• Recent Posts

  • Archives

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 2,906 other followers

Bits and Pieces 4

Bits and Pieces 4

Just a few things that have been rattling around in my mind’s attic…

Oh thank you Supreme Court and Fox News for informing us that racism is dead in this country. I’m sure that all those unarmed African Americans who have been shot by white police officers can take comfort in that their deaths weren’t racially motivated at all. And I’m sure Native Americans were thrilled to discover that “Redskin” is actually a name of honor, meant to convey respect to their people and their culture. We sure don’t need those pesky protections from the Voter Rights Act.

So why is it that African American males are involved in police shootings at an inordinate rate? Me, I think they should exercise their Second Amendment rights and start open carrying. Might as well if they’re going to get shot anyway; at least they have a fighting chance to defend themselves. I’m sure though we won’t hear the NRA supporting their Second Amendment rights because, after all, they’re the criminals right?

And while we’re on the subject of open carry, what are these morons trying to prove? And yes, they ARE morons. There is no intelligence being displayed here; only some sort of primal male ego thing of showing what a badass we are. I found the one open carry guy who was robbed of his gun at gunpoint to be one of the most hysterical things I’ve heard recently. Talk about karma.

But I digress. Why do you need to have a weapon on display when you’re walking around? Are you that afraid to go to your local Wal-Mart? Maybe some homeless guy is going to drag you into an alley and rape you right in the tush? Puh-lease. You might as well drive to work in a tank and carry around a bazooka wherever you go. If you can’t make it from point A to point B without a loaded weapon in your belt you probably shouldn’t leave the house. Maybe you should just kill yourself before the criminal hordes come to get you.

Can we take a deep breath for a moment and try not to panic about Ebola? Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very serious disease and it shouldn’t be taken lightly, but for one thing, it’s not coming into this country from Mexico, it’s not a plot from the President and you can’t catch it from breathing the same air as a victim of the disease. It can only be transmitted through things like blood, vomit or feces. If you don’t come into contact with any bodily excretions, secretions or waste, you’re not going to get it. It doesn’t work that way. If you’re still a little shook up, wash your hands regularly. Like more than once a day – I’m talking about after every meal or before and after you go out. Use soap and water or a good sanitizer. You’ll be okay. And don’t travel to West Africa if you’re really concerned. Plenty of people there don’t have the disease and Liberia is claiming it will be eradicated there by Christmas.

Many who know me will tell you that I am not a believer in organized religion. I find there to be too much hypocrisy in the leaderships of various churches. However, listening to Bill Maher’s diatribe against Muslims and then his debate with Ben Affleck made me a little bit uncomfortable. Certainly there are a lot of Muslims who believe in things like honor killings, execution for apostasy and female genital mutilation and those things are indeed barbaric. However, if you look closely at the numbers from the Pew poll where much of this information comes from, you’ll see that the people who believe this are mainly in the Middle East, in places like Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen to name a few; Muslims from Europe and the Americas tend to be against these things. Honor killings predate Islam by the way; Arabs were engaging in that behavior even before Muhammad was even a twinkle in his daddy’s eye. It’s a cultural thing that should not be tolerated but an entire belief system shouldn’t be torn apart because of some regions where the religion is very strong subscribe to it.

Religious fanaticism is a bad thing regardless of what religion it is. Fanaticism is all about intolerance, a desire to feel superior to others. My religion is better than your religion and if you’re not a part of my religion then you deserve to die. It’s one of the reasons I prefer to have faith in a greater power rather than subscribing to any specific religion. That doesn’t mean religious organizations don’t do a lot of good around the world as they have done throughout history, or provide comfort to those who subscribe to them. That’s all well and good and I would never want to see a world without religion. However, they are also responsible for a lot of bad things, like jihads and crusades and inquisitions and wars. I have always believed that true faith is a subscription to peace and tolerance, allowing all to believe as they wish without penalty.

When you say that Islam is about death, intolerance and ignorance you then have to figure out a way to explain the golden years of Islam when the Middle East was a center for learning, architecture and peace. During the Middle Ages caliphs and imams were far more tolerant than their Christian counterparts and welcomed Jewish and Christian scholars to their universities. I can’t explain how things changed and grew so extreme over the centuries but you can’t say how barbaric the religion is without explaining what it has been.

