Feed on

When I travel by air, I politely endure the TSA security checks. But I’m not willing to give up my civil rights because of fear of terrorism. As Ben Franklin said, those who would sacrifice liberty for security, deserve neither.

What’s going on at airports around the country is starting a groundswell of outrage.

Consider the following:

An eight year old boy is partially strip-searched in public.

A man with bladder cancer, who went out of his way to tell TSA officers that his urine bag and hoses might look suspicious, is strip-searched anyway, so roughly that despite his pleas that they take care, the TSA personnel rupture the seal on his apparatus and leave him drenched in urine and humiliated. The agents not only fail to apologize, but refuse to offer him help in any way.

A man carrying $4700.00 in cash is abusively and coercively questioned by TSA personnel who are apparently infuriated that he is asserting his right to due process.

If you refuse to enter a full-body scanner, and you might because the radiation risk is real, you’re subjected to a pretty invasive enhanced pat down. The person groping you need not even be of the same gender. If you go on YouTube you can find examples of quite invasive searches being performed right out in the open. And why are those invasive pat downs happening in public? To train you. You watch the other guy being humiliated, and you say, what the hell, I’ll get scanned. Yet our stringent security rules are, as the TV program 60 Minutes noted, largely theater. One has only to note that the notoriously security-conscious Israelis have check in procedures that are far less invasive.

And if the TSA agent is still suspicious, or just doesn’t like you, and calls for an even more invasive cavity search, they’re not even required to change the rubber gloves they’ve been using unless you demand it.

Imagine you’re traveling with your 12-year-old daughter. For some reason unbeknownst to you, perhaps because you’re of Arab descent, or because you merely annoyed a TSA agent, or simply because he’d like to fondle her, your daughter is taken away from you and cavity searched by a man, wearing rubber gloves he’s used to search 5 other people. How would you feel? How would your daughter feel? Would you really put up with this? Well, increasingly, people are. The boogieman of terrorism, so deftly employed by Hermann Goebbels and Dick Cheney alike, has once again coerced a population into unthinking passivity.

You may think they have the right the right to do these things to you, but they don’t. If you don’t care if you miss your flight and you’re willing to stand your ground, you can demand the presence of a real law enforcement officer. By and large, police officers are much more cognizant of the law, and your rights. Moreover, your average cop will look at you, size you up, profile you, if you will, based on his instincts, training and experience, and decline to take your clothes off. And even if he does search you, chances are 99 out of 100 that it’ll be more professional and less invasive.

TSA officers are NOT law enforcement officers. They do not have the right to search you against your will, yet they have. They do not have the right to detain and restrain you, harass and coerce you, yet they have. And if you decide that you don’t want to be scanned, and you don’t want your child subjected to groping, and you merely try to leave, you can be liable for an $11,000 fine. Just for refusing to be humiliated or irradiated. Land of the free? I don’t think so.

The behavior we’re being subjected to is progressively desensitizing us to our rights, and will progressively increase our passivity if we don’t fight back.

This is how sheep are trained. This is how you eventually end up with a nation of easily coerced, passive citizens who have forgotten how to stand up for their individual and collective rights. And in the end, this is how you can end up with boxcars to Auschwitz, the killing fields, and the Cultural Revolution.

Remember, many of those people walking into boxcars weren’t facing machine guns; they were merely following the orders of people in uniform.

If one airline passenger refuses these humiliations, nothing will change. But if 20 or 30 passengers per flight refuse, and demand to be searched by a real cop, not a rent-a-cop with a chip on his shoulder and a 3rd grade education, things will change.

Thursday is the busiest travel day of the year. If on that day, ten percent of all travelers refuse to go through carcinogenic scanning, and refuse to let TSA personnel fondle them, and request a law enforcement officer instead, this policy will reverse course quickly.


Big government is the new boogieman. Or should I say the old one. Ronald Reagan famously said that government is the problem, and this simplistic statement has found resonance with generations of conservatives, from the greedy elites, who adore the fallacies of trickle-down economics, to the angry populists of the tea party movement.


When it comes to the tea partiers, their new-found hysteria over deficits underscores how well they’ve been manipulated by the likes of Beck and Hannity, because during Bush’s 8 years, while deficit spending soared, not least because of unprecedented tax breaks for the super rich that yielded little for the middle class, the tea partiers, the pundits, and the Republican congressmen and senators who now loudly decry Obama’s deficit spending were all curiously silent. In fact, those elected officials were actually complicit, voting for drug bills, increased privatization, boondoggle arms procurements, no bid contracts, tax breaks, and, of course, ill-fated military adventures, all of which cost every tax payer dearly. Now they shed crocodile tears and have become born-again fiscal conservatives.


And the average Joe on the street has likewise once again caught the fever of fiscal conservatism; Except when it comes to his tax breaks; Or our obscene and ultimately untenable military budget; Or the two wars that are costing more than all of the fiscal stimulus plans put together.


