Journal of An American Expatriate

Thursday, August 19

When Republicans hold a National Convention in New York City in late August to exploit the scene of the Twin Tower attacks just blocks away, there will be much to celebrate about the U.S. Supreme Court appointed Bush presidency:

The Patriot Act
The colonization of Afghanistan and Iraq
The intelligence failure in support of war with Iraq
The Enron scandal
The Halliburton logistical support overcharge scandal
Bush’s creation of a global network of extra-legal and secret U.S. prisons
The Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal
Phony Code Orange alerts
The escalating price of oil
The growing National deficit
The U.S. atrocity in Najaf
The Coalition of the Unwilling
More instability in the Middle East than ever before
A hands-off policy on the terrorist state of Israel
No discernable foreign policy
No discernable domestic policy

Ted Rall, a journalist with Common Dreams says it best:

"Tourists are pleasantly surprised when New Yorkers act as friendly and polite as the people back home in Mayberry. However, delegates to this month's Republican National Convention shouldn't expect to be treated to our standard out-of-towner treatment. The Republican delegates here to coronate George W. Bush are unwelcome members of a hostile invading army. Like the hapless saps whose blood they sent to be spilled into Middle Eastern sands, they will be given intentionally incorrect directions to nonexistent places. Objects will be thrown in their direction. Children will call them obscene names. They will not be greeted as liberators.

Well aware that it is barren soil for their party's anti-urban, anti-immigrant, anti-feminist, overtly racist ideology, Republican leaders have wisely avoided New York City as a convention site for the past 150 years. Even as the rest of America turns red, we New Yorkers remain as liberal as the people's republic of San Francisco: fewer than 18 percent of the citizens of New York's five boroughs (which include relatively conservative places like Staten Island) cast ballots for Bush/Cheney in 2000. But White House strategist Karl Rove sees the continued exploitation of 9/11 for partisan political gain as Bush's key to victory in November. That means bringing the big bash three miles north of the hole where the Twin Towers used to stand, where most of the victims of 9/11 were burned, suffocated, impaled and pulverized.

Making hay of the dead is also the point of this confab's timing. The 2004 Republican National Convention is being held a full month later than normal, from August 30 to September 2. The original plan was to have Bush shuttle between Madison Square Garden and Ground Zero for photo ops to coincide with the third anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Bush's visits to the Trade Center site were quietly canceled a few months back after 9/11 survivors expressed revulsion at the idea. But it was too late to change the date.

Anti-Republican sentiment is rising to a fever pitch here as the dog days tick down to the dreaded affair. Polls cited by the local ABC affiliate shows 83 percent of New Yorkers don’t want their city to host the RNC. And many of them are planning to do something about it.

Rejecting ex-mayor Ed Koch's call to "make nice" with the party that used the deaths of 2,801 New Yorkers - most of them Democrats - for everything from tax cuts for the rich to building concentration camps at Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib to invading Iraq to enrich Dick Cheney and his fellow Halliburton execs, some groups are encouraging liberal-minded New Yorkers to volunteer for the city's squad of official greeters. Creatively altered maps of streets and subways will be handed out to button-clad stupid white men. Other saboteurs wearing fake RNC T-shirts will direct them to parts of town where Bush's policies have hit hardest. Rumor has it that prostitutes suffering from sexually transmitted diseases will discourage the use of condoms with Republican customers.

Anywhere between 250,000 and 1,000,000 anti-Bush demonstrators are expected to hit the streets of Manhattan, but the city and protest organizers can't agree on where to put them. Activists say they'll direct marchers to Central Park, their preferred site; city officials are threatening mass arrests if they do. Adding to the already combustible Chicago '68 vibe is a possible wildcat strike by city cops and firefighters. And now, as if everyone concerned wasn't already tweaky, FBI agents are traveling around the United States, to harass members of leftist groups planning to protest the New York RNC.

Strikebreaking policemen and private security personnel may be able to keep the protesters away from the convention hall. But Republicans who venture outside the Garden deserve the abuse ordinary New Yorkers will likely inflict upon them.