Social media has become a kind of community in and of itself. It is a means of informing the world of who we are, and yet I think we’ve erected walls around ourselves that are even taller and more impenetrable than ever. We share everything about our lives – what we’re eating, what movie we’re seeing, which parties we’re attending – and yet we know less about each other than we ever have. How often do you really open up and post something about how you feel, and I’m not talking about politics here. I’m talking about YOU, who you ARE, what you’re all ABOUT. What makes you tick? What keeps you getting out of bed every morning? What do you dream about, wish for, hope for?

We’re a world of enigmas, everything on the surface is on display but nothing about what’s inside. We can scream and shout about Obama or abortion or whatever the topic of the day is, or get catty about what Beyonce is wearing or who’s playing Batman or what that bitch just said to you. We communicate in memes and soundbites. All style, no substance.

It takes courage to show the world who you are and what you stand for. Not many can. Most of us are too worried about what others think about us to be real. I’ve learned in my years that it’s okay to offend. It’s okay to take offense. Real maturity comes in understanding that we’re not going to agree on everything. Some things about you might rub me the wrong way. Some things about me might drive you nuts. That doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. There folks in my life who think very differently than I do. They are at the opposite end of the political spectrum, have different personal philosophies of life and/or a different way of doing things. That’s all good. It doesn’t make them bad people, nor does it make me a bad person.

We’re all unique and we should be proud of who we are. There’s no shame in supporting Israel, or in voting Democrat, or in wearing Crocs, or subscribing to Maxim, or following Big Brother. I can be friends with just about anyone as long as they respect who I am and what I stand for and allow me to be who I am. I’d much rather be friends though with someone who stands up and says “I believe differently than you” rather than someone who agrees with me just to avoid conflict. My friends Louis and John, both die-hard conservatives, disagree with just about everything that I believe in politically. We often have heated conversations about it, and while I occasionally will see their point and sometimes change my mind on certain matters, most of the time it’s just stating opposing positions. We don’t always talk politics; I appreciate Louis’ humor and his ongoing friendship and John’s faith and service to his students – he teaches and coaches at a Southern California high school. I’m proud to call them friends. They are who they are and I wouldn’t want them any other way and I respect that they have the courage to say who they are. That’s what friendship is about, isn’t it?

So while they’re tickled pink about the mid-term results, I’m obviously less happy about it. I see a country that has become a shadow of itself. It allows a small minority to dictate terms to the rest of us, while we sit back and play Call of Duty. Yet when that duty calls in our real lives, how do we answer? By not voting. About a third of this country’s eligible voters cast their ballots in the recent mid-terms. Many young voters and minority voters stayed away from the polls. I know some have an aversion to voting, feeling like they don’t understand the issues or know the candidates well enough to make intelligent choices. Others feel that no matter who they vote for, it isn’t going to make a difference. Still others just don’t want to take the time and effort to either fill out a ballot and mail it or go to a polling place. The other 364 days of the year they tend to be the loudest bitchers and moaners too.

I don’t agree that this Republican sweep was necessarily the will of the people, as the Republicans seem to think it is. It is the will of a bit more than half of 37% of the people. That’s about 20% of the eligible voters decided that we’re going to be bearing right for the next two years and that they’re perfectly happy with the worst Congress in the history of this country. However, since 63% of the country didn’t vote, the will of the people turns out to not give a crap. Which is essentially the message we send to those who are running the country.

We are responsible for caring. We owe it to ourselves, our family and our posterity. We take advantage of the freedoms that this country provides and yet we choose not to answer that call of duty when it comes in November. WE THE PEOPLE have to get out of the mindset that our vote doesn’t count for anything, that it doesn’t matter whether we vote or not. It matters. Because the government that makes our lives better, worse or indifferent is elected by those who do care. And if you feel “Well, I’m in a Gerrymandered district so there’s no point,” then make it a point to make your voice heard in other ways. Not just as anonymous posts on the Internet but in concrete, positive ways. If you’re satisfied with things the way they are then by all means, do what you’re doing. If you’re not though, take action. Fight for your country – if not in the military but here at home. It deserves your defense.

