Friday, January 23, 2015

The State of Our Union is.......

                                

The State of our Union is....pathetic. I'm talking about the union that is represented by us...you and me. President Obama is wrong. We are a collection of red states and blue states, blacks and whites, gays and straights, Christians and non-Christians, liberals and conservatives. We aren't all united in this endeavor, America, anymore.

And Obama himself, who I think truly wants to believe what he's saying, is a perfect example of just how divided we now are. I had someone tell me on on Facebook just a few days ago. "He's not my president. He wasn't born here and he isn't legally the president. He should be in prison." And that is not an uncommon theme on the right-leaning side of America.

So, this is what our democracy has devolved to. He's not my president because I refuse to accept the will of the voters who elected him. If I don't get my way every time, then I will simply refuse to honor the outcome.

Take nullification, for example. Mike Huckabee, possible Republican presidential aspirant, recently floated the idea that even if the Supreme Court outlaws gay marriage bans throughout the U.S., states don't necessarily have to follow that decision. Ultra-conservative sheriff's have declared that they will refuse to enforce gun laws and in fact, will arrest and charge federal agents who try to do so. Different areas of the country have made every possible effort to shoehorn Christianity into our schools in place of science. Some of them have even tried to declare Christianity their official state religion, despite our Founding Father's strongly held belief that the government must be neutral on matters of faith.

 So, despite the right being the side that howls about the sanctity of the constitution, they have declared war on that document if it means being ordered to do something they don't want to do. I guess it boils down to all of us getting to decide for ourselves which laws we want to follow and which ones we don't....and that isn't a government, it's anarchy.

In the ultimate expression of nullification, some Americans want to secede from the union and start their own new, proudly red, country. Let's call it the nation of Reagan as one proponent of secession wants to do. In Reagan there would be no abortions but lots of guns. There would be no gay marriages but lots of....gee, I can't think of anything they're for but more guns. Gays, immigrants, Muslims, atheists, African-Americans, independent minded women, union workers and poor people - leave Reagan because we don't want your kind here. Seems as if it would be a rather sparsely populated country, doesn't it? But not to worry - with no abortions or contraception, I'm sure the population would soon boom with good white Christian conservative residents.

In Reagan, there would be no unions and no taxes. If a Reaganite suffers from a catastrophe, they'd better be prepared to pack their bags and head for the familiar old U.S, because, of course, there are no assistance programs in their new country. It's Every-Man-For-Himself-Land.

We have become a collection of disparate factions, all pretty much hating one another, each with our own go-to set of media sites that parrot back to us what we want to hear.

And what are liberal attitudes toward all this division and dislike and dysfunction? I can only speak for myself but where once I would have tried to cajole, argue and convince the other side that we all need to work together for the sake of America, I find myself admitting defeat. I'm more than tired of it all. I'm ready to tell them, "just go already...secede....take your hate with you and the rest us will continue with the business of America....all of us together....all the people you cast aside. And may the best country win."



Saturday, January 17, 2015

#OverwhelmedbyIgnorance

   It does seem as if ignorance has become a valid point of view in the America of the 21st century. I don't mean the ignorance of the uneducated or unintelligent. I mean regular everyday Americans...bright people, many of them. Graduates of at least high school and more often, products of some type of higher learning. People who operate, or at least work for, successful businesses.

These are people who are ignorant by choice, people who will go to tortured lengths to cling to their ignorance in spite of all evidence to the contrary.

You say that the vast majority of scientists believe in climate change? Over 90 percent? Well, don't you know, they are all paid off by the opposition. Who is the opposition, you ask? Who would pay what would have to be billions upon billions of dollars to get scientists across the world to lie? And what would these people receive in return for their enormous investment? Who benefits from saying that climate change exists when it doesn't? No climate change denier has yet been able to tell me.

We do know who benefits if climate change is ignored. The current energy giants who have a vested interest in keeping our focus on fossil fuels rather than alternate energy sources. Aren't they the ones who are more likely to be lying?

And what does it say about our faith in humanity if we prefer to believe that most scientists are motivated by greed rather than a thirst for knowledge...this, although we know that scientists through the centuries have been excommunicated, tortured and killed for insisting on truth their leaders didn't want to hear.

To the deliberately ignorant, statistics and even empirical proof is so much nonsense. We embarked on an economic experiment under Ronald Reagan 40 years ago - trickle-down economics. It posited that if we simply gave our wealth to the rich, jobs and prosperity would trickle down to the rest of us. The working class would actually be better off without unions because the overflow from the elites would automatically raise our boats too. Why pay union dues when we could have better wages and benefits for free?

