Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Human's and Lil Joe's Southern Adventure

(Be sure to click on pics to enlarge, and click again for even bigger)
As maybe the readers of the last noticed, I did not know that my Brother Chip, and his 9 year old son Eric were involved in an accident 'til a week after it happened. His wife did not contact us. Over the years we have made every attempt to welcome her into our side.

I found out because Chip called my wife's work. She works for a branch of the Feds and they wouldn't even confirm that she worked there. Which is good, but, just another price to pay for the fearful world we live in. They called to let us know that he was trying to contact her, for reasons unknown. I called the # he had given them and learned about the accident. He said he had suffered multiple compound fractures and that Eric was okay. He told me that, although he had not seen it, the article was on the 'net(links below). As reported by the article, the "9 year old" was critical or as the other put it "serious". So was Chip not facing reality, and Eric had died or even worse? Maybe they had not told Chip? Me being me, I conjure the worst of the worst.
Which made the trip even more Urgent and Dreadful.

The night before the trip I couldn't help but take out the photo's I have of Eric. Some taken not long ago, some when he was just a wee Lil feller. Good thing we got a large supply of tissues from Big Box Mart the week before.

I won't drag it out, ERIC IS OKAY! He and his Lil brother went to the Grannies for the Holidays, but I did get to talk to him on the phone. Poor Lil Guy. I could tell he was still pretty shaken up by it all. Sooo, GOOD to hear his voice.

I had to take Lil Joe with me because Mommy had to work, so last Saturday we set out at 9am bound for Chattanooga. As everyone with wee ones knows, road trips such as these take at least twice as long to accomplish. As a matter of SOP we stop every couple of hours to snack, eat a full meal and run and play. I know a lot of parents do this. Many at McDonald's. We prefer Cracker barrel. The shop is fun for him to wander around and I buy him a toy truck that he picks out himself. Plus the food is real good. In the 4 days of the trip, we ate at Cracker Barrel 5 times. He now equates a restaurant with toy trucks and cars. Today, for a change of pace, we ate at the Bob Evans in Winchester Virginia. He just kept begging and looking for the toy trucks and cars.

Instead of playing at the McDonald's, I prefer to stop at State or Local Parks.
If you are ever on I81 in Virginia, you will want to stop at Clayton Lake State Park(exit 101).
Camping Year round, fishing, hiking and playgrounds. A walk in the wood, tossing pebbles in the lake, playing peekaboo behind the trees and a good chase ("I'm gonna come a get you") ending with a ticklefest, just don't compare with McDonald's.

Clayton Lake

The Gazebo at Clayton Lake

Bambi and Friends at Clayton Lake

Although most of the Rest Stops in Virginia are being renovated(portapotties only) I do reccomend the 2nd one heading South on I81 after you enter from West Virginia.
It has a terraced trail with pikanic tables and a decent view.(this was before the Clayton Lake stop.)

At the Virginia Rest Stop

Our 1st night's Hotel was the Sleep Inn near Kingsport just after one enters Tennesee. A decent Hotel with a nice staff. It also has a Cracker Barrel across the street! My only complaint was that the covers smelled of cigarette smoke. Me thinks someone was smoking under the covers like a wayward teen. That and as I would later find out the next night, to my and Lil Joe's greater disappointment, we left Le Aire behind. He's Lil Joe's 1st Bear Friend. He wears a Rabbit suit. His Aunt T gave it to him. "Le Aire" was one of the 1st sounds he made when he was just a Baby. Can you say Bad Daddy?

My Lil Drooler, ready for Night Night.

We had great fun in the room. 'til Night Night. Oh yeah. He wassa missing Mommy Bigtime. I had spoken to her on the sly a bit b4 beddie time. As he would not calm down, I called her and had her say the usual Sweet things she says at Night Night. That worked. 'Til about 5 minutes after we had hungup! When he finally accepted the inevitable, he just drove his face into my chest and with a huge sigh fell fast asleep. An hour later, he awoke screaming for "MOMMY". I quickly reassured him. "It's okay, It's okay". He was dreaming of her, I think. He then insisted on laying on my head. Well so in addition to Chief Bottle Washer, a Jungle Gym and all my other Titles, I guess I'm a bed. Or at least my head is. The ultimate Bed Head. Hey, at least I found a use for it besides balance.

