Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The terrible price of acquiescence


I heard one who said: "Verily,
What word have I for children here?
Your Dollar is your only Word,
The wrath of it your only fear.

"You build it altars tall enough
To make you see but you are blind;
You cannot leave it long enough
To look before you or behind.

"When Reason beckons you to pause,
You laugh and say that you know best;
But what it is you know, you keep
As dark as ingots in a chest.

"You laugh and answer, 'We are young;
Oh, leave us now, and let us grow:'
Not asking how much more of this
Will Time endure or Fate bestow.

"Because a few complacent years
Have made your peril of your pride,
Think you that you are to go on
Forever pampered and untried?

"What lost eclipse of history,
What bivouac of the marching stars,
Has given the sign for you to see
Milleniums and last great wars?

"What unrecorded overthrow
Of all the world has ever known,
Or ever been, has made itself
So plain to you, and you alone?

"Your Dollar, Dove, and Eagle make
A Trinity that even you
Rate higher than you rate yourselves;
It pays, it flatters, and it's new.

"And though your very flesh and blood
Be what the Eagle eats and drinks,
You'll praise him for the best of birds,
Not knowing what the eagle thinks.

"The power is yours, but not the sight;
You see not upon what you tread;
You have the ages for your guide,
But not the wisdom to be led.

"Think you to tread forever down
The merciless old verities?
And are you never to have eyes
To see the world for what it is?

"Are you to pay for what you have
With all you are?"--No other word
We caught, but with a laughing crowd
Moved on. None heeded, and few heard.

-- Edwin Arlington Robinson, American poet and three-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

(H/T and big hugs to Cogitamus reader MR Bill)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Here's to you, Alan Grayson--A liberal turns her lonely eyes to you

I know I'm not alone in hoping that Florida Congressman Alan Grayson returns to Washington soon. He's been one of the very few Good Guys to ever represent our unique and complicated state, and now he's leaving:

"There's not any doubt about it. The people's business is not being done. There's enormous influence by lobbyists and by special interests," he says. "And the other side has completely sold out to them."

Grayson says he always resisted the influence of those lobbyists.

"A good description of what happened in my case is that they couldn't buy me, so they decided to destroy me with negative ads [during the midterm campaign] that people in my district saw an average of 70 times," he says.

Grayson responded with a controversial ad of his own. It called his opponent "Taliban Dan" and repeated clips in which Webster appeared to say about his wife "she should submit to me." Although the spot was roundly criticized, Grayson says he was justified in running it.

"We had to do it because, in my case, he ducked every debate we were scheduled to have. And the result of that is that we had no way to communicate his record except for the fact that we could run ads that people called negative ads," he says. "And it's unfortunate that the system leaves no other possibility."

Grayson says the ad was a last resort.

"The average voter in Orlando saw that ad twice. The average voter in Orlando saw 70 ads calling me, an incumbent Congressman, a liar, a national embarrassment, a loudmouth, a dog and an evil clown," he says. "So I don't think that my opponents or anyone in the media for that matter — none of whom ever came to my defense — can lecture me on civility in politics."

Let's face it, this whole "civility" argument is a baldfaced joke. It's a silencing technique, really; it's what the entrenched Villagers, aka the White House press corps, call the lefty bloggers--Oooh, they're so foul-mouthed and uncivil!

But why should it be considered uncivilized to speak the plain truth? It should not be thought rude or "conversation-stopping" (ahem, Jon Stewart) to point out that Bush is a war criminal--that's exactly what he, Dick Cheney, and a slew of administration members, not to mention all the unethical (and often thieving, brutal, and/or murderous) independent contractors who profited wildly from the Iraq boondoggle, actually are.

Don't people realize that the lying war criminals who brutalized and murdered others without reproof could, as easily and with as little fear of consequences, harm them?

It's not indelicate to call out the Republicans and Blue Cross Blue Shield Dog Democrats for their pro-insurance-industry stance on health care reform (which is to say, don't reform it at all)--it's dead accurate, and Grayson, in his bold, unflinching, and courageous way, was simply doing his job as one of Florida's elected leaders.