What’s more, that same man on the street, who somehow feels that taxes are an unnecessary burden, expects the National Guard to save his house from floods, the forest service to protect his home from wildfires, the military to protect him from foreign aggression and domestic insurrection; Somehow.


Even more of a disconnect becomes apparent when you study the demographics of these fiscal conservatives. They dominate the red states that voted for Bush Cheney, and also for McCain Palin. But most of the red states are fiscal leaches, net beneficiaries of federal funding to states. In fact, some 76% of the states that voted for Bush in 2000 are pigs at the federal trough, taking far more than their fair share. Some of the worst offenders include that fiercely independent state, North Dakota, which gets over 2 dollars back from evil big government for every dollar it puts in. Mississippi, which nets $1.84, and of course, when you include their unshared oil revenues, America’s biggest socialist experiment and welfare state, Alaska.


And the biggest losers? Places like New York, Massachusetts, and California. Those miserable liberals who want to waste people’s hard-earned tax dollars are wasting them on… subsidizing born-again populists who keep whining about the bloated federal government while they feast on its largesse. It’s so ironic as to be laughable, but I’m not laughing. At a tea party meetup the other day, a speaker accused the federal government of ‘stealing our hard-earned tax dollars to send to those liberals back east’ – an almost complete inversion of the facts.


But let’s not confuse these folks with the truth. The fact is that almost all of the Bush tax cut money went to the super-rich. A stunning 1.8 trillion dollars, a sum that exceeds even the health care bill. That, plus his reckless war in Iraq has cost the American taxpayer far, far more than any Democratic president in modern history, but that’s another inconvenient truth.


Ironically, what damaged Bush’s reputation the most was not his profligate spending and mad cowboy disease warmongering. What really turned the American people against him was the failure of big government after Katrina. People were rightly incensed that the most powerful country in the world seemed completely helpless and useless. Some even blamed big government for this, pointing out that Wal Mart and other non-governmental organizations provided speedier, more efficient aid. But they missed the larger point: the capable James Lee Witt, director of FEMA during the Clinton administration, was sacked by Bush and replaced with the clueless, do nothing, fiddle-while-Rome-burns ,‘Brownie’, Michael Brown. Under Bush, FEMA’s budget was slashed, and it once again became a dumping ground for political appointees, hacks like Brown who were owed favors. It wasn’t big government by its nature that failed the residents of the Gulf coast, but rather the hollowing out of big government, which has been destroyed by privatization, budget cuts, and cronyism.


If the tea partiers really want to put their money where their mouth is, they should start sending our government the money they’re stealing from the liberals back East.



My car is festooned with bumper stickers. Some favorites include “Abstinence Makes the Church Grow Fondlers”, “Alternative Energy is Homeland Security” and “These Colors Don’t Run… the World”. This last one in particular seems to provoke the ire of right wingers.


Recently I picked up a new deer rifle at a local sporting goods store. As I returned to my car, I found a note on the windshield that said “Expletive you and your Expletive Commie Bumper Stickers”. It also had a rather fetching smiley face drawn at the bottom as a lovely coda.


Sure, ‘Commie’ is one of those all-purpose epithets that has essentially lost all meaning to most who wield it, but since I’d just seen Michael Moore’s film about Capitalism, I began to wonder, am I a Commie?


With apologies to Michael Moore, I think I’m actually a bit of a Capitalist. Certainly, I do not believe in an equal share of wealth for everyone. For example, I do not believe that a lazy person deserves my standard of living.


I also believe that this thing called the ‘profit motive’ which Moore seems to find distasteful, obviously works. One has only to look at China and Russia: when their collective farms were given the opportunity to sell some of their harvest on the open market and keep the profit, giving them a direct incentive to work harder, their production soared.


This is human nature. In fact, when you take studies of such diverse animals as chimps and macaws into account, one might even make a case that it’s a near universal natural law of social economy, replete with ancillary laws such as ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’.


I believe in a meritocracy. You work hard, you contribute; you live better. You’re lazy, shirk your duty, you live worse. And I believe in private property. I’m hardly a ‘Commie’.


But that doesn’t mean I believe in the greedy, self-destructive form of Capitalism we have today. Our current system is like a snake eating its own tail. It is so obsessed with short-term profit that it is actively consuming itself.


The environment is despoiled for short term gain. Dishonesty and poor workmanship are rewarded for those well-connected. And most alarming, human capital – the experience and skills of innumerable workers, is squandered and often thrown away like scrap iron.


And, because the true cost some commodities, like coal and nuclear power, are not rolled into their market value, they remain artificially cheap when compared to more environmentally benign technologies like solar and wind.


