Monday, December 31, 2012

Gifts


Here it is the last night of the year, and all the now-done-Christmas-hubbub had me thinking about gifts.  A story came to mind.

Some years ago, during an uncharacteristically well-behaved period in my life, I was involved in a women's group.  Each Christmas, an older lady I'll call Joan would invite the whole group over to her house for a Christmas party.  The highlight of the party was a sort of "Dirty Santa" game, except that Joan provided all the gifts. 

Joan loved to shop.  She especially loved to bargain shop, and so, throughout the year, whenever she'd see some gifty-type item that was ridiculously discounted, she'd buy it and store it away for her Dirty Santa Party.   Some of the gifts were cool, no matter who got them, like a fancily wrapped "tower" of chocolate candy, or a big set of assorted-color dish towels.  Some were great, but only if you were into things like that--like a fondue pot complete with little forks and plates or an electric coffee grinder.  Some were perhaps a bit less impressive, like a set of kitschy little egg dishes for soft-boiled eggs or a little gadget for taking the tops off of strawberries along with a small serving bowl festooned with painted strawberries.  And truthfully, some were a bit tacky.  The gifts ran the gamut.

Joan must have spent days wrapping all the gifts with beautiful wrappings, ribbons, bows, and little charms and things on them, and the table itself was decorated to the nines, with greenery and big fluffy bows and artificial snow and lights and ornaments. The gift table at Joan's party was like the Christmas fantasy-land around Santa's throne in a department store of old. 

The rules of the game were simple.  Everyone drew a number.  The person who drew number one would make the first selection from the wondrous gift table piled high with packages.  The next person would likewise pick a package and then decide whether to keep her gift or trade it for the gift of number one.  This would continue through all the women at the party, with each person able to keep their gift or forcibly trade it for any other gift that had been opened.  Then the victim of that forced trade got to keep that gift or make one forced trade of any opened gift except the one she'd just lost.  The only limitation was that after the same gift had been taken three times, it stayed put.  And the final trade fell to number one, who could open the one last unclaimed gift, or trade for anything in the room that hadn't been traded three times already, or keep the gift she already had. 

Believe it or not, this pretty large group of pretty non-homogenous ladies were really into this game.  People staked out gifts they wanted, and tried to devise strategies to get them.  Sometimes it was by "talking up" something they'd gotten in the hopes that someone would take it and they'd get a shot at the zen candle garden or whatever it was they had their eye on.  Sometimes, especially as the night wore on, it was by out and out bribery.  By the time you got to thirty-five or forty gifts, the trading activity was spirited.   Wine served to most of the ladies made the competition both more fierce and more humorous as the night wore on.

Now, I'm not much on receiving Christmas gifts.  At least since turning about 10, I've always enjoyed giving presents more than getting them.  And I'm even less into party games.  So the Dirty Santa game at Joan's was usually something I watched in bemusement more than having any goal of "winning."  I came away from those games at different times with a set of vanilla bath stuff , a grouping of  too-sweet-scented candles,  and once, a gadget for slicing boiled eggs.  Meh.

But one time, I happened into a real find.   I had been the number one gift-picker.  I don't remember what my first gift was, but it was something good, and I lost it promptly.  I had a couple more through the evening, but surprisingly ended with quite a nice thing--a big pasta bowl with very pretty Tuscan-looking designs on it.  People with lesser gifts were hooting that I should trade with them.  One lady who had a Tuscan-themed kitchen was offering unauthorized bonuses, like chocolate, if I'd trade her for a mini-food-processor.  I was considering that, and thinking about trading for a stuffed figure that danced and played Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer, which I knew my mother-in-law would love, and then I looked over at the Last Gift.  It was gorgeously wrapped, and quite large.  It could be one of those chocolate towers, and it really was intriguing.   I felt daring.  I traded for it.  Joan's face fell.  

As the lady with the Tuscan kitchen booed loudly and then started to negotiate animatedly with Joan for the bowl,  I tore off the paper and opened the box.  Inside was a cookie jar shaped like a chubby black and white cow, seated erect like a dog begging, with all four hooves and a prominent pink udder molded and painted on the front, a tail on the back.  There was a collective gasp from the ladies, who thought I had just really gotten the shaft--a beautiful Tuscan pasta bowl traded away for a tacky cow cookie jar.

But I'm not really the Tuscan kind, and the fat little bovine whose head came off to reveal the treasure inside really spoke to me.  I liked that cow.  I took her home and she became a fixture in our kitchen.   She became known as Clovis, the cookie cow.  I even bought other tacky cow-themed kitchen stuff like dish towels with Bossies grazing on green, green grass and cow-spotted borders, so Clovis would feel at home.  I was fully aware the cows were tacky, but I didn't care, my husband didn't mind, and my girls were little and loved that cow, knowing she would have a treat for them, always.   Clovis was our cookie-bearing friend, well-used for years until an unfortunate accident shattered her all over the floor of a subsequent kitchen she adorned.

So, a long story to close out what has seemed like a very long year.  We've been through it in spades in 2012.  Economic doomsaying, mass shootings, elections, fiscal cliffs, money-laundering, rate-fixing, and now surviving the "end of the world."  Wow.  There's a lot that needs handled, dealt with, changed, and fixed in this world of ours--and dammit, the end of the world didn't take us off the hook for it.  So, you ask, what's the point this New Year's Eve? 

Just this:  some gifts are fancy; some gifts are plain; some are easily recognized as valuable; and  some are pretty darn weird and might only be appreciated by the person to whom fate grants them--like my cookie cow.  We all have a place and a role to play in addressing the challenges that will come in this, "the year after the end of the world."   Each of us has unique gifts that will help us to do that, in large ways or small.  And each of our gifts will only be put to their best use by the one person in the world who's wound up with them.  Here's hoping that we each see and appreciate our gifts--even the weird ones--that we embrace them, develop them, and use them fully, uniquely, and with joy to make our own part of the world a better place this coming year.   God knows it needs to be a better place.

Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Culture Problem

In the wake of the shootings last week at Sandy Hook Elementary, we're hearing a lot.  A lot is simple media sensationalism, like the accounts in which children are interviewed, telling of hiding in classrooms and closets as their fellow students were shot.  Some is sappy sentimentalism, like the abuse of these children's memories as we relive their birthdays and hear about their favorite toys.  And it's possible that some will be worthwhile, although little I've heard yet falls into that category.

As usual, we're hearing how this man was mentally unstable, how he was troubled, a loner, a nut.  How someone could have known the guy was a menace if only some set of circumstances would have occurred.  How he wasn't like other people. This is how we comfort ourselves.  Over and over and over--every time one of "them" mows people down.  We convince ourselves that the problem of people murdering kids, or employers, or teenagers, or moviegoers, is someone else's problem--the junction of too many guns (lawmakers' problem,") too little healthcare for the mentally ill (the healthcare system's problem), or an individual case of bad parenting (other parents' problem).  At all costs, we avoid the realization that this problem is a culture problem--OUR problem--by making the person who did it not like us.

I'm here today to point out the ways in which shooter Adam Lanza (and Eric Harris, and Dylan Klebold, and James Holmes) is just like us.   Because until we see that, we'll have mass shootings and massacres come along like buses--regularly--just like we've been having ever since Columbine.

So how is he like us?  Well, for starters, he was raised in a diseased culture where males are taught in innumerable ways that the way to be "manly" isn't to be emotionally stable, good at expressing yourself, nurturing of your family, calm and measured, but instead to be a brute--to give less and get more--taking what you want, with force if necessary, whether more means more money, more sex, or more controlling power over others.

This sickness tells boys it's expected that a "real man" crushes his "enemies" on the sports field, or the playground, or the workplace or the battlefield.  It says that it's par for the course for men to philander, to kill, rape, beat, or blow up anyone who opposes their desires, no matter how childish, greedy, perverted, unfounded, or unfair.  To buck this trend gets one labeled a "faggot," a "wimp," or other charming epithets.

We teach our males, through TV shows, video games, sports, and "boys-will-be-boys" excuses for bad behavior to be Rambo caricatures, blasting their way through life, unaccountable for being brutes, because "that's how men are."  Our most recent mass murderer, Adam Lanza, is like millions of young men who are raised to be fearful of life (of women who want to "emasculate" them, or the underclass who will take their due, of Commies, or Muslims, or illegal immigrants, or other tougher men), while convinced that "safety" and "power" come not from strength of character, strength of your argument, goodness, and emotional security, but from forcing another person to do what you want at the point of a gun or after being pummeled, tortured (or should I say interrogated using enhanced techniques), or threatened.

