Categories
Living in Society

Retro Post – On Sept. 11, 2001

United Airlines Flight 175 hits World Trade Center south tower on Sept. 11, 2001. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

First published at Blog for Iowa on Sept. 11, 2011.

I was scheduled to fly from Moline, Illinois to Philadelphia on Sept. 11, 2001. My flight was cancelled. I returned to the office, and with the other office employees watched the twin towers burning and then collapse on television. I neither understood what happened nor knew what to do. But I turned to a president, one I believed stole the 2000 election, and said that I would support him after this act of terrorism. We all did.

What I remember most from the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001 was my trip to Philadelphia a few days later. The plane was almost empty. As I approached the Eastern Iowa Airport, the radio announcer said President Bush was also heading to Philadelphia on an unannounced trip. Air Force One was already parked at Philadelphia International Airport when I arrived and I drove past it in my rental car heading to Interstate 95. There were hundreds of law enforcement officials stationed along the presidential route.

As I headed North, I passed the presidential motorcade returning to the airport. It was 10:30 a.m. On the radio I discovered that the President was in town fulfilling a campaign promise to visit a women’s shelter. He couldn’t have been in Philadelphia three hours. I shook my head, disappointed that after all that had happened, we were back to politics.

As the hope of getting something done in Washington D.C. this year wanes, and our attention turns to “jobs,” the “Super Committee” and the 2012 Presidential election, we are approaching the tenth anniversary of the event that brought almost everyone in the country together. I am referring to Osama Bin Laden’s successful hijacking of four aircraft and the deaths, destruction and economic damage it brought. It did bring us together, if only for the briefest of moments. Whatever consensus may have existed then, devolved into political gridlock unlike any in living memory.

We know about the deaths that day, and the illnesses of workers at Ground Zero. What we don’t consider enough is the death, destruction and economic damage caused by the United States reaction to Sept. 11, 2001. Hugh Gusterson reports in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, “the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and his collaborator Linda Bilmes estimate that, in funds already disbursed or committed, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have so far cost the American taxpayer… $3.2 trillion.” It is noteworthy that this amount includes $200 billion in interest incurred after the decision to pay for the war with deficit spending. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the United States will incur another $800 billion in interest charges on the war debt by 2020. The wars are costing a lot.

In this month’s issue of The Lancet, Vic Sidel and Barry Levy published an article titled, “Adverse health consequences of U.S. Government responses to the 2001 terrorist attacks.” The article reminds us of the fact that there were more than the dollar costs of these wars. According to the article, as of July 26, 2011 there were 1,568 US Military deaths in Afghanistan and 4,408 in Iraq. There have been tens of thousands of US casualties. Likewise there were many times this number of Afghan and Iraqi deaths. Estimates are that 655,000 Iraqis died in the first 40 months of the Iraq War. Millions of refugees in both countries are on the move as a result of the wars. The health care infrastructure in Iraq was damaged, much of it destroyed. Thousands of villages in Afghanistan and their environs have been destroyed. Of 222,620 US military personnel who returned between May, 2003, and April 2004, 42,506 (19%) reported mental health problems and 68,923 (31%) used mental health services over the first year after they returned home. The article continues, but I have made the point: the cost of our reaction to September 11 was in more than dollars.

As we honor the lives lost and damaged by the terrorist attacks, I hope that for a moment we can include those lost and damaged by our political decision to invade Iraq and to prosecute a war with Afghanistan that no one has been able to win after more than thirty years of fighting.

Once we understand the true cost of war, it seems too high a price.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Retro Post: Pepper Flakes

Serrano Peppers

First published on Nov. 7, 2010 on my blog Big Grove Garden.

Pepper Flakes

There is a natural urge to use everything. It gets suppressed by the modern American culture of throwing things away. In our house we often don’t have trash to take to the curb each week, but almost always have recycling to go out. American frugality has been in remission, but expect a comeback.

While working in transportation, I received a gift of some dried peppers in small plastic bags. Two bags have been sitting in the pantry for a while. In addition, I grew a long, thin and red pepper in the garden a few seasons ago. Some of these were dried and stored. In the box store yesterday, in the Mexican food section there were four feet of dried peppers in many different kinds. They were cheap and I bought two bags of the most abundant types. When I got home, I combined all of them and ground about half into pepper flakes. The one jar this produced will last a very long time. When I grind the second batch, it will go into small jars for gifts.

The challenge of American society will be to balance abundance with frugality. Waste not, want not is how it goes. I am afraid that we have not been understanding what we have been wasting, and it’s time we did.

Categories
Living in Society

Afghanistan Forever

Paper cranes

~ I’ve been writing about Afghanistan for what seems like forever. Here are two posts, the first was written as the surge happened and our company participated in deployment of equipment to Afghanistan. The second reiterated how long the United States has been involved in Afghanistan. As the U.S. makes a hasty and long overdue exit, and the Taliban resumes control, one has to wonder about the human cost of U.S. engagement.

The War Machine Goes On
March 11, 2009

As I write this post, the military equipment moved from the depot to the coast continues its progress towards Afghanistan. There were hundreds of truckloads of vehicles and provisions moving out in a very large deployment over the past two weeks. We did not hear a lot about this in the mainstream media. If anything, this deployment would have gone on unnoticed, except for some of us in Big Grove.

For those of us who would rather see a world at peace combined with economic stability, we have been doubly disappointed. If the defense industry were to falter at this point, it would be another short circuit of an economy already on the fritz. The deployment to Afghanistan furthers the military spending, and while we agree that the influence of Osama Bin Laden and his followers should be neutralized, beyond that, it is difficult to see the importance of the Afghanistan-Pakistan issue.