The system is rigged. It’s not a free-market at all. It’s not true capitalism. It is, indeed, a bit closer to the tenets of fascism, which might be paraphrased a bit like ‘what’s good for business is good for America’. That, assumes, of course, that this thing we call business, has America’s best interests at heart. It doesn’t. Corporations are soul-less creations with no morality and only one imperative: make a profit at all costs. If a human were so constructed, he’d be called a dangerous psychopath.


Instead of free market Capitalism, we have the worst of both worlds: a largely unregulated economic system that rewards greed, human degradation and environmental destruction, and a nice safe back-door policy that has made sure, since at least the 1880’s, that the truly huge players are protected from their own recklessness.


The irony is that if we lived in an actual laissez faire Capitalist system, while many things would be worse, there would also be no bailouts, no ‘too big to fail’.


 Halliburton would go broke because their shoddy construction that electrocutes troops and their vastly overpriced consulting fees would fail in a truly free market.


No bid government contracts would cease to exist.


Large banks and brokerage houses that took daredevil risks with their investments would go bust, probably triggering a vast meltdown as their underwriters, like Goldman Sacks, also failed.


In a true ‘free market’, who you know, and who you contributed campaign dollars and other forms of bribery to, wouldn’t matter; which is, of course, why the idea of a true ‘free market economy’ is a total fiction. We are chattel, bought and paid for by transnational corporations just like coal or soybeans. There’s nothing ‘free’ about it.


I have a friend. She’s been a self-employed craftsperson involved in home construction and renovation for 25 years down in South Carolina. For all those years she’s paid her taxes and social security, her own health insurance, and reared a son largely as a single mother.


Recently, her business has all but disappeared due to the recession and the housing crisis. She was having trouble paying the mortgage, so she decided to seek help.


She’d had her first workshop in a rundown part of town, and had seen innumerable welfare families provided with not only housing, but TVs and furniture paid for by the state from the local rent-a-center. Given her neighbors experience, Welfare seemed like an obvious candidate. So, she went down to the office to see what help there was, what the system she’d paid into so loyally all these years as a hard working entrepreneur could give back to her in her time of need.


After her meeting, she called me, incredulous. Yes, they offered to help. They would give her 554.00 a month, garnish her monthly 500.00 in child support, and put a lien on her house. Wow – she could sign over control of her house for a net gain of 54.00 a month! She just couldn’t understand it – what about all of those families that had cars, TVs, apartments, food, medical care, and never, ever worked?


This is the great failure of liberalism. The remnant of LBJ’s Great Society is a social support system that rewards sloth and dysfunction, but has nothing substantial to offer someone of means who has hit a rough patch.


If you own nothing in this country and you’re adept at gaming the system - especially through warehousing foster children – you can live well. Perhaps not luxuriantly, but you can have food, shelter, medical care, and even entertainment. But if you have a job, and own a house, a car, and things get rough, that same network of social services is indifferent to your plight at best, hostile at worst..


There is something wrong with a system that completely neglects the working and middle classes in favor of the welfare class. In fact, there’s something wrong with the entire idea of welfare, except for those who are profoundly disabled. I’ve come to believe that Liberalism jumped the shark with welfare. A state that protects people from dire misfortune and shelters the helpless is to be lauded. But one that coddles the lazy and dishonest, in fact creates entire generations of people for whom hard work and responsibility are alien concepts, is bound to rot from within.


Instead of welfare, America should have committed itself, should now commit itself, to full employment for all who want to work. The recent ‘workfare’ programs were an attempt to reverse this dysfunction, but they are deeply flawed, as they’ve often forced people into little more than indentured servitude – dangerous and humiliating work at less than the minimum wage. People need and deserve a living wage, and their dignity.


There must be better solutions out there. Our government subsidizes crops, the oil and gas industry, the elderly and infirm, and yes, the lazy. Could they subsidize a permanent worker training and employment program instead of the latter? Massive 1930’s style public works projects that trained and then employed millions? I don’t know. I only know that the system as it stands is broken - that if you give generations of people something for nothing, you breed dependence, not freedom.


And we also need to help the struggling working class! They’re drowning and no-one’s throwing them a life preserver. My friend doesn’t have any big credit card debts. Her mortgage is modest and at a very low interest rate. Her distress is not due to rampant personal greed or living beyond her means, as Limbaugh and his ilk would have it.


Rather, she’s a victim of the business cycle, the booms and busts that have accompanied capitalism since perhaps the first barter of labor for grain was made in ancient Sumer.


The question is, do we want a society that buffers hardworking members from these implosions, provides a port in the storm for its workers, or one that leaves them to drown while its right flank protects the fatcats and its left, the layabouts?



Obama Sells Out

Shortly after Obama was inaugurated, I wrote a commentary that was quite critical of his economic team, which was composed of the very people who had created the financial crisis in the first place. I ended the commentary by suggesting that the age of Obama was starting to sound more like ‘meet the new boss, same as the old boss’ than ‘a change is gonna come’.


