Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Scare Me Once, Shame on You; Scare Me Twice, Shame on Me

I've decided to stop being even the slightest bit scared of  boogeymen conjured up by a government determined to keep me in a state of anxiety and fear. I'm  perfectly capable of scaring myself without government intervention. I'm even scared to complete this post, but I'm soldiering on anyway.

Every time I start to teeter off my Edward Snowden center line, my government -- the one that is supremely pissed with this upstart young man and would eradicate him from planet Earth if it could get its hands on his purloined info. First it was his lack of education -- then it was  possible mental instability, then treason, then he's endangering covert operations around the world, then he's putting lives at risk in the intelligence community then holy cow, this guy's action is gaining traction around the world and how can we get that horse back in the barn?! Now right-wing goofballs have decided that Snowden's a Russian spy. Vladimir Putin, the demonic homophobe who is Russia's president is not a bad guy, but Snowden.

Ever since that horrid September day in 2001when the world watched unprecedented mayhem wreaked on our Atlantic coast, and so-called leaders first labored around the clock to calm us, then for the next decade worked 'round the clock to scare us. Some nitwit tried to blow up his foot and as a result we have to remove our shoes in order to get on a plane. Every time there is a freak accident somewhere, the first comment some talking head tends to mouth is "terrorism is suspected, but hasn't been ruled out."

Really, you nitwits? The ammonium nitrate explosion at the West Fertilizer company's storage facility in West, Texas -- the one that killed 15 people, scared seniors in a nearby facility half out of their skulls and reduced dozens of homes to rubble -- might not have been due to unregulated storage of explosive material. I mean, what terrorist in his or her right mind is coming to West for anything other than kolaches?

Well, guess what? According to a story that appeared in the Dallas Morning News following the deadly blast, terrorists wouldn't have to look too hard. In their investigation reporters James Drew and Matt Jacob found that "a state law designed to keep ammonium nitrate secured from would-be terrorists sets a lax standard for keeping Texans safe," it said, continuing, "according to the state agency charged with enforcing the 2007 law, it has acted only once to temporarily bar a facility from selling ammonium nitrate that had recurring problems." The story further notes that the Office of the Texas State Chemist and six years of its inspection reports revealed that 62 out of 115 facilities registered to handle ammonium nitrate in fiscal 2013 lacked either secure fencing or locked storage areas; and that 40 facilities that should have had fenced, locked storage areas as required by law were deficient during a 2008-2013 fiscal period.

And you know what else? No laws restricting explosive, toxic material to non-residential areas have been enacted since them.  How is it that we can go batshit over removing shoes at airports (which no other country requires) but not squash states that refuse to protect hazardous sites already violating federal law?

I once heard that Israel offered to help the U.S. develop and implement a national security plan and we declined. I hope that isn't true, because Israelis know a thing or three about dealing with terrorism; they've experienced it time and time again. We know a lot about talking about dealing with terrorism because we experienced a three-in-one horror show more than a decade ago. In the wake of  the initial World Trade Center bombing some bureaucrat decided gay translators were a security risk, so we got rid of people who could translate Middle Eastern dialects. Of course, we'll never know just how much information flow was disrupted -- or will we, if such info is in Snowden's illicit cache and is revealed? I still don't know in absolute terms how I feel about the former analyst's purloined info. I do know that, because of leaks up to now, I have less faith than ever in what my government tells me. That's really frightening, because if you don't trust and respect your government, who, what, do you trust?


OK, That scares me.

Then there are institutions I ought to trust but are proving themselves unworthy. Incorporating tanks into police department fleets is scary. Randomly profiling people because of their ethnic appearance under the guise of "keeping me safe" is unnerving; pathological cops who play fast and loose with their tasers just because they can, frighten me a lot, come to think of it, 'cause they're the same as domestic terrorists; ditto state troopers who run speed traps in small towns and extralegally confiscate cash on trumped-up grounds.

Any prison that holds humans in solitary confinement for months, years, decades, ought to frighten us all -- especially when the reasons are capricious. I remember a time when Amnesty International advocated on behalf of men and women in gulags and other shameful institutions, now American prisons are in the mix, cited for inhumane treatment.

In this respect the terrorists are winning. All they have to do is sit back, relax and watch us scare one another at mall shootings, in church, at the movies, in offices. Scariest of all is the fact that this crap isn't going to get better unless we elect better people to protect us from all terrorists, foreign and domestic. Across the country north to south, east to west, elections are coming up. We can either turn out in great numbers vote to scary people out of office, or let them skate and watch the democratic principles on which this vast nation was based circle the drain, or take the country back from crazy people.

What? you say; crazy?

Well what else is there to call it when the nation's lawmakers say things like (with thanks to "The Cloakroom" by Taegan Goddard):

"I think video games is a bigger problem than guns, because video games affect people." — Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.).

"They are used to defend our property and our families and our faith and our freedom, and they are absolutely essential to living the way God intended for us to live." — California Rep. Tim Donnelly (R),

"I refuse to play the game of 'assault weapon.' That's any weapon. It's a hammer. It's the machetes in Rwanda that killed 800,000 people, an article that came out this week, the massive number that are killed with hammers." — Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-Texas).