Trickle-down economics stated that we could give away our income by means of lower taxes but our national income wouldn't go down, it would go up! Two minus two no longer equals zero, we were told, it actually equals nine! Wow....cool, huh?

Except it wasn't true and has never been true. Four decades of experience and evidence later, we know for sure it isn't true although we are still bound by those bogus claims because we have one political party and the people who vote for them who want so badly to believe.

We have lately had a plethora of our political representatives say, "I am not a scientist". Normally, you'd think, "well, great, they're finally going to recommend that we put our faith in those who are," but nope, what they mean is, they are not scientists but we should trust them on issues dealing with history and science and women's reproductive systems rather than actual scientists and doctors and historians.

Sadly, much of the misinformation disseminated by the non-scientist true believers is rooted in religion. The earth is 6,000 years old. Men and dinosaurs walked the planet together. Women rarely get pregnant from rape. I.U.D's cause abortion. Our Founding Fathers intended America to be a Christian nation. Slavery wasn't really all that bad for black people. Somehow, all this is what they get from their Bible. That poor book has been used to promote every kind of theory under the sun....often theories that completely contradict one another.

The election of our first African-American presidents seems to have exacerbated the amount of voluntary ignorance in the country today because, of course, ignorance and conspiracy and paranoia usually walk hand in hand.

When people post some of the things they do on Facebook - that Obama isn't an American, that he isn't a Christian (and if he is, he is the most virulent Bill Ayres kind of Christian - take your pick), that there are student i.d.'s floating around the internet that prove he was a foreign student if he even attended college here at all (which we don't know for sure because he's had his records sealed!), that he has packed his administration with followers of Islam, that's he's gone around the world apologizing for America, that he either refuses to wear an American flag pin or he wears it upside down as a gesture of contempt, that he doesn't salute the flag....Geez, I could go on forever....I ask them where they are getting their information and it is invariably websites like Barack Obama's Dead Fly or Red State or Wing-Nuts 'r' Us (as well as Fox News, of course), all of which they believe are more legitimate than the Christian Science Monitor or CNN or the New York Times.

I ask them if they have a clue how many hundreds and thousands of people would have to be in on such a conspiracy in order for it to happen.

I ask them when they think all their fears are going to come to fruition - the FEMA camps and the Death Squads and the confiscation of their guns - I mean, its been six years and Obama only has a couple left to bring his nefarious plot to destroy America to completion.

"Don't you know," they say, "he's going to suspend the 22nd Amendment and run again." And they don't quite say it but I know they're implying that stupid, brainwashed sheeple like me will fall for it. (Google it, if you don't believe me).

I ask them if they will be willing to admit they are wrong if Obama leaves when he is supposed to and none of their phobic worries have come to pass? They brush me off. Even without Obama, the agenda has been set in motion and will continue unless vigilant Americans like them can wrest it to a stop.

Because facts aren't really facts anymore, they are simply opinions that back up whatever you choose to believe.


Friday, January 9, 2015

A Path That Leads Nowhere

     Yes, I understand that more and more of us are beginning to feel this way in light of all the terrorist activity in the last many years. The sheer brutality of the radical Muslims who are perpetrating the bombings and the beheadings and burnings makes it difficult not to want to respond in kind. It is so much easier to simply lump all Muslims in one big basket and kill them all...or at the very least, deport them all or refuse to allow any more in to the U.S. or forbid them to build any mosques in our country....or damn, there ought to be something we can do to show our contempt for Islam and every damn freakin' member of that unholy so-called religion!

Except we'd be wrong to do that. Christians right here in good old America have in the past....and actually, not so distant past...performed some pretty horrendous acts. Start back with the genocide of Native Americans and the slavery of black people and the terrible way we treated the Chinese who built our railroads. Think of the segregation and the lynchings and putting Japanese in detention camps and the awful conditions under which we forced migrant workers and their children to labor and live. Think of our discriminatory and cruel treatment of gays. Call Abu Ghraib to mind and the just released torture report and the forced feedings at Guantanamo.

One of Bible's most oft-quoted sayings is: "let he who is without sin cast the first stone". But that's the problem isn't it? I wasn't around for most of what I mentioned above and I certainly didn't approve of the things I was around for even if they were done in my name. I don't deserve to have any stones cast at me, do I, although I am a member of the same race and religion and nation that did them. I'm not responsible for everything that any white person, Christian or American has ever done, am I?

But, essentially, that's what some of us are doing with Muslims.