But disillusioned as I’d become about his domestic agenda, I still hoped that Obama would shine on foreign policy – that he might truly turn the ungainly ship of Empire around and return it to port. After all, it’s quite clear that America is following a long line of Imperial mistakes before it, vitiating itself with ever more military adventures, while provoking the ire of subjugated peoples, who are increasingly fighting back, weakening America like Lilliputians tying down Gulliver.


But here, again, Obama has either caved to his corporate masters, or is showing his own true colors. He hasn’t extracted us from either of the costly wars we’re mired in; he’s escalated our involvement, apparently heeding the specious advice to ‘listen to the commanders on the ground’. Those commanders not surprisingly say what such men have always said, everywhere, throughout history: give us more men and arms and we’ll get the job done. Because their only tool is the hammer of military might, they perceive everything as a nail that must be struck repeatedly.


Obama’s taken the Bush position that suspects can be held indefinitely without trial at our new Guantanamo, Bagram Air Force base.


His administration has decided to continue the Bush policy of rendition, wherein suspects are picked up the world over and sent to ‘friendly regimes’ for questioning. The administration reassured the public that this policy would be closely monitored to prevent ‘prisoner abuse’. The entire purpose of rendition is to move a suspect to a country that has more brutal interrogation methods than our own! It’s extra-legal government-executed kidnapping that completely undermines American verbiage about ‘respecting the rule of law’.


Then Obama refused to do anything more than lightly slap Israel’s wrist when that country once again threw gasoline on the fire by confiscating more land, tearing down more Palestinian housing, and going on a spree of new settlement building. The Palestinians have wisely refused to negotiate with Israel until this madness stops, but Obama is offering no carrot, and more importantly no stick, to compel the Israelis. Even George Bush senior was tougher on them, once suggesting that he would cease supporting loan guarantees for Israel if they didn’t stop building.


President Obama is going to Copenhagen for climate talks, it’s true, and on the environment he is clearly a better president than either Bush was, but it’s still too little, too late. The massive public-works projects in renewable energy that this administration could have spent the stimulus money on have been largely swapped for bureaucratic expansion and conventional highway construction. His approach is more fiddling while Rome burns, than ‘change we can believe in’.


White house visitor logs show that our president is eschewing meetings with progressive voices on health coverage, the economy, the environment, and economic justice, meeting instead with corporate interests and their lobbyists on these very subjects. Sound familiar?


And this week, Mr. Obama topped it all. Our newly-minted Nobel Prize winner’s administration stated that the United States has decided to maintain the Bush administration's refusal to sign an international treaty banning land mines.


But that makes sense: not only does America spend more on defense-related matters than all other countries on earth combined, but it’s also the biggest arms dealer, the biggest supplier of weapons of destruction, both mass and individual, on our planet as well.


Frankly, I’m disgusted. Far from being instruments of seismic change, Obama’s policies support the status quo with an almost slavish fealty. I can’t for the life of me understand the hysterical comparisons of Obama to Stalin and Hitler on the right. These must be engendered by racism, pure and simple, because far from being on the radical fringe, Mr. Obama appears to be a middle of the road, bought-and-paid-for tool of corporate America, offering us a sort of ‘Bush Light’ foreign and domestic policy.


At the end of the day, the man who wrote the brilliant, touching and humane ‘Dreams from my father’, and promised us sweeping change, has sold out himself, and all those who believed in him. But it’s our fault; for once again we wanted, needed to believe that this country could change, even though all of its institutions, from the legislative, executive and judicial branches to its ‘free’ press, are now basically appendages of multi-national corporations.


There’s more than one healthcare crisis in this country. Of course, there’s the issue of coverage for everyone, but another crisis is exemplified by just how callous, narrow-minded, and often ineffectual our current medical system is.


17 years ago I was paralyzed from the neck down with a crushed spinal cord and brain damage. Thankfully, my total quadriplegia was short-lived and through both hard work and good luck I was able to recover most of my previous abilities.


But the sad truth was that most of my recovery was achieved not because of, but rather in spite of our vaunted medical system. Very little of it was due to traditional Western medical treatment. In fact, even when I was completely paralyzed and in almost inconceivable pain, I still had to summon the strength and fortitude to argue many times with the hospital staff to force access to alternative and non-traditional therapies.


I even had to fight to see my own chart, because once they found that I was having my wife read it me, they physically removed it. My entire hospitalization seemed designed to disempower me, to leave me helpless and dependent.