True, the Administration eventually coughed up the $20 billion aid package Bush promised the city after 9/11. But that sum--equal to the cost of occupying Iraq for four months--barely made up for such disaster-related expenses as police overtime, debris removal and rebuilding damaged subway stations and tunnels. New York's economy hasn't even begun to recover. As the nation's official unemployment rate hovers at six percent, the city's runs around eight. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Republican, opposes virtually every Bush Administration decision concerning New York City.

Even viler than Bush's urban neglect is his failure to avenge the World Trade Center victims as he pledged to do on 9/14, dusty fire-fighter helpfully posing under his arm on The Pile. After 9/11, al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden were in Pakistan. They and the Taliban received funding from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The 19 hijackers, organized by Egyptian Islamic Jihad, were Egyptian and Saudi. But Bush didn't attack Pakistan, Saudi Arabia or Egypt. He went after Afghanistan and Iraq instead, nations that had nothing to do with 9/11 but offered business opportunities for GOP-connected oil concerns. Incredibly, he siphoned more money and arms to the Egyptians, Saudis and Pakistanis.

Not only did Bush let the terrorists get away, he raised their allowance.

If today's GOP retained a shred of the dignity and patriotism that it once possessed as the Party of Lincoln, it would have dumped Bush in favor of a candidate more interested in defending America than his wealthy contributors. Republicans are neofascists now, and that's why New Yorkers good and true will be yelling at them to go back home."

Tuesday, August 17

At age 82, American writer Kurt Vonnegut has lost none of his verve. He still has an eloquent command of his views advocating human dignity and peace.

“I, like probably most of you, have seen Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. Its title is a parody of the title of Ray Bradbury’s great science fiction novel, Fahrenheit 451. This temperature 451° Fahrenheit, is the combustion point, incidentally, of paper, of which books are composed. The hero of Bradbury’s novel is a municipal worker whose job is burning books.

And on the subject of burning books: I want to congratulate librarians, not famous for their physical strength or their powerful political connections or their great wealth, who, all over this country, have staunchly resisted anti-democratic bullies who have tried to remove certain books from their shelves, and have refused to reveal to thought police the names of persons who have checked out those titles.

So the America I loved still exists, if not in the White House or the Supreme Court or the Senate or the House of Representatives or the media. The America I love still exists at the front desks of our public libraries.

And still on the subject of books: Our daily sources of news, papers and TV, are now so craven, so unvigilant on behalf of the American people, so uninformative, that only in books can we find out what is really going on. I will cite an example: House of Bush, House of Saud by Craig Unger, published near the start of this humiliating, shameful blood-soaked year.

In case you haven’t noticed, and as a result of a shamelessly rigged election in Florida, in which thousands of African Americans were arbitrarily disenfranchised, we now present ourselves to the rest of the world as proud, grinning, jut-jawed, pitiless war lovers, with appallingly powerful weaponry and unopposed.

In case you haven’t noticed, we are now almost as feared and hated all over the world as the Nazis were.

With good reason.

In case you haven’t noticed, our unelected leaders have dehumanized millions and millions of human beings simply because of their religion and race. We wound and kill ’em and torture ’em and imprison ’em all we want.

Piece of cake.

In case you haven’t noticed, we also dehumanize our own soldiers, not because of their religion or race, but because of their low social class.

Send ’em anywhere. Make ’em do anything.

Piece of cake.

The O’Reilly Factor.

Before we attacked Iraq, the majestic New York Times guaranteed that there were weapons of mass destruction there.

Albert Einstein and Mark Twain gave up on the human race at the end of their lives, even though Twain hadn’t even seen World War I. War is now a form of TV entertainment. And what made WWI so particularly entertaining were two American inventions, barbed wire and the machine gun. Shrapnel was invented by an Englishman of the same name. Don’t you wish you could have something named after you?

Like my distinct betters Einstein and Twain, I now am tempted to give up on people too. And, as some of you may know, this is not the first time I have surrendered to a pitiless war machine.

My last words? “Life is no way to treat an animal, not even a mouse.”

Napalm came from Harvard. Veritas!

Our president is a Christian? So was Adolph Hitler.