Unfortunately, the most radical and vicious members of any group will get the most attention, especially when they perform spectacular feats of terrorism like 911 or this latest one in Paris. Most African-Americans don't want to kill cops and most cops don't want to kill African Americans. Most Palestinians don't want to kill Jews and most Jews don't want to kill Palestinians....and most Muslims don't want to kill Christians although the worst among them sometimes make it seem as if they do. (I expect they feel the same way about us what with our various wars and bombings and drone strikes in their countries).

If you are beginning to feel that there is a black thug or a rogue cop or a Muslim terrorist around every corner, you can blame part of that on your news media. A million African-American men can walk peacefully down the street; a million cops can do their jobs with integrity and competence; a million Muslims can raise their families with values like yours and mine but you'll never hear about them as the t.v. goes on hour after hour after hour telling us why we should be terrified...and by extension, hate the ones who are terrifying us.

If that attitude prevails, we will be worse off than we are now. Yes, we must defend and protect ourselves as much as possible. Yes, if that means monitoring some of our phone calls, if it means our intelligence agency tracking likely suspects, if it means paying to give our protectors the most up-dated information gathering equipment, we must do all those things.

But turning on each other? That is a path to nowhere but more hatred and violence.







Wednesday, December 31, 2014

All Aboard!

                                             


Hop on board the train for 2015. It's pulling out of the station tonight at midnight. Some of us may not be ready to go yet but we have no choice. The Time Train keeps to its annual schedule whether we like it or not.

When you're young, it seems like that old train is just chugging along at about 20 miles an hour. "Come on!" you want to say, "I want my driver's license!  I want to graduate! I want to be able to go in the bars! I want to be an adult!"

As you get older, the train seems to pick up speed. "Can my little baby really be in school already, have we really been married 20 years, is that really a gray hair I see?"

The Time Train drags a little into your late 50's and early 60's, at least if you're like I was. "Man, I've worked 50 years, I am so so ready to retire and do as I please with my time." Finally, it happens. You get your Medicare card. You turn in your retirement letter. You work your last day.

And now, you want the damn train to stop altogether for a while. You had to walk right up to old age for retirement to happen but you'd really don't want to get any older. "I think I'll stop right here, thank you very much."

But, nope, darned if the engineer doesn't kick it into overdrive and you're 66, 67, 68 before you know it and next year you'll be 69 (at least if you my age, you will be be) and the year after that, oh, my God, 70!

So, you know, if I had my druthers, I'd just hang out in 2014 for another year but of course, I don't have my druthers and neither does anyone else.

I hear the whistle now. Time to climb on.

I hope you all have a wonderful ride through 2015.








Friday, December 12, 2014

No Excuses for Torture


                                                 


Here is my unequivocal statement: torture is always wrong; it is always immoral; it should always be forbidden by peoples and governments that consider themselves civilized members of  the species. Period. No if, ands or buts.

Per the recently released Senate Intelligence Report on Torture, these are some of the things we did to our captives: we subjected them to "rectal rehydration", we beat them, we exposed them to extreme temperatures (at least, one man died of hypothermia), we forced them to maintain stress positions (hanging from their wrists with toes barely touching the floor, for instance) for up to 48 hours, put them in ice baths, confined them in small boxes. We isolated them with no human contact for over a month. We shocked them and deprived them of sleep for days at a time, bombarded them with constant bright lights and loud music. We threatened their children, threatened to rape their mothers, threatened to cut their wife's throat.  And, of course, we waterboarded them, some many times.

They often suffered hallucinations, paranoia (well, yeah!), insomnia and other psychological issues of various kinds. They often attempted to commit suicide. Doesn't this sound like the ideal candidate from whom to receive valid intelligence to you?

So, you might say, "who cares, they were Al Qaida monsters who killed our people". (Sort of makes you think of the "who cares, they're thugs" meme, doesn't it)? But one reason we should care is that we didn't necessarily know that. We didn't take great pains to make sure. It was often a matter of "well, they might have...." So, we most likely did these things to some innocent people.

Another reason we should care is that torture doesn't work. Before our new torture program started, the F.B.I. was in charge. They were skilled at interrogation techniques that didn't involve torture and they were getting results. Abu Zubaydah, for instance, was our first high value capture. He answered all the F.B.I.'s questions until the C.I.A., booted the agency out and took over, subjecting Zubaydah to their new torture techniques. He never gave them anymore actionable intelligence.

John McCain, who endured torture himself, told us that from the git-go but the Bush administration did not want to hear it.

We often hear the scenario about imminent threat as a rationale for torture (the so-called "dirty bomb" scenario") but when the C.I.A. took control of Zubaydah, they kept him in solitary confinement for 42 days. Does that sound like they thought any information he might have was "urgent"? They waterboarded him at least 83 times (and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed over twice as many times). Really? It takes that many times to "break" someone or did they just keep doing it for the pure vindictiveness of it?

