Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “China”

Gordon Gekko Lives – Tom Rossi

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I’ve been wondering lately (okay, for many, many years) how people can still hold onto conservative ideas about the economy. Social issues are one thing – there is a legitimate debate about abortion, for example, but for some people, economics seems to be even more of a religious issue than that. People just hold onto their beliefs, despite a wealth (pun intended) of evidence to the contrary.

To track down some of the reasoning of the followers of the tired, old religion of conventional, “free-market” economics, I interviewed démodé economist Charles “Chipmunk” Griedesgud at the Gordon Gecko Center for Economic Satire in Slashington D.C.

Presented here are some highlights of the interview. The entirety of the interview will be published in book form by the same publishers that put out Bill O’Reilly’s weekly treasures. It will be called, Killing… something or other.

Me: Thank you for allowing me to interview you, Mr. Griedesgud.

Griedesgud: Please, call me “Chip”.

Me: Fifth generation at Yale?

Chip: Exactly.

Later…

Me: Ha ha! I’m sure your cat didn’t see THAT coming! Oh… Ahem. The main thing I’ve been wondering about, Chip, is how people can still believe that giving corporations big tax breaks leads to more jobs. The corporations don’t seem to create jobs anymore; they just build factories overseas or buy robots to do the work. Don’t people know these things?

Chip: If we cut taxes on corporations, they will build factories and make jobs… in China and Mexico.

Me: How does that help us?

Chip: But then, you see, the Chinese and Mexican workers will become more affluent.

Me: Uh huh.

Chip: Meanwhile, American workers will accept lower and lower paying jobs…

Me: Waiting for the good part.

Chip: …which will eventually allow them to make the commodities that are demanded by the newly affluent foreign workers.

Me: Yeah. Great.

Chip: So, it still trickles down; it just might go through a couple of extra steps.

Me: Wow. I can’t understand how I never thought of that.

Chip: I sense a little sarcasm in your voice.

Me: Me? Nooooooo.

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Chip: Would you, instead, have no job creation at all? I mean, if we balanced things more toward the mythical “middle class,” then there wouldn’t be the concentration of wealth at the top that it takes to start the projects and businesses that do just that.

Me: But isn’t that exactly what happened between the 1950’s and the 1970’s, America’s greatest period of economic growth and shared prosperity? The progressive tax structure taxed the super-wealthy and their corporations heavily, and they all kept right on growing anyway, along with the well-being of their workers and the workers’ families.

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Chip: That approximately three-decade period was essentially an illusion of economic bliss. In reality, the so-called “middle class” was stealing from the providers – the wealthiest Americans, who could have built a much LARGER economy, and created even more jobs. They did this through forming alliances known as “unions” and through other underhanded methods.

Me: Those bastards!

Later…

Me: So, what could we expect if we were to follow your prescription, which seems to be the way we’re headed, anyway?

Chip: Well, economic growth and prosperity, of course! Our economy could be growing like the Chinese! And why not?

Me: Do you mean the Chinese economy, or the Chinese population?

Chip: Take your pick.

Me: But won’t this scenario mean that those countries make the same “mistakes”, as you call them, that we made? And won’t they be hurting their economies?

Chip: Yes! That’s exactly what we want! There are two ways to look at winning a competition – you can perform better than the others, or they can perform worse than you!

Later…

Me: So, you say we could head into a period of fantastic economic growth and prosperity. But the “middle class” can’t share in that prosperity, lest they sabotage the whole process.

Chip: That’s exactly right. You asked me about the benefits before: the average income would rise beyond anything we’ve seen.

Me: But wouldn’t that just be a result of the outliers? Wouldn’t the income median and mode be dismally low?

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Chip: Well, thanks to years of effort, nobody knows what those even mean. We’ve trained people very effectively to think that averages are everything. We’ve kept telling them about the average income in America being so high and we even invented a term called “GDP per Person” that throws them way off. Complaining about your income just makes people feel ashamed now.

Me: Wow. Just… wow.

Later…

Me: Well, thank you, Mr. Griedesgud, for the interview. I suppose you’ll be going back to work for the rest of the day?

Chip: Work? What work? This story hasn’t changed since 1890! I’m going to dinner with some lobbyists at the “Oval Room”. I love a restaurant with a punny name!

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

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When Does A Whistleblower Cross The Line?

I’m feeling rather confused about whistle blowing. The premise of The Accidental Activist was the abuse by large multinational corporations of individuals and their rights. My politics are generally left-wing – I’m sure you haven’t noticed from this blog – and I feel I should be siding with those who purport for freedom from surveillance, but when it comes to national security, my politics shift…sometimes dramatically.

The question for me with regards to the actions of both Bradley Manning and Edward Snowdon revolves around three questions:

1.  Was US national security breached?

2.  Were men and women risking their lives for our protection compromised?

3.  Will our ability to utilize various systems of intelligence be closed to us because those willing to help us cannot trust our government agencies to control the information and sources?

imgres-1If any of the above leads to the death of one innocent individual, much less the failure to prevent a terrorist attack, then the actions of Manning and Snowdon are inexcusable. It is, I believe, not clear whether Snowdon crossed this line.

The definition of whistleblower is a person who tells the public or someone in authority about alleged dishonest or illegal activities (misconduct) occurring in a government department or private company or organization. 

The image portrays a hero/ine who is willing to stand up when they see an injustice, knowing that they might face repercussions from that oft-powerful business or organization. In fact, the US Government put laws in place to protect whistleblowers, as early as 1863 to expose suppliers who were fraudulent during the Civil War. The Act even goes so far as to offer incentives such as a percentage of any money recovered or damages won in court. The act also protects them from wrongful dismissal. 

whistleblower-cliffIt all sounds great until we get to issues of national security. I suspect we will never know the extent of many of these secrets or the implications. I read that, after Mannings’ leaks, an entire ring of Afghan informers and their families were taken out of Afghanistan for their own safety. Beyond the upheaval of those families, US forces were left more exposed to potential and life-threatening ambushes. How desperate must someone be to step in as an informer under those circumstances?