Now, many of you are shaking your heads, saying, "that's not how I raised my boy."  And I'm here to tell you that most likely it is, at least in some measure.  Because no matter how anti-gun you are, no matter how pacifist and dove-like, you've probably bought into some part of the man-myth, and you probably passed it to your kids.

For example, do you think there's a different standard of behavior for men and women?  Is it "ok" for a boy to be loud and rough but not ok for a girl?  Are men "only to be expected" to yell, punch the wall, or go off and sulk in a huff instead of talking about a conflict?  Is a boy or man who sleeps around a "whore" or a "tramp," or is that honor reserved for females?  Do you expect that boys "play differently" than girls--with war games an pounding each other and blowing stuff up standard fare in the boy world and taking care of babies and playing school and pretending to cook more "girlish?"   Are men who are mild mannered, kind, and nurturing "wimps," while their loud, competitive, and aggressive counterparts are "men's men?"  When people refer to a man being a "good catch," does that mean he's faithful and loving and gentle, or that he's the best at today's most common form of warfare--earning money?  Is a man whose wife is the primary breadwinner while he stays home with the kids a good caretaker or a lazy bum?  What about in business--a guy who sees what he wants and steps on others to go after it is a "go-getter;" a woman who does the same is a conniving bitch. 

There are a thousand examples--and we all go for them at some point or other to some degree.  We've systematically made it the standard in our culture that men don't have to be as "nice" as women.  Our expectation, collectively, is that a "real man" is, compared to a woman, not just more physically powerful, but also more aggressive (physically, emotionally, or economically), more exploitive, and less capable of handling feelings, non-physical conflict, and communication. 

The corollary argument is, "men are just different."  We glorify male domination and aggression as not only the way things are but the way they ought to be.  Once they were the hunters and the protectors, the story goes, and so aggression, power-mongering, and even violence is "only natural."   Well, it might be--if they were animals in the wild.  But once a creature is brought to live in a society, those traits are not useful--they're abusive of others.   For example, being the biggest and fiercest might have served a dog well in the wild, but when they're living with humans, and a particular animal displays aggressive tendencies, that animal is not allowed to breed.  If only it worked that way with humans, but alas.

So here we are again, with 20 barely-more-than-babies and 7 women dead.   The problem isn't a gun problem--he could have used a knife or a bomb made of fertilizer or a can of gasoline and a match.  The problem isn't a mental illness problem--millions of people have autistic spectrum disorders and  mental illnesses and never hurt anyone, and this young man didn't believe he was killing demons or some other psychotic delusion--he knew he was getting back at his mother for some perceived slight.  No, the problem is a culture problem--yet another man taught by just about every influence in his life that male aggression is natural, that domination of others is the quickest form of  persuasion, and that violence is an acceptable way to deal with disappointment, rejection, fear, or anger.   Adam Lanza simply decided, on a grand scale, the same thing that thousands of men decide on a smaller scale every day when they beat their partners or rape their dates or punch out the guy who made a smart remark or torture the prisoner--that violence works.  And once again, we're trying to excuse the real causes of the problem, as we do so often when we we cast about looking to lay blame on the weapon, or the "terrorist," or the medical system or the woman who went out where she oughtn't to be in clothes she oughtn't to wear. 

So--other than the man himself, what or who is to blame when a man decides that the way to relieve his jealousy, fear, and insecurity is to blast people with high powered weapons or fill a truck with explosives and bomb a building, instead of talking it out or sucking it up or seeing a therapist? 

It may be all of us.

UPDATE:  I understand that a particularly dense Republican member of Congress appeared on an MSNBC show Friday morning, after my post, and referred to Sandy Hook as a "cultural problem," as he defended the unrestricted sale of assault weapons.  I regret that this "gentleman" chose the same words I did, after I chose them.  Unfortunately, he is one of the people I'm talking about--one of those who uses fear to justify violence (in his case, encouraging people to use guns to feel "safer"). I disagree with him entirely on the issue of an assault weapon ban. 


Monday, November 12, 2012

Only Fair

I've been gone awhile from my writing.  I guess I haven't had much to say.  Today, though, a thought occurred to me, and I did some figuring.  I thought I'd share with you the result. Here we go:

We've all heard the statistics.  The top 1 percent of wealthiest people in the US hold more wealth than the bottom 90% combined.  That sounds pretty ridiculous, but the numbers are so big, it's hard to even focus on what it means.  So I spent some time this morning making it accessible.

Here's the scoop.  There's around $55 trillion in wealth held in the US.  This is wealth, not income.  That means that all together, all the stocks and bonds, and cash, and real estate, and boats and cars and 401k plans and houses, and everything that's worth something in the US adds up to that much.  It's a BIG number.  Such a big number that it means that, if it were equally divided, every single man, woman and child in the US would own about $173,945 worth of stuff, or about $695,780 per family of four.  Keep in mind that this is net value, not just assets.  That means this is what you have over and above the debt you owe on it--like equity in a home.   It's a really big number.

So if we've got so darn much stuff in this country, then why are people struggling?  Why are there poor people?  Why is it that the GOP got to spend so much time talking about the 47% of people who don't make enough to pay income taxes?  Well, here's why.

The top one percent of wealthiest people in America own a bit more than 35% of the total wealth, or about $19 trillion, together.  That's distributed amongst about 1.4 million households that make up the 1%, and that's means they have, on average, a net worth of about $13.57 million per household.   So, on average, each 1%-household owns almost twenty times the amount that they would own if the wealth in the US were distributed equally, assuming 1%-households of four people each.  And that doesn't count the money they're still making and living on, which is also a lot more than regular people have.

Now, here's the thing.  If you had a tax that took from those people in the 1% half of their net worth--just half--at some point when it makes sense (like, oh I don't know, an estate tax when they die, perhaps),  in just one round of deaths, that would free up $9.5 trillion to do something with.  Of course, after another generation, there would be more really rich people, although they probably wouldn't have built up quite so much, but the first $9.5 trillion wouldn't be the last.  And it would still leave their heirs with over $6.5 million per family, so they probably won't end up on Medicaid or anything.

So what would $9.5 trillion do?  Well, it could wipe out two thirds of the entire national debt, and greatly diminish the interest the fat cat bankers get to charge us on that, which would let more of current taxes go to programs, and not to incurring more debt and debt service.  Eliminating two-thirds of the debt would eliminate two thirds of the interest, or somewhere around $275 billion per year that wouldn't get tacked onto our debt.  That's one thing, although maybe not the best thing, because that just gives the money back to the big fat bankers that we just took a bunch of it from in the first place.  So what else?

It could go to a  rebate to everyone in the US.  If they took $9.5 trillion and divided it equally, every single man, woman and child in the US could get over $30,000.   Most of those people would spend that money fast, paying off debts or buying stuff they need or sending kids to college, and the money would then circulate to someone else in the form of the wages paid to make or sell the stuff they bought or to teach their kids, or whatever.  Now, that's not fair, they say, because those people didn't earn it.  But, then again, what did the children of the now-dead 1% do to earn it, other than hang around and wait for daddy to kick the bucket?  But of course, some people would waste it, so is there a better idea?

Hmmm.  You know what else could happen with $9.5 trillion?  Jobs.  Private jobs, if you lent money to businesses that are wanting to expand but need capital.  Public jobs if you spent it fixing roads and bridges and building things we need.  In total, $9.5 trillion could pay for 19 million job-years for jobs paying $50,000.    That would mean you could make enough jobs to cut our approximately 8 percent unemployment rate in half, to a very nice normal four percent rate, and with all the new work paying well, for more than three years.  And of course, those people with jobs would then not need unemployment, food stamps, welfare, medicaid, taking early social security and medicare, etc.  And they'd spend that money on crazy stuff like gas and food and clothes, that would keep other people in jobs too.  And they'd have to earn it--doing unimportant things like making and building stuff, not nearly as deserving as sticking it in a stock fund and waiting for the checks to roll in, but still.

 Or, we could entirely eliminate the estate tax like some propose, and let the 1% accumulate even more.  Of course, they're promising that they'll use it all to run businesses that make jobs--or to make fat bank accounts in Switzerland or the Cayman Islands--whichever.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Yes Indeed

Several weeks ago, in the aftermath of the attack on the supposed consulate in Benghazi, Libya, I disclosed more clearly than ever before that I am one of those people who think that our American government is up to no good and regularly lies to us about what kind of no good they're up to.  In the process, I let you in on the secret that, from the moment I heard it, I wasn't buying the "official story" about what happened in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11.

