Advice and Dissent

by Pasadena Weekly, Sep 8, 2005

Five, 10, maybe 20 people will die in Iraq today.

Soon one of them could be my friend Travis, a 21-year-old former Glendale City College student
who I met through Weekly Editor Kevin Uhrich and his son, Ted, himself a former Marine.

The Army just told Travis that he’ll be shipping out next month.

As of yesterday, more than 1,880 American soldiers, many of them teenagers, have died in Iraq.

An untold, unimaginable number of Iraqi civilians are also dead by our hand.

Though he’s been trained to be, Travis is not a killer. Not yet.

And he doesn’t want to be.

“We don’t even know why we’re there,” he said, speaking not just for himself but for many other Americans today.
In the 30 or so seconds that you’ve been reading this, about $77,000 has gone toward the $200 billion effort to destroy and rebuild Iraq, according to the nonprofit National Priorities Project at

Meanwhile, we count the dead from the tragedy in New Orleans — death that could have been avoided but for the war, some say.

By ignoring the needs of our people, the destruction “is simply a part of the price of the Iraq War,” said Blase Bonpane, a former Maryknoll priest who has dedicated the past 40 years of his life to ending human suffering.

As we report on page 10, requests had been made to President Bush to shore up the levees that broke last week and washed away thousands of homes and lives. But, with all of our resources tied up in Iraq, those requests were denied.
For all of its costs, why are we in Iraq?

Cindy Sheehan, who camped out at Bush’s Crawford ranch all last month to ask him for what noble cause her son Army Specialist Casey Sheehan had to die, isn’t the only one who wants to know.

Like the rest of us, she got no answer.

So, as we do every year on Sept. 11, the Weekly has asked artists, activists, soldiers and other citizens to consider how our country has changed in the wake of the horrendous attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

What has war, from the death of one soldier to the Abu Ghraib prison scandal to no-bid multibillion-dollar corporate contracts to the rights-stripping USA PATRIOT Act, cost us?

Has 9/11 become nothing more to some of our leaders “than a get-out-of-jail-free card to abrogate our civil rights and start wars for profit,” as musician David Crosby put it?

“Collateral damage, tiger cages, lip service to values, addiction to violence, allegiance to oil, death to the innocent. Is this what we fight to preserve?” asked actor and activist Mike Farrell.

Asked Jane Bright, a local mom who lost her son to the war in Iraq, “Is this really the American Way?”
People like Travis need you to think about it.

—Joe Piasecki

The American Way?

We are at war on two fronts with a third war possibly looming with Iran. There are close to 2,000 dead American soldiers and tens of thousands of dead Iraqis. America and Americans are reviled around the world. We’re called imperialists. We are considered aggressors and invaders.

Is this who we really are as Americans?

My beautiful son lost his life and the lives of my surviving son, my husband, I and other family members are irrevocably damaged because of the loss of my son in a war that we started for no discernable reason.
Again, is this really the American Way?

— Jane Bright lives in West Hills and lost her son, 24-year-old Sgt. Evan Asa Ashcraft, to a rocket-propelled grenade in
Northern Iraq on June 24, 2003. (As told to JP)

Rebuild at home

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, Americans experienced a mixture of fear and a quickening of the national spirit. The extraordinary heroism of the firefighters, police and others in coping with death and destruction rebuked the mood of infectious greed generated by this era of market dominance.

But the moment was brief and did not last. Four years later, it is clear that we are less secure and more unequal. This president has practiced the politics of division — systematically dividing us within and from allies without. He has cruelly exploited 9/11 and the “global War

on Terrorism” for raw partisan purposes. In pursuit of empire abroad, this administration has endangered our Republic at home.

America’s citizens deserve better. Slowly, in these last months, the polls show that people — even those who were hoodwinked into voting for Bush — are waking up to the deceptions of this White House. What was once considered marginal — opposition to an unnecessary war which has made us less secure and more reviled in the world — is now entering the mainstream of our political debate. It will take real political leadership and courageous and wise activism, but this really can be the beginning of the end of a disastrous war and a bankrupt national security strategy.