I have no doubt that our intelligence agencies do a lot of bad stuff to protect our freedom. I am sure they bend the rules and sometimes cross the lines. But the reality is that it is a rough world out there and when you enter the realm of religious or political extremism, and face up against people willing to kill thousands of people in an indiscriminate fashion, then you have to decide what values you prioritize, and I put the lives of freedom-loving people first.

For several months I boarded public buses in Israel knowing that there were daily attempts to blow up these buses. I did it, not because I was a hero, but because I had no choice.

images-4I treasure freedom and democracy and I believe that all who choose to live in such a society have the right to do so, without fear. If the price is that someone occasionally taps my communications because I have a foreign name, I can live with it.

Note to NSA: 80% of the websites I go into refer to Arsenal – they are my soccer team back in the UK and have no connections to munitions. When I comment that we need someone who can shoot straight, I mean with an inflated round piece of leather. I hope I have saved you considerable time with this revelation.

A final question to Edward Snowdon: If you leaked all this information in the name of democracy and freedom, because you feared America was becoming a surveillance state, why did you flee to a Chinese colony, where security cameras abound and people regularly checked for what they read, surf and write?

If you have any free time while in China, perhaps you could speak out to help free Shi Tao – he was, I guess, also a whistleblower 

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.   For more about the author, check out his website.

No More Nukes for North Korea… or for Anyone – Tom Rossi

The U.S. government and media, as well as the U.N. and many of its member nations, are up in arms over North Korea’s latest nuclear weapons test.

It seems that, despite his expensive Swiss education, Kim Jong Un is following closely in his father’s (Kim Jong Il) footsteps. The U.N. has approved major economic and trade sanctions against North Korea, as a result.

And why wouldn’t he? Why wouldn’t Kim Jong Un want to give himself and his nation nuclear capability? That’s the only way to guarantee the longevity of your dictatorship, these days. Well, either that or cooperate fully with America’s corporate-operated government, and that’s just not going to happen in this case.

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Let me make a dire, pessimistic prediction… There will be an explosion of a nuclear device, either here in America, or in Europe, in the next couple of decades. There is simply too much nuclear material out there, and the distribution of technology is getting harder and harder to control. And, lest we forget, there are many different groups out there, some with official flags (like Iran) and some without, that are, at this very moment, working as hard as they can to gain nuclear weapons capability. 

With the current state of affairs, this nuclear progress can only be slowed by our best espionage and military efforts. We try to keep our “enemies” out of the nuclear country club, while allowing our “friends.” But one day, there will either be a “leak” of materials and technology that will allow the wrong group to get what they want, or one of our “friends” will do something stupid.

There only one real solution to the threat of nuclear weapons eventually being used by either governments or terrorists – a complete, worldwide ban on any and all nuclear activity (mining, power, or weapons), except the tiny amount (with different isotopes) that’s needed for medical purposes and biological research.

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This would be the only plan that could actually be enforced, and even then, only with agreement from the world’s major powers, including China and Russia (I don’t remember saying it would be easy). It would be relatively simple, with remote sensing from satellites and spy planes, to find any and all mining of nuclear material.

This would mean that we would have to finally reject the dreamy tales of efficient, low-pollution energy (that weren’t true anyway) that have been the gifts of the nuclear industry’s PR machines. We would be far safer, in so many ways.

Nukes just might be one Pandora’s box that we can close again – at least most of the way.

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

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Running with the Enemy…Forever

Running with the Enemy is the latest offering from Lloyd Lofthouse, author of My Splendid ConcubineI thought to review the book, but Lloyd is my publisher and mentor. Given the controversies currently surrounding reviews, I think it easier to present (with his permission) the first chapter and let you be the judge.

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A word, however, about Lloyd: He served in Vietnam in the Marines and I can only imagine how difficult it is to return there in your mind when writing a novel. As I sent him chapters of Unwanted Heroes, a story about an Asian-American war veteran battling his PTSD seen through the eyes of a young Englishman who befriends him, I often wondered how Lloyd would cope with it. It took a lot of courage to return there, but as one war veteran said after reading Unwanted Heroes: it is a story that must be told.

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In this suspense thriller set during the Vietnam War, a rogue CIA agent needs someone to blame for his crimes. Recon Marine Ethan Card is the perfect patsy. As a teen, Ethan ran with a Chicago street gang, and he has a criminal record. He also has a secret lover, Tuyen, who is half Vietnamese and half French.
 
Tuyen is also a beautiful Viet Cong resistance fighter.
 
Since she was a young child, Tuyen has lived under the brutal control of her older, sexually abusive half-brother, Giap, a ruthless and powerful Viet Cong leader, who has forced her to kill Americans in battle or die if she refuses.
 
When Ethan discovers he is going to be court marshaled for weapons he did not sell to the Viet Cong and Tuyen will be arrested and end up in an infamous South Vietnamese prison, where she will be tortured and raped, he hijacks a U.S. Army helicopter and flees with Tuyen across Southeast Asia while struggling to prove his innocence.
 
The CIA agent and Giap—working together with the support of an unwitting American general—will stop at nothing to catch the two, and the hunt is on.
 
The star-crossed lovers travel across Laos to Cambodia’s Angkor Wat; to Bangkok, Thailand, and then to Burma’s Golden Triangle where Ethan and Tuyen fight a ruthless drug lord and his gang.
 
In the rainforests of Burma, Ethan also discovers that a massive assault is planned on his Marine unit’s remote base in South Vietnam with the goal of killing the man he admires most, Colonel Edward Price, who is the only one who believes Ethan is innocent.
 