I noted how the story seemed to be growing "curiouser and curiouser" by the moment, and I stated,
 I have the feeling that there is very much more to this story than meets the eye, or the news report, and I'm betting that in the days and weeks to come, we're going to learn a lot that we don't really want to hear.
Well, not to say I told you so, but I did tell you so.   Last week, in a Congressional hearing, called by Republican Rep. Darrell Issa (chair of the House Oversight Committee), it became clear that the conflicting and ever-changing stories of exactly what happened in Benghazi are still, well... conflicting and ever changing.

The upside is, while the Congress and the State Department and the "Intelligence Community" are all fighting out whose fault it was that there was an attack on Americans in Benghazi on September 11, and who did it, and why, the hearing pretty well outed the fact that the facilities attacked on September 11 were actually an entire CIA operation in Benghazi.  This outing occurred on live TV (CSPAN video-all 4+ interminable hours worth, is here).  It was accompanied by the admission that between 10,000 and 20,000 shoulder to air missiles have "gone missing" in Libya, and could be in the hands of "extremists."  This admission appears just after 1:53 in the video, during questioning by Rep. Dennis Kucinich.

It looks like our "war on terror" has spawned an ancillary conflict:  there's a war within our government as State points fingers at intelligence and intelligence points fingers at State, Rs point at Ds and Ds point at Rs, and our presidential and vice-presidential candidates use the latest crappola to whack each other with.  And it's still feeling like maybe we don't actually know what we think we know, and maybe we're being screwed with, just a bit.  

But it is starting to explain a couple of things that I've been wondering about for about a month now.  For example, I wondered why it was that in early reports, people didn't seem to know where the 'consulate' in Benghazi was.  Here's a screenshot I took September 18 of a September 12 online article in the UK's Daily Mail, with the map and a prominent red dot where the facility in Benghazi had been attacked.  (I know the images are small--just click on them to make them bigger.)



But then here's what the Guardian showed for the location of the consulate from a screenshot of the same day.  The white box in the lower center of the photo is supposed to be where it is.  Not way up by the water, as shown by the Daily Mail, but in a whole different place.  Hmmm.




Not to worry though.  They got their story straightened out, and settled on the "compound" in the lower photo.  We've seen maps and aerial photos and all those pics of fires and a video of the poor man being dragged out and all that.  That initial mix-up had to have just been some poor journalism.

Except...that at the same time, a view of the US State Department website showed no listing at all for any embassy, consulate, or mission in Benghazi, Libya.  Here's a screenshot taken that day.  Note that under Libya, there's only Tripoli.  And for contrast, look over at Iraq.  There's a listing of several different cities there.  Poor Benghazi.


Ok, well, it could be that some IT guy just didn't get the listing updated.  So, I looked for our ill-fated "ambassador."  He wasn't some newbie to the State Department.  He might have only gone to Libya recently, but according to his "bio" in the news, he'd been in foreign service for the State Department for some time.   So let's see what old State had to say about Mr. J. Christopher Stevens.


Hmmm.  Sonenshine, Spraden, Stephens, Stern, Stewart, Stock... Huh?  No Stevens, J. Christopher? 

What about under State's listing for Ambassadors by Country?  He's got to be there.  Notice at the top of the image that we're under the tab for Libya.


Somehow, the US State Department, in September, 2012, thought that we didn't have an Ambassador to Libya.  We had a "Charge d'Affaires" that we've had for quite a long time, since the US' Diplomatic Mission was reopened in 2006.  A man named Ali Suleiman Aujali.  No Mr. Stevens.  No facility in Benghazi.

All right, well, one last stop.  Google maps.  And a search for "consulate of the United States Benghazi libya"  turns up:  zip, zilch, nada.  Google Maps tells me, "Your search for consulate of the United States near Benghazi libya did not match any locations." 


Curiouser and curiouser.  Yes indeed.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Churches Get It Right

Those of you who know me know that I believe in God--a God that is the sum total of all things that have ever been or ever will be.  A God who holds as its highest value the inevitable oneness of all things and the love for one another that entails.  A God who is summed up in the values of the person we call Jesus when he's quoted as saying that all the law and all the prophets hang on two commandments:  love god and love each other as we love ourselves.   

Those of you who know me also know that, in spite of the above, I don't believe too awfully much in churches.  I was raised Roman Catholic, and I found points of considerable disagreement with that church's dogma by the time I was eight years old.  Specifically, at that young age, I decided that if my dog and my friend, Lisa (who was Jewish), were not going to Catholic Heaven, I would prefer not to either.   This was not a popular position in Catechism class.

Once I was old enough to decide for myself whether "to church" or not, I didn't. I watched what most churches spent their time on (judging and condemning), and what they spent their money on (by far, mostly themselves and their stuff), and I didn't find much value there.  Then, I happened upon a church that restored some of my faith in church.   As with most things I do, once I got in, I got "all in" and I churched as I do most things--compulsively and with a tenacity that, if I were a dog, would make me a good badger-hunter.  Oddly, as time went on, I discovered, it wasn't the church, but the pastor of that congregation, who was one of the smartest people I've ever met, and one of the least steeped in archaic ceremony and dogma and strange conditions that "God" put on loving. But shortly enough, he left that congregation, and I found that the church, without him, was just as dogmatic and just as intolerant and just as conditionally loving as every other church I'd seen.  And I left that church.  Actually, it would be more accurate to say that church left me--inviting me for all intents and purposes to do something anatomically very difficult to achieve.  And I've pretty much refused "to church" since then, although I retain my ability "to believe" just fine. 

I've always missed some of what happened when I was part of that church years ago.  And I've always hoped that churches, and the usually good folks who comprise them, would eventually decide that if God is love, then God doesn't require from us a bunch of ceremonies and certain songs sung in certain styles on certain days, or blind acceptance of ridiculously unloving positions that someone says are the "word of God," or disliking people who view God through a different lens or who sing different songs or who sprinkle instead of immerse.  Rather, I've hoped that, in time, churches would see that, if God is Love, then God requires only that we love.  And there's been an event that indicates that we may be moving in that direction, right now, in the midst of some of the least loving times ever known to man.   I'm reproducing below the text of a letter that's apparently been sent by group of religious leaders to the members of the US Congress.  And, while it's not perfect, I'll be hoping whatever's gotten into them is contagious.  Here's the letter:
Dear Member of Congress,