At a time when the nation faces another (natural) disaster — in its way, perhaps as consequential in human and political terms as 9/11 — let us work to rebuild our country on truly moral principles: shared sacrifice and shared prosperity, a commitment to human rights, equality and democratic reconstruction.

— Katrina vanden Heuvel is editor of The Nation. (Via email)

‘Bring the troops home now’

Shortly after 9/11, 2001, I was deployed to the Middle East to provide direct combat support for Operation Enduring Freedom.

Seven months after returning, I again found myself in the Middle East. I was now taking part in the intensified bombing of Iraq while Bush was in the United States saying we were going to try diplomacy.

Now, in my post military life, I see that the US is headed in the wrong direction. We need to implement a new foreign policy based on respect and understanding. The best way to start this is to end the occupation of Iraq and bring the troops home now.

In 25 years, I have learned what some people may never learn in a lifetime: Violence only leads to further violence.

— Los Angeles resident Tim Goodrich served as an Air Force senior airman in Iraq and is co-founder of Iraq Veterans Against the War, (JP)

Crisis and opportunity

To me, the worst effect of 9/11 was that the current administration saw it as a wonderful opportunity to advance their own agenda … a sort of get-out-of-jail-free card to abrogate our civil rights and start wars for profit.

— Musician David Crosby still hasn’t cut his hair. (Via email)

Justice for all
Looking back at the last four years, I think the 9/11 tragedy forced American Muslims to wake up, open up and speak up. Although American Muslims still find their loyalty questioned, civil liberties compromised and are constantly forced to defend who we are and what Islam stands for, the “silver lining” is that it forced us to get involved. We had to speak up or no one else would.

The terror attacks of 9/11 were a terrible tragedy that I hope and pray are never repeated.  I have to admit that even now, four years later, thinking about that day and the events that unfolded in this country still send shivers down my spine.

From time to time, when I’m shopping or out and about in the community and someone yells a racial or religious slur, I still feel the adrenaline pumping — the kind one feels when one is afraid and scared. But I am determined to not live in a world of fear and hate, determined not to hide or cower, and determined to open the doors for dialogue and leave a better world for our youth and our future.

— Tahra Goraya is board president of CAIR-Southern California and executive director of the Pasadena-based Day One, a coalition for a drug-free community. (Via email)

‘A war on crime’

We must take care to remember two things; first that terrorists are really nothing more than criminals with a political agenda. The war on terror is really a war on crime, magnified.

Secondly, we must never stop trying to find the right balance between security and liberty. Too much of the debate on this issue come from the extremes rather than the middle. Those who believe the threat is everywhere and those who believe there is no threat are equally foolish.

— Pasadena Police Chief Bernard Melekian is a US Coast Guard reservist. (Via email)

Who are you, America?

The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and our response create a defining moment for America.  

Grieving needs time to reconcile the new reality, but simplistic nationalism trumped thoughtful leadership and declared crusade. Six-gun justice … wanted dead or alive … with us or with the terrorists. Thus the din of bombs and wounded shrieks of defenseless people become white noise muted by flapping flags and blaring horns as thousands die because thousands died.

The world will never be the same, it’s said, the implied arrogance suggesting that nothing matters to us but us. The destitute, the shamed, the hopeless — victims of terrorism for generations — look up, then back to a world always the same.

Abroad, brutes replace brutes. At home, fear congeals, rights die. Jingo redefines patriot.  Speech becomes dangerous: "Watch what you say." The cliché that a chance to vote on it means Americans would repeal the Bill of Rights is tested; fearful, we fail.

Muted protests rise, are stifled, rise again. Collateral damage, tiger cages, lip service to values, addiction to violence, allegiance to oil, death to the innocent.  Is this what we fight to preserve?  

