Friday, June 27, 2014

TSA crime featured in Netflix series Orange is the New Black


TSA is the new IRS.

Allow me to explain. Throughout history, literature, cinema, television, and even religious texts have employed the archetype of the heartless, obtuse, and abusive government agent; in so doing, writers have frequently turned to some variant of the tax-collector. This character--a loathsome IRS agent, say--usually symbolizes an overarching societal ill. By giving physical form to the source of our despair--and oftentimes, equipping him or her with a bitterly comedic persona and a reliably Orwellian vernacular--writers have explored, with varying degrees of success, such issues as the soullessness and waste inherent in bureaucracy; the creeping malignancy of government overreach; and the sadistic, sociopathic criminality that invariably begins to flow when some humans are allowed to wield outsized, unearned power over other humans.

Now that Americans--a people whose very existence  as a nation and culture is largely rooted in migration, in travel--find themselves being forced to submit to unwarranted, intrusive searches of their bodies and belongings, at the hand of the government, simply because they wish to engage in said travel, it was probably inevitable that the TSA-agent-as-emblem would begin appearing in popular culture.

The well-received Netflix series Orange is the New Black, now in its second season, is a drama set in a women's prison. What makes the show compelling is that the writers, in addition to scripting a present-day storyline that takes place inside the institution, routinely explore the inmates' individual backstories through flashbacks. Thus, characters who initially seem harsh, difficult, and generally unlikeable become fully realized and sympathetic once their humanity is revealed to the viewer. Concurrently, a funny, attractive, and/or appealing character can, when her backstory is told, turn the viewer's perception of her on end: she has now become abhorrent.

This is precisely what happens in Season 2, Episode 7 of Orange is the New Black (entitled Comic Sans), wherein we get to really know the once-likeable inmate named Cindy. From Tom & Lorenzo's excellent recap:
Cindy gets her flashback this episode and like Lorna’s, it served as a jarring reminder that some of these ladies, no matter how entertaining they are as inmates, are real assholes in the outside world. To an almost shocking degree, she was shown to be irresponsible and self-absorbed, leaving her sister/daughter alone in a car while she runs upstairs to get high with friends or constantly abusing her position as a TSA agent, in a manner that taps into real fears people have about the security state in this country.
By "abusing her position as a TSA agent", they are referring to the Cindy character engaging in the unethical and illegal acts that real-life TSA agents engage in every day, at airports across the country, and have for years. As documented in TSA Newsblog's extensive (and ever-growing) Master List of TSA Crimes and AbusesWasteFraudTheft of passengers' belongings (especially electronics, like iPads). Inappropriate sexual touchingWaste writ large.

The TSA's abusiveness being so clearly depicted in a TV show can be viewed two ways. It is disturbing to consider that this agency's criminality has become pervasive (and invasive) enough to earn the TSA agent/character a place in the imaginations of screenwriters. But it's also gratifying in the sense that these artists are choosing to shine the light of popular culture on issues--most saliently the government-sanctioned violation of our Fourth Amendment rights--that far too many Americans still pooh-pooh as "needed security". Until the abuse, theft, or assault happens to them.

[Photo via the tumblr Orangeis]

Friday, May 30, 2014

I'm on BBC World Radio, talking about Edward Snowden


Greetings, all.

I'm back at my blogging dashboard after an extended hiatus. Though I have been tweeting regularly in the interim, as time permitted, which is how the BBC found me yesterday and invited me to be on their discussion panel show, World, Have Your Say.

The topics: Edward Snowden--traitor or patriot?--as well as the NSA's warrantless wiretapping of hundreds of millions of innocent American citizens and residents (crimes against the Constitution or jaw-dropping treason, ahem).

(I've made it clear that I believe Snowden is a patriot. And I stated long ago how wrong these warrantless surveillance programs are.)

I'm not an experienced radio personality, but I nonetheless enjoyed speaking my mind. My debate opponents, arguing in opposition to me, were a constitutional lawyer in New York and an IT engineer in Washington, DC.

I'd love to hear your thoughts. You can access the May 29th show here, then mouse over the leftmost photo in the middle row of the photo grid, and you'll get a Listen now pop-up. The Snowden discussion begins at the 45:50 point.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Right wing radicals; Right wing terrorism


The money quote, so to speak: what if, instead of yelling "Heil, Hitler!", the Kansas City white supremacist who shot three people dead this weekend had instead shouted "Allāhu Akbar!"?