The assaults on my sanity and dignity that I suffered while a quadriplegic were extreme: One day a doctor breezed into my room with a gaggle of mostly female medical students in tow. He ripped off my sheet without even a ‘hello’, leaving me completely naked and shivering, and proclaimed ‘this man is obviously seriously neurologically compromised and will never function normally or walk again’. He then breezed out, without even bothering to cover me up. I shudder to think that this is the bedside manner taught to medical students, and I am amazed that doctors are either not cognizant of the profound psychological effects that their pronouncements have on patients, or simply don’t care. The power of suggestion, especially from an authority figure like a doctor, is a real, palpable phenomenon, yet they continue to blithely say terribly frightening and destructive things, ignorant of the fact that their words can have physical, even mortal consequences.


Another day I was dragged off, without warning or explanation, and left shivering on a gurney alone in a back hallway for hours, until I was finally dragged off somewhere else for a new round of tests.


I was traumatized, not just by my accident, but by this inhumane treatment. Some of the staff, particularly the doctors, treated me as an idiot or some kind of manikin, to be poked and prodded without regard for my pain, my emotions, or my dignity. And in all the time I was there, not one mental health professional visited me to see if they could help me retain my sanity and process what was happening to me.


Even more ironic was the reaction I got when I exceeded the doctor’s expectations wildly.


At best, I was supposed to never be able to handle stairs again, and to be in rehab for 6 months. Instead, I left after 3 weeks under my own power to a four story walk-up apartment. When I returned for a check up 6 weeks later, the neurologists clustered around me, amazed that my right arm, which had been clenched like a stroke-victim’s, was now working quite well. They proclaimed me a ‘miracle’. When I interjected that I was most certainly not a miracle, but rather the product of much hard work and Chinese Medicine, Chi Gung, and numerous other alternative therapies, they demurred – “oh, we don’t believe in that ‘chi’ claptrap”, they said.


There was no open-mindedness among these supposedly empirical, scientific men, and no real curiosity about how I’d accomplished my practically unprecedented recovery. They knew better than the patient, case closed. They then prescribed a powerful drug for my spasticity that almost killed me. I quit the drug and redoubled my chi gung , which didn’t mask the rigidity and spasticity as the drug did, but rather allowed me to access my clenched muscles and learn how to release them.


It’s ironic that in the years since, when my symptoms have returned, it is always the alternative therapies, the ones not covered by my insurance, which have helped me. Countless other people challenged by chronic disease or injury have also found their most efficacious treatment in alternative, unsanctioned modalities.


Double-blind studies have proven the efficacy of some of these, like homeopathy and chi-gung – even though Western medicine can’t figure out how they work.


But homeopathic medicine is cheap, and chi-gung, once you know it, is free. There’s no profit in it for the corporate medical infrastructure. And so instead we have a system that promotes big-ticket items like MRIs, radioactive tracers, and expensive and dangerous drugs.


It’s been known for years that two people can have equally disturbing x-rays and MRIs, yet one can be wheelchair-bound and  in terrible pain while the other plays tennis daily with no symptoms – but Western medicine seems oddly incurious about these suggestive nuances..


Luckily for me, I tend to rail against authority, so the dire pronouncements I’ve received have been more like challenges. A doctor tells me I’ll never walk again, I say oh yeah? And then I proceed to hike, bike, scuba dive, and generally thumb my nose at his supposed authority.


But not everyone is as rebellious or perhaps resilient as I have been. We need a health care system that is interested in results, not the bottom line, and we need to educate our doctors to retain their humanity, to foster a real connection with their patients, and to be cognizant of their patient’s internal lives and psychological needs.


Recently, a doctor told me that I had the worst spine she’d seen in thirty years. What possible therapeutic value was there in this comment? It only served to frighten and depress me. Why on earth didn’t she know that? Why aren’t doctors trained to be people first, healers second, and technicians third, instead of the other way around? When was the last time a radiologist or neurosurgeon or even your GP or internist touched you, either physically or emotionally, in a warm, giving, empathetic way? When did they engage in a meaningful dialogue wherein they listened respectfully as you described your symptoms without constant interjection? When was the last time you felt cared for, in the truest sense of the word? If the answer is recently, count yourself among the very lucky. Most of us are stuck with overworked, unimaginative technicians who throw drugs and MRIs at everything by reflex.


We need a healthcare system that treats people – doctors and patients - as thinking, feeling individuals, not pieces of meat; one that prizes prevention and personal do-it-yourself responsibility over risky procedures and overlapping prescriptions of drugs, all of which interact in ill-understood ways to produce vicious side effects. Our healthcare industry in general has strayed away from the true meaning of healing. It’s become a haven for apparatchiks, technocrats, arrogant high-priests, and cynical businessmen.


Here, as in so many other areas of our society, empathy, and humanity need to be restored to the fore for real healing to take place.


Recently there was an article on natural gas extraction in the NY Times. It was basically a cheerleading essay on how the wonderful new technology of ‘fracking’ was going to exponentially increase the world’s natural gas supply. There was not one single word in the entire article about this technology’s serious environmental repercussions – from its use of large quantities of highly toxic chemicals, to the truly incredible quantities of water it requires.