Crazy isn't limited to politicians either. Following the bizarre Florida shooting in which one movie theater patron shot and killed another because the victim was texting, a Fox News(?) commentator attributed the homicide to "data rage." In other words, machines cause to people become violent after interacting with technology.

Strangely enough, a quote from a person I usually relegate to a seat in the first-class section of the crazy train, actually said something I agree with. He said, "This is a frightening statistic. More people vote in 'American Idol' than vote in American elections."

The speaker? Rush Limbaugh, and that frightens me on three levels -- it's a sad commentary on American voting practices; it is indeed a scary statistic; and if indeed true, I agree.

And that's scary enough for me

This is a frightening statistic. More people vote in 'American Idol' than in any US election.

Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/r/rushlimbau454803.html#frjVRQCorUP0aYLo.99

It's Time to Stir Things Up. Again.

One day , just one day between now and Easter, I'd like to wake up and not hear of another crazy shooting. Hey, I'll even take a day when I wake up and instead of hearing about someone who got killed, maybe hear about someone who didn't get killed -- especially after the news out of Ohio a week or so ago.

Ohio's attorney general, Thomas Madden,  is quoted as saying (of a botched execution) that while the Constitution bars cruel and unusual punishment, it doesn't guarantee a pain-free one. This was in response to  a scheduled execution in which the condemned prisoner took 25 minutes to die after two previously untested drugs were administered.

Reading the article gave me chills, not just because I am personally opposed to capital punishment, but because the cavalier tone emanating from the state's top law enforcement official was so callous. It was also another painful reminder of Texas stunning record of executions -- the nation's highest. Hell, we even executed a man in 2004 who was posthumously pardoned, which did nothing to restore him, but, given it happened in Texas, the pardon was a step. It  happened in spite of  the governor's efforts to sabotage the investigation that led to proof of the  executed man's innocence (http://www.innocenceproject.org/Content/Cameron_Todd_Willingham_Wrongfully_Convicted_and_Executed_in_Texas.php)

Of course, there's always the happy news that while Texas ranks number one in executions nationwide, the United States is keeping company with Iran , (where public stoning is still on the books), North Korea,  Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.  Oh, I almost forgot: Afghanistan and China.
According to Amnesty International, 140 countries have abolished the death penalty. In 2012, Latvia abolished the death penalty for all crimes (http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0777460.html).  Latvia, folks, Latvia.
I can hear Molly musing to herself, rhetorically asking how much meaner, how much more indifferent to human suffering we're going to be as a nation before we implode. I mean, don't we want to be compared for something other than school shootings, wars and poverty? Oh, and how about health care -- especially woman's health? Remember Texas governor Perry's  irrational refusal to accept billions from the federal government that could fund care for those least able to afford it?. By the way, we're talking a $79 billion -- with a 'b' --  all because it would also have covered birth control and abortions. This, by the way, is the same Perry is who wangled an invite to the prestigious World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland ostensibly to participate in a discussion of  health care.

Who says there's not an abundance of irony left in the world.

Increasingly, the foxes are in charge of the hen house and we are revealing ourselves to be the chickens.

I look at an Austin City Council that  won't  challenge developers to include affordable housing units in construction plans, all the while shedding crocodile tears over the continual displacement of Afro-Americans and Hispanics from Austin's remaining integrated east side. East Austin now has a cachet sorely missing a mere decade ago. This part of town, where I choose to live, was at one time home to  neighborhoods populated by working-class blacks, browns and a few whites with shared economic circumstances. They weren't rich, but they were abjectly poor. There were even trailers for homeless men and women trying  once to get on their feet. The city is still dithering over where to put the trailers.

Meanwhile I'm trying to figure out how a state  that puts such a high premium on religion can't see its way clear to address this issue. I mean, if Pope Francis can confiscate a greedy German bishop's property and convert it to a soup kitchen and homeless shelter, surely, surely, more of Austin's church community can tap into parishioner conscience to openly advocate for change.

I had lunch recently with a friend  who suggested that Austin has outgrown itself, that the zaniness that gave rise to a "Keep Austin Weird" characterization is drying up bit by bit. This is not to say David  can't still kick Goliath's ass. A year or so ago the Broken Spoke, and iconic honky-tonk Austin institution faced down the usual greedy-Gus developers who threatened to shut it down  in order to build a parking lot for yet another megalith multi-unit something or other. Long story short, the megalith is up but the honky tonk still stands. Locals came to the Spoke's aid, loud and clear.

So there is still spirit left in Austin, but  there are too many who feel  so disenfranchised that they've just adjourned to their easy chairs and called it quits. So hear this: if  all who say "my vote doesn't count" or "my letter doesn't count" were to write a note or storm the polls the way the French stormed the Bastille, we'd have one helluva revolution.

With the seventh anniversary of Molly's death just a few days away the corner, I know she'd be thrilled to see grass roots stirring it up.