Mars

Mars

There is a popular relationship book from a couple of decades ago called Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus which was written by John Gray, a relationship expert. While some of his ideas were and are controversial, there is some merit in some of his basic ideas – that men and women have very different thought processes and ways of handling stressful situations, so different that they might well be from other planets and that our inability to at least understand the opposite sex is the foundation of a lot of the clashes that occur within relationships.

In 2014, that lack of understanding has made its way into the political arena. Much talk has been going on about the “war on women” being undertaken by Republican legislators, particularly those affiliated with the Tea Party. Certainly there is a war on reproductive rights. While some Republicans are beginning to realize that gay marriage is a war they can’t win, they continue to carry the flag for pro-life and anti-abortion causes.

While Roe vs. Wade remains in full vigor, Republican think tanks and lawmakers have been finding legislative ways around that landmark decision and some have worked so well that legalized abortion is endangered in some places. Rather than attack abortion itself, they are going after the places that provide them. Take Texas, for example.

In 2013 the Republican dominated legislature of the Lone Star state enacted draconian legislation that essentially made it nearly impossible for abortion clinics to operate. The new laws stipulate that clinic doctors must have admitting privileges at a local hospital (defined as being within 30 miles of the clinic). That would be fine and dandy if a), it were medically necessary and b), if hospitals were willing to grant those privileges. As many progressive activists foresaw, the inability of many clinics to get those privileges (since Texas hospitals, not wishing to be affiliated in any way with abortion clinics, chose to refuse to grant those necessary privileges) which forced a pretty significant number of those clinics to close.

When the law was enacted there were 44 clinics providing abortions and other reproductive health services to women in the state of Texas. At present there are less than 20. When the second part of the bill begins in September – which requires abortion clinics to have an ambulatory surgical center which most do not it is believed that there will only be six clinics in the entire state able to perform abortions. Six.

As you might expect, things are looking grim for Texas women. Many are resorting to self-inducing through herbal remedies or with vaginal insertions. It is 1962 all over again in Texas – and soon will be in other states that are looking to enact Texas-style legislation. While I’m unaware of any women having died as a result of a back alley abortion in Texas or complications from induced miscarriages, I do believe that sooner rather than later some poor desperate woman is going to die because she couldn’t get the abortion she wanted and needed. And that is blood on the hands of Governor Rick Perry and the mostly male Republican-dominated Texas legislature. This is why Wendy Davis heroically filibustered the despicable attempt to cram this despicable bill into law at the last minute during a special legislative session.

Many raise the flag of the sanctity of life and wave it fiercely as they defend their support of Texas Senate Bill 5 but that’s absolute crap. It’s a lie. These same conservatives who scream “sanctity of life” when it comes to abortions have no compunction to executing criminals in the state with the greatest number of executions in this century, nor are they concerned with the sanctity of life when they resist stricter and more detailed background checks for gun sales. If they cared so much about the sanctity of life, they’d be against capital punishment and private ownership of guns. They’d also be pacifists. I’m fairly sure that most of these legislators are for none of those things.

The problem is that these legislators in Texas and other states where they seek to make it harder to get abortions are only making it impossible to get medically supervised and safer abortions. They aren’t reducing the number of women who will want them, and that’s really what they’re after – to control our own sexuality. The Bible-thumpers who make up the majority of the Pro-Life movement have this absurd and naive notion that by taking abortion out of the picture, people will stop having sex. What they really want is to enforce their own religious beliefs on everyone else.

That’s what it boils down to. Yes, the war on women is largely a religious war. The fact that the ERA has never been passed, ensuring equal pay for comparable work between women and men, is also a function of the Biblical view that women are inferior to men and are meant to serve men. Talk about being from an entirely different planet.

These anti-abortion laws are abominable and must be stopped and those that have passed must be repealed. If one woman dies because she is unable to get the care she needs when making the decision to terminate a pregnancy it is one woman too many. For a party that claims to be all about free market solutions and against government interference in commerce and the lives of its citizens, they are making a mockery of their own platform. What are these laws but government interference into the businesses that provide these services, and interference in the lives of women seeking to terminate an unwanted pregnancy? It has already been determined that women have the right to control what happens to their own bodies; this is political chicanery circumventing that right.