Many of both the F.B.I. and C.I.A. agents themselves were aghast at the new program. Many of them quit because of it. The whole program was amateur hour from the word go. The report notes that "numerous CIA officers involved had serious documented personal and professional problems, including histories of violence and records of abusive treatment to others". Well, hell, that's no surprise, is it? It takes a certain kind of individual to be able to perform this kind of "task".  On one occasion, they accidentally detained and tortured two of their own informants before they realized their error.

Much of the program was out-sourced (about 85 percent were private contractors toward the end). Quoted in the report: "two contract psychologists devised the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques and played a central role in the operation, assessments, and management of the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program." This, although they had no experience with Al Qaida or interrogation. These two eventually incorporated themselves precisely to continue their CIA contract work for which American taxpayers paid them $81 million. Jesus, and we worry about our taxes going for a welfare mom getting food stamps or an immigrant child getting medical treatment!

And the final reason we should care about torture is because of what it does to us. When we brutalize other people, we brutalize ourselves. When we radically go against our own moral code, we are no longer moral ourselves. There are no excuses. I am not religious so I don't base my objections on faith but if you actually believe all these things your god tell you, then you should.

We in the U.S. like to think of ourselves as the "best" country and in many ways, we are, although we've fallen down on the job often enough. But when we approve of torture, it's hard to make that claim. I don't care what they did, we are not them, or at least, we like to believe we're not.

Lastly, I'd like to share my thoughts on what torture is. It isn't violence and it isn't even murder. To me, torture involves time. If you believe someone has intelligence that could save your child, I could easily see threatening to, say, shoot that person in the kneecap and then if they refuse to tell you, actually doing it. Then threatening to shoot the second one. Even killing them in the end. So, it is not like I am saying that any form of painful coercion is necessarily wrong or unjustified.

What defines torture is the long, systematic application of unbearable pain or fear or humiliation. Keeping someone in seclusion for 42 days doesn't seem like intelligence-gathering, it seem like sadism. Waterboarding someone 83 times doesn't seem like intelligence-gathering, it seems like vengeance. Sticking a tube up someone's butt and letting food flow into it until their belly swells, doesn't seem like intelligence-gathering, it seems like the actions of someone who simply gets off on inflicting pain.

I don't want it done in my name....not ever. I want to believe my country is better than that.

Many of our captives who were released from custody have now joined ISIS. Are you surprised? Torture simply ups the ante. They think of even worse things to do to us, we think of worse things to do to them.....and on and on.


Sunday, November 30, 2014

My Experience With Cops



I have written a lot about Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin and other recent police shootings. Generally, I have been critical of the officers and the way the legal system reacted to these incidents. As a result, I have often been called anti-law enforcement. The truth is that it is exactly the opposite. It is because of my experience with law enforcement that I've been so negative about some of the events that have occurred. 

I worked for the Wabash County Sheriff's Department for almost 10 years. Ours was a small department and many of us engaged in duties not strictly listed on our job descriptions. For instance, although my job title was Sheriff's Secretary, I was made a special deputy in order to do things like transport females to detention, go with detectives on drug buys to search the females to ensure they were not carrying drugs in, participate in serving warrants of females, accompany officers transporting mentally ill females to mental health care facilities. I attended Reserve Officer training and did firearms qualification with the deputies.

I was taken aback the first time I was told to go into the restroom to watch a female change from her street clothes to jail clothes to make sure she didn't have a weapon. My boss, the Major, chuckled and said, "do you know what the last sentence in your job description is?" I told him no and he said, "....and other duties as required. Consider this one of them". 

Incidentally, the inmate laughed at the expression on my face, - "don't be embarrassed for me, Honey, I've been through this 100 times."

In the same way, the first little gal I had to search prior to a drug buy also smiled at my reluctance. "I wore a tube top to make it easy on you and I ain't got no boobs so you can easily tell I don't have anything extra under my top!"

I was pleasantly surprised when I first went to the Sheriff's Department at how accepting the deputies were of a female in their midst. They often invited me to ride with them, particularly on the night shifts, simply for company. 

I saw the gamut of offenders during those years. Aggressively resistant mentally ill people off their meds, wildly crazed drug users and drunks, dangerously furious wife beaters, robbers and assaulters. I saw my deputies hit, bitten and scratched as they fought to take someone down. I saw them pepper spray perpetrators (we didn't have tasers then). I saw them draw their guns but I never saw them have to resort to shooting anyone.