Making good time the next day, we were set to arrive at the Hospital at 2pm. Then we hit traffic. I decided to bail and try an alternative route. I could see by the map that I could take Rte. 11 and hook back to The Freeway. After turning onto Little Debbie Parkway we turned right onto, Guess what? No come on guess! No, that's not it, we ended up on Apison Pike. That's the same road the 19 yo girl hit my brother's Tacoma head on on! I said to myself, "self, watch oncoming traffic!" About a minute after that I heard one of the sounds from the back seat that I fear. That cough. You may know the one. I look back and sure enough, up comes the Cracker Barrel Lunch of Mac and Cheese, bread and lemonade. All over. And boy was he upset. Just a started screaming and kicking. I turned onto a dirt shoulder that was not that safe to stay on. But, as I did not know when I would get another chance to turnoff, I did. Quickly stripping him and cleaning him and the car seat, while trying to keep down my own lunch was quite a feat.I'm one who if I smell it, well ya know. I then knocked over the tube of wipes and they rolled under the car! I couldn't reach it, so with crying baby I went for a stick in the woods. Got it and with one swipe knocked it back. Picked it up and then Lil Joe let out another scream and kick and with flailing arms
knocked the tube out of my grasp. Yep, right under the car again!

A bit later we enter Chattanooga. Instead of my planned entrance I came in on an area that I did not map out. Let's just say that it was a very rough looking neighborhood and I stood out like a White Sore Thumb. The only ones who eyed us though were the Cops. They followed us. Ran the plate and then left our tail.

After finally finding the Hospital, I got Lil Joe, a change of clothes for him, the "To Go Bag" (diaper bag) and my computer that I had saved the accident articles on. I did not know if Chip would want to see them but I thought I'd leave that up to him.
I just knew the 1st woman who saw me with Lil Joe who was now just in a diaper would say something. I was greeted by the gray haired Lady receptionist, "Must be warmer then it looks out there to be dressed like that". Me, "Either that or he just threw up all over himself". Ever notice how receptionists like to wield their power? So I added, "I got a change of clothes here, so the faster we can get up to my brother's room, who is here because he was critically injured in an auto accident and who we came to see after driving for 2 days from Pennsylvania the better." From Nurse Cratchet to a Sweet Grandma type in seconds. "You poor Dears". God Bless You" "What's your Brother's name?" All said in a sweet Tennessee voice. Oh Yeahhhhh. I'm thinking of keeping a little mock arm cast I can put on Lil Joe, so I can get the big pity when we need it too.

Got up there and man did it take a lot to hold back the tears. For both of us. If Lil Joe had not been with me, we would have had to call housekeeping for a mop. It sure was good to see him. Alive. Even if banged and stapled up. I could see that it really rose his spirits. I got him to give a thumbs up! He enjoyed seeing Lil Joe so much too. We stayed a bit over an hour and then checked into the Sleep Inn just across the Tennessee River.

Chip Looking Chipper

The Cracker Barrel was another exit down. But, the Holiday traffic was atrocious and wanting something a bit different we went to the Hardee's right next to the Hotel. Big mistake. The next day, well let's just say I'm surprised the Chattanooga Water Treatment Facility could keep up. The Hardee's in Our Town is really good. Oh well, Cramp and Learn. The best part was this Hotel has an indoor swimming pool! Boy oh Boy did Lil Joe and I have fun! He's getting to be a good kicker too! By the end of next summer, he should be doing the 1k meter in good time.