Who are you, America?

— Actor and activist Mike Farrell first wrote these words for

Hugh Downs’ “My America: What My Country Means to Me,
by 150 Americans from All Walks of Life.”  He asked the
Weekly to use them here. (JP)

Restore public infrastructure

The destruction of the great city of New Orleans together with much of the Gulf Coast is simply a part of the price of the Iraq War. Every year efforts have been made by informed people requesting more federal funding for the levees and infrastructure of that great city on the Mississippi River. And these requests have been denied in order to pay for an unnecessary, illegal and immoral war. (Please see related story on page 10.)

The denial of these necessary funds is also part of a larger ideology which has been festering for three decades. The ideology is called privatization and is based on a religion of profit for the few. As a result, the entire public infrastructure of the United States is deteriorating. We have only to look at the efforts to defund Social Security, public schools, public parks, public highways, sewer systems, libraries, universities and hospitals.

Let the troops from Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama be the first to return from Iraq.

And may they be followed immediately by the rest of our troops to come home and save their country from the terrorism generated by privatization.

— Blase Bonpane is director of the LA-based Office of the
Americas. His latest book is “Common Sense for the 21st Century.” (Via email)

Use our imagination

The administration’s response to the attacks, I believe have been disastrous. We’ve invaded a country that has nothing to do with 9/11. We have rushed to war on false intelligence and the planners have executed it badly.

There is not a conventional military solution to terror. If there were, Israel, which has one of the greatest armies in the world fighting a refugee camp, would have no terrorism.

It’s an incredible lack of imagination to pour our resources into war when all of that money should go to first responders, as we see in New Orleans.

What’s really obscene to me is that I don’t see anyone [who is able] making any sacrifice. In this time of tremendous bounty for our least vulnerable citizens, since 9/11 I’ve gotten $250,000 in tax relief.

— Bradley Whitford lives in Pasadena and is a
star of TV’s “The West Wing.” (JP)

Uniting in crisis

Four years after Sept. 11 we are still learning lessons about how to cope with tragedy on a national scale. But one fact was immediately clear: Americans unite in a time of crisis.  None of us can forget watching generous donations from around the country pour into relief efforts, school groups raising money for new fire trucks or tireless volunteers serving round-the-clock hot meals at Ground Zero. 

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina we are once again facing a national tragedy.  In the difficult weeks ahead we each can find comfort in America’s deep history of generosity and the knowledge that humanity exists in the wake of even the most horrific natural and manmade disasters.

— Congressman Adam Schiff is a Democrat from Pasadena. (Via email)

‘Disaster in total’

There is a sense of fear, not of terrorists as much as that this administration is out of touch with reality, and that if something serious would happen that Bush, Cheney, Condi and Rumsfeld aren’t capable of thinking their way out of a paper sack.

It’s become abundantly clear that these folks are blinded by ideology and can’t be trusted to evaluate facts. When the Berlin Wall of loyalty that is the true strength of this administration cracks, and they turn on each other as they try to pass off blame for this mess, then we’ll know to be very afraid because we’ll finally see the disaster in total and what enormous work it’ll take to try to make it right.

— Altadena novelist Jervey Tervalan is author of
“Dead Above Ground” and “Understand This.” (Via email)


After 9/11, the Bush administration told us that the US would fight a “war against terrorism.” That message morphed into "bringing democracy and liberty" to brown peoples in poor nations (already decimated by years of US policy). In particular, women’s oppression was used to rally sympathetic Americans, even Republicans, to support the war (compared to the Taliban, even Laura Bush appeared a feminist!).

Four years later, Afghan women still starve, still die of child birth in staggering numbers and are still attacked for political participation. Little has changed since before 9/11, including the collective memory of a world willing to forget the victims, past and present, of our cruel politics.

Perhaps worse than in Afghanistan, Iraqi women have found themselves in a similar situation with “their” new constitution enshrining laws designed to oppress them.