What can be said to our young people, now that psychopathic personalities, which is to say persons without consciences, without a sense of pity or shame, have taken all the money in the treasuries of our government and corporations and made it all their own?”


Saturday, August 14

Beth Henry, an American writer from the Texas Gulf Coast, raises some interesting points in the following article. She is an Axis of Logic Founding Member and Contributing Editor. Allegedly, Henry does not hate neo-conservatives; she just feels better when they’re not in charge. She may be contacted at: beth@axisoflogic.com

Here’s what Beth Henry has to say:

"Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone most accurately described the presidential elections as “…a bunch of rich people talking to each other in front of the help.”

For awhile, they had generally kept their napkins folded and their manners intact. Snippiness, yeah, and the usual casual mendacity, but nothing truly visceral or tasteless.

We knew it couldn’t last.

A food fight has broken out amongst them now, and the view from under the table is far more interesting than the fracas above it.

This week, a Vietnam veteran who served at the same time, and in the same capacity as Kerry, released a book about him that can only be described as character assassination. Not wanting to give the book or its author any more hits on Google than he has already, I won’t name them.

The media has been all abuzz with the story, and Kerry’s wannabe nemesis has been making the rounds pumping it up for fun and royalties, all in the name of standing up for the “truth”.

So now, it’s all about who was a good soldier and patriot, and who was not, in a war, a seemingly endless atrocity that claimed over a million lives, launched on a lie.

The spectacle surrounding this skirmish obscures its true uses, however. The very point of contention serves to reframe the real debate, and to divert attention from the increasingly obvious fact that we, the people, do not really have a dog in this fight.

Given the deep divide in opinion in our country concerning the invasion of Iraq and continued U.S. presence there, it seems that the debate before potential voters would be whether or not to continue our occupation of that country.

As the “war on terror” becomes the rationale for unprecedented attacks on our civil liberties and for an open raid on the Treasury to support it, it would seem appropriate to bring into question the very idea of such a costly, open-ended, and bloody future for our country.

In the media brouhaha over Vietnam veterans’ war stories, however, such questions concerning U.S. imperialist policies have been answered before they were asked.

Continued occupation of Iraq, as well as a strategy in the Middle East that includes continued support of Israel’s genocidal aggression, is espoused by both candidates.

Those policies, though deeply controversial among voters, are part of the “platforms” either formal or informal, of our only two political parties. In the cases of both candidates, those planks could easily have been lifted from the website of the Project for the New American Century.

The peoples’ consent has certainly been “manufactured” in the case of the “war on terror”. Terror alerts and evocations of mushroom clouds and biological attacks have been used to squeeze every drop of political leverage out of the horror and trauma of September 11, 2001. The rationale for ongoing, budget-breaking, murderous wars is never actually laid out, only the gut-level evocation of the true terror and confusion that gripped our country immediately following the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

The continuation of endless war is a given, according to both presidential candidates. The price it exacts both domestically and abroad, paid only by the working people of this country and others, is assumed to be a fair one by those who will never receive the bill.

The debate, the contest, now, is not about whether the United States should build a global empire on the bodies of our children and of millions of other human beings all over the world.

The debate is now over which man will accomplish that task the best.

Which man can serve a lie with the most integrity?

Which man can best serve that lie even knowing his hands are awash with blood with each decision he makes sustaining it?

These are apparently our choices at the polls in November. All other debate, all other qualifications, are lost, and rendered moot in the din of diversionary food fights among our ruling oligarchs as they compete for our validation of their unique packaging of the same vile product."


Friday, August 13

Today in Bahrain, there are planned demonstrations for early afternoon which will likely culminate at – or near – the U.S. Embassy. It’s been a while since people have taken to the streets here to rant against the American government. The weather is hot these days, but this is also Friday, and during prayers various local imam will extol the significance of the ongoing Shi’a uprising in Najaf.

There are Arab media reports that Moqtada al-Sadr, the rebel Iraqi Shi’a cleric, has sustained three wounds from shelling, while holed up in Najaf’s sacred compound housing the Imam Ali shrine – named for the Prophet Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law Ali, assassinated in 661.