Up early the next day (Monday), so we could get as much time with Chip in as possible. We arrived shortly before his physical therapy started (8am). We went down with him. It was in this huge room with various apparatus. After meeting Bill who was my Brother's Therapist, Lil Joe Spied the huge exercise balls. He just started yelling "Ball! Ball!" "I said, "Joe, those are for the people who need it". Just loud enough for everybody in the room to hear, of course. I looked up at what I took to be the guy in charge of the room and he said, "Oh he can play". He came over and gave Lil Joe the Orange Ball. Gleeful is an understatement. Not only did we have a Ball, but the other patients, who were looking pretty sad when I 1st saw them, were all smiles within seconds of watching his antics. Most of the patients were old. I think I could rent him out to cheer Hospital Patients up. We stayed for about an hour and way too soon, we had to start back home. Lil Joe did not like that a bit. He wanted to keep playing. Why he wanted to do that, instead of getting strapped into the car again for another long ride I'll never know.

This time we stayed at the Comfort Inn and Suites in Salem Virginia. Which I highly recommend. A really nice big room. 5 miles off I81 in a nice Professional area, across from a Hospital Center. As I was pretty tuckered out, I decided on Pizza and bbq wings to be delivered. I know he'll eat pizza. Anytime.

Now every few hours through the trip he would yell for his Mommy. Well when the pizza guy knocked on the door, he just started screaming and jumping up and down "Mommy! Mommy!" He was disappointed, but hunger and Pizza! overcame a big fit.

Pizza Lover

Now, let me tell you a little secret. When you stay at a Hotel, make it a point to get friendly with the maid. Not only do we tip, we stop and talk to them. No one wants to be ignored. We always, if we can, tip in person and don't just leave it in the room. Well, remember I wrote we had lost Le Aire? On the way back we stopped at the Hotel we had left him at. And yes indeed, Le Aire the Rabbit Bear was waiting in the Lost and Found for us. Now I can't say for sure, but maybe because of the following we got him back.

As we were going to the breakfast room for the free eats , we ran across the maid stocking her cart. She asked us what room we were in. I told her, but added, "We ain't left just yet, we are gonna eat and then pack and leave." She said, "Oh I'm not working just yet, I just wanted to know". I said, "It sure looks like your working, then quickly added, "I know what you mean". After packing and getting a coffee to go, I sought her out and gave her a 5 dollar tip. She sure was surprised and thankful. So, although I can't be sure that's why we got Le Aire back, I still think Niceness Counts.

I knew Lil Joe would want to see his Mommy when we got home, but she worked till 7. If I had driven straight home, we would have had to wait about 5 hours before she got home. So we decide to take a bit of a detour and visit Harper's Ferry West Virginia. A beautiful spot that everyone should experience. I hoped that a train would come by when we were there, but Lil Joe and I were disappointed. Still he got a kick out of crossing the foot bridge over the Potomac and walking along the C&O Canal.

On the foot Bridge at Harper's Ferry over the Potomac River

A safe and rewarding trip. It was good to see my Brother, Lil Joe is #1 in the Road Trip Category, and he brought smiles where ever he was seen.

Including this scene that was played out in a very Crowded Cracker Barrel while we were waiting for our name to be called.

A woman, oh about mid twenties or so comes in. Well, before she came in, her tits did. She was 40 Double D at the very least. Now Lil Joe always smiles and tries to get the prettiest girl to pay attention to him. And well, to put it mildly, her 2 friends were not her only assets. After giving her name to the name taker type person, she turns and sees him. They lock eyes. She just about 2 feet away. Lil Joe points right at her tits and says, "Nice Chest". I about pooped my own pants! I surely thought she'd be upset and chastise me, to be joined along with the other people standing around. To my surprise and relief she responded with a sweet, "Thank You" and went to look around the shop. Now why can't I say things like that and get away with it? Is it because I'm not as cute as this?

PS - Thank you everybody who expressed their Cares and for your Prayers. It does mean
a lot to me.

Friday, November 24, 2006


Sorry I have not visited all my friendlies to wish a Happy Thanksgiving as intended,
but I've been just so busy and as it was decided that Thanksgiving was at my Bro and Sis in-laws place, we had over a 4 hr round trip to make. Everything went fine. Till I woke up this morning and found out a Dear friend's Grandmother died and that my Brother and his Son were involved in a very serious accident. Stupid me, my cell was misplaced for about a week. So I could not be contacted. Lil Joe, I and maybe another brother will drive down to Tennessee tomorrow. It'll be the 1st time Lil Joe is without his Mother for an extended period of time.

