Tag Archives: The Hal Sparks Radio Program (megaworldwide

Video of Marines Urinating on Taliban Dead…and here is why it is wrong.

I have a history with this, having witnessed the Mock execution of a Serbian POW in the mountains above Sarajevo in October 1994. The incident is detailed in my book, Everything for Love. I am certain the young man from the neighboring town of Trnovo was spared because of my presence. I also have no doubt he was taken elsewhere and executed. Without doubt the would-be executioner, an average sort in his mid to late thirties could recite chapter and verse about Serbian atrocities, and likely had one or more family, friends or neighbors killed, wounded or otherwise terrible affected at the hand of Serbs, whether intentionally and cruelly or as a consequence of the war. I could recite those acts as well, and had personally witnessed enough to justify reprisals against those “inhuman” Serbs.

Those would be judgements of the human heart, however, a tinderbox fully at the mercy of vengeance and our selfish soul. It is our intellect and reason, and a moral standard that upholds human dignity, selfless mercy and the standards of human rights-one that is bolstered by laws and ideals that sanction those who violate those laws and ideals.

It has been a point of study into the psychology of war atrocities. Organizing relief, I was fascinated by the utter inhumanity that Hutu neighbors, friends and even family turned on their Tutsi kin in Rwanda. I had looked into the eyes of an elderly man who was so friendly and hospitable to me and others, only to smile gleefully and draw a finger across his throat at the blindfolded young Serb. Study the faces of men and women captured on film at executions and other atrocious acts, and you will find mostly complacent stoicism, but enjoyment and satisfaction in others. Other times there is a tribal, animal sort of orgiastic frenzy akin to videos of great apes and chimpanzees brutalizing others of their species.

The filming and ritual of degrading enemy dead-civilian and soldier alike- is hardly new. There seems to be an impetus to document such deeds, like posing with an animal after a hunt. It is tribal and perverse, apart from the illegalities. Worse it is shameful and wrong for some very fundamental reasons.

Preeminent among those reasons is the very assertion of many in this nation that America is the greatest nation on the earth, the “shining city on the hill,” and “the last best hope for mankind.” How does an act such as this further than notion, or convince our enemies otherwise? And if we discount enemies and other nations, how does this act strengthen those notions for ourselves?

If we truly believe we are the righteous in this conflict, is this how the righteous act? Where does is say in the Bible that in war it is alright to desecrate the enemy’s dead? It is an immoral statement to justify such acts by pointing to the enemy, if not for the reason above, then on the premise that it lowers us to the level of an “immoral” enemy. We demand that police abide by laws, and must adhere to the constitution and civil liberties in those duties. No one reasonably argues that the police can act lawlessly when dealing with lawless criminals, i.e., summary street executions, bombings, lootings of suspect houses or the wholesale beating of say a shoplifter or car thief.

Many on the Right heralded and praised the act with the patently immoral and thoughtless lament that “it is war.” They would not have considered that excuse for Nazi death camp guards or Japanese soldiers during the Second World War. Those criminals were held to account, often at the cost of their lives. War is not a frat party with license for abandon. It is not a right of passage, and even if it was, a soul does not switch off the tribal act of desecrating enemy dead in such a way when they return to “peaceful” society.

I have seen firsthand how acts of violence in war-whether justified or not, resonate terribly well beyond war. These men crossed a terrible line, not just in the act, but in their soul, and by the witness of thousands, and perhaps millions, have pulled us across that terrible line with them.  War is not a time for boys to be boys. It should be an aberration from rational human interaction and conflist resolution. It is a terrible and evil necessity, one that a nation should align itself on the side of righteousness and the weak.

I fully comprehend the moral entanlgements and confusion in combat. I have been there. I also understand revenge. I understand the emotions in a battle that would compel one to desire the ultimate fate upon an enemy. That is the specter of vengeance and the unhinged human heart. i confess to those emtions(watching Serb s purposely fire antiaircraft rounds at a mother and two children). I also understand that the world is a harsher and far more dangerous place when we give ourselves fully to that unbridled hate.