Ethan must risk everything to save Price and his fellow Marines. Will he succeed?

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.  

Running with the Enemy – Chapter One

On April 11, 1880, General William Tecumseh Sherman addressed a crowd of more than ten thousand in Columbus, Ohio, and said, “There is many a body here today who looks on war as glory, but, boys, it is all hell.”

 ***

       

         His lover—a member of the National Liberation Front—was trained to kill Americans. It was possible that she had already killed some of his people, but that wasn’t going to stop him from wanting more of her.

        

         Ethan Card stared out the sunken pit of a broken window at the grounds of the former French colonial rubber plantation, which the South Vietnamese rainforest was reclaiming. Columns of mature, struggling rubber trees marched away from the dying house as if they were soldiers fighting a losing war. A patch of blue sky was still visible, but the rest was an angry blanket of dark clouds.

 

 When the French ruled Vietnam, Ethan thought, this place must have been something.

He heard the distant popping of a firefight that signaled combat and wondered who was dying: Viet Cong, North Vietnamese, Americans, South Koreans, ARVN, or Chinese communists?

The scuttle of a tiny, hard-shelled monster on the gray, wood floor of the second-story room distracted him. He knelt and flicked the insect away; watched it roll into a ball then, slipping into a crack, disappear into the floor.

 

The house creaked and he shivered. Before returning to the olive-green GI blanket spread on the floor behind him, Ethan looked around warily. Something did not feel right, and he paid careful attention to his warrior instincts.

 

He sensed Tuyen’s movement and glanced at the blanket where she lay nude on her stomach—her face cradled on her arms. Her long, dark, glossy hair hid most of her features. She was French, Vietnamese and Thai. At least that was what she had told him. There were other indications, as well.

In the village where they met, a Vietnamese woman called her a French bastard behind her back. He was sure Tuyen had heard and ignored it.

 

Her height and aqua eyes were French, but the rest was Asian. She was tall for a Vietnamese with the slender body of a fashion model. Admiring her nudity, he knelt and traced a line between her shoulder blades down her spine with his finger tips, stopping just above her hips.

 

Her silky, warm skin excited him causing his heart to race and his breath to catch in his throat. The urge to make love again was tempting, but they had already been in the deserted house too long.

 

“Why you fuck woman that fight with your enemy?” she asked in broken English.

 

“Because you told me you are not a communist,” he said. “Why are you fucking me?”

 

“Maybe you go home to America and replace me with other woman,” she replied.

 

He loved listening to her throaty, crude accented English.

 

“I am not a butterfly,” Ethan replied, “and, when I return to the United States, I’m taking you with me.” Otherwise, there wasn’t much for him in America but bad memories and a strict Evangelical Christian mother who often quoted Holy Scripture when lecturing him.

 

A loud creak sounded outside the shattered window. “What was that?” he asked, aware that discovery by either side would be disastrous for both of them.

 

A rumble of thunder shook the old house, and it started to rain. The fat drops pounded the leaky roof like a barrage of pebbles.

 

“It nothing,” she replied, as she rolled over on her back. “Only ghosts. This is old house.” Slipping an arm around his neck, she pulled him down on top of her.

 

Still, that creaking noise bothered him—it sounded as if someone had shifted weight from one foot to another. His combat sense warned him to listen closer, and when he did, he heard a rat scampering across the rotting attic floor above their heads.

 

“I think us together this morning too long,” she said.

 

“Maybe it is your Commie brother, Giap, spying on us.” He watched her features closely and noticed a quiver in her lips as heat climbed into her face at the mention of her half brother’s name.

 

“No,” she said, spitting her words out as if they were laced with cobra venom. “Giap recruiting in far village.”

 

Ethan knew that something dark and brooding existed between Tuyen and her half brother, but he couldn’t ask what it was. She had made it clear when the affair had blossomed months earlier that questions of her private life and family were forbidden. To cross that line could mean losing her, and she was his addiction—his opium.

 

Then as fast as the hate in her face had switched on, it vanished. “I loving you,” she said; then kissed him on the mouth. He felt a thrill shoot through his groin as her lips pressed against his. He should have stopped, but he couldn’t resist.

 

***

 

Victor Ortega picked up the pocket recorder from the windowsill and turned it off. He leaned against the wall and stared at the abandoned rubber plantation that spanned thousands of acres across hills where the jungle was still reclaiming the land. Raindrops from the swollen clouds pelted him. It was time to leave with his evidence.

 

A smile split his tanned, leathery face. Langley would not approve of him using his CIA skills to frame an innocent man. Ortega’s part-time business—the selling of weapons and information to the North Vietnamese Communists—had put Army intelligence on his trail. He needed a goat and Ethan and Tuyen fit the bill.

 

Ethan Card didn’t know it yet, but he was going to take the fall for Ortega’s illegal operations. Ortega had been watching several armorers, and because he had discovered Ethan fucking Tuyen, that link made him the perfect patsy. Card was having an affair with a member of the NLF who had a North Vietnamese Communist cadre leader for a brother. Who wouldn’t believe Card was guilty?

 

Using a miniature, silent camera, Ortega leaned into the window and took half a dozen pictures of the nude couple copulating for the third time.

 

Perfect! These photos would be the clincher. One shot had caught Ethan’s full profile and her face with eyes closed.

 

It was time for him to leave, and he had to be careful. Ethan was a recon Marine with a tiger’s senses. Ortega took a cautious step on the blue, rain-slick tiles of the veranda’s roof. He shifted his weight gently from one foot to the other. Then a crack sounded from one of the veranda’s tiles.

 

Oh, shit!

 

Icy fear shot through him galvanizing him into action. Moving quickly, he lay against the house below the window opening where the roof met the second-story wall. Holding his breath, he waited.