We write to you as Christian leaders representing U.S. churches and religious organizations committed to seeking a just peace for Israelis and Palestinians. Our organizations have been deeply involved in this pursuit for decades, inspired by the call and promise of Jesus Christ who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
In response to our Christian call to be peacemakers, we have worked for decades to support both Israelis and Palestinians in their desire to live in peace and well-being. We have worked alongside our Palestinian Christian sisters and brothers to help build a peaceful and resilient Palestinian civil society by supporting hospitals, schools, clinics, and social service agencies.
These ministries include cooperative efforts with Israelis and Palestinians as well as with Jews, Muslims, and other neighbors here in the United States. Through our presence in the region, and regular visits to our partners there, we see first-hand the impacts of the conflict on both Palestinians and Israelis and hear from them directly about the reality of their lives.
Through this direct experience we have witnessed the pain and suffering of Israelis as a result of Palestinian actions and of Palestinians as a result of Israeli actions. In addition to the horror and loss of life from rocket attacks from Gaza and past suicide bombings, we have witnessed the broad impact that a sense of insecurity and fear has had on Israeli society.
We have also witnessed widespread Israeli human rights violations committed against Palestinians, including killing of civilians, home demolitions and forced displacement, and restrictions on Palestinian movement, among others.
We recognize that each party—Israeli and Palestinian—bears responsibilities for its actions and we therefore continue to stand against all violence regardless of its source. Our stand against violence is complemented by our commitment to the rights of all Israelis, as well as all Palestinians, to live in peace and security.
It is this experience and these commitments that lead us to write to you today to express our grave concern about the deteriorating conditions in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories which threaten to lead the region further away from the realization of a just peace.
Unfortunately, unconditional U.S. military assistance to Israel has contributed to this deterioration, sustaining the conflict and undermining the long-term security interests of both Israelis and Palestinians. This is made clear in the most recent 2011 State Department Country Report on Human Rights Practices covering Israel and the Occupied Territories (1), which details widespread Israeli human rights violations committed against Palestinian civilians, many of which involve the misuse of U.S.-supplied weapons.
Accordingly, we urge an immediate investigation into possible violations by Israel of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act and the U.S. Arms Export Control Act which respectively prohibit assistance to any country which engages in a consistent pattern of human rights violations and limit the use of U.S. weapons (2) to “internal security” or “legitimate self-defense.” (3) More broadly, we urge Congress to undertake careful scrutiny to ensure that our aid is not supporting actions by the government of Israel that undermine prospects for peace. We urge Congress to hold hearings to examine Israel’s compliance, and we request regular reporting on compliance and the withholding of military aid for non-compliance.
Examples of specific, systematic human rights violations related to U.S. military support are included as an annex to this letter.
In addition to specific rights violations, we see a troubling and consistent pattern of disregard by the government of Israel for U.S. policies that support a just and lasting peace. Specifically, repeated demands by the U.S. government that Israel halt all settlement activity have been ignored. Since 1967, every U.S. administration has decried Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories as obstacles to peace.
Despite this stance, Israel continues to expand its settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, claiming territory that under international law and U.S. policy should belong to a future Palestinian state. The Oslo peace process, which began in 1993, was publicly promoted as leading Israelis and Palestinians to a just peace based on a two-state solution.
Instead, since 1993, the number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, has more than doubled. Rights violations resulting from Israeli settlement activity include separate and unequal legal systems for Palestinians and settlers, confiscation of Palestinian land and natural resources for the benefit of settlers, and violence by settlers against Palestinians.
According to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, there has been a dramatic rise in settler attacks against Palestinians this year (4). They report that these attacks are often intended to drive Palestinians from areas the settlers wish to take over, and that Israeli authorities have failed to take significant action to stop the violence or hold the perpetrators accountable. We believe that these actions directly undermine peace efforts and threaten, rather than support, Israel’s long-term security interests.
We want to be clear that we recognize that Israel faces real security threats and that it has both a right and a duty to protect both the state and its citizens. However, the measures that it uses to protect itself and its citizens, as in the case with any other nation, must conform to international humanitarian and human rights law.
As Christian leaders in the United States, it is our moral responsibility to question the continuation of unconditional U.S. financial assistance to the government of Israel. Realizing a just and lasting peace will require this accountability, as continued U.S. military assistance to Israel — offered without conditions or accountability — will only serve to sustain the status quo and Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinian territories.

We request, therefore, that Congress hold Israel accountable to these standards by making the disbursement of U.S. military assistance to Israel contingent on the Israeli government’s compliance with applicable U.S. laws and policies. As Israel is the single largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid since World War II, it is especially critical for Israel to comply with the specific U.S. laws that regulate the use of U.S.-supplied weapons.
We also encourage Congress to support inclusive, comprehensive, and robust regional diplomacy to secure a just and lasting peace that will benefit Israelis, Palestinians, and all the peoples of the region, and the world.
With respect and gratitude, we offer you our prayers.
Sincerely,


Rev. Gradye Parsons
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
Presbyterian Church (USA)
Mark S. Hanson
Presiding Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Bishop Rosemarie Wenner
President, Council of Bishops
United Methodist Church
Peg Birk
Transitional General Secretary
National Council of Churches USA
Shan Cretin
General Secretary
American Friends Service Committee
J Ron Byler
Executive Director
Mennonite Central Committee U.S.
Alexander Patico
North American Secretary
Orthodox Peace Fellowship
Diane Randall
Executive Secretary
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Dr. A. Roy Medley
General Secretary
American Baptist Churches, U.S.A.


Rev. Geoffrey A. Black
General Minister and President
United Church of Christ
Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins
General Minister and President
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Rev. Julia Brown Karimu
President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Division of Overseas Ministries
Co-Executive, Global Ministries (UCC and Disciples)
Rev. Dr. James A. Moos
Executive Minister, United Church of Christ, Wider Church Ministries
Co-Executive, Global Ministries (UCC and Disciples)
Kathy McKneely
Acting Director
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
Eli S. McCarthy, PhD
Justice and Peace Director
Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM)
________________________________

Examples of specific, systematic human rights violations related to U.S. military support:
• Killings of civilians – At least 2,969 Palestinian civilians uninvolved in hostilities were killed by the Israeli military between December 29, 2000 and December 31, 2009. This includes at least 1,128 children under the age of 18.5 Many of these deaths are connected to weaponry the U.S. underwrites.
• Suppression of legitimate political expression and protest – U.S.-supplied tear gas has been used by Israel to systematically suppress political protests and dissent in the occupied Palestinian territories. This has led to the deaths of at least 5 Palestinians and the grave injury of many others, including two U.S. citizens.
• Home demolitions and forced displacement – According to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, approximately 24,813 Palestinian homes in the occupied Palestinian territories have been destroyed since 1967. House demolitions in the West Bank in 2011 forcibly displaced nearly 1,100 Palestinians (over half of them children) from their homes, over 80% more than in 2010, according to the United Nations (UN) Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (6).
• Use of prohibited weaponry in densely populated civilian areas – Israel has used both white phosphorus and flechette shells in Gaza and Lebanon in violation of international humanitarian law. During operation cast lead white phosphorus shells were fired against civilian targets including a UN compound, two hospitals, and private residences causing civilian deaths and injuries. Flechette shells have also been used repeatedly in Gaza since 2001, causing significant civilian deaths and casualties (7).
• Restricting Palestinian movement – Israeli-only roads and more than 500 roadblocks and checkpoints carve up the West Bank, making travel for Palestinians arduously slow or impossible (8). The Wall constructed by Israel in the West Bank deviates considerably from the 1967 lines, confiscating occupied Palestinian territory and water in the process, and severely restricting Palestinian movement. Since 2007 Israel has also maintained a comprehensive blockade on Gaza, restricting not only the movement of Palestinians into and out of Gaza, but also restricting the import and export of goods. The UN and International Committee of the Red Cross have both concluded that this blockade amounts to collective punishment (9), in contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
___________________________________
1 http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/190656.pdf
2 Weapons in this instance include “crowd control” items such as tear gas. The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012 (P.L. 112-74) which is included in the US Foreign Military Financing regulations stipulates that “not later than 90 days after enactment of this act and 6 months thereafter, the Secretary of State shall submit a report to the Committees on Appropriations detailing any crowd control items, including tear gas, made available with appropriated funds or through export licenses to foreign security forces that the Secretary of State has credible information have repeatedly used excessive force to repress peaceful, lawful, and organized dissent.”
3 While this letter focuses on US-Israel relations and the Israel-Palestine conflict, these are laws that we believe should be enforced in all instances regardless of location. All allegations regarding the misuse of US supplied arms should be investigated.
4 http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2012/07/11/v-print/155813/report-violence-against-palestinians.html For more information see also: http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/lambs-to-the-settlers-slaughter-screaming-and-unheard.premium-1.455937
5 Details available at http://www.weaponstoisrael.org/article.php?id=2940 and through original date from B’Tselem at www.btselem.org/statistics.
6 http://www.unocha.org/annualreport/2011/pse
7 http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/news/israeli-army-used-flechettes-against-gaza-civilians-20090127
8 http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_MovementandAccess_FactSheet_September_2011.pdf
9 http://www.ochaopt.org/gazablockade/

UPDATE:  I should mention the response of the Anti-Defamation League to this letter.  It is to take their ball and go home.  The ADL has withdrawn from an upcoming conference of religious types where it was intended the parties have "inter-faith dialogue" about prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.  Here's a quote from Abraham Foxman, the leader of ADL:

It is outrageous that mere days after the Iranian president repeated his call for Israel’s elimination, these American Protestant leaders would launch a biased attack against the Jewish state by calling on Congress to investigate Israel’s use of foreign aid. In its clear bias against Israel, it is striking that their letter fails to also call for an investigation of Palestinian use of U.S. foreign aid, thus once again placing the blame entirely on Israel.

Foxman wants other Jewish organizations to take their respective balls and go home as well, urging them to:


 "understand the level of disrespect the American Jewish community is being shown here" and to also withdraw from the conference.  