In the end, for these three Taliban fighters, who espouse a world and belief system I am very much opposed to, and who I believe must be defeated, the fight was over when the life left their bodies. What those soldiers then did is the worst side of all Americans and was a filthy and unnecessary act that can only be defended by those who have never been to war, or those who are too filled with innate anger and hate to see past the storms of their own heart.

Big government? Damn right. The biggest! Just fix it.

So the mantra from the right these days is that government is too big, and we must shrink it, not to make it more efficient, but so it can get out of the way of business.In the age of the highest corporate profits in human history that rhetoric is obscene. Fundamentally, that is an anti-American, anti-Constituional idea. Let’s set aside the argument that government exists because it has the power to do things individuals simply can’t do, like build a road, fight a war, enforce health and safety codes, maintain a justice system and get toilets to flush safely from coast to coast.

This nation is being duped into buying the perverse and dangerous idea that corporations are virtuous and wise, while government is corrupt, inept and out of control. Are they saying they’d happily trade corporate control for the United States government? Have they never seen a corporation go bankrupt? Go out of business? End pensions? Break the law?

Name me a single corporation that has existed as long as the US government? Name me a single one that acts as a democracy? Name one that voluntarily protects the interests of individual workers rights without those rules being imposed by government. Name one. That corporation doesn’t exist.

Without government, corporations would pollute the environment, abuse employees, and even murder labor activists http://www.nytimes.com/2001/07/26/international/26COLO.html?searchpv=day04&pagewanted=print . They would be free to pay employees the lowest possible or barely survivable wages with no benefits in dangerous environments. Get hurt on the job due to their negligence and you’re history, and so is your family’s future.

The problem with government is that the Democrats and especially the Republicans have allowed and facilitated the corporate stranglehold on government,  a crime promoted and repackaged in the pseudo-Press suppositories of FOX, CNN, MSNBC and talk radio, all of which are owned by significant corporations with huge interest in the outcome of this quiet coup.

The people can take it back, but they have to get smart, get organized, and defend a government large enough to defend a Constitution that was written for people not corporations.

What you really what, whether you realize now or later, is a government big enough not to get bullied by terrorists, rogue nations, competing nations, and least of all self-interested corporations. But it has to be a government humble enough to protect the homeless guy on the corner from being run off because he fell on hard times, or the millions of families faced with foreclosure

The Bush tax cuts for the rich (still in effect) have failed to generate the jobs Republicans and the rich promised would happen if those tax cuts continued. The government should be big enough to conclude a war and recognize the rights of minorities and the wrongly accused.

Big government? Damn right. The biggest! just fix it.

Gender in Context: Challenging assumptions in the Human heart

I recently wrote an article, interviewing someone who I referred in the piece as she and her. In a previous conversation this person and I talked about same-sex marriage and issues of gender equality. I invited “her” to my blog, referring “her” to a number of articles I’d posted on same-sex marriage, love and equality. About a week after the article posted I received a Request to moderate’ from WordPress. Attached was this message:

Hey there. This is (name withheld). Great article, but I just wanted to note that I identify as male and prefer masculine pronouns (he/him). If you could fix that for me, that would be fantastic! I should have mentioned this before, but I slacked. My apologies!”

Sure enough, as soon as I saw the mail I made the changes.  Then something interesting happened as I changed the shes to hes, and the hers to hims. It revealed unconscious prejudices that  harbor, if not within us then in a society that informs our psyches in subversive ways.