Ashura, the great annual Shi’a passion play, commemorates the martyrdom of not only Ali, but his sons, Hasa and Husayn, who were also killed later. Allegedly, Husayn was the Prophet Muhammad's favorite grandson.

Needless to say, the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf is powerfully significant to Shi’as.

Meanwhile, the bellicose and imperious buffoon impersonating an elected U.S. president is still trying to sell the American public that Iraq is now a sovereign state governed by Iraqis. This is a grotesque fiction, just like much of Bush’s resume.

The former cocaine-sniffing, Texas National Guard deserter tells us the stench of the dead in Iraq is justified. We are, after all, liberators – introducing democracy to a country that we have gone to war against twice since 1991 – and tried to destroy by sanctions in between the two Gulf Wars.

Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, the U.S. - Shi'a Muslim with military and CIA connections, is trying to crush the violence plaguing Iraq. At the same time, he’s trying to persuade everyone of the legitimacy of his unelected government. This is difficult when, in the days leading up to his appointment by the Americans, Dr. Allawi shot dead six handcuffed and blindfolded prisoners.

According to Australian correspondent Paul McGeough, former editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, Allawi did this in front of numerous witnesses at the al-Amariyah security center in Baghdad.

Yesterday thousands of demonstrators in Baghdad, Basra and Nassiriya protested against the American-led offensive to crush the Shi’a uprising in Najaf. The rag-tag Jaish al-Mahdi militia of Moqtada al-Sadr has been fighting the Americans for over a week in the holy city. Shi’a leaders in southern Iraq yesterday called for a breakaway movement from the central government in Baghdad to protest the crimes committed against Iraqis by Prime Minister Allawi’s unelected government and the American and British occupation forces.

Next up is a civil war in Iraq.

Americans should be sympathetic to the Shi’a leaders in the southern Iraqi governorates. We also have an unelected leader who perpetrates crimes against our country. In just one more fresh example, the Bush Administration made certain an appallingly expensive oil services contract was awarded to Halliburton without a single competitive bid.

According to the Guardian, Pentagon auditors have now concluded that Halliburton has failed to properly account for $1.8bn in charges billed to the U.S. government. That’s almost $2 bn in over charges at a time when the federal budget deficit, projected at $455 billion, is an emerging fiscal catastrophe, oil is at a record high and the dollar is steadily weaker against major world currencies.

The Pentagon findings, laid out in a 60-page report, threaten to put fresh political pressure on Halliburton's former chief, vice president Dick Cheney. The company has stumbled from one scandal to another, providing serious ammunition for Democrats in the run-up to November's presidential elections.

In Iraq’s case, the Allawi government has no legitimacy and will fall apart in 24 hours without the American masters. In the American case, citizens – swindled of significant votes in Florida, have had to endure a leader straight out of George Orwell's 1984. The irony is - Bush, who has a talent for mental hairballs when he meets the press – probably hasn’t read this book anymore than he’s read the 9/11 Commission Report.

Perhaps Bush is hopeful his father and the usual family cronies will help him make the bad news about Iraq go away, and disappear quickly. He needs to rig another election, and fast.

Just eight months ago, Ahmad Chalabi sat in a place of honor behind First Lady Laura Bush during the president’s State of the Union address to Congress. It was really a celebration speech; Bush was touting the success of America’s “pre-emptive” war against Iraq – a country that threatened our national security with weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Qaeda. Chalabi, despite being a fugitive from Jordan for a conviction in absentia on bank fraud charges, had the neoconservative hard-liners in both the Pentagon and the White House eating out of his hands. Bush, more than anyone, cheerfully bought Chalabi’s advice.

The controversial Iraqi exile should earn a special Academy Award for his performance as a spectacular liar. As everyone knows, there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or any ties to al-Qaeda. Oh, well .... there’s always the world’s second largest supply of oil.

Now the Bush administration's top Iraq advisor has been indicted for counterfeiting; his nephew, for murder. Chalabi is just the fall guy, but it hasn’t helped that as his star has fallen in Washington, D.C., it has risen substantially in Tehran. The CIA has suggested that Chalabi tipped off Tehran that the U.S. had broken its codes and was eavesdropping on communications.