You know the answer to that. There would've been a an enormous uproar--Terrorism!--and Dear Media would've been all over it like a cheap suit.

Instead, an odd silence. Just as a few years ago, when the DHS issued an analysis of these groups and warned they were gaining more recruits, they backed down after being met with the bleatings of Limbaugh, Malkin, et. al. Yet as Maddow shows, in recent years the right-wing extremists--the neo-Nazi groups and clinic bombers and right-wing seditionists--have committed significantly more deadly attacks against Americans, in America, than Islamic extremists have.

This is an important piece. Please watch and share it.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Edward Snowden nominated for Nobel Peace Prize


Friends, family, and readers know I applaud Snowden's brave whistle blowing and feel he should be allowed to return to the United States, granted total clemency, and thanked for his service to the citizens of this country. So clearly, I'm very happy about this, via CNN:

Two Norwegian lawmakers have jointly nominated National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden for the Nobel Peace Prize, they said Wednesday on their party website. 
Snowden has "revealed the nature and technological prowess of modern surveillance," and by doing so has contributed to peace, said a joint statement by Bard Vegar Solhjell and Snorre Valen of the Socialist Left Party. 
Nominations for this year's Nobel Peace Prize -- whose previous winners include such figures as the late South African President Nelson Mandela, Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and President Barack Obama -- close on Saturday, with the winner announced in October.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

R.I.P. Pete Seeger, a great American


Arlo Guthrie:

I usually do a little meditation and prayer every night before I go to sleep - Just part of the routine. Last night, I decided to go visit Pete Seeger for a while, just to spend a little time together, it was around 9 PM. So I was sitting in my home in Florida, having a lovely chat with Pete, who was in a hospital in New York City. That's the great thing about thoughts and prayers- You can go or be anywhere. 
I simply wanted him to know that I loved him dearly, like a father in some ways, a mentor in others and just as a dear friend a lot of the time. I'd grown up that way - loving the Seegers - Pete; Toshi and all their family. 
I let him know I was having trouble writing his obituary (as I'd been asked) but it seemed just so silly and I couldn't think of anything that didn't sound trite or plain stupid. "They'll say something appropriate in the news," we agreed. We laughed, we talked, and I took my leave about 9:30 last night. 
"Arlo" he said, sounding just like the man I've known all of my life, "I guess I'll see ya later." I've always loved the rising and falling inflections in his voice. "Pete," I said. "I guess we will." 
I turned off the light and closed my eyes and fell asleep until very early this morning, about 3 AM when the texts and phone calls started coming in from friends telling me Pete had passed away. 
"Well, of course he passed away!" I'm telling everyone this morning. "But that doesn't mean he's gone."
Photo via John Nichols

Monday, January 27, 2014

Entitled, empowered, and indicted


Photo via.

Former First Lady of Virginia Maureen McDonnell, aka The Honorable Mrs. Governor Ultrasound, can't be faulted for merely fantasizing about swirling around the dance floor in an over-the-top-expensive Oscar de la Renta gown. I know I've entertained more than a few Walter Mitty reveries in which I'm a twirling princess or goddess or queen, my taffeta skirts swishing in the spotlight as I soak in all the admiration.

And then the light turns green and someone honks a horn.

Being empowered, being celebrated--whether one is a public servant, the spouse thereof, or even a vice-presidential nominee with a borrowed Neiman's card (ahem, Sarah Palin)--is not the same as being entitled.

But sometimes power-drunk people confuse real life with television.

In the HBO program Sex and the City, Sarah Jessica Parker's character got to live out an Oscar de la Renta fantasy. She was dating Mikhail Baryshnikov, and the day after reading aloud to him from that month's Vogue--describing a gown by the designer as "her poetry"--Baryshnikov presented her with the very dress she'd coveted. The episode's final scene shows the couple in a Manhattan McDonalds; Parker is wearing her fantasy dress, à la McDonnell, doing what one does while wearing an Oscar de la Renta: pirouetting on someone else's dime.