So a belated Happy Thanksgiving to all and thanks for your kind comments on the last thread.

Please Drive Gently.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Has anybody here seen my old friend Abraham?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He freed a lot of people,
But it seems the good they die young.
You know, I just looked around and he's gone.

Anybody here seen my old friend John?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He freed a lot of people,
But it seems the good they die young.
I just looked around and he's gone.

Anybody here seen my old friend Martin?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He freed a lot of people,
But it seems the good they die young.
I just looked 'round and he's gone.

Didn't you love the things that they stood for?
Didn't they try to find some good for you and me?
And we'll be free
Some day soon, and it's a-gonna be one day ...

Anybody here seen my old friend Bobby?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
I thought I saw him walkin' up over the hill,
With Abraham, Martin and John.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


I'm introducing a new friendly tonight. I 1st found his blog by surfing the "next blog" button some time ago. I have kept from linking him because I wanted to keep the Sick Far Right from attacking him and I did not want to compromise his position.

His last post hits the target right in the bulls eye. Which should come as no surprise really. Being that he is an Officer in the United States Army. He and his wife are currently stationed in Iraq. They are the parents of 1 year old Handsome Hunter. I should remind all readers right here and now, his expressed opinions are his and do not represent U.S. Armed Forces Policy or U.S. Governmental Policy.

It is with great pleasure and his permission that I introduce
Marcus and his Blog Anger Management <--click .Please visit and read his " Tread Surely but Lightly" post. And please, please, post all comments relating to his post at his place, not here. 'kay?

Monday, November 13, 2006


Thanks to a wonderful, kindhearted friend who is a computer pro, my computer is fixed!Wiped, Reinstalled for Free!
Now I don't have to go to the Library to get my fix. Me so happy :)

Anywho, I did pick up a mystery book while I was at the Library last week. If it turns out that it was a worthy read, I'll pass the title on. I really should read more fiction type stuff. A good author can take me away. Just like Calgon.

On the Gates nomination front, another thing I heard was...he was instrumental in talks with the Iranian Revolutionary Government. While the Hostage Crisis was still going on. When we had a President Carter. Ya see, Unbeknownst to President Carter, the Secret Government held up the Hostage release, so as to get their Actor into the Presidential office. Doubt that? Yeah well, a wee bit later, President Reagan later gave a cake(I always wondered what icing?) and a Bible to the Ayatollah. Thats just a fact Jack(or Jill). He also sold arms to them too. And just who was Reagan's VP? Why ex CIA Chief Poppy(that's what the Family calls him btw) Bush. Same actors that generated the Iran-Contra War generated the Afghan and Iraq invasions.

Next Google movie I will watch is From Freedom to Fascism. It's finished dwnldg. Itsa a bit past 11pm here(don't pay attention to time dates on my blog, I can't reset it!)
So I'll only get to watch about half of it b4 I hit the hay at midnight. That is if its not boring and I don't drift off.......

Thursday, November 09, 2006


"According to former CIA officer: Gates gave "falsified reports and uncoordinated analysis" to the President of the United States. Bush selects Gates to replace a Defense Secretary who did the same thing."

Like outgoing S.O.D. Rumsfeld, S.O.D. nominee Robert Gates is a longstanding Operative of the Bush Regime. When I heard the name, I just knew he had to be part of the Secret Government. I just couldn't remember the particulars. Being at home w/out access to the 'net I was frustrated. When I want to see where the trail leads, I often go to Wayne Madsen Reports. I was not dissapointed.

"November 9, 2006 -- Defense Secretary-designate Robert Gates in position to know about Iran-Contra scandal. The Final Report of Judge Lawrence Walsh, the Independent Counsel for Iran-Contra Matters, issued on Aug. 4, 1993, concluded, "Robert M. Gates was the Central Intelligence Agency's deputy director for intelligence (DDI) from 1982 to 1986. He was confirmed as the CIA's deputy director of central intelligence (DDCI) in April of 1986 and became acting director of central intelligence in December of that same year. Owing to his senior status in the CIA, Gates was close to many figures who played significant roles in the Iran/contra affair and was in a position to have known of their activities."