I noted how the context of the piece changed when I ccorrected from the feminine to the masculine. i could explain them here, but then that becomes argumentative. In facing prejudices, no matter how benign, I have found that people will steadfastly deny those prejudices. Truly it is one of the most difficult aspects of confronting bigotries as a race, in that those bigotries always below to others, and never to ourselves. Many will try to bridge the gap to another group, Black, Jew, Muslim, Conservative, Liberal, gay, straight, or what have you by saying things like, “well we are all really the same”, or “we all put our pants on one leg at a time”, or “as long as you’re a good person.” But we say those things without definitively confronting real prejudice in ourselves, or those prejudices that parade as norms and simple assumptions in society as a whole. It deflects personal ownership of something, I assert, which resides within the heart of every person, including my own.

So here are parts of the article. The first is the original, and the second changed. All I ask is that you read each and imagine the circumstance of the person, then map your own level of sympathy and understanding of this person’s circumstance and ask yourself, and no one else, if there is a difference. And if there is a difference, where does it come from?

By rights she should be in school, and would prefer it that way. In the current job market the best she can manage is a part-time job, which doesn’t pay enough to move out of the home she shares with her mother. She simply could not bear the heavy debt burden she would incur in the current economic climate, **** says”

Now the reprint:

By rights he should be in school, and would prefer it that way. In the current job market the best he can manage is a part-time job, which doesn’t pay enough to move out of the home he shares with his mother. He simply could not bear the heavy debt burden he would incur in the current economic climate, **** says

Feel it? It is there, these innocuous things informing how we see the world. Almost as if discovering for the first time that the whole concept of the colors we see is a lie, and that what we’ve been seeing is not at all consistent with reality. Just a thought.

I have never been accused of sexual harrassment. If you have, Herman Cain, don’t blame the liberal media, Barack Obama or those two women you harrassed…Blame yo-self! If the rest of us are at fault ’cause we ain’t rich, then you’re to blame for not keeping your hands off women who aren’t your wife. Blame yo-self!

See, Herman. That’s how it feels. So which is it? We’re eiether captain’s of our own ships, plowing straight lines through life, able to overcome all adversity from poverty to war to cancer simply by force of will, or we are participants in a complex dance of fate in which all of us understand and share in each others trials and blessings. One or the other. One is lonely and harsh, the other softened by community and compassion. We either pull ourselves up by the boot straps or get left behind, or we sometimes need a merciful hand. Can’t be both.

The meaning of token: Herman Cain and the Right

They’re good, I’ll give them that. The Right tried to pull a fast one on the American public yesterday, ala Karl Rove-esque tactics. Recall, he was the one who sank John McCain’s presidential bid against George Bush in the 2000 primaries by circulating a story that McCain had fathered a black baby-a body blow for white voters in the South. But we’re smarter now on the Left. After more than a decade of filthy-dirty would be too kind a word-political and personal attacks the Left is aware their tactics.

At the core of those tactics is a racially and economically divisive ideology. They claim that Dems play the race card, or that Obama exploits lingering prejudice and inequality in American society, or that the Occupy movement stokes class warfare. Only fools would believe that twisted logic. What is divisive and racist is not bringing to light injustice and inequality, but in claiming the only perspective that has a voice in this society represents a very narrow margin of a very diverse nation as a means of silencing issues of inequality and injustice.

Which brings me to Herman Cain, the dupe, the sad tool the Right meant to divert attention from their true tactics and motivation. They used Herman Cain, who was clearly unqualified and unprepared for a Presidential run. He had no campaign infrastructure and was relying fully on FOX and Right wing media for his message. These are the same corporate owned outlets that manufactured the Tea party and have become, in essence, the mob lawyers to the Right. Politico, the Right wing group that broke the story, won’t reveal who gave the story, but this has Rove-style tactics all over it. The Right immediately blamed MSNBC and the Left, none of whom had anything on the story until late in the day, hours after Limbaugh and Coulter had already affixed blame, and after Cain’s story had changed and evolved many times.