In other words, if anyone dares to ask from Israel the same thing Israel is demanding from Iran and other middle-eastern countries (verification that there are not abuses of human rights, offensive actions against neighboring countries, nor abuses of American aid and weapons), they are disrespectful of the "American Jewish Community" and risk being labeled anti-Semitic.  I, for one, will take my chances.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

How to Start a War No One Wants

About 10 days ago, a weasel-like lobbyist for the pro-Israel lobbying firm, the Washington Institute for Near-East Policy (WINEP), delivered a talk to a cozy little luncheon held in Washington.  You may be aware, if you follow ordinary news, that Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu has been about lately, begging the US and the UN to do something to stop Iran from getting "the bomb."  The other day, he even brought a clever little graphic of a very cartoonish bomb to try to make his point more pointedly.

Of course, all of Mr. Netanyahu's histrionics aside, most evidence says Iran is a ways from having the bomb, if they're even developing one, and most of Netanyahu's own public, military, cabinet, and advisors say that attacking Iran would be a bad idea, but Mr. Netanyahu and Israel's Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, for some reason really really really want a war with Iran. 

Now, after a decade of war, Mr. Netanyahu is having almost as much trouble convincing the US government to act as he's having at home in Israel.  So, to the rescue, that aforementioned lobbyist, A Mr. Patrick Clawson.  At his little neo-con luncheon, asked about war in Iran, he's been so kind as to explain how to get the US into a war no one wants.  By as he calls it, the "traditional" way the US gets into war--a false flag operation.  For those of you who aren't big on this sort of thing, read up on some of the incidents Mr. Clawson mentions in his little talk--here and here in the blog archives.  The stories of the others are just as damning, if you take the time to do a little internet research.

So, without further ado, here's how Israel (apparently with the collusion of some pretty heavy hitters in Washington), may be trying to force a war that no one wants.  


Ok, so now, I'm just asking that you keep this in mind for the next few months, as we hear on the news about "muslim" uprisings, and internet hack attacks.  And at the moment that it looks most like we've been hit hard by our "enemies" in the middle east--take a really hard look at our "friends" before deciding on anything.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Before November

Here's something that you need to watch, BEFORE you go to vote in November.   It's a video called Votergate.  It is 36 minutes that, if you have a brain in your head (sorry for anyone who doesn't), will show you our elections process is worthless, and our control over elections, if we ever had any, is gone.  My only beef with the video is that its conclusion is that the solution is ... to vote.  Hah!


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Coming Clean

I've always been conscious, writing this blog, how strange I am, compared to other people. It's not the first time this has happened to me. Much of my life, I've not fit in. Not when I was a seven year old in third grade. Not when life seemed deadly serious to me, even in elementary school, as other kids played dodgeball and watched the Flintstones. Not when I wanted to work instead of going to high school football games. Not when I started college at 16. And not now.

Some of you have read this blog since the beginning, and you've watched as I've learned and changed over the last year or so--the culmination of years of change that have led me to where I am today. The difference now, compared to ten years ago is that I know me. I know who I am, where I fit, what I'm good at, and who really loves me, and so now I don't need to be anyone but the person that I am.

So, at the risk of turning this blog from one that gets read sparingly to one that gets read not at all, today, I'm "going there."

Yesterday was the 11th anniversary of 9/11. I will confess that at the time of the attacks, I was an emotional basket case. I felt instantly the changing of the world. I'd already witnessed, through TV news, the Oklahoma City Bombing, Waco, Columbine. But somehow that morning, 9/11, something was very different. I knew that morning that nothing would ever be the same.

Shortly after that day, I had an intuition, I guess, because while the narrative was all over--the Arab hijackers, the hatred they had for America, the reaction of the world--I wrote an essay. It was about justice and mercy, and while it's long since gone, the victim of old computers and poor labeling of diskettes, it was basically a call for people to remember that what seems like justice depends upon the perspective where you stand, and that when we do something wrong, we'd like to receive mercy a lot more than justice, so maybe we should give that in this case too. I read the essay as the message at my church at the time, at the invitation of our pastor. I guess I had a feeling that there was more to it than the common 'wisdom" at the time. Maybe he did too.

Now more than a decade later, we're still killing people based on the excuse of 20 Arab hijackers driving planes into buildings. Hundreds of thousands of people--men, women and children. Millions displaced by war. Our country's finances in tatters from years of war spending and government contracts to Blackwater and others of their ilk. Thousands of people indefinitely detained. Some tortured. Some killed. And in certain quarters, the bloodlust is no less vicious today than it was 11 years ago. It is as if America is performing an experiment to see how long normal people will continue killing in vengeance for past events.

And then yesterday, on the anniversary of 9/11, there was the killing of our ambassador in Libya, Chris Stevens, and several other people. At first report, it was said to be the work of Muslim "protesters" of an anti-Muslim film put out by an Israeli real estate developer to discredit the Muslim faith. People began to comment on news sites in the same old, hate-filled ways. Politicians wasted no time to point fingers and criticize.

Then, as the day has worn on today, the story has gotten curiouser and curiouser. The guy who made the anti-Muslim movie isn't who it was said he was. His name is a pseudonym; he isn't an Israeli as first reported. Maybe he's a "right-wing extremist." He might not even exist.

The attack on the Libyan embassy probably wasn't even a protest of the movie. It probably used the protest of the movie in Egypt as a diversion to carry out an intentional attack on the ambassador and his staff. The FBI is investigating. Today, again, I feel as if things changed and will never be the same. I have the feeling that there is very much more to this story than meets the eye, or the news report, and I'm betting that in the days and weeks to come, we're going to learn a lot that we don't really want to hear.

So here's why I'm writing this, and why I started out with a disclosure of my lifelong weirdness. I'm as certain as I can be, without having been there in person, that we've been led down this blood-soaked path by lies, manipulations, and deceptions. And I'm not afraid to say so anymore.

In my opinion after review of much information:

The American government knowingly permitted the attacks of 9/11/2001 to occur

It has then systematically disposed of evidence, failed to investigate important information, and tried to intimidate or discredit anyone who's gotten any traction toward exposing their crimes.

Who, specifically? I don't know--we have no way of telling what's true and what's not in so-called news reporting. I only know it wasn't twenty Muslim extremists inspired by AlQaeda. Why did they do it? Well, judging from the results for the last decade--to pave the way for wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in the middle east, and to provide cover for the erosion of civil rights and Constitutional protections here in our country. What has it gained? Well, puppet governments in a couple of those places, one complete with its own connection to illegal drug trafficking, and a population who is so desensitized to abuse that it no longer seems to care if toddlers and elderly incontinent people get their diapers searched just to get on an airplane. File in, get probed, file out. Stupid, docile, sheep.

Now, I don't buy everything that "truthers" say, but here's the thing--there's stuff about 9/11 and the official story about it that makes no sense. And in all my experience in law, one thing I learned was: if it doesn't make sense, it isn't true.

Why did the government haul away all the debris at ground zero without investigators combing through it for evidence?

Why didn't NIST test for explosives, when many witnesses and a couple of videos agree that there were multiple explosions in the lower areas of the towers--in the case of the second tower, before the plane even hit the building?

Why did a third building, WTC7, collapse, in very much the same manner as the twin towers (straight down, very quickly), later the same day, when it was never hit by a plane? And why didn't we hear much about it?

Why did the government give three different time lines and stories about when fighters were "scrambled" to defend against the attack?

Why, when not a single one of the hijackers was Iraqi, or Afghani, we wound up attacking those countries, but never Saudi Arabia, where the hijackers were supposedly from?

And you know, the only people who are asking ANY questions about what happened that day, and why, are the truthers. So I'm going with them, even if I have to upgrade my tinfoil hat.

If you're interested, or maybe just curious, a documentary by Richard Gage, of Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth has recently been broadcast by a public tv station in my old hometown, Denver. It's streaming online now and indefinitely, for free. It's a reasonable, and pretty short, summary of why people have questions about 9/11--why people like me are pretty sure that what they've told us about that day isn't true. And why so many people want so badly to avoid reaching that conclusion.

As for the rest, I'm going to wait and see what next emerges about the curious story of how an American diplomat died yesterday, and nearly, but not quite, fired up all the anti-Muslim hatred all over again. I'm pretty sure that whatever happened is important.

In the meantime, I'm going to face the fact that maybe I'm still odd, after all these years. Or maybe I'm just tired of getting played like a fiddle.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Lovers and Fighters

The other day I remarked upon my recent quest to find and comment upon, inconsistencies and irrationalities that I find around the internet, among arguably "normal" people. I've begun this quest by going to "news" websites and commenting. And the results are interesting to say the least. I've blogged about a couple of them already, in my last two posts.