The report continued, "Gates was an early subject of Independent Counsel's investigation, but the investigation of Gates intensified in the spring of 1991 as part of a larger inquiry into the Iran/contra activities of CIA officials. This investigation received an additional impetus in May 1991, when President Bush nominated Gates to be director of central intelligence (DCI)."

Walsh re-focused on Gates after Clair E. George, the CIA's Deputy Director for Operations stonewalled the prosecutor on the role of Gates in Iran-Contra crimes. Walsh reserved the right to re-open the investigation of Gates but was stymied by the non-cooperation of George and Gates. Walsh said new information "could have warranted reopening his inquiry [of Gates], including testimony by Clair E. George, the CIA's former deputy director for operations. At the time Independent Counsel reached this decision [not to prosecute Gates], the possibility remained that George could have provided information warranting reconsideration of Gates's status in the investigation. George refused to cooperate with Independent Counsel and was indicted on September 19, 1991. George subpoenaed Gates to testify as a defense witness at George's first trial in the summer of 1992, but Gates was never called."

It is clear from the Walsh Report that Gates was an integral part of the illegal network that sold TOW anti-tank missiles to Iran in exchange for the release of U.S. hostages in Lebanon and that proceeds from the arms sales were illegally diverted to the Nicaraguan Contras. That put Gates inside a web of conspirators in the illegal arms sales and money transfers who included Oliver North, National Security Adviser John Poindexter, former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, intermediaries Manucher Ghorbanifar, Albert Hakim, Mohsen Kangarlu, and Maj. Gen. Richard V. Secord, Hashem Rafsanjani (the nephew of Iranian leader Ali Akbar Rafsanjani), and other senior CIA officials.

Former CIA officer Mel Goodman's charges against Gates are cited in Mark Perry's book Eclipse: The Last Days of the CIA. Goodman said that Gates and CIA director William Casey were very much involved in the Iran-Contra scandal, having "purposely manipulated the Directorate of Intelligence in order to support the opening to Iran in 1985." Goodman also charged that Gates and Casey "consistently underestimated evidence of economic problems in the Soviet empire because the data did not accord with their own beliefs; they had suppressed and derailed intelligence estimates that called into question Soviet sponsorship of international terrorism; they had dictated a study that showed Soviet complicity in the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II when no such evidence existed." Gates' successor, Judge William Webster, according to Perry's account, opened an investigation of Casey's and Gates' attempt to politicize the CIA. The Democratic Congress should subpoena the Webster investigation in the confirmation hearings of Gates to be Defense Secretary.

In what makes the more recent lying about pre-war intelligence on Iraq seem like deja vu, Goodman said that Gates "had contempt for a process that was designed to allow independent analysis [and] the President of the United States was given falsified reports and uncoordinated analysis."

Gates obfuscation on Iran-Contra continues to this day. As President of Texas A&M University, Gates has been the host for the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library. In the bowels of the library are presidential papers that could shine a bright light on the Iran-Contra scandal. However, in November 2001, George W. Bush signed an executive order that upended the 1978 Presidential Records Act and permits the Bush Iran-Contra papers to be kept secret in perpetuity. The executive order also affects 60,000 pages of papers from the Reagan Presidential Library that include details of then-Vice President George H. W. Bush's role in Iran-Contra. Robert Gates has always been a trusted consigliore for the Bush family. At the Pentagon, he will undoubtedly use his two years to clean up for Dubya and suppress incriminating information on the Iraq debacle -- all in a continuing effort to protect the Bush family legacy. His nomination should be rejected."

I C&P'd the whole thing because there is no way to provide a click directly to the article after it has been replaced as Madsen's top story.
Original Sourece Wayne Madsen Reports

Monday, November 06, 2006

I admit it. I'm addicted.

To the Internet. My machine crshed last Saturday. I was okay for a few hours. Then a tightening of the chest. Hot flashes. Cold flashes. Uncontrollabe shivering. The works.