This led me to think more and more about how our media have changed in my lifetime.


When I was a kid, the horrors of Vietnam were in our living rooms, and our magazines. As a young child, I was traumatized to see pictures of napalmed children in a copy of Newsweek while waiting in a pediatrician’s office. Until that moment, I’d been an innocent 5 year old, never dreaming that people could do that to other people, let alone that my country could be the perpetrator of such unalloyed horrors.


But as traumatic as that experience was, it’s far preferable to the embedded media we have now, which show us gee-whiz video game footage of smart bombs, but barely any pictures of the carnage, the reality of war. People the world over have been flooded with images of the true human cost to innocent civilians of our shock and awe campaign in Iraq and our incessant airstrikes in Pakistan and Afghanistan. But here in the US, we barely see a trickle of it in the mainstream media. And because of our media bubble, we fail to understand the world’s outrage.


The horrifying truth of the Vietnam War, brought into our living rooms each night, helped end that war. It’s very hard for people, when exposed to the truth of burned babies to feel enthusiastic about war, which is why the corporations behind our new and improved, highly consolidated media, try to shield us from such truths. Of course, the fact that these very same corporations make the weapons systems might have something to do with it as well.


When I was a kid, the NY Times and Washington post braved real threats of federal prosecution when they published the Pentagon Papers, which detailed, among many other things, how we were railroaded into the Vietnam War through a series of bold-faced lies.


Contrast that to the year 2000, when our disputed election was decided by the Supreme Court in Bush vs. Gore. I had no idea at the time that Justice Scalia had been friends with Dick Cheney for almost 20 years. Two of Scalia’s sons worked for law firms involved with the case, and Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife worked for the Heritage Foundation, which was sure to profit greatly from Bush’s election. Yet not only did both of the justices fail to recuse themselves, but the media were largely silent. In fact, it was nearly five years later before I read a major story on the close friendship of Cheney and Scalia, and I was thunderstruck that we’d all been kept uninformed and ignorant of this incredibly salient fact by our major news outlets.


Where were the front-page headlines of every major newspaper demanding recusal while the world awaited a decision? Why wasn’t Scalia’s obvious and profound conflict of interest trumpeted on the morning talk shows, the evening round-ups, the Sunday TV news-fests?


From the courageous reportage on Vietnam, which permeated television, radio and print media, we’ve transitioned in a few scant decades to silence over Scalia’s friendship with Cheney, silence over the theft of Ohio in the 2004 election, and the soft-peddling of our torture policies, which continues today – witness NPR’s continued use of the euphemism ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’. Our media have grown more craven, more complicit, more Orwellian than I could ever have imagined in 1974, or1984 for that matter.


Justice Hugo Black said: "Paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell." – Yet our press now seems intent on beating the drum for war. I can still remember NPR anchor Bob Edwards stating ‘we know there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq’ right after Colin Powell’s laughably tortured and specious presentation to the UN.


In fact, our press even seems to have gone so far as to have colluded in a legal coup de tat underwritten by right wing think tanks and executed by members of our chief judiciary body.


Do we have a free press in this country? Yes and no. Sure, there are programs like Alternative Radio and Democracy Now, and periodicals like Mother Jones and The Nation. There are myriad sites of all political persuasions on the web. There is no hard hand of censorship evident most of the time – except, perhaps, when a newspaper wants to publish photographs of the returning coffins of our honored war dead.


But the average American looks to the mainstream media for their information, and the mainstream media is no longer free. It is bought and paid for by the same corporations that have bought our congress through lobbying – those that comprise the military/industrial/penal/pharmacological/oil and gas/agribusiness complex.


Far from being an objective, inquisitive force, our media have become cheerleaders for much that is rotten in America – because their paymasters profit from our inhumane health insurance system, our centralized energy production and distribution monopolies, our leadership as the world’s number one weapons dealer, and our imperial rape of both human and natural wealth the world over.


Humankind’s two closest genetic relatives are the Chimpanzee and the so-called ‘pygmy chimp’, the Bonobo. We share some 97% of our genetic makeup with both of them.


This is a vast oversimplification, but in general, Chimpanzee society tends to be male-dominated and violent. Chimps engage in brutal fights, gang rape, genocide, even cannibalism. Their society is highly stratified, with dominant males at the top and lesser males at the bottom. Although females also have dominant and lesser representatives, in general their health and safety, and that of their offspring, is still largely a matter of male whim.


The Bonobo are quite different. Although there are fights in Bonobo society, they tend to be brief and non-lethal. There appears to be no rape, no cannibalism, no wiping out of other troops of Bonobo. All in all, the Bonobo society is, for lack of a better word, more humane


In Chimp society, sex occurs only when females are in heat. In the matriarchal Bonobo society, sex occurs all the time, for procreation, for enjoyment, and sometimes merely as a form of social stress relief. It’s kind of like the Greek play Lysistrata, wherein the women refuse the men any sex until the men give up war. The Bonobo have largely given up conflict, replacing it with ready access to sex.


