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Posts Tagged ‘Washington’

The phrase used by optimistic economists for the last year is starting to come to life. But I’m not going to talk about the economy, or politics, or even Team Blue (which, by the way, needs a mascot, I think … but Blue Devils is taken and I don’t think Blue Balls would go over well for either side, so I could use some input on that). With the Ides of March just around the corner and spring soon to follow, I’m talking about real green shoots, the kind full of chlorophyll that push up from the soil into the sun when the frost leaves and the ground starts to warm.

The resurgence of the “Victory Garden” over the last couple years has been nothing short of amazing. Some seed suppliers are finding themselves overrun with orders and the busy season is just getting started. Widely popularized during World War II, the Victory Garden is essentially a small vegetable patch for a family or similarly sized group of people, providing a source of wholesome food for very little monetary investment. With a less-than-stellar economic situation for millions in the U.S. over the last few years, these gardens have again become popular. For a few dollars worth of seed, a family can enjoy a supply of fresh vegetables for months to come. I’m joining the bandwagon this spring with big plans and elbow grease on stand-by … because one way or another there will be a garden outside my door.

I realized last summer how disgusted I was with the produce offered at local supermarkets. What hasn’t been dropped, crushed, bruised, poked, or otherwise beaten half-unidentifiable costs an arm and a leg. And if it happens to say “organic” on the label, just go ahead and triple the price, no matter how puny, shriveled, or misshapen the items might be. But price aside, that produce has also been doused with god knows what all kind of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and – I’m quite certain – people-icides. A few years ago I researched just what went into the classification systems of food products and was astounded at the lack of regulation in what we eat.

To begin with, the vast majority of fresh food in this country is imported, and not just exotics like bananas and mangoes but boring old staples like lettuce and tomatoes. Remember the spinach scare a few years back? Tons of produce tainted with E. Coli were shipped all over America and had to be recalled after people fell ill and some died. It had been imported. The government assured its people that it was an isolated incident. But food marketing in the U.S. is essentially an honor system. If Company A claims its goods are organic, they can market it as such with almost no oversight. Although there are reams of laws and stipulations that should be followed, the chances of enforcement are miniscule. No one is out there testing produce to see what chemicals it has come into contact with. No one is randomly sampling imports (or even U.S. produce) to see if it carries pathogens on its merry way to your plate. Caveat emptor indeed.

And what does all the spraying and genetic engineering and hybridization supply us? Judging from the local supermarkets, rubbish. Most of the produce is picked so green it could sit on display for a month (for those of you who may not know better, “fresh” produce should go off much quicker than that) and has all the subtle flavor of a cardboard box. In an age when I can fly halfway around the world in less than a day, including plane changes and layovers, why is my produce almost old enough to legally drink?

So this year I’m growing my own. Not a lot, but a good variety. And though I’ve a poor history with plants, I sincerely bet the result will be exponentially better than what I find at the store. Surely it can be no worse.

And in an effort to both encourage local business and “stick it to the man,” I’ll be using all heirloom seeds from a small supplier. (Gurney’s and Burpees be damned; I could never get a decent tomato out of them anyway.) When I’ve finalized my plans I’ll post them here just in case anyone should care to join the Victors with a garden of their own.

Oh, and you know what, if you’re tight on funds and worried about getting enough fertilizer for your garden … just use some of that bullshit Washington keeps shoveling at us. Lord knows there’s plenty of it. 😉

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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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Okay, I know I’ve posted nothing since coming back but I have to re-visit a recent topic before I can in good conscience move on to post anything new.