To deflect the American media from Vietnam Redux [Iraq National Army – the South Vietnamese; the Shi'a insurgents - the Viet Cong], there is the sudden preoccupation with the Darfur crisis in Sudan – as if this genocide just started last month.

And, as New York Observer reporter Joe Conasan points out, exactly one week after the President accepts his party's nomination in New York on Sept. 2, two days before the anniversary of 9/11 and seven weeks before Election Day, the Secretary of Homeland Security plans to hold a Washington press conference to announce that September will be "National Preparedness Month."

The government's "partners" in this month-long, well-meaning public-awareness campaign will include many national groups, including the American Red Cross, the National Association of Broadcasters and the Advertising Council. Newspapers and airwaves will be saturated with messages urging worried citizens to learn how to cope with "emergencies."

Presumably the September campaign will improve considerably on Secretary Tom Ridge's earlier advice, such as wrapping windows in cellophane secured with masking tape to thwart poison gas. How could anyone criticize the idea of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts helping their neighbors prepare to escape a terror attack?

Unfortunately, the news that has emerged about the administration's bungling of its latest orange alert suggests otherwise. Their first mistake came when Mr. Ridge misled the press about the information that prompted him to elevate the threat level on the Sunday after the Democratic convention. The alert was based on information that was at least three years old. His remarks obfuscated that truth.

Administration officials quickly explained they had acted on the basis of current intelligence that amplified the alarm raised by the old computer files. But Mr. Ridge's British counterpart, Home Secretary David Blunkett, soon denounced the entire exercise.

Writing in a London newspaper on Aug. 7, the British counterterror chief asked acidly: "Is that really the job of a senior cabinet minister in charge of counter-terrorism? To feed the media? To increase concern? Of course not. This is arrant nonsense."

People just don’t understand George Bush. He is altruistic. This Homeland Security focus on terrorists poised to strike America has nothing to do with Bush trying to provoke fear in voters just seven weeks before the November election.


Tuesday, August 3

If you play the waiting game to see whether you remain in a country, or move onto another destination, there’s an abundance of free time. Now is the perfect chance to finally read the literary heavyweights like Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, perhaps even Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s August, 1914 – books either assigned in college courses 35 years ago, or deemed chic by some pretentious English Literature majors who once influenced me.

I’ve clocked the first one hundred pages of Tolstoy’s superbly written novel, and I might be close to finish by now if not for the intermittent siestas which overpower me - plus other distractions.

The truth is, I’m still afflicted with the faint twitches of a political junky and so I can’t resist the news on television. In Bahrain, the pickings are slim for an American expatriate. It’s really CNN or nothing – though BBC and Sky News provide some options.

Forty years ago, everyone in the United States gathered around the bonfire of the television to witness the nominating conventions of the two political parties. Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater, as reported by the mainstays: Huntley and Brinkley for NBC; Walter Cronkite for CBS; and Howard K. Smith for ABC. It was a civic responsibility to observe history in the making, at least in my household. Afterward, Theodore White produced his The Making of the President chronicle. Despite the recent assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the world still had a veneer of order and hope.

Four years later this changed dramatically, and civic duty had no genuine relevancy any longer. The year began badly with the Tet Offensive in South Vietnam - not unlike the insurgency in Iraq, offering visible proof of America’s inability to impose its will on another foreign country. That spring, both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy were gunned down. In between, there were student riots and a growing anti-war movement.

The antithesis of democracy in America was never better illustrated in my lifetime than by the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention. Mayor Richard Daley’s answer to First Amendment Rights was to convulse a crowd by tear gas and beat dissent bloody by police night sticks. This was a time when rock and roll could still earn you a skull-cracking or a jail sentence, before its incendiary potential was extinguished by money, MTV and Marine Corps recruitment ads.

For presidential nominees that year, just two old party hacks – Humphrey and Nixon. And Humphrey proved no match for Nixon’s Machiavellian skills. Of course Theodore White made more good money off his unswerving chronicle in the tradition of Henry Luce’s School of Time Magazine Journalism.

