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Perhaps I should note, right up front, that I am not equating Barack Obama to a douche. Or more accurately, I am, but not in the spirit of meanness. South Park fans will understand immediately. For the rest of you, let me explain. After major elections overseas and several state primaries, my thoughts turned to voting and the process of election. A friend, discussing similar topics, brought up episode 808 (#119) of the well-known satiric TV series South Park, wherein a new school mascot must be decided by vote and the two choices are anything but ordinary: a turd sandwich and a giant douche.

To cut a complex story short, a boy who is told he must vote refuses, citing that he doesn’t agree with either of the candidates and it is a pointless exercise anyway. After heavy pressure from family, friends, and community members, including threats of bodily harm, he relents. But before doing so, he is advised by the leader of a nationwide activist group that “every election is between a Giant Douche and a Turd.”

So we have our foundation. And I am inclined to agree with Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creators and principal writers of the South Park series. Most elections do seem to come down to the choice between between a douche and a turd. It is one unfortunate result of a two-party system. As much as we tout the wide variety of choice in political preferences, it really comes down to Democrat or Republican on the ballot. Though a few shudders of revolt have been felt from the Independent and Tea factions, most candidates elected to major offices still carry an (R) or (D) by their names. (Is it a mere coincidence that douche begins with (d) and turd contains an (r)? I wonder.)

So what should one do, when faced with the choice of selecting between a turd and a douche? How can one determine the lesser of two evils? Either way, the populace effected is sure to lose. Yet not voting – refusing to choose – is seen as an insult, not only to the nation as a whole but to the many who fought and died to bring the nation to where it stands today.

I argue that refusing to choose is not an insult to the nation but a measure of the abuse the political system is experiencing. Without strong figures of reason and credibility to vote for, what impetus is there to cast a vote? Why mark the box for a turd if a turd isn’t wanted in office? It becomes a catch 22: the only candidates with enough political savy and sway to reach levels of importance are all douches and turds, so only douches and turds can be elected. Which I believe is the point made by Trey Parker and Matt Stone. And for the more patriotic, who see refusal as a dismissal of the battles that gave us the freedom to vote, I can only ask if those same battles were fought so that we would only be able to choose between two corrupt, greedy, unappealing, unwanted, money- and power-hungry candidates. I don’t believe that was what any of those men and women fought for. I don’t believe that is what men and women the world over continue fighting for.

I whole-heartedly support the right to vote. 1,000%. It was meant to be our greatest freedom, our most powerful weapon of peace and justice against our own government and political system. I value that right beyond words and will defend it to my last breath. With force, if necessary. But it has been so misused. It has become such a pitiful shadow of what it could and should be. It’s the 21st Century. We are surrounded with technological and biological marvels. And yet we vote as though we are still in the Dark Ages, ignorant, apathetic, afraid. James A. Mishener once said, “An age is called dark, not because the light fails to shine, but because people refuse to see it.” Well I see it, or at least the potential of it, and I refuse to vote for darkness. I refuse to vote for turds and douches and rampant liars and unconscionable thieves. Not when we, as a nation, are capable of so much better.

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The blog is now back up and running, with it’s usual unpredictable schedule.

And to start off a new year, a new infringement on our rights. Unless you were buried in an avalanche for the last two weeks, you’ve heard about the purported “underwear bomber” (who, luckily, managed only to injured himself) on Christmas Day. This sent airlines and government agencies into a frenzy of bad judgement and over-reaction. So what’s new, you ask? Well, it’s not so much what’s new as what is on-going … namely the hacking away of our constitutionally amended rights. Including our right to privacy (specifically, the fourth amendment; the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures). In case you hadn’t guessed, I’m talking about the full-body scanners. (Yes, it’s a much-discussed topic at the moment, and I’m just going to have to throw my two cents in as well.) And in case you hadn’t guessed by now, I’m not a supporter.

Let me preface the heart of this by saying that I do not wholly oppose the full-body scanners. I support them as an option to the current metal detector screening process. I do not support them as a mandate and the only alternative to full-body pat-downs.