In my travels I picked up a newspaper which had been discarded in a hotel lobby. You may ask why, when it would normally be more suitable for the bottom of a birdcage, but en route I had already devoured the voluminous novel I was hoping to ration out while away from home. And being a cheap word-oholic, I detest buying reading material on the road. So I snagged the paper free and clear. It turned out to be an issue of the Herald, based in Everett, Washington, with coverage centering on Snohomish County. If you’ve never heard of Everett, or Snohomish County, here’s a short geography lesson: Everett is a city of roughly 100,000 people about 25 miles north of Seattle; it is the only city of size within Snohomish County, which extends from the edge of Puget Sound into the mountains of Washington state’s impressive Mt. Baker/Snoqualmie National Forest. Now, back to the point I am slowly homing in on …

Buried on page B7 of the Local section, nestled somewhere between the obituaries and a piece on English ivy, lay an opinion column headlined with ‘Extremism’ report and Homeland insecurity. Written by Debra J. Saunders, a columnist for the San Fransisco Chronicle, it made some interesting notes about a report circulated by the Department of Homeland Security regarding extremism and terrorism. (It was also the first I’d heard of such a report.) The nine-page assessment (which can be read in full at the bottom of this post) is entitled Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment and was purportedly released to help educate law enforcement officials in recognizing home-grown terrorism through the extremist influence of militias. Sounds reasonable. It’s no secret that some militias condone violence and that some militia members/supporters have been directly involved in violent attacks. The percentages are very small, of course, and I think you’d find as much (if not more) political dissent in the streets of Washington, D.C., but when has the government ever let facts stand in the way of federal actions? At any rate, is it just me or … does all this seem eerily familiar?

Hmmmm, seems to me I mentioned a very similar report in my recent (if ill-titled) post Crackers Beware. Remember that one, about a young guy in Missouri being detained at the airport for carrying some cash and political paraphenalia in support of two non-violent entities denounced by an 8-page law enforcement report handed down from a state and federal level organization? I do. So now we have another report, which is clearly federal and supports the idea that this was federal from the start, and nationwide. As I suspected, and just as Chuck Baldwin supposed in his article Missouri State Police Think You And I Are Terrorists.

And just as in the Missouri report, this newer DHS assessment – distributed April 7, 2009, the same date of my little Crackers Beware post – points its militant-wary fingers at people who oppose abortion, free trade, gun control, and same-sex marriages. It also earmarks recent veterans, Christians, and those who dare “bemoan the decline of U.S. stature.”

Now, this report is better written and less blatently biased than the one from Missouri, and makes a political step forward in noting that “law-abiding Americans” can take the same actions, with no harm intended, as the possibly dangerous “lone wolves,” “small terrorist cells,” and militia members (i.e. “suspicious” actions do not necessarily equate to dire motives). But that’s where the good news ends (if you wish to be so bold as to call that less-dreary sludge “good news”). Aside from improved grammar and more palatable profiling, this is the same document that Missouri rescinded a couple weeks ago. It’s tantamount to slapping a nice suit on a sewer rat; at the end of the day, no matter how you dress it up, its still just a stinking rat.

Debra Saunders was equally unimpressed. “The assessment reads like a sophomore’s bad political science essay,” she shares bitingly in the Herald column. “That career officials would write such tripe should scare you.” On the subject of targeting veterans and right-leaning groups as possible dangers, she write, “Thanks for your service, vets, but Homeland Security is stuck on Oklahoma City bomber and Persian Gulf War vet Timothy McVeigh.” In the next paragraph: “Many Democrats have opposed illegal immigration and NAFTA, too. And what business is that of Homeland Security, unless the individuals broke federal law?”

And to add confusion to the mix, a sub-section at the bottom of page 7 notes that white supremacists acting as “lone wolves” are the greatest threats … but are nearly impossible to identify “because of their low profile and autonomy – separate from any formalized group.” And if they are the greatest threats, but do not belong to any formalized groups, why is the government releasing all these reports and assessments on militias?

Does anyone have any idea what’s going on here? Because I’m lost.

Let me state for the record I am not a militia member. I do not agree with many of the basic ideals militias are founded on and believe most of them to be more fear-mongers than anything else. And while they have on very rare occasions spawned (or at least been associated with) real acts of violence and destruction, such acts are much the exception. Due to their nature, I would expect a government to keep an eye toward such groups, in case one indeed turned criminally ugly, but I do not understand the current push for law enforcement across the country to identify, monitor, or otherwise track possible militia members or recruits without provocation. They aren’t pinpointing criminals on the lam, they are lumping terrorists in with a Sunday school teacher (who opposes abortion and same-sex marriage) and a soldier back from war (who was held over four months beyond the original length of his or her tour) and a trucker (who thinks free trade has too many Canadian rigs on the road). Perhaps it’s just me, but this doesn’t make a lot of sense.