I'm at a calm spot now, so I'd thought I'd think about something to write.
The only thunk that comes to mind is....GET OUT AND VOTE TUESDAY. If your a screw up and are not registered, bring someone to the Polls who may need a ride.

If your looking for a reason to Vote, read 2 posts down. If registered and you don't Vote....GF Yourself.

Friday, November 03, 2006


Monday, the Army Times, The Air Force Times, The Marine Times and the Navy Times will print the same editorial calling for the removal of S.O.D. Donald Rumsfeld.

With the news of Pastor Haggard's hypocrisies revealed, the Bush Regime's base lost a few more worshipers. He was one of the most powerful Fundies. He partook in a weekly conference call with the White House.

In addition, over 600 Military Members have signed the Petition For Redress calling for an Iraq pullout.It is rumored that the list includes 2 Lt. Colonels.

The text of the Editorial -
"So long as our government requires the backing of an aroused and informed public opinion ... it is necessary to tell the hard bruising truth."

That statement was written by Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondent Marguerite Higgins more than a half-century ago during the Korean War.

But until recently, the "hard bruising" truth about the Iraq war has been difficult to come by from leaders in Washington. One rosy reassurance after another has been handed down by President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: "mission accomplished," the insurgency is "in its last throes," and "back off," we know what we're doing, are a few choice examples.

Military leaders generally toed the line, although a few retired generals eventually spoke out from the safety of the sidelines, inciting criticism equally from anti-war types, who thought they should have spoken out while still in uniform, and pro-war foes, who thought the generals should have kept their critiques behind closed doors.

Now, however, a new chorus of criticism is beginning to resonate. Active-duty military leaders are starting to voice misgivings about the war's planning, execution and dimming prospects for success.

Army Gen. John Abizaid, chief of U.S. Central Command, told a Senate Armed Services Committee in September: "I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I've seen it ... and that if not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move towards civil war."

Last week, someone leaked to The New York Times a Central Command briefing slide showing an assessment that the civil conflict in Iraq now borders on "critical" and has been sliding toward "chaos" for most of the past year. The strategy in Iraq has been to train an Iraqi army and police force that could gradually take over for U.S. troops in providing for the security of their new government and their nation.

But despite the best efforts of American trainers, the problem of molding a viciously sectarian population into anything resembling a force for national unity has become a losing proposition.

For two years, American sergeants, captains and majors training the Iraqis have told their bosses that Iraqi troops have no sense of national identity, are only in it for the money, don't show up for duty and cannot sustain themselves.

Meanwhile, colonels and generals have asked their bosses for more troops. Service chiefs have asked for more money.

And all along, Rumsfeld has assured us that things are well in hand.

Now, the president says he'll stick with Rumsfeld for the balance of his term in the White House.

This is a mistake.

It is one thing for the majority of Americans to think Rumsfeld has failed. But when the nation's current military leaders start to break publicly with their defense secretary, then it is clear that he is losing control of the institution he ostensibly leads.

These officers have been loyal public promoters of a war policy many privately feared would fail. They have kept their counsel private, adhering to more than two centuries of American tradition of subordination of the military to civilian authority.

And although that tradition, and the officers' deep sense of honor, prevent them from saying this publicly, more and more of them believe it.

Rumsfeld has lost credibility with the uniformed leadership, with the troops, with Congress and with the public at large. His strategy has failed, and his ability to lead is compromised. And although the blame for our failures in Iraq rests with the secretary, it will be the troops who bear its brunt.

This is not about the midterm elections. Regardless of which party wins Nov. 7, the time has come, Mr. President, to face the hard bruising truth:

Donald Rumsfeld must go."
End. Original Source <--ckick
Related story. <--click
Hat Tip to Humilty&Truth for the links., an anon commenter over at Crooks and Liars. We both heard Keith Olbermann mention it, near the end of Countdown.

The Best Get Out And Vote Message I Ever Read

By Dante Zappala

On April 26th, 2004, a day before the local primary elections, Sgt. Sherwood Baker was killed in Iraq. He was a member of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. He was my brother.