 

***

 

Ethan couldn’t dismiss the noise this time. He slipped from Tuyen’s embrace, rolled away from her across the floor and grabbed his forty-five caliber M3A1 submachine gun that he lovingly called his Greaser, because it fired four-hundred-fifty rounds a minute.

 

He waited until Tuyen had finished rolling the other way, picked up her AK-47 assault rifle and pointed it toward the offending window the sound had come from.

 

She nodded, and he darted toward the window to flatten himself against the wall next to it— his heart hammering from the rush of adrenaline.

 

Moving fast, he spun and aimed the Greaser out the window until he was flat against the wall on the other side. He stared at her and shook his head.

 

“We go,” she said, and gathered her clothing.

 

He watched her long, naked legs slide into black pants. “I can be here early tomorrow morning,” he said.

 

“Giap back. I no make it.” She slipped the black blouse over her head.

 

He was disappointed at losing sight of her naked body.

 

“We together in three days,” she said. “He gone again.”

 

He finished dressing, went to her, and placed a hand on each of her shoulders. They kissed.

They should have met in another time, another place where there was no war. He worried that someday what he had with her might end. That day would be a clusterfuck! There must be some way he could keep what he had with this lusty beauty.

 

***

 

Ortega, drenched from the rain and sweat dripping from his face, rolled down the veranda’s roof. He dropped easily over the side, twisted his body like a gymnast, and reached out to grab the edge of the roof above him. His brief grip with tiles slowed his momentum, and he landed easily on his feet. Turning right, he ran close to the house and sprinted for the trees.

 

***

 

An hour later, after driving miles through the rainforest, Ortega arrived at the United States Marine Corps recon base camp. Inside the fortified camp, he crept to the armorer’s van surrounded by stacked layers of sandbags.

 

The rain pounded the metal roof of the van, masking his entrance. Storage lined one wall of the long, narrow space and a workbench took up half the other wall. Shadows smothered the small desk at the far end of the van. To one side of the desk was a file cabinet that Ortega had searched a few times without Ethan’s knowledge. His eyes settled on Lance Corporal Wilson, Ethan’s assistant, who was bent over the bench working on a weapon. The man was an idiot; a fucking lowlife fool.

 

“Hey, man, did you pick up the fucking weapons at division?” Ortega asked.

 

Wilson yelped and jumped. “Asshole!” he said, and turned revealing the Ka-Bar he was holding close to his body with the blade’s edge facing Ortega.

 

Ortega laughed. “You’re such a fucking jerk.”

 

Wilson blushed and put the knife away. “They’re here.” He went toward the back of the van, returned with a crate, and put it on the bench. “It makes me nervous when you arrive this late to pick up the goddamned weapons. What if Ethan comes back early? What the hell would I say?”

“You worry too much, man.” Ortega reached into a pocket for a roll of South Vietnamese piasters, and threw the money on the counter.

 

“You bastard,” Wilson said. “I am taking all the risks. If Ethan find out what I’m doing, he’ll skin me alive. Do you know how crazy these fucking recon Marines are?”

 

“And do you know the strings I had to pull to get you, a regular piss-ant jarhead, assigned to this unit as its assistant armorer?”

 

Ortega stared with scorn at the lance corporal, and said, “Nothing will go wrong if you do as you are told.” He stopped talking and glanced at the wall clock behind the desk when a helicopter roared overhead. The thin metal roof of the van vibrated from the backwash. He knew it was the evening ass-and-trash flight to the division area at Chu Lai fifty miles away.

 

Once the noise of the slick was gone, Ortega continued. “You have nothing to worry about, alright, man? Soon, Ethan will be working for me.”

 

Wilson bared his teeth and pushed his face toward Ortega. “That’s easy for you to say. You don’t know the bastard. He lives by the rules.”

 

“It’s in the bag, man.” Ortega wrapped a poncho around the crate with the two M-60s in it. He shouldered the weapons and went to the door. “Now, cool it. Tonight I’ll make my pitch to Ethan. Then you won’t have anything to worry about.”

 

He left the van and went to his Jeep thinking he would have to kill Wilson soon. The man was unreliable and unstable.

 

***

 

Ethan returned from his business in Chu Lai to the recon base camp late in the afternoon. In his olive-drag Dodge M37 truck, he approached the steep narrow climb to the camp at the top of the orphan hill—an island fortress surrounded by rice paddies that in turn were surrounded by a dense rainforest.

 

A trailer-towing Jeep barreled down the dirt road toward him. Ethan automatically searched the paddies on either side for signs of life, hoping the demolition team had checked the road thoroughly that morning for buried explosive. Satisfied, he pulled his truck to one side, stopped, and waited for the Jeep to pass. His windshield wiper clicked back and forth clearing the raindrops from the glass.

 

He stiffened when he saw the man driving the Jeep. It was Ortega. The bastard had talked to him once—veiled, probing questions about weapons and how to requisition them. Ethan saw similarities between this man and members of Chicago’s Black P-Stone Nation street gang.  As a teen, Ethan knew Jeff Ford, who had united the leaders of about fifty street gangs in Chicago and called the new organization the Black P-Stone Nation.

 

In fact, Ethan had run with one of the smaller street gangs that joined Fort’s organization, and when Ethan told his fellow gangbangers he was leaving for good, they jumped him and beat him ruthlessly. He’d arrived at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island bruised, limping and wearing torn and bloodstained clothing that didn’t impress the drill instructors. They rode him harder than the others for the next few weeks, but he welcomed the challenge and absorbed the discipline as if it were his salvation.

 

Ethan had been told that Ortega was a civilian liaison working with tribes living in the Central Highlands of Kon Tum Province, and that his job was to gain their loyalty to fight for America. However, the rumors also said he was CIA and had an army of Montagnards tucked away in the Annamite Mountains straddling the Laotian border with Vietnam.