First of all, even the most effective scanner is only effective against those it actually scans. Full-body scanners were in use and available in the Amsterdam airport where the (alleged) bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab boarded his flight for the United States. They certainly didn’t ward him off from a distance or go red alert as he walked into the terminal. He wasn’t suspected of criminal intent, and so he wasn’t scanned. It seems a person-by-person scanning process is as time-consuming as the metal detector queue (or moreso) so airports that do use the scanners do so with passengers who volunteer, or with passengers at random, or when someone rouses suspicion. Which Mr. Abdulmutallab did not.

Obviously, random screenings are hardly worth the effort; we would likely be as safe employing lie detectors. Because even at the absolute best, the penultimate of body scanning proficiency, it is no more effective than a metal detector and a full-body pat-down … because anyone can forego the scanner if they choose. So why the trouble and expense if the results are no different than the original conditions? Abdulmutallab’s “accessories” wouldn’t have been any easier to detect than when he went through screening at Amsterdam. And while I bet the TSA would gladly strike down that ability to choose between the scanners and the pat-down, I don’t believe it would pass legislature in the near future; it is not accepted widely enough for that. In fact, several European nations – including Belgium, Spain, Germany, and France – remain unimpressed with the scanners and unconvinced they are necessary.

According to the travel website Jaunted, the scanners are currently used in only 19 U.S. airports (listed at the bottom of this post), though the TSA intends to roughly quadruple the number of working scanners in 2010. Of course, that’s just in the States. Hundreds of international airports offer direct flights to U.S. soil … so getting everyone up to speed would be a multi-year, multi-billion dollar, multi-national project. That sounds quite easy. What could possibly go wrong? Oh, and did I forget to mention the fact that these scanners aren’t exactly accurate? How clumsy of me. Although the scan images are clear enough to violate child pornography laws, they show nothing under the skin, between sections of skin, or in orifices. Which means would-be terrorists still have plenty of options and the body scanners are, at best, mediocre in their results. Multi-billion dollar, multi-national mediocrities. Feel safer yet?

All that aside, there is still the fact that these scanners are designed to essentially strip-search thousands of innocent, law-abiding passengers (although that number will quickly rise to millions if the TSA has anything to say about it). Shouldn’t that fall somewhere under “unreasonable searches?” Especially considering you are more likely to be struck by lightning than injured in a terrorist attack in the United States. Quick, outlaw clouds! Jail anyone in possession of kites and keys! Strip-search the occupants of all vehicles and households for the presence of positive and or negative ions!

It’s ridiculous, and luckily not yet law. In fact, last summer the House of Representatives passed legislation limiting the use of the full-body scanners. But the Senate never took it up, and with Obama’s conference on airport security, I don’t expect those limits to stand long. However, what bothers me most is the American response. Countless authors of article comments and forum posts agree: “I’ll do anything the government wants if they say it’ll make me safer.”

Except we aren’t any safer. It doesn’t matter if there’s a full-body scanner on every street corner, it’s not improving the safety of passengers nor reducing the likelihood of a terrorist attack. Get over your sexually repressive phobias, supporters say, it’s just a quick naked peek and off you go, safe and secure, without even having to take your jacket off. But we aren’t any safer or more secure, and this isn’t about being digitally naked. This is about government officials wanting to mandate needless and ineffective infringements on personal freedoms protected by the Constitution’s Bill of Rights. It is the continued ruination of the singlemost important document protecting citizens’ rights which the government is supposed to answer to. Terrorists win because we allow them to win. It has nothing to do with the number of people they kill, or how they kill, or where or when. Merriam-Webster defines terrorism as “the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.” Which basically translates to scaring people to force their choices or circumstances. Which the U.S. government is doing bloody brilliantly to its own people. What more could terrorists hope for?