Yes, men are definitely from Mars. Who else but followers of the God of War could enact legislation this reprehensible, this invasive? This is war and when there is war between the sexes, as Joe Jackson put it so eloquently, there will be no people left.

Petty Larceny

Petty Larceny

When the Supreme Court struck down provisions of DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act), lost amid all the rejoicing was something else that the SCOTUS had struck down – the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The ability of the Justice Department to strike down state voting laws that were judged to be discriminatory was said to be unnecessary given current conditions.

Of course several Red States with Republican legislatures and governors went right out and proved that the Act was still necessary by enacting voter registration rules that tend to work against minorities but are really discriminatory against those who vote against Republicans. North Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Florida were among states that quickly drove through legislation that required certain types of identification in order to vote, shortened the early voting period and made it difficult for college students to vote. In Texas, for example, the name on the picture ID has to match exactly the name on the voter rolls; this becomes an issue because the state requires that married women have their maiden name listed as a middle name on their drivers’ license; most women are not registered to vote with their maiden names. Thousands of Texas women under current law will be unable to vote or at least have an extremely difficult time in doing so.

North Carolina will only accept state issued identification to vote; college students for example cannot use student IDs as a valid picture ID. Sure, they can always go out and get one but they don’t always have time or transportation in order to get there. I think it’s pretty telling that the states that have enacted the most restrictive voter ID laws are primarily red states and primarily in the South where the most egregious voter discrimination took place prior to the enactment of the 1965 law.

We’re also seeing voter purges taking place – tens of thousands of voters being removed from the rolls for a variety of reasons; some for legitimate reasons but not all. In the most recent election cycle there were reports of people who have never had issues voting before being suddenly informed that they were no longer eligible to vote.

This is outrageous. The party that is so solicitous of 2nd Amendment rights seems to be less sanguine about the basic right of voters to vote. It is literally easier in some places to buy a gun than it is to vote – in Texas, for example, all you need is a photo ID to buy a gun at a gun show. As I mentioned previously, in order to vote there your photo ID name has to exactly match the name on the voter registration rolls. I guess we know which activity Texas politicians find more dangerous.

And honestly, they’re correct. Your vote is the most power that can be wielded in this Republic. Your vote determines who governs, and they determine which laws are passed, repealed or kicked to the curb. Your daily life is deeply determined by how you cast your vote. Think about it; if it weren’t so important, there wouldn’t be so much effort generated in trying to take that right away from people.

There are some politicians who have floated the idea of literacy and civics tests being administered in order for people to vote. Quite frankly, I’m not sure some of our politicians could pass those tests. It sounds good in theory – only let informed voters do the voting – but who determines what constitutes an informed voter? Can you imagine if a board of Tea Party activists devised a test that determined if you could vote or not? I suspect that if any state were foolish enough to pass such a law, the ACLU lawyers would have a field day.

There are those who proclaim that voting isn’t a right but a privilege. I disagree. Voting is a responsibility that each of us needs to take seriously. It is so important that some politicians who realize that they can’t win elections on their platforms are trying to keep enough of us out of the voting booth so that they can continue to remain in power. It is nothing short of petty larceny – and quite frankly those legislators who think that using these methods to keep members of the opposing party out of the voting booth are pathetic losers who don’t have enough confidence in their own message to let it stand on its merits.

The good news is that there are signs that people are getting fed up and angry with these kinds of tactics. These sorts of win-at-any-cost extremists who are hell-bent on pushing their agenda on us whether or not we want it are being seen for what they are and have begun to lose elections. 2014 will be a big determining factor on whether or not we can take back our government from those who have held it hostage. That they think it can happen is why you are seeing these desperation tactics of preventing large groups who would vote against them from exercising their right. See them for what they are and vote in your next election. It’s never been more important than it is now.

Regurgitations

Regurgitations

There is a Peter Gabriel song called “We Do What We’re Told” which seems to pretty much capture our modern society. Considering all the information we have at our fingertips, we seem more inclined to regurgitate things that other people say rather than do the research to find out if we’re being told the truth.