Judging by the past four years, we have to conclude that war cannot conjure up liberation. Only a sustained, strong, indigenous resistance can. I express my solidarity with the women resistors of Afghanistan and Iraq. In their struggle lies our salvation.

—Sonali Kolhatkar is co-director of the Afghan Women’s Mission and host of “Uprising!” which can be heard on KPFK 90.7 FM. (Via email)

Unite under truth

Since 9/11, everything from the weather to the economy to a simple cup of coffee seems to have gone unpredictable and haywire.

The silver lining, I believe, is that it has reinforced the common concerns and love we have for each other as Americans and as global citizens. We must stay together and keep focused. If we do not, they have won.

— Mary Eisenhower is the granddaughter of
President Dwight D. Eisenhower. (Via email)

‘Knowledge and consent’

In 1998, I was asked by the American Friends Service Committee to accompany a Voices in the Wilderness delegation to Iraq. I saw a people desperate for the things most of us take for granted. Hospitals were full of people dying for lack of basic medicine — 5,000 children a month.

I went to Kuwait a year ago to bring a young Iraqi girl to the US for a prosthetic arm. While in Kuwait I spoke with Iraqi doctors who told me not only had there been no improvement, but everything in Iraq had gotten worse.

The Iraqi people had nothing to do with the terrorist attack on the Trade Towers. This makes the US the symbol of senseless cruelty on a much larger scale than Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi people cannot believe that our government can cause so much harm without the knowledge and consent of the American people.

— Alan Pogue is an award-winning photojournalist who
lives in Texas. (Via email)

Insidious erosion
What is most distressing as the country approaches the fourth anniversary of the tragedy of Sept. 11 is how much the country has just accepted a loss of civil liberties and civil rights. More than 600 human beings remain incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Not one has been tried or found to have committed any offense. No one, outside a few in the government with access to classified information, has any idea how many individuals are now being detained or have been detained by the government as part of the war on terrorism.

Congress has renewed the PATRIOT Act with only relatively small changes. Very objectionable provisions remain. The government can monitor electronic communications, like email addresses sent to or received from or websites visited, just by showing that it is “relevant” to a criminal investigation.

Why has the country so quickly gotten used to this? Part of the answer is that most people are unaffected by all of this. Most of the government’s enforcement efforts have been targeted at those who are, or who appear to be, of Arab descent. Part of the answer, too, is that liberty is being lost incrementally, a bit at a time and not all at once.

But these realities — the lack of concern about the rights of others, the slow loss of freedom — are what make the erosion of rights all the more insidious.

— Erwin Chemerinsky is a professor of law and
political science at Duke University. (Via email)

‘Two steps back’

It’s interesting how we as human beings can show so much compassion during times of tragedy, but at other times we forget the importance of human life. Peace takes one step forward and two steps back. Ignorance, apathy and anger fuel our emotions post 9/11. Wherever your political affiliation may lie, remember that we are all people first and that we should strive for one thing, and that’s peace.  

— Punk rocker Mike Park is founder of the Plea for Peace Foundation (, founded Asian Man Records and used to perform with the band Skankin’ Pickle. (Via email)

Nothing positive

Don’t know if I have anything of a positive nature to say about 9/11 changing America — it changed it by giving W the chance to show America for what it really is, but nobody needs to hear that.

— Los Angeles writer Jerry Stahl is the author of “Permanent Midnight” and
“I, Fatty.” (As told to Justin Chapman)

Leave quickly but safely
Whether or not one agrees with why or how we got to Iraq — we are in Iraq.  

As the mother of one of those fallen soldiers, Cindy Sheehan’s passionate call for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq is understandable. Appealing though such a withdrawal may be, it would be irresponsible for our government to consider leaving until we help create a measure of peace and stability at which the Iraqi’s can control their own country and destiny.