Much has been made of the allegations. Suffice to say, no one pays huge settlements for baseless and unprovable allegations, or asks them to sign non-disclosure statements unless you are hiding something. On today’s shows, Limbaugh and Beck belittled a comment Cain admitted making, when he “put my hand by her head and said you’re about my wife’s height. Sounds innocent enough, like maybe this woman is some sort of gold digger liberal type, that is unless she was sitting down or kneeling at a cabinet with her head about the level of his lap. Then it becomes a whole other context, right? But we can’t ask the accuser. Cain’s lawyers have paid them off and forced them onto silence.

But this isn’t about the allegations. This is about how the Republicans promoted him to divert allegations of racism, knowing full well that they would never actually vote for the guy. They can now hide behind their “i ain’t a racist cuz I know a black guy” defense. They used him and now before he interferes with the Romney/Perry run-off it is time to put the black guy back in his place. Cain was a serious candidate only in his own mind and maybe some on the Right who truly champion conservative ideas, apart from the theocratic, anti-intellectual, greedy, corporate shills that have assumed sovereignty over their party.

Sadly, Cain was a Republican joke from the start, then he was a mask. But shed no tears for Cain either. He was happy to ride this wave, and believe in the face of every evidence that he might actually become the Republican nominee. He’ll profit greatly from this and continue to be a bulwork on the Right’s flank over charges of racism. He’ll doubtless become a pundit for FOX.

The Right built Herman Cain and then they dismantled him, much like they do lately with Martin Luther King, constantly reminding us of his human frailties while pretending to exalt him. They’re finished with the black guy. it is time to put him back in his place. It is how racism works, and how it escapes despite a body’s best efforts to conceal it. It is how subversive politics works, and how it has worked for Herman Cain. The word is token, and it never is to the advantage of the minority being used, and always to cover the crimes of the users.

Co-opting a movement: Corporate Media’s new tactic

I wasn’t expecting that many protesters after a night of terrible weather, but I could hear the chest-thunping drums, a tinny cymbal, someone on a megaphone and chants of “We are the 99%!” a full two blocks away. There was somewhere between 50 and 70 prote sters. People come and go regularly. The streets were still slick with rain beneath a gloomy sky, but the spirits of these activists hardly seemed dampened.

ABC reporter Mark Dicarlo interviews an activist Thursday. He asked several protesters if they'd welcome the Tea Party joining the movement

In front of the Bank of America building an ABC reporter from the local affiliate, named Mark Dicarlo was interviewing one of the least mainstream-looking protesters, throwing a range of questions far beyond the scope of the protest, a calculated ploy to keep the kid talking long enough for him to let his guard down and maybe say something odd, anything to discredit him and the movement as a whole. Behind him, circulating through the crowd, two young producers canvassed for the types that would be as far from mainstream suburban audiences as possible, despite a number of students, professionals and concerned everyday-types. It was a pattern I’d been noting with interest for the past several weeks.

Meanwhile this guy walked up to the make-shift base of occupation, what has become a sort of supply base, with 3 deep dish pizzas. I quickly pulled the guy aside and asked what had motivated him to show up with an arm full of pizza, easily costing $50 bucks.

His named was Jed and he was normally part of the Occupy San Francisco and Occupy Oakland movements in California. In Chicago on business for the week, he was biding his time with what has become an international brother/sisterhood. I wanted to know if he found any difference between the two efforts, separated by a continent.

Jed delivering pizzas to the Occupy Chicago protest

“We have a really liberal mayor,” he said. “We can use the park as long as we like. The police won’t touch us there.”

Jed was informed, cogent and well-spoken, with a history of  activism. In 1991 he was part of the anti-globalisation movement. “But the movement got bogged down in too many different things, but this movement is different. It cuts straight to the heart.  The system doesn’t work fundamentally, and the longer they fail to answer, the more people will come to the conclusion that the current system doesn’t work.”

Meantime, Dicarlo asked his interview what he thought about the Tea Party coming to join the protests, and if they could find common ground, would that be all right?