And for a report regarding militias, there seems to be very little militia activity to report. Of the various violent acts, or conspiracies to commit them, that are listed in the assessment, not one involved more than six suspects. That seems quite the paltry militia if you ask me, which only seems to deepen the rift between the report and what it purportedly seeks to accomplish. The DHS report seems to focus on recruitment of new members into extremist groups as the mark of evil, but if the reportedly growing ranks of these “formalized” groups are breaking no laws and are not among the leading parties for terrorist activities, what is the motive?

“The DHS/Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) has no specific information that domestic rightwing terrorists are currently planning acts of violence…”

“Threats from white supremacist and violent antigovernment groups during 2009 have been largely rhetorical and have not indicated plans to carry out violent acts.”

Call me what you may, but I think these reports have a great deal more to do with keeping an eye on average Americans who happen to be conservative and lean a bit to the right.

I don’t know what else to say. I don’t like that concept, at all, but that’s the picture I see being drawn out. And if someone in a uniform starts asking questions, I’m going to do my best to be vague, short-winded, and moderate.

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My fellow Americans, and other readers from around the world, I believe something very strange has happened to us. An author named Robert Heinlein once wrote a book called Stranger in a Strange Land, and while I’ve never read said book I feel the title is all too accurate in describing my little corner of the world. I do indeed feel like a total stranger in a very strange land.

I used to think I had a pretty good handle on this world, and pretty well knew my place in it. But things change, don’t they? Oh my, yes, how things change. The kicker, of course, is that it’s really only my perception of things that has changed, not the things themselves. There was always deception and dishonor, corruption and cowardice, only now I really see them. Everywhere.

Does anyone else find it ridiculous that this country spent sixteen years under the thumb of two lying, cheating, self-serving men who left nothing behind but a wake of death and destruction? Or how about the fact that the popular vote in the last two presidential elections was completely ignored by the electoral college, the supposedly “representative” group of men and women who ultimately choose which candidate will rule the nation? Is it just me or has inflation made the prices of goods and services skyrocket while wages have only slowly crept upward? And isn’t this the same inflation that Washington still refuses to acknowledge while it prints fiat money as fast as it can?

Do these things make sense to anyone? Am I taking crazy pills or something??

Because they seem as wrong as wrong can be to me. It seems unfathomable to me that politicians now speak of “trillions of dollars” as if it were only millions. That Barack Obama is hailed as a saviour when so far his works have only driven us deeper in the ground. (Hey, buddy, we were already six feet under … isn’t that enough?) I find it hard to believe that China wants to drop the dollar when ten years ago a college professor explained to me how ludicrously unlikely it was that America would ever fail. How nonsensical that a major city should ever drown on the inaction of its leaders and the entire conglomeration of local, state and national governments; that the uncontrolled spending of large banks should bring the economy to its knees worldwide; that the Democratic platform and the Communist platform should differ on only two points.

I know that these things are true, but I have a hard time understanding them. It’s as though I’ve slipped into a parallel dimension, or, like Rip Van Winkle, somehow awoken to a future where little of the world I knew remains. Where corruption has infiltrated every facet of our legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government at every level, from small-town council to the president himself. Where corporate and political greed has nullified the needs of the American people. Where anything is for sale if the price is right and to hell with the consequences.

Welcome to the Strange Lands. It looks like the Dark Ages are back.

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“All the legislation in the world can’t fix what’s wrong with America.” – Jimmy Carter

“A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.” – Gerald Ford

“When the government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.” – Thomas Jefferson

“Why shouldn’t the people fear the great? The liberties of mankind were never destroyed by any other class of men.” – Abraham Bishop

“America is great because America is good; and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” – Alexis de Toqueville

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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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