Sherwood’s death brought the war home to his entire extended network of family and friends. None of us thought this powerful strong man could fall. We were wrong. The day after my brother died, amidst the disbelief and the sorrow, my mother went to our local polling station and cast her vote. Some may have told her it was futile or seen it as meaningless. After all, it was merely a primary. Sherwood, however, would have expected nothing less. He knew the definition of citizenship.

I’ve got hundreds of pictures of my brother. I can stare at them for hours. Maybe it’s mental torture, maybe it’s just part of the process, but I’m looking at the inflection of every smile, the direction of the creases on his face. I’m looking at every pixel for a hint about how this came to pass.

I’ve found a lot. We shared happiness on his 30th birthday three years ago. We shared pride and lots of tears when we were at Fort Dix before he shipped off.

His face is stern and unwavering in those pictures from Dix. Sherwood wasn’t bitter about being deployed.

He had reservations; people in their right minds don’t want to go to war, especially when they have a family. But he had made an oath before God to serve and he took that seriously. He was truthful and, above all, hopeful—a patriot in the truest sense.

The day Sherwood shipped off to Iraq, I knew that for our family, life was forever changed. In all I’ve done since that day, I’ve tried to maintain his sense of truth and hope. And since his death, I’ve started listening. I’ve learned that the way we talk to each other is as important as what we talk about. I believe the war has, in fact, affected almost every American family, only many have no idea how.

We all go to bed with the full support of our troops in mind and their safety in our prayers. But debates rage around dinner tables and in living rooms across the country. The righteousness of our opinions has created so much anger between us. We’re red in the face proving each other wrong. I’ve traveled the country, I’ve been in dialogue with all sorts of folks—activists, military families, politicians, people on the street. I feel a kinship, even with my supposed enemies, because we have all made the same choice to participate in this democracy.

We have watched together as some of our most spirited citizens, living otherwise humble lives in America, have been called to war. We’ve watched together as their lives are stolen away.

It is not my intention to tell you who to vote for.

We have all been victims of the usual fear mongering, spin and half truths that accompany the campaign season. I understand the propensity to want to shut it down. Television ads are either mindless or infuriating. Candidates are eager to push buttons, so we build walls. ‘They deserve each other,’ we might tell ourselves. ‘Why should I vote anyway?’

Letting apathy take hold, however, will only spell defeat. We will not be defeated by one party or the other, but by an ideology of hopelessness. But of even more importance, staying on the sidelines betrays the nobility of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Believe what you will about the war in Iraq -- about the pretext, the current situation and the solutions. However, understand that every Soldier and every Marine who has died in Iraq did so under the banner of our democracy. ‘Support our troops’ means get out and vote. While we may indulge in our cynicism as we debate particular points of withdrawal strategies, fine men and women who love their country are being disenfranchised by death.

And we have the luxury of walking to the polls and casting a vote. Be it a vote of conscience, a vote of passion or a vote of frustration, by God, we can vote.

Do your duty as citizens. Go to the polls. Pull the lever with an open heart. And carry with you the promises of the young men and women who can no longer do it themselves.

Dante Zappala, brother of Sgt Sherwood Baker, KIA 4/26/04, is a member of Military Families Speak Out

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Another Story CNN Won't Tell You About

Baghdad is under siege
By Patrick Cockburn in Arbil, Northern Iraq
Published: 01 November 2006
The Independent

Sunni insurgents have cut the roads linking the city to the rest of Iraq. The country is being partitioned as militiamen fight bloody battles for control of towns and villages north and south of the capital.

As American and British political leaders argue over responsibility for the crisis in Iraq, the country has taken another lurch towards disintegration.

Well-armed Sunni tribes now largely surround Baghdad and are fighting Shia militias to complete the encirclement.

The Sunni insurgents seem to be following a plan to control all the approaches to Baghdad. They have long held the highway leading west to the Jordanian border and east into Diyala province. Now they seem to be systematically taking over routes leading north and south.