It wasn’t the first time in the last week I’d heard a corporate journalist ask that very same question. Others had heard it too, with increasing frequncy. I heard the same story from a dozen different people, from all of the major networks. It was become less of a coincidence than an emerging tactic. In fact, Dicarlo went over and asked another protester the very same question.

I was trying to position Jed to speak with Dicarlo, but his producers did everything they could do to put us off.

“I usually get brushed off,” he told me. “I know what I’m talking about.”

The corporately-owned media is at a loss to properly deal with the movement, and to deal any sort of death-blow to the movement as a whole. They can no longer get away with framing the protesters as students or fringe groups without a rational or cohesive message. There are too many working folks, unemployed and employed professionals, housewives, retired grandparents and veterans taking part.

They still revert to a narrative of unfocused messaging, confused self-interest and fringe ideologies, because such lazy cartoonishness is the path of least resistance for a vapid corporate medium. But this new and alarming narrative is emerging in corporate America’s cynical efforts to extinguish the rights and passions of the real citizenry of the nation.

There is a growing attempt to co-opt the movement. More and more in interviews and before their viewers they are attempting to steal the message from the Occupy Movement by introducing the Tea Party. In time, they will introduce Tea Party activists, likely hand-picked apparatchiks who will proclaim themselves spokespersons for the movement, introducing right-wing agendas and talking points to dilute or divert the real message of the movement. 

As the camera crew moved off a homeless man came up to Jed and I, asking if we could spare some change for food.  Without missing a beat Jed motioned to the pizzas and said,”help yourself.”

That is the spirit of this movement.

The Face of War: Occupy Chicago

It is a stormy day in Chicago, one hundred and one days after the Occupy protests began. Its been deteriorating all day, enough that O’Hare airport will all but shut down, closing all but a single runway as icy cold gusts of 50+ miles per hour and periods of torrential rain bludgeon the city. Waves to 20 feet will hammer the lake front, threatening to close Lakeshore Drive. Even as the storm worsens there are citizen occupiers manning the post in what has become a war of attrition as well as sacrifice. they may not spend this night, as safety and prudence would dictate, but the citizens I spoke with today would not relinquish this ground lightly.

The protesters maintain an around the clock presence

I met Dave, a former Marine, a young kid, dressed in his old uniform sweater and desert khaki boots He looks like a marine, a little boyish, but with that deep soulful determination imbued in Marines. Just to be sure I threw him a test, asking what the Sith General Order for Marine Corps sentries.

This former Marine spent the night at the Occupy Chicago Protest

“To receive, obey, and pass on to the sentry who relieves me,” he replied correctly, “all orders from the Commanding Officer, Officer of the Day, Officers, and Non-Commissioned Officers of the guard only.”

No Marine ever forgets the 11 General Orders.

But this isn’t about Dave, just like it isn’t really about the weather. This is about something deeper, something that binds all those elements to the spirit and soul of the movement. It is about The souls who are out in front of the banks, making noise as a constant reminder to the bankers of the protester’s presence. It is about the men and women who stay long into the night and all night in many cases. It is about those who when faced with arrest, when warned that arrest is imminent, they stand and turn and offer their wrists peacefully but resolutely to the police.

I’ve seen these faces before. I saw them in the trenches and frontline buildings in Bosnia, huddled against the cold, on hard ground, suffering under rain and snow for desperately long hours with nothing but purpose and the camaraderie of fellow soldiers. Those faces are eternal among those who stand upon a line for justice and freedom. They are the simple soldiers who risk life and fortune for an ideal. One would expect to find these faces gathering to meet the better armed, better clothed and better trained British troops during the Revolution. These people believe in a better world because they have lost it or fear losing it or fear for a neighbor. It is an ideal far beyond money and more akin to heaven. It is that which exalts them above any banker, corporatist and politician.