Speaking the truth, and fighting for people instead of plutocrats.

Sadly, those who control the message are, themselves, controlled by corporations--some of which have vast defense industry sectors--who own the majority of media outlets now. It is beyond frightening, and I don't know what we can do to counteract it other than keep speaking out on the fora which remain available to us and informing and encouraging people.

They do eventually come around. Some of them do, anyway.

Minstrel Boy is often writing that democracies are historically short-lived and bloody. I often wonder if human nature, even modern-day human nature, is still not that different from the ethos of our canine brethren in that we fall into packs, each with its leader and attendant hierarchy, as opposed to running governments of the people, by the people.

I wonder if, despite the noble intentions of our more cognitively evolved individual pack members, the group at large will always, inevitably, return to the ways of the wild.

At least wolves don't lie to each other about why they're attacking something or collapse their entire social structure by selling worthless debt instruments en masse and leaving countless numbers of their pack-mates homeless and hungry while they line their own dens with yet more mink and caviar.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

TSA "logic" explained: I'm going to need to see you naked before you get on your flight.

"When I contemplate the natural dignity of man, when I feel (for Nature has not been kind enough to me to blunt my feelings) for the honour and happiness of its character, I become irritated at the attempt to govern mankind by force and fraud, as if they were all knaves and fools, and can scarcely avoid disgust at those who are thus imposed upon."
-- Thomas Paine

Greetings readers, and once again--*sigh*--my apologies for the long absence. (I'll spare you the boring details.)

In light of the current outrageous state of affairs with airline security--and our government's wholesale casting aside of Americans' civil rights and privacy, just because we want to go from point A to point B--I'm posting the spot-on (and dreadfully funny) Xtranormal video and strongly recommending the series of excellent TSA posts my co-blogger Lisa Simeone has been putting up at Cogitamus.

In case you're still catching up: the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have, in recent months, been spending countless millions of dollars on new, intrusive full-body scanning machines that utilize a type of x-ray radiation in order to see your skin beneath your clothes. So yes, that means they get to see you naked, from top to bottom, if you want to get on board an airplane at most U.S. airports. And it means your skin gets irradiated.

Well, you do have another option, one which, in addition to being shockingly invasive and sadistic, would seem to be punitive and coercive--in other words, aimed at forcing more people to submit to the scanners: you can undergo what is euphemistically called an "enhanced pat-down".

Enhanced as in, they will grope your sexual organs and breasts, sometimes directly on the skin, often without informing you that they're going to do that--in full view of other passengers waiting in line--and ask you to remove any medical devices or prostheses so they can humiliate you by holding them up and examining them, as they did to one flight attendant who was a cancer survivor wearing a breast prosthesis after her mastectomy. Yes, they will offer "private screenings", but you won't be allowed to document their procedures on video, not unless you want to be arrested; for this reason, many passengers who wish to avoid the radiation and thus submit to the gropefest are choosing to have it done out in the open, in front of witnesses.

Have there been abuses? You betcha. Already. Head on over to Cogitamus, and scroll through Lisa's numerous posts and the attendant comment threads. A Christian cookbook author was forced to strap her baby into a stroller and was then sexually assaulted when a TSA agent groped her beneath her clothes (she has wisely retained a lawyer). Numerous women report having their shirts unbuttoned and their underwear exposed to all and sundry; some have even had their underwear pulled away from their bodies while the agent peered in, front and back.

Listen, I'm not a prude. I've gone to nude beaches; I've been dressed, undressed, and re-dressed by fashion-show folk; I've given birth three times; when I was at UF, my friends and I would regularly go skinny-dipping in one of the many lakes and sinkholes near Gainesville. Furthermore, I don't belong to any organized religion, much less one that forbids women to expose their bodies. I respect the worldview of those individuals, of course; I simply don't have a problem, myself, with voluntary nudity in the appropriate context.

No, this is not about my modesty--or the lack thereof, ahem!--or, for that matter, yours.

This is about our Fourth Amendment right to be free from intrusive and unreasonable search and seizure.

This is about our rights to be secure in our person. Our right to be considered innocent until proven guilty, not guilty until proven innocent.