At one level, establishing stability is the least we can do after having disrupted Iraq’s internal political balance, no matter how terrible Saddam was to his own people. But pragmatically, by leaving at this tumultuous time, we might soon be faced with a radical, extremist government in Iraq.

Whatever your political views, I believe we should all agree on two things. First, we should never forget to recognize and appreciate the sacrifices our military men and women make on our behalf while serving in Iraq and other tense situations around the world.

Second, we should support a US strategy that will effectively engender the actions necessary to help the Iraqis govern Iraq themselves — and once that goal is achieved, leave as quickly and as safely as we are able.  

— Retired Col. Richard Downie is a former director of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, once known as the School of the Americas. (Via email)

That’s how it starts

My case was one of the first cases that the USA PATRIOT Act was used against political dissenters. With the political climate, you could easily be rendered a terrorist in the eyes of Homeland Security if you spoke out in criticism of the government in any way.

The entire US police state apparatus has carried out these actions long before 9/11, when the Black Panthers were getting shot up because they sought to exercise their so-called constitutional rights. It’s a daily occurrence, especially in communities of color.

The war here is the same one waged in Afghanistan, Iraq and Latin America

Today they can publicly say we entered your house, downloaded computer files, questioned your neighbors, followed you, kept files on you and called you a domestic terrorist. That’s how fascism really starts.

-In 2003 Sherman Austin was sentenced to a year in federal prison for terrorist crimes after a teenager posted bomb-making instructions to the then 20-year-old San Fernando Valley activist’s Web site. (JP)

Embrace civilization

For some reason during times of war, we, as humans, tend to pull back from the things that seem trivial when such important matters weigh heavy on our minds, and the arts tend to seem trivial. However, it is what we should embrace the most, as it is what makes and keeps us civilized to some extent.  

— Gary Lamb is artistic director of the Crown City Theatre Company and the Pasadena Shakespeare Festival. (As told to John Esther)

Save energy, save lives

The day the planes hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, my phone started ringing. It was members of the press, calling to ask me what would happen if a plane struck a nuclear power reactor.

One week later, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) stated what I knew: It would be like the Chernobyl atomic explosion in 1986.

That day I knew deep in my heart that unknowingly, the utility corporations of the USA had created an arsenal of pre-deployed nuclear weapons, like sitting ducks, close to our population centers.

The closest reactors to Pasadena are the San Onofre complex — two operating, one closed — located on the coast between LA and San Diego.

The good news is that if a nuclear power reactor is turned off, it takes only 30 days to cut the public health threat of cancer from an attack in half. And if every conventional light bulb in Southern California were replaced with a compact fluorescent bulb, there would be so much energy saved that turning off that reactor would be possible.

— Mary Olson is director of the Southeast Office of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service. (Via email)

Shifting priorities

The big question in national politics for the next year is when and how the US will pull out of Iraq, but the larger question is whether we will be shifting our national priorities to address human needs at home and human rights abroad.

For every American who has actively participated in one of the recent activities to support Cindy Sheehan’s vigil in Crawford, Texas, there are tens of thousands who quietly oppose the war and want to restore balance to American politics and policy.

Americans understand that the occupation of Iraq and the bloated military budget is draining the US of the resources it needs to address its serious domestic problems — the 40 million Americans without health insurance, the 35 million Americans living in poverty, declining wages and living standards, the need to hire more teachers and upgrade our schools, the need to expand the supply of affordable housing for working families, and the need to improve public transit and rebuild the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

We feel this every day in Pasadena.  

So the big question is whether American public opinion will prevail in the 2006 and 2008 elections. There are many ways for Pasadena residents to help make that happen. Join groups like MoveOn.Org and Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace. Join other Pasadenans who are working to improve the public schools, bring more affordable housing or feed the hungry in Pasadena.     

— Peter Dreier is a professor of politics and director of the Urban and Environmental Policy Program at Occidental College. (Via email)