The 1% has their surrogates well established in the media. Thos surrogates will point to a nearly empty corner this night as the wind screams along La Salle Street, drives thundering waves against the shore and whips sheets of rain to mock and undermine the movement. They will proclaim this as the movement’s lack of commitment and as a weakness. But I remember how during battle in Bosnia that weather was the final arbiter of all things, dousing or smashing aside all pretense of human hubris. In Chicago and elsewhere the protests may pause through the winter or become sporadic, or change tactics altogether. For all those I spoke with today, and from the very first day of this protest, prudence should hardly be construed as a lack of commitment.

A proester Monday

There is no individual gain here, as there was for the Tea Party. To a person in the Occupy movement, it is about the nation and about someone else. The Tea Party movement was immediately a cash generating enterprise, making Sarah Palin and others exceedingly wealthy. It spawned businesses and careers and grew into something dark and self-serving. So far the Occupy movement has resisted all that, and god-willing, that will carry the movement forward.

Breaking news: Candidates join Occupy the Airwaves movement. Another Republican Debate!

Calling themselves the 99% of the 1%, Republican Presidential Candidates vowed to Occupy the Airwaves until reason, morality and ethics have been extinguished from American media. The Occupy the Airwaves movement has been going on for more than a month, effectively suppressing Barack Obama in the media, but the roots go back much father.

The Occupy the Airwaves actually goes back to the Reagan administration, which opened the doors to corporate consolidation of news media. Since then Republican appointed Supreme Court justices have  eroded the rights of individual citizens in favor of large corporations, against whom individuals are rarely favored. Corporate lobbyists and corporately funded candidates continue to consolidate power, while steadily degrading the federal government’s ability to reign in nearly unchecked corporate control over the nation.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper will moderate tonight’s debate, which doubtless will prove to be as rousing and informative as previous debates. Cooper is known for his hard-hitting, no holds barred interviews. As for the candidates, the viewing public can be sure that the views are their own and not carefully constructed and scripted bits keeping close to pre-prescribed republican positions. We can only guess what Rick Perry will say about Gun rights. Already the anticipation of what each of the candidate’s position on abortion is palpable. Gay marriage? Don’t ask don’t tell? Israel and Palestine? Iran? Obama’s healthcare program? If only we knew what their positions would be ahead of time. Who can wait to hear more funny anecdotes from Herman Cain about electrocuting Mexican immigrants on the border?

These are the very best the Republicans, and apparently our nation has to offer. We certainly have come a long way from those founding fathers, the Lincoln’s, Washingtons, Roosevelts and Kennedys. This is the cream of the nation, and it shows. How could the nation do any better than to be lead by a Bachman or a Gingrich? Say it several times. President Gingrich. Sounds like a Dr. Suess story come to life! Inspiring how each of them lives by exactly what they preach. Mitt Romney is an everyday Joe like the rest of us, and yet he is so much more. He speaks for us all. Mitt is our human Mister Microphone.

No doubt the candidates will shock us all with reasoned and nuanced real-world answers to all of these topics. Certainly, if they all held exactly the same position it would prove a terribly dull debate. But we know that each of these people, all with very different backgrounds will offer those broader perspectives on issues sorely needed in the 21st Century. All the candidates have shown us in previous debate that they simply do not pander, and are not simply playing to a partisan base, but appealing to all the American people through wisdom, insight and vision.

As for the ongoing Occupy the Airwaves movement. Republicans have vowed to keep up the fight until all reasonable and dissenting voices are eliminated from the airwaves. That done they will move on to the Internet, libraries and bus stops.

What has Capitalism done for you lately?

Recall once upon a time, a long time ago, when the Right thought it was laudable to show up at Congressional town hall meetings and shout down and disrupt Democrats.You know, civil disobedience, protests, Joe the Plummer, and showing up with guns. The year was 2009 and the ‘masses” according to FOX News were in revolt over the national debt and deficit created of course by the Black guy who’d been in office barely 5 months, and probably wasn’t completely unpacked yet. Think back, you remember the outraged citizens who’d somehow missed the wars paid for on credit, tax cuts for the wealthy, the squandered surplus of the Clinton years or the economic collapse of October 2008, 4 months before the Black guy was sworn in as President? Recall how they all woke up the moment the Black guy said “so help me God.” You remember?