 

***

 

Ethan inserted the M1911 Colt Forty Five’s new recoil spring as he finished reassembling the weapon, and then rubbed his hot, itchy eyes with the knuckles of his free hand. He had also replaced the barrel bushing to increase the weapon’s accuracy. The large wall clock showed three in the morning. He needed sleep, but there was too much to do. Lance Corporal Wilson was an expert at avoiding his job and seldom kept up with a day’s work.

 

Sensing movement behind him, Ethan reached for one of the twelve-inch throwing knives he kept on a shelf under the bench near his workstation. He glanced in a small steel mirror on the wall and looked at the face reflected in the polished metal.

 

“Shit!” He hissed. Putting the knife back, he picked up a rag and wiped his hands. “What do you want?” He faced Victor Ortega.

 

“We’re about to become fucking partners, man,” Ortega said.

 

“What the hell are you talking about?” There was something strange about Ortega’s voice. It sounded as though he had just smoked dope. Natasha, one of several girlfriends he had collected during his year in community college, had sounded that way after a few joints—something he never liked about her and one reason he dumped her before shipping out for his third tour in Vietnam.

 

Ortega spread half-a-dozen requisitions on the counter. “Take a good look at your name. These are fucking weapons you signed for, man.”

 

Ethan reached out, hesitating when the hill trembled from several artillery rounds going out. The roar of the mobile, armored one-hundred and fifty-five millimeter howitzers shook the hill and everything on it causing a thin haze of dust to rise from every surface.

 

When the battery stopped firing, Ethan took one of the papers and studied it. It was for two M-60 machine guns and the date was yesterday. “I never ordered these.”

 

“Of course you did. It’s your fucking signature. Look closer, man.”

 

The howitzers started firing again, and Ortega spoke louder. “I know for a fact that those weapons are in the hands of Viet Cong, and that there’s a bank account in Okinawa with your name on it. Check the fucking receipts in your file cabinet. They go back months. Some of those receipts are for weapons that have been found in the hands of dead Viet Cong.”

 

A cold shiver of disbelief invaded Ethan’s gut. His submachine gun was in reach, but the throwing knife was closer. “What the hell is this about?”

 

“These receipts say you’re going to fucking work for me, man. My customers want what you can supply. You are going to feed that demand. After all, the United States is a demand and supply economy. Anything for money. Say no, and I will hand these papers and others like them to Army intelligence. With your history as a member of a Chicago street gang, you’ll spend the next twenty years to life in a federal pen.”

 

Ethan couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He reached for his Greaser. “Wilson is mixed up in this, isn’t he?”

 

“Don’t be a stupid ass, man,” Ortega said, almost shouting to be heard over the roar of the howitzers. “I’m not in this alone, but I wouldn’t work with a fucking idiot like him.” The battery stopped firing leaving a sudden, shocking silence.

 

Ortega glanced behind him with disgust and lowered his voice to a near whisper. Instead of staring at the barrel of the submachine gun pointed at him, he looked into Ethan’s eyes. “Pull that fucking trigger and friends of mine will turn this evidence over to the Provost Marshall in Da Nang. It doesn’t matter if I’m dead. Your ass is still mine, man.”

 

Ethan tightened his finger on the trigger. It wouldn’t take much pressure to fire. “You’re bluffing.”

 

“Do it, man,” Ortega said, and rubbed the tip of an index finger along his top row of teeth. “Go ahead. You have all this fucking honesty and integrity to uphold.” His bark of laughter was chopped off short at the sound of troops running outside. Once the squad was gone, he said, “The people I work with are all over Southeast Asia. You want fucking power. You want fucking money. Join me and you will have both.”

 

Ortega moved closer to one of the storage racks and placed a hand on the barrel of an M-16. He caressed it as if it were a woman’s leg. “If the Army catches you moving the weapons, man, I’ll know it before they can get to you. When that time comes, I’ll set you up with a warlord in the opium trade in Laos near the Golden Triangle. That will put you hundreds of miles from Vietnam. The fucking Army cannot touch you there. That is a winning deal, man?”

 

“Fuck you.” But Ethan didn’t pull the trigger. “Maybe I should take you to the Colonel,” he said, “and give him these papers—let him hear what you want me to do.”

 

“That wouldn’t be smart, man,” Ortega said. “Do that and I’d tell him you caught me going through your files. The fucking rumors are true. I do work for the CIA. Who would they believe? You, a criminal that ran with street gangs in Chicago, or me, a career agent working to preserve democracy throughout the world?”

 

“I’m not going into business with you.”

 

“Well,” Ortega drawled, “there is the matter of a little Viet Cong pussy you’ve been banging. The way I see it, you love that slant-eyed snatch. The fucking Army will hear about her if anything happens to me or if you decide not to get with the fucking plan. She will look good sitting in that China Beach prison the ARVN keep for prisoners of war. Imagine what those South Vietnamese intelligence agents would do to her to make her talk.”

 

Rage pounded inside of Ethan’s skull, and he struggled to keep it under control. His finger twitched against the Greaser’s trigger.

 

The door creaked. Ortega slid into the shadows behind the door and vanished from sight.

 

Corporal Alex Smith stood in the opening staring at the submachine gun. With the night behind him, his face glowed as if he were a ghost. “Hey, Card, calm the fuck down and aim that thing away from me.”

 

Ethan’s friends called him by his last name.

 

 “You work too hard. I went to three fucking places looking for you before I came here. I should have known. Belamy is putting the team together. We are going to Laos to pick up a downed Navy pilot. The air-rescue boys can’t get to him so get a move on. The slick flies in five fucking minutes.”

 

Ethan stared at him with a dazed look.