What do our two closest relatives have to tell us about human society?


In his landmark work, the Mass Psychology of Fascism, Willhelm Reich posited that the veneration of war and conflict coupled with sexual repression leads to a more violent and easily manipulated, fascistic society.


On its surface, American society is heavily sexualized, not repressed at all. But Reich didn’t mean the repression of all sexual symbols, but rather the displacement of healthy representations of sexuality with unhealthy symbols that debased and dehumanized, coupled with increasing representations of violence.


In light of that distinction, it’s easy to see how American society is sexually repressed when it comes to positive images of sexuality and the human body, while overflowing with negative ones and simply awash in violent imagery. To paraphrase Larry Flynt, in America it’s illegal to commit murder, but not to broadcast movies of it, and legal to make love, but illegal to broadcast movies of lovemaking.


Once, while watching the movie ‘Dead Calm’ on broadcast TV, I saw a naked rear end pixilated on my screen, I suppose to protect me from some terrible prurient urge. This was followed not 5 minutes later by the graphic, unpixelated footage of a man’s head being blown off. What kind of a society finds a naked ass more dangerous than an act of bloody violence?


Obviously, in the human mind, sex and violence seem to be linked in all sorts of complex ways. Look at how the torture at places like Abu Ghraib often devolved into sexual humiliation. The themes of procreation, survival, and death underlie all human activity, and imbue everything with their nascent power, which can be positive or corrosive. It can build a culture up, or debase it. And one man’s view of socio-sexual health can be another’s symptom of metasticized perversion.


For example: when Jonbenet Ramsey was slain, I became aware for the first time of childhood beauty pageants. I was profoundly shocked that these little girls were so sexualized and monetized. The pictures of six year old Jonbenet tarted up like a Vegas showgirl, complete with feathers and heavy makeup, seemed to bespeak some horrific underground subculture of kiddy porn purveyors.


Yet who were the perpetrators of this little girl’s debasement and objectification? Her very own quite conservative, mainstream, Republican, Christian parents, who doubtless saw nothing perverted at all in their actions.  In fact, the same segment of society engages in so-called father-daughter purity balls, which ostensibly are about being chaste, but carry many disturbing psycho-sexual undertones, including ones that imply that women are chattel, their bodies and sexuality first owned by their fathers, and then their husbands.


Our culture is so out of whack that a nude adult body part is deemed threatening and perverse while the obvious sexualization of a child, albeit in symbolic terms only, is seen by many as wholesome.


Welcome to the topsy-turvy Chimp world that is America.


Psycho Pundits

In recent months, The psychotic sophistries of right wing pundits have gone gonzo. It’s as if losing the election has blown their minds.


First, there was Sean Hannity’s ‘tree of liberty’. I defy any sane adult to not fall down laughing after viewing it. Mr. Hannity shows us an old-timey illustration of the tree of liberty, complete with roots named Liberty, Freedom, etc, combining into a strong trunk. Above this trunk there are apples, named commerce, security etc. Then Mr. Hannity tells us that since Obama has become president, all of these apples have fallen into, I kid you not, the ‘apple crate of socialism’. This entire cartoon seems to be for two year olds, but it’s not, it’s for the supposedly adult viewers of his program.


Do his viewers never stop to think that by Hannity’s definition, government-run institutions like fire, police, and military forces, and even public schools and hospitals, are equally ‘socialist’.


Later in the week, he tried to stir public ire over the fact that President Obama ordered a hamburger with Dijon mustard on it. Oh dear, how elitist! It’s shocking that the president might want an exotic condiment like grey poupon mustard instead of Heinz ketchup. No, wait a minute, if he’d ordered Heinz, he’d be funding Theresa Heinz Kerry’s evil radical agenda. I’m sure that was on tap as the diligent Hannity production team parsed Mr. Obama’s menu choices.


Rush Limbaugh accused the president of coddling the Somalis who’d taken an American sea captain hostage. He called them ‘black Muslim teenagers’, the implication being: hey, Obama’s black, and maybe he’s Muslim too. Yes, and maybe on weekends President Obama secretly goes swashbuckling in the gulf of Aden with distant dangerous relatives from the Dark Continent. Scary! Of course, once those pirates were dispassionately killed by Navy Seal snipers and the hostage freed, Limbaugh changed his tune – he then criticized the president’s ‘slow response’.