It took a bit, but after a spell, the Democrats began showing up in support of their bullied and threatened representatives and senators. August of ’09 I attended one of these town hall extravaganzas at Niles Township high school just outside Chicago. It was a warm night, the street busy with rush-hour traffic. As I pulled into the already full parking lot the sun was just setting in a clear clean sky.

There was something in the neighborhood of 2000 people,  with Dems easily two thirds of the crowd. Most were gathered in the school’s front lawn, in clusters around a scattering of Tea Partiers and Libertarians with Obama as Hitler signs. That scattering had waded into the Dems to debate, argue and provoke. 

Many of the Tea Partiers looked as if they were storing Snickers bars, Keystone beer in cans and S&M magazines for the feared apocalyptic race wars now that a colored was in the White House.  Most of the Tea Party folks were gathered beside the Gym, across a small drive loosely separating the two sides. More had forced their way into the school’s auditorium to berate and disrupt Representative Jan Shakowsky  with useful and productive suggestions like “Move back to Russia!” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QAkQaUVC84w

I, as usual, wandered among both sides, hoping to find reasonable souls on both sides, which I did, but also to get the full spectrum of opinions and characters. Next to the gym, securely behind the bulk of the Tea Partiers decrying Socialism, Second amendment rights(forgetting that Second amendment rights were tacit threats to extinguish First amendment for Dems) and the Obama Healthcare program was a tall guy in his late twenties. His wavy black hair was cut close on the sides and back. He wore old black jeans and a faded black tee shirt, with a pair of badly worn  tennis shoes, in which one of the soles was coming loose. He was pale and thin, almost to the point of being malnourished. Snickers and Keystone diets will do that. He was red-faced, shouting “Capitalism not Communism!”

I stood there for a moment listening to his rants and charges directed fully at the backs of fellow supporters. At first I was fascinated and then I just couldn’t hold back.

“I see capitalism has worked for you,” I commented. He let fly a string of epithets. I moved on.

Among the crowd I could find no industrialists or hedge-fund managers, no CEOs, trust-fund babies or bankers. There were no real-estate moguls, power brokers or uber-wealthy. There were middle class and working poor folks selling themselves fully into right-wing agendas that were fully at odds with the realities of these people’s lives. Some no doubt harbored individual bigotries, others afraid of inevitable change. Most were scared in some way, buying propaganda that left them feeling under siege or endangered. Many no doubt felt crushed, and just holding onto the lives they’d forged through back-breaking labor, and believing in the illusion of crafted ideologies that appeared monolithic and uniquely and patriotically American.

Sad that while they were heckling at town halls, their rich and powerful patrons were sending their jobs overseas, slashing their benefits, pitting working folks against one another, race and gender bating, provoking distractive issues, devaluing their homes through corrupt speculation, looting the government and revoking their pensions. Sad that when millions stepped forward to protest corporate greed and their stranglehold over American politics by occupying public spaces, Tea Partiers who became victims of their own blind faith turned against those millions with the same tired old insults. Through all that they still maintained unquestioning allegiance to the national trauma of unrestrained capitalism. But how’s it working for you?

Emmetsburg: Excerpt from upcoming novel on Amazon Kindle

John headed south out of town. Not far, but towards a dark line of trees that marked the wide Vermillion River. He could make out the tangerine glow of a dozen or more fires, widely scattered among the trees and along the far bank. Most likely, John guessed, it was folks coming up out of Oklahoma and Kansas ahead of the hard times. He figured he could just as easily content himself among souls as lost as he felt.