By contrast, they were comparatively kind once the suspects were in custody. Usually, they shared their cigarettes (or mine). They generally spoke to them courteously unless the prisoners themselves were being assholes. 

On long transports, I usually functioned as the "good cop" convincing the "bad cop" to let them smoke and buying them a candy bar and pop when we bought ourselves one. My compatriot told them, "I'm being nice because of her but if you give me any trouble, the smokes and the treats will go away." It was an effective system. We never did have any trouble.

We worked closely with the Wabash City Police Department and the Department of Natural Resources officers and the State Police. 

I liked some better than others, of course, but mostly, I respected all of the officers I worked around. I took for granted that they would use good judgement and they did. 

I talked to one of those officers, one I've known and admired since he was first a jail officer and then a police officer. I asked what he thought of the cop in Alabama who shot a naked student high on drugs. The kid,  a slight boy (5'7", 140 pounds), banged on the University police department door. He was deranged from drugs but the officer obviously knew he had no weapon since he was naked. It took only 30 seconds for the cop to decide to shoot him dead. He was exonerated by a grand jury.

"Do you think that's what you would have done?" I asked my friend. Of course, he hemmed and hawed and refused to answer, said he didn't know the circumstances, or how the officer felt, so he couldn't say. But, my opinion, knowing him, is that there is no way he'd have shot the boy. He'd have called for back up; he'd have used less-than-lethal force - something besides killing him. 

So, it is knowing these guys and having seen how they did their jobs that makes me so critical of the "shoot first and ask questions later" mentality that seems to have become so pervasive in modern law enforcement. The officers in my county showed me by example the way it should be done. 



 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Hypocrisy.....It Burns




Well, I have spent most of my day pissing people off on Facebook. I probably have a lot fewer friends than I did 24 hours ago. It's all about Ferguson, of course.

Oh, those terrible black people, many of my white friends say - looting and burning and vandalizing. We would never do any of that because we aren't violent animals. We respect the rule of law and obey authority. We have faith in our wonderful justice system.

Except when they are and they don't.

Except when they want to walk into restaurants carrying AK-47's over their shoulders. Except when they form militias to threaten government agents in defense of Cliven Bundy. Except when they protest carrying signs that show our president hanging in effigy. Except when they want to disobey duly passed legislation like gun control laws and abortion rights they disagree with. Except when they call out their fellow citizens to start the revolution and "take our government back" by force. Except when they shoot young black kids coming home from the store. Except when they don't like the president the majority of voters voted for. Except when they cheer for a foul-mouthed and murderous Ted Nugent.

Because, you see, violence is in the eye of the beholder and when they do it, of course, it is justified but when those black people do it, it's because, well, you know, they're not quite civilized.

Many middle and lower-middle class white people seem innately incapable of even attempting to put themselves in another's place. Their lives are their lives and the way things are. There's no excuse for what people in Ferguson did. You can ask - "but haven't you noticed that this killing of black boys by police officers seems to be happening more frequently and most often, nothing is done about it. Can you imagine how frustrating it might be if you felt the authorities would just as soon kill your child as not?" or "If your child was shot to death because a police officer saw a game remote in his hand and thought it was a gun, do you not think your level of rage would be through the roof"?" or "if he was killed simply walking home from the store?" Yeah....but, he had Skittles and that kind of drink and we all know what that means....he's a thug!

(Thug - I swear to God, I wish we'd banish that freaking word from our vocabulary!)

All you get in return for your questions are blank looks, or maybe anger. That isn't the world they know and it is beyond their conception.

All this began many years before Michael Brown was killed. I wonder, did it never occur to the town fathers of Ferguson to say, "you know, this situation with a majority of black citizens and a vast majority of white cops just isn't good. In fact, it's a tinderbox. There is no respect or trust between the two sides. You know, maybe we should make a big recruiting effort to bring our police department more in line with reality." No, evidently that never happened. In fact, they hired an officer, Darren Wilson, who came from a department that was disbanded because of racial animosity. Oh, yeah, that's smart.

And did it never occur to the African-American leaders in Ferguson to say, "you know, we need to get off our asses and vote. If every one of us voted, we could elect whoever we wanted. So, by God, we're going to register every eligible voter in this city and we're going to get everyone to the polls in the next election if we have to drag them kicking and screaming." Nope, that didn't happen either.

So the the way things were just dragged on. The hostility just dragged on. The fear and mistrust just dragged on.

And then came Michael Brown's death and it hardened attitudes even more than they had been before. Will it also act as a catalyst for change? I guess that remains to be seen but judging by past experience, I'd probably take the "against"