 

“Did you hear me?” Smith said. “Are you fucking shit faced or something?”

 

“I haven’t slept for forty-eight hours,” Ethan said. “Don’t worry. I … will be there.”

 

Smith nodded and disappeared in the shroud of darkness outside the van.

 

“When you have had time to think,” Ortega whispered harshly, “you’ll see how hopeless your situation is. Just remember, evidence is everything, and in a military court, you will be dead meat. I got you, man. You belong to me.”

 

Ethan looked at the silhouette of the man in the dark corner. “I’m taking you to the Colonel.”

“The Colonel ain’t here,” Ortega said. “He’s off to that ARVN ranger camp near Kon Tum. You’ll be going there when you return from Laos. That is, if you don’t get yourself killed first. The way I see it, man, you have only one choice.”

 

Ethan didn’t want to deal with this now. He grabbed his gear for the mission and left the trailer in a rush. The noise of a helicopter approaching the hill grew in volume.

 

The mission wouldn’t give him time to think about Ortega’s demands. Every skill he had would be called on to keep him and the team alive. There was no half effort in terrain controlled by an invisible enemy that wanted you dead. Maybe when he returned, if he survived, he would discover this was nothing but a nightmare—a joke or something. However, the anger and frustration filling him said Ortega’s threats were real.

 

***

 

After his confrontation with Ethan, Ortega flew in a Cobra gunship to the highland ARVN ranger camp.

 

Back in Puerto Rico in that fucking San Juan slum where he grew up, Ortega’s father had taught him how to read a person’s body language, and Ortega’s instincts said Ethan wasn’t going to cooperate.

 

He needed the Army to back off their investigation of the stolen weapons. Because Ethan wasn’t going to cooperate, Ortega decided to hand him over, and he would earn credit for solving the Army’s case, while staying in business.

 

He watched the sun splash brilliant colors across the horizon. The high mound of dirt to his right surrounded the camp and hid the bottom of the rainforest from his view. Logs and concertina wire ringed the top of the mound.

 

The tall, thin figure of Colonel Edward Price jogged into sight. Price, an African American, was in his forties with close-cropped dark hair peppered with white. Sweat soaked his camouflaged clothing.

 

“Colonel,” Ortega said, remembering that his old man taught him it was best to talk cultured when around people with money or power.

 

The Colonel stopped, but his legs continued to pump as he ran in place. Obviously, Price had been running for some time, and Ortega saw that he wasn’t the slightest bit winded.

 

“I thought it only right to let you know what one of your men has been up to.” Ortega took several forged requisitions and the photos of Ethan and Tuyen having sex and handed them to the Colonel.

 

Price’s legs stopped moving. His granite face remained expressionless as he studied the papers and the photos. “That’s Ethan Card,” he said. “Where did you get these?”

 

“Colonel, division will be contacting you today or early tomorrow,” Ortega said. “They want Ethan Card for selling weapons to the Viet Cong, and he will be court-martialed.”

 

“This cannot be true,” Price said. “Card is a good man.”

 

“General LaBourne in Da Nang feels differently. His people have been trying to find the traitor for months. Americans have been murdered by weapons Ethan Card sold to the Viet Cong. I recorded a conversation between Ethan and a Viet Cong woman that is his contact. There’s also a bank account in Okinawa in his name with too much money in it.”

 

Price lifted his gaze from the papers and pinned Ortega with his cold, gray eyes. “I know my men. I know Ethan Card. I don’t believe this crap.” He dropped the papers and the photos to the ground and resumed jogging without looking back.

 

Ortega knelt, picked up the evidence and smiled. He was pleased. The Colonel had reacted as predicted. With Price primed and angry, Ortega would now arrange through his contacts to make sure General LaBourne called the Colonel to Da Nang. The General was an Arkansas bigot. He and Price had a history stretching back to World War II. Once the two met, Ortega might as well order Ethan’s body bag.

 

______________________________

Running with the Enemy can be purchased at any of the following outlets:

Amazon Kindle

Paperback

Amazon.com

Smashwords

.

 

Unwanted Heroes – Released Today In Ebook!

Now that’s what I consider a great Thanksgiving gift!

Three Clover Press announced that Unwanted Heroes is now available on Kindle and Smashwords. The paperback will be closer to the expected January date.

They generously agreed to price the ebook at $2.99 for the present. I would like to take the opportunity to thank Lloyd Lofthouse, a fine author and a war veteran, who personally deals with and writes about P.T.S.D on The Soulful Veteran blog. I am sure it was not easy for him to edit my novel.

Lloyd has overseen the project throughout the various stages and provided me with both honest feedback and tough love.

Here is a quick synopsis:

Unwanted Heroes brings together an old, battle weary Chinese American war vet and an idealistic and somewhat pretentious young Englishmen, who share a love for San Francisco, coffee and wine. They soon discover they share even more when repressed memories bring them together, finding in each other, an unlikely ally to free themselves from the tragic past that binds them both.

Set in beautiful San Francisco, this novel is a tribute to the city, its people and those who sacrificed so much to keep it and America free, as seen through the eyes of a young struggling writer from across the Atlantic, who brings more baggage than just his shiny laptop and romantic ideals.

Unwanted Heroes follows two other social justice-themed novels, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale, that were both placed in my native England. This novel is the first of three that will be situated in San Francisco, the city I have grown to love and dare call my home. Unwanted Heroes focuses on the issue of how we treat our war veterans and the homeless. The two future novels will deal with other issues relevant to the US – gay rights and gun control. After that, who knows?

But right now, I am very proud to share Unwanted Heroes with you. If you would do me the honor of reading it, please take a few minutes to post a review on Amazon.com or Smashwords. Reviews are playing an increasingly critical role in guiding readers to purchase a book.

Thank you.