The day had faded entirely when John pulled the truck up to the nearest fire. It was farthest from the others and much smaller by comparison. It illuminated a tiny shack with bits of wood, pieces of fabric constructed in the crudest fashion. The roof was an old olive drab army tent strung between the shack and an even older Model T. A simple three-drawer bureau, small cot, wash basin and metal post bed were almost lost to the shadow of the makeshift shelter at the open end of the shack. Dining chairs and a table were arranged beneath the stunning canopy of stars on a round handmade bed. Banks of gray-white wood smoke held to the branches and leaves above the makeshift camp. Close by, the fire crackled in an odd rhythm to crickets and the flickering dance of countless fireflies.

Behind this ramshackle transient home a line of laundry was strung between two trees. Stockings, under garments, a woman’s blue blouse and some old gray rags hung haphazard from the line. The line hung precisely where the bank dipped in a small trail towards the river. The laundry was still wet in places, and was wrinkled where it had been twisted and wrung dry by hand. Shadows forged from the glowing fire deepened those wrinkles into severe canyons of light and dark

There was an elderly couple on a pair of wood stools in front of the shack. The woman’s stool was a good deal shorter than his, as if there was some sort of pauper’s hierarchy; a queen to a beggar’s kingdom. She was in a long brown dress with white and gold little flowers. A hand-knitted men’s sweater covered her disillusioned shoulders. The collar of the dress was turned up over the rounded neckline of the sweater. She was small and frail, facing away from him, at the edge of her stool, as though she might suddenly bolt into the black night and simply disappear forever.

He was seated almost unnaturally straight, as if he was posing for a photograph. His neat white button shirt was stretched across a slight belly, but loose across his angular but narrow shoulders. The light of the fire played upon the contours and intersecting lines and valleys of their faces. Those shadows hid the murdered pride of a man who’d done good honest work his whole life and now had nothing to show for it. He sat like a statue to a dejected king, with one arm laid across his lap,the other holding an empty pipe at one knee.  Behind them the river whispered steadily. Neither of them reacted as John leaned part way out the truck window.

“If it’s just the same,” he said, “I could use a spell beside your fire. Just to rest a bit and then I’ll move along.”

The old man nodded slowly without looking directly at John. When he spoke his voice was rich and deep but low. It carried a faded German accent heavily layered with an Oklahoma drawl. The words slurred a bit, enough that John thought it odd.

“Fire’s free.” The old man looked to the night sky.

John climbed from the truck. The grass was thin and dry beneath his boots. It crunched softly with each step. He went over to where the couple sat, looking back towards town and rocking on his heels.

“Obliged,” he said, respectfully.

“Afraid we don’t have much else to offer, stranger,” said the man.

“Times being what they are,” John agreed.

“My apologies.”

“The fire just looked inviting. Got a bed roll in the truck. I’ll be moving on soon enough.”

“Suit yourself.”

The man’s wife looked up at that moment. It was the first John had seen her move. It was like she’d just come to life, out of a trance or a deep thought. “Suppose there’s a bit of coffee left.”

Her husband didn’t react, though John was certain the fellow’s brow furled just a little. John smiled, recalling how when money got tight at home he was the one who pulled back, who held tightly to every crumb, while Anna would trade her soul over any insinuation of an inhospitable nature. 

“Don’t want to bother.”

“No bother,” she replied, without moving from the stool. Her eyes moved just a bit, noting the slightest frown from her husband with a bit of disappointment.

At that moment a young woman appeared through the laundry, coming up from the river. She came up like a breeze, a long green printed dress flowing after her. The dress had slipped off one shoulder, baring the top of one breast.  The color of her long hair was lost to the night, but the fire caught her eyes and burned deeply there. Her sudden appearance, the rhythm of her smooth movements was so harmonious John was left wondering if she wasn’t some sort of sign. He wondered if the sudden lingering meeting of their eyes did not foretell or promise something more.


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