Today, I'd like to tell you about my conversations about the recent news story about the parents of Tyler Clementi--the young man who committed suicide after his roommate illegally taped his sexual encounter with another young man. The parents were in the news because they had left the church they'd been members of because they could no longer tolerate the church's anti-gay views.

I commented originally that it was good that the parents took a stand against the kind of dogma that caused their son such misery and gave another young man the idea that it would be ok to publicly shame his roommate. My attempt to make a positive comment was in the distinct minority.

Many people were making angry comments indicating that it had taken the parents too long, that they should have never been in that church in the first place, that their son wouldn't be dead if they, and their church hadn't been such (fill in the blank with an unflattering name)s, and the like.

I picked out one of these comments, and used it to try to make a point--that directing hate and anger toward bigots was no better than the bigots' hatred and anger toward the original victim. And, the game was on. I was told it was "different," because those people are mean and evil and bigoted, and so on. I was told it was "justified" because those people cause suffering. I was told that I shouldn't make "excuses" for bigots like the Clementis and their church. Et cetera. I tried to use reason. I tried to cite examples of people who successfully and valiantly opposed bigotry and hatred while refraining from engaging in it. I'm not sure I changed the minds of the folks I was talking to, but I got some support here and there, and I think I did the right thing.

What I learned from it was this: people like hate when it's directed at their "enemies." They don't like it when it's directed at their "friends." They believe that hate is a good excuse to hate back. And they're (actually, we're) 100% wrong. Here's why.

First, anger is bad for you. People who are angry a lot may not produce sufficient acetylcholine, a hormone that helps your body combat the negative effects of adrenaline. Their nervous system overworks, leading to a weakened heart and stiffer arteries, and higher risk for liver and kidney damage, high cholesterol, depression and anxiety. In one study of almost 13,000 subjects, individuals with the highest levels of anger had twice the risk of coronary artery disease and three times the risk of heart attack as compared to the subjects with the lowest levels of anger. Frequent anger may be more dangerous than smoking and obesity as a factor that will contribute to early death. Not to mention that it makes a person really suck to be around.

Second, anger and hatred lead to more anger and hatred, ad infinitum. If you subscribe to the idea that it's ok to be angry with someone who is angry, the inevitable result is everyone getting angry. As a famous non-hater, Ghandi, once said, "An eye for an eye leaves everybody blind." Some anti-gay crusader says something hateful about gays. I respond with something hateful about his group or his church, or whatever. Someone says something hateful about "lib-tards" or some other "tard" that I am, and someone responds, and someone responds, and someone responds. When does it end? Having looked at the comment boards on news sites a lot lately, I can tell you when---Never.

Third, anger and hatred doesn't change the other guy's mind; in fact, it usually has the opposite effect. If you don't believe it, drive around any major city. There are streets named after one guy, Martin Luther King, Jr., who sought to stop racism without anger and hatred. See any named after Malcolm X? Quite the contrary, the anger of the Black Panthers is still used as a scare tactic to get white people all up in the grill of black people--forty years later.

So, tallying up; anger will kill you, it breeds more and more anger, both by and at you, and it's ineffective at making anything change. Sounds like a hell of a winner.

So, what's the alternative, if we don't get mad at the bigots and the haters? Well, here are three steps to becoming lovers and fighters for what we believe:

1) Love. Show love to the victims of the hate and anger. Support them not just in theory but in reality. Know a gay person, or a black person, or a muslim? Treat them with respect and value them as a human--not as gay or black or muslim. If the opportunity presents itself where it's not creepy, tell them you don't like what the haters are doing, and you'll stand by them if ever they need it. And mean it.

2) Love. As hard as it might be, we can try to love the hater as well. We can tell them we disagree with them, that they're wrong, that their hate isn't welcome around us. But we can do it with calm respect, without name-calling, without raised voices or capital letters or group branding (all you ____s are a bunch of ____). We can do it with the understanding that while we might not suffer from their particular brand of hate, we're all prone to it on some issue, sometime--so that anything we call them might be applied to us as well. And then we can send them on their way, not with thoughts of anger, but with hope that they may someday find a better way.

3) Love. Love yourself enough to not tear yourself to pieces angrily tilting at the windmills of hate. Ask whether you have control over any aspect of the situation, and if you do--try step 1 or 2, or both. Then let it go. Truly, and quickly, before it has the potential to raise your ire or your blood pressure for another minute.

Not an easy task, I'll admit. Even having it in the front of my mind for a couple of days now, the backspace key on my computer is getting a workout, as I self-censor my internal non-hater into full bloom. But you know what? Slowly, ever so slowly, it's working--no minor miracle for someone like me who is known for nothing so much as a quick temper and a terrier-like tenacity to "win" an argument.

I'll leave you with two more quotes, both from myself, that abruptly ended my adversaries' angry comments to me in the last couple of days, and that are, for me, uncharacteristically short and lucid:

You can't make the world a less hateful place by hating the people who hate. 

and

Anger is the nuclear weapon in our emotional arsenal. It may take out the enemy, but it poisons the whole world in the process.






Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Other Side

My last post was about how what should be a near non-issue, West Nile Virus, is hyped by the media into a frenzy of doom, every year, like clockwork.  I talked about how the media, through inflammatory language and careful wording, manage to make what is in fact a one-in-a-million occurrence into a big, scary, epidemic threat that gets repeated and drummed on over and over and over, until it scares people silly and sucks the air out of the news cycle --except of course for celebrity "news," which we always have time for. 

Now, I'd like to show you how the media does exactly the opposite, when it chooses to.  This month, the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security issued a Special Report summarizing its "significant" investigative activities during 2011.  I warn you, there are a lot of them.  If you don't have time to read them all, read a few and then scroll to the end of the indented portion to read my conclusion.
*A Customs and Border Protection agent in Texas and his now-estranged wife have pleaded guilty to being part of a cocaine smuggling ring, and he has been sentenced to 9 years in prison.  She's on the lam, after failing to appear for sentencing.

*A Border Patrol Officer has pleaded guilty to accepting bribes from drug smugglers in return for providing information to the smugglers that would facilitate the smuggling of drugs into the US without detection.  He's been sentenced to 20 months (!) in prison.

*An ICE immigration enforcement officer and some "associates" were convicted of drug trafficking as well as using his position to steal drugs from rival drug traffickers.  It seems they had the ICE agent handy to lend an air of law enforcement legitimacy when they'd bust in and steal drugs from their competition.  The officer is now serving ten years in prison.

*An ICE Special Agent pleaded guilty of illegally importing and distributing steroids on at least six occasions.   He's doing 24 months in prison.

*A Supervisory Immigration Services Officer for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services  and his son were convicted of a scheme whereby the basically sold immigration approvals in return for money.  The officer has been sentenced to 5 years in prison and the son to 4 years. During the investigation, it was discovered that one of the officer's subordinate employees was running a separate scheme in which the subordinate accepted money from as many as 10 illegal aliens in exchange for the issuance of immigration benefits. He pleaded guilty also, and wasn't yet sentenced at the time the report was written.

*A customs and Border Patrol officer was convicted for accepting a bribe to allow drugs (almost a ton of marijuana)  to pass through the border into the US.   He was sentenced to 24 months of probation

*A Customs and Border Patrol officer pleaded guilty of drug smuggling.  He admitted to having been paid to act as a lookout during the transport of the drugs across the country, as well as for delivering the sales proceeds of the drugs back to their home base.  He's been sentenced to 36 months of probation.

*A Customs and Border Patrol officer at Atlanta's airport was convicted of drug trafficking.  This officer used his security badge to bypass detection protocols at the airport and to smuggle money and guns for the drug smugglers.  He's been sentenced to 8 years in prison.

* A Customs and Border Patrol officer in Texas has admitted to repeatedly smuggling dozens of illegal immigrants into the United States for money.  He's been sentenced to 27 months in prison.

* A Customs and Border Patrol officer in Michigan has pleaded guilty to fraudulently altering a visa for an Iranian citizen (presumably to extend the holder's stay).  The officer will spend 24 months on probation.  

*An ICE Enforcement and Removal Officer was convicted of taking bribes totaling at least $28,500 to allow foreign employees of South American-themed restaurants in Illinois to extend their stays in the United States.  He was sentenced to 46 months in prison.

* A Border Patrol agent in Arizona has been convicted of drug trafficking after he used his government patrol vehicle to bypass Border Patrol traffic checkpoints to smuggle drugs into the US.  He was awaiting sentencing at the time the report was written.