And other people's dimes are subject to wildly varying laws when it comes to gifts and goodies bestowed upon public servants by individuals and businesses. Then there are federal regulations. Clearly the intent is to maintain the illusion (if, sadly, little else) that public servants are there to serve the public--the people who vote them into office and pay their salaries--and not, as is all too often the case, to do the bidding of this billionaire or that foreign interest or those corporations.

Seemingly, there isn't much in the way of such laws in the Commonwealth of Virginia. According to the Washington Post, the state is one of ten that allows officeholders to accept gifts of virtually unlimited value. (There certainly are federal laws. To wit.)

Speaking of the word commonwealth, it comes from the late middle English commun welthe, the wealth of the people. It is the wealth of the people that paid Governor Bob McDonnell's salary, as it is with all American public servants and the families they support: it's the people's money.

In short, the spouses of public servants are supposed to buy their own dresses.

And really, there is no excuse for what Maureen McDonnell did. Oh, there are plenty of reasons for her behavior, with baldfaced greed topping the list.

(Yes, what Governor Bob McDonnell did is obviously far worse, because he was the one the people voted for and entrusted with all that power, but right now, we're talking about dress-greed, not megalomania, abuse of power, or for that matter, rank misogyny, all of which deserve long posts of their own.)

But there is no excuse because, hey, ever heard of regular old ready-to-wear? Forgive me, but other than its label, the blue dress in the picture is no different from those on racks in bridal and department stores all over Virginia. (Moreover, I can only imagine the state is home to countless gifted seamstresses, any one of whom could have whipped up a gown to rival Oscar's.)

And I don't for a moment buy the whole "We're under so much pressure to look nice, we simply had to get donors to spend tens of thousands of dollars on clothes for us" line, either.  Please. Professional American women with actual jobs manage to pull themselves together and stand in front of courts, cameras, and classrooms every single day.

It was about entitlement, pure and simple. We're the First Couple--we're entitled to fine watches, elegant holidays, and couture gowns!

And this from a so-called "conservative" couple! Who, when it comes to providing for the basic needs of the people who elected them, love nothing more than to preach the gospel of cutting spending, not living above one's means, tightening that belt, honey.

Learn to sew, Mrs. Governor Ultrasound. Perhaps you can replicate that gown--I hear orange is the new blue.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Welcome home, Scarface


It was past ten when we arrived home from holiday last night, and the resident muscle-men were kind enough to haul all the bags and boxes from the car to the kitchen.

All but one duffel: mine.

And I was damned if I wasn't going to have my favorite nightgown and the engrossing book I was reading, having just traveled for ten hours, through pounding rain, in a vehicle whose interior was dark enough to make reading said book impossible but light enough that I could see the ghost-whiteness of my knuckles.

Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to marry race-car drivers.

So I trudged out to the car, heaved my duffel's neck-breaking entirety onto one shoulder, yanked Ruby's pillow from the backseat, and wound my way in the dark through the family's various trucks and heavy machinery, back to the house.

The fever-steam we call Florida rain had ceased a while earlier, but water was still trickling and splatting everywhere. And then an enormous fan palm frond, its moorings weakened by God knows how many gallons of water and miles-per-hour of wind, tumbled from above, hitting me in the face--hard--and giving me a lovely diagonal gash on the bridge of my nose. I knew it was a gash because I immediately tasted the blood now coursing downward, ruining my camisole.

Oh joy.

I pounded on the much-closer back door, because Robert had locked it so the boys wouldn't go in and out and in and out the way they always seem compelled to do, letting mosquitoes in. Nothing. I pounded again, feeling more anger than pain at that point. Then I gave up, shifted the duffel (which was getting wetter by the minute) to my other shoulder, and traipsed, pack-mule-like, to the kitchen door, all the while trying to ignore the earsplitting din of the incessantly copulating tree-frogs who rarely have anything better to do on a Saturday night in rural Florida and who can fucking blame them.

My poor nose duly Neosporined and Band-aided, my tea made (with condensed milk, because the bloody milk had gone bad before its time--typical), I went to bed, looking forward to a good six hours of oblivion.

But I'd forgotten about the vicious, inconsiderate bastards who drive the Tropicana train along the lake at all hours of the night. In just a few hours, there they were again, blasting their house-rattling, dog-awakening horns.

There is nothing you can do to me that Florida has not already done.

Photo via.