Now Limbaugh has topped it all by suggesting that Governor Mark Sanford’s affair was caused by his extreme distress at having to accept Obama’s stimulus package money. OK, let’s forget for a moment that Sanford’s been having an affair for over a year, i.e. since before Obama was president. Are we really supposed to believe that a prominent Republican, who was until his recent self immolation thought to be a presidential contender, is so weak that he would break his marriage vows under the duress of… performing his executive duties? Is this the supposedly macho Republican Party we’re talking about here, or a bunch of those famously weak wristed liberals?


OK, I know that this president can do no right as far as these folks are concerned. Their job is to throw raw meat to mouth-breathing australopithecines (I wouldn’t insult the intelligence of Neanderthals by calling them that), but surely even these intellectually challenged listeners must at some point find this nitpicking, absurdist bloviating to be too much.


It defies logic that an adult, who knows the rudiments of personal hygiene, can tie their shoes, read and write, and drive a car, can take any of this seriously.


And this is what I find so distressing about these supposed pundits, and many more from Michael Weiner AKA ‘Michael Savage’ to the joyously malevolent Ann Coulter. It’s not that they exist, not even that some media executive might want to put them on the air because their extremist views are consonant with his own. No, it’s that these people have massive, massive audiences.


Who are these millions upon millions of people who follow the pundits, no matter how absurd their rationales, or egregious their hypocrisies. Rush Limbaugh railed against drug addicts for years, yet he was caught with an astounding 30,000 Oxycontin pills. Anyone other than a celebrity of his magnitude would have gone away for a long, long time for possession with intent to distribute. But Rush kept his job. The question is, how did he keep his listeners? How could these people still respect the world’s greatest hypocrite?


And how is America to prosper when so many Americans are this credulous, and this easily manipulated, whether into nonsensical ‘tea party’ protests or murderous attacks on doctors?


The DJ on my car radio was incensed. The Lockerbie bomber had been released. My first thoughts echoed his: it was indecent that this killer was not only released, but received a hero’s welcome back home in Libya. Yes, I admit it; I’m just not that forgiving a guy. I don’t think a terminally-ill mass murderer should be released on compassionate grounds so that he might spend his last days with friends and family. If he truly is guilty, he deserves to spend his last days, his last breath, rotting in jail.

But other thoughts arose as well. One was that many of the Lockerbie victim’s families doubted his guilt. Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was killed, said: "I went into that court in Holland thinking I was going to see the trial of those who were responsible for the murder of my daughter. I came out of it thinking he had been framed." A bereaved father’s statement of support for the alleged killer of his child carries a lot of weight with me, as do those of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, which termed the conviction a possible miscarriage of justice. Where was the media coverage of these nuances? Surely they may even have played a part in his release, yet I heard nothing about them on CNN, ABC, NPR.

My next thought was even more troubling, and it brought me back to the outrage of the DJ, and to my own reflexive anger. How, I thought, can we all feel such outrage when the United States has been harboring a serial terrorist bomber for years?

Louis Posada Carilles is largely thought to be responsible for the bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed all aboard, including the mostly teenage members of the Cuban National Fencing Team. He has been convicted in abstentia in several countries for bombings and bombing plots, and was thought by our own FBI to have been involved in literally hundreds of bombings of Cuban targets in Cuba, Honduras, Panama and Venezuela. Washington even denied an extradition request from the Venezuelan Supreme Court, and Carilles continues to live in the United States though he has actually admitted to several bombings. He said of one bombing in Cuba, that killed an Italian-Canadian national: “It is sad someone is dead, but we cannot stop.”

He also worked for Colonel Oliver North and General Richard Secord as they secretly and illegally armed Contra death squads in Nicaragua. Of course, North, a man who did everything he could to subvert our constitution by doing an end run around our laws and our congress, is now a well paid radio and TV personality and a darling ‘patriot’ of the right. It seems that no bad deed goes unrewarded for these murderous thugs, and the airwaves are strangely mute about their crimes and our government’s continuing complicity.

George Bush senior once said these telling words: “One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist” – and there, in one sentence, is all you need to know about the moral expediency of the United States. We will protect a bloodthirsty killer involved in literally scores of bombings of civilian targets because he is the enemy of our enemy. And while protecting him, we will respond with self-righteous outrage when another bomber, whose guilt is far less established, is set free.

How sad that the frothing right, and even the average American citizen has forgotten the wisdom of Thomas Paine, one of the pivotal figures of the American revolution, who said “He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression.”. The American policy of covert wars against countries we do not like, wars that often kill innocent civilians, is immoral and reprehensible. America has no solid moral footing, and seems unlikely to develop one when the Obama administration is enthusiastically continuing Bush polices of rendition and holding people without trial at a sort of Guantanimo lite – the Bagram air force base.

Our government, our media, and most of our political commentators, appear to be rank hypocrites as they protest torture, terrorism and oppression in places like Libya and Iran while they refuse to acknowledge, or sometimes even actively cover up, their own country’s equivalent crimes.


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