I will cop to being that way myself. I tend to find my information from Rachel Maddow, Mother Jones and other liberal sources. Once in awhile I’ll drop by a conservative website but generally I find the ones that I’ve been steered to so virulent in their diatribes against the President that you wonder if there really is an element of racism to the complaints. I’m quite sure my liberal friends will find a similar elitist bias going on at the sites I tend to visit; if I am being honest, a lot of liberal sites tend to characterize conservatives as redneck anti-intellectuals who are not only uneducated but distrust anyone who went to college. Strictly speaking, that’s not true. While there are certainly some conservatives who fit that description, there are an awful lot of college-educated conservatives who are pretty sharp thinkers. I’ve heard some things even out of Jim Boehner’s mouth that have given me pause for thought.

Which makes the recent Republican strategy all the more incomprehensible. Shutting down the government and risking defaulting on our bills? We are playing with the possibility of creating an economic crisis that will make the 2008 financial meltdown look like a cherry bomb on an atomic testing range. I understand the hatred of the Affordable Care Act; after all, they’ve attempted to repeal the damn thing more than 40 times. However, holding the entire country hostage essentially until the President and Senate Democrats agree to defund it? Did they honestly think that this kind of strategy would be successful?

Polls show that the popularity of the Republican Party right now is lagging just behind having a root canal without Novocain. It is at the lowest that it’s been since polls began to ask about the popularity of specific political parties, roughly about 40 years ago. Mostly it is the work of Tea Party Republicans who in their reactionary zeal have dragged their entire party near to if not over a precipice. Less radical Republicans like Peter King have called for a vote to end the shutdown and give up on this fool’s errand. Even John McCain has stated that Obamacare is the law of the land and that to attempt to defund it would be fruitless.

There are some pretty smart people on the other side of the aisle – not every thinker is a blue state liberal. I get the sense that now that the Republicans have achieved their aim of shutting down the government, they’re not quite sure what to do next. Some of the things coming out of their mouths tell me that they don’t have a real understanding of just how bad things have gotten and how much worse they’re going to get. Some deny that the debt ceiling will have any effect on our economy at all – a point of view nearly every respectable economist disagrees vehemently with. Some are saying that the country is actually better off without so much government and that they haven’t noticed much of a change.

Of course, we have to remember that these are wealthy people who don’t rely on government programs to feed their children. They aren’t members of the military whose family relies on the paychecks and services that the government issues. They aren’t families of soldiers who have made the supreme sacrifice who aren’t receiving death benefits so that they can go collect the remains of their loved ones and arrange for their funerals. Instead, they prefer to lament about the national parks and monuments that are closed because of their own actions and blaming the whole thing on the President.

The last I heard, nobody put a gun to their heads and asked them to shut it all down. As far as I know, they came up with that pointy-headed little idea all by their lonesome. The least they can do is nut up and take ownership of their actions but instead, alarmed by the poll numbers and seeing their strategy backfire, they’re trying to shift blame like the cowardly weasels that they are. They may well have damaged their own party for years to come; certainly if this ship can’t be righted people are going to be much more critical at the ballot box.

It’s time to stop regurgitating the same old party line and do the right thing. At least keep the lights on while intelligent, meaningful debate on the budget goes on. I get that there are some issues which aren’t resolved and I get that there needs to be negotiation. However, it doesn’t need to be done under the barrel of a gun. Our government has lost the ability to govern responsibly; if we can’t trust our elected officials to do that, what the hell is the point in even having a democracy? Why not find some tin can dictator who may be despotic but at least will keep the government running efficiently? Of course I’m exaggerating but our democracy is plainly broken. Fixing it is going to take more than repeating memes that while sounding good in sound bytes do little to fix the fundamental problems that need serious attention from the governing bodies of this nation.

Wilding

Wilding

In 1989, the term “wilding” was coined in reference to the notorious Central Park Jogger rape and assault case. The term has come to refer to assaults by a gang or group on strangers.

The United States House of Representatives is currently engaging in a wilding on the American people. House Republicans, many of whom identify with or are at least sympathetic to the political philosophy of the Tea Party, have recently passed a budget that defunds the Affordable Care Act and enacts severe cuts on the food stamp program and other social services. The budget has zero chance of being passed by the Senate and even if it didn’t, has a 100% chance of receiving a veto from President Obama when it reaches his desk.