So, as I drink morning coffee and turn down the heat to go into the office, I wonder how we can realize a sustainable peace in the world. With continued drought, famine, genocide and poverty, the global community is ripe for more conflict as populations move, oppressive regimes assert dominance and the United Stated assumes a larger role as “peace keeper” by these military deployments around the globe. In the words of John Lennon, “all we are saying is give peace a chance.”

An Iowan’s View of Afghanistan
December 11, 2009

When I hear people talking about the 8th anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan I shake my head. We should be marking the 30th anniversary of our Afghanistan policy because we have been engaging in Afghanistan’s affairs since at least 1979, when the former Soviet Union invaded that country.
 
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan combined with the ongoing Islamic Revolution in neighboring Iran, and the United States view of the importance of Middle East oil, complicated the presidency of Jimmy Carter. In his memoir, Keeping Faith, former President Jimmy Carter wrote about the threat of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, “A successful takeover of Afghanistan would give the Soviets a deep penetration between Iran and Pakistan, and pose a threat to the rich oil fields of the Persian Gulf area and to the critical waterways through which so much of the world’s energy supplies had to pass.” There were also American interests. UNOCAL, a US company, was seeking to build an oil pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan through Afghanistan at that time. For President Carter these were vital US interests and he felt it critical to address the Soviet aggression. As many of us remember, Carter was in the middle of his campaign for a second term, and believed that campaigning actively was inappropriate. Among other things, he canceled his participation in a nationally televised debate in Des Moines, Iowa and initiated a US boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow. Many of us remember President Carter as beleaguered by the challenges of Iran and Afghanistan.

In the end, President Carter forswore direct military action and implemented economic sanctions. The most notable sanction to Iowans may be the grain embargo of the former Soviet Union. His administration also decided to prop up what he called “Afghan freedom fighters.” According to Sonali Kolhatkar and James Ingalls in their book, Bleeding Afghanistan, the Afghan freedom fighters were “seven Islamist ‘Mujahideen’ or ‘jihadi’ groups based in the Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan.” These groups received monetary, military and logistical support from the United States and Saudi Arabia through a third party intermediary. This indicates indirect military action on the part of the United States interests during the Soviet aggression. According to Kolhatkar and Ingalls, U.S. military aid may have gone to a group called Makhtab al Khadimat, “a group that recruited and trained Muslim volunteers from Egypt, Algeria and other countries to fight in the Afghan war.”

Makhtab al Khadimat was founded in 1984 by the Saudi heir to a construction firm, Osama bin Laden. From the perspective of today, this all sounds too familiar, except that eight years ago, the United States intervened in Afghanistan militarily to remove a problem that it may have helped engender.

I hope the blood and treasure that we have invested in our engagement in Afghanistan serves as another reason the United States must get to energy independence. Our sons and daughters are fighting and dying in a country where our interest in oil blinded us to the values of Islamic extremists. As we were supporting the Mujahideen, and saying we could work with the Taliban, we failed to hear other voices in Afghanistan that called for an end to the Soviet occupation, but not a return to Islamic fundamentalism.

According to Zoya, a member of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), during a recent Iowa City appearance, little has changed since the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989. The United States continues to support Islamic extremists in the Karzai government. To the extent Afghanistan is about United States interests in oil, it is one more manifestation of our addiction to hydrocarbon fuels. We need the will to cure our addiction to hydrocarbon fuel.

I empathize with my friends who call for demonstrations over President Obama’s escalation of the troop levels in Afghanistan. I have participated in these demonstrations. At the same time, I have to ask, where were they during the first escalation earlier this year? Where were they in 1979?

What I know is that President Obama, more than any president in my memory, appears to have put together the elements of a comprehensive plan to resolve the issues related to war and our addiction to hydrocarbon fuels. If Obama can extract us from three decades of engagement in Afghanistan, he will have truly done something for peace in that region and for the world. Iowans should support President Obama on Afghanistan. He is doing the dirty work that his predecessors, beginning with Jimmy Carter, left behind.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Salad Days

Garden salad.

A retro post from April 21, 2012.

We can’t force language to mean what we want. There is a social aspect of words and meaning that is undeniable and inflexible in the day to day parlance of natives. While over time, meanings change, and old words gain new meanings, when we talk about our salad days, it has a certain meaning here in Big Grove.

Shakespeare said it in 1606 in “Anthony and Cleopatra,” “My salad days, / When I was green in judgment, cold in blood…” The idiom came to mean a period of youthful inexperience or indiscretion. Around our house, it means the lettuce planted in early March is mature and over the next six weeks, we will have a lot of days of eating salad, our salad days.

If I were to commercialize our garden, lettuce would be important. At $3 per bag at the farmers market, the price is right to sell a lot of it. Too, there is a local restaurant market for fresh greens. What is not figured into the equation is the labor involved in picking and cleaning the greens, but with proper planting and marketing, a person could take in $60 to $100 per sales day from greens.

For now, we enjoy our salad days, knowing they won’t last long in the span of life. Last night the greens were topped with thinly sliced carrot and golden raisins. I found a bottle of store bought dressing in the refrigerator and used that. There are chives, sage, garlic and oregano in the garden, ready to be picked, chopped and added to the greens. There is almost always cheese to be crumbled on top. There are cans of kidney and garbanzo beans in the pantry. A host of variations on a theme as the salad days commence. My meaning, not Shakespeare’s.