*A U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services adjudications officer (a type of judge who hears immigration applications) has pleaded guilty to demanding  bribes in return for approving immigration applications.   He's going to spend a whopping 18 months in jail.

*A Detention Officer, contracted by ICE in a Louisiana facility for immigration detainees, pleaded guilty to the Sexual Abuse of a Ward or Minor after sexually assaulting a prisoner in the facility. He got 10 months in jail.

*An airport Transportation Security Officer pleaded guilty after physically assaulting two airport passengers because they were Somali.  He will spend 6 months in jail.

*A Border Patrol Agent was convicted after he punched a fellow agent and held a gun to the fellow agent's head after the fellow agent joked about the excessive amount of tactical gear the BPA routinely wore.  He was sentence to a undisclosed amount of "time served" and fired.

*A Customs and Border Patrol Officer in Michigan pleaded guilty to child porn charges after he used the internet to view child pornography and engage in sexually explicit conversations with young girls on his personal laptop computer.  Officials later found child porn images on his computer as well.  He was sentenced to 20 months in prison.

*An airport Transportation Safety Officer was convicted of child porn charges after he routinely used several Internet and social media sites to receive and distribute child pornography. He was initially identified through a picture of him wearing a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) uniform that he posted on a social media site (no one said they're smart).  He was sentenced to serve over ten years in prison.

*After receiving complaints that money and property worth over $30,000 had been stolen from passengers' luggage at the Newark, NJ airport, a Transportation Safety Officer admitted stealing currency from passengers’ carry-on bags as they were being screened at the check in point. He will serve 30 months in prison.

*A Transportation Safety Officer at the Memphis, TN airport was convicted of stealing a laptop computer  from a passenger's luggage.  He was sentenced to 8 months in jail.

*A Transportation Safety Officer at the Orland, FL airport pleaded guilty of stealing more than 80 laptop computers and other electronic devices, valued at $80,000, from passenger luggage and fencing the items in Osceola County, FL. He was sentenced to 24 months of probation.

*An ICE Immigration Enforcement Agent pleaded guilty to charges that, while under surveillance, in uniform, armed and on duty, he purchased crack cocaine while in uniform, armed, and in control of his government-owned vehicle.  He also admitted to introducing contraband cigarettes into a local jail. He received a 60-day jail sentence and 5 years probation.

*A Customs and Border Patrol technician in Boston, MA, and an accomplice pleaded guilty to stealing a U.S. Customs Declaration form that had been filled out by Astronaut Neil Armstrong as he passed through Logan International Airport. The technician and his buddy attempted to sell it on an auction collectibles website.  He's been sentenced to 24 months probation.

*A Border Patrol Agent in North Dakota pleaded guilty to making false statements after he falsely reported that he and his family were being threatened and stalked in order to try to get a transfer to the southwest.  He was awaiting sentencing at the time the report was written.

*An ICE New York Field Office Mission Support Specialist pleaded guilty to "steering" contracts valued at approximately $1 million to three companies in which he or a family member owned.  As part of his plea agreement, he agreed to forfeit cash and property valued at $200,000, and he was sentenced to 6 months of imprisonment, 24 months of supervised release and a $5,000 fine.

*An ICE contract security guard pleaded guilty to receiving money from ICE detainees for the crystal methamphetamine, cocaine, ecstasy, and marijuana that he smuggled into the detention center, and to using cocaine with the detainees while on duty.  He was awaiting sentencing at the time the report was written.

*A Federal Protective Service (federal police) contracting officer, pleaded guilty to conspiracy after receiving bribes of airline tickets, hotel stays, golf expenditures, and the promise of post government employment, in exchange for favorable references that resulted in the continuance of a multimillion-dollar contract for private security services at federal facilities.  He received 36 months probation.

*A Federal Protective Service employee in Maryland  was convicted of engaging in a fraudulent marriage that gained immigration benefits for an unqualified person.  The analyst was convicted and sentenced to 12 months of probation and 4 months of home detention.

*A Department of Homeland Security contract security guard, and his relative, an SBA employee, were convicted of conspiring to fraudulently receive $171,600 in SBA loans based on fraudulent loan documents they submitted to SBA. They were sentenced to 21 months in prison and to repay $85,800.

*A FEMA representative was convicted of using her access to FEMA data systems to steal over $700,000 of benefits from more than 60 eligible FEMA applicants.  She received 82 months in prison, 60 months of probation, and was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $721,000.

*A company contracted by the Federal Protective Service to provide armed security guards for Federal buildings admitted to intentionally falsifying certifications for firearms, CPR and defibrlilator training, the United Sates Attorney declined to prosecute in favor of a temporary debarment on FPS contracts.

*A U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Supervisory Adjudication Officer (head judge) in Fairfax, VA was convicted of  illegally granting residency and falsified documents to more than 100 unqualified immigrants. He received more than $600,000 in bribes to do so. He was sentenced to 180 months in prison.

*A Department of Homeland Security employee in Washington, DC, pleaded guilty to helping a contractor fraudulently obtain a DHS security contract by providing internal DHS information that was used by the contractor to ensure it got the bid on the contract.  He was sentenced to 12 months of probation and barred from future employment with the Federal Government.

*An ICE  Supervisory Special Agent pleaded guilty to stealing between $30,000 and $70,000 in government-owned equipment, including printer cartridges, flashlights, law enforcement equipment, and portable radios, and selling it on eBay.  He pleaded guilty to the thefts, resigned his position and was awaiting sentencing at the time of the report.

*A contractor to United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology pleaded guilty to stealing five DHS laptop computers worth more than $8,000 and selling them to various pawnshops in Maryland. He was sentenced to 12 months of probation and $650 in restitution.

*An ICE Research Specialist pleaded guilty to improperly using his government-issued credit card, and his diplomatic passport, and submitting fraudulent travel vouchers for travel that cost more than $116,000.  He was sentenced to 145 months and 1 day of incarceration and 36 months of supervised release. 
*A Border Patrol Agent pleaded guilty in a tax and mortgage loan scheme in which  he purchased two homes by submitting false loan applications that contained grossly inflated income statements, then allowed the homes to go into foreclosure, resulting in a loss to two financial institutions of approximately $400,000. He later prepared and submitted false income tax returns that claimed the foreclosures as a loss. He pleaded guilty Wire Fraud and Tax Fraud.  His punishment was not specified in the report.

Those are all in one year, 2011, and only the "significant" items that were concluded in that year.   

According to the report, in total,  the Inspector General received and reviewed 19,848 allegations of wrongdoing involving DHS.  Those complaints resulted in 1,389 investigations being initiated, 318 arrests, 206 indictments, and 260 convictions.   In ONE YEAR.  And keep in mind that the Department of Homeland Security is a law enforcement agency--the folks we pay to keep us safe from criminals.

So, let's compare this news to West Nile.  So far this year, out of about 311 million people in the US, 1221 cases and 43 deaths have been reported.   This is about 4 cases per million people, and 1 death per ten million people.  

On the other hand, out of the approximately 225,000 people working for DHS, 260 were convicted in 2011 of a crime.   That means that at least 1 per 1000 DHS workers are criminals.   That would work out to 1,000 per 1 million, or 10,000 per 10 million.  So, DHS workers are 10,000 times more likely to be criminals than you are to die of West Nile. 

How about this?  Just in the "significant" case descriptions, there are listed 10 concluded cases of DHS workers trafficking drugs.  Out of 225,000 total workers, that comes out to 440 cases per ten million.  In other words, it's about 440 times as likely that a DHS worker is a drug trafficker than that he or she (or you) will die of West Nile.

Even pedophiles are well represented.  In the "significant" case listings, there are two concluded cases of DHS workers in possession of and trafficking child pornography.  2 per 225,000, or almost 9 cases per million.  So, statistically, you are 9 times more likely to have a pedophile in charge of patting down your kid or grandkid as you pass through an airport, than to die of West Nile. 

Now, I do recall hearing a snippet here or there on the news about some of this type of allegation regarding the DHS.  But, nothing even approaching the wall-to-wall coverage that West Nile is getting.  I haven't heard of Matt Lauer sitting down on the Today show with his earnest little face, getting up in the grill  of a DHS official about the "epidemic" of criminality in the government agencies charged with keeping us "safe,"  have you?