This is the first salvo in a war between the President and the House and the American people are caught in the crossfire. The House Republicans have threatened to shut down the government, risking the faith and credit of our government, putting millions of people who receive paychecks and other payments from the government in a precarious position. Never mind that the Affordable Care Act has been ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court. Never mind that the act has passed both the House and the Senate and was signed by the President. Never mind that the act will provide health care for millions not currently receiving it. Never mind that polls indicate that the Affordable Care Act is actually something the majority of people want once what it does is explained to them. Never mind all that. These spoiled children aren’t getting what they want so they’re stomping their feet, screaming at the top of their lungs that they’re going to get what they want no matter what.

What they are doing is raping and assaulting the American people. What they are doing is putting their own political agenda ahead of the welfare and well-being of their own country. What they are doing is deplorable. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a political party threatening to hold an entire nation hostage in order to defeat a bill that has already enacted in the history of this country. What will be next? Refusing to pass a budget unless the Voting Rights Act is repealed?

There were some dismayed and outraged shouts when Will McAvoy, the fictional national news anchor on the HBO series The Newsroom called the Tea Party “the American Taliban.” What he was trying to convey is that they are extremists and that they will accept no other outcome but their own. There is no reasoning with extremists.

They have broken their faith with their own constituents which isn’t unusual among politicians but what is unusual is that they are so blatant about it. Sure, they’re pandering to the extreme right – that won them the House in 2010, but we are reaping the foul fruit from that harvest. We are seeing that what they are interested in is not the common man, not the average citizen but only in maximizing profits for the super-rich. They don’t care what the people of this country want or need as long as the money keeps pouring in to the coffers of their supporters.

This is unheard-of behavior. It goes beyond illogical and right out into insane. Who would shut down an entire government of one of the world superpowers over political ideology? The answer is a terrorist would. Al Qaeda would. The Taliban would. The Weather Underground would. The IRA would. They would be happy to see our country driven to its knees and the House is happily doing their job for them. They are terrorists pure and simple and President Obama shouldn’t (and to his credit, isn’t) negotiate with terrorists.

I wonder if the Patriot Act could be applied to those destroying our country from within. A part of me would like to see Jim Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor and their cronies all whisked away to Gitmo and water boarded for a good long time. Then the rational part of me remembers that this is not that kind of country. While I wouldn’t be surprised that a country run by the Tea Party would do those sorts of things, we’re supposed to take the high road.

So fantasies of inflicting misery and pain on these douchebags who are so willing to make so many suffer aside, we’ll just have to do it a different way and it’s the easiest way of all – vote for someone else. Send these turkeys and others like them the message in 2014 that their services or no longer needed or wanted. We’re looking for leaders, not dogmatic followers. We’re looking for politicians who serve their nation and their constituents, not those who hold the checkbook. Their wilding on America is over. Break up the gang. New York City eventually made Central Park safe for joggers – we can once again allow America to work the way it’s supposed to if we vote these assclowns out. Until then, things are going to get rough around here.

Enter the Dragon

Enter the Dragon

China is something of an enigma. Her economy is booming but there are signs that it is a bit of a paper empire. She has opened up her doors yet much happens behind the scenes. Most importantly, we still see her as an agency for repression, spying on her own people and regarding the West with a mixture of mistrust and envy. We see China as a repressive place to live.

Our own government is spying on us as well. Revelations from former NSA security contractor Edward Snowden inform us of a massive data mining venture in which not only is the government keeping track of who we’re calling but is actively listening in on those calls as well.

This is disappointing to say the least. Here in the United States we have a self-image of being the land of the free, but how free can we be when we are being listened to? We know that businesses are keeping track of our spending habits, but our government is reading our e-mails as well. Privacy has become an illusion. The solution to this, many feel, is to go off the grid; pay cash for purchases, discontinue the use of the Internet and of cell phones and keep as low a profile as possible.

Really, most of us have nothing to hide. The government may be listening but they’re not paying attention to us in all likelihood; they’ve simply got better things to do than to check on your drama. Still, it is a bit disturbing particularly in that our President seems to have tacitly supported this program. Ostensibly, it’s for our safety – after all, there are terrorists among us or so we’re told and in order to keep them from pulling off another 9-11, we’re going to have to give up some of our privacy in order to do it.