Four years later, the only redeeming feature in another series of leg-lifting dog of conventions was Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail. Despite Thompson’s enormously wasted gifts in his one-dimensional role as a clownish gonzo journalist, his report of the political process is savage and honest. He is the anti-Theodore White for 1972. Unlike White, nothing was off the record for Thompson. Since he could only go down that road once, Thompson tore the veneer off the charade of the two candidates, Nixon and McGovern, posing as worthy leaders who could unite a deeply divided America. In other words: Help Was On The Way.

Help is always on the way, if you’re a politician trying to persuade an unsophisticated public to give you the only set of keys to the car. I haven’t wasted my time on political conventions in the years that followed.

Except …… last week I awoke early, couldn’t wait to get my hands on Tolstoy, and I was just in time for John Kerry’s acceptance speech – live from Boston. What luck. Kerry has only slightly more charisma than Dick Cheney, a man who seems as cold as a marbled mausoleum. If Kerry is elected, there will be no substantive changes in American governance, but at least he will not appear like that embarrassing language-mangling dink who came by his fortune and his presidency dishonestly.

A glaring flaw in Bush is that his official rebirth in Jesus Christ did not lead him, a former sinner, to compassion but to vindictiveness. A more limited occupant of the Oval Office is hard to recall.

I have no problem admitting my vote for Kerry is strictly motivated as an anti-Bush choice. Kerry has done nothing to distinguish himself during his 20-year senate career. If help is really on the way, as Kerry promised, perhaps he will immediately reimburse taxpayers for the $40 million cost of staging this year’s Democratic Convention.

I’m sure Bush will follow suit, as well – after the pointless Republican Convention in New York City.

The organizers of the Democratic and Republican national conventions have each received checks for $14.5 million from the Federal Election Commission to finance these events. That, combined with an estimated $25 million in security costs, means taxpayers will foot the bill for nearly $40 million for each event.

It is repugnant to know politicians in the millionaire club, like Kerry and Bush, will not get off the welfare wagon.

With the interlude between conventions, now we have the president issuing a massive security response in three major cities, based on pre 9/11 al-Qaeda surveillance information. Fear is the easiest method for the few to control the many. Bush is desperate to cling to power and will do everything possible to deflect the media from John Kerry

Right on cue, CNN reporter Wolf Blitzer continuously intones a Chicken Little style about these serious threats, droning on and on like a big bass drum that has no melody but which trumps every other instrument.

This posturing by Bush and his lackey, Tom Ridge, is just as fraudulent as weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, earlier links between al-Qaeda and Iraq, that Iraq is improving, that Iraqis support the "coalition," and that they support their new US-manufactured government.

If pollsters show Kerry pulling ahead of the incumbent days before the presidential election, look for Bush to postpone the event because of more dire al-Qaeda threats to our national security.

Pathological liars carry on lying; it's what they do. Their freak show never leaves town.

Tuesday, July 27

With one eye on the airport and future uncertainty, and the other eye on this plush villa and domestic tranquility, it feels like it’s time for a recitation of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy from the first scene of Act Three.  To go or not to go; that is the question.

How many times can you retreat to the swimming pool to escape this suckworthy heat?  How many times can you watch Oprah Winfrey fawn over the banality of Sting or Barbra Streisand?  How many times can you read in the Gulf Daily News about another Indian expatriate found hanged from a ceiling fan?

Just to bust out of this scene, I went to Seef Mall the other night to see Michael Moore’s documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11.  It is a damning portrait of George Bush. Since I’m biased against the Supreme Court-appointed president, I knew the film would only reinforce my views.  True to form, insights from Bush are as interesting as the body's passage of dissolution.

The hardest segment to witness is Bush sitting in that Florida classroom, idly thumbing through a children’s book after being told of the greatest foreign attack on U.S. soil in history. He appears like a servile nitwit.

Watching the film in a theatre of a largely Arab audience is mighty weird.  Regardless of Moore’s presentation of disclosures about the cozy relationship between the Bush family and Saudi royalty - especially “Bandar” Bush, the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. – and the bin Laden family, there is no dispute about the carnage unleashed on Iraq.  

War is hell, as American Union General William Sherman said during the Civil War.  It’s one of the worst forms of degradation because it is state-sanctioned murder. 