This is about our right to refuse to allow our children to have strangers touch parts of their bodies when we have all along been teaching them that only parents and doctors should touch said parts, and if someone else attempts to do that, they should scream loudly and inform a responsible adult.

This is about what it means to live in America, Land of the Free (to travel about the country) and Home of the Brave (as opposed to Home of the Pants-wetting Sheep Who Are Easily Coerced Into Giving Up Our Rights The Moment Someone Invokes The Terrorist Bogeyman).

As numerous security experts, including one responsible for the highly successful procedures at Israel's Ben Gurion airport, have noted, these scanner machines are not effective, and despite dosing you up with potentially cancer-causing radiation, they are not subject to the strict regulatory oversight, maintenance protocols, and calibration rules the way medical x-ray machines and CAT scanners are. They cannot detect some kinds of explosives, and they cannot detect anything that resides in a body cavity. Though the so-called Underwear Bomber is often cited as the reason the TSA needs to see you naked, the aforementioned experts state that these scanners probably would not have detected the type of explosives he attempted to use. It was passengers who thwarted that attack, as he succeeded only in setting his testicles on fire and embarrassing the CIA (again) when reports surfaced indicating that foreign offices had ignored the warning communiques of his own father, thus leaving him free to board an airline without setting off any alarm bells real or metaphorical.

Indeed, they are an enormous and shamefully wasteful expenditure by our government, one that was shot down by the House and somehow still foisted upon the public. A boondoggle and a giveaway to certain ex-Department of Homeland Security heads and their new, Dickensianly-named employers.

Good police work--by the FBI, for example--is what stops terror attacks before the perpetrators even get near an airport. Well-trained air marshals on select flights, metal detectors, responsible behavioral profiling by highly-trained personnel, chemical explosive detectors, and selective, secondary screening of high-risk passengers are what will keep us as safe as can be expected in a world, in a reality, where--let's face it--there are never any guarantees.

Other than this one: you are far more likely to be struck by lightening than to experience an airborne terrorist attack.

Oh, and this one: history tells us that when you give up some of your rights, you shouldn't expect to ever get them back.

Please contact your Senators and House Representatives and let them know you will not stand for these shameful, unconstitutional, and (ironically) terrorizing TSA procedures.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Meet Florida's next governor

I had not seen this footage, compiled by the Alex Sink campaign, prior to this morning--a full three days after the midterms. And I'm guessing I am a bit more politically active (and aware) than the average bear. Therefore it's a given that a sizable number of Floridians never saw it, either.

So why wasn't this--and other revelatory information about Scott that I understand to be out there--blasting from every television station on every tv set in the state, every day, for the past two weeks?

Because ad time costs a fortune, and Alex Sink did not--could not--go the Buy Yourself A State route, the way Rick Scott did here, the way Meg Whitman tried to in California. And you can be certain that the billions of dollars in anonymous (i.e. corporate and foreign) donations--the Citizens-enabled stuff that fueled the fire that boiled the tea that washed through the electorate and invigorated the frightened, angry, and newly-impoverished Old White Religious Right--were landing, disproportionately, in the rightmost coffers, not in those of struggling Democrats.

From comments at the YouTube site:

We know this video is put together. It is a campaign ad. But the fact remains that there is a very legitimate doubt about this guy. By the way, he owns many urgent care centers here in Florida. He will benefit if a legislation that is currently in the makings in Tallahassee is passed. He will benefit if Medicaid is contracted with the HMOs. If elected Gov. he will have a saying on the Medicaid-HMO contracting.


Heaven (if there is one) help us. Because all hell is about to break loose.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

What all the hot air boiled down to

Yesterday morning, after I'd taken my two younger sons to school and before I would take my eldest son to the polls to vote in his first-ever election, I realized my car was running low on fuel and pulled into what must be one of the last remaining full-service gas stations in America that still offers niceties like checking one's oil and tire pressure.

The gentleman on duty was an older man, although come to think of it, I am getting old myself these days, so I'd say we were contemporaries, or close to it. He asked if I'd like him to check the oil while the tank was filling.