“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
– Benjamin Franklin

The following airports currently use (or allow the option of) full body scanners:
(ABQ) Albuquerque International Airport
(ATL) Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport
(BWI) Baltimore-Washington International Airport
(DFW) Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport
(DEN) Denver International Airport
(DTW) Detroit Metro Wayne County Airport
(IND) Indianapolis International Airport
(JAX) Jacksonville International Airport
(LAS) Las Vegas-McCarran Airport
(LAX) Los Angeles International Airport
(MIA) Miami International Airport
(PHX) Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport
(RDU) Raleigh-Durham International Airport
(RIC) Richmond International Airport
(SLC) Salt Lake City International Airport
(SFO) San Francisco International Airport
(TPA) Tampa International Airport
(TUL) Tulsa International Airport
(DCA) Washington DC’s Reagan National Airport

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The media splashes violent scenes of people being beaten and a young woman dying in the street and calls it news. It’s sensationalism, but I suppose that’s what it takes to get our attention any more. If you’ve watched a news program at all in the last week or so you’ve probably seen some of it: foreign crowds with strips of green cloth tied around their wrists, wearing green shirts and masks and headbands, green paint or dye on their hands, fingers held up in an almost painfully ironic symbol of peace and victory. Of course, we know that neither peace nor victory has found either side of the conflict. And instead of green, a growing number of people are wearing red.


Photos credits, left to right, top to bottom: Getty, urbanministry.org, AP; Getty, Donald Douglas.

I don’t know what to think of the situation in Iran. I do think the election was, at best, mishandled … but it’s a messy affair. And no one in authority seems willing to recount the votes, investigate the cases of blatant fraud, or otherwise try to resolve the issue through acceptable procedural means. Instead, Iran’s “supreme leader” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is backing up the election results, denouncing protesters, and threatening action against anyone speaking out against the government. Equally problematic, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is digging in his heels, insisting he was re-elected fair and square, and trying to break up protest after protest with public announcements and brute force. A lot of brute force. Thankfully, serious bloodshed has been limited so far. Though I doubt that comforts the families and loved ones of the dozens who have been killed. And if the protests continue, I think it’s clear there will be a great deal more bloodshed.

The scenes filling Twitter and Flickr and Tehran Live are both inspiring and heartbreaking. And I am torn between wanting to grab a green flag to join in and just turning my back to walk away. The Idealist vs. The Pragmatist. But in a country that already hates the US, in a region that all but despises the US, I can’t help but think that getting involved would be a mistake. I hate to say that but it’s what I honestly think. A lot of people in Iran are getting mistreated (and not just since the election) but the same could be said of dozens of countries which we have also not helped. In truth, the same could be said of our own country, if not to the same extremes.

I find the violence disgusting, aimed at unarmed people doing something US citizens have (theoretically) had the right to do for well over 200 years. But a country in upheaval will always experience violence and henceforth bear that scar. It is both unfortunate and unavoidable. And who is to say the opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi would be any better? (Who is to say he is still alive, having disappeared some days ago…) Politicians the world over are notoriously dishonest, corrupt, and easily swayed by money and power. In any case, I fear US intervention would only cause more problems. Iraq has been a rather pathetic endeavor (I fully support the troops; I do not support the politicians behind the war) and Afghanistan is hardly better. With North Korea starting to test the waters across the Pacific and a US economic/financial implosion underway, I can’t think of anything less reasonable than an intervention.

For once, Barack Obama and I agree.

But I hope beyond hope that the Iranians get what they want and need and deserve as a good but mistreated people. I hope we all do.

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Supposing any reader of this blog has some cursory knowledge of the current state of the American economy (in the crapper) and my inherent mistrust of politicians (crooks, cons, and thieves, the lot of them), here’s my take on the new stimulus that was passed yesterday.

It’s crap.

I know all the governmentals were standing around wringing their hands and trying to think of even one idea that held water but if this is the best they could come up with then we really are a doomed nation. That sounds harsh. Cutting. Sarcastic. And it’s the nicest thing I could think to say. Without knowing the specifics of the bill (because this lowly peon didn’t feel like slogging through 1588 pages of such political grandeur), I have serious doubts about the actions it reputedly mandates and the resulting fallout.

From what has been publicized, the stimulus contains plans for hundreds of billions of dollars to be “diverted to such necessities as dog parks…a frisbee golf course…and an ‘eco-friendly’ butterfly garden.” Oh my, yes, let’s all play some frisbee golf and no one will be worried about their mortgage or the insolvency of their bank or the climbing rates of inflation. By jove, Washington, I think you’ve got it!

According to one CBS article, the stimulus also includes $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts (for the unemployed artists among us, I suppose). Another CBS article lists $870 million to “combat flu” and $19.5 billion for school modernization. All I can say is, for that much money, they better be giving shots against a deadly and highly contagious version of the bird flu that, like the influenza outbreak of the late 1910’s, poses a tangible threat worldwide. And can’t our schools hang on with what they’ve got for just a couple more years without these billions of dollars? Can’t the sex ed programs just re-use a few of their demo condoms and call it good?

