
would you risk a beating to stop it?

If you were a bystander watching police beating a black man,
would you risk arrest to capture it on video?

If you saw political extremists stealing your democracy,
would you risk the disapproval of your neighbors to resist it?

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Weapons “R” Us

Weapons are a big deal to U.S. weapon manufacturers—a $40 billion annual big deal. They have come up with a business strategy that other manufacturers can only dream about.

The elegant part of their strategy is they get paid to develop new products by their customers who then buy the products from them. Their customers then handle a major part of the sales process including training sales people, making sales calls and structuring deals. And here’s the kicker–they get a third party to pick up the tab for all of it. You and me.

Here’s how it works. We pay the U.S. military to create wish lists of toys and submit their lists to Congress, who we also pay. Weapons manufacturers then hire ex-military officers who were trained on our dime as sales people and lobbyists to help get Congress to approve the budget for those toys.

When the budgets are approved and contracts awarded, the manufacturers and their sub-contractors are paid to develop the prototypes. The cost is mostly irrelevant, because the specs usually change during development, requiring supplemental budgets. We pay for all of this with our taxes.

Once the weapons are developed, we pay for manufacturing them. Our politicians help sell these weapons to other countries and facilitate the terms of the contracts. The Pentagon helps these prospective customers develop their own wish lists, negotiates the deals and arranges payment. From the President on down, U.S. government officials including Senators and Congressmen make sales trips abroad in behalf of the weapons manufacturers. In some cases, the State Department supplies the financing through foreign aid. All of these people are paid by us.

To reward all these public officials, the weapons industry locates manufacturing facilities in as many states as possible, creating an industry that is “too big to fail” because we’re all complicit.

But there’s more. Their products actually create the market for more sales. As weapons land in the hands of foreign armies, tension and volatility develops between nations. This volatility leads to fear, confrontation and too often war, all of which feeds the need for more weapons. It’s perpetual motion marketing.

Weapons manufacturers are parasites that eat their young. They profit from fear, xenophobia, war, terrorism, genocide and death and have convinced us to pay for it.

The blood is on our hands too. We pay without even complaining.

Zero tolerance

A black hole conceived by politically
motivated school officials and
overzealous police officers
sucks our children into a
vortex that spirals
downward into a
justice system
focused on
rather than

Have we forgotten that humans learn by trial and error?

1935 Buick

Right after WWII, my mother drove a big, black, well-used 1935 Buick sedan. It was the first car I remember. It had long sweeping front fenders and four heavy doors that closed with a resounding thunk. The front doors were hinged at the front, but the back doors were hinged at the back and opened from the front. They were called suicide doors, I guess because it would be suicide to open them when the car was moving.

A chrome goddess graced the top of the radiator surround with her arms extended behind her, her back gracefully arched, and her breasts thrust shamelessly forward. Beneath her was a winged shield with Buick written in ornate script. On either side of the grill was a large teardrop-shaped headlamp.

The seats were covered with musty gray mohair that scratched the backs of my arms and legs on a hot summer day. A plaid wool blanket was folded over a blanket rope across the back of the front seat, and cloth-covered straps hung just behind the rear doors to assist passenger egress.

The spare tire was mounted at the rear in a metal cover between two graceful, nickel-plated tail lamps. While not the top-of-the-line model, it was still a big car.

My first recollections of the Buick were driving with my mother to go grocery shopping in Nashua at the First National Store on Main Street. She sometimes left us in the car while she shopped, which was safe and acceptable in the 1940s. My four year-old brother and I stood by the open rear windows and called out to passersby on the sidewalk until my mother came out with a bag-boy carrying her groceries.

If we behaved, she took Pine Hill Road back to Hollis and stopped at the airport so we could watch planes take off and land. There were boxy yellow Piper Cubs, a tiny Ercoupe and our favorite, a sleek maroon Stinson.

But the best times in the old Buick came after it was retired to the field next to our driveway. Then it became ours.

I remember sitting behind the wheel, my feet unable to reach the pedals, turning switches on the dash as I pretended to chauffer my sister and her friends. Or sitting on the roof with my legs hanging in front of the windshield urging an imaginary team of horses away from stagecoach bandits. It was a six year-old boy’s delight except when the summer sun was high and the faded black paint got so hot we couldn’t climb on the car without getting burned.

Then one day, a man came in a tow truck. My brother and I called him names as he hoisted the front wheels of our car off the ground and hauled it away. We never saw the Buick again.

First cutting

The farmer’s pregnant wife
steers the chugging John Deere tractor
along the windrows in the midday sun.
The clattering green bailer gathers
the fragrant hay and gives birth
to neatly tied bales.

My American dream

In my American dream,
there are no secret prisons
no government-sanctioned torture
no religious intolerance
no racial discrimination
no police brutality
no hungry children
no homeless families
no imperialistic wars
and no second-class citizens.

What’s in yours?