There may be significant distinctions between a Bahraini and an Iraqi, but it is far easier to empathize with atrocities that occur in a common cultural sphere then to connect with events halfway across the world.  An American can’t possibly fathom what the Iraqi people endure, but a Bahraini can when similarities involve the same language, the same religion, the same architecture, the same customs, and the same values. 

Moore is an excellent documentary film maker.  He knows how to put it together.  Ticket sales of $100 million prove him out.  He seems perfectly disarming as the rumpled slob-next-door, exposing hypocrisy and championing the poor, disenfranchised of America.  Yet Moore is an extremely rich liberal. He owns a $1.9 million home in New York City, and a $1.2 million home in Michigan. Moore also has no problem charging $30,000 a speech to denounce the wealthy.

Nonetheless, the film is worthy of serious consideration.

Saturday, July 24

It’s a little more than disconcerting to be on a family vacation in Europe, when you learn your government has made it officially impossible to return to the Middle East, and yet it’s not feasible to continue onto the United States.  I’m talking about the mandatory evacuation of American military dependents from Bahrain.

Where is home?  Culturally, it’s the United States.  In terms of possessions, family heirlooms and equally valuable sentimental items, it’s Bahrain.

Who expects to be evacuated during vacation?  This seems like going out for dinner and learning you’ve been evicted from your house.

In my case, I returned to Bahrain after parting company with my family at Heathrow Airport a week ago. My government could not stop me from entering Bahrain on a commercial airline and a valid passport. 

How much longer can I remain here?  It’s anyone’s guess.  A few more days, a week.

The British expatriate community – all civilians, which slightly outnumbers Americans here, has no plans to leave Bahrain at all.

George Bush’s effort to introduce a Middle School textbook version of American democracy to Iraqi citizens has turned Baghdad into Hell on Earth.  Saudi religious fanatics and terrorists recently answered the government’s call for surrender on Wednesday with another shoot-out in Riyadh.

Because of this, and much more, the Middle East is not exactly a top tourist destination these days.

There’s no discounting that al-Qaeda sympathizers exist in Bahrain, but most Americans here are more fearful of the Indy 500-driving style of the locals, then beady-eyed terrorists on a mission from Allah.

Despite my pose as a cynic, a prime reason for returning here was to retrieve our two Yorkshire Terriers from a boarding kennel, quickly collect specific valuables, sentimental items and make CDs of important computers files. 

The great unknown factor for both Americans and Bahrainis is still the status of the Bahrain School – the land and buildings owned by the Bahrain International School Association (BISA), the facility managed by the U.S. Department of Defense and owner of the entire school inventory.

It follows that if the school is solely for American dependents and there are no dependents, then there is no school.  But, of course, it’s not that cut and dry.  Nearly 70% of the high school population is tuition-paying non-American dependents –  at the rate of $17,000 annually, primarily Bahrainis.

As of now, the American teaching staff does not have emergency essential status.  They may return to Bahrain only at their own expense, and the U.S. government will not assume any responsibility.

The Defense Department wants to close the school.  The Bahrain International School Association (BISA) wants the U.S. to operate the school at least one more year until a reasonable transition to a private, international school may be achieved.  At the same time, BISA is also prepared to immediately staff the school and acquire the inventory in time for the normal beginning of the 2004-05 school year.  That's a tall order on such short notice.

This is July 24 and for tuition-paying families, options are virtually hopeless.  With an influx of Westerners fleeing eastern Saudi Arabia - the massacre at al-Kohbar in late May was just 30 miles from Bahrain – enrollment at private schools with an English-based curriculum is maxed out.  For the upper-class Bahrainis, these schools are what count for a ticket to reputable universities in the Middle East, the United Kingdom and the United States. 

Over the past several days, a decision about the school has been forthcoming from the U.S. government – inshallah.  It’s a very political issue, with the Bahrain Crown Prince recently in Washington, D.C. to discuss this with U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

It’s an unnecessary fiasco.

When we embarked on this phase of our life, we wanted a little excitement and the chance to experience an international lifestyle.  As the clichés goes: careful what you wish for. 

Have passport, will travel.


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