This is the crux of a question we’ve been asking ourselves since 2001; does our safety override our freedom? In a world in which we’re vulnerable to terrorism can we have an expectation of having the same freedoms we had before? Of course not. Most of us don’t mind having our bags x-rayed at airports and being made to wait in line in order to better insure that some wild-eyed douchebag with a cause and an idea doesn’t smuggle a bomb on our plane. It’s the price we pay for safety.

The question we have to ask ourselves however is how much freedom are we willing to give up in order to feel secure, and even more disturbing, whether there are those who are exploiting our need for safety for their own political or financial gains. The prime example of that is the Patriot Act.

You’ll remember that this act essentially created the Homeland Security Agency to combat domestic terrorism. It also gave law enforcement broad powers in ferreting out terrorism and foiling their plots to cause mass destruction and loss of life. Sounds good on paper, but it has also paved the way for excesses, including the suspension of due process for terrorism suspects and has directly led to the torture of prisoners by Americans and to the recent mess of the NSA examining the phone conversations of millions of law-abiding Americans.

I’m not saying that we are completely safe by any means and that we shouldn’t be vigilant, but the Patriot Act was supposed to have expired in 2005 but after extensions were quietly passed into law, the Act remains in effect at least until 2015. Some of those extensions were signed into law by President Obama. The problem is that the law was poorly written to begin with and received little scrutiny by Congress when it was hastily passed in the chaotic days following the World Trade Center attack. The potential for abuse by less scrupulous members of government is terrifying.

There comes a point when our zeal for protecting our citizens turns into a power grab. There comes a point where in doing so we cease being America and become something else. The aforementioned Edward Snowden was in Hong Kong when he made his revelations about the NSA and the United States has been keen on extraditing him back here to face charges of unlawfully divulging classified material and treason. He has since left Hong Kong for an (as of this writing) non-specified country without extradition treaties to the United States, possibly with the help of WikiLeaks (who have hailed him as a hero) and also possibly at the behest of Beijing, who apparently see releasing Snowden to the United States as a loss of face.

I find it troubling that the NSA has been monitoring citizens who have done nothing to warrant it. I find it more troubling that there are liberals defending it and conservatives conveniently ignoring that it started during the Bush era and are using it as a political ploy to further discredit the president; however I must say that I’m in rare agreement with my conservative friends in saying that Obama should be held accountable for allowing this policy to flourish under his watch, despite it’s clear violation of the Fourth Amendment. I just wish that some of them had been more vocal about it when Bush was doing it.

Conceivably some security functionary could read this very blog and decide that the writer poses a threat to American security and initiate surveillance on me and mine. My phone calls could be listened in on; my web searches could be scrutinized; my purchases could be analyzed. Does this impinge on my life much? Realistically, no – but it does make me uneasy that someone could be watching me merely for disagreeing with government policy.

Does that sound like America to you? Or does that sound more like China? Do we still have the right to speak our minds, or are we supposed to toe the party line? This is where the road to totalitarianism potentially begins. It behooves us to urge that this program be immediately brought to a close. I think that there are ways of protecting us from terrorists without having to resort to violating our rights; it may be harder but I think it is important that we don’t allow terrorism to turn this country into a police state, however good the intentions of our lawmakers and law enforcers might be. The risks are simply too great. We are the United States; we don’t have to become China in order to keep our citizens safe.

We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

We're Not in Kansas Anymore

One of the iconic lines from The Wizard of Oz occurs when Dorothy first takes a gander at Oz after the twister transports her house into Munchkinland. Holding her dog in her arms, she gasps “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Toto.”

We use that line ourselves from time to time when we find ourselves in a situation or place that is different, bizarre or unsettling. I think the statement is perfect for the American political landscape (although, from a political standpoint, Kansas isn’t in Kansas anymore but more on that later). Our nation has become politically bipolar, fiercely divided upon party lines and completely paralyzed.

Does anybody besides me get the feeling that it has become more important to be right than to find solutions? Part of the problem is that we’ve stopped listening to each other. We’re so sure that we’re right – our opinions buttressed by media pundits like Bill O’Reilly, Bill Maher, Rachel Maddow and Sean Hannity – that even entertaining compromise is like becoming a traitor to our cause.