Dusty truck-stop and market towns such as Mahmoudiyah, Balad and Baquba all lie on important roads out of Baghdad. In each case Sunni fighters are driving out the Shia and tightening their grip on the capital. Shias may be in a strong position within Baghdad but they risk their lives when they take to the roads. Some 30 Shias were dragged off a bus yesterday after being stopped at a fake checkpoint south of Balad.

In some isolated neighbourhoods in Baghdad, food shortages are becoming severe. Shops are open for only a few hours a day. "People have been living off water melon and bread for the past few weeks," said one Iraqi from the capital. The city itself has broken up into a dozen or more hostile districts, the majority of which are controlled by the main Shia militia, the Mehdi Army.

The scale of killing is already as bad as Bosnia at the height of the Balkans conflict. An apocalyptic scenario could well emerge - with slaughter on a massive scale. As America prepares its exit strategy, the fear in Iraq is of a genocidal conflict between the Sunni minority and the Shias in which an entire society implodes. Individual atrocities often obscure the bigger picture where:

* upwards of 1,000 Iraqis are dying violently every week;

* Shia fighters have taken over much of Baghdad; the Sunni encircle the capital;

* the Iraqi Red Crescent says 1.5 million people have fled their homes within the country;

* the Shia and Sunni militias control Iraq, not the enfeebled army or police.

No target is too innocent. Yesterday a bomb tore through a party of wedding guests in Ur, on the outskirts of Sadr City, killing 15 people, including four children. Iraqi wedding parties are very identifiable, with coloured streamers attached to the cars and cheering relatives hanging out the windows.

Amid all this, Dick Cheney, the US Vice-President, has sought to turn the fiasco of Iraq into a vote-winner with his claim that the Iraqi insurgents have upped their attacks on US forces in a bid to influence the mid-term elections. There is little evidence to support this. In fact, the number of American dead has risen steadily this year from 353 in January to 847 in September and will be close to one thousand in October.

And there is growing confusion over the role of the US military. In Sadr City, the sprawling slum in the east of the capital that is home to 2.5 million people, American soldiers have been setting up barriers of cement blocks and sandbags after a US soldier was abducted, supposedly by the Mehdi Army. The US also closed several of the bridges across the Tigris river making it almost impossible to move between east and west Baghdad. Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, added to the sense of chaos yesterday when he ordered the US army to end its Sadr City siege.

Mr Maliki has recently criticised the US for the failure of its security policy in Iraq and resisted American pressure to eliminate the militias. Although President Bush and Tony Blair publicly handed back sovereignty to Iraq in June 2004, Mr Maliki said: "I am now Prime Minister and overall commander of the armed forces yet I cannot move a single company without Coalition [US and British] approval."

In reality the militias are growing stronger by the day because the Shia and Sunni communities feel threatened and do not trust the army and police to defend them. US forces have been moving against the Mehdi Army, which follows the nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, but he is an essential prop to Mr Maliki's government. Almost all the main players in Iraqi politics maintain their own militias. The impotence of US forces to prevent civil war is underlined by the fact that the intense fighting between Sunni and Shia around Balad, north of Baghdad, has raged for a month, although the town is beside one of Iraq's largest American bases. The US forces have done little and when they do act they are seen by the Shia as pursuing a feud against the Mehdi Army.

One eyewitness in Balad said two US gunships had attacked Shia positions on Sunday killing 11 people and seriously wounding six more, several of whom lost legs and arms. He added that later two Iraqi regular army platoons turned up in Balad with little military equipment. When they were asked by locals why their arms were so poor "the reply was that they were under strict orders by the US commander from the [nearby] Taji camp not to intervene and they were stripped of their rocket-propelled grenade launchers".

Another ominous development is that Iraqi tribes that often used to have both Sunni and Shia members are now splitting along sectarian lines.

In Baghdad it has become lethally dangerous for a Sunni to wander into a Shia neighbourhood and vice versa. In one middle-class district called al-Khudat, in west Baghdad, once favoured by lawyers and judges, the remaining Shia families recently found a cross in red paint on their doors. Sometimes there is also a note saying "leave without furniture and without renting your house". Few disobey.

The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq by Patrick Cockburn is published this month by Verso
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