And even though this report has just been released (as of August 12), when I Googled "Department of Homeland Security" just now, on the first page of results, I got several DHS websites, a couple of news stories about supposed "threats" that are being talked about by DHS, and ONE, just one story about impropriety in the agency--a sexual harassment allegation against the ICE Chief of Staff.   In other words, not a peep about this report or the cases described in it.  

So, why is that?  Why do we hear so much hype and doom about a rather remote danger, and so precious little about the fact that our government is peppered with pedophiles, drug dealers, bribe takers, and thieves?  Well, my guess is because we get told just exactly what they want us to know.  




Friday, August 24, 2012

The Warm Squishy Pile

The past couple of days, annoyed by the mindless drivel that passes for news in our culture (Angelina marries/divorces ____ ), and inspired to try to inform people who don't run across my blog site, I've been commenting on stupidity that I've found in news websites. I know I'm not going to fix all stupid, but dammit, One Bite at a Time--right?

I had an interesting experience that I want to tell you about. I think it's instructive.

I was on a liberal-leaning news site and read the typical "sky is falling and we're all going to die" article about West Nile Virus. The headline screamed about the "alarming" increase in West Nile, and the article itself talked about how the hot weather this year was responsible for one of the "worst outbreaks" of West Nile "in history." It went on to say there are "four times" as many cases this year as average, and the rate of new cases is "accelerating." Good Lord, why didn't I buy that advance funeral plan!?

Then buried in the middle of the article were a few statistics that didn't quite make sense with the hair-on-fire narrative they were pushing. It said,
Only about 1 in 5 infected people get sick. Early symptoms can include fever, headache and body aches. Some recover in a matter of days. But 1 in 150 infected people will develop severe symptoms including neck stiffness, disorientation, coma and paralysis.
But they quickly returned to "alarming" rates of WNV in certain locations, how worrying it all is, and how they've been spraying the snot out of those areas, and right at the end, two little sentences of what seemed to me to be the most important part:
The best way to prevent West Nile disease is to avoid mosquito bites. Insect repellents, screens on doors and windows, and wearing long sleeves and pants are some of the recommended strategies. Also, empty standing water from buckets, kiddie pools and other places to discourage breeding.
There's the scenario. Now, I'm kind of a pragmatist when it comes to this kind of thing, and I hardly ever believe that the sky is falling, because it so rarely has. So I did a little research and went on the comments section and said that their article was slanted to make the problem seem worse than it is--"fear porn" I called it. And I presented facts to show why.

For example, in areas that have reported cases of the virus, only 1 in 100 to 1 in 500 mosquitoes actually carry it. Even once bitten and infected, only 20% of people get sick at all, and less than 1% of infected people get seriously ill. Among the people who do get seriously ill, only 3-15% have historically died of the disease. The majority of those are older people with compromised immune systems.

So, here's how I look at it. If I live in an affected area, statistically I will need to get between 100 and 500 mosquito bites to get infected with the virus. Then, once infected, there's an 80% chance I won't get sick at all. Even if I do get sick, I have a 99 percent chance it won't be serious--I'll have some body aches and fever and be good to go in a couple of days. Even if I'm the unlucky one in a hundred who gets seriously ill, I still have an 85-97 percent chance of survival. Overall, the chances of dying of this disease are between 1 and 3 in a million. That's hardly worth a spark, much less hair-on-fire.

If I don't live in an affected area, have a healthy immune system, drain standing water where the skeeters breed, avoid bites by wearing protective clothes and repellant and stay inside at dusk, well then, my chances of being dead from this are just about nil. And you know, statistically, we have a greater chance of dying in a car accident on any given day than of dying of West Nile all year. We also have a greater chance of dying by lightning than West Nile! And oddly, neither the "epidemic" of auto fatalities nor the "alarming outbreak" of deadly lightning strikes gets half the press as the annual, like-clockwork freak out over West Nile Virus.

So, I pointed this out in my comments. I said that this is not an issue we should be worrying about. I said the media is being irresponsible in the manner in which they are presenting this information, by scaring and inflaming people when they should be informing and calming people--because after all, it's a one-in-a-million thing.

And I got attacked. Two people pursued me through the comment boards, angrily telling me that this was "valuable public health information," that "epidemics" grow exponentially and in 1916-17 very few people got the Spanish flu but then in 1918, 20 million (!) people died of it, and that if I didn't like the information, I should just ignore it, because that "is the root of ignorance." There were exclamation points and capital letters, and more than a little snarky condescension. And only one guy made one comment defending what I said.

I tell this whole story because it showed me something really illuminating: people like to be scared. They especially like to be scared of something that they think can be controlled without effort on their part, say by public officials blanketing hundreds of square miles with synthetic pyrethroid toxins that may have adverse effects on human health, and that may kill a portion of mosquitoes but will also kill pollinators and beneficial insects that reduce the mosquito population, like dragonflies. But it will stop the threat, or so it seems.

It's handy, I suppose, to take all your stress and fear of the unknown, and all your insecurities and uncertainties, and rake them all up and put them in a warm squishy pile, and attach to it the unattractive image of a "villain," and then comfort yourself with the notion that someone else spraying a few thousand gallons of insecticide (or making a law, or putting someone in jail or dropping bombs) will take care of it all. Easy peasy. A nice neat solution that someone else has to take care of. And you can quickly resolve your anxiety and go back to your Facebook. At least until the next news item.

It occurred to me after I'd thought about it that it's sort of like the "jones" that you get as an addict when you need a fix, followed by the silken relief you feel when you use. Only their jones is their fear and anxiety, and their fix is the cooked-up, bumper-sticker-worthy solution that some nice man from the government always provides.

It seems that my experience in the comment boards was one of an interventionist, and my scrutiny of their fear addiction was just as anger-inducing as its substance-abuse counterpart. I had called attention to their addiction--found the fifth of gin hidden in the dog food bag and confronted them with it. And I threatened their convenient and familiar cycle--make warm squishy pile, attach villain, await savior, repeat--jones/fix/jones again.

People don't like to look at their own mind games. They don't like it when their red herring fears are debunked. They don't like to see that they are playing out a continual Hegelian dialectic cycle of "problem, reaction, solution" that keeps us focusing everywhere but where we should be.

Because if you can't focus on the mosquitoes (and the easy, if toxic, "solution" to them) you might have to focus on the real problems in the world. Those are much harder to get rid of than West Nile Virus, and they're not going to go away by someone else's action. Those, we're gonna have to get rid of ourselves.






Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Acme Translating Services

Well, so there's been the huge flap in the news about candidate for Senate, Rep. Todd Akin (R)-MO. He's the one who basically said that there doesn't need to be an exception for rape in a desired prohibition on abortion, because it would be "very rare" that a "legitimate rape" would result in a pregnancy. This is because, apparently in Missouri at least, a woman's body is capable of preventing a pregnancy in the case of said "legitimate rape."

Now, presumably, Rep. Akin is meaning to distinguish "legitimate rape"--that's the kind perpetrated when a Black man rapes a white woman, or where the woman is so badly injured that the rapist can't claim she just "likes it rough"--from other alleged rapes, which are the illegitimate kind. All of this is so confusing, I thought I'd break out my handy-dandy Missouri Politician's Guide to the English Language to decode his heartfelt apology. This was originally posted by me as a comment on the CNN website's story online earlier this morning. I hope you find my translation illuminating.

AKIN POLITISPEAK: "Rape is an evil act. I used thewrong words in the wrong way and for that I apologize. As the father of twodaughters I want tough justice for predators. I have a compassionate heart forthe victims of sexual assault and I pray for them. The fact is rape can lead topregnancy. The truth is rape has many victims. The mistake I made was in thewords I said, not in the heart I hold. I ask for your forgiveness."

TRANSLATION: "Rape is what women want, most of the time. Because I am a geezerand a misogynist, I said what I reallybelieve--that most 'rapes' are just sour grapes because he didn't call the nextday. But then a bunch of pollsters toldme that my campaign funds would dry up for saying that, because big business,who is funding my campaign, can't afford to be associated with such a comment,since women make most of the buying decisions, and since at least one in fourof them have cried rape after he didn't call. So now I'm crying crocodile tears and saying sorry, so that maybe mycorporate sponsorship will have an out for giving me some more money to buy myvote in the Senate, if I'm so lucky as to be made a passenger on that gravytrain. Thank you and may my Lily-White,Male-Dominant, Christians-Only GOD bless your sorry, pathetic souls--even thoseof you wimmen."

TRANSLATION ENDED.