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Alon Shalev is the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

The New Normal, Abnormal Weather – Roger Ingalls

I’ve been following weather related news for the past few months and it appears we’ve hit the point of obviousness. It’s painfully clear to most open-minded Americans and the International community that something is amiss. It’s not unusual to have freakish weather in some regions of the world during a defined period, but it’s extremely abnormal for almost the entire globe to experience unusual climate events simultaneously and this is what we’re now seeing.

Research weather reports from China, Europe, North & South America, Australia, India, Africa, Korea, Russia or anywhere and you’ll see change and concern. Below are some reports and articles picked up yesterday.

Today’s post has no conclusion, no solution and places no blame; it’s just meant to point out the obvious.

GRAINS-Corn extends 2-day gain to 10 pct on Midwest drought

Crops to keep baking in dry heat for 2 weeks

Grower: Door County cherry crop has all but failed

Counties Asked to Begin Damage Assessments for Livestock, Crops

Options for crops damaged by hail

Global warming will push up sea level

Global Warming Seen Lifting California Sea Level a Foot by 2030

Global warming creates 600-mile flood ‘hot spot’ along East Coast

Hurricane Debby sets records: Early-season storm a sign of things to come?

Texas grid expects to set June power record again

Record heat hampers containment of wildfires

Both Koreas suffering worst drought in a century

As drought grips Great Plains, Wyo. ranchers look to rent pasture in North Dakota for cattle

Drought help sought for farmers, ranchers

Severe drought continues in the area

 Hot weather sets records in the Dakotas

Unprecedented Drought May Have Already Led To 20,000 Deaths In North Korea Since April

Drought leaves 800,000 people thirsty in China

China and Human Rights Pt. 2

Following on from my blog post on Monday, I have been thinking of the threat China holds over the US. This is not about tanks and nuclear weapons, but money. The US owes China over $1 trillion – I can’t comprehend a number that size.

US companies are falling over themselves to business with China and the government is happy for the revenue.  Ironically, these companies are often collaborating on projects that provide effective tools to quash protests and free speech. A while ago my colleague, Tom Rossi, wrote that corporations exist solely to make money, not to better our society.

Installing surveillance cameras

Here are some examples I provided in an earlier post:

– Cisco Systems (among others) are creating the biggest police surveillance system in the world through a government contract in the city of Chongqing.

– Microsoft’s search engine, Bing, still censors searches in China. Earlier this month, it agreed to provide search results in English for Baidu, China’s leading — and heavily censored — engine. This is taking place 18 months after Google, to avoid aiding the government with such censorship, pulled its search engine out of China.

The Consequences:

1) Shi Tao sits in prison for a 10 year sentence after Yahoo provided copies of his emails to the government.

2) In May 2011, Cisco was sued by Chinese practitioners of Falun Gong who accused the multinational of abetting  the Chinese government through the creation and maintainable of the so-called Golden Shield system. This surveillance system targets and then follows dissidents communicating online, which has led to the detaining and torturing of Falun Gong practitioners.

Cisco took issue with the accusation. The company claims that it does not design it’s programs or equipment to aid the government censor content, intercept communications or track users. It sells the Chinese government standard-issue general network equipment.

In fairness, some of the multinational corporations did begin to take steps after Yahoo’s debacle regarding its role in Shi Tao’s arrest and convictionYahoo, Microsoft and Google joined in the Global Network Initiative which tries to create guidelines to protect “the freedom of expression rights of their users when confronted with government demands, laws and regulations to suppress freedom of expression.”

But these commitments are voluntary. Should the government take a role in clearly setting boundaries? It happened following the 1989 Tienanmen Square massacre when companies were barred from selling such technology. Quite rightly, it has been pointed out that effective anti-spam and hacking technology could be adapted to aid repressive regimes.

One executive from Hewlett-Packard, who are bidding for a stake in the Chongqing surveillance project told The Wall Street Journal: “It’s not my job to really understand what they’re going to use it for.”

Really? Is there no responsibility beyond the profit line? Coming from a multinational, probably not.

Which is why, if the United States truly sees itself as the leader of world freedom, it needs to create not guidelines or principles, but laws preventing American technology helping totalitarian regimes. However, we may discover that since our government cannot even get these companies to pay their taxes, it might have little power over such huge economic conglomerates and their powerful lobbyist allies.

Even scarier is the fact that we are confronting a country that is not only strong militarily, but outdoing us financially and to whom we owe over $1 trillion.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Revisiting China and Human Rights Part 1

There has been a lot written about Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, the blind ‘barefoot’ lawyer, who after sitting in prison or house arrest for advocating to change the way China forces abortion and sterilization to implement its one child policy.

It is difficult to understand whether Mr. Chen coming to the US as a student is a victory or not, or rather for whom it is a victory. Mr. Chen was clear from the outset that he had no desire to leave China. He wanted to live free of intimidation and continue to advocate for what he believes in.

The US, once again the lone voice in a human rights dispute, seemed more embarrassed than anything else. The fact that Mr. Chen forced his move while Hilary Clinton was on a high-profile visit was an obvious tactical move.

It seems as though the winner might actually be China, who might feel that they have off loaded another angry activist, destined after a few weeks of interviews and media attention to be buried under the next latest news item – and all this during an election year.

Part of me can’t help wondering whether the Chinese didn’t architect all this from the beginning. China excels in surveillance and strong-armed tactics. How does a blind man escape house arrest, avoid security and make his way to the one place in China where there are probably more cameras and surveillance than anywhere else in that country.

Chinese dissidents have a hard time in the US. There was a great article earlier this month, but I can’t find it here about these challenges. An ABC article offers some light on this, but there are a number of cold realities that these dissidents face.

Many of these men and women do not hold qualifications that enable them to enter the job market. There is a foundation that helps them financially. For a proud leader, however, this cannot be an empowering experience.