CNN reports $248 million slated for new furniture at the new Homeland Security headquarters…which they intend to spend at least $448 million building (and I’m certain that that project won’t run over-budget…huh-uh). The list goes on:

+ $6 billion to turn federal buildings into “green” buildings (it’s going to take several years for those low-flow toilets to pay that $6 billion back, you know)
+ $110 million to the Farm Service Agency to upgrade computer systems (who the hell are they anyway? never heard of them and their obviously horribly deficient computer systems)
+ $600 million for new hybrid vehicles for federal employees (exactly how many freaking employees are driving cars paid for by the Fed? my employers sure as hell never bought me a new car to get to work or run their errands)
+ $75 million for salaries of FBI employees (it does not state whether these are salaries for new employeee hires or simply raises for current workers…but I’m betting most of it is the latter).

And these are from a relatively short list; God knows what is stuck back in the nooks and crannies of that most voluminous bill (which allocates the equivalent of over $500 million per page). And before I get flamed for my less-than-supportive attitude, let me say here and now that I know most of these objectives would create more work. The problem, I think, is how few of those positions will be permanent. The bill is designed around a one-year time-frame for most of these appropriations, two years tops, and then all that “extra” funding is going to disappear. It might help boost the job market for a few months but then those jobs are going to end and those men and women are going to be looking for work…again. And this bill is too massive to repeat on an annual basis, or even bi-annually. The country is broke as it is, operating in a deficit trillions of dollars deep and getting deeper all the time. Gross and wasteful spending is not a solution to our problems, not by a long shot.

And while we’re on the subject of waste, let’s talk pork. I think Caleb Howe over at AOL said it best

“I mean, look at it this way. If you are cooking a chicken, in a duck … in a turkey, and you decide to wrap it in bacon, then you’ve added pork to your meal. But if, on the other hand, you’re cooking a bacon log, you aren’t adding pork, are you? It’s made of pork. That is it’s nature. You may be adding cheese, or perhaps pineapple wedges (awesome) but you aren’t adding pork. So I guess that’s kinda what Obama is trying to say. This is a spending bill. You don’t have to earmark it when spending is the objective. You can’t, you see, earmark an earmark.”

Splendidly put. This bill is a perfect example of runaway government and blatant misuse but, guess what, it passed and we’re stuck with it now. The pork is on the table and we’re about to be force-fed. For decades and decades, Washington has bled the taxpayers dry while they bloated on ridiculous excesses and obscene expenditures. Democrat and Republican alike. This is just the latest installment of “Screwing the American Public: the Art of Pocket-Lining and Two-Faced Backstabbery.”

Instead of ATV trails and a butterfly garden, how about a legislature that is actually concerned about this nation and how to keep it afloat? How about a modicum of honesty and integrity, just this once, so that these billions and billions of dollars are put to good use and maybe, just maybe, the nation will pull through this mess in one piece? But I ask too much. Silly, silly me.

To read the act yourself, visit ReadTheStimulus.org.

On a side note, the CNN breakdown also shows $125 million for the Washington sewer system but I’m not bitching about that one … with all the shit flying around Washington they need a good sewer system.

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Unless you’ve been in a coma or huddled in the dark under a very, very large rock, you’ve heard about our new president. Not just “president-elect” anymore but now officially entrenched, Barack Hussein Obama is the man in charge, commander-in-chief.

I don’t know about you but I didn’t exactly go out dancing in the street. I can’t honestly say I understand his plans for the country (I don’t believe anyone does; he’s given out precious little specifics about them) and that leaves me worried for the country. As he well noted in his inaugural speech, we are in trying times and finding a way out will take time. If, that is, we are indeed able to find our way out.

Obama probably has great plans for us. (Though, personally, I think it would take a real-life miracle to fix the crises we face.) He may employ brilliant advisers and ingenious schemes to reach his goals … but I just don’t think so. To carry out the objective he’s set forth, I think we stand to lose more than we would gain for the “greater good.” Not that it’s anything new (I hated Bush’s version of “national security” that cost us several of our freedoms) but I still don’t think it’s right.