I’m as guilty of this as anyone else is. It’s no secret that my political leanings bend to the left. It is also no secret that I have several friends who feel more comfortable on the conservative side of things. Some of them I am able to have intelligent conversations about our viewpoints with whereas others are basically all caps shouting matches on Facebook whenever one of us posts a political meme on our walls. I think that’s pretty much true for anybody these days. We all seem hell-bent on convincing others to the righteousness of our cause while at the same time being completely intractable for our own. It’s a recipe for disaster.

That disaster has come to pass. We now have a government that is completely dysfunctional. Both sides seem far more willing to score political points than to actually accomplish anything that might help the majority of the citizens who elected those running our government. Bills that benefit the very rich seem to get quickly and quietly passed.

Sure, there are a few politicians out there who I think are worth something – Elizabeth Warren, for one. Chris Christie for another (I’m willing to give props to anyone who will stand up to their own party in order to help citizens in need regardless of what party that is). Most of them however seem far too concerned with their own self-interest to devote any time or attention to the interests of their constituents.

There are times when I think both sides of the political spectrum are tails being wagged by the extremist whacko dogs on both sides of the aisle. While one side screams “Benghazi!” the other one yells “Racism!” We seem to be paying attention more to sound bites than to actual legislation. Whoever shouts the loudest must be right, I guess.

Remember when Kansas used to be sensible Midwesterners who could be counted upon for stability  (although some Missourians would argue that point) and common sense? Now they are rapidly becoming known for being the home of the Westboro Baptist Church as well as the State that essentially outlawed abortion literally citing the Bible as their legal source. Excuse me? I’ll bet these are the same yahoos screaming about Sharia law during the last election.

Back in the day the term “the Silent Majority” was coined to denote the millions of Americans who neither protested the War nor advocated it; they were if anything on the conservative side but mostly, they just wanted to be left alone to live their lives in peace and really didn’t want their sons marching off to some Asian hellhole just so Bell Helicopters could keep their military contract humming.

Today the Silent Majority still exists but they have seen the advent of the Tea Party and the Christian right, both of whom claim to represent them. I’m here to tell you that they do not. Today’s Silent Majority is a bit more liberal than they were 50 years ago; they’re all for gay marriage and stricter background checks on gun sales but in no way shape or form do they want guns banned. They want the deficit reduced and the budget balanced but they don’t want their entitlements (i.e. Medicare and Social Security) touched.

The Silent Majority is what they’ve always been – moderate. Unfortunately, moderate politicians seem to be about as numerous as wheelchair hockey players and with a future as bright as that of the polar bear. We have gotten to a point in our history where in order to get noticed a political candidate must come off as extremist. Once again, it’s the person who shouts the loudest who gets our attention. I often wonder if someone like Dwight Eisenhower could have been elected president in 2012. I doubt he would have gotten past the first round of Republican debates.

We have entered the era of the whacko. Where wild-eyed Michelle Bachmann and wild-mouthed Rick Perry can provide political satirists with plenty of material for their monologues but provide little in the way of legislation that creates desperately needed jobs, repairs a rapidly deteriorating infrastructure or helps improve our education system. The only education legislation that seems to be going through is that which allows banks to charge higher interest rates on student loans but who is going to pay those loans off when there are no jobs to go to after graduation?

This is our fault. We’ve become too lazy to care enough to actually listen. We’d rather have things boiled down into a six or seven word statement we can get behind and go back to surfing the Internet. How many of us have actually looked at a candidate’s platform? How many of us have listened to an entire speech, or read a piece of legislation? The last of these is understandable; most bills are so convoluted and poorly written that even a well-trained lawyer who understands the legal terminology within has a hard time following what’s being said.

I’m not sure what the solution is but this much I think is clear – things are going to be a lot worse if we don’t get our collective heads out of our collective derrieres. We need to stop shouting at each other and start listening to each other. Most importantly, we have to stop electing extremists on both sides and start getting moderates like Christie and Warren into office. We have to pay attention what the scoundrels in Washington and our own state capitals are doing. And we need to stop holding our politicians up as demagogues and understand that not everything promulgated by the right is evil, not everything that the left proposes is perfect and vice versa depending on your point of view. In other words, we need to start working together. To paraphrase one of our founding fathers, we must all work together or fall separately.