Often, they did not want to leave China, or at the risk of being clichéd, have left their hearts and family there. They risked their lives to change China, not live in the US. And they are faced with never being able to return.

While their short-lived celebrity status might garner a speaker tour during the first year, they are often not articulate in English and can’t sustain the speaker tour necessity to receive invites back the following year. The tough personalities that such brave people need in a totalitarian state might be difficult to process in the West.

Finally, their ability to influence what is happening in China is extremely limited. The world-wide web isn’t quite as world-wide as we would like to think. Hopefully these dissidents helped train their successors and, with thousands of miles and Chinese surveillance between them, they will find that their positions in the human rights organizations have been replaced.

China has discovered an effective way to neutralize a freedom activist. Send them to freedom and see how they like it there. And all along, the US has been  a compliant if unknowing partner.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Change The World

I love change.org. It is a website to help people with their political advocacy by providing a framework to build a petition. This is from a recent eNewsletter that they sent out to subscribers.
In the past three weeks, Apple revamped its policy to protect workers in China, Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp stood up to high school bullies, President Obama took action to protect Syrians living in America from potential torture and death, and a woman named Hope saved her husband from deportation.
Here’s the crazy thing — it’s possible none of this would have happened if people hadn’t started petitions on Change.org. But they did. Today we want to share stories with you of nine people who took a chance to try and change something, earned the support of thousands of signatures, got attention from major media outlets from the New York Times to The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and who ultimately won their campaigns.
These victories are amazing on their own. But we’re even more excited about the potential they represent: we’re living in a time where anyone, anywhere, can use the internet to change the world. (Seriously, you can start a petition right here.)
Keep reading — we hope you find these stories as inspiring as we do.
– Patrick and the Change.org team
 
 
Apple customer Mark sparks promised improvements for workers in China
“Like most Apple customers, I had no idea how appalling the working conditions were at Foxconn, where most iPhones and iPads are assembled. After hearing employees worked excessive hours, in some cases seven days a week, and stood so long their legs swelled until they couldn’t walk, I wanted to write a letter to Apple, but then I thought, why not start a petition instead? 250,000 signatures later, Foxconn has promised major changes, including making sure all employees work no more than 49 hours per week without having their salaries cut. I know great organizations continue to press for additional improvements, but I’m so grateful to have played a part in this amazing first step.-Mark Shields
 
 
Maha and Darakshan save countless Syrians from terror and violence
“Since Syria’s democratic uprising in 2011, the government there has killed thousands of people. Syrian nationals living in America were terrified of being deported and tortured or killed for supporting democracy. We started a petition asking President Obama to grant those Syrians “Temporary Protected Status” so they could stop living in fear, and after 12,000 people and several members of Congress supported our campaign, President Obama came through.-Maha Hilal & Darakshan Raja
 
 
Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp and Ellen DeGeneres support Katy’s fight against bullies
“I used to be bullied so badly that I was afraid to go to school. When I saw that a new documentary made to stop bullying was rated R, I started a petition asking the Motion Picture Association of America to change the rating to PG-13 so that the kids who most needed to see the film would be able to. A few weeks and almost half a million signatures later, I got to be on The Ellen Show. Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, and 35 members of Congress threw their support behind my campaign. Now the movie’s distributor, The Weinstein Company, is releasing the film as ‘unrated’ so that all kids can see the movie.” -Katy Butler
 
 
Mom and food blogger Bettina keeps “pink slime” out of school cafeterias
“I’m a parent who writes about children and food, especially school food reform. So I was upset to learn that USDA was arranging to offer school districts ground beef containing 7 million pounds of ‘lean, finely textured beef,’ more commonly known as ‘pink slime.’ LFTB is made from slaughterhouse scraps previously used only for pet food and cooking oil, and treated with ammonium hydroxide to kill pathogens. In just 9 days, nearly 250,000 signed people my petition, leading the USDA to change its policy and offer districts, for the first time ever, ground beef without this cheap filler.-Bettina Elias Siegel
 
 
Jason takes on an insurance company to help save his dad
“My dad, Henry, had a terrible heart attack last fall that left him with severely impaired cognitive and motor skills. His doctors said that rehab would help him get better, but his insurance provider — Blue Cross Blue Shield Massachusetts — refused to pay. I started a petition on Change.org and almost 200,000 people signed it. Now Blue Cross has agreed to pay for my dad’s care.” -Jason Warren
 
 
Craig — a straight Republican Marine — defends his gay brother’s right to marry
“I served in Iraq to defend freedom and liberty, but the legislature in my home state of New Hampshire wanted to take away my brother Calvin’s freedom to marry the person he loves just because he’s gay. I started a petition asking New Hampshire’s Republican legislature to do the conservative thing: stay out of people’s private lives. More than 125,000 people signed my petition, and the legislature voted to uphold marriage equality. I hope one day I get to be the best man in Calvin’s wedding.” -Craig Stowell
 
 
Cancer survivor mom Jane convinces Mattel to manufacture bald Barbies
I lost my hair when I went through chemo, and I know so many little girls go through the same thing — it can be sad and scary. I started a petition asking Mattel to manufacture a bald Barbie so that little cancer warriors will see that they are beautiful princesses, too. Almost 35,000 people signed my petition, and now Mattel says it will make bald dolls and donate them to children’s cancer wards around America.-Jane Bingham
 
 
Hope Mustakim uses petition to save her husband Naz from deportation
“With the outpouring of support from our community, numerous organizations, churches, Change.org, our incredible legal team, friends and family, and our loving God, my husband Nazry is back home in Waco. Thank you Change.org for believing in our cause and providing a way to gather the support that played a monumental part in winning Naz’s freedom back. We are so grateful.” -Hope Mustakim
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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

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