"Just the tire pressure, please," I said.

"Where you from?" the man asked.

"England, originally. I've been here a while, though," I said.

"Well, we've got to do something about that," he said, pointing to my bumper, where an Obama/Biden sticker remains. "You should be voting conservative."

Oh dear, I thought. As much as I'd love to set him straight, I'm not sure it's a good idea to get into a political argument at this hour, particularly when I don't want to upset the person responsible for my tires being properly inflated.

", my husband is a Republican but our family supports Democrats, Republicans, AND Independents. Whomever we think is right for the office, you know?" (Which is true.)

And he said, "Well, that might have been a good strategy in the past, but look what happens to some of the Republicans, even--that Charlie Crist is not a real conservative. He turned around on his values."

At that point, I thought it best to say nothing and quietly hope for a change of subject. But the man seemed determined to make his point to me, an audience of one, captive as I was in my little steel cocoon littered with soccer gear and old detention slips: "He used to be a great pro-life candidate, but he's no better than any of the others, and turned on his values." He jabbed his finger in the air again, gesturing toward my bumper. "The ones that turn on their values need to go."

So there you have it. As if the tea-leaves, as it were, had not already coalesced so legibly, so ominously. What we saw yesterday--particularly in states like mine, among older voters--was a broad display of something I've worried about and written about so many times before, particularly with regard to Sarah Palin and her ilk: the religious fundamentalism and "Handmaid's Tale" mentality that winds through the body politic and all too often chokes off voters' other concerns, even economic ones.

This man working at the service station will not be benefiting from an extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. He will not benefit when the cost of living continues to rise but his hourly wage remains effectively stagnant, as it has for decades now. He will not benefit from the billions of dollars Big Defense, Big Oil, Big Insurance, Big Pharma, and Big Ag will make thanks to their new friends in government; he will not benefit as small businesses continue to go under, college costs soar out of reach for most middle class Americans, and the only career paths open to his children involve either low-paying service jobs or putting on a uniform and getting sent to the Middle East (again). To "protect our freedom" (again).

No, he will not benefit at all when the cut-out characters lined up on the puppet stage of my mechanic friend's straight-Republican ticket get their sticky little fingers on yet more levers of power.

But like far too many other white, middle-aged men and women, he supported the so-called Values Candidates and in so doing, voted against his own best interests in ways he may not even realize.

Because the wedge-issue-wielding slimebags who preach and pontificate their way into government for the sole purpose of furthering the interests of the United Corporations of America need only do one thing to get these Americans' votes:

Say they are going to Save the Babies.

Which, of course, they are not. Not the way the fundies hope they will--by rescuing Blastocyst Americans and Embryo Americans and Frozen Embryo Americans and Stem Cell Americans via the outlawing of abortion--and not the way one would hope a government would save babies, either, like not letting their city drown or their food supply be poisoned or their basic medical needs go unmet because they didn't choose wealthy parents.

The capital-C Citizens-loving Supremes are not going to mess with settled law. And the babies belonging to families who've lost their homes? The babies born into poverty for whom vital pre-school programs represent hope for an education and a better life? The babies who may never know what fresh spinach or strawberries taste like but whose little bodies will be soon be well-acquainted with the ill effects of polysyllabic food additives largely banned by the rest of the developed world; recombinant bovine growth hormone; and cheap, obesity-and-diabetes-inducing corn-sugar analogs? The babies that wind up having babies themselves, thanks to the success *cough* of abstinence-only programs and the lack of widely-available and affordable birth control? The babies who might, had their bodies and brains been appropriately nourished, have grown up and become business owners, community leaders, artists, writers, musicians, teachers, astronauts, or presidents, but who will instead continue, in ever-greater numbers and in ever-worsening health, to meander through the bleak landscape of service-work serfdom?

Those babies?

They don't get saved. They need to stop relying on government, apparently, and learn to believe in and rely on themselves, those babies. And if they can't, there will be plenty of private security thugs to keep them in line and evangelical-staffed privatized prisons to house them--no worries!

I cannot understand this country. But I do understand what happened yesterday.