And Obama keeps being compared to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but FDR enacted many programs that faltered for the better part of a decade and were only beginning to work when the economical “saving grace” of war came along. Desperate times call for desperate measures but when the government starts making up new rules and pulling rabbits out of hats, it’s getting ugly. You better hope whoever is holding the reins is worth trusting.

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People, I’m tired of all the politics flying around our media-centric country like flies around a fresh pile of poop.  I understand this is a presidential election with a black(ish) man as a potential future president.  I get it.  After an 8-year Republican run I’d say McCain’s chances are just over nil because it’s been, oh, decades, since there wasn’t a party shift after a presidential incumbent.  This isn’t rocket science, “my friends,” it’s a matter of historical record.  Let’s see here…  The most recent was the election of George H. W. Bush in 1988, after Republican incumbent Ronald Reagan’s term from 1980 through 1988.  Two decades, so not too bad…  But prior to that, we have to go all the way back to Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover to find an incumbent and a new president elect sharing the same party.  That was 1928

The Republican party knows it has virtually no chance of winning, especially against Obama.  First off, Geroge W. is one of the least-liked presidents in living memory and has sullied the GOP’s reputation for years to come.  Second, Obama is black, the first real black candidate ever, and he’s spouting utopian ideals and plans for “change, change, change!”  To further the Democratic cause, his pre-nomination competitor was a woman.  I mean, the Democratic party couldn’t have planned it better if they’d tried … hard on the heels of a stodgy, uptight, ignorant, conservative, corporate- and crony-helping incumbent, what better to stir attention and proclaim the “need” for the Dems to take charge?  Poor old McCain doesn’t stand a chance.  He was a lost cause from the start, a scarecrow for the Republican party to put on a stick and play pretend.  Not that I would have voted for him anyway.

I don’t consider myself a Republican or a Democrat.  I identify with planks of both party platforms and would never limit my choice of candidates to one side or the other purely for tradition or out of some misguided political obligation.  I just don’t care.  My vote will go toward whatever candidate I think could and would do the best job, regardless of party affiliation.  That said, it’s pretty well a sure thing that the winning official will have a neat (R) or (D) behind his name, no matter who the rest of us vote for (Independent, Green, Labor, Communist, etc).  And the crux of this post (I know, I was long enough getting to it) is that I really don’t understand all the hoopla over this election.  Either way, very little will change.  For the better, at least. 

Both candidates are deeply flawed, and I remain unconvinced that either has the best interest of the American majority at heart.  No matter who wins, thousands of families are still going to lose their homes, the economy is still going to play tilt-a-whirl until we hurl, and I very much doubt the troops are going anywhere in the near future.  Bush will get the blame in any event, but no matter who is in the White House in the next few years to come, things for the rest of us are going to suck. 

Under Obama or McCain, take your pick, I think unemployment is going to go way up, as will gasoline and other petrol products, wages will go down, as will property values, and our rampant consumerism is going to get a nasty wake-up call.  The government will take greater control of more facets of our lives (like the bank bailouts), which will only make things worse, and whoever is president will look and act more and more like a dictator.  With little concern for the Constitution and Bill of Rights, our freedoms and privacies will (further) dwindle amid assurances that it is all for the greater good.  The America our forefathers built and have died to protect ever since will exist in name only.  This has been brewing for a long time.  The bloated carcass of our corpulent government has only further ballooned over the years; the rancid flesh of red tape, regulation, and ridiculous budgetary expenditures has only swelled in further decay.  Behold the unlovely corpse of a failing democratic republic. 

No one group is to blame, and no one group should be held responsible, but I think it will take something monumental to flog some life back into this dead horse.  Something much more monumental than an inexperienced black man, a run-of-the-mill white man, or their typically ho-hum bureaucracy.  We need a real leader, a shepherd to lead we sheep out of the treacherous ravine we’ve climbed into.  We need a guide, someone to finally take real action and drive us to safer ground, someone with little things like honesty, integrity, trustworthiness, morals … not a politician worried about how to grab a buck in the latest kickback.  But the only names I see on the ballot belong to politicians.

Welcome to the Presidential Election 2008.

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